Millium and the others continued their trudge back towards the walls of the Light Palace, now only a short hike away, resting peacefully in the distance. Behind them the looming form of the monstrous tree-like creation that Lapis had summoned continued to writhe and ooze, slowly encroaching more and more on the surrounding land and growing larger.
Most of the group had kept relatively quiet, with bits of chatter here and there from the older members of the group, namely Grusbalesta, on what they were going to do next. Zero was looking worriedly over to Kaguya, who was still retaining the form she had achieved after awakening the power of her past life.
Ryula, it seemed, was the only one who had remained inexplicably positive throughout the entire event, constantly sidling up to Millium and wrapping his arm around hers.
“Are you feeling weak again? I can try to carry you if you like.” Millium offered, though he was admittedly just as exhausted and defeated as everyone else was.
“No.” Ryula answered sweetly. “I just want to be beside you.”
“Are you...alright?” Millium finally asked. “You’ve been acting somewhat strange since the fight.”
“It’s like I said before.” Ryula explained. “We fused. Our hearts became one for a time. We’re to be together now, forever, as a symbol of our fusion.”
“You mean like...love?” Millium asked. A few steps ahead, Nyarlathotep, with her wolf-like ears, had heard overheard the conversation and couldn’t help but snicker. Ryula only nodded in answer, her pale face blushing slightly. Millium, rather flummoxed at the revelation, wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to the girl. He had lived as a prince in the shadow of his heroic father and mother. Any time that wasn’t spent studying he spent training for the day his own adventures would come with Master Zero. Sure, there might’ve been one or two times he’d spied a pretty girl in the town, but he’d never been in love before.
“I...I don’t.” He stammered, embarrassed and attempting not to draw the attention of the others in the party. “I mean, we barely know each other.”
“I felt your heart when we fused, I saw your true nature. You...you didn’t see mine?” Ryula protested, her voice warbling slightly.
“No.” Millium answered, unable to look her in the eyes. “I was trying to keep focused to make sure we didn’t come apart during the fight. It all happened so quickly,...I...I just wanted to make sure everyone was safe.”
“Fusion is...rare among dragonoids.” Ryula began to explain dejectedly. “I wasn’t even sure it was possible with humans. Its not only a physical bond, but a metaphorical one. Only two who are alike in spirit can achieve it. My people believe that those who fuse are destined to be together.”
“I’m...sorry.” Millium managed. “I really am. I don’t know what to say. There’s just...too much happening, we’ve still got a dangerous fight ahead.” He sighed before continuing. “If you really...feel that way about me. Then you’re going to have to realize that I’m human. I’m not one of your people. There’s a lot we still don’t know about each other.”
“I...” Ryula hesitated before answering. “I don’t know if I entirely understand...but I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? Perhaps we should learn more about each other.”
“Alright, alright!” Almerius called out suddenly, startling the entire group. “We’re nearly back to the palace. Grusbalesta and I have been talking about a few things, namely that giant tree on the horizon.”
“It’s obvious that the true enemy has revealed himself. He also appeared to capture Alice with that sword.” Grusbalesta continued where Almerius had left off. “We only barely managed to defeat Alhama’at and now it seems Lapis has added his power to his own. This fight is going to be unlike any other before, but for the moment, Lapis himself is choosing not to engage us.”
“That’s right.” Almerius again took over. “We don’t know why, but we’ve got to take advantage of it. Things could get very messy, so we’ll need to work with Grimm to organize some kind of evacuation to get everyone who isn’t fighting to a safe place.”
“What safe place is there left?” Zero interjected. “That tree is growing bigger, it looks like it could swallow up the entire planet with enough time.” Almerius and Grusbalesta were silent for a moment, as truthfully they hadn’t come up with a solution to that issue yet.
“Actually, hehehe.” Nyarlathotep began. “There’s a place that tree can’t reach that’d be perfect.”
“What’re you talking about, red girl?” Lumia demanded, ever suspicious of the creature.
“That tree is swallowing up all the land, right? Then the answer is simple. We just need to go somewhere not on land, hehehe it’s no lie.” The cthulhu’s mouth spread into a wide toothy grin as she cast a gaze over to Almerius. “Provided of course, that you don’t mind taking a nap again.” At the Cthulhu’s words, Almerius’ expression picked up a bit, as she realized what Nyarlathotep had meant.
“What are you on about, red girl? This better not be a trick.” Doubtful as ever, Lumia protested to the conversation.
“Hehe, what I’m saying is, that we’re going to need to keep all the people safe, but we’re also going to need to get at Yggdrasil right?”
“I’d prefer not to die trying to get past all those roots, yes. Most of us can’t fly after all.”
“So, don’t you remember? Back in the old days? There was a place that would be perfect for both of those things. It’s no lie, hehehe.”
“Refarth!” Lumia exclaimed understanding at last.
“It’s not a bad plan.” Zero admitted. “But it’s one we need to enact quickly. Refarth crashed in a lake years ago.”
“And who knows how much time we have before its swallowed up by Yggdrasil.” Charlotte added.
“We also still need to inform Lord Grimm and Lady Pandora, we can’t just drop everything for this” Grusbalesta reminded, adjusting his glasses.
“Plus we’ve got their kid. That seems fairly important. And resting might be a good use of some of this time as well.” Moojdart said, lazily floating in front of the others.
“More important than rest.” Milest chided. “Lapis could decide to attack while we seek out Refarth. Most of us should stay behind, while a small splinter group recovers the castle with Almerius’ stone form.”
“Then it’s settled.” Lumia said, snapping her fingers, a renewed hope in her eyes with a plan formulated. “You all can return to my bro-the king. And Red Girl and I will head to Refarth with Almerius.”
“I can go by myself, hehehe, it’s no lie.” Nyarlathotep suggested.
“The fact that you’d even suggest that, only makes me distrust you more.” Lumia snapped back. “But if we’re going to Refarth...” Lumia snapped her fingers and a curiously dressed young man appeared from a puff of smoke. His grey and blue ornate clothing suggested some sort of nobility, but the man’s immediately recognizable tone belied that entirely.
“You called...master?” The boy said rather disdainfully. “What need do you have of I, the great Mephistopheles.”
“Demons, Lumia? Really?” Nyarlathotep chided wryly.
“Shut up, like you’re so high and mighty.” She snapped before returning her attention to her demon servant. “I need you to go to the elven village and find the elf called Melfee. Bring her to us.”
“Tch. If I have to.” The demon sighed before again vanishing.
“Alright everyone! Let’s get moving.” Zero corralled the members of the group returning to the Light Palace, as they quickened the pace. Seizing a moment, Lumia stopped Millium, Ryula now distancing herself from him for a bit.
“Before we split up I need to talk to you about something. You’re like your dad and I, with the Fairy Tales I mean. Our family has that in our blood. But you’re not just us. You’re your mom too. That’s where your ancient power comes from, I think. Your mom. Lapis, he...he uses a power that’s kind of like hers. I think that in order for us to win, for us to free Alice. We might need to see that side of you too.”
“Mother’s...power? I think I understand, auntie. I’ll be heading back home with the others then.”
“Ah, and don’t tell your mother I told you about that!” Lumia added as she and Nyarlathotep split off from the rest of the group.
Thankfully the glade surrounding the lake where Refarth had crashed several decades ago wasn’t too far from the direction of the Light Palace. The creeping encroachment of the corrupted Yggdrasil’s sinister roots had not traveled quite that far across the land yet, so the glade seemed to be in a state of rather peaceful ignorance to the disastrous events outside its forest’s walls.
Nyarlathotep held up Almerius, now returned to her stone form, looking at the stone with wide, hungry eyes.
“Hehehe, y’know in the old days I probably would have eaten you if I found you like this.” She said to the shimmering stone. “But now...well I really hope things just work out, hehehe. It’s no lie.” A faint breeze rustled the grass and the branches of the glade, and brought a peculiar smell to Nyarlathotep’s nose. Familiar, but not native to the woods. It was a smell she had once tried to imitate when she had stolen its owner’s name.
“Hehe, so you came too huh?” Nyarlathotep shook her head nonchalantly. “I guess Grimm must have told you.”
“I’ll have you know...” The woman began to explain as she emerged from behind the brush. “I only hid because I don’t trust you.” The voice belonged to the true Red Riding Hood, who straightened her cloak and hood as she stood up. Her long golden hair was tied into thick braids and her green eyes shone with a gentle kindness even as she eyed Nyarlathotep suspiciously.
“You don’t trust me? Hehehe, that sounds like the words a liar might use, hehehe.” The cthulhu grinned widely, mocking the fairy tale. “I’m here to revive your old home aren’t I? At least have a little faith, hehehe. It’s no lie.”
“That’s all the more reason why I should be here isn’t it?” Red Riding Hood reasoned, crossing her arms.
“Nostalgic, isn’t it? Hehehe.” Nyarlathotep’s eyes shone with an unnatural hunger. “Perhaps I should eat you up, for old times sake? Hehehe.” Nyarlathotep bared her sharp teeth.
“Oh? Last time we fought I believe I’m the one who won out, or have you forgotten?” Red Riding Hood smiled in response to her dark counterpart.
There was a moment of silence as the two stared each other down, an air of friendly competition strong between them, before they both relaxed their pose again.
“I suppose we’ll have plenty of time for that after the world is safe.” Red Riding Hood said.
“Only if we both survive, hehehe.” Nyarlathotep added.
“Hey! I’m back with Melfee!” A voice called from a ways a way, as Lumia’s shape came bounding through the forest brush accompanied by two others. A calm eyed looking elf, and a very annoyed looking demon.
The three arrived and greeted the two ‘Hoods’. “Good to see you again, Melfee.” Red Riding Hood said. “Are you...doing alright?” Red Riding Hood tried to skirt around asking the question directly, for fear of reminding Melfee of the death of her teacher.