“Sir, the Oracle is moving. Heading ashore. Toward us.”
Platton looked sharply up at his second-in-command. “You’re sure?”
“Positive,” The man said. He seemed to hesitate, then say. “There’s… nothing else to see around here. There’s just us in the surrounding areas. We sent the scouts out as far as they could go in eight hours, but found nothing but dead Wights and empty caves.”
Even now, Platton struggled to understand what exactly was going on. Had the strange formation that Randidly created truly eradicated the Wights? It was horrifying. It was somewhat emasculating that a decades-long war could be solved in an afternoon.
But there was no option but to believe when he had witnessed the thing first hand.
Sighing, Platton waved his hand in the air. “And the forces under Sir Ghosthound…?”
“Still largely out of commission. Io sent over a runner that they were… handling the feedback from something. Since then, they’ve been huddled together. From what we can see, about half are unconscious. The rest look like they’ve been double marching on no sleep. But they’ve just been standing there.”
Platton grunted. Typical. Randidly has cloistered himself away and someone far beyond Platton’s ability to deal with was rushing toward their current location.
Yet despite how Platton knew he should be feeling, the corners of his mouth were turning upward. They had won. Despite what the abrupt approach of the Oracle might mean, they had won. The Wights were defeated. Maybe just for the short term until they recovered from this setback. And maybe in just a small area; who knows what the area of the strange ritual ended up being. Randidly had been very vague about the details.
But they had won.
“Fuck yea,” Platton quietly murmured.
His second, who had been about to leave the room, paused. “Did you say something, sir?”
Platton flushed. “We have work to do. Let’s get to it; begin preparations to receive the Oracle.”
Allica looked at Rejt’s back after Randidly left. Both were slowing beginning to treat their wounds. “You knew the whole time he was the Progenitor?”
Rejt flashed a smile and continued to bandage his shoulder. “Of course not. But it is not good for our god to know all our secrets. This way, he will not underestimate us going forward.”
Pursing her lips, Allica said, “...this way he won’t have a firm grasp on reality, you mean.”
“Ah, the vicissitudes of godhood,” Rejt remarked with genuine fondness. Then he shook his head. “But Randidly must learn to dress the part. As it is… he is always barefoot. Is being a god truly so hard that he cannot even find time to visit a cobbler?”
Allica opened her mouth to reply but was stopped as a dull rumble through the cave system around them. Following that, there was a second of silence as Allica and Rejt looked at each other with worry in their eyes. If the fighting above had reached the point that it was hurting the structure of the caves…
For all their strength, a ton of stone being dropped on them would be overkill for a total burial.
But then Randidly flickered into being next to them. “Quickly, come here. It’s time to move on. This place… well. It’s being used to fuel the transition.”
Before either could make sense of that statement, a strange bubble appeared around Allica and Rejt. It was mostly translucent, but at the edges, it seemed to have a blue tint that colored the air around them.
Randidly stood at the center of the bubble with Rejt and Allica, his eyes a luminous emerald as the bubble launched itself upward straight into the thick cave walls. Rather than busting through with physical force, it seemed that the bubble annihilated the walls directly; they didn’t even leave a trail of ash in their wake as they shot up toward the surface.
When they tunneled up to the ground level of the lowest Land, the sky was covered in thick clouds that rumbled ominously as the setting sun painted them burnt orange. A chilly wind was blowing across the badlands, pulling tumbleweeds and many of the tents used for houses by those not in the upper echelon of the Procession.
Randidly grunted. “Now comes the fucking hard part. God, moving sucks.”
He closed his eyes even as the bubble that they were floating in slowed to a crawl below the rumbling clouds. Allica opened her mouth to ask a question but thought better of it. It seemed that Randidly was otherwise occupied. So she turned to face Rejt and found him prodding the bubble with a spear.
“Fucking stop that,” Allica hissed. “What if it pops?”
“Hmph, you expect I would prod a second time without testing it first? Impossible.” Rejt replied with a sorrowful shake of the head. As if to demonstrate his point, he pressed the spear against the bubble and forced the bubble to extend with remarkable elasticity to cover the blade of the spear thrust out through it. Aside from the area affected, it stayed perfectly robust.
Again, Allica shut her mouth. This time with enough force that her teeth clicked together. For all Rejt’s capability, he was remarkably careless sometimes.
Then Allica’s gaze was caught on something zooming up to their position: more bubbles.
Thousands more bubbles.
Tens of thousands. The entire Procession, lifted in groups between two and ten, floating rapidly up to their position.
“What’s happening?” Allica whispered.
“We’ve made a right mess of this world. Learned a lot though, and that will shape what we are going forward.” Randidly announced. His eyes opened once more, and such was the brightness of his irises that she had to look away from his direct gaze while blinking rapidly. “Truly, I’ve learned so much from these seven Lands. But I can’t sustain it. Not like this.”
“You are abandoning this world?” Rejt’s eyebrows furrowed. “Can you not fix it?”
Allica watched the people in the bubbles. Despite their relative safety, every person she saw seemed wounded and thin. They clutched themselves with their hands and looked around fearfully at the bubbles that had buoyed them away. These were a people that had endured a lot; they all now wondered what new tragedy these bubbles foreshadowed.
“I could,” Randidly admitted. The light in his eyes dimmed. He blinked and sighed, and suddenly looked very much like a young man who was slowly losing the race against wariness. “But if I did, we would run into the same problems over and over again. I can’t manage a world; I’m not ready to be a god. I have my own battles to fight.”
“Against who?” Rejt asked. But Randidly didn’t answer.
Instead, Randidly’s gaze turned upward and the bubbles began to flow like a river upward into the clouds. They smashed into the smoggy orange clouds like a carriage rushing through a crowd of pigeons; a wave of cloud substance exploded outward and flowed in a wave in front of them. Inside, the refracted light from the setting sun was even more intense. Fire reds and mustard yellows formed a strange contrast to the blue lightning that snaked back and forth.
The lightning was intermittent, but it was growing more frequent. While Rejt continued to demand answers from a silent Randidly, Allica simply watched the bubbles that flowed behind them, following in their bubble’s path. With a strange grace she didn’t understand, they slowly approached each other and clumped together in a long train.
They undulated through the sky like a serpent, swimming through the strangely colored clouds. Now that she looked more directly and activated her skills, she even found some of the refugees from Carthak. Allica released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. It was reassuring to see that they didn’t share the same blank-faced panic that most of the other people seemed to exhibit. Allica could also see spots where bubbles had grabbed boxes and supplies. It made her wonder where they were going.
And how permanently.
Thunder boomed outward as a cobalt bolt of lightning twisted around the bubble-serpent. Randidly didn’t even flinch, even though it seemed like everyone else jumped out of their skin by the close proximity. The burning flash of light left a blind spot in anyone’s eyes that were unlucky enough to be looking at the spot where it occurred. But then Allica saw something strange. The clouds that had been cut in twain by the blue bolt began to morph. From orange and mustard came wisps of cloud that were seafoam green like warm seawater.
Individual particles floated outward, and as the bubble-serpent flowed upward, those wisps were pulled along and clung to the edges of the serpent.
Bolts smashed to the left of the right of the serpent as it continued to ascend. This time, puffs of mist that were emerald and azure and golden were released, spreading slowly out and being absorbed into the serpent.
By the most recent harsh crash of thunder, even the most skittish of those housed in bubbles had lost their fear. Instead, they simply watched wide-eyed as they flowed upward. Azure electricity sparked and jumped back and forth, illuminating the dark clouds around them. So many bolts struck that there was a veritable sea of seafoam green mist that the bubble-serpent slithered into.
Always aiming higher, always ascending.
“Where are we going?” Allica asked, mesmerized. Neither Randidly or Rejt answered; the former because he was sitting with his eyes closed and the latter because he was staring intently as the gathering colors.
They were rising through a rainbow wonderland. The mustard and orange clouds turned to pink and wine-red as they went higher. The cobalt bolts of lightning shifted to a royal purple. Suddenly, floating in the clouds around them were floating pinpricks of light that burned with a white fire.
For a while, Allica studied these lights. They glistened like stars and flickered like candles, and the bubble-serpent passed through them as if they were the most natural thing in the world. It seemed that each time they would pierce through a colorful layer of clouds, they would enter a larger open area, filled with more and more lights.
As the serpent swam upwards, these lights were slowly drawn along in its wake, becoming a luminous tail that seemed to extend behind them forever.
Thousands of wisps floating upward to join the serpent as it crawled toward the sky. Or what Allica thought was the sky. They had been swimming up through the colored clouds for several minutes. At the speed they were moving, shouldn’t they have broken out of the local climate system at this point? And all the while, they entered larger and larger spaces between colored clouds to grab the luminous lights, so that there seemed to be millions of them, all rushing up to join the serpent
And then all at once, Allica gasped, because she knew what those lights were. There was only one thing they could be, in such numbers, with such obvious feeble energy. Tears ran down her face as she watched the souls of the deceased clinging to the living so the might escape this collapsing world.
But even though it felt like the weight of those lives had solidified into a lead cannonball in Allica’s chest, all she could think was… “Lovely. They are so lovely.”
Randidly nodded. The royal purple lightning struck seven times in quick succession, causing an eruption of violet and lavender and pink and mauve to swirl around the bubble serpent. Lights and mist continued to rush over, former a larger and longer body. “And they are exactly what we need. Hold on, this is the part that might be a little touch and go.”
Then, with only his words as a warning, the bubbles jolted as the serpent accelerated further upward toward a thick layer of black clouds that was rapidly approaching.