B1 — 37. Enemy Forces

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POV Change:  Elinor, our Lich Empress

Recap: Elinor’s been going through the small spells of depression, rage, and even joy as small pockets of emotion break past her self-control skills.  She’s pondered on how a single action could change someone’s life, like the young Ri’bot girl that had her life literally sucked away to heal the injured because her in the moment choice to toss a baby into the churning river.

Now, she’s with Edmon as he goes over the documentation left behind by Ke’Thra’Ma, and El’Co’Ca says he knows where some secret books are.

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Elinor released a short hum.  Secret books, huh?  That’s fun.

Edmon shifted his jaw to the right, clearly doubting the idea, but recovered quickly.  “Yes, eh … El’Co’Ca, are you’re saying Ke’Thra’Ma had valuable books hidden here in this library?”

El’Co’Ca quickly ran to one of the shelves to their left, climbing up to point at a cluster of books two rows from the top.  “Here, Empress, Gatekeeper!  Behind the books is a hidden place El’Co’Ca’s mother found.”

Edmon smirked as the Quen’Talrat he was using to handle the books removed the articles.  A blank wall was soon revealed, but upon inspection of the shelf below, it was clear there was a hidden wall.  With some pressure near the edge, it gave, and her minion removed it to reveal several thick books behind.

“Well, wasn’t he full of surprises,” Valdar hummed, hands clasped behind his back as her skeletal ape brought them down to Edmon.  “What are these about?”

Edmon opened the first book, and right on the first page was the diagram for Ke’Thra’Ma’s sanctuary, and after flipping through several pages, it became clear it was the floor plan for the massive central tower rising from the palace.

“Good,” Edmon mumbled, flipping through pages before moving to another one of the hidden books.  “These seem to involve his research on those stones in the walls.  The fascinating part about this world is that much of what we’ve seen from the Ri’bot seem to be between the Classical Era to Medieval Era, while Ke’Thra’Ma was advancing from the Renaissance Era to the Industrial Era.  These gems hold power, and he was learning how to harness it and begin mass production.”

Elinor hummed thoughtfully.  “Would any of the other nations have taken the advancements founded by the Quen’Talrat and improved upon them in the past century, or should we expect the same type of civilizations as the Ri’bot?”

Valdar shook his head as Edmon focused on him.  “I’m afraid not, Empress,” he stated with a low sigh.  “I tried to help my people use some of the things I learned in the Fire Wars to improve their living standards, but there was much resistance toward some of the technologies we saw the Quen’Talrat utilize.

“However, it is not the same for every nation.  The Drék’uléph are rumored to have taken a few of the cartography styles of the Quen’Talrat, and their process of machinery, but they use the waters to provide the strength of their devices.”

“Steam-powered, eh?”  Edmon mumbled.  “Depending on how advanced they are with it, then a well established steam-based society could be an issue.”  Edmon glanced around the room with a deep frown.  “Ke’Thra’Ma seemed to be very adamant about education; a hundred years of growth can be frightening.  In our world, they went from horse and buggy to the moon in under a century.”

Elinor nodded.  “We have a lot to learn, and there seem to be mystical powers in this world.  We’ll need to be cautious.”

The silence stretched as Edmon flipped through the book about the crystals, scanning different parts of each page while looking at the diagrams of different machines, and after a few minutes, Elinor asked, “Edmon, what should I do?”

He paused, blue eyes shifting to stare down at her.  “Could you specify further?”

She released a long sigh, closing her eyes before looking up at the ceiling; she hadn’t noticed before, but there seemed to be the start of a mural on the left side.  “I’m stuck in my mind because I don’t have much to do.  Tiffany, Iris, and you are taking care of everything, which leaves my mind to wander.”

“Hmm,” Edmon’s vision shifted to the book he was scanning, armored index finger tapping the pages.  “If you could give me a few more minutes to try and understand this … actually, you might be able to save us a lot of time if you can upgrade Prose of the Potentate,” Edmon commented, almost to himself.

Elinor’s brow creased, and she glanced down at the gibberish.  “Okay, can Prose of the Potentate allow me to read any language?”

Edmon straightened, folding his armored arms across his black breastplate.  “Prose means written or spoken language in its ordinary form.  You’ve focused on speech, but we could use an upgrade to language, but would require some of the Skill Points you gained.”

She brought up her hand while chuckling, and her mind returned to her time at school.  “This system is so convenient; I wish I could have learned English, French, and Portuguese this easily.”

With the desire, she smiled as the strange symbols on the pages seemed to blur, and suddenly they were in English; it wasn’t perfect, but more than readable.  It appeared that the Quen’Talrat she’d brought back weren’t the most educated in their written system.

“Perfect,” Edmon said, flipping between pages.  “Beautiful … yes, this will help speed things up a ton, Empress.  Give me a bit of time … and I think I can show you something interesting.  The mechanical workings of this palace have interested me, and now that I have everything I need to understand them, I have some study to do.”

Elinor licked her lips while looking at the text her father was reading.  It may have been in English, but many of the words used were utterly scientific gibberish to her.  “I look forward to it.”  She turned to Valdar with a smile.  “In the meantime, I’d like to speak to both of you.”

Valdar nodded, glancing down at the book he’d been copying down information on with a wry expression.  “I suppose these notes are useless, now.  Your powers keep impressing me, Empress.  So, what can I do for you?”  He asked, dropping the book beside a pile before folding his hands behind his back.

“Yes, yes, El’Co’Ca wishes to be helpful!”   She rushed forward, tail wagging while staring up at her with eager eyes.

Elinor ordered one of her guards to place her on a cushioned seat about six feet off the ground.  Once situated, she looked down at the two with curiosity.  “First, El’Co’Ca, can you tell me a bit about the surrounding area?”

Valdar cleared his throat, turning to point at a particular book among a stack beside the place he’d been working.  “There is a map of the valley within this book.  It might be old, but not much has changed within that time given the scale.  Minor details could be tweaked, but it should give you a decent grasp.”

One of the skeletal apes picked it up on command and brought it over to him.  “Very well, then show me the important spots.  I’d also like information about the other humans and where they’re likely being taken.”

Her guard held the article up for her to see, and Valdar flipped to a large map that spanned both pages, eyes scanning the details.

“This is a map of the entire valley.”

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“Hmm,” Elinor crossed her legs, leaning forward to point at the massive castle.  “This is scaled to size?”


The toad studied the map for a moment.  “In general, yes.  I’d say the entire valley was around a hundred and twenty miles by fifty-five; the fortress itself is roughly twenty by fifteen.”

“That’s massive,” Elinor whispered.  “What about where the crystal was?”

“Here,” he pointed.  “It’s … what in…”  Valdar cut off, lifting his arms to strike as Iris appeared by her side.  After a split second, he relaxed, breathing a relieved sigh before his nose creased.  “Iris … I didn’t sense you entering the room.”

A soft chuckle hissed from the Queen’s plates.  “Amusing, I thought your sensing abilities were more powerful than this simple cloaking skill; it is what you’re supposed to be good for.”

Valdar repressed a sharp quake as he stared up at the smooth metallic-like surface of the Thélméthra’s exoskeleton, purple irises lingering on the red glow emitting from her shell; it seemed much of the damaged sections were being repaired as she leveled.

A lump dropped down his throat.  “I am, ahem, not near your abilities when trying to hide.”

“Is that what I was doing?”  Iris asked in a lilting tone.

Elinor smiled over at the frightening yet strangely elegant appearance of Iris’ true form.  “I can only sense you through my connection to you.”

“Oh?”  Iris pulled back, red gem-like eyes burning with an inner light.  “I was merely using the first stage of Cloak, and I have much more advanced evasive skills.  In fact, I wished to ask if I may use your shadow for one of them?”

Interest piqued, Elinor shifted in her seat.  “Are you saying you have a skill to hide in my shadow?”

“For a limited time, yes,” Iris replied.  “I would like to increase its Proficiency.  It would provoke a link for several other abilities that I wish to experiment with in regards to your protection.”

Elinor’s smile softened at her statement, and she noticed El’Co’Ca looking up at the Thélméthra with starry eyes.  “By all means.  You are my jewel,” she whispered.

“Jewel?”  Iris asked, body seeming to dissolve into shadow before moving to her shadow.  “A strange word to describe something precious, but you flatter me.”

She reached to the side, hand sliding under her legs and across the fabric of her cushioned seat; there weren’t any lights in the room, and she saw no shadows except for the faint outline that appeared below her.  “I can’t touch you?  What an impressive ability.”

“It is not perfect, but useful in most circumstances.”  Elinor’s lips lifted with curiosity as a shadowy spider leg appeared from the side of her shadow, pointing at four locations.  “I believe these areas are where my daughters accomplished their tasks, and here, by the river is where I found the Ri’bot ships.”

“Hmm, they didn’t get that far, but I suppose my sense of distance is still a bit skewed.  In my world, moving eighty miles wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Elinor turned her attention back to the book and nervous Ri’bot as he cleared his throat again.  “That sounds … too good to be true.  Eighty miles is a vast distance.”

“Vast?  We had the ability to travel thousands upon thousands of miles in a day.  The technology we had was … let’s say, far superior to what I’ve seen here.”

Valdar’s tongue slid across his lips and teeth, vision falling to her feet.  “How did we conquer your people so easily?  I am still confused about everything I’ve seen.”

Edmon chuckled humorlessly while flipping to a new page.  “Let’s call it luck, Valdar.  Although, I’d suspect you would disagree,” he smirked, glowing blue eyes lifting to study him as a puff of mist expelled from his mouth.  “There’s no use pondering past events; focus on your future with the Empire.”

He nodded as the Gatekeeper returned to his book.  “Wise counsel; do you wish for me to continue, Empress?”

Elinor refrained from biting her lower lip while looking at a few locations on the map.  “Yes, but focus on the clans.  Show me the territory and how many there are within the valley.”

“Right … there are eight clans in this valley, and they are not on the most friendly terms.  My clan is located on the northwest ridge.  Recently, the Flex Clan has been showing signs of aggression.”

“Wait,” Elinor gave him an incredulous look.  “Flex Clan … was that translated correctly?  Do they like showing off?”

Valdar scratched his left arm, pausing for a moment.  “Eh … I suppose they are rather flashy.  They tend to use the Julipa Flowers to paint themselves with symbols usually reserved for war, and they are pushing into Wixum Clan territory with their allies, the Lethix Clan.”

Elinor sat back.  “You don’t have to tell me all the details at the moment.  First, tell me what clans there are, their territory, and who they are allied with.”

“So … my clan, Delthax, are allied with Komath, Wixum, and I had some ties to the Roxim Clan, personally … that are dissolved upon my death.  The Prume Clan, south of us, is neutral to all conflict within the valley, being on such a strategically sound location.

“On the other hand, the Lethix Clan is the smaller brother to the Flex Clan.  Komath is along the southwest, and as I said, they are allied with Delthax, but aren’t too friendly with Roxim, and both Roxim and Komath aren’t fond of the Xaltan Clan.  The Xaltan holds the most power in the valley.”

“That’s eight,” Elinor counted, sliding her index finger over the areas Valdar mentioned.  “That leaves more than half the land unclaimed.  I heard something about Clanless; is all this land free?”

Valdar’s jaw set, fingers tightening around each other.  “Not exactly … it’s cursed land, meaning, yes, it is Clanless and unclaimed.”

“Cursed?”  Elinor smirked, leaning against the side of her chair.

“Yes, yes!”  El’Co’Ca piped up.  “The Yaltha’ma have spread word far and wide!  It is a safe place for Yaltha’ma, and all other races are cursed; it was the Great El’Ro’Li’s amazing plan eight generations past!  The curse of the Quen’Talrat that lingers upon the land.”

“Umm, no,” Valdar muttered, giving the monkey-fox a strange look.  “It was a prophecy foretold by the Ques’ká Seer.”

“I’ve heard that name before,” Elinor said, head eyes still scanning the map.  “What can you tell me about the Ques’ká?”

“They are among the most powerful of the eight nations, and highly respected.  The Ques’ká have many mystics, and one of their unique powers is to foretell the future.”

El’Co’Ca seemed to be glaring at Valdar, obviously not believing his story that El’Ro’Li was not the originator of the prophecy, but Elinor paid her little mind as she listened to Valdar’s description.

“I do not know how this will translate to you, but they have a similar form to humans and Ri’bot, but they are more fierce-looking, with panther-like features.  Their mane is like that of humans, but much thicker, and the females have more reptilian features, akin to that of a dragon.  It is said that they are the descendants of a powerful race across the seas.”

Elinor’s brow creased, and her head cocked to the side.  “Wait, the males are panther people, and the females are dragon people?  That’s an odd combination.”

Valdar shrugged.  “I did not see them often during the Fire Wars, and it was a very long time ago.  I might be getting parts of that wrong, but it is what I recall; I do know that they can walk on their hind legs or all four if they so choose, and they had massive beasts of great strength during the war … they far surpassed the Torlim, and could even combat the lower ranks of the Quen’Talrat Elite Hunters.”

“Fascinating,” Elinor mumbled, eyeing the map again.  “Where is their kingdom?”

“Southeast, bordering the Nalvean Empire to their west and the Yalmáth Democracy.”

Edmon looked up from his book, now sitting against the leg of a table, cross-legged.  “What type of government does the Ques’ká have?”

“Type of government,” Valdar repeated, brow creased as his eyes fell to the floor.  “Last I knew, they were a Fascist State?  They are very war focused, and I heard they have many wars further east, but those lands are beyond my knowledge.”

“Hmm, good to know,” Edmon grunted before returning to his book.

Iris spoke within Elinor’s mind.  “If my sister moved her brood further east, then it stands to reason there are strong creatures there for her to hunt.”

Yes … I look forward to meeting your race in the future, Iris.  Do you look forward to the reunion?

“It matters little to me.  All that concerns me is the Empire and my daughters.”

Elinor smiled, turning her attention back to Valdar.  “Ahem, should I continue with the Ques’ká or return to the valley?”

“The valley,” Elinor decided.  “It is my immediate concern.  I suspect that word does not travel fast in this world.  We will need to meet with the other nations in time, but for now, I will focus on this valley.”

She glared at the section of land Valdar placed the Roxim Clan at.  “What will they do now, Valdar?  You know them well enough.”

Valdar’s lips fell as he went silent, focused on the map, and replied after a few seconds.  “Krava is an old war friend of mine, and a retired Chief and Xaria, meaning he holds weight among the other clans.  I suspect he took command once I died, and it would have been hard for him to swallow … from what I remember.

“Fennel is a commander, and a Xaria in training, but not a Chief.  He would take a backseat to Krava.  What would he do … likely call a War Council.”

Everyone’s eyes moved to Edmon as his book closed with a loud slam, and he sat the massive manual aside, rising to his feet.  “War Council?  Continue.”

Valdar breathed out a long sigh.  “A War Council is a formal invitation to a gathering of all formal Ri’bot Clans.  Anyone with a military force can enter, and it is the first step to uniting against a common threat.”

Edmon snorted, quickly scanning the valley image once he took his position beside Elinor.  “You’re saying that every Ri’bot outside this valley will be joining, as well?”

“If he calls it, then most clans would respond, yes.  Krava’s name carries weight, but no, not all will join, and they will doubt his report.  I suspect at least twelve clans will join him regardless.”

“How many warriors is that?”  Edmon asked, blue eyes narrowing.

“It’s hard to say,” Valdar replied, rubbing the back of his neck with irritation.  “The weak clans may have twenty-five warriors, and the strong, a thousand or more.  The Xaltan Clan is the strongest in the valley, and they’d have around four-hundred and sixty warriors.  Xaria numbers are closely guarded, so I couldn’t even speculate.

“In comparison, my clan has a two-hundred and eighty with three Xaria; I’d rank us as fourth strongest in the valley, behind Flex and Roxim.

“Roxim is closely tied with Xaltan at four-hundred and thirty-five while also having a stronger Torlim force.  The Xaltan use more Ragnlar in their ranks, but the beasts are temperamental and well-known for fickle attitudes in captivity.  They do more harm than good; it’s more for intimidation than actual combat.”

“Like Tiffany,” Edmon chuckled, joking privately.

Elinor smiled, but didn’t reply, cupping her chin while her vision narrowed.  “You mentioned the Flex and Lethix Clans are basically brothers.  What’s their combined force?”

“At least three-hundred and eighty,” Valdar sighed, licking his teeth.  “It was why I called the meeting between Roxim, Komath, and Clavex on behalf of the Wixum Clan.

“In reality, the Flex and Lethix Clans are after the Wixum’s lake for resources, but it’s a major part of the Wixum’s trade and food supply, which my clan benefits from, and while they have a large population, the Wixum do not have many warriors.  They have relied on the Delthax for military support for many decades, but Flex and Lethix have grown too much for us to comfortably intimidate.

“Not just that, but the Wixum population size compared to their military … a mere hundred and fifteen warriors is laughable, making it hard to patrol their borders.  A hundred and fifteen warriors to patrol a seventy-five-mile radius while defending the primary villages … it’s not good.  There’s also an inflated population of female Ri’bot that has the male population in Flex and Lethix champing at the bit.”

“You have bits?”  Edmon chuckled.

“Yes, for Ulpix … they have been ridden in the past, but do better in the plains rather than the jungle.  We have a small number of them.”

“Interesting,” Edmon commented.  “I was a little concerned before, but the valley has a combined force of less than a thousand and a half warriors … not as bad as I feared.”  He smiled.  “No, not that bad at all, and it will take time to gather their forces.”  His vision settled on the once elderly toad.  “What will Krava or your clan do once they see you?”

“I’m afraid it will be painful for Krava,” Valdar said with a soft sigh.  “He will see it as a personal attack against him, and seek to release me from imprisonment, returning me to the ancestors.

“My clan … it will be mixed with the message I must give them.  Many warriors will accept it, but the families … it will be rough for them.”  He looked up at her, and his tone was serious.  “At least, what I expect to tell them.  I can only speculate with what you will decide to do with my people, but I have resolved to accept the consequences.  I will do my duty.”

“We will see,” Elinor whispered.

Edmon’s face lit up as he returned to the book, opening it to read a particular page.  “Empress, would you like to join me in this experiment?”

“Oh?”  She smiled while ordering her guard to lower his hand again.  “You have a surprise for me?  It’s one of the few emotions I have left.  I’m excited!”

He picked up the book, handing it to her other guard while jumping up to his shoulders.  “Valdar, El’Co’Ca, keep browsing the books and organize them for me to look through.  I will be back in a bit.”

They both bowed, and Edmon led them away; she cheated a little, knowing where he’d directed her mobile throne.  What could he be planning in the hallway to the Life Room?  He’s been reading that book on the stones, and there are a ton in there.  Ke’Thra’Ma’s secret books and locked away special places … is my heart pumping pretty fast?  It is!

She smiled over at her former father.  The subdued emotions she felt from him made her giggle; it was cute, and she could see him trying to retain his cool atmosphere, but he felt so excited to show her what he’d discovered.

I’m afraid Tiffany would be jealous of me for this, but it would be a conflict of interest.  Whether I planted them or they are leftover, she likes Edmon, and she also loves me.  Basically, she’d feel disappointed I left her out.

Her vision fell to the shadow she cast along the floor as the glowing crystals illuminated part of the hallway.  Iris is here to share it, too … she’d probably project all those negative emotions onto her.  The spider queen, trying to steal her mark.

Elinor giggled at her internal thoughts.  Tiffany, you there?

“Of course, Dear!  What can I do for you?  I’m just bringing up my next little battery.”

So, Edmon has discovered something he’s excited to show us.  Want to join for a moment?

“Us … that includes the spider, doesn’t it?”  She hummed darkly.

Iris is with me.  Elinor mused.  Also, calling her spider … I thought you liked her?

“Oh, no, of course!  I mean, she’s great … maybe just a little too forward, though.  I don’t know, maybe I’m reading too much into it.  We need to keep things professional!  Just my personal thoughts.”  She said in a dismissive tone.  “Her daughters, though … angelic devils of delight!  I chose my poison well, wouldn’t you agree?”

Elinor chuckled.  We’re going to the hallway before the Life Room.

“I’ll hurry over, then.  See you soon, Dear!”

It didn’t take them long to arrive, and somehow, Tiffany had beat them there, wearing a bright smile; Elinor swore she felt the Witch’s heart flutter upon seeing the helmetless Gatekeeper’s curious grin.

Tiffany cleared her throat as they neared, giggling quickly.  “Edmon, I can see those bright blue eyes and that beard … maybe I could help trim a bit of it.  Just a bit.”

“I don’t know about that,” he chuckled.  “I rather enjoy its current length.”

“Oh, c’mon, just a little!”  Tiffany pleaded, stepping aside for the guards to open the door.  “Your hair, too … no, that doesn’t need any changes,” she said absently, orange irises making it clear she wanted to run her hands through his thick black hair.

“Right,” Edmon mumbled.  “Well, follow me.”

Tiffany’s indignant voice entered Elinor’s mind, and Elinor did her best not to laugh.  “The nerve of him!  A stunning woman, myself, asked to help groom his mop of a face, and he blew me off!”  Tiffany huffed, glaring at him as he passed.  “And where’s the blasted spider?”

In my shadow.

“Oh?”  Tiffany’s eyes widened before glaring at the long shadow she cast from the bright overhead lights of the crystals, shining down on the thrones.  “Well, isn’t that convenient.  No need to walk at all.”

Hmm … I didn’t think about that.  Elinor pondered, focus shifting to the Gatekeeper as he stopped halfway down the hall before glancing back at them, and the guards shut the door behind them once they’d entered.

“Tiffany, it’s a good thing you’re here.”

“Oh, finally noticing me?  I didn’t think you’d be even more blind with that helmet off.”  She pouted.  “What’s the big surprise?  Going to make this place light up?  Blast … that would be something spectacular,” she mumbled, vision lifting to the galaxy-like aesthetic.

“Better.”

“Better?  How?”  Tiffany asked, eyebrows lifting with doubt.

He gave her a teasing grin.  “Don’t you trust me?”

“Are rosary peas good for you?”

“I’m guessing not,” Edmon hummed with laughter.  “What do you want from me?”

Tiffany rolled her eyes.  “I don’t know; you’re the expert on surprises … well, surprise me!”

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“Your wish is my command, my witchy princess!”

Elinor was having a difficult time restraining her laughter; she wasn’t sure if Tiffany was serious or not, even by her connection to her, the Witch was clearly divided.

Edmon removed his glove; the metal vanished in a puff of mist, and he slid his palm down a massive glowing gem the size of his head.  They watched in fascination as the stones seemed to move, giving the effect like they were floating through space, and a large golden platform surrounded in blinding light descended from the ceiling.

“No…” Tiffany whispered in wonder.  “Is that a…”

“Anti-gravity elevator?  Yes, yes it is,” Edmon chuckled.  “Ready for your magic carpet ride, madam?”  He asked, giving Tiffany a quick bow.

“I … huh…”  Tiffany mumbled, large orange iris’ fixated on the Gatekeeper’s welcoming smile; it was one of the few times Elinor had ever seen Tiffany or her mother speechless.


Maps:

Clan Territory Markers

Unmarked Map

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Title: Omnipotent Overlord | Tags: Cultivation, Second Chance
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
"Where?"
"Earth!"
The Great Galactic Era had begun.


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