“It’s not a big deal,” Rejt insisted. “They don’t hate you, they are simply pack-creatures. Since Tessa was afraid of you, the rest of ‘em.”
Randidly grinned, in spite of his bleak mood. “They aren’t ‘pack creatures’, Rejt. They are kids.”
“Dangerous and swarming, I agree,” Rejt said with a thoughtful tone.
The group of children who had been watching Tessa had wandered over, attracted by the noise of the wind descending. Seeing Rejt so injured, they had rushed out with wide eyes. Even Tessa had overcome her deep fear of Randidly to approach and lick frantically at the small cuts that covered him.
At first, the mood was tense and worried. But very quickly, Tessa noticed Randidly and hissed at him.
On its own, this would mean nothing. But when Randidly frowned at the strange Soulless creature, it had shrieked and run to hide behind Rejt. Suddenly, everyone was privy to the game; Randidly was a monster. With extremely exaggerated screams, they all now fled at the slightest sign of Randidly.
In a way, Randidly understood what was happening. To these kids, Rejt was a towering figure that represents strength and wisdom. To see him injured was scary. So, they needed someone to blame. They needed to take action to give themselves a sense of control.
Such a misunderstood Progenitor…
Randidly thought bleakly.
But before he could dwell on it too much, something grabbed his attention. Raising his gaze, Randidly frowned through the thick stone walls of Carthak.
Whatever was going on was still without the mountain. What Randidly had sensed was another crease in the world forming, the of the same sort that had formed around Rejt as the winds descended from the sky. It was happening again? So soon…?
It was possible that Randidly touching the images of the world, or his images themselves were the cause. His being here was exacerbating the conflicts in the world. Still, the longer he looked at that strange conflux of forces, the more Randidly realized that this one was much different than what had occurred with Rejt.
That had been something like he, as Progenitor, pouring water and being surprised that it was falling down a slope. He simply hadn’t understood the shape of this inner world and how it would reach when he intervened directly. The longer he spent time here, the more complex an ecosystem it seemed. Him being a god was not quite accurate. There was so much more at play here.
And that was what Randidly was currently seeing. Once the strange phenomenon around Rejt had given him warning of the other elements at play, he could now feel their rough shape. And this shape… hopefully, it would answer more questions than Rejt had.
Following his instincts, Randidly stood and began to walk toward the front of the chapel. With the kid’s assistance and Randidly hiding his powers a little less, they had actually made good time clearing out the main area. Now, a football-field sized space was mostly clear, with East and West wings just as large in the process of being excavated.
As Randidly passed, the kids shrieked and fled. With a trembling Tessa in his arms, Rejt walked up to Randidly. “What is it? Someone else coming for your head?”
Randidly had a strong feeling that one of the forces he could see clashing was the Ashen Image. The hopeless, grasping destruction. But the other one.
“Maybe,” Randidly said softly. He cast a glance at Rejt. Even now, there was a lingering sense of… something that clung to him. Being surrounded by that dense clump of energy had altered something in the core of Rejt. Even now, he seemed to stand taller, to entirely occupy a larger portion of the world. He was dense in a way he hadn’t been before.
“Maybe,” Randidly said again, turning back and looking at the collision of forces. “I have a feeling… something important is happening over there.”
“Well then,” Rejt said. “Let’s ditch work. Surely, such a thing will have no consequences.”
“Allica, it’s been hard on you. I’m so sorry. But I’m back now.”
At her desk, Allica froze. Ice cold spiders danced up and down across her shoulder blades. That voice… that voice belonged to a dead man.
Slowly, she turned to regard the side door to her room. There, a tall Earth Golem man stood. His face was covered with a series of three crisscrossing lines of scar tissue, a testament to the many years he had spent on the front lines of the wars. Of the many years he had left her to manage the estate left to them by their deceased parents, while he rode to war.
Rode at the back of the High King, as his left hand.
“Talim,” Allica whispered, feeling adrift on a cold sea. “My brother. How-”
“Peace, there are many things that I will tell you. It is enough to know that you still remember me fondly,” Talim said with a small smile. He stepped into the room, looming over Allica. Even though she was extremely large for an Earth Golem, Talim was even longer. It was from this huge size and the hammer that he wielded that he earned the nickname ‘Hammer of the High King.’
They embraced, and as Tallica pressed her head into his shoulder he smelled like blood and fire. But still, it was Talim, returned. “Talim, when I received the anonymous money after the high king fell, I assumed you were dead. I knew that Alrik had made-”
“Don’t speak his name, even now,” Talim said, raising his hand to cover Allica’s mouth. “All is not as it seems. We must be cautious, now more than ever.”
A very thick thread of dissatisfaction rose as she had her mouth covered, but Allica held her peace. It was very like Talim to come waltzing back from the dead, rumbling about great mysteries. It was Talim’s self-important streak that Allica found extremely aggravating.
And yet the relief of knowing that Talim lived was enough for now. It made her generous enough to ignore how disrespectful he was being. Even if it did knock off a lot of the glitter that seemed to fill the air when her heart had finally realized her brother was still alive. She had questions about how he had managed to live through the battle, but-
“But please, my news can wait until later,” Talim said smoothly. He gestured for her to sit. Once more, Allica sighed inwardly at her brother. Honestly, the High King had taught him abysmal habits. But she complied, walking back to the chair behind her desk. “How have you handled the wreckage left by the coalition army? As far as I can tell, these places are half cowards and half Earth Golems with half a mind to start a war to win back their honor. You are a peacekeeping force, yes? It must be difficult-”
“We are working in relief, actually,” Allica interrupted. This was his way. Talim always liked to build suspense for his own news, so he would feign interest in your activities. Still, Allica relished the challenge of impressing her brother with what she had accomplished in his absence. “Clearing out the destroyed cities. The people need a place to call home, even if it is partially broken. With the Sandstorm Season looming, this is where we can do the most good.”
Talim just looked blankly at Allica for several seconds. Then he frowned. “I had heard you convinced Kurag Vicegrip to come out of retirement. Surely, he isn’t-”
“He is,” Allica said, giving her brother a sour look. “He’s working as a manager. For all that he was rumored to be hard to work with, he truly cares. That’s why I agreed to have him join my team.”
“How much money did you offer him.” Now, Talim leaned forward, his eyes bright and feral. “That money, well, I can’t blame you if some of it is gone, but-”
“None of it, weren’t you listening to me?” Allica asked. “He joined of his own accord.”
Talim’s face broke out into a smile. “So the money-”
“Mostly gone,” Allica harrumphed. “Before the coalition forces started playing nice, I spent most of it to hire Monster laborers to clear out the hill settlements. It took some politicking, but now we receive a stipend and our balance sheet-”
Allica paused. Her brother’s gaze grew clouded and the air around him was heavy. “The money… is gone…? That was the remnants of the royal treasury Allica. You had no right to spend that.”