Year 79 Month 9
"Did you hear? One of the mage guild's private gardens near the Royal Grove, was robbed last night! A lot of valuable herbs and plants were lost."
"Oh? Any idea who are the culprits?"
"The mages suspect a mage, so the royal guard has been deployed. But there were no traces. It's as if the plants all just... vanished into the ground."
"Can't it be just some thief with a magical bag? Or some kind of plant-manipulation artifact?"
"I think it's just an unhappy mage taking revenge. There's a lot of politics going on in the mage guilds. This is just a reaction to the mage's council votes!"
It's a large city, and there are a lot of high leveled people around. Strong adventurers, powerful generals and mages. Their very presence permeates the air, and I occasionally pick up the effects of their skills, despite me being mostly magically-insensitive.
A direct confrontation is not ideal, not with the distance penalty I suffer at long distances.
This might be the first time I have 'seen' a city, Moton and New Freeka can't compare to the scale and sprawl of a capitol city.
It's also the first time I encounter 'enchanted' roads. Around the capitol, these road has some kind of 'anti-vegetation' effect, and as a result I cannot spawn my subsidiary trees near them. Even underground, the capital has a sprawling network of sewers and tunnels, and they are strangely, also, 'enchanted'. I suspect its the effect of some masonry skill, or builder's skill which prevents decay and damage to these structures, because logically, using magic on sewers just didn't seem to make much sense. These enchanted sewers prevent my roots from spreading that deeply, and so that greatly limits the extent of my spread.
In the city, multiple structures, such as the army's fort on the riverbank, are enchanted with strong defensive magic, which I am yet able to identify, but I presume to be a kind of 'warding' magic. The magic on the fort walls create a forcefield that repels my presence, and prevents me from placing subsidiary trees and also stops my roots from approaching.
I frankly don't know all of these, whether its skill or magic, either. Or whether its the powers of a local Lord or King which grants such passive benefits to the city which he or she rules.
These protections, magic or from skills, are clustered mostly around the old Castle, the palaces, the eight forts around the city, the mage's main towers, the old cathedrals and temples to the gods. The usual 'places of interest'.
All of these, together with the layout of the river, meant I have very little access to the inner city, where all the royals are.
Still, there must be something I can do.
First, is the Royal Grove, which, despite its royal status lacks magical protection. I guessed that unlike the places where the royals live, the Royal grove isn't worth much protection. So, I extend a few subsidiary trees into the forests, and soon discover that it's earth does have some magic. There's also a lot of new herbs and plants that I have not seen.
The royal guards and rangers, are always on the lookout, for monsters, or for thieves, but when they spot a new tree, they just go, eh. All I need to do is disguise my tree look like a small shrub, and I can slip through the patrols like nothing.
The best reaction I got from a ranger, "Oh, when did this tree pop up?" And then promptly proceeds to ignore that tree. Like, not even an investigation?
In fact, the most legit confrontation I gotten, is from a woodcutter. I had attempted to expand into the new part of the city, where all the regular citizens live. But the presence of a tree just stuck out like a sore thumb in the messy, dense mess that is the west side of Ransalah. So, a woodcutter came up to my tree that popped up at the edge of town, without any hesitation, chopped me down.
Chop. Chop. Chop. And timberrrrr.
My subsidiary tree fell just like that. I bet that woodcutter had like special [woodcutting] abilities that makes my tree's defenses absolutely useless. Those poor subsidiary trees didn't stand a chance.
Maybe that axe is enchanted to be super effective against trees. But honestly, other than the woodcutters, no one really notices an unusual tree in a forest. I mean, I am discounting the fact that anything green just sticks out in a place filled with houses, roads and shops.
Does this world not have tree-monsters? Nobody disguises themselves as a tree trunk? Does this world not have ninjas?
Anyway, the Royal Grove, and, as my [subsidiary tree] connects to the other trees and the earth, I get a notification.
[Gained a passive buff. Connected to an enchanted forest. Herb effectiveness increased by 50%.]
Oh. Funky. Enchanted it is.
"What's your plan?" Alexis asks, she's obviously a huge fan of seeing new places. "I've been there, that city. But we've only stayed a few days. It's nice, looking at the city from your point of view."
"Hmmm... I plan to first gradually infiltrate the capital, have trees and vines throughout the city... then, I need to find the culprits. I want to know whether the commanders that ordered the burning of the village, are they still alive?"
"That's it? If they are alive, do you plan to kill them?"
"Hmmm... I guess so. I should kill them."
"Is this for revenge? I mean, they burnt down the village, so its revenge, right?"
“Revenge, yeah, I think so.”
Actually, that's a good question.
Why am I doing this? Am I just carrying the fury of the burning of the village of Freeka in my heart? Kind of silly that I am asking myself this now that I have made the entire journey here. I even invested all these subsidiary trees to establish a connection, a chain of trees that span a country.
So, that question prompted me to think about what exactly I want to achieve, and because I could not answer the question myself, I turn to the elves. My fellow survivors, the 7 elves that suffered the consequences of the army's brutality.
"Lausanne, what would you do if you found the one responsible for killing your father?"
"Slap him. A few times."
"That bad person, he made me grow up without a father. It is a bad thing, bad people do such bad things, to me. But, it is so long ago, I was still just a small baby, I do not know what happened. So.. somehow, I'm not really, really angry. Maybe angry, but, it's not really, really, burn me up kind of angry, you know? I should be angry at these bad guys, because they did a bad thing, but, but it's not in here, you know?" Lausanne points to her heart, or is it her gut?
She has a point, she’s a baby, she’s not seen it happen, though she suffers the consequences of it. But that’s been her life since.
"So are you angry?"
"I think I am. But not much, really. Maybe mom will be really angry. Wait. I should be angry. I am angry."
"You... don't sound that angry."
"I am angry because a group of bad person did bad things to us. But, that's it, I guess, I am angry because I should be, but not angry because I feel it like a fire in my heart."
"Laufen, what would you do if you find the man that ordered the burning of the village?"
Laufen sat, and she just kept quiet for a while.
"I heard you, TreeTree. I... I need to think. I just did not expect such a question from you, suddenly."
Oh. Laufen kept quiet for a good 15 minutes, maybe an hour? Just alone, thinking. I honestly didn't notice the time.
"Honestly, TreeTree? I don't know what I would do. Maybe I will kill him? Or maybe not. But me... I... I think I probably won't be able to do anything. It's been so long, TreeTree... I. I don't know."
Laufen looks really uncomfortable, and she sits down on the large chair in her office.
"They took my friends, my husband, my home, from me."
"So you will retaliate?"
"Yes. Maybe yes. But, but I myself, I tell Lausanne not to let it cloud and consume us, that this is a cycle, of how the world renew itself... The world is full of this, you know, killing. People always kill each other, they always find excuses to. If it’s not humans, it’ll be royalty, or money, or territory. We have always been killing, or getting killed. I sometimes wonder whether maybe it would be demons that got us instead, if its not the army."
"I'm confused, Laufen. Why are you talking about that?"
"Me too. I don't really know what I will do. What I should do? I like to think we have all moved on, we succeeded in rebuilding our lives. A part of me takes the stand that living a good life is the best revenge. That not to be consumed by vengeance is the way to move forward with life."
Laufen pauses, and takes a deep breath.
"But the loss, somewhere, it still hurts. When I look at Lausanne sparring, I wonder what Ricola would have said. When we celebrate her birthdays, I wish Ricola and all others to be here."
She looks really sad then.
"But does my sorrow, my sadness, allow me to seek vengeance? I know, Casshern once told me that when you've lived through so many years of death, you learn to accept it. But I can't. So what should I do, TreeTree? What's the right thing to do?"
"Like I said, a part of me thinks the right thing to do, is to forgive and forget. But I don't want them to entirely get away scott-free either. I feel like a statement needs to be made. I'm so torn between those two feelings! TreeTree? I want both. I want to let go. Only with letting go I will have inner peace. But I also want to have vengeance, a statement, some way of slapping these idiots for fighting us when their attention should be demons."
Well, I can actually share that emotion. I too thought I knew, but now that I am at the point where I am able to retaliate, I actually don't really know what I want to do with Salah.
Do I proceed to slaughter the Salah Kingdom? Many of whom are similarly unaware of the evil their military commits? Or should I just focus my goal on the true culprits? But let's say I do find the true culprits, is death the right punishment for them?
"Jura, what would you do if you find the culprits behind the burning and slaughter of Freeka?"
Jura leans back on his chair. "I would have the true culprit stripped naked, hung upside down in a public market, and starved, whipped and burned for a few days, but without dying, without sleep."
"Because he deserves shame, and pain. For someone who crossed me personally, I feel to just let the person die is too lenient, too light. He should experience my terrible days, when I was hiding, running, my skin still scorched by the flames that engulfed the village, my feet bruised, the bottom of my skin bleeding but I had to keep running, all of us ran like crazy for days. So yeah, he should have a taste of that."
"But you know, now that I'm the Counsel of the Valtrian Order, I can understand how it got to that point, why the military did what it did. The burning. Even if I disagree with it."
"I mean, look, a King exercises his authority through his institutions, and his subjects. What good is a King if there are no subjects that obey his command? So, when a King gives an order, there must be a weight to it, that citizens learn to obey them. We clearly disobeyed the order, so we were punished. Sure, the punishment on us is really extreme, but then, I sometimes wonder, if the punishment is light, who would put their lives on the line and fight for the King? I have heard of death for traitors, death for those who desert the battlefield. What we did is similar, no? We refused to fight when we were clearly asked to."
I think there’s more to it, so I let Jura continue.
“Eh, it’s just some things I think about, sometimes to rationalise why such a tragedy happened. It’s... it’s a way of coping, to try and understand why it happened. A part of me learns to come to terms with that reality, by accepting that we deserved it.”
Well, dissecting and rationalising is a way of coping?
“Sometimes, maybe that’s just fate. The way the gods of this world continue to play their games, and we are just puppets.”
Jura stretches on his nice comfy seat. It’s custom made, after all, he is the Counsel of the Order. He kicks his legs a bit, and then swings his two arms around. There’s no one else in the room, Jura doesn’t actually like having other people in the room when he’s working. Besides, he’s a Level 80 [Warlord], if somebody can kill him, the guards probably won’t stand a chance anyway.
“But you know, despite all of that, I saw my friends die, so I think I really would skewer the guy. Cut him up, and hang him for all to see. But then, I’ll probably look like a vengeful person, and public vengeance isn’t something other elves appreciate.”
“So... will you kill him or not?”
“Oh yes, I will kill him, throw him in the gutter. Let no one remember him. And be done with it."
Heh. Well, I somewhat like that, but then again, I feel death is too cheap. “Doesn’t death feel too cheap?”
“Life is cheap, so death should be cheap. Always has been. But I just want to settle those loose ends, and be done with it. We’ve got the living to worry about, future enemies to think of, rather than enemies of our past..."
"No. I think I will only know what I will do when I hold the executioner's blade, and the culprit's head on the chopping block. Maybe those deep emotions will come back."
Hmmm... somehow those answers didn’t satisfy me all that much, so I end up speaking to Belle and Emile. I too ask both the girls the same question, about what they would do if they find the person who asked for the burning of New Freeka.
“Honestly, I kind of got over it, and accepted that the gods let it happen. Been what, 9 years?” Belle scratches her head.
Emile similarly looks confused. “I think those humans are evil, but they’re mostly dead, right? Have you been thinking about it, TreeTree?”
“Eh... come on, none of you care about it anymore?”
“Uhm... Salah’s so far away, and we’re just regular elves, looking to lead regular elven lives. For me, I’ve not thought of vengeance at all, the only thing on my mind is to return to normalcy, which we have!” Belle smiles, it’s nighttime, and she sits on her bed. “And now we have you to protect us, so that won’t happen ever again. So, I won't do a thing."
“I agree with Belle, I think after the first 3 years or so I stopped thinking about the slaughter. Having a job and a new town like New Freeka, we feel normal again. Well, our actions will not bring back the dead.”
Seriously, these two girls can be a little too happy-go-lucky, even with the destruction. Well, there’s Brislach and Wahlen.
Wahlen sits, “Erm... I would kick the guy in the groin. And publicly cane him.”
Brislach scratches her cheeks for a while, she’s a young adult now, “I’d have him apologise. For ordering such a hateful, horrible thing. I want a sincere, heartfelt apology. And then I will slap all of them. And yes I like Wahlen's idea. Cane, cane them. Cane them! Use the biggest whip and cane their butts until it bleeds."
Ah an apology, that’s a good point. An apology, a remorseful one would be good. But if I find the guy, how do I even get an apology out of them?
“What would you do, TreeTree?” Brislach turns the question around. “You were there when it happened too, you watched the village burn, you saw the rest of them die to the swords and fires, while we hid inside you.”
“I, I actually don’t really know. I’m still thinking what I should do.” I am confused now. It seems because these elves lived actual 9 years while the past few years didn't feel all that long to me. They seem to have mostly moved on, which, I suppose makes me happy. But then...
The two girls laughs, “Even the wise tree spirits can feel anger and know not what to do, eh! TreeTree, what do you feel they deserve?”
I think I must have vengeance. But what kind of vengeance?
What would satisfy this itch? This little scar in my heart?
I look at Ransalah. My vision is incomplete, as my [subsidiary trees] can only see so far. The location of my trees isn't very strategic, unlike how New Freeka is a town built around and with trees, so what I can see and hear is limited.
It’s been so many years, if I want to be specific about my vengeance, can I even find the person responsible?
What if the guy’s dead?
What if, something already killed them?
Where should my vengeance go, then?
Feeling stumped, I focus on my usual activities. Which is, finding more types of trees to investigate. It really wasn’t really hard for some beetles to sneak in using the [root tunnels], especially in poorly defended places like the mage’s garden. It isn’t even the garden with the most valuable herbs.
The real prize, I think, are those within the usual suspects, the multiple large garden within the palace compounds, a few other gardens in the three large temple complexes, and those gardens that are actually in the mage’s guild.
It’s not easy to infiltrate a city as a tree, what more with it’s generally enchanted paved or tiled roads, and there’s really very little vegetation in the town area, except for little spots, little gardens here and there. Doesn’t help that because it’s a city, demand for wood is high, so there’s frequently a lot of workers going around the city to harvest trees.
That meant, I have to frequently regenerate my [subsidiary trees], else I’d lose a connection to the trees I have inside the Royal Grove.
“Strategies, anyone? For both the vengeance, and for the maintenance of trees.” I ask my artificial minds
“Obtain military records. Commands to burn a village should be recorded somewhere? Unless their recordkeeping is horrible.” Ivy's the first to suggest the obvious.
“How do we do that, none of us can read, so if we do, it’ll be with the help of the elves. And I predict the records will be kept in the main military installations, which are magically protected. Sending beetles there is unfeasible as well. The beetles won't be able to beat the high level individuals in these installations."
“Ask?” Dimitree's views are more... direct.
“How, and who? We have no allies in Salah.”
“The New Freekans are formerly from Salah, they must have allies. They are all migrants after all. Perhaps they even know the structure of the army, and bureaucracy inside out.” Ivy responds, she does know their background quite well.
“If so, would they not be able to know who would have ordered such an action?”
"The fact that they don't means its not common knowledge."
Feeling like I’m getting stonewalled, I speak to Jura again. Perhaps he has some ideas about the ways to proceed.
Jura muses. “I have an idea. Let’s just ask Salah to surrender the officer responsible for the burning, We are an independent nation now, and if they see why we’re not exactly favorable to them, they will appreciate that this is something they can do to repair that relationship.”
Did his [diplomat] levels make him think of such an idea?
“Don't worry about it. Let me handle it, we will send out the request, TreeTree. I’ve been wanting to give the New Freeka High Council a jolt for some time”
Year 79 Month 10
The request came from the Valtrian Order, directly from the Counsel. The letter, with the Valtrian Order's official seal, went out to Salah's envoys, and then to their King.
The letter, which is written with unnecessary legalese and noblesse verbose, can be roughly summarised to :
Dear King of Salah,
On year so-and-so, one rogue platoon of the Salah's army murdered the villagers of Freeka, and set the entire village on fire. We humbly request for the assistance of the Salah Kingdom to investigate this gruesome slaughter and turn those responsible over to New Freeka, such that these criminals may face justice for the murder.
Laufen, Vice Counsel
Signed and marked with their personal seal, along with the Valtrian Order’s.
The informal networks abuzz with chatter, trying to figure out what this letter really meant.
How many people know of the burning and slaughter of Freeka? Certainly not much, evidenced by the sheer cluelessness displayed by so many.
With so many deaths in the world, such things are just a footnote, not worth a mention. Why should a village be any different?
Why did the Order bring this up? Is this request really something to remediate an offense of the past? Is the Order testing Salah's resolve and sincerity for peace? Or will Salah's refusal to assist be the precursor of future war?
It is the task of various envoys and diplomats to sieve out the true intent behind a request, to separate fact from propaganda.
Even among the councillors of New Freeka, there’s a whole lot of guessing, and subtle questions, trying to figure out what Jura and Laufen wants. Laufen just shakes her head, smiles and says, “Oh, please redirect any of your questions to Jura.”
Jura himself just smiles as he responds to the questions from the other councillors “Its something close to our hearts, we lost so many friends and family then. With justice served, we can then face the dead with peace of mind."
Anyway, I leave that aside for now. Justice should be precise, after all.
I turn to my 5 new recruits, the 5 girls, a coincidence, I swear. I gave them a special title, the Valthorn Initiates, because they will be the thorns. It's kind of inspired by the old saying, rose among the thorns, only, these roses are going to be the thorns. A part of me feels like I have unintentionally made this into an equivalent to those game of training little shipgirls.
Anyway, I am digressing. Their training is... slow. Firstly, these girls have a lot on their minds, as they have to get used to me speaking to them every now and then.
The dreams via [dream tutor] that I have been giving them also made them a bit unsettled, even though its just dreams made from [essences of sword] or [essences of spear], regular common essences that I frequently collect from my [essence generators], or from [soul harvesters] and [memory collection] of the dead. It seems these 5, they see different things despite getting the same kind of essences, and their 'trainers' are somebody they don't know. The dreams' lengths are also different, one girl says it felt like she's been practicing for hours, another says hers felt like just minutes of talking.
Then, is the routine. They are all excited, and eager, wholeheartedly embracing the change, but it still takes some time to get used to it, and their young bodies can't take the sudden change, even with my biopods feeding them nutrients. The extent of the workouts and education pretty much overwhelmed them.
Even stepping into the biopods is scary, their first time dipping usually accompanied with struggling against the vines and feelers.
So, slow progress it is. Maybe it takes a while, like a small sapling, I cannot rush their growth. Strength comes from true understanding, and a strong foundation. It is like planting, the amount of nutrients, sunlight and water must be just right, else you would kill the plant.
So maybe I need to adjust my expectations.