Escalation
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Year 81 Month 4

The war in the Barooshian territories deteriorated. The presence of the walking demon castle greatly hindered all attempted progress, and even with high level individuals, the demons have now deployed 'knights'. 

These demons have been described as elites, capable of standing up to a level 40 elite soldier toe to toe, and are described as humanoid horned demons, usually with one large unnaturally crimson wing. They have been seen wielding spears, swords, axes and many other types of melee weapons. 

"No rifts near our location yet." The captain elaborated. It's a once every other day meeting, to gather data on the demons. They are coming, and well, everyone's feeling a little tense.

"That's of no comfort. We are just waiting." Jura sighed. 

“One of the merchants want to meet, Counsel.” 

“Huh. Sure.”

A merchant walked into Jura’s office chambers. “Salutations Counsel. I’ll get to the point. The merchant guilds’ is trying to build a coalition force to protect key trade routes, especially those that cut through the kingdoms nearest to the spotted giant demon walker. In exchange for the various nations’ contributions to the force, led by a group of senior military men, the merchants guild will offer preferential prices on goods well below market rates, and also the rights of first purchases on goods passing through these routes.” 

“You sure didn’t mince words there.” Jura sat and thought for a moment. “How many men are you talking about? Have you spoken to the high council?”

“Yes I have. They are keen, but only if the Order also participates. They will match every person you put in.”

“Heh, clever of them. If the Order doesn’t participate then we look like scums.” Jura sat and twirled a wooden pen. “Back to my question, how many men does the guild want?”

“Ideally, we want high level individuals. Elites, if possible. Numbers, while it does have its own quality, is not the most suitable countermeasure against a demonic force-of-nature like the giant demon walker.”

“I... I need to have some discussions. Come back in two days.” The merchant bowed and left. 

Jura turned and called in the management team. “Madeus, would you be keen? I’m also planning to talk to Yvon. If anything, I would like both of you to participate...”

Madeus shook his head. “I’m having fun teaching the kids in the Orphanage.”

Well, turns out Yvon also had a similar idea. “The Valthorn kids need me. I’m not leaving them alone with TreeTree, not without my supervision.”

---

Also, now that we know quite certainly the Salah guy is the ‘right’ guy, I’m a bit stuck with what to do.

“Y’know, if he wasn’t the right person, it’s not cool to drug him and make him think he died. How did you plan on integrating or undoing the effects of such a powerful hallucination?”

“Hmmm, I had a hunch that he’s hiding something.”

“He could be hiding other things.”

“Too bad, I’ll just make him think it’s all a dream. You know, like those exceedingly vivid dreams that you wake up from, wondering what in the world just happened.”

“That sounds like the kind of essays I used to write for school.” Meela grinned.  

When I delivered the message to the elves, that he is the right guy, Laufen stormed up and went to one of the Tree of Prayers to gather her thoughts. Somehow the reality that she faced the person who indirectly caused the death of her husband made her... angry.

“I want to slap him many, many times.” 

“Okay.” So the drugged delirious prisoner is ‘freed’ from his biopod prison, and Laufen slapped him many times. In fact, the other elves joined when they saw Laufen started to slap the man. 

“You! You evil man! Our lives lost just because you felt like it!” Laufen slapped. “I had thought that maybe you had a vendetta, but no.” She slapped again. “We are just.” Another slap. “Another village to burn.” Another slap. The guy’s delirious. The overdose of hallucinogens massively distorted his sense of reality.

“Is this like purgatory? Where I meet those I have sinned and answer for them?” He asked. 

Which only made Laufen even more mad. “Hell yeah it is.” She slapped him some more. THe other elves, like Emile and Belle, both just gave him one slap. One, big fat slap. And that’s it. 


They walked away. Because although they are angry, watching Laufen’s ugly chain of slaps made them feel like they needed to be above this.

“All because of some stupid levels! Are our lives all so meaningless and insignificant to these nobles and lords?” Laufen slapped. 

The guy just laughed. He’s lost it really. “Yes, my dear. Yes. Actually, even lords and nobles are meaningless. We all die in the end. Everyone’s just out for themselves and we make life difficult for everyone that is not us.”

Laufen slapped him in between those words, so it’s actually not so coherent. “AGGGHHHH.” She slapped him a few more times, until she stopped and just sat on the ground, and she started to weep. 

Lausanne watched and gave her mom a hug. “Mommy... it’s okay... it’s okay...”

The guy’s face is red and blue from all the slaps, and I think it’s time to end it. So, some vines pull the guy back into the pod. “I’ll keep him for now.”

Laufen still cried, so she didn’t respond to my statement. Jura just watched, and he walked away. 

“TreeTree... just kill him already. Him being insane and mocking us with that insanity just makes us feel worse.”

Hmm. Well, I kinda figured he’s gonna die anyway, but to kill him would be a waste of valuable ‘mortals’. He would join the other criminals on death row that I’ve reserved for my soul-related experiments. 

I mean, if the justice system says who and who is to die, might as well contribute to science while dying. It’s not as if the manner of death makes a difference. It’s a position opposed by Meela and Alexis, of course, but they can’t stop me. 

If I’m going to figure out how to fix Jura’s arms, I need more experience with all the sophisticated meddling in the [soulforge].

In the past month, in between creating more of those anti-demon bolts and weapons, I’ve been experimenting with creating an ‘arm’, and indeed, the first thing I needed was to reverse-engineer the thing that ‘protects’ a body while undergoing the forge process.

It seems there is a ‘specific’ frequency to the mana, kind of like a ‘state’ in which the mana is able to hold its form despite the maelstrom within the [soul forge], and mastering this process will allow my feelers to ‘interact’ with the exposed soul fragments in the soul forge. 

So, firstly, the process required the creation of more ‘mana-tuning’ organs. It took quite a few tries, but it’s a whole lot easier once I used some of the jewels as regulators. I know this because it’s part of why jewels are so commonly used in magic items, because precious gems and jewels have a kind of mana-storage, mana-stabilising quality to them. 

Essentially, it’s like a ball of roots organised along a few jewels as nodes, with two feeler ends. Kind of like a large tuning fork, and the length-width of that fork determines the ‘frequency’ and ‘spin’.

With it, I’m then able to coat my feelers with an ‘tuned mana’ which protects it from the effects of the [soul forge] by about 90-95%. Pretty good, I think.

Next, was to make simple ‘organs’. Using animals as my test case, I tried to make small tails, whiskers, repair ears, repair skin. 

Most of them failed, but I’m getting better at the smaller stuff. Relatively speaking. 

I judge my performance by the size of the little animals’ explosion when ‘healed’. 

Year 81 Month 5

My first encounter with this generations’ demons. A pack of humanoid demon riders spotted passing through one chain of [subsidiary tree] that stretched up to the previous dungeon hole. The chain of subsidiary trees, with New Freeka Valley as the center, is kind of like a ‘spider net’. 

They didn’t attack my trees. But I moved some beetles to the area, as I watched their actions. 

These demonoids are clearly more intelligent than before. There’s a visible ‘leader’, giving some kind of instruction, in a language I can’t fathom. They are setting up an ambush. 

I watched them camp there for 5 days, until a trader caravan approached the area. 

Well, their ambush was countered by an ambush from my beetles. IT went well. Despite their intelligence, their ability to fight is just about... average. A regular demonoid is at the same strength as a regular hellhound. Which isn’t much.

Their leader’s much better, it took two beetles to take him down. 

“The merchants are struggling to keep certain trade routes with the demons employing such guerilla tactics.”

“I’m impressed that demons have the concept of attacking supply chains.” 

“Impressed? This is horrifying. We could spot demons a mile a way thanks to their unfettered destruction! Now we can’t! That’s not a good thing!”

“Hmm... I think we shouldn’t overreact. It seems the precautions needed will be similar to bandits, if their raiding parties are so small. A small group of adventurers would’ve been able to defeat that raiding party.”

“The threat of the raiding party is small, but the thought that there’s potentially sophisticated intelligence behind the demons...”

“TreeTree, you said your trees spotted them?”

“Yeah.”

Jura paused and sat. The captain then asked... “Can we have a perimeter of trees? Would it be possible?”

“Uh... no. I can’t make that many trees.” Four lines as it is, is almost maxed out my [subsidiary tree] quota. Unless I gain levels or the skill gets an upgrade, I don’t think I can spam more [subsidiary trees].

I do have my basic tree-eye, but there’s only 10 of those.. And I want to keep those for special places where I want to see things for myself-

Trevor interrupted.

Demons.

“There’s more of them.” Trevor said to me.

“What?” 

“A pack of 300 demons appeared. North.” Mostly regular demonoids, but this pack has about 10 of the ‘captain’ grade demons and 1 mounted ‘knight. 

“Beetles?” I look at the map, and Trevor points me to the nearest group of 50 or so beetles. There’s another group of 30 beetles further away. “Okay, let’s group them together.”

“They won’t make it in time to save that convoy if they do.” What? A convoy?

Trevor changed my vision to see a convoy of 8 carriages, and about 20 merchants. “Recommend we send the 50 beetles now, and hopefully the 30 beetles can join the battle midway. Or if you want to intervene directly... with root strikes.”

“Heh,” Well, I’m itching for a fight. 

[Rooting field].

Roots emerge from a field of grass, and they quickly entangled the group of 300 demonoids. The leaders of the group were able to cut the roots off, and then my squad of 50 beetles arrived. Watching them fight, the beetles’ charge easily destroy quite a bit of the regular demonoids.

Except the Knight, it had a black sword and in a single slash, it cut one of the beetles in half.

“Nooooooooooooo.” Horns was upset. “Kill that enemy.”

The demon knight cut down a few more beetles. I recall seeing demon knights during the previous war, the ‘demonised’ humans. But this knight is pure demon, and I would say he’s about level... 40? I’m not too sure. 

Heh. No point delaying.

[Serpentine Rootstrike]. 

Multiple roots appeared and pierced through the demons, like a multi-headed hydra. The knight dodged and cut through some of the roots, but the roots, when cut down, it instead splits into more roots, which attack the knight.

The knight cuts down more roots, but it kept breaking up into more roots. And then one root speared through the knight from the back. 

And it turns into ash. 

“Huh.” If the demons can create more knights at that level, the kingdoms are going to have a whole lot of problems.

-

Turns out, shit’s already pretty bad. News from the Southern Continent came, and it ain’t pretty down south. Another walking castle has been spotted, and they’ve overran a few kingdoms. The Southern continent is essentially in a pure-war mode, every nation in the region combining their forces, where they can, to delay the demon’s advance.

“These numbers...”

The captain started to read out the merchants’ guilds report. “Are they trying to ask for help?” The report had a whole load of numbers on the size of the demon armies. In the southern continent, they’ve spotted six different armies with at least 50,000 demons. 

“Sounds like it. The merchants’ guild can’t formally request for aid, without the consent of the local kingdoms. At best, they will try to build a coalition, with the local kingdoms, but it’s something they are already doing...”

“Is it normally this bad?” I ask the captains. They shrug. 

“I don’t know, but... it’s sure messier this time around.” 

“How many have been displaced?” Jura wondered. “Are we going to get more refugees?”

“A lot. With all continents facing some demon issues, the refugees don’t really have a lot of choices on where to go.”

“What about the islands?”

“Hmmm... sounds like they won’t be able to run away from the south that easily. So if anything we’re still going to get Baroosh-ian refugees...”

“The elven kingdoms are up north, right?” Laufen suddenly asked. 

“Yeah. Why’d you ask?”

“If Baroosh is in trouble, how about the other elves?” 

Madeus paused. “I... I believe they would not be in any better shape. The demon walker’s massive size and the army’s not been defeated yet.”

“We need to figure out how to hide.” Jura pondered. It’s only 6 months into the beginning of the demons, and things are already not great. 

And that’s how I spent more time on the underground tunnels. The farmers did already have ‘warmed’ farmhouses and underground chambers, but I didn’t, and I think I may be able to do things... differently.

The underground tunnels are humid, but no sunlight. Any plants that need to survive here would have to have long roots, and somehow have ‘tubers’ that store their food in the tunnels, which the refugees can use.

Using [root tunnels], we built a network of tunnels, with rooms, and with some wood magic and [woodcrafting], made wooden furniture and flooring to make the rooms somewhat habitable. In the event the demons overrun the surface, though, they would need a source of food and water. It’s fairly easy to create roots that store some water and food as emergency rations, since I have the [tuberous storage], which, when not storing ‘energy’, can be converted into a massive edible potato, and a high-water content potato. 

“Preparing for the apocalypse?” Meela seemed quite interested in all the preparations. I think she recently added a few underground chambers to her hotel, so I think we’re aligned on that part.

“Yeah. This demon king feels different”

“I doubt it’ll be that different. Maybe it’s just a change in the minions. The previous demon king we faced was a floating castle.”

Alexis then butted in. “I like all these preparations. Reminds me of the kind of nuclear bunkers we have, preparing for eventual doomsday.”

“I should add something like that to the basement of my hotel, huh?”


“Of course, if a disaster happens, a hotel must have a safe space for it’s guests! It should be reinforced, and close to impenetrable.” Alexis laughed, and Meela nodded.

“True... I guess if I wanted to make a hotel like the Continental, it better be a battle-ready hotel.” 

“You can start by adding a vault, a strong room, an armory...” Alexis rattled on a list of things to add.

“Uh... I think we’re getting sidetracked. I’m trying to make habitable hideouts for the citizens, in case things deteriorate.” I had to bring the conversation back on track. “And if both of you want to help, help me with it.”

Alexis stopped and thought for a moment. “Hmmm... it’ll need some artificial sunlight. Perhaps mana-powered lights, and then with it, grow some kind of vegetables under those lights?”

“Oh.” That’s kinda like the greenhouse idea again, but indoors.

So, we tried it out. I got Trevor and Dimitree to help, since I’m really kind of tired of doing things on my own, there’s just so much to do, so many things to manage. 

We upgraded the tunnels into canister-like compartments, each canister a self-sufficient setup, with a water storage plant, fungi and plant growing area, food storage, and wooden beds. It's has metal-reinforced wooden pillars and walls, for additional strength and toughness.  

It's kind of like segments and sections in buildings.

[New skill acquired : Customisable Roots]

[Customisable Roots function like the underground equivalents of your customisable branches. Each subsidiary tree now can support one customisable branch and one customisable root. Choosing the customisable roots will shrink the [Tuberous Storage] of that subsidiary tree]

Oh. Cool?

"How does it look?" 

Jura and the elves looked around at the new network of underground housing cum hideouts.

"Just needs some more lights for additional brightness, but for a war-time hideout, absolutely luxurious." 

"The food supply may be insufficient though, since these things depend on you growing your own vegetables. But at least there is water and the potatoes on the wall are still growing..." The potatoes on a segment of the wall is still linked to the roots. It's like the 'seed' of the potato, so the refugees can pluck the potato and a new one will grow. 

"Good enough. I suppose next will be fortification and security."

Alexis and Meela added. "How about air? Is there sufficient oxygen down there? Ventilation is super important in underground spaces! People could die from choking and smoke!"

"Good point..." I had thought of using the plants, but the plants probably don't produce enough oxygen. 

“Could you use mana to create oxygen?”

“Uh... is there a spell like that?” 

[Natural Tree Ability : Water, oxygen, carbon cycle - converts water to air, or air to water. Uses mana]. Oh. That’s easy. Turns out I had that ability all the while. 

But it doesn’t solve the problem if I’m not there. How do the refugees get air? 

“Do you have plants that create air?” 

“No...” Maybe there are, but I’ll need to find them. 

It’s Madeus that gave the solution. “We’ll get some ‘Gems of breathing’. Those gems can produce air at a mana cost, and with that we can breath. It doesn’t require much mana, that ordinary folks with some magic should be able to operate.”

“That’s quite expensive.” Jura nodded after the Treasurer told him the expected cost. “But we’ll get a dozen. And the ‘gems of sunlight’ as well, if we plan to grow these plants underground.”

Ah, turns out, there are some off-the-shelf solutions already.

Alexis paused, “Can you ask for some of those gems? Ask Jura to buy a bit more?”

“Our coffers are a bit low after my recent spend on the gold and jewels for the Grand Mind-Tree, so...”

Alexis frowned. “I could use some of those for research...”

-

Year 81 Month 6

The magical sensors went crazy, across my many subsidiary trees and biolabs, the array picked up multiple large surges of energy. 

“Something’s happening.” Alexis is the first to be disturbed by the sensor readings. The air seemed tense, and a sudden gust of wind followed. A while later, my network of roots start to detect tremors from afar, the sign of a massive explosion.

“Jura, any idea what’s going on?” Jura’s oblivious to it, because, well, unless you have a built in magical sensor in your body, you won’t notice it. 

“Uh...”

It’s Madeus, who ran in, along with Yvon, to the Jura’s Counsel Chambers. “A massive magical explosion has been detected. The demon walker was attacked with some kind of projectile weapon.”

“Oh, isn’t that good news? Who did it?” Jura asked. 

“The Barooshian court gathered their mages and the voluntary sacrifices of a few young men and women. It’s... forbidden blood magic. And it didn’t work. Instead of destroying it, the magical projectile heavily injured the demon walker, and now it marched for the Barooshian capital.”

"Blood magic." Jura looked at Madeus suspiciously. "Baroosh has blood magic? And sacrifices?"

"...there is a hidden faction in the wizarding academy studying blood magic. Secretly. But the King gave his consent to do this."

"The blizzard may have links to Baroosh..."  Meela said. "What's Baroosh's relationship with Nung, Takde and Salah."

Madeus shrugged, a little bit ashamed. 

"Okay, I don't know. But whatever it is, that magical disturbance came from Baroosh."

The magical sensors went off again. But this time, it wasn't from Baroosh's general vicinity. It came from further north, from the coast. 

"Uh... any idea what's going on?"

We didn't know. Until news came about a week later, that the same Blood Magic Ritual was repeated, in another kingdom south of Salah... with more sacrifice. 

And the worse part? The second projectile missed the demon walker, and left a crater filled with an unpleasant miasma. 

"Madeus... is there a cult practicing blood magic throughout the continent?"

"Uh... There are all sorts of cults out there, practicing all kinds of obscure magics... No one really knows, but I would say... yes?"

"The Demon walker changed direction. It... It's now heading south."

"...what."

Another magical disturbance. My sensors are starting to become quite attuned to this. It's the same country, and they did the ritual. Again.

"How many times can this ritual be repeated?"

"I... I don't know?"

This time, we all saw it. Because the dark purple & red magical projectile flew overhead. Even with my spiritual vision I could see it, it's a missile made of condensed magics, sacrificed lives and just a whole load of unknown energies. 

"It's from a country called Gila." The array of magical sensors could now track the movement of the magical energy. A kingdom lead by a new King? There's little I know of them, that's not outdated. 

This third blood ritual bullet exploded at the edges of Barooshian border, apparently scrying revealed half of the castle on the demon walker' back was destroyed. The regular demons died. But it didn't stop the Walker. 

Oh no, it didn't. "Uh... It's still headed south." 

"Are they planning to use this against the Demon King?"

Well, it turns out Gila and Baroosh were not alone. In the Southern Continent, a few similar spells were used, to great success. They destroyed a demon walker. 

The Demon Walker though, now moved as fast as it could towards Gila. Devouring every single town or village in its path, and with it, a growing army of demons. 

"Uh... its coming here."

"This is insane." Alexis screamed, she used the readings from the magical sensors, and her own sensors. "It's pretty much a magical nuclear weapon, tuned to cause immense destruction in a narrow area." 

News indeed speaks of the location of the missed shot turned into a corrupted, haunted, poisoned place, where everything died and strange alien monsters emerged from it. 

But, despite the costs, the fact that there is a reliable weapon against these demonic walker-giants gave great hope to many kingdoms. A weapon that can fight back! So, it seems there's widespread propaganda that the magus have discovered a potent magical spell able to defeat the demons. No longer do they have to fear the champions.

"TreeTree, I hate you." Alexis said one evening, as the news that more such rituals are being used throughout the world. 

"Why?"

"You were preparing for underground hideouts. Did you have a spirit vision or epiphany, that you somehow see this coming? Hex Bombs?" Alexis called them hex bombs, because they leave a hex on the land. 

"Honestly no. I was preparing for the possibility that a demon champion defeats me. But this feels too coordinated, who's teaching the process of this rituals to all the different kingdoms? The speed this ritual spread is unreal."

"The Kings won't hear naysayers now. They all bought the story that this spell can defeat the walkers, and they have two success cases now." One in the Southern Continent, and one in the Eastern Theatre. People celebrated, ignoring the reality that there are sacrifices needed for each shot, which numbered between hundreds to thousands, less if the person is of a high magical power and level.

"But one is still walking our way." After Gila's two shots, they stopped. The Demon Walker's wounded, with a strong hex on its body, but it is still headed this way. 

Deep inside, I just know that it is going to come through here. I didn't need a messenger running inside the room, shouting. 

"Demon walker is headed for New Freeka... expected to be two to three weeks away. With an army of 40,000 demonoids."

It's just how it is. I am a magical tree, and somehow, I will always end up fighting demons. 

Which is fine. Demons are my natural enemies. 

I just don't appreciate being potentially in the line of fire of a Hexbomb. 

introducing hexbombs. inspired by breath of fire

taking a week off to write a harem story  

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