Chapter 9 ~ Dance of Water and Stone

 

The sheets were, honestly, quite… mushy. I know the weather is ridiculously humid, or downright wet if I’m being honest, but this was veering into sweaty territory, and while I don’t mind sweaty sheets when I had a beautiful assistant help me make them that way, that is the sole exception to my rules on personal hygiene.

Nevermind, my nubile elf maid is sleeping next to me to me, its all good. Or would be if I could remember how we got to this point. Please don’t tell me there was such a cliché development as ‘me’ fainting from magical exhaustion and ‘the prince’ taking over for the length of my power nap…

Then again upon further examination, I happen to be wearing diapers.

As I do not remember ‘the prince’ having such interests, it seems ‘I,’ meaning all of me, was properly unconscious for more than a few days. Clearly, I miscalculated the amount of mana required to sustain the barrier…

Anyway, I am aware this means Kalkah has been cleaning and feeding me for quite a while now, plus changing my diapers. I don’t mind the first two, but the third one feels like a hot knife in my self steem, so lets try and get up and off these things without waking her up.

~O~

‘Welp, looks like he really ain’t gonna die.’ – Ragashi sighs as Asmund comes out from his pavillion-like tent followed by that damnably serious maid of his – ‘Better go and greet the little bastard…’

“My prince! What a joy to see you!” – the gnome hailed as he trotted over at what would be a taller man’s walking speed

“Is that so? I am touched and, must admit, pleasantly surprised by your words. After all, your collar would pop right off if I was to die from natural causes, and surely your love for me hasn’t grown quite that large just yet.”

“Eh, well, I wasn’t sure if it would have counted as natural causes, and I am quite fond of my head. Fonder than I am of exploding collars, anyway.”

“There you go. Isn’t honesty refreshing? I have never lied to you, and while I do expect proper respect during our interactions, there’s no need to butter me up, so to speak.”

“Yes, my prince.”

“Now, looking around, it is obvious I was unconscious for more than a few days…”

~O~

“Unconscious, my prince?” – the little pervert replied while I’m looking around, quite pleased with the large, solid walls that now stand around our campsite.

“Yes, a brief spell of momentary weakness paid as the cost for vastly increased potency moving forth. Do not worry, for while it is true that I did miscalculate the exhaustion upon my person during my weakened state, it does appear that also means things turned out much, much better than expected, and I am now as powerful as if I had lived for at least another couple centuries…”

“That is… eh, quite the good news. Congratulations.”

“Yes, quite. Thank you.” – I look at the cold-sweating pervert – “So, how does your wilderness adventure? Have you classified the local flora and fauna, as I tasked you to?”

“Yes!”

I can finally see some genuine enthusiasm on our druid as he begins telling me of the plants and creatures in the previously unknown region.

Large lizards stalk the shallow waters, but that is completely unsurprising, as crocodile-like species are so perfectly designed for that specific niche that back on Earth you could find them in practically every continent, sans the poles, and similar evolutionary pressures in similar environment are likely to turn out similar solutions, no matter the world.

No need to reinvent the wheel, after all.

Of course, I do not expect them to be exactly crocodiles, but surely close enough, and listening to Ragashi’s report, it does indeed sound like my guess isn’t far off at all, except for the fact that these creatures have a taller cranium, and a massive, solid beak instead of jaws, which sounds like some very primitive proto-reptiles from prehistoric Earth.

Well, if there was no convenient mass extinction events, there’s no reason for successful species to fade out, I guess.

“…their leather is quite thick, yet supple. It is an excellent material to work with, and they reproduce by eggs.” – he continues explaining – “Furthermore, they have a imprinting instinct, which should make to breed and domesticate them so long as we can have their future handlers present at the time of their birth.”

“I see, and what about their meat?”

“I am a vegetarian, my prince! T-to hurt a precious, innocent living creature is…”

A vegetarian druid? I can’t tell if I should be surprised or not. As champions of the natural order, they are certainly no strangers to the basic concept of the food chain, and from what I can remember, there are quite a few druidic sects that go so far as to pervert their mission by going too deep into the predatory side of nature, and are rightly reviled as man eaters and monsters.

“Well, I am uninterested in your preferences. Any of your preferences.” – I add the last bit with a scowl, as I remember the little pervert got arrested for goat-fucking – “Can you lure one into our base? I am interested in sampling their meat, and will otherwise have to send Daai and some of her ogres to fetch some for me.”

“Y-yes, my prince, but they have been catching them during your… absence, so there’s no need to catch another at the moment.”

“That sounds quite splendid, but I hope lizards is not the only resource of value in the entire region?”

Next comes a list of plants, mostly herbs, which can be used as food, with a interest grain that could be thought of as almost-rice if it wasn’t deep brown and quite a bit larger.

These are good news, as it seems that I can have some expectations for the region, after all.

“You did a good job. Please continue studying the local animals and plants. I want to know which are at the bottom of the food chain, which are essential, which are the top predators, and so on. Try and keep a record of plants that can be used for food, as well. The better a job you do in this last point, the less animals will have to adorn our tables, yes?”

“Yes, my prince!”

“Alright, move along, now.”

The gnome shapeshifts into a large bird, and takes off towards the swamp. It is a good thing that his collar adapts to whatever shape he takes.

“Now, where is Grumnir. He seems to have quite enjoyed himself playing around with concrete.”

Indeed, I told him how to manufacture and use it to reinforce the palisade walls around our camp site, but the sight around me is more akin to a fortress than a temporary camp. The walls are twice as tall as the tallest ogre, with a wall in each of five different directions, and a solid-looking white stone and concrete tower in every corner.

I can’t see an entrance in any of the walls, though I do see a couple of solid-looking flights of stairs leading up to the crenelated top, and there is a door at the base of each tower. I guess one of the towers acts as an entrance, then.

~O~

Before I could find our master mason, though, my childhood friend found us, instead.

The sight of my cute brown-skinned childhood friend crying tears of joy as she ran into my chest… didn’t happen.

She hopped down from atop one of the walls, and walked over in a calm and professional manner, then began giving me her report on the events thus far.

To a small amount of surprise, there have been neither attacks on our position, nor sightings of any locals. It seems this region is truly and well inhabited, which does hurt my plans to turn the natives into a convenient workforce.

“How far have you explored?”

“About three days in every direction, my prince.” – she replies while standing in front of me while wearing her field uniform, which is to say a long sleeved, light, black shirt, and matching shorts, with thick ‘feet pads’ rather than shoes or boots.

As she is a werewolf, it is important that her clothes be either able to stretch with her, or be cheap and easy to replace, after all.

“And no signs of civilization?”

“None at all. Lizards, birds, plenty of small animals, plenty of snakes, some medium-sized tree creatures, and of course plenty of fish and small water insects.”

“Alright, I assume you spoke with Grumnir about the region? His group had to cross it while going west,”

“Yes, he says that if there is anyone living in the area, he is not aware of it.”

“Alright… I guess we’ll have to use the rock gnomes and the orcs as labor, then… where is Griumnir, by the way?”

“He is currently outside the north wall, trying out some ideas to make concrete that’ll dry under water, my prince.”

“Alright, please call for him. And Stella… you did a good job?” – I can’t resist smiling and petting the head of the overly serious girl.

Its the ears.

“Yes… thank you.” – she replies with a light blush as she runs away to fetch the dwarf.

“You do know that you could order her into your bed, Master?” – chirps in Kalkah from behind

“I’m not going to do such a thing.”

“Eh~” – the elf maid lets out a dubious sound

I know what she wants to say. It probably goes along the lines of ‘but you did it to me,’ doesn’t it?

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, you know? Your work as my maid is more than efficient enough nowadays.”

“I see, so it was part of my ‘training,’ then?”

“…right. The point is, you can sleep in the barracks if you want to.”

“Thank you but no thank you.” – she replies immediately

“Uhm?”

“I’d rather not share a bedroom with several dozen orcs and ogres, I am not into such things, Master.”

“I could give you your own te-” – before I finish, though, she leans her head against my back

“Don’t make me say it, please. Let me keep some pretense of resistance, my Master.”

“I… right. I guess it would be inconvenient if you aren’t warming up my bed at night, after all.”

“Yes, I will endeavor to please.”

“Right. Good job.”

I can’t turn around and look at her, can I? I get the feeling I would see something I shouldn’t. Not yet, anyway. I’m not really sure what would possibly have inclined her towards me, though, as I don’t remember being particularly nice to her while I was ‘the prince,’ or since. On the other hand, I haven’t been particularly harsh, either, though I do expect her to do her job as flawlessly as possible… i-is this an example of Stockholm syndrome? Shit, the small weight on my back just got a whole lot heavier, in a way.

I stay as I am, and let her lean on my back for as long as she wants, which is right up until Grumnir exits one of the towers, reinforcing the impression that they serve as the complex’s entrance, or at least that one does.

“Ah, prince, welcome back! This concrete thing is amazing, it is!”

“I see you’ve had quite a bit of fun with it, but you do remember this was meant to be a temporary campsite and not a permanent stronghold, right?”

“Yes, of course, but lady Daai decided it would be good to give her men something to do, instead of having them sit on their hands all day, so that turned into this.” – he gestures to the walls and the towers

Indeed, idle hands are not a good thing. Specially not when we’re talking about dozens of ogres.

“Well, I am glad things have worked out. Since you obviously managed to find all the materials I mentioned, is there a local supply?”

“Aye, the mountains are right there, after all, so even after we leave, we can always later use this as a cement factory later on.”

“That sounds like a good idea. What about my other request, have you found a more defensible spot to erect a permanent base?”

“Depends on what you want it for.”

“Alright, I guess it is time I take you deeper into my confidence, so let’s go and sit down at a table to talk about the future.”

“Sounds promising.” – the dwarf nods

We walk back into my tent (Kalkah already cleaned the place, of course, or I wouldn’t invite anyone in), and sit at my table to discuss the topography of the region.

“You see, I am planning on turning the western half of the swamp into farmland, and flooding the eastern lands to turn them into more swamps. My father’s decree gave me domain ‘from the mountain peaks to the eastern edge of the swamps,’ after all, so in order to prevent political issues in the future, I cannot actually get rid of the whole swamp. Not that I think that is either feasible, nor a good idea, anyway.”

“That is why you had that lizard lover learn bout the local critters, then.” – the dwarf nods

“Liza- do I even want to know?”

“No… I suppose you do not.”

“Well, rather than raiding my neighbors, I’d much rather trade with them and build a mutually beneficial relationship.”

“Really.”

“Really.” – I nod

We talk for quite a while, and I ask him about the terrain and geography to the east, looking for choke-points we can capitalize on with a fortification, in order to create a safe region behind it and use that land as farmland.

In the end, it seems the swampland simply turns into plains as the swamp feeds two massive rivers, which, while putting a dent on my desire to expand the swamp eastward. Does give me a naturally defensible position, once the proper changes have been made.

Well, I’d really like to build a fortress as soon as possible in order to block future hero parties from wandering into my region, but it just doesn’t seems feasible right now, so rather than a stick, I guess its time for the carrot.

“Alright, it is a good thing you turned this spot into a serviceable outpost, then.”

“You’re gonna fortify it?”

“Yes, and then we’ll drain the land between here and the mountains, use that as our bread basket and supply base, before expanding east every few years.”

“Yer planning to farm the mountains?”

“Let me tell you about terrace farming.”

~O~

It is a good thing that I had paid attention to the mountains on our way across, since that means we already have a plateau earmarked to build a nice solid stronghold on.

It sits on the middle of the only eastern entrance to a sizable valley, and from what Ragashi explained, the only way to come around from the west is after a detour so large any marching army may as well just avoid the mountain range from the start.

Rain is quite frequent, but not as bad as it is on this side of the mountains, and with proper drainage, the water can be channeled down the sides of our future fortress into two rather significant currents, further adding to the difficulty of besieging the fort.

And so, I decide to leave a token force manning this place as an outpost, and make my way back to the valley entrance. Grumnir seems quite happy with this, as it makes the trip for building materials that much shorter as well, though the march back is by no means ideal.

It does take us a few days, but once we are there, it is time to start planning once again. Honestly, I love this part, if only because my new life span and the memories of my former life work together so well when it comes to planning for the long haul.

It is just a mostly drowned valley right now, but I am looking at it, and seeing mines, homes, plazas and farmland in its future.

Plus the fact I have access to what effectively is a fair amount of slave labor helps as well. Hey, I’m a demon lord, I don’t have to be nice. Not right now, anyway.

“Alright, let’s begin by building some bridges between the mountains at either side of the plateau and it, then we’ll drain the western side of the valley to build an actual settlement there. The eastern half will be farmland all the way to the plateau.” – I explain to Daai, Grumnir and Stella once we have a temporal campsite in place.

“Why the bridges? I mean, why not?” – asks the ogress

“Once we’ve created a drainage for half the valley, it’ll be surrounded by a nice, powerful current from either side. Would you prefer to build over a raging river?” – I don’t mind answering my follower’s concerns, and am actually quite pleased whenever they bring them up.

After all, people works better if they feel their jobs have a meaning and purpose.

“How are you going to drain the western half?” – asks Grumnir

“We’ll build a cloaca maxima all the way across the valley, leading to the plateau. It will actually be harder to re-flood the eastern half of the valley for the lizard and grain farms.”

“Hmm.” – he dwarf nods, and we set to work.

I am quite pleased whenever Grumnir comes over to talk about the bridge. Since stone is so vulnerable to magic, masonry in general and engineering specifically, is quite backwards in this world. A low wizard would just use a [Stone to Mud] spell and collapse a bridge of stone, but since we’re using concrete and molds, that won’t be an issue.

I am honestly quite grateful for the ogres’ work. They’re basically heavy machinery when it comes to construction, and I am specially happy about the fact that they seem enthusiastic about their work.

The idea of a magic-resilient fortress is naturally appealing to such a highly territorial species.

By the way, this time I began building much smaller runic arrays against the rain, and expanded them a day at a time. Furthermore, they can be deactivated as needed, just in case I have to engage in personal combat, which would drastically increase the depths of my personal mana pool, as well as its regeneration speed.

Basically, its the mage version of wearing weighted clothes in order to do muscle training. But even if I don’t turn the arrays off, my overall mana pool size is much, much bigger than what my age would suggest, and there are plenty of spells that work differently based on that factor alone, anyway.

To be honest, I’d be quite happy if we managed to drain the valley (thus creating a strong current leading out of the valley) and build the fortress before another hero party comes this way, but Grumnir says that the chances of that aren’t particularly good, as this is the favored route to cross the mountain range.

I guess I’ll yet have to act as brother’s shield, after all.

~O~

“How goes the bridge?” – I ask the dwarf as he comes into the tent

“Taking a lot less time than I expected it to. The iron frame really helped, too. Should give it some extra resistance to magic, if any more was needed.” – he replies as I gesture him to seat across from me

Indeed, from where we are at the valley’s western edge, I can just make out the bridge’s shape.

“I am of half a mind to pave it with real stone.” – I tell him while finishing the last of our wine supply

“Eh? What for?”

“Using magic to turn it into mud, letting attackers sink to the knee, then turn it back to stone again.”

“That’d be nasty, indeed, but it would take quite a bit of stone and add to the completion time.”

“That’s why I haven’t decided on it yet… no, let’s not. I want it to be done as soon as possible so we can start with the drainage and have some solid land in this mud-filled valley.”

“Alright. Should be ready in a couple of days.”

“You sure?”

“Aye.”

“I’ll have the orcs start digging the drain, then. It should take more than a week to reach the base of the plateau.”

“Eh? How big are you making it?”

“Big. Future city-sized sewage big. Once the trench is done, we’ll reinforce it with concrete and porous rocks to let water in through them and create soft spots to pass future piping through. Simple physics will cause the terrain’s water to run through it and should reach the plateau’s base in force.”

The dwarf rubs his beard as he thinks, and finally nods.

“That’s why you said it would be harder to refill the eastern half with water again?”

“Yes, we’ll need to erect some containment walls so the water doesn’t drain to the sewer, but regular rock should be fine for that, so it may go surprisingly fast if we use magic.”

“Alright. I’ll go back to the valley entrance, then, and tell Daai about the plan going forward.”

“Please do so.”

After the dwarf is gone, I finish calculating the sewer incline and get the work started. We’ll have to dig down the terrain at the sides of the plateau to give it an extra incline, or the water will just pool instead of running, though having a moat full of crocodile-like beasts does has a nice demon prince-like feel to it but… looks aside, I’m pretty sure its a lot easier to kill some crocs than it would be for an army to climb against a cascade, so… yeah.

~O~

Once the bridges were done with, the ogres joined us in digging the trench, and then reinforcing it to make what the romans called a “cloaca maxima,” a extra large sewer that rather quickly proceeds to drain the water in the valley and turn it into a powerful stream that splits in two behind the plateau, and finally cascades down with quite a bit of potency.

I have to admit, the overall effect lends a very proper fantasy fortress-like feel to the valley entrance… I may have overdone it a little bit, as the water eroded the terrain on its own and created a steeper final incline than I thought it would, turning into a set of twin waterfalls that, for a while, threatened with taking down the plateau, but finally settled down once it peeled away the ground and found bedrock underneath.

Of course, I’m not admitting it to anyone but myself.

“The valley really did dry up…” – Stella comments on the morning three days after the sewer was completed

“Of course it did. Now we can set the teleport array and begin with building proper homes. Once that is done, we can get started with flooding the valley’s eastern half again to grow grain and … what ARE those things called, anyway?” – I reply as I approach her slowly from behind, followed by Daai and Kalkah

“We were just calling them lizards.” – says Daai

“We need a better name if we want people to think it is not only fashionable, but prestigious to eat them and use the leather. From now on, they’re swamp drakes.”

“They’re clearly not drakes. They don’t fly.” – complains Stella

“Well, I’m not calling them parrotcrocs. Swamp drakes it is. At least until someone else comes with a better name.”

“Yes, my prince.”

Well, we needed the teleport platform to channel the land’s magic if we want it to connect to the teleport network, so old fashioned stone it is. On the plus side, it was quite fast to make thanks to a single, wide [Mud to Stone] spell.

Now that food and troops can come in, we can take our time building homes, farming pools, drake breeding ponds, and the like.

To be honest, I was expecting adventurer parties would have shown before this point, but I am not going to complain about good luck.

“What are we building first?” – asks Grumnir once the first extra troops and supplies begin arriving through the portal

“Lets begin with a good, solid and comfortable set of barracks on top of the plateau, the troops should have a nice and warm spot to go back to every night.”

“That’d be done by tonight if we use magic for it.”

“Good, tomorrow we’ll get started on my own home, then. The manor, the fields, the ponds. Then we’ll upgrade the barracks into a proper fortress, expand the farmland to the mountainsides with terrace platforms, and finally start planning our expansion into the swamp.”

With everyone’s consent, we get to work.

~O~

It’s been almost two months since the demon prince left towards the west to ‘build his power base,’ as he called it, and the troop’s life in the eastern outpost has been quite monotonous ever since.

Ragashi continues studying the local plants and animals, while the orcs grow more and more familiar with the terrain, having built rafts for going on patrol, and some (magically raised) stone bridges between the most commonly used islands on the swamp.

Sadly, the swamp drakes seem to have decided that the bridges are fantastic sun-bathing platforms, quickly turning them into horror routes and giving the orcs quite the scare the first time they saw two dozen fully sized adults looking at them from atop one.

They do make for good eating, though, so the meat-loving orcs quickly grew to appreciate the sight.

Indeed, a patrol is busily skinning and processing the carcass of one of the drakes when two arrows take their watchman from behind, sinking through the back of his skull a few moments before a massive, axe-wielding, algae-and-mud-covered barbarian emerges right next to them and proceeds to cleave through two of their necks, sending heads flying before the surviving two have time to figure out what is going on, only for one to cry out as the swamp plants come alive around him, entangling and pulling him under water like the tentacles of some horrible beast, leaving the sole survivor to scramble away on all four, just to run right up to the metallic boots of a handsome young man with a refreshing smile.

“Die, minion of darkness!”

“Ugyaaah-!” – the orc barely has time to scream before the youth’s sword pierces its head

“Rai, so cool!” – cries out the group’s archer as she deftly jumps over the large water plants towards the handsome youth.

Her short green dress reaches a few inches down over her thighs, with a light leather breastplate covering her torso, and tall, high-heeled boots covering her legs up to her knees. She has long black hair and pointy ears, with a fully loaded quiver of softly green-glowing arrows and a matching greatbow.

“Umph! So shall all demon-spawn fall before us!” – declares the handsome youth, and gives his friends a nice smile while shaking off the orc’s brain and blood off his sword with a single swing.

“This region isn’t meant to have orcs, though. Pfft!” – the tall, bronze-skinned barbarian with a wild red mane of hair spits some mud-water and plants as he speaks, then quickly moves to check the orcs pockets and gear – “And these aren’t wild orcs. Look.”

The red-haired barbarian holds the few coins it found in the nearest orc’s pockets for his teammates to see.

“Clean yourself, first.” – says the group’s druid in monotone, a petite girl with long golden hair, wearing a green robe that, despite dragging behind her, somehow manages to remain unsoiled by the mud and water of the swamp.

She gently picks and pulls away the plants covering her colleague, then uses a bit of life magic to clean the muck away.

“That much is to be expected.” – says their scout as he shows up out of nowhere – “Since there’s a fortress ahead.” – he declares as he throws an orc’s longbow to the ground before the group.

“Eh? Why is there a fortress this far east from the demon’s land?” – asks the handsome youth, Rai

“A new demon lord is rising.” – says the scout

“What? Never! As the chosen heroes, we will put an end to this villainy, and protect the people’s freedom and lives!” – declares Rai out loud

“Rai, so cool!” – squeals the archer

“Noone living ’round these parts, though.” – comments the barbarian

“Just parrot crocs.” – adds the druid

“Well, regardless… we shall rid the world of this swamp demon lord! This… Swamplord! Haha!”

“Rai, so cool!”

~O~

“Bless you.” – says Kalkah as she hands me a handkerchief

“Thank you. Now that the farmland has been re-flooded, we can get started on planting local grain. We’ll need them to feed the critters that will feed the swamp drake pools.”

“Still haven’t come up with a better name?” – asks my elf maid

“There’s nothing wrong with swamp drake!” – I defend my choice – “I refuse to call them swamp lizard or parrotcroc! Noone will want to eat that, or use it to make armor with. Swamp drake sounds exotic and glamorous. It will be quite fashionable, you’ll see!”

“Is that so?” – she smiles as she pours me some tea

“You’ll see…”

“Is that so…?”

“Sassy maid, I’ll make you cry out consent tonight…”

“…is that so? ♥”

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