[Navi: Fourth Trial- Trial of The Horde: In the Given time, Repel the Horde and Kill the Hero.
Trial Initializing- Done. Trial Started: during the upcoming two weeks, the Candidate will need to repel and defeat the Monster Horde unleashed by the Hero. The rules for this trial impose that the Candidate and his current Minions (Bishop, Knight, Rook, Queen) must not raise their level during the duration of the trial; The Candidate cannot retreat from the general area where the trial is taking place (current party members are free to move, but must be in the area when the Horde attacks). Bonus objective: killing or permanently incapacitating the Hero. Good Luck, Master!]
I gulp down my saliva, looking once again at the blinking list of rules for this trial. According to Navi’s message, we cannot train ourselves for the upcoming fight, and I am barred from leaving the general area where the trial will take place.
The area is represented by a red circle on Navi’s map, encompassing a wide portion of the Marsh and the territory around the former Aldora fort.
Crossing that red line will result in me losing my life.
However, the message did not contain only bad news.
My companions will be free to move in and out of the area, unless until the Horde will make its move.
That means, we can prepare for it, using strategy instead of just increasing our levels.
After the message is dismissed, a timer remains in my view, counting down the time until the Horde will start to move.
Two weeks from now, during which we will have to prepare as best as we can.
I take a deep breath, calming myself and beginning to sort out what it is that I need to do in this situation.
First, I need to assess the size of this monster Horde, and have some means to be informed at all times about it.
I open the map once again, looking at the place where the Horde is.
Signals are buzzing on the virtual map that Navi displays in my head, red dots pulsing, some small, some bigger.
The largest one is Damian, the Hero I had the misfortune to meet in Nudria village. He’s the one behind this event, amassing monsters as if to build his own private force.
To what end, I ask myself. Besides the former fort now inhabited by freed slaves, there is nothing here worth taking by force.
Perhaps he wants to retake the fort, but such a large force of creatures is definitely too much for a small camp surrounded by wooden walls.
Even a single creature would be enough to deal heavy losses in the encampment, two or three would definitely eradicate it.
Yet, Damian has already two hundred creatures under his control.
It seems too much, both for the strain of controlling them and for the sheer number of this force, just to retake back a small fort.
No, there must be something else at play here.
It could be that he’s simply gathering a monster force here, in preparation for the upcoming war with Sendria.
It’s the most plausible thing, to me.
Using monsters, he will have a disposable army, cannon fodder to use in order to spread chaos and weaken the enemy.
After that, the army will swoop in, ready to fight a weakened enemy.
And Aldora’ s Marsh is a place literally bursting with nasty creatures whose level is reasonably high.
Without any doubt, the Hero controlling them has also cast some kind of reinforcement on the creatures, making them deadlier than their wild counter part.
<<It looks like we have some trouble over there>>
I update Levia on the situation. Her eyes gape when she hears the Hero’s name, perhaps remembering the destruction of Nudria by his hands. Even if she hated that place, it was still her home for a long time.
But the most curious reaction is the one Emilia is displaying. She began to tremble, stuttering the Hero’s name.
Being herself from Aldora, she surely knows how powerful the Hero is.
As I ask her about it, looking to probe her for some scraps of information, she looks down on her feet, fidgeting with her sleeve as she speaks, her voice broken by tension.
<<They call him the Son of Radiance. His appearance is that of a small child, ten, perhaps eleven years old. But…he acts, and speaks, like someone much older. Even among the Heroes, he’s the one renowned the most for his cruelty. Mostly, he is sent away from Aldora, to act as a rogue and a spy in enemy territory. If he’s here, it only means that the Army is about to set on a March of Radiance. That means, they will invade this region, reclaiming back Aldora’s long lost territories>>
Her information about Damian is nothing useful.
Perhaps I held my hopes too high, expecting her to know something more about his powers, but it seems like she does not know.
To her words, Heroes never show their capabilities in Aldora, as there is simply no need.
And they are rarely dispatched in battle, and when they are, it ends so quickly that it is almost impossible to discern what the single Hero did.
<<Although, one thing I know. Of all the Heroes in Aldora, the Pantheon, as we call them, Damian is all but the lowest ranked, the last Hero to join Aldora in order of time. There was supposed to be another one after him, but I recall that something went wrong, some kind of interference blocked the summoning rite>>
I chuckle at her remark, receiving her scornful look as a reward.
<<It’s a long story, but…that was supposed to be me. And yes, something did really go wrong with all that shit. But I’m here now, and definitely I am not a Hero, or on Aldora’s side for that matter. Now, let me tell you what your former country is up to in this region>>
As I share with her what we experienced in Nudria, and the situation in Sendria, Emilia’s face grows paler with every word coming from my mouth.
Her expression grows heavier, as she learns about the possible scenario of an all out war between Sendria and Aldora.
<<It will be a massacre>>
She whisper, her hand to her lips.
<<Yes, it will be. On both sides, that’s for sure. And, whose side will you take, girl from Aldora?>>
Levia’s voice carries hostility, her eyes glaring at Emilia.
Emilia seems taken back by Levia’s hostility.
And I understand well what Levia is thinking at the moment. After all, Emilia is from Aldora, and she was a member of their army.
Of course Levia has some rightful doubts on her.
<<Of course, you’re doubting my good will. Do you think that as soon as the Army comes here, as soon as their banners will be in sight I will immediately go back to them?>>
Emilia’s face is now flustered, her hands tightened into fists that tremble near her thighs.
But the blonde woman recovers her composure, and she sustains Levia’s gaze.
<<I will fight for the people here, for those that have welcomed me. For all purposes, it is not possible for a person to leave the Aldoran Army. Either you die on duty, or you continue your mission until the end. I am a deserter for them now, having even lost my Blessing. Only death will wait for me in Aldora, and as soon as my former comrades in arms will see me, they will carry out capital punishment. I already said it to you, I no longer have any ties with Aldora or the Church. And even if you yourself do not trust me, that will not change my intentions, or my actions for that matter>>
It looks like sparks are about to fly between the two of them. I must admit, Emilia shows some guts in standing against Levia, someone that trumps her own level by a fair amount. In short, she’s talking back to someone that could just kill her without even breaking a sweat.
<<How nice your words are…truly. You want to fight to defend the people that welcomed you. As if. Tell the truth, girl from Aldora. You are only choosing the side that will allow you to save your own skin. If you go back, they will kill you on sight. If you fight for the people here, you may have a chance to survive. No need to embellish your selfishness with pretty words, because, in the end, you are choosing the side that will let you live. Still, do as you wish. If you will fight for us, your help will be welcomed. But I do not trust you, and I never will>>
Surprisingly, Levia is the first one to break away from locking stares, turning away as she finds a rock and sits on it, crossing her arms and legs with a tense face.
<<Your girlfriend does not seem to like me very much>>
As Emilia mutters her words to me, I turn to her with a serious expression. Although she was the first person to treat me kindly in this world, the situation has changed. I have changed, and I cannot take the risk to openly welcome her. If she earns my trust, perhaps, things will change, but for now, she’s someone I need to be wary of.
I clarify things with her, perhaps, I realize, being even too cold and harsh with my choice of words.
But, it is for the best.
<<Now, both of you, drop this little fight and listen well. There is the impending danger of an invasion from a monster horde, led by that fuckin Damian. We need to think about something, and fast even>>
As I ponder about things, I notice some change in the monsters’ signals.
Apparently, some of them had their level increased. I focus Navi on the zone, to have a better grasp of the situation.
It turns out, Damian is making his monsters fight the wild ones, thus leveling up his forces.
If he’s given enough time, he will build an impressive force out of these creatures. And I fear what he would do with them.
I clench my fist, going through my options.
Without any doubt, he must be stopped.
But, the opponent is a Hero. His level trumps mine by a large amount, and his ability makes his skin invulnerable.
When I met him the first time, I managed to wound him, taking him by surprise by using an attack he would not recognize, making him inhale Black Fluid in mist form and then striking from the inside of his body. Even when wounded, he just shrugged off the damage received and destroyed Nudria with a single attack.
Surely, the same trick will not work again.
In short, this is not an enemy I can beat head on. Even if the monster army was not there, he would be too much for me to confront.
If I fight head on, that is.
Still, the trial has already begun. And this time, it compels me to repel the monster horde, killing the Hero.
I imagine that the penalty for failing this are the same as the trials before, meaning, I will lose my life if I fail, or try to run away.
But, it’s not like I am completely harmless in this situation. I have already something planned for him, and I am sure it will work.
After all, Heroes are brought “here” by the same God that “summoned” me in the first place, before Azatoth’s meddling.
Now, the real problem here is a logistic one.
We could confront Damian inside the Marsh, ambushing his location. I could use the same strategy I used against several Champions and Guardians in the Dungeon, using Beelzebub to confuse the monsters into fighting among themselves, quelling their number.
I do not know how strong is Damian’s dominion over them, however. If he has total control of the creatures, then it will be futile to try and confuse them with poison after all.
A large force would be able to deal with the monsters, and we could concentrate on Damian himself.
Using Transfer Orbs, it would be possible to “summon” allies and surround the Hero. The rules of this trial did not explicitly forbid using reinforcements after all. So, it should be possible for me to call in some more fighters without incurring in any penalty. Surely, Telesia will be able to spare some adventurers for this occasion. After all, the opportunity to weaken the enemy by killing one of its precious Heroes is something that she would really appreciate.
And yet, I am not leaning toward this decision. Fighting inside the Marsh will be a double edged sword, since the difficult terrain is ill suited for battles. The monsters will have a clear advantage in that environment, without a single doubt.
We could try another approach, by waiting for Damian to move outside of the Marsh, and confront him on a prepared battlefield.
After all, we already have a perfect position for a fort in our hands…
And without a single doubt, the Hero will move toward the former fort in its path.
If we decide to fight the Horde on our terrain, the settlers will need to be evacuated to Sendria, perhaps.
But, I have the feeling that they could put themselves to use.
After all, if it is to defend their home…
The main problem with them fighting would be their level. At the present moment, no one among them has a sufficiently high level to even stand against a single level 30 monster. Much less the skills, and battle experience, to be of any use in battle.
And yet, why am I even considering this? Thinking about which ways to use to make them stronger, to prepare them?
My vision clouds, and I sway to the side for one moment. A sharp pain in my left temple, lasting a fleeting moment only.
<<Roshal…your nose is bleeding>>
Levia is looking at me with gaping eyes, and Emilia hurries to give me a piece of cloth.
My vision is still blurred, and my hands are shaking.
It was violent, even if it lasted for so little time.
And yet, that moment held a duplicity in it, both lasting a single second and an eternity.
For the first time, I heard him. Although, it should define the thing better. It pushed its thoughts into my head, intruding my psyche with astounding ease. I was defenseless, and yet, something deep inside of me rejoiced that presence, that moment, like a child seeing his mother’s smile.
It is hard to interpret the thoughts of a God, and even harder to sort them out if you hear them for the first time.
It was not a voice that spoke to me, more like a stream of images and notions, superimposed and entwined one onto the other, melted into something that transcend language, carrying pure meaning in its simplicity, as if the God struggled to make its thoughts comprehensible for a lesser creature like me, its humble servant, as it defined me.
The message carried in that single thought, it showed images of the fort, and the former slaves. Images of struggle, repetition, and improvement, growth. Smiles, images of curiosity, interest, and then happiness, fulfillment and expectation. Images of battle, and victory. And the concepts tied to those images, linked together.
Do it, lead them, raise them, bring victory to them.
Please your God.
As my mind processed it, hurting itself in the process, the meaning became clear. My intention to use the slaves to defeat the Hero drew Azatoth’s attention, and he found it amusing, compelling me to do it.
Before, I had some doubts about the divine nature of such beings. Both Azatoth and the one venerated in Aldora, they could just have been powerful creatures, without any ounce of divinity in them, if such thing exists. Now, I am not so sure. One of the defining quality of a divine being, is omnipotence, after all. The ability to impose its will, and reality will abide to it.
Now, I felt the weight of that will, something so strong that reality itself warps to accustom to it.
It lasted only a moment, and my body is still shaking, my mind is fixated on that objective, both screaming in pain and crying in joy.
<<I…I’m fine. Just a moment of weakness, nothing to worry yourselves about. Now, let’s head back to the settlement. We have much things to do>>
The two girls still are looking at me, like they just saw a ghost.
<<You were…laughing. We thought…are you sure you are ok, Roshal?>>
<<I said I’m fine. Let’s go now>>
I raise my voice, interrupting Emilia’ s concerned words.
I was laughing. And I have no recollection of it. Mad laughter…if that really happened…
My hand shakes, and I am forced to exert my will to stop it. The implications right now are crushing me, to the point that I feel my whole being cracking under the pressure.
Levia tries to reply, but I immediately open Inventory and drag the two girls with me.
Inside the dark space, I have some time to think, immersed in that wholesome silence.
First, the feeling of distress and impending crisis I felt before, now I know the reason for that. And, once again, it seems my decision to come here was not even my own, once again I have been led here. Perhaps, it is fate, or something more sinister at work.
Abiding to a God’s will must be the higher pleasure for someone of faith, but I think that if they felt what I am experiencing right now, they too would find the unpleasantness of this whole situation.
I came here chasing what I felt was my own sensation, only for it to reveal itself like another beacon, something imposed from a “superior being”. And this time, the feeling is even stronger. The God spoke to me, for the first time.
Its words, were not a suggestion, or an invitation. They were orders, and every fiber of my being needs to abide to them.
And of course, it’s not like I receive the most logical of tasks. Like evacuating the former fort, call in reinforcements and deal with the Hero and his monsters.
No, it would be too simple, of course. Not entertaining enough.
Because, the underlying feeling that the God transmitted, it was something like excitation, the same I would feel while reading a good book, or those rare times when a movie had a deep and well made plot.
Of course, I never lived those moments, but it is the strongest example I could think of.
In short, It, The Almighty Azatoth, He who Interferes with Rebirth, The one who is responsible for everything that happened, he wants to watch a good show.
And for that reason, he will have me take command of a bunch of former slaves, and make them confront a horde of monsters. Just because it thought it amusing.
I find the idea itself repulsing, but…on the other hand, I look forward to it. It is difficult to explain, it’s like every single cell, every molecule that composes me is leaning toward the same path, singing hymns of praise as I work to act in Its will.
And the curiosity I feel, about how will I be able to pull this off, is burning in my mind, along with several plans and strategies that are beginning to form themselves in my mind, almost like they have an existence on their own, and are not just strings of thought woven together by my mind.
It’s both terrifying and ecstatic.
To the point that I am both grinning and crying, feeling a cackling laughter rising from my stomach, and finally letting it out, a laughing man surrounded by blackness, headed to a mad task for a mad god.
As we reappear inside the settlement, passersby looks at us perplexed, some screaming in surprise.
The same, mixed expression of wonder and fear, is painted on Emilia’s own face, but it swiftly warps as the effect of being inside Inventory catch up to her.
She pukes, her face going beyond pale.
<<What…what did you do to me?>>
She asks, her left hand holding her cramping stomach.
I use a cleansing spell to clean her up, and relief a bit of her pain. It was sudden, and a bit rude to just hurl the both of them into Inventory after all.
<<Relax, it’s just some after effect of my transport skill. You’ll be fine in no time>>
I answer to her, taking a glance at Levia, who seems to fare better than Emilia. Perhaps the level difference between the two of them is mitigating the effects for Levia. Not that she is immune, she too has paled and looks like she’s resisting nausea.
Still, there are more pressing things to deal with at the moment.
I immediately contact the others, letting them know about the situation here. At the same time, I sent Meviel to monitor the monster horde and the Hero, ordering my minion to be as careful as possible in order for it to not be discovered.
It would be a shame to lose it so soon, and if it is discovered, it might alert Damian of our presence here, making him wary and thus losing our only advantage, surprise.
I check the visual feedback from it, asserting the situation of the monster horde.
At the moment, it still seem like Damian is not near the main body of the Horde. Instead, his signal comes from a point further towards the center of the Marsh, surrounded by those of lesser, low leveled monsters. Perhaps, the Hero is hunting them, looking for new additions to his little zoo, or for something to use to feed his other creatures.
I order Meviel to keep observing the Horde while remaining hidden, at least for the time being. Later, I will recall Meviel back, using offshoots instead to spy on the Horde and the Hero.
Having checked the situation of out enemies, I discuss with Levia about the next steps to take. She voices her opinion, that it would be best to evacuate the settlement and ask for reinforcements from the Guild. She is right, of course she is, but she does not seem to grasp correctly the situation I am in right now.
I take a deep breath, and ponder on how to let her know.
After taking my time, I decide to share with her the memory of the recent “chat” I had with a superior being.
Levia’s face pales, and she drops on her knees.
<<This…this is not a choice for us, right? It’s not even a suggestion, it’s…>>
<<It’s an order>>
I cut her words, smiling at her. She nods, now that she knows there is no other choice. Her eyes begin to set on the surroundings, as if she’s studying the people around us. Normal people, not warriors, not battle hardened adventurers. And yet, these very people will have to fight for their lives.
The “suggestion” I received was very clear about that. My role here, is to train and lead these people, making a force out of them, preparing them for battle.
<<Hm, it should be about time now>>
I mumble to myself, my words followed by a blue flash right in the settlement’s center.
Earlier, when I told the others about the situation here, we did accord on the schedule for them to come here. And it is about time for all to rejoin with us.
The first Transfer Stone goes off, and Heod appears from the blue ripple in space. He’s followed by two persons I do not know, a tall man with spectacles and blond hair, dressed in a white lab coat, and a short, curvy lady with ruffled hair and circular googles covering her eyes.
Both of them are carrying large backpacks.
<<So, this is the place then>>
Old Heod looks around, pausing his eyes on Emilia for a fleeting moment. She’s better now, but she seems to be in shock somehow.
<<Is the girl ok?>>
He asks, strolling to her side to help her get up.
<<She’ll be fine. It’s just Roshal’s weird skill taking its toll>>
Levia answers in my place, smiling to the old man.
<<Oh. Well, lady, drink this potion, it will help with the nausea. Now, lads, where can this old man set up his temporary laboratory?>>
We go with Heod and his assistants to the settlement’s chief. Apparently, there is no formal chain of command here, but the settlers have all agreed to follow the lead of a man, even without him being “officially” appointed as chief.
He simply showed himself capable enough, and the others followed.
He resides in the former barrack of the Aldoran commander, re-purposed as both home and office.
Sitting behind a crude wooden table, serving as his desk, the man welcomes us with a wide smile.
He looks over fifty years old, his bulky body still showing some of the strength he had in his youth, betrayed only by a bulging belly. Still, his arms are toned, his skin black as coal contrasting with the grayish white of his hair and mustache.
<<Welcome in my humble office. What can this old man do for you?>>
He introduces himself as Vadra, without any title or honorific to himself.
As I inform him about the imminent situation, his expression turns sour, his cordial smile slowly turning into a concerned frown.
<<Boy, I really hope this is just an elaborate joke>>
His voice is deep, carrying weight and pressure.
Of course, he has some doubts about my words.
<<Well, mister Vadra. It will be quicker if I show you>>
I use Navi to share the feedback from Meviel. Cold sweat begins to run on Vadra’s forehead, and he collapses on his chair, his head held between his hands.
<<That…that cannot be. We just escaped from the horror of slavery, and those Aldoran bastards are already coming for us>>
He recovers quickly from his moment of discomfort, however.
<<No, we will fight them this time. I have not tasted liberty once again just to let a Hero take it away from me again. Not this time>>
His spirit is right, but, as things are right now, they do not have a single chance to survive this.
We consult some more with Vadra, as I ask him the state the settlement is in. The amount of supplies, along with the number of individuals who are able to either build structures or wield a weapon.
Time is of the essence here. From what I gathered using Meviel’s recognition, the number and level of monsters is the same as before, without any changes. And according to the timer, we have plenty of time to think about a counter attack.
The real problem is how to deal with this whole situation. The best course would be to strengthen the settlement altogether, building defensive structures and strengthening the settlers themselves.
Out of seventy four former slaves that inhabit the settlement, forty-five of them are battle capable. The problem is that more than half of those are also the only ones with practical knowledge on building structures and crafting tools. Sparing some people to dedicate them to production of weapons and defensive structures will decrease the total fighting force. And vice versa.
Still, it’s the best thing to do at the moment.
I’m a bit surprised to see how Vadra is abiding to what I say, perhaps, it’s the effect of my Leadership skill working, more than my own words.
After some hour of consultations and discussion, we finally came up with a plan.
In the meantime, the others have also reached the settlement.
I left Levia the duty to inform them about the situation, while I concentrate on another task. If we want to succeed here, the enemy needs to be surprised by the settlement’s resistance.
In short, we need to conceal what we are doing here.
For that reason, I decided to cast an illusion on the settlement, reproducing its current form. It’s a complex illusion, that needs to show different images at the same time, some of them moving into the static scenario of the settlement. To do so, I will need a massive amount of mana. Casting the illusion is not enough, however.
It also needs to last enough, and most importantly, it must not be seen through.
As I am preparing myself to weave the illusion, using both spells and the illusory skills I picked up some time ago, Vadra is busy gathering his fellow settlers and explaining the situation to them.
The man works fast, his words undoubted by the villagers that swiftly put themselves to work, some heading to the nearest meadows to harvest the necessary woods, others heading to the single forge and beginning to smelt what little metal the place has in store.
Their limited resources will not be enough, of course. Luckily, I have still some useful items stored into my Inventory.
Weapons, armors and rare materials. If push comes to shove, we could use some of our funds to purchase goods from Sendria, and transfer them here using Transfer stones or my skill directly.
The remaining settlers are being divided into squads, starting from the men and young boys up to the age of thirteen. Those that will be able to hold a weapon in their hands. Much to Vadra’s displeasure, some of the women too are willing to join the battle force. His views on the matter here might be too much antiquated, as he is reluctant to let women fight. Still, this will be a battle for them all, and having some more hands in our fighting force will be useful without a single doubt.
After casting the illusion, my breath heavy and in disarray from the effort, I stroll to Vadra’s side and persuade him to let the women fight also.
The only people left are now children and old people, who will be reunited in the central building and kept safe there. The others will begin their tasks shortly.
To accelerate things, I set out to help gathering resources and build the defensive structures. Using Shoggoth makes it easier to gather large quantity of materials, and process it however I want.
With the help of my skill, and under the guidance of those among the settlers that know how to build, I construct a first defensive perimeter around the settlement, a square surrounding the entire fort.
That will be the base for further constructions.
In the meantime, the others are taking care of the settlers, instructing them on the basis of combat and dividing the people by using their aptitude as a criteria.
After some light sparring, during which each person has been tasked to try and use the weapon they feel more comfortable with, they are divided and assigned to one of my companions.
Those that show some aptitude towards the use of shield and spears are roughly half of the total force, destined to Retel’s care and instructions.
Fifteen people showed prowess with blades, their performance based more on speed and accuracy rather than stopping power. A fighting style similar to Dahl’s, and thus, he will be the one instructing them.
Some of the settlers showed little to no ability with standard weapons, but demonstrated a good and steady aim when offered the opportunity to use bows or crossbows.
Levia is taking care of those.
The only ones left are roughly twelve people, who were excluded from the weapon test. The reason for that is the thin, feeble quantity of mana that these people possess. Some of them are unaware of it, others, like Julia, are beginning to discover and nurture their powers.
To those people, Marica’s guidance will be precious.
I focus on the construction and organization of the battleground, leaving my companions to instruct the settlers as best as they can.
While processing materials and moving objects with Shoggoth, placing them and arranging the core of the new structures, I check the timer that has begun to display in my view.
This whole Trial, feels like a timed event now.
According to the decreasing numbers in my view, we have two weeks before the Hero will begin to march towards the settlement, and Sendria afterwards.
I thought that I had less time at my disposal, but that does not seem to be the case.
If the timer is correct, that is. I cannot rule out that possibility after all. But if it says the truth, then it will be possible for me, for us, to accurately prepare the settlers, and, perhaps, increase our levels in the process.
Using Shoggoth, I work until late at night, while the settlers give instructions and draft out blueprints for me to follow.
The first line of defense is now ready, a stone wall surrounding the settlement, now looking like a proper fort.
As I set the last stone, a notification pops up, announced by Navi’s voice.
[Navi: Congratulations! You’ve completed the first Building- Defensive Stone Wall- Completing the Building, gives you Ownership of the Land. To Claim it, stand in the place indicated in the map and
give your consent]
A blue signals pulses in the map that Navi displays, right at the center of the settlement.
Still, I wonder what this is all about. As I ask for more information about, she gives scamps of it, mumbling about some benefits to the settlers and power influence. As usual, the teasing personality of this disembodied voice irritates me.
Well, it does seem that “claiming” this place will lead to some benefits, and if I want to pass this next trial, I need all the small advantages I can get.
Following Navi’s instructions, I head to the center of the settlement. There, a notification window pops up, asking me if I want to claim ownership over the land.
I feel dizzy for an instant, then a pulse of blackness surges from me, expanding as if a sphere exploded from my body.
The passing surge of energy travels around, expanding, until it becomes a sphere surrounding the settlement and roughly three hundred meters of land around it. Most of my mana has been consumed by it, leaving me drained and fatigued.
[Navi: Congratulations! You’ve claimed your first Territory! The people living in this land are now under your command, be it gentle hand or iron fist! A passive experience boost (1.5%) has been granted to people under your command, and they are now registered as Pawns in the system. Pawns have a small chance of inheriting a version of your skills during Level Up, as well as receiving bonus STAT points Moreover, you can decide to set the “growth path” for each individual Pawn, thus altering the skills and Stats that they will receive. As the designed Lord of this Land, you are linked to it, and will receive a passive amount of mana and experience each hour. As the New Lord, would you like to Give a Name to this Land? Y/N]
I take some time to think of a proper name, then give my consent for the renaming process, allowing for a random name to be chosen. Of all the names I thought, all of them seemed too ridiculously pompous or frivolous, and so, I decided to let randomness decide it.
[Navi: Congratulations! Your Land has now been renamed as “Ream Village”]
Apart from the name of the village displayed in the map, nothing else changed. At least, I did not notice the change, until I spent some more time walking around.
Well, for starters, I immediately discovered, much to my surprise, that I can teleport instantly inside the village, without spending any mana.
It only works within the boundaries of that black sphere, which, apparently, only I can see.
As I claimed the land, some people, along with my companions, rushed to me to see what happened.
While Retel basically assaulted me with questions, the settlers that came up to me held a formal tone in their voice, their backs straightened like they were soldiers in the presence of their commander.
At first, it made me a bit uncomfortable, the absolute trust I can read in their eyes, how they listen to my words with the utmost attention.
It is definitely something due to this strange “ownership”, but something deep inside of me relishes this kind of obedience they display.
I tried to give some orders, just to see the boundaries of this new thing. Villagers seem compelled to follow a direct order from me. Even if it is something that would harm them, or the ones around them.
Not that I made them really do something dangerous or harmful, of course. But still, the words were enough to spring them to action.
Suggestions, however, had no effect whatsoever, remaining mere words that left the final decision to the subject, rather than binding them to do my will like an order would have done.
It is disturbing, but it could be useful in dire need. For example, if someone tries to flee from the battle, terrorized.
Or to prevent crime, and some other things. The magnitude of this effect seems to be enhanced by my Leadership skill, thus making the villagers basically powerless against a direct order from me. On the other hand, it seems like my words have also a big positve effect on them.
Still, for now, I will limit myself to suggestion, resorting to orders only as a last measure.
Another change that happened is more subtle, and it took me a while to realize it. The mana in this place changed, becoming denser, more attuned to my own.
In here, my spells seem to have a larger effect, and consume less mana.
The area itself is limited, so the actual advantage this might provide is small for now. But, it could be of some use, after all. I wonder what would happen if I manage to increase my sphere of influence.
That’s the term Navi used to describe the black bubble that surrounds the settlement…Ream. A Sphere of Influence, delimiting the territory under my control. As it would in a game, it is possible for it to increase, if people from my territory occupy adjacent territories, or the population increases enough. It is possible for it to decrease as well, if the number of villagers falls under a specific threshold.
And of course, it could disappear completely, if the village is conquered or destroyed.
While pondering about these things, I give some glances to Meviel’s visual feedback, to check the situation of the Monster Horde.
It seems the number of them has slightly decreased, the weakest monsters being used as food to let the others grow stronger.
Damian himself is not there, it seems. His signal is far away, deep in Aldora Forest, surrounded by monsters. Perhaps, he is gathering some new recruits to his little army.
The important thing here is that he did not catch wind of what is happening in Ream. If he sensed that something was amiss there, I am sure he would have investigated in person.
Fighting him without the monsters to back him up would be easier, but if he came here, there would
definitely casualties among the population.
It will be better to let things play out as intended, without forcing my hand for now.
After all, I really doubt that things would play out differently, thinking back on how all this started.
Divine will and all that. This feels more like some sort of game between two children, arranging their pieces on a board and moving them according to a set of rules defined only for their amusement, rather than this whole situation being a crisis between bordering territories.
And perhaps, this is the reality of this world. People that do not know their true purpose, fancying themselves kings, popes or heroes, while being nothing more than pieces on a cardboard, moved by invisible hands and whose fate is decided by a whim or the roll of a dice.
And even if this is the reality behind the world itself, what choice do I have? Rebel? Ignore the will of a God?
I’m sure it will be impossible for the current me. Considering the strain that receiving Azatoth’s thoughts put on my body, what would his wrath do to me?
I shake my head, returning my thoughts to more pressing matters. The villagers are reunited in the center of Ream, waiting. All of them tired, many showing bruises on their bodies, signs of the sparring they had with my companions.
Their expressions suggest how they learned the difference in power between them and a single individual with several levels above their own.
In this scenario, numbers don’t matter.
Still, right now it is time to let them rest, and have a filled stomach.
From Inventory, I take out some provisions to distribute. It’s not much, but it will suffice for dinner. Tomorrow, I will have to think about how to feed the whole village, and some ways to make it self sufficient too. The current crops and cultivated land is not enough, and it shows a low yield given how scarce the provisions are.
We need more, to support the settlers during the incoming battle, and after that as well.
However, those thoughts are for a later time. For now, it is better to let them enjoy the meal, after their hard work.
Tomorrow, the real training for them will start.
Heod has naturally taken charge of the cooking, several ladies and some men following his directions as they stir pots and cut vegetables and meat.
While preparations are being made, making it look more like a festival night rather than a tense preparation for an upcoming war, I wander alone, walking between the wooden huts that compose the settlement, now renamed Ream.
<<Too much noise in there?>>
Vadra’s voice calls me from behind. He’s smoking a pipe, similar to the one Heod uses.
<<Yeah, I needed a bit of silence. Just to sort out some things>>
<<Hm. You are not really what you seem, boy. Roshal, was it? How is it that every time you show up, some ridiculous things happen?>>
His remark makes me chuckle. Of course, he must have recognized me from the time I spent in the fort, before the Laughing Man…liberated them.
<<That, mister Vadra, is a question that I would pay to know the answer. It seems that trouble follows me, everywhere I go>>
This time, is the old man that chuckles to my remark.
We spend some time talking, and he shares his experience. From his words, I learn how the life of a man enslaved by Aldora was.
The complete deprivation of rights, dehumanization, the loss of your own name. Completely different from what I had surmised back then, when I saw the soldiers’ behavior around the slaves. They fed them, well enough, and there was not a hint of heavy repression of the slaves, the soldiers limiting to give them orders, without abusing their power on them.
I thought that, even in the horror and wrongness that is depriving someone of their freedom, the people from Aldora did not revel in the humiliation imposed onto the slaves.
But Vadra’s words carry a different story. As it is, the soldiers are forbidden to speak with the slaves.
<<”Like a man would not speak to cattle, or animals on the side of the road. Because they are nothing but animals, beneath the Holiness of our blood. And thus, you shall not speak to them, if not for giving firm and righteous orders. You shan’t touch them, if not for imparting discipline”and other shit like this. In short, we are not human for them. They fed us, oh yes, but the amount of it, and quality, was feeble and scarce. Drugged food, lined with herbs to increase stamina, and others to numb fatigue and judgment. To cloud your mind, so that the thought of rebellion would be too nebulous to be grasped>>
We stood there some more, as Vadra spoke about how regaining their freedom was at first overwhelming, then it became intoxicating. For me, he told, a day was just a day, spent doing whatever I wanted. For him, days before the Laughing Man came where the negation of his being, as he was nothing more than a tool to use, to build, to plow the fields, to clean, and wash the equipment.
<<But after the Man came, and his laughter resounded in the fort- said Vadra- every day is a blessing. It has uncertainty in it, true. I do not know if the food will be enough for us all, or if we will have enough wood for winter. But, one thing I know. Whatever we want to do, we are now free to do it. It’s difficult to explain this to someone like you, someone who has not been bound by another’s will. Now, we are free, and we will do everything to remain free>>
His words carry sorrow, but his eyes show a glint of determination, the one that is born under pressure and suffering. This man will not yield, to anything. Having tasted hell itself, having lost his freedom, his soul has been tempered, his will becoming stronger. If danger arises, he will fight for his people.
His determination is comforting to behold. It means that, no matter what, this man will fight, and inspire others to do it as well.
Perhaps, the situation here is not as dire as it seems.
If there is the will to fight, there is hope. The rest, is just a matter of teaching them how to fight, how to raise their own prowess and exploit their power.
Still, I wonder what is the point of it all. Why have I been guided here, in some sort of capricious twist of fate.
I already gave some considerations on the matter, but now, alone since Vadra went back to his fellow settlers, I have some proper time to think about this whole situation.
Ever since my life in this world started, I have felt like every decision I took did not matter in the end. All the crucial points, from that first encounter with the slimes, back there in the forest bordering the Marsh, to me being here, it feels like I have been swept by the current of fate, following it, unable to resist the flow.
Now more than ever, since the mind that willed me here has made itself manifest, binding me to an order. Earlier, Vadra told me that I could not understand what it means to be a slave, to be bound by another’s will, unable to resist it.
If only he knew how wrong he is…
I stand in there some more, thinking about this strange fate that befell me, that tied me to this place. First, as a bystander of cruelty, both subtle, like the one perpetrated by the Aldoran towards their slaves, with no apparent violence but filled with a more profound malice, the negation of their status as human being. Then, I witnessed the retribution they suffered for that cruelty, by a twisted violence, righteous in some aspects but brutal in its execution. The Laughing Man came and consumed, rending the slaves’ chains as he devoured the oppressors’ flesh.
And now, I find myself once more in here, this time forced to assume the role of a guide. It baffles me how the former slaves accepted my words, swindled by the effect of my Leadership skill. Under no normal circumstances a group of grown adults would listen to the words of someone like me, with the appearance of a teenager. And yet, they accepted me, my words, the promise I gave them of us standing together against the upcoming menace, and of us overcoming it.
For now, those words moved their hearts, igniting in them the will to fight. During the speech I raised to them, I appealed to their sense of freedom, to the underlying terror they have, seeing themselves once again under Aldora’s chains.
Now, I need to think how to deliver my promises.
<<This is truly a pain in the ass>>
I mutter to myself, strolling away from the spot where I stood, walking slowly towards the barracks that our group has occupied.
Tomorrow, the real preparations will start.
Morning came, and I went out with the first lights of the day. For now, I am assigning tasks to my companions, preparing our defenses before we start the actual training of the settlers.
I sent Retel and Levia back to Sendria, in order for them to gather some supplies. Food and ammunition are our primary concerns at the moment. Both of them are equipped with a new item, something I made using Shoggoth. Small, black rings, being themselves parts of Shoggoth, and capable of its own abilities, even in a limited way. In short, they act as an inferior version of Shoggoth’s Absorb and Gather abilities, with a minor version of Inventory added to the effect. They should be enough to gather the necessary materials and ammunition, arrows and bolts, to add to those I already possess. Using Transfer Orbs, my companions will be able to come back in no time after all.
Dahl and Marica will be the ones helping me today. Under our supervision, we will have the villagers taste their first battle against monsters.
Meviel will also have its first battle, as I intend to level it up as much as I can during these two weeks.
To check on the Hero and his pet army, I used some offshoots from Shoggoth, just to maintain visual contact and basic recognition.
The mana flow from these offshoots is minimal, coded in pulses to make it less detectable. The information I gather from them is not constant, having an interval of ten minutes between each transmission, but it is enough to give me a general grasp of the situation.
Meanwhile, I set Shoggoth free around the area. I restrained it, imparting two simple orders. Capture every monster it encounters, without devouring it, and collect each single alchemical ingredient it finds.
With this, I will be able to obtain the necessary creatures to train the villagers, and at the same time produce a stock of materials for Heod to craft and brew his potions and remedies.
After distributing some of the equipment from my Inventory to the villagers, it is time for the training to start. At the moment, the collective level of the villagers is low, below level eight. I need to balance their training well enough, raising their level enough to have a steady increase in their proficiency, but without having them incur into Level Up sickness.
Simply raising their level forcibly will not be enough, as they need to have a taste for battle, something they lacked.
As Shoggoth comes back, the first test starts.
I let it release the first batch of monsters, ten Marsh Worms. Their level is low, the highest being a level four worm.
Seeing their form brings me back to the time where I fought them, still inexperienced, basically a baby stumbling in this dangerous world.
The first batch of villagers comes forth to challenge the monsters. They move with confusion, some of them rushing ahead while others cower, their steps unsteady, their grip weak and trembling on their weapons.
Shouts resonate in the air, as the monsters claim the first blood. Perhaps, the villagers where expecting some kind of protection from me, from us. But, it will not come. I will not let them die, for sure, and I will take care of their wounds.
But, the first thing they need to learn right now, is pain.
The feeling of it, the sensation of dread in front of a superior opponent. In this life, it is rare to experience such a thing and survive it. By realizing how much the enemy in front of them is dangerous, they will know the extent of their own fear.
Those that show a cocky attitude, will have the reality of their own weakness exposed in front of them.
Those that are too scared to even make a move, will have their cowardice be their undoing.
As the first test is concluded, I imprison the monsters into Inventory, before they can deliver any lethal blow to the villagers.
Using recovery magic we deal with the wounded, imparting them a cruel lesson. Using cruel words to make them come to terms with their own weakness, I go so far as to use illusions to show them what will happen if the Hero wins this battle.
The look of terror on their faces is something that touches my soul, and I almost feel like I am overstepping a bit.
Still, these people right now have been ensnared in this nonsensical conflict between the two Gods, the one revered in Aldora and the one pulling my strings. I chuckle at myself, as the thought I had about being a puppet for some playful and mad puppeteer seems the more apt definition for my current condition.
Using Leadership, I let my words sink in, motivating the villagers to stand up once again.
Their wounds healed, their stamina regenerated, they are now ready to show their worth. Before I release the monsters once more, me and my companions give our final piece of advice.
This time, the villagers will follow our directives during battle.
The first test was something that I left to their judgment, letting the people chose their role in battle and act as they pleased.
Now, with the help from Dahl and Marica, the previously unorganized bunch of people is being divided into small groups.
Formations are being taught to them. Those that show a melee predisposition occupy the front line, guarding the middle where ranged fighters are stationed.
These people still lack individuals with decent magical prowess, and healers. Of all the individuals that showed some magical disposition, healers were the scarcer, counting two people among the total population.
A bad situation, but it turns out, being the Lord of this village will let me tamper a bit with each individual’s growth.
In short, they can inherit some skills of my choosing, or I can decide which “direction” their growth will follow.
After this test, I will know who among the villagers has the proper disposition for each role. With the limited amount of people at my disposal, it will be imperative to have specialized individuals capable of covering determinate roles.
For now, however, the only thing I can do is sit back and wait.
The second test unfolds, this time being a more entertaining fight.
The villagers, now divided into proper formations, face the Worms with better movements and coordination among themselves.
Melee fighters shed their sweat as they guard their companions with shields, while other, more specialized in close quarter attacks, take advantage of their comrades distracting the monsters to land some slashes and blows.
Ranged fighters wait for the proper moment to release their arrows, and some, the ones with magical disposition, begin to release their spells, nothing more than mana sparks for the moment.
I smile when the first worm falls, and the premature cry of victory is choked by those of pain, as the severed parts of the worm spring into action, showing the regenerative ability of this nasty creature.
Using Leadership, I give precise orders to the people. The skill affects them in an astounding way, probably due to the major gap between our levels.
Still, their panic is gone, and they abide to my orders.
Melee fighters close their ranks, relying on blunt and piercing attacks rather than slashes to weaken the monsters, as the ranged fighters deal the decisive blows by piercing the worms with their arrows.
Following Marica’s directions, the few magicians stopped using direct attacks, using their mana instead to empower the archers, making their arrows crackle as the arrowheads are charged with temperature. A single one is not enough to set the monsters on fire, but the continued assault gives its fruit, as the first worm falls, its body twisting as flames lick its body, charring it black until it stops wriggling and thrashing, lying dead on the ground.
This time, the cry of victory resounding is true. I reclaim their attention, commanding them to focus on the remaining monsters.
Their struggle continues, until the last worm lies on the ground.
Author’s Note: Hi all, chapter 30 is finally out! Took a long time to write, edit and post, mostly because of IRL stuff. Still, it’s here, finally 😉
As usual, I will ask you for feedback on Re:Interference. What are your opinion on the story so far? What did you like about it, and what did you dislike? What could be improved, and which parts you think that were poorly written? Personally, I find several flaws in this first web novel of mine, and I need other people’s honest opinion to have a different perspective on my work.
Next chapter will release…well, I don’t know when. In the meantime, if you want, hop on and give a look to my other novels here:
Thank you for your time!