Stick it into the flame
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Year 82 Month 5

Two moons, high up in the sky. One blue, one white. Alexis says sometimes they change color, and apparently, the alignment of the moons influences the power of certain magics and monsters. Back home, there are stories of how some werewolves gain power from the moon, in this world, there are also certain kinds of werewolves that gain different powers, depending on which full moon in the night sky. It’s certainly a fascinating mechanic to magic. There’s a third moon that moves a whole lot slower, and for now, it stays out of sight.

Anyway, my immediate focus was on the now-broken demonic banner-rod, and I put it inside a large lab-tree close to my main body.

This is because, unlike the lab which experiments on the hexbomb's hexsludge, which is located really far away for safety, I am a whole lot more confident fiddling with the demonic rod, thanks to all of my anti-demon resistance. In fact, it's better for it to be nearer since the [demonic suppression aura] is stronger.

There is a layer of extremely dense demon-mana swirling in the core of that rod, a crystalline object that resembles daemolite. In fact, I think it is daemolite. The dense demon-mana protected the core from the probing vines, and I am in the process of overpowering the demon-mana, by slowly draining the demon-mana.

It tried to fight me. The demon-mana from the rod even attempted to latch onto my body, but as expected, my body is resistant and pushed back. I activated [natural mana overwhelming], and did what I’ve done in the past, just like how I used the mana from me and all the trees to overwhelm the demon hounds, and Alexis.

So, slowly, but surely, my mana begins to break into the rod, untangling it, and bit-by-bit, in slightly less than a month.

And then...

[Your mana has completely taken over the demonic-presence rod. Demonic rod has now transformed into The Stick of TreeTree. The Stick Of TreeTree retains the mana-conversion and assimilation abilities of the original rod, will grow trees wherever it is placed, and spread your influence.]

The strange looking rod now resembles a large wooden spear, with overgrown vines all tangled up around it. The daemolite core, once purple and reddish, now entirely light-green in color.

But seriously, I didn't come up with such a name. Or maybe I did. Maybe it's my subconscious.

Decided it was a horrible name, I decided to call it the [Forest Rod] instead. I’m just too embarrassed to even tell my beetles to carry the [Stick of TreeTree].

-

Throughout New Freeka, news is rare. Most [message] services are not operational, and not many couriers or messengers in service, they are often employed, at great cost, to deliver the most important messages.

Some merchant groups decided not to wait any longer, and instead, they spend money to hire a large escort force. It's a well reasoned choice, since the demon king will not die until the heroes arrive. How long could they wait anyway?

Messengers, couriers are escorted by riders, and armed cavalry. At this point, speed is key.

"Airships. Where are the airships anyway?"

"I would think they are reserved for the most important tasks, like patrolling the capitols, transporting royalty or urgent expeditions. Smaller ones are used by adventurers, but charging the daemolite’s usually really... costly."

I am starting to suspect the airship I downed so many years ago was somehow stolen. Or just somehow... airships just fell out of favor? Under such circumstances, I would think airships would work, unless something’s interfering with that too.

Throughout my network of trees, I’m starting to see more ‘travellers’. Merchants, and others.

A courier from Salah arrived today. Jura looked at a letter, and then casually placed it aside. “They must be truly desperate, to demand that we all contribute military to their defense. What a waste of valuable couriers’ time.”

“Huh?”

“Well, just a strongly worded letter demanding that New Freeka provide protection to the royals of Salah, and support the continental coalition army. Salah’s part of the ‘organising’ nations this time around, together with Takde and the eastern Nagra.”

“Nagra. Where’s that?”

“Further east of Salah. It’s a coastal nation,and it’s capital is actually on a large island just off the coast of our mainland. Funny it decided to play a part...”

“Maybe demons found a way to sail across the oceans.”

“Demons can fly, though. At least, elder demons.” Madeus added. “If one of these giant demon walkers have some kind of flying ability...”

“The previous demon king was a floating castle after all... But what’s the point of the coalition army anyway, if they can’t hold a candle to the demon king.”

“They can act as a big fat decoy.” A captain said. “That’s what happened to the last coalition army. A decoy to re-direct the demon king elsewhere.”

“Ignore them, then.” I think all these royal schemes tend to fail in the face of the demon king.

Jura laughed. “I’ve never intended to respond. We’ve got enough on our own plate.”

Year 82 Month 6

Now that I have this... stick, suddenly, a whole load of ideas came back to my mind. Could I do what the demons did? To ‘claim’ the volcano as my own using this rod? The fact that it has that ‘spread’ my mana thing seems to suggest, yes. I can. I mean, that’s how it worked in that other game I played, right? Rods spread influence, and if I have a rod, I can do it too.

And after dwelling on the idea for a few days, I decided to call on my beetles, Horns, and it is time for me to try to use the demon’s tactics for myself.

The trees I have on the volcano has been destroyed, uprooted by the magma golems, but won’t be hard for me to get back there again. 6,000 beetles, charged up the volcano.

We fought golems, and giant golems along the way, and it’s a little easier this time around, with [healing aura] somewhat offsetting the natural ‘burn’ damage from the volcanic environment. With stronger beetles, thanks to the upgrades, we managed to secure a one-way chain of trees up till the caldera.

And there we have it. The giant magma golems.

Defeating the giant golems is easy. But consistently holding on to it, while saving all the things are dying? That’s harder. I had to personally intervene every time the giant golems attacked, and that made holding onto the volcano exceptionally time-consuming. That’s even before the issue of the volcano’s raw natural mana, which I can’t seem to access. My subsidiary trees also keeps burning from the natural heat of the volcano, and that meant I had to constantly replace them.

Thankfully, after the past few upgrades, they are a little bit tougher.

I’m hoping this [forest rod] changes that. If this works, I’m going to start hunting the demons for more rods.

A torrent of [root strikes] later, the golems are down, and with four beetles helped to insert the [Forest Rod] into the edge of the caldera.

One of my [subsidiary trees]’s vines and roots then tangled with the [Forest Rod]’s growing vines, and I felt a strange sensation. I felt like I was in a hot sauna, but I’m a tree. Focusing on the [forest rod], I quickly see that it’s the natural mana from the volcano, and my own natural mana, mixing.

I think this might work.

And more of those magma golems appeared. They seemed to have been riled up by the sudden shift in mana, and we, the trees and the beetles now play defense.

I suppose it’s like tree versus volcano, then?

And we spent five days, defending the [forest rod] while it channelled slowly. There really was no way I could speed it up, since the rod itself seemed to just work... automagically once supplied with mana. Increasing it doesn’t work.

Maybe it’s like cooking, you can’t speed up a natural process. Not too much, at least.

So we endured for five days, of constant healing. all the damaged [subsidiary trees] from all the spontaneous combustion. The heat meant the trees were getting drained of all their liquids, and when they are sufficiently dry, they would just... burst into flames. That’s on top of the attacks from golems.

To slow down the effects of the intense heat, I tapped on the waters from the rest of my network and constantly ‘pumped’ water to the subsidiary trees on the volcano. It worked, somewhat, but instead some of the trees started to ‘boil’. Which killed them too.

But we held our ground.

Five days of constant fighting against golems, and I lost 4,500 beetles after 5 days. Battling in this unfavourable terrain meant their effectiveness is low, and I’ve seen it first hand during the earlier battle with the demons. A beetle that was normally able to take on three, maybe four demons, can only take on one demon, because of the damage from the terrain itself.

For five days, golems attacked the subsidiary trees and the makeshift walls from all sides, and I had the beetles try to do some rudimentary digging. The beetles suffered much, digging through hardened magma, and doesn’t help that there’s been a few... accidents. Some beetles accidentally stepped on a chunk of loose rocks and then slid to their deaths, into the molten lava lake in the center of the caldera. Or some chunks of ground suddenly erupted and a geyser of lava torched a few threes.

Five days. Honestly, five days is just a blink of an eye, usually. But this long ‘grind’ of ‘barely’ defending the [forest rod] really reminds me of the early days of the [ginseng tree]. At least the rod’s pretty tough, it can take a few punches.

Five days. I suppose I’m not as ‘good’ at ‘corrupting’ the land, since the demons were almost done in two.

And five days of magma-golem genocide later, the volcano filled with the burnt trees burnt beetles, we completed the channelling of the rod.

The [Forest Rod] transformed into a large tree right at the edge of the caldera. It’s massive.

And then, one of the longest skill notifications I have ever had.

And I mean, it’s really, really long.

[Natural Feature - Volcano integrated. Volcano has now transformed into Verdant Volcano]

[Verdant Volcano will now spawn Giant Wildbeasts instead of Magma Golems. Giant Wildbeasts and other spawned creatures will recognise your trees and subordinates as natives]

[Volcanic Minerals- Passive - Must maintain connection to volcano - Subsidiary trees now share nutrients and minerals from the volcano to its surroundings. Provides significant improvement to crop output, tree growth and regeneration and crop health. Bathing and drinking volcanic waters improve overall health. Resistance to disease, plague improved for New Freeka inhabitants]

[Soul Forge : Red unlocked]

[Soul Forge : Red increases artificial soul level caps to Level 50]

[Soul Forge : Red unlocks additional repair options, and allows the repair of souls damaged by psychic or mental attacks. Improves a soul’s ability to withstand exposure to other kinds of mana and also improves skill harvesting rate]

[Dream Harvester Spirits unlocked. Dream spirits harvest essences, soul fragments and occasionally, ‘skills’, from those having dreams, aspirations, and strong passions]

As you have unlocked 3 Soul Forge colors, you’ve gained access to the [Titan Souls]. Titans are guardian monsters, protectors of incredible power, and summons of yore. You have sufficient power to support one Titan. To create a Titan, you must have a [Titan Frame]. Titans start at level 70, and have a level limit of 150. Once destroyed, they will respawn in one year in your main tree, until deployed again.

[Titan Frames] are collected when a level 150 person, or a divine hero, or a dragon (or monster of similar grade) dies in your vicinity.

Trevor, Bamboo and Horns, who are now at their level 40 cap, have unlocked new upgrade options. Taking these upgrades will allow them to level up to level 50.

Trevor

  • Red - blood-path - Requires 10 rubies, and three barrels of monster blood.

Bamboo

  • Red - Flower path - Requires 10 star garnets and two boxes of red flower petals

Horns

  • Red - Scarlet Steel Beetle path - requires 1 tonne of Iron and 10 rubies.

And I’m not done yet.

[You have gained a level! You are now Level 139]

[Skill obtained : Main Body Environmental Adaptation. Your main tree body is now able to survive all environments]

Metaphorically, I felt like I had to sit down and digest all that. In actual fact, that means just... doing nothing. A tree can’t sit. I can move my roots to resemble sitting, but it’s not sitting.

Year 82 Month 7

I had a lot to think about, particularly about the nature of my new powers. Firstly, the colors of the soul forge, how many colors are there? I had earlier suspected that there are at least 5 colors, similar to how some trading card games do it, white, blue, green, red, and black.

If there’s 5 colors, would that imply a level limit of 70 if I have all 5 colors for my artificial souls? Or if there are more?

And acquiring more colors expands the kind of souls I can create, so if 3 colors unlock Titans, what would 5 colors do? Or if there are more, what would those functions be? These are things I think I will discover in the future.

Then, the Titans. Sadly, it’s effects are not retrospective, so I do not benefit from Alexis’s death in my hands. I wonder whether it still counts if I kill the heroes when they are weak. Does it? Or slaying dragons?

And environmental adaptation. Uh... Kind of lame of a level 139 skill, since... I’m here. At least if somebody used a super-blizzard, I’ll be fine.

Also, the rod worked.

To me, this rod is a great gamechanger. I can’t make the rod, but I can find more. And then I can corrupt it to expand my influence. It even helps to expand my forests. More forests is good. I like having more forests everywhere.

Even now, the volcano’s surface is filled with small shrubs and trees, the once ‘violent’ mana now a whole lot less ‘hostile’ to vegetation. I should have more of these rods.

So it’s time for me to turn the heat back on the demons. Because these rods are awesome.

And for that purpose, I created a new [artificial soul]. Too bad I can’t have a Titan yet, but I suppose Titans are like end-game units. Like Khaine, or the Warboss.

“Stratreegy, online. Awaiting your instructions, commander.” Damn, I love the fact that the artificial soul can leech on my memories to shape his voice and conduct. I honestly modeled him after the adjutants and advisors in all the 1990s RTS games I used to play.

“Good. Here’s our plan. Dimitree, Trevor, your roles remain, that is defense and administration of the southwest forests, the valley, and now, also the volcano area. Ivy, your role remains to monitor the inhabitants of New Freeka. Stratreegy, your role is to be my war room, and battlefield command. Your task is to find, and hunt for these ‘demonic rods’.”

“Acknowledged.”

“As it is, our visibility and scouting range has been significantly weakened, thanks to the interference of from the Demon King, and beetles are only able to operate within a specified range of our [subsidiary trees], this will be a difficult task. But together, we will hunt down more of these rods.”

Silence.

“As such, I am delegating control over 4,000 beetles and 500 unused subsidiary tree slots to you. Get me more of those rods.”

“Understood, Commander.”

And so, I let me new artificial soul on its way. I feel a bit like the Overmind, creating new cerebrates to perform specific tasks. Helps that my special project, the [Grand Mind Tree], is going to be ready in two more months.

What would I be called, then? I honestly don’t want a name with a ‘mind’ in it, because I think my mind’s really not all quite there. As much as I try to resist it, my mind splinters, and goes off in weird tangents. It’s almost like my mind’s some kind of multi-threaded computer, jumping from one train of thought to another.

I wonder sometimes, whether I’m still Matt. But then, a part of me just brushed that off and pushed me back to my duties, which the valley, and caring for all my trees and ‘citizens’. I do like my trees. There’s so many of them now, and I consider them an extension of me.

Yeah. My mind’s not all there. I wonder whether the gods are playing tricks on my mind, like how they play tricks on the heroes.

-

How long before the heroes arrive anyway? It’s already been 5 months. It seemed that the courier services are getting more and more active, with more people taking on the ‘job’ of delivering messages to nearby towns.

We still haven’t received any news from the other continents, but we’re starting to get a better sense of what’s happening on our own. The merchant’s guild has finally set up something of a ‘high-priority’ courier network, using their best scouts and messengers to travel along specified routes.

The good thing is, at least the demon king isn’t on our continent. The bad news is, there’s a lot more demon walkers. But that’s a small matter. Now that I am well aware of the value of the demon-rod, I want more of it.

So I need to help Stratreegy along.

Jura seemed quite puzzled, but once I explained how I ‘corrupted’ the demon rod, he too, saw value in it.

“Yes. Preferably ones where there are known ‘demon rods’. Jura didn’t want to explain too much, but said that I have uses for them.

“Uh...” The captains seemed strangely appalled.

“You do not have to engage. You just need to find it and report back.”

“We’d rather not, Counsel. With communication lines so limited, the men would prefer to remain close to home.” The captains didn’t like the idea of looking for demons, outside our immediate territory.

I could sense their hesitation, and I decided to tap on another source of valuable talent. Adventurers.

20 gold for the first party that spots a demonic banner-rod. And indeed, that helped to mobilise the adventurers. I mean, conventional military men aren't really looking to risk their lives unnecessarily. The idea of poking the hornet's nest is strange to most regular forces, and only those with high levels in [scout] or [spy] or [infiltrator], would even think of risking their lives.

Adventurers on the other hand are more than willing to take on danger for simple, good old moolah.

I mean, at what point does money loses value anyway? In a world where monsters and demons are so insane, why should money have any value? Shouldn’t ‘protection’ and ‘safety’ be more valuable? What really gives money value in a world with no certainty of value? I mean, theoretically, if you are more likely to die than ever be able to trade that gold for anything of value, the gold is essentially worthless once you stepped out of the city gates, no? Perhaps one of the gods somehow guarantee the value of gold, then? Acting as some kind of universal monetary authority? Or does the merchant’s guild play that role indirectly, functioning as a de-facto reserve bank?

It’s a rhetorical question. I need to stop getting side-tracked.

I need more rods. Maybe I can plant them at the lake. Or what if I used it on the large mound of daemolite?

How do I get green, and white colored soul forges?

 

Okay, Stratreegy may not be the best name. I was thinking Stratreegos (sounds a bit like Malygos, no?), or Attreela (after Attila the Hun). 

And yes, finally, volcano conquest, aided by a rod. TreeTree's gonna go hunt for more... sticks. And yes, it's a freaking long status notiication because of the multi-color interactions. Think about it, a ROD that spreads TreeTree's SEEDs. 

And Titan Souls. Something of a mismash of W40k Khaine, and Aeons from Final Fantasy X, only, made from the death of heroes, or mythical monsters. Level 150 people are pretty much champions, so I included them too. :)  

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