Decklan danced forward, his eyes bright as the wounded Wyvern, the Tier II Raid Boss, backpedaled as fast as its stubby legs could carry it.
The only trouble that Decklan’s team had ever had was getting close enough to the Raid Boss to launch their attacks. Once it was alerted, the Raid Boss’s minions would swarm, making the kill almost impossible.
Generously, Dozer and his squad had smashed the minions into monster goop, clearing a very wide path to the boss. The two squads had rushed forward, overwhelming the Raid Boss’s monstrous health, hacking its body to pieces.
Now, on its last legs, Dozer reluctantly allowed Decklan to go forward alone, seeking to gain the stat gains of this Raid Boss. Ivan and Terra hurried after him. Terra to provide support, Ivan who watched them both with calculating eyes, hoping to swipe the stat gains for himself. In a way, it was amusing to Decklan, for his subordinates to be so greedy.
But something about Ivan’s attitude resurrected a vicious streak that Decklan had slowly let fall asleep in his stay in Donnyton.
If this fucker tried anything funny, he would regret it.
The Raid Boss spun around, its tail smashing towards them. Decklan gracefully leapt over it, earning himself another skill level in Jump, leaving long, jagged scratches across the skin of the Raid Boss as he sliced downwards in a practiced motion, barely missing a beat. Decklan had to hold back a grin. There was something about this life, with the system. It was just so much… fun.
Wisely noticing that he didn’t need her help, Terra retreated, avoiding the blow. Gritting his teeth, Ivan imitated Decklan, his much lower control making itself known as he smashed into the tail and rolled over it in a ball of limbs.
Decklan smiled slightly, but sprinted off after the Raid Boss, which had erupted into motion, dashing into a nearby thicket of trees.
Right when he was about to pursue, Decklan saw a thorny vine rising out of the ground in front of him, wiggling back and forth.
Frowning, Decklan crossed his arms. “But we did all the work.”
The vine pointed at Decklan, shook itself, then spun in a lazy circle, as if to say, “You are the one that brought it here, to me. I can’t be everywhere, now can I?”
Then it flicked the thorny vine, clearly telling him to wait. Decklan just sighed, exasperated.
He had been aware that The Ghosthound’s strange plant pet, Thorn, had been following his squad and mopping up a lot of the weaker minions of the raid boss, draining their bodies of blood and delivering them to Sam.
Sam was delighted at the intact bone structure of enemies killed this way, and had impressed upon Decklan that this was a pet of the Ghosthound, and he should allow it free reign, assisting it whenever possible.
The way Sam said Ghosthound annoyed Decklan, because it was not in a reverent way of speaking. It was more a distasteful pronunciation, as if Sam would prefer not to say it like that, but was only using it thus as a tool against him.
But still, Sam was technically correct. So Decklan just sat on his haunches, slowly recovering. Ivan ran up to him, eyes bulging.
“What are you doing! It’s getting away!”
Decklan made a helpless gesture. “...This is no longer just our quarry. We wait here.”
Ivan snorted and stomped forward. Thorn’s little vine turned to Ivan, then back at Decklan. Decklan just shrugged.
Ivan made it three steps before several thorny vines burst from the ground, wrapping his body up in a split second, binding his arms to his sides. One vine, covered with particularly jagged thorns, wound its way around Ivan’s neck, almost lazy in its motions.
The communication vine turned back to Decklan, almost in askance. Ivan struggled helplessly, his strength nothing in comparison to the powerful, constricting vines of Thorn. Very quickly his face turned red, and then purple, blood dripping out from 100 small cuts on his body.
“I would prefer you not kill him. He is a… capable subordinate.” Decklan said, simultaneously amused and intimidated. He had known it was powerful, but this…
Even if Decklan was prepared… could he dodge all of those vines…?
Thorn’s main vine slid over to Ivan’s suspended body, patting him in several places, seeming to consider.
Then it unceremoniously dumped Ivan on the ground. He immediately began gasping for breath, scrambling away from the treeline, his eyes wide with fear.
Meanwhile, Thorn was now beckoning Decklan. Nervously, he followed it deeper into the trees.
The path of the Raid Boss was abundantly clear. The thing had crashed forward with as much delicacy as a tank. About a mile beyond the trees, they came upon the remnants of the Tier 2 Raid Boss, held bound by dozens of thorny vines. As he approached, Decklan saw the vines constrict, digging deeper into the monster’s flesh, several long scratches ripping open even more widely as the thorns dragged across it.
But what drew Decklan’s gaze was below the body.
As the vines tightened, several drips of blood were squeezed out, as if the Raid Bosses body was being rung like a wash cloth, and fell into the strange, toothy maw of Thorn.
This was the first, and only, Decklan hoped, time he would see Thorn’s core. It was a mass of soft flesh, a weird mixture of brown and pink and green, a red, slimy tentacle slithering up through its rot covered teeth to catch the drops of blood.
When he looked at it, all Decklan could think of was a strange, twisted turnip that had dozens of saggy, cancerous growths covering it. And from those growths stretched thorny vines, sinking into the ground beneath it.
The cancer turnip turned, and then twisted its toothy maw into an arc, in a strange imitation of a smile. Then, with surprising delicacy, the body of the Raid Boss was deposited on the ground in front of Decklan.
He tilted his head to the side, but then froze. The eyelid of the Raid Boss had fluttered weakly. It was still alive…?
All Thorn had wanted was to drink its blood…?
In a flurry of motion, the vines withdrew, ripping into the ground in a spray of dirt, Thorn invisible almost immediately.
Then, feeling an odd twinge of pity for the creature, Decklan slit the throat of the Raid Boss.
Upon hearing Decklan’s report, the Council was silent, each of its members keeping their thoughts to themselves.
“So…” Sam spoke first, his brow furrowed. “How strong do you think this… Thorn… really is?”
Decklan shrugged wearily. Killing the Tier II Raid Boss had given him a nice boost to his Endurance and Agility, but the joy he usually felt from those kills was muted by the sight of Thorn squeezing the body dry for blood.
“... It’s hard to compare. Against someone like me, or a mage? Thorn could bind us and rip us to pieces. Against Dozer or Donny… It might be more fair. The trick would be to avoid getting wrapped up, because once that happens…. In addition, while it’s underground, it’s almost impossible to detect. By the time you realize it’s there, it’s too late.”
“But I mean, do we really have to worry? It’s The Ghosthound’s plant, right?” Daniel said nervously. The rest of the table seemed inclined to agree, but everyone was slightly intimidated by this show of power by the creature. Even if it had been weakened by their squads before hand…
Even Sam couldn’t find his usual cheer at such an intact, high level corpse.
As a general rule, humans were more powerful than they had ever been, in terms of physical abilities. There was even the beginning of documented proof that Intelligence and Wisdom actually increased your mental capabilities, although it was starting to appear that Control and Focus had a more direct impact on the non-system aspects of life. The monsters that had once driven humanity screaming into their cellars was now casually dealt with.
But stronger and stronger monsters kept appearing. And although this plant was currently friendly, it still made them slightly uneasy to have it within the bounds of their village.
“Ultimately though…” Regina said slowly, gazing at each other person sitting at the table. “What can we do?”
No one had an answer, so the meeting moved onto other matters.
“I’d like to make some suggestions, in regards to the SP expenditures.” Daniel said, his expression nervous. Mrs. Hamilton steepled her fingers, her expression neutral. Regina leaned back in her chair. Glendel covered his hand with his mouth and sighed. In his heart, Glendel knew that Daniel had the best interests of the town as his focus, and was deeply regretful that his rash action had caused them to go through a stressful few days.
But with that mistake fresh in the minds of everyone else, this would not be a receptive audience.
Before he began, the door to the Council chamber swung smoothly open. The dying light of the setting sun illuminated Lyra, who for the first time Glendel had seen, was wearing a serious expression.
“I’m heading over to visit Turtle Town.” She announced. “If I have the chance, is there anything I should ask of their… King?”
There was a long, stunned moment of silence.
“Absolutely not!” Sam said, slamming his fist on the table. “That crazed man-”
“I’m going to try again.” Lyra said, her smile calm, her voice low, but for some reason Sam couldn’t yell over it. Even Glendel’s ghosts, which swirled around him constantly, slowed down, their focus narrowing on the figure framed in the doorway. “Listen, this time, alright?”
Her whole body began to glow, waves of chaotic mana rolling off her to fill the air. Her pupils faded, replaced by a glowing blue, her irises then too, until it seemed her whole soul was burning bright, shining out through her eyes, glowing azure.
She was just a veneer of humanity, lit from the inside by a vicious, tightly controlled power. That was really what animated her.
“I am heading to Turtle Town. As a courtesy, I came here first. Is there anything you want me to say?”
In Lyra’s deserted home, nothing moved. But then, inexplicably, a voice spoke. Filling the dimly lit room.
“This…. is a chance. We must hurry. I always detested games… but she forced us into this game of chicken. Will you find me, or will I…. Become strong enough that your interference won’t matter.”
If someone had been there to look, they would have perhaps seen a dirty skull floating just below the ceiling, its gaze fixated on something, far to the south.
“The Ghosthound… must die…”