“Why do you seem so infuriated?” Lucretia asked, somewhat amused by the raisin-like form of her mistress’ current face.
“Bah, and how can you be so chipper about this? Are you seriously suggesting that we agree?” Alta hissed as she stared at the letter in her shaking hands. “They don’t fear me enough to hide. It’s humiliating.”
Lucretia kept the smile on her face even as the flowers of karma in Alta’s chest slowly shifted. From their thick stalks, blackthorns had begun to emerge from the fragile grey exteriors. And these thorns were deadly sharp.
The process had started the day that Randidly had descended and sparred briefly with Alta. That had lit a fire in her heart that made her wild and ferocious in a way that reminded Lucretia of Alta’s younger years. All of the jovial appreciate of life had disappeared, like the curling smoke from an extinguished candle. Sometimes, Lucretia wondered how Alta wasn’t eviscerated by the vicious trap that lay coiled in her chest.
How was it that the brief meeting with Randidly could set her off like this…? Lucretia wondered.
The Council of Fates had continued to be relatively quiet in recent months, even though Lucretia’s information network had caught the scent of their slowly waking. What she hadn’t expected at all was that the Council would send a letter.
A letter addressed to Alta directly, offering induction into the Council. The letter was very explicit that the Council at large was aware that they had captured and killed major agents of the Council, and that the Council of Fates was willing to extend the hand of reconciliation if Alta and Lucretia agreed to assist the Council with a certain task.
The excavation of the final door, resting within the Land of Ghosts.
“So we ignore it and continue with the refinement of your resonator,” Lucretia said patiently. “This changes nothing.”
“This changes everything, Creta.” Alta said. Her smile twitched as she stared at the letter as if she too was struggling to keep the amiable expression on her face. “Of course we will do. This is the only chance I’ll get to find out what they care about. And once I have that… It will be time to burn this whole farce to the ground, won’t it?”
Randidly returned back to the Soulskill with a pleased expression on his face. He felt somewhat guilty that he wasn’t truly training right now, but he did feel a strange sense of peace suffuse him while he was participating in the simple work of clearing rocks from the tunnels.
Besides, in the outside world, his plants were growing. With gentle hands, he traced the half meter height of his babies. It was hard to concentrate on the excitement of overcoming the limits of his prison in such a material way, so Randidly didn’t mind giving himself a break inside the Soulskill. Even though remaining here would stretch the amount of time he experienced before the growth was complete, it was still satisfying in a separate way.
As Randidly walked out of the darkness of a tunnel and into the light of the fire, Kurag looked up sharply. “You’ve been gone almost an hour. Surely your bowels aren’t so weak as to flinch from a few days of travel rations?”
“Is there any need to play civil? We do not like each other. I wished to spend time alone.” Randidly said lightly. Of course, for him, only a few minutes seemed to pass. But he had flitted out and back into his Soulskill as quickly as possible. But to Kurag, likely it had been quite a bit more.
Kurag’s frown deepened, but perhaps it was just a trick of the shadow from the fire on his face. “Inform me going forward. You may be capable, but you report to me. And since you so detest our interactions… shall we start to work?”
Randidly nodded and the two of them expertly put out the fire and packed up camp. For all that Randidly was annoyed at how clingy Kurag had become, he couldn’t deny that the man was extremely capable. Obviously, he had spent more than a little time in the military.
From there, the two descended into the dark and desolate tunnels of a completely unexplored waystation. Randidly and Kurag were the only two individuals for a full day’s walk.
Unexpectedly, word had gotten out that Allica’s group had accomplished so much in the first waystation. Taking this as permission, thousands of refugees had set forth from the hills to the cleared space. From what Randidly could understand, the Sandstorm season should start in about two weeks, and it had been known to arrive early. And the structures built in the hills for the refugees were not designed to withstand the fury of the Sandstorm Season.
So while Allica tore her hair out trying to settle six thousand refugees, she had sent out two forward groups to check two of the nearby waystations. One was lead by Kejt and the other by Kurag. And Kurag had been so taken with Randidly’s capabilities that he announced that only he and Randidly would be necessary for their team.
Although Randidly wasn’t positive, he had a sinking suspicion that Kurag’s reasons for bringing him out here alone were not innocuous. But at the same time… was there any real chance of Randidly getting harmed in his own Soulskill…?
“We will meet back here in six hours,” Kurag announced after they clambered down the strange, near 45-degree angle tunnel to reach the main part of this way station. Unlike the previous one, this was a series of connected caves, so the piles of rubble were larger and more imposing. It seemed that several of the caves collapsed due to another cave system beneath this place. “If you run into any trouble… well, may the Progenitor be with you.”
Snickering at his own joke, Kurag walked away. Randidly rolled his eyes and went in a different direction. Immediately, he reached forward and sensed the scope of the caves in from of him with Grasp of the World Seed. Then he frowned.
These caves… were huge.
With a light jump, Randidly rushed forward. Almost casually, he reached to either side of him to casually touch large piles of rubble and reduce them to ash as he moved through the dark caves. Although he couldn’t see, Randidly had grown used to relying on his other senses to keep his balance and sense of perspective.
But still, Randidly was somewhat irked at the return to blackness. So he easily manifested a small tongue of flame above his own head, illuminating the surrounding area. Standing at the far wall of what had once been one of the main caves inside of this way station, Randidly peered down into the space revealed by the collapsed wall.
Randidly whistled softly, the sound echoing downward. He took a step forward and dropped down to land lightly almost thirty meters below. As Randidly landed, his face immediately twisted. This air… this feel… it was familiar, although Randidly couldn’t put his finger on why. Whatever it was, however, immediately set his teeth on edge. There was something strange here. Something that called to him, while he recoiled from it simultaneously.
This energy… For almost five minutes, Randidly stood completely still. It was a scent that burned at his brain. This energy… why was it so difficult for him to place?
His first instinct was that this was the energy of the Creature, but although its poisonous touch was definitely a part of it, that felt wrong. Where else had Randidly taken strange energies from-
A dull roar finally broke the spell the energy of this place had cast over Randidly. But the sound was incredibly distant. In caves like these, a noise like that could-
“Fuck me,” Randidly growled, whipping around. He pinged outward with his Grasp of the World Seed. Because he had been rather confident he wasn’t able to be harmed, he hadn’t been too thorough in his scan. The area in front of Randidly was completely clear, so he hadn’t thought more about it.
He had never felt a need to scan behind him.
Even as he used his sense to expertly navigate through the underground tunnels, Randidly’s senses did the best they could to lock onto the fight that was occurring in a nearby cave system. There were too many moving bodies for plants to have a detailed description through the feeling of tumultuous air vibrations, but there was definitely a mob attacking one figure.
And from the movements… the solo figure was ripping his way through them.
Still, when Randidly burst into the cave he witnessed a giant claw smashing into Kurag from the side. Even was he was slammed to the side, the Earth Golem smashed the two smaller foes that were distracting them before careening into a stalagmite with such force it cracked in half.
Roaring in rage, the large monster ignored the broken bodies of its smaller kin and charged toward Kurag. Randidly couldn’t help but notice that the monster itself carried a wound on its throat that would likely be fatal and still moved with an impressive amount of speed. If it was this strong when it was wounded, it was even more impressive when the fight began.
The fact that Kurag had managed to fight off so many of these was impressive. And also, under Randidly’s more exacting examination, the enemy revealed itself to be Soulless, the desperate remnants of the invasion force the Creature had used. In this portion of the cave, the Creature’s energy signature was much stronger. It seemed that these poor fools lived here.
There was a split second where Randidly considered staying his hand and leaving Kurag to his own devices. After all, Kurag had made it rather clear that he would do just so much if Randidly were to encounter trouble.
The next moment, the Soulless was dead as Randidly’s spear took it in the back of the head. It fell without ever realizing it had died, forever stuck at the moment that it leapt toward a defenseless Kurag. His Crown seemed to burn in the air above his head, although Randidly made sure to suppress its image.
Randidly had no true spear here, so the image he had conjured quickly faded to nothing and the Soulless’ blood fell to the ground. Casually, he walked over to Kurag. The Earth Golem was still, but Randidly knew that it was just a ploy. To what end, Randidly wasn’t sure. And honestly, he was growing tired of these tiny suspicions.
Randidly stopped in surprise. Of all the reactions from Kurag, this was one that he hadn’t expected. The old man sat up and gave him a lingering look.
Shrugging, Randidly said. “You are my boss. What else could I do?”