Love rolled her eyes amusedly. "Of course Huntsman would call people that." Ariana went on to explain more about what huntsman called people but suddenly pulled Loveline out of the way. Love saw the creature trying to twist its body in the air but the anchor still grazed its shoulder and sent it pirouetting back into the trees.
"Thanks!" Love transformed and got back to back with Ariana. "If the erden are ready to attack, it means we're already surrounded though." True to her words, more creatures leaped out of the trees. She swung her scythe, sweeping them out of the air before they landed on them. Other erden landed on the grass, their frames reaching up to the girls' waists. They swatted at them with their long limbs and Love swatted back with her scythe, blocking some powerful swings with the handle. The scene of the leaping monkey things would play out the same on Ariana's side.
“Surrounded, eh?” Ariana stood her ground, swaying her anchor as the strange apes leaped to the ground. A powerful arm swung and she parried with her own, leaving a stinging spot and making her stumble to the side. “They’re stronger than they look! Still though, they didn’t know not to surround me! Duck and shoot, Love!” Ariana grew her anchor to double its current mass and began to spin, swinging it in a great circle to strike all around her. She hoped Love would get what she meant and shoot any that evaded her swinging!
Following Ariana's instructions, Love ducked under the massive anchor. "Patter 2: Daisy Wave!" Aiming at the creatures that jumped away was harder what with the length of her scythe making it awkward to hold it ducked down. But she still fired daisy wave, a simple pattern of 12 white sparks and a yellow tracker flying out like a shotgun blast.
It wasn't enough to finish them off. Seeing the danger of approaching them, the erden started throwing rocks. Small ones at first, more annoying than painful in their magical girl forms. Soon came bigger rocks that Love deflected and shot down as best as she could, but they were followed by even larger stones she had to start avoiding. Then branches started flying at them from above, their strength letting them rip off the big and thick ones as reinforcements showed up.
Ariana stumbled when a rock hit the side of her head. It was just enough to throw her off balance, and she released her anchor to avoid sweeping Love with it. It went flying off into the woods and before she could summon another, she was being pelted with branches. The bigger ones actually hurt, leaving bumps and scratches where they struck. If she was Arthur, she would summon up an ice dome. But she didn’t have that kind of control over her cold. Instead, she picked a direction. “Behind me! We’re pushing through!” Ariana pointed forwards, down the path they were already moving. She started off with a wave of sheer cold, leaving frost on everything it touched and withering the plants it passed. In its wake, she followed, lowering her body to barrel through any apes that got in her way.
Ariana decided to break through the surrounding erden. "I've got your back." Love said. She ran behind her, firing at monkeys in the trees. She could hear them giving chase, yelling through the trees but their cries grew quieter and quieter until she could finally not hear them all.
"I think we lost them." She said. Then she saw why they were gone.
Just ahead of them lay a pack of sleeping leunde, creatures that looked like a cross between a doberman and a lion if you forcefed it steroids for a whole year. They must have gone from the erden's territory and straight into the pack's territory. Leunde packs weren't that big, the one ahead of them consisting of only 10 members, and they were nocturnal predators that preferred sleeping through the day. Still, running into a whole pack wasn't going to be a walk in the park and it's not like they could go back without the monkey critters starting round two.
"The trees are gonna make this difficult, but I think we should sneak past them," Love suggested.
The erden couldn’t stop Ariana’s charge, and the trees didn’t do much more to slow her down. “Ow! Ow!” She muttered as an entire trunk shattered on her forearms, spraying her with splinters. She only slowed when the hoots and cries began to fade, stopping when large figures came into view littering the ground. “Whoa, what are those?” She whispered to Love. “Sneaking isn’t my forte… but it shouldn’t too hard.” Ariana hovered a few inches off the ground and moved slowly, keeping an eye out for eye-height branches.
Good thinking. Loveline followed Ariana's levitating scheme. Lowering the sounds they were making to barely anything made sneaking a helluva lot easier. That's why a sudden growl scared the pants off her.
Turning around quickly with her scythe at the ready, she saw a leunde thrashing about, as if it was having a bad dream. Letting out a sigh of relief, she motioned for Ariana to keep moving forward. The creature's nightmare wasn't as fortuitous as Love first thought however. In its turbulent rest, it kicked one of its neighbors. Being woken up like that certainly made it grouchier than usual, so when it noticed a pair of intruders, it didn't hesitate to start barking loudly. The rest of the pack was now alarmed and waking up to see what the disturbance was all about.
Ariana paused when Love did, but not for the same reason. She recognized the sound of a dog having a nightmare. “Poor puppy…” She whispered to Love. As much as she felt bad, she also noticed how it was at risk of waking up. “We need to keep moving.” She said, but it was already too late. The thrashing creature struck one of its comrades, and at least one of them was awake. Ariana made a snap judgement. More would wake up soon, but she had a moment before they did. She thrust out her palms in both directions, making blasts of icy wind that would leave ice over whatever they touched. She hoped to ice over the sleeping dogs, keeping them pinned down momentarily while they dealt with the ones who were still mobile or fled.
"Quick thinking. But it won't hold them forever." All but two of the lion-dogs were trapped, struggling under their blankets of ice. Ariana had made the right call there. If she'd decided to run again, they would've been in trouble. Their bodies have a cat's agility, equal to that of the erden, but they are much faster. Trying to run in a forested area like this would've just made them fun prey. But as she was keeping them under wraps, this gave Love a chance to finally be the more useful one.
"Hold them off for a bit, please!" She asked Ariana and started concentrating. The free leunde weren't going to wait for the rest of their family to get up. They both lunged at the closer threat, Ariana, a terrifying two-pronged attack with sharp teeth aimed at her arms.
“On it!” Ariana gleefully yelled. Holding off monsters and keeping people safe, that’s what she did best! “How did she do it…” Ariana muttered, slipping into a boxing pose. Their massive teeth came close, and she stepped in. One great punch flew out, right at the creature’s nose. The other dog she only met with a wave of frost coming from her foremost foot, trying to make it slip instead of reaching her.
The punch sent a shock through the creature's whole body and then send it flying. The other creature tried rushing at her but the second it made contact with the ice, it lost balance. They were not adapted to snowy and icy environments so it couldn't catch itself as it skidded across the ground. But it didn't need to. The beefy frames of the rest of the pack was enough to finally break out of their entrapment.
With vicious snarls, the entire pack of leunde charged toward Ariana and Loveline, but before they could reach them, came to a screeching halt. With a yelp, the entire pack turned around and ran in the opposite direction, including the two that Ariana had just grounded.
"Phew." Love let out a sigh of relief. "Glad I got the right smell. Leunde have some predators they really don't want to mess with, so I illusioned up their scent to scare them off. Much better than trying to fight them or, god forbid, trying to run through the forest with such agile creatures."
She detransformed. "We should be safe for now. We should let our mana regenerate while we can."
“There’s even bigger stuff in here that eats those guys? This place is great!” Ariana grinned and dropped her own form. “I’ve actually been working on that. I can keep it up really long now! I do workouts like this and even take naps, just you know, to keep it going when I’m not focusing on it!” She flexed to show off the results of her workouts, so far just little bumps where her biceps would continue to grow in the future. “Really cool trick there, by the way. Smart thinking!”
"That's impressive. I never would've thought to try napping transformed." Love admitted. Then she got a mischievous smile. "Admit it, you just fell asleep transformed once," she said while feeling Ariana's firm but still growing muscles. Then Ariana complimented her, causing Love to blush.
"Thanks! Arty took me on mini adventures in these places plenty of times so I managed to learn a lot about creature likes and dislikes," Love said grabbing her bottle of water. "But I doubt I could've made them all smell it without you holding them off."
“No, I really did it on purpose! I got the whole idea from an anime Cosmina showed me.” Ariana insisted. She took the opportunity to drink as well, leaning back on a tree and looking to the sky. She watched clouds for a bit before raising an eyebrow. “You can do smells? I thought it was only sights and sounds! Illusions are amazing, aren’t they?”
"She sucked you into anime, ha? I bet it was one of the Lovely Magi series. They inspired me to do that whole transformation chant. But I keep thinking I need to change it to make it cooler" Loveline said. She watched Ariana leaning back, so casually and cool-like. She was unfairly cute! Aaaah, don't stare, you'll make it weird! Oh, good, she's asking a question! A good distraction!
"Yep. I can do it all! It is pretty amazing, but I can still only make stuff the way I experience. Like, a colorblind person could easily see through my illusions because they'd be in color. Or a person who doesn't have a sense of touch who actually felt something. Or maybe if someone sees auras they'd know everything's fake since I would know how to recreate those. I would be in a lot of trouble then!"
“Nah, it was Dragonball. Cosmina said shoonen was more up my alley, whatever that means.” She said. “Huh… so you can’t fake food you’ve never eaten? I need to take you on a culinary tour! I’ve been all over the planet, so I know all kinds of foods I bet you’ve never seen!”
"Heh, not sure why I'd fake food." Love smiled. "But you know I'll never say no to a new experience. Any particular foods come to mind?" She asked while putting away her water.
Now, which way were they supposed to go? All the action and running away knocked them off-course. She retraced their steps in her mind before settling on a course. There were surprisingly few stray creatures around for the rest of the way. A few more serene animals or some lone predators that knew better than to mess with them. The two chatting and joking around along the way made the trek go by in a flash for Love. Eventually, she finally noticed what they were looking for!
"Look!" she pointed at a white structure, built almost like a miniature Aztec temple sculpted out of white marble that was now being reclaimed by earth once more. Still, despite its half-buried state, the entrance was visible even at a distance. "That should be a ruin we're looking for! Come on!"
She ran over to it, but was brought to a stop before a faintly shimmering wall. Uh oh. "It looks like this one is part of level 3... We could go looking for a different one in this level. Or, if you want, we can try going in!"
“So you can have any meal you want without gaining weight! Come on, it’s amazing!” Ariana hopped after. “First off, there’s real Indian curry. It’s different all over India, but I like all of them! There’s also a lot of nice stuff in China that they don’t serve over here. I like chicken feet, they’re better than you’d think. Oh, and actual Italian pizza!” Ariana was nearly drooling. She was snapped out of her daydreaming about food when they came across the ruin. “What’s that mean? That it’s more dangerous?” She perked up, looking past the barely-there wall. “Can we even get in if it’s higher-level?”
"Of course we can," Love answered. "These serve two purposes. To make sure the monsters can't roam around settlements, and to warn people about where the stronger monsters are. Ignoring the warning is just a matter of if you think you're strong enough." She hopped a few times back and forth through the barrier to demonstrate. She figured the two of them were strong enough for it, but Ariana was the guest here. If she thought the creatures so far were a challenge, she should have to right to decide if they go in!
“We can? Sweet! Let’s do it!” Ariana didn’t hesitated to stride right over the line. “Honestly, I was kinda worried this would get a little boring if we did something too easy. And hey, it’s not like 3 is that dangerous. There’s like, 5 levels, right? Something like that?” She floated right up to the ruin, examining it closely. There was magic here, old and new. It made her skin bump up all over, a shudder of excitement. This would put a spark into the date!