Chapter 584 – News from the Front

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Grandmother made a spiraling descent on dragonfly wings, having entered through the hole in the ‘sky’, while I was taking a break after a training session. After reaching the bottom, she came skimming across the water toward us, her filmy raiment disappearing in order to match our lack of attire as she landed and settled onto the grass.

Oh, I should probably mention, I lost the swimsuit when it was time for me to feed, and then I went back to flukes and wings for training, to speed up my body tempering. Little Jia helped Amelia and the maids transfer sleepy Austrydhur to the training hall, so it was just me and Immortal Mother, in the buff once again. We spent the time when I wasn’t training at 1000:1 until Little Jia could sync up our day with Narses, which it now was.

“Welcome back,” Immortal Mother greeted her as Little Jia appeared and began setting out tea on the flat rock next to Immortal Mother’s favorite spot.

“Thanks, Great Senior,” she replied while taking a seat, then told me, “I know that you’re itching to ask me what I learned, Innanmi.

I couldn’t exactly say well, duh! so I just nodded and replied politely, “I am, but I’m curious how much you could learn in only a few hours, Grandmother.”

She let out a low chuckle as Jia poured. “I only went as far as that man’s town, though? He is quite naturally tracking the war situation. His greatest foe struck the vassals of his own granddaughter, after all.”

That man is Grandmother-speak for Oberon, who has been in the doghouse with both Grandmother and Mother for several thousand years. And I was already aware that he maintains a significant intelligence network. Even though he himself never leaves Relador (unless going to Mt. Ciddan, right outside Tëan Tír and deep within Relador, in order to visit my small world, counts as ‘leaving’), he stays fully abreast of the workings of the mortal world.

“You went to Oberon’s castle?” I echoed, slightly surprised. Mother had told me that Grandmother wouldn’t go anywhere near it. But come to think of it, she allowed him to escort her here, the other day…

“I took a room at the House of Gold Leaves and sent for him,” she stated with a dark tone.

Okay. Still in the doghouse.

Grandmother sipped tea, then set it down. “First of all, your people in the Kasarene Highlands suffered some injuries, but the demonic foe was driven away. They are now on their way out. The people at your castle suffered worse, and some parts of the structure were damaged, but they have achieved the same results. Your air cavalry left a covering patrol and followed in pursuit.”

That brought another frown to my face. The forces I had seen were a little too powerful for mortal air lancers to take on by themselves.

Grandmother read either my mind or my face. She reminded me, “That man did send a flight of fairy warriors to reinforce the defenses of Narses when you moved there. The fairy knight commander sent a detachment to support them.”

The day I arrived in Narses, Lady Falerè’s squad began guarding the skies of Narses, as the residence of a princess of Faerie. As far as they knew, I was still there. It was a relief to hear that Falerè and her team survived that nasty onslaught. Until this moment, I’d had no idea what happened to them during the attack.

So two out of three locations were okay, but… “What about Brigdion?”

She pressed her lips together, then nodded unhappily. Naturally, the news from the third attack site was not as bright.

“Your soldiers suffered terribly, and have been forced to abandon the battlefield. However, they made a successful withdrawal and joined with their reserves, securing new positions south of the town. It seems the sudden appearance of demonic forces was too terrifying to allow the enemy forces to take better advantage of the situation. So, the result of that battle was a setback for your offensive, but not a catastrophe.”

I pursed my lips, mulling over the news. The Oto Expedition had succeeded in its objective and was now on the way back. Narses Castle held and the enemy had fled under pursuit. Brigdion town was lost, but it had only been a very recent gain. If, after having done so much, Astaroth and Durash had achieved only that, while we weathered everything else, it might just actually be good news for our side.

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“Considering how much your enemy spent in order to buy so little, I would say that’s a given, child,” Immortal Mother told me.

“No,” I frowned. “It depends upon how bad the losses were for the forces at Brigdion. If we lost too many soldiers to continue the offensive, it could be very bad news for us in the long run.”

Grandmother tightened her lips and nodded. Immortal Mother agreed, “You aren’t wrong. Mortals are very much creatures of morale. Silver linings and acceptable losses do not exist from the point of view of soldiers on the ground.”

But then, she asked me, “I suppose you now feel you must go do something about it?”

My brow wrinkled. “I know you’re going to tell me I should just trust my people.”

“You should,” she agreed. “But that doesn’t mean you mustn’t yearn to help them. Your heart isn’t wrong in that regard.”

“How bad were the losses?” I asked Grandmother.

Her eyes grew troubled. “It’s… in numbers I find quite fearful. Back when I paid better attention to such matters, that number of soldiers killed were more than would ever have been on one battlefield.”

The worry started up again. “How many?”

“Numbering over three thousand, is all that man could say. The information was all very preliminary. But I understand that your army numbered in the tens of thousands.”

I pressed my lips in bitter silence, not wanting to curse in front of these two. That could mean whole regiments lost. But we had an entire corps facing the Parnese, plus assorted other attached infantry, auxiliaries, cavalries and mage companies. It had been an army advancing, not an army dug in, and a moving army is an extremely fluid beast, with many extra limbs glued on. Probably thirty thousand men or more had been in Brigdion…

The bottom line was, a loss of three thousand meant they were badly bloodied, but still intact. Not that such a thing meant it was okay. Ten percent losses is, frankly, horrific.

“You say the enemy ‘gained so little’, with losses like that.”

“In comparison to what he spent to inflict those losses, I will stand by my words,” Immortal Mother agreed.

I frowned at her, but I knew I didn’t know enough. Only Immortal Mother or one of the three main gods could understand exactly what Astaroth had to invest in order to use an Immortal spell in the Mortal Realm. Was it something that difficult to recover?

“I can explain most of it to you, child. He expended the last of the demonic substance he harvested at Oseri. Although he used the greater part of it to create that proxy that killed your Huadean mother and went on to attack you in Atianus, he still had enough left to cast an immortal spell. To have willingly invested the rest of it, he clearly thought the goals that your incarnation Fan Li deduced were certain victories. Instead, his only clear gain is something he could have achieved by other, less expensive means.”

“Demonic… substance?” I asked, unfamiliar with the term.

She sighed. “Yes, that’s not a term you know, is it? Back when you died, your seniors had yet to learn the secret ingredient that made demonic physique possible on Huade. Functioning in the physical regime in a low density universe ought not to be possible for demons, so it had been a great mystery.”

“You say he harvested it at Oseri. I thought he was trying to steal soul essence there. And I thought Erebos prevented him from succeeding?”

This is all complex, and it’s not a word I usually use, but soul essence is the in-universe manifestation of spiritual substance in the Mortal Realm. It’s what Fan Li’s spirit core turned into, when it came pouring into me and converted to this universe’s physics. And it’s what Erebos kept Astaroth from stealing from the residents of Oseri.

She replied, “Erebos indeed saved their souls when he blocked the formation from stealing their soul essence, child. They would have reincarnated with no spiritual substance at all, probably in a world like Earth and probably as animals. He prevented that, but he could not save their bodies. He had no means to stop the formation from consuming their flesh and living blood.”

I remembered the eerie town robbed of all of its inhabitants, apparently in the middle of evacuation. A few remnant spirits who failed to move on haunted the otherwise empty houses, but no bodies remained or even bloodstains remained.

“The formation consumed their bodies to make this… substance?”

Immortal Mother’s grave nod made me shudder. The demonic ball I had faced before over Atianus had been made from the remains of their bodies…

“If he had both demonic substance and soul essence in sufficient quantities, he could form a physique capable of housing himself in the physical world. Without the essence, he merely had a trove of demonic substance. Seeking a use for it, he employed it as a means to attack your mother and you.”

“Could he try again?” I worried. “If he has all of Parna and Fiore to play with…”

“He began creating that formation while your father was still duke, and took until this year to complete it. If he began now, he could manage another in twenty more years. He’ll have his normal method of rebirth ready sooner than that.”

The Demon King, the incarnation of Astaroth, would be born around ten years in the future and grow to maturity in thirty, on his normal thousand year cycle. The tragedy in Oseri was an attempt to cut the process short by a couple decades, but the original schedule still held.

I felt something like a rock in the pit of my stomach, because I didn’t want to call three thousand or more men a price worth paying. But I had to admit, we cost Astaroth dearly if he spent everything he had left of such a difficult to obtain commodity to gain only a few miles of territory.

Knowing all this didn’t make me any less anxious about getting back to Huade.

Immortal Mother contemplated me while sipping tea and grew a kind smile.

“Your presence would indeed be a boon to your people. Perhaps we should find you an alternative to going there yourself. For example, using the method by which you sent yourself to support your expedition without traveling there.”

I used more than one method. The one that gave me the most flexibility was [Blood Effigy], but there was also [Blood Presence] and whatever we called the method by which Rhea sent my awareness to join Kiki or my Servant.

“She was simply helping you use spiritual resonance, child, the same method by which she visits her priestesses,” she stated. “But the one I’m suggesting to use is [Blood Effigy].”

“But how can I send a [Blood Effigy] over there from here?”

Immortal Mother just tipped her head. “Why couldn’t you send a [Blood Effigy] to Huade from here? The only axis of the interface between this universe and Huade’s that is not tightly bound is Time. Otherwise your Servants would not have access to your mana channel.”

“Isn’t that because the bond that connects them to me is strictly spiritual?”

There’s no mana or material component to it, after all.

“It would be more accurate to say that it’s because a portion of their souls has taken temporary residence within your soul, giving them access to your channel. That would not be possible without the connection Gaia forged between this universe and Huade’s. If you suddenly drifted to Earth or some other universe, for example, or if you completed your Ascension to the Fundamental Realm, your bonds with them would be severed.”

I frowned. Yes, I don’t fully understand the mechanics of the blood bond, but that did match up with things I had been told previously about it. But as for me using the [Blood Effigy], which operates in some ways similar to a proxy…

“Little Jia sends proxies into Huade all the time, child,” she reminded me. “So do a number of other spirit beasts here in Sky Ocean. That’s why they are acquainted with the modern world. It’s really little different from how I have sent this proxy here from the Immortal Realms. But unlike crossing the Spirit Realm from the Immortal Realms, sending a proxy from here is no more difficult than sending it from Narses to the Kasarene Highlands.”

As I absorbed this, it brought me back to what she had said before, and I realized…

“You’re proposing for me to do that?” I asked. “Send a [Blood Effigy] to Huade while physically staying here in Sky Ocean?”

She nodded. “Precisely.”

“How long until I’m capable of it?”

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She sipped her tea again, then smiled.

“It should be safe enough for you to do it now, child.”

- my thoughts:

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We still have a chapter and a half before we actually go back to Huade, but this essentially ends what I didn't realize at first was going to be a training arc. It was short enough to not annoy, I hope.

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