The Newt and Demon

6.1 - A Curious Journey



6.1 - A Curious Journey

Boulders fell from the sides of a stranded city. The once-capital of the Kingdom of Qavell rested amongst the waves, pieces falling into the ocean below. Wooden constructions leaned against her sides, holding her as firmly as they could as a demon watched from the sides. Theo Spencer observed the teams of workers who darted around the exterior, raising wooden beams from the decks of ships and causeways built by hand.

The city had represented an opponent to face. A thing that could have been anywhere, threatening the stability of the southlands. Everything had been kicked off by the elven trader, Fenian Feintleaf. He caused the rise of the undead on the continent, the movement of the city, its ultimate downfall, and the scarred state of the landmass. That busy little elf stood on the coastline with Theo, preening himself after so long without a proper bath.

“It was hardly a battle at all,” Fenian said, flashing a pearly white smile.

“You didn’t kill it,” Theo said. He certainly tried to keep the venom from his voice. “My plan would have killed it.”

“Oh, let’s not worry about who didn’t kill what and where. Enjoy the view!”

Theo took in a steady breath, watching his people work day and night to save the flagging city. The alchemist was taking a break from raising stones from the ground, allowing his mana to restore naturally for once. Fenian brought this mess to the world for a reason—a reason Theo suspected was petty revenge—and nothing could have stopped him. He sat atop one of three important positions of power. The Throne of the Herald. That throne had a simple role. It defended the world from otherworldly incursions.

Theo’s pink, soul bonded marshling had assumed such a throne, although her role was diminished when compared. No matter how small the role, the pieces were important. But now the Dreamer was loose in the world, sauntering through people’s dreams as they slept. At least it was a great way to gather information, if a little disturbing.

“Are you two going to stand around all day?” a half-ogre asked while passing by.

“I suppose not,” Fenian said, sighing. “Is my work ever done, Theo?”

“Not when you’re the one who made the mess.”

“Oh, fair enough, you spicy demon,” Fenian said, winking. He walked away, off to join the others as they worked.

Theo took a moment to reflect on the progress he had made so far. Ascending from Level 1 to Level 30 had been a feat only accomplished through a series of exploits and time dilation tricks. As it stood now, he relied on his Drogramath Alchemy Core and his Drogramath Herbalist core most of all. Since he had taken the Drogramath Dedication ability, those were considered his main cores. Nothing else contributed to his personal level, which contained all his mind- and body-altering attributes. Unlike his other cores, those two could no longer be removed.

The only other odd thing was his Tara’hek Core, which didn’t occupy a normal slot. A person would normally be granted two cores at Level 1, and one slot for every 10 levels after that. Theo should have had five slots, but he had six. Of course, that Tara’hek core could never be removed. The only time it had come close to that was when Tresk was dragged into the Dreamer’s realm, weakening the connection with the core.

Theo’s next core was the Governance Core, which was necessary to run the alliance. He wouldn’t unequip that one no matter what. It provided the people of Broken Tusk and the alliance with information and communication systems. Without it, one would need to ride the tram between the towns to provide information. The alchemist approached the beach, sifting through his cores screen and nodding. Governance had been more useful than he could have imagined, and had been entirely passive.

Next came the Toru’aun Mage’s Core. While it seemed dubious at first—perhaps only something to increase his magical powers—Theo had found this core to be vital. When Qavell was on a course to slam into Broken Tusk, this was the core that saved them. It drew from the properties of reagents discovered by his Drogramath cores, turning them into wards. Those wards could be cast ad hoc, or imbued into an object. Both methods were a potent means to both safeguard and attack. This core was the reason that Qavell was among the waves, instead of the clouds.

Swapping cores had been a painful affair before Level 30. After hitting that Level, Theo found it to be effortless. The physical pain was bad enough, but being without useful cores that had kept him alive for all this time was a mental sting he couldn’t take. With his fifth core slot unlocked, the alchemist was happy to collect a few cores to fill that void. While both cores he found were excellent, they couldn’t be more different from each other.

The God of Shadows, Zaul, had given him a special core. The Zaul Shadowspirit Core was a devious thing meant to shield Theo’s actions from the gods themselves. It allowed him to imbue his willpower into his items, spells, abilities, and also his aura. The Earth Sorcerer’s Core was entirely practical, but focused on the same concept. It allowed him to move anything aligned with the Earth element with his willpower. That core had been essential to keeping Qavell in place.

Theo reached out with his will, pulling rocks that had fallen into the water and rearranging them. The stones dripped with water as they were set into place. The Half-Ogre stonemason Ziz came in shortly after, using his core’s abilities to weld them into place. Through all the chaos of the past few days, Theo had seen growth in a few cores. Alchemy, herbalist, Tara’hek, and governance were all trapped at Level 30. Toru’aun’s core was ascending as slow as ever, sitting at Level 24. Both the sorcerer and Zaul core were at 5. He inspected his personal sheet as he worked.

Theo Spencer

Drogramath Dronon

Level 30

Alchemist

Core Slots: 6

Stats:

Health: 120

Mana: 210

Stamina: 130

Strength: 20 (+11)

Dexterity: 20 (+8)

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Vigor: 23 (+8)

Intelligence: 28 (+9)

Wisdom: 30 (+7)

Points: 0

Everyone told Theo that progress would slow before Level 30. He didn’t expect the level itself to be an absolute brick wall. He caught a rock that was falling idly, avoiding the crushing of several workers.

“Hey, Ziz. How the hell are we going to hold this thing together?” Theo asked.

“Trust your old friend, won’t ya!?” Ziz shot back. “I’ve got a method!”

Trusting the process of putting a bandage on a falling mountain was hard to do. But the work went on over the course of three days. The group of workers had started with just people from the alliance. But by the second day, people within the city of Qavell came out to pitch in. An army of golems was amongst them, stitching that city back together. No pieces of the city fell by midday on the third day, and the workers breathed a sigh of relief. There wasn’t even a bridge leading from Broken Tusk to the city as promised. But Ziz and his crew were exhausted, and there were political things to take care of.

Theo sat at the head of a long table in the town hall. He steepled his fingers as he looked over the attendants. Attendants he had selected. Fenian, Alise, Aarok, Sulvan, Trevas, Grotgrog, and Hanan.

“I can’t express enough gratitude. For what you’ve done, archduke,” Hanan said, bowing his head low. “You saved us all.”

“I would have skinned him if he didn’t,” Sulvan said plainly. The paladin, reborn as a priest of Glantheir, had strong opinions about genocide.

“I would have blown you up!” Fenian said, chuckling.

Hanan was still wet behind the ears as a leader, but he had grown up at his father’s side. King Karasan had a lot of motives unknown to even those closest to him, but he was a competent leader. Until the house of cards came crumbling down, he had his nation in hand. Then a pesky elf came to dash those plans to the ground.

“That’s why Fenian isn’t in charge of anything important,” Alise said, clearing her throat. “We’re here to discuss the unconditional surrender of Qavell and the absorption of the Kingdom of Qavell into the Southlands Alliance.”

“When you put it like that…” Hanan trailed off, running his fingers through his hands.

“The fact that we saved you, and that you were friendly, doesn’t take away from Qavell’s aggressive posture against the southlands.”

Alise went on to list some laws that Theo wasn’t aware of. Qavell had laws? He realized she was laying the groundwork in legalese so that no one could bite them in the butt afterward. It was a fact he appreciated about his administrative staff. He didn’t have to know those things, and his people would sort it out. After a tongue-lashing from the plucky human, Hanan accepted his fate.

“And we have given you two options,” Alise said, producing two contracts. “Complete absorption, or become a vassal. I’ve already checked with our Kingdom Core, and we can use it to apply such a condition to yours.”

“So, my Kingdom Core is still there?” Hanan asked.

“Mostly,” Aarok said, grumbling. “You’ll need to repair it. But if you become part of the alliance, or a vassal, you’re looking at a long road ahead. And we think our Kingdom Core can repair yours. It will just take time.”

Discussion broke out over the advances of each path. While the staff from Broken Tusk put on a bold front, they were more concerned about the people in Qavell. Thousands, by Aarok’s count. The undead had taken out most of the population, but the city was vast. Hanan leaned toward becoming a vassal, and Theo was glad for that. Qavelli culture clashed with the local culture, and this was a great way to impose sweeping changes. That wouldn’t be hard after the disaster of the flying city.

“There it is,” Alise said, sliding a contract over for Hanan to sign.

Hanan paused, looking up at those people arrayed around the table. “Hard to believe. The southlands were always ‘nowhere’ on my maps back home. Now I’m signing my kingdom over to them.” While he hesitated, it didn’t stop him from signing. “Someone needs to tell me the story of how that happened.”

“Gronro welcomes you into the alliance,” Grot said, slamming his fist on the table to punctuate his words.

“As does Rivers and Daub,” Trevas said, also slamming his fist but hurting his hand in the process.

“Come on, Hanan,” Theo said, jerking his head toward the door. “I’ll show you around. Catch you up on what has happened.”

Hanan straightened his tunic, pulling his ruffled undershirt back into place. He cleared his throat and bowed to the members of the council before following Theo out the door. The alchemist brought him to the lab and the pair stood outside for a while before he spoke.

“This is where it started. Someone planted this building ages ago. Two-hundred years by my estimation. They prepared it for me.”

“I don’t think I understand,” Hanan said, looking upon the building. “The building is advanced, but it's just an alchemy lab.”

Theo pointed northward and Hanan followed. The alchemist pointed out each building he had planted or helped plant. Each was a cog that helped move Broken Tusk forward. Every person within a worker that had made this dream real. And it didn’t pass the notice of the new King of Qavell that there were more elves than anything else.

“Another windfall for Broken Tusk. Emperor Kuzan declared war on House Wavecrest. And we saved them.” Theo nodded at a passing elf, who waved back with a smile. “Fenian Feintleaf, formerly Southblade, has a pact with Uz’Xulven. He can pass over the Bridge in his carriage. That’s how he killed your father.”

The pair stopped near the monolith. The mention of Hanan’s Father’s death didn’t even phase him. “There’s something wrong with your marker.”

“Ya noticed that?” Theo said, chuckling. “Whoever planted this town did so with intention. I don’t think it was Fenian, but it might have been Khahar.”

“Khahar? Leader of the Khahari?”

“Yeah, that guy.”

Hanan rubbed his chin. “You know, Broken Tusk was here when we incorporated it. We don’t even know how old it was.”

“Because you didn’t talk to the locals,” Theo said, pressing on. “It’s about two-hundred-fifty years old. See that rise over there? When the ogres settled the area, they lived off the land. But as time passed, they had children with the local humans. Or elves, I don’t know. Anyway, a wizard came along and made that hill so they could farm. The swamp soil is rich, but too muddy to grow their favored crop.”

“The zee, right?” Hanan asked. “We used to get shipments of that.

The duo ascended the hill, looking over the wide fields. Those fields now held more than just the corn-like zee. It had hybrid plants that combined Earth wheat with the local zee. From the hilltop, Theo could barely see his own farm beyond the wall. His golems were working there. That workforce would need to be expanded to help feed the people in Qavell.

“Yep. We still grow it. Let’s move on…”

Theo explained how adventurers had helped make them what they were today. They passed through Stabby Grove, heading north to see the quarry. Hanan had stories about things he remembered from home, including stone shipments. He saw the lumber mill, butcher, enchanter, adventurer’s guild, and finally the mine. The nuggets they pulled out from there ranged from mundane things like copper to strange demonic metals. All of which was connected to a dangerous underground area that the alchemist hoped never to plumb the depths of.

“There are many moving parts in your city, alchemist,” Hanan said, looking more worried by the moment. “I’ve never heard of growth like this.”

“Except for Qavell, right?” Theo said with a wink.

“Indeed.”

“Well, if you think this is strange, I have something even stranger to show you.”

Hanan yelped as Theo wrapped his will around him. He used his Tero’gal Dreampassage ability, sending them both hurtling through the void. The king didn’t stop screaming until they set foot in the Dreamrealm of Tero’gal.

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