Total, overwhelming victory. Nothing more, nothing less.
By the time the Colony had swept in and around my solo attack, the bruan'chii had already broken through. It was simple to push the termites back, driving them out of the Mother Tree's island entirely. All they had left were the deep tunnels that curved under the lake between the mountains and it was there we needed to fortify. I spent a fair bit of time chatting to the Grove Keepers once the enemy began to withdraw, though I had to take a little time to calm Sarah down.
The giant bear was a complete mess when we finally got to her. Invidia started to pour in the healing magic straight away, but I suspect it'll take a while before she fully recovers. After throwing herself into the termites the way she did… it's little wonder she came out so poorly. I feel terribly guilty. I'd planned for the designated sacrifice-person who get’s the heck bitten out of them to be me! Unfortunately, I underestimated just how willing she would be to embrace the rage and dive in. She's a hell of a lot braver than she gives herself credit for.
Her fur is matted thick with ichor, a good chunk of it hers, and deep cuts can be seen all over her massive frame. When we approach, the deep red aura of bloodlust has already begun to wane, but we are still cautious. She breathes heavily, her maw heaving air into her giant lungs like a bellows. Faintly, that ear splitting roar can still be heard rattling in the back of her throat.
[Hey there Sarah,] I say gently, [are you okay in there?]
No reply, but I continue to talk in a soothing tone.
[You absolutely beat the hell out of some termites today. You held down the fort like an absolute boss. You saved the day.]
And she had. Her effort had pinned down almost an entire flank and allowed Tiny to work his fancy footwork without being interfered with. In fact, the two who likely killed the most termites are Tiny and Sarah. Not that I didn't take down an absolute boat load of them, but those two really went to town.
I can feel the thoughts of the giant bear start to congeal as she slowly calms herself. This is honestly a great improvement for her. She raged for a long time and was pushed right to the edge of death, so to come out of it on her own is incredible progress.
I give her a few more words of encouragement before I leave her in Invidia's care and go to greet the Grove Keepers. Before I do that though…
"Protectant… how are you holding up?"
"I mean… seriously? Just freaking answer when I speak to you, dammit! The whole charade is really grating on me."
"We don't wish to expose ourselves before the bruan'chii…"
"They're our allies!"
"… for now."
"You are a seriously suspicious lot. Fine. Fine! Don't pop out, just answer my question."
"Can't you tell if we're alright?" A hint of curiosity creeps into her tone.
"You think I'll explain how I'm able to sense you? Keep dreaming."
"We are fine. A few injuries have been sustained, but we are able to continue to perform our duties."
"You did well," I congratulate them.
And they did. It's not easy to track just how successful they were, due to their damned organ, but they fought hard on the edges of the conflict. Without them trimming numbers and jumping termites who got too close, I would have taken far more damage than I did.
Having got what I wanted from my guards, I go and have a chat with the Grove Keepers. Good to finally see them show up on the battlefield…
Sarah was exhausted. Beyond exhausted. She felt as if her mind were slowly rising to the surface of a swamp. The rage still clung to her, thick, like molasses. But she was coming out of it. Every breath was so heavy, each giving her that little bit more clarity. As she returned to herself, the pain arrived. Held at bay by her berserk state, it came now in waves. Her whole body was in agony.
The healing light of Invidia covered her, pushing her wounds together, forcing broken mandibles from her flesh as her skin came together. Even now, she could tell she was heavily injured. She wouldn't be able to fight for a while.
But she felt satisfied. Even as the pain grew sharper, so too did her happiness. She had taken a stand for the family she'd chosen and she knew they would be worried for her, but grateful for what she'd done. The collective pride of the Colony would rise up and smother her like a blanket. She would gladly sink into its embrace as she recovered, until another crisis came and she would exert herself again.
For now, she experienced a growing sense of peace. Once again, she had faced her demons head on and come through the other side a little stronger. With the support of the Colony, and the encouragement of Anthony, she felt confident the day would soon come that she no longer had to be afraid of herself.
As the pain continued to grow, she settled herself down on the cold stone, still breathing heavily as she just settled into the moment.
She'd come so far.
She refused to go back.
The tenuous thought, just a hint of a whisper, brushed against her exhausted mind so gently she almost didn't notice. She was so tired, she may well have imagined it. Maybe it was just because she was dwelling on the past. There was no need to worry.
It came again, stronger this time. The connection between them was so thin, but she could sense it, only just.
[J-Jim?] she thought slowly.
She was so tired.
[Sarah… what have they done to you?]
His thoughts were angry, buzzing with suppressed rage that fluttered against her consciousness. She shied away from it. She didn’t want this.
[Y-you … shouldn't have come… here.]
[I'm okay. I'm safe,] he insisted. [But you aren't. They are going to kill you, can't you see that?]
Sarah didn’t reply, she couldn't. Her sluggish thoughts were unable to shift, incapable of moving to catch up with what was happening. Sleep beckoned, rising up to pull her down. She tried to rally herself, tried to push out a few more words.
[Not… me. They'll… kill… you.]
[They won't be able to find m -]
There was a flash of light followed by a massive pulse of mana that washed over Sarah just as her eyes began to slide shut. She was barely aware of a small group of ants popping into existence in front of her.
[Hook is attached!] Brilliant cackled. [Try to run, worm. I WILL FOLLOW YOU ANYWHERE!]
It was impossible for an ant to howl with mad laughter, yet somehow the small champion achieved it, her mandibles clacking with insane glee as her eyes burned like wildfire.