The next several years of the war between the halflings and the centaurs was largely uninteresting. It wasn’t until almost a full twenty years after the first conflict when the two sides met again. Though, like the first time with Savir, this was not a full-scale attack, but rather a large group splitting up from the main force to explore.
By now, roughly a third of the halfling population had managed to travel to the centaur continent. This already gave them numbers similar to the centaur population, though this time it was the centaurs that had the home field advantage. Anyways, I decided to speed things up a bit, curious what the actions of the halfling group would cause.
Watching with time moving forward at a little over a thousand times normal speed, things actually looked like a real-time strategy game. I could see them doing their best to avoid any and all confrontations, taking paths that would guarantee that they would not run into any herds. Though, while I was glad that they weren’t getting into any fights, I was a bit surprised by what I found out when I focused on them.
To be specific, their mission was not to attack the centaurs at all. While they were members of the halflings’ army, which apparently had been named the Bloodied Hand, none of them were particularly strong fighters. Whether it was their hunter class, or their monster tamer class, none of them had gone above twenty.
However, when it came to their scout class, things were entirely different. Each one of them had a minimum of fifty levels as a scout. That, coupled with the thoughts and conversations I could pick up by focusing on the group, and it was pretty obvious what their goal was. They were mapping out the centaur’s terrain.
I had to admit that I was a bit impressed that they were able to come up with that strategy, but it was not too surprising, given that most halflings never stop traveling. The ability to know the land around you is practically a required skill to have if you want to survive that life. Though, i was not sure to what extent they planned on scouting.
After spending roughly an hour watching them, nearly two months had passed within the world. And yet, by that time, they had showed no signs of turning back. They had not even made it all the way to Tryval’s Hold yet, let alone King’s Hope. Does this group of three hundred halflings seriously plan to map out the entire plains before they go back to the forest? I couldn’t help but question.
Thinking to that, I couldn’t help but remember that Terra and Aurivy both made incarnations in the halfling race. Pulling out my handy communication paper, I wrote a message to each of them, asking to meet in my room. No sooner had I put down the pencil I manifested to write said message, than my door burst open and a tiny ball of cuteness jumped up onto my lap.
“What do you need, bro?!” Aurivy asked in an excited voice, leaning over and hugging me with her small arms.
“Well… Someone has been a bit bored.” I said with a smirk, causing the halfling to pout slightly.
“Everyone’s just been so busy lately!” She complained, crossing her arms in front of herself. “Big sis has been so tired lately because of managing two mortals, and the other sisters have all been busy either training or getting used to being here.” She said with a huff.
“That’s actually part of why I asked you here. You created an incarnation when everyone else did, right?” When she nodded her head I smiled, continuing. “What’s yours up to down there?” I needed to find out whether she was actually involved in the war right now or not before anything else. Though, simply being the halfling goddess would let her help me figure out what their plans were faster than looking for the key figures myself.
Hearing that, Aurivy’s pout only became heavier. “My family was too far north when the message went out. It took a whole five years to even reach them, and when it did they decided to avoid the conflict altogether, and kept heading north.” She shook her head dejectedly, looking down at the floor. “Even if I had left by the time I finished growing up, I’d probably not make it there until the war was over, unless I used my god powers to cheat. But even then, I don’t have a build that would be useful for the war, for either side.”
It was at around this time that Terra slowly made her way into the room. Judging by how she was still dragging her feet when she walked, she was obviously as lethargic as she had been before. “Hey, Dale… you called?” She asked, yawning loudly as she leaned against the doorway, smiling slightly when she saw Aurivy sitting in my lap. “Hey, Rivy.”
“Hey sis.” Aurivy replied with a warm smile. “Bro was just asking about our mortals.”
Terra gave a slow nod, not waiting for me to ask her directly before speaking. “Probably the halfling one…. Mine is in the Rest at the forest. Though… I’m doing my best not to get involved with the fighting.” Terra brought her hand up to her mouth to muffle another yawn, before continuing. “With these numbers, I can tell that the halflings have an overwhelming advantage now. So, I’m just waiting for the right time to advocate peace. You know, when my opinion isn’t outnumbered fifty thousand to one…” She finished with a tired chuckle.
“Wow… that bad, huh?” I asked, and both of the goddesses nodded in response. “So, we’re probably going to need to take steps to make sure that the centaurs aren’t wiped out either.” I mused quietly, one hand subconsciously reaching up and patting the top of Aurivy’s head, making the little goddess squirm in my lap.
I was fine with the centaurs being knocked down a peg. It would be good for their personalities in the long run if they were on the losing end of a war. More importantly, this could serve to bring the variants and the normal centaurs closer together, fighting against a common enemy. Still, with the centaurs not yet unified, this could hardly be considered a fight at this point. I knew that i would have to step in and save them, but how to do so was still an issue. Looking up, I glanced at Terra curiously.
“It’s not possible to possess a mortal temporarily, is it?” I asked, and she shook her head. “Figured. Would probably need to buy a new system for that. Either that, or place a World Host down in advance.”
Hearing that, Terra gave a small smile. “Worried about having enough influence to step in when the time is right?” When I nodded my head, she slowly stepped forward, practically collapsing onto the bed when she reached it. I could hear her talking into the mattress, but it wasn’t until she turned her head that I was able to understand her. “That’s a normal problem with Keepers. That’s why they act through others, giving orders to manipulate events. And when possible, going down themselves to build a reputation for when they are needed.”
I was just about to retort when she lifted a hand, signalling me to wait. It took her a long moment to resume talking, and I half suspected that she had briefly dozed off. “Possessing a body is an easy solution if you buy the system, but it sucks.” She waved her wrist slightly, and a window opened in front of me, showing the ‘Possession System’ listing on the Keeper forums, rather than the market entry. Of note was one ranter who complained about the system.
MissBehave: Seriously need to list the biggest flaw of this system. After possessing a mortal, the Keeper is NOT restricted to their level of power, and can at any moment bring out their Keeper abilities. However, doing so is a massive drain on the body. While there are no immediate symptoms, as soon as I left a body I had been possessing for a little over a week, she collapsed from multiple organ failure! I thought at first this was just a coincidence, but then the next one I possessed did so as well! I mean really, why would you want to possess someone to make them influential, just to have them die after a few days?! Wish I had known about that before wasting the hundred points, would have gotten the Easy Reputation system instead.
Aside from the name seeming a bit familiar, I was able to easily see why buying this system would lead to problems in the long run. When I looked up at her, Terra was already preparing to explain, though first she turned on her side and held open her arms. Aurivy quickly jumped out of my lap to go lay down with Terra, willingly letting herself be used as a body pillow.
“Keeper powers are a huge drain on a body, forcing it to go beyond its normal limits. Its one thing for a descended Keeper, as their bodies are built to handle the sudden surge of power. But… for a normal body, they can’t stand the extra stress. And even if you don’t use your Keeper powers, the act of possessing them can lead to mental trauma.”
“Okay…” I agreed with a nod of my head, understanding why this system was bad. “What about this Easy Reputation system?” I couldn’t help but notice how it was mentioned at the end of that post as a possible alternative for possession.
Hearing my question, Terra’s smile widened slightly. Again she waved her hand, and another blue window appeared in front of me. This one looked like a market entry, rather than a forum post.
This convenience system allows a Keeper to create a reputation for themselves prior to descending. By slightly altering the memories and documentation of the inhabitants, the Keeper can insert themselves into almost any role, designed as an extra step when creating a body to descend in. Only unique roles, such as kings, presidents, or religious leaders cannot be assumed unless they are currently vacant at the time of descending. Likewise, it is impossible to insert yourself as a parent of a mortal unless that mortal never knew the parent you are attempting to replace.
I felt my eyes widening in surprise as I read the description of this system. I mean, yes it had its limits, but they were not really that heavy. As long as I didn’t try to do anything obviously stupid, I could theoretically insert myself as whatever kind of figure I wanted. Of course, this raises questions of its own. “Just how heavy are the effects of the memory alteration?”
Rather than answering me directly, Terra showed me the forum post for this system, where it was discussed in more detail. According to the various posts summarizing it, it held certain similarities with the process of granting a personality to a god or goddess. The Keeper in question designed the life that they wanted to be known to have lived, in as much or as little detail as they wished. They could include family, friends, love interests, whatever.
Once they were done with that, the system would do its best to adjust the memories of the affected mortals to seamlessly place the Keeper within that life, without changing the current structure of society by too large a degree. For instance, the system wouldn’t recognize someone as having invented a spaceship in the bronze age, or creating world peace in their history, and would make them redo the reputation.
Finally, there was one post that suggested that a Keeper be prepared to fake their own death when they were done with the identity that they had created, so that their ‘friends and family’ did not think they just went missing. That was what I was concerned about, and faking a death did sound like a very plausible method of going about it. Especially if I were to use the World Host and kill that.
“Okay, I’ll have to remember that.” I thought, saving that to bring up with Ryone next time. Again, promised to let her manage finances, and can’t be going back on my word THIS quickly. “Anyways, I wanted to ask the two of you what the halflings were up to. That’s why I called you both here in the first place. Right now, they just seem to be scouting out the territory, but the group they sent seems way too big for just a scouting mission.”
Unsurprisingly, it was Aurivy who spoke up, gently holding onto Terra’s arms as they wrapped around her body. “That’s really all it is, bro. Well, they’re planning to make it more later, but that won’t happen until the scouting group finishes mapping the centaur-occupied territory and returns.”
“After that, they plan to create actual fighting teams. They haven’t specified how big each team would be, because it depends on how many people they have willing to join them, and how many of the scouts survive the full trip. But, the plan is for each fighting team to have at least one high level scout that has fully explored the ‘enemy territory’.”
That…. “That is surprisingly advanced…” Thank you, Terra, for beating me to that. However, the sudden blush in Aurivy’s face made me think there was a bit more to it then that.
“Well…” She said guiltily after seeing my expression. “They call it the ‘Probing Fingers’ plan.”