A knock at the door interrupted Randidly’s thoughts. Bemused, he stood and walked to the door. The last time someone had interrupted his work he had been press-ganged into the military for a day. What could it be this time…?
To his surprise, it was Sonya standing there when he opened the door.
“What are you doing?” She asked him with a frown.
Randidly opened his mouth. He honestly wanted to ask her the same thing. A fellow metal worker, of all people, should understand how annoying it was to be interrupted. But there was something in her expression, so Randidly just shrugged.
“Your party is tonight, for you becoming a probationary citizen,” Sonya said, poking him in the chest. “Tatiana made sure I came to check on you because she said you would forget.”
“Forget? What party are you talking about?” Randidly said, laughing slightly.
“Oh, we probably didn’t tell you. Well, we are using you as an excuse to get well and drunk. So. Find yourself a clean shirt, yea?”
Later that night, Randidly sat next to a wide bonfire, looking around with amusement. It was a waste of time, yes, but he enjoyed it. Randidly had trained like crazy from the System’s arrival until now. All that time, he felt the threat of the Creature hanging over him, a reminder that he could never slouch or everything he knew would be destroyed.
But now, in an identity of a different person… Randidly felt himself easing up somewhat. It wasn’t like he was getting lazy. But rather… Some part of him was growing to understand how important times like this were, to stop and enjoy life. To connect with the people around you.
Ideas and images were living things. If you isolated yourself, they would become weak and anemic only through sharing and understanding can your will build a strong foundation to keep you through the hard times. Or at least, that was what Randidly was telling himself tonight.
It likely helped that Randidly felt somewhat baffled by the details of what the Creature was doing here. Without a firm goal, he was losing himself in the routine of this fake life he had found for himself. There was no real rush to push forward past this.
But in defense of his justification, he would likely never have thought to examine the steps of a supernova in order to figure out the function of his Skill. It seemed obvious, in retrospect, but it would be like an artist drawing a skeleton before painting a portrait. It was a very mechanical inspiration for what is sometimes seen as a mystical process.
Tatiana sat down next to him, wearing a brilliant emerald dress. They were on a row of benches set up to the East of the first, out of the blowing smoke. About two hundred people, mostly steelworkers, were getting rollicking drunk to the South of the fire, where the food and drink were kept. Although Randidly thought the alcohol here was extremely bitter, he sipped dutifully on all the drinks he was given. Even if he was only a pretext for the hard worked steelworkers, they still admired him and congratulated him.
And when they spoke to him, he could tell they truly were glad that he had managed what they were all struggling for. It gave them hope. A hope for possibilities. In a way, the way they looked at him reminded him of how the people of Donnyton looked at him, but at the same time, it didn’t. Here, people saw him as the example of the anecdote they always heard about this being a land of opportunity. Randidly proved that it was possible to advance.
At Donnyton, all they saw was a being that wasn’t truly human. A being that could make anything possible.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Tatiana said with obvious amusement. With a start, Randidly realized she had probably sat down two minutes ago, and he hadn’t even acknowledged her. He had noticed her approach well in advance, of course, but he had done nothing to indicate he was aware she existed.
“Uh…” Randidly thought about it, then shrugged inwardly. Honesty was easiest. “Do you ever have people look at you, and just feel like… they don’t see a person?”
Tatiana snorted. “Not to be crass about the business I own, but… Did you just ask a whore if she ever feels like people don’t see her as a person?”
“…that’s a good point,” Randidly said with a sigh. He set his tin cup on the bench down beside him and reached out with his hand. The bonfire had shrunk a lot from when they were roasting the meat earlier, so they were currently seated only a meter or so away. The heat really came from the coals, while a few thin tendrils of flame devoured the sticks thrown on top of the fire.
When Randidly reached out, those flames twisted up towards him and around his fingers. It was hot, without the heat meaning anything. When he realized that Tatiana was giving him a flat look, he chuckled and withdrew his hand. The flames stretched and strained afterward, before snapping back to their normal behavior.
Chosen of Fire, indeed.
“What I mean is,” Randidly said slowly. “These days… I feel like people look at me and see the idea of something. For the people at this party, I am the dream of the future. In that past… I was the human that was better at being a monster than monsters were. I’m no longer just me.”
“Well, you did tell me to call you Viking.” Tatiana pointed out. “That makes you more of a character from a bad movie than a real person. Can you blame us for enjoying the show?”
Randidly gave her a sour look. She laughed and threw her hair over her shoulder. Her perfume was light and spicy. It reminded him of the heat of the fire.
“Okay fine. Baloo, just Baloo, what do I see when I look at you then?” Tatiana asked.
Inwardly, Randidly died a little because she called him Baloo, but she turned and faced her squarely. Her jaw was strong and her skin was tan. Her eyes met his calmly as he assessed her. Her dress was silk, with tight interweaving shapes across it. It was relatively chaste, but the shape of Tatiana’s body meant that if a man wanted to look hard enough, he could get a sense of what was underneath.
Randidly turned away, looking back towards the fire. “A friend.”
A log popped and snap. Someone was singing, their song wavering in and out of tune as the singer struggled against the weight of the alcohol they had drunk.
“…it’s a strange thought, but all I can think is that if I had asked Sonya that, she would have had me pressed against a wall with my panties off within 10 seconds,” Tatiana said with a chuckle.
Randidly also shook his head. Sonya certainly had spent half of the past few hours making passes at Tatiana. It seemed she understood the other woman wasn’t interested, but that just made the allure all the more irresistible. Luckily, Gregory pulled Sonya away with more alcohol, or else Randidly had no doubt she would still be here.
“It’s strange. I feel connected to you.” Randidly announced.
Randidly shook his head, his face heating somewhat. “You as in everyone here. I’ve been to a lot of places. And I’ve just felt… adrift. I understood my role based on goals I had to accomplish. There were relationships and things-”
“-we are in a relationship?” Tatiana said, raising her eyebrows in mock surprise.
Randidly ignored her. “-but it was like I didn’t feel the ties to the people there. I walked away when my goals led me to other places. It was as if… I was numb to these things I had built. Or even, I didn’t want to feel the constant weight of these connections I had made… Maybe I was running away. But some of those connections were dangerous. Starting clean has a certain brutal appeal, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does.” Tatiana uncrossed her legs folded them beneath her. “If I could do it all again… well, the System threw some wrenches into things. I also don’t mind being here, with you, but it certainly could have been a little less rough getting here. I know what you mean about leaving everything behind. I ran away from home when I was 17.”
Randidly nodded, and then, feeling extremely surreal, reached up and squeezed her shoulder. The skin of her bare shoulder was warm, and he let his hand linger there for a bit, just to establish contact. Then it fell away, back to his side.
The corner of Tatiana’s mouth turned upwards. “I think this is where you ask me why I ran away, and then I share a secret I’ve been carrying on my own for 10 years. It’s a bonding thing.”
“You are a grown woman. If you want to share something, I’m sure you will do it.” Randidly said, leaning back, and closing his eyes.
He felt her hair first, the soft strands on his shoulder. Then the weight of her head, and then the heat of her body as she leaned her head against his shoulder. They stayed there, for about 10 minutes, saying nothing, sharing nothing. The fire crackled and popped, the people continued to sing, and there were raucous calls in the distance, where people had set up a game of pool under the open sky.
“Do you know why I enjoy your company?” Tatiana asked.
Randidly shook his head.
“Because you feel… grounded. Like all of the flirting, all of my learned sensuality… it doesn’t mean anything at all; it can’t sway you. You wouldn’t even care if I was just average looking. You would enjoy sitting with me even if I was horribly deformed. My aesthetic is worthless.”
“I mean-” Randidly began, but she punched him softly in the side, still leaning against his shoulder.
“Oh, shut up. There are times where truth is less important than the moment. This is one of those times. Just enjoy the moment, Baloo.”
So the two of them sat without sharing, just breathing the warm air of the night.