Book 4, Chapter 75

Prelude

“I don’t know what you mean.” Jubu’s voice held hints of unease, eyes showing suspicion at the grand elder’s words. He was an intelligent youth, so he could roughly guess at the meaning.

“You are smart, young Quickwind. You should know that we elves aren’t the true powerhouses of the forest; that glory belongs to the world tree and all the trees of life.”

“Of course,” the young druid nodded.

“We cannot live away from the trees for any length of time. Once we lost it, our kin will find it difficult to bear children, our warriors will remain weak, and our druids will slowly degenerate. The trees of life are the pillars of support for our existence.

“However, what do we have to give them in return? Our only duty is to protect the trees and chase off their enemies. However, this isn’t something only we can provide. In other words, the elves cannot live away from the trees of life but the trees themselves do not need us. Do you see it now?”

“You mean the Tree has decided to give up on us?” Jubu looked shocked.

“Our relationship with the Tree of Life was not one of equals. It has found a more powerful guardian.”

“The invaders?!”

The grand elder nodded gravely, not saying a word.

“Why? This will break the natural structure of the forest! Wait. Could… Could it want to become a world tree?” As he said the last sentence, Jubu couldn’t help but draw a sharp breath.

“We constantly look for methods to grow stronger ourselves. What wrong is there in the Tree wanting to advance?”

Jubu lowered his head slightly, “I just… I can’t accept that invaders can be the protectors of the Tree of Life.”

The grand elder sighed again, “This is reality. We are now dispensable to the Tree of Life, so we need to follow in its example. Our goal should be proving our worth to Richard Archeron.”

“No!” Jubu jumped up, “Are we going to sacrifice the last sliver of our dignity and faith?”

The grand elder laughed bitterly, “Dignity? Just the fact of our survival took all of that away. Faith? The Tree of Life we worshipped has abandoned us for a new guardian. It has surrendered to the invaders. What can we do now other than follow? Do you want to leave? The dignity and faith you speak of, are they more important than the lives of our kin?”

The young druid froze. He knew very well that a tribe that left their tree for the depths of the forest would wither away and die slowly. Faced with such a grave problem, he had no answers at all.

The grand elder approached the window once more, “This is why I allow that priestess to preach to our people. Since the object of our faith has given up on us, those willing should be allowed to choose a new symbol of worship, regardless of which world it comes from.”

Jubu went quiet. He had sensed the decrease in the life energy the Tree emitted and knew that it had concentrated all of its power on Richard. They truly had been abandoned.

His choice between dignity and survival was clear. Pride was buried in the depths of his bones and he did not fear death. However, that was for himself. Considering Komput, Eidi, the grand elder, and the rest of the tribe… He felt a sense of weakness he had never experienced before. This was not a decision he could bring himself to make. He did not have the courage to drag all of his kin down with him on the path to ruin.

……

Richard had taken the birds and slaves and returned to Emerald City. Since he had taken a long time to arrive, Nyris and Agamemnon were done with all preparations and were only waiting for his return. It took an entire day longer for him to finish preparing to go back to Norland, something that startled the two.

The group entered the portal one by one and reappeared in the Church of the Eternal Dragon, this time with many special things on hand. There were a few forest elf slaves as well as some live woodpecking crows. However, the change in the portal upon their return shocked Richard: these crows cost the same amount of magic crystals to transfer as humans!

He couldn’t help but curse at that; taking them to Faelor would be another huge cost. Sighing, he ordered some guards to watch over the slaves and crows while he headed back to the Archeron island.

Melodious bell chimes rang through the floating island upon his return, a total of seven tolls signifying the arrival of the acting family head. This was the number of rings reserved for the head of the entire family; at least on this island, the Archerons viewed him as their leader.

Fuschia cried out in alarm near the entrance to one of the rooms in the castle, immediately shrinking behind the door and slamming it shut. She locked it hastily and leaned against it with her back, heart thumping hard. She didn’t know whether Richard would go through with his promise, but she would try her best to avoid bumping into him nevertheless.

She couldn’t bring herself to meet Richard at all, because she had returned with nothing on hand. Alice hadn’t asked her to return the runes, but still had no plans of fulfilling the promise of becoming Richard’s partner. This rare indecision placed her in a very difficult position. When she received the message the butler had passed on from Richard, she had forced herself to come here out of guilt. The island needed a powerful protector.

However, Richard truly didn’t seem to care about her return. After saying a few words to the old steward, he locked himself inside the study and began to flip through book after book in search of something.

……

Not long after Richard’s return to Norland, a few secret guests arrived at the Joseph Family island one after the other. They were dressed like regular nobles, faces not covered by any hoods or the like, but that was because they were all in disguise. These visitors were led to a special command centre.

There were already two large enchanted map tables running in the room, one showing a noble’s territory in Norland and the other an unknown plane.

The map of Norland showed a few large arrows pointing inwards on the noble’s territory from various directions. In front of it was a young man who stood ramrod straight, facing it in deep thought. He would make some adjustments every once in a while, having the giant arrows shift accordingly. After a few adjustments, his tense brows finally relaxed and he seemed satisfied. He then took out a thick stack of papers and started searching through lists of soldier groupings and materiel. At the back of each category were numerous annotations.

Bright magic light left a few small shadows on his sharp, handsome face as he read with all focus, coughing every once in a while. At some point in time, Raymond had been forced to come out of the family’s planes.

Footsteps echoed down from the corridor as Duke Joseph led the new guests over. Two war puppets suddenly revealed themselves and blocked their way, weapons unsheathed and slanted towards the ground as they blocked the path. The old duke took out an access token and stuck it into a part of the wall, pressing a sparkling jade button to call forth a gentle yellow light that dissipated the warriors into green smoke. The footsteps then continued.

These guests didn’t seem to be surprised by the puppets blocking them. Although Joseph was the head of the family, it wasn’t difficult to fake one’s appearance. All big families with the means ran magic inspection in key areas or focused on bloodline scanning, completely ignoring appearance. The most powerful families even directly inspected the soul, something that was almost impossible to fool.

However, such mechanisms couldn’t be bought with money alone. Most devices able to scan the soul were at the legendary grade and could be considered divine tools. The Archeron family tombs, for example, couldn’t be entered without a concentrated bloodline. Without enough strength, anyone trying to force the issue would likely be swallowed up by the volcanic flames.

Old Joseph brought his guests through a huge door to a large hall that was almost a hundred square metres in area, with nearly a hundred fairly young people hard at work. Maps of different planes were projected on the walls everywhere, with detailed marching routes and logistical information marked down.

On each of the four corners was a tall platform where a few old generals were seated, each radiating bloodlust. All of them had multiple projection devices on their desks and were switching between the different parts as per their needs.

The hall was roughly separated into four large sections that were working independently. The youths in military uniform were bent over their desks, working on their own maps as they fiddled with something. Many of these desks had smaller and weaker projection devices as well; these desks were almost twice the size of the regular ones, and those sitting there were obviously older and more experienced.

At this point, one of the guests suddenly halted, “Is this your renowned planar central command? Could we have a quick tour?”

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OMA's Thoughts

Translated By: Ying

Edited By: Theo

TLC'ed By: OMA