“So...umm...Shàoxiào, how are we supposed to be proving our mettle if this is what we’re going up against? Even if we are challenged in some way during this op, from an outside perspective it looks like we’re just massacring a whole bunch of primitives who obviously pose no threat to us. Maybe we end up encountering magic weapons, but a lot of the Taianese don’t even believe that it exists! They’ll just think that we’re lying to get attention or something.”
"As for proving our mettle - " the snowy haired Tigress began to address Mei, " - the average Taianese would simply do just that, or use stun setting and not bother with smaller details. They are very arrogant, though, they are aware of magic. Grudgingly. The elves would not have come so close to killing them all without it otherwise," Sif explained to the genetically engineered kitsune. "Sakamoto believes we will be more cautious and...open minded," she explained. "I suspect that may be the reason behind this particular assignment."
Like giant cuttlefish, they almost seamlessly blended into the woods as their suits shifted colors and patterns, mimicking the woods, leaves, bark and moss all around them, but far more perfect than the creatures could themselves. Soon enough though, the squad had a clear view of the gathered up rabble of adventurers and mercenaries. It was obvious they weren't friendly, but at the least by the looks of it, they weren't planning to ambush the squad. Rather, with the intimidating way they stood on the path, they likely intended to turn any comers back. However, that whole act would have been a lot more effective if they didn't look so malnourished.
"OH! I know you guys!" the body suit clad priestess suddenly shouted, popping up from her cover. "You guys are part of the guild at Wurstschloss right?"
"AHHHH! SHOOT IT-SHOOT IT-SHOOT-IT!" a panicked screech came tearing out of one of the men. Hurriedly leveling their bows, crossbows and even a staff, they fired.
Sif quietly watched as arrows, bolts and even fireballs started hurtling at Viz.
So, Jayden turned off her camouflage, dropping all of her gear quickly and holding up her hands. "Woah! Hey now guys, we ain't here to hurt ya!" She shouted, looking at the rest of the group, waving one of her hands as if to tell them to lower their weapons. "We can talk right? No one here wants to hurt you," She added, reaching up and deactivating her helmet. "See? I'm just some pink haired cat! I don't wanna hurt ya!" She smiled, standing up fully and scratching the back of her head with an awkward, sheepish smile. "What do ya say huh? Talk?" She asked, praying one of them didn't catch her in the face with one of those arrows.
She went wide behind Jayden and out behind the men. Stopping with a skid, she uncloaked. Her weapon in her right hand, her other holding up a straight arm and vertical hand towards the natives. "Stop, if do you not pass me, you will live." She primed her weapon as she finished speaking, eyes each man one by one. She didn't want to shoot but should she have to. She'd probably go for the legs anyway, but they didn't need to know that.
Mei was buried within dense foliage for additional concealment along with the volumetric camouflage systems of her armor, and was almost completely still when the group came upon the encampment of adventurers and soldiers. She switched her rifle to the high-powered semi-automatic mode aimed aligned the reticle in the center of her HUD with a target who seemed to be carrying a loaded crossbow.
She had not intended to fire upon the enemy, but the plan was immediately compromised when the racist priestess jumped out of cover and shouted like a superhero in a B-movie. When the fireballs began to hurtle towards Viz, Mei immediately realized that the priestess was in danger. Within the span of a half-second, she realigned her reticule, aimed at one of the staff-wielding mages in the group, and mentally willed the weapon to fire two shots which were intended to strike her target at center mass.
“What the hell are we doing? They fired on us first, the rules of war state that we can return hostilities!” Mei replied when she realized that she was the only one thus far who had thought to actually return fire...
"What?" Trembling staff in hand, Levi simply stared, dumbstruck, but in an instant, the mail-clad caster whirled around, bringing his weapon to bear like a rifle as yet another voice spoke up from behind. But before he could even utter another word, the black clad woman was arguing with the fluffy-pink lioness and -
"By the gods, they killed him!" One of the other men cried out. In an instant, a pair of golf-ball sized holes had suddenly appeared in a staff wielder's chest, the light briefly shining through from either side before he collapsed on the floor like a sack of potatoes. Eyes wide with terror, the rest of their party dropped their weapons, hands held high as they trembled.
"These bitches, they're monsters!" one of the young man exclaimed.
"It went right through both sides of Levi's mail, not once, but twice!" another lamented, kneeling by the dead young man.
"Do whatever you want to us, but please leave Ellie alone! She's just a little girl!" As though in unison, they all started pleading with the squad to spare this 'Ellie'.
"I could start giving you all reasonable orders," Sif began, her own suit's active camouflage vanishing, "But I feel it would be better if you all started brainstorming and coming up with what to do," she admitted with a shrug. "The Taianese would have just either killed them all, or knocked them all out for later interrogation, so this is an opportunity that would otherwise not be available already," the plain voiced woman explained to them. "I suggest making use of it."
"WAAAAHH!" a certain priestess wailed, her arms thrown over Jayden as she bawled. "I THOUGHT I WAS GUNNA DIE! THANK YOU SO MUCHHH!" she pathetically cried, clinging onto the Dongwu as though she couldn't walk. In truth though, she somehow dodged everything thrown at her, and was completely unharmed. Not that it was something to worry about. They had bigger things at hand.
Then things took a turn as Jayden jerked, pulling Viz so that her arm was still around the wanna-be-priestess's neck, but she was now facing away from Jayden, and the muscles in her arm bulged, locking her firmly in place. "What can I say? It's not like this isn't entirely your fault. Like, I'm the dumb one in the group who can't read and count, so obviously I don't see the tactical advantage that terrifying a group of people already stressed and worried because they are being assaulted in the forest would give us," She grinned, her arm tightening even further.
"Like," She continued, her other hand pointing at Mei. "That doesn't mean I don't think Mei here shouldn't be given possibly the highest award in Taipan, and have the emporer kiss her feet for the absolutely stunning heroics she displayed!" Jayden laughed, punching the bridge of her muzzle, her arm tightening even more, and more, to the point where it wouldn't be unreasonable to worry about Viz's throat being crushed. "Like, I can't believe how much courage and forethought it must have taken to burst into action, and attack someone who may as well be the equivalent of an unarmed civilian," She said, looking at Mei. "How did you do it? Did you suddenly realize these guys were a threat to the Empire with their swords and arrows, and bright bursts of fire that wouldn't bother any of us in our fancy taipan armour? I..." She said, shrugging with her free arm. "I guess I just don't understand. Maybe we are just here to kill them all! What the fuck do I know? Taipan the mighty! Getting their kicks out of stepping on the helpless!"
It was evident that the Catgirl was at least somewhat pissed as she had not released her helmet at all. It wasn't that she didn't agree with what Jayden was saying, but tactically it was a risk for her to decloak and unmask herself. Behind her displays, the Catgirl was gritting her teeth before looking to Sif for a hair of a second before moving to the other two. They couldn't hurt her, she was armored most likely against all of it. This was Taianese armor, all or nothing basically. But what they did have was overwhelming firepower. Even if she didn't want to use it, it was a display of power. After Mei had liquefied the interior of the man named Levi, they had their chance for dominance.
She turned to face the other two, voice as menacing as she could muster, "If you value life, you will drop your weapons and tell us who you are, what you are, and where you are. If you value your Ellie, you will submit."
It was a good thing she was masked still, as Kikyo looked about as pale as she could get without being dead. She hated doing this, but she'd learned that the world cares not for those in combat, even one sided ones. For a moment she wondered why these people had such Alliance-sounding names, but dared not question it beyond her own thoughts. She passed it off for the moment as coincidence but didn't forget it. She had more important things to take care of.
To say the least, Mei was seething with anger in response to being humiliated and called out by Jayden, especially considering her own somewhat equal status in rank with the lioness. Her expression was one of embarrassment and rage beneath the black faceplate of the helmet. Although she did not enjoy confrontation or disagreement, Mei was willing and able to defend herself, especially against animals.
“Shàngděng-Dai, permission to use a tranquilizer dart on the wild lion that’s escaped from its enclosure!” Mei said in a calm, yet eerily sarcastic voice which quickly shifted into an exasperated tone. “I can put it back in the pen for you when I'm done, ma'am.” She added without even bothering to look at or even acknowledge the lioness as she pointed accusingly at the Kitsune.
"Permission denied, Jayden is not a wild animal. Don't refer to her as such." Royama said, shooting down Mei's intended course of action, "Jayden, if you don't release Viz immediately you will be rendered unconscious. Pointing fingers and choking out your squadmates isn't going to make the situation any better- in fact, it's making it significantly worse." The much smaller woman scolded, before turning to approach the opposing group- with caution. She was prepared to be 'nice', but not stupid, "If any of you are wounded, aside from your dead companion, I'd suggest you announce it now before things get any worse than they already are. Clearly, you've seen how horribly trigger happy and aggressive they can be so I'm willing to assume you won't try anything stupid- lest we feed you to our giant ligress- or at least let her choke you to death as she seems to keen on doing."
Their first few moments on world had chained together starting with their Commanding Officer's plunge into what appeared to be Socratic method teaching, to disagreements and opinions about the right way of approaching the locals, whether to approach the locals, and whether or not it was wise to make use of active camouflage. This had rapidly sparked into what Fu felt was near chaos as the Priestess had slipped away to blurt suddenly about a 'guild at Wurstschloss' and draw the aggression of a jumpy group of locals. This in turn seemed to ignite a variety of responses from their group from aggressively assertive verbal communication, attempts at threats and coercion while assuming a decent tactical position to try and discourage further aggression from the locals, and a moment of returned fire which had somehow both de-escalated the situation and thrown Jayden into rage.
With her back turned to the group, Fu's eyes for the moment more intent on observing the tactical data from their recon drones she listened to the arguments hoping that the internal discord in the group would die down long enough for further information to be gathered from the locals as intended, as awful as it had been executed in her opinion. Keeping her tongue held for the moment in favor of waiting for the conflict to simmer down and not wanting to confuse things further by throwing yet another voice into the fray, Fu waited and thought on how she could go about proposing the discussion of a coherent standard order of procedures so that they would not be thrown into disarray with each new obstacle they encountered.
She also needed to stop crying first.
"We're from the Adventurers Guild, or the Mercenary Guild," an older man with a brown beard replied, tossing back his mail coif, the padding underneath still sweaty and worn. His eyes were clearly gaunt however, and judging by his breathing, he couldn't quite draw in the breath to say more.
"Yeah," a younger man with dull, rusty hair remarked, his stubble having been unshaven for days. "We did all the same pointless stuff over and over again, but when we found Ellie, we realized we could at least do something that was had meaning to it, you know?" Past the sleeves of his padded jack, they could see that his arms were thin, and skin was hanging as loose flabs. The young man was still tall, and should have been in his prime, but he was no longer the muscly bear he used to be. If any others in the natives' group had anything to say though, they didn't, only nodding in agreement.
"Well, at least I know what our baseline is now," Sif's aloof voice finally spoke up. "Though you all didn't behave as professionals, one advantage you have over your purely Destroyer Caste peers would be that our captives are still conscious and able to talk," the white haired Tigress stepped forward, her active camouflage and helmet disengaging to reveal her toned, black bodysuited form. Between her and the others, the locals simply stared, their minds at a loss for words at what they were looking at. "They would have most likely just shot them all with stun and had them interrogated for information later, as they are new like yourselves. However, more experienced groups would leave at least one or two conscious for questioning." Looking over them with her uninterested eyes, she shrugged. "A start," Sif remarked. "Keep trying to ask the right questions."
Meanwhile, her eyes shifted over to Lin.
'It's ok. Things will get better,' the woman tried to comfort her, voice ringing in the younger Tigress's mind. 'Tell us, out loud, what did you find?'
The priestess struck Mei boobs first, which alone was enough to send Mei crashing to the ground like a building in the process of being demolished. With Viz’s limbs entangled within her own, Mei and the priestess tumbled on the ground before coming to a rest at Sif’s feet. However, Viz would find that yet another thing was suppressing her ability to breathe. Fortunately, it seemed to have a lot more give, softness, and shape than Jayden’s bulging biceps.
With a soft groan, Mei began the process of untangling her arms from between Viz’s legs. She felt a piercing and sharply painful sensation in her head, but it dissipated just as quickly as it had appeared. If she had been a woman of a physically inferior species, it was likely that she would have sustained a concussion in the impact. After a few moments, Mei shook herself out of her stupor and rolled off of Viz, finally relieving the pressure her backside had been inflicting on Viz’s thin neck. Then, Mei picked herself off of the ground and offered her left hand to the priestess to help her up as well.
Using the shock as a starting point, Fu began to speak over the commlink her voice reaching those in their group who had opted to keep their helmets on their heads, "Shàoxiào, the recon drones have discovered a clearing occupied by an anomalous individual. Sensors indicate that despite her humanoid form, that she is lacking of typical vital signs and is instead composed of plant matter loosely related to that of this world. She is presently sitting among the roots of the base of a lone tree in the center of the clearing. Due to her odd physiological readings our sweep almost missed her."
Falling silent after diligently relaying the one subject of interest from what she'd seen among the recon drone's data feed, Lin Fu added the positional data of the drone's discovery to the squad's data link providing a small visual marker indicating the location of the anomaly. After a moment of thought Fu added over the commlink, "Though I have little to support this assumption, it could be possible that this girl-shaped thing is the 'Ellie' the locals spoke of. Given that she does not match any lifeform variety that I am familiar with, I would suggest we approach with more caution and... Cohesion than we did with the locals... Perhaps laying out a Standard Operating Procedure that we are all familiar with before we blunder into the next unknown would be wise?"
"Regardless of what we do, These people need a proper examination and I lack the supplies I need to do that to the proper extent- I'm not in a horrible rush, they've been doing well enough this far along."
Instead of saying anything to them though, she simply looked Jayden, then Mei, in the eyes, firmly holding onto their shoulders. It was firm, but brief, as she moved on to the next troublemaker.
"Revive the dead one," she ordered the blue haired priestess who started to moan and crawl her way over to the corpse, sniffling back tears as she incomprehensibly muttered. "Meanwhile, you - " Sif then pointed to the older man. "Answer her question," the Taianese woman gestured to Royama.
"We - we have been eating. Ellie's been making these fruits for us," the gaunt man explained. Reaching into his bag, he pulled out a bright red fruit. Though the size of a large apple, its skin as flawless as it was bright, shiny and round, the only imperfection its almost orange-like stem at what they could only presume to be the top. "It only lasts for a few days," the older man replied as Sif held her hand out, tossing it over. However, the weak throw fell short by a meter, and darting forward in a blur, the tigress caught it, much to the sudden shock of the group of locals. When someone suddenly gasped for air though, their eyes widened even further as the young man on the ground began to breathe, the holes in his chest gone as Viz triumphantly rose to her feet.
"See! I told you I - Viz - am the bestest High Priestess around!" the blue haired woman's obliviously cheery voice loudly declared, chest proudly stuck out as her hands settled on her hips. "Shower me with praise and apologize for your foolishness!" she grinned.
"Oh god, it's that cultist," the now-living man gasped from the floor with realization. The others milled about uncomfortably as they all turned, looking at her face for the first time and realizing who she was. They then turned to look at the squad with expressions that pleaded for mercy as Sif tossed the fruit over to Royama.
'This is not the Alliance. You are our designated field scientist and medic. Use your helmet's science scanners. Tell me what you see,' the squad leader's voice whispered in their ears. Simply holding the fruit in her hand and staring at it, the HUD appeared and offered to do just that. 'I am aware that many of you are distressed, but I advise against it. We have a task at hand,' Sif reminded them all.
"Wait," the young man with the red hair stared at them all, his brows furrowing as he looked at the squad. Or, more accurately, their hips and breasts. "I like...I like women with sweet, big titties. And, and nice, curvy hips. Don't I?" he began to grasp his head. "And I hate kids. I really hate little brats. What - why was I here?" Looking back at the old man, he looked utterly confused and lost. "Hey, dirty old man, didn't we always hit on the women too?" the young man asked, pointing his thumb at the squad. "Hot, sexy ones, like these ones here? Not the flat, girly ones?"
"Y-yeah," the veteran mercenary replied, confused.
"HEY!" Viz loudly pouted, cheeks puffing with visible anger. "Why didn't any of you guys hit on me then?! And praise me already! Especially you, titty cat!" she accusingly pointed a finger at Jayden.
The adventurers just stared at them all, their expressions extremely mixed.
With a small amount of analysis on how her suit functioned she figured out how to do as Sif had asked of her. She focused first on the group of suddenly very confused people, and then the fruit she had been tossed. She had a few suspicions on what was going on, but she decided on keeping them to herself until she was done using her suit to analyze what she could, "Despite your confusion I urge you all to stay as calm as possible. If you begin to act unruly or agressive it will only make it harder for me to help you. So please, remain calm and agreeable." She suggested firmly, and not just to the group of strangers.
Finally, she felt well enough to speak, and speak she did. "You gentlemen must love your little frolics through the sheets," she eyed down the now-living man next. "and I also bet you love that you can breathe on to go back to crawling from brothel to brothel eyes up each exotic wench that will give you a quickie for a drink. Let's just say trying that on any of us, minus your cultist wench which we have, won't go very... hmm... well." Her voice was like ice, ever more evident that she was hating every moment of this.
She winked at the revived man before going back to silence. She wanted to just leave this place and continue on with reconnaissance. This incessant delay was going to most likely come back to bite them anyway. Her eyes shifted to Sif for a moment as if to silently ask 'what's next?' but knowing her, she was going to be fine with letting them continuously screw up. She also began to suspect that they weren't the only team out for recon anyway, with all the manpower that Tai Pan claimed to have at their disposal. She was still just a catgirl in a far off, backwater world with orders to find out what was really here. She questioned why she even accepted this idea in the first place.
"I don't think any of us ever did go to, um, those sort of places," the older man began at Kikyo's remarks. "Our social lives would be ruined and the women of the town would spurn us if we did," he explained, rubbing the back of his head.
"Hey, old man," the redheaded - and likely stepchild - young man slowly started to realize. "Don't we usually get angry over stuff like this? Like, these pretty girls in the weird outfits are being really crummy to us." At that, they all blankly stared at one another in confusion.
"We will investigate this matter further," Sif's aloof yet somehow authoritative voice cut in. "I believe this 'Ellie' has the answ - " Before she could finish, the men burst into an uproar, begging and pleading that the group of strange women didn't hurt their little girl, their little Ellie. However, the black and white haired tigress was having none of this and raised her laser weapon up into the air. With a crack, a tree branch came crashing down from overhead, its severed end glowing hot and burnt, silencing the adventurers. "We will investigate this further, and you all will stay here with our Friends." As though for emphasis several faceless, black bodysuited figures seemed to phase out of the forest around them, the Taianese soldiers menacingly forming a circle around them all. "Activate stealth," Sif then reminded her squad.
It wasn't long until they found what they were looking for though. Far enough to be out of earshot, the forest eventually parted to reveal a tranquil clearing where a ray of light shown down, lighting the singular small tree and the figure sitting at its base. Wrapped up in bandages stained in red, her dress torn by beasts, a little girl with green hair sat alone, her legs held close to her chest.
"Show me what you can do," Sif's camouflaged form leaned back against a tree. Helmet deployed, Viz started wildly gesturing at the little girl in the distance as she seemed to be talking, but none of them heard a thing from her. "Quiet," their squad leader ordered the priestess. Pointing to a patch on the ground, she nervously took a seat, hugging herself. "Go on," she urged them all.
She gave the hand motion for move and began walking with her weapon lowered towards the girl. When she got into a range where she didn't have to scream, she spoke in a warm but authoritative tone. "Miss, can you please stand up and face us? We don't want to hurt you." She didn't want to shoot the poor girl, she looked like she'd been through enough. Her mind was alight with memories and confusions in enough number to make her shiver a little. She kept it bottled for now, as she decided it was better to focus than remember. She was focused, eyes and ears open. She just hoped she was going to be followed and wouldn't end up a burning pile of ash within the end of the day.
"I-I can't," the little girl's voice weakly replied, scared.
In the moment of discomfort Sif's choice to step around and in front of Fu wasn't expected. Even more unexpected was the attempt at a small bit of comfort shown by Sif, the odd woman taking the time to wipe away Fu's tears in an action that felt in the moment at odds with the cool detachment usually displayed by the unusual woman. Puzzled, but feeling a small spark of gratitude Fu gave a nod and spoke softly, "Thank you for your assistance Shàoxiào."
As this happened, the locals continued to babble providing some information, though, none of it comforting. If the strange plant-girl had been providing the locals with sustenance there was no guarantee of whether or not they had been compromised in some way, be it purely psychological or otherwise. Even so, somehow, the potential of aberrant locals was a small worry compared to the choices of those in the squad that Fu observed.
Viz, unsurprisingly proved time and time again that she was more interested in personal aggrandization than being a useful individual. Her actions proved that her being was almost entirely motivated by vanity. Even when she followed orders. Contrasting Viz's vanity was Jayden, who it seemed to Fu was a slave to her own rage, displeasure, and oppression as she appeared to prefer lashing out at those who she felt had wronged her than trying to find ways to improve circumstances. As far as Fu could hear, Kikyo was a variation on Jayden's disposition, though burning somewhat cooler than the dongwu. In Kikyo's case, however, her behavior at least to Fu seemed tinted with something that was perhaps a bit more personal in nature, but still her choices to verbally harass the locals was questionable at best.
As the squad kept themselves busy and time passing resulting with little information gained from the locals, at least nothing actionable, the order to resume active stealth and move out toward the location of the plant-girl came as a mixed omen. No conclusion had been obtained, no SOP had been established, all that remained as a positive, was that they were moving forward with an opportunity to try and create a better future than their recent past suggested.
After a brief march through the unfamiliar forest landscape they reached the clearing in question, the small plant-girl dominating the scene in spite of her diminutive physical stature. Feeling another wave of tension ripple through her body Fu briefly entertained volunteering as a rear guard again to ensure that they did not have anyone or anything sneaking up on them. This hope was dashed upon seeing both Sif's choice to relegate herself and Viz relegated to a 'rear guard' of sorts. With her initial idea dashed quickly Fu decided that it wouldn't be out of place for her to take part in Kikyo's plan. It was, in Fu's eyes, the closest to true organization that the squad had experienced so far and Fu felt that the action was to be supported.
"Acknowledged Kikyo, on your right." The words were spoken clearly, and with a friendliness that Fu hoped would help diffuse some of the tension that had existed in their group admittedly almost since its inception as Fu stepped into place moving forward in tandem with Kikyo's advance while hoping that the others of the squad would be willing to follow the example.
Refocusing on the task at hand as she walked forward slowly, Lin Fu's tail tip twitching slowly behind her betraying her anxiety as they approached the unknown entity. Listening to Kikyo's initial exchange as they entered comfortable speaking range with the girl supposedly named 'Ellie,' more questions seemed to be raised than answered and Fu couldn't help but shift her stance slightly. Letting the nervous energy coil before dispersing into a light-footed readiness to move at the slightest hint of a threat Fu considered the situation and briefly fantasized if it would be wise to pre-emptively begin a tactical retreat. Instead of giving in to her desires, Fu spoke up in a slow, clear, calm, and friendly voice, "It is alright if you can't move, it is good that you told us. Your good friends told us a little bit about you, we would really appreciate it if you would talk to us. It is important so that we can do our very best to help you. Wouldn't it be very nice if we can all be safe and happy together?"
"Wh-what did...what did you do to them?" Ellie asked, clearly afraid of the soldiers surrounding her. "Did you hurt them?" As she asked this as well, data streamed across their systems, but until a medical or science officer interpreted it, most of the information was gibberish. Most of it. Their suits did make do with what their automated systems could interpret, and the results in and of themselves were rather surprising. With all their attention focused on the little girl, the suit systems gave them some simple information.
The plant was healthy.
"We could ask you the same thing. We did the opposite of hurt them. I made sure they went uninjured by my friends here, but I did come to find out that they've been starving themselves, and compelled to be something that they clearly, naturally, are not." The Doctor said matter-of-factly as she tossed the fruit the group had been eating, "Care to explain that one to us? They were quite worked up over you, but they've recently changed their tone." She said in an accusatory tone.
"The 'little girl' is part of the tree, most of the neural activity is coming from the tree. If it comes to it, that's the place to focus your fire. Adjust accordingly, but don't open fire until that's our only possible course of action- or it's determined that that's our optimal choice for the safety of the area." Royama said over the group's comms.
"We wont hurt you as long as you stay passive, any violence will be met with equal force. We're here to be helpful, not harmful."
Instead of keeping her focus on the tree and the girl directly before them, Lin Fu gave in to her twinge of paranoia and tapped into the video and data feeds of her whole squad as well as the drones that were still scattered about the forest attempting to gain as much of an awareness of her surroundings beyond what was immediately in front of her during the interaction with the Ellie thing. Being such an obvious focal point, Fu couldn't shake the feeling that if anything were to happen it would come from behind, below, or even up in the boughs of the trees. Still she hoped that at the very least their CO's wish of a peaceful and non-belligerent interaction would be realized.
"I-I can't move," Ellie replied, huddling at the base of her tree. "I'm stuck here, in the forest, and they were worried some animals might try to eat me, or bad people would do things to me," she nervously explained. "They wanted to protect me, and I felt bad, so I made some fruits for them." Her face growing red, she looked away before raising her skirt just enough so that they could see her thighs. With a wince, one of the apple sized fruits from before dropped to the grassy floor. "It's all I could do, to pay them back!" she explained to them all, her pleading eyes looking up at them as she held the fruit in hand.
In the background however, the muted Viz tugged at Sif before speaking silenced words. She then quietly whispered something back.
"They can't smell it I guess," their suit sensors automatically enhanced the Tigress's words.
It was at this point her idea hit her. She spoke again in Taianese as she looked to Royama. "Trees can be replanted from their limbs right? Let's get us a branch and bring it with the VIP to assure that this tree's magic at least can be studied with the girl. We'll stop if it hurts her. Nobody has to die." She looked back towards Ellie and gained a very homely and sincere looking face. "We're going to try and get you out of here. I want you to say something if this hurts."
The catgirl pulled out her multitool and flipped out a folding serrated blade. It wasn't sharp on one end but it would be usable to cut wood and she believed magic wood too. she slowly walked towards the tree, stopping at its base to look down to the girl almost like an older sister would. "Let's see if we can get you home."
Kikyo carefully and softly put the eight inch blade to the tree's bark and looked again to Ellie to see if she felt the blade against the tree. If this worked, she might have to start a hobby of not having anxiety attacks.
"Viz," Sif's flat voice spoke. "Go back to the primary objectives and revive them." Trembling with what had just happened, the muted priestess did just that, quickly turning to run away from them all.
"Ellie," The Doctor started, voice calm and soft, "Look at me. I need you to stay as calm as you can. No one else is going to hurt you and she didnt mean to, or at least didn't realize that would hurt you. I need you to trust me- We are here to help. A lot is going on right now, but we're going to do our best to slow down." She promised the little girl(?) tree-thing.
She kept her eye on her info feed- keeping watch for anything abnormal that might tell her she needs to fall back herself.
Her face was distant, pale, and uncomfortable. She no longer wanted to be here. She spoke emotionless in her Taianese to Royama, with her only visible feeling being the sheer sorrow that was in her violet eyes. "Do your thing, Doctor. It is evident that this is not my strongest suit. Keep me posted."
With a simple nod towards Royama, she looked back to Ellie and like a statue she stood there in solitude. She was a soldier, outright and in, the bubbly little catgirl inside her was simply not present for now.
"S-she was cutting me!" Ellie cried, shrinking closer to the tree's trunk as the doctor inched closer. "You said you wouldn't hurt me!" her eyes watered. However, the moment Royama neared, her science suit's sensor suite picked up something in the air. The scent of rot, gently wafting out from below the tree, under its roots.
"Ellie, look at me, she was only trying to help. She didn't know that that was going to hurt you. No one else is going to touch you without your permission, okay? The rest of my, ah, friends are going to stay right where you are." She promised, "Now, is there anywhere that you might have been hurt in the past? Are you sick in any way?" The doctor asked, all while trying to get a little closer to the tree to get a closer, more intimate scan.
Under the tree's roots were human remains, all long gone.
"Kikyo." She began over their shared comms, "Take a look at the data the suits just got. Do not react, do not engage. I'm trying to assess the threat level. Keep your wits about you and give me your opinion on the situation." The Doctor said very calmly. There were so many things that could happen next and Royama wanted to be prepared for any of them.
"Listen, honey. You're killing these people. Perhaps not intentionally, but they're mortal- humans. They die without proper nutrition and care. If we don't take them away these people will die as well." Royama addressed the 'girl', "Am I correct in assuming that you only keep these people around to take care of you?"
"She might not know what she's doing, or she has a very well rehearsed or practiced tongue. I do not like this at all, something will need to be done and I don't like what it's beginning to come down to." Her voice was still and almost emotionless except for the slight tinge of sudden urgency. If Royama was a betting girl, the Catgirl seemed stressed all of a sudden, almost as if she was fighting with herself on the inside.
"I - I didn't keep them from leaving! They said they wanted to!" Ellie exclaimed, her eyes beginning to water. "And, and I've been feeding them too! Look!" she cried. Lifting her skirt like one would with a curtsy, another pair of the red, luscious fruits from before dropped to the forest floor. "I made these fruits from them, whenever I could!" As the little girl said this however, Viz finally reached up to her helmet and undid the seals, the helmet coming off with a hiss.
"That's a Tranquility Tree!" she accusingly pointed a finger at Ellie. "If you fall for its charms, it'll trick you into into eating its fruit, and then you'll be happy to do whatever to protect it while you wither away! And look!" Placing her foot on top of one of the red fruits, she gently pushed down, only for the entire thing to squish with a crunch. "There's nothing in it! There's no nutrition or anything at all!" Viz exclaimed. "The adventurers probably came here to chop it down as part of a guild job, but fell for it instead! But don't be fooled, it's just trying to have you wither away and use you for fertilizer! Just look under its roots!" the loud mouthed priestess shouted, tears now positively streaming down the little girl's face as she failed to hold them back. "It probably just thought of its last victim as just another bag of fertil - "
"SHUT UP! SHE WAS MY FRIEND!" Ellie screamed at Viz at the top of her lungs. The blue haired priestess, caught off guard, immediately snapped back.
"Look, it's been found out so it's getting angry!" she jabbed her finger at it.
"Doctor, is what Viz said true to your scans?" She didn't give her intention to turn this tree into a bubbling mass of plasma or whatever this weapon did away, but it most likely could be inferred. Her eyes did not leave 'Ellie' at all after that, she was waiting for it to try and retaliate.
"Ellie, how did those body's get underneath your roots? Did you put them there? Were they already here?" Royama interrogated, most of the patience gone from her voice, "The more truthful you are with me the easier it will be for me to help you. So help me help you."
"There are definitely bodies under there- and scans have shown that the group we just found were likely under the influence of those fruits. Don't go blowing your top just yet- hold it together. I'm not sure if this being has offensive capabilities. Seems like her greatest defense is persuasiveness."
"Hildur - Hildur was my friend," Ellie began. "She came one day, riding this pretty horse with wings, and said she was looking for someone like me. Said that - that she wanted to eat my fruit, and keep me company." The little girl rubbed her eyes as fresh tears had began welling up. "But, what you said, about my fruit..." Shaking her head, Ellie's sobbing picked up as she curled in on herself, nestled amongst the roots of the tree. For a short while, she started crying again, but when that died down, Ellie continued. "Hildur was first, but she said it was ok. That I keep her with me. Under my roots. And later, when everyone else came, I kept them too." As Ellie said this however, Vis struggled more in Sif's grasp, only to stop as their squad leader started to squeeze more tightly, the threat enough to cow the blue haired priestess of this world. "H-here. I'll show you."
With a faint shifting of earth and soil, the roots of the small tree - hardly taller than their own tallest - began to move. Pulling themselves out of the ground, they parted to the side as the entire tree lifted its base like a skirt moving aside for them to see. There, underneath, were the remains of three, the newest still bearing rotted skin, while the oldest bore only bones adorned by extravagant armor, and a metallic bar with strangely shaped ends.
Ice blue eyes scanned the horizon to the west of her and narrowed after a moment. She could feel distress, anger, resentment, hostility, and fear. Fear for one's wellbeing and fear meant that someone usually was in trouble. It would not do, this was something she had to take care of, otherwise, she would never forgive herself. She was Justice and could never turn down a plea for help. With a deep breath, she reached back for her spear and tower shield and fought against the buffet of wind that attacked her shield as she shot forward again. After a few moments, she could see the source of need.
A small girl that stood below a tree surrounded by several people in black garb. Strangely designed guns and threatening postures raised the hair on the back of Rikka's neck as she waited for a moment before she plummeted. She was never one to shirk from her duty to protect the innocent and tended to be just a touch headstrong in her zeal for her position. She cared little for asking questions until she made those before her understand just who they spoke too. Just before she landed she pulled up and gave her wings a mighty flap to slow her descent to land beside the young girl. What would now stand before the assembled group was a veritable walking tank of a woman for all the armor she wore. Heavy plate armor with a tabard over the shoulders that reached her knees, a hood pulled over her head to cover her facial features save for the ice blue eyes, six long white wings floated on the breeze in an ethereal light though fully stretched out to their full size. Above her head, a circle of spiked metal floated just a few inches from the cloth of the hood.
As she stood and adjusted herself to her full height, she leveled her barbed spear on those she stood before, her shield in front of the small girl for her to hide behind should she wish.
"Answer now and answer truthfully. What right do you hold to accost this young girl so? Do not lie to Justice, for you will not enjoy the results..." As she made her demands and threats, fire began to burn along the length of her spear.
Her entire posture changed from non-threatening and gentle to 'You've got to be shitting me'. She threw her arms up in the air and motioned between the heavily armored angel-woman and her squad. The much smaller woman's arms flailed about in the air silently for another few seconds before she held a finger up in the air to 'shush' the recently arrived angel-woman so that she could turn around and squat down and take in a deep, calming breath so that she could deal with the situation in a manner that wouldn't involve incoherent banshee screams. Another moment passed and the doctor stood back upright and turned on her heel to face the new arrival to the shitshow that was this mission.
"Alright- listen up you feathered bitch. That 'little girl' is part of that fucking tree directly behind her. If you don't, believe me, you can ask her your damn self. But don't worry!- I'm still going to help her, because I'm a goddamn doctor and clearly the only sane person on this entire godsforsaken planet!- at least the only sane person that seems to give even the slightest amount of fucks. We're on a mission- this group of lovely people and I- to rescue a group of adventurers that got in a little over their heads. Incidentally this little girl- being the magical tree-person that she is- had no clue that the fruit she produces turns the people that eat them into adoring servants!" Royama laughed, "Isn't that fucking great?- and, you know, here I am trying to fix this whole shitshow in a way that involves making sure people are safe and making sure that this little tree-girl is safe from retribution because I'm a decent fucking person AND THEN YOU SHOW UP WITH YOUR WINGS AND FLAMING SPEAR LIKE YOU OWN THE DAMN PLACE." The much smaller woman began to approach with a brazenness far exceeding her stature, finger pointing accusingly back like a 'flaming spear' of her very own, "So how about you put that fucking thing away and let me do my job- and help this little girl- or the people behind me will rain so much hellfire upon you that you'll be lucky that even a single one of those feathers of yours aren't scorched to ash!- Or, maybe, better yet! If you're so concerned how about you help me solve this in a constructive, non-violent way because NO ONE ELSE SEEMS TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT FOR MORE THAN A COUPLE OF SECONDS."
The much smaller woman was breathing hard enough that her body was heaving. Even despite the angry, accusatory finger that was being stabbed at Rikka there was a genuine concern in the human woman's voice.
Gloved hands clenched around laser gun grips as heated flame and fire lit the scene, crackling every so often. Orange-yellow light shifted and sparkled off of shining armor plates that faintly clinked together every so often. A little girl cowered behind a tree as its roots moved to hide the treasure trove underneath once again. Chests nervously rose and fell as hearts beat, while heavy, humid breaths were whisked away by sealed helmets. Arms crossed over a commanding officer's chest as she watched, while a certain holy woman stood stark still like a statue, uncertain as to what to do. Sweat dashed down people's foreheads, only to be swiped away by helmets made to keep the stinging drops from reaching eyes. At the same time, holy feathers faintly rustled in the gentle breeze every few moments, while a golden halo remained unnaturally un-moving in the air. As the sides stood still, sizing each other up, pondering what strikes to take, hoping for the best, or even out of uncertainty and fear, the moments ticked by, dragging out longer and longer, seconds weighing down on them all and feeling like minutes. Then hours. Then days as each tiny scrap of time became unbearably heavier and heavier.
"C-can't we all just....get along?" the little girl by the tree finally spoke up.
"Angel, Deflame your weapon. Doctor, please find a way to separate the girl from the tree or tell me if both of them can be moved."
Royama was right, this situation was far from ideal in any case. Everyone had made a mistake at one point on this drop, and Kikyo decided it was about time to make her attempt and taking the reins of chaos and making everything work out alright. Her eyes rested on the winged warrior, her internal targeting devices lining up on her skull. She didn't want to use this weapon, she didn't really know what it could do. Part of her didn't want to find out.
"I... Apologize for my rash judgment. I saw the little girl surrounded by you all and assumed the worst." Rikka had felt no lies in their words as they had spoken and certainly the shouting woman had put her on her back foot, but it was all for the best as it had halted any terrible mistakes from bearing bad fruit. She watched the others of the group for a moment and decided to hold off on introductions for the moment and instead see how they would deal with the little girl and her ordeal.
The human woman ended her approach towards Ellie and squatted down right beside her. Her helmet retracts into the collar of her suit to reveal her face to the small girl. The expression on her face is a kind one- her gaze is soft, "Do you like it here, Ellie? If I offered you the chance to leave and go explore would you want to go? I can't promise you much, but I can see if the lady in charge of us would let you come stay and travel with us. You'd meet all sorts of new people." She offered, keeping her hands on her lap where Ellie can see them.
"Bwahahahahaha!" Viz laughed out loud, finally managing to find her breath since Sif had released her from a choke hold on the angel's arrival. "You gotta be kidding me! Did you all see that? The evil tree did it's own version of pooping itself! Hahahahaha!" she clutched her stomach in mirth. "Hey! Hey! Miss Angel!" the blue haired woman then pointed a finger at Rika. "As Arch Priestess of this wonderful world, I demand you tell these foreigners how these evil trees have been luring people to their deaths since the dawn of time, and how brave souls from all over continue to fail in wiping out this menace!" Viz arrogantly declared.
"Irrelevant," Sif stoically intervened, hopefully holding off the angel's wrath. "You have all done well, and our commanding officer, Sakamoto, wishes for the tree known as 'Ellie' to be relocated for further study," she explained. "If any of you have questions before we leave - " Sif continued, their dropship coming down from above, " - ask them, if only to prepare in giving them to the Rooster." The snowy haired Tigress then turned her attention to their daunting new companion. "Angel. Another of your kind wishes to speak with you. I suggest you come with us," she thrust her thumb over her shoulder at the opening craft and its ramp.