After we left our little slice of Dungeon, cores fully charged and feeling fresh, we began to make our way toward the capital in earnest. We'd done a few sweeps out this way before but had resisted the urge to push too close to the city in the event we attracted the wrong type of attention whilst there were still people that could be saved and roving bands of monsters that could be cleaned up toward the south.
Those things have been cleared up now and there is nothing to stop us making our approach. Moving cautiously, we kept low, avoiding the main roads as Morrelia directed us west into the large forest south of the city. Moving back under those leafy branches was nostalgic to me, on the north side of this forest is where the colony set up our first nest on the surface. Not far from the village where I bit off Beyns arm. Ah, memories.
I wonder the Branchies are still around?
Morrelia takes care that we stay hidden and out of sight as we continue to progress to the north, displaying a level of woodcraft that I hadn't expected to see in such a bloodthirsty warrior. When I, perhaps unwisely, commented on it, she snorted out a laugh of derision before replying.
[You think roaming the wilds is as simple as killing everything you find? If you don't know when and how to hide yourself, a hunter will wind up dead and eaten before they can blink.]
[That's a little surprising to me] I replied honestly, [I haven't seen anything on the surface that could hope to put a scratch on you or me. Is there really a need for that kind of caution?]
Morrelia continued to move and scout as we spoke, her eyes shifting without pause and her feet placed carefully as we moved.
[Don't get a big head. Surface monsters are much weaker than Dungeon monsters, that much is true, but there are still creatures on the surface that are powerful. Why else do you think the entire surface is yet to be reclaimed? Probably half of the landmass of Pangera is still considered 'wildlands', with no sapient race laying claim to it.
[But why?!] I exclaimed, [I just don't understand. If you have fighters that are able to battle in the Dungeon, then you can surely spend some of that strength on the surface? Don't people want to rid the surface of monsters? Wouldn't that be safer?]
[The key point you aren't grasping here, is whether or not that land is valuable.]
[Well. You need land, right? For farming… and… living?]
Morrelia laughed, a harsh barking sound that suited her warriors demeanour far more than a girlish titter would have.
[Oh aye. For regular folks, land is critical. Need to farm, grow families, fell lumber, mine. The wealth and prosperity of the common people is built on land, certainly. What about the elites? What about the rulers of those mighty nations? For what do they need land for?]
I could feel the ire rising in Morrelia as she spoke and decided I should keep my mouth shut until she was finished. Wisdom showing itself in me once again!
[The truth is, to the truly powerful, territory in the Dungeon is a thousand times more valuable that territory on the surface. Rare materials, monster components, cores, experience, these are the things that they are willing to fight for. The greatest empires of the surface don't measure their strength by how wide their lands are, but how deep. The regular people on the surface are left to fend for themselves, when they aren't being drafted into some new crusade beneath the earth.]
[So that's why you spent your time hunting in the south? You wanted to use your skills and strength to try and help out where others wouldn't.]
She hesitated before she spoke, just for a brief moment but I caught it none the less.
[Yes. Amongst other reasons, I wanted to try and do something to assist people on the border. My crew and I would take commissions to hunt from the monarchy, bounties basically, it wasn't much but we made a living out of and got to feel that we were doing something worthwhile.]
I felt like it was a bit of a waste of her skills to be honest. If she'd been doing something more like what she was doing know in the village, training people and escorting them into the Dungeon to allow them to build up the strength to defend themselves, it would have been a more effective way to protect the people on the border. You know the old saying: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will kill monsters in defence of family and property.
I made my opinion known to Morrelia and she seemed to reluctantly agree.
[It's possible] she conceded, [I've greatly enjoyed training the refugees, more than I had expected I would, to be honest. I'd never thought I'd have the patience for it. I'm not sure if it's something I could have done before. Access to the Dungeon was restricted in Liria, just like everywhere, and finding people in the villages who were willing to flaunt that rule and fight for themselves would have been hard before this mess occurred.]
[Why is access to the Dungeon so restricted anyway? Wouldn't it be good if people got a little stronger and advanced their classes?]
Morrelia smiled grimly, her eyes still shifting left and right as she scouted for danger. [That's exactly why. They don't want people getting stronger, advancing their classes and potentially creating their own centres of power outside of their control.]
I sighed internally. Even in another world people would be this petty and selfish. This kind of thing just reinforces to me the wisdom of the colony way of life. The idea of a worker trying to seek some sort of advantage over another worker is almost enough to make to me laugh out loud! If anything they would scheme to ensure that they themselves were sacrificing more and working harder than others.
Our conversation had run its course so Morrelia and I fell into a companionable silence. It would take quite some time for us to make our way through this forest, particularly since we didn't want to be seen. I wasn't even training any mental skills as we travelled, wanting to maintain my mental energy in the event that we ran into trouble.
Fortunately, we didn't. After extended travel without rest, we managed to make it the northern side of the forest. Somewhat sadly, we didn't run into the old anthill, I think we passed somewhat to the east of it, but eventually the trees began to thin out as we approached the edge of the forest.
My nerves grew apace as we advanced, I'd heard a lot about Garralosh since I'd been reborn and her stupid children had scared the willies out of me on more than one occasion. I'm ready to lay my eyes on the culprit.