Branches kept hitting Éldorine in the face. The magic saturation of the plants was still terrible and preventing Éldorine from clearly seeing where she was going. Lyrienne had to keep hold of her and prevent her from running into a tree.
They could not keep this rhythm for too long. It was too dangerous. Sooner or later they would run straight into danger. The flowers had not targeted them directly, whether on purpose or by chance, but not everything in the forest would be as considerate.
They slow down to continue at a brisk pace, careful to reactive their anti-eavesdropping wards. Because of their mad run, they had moved away from the river and now had to correct their course to join back with it.
When Éldorine's dress caught bushes yet again she hissed with annoyance. Lyrienne huffed at her side and she glared at him.
He had the gall to send her a charming smile.
He, of course, was managing to walk around without the indignity of getting his robes caught on things.
While they walked, Éldorine listened intently, but she could not hear anything nearby. The shouts of the faraway fight had quickly been muffled by the heavy atmosphere of the forest, and there was no way of knowing what was happening over there.
Lyrienne's hand took hold of hers and she startled. She glanced up at him, but his gaze was focused forwards as he led them through the vegetation. Éldorine let him guide her and attempted to focus on her magical sensitivity. The forest was just as filled with magic as before, and she could not distinguish the Northerners' magic among all the other lifeforms surrounding them. Which was the only reason why Arianie had been able to surprise them like that.
But it would not do to have a repeat of the experience so she kept trying, trusting in her companion to guide her steps.
It did take them a precious half an hour to finally find the river again. Unfortunately, it did not make walking any easier since there was no path and the bank was muddy and slippery and filled with dangerous lifeforms. More than a vine attempted to surreptitiously wrap itself around their ankles or to snag at their robes. Thankfully, the crafts on their leather and cloth were good enough that they only had to direct some of their magic into them to get a basic ward working. It would be sufficient so long as the plants were just testing the water and not attacking them outright.
Lyrienne was helping her step over a big root when Éldorine magical sensitivity finally picked up something.
Not good at all.
She used their joined hands to drag Lyrienne towards her. He stumbled on the root and fell in her arms, making her lose her balance. They both crashed to the ground. Still, she did not let the shock distract her. She attempted to scramble away while dragging Lyrienne with her. As he was not an idiot, he immediately followed her direction.
They were almost not fast enough.
Gigantic jaws as tall as they were and brimming with sharp teeth closed just a few centimetres away from their legs.
They managed to untangle themselves enough to roll away from it. But then the mud covering the ground made them slide back right towards the creature—one of the sea creatures from the Abyss, the very reason the ritual that had created the Black Forest had been performed!
Éldorine had never thought she would actually see one of the things from up close. It was emanating a terrifying amount of magic and it was looking directly at them with malevolent eyes that should not have been able to see outside of the darkness of the depth.
Lyrienne's hand tightened around her arm, reminding her she was not alone. Together they readied their magic and activating the full power of their warding amulets. The enormous fish moved its tail, ready to propel itself forwards.
A sudden burst of bright magical energy blinded Éldorine, preventing her from observing the assault. She prepared herself for the impact.
It never came.
A huge clash of magic showered their wards with sparks, and the smell of thunder enveloped them.
It took a few very stressful minutes for the magic blinding Éldorine to dissipate. When she could finally see what was going on, she released her breath.
The sea creature had been projected away from them. The kind of antenna that was standing above its forehead and that had been the thing blinding her had been smashed, and it was oozing a disgusting green liquid everywhere. And their saviour, once again some Alyssenne flowers, were enveloping their very long roots around the enormous fish, squeezing it with obvious delight. The magic coming out of it was so bright, anyone without magical sensitivity would be able to see it too for sure. It was immediately gobbled down greedily by the roots, turning them an ominous fluorescent green.
Éldorine turned away from their aggressor to face their saviours and their dubious safety. The flowers were preening their beautiful petals and fluttering them towards each other, obviously very pleased with their catch.
Now would be the right time to run away.
Éldorine almost allowed herself to relax.
Something was wrong with their petals. They were spacer than they should be, with some of them missing or damaged. What could have—stupid question. A sea creature obviously. A very powerful one, to have been able to weaken the plants enough that they had been unable to regenerate their petals. No one of those plants would allow themselves to be seen in public with less than perfect flowers if they had a choice.
And it must have been recent too...
Éldorine stiffened and raised all of her magic as quickly as she could. She projected it forwards in a burst of raw, uncontrolled power. It formed a thin shield between the two flowers and the gigantic reptile that suddenly burst out of the water.
Unfortunately, the reptile just slammed down against her shield and made it burst under the impact.
Yet that had given the flowers enough time to react. They used the roots they had wrapped around some rocks behind Éldorine and Lyrienne as an anchor to project themselves away from the attack. They send a few roots back towards the reptile and attempted to trap it, but the mucus on its skin prevented their thorns from piercing it. Nevertheless, those flowers were quick-thinking, and seeing this would not work they instead bashed on the reptile the still withering body of the creature they had been eating and were still holding. Crude, but enough to push the reptile back a bit.
The creature emerged more fully out of the water and opened a jaw full of teeth that were as tall as Éldorine. It roared. The sound deafened her. That thing was so enormous, it would not even need to chew them! It would easily be able to gobble down a dozen of the fish that had attacked them and still be hungry afterwards.
Lyrienne's arm around her waist lifted her from the mud before Éldorine could think about something to do. He moved the both of them away from the riverbank and the fight that was going on there, but as soon as their feet were on stable ground, Éldorine turned back towards it.
There were only two of the Alyssenne flowers, hurt and exhausted, facing this reptile. They may even have been hurt because they had been distracted by Éldorine's blood and had come to their rescue. She could not fail to repay that debt, no matter how dangerous the flowers themselves were.
She raised her hands to wrap it around the amulet she was wearing. Her palm was scrapped from her fall and her blood was immediately absorbed into the metal. She did not even have to do any effort to activate it.
"Have you completely lost your mind?" Lyrienne hissed in her ear.
She ignored him. She knew her wards would be insufficient against the sea creatures, just as Arianie's had been useless against the flowers. Still, there had to be something she could do.
She desperately cast her mind around for ideas. Direct attacks would obviously not do. The skin of the reptile would repulse any kind she could hope to make without a specialised weapon. But—what if—
She raised her magic again, using the amulet as a template for the form it should take. She then projected it forwards, aiming for the flowers. As expected, the plants' magic was similar enough to her own that she was able to join them both and let her power run alongside the roots. They made a wonderful conduit for her power. The flowers, guessing of her intentions, swirled them around until they managed to encircle the reptile. The animal attempted to escape their hold again. This time though, Éldorine's magic was infusing the thorns.
She felt a vicious satisfaction when their sharpness was enhanced enough to cut deep into the reptile.
The animal had not been expecting it and it let out a great bellow of surprise. It trashed around in an attempt to dislodge the roots, but by now it was too late. The flowers' poison had been injected into the creature's blood. Éldorine could feel it starting to take effect, attacking the reptile nerves and magic, quickly slowing it down, before fully paralysing it. And then, the poison started to flow back towards the roots, bringing the animal's magic with it.
The plants fluttered their petals, excited at their delicious meals. It seemed as if the fight was over.
Éldorine slowly retracted her magic, careful not to startle them and become their next target.
When she paid attention to her own surrounding again, she was startled to feel Lyrienne's arm around her waist. She glanced up at his face to see his worried expression.
The feeling was quickly masked.
"If you are finished with the heroic," he drawled in a tone dripping with irony.
She gave him an annoyed look. "May I remind you exactly whose wonderful idea it was to come here?"
He started to drag her away from the scene and she made no move to oppose him, not unhappy with getting away from the danger.
The plants, however, were apparently unhappy with that action.
As soon as they took a step away from them, the flowers froze in their self-satisfied posturing. Éldorine and Lyrienne mimicked them.
The plants turned their petals in their direction in a slow and eerie move.
Lyrienne's hand tightened against her waist.
"Do not do anything stupid," she hissed. "Those flowers are highly intelligent."
The petals flustered, obviously pleased with her statement.
Wonderful. If any other hope was lost, she would still be able to resort to base flattery.
However, since the plants had yet to actually threaten her, she risked asking, "May we help you?"
The flowers abruptly moved forwards. Éldorine startled before freezing. She had not noticed when they had slipped their roots next to them and they were extremely fast once they had an anchor with which to project themselves. They were now standing directly at her feet, their flowers turned towards her face.
From up close, the damage to their petals was even more obvious. Once the shock and terror of their sudden movement subsided enough, Éldorine started to feel sick seeing the dark liquid oozing from the injuries.
After observing her for a moment, both plants moved past them with slow and exaggerated movements, before stopping to turn their flowers back towards them. The message was pretty obvious. And if they did not want to become dinner, they had better comply.
Éldorine walked towards them, dragging Lyrienne with her.
The flowers started to move again, using their roots to drag themselves along the riverbank.