Randidly followed after the young man that Daniel had sent over, still musing over the flows of Aether in his mind. It was strange, the more he learned, the less it seemed like learning to handle Aether, but more just… remembering.
For a while, this strange sensation had Randidly deeply disturbed. Could it possibly be a side effect of the strange apparatus that was at the center of his Soul Skill? How deeply did the Creature’s game run? Even now, as it had sealed itself up inside of the Raid Dungeon, allowing him to do as he pleased… was he not still playing to its tune?
But then, the more he studied the sensation inside of himself, the more he realized that it had a much simpler origin: Neveah.
There was something so natural in the way that she utilized Aether, and it made a certain amount of sense that if she was able to do it, some of that would flow over to him, through their connection. It also left Randidly slightly shaken. If this was how much information that he could intuit, how much did Neveah have access to…?
Suddenly, her flashes of insight and her strange ideas about how the Class should work didn’t seem so odd.
Both Lucretia and Neveah agreed that the main part of the Class that needed to be refined was the “trunk”. That was the sort of the information about it, concretely in terms of growth, and also provided the blueprint for how the absorbed energy can be used to push the soul space further. More than that, Lucretia hypothesized, the Class trunk would eventually do… something with all of the space inside the soul it set aside, binding the rest.
Randidly had examined Alana’s Lvl 47 soul space, and there were definite signs that something was changing, deep within her. The space was almost… colored. The very air was infected with the image of her Class. This was independent of the Soul Skill, which existed in harmony with the Class, but didn’t affect the same things. Which again made Randidly wonder what exactly Soul Skills were, but this probably wasn’t the time to speculate on that.
Or perhaps it was exactly the time where that needed to happen… and it was impossible for Randidly to tell which is which.
Another problem that Randidly had been wrestling with was choosing what Stats would go into his Class. He had figured out the patterns that would likely cause growth in each Stat, although chaining them together was more difficult than he had imagined, and all that was left was to choose which to put into his Class.
Based on their investigations, the more Stats that were packed into a Class, the wider the trunk of the Class would be. Which was fine in theory, but the difficulty in weaving Stats upwards increased geometrically, as there was an increasing number of possibilities, and also a growing number of dead ends in the weave. These dead ends wouldn’t affect him initially, but it was important to plan how everything would move forward.
If his Stat increases ran into dead ends, they wouldn’t continue to grow with him as he grew. Instead, he would be stuck with what was remaining. And because the growth had been designed with a flaw, the remaining Stats would also have a hard time finding an equilibrium among the weave, and they too would falter. By the end, the Class would effectively… stop being able to grow.
Randidly didn’t relish the thought of discovering what happened when your Class collapsed inward like that firsthand. Better avoid it if at all possible…
The words that Randidly had said to Nathan popped unbidden into his head. Those words, and the absolute relentless certainty that had filled the boys eyes in response.
“Do you truly crave power so much, child…?”
Randidly shook his head, feeling strangely queasy. The threads of fate were moving, and he didn’t like that. Best to avoid Nathan in the future. It was an easy decision. He would not use the body of a child to test his foolish experiments-
Even if it could save thousands of other lives? A voice inside of Randidly asked, almost amused.
-instead, Randidly would focus on living in the present.
He walked up to Daniel, who was standing and talking with Kayle and, of all people, Raina’s manager Stan. The guy gave Randidly a creepy vibe, but it seemed that he had made it far in the Tactics Assessment, which meant he would need to look past that and work together with him to discover a few more tricks of Aether.
Kayle was speaking excitedly. “Daniel, I don’t have any regrets. It was a move that tied his own hands, but it ended up being the right one. Buying both Werewolves and Knights, and then immediately sealing your Knights behind a wall… that took guts.”
Shrugging, Stan said. “I don’t really like playing defense. Better to just have offensive cards.”
Kayle laughed, but Daniel was frowning. “It’s fine now, but when would the strategy work in real life? Keeping your best offensive force locked up like that… Sure it misled you, but-”
“Your competition was winning the game. That’s what he did.” Kayle said, still amused. “More than that, he controlled my perception perfectly. Based on what I saw, I immediately ruled out Knights as an option for his other units; which made me group up my units perfectly for his charge, when I knocked down the wall. That isn’t something that could be accomplished with luck.”
Then Kayle turned to Stan. “Even now, you don’t even mind that he’s trying to argue you out of your victory…?”
Stan shrugged, a small frown on his face, but honestly, there was a pleased air around him. Randidly sniffed. Yes, creepy. Gotta ignore it.
“Congratulations. I guess you won?” Randidly asked, stepping forward.
Stan turned and looked at him, and as soon as he did so, Stan’s expression fell. There seemed to be a tremor in his eyes as he gazed at Randidly, which made Randidly extremely self conscious. He forcefully suppressed that impulse. Right now, he was public Randidly, and public Randidly didn’t falter, or acknowledge his awkwardness. Better to just rush forward and pretend that everything was on purpose.
When Stan simply continued to stare, Randidly continued. “…Perhaps you recall, but there will be a very special reward for the person who achieves the highest performance in the Tactics Assessment…. I believe the words that I used were something about changing your fate…”
Randidly trailed off. Stan simply continued to stare, his expression worsening as time went on.
‘Did I… do something wrong…?’ Randidly thought to himself wonderingly. He had showered recently. His clothes were rather tattered, but they were clean. There was no blood or shit anywhere on him. He had come to the Assessment with as much effort as he was willing to put into looking presentable. So why…?
Abruptly, Stan’s expression eased, and one of peace settled across his features. “Oh… yes…. Pardon me. And how… does that work? Will I need to leave Donnyton…?”
Randidly considered that. It never really occurred to him, but he supposed that most of the people who lived here were rather fond of Donnyton, so much so that they would prefer not to leave it overmuch. Well, not that Randidly wasn’t fond of Donnyton, but he had seen many strange places, both on Earth and in Shal’s world. It would always be the place that he would return to, but it never really… had the strange attraction that home should have for people.
Instead it was… something like a child. Perhaps a bit like his Soul Seeds. And even more difficult to control.
Idly, Randidly wondered where Thorn was. Since coming to town, he had seen basically everyone else that he had set out to see and interact with. Perhaps, when he had free time, he should go talk to Arbor and Kiersty, and see whether they had any leads…
“I want to give you a Soul Skill,” Randidly said formally to Stan. “…It’s a pretty rare thing, and it can be considered a way to grow just for spending PP on Paths. It’s sorta a giant, permanent Path, that gets a point anytime you spend PP on anything else. It basically doubles the value of PP.”
Nodding slowly, Stan said. “Those are the things that the four you Blessed have. It’s why they are so… strange.”
“That’s part of it, yes,” Randidly said, almost relieved that this was the direction that Stan’s curiosity had driven him. No questions about what it would mean, how it would be done, or the way that it could backfire, should something go wrong. But Randidly was much more confident in a Soul Skill than a Class, although there were some similarities between the two.
Randidly had arrived at the idea for a Soul Skill early in the Aether research, partially because he had successfully created three by himself to date, although the first was heavily assisted by the System. Mostly because it involved complicated workings and interactions of Aether, and also was something that needed to be able to grow.
Similar to a Class, it was supposed to have a guiding image, and then some guidance for how it could change in the future. On the other hand, it had fewer risks than a Class, because it wasn’t so intimately connected with the recipient.
A Soul Skill created a sealed off area in the person’s soul space, where a particular reaction would be occuring. With the power of retrospect, Randidly could understand it as a factory where Aether was mined and refined out of the air, becoming more suited for the body. Normal Soul Skills were smaller scale than Randidly’s for that reason: there simply wasn’t enough ambient Aether to justify the initial investment.
But with Randidly footing the Aether bill…
And a Class had to bind the soul space, leading to far reaching consequences in the event of failure. Randidly figured a Soul Skill could just be burned away with pure Aether, harming that area of the soul space, but largely leaving a person undisfigured. Or at least, that was the working theory.
Hopefully he wouldn’t have occasion to test it out.