Perhaps it was the darkness, perhaps it was isolation, perhaps it was the lack of capability that he was so suddenly afflicted with, but in the wake of burning his… of creating his new image for a Phantom, he felt strange. To himself, he felt suddenly alienated.
It was the same feeling that one experienced when sleep would not come to your mind even while your body drifted off. Very soon, your perception seemed to narrow to a small point. If you remained completely still, that point of “you-ness” would shrink even further, and your body would seem to stretch around you like a cumbersome coat.
You couldn’t move without it, but in those moments it seemed unnecessary. It seemed like it was less a portion of yourself and merely a covering.
That was how Randidly was feeling, except with his personality. In the dark space, continually refining his images and only shuffling around in controlled bursts, he was losing a sense of perspective on himself.
Exacerbating the strangeness was Randidly’s continued struggles with the Ashen Image that still seemed to dominate all of himself. His images were growing stronger, but that did little to unseat the feeling of ash as the dominant force in his inner space. Those burnt Skills remained an ominous memorial to his past self and reinforced the feeling of helplessness before the Ash.
What he needed was a large and specific force that could combat the creation of ash. Fire was easy and specific. It burned substance and produced energy and ash.
What then was the force that took energy and ash and created substance?
Previously, he had broad themes like growth as the counter to fire. Yet, growth was extremely difficult as an image for Randidly. After all, what was growth? It was the huge culmination of hundreds of chemical processes that enable a plant to evolve. Not at all simple. Easy to picture, but the picturing was only half the image. The other half was the truth.
So, beset by the pressing feeling of strangeness and the question of how to counter the image of ash, Randidly gently checked the topsoil of his little plot of land for good luck.
Instantly, his hand paused over the seed, unwilling to touch and somehow break what was happening. Was that… a change? It had been three days. It wasn’t so strange if things finally started to work…
Randidly burned his Stamina to spread some water into the soil and then leaned back with a satisfied smile. It might be worthless for image training, but to escape the strangeness and buy time to think of a counter image, his Soulskill was ideal.
With a thought, he slipped inside himself.
Within this world, his Perception was almost all-encompassing. He obviously couldn’t pay attention to everything at once, but Randidly could focus on distant parts of the Soulskill and see things with great clarity; he was the ultimate voyeur.
However, watching wasn’t the point. What he needed was some sort of activity he could do that would take up his attention and free up his subconscious to reground itself. Maybe once this feeling of self-alienation fled, he could find the image he needed.
With those goals in mind, Randidly considered the series of lands balanced on the world tree in front of him. It had been four months in this world’s time since he had visited with Alta and Creta, but he wasn’t particularly interested and spending time with them. Alta still made Randidly somewhat uncomfortable, and Creta had made it clear that she intended to stay at Alta’s side and see her journey to its conclusion.
But from Creta, Randidly had gathered some background information of the current state of his Soulskill. The seven lands, in order from top to bottom, were currently laid out like this: the Land of Ghosts, The Land of the White Hunters, the Land of Spriggits, the Land of Weavers, the Land of Monsters, the Land of the Earth Golems, and then the lowest Land, inhabited by Soulless.
A little over five years ago in the Soulskill, a great leader had emerged amongst the Earth Golems and had rapidly changed their society. Due to the increasingly warlike tendencies of those below them, the Monster Race and soon the Weavers entered into a war with the Earth Golems. This eventually resulted in a stalemate, which was only broken when the Spriggits entered the war.
About a year ago, the Earth Golem leader was defeated. Even now, the Earth Golem Land was a broken and ruined place. It was a slow thing, picking up the pieces after you were ransacked by an army of foreigners.
And for whatever reason, that drew Randidly. Because what he was looking for was the force that built things back up after they had been destroyed. It was all very well to say something pleasant like “hope” or “the human spirit” but that wasn’t the point. The point was the image.
So Randidly, Progenitor of the entire world, stepped and found himself in the Land of the Earth Golems. He wondered if there was a place he could sign up as a migrant worker.
“Understand, you would be mainly required to engage in exhausting physical activity,” Allica Urn said, regarding the rather wiry man before her with some disbelief. He wasn’t even wearing boots for god’s sake. Did he think he was a White Hunter? “Our group mainly sifting through the wreckage of some of the old forts or hauling stone from the quarries. If you can’t keep up, you’ll get cut. No excuses.”
“That should be fine,” The man said, scratching at his black hair.
Allica did her best not to stare too openly at his hair. As an Earth Golem, she didn’t have any hair. Monsters had hair, and she believed that this man was of the Monster lineage, but it was generally shaggy and unkempt on monsters. Yet this monster had Spriggit hair. Although it was shorn rather short, it was still straight and silky, nothing like the matted fur that most monsters sported.
“Also, I can guess you are of the monster race. Our peoples are healing after the war. That’s probably why you are here. But just know, even if you run with our crew, people will give you a hard time for what you are. There is a single rule in our group: no violence. So no matter how you are treated, if you raise a single finger against anyone, and I mean anyone, you’ll be out. Got it?”
“Got it.” The man even had the gall to smile at her.
Allica barely restrained herself from shaking her head. For all that this guy seemed enthusiastic, he also seemed like he didn’t have enough meat on his bones to last out the week. And Progenitor knows, she needed bodies. Desperately. Sandstorm season was approaching and the interim government had ordered the huge population of refugees that had flooded the new capital back to their old villages.
But how could those people survive when the Spriggit mechs had been so thorough in annihilating all habitable buildings between the Upper Lands and Hall, the Broken City?
As the leader of a small group dedicated to assisting the move, Allica was doing all she could to prevent the catastrophe that she could predict all too well. When she was young, she had witnessed even a hardened warrior flayed to nothing by the vicious winds of the sandstorms that routinely crossed their land.
It was a harsh land they lived in. But, Allica knew, that was why her people were strong. That is why they would recover from this.
“...well, if there’s nothing else, you ready to start immediately? Oh, what’s your name, friend?”
The man seemed surprised at first, but then he nodded. “I’m Randidly. It’s nice to meet you.”
Allica just grunted and waved her hand. “If you are coming, grab one of the ponchos by the door. We will need to head out of the hills to reach the site.”
Nodding, the man picked up one of the ponchos and draped it across his body. Although he was of a height with Allica, he probably was half as wide and only weighed one third as much. Allica barely suppressed a snort as she looked up and down at the strange Monster Randidly that was completely buried underneath the heavy layer of canvas and leather of the poncho.
She did notice, however, that he did not grab a pair of boots. Inwardly, Allica shrugged. If he wanted to lose his feet, that was his business. Even though it made her heart hurt to imagine, what could she do if he was going to be a dumbass about it?
Besides, Allica’s heart had hurt far too much over the past few years. This small tingle barely registered at all.
In spite of the heavyweight that Allica carried in her chest, she forced her body to mechanically put on her personal poncho and boots. After some small adjustments so every opening was properly covered, she beckoned at Randidly and opened the door.
“Alright, let’s get going. You’re probably the only person dumb enough to take the job, so let’s end today’s recruitment early. It’s going to be a long walk.”