Disclaimer: I don't own any of the series/cover art involved with this story.
Drunkle Qrow: Hey, I need to give you guys a reason to be excited for the following chapters, right? And yeah, Ruby was in a really crappy scenario.
StayBlessed: Awesome! Funny you should say that, because I really enjoyed writing his scenes. Though yeah, if he gave more info, they'd have been better prepared. Still, he is who he is.
Guest: Oh no, sharing ideas is just fine. I don't always use them, but I'm always happy to hear them.
Catter the Mad: Not sure who that is, but I'm gonna assume he/she is a giant plant monster.
Bob of the A: Yeah, the fight was pretty good in the original material, so I guess it's time to see if I can deliver :)
darkromdemon: Glad to hear that!
Server lock: What's bad? The chapter or the situation? True, physically hurting Spidey usually requires you to be able to hit him, and as fast as he is with that spider-sense, that can be next to impossible. As for Spider-Man being the strongest of the group, that's actually up for debate. Inner Moka could potentially give him a run for his money in pure strength, though when it comes to reflexes and overall survivability, he might have her beaten.
Great Saiyaman54: Possibly. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised.
Justaguest: Good to know :) Don't worry about constructive criticism; feedback is always appreciated, yeah, but simple reviews can be just as good.
force200: When's it not a perfect moment for Deadpool?
thom. clark. 73: Both very interesting guesses, especially the second one, but not correct. Very good try though (the actual reason is not that complex).
Animeguy1101: I replied to the PM, though I think you've already seen that. Perhaps one day, in the future, he will, if and when he's not actively hiding his superhero past and nature from them.
Kharn: True, Spider-Man can dish out some serious damage when he wants to.
ZILLAFAN: Hey, maybe one day, you or someone else will write something like that?
A/N: Ayyy, Anti-Atom actually (kinda) kept his end of the deal and delivered a chapter around the same time he said it'd come! The world must be ending or something…
-Chapter 21: Old and Cold-
Dust and dirt had been kicked up everywhere, and as I looked up, I was treated to the sight of the silhouette of a massive figure standing within the dusty brown cloud. My eyes widened at the sheer size of the thing. Slowly, the cloud receded, and the figure within became visible. We stood motionless for several seconds, watching and waiting to see just what Oyakata had turned herself into.
A muscular arm was soon visible. What looked like green tree sap dripped off of it by the gallon while vines the size of tree trunks swung from the limb. Long, flexible fingers stretched out from what I assumed to be the palm of the hand, and before long, a second arm was visible—oddly enough, on the same side of the figure as the first one.
More of the cloud cleared, and I felt myself swallowing in anticipation as the rest of the abomination was revealed. It had to be somewhere close to a hundred feet tall, with giant heads and mouths sprouting from various parts of its body. The various jaws sported teeth the size of guitars, and the head that sat upon the monster's shoulders looked like it was at least twice as large as the others.
But there was something else: another head, jutting out form the creature's chest, its mouth wide open.
And in that mouth, sat Lady Oyakata, her arms spread out and permanently fused with plant matter, irreversibly bound to the monstrosity she had created.
"A merge spell," I whispered. "She merged with the plants…with all of them."
If she knew this spell, did that mean that she had already performed a partial merge before this? When we met her, Oyakata already had vines growing along her arms and face—did that mean she had already used this magic to empower herself?
The books said this was forbidden. When and where did she get her hands on this spell?
Perhaps that was why she was insane and bent on protecting this hill and punishing those who could harm it—she was literally connected to the flora here.
"I thought this magic was forbidden," said Moka, eyeing the creature before us. "Where did she learn this spell?"
"Better yet, what do we do about it?" I asked, still staring up at the behemoth. There was a moment of silence before Moka answered.
"What we usually do," she said with a frown. "We beat it."
"Planning must not be your strong suit," I mumbled.
Our short conversation was interrupted by Oyakata's cackle. The woman was looking down at us with a wide grin. "Impressive, isn't it?" she called down to us. "You may have the blood of the vampire race coursing through your veins, but that alone will not save you."
Oyakata's grin widened from there. "Come then! Let's get this over with! I have a city to destroy, and a guilty species to punish!"
With that, the beast—or, technically, Oyakata—cocked back a massive arm, before throwing a punch at us. Moka and I both dove out of the way as the fist slammed into the earth, obliterating the ground we had been standing on. Before Oyakata could withdraw the arm, I jumped onto it, crawling along the side that faced away from Oyakata and the other heads growing on the monster's body, and silently hoped she couldn't actually feel me.
I then noticed that Moka had leapt into the air, sailing above Oyakata and flipping through the air, aiming a kick at the woman's head—the head of her main, humanoid body.
"You can become as enormous and repulsive as you wish!" roared the vampire. "It changes nothing!"
Moka swung her leg out, her foot connecting with the side of Oyakata's face. The force of the kick was visibly devastating, as Oyakata bent over in her seat in the behemoth's mouth at an awkward angle, dangling limply for a second before she slowly straightened out.
Moka, meanwhile, landing on the arm I had been crawling along, her eyes wide as Oyakata's head turned to face her. The woman's head was hideously deformed now, but the grin was still present on her face. The side of her head was caved in from the kick, but it looked like Moka had just kicked a pile of clay; it just bent from the force, and then reassumed its old shape.
As the witch's head slowly inflated back to normal, she let out a chuckle. Realizing that her attention was solely on Moka, I dashed forward along her arm, trying to find something I could actually hit to damage Oyakata.
Wait. Every witch used a medium to channel their magic. Oyakata had used some sort of a book! If we could find it, we could…we could…
How were we supposed to find a book buried within a monster this massive?
"Aw, what happened to your confidence, vampire?" Oyakata mocked. "What, your brute strength alone isn't enough to save you? Unsurprising."
Moka's eyes narrowed and she bared her teeth at the witch. However, this resulted in said witch's look of triumph only growing. "It seems you became a little too cocky. I didn't just increase my size, I also added to my arsenal of abilities. Here, let me show you!"
Before either Moka or I realized what the woman meant, several vines shot from below Moka, wrapping around her arms and legs. In an instant, one vine plunged into her leg, while another tore into her arm. The silver-haired girl grunted, her eyes widening in shock.
Crap! She's trying to—
"In this form, I can absorb any other creature along with its power," Oyakata taunted while I ran across her arm, rapidly closing in on Moka. Immediately, the witch took notice. "Oh no you don't!" she roared. "This vampire is mine to devour!"
More vines shot out at me, flying through the air at dizzying speeds. Some abruptly sprouted from the beast's arm, but with my spider-sense and reflexes, I could still dodge them.
"Stay back, Peter!" Moka shouted. "If she's got us both trapped, it'll be over in seconds!"
I was about to respond, but something caught my eye. A blur, racing through the sky towards us at rapid speeds. Realizing what it was, I turned to Oyakata while backpedaling from the vines.
"I hope you cleaned these things before sticking them into us!" I shouted, ensuring her attention was solely on me. "Dirty needles are a health hazard, don't you know?"
Oyakata blinked in confusion, only for her eyes to abruptly widen while her head began to turn away, but it was too late; something shot past her, slicing through the vines that held Moka. The surprised vampire plummeted to the ground, but reacted quickly, yanking the vines out and landing on her feet before putting distance between herself and Oyakata.
Wait, how did Oyakata see that attack coming? She reacted before she should have been able to detect it, so what happened?
The question was saved for later when I realized that Oyakata's surprise was quickly fading. To avoid be skewered, I leapt off of the massive arm, shooting a web line at the rapidly decelerating blur that had cut the vines. My web line attached to her leg, and soon, I was being carried through the air by a certain blue-haired succubus.
"Geez, this thing is even uglier up close!" Kurumu shouted as she hovered away from Oyakata. "What the heck happened?! The plants we were fighting suddenly retreated, and then we saw the explosion! Then this thing shows up in the distance! What gives?!"
"A merge spell!" I replied. "Oyakata brought out the big guns shortly after I let Moka out. Where are the others?"
"On their way," Kurumu answered. "I set them down when I saw Moka being held by the vines. Where's Ruby?"
"Safely out of the fight for now."
Kurumu nodded and we watched as Oyakata regained her bearings. As fast as I could, I began scanning her form for any sign of the book she used in place of a wand, only for my eyes to widen when I realized that the tome was stilling right in front of Oyakata, partially covered in plant matter. It had been on the surface the whole time!
So the only way to get that thing is to get right up in her face…
I let go of the web line, causing Kurumu to look down in surprise as I plummeted to the ground, landing next to Moka, who openly glared at Oyakata. "I'm going to make that leech pay," she growled. "To think she tried becoming one with me. Disgusting."
"I can imagine. Also, did you, by any chance, notice the book right in front of Oyakata's main body?" I asked while gesturing to the woman.
Moka raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I got a good look at her while trapped."
"You know how witches channel all their power through their magical items?" I asked, to which Moka nodded. Before I could continue, though, her eyes widened in realization and a smirk crossed her face.
"Take that book from her, and she loses all her power," she said. "But what happens then? Does it break the merge spell?"
I bit my lip. "I have no idea. There wasn't too much information on it in the school library because it's a forbidden spell, and I didn't look very far into it."
"Hmm, I suppose it doesn't matter," Moka said offhandedly. "This fool needs to learn her place, and if we have to take her toy away from her, so be it."
"One problem: it's sorta right in front of her," I threw in. "And given that there's a dozen feet or so of steel-hard plant matter behind and around her, the fastest way to stop her would probably be a head on attack."
"Which means she'll see us coming," Moka summarized with a frown. "And the way the heads are arranged across that thing's body means that she'll have a good view of things on her left, and on her right. Provided she can see through all those extra eyes, that is."
I paused. "Hmm, that might explain why she saw Kurumu coming a second before she actually attacked. So let's assume she can see through those extra eyes. I can try blinding her with webbing, but it'll take a little while for me to cover every eye. And if she figures out what I'm doing—which she probably will—it'll only get harder."
"Too slow. We need to stun her," said Moka, just as Oyakata took a massive step forward. The vampire's eyes narrowed dangerously. "Here she comes."
"Tch! Pest," Oyakata sneered as she glanced at Kurumu. "Once the vampire is mine, I will be sure to drain you slowly." Then, without warning, the woman's head jerked back to us and the fingers on one of the beast's massive hands began rapidly extending. They shot through the air at Moka and me, covering the distance faster than any punch the woman could possibly throw.
With my spider-sense blaring, I dove out of the way while Moka jumped into the air. More vines shot out after the silver-haired girl, but this time, she was prepared. She dodged and weaved through the air, grabbing onto and swinging off the vines and kicking off of them.
Oyakata, meanwhile, lifted a massive foot, aiming it at me as she slammed it down on the ground. Again, I dodged the attack, noting the fact that, despite claiming to want to steal Moka's power, Oyakata was making sure to keep an eye on all of us at once. Long arms lashed out at Kurumu as she swooped through the air, her talons tearing through the vines attacking Moka like they were butter.
More vines erupted from the monster's body, most of them aimed at Moka. The fingers on one of Oyakata's free arms suddenly extended, whipping through the air. I dashed forward as they crashed into the earth, making a beeline for Oyakata's leg. I pumped my own legs, gaining speed almost instantly, and lowered my shoulder.
With a final heave, I launched myself forward at the leg of the monster. Unlike with my usual attacks, I actually put some strength into this one, and when I slammed into Oyakata's leg, it threw the entire monster off balance. The culmination of plants and witch gave a thunderous roar in pain as it shifted awkwardly to the side. More vines shot out, ripping into the ground and anchoring Oyakata in place to help avoid falling, all while I dashed out from under Oyakata.
In that moment, Moka went in for an attack. The vampire tore through whatever vines were in her way, jumping right up to Oyakata's main body and cocking a fist back as she prepared to deliver a finishing blow to the book that channeled Oyakata's power.
However, as she let the punch loose, Oyakata—her main body—bent forward at an impossible angle, shielding the book from harm as Moka's fist collided with the witch instead of her medium.
Moka jumped back just in time to avoid more vines that attempted to pierce her again. Oyakata herself slowly straightened out, the damage done by Moka healing almost instantly as the woman craned her neck. Moka landed next to me, her eyes narrowed.
"Blast," she mumbled. "I should have figured she'd defend that book with everything she had—especially if she can heal from a hit like that."
"She'll be keeping a closer eye on her legs now," I added. "That might have been the only free shot I'll be able to get in for a while."
"Hmmf," Oyakata grunted at us, shooting me a dirty look in particular. "For someone with no aura, you certainly have some strength." The woman's eyes narrowed. "However, I grow weary of our little game."
Suddenly, the massive, bestial head located just above the maw that housed Oyakata opened its jaws. A pale green light began shining within its throat.
"Scatter!" I shouted. With a burst of speed, both Moka and I both shot into separate directions. The monster made no move to turn its head, however, and simply fired the blast of energy straight down.
The explosion that followed shook the ground, sending rocks and chunks of dirt flying in all directions. I dove to the ground, shielding my face as the debris was flung over me. Oddly enough, the feeling of bits of rubble bouncing off of me died after a second, though the roar of the blast was still strong in my ears. Seconds passed, and the noise finally faded, and I lowered my arms, only to blink in surprise when I realized that a wall of ice, now cracked and weak, had formed between me and Oyakata.
I glanced over my shoulder to find a purple-haired girl kneeling behind me.
"Hey," Mizore said softly. "You looked like you could use a hand." Before I could respond, Yukari poked her head out from behind Mizore. Apparently, the witch girl had made it here too. Slowly, her eyes drifted up towards Oyakata's hulking form, and she recoiled in fear.
"It was horrible from a distance," she mumbled. "But this is so much worse."
As Mizore's ice wall fell away, I looked around for a second before finding Kurumu and Moka, hovering high in the air and safely out of the range of the initial blast. Said blast had left a sizable crater in the ground. Lifting myself to my feet, I turned to the girls.
"There's a book sitting right in front of her main body," I explained. "It's her version of a wand. If we can get rid of that thing, Oyakata will lose her ability to channel magic."
Mizore eyed the elder witch with a frown. Her gaze quickly settled on the book resting in front of Oyakata. "I can try shooting it," said the girl. "But if you guys have already seen the book and it's still up there, I'm assuming she has some way of defending it…"
"Vines that can grow from any part of her body," I said with a nod. "If she stabs you with one of those growths, you're done for. She can merge with other creatures by absorbing them through her vines. She also appears to be indestructible—if the fact that she took one of Moka's kicks to the face and laughed it off is anything to go by."
"A-Are you serious?" Yukari asked nervously. "Even Moka couldn't knock her out?"
"Like I said, that book is our key to winning," I continued. "And I'm pretty sure Oyakata knows it."
The head that had blasted out the green energy, which had, since said blast, had its mouth hanging open, finally clamped its jaws shut. There was an audible snap as the teeth came together, and slowly, Oyakata began looking around again, surveying and analyzing us.
"Resilient little pests," the woman sneered. "I can see your resolve to survive is as powerful as your resolve to stand in my way.
"She's about to attack," Mizore warned quietly, bending her knees as she aimed her arms at the book. "I'm gonna shoot. Any last minute tips?"
"Try not to miss."
Mizore closed one eye, tilting her arm just slightly. However, before she could shoot, a shrill scream echoed throughout the area.
I jerked around when I heard her voice. There, at the edge of the forest, stood Ruby. Her eyes, which had traces of tears gathered in them, were wide in horror, and her mouth was agape. The witch had retrieved her wand, which hung uselessly at her side.
Crap, why is she here? How did she break free? Oyakata will make her fight, she should know this by now!
"Master," Ruby repeated, her cracking, nervous voice just loud enough for us to hear. "What have you done?"
Oyakata narrowed her eyes at Ruby. "What had to be done."
Tears began to flow freely from Ruby's eyes. "But why that spell?" she whimpered.
"What's going on?" Mizore asked quietly, glancing at me. "What's with the spell?"
"This spell," Yukari whispered. "This…merge spell is…it's twisted. It fuses the witch to another creature, and almost always turns the resulting organism into a complete monster. The…victim is absorbed by the witch—both its mind and its body. This almost always severely unbalances the witch, and forces the victim to spend the remainder of its life as a part of the witch."
"In short," I added. "Oyakata has gone off the deep end, and Ruby knows it."
I had a moment where I felt an…odd feeling. Here I was, a guy bonded to an alien symbiote, watching a girl slowly breaking down because someone she loved had merged with her own plant monsters.
For some reason, it made me feel like some kind of hypocrite. In a way, I was similar to Oyakata.
Completely different, the symbiote seemed to say. Bonded, not fused. Connected, not merged.
Yeah, not right NOW we're not…
"Because it's necessary," Oyakata said coldly. "You will understand as you grow older."
"Necessary?" Ruby croaked. "It's forbidden magic…"
"Magic that will enable us to bring the humans to their knees," Oyakata declared loudly. "Magic that I spent years learning. Magic that I will use to avenge our fallen ancestors and bring about justice."
Speaking of magic…
"Yukari," I said hurriedly, while I had the chance. "If we took Oyakata's magical item away, she'd lose all her power, right? What would that do to her?"
Yukari blinked before realization dawned on her face, followed shortly by a worried look. "It won't be pretty," she admitted quietly. "The loss of power will mean that she wouldn't be able to hold her body together anymore. Her fusion is powered by magic, and if she no longer has the ability to power herself, then, well, the spell will collapse."
"Wait, are you saying she'll just, what, break apart?" I asked. "Like on a molecular level?"
"Um, no," Yukari replied. "Her current body will no longer be able to sustain itself, and will be torn apart. Oyakata and all the plants will be forcibly separated from each other, and the likelihood of them getting their original bodies back is low. Very low. More than likely, they'll return in deformed states, sometimes with missing limbs, sometimes with extra parts."
"But she'll survive?"
The young witch shuffled her feet. "The separation? I don't know for sure…A witch is said to be unable to undo a merge spell. Removing the magic that holds the spell together is obviously not safe in the slightest."
And if we don't undo the magic, we might not be able to stop her. An entire city will be incinerated.
"There's one more thing to consider," Yukari continued. "With all that magical energy collapsing, it's gonna end up exploding…"
I flinched. "And the likelihood of surviving that?"
Yukari's shoulders slumped. "Not a good chance."
I nodded grimly and glanced at Kurumu and Moka. The two had yet to make a move, but considering the fact that some of Oyakata's extra heads, and by extension, eyes, were pointed directly at them, that didn't surprise me. They were being watched, and I knew at least Moka would have figured that out.
"Ruby!" Oyakata suddenly exclaimed, drawing everyone's attention. "I have never misled you in the past. I've raised you as my own. Continue following me, and all will be well. You will understand eventually."
Ruby's eyes widened, her lips quivering as she was torn between her love for her master—or, the old Lady Oyakata—and her own values and morality.
"A final assignment," said Oyakata, either not noticing or ignoring her student's obvious distress. "Do this for me and you can rest while I take care of the human city." The old woman's eyes narrowed. "Help me kill these outsiders."
Next to me, Yukari gasped, while Ruby's hand slowly covered her mouth. "W-What?" she squeaked. "You want me to k-k-kill them?"
Oyakata's eyes narrowed. "You've done this before. You can do it again. They may not be human, and the little one might be a witch, but she is not one of us. She goes against what we stand for. They were permitted to leave, and yet they didn't. They brought this upon themselves."
Ruby looked between Oyakata and our group—particularly, Yukari. A myriad of emotions crossed her face. Pain, sorrow, regret, confusion, fear; it was all there. Ruby choked out a weak cry, her breathing hitching repeatedly. She was beginning to openly sob, and yet, slowly, she began forcing herself to raise her wand at us.
"I'm sorry," the young witch croaked, her hand trembling uncontrollably as she leveled her weapon at us. A weak glow began emanating from the tip of her wand. "B-But master's wish must be d-done…"
I gritted my teeth. What were we supposed to say to her? What were we supposed to do? Heck, what was she supposed to do? If Ruby disobeyed her master, she might forever alienate her, and I think she knew it. But in obeying her, she'd have to kill Yukari—the first friend she may have ever had.
"Do it, Ruby!" Oyakata demanded, her head slowly swiveling to face Moka and Kurumu. "I will deal with the vampire and the succubus. Oh, and leave the loudmouth boy alive! He's stronger than I thought—I can absorb him after this is over."
I spun around to look at Oyakata, who was turning to deal with Moka and Kurumu. The former's eyes narrowed dangerously at the woman. "Deal with Ruby, Peter!" Moka shouted. "I will handle this old fool!"
I narrowed my eyes at Oyakata. How could she stomach forcing her adopted child to choose between pleasing her mother figure and murdering her first friend? I looked back at Ruby, her arms still shaking while the glow in her wand brightened.
I pointed my wrist at her. A quick blast of webbing, just enough to stun her—that's all it would take.
But before I could shoot, something happened. Ruby abruptly fell to her knees, her wand clattering to the ground. I blinked as the girl bent over, placing her arms on the earth to steady herself.
"Ruby!" Oyakata roared. "What are you doing?! KILL THEM!"
"I CAN'T!" Ruby wailed, throwing her head back. "I can't kill them, I don't want to! Master, I don't want to murder my first friend in cold blood, I don't want to strip her of the happiness she's found, and I don't want to kill people who have been trying to help! Master, I don't want to be a killer anymore!"
A stunned silence followed Ruby's outburst. The only sound was the young witch's sobbing. Oyakata stared in complete shock, her mouth hanging open. Mizore had her expression firmly suppressed and Yukari was openly crying along with Ruby. The youngest of the witches slowly made her way forward, kneeling beside Ruby as the girl wept.
Ruby just openly defied her master. Oyakata's just lost her protégé…
Slowly, the ancient witch's expression changed. Confusion, sadness, before finally, it was warped into the most furious face I had seen on her yet.
"You did this," she hissed loudly, boiling fury raging in her cold eyes. "You outsiders…you came in and made her doubt herself...made her doubt me."
And slowly, her gaze shifted to Yukari. "Especially you," the woman seethed.
"THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!" Oyakata shrieked, dozens of vines shooting from her body, straight at Yukari. "DIE!"
Time seemed to slow to a crawl. The vines, propelled by the unrestrained rage of an ancient witch, shot through the air. The moment I registered what was happening, I propelled myself forward as fast as I could. My legs kicked off the ground with the most powerful pump I could manage, and I was moving through the air towards Yukari and Ruby.
It all happened so fast, yet it felt like an eternity. The vines crept through the air as I moved forward, one hand reaching out as a web line shot from my wrist, aimed for Yukari.
Come on, come—!
Something was happening. Ruby was reacting, her face was morphing into one of horror. Her eyes were widening and I could see her moving. She was leaning over to Yukari, her hands slowly reaching out. And it was with a gasp that I realized that Ruby was pushing Yukari out of the way, but in the process, putting herself right into the line of fire. At this rate, Yukari would be out of the way, but the vines would rip right through Ruby.
No, there's no way she'll make it in time!
The vines were getting too close. My web line hadn't passed them yet, Ruby hadn't moved Yukari yet, and someone was still going to get hit!
The vines got closer.
Ruby's push was moving Yukari out of the way.
My web line was just beginning to pass the vines.
The vines were even closer.
Yukari was slowly tipping over, Ruby's form gradually leaning forward into the push and taking her place.
My web line was ahead of the vines.
And just like that, time seemed to return to normal.
Several things happened at once.
Yukari fell to the ground with a yelp, Ruby now in her place. My web line connected with Ruby's side and I pulled. My eyes could only widen in horror when one of the vines, as thick as my arm, shot past my web line, missing it by centimeters, and…
…Punched right through Ruby's midsection.
Carried by the momentum from my web line, Ruby tumbled to the ground, landing curled up on her side. Her eyes were wide and shocked, even as she coughed out a splash of blood. Slowly, her face contorted in fear and pain as her body began shivering.
I was by her side in an instant, sliding to my knees, but it was too late; the damage was done, the vine had shot clean through her. It was sheer luck that the attack hadn't ripped through her spine when the vine exited out through her back.
"She needs help!" I roared. "She's as good as dead unless someone here is a miracle worker! Yukari, do you know any spells to heal her?!"
"R-Ruby?" Yukari whispered, her eyes wide in disbelief. She was in shock.
"Yukari!" I shouted. "Can you or can you not heal her?!"
Or should I be asking if she could save her? Yukari was young; there was no way she could mend a wound like this entirely, right? At best, she could buy Ruby time.
That snapped her out of it. Realization dawned on her face, and Yukari shot over to me. Mizore was on my other side a second later, kneeling over Ruby. A moment later, a flap of wings and a weak gust of wind signified that Kurumu and Moka had landed behind me. Yukari, meanwhile, worked frantically, her hands trembling as she cast her spells, desperately attempting to save Ruby's life.
The dying witch in question gave a weak cough, her eyes already unfocused. "M-Master," she whispered.
"Don't try to talk!" Yukari warned through her tears. "Save your energy!"
I, meanwhile, grabbed hold of the vine along its length and tore it. Now, it was no longer connected to Oyakata's body, but still, that still left Ruby with a chunk of vine and a fist-sized hole in her midsection.
"She-She tried to kill Yukari," Kurumu breathed while glancing at Oyakata before I heard her growl. "Why that little—"
"Wait," Moka barked hastily. "Oyakata is a witch too. She's the enemy, but surely she'd try to save her own student?"
The realization clicked instantly and I whirled around to face the woman who had done this to Ruby. "Lady Oyakata!" I shouted, using her full title. "If you know any healing spells, Ruby really needs them right now!"
The ancient witch merely stared down at us blankly. "Why, Ruby?" she finally asked. "Why are you so bent on defying me? You were always such an obedient child."
I gritted my teeth. "Lady Oyakata, please! Ruby is dying!"
"Peter," Yukari said frantically. "We need to get this vine out of her!"
I turned around again, facing Ruby once more. There was no way she'd be able to sit up with that thing in her gut—we'd need to think of something else.
"Don't bother," Ruby croaked, unfocused eyes gazing into the sky. "I-I'm done for…Just, please, s-save my master. Stop her from becoming a-a monster…"
"No, don't talk like that!" Yukari insisted. "We can save you! Come on guys, we need to get this vine out!"
"Tch! Oyakata!" Moka shouted, causing me to glance at her. The vampire was staring at the older woman. "Your student is dying," she declared firmly. "And yet her final request is for us to save you from what you're becoming. Are you going to just stand there and let her die?"
Oyakata watched us with that emotionless stare of hers. Gone was the anger, replaced by a cold, unfeeling mask. Whatever was going through the woman's head, she wasn't showing it. Slowly, however, her massive fist reached out, fingers uncurling as she reached for Ruby.
A large part of me did not trust Oyakata with Ruby's health at all. She had molded this girl into a killer, and was clearly not stable herself. However, the more rational part of me knew that we couldn't save Ruby. If anybody here could undo this damage, it was Oyakata, and if we wanted to see Ruby live, we had to let Oyakata work.
So it was with great hesitance that I stepped aside, quietly gesturing to the others to do the same. Carefully, Oyakata picked up Ruby, along with her wand, and gently carried her up towards herself. "Ruby…" the old woman rasped. The young witch only let out a weak cough in response.
Several moments of tense silence passed as Oyakata stared at her dying student. What was she doing? Ruby's life was slipping away here!
Does she even know any healing spells?
Or was the reality of Oyakata's choices finally setting in? Either way, the woman had a dying Ruby in the palm of her hand, and whether or not Ruby survived this depended on Oyakata's reaction.
"Ruby," the old woman repeated, her expression still unreadable. "Why did you forsake me?"
I think Ruby whispered something. Something that was completely lost to me, because the words were too quiet and too weak for us to hear from on the ground. Oyakata bowed her head, unkempt bangs covering her eyes and shadowing her face.
"She can't save her, can she?" Mizore asked softly. "The way Oyakata keeps asking her why she betrayed her…I think it's like a final request—the last thing she wants to know before Ruby dies."
"B-But Ruby can't die!" Yukari cried. "Surely Lady Oyakata must know some healing spells! She's ancient!"
"She's also had revenge on her mind for years now," Moka said grimly. "Plant magic seems to be her specialty. Particularly, offensive plant magic. What part of that sounds like a healing spell to you?"
"So that means…" Kurumu trailed off.
Nobody finished the thought. We simply watched as Oyakata stood there, unmoving. Then, slowly, the woman's lips pulled back in a snarl, and she raised her arm, lifting Ruby higher into the air.
"I will save you," the woman hissed. "Both from death and the outsiders' influence."
I cold feeling began growing within me. "What's she talking about?" I asked in alarm.
"I'm not sure…" Moka mumbled.
Oyakata raised Ruby higher into the air, the massive head atop her monsters' shoulder opening its maw. What on Earth was she—
Oyakata threw Ruby into the beast's mouth.
My jaw dropped, eyes widening in absolute shock. Next to me, Yukari screamed in fear while I heard Kurumu give out a loud gasp. Even Moka reeled back.
The creature's mouth snapped shut with a low clap, closing around Ruby. Oyakata's entire body trembled in her seat.
She had eaten her.
Oyakata had literally eaten her own student. Just like that, it was over.
"There," Oyakata rasped venomously. Her eyes were shut and her teeth clenched as her main body shook from the rush of power from Ruby. "You will live on in me, safe from death and from the poisonous words of these outsiders."
"She absorbed her," Kurumu breathed. "She actually…"
Oyakata visibly gritted her teeth. "Damn you. Damn you all for making me do this, for turning my Ruby against me. This never would have happened if you had all just stayed away and left us to our business!"
I was finally snapped out of my stupor, partially by the symbiote urging me to focus and Oyakata's screaming.
My eyes narrowed dangerously at the woman who had just murdered her own student. I hadn't known Ruby for long, not nearly long enough to call her a close friend, but she had been on a new path, one that led away from her old, violent ways.
And now she'd never live to see what life was like outside of the hatred she had grown up knowing.
My train of thought was suddenly interrupted when Oyakata's eyes widened and she doubled over in her position in her monster's mouth. I blinked in confusion as the woman let out a raspy cough, following by a wheezing noise.
"What in the world?" Moka wondered aloud. "What's happening to her?"
The woman was no doubling over, groaning in pain. Finally, she threw her head back in agony. "Ruby!" she wailed. "What are you doing?!"
"What is she talking about?" I asked before abruptly gasping. Ruby! She had been swallowed along with her wand! That meant she still had access to her powers, right?! "Ruby's doing something in there!" I said aloud. "She's still alive!"
"Alive?" Yukari croaked through her tears. "She-She's alive?"
"RUBY!" Oyakata roared, clutching her head. "STOP!"
"What is she doing in there?" Kurumu asked.
"Giving us an opening," Moka breathed in realization. "She wanted us to save her master from becoming a monster…"
Moka and I immediately looked at each other. "The book!" we both shouted in unison.
We both took off, sprinting madly towards Oyakata. The woman managed to glance at us through squinted eyes, an expression of pain on her face. Vines shot out from her body, attempting to his us, but they were all clumsy, poorly-executed attacks. The occasional ice spike, courtesy of Mizore, shot past us as well, ripping through the vines as they tried to hit us.
"Don't destroy the book!" I yelled over Oyakata's howling. "We just need get it away from Oyakata, and then get out of the way! The merge spell will collapse in on itself the moment we get the book away!"
Moka only gave me a brisk nod in return as we ran. Both of us jumped at once, Moka running along the top of the creature's massive arm while I leapt up to its midsection and began crawling up. More vines shot at us, but with Oyakata's severely reduced concentration, the attacks were horribly inaccurate.
I soon vaulted into the same mouth that housed Oyakata. Between fits of writhing and groaning, the woman managed to make eye contact with me. Bloodshot orbs glared at me in hatred. I continued looking into her eyes as I reached down, grabbing the book situated right in front of Oyakata. A pale hand soon grabbed the same book, and I glanced over to find Moka standing next to me.
And just like that, we pulled. The book was torn from its seat within the plant flesh. Oyakata's eyes immediately bulged and her groans of pain turned into screams of agony.
"Noooooooooooooooooo!" she shrieked.
"She's gonna blow!" I shouted to Moka. "Jump!"
We both leapt out of the mouth that housed Oyakata, Moka relinquishing her hold of the book while I kept my adhesive fingers on it. The behemoth behind us was beginning to glow, massive cracks of light appearing across its body.
I hit the ground running, waving frantically for the other girls to get back. Mizore was already ushering them back, pale blue mist swirled around her fingertips as she prepared to erect and ice wall while Yukari chanted something with her wand.
Moka and I caught up to them in no time, just before Mizore threw up a wall of ice. Yukari finished her spell, and waved it at the wall before getting down and grabbing her hat. "Get down guys!" she screamed.
We all complied. I threw the book beneath myself before I could hit the ground to protect it before pressing my hands against the earth, sticking to it while the symbiote shot small tendrils into the ground to help anchor me all the more.
Oyakata's screaming was growing louder, the light from the monster growing brighter, while the monster itself expanded.
"Brace for impact!" Moka roared.
Oyakata's creature gave a final roar in pain, accompanied by the ancient witch's deranged scream as their combined body reached its limit. A second before the explosion, I saw the creature seemingly collapse in on itself, and then…
And then all went white.
I dragged my feet across the ground as we slowly trudged through the woods. We had long since passed the first rows of trees, some of which had been uprooted, but we could still see some effects of the explosion out here too.
Walking silently next to me was Mizore. Her eyes were downcast, and there was a tired look on her face. We were all tired, to be honest. The day's events had ranged from talking a confused girl out of walking in her master's footsteps to fighting said master.
And speaking of that master…
She was dead.
By now, we were sure of it. After the explosion, we had gotten up too look for her, but instantly, I had noticed something was wrong: the book was gone. Oyakata's book, her magical item, had been beneath my body. I had been shielding it, and yet, it was gone. Not ripped apart, not swept away, but just…gone. I had gotten up, and it wasn't there.
We had searched for both Oyakata and Ruby, but we had found neither. Yukari was still in tears, and the rest of us were quietly coping with the loss. The inner Moka had returned to the rosary, and the outer half had once again taken over. She had woken up minutes after the explosion, and after some time spent searching for the two witches, we finally decided to go back to find the bus driver.
What else could we do? No part of the monstrosity that Oyakata had turned herself into had survived. None of the Hanabake, none of the Garigarious—no part of that behemoth remained alive. The inner Moka, before she reentered the rosary, had attempted to find the witches by trying to sense their aura, and yet she couldn't find anything.
None of the plants remained, neither of the witches, nothing. The entire supernatural presence at Witch Hill was gone.
It was over. The threat was dealt with, and the locals would be safe from the genocidal witch they didn't know existed.
I only wished that it didn't have to come to this.
But that was how it had turned out. At the very least, Ruby had given her life up to save someone she cared for, and in her final moments, she enabled us to save countless people. An entire city had been saved because of what she did, and we wouldn't forget that.
The walk back was silent. Yukari's quiet crying was the only noise. The outer Moka, having fully recovered from having her inner half unleashed, was also shedding tears. Kurumu had this hollow look on her face, and Mizore, the ever stoic one, hid her emotions beneath a controlled exterior.
I had my hands shoved in my pockets, solemnly walking forward. The city was safe and a large part of me found immense comfort in the fact that all those innocent people would live to see another day. And while Ruby was not truly innocent, she had changed in the end. The fact that she had given up her life to save Yukari weighed heavily on my shoulders. I felt as though I had let someone die on my watch.
Bus ahead, the symbiote gently pointed out. The alien was, understandably, the least affected of us all. However, my partner had the sense to read the mood, and stayed silent for most of the walk to let me think and just…deal with it, I suppose.
But that was beside the point. We had reached the school bus.
And of course, the bus driver himself leaned against the edge of his vehicle, casually inhaling the fumes of his cigar. He glanced over at us as we approached, a small smile touching his lips.
"Welcome back," he said shortly.
The answer he received amounted to little more than eye contact from us. He didn't say anything for a moment as we approached the bus. We stopped in front of the shut door, the girls giving the man expectant looks.
However, instead of opening the door, he took another puff form his cigar before pulling it out of his mouth. "I take it things didn't go as planned?"
Kurumu's eyes narrowed. "You seemed to know a lot about 'things' the last time we talked. You probably already know what happened, don't you?"
"You saved a city from certain destruction."
"Sir?" I asked quietly. "Can you just let them on the bus? It's been a…a long evening."
The bus driver sighed and bowed his head slightly. "Bloodshed can't always be avoided."
"How do you even know these things?" I asked halfheartedly while shaking my head.
"You five did what you could," he continued. "Don't blame yourselves. You gave Oyakata every chance to step down peacefully. She was the one that pursued conflict."
"You even know her name," Mizore said quietly, her attention still focused on the bus door. "You seem to know a lot about this place and the people here. Why bother sending us to 'investigate' when you knew from the start?"
The man smiled. How could he smile at us after all this? If he really knew about all this from the start and actually told us what was going on, we might have been able to keep Ruby and Oyakata alive!
"You'll understand soon," said the bus driver, his grin widening.
"You think this is funny?" Kurumu growled. "Ruby's—"
"Geez, quit torturing them, will ya?"
I blinked, turning to look at the bus. "Gin?" I asked in confusion. The bus driver's grin only became larger as he snapped his fingers. The bus door slowly creaked open, revealing a smiling Ginei carrying—
She was alive?!
I froze in shock, watching with eyes wide as saucers as Yukari rushed forward, followed by Moka and Kurumu. Mizore was looking over their shoulders in confusion while Ginei chuckled and lowered the girl. Yukari immediately threw her arms around Ruby, sobbing as she hugged her fellow witch. I looked on at what seemed like a literal miracle.
"Incredible, isn't it?" asked the bus driver. "The mastermind seems to have used the last of her immense power to save this child. We found her, barely conscious, after the explosion."
"How do you know the master did anything?" I asked, my gaze rapidly shifting between the driver and Ruby.
The man took a puff from his cigar. "Here's a question: why would our mastermind save her student, whom she herself had injured, when she could have used that power to try and save herself? It doesn't coincide with her personality at all."
I raised an eyebrow. "You don't know?" This guy seemed to know everything else, after all.
"That's not the question."
I looked down at the ground. I remembered theorizing something regarding Oyakata's transformation from the loving motherly woman Ruby remembered, to the genocidal maniac we had come to know. She had looked off when I first met her, and it seemed as though she had vines under her skin. She had a very…plant-like appearance. What if she really was already partially fused to some monster plants by the time we met her? That could potentially explain her appearance.
It might also explain why she had rejected Ruby's offer. Her mind was already influenced by the plants. Despite some inner part wanting a life with her student, Oyakata did what the plants wanted. In a way, I felt as though she resembled Doc Ock, with the vines acting like the metal tentacles influencing their host's personality and thought process.
It also made her somewhat like me. She had a symbiotic partner of sorts in those plants, and that partner was capable of affecting her mind. And in a time of grief, rage, and hatred, Oyakata had merged with her own symbiotic partner, and became something else entirely.
…Like looking in a mirror…
A disturbingly accurate mirror.
I shook my head to clear it of those thoughts.
But still, why change at the last second? Why save Ruby when you could have saved yourself, Oyakata?
"The merge spell," I mumbled. "We undid it. Maybe, it completely separated Oyakata from the plants, like it was purging her. In the end, the Oyakata that remained might have been the one Ruby had always looked up to, before her corruption."
"Heh, quiet poetic," the bus driver said with a grin. "Her personality is changed back to normal at the last second, and in true motherly fashion, she gives up everything to save her protégé. She saved the closest thing she had to a child."
"That does seem to explain it," I said thoughtfully before looking at the bus driver. "But you still haven't told me how you knew all this…"
I genuinely wanted to know. Where did this guy's information come from?
The man smiled. "All in good time, kid. In the meantime…" He gestured to the bus, where the girls were still crowding around Ginei and Ruby, rejoicing at the fact that the young witch had survived.
"Let's go home."
A/N: Okay, there we go. Finally, some action. Anyway, I'm falling asleep as I type this (can barely keep my eyes open), but I hope you enjoyed the early chapter and dose of fighting. Next chapter, sadly, will be scheduled as usual, so it'll probably be around a month before I update again. Until then, my dear readers! Stay awesome!
Partial Merge: Regarding the little tidbit about Oyakata being partially merged to plants, I'm not sure if it's actually canon, but in the manga, she looked like she had plant veins running through her, and after she was defeated (and after the merge spell was broken), her personality turned around faster than the Flash could (and her appearance was softer, with less plants after the explosion). I figured, maybe, she was already partially merged to the plants, and after the fusion was destroyed, her old personality could shine through again.
Oyakata's Energy Blast: Just an extra attack I threw in for a little more suspense. Not canon, as far as I'm concerned.
Ruby 'Attacking' Oyakata: In the manga, Ruby was willing to attack the plant monsters to protect the gang. Events obviously went down differently here, but I don't think it's a stretch to say that Ruby would try to stun her master to give her friends the chance to stop her, and save her from spending her life as the thing she had become.
Peter's Reaction to Ruby's 'Death': Peter didn't know Ruby all that well yet, so while thinking she was dead truly saddened him, it didn't drive him into any sort of rage. Sorry to anyone who expected a 'Peter-goes'ham' scene, but I don't think he'd do that so soon in his relationship to Ruby (again, he barely knows her).