“The resemblance is uncanny,” Alta muttered to Lucretia. “Are you sure it’s not him?”
“Quite sure,” Lucretia said quietly, eyeing the Randidly look alike. He had the same short black hair and sinewy physique. He even had the same sort of intense gaze that Randidly possessed. Well, he had a pale imitation of that gaze. There was none of the edge that Randidly’s recent work with images had given him.
In addition, those eyes…
As if sensing her gaze, the man turned and his eyes locked with Lucretia’s. His irises were a crimson hue reminiscent of fresh blood.
What was even more amusing was that he also clearly wasn’t anything like the true Randidly. Whereas the man Lucretia had worked with would have regarded her with a blithe curiosity on their first unknowing meeting, this strange doppelganger blushed and looked at the floor. Holy hell, he was attracted to her.
The whole notion caused Lucretia’s face to stiffen as she stifled a seizure of giggles. Perhaps sensing her amusement with an emotion perceptiveness that the true Randidly also lacked, the doppelganger pulled his hood down low over his face.
Alta and Lucretia had agreed to the Council of Fates offer to join the expedition to the ruin in the Land of Ghosts. After meeting at the predetermined spot, they had been joined by a masked Earth Golem, this doppelganger, and then a dragon-esque monster that appeared to guard the faux-Randidly.
They didn’t make conversation but regarded each other warily. It was only ten minutes later that the representative of the Council showed up with its retinue. It was a Weaver, standing only as tall as Lucretia’s waist, but almost as large as bear on all fours. Truly, for one of the first times since Lucretia had been in this world, she felt a cold sliver of wariness.
This one was not something to mess with. It was old.
With it came a Spriggit and another Monster. There was no need for introductions because everyone understood the point of the expedition. Part of it was exploring that mysterious upper land, but the other half was testing Alta, Lucretia, and the doppelganger’s party. This was a job interview in a way.
“I think he has a crush on you, Creta” Alta whispered as the group wound its way up into the mountains that would lead to the highest Land. The two of them had drifted back until they were at the end of the group.
“Enough about that,” Lucretia said softly. This was an amusing diversion, and she dearly wished she understood why this random individual had Randidly’s face, but that was not her current purpose. With her eyes on the grey roses with black thorns in Alta’s chest, she asked, “What are we doing on this trip? Interference? Or…”
Alta just smiled.
“My… my liege! I heard you were here, but-”
Randidly looked up, wondering what was going on. He became only more confused when a Monster looking like an anthropomorphic rhino walked up to him. With its broad hands raised in supplication.
Randidly shot Rejt a glass. The Earth Golem seemed just as confused as he was and slowly lowered the stone he was carrying to the ground.
The two of them had been signed with the unappealing task of clearing rubble from the great chapel to the Progenitor that spanned the back of Carthak. It had been built practically pressed up against the hollowed out inside of the mountain, so when the place was bombarded, a large series of cracks were opened in the back. Thin sunbeams fell into the ruined chapel while the wind made a melancholic melody.
It was, altogether unlivable. The keening noise of the wind was already giving Randidly a headache. But he understood the need and the motivation. The chapel was one of the largest remaining open spaces. If they could clear rubble out of here, it could be used for all manner of things that Carthak desperately needed. Even just moving the market here would make the lives of the refugees pouring into this broken city a dozen times easier.
“...I believe you have the wrong person,” Randidly said with a frown as he looked at the rhino man. It truly seemed like this individual believed that Randidly was something to him. But-
Well, it wasn’t impossible for one of the people in his Soulskill to look like him, right?
“My liege, there is no mistake. You likely don’t remember me, but I served under you in the defense of Dumoine. I am Lazar, Prince Ishmael.”
Randidly’s eye twitched. Ishmael, huh… Ash. Fitting.
“I don’t mean to disappoint, but I’m just a common laborer,” Randidly said slowly. He felt the bubbling power of the Crown of Cataclysm and Gloom, but playing pretty political games wasn’t the reason that he had come down to his Soulskill. He was here to understand the problems the Ashen Image was causing first had. It was an issue he had ignored for too long.
Now he was to gaze his foe full in the face while he waited for his plants to grow in the dark world above. Still, that was mostly in an observational role. He didn’t have enough of an understanding of what was going on to directly counter the Ashen Image. That required an answer he hadn’t yet found. There were hints floating around, but…
“There can be no mistake,” Lazar said, and now there was a burning light of fanaticism in his slightly leathery gaze. “You… you burn, sire. I feel the heat of you from here.”
Inwardly, Randidly felt extremely annoyed. Rejt had slowed to a stop and was now gazing at his hands pointedly, trying to not attract attention. It wasn’t a big deal if Randidly had been confronted about this alone, but since Rejt had heard, he would tell Kurag and Allica-
Randidly frowned. If he truly looked so much like this Monster Prince… Ah, that explained Allica’s pointed look about the Monster population in Carthak. She was already fooled into believing that he was a Prince, then.
Strangely, this only made Randidly feel more aggrieved. If she thought he was royalty, then why the hell was Rejt making more in daily wages than he was…?
So denials would fall on deaf ears. Fine then. Perhaps it was time to reveal a fraction of the hand that Randidly was holding.
It was akin to relaxing the grip he held on himself. After all, this world was an intimate part of Randidly. Just by being here, the elements and images that constituted the place sang to him. With extreme focus, he had thus far isolated himself from touching this world so he would stay in his role as observer. There was an electric shock as that connection was restored. Then there was a dull buzzing.
Then the entire chapel went still as the fabric of the world realized it was in the presence of a god. Randidly looked slowly up at Lazar, his emerald gaze luminous.
Although Lazar could clearly recognize something had changed, he predictably misinterpreted. Without missing a beat, he fell to one knee. “Ah, my prince! Thank the Progenitor you are safe. We had received word of the troubles in the capital… it seems your cousin will not give up his false claim, eh? But if you are here, all is well. Indeed, it seems that you have decided to agree to your Chancellor’s plans? With the High King slain and his kin destroyed, it would not take much for this Land to fall under your sway…”
Randidly remained still even as Rejt looked sharply up at the two of them. With a light touch, he reached out for not his crown, but for the tool to inspire the touch of awe that he needed. The Deific Mien of Yggdrasil.
The wind slowly shifted, turning the sharp and high noise it had previously been producing to something lower and more urgent. The world felt Randidly’s will moving and flowed around him to fulfill it.
Lazar blinked furiously. It truly seemed like he was trying to speak, but the weight of Randidly’s existence was too much for him to continue.
This is why these people feel hopeless. Randidly thought sadly, as his emerald gaze held Lazar frozen. Greed and small minded people bleeding the land so they can have that sense of control. When all you know is the threat of an attack… you begin to believe that the only way that you can control your fate is to attack. To control the world… you simply are the best at attacking…
Alta’s face flashed in Randidly’s mind. In spite of himself, he smiled wryly. That sentiment was slowly consuming this Soulskill, but he still felt somewhat helpless to combat it directly. He clearly knew that there was more to life, but he needed the image to fuel change in his Soulskill at this point.
With the smile, the binding on Lazar was released, and he fell backward coughing. Ignoring him, Randidly turned to Rejt. “How long?”
“How long did we know you were a prince… Hum…” Rejt seemed to think deeply about the question for several seconds. Then he shook his head helplessly. “Let me cut to the chase, Randidly. You are terrible at disguises. All Earth Golems know that Monsters are foul creatures that smell like ass. Since you showed up just slightly grubby, it was clear you were at least royalty-”
“Impudent,” Lazar roared, leaping to his feet. Randidly cast him a casual glance backed with the power of the Deific Mien of Yggdrasil and he instantly deflated like a balloon with a hole in it.
Clap. Clap. Clap.
A figure walked out of the shadows to stare at Randidly. “To think you would dare rush here to stop me, Prince Ishmael. But I’m afraid… it is far too late.”