Raimundo pushed a large leaf aside, leading the way through the thickening jungle. His mind still floated, distracted on the what Wuya told them before they'd left. She'd shared them the true story of Exagmal's past.
Wuya looked, her arms crossed as she hummed in thought. "Well, I wouldn't say it's much of a story. Exagmal and I crossed paths only a few times, but if I recall correctly…" Her fingers tapped her arm. "They were just as cruel and ruthless back then. A powerful sorcerer, ruling over the sands. They wanted nothing more than to dry the world out, always seeking magic that would let them do so. Sadly for them, they had no control over water, and no matter how hard they tried they could not gain it."
Raimundo had stiffened. No wonder Exagmal had desired the Orb so desperately, it finally gave them exactly what they needed. He didn't regret his choice, but he regretted not even trying to think of Exagmal's motives beforehand.
"That aside," Wuya continued. "They continued to hurt and do whatever they pleased. Many tried to stop them, and failed. Finally, one sorceress took on the challenge to defeat them. Exagmal had proven their magic prowess and strength, their ability to survive most anything. The sorceress however, had no plans to kill them." Wuya pushed her hair over her shoulder, looking to the ceiling, lost in sorting the details of the battle for a moment. "She instead, had created a powerful sleeping spell. Luring Exagmal deeper into the Earth, she cast the spell and sealed them both away. Exagmal, immortal, was meant to remain asleep for all of time, as she perished in her sacrificial slumber,"
Wuya uncrossed her arms, shrugging with a cruel grin. "A useless sacrifice it seems now, as it didn't work. Not long enough anyway. Rest assured, my spell will work for much longer, and no sacrifice required. I figured that'd be a dealbreaker for you lot." She finished.
He didn't like that ending. The implication a sacrifice of life had meant nothing. Sure Exagmal was causing them problems, but if they were able to permanently stop them… That meant something too. Plus they'd been stopped for the time being, even if it didn't remain. That was still a victory.
Raimundo was shaken from his thoughts as he let the leaf go, the startled yell Jack gave off calling him back to the situation.
Jack shoved the leaf out of his face, glaring at Raimundo and half-stomping past him. "Keep your head in the game, Pedrosa. I don't feel like getting eaten by something because you're too busy daydreaming." He snarked, though didn't stomp too far ahead, his own words making him a bit more paranoid about what might be in front of them.
Raimundo peered back at Omi and Jermaine, who were talking to each other as Jermaine fiddled with a paperclip. His eyes squinted in focus, pauses in his words as he did his best to manipulate it. They hadn't had time to get much of a rundown on his powers or, anything about his element. So for now, he did his best to learn on his own, something he'd been pretty good at before. He really was a fast learner, Raimundo noted. Definitely something that bode well for them.
Jermaine's spark of interest and determination in his own abilities was a refreshing twist. He'd taken to practicing the whole flight, and talking with Omi, getting any pointers he could. Though, Raimundo thought, Clay would likely be a better mentor with this element. If anyone could even truly help with it, seeing as it was Jermaine's own, and his to figure out.
"Check it," Jermaine started, focusing closely on the paperclip in his palm. Slowly, the metal bent, twisting from its uniformed state into a much more tangled, much less useful one. "I'm already a master. Ah yeah." He grinned, jokingly holding the mess of metal up for Omi to inspect.
Omi's grin, however, was genuine as he took Jermaine's work into his own hands gently and stared at it. "A wonderful manipulation Jermaine!" He paused. "What is it?"
Jermaine laughed, patting his shoulder. "It's nothing my man, just my attempt to work what i can do."
Still, Omi stood transfixed on the paperclip before turning it sideways. ""It is a duck." He stated simply, the new angle giving just enough vague likeness to a duck that he could be considered right. Jermaine, tilting his head and staring, let out a bark of a laugh at Omi's decision.
"Whatever you say man." He pat Omi's back, taking the paperclip back. Looking back to the other two party members, Jermaine caught Jack's scowl directed to him. "What's your deal?"
"Oh nothing, just the whole I have been in this since the beginning, messing with magic, switch of good and evil, yadda yadda," Jack ranted, walking a bit closer, his tone growing more exasperated as he spoke. "Yet YOU are the one to get the cool metal powers? Metal!? Robots, gears, that's my brand, and you just swoop in for it." Jack crossed his arms, his miffed expression only met with a dull look from Jermaine.
"Man I didn't swoop anything. I almost saw my friends get hurt so I lifted my arms and whatdya know," Jermaine further twisted the paper clip, "the kid's magic."
Jack frowned harder, "Ohhh you can manipulate a paperclip, congratulations. My hands can do that." he said, waving them as if to prove that point.
Jermaine raised an eyebrow, lifting his hand slightly, "Man you're just jealous I can do this," he took a deep breath, closing his eyes and focusing intently. A slight click was heard, and Jack's watch fell to the ground in a soft clunk. "Yes! Got it. Come on, that was some mad precision control."
"Hey!" Jack picked up his watch, brushing it off and glaring at Jermaine, "This was a gift!"
Jermaine snorted, crossing his arms, "I'm sorry people who gift you don't have taste."
Jack's scowl deepened and he turned away. "Whatever." He scoffed, and in his pouting he missed the large root in front of him and tumbled quickly to the ground. He pushed himself up, groaning in pain before a thick, gooey drop of something splattered onto his shoulder. Jack winced, sticking out his tongue in disgust. Though once the smell of the substance hit his nose, he peered up curiously. The sweet, warm scent that meant safety in his home, and likely danger when faced with a plant twice his size.
Another glob of the syrup hit the ground, sticking to one of Jack's hands and momentarily cementing it in place. Jack pulled his arm, stumbling backwards and staring up at the large plant. Flies buzzed around it, landing inside of the flower, and as he watched none fly out, he could only assume it was how the plant gained its nutrients. He stood up, brushing himself off and attempting to wipe the gunk from his shoulder.
"Hey Rai!" He called out, pointing to the plant, "Check out this huge flower."
Raimundo turned around, looking at the plant before shifting his gaze to Jack. "Don't touch anything that could eat you." He replied dully.
Jack frowned "It's not gonna eat me. It traps its prey, doesn't hunt it." He murmured, peering closer and looking into the syrup. As expected, flies struggled helplessly, sinking deeper into the goo. It was sad, really, but he couldn't look away. It didn't help that the soft, sweet smell was becoming more alluring, his thoughts a bit hazy as he leaned in just a bit closer, mesmerized by the gentle rippling.
Jack was right over the goop, and he didn't realize just how close he was until he saw something moving beneath it. Before he could blink, two vines lashed out from inside of the flower, quickly wrapping around his head and attempting to bring him closer into the mess. Jack yelled, pushing himself from the flower best he could, trying to yank away and keep his face out of the thick ooze that sloshed beneath him. He tried to think of what to do. How could he escape this thing when moving his hands would just land him face first in death syrup?
He didn't have to worry much longer as someone took hold of the Vines and him, separating the two and pushing him backward to safety. Jack landed with an oomph, staring up and watching Raimundo as he now fought against the vines that were attempting to take him in instead. Raimundo grunted as he pulled back, heels digging into the ground and lifting his wrapped wrists away, trying to yank himself free. Jack scrambled to his feet, mind racing before he remembered what he still had on him. Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out the Eye of Dashi.
With shakey hands, Jack took aim. "Eye of Dashi!" He shouted, the lightning hitting close to the surface of the goo and zapping the vines. They let go of Raimundo, drawing back into the flower as Raimundo turned from it, stepping swiftly to get a safe distance away. He rubbed his wrists, the shock hadn't hit him much, and he'd taken much worse in the past, but it was still never a great feeling. Jack shoved the Eye of Dashi back into his pocket, taking a spot by Raimundo's side with mild concern.
Raimundo looked at him, noting quickly he was fine. "Do I really need to include a rule for us to not get eaten by giant plants?" He smirked a bit and crossed his arms, Jack's shoulders tensed and he ignored the blush on his cheeks and turned away from Raimundo.
"Ya know," He began walking again, "You might have saved my butt, but I saved yours. So this time we're even." Raimundo almost laughed, since it was Jack's own curiosity that'd almost gotten them both hurt, but thought against pointing that out. He was really just glad Jack was alright, surprising himself a bit with that thought. He shook his head, rubbing his wrists a bit more and chalking the heat in his face up to adrenaline.
As they caught up to Omi and Jermaine, Jermaine turned to Raimundo. "So, where's this root thing suppose to be anyway? This is a pretty big forest, we could end up spending a good chunk of time searching."
Raimundo shrugged a bit, "Wuya said it grew at the base of trees, and they have to be pretty old ones, so I'm guessing somewhere closer to the center. Just keep an eye out as we keep moving." The trees grew thicker as they moved, taller and thicker. The plants themselves grew odder as well, Jack sticking to Raimundo's side, nervously watching all of them and fearing another incident.
"Ya know, this is feeling a lot more dangerous than Wuya let on," He murmured, grabbing to Raimundo's arm and warily watching his surroundings, almost jumping out of his skin as he walked face first into a vine.
Raimundo blushed a bit at Jack's tight grip, rolling his eyes when he yelled at the vine directly hitting his face. "Look Jack, it's a magical forest, by now you should be able to catch on that magical means deadly, and/or stupid." Jack pouted, but didn't argue as they trekked on.
Jermaine, in a similar distrust of the creatures around them, took to keeping Omi close at his side. Omi had been doing alright, keeping up with them perfectly well, but it still hadn't been long since he was lying in the infirmary, barely able to lift his head up. Jermaine wasn't about to take any chances overtaxing his energy, or sending him back there. Omi on the other hand, stubborn as he ever was, wanted to continue ahead much faster than Jermaine was giving him leeway to do.
"We must find the root as quickly as we can! We do not have time to take it easy!" Omi tugged at his arm.
Jermaine eyed him, raising an eyebrow. "Man you've got way too much energy for someone who almost died like, ten hours ago."
Omi continued to pull Jermaine along, smiling back at him. "That was the past. I am refreshed and ready to give Exagmal what they have coming to them!" Jermaine snorted, though still worried he quickened his pace to keep up with him. As long as Omi stayed close, he wasn't too concerned. Omi was always one to bounce back quick he guessed, even if this seemed a bit much.
The terrain toughened as they went deeper, larger tree roots growing from the ground, rocks and paths destroyed by nature's growth and time's flow. As Raimundo helped Jack climb over a particularly large root, Omi bound over its height. Landing firmly, he peered around only to shout over to the others.
"I have found the root!" He called, walking towards it. He leaned down, reaching for the gnarled root. Raimundo had made his way over to him, followed closely by Jermaine and Jack. He knelt down beside Omi, looking at the twisted roots and pulling out the sketch Wuya had given him. It looked just as the sketch did, and looking at the tree itself, it was definitely old enough to have these growing at its base. Raimundo peered a bit closer, making sure they matched up to Wuya's notes of how they'd know a root was old enough as well, since they took so long to mature. Slightly orange coloring, twisted shape, speckling at the base. He reached for one, noting Omi did as well. Really, while they were there, an extra wouldn't hurt them really, would it?
Raimundo's focus was pulled away a bit, as someone tapped his shoulder. "Jack, whatever it is, it can wait can't it? I'm analyzing almost-fungus over here." He was tapped again, this time Raimundo turned slightly, frowning until he spotted Jack starring ahead, terror pulling his eyes wide. Raimundo looked back further, finding what his gaze was stuck on, and pausing to process what he was seeing.
Large, furry, with a tongue that flopped over sharp and crooked teeth, an animal that looked like a pissed off, nightmare-anteater. It stared at them, breathing heavily and watching them closely, or more so, Raimundo and Omi's hands, both wrapped around a couple of the roots.
"Wuya did say these were a common food…" Raimundo muttered. "Maybe he's a vegetarian?" Though, the large sharp teeth weren't promising.
Jermaine had slowly made his way to stand fully between Omi and the creature, having no further plan than to make sure he could protect him, somehow or someway. His hand clenched around the paperclip, reminding him of his own new powers. He could use them, he could probably do something and he just had to figure out what.
His time was cut short, the beast charged forward. Raimundo got to his feet and pulled Jack out of the way, both of them tumbling in the uneven terrain, Jack covered his head and Raimundo turned back to make sure Omi and Jermaine were alright. His shoulders slumped as he stared a bit bewildered. The creature had paused, watching Jermaine's hand now more than anything, and while it still towered over him, it's eyes focused intently on the softly gleaming paperclip.
Jermaine moved it slowly side to side, carefully watching as he did to not move too fast yet. "That's right, follow the paperclip. Now, let's hope this thing is is like every dog I've ever met…" He quickly threw it to the side, watching the beast bound in its direction. Jermaine helped Omi to his feet, Raimundo and Jack having just enough time to brush themselves off.
Raimundo pulled the Golden Tiger Claws out, quickly slashing the air. "Hurry, before that thing comes back expecting another round of fetch." Or, before it decided getting its food supply back was more important. In the rush, Omi had dropped his root back at the base of the tree, following Jermaine through the portal. Raimundo ushered Jack in quickly, hand wrapped around the root he'd managed to hang onto. He jumped through, hoping that the others would meet them soon with successful stories.
Thank you to my beta reader. Dragonnutt!
So, a double date in a forest, plants that eat things, nightmare-anteaters. Magical forests sure are a lot of fun.
One Quest down, two more to go.
Sorry this chapter is late, my energy keeps wavering. But i wanna keep this going and I wanna finish this story, we have a lot more to go through.
Also happy birthday to this fic! August 25th was the publish date, a beautiful year of all sortsa hi-jinks. And a lot more to come. Ye-haw