Wizardquest 3 Part 16: A Lovely City


Chapter 44

The screams of the Alarune echo through the vault, her discordant voice creating a verdant cacophony with the writhing of the vines and the moans of the men. The fetid smell of the place threatens your stomach to roil in time with the sounds you’re subjected to. If weren’t already a little insane, you might just imagine that you’re going insane! Well, guess you’ll just have to tackle this like all things in your life, one step at a time.

                Speaking of which, those constructs are advancing on your party rather quick, aren’t they?

                “Those things can rip apart even Georgia without much issue!” Ophelia says, hoisting the lightning caster. “I’m not certain even this thing can take one down in a single shot.”

                “How is she even controlling them?” You ask, looking around the room.

                Ophelia slaps down the [Mage-sight Goggles] over her eyes. “Their cores were reactivated, probably by some of the men in the room. They were engineers who worked on the project and I’m sure that they’re uh, ‘helping,’ at the moment too.” She points to one of them.

                “There seems to be aetheric interference interfacing with the cores which matches that of the plants in this room. My guess is she’s assumed direct control.”

                “Which means, we take her down, we take the constructs down.” Ginelle says, cracking her knuckles.

                “Easier said than done.” Clint says. “I can’t get a shot on her like this.”

                “Yeah, yeah, I got this.” You say, acting more confident than you really are. Channeling your magic, you reach out toward the mind of the Alarune and say,

                “What are you doing, you fool? Stop this immediately or I’ll call down the wrath of our Goddess!”

                An audible gasp is heard from behind the petals. The constructs stop in place, their arms lowering as they freeze close to Georgia, the maid construct staring at them without much concern. She merely folds her hands in front of herself and waits as you speak.

                “Attacking me. I appreciate the initiative but I am not amused. What do you have to say for yourself?”

                “I’m sorry, my mistress…” The Alarune says, her voice tremulous, as if she’s weeping. “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

                “Stop your sorrow and tell me what you’re doing here.”

                “You told me to bring the war machines back but I can’t! They won’t listen! The men say only the rabbits can do it but the Princess can’t find them! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’M SORRY!”

                The vines in the room trash as the Alarune wails. She’s clearly not in the best place mentally, which makes your words all the easier to mess with her perceptions. Of course, as you’re well aware, the insane are also… unpredictable. Why leave someone like this in charge of something so important? Unless she was also affected by whatever happened here?

                “I don’t need your foolish prattling, I need results.” You say, waving to the others to move around. They carefully pick their way past the constructs, making toward the main body of the Alarune. You just need to keep her talking for a little longer.

                “I’m sorry, I’m sorry… please, please I can be of use to the Princess, to you. I-I’ve activated the other constructs! They can assist in the seedbloom!”

                “These things? Pathetic, not what I asked for at all.” You say, swiping your hand to the side, not that she could see it. “Deactivate them, they’re useless.”

                “But I- But I worked so hard to… to…”

                “Do you want to be made into mulch?!”

                The other three reach to about twenty feet away from her when one of the men on the wall stretches forward, his moan almost painful as he thrusts forward and a spray of white fluid splattering off a vine hits Ophelia in the face. She staggers backward, yelping as she drops the lightning caster on a root, the entire device making a loud clatter as it hits the floor.

                “AH!” The Alarune shouts. “There are others! Others here!”

                “They are but followers! Ignore them!”

                “No… their scents… they… you…” The petals in front of the Alarune rapidly release, showing the pallid face of the wild-eyed Monster. “You… LIAR!”

                Clint curses and pulls up his rifle to make a snap-shot toward the Alarune. The bolt of energy slams her in the shoulder and she screams as her petals cover her again. The room shudders as the ground roils, the vines lashing outward along the walls.

                “LIAR, LIAR! I KNEW IT, I KNEW YOU WERE LYING! Ohh… Lady Rose! I beg your forgiveness!”

                Georgia hums as the constructs in front of her power up again. Three of them turn about to go after the others while one moves toward you. Well shit, you’re in the same place you were before, but perhaps a little worse off, huh? Placing a hand on your now throbbing head, you curse forgetting to mask your scents while thinking of what to do next.

                The Alarune had retreated behind the vase-like petals of her flower, shielding her from harm. You find it unlikely that she’s watching you visually through them, so she must be getting her information from sound and the vines writhing along the room, right? So if she’s controlling these constructs, you’ll have to break her perceptions again. Of course, this is easier said than done when a construct is barreling down toward you.

                “Georgia!” Ophelia shouts! “Give Tobias a hand!”

                The maid construct dashes forward the moment Ophelia calls out, wrapping her arms around the waist of the battle construct. It reaches back for her, but the maid pulls back with all her weight to suplex the construct.

                A viscous mess of green fluid sprays into the air as the two crush a pile of plant matter, splattering their chassis, and your clothing, with it. Unfazed by the situation, you nod your thanks to Georgia as she tries to keep the construct in place. With that, you then focus your magic again to provide support to your allies.

                Ginelle has since turned to face the constructs, though even her strength has no hope of defeating one of them. The one bearing down upon her has its arms raised, ready to tear her apart when it drifts to the side, missing Ginelle entirely. The confusion of the Badger Girl is momentary as he body slams the construct onto it’s side, pulling away as it pushes itself to it’s feet.

                Clint has his rifle trained on one while Ophelia has her lightning caster charged and ready to fire. The two constructs change direction then, and begin grappling with each other, their efforts largely ineffective as they wrestle with each other. The man and the Rabbit Girl exchange looks before turning to you.

                One hand on your forehead, the other open, you grit your teeth and wave at them to get going. You don’t want to say anything that you’ll have to alter her perceptions too, because it’s taking everything you have to misdirect her as it stands. Because she’s using the entire room to see, feel, and smell, you have to subtly alter all of them, a tremendous task. One you’ve done before, but with the sensory overload in the room already, it’s so difficult just to think on this one task.

                Thankfully, your friends get the message.

                Ginelle dashes forward and leaps onto the main body of the Alaraune. She grabs the petals around the torso and pulls backward, straining as the Alarune resists. Of course, Ginelle is far too strong for a modern day Monster, and she wins out, stretching the petal and tearing it off, revealing the red-eyed Monster underneath. The one who’s cheeks seem oddly full for some reason.

                Ginelle gasps and pulls away as the Alarune spits out something at the Badger Girl. She manages to roll out of the way in time for the solution to miss her, though it immediately begins to eat away at the ground, clearly some kind of acid. Clint moves in the opening and takes aim, only for the ground beneath him to shift as roots sweep him off his feet, the man crashing to the ground in a heap.

                You curse and try to use your magic to give him time to recover and finish this, but your concentration is broken as Georgia is thrown violently off the other construct, hitting one of the disabled Blitzer units before she slides down the wall, leaking oil. A moment later the construct rises and turns to you, ready to once again tear you apart. You’d run for it, but something coils around your foot, dropping you to the floor in a heap as well.

                Though you try to push away, your head throbs and you fall to the ground as your illusion is broken and more plants surge to take hold of you. The constructs hone in on you and Clint, keeping both of you from striking out against the Monster.

                Green blood dripping from her shoulder, the Alarune says, “Liar, liar, liar! All you are is a liar! The voices… were they you this whole time? Yes… yes if I kill you then they’ll go away. Ahh… sweet quiet again. The Princess and Lady Rose will free me… I just need quiet to finish my work. And the rabbit… ah… the rabbit.”

                “Shut up!” Ophelia says, hoisting the lightning caster. She’d made her way forward during Clint and Ginelle’s assault and had charged the magitek weapon. Flicking a switch, she braces herself as an arc of devastating electricity surges forward and into the Alarune. The Monster only has a moment to scream before her torso is torn apart in a surge of energy, splattering the walls of cooking plant matter and rancid odor.

                The constructs drop to the floor like puppets with their strings cut, powering down as their cores go inert. The plant life in the room roils at the loss of their main body before slowly dying down, flies buzzing about the now dead corpse-smelling flowers, confused at the smells. Men hanging in the vines sag forward, their cages slumping while the constant flow of pleasure in their bodies dissipating leads to exhaustion.

                They aren’t the only ones exhausted as you also slip to the ground, feeling drained. Your head hurts abominably. Using that much magic was certainly going to have repercussions.

                “No it won’t. You’re fine, crazy pants.”

                “Thanks, voice in my head, thanks.” You say, trying to shake away the obvious insane voice. It really likes to talk out of turn, you know? Ah, if only you had Bearsy here… well, until it turned out he was Jackor all along. Still, nice bear to have around.

                “Woo-hoo!” Ophelia says, throwing her hands up the air before wincing and holding her back. “Oww, oww, oww okay that hurts. Ugh Gods and it smells terrible now.”

                “It already smelled terrible.” Clint says, rubbing his own back as looks about for more danger. “Damn if that wasn’t close. Good work there Tobias.”

                “You’re not crazy, are you?” Ginelle asks, helping Clint up.

                “Not much more than usual.” You say, slowly picking yourself up.

                >Your current insanity is 30%

                “That’s not reassuring.” Ophelia groans.

                “It would appear that the intruder has been eliminated.” Georgia says, picking herself up from the wall. She sparks a little as she steps forward, her maid outfit torn and ruined, showing the metallic frame underneath. “It would appear that many employees without proper clearance are present. Shall I retrieve them?”

                “Uh, yeah, thanks Georgia.” Ophelia says, watching as the construct goes to collect the naked men. The Rabbit Girl blanches as she does so. “And here I thought I’d never have to see Carl’s penis again after that time mother trapped the two of us in the sauna together.”

                Clint looks surprised that no one else is surprised by this anecdote. It’s not like the same thing didn’t happen to you and Ginelle in the past.

                “Well, what do we do now?” Ginelle asks, looking around. “This place is a mess and those men aren’t waking up anytime soon.”

                “Their knowledge of magitek is extensive.” Ophelia says. “Keeping them safe would be a big boon to Deleor and keep things like those prototypes out of unsavory hands. I’m just glad I wasn’t caught in the past. I’d hate to be trapped on the wall there, vines prodding my sensitive places all day, making me cum over and over… and…” She trails off for a moment before shaking her head back to it as you snap at her.

                “Right! Right.” She says, coughing.

                “What was she talking about with this Princess?” Clint asks. “Those Bee Girls outside said something about her too.”

                “The Bee Girls have a Queen, right? That would mean they have a Princess then?” You ask Ginelle.

                “Yes, a few, but as far as I know they’re rather insignificant. The Queen controls the actions of the hive.”

                “But this Alarune seemed more concerned with the Princess, right?” Ophelia says, lugging the lightning caster onto a table, wincing the whole time. “Was there some kind of coup of the hive?”

                “No, she’d be the new Queen in that case, but as far as I know that doesn’t happen.”

                “Then… could it be someone else?” You ask, wiping plant goo from your suit. “Even more confusing is why she’d think Rose would be here. Wasn’t she up near Cair last we checked?”

                Ophelia looks about and taps her arm. “I wish we had a biomancer in here. I begin to wonder if plant Monsters are able to communicate with each other through their roots or something.” She chuckles a moment later, “As if that could happen, right?”

                “I… don’t know.” You say, considering it. “It seemed as if Fiora had a connection with Phallia and perhaps even Chalan. It’s possible that more mundane communications methods could exist between such Monsters as well. Or they could be facilitated through Phallia herself.” You hold up the sigil you were given.

                “I mean, this is a heart etched with some runes. I wouldn’t put it past such things being possible.”

                As you hold up the sigil, it pulses in your hand and you hear Finn’s voice. {Tobias, how are things on your end? I trust I’m not getting you killed, am I?}

                {No, that would have happened a few minutes ago.}

                {Excellent. Then you’ll be happy to know that Harmony has spotted a group of Bee Girls headed to your position. She’s intercepted a few but they seem pretty intent on the Manufactorum. We believe there might be more mobile plant Monsters on the way too.}

                {Are you going to send us any support?}

                {I’m arranging a relief team, but I don’t know how quickly they can get there. Are you going to be able to hold out?}

                {We’re in an underground vault accessible only by cargo elevator.}

                {…Are you sure you need our help?}

                {Yes, thank you.}

                You cut off the sigil and inform the others of the information. Clint removes his hat and runs his hand through his hair. “There’s no way anyone could have mobilized that quickly.”

                “Unless…” You say, raising two fingers before frowning and going back to one finger.

                “Damnit.” Clint says. “Well that makes this much more difficult.”

                “Hmph, two can play at that game.” Ophelia says. “Once we go back up, I’ll get into Taylor’s workshop and hook into that idiot’s communications network he was building.” She pauses. “Gods rest his soul. Unless he’s still alive, then fuck that idiot.”

                “You seem remarkably unconcerned about the impending doom we face.” You say rubbing at your temple.

                “Because this is my house.” Ophelia says, walking over to one of the prototype constructs and opening the chest panel without much problem. She roots around and removes some plant life, throwing it away before making a few more connections. Tapping her chin, she reaches into her bag and pulls out the taser device, jamming it into the core and activating it. The construct stutters, aetheric lights coming on before it sits up and turns to Ophelia, as if awaiting orders.

                “Ah, what simple devices these are.” Ophelia says, patting the things on what should be its head. It… kind of looks like its enjoying it somehow. That’s clearly your imagination. Or insanity. Could be both!

                “What about the Blizters?” You ask the Rabbit Girl.

                She pauses, turning to you slowly. “I… might be able to reactivate them but… are you sure about that? Even without the plasma cannons, they still have some inbuilt systems. Not to mention their core discharges and…” A gulp issues from her.

                “It would take some time, but I’ll do it if you ask me to.”

                Above you a small army gathers, bidden by some unseen force while before you rests a veritable war crime. You’ll have to protect Ophelia while she does this work but is the risk of those falling into the wrong hands worth it? Hells, even in the right hands…

                Your hand drifts to your pocket again. Not as if you weren’t handed the rights to genocide already. And for that, you haven’t made up your mind either.

                With a sigh, your hand drifts back down. You turn to Ginelle and say, “Free those men, we need to get them out of here.”

                The Badger Girl nods to Clint, the man pulling out a knife, before heading over to free the captured men. Ophelia just watches you, waiting to see what you have to say. Rubbing at your forehead, you spend precious time you don’t have before saying, “If activated, what are the chances one of these could be taken over the same way as the prototypes?”

                “…About zero.” She says. “The core functions are very detailed and keyed specifically to the owner. They were authorized to Fiora beforehand but we revoked those privileges. In the end, they belong to my mother and I. No plant is going to do anything about that.”

                Thumbing over her shoulder at the prototype construct, she says, “Those hunk of junks could be wired into a network, which is likely how they could be manipulated in such a manner. Linked to whatever… shenanigans they’re using with the leylines or whatever.”

                “Okay.” You say, nodding your head. “Activate one and destroy the others.”

                “Eh?” She asks, confused. “D… destroy? Didn’t you just hear what I said?”

                “Destroy them.” You say, firmer.

                Ophelia’s ears rise up and a look of anger comes on her face for a brief moment before she backs down, ears lowering.

“Okay.” She says in a soft voice. “I get it. I… I’ll do it.”

“How long will it take?”

“Longer than you think.” She says, rooting through her bag for tools. “I need to reinitialize the cores, write over some of the lockdown protocols I established, recharge the weapons systems-“

“I thought you said the weapons systems were removed.”

“The plasma cannons and aether saws, yeah. But the inbuilt systems are still present. The core generates an enormous amount of energy and can be utilized like a lightning caster. The arms can be overcharged too, something I assume Harmony can do too. Not to mention the core discharge…” She trails off on that one before standing up straight and walking over to one of the blitzers.

“Core… discharge?” You ask as she begins to pull off the armor on the construct.

“It’s… nothing you should worry about.”

“This sounds like something I should worry about then.”

Her ears flop down and she sighs. “The cores can be set to overload as a self-destruct mechanism. We haven’t exactly tested it but-“

“Estimations would place that a fully charged core discharge could level a building the size of the Manufactorum.” Georgia says from her position against the wall where she sparks softly. Right, right, she exists.

“Yeah… that.” Ophelia says, going back to tinkering.

“Is that why they wanted them all this time?” You ask, surprised.

“Doubtful, the plasma cannons are more effective. But with them gone, such blasts would be their most devastating, if wasteful attack.”

“If we destroyed the cores of the rest of them, would it cause an explosion?”

“No, especially since we’ll drain the remaining power into this one’s core. Without the leyline’s ambient energy it can’t recharge itself efficiently.” She pauses again before shaking her head and continuing to work. Under her breath she mutters, “There’s no way it would work like that…”

Before you can ask anything further, she returns to working on the construct, seemingly single minded. Though you have more questions, you turn back to the others, who are almost done freeing the men. In total there are five of them, all unconscious, naked, and sticky. Clint grimaces as he sets the man down, looking at his hand in disgust. Ginelle merely wipes the strings of white fluid onto her shirt and never looks back.

“They’re not moving anywhere on their own anytime soon.” Clint says. “And we sure as hell can’t fight our way out while carrying them.”

“You can’t, maybe.” Ginelle chuckles.

“We’ll have the constructs carry them.” You say, waving your hand absently. “Ophelia is reactivating one of the blitzers. If it doesn’t take too long, we’ll try to get out of here before we get swamped.”

“Good idea, that elevator is a death trap if they use it properly.” Clint says. “We’ll be able to use the relief team more efficiently as well.”

“My thoughts exactly.” You say.

“Are you sure about reactivating one of them?” Ginelle asks, looking a little worried. “We… we all suffered a lot to keep these from harming anyone. But now you’re just-?”

“It’s only one.” You say. “Having it will be a boon, especially for clearing the city. We don’t have time to spend dawdling here, you know what’s at stake.”

Clint and Ginelle exchange looks before nodding. They understand perfectly what’s happening.

Turning about while the others load men like sacks into the arms of the construct, you pull out the sigil again and contact Finn.

{How long until they make contact with us?}

{I’m not a mind reader. It won’t be long until they reach the Manufactorum, I can assure you of that.}

{How helpful, sir. We’re going to try to make a break for it once Ophelia has finished restoring a few constructs. In the meantime, I have some information we learned.}

You send over what you’ve heard from the Alarune here and from the Bee Girls out. When you finish, Finn makes sounds of rumination across the sigil.

{A “princess” huh? I don’t pretend to understand Bee Girl culture well, but this sounds like something we can exploit. I’ll have my scouts look into this, especially if they have captives.}

{Assuming we can get out of here alive, I’d appreciate it also.} You send back as Ophelia catches your attention. {Gotta go.}

{I’d rather you not die in there.}

{Is that an order?}

{Yes.}

{Well then, yes sir.}

Pulling out of the network, you head over to Ophelia as she shoves the chest piece back in place on the blitzer. It surprises you that you never really got a good look at these things, despite your experiences getting them back. The construct is tall, at least seven feet and has solid adamantium armor. While it stands upright and is humanoid, it doesn’t have a neck and instead the “head” is built into the torso, showing only slits for eyes and a vocal unit.

The Rabbit Girl hops around the construct once, twice, and then nods her head before slapping her hand to the chest and saying, “Activation code A0094 Sigma. Unit Seven activate processes.”

Red lights appear in the construct’s eye slits and it shudders, like a leyway coming to life. The construct stands tall and hums for a moment before saying in a low, montone voice. “Your orders, master?”

“Rip out the cores from the other blitzers and bring them to me.”

“Affirmative.” The construct moves with a fluidity you hadn’t seen from any construct save Harmony and Chaika, despite its size. When it reaches one of the other constructs, it raises a hand which cackles with electricity before driving it into the motionless construct and tearing out the core. It does this with each other the blitzers before placing them in a pile before Ophelia as the rest of you watch on with mouths open in shock.

“That was…” You begin

“So cool!” Ginelle shouts.

“Hmph.” Ophelia says. “Imagine if it had it’s axe. Ah but oh well.” She motions to the blitzer as she pulls out a device and attaches it to the chest of the unit, then to the core in her hand. You sense some kind of mana flowing for a moment before Ophelia drops the core, then moves onto the next one. She repeats the process until all the cores are finished. Then, with a shuddering breath, she takes up her lightning caster and obliterates them before collapsing to her knees.

“Hey, are you oka-“ You cut off as you reach her, finding the Rabbit Girl crying.

“I think I know how a mother feels when she loses her childreeeeeeen.” Ophelia sniffles. “Oh Gods that was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life!”

“Now childbirth will seem easy!” Georgia says, still in the corner.

Sniffling, Ophelia waves for the blitzer to pick up Georgia as she calls over the laden construct, the men on it still unconscious. And sticky.

“Let’s just go. I can’t bear to be here any longer.”

“Sounds good to me!” Ginelle says, walking outside the vault. Nothing greets her thankfully, just the echo of her voice and the smell of decaying plant matter. Honestly you’ve just about forgotten the smell at this point. The rest of you follow behind her as she calls the elevator.

The doors don’t immediately open.

“Hmm.” She says as the rumble of the elevator fills the passage. What seems an eternity later, the doors open, revealing two Bee Girls and three Plant Monsters that seem closer to an Alarune than the tentacled Monsters, what with the flowers growing around their waists and chest. Having legs made of roots so dense they look like wood, however is certainly new. It makes little difference as they have no time to react before Ginelle leaps forward onto the closest Bee Girl and begins savaging her with her claws.

The other intruders step back in surprise, only for one of the Plant Monsters to find her head being blown off while the other two are, well, blitzed by the blitzer. It nearly pulverizes them as it rams them into the back of the elevator, sending the whole car to shudder. The final Bee Girl buzzes and tries to back away but Ginelle grabs her foot and she screams before being attacked by the Badger Girl also.

“Well that’s… efficient.” You say, stepping into the elevator amongst the carnage. Ophelia blanches for a moment as the blitzer stands next to her, dripping with plant matter… and maybe brain matter. Without saying anything as Ginelle continues to beat the senseless Bee Girls, she activates the button to go up.

When you arrive, you prepare for another assault, and you’re not surprised when you find one. More surprised Bee Girls and Plant Monsters, this time with some of the mobile, tentacled Monsters, greet you. They are also crushed by the combined assault of a pissed off Badger Girl, a war machine, and a Rabbit with a gun. Frankly you, Clint, and the giant mosquito on your shoulder have little to do in this situation.

“Well this sucks.” The mosquito says.

“That was a poor pun, now buzz off.” You say, brushing the figment of your insanity away. It dissolves into nothing as you walk past the devastation. “Maybe we don’t need any help after all.” You say, looking down at the mess your friends made.

“Hah, I guess not.” Ginelle says as you walk past an intersection. She has only a moment to gasp before a Bee Girl hurtles from the side hallway and grabs Ginelle, throwing her across the hall and away from the rest of you. More of the Plant Monsters appear, blocking your access to Ginelle while also swarming her.

“Damnit!” Clint shouts, firing into the assaulting crowd. While effective, it’s not enough to keep them from swarming in. The construct carrying the men backs up while the blitzer swings outward with it’s charged fists while Ophelia unleashes devastation with the lightning caster. She’s unable to catch all of them however, as one of the tentacle Monsters ducks aside the arc and lashes out, grabbing Ophelia’s arm and forcing her to drop the caster as it pulls her in, tentacles wrapping around her body. She lets out shrieks as the Monster gets rather… personal with the tentacles.

“U-Use the blaster!” She shouts.

“Affirmative.” The Blitzer says, raising an arm outward. Despite three Monsters trying to pull it down, it doesn’t waver as the plate atop the arm opens up, revealing a charge of mana. A moment later, it fires, concentrated energy lancing out in a beam that extends down the hallway, tearing apart any of the Monsters it touches. Those not outright obliterated have ragged holes in their bodies or are burning, their shrieks echoing in the hallway as they stagger away.

The uninjured Monsters, not that there are many left, continue their assault, but with the blitzer and Clint, they’re quickly removed. You run forward with your knife and jam it into the Monster that has Ophelia, killing her quickly and releasing the Rabbit Girl. Ophelia collapses to the ground, her clothing disheveled, her face flushed, pants soiled and-

“Oh come on.” You groan, picking up the Rabbit Girl. “You can get hot and bothered later!”

“Listen… you have no idea how it feels to have every orifice filled.” She says, voice strained.

“I’m very thankful for that fact, now let’s go.”

“Fiiiine.” She wheezes, rubbing at her throat before pointing toward Ginelle. “Go!”

The Blitzer runs toward the mass that had separated the Badger Girl. Not that there was much left, mind you. Ginelle had weathered her assault with quite a few scrapes and cuts, the Bee Girl flying around and lashing out with her spear while Ginelle was too busy fighting the Plant Monsters seeking to swarm her. Unfortunately, her tenacity won out and while she took injuries, none were life threatening.

The Bee Girl pulls back, buzzing with concern as her companions, or perhaps, meat shields, were destroyed. When she thinks about flying away, a cracking sound heralds her death as Clint neatly hits her in the chest with his rifle, dropping her head.

                “Ginelle! Are you alright?” He asks, running up to her.

                “It’ll take more than that to drop me.” She scoffs, holding out a hand toward you as you toss her a [Health Potion].

                “Well if we don’t hurry there might be that many more. I doubt they could anticipate us making the move toward them however, we’ll move off the path toward the elevator and lose them outside to meet the relief party.” You say.

                “Yes… with a blitzer.” Ophelia sighs. “But Taylor’s workshop is down this hallway.” She points to where Ginelle was taken. “Give me a little time so I can gather his equipment.”

                “Fine.” You say, waving. “But we don’t have time to mess with it.”

                Your team moves through the hallways, unable to mask the sounds of the constructs moving through. Thankfully no one else seems to be coming this way, likely intent on the elevator, though once they find the corpses they’ll spread out. It afford you enough time for Ophelia to reach this workshop and enter, searching about for equipment.

                The lab is rather large, about the size of her personal lab and filled with a variety of what you would scientifically classify as “junk.” However, in one of the cabinets she pulls out a large device which looks a lot like the one you saw Ophelia use before to coordinate your communications beforehand. This one looks… fancier.

                “Ahaha, the idiot, Gods rest their soul if they’re dead, made something useful. This bad boy can boost a signal across the country if needs be.”

                “Do we need it since we have the sigils?”

                “Of course. Not everyone has a sigil, but plenty of people have communications devices. With the leymail out, people want to hear something, feel like they aren’t alone again. They could use some hope.” She beams, “And we’re here to provide it.”

                “Heh.” You say, crossing your arms. “I suppose that-“

                WHAM!

                You turn about to look outside the room to see Clint sitting against the wall, his hand on his head while the others aren’t in sight. Running outside you look to the right and see something large and filled with uh… flowers… attacking something on the ground. Because it fills up most of the hallway, you can’t see anyone else behind it, though you don’t have long to look as a spear narrowly misses your face. The Bee Girl speeds past you, gritting her teeth as she turns about mid-air, leveling for another charge at you.

                You duck into the doorway and make a simple illusion that you stayed in place. The Bee Girl charges again but this time you strike out with your fist, catching her in the gut and causing her to drop to the ground, multiple arms clutching at her abdomen in confusion. You don’t have time to do much else as you leap forward to grab Clint, sending another illusion that barely keeps a second Bee Girl from splitting your head open as you push the two of you out of the way.

                “Get down!” Ophelia cries, to which you push Clint and yourself to the floor. A moment later the hallway lights up and the Bee Girl lets out a shriek of pain before collapsing atop you. Pushing the smoking corpse off you, you look up at the Bee Girl you punched before. She staggers to her feet, spear leveled at you. Cursing, you prepare another illusion when the Bee Girl turns to look down the hallway and gasps, trying to pull away before the large shape blocking the hallway is THROWN at her.

                The bulk crushes her as it slides down the hallway. If you weren’t on the floor it would have flattened you also. As it stands you feel one hells of a breeze as it goes. You stare from where it came from to see the blitzer stands there, arms extended as they crackle with energy. Behind it is Ginelle, who looks dazed, the other construct which managed to retain its human cargo, and Georgia, who looks… a little more worse for wear.

                “The fuck is that thing?!” Ophelia asks, pointing down the hallway. The bulk of whatever pulls itself up and around to reveal a vaguely human torso, but the rest is a mutated mess of plant life which writhes about in a simulacrum of legs and arms. Something about it reminds you of Chalan at the end, but the body is distinctly that of an Alarune… not that her insane screaming makes it any less terrifying.

                “Mother fucking- blast it!” Ophelia shouts. The blitzer complies, firing the blaster again, the shot creating a hole in the Monster. It screams but pushes forward, unfortunately the thing moving in such a way as to scrape both you and Clint up as it does so.

                “Again!” Ophelia shouts. “Shoot until that thing is dead!”

                The blitzer complies, firing as soon as the cycle is done charging, which is stupidly fast. It obliterates part of the Monster, slowing its advance before the next short removes its head. It collapses in front of you, vines trying and failing to fix the wounds in the host form. It stops moving, draining fluid all over the floor and spraying on you and Clint.

                “What the fuck was that?” You say as you shake Clint, the man groaning and coming to.

                “Looks like an Alarune but that’s… I’ve never heard of one who was mobile. I doubt she was the leader of this pack though.” Ophelia says. “Is everyone okay?”

                “I’ll live.” Clint groans, grabbing his rifle. “I assume Ginelle is fine.”

                “You assume correctly.” She says, picking the man up while looking at Ophelia. “You got that thing you wanted?”

                “Uh, yeah, one sec.” She walks back to the room to place it into her bag of holding. “Okay, let’s go before we have any other surprises.”

                You pick past the Monster and thankfully are not immediately assaulted. In fact, you find it odd that nothing else attacks you as you move through the hallways. Eventually Ophelia’s ears pick something up and she mutters, “Sounds like fighting.”

                Your loop around the building brings you back near the front where you find a beleaguered group of Heroes fighting a pack of Plant Monsters and Bee Girls. Thankfully none of the mutant hulking ones are there, but there’s clearly plenty enough to cause the party trouble. You’re surprised to see a bushy tail through the pack however, with a wave of fire spraying from her across the Plant Monsters who scream in pain at the inferno.

                “Ahaha! Burn you bitches!”

                “Rayleigh…” You groan with a smile on your face. “Well let’s give her some support.”

                Ophelia pats the blitzer on the back and sends it forward, the war machine carving a swathe through the enemy. At being assaulted from two sides, even their fanaticism breaks and they run away, flooding every which way in the building, causing immense damage to the deserted place. Ophelia cries out as they do so, but eventually they make their way out of the building and away from you, which is the most important thing.

                “Woah, what the hells is that!” Rayleigh says, bouncing forward and around the blitzer, which stands motionless in the entrance hall. “I’ve never seen something like this before!”

                “It’s… one of a kind.” Ophelia says, gritting her teeth together. You think you hear something within her breaking. Poor thing.

                “Well, I guess you didn’t need our help.” The Squirrel Girl says, still admiring the construct. “But I did enjoy burning things I suppose.”

                “And you didn’t burn us all in the process.” Ginelle says. “I’m shocked, truly.”

                “Harr, harr. Captain Finn wants you all back in one piece. I assume you got what you came for?”

                “Yeah, and more perhaps.” You say. “Let’s head back to the camp.”

                With your escort present, you make your way across the open ground around the Manufactorum, though in the sky you see a Bee Girl or two. They’re chased away as something zips through the air before landing down in front of you.

                “You’re alive, and generally in one piece. Excellent.” Harmony says as she admires the blitzer. “Who is this hunk?”

                “Unit seven of one.” Ophelia says. She smirks, “I’ll let you explore him if you let me explore you…”

                “Perhaps if I had more to drink.” Harmony says, readying her flight unit again. She leaps into the air and says, “I’ll go inform Finn you’re returning.”

                As she flies away, Ophelia huffs and crosses her arms. “But constructs can’t drink, damnit.”

                “I have a sigil…” You mutter as she flies away. Man she’s really uncomfortable around Ophelia, huh?

                The return trip to the Order encampment is a fairly simple one. Nothing dares to assault you and Harmony returns shortly to patrol the skies. All things considered, it appears as if you’ve cleared this are quite cleanly. You only feel safe when you reach an order patrol group, which brings you back to the encampment made in the more defensible buildings.

                After situating yourself inside the camp, Finn brings you to the parlor he commandeered for his command post. It’s much better than what he had before, and no Captain of the Guard present to cause trouble this time. The plush couches make it all the more comfy in the room.

                You explain what happened in the vault and on your return to Finn, who listens carefully. When you finish, he moves back to the map and taps it a few times. “I see. So we have some idea on who might be pulling the strings. Which would mean that the hive would be worth investigating, though I’m afraid of what we’ll find in there.”

“Honey, mostly.” Ginelle says, trying not to drool.

“Well, if this Princess is subverting the power of the Queen, then perhaps removing her will free both the Bee Girls and the hold on the Plant Monsters in the city?” You say.

Finn nods his head in agreement. “Yes. Given our forces, a strike like that would be prudent, but I can’t commit everything to it.” He looks out the window to the blitzer standing motionless in the camp. “However, with something like this on our side, we might have far more firepower than I was expecting.”

                He points at the map. “City Hall is still a top goal, but it might have to be the end game. I can’t imagine anyone could still be holding out there but if the mayor is still alive he would be there. Also, from what you’ve said from Madam Illoma’s message, that might be where she was last as well.”

                Ophelia sits up, interested. “I… hope so.”

                “Well, all of you need a rest before you collapse.” He says. “We need to reinforce the area and use Harmony for more recon before we push out anyway. Think over the next move before tomorrow. We’re here to save this city so the sooner the better, but no reason to collapse.”

                “Got it sir.” You say, lounging back on the couch in the command center.

                “You have your own room.” He sighs.

                “I know.” You say, your mind drifting to what your next step will be.

Chapter 45

                The sun has risen, but you sure as the hells haven’t. After being up for so long and all the stress of combat and using your power, you pass out as soon as Finn gives you the clear to do so. Blessedly the commandeered space had bedrooms, which your lovely commanding officer allowed you to make use of after having Ginelle hoist you over her shoulder off the plush couch you were drooling on. Okay so, you have to share the room with Ophelia but that’s fine. Neither of you have the energy to be embarrassed about it anyway.

                You awaken in the afternoon feeling groggy and with a headache, but otherwise fine. After a quick wash of your face and change of clothing. Ginelle and Clint slept well while Ophelia mewled like a kit and wouldn’t get up until Ginelle, bless her, hoisted HER over her shoulder and got her going.

                All of you are professionals.

                Once situated and with a nice meal from the stores that the Order troops brought, you find yourself back in Finn’s command center. The man looks a little tired himself, though the way he tries to hide it shows his experience. He’s not fooling anyone present, however, not that he needs to.

                “Good morning sleepyheads.” He says, looking over a report. “I trust you’re ready for another raid?”

                “I suppose, the last one provided some good gear.” You say, smirking at Ophelia who cocks her head at you with confusion.

                “Yes, those constructs are rather impressive.” Finn says. “I’m surprised something like that hasn’t been approved for use by the military. What was it doing there in the Manufactorum?”

                “Classified.” Ophelia says before you can say anything. “How are the men we brought back?”

                “Scared, tired, and drained of anything in their balls.” Finn says. “They were in surprisingly good shape however so that Alarune must have been providing them nutrients to keep them going. I don’t think they’re in any fit state to push them for questions at the moment but I trust they’ll be fine soon.”

                “Good.” Ophelia sighs, putting a furred hand to her chest.

                “What’s this about a raid?” Clint asks, looking over at the map. “I see you’ve marked the Bee Girl’s hive.”

                “Exactly right.” Finn says. “We need to eliminate the enemy’s air support if we have a hope of doing this. It’s both a blessing and a curse that they have such a centralized structure and eliminating or capturing their Queen and this Princess should allow us to neutralize, or even sway them to help us liberate the town.”

                “Maybe.” Ginelle says, shrugging. “If they don’t retreat into their hive. Either way it’s all the same I suppose.”

                “You really do not like those Bee Girls. What did they do, beat you up and throw you into a river?” Rayleigh asks, entering the room. She salutes to Finn before handing him a paper and says, “Scouts are back. As suspected, there’s no good way into the main square without getting past that tree. Patrols of some of the mobile Monsters has increased however they haven’t been seen massing in a manner like the Manufactorum. In fact they seem content to protect the northwest part of town. Otherwise, we’ve yet to find any sign of people in the streets.”

                “Do you think they’re inside the houses?” Finn asks.

                “Possibly. Unless they were taken away elsewhere.” Rayleigh says.

                “Plant Monsters still crave after semen, they are still Monsters.” You say, shrugging. “Though given how crazy some of them are I wonder if they even know what to do with them. Not to mention the females…”

                “Yes that is concerning as well.” Finn mutters before turning to you. “The mobile Plant Monsters aren’t exactly… common, right?”

                “I don’t recall seeing many of them. Certainly not full Alarune that were running at people.” You say before it hits you. “Oh Gods, you don’t think that-?”

                “I don’t want to jump to conclusions.” Finn says, though everyone looks downcast at the thought. He takes a deep breath before slapping the paper onto the table. “All the more reason to move swiftly to liberate this city!”

                “Sir!” Your group says in unison, despite yourselves. Look at you, good little irregulars.

                “Which brings us back to the Hive.” He says, looking tapping the report. “As you’re aware, we don’t have the forces for an all out assault against an entrenched enemy and frankly I’d rather have this tidied up before the army gets here.”

                “Of course.” You say. “But with them guarding that area and potential of Plant Monsters lying in wait inside the buildings it would be easy to be surrounded and defeated before we even make it to the hive.”

                “Which brings us to you. I need a small team to go in and capture the Queen and Princess. We’ll make a diversion and allow you to enter. Rayleigh has an excellent suggestion for that I believe.”

                Rayleigh waves her hands before clapping and creating a small stream of smoke. She waves it away a moment later and says, “Well, for normal bees you smoke them before getting that honey. Might work just as well on the Bee Girls too, and at the very least we can discourage the plant Monsters from attacking us. Worst case, there’s tons of canals around that area.”

                “That sounds dangerous for us too.” Clint says. “We have some [Fire Resist Potions] for the heat, but the visibility will be poor and so will our lungs.”

                “Not to worry.” Finn says. “We have gear on hand for that. Certainly not as great as unobstructed views, but you won’t choke on the smoke. The masks you’ll be wearing are also outfitted with [Mage-Sight Goggles] so you’ll have a little better ability to pick out signals in the Hive.

                “Goal is to get in and get out, huh?” You say, rolling your shoulder and wincing. Ouch. “When we do leave?”

                “Sunset. Get ready for another full night.”

                “Oh, I’m ready.” Ginelle says, a smirk on her face. “I’m ready.”

—————————————————————————————————————————

                Long shadows cast by the setting sun over the quiet buildings gives you a sense of foreboding as you wait for your signal. It still unnerves you to see the streets so empty, so quiet. Even if you liberate the city, will it be the same?

The sigil in your hand feels heavy as you wait out on the edge of the district, inside a building that was deemed clear. Once the smokescreen is in place, you’ll move in and do your job, quick and clean. You hope anyway, nothing is ever quick, nor clean.

“Too bad we couldn’t bring that construct with us.” Ginelle says, lounging about on the couch.

“Yes, because that’s very… stealthy.” Clint says, rifle at the ready. “I just hope Ophelia is fine out there. She should have rested more back at the camp.”

“I feel comfortable with her being near someone like Finn.” You say. “Will make it less likely for her to get kidnapped if she’s with someone we can trust.”

“Well, Rayleigh is there.”

“She’s learned her lesson.” You mutter.

“I’m sure she has.” Clint says, not looking at you.

Before you can say anything in response, you feel a pulse from the sigil and hear Finn’s voice. {It’s time, get moving.}

{Roger.} You send, putting the sigil away and pulling out the mask you’d been given. It looks like a [Plague Doctor’s Mask] but the front part has a filtration system that uses magitek while the eyepieces reflect in multicolored light as they see through magic.

The three of you drink your potions and don your masks to find them much more uncomfortable than you expected. Ginelle grumbles about not being able to smell or hear that well, but all of you suck it up and leave the building to find what is both surprising and expected in the distance.

A thick column of smoke blows across the city and toward the large structure in the distance that seems to be built into a hill inside the town. You’re too far away and with the mask in place you can’t hear any signs of battle, but you know with something like this, Finn is sure to have engaged.

In the distance Bee Girls fly out from the smoke as it billows into the Hive, the Monsters diving down toward the source. They seem completely uninterested in following the streets otherwise, and it would appear that Plant Monsters are doing the same. Your path is unimpeded as you make your way forward, visibility becoming poorer and poorer as the smoke greets you.

And then you’re inside it. Without the special goggles, you’d have a hard time seeing much of anything. As it stands you see faint whispers of buildings and debris, though you’re forced to go slowly anyway as not to trip and fall. As you approach, you begin to find Bee Girls collapsed on the ground, dead or asleep, you’re not certain, but you don’t exactly have time to find out. Instead you merely press forward until your foot contacts something wet and sticky.

Looking down, you notice that the ground has changed from cobbles to a thick, what you assume is brownish substance. Ahead of you are more Bee Girls, laying down in front of a large, cavernous entrance.

“We’re here.” Ginelle says. “The Hive entrance itself. Watch out, the floor can be sticky and tricky.”

She leads the way, her feet sucking down into the substance of the hive while your shoes do the same. It feels like you’re walking in mud at times the way it sloshes but you press on, looking for threats. No one opposes you however, and you walk past a wooden gate in the hive to enter a place you wish you could see properly.

Through the haze you see massive, hexagonal structures along the walls, filled with various, indistinct objects. They look like apartment complexes, stacked neatly atop each other. Further in you find smaller hexagons lining the walls, making almost a mosaic pattern. The floor begins to show similar patterns too though they’re still a little sticky on your feet.

A series of hallways filled with the drifting smoke file out in front of you. Fortunately, through the goggles you can see a concentration of mana down one of them. There’s no guarantee that this Queen is a Monster witch, but if anyone was going to be one, you figure it would be her.

Gods bless these being mage-sight goggles enough to see through the bullshit your mind would make you see. You think they’d see through your insanity-induced hallucinations? Actually you’re not quite certain, but now isn’t the time to worry about that. That comes later.

As you wave the direction to go, you pause to notice Ginelle poking the wall, her finger bursting one of the honeycombs there. Sweet honey dribbles down from the wall and all over her hand. She just stands there, letting it get on her hand, unmoving. Groaning, you wave to Clint.

                The man puts a hand on Ginelle’s shoulder and she turns to him, her eyes unreadable through the mask. He says something soft to her and she steps back before looking at her hand and then slouching before nodding and leaving the wall to dribble the sweet secretion.

                You wondered if this was going to be a problem. It seems she’s under control, but for how much longer? It doesn’t escape your notice that she looks down at her hand every now and then and you know she want to tear off her mask and go to town on that honey. Thank the Gods there’s so much smoke here or else-

                “H-Halt!” You hear from down the hallway.

                Two figures light up, faint magical energy of a living being present through your goggles. They’re two Bee Girls, larger than those you saw outside. Both of them carry spears that they seem like they know how to use, guarding a large, honeycombed door set into the wall. They might be imposing…if they weren’t staggering.

                “Ladies, ladies.” You say through your mask, not bother to illusion your voice louder. “Aren’t you a little tired?”

                “N-no, we have to protect the Queen and… the… p…” One of them says before slumping to the ground. The other watches but lets out a yawn a moment later and she too falls asleep.

                “Illusion?” Clint asks.

                “They were already tired. It was more of a suggestion.” You say, waving to Ginelle. She checks on the two before nodding and opening the door.

                Soft trails of smoke waft into the room as you enter the pristine environment, untouched by the smoke. The the room is huge, a honeycombed matrix that reaches up to a conical ceiling. Along the walls a steady stream of honey dribbles forth into pools along the side while at the back of the room sits a massive throne made of the same beeswax as the rest of the colony.

                Your heart sinks as you see the size of the room. At this distance there’s no way you’ll be so lucky as to flood the room with smoke. A shame too, because you’re most certainly not alone.

                The room is filled with men of various ages, some of them holding onto young Bee Girls as they look on in shock while you enter the room. Only three of the larger Bee Girls are present, them bristling with their spears ready, throwing arms out to protect the men. Back on the throne, however, sits a tall, regal Bee Girl with the same dignity and bearing you’ve seen only in Monsters like Selene.

                She’s as tall as the guardian Bee Girls but her bee-like abdomen is longer than theirs, her wings more resplendent upon her back. Her skin is a beautiful shade of cream and she has long, brown hair that frames a mature, stern face. She is naked, save for a tiara that rests upon her head, the only thing made of silver you’ve seen in here.

                “Queen Bee?” You ask, taking the power stance as you thumb your belt loops “I’m DSS.”

                “How DARE you.” She says, hands gripping her throne. “How dare you threaten my Hive and then enter my chambers like this! Do you know what you’ve done?!”

                “Do you know what you’ve done?” You ask. “Your drones have helped propagate murders in the city. And for what? Some plants? If you come quietly we promise not to hurt you or any of your Hive.”

                She grits her teeth, wings buzzing behind her. “You don’t understand anything. Guards! Capture them!”

                The three guards leap into the air amidst cries of panic from the men and the children. The level their spears and charge at you from the skies, but you don’t move. Maintaining the power stance, you stare at the Queen as Clint drops one of the guards with a clean shot to the chest with his rifle while Ginelle dodges another and grabs her leg as she flies by, dragging her down into a brawl.

                The final guard pauses mid-flight, confusion coming over her face. She stares at you, wide-eyed, unable to comprehend what she’s seeing. Ah you can see it now. “Why doesn’t he move? What is he planning? That stance, is so powerful-“

                She barely has time to scream as Clint drops her as well, the man’s rifle whining as it cycles through the mana capacitor for the next shot. The men look on in horror as the two Bee Girls with holes in their chests lay on the ground, motionless, while Ginelle beats the shit out of the other one. The fight doesn’t last long, and she stands up over the unconscious body, panting in her mask before tearing it off and roaring, honey on her hand dripping down into her mouth.

                The men pull away the children and look on in fear. They whisper to themselves about the great devourer, the destroyer of hives, the breaker of combs.

                “You…” The Queen mutters, standing up from her throne. “I remember you…”

                “We’ve never met.” Ginelle says, licking honey off her hand.

                “No, but I know of you. Disgusting. Honey Badger is it? You’re ruination wherever you go.”

                “Is that a challenge?” Ginelle asks, stretches her clawed hands. “I’m ready to go. I hear royal jelly is the good stuff.”

                “Ginelle…” Clint says, weapon trained on the Queen. “Don’t forget why we’re here.”

                “Shut up!” She says, breath heavy, eyes darting about.

                “Damnit.” You say, feeling nervous. You’re in a room surrounded by honey and innocent people with relapsed addict of a Honey Badger who just had a taste of combat and the fresh stuff. This is not going to end well. Better make this quick.

                “Queen, you better round up your daughter and surrender now.” You say, watching Ginelle. “I’m not certain how much longer we have.”

                “Daughter?” She says, cocking her head. “My daughters have all left the Hive. What nonsense are you talking about?”

                “Wait but-“

                “AHHHHH!” Ginelle shouts. She leaps forward before you can stop her and onto the Queen, pushing her down in a fit of honey induced rage. The Queen cries out in anger and, surprisingly, flies into the air, carrying Ginelle with her as she uses her arms to try to pry the Badger Girl off. They fight amidst screams before slamming into a wall and sliding down the sticky trail of honey to where they land in a pool of the stuff, both rising up to be covered in the glorious yellow goo.

                “Damnit!” Clint says he tries to level a shot. Men block his shot while also growing irate, unable to watch their Queen be harmed like this. Things are getting out of hand, and fast. Ginelle seems to have the upper hand with the Queen, and with this much honey around there’s no way her will can last. It’s highly likely she’ll kill the Queen!

                Though this would end your Bee Girl troubles in the short term, you’ll get no further answers. Not to mention the irate men in the room too. But is it worth trying to pull Ginelle off her?

Can you pull Ginelle off her?  

                Ginelle roars as she headbutts the Queen, the monarch crying in pain as she recoils, doing her best to get away from the maddened Badger Girl. The stickiness of the honey attached to her naked body and Ginelle’s fur, not to mention the claws of the Badger Girl herself make this a futile task, and her extra set of arms can only try unsuccessfully to defend herself from harm.

                “Get off me!” The Queen cries. “Damn you, someone get this thing off me!”

                The men in the room, their testicles tingling at the sight of a woman, even one taller than some of them and with a few less than human features, begin to react. One of them picks up a fallen spear from the Guards who were shot and levels it Ginnelle. From the way he’s holding it, it actually looks like he knows how to use it. Perhaps he was a guard before he got married.

                “No, no, no!” Clint says, training his rifle on the man. The others in the crowd murmur, pulling the children farther away or ducking while the man with the spear turns and looks at Clint, judging the danger. He’s not the only one to react in such a fashion, the men realizing quickly that you’re hopelessly outnumbered. Infact, had they realized this sooner, perhaps no one would have gotten hurt.

                “Don’t shoot.” You say, putting your hand on his rifle.

                “I wasn’t… going to.” He says, hesitating at the end there. Knowing the man, he probably wasn’t. He isn’t exactly fond of shooting innocents, especially when his actions are, in the end, the aggressors. Of course, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t, you damn sure know that for a fact.

                “You need to get Ginelle to stop, right now!” You say to him, still thinking of another way out of this.

                “And how do you expect me do that? She’s fucking binged out on honey and fighting a fucking Bee Girl Queen!”

                You stare at the man, trying not to show your concern. Clint is composed in most situations, or at least speaks in manner befitting it. Now, however, he’s clearly starting to slip from fear. Not for himself, no, but for Ginelle.

                Damnit. If you can pull Ginelle off the Queen, you can probably make your way out of here okay, even with those men riled up. You need that damn bee alive as you have questions for her, and it would guarantee your safety. Probably. The only trouble is how to get it done. Given her current state, an illusion may be easy to do, but she’s also on autopilot and you’d rather not have the Queen beat the shit out of her either so it needs to be fast.

                There is one way but…

                The man with the spear seems to realize that Clint isn’t going to shoot him after all. He turns and begins to run at Ginelle. Clint snaps his rifle to him again, but you push it out of the way and the shot goes wide, thankfully only blasting a chunk of beeswax off the floor and not someone’s head.

                “Fuck!” Clint shouts as the man rushes forward. He has little fear however, and Ginelle and the Queen both topple into the honey as he charges in, the man’s momentum carrying him forward into the honey, where he splashes without causing any damage, instead shouting as he’s carried into the maelstrom as the two resurface.

                The other men, seeing this, finally rile up. There’s no sense trying to talk them out of it, they’re scared and want to protect their homes. Even if some of them ended up here in less than desirable terms, they clearly have something worth protecting. It breaks you heart to be the one in this position, but it isn’t as if you haven’t done it before. And as you’ve learned before, sometimes sacrifices need to be made.

                “I’ll help her but I need you not to die.” You say to Clint, stepping backward as men rush toward the two of you. The man only has a moment to give you a surprised look before turning about to defend himself as five men swarm at him.

                He smashes one with his gun butt while keeping his ground against the other men. You don’t have the chance to help him as two men rush at you as well, their bare hands more than enough weapons to take you down. Or they would be, if you didn’t have SOME experience in fights. Without even needing illusions, you duck past them and deliver blows to their guts, magnified with simple illusions to make it seem like you hit something a little more vital. They go down with screams.

                With that out of the way, you turn back to Clint and your eyes go wide as you shout, “Clint, no! Oh Gods, Clint don’t die!”

                Across the room, covered in honey, Ginelle’s attention finally snaps away from her opponent and the honey clinging to her body. Her eyes go wide at what she sees and she drops the Queen into the honey as she takes a staggering step forward.

                Clint grunts as a man holds a spear, impaled into his abdomen. He clutches it while surrounded by other men, who hold him back as the spear is cruelly twisted into his gut, the man screaming in pain as he’s brutalized.

                Now, you thought you’d heard screams beforehand, but this thing that issues from Ginelle is possibly the most rage and grief filled utterance you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to listen to. She bursts from the pool of honey as if it weren’t viscous as hell and moves like a battering ram through the men foolish enough to get in her way.

                All eyes go to Ginelle as she scatters the men around Clint, growling at them in a manner that is terrifying despite her being slathered in honey. She holds him in her arms, the man coughing as she holds him to her breast, tears beginning to stream from her eyes.

                “Oh Gods, Clint… Clint!” She cries. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to- Oh Gods he’s dying!”

                Clint coughs weakly and looks up at Ginelle. He says, voice hoarse, “I… I’m not dying.”

                “You have a spear run through your belly you idiot! No one lives through that!”

                “What are you… talking about?” He wheezes. “I just got the shit kicked out of me when that chicken shit Tobias…” He shudders then, coughing more.

                “Tobias he… he…” Ginelle stares at Clint then before narrowing her eyes. She widens them a moment later and roars, “THAT SON OF A BITCH!”

                “Rude.” You say, knife in hand as you place it to the Queen’s throat. She gasps, looking up at you from where she was watching the touching scene between Ginelle and Clint play out.

                “H-how? Where did?”

                “Please, no one is supposed to notice the guy in black on stage.” You say, holding your knife steady. “The show is more interesting anyway.”

                You see her consider trying to attack you, but Ginelle’s beatings have made her body a mess of bruises and she can barely keep herself from swaying as she kneels in the honey, the sticky solution coming up to her waist.

                By this point the men have begun to shout as they realize you snuck past them when you tricked Ginelle. They point between you and your friends, but even a non-berserk Ginelle is a threat and you have a knife to the throat of the Queen. All in all, you have the upper hand, for now. Your advantage only lasts as long as the smoke however, and given it’s started to become a trickle from the outside, you’re running out of time.

                “Alright your highness, tell the men to stand down and no one gets hurt.”

                “You seem to break that promise fairly easily.”

                “You think I can control that girl when she’s hopped up on honey? You best be thankful her man is here or else I don’t think I could stop her from turning you into a pile of goo.”

                “Tch.” She says, raising her voice as much as she can, she says to the men, “Back down. I have surrendered. There is no more reason for anyone to get hurt.”

                The men look to each other before backing away or moving to help the wounded. Nodding your head, you say, “I’m glad we understand each other. Now we’ll return to the command center and you’ll order your good little drones to stop aiding the plants so we can get this damn city back to normal.”

                “You speak as if it’s that easy.”

                “I’m sure we deal with your daughter as well and it will be much easier to do so if you’re alive so she doesn’t become the next Queen.”

                The Queen looks back to you with disgust. “I told you before, my daughters left the Hive! Why do you persist in this?”

                “Some of your drones and at least one of those Alarunes serve the Princess. I don’t know why a Bee Girl is part of this bullshit, but we’re putting an end to it.”

                She blinks at you, surprise on her features. “You… you think that the Princess is a Bee Girl?” A smirk comes across her face as she begins to chuckle. “You’re actually clueless about what’s going on in this city, aren’t you? No wonder it fell so quickly.”

                Now it’s your turn to be confused. “If it’s not a Bee Girl, then who the hells is this Princess?”

                “The Queen Alarune’s daughter, of course. Showed up when those leyways stopped working out of the blue. She’s the one who’s in control of this mess, the one who gave my Hive the ultimatum of join or die.”

                “The Queen Alarune’s…” You trail off as the implications of this set in. Of course she’d be a Princess as well, but you thought- no, no it would make far more sense for that Alarune to follow someone like her over a Bee Girl.

                “I tried to get as many men here as part of our deal instead of letting them go to the Princess for whatever this seedbloom she’s doing is. But now it’s all for naught. She’ll find out soon that I’m gone and my Bee Girls will be destroyed along with these men.”

                “Well you certainly know how to make a man feel like shit.” You say, muttering to yourself. “We’re here to put a stop to all of this, but we don’t have time to talk it out at the moment. You’re coming with us for now, but I promise we’ll do everything we can to keep your people from being hurt. As long as they don’t hurt us, we’ll make this quick.”

                “Fine.” She says, closing her eyes. You sense something… you’re not quite certain what you sense, but you think it’s magical in origin. You always sort of thought they used pheromones to control the others, but magic, huh? “The Bee Girls who are conscious have disengaged. Given the smoke they won’t be able to interfere I’d imagine.” She sighs. “I could use a nap as well.”

                “Perfect.” You say, goading her to move. “Ginelle, Clint, we’re going.”

                “Fuck you!” Ginelle says, standing up while still holding Clint. “You played us!”

                “We can discuss me being an asshole after we get out of here, now would you kindly put your mask back on?”

                Ginelle grumbles and put her mask back on at Clint’s urging, the man hobbling as Ginelle takes hold of the Queen. One of the men, somehow having the balls to act despite the surrender being called, takes your arm as you walk past. While you consider stabbing him, he says, looking at your eyes through the mask,

                “You’re going to get this city back to normal?”

                “That’s the intention. When would the DSS lie to someone?”

                He doesn’t know how to respond as you break free and make your back outside, and into the smoke.

                The Queen becomes drowsy very quickly before passing out entirely as you make your way out of the Hive. When you reach the outside of the cave, you take your sigil in hand and contact Finn.

                {We have the VIP. How are things on your end?}

                {The Bee Girls disengaged suddenly, which I suspect is your doing. Gave us enough of a breather to fend off the Plant Monsters else I wouldn’t be able to chat. I’ll send someone to rendezvous with you and we’ll retreat.}

                {Yes sir.} You send back before breaking from the sigil.

                “Alright, we’re headed back to the command center for now.”

                Ginelle, honey caked to her body, pointedly refuses to do more than grunt, while Clint mutters something from within his mask as he hobbles toward your extraction point. Ah hells, they have every right to be mad, but how much worse would it have been for both them and you if you’d been forced to go with your backup plan? [Eye of Fear] is the most powerful tool in your arsenal and it scares you more than you’d like to think to use it. Even doing what you did back there makes your head tingle, though thank the Gods it didn’t require much effort to pull off due to it being believable.

                Choosing to keep the silence for now, you make your way through the dissipating smoke until you’re met by another group of Heroes, this time with no Rayleigh leading them, and return to the command center with the Queen in hand.

————————————————————————————————————————–

                “Well done.” Finn says, nursing a wound on his arm. “Casualties were minimal and the Bee Girl Queen is under our supervision. Even if they attacked us, we could fend them off, though you’re sure she won’t?”

                You shrug, wiping your face again. Though you’ve bathed and changed, you still feel like you’re covered in soot, smoke, and honey. It was in between your toes when you removed your shoes, bleh. “She seemed willing to cooperate, however she’s enjoying her nap after Ginelle’s beating.”

                “Yes, I have guards and a medic on her.” He looks troubled. “Speaking of Ginelle, I heard what happened and-“

                “It was a terrible thing to do to an ally, yes I understand, but it needed to be done. It was the best outcome.”

                Finn sighs. “I understand. I believe it was the best course to take too, but I’m worried it will cause division. Those two really trust you, especially Ginelle. Clint will be fine with some rest but she seems hurt.”

                “And you can’t have your berserker losing efficiency at the moment.”

                “Harsh, but also true.” He looks at the report you submitted again before sighing. “So the Princess was the Alarune Queen’s daughter all along. I don’t know how she got here or how long she’s been waiting, but this doesn’t bode well given what we know and I would bet it’s connected to the leyline corruption if that’s the case.”

                “My thoughts too.” You say. “Which could explain the magical signatures that Harmony saw in the Arboretum. I’m worried about whatever this ‘seedbloom’ they’re talking about is too.”

                “We’ll have to wait for the Queen to wake up for more information, but it’s time to plan our next move as well. With the hive gone, we can focus on ground targets and utilize the constructs that you retrieved from the Manufactorum.” He taps the map. “City Hall is important, as is possibly the Arboreteum. Given the assault, we took out a lot of mobile Monsters from near the warehouse district too…”

                “Ah.” You say, getting his meaning.

                “It’s going to be dawn soon. You better get some sleep.” He says, ending it there. “We’ll discuss the next plan of action soon. I’m sure there’s other things you need to take care of too.”

                “Yeah.” You sigh as you rub at your forehead. “Yeah I suppose you’re right.”

———————————————————————

                Despite needing to sleep off the exertions of earlier, and having a mild twinge in your head, you feel more anxious than tired. The way forward to the end is getting closer and closer, yet you had to do something pretty atrocious to get there. It’s causing you no end of grief thinking about it, so instead of turning to your room, you head for Clint and Ginelle’s. Hand raised to knock, you pause as you listen to what’s being said behind the door.

                “You know he didn’t mean any harm in doing that.”

                “Says the man who got beaten up because of him.”

                “It’s… not the first time.”

                “I’m beginning to wonder if we really should have helped him out.”

                “You were the one who wanted to go on this adventure in the first place. Though I’ll admit it’s rather important.”

                “So are you and- wait.”

                Turning on your heel, you skedaddle away, knowing that Ginelle must have caught your scent. Given how things currently are, you better not agitate the current situation. Maybe once they’ve had time to cool off, get some sleep, fuck or something… Yes, you’ll leave it for later.

                Your stomach clenches thinking about it though. Ginelle is such a dear friend to you, and Clint is- well, Clint makes Ginelle happy you guess. Although he did his best to keep her away from you, didn’t he? Maybe he foresaw something like this happening, you’re not certain. Perhaps you don’t blame him as much as before.

                The clenching comes again, though perhaps it’s more of a gurgle this time. Maybe some food will make you feel better?

                You move through the hallways and down the stairs of your little command post until you reach the makeshift mess hall. In truth it’s a dining room with a few extra tables crammed in next to a proper kitchen. Smells of food cooking linger in the air, but very few people are present inside the mess. You figure most of them ate before heading to sleep or other duties, but the Heroes acting as chefs still have some food to give you as they close up shop.

                Sighing, you sit down at the large table and feel comforted at least to have some decent food. This place had a decent larder and as far as anyone could tell, the food wasn’t poisoned. No one’s dead so far so you assume that’s the case.

                “What’s with the long face?”

                Looking up from the food, you blink twice as you realize Ophelia is sitting next to you, fork in her mouth. She takes it out and yawns before going in for more of… are those stewed carrots?

                “You look tired. I heard everything went well on your end though?”

                “Yeah, we got the Queen and such but we still need to question her.”

                “Oh that’s good. The Blitzer did great for us, smashed apart some more of those mutant Alarunes. I shudder to think what would have happened if it weren’t there. Still, casualties were light thankfully and we  But all’s well that ends well, hmm?”

                “Yeah, I guess.”

                Ophelia watches you for a moment before narrowing her eyes and waving her fork at you. “Alright, what’s eating you? Speaking of eating, why hasn’t Ginelle come down to gobble everything up?”

                “She’s with Clint. He got beat up pretty bad in the fight, but he’ll be fine after some rest and a potion.”

                “Huh, I mean she likes the guy but if he’s going to be fine then she wouldn’t be cooped up. Or she’d be asleep.” The Rabbit Girl’s ears stand up.

“What happened?”

                You sigh and say, “Ginelle went berserk after eating a bunch of honey and I had to use an illusion on her. To make it work I needed Clint to… be in a modicum of danger.”

                “Wow.” She says, staring at you, eyes wide. “That’s pretty messed up.”

                “Yeah, I know.” You say, suddenly not hungry. “I was going to apologize but-“

                “But Ginelle is still upset and you know it won’t go anywhere.” Ophelia sighs, sticking her fork in her food again. “Well, that’s our Ginelle I guess. Want me to talk with her?”

                “Eh? You’re not pissed at me?”

                “We… all have our reasons for doing things that could have consequences.” She looks down, rueful smile on her face. “We think it’s best at the time, but sometimes they cause more problems than they’re worth. It’s… good to remember that when judging others.”

                “I see.” You say, folding your hands together. After a moment you sigh out, “Okay, yeah if you could? I’ll see if the Queen is awake yet and then…”

                “Yes, yes.” She says, finishing off the last of her meal, smile on her face. “Oh well, I’m not dead and seeing a mopey Tobias brings back some memories. I’ll pave the way for you.”

                “Thanks Ophelia. I really… I really do appreciate you. You’re dear to me.”

                She pauses and then smirks at you, cheeks a little red. “I’m telling Saya.”

                “Oh you better not-“

                “Oh you bet I am!”

                “Gah!” You say as she jumps away, nibble as a jackrabbit. The two of you leave with smiles however, though your plate you leave on the table is quickly devoured by another hungry hungry Hero.

                Feeling at least a little better, you head from the mess to the makeshift holding cell. Again, it’s more of a small room for the serving staff but it’s well guarded by two Heroes who look none to pleased to be there. They recognize you on sight however and allow you in, given you’re the one who delivered her in the first place.

                Inside the room you see Harmony standing over a bed where the Queen sleeps, blanket covering her nude body. Bruises show on her face and you’re sure there’s quite a few scrapes and scratches, but the healer in the party determined nothing was going to cause any complications… not that he healed much to be sure.

                “Tobias? Shouldn’t you be asleep?” Harmony asks, not looking at you. Or maybe she is, it’s hard to tell with constructs.

                “Yes, but I wanted to see if our guest had anything she wanted to say.”

                “The only thing she’s said so far is mumbling about how comfy she is.” Harmony cocks her head. “I don’t think the Bee Girls really use beds in the traditional sense.”

                “What strange lives they live.” You say, pulling up a chair and sitting next to the bed, watching her. “Why are you on guard duty anyway?”

                “I don’t sleep and I can fly.”

                “That is quite the resume.”

                “Hrmph…” The Queen mutters, stirring on the bed. Her eyes slowly blink open a moment later and she yawns before sitting up and stretching, baring her naked chest. She begins to cough violently a moment later, some black debris coming from her lungs.

                “Gah!” She says, placing her chitinous hands to her chest. “Smoke… inhalation. Horrific and-“ She pauses and looks around before focusing on you. “Oh. I see.”

                “Good morning.” You say, looking out at the window nearby. “Oh I guess it is actually morning and I’m not being a smartass. A shame.”

                The Queen looks out as dawn slowly creeps over the land, casting a trickle of light into the room which was dimly lit by a candle beforehand. Her eyes turn to the flame and you wonder what she’s thinking before she sighs and raises one of hands toward you.

                “Well? What now?”

                “I have a few questions for you. I’d like if we could cooperate because I don’t think we’re enemies.”

                “I hope not.” She says. “Because if more of my subjects are harmed because of your decisions, then your badger be damned, you will burn in the hells.”

                “Badger?” Harmony says. “Ah, the wounds make more sense now.”

                “I promise no harm will come to them if they bring no harm to us. I’m certain Captain Finn will help out any citizen of Loveura who wishes to escape this battle.”

                She crosses her arms over her breasts. “I see. Then what do you wish to know?”

                “The first question is why you were helping them? Some of your Bee Girls said there was some kind of deal between you and them. Were there men you took as part of this deal?”

                “Yes. To save them from being taken by those plants.” She says without hesitation. “When the leyways were suddenly stopped, a great confusion came over the city. My drones sensed a change beginning in the plant Monsters and gathered up inside the hive. The plants then began to grow berserk, causing much damage in the city. We waited it out until soon after the Princess showed herself.”

                “Yes, this Princess.” You say. “You said she was the Queen Alarune’s daughter? How did she get here?”

                “She appeared from the warehouse district. No one knows how long she had been there, but she seemed in control of many Alarunes and a few Monsters I haven’t seen in this city before. She made an ultimatum for us to work together, or to be subjugated like the rest of the city. Though we had never had anything but a mutual relationship with the plants in this city, I could tell this was not to be in our favor. Still, I agreed as it is my duty not to see my subjects come to harm.”

                Her wings buzz behind her for a moment, Harmony turning her head slowly to watch, but not making any movements. You know she would in a heartbeat if it came to that, however.

                “My drones quickly reported that she had moved to the Arboreteum and was taking as many men and women there. I agreed to have them help round them up, in exchange for keeping a share of men. This was found to be agreeable and we did our best to protect them. The women…”

                “You delivered to her, because you couldn’t use them anyway.” You say, stone faced. “I don’t blame you, not really. So what is she doing with them? What is this seedbloom I hear so much about?”

                The Queen shrugs. “My drones are not allowed in the Arboreteum. I only know that more of those mobile plant Monsters leave every day however I do not see the men, women, or other Monsters come out. As far as this seedbloom, I have heard of it, but I do not know what it refers to.”

                “Well I guess that was too much to hope for.” You sigh. “You have drones everywhere, what’s the state of the city?”

                “The residential districts have been raided but most have men claimed by plants already living there. I believe you cleared out much of the stragglers in the manufacturing district, while the warehouse district was teeming with them.” She closes her eyes and focuses before nodding. “Though my drones report there are fewer, they’re still moving around a few warehouses.”

                “Why so important?”

                “They had my drones move crates from the arboreteum to there a few times. I don’t know the significance of it, but I do know that they have fortified the Leyway station. My drones were part of the defense for some reason but this is clearly not the case any longer.”

                “Leyway? Why…” You mutter to yourself. “So they really want to return there? Hmm.”

                “You seek to remove the Princess then?” She asks, catching your attention.

                “Of course, we mean to liberate the city and eliminating her would be the best way. Especially if she seems to be able to control these… plants.”

                “I see.” The Queen says. “She controls most of the city however, even the areas cleared may not be safe. This little territory you have claimed if not safe either. The only place she cannot reach is the main district.”

                “Eh?” You ask, confused. “Why?”

                “The ancient tree there. It is too wild even for her to control. No one can get in or out due to the roots and the tree itself.”

                You perk up. “So Ulala might be… no, even better, Richard might be-!” After realizing your excitement, you cough into your hand and say, “Good. So perhaps some of the officials might be still in the city hall then?”

                “Perhaps.” She says, shrugging.

                “You know, you could work with us.” You ask, holding out a hand. “We wouldn’t ask for your Bee Girls to fight, but just passing information would be invaluable.”

                “Would you release me if I agreed?”

                Harmony looks to you.

                “That… isn’t up to me.” You say with hesitation. “But I’m sure it would look good if you did. Would make this much easier.”

                “I will wish to speak with this ‘Captain Finn’ before making an assertion one way or another.” She says. “However, I will let you know that my recovered drones have noticed an entrance into the city via the north gate, which the plants control.”

                “Entrance? By who?”

                “A lone human. Female, blonde hair.” She shakes her head. “She was taken away by the plants to the arboretum without any contest, and they seemed almost… deferential to her.”

                “Blonde haired woman…” You mutter. Why is that familiar? Well, it can’t be good, one way or another. “Thank you for the information, I’ll deliver it to Captain Finn.”

                “Very well, is that everything?”

                “I believe so. Thank you for being cooperative.”

                “As long as that Badger Girl stays away, I’m fine. Besides.” She lays back down on the bed. “I haven’t gotten sleep like this in quite some time. I’m going to make the most of it.”

                You chuckle softly before nodding to Harmony and leaving the room. The information you’ve been given is more than you had, but not enough to make complete sense of all of this. And your newcomer is worrisome. You’d rather not think it’s who you fear it is, but why would and how would she be down here?

                But what’s your next course of action? You know where your target is now but with a temporary reprieve into the warehouse district, you can get the herbicide. But Richard and Ulala might-

                “Oh hey Tobias.”

                You’re broken out of your thoughts once again by Ophelia. Looking about, you realized that you headed upstairs again to the rooms. The Rabbit Girl stands before you, ears flopped over as she watches you with curiosity.

“Were you thinking about what you should do?”

“Yes.” You say. “But what are you doing here?”

“Oh.” She says, looking back. “I talked to Ginelle and… mm. well, I calmed her down some but you should probably… go in.”

“Yeah, alright.” You say, looking down the hallway. “Hey, thanks for helping.”

                “You’re going to need it.” She says, patting you on the shoulder.

                Scratching at your head, you sigh and walk to their door. Without hesitating this time, you knock and wait a few moments. Footsteps are heard and a moment later the door opens, revealing Ginelle. She narrows her eyes at you but doesn’t immediately slam the door shut as she stares at you.

                “What?”

                “Can I come in? I wanted to talk.”

                Ginelle looks out the door and sniffs the air, probably checking to see if Ophelia was still present.

                “Tobias? Come on in.” Clint says from behind her.

                Ginelle sighs and lets you in. You nod to her and walk in a she shuts the door, hard.

                Upon the bed is Clint, the man dressed down with some of the bruises still showing, though they’re fading from the healing he received. He winces while waving for you to take a seat. “I wondered when you’d turn up.”

                Ginelle growls at you.

                “Yes, I had to speak with the Bee Girl Queen before I could work up the courage.” You say, smirking.

                Clint smirks back. “Ah, that’s probably not a deception I think. Though it’s hard to tell, you’re good at that.”

                You let the passive aggressive remark slide. You probably earned it anyway. “No, no deception this time. This is related to such a thing, however.”

                Turning your face up to Ginelle, you say, “I want to apologize to both of you for what happened. In the moment I believed it to be the best case to preserve the Queen and make it out of there with our lives intact. Unfortunately, it meant I had to betray the trust between us. It hurt Clint physically, and you emotionally.”

                Ginelle clenches her fist. “I can’t believe you’d do that, Tobias. After everything we’ve been through, to make me see something so horrible…” She squeezes her eyes shut.

                Clint leans over and places a hand on her arm, though he winces while doing so. “It’s not about the pains you know. Ginelle and I are used to taking a few knocks around, especially around you. But to her, you’re a little special, I hope you know that. As for me, well… this is the behavior I’d expect from a Shady.”

                He looks at you with hard eyes, “And I hoped you’d thrown that name away.”

                You clasp your hands together tight. “You’re right. I would understand if neither of you wished to have anything to do with me after this, after I dragged you from Sanctifrond out into another death trap. It was a lot to ask anyway, and I’m certain Finn would understand too. But I promise that no matter what, I won’t do this again. I won’t use this magic to hurt my friends, and I do consider both of you dear friends.”

                Clint and Ginelle look at each other. He squeezes her arm and she lets out a long, drawn out sigh before throwing her free arm up at you. “Go to bed, Tobias. We’ll discuss this further in the morning.”

                “Alright.” You say, looking to Clint, who nods back. “Try to get some rest as well. I’m sure there will be developments soon.”

                Without further ado, you leave the room and head back to yours. The light of dawn is permeating the building, but you feel so physically and mentally exhausted that you hit the bed and black out without much trouble at all. In fact, you’re asleep so readily that you just pass out.

                Of course, when you’re awoken by Rayleigh, you barely feel as if time has passed at all.

                “Get up you lazybones, Finn needs you.”

                “I’m your boss you damn squirrel…”

                “Not anymore you’re not, contractor. Get your ass up.”

                She pokes you until you roll out of bed and follow her to the command room. It’s late morning you guess by the sunlight, but when you arrive you’re not certain that Finn has slept. There may or may not be cups of coffee nearby which appear drained.

                Ophelia, Ginelle, and Clint are already in the room though, the Rabbit Girl nodding to you while the other two acknowledge you’ve entered but that’s about it. Finn watches them for a moment before waving toward you.

                “Harmony tells me you spoke with our guest. I got the gist of it from her, but if you’ll explain it.” When you finish doing so, he looks down at the map again. “So the mayor may still be alive… but the blasted Arboretum has the Princess.”

                “It’s worrisome if we were attacked from both sides while entering the main district.” Rayleigh says. “We should prioritize the Arboretum. Worst case it will be a contained fire if we have to.”

                “Given the fact that civilians are likely present we’ll want to avoid that option for now.” Ophelia says. “I’m concerned with what they’re transporting through the warehouse district. And why they would occupy the leyway station given the leyways don’t work.”

                “Tobias, what are your thoughts?” Finn asks, looking up to you. “Your group…” He trails off, looking to Ginelle and Clint. The Badger Girl sighs and nods her head, to which Finn continues, “Will likely have a role to play here. I’m worried about our visitor as well.”

                “Right.” You say, nodding to that. “However there were other concerns I wished to address. I may need your permission to take a small group into the warehouse district.”

                Finn nods his head. “Ah, I understand. If that’s your decision then we’ll hold off on any offensives. But I need to know what you intend to do.”

 

Chapter 46

                {Alright, the Queen says she’ll keep an eye out for you when you’re coming back.}

                {Thanks. If we’re lucky, this shouldn’t take too long.}

                {It better not, we have a city to save. One way or another.}

                {Roger.}

                With a sigh, you cut the connection to the sigil. Damn these things are convenient. Why doesn’t everyone have one? Probably because it takes a lot of effort to make and the port-o-glass is far more useful. Besides, there’s always the communication devices that Ophelia has.

                “Where is this warehouse?” Rayleigh asks, flickers of flame tickling around her hand.

                “I believe it was district seven, warehouse four, correct?” Harmony says, walking alongside you.

                Your current party isn’t exactly your normal one, but considering Clint’s condition and Ginelle’s disposition against you, the fact that anyone would come with you is something at least. Of course, you would have preferred someone more stealthy, but Finn didn’t exactly bring a large contingent of scouts and Ophelia is best served with her constructs and tinkering with that machine she rescued.

                The envelope in your pocket weighs heavy. Touching it again, you sigh and say, “Yes, that’s correct. It shouldn’t be too far now.”

                “I’m surprised we haven’t seen more activity.” Rayleigh says. “Didn’t the Queen say they were returning to this area?”

                “Possibly not these particular warehouses.” Harmony says. “I’d imagine them to be more… overgrown?”

                “Not necessarily, it’s easier to hide things otherwise.” You say.

                “Yeah but they control the city, what would be the point of hiding?” Rayleigh asks. “Although I guess this Princess or whatever was hiding here too.”

                You look out at the vast array of warehouses, crisscrossed by the canals running through the city. Thinking back to the Phantom Thief or that weird white Alarune, you know exactly how easy it is to hide in here. Anyone or anything could be behind the walls of the building next to you. In fact, if you just listen-

                Moaning comes from inside the building, that of a woman being pushed to ecstasy.

                Pulling away from the wall, you just keep on moving with the others, looking out for danger.

                “Hmm?” Rayleigh says, stopping in place, her ears twitching. While not as good of hearing as Ophelia, being a prey species Monster has its perks from time to time. She listens carefully before pulling the rest of you back into the shadows of a nearby building, watching. A few moments later, a group of three of the Plant Monsters with the bark-like legs appear, walking while carrying a box amongst themselves.          

                They don’t say anything as they pass, merely looking to the ground, as if lifeless, their hair hanging in matted strands around their heads. It’s a pitiful sight to behold, but also rather… disturbing. 

                “They’re headed toward the leyway station.” You mutter, watching them as they go. So that crate might be intended for that destination.

                “I don’t understand why.” Rayleigh says, shrugging. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, they can’t use them.”

                “No one just uses an area like that without a purpose.” You say, frowning. “But we cannot worry about it at the moment. It’s not like we have the forces to remove that AND worry about the arboreteum.”

                “Some well placed fire…” Rayleigh says before raising her hands. “And yes I know you’re going snap at me so it’s just a joke.”

                “We do need that facility working when this said and done.” Harmony says. “It would be difficult to reconnect the city if the leyway station was destroyed in a fire, despite how expedient it would be to clear them.”

                “Oh no, now it’s analytics about my fires.” Rayleigh sighs. “I can’t even make jokes about it anymore.”

                “That’s called being a professional.” You say, giving her a thumbs up. She just sighs as you move on.

                District three, four, and five are clear for the most part, you only needing to hide two more times as more Monsters deliver the crates. You thankfully don’t see any of the big ones, but all the ones you do see move with a single-minded purpose. Clearly someone is controlling their actions in a much more controlled manner than before.

                It isn’t until you reach near the end of the sixth district that you encounter trouble. Rayleigh grabs you by the back of your pants and drags you back as a pack of the tentacle Monsters run by toward the west, about five of them in total. You watch as they lope away, their faces filled with manic expressions rather than the dour expressions you saw beforehand. Wonder what has them so excited?

                The process is continued twice more, the plants running as if being summoned for something. Thankfully no more than fifteen or so pass you and you’re able to hide away but it’s getting harder and harder each time to do so. Where are they all going?

                “There’s a lot more here than I expected.” Rayleigh murmurs. “I thought we beat them up pretty bad. Maybe they were hiding after all?”

                “Or working until summoned.” Harmony says. “Their expressions are entirely different than the ones we’ve seen carrying cargo.”

                “To become such mindless drones…” You mutter, thinking of the Bee Girls. At least they had a degree of personality, even if they had such a link to their Queen.

                “Think we should call it in?” Rayleigh asks.

                “Yeah, alright.” You explain the situation to Finn, who says they’ll keep an eye on it. The Bee Girls in the sky make you think he’s managed to sweet talk the Queen, a little at least to watch the movements. With this set, you press forward into district seven.

                Nothing greets you as you move through these streets, thankfully. Perhaps district six was where they were storing most of their cargo? It is closest to the leyway station, but you don’t have time to figure that out unfortunately, though it does make you feel a little queasy. Perhaps burning the place down wouldn’t be so bad after all?

                Soon enough, you’re standing before warehouse four. The building is unassuming, like everything else in the area, which is entirely perfect for what it’s supposed to be holding. Confirming with the others, you have Harmony break open a side door, and you enter the warehouse.

                Darkness greets you, which is quickly dispelled by balls of flame summoned by Rayleigh. A dusty warehouse greets you, filled with the smells of must and waste products. You have to hold your nose as you enter, hand on your knife as you look for danger. Thankfully nothing greets you, but at the same time, you can’t see anything but tarp covered boxes and ghosts in the firelight.

                Rayleigh’s tail stands up and she tries to yell a warning, but before she can, a man seems to appear from the shadows, knife at your throat. The Squirrel Girl has to stifle a surprised yelp as the same happens to her, while Harmony stands in the darkness as the fire winks out, her ocular units glowing as she looks about.

                Powerful arms keep you in place as a rough voice says, “Who are you? Answer now or I’ll slit your throat.”

                “T-Tobias Shady! D-DSS! Anderson sent me!”

                “Anderson? Bullshit.” The knife presses closer to your throat.

                “Check my right inside pocket!”

                The man pauses, then expertly puts his hand into your clothing and withdraws the envelope, not releasing you or your neck. Despite the darkness, he holds it in his hand and you hear a big whiff come from the man before he breathes out. A shiver runs down your spine at the action before he kicks you forward so that you stumble to the ground.

                A light appears in his hand as he replaces his knife for a magitek lantern. Rayleigh is released as well, the other figure apparently a woman. Both of them are dressed in suits, though they look pretty ragged, shaded spectacles on their faces despite the darkness.

                “I wondered if this day would come.” He says, after reading your letter. “So you’re the troublemaker Illusionist.”

                “Oh is that how Anderson knows me, wow great.” You say, rubbing at your neck. “I assume you’re the agents guarding the herbicide? You do your job well.”

                “It’s difficult when you’re stuck inside a building as the entire city is being taken over, but we take our job seriously.” The woman says as she walks to a stack of boxes in the corner. With a flourish, she removes the tarp with a spray of dust in the lantern light.  “Construct, give us a hand.”

                “I have a name.” Harmony grumbles, walking forward anyway to help move the boxes. When finished, you find absolutely nothing underneath them.

                “Uh.” You say, looking at the floor. “It’s stone.”

                The two agents look to each other before the female knocks on the ground. A moment later, a piece of the stone slides away to reveal a lever which she pulls. As she does so, the stone grinds and slides open, a pedestal rising from the ground holding a sealed jar of a black fluid.

                “Was all that necessary?” Rayleigh asks as you reach forward to take the fluid. It’s so small, fits easily in your hand, and yet within is enough herbicide to kill the entirety of the plant life within Loveura? That’s… insane.

                >You receive [Herbageddon]

                >An insanely potent herbicide which has the potential to, even in small quantities, destroy large swathes of plants and Plant Monsters.

                “So all it takes is dumping this into the water supply and the plants are dead?”

                “From testing, it seems likely. Maximal results from the main district of course.” The male agent says.

                “What if it was applied by air?”

                “Dispersal patterns would vary, but it is unlikely to be effective in that manner. Directly application through the roots is best however injection will also lead to painful death.”

                Harmony looks at the male agent. “How did you… test this?”

                “Rose garden.” He says without missing a beat. With his glasses he betrays not a hint of emotion either.

                “Okay, well. That’s that then.” You say, stowing away the [Herbageddon]. “What will you do now?”

                “Not stay here. We’ll make our way our and back to Sanctifrond.”

                “How?” Rayleigh asks. “The city is kind of infested.”

                The female agent taps her glasses. “We have our ways.”

                “You’re going to walk, aren’t you?”

                “Probably.” The male says, pulling rucksacks from other boxes. “Put that to good use, however you plan to do so. It’s not our problem anymore.”

                “Hey, before you go.” You say, holding up a hand as they walk to the open door. “Do you know what this ‘seedbloom’ is?”

                “Kid, we’ve been trapped in this warehouse for days with stored rations and needing to shit in the corner. We have no idea what’s going on out there, and our jobs are done until we receive further orders.” They both wave to you before leaving out of sight.

                “What just happened?” Rayleigh asks.

                “I have no idea.” Harmony says. “But we now possess a way to end this, though I suppose that decision is up to Tobias, isn’t it?”

                “…” You say nothing as you turn to the door as well. “Let’s return to Finn and figure out the next step. They’ll need our help going forward.”

                “Alright then.” Rayleigh says. “Let’s get a move on then!”

                You follow after her enthusiasm and shield your eyes as you leave the warehouse. The afternoon sun is shining bright and frankly, you’re tired. Maybe Finn will let you have another nap when you return? Well, the Bee Girls should inform him when you’re coming anyway, though looking up at the sky, you don’t see any in the vicinity. Maybe they don’t want to be obvious?

                You move back the way you came, not seeing further movement from the Plant Monsters, even in district six where they were more prevalent beforehand. Either they all left or something isn’t quite right about this situation.

                {Finn?} You send over the sigil as you crouch down in hiding. {We have a report.}

                Nothing comes back at first. You mentally frown, waiting for a response. What could be taking him? Perhaps he’s finally taking a nap of his own, the poor man needs one.

                “Hmm. Guess we’ll have to head back and tell him in perso-“

                You’re cut off as static comes from your pocket. Nearly jumping, you pull out the communications device you forgot you had and lower the volume as Ophelia’s voice says, “Tobias! Can you read me? Do you still have this thing? Over.”

                “Ophelia! We’re going to be discovered if you’re not quieter! Over.”

                “I doubt that. Those Monsters you saw? They’re on the attack! Over.”

                “What? Didn’t Finn get my warning? Why didn’t he tell us? Over.”

                “They were headed for the main district according to the Queen, but then another group from the arboretum came in to strike at us! We got taken by surprise with little time to prepare so Finn is a little busy. Over.”

                “Wait… they’re attacking the main district? But Ulala is there keeping everyone in! What do they gain from doing that? Over?”

                “I don’t know Tobias but I need to control the Blizter! Get back here as soon as you can! Over.”

                The signal goes silent again as you look at the device. The other two heard the entire conversation, looks of worry on their faces.

                “You heard her, we have to hurry to help Finn!” Rayleigh says.

                “But I don’t understand why they’re attacking the main district. Are they tired of Ulala, or do they think the mayor will be present? What does that gain them?”

                “I don’t know.” You say, clenching your jaw. Ulala and possibly Richard… they stand to be hurt, or even killed if this assault goes through. But your base camp could suffer casualties if you don’t return Rayleigh and Harmony.

                Clearly the tactics being used by these Monsters has changed, and rapidly. That woman who arrived, could she be…? Well, it doesn’t matter now, does it?

                “Harmony, take Rayleigh back to the camp.”

                “Huh? What are you going by foot?” She asks, confused.

                “No. I’m going to the main district.”

                “What? Why? It doesn’t matter what they’re doing out there, we have to protect the others at the camp!”

                “And that’s why I’m sending you back in the fastest manner possible.” You nod to Harmony who shrugs and grabs the Squirrel Girl without any trouble. The small Monster struggles in her arms,

                “H-Hey! Hey you can’t just run around here on your own, you’re going to get yourself killed!”

                “Aww, I didn’t know you cared.” You say, smirking at her before looking to Harmony. “Get one of these devices from Ophelia and ask for some munitions. I’ll be headed there.”

                “I hope you’re not too late.” She says, her flight unit flickering on. “And I might get dragged into the fighting too.”

                “Please, I doubt Ginelle will allow anything to survive by the time you get there.”

                “Hey! Don’t ignore me!”

                That’s exactly what you do to Rayleigh as Harmony takes off into the air, heading toward your base camp. For your part, you move from that area quickly and quietly so no one detects you when they come to investigate the noise, which they will. You’d be surprised if they didn’t.

                Hiding in the shadows is much easier when it’s just you and not accompanied by a heavy construct. Your time is better because of it, but the main district is farther away than your base camp. Thankfully it’s also farther from the leyway station and closer to the Hive, but you are concerned. Ulala’s roots extend all over that district, even farther than that, but she’s clearly not in her right mind. She may be tricked and overcome, and if she’s gone then so will Richard.

                Not for the first time today, your stomach sinks, spurring you onward toward your destination. You see very few plant Monsters around, most of them mindlessly performing some task or standing about doing nothing and giggling, their eyes unfocused. It’s easy to move past them because of it, though it does worry you.

                You begin to grow tired as you leave the warehouse district, the tension and your pace mixed with a relative lack of sleep beginning to wear upon you. Harmony should have reached the base already, quite some time ago, yet the device on your hip has been quiet- not that you left the volume up to where it was before.

                The thought crosses your mind to contact them, but you can’t waste the time nor their attention. What if Ophelia is fighting as well? No, it’s best to let them contact you- you need to know what’s happening out there before making any calls anyway.

                A few Bee Girls fly through the air this way and that, but none of them come to interact with you in any manner. So the Queen hasn’t been given orders to look for you, though you’re not making yourself easy to find either. It’s best just to assume you’re on your own and keep moving.

                As you get close to one of the bridges leading to the main district you begin to hear heavy sounds in the distance as well as the muffled noises of shouting. Tremors run through the ground as well, making the water ripple, even at this distance. Whatever is happening, it’s big.

                The buildings in the main district give you no impediment as you move through them, many of the buildings abandoned with open doors allowing you access. There’s no sign of plants within them either beyond the purely decorative variety which gives further speed since you don’t have to be as careful. Of course, some of the buildings have torn up cobbles and dirt nearby, though you can’t see what caused it…

                The shouting grows louder as you make your way up a three-story building with a good view into the square of the main district, where Ulala is. Once you reach the top, you open the window inside a bedroom and look out, your stomach churning at what you see.

                Ulala’s body trashes wildly as a group of the tentacle Monsters run at her. The powerful branches smash into them, sending their ragdoll-like bodies sailing across the stones. Other groups are struck by flailing roots that tear out of the ground, turning the place into a battlefield.

                On the surface, it looks like she has the better of them. But more of the Monsters rush forward, adding more numbers to those that are already lying broken on the ground. You can’t imagine where all of these were hiding, you haven’t seen that many before. Here and there you see branches lying broken on the ground, or Monsters holding down a root as another chops at it with weapons scrounged about, sending sap and ichor spraying.

                You pull out a scope from your bag and look out at the scene. As you focus in on the main body of the tree, you see the torso of young-looking woman, her eyes filled with fury, her mouth open in rage as she fights. A shudder runs down your spine at the sight.

Ulala was always so kind, caring. Even if she had an interesting personality from her isolation, once she and Richard got together you found her to be rather endearing. To see her acting like this is… it breaks your heart, to be honest.

The sound of a woman shrieking fills the air. You wince as you turn the scope to see one of the large mutant Alarunes running into the square. Through the scope, you can see Ulala turn to face the threat, throwing her roots at it. While the damage slows the thing down, she manages to make it to Ulala, forcing the Dryad to use her branches to strike at the Monster.

                As it battles the barrage of branches, the Alarune reaches out with vines to try and grab the main body, but instead hits Ulala’s trunk.

                The Dryad’s eyes grow even wider and the whole square shudders and cracks as roots burst from the ground, leveling a few buildings and sending smaller Monsters into the air. Your own building shudders but stays intact. When you’re safe, you bring the scope back up to see the larger Monster tied up by multiple roots which violently tear it apart, tossing viscera and plant matter everywhere.

                An ichor covered Ulala roars as she stands triumphant, her roots indiscriminately striking all around her.

                “By the Gods…” You mutter, thinking back to when you were here beforehand. She really could have ended your problems with no issue, could she? Good thing you at least weren’t on her bad side…

                “Tobias? Are you there?” A hushed, static filled sound comes from your side.

                Hurriedly taking the device from your side, you say into it, “This is Tobias. Over.”

                You hazard to turn the volume up a little but hear more static as the user speaks. “A little more trouble than expected, more enemies are coming but I can be spared. Do you still require assistance?”

                “Is this Harmony? Over.”

                “Yes, can’t you tell by my voice?”

                Is… is it causing static because she’s a construct? Never mind that for now, you say, “Ulala has gone on a rampage here. There’s swarms of these Monsters attacking her. I’d like to give support but I can’t get down there safely. I still can’t tell what their goal is beyond trying to destroy her. Over.”

                “Very well. I’ll head your way.”

                “Top of a three story building southwest of the main square. Over.”

                “Got it.”

                The device goes silent and you frown, looking out over the square again before cursing. More of the larger Alarune Monsters appear, these ones sporting even larger bodies. They shriek before charging at Ulala, who returns their cries and faces them down.

                As the battle rages on, you can’t find the purpose to it. Ulala is a pain here, sure, but what do they really gain from attacking her? Taking your eyes off her, you scan with the scope until you catch some movement off to the side. Focusing in, you see a small group of the mobile Plant Monsters making their way into a building while Ulala is pre-occupied. With a frown, you look up a the building to see what it is.

                City Hall

                Your blood runs cold as you look again, the Monsters smashing the doors open before entering. Another group follows soon after, escorting a tall, blonde woman in a gorgeous green dress and heels. The woman you saw back in Cair on that train, the one who likely entered the city yesterday, and the one who has been making your life a living hell: Rose.

                “Fucking hells.” You say, putting down the scope. Was her intention to get into City Hall via a distraction like this the entire time? If so then there must be something- or someone- of value in there. The mayor?

                Well, whatever it is, you need to stop her! Of course, you’re only one man with a knife and magic that makes you go insane. Is there really anything you can do in this situation?

                “Coming in hot.” Harmony says over your device. Confused, you look out the window and a purple blur comes by over the square, tiny pinpricks of light appearing behind her. A few moments later, detonations appear in the square, blasting apart swathes of Plant Monsters. Even two of the larger ones, charging into the square, are caught by the blasts, tearing out chunks of their rapidly regenerating flesh, only for them to be caught and destroyed by Ulala’s roots.

                The destruction is absolute and indiscriminate, annihilating ancient stonework that Ulala somehow didn’t destroy while exploding Monsters and Ulala’s roots in places. She doesn’t seem to notice as she tries to kill anything that moves, seemingly ignoring Harmony.

                In moments, the field of Monsters tearing apart the Dryad are devastated, and Harmony flies away, directly toward your position, stopping and hovering in place in front of the window you’re standing at.

                “Well?” She asks. “I guess that’s that.”

                “Yes and you revealed our position, what are you thinking?!”

                “Who is left to fight?”

                “The ones inside the City Hall for starters.”

                “Inside City Hall? Why?” She asks, turning to look at the building.

                “I don’t know, but our window of getting in there before Ulala starts to try and break us is growing small.”

                Harmony holds up a sack which still has three of the [Mana Bombs] inside of them. “I know she was someone important to you, but she’s been wounded and is not of her right mind. If necessary, I can use these to-“

                “No.” You say, holding up a hand. “I don’t want to think about that at the moment I… I…”

                “Then what will we do about her?”

                You look out at the wounded Dryad, her blows becoming sluggish, if still devastating, then over to the City Hall. Perhaps if you were to talk to her… No that’s crazy, she wouldn’t listen… right?  

                The tree down in the square continues to devastate any and everything in its path. By the time she tires out, there won’t be anything left but churned up earth and pebbles. The few remaining enemies seem to be getting the message as well, staying outside of her effective range instead of trying to attack. This is only limited in its effectiveness, but it does focus Ulala’s rage on them… and away from the City Hall.

                If only you could get her back in her right mind, to find out what she knows about all of this and where Richard is. But it’s not to be. The only thing you’ll accomplish is getting yourself killed out there and where will that leave anyone? Well, you’ll be a smear in the dirt anyway.

                No, the more important task is to see what would be so important that Rose came here personally to deal with it. To have gotten here all the way from Cair… either she flew in somehow, or she came down by boat. Given that communications in the nation have been down, no one would know what or where she’s been. Of course, that begs the question of how she knew anything that was happening here either.

                That’s neither here nor there, however. You need to do your best now to stop her, and you have an opportunity that is best presented while alone.

                “Is that a crossbow?” Harmony asks as you pull out the [Light Crossbow].

                “Yes. I have a feeling I’m going to need it.” You say, putting on your mask you wore into the Hive. It smells faintly of smoke. “Now come on, give me a lift before we attract more attention.”

                “Lift to where?”

                “Top of City Hall.”

                Harmony cocks her head but doesn’t say anything further. She wraps her arms around you and you feel your stomach fall out from under you as she flies you over the buildings and away to the City Hall. It takes but moments to make the leap, her magitek flight unit allowing her to speed through the air. Of course, she’s extremely visible and after her little assault, you know she’s visible. But the ones on the ground don’t matter compared to the ones inside the City Hall. Besides, they can’t get past Ulala either.

                When you touch down, you look about your surroundings. The roof of the building is slanted with the same kind of tiling seen all over the city, however a back section contains a small observation deck and garden which is currently empty. Nothing moves save some vines in the wind, allowing you a moment to pull out a few bolts.

                “What are you doing?” Harmony asks as you also pull out the [Herbaggedon]. “What is that? The herbicide?”

                “Yeah. Those goons in charge of it said that injection would lead to death for any plant or plant Monster.” You look over at a nearby fern and carefully let a drop of the herbicide onto the soil in the plant’s pot.

                Nothing happens for a moment. Then, the fern begins to wilt suddenly and violently, the stalk splitting apart while the fronds drop. The process takes only a few seconds but it’s almost horrific to watch.

                “That’s… something.” Harmony says. “Looks like something the Wizard would make.”

                “Hmm.” You say, looking back at the bottle. Nodding to yourself, you dip three bolts into the fluid, keeping them separate from your other stash. Can’t go using all of it at once, after all.

                “You think whatever is in here was worth causing all that trouble?” She asks. “I can’t imagine the mayor is that important. Using such forces on both this place and our base seems excessive. Did they really have that much to commit?”

                “How were casualties?” You ask as you ready your weapon, careful not to touch the fluid, just in case.

                “There were some. They’d made it into the perimeter before we arrived. Thankfully Rayleigh was able to push them back to a degree, but I imagine more deaths may have occurred.”

                “…Ginelle and Clint?”

                “Alive, last I saw them. Ophelia as well.”

                “That’s a relief.” You sigh out.

                “Hmph.” Harmony says, her vocal unit letting out a small chuckle. “Honestly, you remind me a little of him from time to time. Much more serious though.”

                “Huh?” You ask, crossbow at the ready. “Who?”

                “Come on.” She says, opening the door to the stairs. “Let’s go find out what they’re here for.”

                Not questioning her, you follow after the construct down the stairs and toward the next landing. Neither of you know the layout of the building, but through the [Magesight Goggles] in your mask, you can detect faint traces of mana on this floor. It could be anything from a hibernating construct to people, but you won’t know until you get closer.

                The City Hall of Loveura is a large building by most metrics, three stories filled with multiple meeting rooms and offices that the civil servants, such as they are, of the city employ. They are empty, however, some of the rooms open with papers scattered, as if hastily evacuated.

                You continue to see the faint traces of the mana while listening for any movement, but hearing nothing other than your footsteps and Harmony’s metallic feet on the plush carpet. There are no signs of struggling or anything else in the building so far, but something feels off about the place. Some of the rooms look a little too recently disturbed to have been a few days ago.

                “Harmony, check ahead.” You say, pointing towards a closed door ahead where you detect the mana. She nods and moves slowly before placing her head against the door. She frowns and then opens it slowly, peeking in before pulling back. She shakes her head at you.

                “Construct. One of the cleaning units is in here, though it seems to be malfunctioning.” She steps inside and after a quick moment the mana signature fades away.

                “Well that’s a dud.” You say, looking about for more signatures. Nothing. You might have to do this the hard away. “Alright let’s head to the next floor.”

                “Wouldn’t the mayor’s office be up here?”

                “Maybe, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone present at the moment. Either we’re too late or they’re downstairs.”

                The two of you head to another staircase, this one central leading down to the second floor. The path is very open however, with railings around the sides leading to other offices. Below, you can see the stairs moving to the first floor.

                Nothing moves that you can see or detect with your goggles, so you quickly move to the second floor and then turn a corner before anyone can come out to find you. When you do so, you detect more signatures ahead, this time stronger than before.

                “I hear something.” Harmony says. “Sounds like a struggle.”

                “I see, let’s get the drop on them then.”

                Moving as quickly as you can without making sound, you make your way through the hallways toward the sounds, that of a woman shouting while furniture is being thrown about. You nod to Harmony and she bursts open an ajar door to a bathroom to reveal a woman dressed in torn office clothing, being accosted by two of the mobile Plant Monsters.

                “H-help!” She shouts as Harmony dashes forward, her arms glowing with electricity. The Plant Monsters are caught off guard, unable to stop Harmony from slamming her hands onto both of their faces and channeling electricity enough to cook them. They drop dead from her hands as the woman slumps to the ground, weeping.

                “Damnit.” You say, looking about the room. There’s no magic or illusions being used here, but at the same time, Rose isn’t present. With the ruckus this created, there’s little doubt you’ve been heard.

                “W-what’s going on?” The woman says. She looks tired, her clothing dirty even before being assaulted. “What were those explosions? What are these things? Who are you?”

                “Are you the only person here?” You ask, looking about nervously.

                “W-what?”

                “Answer the question, please!”

                “T-The mayor is here along with the rest of the chief s-staff. A few other important citizens too and-“

                “Fine, whatever. Is there anything important stored here? Any relics or anything which could be used against the city?”

                “N-No. The City Hall doesn’t have anything like that. Did these things come in here looking for something like that?”

                “I don’t know.” You say, looking to Harmony. The construct nods and kneels down to the woman.

                “Stay here and hide yourself. We’re going to find the mayor and the others.”

                “We’ve been staying in the forum room, trying to figure out what to do while that Dryad is freaking out.” She shudders. “But these things are much worse.”

                “We’ll take care of it.” She points you toward the room and the two of you head off again, this time toward the larger signature you saw. It seems that these two were masking the true trouble ahead and-

                “Wait a second.” You say, snapping your head to the side as a door bursts open and one of the tentacle Monsters leaps upon you. The thing wraps around your face before you can react, squeezing tight as she shouts. You’re unable to do anything but try to fight it off as your crossbow drops from your hand. The chaos is too much for you to cast any meaningful illusion, and you’re only granted a reprieve when Harmony tears the crazed Monster from your head and smashes it into the wall, silencing the Monster for good.

                “Shit.” You say, scrambling for your crossbow. “That one was laying in wait!”

                “How did they know we were coming?” Harmony asks, helping pick you up.

                “Maybe they heard the explosions outside, I don’t know.” You say, looking down toward the hall where the chamber should be. “But we lost our advantage of surprise. The only thing we have left is this weapon.”

                “Tobias, I don’t know about this-“

                “We can do this!” You say, turning to her. The expressionless gaze looking down at you makes you take a moment to take a breather.

“Okay… okay fine.” You say, looking down. “She’s expecting us to come in and attack her. Let’s do what she’s done and hide out, ambush her proper.”

                “Good.” Harmony says. “I can’t afford to have any other family members hurt.”

                “Family-?” You say as she walks forward, forcing you to follow after her.

                From what you can tell, the forum chamber is down the hall with no other way in or out. Which means you can hole up and find a proper location to use your crossbow bolts. Though you can see the gist of mana through the walls, it’s diminished more than you’d like. Still, there’s something powerful in there, something which flares brighter than what you’d expect.

                They seem to be taking their damn time in there. If there’s no relics, then are they interrogating the hostages? Or killing them? You know the new mayor is much better than the old one who was removed for corruption, but you won’t cry if he died. Of course, she could always be infesting them or-

                No, no running in there won’t do any good. You have to bide your time. As difficult as it is, you have to wait for your chance to strike and-

                “Unhand me this instant!” A familiar, female voice cries from down the hall, toward the forum chamber. Your spine stiffens as you hear it, memories coming back to you from the last time you heard that voice.

                From around the corner comes a group of Plant Monsters, forming a wall around Rose and another hostage. The woman carries a Monster in her hands as if she weighed nothing, the captive screaming and kicking as best she can to get loose, though it’s futile, in the end.

                “Damn you, killing all of them! They were good people!” The hostage says, her long, rabbit-like ears standing up. “What does taking me accomplish.”

                “Much, Lady Illoma…” Rose says, her voice sultry in a way that would make your hips quiver, were they not locked with tension. “I need you alive.”

                Emma Illoma, Ophelia’s mother, struggles within her grasp as they pass by your concealed hiding spot. The crossbow weighs heavy in your hands as you judge your shot. There’s few good angles to shoot at Rose, the woman being very well protected by her guard. Which means you need to thin out the herd a little.

                Reaching out with your magic, you affect Rose’s perceptions. She wrinkles her nose as you do so, your magics seeming… difficult to take hold on her. However she snaps her head up and points down the hall. “There’s our little intruder! Come out and play!”

                Five of the Plant Monsters dash down the hallway toward the illusion you sent, leaving her with two more bodyguards. Taking a deep breath, you sight up the crossbow as she passes, and let loose at the perfect moment.

                The bolt flies forward toward Rose’s exposed (literally) back. Right before it connects however, one of her bodyguards turns to Rose and the bolt connects with her face.

                Her face melts as she screams, the herbicide tearing her body apart. Rose leaps to the side of the decaying Monster that reaches out for her help as she dies while ordering the other one to strike at you. Harmony intercepts the Monster while you load up another crossbow bolt, cursing.

                “Tobias Shady, of course you’d confound me here as well.” She hisses before taking off down the hall, Lady Illoma screaming as the woman wearing high heels somehow runs down the hall at breakneck speed.

                “Don’t let her get away!’ You shout to Harmony as you fire another bolt toward her. By now, she’s reached the other Monsters she set your way, and the bolt catch another one, tearing it apart, the herbicide spreading through the Monster’s body. Some of it sprays out and catches one beside her, leaving only three to assault you.

                Harmony barrels through them, taking one with her as she sprints down the hall. The other two, dazed, stagger into the wall as you run past yourself, bolt in hand, no time to load the crossbow.

                The construct flings the Monster off the railing as you enter the stair chamber again. Outside you hear rumbling, Ulala clearly still trashing about outside. It sounds closer however, making you wonder if perhaps her destruction is becoming more widespread.

                Rose leaps from the railing to land on the first floor, her shoes somehow not breaking apart. She curses as Harmony barrels down toward her forcing her to toss aside Lady Illoma as she intercepts the construct’s flight unit assisted charge.

                Rose’s muscles bulge as she grab’s Harmony’s hands, stalling the construct mid-air. Her eyes flare green and she roars, tossing Harmony into a pillar, which shatters as the projectile collides into it. The building rumbles as Rose’s arms throb, vines appearing from her skin and coiling around her delicate flesh. She makes for the Rabbit Girl, but Harmony comes in hot again, the two being thrown across the room and into a wall as they brawl.

                You curse at the railing and load up your final bolt. Raising the weapon to your shoulder, you cry out, “Harmony! Keep her still!”

                The construct wraps her arms around Rose and delivers a brutal electric shock that paralyzes her for a moment. She gurgles but doesn’t move, an easy target even at your distance! Before you can loose however, two sets of hands latch onto you from behind, throwing you violently backward. The crossbow tumbles from your hand, loosing and catching one of your assailants in the chest, turning her to slag.

                Rose’s eyes snap back up as they glow violently green. She grabs onto Harmony’s arm and violently wrenches the construct forward in a throw that slams her to the ground. Once free, her arm ripples for a moment before she curses and heads toward the dazed Rabbit Girl.

                You shout as you grab your knife and drive it into the neck of the remaining Monster. She gurgles as fluid fills her throat, but you just push her off you and shout as Rose reaches for Lady Illoma.

                A loud rumble comes from below and the whole room shakes as the floor violently tears itself up, a massive root sending Rose flying into the air before she can reach her quarry. The root raises up like a whale rising from the ocean before slamming down again, throwing up chips of stone and tile that you have to shield yourself from, even on the second floor.

                “HARMONY!” You shout, pointing at Lady Illoma! “GET HER OUT OF HERE!”

                The root slides across the floor, but Harmony is up, leaping into the air with a burst from her flight unit. She clears the root in one hurdle as it smashes through the stairs, crushing the poor Monster that Harmony tossed down there beforehand. The construct reaches the dazed Rabbit Girl without issue and grabs her, rising into the air with her flight unit to your level.

                As the root goes through the process of destroying the City Hall in its indiscriminate rage, you see Rose rise up from her rubble, her clothing torn, plants re-knitting her flesh. She glares at you before sighing and shouting as she holds something small and metallic up in the air, “A temporary setback. The seedbloom will continue, one way or another.”

                With that, she leaps onto the root and runs down it’s length and out of the City Hall.

                “We have to get out here.” Harmony says, grabbing you. “Hold on tight!”

                “W-wait, don’t we weight too muuuuuuch-!”

                Harmony’s flight unit strains but she pushes herself to fly up the stairs, back towards the third level. The whole building shakes as the foundation collapses, rooms caving in while the roof shudders. Around you windows shatter and the floor buckles, Harmony pushing herself toward the stairwell to the roof as the windows are too small and too dangerous to fly through with her cargo as it is.

                The roof caves in before you and you shout as Harmony holds her hands out and blasts the rubble, only sending mild shocks through both you and Lady Illoma, who has since passed out. Teeth chattering from the shock, you watch as the stairway appears before you and Harmony zooms in, then up, then out the door and onto the roof! She doesn’t stop there, lifting the two of you into the sky, her flight unit flickering from the strain of doing so.

                Beneath you, all you see is the area around Ulala undulating with her growth. She seems focused on the City Hall however, probably from hearing your battle. It seems Rose really did need a distraction to get in there… Gods you hope that office lady is alive.

                “T-take us back to the b-base.” You say, twitching. “T-this mess got m-more complicated.”

——————————————————————————————————————————–

                By the time you arrive at the base camp, the battle is over. Of course, from the bodies and the fire scorched buildings, you know it wasn’t without sacrifice.

                You land at the perimeter, your shock having worn off. Bee Girls saw you in without trouble, but now you have a better look at the assault. They must have committed a large force here as well, considering how many dead Heroes you see. While Rayleigh’s presence was certainly beneficial, as well as the Blitzer, you soon find out that perhaps a tenth of your force was slain in the surprise assault.

                Some of the Monsters had found their way into the camp and attacked unarmored and sleeping soldiers, making up the bulk of the casualties. You can’t imagine how bad it would have been on the actual front lines otherwise.

                The make-shift infirmary is filled with Heroes as the medics do their best to attend to the wounded. You aren’t a fully equipped army company and so it’s difficult, relying on some healing magic and potions for the most part. Otherwise, all you have are bandages and typical field medicine.

                Unable to put Lady Illoma there, Harmony carries her to Finn’s command center, where you find the man talking with some officers as well as Ophelia. At your entrance, the man looks relieved. You told him ahead of time you were coming, but Ophelia still rushes forward as you enter to put her hands on her Mother’s.

                “Oh Gods, she’s… she’s alive.” The Rabbit Girl says, putting her head onto her Mother’s chest. She weeps softly, “I was so scared she was dead in all this mess…”

                Harmony places Ophelia’s Mother on the couch while her daughter attends to her as you sigh and recount your story to Finn.

                “To think that much power was in that tree… I’m glad we didn’t assault the place but I don’t understand why Rose did. To commit to much to hide her tracks… what was it she was after?”

                “T-the key.”

                Everyone’s attention turns to Lady Illoma as she pushes herself up on the couch. Ophelia tries to get her to calm down, but she holds up a hand, forestalling her child.

                “She talked about needing my key… before slaughtering the mayor and the rest of the city officials.”

                “Key for what?” You ask, confused.

                “The leyway lockdown. I managed to shut off the leyways when I noticed the problem with the leylines but when I went to report to the mayor, it became too dangerous to leave City Hall. Of course, in the end, it became too dangerous there also.”

                “I thought she would have wanted you for the Blizter units.” You say, worried. “Since you and Ophelia are the only ones capable of using them.”

                The elder Rabbit Girl chuckles, which becomes a cough. When she’s recovered she says, “She informed me that they’re all destroyed. A tragedy, but also a blessing.” She shakes her head and sighs, “But now that she can operate the leyways, I’m afraid of what will happen next.”

                “Operate the leyways? What are you talking about, the leylines are corrupted.” Ophelia says. “The leyways aren’t operational.”

                “Hah, is that what you’ve learned hanging around Sanctifrond? No, those leylines are being controlled, I could tell that much. And if they’re controlled, they can be used.” She waggles her ears. “You don’t make leyways as long as I have without understanding the leylines themselves.”

                “But if they have access to the leyways now, then they can ship things out of town.” Finn says. “Whatever cargo they’ve been bringing to the warehouses can now be taken out of here… and just about anywhere in Deleor. Even Sanctifrond.”

                “We have to stop them then.” You say, standing up before staggering. Harmony catches you and you nod to her.

                “With what forces?” Finn asks. “The Bee Girls still say the station is well defended and now they’re being chased away by the Plant Girls who have recognized them as enemies. Aerial assault is now out of the option and our ground forces took a big hit. Even if this was a distraction, it cost us more than I care to think about…” He looks down and grinds his teeth.

                A communications device next to Finn crackles and you hear over it, “Captain Finn… my drones report that a woman with golden hair was seen heading to the Arboreteum. She seemed rather agitated, despite basically being naked and only scraps of a dress.”

                Finn stares at the device for a moment before breathing out slowly and replying, “Thank you, Queen. Thank you for all your support.”

                “Hmm, I wonder though after this assault. Did I make the right choice? I suppose it’s too late now to consider.”

                The device cuts out. Finn looks to it before looking to the map. “I don’t understand, why wouldn’t she return to the leyway station immediately to head out?”

                “Perhaps whatever they’re transporting isn’t ready yet.” You say. “If she’s retreated to the Arboreteum, this might be the only chance we have. We can’t afford to wait for the army to arrive in a few days. We need to end the Princess and Rose.”

                “Hmph, looks like we missed out on the real party.” Clint says, walking into the room with some support from Ginelle. Both look worse for wear, though the Badger Girl doesn’t seem to notice her own wounds.

                “Clint, Ginelle.” You sigh with relief. “I’m glad your okay.”

                “Define okay.” The man says, groaning as Ginelle slumps him down into a chair. “I can fire a rifle but that’s about it.”

                “Hmph.” Ginelle says. She looks down for a moment before muttering, “I’m glad you’re alive, at least.”

                “Same.” You chuckle. “But we’re at an impasse. We understand some of their goals, but not all of them. We’re all tired and frankly a little beaten up, but there’s no time for rest.” You say, pushing yourself up.

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