“You are just going to walk in?” Decklan asked as he hurried to keep up with Randidly’s deceptively long strides.
Randidly chuckled. “Don’t sound so worried. You already said that the settlement below is only the warriors from the defeated Toad Lords too weak to join another faction right? So there isn’t anyone that can stop me. And a guide would help things along immensely.”
Decklan seemed to consider that, as the two walked through the long halls of the castle toward the gate. After hearing some sparse geographic details about where Randidly was heading and creating Neveah six more Riders to expand the spooky ranks in her service, Randidly was ready to head South.
Besides, the more quickly he left behind this moral quandary the better. Even now, he could feel his Crown slowly absorbing a portion of the Aether here. Randidly had never thought about it before, but it seemed that actions he took while in a leadership role gave the Crown something more than experience.
It gave it a Path.
The Path that it would earn here… well, Randidly was ready to move forward. All in all, he was tired of chasing things down and he was working up a fair bit of resentment toward Roy who was forcing him to be in this situation.
And if he Frogpeople misbehaved, he would work out some of his accumulating frustrations on them.
“Good luck,” Decklan said shortly. Randidly turned and spared him a glance, carefully studying the man for any remnants of the emotional detonation that had happened on their initial meeting. There were some traces around his eyes; his gaze was tired and red-rimmed. But the previous explosion would have delayed the eventual collapse.
For now… it would have to be enough. To solve the problems of those who follow me… That is not my Path. I only open up the future so they have the capability to choose. That is the Crown of Upheaval and Gloom.
When they reached the gate, it lowered with a dull boom that sprayed mud and sludge from the far side of the moat. The frog people had already been let out after their pleas before Neveah, but the elevation of the castle meant that any noise here echoed in the surrounding area. Randidly could see some in the camp below turn and stare at the sudden noise.
At this distance, they looked like ants. Tiny, numerous creatures that marched out of their strange buildings to peer uncertainly at the source of the commotion.
Randidly slowly let his face split into a smile. Over his head, the true Crown of Upheaval and Gloom condensed into an austere grey metal circlet with long spikes sticking upward. And in the grey and dim world of the constant drizzling rain, the Crown itself seemed to radiate a sickly light that illuminated Randidly.
But a small question from Decklan stopped Randidly just as he was about to bound down toward the camp.
“How do you keep moving forward? Isn’t it… heavy?”
Randidly tilted his head to the side and looked at Decklan. He was a scarred and broken man. That much was clear. But Decklan had also determinedly continued to fight for the good of Donnyton. For all of his flaws, he was strong.
He deserves better than this, Randidly thought to himself.
But then another voice answered, Don’t we all?
“Mostly because I don’t think about it,” Randidly answered quietly. “All I think about is what I need to do next. And I keep reminding myself of the consequences if I wouldn’t act. That’s all any of us can do.”
Then Randidly left Decklan and rushed down the slope toward the camp.
Instantly, the Frogpeople below scurried into action. They seemed to trip over themselves as they struggled to array themselves into a defensible grouping. Dozens turned into hundreds as they continually streamed out to form a loose line at the edge of the camp, directly in Randidly’s way.
Although no one drew weapons, Randidly could tell that tension was very high in the camp. A brief Aether scan confirmed that they were all in their high 40s and 50s in terms of Level. These were strong individuals that could wreck a small Village on Earth.
Their misfortune was encountering Neveah and Randidly. It was a hard truth, that this violence was the simplest option to stopping a tragedy. But the fact remained that they had chosen the easy option, willing to sacrifice the lives of the Frogpeople for the good of Earth.
Although the System is at fault… we will have to carry our sins, Randidly reflected warily as he rapidly destroyed the distance between himself and the camp. And in his mind, Decklan’s question reverberated.
Is it heavy?
The tang of fear was soon palpable on the air. As the distance between them continued to shrink, many of the Frogpeople visible flinched. Which made Randidly wonder what Neveah had done in order to keep them so perfectly in line.
As he approached, Randidly slowed. Then he looked back and forth at the camp before them. Rather than tents, these would be closer to longhouses. They were made with mud and pitch, permanent enough for now, but overall extremely fragile buildings.
Randidly also couldn’t notice any difference between the frogs aside from small variations in size and coloring. Overall, they seemed completely ethnically similar. Neveah had said these groups came from two Toad Lords, but Randidly couldn’t draw any distinction between them with most of the ways humans differentiated people.
He supposed he would need to talk at length with his guide about just such issues. The more information that Randidly had, the quicker this process would go.
“W...w-who are you!” A rather large frog at the front eventually said. The mood had eased somewhat when Randidly had arrived before them and not approached, but everyone that Randidly could see continually glanced up at his Crown.
Hiding his grimace, Randidly announced, “I am… the Demon Prince.”
After giving it a second for that news to sweep through the ranks of waiting frogs Randidly followed up with, “And I am looking for a guide to take me South. I have heard… of Toad Lords don’t believe that this world will soon belong to the Demon Lord.”
Randidly bared his teeth. “I will teach them the error of their ways.”
There had been whispers among the frogs previously, but that statement silenced them completely. Awkwardly, those nearest to Randidly just stared at him with steadily growing fear. For almost ten seconds, nothing happened.
The rain continued to fall on them, all standing and looking at him. Randidly waited, while the frogs just goggled at him. They were frozen, unsure of how to respond. Then someone in the back audibly gulped.
“Ah? I heard a volunteer,” Randidly said lightly, stepping forward toward the group. Immediately there was a panic in the crowd of frog people. It was clear that those at the front, who held sheathed swords, didn’t want to allow Randidly to walk through into their lines. Yet they were seized with a deep fear. And it seemed obvious that Randidly was only there for one person: that fool who gulped.
Randidly could see the conflict in their eyes as he strolled forward. Was defending the honor of their people more important? Would they protect one of their own from this external threat and risk exposing them to his ire?
Always, their eyes would return to the Crown that floated above his head.
Yet as Randidly was only a few meters away, the Frogpeople at the front looked at the ground and shuffled to the side. Fear had won in their hearts.
How easily we are divided, Randidly reflected as he moved through the nervous bodies of the frogpeople. It made him sad. Not just because this happened here, but because Randidly knew that humans would do the same if put under similar circumstances.
Some things were the same amongst all people.
When the frog had made the noise, Randidly had locked onto it with his Perception. So even as the frog attempted to creep deeper into the press of bodies, the other frogs fearfully retreated away from that singled out individual. It seemed that the people deep within the crowd had made the same decision that those at the front had made.
So very quickly, Randidly arrived before a trembling Frogperson who stood quite a bit shorter than those around it. Likely, this frog hadn’t even been able to see Randidly as he was speaking. The press of body was too thick. Even now, Randidly only had about two meters of space around him. Aside from that, the Frogpeople crowded around and stared fixedly at his Crown with dread in their posture.
Believing itself to be anonymous, the Frogperson hadn’t suppressed its natural reaction. Which was all the excuse that Randidly needed to approach. A small tragedy, in a world driven toward so many massacres by the System. Slowly, Randidly extended a hand toward the short and trembling frog person. “We are leaving immediately. Thank you for your support.”
A thin voice cut across Randidly’s own. He slowly turned to find another rather squat Frogperson forcing itself up through the press of bodies to stand near to Randidly. Then the Frogperson paled and took several steps back, as though it suddenly realized how close Randidly was, wearing that baleful crown. But the people behind it would not give space, and it found itself pushed back toward Randidly.
“Yes?” Randidly asked.
“I… I volunteer. To be a guide,” The Frogperson managed. “Please… don’t take my spawn mate-”
“Fine,” Randidly extended his hand once more, this time using his metallic left arm. It gleamed coldly as it was bathed by the strange half-light Randidly’s Crown produced. “All you need to do is take my hand.”