Randidly condensed himself at the end of the horde of people after he walked away from Alrick. When his body appeared, it was marred by a sour expression on his face.
To his surprise, it was difficult not to take the fact that a living being based upon some reflection of himself had bluntly refused friendship. The grounds on which he did so was, of course, incorrect, but Randidly could sense that no matter how he pushed, he would not have changed the Earth Golem’s mind.
Randidly’s original goal was to rile Alrick up and then reforge his determination with a friendship with himself. It wasn’t a great idea, but when Randidly had detected that the second meeting he would have today was with the scarred and hopeless leader of the Earth Golems, he really had no idea how to proceed.
Cheering someone else up was not his strong suit. But sometimes, there was nothing to do but his best. And to his surprise, he had succeeded.
Somehow, in rejecting Randidly, Alrick had found his piece. And it left Randidly irritable. So he hoped this third meeting would be more pleasing than the others.
Randidly casually walked out from behind a rock and joined the slowly walking groups of people at the rear. Most of the people here were Spriggits who walked aside large carts, carefully checking the equipment within. Making use of his newfound power to sense some of the intentions of those nearby, Randidly quickly realized that most of these were experimental tech related to a giant power plant.
These carts carried the pieces of the engine that was supposed to open up a path out of him. It was oddly disturbing to be near something that likely was meant to damage him. Not that Randidly really believed that it would or could. But just to have this symbolic dagger pointed at his heart…
Randidly did his best to ignore the implications of what the carts carried and let the people and carts around him trundle past. The person he was looking for was even further back in the endless stream of bodies.
Annoyingly, the one Randidly was looking for went out of the stream altogether and was standing still in a small wooded area that hadn’t had the misfortune to be trampled by the wave of bodies. Even though Randidly had already intuitively understood how much damage this many people traveling recklessly could do, it was somewhat intimidating to witness the ruined land they left in their wake.
Perhaps more concretely than he had sensed earlier, this was leaving a scar across his Soulskill on the magnitude of the Ashen Image itself. Glancing upward, Randidly cursed; it had begun to rain.
He found the figure he was following crouching next to a small obelisk that was situated in the middle of the small wood. The figure didn’t look up when he approached, occupied by what Randidly assumed was a prayer. So instead, Randidly closed the eyes of his physical body and felt the figure’s inner world more directly.
Slowly, Randidly opened his eyes. The figure had stood and turned to face Randidly.
“...hello. I’ve not seen you before,” The figure said lightly. “But I’m surprised another knows of this old place. My father researched ruins of the Progenitor, you see. So that’s why… I had to stop here. I just wanted... to check, you know?”
“You are… Danz?” Randidly said slowly. The name was somewhat unfamiliar to him, but he found it in the man’s mind. But what concerned Randidly were the deep gashes in the man’s soul. It seemed like someone had dragged a flail through his psyche.
For all that, Danz’s smile was surprisingly even. “And you… must be the Progenitor?”
There was a second where Randidly’s heart jumped in shock, but then Danz chuckled and shook his head. “It can’t be, right? If the Progenitor appeared the first time someone prayed, people would save those moments for dire times....”
His voice trailed off, then he looked upward sharply at Randidly. “My apologies. I’m not… I’m not myself. You will have to excuse me. I have… women troubles. Err, woman troubles. Just one.”
“It seems strange to me that someone whose father researched the Progenitor wouldn’t pray,” Randidly said slowly. Although Danz had given him an obvious in with his prior comment, Randidly didn’t want to address it directly yet. The man was talking about Alta. But Randidly peered at Danz with a bit of apprehension. There was an image hiding in Danz, one that Randidly couldn't’ quite suss out. And until he could figure out why this moment was important…
“Oh? Oh. I suppose that’s true.” Danz scratched his cheek. “My father didn’t raise me. He left us, my mother and my sister, and explored the lands. Very rarely, we would hear from him. Even more rarely, he would send us money. It was difficult, but manageable until my mother died. After that… I was so young and needed to work. So I took the first job I found with pay enough to keep us afloat. A lab assistant. A housekeeper. A… butler.”
Randidly moved and sat next to Danz on the damp grass that surrounded the obelisk. Of the entire forest, this was the spot with the most sunlight, so there were several bushes and weeds that choked up space. But it felt strangely insulated from the droning bass of the convoy only a short distance away. Randidly stared at Danz, studying him for a hint of what he might mean.
“Have you ever…” Danz faltered as he started to speak again, and had to frown for several seconds before he could continue. “Do you think some people are incapable of love?”
But before Randidly answered, Danz shook his head. “No, that’s a dumb thought. Okay, how about… do you believe in fate?”
Randidly froze. He did recognize the scent of a Skill that hung around Danz. But it was an old, distant memory because Randidly had forcibly destroyed the Skill as it tried to bind him. What was it called? Weaver with the Threads of Fate? In a way, however, it made sense that there would be enough remnants to manifest here. That was the fate of this place. To be a distorted reflection of all the images that passed through Randidly.
When Randidly didn’t say anything, Danz continued to speak. Randidly couldn’t look away from the deep circles underneath his eyes. “It has to be all or nothing, right? Everything is predetermined and we are puppets… or nothing has meaning and everything is empty chance. The Progenitor is either a grand script or a pair of dice… but which it is…”
“Why were you praying, Danz?” Randidly asked quietly, but his eyes were bright and vicious. Just from touching Danz’s mind, he had seen the path this conversation would run, and already fury was pumping through Randidly’s veins.
Danz continued speaking as though he hadn’t heard Randidly. There was a rambling madness to his tone that hinted at how long it had been since he had slept soundly. “Do you know how long I've held this job? It was supposed to be a short-term thing. All I wanted was to help my family. It was just a job. I didn’t mean to fall in love. It was supposed to be safe. It was supposed to be a harmless crush on my boss. Even then I knew she would never love me, even if my reasons were wrong. Even as we began to end our shifts with her riding and choking me out until she came. It was just…”
“Danz…” Randidly said, his voice rumbling with fury. The air around him warped as he slowly lost control of his emotions.
All Randidly could see was the whites of Danz’s eyes now, and there was a little bit of froth at the corner of the man’s mouth. “I used to know so clearly why I was doing things. Reasons were bright and easy. To make money, because I loved her, because I actually wanted something. But everything went to shit. First, the corporate spies in the assistants that Creta killed, and then pretending I wasn’t fucking Alta every night so that she could have her fake engagement. Working long hours, even though my sister was fine on her own now. And the money kept getting better, but I had nothing to do with it. All I had was… memories.
“There were so many things to do… and then Alta tells me we are going to build a flaw into the generator that would result in a cataclysmic chain reaction. And she’s so serious. And for the first time… more than I’ve ever seen her before… she’s happy. This is what she’s always wanted. And I’m just… so sure she will never look at me like that...”
“Danz!” Randidly bellowed.
Danz blinked. Then he smiled and wiped some of the drool and froth from the corner of his mouth. “I was praying for judgment. I know how to fix the generator. But I won’t fix it. I just won't. I wish I could tell you why. I've thought about it for a month, and nothing has happened. I go to her bed every night and then return to mine. That’s the whole problem. These days… I just feel so used. I don't know how to want anything for myself anymore. For so long I’ve been taking care of small tasks to avoid thinking about the big problems with my life. And now… those big things were only ever a bunch of the small things grouped together. My choices were made while I was on autopilot. And… And…”
A series of wracking coughs overcame Danz then, and he spent several minutes coughing onto the forest floor. Flecks of phlegm and blood spattered the grass. Eventually, Danz straightened again and looked directly at Randidly. “I’m glad someone was here for this. Truly. Maybe the answer truly is destiny… Please, I need a favor. After… after this. I want you to watch Alta. Watch her carefully.”
“Watch her yourself!” Randidly growled.
Danz winced. “I just want to know… If she will mourn me. If there was enough space in her heart for me.”
It took Danz almost an hour of wracking coughs for the poison to do its work. Randidly believed that it would have been possible for him to burn the substance out of Danz’s body, but the process would have been painful beyond a normal person’s tolerance. And besides that, if the man was thinking about suicide now, it would likely only get worse if he was mentally worn down by pain.
Randidly lay back on the grass and let the soft rain fall on him. The tiny pinpricks felt good.
His Soulskill seemed to hum. Something had been set in motion by him witnessing the three scenes today. But what?
Part of what he had seen was actually relevant to the Soulskill broadly. Alta striking out killing the Weaver would have implications. Probably too, the disposition of Alrick would be relevant to the future of this world.
But why was it necessary for Randidly to be here and witness the final moments of Danz…? Would it affect Alta?
Randidly released a breath. Then his eyes snapped open. His gaze pierced upwards through the thin and spitting crowds to the creaking and powerful branches of the World Tree. Perhaps he did understand why karma had brought him here. It was a lesson.
For so long I’ve been taking care of small tasks to avoid thinking about the big problems with my life. And now… those big things were only ever a bunch of the small things grouped together.
Perhaps it was timely enough of a reminder to have been necessary. Although Randidly was in Tellus to help, his main goal was to gather knowledge for Earth’s eventual conflict with the Calamities. The outcome of the tournament… was ultimately secondary.
Shaking his head, Randidly stood. For all that he needed to remain focused on what was to come, sometimes small tasks took precedence. This was one of those times.
He gathered to himself enough roots to form a shovel and began to dig a grave.