The remainder of the month went by all too quickly, and the day of Ira’s challenge soon approached. Amelia and all of those that were in the group when they met Ira the first time were grouped up with a significant portion of the swarm’s unenlightened fighting force accompanying them. Most of the combat group, save Amelia, had evolved an additional time, even with the changes, but Rose couldn’t help but feel nervous as she surveyed them.
It was hard not to when they were attempting such a risky plan. Rose was fully prepared to lose most of the unenlightened swarm members she was bringing along with her, but she was cautiously optimistic about her chances at keeping all the sapient people alive.
Her personality aside, Amelia was clearly the strongest asset on their side, and as such she had been assigned the vital duty of protecting everyone. Her aside, the plan was much the same as it had been before – sacrifice as many of their unenlightened sisters as was necessary to keep the sapient people alive until Rose dealt with Ira.
To that end, Rose was planning to pretend to abandon everyone, take Ira a fair distance away, and then cocoon him. Should he not come willingly, she would be dumping the content of the storage device Connie had given them on him, and if that failed, Amelia was to jump ship and attempt to fight him with Rose’s help.
Unfortunately, Rose had no way of knowing how strong Ira was, or if the two of them even stood a chance against him. So, she took a deep breath, and addressed the small army she was leading. “From the moment we step through the portal, I will remain fully in my other persona.” She said. “You are to address me as Queen, uncomfortable though it may be. Our lives, and the lives of everyone living here, depend on selling the lie long enough for me to convert Ira.
“Should we succeed, we will not only ensure our continued survival, but we will also cleanse the world of an evil that should have perished long ago. Though they will not know it for some time, the world shall sing our praises once our deeds come to light. Now, with me, to victory!”
You have gained the Special Title War God’s Chosen!
War God’s Chosen
This Title marks one who is favored by the God of War. This Title doubles experience gain from combat, and provides a 1.2x boost to the stats of all allies within one mile. As a Special Title, the effects of War God’s Chosen are always active.
The army let out a cheer, and Rose leaned down, giving Lia a kiss. “We’ll be back before you know it.” She said, more confidently than she felt.
Lia nodded hesitantly. “When you come back, we’ll throw a huge banquet.” She said. “And, perhaps, we can take a breather for a bit. Maybe, um, have some alone time?”
Rose paused, thinking over that for a second. She didn’t quite get the implication at first, but judging by Lia’s extremely red face, there was only one thing it could be. “I’ll hold you to that.” She said. “You’ve been studying how these things are done between two girls, yes? I look forward to seeing what you’ve learned.”
Lia nodded bashfully, and Rose smiled before turning back to the persona of the Ruby Emperor. It was an uncomfortable feeling, pretending to be someone who she hated, but it had to be done. And she did hate her past self; not because he had been a bad person or had even done anything wrong, but because of what he represented.
He represented confinement, the feeling of being a prisoner in her own body, not even able to properly feel, much less express her desires or take time for herself. Just as he was a symbol of hope and better days to the people of the world, to her he was a symbol of the worst parts of life, the parts that necessitated the deaths of thousands of innocents “for the greater good”.
Yet, if donning the mask of that detestable man was what was required to save her family, she would do it a million times over. Not because an Urge forced her to, or because it was expected of her, but because she wanted to. So, she gave her army a calm, assured look, and led them through the portal.
Rose approached Ira calmly, paying little attention to the monsters below. She had had enough of a glance on her way in, and looking further would only tarnish her image. There were seven monsters, each a behemoth that was clearly in a different league than the one Ira had eaten. They were standing neatly in a row, waiting for Ira’s signal, though that only barely detracted from the menacing aura they emitted.
Rose didn’t wait for Ira’s signal, ordering her army to attack before she even got within fifteen feet of him. “Ira.” She said once she was in a comfortable range. “I came, as promised.”
Her army washed over the monsters as they stood there, unresisting. “Reuben.” Ira said. “As pragmatic as always, I see.”
“Order your monsters to attack.” Rose ordered. “We have no time to waste.”
“Oh?” Ira said, raising an eyebrow. “Surely you need every second of free resistance you can get.”
“Did I stutter?” Rose said. “Do it. Now.”
Ira grinned. “As you wish, my liege.” He snapped his fingers, and the monsters set upon the front lines of Rose’s army, each of their attacks that connected killing multiple members of the swarm. “May I ask why?”
Rose gave him a flat look. “You can figure it out.” She said. “If you can’t, you don’t deserve a spot at my side.”
Ira, still smiling, tapped his chin as the massacre continued. “Let’s see here…you’re not on the battlefield yourself like you prefer to be, and your dismissal of the head start I gave you is telling.” He paused for a moment, watching as Rose’s army continued to be shredded. “I see. These are the remnants that you could not turn to your side, are they not?”
Rose nodded. “Correct. As you have seen, I am nowhere near as strong as I was at the height of my power. And, given the fact that the monster you called a failure was a match for the army I had at the time, I knew there was no way to catch up within the months allotted to me. Therefore, the only logical choice was to make the defeat as advantageous to me as possible.”
She turned on a heel, beckoning for Ira to follow as she strode away. “Now, come with me. There is no point in watching this massacre further, we have things to do.” She didn’t look back as she walked, though she was desperately listening to be sure Ira was following.
Sure enough, he began walking some steps behind her. “What are these things we need to do?” He asked. “I was under the impression that you had as much time as you needed to gain power.”
“And each moment that passes idle is a moment that could be better spent elsewhere. This generation’s Hero, fool that she was, set this in motion before vanishing. Of course, the “civilized” parts of the world are no doubt frantically searching for her, meaning contact with us is inevitable. Furthermore, as that same Hero was struck down for her blasphemies, the job of defeating the Lord of Monsters falls once again to me.
“To that end, I have several goals. First, I need to convert you; this will uncap the limiter on your own power, as well as give me enough experience to evolve yet again. Second, we need to prepare the old queen of the swarm for transport. As much as I would like to kill her and be done with it, my continued existence relies upon her life, and as such I must take care that she is kept in a state of suspended animation.
“Finally, we need to strip down the dungeon I have been using as a base, take the usable bits, and bring them to a more fortified location along with those of the swarm who are loyal to me.” She stopped, turning to face Ira and holding out a hand. “Our travel will take some time. As such, it is prudent for you to convert during this time. Take my hand, and we will begin.”
Ira stopped in front of her, eyeing her cautiously. “Or I could fly us there.” He said. “With your directions, I am sure we would arrive much faster than walking.”
“Conversion is a quick process, taking no more than half an hour.” Rose replied. “If we hurry, you will be able to gain some experience from your monsters killing the last remnants of the army. They should currently be fighting for their lives, trying to prolong the inevitable by any means necessary, which should give us the leeway we need, but only if we begin now.”
Ira frowned. “You are pushing this point hard, my liege.” He said. “It almost seems –”
“Are you questioning me, Ira?” Rose asked icily. “While I appreciate constructive criticism from my vassals, I have meticulously planned this out, and I will be accepting no arguments. Now, stop your debating and take my hand, so we may carry on with this.”
Ira’s frown deepened. “I do not –”
Rose activated the storage item she had obtained from Connie, dumping an enormous quantity of modeling wax directly on top of Ira. She see the cube thrashing as Ira attempted to break free, so she rushed in, exuding modeling wax from every available spot as she tried to hold Ira down.
And, slowly, the thrashing began to slow, before eventually stopping altogether, the cocoon taking its distinctive shape around Ira, the extra modeling wax sloughing off onto the ground. Rose breathed a sigh of relief, letting her mask drop as she used her magic to create a giant rose high in the sky, the signal that Ira had been dealt with. She then picked up his cocoon, and began bringing it back to the battlefield, where it could safely be stored with Amelia.
For what seemed to be the millionth time, Amelia resented the binding that had been placed upon her. It simply wasn’t fair that she has been brought down so much, when her new race was already weaker than she had been. Why did it matter that she was stronger than the rest of the swarm? All binding her was doing was slowing down their inevitable victory.
This was made especially apparent when she got the Skill that, briefly, let her shake off the binding, allowing her to display her full power. Unfortunately, that came with the rather annoying stipulation that it had to be to protect someone, but she was sure she could engineer situations in which she was “protecting” people if she really needed that power.
Now was one of those times when she really needed that power, and fortunately she was counted as protecting people in this instance, so she was able to go all out. It still wasn’t as powerful as she would have liked, as at the height of her power she could have easily defeated all seven of these monsters by herself, but this would have to do.
She threw up a magic shield in front of Mia as she swapped the places of Camellia and an unenlightened member of the swarm, then sent a lance of light into the chest of the most annoying monster, a dragon that was really beginning to get on her nerves, and pushed it back.
Chrys almost took a blow, but, fortunately, the protective enchantment that Amelia had cast on her held, protecting her from the worst of the damage. Amelia clicked her tongue in annoyance, teleporting Chrys away from the battlefield so she would have time for the enchantment to recharge.
One of the monsters, an enormous, three-headed dog, snapped at Amelia, forcing her to divert her attention from the others and protect herself. She clamped one of the jaws shut with magic, then propelled herself onto that head’s snout, keeping her balance with some elementary gravity magic as she ran up to the eyes.
Using the same magic that held the jaw shut, she forced one of beast’s eyelids open, then plunged her arm into the eye, fingers crackling as she used the flesh of the eye to create a symbolic link to the beast’s other eyes, then unleashed a crackling bolt of electricity that sparked, hitting all of the eyes and causing the creature to let loose a howl of rage and pain. While it was distracted, she jumped off of it and dumped the entirety of her storage on it, the modeling wax sweeping over the creature and enveloping it in a cocoon.
Landing back on the ground, she checked her resources and gave another annoyed click of the tongue as she saw that she was down to a quarter of her Mana. She activated one of her active abilities, draining her Stamina rapidly to recharge her Mana, then cast a speed-up spell, taking stock of the situation as she did.
Mia was covering Camellia’s retreat as best she could, and Chrys was keeping her head down while she waited for her enchantment to regain strength. Fortunately, they were the only people she had to keep track of, the rest of the sapient swarm having been left at home due to Ira not knowing of their existence.
As she was casting a spell that would redirect one of the monster’s attention, the air shifted. The monsters all paused for a moment, then began glaring at the others suspiciously. It would seem Rose had been successful, and that Ira had, like a fool, not trained them at all, instead using overwhelming force or some sort of Skill to keep them in line.
As such, the monsters, all apex predators that would usually fight each other for territory, shifted their attention to the biggest threats in the area – each other. And, annoyingly, Amelia seemed to be counted among that number. Though, she supposed that was only natural; she had just proved herself to be capable of taking out one of their own, so any sane creature would be cautious around her.
She wasn’t planning to stick around, though. She called for the full retreat, then teleported forward the few yards to the cocoon, used all the Mana she had just converted from Stamina to put it in her dimensional storage, then teleported to where Mia and Camellia were, grabbing them before teleporting yet another time to Chrys.
Once all of them were safely in hand, she teleported them as far towards the entrance to the dungeon as she could make it on her remaining Mana while leaving a small buffer. She had left the unenlightened part of the swarm to die, yes, but those that weren’t already dead would make it back, and they were expendable anyway. Now, all that was left to do get back to the base, meet up with Rose, and announce their victory.