"You didn't need to come, my Lord," Róta said in her usual stiff and respectful way. "I am more than capable of conquering this settlement in your name."
Damn Viking mindset. "I will not use the heavy arm of conquest if they can be persuaded to join us peacefully."
Rota lowered her head but I could sense her smile, "I am elated to serve under a wise and compassionate God."
"If there is no other recourse, I will conquer settlements. You will be my spear, Róta."
She liked that.
"And what about me?" Larry asked from inside Blackjack Six.
"You are the mascot, right? Then stay around and look cute. Do cute platypus things."
The gates opened. A warrior wearing haphazardly thrown-together chitin armor approached. These people had fewer resources than most of the refugees who came to Pitsmouth fleeing Jabberwock's wrath.
"Who are you?" He eyed my armor, then Róta's armor, then parts of Róta not covered by armor. She was not wearing armor.
"You will have respect when addressing my Lord!" Róta barked and almost ripped the guy a new one. With her bare hands. Barbarians, all of them.
"Who is your Lord, then?" The man asked Róta.
"My Lord is the slayer of Jabberwock, Protector of Pitsmouth, Warden of the World Tree, Defender of Speranza, savior of hundreds of thousands of people, the bringer of green, the lord of all trees, pilot of the God-Machines, conqueror of the skies," she pointed at the dirigibles, "wielder of a thousand spears of light, the new Lord of Valhalla and Fólkvangr, Maker of Computers, Master of the Internet, and patron saint of the children."
Bloody hell. And I couldn't refute any of these titles. Just how much did this Valkyrie gossip during her stay in Speranza?
"We heard of the God-Machines and the death of Jabberwock. It was you? Is this one of the God-Machines?"
I raised a hand to stay Róta's wrath. "You may call me Garfield Babbage. I came to offer you an opportunity to live in a new place. One free of harassment from the Infernali."
"There's no place on this cursed Earth that's free of the Infernali!"
Gigantic, 200-foot-wide LCD panels rose from the wagons all around the village, clearing the palisade and then tilting forward. These LCD panels then came to life with images of Speranza. Of people walking the parks, reading on their computers, playing with dogs and other animals, savoring food at a restaurant, and sleeping on the grass under a tree. Then a mother with her baby on a hospital bed, birds singing on the windowsill. Then a panoramic shot of the city being besieged by Infernali, the automated guns on the walls killing them thousands at a time.
Some images from the massive Kaiju, including the giant five-headed Jabberwock, Boboyotes, and the Wobby Dicks. Then some drone footage of the army of Bricks Windows tearing a Jabberwock to pieces. Finally, some of the Guardians walked down a street, saying how bored they were they didn't have anything to fight in two months.
Then all screens showed Marshall. "Greetings. I'm Lord Marshall of Pitsmouth. My father was known as the Vorpal Sword. What you just saw on the screens are but fleeting moments of life here in Speranza. A city where everyone has food, a house, opportunity to find their own calling in life, safe from the Infernali. Why don't you come here for a visit and a cup of tea? I know you will love what we have here."
The shot ends with a bunch of kids running around in the park, playing at a jungle gym, their giggles and squeals a contagious melody. They were all chubby, with no bones poking at their skin. A stark contrast compared to the malnourished children in this settlement.
"I don't trust you."
"Trust is such a rare commodity," I replied over him before Róta could scold him for his disrespect. "I do not intend to lie to you. If you do not trust me, trust these three I recruited to help me. Róta?"
"Yes, my lord!" She focused and then shouted the line I had her rehearse. I could tell she didn't like it but said it anyway. Róta was nothing if not dutiful and dedicated. "TO MY SIDE, MY NOBLE EINHERJAR!"
I was glad Blackjack Six couldn't grin. Larry tapped my Core. "You were right. It does sound fucking cool."
The three Einherjar appeared behind us. The villagers gasped as they recognized their dead.
"My lord has already gathered the ghosts of the dead that lingered around here and ushered them to paradise," Róta shouted.
I had a drone fly to Fólkvangr and show the dead there getting used to the village on the big screens. I heard the people call names and asked over the drone's speakers for that person to wave at the camera.
That did it. The resistance of the villagers broke and many of them were now rushing to the gates, to talk to me. The warriors loyal to Chitin Man were trying to stem the tide but would they attack their own people? I doubt it.
Chitin Man played his hand. "I challenge you to a duel! If you can defeat Jabberwock, then you can defeat me!"
Róta put herself in front of me. "As my Lord's champion, I will fight you. We'll use staves and fight until one of us can't stand up yet."
"I accept!" He boasted.
I didn't think I could call that a fight.
"Damn... Contractor, please remind me to never piss off Róta!" Larry gawked.
"You are too cute to piss off Róta, Larry. And she knows not to mess with my pet."
"Magical Mascot!" Larry protested.
"Say, do you know why magical girls all have mascots?"
"No... why do they?"
"Larry, you are not ready for the truth."
"No, please. I must know."
I told him. Larry went to a corner of Blackjack Six's cockpit and curled into a ball, covering his head with his tail. Then he sulked really hard. "I'm... merchandising!"
Perhaps I was too harsh. Should I tell him I was intending to sell "Larry the Platypus Mascot" plushies for USD$ 14.99 on my merch page? I needed 1,000 orders to justify the production line.
Anyway. We had that little chat after Róta wiped the floor with Chitin Man. Almost literally. Damn, the guy... Not only Róta had more Attribute points than the guy, but she also had thousands of years to train. The woman was the real deal. A Valkyrie, a demigoddess from Asgard who trained and sparred with the toughest Viking Einherjar the world had ever seen. And she took it easy on him but I could see by the scorn in her eyes that this guy was not Valhalla material.
It didn't even compare. Do you remember when I said the effect of Attribute points was based on the person? How did 100 points of Strength mean different things, for example, between a man and a woman? Well, now think about the gap between a mortal man and an Aesir.
I felt like I had just hit a jackpot by picking that Class. Who cared about tree-sprouting cannons? Or saying dumb stuff to gain a little power? Yeah. I got a lot out of that Class and I bet some people would make the most out of it, but it wasn't me. I kept the best part of it and used the slot for something great.
"I yield!" The village chieftain shouted. His people cheered.
"By the laws of conquest, you are now all my subordinates," Róta shouted. "Worship my Lord. He is fair and his bounty is endless. He is the only God on this scorched land. He will bring you happiness untold."
That wasn't part of the script but fuck it. Let's wing this shit. I moved some fruit baskets from Speranza and put them on a table I Replicated them in a split-second. With my current Materialization speed, the time I needed to burn each point of DM was 1.06 milliseconds. Literally 200 DM or more in the blink of an eye.
"Stop!" Róta shouted and twirled the staff in her hands. "Before you partake in the lord's bounty, you must first swear allegiance and devotion to the Lord as your God. Receive His blessings and know his Truths."
She then performed a ceremony in my honor, burning a large amount of Mana as she tapped into my Bless Skill and used it on the spectators but paid the costs herself. A neat power.
> Your knowledge and training improved your Bless Skill to rank V — Empowered believers heal (10*Rank)% faster. The severity of wounds that may heal increases by (5*Rank)%.
The people gasped as divine energy filled them. Most fell on their knees and worshiped me. I felt the Divine energy from them fill my core.
Róta followed the people's eyes and nodded. She produced an aspergillum from somewhere and sprayed holy water on them. "You may partake on my Lord's table. Go and taste what he has to offer." People were worried but a kid slipped past her mother and rushed to eat a pear. The woman was desperate but Róta approached her and clasped her shoulder. "Fear not. Trust your child's heart. Go. It's not poisoned."
Great ad-lib, Róta! We were gaining the trust of these people!
"If my Lord wished you dead, he wouldn't waste good food with poison. He needs only to command me and I would send you to the cold pits of Hel."
Bloody hell. Damn barbarian mentality. "Larry help!"
"Merchandise!" Larry whimpered from his corner.
But it seems the barbarians understood each other. As the kid screamed the loudest gormandizing groan and foodie squeals ever, other starving people came and took the fruit.
"Act with respect at my Lord's table!" Róta warned. The barbarians obeyed. "And thank him for his bounty! Praise my Lord and pray to him. Swear allegiance to the only God who was merciful enough to care about you and you will never again starve."
She was surely using some Priest Perk. The woman had what? Three Priest classes? Her preaching was effective. I felt as if each one of their hearts was converted to my cause.
I needed people but I couldn't pass the opportunity to gather more believers. The survival of the world might depend on that.
We updated our map with information about other settlements the people knew. I thought about leaving the village behind but I didn't want some nomads to come and settle in. I wanted them to become part of our community. So, instead of a village, I left behind a robotic outpost. With ten DCSCs that would keep it operational for a decade and improved armaments, this would extend my reach and network so long I put another inside communications range. Which had improved to 39 miles according to my Status sheet. So long we had no interference and the next outpost was inside that range, I could cleanse the land of the Infernali.
For selfish reasons, I wouldn't. I needed to get 4,000,000 people inside...
No. What was the Quest again?
> To evolve your species, you need to rescue 4,000,000 humans and keep them safe from harm for 1 year. No time limit. Current tally: 167,331 / 4,000,000
The tally told me what I needed to know. The dead in Valhalla or Fólkvangr didn't count for this Quest. But also that I didn't need to get people inside my inner realm. I could very well "rescue" them and keep them "safe from harm" out in the wasteland.
That settled it. I would create these outposts and then expand a no-Infernali zone. Reclaim land and restore the ecosystem. That must count as "rescue", right? And I could place living quarters in the bases... Yes. That should be good enough. Add some robots to interact with people, and plant an orchard.
I flew out off the train with BlackJack Six and grew some 300 fruit trees, about two dozen different kinds. I also planted some vegetables and other crops. This would entice wilderness wanderers to come and live here.
Operation Wasteland Reclamation was a go.
Bio: The author would like to reinforce for the umpteenth time that the characters' opinions are their own, may be intentionally wrong, do not reflect my (MDW's) personal viewpoints neither are included in this work to further any political agenda (I don't even live in the same hemisphere or country as you, whichever those are. I'm writing from the Earth-Sun L3 point for all I care). My works serve no purpose other than to tell stories with conflicting viewpoints. Use of the reader's critical sense is highly advised.