Year 80 Month 7
“We need to talk about defenses.” The council gathered in the large meeting room, some of the councillors sigh. “First up, we need walls, and more soldiers.”
“We already have walls.”
“Not enough. The news coming from those near the rifts are quite concerning.” The meeting is led by Yvon’s replacement, a guy called Arza. He’s been in the job for some time now, but really, he's just a very clever coordinator and spokesperson for his faction of councillors.
The other councillors look at him quizzically. “Is there something that’s on your mind, council leader Arza?” Council-leader’s an informal title, since all in the council is theoretically equal, but there’s always one taking a chairing role.
“Yes. Demons. Our defenses are inadequate for demons, with their numbers and their strength. We need to urgently improve our defense.”
“Walls don’t work against demons. They’ve got crazy numbers, and they’ve got those large monsters.”
“Not this time. The news coming out from the nations facing the demons is that they are like...” Arza pauses, and then he takes a deep breath. “They are like us. They’re using our tactics and strategies.”
“That’s absolutely crazy. Are we talking about demons?” One of the councillors. “In recorded history, demons have never adopted our tactics.”
Arza nods. “I think it’s crazy too, but, but... it’s our chance to bolster our military. We needed this excuse.”
Arza pauses, and whispers. “We’ve lost the druids. We’ve got to find something else, and this is it.”
“Ah. Then we must!”
“We’ll take this excuse to raise taxes, and train more soldiers and mages. We need the Order’s money, and this is a good excuse to force them to collaborate. If they don’t, we’ll shame them publicly for being selfish!”
“But doesn’t... wait. Why would that work, Council Leader Azra? The Order’s strength is the Tree Spirit, no? The tiny militia and force they maintain is just nothing compared to the amount of warbeetles they can deploy.”
“Indeed, so we have more to gain! We need to use this excuse to adjust the revenue rate that the Order gets, so here’s the message I want everyone to spread. ‘The Order’s not spending enough on defense! We need the money to defend the city!’.”
“AH! So the idea is to make the Order seem like they are spending money on frivolous things like collecting plants and animals, gifts for babies and doing unnecessary rituals!”
One of the councillors object, “I wouldn’t talk about the rituals. They’re quite popular among my electorate, and many find them meaningful. Stick to the collection of plants.”
“Agree, wouldn't this move backfire?”
“Maybe, but we must be subtle about it then. First, we need to expose how the Order spends their tax money, and then tie it to our defense needs. Show the people that they are not doing what they can to defend the city."
"Uh... they have beetles, Councillor Azra."
"I know, then we must explain to the people that beetles are not trustworthy! We need our own strength! The strength of our people! Inspire them not to rely on a secretive power, like a tree spirit. We don't even know whether it will protect us when it really matters, or will it only choose those it cares about!"
"Think about it. We embed a belief innour people that we must rely on our own mortal strength, with powers within our control, ideally, with us, the councillors in charge. We represent them, whereas the Tree Spirit is unelected, and it is a magical being, not mortal, not one of us! Now we suffer the whims of a magical creature! Where is our dignity?"
A murmur around the councillors, mostly in agreement.
"So, we must have more walls, more soldiers, more mages. We may not be stronger than the army of beetles, but I'll be damned if we are beggars, begging for mercy and protection from a magical creature!"
"Our founding documents say they would protect us..."
"Myths! Tell the tale of when the great cities who suffered the wrath of dragons who no longer wanted to protect them, tell the tale of the city who fell when the sacred beast turned on the royal family!"
"Isn't the message of that story about doing good because the royal family was evil?"
"Doesn't matter! It's about self-reliance, strength! We were refugees, and if we fled Salah to be subservient to a magical beast, what good is there?"
"Councillor Azra, is this something your faction thought up?" One centaur councillor speaks, an independent in the sense that he is unaffiliated to either the Order or the 'independence' faction. That's partly because his voting district also comprises the slopes of the valley, where the 'rural' centaurs live rather happily.
Azra pause, "Well, yes."
"I agree on the need to bolster the city's own strength, with more soldiers. I also agree on the need for more defensive walls. Yet, among the centaurs, treefolk, and even the lizardmen, Aeon's presence a reassuring force. So, tone down the rhetoric, it will backfire on your faction's election chances."
"Hmph. We'll see about that. But more importantly, glad to see you agree with our need to improve our own military prowess."
The centaur shrugs.
Meanwhile, the druids...
The [Druidic Aspect] familiar is clearly a double-edged sword for the druids. On one hand, they get to store about 3-5% of my power, depending on their own level, for their own use, but, because of the link and how its magically entangled with me, I can see them clearly, wherever they go in New Freeka, kind of like how Lausanne glows like a lightbulb in my overview of the valley. In other words, I can observe them through the Aspect.
The Aspect steals their experience and mana too. I did recall that the familiars take a portion of the experience too, which is why I level up when the contracted warriors die, but in the Aspect's case, the ratio is even more skewed. I can also see their skills, and also mark 2 skills of my choice as "targeted" for collection on death. Oddly, there's a time counter on those marked skills. I think it means it takes some time to 'mark' the skills?
So much for 'blessing'. Are the other tree spirits also secretly taking skills from their believers? After all, how would they know that their blessing is actually not free? But if so, why do the tree spirits not give it freely?
[Aspect contracts are limited to Level divided by 10. You are allowed up to 13 Aspects]
Ah. Limited again. Just like familiars, which I can give out about 132, since I am level 132, or the [Possession of the devoted], which I can give 5. I suppose there is an mana-maintenance cost to it, which is why these are limited.
These 4 druids just used up 4 valuable slots. But they are called druidic aspects, so only druids can use them?
[Druidic Aspects can be awarded to druids, herbalists, farmers and gardeners (and variants). Can also be awarded to Treefolks, with no job class requirements.]
Confusing! System, you need a massive cleanup!
Anyway, I did somewhat regret letting the druids go, and I do realise I am not very good at making high quality decisions when I am in a spot. The druids could read my interest in meeting the other spirits and managed to therefore save themselves.
So what do I need to do?
Being able to make good, high quality decisions? That's something I need to try to do, but if I fail, what should I do then?
"Honestly, I wanted to help you but their spell made me feel so drowsy and weak that I couldn't."
But hey, should I kill and drain the druids? Ah, well. I thought of looking, studying and learning from them first, since I have them under my custody.
"Pods." The druids gulp. "Go in."
"Are... are you planning to drown us?"
"You are not making much progress on arranging the meeting. It's almost 3 months. IN."
"The archdruid is coming, he... he needs to assess the situation. Please don't do this!"
The vines and roots pull the druids inside, and all four of them are now in the biolab pods. They struggle a lot for adults, compared to my four girls, who are getting rather good and used to the biolab. One of them even say it's quite relaxing.
Under the scope, the druids body is actually rather ordinary. They have a spring like any other, and a collection of stones around the lifespring, which are the skills and levels of the druid. What's quite unique, are the animal-head shaped stones, which are the 'link' between the druid and their animal followers.
Then, the Druidic Aspect. The Aspect takes the form of a vine-like plant, it grows and makes a space around the Spring, and its vines and roots spread around the stones, growing into the gaps between them, like a well that's partly abandoned and now reclaimed by plants.
Some of the stones around the spring have more vines around it, but most of them just have little roots at the sides, like little climber plants.
The Aspect's main body, a large central flexible 'trunk', is like a parasitic plant living on the wellspring of his soul. On the aspect's plant body, there are three large gourd-shaped organs, and from a little prodding it reads.
Aspect's storage organ. Stores energy from the main body.
I think back to Lausanne and Jura's souls. In Lausanne's case, the familiar appears like a separate plant in the shape of a sunflower, growing at the side of the well, but it doesn't have vines or feelers growing like crawlers on the well. Instead, her special familiar has a strange swirling portal.
In Jura's case, the eidolon Bamboo doesn't even appear as a plant in Jura's soulspring. Instead, there's something in the shape of a Bear Statue that has a small waterspout on its mouth, and it's located outside the Soulspring. It seems the relationship of the druid's familiars would be similar to Bamboo, since they too appear as statues or stones?
I would later discover, from the druids mouth, the druid's familiars actually not familiars, but actual animal spirits, which have agreed to become their companions. These animal "spirits" are actually somewhat similar to artificial souls. They form from the collective energies of many animals of their kind, the remnant outer shells of animals' souls. Druids, and beastmasters have an ability to 'separate' the outer shells of their slain animals, through a ceremony of some kind, where the inner soul is sent forth to reincarnate, leaving the outer shell in their service.
That said, it is also possible for druids, beastmasters to form lifelong bonds, a kind of 'soul contract' whereby the animal serves them for as long as they live. These sorts of bonds are rare, but also way more powerful.
It's also why the animal companions of druids and beast trainers are usually able to independently gain levels, due to them retaining a part of their 'souls'.
Back to the 4 druids, I decide to let them be. The Aspect's presence in their soulspring is fascinating, and is something I want to watch.
So, rather than let them do as they please, I task them with training my 4 Initiates and Lausanne.
The 4 young girls are doing well, though I should be looking for 5 more new 'recruits' soon. They are now about level 10, and have gained basic proficiency in the usual sword, dagger, staff and shields.
They are just 6 to 8 though, so they practice with wooden weapons, and with wooden dummies in the [training room]. That forms the bulk of their combat practice, on top of spars against each other.
Still, a very long way before they can enter battle. I would reckon they need to be at least 12 before they would fight any real battle.
The [minder] familiar keeps me updated on their levels, the moment I focus on them, a game-like panel appears, and shows me all the skills and levels their mental state of mind, whether they are happy or sad or stressed, and also their health, whether they are hurt, or healthy.
It's helpful, and allows me to tailor my [dream tutor] and the nutrition I am feeding them, like when they are stressed or frustrated, I would have a bit of that calming fruit tea on the menu.
Lately, my control of [dream tutor] improved. I still can't control the exact specifics, but I can use the [essence of summer] in dream tutor so that they get rather pleasant ones, like beaches, warm suns. Things to help them unwind
I also regularly talk to the girls, but they are young, so its usually silly things, like how far does a tree see, or how high do I go.
Year 80 Month 8
More rifts spotted.
Apparently there's a few rifts near Salah but they are on the other side, so it'll be some time before they get near me. Their army has been dispatched to deal with the demons coming out from the rifts.
So far, only heroes have the power to close rifts, so, the rifts remain open, and the army stations a garrison force near the rifts to fight the demons that come out.
"If only we have our star mana powers again, then we could close the rifts." Meela pops by after so long.
"Do you want to go back into battle?"
"Ugh, true." Meals shrugs, she's gained a lot of levels since her hotel started operations one and a half years ago, so like Alexis predicted, her mobility increased, though she still mostly stays back in her hotel.
"But maybe we can help, somehow..."
"We are stuck here, what do you have in mind?" Meela's body is like a treefolk, and frankly, it takes quite a bit of effort to figure out she's not a treefolk. She has a dress that's formed from wood, and for her, changing attires meant changing how the wood's shape around her body.
"Hmmm... maybe we should try to help the next generation, perhaps research? The materials lab should count for something, right?"
As they discuss, I turn my attention to research.
Research status :
- Beetle - anti-magma armors stage 4 - 10 months
- Material labs - stage 1 - completed
- Magical sensors - completed
- Normal Tree - Root filters stage 1 - completed
- Metal hyperaccumulator trees - Stage 1 - 12 months
- Phytoremediation process - basic - 12 months
- Dedicated Filtering Blackwater-Plant - stage 1 - 6 months
Looking at research, we had some normal trees gain filtering abilities, and this allows them to reduce the effects of the poop-contamination.
But the materials lab is more of a properties kind of lab, which identifies the components, the qualities of materials and also in 'distilling' the different types of materials. It looks like there are further upgrades, which allows me to design specific materials and forge special alloys, but that's a whole lot further down the road.
Next, is the magical sensors.
The magical sensors are instantly installed on my material labs and gives me a reading of the mana flowing through the air, and the composition. Mana has many types after all. It also detects spells and area of effect skills. Together, with sensors in multiple material labs, they form an array able to triangulate sources of unusual activity, like sudden surges of energy in the air.
At first, there's a whole load of false positives. Spells are being cast daily, in eemany battles throughout the world, some not very far away. Adventurers of New Freeka constantly travel the region, slaying rogue monsters and bandits. Or priests and healers a in Madeus' academy for the junior students.
All of these false 'positives' had to be removed.
So, we had to set a very high threshold, to remove all the lesser spells from detection. My assumption is they probably won't be much of a threat.
"TreeTree, can we help the next generation of summoned heroes?" Meela asks, "Alexis has some ideas, and she thought, well, we need your help."
"Hmm, honestly, I'm not sure why I should help the next group of heroes... From what I hear, heroes are pretty dangerous. They have a whole.lot of magical power and are extremely idealistic."
"But isn't protecting the world from demons aligned with yours? Protecting the valley means also protecting it from demons?"
"They certainly overlap, but what are the benefits of helping the heroes?"
"Uh... Protecting the valley?"
"Honestly, if it's just demons, I don't need heroes."
Alexis pauses, "True... But would you permit me and Meela to aide them?"
"Hmmm..." I can't control Meela, since she is her own independent soul, so... Frankly if she did, and its not against me, I won't stop her. "Fine."
Year 80 Month 9
An uneventful month in the valley.
Training, practice, observing the druids and citizens. Eavesdropping on conversations about battles from far away, against the demons.
The humanoid demons are appearing everywhere, and the battles are getting more and more intense.
Unlike all recorded history of demons, this time, the demons have brought a special item that spawns demons, and it takes the form of a camp. Larger variants have been spotted in places where towns and villages used to be.
And so, it could be said that overnight, all mortal wars ended, as the focus turns to face this new era of demons.
Demons used to be a 'continental' affair. Only a few rifts would open, and when they did, it's usually not far from each other, at least, until the demon king comes.
And for me, the big question is, why?
Why did the demons, after what seems to be years of taking the same strategies, finally trying this sort of carpet-bombing technique?
Year 80 Month 10
I chose another 5 children, this time, 2 boys. Overall, due to the relative peace in New Freeka, the number of new orphans is trending downwards. Still, accidents, fights, and death is inevitable, and there's also migrant orphans.
In certain communities where there is no capacity to support another orphan, it is better to send them off to a place where they will be cared for.
Anyway, the first four girls are around level 12, the highest level is level 15, with 8 levels in [soldier]. This job class thing is fascinating, and more for me to learn.
As for Jura, he’s still at level 80, and stuck.
Well, which is why today, I harvested a 3 year old [ginseng plant], leaving 2 others to continue maturing.
[3-year old magical ginseng root]
[Permanently improves lifeforce (faster mana, stamina and health regeneration]
“So... how do we use this?” Jura holds the ginseng root, even though it’s 3 year old, it actually looks like it’s a 100 year old ginseng root from my old world. I think it’s a mana, and probably my influence and bounty.
“Do you want me to cook it?” Meela offers, there’s a cookhouse in her lodge.
“No.” I’m trying something more direct. “Please step into the soul forge.”
“Uh, okay.” Jura looks at the lightning-burnt tree, and then steps in.
I thought about it for some time, and essentially, what I want to do, is try to inject the ginseng into his ‘soulspring’. It sounds like some kind of cultivation novel when I describe it like that.
And so, I attempt to start up the soul forge, and start the merging process...
I got an error message when I put the ginseng roots in.
Ginseng roots needs to be further refined before can be used in the soul forge. Refining requires access to an essence concentrator.
At the same time, the soul forge is still active, Jura’s still inside, his body ‘sleeping’ in a special ‘altar’ within the forge-tree. And a prompt appears.
Do you want to remove some of Jura’s skills or job-classes? Doing so will free up lifeforce to learn other skills, or gain levels. Removed skills have a chance to be converted into skill seeds. Skill seeds made this way cannot be re-used on donor.
I suddenly recalled the day, some 6 years ago, when the Wisp told me about surrendering of levels and skills.
“Why didn’t it work when I captured the ranger?”
“It’s called surrendering. If Jura’s willing, you will be able to remove skills he don’t want. And as I recall, you partially succeeded since you received a few skill seeds and class seeds. The conversion odds are higher if it’s a voluntary surrender of the skills.”
“Huh, so surrendering skills isn’t exactly all bad either.” Is this like pocket monster game again, where you unlearn a move, and somehow there’s a chance the move you unlearned gets transformed into a TM? In a way, the soul’s ability to support the person’s level and skills is limited, and this ability technically... technically allows minmaxing. “Can a hero surrender his hero class or blessing?”
“What comes from the gods, can only be removed by the gods.”
Travelling. Family. Really tired. Unable to write as much as I want. T_____T
Also, I'm trying to build a spreadsheet to keep track of what I want to happen in the next phase of the demonic wars, means, things like names, places, kingdoms etc, and crunch some numbers etc. I'd like to have that ready before I start the next few chapters, so Im foreseeing some delays, since I can't work on this as much as I like.
Thanks for reading!