Chapter 97: A King’s Resignation
714 16 41
Reading Options
Font Size
A- 15px A+
Table of Contents
Loading... please wait.

As Leonardo had been expecting, the interior of Neph’s house was as nice as the exterior suggested it would be. It came with most modern amenities such as indoor plumbing and heating, and the furniture was all of good quality. That was helped in no small part by the fact that the wood being used in its construction was perhaps the highest-quality wood Leonardo had ever seen, and that the wood had seemingly naturally grown into the shape of the furniture. This resulted in one unnaturally smooth surface, unmarred by breaks or splinters.

In fact, Leonardo was pretty sure that, were this furniture to be compared to that in the Glens’ palace, it wouldn’t be found lacking. It didn’t have any of the fancy engravings that the palace furniture did, but in terms of pure functionality and comfort, it was more than a match.

Lia and Rose made it clear that this was their goal for how everyone should live, but they knew that such a thing was unrealistic in the short term. The only reason it worked here was because the houses were all part of the World Tree; to bring this to every residence would require significantly more material than they currently had, as well as artisans that could do the work of creating furniture, installing plumbing, and the like.

It was a lofty goal, and one that Leonardo would usually write off as impossible, but something about the swarm made it seem possible; Leonardo wasn’t sure if it was because their workforce for menial labor was so much larger, or if it was because the craftswomen they employed were shaping up to be far more efficient at their jobs than any “normal” craftsperson, or even if it was because he knew that the people would gladly work towards that goal, but the fact was that it felt oddly achievable.

Whatever the case, the ideals for which they strove were admirable. The Goddess of Law might frown on them, but once again, Meg was right; there were other gods favoring the Swarm. The God of War was one such god, as evidence by Rose’s status, and Leonardo was sure there were others.

Yamamoto’s patron goddess likely looked favorably upon the swarm, as she wasn’t particularly proactive in preventing him from being converted, and Leonardo had a sneaking suspicion that the Goddess of Nature was on their side as well. Regardless of how strong Amelia was, you didn’t end up with something like the World Tree without her approval. And those certainly couldn’t be the only ones; they were many gods, and for something like the swarm to still be around, more than three had to support them.

He kept those thoughts in mind as they finished up their tour, but nothing occurred that changed the conclusion he had come to. Brom made them look in several empty houses in different places, and each and every one of them was as lavish as the one Neph lived in. Leonardo could tell that his father was desperately trying to grasp for anything that he could use to claim that the swarm members were being treated unfairly, but no matter where he looked, they weren’t.

The swarm was, in many ways, Brom’s ideal for how he wanted society to be, and Leonardo could feel that it bothered his father that this is where it was finally realized, attained through methods he didn’t approve of. But that would just make Leonardo’s job easier, the pushes he made for surrender that much more palatable.

Eventually, their tour ended. While they waited for Amelia to bring them home, Brom engaged in conversation with Ophelia, and Leonardo talked with Lia and Rose.

“So…what did you think?” Lia asked. “How can we improve?”

“At the moment, I don’t have much to offer you there.” Leonardo replied. “To be frank, you’re well on your way to seeing my father’s dreams realized. And…though I cannot make you any promises, I will be advising him to surrender; we have no chance of defeating you in war, and I see no reason to put our people through the agony of fighting such a war when, in the end, we will be treated as fairly as before. That is, of course, provided that you are willing to swear an Oath that we will be treated as such.”

Lia sighed. “I don’t think I can.” She said. “The Goddess of Law is actively working against us, and the other gods have advised me that swearing more Oaths would be foolhardy; she will use any slight advantage she can get to ruin our plans. I can, however, swear on my Title as Favored of the Gods, and on the names of whatever gods you wish that we will treat you and your people the best that we are able to, that we will not force a single soul to fight if they are not willing, and we will strive to make this world a better place for all.”

Leonardo gave a sigh of his own. “I figured as much. I suppose that will have to be enough, then.”

“Sorry, I know it’s not as binding as you would prefer, and were circumstances different I would gladly swear it as an Oath.” Lia said apologetically. “But, as things stand, I cannot risk opening such a vulnerability for only the possibility of the Glens’ surrender.”

“I understand.” Leonardo replied. “If you do not mind my asking, is there anything else that I could use to help persuade my father that surrender is the best course of action?”

Lia paused, looking towards Rose. They held each other’s gaze for a moment, then Lia nodded and turned back to Leonardo. “If you feel uncertain of your chances, wait two months. Something big will happen before two months are over, and your father might see things differently afterwards. I doubt he will listen then if he’s unwilling to listen now, but it is perhaps an avenue worth considering. Consult with Meg if you’re unsure; she knows what we’re referring to.”

Amelia stepped out of the portal behind them, yawning. “Alright, I’m sending you two back.” She said. “Anything you need to do here before I do?”

Brom finished talking with Ophelia, then turned to Amelia. “I am finished.”

“As am I.” Leonardo said. “Please, send us home.”

There was the familiar wrenching sensation of a teleport, and then Leonardo and Brom were back in Brom’s office. Brom collapsed into his chair, looking at Leonardo wearily.

“What did you think, Father?” Leonardo asked.

“I’m not sure, Leonardo.” Brom admitted. “Their society seemed good, but I still don’t know if their methods and the change in the fundamental ways people view themselves are worth it. But…you seem to have come to a decision already.”

“I have, Father.” Leonardo said, nodding. “I believe we should join them.”

Brom winced, but didn’t appear surprised. “Why?” He asked.

“Father, we will not win a war against them. The only way we are not eventually assimilated is if the gods themselves choose to strike the swarm down, something I find unlikely. The gods are split on the issue, but enough of them support the swarm that I am confident that their benevolent methods of rule will force the rest of the gods to stay relatively hands-off.

“Currently, our people are unaware of the swarm, but their presence will inevitably become known to the world. When the time comes, our people will be helpless, forced to watch in terror as the world slowly is subsumed by the swarm. To me, it seems we would be doing them a disservice by forcing them to go through that before being thrust into a hopeless war, all to end with them becoming part of the swarm anyway.

“In my opinion, the swarm is inevitable. With the Ruby Emperor at their side, what hope do we have at defeating them? Father, I tried, but I genuinely could not find any faults with how they treat their people. The transition to their rule might be slightly rocky, but I am confident that, as Meg said, the swarm is truly trying to carry out your ideals. Our people will not suffer under them.”

Brom drummed his fingers on his chair, face troubled. But…he wasn’t outright rejecting the idea, so Leonardo decided to give another push.

“Father…I think it is time for you to retire.” Leonardo said softly. “You have shouldered the burden of the world this past year, and it has drained you. All of us watched you work yourself to the bone, seen your health deteriorate in front of our eyes. I know it isn’t exactly like you wanted it to be, but I believe Lia is someone you can pass your torch to.

“Though she cannot safely swear an Oath due to the Goddess of Law seeking any opportunity she can get to ruin them, they have sworn on the names of the gods who have Blessed them that they will do their utmost to treat our people right. They won’t force our people into wars they don’t want, and they will truly try to make the world a better place.

“I know Mother has approached you about retirement before, and I truly think it is time. Nothing we can do will change the future, so you should take a well-deserved rest. I know it’s hard, I know their methods are ones you don’t like, but…to resist more would be to turn our eyes away from reality.”

Brom sagged in his chair. Hesitantly, he reached down into his desk and pulled out a ring. “Leonardo…if that is what you truly believe, use this, and reaffirm it.” He said, holding out the ring.

Leonardo grabbed the ring, one of the precious few mind-cleansers the Glens had left, put it on his finger, and activated it, the ring disintegrating as he did. “Father, I really, truly believe this is for the best.” He said. “It’s not a pleasant decision, but it’s one that will make our people the happiest in the long run.”

Brom deflated, looking as if he had aged years since the start of the day. “Go…go fetch the rest of the family, bring them to my chambers.” He said. “We need to break the news to them.”

Brom, King of the Glens, sat defeated in his chair. As much as he hated to admit it, his son was right; further resistance would only serve to make his people suffer more. This surrender wasn’t a decision he was proud of, but it was probably best for his people. He had been half-hoping that Izumi hadn’t known what she was talking about, that the Ruby Emperor’s reincarnation wasn’t part of the swarm, but he had seen Rose and her status with his own eyes, and he couldn’t deny it further.

Brom, it’s not too late to change your mind. The Goddess of Law’s voice rang out in his head. No announcements have been made, you can rescind your decree.

“What would you have me do afterwards?” Brom asked. “Can you honestly tell me that we would have any hope of defeating the swarm in war?”

There was a long, telling silence. I am currently working to have the swarm stopped. The Goddess of Law said. You have time to wait, you don’t need to be hasty about this.

Brom closed his eyes, letting out a sigh. “I appreciate the effort, but do you really believe you’ll succeed? If you haven’t by now, what makes you think you will in the future?”

Things could change during war. The Goddess of Law replied, a hint of desperation in her voice. They could overstep their bounds and make a mistake.

“Will they?” Brom asked. “So far, they seem completely committed to bettering the lives of their people, and if that was an act, you wouldn’t be in this situation. Do you really think people like that would let go of their morals enough that their supporters would allow them to be destroyed?”

There was yet another long pause. There is always a chance.

“Be that as it may, it’s clear that the chance isn’t large enough for me to change my mind. And even were the swarm to be deemed too dangerous to allow, I can’t imagine the gods would punish an entire nation’s worth of innocent people, only the people who made the decisions such as myself.”

You…are correct. The Goddess of Law reluctantly admitted. They would be stripped of the ability to convert or have children, but would be allowed to live out the rest of their lives.

“Then this is almost certainly what is best for my people.”  Brom said. “I am going to swear an Oath to them, an Oath of unconditional surrender that will force my people to let themselves be converted peacefully. I would ask that you don’t attempt to twist it to spite the swarm; it is purely so my people do not injure themselves in the process, and you would only be prolonging their suffering.”

Very well. The Goddess of Law sighed. I shall allow it this once, but no more. I…I’m sorry I was not able to do more for you.

“You did your best.” Brom said. “And that is all I can ask. Thank you, Goddess.”

Meg shot to attention as she heard a knock at her door. Today was the day that her brother and father were finally going to check out the swarm, and she had been eagerly awaiting their return. She hurriedly made her way over to the door, taking a moment to peek through the peephole and confirm that it was Leonardo before opening the door and letting him in.

“So, how’d it go?” She asked excitedly. “It’s just the kind of thing we want for our own people, right?”

Leonardo nodded. “I…I understood that we were not winning any war against the swarm.” He said. “And…and I have convinced Father; we are unconditionally surrendering to the swarm. He asked me to gather the family so we could break the news.”

Meg’s eyes widened, a smile growing across her face. “Really?!” She asked, scarcely believing her ears. “How’d you manage that?”

“Father could see it as well as I.” Leonardo said. “This is a fight we cannot win, and given the choice between helplessly suffering and watching as the world changed before being thrust into a hopeless war, or capitulating now and having a brief flash of worry among the populace followed by contentment…we chose the latter. If the outcome is the same, we might as well take the path that involves the least suffering.

“I think seeing Rose’s status was the thing that finally convinced him that resistance was futile, but seeing the way they treat their citizens is what made him at least somewhat okay with making the choice. This visit also removed any last ideas I had about being able to resist, so…it would seem that it was a wise suggestion.”

“Well, you two made the right choice.” Meg said. “It’s a huge relief to know that we won’t have to go to war with the Glens, and this is going to be significantly easier on everyone involved. We don’t have to worry about me being seen now, right? I can just walk through the halls?”

“I suppose it’s fine.” Leonardo replied. “It’s not like this will be a secret for long. Father wishes for us to meet in his quarters, please head there while I gather the rest of the family.”

Meg nodded, happily leaving her chambers and walking down the halls of the palace towards the royal wing with a skip in her step. It had only been a few days, but she had been getting tired of only being able to leave her chambers at night, when there was less risk of her being spotted by anyone but the most trusted of servants.

It wasn’t that her father was ashamed of her and wanted to hide her, it was that their position on the world stage was tenuous, and if the other countries caught wind of her presence, Brom’s ability to attempt to unite them would further fracture.

Of course, that would be a good thing for the swarm, but Meg didn’t want that. As much as she wanted the swarm to succeed, she also wanted her family to be happy, and the effects of her presence becoming known weren’t large enough for her to consider it. It would just mean that the Glens would be treated poorly in the years to follow, and regardless of the Glens’ treatment, people would still eventually unite.

But that wasn’t an issue anymore. She passed by as many people as she wanted, ignoring the shocked stares and hushed conversation that she left in her wake. She made quick time on her way to the royal wing, and soon found herself outside the doors. “Father has requested my presence inside.” She told the guards. “Please open the doors.”

“Princess?” One of the guards whispered. “Is that you?”

“Did Father not tell you?” Meg said. “Yes, it’s me.”

“He did.” The other guard said, opening the door. “It just hadn’t set in.”

“Thank you.” Meg replied, stepping through the doors and into the royal wing. She navigated through the wing, making her way into one of their parlors, where they traditionally held family meetings. Her parents and her younger sister were waiting inside, an uncomfortable atmosphere permeating the room.

“Dad!” Meg said, rushing in and giving him a hug. “I can’t believe this! It’s great!”

“What’s going on, Meg?” Her youngest sibling, Mist, said. “Is…is this about the swarm?”

“Wait until your brothers get here.” Brom said. “It would be best to explain it to everyone at once.”

They waited for a few minutes more, and then Leonardo entered the room, Meg’s younger brother, Mordecai, in tow. Brom waited for everyone to get seated, then gave a sigh. “Everyone, I…I’m sorry.” He said. “As you are aware, Leonardo and I toured the swarm’s capital today. And…following our visit, we have decided to capitulate.”

“What?!” Mordecai exclaimed. “Why?! What reason could you possibly have to capitulate?!”

Brom, looking older and more tired than Meg had ever seen him, gave another sigh. “You don’t understand, Mordecai. One of their leaders is the Ruby Emperor, reincarnated with all the memories of her former life, and all of the power as well. With the two most powerful and influential Heroes in the history of the world on their side, we have no hope.

“Even the gods seem to believe that we have no chance in this war, if I’ve read the situation correctly. Our only hope to remain unconverted is for the swarm to cross a line somewhere, but that seems…highly unlikely. As much as I hate to admit it, their leaders seem to be entirely altruistic, focused on improving the lives of their citizens however they can. They may be much more militant in their methods than I would like, but…our people will not suffer under their rule.

“In the end, I see no future in which the Glens are not assimilated into the swarm. So, instead of forcing our people to watch in terror as the swarm’s march continues, we will get it over with now, in a way that hurts as few of our people as possible. As soon as we are done here, I will swear an Oath of unconditional surrender, one that will force our people to not resist their fate.”

“An Oath is a bad idea, Dad.” Meg said. “We can’t trust them with the Goddess of Law manipulating them to harm the swarm.”

“I have her word that she won’t do so for this Oath, and this Oath only, as one last kindness to me.” Brom replied. “I am afraid that I cannot allow myself to be converted until our country is fully converted, so as to preserve the Oath, but the rest of you will be the first. Meg, are you able to convert the rest of the family?”

Meg paused, checking her modeling wax reserves. “Not all at once.” She said. “I can do the younger two in one batch, and then Leonardo and Mom in another. However, I would advise we hold off; I think I can convince the Queen to do your conversions personally, which will increase your strength afterwards. That, and we can use the time to gather items to tailor your conversions, so you can become anything you desire.”

“Very well, then.” Brom said. “I am going to attempt to contact the swarm now and surrender. Could you please explain how this works to everyone?”

“Of course, Dad.”

This was...definitely not what I had in mind when I set up a visit to the swarm, but in the end it felt the most reasonable outcome. The psychic damage of getting essentially undisputed confirmation of Rose's identity is not to be understated, not to mention her stats and the existence of the World Tree.

At the end of the day, Brom is a reasonable man, one who wishes to see his people live the best lives they can. Being forced to watch the society you knew disintegrate around you is not a pleasant fate, and if it all ends the same might as well give your people peace of mind first.

And this finally, finally concludes the "arc" of the universe doing everything in its power to make Brom's life harder, and he can take a very, very well-deserved break (probably not a full-on retirement, he's too dutiful for that).

Next time will be the surrender, so...look forward to it!

And, as always, thanks for reading!