The broodmother was laid on its stomach in the forest nearby, its shell creaking and cracking everywhere as it grew once more. Its swollen abdomen had grown relatively smaller, implying that it had already consumed most of the stored food. This growth spurt put the creature at more than three metres long, and about as tall as an adult human. However, its limbs, pincers, and head had little changes to them.
The broodmother staggered forward, leaving three translucent oval eggs behind. They started pulsing the moment they touched the ground, and one could see beings within rapidly taking form and growing. Pincers pierced through the eggshells, and half-metre-long worker drones that looked like the young broodmother crawled out. There was about ten minutes of difference between the creatures being laid and breaking out, and just like the broodmother the first thing they did upon coming out was to consume their shells. They then shook their bodies as their outer shells hardened, growing to near a metre in length by the time the process ended.
The worker drones spread their wings and flew out, soaring in a circle around the broodmother before swiftly heading into the depths of the forest. The broodmother itself lay quietly in its position, looking like a black rock under the night sky.
The weather remained pleasant, with stars littering the sky. The moonlight itself was dim, but there seemed to be a thin veil of grey shrouding the forest. The broodmother suddenly moved its body at one point, withdrawing into the shadows of the trees as it was put on guard by human voices in the distance. However, it smelt something familiar and opened up once more, laying down quietly in the forest again.
Hundreds of metres away, an open space in the forest was illuminated so brightly that it practically looked like day. Ten of the prisoners had dug two pits, one large and one small. They moved their fallen comrades from a cart into the larger pit, supervised by two Archeron knights in full armour. The two titled knights and the novices were placed in the smaller one, obviously with preferential treatment. This wasn’t just in line with the traditions of this plane— it followed Norland customs as well. Nobles and commoners were different, even in death.
The bodies were quickly buried, and Flowsand had the knights escort the prisoners back, saying she still needed to pray for a while. The day’s battle had left her status second only to Richard in their eyes, so they agreed. Almost all of them owed their survival to her, and now they only felt safe when she was on their side.
Flowsand stood quietly in place for a long time, watching as the footsoldiers and slaves disappeared from sight. She then opened the Book of Time, flipping to a page with an intricate illustration recording stories of the Eternal Dragon’s priestesses wandering the planes. They spread the Dragon’s teachings, searching for and curing a magic plague called the Paling Decrepitude. There was a strange spot of light in the picture. Flowsand looked at its location, and headed deep into the forest…
A bear roared out somewhere in the woods. One of the workers flew over to the broodmother and threw a rabbit towards it before returning, while the shrubs rustled as another dragged in a grey wolf larger than the drones themselves.
A furious snarl soon erupted nearby as a plump black bear charged out, another of the workers flying not far ahead of it. The bee-like creature flew along leisurely, always low enough for the bear to attempt clawing at it but still able to soar and dodge them by a hair’s breadth. The bear itself had an obvious injury on its head, evidently a result of a fierce bite from the drone.
Seeing the bear pouncing towards it, the broodmother excitedly stood up and crawled forwards. When the opposing creature was about ten metres away it sent a mental attack on its mind, causing the black bear to suddenly stiffen before it rolled on the ground in pain. Moments later, it moved no more.
By the time Flowsand walked out from between the trees, she saw that the black bear was almost completely eaten. The broodmother stopped eating to look at her wearily, its mouth opening slightly as concentrated acid dripped out in a steady flow. It was evident that any hostility or further approach would be greeted by an acid arrow.
Flowsand halted her footsteps, “There’s no need for you to be uneasy about me.”
The broodmother moved its mouth slightly, and the shell behind its head suddenly opened up a chunk to reveal a membrane. This ‘mouth’ moved, allowing the creature to speak somewhat like a human, even if its voice was hoarse and strange, “You don’t have a soul contract with Master.”
Flowsand smiled, “My relationship with your master is even more stable than one arising from a contract.”
“I only believe in contracts,” the broodmother replied.
“Why don’t you link to me?” Flowsand suggested, “That way, we’ll be able to communicate with our minds.”
The broodmother rejected the thought immediately, “Your divine force is powerful. Before I evolve, I definitely won’t link to your mind. Also, I suggest you put that book in your hand down, it is making me feel uncomfortable. I am already on the verge of attacking you.”
“This? No problem.” Flowsand raised the Book of Time as she spoke. Her movements immediately caused the broodmother to spread its shell, but then she crouched down and placed it properly on the ground to quiet it down.
“We can now talk properly. My name is Flowsand.”
“You can call me broodmother. Beautiful Flowsand, why have you sought me out?” it asked.
Flowsand sounded an ‘oh’ in answer, asking with interest, “Am I truly beautiful?”
The broodmother answered with a unique honesty, “Very much so. Everything with power, balance, and perfection is beautiful, and you meet all three criteria. Especially the pattern on your forehead, it has unimaginable strength. It’s so beautiful that it shocks me.”
“You flatter me,” Flowsand smiled. Even unsmiling Flowsand contained a mysterious, hallowed beauty. She was like the ruins of the Church of the Eternal Dragon, gleaming amber with great change concealed inside. However, when she smiled it was like the flow of time itself, encompassing the magnificence of the myriad countless planes. Her beaming face bloomed in a way that shook one to the core.
However, the priestess quickly withdrew that smile and stated solemnly, “Richard, your master, is not in a good state. He is very much in need of your strength.”
“I’m working diligently to grow,” the broodmother answered, “In fact, you’re disturbing my meal.”
Flowsand took a look at the black bear that was almost completely destroyed, asking, “Does this sort of food satisfy you? How far are you from full maturity?”
“The black bear is very good and powerful. I am currently three fourths of the way to evolving.”
“Very powerful…” Flowsand astutely caught the phrase used, “So besides flesh and metals, you need beings of great power as you feed in your larval form?”
“Flesh and metal are the basis of my growth. The more powerful my meal was in life, the more useful it is to me. I can analyse the source of their power, making use of it for myself. Once I evolve, I will need food with mana in it.”
“Very good,” Flowsand nodded, “Come with me. I believe there is food that will be of use to you over there.”
The broodmother hesitated for a moment, but eventually followed the priestess. The rest of the black bear couldn’t be wasted, so it summoned two of the drones back to drag it over.
Flowsand led the broodmother to the open space where the dead warriors had been buried. The creature spread its shell in excitement once it reached the area, but after several steps it stopped.
“Master said humans are not food,” it said.
“Humans can be friends or enemies. There is no need to hesitate over eating those who want to kill you. What’s more important is that Richard needs your strength.”
“But Master…” The broodmother still held back, but after reaching this place, the black bear was no longer attractive to it.
“Richard abides by his own thoughts and principles. That is a source of incredible will, and is also why people will follow him, but I shall take over for the necessary things that he does not have the ability or desire to do. Broodmother, there is no need to hesitate. This is my responsibility. You are smart, and you should realise that this applies to both you and your master— your principles only matter if you can stay alive.”
The broodmother didn’t move, but the two drones quickly tossed the bear aside and flew over, shovelling at the ground to reveal the corpses buried underneath. Right at the centre was Sir Menta, still in full armour and helmet. His large damaged shield covered his body, while the morningstar was placed in his hand.
The broodmother shifted its body, crawling to the open space. A giant shadow slowly covered the knight who had been consigned to eternal rest.Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Translated By: Ying
Edited By: Theo
TLC'ed By: OMA