Chapter 90: Homeward Bound
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Lia and Rose were in the middle of a discussion with Lily on the new work floor and how it would affect things going forward when they were interrupted by Chrys.

“Mom, Lia, I have Meg and Yamamoto.” She said. “You wanted to talk with them, right?”

“I suppose that is my cue to leave, then.” Lily said, giving a small bow. “Can we pick up this discussion again after your business is finished?”

“Yeah, thanks, Lily.” Lia said. “I appreciate it.”

“Of course, my Queen.” Lily said. “I will be overseeing the sorting of the warehouses if you need me.”

“Sorry again about that.” Rose said, scratching the back of her neck embarrassedly. “I wasn’t fully aware or even in control of what was happening. It was sort of…automatic.”

“It’s not your fault, Rose.” Lily said. “I doubt I would have done any better under the circumstances. I will talk with you all in a while.”

Lily gave a quick bow and walked away from the group, prompting Lia to turn and inspect the converted Yamamoto. “How are you feeling, Yamamoto?” She asked cautiously. “Usually conversion should be painless, but with your Hero status being lost…”

“I’m fine, my Queen.” Yamamoto said, kneeling respectfully. “And please, call me Izumi. Yamamoto is my family name, not my given name.”

Lia nodded. “Before we begin in earnest, I can’t help but wonder – are those clothes something from your world? I’ve never seen anything like them before.”

Izumi tilted her head in confusion. “But you’re wearing a kimono.” She pointed out. “And as far as I can tell they aren’t around in this world either.”

“It just appeared on me when I evolved.” Lia said. “But kitsunes aren’t native to this world, so I assumed it was fashion from wherever they were from, and Rose confirmed that some summoned Hero tried to introduce them here a while back, so I just accepted it.”

“I…see.” Izumi said. “But, to answer your question, yes, these clothes are the traditional clothes of a shrine maiden in my world.”

Lia nodded. “Good to know. Um, I guess…is there anything you would like to see about our society here?” She asked. “We’re still reorganizing everything after our living space changed, but I’ll show you whatever is needed to prove that we’re giving our citizens the best lives we can.”

Izumi paused, thinking before responding. “It would seem that everyone here is living a good life.” She admitted. “However, I’m not so sure about the outlying villages of Aura. What about them?”

Lia’s face fell. “We’re…working on it.” She said regretfully. “We can’t send as much aid as we would like until we have fully converted Aura and don’t need to pretend the country is still normal, but I’m going to have Alisha send people around to get lists of what the villages need. In the meantime, I hope that the ability to convert the surrounding plants and animals will lighten their workload, and their new abilities will allow them to defend themselves better.”

Izumi nodded. “Would you mind if I took a trip to one of those villages?” She asked. “I need to apologize to the head of the guard and her daughter there, and I feel it would be a good place to see what life under you is truly like. I’ll accept an escort if you don’t trust me to not run run away, I just…need to rectify my mistakes.”

“I can do it.” Chrys volunteered. “Violet and I should be more than strong enough to keep her in line now that she’s no longer a Hero. Plus, it’d be nice to see more of the world.”

“I’m fine with it, but your mother has the final decision.” Lia said, looking to Rose.

“Only if you take one of Ophelia’s bodies with you.” Rose said.

“Really?!” Chrys said, perking up. “I was sure you’d say no!”

“You’re growing well, and I can’t keep you locked up forever.” Rose said. “And this is probably safer than your excursions into the Spine, so I see no reason to deny you this.”

“You’re the best, Mom!” Chrys said rushing over and giving Rose a hug. “I’m going to go pack now!”

Chrys ran off before Lia had a chance to respond, so Lia looked to Rose instead. “We could just have Amelia teleport them to the village directly. I don’t think she needs to pack.”

“We can let her experience traveling.” Rose said, smiling slightly. “I don’t think she’s ever had to camp out before, so it’ll be a good experience for her.”

“Alright.” Lia said, turning back to Meg and Izumi. “Meg, do you know where Neph is?”

“I believe she was taking a nap at home when we left.” Meg said. “Would you like me to fetch her?”

“Please do.” Lia said. “We’re going to go contact Brom, and I would like the two of you to be there. I’ll go find Amelia, so meet up with me at the portal to the outside, and we’ll go somewhere private to make the call.”

“Will do!” Meg said excitedly. “Thank you again for this, my Queen!”

“It’s nothing.” Lia said, waving a hand dismissively. “Besides, even if you can’t actively convert anyone or tell them how good things are here, having you there and being normal will surely go a ways towards improving our reputation.”

“I’ll do my best!” Meg said cheerfully. She grabbed Izumi’s hand and forcefully began to tow the girl away, leaving Lia and Rose alone once more.

“Well, shall we?” Rose said, holding out her hand for Lia to grab.

Lia happily held her wife’s hand, smiling as she looked up into her face. “Let’s.”

Brom, King of the Glens, was reading a report from his informants in Aura when the air in front of him warped then resolved into the image of Amelia. “Brom.” She said. “We have a proposition for you. I’m going to hand you over to Lia now, but I’d advise you not to reject us off-hand. This is something done purely out of the kindness of Lia’s heart, so don’t immediately assume the worst.”

Before Brom could respond, the image shifted, and Lia appeared. She was…different than the last time he had seen her; she was taller, had gained four more tails, and was wearing some strange robe he had never seen before. “King Brom, it is a pleasure to speak with you again.” Lia said, bowing her head slightly. “I wish to negotiate open borders for one of our citizens.”

Brom frowned. “Just one?” He said guardedly. “Why? And why would you think that I would let any of you into the Glens when they could potentially convert more people to your cause?”

“That should not be a worry; while I won’t lie and say we didn’t think about it, our Oath prevents her from converting any of your people, or even actively spreading word of how good life is here. She will only be able to do so if she is specifically asked to convert someone or talk about life here.”

 “A spy, then.” Brom said flatly.

“Also covered by the Oath.” Lia said. “We can’t get any extra information from her about the Glens. We cannot gain any active benefits from her presence here. She expressed homesickness and a desire to return, so we figured we would try to accommodate as much as possible.”

“And just who is this person?” Brom asked. “One of our scouts, I assume?”

“I’ll let her talk with you herself.” Lia said. “Give me a moment here…”

The image changed, and Brom’s heart sank. “Dad!” Meg said happily. “It’s nice to talk with you again!”

Brom’s daughter had changed; the most obvious changes were the wings and fiery hair, but she had also become a bit more mature looking, as well. “Meg?” Brom said sadly. “They…they got to you, too? How? Shouldn’t the Oath have prevented that?”

“I’m not totally sure myself.” Meg said, shrugging. “I kept hearing something about rules being broken and a punishment, but I never quite got the full picture. That’s not really important, though, what’s important is that Neph and I are safe, happy, and stronger than we ever were before.”

“Neph too?” Brom croaked. “And…what of the Hero?”

“Also one of us now.” Meg said cheerfully. “We have her here, if you want to talk to her.”

One of us, Brom noted sadly. She seemed to have fully integrated with the swarm, and if she wasn’t lying, then the Hero had too. If that was the case…then there was no stopping them. He could only hope that they and the Lord of Monsters would defeat each other, but with the formidable strength they now had access to, he wasn’t holding his breath. “Meg…”

“I’m still me, Dad.” Meg said. “I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Conversion doesn’t change who you are as a person except under extreme circumstances, like being converted with a very strong monster like Ophelia was.” She paused for a moment, then continued. “Admittedly, Neph and I were converted with similarly strong monsters, but we were given the option to opt out, and the changes are really minor.

“I was converted with a phoenix, so I’m a bit more compassionate and inclined to help people, but that’s not really a problem. I mean…that’s just making me kinder, and that’s a good thing. But…I’m homesick, Dad. I like my life here, but I want to see you and Mom again, and I miss all my friends here.

Since we can’t even try to convert any of you, we figured that negotiating passage for me was my best chance at seeing home in years. I’ll understand if you say no, because it is a risk, but…please? I promise I won’t try to expand the swarm, I just…I just want to see you all again.”

Her voice tugged at Brom’s heartstrings. She was clearly broken up about this, and he desperately wanted to just say yes, but he couldn’t bring himself to, not without making a few things clearer. “And…if someone asks to join the swarm?” He asked. “What would you do?”

“I’d convert them, of course.” Meg said immediately. “I mean…they’re asking, why would I have any reason to say no? I won’t even be able to try and convince anyone, so it means that it’s something they truly want. But if you don’t want that to happen, just forbid people from asking me about it. Really, I don’t mind if I can’t act as some sort of recruiter or something, I just miss home, and Queen Lia has graciously given me this opportunity, even if it is disadvantageous for the swarm.”

“I…” Brom wavered, but steeled his resolve. “I cannot accept.” He said sadly. “It is just too much of a risk, not after what happened last time.”

“I understand, Dad.” Meg said, voice quavering as she looked down. “I…I love you, and I want you to know that that hasn’t changed in the slightest.”

Her image blurred, and was once again replaced by Lia. “King Brom, I understand your decision,” She said, “but I really would like you to reconsider. I swear on the name of the Goddess of Law, the God of Commerce, the Goddess of Politics, and any other god you would like that I truly have no malicious intention or ulterior motives behind this. We unfairly ripped Meg away from her home so we would have a better chance at converting the Hero, and I want to at least try to let her live with her family again.”

Brom was silent for a long time, then sighed. “Meg said you had converted the Hero, yes? May I see him?”

Lia nodded. “I’ll hand you over to her now.” Her image blurred, and was replaced by a woman in another exotic robe. Much like Ophelia, if you were looking, it was possible to tell that she was the same person, though she was a woman now.

“Brom.” She said. “I’m afraid you were right to warn me away. But…I don’t think it would have made a difference who I went with, I can’t see myself winning against the swarm, not in the timeframe it took them to confront me. Brom, Amelia’s power is greater than any of us gave her credit for.  Amelia didn’t fake Lia’s death; she brought her back from the dead. She changed the system itself to make the swarm, and even my patron goddess said that her power is approaching the realm of the gods.”

A trickle of cold sweat ran down Brom’s back. If what Yamamoto was saying was true…then there was no chance that they would be able to hold back the swarm. It was only a matter of time before they took over the rest of the world.

“The battle that just took place in Aura…” Brom said. “Was that you?”

“That was me.” Yamamoto confirmed. “I did my best to prevail and take Meg and Neph back, but…in the end I was no match for Amelia. She took me, stripped me of my power, and gave it to another member of the swarm, someone my patron goddess told me used to be the Ruby Emperor? I have yet to grasp the full significance of the name, but I understand she was someone vitally important to this world’s history.”

“You’re lying.” Brom whispered. “You have to be.”

“I swear on my goddess’s name that I am not.” Yamamoto said. “Brom, the swarm is so far out of the realm of anything we thought possible that I can’t see their takeover as anything but inevitable. If I were you…I would accept this deal. The moment your Oath ends, you will be overcome, so you might as well reunite with your daughter for now, have some small happiness while you watch the rest of the world fall.”

Head spinning, Brom watched as Yamamoto’s figure was replaced with Lia’s. “There you have it, King Brom. If you wish, you can delay this decision for a few weeks; you’ll soon see that we have better ways to spread propaganda than sending your daughter back to you while we are under an Oath to not take hostile action against you.”

“And how can I trust you, if you were able to circumvent the Oath before?” Brom asked. “I’m sorry, I cannot–”

My deepest apologies, King Brom. A woman’s voice said in his mind. As she spoke, something in her voice dug deep into his soul, leaving him with the undeniable knowledge that it was the Goddess of Law speaking. In trying to help you, I pushed the limits of the Oath too far. As per the rules of the gods, I was given a punishment, and was forced to allow them to convert your daughter.

I can guarantee that such a mistake will not happen again, and that your daughter will not be able to further the swarm’s aims in the Glens unless someone specifically asks her to make them part of the swarm. I tell you this now to reassure you that my Oaths are as effective as always, and that you will not be making a mistake by allowing your daughter to come home. As much as I hate to admit it, they truly are offering this only to help with her homesickness.

That…made many things make more sense; the Oath had always felt a little too permissive for what he would normally expect from an Oath. If the Goddess of Law was actively working against the swarm, then that would certainly explain things. And…if she was giving him the okay, then he had no reason to deny further.

“Very well.” Brom said. “She may return home.”

Lia broke into a relieved smile. “Thank you, Brom.”

The connection cut, and a moment later Meg appeared in front of him, smiling widely. “Dad!” She exclaimed, rushing over and giving him a hug. “I’m so happy to see you again!”

Brom returned the embrace, though it felt somewhat bittersweet. “I’m sorry I wasn’t paying enough attention to you.” He said. “If I had been better, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Dad, you beat yourself up too much.” Meg said. “It was only a matter of time before we were converted, and, besides, I can help you so much more now! I may be part of the swarm, but I’m also Princess of the Glens, and that means I’ll help the kingdom in whatever way I can! I’m far stronger than I ever was before, check my status, you’ll see!”

Brom sighed. “Maybe later. Can you return to your old appearance, or is this permanent?”

“Not without Neph to cast an illusion.” Meg said. “But…I’m more than happy to stay out of sight if you need. I know it will be a burden on you if the other nations figure out I’m here, and I don’t want to burden you any more than you already are.”

“We’ll figure something out.” Brom said. “For now…I’m going to go fetch your mother, okay?”


Brom let go of the hug, standing up and leaving his office. He…he wasn’t sure how to feel about the day. He had received a lot of new information, but none of it was good. And…furthermore, he found out that one of his daughters had become part of the swarm. But…if the Goddess of Law’s words were any indication, Meg actually was homesick, which was a good sign. It meant that at least part of her old self remained…he would just have to see how much.

Honestly, I don't have too much to say about this chapter. Next chapter we're probably gonna continue tying up all the various threads that had to be put on hold to deal with Ichiro, so...look forward to it, I guess!

And, as always, thanks for reading!