“So we do nothing,” Alta said sourly.
Lucretia could only nod, although she knew how frustrated her mistress was. “What did you expect? We captured a very high-level operative of the Council of Fates and killed two of their powerful agents. Is it strange that they would turtle up? This might very well be the first setback they have faced since their inception. Especially on this scale.”
“It’s been a year,” Alta said with a sigh. “I get it. I know they are cowards, but… jesus. Grow some balls. At least strike back at us.”
“They probably don’t know that it is us,” Lucretia said with a smile.
Alta gave the other woman a withering look and popped a grape into her mouth. The two were sitting in armchairs in a brightly lit drawing room of the Bounty Manor. “Ha, who was it that told me that those that assume the enemy is a fool won’t have a chance to raise foolish children?”
“Perhaps I, but it was certainly poorly phrased,” Lucretia said in mock disgust. As she wrinkled her nose, she wrung a laugh out of Alta.
“Fine, fine. We focus on business and expanding. But its so damn PEACEFUL out there. Sales are way down, and the R&D department is wondering why I keep pushing them so hard to understand the frigid state of the sap. Even though they get the possibility, they aren’t hungry anymore. They aren’t worried. They just want to talk about stock options and intellectual property and competitors…”
Lucretia allowed Alta to rant for a minute, simply watching the other woman. The grey flowers in Alta’s soul had grown heavily around her frame. It seemed that they twined about her very bones, making it very difficult for Lucretia to see anything but a walking cadaver when she looked at Alta.
“Sometimes…” Alta said slowly. “I get why the Council wanted war. People at peace… they are too preoccupied to behave rationally.”
Lucretia hid her wince. And this was exactly why that image of a cadaver was difficult to shake. Ever since her wedding had been attacked, Alta had some part of her heart doused in ice. It resulted in a woman who was much more productive than the wrathful youth that Lucretia had guided away from pointless displays, but it didn’t mean the girl had learned to value anyone not necessary to her own goals.
“Well, it’s not like we don’t have leads,” Lucretia said. “We know the Council of Fates used the wars to investigate the runes left by the Progenitor. They have likely excavated the runes held by the Earth Golems extensively. A lot of that knowledge made it back to the Spriggit Land. There is a portal there, but it is closed. Then there is the rune in the land of the Soulless, and also-”
“Also one in the silent land, yes.” Alta waved her hand. “Don’t try and distract me. Those ruins only matter if the Progenitor exists. And of that, I am not convinced. Do you believe in him, Creta the stern?”
“Yes,” Lucretia replied easily. It was a subject she didn’t want Alta to dwell on, but Lucretia also suspected that the other woman would see through her lie. Because of course, she believed in the Progenitor. She had been his right hand for a year. Hell, in terms of Soulskill time, she had been in touch with him for a thousand years…
“Oh.” Alta blinked and looked at Lucretia. She seemed genuinely shocked.
Lucretia smiled awkwardly. “As one descended from monsters, it is difficult not to be indoctrinated as a child.”
“Oh. Oh. That’s right. Monsters believe that the hero chosen by the Progenitor in the great war was a monster, correct?”
Lucretia’s mouth twitched. “…he was a monster. Definitely.”
Alta gave Lucretia a weird look. “…I had no idea you were so religious. Huh. It’s strange I could learn something like that about you, even though I’ve known you my whole life…”
Then Alta shook her head. “Well, whatever. Say a prayer for me. Maybe the Progenitor will guide us to the Council of Fates. I’m off; I have another damned meeting with the investors.”
After Alta left, Lucretia let out a long sigh. Her mistress needed to have patience. The Council of Fates had demonstrated why moving without understanding the opponent would lead to losses, but still, Alta chomped at the bit. But Lucretia wasn’t willing to make the same mistake-
It was like an electric shock to her system, the brief mental contact.
Gasping, Lucretia scrambled to her feet. Her heart was pounding.
Then he was there, standing and looking around at the drawing room in amusement. “Well, you’ve certainly done well for yourself here, haven’t you? Lucretia, I thought you left. What are you-”
Her body moved without thinking. Lucretia had grown satisfied and content with her current life in Randidly’s Soulskill, but that was because she understood Randidly. He might not look in here for hundreds of years in this world’s time. To see him now… to know that he could let her escape…
It was a release of tension that she had held for almost forty-five years, struggling in this world. Lucretia rushed over and buried her head in his chest.
“I…” Lucretia struggled to speak, but couldn’t find the words. She wouldn’t abandon Alta of course, but she could leave now. She could go find Shal and say all the things she had put off saying to him in the past. She could return to Icklid and complete the ritual she had started with her earlier meeting with the Autarch. She could…
Lucretia began to cry.
Awkwardly, Randidly stared down at her. His emerald eyes were wide and expressive as he examined her carefully. Then his gaze softened. “Have you… been stuck here?”
It was strange, but him stating the truth only made it hurt more. Lucretia’s sobs bubbled up from somewhere deep inside herself. Inwardly, part of her was aghast at the display of emotion. She had lived for almost 600 years now. How could something like this affect her so?
But on the other hand, there was certainly a bond between herself and Randidly. For all that they had started out opposed, fate had aligned their interests and they spent quite an amount of time intimately connected. More than anyone else, Lucretia felt that Randidly was a close… friend. A peer that she had explored the mysteries of energy and karma with. A research partner with access to the most state of the art facility that Lucretia could dream about.
And for all that Lucretia was an old soul, she had struggled alone in a world where the omnipotent System she had grown with wasn’t a fixture. More than she had expected, she had been lost without it. Those hidden stresses surged to the surface.
Apparently, both of their attentions were so distracted that neither foresaw that the door would open.
“Hey Creta, before I go, can you give me-”
Alta froze. Both Randidly and Lucretia froze.
“You…” Alta said slowly, her gaze flitting from Randidly’s face and then back to Lucretia’s. “…Creta, you would tell me if you had a secret boyfriend, right?”
Lucretia snorted in amusement in spite of herself, but due to her teary face, she recognized it probably looked like a sob to Alta. Randidly coughed dryly, looking from Lucretia to Alta. He took a step back away from Lucretia, raising his hands.
Alta staggered backward in mock horror and clutched her breast. “Why aren’t you answering?!? Is it… is it more serious than that? And why are you crying? I’ve never even seen you sad! You! Barefoot man. What have you done to my Creta?!”
“‘My’ Creta?” Randidly asked as his lip curled upward into a smile. He glanced at Lucretia. She continued to chuckle, the amusement keeping her from offering any sort of explanation.
“Bah, don’t think your dick entitles you to anything more than a brief rental of her body. She is mine. You can’t have her,” Alta said, glaring at Randidly.
Finally, Lucretia couldn’t handle it anymore. “No, Alta, we aren’t… together. Uh, Randidly is just my-”
“Oh. My. God.” Alta said, her jaw once more dropping to the floor. “Did I just walk in on a BREAKUP? And YOU. You had the nerve to loiter around here afterward like you owned the place? I’ll rip your face off and sent your puny male brain on fire! I’ll-”
This time, when Lucretia laughed, it was loud and clear. The tinkling happiness of her laughter cut through Alta’s tirade. Even Randidly smiled helplessly as he shook his head. Alta looked between the two of them, clearly sulky.
“Well if I was mistaken,” Alta muttered. “Someone at least could have told me, so I didn’t look like an idiot…”