Chapter 95: The Writing on the Wall
767 30 40
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

Brom, King of the Glens looked at his heir, trying to hide his nervousness. “You’re sure you want to come, Leonardo?” He asked.

“Yes, Father.” Leonardo said. “I have no reason to believe we will be anything but perfectly safe whilst there. You said that the Goddess of Law is working as hard as she can to ensure the Oath prevents us from being harmed. Furthermore, I need to see the swarm for myself and determine whether or not they would actually be a negative for our people.”

Brom sighed. “Leonardo, you cannot trust what Meg tells you about the swarm.” He said. “She is one of them now, and she will do her best to paint it in as positive a light as possible, regardless of how it actually is. Even this is likely a dressed-up version of how things usually are.”

“Father, I know Meg.” Leonardo said. “I can read her well, and I know she truly believes what she is saying. And treatment of the people is not something so easy to hide; if nothing else, children tend to be poor liars. And…” Leonardo paused, then shook his head. “No, it’s nothing.”

“It’s never nothing, Leonardo.” Brom said. “Tell me.”

Leonardo sighed. “I think Meg is right, Father. The Goddess of Law has a very personal stake in this, and seems bent on making the swarm appear as bad as possible. And…if this was something the gods agreed on, they would have dealt with the swarm long ago. Amelia is our Hero, and the gods cannot simply let the Hero completely turn their back on people. I don’t think this is as clear cut a situation as we would like to think.”

Brom frowned. “Leonardo, they wish to fundamentally change how the world works, how people interact with one another. Our world isn’t perfect, but I don’t think this drastic action is the solution. It should be something we work towards ourselves.”

Leonardo was silent for a moment. “Not all change is bad, Father. This is why we need to see for ourselves whether this change is good or bad. If it shortcuts us to the place we are heading anyway, why wait? Yes, the journey can be its own reward, but not when the journey involves significant pain and suffering for people.

“Father, I will be blunt: we are not winning any wars against them. The other nations will struggle, but the swarm will win in the end, and we will be powerless to do anything but watch. If we can ease the minds of our people and improve their quality of life…I say we go for it.”

Brom was rendered speechless by his son’s words, unsure how to even respond to that. He hated to admit it, but his son’s logic had some merit to it, and it wasn’t something he could fully dispute. Fortunately, he didn’t have to, as Amelia chose that moment to teleport them, the wrenching sensation taking hold of him before depositing him in a lush valley.

The valley was dominated by a tree so large that its height rivaled even that of the mountains it was next to, and it was wide enough to fit several city blocks with room to spare. At its base, about a few hundred feet away from where they were standing, a large hollow was carved into the base of the tree, a swirling portal contained within.

“Brom, it’s so good to see you again!” Ophelia said, walking up to them with her tail wagging. “And Leonardo, too!”

“Ophelia,” Brom said, conflicting emotions raging within him, “it’s…good to see you too.”

Ophelia’s tail stopped wagging as she sighed. “I know you’re not very happy to see me like this, but I really am still me, just as Meg is still herself. We are fundamentally the same as we were before, and I hope that this tour will help you understand us a bit better. The swarm honestly is better than I ever could have imagined, and I’m happy to be raising my younger kids here.”

Brom tried to keep from wincing as Ophelia referred to the swarm as “us”. It was yet another reminder that the Owen he knew was no more, having effectively been replaced by this woman who had his memories.

Ophelia seemed to pick up on that, giving another sigh. “I figured you wouldn’t be receptive.” She said sadly. “So…let’s move on, I guess.” She motioned at the giant tree in front of them. “This is Yggdrios, the World Tree.” She said. “Grown after Mistress’s wife evolved into the Personification of the World Tree after Amelia transferred the summoned Hero’s power to her. It has consumed the dungeon we were previously in, and become our new place of residence.”

Brom frowned. He world normally dismiss that as impossible, but Amelia seemed to have a habit of doing the impossible, so it wasn’t something he could ignore as he usually would. “Where are we?” He asked. “This isn’t where the dungeon used to be.”

“It is, actually.” Ophelia laughed. “The growth of Yggdrios changed the land to fit it. Yggdrios also accelerates the growth of all plant life in the area, which is why it’s a lot more overgrown than it was in the broadcast. We’re working on drafting up city plans for the area, but we have to take those plants into account, so it’s a little tricky.”

Ophelia began to walk towards the tree, motioning for Brom and Leonardo to follow. “We haven’t done much outside, so staying out here isn’t going to answer any of your questions. The portal you can see inside Yggdrios takes us a few miles up the trunk, to the residential area.”

“You live inside the tree?” Leonardo asked curiously. “Wouldn’t you have to use lanterns or other lights near-constantly?”

“During the day, the wood in the populated areas glows slightly, lighting the whole place with something that resembles sunlight, and there are windows along the outside, though they’re hard to make out from this distance.” Ophelia explained. “During the night the glow vanishes, so as to make sleeping easier. It’s really no different from living anywhere else in that regard.”

“What kind of work do you do for them, Ophelia?” Leonardo asked.

“Basically the same thing I used to do for the Glens, but more efficient.” Ophelia said. “Currently I have one of my bodies out scouting the wilderness, one escorting our crown princess on a journey, and this one giving you a tour. In more normal times, I have two of my bodies out scouting, and one here at the base, teaching classes or watching my children.

“See, so long as one of my bodies remain alive, even if my other two die, they’ll come back after a week, meaning I’m safer than I’ve ever been. It’s a real weight off of my mind, not having to worry about any given excursion potentially being my last.”

“I’m sorry they’re overworking you so.” Brom said softly. “Had I known the consequences, I never would have sent you on that mission.”

“Oh, please, it’s not your fault at all, Brom. In fact, I’m overjoyed that things turned out the way they did.” Ophelia said. “And they’re not overworking me. In fact, Mistress is constantly nagging me to take more breaks or to spend more time resting all of my bodies, but it’s just such a pain to do that.”

“What?” Brom asked, taken aback. “But you’re doing so much right now, and you want to do more?”

“Brom, I have three bodies.” Ophelia said. “I gained a Skill that helps me divide my attention between them, so if I were to work a someone’s “normal” pace, I would effectively be sitting around doing nothing for over two thirds of my time, and that’s boring. Besides, you’re even more of a workaholic than I am; if you were in my situation, you’d be working harder than me.”

They stepped into the hollow of the tree, and Ophelia turned to face Brom and Leonardo. “Some quick ground rules before we head in.” She instructed. “While we’ll allow you to spend as much time observing workplaces as you want, we’ll have to cut off any conversation with the workers after a certain point. They have jobs to do, and we can’t distract them from those jobs forever. While we’re in the residential areas, you may spend as long as you like chatting with the inhabitants and getting a feel for how things are, but please be courteous and allow them to end the conversation if they don’t feel like talking anymore.

“While our kingdoms may technically be at war, or…will be once the Oath has expired, please remember that you are talking to actual people, who for the most part are civilians and uninvolved with the war. They are just living their lives, the same as everyone else. We hold no grudge against you or the Glens, or any other person or country, for that matter. We are doing this purely because we believe it is for the best for the world, not for a desire for revenge or power.”

She examined the faces of Brom and Leonardo and, seemingly satisfied, nodded. “Do you have any last questions for me before we begin?”

“Do you have any last questions for me before we begin?” Ophelia asked.

Leonardo thought on that for a moment. “If I may…between the video and your new form, I don’t think I have seen any men in the swarm. Why is that?”

Ophelia shrugged. “When Amelia created the swarm, she was…less moral than she is now. Mistress has worked hard on her rehabilitation, and she is almost normal now, but the mistakes she made at the onset are something that has been baked into how the swarm works.

“All of that is to say that Amelia made it so there are no men in the swarm. Just like what happened with me, any man who is converted is turned into a woman. Any woman who is converted becomes attracted to women and women alone, were they not before.”

That gave Leonardo some pause. “Why?” He asked. “That seems like a rather strange thing to add.”

“Amelia was unable to understand the emotions of others.” Ophelia explained. “She couldn’t comprehend that people would have an issue with it, nor could she care. She is a lesbian, and wanted all avenues to be open for her and for everyone. She saw no need for men when she could make part of the swarm capable of allowing two women to have a child.”

“And this doesn’t bother you on any level?” Brom asked.

“We’re incapable of being bothered by it. And, at the end of the day, people are people, it doesn’t really matter what your junk is. People will look a little different than they used to, sure, but that’s far from the largest difference many will have.” Ophelia said, reaching up and grabbed her ears for emphasis.

“Are most people in the swarm like you?” Leonardo asked.

“Depends on what you mean by “like me”. There’s only one other person who has multiple bodies, but yeah, we’re all part monster. But it’s more complicated than that; Amelia says we’re in an entirely separate category from people and monsters, which is why the city wards won’t detect us or anything.

“Personally, I think we should just say we’re people and be done with it. We still have souls, which is the most important qualification for being a person in my eyes. We may not have Jobs anymore, but…to be honest, what we have now is way better, so who cares?”

“Oh?” Leonardo said curiously. “If you don’t have Jobs, what do you have?”

Ophelia gave him a smile. “Much like monsters, we have a Race. The Race has a maximum level, and once we reach that we can evolve into something else, allowing for near-limitless strength growth instead of being capped at level three hundred. As for Skills, we’re given the opportunity to gain them as we do things related to the Skill, allowing for significant flexibility in how we grow. We’re no longer limited by what Job was randomly assigned to us at birth, and it’s…amazing. We get to choose what we want to do.”

Leonardo had to admit that the prospect sounded very attractive. “What’s the catch?” He asked. “There’s always a catch.”

“Glad to see you listened to my lessons.” Ophelia laughed. “But, aside from needing to be a part of the swarm, which could be considered a catch, there honestly isn’t a catch. Mistress isn’t interested in forcing people into combat, so if you want to put everything aside and focus on, say, becoming the best baker you can, the new system not only won’t work against you, but it’ll actually help.”

Brom frowned. “Is this talk not a bit sacrilegious?” He asked. “The gods made the system the way they did for a reason, it’s not our place to question it.”

“You would think so.” Ophelia said, smiling faintly. “But not only do the gods not dislike it, they even approve of it. Just prior to me joining the swarm, they smoothed out the wrinkles that Amelia was unable to work around, streamlining the system and making it work even better for us. If that’s not approval, I don’t know what is.”

“Brom?!” Lia asked, stepping out from the portal with Amelia and a woman Leonardo didn’t recognize in tow. “What are you doing here?!”

“Mistress!?” Ophelia exclaimed. “I thought you were supposed to be out for a little while longer!”

“Rose felt something weird around her tree, so we asked Amelia to teleport us back here.” Lia explained. “Care to explain what’s going on here?”

Leonardo studied her face carefully, trying to figure out if she was lying. At the very least, Ophelia probably wasn’t; Leonardo had known Owen fairly well, and Ophelia wasn’t acting like Owen did when Owen was hiding something from him.

Lia was a bit more of an enigma, as Leonardo had had no prior interaction with her, but he activated his Skills in an attempt to read her better, and they indicated that she was being truthful. They weren’t completely accurate, of course, and with Amelia present there was a good chance they were being blocked, but it was still better than not using them.

“Leonardo suggested that he and Brom tour our home, to see for themselves if we are really as bad as they believe us to be.” Ophelia explained. “Meg suggested keeping it a secret so they could be at least somewhat assured that we weren’t putting on a show for them and the truth was something else. Not perfectly assured, since we could be acting even now, and…honestly it was probably a pointless gesture now that I think about it, but…yeah.”

Lia turned to Amelia. “Did you know about this?” She asked.

“Yes.” Amelia said. “I had to teleport them, after all. I figured that doing things this way would be for the best.”

The other woman, Rose, apparently, had a thoughtful look about her. “Then that disturbance I felt was you?” She asked. “Because it doesn’t feel strange anymore.”

“Guilty as charged.” Amelia chuckled. “I feel more comfortable being there to guide them, and I’m sure we can have more productive discussion this way.”

Leonardo frowned. Touring around with them was less than ideal, but he had also wanted to talk with Lia, so it wasn’t completely without merit. He would just have to wait and see how it affected things. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Your Majesty.” Leonardo said, giving a bow. “I am Leonardo, Crown Prince of the Glens. After discussing the swarm with Meg, I thought I should determine the truth for myself. Thank you for putting up with my request.”

“Uh, you’re welcome, I guess?” Lia said awkwardly. “Just call me Lia, though, it feels weird being called “Your Majesty” by people outside of the swarm. Oh, and this is Rose, my wife.” Lia said, gesturing at Rose. “She wasn’t in the broadcast because she was busy fighting against the cerberus that we ended up converting with Ophelia here.”

“A pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Rose said.

Leonardo could instantly tell that she was different from Lia and Amelia, in that she had a sort of…aura around her. Not an actual aura, but something about her screamed out that she was familiar with politics and etiquette, even more so than Brom or…anyone Leonardo had seen, for that matter.

“Is something the matter?” Rose asked, looking directly at Leonardo.

Leonardo jumped. “My apologies.” He said. “I was just thinking that you seemed to be a politician, but I’ve never heard of anyone matching your description.”

“You wouldn’t have, this body is new.” Rose said. “As difficult as it may be to believe, I am someone long dead, reincarnated by Lia. I know it sounds impossible, but you will have to remember that Amelia is significantly outside the realm of normal, and she gifted a not-inconsiderable portion of power to Lia.”

“My death wasn’t actually faked.” Lia admitted. “I was dead, but Amelia resurrected me. Please, check my status, you’ll see that it’s true.”

“Oh, and check Rose’s Titles, too!” Amelia said cheerfully. “You’ll see!”

“Amelia, why don’t you head back to the house?” Rose suggested gently. “They’ll be more willing to believe things if you’re not standing where you could easily interfere with things.”

Amelia blinked. “Oh. Um, that’s…a good idea, actually. As long as one of us three is watching, I don’t mind if they’re around, so…see you two when they’re done!”  Amelia stepped back into the portal, vanishing without even saying goodbye to Brom and Leonardo.

“Analyze us whenever you feel comfortable that she isn’t watching.” Rose instructed.

Leonardo hesitated, then analyzed Lia immediately.

Name: Lia Yggdrios

Race: Supreme Empress

Level: 13/150, 2,890/13,000 EXP

HP: 8,500/8,500

Stamina: 8,500/8,500

Mana: 8,500/8,500

Strength: 1,800

Defense: 1,800

Dexterity: 1,800

Magic: 1,800

Magic Defense: 1,800

Mental Fortitude: 1,800

Title: Conqueror of Death

You have died and lived to tell the tale. Your life signature becomes undetectable by effects that only search for living or undead creatures, though you may still be sensed by effects that sense both. Provides immunity to instant-kill effects, and any blow that would bring you to 0 HP instead brings you to 1 if you had more than 1 HP.

List truncated. Open ‘Titles” for more.

List truncated. Open “Skills” for more.

He couldn’t help but gulp slightly as he looked at her stats. She was level thirteen, and already had stats that rivaled those of someone around level one hundred and fifty, and the implication that she had so many Skills and Titles that the lists had to be shortened was concerning, to say the least.

But, at the very least, Titles didn’t lie – Lia had died before, so it seemed that resurrection was somehow on the table. Granted, it wasn’t the first impossible thing Amelia had done, but knowing that the swarm’s greatest fighters could be resurrected if needed was disheartening, to say the least. Nervously, he turned to Rose, and analyzed her as well.

Her raw stats were overwhelming, and he was convinced that the only reason the swarm hadn’t already launched an invasion of the world is that she was “bound”. But, apparently, the really important part was hidden away in that list of Titles. So, he opened those, and began to scroll through them.

She was Blessed by the God of War and had a Virtue Title, and she even had one more Special Title that he wasn’t familiar with, “Rose Empress”. Frowning, he opened the description, and his eyes grew wide as he read.

Rose Empress

You were once the Ruby Emperor, the most important person in the world. You may no longer have your throne, but the memory of it remains. Creatures under your command are twice as efficient at their tasks, and have their stats boosted by 10%. As a Special Title, the effects of Rose Empress are always active.

She…she was the reincarnation of the Ruby Emperor. If Leonardo hadn’t been convinced before, he was now; people were not winning the war against the swarm. The only way he could see the swarm failing was if the gods came to an agreement on how to handle the swarm, and the decision was to end them.

So, the question was now whether or not it was worth resisting on the off chance that such a thing would occur, and, if the swarm was as benevolent as Meg claimed, whether or not he could convince his father to join. If he could avoid embroiling his people in a losing war…then he would do it, morally questionable though the means may be.

So, I was planning on getting the whole trip done in one go, and was even worried that it wouldn't be enough to fill a chapter, and then I made a larger-than-usual chapter before they even got into the city(?) proper.

I also realized partway through that I wanted this to be Leonardo PoV because I thought that it would be significantly more interesting to write, and I was right. Leonardo sort of ended up becoming much more pragmatic than I had expected him to be, and that's not a bad thing by any stretch, it just wasn't what I was expecting.

Next chapter we'll be seeing how he and Brom react to the swarm's living conditions, so...look forward to it!

And, as always, thanks for reading!