Thea drew her fingers across Chrysanthemum’s bony body. Even though the entirety of it was wreathed in flames, Thea didn’t feel the slightest bit of warmth. In fact, she felt cold. The strong bones of Chrysanthemum’s torso were riddled with cracks. The wounds bearing the brunt of Donnyton’s resistance were considerable.
While the examination continued, Chrysanthemum stoically crouched next to Thea. The lines around Thea’s eyes tightened. Even after all the fighting, the bear didn’t seem to feel a hint of discomfort. And these sort of wounds would heal quickly…
Was this a mistake…? Thea thought bitterly. Her gaze turned to the other Nemesai, and the unconscious girl held between them as the Winged Serpent set up two larger teleportation formations. But if we didn’t attack, we would have just fallen further behind. In order to survive…
...its really gone to hell, hasn’t it? I know you can’t hear me, but Chrysanthemum… what should we be doing....? Thea’s gaze turned back to Chrysanthemum. But of course, the bear was silent. As she had been silent the entire time since the Creature’s strange magic had revived Chrysanthemum.
Worse than silent, however, was blank and unresponsive. She followed orders, but not much more than that. There were a few moments where Chrysanthemum displayed a hair more… liveliness, but there was one detail in common during all those moments. Thea pressed her eyes closed.
“Torment the Earth, child,” The Creature had said to her. “Cause chaos. Someday, that fool boy will create enough connections with his Aether that he will give one to someone who is despicably weak. Capture that person and bring them to the spot indicated on this map. Then I’ll consider our debt settled…”
When Thea had asked if Chrysanthemum would regain her consciousness at that point, the Creature just laughed.
“We will find out then, now won’t we?”
“Winged Serpent, hurry,” Thea said with iron in her voice. Her eyes shot open and she scanned the horizon. “A group from Donnyton is already heading in our direction. We need to recover Roy and his new toy as quickly as possible. Then we will head into your Zone Seven to see how stable that place really is.”
The Winged Serpent bobbed his head and continued to draw elaborate diagrams on the ground with its tail. Some distance away, the Obsidian Duke continued to sweat and channel his energy to recover his body. Of them all, he had suffered the most damage in this attempt. Perhaps even more than Thea.
Regina Northwind huh… to think that even she is strong enough to fight against a Nemesis...
Deep Horror, the strange sea monster that was half-crustacean and half octopus, looked at the Obsidian Duke in concern. “Is Donnyton truly that powerful? I’m glad I was rear guard, in that case.”
“Bah, I encountered no resistance worth mentioning,” Said the newly arrived Nemesai from Zone Eleven. He was a tall muscular man, closer to orc than human. His skin was a grey-red color and two large tusks jutted out from his lower jaw. He called himself the Wildness.
Fucking Nemesai and the’s, Thea thought darkly. Just use your name. We might die like this.
The Wildness sneered at the Obsidian Duke. “Perhaps… you are simply too weak…? No wonder you have struggled so long against the people of this world.”
Rather than reply, the Obsidian Duke just glowered at his severed leg and continued to heal himself. Thea also didn’t bother to say anything; the Wildness had been the one tasked with the kidnapping. Of them all, he had encountered the lightest resistance. But there would be no point in telling him that.
Someday, he would learn that lesson the hard way.
Thea pressed her eyes closed. Soon, Chrysanthemum. Soon, you will wake up…! You have to. I know you are still fighting in there.
“It is ready,” The Winged Serpent announced.
Thea’s eyes flashed open. “Then pull him back here. Pulling the Ghosthound was done perfectly. I thought he was a fool, but… his plan worked. Now we just need to get him out of there before the Ghosthound caught up.”
The Obsidian Duke looked up from his bloody work with a smirk. “It’s been five days. It isn’t that easy to travel from Donnyton to the World Crater and then search an entire world to find someone.”
“Do you want to risk it?” Thea asked lightly. The Obsidian Duke was silent. They both remembered the fight with the Ghosthound in Lake Apollo. Where he had fucking emptied a huge amount of space of water and then proceeded to rip the Doctor apart despite the Nemesai’s interference.
No, Randidly Ghosthound was not a foe that they could fight directly. And it was exactly that sense of helplessness that had both kept Thea frozen and planning for so long. While no one knew where the Ghosthound was, Thea didn’t dare act on the Creature’s original request, even though she identified two targets that were deemed “easy”.
After all, he could return at any time. An absent Randidly was an ax hanging over her head. And there was no real need to be hasty.
No, Thea would plan and wait until Randidly returned so she could be entirely sure that he wouldn’t turn up at the wrong point and ruin everything. So she had meticulously watched everyone that the Ghosthound had contact with and slowly developed profiles. She calculated risks, mapped out schedules.
She recruited support from discontent groups in the different Zones and built up a following. These individuals would never fight, but they could feed information to the Nemesai. They connected her to the growing underworld of Earth.
And the two targets she had finally settled on were related; they were siblings, Nathan and Kiersty.
Of the two, Thea instincts told her to attack Nathan. He was generally protected by a few high-Level people, but it was a much less intimidating option than going after Kiersty, who stayed in the heart of Donnyton most of the time.
Yet the other Nemesai had disagreed. One problem with Nathan was that his Class was extremely strange. Even the Nemesai recognized that his ability to give Classes to others probably gave him a few offensive Skills that would be extremely difficult to resist. What if he could directly attack and hack into their Aether?
In addition, Nathan was always on the move. Harder to predict even accounting for that, too. And he didn’t seem willing to let slip information on where he was going. None of Thea’s agents were able to get close to him for very long.
It seemed that Nathan was very sensitive to the Nemesai’s energy because all attempts to draw out information regarding his power by ambushing with Raid Bosses were expertly avoided. Time and time again Tykes simply took the young teen and escaped before danger could present itself and force him to act. They always seemed prepared.
Part of that could be blamed by Ptolemy being there to guide them, but still… it was an unknown risk that they hadn’t been able to suss out over a half of year’s worth of attempts.
And the final argument that the other Nemesai gave for choosing Kiersty was the most infuriating: They should attack Kiersty because she was in Donnyton. Donnyton was a symbol to this world. Ultimately, the Nemesai were present in a world in order to cause them to fail their Calamities. And they instinctively knew that the best way to do this was to break the symbol of a world.
Kiersty’s presence was also relatively predictable. Which Thea was able to learn after watching almost identical days from the girl for several months while the details of the plan were slowly built through observation. Best of all, it was easy for agents to infiltrate the Cult of Arbor.
So she had agreed, grudgingly. After all, she didn’t lead the Nemesai. She was just acknowledged as the most powerful and insightful, as she had been originally from this world herself. She didn’t quite understand the why, but it was clear that all these other Nemesai had their abilities limited when they descended to this Cohort.
But Thea could also tell that those limits were slowly disappearing as Earth grew more powerful. It made her sad. But also happy. Because she would do anything to revive Chrysanthemum, this time in her entirety. And to do that, she needed strength.
The Winged Serpent spread its wings and the first of the two diagrams began to glow. Shaking her head, Thea focused on the task at hand. When Roy and Drake were retrieved, they needed to move as quickly-
The portal had something of a homing function, so it would appear near both of the keyed-in individuals. With a crackle of energy, a small blue ball appeared over the formation. There was a wooshing sound, and suddenly the portal expanded to almost three meters tall and one meter wide. A door to another world was standing wide open right in front of them.
When the portal opened fully and nothing happened, there was a moment of silence as no one understood what had taken so long. Hadn’t Roy noticed the portal’s arrival? Was he sleeping? Eating? Or...
Then a little skull scuttled through the portal on stubby legs that were clearly fingers, its eyes glowing ominously. “Shut the portal. Now.”
“You cannot simply shut-” The Winged Serpent began to hiss. It always hated when people demeaned what it considered to be an extremely complicated and sophisticated proceeding by demanding certain actions of its portals. And it was very happy to argue the issue.
But Thea cut it off. If Roy was this injured...God, she hoped that small bud of fear in her chest wouldn’t be correct. Better to not risk it. “The Portal. Close it.”
“Did we not want the other?” The Winged Serpent asked in confusion.
On cue, a body was smashed through the portal like a rag doll. The Obsidian Duke howled in pain as the body crashed into him, even as he had almost finished recreating his leg out of polished obsidian.
“Shit,” Roy muttered. “To think that we would get involved in this sort of scenario…”
“THE PORTAL!” Thea thundered as bleak confirmation dawned in her eyes. “SHUT IT DOWN.”
The portal trembled and then began to rapidly shrink. From the size of a door, it quickly dropped to the size of a chair, and then to a basketball. But before it could shrink further, a single vine slithered through the opening and wrapped up against the top. That single vine was soon followed by ten others that spread throughout the circumference of the portal, holding it open.
“Ah, this is unusual,” The Winged Serpent muttered to itself.
Thea’s expression became murderous, even as she drew her battle ax and threw her body toward the shimmering portal. None of them understood what was happening, and everyone else was looking at her panicked expression strangely. “JUST STOP FEEDING IT MANA.”
The second before Thea arrived, the portal shuddered and was forcibly pulled open to a one meter in diameter circle. The roots flexed and the portal groaned further. Her ax cut into the roots that were pulled the portal open, but there were too many of them. She couldn’t cut quickly enough to slow the portal’s shuddering expansion.
“That’s why I’m saying its strange,” The Winged Serpent said with audible curiosity in its tone. “I did cease providing Mana. Yet those roots are producing enough ambient Mana that the portal is effectively powering itself. I wonder-”
“Does it matter? We can just kill whoever walks through the portal. Let them come,” The Wildness said with obvious disinterest. He flexed his jaw, his tusks extending forward in something akin to excitement. “Hopefully this foe-”
“Fools,” Roy said quietly. Yet Thea was surprised to hear how excited Roy sounded. His jaw clacked in obvious animation. “A Hero is about to arrive and discover that you’ve kidnapped one of his own. I don’t need to explain to you that one of us is going to die, right?”
The Crown came first through the portal, a strangely luminous grey metal with no real adornment. Then the short black hair, the same sharp features, a lean and muscular body. A long leafy spear, a strange charcoal body armor that covered his torso, upper arms and thighs. Bare feet.
And of course, emerald eyes that slid around the group, measuring them. Those eyes eventually settled on Kiersty.
“What the hell is going on…?” Randidly Ghosthound said slowly.