Allica looked at the entrance to Carthak with a beaming smile. Although it had taken almost a month, there was now enough rubble cleared that several carts could pass through abreast. There was still a pile of rubble tall enough to crush a small building pressed up against the wall, but it was a start.
In addition, there was enough space that light could flow into the deep halls of Carthak. A system of mirrors was being assembled to rid the deeper passages of the constant smokiness that had plagued them. Step by step, this place was becoming a city.
Although Allica had originally intended to fix up as many waystations as possible to handle the flood of refugees, her first thoughts upon reaching Carthak was that if the city could be cleared out, there would be more than enough room for everyone. It was just a matter of moving the stone. Which was just a matter of getting workers.
And technically, she had thousands of workers willing to accept only a home. The trick was lighting the fire of their passion and leading them forward.
To her surprise, she had managed it. Ever since she had talked with Talim… something inside of her had shifted. She felt capable. More than capable, Allica felt a bone-deep certainty that what the world needed right now was not an answer or a hero, but a few dozen normal people willing to put in the world to build themselves up.
It was from that growth that the Earth Golems would be able to get back on their feet.
So Allica had settled in Carthak and began to lead that change. And it was going well.
Perhaps the most important point was not her action, but the Progenitor himself reaching down and assisting. Not only did that strange carvings along the back of Carthak produce a strange music for the chapel, but it also had a strange effect on the whole area. Although most of the Land was blanketed in sandstorms, the sandstorms broke against Carthak, dispersing into dust and wind of the more harmless variety.
Carthak was a foothold against fate in more ways than one.
The only problem was the constant push for Allica to name herself. Or rather, to crown herself. It had started quietly at first, but as time went on, the extreme elements in the population spread the word about her connection to the royal family. More than that, she was providing for almost twenty-six thousand people, a number which was growing daily.
Earth Golems were an eminently practical people when it came to most things aside from fighting, so slowly the reserved were being won over.
At the very least, they suggested, she should give herself some sort of station. That way there would be security and structure for the new arrivals.
And there it was, the trap that lay at the heart of what the retired warriors and snobbish merchants were suggesting. It wasn’t simply a role for herself, but the creation of a whole slew of roles to govern their new environment. One would cover herself, but there would also be enough to go around for those in power.
Allica’s new mindset detested the very idea of a more rigid class system than was present previously. It was bad enough that people worshipped the ground that warriors stood on. To spread that for the “Founders” or the “Senators”?
What were they, Spriggits?
Because she was tired after a long day of slaving over pointless decisions on dividing property, Allica left her assistants and her office behind. They all knew where she was going, anyway. If anything important came up, they would find her.
She was seeking out her one weapon against the Crown Faction. The mascot, if not the leader outright, of the growing Holy Wind Faction. The path led upward through the chapel and then through a very makeshift series of ramps and bridges. The original stairs hadn’t yet been cleared, so the only way to ascend to the upper levels in this area was to climb on top of the rubble.
It always made Allica wince when the ground she was walking across shifted underneath her, even if it was only a few pebbles that fell away. With her strange new mindset, to see small details was to see how things would eventually turn out. This pathway was unsustainable. But Allica understood that to many, it was part of its charm.
With the cuts in the stone of the chapel, it was the most lit room of Carthak, and therefore always full of talk and laughter. Although this place didn’t end up being turned into a market, most came to gather here. The other draw was the every changing song of the chapel. The strange noises the wind maid were surprisingly pleasant and varied. In addition, the sound changed as your rose. So while it was a delightful rumble in the few caverns below the chapel, by the time you climbed to the point that Allica was at, the air was filled with haunting arias.
At the top of the pathway, there was a round opening where the relative darkness of the upper chapel gave way to clear blue sky. There as a view platform there where it was possible to see almost 270 degrees around Carthak. The clouds churned overhead in a donut shape, even as the crisp blue seemed to be sharp enough to drink.
There, Allica found Tessa and Rejt.
“Ha, you ran away from work again?” Came an amused voice, and Allica glanced to the side. Kurag was there too, leaning against the wall. “It is a wonder that this city has managed to accomplish anything. If you would just give me a group of strong young men-”
“We don’t need a guard,” Allica said for the hundredth time. “The laborers need to labor. And god knows young men who can wield a blade will find ways to use those shiny new Skills. With the sandstorms, no one will approach. Our internal structure is more important.”
Tessa, who was now almost big enough to reach Rejt’s waist, scurred over and rubbed her soft head against Allica’s hand. After giving her a few seconds for Allica to scratch, Tessa turned her gaze upward. Her eyes were limpid and full of longing.
Her glance went pointedly to Allica’s pockets.
Laughing, Allica tackled Tessa to the ground and tickled the gluttonous ferret. “No snacks today. I skipped lunch to learn about the importance of smelting and why an entire lower assembly hall needed to be dedicated to it. “
Kurag continued to grumble. “All I’m saying is that it is a mite unnatural to have so many Earth Golems gathered in one place and not have some training to pursue the martial path. Even if it was only a handful-”
“You stayed with me for a reason, when Talim left with all of our would-be warriors,” Allica said softly. “Trust that instinct. Don’t let your wrinkles and stubbornness get in the way.”
“I would beat anyone else who spoke to me like that, you know,” Kurag said with a glower.
Allica winked at him.
As the older man silently fumed, she turned to Rejt. “What are you looking for?”
“News. The wind carries it. Sometimes I can see it. Today… today is a bad day.”
“No news?” Allica said.
“….unfortunately not. There is much news. But it is all bad.” Rejt said solemnly. He squinted out toward the sky. As he did so, the movement emphasized the web of scars that crossed his face and torso. When the strange judgment of the Progenitor descended and reshaped the chapel, Rejt had been caught in the center of it. Those scars were the constant, visceral reminder of what he had to go through to survive that ordeal.
And because he survived, he was marked. And because he was marked, Allica was constantly asked by the well-to-do remnants of society whether he was single and would be interested in a very willing wife.
“More news of the Monster land?”
Rejt’s frosty exterior instantly broke. “Ha! That boy Randidly returned more slowly than we expected, but when he arrived, the rebel faction disappeared without a trace. Within a week, he had all their heads. For all his kindness, he bloodies his hands without much fanfare. I appreciate knowing him. I am made better for it.”
But then his smile slowly disappeared. What was left was only a deep wariness. “No, it is not that. I see… movements. The Spriggits will come, but it is more worrying than that. The Weavers… they are moving. The entire host. Descending South through the Lands, crushing anything that gets in their way. They will be here… perhaps another six months, maybe a year at the latest. And with them, Talim will return. They go to chase the dream of an Emperor.”