Wizardquest 3 Part 17: Little Arboretum of Horrors


Chapter 47

“…And at the same time, I don’t think it’s all doom and gloom.”

                “Eh?” Ophelia asks, looking up. “Tobias, they have access to the leyways and whatever this seedbloom thing is. The only blessing we have is that mother wasn’t taken.” She pauses for a moment. “Why are they so interested in both of us anyway?”

                Her mother sighs, “I didn’t know you were a target too, but I would have suspected it would be for ransom, then perhaps for the Blitzers but even then I don’t quite understand it. The key to the leyways was about the only important thing left that needed my expertise.”

                “Can they not operate the leyways?” Finn asks, confused.

                “Possibly, but given the fact that some of our employees and the entire station was taken over, I suspect they captured people who could use them. Perhaps they needed us to build something? Or to access something?” She shakes her head. “But I cannot say what.”

                “How long would it take to reactivate a leyway?”

                “A cold start on one of those given the activation key would likely take about half a day. Assuming they have their cargo loaded already.”

                Finn rubs his chin. “But she went back to the Arboretum. Unless she’s swimming the canals, this doesn’t look good for them hurrying out. We may have time to move in and strike at her to pull out the roots.”

                He looks up, blinking. “The pun was unintended.”

                “But appreciated.” You say before addressing the room. “I think it’s obvious we need to strike while the iron is hot. They expended a lot of manpower on these assaults, and unless they’re hiding more somewhere, we can move into the Arboretum unopposed. However, if we’re not careful, they may leave the leyway station without us.”

                “Yes, that’s the conundrum we’re in.” Clint says, shaking his head. “What use is restating the problem?”

                “Well… why exactly is an aerial assault out of the question?” You ask Finn.

                “I’ll answer that.” Lady Illoma says. She coughs into her hand, “The station is built enclosed, meaning a direct assault is not possible. The [mana bombs] my darling daughter has devised are powerful, but it would require multiple passes to get through. Even if you did get through the roof, the leyway cars themselves are fairly durable, though likely to suffer enough damage to be inoperable. Of course, unless you destroy the engine car, it won’t matter too much.”

                “It would be difficult for the Bee Girls to get away unscathed, but Harmony should be fine.”

                “Yes, her plating and design is quite… beautiful…” She says, looking the construct up and down with hungry eyes. “I doubt projectiles will do much harm, but to really cause damage to the leyway system, she’d have to fly inside and drop them.”

                “Opening herself to harm.” Ophelia sighs. “It’s risky.”

                “A risk I can take.” Harmony says. “Though the city would feel it if I did.”

                “It might be enough to delay things further at least…” Finn says. “But it doesn’t solve the root, damnit, problem.”

                “No, it doesn’t.” Ginelle says. “We should tear them up out of the ground so there’s nothing left.”

                “I concur. Which may be easier with this.” You pull out the [Herbaggedon] and hold it up. While it’s missing a little of its contents, there’s still a disastrous amount, based on what you’ve seen at least.

                “So that’s this mysterious herbicide.” Ophelia says. “Doesn’t look like much.”

                “I assure you, it’s extremely potent.” Harmony says. “Even dipped on an arrow can cause instant death to any plant.”

                Lady Illoma frowns, “So that’s what that was… if you’ve had something like that, why haven’t you used it already to rid this town of the scourge?”

                “Because I only acquired it from a DSS safehouse right before we saved you, and because it works a little too well.” You stare at the black liquid. “If applied to the water supply it would kill all the plants in the city. And I mean all of them.”

                “You can’t seriously mean it to be THAT…” She trails off. “But the water all flows out of the city, it would affect downstream too.”

                “Hopefully it would be too diluted then, but maybe.” You say. “It’s a weapon of last resort in that case, but at least we know if it punctures it can kill too.”

                Turning to Finn, you ask, “Given the potency of this, and the fact that we’re hurting after the assault, may I have approval to send an infiltration team into the Arboretum?”

                He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath before sighing out. “Permission granted. Who will you take?”

                “Myself of course, but it’s dangerous so I’d ask for volunteers.” You turn to the others in the room.

Ginelle and Clint look to each other, their expressions worried. The Badger Girl sighs, “Okay fine. But no tricks!”

“Alright, thank you.” You say, nodding your head. You turn to Ophelia, who looks down and bites her lip.

“I… I don’t know what use I’ll be there. I can’t exactly infiltrate with the Blitzer, the prototype, or Georgia, not that she’d be much help. It might be better for me to stay here again.”

“I understand.” To be fair, it’s a compelling argument. She’s not the best cut out for combat and you’d rather her not have another near-death experience if you can help it.

“Rayleigh?” You ask. The Squirrel Girl looks to Finn, who nods his head.

“You might be necessary. This may be a situation we cannot salvage and fire is a good way to cleanse.”

“Sir!” She says, saluting. “But you better not collapse while I’m not here to watch after you!”

“Of course, given how effective this is when using a bow, I wonder if you might wish to join us, sir?”

Perhaps you shouldn’t have asked the question. You knew what the answer would be, but you’re still surprised at the consternation that appears on his face. He’s seriously considering your request! His hand twitches and he opens his mouth before sighing and shaking his head.

“No… no I’m afraid I can’t… do that. I have a duty to these men and this operation. I cannot place myself on the front lines like this, though I would like to do so.” He places his hand on his face and groans. “I’ve also been awake for the past day. I don’t think even some alchemical potion would get me going.”

Rayleigh slides something back into her bag. “I see. Very well sir. When should we move out?”

“Are all of you good to leave immediately?”

“Essentially. Just need to get some food and resupply.” You say. The other two agree with you.

“Very well. I’ll ask the Queen for help for transport. Harmony, what will you be doing?”

“I’ll join the infiltration team. If we stop the source of this, then perhaps they cannot use the leyways. Besides, I am to deliver this idiot elsewhere once we’re finished here.”

“Gee, thanks.” You say, shaking your head. “Alright, everyone get prepared. We’re heading out soon.”

“Gah, I need a hot bath.” Clint says. “Maybe a back massage. I’m too young to feel this old.”

Finn smirks as Clint is lead out the room by Ginelle. Harmony and Rayleigh do the same, but Ophelia remains with her mother, who lounges on the couch. To be fair, it’s a very comfortable couch so you don’t blame her for doing so. You make your own decision to leave before pausing and turning to the Monster.

“You’re sure you don’t know what this seedbloom they’re talking about is, right?”

“I’ve been trapped in that building since this started. All I know is that the leyways went down and I was called in to investigate. When I made my discoveries, I locked down the leyways and headed to City Hall, then that Dryad went berserk.”

She shakes her head, “All I know is that when I looked into the leylines, I discovered abnormal signatures within the network flowing from the direction of the Arboretum. Given this, it seemed prudent to shut out the leyways, just in case.”

“How did you do that?”

“I was just observing. Certainly the largest concentration of mana build-up is in the Arboretum. My device used for measuring this was lost in the City Hall, however.”

“Alright, alright.” You say, running your hand through your hair. “I just don’t understand anything about this. It’s too mysterious, I was hoping to have some idea of what we’re going up against.”

“I wish I knew.” She says, shaking her head. “They already got into our vault, but that’s not an issue any longer. There’s really no other prototypes worth mentioning, and the leyways are theirs now. I can only imagine they’d want to deliver something, maybe some of those freaks into Sanctifrond itself. Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy as they’d be on their guard for anything incoming, and those gates are thick. They’d need something like a Blitzer’s core detonation to crack those walls!”

“A what now?”

“The core detonation it’s-“

“Yes I’ve explained it mother.” Ophelia says, frowning. “But… that’s way too simple. All of this just to breach Sanctifrond’s walls? A leyway’s engine could be rigged to blow too, though not nearly as powerful, it would probably breach a gate at least. No, there has to be something else to it.”

“It would explain why they needed one of you then?” You say, musing. “Get an Illoma, have access to the explosives you need, then do… whatever else.”

“This seems convoluted.” Ophelia says, rubbing her temples.

“I think that’s our fault, to be honest. Whether by luck or skill, we’ve confounded that bitch every step of the way. This might be an act of desperation.”

“Didn’t feel that way.” Lady Illoma sighs.

“Well, we’ll just be thankful we’re not all dead yet.” You say, standing up and wobbling a little. Damn you’re tired… but no time for that now, you have things to be about.

“Hey, Tobias.” Finn says, looking at you with tired eyes. “You’re coming back from this alive, got it?”

“You sure do like that line.” You chuckle before saluting. “Yes sir.”

“And please come back sane.” Ophelia adds, ears standing up. “I’d rather not have to explain to Saya why her husband is a gibbering mess.”

“That one is more conditional!” You say, throwing up a hand as you leave the room to get some food, grab some more arrows, and prepare for the end of the strange ride.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

                Nightfall creeps upon the city again as your Bee Girl handler drops you down on the outskirts of the Aboretum after taking the long way around enemy territory. You wave to them as they fly off while Harmony drops a rather surly looking Ginelle. None of the Bee Girls would or could fly her in, which ended up being just fine.

                This place certainly has changed. Where there was a sense of contained beauty, it has been replaced with rampant growth. You thought some of the plants in the Hero’s Hall looked unruly, but this is another matter entirely.

                Explosive growth of vines has shattered windows of the Arboretum while you can’t seen anything inside from the trees and other plant life pushing at the top. It was dense in there before, but this is excessive. It seems the area around here has not been spared either, with multiple areas of dense plant life appearing where there used to just be the occasional flowers and vines. It’s unnerving to say the least.

                What’s even more unnerving are the sounds coming from within the building. Moans of men in ecstasy, the cackle of female voices laughing without reason, and the screams of those in pain drift in from the broken and twisted place. Is this the kind of world Phallia wants? At the very least it is the kind of place she will receive if she gets her way.

                You nod to your team, Ginelle leading the way as you head toward the side entrance you used last time you entered here. There doesn’t appear to be any guards on station- perhaps they don’t expect anyone to just attack them, or perhaps they don’t have the numbers. The door is ajar, plant life growing over it. A quick check inside shows that it’s empty of any moving life, unless you count the large fly-trap like plants in the corner that seem to open a little wider as you enter.

                “Ugh.” Clint mutters through his mask. All of you are wearing them again, the risk of inhaling a spore or smelling some attractant like before, too great. “The damn floor is a carpet of plant matter. It’s worse than the hive.”

                “I just hope we don’t attract attention because of it…” You mutter while moving through the room. Ginelle pokes her head out from the side and waves you forward as you enter one of three great domes.

Where before the inside was a cultured beauty, it’s now a jungle without rhyme or reason. Plant life is so dense you can barely see through it at times. With all the plant life it makes it difficult to pick out mana signatures, the verdant volume obscuring things. However, you know for a fact that in the farthest dome, the one where you once fought Fiora, a massive amount of energy resides.

“Anything?” You ask Ginelle, who shakes her head.

“I can’t smell in this thing. I doubt I’d be able to anyway.”

“Alright, we’ll proceed with caution. Everyone have their vials?”

The other four members hold up vials of the [Herbageddon] that you divvied up. If anything happened to your supply, the others could toss it into the choked water supply here and hopefully bring the whole place down. Otherwise they could be used for coating projectiles. In Clint’s case, he coated a knife with some as his rifle will kill most things he shoots anyway and, according to him, he is “shit with a capital S” when firing a bow.

Which leaves you with your [Light Crossbow] again, loaded with one of the dipped arrows. You worry about using up the supply like this, but in all truth, you just want to survive this before worrying about anything else.

A female cry of pain comes from further inside the dome. Your heart wrenches at the sound. This isn’t exactly what you’re here to do, but… but part of you needs to know what’s happening. Giving orders to the others, you make your way slowly through the underbrush, crouching behind some twisted trees as you enter into one of the many groves of the greenhouse. What you see makes you stomach turn, however.

A naked woman lays on the ground, hands at her throat as she gurgles. She thrashes onto her back while above her, an Alarune rooted inside the grove smirks. Standing at her side are two of the Plant Monsters with the wooden legs, looks of manic glee on their faces as they stand there, staring at the woman.

Her eyes bulge as a wicked smile appears on her face, a little too deranged for your tastes. Her eyes shift to a deep green while her skin begins to shift and change color as sprouts burst from her skin. Thick scales appear upon her legs which you quickly realize is bark. She arches her back as more pieces of bark appear from her now green skin, which is crawling with vines growing from her own body. She collapses back on the ground when it is finished, panting heavily, face still wild.

“Excellent…” The Alarune says as the other Monsters help her up, the newly Monsterized member wobbling. As they take her over to a wall where dozens of other Plant Monsters are woven into webs of vines. In an empty slot you see a man recessed into the wall, his lower half covered in vines that seem to twist and pull away off his erect member as they slide the newly converted Monster onto it before wrapping her up.

“We must hurry.” The Alarune says. “The Princess demands that we must replenish our supply.”

A cry of terror comes from the side where you see a cave of thorns keeping scared looking women inside. There are no Monsters that you can see, however. Two more of the Plant Monsters grab a woman from the group and pull her forward. She kicks and screams but when they bring her before the Alarune, she merely falls to her knees, weeping.

“Don’t cry… did you not see how happy she was? You will be happy too.” The Alarune says, lifting herself up. In the growth around her you see five men cocooned in plant material much the same as back in the vault.

The men let out a collective moan and the Alarune floods with magic energy. The woman before her struggles as the Plant Monsters strip her naked, tearing off her clothes. The Alarune doesn’t watch as she holds up a jar of something which you believe she’s pouring magic into. Whatever it is, it can’t be good.

Your hand twitches upward and you raise the crossbow, only for Clint to push it back down. He shakes his head at you, and you know why. If you killed her, you’d expose yourself and might be swarmed before you could ever reach the Princess and Rose. But if you don’t do anything, another person will be turned into one of those… things.

                You keep the crossbow lowered. Damnit, as much as you hate to admit it, he’s right. You can’t just let your feelings get the better of you in these situations. Once you kill the Princess there will be time for these sort of things, but for now you just have to accept that… there will be sacrifices. Like the soldiers in Helmscrag, or the members of City Hall. You can’t save all of them.

                But… you can make things a little difficult for your enemies.

                Clint frowns as you narrow your eyes and focus on the Alarune. In your periphery you see him mouth, “Don’t do it,” but well, the deed is already done. The Alarune eye’s go wide and she jumps back, the jar in her hands jostling between them as if it had jumped out of them, and then does precisely that. She drops it to the overgrown floor, dropping a cloud of what appears to be magically infused dust into the air.

                The naked woman before the Alarune breathes in some of the dust as it coats her and she begins to cough. Unfortunately, that’s not all that happens, as her coughing fits become violent, her eyes widening as they seem to bug out from her head, tendrils under her skin snaking out from the corners while more burst from her skin. She cries out in agony as explosive plant life bursts from her body in an uncontrolled manner.

                Cursing, the Alarune orders the other Plant Monsters to hold her down, though they too show a degree of unexplained mutation which makes their bodies bulge, but not much else. They easily hold down the abomination being formed before you, a roiling mass which reminds you of Chalan’s final form before she was destroyed.

                “Careless.” The Alarune hisses, extending her hands and using magic on the pitiful lump of plant matter and flesh in front of her. “Too much of the seed within her… I will be scolded.” Her magic seems to keep the mutations in check enough for her to plunge her arm straight into the head of the thing as if it were putty. It collapses to the ground a moment later, twitching violently.

                “Fertilizer.” She says, before waving to the cage of terrified women, some of them screaming as they inhale a much smaller dose of this, “seed.” She sighs and says, “We must work quickly now. Sloppy.”

                Clint’s stare doesn’t make you feel any worse than you already did. You thought perhaps you’d have stopped their production. Without the contents of that jar, whatever it is, they seem to have a hard time Monsterizing. But when it’s already infused it with mana, it appears that this is what’s causing the entire change. You never intended that to happen, however.

                The man nods to Ginelle, who shake her head at you before moving away, the rest of your group following. You didn’t cause them any tricks, but at the same time you allowed THAT to happen. Is all you can do recently is fuck up? Your heart sinks as you think about this, but you have to press on. If you dwell upon your failures… no, no you can’t let it distract you! Not right now!

                “Now is the perfect time to dwell on it, however…”

                You just have to grit your teeth and ignore the needling voice in the back of your head. The insanity that plagues you. Hells if you didn’t know any better, you’d say it was Jackor fucking with you. Of course, that would just be paranoia and that’s perhaps a sign of insanity, so maybe it is Jackor and-

                Rayleigh catches your shoulder as you almost walk right into a tree. She gives you a concerned look, and you shake your head, clearing it of the confusion. There’s no telling who or what could be watching you and making one little misstep will alert this entire place.

                Nodding at her in thanks, you hold your crossbow up and concentrate. You can tell everyone else is nervous as well, not made any better by what you just witnessed. There’s many niggling questions about what was in that jar, but you have a vague idea of the answer. Still, it’s something you’ll have to investigate after you complete your mission.

                Your party reaches the edge of the dome you’re in after moving through more overgrown plants. On the way you saw some rather exotic flowers that tried to eat you in one occurrence, which was nostalgic, and unfortunately another area where an Alarune was Monsterizing captive women. Though it pains you, you had to leave it alone. At least you know where the captured women have been going…

This dome was always more of a wild one, featuring more exotic plants while the one you’re headed to had more order and was set up with various flower gardens and other structures. The third dome had the lake inside of it and many marine plants. Distantly, you hear the sounds of howling, like that of a wolf, coming from that area. Of course, there’s the closer sounds of women screaming in agony before cackling as their mind and body are altered while men moan as they’re being milked for their magically altered semen, but hey, that’s ambiance in this little shop of horrors.

While you considered moving through the service catwalks around the structure, they don’t look to be in the best shape, some being bent or broken in a few areas while others are simply overgrown. Either way, even if you did manage to get up one of the service ladders in one piece, the noise of climbing and the visibility, even in such dense area, would certainly attract attention.

Speaking of which, why has no one found you yet? You expected this place to be crawling with Alarunes and other plant Monsters but there really aren’t very many here at all. There’s those working and the stored Monsters, but you expected to run into more. Or find that the plants around you are their roots or something. You doubt it’s easy to turn a human into a true Alarune, which would mean that all the original ones are… somewhere else? Or perhaps most of them are too difficult to control.

Ah, but you’re spacing out again. Focusing up, you look out from your new hiding spot at the connection between the two domes. A stone hall between them is filled with vines making it sort of like a cave, limiting how much you can see between the caverns. Various flowers dripping sticky sap line the walls at points, and despite the fuzziness from the plant life, you can see the mana signatures of two guards standing watch inside the space.

You motion to Ginelle, who slowly creeps forward from the brush, heading to the side of the connection room. She’s exposed in this position, but there’s no other way forward at the moment. Harmony follows a moment later as Rayleigh reaches out and casts [Privacy Barrier]. The two dash in and eliminate the Monsters with nary a sound heard, though Rayleigh quickly dispels the barrier. Hopefully such a low-level spell doesn’t attract attention, but you can never know.

Which is why the rest of your team moves in quickly, making certain you’re not being seen. No alarm cry goes out thankfully, and you’re able to move into the adjoining area. This, of course, presents a problem.

Where the last dome was filled with overgrown life, as you peer inside this dome, you see much more growth than before, certainly, but it has retained far more order than the other. While it used to have much more of a “country” feel, the grass is so tall it almost feels like a maze, with larger plant life looming above you. In some areas you see trees raising to the ceiling, forming against the glass to almost make a dome of their own while other burst through, moonlight filtering through.

The larger canals which held fish are choked with plant life however, drinking greedily, the fish no where to be seen. The insects from before, however, are still present. Thank Gods for your mask at least, though you know your neck is probably going to swell from all the mosquitos.

The largest signature of mana comes from where you encountered Fiora last time, where she built her little lab and the shrine to Phallia. Is it coincidence? Perhaps not. Either way, this is likely where you’ll find the Queen Alarune, and the answers to your questions.

But what is the best way to approach this? While the grass can hide you, it can also hide the enemy… and given that they posted guards up front, it would be folly to assume they didn’t post guards here either. You don’t see any above you, but the plant life is so dense you can’t get clear signatures of anything around you.

Rayleigh’s tail twitches at the sight of all that lush grass. You know she just wants to burn the whole place down to the ground, but that would allow your quarry the chance to escape. No, no you need to just go forward. All you need to do is shoot the Princess with your crossbow and end this farce. It will be that easy, right?

You nod to Ginelle, who crouches and moves forward into the deep grass. She tries not to rustle it too much, but what else can you do? Travel the open paths? You have no idea if that would even lead you to your destination. When Ginelle returns and waves you forward, you just suck it up and follow after.

The plants around you rustle slightly as you walk through there. There’s just nothing you can do about this extremely tall grass otherwise. There’s few larger plants in your way, making the going easy and yet difficult as you try not to expose yourself. But if anyone WAS watching from above, you’d stick out like a sore thumb. Which does not help your nerves.

Rayleigh is the first to jump at a rustling in the bushes. You see the mana flare up within her as she prepares to light the whole place on fire, but when nothing arrives, she calms down, breathing hard in her mask. It takes some time for your own heart to cool down as well.

Perhaps if you could talk to the others, you’d not feel as paranoid, but speaking is tantamount to suicide here. Even though you can hear the faint screams from behind you, adding in your voices is not going to be a smart idea. Gods you wish everyone had a sigil right now! It would certainly make things easier during the periods where the grass is too thick to see them ahead of you.

More rustling comes from near you. Pausing, you wait to see nothing coming. The others don’t seem to notice, so maybe it’s part of your imagination. It wouldn’t be the first time. Sighing internally, you pull back on the grass and see one of the tentacle Monsters crouching there. She looks at you for a moment, the two of you trading glances before a smile cracks her face and she lashes out with her tentacles, entrapping you before pulling you forward.

Despite yourself, a yelp comes from you as she grabs your legs and pulls you through the grass. She doesn’t make noise before small cackles, but she pulls you at a greater speed than you’d expect, away from the rest of your group. You’re unable to grab your knife and strike at her, but from the grass charges Rayleigh, who stabs the Monster with her knife, causing her to scream and let you go. The Squirrel Monster drives in a moment later and thrusts up with her knife, making a deep gash in it’s chest and causing green fluid to leak out before she buries it in the Monster’s neck, holding it down as it dies.

You’re released and you collapse, still holding your crossbow thankfully. Unfortunately, the shouting caused attention to be brought to you as you hear voices around you as well as more rustling.

“Well shit.” Rayleigh says, looking around through the tall grass. “I can’t find the others!”

“We need to move.” You say, making your way toward where you lost track of Ginelle and Clint. A mana signature flares up in your [Magesight Goggles] however. Though it’s not visible yet, but you can see a signature more powerful than the others, but not as strong as the location you were originally targeting moving toward your position. Was it being masked by the stronger signature?

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Rose’s voice says.

Your blood runs cold as the grass rustles nearby. Both you and Rayleigh stand perfectly still as you watch the fuzzy imprint of mana in the distance. All you can do is hold the crossbow tight as she says, “I know you’re here, Tobias. What other little rat would crawl all the way here? The Princesses’s little eccentricities may make it harder for me to find you, but I will… or perhaps my minions will do it for me.”

Around you the grass shuffles, but it’s hard to place where and how far away it is. While you can get a good feeling for where Rose might be, you can’t find any of the other plant Monsters circling you. While you’re getting horrific déjà vu of that farm, you need to find a way out of this, or at least find the others.

Rayleigh stays close to you, not summoning fire yet, though she would at a moment’s notice. You take the moment to scan about with your goggles and see in the distance Harmony’s mana signature. Clint may or may not be with her, but at least you know where she is… and in between you and her is Rose.

There’s a possibility you can avoid Rose entirely and head for your destination, but you’re not certain where her minions are, and if they find you, she’s coming in next. You have your [Herbaggedon] tipped bolts but without a clear line of sight, you have no idea if you’ll hit anything. With the enemy closing in, Rayleigh looks to you for orders.

                Slowly, you reach over to Rayleigh and motion toward where Harmony’s signature is. The Squirrel Girl takes notice through her own goggles and nods her head. Times like this makes you wish you had the same level of military training to give appropriate hand signals. Well, at least you have the crash course that Anderson made you take as part of your DSS training that you got after you did anything of consequence for the DSS.

                You’re pretty sure you’ve gestured to her to avoid Rose’s location. Thankfully she can see it too and keep track of it, but you need to get moving. Both you, Rose, and her minions are in the same boat here thankfully or else they’re just toying with you. But since you don’t hear shouting from Clint or Ginelle either, you suspect it’s the former. No one knows where anyone is in this verdant maze, which plays to your advantage.

                “Sorry Saya.” You say to yourself before digging deep into your power. With a firm image in your mind, you use [Project] to cast out all around you, touching the minds of those you can’t see. They, however, do see what you want them to see as the sounds and motions of furious running through the grass pervades the area.

                You feel your mind wracking for using such a powerful ability, and do your best to limit it to the area around you, making very sensible motions. Or as sensible as it gets when you’re trying to elude murderous plant beings.

                Shouts from the Monsters chasing after you come from all about as they dive away to chase your trails. Rose moves after one as well, as far as you can see through your goggles, and you’re certain that the little addition to your spell was working wonders as well. Rayleigh at least seems to be hearing it as the indiscriminate nature of [Project] makes her look at you in shock through her goggles.

                You suppose anyone shouting, “Come and get us you sleeves for Phallia’s massive cock!,” might make such beings a little upset.

                With these distractions in place, you head toward Harmony. Thankfully she can’t be affected by your magic, however Clint and Ginelle CAN. You’re limiting things to not hit the area you believe they might be, but you can’t really be certain. You just hope they’ll forgive you, if any of you survive this.

                Something crashes through the grass nearby and both you and Rayleigh pause, hearts racing. A cackle followed by a shout of rage comes as whatever it is chases after your taunting and misdirection. You keep your eyes focused on Harmony, however you try to see where Rose is as you pass her, making your way to the others.

                Rose pauses as you pass her and you catch your breath, standing stock still. Your illusions are creating multiple passes through the grass to hide your motion, but you can’t help yourself but stand still. She’s separated by only a small amount of grass. A strong breeze could reveal you, and perhaps a crossbow could even hit her through it. The weapon weighs heavy in your hands as you consider.

“Ah you sneaky little rat.” Rose says, projecting her silken voice. “This is magic, isn’t it? Yes, I was told about your little illusions. Using the grass to your advantage, clever! And you’re insulting our Goddess! Do you believe she has a cock, hmm? Do you want to get fucked by her so badly you little twink? Well, that can be arranged.”

The grass in front of you explodes as a stretch of vines reaches outward, toward one of your illusions. You about piss yourself as they writhe, reaching out for you. Eventually, the vines retract, the grass shifting somewhat back in place.

“Oh well, I’ll find you eventually!”

More crashing through the grass is heard as the Monsters try to find you. You have no doubt that if any of them catch you, Rose will be there in an instant. To that end, you need to keep moving so that your stretch of grass doesn’t cause them to become curious. It almost did already.

Rayleigh clutches the back of your jacket as you continue to move. She has to feel helpless here, her magic would only serve to kill everyone, including the innocents. Even if it was a controlled burn, you have no doubt that Rose would be on you before it could matter. Rayleigh has proven to be difficult under such pressure but she’s doing remarkably well, and you give you a slight nod for reassurance, such as it is.

Thankfully you didn’t get taken very far away from your friends by your assailant but it’s far enough to make every step worrisome. You can see through your goggles that Harmony is standing still, but there’s just no way to see where Clint and Ginelle are. Only a small amount of space separates you and Rayleigh from the construct, you just need to-

The Squirrel Girl gasps and yanks on your leg, dropping you to the ground. A moment later the large vines come in a large, sweeping arc over your heads. The vines writhe and you swear you see flesh within it as well before it retracts and the grass returns to normal.

“Annoying.” Rose shouts. “Annoying!”

                You shudder as you finally reach the area where Harmony is. When you enter the patch of grass she’s in, she lashes out and grabs your head, almost cracking the lenses of your mask before dropping you down. She begins to speak but cuts off as you motion for her to be silent, your head aching. Rayleigh looks about for Clint and Ginelle but can’t find them.

                Harmony points in a different direction. Did they go on ahead? Your illusion isn’t directed towards this area, but what if she gets the bright idea to chase after that area? You have to keep it going now though the spell is starting to take its toll on you. Once you find them, you can drop it… right?

                A shout comes from nearby, one of the Monsters found something. Immediately a convergence comes through the grass as they swarm the location nearby. Of course, this is a location near where Ginelle and Clint went.

                Panic wells in your chest. You can’t move toward where they are and you can’t change your illusion so willy-nilly. Without knowing what they’ve found, you have no idea what kind of illusion to make. All you can do is hold you breath and pray to whatever God is listening that they won’t be found.

                “Jackor is listening…” Your insane voice says in your mind. Perhaps it actually is Jackor taunting you, perhaps it isn’t. It doesn’t really matter.

                A long, tense moment follows as the plants converge upon the location of the sound. Rose, on the other hand, stays put. Why would she do that?

                Something tugs on your jacket and you look over to reassure Rayleigh again. You’re surprised, instead, to see Ginelle, Clint stalking behind her. Your eyes reveal your surprise at seeing them here. What happened?

                “Another of your illusions, Tobias?” Rose shouts. “No, it’s too imaginative for you. A trap set for my little minions? And yet it’s so crude.”

                You think Clint is smirking in his mask but you honestly can’t tell. Your illusions can misguide them, but a shout of panic from a very real trap is just as effective to draw them away. With the party thus together again, you can focus on your next course of action which is… what?

Kill Rose? Perhaps you could but that won’t stop all of this. Besides, you might only have one shot with your crossbow. You need to make it count. Which means…

You motion toward the large source of mana, the Princess. Take her out and… and… you don’t know. But you still need to do it.

Sucking it up, you continue to spread your illusion, making it appear as if you’re breaking away to retreat. The Monsters scatter to chase after them again while Rose… continues to stay put. There’s nothing for it, you need to keep moving.

While chaos reigns around you still, you make your way toward the source of the mana. The grass pushes and parts before you and suddenly you’re facing an open clearing and you have to blink in surprise at what you’re seeing.

A paved area choked with weeds and grasses holds the remnants of stone seats and a pavilion of sorts, all of which are covered in growth. Large pods spaced around the pavilion dribble viscous solutions while cluster of large mushrooms sprouting from the ground twitch and occasionally produce a dusting of spores that fall into open barrels nearby.

Upon the pavilion, nested in a series of roses, is a Monster. Her skin is a vibrant green and her lower half is settled within a massive flower with white petals that appear to be some kind of lily. Her face is young and her eyes serene, her medium-length white hair nestling around her head. She turns to regard you as you enter the clearing and raise your crossbow.

Something heavy strikes you and you fly into the clearing. Groaning, you pick yourself up to find Harmony atop you, the construct wrestling with a line of vines. She throws it off her and they retract, returning to Rose who enters into the clearing, a frown on her face. You hear behind you the sound of the other Monsters running toward you, though it will take them a little bit of time to reach you.

Your crossbow hit the grass nearby, the stupid thing always falling from your hands. Thankfully you’re great at scrabbling to grab it, but by the time you point it back at the Princess, her petals are covering her, obscuring your shot.

“I’m tired of this.” Rose says. “Haven’t we played enough games with each other? Don’t you just want to finish this?” Her muscles bulge as her eyes glow a deep green.

“Kill them.” The Princess says, finally speaking in a sing-song voice. “Our supply is about ready. Once they are removed the seedbloom will begin.”

“Don’t worry, Princess.” Rose says. “Phallia wills it.”

Chapter 48

                Rose, her arms bulging with unnatural muscles, explodes outward with both arms as vines race out to crush your party.

                Harmony intercepts one, her fists crackling with electricity while Ginelle takes the other full to the face. The construct is pushed back slightly while Ginelle is thrown back into the grass as the vines crawl all over her, her screams of anger drowning out as multiple vines cut off her voice.

                Clint roars and snaps up his rifle before you can raise your crossbow and he lets off a shot towards the woman. She laughs and twirls out of the way, letting go of Harmony while simultaneously throwing the enraged badger to land against one of the stone fixtures in the garden, cracking it while driving the Badger Girl to let out a gasp of pain.

                She smirks at you, retracting her vines as the first wave of plant Monsters makes it out of the tall grass, screaming with induced rage. One lands upon you and you have to wrestle her off you, despite her freakish strength. Harmony punches one so hard in the face with an electrically charged fist that it crumples inward while grabbing another and throwing her back toward the Princess. Clint holds out his rifle with one hand and fires a magic bolt straight into the chest of one charging at him, dropping her in a smoking heap.

                This can’t continue, another wave and you’ll be overrun. They’re innocent people, or were once, but they can still be saved! If there’s a way to save them, you have to find it. But as with all things, if you’re killed first then no one will be saved. Once again, another small sacrifice must be made.

                “Rayleigh!” You shout as you wrestle the Monster off you and then smash her in the face with the butt of your crossbow. “We need a wall of fire, now!”

                Fire coursing over her hands, she nods and begins to channel her mana when Rose dashes in, faster than before as her leg muscles bulge with muscle and plant matter, her shoes long obliterated. Her arms extend outward to grab the defenseless Pyromancer when something large, white, and angry barrels into her. Gorgeous face contorting with pain, Rose is sent rolling across the grass to hit a stump which throws her up into the air.

                Ginelle snarls as she staggers, her momentum from body slamming into Rose pushing her forward. Clint snaps his rifle up and flips the selector to overcharge the mana capacitor of his rifle. Multiple bolts of magical energy slam into Rose’s body mid-air, tearing huge chunks of her flesh apart before she hits the ground in a heap.

                Without a distraction any longer, Rayleigh is able to complete her spell. A wash of heat comes over you as nearby a wall of fire stretching from the edges of the clearing appears. You hear wails of pain come from nearby plant Monsters but they stop coming, at least for a moment.

                Turning about, you raise the crossbow to point at the Alarune Princess to find her petals are down. You’re surprised by the action, which makes you hesitate a moment too long as the gorgeous Monster’s expression of annoyance turns to that of pity. She whispers a word you can’t hear as Harmony shouts out to you.

                Something hot grabs you around your arms and you hear a mixture of pain and unfocused rage scream into your ears. Though your arms are well protected by your Arachne- silk suit, at least for now, indescribable pain comes from your neck. You realize quickly that whatever is grabbing you is ON FIRE.

                You can’t cry out from the agony of it and are forced to endure for the most agonizing few seconds of physical pain you’ve ever felt before Harmony tears the Monster of you, and then in half. Though you’re dimly aware of more of the Monsters appearing, throwing themselves through the wall of flames without any seeming care, all you can do is weep in pain, mind reeling.

                Somewhere you know that you can’t succumb to this, your mental training should allow you to recover, but it hurts so bad. You can’t just use magic to get out of this one, but you have to do something. Coughing and weeping, you raise the crossbow in your hands toward the Princess Alarune to… find the petals are up again.

                Nearby you hear Harmony fighting and firing off blasts of electricity while Rayleigh applies more fire to plants, using enough heat to keep them down for good. Crossbow lowering, you turn your head slowly to see Clint replacing his mana capacitor while Ginelle fights off the flaming Monsters, the Badger Girl coughing inside her mask every so often. Once again, your actions made things worse, didn’t they? Did you lead your friends here to die?

                “Give up…” The voice in your head says. “Let it end here. You tried, and you failed. Accept it.”

                “Fuck… you…” You say, gritting your teeth and pushing yourself up. The mask you’re wearing is damaged and is about to fall apart anyway. Not caring, you take it off and cough at how thick the air is with humidity and who knows what else. Looking over your shoulder, you see nothing coming toward you, your friends having this well under control.

                Crossbow in both hands, you begin to stalk over to the Princess Alarune. Rose is dead and the others are busy, giving you a one-on one with your quarry. Her petals are still closed around her, but the moment they go down, you’ll fire the bolt and finish her. Failing that, you just need one root, or perhaps you’ll crawl in and shove it straight into her fucking chest. Her look of pain will be delicious.

                You begin to breathe heavily as you think about it, your steps moving with more vigor, heart beating faster. Something is driving you forward, urging you to kill her. Your blood runs hot and heavy, your mind focusing in on this task. You’re drawn towards her, to get inside those petals and feel her body, hands coursing all over her as you stab her, laughing, creating more and more holes to-

                Your steps falter as you catch yourself. Breathing heavy, you look down at your shaking hands and realize what you were thinking about. Thoughts turned from vengeance, to outright slaughter, to bloodsports, to something… something else. Though you realize it, your heart beats hard in your chest and your pants grow tight. Is it something… something in the air?

                Gasping, your eyes snap to the large mushroom near the Queen Alarune. It twitches and then, as if it knows it’s being watched, turns toward you. Your eyes grow wide as you see a gorgeous female form, the mushroom growing from her head and her body, which appears to the stem. She cocks her head toward you, as if not certain of who or what you are, spores drifting from her and into the nearby barrels.

                A… a Matango. But you… you took the spores they had and delivered them-? How… how could this be? Unless there were more in the Cradle all along… and you not going there allowed all of this to happen.

                Your knees grow weak as you collapse to the ground, your body betraying you. Behind, you hear a howl of some beast, followed by shouts from Clint and Ginelle. All you can do is stare at the Matango, unable to take your eyes off her, though you desperately know you need to.

                A soft rustling in the grass is heard behind you and a moment later you see the naked form of Rose appear before you. Her body is a mess of holes dribbling blood and other fluids while vines and roots pull and knit her host form together as best as it can. One arm is normal while the other continues to bulge and writhe unconsciously. Her beautiful face, however, somehow didn’t fix itself and appears disfigured with burns on it, the skin underneath crawling with uncontrolled movement while her eye bulges somewhat, glowing a harsh green.

                Her chest heaving, she kicks you across the face, sending you crashing to the ground. Unable to pick yourself up, she slams her foot onto your chest, giving you a view that makes your addled body scream with the urge to copulate with her.

                “I hate you.” She says through grit teeth. “Why couldn’t you have given me the bunny? Phallia’s vision is beautiful. She wishes for a world without Monsters. You’re human, you should understand what that means!”

                “Aren’t you… a Monster now?” You ask, which gets you a kick to the side of the head.

                “You little faggot. I am blessed. I am chosen. I am the instrument of a Goddess’s will!”

                “B-Big deal. Some asshole God chose me too and I’m not thrilled about it.”

                She reaches down with her distorted arm and grabs your neck, pulling you up, dropping your crossbow. Her fingers squeeze tight around your neck, cutting you off as she glares at you before looking down and sneering.

                “You’re about to die and you have a boner. Your friends are going to be killed, and you have a boner.” She turns you, forcefully, to look over at your friends.

                The Plant Monsters are gone, but in their place are… regular Monsters? Three Wolf Girls and two Lamia strike at them, their eyes filled with rage. You don’t see the green glow within them that the infested seem to have but they strike with a more savage nature. Was that where that howl you heard when you entered this dome came from? Were these Monsters here all along?

                Your friends are fighting them to a standstill, the Monsters seemingly impervious to pain as they’re beaten, burned, and shot.

                “Your little meddling has kept my forces at bay for a little longer, but we had these in back-up. Matango spores and rageweed. Who knew how powerful it would be together. With the Princesses’ own touch added in, it makes for a potent Monsterizing agent on human women, and turns Monsters into…” She waves to them. “That.”

                “Rose.” The Princess calls from behind. “Bring him to me.”

                The woman, no, the Monster before you furrows her brow, and you can see she is considering disobeying her. She relents, however, and turns you around, bringing you before the extremely attractive Monster nestled inside her petals. As you approach, a cloying aroma makes your pants feel incredibly tight and your heart rate increase even further as your head goes light. Your eyes focus entirely upon the curves of her body, though Rose forces you to be eye level to her.

                She reaches out a hand to caress your face, making you shudder. You might even have orgasmed a little bit from it. Smiling, she says, “You are one of Phallia’s most hated men, did you know? Chalan, Rose, Fiora, they all hated you. But I find you’re rather handsome. I can see the way you look at me as well, I can see what’s in your pants. You thought you could stop the seedbloom, but in the end, your semen will both add the finishing touches, and give birth to my children.”

                Rose frowns, “Him? I came here to help keep him from interfering when I was told he was coming here. You’re not supposed to be fucking him, unless it’s so hard up his ass he’s dead. There’s enough of the seedbloom loaded onto the leyway as it is, we should have already sent it to Sanctifrond.”

                Leaning in close, she says, her lips barely an inch from yours. “Just say the word and I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted.”

                Your body screams to have release. With the Matango’s spores and the Alarune Princesses’ enticing body and aroma before you, it’s so hard to think about anything else. Give in and have everything you’ve ever wanted… both the voice in your head and your body crave such an eventuality, but something else interferes.

                Your heart.

                Images of Saya, Akela, and your young daughter flash through your mind. Everything you’ve ever wanted eh? Well, if that’s what she’s offering then…

                You spit in her face.

                The Alarune Princess and Rose both look at you, stunned. Though your bulge strains to destroy your well-tailored pants, you smile at them, knowing that at least if you die, you didn’t put out. Your mother may be a bitch but you sure aren’t.

                “Why you…” The Princess begins before her eyes widen and she pulls back, her petals rising about her. A moment later, fire cascades over the petals, causing you to flinch backward while Rose staggers back, then turns to face the source.

                Rayleigh stands there, arms wreathed in flames, her breathing coming heavy. Behind her, Clint raises his rifle while Harmony crackles with energy as the wall of flames rages on. Ginelle kneels over the collapsed forms of the Monsters they were fighting, hand over her chest as she breathes heavily, but seems to be covered in blood that’s mostly not hers.

                “How did-?” Rose begins before crying out as Clint’s rifle strikes her mutated arm, blowing a chunk out of it. She drops you as the hand writhes and before you can hit the ground, Harmony flies in and grabs you, bringing you back to your lines.

                “Are you alright?” Harmony asks as she pulls out an extra mask and fits it over your head. “Clint had a spare in case Ginelle, well, Ginelle.”

                Immediately you feel a little better, your head clearer. Of course, you still have a raging need to bury your meat stick into the nearest flesh hole, but you can at least think about something else. “Yeah, I think I’ll survive. Are all of you okay?”

                “Those Monsters were brutal, but we’re fine for now. I don’t know if more will come then.”

                “We need to finish this then.” You say, pulling out your vial of the [Herbaggedon]. “Both of them need to die.”

                “And how will you do that?”

                You look over to Rayleigh, who is showering the area with flames, forcing Rose to dodge while the Princess protects herself, Clint laying down suppressive fire. One’s too agile, one’s too well protected. But there’s always an opening, if you’re nimble enough. There’s always a way to stop something, if you’re strong enough.

                “Give this to Rayleigh, she’ll know what to do with it.” You say. “For us, I need my crossbow.”

                Harmony nods her head. “We’ll have to be fast before more of those get here.”

                “Then let’s not waste time.”

                Both of you break, the construct moving to the Squirrel Girl while you scramble for your crossbow. As you reach it, Rose’s arm extends forward, hitting the ground next to you. You roll with the weapon, careful not to discharge it. Rose’s arm slaps the ground and seeks to sweep you, but Clint blows another hole in her chest and she screams, staggering backward as she reknits herself, her body roiling all over.

                Harmony soars past you while Rayleigh continues a barrage of flames on the Princess Alarune, running to the sides of the Monster. The ground around you begins to rumble then, roots and vines appearing and growing in a fashion that reeks of Biomancy. They seek to swat the nimble Squirrel, but she dexterously leaps over and through them, climbing like a born uh, climber.

                “Damn… you!” Rose says, her voice distorted as her body writhes. Vines sprout from her back as her host form suffers too many damage to keep the growth in check. She shouts and charges at Clint as he fires into her, his weapon blowing out chunks but not stopping her charge. Only Harmony can do that, flying in before her as the ground breaks apart, plant life seeking to break all of you into pieces. She locks hands with the mutating the Monster, the two pressing against each other.

                Clint is flung backward the ground beneath him explodes outward, the man only saved from being crushed by Ginelle grabbing him and weathering the beating by the plant life. Your feet are also unsteady, making your shot difficult to line up as nausea and the aftereffects of the Matango spores war within you.

                Harmony’s arms, which you know were repaired in sub-optimal conditions, begin to crack against the raw power of Rose, who is barely hanging onto the last vestiges of her humanity. Despite her discharges of electricity, it’s not phasing Rose at all, who continues to press down upon the construct.

                You look down at the crossbow and curse, tearing the bolt off the weapon and casting it aside. Heart pounding heavy, you scream inside your mask and run through the exploding terrain, leaping over the vines and plant life. You trip and fall once, rolling under a sweeping vine before leaping up and continuing toward the battle between the two.

                “IF THIS IS YOUR ANSWER, THEN YOU HAVE NO PLACE IN THIS WORLD!” The Princess Alarune booms. “SERVANTS OF PHALLIA, PROTECT YOUR NEXT QUEEN!”

                Voices of pain and agony come from behind, raising into a crescendo as hundreds of beings flood into the dome. You can’t waste time looking back at them, all you can do it run forward, toward the battle of Monster and metal, however metal seems to be giving out. Harmony’s legs begin to buckle and spark in ways that are not at all intentional. Summoning up all the breath within, you shout,

                “Harmony! Activate the avenger protocol!”

                Harmony’s eyes blaze bright with inner light as her core overcharges. The electricity coursing her form intensifies as her wings flare bright. Rose’s distorted face, which was laughing beforehand, now looks on in confusion as Harmony twists her grip and slides inward, pushed by her wings. This movement snaps one of Harmony’s arms, but throws Rose onto her side. She roars and uses her now free arm to beat upon Harmony, the overpowered blow winking out all light in the construct. Rose roars in triumph and turns to you right as you run up and, with two hands, slam the herbicide covered bolt into her chest.

                With the ground still erupting around, you stand there, breathing heavily as both your hand press the small bolt of metal into her chest. Rose looks down at it and places her still relatively human hand onto yours. She has time to blink once and look up at you before she coughs up green and red fluid that splatters onto your mask and suit.

                Lines of black trail up and over the wound, racing through her body. Places dominated by plant life wither and die, sloughing off as human blood flows out from the new wounds. Her right side begins to melt in a way as the mutant plant life dies away, leaving over the tainted human flesh. In her last moments, Rose stares at you with an incredibly human expression. An expression of sorrow.

                And then she’s dead, her weight falling upon you. You only have a moment of breather before the ground beneath you throws both of you apart and you fall to your knees, finding it hard to get back up. All the adrenaline you pushed into yourself no longer is able to keep you going. The days of fighting, the mental strain before and the spores raging in your body have left you a wreck. As the plant life around you comes crashing around and the Monsters created by this deranged Princess race toward you, all you can do is watch the burning mass of petals as they unfurl for the Monster to presumably gloat at you.

                What they reveal surprises you. The Princess has a look of extreme agony on her face as her petals wilt around her. She throws back her head in soundless pain while writhing. You can tell she’s using magic to keep her demise at bay, but there’s just no stopping it as the lines of black creep up her body, destroying her from within.

                Rayleigh pushes herself up from behind the Princesses’ pedestal, her arm dripping blood, her tail torn up. She holds up a knife which drips sap and a little of what can only be the herbicide as she stands next to the dying Princess. Without a second thought, she snaps her fingers and the Monster bursts into flames next to her. Eaten away from within and without, she dies in moments.

                Something like a wave of pressure hits you then, making you black out for a moment. When you come to, you see Rayleigh staggering as well, hand to her head. Her lapse in concentration made her wall of flame wink out, leaving only scorched earth, and behind it a line of Plant Monsters staring with wide, confused eyes. Howls still come from enraged animal Monsters as they race into the room, but large tree roots burst through the ground and wrap them up, sealing off the entrance to the dome they came from.

                The Plant Monsters seem as surprised as you do, backing away from the tree roots or even falling to the ground and crying. One of said roots bursts from the ground next to you and you try to pull out your knife when a face appears in the bark.

                “Tobias! It really is you!”

                “U-Ulala?” You ask, mind reeling. “H-how? Ungh-!”

                The sudden shock finally breaks you, and you pass out, the world going black.

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

                “… now the army decides to show up. Right after we did all the hard work.”

                “Yes, but now they can focus on restoring order, though I feel we’ll have to keep them from killing all these new Monsters.”

                “It’s not going to be easy but it is what it is. At least they’re not trying to kill us anymore.”

                “What a mess this is and… hey, is he awake?”

                You blink your eyes open and groan as Finn places a hand on your shoulder. “Easy now, easy now. You’re alright.”

                “W…where?” You ask, looking around the room in confusion. It takes you a moment to realize it’s the infirmary made within your makeshift base. “How-?”

                “I carried you back.” Another male voice says. You turn over and catch your breath as Richard stands there, smile on his face. “You can’t help but get beat up, can you? What a silly apprentice.”

                “Richard, you…” You say, trying to keep from crying. “I thought you might have… that Ulala would have…”

                “Hah, well.” He rubs at the back of his head. “Ulala noticed something was wrong and asked me to see her. She trapped me inside of her again before she went berserk, but I think she was able to keep the effects of whatever was going on at bay enough to protect me… even if that meant destroying everything else.”

                “I’m just glad your safe.”

                “Yeah, same here, kid.”

                Finn smirks before coughing into his hand. “Well, I’m glad to witness such a reunion. Mr. Dennerman has been exceptionally helpful along with his wife in restoring order to the town. I did not know her roots extended so far, but I’m glad she only focused on the immediate area around her for her destructive tendencies.”

                “You know, she can probably hear you.” Richard says. “Anyway, she’s busy at the moment trying to help all these new Monsters. That concoction they were using is dangerous. Best we can tell, when infused with magic properly it will Monsterize humans and will drive Monsters into a rage. Without this Princess it seems that everyone is back to their full senses however and scared.”

                “Their lives radically changed after all.” You sigh. “What about the others? How are they?”

                Finn sighs, “Clint is fine but Ginelle’s chest is in a rough shape. She was coughing blood into her mask the whole time until she brought him and you back here, now she’s unconscious as the healers work on her. Rayleigh will be okay, though she’ll need a haircut of sorts while Harmony is…” He thinks for a moment.

                “Functional.” Harmony says, walking into the room. One of her arms is a mess but she’s otherwise moving okay.

                You sigh out in relief. “I was worried when your lights went out that your core overloaded.”

                “In a sense it did. The avenger protocol will cause my functions to cease for a period and that hammer blow broke me out of it. But it seems I didn’t burn out, so here we are.” She cocks her head. “How did you know about the avenger protocol anyway? I don’t like to use it.”

                “I read about it in a book.” You say, smirking at her.

                The construct stares at you before slowly bending over and chuckling. “Gods, you really are a nerd, aren’t you?”

                You shrug as she continues to chuckle and shake her head. “Well, the Illomas are clamoring to try and fix my damage, but we’re supposed to return to the Wizard anyway.”

                “Ah, but with what to show?” You say. “If Clint and Ginelle kept their vials intact we have maybe half of what we started with of that herbicide.”

                “They do and I’ve spoken with him about it.” Finn says. “They’re about a day away from reaching an encampment of Galmathorians near a leyway nexus. He’s keeping it from the others for now but he is intrigued by the herbicide’s potency. The Lord Commander congratulates us as well.”

                “Has he heard from Sele- err, the Monster Lady yet?”

                “Not yet, no.”

                “Hmm, I wonder what’s keeping Clarissa, she should have been there days ago…” You mutter. “Well, I guess there’s not much we can do about that.” You look up to the man and ask,

“What’s next?”

                “We recover and allow the army to restore the balance. The question will be if we press north with our forces or let them do so, but we can push back the Galmathorian advance. We also confiscated most of those barrels from the loaded leyway track. The Matango was also slain in the fires Rayleigh set so I guess that takes care of this seedbloom before it ever happened.”

                “That’s a relief.” You say. “Imagine if that stuff at reached Sanctifrond. Even if it only crashed on the walls, if it got into the air, the chaos would be unimaginable.”

                “Aye. I shudder to think what would have happened had we not come here, but at the same time, I don’t know what’s happening in Cair. I hope the people there are safe.”

                “They aren’t.” Ophelia says, walking in and shaking her head. “I got the comms systems up and running using Taylor, who we found alive damn- I mean, thankfully. The army took and Order forces heading up north could link with it through a repeater in Sanctifrond. They’re in a protracted battle in and around Cair at the moment. The city exists but it’s in bad shape and the north is… in some degree of chaos. No one even knows what’s happening up near the Monster Nation border.”

                “Why wasn’t I informed us this?” Finn asks.

                “Because I literally just learned of it.” The Rabbit Girl sighs. “Oh hey, good to see you’re doing well Tobias. Anyway, the Lord Commander wants to talk with you via the comms.”

                Finn nods to her and squeezes your shoulder before leaving the room with Ophelia. This leaves Harmony and Richard who sighs and says, “I better get back to Ulala. You take care of yourself with whatever crazy mission you have this time.”

                “Yeah, I will. Same to you.”

                He smirks and walks away, only Harmony remaining. She turns to you, raising her one functional arm and holding up your sigil. “Well? What will it be?”

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