Randidly was shocked by the power of the winds. He had arrived in the refugee camp by simply willing himself there, but since arriving in the Earth Golem Land, he had fully intended to move everywhere the old fashioned way.
Within ten minutes, Randidly was reconsidering that decision.
The refugee camp was built in the middle of some low hills, so the winds outside of the buildings there were annoying but manageable. But following after the grim-faced Allica, the two of them quickly headed out of the hills into what Randidly originally assumed to be a savannah type biome composed primarily of scrub grass and squat cactuses.
It was so much worse than that.
As soon as they were out of the leeward side of the hills, the wind found them and brought its friend sand with it. Normally this wouldn’t have been anything worth fussing over, but Randidly felt a strange stirring in himself as he witnessed the wind and sand combination.
It was faintly imbued with his own image of Sharpness. With wind moved in sharp slashes and cutting undercurrents, doing everything it could to rip through the poncho and tear his skin. After only a few minutes, his feet stung terribly, and a scowl settled onto his face.
Luckily he had followed Allica’s lead and fastened the strangely binding poncho all the way. He felt like a fool wearing this glorified bastard child of a straight jacket and a small tent, but it certainly kept the wind off of his body.
But Randidly’s stats ultimately made the danger meaningless. It was simply a light sting. So he followed after Allica, inwardly wishing she would pick up the pace.
After about two hours, the pair arrived at a spot that looked completely ordinary to Randidly. There were a few cactuses around them, and a crack in the ground, but otherwise it was just another windswept patch of land. But Allica pulled up and announced, “We are here.”
At first, Randidly was quite sure that he had misheard due to the keening of the wind. He just stood and looked at Allica out of the hood of his poncho.
Allica seemed to sense Randidly’s confusion. There was only a small opening in for her face, but Randidly could see her eyes soften as she looked at him with dawning recognition. “Ah, you have never been to our land before, have you?”
Randidly shook his head.
There were a few seconds without any noise aside from the wind then. The two regarded each other. Randidly was simply nonplussed, but Allica seemed to be searching for something in his face. Eventually, she sighed.
“It is admirable, then, you have chosen to come help in our time of need. For all of my people, I thank you. But then I am even more troubled by your ability to help. Come, I will show you. Witness the true blow that the Coalition Army struck against our Land.”
Allica turned and approached the crack in the ground and began to lower herself into it. Quickly, Randidly followed. There was a series of rock shelves that functioned like giant stairs that curved around on itself, leading deeper into the crack. The roof was pretty close to his head as Randidly lowered himself, but at least it was an escape from the vicious wind.
After about twelve of the shelves, they arrived at a stone path that hugged the wall of this underground gorge. Below them to the left, the crack opened wider and continued downwards into darkness. In front of them…
“It would have been easier to understand if we had walked around to witness the front of this waystation, where trade would enter,” Allica said softly. Suddenly out of the wind, her voice seemed to echo off of the walls in an ominous manner. “But that entrance is completely collapsed, so it would have been another half hour of walking just to see the sights. When there is work to be done… such waste is directly working against our interests. Still, you should understand from seeing it from this angle.”
The path sloped downward and broadened to form something akin to a road that led forward through this strange gorge. Although small, there were spots that opened to the wider world above, so some light filtered down. Whereas back and to the left the crack led to the depths, that distance narrowed in front of them, so there was a connection between the two sides of the gorge. And it seemed that someone had carved a city into the walls here.
And then set off several tons of C4.
Most of the buildings were in pieces, forming a substantial pile of rubble in the middle of the road, blocking it off quite near to where it formed. Adding insult to injury, it looked like the walls above the carved buildings had been collapsed down on top of everything, so there were simply huge boulders precariously perched on top of the building rubble, complicating the matter of excavating the area.
Below, Randidly could spot about two dozen individuals carefully hauling away bits of rock around a particularly large boulder, seemingly trying to create a lane for it to roll out into the portion of crack that would fall below.
Because otherwise, how would they get it out of this place?
“Before the war, this way station housed almost one hundred thousand people. As if that wasn’t important enough, this also gave a place for civilians to stop on long journeys across the plains between our great cities. Without these way stations, it is almost a three-day journey from one city to another. For the normal person… that is torture during our calm season, and during sandstorm season it is emphatically impossible.”
Randidly stayed silently, slowly absorbing what Allica was saying. He wondered if her gaze earlier meant something that he had missed. Was she expecting something in particular from him…?
In Allica’s sigh, Randidly heard a reflection of a wariness that he felt all the time. The wariness of feeling solely responsible for the lives of others. “...you will be assigned under Kurag. I’ll introduce you, but it will be up to you to earn your place with him. Don’t make me regret bringing you out here.”
As the light in the sky slowly faded, Allica walked stiffly past the rather boisterous fires of the common laborers to the surveyor’s tent. It wasn’t much more than treated alpaca leather across wooden poles, but it reached three meters of height. Compared to the meter high sleeping tents that were provided to the workers, it certainly was a palace.
She did notice that while Randidly was only eating quietly, he was well within the circle of the men. They roared in raucous laughter at some joke, and Kejt even pounded on the monster man’s back. Randidly took it without even moving from the blow and a ghost of a smile danced across his face.
With the uncanny knack of a perceptive individual, Randidly’s eyes slid up and met Alica’s gaze. Even from the fifteen meters in between them, the vivid emerald of his eyes was clear.
It wasn’t just the silky hair possessed by Spriggit’s that Allica was fascinated by. She also was spellbound at the gem-like gazes that some other races possessed. And of all that she had encountered, this Randidly’s was the most enchanting.
His eyes reminded Allica of the many stories that her grandmother had told her of spring in their old world before the Progenitor had moved them to this land. All fresh grass and cool dew.
But Allica turned away and shook herself. Even in the flickering light of the fire, she saw how much rubble still remained. Here for almost a week and they had only accomplished a third of what they had intended. There simply weren’t enough volunteers to help from the refugees. Allica was forced to rely on spending some of her own money to fuel the expedition. And that money-
Her expression turned bitter as her thoughts turned to Tal Urn, her brother. But as she entered into the surveyor’s tent, she wiped the expression off of her face. Her three surveyors were already within, sipping fermented milk from small wooden cups. They nodded as she entered.
Allica wasted no time getting down to business. Her sharp gaze shifted to Kricsk. “How goes clearing the road?”
“Poorly,” He rumbled. Of them all, Kricsk was the tallest. Had he been standing, his head might have pushed up the cloth roof of the tent. “It is as you see; all that is free has been moved. Now, if we take away the bottom… the pile collapses. And to climb and remove the stone… dangerous.”
It was as she expected, so Allica didn’t bother to reply. Instead, her gaze turned to Norm.
Norm shrugged. “Some of the buildings that have been revealed spread very deeply into the walls of the gorge. There were some collapses, but those have been cleared. In total, I expect almost a hundred souls can fit in there. About double if we must. But without more buildings to clear… my men have started helping Kricsk and Kurag’s men.”
“And you, Kurag?” Allica asked. The news that their week of work could only house two hundred people struck directly at her chest. “How goes the exploration of the Great Under?”
The great under was a network of tunnels and ruins that stretched across the whole of the Earth Golem’s Land. However, it was not made by the Earth Golems. Or at least, not the current generation. Allica’s grandmother used to hypothesize that the Great Under was an old remnant.
A remnant of a tomb. One erected for the Great Emperor, who held such power that the Progenitor himself walked down from the sky to meet him.
Kurag was old, oldest of them all, of Alicca’s grandmother’s generation. His skin was turned to leather by the wind, and his voice was raspy and deep. “...it goes well. The new boy you assigned to me is very efficient. He is sure footed and strong. He has found trails in the Great Under that lead to other buildings we have not yet unearthed. I suspect… if we have Norm’s group clear them, we may house… almost one thousand people here.”
Alicca gaped. Both at the news of Randidly’s capability and because of the windfall of finding room for one thousand people. “That’s great!”
“No,” Kurag interrupted. His eyes were sharp. “It is not.”