The sheer size of the plant was astounding. The plant that had killed the earlier ogre with unprecedented ease was itself fairly sizeable, true, but it was nothing compared to the new plant that had fused itself to Laladi’s body, dwarfing all surrounding trees as it did.
“W-What is that thing?! Wait, you’re not a human?!”
Maho’s surprise was almost enough to make her eyes leap out of their sockets. Not once had it crossed her mind that Laladi, a girl, a stunningly great deal more adorable than anyone else there, could be the same kind of creature Doss had been. Even when they forced the lieutenant of the Demon Lord’s armies to flee, every last aspect of his appearance had betrayed his inhumanity. Laladi looked down at Maho, whose questions were fuelled by her rather understandable confusion, and threw a mocking smirk her way.
“Hm? It looks like there’s a couple of weevils way down there. They look surprised. It’s too bad Lala can’t hear them.”
“Bite me! I know you can hear me!”
Though the provocation was rather blatant, Maho fell for it all too easily. Given the immense difference in altitude, however, there was little she could do apart from gritting her teeth in frustration.
“Hey! Who said you could have a carefree little chat, huh?!”
The first grey guild member to recover from the bizarre sight of Laladi’s new body raised his voice in anger, thinking as many an uninformed bystander would that the two were engaged in some light-hearted exchange of ripostes. Complete stranger to the two that he was, he had no way of knowing that he was dead wrong – that Laladi was indeed mocking Maho, and that Maho was truly, genuinely enraged at the slight.
“Sheesh, just pipe down already. Keep still and let me turn you to nutrients.”
The coldness in her eyes as she looked down on him made him freeze in place. She snapped her fingers, a gesture which she made quite endearing. A flower sprouted beneath his feet without warning, and its petals clamped down on the man.
It didn’t stop there, of course. Hidden by the petals was a voluminous quantity of acid which lied in wait, and only took a moment to completely dissolve the lower half of his body.
“It burns, it burns, it buuuuurns!”
The man’s screams were not alone and were soon accompanied by a great deal more which resounded throughout the area. Trees suddenly sprung into motion, and several grey guild members found themselves impaled by their pointed branches.
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Plants with gaping mouths surrounded the kingdom knights. They splattered them with the same caustic substance that had turned the ogre to mush, and the knights were sent to the floor, writhing and twisting about. Before anyone could properly come to their senses, the imposing forces that surrounded the Master and his associates had been demolished, and all that was left were a slew of people overrun by vegetation.
“You… Can’t be serious right now…”
Longmann looked on while this unfolded. He stood there, completely dumbfounded and as incapable of drawing his weapon as he was of running away. For all the skills he had acquired, he was just another human who had come from a much more peaceful world. Faced with a battle this ghastly – no, this wasn’t so much a battle as a one-sided slaughter – his mind went blank, and he couldn’t conceive of anything to do that might have been appropriate to the situation at hand.
“Longmann, what do we do now?! This isn’t the time to lose your head! Hurry up and put those heathens down!”
Mary’s cry forced him back to reality. The pupils of her eyes were extremely dilated, and the look in them was plain mad. She shoved him with all her might, the force being just enough to make his unusually stubborn body sway. The impact called him back, gasping, to his senses.
“That’s right, we’ve got ogres on our side! Mary, heal anyone who hasn’t taken much damage yet! If they look like they won’t make it, just forget about them!”
“Ogres, charge! Kill them all!”
The ogres’ resounding war cry broke out as they began to comply with his orders. Longmann’s initial plans had included him capturing the fair young Laladi alive instead of killing her, then having fun with her in any way he could imagine. Needless to say, his intent to do so had been completely erased by this point.
An understandable change of heart, really. The kingdom knights were adherents of the Prince’s Faction, a group renowned for its strength, and the grey guild members he had brought along knew how to fight dirty, being unfamiliar with the showier, much more crowd-pleasing kinds of fights. And yet here they were, incapable of so much as raising a finger, their bodies melting away, being devoured by plant-life, and just dropping dead like flies overall.
“Hahah! That’s it! Go, charge!”
The ogres advanced towards Laladi as she sat atop her plant. They heaved daunting cries as they charged, and Longmann found himself so assured of their strength that he let out a laugh. Dangerous though these monsters were, the situation has turned them into pieces more reliable than any other on his board.
“Ogres, huh…? Lala’s getting tired of you.”
The multitude of ogres loping her way did nothing to change Laladi’s expression. From the stalk of her plant peeked out another stalk, which itself began to grow and stretch.
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The newly-sprouted stalk continued to grow bigger and bigger. As it grew, it produced a lone fruit which hung there not unlike a paper lantern and swayed ponderously with each gust of wind.
The source of the murmur went unidentified, but just as it was spoken, the fruit dislodged from the stalk and plummeted down towards the ground. It finally made its impact just before the ogres, who were still in the middle of their savage charge, and was crushed. Immediately there was a bang, a deafening explosion of sound as the fruit burst and an unfamiliar substance burst out in overwhelming quantities.
The ogres’ shrieks could be heard all throughout the forest. The force of the impact sent them flying back, and whatever distance they had covered in their attempted assault was immediately reduced to nothing.
The impact struck more than just the ogres – the kingdom knights and grey guild members who were making commendable attempts to run away from the flesh-eating plants were equally at its mercy. Even Longmann and Mary were not spared by the force that crashed against them.
“Urgh… Uuuuurgh…?! W-What just…?!”
Longmann couldn’t quite figure out what events had just transpired, even as he forced himself up again. Blood dripped down his arm, almost as if he had been pierced by something when the explosion had hit.
He was unsteady on his feet but still found the strength to look around and take in what the explosion had done. The ogres were known for their resilient bodies, bodies which could largely brush off even a Hero’s attack, bodies which were now perforated by several enormous thorns of crude form.
“T-The ogres… They’re already…”
“We don’t stand a chance! I’m leaving, now!”
Now panicking, Longmann tried to call out to them, to make them halt. None of the kingdom knights or even the grey guild members showed even the slightest sign of being willing to heed his orders. Longmann could hardly be called their superior, after all, and he certainly could not be called an ally. It would have been even more peculiar had they chosen to obey. The men turned their backs to Laladi and ran, but it was not long before the plants that hounded them finally caught up, and one by one, they found themselves on the wrong side of a massacre.
“Ugh…?! D-Damn it all…! M-Mary, can you heal me…?!”
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He lurched on his feet and tried to follow after them, but it was just then that pain made itself known to him as blood continued to flow from his arm. Unversed in the arts of healing magic, he turned and called for Mary to help. The first thing that his eye caught was the sight of the woman, her abdomen pierced by another thorn and her whole body pinned to a tree with a noticeably broad trunk.
Longmann had made plenty of experiences during his time with the Hero Party. Among them were plenty of things that he would rather forget, but the death of a companion with whom he had interacted with considerable frequency was too much of a burden for his mind to bear. His knees smacked against the earth, and his stomach proceeded to empty itself of its contents.
“Oh? Where’d all that posturing go to, huh?”
Laladi peered down from her high perch, already belittling his situation. A quick survey of her surroundings proved that there was barely anyone left alive.
The knights and guild members had already been deposited at death’s door, and no cruelty had been spared to get them there. The Master stood in the middle of all this slaughter, his perpetual smile still in place. Maho also stood there, her face host to an entire spectrum of emotions.
Then there was Yuuto, who had gone deathly pale at the sight of Mary’s corpse. They were the only ones there apart from Longmann who were still drawing breath. Everyone else had been killed by a little girl looking down on them from high above.
Once again, it became irrefutably clear just what kind of monster they had raised their hand against.
It would not matter how well-reinforced or thorough his armor was; to that titanic plant, it might as well have been paper-thin. Now fully realizing the threat to his life that was so close by, practically everything below Longmann’s waist became drenched in urine.
“Hmph. Can’t even find anything to say, huh? If that’s really all you can do, ya should’ve never tried to turn against the Master… I mean, you. Taking care of everyone who does is a real drag, you know?”
Just as she spoke, her plant began opening its petals. Hidden behind them was a giant, wide-open maw that by all logic should not have been there. It opened and closed, teeth cracking loudly against one other as if in eager invitation.
Longmann completely forgot about the pain in his arm. The oversized sword he wielded could usually only be swung when held in both hands, but the adrenaline that rushed through his blood enabled him to heft it with just one. The strike that followed was perhaps the strongest he had ever landed since his summoning.
“Sorry to disappoint, but Lala’s plant isn’t soft enough for you to do that. Maybe if you had a sword as good as Ritter’s, you might’ve found a way.”
When Laladi spoke, Longmann fancied that he had heard that name before, though he was unsure where. Ritter, wasn’t that the kingdom’s…?
Whatever thought process he might have had came to an abrupt and forceful end. Just as he had attacked, the plant had bit down on his blade and chomped it to pieces before opening up again and swallowing him whole.
And so it was that the stories of Longmann and Mary of the Hero Party came to an end, courtesy of the dark guild Yelquchira.