Something was...wrong in the forest. Ysandra the Bristlespine Pine felt it as she returned to wakefulness out of her long slumber. She could feel it in the whispers of the unawakened trees around her, in the anxious bird chatter being exchanged above her, in the way the grass bent with the wind. And of course in the way she sensed death and something new had entered the forest. Through the network which connected all of the forest, she could feel another voice in among the usual slow whispers of the trees. It was like a distant cacophony of millions of voices all speaking at once, to Ysandra it sounded more like the churning of a millers wheel or a beehive than an actual voice.
Ysandra withdrew her senses before the alien presence in the forest network could notice her. Thankfully, it was a distant thing still so she could sense her surroundings without it intruding. Ysandra was the last true Dryad of Halla, the others had fallen into slumber or withered away with time. Therefore, she was the final guardian of the forest and she did not take kindly to being awoken to such dire tidings.
Her focused senses stretched out to see what more she could learn without alerting the alien presence. It took time but eventually, she found one manifestation of the threat. A small army of horrific semi-insectile creatures led by an enormous metallic spider was busily slaughtering a pack of forest gargoyles. No, the last remaining pack of forest gargoyles in Halla. She could feel their status as the last of their kind in this forest.
Forest Gargoyles were not truly natural beings, they had come about as a side effect of ancient magic on sacrificial stones and sites. The blood magic done there had eventually warped the stones into living creatures, that fed on blood, flesh, and bone to keep their inner magic from disappearing. Despite this they served an important role in the forest as predators and guardians, it broke Ysandras heart to see their fate.
But she had to study the new enemy before acting. They felt strange to her as if they were not fully one thing. The scent of grave blossoms hang about them, and she felt that fungi and roots alike grew through their flesh, and there was some other element to them that she couldn't fully understand. Some sort of sterile thing, akin to the gargoyles in some ways but more metallic. 60 of the creatures were engaging the outnumbered pack and slowly cutting them apart.
The giant spider had restricted the movement of the gargoyle by continuously spitting globules of webbing at them, which allowed the smaller "bugs" to swarm over them like ants and use their metal-tipped legs to cut and crush them into pieces. At the edge of the clearing Ysandra sensed several corpses of the monstrosities along with injured specimens that convulsed slightly. When she focused on the injured specimens specifically, she managed to learn more about this new enemy. In them she sensed a strange kind of power moving their chitin and slowly repairing it, and something that felt like a bond connecting them to the others of their kind.
It tasted to her almost akin to the bond between a Thrall-Maker Spider and its subjects, but deeper and more communal in a way. This was not a bond leading to some kind of central authority, but a collective of sorts. Which was unfortunate because that didn't leave her with the option of finding the spider in the center of the web. She would have to cut her way through each individual strand before she could eliminate this threat.
Thankfully, these creatures were close to her position and could serve as the first victims of the Last Dryad of Halla. Ysandra began to focus as she disengaged from her tree and took the form of a green-skinned humanoid being wrapped in a dress of leaves and twigs. Her red eyes opened to see the outside world for the first time in several months and she began to make her way towards the intruders into her domain.
Mar learned much from observing the Briar Bear, it took them 3 days to finally defeat its defenses and push it far enough that it couldn't resist the infection anymore. Which was almost pointless at that point as the bear's body had been wrecked by parasites and repeated infection attempts to the point that it was barely functional.
The first thing Mar had learned was the function of how the Briar Bear specifically dealt with the Swarm Toxin. When the toxin worked through the veins of the bear it also touched against the roots of the bramble growing out of it. So, the bear could instinctively suck the toxin out through the bramble and have the toxins coat the thorns sticking out of it. One would, therefore, be able to circumvent this problem by removing the bramble. But Mar didn't find that to be an effective solution so they continued with the experiments.
Next, they had tried to see how the body handled the areas that had already suffered through the infection before the purge. This here was also an area where Mar learned much, the Swarm Toxin radically altered the body down at the smallest level, by changing the existing tissue into an amalgamation of the matter that Mar was primarily consisting of. In the case of the bear, its flesh regenerated similarly to how the Swarm could repair itself. So the converted tissue was restored to its original state through some kind of magical defense mechanism in the healing process.
Repeated attempts at overcoming this weakness through brute force had proven unsuccessful as the potency of the Swarm Toxin simply wasn't strong enough to overcome the defenses of the Briar Bear. It was through their next series of attempts that they learned the more important piece of information. If mar concentrated hard enough they could actually control the way the Swarm Toxin moved through a body and what it altered.
It was bitter work to do it but the newfound control over the toxin combined with the parasites that Mar had infested the bear with they found a way around the defenses. Sending the toxin through the bloodstream didn't work so the toxin instead moved through alternative paths. More specifically paths that the worms created by eating their way through the bear while its flesh regenerated.
Doing it in that manner caused enough toxin to remain in the body of the bear that regeneration couldn't combat the changes wracked on the body. The process required all of their attention to the point that they ignored even the new influx of memory as some of the infected humans were fully converted.
It would take a few more days for this slower process to fully convert the bear, but it no longer had any defenses to meaningfully resist Mar. So they finally decided to turn their attention away from their experiments only to discover new notifications appearing before them.
- Congratulations: Your Potency has increased from 3 to 5
- Congratulations: Your Majesty has increased from 4 to 7
- Congratulations: You have reached Tier 2, all of your traits and powers will be enhanced accordingly.
- New Power: Enhance Poisons: You are now capable of drastically enhancing the potency and accelerating the speed of all poisons and toxins.: Has been Gained
Mar felt her entire being shake as the new power radiated through her being, she could sense her much more precise control over the entire Swarm and the increased efficiency of each Unit as the changes flowed through her. The euphoric feeling was replaced with a languid desire to inspect the new human additions to their roster and was stretching towards the sectors where those memories were stored when she suddenly felt alarm coming from the Extermination-Squad Collective.
The Swarm reoriented their focus to look through the eyes of the squad. First Mar noticed that the group had been reduced significantly from all of the battles they had undergone in the days when Mar had been distracted with experiments. From a 100 down to 55 beings was not acceptable casualty rates. Absently Mar relayed an order to bring more of the Fungal Zombies to the Squad to aid them with their efforts.
Secondly, Mar saw the strange shape amongst the trees which had just summoned coiling bramble and vines to kill 4 of the Soldiers. It was a green creature that almost looked like a human, but idealized and wrapped in the rainments of the forest. Its slender build and delicate features did little to hide the aura of ancient power that radiated from it. Mar felt the primordial energies animating this being touch something down in their very essence.
Red eyes glinted in the light coming down between the branches and a grimace that almost looked like a bitter grin filled the face of the being, which caused its sharp ears to twitch and the leaves on its body to curl. The forest seemed to roil and bend around it as they stepped forward and stood in front of the approaching squad while spreading out their arms in a wide pose while radiating pure hatred and defiance.
"I Defy You!"
Mar felt the aura of the thing touch them and felt almost like it began to wrestle with their very nature as if something ancient rose up to challenge her. Well, Mar grinned and felt the entire swarm turn to look in the direction of where the conflict was taking place. Human puppets, insect armies, birds in the sky, twisted animals, and the very trees themselves all focused on the ensuing conflict. If this being thought to challenge the Sovereign Swarm, then Mar was happy to accept it.