Three names too many
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Year 78 Month 3

"This volcano thing is going to take a lot longer if you don't find some other kind of powerup."

"Huh."

Alexis's modified drone-beetle made the journey to the volcano. Her research tree has a root that transformed into some kind of garage like structure where the beetles are stored and modified. So, that's the first of many bombshells.

"Although your large beetles can take a few punches, the magma golems are way way stronger than your large beetles. I estimate you need at least 10 upgrades before you get anywhere near defeating then with 3 large golems. The gap is just too large. If I estimate the golems as level 60 threats, your large beetles right now are about level 35, and if each research upgrade gives 2 levels worth of strength, you would need easily 10-15 upgrades, just to be at equal rank, not considering elemental and type weaknesses."

I'm sad. A tree conquering a volcano. Say it again. A tree conquers a volcano. Man, that just sounds absurd.

"I recommend finding alternatives. Something to breach the weaknesses. Find an elemental type that allows a good counter. Water or cold type? Or even wind."

I totally didn't hear that. I am just too wrapped up in sadness. Maybe my approach is wrong.

What if I am not looking to conquer the volcano, but… absorb it?

Can I terraform the volcano? Alter the surroundings?

"So, as I was saying, magic would help. Think about it, a magic-casting beetles."

"Huh." Oh wait, Alexis was talking. "Sorry could you repeat, I did not pay attention."

She sighs. "I mean, you need magic. Or water. Acid's not going to work on the magma golems. Its… its just uh… you know, science? Water. Spells."

Okaaaaay. But damn, there must be other ways about it. Or would it be better to just focus on one area of the volcano, like a ‘safe zone’? "Ah. Any other observations from your probe?" The information I have is from what I can see via my subsidiary trees and maybe she sees something else.

"Uh… The mana density is quite high… but I can't seem to figure out what's wrong with it. Its not a pleasant kind of mana…" Ah yes, mana, the weird thing that everyone's soul produces and also produced by things like leylines and certain objects. From the bodies I have examined, there are certain 'colors' to each mana, and it seems mine is primarily blue, which is why its the first color I unlocked.

The colors, type of mana, and the quality of it have tremendous influence on the way it feels and behaves. In a way, the description by most common mages is that mana is like air. There is stale air, good air, bad air, smelly air, dry air, wet air.

I wonder in this world, does mana take the form of some kind of special atom? Don't you ever wonder what is mana at its smallest unit? And why does the soul produce it? Does the soul maintain some kind of law of energy conservation?

"Hey, hey, if you want to have theoretical discussions you can do it with me." Alexis vents. "I like those kind of topics too. And seriously, do you have a problem staying focused on any particular topic? Stop hopping to other trains of thought all the time."

But they all deserve to grow? These thoughts, they are worth exploring. So I do.

"Focus. Back to the volcano. You need magic, and the right elements. Do you have anything? The spiders and the beetles are not ideal, obviously since they are weak to fire."

Well, other than myself, I can't think of any.

"So, magic! Doesn't have to be pure magic, but imagine beetles with a magical cannon that shoots water. Or spiders that create a freezing field. Flying beetles that releases water like the fire rescue planes. Oh wait. You might not know what that is. But you get the picture?"

"Hmmm…"

"Oh come on, you want this volcano or not. You do it your way it's gonna take a lot longer."

Ah. Alexis is pushing her magic agenda again. "Let me think about it."

Year 78 Month 4

The treefolk-specific saps and nutrient foods are super popular, indeed it augments some of the key challenges treefolk face during pregnancy. The main thing is, treefolks, as the pregnancy gets more mature, ideally should stay put, their feet firmly rooted to the earth. This allows them to draw nutrients, mana from the earth to feed the growing fetus within their wooden bodies.

But, being stationary for months is not feasible in an environment where non-humans, like treefolk, are consistently hunted by others, so to be safe, they had to constantly migrate and move around to evade their hunters. This leads to nutrient shortage, their bodies compensate through consuming the parent's nutrients to feed the fetud, and so, weakens the parent.

Their children are generally weaker, though the most recent few children are in much better shape. No longer having to run, and have a relatively stable valley to stay in helps a lot in the quality and overall health of the treefolk children. Perhaps more than any other race, they need stability, and a familiar environment to mature properly.

"The treefolk's loyalty is probably the highest amongst all the nonhuman races, followed by the Centaurs. If we are to admit members into the Valtrian order, we can create a special group for them."

"Isn't that species-ism? That is the root of future discord though, the other races will dislike their special privileges."

"Is it not a waste to make the most of their abilities?"

"If we go down the path of making the races compete with each other, that will not go well. Right now New Freeka is dominated by elves, followed by the centaurs, if they start competing, that will further entrench the existing rifts among the races."

"Why do you care, master? They are disposable, are they not?" Ivy retorts, and I wonder where she gets that angry persona from. Is it from observing people for too long? "All of them are slimy, at least, the treefolks no so slimy because their material demands are different." Ivy hit level 10 a few days ago, and amusingly, her skill at level 10 is [Citizen File], using her constant monitoring of the citizens to build a "dossier" on the people. It takes effort, and a few months to do it, but Ivy's got time.

I gulp, if I could. Ivy's right, they are disposable. In the larger scheme of things, loyal servants are more valuable anyway. I should get more loyal servants. Better a loyal servant than 100 fighters who would stab me in the back.

The Valtrian order is stabilising, as the processes around the birth and death, and the quasi-military force regains some semblance of structure after my earlier retrenchment exercise. l

..

The new leadership team meet in Jura's new office in the center courtyard of Valtrian Order HQ. All rooms are covered with vines and trees, such that I can always monitor them, even the toilets.

Jura, Laufen, Madeus, three captains, two herbalists, two administrators and a master of ceremonies.

Three captains of the Order, the military arm shrunk to only 900 strong, each captain a leader of a group of 300. Two herbalists, they lead about 100 workers to cultivate and maintain the various herbal gardens and farms around the Valtrian order, and produce herbal medicines and ointments. Two administrators, responsible for treasury and purchases, funds, and payment of salaries, managing an administrative staff of 50.

The master of ceremonies, a position I wanted to give Wesley, but he declined, claiming he isn't interested in paperwork, so instead another priest was roped in to take the role. Somebody had to sort out the planning of the deaths, and all the paperwork around them. Almost all of them, except one administrator, are elves. I had hoped for a bit more variety in the Valtrian leadership.

It's a weekly meeting, for everyone to get updates on the plans, and matters, this is where everyone speaks to… me.

"The councillors are not too happy with the retrenchment exercise, Tree Spirit. Many of them complained to the councillors and demand their positions be reinstated."

"Tell them that they are free to let Jura know that they can challenge a beetle to a fight. If they prove they will be more useful in battle than any of my beetles, I will give them their position back, and a small reward."

The three captains glance at each other awkwardly.

"In fact, please put up a notice. Let this be known."

The captain that brought it up shrugs and nods. I think he regrets it. "Ah…."

"The acquisition of more herbs and plant varieties is ongoing, and the peace accords with Salah is recently finalised. That means we will see more movement of non-combatants, especially from the various magic councils of Salah."

"Watch them carefully. They will be spies. Salah will take this 'peace' to gather information on our true depth." Well, the truth is, I would probably get Ivy to watch them too. She's getting better at spying on people throughout New Freeka.

"Would it not be New Freeka's military to do so? They may think we are taking unnecessary action that may provoke Salah."

"New Freeka's unreliable, and the leaders are… compromised. And if getting caught spying would provoke Salah, I prefer to think of if as a warning."

"Compromised? Really? Who?" One of the captains ask.

Jura jumped in. "Secret. But the logic is simple enough, once the leaders saw the beetles, Salah attacked..."

"Ah…" Separately I turn to Ivy, "Do you have a file on the captains? I feel they are suspicious as well."

"Yes I already have some observations... They've not done anything big so far, but they do have some… suspicious activities One of them, from conversations gathered, have human relatives in Salah, and all three do write letters, delivered via the merchants to other countries."

One drawback, the written word is a bit harder to spy on as our visual quality is a bit low-resolution. One of the reasons I wanted the Tree-Eye ability. "Can we get a copy of the letters?"

"Difficult. Will need Jura to do so, but we do not have trusted agents in the merchants group, so it will be rather tough to do so discreetly." Ah, that is something we need to fix, and the fact that Ivy exists as a tree-mind means she's my eyes and ears, but not my hands and legs.

Meanwhile, the leadership continue with their discussion. Typical leadership mumbo jumbo. Funny how people in positions of power always end up having discussions about structure, and plans.

"Okay, updates." Jura steers the conversation back to regular matters like finances, hiring, what's the plan for the next week, updates from the New Freeka High Council ("NFHC").

"There is a travelling group of druids, they seek permission to go through our lands, the NFHC has agreed to grant them the right of passage and to go about their restoration work."

"Huh, didn't those nomads come here before?"

"A different group. Just keep a lookout for them."

"Travelling to barren lands and returning greenery, surely there are better uses of their talents." One of the captain jokes, the mood is a little bit more cordial. The earlier banter between the leaders are getting better, Jura's diplomat class really helps putting others at ease.

"All you think about is fighting, everything else is pointless to you. Maybe it's part of their class requirement. Some jobs have certain accomplishment barriers, perhaps druids are like that." Another captain pokes his colleague.

"Do mages have accomplishment quests, Madeus?"

"My mage class doesn't. Or perhaps, not yet."

Jura looks at the few pieces of paper before him. "Ah I think we are straying off the agenda again. Anything else?"

"We have some responses to our request to hire adventurers to bring back exotic plants, from the faraway continents. The message we got is that they will arrive in a month, and demand that their payment be ready."

"Yay." I like that.

The captains frown. "Is this the best use of money?"

Jura grins, "Fun fact, the tree spirit gets more powerful with every new type of plant he encounters. So, it's worth it."

"Anything else?"

The master of ceremonies raises his hand and nod, "I have a proposal. The Tree Spirit should have a divine title."

"A divine title?" Almost everyone asks in unison.

"Ah, in various sects and religions, there are often special titles to refer to the minor deities and heroes, something that cements that person as a divine being. Currently, referring to the Tree Spirit as the Tree Spirit is… clunky and awkward, and makes the prayers and ceremonies a bit less… proper as religions tend to be. A divine title is a gesture to recognise Tree Spirit's special position in our society. Like how some refer to god as God."

Jura scratches his chin, "Are you asking the Tree Spirit for a name or title?"

"Ah, I am thinking... of having the senior leaders group together and do a study, on the proper ways to venerate the Tree Spirit. A few of the faithfuls shared their troubles, that the Tree Spirit as the Tree Spirit does not differentiate it from the many other tree spirits in the world. The masses, those who pray, must know and be assured that their prayers are going to the correct and true Tree Spirit."

"Ah… That's the kind of thing only a priest will think about."

"So… perhaps we can spend some time to think of a name-"

"Aeon."

The master of ceremonies immediately kneels before the small tree in the center of the room..

"Ah, truly the Tree Spirit is divine, Tree Spirit already has a divine name. Kneel before Aeon, everyone, for we are the first to be graced by Aeon, with his divine title."

The rest of them look at each other, probably wondering what the hell is this guy trying to do, but decides to go with the flow that the Master of Ceremonies created and so, kneels. Even Jura and Laufen join in.

"Oh, to the great and mighty, protector and watcher of the valley, we offer our prayers and thanks to thee, o mighty and powerful, Aeon."

If I could rub my head I would. But I really liked the name Aeon. I think Aeon as a name deserves to be much than just the name of a chain of supermarkets.

One of the captain rub his head, "Is it pronounced like.. Aye-on? Or Aye-yon?"

"I accept both pronunciations."

-

[Hidden Conditions checks met]

[Special skill obtained - Possession of the devoted]

[A special familiar contract with a chosen devoted believer. Limited to 5 at any time]

Year 78 Month 5

Things are rather quiet in New Freeka and the valley, and I think that is a good thing.

Alexis is right. I need a different approach if I need to hold the volcano. The inner volcano is filled with giant golems, who are clearly still leagues ahead of the large beetles. If the location is bad, the golems could easily hold off my beetle horde like a wall made of lava. So, while the various research continue, I’m thinking of other methods. She's right that beetles are a bad matchup, even if this will annoy Horns.

Anyway, let’s talk about New Freeka. This month I received a magical cactus, some kind of coconut variant, and a gourd shaped fruit which is often used to store foods due to its magical preservation qualities, so that goes into the biolab.

[Skills acquired]

[Cactus defense system]

[New crop type acquired]

[Milk coconut and brownwood gourds]

[Subsidiary tree limit increased]

Other than that, for the Valtrian order, things are pretty much the same. Training, scouting, purchasing and trading, and the birth & death rituals continue. The populace of New Freeka adapts to the new routine, and a new set of uniformed group in the town. Jura and the team decided on a dark brown color, like the tree barks, as the Valtrian Order's "color", New Freeka uses blue.

The druids came. They didn't seem too interested in the valley, it seems the druids got some kind of messiah complex that drives them to seek out sick trees and damaged environments, so their stop in New Freeka is a really brief one, just to resupply.

It's peaceful. I even manage to successfully protect my ginseng tree and make it last past their first year. And that's nice for a change.

Year 78 Month 7

"Practice." Lausanne grumbles. As Jura now has responsibilities in Valtrian Order, the time he has for Lausanne is significantly reduced, and she often seeks him out for practice sessions, even in the quarters itself.

In his place, the captains and men of the Valtrian order often become Lausanne's sparring partners, and in a way, its good for her.

Lausanne, now level 25, is actually better at the sword than a regular soldier, who's usually only about level 20-30, but having their levels dispersed over various skills.

"For a 9 year old she's pretty much a genius." The captains lavish their praise on Lausanne, though Lausanne just shrugs. Of course, the captains don't know is I've easily used 400 to 500 essences collected throughout the years, to build up her combat sense through [dream tutor], [powerlevelling], [learning aura], and most recently [training room].

"Perhaps that's the other thing you should be doing." Alexis's really bored these days, when she's not using her 2 probe-beetles, she tries to make conversation with me, or everyone else. "Maybe you can train an army of super-warriors."

"Heh. It's too early to tell how far Lausanne will go. She's currently my test subject, to see how effective the abilities are. But if it works, I’ll consider it."

“You should train more than just Lausanne. You can then compare the differences, perhaps each of the different individuals as your test subjects. Vary them a bit, then you can see what influences their growth and whether there is an actual… limit.”

“You’ve been thinking about this kind of thing, haven’t you?”

“I’m a research spirit floating around, stuck to my tree. What’s there to do other than tinker with my lab equipment, and think about such things? Is it wrong?”

“Ah… not, that’s not what I meant…”

“Then what do you mean?”

“You know what, I think you have a point. I agree that I should have a few test subjects, to see how the training thing works, and fully explore the limits of these people.”

Of course, that means I’ll need to find ways to consolidate and upgrade all my training related skills, such that I can distribute the resources to more people, other than Lausanne alone. Part of the reason why I focused only on Lausanne, is because I have no idea how effective my abilities are, and how it actually affects Lausanne’s growth, so I just went all in. The problem with [dream tutor], and [learning aura], is that the effects are really small, but they do accumulate over a long period of time. It isn’t as if Lausanne becomes super amazing the next day, and I’ve been using [dream tutor] on her since she’s… 5? Maybe 4. I forgot.

“Since she’s got that special skill, well, use your seeds as well. I’m really eager to know what they do.”

“Huh, I’m confused now. Should I focus on Lausanne, or train more people?”

“Both! You can focus on Lausanne since she’s got that unique skill, but you do need other people as a ‘base case’. It’s really basic, you can’t draw conclusions on a sample of one. More samples, more robust conclusions! So diversify! Expand your sample size!"

“You know, the validity of your methods are distorted by ‘skills’ and ‘abilities’.”

“Those are outliers and variables that we can adjust for. That’s normal!” I think Alexis is talking a lot like a scientist, and I think it’s part of the job.

“Meela, do you think she’s talking like a scientist?”

“She talks like that all the time. It’s normal.”

“Hey!”

“But I’m not disputing the essence of your argument, and I agree with the idea of having more… test subjects. Well, it’s time for me to get Laufen to work on the orphanage.”

“Wait. You’re experimenting with orphans?” Alexis didn't like that though.

“Who else do I experiment on? Do you see any other young children I can run some tests on? You think the rest of the New Freekans willing to give me young children to test on?”

“I’d like to say that it’s ethically wrong to use your abilities on young children who are unable to decide and give consent. You know what, testing on young children now feels eerily similar to trying to train orphans into war machines, so I take back my earlier statement. Please don't test on young children.”

“This is a magical world, and frankly, I am not doing them any harm. When you feed a child a supplement, you want them to grow strong, but did the child give consent? When you force him to eat his bitter medicine, did he give consent? As long as your intent is to help them, I think it’s fine. And with orphans, as the Valtrian order is the caretaker and guardian, we are empowered to make decisions on their behalf.”

Meela tries to break up the argument by butting in. “Alex think positively! Maybe TreeTree can make Batman! That’ll be cool. I think a lot of superheroes are orphans or lost their parents. Superman too! So I think it’s a good idea. You won’t abuse them, right? Right?”

Alexis pretty much facepalms, “I don’t think TreeTree knows what Batman is.”

Uh, I do, but I keep my mouth shut. “Well, no permanent pain, I suppose…” Frankly I don’t know, there’s no progress without pain.

“Hmm…”

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