Year 77 Month 8
Few days after the battle
First things first, loot. Since the beetles did most of the fighting, New Freeka had no right to any of the loot and remains, so, the beetles collected all of the remaining armor, weapons and stuff, which is stored in my [tree-asury]. I’ll trade them for something someday, though, there seem to be some magical items in there…
Next, is my prisoner. Frankly, I didn’t think he’s going to talk, and actually, I personally didn’t really feel like interrogating him, which I feel is a waste of time. After all, Salah is an enemy and we’re playing defense. The things he can tell me, my prediction is, will be quite worthless.
So, I didn't waste time interrogating Falklay, as my interest in him was more… academic in nature. After stripping him of his remaining magical items and storing them in my [tree-asury], I turn to my main objective.
Drugged with all kinds of paralysis and sleep, I put him inside a biolab where I can investigate him, and eventually, I will suck him dry with my vines and feelers. I liked to see how a high level person looked under the hood, just to compare. I have seen the heroes, Jura, Yvon, and now I have this ranger, and I wasted no time, to have a look under the hood.
And there are some notable differences, mainly in where the mana and life force is strongest. The eyes, nose and ears are more pronounced than others, probably due to his need to be sensitive to his surroundings, and his soul spring, with all the stones around it, combined to create a nice fountain. Taking a good look at the fountain, there's a kind of wooden frame around the fountain, in between the stones, and as I reach out to touch the stones, little tooltips come up, telling me what skills he has.
And I try to yank the wood and stones that has this. I mean, its just something I always wanted to try, but did not do with people whom I consider my allies. I had always wondered what could happen if I took one of those rocks out.
So I yank it. And it doesn't move. Ah well. I keep trying, but instead it just hurts the ranger. It seems its magically "tied" and "intertwined" with the soul, via some kind of force.
So I stop, and rest of a while. Maybe I just need more power.
And after drawing a bit more mana and energy from the trees around me, I try to yank a rock on the fountain, again. It shakes, and I could tell that sense a huge amount of pain, but he remains unconscious and strapped in. Thank goodness of paralysis.
The rock shakes, but then something pulls it back again. It’s as if I’m trying to pull a piece of metal away from a very powerful magnet. I could, a bit, but then the magnet pulls it back once my strength lets up.
Not working. Borrowing the root-brains for some processing power, I calculate that the amount of energy I need to break that ‘magnetic’ pull of the soul spring seems really really really high, so I decide it’s probably not going to work no matter how many times I try. Maybe this is like the atomic bond of souls, that’s why I need shit amount of energy to break it.
“It’s only if you’re trying to break things. Fixing things is a lot easier, since those same forces work with you.” The wisp, whispering his wisdom. Thanks dude.
Well, I let the ranger sleep a day inside the biolab, and then I resume testing the next day.
There’s been quite a few other things I wanted to test, and it so happens I have a high level person who’s body is suitable for it.
Once again I enter the person’s inner realm, and this time, I flooded the body with my mana. It’s been something I’m curious about since I did it with the hellhounds, and then with Alexis’s body when she’s contained within me. What if I did it with a living ‘normal’ person, what happens then?
His body vibrates intensely, struggling in the biolab, as my mana, like a green tide, washes into the inner realm.
[Specimen’s compatibility with injected mana is low. Specimen body is resisting. Prolonged exposure may result in mana poisoning]
Ah. Did this happen before?
Anyway, I keep it up, I still want to see what happens. The body flails inside the pod, kinda like a fish struggling to escape from an octopus.
[Specimen body is experiencing mana poisoning]
Okay, let’s see what happens when I heal him.
[Mana poisoning reduces magic and ability effectiveness]
Really? I try injecting his body with the healing liquids from my [healing fruit], and also the [paralysis poison]. A conundrum, I suppose, but the healing just repairs damage, but does not cure the status ailment.
[Mana poison is still in effect. Specimen body’s organs are starting to suffer damage].
Heal? But I notice the healing is slower.
Two full days passed, as I constantly drown the ranger’s body with my mana. He’s not dead yet, because one of the vines continue to supply his body with nutrients and air to stay alive, so I can continue to observe what’s happening.
I’m actually curious, does the body actually gain compatibility over time? Or does the body continue to naturally reject my mana?
[Specimen body’s organs are failing.]
[Healing effectiveness is significantly reduced due to high levels of mana poisoning in the physical body. Specimen’s body is dying.]
I couldn’t stop it. The decay in the body is surprisingly quick, as the mana poisoning somehow makes to body turn on itself. It’s as if the body is rejecting itself, and strangely, I kept watching. A part of me was like, this is a rare opportunity to witness death under a microscope, and some.
And where I paid attention to most… was the soul spring.
I see the land surrounding the river and lake that forms the person’s mana start to break apart, as if a great earthquake is shattering them into small pieces, then the ‘water’ in that river and lake start to leak out into the nothingness, and it reveals a crumbling ‘riverbed’ of some kind, filled with unusual marks. I couldn’t see much, as the crumbling went on rather quickly.
I wonder is it because he is dying too quickly.
But I didn’t wonder long, because i had to focus. I want to see what happens to the soul spring then.
As the crumbling ‘riverbed’ closes in on the soul spring, the spring starts to dry up, the height of the spring falling and eventually, stopped. Then, the rocks and the structure surrounding the soul spring start to break up too.
This is something I waited for, so I reached out to it, and tried to grab hold of the rocks. As I touch them, they… vanish, and poof-ed into dust. All of the rocks did.
And all that’s left is a bare, empty hole floating in the nothingness, as all the land and ‘riverbed’ has crumbled away, the background changed into that of a bare… emptiness. In a way, it’s like a black hole sitting solitary in space. Perhaps at that empty whole, there was once a star, a ‘soul’ here once.
“The soul has gone.” The wisp whispers to my imaginary ears again.
[You’ve managed to salvage some of the decaying skills! Due to the decay of death, the salvaged skills are of a lower quality than the original skills possessed]
[You’ve received the following, which can be used to create [seed-infused skill fruits]!]
[class seed - ranger] x 3
[class seed - beast tamer] x 2
[skill seed - archery] x 2
[passive seed - spark of brilliance] x 1
Oh man. All these skill fruits are useless to me. But I guess I’ll find use for them somewhere. Maybe Lausanne.
[You’ve witnessed death as it happens in the inner realm]
[Familiar contracts upgraded - skill salvaging chance increase!]
[Biolab upgraded - post-mortem equipments, death sensors, death-delaying equipment and body preservation added!]
Hey. That’s something good. Finally. The physical body of the ranger stops flailing, like a puppet with their strings cut off. Lifeless, the body is pale, greenish from the damage of the mana poisoning over the past few days of experimentation. I later arranged for the corpse to be burnt.
Meanwhile, the victory over the Salah army had made a lot of New Freekan devotees. A few days after the victory, they held some kind of feast in the courtyard of the [tree of prayer], where the leaders of the New Freeka thanked their lucky stars and the protection of the valley’s spirit for their victory.
It has free food, drinks, dances and performance, some kind of prayer and worship led by the treefolk, things like that.
I mean, well, I feel somewhat flattered, that the citizens think that way, but the words of the leaders do feel quite hollow. Despite all the praise of their guardian and the so called will of the valley, they somehow manage to worm in a word or two on their supposed contributions.
Perhaps its a thing with politicians, even in this world.
Year 77 Month 9
"Tree Spirit." Yvon speaks, it is rare for her to come alone to the main tree's courtyard, but the fact that she did, means, probably there are changes in the way things are organised in the New Freeka council.
She presents jewels, and other items I had previously requested, stored in some kind of a magical bag.
"As you requested."
"What is it, that you want?" Jura sneers. "For Lady Yvon herself to deliver the jewels, surely there is more to just… delivery."
"The freeloader!" Horns shout in my mind. Only to me, of course.
Even I know that.
She sighs, and nods. "It is as you say, Jura. After the victory over the Salah force, we have been receiving letters, messages, and… envoys."
She then shows a few of such letters, and passes them to Jura.
"Some of the smaller nations nearby are greatly… impressed, by our successful defense. And would like to form some ties."
"Freeloader!!! And now they take credit for the beetle's sacrifice!!!" Horns shout. He's not too happy that beetles were the one who suffered the most casualties, as it will take a month or two to regenerate their numbers.
Jura somehow seems to be synchronised with Horns, and he sneers, "Such opportunistic behavior. Only after such a grand display of power that you get offers."
Yvon nods, "That's how anyone would see it, but look from their perspective. They wouldn't dare anger a country the size of Salah, so naturally, they would avoid any association with us. But that changes when that 50,000 army retreated. Now, we are like a new power in the region, a force able to stand up to Salah, and so, these smaller nations now view us more positively."
"Us? Us? They had no casualties in combat? Put your men in combat, then you can say us!" Horns is rather grumpy I think. He's not too fond of the New Freekans, mainly because he feels some of the dead beetles did not have to die if New Freeka lent some help.
I mean, I personally think the beetles are just a self-replenishing mob, but Horns clearly cares for his hive.
Jura sneers again, also somehow synchronised. "I don't appreciate the 'we' and 'us' being thrown around. New Freeka did absolutely nothing. We only assisted once we found out they were first targeting the valley."
Well, Jura's hiding some details about our own chequered history with Salah there, but hey, he's the guy with the [diplomat] job.
Yvon gives out a long sigh. "...indeed. And that is why I'm here. We are in an awkward position, as New Freeka is clearly relying on TreeTree's ability for defenses to hold Salah off, and yet to the outside world, our neighbouring nations and Salah don't know that. They are under the impression that New Freeka is the one controlling all the… forces."
"Master. They are freeloaders!" Horns, I think you need to stop shouting. I get it.
"Then clarify. Tell them New Freeka did nothing, and it is the valley's protector who did." Jura retorts. "You do not want to overstate your military prowess and face the consequences later."
Yvon sighs, "I wish it was so simple. But the people of New Freeka too, wants to believe that the tree spirit is on our side."
"Yvon, you, of all people, should know that TreeTree cares very little of New Freeka. It's a transactional arrangement, one out of favor. It is about time you let the people of New Freeka know as well."
"I.. I can't. I can't snuff out their hopes like that. The tree spirit, is their newfound pride, their source of stability in this world. If I tell them that, I… I am afraid a riot may break out."
"Then crush it."
"Permission to let them run riot. Then we may have beetles running riot too!" Horns interjects in my mind.
"Even the councillors want to believe it, and they want to believe that TreeTree will protect them. It seems it is my mistake, for being vague and unclear about the real relationship of New Freeka and TreeTree."
"I… erm… can TreeTree officially be our guardian and protector?"
"Shameless!" Horns commentates "Freeloaders and these beggars want to demand our masters protection?!"
Oh shush now. I'll think about it.
"What do I get in exchange?" I spoke into both their minds, and Yvon pauses.
"Uh… our loyalty?"
"Rejected. I care not for that, and you have no way of ensuring loyalty. I demand servitude. I have need of minions to carry out my demands."
"Make Jura and the elves royalty of New Freeka. Jura and Laufen will be my two spokespersons, they will play the role of as the new joint rulers of New Freeka, and the rest of you as advisors. From henceforth, the one who rules will be Jura and Laufen. All citizens of New Freeka is so acknowledge their position as your new joint monarchs. They will be the voice of my will, my elven avatars."
Jura seems surprised by that, "TreeTree, that…" I think he didn't expect that, but seriously, I have been wanting to give Jura direct ruling powers for some time. The arguments and issues we had with New Freeka over the past few years, especially the last few months really solidified that view, that Jura deserves a seat at the council, such that my demands are heard and known, my needs are respected and complied by these people. Unlike the treefolk, who seem perfectly content living in their small villages, or the centaurs who are similarly happy to have their hillside slopes, these New Freekans have been creating the most problems.
Yvon herself too seems shocked, and her mouth just gasps, a little too dumbfounded to respond, and she takes a few deep breaths will just staring at Jura and my main tree before she finally manages to respond.
"Ah… we… we are founded to be a council, a collective rulership, such that everyone has a say. To… to return to a monarchy would be against… against our founding principles. It… the council and the people will not accept it."
"Then be gone. New Freeka stands alone." I respond, not like I really needed them. Its really more of a mutual coexistence since they have the ability to partake in trade to acquire materials that are not available locally.
"Ah. Please wait, Tree Spirit. Let me have some time to discuss this with the wider council. Such a crucial decision, I alone cannot make this decision. I will summon a meeting immediately."
Jura too seems to be taken aback, "...ah, TreeTree we may need to discuss this."
"Later." And then I turn to Yvon. "Go, gather your council."
Ah… and so Yvon runs back, leaving the jewels behind.
"Horns, we got the jewels already, lets break your first level cap."
"TreeTree, wait. About that proposal earlier, to make us king, are… are you serious?"
"Yes." Well, not really, but if New Freeka agrees to it, I don’t mind at all.
"Please reconsider." Jura shakes his head. “It is a position I’m not willing to bear, a weight I cannot carry.”
"I must have my position heard and respected on New Freeka. Let’s see what they are willing to give.”
Jura gulps. “Surely there is room to compromise with them, something that does not involve usurping the entire ruling council? Even I think that sounds a bit too much, although they’ve been absolutely deadweights in the past two battles with Salah.”
“Well, I am willing to compromise, but let’s see how sincere they are in their counter-proposal.”
Meanwhile, Yvon quickly gathers her council for an urgent meeting.
“The Tree Spirit wants to make Jura and Laufen monarchs? Kings?”
Yvon gulps and nods.
“No absolute monarchs and kings!” Quite unanimous, the decision from the councillors, none of them want to have a king over their head, and New Freeka models itself after the elvish republics.
“Then we lose our protection. We’re all on the walls when the battle happened. You’ve seen the fury and damage the Tree Spirit can bring.”
“I still can’t help but think this sounds a lot like a criminal gang’s extortion.” One of them says.
“The tree spirit has no reason to help us, so quash that thought.” Yvon glares at the rest of them. “But at the same time, I too, disagree with having a king over our new nation. It is not something our people wanted, and I believe most of them are happy with the way things are.”
New Freeka organises itself into multiple districts, and each district elects 3 councilmen to the high council. So, in a way, there is a fair bit of representation by the people, which does help in making the locals feel somewhat connected to their rulers. It’s a partly-democratic structure, though the title of councilmen does often seem to pass from father to son, due to the family’s influence, even in such a young state.
“So, what are we willing to give?” Yvon.
“Look, if we are to negotiate this with the Tree spirit, we better be prepared to offer some meaningful concessions, or give some rights away. Without the Tree Spirit’s protection, New Freeka’s chances of survival is rather slim. The Tree Spirit’s annoyance at us was very clear in that previous meeting, I frankly do not want to have that annoyance turn into outright hostility. I hope everyone now understands why this meeting is so urgent.”
All the councillors glance uncomfortably at each other.
“Unfortunately, I agree with Lady Yvon’s assessment, and so…”
“King is totally out of the picture, the people like the leaders the way it is now. Even if the tree spirit turns against us, I think none of our people will agree to having a king.”
“If we tell them this is to secure the Tree Spirit’s protection…”
“No. I know our chances are slim without the Tree Spirit, but we are a sovereign nation. If we agree to have someone else rule over our heads, that’s against what we have fought for all this while.”
“Oh cut the political bullshit. We didn’t fight a bit.” One councillor says. “All the fighting so far has been done by the Tree Spirit’s minions.”
“I meant the fighting figuratively, as in.. our struggle so far. Anyway, are you on our side or the Tree Spirit’s side? You really want a king to rule over us?”
“That’s not what I meant. We must know what exactly we are dealing with here, and to do so, we must recognise we are very vulnerable.” The other councillor rebukes. It’s a messy argument, with a lot of side conversations.
"So, so, can we have some consensus? I believe it's clear we will refuse having a king. But are we willing to give Jura and Laufen a seat, and accordingly, authority?" Yvon tries to steer the conversation back to the topic. These councilmen tend to go off tangent sometimes.
There is an awkward look among everyone, as they shrug. It took one of the more daring councillors to finally say, "Yes.", then all the others started agreeing.
"Fine, now that we agree to give them a seat, what will be their authority? Remember, it must be something concrete, with actual powers, else the Tree Spirit will not agree."
"Then what are we willing to give?"
"Administrator of the valley? Forest master?"
"The tree spirit won't accept that. It's no fool. It’s already master of the valley, and does not need us to grant it that sort of authority. It must come from something only we can give. Our men. Our money. Ability to directly intervene in our affairs. "
"Fine, lets go about giving Jura and Laufen combined voting rights over the military, diplomatic affairs, they also get a share of our tax collection as 'tribute', and smaller voting rights on domestic, trade, and policing."
The councillors went about debating the finer points of the proposed rights and powers of Jura and Laufen, as politicians are often inclined to do.
"Okay, so… those are their rights and powers, but how do we give it to them without making the rest of the population feel that this is something arbitrary and without basis? As it is, some districts are already uneasy over their representation, and are demanding for more councilmen."
One of the rare centaur councillors then speak up. "I believe, the treefolk worship the Tree Spirit, do they not?"
The councillors, turn, mostly out of surprise.
"If so, we can follow how some elven kingdoms have special positions for the senior members of the church."
"Are you suggesting elevating the tree spirit to a god?"
"In principle, yes. From the powers we have seen, he is might as well be a local deity. So, a spokesperson of a local deity surely can be given a formal position in the ruling council, with special rights reflecting the local deity's influence in the area."
"There is precedent. The Dwarven Nation of Prummash far north gives the Great Forge Serpent's chosen a special position in their advisors council."
"What matters is then how we convey this decision to the people…"
"If the tree spirit accepts it."
"If it doesn't?"
"...we'll have to figure it out."
And with that, Yvon's meeting is over, and Yvon returns to meet us, this time with 6 other councillors.
"So, have you agreed?" My voice speaks into their mind.
The 7 exchange glances before Yvon takes a gulp, and she steps forth. "Tree Spirit, we… we are truly humbled that you've assisted us during the defense of New Freeka, and our words cannot describe the gratitude we have for sparing us from the bloodshed of battle."
"Ah the freeloader has finally learnt gratitude, eh?" Horns seem to be happy.
"Spare me the flowery words. I take you've decided not to accept my proposal." I’ve been in enough meetings to know that what starts flowery often ends in a refusal.
They pause. I wonder how I sound in their minds sometime.
"Ah… we… we have a counterproposal. Something that would be more aligned to our own founding ideals. We would propose to create a special religious role for both Jura and Laufen, whereby the Tree Spirit is elevated to that of a local deity."
Jura pauses, he seems to be thinking.
"In this way, Jura and Laufen gains a position as the Voice of the Tree Spirit, which will have similar rights and authority to that of a religious leader. As the Voice, they will have significant authority, in areas of the military, diplomacy, and external trade. We also commit that our military will be split into a few divisions, with one third of it will be under the command and rule of the Voice, and to enforce the demands of the Tree Spirit, within the framework of authority that the Voice has."
Ah, hmmm, a third of New Freeka’s forces.
“They will be given a special name of your choosing, such to differentiate them for the regular military.”
There’s a silence, perhaps for a few seconds, before Yvon continues.
“And… we will formally now set up a new institution under the Voice, and we will contribute a sizeable portion of our tax collection to this institution, which will also fund the force.”
Oh, and tax revenues too. “A third. Of all tax revenues and collections.” I speak into their minds, and they freeze. The 7 councillors exchange glances, and then they nod.
“Yes. A third.”
“Anything else?” At this point, New Freeka is willing to offer a third of their military, and their tax money to me, so, I’m actually quite satisfied with the offer.
“Uh…” Yvon shakes her head. “That’s all we could give?”
Well, in terms of land, I do control the valley, and that’s been my right since day one. New Freeka only controls the un-forested areas further south, the large farmlands, and the town itself.
An awkward silence. Perhaps they are waiting. Even Jura, he looks a bit worried.
“I agree to it it, in exchange for my participation in New Freeka’s defense.” My thoughts behind this is fairly simple, I do intend to somehow rule over New Freeka eventually, but at the same time, I do realise that putting Jura, as King over New Freeka is extremely sudden, and most likely, the New Freekans themselves, the 50,000 o non-humans are going to resist it, and I would have a rebellion on hand.
Not that crushing it won’t be an issue, but that would delay my ability to gain the necessary resources to further upgrade the rest of my artificial souls and research.
So this sort of transitory arrangement helps, and I think it will give Jura and Laufen the necessary experience needed, let them learn about managing a town, before ultimately usurping the entire New Freeka. It’ll be easier to boil the frogs of New Freeka gradually, so let them get used to having Jura as a member of their ruling class, before, one day, taking over them entirely. Ruling the New Freekans by proxy isn’t a bad idea anyway, at least the nitty gritty of people-management is left to the appointed proxy, and the world would look at the town, not at me directly.
And really, the tax revenue will help. I can buy more jewels. And weird artifacts. I’m really eager to test out that ability I gotten when I evolved to a [starsoul tree].
A few days later
- Beetle - basic magical lances - complete
- Eye-Tree Stage I research option unlocked - 18 months remaining
- Enhanced exoskeletons -complete
- Enhanced interior structures - 1 months remaining
- Large beetle pods - 3 months remaining
- Beetle - anti-magma armors stage 2 - 9 months remaining
- Fruit bombs - increased range and power - 3 months remaining
- Tree - volcanic adaptation stage 3 - 18 months remaining
I’ll need to start working on the volcano again. The enhanced exoskeletons grants the beetles stronger, faster bodies, but at the expense of consuming some of my harvested metals and some essences, and also longer regeneration time if they die, while the beetle magical lances, even though I completed the research, is not immediately usable as I need to obtain some kind of mines, before they can be infused into the beetles themselves.
So I do need a mine, preferably with one that will supply me with non-ordinary resources, such that I can further upgrade the beetles. There is a natural limit on how I can keep upgrading them with ordinary items, without giving them the ability to level via an artificial soul. Also, at the rate of my mineral harvesting from the earth, I have sufficient metals to support only 4,000 beetles with the enhanced exoskeleton.
So let’s recap.
“Guys, what are our priorities?” I call on my artificial souls for a meeting.
“Take over the volcano! Kill all the golems!” Horns say. He’s just had his upgrade as a [Baron Beetle], increasing his level cap to 30. The upgrade grants the beetles around him extra strength, armor and speed. Still, it’s not sufficient to take on the golems. They are just far too large and tough.
“Locate additional minerals, resources and leylines.” Trevor’s turn. “We’re actively sending some beetles to scout on the faraway locations.”
“Upgrade? Spiders, fruits, healing. All require upgrades.”
Thanks for the reminder, Dimitree. We do need anti-air. That reminds me, where the hell did I leave that airship from Salah?
“Were you not working on it the last time then you broke it apart and then dumped it into your treasury? I think you got stuck when the biolab couldn’t look into the materials or decipher the runes.” That’s Trevor, digging through my memories faster than I can remember it myself.
“Really?” Was it that long ago?” I try to dig through my own mind… Oh god, it’s already 3 years ago. I think I’m also getting more forgetful.
“Trevor, can you do me a favor and help me track all my outstanding tasks.”
“Certainly. I’ll create a task manager in your interface.”
“And a calendar.”
“...will do so.”
“Then mark when the date of the 10 year anniversary from the demon king’s death. I want a countdown timer in my interface. I fear I may forget, as I move onto all these lesser missions.”