Randidly looked around, rather bemused.
Although the Executive Board of Star Crossing insisted they meet here, he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why. They were meeting in what appeared to be, i.e. had the sign out front, an old Bob Evans building. Sure, they had done away with the dumb employee dress, but it was still the same squat building, the same interior, the same smells.
What was new was the guards at the door, and the very professional and attractive waitstaff, who smiled flirtatiously at Randidly’s group as they arrived. Simon seemed profoundly nervous by the attention, but since his talk with Randidly, he seemed to have calmed down a lot. Thea glowered at the men who dared flash her eyes, unsure of what to do with the attention. It almost made Randidly chuckle.
Decklan, who stuck to Randidly’s back like a shadow since they were reunited, although they never really spoke about why, appeared bored. Dozer opted to stay back, and check in with his squad who had grown a lot as a unit due to the exposure to the skeletons, and Clarissa thought the whole thing sounded dumb. So the four of them would be the representatives on this rather political call.
Randidly would have preferred to skip this step, but everyone had received the notification about the Raid Dungeon, and people were panicking. The prospect of having one month left to live, for the very energy to be sucked out of the air… that was a new, mysterious threat. And considering how suddenly the System descended…. The people had learned to fear the unknown.
So the political niceties were necessary. If the heads of the Villages were willing to assure their populations that everything was okay, there would be that much less chance that someone would desperately run to the Raid Dungeon, aiming to clear it, and end up annihilated by the rips in the world.
Sitting, Randidly felt profoundly foolish, being in the Bob Evans, at a large, mahogany table, sitting across from three individuals with their hands folded in front of them. An large African American man, who reminded Randidly annoyingly of the cop from Turtletown, gazed meaningful at him. Next to him, and overweight and balding man was slowly buttering a piece of bread, his eyes remaining on his work at hand.
The final member of the Executive Board, a thin, Asian woman, was frozen, gazing not at Randidly, but at the man next to him, Simon.
“….mom….?” Simon whispered, and suddenly the woman was moving, climbing up over the table with an animal grace and leaping across the distance between them, arriving before Simon and wrapping him up with her arms, squeezing the boy so tightly that her hands were white.
“Oh god, Simon…Simon! It was…. You were… Oh god, if something had happened to you… I didn’t know… oh baby, you’re safe now.” There was sobs in her voice, deep chasms of realizations and emotions and relief, as the small woman pressed herself against Simon. Although Simon was still growing, he was now a bit taller than the woman, and while this was happening he just stood there, eyes wide, trembling, his hands unable to figure out what they should be doing.
Randidly stayed still, letting these two have their moment. To be sure, it was time spent that would not move him towards any actual goals, but Randidly knew that moments like this is the reason that he sought out strength. He did not necessarily want to be strong, after all. He simply needed the strength to protect these moments from the control and suffocation of the System.
A sharp flash of anger ignited in his chest, and Randidly’s hands clenched into fists.
“Other mom…? Does that mean mom…!” Simon said, finally finding his hands, gripping the woman’s shoulders.
But she just looked up, tears in her eyes, and slowly shook her head.
“Maybe- maybe like me, she’s-” Simon began, his trembling growing worse, but the woman continued to shake her head.
“…no, Simon. I’m sorry. Darcy…. Darcy is dead. I saw it myself.” In that moment, her voice silenced all talk in the Bob Evans, even though the space was rather big. Because in that moment, her voice carried the weight of the darkness of the System, of a pain that they all shared. Everyone had watched another die, everyone was filled with a huge weight of regret over that which they cannot control.
The weight they felt in that moment that they had been reminded how weak they were.
Perhaps that was just as true before the System, as after, but the System had ripped away the veneer of civility and showed the monster that was hiding under the guise of fate and destiny. The endless hunger, the vicious instincts, the deadly finality, that constructed our world. …And this was the wagon that Randidly was resolving himself to hitch himself to with a Class.
There was darkness, and there was light. That was the way it was.
Absorb. Class dark. Know darkness, know hope.
Neveah whispered, and Randidly smiled. But that was for later, to internalize. For now…
Simon and the woman, whose name was Denise, went off to the side, and began to talk softly to each other, constantly touching the other. The overweight man looked up from his bread and coughed.
“Ahem… well, let’s give them some privacy, and get this started. I’m Cale Tass, Mr. Ghosthound. It’s a pleasure to finally… meet you.”
This was a man that Randidly instantly knew that he would not like. There was… a sleaziness to him, a pragmatic dishonesty to the way he smiled. Randidly shifted his attention to the other man.
“Andre,” The man grunted. “Really though, I’m sure you know what we want to talk about. The Raid Dungeon.”
Randidly nodded slowly, eyeing Andre. This man was much more direct, and also much less dangerous because of it. Or perhaps more so, but in ways Randidly didn’t fear. But of course, this was also the man that would make Randidly’s job that much easier, if he would allow them to handle the Raid Dungeon. But as Randidly opened his mouth to answer, Cale interrupted.
“Andre, let’s at least eat first. Plus, Denise has taken a little flight of fancy… we should at least wait for her to return.”
Andre gave Cale a long look. Then he nodded. As if on cue, several waiters and waitresses streamed forward. It gave Randidly a slightly sticky feeling, an awkward feeling. He enjoyed cooking for himself, and letting these people wait on them was a bit….
What made things even more uncomfortable for Randidly was that the waitress was a beautiful woman who bore a startling resemblance to Helen. But when that woman introduced herself with a bright, fake smile as Candy…
Well, Randidly wanted to burst out laughing, imagining the pure revulsion and anger that Helen would feel, to find herself with such a doppelganger that was so fake and superficial. Sure, this was a beautiful woman, one that was no doubt carefully selected for him, which was slightly disturbing. And from the gaze of Cale, he did not have to look far for the culprit. But no, comparing this woman to the substance and fire of Helen…
She was just flat. But, she was very pleased that Randidly was so amused by her, and quickly chatted up a storm, about her life, how much she enjoyed being here, how much an honor it was to meet him…
Which only made Randidly laugh harder, feeling how ridiculous this situation was, imagining how strange a coincidence it was that these two similar looking women grew up so different. Maybe it was there world, but maybe it was also something more, an inherent treasure, animating a truly ideal woman.
Neveah thought with amusement. Randidly’s mouth twisted in a wry smile. Today was just a day for frivolous thoughts, he supposed.
But Candy and Cale seemed very pleased at his good cheer, and she began to hesitantly reach to touch his shoulders as she took his order. But the woman’s wrist was snatched out of the air before she could make contact.
“He thinks you are amusing in the same way one would view a clown,” Decklan drawled, his eyes sharp, his smile jagged. Candy opened her mouth then faltered, glancing at Randidly who only chuckled, saying nothing. Although he felt somewhat bad, encouraging her would not be a smart idea, at this point.
Although Randidly wanted to be kind to people, it would be even more of a hassle if he had to deal with their continued attempts. So he felt a certain thankfulness towards Decklan, but also a wariness. What just happened displayed a surprisingly insightful action on Decklan’s part. Randidly had been read like a book, and he did not enjoy the feeling.
More than that though, it made him experience a strange tickle of warning on the back of his neck. Which, in a queer way, relaxed Randidly. An enemy aiming to kill him at least was something that Randidly could understand, he had dealt with many of those. But something in his heart warned him that this was more complicated than that. Decklan was not just trying to hurt him in order to absorb a portion of his stats.
Although that might certainly be a temptation…
The meal was… honestly quite good. More so than Randidly had expected. He had considered himself something of a fine cook, but up tasting the food here, he realized that he was only a middling cook, if one that had access to a level of base ingredients and spices a level higher than most people had access to.
It was just… Bob Evans cuisine, so…
Candy and the other waiters pulled back, as if on cue, and Andre leaned folded, his hands clasped together.
“So… about the Raid Dungeon. Please assuage my worries, Mr. Ghosthound.”