Randidly appeared in his Soulskill at the “center” of the explored area. A tall pearly obelisk stretched upward, and at its tip glowed a bright emerald. There were a sun and two moons in the sky, sliding across the plane of the sky, but despite that, the emerald provided enough light to see by in the dark hours. It made people feel safe and secure.
Even at night, the emerald’s green light guided people who had been exploring in the mists back to the new base of this world.
Which of course, meant the ramshackle bones of a city were springing up around the base of the obelisk. There were even some hut dwelling that leaned directly against the obelisk itself. Randidly grimaced. Not that Randidly believed it to be some sort of affront to him personally, but it showed some of the people’s desperation that they weren’t willing to venture far away from the main base.
Besides, didn’t they have enough class to not just lean right up against the obelisk…?
One of the few powers that remained to Randidly in this new area was his ability to sense the people inside of his Soulskill. A quick scan revealed that there were a little less than one hundred thousand living souls wandering around, with about double as much fauna and system spawned mobs.
Randidly pressed his mouth into a line. That was… strange. Because he would have sworn he brought almost double that here. Had so many died in the first two days within his Soulskill…? Not a good sign.
Unfortunately, Randidly had no way of locating anyone individually within his Soulskill. The strange energy density of the air kept him from being able to scan it or teleport, as he had in the prior Soulskill. So Randidly wasted almost three hours simply searching, asking for directions.
All he really wanted was someone who could give him an idea of what was going on...
Finally, he found someone with enough savvy that they informed him that Allica and Rejt were part of the Torchbearers, a group of adventurers who gathered supplies and ventured into the mist. They were, this young woman told Randidly, a group that did not fear ‘Mist-sickness’.
Tucking that disturbing term into his mental belt, Randidly made a beeline for the Torchbearer base.
It was North from the city, sitting on a low ridge that ran across one end of a valley. When Randidly approached, he was greeted surprisingly warmly, until they noticed that he didn’t light a torch as he approached. Apparently, this rather simplistic greeting was a sign of respect and community. That he failed to do so marked him as an outsider.
So quickly we fall back on ritual… Randidly thought idly.
A gruff Spriggit with an impressive beard pulled him aside as he came through the rather basic palisade. “Look, son, volunteering for the Torchbearers is very impressive, but even though it might seem like all action and adventure, there is a very rigorous testing process.”
Randidly didn’t bother to point out that the Torchbearers had been around for barely two days; how rigorous could the testing process really be?
The Spriggit introduced himself as Thom and then leaned forward with a serious expression. “In addition… have you… ahem, do you know for sure that you are immune to the Mist Sickness? That is an important requirement to enter the brotherhood of the Torchbearers. We don’t allow those who can’t pull their weight into the group.”
Randidly wanted to say yes he had tested it, but saying no would likely bring some clarity to the issue. “I’ve heard about it, but I don’t really know what the Mist Sickness is.”
Pulling out a pipe, Thom nodded sagely. Most of the other guards wandered away from the conversation, continuing to construct the palisade. “Ah, of course. Well after we arrived here, there was a slew of expansion. Exploration of the surrounding area. But when people returned to the emerald light at nightfall… about half of the population was gone. They had just vanished. We tracked them as best we could, but their tracks led deep into the mist. Too deep.”
Thom shook his head. “After a while, the mist gets… strange. You hear noises, see movements out of the corner of your eye. It’s very easy to get lost. So for a while, we thought it was just that. But there were witnesses for some of it. When they talked about how their companions went into the mist, everyone reported that the victim’s face suddenly went blank they entered into the mist, and they just kept wandering deeper. We had a few that were restrained and brought back before they could go too deep, but…”
Thom grimaced and took a long pull on his pipe. “But overnight, their bodies transformed into mist and just flowed away.”
Randidly frowned at this little man and considered that bit of information. These people were… somehow absorbed by the mist? That wasn’t a good sign. Was there a connection, or did the mist take a percentage of the population as tithe?
That certainly wouldn’t win him any popularity contests.
Honestly, the population had been rather mute considering half of the fucking people that came through were pulled away into the mists. Part of that might be shock from receiving one punch after another, but there had to be another force at play here.
“Well anyway, if you haven’t been tested…” Thom said sorrowfully. He reached up with difficult and patted Randidly’s shoulder. “I cannot let you in. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help the community in your own way-”
Randidly was gone, having used Phantom Half-Step to simply teleport to another figure deeper within. After that step landed, Randidly activated Embrace of the Wild Phantom and flitted deeper into the camp. Not that he had anything personal against Thom. And the Spriggit had been quite friendly. But...
This wasn’t worth his time. And he would need to leave the Soulskill and go back to Hastam eventually. The more quickly he could position himself into a spot where he could assist the denizens of his Soulskill, the better.
It didn’t take long to find Allica and the Monster Prince, who were arguing animatedly over a table with a roughly sketched map of the surrounding area. Ignoring the shocked guards, Randidly pushed right into the room.
Which it turned out, was a mistake. Perhaps he should have announced himself. Because like a coiled spring, the scarred and wounded body of the Monster Prince’s bodyguard launched himself toward Randidly.
Very quickly Randidly scanned this man. Lucretia had truly done a number on him. His left arm was still tightly wrapped in bandages, and the entire right side of his body had all his hair singed away. But that still left the impressive metallic scales that shimmered in the torchlight as he leapt toward Randidly.
Of course, Randidly just reached up and snatched him out of the air, flicking his wrist to break the bodyguard’s momentum. Stunned, the bodyguard just stared at Randidly as he was set onto the ground. Randidly grinned; now that these people were governed directly by the System, he no longer had to rely on his images to be strong. His ridiculously strong body could handle the heavy lifting for now.
Especially since they had just received stats, and even if they started with a higher base than Randidly had, they were nowhere close to reaching the capability of someone whose average Stat was over five hundred.
Allica looked up sharply, then exhaled when she realized who it was. “Randidly. Good. Maybe you can give us some of the answers we seek.”
“You!” The Monster Prince rapidly backed away. “The one who stole my face!”
Sighing, Randidly said, “I thought we talked about this. It’s a coincidence. And as the originator of all of this, I came first. But anyway…” He turned to Allica. “What do we know about the Mist Sickness? That wasn’t part of my plan.”
“Ours either, but it certainly has made feeding us all a little more manageable,” Allica grumbled. She waved away the guards who came rushing into the tent two beats after Randidly burst through. “This is just anecdotal, but those who disappeared were disproportionately older rather than younger, and from rather biased evidence gathering through interviews…”
She looked at the Monster Prince, who puffed out his chest self-importantly. “-were all rather afraid and discontent. The disliked and the panicking. It’s a tragedy of course, but it looks like the mist syphoned off all the malcontents and layabouts. Everyone left is willing to work, even is 75% of them are scared to death by the mist.”
“Which is why we had questions for you.” Allica clarified. She put her hands on her hips. “I’m not relieved that you are just as confused as we were.”
Randidly thought about it for a few seconds. Then he closed his eyes and reached out to feel his Soulskill. If expansion came at the cost of lives, he would be very disappointed in himself. Even if these were the dregs of society, there was no perfect criteria to judge that. And even if they were all shit people, other people cared about them. They were family and friends to people that didn’t deserve to be hurt.
What he found in the shape and image of the Soulskill was reassuring, in a way. There was no hunger in the world. No need that he could sense that would require a consistent flow of lives in order for the mists to part and reveal new lands. But what he found was a queer feeling that pervaded every inch of the world: an insistence on wonder and awe. A desire to grow and explore.
This world was a child.
But still, that truth set Randidly’s teeth on edge. The last thing we need is a world that could throw temper tantrums...
Because laying behind that desire was a strange, dark impulse to eliminate those that would get in the way of that growth.
Still, the more he examined it, the more he could sense how what had occurred was likely a one-time phenomenon. The World had rejected some of the people he had brought into it. But those that remained had passed. Satisfied, the world was falling into a deep slumber.
Randidly opened his eyes with a frown. “...From what I can tell, it shouldn’t happen again. There might be small instances of it going forward… but those who aren’t affected now shouldn’t be later. More troublingly… It looks like… the world will require a certain amount of growth for it to remain passive. It’s hard to get a clear picture, but it seems there should be more… lanterns? Like the obelisk with the emerald at the center.”
“Perfect, you’ve read my mind. We’ve already found the first- it was in an underground labyrinth that we cleared. But to light it, someone needs to obtain a Class from it. Based on the notification it gives us, it will select a Class for the person based upon the location and the traits of the individual. And from that moment forward, that class will be available at that obelisk, like Wayfinder of the Baleful Wood can be obtained from the first obelisk. This is what your world is like, right? Since you have experience in this area, do you have any suggestions as to what sort of Class we should try and obtain?”
Randidly just looked at Allica. “...What…?”