Allica frowned at Kurag. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that his Strength is too high. I did not see or hear him moving the rocks. Yet when I came to inspect his path, it was completely clear. No rubble was left. All was cleanly tossed into the chasm. And he had cleared almost twenty… no, closer to thirty times as much ground as Kejt. He has Strength enough to have been in the High King’s Court-”
“Do not say that title,” Allica hissed. “Not even here, just among us. But I still fail to see your point. He is capable; what else is there to know?”
“It is where his Strength comes from,” Norm said with a sigh. “Have you met his gaze? That boy’s hands are soaked in blood. We… we simply worry on what battlefield he has tempered himself. The Monster Race is constantly fractured, fighting itself in order to reveal young heroes every generation. If he were to have grown to power in such a garden, that is fine. Admirable, even. But…”
Allica’s blood ran cold. She had thought about this possibility, but his body seemed so scrawny and frail. With the way that he was so unused to the weather, Alicca had been convinced that he had never been to this Land before.
Or perhaps his previous trip had been entirely within a mech.
“If he fought in the last war,” Allica said, urging her racing heart to calm, “Would that truly be a crime? Even if it is through guilt, if it motivates him to help us now-”
“You would take their pity?” Kurag sneered.
Now Allica’s heart settled. That weight in her heart seemed to radiate out from herself, filling the whole room. “I would save the lives of thousands at the cost of my own pride, yes. That is why we all yet live, is it not? Because we made that choice.”
To that, no one in the room had an answer.
Finally, Kricsk scratched his neck and said. “Well, perhaps switching him to my unit would be best. If he is that strong, he could help clear out the main road. If we make progress there-”
“Out of the question,” Kurag said. But then the old man sighed. “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps… borrowing his Strength is all we can do for now. But I must insist he remains under my supervision. It is clear to me… that none of you would be capable of even slowing him down, should he turn out to be a spy.”
Allica could only shake her head. This paranoia… it was clearly pointless. But in the face of Kurag’s stubbornness, there was nothing she could say. But before they parted for the night, she did turn to Kurag and ask, “Even if we couldn’t stop him, do you really think you could, Kurag?”
Kurag’s grin turned his face into a labyrinth of leather wrinkles. “Never underestimate an individual who has lived as long as I have, Allica.”
Randidly’s second and third days proceeded much as the first two had gone. During the day, he wandered the strange meandering passages in the ground that connected this partially collapsed city. With his Grasp of the World Seed, he could feel the plant life within the surrounding area and feel the areas where the collapses were the worst. He went to those and cleared away the rubble.
Mostly, he simply reached out and touched the stones. Such was the instant heat he could produce that the stone was instantly vaporized. Scraps of burnt carbon floated away, carried away by the slight breeze that reached even down into this deep crevasse.
At night, Randidly ate with the other laborers and listened to them. They talked and joked and boasted, but it soon became clear to Randidly that they were struggling under the weight of too much stress and a deep sense of powerlessness. Yet also duty weighed importantly on their hearts.
Randidly’s emerald eyes watched, waiting for some sort of sign of what he should do for his own issues.
Answers didn’t come easily, but Randidly didn’t’ really expect them to. This was complicated by the fact that the group didn’t really trust him. Not that he could blame them for that. Their people had recently lost a terrible war to what they assumed his people to be. Even now, their task was to excavate the corpse of their own fractured civilization.
To that endeavor, Randidly felt a deep sympathy. So he utilized some of the benefits of his office to increase the speed at which they worked. Besides his own paths that he cleared, Randidly also had begun secretly helping out others. Very soon, they would reach paths that were miraculously without damage after the brutal attack that came on this waypoint.
Randidly wanted them to value him, but not so much that they would be suspicious.
Honestly, by day four, it seemed like he had missed his mark.
“I’ll be accompanying you today,” The tall goliath named Kurag said. “Your work has been less than satisfactory. We shall see if there are any ways that I can help you improve.”
Inwardly, Randidly grimaced. But he said nothing. Instead, he allowed a bit of worry to his face and nodded hurriedly.
Contrary to expectations, however, Kurag stopped dead. “Oh? Interesting. You could sense the lie, eh? Well fine, cards on the table. I do not trust you. Should you prove dangerous, I want to be near you so I can shove you into the chasm.”
That brought Randidly up short. Kurag grinned at him.
“Do you find it difficult to work when you feel a threat hanging over your head? Well, well. Perhaps we have more in common than I had thought.”
Ultimately, Randidly decided to ignore Kurag and continue with his work. Most of the heavy annihilation of rubble had already been accomplished, so it was largely just exploration and mapping. It was somewhat a hassle to actually carry the stones back to the giant hole to throw them away, but it was a small price to pay to remain relatively harmless seeming.
At the very thought of him being harmless in this world, Randidly chuckled.
When the work of the day was done, once more the laborers gathered to eat the perpetual stew they had boiling. Without even saying goodbye, Kurag wandered toward the central tent. Snorting, Randidly sat down at his usual spot.
Kejt sat down right next to him. “Ehehe, thanks for the help, softskin.”
Randidly’s mouth quirked up at the nickname the other laborers had given him. “Oh? What did I do?”
“The boys had a pool as to whether you would suffer an accident while supervised by Kurag. It happens more often than you would think, with that one. The pressure of being watched does something to a person,” Kejt said with a gleeful grin on his face.
“Does it now? Well, I suppose I’m lucky.” Randidly stretched out a hand.
“Ha, my lucky charm!” Kejt bellowed, slapping Randidly’s hand and placing half of his winnings into his palm. “We will make a killing if you can convince him to follow you around for another day.”
“My half of below is almost finished. Most of it was pretty clear past the initial collapses.” Randidly said, pocketing the money. Not that he needed it, but it was slightly amusing to him to swipe away these workers spare coin.
“Aye, we found that as well,” Kejt said with a nod. “A lucky charm for the whole expedition! Before you came, men were thinking about running away in the night. The labor seemed endless. Who would have guessed that this place was just playing hard to get, eh? Without the main road, the city will not be appealing to traders, but it will work just fine as a place to live during the sandstorms.”
“Are the sandstorms really that bad?” Randidly asked, changing the subject.
“For you? It means only death, softskin.” Kejt announced, pressing his fist against his chest. Then he winked at Randidly. “For us, also death. None but the strongest warriors survive out there. And even then, it is only for short spans of time.”
“…Why don’t you leave?” Randidly asked quietly, his gaze turning serious. This had been a question plaguing him as he wandered around the dark tunnels, with the spooky sound of the wind as his only company. These workers were throwing themselves at the work with an abandon that spoke of deep desperation in their life. And yet, that desperation was a desperation to fix the place where they were, this broken series of waypoints and fallen cities.
So why did they stay?
“That you ask that proves you have never known an Earth Golem,” Kejt said, slapping his knee. “Why are you so stubborn? Why do you stay in that barren Land? Why do you always ride to war?”
For dramatic effect, Kejt paused. Then, when he spoke, it was with a different voice. His timbre was deeper, almost resonant. It filled the small space between them and seemed to resonate with the stones on which they sat. Abruptly, Randidly felt that when Kejt spoke these words, he would speak with a voice that came not from himself, but from something much larger than a single life could be. “Because it is so. Because it is all we’ve known. Because we’re damn good at it.”