Before I left the Citadel, I had Aurivy call in the new representatives that wanted to be living there as well, and gave them the tour, much like I had with Melora, Tsubaki, and Trixy. It was… rather helpful that they had all learned to properly speak English, as it meant less work for the goddesses to translate. And once that was taken care of, I met with the new representative of the heroc.
Unsurprisingly, he did not want to stay in the Citadel, being far too fond of battle to give up that life for one of a more boring solitude. I had the distinct feeling that I would be going through heroc representatives pretty frequently…
As I was wondering what to do next, I suddenly heard a message in the back of my head, a whisper from Terra. That call you were waiting on just went through, Dale. She let me know, and then promptly cut the connection.
Nodding my head, I ascended back to the Admin Room, so that I could handle this conversation with the dragon Keeper. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but hey… at least it showed that he was open to communication. The first thing that I saw when I returned to the Admin Room was the message from Jugularnaut, flashing on my computer screen. It seemed that Terra wasn’t even in the room, and just notified me when she sensed that he had made contact.
Jugularnaut: Greetings, there. Thank you for accepting my contact request.
I was a bit taken aback when I saw the seemingly genuine thanks, and didn’t want to bring up the fact that I hadn’t been able to answer him for days after he had tried to contact me. Or, maybe that’s how things normally went? Maybe Alkahest was just in his Admin Room a lot more often and able to reply right away more.
EarthForceOne: Not a problem. Was there anything in particular you wanted?
Jugularnaut: Indeed. I am sure that you have noticed that I am to be the target of your next invasion, have you not? I wished to ascertain what sort of person you were, such that I could make the appropriate preparations.
I couldn’t help but furrow my brows in thought when I read that. There were a few ways that that could be taken, whether it was him trying to find a counter for my invasion, or just deciding whether or not I was ‘peaceful’.
EarthForceOne: I’ve got no intention of dedicating a substantial force, if that’s what you mean. It’d be a waste to do so, even if it seemed that you were someone that deserved a large attack.
Jugularnaut: I shall choose to take that positively, then. It is rather unfortunate when one does not know whether their people will be in danger or not. However, if it is true that my people will be safe for another hundred days, then I shall offer thanks.
And with that, the conversation closed, only for another message to ping on my screen. This was another contact request, though this one was from Starkiller. My eyes widened when I realized that she must have already dealt with her own invasion. Either she got someone easy, or she was able to wipe them out quickly.
Starkiller: Hey, David! Just wanted to check in and let you know, got done with my defense round!
EarthForceOne: It’s Dale, not David.
Starkiller: What?! Did David die already?! Please tell me Bihena’s still there!
EarthForceOne: She’s here… you just forgot my name again.
Starkiller: Oh… uhm… sorry? This is awkward now.
EarthForceOne: So, who was it that invaded you? Or is that secret information?
Starkiller: Oh, it was some dragon dude! Jugs or something like that, hang on…
Starkiller: Aha! Jugularnaut, why did I think Jugs? Though that makes me want some milk… Anyways, no it’s not a secret. You can look up the information on who a certain Keeper is paired against on the system. It’s one of the ways that the guild collects information! For instance…
While I waited for her to continue, I blinked in surprise. Were there so few first rank Keepers that it was inevitable for us to fight the same person, or was it just dumb luck? Given that there were less than ten thousand Keepers, and who knows how many ranks, I wasn’t quite sure.
Starkiller: Oh! You’re fighting the same guy! Well, this is weird. Anyways, he seemed like a pretty nice guy. Bit of a newb, and sent a single person that was good at hiding for his invasion. Took me this long just to track the welp down!
EarthForceOne: Isn’t that supposed to be information that I have to pay for?
Starkiller: You saw nothing.
Starkiller: Seriously, they’ll dock my pay if they find out I let info slip again! Pleeeaaase don’t tell anyone!
Starkiller: …hehe? It’s only happened a couple times! I just get so caught up in conversation that I forget the whole business side of things! But don’t worry! I made a note that your information is private, and it’s posted on my remembrance wall! I don’t slip up with anything on the wall!
I wasn’t sure whether or not that really reassured me, and could only shake my head briefly.
EarthForceOne: So, who are you up against next, if it’s alright to ask?
Starkiller: I won’t know for about half a month. For people that finish their defenses too early, they have to wait until the halfway mark of the month before their next opponent is determined. But rather than that, can I come back to visit?! I wanna see Bihena again!
I rolled my eyes briefly when I saw that, sending a mental message to Bihena. Balu wants to know if she can come back. Apparently, she just finished with her own invasion and wants to play again.
There was a brief pause before I received a reply from the human goddess. Can you ask her to wait a little bit. I’m focusing on multiple incarnations right now, and can’t handle stuff on this end as well.
Rather than replying to Bihena, I simply gave a brief nod, typing out a reply to Starkiller.
EarthForceOne: She says she can’t right now. She’s busy handling things on our world, and wanted to know if you could wait a little while.
Starkiller: Oh, sure! Just let me know whenever it’s okay to come over!
And with that, the conversation closed. It was fortunate that I was able to learn that Jugularnaut really wasn’t a bad guy. Though, as I had told him, I wasn’t prepared to launch a big attack either way. I needed my world to develop a bit more before it could handle that.
Speaking of which, I decided to set the world to fast forward again. This time by fifty years. Though, I did set an additional alarm to notify me when anyone was about to attempt to unlock the Perfect Self class. Naturally, the only one that should set off the alarm would be Tsubaki, though there was the chance that another representative found the information and attempted to get it first.
In a dark room in the dungeons of the Hanbei Royal Palace sat two people. One was a dishevelled woman that looked like a shadow of the former top beauty among humans. Her hair was a mess, her skin filthy, and her clothes torn. She was Melora, the former Voice of the Keeper.
Her state was not because she had been tortured. Rather, this is how she had been found. On the side of the road, curled up with herself crying. Given her status, she had been brought directly to the palace, where the queen ‘graciously’ offered her shelter.
This was naturally not out of the kindness of her heart. The queen clearly remembered when Melora gave her the cold shoulder due to her status. Yet, even the queen with her grudge couldn’t help but feel pity for this woman. Even before she became the Voice of the Keeper, Melora had been a haughty woman.
“What happened to you?” The queen asked coldly, though Melora could almost feel a hint of concern in her voice. Not like it mattered. Not like anything mattered now. She was away from the Citadel. She was away from the monster.
Still, when she looked up, and saw the two floating orbs of light slowly spinning in a circle around the room, she thought she saw movement in the shadows cast by the lights. “Eek!” She cried out, ducking her head and shielding it with her hands. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry…”
The queen recoiled in surprise at the scream, but then saw the woman acting even more pitifully. “Melora!” She shouted out to snap the woman to focus. “Tell me, what happened to you?”
“It was the monster.” Melora muttered out, not daring to lift her head. “The golden-tailed monster. She lives in the citadel… she serves the Keeper. Don’t mock her… no, don’t mock him. She’ll kill you if you mock him. Not even the gods will stop her…”
The queen shook her head, not able to understand what Melora was talking about. “The Keeper has a monster guarding the Citadel… and it did this to you?” The light whimper from Melora was enough to confirm the queen’s guess, in her mind. “Melora… If you don’t recover, we’ll have to replace you.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, Melora looked up sharply. Her eyes were wide, and the queen almost thought that she was going to lash out at her for ‘daring’ to take away her position. Yet, the words she shouted caught the queen off guard more than anything else.
“Yes! Please! Replace me, I don’t want to do this anymore! Please, don’t make me go back there!” She practically begged to give up a position that even the queen herself envied. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know, just please let me stay down here!”
Without even waiting for the queen to say anything, Melora pulled her legs up onto the chair, curling up on herself as she hugged her legs. She began to talk about the Sky Citadel, the ‘Palace of the Gods’. She spoke of its layouts, the many different rooms, and even the Keeper himself.
“I can’t make him fall for me. Maybe nobody can. He has the Goddess, and so many others. He takes so many forms… why would he want a lowly mortal like us?” She muttered near the end of her speech.
“What about the other Voices?” The queen couldn’t help but ask, as it was the one subject that Melora never discussed. She was angry for sure upon hearing that the Citadel had a wealth of knowledge that Melora never even attempted to share with them, but seeing the woman in her current state made her unable to speak too harshly.
As soon as the queen asked that, Melora let out another whimper. “No, no! Can’t say it. She’ll kill me… She’ll make me disappear.” She practically sobbed out the words, picturing the representative of the race that the humans had always considered wicked beasts. “Please don’t make me say it.”
At this point, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that her fear had crippled her. Tsubaki had become the greatest fear in Melora’s heart, who she saw in every dark corner, every time she closed her eyes. That piercing glare, the mysterious power that seemed to shatter her ki with a mere touch. And the fact that she dared to say what she did, without the gods punishing her in their own home.
As the queen stood up to leave, she heard the pained mutterings of the woman behind her. “They’ll never find my body… they’ll never know it was her… no body no crime. Dying alone…”
The queen considered putting Melora out of her misery, for it seemed that misery was all that was left for her life, but decided against it. If she never recovered, then a life like this would be punishment for her past actions. And if she did, then it would only show that she was stronger than she appeared to be now. In the meantime… the queen had to host another selection.