Chapter 146: Rot and Redemption
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The bad-thing twitched its broken wings, frantically trying to escape. The spores, still growing steadily from the cracks in its flesh, pulled back. Broken wings all but stilled, only the occasional shudder left as a sign of its resistance.

Tiamat raged, demanding that I stop.


Her demands went unanswered, bringing the blasphemous bad-thing’s anger to new heights. I tried to ignore her, focusing instead on [Spore Puppeteer]’s effect on the captured bad-thing.

Through the still-dripping blood that flowed through its shattered shell, I could see lines of gold and blue reflecting the light of my ore-flesh covering. I had modified the spores to spread quicker than they usually did; it meant that the result would be more rabid than I preferred, so focused on converting everything around them that I could barely even provide proper instruction. Even the Great Core’s Coreless wouldn’t be entirely safe. They weren’t brought under the Great Core’s light by [Spore Puppeteer], and the faster-growing spores had sacrificed too much for their speed to be able to recognize that the Coreless were on the same side.

It was a dangerous strain.

Still, it wasn’t important. I hadn’t been planning on keeping the first of the captured bad-things alive. I just wanted to figure a few things out.

It was sad. Part of me regretted that the bad-thing in front of me would find the Great Core’s light for only a short time before it likely died. It had suffered for so long under the horrible Tiamat, a bad-thing that wasn’t even a Lesser Core and certainly not the Great Core. Even with so little time left, this was better.

Redemption from the rot that was Tiamat’s control, even if only for a moment.

The bad-thing tried to twitch again, lines of gold and blue starting to break through the reddish black of its carapace.

I gave a quick thought-hiss and the roots that restrained it tightened a little further. Just in case Tiamat’s control was stronger than I thought. That same thought-hiss was sent to the other plant-flesh bindings throughout the room, causing them to tighten their grasps on the injured bad-things.

A few of them died when the bindings tightened too far, cracking carapace and rupturing flesh. Those would never be redeemed.

I let out a tiny hiss of mourning, and then moved on.

The-female-who-was-not-Needle kneeled beside me, staring at the growing veins of gold and blue with widened eyes. One of her hands absently reached out to rub against my scale-flesh.

The bad-thing jerked again, this time towards the nearby Coreless, snapping its teeth. Its shell-skin splintered a little more, breaking against the irresistible grasp of the roots around it. She jerked back a little, pulling away from the belligerent bad-thing in [surprise].

“I guess you don’t have things as well under control as I thought,” she hissed poorly, reaching out a hand to absently brush at my scale-flesh. “It looks pretty though, if you can ignore all of the blood.”

She glanced around, taking in the forest of golds and blues that surrounded us before making a few more noises.

“It all does,” she said. “Though it’s still a little terrifying when you remember that you’re surrounded by monsters, as beautiful as all the colors make them. But maybe this is something else that we need.” Her lips quirked up at the corners. “All for a better future, huh?”

She sighed. “I’ll trust in that.” Her nose wrinkled. “Even if some of them smell awful.”

Not-Needle stood, wiping bits of soil from her knees, and wandered off to inspect the other captured bad-things. I left her to it, focusing again on the bad-thing before me. It started to settle down as she walked away, its attempts to move beaten down now that it was no longer working in concert with the spores infecting its flesh.

I could feel the strength of the spores’ thought-hisses growing as the spores themselves became stronger, pressing more insistently at the walls of my mind-nest in their search for instructions. Even so, they were more chaotic than I was used to. Less ordered. More vicious.

Almost mindless beyond the desire to protect me and infect others.

It was good that I hadn’t tried this type of spore before; I still didn’t know whether life essence would remove the effect of my own spores like it did the Little Puppeteers. That was one thing that I wanted to find out.

One thing that I needed to find out. [Spore Puppeteer] was useful, but accidentally infecting Coreless that had already accepted the Great Core wasn’t what I wanted. It would be good to know if the [Little Guardian’s Focus] would protect them from that.

Tiamat raged again, [INSTRUCTION] after [INSTRUCTION] battering at the walls of my mind-nest. I wasn’t sure how much she could see or sense, but it was obviously enough to have an idea of what was happening - to know that the Great Core was claiming one of her own, just as she had tried to claim me.

The thought was satisfying enough to send a shiver down my scale-flesh.

Tendrils of gold and blue began to turn more solid, twisting and twining around each other in their efforts to root through the bad-thing’s flesh. Its disgusting shell became something beautiful; iridescent from every angle, causing the mana-light around it to bounce off its surface.

Finally, the bad-thing stilled entirely, held firm by the spores that filled its flesh.

Tiamat raged further.

I slithered closer, testing the spores’ control. The bad-thing never moved. It never even twitched.

I let out an exultant hiss.

Then, I bit down. My fangs cut through fractured carapace with an audible crack. The bad-thing held still even as rotting blood coated my mouth-flesh.

I fought the urge to heave, trying to focus on the life essence that was spilling from my fangs. One drop. Two. Four.

The bad-thing twitched, and I jerked backwards again.

Slowly, the fractures in its shell-skin started to close. Its gossamer wings reknit themselves, new threads reaching out to connect in places that had been rent apart by ruthless plant-flesh.

At the same time, veins of gold and blue began to disappear.

The bad-thing thrashed and bucked, trying to break free from its prison of plant-flesh with renewed vigor. If anything, the life essence had made it stronger than it was before; Tiamat’s creations were rotting things that could only live for so long. I had brought it back to perfect health - or at least as close as the disgusting thing could get.

Its red-black shell cracked and healed and cracked again.

It broke from its bindings, pulling itself free in a feat of renewed strength, throwing itself at me in a mindless rage.

A thought-hiss split itself in multiple directions; a wave of vines and roots crushed the bad-thing to a pulp.

I let out a mournful hiss, both happy and sad about the result of the test. It meant that my Coreless wouldn’t be in terrible danger of being infected from any Spore Puppets that I made; the [Little Guardian’s Focus] would be able to protect them just as well as it protected them from the spores of the Little Puppeteers themselves. Yet, at the same time, it meant that I wouldn’t be able to heal any bad-things that were captured with [Spore Puppeteer]. Not without removing the spores, at least.

It was disappointing. Even with the spores gone, I had hoped that the bad-thing would remember the greatness of the Great Core. To find that it didn’t…

Maybe it hadn’t deserved redemption in the first place - or maybe Tiamat’s hold on it was just too strong.

I moved on, sending a thought-hiss to all of the nearby plant-flesh. They gathered in clusters, pinning the captured bad-things more securely than before. If I was going to save the bad-things from Tiamat’s control, I would need to heal their wounds before bringing them under the Great Core’s light.

I got to work, infecting one bad-thing after another. It would be a slower process than with the first; now that I knew Tiamat’s control could be defeated, I wanted spores that wouldn’t endanger the Coreless. Unfortunately, those didn’t grow as fast.

Still, Tiamat’s bad-things couldn’t go anywhere. There was time.

From the anger I sensed in her thought-hisses, I could tell that Tiamat was never going to forgive me for this.

That was fine.

I had never been willing to forgive her, either.


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