After the meeting, Alana volunteered as an escort to take the ogres to their new living quarters. As most everyone else didn’t want to risk going that deep into monster controlled territory, she was the only one that accompanied the ogres.
Randidly figured it would be fine; he feared more for the ogre that tried to take advantage of her while she was surrounded.
Besides, at the first hint of trouble Randidly would move to assist, and this time he would not pull his punches against the ogres. One chance was all that they would get. And it would feel good to fight foes that weren’t fifty Levels higher than him.
Around thirty was much more manageable.
In the meantime, he begged a glowering Annie to wait for Alana to return before they talked, and to his surprise, she agreed with a prim nod. Then she turned and flounced away, sparing a sideways glance for Helen before returning to her tent. Helen followed distantly, looking with sparkling curiosity at the orderly camp of a Donnyton Squad.
For their part, the Donnyton squaders that were here regarded her with the same wide-eyed fascination. Randidly hoped he would get to see some poor fool offer to show her how to hold a spear. But Randidly couldn’t help but notice glances shifting from Helen, to him, and then back.
Sighing inwardly, Randidly turned back to the hulking form of Dozer.
Dozer grunted. “It’s good you returned. The ogres make for poor enemies.”
Randidly grinned at the man. “What, does it feel like facing yourself?”
“Their armies are almost invincible because they are composed entirely of me,” Dozer agreed with a small smile.
Randidly pointed to the few ogre bodies that lay dead on the ground. For whatever reason, the ogres saw no reason to take their dead with them and left the problem to the humans. “They couldn’t have been that tough. Not a scratch on you guys, and then lost 5% of their forces.”
“Killed by drones. Donated to us by Erickson Steel.” Dozer gave Randidly a sympathetic look. “You don’t want to know how much money just was burned to bloody them. My boys will gather the metal scraps to send back, but…”
Randidly looked over the battlefield more closely and could see the piles of gears that had once been his carefully engraved drones. These were obviously not done by him and therefore less efficient, but by the same token, they were even more painstaking to make without his presence. Therefore, what lay before Randidly was likely…
...almost a month’s work of production by the finest workers of Erickson Steel.
It was a somewhat sobering thought. Randidly clapped Dozer on the back and said seriously. “You have a kid, right? So you’ve already started on breeding your own invincible army. Your genetics combined with Annies…”
Again, Dozer’s face cracked into a grin. “Watch your back, Ghosthound.” Then Dozer walked toward his group and urged them into movement. Just because the ogres had left didn’t mean the humans could laze around. Now they would need to prepare to return to Donnyton.
When he finally had some alone time, Randidly asked Helen if she would want to return to his Soulskill with him. She refused, preferring to head out and speak to Randidly’s fellow people. She seemed rather excited, as though there were some deep secrets hidden amongst them. Which was honestly rather cute.
Basically, she wanted to play with the different weapons that Dozer and Alana’s troops had. No doubt she wanted to head out and test her edge against these people, too.
And Randidly saw no reason why not. She deserved to enjoy her power and images. Hopefully, the weird scaling of being moved through Randidly’s Soulskill to Earth wouldn’t affect her actual combat ability too directly.
The process of her System Aether being slowly torn apart was accelerating, which also meant that it was almost entirely done. Although she admitted to being rather short of breath, there weren’t any tangible side-effects, so Randidly didn’t think it would be a problem for her to wander around for a while longer.
Inside of his Soulskill, Randidly quickly found Alicca and checked in on the progress within himself.
Luckily, the changes here were much more predictable than the changes on Earth. They believed they had located two more Lighthouses they could ignite. However, the monsters were by far too high a Level for them to attempt to conquer the one, and another was in a series of caves that were filled with shallow water.
Few people wanted to attempt going deeper until they had some Skills that would help with the wet environment. They had already run into a few strange, glowing monsters in the deeper sections.
“Oh, by the way,” Allica said after they finished discussing the stabilizing food situation. “Those warriors you brought in here… there were some of them that walked into the mist. We’ve clamped down on the news to prevent a panic; we don’t need that fear mongering getting another bump. But I just thought you should know.”
Wincing, Randidly nodded. Maybe he should have thought of that. Bringing more people into his Soulskill likely roused the semi-sentient core of the Alpha Cosmos. When it realized there were new arrivals, it tested them. It was that simple. They must crave the exploration of the great unknown or they would be considered dead weight.
And just some of the people who were marked by his images had agreed to accompany him to Earth and failed the test. That was all there was to it. Inwardly, Randidly was split; part of him wanted to know the number but the other part didn’t wish to know. Because these were lives that were thrust into this situation by his hand.
Their deaths weighed heavily up his shoulders and crown. So, very quietly, Randidly asked for the number and spent several seconds with his eyes pressed closed as he computed what that number meant. Then he opened his eyes, released a breath, and moved on.
Since Rejt was out exploring with some soldiers, Randidly then proceeded to visit another of the denizens: the Monster Prince.
“Go away,” The skinny Monster shouted out from behind his scarred bodyguard. Randidly felt kind of bad for how their previous meeting had ended after he saw how badly he was trembling. Mental backlash was never fun. “I’ve done your bidding for the last time, you sadistic deity. I will not leave my tent in your company for any reason. You speak with the tongue of the devil and I will not listen to it!”
This little bit of drama had Randidly rolling his eyes. For all that the Monster Prince was an arrogant fop, he wasn’t a fool; this was all noise so the Monster Prince would be rewarded more richly for his “suffering”. Luckily for this idiot, that was exactly why Randidly had come. Otherwise, if he was acting so purposefully piteous…
“Well, perhaps you are right,” Randidly said. “Perhaps it’s time I do you a favor.”
The Monster Prince’s trembling instantly stopped.
“Is there anything in particular that you can think for me to do for you?” Randidly asked.
Instantly, the Monster Prince’s eyes brightened. Randidly felt almost bad; the Monster Prince was as transparent as glass. Although this man was manipulative, he was also extremely predictable in the ways he worked. Which was why Randidly had asked Alicca beforehand how the Monster Prince had spent his time recently.
It turned out that the Monster Prince had been studiously observing Lucretia’s every move. Which was why he was about to walk into a trap that would solve another of Randidly’s problems without Randidly having to lift a finger.
Don’t take it too personally, Randidly thought with a smirk. This is just the way the world works. Blame my… deific viewpoint.
“Well… I suppose if you twist my arm…” The Monster Prince walked out from around his bodyguard and considered Randidly with a wounded look. At the moment, he had an absolutely disturbing resemblance to a mistreated puppy. “There has been one thing that I have realized recently. My… strengths with controlling metal aren’t necessarily best used on the front lines. In fact… a support role, a producer behind the scenes, seems most appropriate…”
The Monster Prince looked at Randidly hopefully. Randidly raised his arm to fold it, realized that he could no longer do this, and turned the gesture into an awkward scratch on the chin. If you want something, you need to ask for it. I’m not gonna try and read that mind of yours.
Eventually, the Monster Prince apparently decided to say fuck it and asked. “Perhaps you could speak to Creta? Her… engraving intrigues me. And I believe that my talents would be uniquely suited to the engraving. With my control of metal, I would have a fidelity of control that dwarfs that of the other artisans.”
Randidly gave himself several seconds to think about it. He frowned and looked up at the blue sky. Not only does this mean you’ve appointed yourself de facto babysitter for Annon, but this will also soften the blow of me giving Annon to Lucretia; she’s gonna raise a much larger fuss about you than him.
There was a small chance that Annon might be corrupted by this layabout, but Randidly honestly expected the overly serious boy to whip the Monster Prince into shape. There was something about the furor of the people of Tellus that was almost irresistible.
After all, Randidly would be exactly nowhere if not for Shal shaping his own work ethic.
Sighing as though he had come to a very hard decision, Randidly looked at the Monster Prince. “Then he nodded slowly.”
The fucker’s glee oozed out of his merry eyes. “Excellent, how wise-”
“There is a catch,” Randidly said softly.
Instantly, the other man froze. As a swindler, he was instantly suspicious of Randidly’s sudden request. “I would love to assist you, but as I’m sure you understand, so much of my time will be taken up by my studies that I will be unable-”
“Peace, it’s not something like that.” Randidly waved a hand. “I was just thinking… you are astute for suggesting the expansion of engraving. I know a few talented youths that might also benefit from learning such a skill. I would just ask that you look after them, as they will be your brothers in craft.”
Once more, that gooey satisfaction returned to the Monster Prince’s eyes. “Of course. For the betterment of our world, I will sacrifice almost anything.”
Don’t be too smug yet, Randidly thought with amusement. You’re still going to be under the tutelage of Lucretia. She will not make it an easy process. I would know. I struggled with her looking over my shoulder for almost a year.