– Yes my dear? – she smiled at the young girl.
– I wiped the plates.
– Oh my! You're such a good girl, Momo-chan! Just a few more and we're done. – she looked back at her bubbly hands and continued washing the dishes. – Say, how about we go and eat some ice cream after this?
– No, Mom.
– What's wrong, Momo? Did something happen in school?
– Yes, dear?
– Why won't the other girls play with me?
– Oh, well… I'm…
She tried to chuckle and hide her face while searching for an answer.
– Well, they're just jealous of you. Not all children are smart enough to know their way around the kitchen! Hahah, yeah. You're a really good kid, Momo-chan.
– They said I'm strange and they don't want to play with me. I cried, Mom!
– They just don't know what being smart looks like, because they are so stupid! I was there on the first day of school and saw what most of those children looked like. I bet they don't even know the alphabet!
The little girl gazed at her mother's warm blouse. Her eyes weren't teary at all. Just confused. Naive to the world.
– When will I have friends?
– Oh, well… very soon, my dear!
Her fake smile came to an end. She crouched down and hugged the girl, quietly gazing into the distance.
– Soon, my dear. Very soon.
/// Warning! ///
Low health points!
She fell on the ground as the roots let go. The shock and pain she felt caused her to scream, then mumble, then scream, then just silently lie there. The pain was extreme. Never before had she felt pain inside her skull, in the back of eye. As agony came pulsing, so too did all the blood oozing down her cheeks.
As if the world around her became silent, the old man made no sound talking to more hooded figures. Their face was undistinguishable, as she couldn't focus from the trauma. The old titan was clearly giving orders. He was waving in the air left and right.
Then he pointed at Aeren and the world around Katsumi regained sound.
– Tie him to a to a tree and begin the sacrifice. Don't forget, no touching the trees!
Katsumi opened her mouth to scream, but only low mumbling came out. Reaching her arm towards the old man, he noticed, but had no reaction. The ritual was more important.
'Damn it! God fucking damn it all! It's been one day, one single day and I'm already at death's door, watching lunatics act as they please. God damn it! Why did it have to be me? What did I do to deserve this? Why couldn't things go the way I planned?'
Even though in her mind she was screaming, most of her energy went into crawling right towards the old man.
'I have to stop him! I have to do something or they kill Aeren! Fuck this fucking pain, I have to stop them somehow!'
From below the spores, she saw her eye roll on the ground. Her breathing caught, gazing at the muddy ball. She couldn't move, couldn't crawl. Just watch.
A man with chains walked by her, picking up the drow from the ground and standing him next to a girthy tree. Two other figures grabbed his chain and walked in circles around the trunk, tying the boy to it. The old man watched the act in peace, while another titan handed him a whip.
– Powder of the sleeping witch, dissolve!
As he said those words, a faint blue explosion woke they boy up. He coughed, spitting out the remaining bubbly saliva.
– How dare you dirty this sacred land with your drool? – he screamed, lashing out his whip at Aeren's face.
– Wha–Where am I?
– You dare act oblivious? – his whip cut a gaze into the boy, making his cheeks bleed. – You're in the land of titans! The land, that rightfully belongs to us! Not you! Not your kind!
With each sentence, he lashed his whip out, hitting the boy mostly in his face and chest. His clothes tore apart as the man slashed him with all his remaining vitality.
Katsumi tried crawling closer to old man, but the throbbing pain and shock made his entire body feel numb. She's never been in a situation like this before. She had no idea what to do. She was scared. She was alone.
– Why are you hurting me? – the boy teared up, still confused about his whereabouts.
– You deserve this pain! Your ancestors came to our land and took it from us, sending the true titans into the trees!
– But I'm a drow! We didn't do anything!
– I don't care, filthy outsider! – his torture gained momentum. – Bleed, bleed, bleed!
Up until now, Katsumi's eyes were focused on the old man. She was ready to beg, to lick his boots, to join his sect just to get Aeren into safety. Even though they only met half a day ago, that was all she cared about. But as her vision sharpened and she saw the tears of the drow, she felt a snap. Something changed.
Instincts are a part of every living being. It's that voice in the back of our head that tells us how to behave. Not just in social situations, as most of that is taught. When we're hungry, it tells us to eat. When we're tired, it tells us to sleep. And when we're in grave danger… it might just tell us to use an ability.
Her painful shout raised the titan's attention. She slowly got up, leaning against a tree, blood still oozing out of her eye-socket. She almost fell from the dizziness, but kept herself pushed against the flora. The old man lowered his weapon, as he felt something change in the air.
– I offer you my sacrifice! – she held up her fist, waiting for a signal.
– What do you have in hand? – the old man tried to approach, but the Katsumi stopped him.
– Shut the fuck up! You have no right to disturb this sacred ritual!
She accidentally spat on his robes, upsetting the man. He raised his hand for a slap, but stopped before hitting Katsumi. She didn't flinch. The flame in her eyes didn't waver before him anymore.
– I see how it is. Fine – he went back to Aeren's body –, let me see what your god can do.
– Esidezhu! – she raised her fist higher. – I offer you something irreplaceable, something that is core to a human! Your prophet, your fighter, your champion! Let this be not in vain, my master, my guiding light! Take one of my eyes for yourself, let your prophet show her true worth! Let this humble soul enter your 'Supermarket'!
Silence ensued. Nothing happened, which didn't bother the girl, but rather one of the titan's. He charged at her with chains in hand, ready to finish her.
– Death to the non-believer!
The ground below opened with vicious fangs, munching at the man's leg, fast consuming him. The grinding of bones and intestines could be heard as blood shot out of the mouth in a great fountain. The others stepped back, scared of the unforeseeable surprise. But not the old man.
– So you decided to show yourself, failure. – he signaled to his followers with great frustration, turning his back on the girl.
– Where are you going? Shit hits the fan and you just chicken out?
– No, I've experienced enough disappointment already. That being's mere presence is enough to muddy the righteous offering.
– Fine then! You can go and fuck yourself!
With one final hiss, he disappeared behind a tree, leaving with most of his followers.
But some foolish enough remained.
One charged at her, but a purplish hand appeared from the mouth, pulling the attacker down the bottomless throat.
– Nice job! Still, I don't quite understand why you named that ability 'Supermarket'.
The mouth finished the man with one final gulp, then spoke. Their voice was deeper than what Katsumi remembered.
– I didn't mean to help you this way, but an opportunity rose to act upon. Your 'Supermarket' ability is named that way to make you better understand my blessing.
Another man charged at her from behind, but she swiftly stepped away, making the man fall into the mouth.
– What is it I can trade for?
– Sacrifices for the abstract form of ingredients. My blessing allows you to use the buffs of those you inspected but don't currently have. You'll understand it more as you level up. It's a unique ability, so value it accordingly.
– I will, trust me. Still, as you can see, I don't have time to cook now.
– You have yet to reach that level where making food won't be a problem. This once and just this once, I'll give you an already prepared meal.
– Cool, but – she looked around to see the titans prepare for attack – I don't really have time to eat.
– Once you experience the abstract, you'll understand.
– Fine then, show me what you got!
A purplish hand reached out of the mouth, ripping the eyeball out of Katsumi's hand. She watched them devour her eye without much thought. Reaching into her pocket, she drew a tissue and wiped some of the blood off.
– Come on, dude! I've already lost a lot of blood, pick up the pace!
Another hand reached out, holding a small box between two of its long black claws. She opened it to find a small, heart-shaped cookie with caramel topping.
– Not strong enough to heal your eye, but it will help you regain some health and stabilize your condition for a short amount of time. I also gave it a surprise side effect, as I'm such a generous god.
– Heh, thanks bro.
– You'll soon come to regret my interference. Until then, go forth and unleash your true power!
Taking a bite of the treat, it turned into ghostly dust and became a part of Katsumi, flowing into her veins. She felt the sharp pain disappear and her limbs becoming anew. With a newfound battle-stance, she clenched her fists, lowered her base and readied for an attack.
– Show them what the battlecook can do!
As Esidezhu disappeared, robed figures rushed out of the trees and surrounded the girl. She felt uneasy, but noticed something was off about her limbs. An immense amount of power was building up at each corner of her body, ready to be unleashed.
One side of her forest green uniform and pale skin covered in blood, she charged forth screaming savagely. An enemy appeared with hammer in hand. He tried to strike down the girl and watched in horror, as she smashed her fist into the hammerhead and a tiger's ghost appeared, biting off his entire arm.
– Huh? – Katsumi recoiled as the man fell to the ground, screaming in extreme pain.
– Die! – another titan tried to hit her with a club, but she retaliated with a punch to the gut, making an elephant's ghost strike out and slice open the titan's stomach.
As another charged at her, she felt an urge to try shouting. The man was in arm's reach when she opened her mouth to let out an earthshaking roar, blowing him back at a tree, shattering the back of his skull.
– You're still hell-bent on killing me? Fine then! Step up and die!
– What are you doing?
It was the woman from the heroes' guild. Next to her stood a robotic female with the same uniform. Katsumi quickly ran up to them, scouting the distance for more enemies.
– Stay behind me! I'll defend you!
– What happened to your eye? Oh my goodness, are you alright?
– It can wait! Grab Aeren and rush out of the forest! I'll cover you guys!
– From what?
Another robed figure appeared, rushing towards Katsumi with hammer in hand.
– Stay behind me! – she yelled, rushing at the enemy.
The man raised his hammer for an attack, but Katsumi blew her fist into the man's chest, summoning the ghost of a rhino for help. He was blown away, getting knocked out as he hit the ground. Katsumi panted as she felt her power disappear.
– Are you alright? – the woman grabbed her shoulder. – How about my friend looks at your wound?
– What are you talking about? We're still in danger! If I don't defend you…
– There's no one here besides us.
She looked around, searching for more titans behind the trees. There wasn't any, so she ran where the body had landed and even that was gone. She looked at the human woman, who stared back at her confused.
– Did somebody attack you?
– Yes! You saw me hit that dude right in the middle! A rhino appeared and everything!
– Jadzia, could you please check the area? – she turned towards the robot.
– Did that already, it's just the four of us.
Katsumi stared at them in disbelief. She looked at Aeren, whose face was still bloody from the whipping. She was just about to throw a tantrum, when dizziness took hold of her. She tried leaning against a tree, but wasn't fast enough and fell to the ground, passing out.
Alina gasped as Katsumi's body landed with a loud thump.
– Oh my goodness! Jadzia, come fast!
– Just a second.
– It is an order! This woman is…
– Alina, I think we should leave. Fast. Help me untie the boy.
– Did your sensors catch signal?
– No. We're the only living beings in a huge radius.
– Then? What's wrong?
– We're the only living beings in a mist of dead souls. We have to leave, now!