Chapter 86: Personification of the World Tree
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For the first time in what seemed like forever, Lia walked down the street of a city. It wasn’t a perfectly ordinary stroll down the street, the occasional person would give their group a shocked look, and Lia could feel that the majority of women she passed were part of the swarm and, as such, were her subjects, which was strange, but didn’t take away from the refreshing aspect of the walk. Well, provided that you ignored the two unconscious women that were being carried by the group. That…probably accounted for most of the shocked looks, now that Lia was thinking about it, but still, the walk was nice.

It really illustrated just how life would be in the future. While she may not have known the names of everyone that was in the swarm after the civilians were brought to the dungeon, she at least knew their faces. Here…she had no idea who these women were, only that they were part of the swarm.

And, as she watched the people, she began to feel bad. Not because they had been converted, but because, they had, in a sense, been left hanging. Many of the women Lia passed were walking arm in arm or otherwise being intimate with men, men that Lia knew they just didn’t love in that way anymore.

The thought tugged at Lia’s heartstrings, and she made a note to check in with Alisha on the status of Aura’s conversion. Now that they had Ichiro, Lia felt a lot more comfortable allowing the full-scale conversion of the country to commence, and for the sake of the families who had been affected, she wanted to get it started as soon as possible.

She didn’t have much time to think on that, though. As she followed Alisha’s directions, the palace came into view quickly, and after no more than ten minutes they were standing outside the gates. As they approached, the gatekeeper’s eyes widened, and she hurriedly opened the gate. “My Queen,” she whispered as they passed, “it is an honor. If you have any wishes, please do not hesitate to ask. We will do our utmost to accommodate you, lacking though our resources may be for someone of your stature.”

“Thank you.” Lia said. “We just follow this road to reach the main entrance, right?”

“Yes, my Queen, Queen Ali– umm.” The guard floundered, searching for the proper term of address. “The former queen is waiting for you there.”

Lia gave her a smile and a nod, and the group continued on their way. When they reached the opulent double doors that were the palace entrance, they swung open, revealing a grand hall lined with maids, Alisha’s other body at the far end. “Welcome, Your Majesty!” The maids chorused.

Lia stopped in her tracks, the scene stunning her. This…this grand reception was for her. And she would have stayed transfixed for who knows how long, were it not for Ophelia giving her a gentle nudge.

“Go on.” Ophelia whispered. “Greet your subjects.”

“T-thank you all.” Lia said nervously. “We will be intruding on you for a while.” She walked forward, trying to keep a dignified posture as she moved to meet up with Alisha. As she did, she began to relax slightly, thinking back to her conversation with the gate guard. The poor girl had seemed unsure about how she was supposed to refer to Alisha, and Lia could fix that.

Amelia had talked with her and Rose a while ago, and they had just been waiting for a proper time to announce this, and this was as good as any. “Alisha.” Lia said stiffly. “You have been a great help to us. For your service, I name you Duchess of Aura, and rebrand this kingdom as the Duchy of Aura. Should you continue to perform admirably, we will see about further increasing your holdings.”

There was a pause, and then the maids erupted into cheers, happy their home was officially recognized as part of the swarm’s holdings. As they did, Alisha beamed. “Thank you, my Queen!” She said happily. “I will do my best to serve!”

“Good.” Lia replied. “Now, could you show us to our chambers? We need to let Amelia and Rose rest, and there is a discussion I need to have with you in private.”

“Of course, my Queen.” Alisha said. “The rest of you, prepare the dining hall, tonight we feast!”

Alisha led them through a mazelike series of opulent corridors, eventually stopping in a corridor that seemed ever so slightly fancier than the others. “This is the suite you will be staying in while you are here.” Alisha said, opening a door to her left. “The bedrooms are in here, might I suggest leaving the Mistresses on one of the beds while we have our talk?”

Lia nodded. “Good idea.”

“What should we do while you two talk? It’s private, right?” Ophelia asked, already moving her bodies through the door, Amelia and Rose on her backs.

“You guys can hear this conversation, I just didn’t want the maids around.” Lia said. “Didn’t want to give them false hope in case this doesn’t pan out.”

“False hope?” Meg asked curiously. “What do you mean?”

“After Ophelia’s put Amelia and Rose down.” Lia said, walking through the door and into a large living space. She located a couch and sat down on it, while Ophelia found a couple of bedrooms and put Amelia and Rose in the beds.

Once everyone had gathered, Lia turned to Alisha. “Alisha, how much of Aura is converted, do you think?”

“Hard to say, my Queen.” Alisha said. “As you’ve seen, we’ve got most of the women in the capital converted, and most of the remote parts of the kingdom are converted as well. The issue lies in the larger towns outside of this one; we’ve slowly been spreading our influence as travelers and merchants arrive here in the capital, but it’s slow going. I’d say…roughly half the women in the kingdom have been converted by now.”

Lia blinked in surprise. “That’s a lot more than I thought there’d be.”

Alisha shrugged. “I have a rather extensive spy network, which allowed me to sow the seeds of the swarm quickly. Once they were converted, I was able to begin converting the various nobles and rich merchants, who had easy access to the common folk.”

“You said you had travelers and merchants who came here converted?” Neph asked curiously. “Are they spreading to the other countries as well?”

Alisha shot her a glare. “Do not interrupt me when I’m speaking.” She said coldly. “As I was saying–”

“Actually, I’d like to know that too.” Lia said. “It seems rather important information.”

“Of course, my Queen.” Alisha said meekly. “They have been instructed to remain in Aura as much as possible, to reduce the risk of outsiders catching on to the fact that we have a presence in wider society, not just the dungeon. Those that must go out of the country are given strict orders to not convert anyone.”

“I see.” Lia said. “If we were to begin the full conversion of this country, including the men, do you think we would be able to do it with minimal conflict?”

Alisha shook her head. “We just do not have the numbers for that yet. We can, however, begin much more aggressive conversions in an effort to lead up to the full scale conversion of the country. For instance, we can begin converting the entire army, instead of just the outlying, unnoticed parts of it. If we are discovered during this process, we can just shift to converting everyone, and hopefully by that time we will have the manpower necessary to make this transition bloodless.”

“Let’s do that, then.” Lia said.

“May I ask why the sudden interest?” Alisha asked. “You seemed to be rather in favor of a more conservative approach before.”

Lia scratched the back of her neck, embarrassed. “On the walk over, I realized just how many families we were affecting, and I felt it was unfair to keep them waiting any longer.”

Alisha was silent for a long moment. “If it is your will.” She said reluctantly. “But I do think there wouldn’t be any harm in waiting a month or two more. By then, the full conversion of the kingdom would be more a formality than an undertaking. Surely the people will understand that a month more of waiting is preferable to a higher chance of their loved ones fleeing or dying.”

“Maybe we should talk about this once Rose is awake?” Ophelia suggested. “She’s probably the best equipped to tackle this sort of issue.”

“You raise a fair point.” Lia said. “And a few more days of waiting won’t hurt. Ophelia, will you make sure everyone knows what’s going on with us, so they don’t panic?”

“Already did.” Ophelia said.

“Excellent work, as always.” Lia said. “Now…since we have a bit of downtime before this feast, let’s get Yamamoto converting, shall we?”

Everyone indicated their assent, so Lia withdrew his cocoon and the cocoon of the partially eaten fruit from her dimensional storage, combining them and placing the resulting cocoon on the floor. “Now, let’s see here…”

She began to scroll through the options available to her, but…the more she did, the more she began to get concerned. “Why…why are none of these Heroic in any way?”

Rose yawned, sitting up sleepily. What had she been doing again…?

She snapped awake as she remembered the situation she was in, and hurriedly began to examine herself for any changes. The first thing she noticed was that she was practically filled to the brim with power, the raw amount of which dwarfed even what she had had when she was the Ruby Emperor.

The second thing she noticed was the change to her body. Her skin had lost its greenish tint, instead it pulsed with a gentle white light, a radiance that shone from within her. After a moment of focus, the radiance faded, leaving her skin a deep tan, but one that you could see on any normal person. Her leafy clothing had been replaced with a flowing white robe, the type that you would see on stereotypical paintings of the gods.

Just like Lia, her body had become bigger in every way; taller, significantly curvier, even a little more toned with muscle. She realized with a start that that made her…happy. She was overjoyed to see her body become more womanly, and she got the distinct impression that it wasn’t because of the conditioning Amelia had built into the swarm.

In fact, that conditioning was the weakest it had ever been. It seemed tattered and frayed, the raging tempest of power within Rose degrading –

She prodded it gently, almost accidentally, and it broke, shattering completely. She could feel the last traces of it leave her mind, and she panicked as it became fully her own for the first time in…ever. And as the changes settled, Rose became more and more confused, frowning to herself.

She felt exactly the same. Or, no, not exactly the same, she was once again able to grasp the concept of conversion being immoral, but that was…basically it. She still fully intended to continue on this path, in pursuit of a kinder world for everyone, regardless of the questionable means. And, as the implications of that sunk in, Rose’s frown turned into a smile.

She…she was doing this because she wanted to. She, not he, liked being a woman, more than she had ever liked being a man. In her past life, the Urge had prevented her from having any sort of opinion on the matter at all, but this body felt more…natural to her. It was the body she had when she was reborn, the body she had learned to love in, the body where she had truly become herself, and seeing it grow and distance itself from how she once looked filled her with contentment.

Likewise, her love for Lia was the same. Or…no, that was a lie; her love was stronger. She hadn’t realized it before, but in the back of her mind there had always been a wall, built by the conditioning. As much as she tried to suppress it for Lia’s sake, she couldn’t see herself as Lia’s equal. And, for the first time, Rose felt like she could truly give back to the woman who had given her so much.

She would come clean to Lia about the mental conditioning being broken, of course, and…another shiver of happiness ran through her as her emotions acted up at the thought. She was confident that Lia would accept her anyway, not because the conditioning made her think the best of Lia, but because she trusted Lia, understood her in a way she had never been able to trust or understand her previous wife.

As she finished reveling in her delight, a window popped up in front of her.

You have been given all the power of a summoned Hero, increasing your base stats dramatically! Due to becoming a Hero, you have evolved, becoming a True Rose Empress! Due to gaining an obscene amount of power and consuming a divine fruit, you have evolved, becoming the Personification of the World Tree! Due to being extraordinarily more powerful than the accepted limit for the swarm, you have been bound!

Personification of the World Tree:
A unique Heroic race for Rose, the former Ruby Emperor. You stand at the pinnacle of all plant life, and are filled with nearly boundless life force and natural energy. You have gained access to Primal Nature Magic and Primal Life Magic, eschewing the need for any form of spellwork or chanting, as the world itself bends to the will of your Mana. All of your support and buff Skills and Spells have increased in power fivefold (reduced to 1.2x by binding).
You may choose a place to plant the World Tree, Yggdrasil. This manifestation of your power will grow as an enormous tree, blessing the land around it with fertility and increasing the strength of those who live there. Additionally, the land around Yggdrasil will become your Domain, changing to accommodate the presence of the World Tree. Whilst within your Domain, you are dramatically strengthened, and can shape the land to your will.
Due to standing at the pinnacle of plant life, this race cannot evolve normally, but has no level cap. Special evolutions might become available under extraordinary circumstances.

As one who has tirelessly worked for the betterment of all sapient life, you have gained the Title Diligence and a personally tailored Skill, Mother of the World!

Your actions embody the Virtue Diligence, granting you increased ability to complete the tasks you set for yourself. As you work on a task, your stats increase in proportion to the time and effort you have spent on the task (max 10x). This stat increase is only in effect for things directly related to the task. This stat increase is tracked separately for different tasks you are working towards, and only one instance of this stat increase may be applied at once. As a Special Title, the effects of Diligence are always active.

Mother of the World:
You have dedicated yourself to nurturing others, often at the cost of your own growth. And, as you strengthen your students, your students strengthen you. While under your tutelage, your students gain three times as much experience, in both normal levels and Skill levels. While you teach others, you gain a deep understanding of their abilities, even if they are not abilities you would normally be able to possess; you gain one tenth of the experience your students gain for both normal levels or Skill levels. If you do not have a Skill and gain enough experience in it, you are granted the Skill permanently, and may level it normally. Heroic Skills cannot be learned in this manner.

P.S. – After what has happened with Amelia, I decided to never again use the Urge, so don’t worry about that. And…as payment for your services to all life and reparations for the dire mistake I made in creating the Urge, I’ve upped the strength gain you would have received, as you might have surmised. Rose, I wish you the best and hope you find the happiness I so cruelly denied you in your past life. – Jerry

Rose gaped at the window, scarcely believing her eyes. She…she had known she had gained strength, but this much? It was nearly unimaginable. Hands shaking, she opened her Status, almost afraid to see what was contained within.

Name: Rose Mios

Race: Personification of the World Tree (Bound)

Level: 1/∞, 0/10,000 EXP

HP: 30,000/30,000 (1,000,000/1,000,000)

Stamina: 15,000/15,000 (500,000/500,000)

Mana: 15,000/15,000 (500,000/500,000)

Strength: 2,250 (75,000)

Defense: 3,000 (100,000)

Dexterity: 1,500 (50,000)

Magic: 2,250 (75,000)

Magic Defense: 3,000 (100,000)

Mental Fortitude: 3,000 (100,000)

Title: Bound

Your race has been deemed too powerful for the current swarm, and as such your true power has been bound until the swarm is deemed worthy, or until a member of the swarm reaches your power level naturally. This Special Title cannot be removed or set as inactive.

List truncated. Open ‘Titles” for more.

List truncated. Open “Skills” for more.

Those values…they were like a child had created a “strong” monster and ended up with something completely unrealistic. The Lord of Monsters she had fought as the Ruby Emperor didn’t even have stats half that high, and it was one of the strongest Lord of Monsters that had ever lived.

She would be tempted to say that, if unbound, she would be a match for even a completely unrestricted Amelia, but realistically she knew that she would likely only have a small chance at victory. Even if her stats were likely much higher than Amelia’s, Amelia had a mastery of magic that made even the mightiest of archmages seem like infants, and reserves of power from the very system itself. She was able to warp the laws of reality to her whim, and that was something Rose doubted she could overcome. Still, the fact that she felt that she had even the slightest chance of victory was a testament to how much power she had been given.

Another start ran through her as she remembered that Amelia had fallen unconscious just before Rose had. And…and Rose could sense her, her overwhelming life force detectable from the next room over. In fact, if she focused, she could sense the life force of all sorts of living things, but only when she tried. If she let her concentration drop, she couldn’t sense an ounce of life force, not even the enormous amount Amelia gave off.

Through that odd sixth sense, she could tell that she and Amelia were the only people in the near vicinity, so Rose got out of the bed, exiting the lavish room she was in and moving one room over, finding Amelia sleeping in a very similar room.

As Rose approached the beside, she instinctively reached out her hand, a small glowing white fruit coalescing within as she used both her Primal Nature Magic and Primal Life Magic. Gently, she lifted Amelia’s head, sitting down on the bed and placing Amelia’s head on her lap before opening her mouth and inserting the fruit.

She helped Amelia chew, and then sent a pulse of magic into her, prompting Amelia to swallow. Moments later, Amelia’s eyelids fluttered, and she awoke. She let out a slight groan as her consciousness fully returned, and then her eyes widened. “R-Rose?” She asked, a blush rising to her cheeks. “W-what are you doing?”

“I needed to raise your head while you swallowed, and figured you deserve a reward.” Rose said, stroking Amelia’s head gently. “I can’t even begin to say how thankful I am to you.”

Amelia quivered in happiness at Rose’s touch, pushing her head into Rose’s hand before she realized what she was doing and stopped, her blush growing even fiercer. “Y-you like it, t-then? U-um…what exactly did I do? I-I was sort of acting on instinct.”

“Look at my status, Amelia. Make sure to check the race description and Titles.” Rose said.

Rose felt a pulse of Mana from Amelia as she cast an identification spell, and then Amelia shot up, her head impacting Rose’s newly enlarged chest. “W-what is t-this?!” She whispered.

Rose gently pushed Amelia’s head back down onto her lap. “You did something incredible, and Jerry strengthened it as penance for the Urge. I shouldn’t need to say this, but I want to anyway: you’re amazing, Amelia, and I thank you for everything you’ve done for us.”

Amelia seemed to melt in satisfaction, basking in the praise. “Y-you seem…different.” She said. “Not in terms of power, but…personality, like you’re less…restrained. I think…I think I like it.”

“It would appear that the conditioning you gave me wasn’t strong enough.” Rose said. “It broke completely, and…for the first time, I am fully me. I know this is concerning to you, but –”

“It’s not.” Amelia said. “I…I trust you, I think. I knew my conditioning wasn’t very effective on you anyway, and…I don’t know, it just feels…better this way.”

“Amelia.” Rose said tenderly, looking into Amelia’s eyes.

“Y-yes?” Amelia stuttered, looking back into Rose’s eyes with a gaze full of affection.

“The past month or so, after you shucked the remains of the Urge…it’s been so, so satisfying seeing you grow and blossom into a person of your own. You still have your flaws, but you’re working your hardest to overcome that, and I admire that. I deeply enjoy the time we spend together, and the way you fiercely defend the ones you love, with no regard to how hard it is or the cost to you…”

Rose shook her head, not quite sure how to finish the thought. “I…I think I am falling in love with you.” She said softly. “I…I would like it if you became my and Lia’s girlfriend, provided Lia agrees.”

Amelia’s eyes widened in shock, tears beginning to form. “R-Rose, are you sure?” She asked.

“Yes.” Rose said firmly. “I want to make this work, and if you’re willing to keep improving yourself, I’m sure we can go even further than just girlfriends.”

Amelia got up from Rose’s lap, wiping her eyes before giving Rose a hug. “I will.” She said. “I’ll be the best I can, but I…I need your help, okay? I…I don’t want to make another mistake like Alisha.”

Rose returned her hug. “Of course I’ll help.” She said. “Now…why don’t we go give Lia the good news?”

Okay, so, a lot to say about this one. The first few hundred words were a bit rocky, but I really hit a stride after those, I think.

Now, to go down the list here...

First off, since it wasn't quick explicitly stated in the chapter (but will be spelled out more exactly next chapter), yes, Amelia took all the power Ichiro had as a summoned Hero and gave it to Rose, including higher "baseline" Mana from coming from a different world, but not including any Blessings. This was the "net neutral" I mentioned last author's notes, but then I decided to go a little...more. This came in the form of an upgrade by Jerry, and Rose now has "baseline" Mana on par with that of Jerry's most powerful world.

As should be abundantly clear by now, Amelia is highly outside the realm of what anyone considers normal. She's...probably the most magically gifted person in all of existence. Not most powerful, not by any stretch, but most talented for sure, more than even Jerry or Amy. We're talking a one in one decillion kind of person, someone with such immense talent that the fact that she was born at all was a statistical impossibility.

Or...perhaps an inevitability, depending on how you want to see it. Perhaps whatever governs souls wanted to make one that would move the multiverse forward, no one in-universe can say, since the source of souls, what souls are, and why they do what they do is still a complete mystery to them.

That aside, I am really grateful for bindings right now, because it gives me freedom to go over the top with things like this while keeping the story from becoming a complete curbstomp.

You might have noticed that Diligence is, uh, significantly more powerful than Pride, or, at least, has a significantly higher power ceiling. This is partially because of the aforementioned upgrade from Jerry, but partially because Lia wasn't giving the whole picture of Pride when she explained it to Rose. We'll get into that more in a later chapter, but the numbers on how much her stats get buffed can be increased. It won't ever reach as high as Diligence can get, but at the same time Diligence's buff takes years to work up to and is only for a narrow set of things, while Pride's is a blanket activation.

Also...full disclosure, I wasn't going to, uh, "buff" Rose's chest like this, but as I wrote and laid out her new race, I felt obligated to. I mean...come on, it's basically a requirement for a personification of nature and life like this.

As for the breaking of Amelia's conditioning, that was only possible because Rose got such a significant power buff and has an incredibly strong will (and, you know, has experience working around this sort of thing with the Urge). If you were wondering, even with Blessings and various Hero shenanigans, Ichiro would have no chance at standing up to Amelia's conditioning - he probably would have lasted just barely longer than Ophelia, if that long. He doesn't exactly have the iron will that Rose does, and the power gap wouldn't be enough to dent Amelia's work.

And, finally, that last bit with Amelia was also unplanned, it just sort of happened. I'm not going to complain, though; I hate leaving things in a will-they-won't-they state when it's entirely obvious what's going to happen, and would rather move things along.

Anyway, I've talked for far too long, next time we're meeting back up with Lia, so look forward to it!

And, as always, thanks for reading!