When I open my eyes, I’m still inside the capsule, soaking in the healing solution that fills it to the brim. Even though I’m completely submerged, I have no trouble breathing. It takes me a moment to shake off the daze hanging over my mind and remember why I’m here at all. Those several rounds of treatment have been quite exhausting.
But at least, my wounds have closed.
I managed to escape from that explosion alive, but not unscathed. But I suppose I shouldn’t complain, simply surviving the blast could already be considered some kind of miracle.
A miracle that cost me a shielding artifact and three Rebirth pills…
Even for me, such an expense isn’t negligible.
Especially the artifact…
I really want to cry when I think about the loss…
I found that thing while exploring an ancient tomb, when I was still young and reckless. I don’t know how many times I almost died trying to obtain it.
I guess it demonstrated its value, now…
After examining the state of my body, I give the order to open the capsule. Slowly, the greenish solution drains out, leaving behind a disgusting, translucent residue over my skin.
Once the capsule is empty, the transparent glass cover slides up out of my way with a small whirr of machinery. I step out and take a deep, grateful breath of fresh air – actually, it isn’t all that fresh; it smells like medicine, but it’s still better than nothing. I haven’t eaten or drunk anything for the past week or so – I might have lost track of a few days here and there, so it might be more than that – so my legs still have some trouble holding my weight, despite my injuries being technically healed. I casually use reinforcement magic to keep myself on my feet until I can get my hands on some food.
There is a bundle of clothes on the small table next to the capsule, but I can’t very well wear them while covered in this gook, so I first head into the adjoined bathroom to clean myself up.
When I’m cleaned and dressed, I head out the door, suppressing a small wince. Most of my muscles had to be regrown and regenerated, so my entire body is still quite tender. I probably shouldn’t move around too much for the next few days.
And if I didn’t have so much to do, I would definitely follow my own advice.
But, as it is…
When I reach my study, my son is already waiting for me inside. The moment he hears the door open, he turns a bright gaze toward me. “Father!” he says, in a voice thick with happiness and relief.
Gareth’s concern for me is probably genuine, and I suppose that, as his father, I should rejoice for it, but I know that it won’t last. The only reason the boy hasn’t lost that kind of impulse is because he’s spent most of his short life on this remote little plane. When we return to the Godrealm and the rest of the family there infects him with their ruthless philosophy, his sentimentalism will quickly fade.
Either that, or he’ll die.
Well, I suppose he could cut ties with the family and flee. That would be one way to do it.
Not an easy or safe way, certainly, but a way nonetheless.
In the end, it’ll be his choice to make.
When I look at him, I can’t help but notice the dark bags under his eyes. The pressure of filling in my shoes while I was out of the game must have been quite a weight on his shoulders.
I hope he’s handled it well.
“Gareth, what news has there been during this week?” I say, cutting directly to the heart of the matter.
“The investigation into the matter at the laboratory is ongoing,” Gareth replies without needing to look down at the bundle of files in his hands. “We’re still trying to piece out what really happened over there, but our first guess would be that the Major sent her teams to infiltrate the complex. They cut communications once the first distress call was made, after which they trapped everyone inside and retreated – it’s not clear how they achieved that, yet. Then, when you arrived, they detonated some sort of explosive device.”
…’Some sort of explosive device’, huh?
I recognized that thing, in the instant before it blew me up.
It was the prototype of a new weapon, which made use of the peculiar energy demons draw their power from instead of qi to produce a devastating explosion. The device was lost during the Major’s attack on the first laboratory, nearly 100 years ago, before it could even be completed.
I didn’t think anyone apart from us would manage to actually turn it into an actual, workable weapon…
That the majin did so implies that they uncovered more of our research on demons than I first expected, and that they have already achieved some level of insight into it.
Which isn’t good…
I have firm control over every teleport formation in and out of Caldera, but accidents always happen. If they smuggled the data out of Caldera and to the Godrealm, things could get a little awkward for me.
There would be a few possible outcomes to this situation…
First, the Godrealm’s majin suddenly start building their own armies of apostles and field them against humanity. Which would be pretty bad, since it would make my several hundred years of effort here pointless. Second, if the research they stole is incomplete, or if they just fuck it up when they try to apply it, they could create armies of devils instead. Which would be… quite terrible. For everybody. Third, the majin actually succeed even better than we did and start creating armies of things like AK-A-13…
Yes, things could get really awkward…
Should I just purge this plane right now and start over somewhere else?
I’d have to report the exact situation to the family, which would definitely lower their opinions of my performance, but sometimes, it’s important to know when to cut one’s losses.
I blink at Gareth’s voice. “Oh, my apologies. I was lost in thought.” I walk around the desk and sit in the chair there, leaning into it and steepling my fingers over my desk. “Please, continue.”
“Ah, yes. We, uh… The explosion wiped out everyone in the lab and the village above, along with several outposts and settlements in Lamos. Here is the current list of estimated casualties, if you want a look.”
Gareth removes a sheet of paper from the pile in his arms and hands it to me. My eyes quickly scan over its contents until they reach the number at the bottom.
“…What about AK-A-13?”
“She, uh, escaped. The sixth division was already understrength after the northern campaign from last year. When you couldn’t come to their aid, they were wiped out to the last,” Gareth replies, his tone free of accusation. “5056 dead. No survivors.”
“Some of the apostles there seem to have died rather strangely. They appear to have melted, somehow. We’re still trying to investigate the matter, but as of yet, we don’t know how Akasha could have achieved that effect with the magic at her disposal.”
“Did she turn their bodies into ice? They could have thawed by the time your subordinates arrived at the scene.”
“No, I don’t think so. I considered that, too, but it really doesn’t look like it. I have pictures and detailed descriptions of the scene with me, if you want to…”
“I will. Later. Do we have an idea of where she might have gone afterward?”
“We have a few, yes. Ideas, I mean. She might have decided to follow that woman, Sif, who escaped the Planar Prison alongside her. I’ve sent a few people to watch the ways into majin territory, just in case, but I’m frankly not very hopeful. We have a better lead in Aldenfell, where someone matching her description was seen in the headquarters of the High-Sea Verse mercenary group. There were also reports of a powerful qi pressure that covered the entire city. It caused quite a commotion with the local guards. No gods were posted in Aldenfell at the time, though, so it’s likely that this was Akasha herself – though I don’t know why she would have betrayed her presence like this.”
She’s heading deeper into human territory, then.
The reason for that seems obvious.
Though, she’s a bit late for that.
About three centuries late…
“Since we technically don’t have any jurisdiction on the High-Sea Verse mercenary group,” Gareth continues, “I preferred to wait for you before giving any orders. I’ve just kept them under observation, for now. The person in charge there is a man named Jasper Kelsen, 6th-rank warrior.”
I nod. “Very good.”
It would have been even better if Gareth had thought through this jurisdiction problem on his own and given the appropriate orders by himself, but actually recognizing that there is a problem in the first place and deciding to wait for the advice of someone wiser before acting is already more than I expected. It would have been more disappointing if he’d just blindly blundered into this by relying on the weight of my authority to bypass proper procedures, instead.
“I figured Aka– AK-A-13 might follow the railroad out of Aldenfell, so I sent Orsino and Haris to Fushia City to intercept her,” Gareth says. “I’m not sure if she’d be able to recognize the place from her memories, but I thought I should make sure someone would be ready there in case of trouble.” He hesitates for a moment before continuing. “I, uh, told them that if she did manage to recognize Fushia City as the old Fushia Village and decided to take revenge on Earl Odhran for his ancestor’s actions, to let her kill him. Otherwise, to follow her out of the city and kill her there.”
I keep the smile off my face and tilt my head interrogatively. “Oh? Why would you let her kill the earl?”
“W–Well, Odhran is a known associate of that duke known to conspire with the majin, right? Duke, uh…” He quickly pages through his papers until he finds the information he seeks. “Duke Springfield. I thought killing the duke himself might have far-reaching consequences I might not be aware of, but I thought this might at least be a good opportunity to get rid of one of his accomplices. I did tell Orsino and Haris to make sure to protect the city itself and avoid civilian casualties,” he adds finally in a faintly defensive tone.
I nod slowly a few times to order my thoughts. “Protect the city… against AK-A-13?”
“Yes. Who knows what could happen? She might try to attack innocent citizens, if she’s left to her own devices.”
“Hmm… Her demon blood has never had much influence on her, so I doubt she’d just wantonly start slaughtering random people. Actually, I’m more concerned about the fact that gods might start fighting inside a city at all. Even if they don’t want to actively cause death and destruction, neither side will have the leisure to care about collateral damage in the middle of battle.”
Either one on his own wouldn’t be a match against AK-A-13, but together, they form a pretty decent team, by filling in for the other’s deficiencies. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to actually kill AK-A-13, but they should be able to hold their own and retreat alive, at least.
“Um, what about the earl? Do you think I should have told them to protect him, too? I mean, uh…” Gareth starts fidgeting uneasily.
“It’s fine. You did well enough. Removing a traitor without dirtying your own hands is always a good thing.” I pause for a second before continuing. “However, you shouldn’t have just considered how to punish the earl for his treachery, but also the wider context.”
“Earl Odhran is a traitor, yes, but you could have used him to feed false information to his allies and catch them all in a dragnet. Also, the earl’s death might cause unrest in Fushia City, which might trouble the exploitation of the orichalcum mine. Since we’re soon going to war against the majin, a fall in our orichalcum reserves could prove detrimental. I realize it’s not exactly a huge problem, considering we already have an overwhelming military advantage, but remember to look for even the remotest consequences of your actions.”
“Ah… yes. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, don’t be. You’ve done pretty good. Better than I expected, in fact. You’ve made me used to rash, poorly thought-out actions, but it would appear that you’ve finally started thinking through the situation instead of just coasting by on your talent alone.”
“Um, thank you?” Gareth replies, a little doubtfully.
“I did actually mean what I said as a compliment, yes. Then, do you understand why you’re here, now? Why I don’t simply send three or four gods into majin territory and end this war right now?”
He nods. “To train me.”
“Correct. I’m going to inherit the leadership of the Adkins family, and I certainly intend for you to follow in my footsteps. But the Godrealm is different from Caldera. Here, you can just power through pretty much any problem in your way with pure brute strength, and even if you make a mistake, it won’t matter. At the very worst, we can simply purge the plane and leave. But when we return to the Godrealm, things will be different. You need to learn to think before acting, to use cat’s paws to do your bidding without leaving any trace of your involvement, to gauge the power – not just military, but political and financial – of your enemies and how best to deal with them, even if they’re much more powerful than you are. All of that is absolutely vital if you want to be successful in a more threatening environment than this worthless little backwater.”
“I think you do, yes.” I glance left and right at the armrests of my seat and smack my lips in thought. “Hmm, well then.” With a small grunt of effort, I stand up and step to the side. “This seat is yours now.”
“You’ve done pretty well on your own, during this week. I’m quite satisfied with your performance. So continue. Keep doing what you’ve been doing.” I flick my thumb toward my own chest. “This ‘God-Emperor’ here just decided to retire and leave you his authority. Do your best, all right?”
“What…? Wait, Father, that’s not…”
“Good luck, then! And work hard!” I say, almost yelling over his words and striding toward the door without looking back.
I quickly exit the study, almost laughing out loud when I imagine the face Gareth must be making behind me, right now.
As I walk through the corridors, however, the smile slips off my lips as I think about the next steps. Handing over my title of ‘God-Emperor’ to Gareth won’t be quite as simple as just telling him about it while we’re alone in my office, without any other witnesses, of course. It’ll be a slow process of several years, where he’ll gradually acclimate himself to the responsibilities of ruling.
In truth, I wouldn’t even have considered it beforehand, but I may have been underestimating the boy too much.
He is my son, after all.
Of course, he’d be outstanding.
He’s still very young, of course, and he’s still got a lot to learn, but it looks like putting a little pressure on his shoulders pushed him into using his head a bit more than before. Being put out of commission for an entire week might have been a blessing in disguise, in the end.
Even beyond the training this will bring him, letting Gareth rule in my stead has other advantages, too. For one, if I’m discharged of some of my responsibilities, I’ll be able to better focus on my actual task.
I’ve attained good results on that front, but I could probably do more still…
I’ll let Gareth deal with AK-A-13, for now, unless I spot a good opportunity to get rid of her myself. I’m pretty sure he still underestimates the threat she represents – like pretty much everyone in this universe, he places too much trust and emphasis on this thing called ‘rank’ – but her battle against Orsino and Haris will either solve the problem once and for all, or at least make Gareth realize that the girl is much more dangerous than he believes.
And in the meantime, I’ll be busy setting up another laboratory to replace the one the Major blew up. The consequences of losing the second lab won’t be too sore – I have backups of all the data, of course – but the researchers and samples that have been lost can’t be recovered…
Fortunately, the third lab is still safe.
That’ll be the first step.
I’ll swing by and check on the progress for the new specimen.
And revise the security measures, too. There is definitely a traitor somewhere in my staff that fed information to the Major on the second laboratory’s location. I’ll need to look into that.
Oh, and I also need to take care of that mess in the Planar Prison that AK-A-13 left behind when she left. It wouldn’t do if all my prisoners killed each other for whatever scraps of power and influence they can dredge up out of the ashes of Jodene Fortress.
So much to do, so much to do…