Chapter 147: Taking Flight
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Wings buzzed and droned around me, freed from their prisons of roots and vines. A thought-hiss brought them to a halt, the former bad-things finding perches on the branches above. Rotting blood spilled from the places where shell-skin had fractured in their futile struggles, drip-dropping down from above.

Even now, freed from Tiamat’s control, they couldn’t escape the errors of their creation. I had done what I could to heal them before bringing them under the Great Core’s light, but some had still managed to injure themselves in the process.

They were decaying before my very eyes.

While I could heal them, I knew that doing so would remove the effects of [Spore Puppeteer] and allow Tiamat to reassert control. More importantly, it would only be temporary. The failures of their creator would always slither in their shadows.

One of the Coreless poked at an immobile Spore Puppet with a stick. It fell off its branch, plopping to the ground with a painful-sounding crunch. I hadn’t told it that it could move again, and so it just...didn’t.

“...Oops?” he said, [surprised]. He hid the stick behind his back when I gave him a disapproving hiss. “I didn’t think that would happen.”

“What did you think would happen, Rowan?” Needle replied, her lips turned up at the corners.

His shoulders rose and fell. The other original Coreless, all gathered within the top floor of the tower-nest, just stared in varying degrees of [disapproval].

“...I wanted to see if they would get mad when I poked them? Good news, they didn’t. Bad news, that was really creepy,” he finally said. He motioned around himself. “It didn’t seem so weird when it was just plants that were being controlled.”

With a new thought-hiss, the Spore Puppet pulled itself back up, shattered shell-skin and all. Its wings buzzed and droned, bringing it back to its former spot - just with a little more blood slipping between the cracks in its gold-blue carapace.

The Grateful One, the newest of the group, reached over to brush against my scale-flesh. “It’s no worse than what they would do to us. What they did to us.” I caught a hint of [rage] that conflicted with the steadiness of her still-brushing fingers.

Not-Needle placed a hand on The Grateful One’s shoulder, squeezing slightly. She didn’t say anything, just held it there. The Grateful One’s [rage] slowly slipped away. Finally, she spoke. The sounds vibrated against my scale-flesh.

“That aside, we do have a problem on our hands. Tiamat’s monsters are gathering at the edge of the null-water. Most of them are stuck at the boundary, but we’ve already seen that a few will be able to fly past it. We can’t assume that these will be the only ones - or that we’ll be so lucky next time. They could have gone after the civilians instead of me and the Little Guardian; the healing that the Guardian Statue provides is effective, but it won’t bring anyone back from death.”

There was a moment of silence, broken only by the creak of plant-flesh beneath the nearby Spore Puppets’ collective weight.

“...who’s Tiamat?” The Grateful One asked, making noises of [confusion].

There was a long discussion after that.

The Grateful One didn’t seem to like what she heard.

That, if anything, made them even more receptive to what I wanted.



The world fell away, leaving behind the hisses of the Coreless where we waited at the edge of the black-water, outside of the range of the [Little Guardian’s Focus]. It had been difficult to convey what I needed from them; despite how helpful they could be, the illusions that I could create through [Illusion Spark] weren’t always easy to understand for them. I could show them what I wanted, but I couldn’t always let them know why.

Fortunately, they had enough faith to do it anyway.

My awareness shifted.

Whereas before my view had been low to the ground, only as high up as not-Needle’s shoulder could take me, my new viewpoint was far higher. It floated above the ruined many-nest, dipping and bobbing in concert with what I knew were rapidly beating wings.

A thought-hiss caused the view to shift, angling further downwards. I could see myself below, resting alongside the Great Core’s Coreless as they pointed towards the me that was above - though it wasn’t really me, but something else.

Instead, it was one of the bad-things that had been stolen from Tiamat’s control, a [Little Guardian’s Totem] tied tight against its flesh. Outside of the range of the [Little Guardian’s Focus], the bad-thing didn’t receive any healing - which was exactly what I wanted.

It allowed me to do something that, sadly, [Spore Puppeteer] couldn’t. While I could send my instructions across in a series of thought-hisses, I had no effective way of knowing what was going on with any of the bad-things that had been placed under [Spore Puppeteer]’s influence. That meant that my instructions could only do so much. After all, I could only know so much.

I could tell them to attack. I could tell them to defend. I could tell them to hold still. Yet, without seeing what was going on, I couldn’t tell them how to do it.

The [Little Guardian’s Totem] solved that.

It allowed me to do something that I rarely did. I looked through the bad-thing’s eyes, connecting more fully with the [Little Guardian’s Totem] upon its flesh.

I was surprised by how easy it was.

In the past, looking through the viewpoint of [Little Guardian’s Totem] wearers had been fairly exhausting. I had only been able to do it for a short amount of time.

I wasn’t feeling the same strain upon my mind.

Whether that was because Coreless were more complex than the bad-thing that I was using or it was because there was less distance between myself and the [Little Guardian’s Totem], I didn’t know. It didn’t really matter for the moment.

What mattered was that it was working.

The bad-things that I had captured never would have lasted long. I could already see them rotting away, their poorly-designed flesh incapable of living for long outside the safety of their host-hive.

They lifted themselves higher in response to my thought-hiss, pulling above the black-water in a single mass. The black-water drifted past far below as rapidly-beating wings pushed them forward.

It was a heady sight, being so far above everything else. I would have almost envied their ability to fly if it hadn’t been for everything else wrong with them. Still, in a way, I didn’t need to be able to fly.

I was experiencing it anyway - or close enough.

The shoreline approached, the darkness of the black-water fading away into a mixture of stone and shadow. Not far away, giant clusters of glow-caps cast their light with surprising intensity, illuminating the area in shades of blue.

It only served to outline the disgusting bad-things that walked among them.

Like all of Tiamat’s creations, they were formed of twisted flesh and rotting blood; revolting failures and abominations that even a Lesser Core wouldn’t create. I could make out the sight of flesh-twisted bad-things, the first of Tiamat’s creations that I had witnessed, staggering about. Their sharp-tipped limbs scratched against the ground as they walked, marking the stone.

They weren’t the only ones, though. Closer to the black-water’s edge, I found one of the collapsed host-hives, deflated and hardly able to move without the flying bad-things that were meant to fill its body and give it structure. Elsewhere, I found other bad-things that walked on four legs, their backs covered in spikes and their mouths filled with fangs.

And their numbers were only growing. As disgusting as Tiamat’s creations were, they were numerous. Almost unending.

It was only distance that kept those numbers manageable - but with each passing day, more of them could gather. Days in which I couldn’t leave; the Lesser Core was still here, tempting me with its scent-taste. If I could devour it, I would be able to solidify the Great Core’s position within the many-nest, locking it in time as I shed my skin anew.

I needed time to do that. Time that I might not have; any day now, more of Tiamat’s flying creations might arrive. I knew that there had to be more, both of the types that I had seen and the ones that I hadn’t. There might even be something worse.

The thought would have sent a spark of urgency down my scale-flesh if I had still been able to feel it. Instead, still swimming in the sensations of the [Little Guardian’s Totem]‘s wearer, I sent a simple series of thought-hisses - one that would help to thin out Tiamat’s growing numbers.

My view dipped downwards, diving fast.

A cloud of buzzing bad-things trailed behind.



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