10. Nuts and Herbs

   After a while the three continued their journey along the dirt path and ended up at the beginning of a forest. The trees were only around 10-15 meters high, and much like everything else Q had seen so far, had a round, spherical look to them. The wind which had accompanied them up to this point seemed to die out around the trees, and along with it the smells and sounds of the distant astralites faded away.

    “Oooh, it’s almost like we entered an instance map.” Q was practically shaking with anticipation at the possibilities that lay ahead. “What kind of monsters do you think we’ll find?”

    “With any luck, easy ones.” Kukis shrugged. “I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not get into another fight so soon. My stomach still hurts a little…”

    “Do you need more healing? I can do more but I won’t be able to heal again for a while.” Sunflower offered to help, but was refused by Kukis.

    “Nah don’t worry about it. You can save that for when we really need it.” She frowned and furrowed her eyebrows for a moment before speaking. “That reminds me Sunflower, is that heal thing a spell you learned from your tutorial or is it something else?”

    “This heal was from choosing the angel race.” Sunflower flapped her wings a little, causing a slight breeze to brush against Q and Kukis’ faces. “I heard from the pretty lady that angels look cute and have healing powers, so I thought more people would be my friend if I chose it”

    “Urgh! My heart…” Q suddenly collapsed on her knees.

    “Oh no! Are you okay Q?” Sunflower rushed to Q’s aid but couldn’t find anything wrong with her.

    “No, it’s nothing.” Q shook her head, but was more shaken on the inside. Every word this innocent little girl says just stabs at my conscience! I can’t believe I made her cry earlier…

    “Looks like she’s suffering from guilty conscience syndrome.” Kukis gave Q a look of disdain. “Come on Sunflower, let’s go ahead and find some monsters since there’s no way Q’s going to let us get any action once she steps into the fray.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Yeah I’m sure. Let’s go.” With that, the two of them walked off into the forest leaving behind a regretful Q.

    It wasn’t until a minute later that Q regained her senses, only to find that both Kukis and Sunflower were gone. Gathering her wits she dusted off herself and made her way through the forest. At this point she was aware of an icon blinking on her toolbar and pressing on it revealed a minimap with two blue dots and one golden one. The blue dots were moving further into the forest while the gold one was herself. What Q found interesting was that the map was completely black but the path that the other two took was beginning to fill in details on it.

    “This might really be an instanced map after all…” For a moment Q thought about following the two of them but decided against it as she forged her own path through the forest. “I’m sure they can handle themselves, especially since Cookie got some unexpectedly strong attacks.” Even now she was still slightly shocked at how the most well-behaved member of their group turned out to be so vicious once she got the chance.

    “Actually if Cookie’s that bad then everyone else might be… ugh.” Simply imagining the destruction her friends could bring to the table was enough to make her dizzy, so she ceased that line of thought and focused on what was ahead of her.

    Continuing the theme of spherical objects, the bushes and leaves which covered them were almost perfectly round. She picked one off of a bush and found that not only did the leaf make a wonderful circle, it was also relatively thick, enough to think of it as a small piece of paper. Intrigued by this she began picking off a few and before she knew it she had a perfect stack of small leaves which somehow counted as an item when she put it in her inventory. “This ecology sure is weird. I wonder how the heck these things were raised to be so circular… or maybe it was just the developers being lazy.” Shrugging her shoulders she continued her leisurely stroll.

    Both because she found the leaves appealing, and because she wanted to test how much she could stack in a single pile, Q continually picked leaves off of bushes, low hanging branches or even on the ground. During this process she had found a small herb hidden underneath a bush. “Oh, that’s the quest item!” Leaning down she picked up a small plant with a blue bulb that opened up once she touched it. “Blue dewdrops huh? I suppose it’s easy to remember.” Q noted as the plant let out a few drops of dew after opening. She put the flower away in her inventory, but was suddenly made aware of a presence behind her.

    Turning around she found an adorable little ball of fur that was currently baring its teeth at her.

    [Squibble] – Level 5

    “That’s so cute!!!” Q felt an incredible urge to lean down and hug it in her arms, but its open hostility kept her from doing so. The squibble leaped at Q trying to tackle her, but she simply side-stepped and caught it mid-air as it was flying by her.

    “You’re a lively one aren’t you?” Q held the squibble by the tail as it squirmed around trying to snap its jaws at her. With a closer look Q found that the squibble was essentially a squirrel in ball form. The limbs were small and stuck out the bottom, wiggling in a way that reminded Q of caterpillar feet. “Not as soft as I thought though.” Saying that she flung it away.

    The squibble squealed as it flew through the air and landed roughly on the ground. Though Q felt slightly remorseful that feeling was thrown away as the squibble threw itself at her yet again. Sighing, Q brought out one of her daggers and stabbed it, then sent a [Spark] through its impaled body. “I wouldn’t feel half as bad if it didn’t look so adorable. Jeez game developers, don’t make the cuties suffer… Oh well. Anything for the XP right?” She muttered in a sarcastic tone.



    *****

    “Hiiyaah!” With a mighty punch, Sunflower defeated another squibble and she did a little victory dance in celebration. “Another one down for me!”

    “And one for me!” Kukis said as she took down a squibble of her own. “I gotta say Sunflower, you’re a lot more competent than I thought.”

   “Thank you,” Sunflower scratched her cheek in embarrassment, “I’m not very strong in real life so my instructor mainly taught me form and technique. In this world I’m able to use a lot more strength than in real life which means I’m now a lethal weapon!” She threw a few fists into the air as if displaying her prowess.

   “That explains why you’re so good at this despite being so young. I bet Q would be super jealous.”

   “Is she a jealous person?” Sunflower tilted her head in confusion. “She didn’t seem to uh… envy me all that much.”

   “Oh she was definitely super jelly,” Kukis smirked, “She’s just really good at hiding it.”

   “Uh- um, should I… do something about it?”

   “Nah, don’t worry about it. This has been a problem since she was young. She’d always try to find something she’s talented in, and fail spectacularly. Actually this one time she tried competing with me in chemistry and I absolutely crushed her! Aah, such fond memories…”

   “…Oh.” Sunflower’s voice became small and she slowly backed away from Kukis.

   “Woah wait, I’m not usually that mean okay? It’s just that Q can be super irritating sometimes… most of the time… actually now that I think about it there’s been almost no instance where she hasn’t been teasing me. What am I even…” Kukis collapsed to her knees as she let out incomprehensible mutterings.

   “Um, don’t feel bad.” Sunflower ended up patting Kukis on the head. “Uh, look here, another Blue dewdrop!” Picking up another plant she placed it in her inventory, and realized that the quest had been finished with that. “It seems like Q managed to grab a lot of her own.”

   “That’s convenient.” Kukis got up and opened up her map. “Let’s see where she ended up… holy crap!” A quick glance at the map showed that Q had managed to make it all the way to the center of the forest, and a large ring of red was around her icon indicating that she was surrounded by enemies. “Come on Sunflower, let’s get over to her quick!”

   “Okay!”

   The two of them rushed to Q’s location and dealt with a few enemies along the path. The strange thing was that a lot of Squibbles appeared but they ended up heading to the center of the forest rather than engaging the two girls. Taking note of this anomaly they sped up their pace and eventually came up to a clearing which held a strange sight.

   In the center of the clearing was a large tree that kept shaking every few seconds, a ginormous ball of fur that kept ramming against said tree, and a small red figure which kept dodging the giant ball. Of course the small figure was Q, and when they looked at the giant ball of fur a notice appeared in their vision.

   [Squibble King] – Level 20

   “How have you aggro-ed a boss already!?” Kukis yelled in exasperation. “It’s just a gathering quest!”

   “Oh Cookie, Sunflower, you’re just in time! Help me clear out the mobs while I farm some acorns.” With a relaxed expression Q smoothly dodged another tackle from the Squibble King.

   As Q mentioned the mobs the two girls looked down and noticed that a large mass of Squibbles were trying to surround Q, but everytime they made an attempt Q would simply sweep her staff low on the ground and send out a few sparks, clearing them away. It was at this point that they also noticed that whenever the Squibble King hit the tree a small cluster of acorns would fall onto the ground, and every so often a particularly shiny cluster would fall and Q would jump over and grab it. “I’ll be honest with you, I have no idea what these acorns are used for but they’re probably somewhat valuable right?” Q said as she dodged yet another attack from the Squibble King.

   “Jeez Q, giving us the most troublesome job…” Kukis was complaining, but she still brought out her hammers and began whipping them at the crowd of squibbles which were trying to form up again.

   “I’ll help too!” Sunflower took a running start, then began to flap her wings and ascended a considerable distance into the air. She then dove down into the crowd of squibbles and punched the ground, sending a shockwave that scattered the crowd apart.

   “Woah Sunflower, you look badass!” Q whistled in admiration. She saw a pair of shiny (and slightly oversized) gauntlets with a smooth round cover around the knuckles which Sunflower was using to punch the squibbles. Although Sunflower wasn’t wearing any specialized boots she would still occasionally kick or stomp on the small creatures. Note to self, Sunflower is slightly vicious. Q noted in her mind as she watched the young girl trample these things with no remorse.

   “Q, behind you!” Sunflower pointed out the Squibble King (who was thoroughly angered at this point) that had a dark aura surrounding its body.

   Q turned around and prepared to dodge, but the Squibble King moved a lot faster than she predicted and she was about to get hit. At the last second one of Kukis’ hammers came flying in from the side and smacked the Squibble King, altering its trajectory just enough that Q was able to dodge it. As the hammer returned to its owner it curved in a half circle hitting some of the squibbles. “‘Don’t let your guard down Q…’ Heheh, hahahah! I can finally return those words to you!” Kukis began to laugh maniacally.

   “Heads up Cookie!” Q yelled as she whipped one of her daggers straight at Kukis’ head.

   For a second Kukis froze up in fear. Is this his revenge? That’s too cruel! While she lamented in her mind the dagger finally met its mark, as a squibble which had sneaked up on Kukis was taken out of the air with the dagger embedded in its forehead. “Heh, don’t let your guard down Cookie.” Q smirked and turned around to attack the Squibble King.

   “GRRR!!!” Kukis stomped her feet in frustration and ended up venting it on the Squibbles which tried to surround her. “I’m definitely going to PK you one day!”

   “Don’t fight you two!” Sunflower tried to placate the other two, but was unsuccessful as the two sent quips back and forth. Despite the words they exchanged neither of them slacked off in their roles and were working in perfect unison as they whittled down the Squibble King’s health. “Oh… if they’re not in any danger I guess it’s fine.” A trio of squibbles tried to jump on her but she used her wings to smack away two of them and caught the third one in her hands. Treating it like a bowling ball she rolled it on the ground hitting a few more in the process.

   In this fashion the three girls successfully culled the herd, leaving only the Squibble King which squealed in anguish as it noticed the last of its brethren had perished. That dark aura from earlier began to flare up and instead of going for a tackle it began to roll on the ground in circles around the tree. The three girls were able to avoid a direct hit but the dark aura seemed to stretch out and hit them as the Squibble King rolled by.

   “Now that’s some sonic speed.” Q laughed despite having her back up to the tree. “Cookie, Sunflower, can you two stop it for a second?”

   “Probably… what are you planning?” Kukis held her hammers aloft and a slight glow appeared around them.

   “A big hit of course. What else would I do?”

   “If that’s the case, then leave it to me!” Before the other two could say anything, Sunflower jumped in front of the path of the Squibble King and yelled, “[Steel Wall]!” She folded her wings in a cross shape in front of her and extended her arms as if they were supports for this wall of feathers. When her arms made contact with her wings they got a metallic sheen, as if someone had spray-painted them with chrome.

   “Can you make a ramp?” Q asked.

   In response Sunflower leaned down and angled her wings to the ground, creating a makeshift ramp. Less than a second later the Squibble King collided with Sunflower, dealing considerable damage, but she gritted her teeth and held on as the Squibble King continued its path and sailed into the air.

   “Nice setup!” Q jumped into the air and activated [Stormbird’s Flight] to fly up and smack the Squibble King even higher up, then began to charge [Gathering Storm]. Q’s timing was on point, as just when the Squibble King began to fall in front of her, [Gathering Storm] activated and she smacked it down yelling, “And here’s a spike!”

   The Squibble King hit the ground hard, making an indent and shaking the earth slightly. Kukis jumped out with the glow in her hammers becoming almost blinding to look at as she brought them both down on the Squibble King, while Q fell from the sky with an electrified staff that she thrust directly into the center of its body. A cloud of dust was swept up with their simultaneous attacks, and when it settled it revealed the defeated Squibble King, and a pair of satisfied girls.

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