1.11 – Change

Randel
Level: 32
Endurance: 5
Strength: 5
Dexterity: 11 + 1
Magic: 0
Spirit: 10
Most used abilities: Dark Bond
Most used weapon skills: Dagger Throw, Power Stab, Sneak Attack, Lunge, Spear Throw, Throat Opener


After the Inspector had let me free, I walked back to the Core to meet up with my friends once again.

Friends?

Well… I wasn’t sure if friend was the right term. If I took my own definition of the word, we weren’t exactly friends. It wasn’t our matching personalities that connected us. It wasn’t the same hobbies or interests that brought us together. It wasn’t even the fact that we enjoyed each other’s company that much. No, the only reason we had stayed together up till now was that we didn’t have any better alternative. After we had reached Bildy, this still hadn’t changed that much. Out of all the people in this world, it was each other we could trust the most.

Therefore, if I really intended to stay with the others, it was only fair that I informed them about my condition. They needed to know that Soul Eater could manipulate my emotions. I knew what to expect from my previous incident in the woods, and I wanted someone to hold me back if— when things went wrong.

I wished that I could tell them that we had an audience. Knowing that we were constantly being watched was discomforting, but if we were clever enough, we could turn it into an advantage. Even if a few Players suspected something from the existence of the Player support fund, it was a safe guess that there weren’t many who knew about it. I already had the edge over them in that regard.

It was worth thinking about how I could cultivate this knowledge. I wasn’t very good at acting, but if I could behave in a way that pleased the viewers, I could get a bigger audience and more money. Unfortunately, providing a good show would probably mean getting into a lot of fights, which I had no intention to do. Still, there were other options. Dressing up in black from head to toe? Making up ridiculous catchphrases? I had no idea what crazy immoral three-eyed aliens liked, that was the problem.

In hindsight, I really didn’t know why the Inspector had told me this information. She had talked as if it was nothing, but I had my suspicions that it was somehow important for her that I knew. Or maybe not. She could have been lying. Perhaps this second encounter was just for show, much like the first one. She had been gruff and cold back then, which was obviously an act… but what if she had been acting this second time as well? I had no way to tell. Still, I chose to go along with her story, for now. The Inspector wanted me to believe it, so it was definitely the safer option for me.

I met up with the others after they were done talking with Jaks and his friends. Tattletale Imaya told them an awful lot of stuff that I would have preferred to stay quiet about. I was quite pissed about it, but at least she had some results. Jaks had promised to keep in touch with Imaya, and he also offered to answer any questions about the collar that she might have.

Although we still had plenty of daylight, we decided to check out an inn that Jaks had recommended for us. After so many failures last night, I had the opinion that we couldn’t start searching for an inn too early. Our progress through the town was slow, hindered further because I told them about Soul Eater along the way. I talked about everything I could safely speak of, focusing mostly on the effect that the black dagger had on me.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” Imaya said when I finished talking. “Your leg was cut when you had the Dark Bond active. Shouldn’t Soul Eater be damaged by that?”

“How— ” I had to stop to let a man pulling a cart pass. “How do you know it isn’t damaged?”

Imaya studiously avoided my eyes as she answered. “I may have… borrowed it to take a closer look while you slept.”

I just stared at her for a moment, then sighed dejectedly.

“How many times?” I asked.

“Huh?”

“It’s not important, but I’m curious. How often did you borrow it?”

“Well,” she shot me an embarrassed smile, “It was always kinda boring to be on watch all alone while you took a nap. And it was fun to try to take it away from you without waking you up. Aaand, returning it was even more of a challenge. So… I dunno how many times? But not too often, though! Sometimes Nosy was too watchful for me to try.”

Alright, I would have been better off not knowing. Was a little bit of privacy too much to ask for? I hoped that this would change when we found an inn.

“Isn’t that creepy?” I asked. “Like, similar to stalking but on a whole different level? Watching people sleep and prodding their stuff?”

“Oh come on, we saw each other sleeping all the time! I could probably list everyone’s favorite sleeping position and rate on a scale one to ten how much noise they are making as they sleep in those positions.”

“That’s because you are a creepy stalker.”

“No!” she protested. “Besides, it’s only stalking if an ugly guy does it. If it’s a cute girl, it’s just… umm…”

“Don’t worry, you don’t have to finish your sentence. I don’t see any cute girl anyways.”

“HEY!”

“As for your earlier question,” I said, deciding to get back on track, “I don’t think the damage on the dagger would be easily recognizable. Compared to my whole body, the cut on my knee was very small. However, I also inspected the dagger several times on our journey. I wasn’t trying to spot the damage, but was checking those glowing orange lines on the blade, trying to see whether they were spreading or not. Anyways, I would have seen if the dagger had any cracks on it, but no. It was in perfect condition. So yes, it’s strange.”

“Repair itself maybe?” Devi contributed to the discussion on heavily accented Common. I was actually surprised that she could follow this part of the conversation.

“Yeah, that would make sense!” Imaya exclaimed. “Remember the first time you touched the dagger? The hilt changed its shape so that it would fit your hand!”

“I guess… yeah, it’s plausible that it can repair, or more precisely, heal itself. It is supposed to be a living weapon, after all.”

I watched Imaya whether she wanted to add anything, but for once she stayed quiet and thoughtful. She hadn’t said anything about me being a killer. From the Sylven I didn’t expect much reaction yet, as I still had to translate the whole story for them. Devi probably got the gist of it, but Teva’ryn was just following us silently, not understanding anything what we had been speaking about.

“So, what’s the verdict?” I asked Imaya.

“Hmm?”

“About me being a murderer. About me not being able to control that… bloodlust. Now that you know the truth, do you still want us to stay together?”

“Aww come on Randel, don’t sweat about it that much! We will do something about it, and it will be fine. So what if our resident Toad Killer has a dark side to him? It just makes him cooler. Still not cool, mind you, but at least a bit less of a loser.”

“You aren’t taking this seriously,” I frowned.

“And you are taking this too seriously. You said that you can feel the presence of your dagger, right?”

“Only that it’s in this area. Once or twice I felt as if I knew in which direction it was, but then… nothing.”

“Right. It’s something. So eventually we will find your Soul Eater, then you can kill some poor animals, and everything will be the same as ever.”

“No, you really aren’t taking this seriously. Look, if we cannot find it fast, and there is no reason to think that we can, I might begin to lose my mind. Or lose my life.”

Imaya sighed, then looked at me apologetically. “Yeah, I know, I know. Sorry for sounding like I don’t care. I do, and after we settled down at the inn, finding Soul Eater will take priority. But you are still being silly if you think we would abandon you just because of this. I don’t even understand how can you think so! If anything, this just makes staying together all the more important.”

I stayed silent. It felt like I was justified in my nervousness, though I still didn’t have any proof that Soul Eater could affect me from afar. But maybe this anxiousness was already the dagger’s doing. No, that was not a good line of thinking. How could I do anything if I began double-guessing myself?

We arrived to the inn, a weathered old house on the outskirts of Bildy. The place was recommended to us because it was cheap and people here didn’t ask questions. They also tolerated Players more than the usual, which meant that we got only a few scowls directed in our direction as we rented our rooms. I was going to be sharing a room with Teva’ryn, while Devi and Imaya got another room next to ours. The rooms were small, having only a bunk bed, a table with a chair, and two cabinets, barely leaving any space to navigate between them. I didn’t plan to stay here for too long, so it would be good enough for now. It was definitely an improvement anyways, after sleeping on the ground for weeks.

I stayed silent about Nosy, because I didn’t imagine bringing him here a lot. Hopefully, he was still outside in the forest where I left him in the morning. He didn’t seem to like the city, or more specifically the people in it that much, so I was hoping that he would behave and stay in the woods. I had no control where he wandered off to, but luckily I could teleport him to me any time. That is, if he remained to be my companion. According to my collar’s menu, he hadn’t abandoned me yet.

After we were done exploring our rooms, I headed out to the streets once again, dragging the others with me.

“Where are we going?” Imaya asked as I stopped at an intersection. “Do you have a plan, Randel?”

“Not really. My only plan is to walk around and see if I can feel Soul Eater being close. Oh, and I wanted to be away from the inn when I gave you this,” I said, taking out 5 gold coins from my packet and handing them to her.

“What the—”

I gave Devi’lynn and Teva’ryn the same amount as well. They shot me confused looks, but accepted the gold without a word. Now they could afford to buy clothes and other stuff for themselves. It might have looked like a generous gesture from me, but in truth I was still keeping most of my easily-earned money for myself. Even with this much money given away, I still had more than 25 gold remaining.

“Why do you have this much money?!” Imaya exclaimed, then she whispered with a worried look, “You haven’t stolen this from the inn, have you?”

“What? Of course not! I had this on my account, in the Core.”

Imaya frowned. “You told us that you received little more than one gold.”

“I lied.”

“Why do you have so many coins, Randel?” Teva’ryn asked while Imaya huffed and puffed.

“I don’t know. Something probably went wrong, and they give me much more than wanted.”

It was a lame excuse, but I couldn’t tell them the truth. I briefly wondered if the time would come when I could be completely honest with someone. It wasn’t likely that it would happen as long as I remained in this world.

“Whatever is the –, thank you Randel,” Teva’ryn said. “I appreciate it.”

“Dunno what he said,” Imaya piped up, “But I agree with anyone who says that Randel is a cheater! No, a hacker! How else could someone have so much money right at the start?”

“If it hurts your honor Imaya, I can give those coins to someone else.”

“Oho! Don’t be so hasty,” she said, taking a step back and waggling a finger at me. “I’m perfectly capable to turn your dirty money into something truly great! Come on, Devi, we are going shoppi— I mean, we are going to the market and see if we can spot Randel’s dagger!” She grabbed the Sylven girl’s arm and began dragging her away. “See you guys later at the inn!”

She stormed away, Devi barely able to keep up with her. I was too dumbfounded to say anything before they disappeared in the crowd.

“You’re welcome girls, no need to thank me,” I grumbled.


The soup was so greasy that it was barely edible. I could have imagined a better introduction to the local cuisine than this. Teva’ryn didn’t fare much better with his cooked… something. I honestly couldn’t determine what it was supposed to be. Maybe we should have chosen a tiny bit more expensive place to eat. Teva’ryn insisted that this wasn’t that bad and he had eaten worse, but I could see that he was having difficulties with his meal as well. When he saw that I finished eating, he put away the remnants of his meal and spoke up.

“There are a — of things I wanted to discuss with you.”

“Like?”

“The state of our group. I think it surprises no one that I’m not really leading anyone anywhere at the moment. Without the — language skills, I’m more lost than any of you.”

I nodded. Back in the cave, when I had told him to lead us, I didn’t actually expected him to become our leader permanently. I had thought that in combat situation he might be more experienced and wanted him to call the shots right there and then. I hadn’t really cared about what would happen after we were safe.

“Why do we need a leader at all?” I voiced my doubts.

“We don’t need any leader immediately, but it would be — if there was a fight. Being — and acting together could be the difference between life and death.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, then added, “It would be also useful for keeping focus. We need a goal to work towards, — . It would be the leader’s job to push forward, while keeping the whole team in line.”

“It’s just the four of us,” I said. “We easily keep each other in line.”

“I disagree. Moreover, who said that it would be always just us four? Others might — us in the future.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You want to recruit other Players?”

“It’s not a priority, but yes. The other option would be that we join another group, but I have my reservations about that at the moment.”

He had a point. It would have been good if we found someone trustworthy who would have us in their team, but the prospect didn’t seem too likely. A new Player was a liability for the team. And four new Players? I didn’t think any group would take us in, not all at once.

We also had to be wary of those who might try to use us, because we didn’t know much about this world yet. It was so much easier to fall for any tricks when everything was new and foreign. The fight with the octopus giants had also a real eye-opener. I didn’t think Lukas and Filip had brought us along just so they could use us as bait or as distraction, but they sure as hell hadn’t bothered helping us when we were in trouble.

“I agree that we should think carefully before joining any other group. But I don’t want to be our leader, if that’s what you want to say. Yes, I understand humans better than you do, but that’s not everything,” I said. I saw him frowning, so I added, “Let’s just say that we will plan what to do together, and when there is a fight you will direct us.”

“That’s not the same.”

Of course it wasn’t the same, but it didn’t necessary mean that it was worse. I saw that Teva’ryn was really set on this idea and wouldn’t budge, so I decided to change tactic.

“Then let’s take a step back,” I told him. “Why are you asking this at all? Are you planning to stay with us? I thought you were looking for a Sylven community.”

“Ah, yes. If that other Player— if Jaks could be believed, there are no Sylven communities in this world.”

“What? How so?”

“Lack of women, as always,” he said bitterly.

Oh, I should have guessed. The gender ratio of Sylven Players was probably the same here as it was in their world, 10 to 1. From what little I knew about their society, I could imagine that most of their women were kind of pampered. They didn’t have as many rights as Sylven men did, but they were undoubtedly well cared for—  or so I presumed. But if they suddenly woke up in a completely new world and had to fight monsters, it would be especially hard for them. In this regard, Devi was obviously an exception.

What’s more, even if some of them survived they wouldn’t be able to bear enough female children for the future generations. This made me wonder how they were able to do it in the first place. Presumably this wasn’t a condition that their race always had… and now they were slowly dying out.

However, most of these were just guesses, because both Devi and Teva’ryn were surprisingly secretive about their world.

“I could find other Sylven Players,” Teva’ryn continued, “But for the moment I decided to stay with you.”

“Because I have money?”

Teva’ryn looked offended. “I hope you aren’t serious. Do I look like someone who can be — with just a few shiny coins?”

To tell the truth, I didn’t know. Maybe I was just being insecure and distrustful, but I could easily imagine that to be one of his reasons.

“If you haven’t forgotten yet,” Teva’ryn said on a much softer tone after I didn’t answer, “I still owe you my life. You dragged me away from those monsters when I couldn’t move, and you hunted food for us when I wasn’t able to. You could have left me easily, but you didn’t. For that, I will be grateful as long as I live.”

I coughed. “Yes, well… you’re welcome. I just did what I thought was right. Umm… this still doesn’t solve our… err, leader problem.”

“Yes,” Teva’ryn said, “I’m willing to let it go for now, but we will talk about it later. I’m not saying that you should take a leading role, but I have to warn you that I’m not a natural leader either. I was— no, I am a House Guard. I know nothing about planning or giving orders. I am lost in this world, and as much as it hurts to admit, I have no idea what to do in order to get back home.”

We sat there in silence for a while. Teva’ryn’s idea had some merit, but the problem was that I wasn’t a team player. I knew that I’d have trouble following others, and I knew I was not charismatic enough to be a good leader. Besides, I didn’t even want to be in charge. I simply saw no solution how this would ever work. Maybe if one of the girlsno, maybe if Devi took charge… No, I wasn’t sure if that would be better. She still had the disadvantage of not being human. Besides, I didn’t know her well enough to trust her unconditionally in every situation.

Lucky for me that I wasn’t really attached to this leadership idea in the first place.

“I also wanted to tell you,” Teva’ryn spoke up, “That I will visit Nosy in the forest from time to time, if you want. I need to train if I want to keep myself in — , and I cannot do it indoors. As for your pet, I believe he would — the company.”

I smiled. “Yes, great idea! Thank you.”

“However, I don’t think you should let him — alone in the forest for long. Someone might — him, or he may decide to try to follow you into town.”

“I think he is… cautious not to be seen. He is not too trust towards people. You and I are exceptions, because he got used to us as we traveled.”

Teva’ryn nodded. “Your pet, do as you see fit. I’m just warning you.”

It wasn’t as if I had wanted Nosy to become my pet, but Teva’ryn was right, the current situation wasn’t ideal. I hadn’t really considered all the responsibilities that came from keeping Nosy. Having to hide him all the time was just one more hurdle I didn’t need.

“I teleport him back to me when we finish here,” I said. “But speak of others go alone, why do you let Devi go to the market?”

Teva’ryn took a moment to consider my question. “While it’s true that it is my duty to protect our women, I don’t want to be — to Lady Devi’lynn’s side all the time. — isn’t really necessary at the moment. She and Imaya will be fine. The streets might not be without danger, but people fear us here.”

“Fear? I think they are more revolted than fearful. It’s as if we were…” I trailed off, trying to find the right words. “I don’t know. As if we bring bad luck or something.”

“I’m not an — at reading Human emotions, so you may be right. Either way, I think Lady Devi’lynn is quite safe.”

I frowned. “Why do you call her like that? Why call her Lady all the time?”

“Because I’m just a House Guard, and she is nobility,” he said, much to my surprise.

“Wh— really? So you don’t call every Sylven woman this formal? But wait, she’s a noble? What does that mean? She never said anything about this to me.”

“She wouldn’t,” Teva’ryn said with a tinge of annoyance in his voice. “From what I heard about her, she had never been able to accept her station. You would think someone born into one of the wealthiest Houses in the world would be — with her life… but no, if anything, being rich just encouraged her eccentric behavior.”

It was hard to believe for me that this whole time, Devi hadn’t said anything about her social standing… but on the other hand, why would she? All that wealth didn’t matter anything in this world. In fact, Devi had even asked me to address her casually, and continuously pestered Teva’ryn about doing the same. Now it made a bit more sense to me.

“Alright, but this was all in your world,” I said. “Here, it doesn’t matter what she was. So why call her Lady still?”

Teva’ryn shook his head slowly. “The moment I stop — her the proper way is the moment I give up on going back home. Just because you are somewhere else than you are used to be, it doesn’t mean that you throw away all decorum. Lady Devi’lynn was a noblewoman in the past. After we make our way back home, she will continue to be so in the future. So why should I behave differently towards her in the present?”

Well, if you put it that way…

“Oh, but there is one more thing I’d like you to know. I won’t force you to change the way you are speaking with Lady Devi’lynn, because you are an — . But you should be aware that shortening her name like you always do is extremely rude.”

“You mean to call her Devi? Hey, it was she herself who tell me to call her like that!”

“Yes, I know,” Teva’ryn said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “It’s one of those — ideas of hers. I just wanted to warn you, in case you meet other Sylven. Should you omit someone’s House-name, it would be considered a — insult: only those who have been exiled are called so. And those who don’t belong to any of the Houses are shunned in our society.”

“Ooh! Then this means that you are from House Ryn? And Devi— Hey, I have thought you were House Guard in the same House as hers!”

“You weren’t far from the truth. Our Houses are closely aligned— or at least they were before we got here.” He paused there, frowning in thought. “Politics is complicated. Considering how quickly the — are changing, I wouldn’t be surprised if our Houses become hostile towards each other by the time I get back.”

“Yeah, I can imagine it would cause quite a few problems if Devi’lynn disappeared without a trace.”

“Yes, it’s a possibility. It is— “ Teva’ryn stopped abruptly and cursed. “Why haven’t I thought about this yet?!”

“Thought about what?”

“I’ve — how the head of House Lynn would react if his daughter suddenly disappeared. We don’t know how we were kidnapped, but if it was indeed without a trace, it would cause quite a — . But only now do I realize that in fact, it’s not the case. There is one thing that they could find as clue.”

It took me a few seconds to get what he was saying. “Ah, you mean that you disappeared as well and someone might have connected the two?”

“Yes,” he groaned and slumped back in his chair, “My family will be interrogated…”

Actually, the interrogations were probably over by this time. Well, that was unfortunate. If someone had found out that he vanished at the same time as Devi, it was quite possible that Teva’ryn would be framed as the kidnapper. Or they would say that he and Devi escaped together on purpose. Wasn’t that how those romantic stories went? The princess falls in love with the righteous and honorable knight, and they escape together to… fight giant octopus-headed things while being watched for amusement by grotesque three-eyed aliens.

“Well,” I stood up from the table, “I’m sorry for your family, but it’s no use worry about it now. You cannot change anything from here.”

“Yes,” Teva’ryn replied, getting ready to leave too. “Besides, it’s not certain that they’ve — the exact time I disappeared. I was off-duty, and I’m not as important person as she is.”

We got out to the small street and started walking back to the inn in silence. The sun was going down, but there were still lots of people on the streets. The atmosphere was quite pleasant, actually. If I didn’t look hard enough, everything could have passed as an average town in a developing country. I just had to ignore the robot dogs carrying letters, the laboring and patrolling golems, the occasional translucent barrier… and once I even saw a skeleton following an old man, but before I could get a closer look the sight was blocked by a carriage pulled by a robotic horse.

Yeah, totally average stuff if I ignored those.

“You know what I find strange?” I asked Teva’ryn. “You obviously knew who Devi’lynn was, even if she didn’t know you personally. But for us humans, we don’t even hear about each other before this. Not even living in the same area.”

“Yes, but in your world there are surely — people too, right? Or people who are well-known for some reason.”

“True, but still, you and Devi’lynn live relatively near to each other. At least that’s what I think from what you two tell me. So, I think… how many Sylven are there in your world?”

Teva’ryn looked at me with narrowed eyes. “It’s not important right now.”

What the hell?

“Fine,” I scoffed. “It’s not like I wanted to invade your world after I got out of this one. I take a guess then and say that based on our starting group, there are two Sylven for every five humans. Which means it’s still strange that the two Sylven would know each other. But maybe there is some kind of logic behind the selection. Worth thinking about: maybe we figure something out about our kidnappers.”

We walked for a few minutes, both of us in thoughtful silence.

“Why, just how many Humans are there in your world?” Teva’ryn asked.

I barely suppressed a grin. Oh, he was asking for it.

“It’s not important right now.”


I didn’t meet the girls when we got back to the inn. I was dead on my feet, so all I could to was to head straight for my bed. So much had happened to me in the span of a single day, that after several days of simply walking through the forest, this day was too much. As soon as my head hit the mattress, I was out.

I woke up to the sound of someone banging on the door. Because I heard Imaya’s voice from the other side, I didn’t hurry to and looked around instead, cursing as I realized that it was already getting dark outside. Teva’ryn was gone from the room, so that either meant he only slept a few hours and was already up and out in the morning, or I had slept through a whole day and it was sundown. Knowing how tired I had been, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which was more possible. These shorter daytimes were a constant struggle. I touched the rune carved on the wall next to my bed, and the magical lamp began emanating soft, white light.

“Finally!” Imaya exclaimed as I opened the door. “I was getting afraid that you’ve fused with your bed and couldn’t leave!”

I was about to make a half-hearted retort, but then I took a double take as I saw what she was wearing. It was a sleeveless one-piece dress in soft red and yellow colors, reaching down just above her knees. She also wore sandals and a straw hat. Only the braided basket was missing, otherwise she was giving off serious farm girl vibes.

“What do you think you are wearing?” I asked.

“Awww, don’t you begin too! Look, this is just casual wear, okay? I’m not going to go monster slaying in this.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not telling you to go monster killing, but couldn’t you buy something more… practical?”

“I did buy practical clothes too,” Imaya huffed. “Seriously, I already discussed this with Teva’ryn, don’t you dare to start the same conversation again!”

“I’m not going to, but—”

That was the moment I noticed Devi on the corridor, right behind Imaya. She had a new outfit too, and it wasn’t exactly on the practical side either. She was showing off an awful lot of her dark blue skin. Her form-fitting black top left her toned stomach exposed, but at least it went up all the way up to her neck. She wore a leather jacket over the top, which was probably more for the looks than anything else because it was quite small too. Her new boots reached up to her knees, but in turn the leather shorts that she wore were much shorter than the ones we had been given initially. I noticed that she was taller than me now: a second look confirmed that her boots had slightly elevated heels.

“Casual wear too?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No, this is actually my battle gear,” Devi said earnestly. “I used to practice swordfighting in clothes like these ever since I was little.”

I blinked in confusion. Her acting was so good that it took me a moment to realize she wasn’t serious. I already knew that she was quite good at controlling her expressions and her voice, but this time she caught me off-guard.

“You will be quite noticeable, you know.”

She nodded. “Yes, I know.”

“Especially by men,” I said. Blue skin or no, her body was still… finely shaped, at least by human standards. Or at least by my standards. No, no, no, better not get distracted. Point was, I knew from Teva’ryn that Sylven men usually liked their women a bit more chubby. Yeah, that was my point. Definitely.

“Yes, I know,” Devi repeated herself.

“Okay, fine,” I said, throwing up my hands. “I would ask why you believe this is a good idea, but I don’t think I want to know the answer.” I looked back to Imaya. “So why did you wake me up? I hope it wasn’t to talk about clothes.”

“Nooo,” Imaya started slowly, “But now that you mention it, have you bought any clothing at all, Randel?”

I gave her a flat look. “Yes. The shirt I’m wearing at the moment is new.”

“Whaaat, really? It looks just like the old one.”

“Well, maybe some of us had better things to do than looking for the most fashionable clothes! Like finding Soul Eater!”

“Whoa, whoa, alright, no need to shout,” Imaya said, making placating gestures with her hands. “In fact, I’d bet that we made more progress than you while you slept through the day.”

“Imaya, not good—” Devi began to chide her but I talked over her, barely containing my rising rage.

“You bet?! Imaya, I gave you money, and at the next moment you were off to buy several sets of outfits for yourself! You didn’t even say a single thank you, so be it, but—”

“We did want to thank you, right now! But you just had to go ahead and kill the mood, didn’t you? Now you—”

“Kill the mood? What mood, Imaya? You being a pain in the ass, that’s what you call mood nowadays? How about you go and—”

“Randel!” Devi interrupted our shouting match. I reluctantly looked at her when she pushed Imaya behind her, but I was still pissed.

“Hey, listen,” Devi said in a softer tone, then switched to her language. “Remember when you told us to keep an eye on you in case your behavior becomes strange?”

“Of course I remember, it was yesterday!” I said exasperatedly. “My memory is completely fine, thank you!”

Devi just gave me a stern look.

“What?” I asked. “Are you implying— No, this has nothing to do with it. I feel completely fine. For god’s sake, I’ve just woken up and the first thing I had to do is to speak with Imaya! Of course I’m irritable.”

“Hey,” Imaya spoke up, “What’s that supposed to mean? You should know that I—”

“No!” I interrupted her. “Shut up. I don’t need to hear whatever you want to babble about. Just… let me think for a moment.”

It didn’t make sense. Last time Soul Eater was getting hungry, I didn’t feel… irritated. I just had felt a strange itch to use the weapon, and it had made me bloodthirsty during the fight. But… it hadn’t been like this. On the other hand, Soul Eater had been with me at that time. And now that I thought about it, I had begun losing my temper only after I thought about looking for Soul Eater instead of shopping clothes. If I had just got out of bed on the wrong side, I wouldn’t have been so—

“You never get angry with Imaya this quickly,” Devi said softly. I almost told her too to shut up, to let me think, but I caught myself in time. Damn, something was indeed not right.

I gulped. “Are you telling me that I’m already starting to lose my mind?”

“No, not your mind,” she said with a sad smile. “At least not yet. Just understand that your dagger is a bit — subject for you at the moment, whether you realize it or not. Try to keep yourself in — whenever you think about Soul Eater.”

“Easier said than done,” I scoffed. “I don’t even feel different. I can’t even tell whether my emotions are natural now…”

I sat down on my bed and looked around the room desperately, as if I could find the solution in one of the corners. At first I thought that by avoiding Imaya for a while I could prevent getting myself too worked up. But if what Devi said was true and the mere thought of losing Soul Eater made me irritable…

“This is just going to get even worse, isn’t it?” I said to no one in particular.

Devi walked over to the bed slowly, then sat down next to me. “You just have to keep a — image of yourself in your mind,” she said quietly. “An image to which you can compare your current self.”

I looked at her, confusion clear on my face.

“For example,” she continued, “the Randel I know wouldn’t be angry with Imaya just like that. He might get frustrated with her, he might talk back occasionally, or he might even banter with her from time to time, but the Randel I know would rarely bother to argue with someone, let alone shout at them angrily. He would just say that he doesn’t waste energy for things like that.”

I frowned. “You know that’s not true. I even have an argument with you too, back in the cave—”

“You have already apologized for that one, and if I remember correctly, you even admitted that usually you’re not like that. Besides,” she added with a smile, “Even that time, it wasn’t you who got angry. It was me.”

I only hummed noncommittally.

“I’m not saying that you are incapable of feeling anger,” Devi said, “Just that it doesn’t happen too easily. So what I’m telling you is that you should try to think rationally about what you would do in — situations, and act with that in mind, not — to your emotions.”

It sounded good. Too bad it wouldn’t work.

“I hope you know that if I get angry, comparing myself to a mental image in my mind would be the last thing I do.”

“It isn’t just for when you are feeling angry. We don’t know what else could Soul Eater make you feel,” Devi said, then switched back to Common so that Imaya could understand too. “And don’t worry. If it still not enough, we are here to keep you in check.”

“Yes, that’s true!” Imaya piped up, apparently sensing that I had calmed down. “So, is everything alright now? Because we came to tell you something Randel, and it’s not about clothes.”

Everything obviously wasn’t alright, but I didn’t think Imaya actually meant it as a question. I gestured for her to continue, but she just kept looking at me expectantly.

I sighed. She just never knew when to stop. “Imaya, this isn’t the best time to try my patience— ah, whatever,” I cleared my throat. “Tell me, oh keen-eyed Archer of ours, what news do you bring to my humble abode?”

“Wow, Randel, that was actually better than I expected. Ahem! It is my pleasure to announce that I have found others who would gladly lend you a hand in finding your lost treasure! Meet them tomorrow when the sun is highest on the sky, at the place where the Reapers are revered!”

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