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There should have been such a small chance of getting out of the Thunderstruck Grove when they had neither map nor compass to guide their return, but either they were incredibly lucky or something else was going on, because within five minutes, the fog parted around Lugh to reveal the slope that lead down to the city-state of Nyu-Taro. Ari’s ear, thankfully, hadn’t been totally ripped off by the warrior’s monstrous strength, but that warm feeling that infused his being had disappeared soon after. Perhaps the effects of the Swiftness Talisman decayed more quickly once one was outside of combat, or perhaps it was just the time dilation effect making it feel as if it lasted longer than it actually did. Regardless, the two Immortals found themselves inside soon enough, with a decent amount of coinage to be converted into rishi too.

Whether Ari went on a second shopping trip or was simply manhandled into getting a job was up to Lugh though. Certainly, they couldn’t spend too much time in the city-state. Who knew what sort of trouble Raime and Amulak would get themselves into within the Grove? Two ranged fighters, one of which with a crippling addiction to pain, didn’t exactly inspire much confidence in such lethal wilderness, after all.
@Cu Chulainn@GreenGoat

Despite apparently agreeing on the fact that the two of them should regroup with the others, Raime and Amulak ventured deeper into the fog-shrouded forest instead, intent on another, darker task: procuring a pristine human corpse for the would-be necromancer to utilize for his nefarious violation of the sanctity of life and death. Could the two of them alone survive an encounter with another centipede woman? Could they even survive a fight against a couple of normal mobs? Though Amulak was well-equipped for someone of his level, Raime was practically naked, an unarmored, low END Scout who had skills meant for staying on the periphery of combat, rather than in the bloody frontlines. It was, in more ways than one, a bad idea to be so hasty in continuing through the Thunderstruck Groves.

But they continued regardless, confident perhaps in the potential birthing of a Nuclei to save them from a temporary death, just as how it did so for Klein. Or perhaps, between a masochist and a pro gamer, neither of them had the self-preservation instinct to realize that the Thunderstruck Grove, the highest-level hunting grounds in the neutral city-state, may not have been meant for people who had only been farming in the Goldspun Fields just yesterday.

Still, it appeared as if their dark intents were well-received by the cursed woods.

As they slipped down a rocky hill, they came across an old maple tree, its trunk wrapped up with thick, rotting rope. Leaves, sickly and bug-eaten, clung tenaciously to its branches, while at its base, there was a bundle of cloth, from which the face of a baby peeked out. The newborn slept still, their skin pale in the dim light of the fog, and whatever tracks that Raime could discern in the immediate area indicated that the area had been undisturbed for at least a day.

An abandoned, unwanted child, left to be rid of by the maneaters of the Thunderstruck Grove, spared only due to the newborn having not woken up and realized their solitary state yet.

Could there exist any Rien more suitable for the production of a pristine corpse?
@Psyker Landshark@Searat

“Thank you for your patronage,” Shika called, bowing their head as the man exited the flower shop once more. The transaction had taken only a matter of minutes, and soon enough, the shop fell to a comfortable silence, broken only by the buzzing of LED lights. The corpse-flower closed their eyes briefly, listening for the distant calling of sirens, but frowned instead at the faint reverberations of an explosion. An explosion? No, more like many small ones. Violent firecrackers in the winter night. Curious. They leaned against wall, seeped back into the carpet of roots that covered the floor, and saw everything.

Cursed stones, reacting to conflict in explosive fashions. The DHA on the retreat and the yureis both on the retreat. A burning warehouse, and the police who arrived to respond. Their treant, scarred by explosion and shrapnel, its wooden form punctured by a heavy lance. Hm, what would be the appropriate methodology here…

“GURGH!” the treant groaned, creaking from the furious onslaught of the Motorcycle Knight. “To think that such a mighty foe would use their power to further scar the earth and poison the air! What misuse of strength, what abuse of force! Hear me, DHA. This is not over! I will have my satisfaction!!”

With a final, explosive cry of revengeance and despair, all the fungi on the treant exploded, a smokescreen of spores surging out and blinding those still inside the warehouse. Updrafts from the flames dispersed the spores soon enough, casting them skywards into the snowy night, and as the dust settled, the only trace that remained of the treant was that of the shattered concrete foundation that it had tore itself out of.

Now, the encounter was truly over.

Shika breathed out, their pale green eyes refocusing on their surroundings. Like slithering snakes, their roots slipped back into the recesses of the wall, and their feet touched the linoleum floor. Flicking out their smartphone, the corpse-flower scanned over the rest of their schedule, considered certain things for a bit longer, and then placed their right hand on top of their head. Pressing downwards, they split themselves in half vertically, a gooey, viscous sap forming strings between the two halves, before snapping off and regenerating into two different Shikas. One stared blankly at the other, and said, “Welcome to Eternally Yours. How may I help you?”

“Hm,” the other said, “could I have a recommendation?”

“Yes, of course. We’ve got a special deal on our Blue-Dyed Roses this month; 30% off on a beautiful flower meticulously preserved so that it will last a whole year without going bad. If you’re looking for s-”

“That’s good enough. Have fun at work.”

The clone closed their mouth, lips curved into a perpetually relaxed smile.

Shika headed upstairs, where their father, a fifty year old man who looked like quite the silver fox with his slicked back hair and his collared shirt, stood. A heavy coat and a scarf were in his hands, and upon their approach, he moved to dress them up, finishing the task off by tying the scarf into a cute little bow. Once done, he resumed his position beside the wall, staring off into a world that only he could see.

The corpse-flower chirped, “Thanks Dad! I’ll be back soon!”

There was no response from the man, but that was to be expected from such a taciturn, cool-headed silver fox as he. Shika smiled either way as they exited out of the back of the house. The night was young, and their schedule was open enough to allow for such detours in the day-to-day. Humming a cheery tune, they strode through the muted streets, feeling for that psychic tugging that had initially drawn them to the warehouse.

There was a place and time for bravado.

This was not the time for it.

Isidore spared only a single glance towards Augusta, the long-eared woman’s beauty distorted by pain and rage as she only barely managed to land on her feet after practically flinging herself off of Donovan. Her hand glowed, pressed as it was against her wound, and he turned away, to continue his own journey up the staircase, out of the prison. If these strange energies within their bodies could repair one’s physical vessel too, then that was for the better. If she failed, then Donovan could continue carrying her.

Hah. “If he dies, he dies.”

Two sets of footsteps trailed Isidore soon enough though. So it was the former. Good. They broke out to the surface, and he didn’t spare a glance towards the towering titan as he ran further off, off into the distance until the sounds of conflict disappear. Breath, white and blooming, escape from his lips as Isidore slowed down to a jog, then to a walk, and finally to a stop. Not because there was any good place to rest, but because someone else had decided this place as an ideal location for one.

Nick laid there, after all, sleeping without a care in the world. Would things be easier if he were killed, right here? Certainly, this world was one where more of these terrors persisted, enough so that someone so prone to flight would be an inconstant ally at best, a backstabbing liability at worst.

As if responding to Isidore’s homicidal musings though, the brunette roused himself immediately, barraging them all with a flurry of questions. Isidore stared at him for a long while, before letting out a breath. “The flower became our ally and aided our escape. Augusta’s capable of healing now; care to experiment on your limits with Nick?”

The pain in his own body was beginning to catch up to him again, but Isidore ignored it. With time, they’d scab over, and this body’s natural recovery capabilities would be useful to understand as well. His gaze swept over to the eastward forest. A mountain trek would kill them more easily than any number of plant-monsters when they had nothing in terms of tangible supplies. A beach was only good for a vacation with the family.

Without another word, Isidore continued walking towards the east, digging his fingers into the cut in his hand to aggravate it slightly.

If he could bait food with his own flesh, that would certainly solve at least one of their problems.

Otis accepted Ultana’s violence gracefully, his head snapping forwards from the hearty thwack before rolling back into place. His head rotated to face the redheaded magical martial artist, a blank-eyed stare directed towards her. Lorelai’s hair, which was curiously light for something so long, tickled him as well as she hopped in to grab the newcomer’s hand. It smelled of sunflowers, her hair, Otis’s nose twitched at how closely it resembled the fumes of a busy kitchen…a smell that only became more potent when she untied it and a gale force wind blasted her voluminous hair backwards. Strange company brought forth by strange winds, hm? When the wind settled, Otis calmly grasped Lorelai’s hair, picked out the leaves and twigs caught in it during that miniaturized windstorm, and then braided it quickly, looping the end through a hole within the braid to circumvent the need for another tie. After a second’s worth of consideration, he pulled a pin out from one of his pouches and slide it into the lower end of the braid and through the folds of the back of Lorelai’s clothing. It wasn’t a permanent job, but it would be bothersome to others if a foreigner’s hair started smacking everyone everywhere at the simplest swing of the head.

Wiping his oily hands on his pants, Otis’s attention turned back onto the newcomer, wondering if Ultana was going to smack her head any time during that rambling. Didn’t seem like she would though, and it didn’t seem like Seirin was going to answer any questions too. Which he wasn’t particularly against, but the lack of acknowledgement bothered him. He would have to interrogate that emotion at a later point. Was it because she ignored his questions and segued immediately into the same sort of conversation and interest that most foreigners expressed regarding Arcanis? Was it because her voice just reminded him of how hard it was to find small game meat in Japanese butcher shops? Hrm.

He stepped to the side of Lorelai, and spoke up again.

“You speak a lot. You also answered nothing. I will repeat myself, with questions recategorized for easier understanding. Who are the Kaganomiyas? Are you in trouble right now, or will you be in trouble after? Are you of such importance that assassins will go after you, now that you are away from your escorts? Do you have money on you right now? Do you know this place well? Do you know any places for pinicking nearby? You were at the conference; were you there because of your duties, or your self-interest?” The strigidae’s tone was more measured this time around, but his gaze remained eerily sharp and unblinking. His head tilted slightly. “A change of clothing would be better at avoiding pursuers than a change in hairstyle. One's attire is often more unique than one's natural coloration.”
So, this dead?
Mm, I've decided against joining in the end. Best of luck though!

Yurei were ultimately just ghosts, and honestly, what could be so scary about something that already died once? With fists of fury and feet of furry, what violent retaliation launched by the specters roaming the chaotic warehouse ended up being almost totally ineffective. After all, what Devil Hunter couldn’t deal with fodder youkai? Outside of the singular citizen that was still alive, there were no other elements to worry about, after all. Hell, if it was just a group of yurei, they could probably just drop a bomb, blame it on a gas pipe explosion, and call it a night.

But if things were ever so simple, the entirety of the DHA wouldn’t be descending upon a warehouse, just for the sake of a single girl, would it?

No, beyond the schoolgirl ghosts, beyond the hobo-demon’s hand, beyond the definitely-not-noticed crow, there was a far greater evil lurking in the depths of the warehouse! The earth rumbled, concrete floor cracking and shattering as the walls themselves quaked at His advent! Roots as black as the devil’s own sin burst out from the ruptured ground, tentacle-like vines swirling and entwining to form the internal framework of a fifteen meter tall monstrosity. Fearsome and menacing with a head formed of a deformed pumpkin, he roared out with a big “ROAAAAAAAAARHGGHHHHHHHHH!” as his tree-trunk arms flailed with fury.

“YOU DARE DISTURB MY SLUMBER!” the treant continued roaring, the vividly-colored mushrooms on his back pulsating and proliferating until it covered his whole body like a porcupine. "DEVIL HUNTERS! I SHALL FERTILIZE MYSELF WITH YOUR BLOOD AND GUTSSSSSSSSS!”

And with a swing of his mighty oak, the treant grasped onto the catwalk populated by so many of those fleshy, irritating, non-hibernating humanoids and wrenched it free of the walls to hurl that entire length of twisted metal towards the motorcycling, gasoline-igniting, spear-thrusting, anime-color-haired hunter.

It was certainly on like an oven now!



Once again, Hanafusa Shika found themselves distracted just as things were getting good. Alas, the weight of karma upon the unjust soul. With a practiced smile, the white-haired individual set their puppet to auto, and greeted their latest customer.

“Hello, welcome to Eternally Yours. We’ve got a special on preserved Peace Lilies tonight, guaranteed to brighten up your rooms during these long winter nights!”

The suited man, humorless and bespectacled, coughed. “Rosemary, hydrangea, and amaryllis.”

Shika’s head tilted slightly. “Those don’t coordinate well. Would you like a recommendation?”

The man shrugged. “No. The old man’s got strange tastes.”

The corpse flower’s smile became toothy. “Roger dodger.”

And with that, Shika prepared the transaction.

All it took was a single slip-up. Donovan misunderstanding the monster’s intent. Isidore himself being a step too late. By the time he kicked the flower-corpse away, Augusta was already bleeding, her own flesh rent by a floral blade. It went deep. Deep enough to slice her side open, deep enough that he could see, through the blood that coated everything, the purples and yellows of her internal organs, spilling out further fluids.

For a moment, he considered whether to put her out of her misery now.

But that thought lasted for only a moment. In the absence of modern conveniences and technology, they had nature-surpassing abilities, energies that could be molded into something more. The flame died from his sword, and he nodded in Donovan’s direction. “Jostling her will aggravate the wound,” Isidore spoke, taking the vanguard. “Don’t run; I’ll buy the time we need, if I must.”

How much longer could the flower demon restrain that giant? How much more fire could he spill from his blood? He clenched his left fist, fingernails digging into the open wound, pain clearing his indecision. Augusta had been useful, and he had already buried his fair share of useful people in his last life. With a goddess's blessings constituting his body and every natural advantage conferred unto him, Isidore resolved to do better.

The swordsman sought the surface, as two titans wrestled above.
Raime continued to burn. The poison had not yet faded from his system, but he was no longer hindered by it either. Arrow after arrow flew towards the raging centipede woman, some hitting their mark, others scattering against the dense carapace. Life continued to ebb out of his wounded body, another 17 HP lost as his organs rioted against his continued physical exertion. But he would continue on, bowstring bloodied by his skinless fingers.

Ari continued as well, quick thinking surpassing the quick movements of her overwhelming quarry. Her strength wasn’t enough to send her skywards, possessing only the might of a single adult human, but the lunging head of the centipede provided a stepping stone that the catgirl kicked off of to get her up to the bare canopies of the grove. Her foot ached, that exchange having cost her 4 HP, but Ari still lived, and shrouded as she was in the mist, perhaps she was even hidden from the monster now?

The pertinent thing to do would be to stay where she was, wait until the monster was slain by the others.

Ari was insane though.

Links of chain rattled around her as she plummeted again, centrifugal force building up as the weighted end of her weapon gained more and more speed. Fragile as she was, weak as she was, even slow as she was, the centipede woman’s long torso could only follow in the same direction as her head, and Ari landed a blow with such force that the carapace caved inwards, the weighted end stuck inside the shell. Moments later, she hit the body as well, shoulder striking the writhing mass before Ari bounced off. It wasn’t a killing blow, and it may not have even been a significant one, but she had made her mark on the monster.

That made all the difference for Amulak.

A mage’s movements were insufficient for dodging a monster of this size and speed, especially with no frontliners to stall such a creature, but Ari’s blow had caused a twitch in the centipede woman’s body, a twitch that echoed up all the way into her face. Half her face smashed into Amulak’s body, overgrown teeth scraping against bone plating, and the mage ricocheted off two different trees from the impact, but he had avoided the worst case scenario: joining Lugh inside her mouth. Combined with his armor’s effect, the cloaked mage came away from it with only 72 HP lost, and plenty of time to cast his spell. Once again, his veins filled with an electrical impulse. Once again, the spear drove itself into flesh, cracking into bone. But this time, from scorch mark of the magical spear, a sword sprouted.

Lugh was still alive and kicking.

Teeth continued to grind into his flesh, tearing chunks off as they sheared meat off his bones. Even with reduced pain on, it was agonizing, like having some jackass with long nails continuously scratching at him from every direction. The only benefit of this was that the mouth of the monster was dark; Lugh couldn’t see enough to gross him the hell out, and the adrenaline was kicking in now. He was a warrior, he was a tank, and even the loss of another 88 HP from the centipede woman’s mastication couldn’t stop him! His borrowed kodachi found plenty of targets within, and soon, hot fumes spilled out from the inside of her mouth, joining the dizzying aroma of her saliva. It was a carnal festival of violence and hunger, both beasts seeking to tear the other apart, but a sudden shaft of light lit up the darkness, and Lugh thrust through, piercing flesh and puncturing bone to break out of the centipede woman’s face.

An ear-splitting screech echoed out, and she raised her body twenty meters skywards in fury, intent on burying Lugh head-first into the dirt, the inertia making a mess out of his ability to think.

But outside, Raime, Amulak, and Ari could all see it.

The crackling of electricity, the condensing of dark clouds, the glint of steel that poked out from the monster’s face.

Lightning fell, and the thunder that followed silenced the monster’s death throes as she struck the ground, her carbonized body already reforming into loot. From the vespers of her demise, Lugh stood. Chewed up, but alive, with something new on him.

A bracelet of crystallized lightning, and the thunderhead that followed it.


@Psyker Landshark@Cu Chulainn@Searat@GreenGoat

Catching up with the oni, the two Immortals continued their journey through the Thunderstruck Grove, the relative silence broken by chatter in a foreign language, the screams of players and monsters alike, the echoing thunder, and the occasional snapping of a twig underfoot. It was hard to figure out in what direction the oni were actually heading; many of the turns they took looked pointless or redundant, simply erasing the progress they made before, but the blue oni looked confident in his trail-blazing, and the strange group hadn’t been attacked yet by any others. Was this a safe trail? Or did monsters in the Thunderstruck Grove have an unspoken understanding to not fight against each other? Certainly, Ames and Magpie couldn’t recall before any instances of other monsters in the Pearl Bloom River or Goldspun Fields attacking each other, but then again, maybe they just hadn’t observed monsters in their natural environment for all that long?

After what seemed like an hour, or perhaps just a couple of minutes, they found themselves in front of a large tree, gnarled roots bulging out of the barren earth. The blue oni crouched down, his voice low as he whispered an incantation. Moments later, the roots pushed upwards, raising the tree five meters into the air and unveiling a tunnel that lead into the earth. An otherworldly blue light pulsated at the bottom of the tunnel, and the onis walked in, ducking their heads slightly at the entrance of the subterranean system. Magpie and Ames followed after, and were hit immediately by the strong smell of roasting meats, pungent sweat, aromatic smoke, and bitter alcohol. Behind them, the tree settled down once more, groaning as its roots rearranged itself.

Now, there was no escape.

They continued down the tunnel, feet padding against a moss-woven carpet, until it opened up into a large cavern from which smaller tunnels could be seen. Braziers of blue flame lit up the interior, while countless hides, tanned, cured, then dyed, coated the walls and the ceiling. Dof onis ranging from red to blue to purple were laying about, some attending to tasks, others just content to relax. Three pudgy oni children, their horns still just nubs, wrestled each other in a ring of sand, making dramatic noises that sounded like facsimiles of kappa-speech. An absolute unit of an oni, spherical in shape and girth, singlehandedly managed a wok that looked to be twenty meters in diameter. A thick, bloody soup bubbled merrily, bones occasionally resurfacing as it boiled. Neither Immortal could tell if any of them were human though. Off to one side, a pair of female oni, both purple and pregnant, leaned against one of the alcoves, whispering to each other and shooting glances at the strange intruders. When a toddler oni started waddling in the Immortals’ direction, they pulled him back, ushering the young lad back into the smaller room. Their presence certainly drew attention, and some more negative than others; that scar-faced oni with a broken horn gave them a hell of a stink-eye when they first emerged.

The trio didn’t mind the attention though. They practically hurled the chunks of bear at the chef-oni, the blue leader turning to encourage the Immortals to follow again, this time to the back of the room, where, upon a throne of bones, a sinewy purple oni sat, smoking from an ornate pipe. It was difficult, at a glance to tell the age of the monster, but his hair was jet black, streaked with silver dust and pinned back with various colorful beads, while spiderweb tattoos ordained his body almost completely. The loincloth he wore was a startling white, at odds with the dirt-smeared, soot-covered décor of the rest of the cavern, and he gazed thoughtfully at the two immortals while the blue oni explained in that curious, emphatic speech of their’s.

Finally, the purple oni breathed out, and in a rasping voice, spoke, “So. You dance.”
@Yankee@OwO

Bone shattered with consecutive blows, the brutal cleaver chipping away at the stump that remained. Klein continued his grim, single-minded task, removing more and more of the stump, desecrating more and more of the skeleton within. Surely, it would be over soon? The tree itself had been uprooted, while the stump was being torn to bits.

But it wasn’t over. His SP continued to fall with every exertion of his body, and he continued to pull out chunks of wood. His vision darkened, the density of the woven cage blotting out what sparse light broke out from the all-encompassing mist. In moments, Klein was in total darkness, even the distant sound of thunder now muted within this cage.

And with the cage complete, the roots closed in, dirt shifting as they twisted together, unseen tendrils of wood grappling onto the mountain man’s body. Only a few at first, but growing at a rapid pace as the damp wood slipped around his sweat-slick form.
All the while, his body grew more and more sluggish, the juxtaposition between what he willed and what he did growing greater and greater, his eyes struggling to stay open within the smothering darkness.

Klein was being swallowed whole.

Klein was to be the next man inside this tree.
@Shovel
Feel like you could probably tone them up, if ya want.

On the topic of demon cannibalization, it's rather inefficient and unfulfilling. Depending on the type of demon you are though you can be a coward and have them just sip incremental bits of blood or something. Think that's reserved for weak ghost-types though.
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