When Randidly touched his Soulskill, something strange happened. At first, Randidly panicked as he felt his consciousness diffusing, but then he realized that it was somewhat akin to how he felt when using All is Ash and his form dissipated. With a little exertion of will, it was possible to gather himself all up again. But it felt like Randidly dye dropped in water.
As the currents of his world moved, he felt himself spread to the farthest reaches of the Seven Lands. The thin tendrils of his perception spread in a way that was definitely different, and likely a result of the strange connection that he and his Soulskill shared.
Randidly’s first impression was of moving bodies. A vast host of Spriggits and Weavers traveled down the branches to lower lands. At the moment, they were proceeding into the Land of monsters. From them, Randidly could sense mounting tension. His sense of self slid across the fortresses waiting in the way of the host. Those squat, steel buildings were bristling with sharp pieces of metal and the stink of fear.
In terms of size, the host was almost one hundred million. The number came unbidden to Randidly. They moved in a vast, disastrous blob. Behind them lay several lands that were trampled and left hollow. Like a pestilence the descended.
The thin tendrils of Randidly flowed into the host. It was difficult to get specifics, but Randidly could get the gist of the desires of the host.
Escape. Freedom. Heaven. Somewhere else.
With a spiraling precision, Randidly zeroed in on Alta. She stood at the heart of the host, standing before an ancient, grey-haired weaver. Fear and fury were warring across her face in a way that gave Randidly pause. Very gently, he settled into the room.
“What…” Alta stuttered, shaking her head slightly. The weaver and the girl were alone. The old Weaver’s body was as large as a car, but Randidly could sense that beneath its many hairs the actual limbs were stick-thin. “What did you just say…?”
“Not the journey, but the destination you understand,” The Weaver purred. Its voice was thin and weak. “All of it was set into motion by me. You could say… I am more mother to you that the bitch that spawned you. Your parent’s death, the peace you had to experiment, that fire that prods you forward…”
The Weaver paused. It rubbed its two forelimbs together. “Your entire life, dancing to my tune. My only oversight was Creta. How could I expect a no-name servant to become one of the deadliest killers the world has ever seen? But it was convenient. She kept you save from the threats that I couldn’t neutralize myself.”
“I-I knew,” Alta stuttered. She finally seemed capable enough to focus her gaze on the Weaver. “This whole time, I’ve known the Council of Fates-”
“Let’s not beat around the bush, girl.” The Weaver interrupted. “The Council of Fates is the name that my errand boys have invented to make themselves feel important. All of the actions they took were orchestrated by me. I do hate the stereotypes of my race, but… I sat in my web and pulled the strings for the last two hundred years to get to this point.”
“Your plan-” Alta tried again, her hands clenched into fists.
But the Weaver’s thin voice cut through hers without difficulty. “-will go off without a hitch. I know of the critical flaw you built into the machinery. Your plan to siphon so much strength from the world tree is brilliant; you Spriggit’s always had the most amusing ideas. But did you truly think I would blindly trust a girl who I trimmed and pruned like a garden? Who holds the flowers of one thousand years of hatred?”
With great care, the Weaver lifted itself up off of the ground and took several steps toward Alta. “Do you think that hate that has animated you is your own? Ah, child, you are not so special a creature as that. I made you with the seeds I have nurtured for a millennia. The Progenitor has forgotten us. That foolish man owes us much but refuses to return here to pay the piper. So I needed a weapon. Something so large and violent that he would pay attention. And you have performed splendidly.”
“Have served your purpose. You have created weapons capable of decimating the countryside. You have taken energy from the world and destabilized climates. You have bred fear and suspicion in the populace. And you have cultivated enough political support that your idea to open a door to the Land of the Progenitor was considered seriously. And once the people caught wind of it… well…”
Randidly sighed with a certain resignation even if he was just an invisible strand of consciousness in the room with the two. Perhaps because of their connection, Randidly felt that this scene was too familiar. He too had been confronted with a Creature that had bred him with a purpose. And she had found him to be an excellent experiment. So much so that the Creature had attempted to stop him so she could take advantage of the strange patterns Randidly had introduced to the System.
So Alta’s response was also unsurprising.
“Fuck you,” She swore quietly with smoldering eyes. “Maybe that’s true. Maybe all of that is true. But do you think that will prevent me from killing you right now and stopping it?”
“Can you kill me, child? Doubtful.” The Weaver sounded amused.
Alta snorted. “Burn for me.”
Randidly felt as the strange resonator device amplified the vicious heat of the ash in Alta’s chest. For a second, he thought that a huge area around them would be burnt away. But he was surprised that as that vision of ash exploded outwards, a chilling blast erupted from the Weaver.
It chuckled by clicking its fangs together in amusement. “There is balance in all things, child. Where there is light, there is darkness. Although you refuse to acknowledge it, we are one and the same. We both seek to break out of this cage. Why do you hate me?”
“Because you killed my family! I watched them suffer and die because of you!” Alta bellowed. The resonator in her chest began to spin more rapidly. The air around her distorted. Her clothes began to smoke and smolder.
“Don’t hate me. Hate the Progenitor that stranded us in this broken land.”
WHY DO I NEED TO HATE ONLY ONE THING?!?”
Alta roared as her body burst into flames. That heat was enough to melt the ground beneath her. Randidly’s consciousness swam through it like a fish in water, twirling around Alta’s head. With an even gaze, he followed the vicious thorns that wrapped even more tightly around her soul as the image of ash exploded outwards.
The wave of heat was impressive, and even the Weaver faltered in the face of it. Although it was producing an image of Frigid Ash to counter it perfectly, the cold image was being slowly overwhelmed. Hissing, the Weaver slowly retreated.
“Do you think killing me will accomplish anything?” The Weaver spat out. “These last hundreds of years, I haven’t had to even lift a spinner; all of you follow the paths I have created. So deep are my plans that-”
“-you don’t matter,” Alta said, with a surprising amount of chilling hatred for the fake she was a walking torch. “It’s true. Your death will mean nothing. But that is because everything means nothing. This is an empty world. Your words won’t stop me.”
“Killing you will make me feel good. Even if it’s just for a moment,” Alta interrupted. She was smiling, but the heat warped the air so her smile seemed to wiggle like a blind earthworm. “Isn’t that reason enough?”
In a wave of force, the flames blasted outward and ripped through the Weaver’s image. The Weaver’s body followed quickly afterward, incinerated in the speed it took one to blink.
After that powerful display, the Ashen Image that had seized Alta departed; with a groan, she collapsed to her knees. The flesh around the resonator in her chest was softly sizzling as it burnt her skin.
The naked girl sat and stared numbly at the ash that was the big bad guy she had chased for her entire life. Then she began to cry.
Randidly reached out and brushed her hair. He remembered how exhilarating it had been in those moments where the Creature had been reduced to nothing but scattered memories. But afterward, he felt so… hollow. His great foe had died, but not really. And now, he faced directly the larger threat that the System posed to Earth.
By slaying the Creature, he hadn’t accomplished anything. And that lack of satisfaction ate at him. Even now. Especially now, because he was aware that the Creature still existed in some form, waiting for him to let his guard down.
Which was followed by the second realization: although it was a hollow gesture, Randidly and Alta couldn’t have proceeded without making it.
That was the thing about life. Toward the end, everything began to feel like work. There were no easy answers, just a list of things to do tomorrow.
Randidly detected Creta hurrying over to investigate the commotion and flowed away. This was just one story developing in his Soulskill. Karma dictated there would be two more, so Randidly followed his instincts toward the second.