B2 — 1. An Empress Rises

Welcome to Volume 2!

PoV:  Empress Elinor (Our Undead Ruler!)

Recap:  Elinor raced back to her fortress to obtain enough Death Energy from the life fruit to pay the price of her Undead army … only to be met with a potential Life Energy bomb.

Undaunted by the possibility, Elinor refuses to lose everything she’d gained throughout the torturous day and forces Tiffany to accept her ruling.  This is the first time she is at odds with one of her minions.

Her former mother obeys the order … this time, at least, and does what she is told, while clearly hating the circumstance she’s in.  Everything works out, though, and Elinor is able to pay death’s tax.

Now, she sits in her black tower, overlooking the valley she’d won, in a world she was trapped in, with everything she loved snatched from her hands by that crystal’s appearance.

… She will survive and make whoever or whatever is responsible feel the tempered fury of her heart.  This is where her Empire expands … one way or another.

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Azalea’s lips tightened thoughtfully upon reaching the massive cliffs on the right side of the city; she’d played with the Ri’bot in the jungle behind her, where the trees were enormous and ancient.  These were the types of jungles she’d grown up with.  However, the sight of the eastern valley below had changed extensively since her death.  

She’d stood near this location and scanned this scene many times in the past, but now there was a large mound that rose above the flattened ridges separating the right and left half of the eastern valley.  The trees had shrunk dramatically along the right side while a new river had formed.

Scenes were carried with the wind and hung around the air, but she knew many would be dampened by the dark clouds overhead; a light rainfall would mist the valley tonight, but a few pheromones were lingering on the breeze that drew her notice.

Azalea casually hummed various songs Tiffany had taught her while learning about torture, moving along the shelf and vibing to her own theme.

Invisible to the wildlife while wrapped in the shadows of the night, she observed the various creatures she’d prayed on while alive.

She’d been tasked with scouting the east valley, and if any humans were found, then she was to bring them back, but this was a rather relaxing assignment.  A lot of leniencies were given to her with the unknown elements of the unexplored area.

Noticing all the creatures surrounding, she debated testing out their flavors, but in the end, she concluded experimenting with new foods while in her human form was the real thing that excited her; it wasn’t that enticing to eat in her normal body, so she observed.

It was a different experience, not concerned about eating or killing anything that crossed her path, and the tranquil atmosphere carried a bizarre feedback she was unaccustomed to.

She moved from tree to tree, watching creatures eating plants, nuts, and fungus.  On the other hand, she witnessed insects and animals feeding off others, but in no way could it be considered the same as if she were hunting.

Azalea giggled on the inside, following a Ragnlar in the process of stalking a Frave; the long furry prey had a thick defensive mane, but the silent predator knew vital points where it could land the killing blow.  Everything both creatures did was so inefficient to her, but it was the game that captivated her.

She moved away from the scuffle as the Ragnlar pounced.  She rose high into the trees to follow the strange scent since it was close by.

The rain had begun falling from the heavens, yet with the thick foliage overhead, the leaves directed the liquid into small waterfalls, falling from large leaf to leaf before striking the ground.

Azalea’s interest peaked upon spotting the new creature; it was some kind of bird, but by the dozens of aviary and animal remains scattered across the large branch it stood on, Azalea assumed it was high on the food chain within the jungle.

Of course, between the Thélméthra, Quen’Talrat, Ri’bot, and war, the jungle’s previous top predators had long been extinct.

Now, who are you?  Azalea mused, crawling around it with fascination.

A smile lit her lips as her transformation cooldown reset; while cloaked within the shadows, she shrunk to her human-form, creating her bra and shorts out of habit in the process.

She blinked with excitement; the simple action brought her such pleasure, and when the momentary blackness touched her vision, her other senses expanded greatly.  One of Tiffany’s songs hummed through her mind, making her want to sway.

I want you to breathe with me … and be happy.  Where will we go?  All the sad songs, all the sad songs will leave us … down this road.  Say you’re mine, say you’re mine, and I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine…

Opening her eyes, she stared at the resting bird; it was nearly as large as her in this form.  Dropping to her butt, she cocked her head, folding her arms under her chest while studying every inch of it.

It would undoubtedly cause the current jungle residents trouble, but judging by the damage done to the picked clean skeletons or half-eaten corpses around the area, it wasn’t that much stronger than a Ranglar.  Still, she wanted to test if it posed any risk to the Empire.

She identified dozens of other scents similar to the creature on its feathers, indicating it was likely more of a flock animal, which made it more dangerous than her first estimation.

It was for such a reason the Thélméthra were so deadly.  The drones were crafted by the Queen, and with tens of thousands of them passed down from generation to generation, their high durability, and powerful assassin-like abilities, it was a dominating force.

If there were tens of thousands of these birds, then they could cause a decent threat to most of the living things Azalea had met.  Although, the Quen’Talrat probably wouldn’t care how many of these birds there were, making them rather unremarkable in Azalea’s eyes after a bit of study.

A single strand of Azalea’s blue hair lifted from her back, stiffening to launch a poisoned needle at a selected area below the creature’s neck, where she identified a vein.


The bird didn’t react to the noise she made as the fast-acting toxin paralyzed its body, and she walked forward, running her fingers across its feathers to analyze every fiber.  It had a more robust frame than she initially thought, but it didn’t appear to have any special abilities upon a surface level DNA analysis through contact.  It was a male of the species.

Her mind shifted to her eldest sister with a bit of pity; she had a hard time with this type of ability all Queen-class Thélméthra possessed.

She took a minute to construct a near-invisible cage of thread around it to see how it would react; the venom she injected was calculated to only last a limited time, and she stood outside of the silk, waiting for it to struggle.

It released a raspy screech upon seeing her, now uncloaked, and started the thrashing.  She was disappointed with its efforts; it couldn’t break past even the weak thread she’d spun for the test.

However, a smile lightened her cheeks as she sensed others responding to his call; Azalea disappeared into the shadows again.

A minute later, dozens of the aviary creatures converged on the location, but their response sparked her interest again.

They aren’t trying to save it?  No, they’re searching for me.  Hmm … smarter than I thought.  Although, I didn’t sense such a detail in the scan … it was only a surface-level analysis, though.  Maybe I should eat one to better understand its DNA; oh, and I’m in my human-form, too!  Let’s see where this leads…

Jumping into action, she giggled while anchoring each bird to the trees without their notice, attaching a loose string of sticky silk to the tips of their claws to tie them to the branches.  It only took a minute before one noticed, letting out a surprised squawk that drew the others’ attention.

Curious to what they’d do next, Azalea released her concealment while hanging upside down above the birds.  Their eyes darted up, and Azalea’s eyes narrowed dubiously; the frantic struggle ceased instantly across the board, and the look they gave her was entirely different than before.

They act in two different manners?  Panic, then evaluating … all at once.  Perhaps these creatures have a mental network like the Empress?  No, then why cry out for those nearby, alerting me to the possibility of reinforcements?

Two darts filled with deadly toxin shot from her hair, killing two of the birds within three seconds as it blocked its entire nerve system from responding.  Azalea was a little surprised the area she sent the poison had that quick of a reaction.

The birds didn’t respond, watching her without blinking their massive, bulging eyes.

Interesting … not even an acknowledgment to imminent death.  What about prolonged?

She sent two more threads of poison, causing two birds to seize up in pain that should last at least an hour before death, but it was only a guess since she hadn’t done an in-depth investigation of their biology.

Her brow furrowed as the two suddenly went crazy, struggling against the silk attached to their talons, feathers flinging around with their thrashing and loud squawks, but again, the others didn’t respond.

“Well, aren’t you guys interesting,” Azalea mused, flipping down to stand before one.

Its sharp beak darted out for her eye, but Azalea intercepted it, using her left index finger to catch the point; the force was extremely disappointing.

Azalea hummed softly, effortlessly stopping several more attempted spears as it reared back and shot its head forward again; she giggled while allowing it to jab her nose, making it tickle.

“Oh, what will you do now?”  She clapped, cocking her head to the left, and moved her hands behind her back with anticipation.

After the fruitless strikes, the bird settled back, glancing left at another as it tried to lift its foot in a testing manner.

“Intelligent, then not so intelligent,” Azalea hummed, hand darting out to grasp its feathered neck.  Applying slow force, she studied the other’s reactions, and even the one she held didn’t struggle.  “Death doesn’t frighten you, but … pain draws a reflex?  What about a small amount?”

Her hair snaked around before the end stiffened, cutting a gash along its stomach; almost instantly, the bird’s eyes widened in horror, and it began struggling in her grip.  Barbs on its wings striking out to no effect.

“Huh … now you use your claws … single claw on each wing … huh?”

She crushed its windpipe, causing it to lock up before falling over to thrash on the ground.

Stepping back, Azalea frowned.  She identified hundreds of similar scents on them; they were a part of a fairly large flock, but no others were coming to join.  Growing bored, she determined they weren’t a threat and killed them in the blink of an eye.

She ripped off a chunk of feathers on one of their chests, tearing open its corpse to taste a few of its organs and bones for a more in-depth analysis.

Shockingly, she found no connection to their level of study, fear resistance, or hive mind.

“Huh … maybe not as boring as I thought.  Were you lot being controlled?”  She mused, tapping her right bicep.

She broke off a piece of its ribs in her mouth, crushing it with her molars while breaking off two more for a snack while moving on.  It wasn’t bad, but she’d had better; the new flavor was nice for a first test, but it wasn’t good enough to be a regular diet food.

Thélméthra bodies were designed to be utterly immune to any toxin through worlds and worlds of conquest evolution; any they found, their organs instantly analyzed, instantly developing protection against the agent, and then incorporating it into their arsenal.  The number of poisons she could cycle through was vast in her inherited line.

Now understanding the creatures were of no immediate threat, she made a note to mention them and the possibility of them being controlled by another force to her mother upon her return and moved further east.

Azalea found dozens of Ri’bot pockets, and there was even a rather large group surrounding a sizeable lake, but they didn’t meet the identifying markers her mother had given her.

She walked through the huts of the water-side village, unseen by the Ri’bot adult and children as they went about their peaceful night.  By the various colors, they seemed to be Clanless.

Not finding anything of further significance, she went a bit more south, climbing the small mountain.  There were other groups of roaming Ri’bot, but they were of various skin colors, meaning not of the right clan.  However, one particular conversation caught her interest as her transformation was nearing its end.

Reverting to her original form, Azalea dropped down on the group, spraying a web of silk around them in a wide net to trap the seven Ri’bot carrying spears and daggers.

“… Wha … what is this…”

The few grunts and gasps of surprise faded as she landed in front of them, causing a wave of horrified silence and chemicals to leave their skin.

“Hello!”  She chimed, bending in closer to what appeared to be the leader, hot air hissing past the plates on her abdomen.  “My name is Azalea, and I heard you and your friend Tomona here talking about the Roxim Clan.”

“… Y-You can … I can understand you?”  He half asked and stated, large eyes unable to leave her luminous pink gem-like eyes.

“Oh, right, this is all new to you,” Azalea giggled.  “Okay, how about this … oh, isn’t this exciting?  I’m still very new to this whole talking with my food business.”

“F-Food?”  A light purple colored female Ri’bot named Uxari whispered unsteadily.

“Well, not at the moment, no,” Azalea absently commented.  “I’m not going to eat you.”

The Ri’bot each struggled in her web, giving the person next to them a scared, unsure glance at her statement.

“You … you won’t?”  Tomona asked in disbelief.  “Umm … are you a…”

“Thélméthra Princess?  Indeed, I am!  I hear my aunt took everyone to the far east after our deaths, is that right?  Oh, no, no, I’m getting off-topic!  Hehe, no, I’m here wondering about what’s going on with the Roxim Clan.  You said they were moving a bunch of strange creatures, right?”

Uxari’s frightened green eyes moved to her thin, plated legs, and it seemed she couldn’t stop her body from quivering as her two teeth on either side of her mouth dug into her lips, breaking the skin.



Azalea gave a thoughtful grunt.  “… Is speaking to me this difficult?”

Korag, the leader, swiftly spoke up.  “I-I, uh … I’m just … we’re just scared you’ll … you know … kill us … eat us?”

“Mmh,” she tilted her body to the left, “I’m not planning on it right now.  The Empress said she needs a lot of Ri’bot alive, and you’re all Ri’bot.”

A lump dropped down Tomona’s throat, causing him to blink.  “Empress?  Is there … is that your mother?”

“No,” Azalea laughed.  “That’s so silly!  No, Empress Elinor.  You call her The One Above All.  Well, mostly it’s The Supreme Chief of the Pits, as of recently.”

The Ri’bot’s mouths dropped open, tongues hanging out and getting stuck on her silk.

“No, no!”  Azalea groaned, sending a pulse through her web to remove their sticky nature and toss them off the group.  “You can’t speak to me if your tongues get stuck.”

Korag’s body tensed to jump as she removed the thread, but she reached up and bonked him lightly on the head, causing him to grunt and hit the dirt.  “No running, or I will kill you,” she warned.

The others held up their hands in acceptance.

“W-Whatever you say, P-Princess Azalea!”  Uxari gasped, eyeing their leader as he stumbled on the ground, still stunned from her smack.

“Good!  Now, tell me about the Roxim, and we can all be on our way.  Oh, and there are some killer birds in the jungle that seem pretty new.  Have you seen them?”  She asked with sudden interest.


“… Birds?”  Tomona asked, and Uxari finished.

“Oh, why don’t we get a little comfortable?”  Azalea asked with a cheery voice.  “Tiffany said when I’m talking with other creatures, I should help create a positive atmosphere.”

Turning to a large fallen down tree, she easily cut into the bark with one of her arms, crafting a hollow space where they could sit.

The Ri’bot seemed to be in stunned disbelief at her actions.  “… You … want us to sit?”  Tomona asked, staring at the space with a dubious gaze.

“Yup!  I can smell you’re all super scared.  Isn’t it funny, though?  I said I wasn’t going to kill or eat you.”  She giggled.  “What should we do to create a more positive atmosphere?”  Azalea questioned with an excited tone, ready to learn more about talking to weak creatures.

“… I … think we just need a minute to process it,” Korag mumbled, rubbing his head.  “Umm … can we learn a bit about you?”

Uxari’s hands tightened against her chest, weapons long forgotten on the ground.  “Yes, please, Princess Azalea!  Umm … it’s just that … you’re nothing like the terrible stories we heard … well, about Th-Thélméthra.”

“Sure!”  Azalea said with a bright tone.  “Although I can’t spend a long time here.  I’m on a mission.”

The Ri’bot named Camrok cleared his throat.  “Uh, mission … right, the Roxim, they uh … they went south, and…”

Azalea knew the creature wasn’t telling the truth by his body’s nervous reactions and the manner the others responded to the news, but then something interesting made her remain silent.

“Shut up,” Uxari growled, glaring at the guy.  “Why are you lying?  Do you really think that will help us?”

“She’s right,” Tomona stated with a hard look at him.  “I know the Roxim helped you a bit, but don’t kill us over it!”

Korag took a long breath before motioning to the Ri’bot around him.  “Let’s sit down … and Camrok, don’t say another word unless it’s to answer Princess Azalea’s question … honestly.”

Camrok teeth pressed against his already punctured lower lip, causing more green blood to exit, and his left hand tightened around the dagger strapped to his tattered vest.  The Ri’bot next to him slapped his chest with a low growl, causing his muscles to slacken in defeat.

“Huh…”  Azalea would have smiled at them if she had lips.

They settled into the hollow, rubbing their arms or legs while trying not to look directly at her, and told her the word that was spreading through the Clanless zone.  The Roxim seemed to have conquered some strange group of creatures and carried back many things to their principal village, but a Komath messenger had changed everything.

The group she’d captured were on their way to confirm the rumors that all Roxim’s border security had evaporated throughout the previous day.

Their fears escalated upon hearing about the creatures they called Jukal that were prophesied to herald the arrival of some great calamity, but they couldn’t tell her exactly what that was, and apparently, they showed up every few decades in small numbers.

The news that she’d killed dozens of them put a shock through their system, but they didn’t voice their fears, and it didn’t particularly interest Azalea since the Jukal weren’t that impressive, to begin with.  Their only oddity was the strange behavior, yet they were far less intelligent than even these Ri’bot.

She returned to her human-form just after leaving the group as it came off cooldown, not needing to follow their directions to the steep plateaus.  However, the bit that did spike more questions was their information on the Roxim’s primary camp location at the elevation’s base, along the river.

The jungle’s temperature had fallen slightly with the hovering mist as the light rainfall blanketed the foliage, leaving the already moist ground more unstable.  Despite the weather, she found hundreds of human scents sixteen minutes after leaving the group.

However, it was far too old to be of any worth and would be faster to scale the cliff, cutting them off if they were still in the Roxim’s village.

Azalea continued on, jamming to the memory of Tiffany’s melodic voice in her mind while pushing her human body to its stretching limit to test its flexibility; she’d never felt so at ease with her surroundings after becoming Undead.  Her enhanced stealth made her actions seamless, but she never faltered from her rigorously trained clandestine movements, adding to her silent nature.

She examined every out of place detail that didn’t fit with her memory, adjusting her mental image of the valley while on the move, letting the tranquil atmosphere wash through her.

Azalea loved the electrifying pleasure her body experienced when toying with her prey to see how long it would take before they gave up on life, but outside of the hunt, the heightened peace she found around her was gratifying.

The steep cliff face that opened up before her put a light frown on her lips.  When she was alive, this long plateau held a very different shape, which surprised her a little with how short of a time had passed since her death, and there was evidence of large collapsed chunks.

Making it atop the massive rise, she stared down at the remote part of the valley with rising fascination.  The trees were far smaller than even the Clanless territory she’d come from.

New rivers and lakes captured her focus, and beside a vast mound of upturned earth was a lake with several islands.  However, the most exciting bit was a decent amount of the lake and surrounding rivers were falling into a colossal blackened fissure in the valley.

Ooh, now that looks fun!

Azalea cupped her chin while studying the scene; she recalled that the Quen’Talrat built a giant fortress in that general location, spiking her curiosity as to what could have created such a change in the valley’s structure, but first, she needed to complete her main mission of identifying the Roxim Clan’s position.

It had taken her nearly four hours to get to this point with all of her detours and investigations, but it would still take some time before the sun rose.  She didn’t have a time limit on her task, though, and she intended to take the opportunity to be thorough.

Azalea let the mist-like rain flow around her bare skin as she studied the thinly veiled valley, updating her mental graph of the transformed landscape.

From this position, it was easy for her to see the evidence of a massive fire that ravaged the land, destroying the jungle on this side of the valley.  Her mind instantly turned to the Quen’Talrat, but it didn’t quite add up to her.


The Quen’Talrat are very careful with their fires around flammable material … they’re usually really into crafting with the stuff.  So … why would they destroy something they love?  Was their little war getting that bad after we died?  Perhaps it was more the big white ape’s thing to like the jungle, and the others didn’t care?

“Huh … I guess it doesn’t matter,” she whispered, twisting her heel against the cliff face as her legs dangled over the edge.  She absently played with thread on her fingertips, forming random designs before throwing them off the bluff, practicing with the ten strange appendages.

It took a moment to catch a few blurred locations beyond the further shrouded areas of the nighttime jungle, spotting the ruined visage of a Quen’Talrat building, but eventually, she was satisfied with her amendments.  She’d use her ability to geolocate her location through the earth’s magnetic field to pinpoint where she needed to go.

Her multi-hued blue hair extended across her back to attach a sticky line of silk to the top of the cliff, and she jumped, wind rushing past her as she repelled with quick, bounding leaps, and a broad smile lit her cheeks.

It’s so fun having all these new things I can do with a human body!  Flips, and flips, and flips, and dive, and flip, and slow down, and land!  

Releasing the long line of silk, she followed several very old Ri’bot trails heading in an eastward direction.  There were signs of Ri’bot life popping up from time to time; cuts in trees, pits for trapping, fortified defensive positions, and soon she arrived at an empty village with signs of a rushed exit.

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However, some had left later than others; the song in her head began to pick-up its tempo as she started the hunt.  Her bare feet raced atop the young trees’ trunks and branches with her accelerated movements.

There were mostly blackthorn trees in the area, but occasionally, she came across the smooth green bark of a noral tree; the southern tree typically was in the south but appeared to have gained some ground after the fire ravaged the area.

She didn’t have long with her transformation, so she relished the human experience while she could, following the scent of three Ri’bot males, and it didn’t take her long to catch-up.

Azalea dropped down two branches to happily observe the three figures; they seemed to be having some difficulty hauling large bags of something.

I’ve got these and … yes, there are five more separate trails to follow … shame, I still can’t smell the humans.  The Roxim must have taken them on boats along the southeastern river through the mountains.  One way to make sure, though!

Casting a net top of the shocked Ri’bot, she landed beside them with a bright, toothy human smile.  “Hello!  I’m Azalea…”

“Tongue biting hopper!”  One of the elder Ri’bot yelled, dropping his sack while swiftly drawing his blade to try and cut the sticky web.

Azalea watched with a light blue lifted eyebrow as they continued to struggle in the net until they were hopelessly stuck.  She released a long sigh, running her left hand through her hair before scratching her scalp.

“… I can see a pattern forming between Ri’bot,” she mumbled as they rocked against each other, nearly causing the thread to become so tight that they couldn’t even breathe.

Wearing a slight frown, she bent down, holding out her hand to grasp a thread; Azalea sent a loosening pulse through the silk, adjusting the composition of parts to allow them a little slack.  She stepped back, opening her mouth, but again, she was interrupted.

“Tongue, bark scrapin’ roller!”  The elder Ri’bot spat, still trying to saw through her thread with his newfound motion, blade rapidly weaving back and forth.


A younger Ri’bot spat out his tongue at her through the net.

Azalea’s jaw snapped shut, lips drawing into a line as she effortlessly snatched the organ, gripping it while applying sticky silk to keep it in place.  The youth gagged as she rolled her eyes, finding the action surprisingly stress-relieving.

“… Could you please allow me to speak?”

“… Wha … yo, it just spoke, Uncle!  Hey, let go of my son’s tongue!”

Her dull pink eyes slid to the gagging Ri’bot, eyes closed with strain as he tried to return the wet organ to his throat.  “Will it make you settle down?”

“… Yeah, sure … we’ll go with that,” the elder grunted, still actively engaged in his fruitless sawing efforts.

“Look, I need you to have your tongues attached, but I don’t need your hands,” Azalea warned with a dry expression.  “Do Ri’bot understand what that means?”

The elder swiftly dropped his knife after realizing it had no effect, releasing a forced laugh while holding his empty hands up.  “See, we’re good!  Ancestors … how’d they get something so sticky?”  He grunted, glaring at the net.  “On second thought…”

“My son!”  The other yelled with concern as his chest began to convulse with the efforts.

Azalea released it with a sigh, forced to free it from another sticky part of her web before it entered the boy’s mouth.  “… There, now, let’s begin again!”  She gave them another smile.  “I’m Azalea, and I need some information.”

“Go to the Pits!”  The elder yelled.

“Hmh … the others were so helpful,” she muttered with a soft shake of her head.  A lock of her thick blue hair lifted into the air, shooting a poison-filled dart at the older Ri’bot.

His joints locked as he began groaning, unable to scream as the painful toxin worked through his blood.

“… W-What did you do?”  The father yelled, glancing between the elder and his son.  “U-Uncle?”

“He wasn’t cooperating,” Azalea said with a slight grin.  “Since he wasn’t helpful, we’ll see how five hours of intense pain feels.  Will you join him, or give me the information I want?”

The father’s tongue slid across his lips, pressing against his two left teeth, but his eyes were focused on his uncle.  “… What do you want to know?”

“Oh, wonderful,” Azalea clapped, “but give me one second.  I need to transform.”


The father and son’s eyes widened into large globes as darkness surrounded Azalea, and her form grew, towering over the three as her sharp legs sank into the mud around them to reposition her weight.

“There we go!”  Azalea giggled, hot air expelling from the plates on her abdomen with a hiss; she leaned forward, opening her mouth to reveal sticky saliva and needle-like fangs as her humid breath pressed against their faces.  “Yes, yes, I’m a Thélméthra.

“Now, first, did the Roxim Clan leave the valley.

“Second, where did you take the humans.

“Third, what are your plans.

“And fourth … you feinted…”

Azalea released another long, frustrated sigh.  “Obviously, you’re not the strong type of Ri’bot that are hunters.”

She would have loved to roll her eyes again, but instead, she opened her mouth, extending her two-foot-long tongue with tiny barbs that she rarely ever used since they weren’t long or powerful enough to penetrate Quen’Talrat’s tough skin.

The sticky organ, usually used to form and shoot complicated web designs or manipulate food in her mouth to her deconstruction organs, pressed against the father’s chest, injecting a toxin to force him awake.

He jolted, sweat suddenly slicking his skin as the quick-acting venom forced his body to rise, and he released a quick, sharp scream, chest heaving rapidly.

Azalea lifted her front left leg, tapping the Ri’bot lightly on the cheek and causing him to jolt with wide-eyed panic.  “Yes, yes, you’re feeling jumpy as a Ri’bot,” she giggled.  “C’mon, scream it out, scream it out … there, feeling better?”

“… Wha … wha … wha…”  His buggy eyes darted left and right, centering on his passed out son.  “N-No!!  K-Kolrm…”

“He’s not dead … yet,” Azalea replied, still tapping him on the cheek in a comforting manner.  “He just passed out, same as you.  Is the induced fear my venom caused easing?  It should be … it wasn’t that strong.”

“W-What do you want?”  He cried, tears now forming in his eyes as he looked at her in panic.

“I told you…”  Azalea moaned, repeating herself.

“… I … I … all I know is that we were told to run to the … to the Otuga Clan,” he wailed.  “I … the … the Chief and Warriors, they … they took the creatures on the rafts…”


“South … all I know is south,” he blubbered, trying desperately to curl into a ball as his frame continued to quake, and his uncle gurgled next to him.

“What’s the plan?”  Azalea chimed, feeling happy she was finally getting somewhere with them.

“… D-Didn’t tell us … we just … just needed to make it there, and … we forgot … we didn’t get my … we needed to get my wife’s fire starter.  I just wanted to … to make her happy.  I just wanted to make her happy…”

“Okay … but I didn’t want to know that.  Last question, and then we’re done!”  Azalea assured.  “Is there anyone left in the valley that would know the plan?”

“… Plan … no, what plan?  No, only the Chief and … and the Warriors, but … no, they hurried everyone out … said … said anyone that went back was to … why me?”  He lamented.

“Ugh,” Azalea pulled away, glancing to the side.  “Well, that answers that.  Unfortunate, but nothing I can do about it.  Still, I should be thorough.”

Turning back to the three, Azalea gave a happy laugh.  “Thank you for the information; unfortunately for you, the Empress says no sparing the Roxim.  Bye, bye!”

The Ri’bot screamed in desperation, and Azalea bent down, biting off his head before moving to the other two; the flavor was as bland as she remembered.

I just can’t understand how Cami likes these things…

Azalea spent the next few hours hunting down and interrogating the remaining Roxim in the valley, ending at the plateau on the far southeastern edge.  She stared down the steep decline that fell over 400 meters.  The sun was beginning to rise, causing birds to fly across the skies, and she noticed many more of the Jukal were swarming.

The mission was to handle everything within the valley, so this went outside that scope, and the father wasn’t lying; not a single one of the seventeen Ri’bot she hunted could give her the answers she was looking for.

A smile lit her cheeks as she turned back to the mound in the far distance.

All the main tasks are done, and now it’s time to explore the big hole!

Backtracking to the area, she found dozens upon dozens of Ri’bot trails heading to the next valley but ignored them since she hadn’t seen any fruitful lead that deviated from the paths.

Transforming into her human-form just before arriving at the fissure, Azalea’s sharp vision penetrated the pit to its depths with a bright grin; she couldn’t see the bottom because of the thick mist that was created from the wide waterfalls that fed into it, some gushing out of breaks in the blackened stone face.

Hundreds of cave openings and breaks in the sheer walls were visible; it was as if the abyss was pulling in the surrounding air, producing a strong downdraft that swirled the cloud of mist into a weaving pattern hundreds of meters below.

“How exciting!”  Azalea squealed.  “I want to know what’s at the bottom, and I still need to explore the area.  Who knows, maybe the Ri’bot found an escape route in a cavern?”  She reasoned to herself, salivating at the thought of what mysteries were below for her to reveal and bring back to the Empress.

She could see many tunnels closer to the surface that her mother or grandmother had crafted, but further below were even more that she didn’t know existed at all.

Who knew there were even deeper tunnels than ours in this valley?  Mom’s gonna be so excited!

Attaching a sturdy line to the thickest nearby tree, she sprinted to the edge and dived off, laughing with giddy elation while falling into the void; she’d never been able to feel such a thrill while alive, but she could tell that jumping from high places was turning into an addiction.

Her toothy grin only increased as the mist drew closer and her web-like hair continued to lengthen; her body was being pulled in rather than blown away, which only increased the extremely rare feeling of something fluttering around in her belly that made her want to scream, and so she did.

Azalea’s squeals of excitement were one of the greatest moments she’d ever felt; the last time she’d experienced this kind of uncertainty lead to her death, and this colossal mystery heightened all of her senses to the maximum as she tried to savor every millisecond of the thrill.  It was for this reason that she noticed the irregularity in the mist.

A dark wave of energy exploded out of the depths, and she was on a collision course, but she was a Thélméthra; Thélméthra rarely ever felt something like fear, and when they did, it was always from their own kind.

Time slowed as her instincts kicked in, and Azalea’s squeals turned to giddy laughter with the unexpected phenomenon that rose from the abyss to swallow her.

She tugged on her hair, feeding strength into her silky-locks to bend her trajectory around the blackness, but knew the strange energy would still pass through her anchoring web.

The impenetrable field slowed, causing Azalea’s jaw to close, and a smirk lit her lips; it shifted its path, curving to follow her descent.

“So, you are attacking me; this is so much fun!”  She yelled.

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She’d expected something like that might be possible, so she’d thrown another silk line to the wall, yanking herself to it as the darkness increased its speed.

Her bare feet landed against the chasm face, and she activated her stealth abilities, shadows swallowing her before kicking off of the wall to the left side of the fissure; air rushed past her skin with the acceleration.

For the first time since she’d changed, she had to restrain herself from releasing a thoughtful hum as the force severed her connection to her anchoring web.  It hadn’t been her strongest, but it was still a feat that most creatures would be unable to accomplish and told her entering it was ill-advised.

The darkness came to a stop upon her vanishing act, but her confidence fell a little as another strange pulse of energy exploded into existence to her right, forming out of nowhere once she’d entered the mist; another dark wave was being sent toward her, trying to smash her against the black rock face.

Ahh … it can use the mist to find me like Vi can track me through atmospheric disturbances.  Well, that’s not good.

Spotting the faint opening of a large fissure in the wall through the veil of white, Azalea launched another rope of web, pulling herself toward it with a hard yank.  Once striking the slick ground, she dashed inside, grinning while the darkness pursued.

There was no damage done to the stone as the wave followed her, but she noticed its failing speed as she hummed one of Tiffany’s songs, dancing up shafts, skimming across deep pits, and smashing through small openings, destroying thin walls that her senses penetrated to enter the deepening cave system.

After three more minutes, Azalea could no longer sense the strange energy, and she slowed to a stop.  A smile brightened her cheeks as she took a moment to mirror Tiffany’s swaying dance.  Flutters swirled through her belly, and her senses were sharper than they’d ever been, catching every drop of water that fell from the moist ceiling and movement of the earth.

This is so much fun!  Who knew there was something moderately dangerous lurking below?  Well, I suppose I should investigate!


Clan Territory Markers

Unmarked Map

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