Book 9, Chapter 57

13

Richard walked out of the simple housing to find himself in a temporary camp that seemed to have been created by the broodmother. Worker drones were bustling around everywhere, outnumbering the humanoids by a hefty margin. In fact, if one counted out the night elves, winter soldiers, and other drones, they were orders of magnitude greater in number than the actual humans.

In the rear of the camp was a flesh furnace that was constantly being fed wreckage from the battle, wiggling slowly as it spat out metal ingots that were sent elsewhere. However, the true value of this system came from the slag that could not be processed, which contained ember essence within that only his blue flames could refine.

As he alerted everyone connected to him that he had awoken, Richard was quickly flooded with requests for communication. He focused first on Salwyn, who was reporting from the Frozen Throne, “I won again, Richard. But it’s as you expected, I might as well have lost. There are only ten thousand people left, and few of them can move. I’m going to honour my agreement and set them on the road to Bluewater, but I hope to accompany them on that path. If there is any chance of danger, I’ll get on a messenger and leave.”

“Sigh, alright,” Richard relented with a shake of the head. He knew that the man was simply mourning the death of his empire, which had been decimated after the three waves of attacks. Salwyn himself was now only an emperor in name; his legacy was gone. Even if they managed to chase the reapers out of Faelor at some point, the Iron Triangle would be no more.

Faelor’s population had been halved by this point, with hundreds of millions of citizens turned into raw materials and energy for the reaper army. If not for the Crimson Empire and the Land of Turmoil blocking the attacks, the mechanical beetles would likely be scouring the entire mainland for stragglers by this point.

Cutting off communications with Salwyn, Richard started listening to reports on the casualties in battle. He had already expected a mind-numbing number of casualties, but when he heard a familiar name he shivered and lost balance. Barely stopping himself from hitting the ground, he contacted the broodmother immediately, “Phaser…”

“She’s dead, Master, and the soul was destroyed as well. I can’t revive her,” the broodmother responded.

He cut off the reports and sat down, recalling the first special unit that the broodmother had ever created and her past life as a traumatized young girl. Phaser had inherited both the good and bad of Sinclair, revealing a human side to her over time even as her desires and actions grew darker. He suddenly thought of his own treatment of her, and how he’d basically ignored the fact that she even had a soul. He knew that she had a lot of detailed opinions, and he knew at least somewhat about her feelings as well, but he’d handled her like she was just a drone simply because acting otherwise would have been a can of worms.

And now, she was gone. What’s worse; she had died for his sake even when she could have retreated. More than half of the saints and most of the legends in the secondary battlefield had survived due to an early retreat, but she had noticed that the reaper troops were heading towards him and thus fought to the death. Richard wanted to believe this was simply because the broodmother’s drones were unafraid of death, but the fact was that another who had followed in his footsteps had now departed without him treating them right. From Medium Rare to Flowsand and now Fuschia and Phaser, he was losing the people around him even as he grew in power.

This one death almost added as much to the weight on his heart as all the rest. He started doubting his decision to fight the reapers once more; even with tens of thousands of citizens retreating to Goldflow Valley and the Forest Plane every day, he had given up hundreds of thousands of elite warriors for their sake. The broodmother was still stuck in Faelor, but he had no idea whether he could achieve a final victory for her sake.

However, at this point he was far too committed to this war, and had to see it through. Dragging his tired body, he started refining the ember essence, crafting and repairing runes, and reorganising his defensive lines even as he sent out more scouts. At the same time, his support base was starting to shrink; three legends and a dozen saints had stepped out after this battle, and the rest were sure to do so the moment the reward point system ran out of saint runes. Fortunately, Nasia had already expected this and was working on some remedial measures.

……

Richard spent the next few days connected to the Land of Turmoil, helping the broodmother analyse the reaper troops. They came up with a new type of drone armour which was thick yet loosely fitted, designed more to absorb the scouting waves of the enemy than to provide any defence. New scouts were created with this feature and managed to fly right past the warships and gain a full view of the enemy base.

Almost a dozen square kilometres of the shoreline had now been turned into a base of operations for the reapers, with a number of strange buildings constantly churning our parts for their warships. These components converged with the help of other factories, slowly becoming groups and functional units before they were transformed into the final product. However, these warships couldn’t yet move at that point. They were all towed to a slanted metal pillar that poked out from the ocean, which covered them in a white glow that brought them to life. These newly formed warships would then head out to various gathering points, awaiting their next orders.

Richard shivered as he realised that the metal pillar was shooting out ember essence, giving the drones life. However, it was impossible to tell just how much essence was left in that mothership, or if he’d made a dent in the enemy reserves at all. He knew that the mothership’s destruction would doom the reaper attack to failure, but as the flying beasts saw a number of enormous warships and other troops he dispelled any such thoughts. The numbers of the enemy made it clear that it was too great of a risk for him to go alone; if he wasn’t careful, even his body wouldn’t be able to withstand those attacks.

The broodmother sensed his thoughts, “Master, the best way to deal with them is a war of attrition. As long as we continue to take away their ember essence, we’ll win eventually. I don’t think there’s a chance in five for a direct assault to succeed.

Richard grunted in response, but he slowly nodded his head. His attention was then drawn to another image from the flying beasts, where a group of mechanical beetles were dragging the remains of some drones close to the sea. It was quite apparent that these were the remnants of cloned brains, and instead of being minced into the pile for flesh warriors they were being taken into a small building nearby.

Was that a… “That’s a laboratory!” the broodmother quickly confirmed his thoughts, although her certainty left him a little confused. For some reason, there was a hint of panic in her voice as well, and she even pulled her scouts away.

However, a group of palm-sized ships suddenly flew out of that laboratory, emitting a strange energy as they flew after the beasts like lightning. The energy turned out to be a signal, and as the scouts were caught a clear order rang out in both the broodmother’s and Richard’s minds, “Destroyer 13, acknowledge the mothership at once!”

Following this command was some cryptic information that Richard couldn’t decipher. However, he turned to look at the broodmother instead, “Is that you?”

After a momentary pause, the broodmother sent him an affirmative.

“They can order you?” he asked anxiously. If the broodmother really did obey the reapers’ orders, he would have to order his followers out of Faelor immediately. Her drones were now the major part of his army, and her main body was comparable to a legendary being. He also knew clearly that she was unkillable due to the abilities from her truename; so long as she wished to, she would devour all of Faelor one day.

“No, Master, I refused. But this will be difficult.”

“You can refuse?”

“Yes. The soul repair plan really did give me my independence. I can reject any orders the reapers give me.”

“Then if you hadn’t—”

“They would have had full authority over me that far exceeded yours.”

For the first time in his life, Richard felt like the Scholars of Soremburg had ended up helping him in a way. However, he quickly shook that schadenfreude off and focused on the issue at hand, “You said it’s going to be difficult.”

“Mm. That message after the command, it said that I would experience great pain… if I refuse…” her voice was already starting to shake with agony, something Richard had never heard from her in his life. “And this is only the start… They’ll… keep increasing it…”

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Styles

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA