The Outlands - Chapter 96

Published at 30th of November 2023 10:49:28 AM

Chapter 96

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“Tess, are you awake?” Fortune asked gently.

“Five more minutes, Mom.” Tess mumbled, causing Fortune’s heart to jump a little in her chest. She had always wanted a family of her own, a wife, children, everything. She had daydreamed of a situation like this before, where she would wake her children up for school, and gently but firmly get them ready for the day, despite their complaints.

“Tess, you need to get up.” Fortune said, shaking Tess gently. “Everyone’s waiting for us.”

“Fine.” Tess groaned, sitting up. “What were we doing again?” She paused for a moment, blinking as she fully woke up. “…Mom?”

“Yes, it’s me.” Fortune said, hugging Tess as her eyes started to water. “Thank you, Tess. This means so, so much to me.”

“It’s not a problem, Mom.” Tess said, hugging her back. “I was just…fixing our Descent.”

“I don’t believe that for a second.” Fortune said, squeezing Tess close. “I know you well enough by now, you just needed an excuse after our talk, and this was the perfect one.”

There was a moment of silence, and then Tess spoke up. “Yeah.” She admitted. “I just…I hated seeing you look so lonely.”

“You’re the best daughter a mother could ask for.” Fortune said.

The two of them sat in each other’s embrace for a long moment, then Tess gently pushed away. “E-everyone’s waiting for us, right?” She said. “We should go talk to them.”

Fortune smiled, grabbing her daughter’s hand and helping her up from the bed. She gently led Tess out of the room and into the hall, only to be stopped when Tess asked a question.

“I don’t think I’ve been in this part of the god’s realm before.” She said quietly. “Where is this?”

They were in a plushily carpeted hallway, lit by a series of warm lights. It was a comforting, homey space, but one that Fortune had never taken Tess before. Yes, she had taken Tess to the living space before, but only the living rooms and kitchens.

“This is where the bedrooms are.” Fortune said. “This hall is my wing, so to speak; I keep most of my extra stuff here, and have a couple of bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Each of the gods has their own similar space, to be used as we see fit.”

She paused briefly, an anxious knot forming in her stomach. “Um, this is a bit presumptuous, and I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve set aside the room you were just in for your personal use. If you want, you can sleep here any time, and I’ll figure out a way to let you go between here and the mortal world more easily.”

Tess paused. “When did you do that?” She asked. “Seeing as how I woke up there, that must have been something Amy knew about beforehand, right?”

Fortune looked away in embarrassment. “Since you became my Appointed?” She said. “I just…didn’t know how to bring it up without sounding weird. And, um…you’re free to bring Ellie in there whenever you want, the rooms are completely soundproof, and I don’t care if she stays the night or anything.”

Fortune looked back just in time to see Tess turning her face away, a blush rising to her cheeks. “Um, uh…thanks.” She said. “I…I’ll talk with her about it. Um…Amy doesn’t mind, right?”

“Not in the slightest.” Fortune said firmly. “For every personal or social purpose, Appointed are considered gods. She’d even prepare a wing for you if you asked; several other Appointed have their own place here, so it’s not a problem at all.”

“Oh.” Tess said. “Well…I’ll just use this room whenever I stay here, so I won’t need a wing.”

Fortune’s heart melted once again as Tess confirmed that she’d use the room, at least occasionally. She wasn’t sure what she had done to deserve this sort of happiness, but she silently renewed her private vow to do everything in her power to make sure Tess’s life was as happy as possible.

It was the least she could do for everything her daughter had given her. Fortune’s life had been one of monotony, but the dull days she had spent in the past few centuries had been filled with color once more; every day brought something new, and the group chat they were in was so energetic and fun. She had gained people other than Death with which she could let her hair down, she had gained a family, and she had regained the spark she had lost ages ago.

Even so, the way this had turned out, at least in the beginning, ate at her still. As much as Monster Breeder was a technical wonder and had been helpful for Tess, it was her greatest shame. She had been young when she had spearheaded the Class’s design, and knowing that her Appointed would almost certainly have the Class had led her to make mistakes.

She wasn’t as comfortable in her skin back then as she was now. She had still been solidifying her identity, and the thought of being in a man’s body for any length of time had made her supremely uncomfortable. She had been arrogant, and had thought that a mortal’s desires, their comfort, were below her own.

It was something she regretted more and more with each passing day. Every time she looked at Tess and Ellie’s relationship she felt a pang of guilt, knowing that, while it had worked out, their relationship was built on the back of her sin.

“Um, Mom, you okay?” Tess asked. “You’re spacing out.”

“I’m sorry.” Fortune mumbled, pulling Tess close. “I…I don’t remember if I said it before, but I’m so, so sorry.”

“What?” Tess asked, bewildered. “What’s this about? Whatever it is, I forgive you; you haven’t done anything you need to apolo –”

“I have.” Fortune sniffed. “With Monster Breeder, and how it’s changed you. I upended your life with my arrogance, and that’s something you can’t just forgive, but you’ve given me so much and –”

“Mom.” Tess said sternly. “We already went over this once, but I’ll say it again. It wasn’t good that you didn’t warn me beforehand, but I forgive you completely. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, and it’s all thanks to you. And to be honest, even if I was offered a no-strings attached, no life changes whatsoever way back to being a man, I wouldn’t take it. I…comparing the two, I like being a girl more, I think. But it seems to me that you won’t be satisfied with just words. So, I’m going to be giving you a punishment.”

Fortune wiped her eyes, pulling back and looking into Tess’s face. “Anything.” She said.

“I’m going to need you to spoil me a whole lot, okay?” Tess said, a smile on her lips. “I normally wouldn’t ask, but I’ll allow myself this bit of selfishness just this once.”

Fortune gave one of those odd sob-laughs, shocked by the sheer kindness of the request. It was, after all, what Fortune wanted to do anyway. “That’s not –”

“I know it’s a bit too harsh a punishment for what you did, but it’s what I want the most right now.”

Fortune was silent for a long moment. “You’re too good for me, Tess.” She finally said. “I’ll spoil you to your heart’s content.”

“Good.” Tess said, giving Fortune a hug. “I love you, Mom.”

“Love you too, sweetie.”

Tess gripped her mother’s hand tightly, trying to sort out her feelings as they walked. To her shame and her happiness, she felt the same towards her biological parents as she had before. Happy, because her feelings towards them had not diminished, ashamed for fearing that they would.

As for the new feelings…Fortune felt to Tess just like Tess’s biological mother had; warm, comforting, someone who made Tess feel safe and loved. Now that she was looking at it somewhat objectively, those feelings were much the same as how she felt towards Gramps, though there was something different about Gramps that Tess just couldn’t put her finger on.

Either way, Tess was content, and seeing her mother so overjoyed only reaffirmed to her that she had made the right decision. Something had subtly changed in Fortune, her usual exuberance just a little fuller, a little more…real. It made Tess want to see more of Fortune’s wishes come true, for her to meet more people and become happier. She deserved it, as much as she would probably argue that she didn’t.

Her apologetic outburst had stunned Tess; Tess was under the impression that they had handled the situation, that it was water under the bridge, but apparently it had still been eating away at Fortune. She would have to make sure there was nothing else Fortune was worrying about, but that was a conversation to be had later; it would take a while, and they were nearly at the room were Death and Ellie were playing games.

“Ready?” Fortune whispered, squeezing Tess’s hand gently.

“I’m ready, Mom.” Tess replied quietly.

Fortune nodded, then pushed the door open. The TV was on, and Ellie and Death were playing Tetris, and like always, Ellie was destroying Death, the match not even close. The moment she heard the sound of the door opening, Ellie paused the game and turned around. “Tess!” She exclaimed, hopping off of the couch she was on and rushing over to Tess. “How are you feeling? It doesn’t hurt anywhere or anything, right?”

“I’m fine.” Tess said, letting go of her mother’s hand and hugging Ellie. “No pain or fuss or anything like that. It went perfectly.”

“Does it feel strange?” Ellie asked.

Tess smiled. “No, it feels normal. I’m not just saying that, either. And…besides,” Tess said, glancing over to Fortune, who had walked over and was talking with Death, “look how happy she is. Even if it didn’t make me feel nice too, that alone is worth it.”

“You’re too nice for your own good sometimes.” Ellie said, holding Tess closer. “But that’s one of the things I love about you.”

Tess rested her head on Ellie’s chest. “Mom gave me a room in her wing of this place. She said you were welcome to stay with me overnight, whenever we want; it’s completely soundproofed, so we don’t have to worry about disturbing her. She said she’ll figure out a way for me to get up here more easily, and I assume I’ll either be able to take you with me or that same method might work if you do it.”

“How are the rooms here, by the way?” Ellie asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them.”

“Everyone has their own suite of rooms, and the rooms themselves are…they’re not super fancy, but they’re nice. They’re a bit bigger than our rooms at home, and I think I saw a TV, computer, and some game consoles in mine? I don’t know if everyone has those, though; that might be something Mom put in. Apparently, if we wanted, we could get suites here too, some of the other Appointed have them.”

“Amy did say she wouldn’t mind if we lived here.” Ellie said. “But I think until we have a really easy way of getting back and forth it would be a lot more convenient to just live in the City. Which…speaking of, do you think we should start looking for an apartment or a house or something? We can’t just live in Grandpa’s house forever.”

“I mean, you could.” Fortune said, walking over to the two of them. “I feel like he would be delighted if you did.”

“That does sound like him.” Tess admitted. “By the way, do you know how expensive houses in the City are?”

“Depends.” Fortune said. “If you go cheap as can be, in some of the seedier parts of town, that’ll run you a few thousand gold. Dungeon housing is all full up, but they generally go for about ten thousand gold a piece, which is around how much an okay house will cost. If you want something nice, expect fifty to one hundred thousand gold for it.”

Tess winced. “So…we’ll have to save up for a bit, then.” She said. “I don’t think renting is a particularly good idea with our circumstances.”

“How much gold do you have right now?” Ellie asked. “I think I have seventyish?”

“A few hundred.” Tess replied. “Which I guess is a lot, but also nowhere near enough for a house. I think if I sell all my cores I can get…probably a thousand or two, but we’d only maybe get a house in the bad part of town and that seems like a terrible idea.”

“You’re still selling your cores at a big discount to the guild, right?” Ellie said thoughtfully.

“Yeah, but even if I sold them for full price that’s maybe another two thousand. It’s going to be a long while before we can afford a remotely decent house.”

“Give it a year or two.” Fortune said. “Dungeons only really start getting lucrative once they’re level fifty or sixty, and with the number of cores you’ll be getting…you’ll have more money than you’ll know what to do with.”

“Or you could just go win the lottery and get the cash now.” Death said. “That’d leave you set for quite a while.”

“No, I want to earn it.” Tess said, shaking her head. “It would be more satisfying that way. If we ever get desperate, sure, the lottery is there, but for now…I’d rather earn things myself.”

“Looks like your wife is gonna be the big earner of the family.” Death said, grinning and elbowing Ellie. “How does that make you feel?”

“One, we’re not married yet, and two, she’s just as involved in my earnings as I am.” Tess said. “Her contribution isn’t lessened even if most of the drops are in my name.”

“Yet?” Death teased, still grinning. “So, you are going to get married, then. Why not just do it now?”

Tess blushed, looking away. “I want to wait for the proper time.” She said. “Once training is done and things are settled. Then I can give Ellie the wedding she deserves.”

“I’d be more than happy to do it now.” Ellie said. “I mean, it’s not like we need any more time to figure out if we’re compatible or anything, we both know where this relationship is going. We could get back from the expedition, hold a big ceremony, and then keep living our lives. We basically act like we’re married already, so we’re just making it official.”

Tess blinked in surprise, taking a moment to digest that information. “I…guess you’re right.” She admitted. “It’s not that big a change.”

“Then it’s official.” Ellie said. “I’ll get us a couple of rings, and take care of the wedding preparation.”

“W-what?!” Tess exclaimed. “B-but…”

Ellie rolled her eyes. “Tess, I know you.” She said. “You’re always going to put it off because it’s never “the right time”, and so if we both agree that we want to get married, then we should. If you truly think we should wait more to see if marriage is something we really want, then I have no problem with waiting, but if you’re just “waiting for the right moment”, then I say “the right moment” is now.”

“I…yeah, okay. But I could at least help with the wedding preparations!” Tess protested.

“Tess, I’ve been preparing for this ever since Grandpa showed us the Outlands.” Ellie said. “All I need is for you to tell me what you want, and I’ll take care of the rest. I want to do this, and I know that you don’t, so we both win here.”

Tess sighed. “Fine.” She said. “But the moment it becomes a burden, I expect you to come and have me help, okay?”

“I promise I’ll ask for help if the preparations get too taxing.” Ellie said. “Now, get me a list of your demands, on the double.”

“Congratulations, you two.” Death said, smiling like this had been her plan from the start. “I’ll start picking out some wedding presents. In the meantime, you should probably go let Maven know that everything went well, she’s still in the dark about this.”

“Oh, right.” Ellie said, pulling out her phone. “Yeah, good idea, let me hit her up.”

While she typed, Fortune gave Tess another hug. “I’m so happy for you two.” She said. “Congratulations. I’m…I’m going to go talk to Amy about getting permission for us gods to go down to the mortal realm for the wedding. Do you need anything else from me before I go?”

Tess returned the hug. “No, Mom.” She said. “Thanks.”

Fortune released the hug, giving Tess a broad smile before walking out of the room. As she left, Tess took a moment to think back on the day. It had taken a wildly different form than how she had expected it to, but…here as she closed in on the end of the day, she was far happier than she thought she would be, and that was all she could have ever asked for.

Fighterman481 So, I did not intend to go down that route at the end at all. One thing led to another, and...well, that happened. Slightly strange that a similar thing happened in two separate series relatively close together (in real-world writing time, not release schedule lol), but if I had to hazard a guess, it's a result of having characters who know what they want, and a desire to not leave relationships stagnant when it's abundantly clear where they will eventually end up.

Note from the present: The above paragraph refers to events in Swarming Sovereignty like...a long ways before the current public chapter. This was the last chapter before I put this series on hiatus while I was working on other things, and the AN was written 10-11 months ago.

Stagnation past this point is okay, I think. Currently there are no plans to be on the timescale where children would be involved, so settling into a comfy married life is pretty good place for a relationship to be, I think. Definitely better than an indefinite will-they-won't-they type of thing, which no one likes.

Anyway, next time we'll get back to the expedition, so look forward to it!

And, as always, thanks for reading!

Please report us if you find any errors so we can fix it asap!