“You need to better conserve your resources,” Apexus pointed out, while Reysha ate up the last of her reserve food.
The tiger girl stopped in her chewing for a second to think about that. That the chimeric slime wasn’t actually talking about their food occurred to her relatively quickly. “Well, I’d rather buy some new knives than get hit by more fucking thorns,” she responded. “But I’ll try to be less trigger happy. Works for you?”
“Sure,” Apexus nodded.
“I must inquire why you give in immediately when this advice comes from him. When I brought this up, you saw it fitting to discuss your behaviour,” Aclysia’s tone made it sound more like a complaint.
“That’s ‘cause ya complain about everything even the slightest bit wrong.” Reysha took some of the sharpness out of those words through a teasing smile. Her tail lazily flopped on the floor while she secured her adventurer’s bag back on her belt, then double-checked all of her belts, straps and wires. With all of the things an adventurer had to carry around with them at all times, it sitting tight could make a world of difference. Long marches were torture when a weapon’s belt continuously rubbed against one’s waist.
“It is paramount for our survival,” Aclysia insisted.
“Kinda, kinda not,” Reysha pointed out. “I guess I appreciate that you get me thinking, but let’s be real: we’d be in quite a pickle if we all thought like you, miss overthinker.”
“Reysha is right there,” Apexus pointed out. “It's often better to make any decision now than it is the best decision later.”
“And because you understand that, you’re the leader,” Reysha purred and stood up. A quick two steps brought her over to
“I am?” the slime asked and looked at the two women in turn. “I thought Aclysia was the leader, she makes most of the decisions.”
“While I certainly do, it would be incorrect to say that I am the leader, darling,” the metal fairy said and hovered over to him. Feeling challenged by Reysha’s affectionate action, she wrapped her arms around the slime’s neck and kissed him herself. “It’s not demanded of the leader to be the one who makes all the decisions. The leader is the respected centre of the group. They delegate the tasks to those most appropriate and mediate.”
“Between my spontaneous bubble butt and her overthinking round ass, you’re the happy medium,” Reysha put it in simpler terms and then joined the angel in hugging their beloved slime.
Both looked up to and smiled at him. Blue and green eyes sparkled with adoration in the daylight. Apexus closed his arms around their waists. “Then, I am the leader.” The certain tone of his deep voice only served to deepen their love for him.
Confidence was sexy and it was, for all the virtues the two women saw in him, rare for him to display it so outright. He was overtly curious, gentle when he could afford to be and decisive when he couldn’t. He was protective and kind of clumsy at times. He may not have looked the part, but his behaviour was cute. Questions about accepted facts demonstrated that he was intelligent as well and his acts in combat showed his ability to decide on and be confident about a course of action swiftly. Few of these things shone through in social interactions.
“I like it when you’re assertive like this,” Reysha purred.
“I second that statement,” Aclysia echoed.
Both moved in to give him another kiss.
“I’ll see if I can figure out what ‘assertive like this’ exactly is and incorporate more of it into my behaviour.” Apexus made it a mental priority to see if he could behave in a way that made hugs like this more frequent. The social circle from which his behaviour was conditioned was rather small. It had the disadvantage of him learning few things about other types of behaviour. It had the advantage of him getting the signal quite easily when there was a need to adjust.
Regardless of how much he liked how close they were at that moment, certain urges telling him to move his hands from waists to butts, he withdrew his arms and the two girls backed away. They had just spent a considerable amount of time bathing, soiling themselves with sexual juices, bathing again and then discussing their further strategy. As much as they liked to fuck, there was a silent agreement that they shouldn’t waste too much time on it.
“Alright, I will lead the way,” Apexus told the two and turned towards one of the gaps in their stone refuge. They followed him up to the edge and then stopped, waiting there.
“Just don’t think too much about it,” Reysha said, while the slime slowly wandered away. It was more about the last thing he had said regarding the assertiveness thing than him now being out there on his own.
Apexus wasn’t sure he would take that bit of advice. For a start, he had yet to work out what ‘assertive’ even meant in the context of conversation. ‘Should I just assert what I want more often? Wouldn’t that be inconsiderate?’ he asked himself as he looked for any familiar patches of ivy. ‘Where are the Thornspitters?’
Over the course of their planning discussion, they had given the encountered enemy types names. For the project-launching plants, they had, by sheer chance, picked the same one as they were officially called. Given what they did, it was a high chance. The other creature, the two-legged monsters specialized in ramming people, they called Rammers. Quite a bit removed from the official title of Boulderwalkers, but the generalist term worked well for their purposes.
Apexus raised his feet much higher than he needed to with every step, stomping down along the ivy field. Soon enough, that had the intended effect of rousing several Thornspitters. Apexus backed off a little bit. He wanted to observe their behaviour and make them feel safe enough to attack him. While the former offered no new revelations, the latter went off without a hitch.
Three pieces of wood penetrated his membrane. One clashed against his fused ribs, without effect, another sunk into his leg and the third went almost straight through his stomach, where the membrane was the thinnest. None of them really hurt him. Whatever little energy healing from them cost him was restored by just eating the projectiles themselves. None of this was new information.
The reason why Apexus was out there on his own was to check what happened after the thorns had been fired. Tellingly, all three of the Thornspitters raised their shield and protected their fleshy centres. Apexus waited for something to happen. All that did was that more Thornspitters rose up in the distance. Those in range also shot their thorns, the other just stood alert and waited.
As did Apexus.
Slime and plant monsters just looked at each other. For Apexus, that was a much easier process than for the Thornspitters. A drawback of their biology was that their singular eyes could only see the enemy if they raised their tendril-woven shields. Another was that they were rooted in place. With no Rammer around to interrupt their stand-off, both parties just waited for the other to make another move.
“Yo, do something!” Reysha shouted from the not too distant safe area. The Thornspitters looked in her rough direction, but needed several seconds to actually spy her with their eyes.
‘Bad hearing,’ Apexus noted. Although he, with his fox ears, was above the standard at the current time, he remembered what it felt like to have worse sound detection. All the Thornspitters knew was the direction something was coming from. For the actual pinpointing of distance and origin of the sound, they needed to use their vision. They relied mostly on vibrations and sight.
Looking over the duo, Apexus waved with his right hand. It was the pre-agreed signal for Aclysia to come closer. Flying a fair bit of the way, she was only noticed when she entered the line of sight of one Thornspitter and only noticed by that singular one. Only when she was basically next to Apexus, her steps set the other two off. Because of how light she was, the Thornspitters had a hard time noticing the vibrations.
More importantly, none of them fired another thorn. Aclysia quizzically turned her head. “Peculiar. I theorize they need a long time to form a new projectile?”
“Appears so,” her darling agreed. “Want to test through waiting or should I eat one of them and shape the organ?”
After a moment’s thought, the metal fairy responded, “Both.”
“Okay,” Apexus looked at the three Thornspitters. Two stood somewhat close together, so he walked over to the more isolated of the bunch. “Let me fight it alone, for now,” he told her before getting into range.
The Thornspitter kept his shield lowered and between them, as Apexus walked in a circle around it. One, two, three times, the slime circled around the enemy, keeping a close eye on the monster’s stalk. Halfway through the third rotation, the plant monster suddenly twirled in the other direction. Extending its shield during the motion, it unwound its stalk and used the momentum of the motion to keep Apexus at bay.
The slime just observed the motion. Only when the Thornspitter was once more standing upright, did he attack it. Predictably, his charging body was met by the shield. Like a wave against the shore, the force of the impact was slowed and ultimately reversed. Just that, rather than gravity, it was the surprisingly strong tendril-weave of the monster that pushed him back.
Stumbling back, Apexus quickly regained his stance. A lighter, normal person would have been thrown back, but the attack itself was pretty harmless. Poking a bit more at the monster, Apexus always got the same response by any aggressions – a strong backwards shove. A Thornspitter’s shield wasn’t meant for any overtly aggressive action. Looking over his shoulder, Apexus did see that the closer of the other two Thornspitters had, however, loosened up his own shield. If the slime had been a lightweight, he could have been catapulted right over into a constrictive grasp. That wasn’t lethal by itself, but the next wooden projectile would be. Again, for the normal person.
Having had enough of this behaviour study. Apexus once more did three rounds around the Thornspitter. Predictably, the monster once more engaged in the whirling unwind. Rather than let it get back into position, Apexus jumped at it this time. Between the force of the whipping strikes and the regaining of proper stance was a moment of disorientation to exploit.
Apexus managed to duck underneath the shield and grab the creature’s stalk. Left hand, right hand, then teeth all held onto the connection between centre and ground. The shield was unmade, individual tentacles weakly lashed Apexus’ back, but the slime didn’t care. The membrane around his jaw and fingers became thinner and thinner, until the acidic slime underneath stretched outwards and enveloped the stalk. A nimbler creature could have dodged or tried to get away, but all the Thornspitter could do was curl. By far too little to escape the slime’s grasp.
Soon, the plant-based monster fell over. It continued to operate fine, even without its connection to the floor. Although its access to nutrients was cut off, it was still alive and would continue to be so for several hours or even days. If it hadn’t been for the chimeric slime now turning it into nutrients.
With his prey largely immobilized, the rest of Apexus’ body blobbed out until he could comfortably engulf all of the monster. It tasted alright. The fleshy centre was a treat, having a wonderful, fruity sweetness to it. The rest of it was a variation of chewing the crust of bread. After a few moments, it started to turn sweet, but otherwise neither the texture nor the taste were anything to praise. It was edible, but Apexus found it to be the most disappointing magical creature he had eaten yet.
He had time to devour the entire thing and retake his humanoid shape, before the other two Thornspitters had formed a second projectile and launched it at him. It was impossible to dodge either of them at this range and one blasted a hole through his ear, which was rather unpleasant, but these attacks seemed a lot less unfair now than they had initially. The extreme power of the attack caused drawbacks in other aspects of the monster’s design.
“Let’s get back,” Apexus stated, sparing the other two Thornspitters for the moment.
“Did I see right that these fucking things need like twenty minutes to reload?” Reysha asked, when the two were back with her by the healing fountain.
“That seems to be the case, yes,” the chimeric slime answered, while his right hand began to swell and lose its translucency. The bones spread out to make room for the fleshy growth that had been at the centre of the monster. “I suppose we didn’t need to flee.”
“Reysha was injured and the delay between their attacks matters little if there were twenty of them all firing at us,” Aclysia disagreed with her soft, song-like voice. “Caution is the mother of survival. Experiments such as the one we just ran through are only possible in controlled environments.”
“Guess ya got a point there, angel butt,” Reysha nodded along. Since she herself had led the flight and agreed that it was the best action at the time, she didn’t feel the need to start a discussion. “What do they say? Hindsight is perfect?”
“Hindsight is like a Scout’s sight,” Aclysia answered.
“Is Scout sight better than Hunter sight?” the slime wondered, while feeling much of the energy he had just absorbed getting expended for the forming of the organ. There was surprisingly much that went into the spitting apparatus. There was a lot of muscle fibre inside that squishy fruity thing, all of it specialized in a single squeezing motion. Inside the gash was a set of hard plates from a teeth-like material. They sheared pieces of a growing stalk within the fruit and were necessary to push the resulting thorn outwards. If it had been just muscle within, the wood would have simply been squished. A mucus gland kept the entire thing moistened up and slippery for operation.
“The answer depends on the individual,” Aclysia started with the obvious. “Fundamentally, the Hunter may be more capable of receiving visual information, but the Scout will have learned to pick up on important things and combine context clues.”
“The Scout finds and the Hunter sees?” Apexus asked.
“Kinda like that… but it's not like Hunters are bad at finding things… as we all know,” Reysha mumbled the last thing. “Thing you got the point though, which is the important bit. Anyway, what as ‘ewww’ as that looks…” Reysha pointed at the fully formed organ. It had looked odd at the centre of a plant-based monster but attached to Apexus’ hand it looked like a sickening and malignant growth. The remainders of his fingers stuck out of the lower end as stubs and the dark brown colour certainly didn’t help. Only the texture helped to slightly ease the feeling of it being a near-rotting piece of blood-filled mutation. “…it should come in handy.”
“Its useless,” Apexus immediately stated. Even without firing the thing, he already knew that it wouldn’t serve him any good.
Both of the women raised an eyebrow. “Could you demonstrate the why, darling?” Aclysia asked. Like Reysha, she had trouble believing that the ability to launch pieces of hardened wood at a speed quicker than any of them could react could be anything short of unbelievably helpful.
“When the first thorn has formed,” Apexus told them.
“Can’t ya hurry it along?” Reysha asked.
“Not a permanent growth, am bound to the natural production of the organ,” Apexus responded, only to get annoyed at himself. “…I am bound… one day I’ll remember to always use pronouns.”
“Don’t sweat it, sweet slime,” the tiger girl waved off. “You can only grow more; do I understand that right?”
“Yes,” Apexus nodded, monitoring his hunger levels as close as instincts allowed. Speaking a bit slower than usual, he was careful to use the proper words. “I could have as many of these organs as I could fit on my body, in theory, but I have no influence over their natural function. I could feed it less energy than it would naturally get, but if I give it more, that won’t work with its design. It’s a copy. It’s not part of me.”
“Well, yet more waiting,” Reysha sighed and plopped back down on her ass, resting her face on her left fist. “And I was so close to some fucking action.”
Apexus barely managed to understand she didn’t mean that literally. The words ‘we had fucking action earlier’ were halted in his nucleus before he could make a bit of a fool of himself. Twenty minutes later, he finally got to demonstrate why the thorn-launcher was useless for him.
“Watch,” he warned both of his party members as he drew his arm back and then threw it forwards in some sort of punching motion. At the end of it, the muscles inside the launcher tightened and pressed the thorn out. At a moderate pace, it flew about twenty metres and then bore into the floor. “See the issue?”
“Yeah.” Reysha sighed. “Guess that’s really a bust.”
“…I apologize, but I don’t,” Aclysia stated.
“Ya need to practice throwing things more often,” the tiger girl remarked with an amused chuckle.
“Problem is that I am not a rooted, long necked plant-thing,” Apexus went into deeper explanation. “This organ only creates so much force on its own. I’d need to replicate the whole Thornspitter to mimic the power of the attack. Doesn’t really work with human arms. Closest I could get is like this,” rather than a straight punch-like motion, Apexus showed a long-winded throw, “but I can’t aim a straight-flowing projectile like that. The little shot I get out of it still takes twenty minutes to form a new projectile. All the while I have to lug this thing around,” he waved his hand. “Not worth it. It’s useless. Don’t even think having it as a permanent Growth will help that. I’d need like a seventh limb to really help launch the thorns.”
“Disappointing,” Reysha sighed. “Gods know we could use some more reliable ranged support. Guess it’s still just you, Clysia.”
Having the tools for all situations was difficult for just three people.