At first, Randidly was startled by the thought, and the strength of emotion behind it, but then he had to admit to himself, there were very few times in the past where he and Lyra were able to get along. There was some… perhaps flirting, some sexual tension and controversy, but regardless of the motivations, theirs was a history of conflict.
After giving her a few seconds to peer at him, he cleared his throat. “You are right, let’s get down to it. Lyra… you’ve worked with the Creature. You’ve helped her, here in Donnyton.”
Lyra was an actress, first and foremost, and she had continued to hone those Skills from before the System in the world after it. But to Randidly, it almost seemed like the better she was at acting, the more obvious what she truly felt was, as she left a trail of all the emotions she did not fell.
Very clearly, Randidly could see the way the joy in her eyes died, and a resentful cloud emerged to cover her. She smirked at him.
Randidly frowned. She didn’t even offer an explanation or a justification, she was content to just let the answer hang in the air, which infuriated him to no end. And, of course, it made him realize she had answered just like that in order to infuriate him.
But why? What was the point in antagonizing him now?
“Look, let’s not play these mind games,” Randidly started, but she just gave him a dismissive look.
“No games, doggy?” Lyra said, widening her eyes as if she were shocked or scared. “But however else will we relate to each other? We both know that neither of us is emotionally mature enough to have a true, genuine connection. I’m a child, and well, you’re- you’re broken, aren’t you?”
Randidly just looked at her, taken slightly aback. Then something clicked in his head. “…are you seriously still pissed off that I refused to entertain the idea of us being…”
She just looked at him, her face still. Only a look of mild amusement was discernible there. When it became clear he wasn’t going to continue. “Do go on, I’d love for you to admit that something could happen between us. I would feel so vindicated. And I think Sam would have lost a bet.”
“Holy Christ.” Randidly pressed his eyes shut. This was a pointless diversion. He needed to refuse. “We can talk about that… about the past after. For now, I need to know why you were crazy enough to work
“No, we will talk now,” Lyra said, moving over to the sole chair in her small room and sitting down. She crossed her legs. Her eyes were sharp and clear when they looked up at him. “Because you know what? This is about respect. You refuse to give it to me, and then you act so surprised and self-righteous when I stopped giving it to you. I think you need to get over yourself before we speak any further.”
“Don’t be a child,” Randidly snapped, feeling himself losing control of the conversation, even as another part of him rose, furious, hoping he let loose more.
“Really? Is that the only way you see me?” Lyra hissed, leaning forward, letting her own loss of calm show. “I’ve become a Village Spirit. I’ve accomplished things no one else has done since. Even before you did, I discovered Aether. And I do not have the benefit of having an unending supply of it in my chest-”
“You died,” Randidly said, his tone chilly. “Although your personality remains, the body that birthed it was buried. All because you wouldn’t talk about your plans. That’s what this is about-”
“If I wanted to, I could have saved that body,” Lyra said, cutting him off. “I had it handled.”
His fury mounting, Randidly shook his head, incredulous at her lack of self-awareness. “You spoiled bitch.”
“Really, doggy, gendered language? I’d have thought you better than that.” Lyra’s smile was back, small and sharp.
Randidly’s hands clenched into fists. “Don’t you dare call me that right now. You are a fool, Lyra. It’s hard to believe that you ‘had it handled’ when you almost ceased to be. You act without thinking and without communicating, just leaving us out to dry.”
“That’s rich, coming from you. You act
thinking and communicating. You are always running off to deal with some other problem, and when you return you barely bother to check in. Meanwhile, I’m here-”
“Is this seriously a jealousy thing?” Randidly asked.
Lyra stood up. “You fucking prick, do you think I don’t know the stakes of this?”
When she spoke, her voice resonated powerfully with the ambient Aether of the Village around him. Abruptly, Randidly became aware of the huge amount of Aether that the Village was putting off. And all of that energy flowed through Lyra. Her eyes were glowing violet, the power there, at her fingertips. They both stared at each other, breathing hard.
“You work with the Creature, who would have us fall to the Calamity,” Randidly finally said, surprised how tired he sounded.
Lyra shook her head. “She offers us a confirmed route to life.”
“So you admit to working with her?”
Lyra just gave him a look. Heedless, Randidly continued to speak. “There is another confirmed route to life, that doesn’t rely on trusting the Creature’s version of events… that is simply being strong enough to defeat the Calamity.”
“Where does your confidence come from…?” Lyra asked, shaking her head. “Think how often we have almost died. That was during the tutorial. You think it won’t scale when the kid gloves come off?”
“The Creature sees us as nothing but toys,” Randidly said slowly, trying not to grit his teeth. He knew the difficulty, perhaps even better than Lyra. He had been out there, fighting it. But she continued to refuse to see that. “I will find a way to defeat the Calamity. I have some clues and given time to test some things out, I have my confidence, from training. How can you put your faith in the Creature…? I can’t Lyra. Our deaths would not give her pause.”
Lyra looked at Randidly. Suddenly, abruptly, something broke in her, and her lip trembled. Her eyes were cold and lonely. “…even if you can’t trust the Creature… trust me, Randidly. I’ve talked with her. I’ve seen what she has seen. Violence is not the answer here. Your power stems not from the ability to fight, but your ability to subvert the design of the System. Let’s use that. Let’s figure this out together. If you do not… you doom us all to die by the Calamity. This I swear.”
Randidly breathed in, and then breathed out. This was… not how the talk was supposed to go, but he couldn’t say he was surprised. He knew that Lyra held resentment in her chest about the way he had treated her, he just had a hard time understanding why she would let it affect a decision of this magnitude.
He also resented her, for playing so cavalierly with her life, and for pretending to be captured by the Creature, while really being fine. In addition, she had chosen to work with the Creature, believing its words, while keeping him in the dark. It felt like a betrayal against all of humanity, and something that Randidly couldn’t forgive.
The sticking point with this conversation was that she couldn’t be removed, not easily, not quickly, not simply, as the Village Spirit of Donnyton. But Randidly didn’t want to be around her if she insisted on working with the Creature. Randidly had no doubt that Lyra would communicate with the thing as soon as they were connected to another Zone with one of the Creature’s incarnations.
That resonance with the Village Aether made Lyra powerful, but it also meant that she could only display her power within the Village. Once he left it….
Randidly sighed, looking at Lyra. “You swear we will die by the Calamity…? How can I trust you, or the Creature, if all you do is offer me threats and ultimatums…?”
Lyra said nothing, her eyes glittering. Randidly shook his head slowly. He turned and walked back out the door. He sensed her fold her arms, but she said nothing as he left. Donnyton was his baby, in a way, the same way that Randidly would never forget the people who had come to Donnyton in the beginning, and became their core.
Now, he was being forced away, because he refused to do something as drastic as try and destroy Lyra, and he refused to be within her sphere of influence if she would choose to trust the Creature on this point. He also knew that she was aware how personally Randidly was taking this decision, and she was vindictive enough to enjoy the pain she was inflicting.
And that bit of sadism made Randidly hate her.
At the door, Randidly stopped. “If you betray this town… I will not show restraint.”
“Ah yes, the first, and last, recourse of men: to lose their temper. Be well doggy.” Lyra said, her tone sarcastic.
Randidly left, feeling ready to kill something.