Still invisible as he walked out the other side of the portal, Richard gingerly passed the guards and soared into the skies, silently disappearing into the distance. He didn’t even glance at the draconians, his mind focused on the moving warehouse of materials that was the prophetic dragon. He had already started picking it apart in his mind to deduce the strength of its soul, wondering just what he could get when it was killed.
Would he be able to acquire some divination as well? As the cloned brain’s arrival distracted him, he suddenly laughed at the idea. He was already thinking like a soul hunter, even though the idea had been off-putting only days ago. He could only rationalize it with the fact that many powerful humans still saw dragons as prey; eating the soul of a beast was much more palatable than that of a fellow human.
He mounted the brain and had it circle around the valley once, sending out a stream of orders in his mind. A few minutes later, the Crimson Army would begin mobilising and set out for the Pearl Necklace. He marked the locations for his followers and other elites in advance, planning for them and fifty rune knights to mount the astral chrysalis and fly over. Only a few hours later, dozens of flying chrysalides would gather and transport another fifty rune knights as well as a thousand shadowspears.
The Crimson Dukedom’s elite forces were prepared for battle before nightfall, and a 30,000-man army set off at the crack of dawn. Gangdor led the regular army, while Richard’s other followers had already gathered to him.
Deep below the Land of Turmoil, three enormous cocoons started wriggling from within their nests. The dark outer layer cracked and was torn apart, revealing creatures that looked like creased, rotting buns. These creatures ate up what was left of their cocoons and crawled out of the forest, taking huge breaths of air and bloating up as they moved. Their bodies slowly turned into enormous versions of the chrysalides, at which point they stopped crawling and instead rose into the sky. Openings in their skin started shooting out streams of air to guide them as they floated to their destinations.
These three were what the broodmother had referred to as wasps, enormous transportation drones that were meant to support the military. Each one of them could carry more than a thousand soldiers with them, flying for days towards their destination.
In a small town in the Iron Triangle Empire, Raymond was sitting by a fireplace looking over his map to plan the new supply route. While the army was stopped for now, his workload only grew as he set things up for future wars. Replenishing supplies required extra care, and a failure in logistics could easily lose entire wars.
Beside him, Reyna had her head buried in her own work. The princess had learnt a lot over the past years, and grown into a capable assistant in her own right.
As he continued to write down his plans, a cloned brain suddenly connected to him and transmitted an enormous volume of information; the broodmother had made him a node in her system, one of the benefits granted by the worms burrowed into him.
The data this time was regarding the newly completed wasps. As the one in charge of logistics, they were most important to him. However, as he read through their key functions, Raymond only grew more and more despondent with time. These drones provided a huge boost to Richard’s logistics, but that was a problem. The broodmother should not have designed such creatures at all, they weren’t in her personal interest. Had she not broken free yet?
The soul-mending plan was Raymond’s biggest secret and also the grandest conspiracy he had ever planned; it was in essence what fuelled his continued existence. This decision from the broodmother left him extremely uneasy, so much so that his facade slipped for a moment. He even had to flash the now-concerned Reyna a smile to reassure her.
Excusing himself, he walked over to the garden and started pacing about. Even after circling it a few hundred times, he couldn’t hold back the unease and ended up trying to contact the broodmother.
It took a while for her to respond, and her first words were dismissive, “What is it? I am very busy right now.”
Raymond was taken aback. The broodmother had been changing ever so slowly since she started on the soul-mending plan, and he could make out the traces of that change. Now, however, her tone was drastically different; it was clear that a majority of her soul damage had been mended.
“Is your soul complete?” he asked directly.
“But you aren’t level 11 yet—”
“Sillo is powerful enough, I have no need to go that far.”
This response filled Raymond up with immense joy, to the point that he ignored her revelation of her truename. He couldn’t even tell whether this was due to the completion of the project or success in causing trouble for Richard. He barely contained his emotions, “So Richard…”
“Master still requires my help.”
“Yes, Master,” she said patiently.
“You already have a complete soul, aren’t you free of his control?!”
“I am, but…” That one word was like a dagger stabbed into Raymond’s heart. He staggered back and had to lean against the wall to remain standing, allowing her to continue her words, “… I feel like continuing my previous relationship with him.”
“But… But…” Raymond couldn’t find any response. The broodmother wasn’t human; even with a completed soul and full range of emotions, she was still a massive war machine whose forte was her mind. One couldn’t just expect her to do what they asked, especially when she was freed. If she was planning to continue her relationship with Richard, that only meant he was that useful to her growth. Without an adequate response of his own, there would be no way to convince her otherwise.
But even the soul-mending plan had been devised by many Scholars of Soremburg over years; Raymond only had access to this knowledge because of his status amongst them. Only the best of the Scholars even stood a chance of offering something so valuable. Dazed and feeling his chest grow tighter and tighter, he eventually spat out a mouthful of fresh blood and fainted.
An alarmed voice rang in Raymond’s dull head, bringing him to his senses. Coughing as he barely sat up, he saw Reyna brandishing a shortsword as she confronted something.
“You’re awake!” she shouted as she felt him stir, her voice trembling, “What… what are these things?”
Raymond looked towards the door, finding a dozen bee-like creatures that were each twenty centimetres long. Reyna had a look of absolute disgust on her face as she cut down a few more, adding to a number of carcasses in the garden. However, dozens more were flying in from the outside, ready to burst in at any time.
“I-it’s alright,” he said with a bitter smile as he placed a hand on her leg, calming her down. Sending her to the side, he allowed one of the bugs to stab into his forearm.
Reyna shrieked for a moment as it happened, but noticing the rosiness return to Raymond’s cheeks as the creature pumped him with some liquid, she calmed down. Still wide-eyed, she asked in astonishment, “What… what’s all this about?”
Raymond only forced a smile, “I’ll tell you in a bit, go wait for me back inside.”
He then closed his eyes, connecting to the broodmother once more, “I’m still of use to you alive?”
“Not to me, no, but Master could still use you.”
“And why do you think I’d still be willing to work for Richard?” he asked with a bitter smile.
“Why not?” the broodmother’s tone turned icy, “Even if you Scholars are heartless turncoats, you are still mortals with flesh and blood. Your instincts to spawn a brood should still exist; do you not wish to see your own children?”
“Children?!” Raymond asked in shock, before turning to look at Reyna who was a little ways away, “What did you do to her?!”
“Nothing, you don’t need to act so angry. But, so long as I am willing, Reyna can have your children at any time.”
“Heh, my children?” he mocked.
“And how can I be sure of that? How should I be certain you won’t alter its blood, that my beloved child won’t become something like this when I’m old?” he pointed at the bug still stuck into his arm.
“You will never understand the aesthetics of higher beings. Pigs don’t believe humans are particularly beautiful either.”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Styles
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA