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Year 79 Month 4

 

Oakwood hotel is finally ready to open for business!

 

Meela’s block of wood revealed itself to be a mountain wooden-lodge-like structure, the logs that usually make up the lodge still part of a large living tree that forms Meela’s combined body. She’s the lodge itself, a living structure, and her present appearance, which Meela says it’s a cosmetic choice. She described it as playing in a sandbox, a ‘game’ where she could choose the decor of everything... I can’t help feel like it’s some kind of mobile game that commuters love to play, to earn points, unlock decors...

 

“Inside, fifteen rooms!” Meela beamed, she takes the form of a treefolk-ish creature within the hotel, her legs constantly melding and merging with the floor itself. This treefolk-ish form somewhat resembles her human self, but her skin color and texture is that of walnut-colored wooden bark. 

 

“You’ve got a physical body!” Alexis’s most impressed, probably because she unfortunately takes the form of a floating spiritual ghost who’s surrounded by levitating vials, tiny petri dishes and other similar sort of lab equipment. 

 

“Cool, right? I’m like a treefolk, only…. well I can’t step more than 10 feet away from the hotel..” Unlike Alexis,  she’s been flying around the entire valley, occasionally scaring some of the townspeople, who sees a glowing blob flying around. 

 

“Ah, don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s a level thing, like me. I’m stuck to the biolab at lower levels, but now that I’m level 34, I can travel quite far ! Or ask TreeTree to help! The range limitation doesn’t work if you tap into TreeTree’s [soul realm]. But I’m not sure whether that’s because I’m soul-contracted to him though...”

 

It’s then the wisp pulls me into the soul realm. “Ah, I may have forgotten to explain this…. A tree spirit has the ability to ‘share’ and ‘connect’ souls together, and it’s this ability that allows all the souls a platform to speak and interact, and through it, they can see what you see. The [soul realm] is that platform, and it’s independent of where their physical ‘locations’ are. I believe the locals would refer to it like being in a ‘mailing group’.

 

Well, I know they can see what I can see, but I suppose it didn't occur to me to wonder why Alexis, Horns or Bamboo are able to share their thoughts, while they are out there travelling. I suppose it’s like a video conference facility for souls. 

 

“Or do you still have the skill? The ‘[heroic meld]’? Did you see your status?” Alexis’s spiritual body floats over Meela’s little wooden lodge, exploring the rooms. Meela spent a lot of time arranging the decor. It’s rather... cozy?

 

“Nah, almost all my skills are gone and no longer have the [hero] job. I’m level 1 all over again. All I have left is [Goddess’s Blessings].” Meela shrugs, she's got a wooden body to properly shrug now. 

 

“I was wondering whether our circumstances would be different, but looks like Death removes all our skills.”

“Well, I really don’t mind starting over. I’ll get a tonne of skills running this hotel. I’m gonna be awesome!” Meela smiles and walks around. “Besides, now that I’m restarting, I’m better able to think through my levels and skills..” 

 

“Good luck, Meela. Hope you don’t get strange skills like [Compendium of research failures], and [emergency shutdown].” 

 

“What were you looking at that the system made you get a skill like [emergency shutdown], were you trying to clone dinosaurs?”

 

“...a biolab of giant dinosaurs.” Alexis’s not insulted, rather, she’s rubbing her spiritual chin. 

 

Meela’s turn to shake her new tree-head. “I gave you an idea, oh no.”

 

“We have giant beetles. Dinosaurs are just giant lizards, or giant birds.”

 

"I like that idea." I chip into the conversation.

 

"You know what dinosaurs are?" 

 

"Uh… didn’t you say giant lizards or giant birds?"

 

"Oh, yes. Yes I did say that. Never mind me, Meela, how's the hotel?"

 

"It's a 'lodge' at the moment. I think there's going to be an upgrade at level 30. Strangely, I seem to be able to see what sort of upgrades to the lodge are available between now until level 30."

 

"How come?”

 

"I have no idea." Meela shrugs. “But I need to start recruiting workers to man the kitchen, the reception and the restaurant. I’m planning to hire all treefolks, to complete the ‘feel’ of the lodge. An inn by the treefolk. TreeTree, is that something you can help me with? Ask perhaps Jura or Laufen to put out a recruitment notice?”

 

“Sure. You’ll need to give a lot more details though, like.. What’s your pay and working hours like?”

 

“Oh. Can I talk to someone? Maybe some of the locals?”

 

“I’ll ask Jura to come see you. Also, are you still going to call yourself Meela, or you’re going with another name?”

 

Meela pauses, and she makes a thinking pose. “Good point. Should I still call myself Meela, and would that get me in trouble?”

 

“Depends what you want to achieve, Meela. Do you want people to know you were once a hero? That said, I doubt everyone will associate your name to you, because well, it’s really quite common to name their children after heroes. If me, I’m not going to call myself Alexis, I’ll go with a different name, maybe... Ritz, or Ambrose.”

 

Meela claps her two wooden palms. “I’ve got an idea! I will call myself… M. Lady M.”

 

Alexis smacks her head. “Meela.”

 

“I will be referred to as… M, Alexis. You can call yourself A.”

 

“Ugh.” 

 

“Don’t you think Lady MA is a classy name? I think it is, and it fits my role as the Lady of the Hotel. Aaaaaaaaaaanyway, TreeTree, I need your help! Can I speak to Jura or the rest of the Valtrian Order? And are there any permits or permissions I need to get?” 

 

If I had a head to shake, I would, but I could only lightly sway my branches to indicate my lack of knowledge about New Freeka’s bureaucracy. But I can give a hand, I do want to see her succeed. “I’ll arrange someone to meet you.”

“Great. I’d like to know before I accidentally commit a crime or infraction, or have to pay… unnecessary bribes.”

 

“Bribes?”

 

“Uh, it’s actually common. The nobles throughout this world ask for bribes all the time. Even enforcement agents regularly ask for money. I heard from so many innkeepers and blacksmiths throughout our journey…”

 

At this point I turn to Ivy, “Any idea if it happens?” Well, given Ivy’s earlier bombshell that everyone commits some kind of crime, I’m thinking, of course bribery happens. 

 

“Paying small sums of coin, to avoid complete, thorough legal enforcement? Yes. One of the more common transactions to occur is intentional understatement of tax collections, in exchange, the enforcers get paid.”

 

“Ah. Does that happen to our people?”

 

“Yes. I’ve ignored it as the coins exchanged is minimal.”  I’m not shocked. I’m not shocked. People here do what they got to do. That’s just how it is. 

 

“Uh....” I did recall telling Ivy to ignore most of the petty crimes, so I guess she classified this as ‘petty’. 

 

“It lubricates commerce, and my calculations indicates most traders would be bankrupt if they had to comply with the actual tax rates and the full extent of the law.”

 

“That’s a problem with the New Freekan Law, is it not?”

 

“Perhaps, it’s heavily inspired by wherever the lawmakers are from, so the mismash of laws give rise to a whole lot of loopholes and possibilities for abuse, and is compounded by the fact that the justice system refers most rulings to the high council, of which the lawmakers themselves are the ‘judge’.”

 

“Ivy, has New Freeka’s justice system always been so screwed up?”

 

“I think it functions rather well. There’s a clear acknowledgement of authority that flows up to the councillors, and the people understand that, so they obey the councillor’s demands and whatever the city tells the people to do. The councillor’s role as the adjudicator and arbitrator of peace is incredibly important to allay the citizen’s fears and address their needs, even if it often lacks ‘justice’, it is a kind of ‘order’ which the people here come to accept and respect.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Isn’t there a written document? A constitution? What were they updating when they revised it to include the Valtrian order”

 

“Constitutional documents only list down the major items. The ‘key’ issues and matters which the High Council want to have formally documents. But outside of that, the Councillors issue proclamations all the time, and their decisions over time get stitched together into an informal ‘law’. Furthermore, punishments for non-compliance is not specified, so that’s left to the jurisdiction of councillors.” 

 

Ah. Whatever, I’ve gotten a little sidetracked. 

 

Now to get Jura to send some people over...

Year 79 Month 5

Meela eventually hired some treefolks, paid some taxes for all the necessary permits, and got started with business. I just kinda let her do her own thing then. There’s really no need for me to interrupt and watch over her all the time. I feel I can trust Meela, so I’m gonna let her play her sim-hotel while I do my shit. 

 

So, I turn my attention on my own priorities, my big 3 threats. Demon king, other nations, and monsters. In dealing with demons, I can fairly be confident in my own abilities. With other nations, I’ll need the assistance of the people around me, so Jura’s levelling challenges is something I need to find out how to help him, and with monsters… well, I’ll just let that be. 

 

Actually, looking at it, I’ve reduced the relative threat level of monsters generally. So far, I’ve not yet faced any truly difficult monsters, though we do have golems who are territorial, but as a ‘threat’, I think their territorial, “camping” nature makes them less of a ‘threat’ than I initially expected. 

 

It’s demon king and the other nations that are the most immediate threats. 

 

Looking at the ‘other nations’, I’m relatively comfortable with where things are at the moment. I have a large army of beetles, and that should be able to deter the threat of any small armies.

 

For the demon king... he’s about 4 years away, and I’ve asked Madeus to do more research on when the ‘rifts’ will start to appear. He says it’s usually 2-3 years before the demon king itself, so I might have only another 1-2 years of ‘peace’ before we’re back to war with the demons.

 

-

 

“Master, we’re at the north sinkhole.” Horns’ delegation of beetles, Alexis’s probe finally arrived. I’ll soon start deploying [subsidiary trees] to the location, once they’ve surveyed the area and find where exactly I need to go. The sinkhole is massive, and I really wonder how no one found it all these while, but then again, it’s probably just magic. There’s multiple entrances that lead down into the sinkhole, and the area around the entrance are now filled with camps. One of the larger entrances even has a small town that caters to the adventurers’ needs, clearly run by opportunistic merchants trying to purchase the collected materials. Apparently, snake-skin and snake-bile has various uses, some of which can be sold for a huge amount of money. 

 

“Which location should we pick? All the entrances are taken by the adventurers, and honestly, we’ll attract unnecessary attention. We are after all, a delegation of beetles, and the adventurers will immediately assume we are hostile.”

 

“Horns, suggestions?”

 

“Somewhere further away. We’re beetles, we don’t need to use the ledges, we can climb down the vertical walls just fine.”

 

“Good point.” Alexis nods. 

 

If needed, I could use my roots to form new ‘ledges’ for the beetles to crawl down, or even the roots and vines as a kind of ‘rope’ for the beetles to climb down. So, after a bit of scouting, we pick one side of the hole where there’s already some shrubs and trees. That way the beetles and trees blend in naturally. 

 

“Could you spawn a biolab this far away? The sensors the probe has isn’t as good as the ones on the biolab.”

 

“Oh, why?”

 

“The probe-etle can connect to it to amplify the sensors”

 

“Fine, the trees are some distance away. Just hold position for a day or so, spawning the roots to reach such distances takes time. So, what kind of monsters?”

 

“Snakes? I see snakes. And spiders. A lot of snake-like slithering monsters. There’s a lot of them down there. A lot of big ones too. And colorful ones.” Horns, once again, with not exactly helpful descriptions.

 

Alexis looks at them, “I wonder what’s attracting the adventurers...”

 

“The usual, I suppose? Money, glory, power. Looks like money? Anyway, I’m here for power. Once I get the trees there, then we’ll start exploring the sinkhole too.”

 

-

 

Meanwhile, in New Freeka...

 

[Class seed obtained - Dark Knight x 1]

[Experience seed obtained x 1]

 

Huh! It’s a joyous thing, to find an unusual seed from a death ceremony. Since this ceremony started, I’ve ‘processed’ about 300 dead bodies, half of it from plain old age, the other half from injuries, fatal work accidents, murders and fights. Most of them do not produce any of such seeds, but so far, about 6 bodies, or about 0.5% seems to produce something, either a skill seed, which is the most common, or a class seed. 

 

The rarest seed, is the Experience seeds. It makes sense, since they give a level. 

 

Essences though, are a whole lot more common. Almost all dead bodies, when ‘absorbed’ produce a few essences. Usually simple essences, like essences of knife, or essences of lesser courage, or essence of water, but unlike seeds, essences are mainly used for ‘infusions’, their effects mild.

 

“Who’s this half-elf man?” I ask the priest handling the ceremony, after all, for this dead man to give me a [dark knight] class seed, he can’t be ordinary. There’s a young boy, looks to be a half elf, and an old grandma next to him, attending the rites, and strangely, they don’t feel like family. The man who died looks to be relatively middle aged, in his 40s, and the cause of death is a stab to the heart.

 

“A recent refugee from Nung. Got into a scuffle with some of the guards and one of the guards stabbed him to death. Came with the boy and the grandma, in the same caravan, so the old grandma and the kid came to pay respects. Apparently the kid and the man shared some kind of connection, so the kid insisted to come... That’s all I know, sadly.”

 

“I see.” 

 

The priest picks up the compressed bones, and passed it to the young boy. “Here, something from that man, for you.”

 

The boy nods, and keeps it. “Thank you. I’ll take good care of uncle’s remains.”

 

“Is anyone looking after you, kid?” The priest smiles at the boy.

 

“Ah, I’m living with that granny there... we’re working for a bakery now.”

 

“Ivy, can I ask you to start surveillance on this young boy and the grandma? He’s ticking quite a bit of the ‘potential hero’ tropes.”

 

“I’m a bit overwhelmed at this point. There’s too many newcomers to the town... I’m struggling with 6,000-7,000 people simultaneously.” Ivy’s got a massive list of people to watch, at this point, all the politicians, all the guards, and then the Valtrian Order’s people. 

 

Well, I’m out of artificial souls. I’ve collected quite a bit of soul fragments but not enough, not yet. “Ah well... drop monitoring some of the Order’s people then, those who do not appear to be undertaking any high risk or suspicious”

 

“Okay.” 

 

Ah, I got quite a bit of class seeds. Ranger, archer, soldier, merchant, trader, and various other trades. So dark knight’s a rather... unique class type. Classes are available only to the humanoid races, monsters or the monster-like creatures usually don’t have ‘classes’ instead they have racial or type levels. A person can gain as many classes as they want, but depending on the race, only some of the benefits from the active few classes manifest.  

 

So... dark knight.

 

“What’s a dark knight?”

 

“Oh, knights who tap on the power of darkness? Knights who fight at night? Night knights?” Jura shrugs and laughs. “Sorry TreeTree, I’ve never heard of it.” 

 

-

 

Research status : 

 

    • Eye-Tree Stage I - completed
    • Beetle - anti-magma armors stage 3 - completed
    • Beetle - anti-magma armors stage 4 - 24 months
    • Tree - volcanic adaptation stage 3 - completed
    • Roots - Volcanic mineral harvesting - stage 2 - completed
    • Roots - Volcanic mineral processing - stage 1 - 1 month remaining
    • Materials testing - stage 1 -  completed
    • Tree-lab varieties - stage 1 - 8 months
    • Magically attuned materials Stage 1 - 6 months

 

[Basic Tree-Eyes obtained. Limited to 10 ‘selected’ trees. Place on trees to obtain multidirectional vision. Can actively look through two sets of eyes at any one time, view limit can be increased with root-brain complexes.]

 

Oh, I have Tree-Eyes, and obviously, I put one on my main tree, and save the rest. I’ll need to think where to put the trees properly, since it’s limited. 

 

In terms of research I’ve decided to relieve Trevor from active research duties, so that brings my concurrent research topics down to 4. That’s because the valley’s growing, and Trevor’s energy and focus is needed to manage the larger valley. The forests now extend far beyond the valley itself, and there are now multiple patches. Total number, 94,000 normal trees, some 480,000 shrubs and bushes, about 5,000 subsidiary trees, so he needs his full processing power to handle such a large valley, even with his higher levels. 

 

Next, I cycle through my domain. The volcano’s activity subsided, but we’re not attempting any invasion into the inner volcano for the moment. Although the beetles are tougher, thanks to more anti-magma armors, it doesn’t resolve the golem problem. The golems are still too powerful, and deeper still, we spotted a larger golem. They’re not ‘aggressive’ until we encroach on their area, and so, for now things remain as status quo. I do intend to have more research completed, a different army type and have more ‘tools’ at my disposal before attempting my next invasion of the volcano. 

 

Then, the ginseng plant. I’m on a good streak, it’s the longest continuous time I’ve protected the ginseng plant, and so it’s starting to attract stranger monsters. Together with a large army of beetles, both Dimitree and Trevor playing the role of the alarm and surveillance system, we’ve held off many greedy, ginseng-stealing monsters. I hope I’ll get something for Jura to use, since ginseng, like herbs, are supposed to be good for supplementing vitality. Between Level Seeds and Ginseng, I think I’ll be able to push Jura up to the next level, but first, I need to make sure the Ginseng works. I fear that giving Jura the levels, without the vitality to support it may weaken him instead. 

 

Emile and Belle, as part of the Order’s many business ventures, run the various crop factories and processors, such as the olive press, the cotton factory, the herbal juicemakers, the fermented or dried fruits and healing fruits. A plot of land near my main tree, and another near the outskirts of New Freeka’s town has been converted to grow all the different kinds of crops that the Order needs to operate these business ventures. I was hoping Brislach or Wahlen can participate, but they seem content with their lives as ordinary elves living in New Freeka. 

 

Speaking of business ventures, the New Freekans for now still make the wines for export, one of their most successful ventures so far, that even Salah buys from them. Their master winemaker’s apparently gained quite a few levels from this project, and is even famous regionally. It helps they have the right kind of levels and skills, since there’s a farmer with skills focused on growing high quality fruits, and also infusing them with a certain kind of flavor, so together, they made wines that have interesting taste profiles. 

 

I still wonder whether Yvon thinks it’s worth it to trade her soul for grapes, but hey, she’s got lucky with Salah calling off the truce terms and instead offered an unconditional truce. 

 

She’s supposed to die and then I can use her soul for my own schemes! Oh well. She’ll die eventually. Wars, demons, diseases. Something will eventually get to all of us, and I think she’ll get killed somehow. Eriz too! Eriz is still working as a ‘maid’ and ‘minder’ for Yvon, even though she’s so free now that she doesn’t need a ‘minder’. 

 

Yvon’s routine now mostly consist of practicing, teaching Roma various things, and then sparring with Lausanne. Other than that, she’s at her home in New Freeka, idle, receiving visitors, mingling in public spaces with an adoring populace, she is to some, the ‘mother’ of the nation, the de facto ‘Queen’.

 

“TreeTree, can I ask for something?” Lausanne drops by after her usual combat practice. Thankfully, she’s gotten over her Tarzan phase, and she’s not swinging from tree to tree all that often, except for ‘practice’. 

 

“Hmm?”

 

“This special familiar... is there a price I have to pay? Like... mom used to tell me, few things in the world are free... so... I’m just wondering whether there’s a catch.”

 

“Huh, why?” Surely it’s not a statement like that, that prompts this sort of question. 

 

“I see it in my dreams when I sleep these days. There are days I forget that we’re separate... things. It’s like... it’s like it’s me. Part of me. And it’s strange. Some days, I know what the vines are touching, I feel it, I feel like the vines are like my fingers. It’s... really really strange and a bit scary.”

 

“Uh...” Is that supposed to happen? I have no idea, I think it might be an ability that the special familiar has. Do familiars meld with their hosts? “Don’t worry about it Lausanne. The familiar means you no harm.” I lied. I’m not sure, but I think the familiar should not have such side effects. 

 

Alexis butts in during the conversation. “And what’s that familiar powered on? It feels familiar. Like... a kind of familiar mana signature...”

 

“Magic. My magic.”

 

Alexis shrugs. “Is it?”

 

“Okay, I believe you TreeTree... but if someday I want to remove the familiar, is that possible? Can the familiar contracts be cancelled?” Lausanne, of course, can’t hear Alexis’s voice. 

 

“Yes, yes. I can take the familiar back, so don’t worry. How’s practice? Is Yvon a good coach?”

 

Lausanne pauses, and then she flashes her usual big chubby smile. “Okay TreeTree. Oh, Lady Yvon, she’s good, but I think Uncle Jura’s a better fighter.” Well, Jura did gain more levels, and his recent class-merger makes him really formidable.

 

“Oh. You don’t like fighting her?”

 

“No, not that. I like her. I just have not gotten used to how she fights. It’s... a different style. But I mean, Uncle Jura’s a better fighter in a... erm.. A bigger way.”

 

“Well, you should get used to different styles of fighting. Heroes need to fight all sorts of monsters.”

 

Lausanne nods. “Oh yeah. I didn’t think of that. You’re right TreeTree, I should adapt to different styles!”

 

She walks into the playroom now turned study room, and she grabs a small bag of wooden toys, some small kid-sized wooden swords. I think she intends to distribute them for the kids in the orphanage, now her friends. “I’m going to train my friends, is that okay?”

 

“Sure, don’t go easy on them.”

 

Lausanne frowns, her lips pout. “Uhm, I can’t. They’re really weak, so I need to train them slowly. TreeTree, do you think one day you can use your powers on them too?”

 

Well, Alexis did suggest a larger sample size. “Maybe?” I’ve been monitoring the orphans for some time, and all of them, so far, do not show anything... extraordinary. The regular checks using the biolab in the orphanage didn’t indicate whether any of them would be special, but then again, Lausanne’s not special either. 

 

So I’m in a bit of a dilemma. Lausanne’s where she is now, a ‘genius’ because of years of consuming essence, dream tutor and powerlevelling such that she gained knowledge. If Lausanne is ordinary, then what if the others are special? But my dilemma isn’t really potential, but... maybe, I think what’s really stopping me from trying is ‘trust’. 

 

For Lausanne, she has been with me since she was a baby, and that strong bond, is why I have invested in her, and she is my guinea pig. Maybe someday she’ll betray me, when she finally goes and see the world. But still, it’s a mutual benefit. I learn something, and Lausanne gets stronger.

 

So, for these other kids... If I start young, and mold these children, maybe I will build such a bond with them too.

 

Most of them. Maybe, just maybe, I could link it to the ‘familiar’ , such that all of them must take the familiar contract, and the familiars would then also help to monitor them? Act as my eyes and ears, such that I can learn more about these children, and in turn, build a stronger bond?

 

[Skill upgraded : Symbiotic extension]

[Skill learned : Minder-Familiars. Maximum Minders, 20]

[Special tree type obtained : Dreamer’s Treehouses]

 

“Lausanne, would you have any of your friends who would like to... have a familiar?”

-

-

 

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