It was a little bit more annoying to expand my trees to the cities in the North.
Unlike the Central Continent where trees are plentiful and common, in the Northern Islands, the cities were not tree friendly at all.
That said, there was still room for shrubs and less 'obvious' trees like wall crawling plants.
But this was inherently slower, and I felt a sense of repulsion for the treeless cities.
Even in the cold weather there were ways to integrate plants into the terrain, and I would have used my root-network to use my roots as a form of heat distribution system.
That would create a warmer environment that could support more verdant cities.
The lack of parks within the city area itself was also absolutely disgusting, only certain cities have them.
It seemed though, there were at least two agencies at work.
One, led by the Rosewoods.
Their agents were generally well equipped and trained, and they were the counter-hero-hunters.
But even they had not-so-loyal operatives.
Then, there’s the hero hunters.
Those that wanted to kill the heroes and gain some special class, though there was no data on what that special class was.
Also, it’s a little pointless for me to kill a hero if I can’t gain classes.
So, if anything, it should be a humanoid thing.
“Would you kill heroes” I asked, he was motionless, as he rested in a giant tree.
His body was linked to the giant tree, and through him, I controlled the rest of the trees.
“If you ask me to, yes.” Lumoof answered.
There are days where I still feel uncomfortable to be at the receiving end of such devotion and loyalty.
“One day I will.” I said.
It is inevitable.
“We will be ready, even if we have to die to do it.” Edna responded too, at the same question.
As my surveillance expanded, I was able to ‘support’ the other Valthorn operatives.
I provided cover fire and protected them in the event of any conflict with the other forces.
Here, in the North, I decided against using my beetles, since we are supposed to operate without being detected.
I also did not want to reveal that I had somehow stretched my trees to the North.
At least, not yet.
I would use beetles if I had a more secure root-link to the North.
My operatives, with my support and intel, were able to thus confront and attempt more ‘high-risk’ infiltrations.
This was when I encountered one of the Rosewood Hotels.
A large wooden structure six stories, and a large subterranean presence.
There was a magical quality to it, a very faint but strangely familiar one.
It was when my roots touched the hotels that I felt and then knew who it was.
[Domain blocking mental attack]
"What was that" I immediately put the name to the sensation.
It’s been so long.
Has it already been a century Yes.
It has been a century since they left.
The sensation immediately made me wonder and think about how they’ve been after all this time.
Their soul contract would have maybe...
900 years left
I thought about Alexis, and her constant plots.
Was she still angry, or has time mellowed her thoughts
No, I had to talk to them face to face, and then called Edna, Roon, Johann and a few other of the high levelled Valthorns together.
For old-times sake, I asked Lausanne to come along too.
She and her mom was probably the only one left who remembered them.
A group of 12, I briefed them about Alexis and Meela, and then Stella opened a portal, again, and sent them through to the other continent.
Lumoof transformed back to his normal state, the giant tree opened up to let him out.
“We’re going to meet an old friend of Aeon.” He said to the group.
The Rosewood Hotel in Roshendam stood.
To anyone who does not know, it is just a luxury inn, one of many throughout the Northern Islands.
Those that do know, understand that it is also the base of an influential espionage and assassins group, also named the Rosewoods.
Lumoof, fully geared for war, walked through the door, and instantly I sensed it.
The entire hotel is her.
Meela was here, somewhat, and already the employees in the hotel all stared.
The receptionist, a half-dwarf, merely glanced and quickly bowed.
“Greetings, esteemed guests, and welcome to the Rosewood Hotel, do you have a reservation”
Lumoof walked close to the receptionist, “No, I don’t.” The smartly-dressed receptionist glanced at the other members of the group, mainly Edna and Lausanne.
Lausanne looked around and merely smiled.
“I’m actually here for a meeting, and I would like to have a discussion with Lady Mika.”
The dwarf receptionist nodded.
“Lady Mika has been expecting your group for some time.”
The other staff members and guests of the hotel quickly walked away.
They behaved as if something was going to happen, and perhaps, there was.
Already, I spread my roots and trees and attempted to surround the hotel.
The half-dwarf smiled, “Well, for such high-ranking guests such as yourself, please give me a moment and let me prepare.”
But the place was built with enchanted stone and skill-infused roads.
My roots couldn’t penetrate them so easily.
The walls of the hotel were sturdy, easily made to be a fortress, even if it appeared like a luxury hotel.
Lumoof smiled back at the half-dwarf.
“That would be most appreciated.
Please assist us to arrange a meeting room, I believe we have a shared history, and will have much to discuss.”
The dwarf smiled, and picked up a magical crystal.
“Call the Board.” There was some inaudible noise from the magical crystal.
The dwarf nodded in response, and then placed the crystal back on the table.
“Alright, right this way.”
The dwarf hopped off a stool at the back of the reception counter and then led the way.
A magical wooden staircase descended from above, and at the end of it, a door that was previously closed by wood.
“Will everyone be coming, or just the few of you” The dwarven receptionist asked.
“The boardroom is large.”
Lumoof looked at Edna, and Edna nodded.
“Just five.” Edna, Lausanne, Roon and Johann joined the walk upstairs.
The rest waited at the lobby.
The dwarf signalled to a bunch of other employees, who promptly led them to an area with comfortable sofas.
They went there as told, but some insisted on standing up.
Upstairs was a straight walkway.
I sensed that the walls were probably moving, and there are hidden rooms around us.
Still, nothing that we could not handle.
We were led to a large boardroom with a long oval shaped table.
There was enough place for at least fifty, and it had high ceilings, magical lighting and all the amenities one could expect of a boardroom.
A few pots of tea were also prepared, with matching cups.
A meeting with tea.
It seemed that Meela had been waiting, but I sensed this wasn’t really her.
No, that’s not right either.
It is her, but this was like just a part of her.
I suspected then, that Meela probably had a way of ‘splitting’ herself to all of her branch hotels.
“It’s been a while since I’ve met someone that works for Aeon, and it’s been a while since we’ve met, Lausanne.” Oh! She probably doesn’t know Lumoof is my avatar and that I could see through him.
“It’s been a while too, Lady Mika.
You look a lot better than I’ve last remembered.”
Meela’s wooden form sat on the chair, and she gestured for the rest of us to sit.
“You too, Lausanne.
Come, there’s really no need for hostilities today, it must have been a long journey and we have so much common history that we should at least give diplomacy a chance.
I smirked at Meela’s opening line.
Lumoof gladly took the seat, and so did the others.
Lausanne was first to ask.
“Alexis” Meela smiled.
“She’s out hunting.
It’s a busy time for us, with the hero-hunters about.
What brings you here, really”
Lumoof took the lead.
“We’re here to meet the power brokers of the region, of course.” Well, that wasn’t exactly a lie, but it dodged the point of revealing our own clandestine activities.
“Well, I’m sure you would be very busy then.
It seems your agents have been doing a lot more than just meeting people.” Meela smiled, her voice was strangely firm.
“But I suppose I shall lead in establishing friendly relations, I owe that much to Aeon.
So, what do you want to know”
Lumoof just smiled and lied through his teeth, a gift of the priestly class..
“We are genuinely looking to meet those who hold sway over the Northern Islands.
There has been incredibly concerning news of attempted assassinations on the heroes, and even more blasphemous tales of a supposed tenth hero.”
“Patriach Lumoof, certainly Aeon can tell you with high reliability on whether there is a tenth hero, so there is no need to pull that trick with me.
I may take the appearance of a young lady, but I have lived decades in the North.
Yes, there is a tenth hero, and we are also looking for him.
The hero-hunters want to get to him first, of course, for the rumored gift.”
“A gift” Lumoof feigned ignorance.
“Well, I know nothing of a gift.”
“Yes, the Gift.
Which we still don’t know anything about, because nobody has killed a hero.
Not that we know of.” Meela said.
“We actually thought you guys would be the first to earn it.”
Meela pointed at Edna.
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet the famous Vanguard of the central continent.
Thank you for not killing Alvin or my partner.”
Edna didn’t reply, but she had a look of annoyance on her face.
“Anyway, we are bound by [soul contract] to Aeon.” Meela finally got to the point.
“So I really don’t see a need for us to be hostile with each other.
Our goals may differ, but I’m sure we can find common ground.
Tell me, what exactly are you here for If you’re looking for the hero, we don’t have him.”
We’re here to make friends.” Lumoof deadpanned.
“Aeon sent you to make friends” After a while, she laughed.
“Ah, I’ve forgotten Aeon’s dry sense of humor.
Surely, that can’t be true”
“Well, he also asked us to check on you, whether you are alright.”
She smiled and played along.
“I’m fine, thank you.”
How is Miss Alexis Does she still hate Aeon”
Meela stared, “Wait.
Aeon really sent you just to check on us”
He sensed you recently, and wanted to talk to you.
I think he thinks of you two every now and then.” Lumoof said.
“He felt your presence here.”
There was a moment of silence.
Meela didn’t say a word as she seemed like she was processing the statement.
Lumoof, being the trained priest that he is, gave Meela the space to process her thoughts.
He could tell when someone was going through some complicated emotions.
I felt, maybe I too was a party that contributed to that.
I thought about them occasionally, and I sometimes missed Meela’s rather cheerful presence.
Now that I’ve said the truth of my origins to Aria, and my senior Valthorns, I wonder whether things would have been different if I had revealed the truth then.
But I consoled myself that circumstances were different, and I didn’t have the power or security that I have now.
No, more important, I had a slightly different mindset.
Back then, I hadn’t experienced the destruction of New Freeka, nor had I resolved that this cycle had to end, even if I did contemplate it.
In truth, it was all the little deviations that led to that branch of the story.
“...this is weird.” Meela responded after that moment of thought.
“We struggled, but I like to think we are fine now.”
Lumoof smiled and gently nodded.
He allowed her words some space, and then finally answered “That’s good.
Aeon said to me, that he still wished to respect the agreement back then, that the two parties do not bother each other and will continue their separate ways.
But with his recent growth and scope, an interaction between the two parties is inevitable, so he hoped to come to some kind of arrangement.
There are also some things that he wished for your input.”
Meela nodded with a smile.
It actually seemed genuine, rather than a practiced one.
“Even after a century, the agreement holds.
In this world, only the spirits of nature can uphold and comply with such long agreements.”
Lumoof didn’t need to respond to that statement, as Meela soon continued.
“Yes, I understand his concerns.
It is something we have been thinking about since we heard of his resurgence in the Central Continent.
What does Aeon have in mind”
He paused, and glanced around.
Everyone had heard of it, Lausanne too, even though she was no longer in the higher ranks of the Valthorns.
“Is this room secure”
Meela snapped a finger, and the walls had an additional layer.
These were anti-magical sheets.
A hero could still listen in.”
He intends that we cooperate, on matters involving the demons, the gods and the heroes.”
Lumoof placed his hands on the table, his eyes locked on Meela.
A gaze that Meela returned.
“I’ll explain what Aeon’s goal is, and it is only known to the inner circle of the Valthorns, and Aeon has said that he wished that these words are not shared to anyone else, other than Miss Alexis.
Will you accept these terms”
Meela leaned in.
“Aeon’s grand overarching goal is to end the cycle of demons and heroes.
The world has suffered too much, the earth weakened by the centuries of constant warfare.
Ruins scattered all over the world, buried and destroyed.
He is tired of this entire scheme, he is tired that this world has to serve as a battlefield of the gods and the demons.
So, he wants to break the world free of this seasonal disaster.
Will you help us”
Meela’s eyes widened and she processed it.
She leaned back on her chair and she spun around for a while.
Her eyes darted back to Lumoof again.
She stared and scanned the eyes of every other person present, and then locked on Lausanne.
“Lausanne, do you know of this”
“Only fairly recently.” Lausanne said.
She was thankful that she didn’t accept the ‘soul-strengthening seed’ then.
A pawn in the war of gods and demons That was too much for her.
“Doesn’t this mean he will go against the gods, and also the demons Is he prepared for that It explains a lot, no, it explains his secrecy, and the things he has been collecting and gathering.
No, this explains all his behavior since those days too.
The perpetual paranoia.” Meela seemed to have a huge trove of data and information that she had collected, and I felt a little slighted at the term.
I was always paranoid.
It’s partly why I like to work alone.
But I can’t.
Edna chimed in.
“Aeon believed that yourself and Lady Alexis, as former heroes, can add some insights and provide some perspective to how such a plan can be accomplished.
Together with other former heroes and accidental summons, he wished to form a team capable of something more daring.”
Meela looked at Edna.
“This revelation must be discussed with my partner.
I will say it frankly that I am willing to assist where I can, but the Rosewoods are a partnership.”
“We understand, this is quite a bombshell to receive during an unexpected reunion.”
“It is.” Meela said.
“I must call my partner now.”
Everyone stood and they gave a gentle nod.
“Thank you for the meeting.
May we receive favorable news.”
Meela nodded, and ushers came to escort the group out of the hotel.
They offered refreshments, of course, but no one took any.
About a week after the meeting, the demonic rifts opened.
There were two more years left on the clock for the next demon king.
This time, it was on the far Western Continent.
I summoned my Valthorns, for a brief strategy meeting.
It’s time for us to go on the offense, and start ‘chasing’ demon kings and get a bit more of that sweet demon king experience.
Fighting champions is a contentious point.
In terms of challenge, the higher level dungeons and their bosses provide an equal if not superior challenge.
Yet, dungeons at that level have long cooling periods, and fighting demons will be a large part of my Valthorn’s future combat career.
“Our plan is simple.
When the heroes fight the demon king, we want to be there.
I want those with the Court of the Deitrees to fight and support the heroes, so that all of you can get stronger.
If any of you are at risk of death, I will warp all of you back.
It’s possible that I couldn’t react in time, or if any of you feel too weak, let me know.
Those level 100 and above will be deployed to chase down champions, and destroy them.”