Chapter 148: Winged Flight, Winged Fight
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My mind buzzed, filled with thought-hiss after thought-hiss as I led the assault on Tiamat’s creations. One thought-hiss commanded the [Little Guardian’s Totem] bearer to flap its wings hard, arresting its movement and holding its place in the air. Others sent gold-blue bad-things here or there, flitting in and out as they searched for weakness in the enemy.

My forces were met with sharp-tipped limbs and fangs, each lashing outward with an intensity that spoke of rage. There was no confusion among them; none of the hesitation when attacked by those who used to be their own that I had hoped for.

Tiamat’s doing, I was sure.

A flurry of thought-hisses caused most of my Spore Puppets to twist back around, the motion creating a cloud of gold and blue that momentarily blocked the [Little Guardian’s Totem] bearer’s vision. Still, I knew that those at the edges were doing their best to rake at exposed flesh in passing, trying to seed the enemy with spores as soon as possible. They wouldn’t be able to grow quickly enough to take over the enemy but, with any luck, they might be able to slow them down at a crucial moment.

Whatever the case, it couldn’t hurt.

The whirling cloud of Spore Puppets finally lifted away entirely, raising themselves up in the air away from the reach of the enemy. Their wings buzzed and droned in tandem, each piece of the greater whole following the same instructions. They held still.

Down below, Tiamat’s creations were anything but still.

Some of them, the four-legged bad-things that I hadn’t seen before, clawed their way up the largest of the glow-caps in great leaps and strides. They were surprisingly graceful, barely causing the soft plant-flesh to sway despite the force that must have been involved. It wasn’t long before they started to leap into the air, bounding off the highest of the glow-caps in an attempt to reach the spot where my forces waited.

Surprisingly enough, they succeeded in those attempts.

Entire groups of my captured bad-things were plucked out of the air, brought down by sharp fangs and overwhelming weight. The four-legged bad-things landed with a surprising amount of grace, their torsos sinking down almost entirely to the ground as they absorbed the impact of falling from such a great height.

Blood, rotting and just as disgusting as always, spilled from the gaps in their maws.

They spit, sending my now-crippled Spore Puppets sliding across the ground and into the black-water. Their wings buzzed desperately, but couldn’t save them from the black-water’s deadly touch.

A great number of spores screamed out at me, stronger than they had ever done before, and then fell silent. The sound only made me more eager to avoid touching the black-water myself. I didn’t think I had any hope of surviving it.

Beside the black-water’s edge, I could just barely sense the nascent thought-hisses from the spores that had wormed their way into the four-legged bad-things - just as I could sense it from the few of Tiamat’s creations that my Spore Puppets had managed to injure in the first attack.

Even in terrible defeat, the Great Core’s followers worked to guide more of the lost to the light of the Great Core - willing or not.

Little lines of gold and blue were already starting to make themselves known. They were far too weak to actually have an effect on the battle; at best, they might attempt to resist the bad-things’ motions, trying to pull in the opposite direction. They likely wouldn’t even be able to do that. As strong as [Spore Puppeteer] was, even the most infectious of my spores wouldn’t be able to take control of a bad-thing in the course of a fight.

Battles were quick, vicious things.

I sent another thought-hiss and my Puppets dove, hard-shelled bodies slicing through the air - and then slicing through flesh.

They fell upon the four-legged bad-things first, guided by my commands. Out of all of Tiamat’s gathered bad-things, those were the most dangerous to my flying Puppets - able to use the environment around them in order to leap far higher than what was reasonable.

Tiamat’s bad-things rushed in close, desperate to defend their brethren; another thought-hiss caused the crowd to split into sets of threes, each group twisting away on quick-beating wings. They soared high above shoulders, dipped low between legs, and spiraled carefully around plant-flesh, leaving the crowd of bad-things behind.

I split my attention, trying my best to follow the great mass of Puppets as they spilled away in every direction. A series of thought-hisses went to each one, assigning the members of the triads their own specific roles: two to blind and one to harry.

The blinding bad-things threw themselves at their targets with reckless abandon, clawing and gnashing at exposed eye-flesh. Some met their marks, shredding the squishy flesh into bloody strips, causing their target to twist and writhe blindly.

Others failed; sharp-tipped limbs pierced through delicate wings and powerful jaws shattered shell-flesh.

But in almost every case, failure or not, Tiamat’s bad-things were distracted enough for the third to swoop in - leaving crimson-black lines that sprouted tiny roots of gold and blue.

I would have hissed in glee if I were still consciously controlling my own body. Instead, I just watched more intently, sending thought-hiss after thought-hiss that forced the surviving members of the Great Core’s forces to regroup into new sets of threes. Many didn’t make it; as stupid as Tiamat’s creations were, they could still learn.

When my Puppets soared high, they jumped.

When my Puppets went low, they stabbed.

When my Puppets twisted away, they followed.

And with the way that they were visibly decaying, sometimes even tearing themselves apart with the force [Spore Puppeteer] caused them to exert, many more of my Puppets died. Still, even those deaths served a purpose, seeding more of Tiamat’s bad-things with spores of gold and blue.

The flesh-twisted bad-things, with their sharp-tipped limbs, avoided the worst of it. Unlike the four-legged bad-things, they didn’t typically infect themselves by biting down on my Puppets. Instead, they stabbed and they stomped, keeping themselves relatively safe from [Spore Puppeteer]’s control.

Despite that, I could feel the faintest of thought-hisses coming from some of the more injured ones, bits of gold and blue radiating from their bleeding wounds. It wasn’t enough to do anything. It wouldn’t turn the tide of this battle.

Then again, I had never expected a full victory in the first place. The bad-things that the Great Core had claimed didn’t last long outside of the safety of their host-hives. Already, I could see the signs of decay and deterioration; wings didn’t beat quite as well, carapace crunched too easily, and blood spilled far too freely.

I just wanted to slow Tiamat down.

With any luck, she wouldn’t notice the newest infected until it was too late, in which case the newly puppeted four-legged and flesh-twisted bad-things could turn on their former brethren and spread their spores further.

That probably wouldn’t happen; Tiamat had noticed [Spore Puppeteer]’s effects before. She would notice them again.

And yet, what could she really do about it?

It was blatantly obvious that Tiamat’s creations had no way to heal themselves from [Spore Puppeteer]’s infection. If they had that sort of healing, they wouldn’t suffer from the rot and decay that caused their flesh to twist upon itself so revoltingly. They wouldn’t walk about with scars and ruined limbs.

No, the infected would stay infected; the only way out would be death.

That would work nearly as well for me, and it was the reason that my thought-hissed instructions were focused on injuring rather than killing the enemies. In the end, they would do that themselves - whether it was after they turned on each other or before.

In the end, I just wanted to thin their numbers while I could.

Hopefully, after finding the many-nest’s Lesser Core, I would be able to do more than that.

Soon enough, the last of the Great Core’s newest followers finally died, leaving only the [Little Guardian’s Totem] bearer alive.

A new thought-hiss caused its view to spin around, gliding back to where my Coreless and I waited.


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