Plant monsters. I’d barely fought any, Halloween being the last time I’d deal with any significant amount. Ceira had been there as well, but she probably didn’t cause it. At least, her description of her status window indicated she didn’t have spells for that.
Not that any of that mattered. At the moment, we had to deal with a grove of trees swinging fruit-flails at us. The good news was that though they were uprooting themselves, they didn’t walk fast. That allowed our local archer companion Ailen to drag Ceira somewhere safer without much difficulty.
“Is there some reason we shouldn’t turn these into firewood?” I called towards the people who might know. Then I proceeded to shoot one in the torso with a Sonic Lance. Ailen said we had to fight, so it wasn’t my problem if some of them perished.
“This is part of their typical life cycle,” the elf said. A torso sized fruit was swinging towards my head on the end of a tree branch, but at the top of its arc an arrow severed its stem causing it to instead carry forward its momentum and fly over our group. “It is unlikely we will cause significant ecological damage no matter what we do. But it is polite to drop seeds along your route.”
I nodded. The trunk of the tree I’d blasted remained far too intact for my taste, and there were a good number of trees. Fortunately, lightning tended to be quite effective against living trees for the same reason Firebolt was typically ineffective. They were quite wet.
Chain Lightning was too expensive to use as I pleased, at least over the course of a single battle… but if I could thin out the crowd a little bit it would be quite helpful for Izzy, Ice Guy, Midnight, and I who were trying to dodge around out of the range of the grove. Especially as we found they could intentionally detach their oversized fruit, turning them into very large projectiles. And some of them exploded, apparently. Fortunately those explosions could only be so bad- compressed chunks of fruit flesh and high velocity seeds were still quite dangerous, but their impact was in large part absorbed by my Force Armor- and once that shattered my Power Brigade outfit.
I had to dodge quite a few attacks in the seconds it took me to gather the mana for Chain Lightning. Bluish lightning streaked from my staff- not augmented but merely handily aimed by the tip of the weapon. It tore apart the first target, the one I had already used Sonic Lance on. The already shattered bark left vulnerable the inner parts of this tree, and the lightning coursed through it and out the other side. As it was supposed to, but the amount of damage it could cause was quite variable. That one toppled as my spell moved between each of the enemies in the grove- losing some of its power as it coursed through them. Those with fresher bark resisted the spell more effectively, and the remnants of the spell were rather lame upon reaching the furthest specimen, but I found the mana usage quite worthwhile.
Midnight had the same complement of spells as me, but with his lower level he stuck to Sonic Lances. He clearly remembered the thing with Firebolt from before. Izzy was darting around between the trees, easily distracting them and avoiding their tripping roots but unable to cause serious damage. It wasn’t like trees had organs to aim for, and as it turned out small swords weren’t exactly made for chopping apart trees. But she handily kept them occupied while we tried to bring them down quickly.
Ice Guy seemed to have a simple task, targeting slow moving behemoths. What was more, they froze quite well. Which is to say, well for us but not for them. Even if whatever tree-muscles they were using to be self mobile could overpower the ice he covered their limbs with, they would often shatter in the attempt. Dangling inanimate branches were hardly any threat compared to the rest of things. His direct offensive capabilities seemed limited however, spikes of ice not finding much purchase in the thick wood of the trees.
Ailen, despite wielding a bow, managed to continue to significantly hinder the trees’ attacks. Shooting apart thinner connections with almost impossibly sharp arrows and causing the exploding projectiles to do so early in their flight were both quite useful. Most of what the elf did involved mana in some manner, though I wasn’t sure if it was spells or the abilities of a class I was unfamiliar with.
And Ceira… was not fully out of the combat. She’d let Ailen pulled her away after she almost blundered into their attacks, but she still seemed determined to attack them with her almost nonexistent offensive capability. What did she even have? Could she control the other plants to slow them? Would Entangle work on them? She gathered mana to be released into a nearly invisible spell and one of them leaned to the side, then toppled to the ground.
Oh right. Warp Wood still existed, and proved to work on even living wood. As for what actually happened, it seemed a slight and unexpected bend in the trunk of a tree completely threw off its balance. They did seem rather top-heavy.
At some point, the trees understood they were losing and they began to retreat. Whether they had proper intelligence was unclear, but either way we were happy enough to let the remaining ones go. We already had way too much fruit.
“Is this all edible?” I asked, looking around.
“That would depend on definitions. They have a thick rind that is… not appetizing. But technically edible,” Ailen explained. “The innards are quite delicious. Even the seeds are edible, if you are willing to put in the work. As for the other type…”
“The ones that exploded?” Ceira said, touching a line of blood on her forehead.
“Yes. They are also edible, but rarely worth the effort. They can be safely depressurized, but only by someone with the right expertise. I would not recommend trying. Be careful to avoid them on the fallen trees by making note of the lumps, compared to otherwise smoother surfaces.”
Ceira began to go around treating everyone’s injuries, which were fortunately minor. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t think that we would be attacked by plants.”
“An odd mistake for a druid,” Ailen said.
“I’ve only been a druid for a few months!” she protested. “And nobody taught me anything.”
“Ah. My apologies,” Ailen said. “I will be more forthcoming with information in the future. At least my estimation of the combat abilities of the others was correct. Flailfruit groves are not terribly dangerous, but I should have warned about combat beforehand.”
Ailen showed us how to cut apart the non-exploding fruits, which basically just involved chopping through the thick outer layer and pulling them apart, revealing familiar citrusy fruit. The actual edible parts were contained to a small center, though despite being a small portion of the volume each had more actual fruit than a large grapefruit. We easily filled up our Storage. It wasn’t quite empty, because we had leftover panther and also all of the leftover cans for tuna. It seemed a bit inappropriate to just toss them in an ancient jungle.
“The acidic juice can also be used in certain tanning processes,” Ailen mentioned as we were trying to determine if our various furs or hides could be used to store any more. “I can also help you construct more effective packs.”
It was amazing what a few sticks could do to provide structure for storage. Some of those furs were being used as bedrolls and blankets, but we didn’t need them for that anymore.
“Glad someone knows this,” Izzy said. “I know how to make use of these tools, but I mainly traveled between cities. And I didn’t learn how to make them. Do all elves learn stuff like this?”
“We also tend to develop into specialties, but we often have more time to pick up extra tidbits of information. And here, we prefer to learn at least something of every relevant profession to maintain our position.”
“So,” I began to ask, “I didn’t see many dwellings, but you indicated you had a city or something we stumbled upon… how many of you live there? If that’s okay to ask.”
“It is a rather large settlement,” Ailen said. “Thousands of us dwell together.”
“How many, uh, thousands?” I asked. “Like a hundred thousand? A million?”
“One million? Certainly not.”
“I guess it’s not that large of a place then. But it’s probably difficult to live here.”
“The ancient plane is certainly not for the faint of heart,” Ailen said. “But Omelos is quite prosperous. However, our population will never match that of the material plane cities, for various reasons.”
“I just thought with so long, you’d have reached a large population,” I shrugged.
“We chose not to,” Ailen replied. “And the natural limitations of our kind contributed greatly. If those with long lifespans produced numerous children, they would find themselves in a constant struggle for resources. More like your kind.”
As we moved along, Ailen became more talkative. Which was not to say there was much conversation- but notable features such as odd plants and signs of wild beasts were pointed out to Izzy and Ceira. While the former had a fairly reasonable record of avoiding danger, there was always more to learn. And the terrain around us continued to shift, changing from towering but otherwise typical seeming trees to a growing plethora of flora that seemed to want to kill us. The local fauna were another question entirely, but our elven friend worked with Izzy to direct us around most of them.
“The razorshrub does its best to protect its fruit and provide a suitable environment for more to grow. Instead of preferring animals to spread its seed, they are quite insular and prefer to let the patch spread. Anything unaware will cut itself on the bladed leaves,” Ailen explained. “Though usually they appear soft until something is fully within the area, to maximize the gathering of blood.”
“These are the worst plants,” Ceira said. “You’re awful, you hear me?”
“You can speak to plants?” I asked.
“Not yet. But I learned to speak with animals, didn’t I? Plants seem to be harder, though.”
“Excuse me,” Alien said. “What do you mean by learning to speak with animals?”
“Well, I kept trying it until it worked.”
“Ah,” Ailen nodded. “I thought so. That would make sense as you are planar travelers.”
“You know about that?” I frowned.
“Of course,” Ailen said. “How could I not?”
“Literally nobody from the material plane knew. Or told me, at least.”
“Or me,” Izzy said.
“That is odd,” Ailen said. “Perhaps they forgot? The risks seem worthy of bringing up.”
“What risks?” I asked. This was important knowledge. Or at least, it could have been.
“Developing a new spell or ability unexpectedly can lead to deaths. For example, if you imagined lightning targeted at your friends…”
“Oh. Is that it?”
“It is a significant risk, heightened in times of stress,” Ailen explained. “It should be considered.”
“Maybe it was intentionally left out so that nobody was tempted to seek out portals?”
“Perhaps,” Ailen said. “I am not familiar with the situation. Did it work?”
Izzy caught my eye. “Nope.”
I had more to add, “I don’t know if we’re the best specimens, as obviously taking a sample of people tempted to go through portals from those who actually did is… like checking for horses before a cart?” Was there a phrase for this? Eh, whatever.
“I doubt it was for benevolent reasons,” Senan commented. “Especially not if your mentor is unwilling to share information on it remotely. That sounds like a group in power trying to maintain control.”
“Speaking of that,” I said. “When we stop for the night I should continue to contact the Brigade. Since they can’t exactly initiate anything.”
So I did. Ultimately, there was nothing to relay. Not from the Brigade, at least. But Great Girl had apparently found out I was contacting them, so Calculator relayed her message. Which basically summed up to her yelling about warning her about danger and then not bringing her along on the raid. Which was probably fair. Would have been nice to have her with us, too.
Ailen just looked at me. “What?” I asked.
“You are an odd individual.”
Lots of people told me that. But I wasn’t sure what that meant in this context. And I didn’t feel like asking at the moment.
Shelter was nowhere near as good as sleeping in my own bed… and a hundred times better than sleeping on even the most carefully selected cave floor. Magic was good. But I wanted to be back home. Only another month… until we figured out if it was even possible.