Chapter 96: A Glimpse of a Potential Future
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Leonardo sidled over to Ophelia while his father was distracted with Lia and Rose. “Ophelia, do you have a moment to chat?” He asked.

“Sure.” Ophelia said. “What do you need?”

“Tell me honestly, if the Glens pulled out every single tool in our arsenal, do you think we could beat the swarm?”

Ophelia raised an eyebrow. “You know I’ll say no.” She said. “By the time we are in conflict, it will have been three years since the Lord of Monsters was defeated. For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to assume that the swarm is able to handily defeat the Lord of Monsters. I think you can agree that that isn’t much of a stretch, given how strong Amelia and Rose are.”

Leonardo nodded. “I fail to see a scenario in which you lose.” He admitted.

“So, it’ll have been three years, and we’ll have had time to recoup whatever losses we may have taken. The big question mark in this is when the Lord of Monsters appears – if he appears ten years from now, there is a chance that the Glens is the only nation not part of the swarm. If he appears tomorrow…things get a bit more interesting, but it really just means that the Glens will be able to join the remnants of the other nations in fighting us. Either way, I can’t see us losing. As your army is worn down, ours will build in strength…probably.”


“I’m pretty sure most people aren’t going to want to fight against their family and friends.” Ophelia said. “And we don’t plan to make them. If they want to sit it out, then they’ll sit it out. But broadly speaking, we will be attempting to convert rather than kill; we want as few injuries and deaths as is physically possible. And if even a portion of the armies we defeat joins us, that might well make up for whatever losses we sustain.”

“And those who join will become more powerful than they were before.” Leonardo said softly. “I…see.” Unlike the necromantic armies of old, who could only wield a fraction of the power that their members had in life, the swarm would build upon and increase the power of their acquisitions. The numbers likely would not be as large…but they didn’t really need to be.

“I think it’s just a matter of time, Leonardo.” Ophelia said. “Even if our first attacks are thwarted, to truly defeat us an attack will have to be mounted here, and that’s not an easy feat. My advice would, of course, be to join us willingly, but I know that means little coming from someone who is part of the swarm. We will accept you all with open arms, so just…keep that in mind as you view our town today.”

Brom, not able to hear their hushed conversation, spoke. “I…I believe I am ready, now.” He said faintly. “Let’s begin.”

“Thank you, Ophelia.” Leonardo said, giving her a nod. “We can pick this conversation up later.”

“Right, so this portal leads to our residential district.” Lia said. “And from there we have a portal to our work district. Which would you rather see first?”

“The work district, I suppose.” Brom said.

“Right. Just stick close to us so you don’t get lost on our way there, okay? Then you can lead the way and we’ll follow.” Lia said, then stepped into the portal. Rose and Ophelia followed behind, and Leonardo stepped inside before his father could.

The group was transported into what seemed to be a city made of smooth, luxurious wood. It was unlike the cavernous place that Leonardo had expected, the ceiling reaching much higher than the houses so that there was no sense of claustrophobia, and the light that filled the place was warm and soothing.

Unlike the slight chill of the outside, the temperature was comfortably warm, and Leonardo couldn’t even tell that the altitude had changed, though they were apparently several miles up in the air.

The buildings that were growing out of the floor were near-indistinguishable from each other, but their inhabitants had begun to place their own individual touches on them. Some houses had handmade decorations on the walls of the house, some were in the process of being painted, and some even had small gardens filled with plants and flowers of all sorts. The houses themselves were much the same as what you would find in the noble’s district of a city, large and spacious with plenty of room between them and their neighbors.

He didn’t have much time to study them, though, as Lia began to lead the group down the road towards another portal a short distance away. Through that portal, the view was the same, but…different. Everything was still primarily made of wood, but there were no houses, instead being filled with fields and large buildings.

“So, this is where most of our people work.” Lia said. “We have farms to our left and workshops to the right, and our administrative areas are on the far end in a hollowed out branch. We have a bunch of warehouses along the way that we’re in the middle of sorting, since the growth of the tree has sort of scrambled everything. If one of you two could lead the way and we can answer any questions you have, that would be ideal.”

“Very well.” Brom said, starting to regain his composure. “Let’s see the farms.” He walked off in the direction of the fields, and the rest of the group followed behind. “What are you growing here?”

“A bit of everything.” Rose said. “I can make whatever seeds I want, and we don’t have to worry about whether or not crops are in season thanks to the World Tree. We have other ways of getting food, of course, but they won’t sustain a population much larger than this, nor will they be useful for sending out aid in times of famine. So we’re building our farms now and beginning to stock up food for when it’s needed in the future.”

As they approached the fields, Rose guided them down a side path. “Sorry, I know we said we’d let you lead the way, but I figured it would be wise if we checked out the management centers first.” Rose explained. “You see, much of our labor is performed by monsters and animals we’ve made part of the swarm, and so we’ve decided to make a place where we can manage all of them as they finish their tasks. We still have a couple of people who prefer to work in the fields themselves, but for the most part this is where the “action” happens.”

Brom nodded in acknowledgement, and the group diverted their course, heading towards a large building beside the fields. The inside of the building was…not quite what Leonardo had expected. For one, there was no back wall, the building instead opening up towards the fields. For two, the building housed a multitude of large bins that appeared to contain many different types of produce. All sorts of different monsters were milling about, bringing produce in from outside, moving produce between bins, and even taking the bins out and replacing them with empty bins.

The only part of it that looked like a management center was a corner that had a few desks and various papers. A dwarf woman was sitting in a comfortable-looking chair behind one of the desks, giving orders to monsters that came up to her and making notes on a sheet of paper.

As they approached, the woman looked up, and an expression of shock crossed her face as she hurriedly stood up. “M-my Queen, to what do I owe the honor?” She asked.

“We’re showing the leader of the Glens around in hopes that he will understand what we’re about here.” Lia replied.

“O-of course!” The woman said, subtly shifting her position so she was standing between the group and a paper on the wall. “Please, feel free to ask me anything you’d like.”

Leonardo walked over to her, attempting to peek at the paper on the wall as he stuck his hand out for a handshake. “I’m Leonardo.” He said. “Pleasure meeting you.”

“Kaitlyn, and likewise.” Kaitlyn said, shaking his hand.

Leonardo was able to catch the briefest look at the paper as he let go of the handshake and stepped to the side. It seemed to be a timetable of some sort, which struck him as an odd thing to hide. Perhaps Kaitlyn was behind on work and didn’t want Lia to know? Well…it seemed a good way to gauge how the swarm handled such a situation, and even if they just played nice for appearance’s sake, at least Kaitlyn would be let off a little easy. “Just curious, but what’s that paper on the wall?” He asked, turning on his lie detection Skills and focusing in on Kaitlyn.

The color drained from Kaitlyn’s face. “J-just our schedule!” She stammered. “Who’s assigned to work when, you know.”

Lia’s eyes hardened, and she pushed past Kaitlyn to look at the schedule. “Kaitlyn.” She said flatly.

“Y-yes, my Queen?”

“It says here that you’re supposed to be on lunch break. Care to explain yourself?” Lia’s tone of voice was…weary, as if this was a recurring issue.

“I-I just wanted to finish up these last couple bins, and I was gonna take my break after!” Kaitlyn said hurriedly.

Lia groaned. “The bins can wait.” She said. “Break. Now.”

“But –”

“No buts.” Lia said firmly. “There’s no quota or anything, so there’s no reason for you to overwork yourself. Go eat your lunch, or if you’re not hungry, nap or something; as long as you’re not working, I don’t care.”

Kaitlyn sagged. “Yes, my Queen.” She said. “I’m sorry I won’t be able to answer your questions.” She told Leonardo and Brom. “I’ll be back in an hour, so please stop by then if you need anything.”

Lia watched in approval as Kaitlyn left, then turned back to Leonardo and Brom. “Sorry about that. Some people,” she said, shooting a meaningful glance at Rose, “have this nasty tendency to not stop working unless you force them to. No matter how I try, it seems there’s always some excuse, and I’m getting sick of it.”

Brom gave Lia an incredulous look. “You’re trying to tell me you’re having issues with people working too much?”

“The problem is that we were in survival mode for too long.” Lia said. “We were always trying to overcome the next thing that was about to kill us, and people got used to working longer than they should. Now that we’re no longer in immediate danger, I’m trying to force people to cut back, but habits don’t change easily.”

Leonardo deactivated his Skills, thinking back on the encounter. Again, provided his Skills weren’t being deceived, it seemed that the exchange was genuine. It was a puzzling situation, but one that seemed to point to the swarm treating their citizens well, just as Meg had said.

Brom, frowning, walked up to the desk. “May I look at these?” He asked.

“Go ahead.” Rose said. “Though I’m afraid they’ll likely be pretty dull.”

“I’m going to check out the fields themselves.” Leonardo announced. “Come get me once we’re ready to move on.”

“I’ll come with you.” Ophelia volunteered. “If one of the people sees you out and about unescorted, they might try and convert you on the spot. They won’t be able to, of course, but it’s better to not get in that situation in the first place.”

Leonardo had expected as much, so he quietly accepted the escort, and went out to check the fields. He wasn’t quite sure what he had been expecting, but the fields were indeed staffed primarily by monsters, and in the time he was looking, he was only able to spot one person doing any work in the fields themselves.

Even more surprising, though, were the crops themselves. He wasn’t exactly an expert on the finer details of farming, but the crops all looked quite healthy, and he swore he could even see a few of them growing in real-time. “Ophelia, is it just me, or are those plants growing really fast?”

“It’s not just you.” Ophelia said. “Yggdrios accelerates plant growth to an insane degree. Between that and Rose constantly trying to make faster-growing, higher-yield seeds, we’re soon going to reach a point where the plants are growing faster than we can harvest them. It’s quite something, wouldn’t you say?”

Leonardo nodded dumbly, watching in fascination as the plants continued to grow. Some time later he and Ophelia were called back to the main group, and they continued their tour. They went from workplace to workplace, and no matter how Leonardo tried, he couldn’t seem to find any evidence that would indicate that the workers were being mistreated.

It was a highly promising sign, and he was becoming more and more convinced that Meg was right. The Goddess of Law was afraid, afraid that if people knew how things were here, they would wish to defect to the swarm.

Not much of note occurred until they entered a building that had been labeled as a tailor’s shop. “Mary?” Ophelia called out. “We have some guests who want to tour our workplaces. Do you have time?”

“Of course!” Came the reply, slightly muffled by the wall. A moment later, a familiar-looking lamia emerged from the back room, smiling warmly. “To what do we owe the pl – Brom?!”

“Hello, Mary.” Brom said, face a mess of conflicting emotions. “How have you been?”

Mary smiled widely. “Never better!” She said. “My disease has been cured, I’m young again, and our marriage has never been stronger! Being brought here is honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Belatedly, Leonardo realized that the huge lamia in front of him was Ophelia’s wife. He had hardly ever interacted with the woman, so it had taken him a while to recognize her, but it was undoubtedly her.

“You’re continuing your work as a tailor?” Brom asked.

“For about half the day, yes.” Mary confirmed. “The other half I train as part of our homeland defense force. I don’t expect to see much action, but it keeps me busy, and that’s enough.”

“Do you get many customers?” Leonardo asked curiously.

“Customers? Not as such.” Mary answered. “Clothes are considered necessities, and are given to everyone for free. When we’re more established and in a place to begin using money, I’ll accept orders for “luxury” pieces of clothing, ones that are outside the norm, but that’s a ways off.”

“So, free clothing for the people is only temporary, then?” Brom asked.

“Not at all.” Lia laughed. “Money is going to be strictly for luxury items like games, art, or weird pieces of clothing. Everything necessary to live will be provided for everyone, unconditionally. Well, unconditionally so long as enough people are working that we’re not having trouble maintaining supply, but we doubt that’ll become an issue. We’re still hashing out the exact details, but we have a pretty good idea of how it’s going to work.”

They chatted with Mary for a while more, then left and resumed their tour of the work floor. Once finished, they made their way back to the teleporter, and re-entered the residential floor. “Everything is pretty much the same here, so any direction is fine.” Rose explained. “We can show you one of the empty houses when we find one, but we won’t be entering any inhabited houses, for obvious reasons.”

“Where did Meg live?” Brom asked.

“This way.” Rose said, motioning down a street. “Neph is still living in that house, though, so we’ll have to get her permission if we want to go in.”

Brom nodded. “Very well.”

They set off in the direction indicated, and as they walked Leonardo moved over to Ophelia. “Do you think we can we break off on our own?” He asked. “I have a few other things I would like to see.”

Ophelia paused. “I don’t know.” She said. “Let me ask.”

She walked over to Rose, had a quick conversation, then returned. “We’re good to go.” She said. “What do you want to see?”

“Can we go see schools or neighborhoods?” Leonardo asked. “I want to see how the children are treated.”

“Sure.” Ophelia said, turning to a side street. “I think we have a school down this way? I’m still getting used to the layout here, though, so you’ll have to forgive me if we get a little lost.”

“That’s fine.” Leonardo said. “Please, lead the way.”

The two set off down the streets, and Leonardo made sure to pay close attention to the environment as he walked. It all seemed…nice; the streets were clean, if a little empty, and the quality of the buildings didn’t seem to change at all as they moved away from the center of the city.

After a few minutes, Leonardo began to hear the sounds of children laughing and yelling. “Ophelia, can we head towards that noise?” Leonardo asked. “I want to see them.”

“Sure, but is there any particular reason you’re so fixated on the kids?” Ophelia asked.

“I have my reasons.” Leonardo said. “I can tell you about them later.”

“If you say so.” Ophelia said, leading Leonardo over towards the source of the sound. As it turned out, it was a bunch of young girls of various races, not all of which Leonardo could recognize, playing in a small park.

As Leonardo walked over to them, one girl in particular took notice, running over. “A boy?!” She said, looking him up and down. “How did you stay a boy?! Why did you want to stay a boy?!”

“I didn’t.” Leonardo replied, crouching down so he was at eye level with her. “I’m not part of the swarm yet.”

“Eh?” The girl said, tilting her head in confusion. “Why not?”

“Because I need to make sure it’s right for the people.” Leonardo replied. “How do you like it here? Is there anything you’re upset about?”

The girl paused, thinking on that. “It’s good! Our house is super nice and now I can do this!” The girl sprouted a pair of wings, taking into the air for a brief moment before landing back in front of them. “Pretty cool, right?”

“That is pretty cool.” Leonardo agreed. “What do you do all day?”

“I have classes in school, and then go play, just like before.” The girl explained.

“That’s nice. Is there anything you don’t like?”

“I miss my cousins, but eventually they’ll be here.” She said matter-of-factly. “And they won’t let me fight monsters except for in class, it’s super lame.”

“What kind of things do they teach you?”

“The same stuff I learned before, I guess. Math, history, all that boring stuff. There are a couple of classes that teach us about evolution and getting Skills, though, so those are fun.”

As far as Leonardo and his Skills could tell, the girl was being truthful. “If you were in charge, what would you change?”

“That’s a weird question. Why would I be in charge? That’s the Queen’s job.”

“Just pretend.”

“Um…I’d let the kids fight more? I want to level up and evolve and I have to wait a super long time. Most of my friends want to fight more too, so it’s fine, right?”

“Is evolving really worth potentially getting hurt or dying?” Leonardo asked, frowning. The kid seemed awfully battle-hungry for someone her age, which was concerning.

The girl looked at him like he had grown another head. “We’re not going to get hurt. We’ll have our teachers there to protect us if things get bad. And evolutions are super cool, you get to become stronger and get all sorts of neat abilities!”

Oh. She was just a kid who didn’t understand what she was actually asking for. “I see. Thank you for your time.”

“Of course! Would you like me to convert you now? I haven’t gotten to convert anything before, and I really want to!”

“Uh, maybe later.” Leonardo said. “I need to get back to Lia now, so I don’t really have time.”

“Oh. Well, let me know when you do!” The girl said, waving before running back off to the other kids.

“Is everyone this eager?” Leonardo asked, standing back up.

“Not really.” Ophelia said. “Most of the kids haven’t experienced actual danger, so they’re not really aware of what it’s like. They just see that they can do a bunch of new stuff and want more stuff to play with. Kids always dream of being famous warriors, and this is no different. They’ll grow out of it.”

“Well…I think I’ve seen what I wanted to see.” Leonardo said. “Do you think we can make it back to the others before they reach Neph’s house?”

“If we hurry, we might catch them while they’re still touring it.” Ophelia said. “Or I could carry you and we could beat them there, but I’m guessing you don’t want that.”

“No, let’s do it.” Leonardo said. “I’d rather not risk missing out on something.”

Ophelia nodded, crouching down and offering her back. “Hop on, and hold on tight.” She instructed. “I’m pretty fast, and we don’t want you falling off.”

Leonardo obediently got on, mind already wandering. He had seen enough; Meg was right, and Lia was indeed putting into practice the policies that he and his family had been attempting to create, and the people would be well-fed and happy. They were different, yes, but different wasn’t always bad. Converting the Glens now would save the most heartache in the future…he just had to convince his father to feel the same.

I didn't immediately think of genetically modifying seeds when I first gave Rose her primal magic, but in hindsight it's a bit of a no-brainer. If you want to make more food, then just...make the plants better.

As for other things...the kid ended up being a fair bit more...eager than I was intending, but at the end of the day, kids always want this sort of thing without realizing what they're actually asking for.

Oh, and I intended up to finish the trip (and aftermath) this chapter and ended up finishing neither while having another longer-than-usual chapter. Uh, next time we're probably going to skim over the rest of the visit, then follow Leonardo as he returns to the Glens, so...look forward to it, I guess?

And, as always, thanks for reading!