Randidly looked around at the ten or so people inside the tent.
Other than himself, there was Helen, Dozer, Alana, Annie, Ptolemy, and a half dozen high-Level fighters from the assorted squads. It was somewhat nostalgic to see these people again, and also somewhat saddening that there were so many people wearing the crest of Donnyton that Randidly didn’t recognize.
This time, he wouldn’t spend his entire time back on Earth hiding from the group in Zone 1.
Alana frowned at his arm. “So, maybe start with what happened to your arm?”
Idly, Randidly reached up and touched the stump. “…actually, that might not be a good idea. The reason I don’t currently have an arm… is rather complicated. And I think it would miss out on some of the real meat of the story. I’ll just tell you a quick version of what I’ve been doing for the last five months, and what it means for Earth. I did a fair bit of research while I was over there.”
So Randidly explained about being called back by Helen for the tournament. He told them about the losing war with the Wights and the trek across the Spearman School to Hastam. Then he explained to them about Skarch and Azriel, and also Silo.
Fighting, losing, retreating… pushed all the way back to Hastam. Learning about images, using images, activating Skills with just images… some of the people in the back muttered about that, but when Randidly fell silent, so did they.
So he continued.
Then he explained a little of what he learned about the Spearman, and how the First and Second Calamity worked, and what the Earth should expect. He did, however, leave out that Octavius had contacted him and told him that there was a small chance that someone would file for a variance, considering they had foreknowledge.
Then Randidly explained going to the Death School and learning about bigger images and the specific details of the Second Calamity. Then he talked his way through the last fight and finally, his Master’s Ascension. Briefly, he laid out what that meant for Tellus.
There were times during his telling that the listeners asked questions. Mostly Alana and Dozer. With Helen’s help, he was able to handle everything and explain how things on Tellus worked. The group was also rather bemused that Helen was an individual from this far off world, returned with Randidly due to his Domain.
Randidly also couldn’t help but notice the frequent glares that Helen threw at Dozer.
In the end, Randidly finished and everyone sat silently, considering the information. Hopefully, these people would disseminate the important parts of what he said, and then Donnyton would be much more prepared-
“Alright,” Alana finally said, “But what happened to your arm? Shouldn’t have enough time passed for it to regrow? I thought nothing wouldn’t heal with the System around. That, and avoiding colds, are the only benefits.”
The short answer is that I spliced apart the source code the System made for my body in order to have purchase with my Domain on the world. Otherwise, I likely would have been prevented from doing this…
But that was likely more information than was necessary. And Randidly didn’t feel like being bogged down with the esoteric details of Domains. “It’s a cost of my Domain. I had to give up my arm. But, I’ll probably just build a replacement. Which will be enjoyable, I suppose.”
Dozer hummed softly. “Metal limbs. Let me know how they feel.”
“Huh, and here I thought you’d been perfectly happy with your body,” Annie said lightly. “Who knew you wanted to make such a sudden and inane change.”
For one of the first times that Randidly could remember, he saw genuine sadness on Dozer’s face. The man sighed and casually picked up Annie. “Okay, okay, you guys keep going. We need to talk.”
“Hey! You can’t just do this- hey, you, throw me my bow! Quick! Hey wait-”
Dozer buoyed away the shouting and scratching Annie, while everyone else watched awkwardly.
In a delightful display of conversational acumen, Ptolemy spoke to fill the silence. “So your Domain has a cost? I suppose it must be rather strong then.”
“… yes, it is, in a way,” Randidly said, grateful for the distraction from the continued shouts from outside the tent. “The gist of it is that… I have an entire world in my chest. With my Domain, I can bring people into and out of that world.”
“So you can hide an army under your sleeve,” Alana said.
Randidly grinned at her and winked. “Maybe. But right now it’s pretty mentally draining for me to move more than just one or two people across at the same time. As I level the Skill, I don’t doubt it will improve.”
Alana grunted and nodded. “Learning about the Calamities is helpful too. So the First one is just a big fight, and the Second will be about deciding on Earth’s image?”
“Yea, and like I said, I won’t be able to supply that. That duty is going to fall to someone else.” Randidly said with a nod.
Ptolemy took a sip of water from his cup. “What does that mean? ‘Image’? What actually constitutes an image?”
“It’s not a trick term,” Randidly said with a shake of the head. “It’s legitimately the image of the world. It might be easier to understand as a philosophy on the broader narrative role of people. For instance, Tellus was a world that focused on the spear, and their fight boiled down to the spear as a tool of violence or as the weapon of a hero.”
Everyone considered that.
“That’s… still very vague. So almost anything can be an image?” Ptolemy asked.
Randidly shrugged. “As long as you can picture it.”
To demonstrate, Randidly focused his Willpower and exuded a bit of Frigid Ash, Extinguishing Storm. Small motes of freezing ash drifted outward from his fingers to touch the canvas wall of the tent. Without the Skill, it was not immediate, but after about ten seconds his image was enough to freeze the wall of the tent. Everyone watched, mesmerized.
“Well, it’s good you are back,” Alana said. “Thinking about the Second Calamity is getting ahead of ourselves. A couple more Zones need to connect to Earth first. Oh, what are you doing next? We will need to head back toward Donnyton in the morning, now that this ogre problem is finished. Mrs. Hamilton will be ecstatic that we finished so quickly. You’re welcome to join us, of course.”
Randidly looked at Helen. She seemed to be sulking and didn’t even notice his gaze. He lowered his eyes to the floor as he thought about it. “…I’ll be heading to Donnyton soon, but not immediately. Neveah left me a couple of tasks to see to, then I’m going to go South and help her…”
Helen was still stuck in her own negative world. Sighing, Randidly put her hand on her shoulder. She looked up sharply, as though expecting a fight. She seemed genuinely shocked to find him standing next to her.
“What are your thoughts; staying with me or do you want to travel with them and see the countryside?” He asked.
Her eyes seemed to tighten with rage. She lifted her chin. “I’ll be going with them.”
Please don’t try to kill anyone,
Randidly wished silently. Then he looked in askance at Alana. She thought about it, then nodded.
“Should be fine. Since we have extra time, we were going to stop by Star Crossing for a day or two as well. See the sights, sample some of the wine that they are shipping East from Providence.”
Randidly nodded and looked around at the room. Everyone he didn’t know had stayed quiet for the entire discussion and now looked at him with a strange disappointment and longing. Inwardly, he could feel the Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom pulsing.
After sighing, he turned to them and said. “By the way, you all are also free to speak. If any of you have any questions, now is the time to ask them.”
As one, the waiting squad members blinked. Then they took an involuntary step forward. Their eyes were watery and bright.
Alana’s sharp voice cut across before any could speak. “One question each, so make it count. And then after that, we are making preparations for leaving tomorrow. So nothing too fancy.”
Randidly looked at Alana in bemusement, but she returned his look with one that indicated she thought that he was crazy. Some part of Randidly softened at that look, and then he turned back to regard these people that he had never met.
But for all that we’ve never met… they’ve probably heard every story about me, haven’t they? Or they saw when the Donnyton Squads challenged me…
Randidly grinned as he toyed with the idea of doing that challenge once more. It would be a hell of a lot more difficult now that everyone was probably higher Leveled than he was. But it might be enjoyable.
Still, he didn’t have much time to think, because they started asking questions of him.
Some were strange, like when he was asked why he settled Donnyton where it was. Another wanted to know what he was doing when the System arrived. A third asked how Randidly went about creating so many unique Skills. Someone else chimed in, asking how he managed to control all of his different vines in his plant moves.
One at a time, Randidly answered the questions. And despite what Alana said, he didn’t say anything when someone asked a second question or a third.
These were the elite of Donnyton, the rough ones that were always between Donnyton and the worst of the threats that faced them. And every one of them had a couple of scars. So Randidly didn’t think anything of it to spend a couple of hours sitting with them and telling them everything he knew about the System and living with it.
Very soon, he was talking about Aether and images, Soulskills and Skillsets. Although Earth had the benefit of Mrs. Hamilton and Daniel, that couldn’t compare to the generations of knowledge that had been assembled on Tellus and haphazardly distributed to Randidly by Shal. All the while, they listened and ate the information up.
Afterward, Alana pulled him to the side said,” So you aren’t just top dog for show. You sure as hell know a lot about the System.”
Randidly’s smile was thin. “Understanding is the only way we will be able to overcome it. And I don’t mean to let the System rule my life forever.”