The Mother and her guards wasted no time the following morning heading up to Far Reach not long after dawn. Their safety guaranteed by the dwarves, loaned them confidence, despite the slaughter of two days prior.
Sania and I watched from the meeting halls' south-facing window as the early morning light glinted off the two hundred strong column that headed up the valley. I sighed. “Time to make myself scarce, then.” I told her with a kiss to the head. Then y flew out of the north-facing window, out of the line of sight from the Mother. I made my way up to the palisade wall in the pass to wait out the meeting.
There were ten others, already guarding and to be honest I was glad of a little simpler company. The guards, to my surprise were all most entirely Fensalfar with a couple of Nystiobek. I saw the strategic value of the arrangement, with the range and devastation the Fensalfar could cause from the palisade wall and the Nystiobek as meat shields should the distance of an enemy close quickly.
I recognized all of them there, but to my shame, I didn’t know them half as well as I should. This seemed like a good time to correct that.
I landed among them and stifled a groan as I noticed Solla was among them. His kind of conversation was exactly what I didn’t need right now.
Smiling, I greeted them all, including Solla, who, of course immediately made his way over to speak to me.
“Hey dude. How’s it going?” I asked. Trying to set off on a positive footing with him.
“Poorly. We just cleared off a small force of Hycantha, but it seems everyone wants to attack this place. We just need Justice to make a concerted effort now. I don’t think my people are not safe here.”
“Fuck, Solla. None of us are safe anywhere. If you think you can find somewhere safe then jog on.”
He looked troubled. “I was just pointing out that Far Reach is constantly under attack of some sort and it’s…”
“Solla. Let me just stop you there. I came up here for some peace. We haven’t spoken since the first few days and the first opportunity you get you’re whinging again. I’ve got bigger fish to fry than listening to your shit, mate.”
“I understand. I can only imagine what you must keep track of.”
His response caught me by surprise. “Ah, well, thanks for understanding at least.”
“I apologize for complaining so much. I only want what’s best for what remains of my people and it no doubt makes me over fearful. My mother, may she be at peace, was a fearful woman too. Rella seems to have taken after our father. They are more pragmatic. I always strive for the perfect solution, even when there is none. I’m glad we found this place, Lord Clive, and I want you to know that despite my complaints, I’m here to support you and Far Reach. I will do so with my dying breath if needs be. It may not be safe, but it is a home to defend.”
“That’s more like it,” I grinned. “You know. Keep that shit up and me and you might even start getting a long.”
He was interrupted from replying by a ground shaking roar of anger. I spun around towards the source of the commotion to see the cause at the same time Sania spoke in my mind.
“Clive we have a problem.”
“A big, problem,” Grigor added. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny as I clapped eyes on the true form of Gretel Quensela, Mother of Devotion. Rocking her fifty-foot fucking Nephilim form.
“Well, fuck me sideways,” I didn’t expect that I said gawking. For some reason, the sight of her was far more terrifying than the other Nephilim we’d faced.
“The Mother, she’s….”
“Gone full height. I can see her,” I finished for Sania. “She didn’t do that inside the castle did she?”
“No. Flew out of the window first, to look for you.”
I was about to ask what had happened, but the massive Mother answered for me.
“CLIVE! YOU UNGRATEFUL, INSOLENT, RIDICULOUS MAN. WHERE ARE YOU HIDING?”
Solla looked at me with concern, but I swear I saw a little smirk on the bastard's face. The Mother was currently scanning the town itself for me.
“Looks like I’m going to have to deal with this somehow.” I said reluctantly lifting up from my feet.
“Would you like me to deal with the mother?” Queen Danivra asked.
“Could you?” I asked daring to dream.
“I could,” came the confident reply, and I felt a slight shiver at her words. Despite that, it felt very good to have back up.
“Maybe just hold off for now. See if she settles down. What’s Grimstrom doing? Is he not trying to calm her down?”
“Grimstrom just disappeared. He wasn’t much happier, that you weren’t here, Clive,” Sania replied.
As she spoke, the dwarf in question appear in front of me in a cloud of black smoke as I held my mini mind conference.
“There you are! What the hell are you playing at, Clive?” he said face like a tomato as he marched the last few feet toward me. “Is this the way to… Ah,” he fell silent for a moment. “Okay. I see. I’m not sure If I should congratulate you or get you underground as quickly as possible. Do you feel any different?”
“Not really. It’s still weak. I’m hoping Natom can’t sense it, either.”
“I can’t believe Darkness got this wrong. Why didn’t you just say?”
“Because as far as I know, as soon as big mamma over there claps eyes on me, she’s gonna tell Natom.”
“She is with us now Clive.”
“Words, Grimstrom. They’re just fucking words. Until I see deeds, how can I be sure?”
“THERE YOU ARE!”
I looked over to the fifty-foot, Mother on a mission. She’d spotted me and was now marching over, thankfully avoiding our budding town, on her way.
“I suppose we're going to find out now if I can trust her or not. Unfortunately, if I can’t it pretty much means my death and Natom as the future God of Creation. So, er, good look with that.”
Rather than reply, he set his eyes on the approaching behemoth. “Mother!” Grimstrom shouted, before anything else could be said. “Please don’t do anything to break this alliance.”
“That depends on what Clive’s excuse is for the disrespect he has shown, despite Devotion and Malatia agreeing to his insane demands,” she said. Her eyes not leaving me for a second. I could read her expression like a book. She wanted to slap the jam out of me.
“Do you truly think so lowly of Devotion and her followers, Clive?”
“Honestly? Yes,” I answered. “But that’s not why I dodged the meeting as you’re about to find out.”
Her expression contorted between outrage, confusion, and intrigue.
“OF WHAT DO YOU SPEAK?”
“If you’d chill the fuck out a little, and drop back down to a normal size, perhaps we could move this along a little.”
“I don’t think I will, Clive. I’m currently of a mind to crush you where you stand.”
Seconds after that threat, the entire space behind me filled with all of the Far Reach warriors, the two hundred Malatians and way over the agreed two hundred dwarves. You could cut the tension with a spoon.
“Look at him, Mother,” Grimstrom shouted.
She finally took a moment to see past her rage and gasped. “I can feel it! Can it really be true?”
“Aye, there’s no doubt. The question is. Will Natom sense it or Clive’s other worry right now. Will someone here tell him?” he said with an exaggerated nod to the Mother.
“Are you suggesting I would?” She demanded of me.
“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. I don’t fucking trust you.”
Her face contorted with rage, but she brought herself under control before she spoke again. “Well then, you must learn. We are aligned. But for now, I really think we should take you somewhere safe until we can be certain. Even if Natom cannot sense you, there is a chance that the other gods may be able to. Until now, Justice wasn’t focused on you, but this might change that.”
“Well, that wouldn’t be a surprise with my luck,” I replied.
“You must go to either the main temple of Darkness or Devotion. There is no choice. Natom cannot be allowed to gain this power.”
“I’m not going anyway just yet, but why the sudden change about Natom?”
“Let’s just say we have had our eyes opened with a couple of recent events. As for you. I must insist that you go far away from here, somewhere safe. I will carry you to Baering myself if I must,” she said looking for all the world like she was going to grab for me.
“You do not have a say over Clive’s movements, Mother,” Danivra said. Her voice low, yet seeming to carry at a far greater volume than it should have. “You will respect his wishes.”
“Or what, Dokalfar?”
“Shit,” I heard Grimstrom whisper. Then more loudly, “Let’s calm this down. Mother, Queen Danivra. Perhaps we could return to our arranged meeting. With Clive’s secret is out, there’s no reason he can’t join us and thrash all of this out, is there?”
The mother protested, eying Danivra with a lot more caution now still protested. “He still needs to be moved, Grimstrom.”
“I’m not a goddamned chair. You’re not moving me anywhere.”
“He’s right, we can't move him without a hell of a lot of blood and I don’t fancy either of our chances of walking away from this alive as it stands,” Grimstrom told her while eying the numbers.
The Mother looked to be about to retort, then thought better of it bringing the three-way standoff to an abrupt end by dropping down to her human size.
“Very well. Let us talk this over.”
“That’s kind of a shame,” Sania said across the bond. “Part of me really wanted to see Danvira kick her arse.”
“Me too,” Grigor agreed.
“It’s better that it didn’t happen. This pretence at an alliance here will be important in the immediate future,” Danivra said bringing the common sense.
The meeting that followed was surprisingly dull at first as we worked through all of the terms and arrangements of our alliance.
I relented on Grimstrom, needing permission to enter the town as a high leveled visitor, and against my better judgement offered the same concession to the Mother.
Unsurprisingly, it was her who began pushing for me to leave Far Reach again.
“If I didn’t know any better,” I replied to her insistence I travel to Baering again. “I’d almost think you were trying to get me out of Far Reach while you moved your people in and got a strangle hold on our town. I’ll warn you, the council here will see to my wishes in regard to your place here and they’ll do it with the same stringency that I would.”
“Lord Clive, I assure you I am only trying to protect the future of all of our people,” she said like some kind of guru.
“Well, I can tell you. Right now, there are a few things that aren’t even on the table and one of them is going to Baering.”
“She’s right, lad. We need to do something about you, whether you like it or not. It's not going to be safe for anyone here if we're just waiting for Natom to come. Even if he doesn’t know the seed’s awoken, the crazy bastard might just stop by on a whim again. The armies and the strength we have here will be able to slow him, but we won’t be able to stop him and the carnage and death he could cause among all of our people… well, it just doesn’t bear thinking about. From our perspective, the Dwarves that is. We thought you’d have a lot longer before this day came. We thought you’d be in a much better position to use the seed to fight Natom. That’s not happened though, has it? Now you're going to need time and space to develop and that’s not gonna happen here.”
“I get that, and there’s people here that I trust to keep things ticking over, but I still worry about leaving with everything going on. And just to clarify, that should I leave, you’ve got absolutely no fucking chance of me going anywhere in Malatia.” I said the last pointedly to the mother.”
“The Nideland of Kalabri is far more secure than anywhere else and has many strong individuals that could assist in keeping you safe should Natom attempt to hunt you.”
“The surface of Kalabri is not without strong individuals, too,” Danivra added. Harking back to our earlier conversation. “I believe I can find the mage Halak as just one potential ally against Natom.”
Grimstrom laughed. “I don't mean to be rude, your Highness. But I hardly think trekking across the surface of Kalabri is such a good idea. You’re increasing your enemies not reducing them. Not to mention, many of those high-level warriors you’re hinting at would sooner kill you than help you. Maybe Olata,” he said wistfully. “And Halak, but who else?”
“Wind in the Wild,” Grigor said again.
Grimstrom laughed again even louder. “Wind in the wild will never leave his mountain. Plus, his pack is safe there from Destruction and Justice. The only other possibility I can think of with a respectable enough level is Cushec, the dragon, and he’s about as trustworthy as a bag of cave crabs.”
“I’m aware of the disposition of many of the Neutrals that dwell within Kalabri,” Queen Danivra said. “I’m not suggesting that we make a mad dash across the surface. But between us, we have a good idea of where some of them may be. In addition to that, we are likely to come across many more people needing our help. How many desperate people would welcome the news of somewhere to flee? How much will that bolster our security here. Even if we only managed to convince Halak and Olata to Far Reach, and another few thousand Neutrals. We would be in a far stronger position than we are now, and it may be in that time that Clive develops far enough with the seed and his own personal level to defend against Natom.
Like everyone else here I can’t be sure on what the best course of action is, but what I would suggest is that we take a team, including Clive, through the tunnels of the Nideland to the areas where we might find the strongest Neutral warriors. That way, Clive is protected within the Nideland, but has the opportunity to become stronger. In addition to that, we can assist the Neutrals of Kalabri and simultaneously help the people who remain at Far Reach.
“I for one am not comfortable with Clive disappearing in such a way,” the Mother said.
“Well, I for two don’t really care what you’re comfortable with,” I snapped. “I don’t like the idea of being cooped up underground for who knows how long, either, but the plan Danivra just laid out is the best by far that I’ve heard. What I’d like to know is how many of these powerful Tier 3s we’ve mentioned can actually match, Natom?”
“None,” Danivra said with some authority. “But they would not merely be cast aside by his power and together there is hope.”
Grastad surprised me by speaking up. “There is one more who could give him a really good going over. But as has already been said. There are some bad, bad Tier 3’s. The last thing we need is a bunch of the unstable ones in our new city, that we can’t get rid of.”
“We already covered Cushec, and he is the strongest in the north?” Danivra said. “Yet he really can’t compete with Natom, either. You seriously underestimate Natom’s power if you believe that.”
“Nah, not Cushec. There’s one you’re all missing, who would beat all of those you’ve mentioned, including the dragon.”
“Come on then!” Grimstrom said impatiently. “Spit it out.”
“My great, great, grandad or something like that. He’s the only Nystiobek who’s Tier 3, on account of him killing all of the others on the day they evolve. Stada the Gran.”
“He did what?” I asked, though the sentiment was repeated around the table.
Danivra laughed this time, covering her mouth, which made her seem much younger somehow. “Stada the Gran? He’s long gone now, I’m afraid. I heard he gave himself up to the universe decades ago. He certainly hasn’t been seen for over seventy years!”
“I heard the same,” Grimstrom said looking a little troubled.
“Oh, I can tell you that the old bastard’s still very much alive. The last time I saw him was eight years ago when my youngest son was born. He still honors his line you see. He left straight after touching young Stada’s head. Back into the far north were no one but him and the Isthalings live.
Other than that, he only appears whenever a Nysti evolves. Though that doesn’t happen anymore since Nystiobek avoid leveling past level 70.”
“That’s fucking insane Grastad,” I said completely amazed at the story.
“Aye, and we don’t want that crazy bastard anywhere near any of us,” Grimstrom said.
“He might be feared,” Grastad said more petulantly than I’d have thought possible. “But if I could have reached him when Destruction’s army came to our tribal lands, I would have gone to him for help in a heartbeat. For me if there’s any chance you think we can reach the far north, then for me, Stada the Gran is the one person on Falritas that you’d want there with you to fight Natom. If he’d be willing that is.”
“And you’d be comfortable with him being here after he killed all those new Tier 3 Nystiobek?”
“Not really. I was just making the point that he’d stand toe to toe with Natom.”
Danivra’s expression slowly changed. “If he really is alive, do you think you could tempt him? Bring him here for this peacefully if you’re his kin?”
“His mind’s far beyond anything I can figure out. I could only promise I’d try. For Clive.”
I felt myself getting all emotional. “Thanks, mate. That means a hell of a lot to me.”
He nodded solemnly, which was rare for the big daft Nystiobek.
“It’s a very long way to the north,” Danivra cut in without sentimentality. “But… should we be able to acquire his services…” She seemed reluctant with each word. “Then his addition to our forces would be… spectacular.”
“If we do agree for you to go through our tunnels to the north to find him. Don’t think you're bringing him back though the Nideland,” Grimstrom said seriously. “No way is that happening.”
“How powerful is this guy, exactly? And why haven’t I heard him mentioned before?” I asked looking pointedly at Grastad.
“Because he’s supposed to be dead.” Grimstrom replied.
“And if you ever do meet him, you’ll know exactly why we don’t talk about him,” Grastad added with a nervous smile.
“Can I ask. Is he more likely to just kill us all?”
“He wouldn’t bother. Unless you annoy him. We’ll have a good talk about that if you’re ever likely to meet him. I wouldn’t be your usual self though,” Grastad grinned.
“Huh? I’m not so bad,” I protested, then added. “Are you yourself around him, Grastad?”
“No way,” he said shaking his head emphatically. “I’m like a new born cub. The best thing is to consider yourself a fly. As long as you don’t land on him, he won't smush you.”
“Sounds like Natom then.” I replied.
“Except you were really rude to Natom and he didn’t kill you,” Sania pointed out.
She got the full force of my raised eyebrow directed at her. “Seriously?”
She smirked. While Grastad looked at me with clear worry on his face. “He’s not like Natom, Clive. You having a fragment of Creation won’t matter to him. Unless he thought you were going to get too powerful. He just doesn’t like the gods. Nor anyone getting too strong.”
“Except him?” I mocked. “You know that’s insane, right?”
“Yes,” Grastad replied tiredly. “We covered this already. Stada is insane.”
“Fair enough, mate. You did. So, I’m heading to the conclusion of let’s not invite this Stada. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Grimstrom said.
“Agreed,” the Mother said.
“Agreed,” Joel added.
“I’ve not seen Natom or Stada the Gran fight,” Grigor said. “But my pack has ancient stories of him. He is very old and is close to the pinnacle of strength on Falritas.”
Danivra nodded. “Natom to my knowledge is top of the heap, by a margin. But if Stada really is still alive, he would be in the top five, at least. And I have actually seen him in battle. Against a Level 108 Gashadokuro. It lasted ten seconds. Eight of those were Stada toying with his opponent. That was around one hundred and fifty years ago when Stada still involved himself with the world.”
“Where would you be in those rankings?” I asked Danivra.
She shrugged. “Maybe top two hundred.”
My initial reaction was disappointment. Then it hit me how insane that was. If there were five million dwarves in only two dwarven cities, then Falritas could well be home to a billion or more people easily. If Queen Danivra was in the top two hundred, then that was huge. I nodded at her with new found respect. “So does that mean you are you a yay for Stada, or a nay, your majesty?”
“A difficult question, Lord Clive. There are clear risks. Large risks, too, with his volatile nature. Yet, we are playing a high risks game. My advice would be to see who else we can lure to our cause first. We should approach people on the way north and it maybe that we feel we can do without him in the end. Alternatively, with the others, it may be the show of strength we need to convince him.”
I looked to Sania. Hers was the most important opinion to me. “You?”
“I’m with Danivra. I don’t know what everyone’s Intelligence is here, but I have a suspicion, hers is the highest.”
The Mother looked outraged, whilst Danivra looked serene. Neither of them saying anything in response, but I had to fight just to keep the smirk from my face.
“I agree with Sania and Danivra. Stada is a last resort and a probably not, but he’s not off the table. Either way, I have to leave here for a little while and I might as well make the most of the enforced hiatus.”
There were a round of nods at the table. Everyone seemed to accept the need for me to leave.
“The next order of the next order of business,” I exclaimed, “is who the fuck wants to come with me?”
To my surprise everybody from the council raise their hands. All of them were genuinely willing to go with me. It was just as well I was a hard as nails Demon/Elman hybrid, or I might have cried at that moment. Overwhelmed by their support. Luckily, I just welled up a little and was able to subtly blink away the unfallen emotions.
“Ah, thanks guys. You don’t know what that means to me, but seriously. I need most of you to stay here and keep an eye on the Malatian troops,” I said with a look to the Mother.
She was about to respond, but I smiled and said, “I’m only joking. Well, half joking. But I do need all you guys to stay here look after things. Sania, Danvira and Grigor will come with me. Everyone else look after this place. Actually, what am I saying? Grastad you’re gonna need to come too if you're alright with that. If we do need to talk with Stada the Gran, then rocking up with his great-great-whatever-grandson will probably go a long way.”
Grastad nodded sagely. “You know, I could actually, really do with a little trip away. The wife’s on at me trying to get me to lose some weight. I told her it gives me strength and all she does is shout at me more! You know what she said? She told me I wasn’t even a real bear! That I don't even need to hibernate!” he said outraged.
That brought a round of laughter from the table. Even the corner of the mother's mouth twitched in amusement.
“Okay, man. You’re coming with us then. Who else? And bear in mind, I absolutely do not want to leave Far Reach under strength just to come back me up.”
“You’ll only be allowed a certain number with you if you wish to travel the,” Grimstrom warned.
“You should also put your mind at rest in regard to Far Reach, Lord Clive,” the Mother said. “Considering you have a Garrison of 2500 dwarves and almost 4000 Malatian troops in proximity.”
“I’m going to make an effort to stop being antagonistic with you, Mother. Because you’re here now, whether I like it or not. But what I will say, with the utmost respect is that the trust you have lost with me hasn’t been won back, yet. I can't help that I have to take some of the strongest people away with me, but I will make sure everyone I leave behind understands that Far Reach is independent and will remain so. I also want to make this clear now. When I do return, there better be no more than two hundred Malatians within my walls.”
She didn’t look happy at all. Her mouth was moving already in retaliation, but I continued. “If, when I do come back, and my people can tell me how supportive you've been. That’s gonna make a huge difference in how our relationship moves forward in the future.”
She took a moment to compose herself. “I assure you, Lord Clive. We have no intentions to command your settlement. We are allies, and we will remain in that capacity no matter how uncouth and ungrateful you are. We serve a higher purpose.”
“Lord Clive isn't ungrateful,” Grastad said. “He’s just honest and doesn't suffer fools easily.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from the Mother and her advisors, but others spoke up before she could reply.
“He just doesn't just believe every lie that is told to him, because it comes from a pretty face or position of power,” said Scralex.
“I expected very little from Lord Clive, even being bonded to him,” Grigor said, joining in on the Clive love. I was squirming like an eel. Life had moulded me to be more comfortable with insults than praise, yet Grigor continued.
“There is no doubt he has an often blunt and abrasive way of dealing with people. He is no dagger of cunning or deception. He is a hammer, and he is exactly what we need. Yet to those who are of his pack, he is compassionate and he will protect them at the expense of his own safety.”
Joel laughed. “I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but Clive has been an inspiration since we arrived at Far Reach. He’s definitely not fucking ungrateful. So you should probably stop talking out your arse about things you know nothing about,” he said to the Mother.
“Right, can everyone stop blowing smoke up my arse,” I said loudly standing up as I did. “It’s seriously cringe inducing and though I’m grateful let's organize my temporary departure, we're probably going to have to get moving sooner rather than later. I’ll move someone up into Grastad’s place, Kuhn and Feen too, and we’ll move Hek up to cover for Danivra.”
Danivra smiled. “He’ll do well in the position. He is steadfast and intelligent and would be a far higher level if it was not for his duties as my bodyguard limiting his opportunities.”
“You don’t have to convince me, Danivra. I’m a huge fan of Hek. If we can draw up a shortlists of whom to take. I’ll also need to see our new arrivals. I believe we have 200 new Malatian citizens to settle before we go anywhere.”
“Aye, I’ll go make sure the King and Darkness are alright with you traveling the Nideland for this. It shouldn’t take long.” Grimstrom said getting to his feet.
“I will come with you, Clive,” the Mother said. “It seems everything that needs to be said has been said and I too need to speak with those that travelled with me here.
“Fine. But I need to speak to the people who are intending to stay here in my own way. I know how you like to control the situation and the narrative. Please don’t do that now.”
The Mother looked unhappy with my words but nodded acceptance. “I will try, though it is dependent on what you tell them.”
I laughed. “I guarantee you’re not going to like it. Is Mal with them?”
“He is,” Se said coldly. “He will be working from the temple alongside Elsbeth.”
“Good. I want to speak to him. You coming Joel?”