Vyssium - also known as ‘The Land of Autumn’. With plenty of fertile soil and vast arrays of river connecting many major cities, Vyssium was considered a major power in the region.
Vyssium took its name from its capital Vyssia, founded by the people who called themselves the Vyssians.
And in that specific city, a somewhat notable, but mostly unremarkable group of people entered the city.
“Come on, you lots. I’ve longed to see my home for a long time now!” A red bearded man shouted as he walked in front of the group.
“You know, Aefelred. Despite being in your thirties, you’re acting like a kid,” a redheaded woman chided.
“Dyvona, I can only assume that you’re crazy if you’re not acting giddy about surviving a near-death experience,” Aefelred replied. “Besides, we must show our new friends our home, right?”
“Right. I’m glad to see home as well.” A tall red headed man wearing a full set of chain mail stretched his back as he took in the fresh smell of his homeland. He turned his back, facing a group of heavily armored men, and said, “You guys will love Vyssia, I swear.”
“Ok,” came the reply from the largest man in the group.
Of course. The group of men weren’t even men. They were automatons used to serve a dungeon core whose only purpose was to produce a magical material which sucked mana from the air called anti-mana.
And that very core was watching everything the automatons could see. However, it wasn’t doing this just to marvel at the city. It was calculating many, many things at once.
‘Master Custodian, the number of organics here exceeds the amount of undead there were in Mount Varangia,’ the tall drone reported in its telepathic-like network called the hivespeak.
‘I can see everything you see, Slayer,’ Custodian replied.
“Hey, you know, I feel really bad taking these treasures. Are you guys sure you don’t mind us taking these?” Dyvona held a bundle of weapons and scrolls. Some of the weapons were decorated with gold or gems, making them extremely valuable… to other people. To the drones and Custodian, wealth was meaningless unless it could be used to obtain more matter.
“Yes, yes. We don’t mind,” another automaton wearing a full set of red silk robes replied. The automaton even took out a bag of jewelry and gave it to the little priestess girl in the group wearing a thick brown coat.
This particular drone had a better disposition towards non-drones thus he was mostly assigned as an envoy.
“Thank you, Mister Weaver. I’ll be sure this gets to the temple priest! Humanos bless us all!” the little girl bowed at Weaver.
“Just remember the deal we have,” Weaver whispered.
“Of course, Mister Weaver!” Elena bowed again once more.
“Elena, are you going now?” the tall red head man asked.
“Yes, Mister Gerard. But I will be sure to drop by!” Elena gave her farewells, then ran off to a different direction with the bag of jewelry on hand.
The group continued on without Elena, navigating through the city until they reached a small manor house in a less crowded part of the city. It had a small front yard, a fountain, and a small pagoda.
There were a few people inside the manor busying themselves until one of them spotted Gerard. She rushed out into the front yard, then towards the gate.
“Gerard! You bloody idiot! You damned, no good...Arghh! Where have you been?! It wasn’t just a month. Not even two or three months. Four whole months you were gone! FOUR!” the woman shouted. She had a fair shoulder-length hair which was, of course, red. Her face looked quite young, but her actions were that of an angry old mother.
“Gwened! I’m also glad to see you. Weaver, Sir Slayer, this is my sister,” Gerard introduced the woman to the drones.
“Glad to see you... your face! I was worried sick! Aefelred, I would’ve thought you had SOME common sense, but nooooo…” Gwened continued grumbling on, then she realized the large men behind her brother.
“W-who are they?” she nervously asked.
“Gwened, we met some… particularly interesting group of people from Varangia. They call themselves the Varangians.” Gerard leaned close to his sister and whispered, “We’re not entirely sure if they’re humans, though.”
“Eh?!” Gwened was taken aback. Non-humans weren’t really a common sight in Vyssium, especially since the closest non-human nation was at least several nations away.
Gwened took a few steps forward, then inspected the largest man of the Varangians.
“Careful, Gwen. The Varangians are pretty jumpy,” Dyvona chuckled as she poked Gwened with a sword hilt, taking her by surprise.
Finally, an old man came out of the manor to check the commotion.
“Aefelred! And others… who are they?” the old man called out.
“Eoforwic, I have declared them to be kinsmen of mine. They saved all our lives during the accursed expedition. Not only that,” Aefelred took the bundle of treasure from Dyvona and continued, “they’re even willing to give us this.”
The old man unwrapped the bundle and nearly had a heart attack. Jewelry and ancient weapons revealed themselves, shocking the people that had come to check the commotion.
“T-this is… from them?” Eoforwic pointed at the drones.
“Don’t be rude. They will be our guests. They are called the Varangians,” Aefelred chided.
“Varangians? Varangia? There were people in it?” Eoforwic questioned.
“Apparently so. Come, let’s talk inside. I’ve missed home,” Aefelred said as he went inside the manor, followed by the Varangians.
Within the group of Varangians were the Daedali type automatons Weaver, Slayer, and Red. Accompanying them were specialized combat drones called huskarls. Together, their job was to scout out Vyssium, in order to decide whether to establish peaceful contact with the Vyssians or otherwise.
Unfortunately, Custodian wasn’t exactly knowledgeable in politics in society. After all, its will was absolute, and all drones play a part in the system to achieve efficiency, so there was no need to play politics back at home.
To that end, Custodian had one key weapon: Red. A red drone found in the ruined city under Mount Varangia, Red was a strangely emotional drone with an in-depth knowledge of humans. The Daedalus herself doesn’t know why, only that she had the knowledge. Nevertheless, Custodian didn’t lose anything from making use of its tools to achieve maximum profit.
While Weaver was becoming better at manipulating the humans, Red still had to offer guidance regarding human behaviors to the fledgeling diplomat.
“We’ll prepare a feast as a celebration; for both the return of Aefelred and his group, and to welcome our guests!” Eoforwic announced.
“Ah, the Varangians have a tradition of only eating amongst themselves so we’ll have to prepare a separate dining room for them,” Aefelred whispered to Eoforwic.
“That’s a very strange tradition…” Eoforwic mumbled.
“Well, you’ll learn soon enough that they are very different for us,” Aefelred replied.
Since it would take time to prepare for a feast from Aefelred and co’s arrival, they decided to sit at a large hall to talk about their experiences in Varangia. As the humans talked, the Varagians scanned the room, trying to check for anything interesting.
“Ah, I noticed you are looking at my bear head mount,” Eoforwic said as the drones looked at the said decoration.
“What kind of creature is that? I’m rather curious since I’ve never seen such creature before,” Weaver asked. Thanks to Red’s help and a month or so of talking to the humans, Weaver’s comprehension of the Vyssian language had drastically improved, allowing him to speak in full proper sentences.
“It is a bear. Common all over Vyssia, or even the central part of the continent,” Aefelred explained.
“That bear in particular was the largest I had ever seen. The House of Sea’axfeared hosted a Great Hunt, and I hunted that. Those were glorious days,” Eoforwic added.
Slayer looked at Weaver, and he looked back. After a few seconds of silence, they both nodded.
“Aefelred, what was that?” Eoforwic whispered.
“That’s… how they talk. I think…” Aefelred said.
“What?” came the reply.
Weaver coughed to get the attention of the humans, then asked, “House Sea’axfeared. What is it? Why is a house named Sea’axfeared?”
“Right. We haven’t explained it to them, right, Gerard?” Aefelred realized. “Vyssium is ruled by great families called Houses. However, Vyssians don’t value blood as much as they value oath. Any common folk could join a house, and they would be treated as kins if successful. By my oath, you are all honorary Sea’axfeared - Old Vyssian for ‘Kins of Sea’ax’.”
The drones were wondering what families were when Red stepped in and explained it to them. ‘You see, the humans are made by other humans. Like how Custodian makes drones.’
‘Just like the rats and spiders?’ Custodian asked.
‘Yes, Master Custodian. The general term for a family is a group of drones manufactured by the same type of human. That is to say… if Custodian made Drone A, and Drone A made Drone B, you would all be considered a family.’
‘This is… complicated… I will go back to managing the local production... ‘ Custodian groaned then left.
The drones decided to simply go along with ‘They are of the same organic origin’ or something along those lines.
Weaver pointed at the humans in the room, then asked, “You are all of the same family?”
“Blood, no. Thank Humanos. If I shared the same blood as Aefelred, I’d rather kill myself.” Eoforwic laughed loudly.
“In this particular minor branch of Sea’axfeared, only Gerard and Gwened are related. The rest of us are simply in the same oath-family,” Aefelred explained as he ignored the old man.
“Branch?” Weaver asked.
“Yes. There are other members of Sea’axfeared all over Vyssium. In fact, we even rule a particular region to the east. I believe there’s another Sea’axfeared branch family south of Vyssia?” Gerard answered.
“Yes. Those damned bastards. I lent them my sword because they said they were challenged by another family, but I haven’t got it back! I bet they lost the duel and my sword!” Eoforwic cursed.
“Calm down, Eoforwic. We got you a new sword anyway,” Gerard said as he passed a longsword to him.
“Oh ho ho! This is amazing work! It’s from Mount Varangia, right? Ah, you Varangians are so lucky to have an ancient city just sitting where you live in,” Eoforwic complimented. Aefelred had already mentioned that they were going to Mount Varangia to search for an ancient city, so Eoforwic was aware of the basic details.
“It could also be where they used to live before they were driven back, you know?” Aefelred interjected.
“Wait. Where’s Osvart?” Eoforwic finally noticed.
“He’s in Varangia, looking for his wife…” Gerard’s expression became grim, then lightened when he looked at the Varangians, “but the Varangians swore to help him find her.”
“Ah. Poor Osvart. That man has received nothing but bad luck. Only his wife seemed to be the only light in his life.” Eoforwic sighed.
Gerard looked up to the ceiling as he thought about Osvart. “Indeed.”
Back at Varangia, as soon as the humans left for Vyssium, a month ago, Custodian immediately put his drones to work. The exponential increase in materials left by the undead, and the ransack of the abandoned city under Mount Varangia left Custodian with a great deal of options.
Instead of saving up to unlock new drones through the protocols, Custodian decided to expand rapidly. It won’t be long until word of strange people coming out of Varangia would spread, and without a doubt, malicious forces would try to take advantage of the new arrivals.
Scouts were sent all over the region, and Custodian was pleased to find that the trees around Mount Varangia provided a lot of biomatter, though it gave no mana matter.
Mount Varangia was being fortified as well, copying the style of the abandoned city. In fact, the Varangians were beginning to adopt symbolism and architecture of the ruined city. Following the architecture that had stood for centuries was better than making up an entirely new design for construction, and it would be faster anyway.
As for the symbolism, Red suggested it so that the outsiders to easily identify members of the Varangians. Custodian didn’t know exactly why, but there was so much untapped knowledge within Red, so Custodian will just have to wait and see for the results.
‘The enigmatic Red, huh…’ Custodian thought to itself, trying to ponder on Red’s origins.
‘Report. Materials ready to be processed. Estimations calculated this is enough to complete Protocol 1C and Protocol 4D.’
‘Very well, Princeps. We shall begin,’ Custodian replied.
Conveyor belts pushed bones collected from the ruined city and logs harvested from the mountain towards Custodian’s giant glass ball-like body floating in the middle of the core room. Not only within Custodian’s core room. Two other rooms which had a smaller version of Custodian were also processing materials.
The number of materials were shooting up rapidly as Custodian had prepared for this for a long time already. After securing all its territory, the A.I. had been preparing for the next phase of expansion. There was two main goals: Up and down.
Expanding into either the surface and the underground had its merits, and Custodian didn’t want to waste an opportunity to harvest the potential profit.
‘Princeps, take over,’ Custodian ordered.
‘Affirmative,’ came the reply.
[2500 units of anti-mana in weight collected. Protocol 1C completed. Memory 3 unlocked. Now playing...]