It was raining when he arrived in East End. Of the companions for the Raid Dungeon, only Ptolemy and Rose had taken Randidly up on his offer to accompany him to East End. Thea had wandered off to spend time with Simon, while Alana and Annie had dragged Lucifer off somewhere to spar.
Ace had disappeared, much to Randidly’s chagrin, almost immediately after they arrived in town, and Clarissa was much more interested in talking with mages in Star Crossing, to see what sort of spells they had developed, whether there were any unusual Classes. Randidly thought this was a mission given to her by Mrs. Hamilton, but Clarissa seemed to enjoy it well enough, so Randidly said nothing.
So, there they stood at the gates of East End, a steady drizzle turning the world around them grey, Randidly’s hair plastered to his skull. Ptolemy had a cloak, and Rose had an umbrella. Briefly, Randidly considered pulling up the hood of his bone cloak, but…
Not only were the bones rather poor at keeping water out, but also pulling up the hood would activate the twilight effect, and hide his face and figure from view. There was no point in spooking out the people of East End more than he had to.
Randidly had also considered breaking into East End, just making his way through the town and tracking down Sydney, but… that felt wrong. There was a strange nervousness in Randidly’s chest when he thought about meeting Sydney, one that he had never felt in the past. This meeting was… different somehow. Perhaps… because they had both assumed that this would be their final, permanent, separation. Or at least, Randidly had. He had thought she was dead for so long…
Ace was his best friend, but Sydney…. Sydney had been a part of his life for far, far longer. So long that even now, after the period of time stretched by the System, she still felt like a permanent fixture in his memories.
“You’ll be wanting let in, I expect,” An old man said, looking down from the roof of the building in front of them. His eyes were narrowed and suspicious. Randidly blinked. He had no idea how long he had been standing here. Both Rose and Ptolemy had stayed silent the entire time they had remained here, content to wait his mood out. Which was perhaps a mistake, but luckily this man had brought his attention back to himself.
“…Yes.” Randidly managed. He wasn’t nervous, he was just… This was a person that he had thought long dead. That he had mourned. That he had ignored knowledge of, to solve other problems. There was a complicated system of pulleys and ropes that almost bound him with guilt, rendering him unable to run away, but also unable to approach.
The old man hocked and spat, and thumped on the ground with a club. With a groaning noise, the wall of metal that blocked off the doors to the East End Mini Mall were drawn back, allowing passage.
“Welcome to East End,” the man whispered, turning away, walking back through the sheets of rain to wherever he had been watching Randidly from.
Turning a mall into a Village was a fascinating prospect. As long as the walls were sturdy, it provided a natural shape that would make defending the Village that much easier. There were also quite a variety of supplies contained in the mall, that would make living in the wake of the System that much easier. Donnyton was currently reaching a point where it could no longer feasibly import its paper products, including toilet paper, tampons, and writing paper, from Franksburg.
At this point, Franksburg itself was realizing the crisis that it was about to face as it ran into shortages of those items, and prices skyrocketed. So Donnyton could only helplessly watch and push some people into getting Classes related to paper production.
Meanwhile, at a location like this, there was a higher amount of pre-System resources to rely on, which would make the transition that much easier.
It also, Randidly mused, as they walked into the main part of the mall, made the fashion here a bit… strange.
The mall was a huge, sprawling, three-floor building, filled with shops and boutiques, catering mostly to the rich, but also containing a fair amount of grungy specialty shops designed to cater to the spoiled children of the rich, allowing them to act out just enough to catch daddy’s attention. So the people wore a mixture of strange, RPG-esque belts and suits, creating something a strangely steampunk semi-formal vibe.
It made Randidly shake his head in amusement. There was clearly some sort of weird fashion thing going on here, and he could feel Sydney’s hand in it. She always had the right amount of flair to turn the ordinary into a statement.
Randidly made no attempt to speak with the average person, but walked forward, heading through an area dominated by shoe stores turned into a strange mixture of textiles and armor production facilities. But then Rose tapped his shoulder.
“I know my way to my contacts from here.” She announced, giving him a slow look. Randidly said nothing, so Rose just shrugged and looked at Ptolemy. “I wouldn’t mind introducing you as well if you-”
“Please,” the man said nodding, and the two of them walked off, barely sparing Randidly a glance.
His mouth curled up into a sardonic grin. He must have really stood out there in the rain for a while, for them to treat him so coldly. So long that the gate watcher had come out of his little hidey hole to speak with them, ostensibly because he felt bad they had waited so long. And that man, from their brief interaction, appeared quite bitter. It would have taken a while.
Randidly could only sigh. His relationship with Sydney was… always strange. Always just a little bit-
“Mr. Ghosthound. When I heard that someone matching your description entered East End… I can’t say I was pleased.” As Randidly turned, he saw a man in loose leather armors walking towards him. It was the guard leader, Drake. The man flashed him a short smile. “You must forgive me for preparing for the worst.”
Randidly could hear the archers about him, moving as silently as they could on the 2nd and 3rd levels, getting in position. The middle portions of the mall were open, so they could look down from the upper levels to the hole in the middle, and peer down towards him. Honestly, it made him want to laugh. It was… amusing, and refreshing, to be so honestly threatened.
And so underestimated.
“…I’d like to meet with Sydney,” Randidly said, doing his best to not let the words stick in his throat, although they were as slimy and floppy as a live trout. Drake stood, but said nothing, simply drumming his fingers on one of his leather belts. Smiling, Randidly settled in to wait.
There were three things that Randidly knew about Sydney, and no matter what happened, even if something similar to the trauma that had befallen Ace had happened to her, these parts of her would not change. The first was that she was missing something, some part of her that let her empathize easily with other people. For that reason, many people had called her a cunt, or retarded, or ripped up her notebooks, poured spilled milk in her backpack, or 1000 other small pranks that were designed to make her miserable.
Every one of those people who had given her these small slights would find that that missing piece of her freed up room in her head so that she could perfectly remember those people who she wanted to pay back. And she was vicious and vindictive when she had the upper hand.
The steps were slow and even, solid clicks, making it clear that she was wearing heels. Because of his boosted Perception, he could hear her walking towards him on the 2nd floor when she was still 100 meters away. But also, because the people had disappeared, and the mall around him was almost silent, save for the breathing of the guards.
The second thing was that Sydney liked making an entrance. She always believed that no matter what people said, those aesthetics were the first thing people saw and the last thing that someone would forget about you. For that reason, Randidly suspected that when Sydney realized what the System was, what it meant, she had seized this location purposefully.
Her base being set up here was not a coincidence; this location had elements that she valued, and she had carefully chosen to be located here. She had created for herself a place where she was in her strongest element. But that again was not quite true, Randidly could tell. If she truly was confident about facing him, she would have summoned him back to her base, not come out here to meet him-
Shocked at himself, Randidly shook his head, as the footsteps came closer. Why was he thinking about her like she was an enemy? This was Sydney-
The footsteps stopped. Randidly looked up.
Her eyes met his. They sized each other up.
Randidly watched as her thin hands seized the handrail, squeezing it until her knuckles were white. And then further, until the handrail warped, bent by her strength.
“Randidly Ghosthound…” Sydney said, almost sighing, as she looked at him. She was wearing a deep purple dress, with a small leather jacket pulled over her shoulders. There were three belts across her hips, and beneath the hem of her dress boots peeked out.
Although she was more ridiculous than ever, it was so familiar that it was bittersweet. But to explain why was a bit….
“Sydney Harp,” Randidly said simply, surprised at how easily the name came out.
She smiled, but it was self-mocking. “Well, let’s go then. I suppose we have a lot to talk about.”