Year 79 Month 1
Roots, the subterranean network of trees. Through it, I am connected to the tens of thousands of trees within my valley, and beyond.
These roots, they cover vast lands, serving as the forest’s backbone, carrying information, minerals, essences, and mana. These roots, they go through many kinds of soil, so they pick up the subtle shifts of the mineral composition, and, a feature of my various subsidiary trees, act like little sensors, collecting measurements.
When it rains, when it snows, when the earth shakes a little, when there’s a bit of shaking, through [rootnet], the roots and the subsidiary trees all collect data. Data, which my root-brains, Trevor, Dimitree, and Ivy feed on. Vibrations, humidity, magic. Together, all these sensors form a vast array, and so, we can now triangulate the sources of tremors, and unusual magics, to determine direction.
Some trees in the distance would feel it first, a tug, a pull. Then later more trees pick up on the tremor.
An earthquake. A minor one. Even the volcano gives out little warning signs, the small tremors before it starts to erupt, when some part of the volcano starts to spit out lava. This ability could have saved more beetles, if we had it a bit earlier.
It’s Trevor’s newest skill addition.
Crunching all the data, to tell me what’s happening in a distant location, without having to actually be there.
“If we had magic sensors…” Alexis is about to start with her usual marketing of magic labs.
“Let’s start material labs first. I understand that’s a prerequisite to the development of magic labs?”
“Ah.. erm.. Yes. We would need to have the ability to analyse materials, and develop mana-sensitive materials, then only magical labs.”
“So let’s do it. What do I need to get to material labs? Once we have that I’d like to analyse that dismantled airship, again.”
“Yes. I’ve decided to get magic sensors. I imagine that would be very useful if we had another case of that super-blizzard.”
Alexis nods, “Ah… yes…. So, material research first?”
“Yes. Get to it.”
“Sure.” Alexis looks awkward, she floats around, a part of her happy, yet a part of her quite confused. “...What made you change your mind?”
“Was I changing my mind? I thought I just wanted more time to mull over whether that’s the right direction for us.”
Alexis seems like she is about to bark some kind of retort, before she seems to realise “...do tree spirits normally take so long to think?”
“Well, it makes sense, that is a common kind of myth associated with tree-people that they tend to be sluggish and take forever to decide.” Alexis is talking to herself now. "It's like that council of trees in LoTR. Took them forever to decide, didn't they."
Huh. Is she complaining that I took too long to decide? But at least I did decide, no?
“Ah never mind. Starting material testing and tree-lab varieties.”
- Eye-Tree Stage I research option unlocked - 2 months remaining
- Beetle - anti-magma armors stage 2 - completed
- Beetle - anti-magma armors stage 3 - 3 months remaining
- Tree - volcanic adaptation stage 3 - 2 months remaining
- Roots - Volcanic mineral harvesting - stage 1 - completed
- Roots - Volcanic mineral harvesting - stage 2 - completed
- Roots - Volcanic mineral processing - stage 1 - 5 months remaining
- Materials testing - stage 1 - 3 months
- Tree-lab varieties - stage 1 - 12 months
Research is taking longer, as earlier predicted. Magic is going to be necessary, and though I have to take precautions on who and what gets access to magic, I'm starting to lean on the side that it's an eventual step I have to take, one way or another, I cannot face the threats this world has with one hand behind my back.
A necessary risk.
I will have a long conversation with both Meela and Alexis, on magic, on the sorts of magic I will give them access too, though with Meela, I have less ability to control her. My hope is, they would be able to give some contribution to the defense against the next demon king, as they have more experience in magic as heroes.
Meanwhile, New Freeka’s having a small boom in terms of growth. The era of peace, and the reputation of stable, secure food supplies attracts more refugees, even from the other nations, not just Salah. A busy time for the council of New Freeka, and they’ve been hard at work, to expand their town premises, prepare new farmlands. More people, more food, more homes, public services need to be expanded. Of course, there's usually a need for refugees to 'buy' their way to 'public' services, such as the right to use some of the new housing.
At the same time, there’s been more focus on security and screening, so the NFHC hired some of the laid off soldiers to work as guards. Ivy says some of the councilmen feel a need to bolster their forces, now that they are actively ‘threatened’ by the presence of the Valtrian order as a ‘competing’ political power, what more, with Jura and the Valtrian order’s secure, legally protected position.
A faction in the council emerged which wants to assert 'independence' from the Order’s growing influence, and this faction somehow managed to coerce Yvon, such that she voluntarily resigned from her position as the chairperson of the council. Her position has been tenuous and under scrutiny for some time, as it's an open secret by now, that her soul is contracted to me, and that leads to a whole lot of corridor whispering and rumors about Yvon being 'compromised'.
But to the layperson unfamiliar to the nuances of New Freeka politics, her statement to the public at large sounded voluntary enough.
‘I’m resigning from my post as chairperson of the New Freeka council, with immediate effect. I’ve led and held this position since New Freeka’s founding, and finally, after almost 5 years, I believe this fledgling nation is in safe hands, and I can finally hand the reins over to someone else, and spend time with my son.”
How sweet. Spend time with Roma, who’s now almost 6 years old.
The pressure to ‘counterbalance’ Jura’s growing influence meant the person holding New Freeka’s chairperson role had to more than independent. In other words, against the Order, against me.
Frankly, it’s just silly political struggles. A large faction within the councilmen themselves understand this, after all, they know I can crush them. So they are left in this uncomfortable situation where they yearn for to be the ruling group, but acknowledge that without me, they have nothing to rule.
Anyway, silly silly things, these jostling for 'authority', as long as nothing ‘unreasonable’ happens, I’ll let them be. Ivy’s got all of them monitored, and retaliation won’t take much time at all.
“Lady Yvon.” Jura was one of the few she met after her voluntary withdrawal. “I heard the news, frankly, it’s disappointing, but the Tree Spirit expected it.”
She laughs, “Hah, well, that’s life.”
Jura shrugs. “So, really, retirement as a mother?”
“Why, do I not look like I have motherly desires?”
Jura’s turn to laugh, and he takes a small alcoholic beverage and offers it to Yvon. “Frankly, no. You’re the warrior-queen type.”
Yvon sips on her little drink. “Well, to be fair, it has some truth, I admit feeling a little jealous that Roma’s a lot more attached to Eriz than me. For all these time I’ve been trying to get this town in order, Eriz has been more like his mother, more than I ever have. So yes, a bit of it is a desire to make up for what I have failed to do.”
"Really? I really didn't see you as the actual mother type, though most of New Freeka regard you as the 'mother' of this city." Jura laughs, he offers his small cup of alcohol and the two cups meet softly. They both take a sip.
"Anyway, my time’s up. And time management has never been my strong suit. There's never enough time to do right by New Freeka, or by Roma."
“Time’s never enough. It comes with the job. Look at me, or Laufen. Both of us are so busy these days, we only have a bit of time to spend with Lausanne and the kids. I try to make dinner happen, at least we still meet up… Lausanne’s been bugging me for combat practice every time we meet.”
“Oh yes I have heard a few captains sing praise of her talent. She’s really good for her age. My son's not showing any interest yet, though.”
“Well, may not be a bad thing. Laufen constantly worries she’ll injure herself. At least Roma’s just playing chase, or spending time with wooden toys. I just hope Lausanne doesn’t find someone who doesn’t know how to hold back and injure herself from practice.”
“You know, I could offer to spar with Lausanne.” Yvon nods. “Now that I have free time.”
Jura smiles, “I would appreciate that. It will be good for her growth, that she fights someone with a different style.”
“So I take that as a yes?”
“Yes, yes. Please tell Lausanne you’re her new sparring partner.”
Yvon nods, “Great!” Their cups are both empty.
Jura leans forward. “Ah, all of you, can you leave?” The guards nod to Jura’s instruction, and so they leave, leaving Jura and Yvon alone in the room.
“Huh. Something important?”
“Yes. I’ll cut to the chase, really. It’s about Roma. Is he related to the royalty?”
“Damn. The Tree Spirit saw through that too?” Yvon’s fist smack her other palm, and Jura just shrugs at her statement.
“Does the Kingdom of Salah know about it?”
“I sure hope not. We forged a fake marriage arrangement with one of Galen’s knights, one of the other elves. It also helps that Roma does not manifest any of the human traits yet, so no one will know whether he’s part-human until he’s much older.”
“But he will, it's only a matter of time before he asks of his own heritage. How many know of this?”
“That is too many. Where are the 10?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“In which case, you better start preparing Roma. If you’re lucky, he gets forgotten by the Kingdom, as just one of the many bastards royalties have. If you’re not, there’s going to be a group out for his head.”
“Well, now that I have some free time, looks like I should get started on his practice.”
Jura nods. “You should. He needs the ability to protect himself. You’re good, but you won’t be able to stop all of them.”
“Can I count on you to protect him?”
Jura pauses, and shrugs. “Maybe.”
Yvon smiles weakly. “Ah well.”
“If you’re going to start preparing him, then have him practice with Lausanne. I can permit access to the Training Rooms, or use the one near the Main Tree.”
“I will. Thank you.”
“Take care, Lady Yvon.”
Yvon nods, and she leaves.
The room’s empty, and so Jura leans back and he speaks out loud. It’s quite obvious he’s talking to me.
“Royalty. As you predicted.”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? She sent her baby so far away with protectors. If it’s not royalty, I doubt she’d take such precautions. It’s such a… cliche.”
“I thought it’s just a motherly thing to do, to keep your child out of harm’s way. But I’m happy that she offered to practice with Lausanne. That’ll really help me and Lausanne. If only the others show any interest in learning how to defend and protect themselves.”
“They’ll be fine. So long as they remain in the valley, the beetles will look out for them. What do you think about her replacement?”
“Smart, but a little greedy. The position he takes isn’t one he truly believes in, he’s only taking it because it allows him to be in a greater role. I believe he’s just saying what everyone else wants to say, but don’t have the guts to say. A mouthpiece for the anti-Order faction, so he’s going to try to stonewall a few of our initiatives.”
“Well, it is normal in politics. The opposing party will try their best to stop us. As long as it’s not too annoying, let it be. If you run into trouble, let me know, I’ll crush them.”
Jura nods. “I figured you would say that. Oh yeah, my [diplomat] and [warrior] classes merged yesterday night. It’s now [Warlord].”
“Sounds like an upgrade.”
“It is. I feel stronger already. Cumulatively I’m level 80! I think it’s due to your influence”
“Great.” Well, it’s good that Jura’s getting even more powerful. All that [powerleveling] and [learning aura] helped, after all.
He sighs, and it’s a loud, long sigh. “TreeTree. I think… I think this is my limit.”
“I can feel it. Even though my classes merged, I have a sense, a feeling in my chest. That this… this is as far as I can go. My body and soul is at its limit of growth.”
“Strange words. Do people not grow, gain levels, as long as they push themselves, fight monsters and gain experience?”
“Well, in theory, yes. But other than heroes, most of us plateau at some point. For those who are not so gifted, we would experience multiple plateaus. That’s why I’m worried for Lausanne, too. She might be doing well now, gaining levels and all, but there is a point where our body, our souls reach a ‘plateau’.”
Well, I think Jura did mention something similar in the past, but it didn’t register as something significant in my head.
“We are not born heroes, and so, we have a limit. They say…”
I cut him off then. “Rubbish. Are you sure you’re not just feeling tired and start mumbling? Rather than talk about limits, take a dip in the biolab and let me have a look at what’s going on. Come back to the main tree.”
Jura somewhat reluctantly put himself for examination.
And first things first, I notice the arrangement of stones near and around his mana spring. The core of the soul is different from last time, I recall it looking like a few scattered mounds of rocks around the mana spring, but this time, those mounds are shaped like a proper wall around the spring, a bit more like the ranger. There’s a better structure and organisation to the rocks and stones. I suppose this is what the class merger did to the layout of the rocks.
Next, I looked at the mana generation, it is healthy, and quite good, doesn’t look like there’s any blockage or ‘dark spots’ that suck up his mana. The spring’s spewing out mana very well, the supply of ‘mana’ or ‘life force’ is good. Not as much as the heroes, of course, but it’s healthy for someone like Jura.
Then, I look at the body, the body’s healthy too. Jura’s not a young man anymore, by elven years he’s a middle aged man. Despite that, the body’s in good shape, he’s strong, he’s fit. The shores on the body is taking up all the mana the body can offer, and there are no blockage to the mana flow to any part of the body.
Hmm, so why would he feel like this is his limit? Is this something not on the mana? I draw on the power of my [soul forge], and channel it to my main tree’s biolab pod, hoping to have a look at a bit more.
With the [soul forge]’s power, more data appears. First, the rate of production of mana from the spring, and then the passive mana consumed to sustain each level and skill. It’s denoted as two bars, mana produced and mana consumed.
“Is this the mana we’re familiar with, or another kind of mana?” Alexis asks, she’s also looking Jura’s body.
Well, as it turns out, it sort of is, the normal kind of mana. Each person produces a certain amount of mana, but it is ‘allocated’ into two pools, ‘active’ and ‘passive’. Active goes into the person’s actual mana pool that is used to cast spells and activate skills, Passive is directly consumed to sustain the body’s stats, power and all the other ‘passives’. The passive, is commonly referred to as the body’s vitality or life force.
It is the data finally answers the question.
Jura’s vitality is maxed out. And his body’s consumption of that vitality is also maxed out. Though nothing is ‘wrong’ with him, he is right to say something is wrong. It’s like a car that’s already pushed to the limit, and can go no further. A car that hit it’s speed limit.
“Sounds simple enough, can you tweak the soul such that it produces more vitality and less mana? It sounds like he doesn’t really need that much mana as a warrior. Maybe some of his skills and abilities consume them, but I think a higher level would be better. Or maybe, you could just give him an upgrade? I wonder whether you could upgrade souls.”
“It’s something I want to think about. There may be other ways to go about it.”
Tweaking the soul, well, I could, but I need to be very sure it works. The soul forge, if used incorrectly, can cause great damage.
Year 79 Month 2
I finally got the skill. We needed to decorate a [subsidiary tree]’s customisable rooms with beds, complete with partitions, segregated washrooms, a reception area and a dining area.
[A tree with a whole lot more space than it looks! Each tree lodge has 10 rooms, a restaurant, a cozy lounge, a reception, and a kitchen, all while looking no bigger than any other tree! Needs to hire workers to work]
[Limited to 5, and each lodge must be a distance away from the other nearest lodge]
Uh. Odd, it's the first time a tree skill has a minimum distance requirement. I can’t cram all the tree lodges in one place?
“Meela, I got the skill. I can make you a tree lodge already.” Well, once it’s fused with Meela, the slot would free up again. Meela’s her own person and she doesn’t use my tree lodge slot. It’s like Alexis’s own independent biolab-thing, which is now a weird crazy looking tree with lots of vials, tubes and other contraptions, and strange blobs flowing up and down its side. It's so weird that I have to use beetles to guard it.
“Awesome. I had ideas for names again. Want to hear it?”
“Hotel Treevago.” Hey, I know that joke. Do they all come from the same generation? Is there a kind of speed difference in time between this world and ours?
Alexis facepalms. “Meela, that’s lame. And it sounds kind of wrong. Like a bad reproductive disease.”
Meela laughs. “I know, it’s a joke. I’m probably going to call it something a bit more proper. Perhaps, the Faraway Home-e.”
“That’s not much better!”
“The palms, then? I think there’s a luxury hotel by that name, isn’t it?”
“The palms… but we’re not at the beach!”
“How about the Pinewood?”
“Oh, okay, the Pinewood sounds better.” Alexis puts her spiritual fingers on her chin. She's thinking rather seriously.
"Or the Oakwood. I think that sounds quite classy as a hotel."
"Meela, you sure you want to be a hotel?"
"Hell yeah. Alexis, stops questioning my decisions, I know what I want to do."
"Ah, I know you won't change your mind. Fine, fine. You'll need to hire workers and you will need money. And where can you get it?"
"TreeTree, can I get a loan? You're rich, right? I'll pay you back when I start to make money."
"Okay. 30 gold for now. Consider it my investment."
Alexis smacks her head. "TreeTree, you're being awfully generous."
“Great, thanks TreeTree! Let’s totally do this. Uh.. but wait. If the soul forge merges me with the [Tree lodge], does that mean I take the position of the current Tree Lodge? That’s not a great location, I would prefer one right in New Freeka!”
“Ah… hmm....” I mentally connect to the soul forge, and then, a little prompt appears. Alexis and the Tree-minds didn’t have this issue since they are located right next to me, so after the merging is complete I can just ‘spawn’ them there. But New Freeka outside the range of the soul forge so I have to use the Carrier Drone.
[Carrier Drone. After a soul is merged with an object, skill or person, it can choose to become a “deployable egg”. The carrier drone will then carry the egg within it to the desired location, where it will spawn into the merged structure! But beware, the carrier drone is vulnerable, and destruction means death to the cargo as well.]
“Once again, the system to the rescue." A little too convenient, but hey, that's life.
And so, I initiate the soul forge. Meela’s soul leaves my [soul realm], and into the forge, together with the [Tree Lodge], which melts into a greenish like liquid, and the soul forge then spins the two together. Meela's soul takes the form of a white light, and together with the greenish liquid, it mixes into a mild green light.
Lightning strikes at the branches of the [Forge Tree], making an electrical connection to the heavens above, and it periodical pulses, and the thickness of the lightning increases.
And the spinning within the forge speeds up intensely, as more power and mana are drawn through the roots. Activating a soul forge result in a lot of mana and energy flowing through the roots, especially from the leyline, it feels like having a whole lot of water flowing, spinning around me, like I am stuck in a whirlpool.
Zap! One large lightning strikes the [forge tree], and then, it’s complete. The merging is done.
A small greenish egg appears from the forge tree, containing a sleeping Meela as a hotel-spirit-tree.
A drone beetle appears, it’s body’s hard shell open to reveal something resembling a small but very long limb, it lifts up that small egg, the size of a dog (it’s relative), and places it in a compartment on its body, then the shell closes.
“Wow. It even has a little storage space.”
I command a dozen beetles to quickly escort the drone to the marked place in New Freeka, a place Meela chose beforehand, where she wanted the ‘hotel’ to be. It's nighttime, and Jura has already made arrangements for the beetles to enter the town premise. Once the carrier drone arrives safely, the drone beetle starts to dig itself into the ground and it starts to… melt?
It’s melting? The body of the carrier and the egg liquefies into a greenish goo and it seeps into the ground.
“Whoah.” Alexis is quite amused by it. "Magic?"
"I.. I think so?" Well, I have no idea. I don't know how the deployment works either.
It’s actually an empty plot of land, owned by the Order, and now, a wall starts to appear around that plot of land. The ground starts to expand, actually, inflate upwards, but still entirely covered in earth.
It’s still inflating, and the inflating earth starts to take the shape of a cuboid block made of dirt and roots. It’s like somebody took a hardened cube of earth filled with roots and placed it where the empty spot once was.
Then suddenly, a sign appears on that large mound of earth, on the frontage that faces the town’s streets.
“Under construction. Grand Opening in soon!”
“Meela, you there?” Alexis asks, a little worried. Meela's her only friend.
“Yes, but I’m very busy!” Meela replies back, “I’ll let you know when I’m done! I got tonnes of options before this thing opens!”
And Meela vanishes, merges into the wooden block, and she didn’t speak a word for the rest of the month.
The odd mound of earth, that strangely manages to remain ‘cube-shaped’ draws a whole lot of curious onlookers, but most people didn’t think about it too deeply. Just one of those strange things that happen in a world with magic, ‘oh look at that strange earth-block.’. Must be some magical shit happening in the Valtrian Order, again. Compared to trees that spit fire, relatively mild as weird things go.
“She’s busy in there." There's some kind of noise come from that wooden block. I think it sounds a bit like construction work, but it's a tree-structure, there would not be actual construction going on. Maybe it's just some kind of sound effect.
“Running a hotel isn’t going to be easy, and after lazing around for so long, it’ll take some time before she gets the hang of it.” Awww, Alexis is worried. “Hey, take your time, alright? Yell if you need help, I'll try to help out."
Meela did not reply. The noise is getting louder.
Alexis sulks. “Meela, you're okay, right?"
"She's in there. I can feel it. Just give her space."
"Okay… Meela, let me know if you need anything alright."
Meela didn’t respond. But I think the message got through, she said it so many times, she's almost nagging.
“Is it something you’re working on, TreeTree?” Well, I told Jura to set aside that plot of land for me, but I didn’t really tell him what exactly it’ll be, so now that there’s a cube of dirt there, he had to ask.
“Sort of. It’s going to be a project by Meela.”
“Meela? Is that the hero?” Oh wait, Jura didn’t know about Meela’s soul. Even when he’s in front of Alexis’s biolab, all he sees is a glowing blob, and not Alexis’s ethereal form. So, he’s not spoken to them at all.
Come to think of it, nobody knows about Alexis and Meela's second life as a soul.
Now I hope they don't accidentally expose themselves as former heroes.