Serena stared up at the huge snake-like beast that had emerged from the ground. The worm was huge, well over twenty feet in length even with half of its body still in the earth. Its pale, wrinkly skin seemed to shrink in the sunlight and it let out a faint wail. Rows of razor-sharp, rotating teeth circled around and around what seemed like the only entrance to the worm. Letting out a piercing scream, it dove into the ground and emerged mere inches away from Takeru and dangerously close to the Dagaalyahanno encampment.
The dual-haired boy wasted no time in sprinting away from the worm, catching his breath once he was by the river with Kakane, Mira, and Serena. The plains worm continued to twist and turn, letting out strange clicking noises and fierce howls.
“Oh, crap, it’s heading towards camp!” Takeru cried, mussing up his white and powdery blue hair.
“What do we do, then!?” Mira demanded.
“I’m trying to think!” Takeru yelled back desperately. “All of the warriors are out hunting, so they can’t help us right now. Which just leaves us, I think!”
“You think!? Shouldn’t you people know how to deal with these things 24/7 if they’re so gods damned dangerous!?” Kakane growled.
“The veterans know, but the most I’ve ever been allowed to do is lead people out of dust bowls and hunt buffalo!” Takeru said. “Oh, this is bad, what do we𑁋 Oh, screw it!”
The dual-haired boy drew his sword and bravely charged up to the worm. Though, it seemed like utter foolishness, as he was quickly stopped in his tracks by a pile of purple goop that had been spat up by the plains worm. The goop made quick work of the life around it, wilting the plants and melting down the dirt. Some of it also landed on Takeru’s moccasins, eating through the material as if it were caterpillar feed.
“Fool! Do not charge so recklessly!” Mira scolded. She waved her hand, projecting a deep magenta magic circle and teleported Takeru right next to her.
“Spatial magic,” Serena realized. Teleportation was no easy feat and was one of the higher levels of the acclaimed and difficult spatial magic. Not even Serena could use teleportation.
“I cannot use that spell haphazardly, so proceed with caution, all of you!” Mira warned.
“What else are we supposed to do!?” Takeru asked, frustrated.
“Just try and keep it from going anywhere for now,” Serena said. “We can’t let it go to the camp, so just make it stay in one place while we try to think of a plan!”
“Screw that! Just kill it!” Kakane snapped, surging forward.
The scarred boy charged at the plains worm, not unlike how Takeru did before. But having seen the purple goop trick before, he was able to dodge the sporadic barfing of the creature. He got close enough to attack but when he did launch a flame-covered fist at the worm, seemingly nothing happened. The wrinkly, leathery white skin was too tough for anything to penetrate it, and was so thick that it refused to burn.
The plains worm began recoiling, serrating its many rows of teeth and hissing strangely. Sending that something very bad was about to happen, Kakane started to retreat, narrowly avoiding an entire waterfall of purple plains worm vomit. Clicking her tongue, Mira also transported him back, this time next to Serena, with her magic. She was visibly more worn down and was taking deep breaths.
“That was dangerous! You could have gotten hurt!” Serena told Kakane worriedly. He rolled his eyes.
“Save your concern for someone who wants it,” he spat. Once again covering his fists in flames, he geared up to attack the plains worm.
“Don’t be a fool, Kakane! You can’t charge in again like that, you’ll only hurt yourself,” Serena advised. “We need to come up with a plan.”
“We don’t have time for a plan!” Takeru said hysterically. “That thing could kill all of the Dagaalyahanno! As much as I hate to agree with Horn-Boy here, we need to deal with that plains worm right now, plan or no plan!”
Takeru grabbed his sword and, along with Kakane, immediately went after the plains worm. Mira and Serena could only watch in exasperation and worried, concerned shock as the two of them narrowly avoided brushes with death in the form of purple globs. Despite their best efforts, the duo barely did anything to the plains worm.
“They’re going to get themselves killed at this rate,” Mira groaned.
“What do we do?” Serena asked. “I mean, we could try to draw its attention and then have them strike at its head. Oh, but then someone would have to act as a decoy… I could do it.”
“No, no, there has to be a better way to deal with this,” Mira said, rubbing her temples. “We could… No. Come on, Mira, think! You were made advisor to the king for a reason! If you can’t save the lives of two idiot boys now, you’ll be a shame to all of Poseidos and put a stain on His Majesty’s name!”
“Wait, what are they doing?”
Kakane had fallen back, leaving Takeru to deal with the plains worm on his own. He was very skilled with his huge sword, Gladion, but even he was having difficulty. Gladion’s weight reduced Takeru’s mobility, making him vulnerable, but the blade could not slice open the plains worm. Serena could see now bits and pieces of his skin had been melted off due to being splashed by the worm’s stomach acids. He was bleeding heavily and steam was rising off his body where the acid had hit him. Even Gladion had been affected, with bits of the thick metal having been melted through.
“What the hell are you up to!? I’m at my wit’s end here!” Takeru roared at Kakane.
“Shut up and hold it off for a little longer!” the black-haired boy barked back.
“He can’t take much more,” Serena realized. “We have to help him.” Mira nodded.
“I’ll send you straight to the plains worm,” she said. “You’re good at defensive magic, right? Make a shield surrounding its entire body, even underground if you can. Ready?”
“Huh?” Serena and Mira blinked.
Kakane aimed his arm toward the sky, lighting up a huge red circle. It spun slowly, occasionally coughing out smoke and small wisps of fire. The runes on it indicated that this was a very high-level, advanced fire spell that Serena didn’t recognize. It seemed Mira didn’t either, as she was pursing her lips in confusion. Incredulously, Serena heard Kakane begin to laugh; it was a boastful, prideful bellow that belied his power and confidence that bordered on arrogance.
“What are you doing?” Serena cried.
“Seriously, I gotta thank you, Ponytail,” Kakane cackled, ignoring her. “If you weren’t so stupidly strong and thick-headed, I don’t think I’d be able to pull this off.”
“What in the𑁋!?”
A light gathered at the center of the spell circle, gathering a large amount of mana over the course of a few seconds. The circle converged onto itself, and the light burst into a huge fireball. In one terrifying-looking beam, it launched itself into the sky and sent off a huge shockwave that uprooted several grass plants. The fireball split into several flaming streaks, making an arc before disappearing into the clouds. The streaks returned as huge meteors, red-hot and smoking. Kakane grabbed Takeru and began making a run for it. Mira assisted them by teleporting them; just in time, too, as the huge stones collided with the earth.
Tremors shook the ground as it was assaulted over and over again, nonstop. Fire exploded from the terrain as if multiple volcanic eruptions were going off simultaneously. Embers flew through the wind, singing Serena’s face and riding on bits of dirt and dust. The sparks caused the grass to light on fire, creating plumes of smog that covered the sky. It was a frightening sight, the black sky with the burning red plains and the dark shadow of the groaning plains worm. If Serena didn’t know any better, she’d think the apocalypse was upon them.
The plains worm roared, raising its head to the sky. A meteor fell right into its gaping jaw, burning its jaw and ugly face. Black blood and purple acid oozed out as the worm moaned furiously. Serena could vividly see the hot molten fire slowly travel down the worm’s esophagus and intestines. The meteor burned bright red from within the worm’s body, going down and down before landing in the stomach. A moment passed before the worm violently imploded from within.
Serena barely had time to create a shield before she and her companions were launched with all sorts of foul guts, blood, bits of burnt flesh and skin, razor-sharp teeth, and purple acids. She did her best not to hurl as a particularly bloody, burnt piece of stomach lining splat right in front of her. The chunk of meat slowly slid off the magic shield, leaving a splotch of ichor behind it. And the smell. Oh gods, the smell. The smell was putrid, a stench that was a terrible mixture between burning hair and rotting meat. Undertones of ash, fire, and blood singed Serena’s nostrils and she gagged.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Serena heard Mira say behind her. She honestly couldn’t agree more.
“Ha! Serves that disgusting creature right!” Kakane smirked.
“I suppose we should commend you for getting rid of it, but Kakane, this is𑁋this is absolutely gross,” Serena said, holding in her breath.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m having a grand old time here,” Takeru said cheerfully. “Ha! Look at it go!” He pointed to a flying piece of roasted flesh. “That was awesome, Horn-Boy.”
Serena deduced that it was either a lack of blood or a lack of common sense that prompted Takeru to say that. There was no other reasonable, logical explanation. He couldn’t have been possibly serious, could he? Perhaps his sense of smell was nonexistent? There was no way someone in their right mind would actually enjoy this, right? But he was smiling and laughing, so Serena came to the conclusion that Takeru was just crazy.
Finally, the onslaught of rotting flesh stopped and it seemed safe to take down the shield. Serena did so but nearly vomited right there on the spot. The stench was stronger now that the barrier was gone. All around her feet were plains worm blood and charred bits of flesh, so she minded her step. But it wasn’t over just yet. Serena still had work to do.
She directed water from the river to put out the flames, while Mira used an advanced spell Serena had never seen to make it rain. It was an absolute downpour, filling the sky with grey clouds and drenching everyone in the plains. With their combined efforts, the two girls put out the fires rather quickly. Serena was proud of their work but beside her, Mira collapsed, halting the rain along with her.
“I am fine,” she said weakly. “The teleportations and rain spell took a lot out of me. My body has a low tolerance for my own magic, which is why I stick to research. I’ll be fine within a day.”
“I see… Those were some advanced spells. It’s no wonder you’re exhausted.”
But there was undoubtedly something unnatural about Mira’s condition. Her sclera was turning blood red, she was sweating abnormally, and her breathing was uneven. Serena leaned Mira against a rock, where she promptly fainted. After making sure that Mira was alright and her stamina would recover in due time, Serena turned her attention to the boys. Kakane and Takeru had wandered off to observe the carcass of the plains worm, which had fallen on top of the river and was diverting the flow of the water.
“Takeru!” Serena cried. “You shouldn’t be moving with those injuries!”
“Shut up,” came his nonchalant reply.
“You shut up,” Kakane snapped at Takeru. Puffing out her cheeks, Serena ran over to them.
The corpse of the plains worm was charred to a crisp, not unlike how REAN009 looked after Kakane burned it. Its once milky-white pale skin was now black and still burning, and the rotating jaw had been completely blown off. Takeru was hanging back and surveying the worm from a distance, and Serena knew why. The odor was strongest here. No ordinary human in their right mind would get within five feet of the plains worm for fear of vomiting or even fainting. The putrid scent disallowed anyone from going even remotely close to the body of the plains worm. Yet Kakane was right next to it, even kicking bits and pieces in his way.
“How is he so close?” Serena asked, holding her nose.
“Don’t look at me,” Takeru muttered. He slapped away Serena’s hand, rejecting her attempts to heal him.
“These things don’t really bother me,” Kakane told them, rubbing his scar absentmindedly. “I’ve had to deal with way worse than this, trust me.”
“Uh-huh…” Takeru cocked an eyebrow.
“A-Anyway, we should get back to the Dagaalyahanno,” Serena said. “I’m sure they’ll want to hear about this. And Takeru, you need medical treatment.”
“I’ll be fine,” the dual-haired boy said. “It doesn’t hurt, and I can move around just fine. See?” He swung his arm around to prove it. “It’s Gladion who needs repairing.” He frowned at his sword, dotted with little dents and holes from the plains worm’s stomach acids.
“Let’s just go,” Kakane sighed. He looked exhausted; the meteor spell must have taken a lot out of him.
The three of them stepped away from the plains worm, taking one final glance at it in disgust. It truly was an awful creature, and they all couldn’t help but think that. They were glad it was dead. Quite a bit of work had to be put in to finish its life, but it was well worth it in the end. A horrible monster like this didn’t belong on the surface. Serena shuddered to think that there might be hundreds more of these abominations living under her feet right at that second. She, Takeru, and Kakane slowly left the plains worm and headed towards Mira and the hill in the distance.
But suddenly, a javelin was thrown at Kakane’s foot. Seconds later, a freezing cold beam of energy hit the dead plains worm, turning it into a block of ice and shattering it. Serena, Kakane, and Takeru were all blown back as bits and pieces of frozen worm flew everywhere.
Kakane had gone very, very still and Takeru was yelling all sorts of foul pleasantries. The dual-haired boy had gotten up instantaneously and was waving Gladion around while issuing a fighting challenge to whoever had dared thrown that spear. When she looked over at Kakane, Serena saw the same expression of fear she had seen when they had first encountered the soldiers from Doryoku. It was that uncharacteristic expression of absolute terror. Again, just like before, he put a finger to his scar as if seeking some sort of hidden comfort from it.
Almost subconsciously, Kakane folded into himself, curling into a fetal position. He tried putting his hood up again, but the fight with the plains worm had burned the makeshift cowl away. The tiny scraps of fabric left wouldn’t do anything for him. He was completely exposed.
“Finally found you, little prince.” Serena whipped around.
It was Christophe Sakamoto, the one Kakane had called the Thunder Lion.