Chapter 67: Past and Present
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Lilith shifted in her seat, getting more comfortable in her seat as Emily did the same in hers. “Thanks for doing this for me.” Lilith said, scratching her cheek embarrassedly. “I know this probably takes some time out of your day, so I really appreciate it.”

“It’s fine.” Emily replied. “I enjoy studying this sort of thing as well. Before we begin, may I ask how long until you’re fully caught up with your memories?”

“I’m just about halfway done, so… two and a half weeks?”

Seventeen days, to be precise. Mae added.

“Anyway, you said you had some findings from your studies?”

Emily nodded, an uncharacteristic eagerness on her face. “Yes. Mai and Errus are something of an enigma, but people have put together a general timeline of their lives up until they vanished, and we can fill in the gaps there from what we know.

“Mai was the first recorded Perfect Chimera, and we don’t know much about her life before she became one. We don’t know where she lived, what species she was, the date she was born, nothing. Given her preferred form is that of a human, and she first made herself known in a human country, we’re guessing she was human before becoming a Perfect Chimera, but we can’t be sure.”

Emily drummed her fingers on her leg as she spoke. “Interestingly enough, this isn’t her first attempt at world domination. A few years after making her appearance, she seemed to realize that she was the only Perfect Chimera around, and there was no one who could really match her power. She started drumming up an army using a method quite similar to what she’d doing now, just far less subtle.

“Around that time, Errus made his appearance, and there was a brief but intense conflict which resulted in the dissolution of her army and a sort of stalemate where both of them would prevent the other from gaining too much power. Then things were quiet until the war, aside from Winston becoming a Perfect Chimera.”

Emily leaned forward, a look of excitement on her face that Lilith really wasn’t used to seeing. “The war is when things really become interesting. Mai sided with the humans and Errus with the other races, and the two would fight often throughout the war, but it was only for brief periods of time. Neither side wanted to risk their trump card being rendered useless from injury, and while the Protectorate had two Perfect Chimeras, Mai was more than capable of holding the two of them off for as long as it would take to escape.

“And she had taken the war as an opportunity to build her following once again. Whenever possible she would recruit from those she defeated in battle, and her following quickly swelled to an enormous size. Eventually, the Protectorate made a gutsy decision and went all in on forcing a confrontation. They knew Mai would never fight two on one, so they had Winston work on holding down some of the humans’ other forces and sent in Errus.

“We don’t know what happened during the fight, but after that the two of them vanished. All of Mai’s flock seemingly came to their senses, and the war started to swing in the Protectorate’s favor now that Winston was the only Perfect Chimera in play. And…that’s basically what people know about her.” Emily finished. “So, what do you think?”

“Well,” Lilith began, “I think the most alarming thing is the flock she used to have. How big was it?”

“Thousands.” Emily replied.

“As far as we’re able to tell, she’s got a few hundred in that compound now, and even if we make the generous assumption that half of what she had in the war died in the war, that leaves a lot unaccounted for.” Lilith mused. “I doubt her hold on them was broken, so I think we have to assume she has a bunch of sleeper agents scattered about Haven. Do you know if they kept records on who was part of the flock?”

Emily shook her head. “The books I read didn’t say much about them, that would be more general war history while I was looking specifically for information on Perfect Chimeras.”

“I’ll ask Kali about it later, then. She was a Council member for a while, she’d probably know. What are your takeaways from all this?”

“I think Mai beat Errus in that fight.” Emily said confidently. Then, more uncertainly, she continued. “Then, she was somehow able to make him one of her flock. She had purportedly failed to do so in the past, but maybe she found a new method or Errus was weakened enough by the fight that he couldn’t resist.”

She frowned, tapping her chin thoughtfully. “I’m not sure why she vanished, though. Maybe it was just to have some private time to work on converting Errus?”

Lilith shrugged. “My guess is that it was partially that, partially an opportunity to kickstart her world domination again. She probably wanted people to stop thinking about her so she could build strength peacefully for a while. That being said, I’m not sure why she waited so long…” Lilith stopped, frowning as well. “Unless she didn’t? Maybe she’s trying to be subtle this time and has her fingers in more than we thought. I’ll have to look into that later.”

She shook her head to clear it, then brightened up. “Still, this has been enlightening, thanks, Emily. Any other interesting things you found?”

Emily shrugged. “There were a few books on you, but many of them seemed like they were mostly conjecture. I can fetch them for you if you’re interested.”

Lilith blinked in surprise. She hadn’t consciously realized that people would be writing books on her, but she supposed it made sense. “Uh, no, thank you.”

Emily stood up and gave a small bow. “If that’s all, then I’ll be on my way.”

“Uh, yes, thank you.”

And with that, she was gone, leaving Lilith to ponder what she had learned.

Emily finished the very brief morning cleanup, let Raphi know they were done for the time being, then went to make her morning report.

There wasn’t any real need to, not in this position, but it was a habit that had been drilled into her when she was in training, and she figured there wasn’t any harm in keeping a record. She wasn’t sending it to the head of the Windkeeper family like she was “supposed” to, she wasn’t even sending it to anyone at all. She was just keeping a record in case it ever became useful. Security wasn’t a problem either – if anyone was able to break into the dungeon then they had bigger issues than a potential non-vital information leak.

Her report was short, as it usually was. Even if she reported on her morning cleanup it wouldn’t be long; the dungeon was, for the most part, self-cleaning, so the only thing she had to do was put away leftover food, and put the dishes into a cleaning slot Nuwa had devised which made use of the dungeon’s ability to absorb matter to clean the dishes better than any conventional method could.

She was really glad she was able to get this position; it was about as cushy as it got when you were a Windkeeper, and she got to avoid all the turmoil the family went through when deciding if they wanted to be loyal to Kali or the Protectorate.

The family had, eventually, decided to stay loyal to the Protectorate, while remaining on good terms with Kali. Emily was declared to be part of a unit of her own, not a part of the usual hierarchy. That worked for Emily, since she hadn’t particularly been looking forward to becoming the servant of whatever random important person she would be sent out to.

Being a maid wasn’t what she had wanted to do with life, but she was glad things had worked out the way they did. In the incredibly low-effort position she was in, she had nothing but free time with which to pursue her hobby, magical research. Sure, she was usually out leveling up, but that presented her with opportunities to try her own custom spells.

She hated to admit it, but she had died more than once doing so. The dungeon’s Deathless property allowed her to be much, much more reckless than any self-respecting magical researcher normally would be, but she was also much, much faster.

She finished her morning report, and made her way to the day’s testing chamber, which was just a regular room in the living quarters of the house. Waiting for her was her test subject, a nondescript-looking mouse.

Appearances were, of course, deceiving. This mouse was actually part of Judy’s swarm, and Emily was working on a way to reliably detect that. Judy had invested as much as possible into making her influence undetectable, so finding that influence was much easier said than done.

It wasn’t marked as a status effect of any sort, and the creature didn’t show any differences in species, name, or any other metric an identification spell would give her. But Kali had assured her that nothing in this world was perfectly undetectable, so Emily wasn’t about to give up now.

In other circumstances she would have come back to this project when she was more experienced, but she was willing to bet that whatever she came up with would also be applicable in trying to determine who was compromised by Mai.

The first thing she tried was directly asking Judy, but that wasn’t much help; Judy was actively looking for ways for new ways to find what was part of her own swarm, but that was only so she could fix anything she found. She had, however, given Emily a few pointers and helped teach her the ways she would look for those vulnerabilities.

Currently, Emily was working on trying to find something using the creature’s mental state, but that brought its own set of issues. The biggest was that she needed a “base” state of mind if she wanted to have the spell scan people for her, instead of having to manually scrutinize people’s minds any time she wanted to check.

After a few hours of working with mice, she decided it was nonviable; she couldn’t just pick any mouse and call it the base, she would have to aggregate a bunch of mice’s mental states, store them in some device, make a sort of average and decide what was “normal”, and then compare against that before she could even begin an automated check, and she rather quickly gave up on making that work. Even if she did find a way to do it for mice, it would be nigh impossible to do for people.

So, she took to looking at memories. That was much more doable and would probably work even better with Mai’s brand of control than with Judy’s. Judy didn’t have to be there herself to infect something, any member of the swarm could potentially be a vector of infection. On the other hand, from what Judy had told them, Mai needed to have direct physical contact to convert something. In that case, all she would have to do is scan memories for people resembling Mai, events that might resemble a conversion, and a few other things, then manually review those memories and make a decision.

That was a good start, but there were still issues with it. The first was that Mai could have converted people from behind, while they were unconscious, while Mai was in a different form, or any one of a number of things that would mess with a simple scan looking for Mai. The second was that Mai might have been hiding how her ability worked, and in some especially important targets wasn’t even present or something, and the third was that memories might be altered or removed.

That last one wasn’t much of an issue, though. Memory alteration or removal was a very invasive procedure and left some obvious signs to the careful observer. Or so Emily had thought, but Kali had made almost everyone forget about Lilith for a month with no one the wiser.

But, as Kali had told her, nothing was perfectly undetectable. And, seeing as how Kali was the one that had pulled off that stunt, that meant that there must have been a way to detect it.

She left the testing room and made her way to Kali’s quarters, and after receiving permission to enter, came in and sat down on a chair opposite of Kali. “You mentioned nothing is completely undetectable, but you made a huge alteration to the minds of dozens of high-profile people for a month without anyone noticing. How would I go about noticing something like that?”

“Ah, right.” Kali said embarrassedly. “I might have cheated with that one. I used a bunch of Worship to smooth everything over, so to notice it people would have either needed to know how to sense Worship, which isn’t easy, or be as connected to Lilith as Carmen was, and I can assure you none of Mai’s flock is that connected to her. The whole Parallel thing is an offshoot of her…unique situation and it requires a bunch of eldritch abilities to work properly, so for the time being she’s the only one with something like that. Any memory modification that doesn’t use Worship will leave some sort of a trace, but you have to be super careful.”

Kali leaned back in her chair, stroking her chin thoughtfully. “I can train you up if you want,” she offered, “teach you all the best ways to mess with minds. I’ll even teach you how to sense Worship if you want, it’ll actually be pretty easy for you. You’re in close enough proximity to Lilith and I that you’ll be able to pick it up in no time.”

Emily thought about that for a moment. “That would be good, thank you. I don’t want to directly be your apprentice like Judy, though. I just want to know about how to more effectively read minds, not the rest of the espionage stuff.”

Kali nodded. “That’s fine. Would you like to start now?”

Emily shook her head. “Tomorrow. I need to return to my duties soon, so it’s not worth getting into at the moment.”

“Alright, cool. I’ll leave you to it, then.”

Emily stood up and nodded. “Thank you.” With that, she took her leave. It had been long enough that it was time to prepare for lunch, so she mentally paged Raphi and told her to meet her in the kitchen. From there, they decided on a couple of dishes to make, and began to cook. Once they had a decent amount prepared, they called everyone in, had lunch, and cleaned up what little mess remained.

Once that was all done, Emily did her daily leveling. It wasn’t exciting, just killing monsters for a few hours, but she recognized the importance of learning new Skills and getting her Racial Class level up, so she made sure to set aside time for it every day.

Her signal to stop was when Lilith came home from her leveling spree. Once that happened, she met up with Lilith and saw to her needs (few as they were) until dinner, after which she was dismissed for the rest of the day. So, she relaxed for the few hours she had before bed, and then went to sleep, ready to do it all again the next day.

Last one for today!

So, we actually skipped basically a whole chapter from the original because it completely revolved around Thiala and I couldn't really...retool it to fit. So we're now two chapters "behind".

But that's really all that's changed, so, as always, thanks for reading!