Chapter 50: The Worthy and the Chaff
I flew over the mountains as I moved towards the locations that had been scouted beforehand. Cecilia has been queen for a week and already my hive was on the move throughout the Kingdom. Construction projects have begun and preparations for a much larger harvest enabled by my Hive’s labourers are being set in motion. Both me and Cecilia have been quite busy to say the least.
Cecilia had already gotten letters from the surrounding kingdoms. It is apparently customary for the other nations to greet the new ruler in their home kingdom once there was a transition of power. With the old king murdered and Averlon ruled by a Princess long thought dead, nautrally the other kings and queens were curious.
Cecilia, ever shrewd, has sent invites to the other kings and queens to come to Averlon. She has framed the meeting to also include a discussion of the nation’s plan to deal with a potential invasion from Tralis. This of course is a ruse, this meeting would be where some demands would be made…
To entice them to meet those demands would need some persuasion. That was where I came in…
I have not been idle either, I made some interesting creatures by reusing some of the creatures in the Hive. These were rather cheap to make since their purpose was so simple. They were simply flying scouts with sensor domes. Their role? To fly high above the clouds and scout. I dispatched most of these new scouts over the mountains and the rest were sent to Tralis to track the progress of the war.
I was here in this mountain to get one thing, the phoenixes. They were hard to find naturally seeing how big this mountain range was, but that was what the scouts were for. They have pinged the location of the ones they found, so far they found six red fires, five orange fires, two blue fires and two white fires. Sadly no violet fires but those were supposed to be old as shit, some of the beastiarians even say the Violet Fire Phoenixes could potentially not even be the same species considering how old they are. They probably only still look like the rest of the phoenixes because of their limited changes due to them breeding every thousand years or so.
I have a little bit of a dilemma actually, I don’t think I can make more phoenixes with the resources I have available, I’ll need more Gilded Grahanam Crowns for that. So if I eat the phoenixes, yes, I get their genome but I lose a powerful unit in my army.
The Eternal Mother gave me a lot of power so there is the question if the phoenixes are even worth eating. I’ve never seen a White Fire Phoenix before so I don’t really know. Thus I decided to go for one of the White Fire’s first, if they were not worth eating I could force them to my side. With a White Fire in tow the other phoenixes will be alot easier to persuade.
This choice is particularly difficult because the Phoenix is actually the face of the Elysian Empire, they even have a Phoenix on their banner.
The Elysian Empire was a curious nation, they had much less territory than their immediate neighbour back then the Volerian Empire. The only reason they survived was that they stayed ahead of the curve in terms of magic and techniques. They were the only human nation that ever managed to tame and subdue the Phoenixes.
The Phoenixes offer significant tactical advantage in open warfare. The battles of humanoids on open plains necessitates closely packed formations. If you spread out too much a shield wall of armoured soldiers will buckle your front line like a tin can.
Tightly packed infantry made great walls but they were also vulnerable to area of effect attacks, due to how tightly grouped they are and their limited mobility. Against other humanoids this can be mitigated by mages that can put up large barriers. These mages are then countered by mobile cavalry that can do flanking maneuvers.
The problem with these barriers is that they are often limited to be shaped like a shield due to the size of the barrier. These barriers could be shifted if the angle of attack changes. The mages need to move in groups in order to channel ritual spells. Ritual spells were the only ones capable of realistically breaking those barriers and if you send your mages out to flank they may get caught out by cavalry, not to mention moving them weakens the defenses of your main army. Add that problem with the fact that mages themselves were rare and combat mages even rarer, you couldn’t exactly put out a “we are hiring” sign and expect to replenish your mages if you lose too many of them. So hence the mages were often in the center of the formation for their protection.
Now here comes the game changer of flying units, flying units like Wyvern Riders or Phoenixes can flank around the barriers and do a lot of damage with their area of effect attacks. Most nations back then had Wyvern Riders, but Wyverns are natural prey to Phoenixes. Wyverns were also too stupid and needed a rider which limited their aerial mobility. The Phoenixes however, had no such limitation, they could direct themselves and could receive orders directly. In a battle between a Phoenix and Wyvern Rider, the Phoenix would win every time.
Why? Well simply put, the rider would get thrown off if the Wyvern used it’s full mobility. So the Phoenix was not only naturally faster, smarter, more mobile and able to hit a lot harder. It also didn’t have to drag around some idiot on it’s back.
So with Phoenixes in your army you are ensured aerial supremacy and with that you can dismantle armies easily.
There was a political aspect of this as well, if Cecilia had access to Phoenixes in her army thanks to me it would go a long way to cement the legitimacy of her claim to the region.
Now then I should be reaching it soon…
There you are…
I watched as the Phoenix with a body of white flames swooped down to roost in its den. I was invisible so it had no idea I was coming and the scouts were so high up there was no way this Phoenix knew what was coming.
Hmmm… I can take this one…
You know what, maybe I’ll eat this one just to see if the Phoenix Genome has any other tricks…
The fight won’t be completely one sided but I’ve been itching for a fight. It’s been so long since I’ve hunted worthy prey. I angled myself downwards and poured power into my claws. Time for some fun…
I flew at full speed into the roost that lay within a cave and raised my claws intending to deliver a hard slash at the neck of the Phoenix. The Phoenix sensing me immediately parried my strike with a swing of its wings. The tips of the wings were covered with a layer of magic and it was able to deflect a strike from my blades. Impressive, if it died just from that first strike…well then it would be rather disappointing…
I raised one of my arms and reached forward. I grabbed the Phoenix by the neck and slammed it into the stone wall. I raised my blade about to deliver a hard slash but I saw the Phoenix growl as it’s body began to glow.
Then I saw white and I felt myself being blown back, then I was in free fall. I spread my wings and regained control. The blast had blinded me for a moment and I realised I was now outside of the little cave in which the Phoenix roosted.
“Whoa, that’s got some kick.” I said with a laugh as I spat out a mouthful of broken teeth.
The Phoenix emerged from the cave as it took flight and hovered in mid air in front of me.
“Who are you, what are you?” the Phoenix asked in a feminine voice.
Ah yes, the Phoenixes are mono gender, they are all females…
“I’ll tell you if you last long enough…” I said with a grin as I enchanted my blades with my [Void: Enchant], the Phoenix gave my now glowing blades a cautious look.
I laughed as I spread my wings and shot myself at the Phoenix. The Phoenix turned and spun, conjuring a thin ring of superheated plasma. I had to break off my charge and dive to avoid that strike. When I recovered from my dive the Phoenix shot a white beam of plasma at me, I dodged it but I saw the beam reduce the stone below me to lava.
I opened my mouth and shot a [Solar Beam]. The Phoenix’s eyes widened in surprise as it narrowly dodged the shot. I fired a wave of [Void: Enchant] enhanced spines at the Phoenix. It tried to block the wave of spikes by raising one of its wings as a shield and pouring power into the wing. But my spines now enhanced went through the defences as they flew through the wall of feathers and the Phoenix yelped as some of the spines hit home.
I looked closer to see some of the spines in its wing and some in it’s chest. Now it should split. That was one way to cleanse some of the damage…
Sure enough the Phoenix split itself into a pair of decoys before it quickly reformed. The spines fell off as the bodies flickered and reformed. This was a trick unique to the Phoenixes since they were more ether than flesh. So their decoys are less like magical constructs and more like temporary clones of themselves. When the clones reform into one being the body reconstructs itself. It was like regeneration but much more resource intensive.
The Phoenix scowled and it turned to flee. A wise choice considering it knew nothing about me but I’m faster… much faster…
I darted after the Phoenix as it climbed to gain altitude. My wings flapped and my [Gravitic Hover] gave me a little extra propulsion. My body shape is not as well suited for flight so the Phoenix must think it can outrun me.
I followed the Phoenix up into the clouds and then past the clouds. The Phoenix leveled off it’s climb as it reached its maximum altitude. The air was too thin for its wings up here, but it had larger wings relative to its body so just based on physical traits it should be able to out climb me. However, [Gravitic Hover] offered extra propulsion which meant I could actually out climb the Phoenix. Since [Gravitic Hover] comes from special antenna-like growths on my body and some were on my wings. This meant I could fly like a plane at higher altitudes.
The Phoenix turned it’s head and balked as it watched me fly higher than it could manage. Now I could see it was panicking…
The Phoenix tucked it’s wings in and dived. When diving usually the wings were not that useful in gaining speed, considering opening the wings just increased drag and thus overall contributed minimal lift when attempting to use them to accelerate.
I followed close after the Phoenix and I used [Gracitic Hover] to accelerate. In a dive I could easily catch up to the Phoenix since I didn’t have to rely solely on gravity for acceleration. The Phoenix caught sight of me gaining rapidly and it opened its wings. The Phoenix turned sharply and headed for the valleys between the mountains. Well Phoenix’s were known for their aerial agility, so if altitude, speed and aerodynamics don’t work then the last thing on the table was agility.
In some way I respected the tenacity, this wasn’t blind panic. This was a thinking opponent, trying options and instantly changing tactics when it realises a tactic that isn’t working.
I followed closely behind as the pair of us weaved through the jagged landscape. With rolls, ducks and turns we flew, our wings tearing over the landscape. Good thing this mountain range is huge, if not someone is definitely going to notice our little aerial dance.
I was almost there…
Almost right on top of it…
Just a bit more…
It was barely able to keep this up because, yes the Phoenix was more agile, but my increased speed made up for it just enough that I was slowly gaining on it.
Finally the Phoenix messed up as it took a wrong turn and ended in a narrow valley with little room to maneuver. Now I had a clear shot with my spines, I took aim and fired.
To my surprise the Phoenix spread her wings to rapidly decelerate, then she split into four clones. My spines hit air since the Phoenix’s clone ability dematerialise its body for a moment creating a small window where it is effectively invulnerable.
I ended up flying past the four clones, I halted and turned just in time to see four white beams fly right at me from each of the clones
I raised my two claw arms and transformed them into armoured shields. I felt the beams hit the shields and I was thrown down onto the ground with a crash.
Ok that hurt…
I got off the stone floor and I looked down at my two upper arms which were now stumps that ended halfway up my forearm.
Dang, if that hit me in the chest I might have been in trouble. Good thing I added that little shield trick when I last modified my body.
If that hit any of my organs, that might have been problematic…
Well anyway… ok it’s all healed up now. You know I think I’m having a little change of heart about this phoenix, that was a good maneuver all things considered. I thought she had made a mistake with that turn but it was probably a trap she had planned.
With that thought in mind I flew up from the large dust cloud that was created from my rather dramatic crash landing.
I saw the Phoenix flinch when she saw me emerge, seemingly unscathed. The Phoenix was clearly tired, that four fold blast was probably her last gambit. Now that gambit has failed, she is completely out of options.
“That was a good move, I didn’t expect that.” I said with a chuckle.
She didn’t reply, she just eyed me warily. She knows she can’t outrun me, at least not in this state. Someone of her age can easily tell I’m not even winded nor wounded from all that.
“I told you I’ll tell you what I am if you last long enough.” I said as I transformed one of my blades into the armoured shield.
Her eyes widened at the sight and she narrowed her eyes as she looked at me.
“I have lived since your kin still roamed this world, I served one of your kind long ago. That was many millennia ago, I assume you are a newborn?” the Phoenix asked.
“Is it that obvious?” I asked with a smirk.
“Your predecessors would not even have bothered to kill me personally. I was beneath their notice then and I still am.” the Phoenix replied calmly.
“There’s another White Fire in this mountain, tell me who is older?” I asked.
“I am by far, that one she rose to the White Flames a mere few centuries ago. I have been with White Flames for six millenia.” the Phoenix replied.
“Hmm… I was going to kill you and eat you to empower myself. But… after that little display… I would like to make you an offer.” I said.
“And that is?” the Phoenix replied.
“First, what is your name?” I asked.
“I am Azatharine. Though I have had little use of that name for quite awhile.” Azatharine replied.
“Alright Azatharine, I am a Hive leader. I could kill you now and assimilate your power. Or I could assimilate you into the Hive. I have a need for a leader for my aerial forces. With what you just showed me I think you’ll be a good candidate. With your age, you should be quite capable of leading them, no?” I said.
“To live as a slave?” Azatharine replied with a scoff.
“The offer stands, I’m only offering you this because I respect what you just did. That was smart, cunning and bold. I respect all of those things…” I said.
“Respect… I should be flattered, a Devourer saying I have it’s respect… if I die today at least I have gained something few have had the honor to possess.” Azatharine said as she lowered her head as if thinking.
“What are the terms of my service?” Azatharine asked.
“I won’t make you a mindless drone, I will be able to command you and compel loyalty. But I will leave you largely untouched, but I will improve you as I grow… think about it. Everyone has a master, is serving a Devourer that bad? You served one before, I doubt they treated you well…
I know you are rare, exceedingly rare. I will not waste you, I plan to make some big changes in this world. I offer you a seat at that table…” I said.
“I am no stranger to serving the Devourers… if the alternative is death…” Azatharine said softly.
“Did you really live so long just to die for your pride?” I said.
“... No… I suppose I didn’t… very well. I assume you will use a parasite of some kind?” Azatharine said.
“You seem to know a lot.” I said.
“I have lived a long time. I also know Hive assimilation requires willing candidates.” Azatharine said as she turned and glided down to the ground.
I followed her and landed next to her. I held up a hand and a parasite emerged from a crevice in one of my lower arms.
“Careful who you show that to young one, I recognise that design. Eternal Mother?” Azatharine asked.
Ok… that was unexpected… alright I definitely need to be more careful…
“Huh, I already changed it. Is it really that obvious? Don’t the Armazaftund use the same design?” I asked.
“They do but these Mutagenic Parasites are difficult to flesh craft. Most of the Flesh Crafting Devourers have their own unique designs. The Armazaftund are also unable to make one as finely crafted as the one you hold in your hand.
Tell me, how have you acquired this? The Eternal Mother has been dead a long time.” Azatharine asked curiously.
“It’s a long story, I’ll tell you later…” I said as I offered the parasite to Azatharine.
“I will keep my mind?” Azatharine asked again cautiously.
“Well mostly, I just need you to be loyal but I also need you to be smart. Can’t have a dumbass leading my aerial forces afterall. So you could say I actually plan to make your mind sharper.” I said as I offered her the parasite.
Azatharine nervously held out one wing and the parasite crawled onto her wing. Then it opened it’s strange leech like maw, with it’s two mandibles and it burrowed into the wing. Azatharine gasped as she fell on the stone ground below. I could see the changes already, the parasite will restructure her body and bind her mind to the hive… but not exactly.
You see I have been reading the ANCIENT CLASSICS… actually no, I've just been reading military tactics books published about 50 years ago… Cecilia lent them to me…
Sure humanoid warfare tactics aren't completely transferable. I mean my Hive isn’t affected by stuff like morale, individuality, social dynamics, living accomodations, quality of food, supply lines, pay, equipment…
I’m not doing a very good job at selling this am I?
Well anyway moving on, the main thing I got from it is that I will need officers so that separate sections of my forces can act with some degree of cohesive autonomy. So I guess Azatharine will fill one of those roles. So I need her to be an individual, with her own personality and all the other stuff that comes with individuality. Legiana is no exception, overtime she will come into her own as an individual. I just needed to give her some time…
Now then let’s see it's almost done… should I change anything else? I guess I could give her my [Gravitic Hover] adaptations. I gave it to those scouts to ensure they could out climb anything that would want to take them out. This should give her more mobility… hmm her Ether Distribution system has some inefficiencies, probably due to her long life. Nature is random and by extension flawed, her growth over such a long period of time probably meant those problems accumulated. Lucky for her I’m here, I can just fix it… and there it is done…
Oh, well that looks better, her brain looks better now with the distribution problems gone. Is it called a brain? It serves the same purpose as a brain but it’s made of Ether, well anyway it’s better now.
The wing shape could use some work, too much drag with this design… ok fixed that too…
The claws could be improved too, the code for the talons could use some work. The code creates talons that are hard but a little too much on the brittle side for my liking. Alright fixed that too…
Hmm… there is more I could do but I think I’ll leave it like this for now. I don’t want to change too much at once, I would rather not give her too big of a shock. I’ve never done a creature conversion before so I guess I’ll ease her into it…
As she stood back up I could sense she was more powerful. The simple improvements I did to her Ether Distribution system has greatly improved her internal efficiency. A simple change for me, but an impossible task for any other species.
“How do you feel?” I asked.
“Good… feel better than I ever have… although, the Hive is surprisingly quiet.” Azatharine said as I heard Legiana and the other queens send their greetings to the newest addition to the Hive.
“I put you on your own branch, you will only hear those of equal rank or above and those that are directly under your branch.
That first voice, that’s Legiana, she's the one above you and she only answers to me. You report to her when I’m not around. So you're only two rungs down the ladder from myself.” I explained.
“I see… a most generous position. You were truthful. I feel like myself but… better…” Azatharine said.
“Feel less alone? Nice to have a few more things in there with you huh?” I asked wryly.
“Yes… it is surprisingly comforting… “ Azatharine replied with a small bow.
Now she can no longer live without the Hive, I may have forced her into slavery but that doesn’t mean I have to treat her poorly. I intend for those that I bring into the fold to live better than they did before. I will give them power and purpose, everyone needs a cause afterall…
I will ascend the worthy and discard the chaff…
All can serve, in life or in death…
“So shall we go? I still have to collect your subordinates. Perhaps you can help me… persuade them…” I said with a smile.
As you wish my king…