After meeting and discussing the repercussions of Randidly’s presence on Tellus with Octavius, Randidly was in a foul mood. But he didn’t have much time to dwell on things; there was too much work to be done on Tellus.
The first thing he did was deliver the ring to Rumera. He had some temptation to keep it, just due to the ridiculous stats provided, but Randidly knew that he would soon head back to Earth and Donnyton; there, Randidly didn’t doubt that Sam would have plenty of high-quality equipment prepared for him.
Which he badly needed. All his previous equipment was damaged beyond repair during his fight with Aegiant. Getting an upgrade would be just what the doctor ordered.
Randidly looked down at his basic leathers and cotton tunic. It’s not just my feet that are bare these days...
After visiting with Rumera for a time, Randidly proceeded to meet with Aethon Thai, who was the de facto head of the remaining population of Tellus. In the wake of the battle of Icklid, the Oracle disappeared. So of the leadership of both Hastam and the Northern Camp, only Aethon Thai remained.
“We are so fucked,” Aethon said, head in his hands.
Randidly was inclined to agree, looking at the map that Aethon had before him. Honestly, Randidly didn’t want any part of this either; management was not his strong suit. Even in the beginning, he had relied on Mrs. Hamilton to handle those issues. But, as Shal’s disciple, most people were treating Randidly as one of the leaders in Hastam.
Not that most people knew what he looked like, but when people heard his name they attempted to mob him. Everyone had a son or nephew or granddaughter who would be the perfect disciple or spear attendant...
Besides, for all Shal really fucked Randidly, it wouldn’t be fair to allow Tellus to slowly crumble to pieces while Shal was away. Since Randidly was here, he would try and build something that could last.
“I’m meeting with the C Corp CEO in fifteen minutes about sending work groups to see what salvageable farmland we can scavenge, but it will likely be too late,” Aethon said. “During the fighting, the few remaining Masters and Pontiffs stole most of Hastam’s food stores and fled to the countryside to start their own cities. Without the looming threat of Wights, people are turning on each other and fighting over food. It hasn’t happened yet, but I expect people to riot soon. Personally, I don’t mind suppressing the city; I don’t think anyone remains that can fight me. But… wasn’t the point that we would get away from this? You spoke to him before he left, what did Shal recommend?”
Nothing, Randidly thought sourly, but he kept his face neutral. Sighing, he walked to the window and looked out at the countryside. He left me. Which, will likely be enough. “I can have some people… assist with the food problem. As for the chaos… Shal won on the image of a dream. We need to make a place to feed those dreams.”
“Feed the dreams?” Aethon said with a frown.
Randidly nodded slowly, still looking at the busy streets below. Those that hadn’t left the city were pretending like everything was fine, setting up stalls and selling their belongings in the manner of C Corp, scraping together enough coins for food. Of course, the price of food was rising far too quickly for the unstable currency of Hastam to keep up.
There would be inflation issues very soon, but Randidly wasn’t sure how to address those. But in terms of dreams… well. Earth had given him a very thorough education in dreams.
“You should found a University,” Randidly finally said.
“A university? I am unfamiliar with the term.” Aethon replied.
Randidly turned around. “A place of learning. An Academy. A place where young spear-users can aspire to go. There will be classes, where skilled spear-users instruct any who have the talents to be accepted into the University.”
“Like a big Style?” Aethon asked with a frown.
Shaking his head, Randidly said, “Not exactly. It would be better to be a gathering place for dozens of Styles. And a place where the taboo against teaching Styles widely is wiped away. It will likely be hard to recruit instructors at first, so it should be framed as a testing ground for Styles. To prove which is superior. That will draw in the curious and bold, at least at first. And once it gains momentum…”
“...and if the Styles offered are tempting enough,” Aethon said slowly, “The people that split off to the countryside will be drawn back.”
Randidly nodded. “Because who doesn’t dream about proving their Style the best of all? And the University will help stabilize the currency if you require payment to attend and provide complimentary meals for the attendees.”
“Which brings us back to the food problem,” Aethon sighed.
“Believe me, my people can handle it.” Randidly chuckled. Ignition of the Emerald Essence could turn the countryside into a lush jungle in barely a day. “Two more things. The University… call it Pronto University. And also… I need a favor. I need help locating a specific Style that I owe a debt to.”
To Randidly’s surprise, Aethon was surprisingly helpful on that front. Which allowed Randidly to leave Aethon’s office with a pleased expression. Which swiftly disappeared as he saw the individual walking toward him.
The CEO of C Corp, Claptrap, stared at the ground in front of Randidly, looking sullen.
The sight of him was such a surprise that for several seconds, Randidly just looked at the other man. Randidly stopped dead, considering Claptrap, feeling the Aether that trapped a soul in his one arm, and the strain his body was under holding together all the strangeness that Lucretia had tied into him.
But only one real thought came to Randidly’s mind as he considered Claptrap. You killed Roger, you arrogant fuck.
“Well?” Claptrap hissed, his eyes darting up to him. “If you have something to say to me-”
Randidly walked past him without another glance. Ah, but I don’t have to say anything, do I? You will be devoured by guilt for the rest of your days. And for all that you sneer like a two-bit villain... C Corp has done a lot of good for Tellus. For that, I’ll let my own feelings go.
Claptrap flinched as Randidly passed close by, and he stared as Randidly didn’t even acknowledge him. Silently, Claptrap stood, watching and sweating, until Randidly rounded the corner and passed out of sight.
Next order of business was setting up the giant torches filled with Ignition of the Emerald Essence. They were placed near the remaining food-producing farms, and Randidly actually enjoyed watching the plants greedily absorb the ambient energy it created.
The results were satisfying as well; It took Randidly and Io two hours to create an acre of harvestable apples that were large and hearty enough that the thick skin had to be cut with a spear.
Of course, the flesh inside was compensatorily soft and delicious.
Once she had the idea of how to create them, Io and her team got to work spreading the torches to other areas. Which left Randidly free to move on to something else.
Humming beneath his breath, Randidly walked toward the Northern camp. When he approached, he didn’t bother to greet the guards. At this point, he wasn’t willing to risk being recognized by one of the guards and being bombarded by questions about Tellus’ future.
Well, I might be being paranoid, Randidly reflected. I’m only known by most everyone who survived in Hastam. Outside of that… and hopefully, there are other communities throughout the world. Small ones, to be sure, but knowing we have survived the trial, they will likely explore to find the heroes that saved them…
Deep in the Northern Camp, he found the group just as described by Aethon Thai’s subordinates. There were four people, sitting outside of one of the ragged tents that mirrored a thousand similar dwellings that populated the muddy outskirts of the camp. They were an old woman, a young woman, and two twin boys, likely around fourteen.
The survivors of the Willow Tree Spear Style, Randidly thought sadly. When Randidly had met the group a year ago, there had been dozens of them. On the run from the Engraving Guilds, sure, but living.
The last year had been brutal on the Style, whittling their number down to four. But Randidly was pleased to see that both the Matriarch and Jade, the woman who had noticed him Engraving and took him to see the Matriarch, both survived.
The two boys Randidly didn’t recognize by distinctive features, but… he recognized their archetype. They were the future of the Tellus, the brave younger generation who would become the heroes to face tomorrow. They were exactly the group that Pronto University needed to draw in order to flourish.
As they play-fought in front of them, the Matriarch looked on fondly. Her eyes were fixed on them as she allowed the dull noises of the camp wash over her.
After watching the group for a bit of time, Randidly approached. Jade was the first to notice him among the crowd of wandering spear-users, and she jumped to her feet as if she had sat on a porcupine. The Matriarch was second to notice, staring at Randidly with an almost overpowering examination as he neared the four.
The boys didn’t seem to notice Randidly at all. They were too busy play fighting with spears. Randidly noted with amusement that the boy that appeared to be winning had a shirt that was sewn with Helen’s tassle.
Small world, Randidly thought with a work. Then he realized that Helen was probably considered the champion of the under 25 Tournament.
The four had a small fire, and Randidly stopped at a few meters away from it, looking across at the Matriarch. Eventually, she nodded.
“Well met, friend.” The Matriarch said. Then she turned to Jade. “Jade, please begin to gather our things.”
“Huh- why? Is something wrong?” Jade’s eyes flicked from the Matriarch to Randidly fearfully, as though he was a harbinger of the return of their hunters.
The Matriarch chuckled. “No. I believe Mr. Ghosthound was just here to pay back his debts. I assume it wouldn’t be too much to ask for you to find us better living quarters?”
Randidly grinned. He could probably swing that.