Randidly arrived around the time that Alta’s confusion at her loss dissolved into sobs. Almost unseeing, she looked up at him as he stood over her and slowly gathered her hands into his own. “Why…?”
“I’m sorry. Someone should have told you long ago. They should have warned you that this Path was empty.” Randidly said softly.
Alta’s hands tightened around his own. “But it was MY Path. I chose it!”
“You chose wrong. So I’m here to ask…” As Randidly spoke, he felt the rotten karma moving in Alta’s chest. Old wrongs ready to weigh heavily upon him for the rest of his days if he chose the easier path. But like he told Cailm… all things had a cost.
Within Alta’s chest, the old flowers twitched. Their petals had long fallen off of and pooled in her chest. The rancid smell of rot hung around her soul like a mangy dog begging for scraps of food. All of Alta had slowly been destroyed from within by the heavy weight of this karma that had been left to die.
Could I have said something, that day when I showed her the true power of ash…? Randidly wondered. And he knew the answer was yes. What he could have shown her didn’t matter. What would have mattered was that he took responsibility for what he had done. He could have talked with her. He should have shown her that ash was not everything.
But he hadn’t. And this karma now bound him to ask of Alta a favor.
All things had a cost.
“...I ask… for forgiveness.” Randidly said simply.
“Fuck… you…” Alta spat out. Then she died, the image inside of her extinguished.
Sighing, Randidly straightened. He turned to Rejt, who had finished making his peace with the passing of Tessa. The two men regarded each other silently for several seconds.
“To you too, I apologize,” Randidly said with a short bow. “I’ve… made too many mistakes to count. There might not have been an easy answer for how to stop what happened here, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t my responsibility.”
Rejt shrugged and walked over to Allica, helping her stand. “Bah, we are friends. There is no need to ask for forgiveness. I am sure I might make some minor mistakes in the future that will require forgiveness as well. Such is life.”
Randidly’s eyebrows twitched. “I don’t think you understand. I’m the Progenitor. All of this-”
“It is known,” Rejt nodded sagely. “Did you not tell me years ago, in the cathedral of your making?”
Randidly opened his mouth and paused. Well, he had told Rejt he was the Progenitor in the Cathedral while they were cleaning, but Rejt had acted amused like Randidly had spoken a joke. So Randidly had thought he hadn’t been believed. “Perhaps it is so. Which explains why some of your prayers have been so irreverent over the past few months.”
Rejt grinned. “I have not seen it written that God and Earth Golem may not be friends. So I am candid. It is one of my many virtues. As is magnanimity. I forgive you, Randidly.”
Chuckling, Randidly turned to Allica.
She regarded him skeptically. “We believed you to be the Monster Prince. To think we had shot too low. Well, I must say, you really fucked this one up.”
Randidly threw his hands up in the air. “This is my first time. And to be clear, I allowed you to fuck up. I didn’t cause this.”
Allica grunted. “I get the picture. Man, it’s hard to even believe. You are the Progenitor? I used to hear stories about you. And all the while, you were traveling from Land to Land, taking odd jobs. That’s a really weird way to run a world. Maybe a good one, but I’d think you’d have better things to do than just shifting rocks...”
Smiling, Randidly didn’t bother to answer. He simply waited for her decision.
Allica’s face scrunched up as she thought about it. Then she shrugged. “Well, yea. I forgive you too. I’ve not been perfect. I just have one question: was the… Emperor real? Did he really exist?”
“Yea,” Randidly said shortly.
“Fuck me,” Allica muttered. Then she raised her finger and pointed it meaningfully at Randidly chest. “That’s all well and good, but don’t let my brother know that. He will hold that over my head for years. The guy is stubborn as a mule.”
“Fine, fine,” Randidly said, feeling relieved in some strange way. These two, for all that they were a part of his Soulskill, he liked them. Which was the price of asking for forgiveness, Randidly supposed. That from now on, he would always be equal to them, rather than a god.
All things had a price.
When Randidly spoke to Alat, he had two choices. He had chosen the hard route. Because now, he needed to make some sacrifices.
“What now?” Rejt asked. “Oh great Progenitor, give us the briefest peek into your vast and intrepid psyche.”
“The factions of the Procession are still killing each other above,” Allica grunted. “For all that the Procession is well and fucked, they’ve spent years learning to hate each other. It won't’ be easy to resolve.”
“Most food sources are destroyed, apart from ours,” Rejt said with a shake of his head. “We fed the Monster Prince because he was a damn sight better than the Metal Queen, but it beggared us to do it. Hard enough to survive in this cave without supporting the bloated corpse of one of royal blood.”
“The Lands are widely destroyed and plundered,” Allica added.
“Can’t move the population without food, and food can’t grow enough food here.” Rejt piled on.
Randidly raised his hands. “I get it. I know. I’ll handle it. But…”
Glaring at Rejt, Randidly pointed at the deep crack that had been ripped in the golden symbols on the ground by Rejt’s final attack. “Was this really necessary?”
Rejt adopted a contemplative expression. “Hum. An interesting time to start asking whether things are necessary. Isn’t your world about to collapse on itself?”
A few minutes ago, as he held Alta, Randidly could have asked Alta to use her power to fuel the new world that he wanted to create for the people of the Soulskill. It would have been a less anticlimactic ending, for one. And she would have refused him in the same way she refused the forgiveness, but Randidly sensed she would have created a huge amount of energy in her rage.
That energy would have been tainted, but Randidly could have appropriated it to help form the new world. The energy he had stolen from the Wights would have been the other half. Together, it would be difficult to predict the consequencess going forward for his Soulskill.
There definitely would have been consequences, too.
But Randidly was tired of pushing off the payments he needed to make for his Soulskill to later. It was time to pay them in full.
“Well, I’ll find you later. I have work to do,” Randidly announced. The two nodded, and Randidly was gone. He flew up to his real body and contacted Io and Yonna, as well as the other leaders of those who had accepted his image in Tellus.
Very quickly, he had their agreement and they shifted to the formation around him that Randidly had indicated. Then, with a long sigh, he went inward to the many runes that made up who he was. Everything was there: Skills, Stats, Soulskill, images… they all coexisted, mixing and mingling.
Beyond them was the Aether Crossroads, continuing to flood him with Aether. It came readily to his command, willing to construct for him a world. But what Randidly wanted to do was not to create another world per se; what he wanted to bring another world here, to his Soulspace.
He would not shatter his Soulskill and remake it. He wanted to help it morph into something more complete and healthy. And to do that, something more than simply throwing energy at it was necessary. He needed an image. He needed a focus where the world would be born within himself and an idea for its shape.
But aside from the mental side of things, Randidly needed three elements in order to create the world.
The first was a vast sea of external energy on the physical side, so his body could be terraformed into something capable of supporting a world. Just thinking about the details made Randidly cross-eyed, but he could sense that it would work with the energy he had plundered from the Wights.
The second thing was the easiest: he needed something to be the physical core of his new world. The seed that was born of his ashen image would do wonderfully. Plus, it had been slowly snacking on other images that flowed into him with his Aether Crossroads. Of all the images he had access to, it was the most complete and balanced.
The final thing Randidly needed was another huge amount of energy on the Soulskill side, to push the inhabitants over to the physical realm.
Such was his energy need that he didn’t dare simply draw it from the Aether Crossroads; not only was there the danger of losing himself to the energy, but it would also take too long to gather. His Soulskill was rotting from the inside out. Everything had been expended to get the population of his Soulskill to this point. They had nothing left to give.
The reason he was taking this path was to save the lives of those that remained. If he had to wait… well.
He needed energy inside of himself, right now. But technically, it didn’t need to come from the people of his Soulskill.
With a shake of his head, Randidly’s consciousness floated into himself and felt the runes that created his Class. Then he slowly found his different Stats and Attributes. Randidly’s focus settled on one in particular.
Progenitor’s Influence. From it, threads of connection spread outward to a few different Paths and Skills. It even went to his current Path.
Randidly had already made this choice. He had given up his role as godling to be regarded as a person by his Soulskill. Like the Emperor, he was giving up the influence he had over his Soulskill.
And in exchange, found power.
“Break for me,” Randidly whispered.