My stomach tried to grumble, which was weird because I didn’t actually need to eat in order to survive. Mana alone was enough. Still, I found myself stretching forward to peer into past the open moving-wall, looking for the source of my stomach’s rumbles.
I didn’t find it; it was too dark in the tower-nest.
“Oh, wow,” I heard The Unrepentant One say, inching forward. His stomach gurgled and grumbled. “That smells really nice. What is that?”
“It does,” The Grateful One replied, in lockstep with the larger Coreless. The scent-taste grew as we stepped closer, causing my stomach to gurgle and my mouth to salivate. A tiny vibration prodded at my scale-flesh as her stomach tried to rumble too. Her lips turned down, and her brows furrowed. “It shouldn’t smell this good.”
Her stomach abruptly stopped its grumbling. She darted forward, placing a hand against the male Coreless’ shoulder as he started to step forward again.
“Careful,” she said. “There’s something going on here.”
The Unrepentant One grunted, rolling his shoulder and pushing her hand away. “I know that,” he said, making quiet noises at the once-corrupted. “Still want to check it out, though. We’ll take it slowly for now.”
He reached for one of the smaller skin-mouths tied to his side, pulling out a handful of glow-cap remains that filled his hands with a gentle blue light. He looked down for a second, separating the pieces further.
“You carry those with you?” The Grateful One asked, [appreciation] in her [Little Guardian’s Totem]. “That’s a pretty good idea. It’s a better source of light than fi-”
The Unrepentant One shoved his hands up against the once-corrupted as his [Little Guardian’s Totem] filled with [alarm], silencing whatever noises she had been trying to make. She mumbled from behind his giant, meaty hands. I kind of wanted to bite them. I was feeling very hungry. I hissed, telling my gurgling stomach to quiet down. The Unrepentant One’s stomach gurgled with mine.
“Don’t say F-I-R-E, the snake actually knows that word,” he poorly hissed, slowly lowering his hands. The once-corrupted nodded, slightly [tense], probably due to the way that The Unrepentant One’s failed hisses grated on the ears. She was much better at them than he was. Maybe even the best of my Coreless; I could almost pretend that her failed hisses didn’t bother me sometimes.
“Thanks,” she hissed, the sound almost wondrous following The Unrepentant One’s poor showing.
“Of course,” he hissed back gratingly, baring his teeth slightly. I tried to curl away. His voice was just too...rumbly for a proper hiss, I decided. As if not wanting to be forgotten, his also-rumbly stomach called out again. “Wouldn’t want the Little Guardian here to burn all of the food we might have found.”
He turned again, facing the inside of the tower-nest again. I couldn’t see much; unlike many other places in the many-nest, there were no glow-caps to light the darkness. All I had to see by was the mana-light given off by the ore-flesh that covered The Unrepentant One’s flesh, strong enough that it overpowered the mana-light of my own - but still not nearly enough to break the darkness.
His hand jerked outward - once, twice, thrice. Each time, clusters of light were thrown with the motion, giving a brief glimpse of what hid in the darkness. Rows of plant-flesh spread further than I had been able to see, all green leaves and purple berries and twisted thorns and sprawling roots. I really wanted to eat the berries. They smelled nice. The roots, razor-thin and probably just as sharp, peeked out from the dark soil that coated the ground of the tower-nest. The mana-light of the glow-caps glinted off of their sharp edges, revealing the almost-invisible roots. I hissed in displeasure, noting the way that they stretched from one mass of plant-flesh to another, each growing into the other, a tangled web that had no visible end or beginning. It just was.
I didn’t like it. It reminded me of the Aridae’s tangled threads. It was like the Lesser Core was taunting me.
I decided to do something about that.
The Unrepentant One repeated his previous motion a few more times, sending bits and pieces of glow-cap remains down the sides of the tower-nest’s walls. Vines covered the surface, twisted and gnarled and twined. A few of them visibly shivered as the light moved by.
“Those look like Lavenberries bushes to me,” the once-corrupted, occasional offerer of delicious offerings, said. “Close, anyway. They shouldn’t have roots like that.” I flicked out a tongue, trying to catch the scent-tastes that hid behind the fragrant aroma that was setting my stomach grumbling and my mouth watering.
I found the scent-taste of more plant-flesh. It didn’t help.
The Unrepentant One grunted. He seemed to like doing that. “And I’m sure that’s not a good sign,” he said, rolling his shoulders again and sighing when his stomach grumbled. “Not that we didn’t already know something was going on. It’s a pretty obvious trap, though. The berries lure you in, something else takes you down. Give me a second to check something.”
He walked back out, passing through the opening where the moving-wall had been. After a little while, he came back with something in his hands: a large piece of wood.
“What are you doing with that?” the once-corrupted asked with [curiosity].
“Just checking to see what happens,” he answered, tossing the darkwood out into the web of roots. The moment that it touched down, the razor-thin roots in the area snapped upwards, enveloping the darkwood slab. When they pulled back again a moment later, it was sliced into tiny pieces.
“Hmm. That’s gonna be a problem.”
He kept making noises, digging through the skin-mouths at his side again while I thought for a while, resting my coils against The Grateful One’s shoulder. I needed a solution that wasn’t setting everything in sight on fire. While that would have been satisfying, the berries with the delicious scent-taste would burn too.
Then, I realized something. I just needed to use everything that I had at my disposal.
I flashed a light using [Illusion Spark], forcing The Unrepentant One to pause whatever it was that he was doing.
His brows raised when he saw the genius of my plan.
“This is a stupid plan,” The Unrepentant One groaned, making [annoyed] noises because he couldn’t help as much as he probably wanted. My perch shook slightly as he spoke, and I turned around to give him a sharp hiss.
“I don’t know, I think it will work,” The Grateful One said, making noises at the other Coreless.
“Yes, but I feel stupid,” he grunted. My perch shook slightly as he made his noises, forcing me to hold on a little tighter with [Clinging Grasp] as it swayed. I turned back around to give him another hiss.
He was ruining my plan - my plan that utilized what I had to the fullest. Which included the Great Core’s Coreless. Who had hands! Hands that could hold things! Things like long sticks - or even very long sticks!
It was perfect.
The hardest part had been convincing the Coreless; it had required an annoying array of illusions, which had then sparked quite a few noises between the two Coreless - especially when I had shown them [Spore Puppeteer]. While they didn’t seem very [surprised], there was some degree of [worry] and even a tiny bit of [fear] from The Grateful One, though it was quickly quashed by a surge of [trust]. She must not have wanted me to put myself at risk.
Other than that, they had been full of praises for the plan, obviously. There were many noises about it, stuff like “would the fruits still be safe to eat” and “probably no less than before, with the Guardian Statue around”. I didn’t know what any of the noises meant, but it couldn’t really be anything but praise. It was a good plan, one of my best maybe!
“And this doesn’t bother you?” I heard The Unrepentant One say, making noises that shook my slithering stick again, forcing me to hold still as it bounced around in the air. I gave him another hiss and he steadied it. “That the snake has those spores?”
“It did at first, but I guess the Little Guardian got the ability from those things, right? It’s only right that it gets turned against them.”
“Guess so,” the male Coreless shrugged, causing my slithering stick to bob mid-slither. I didn’t bother turning around this time. I had slithered close enough.
I bit down into vulnerable plant-flesh, releasing the first of my spores. A quick thought-hiss told the spores to prioritize spreading to the roots rather than anywhere else.
The stupid roots below never reacted, not realizing that they would soon serve a better Core.
A Great Core.