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The ensuing battle shook the forest as Ysandra faced off against the small army. First, the large insect-like creatures rushed at her with a horrific chittering sound. Her response to that was simple, she unleashed her power to transform the grassy ground it a muddy stretch that caused the fearsome charge to slow down into a crawl. The heavy creatures started to stink into the thick mud, but before she could do anything more then she had to conjure branches to deflect the incoming webbing assault by the large spider.

Suddenly the large insects jumped out of the mud and descended on her spot like catapulted stones. Ysandra had to sink into the earth to avoid being crushed beneath the boulders of chitin that hit the soil instead of her. She appeared above ground several meters again and began to sing. Her hymns to the earth and the plants to lend her their strength as she began to call up grasping hands from the ground to wrap themselves around some of the monsters.

Hands of stone and mud started crushing the chitinous horrors, but her overfocus on them made her forget about the real threat as a globule of webbing hit her in the face and sent her flying into the ground. She could hear the metallic clicks of the enormous spider getting closer and quickly lashed out with her foot to make the nearby trees wrap their limbs around it to slow it down.

Ysandra managed to roll back up to her feet and she began to try to tear at the webbing that was stuck to her, but sadly without any results.

"I do not need my eyes to see your monsters."

She spat definitely before she began whirling her arms around in a complex pattern while calling on the magic of the forest. Thorns, slabs of stone, and balls of soil began to levitate around her before she unleashed them like a barrage in the direction where she sensed the largest concentration of beasts. Unfortunately, she had been able to kill only a few of the monsters so far in the battle. Many of them had been hurt but even now they were rapidly being repaired by the strange power coursing through them.

The hardened chitin of the creatures managed to mostly withstand her assault as they hunkered down to weather the storm. Once again she had to move as the large spider was almost on her with its metallic limbs and rapid attacks. Ysandra began to channel the concentrated power around her and out of the soil came several tentacles of barbed vines that began to attack the beasts with wild abandon before they could surround her.



Mar was frustrated but tried to remain patient as the battle raged between the dryad and the Sovereign Swarm. While the battle raged on Mar had taken the liberty to examine their new memories to see if they could learn anything. None of the animals knew anything concrete about this entity, but Gunnvor actually had encountered it in her day. Ysandra was its name and it was apparently a dryad. The living spirit of one of the most ancient trees in the forest, a monarch of trees and nature. She had apparently taught Gunnvor some of the magic that it knew and some lore as well.

That was how they learned just how rare of a specimen that this dryad was. A being that could only come about when enough magic accumulated in a tree over the course of thousands of years. It was obvious that Mar had to be careful not to destroy the dryad, it had to become part of the Swarm.

So Mar held back in the battle while they considered the best way to bring her will about. The initial webbing attack had not transferred any infection into Ysandra, it was similar to the forest gargoyles. Apparently, there was nothing to infect and that was frustrating but Mar would not give up. This was why they made the collective engage the dryad in the pointless physical struggle while Mar focused on finding a true solution to the quandary.

Mar didn't pay attention to the outraged screams of Ysandra as the first Fungal Zombies entered the fray. Wolves, feral sheep, deer, and rats were the first animals on the scene and the enemy began pouring more power into making the forest a living hell for them. Sharpened grass cut into their flesh, the trees surrounding them were animated and began attacking with wild abandon, and blasts of earth began tearing into the army.

It didn't phase Mar who had felt countless deaths flow through their network and had learned to overlook them while focusing on other matters. They dove into the memories as Ysandra practically liquified three soldiers with the force of one of her blows. Mar strained to focus on finding relevant information as the collective massively reinforced the Juggernaut spider and used it to protect the more vulnerable units from the wrath of the dryad.

When the inspiration finally hit home then Mar almost felt stupid for taking so long to realize such an obvious approach as she returned their attention to the battle.

 


 

Ysandra was angered beyond belief by what this...this monster had done to the inhabitants of the forest. She could feel their twisted flesh being corrupted with the alien growths that had stolen their flesh from them. Proud wolves and joyful sheep had been reduced to sickly parodies of their true selves. This had at first been a battle against a probable enemy, now this was a personal vendetta for her.

She would dedicate every waking hour to ensure that this filth was scoured from the forest and burnt before the sun. Even if she would have to wake up her sister dryad it would be worth it. An evil like this could not be allowed to persist, as it went beyond even the worst of parasites.

If this thing was allowed to continue expanding through the forest, then Halla would become a barren imitation of life. Filled with starved animals and twisted plants that should never see the light of day. Life would persist here but in actuality, Halla would have died and it would have just taken time for the corpse to realize it was dead.

Therefore, Ysandra redoubled her efforts and began to channel more and more magic into her attacks. Numbers were the real issue here, the toxic spore attacks had posed some trouble but nothing that she couldn't handle all in all. It was the sheer number of creatures that made it difficult for her to decisively act. Especially with that spider imitation being constantly in the way.

Unlike the hordes of bug things this one was reinforced enough already to withstand her general attacks, and now she could feel notable amounts of power coursing through it. The intention of the power was to harden the beast and it went from being an aggressive attacker to become a shield for its fellow beasts. Every attack she made had its effectiveness drastically reduced as it interposed itself to limit her effectiveness.

A solution finally arrived when she trapped the spider by making the soil underneath it into a sucking tar pit. It began to squirm as the coiling earth began dragging it down into the soil. With that out of the way, she could finally-

"Bwejwif...Wh-what."

Ysandra suddenly collapsed to her knees as sudden nausea hit her like a tidal wave. She vomited something that seemed mysteriously similar to wood sap filled with insects. And that was when she felt it. HER TREE. The battle had served as a distraction, the enemy must have been able to trace her link to her tree, or even worse it somehow knew where the tree was.

If it had poisoned the tree then it would be far more difficult for her to heal herself, but the worst thing would be if it cut her tree down. That would most likely destroy her instantly, but if it didn't then that would almost be worse. She would subsist as a broken, forgotten, and maddened spirit. A mere fragment who she had been without the faculties to even comprehend what she had lost. Ysandra remembered several of her sisters falling to that fate as their trees had been cut down by humans and other beings.

She turned to run but at that point, the swarm of foes was on her and she had to struggle with all of her might against their weight and grip. With her tree disrupted it was pointless to try and wield forest magic, she was far too unstable to attempt such tricks. So instead she fought back against the creatures with all the savagery and strength of a cornered bear. Her fists cracked chitin, she bit into the spongy flesh of the twisted animals, she tossed soldiers of her. But unfortunately, she was one and they were many.



A woodpecker had been the solution. Gunnvor had a rough idea of where the tree of Ysandra was placed and with that information it was easy to look through the forest for a sufficiently ancient tree that contained a similar power to what the dryad had. The zombie woodpecker had been given the task of drilling into the tree with each peck having Infection applied to it until the once-proud tree was filled with Swarm Toxin.

However, that was only the first phase of the plan as Mar turned their attention back to the savage battle where Ysandra fought admirably against the superior numbers. She was surprisingly strong and with an endurance that even the Sovereign Swarm could respect. Even with the Swarm Toxin coursing through her tree and being surrounded by enemies she still fought like a savage beast.

She threw wolves of her with simple pushes and withstood the hard blows being delivered down on her prone body. And she could deliver punishing wounds to any of the Units that engaged with her for longer than a few seconds. Thankfully, the collective in charge of the battle had a simple solution to this problem. Unit cycling, waves upon waves of creatures descended on the dryad until they were too injured to be useful, then they were withdrawn and a new wave would be sent to replace them. Regeneration along with a slow but constant stream of reinforcements made the outcome inevitable.

The second part of the plan was utilizing the newest power that had been added to their arsenal. As Mar continuously poured energy to accelerate and enhance the Swarm Toxin beyond what they had ever imagined.



Ysandra fought and fought and fought, yet even she realized that the outcome of the battle was fixed. She could feel her tree being twisted and altered as something invaded and changed it from within. It was like someone taking a saw and slowly driving it through her heart. Whatever it was worked unnaturally quickly and she felt aftereffects of it beginning to flow through her bond to the tree.

It wasn't in her nature to give up, however, so she fought on until her body was so injured that it literally couldn't continue the fight anymore. A metallic spike from one of the soldiers along with the bite of a badger to her shoulder was the attack that finally broke her body.

Practically paralyzed in mortal terror, all Ysandra could do was feel the toxin rapidly corrupting her tree beyond belief. And when the moment that she suspected normally would have taken many days to come, came she met it with a ferocious hate bubbling inside of her soul.

The first thing she noticed was the song, or rather the cacophony of voices that now almost felt like a song to her. In the back of her mind, she felt a presence that was vast and alien, yet concentrated at the same time. It felt her as well and Ysandra got the impression that it was puzzled. It felt like a small fragment of it had been lodged into her being, but rather than consume and replace her it remained lodged.

"What is this?"

"Fragment unresponsive?"

"No, no, no, no, no. Fragment here"

"How could that be? Fragment is not holding hands"

"What?"

 

"There! There!"

Millions of voices seemed to be speaking at once and several thousand of them were focused on her specific circumstances. Ysandra felt it like a spike being lodged into her brain, an unnatural hymn trying to invade her very being and rewrite it. She could feel the emotions radiating from this thing of many fragments. Hunger and a lust for domination hit her so hard that she wanted to throw up again.

Ysandra felt through her mind until she could find the lodged fragment and tried to push it out and away from her mind. It caused a jolt of pain to flow through her body which was equally spiritual and physical at the same time. And she felt the confusion, anger, and...hurt radiating from the creature as well. It suddenly lashed out at her and she felt as well as heard a word coming with it.

"Submit"



Mar had never experienced something like this before. For the first time in their existence, someone else was in the network. Another being touched the hands of the other fragments, or rather another being could touch the hands. So far Ysandra had refused to let them hold the hands of the fragment attached to her.

He felt the agitation coming from the nearest 3000 fragment minds as they could feel that the circle was not completed in this spot, but they felt no hurry to change that. The novelty of the phenomenon made it far too interesting to simply be stopped because such a small percent of herself took umbrage with it. That changed when the dryad began to push the fragment that wrapped itself around her, away from her. She tried to free herself and Mar could feel the pain radiating as the connection almost began to tear.

Mar lashed out as the fragments around her began to scream as she grabbed around the intruding mind and screamed.

"SUBMIT!"




And then the two wills were locked in mental combat as the world-weary and hateful dryad matched willpower with the panicking and offended swarm. The two of them collided in a battle that made the physical struggle between Mar and Ysandra seem like a light scuffle between siblings.

Neither identities fully existed as they made battle, the ancient primordial power of the forest met the dreadful power of an apocalypse. One was a being that existed for several millennia and the other was something practically newborn, and yet they were equally matched.

In one moment Mar was the guardian of the Forest of Halla and Ysandra was the Sovereign, in the next they were back to their initial roles, and after another moment they became something of a mix between both identities. Ysandra could feel the fragments of the Swarm shift uncomfortably, and Mar could sense the leaves falling from the Dryads tree.

One fought by channeling the will of nature and the forest, the lived experience of being a tree and protecting a place from countless threats and horrors. The other fought by bringing down the uncompromising will of a Sovereign, the desire of a swarm to consume and conquer everything that existed.

Millions of lives consumed and made one fought against a singular individual as both tried to wrestle the mind and soul of the other into bending to their will. Ysandra felt like millions of insects were nibbling at every exposed bit of herself at the same time. Mar got the distinct sensation of being crushed between coiling roots and tonnes of earth being molded into containing their swarm. They were going to lose! Somehow! But he refused to lose, she had come too far to fall to a single dryad. And with that thought, they reached out desperately to their worried fragments and began to pull.



Ysandra felt something shift in the battle as suddenly the Sovereign Swarm redoubled their efforts to subdue her. Suddenly it felt far stronger than before and Ysandra was pressed back on the defensive as the domineering weight of the being pushed her down into the soil. Almost like she was made to prostrate herself before a liege lord.

Through the bond Ysandra suddenly sensed the truth of this new strength. Mar was sacrificing fragments to fuel their strength. She wasn't sure how that was possible but at that moment she realized that the battle was once again over. Willpower became meaningless when the Sovereign Swarm could just draw on its resources without fail. With a frustrated and mournful scream Ysandra the Bristlespine Pine gave in to the Sovereign Swarm and felt it invade her very soul and force her to kneel while countless insects rummaged through her mind and bend her identity as they looked around inside of her.

The Nameless Dryad reached out and took the hands of her sister fragments and let the deafening cacophony of the regular communication in the Swarm fill their mind. And then she woke up on the soil as she felt herself be born anew.

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A note from Guillotine-Chan

I am not sure if this was rushed, but it was an important part of the story to have done before we continue the Hor arc :D. thoughts?


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Guillotine-Chan

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