"Hey, I'm not from here either." Love responded to the 'you guys...'. "But I guess? You'd have to ask Arthur for specific history details. I only know the very basics." Love felt embarrassed that she didn't know enough to answer all of Ariana's questions. She wasn't expecting an office either, that's for sure. This was starting to feel more like urban exploration than Elyssa's weirdo ruins.
Loveline looked at the dirt Ariana showed her. "I feel the same mana from the dirt outside. No idea what that does for it though." She looked around a bit longer, but saw nothing else of interest.
"Well this was disappointing. Should we go back and try a different path or did you have other ideas?"
“Oops, sorry, I forgot that.” Ariana rubbed the back of her head, immediately looking for something to dispel the awkward pause. “Huh, so it’s special dirt? I wonder if this whole place was for research. Research on magic dirt.” Ariana looked a little disappointed, but she was glad that Loveline shared the feeling. “I dunno, you’re the idea person!” Ariana tapped on the walls to look for any loose stones that might suggest a secret passage. Research facilities could still have those, right? If she couldn’t find any, she would suggest they sneak back out.
The walls were as solid as they looked. Knocking, pushing, and pulling all had the same effect. Nothing. This was just a weirdo ancient research lab. Love and Ariana met in their disappointment. It was probably worse for Loveline though. She promised exciting ruins and, aside from that waterslide, they didn't see much else. But hey, they only just got in here, who knows?
When they decided to go back, Loveline peaked out first. The rabbits seemed to still be asleep, thankfully. They retraced their steps, doing the same sneaky movements from before, and they managed to get out and back to the crossroads without incident. After talking it over, Ariana ended up pointing to the red line this time. And so they were off.
Not too far from the crossroads, another door appeared. This one was already slightly ajar. But it seemed to want to stay that way. Pulling the lever to open it did nothing.
"Maybe it's malfunctioning?" Love suggested. She peered through the opening, slightly thinner than her head, but it was also darker inside than outside. She could see some sparkling inside though. Maybe they actually found treasure this time!
“Can you become skinny enough to slip through?” Ariana asked Love. Then again, that didn’t help her even if Love could, unless there was another switch on the other side. “You know what, step aside. Can your illusions mask sound?” She asked, transforming into her gem form. If Love could hide the sound of it, she would begin shoving and try to pry the door open by force.
Loveline could indeed squeeze in, but that wouldn't have helped Ariana get inside. Particularly dangerous if there were other monsters inside. Ariana's second plan was actually much better.
Loveline nodded and focused on the sound of silence, as awkward as that sounded, and projected it around. Ariana's great strength let her tear open the door with relative ease, and she did it without a squeak being heard. With more light coming in from the outside, Loveline could see there were rows of something metallic on the walls, but not much else.
"Alright, my turn." She transformed as well and raised her scythe. A gem sticking from the top started glowing, illuminating the inside of the curious room. The metallic things lining the wall turned out to be tools. Seemingly simple tools, shovels and pickaxes and the like, though closer inspection revealed they had more runes engraved on them. Magically infused, just as they had seen in several places before. There were also some carts and wheelbarrows in the back.
"A storage shed?" Love asked. not even one of infinite size or anything. No magical weapons as far as Love could see. "Well, we can loot some of these, I suppose. Use them to start a farm." She quipped. "Or maybe sell them; they do seem fancier than regular tools."
“That is such a cool trick. You’re a natural ninja.” Ariana complimented Love when the door came to a stop against the wall. “Woah! Now these are cool!” Ariana flew up to examine the tools more closely. “What do you think the magic on them does?” She grabbed a pickaxe and gave it an easy twirl. “Sell them? Shouldn’t they go to, like, a museum? This stuff seems pretty historical, although I still don’t quite get it.”
"A museum? That could also work, but they seem too well maintained to me. I wouldn't think these are ancient tools. Look, not even any rust." Indeed, the metal was spotless. Thought Loveline didn't believe longevity was all they were enchanted with. So she took a shovel and struck the ground with it. The shovel's blade sunk into the ground with ease.
"Hey, I actually think these would be super useful for any work, really. I could even use these in my garden! Although..." She looked across the racks. "No, they don't have any smaller ones. These are all too big for a home garden. Oh, but look!" She pointed at a shelf squared away in a corner. It contained a bunch of glass bottles of increasing sizes, much like the ones in the soil lab.
Aside from all these tools, there was nothing else in the room. They only had one more path left to explore, once Ariana was satisfied with this room.
“Use the big ones to plant trees!” Ariana insisted, keeping the pickaxe to use as a weapon. “Don’t you want your ancient stuff to look well-preserved? I’ve seen cool stuff like that in museums.” Ariana shrugged. She didn’t really know much about the science and history of it. She just liked seeing cool stuff. “As dangerous as you said these places were, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of actually dangerous stuff…” Ariana mumbled. “But at least there’s loot?” She kept twirling her pickaxe as they returned to the hub, acting like a marching band leader.
"Hey, that is true. I think. Preserved tools would draw the eye more." Loveline nodded. "Though, heh, you never told me you were into museums. I always thought they were too... Informational. I guess we're learning something new about each other." She tried to put her arm under Ariana's while Ariana twirled her prize with the other.
They soon got back to the crossroads, where only one path remained unexplored. Following the green line, they reached the last room. After opening it, they saw a jungle. What used to be a jungle at least. Dried flora Love recognized as oversized food plants rose from cracked ground. Corn and various fruits, some weirdly shaped and lumpy pumpkins, plants Love had never seen on Earth, all big enough to put trees to shame. Vines hung limply from them, obscuring the way forward, and more yet littered the ground like empty veins. Some animal skeletons rested or hung among them.
As she stepped in, Loveline's nose was assaulted by the smells of freshly cut grass and fresh compost, mixing into a nasty cacophony of scents. "Ugh, I don't like the look of this place. But I think I see another door past all those vines. Hope there are no more dangerous animals nesting here..."
“Did you just call me dumb? I resemble that remark!” Ariana joked, punching Love in the shoulder. “But nah, I care about history stuff. Makes it easier for me to pay attention.” Ariana explained, her voice immediately falling silent when they entered the garden, or rather, the jungle. “This doesn’t smell old…” Ariana murmured to Loveline. She edged away from any tree where animal skeletons hung. She had bad feelings about what got them up there. “Stay clear. I think those might be predatory trees. Even if they’re dead. Undead predatory trees.”
Loveline nodded when Ariana told her to stay away from the trees. It might be hard considering it was a dense growth, but as long as they didn't brush up against any of them, it would be alright, right?
Wrong. They obsessed over the trees so much, they failed to notice the real danger was right under their feet. Literally. Ariana stepped on one of the vines littering the ground, and it came to life almost instantly. It tried to wrap around her leg and, if it succeeded, it would start draining her of her life energy while slowly regaining a more vivid green color. Other vines crawled languidly toward the girls, having sense energy flowing into them from that direction.
Ariana was, for a moment, proud of herself for calling it when the vines came to life and entangled her leg. Then she felt the cold rush of her energy pouring into its vine. If it was gonna drain her, it might as well take her magic full on. She unleashed a full blast of cold, all force and no finesse, at the vines. The temperature around her skipped zero, dipping low enough that water in the air immediately became ice. “Whoops… sorry Love.” She mumbled, whether it worked or not.
Loveline jumped back, more to avoid Ariana's blast at this point than the vines themselves. At least Ariana's move worked. For a moment... Bt the ice soon started dissipating, the vines having absorbed the mana inside it. Plus, more vines started approaching the now even larger beacon of vitality in their vicinity. That is, until one of the vines touched something one of the girls dropped.
A vial of soil they picked up from the first room, cracked against the hard earth. The mana-rich dirt grabbed the attention of the vines long enough for Love to pull out Ariana and to back away into the safety of the hallway.
"That didn't go so well. Charging through all those vines might be harder than we thought."
Ariana yelped when grabbed and pulled back. She was expecting to use her attack as an opening to barrel forwards, not for retreat. But hey, that’s what the smarter people were for. She added her own speed to Love’s, carrying them out of the room in moments. “Aw man, they can even eat my ice? That’s a pain.” She complained, but she was already seeing something that might be an opening. “Hey, are they going after the dirt we picked up in the other room?” She asked, holding up the rest of the vials. “They are! That’s bait!” She said excitedly. She pitched one of the vials at the far wall, hoping to lure the vines away so that they could make a break for it.
"Oh, good idea!" Love exclaimed when the vines lashed out toward the enchanted soil. Her excitement died down very quickly though. There just wasn't enough soil there to keep them occupied and the vines went back into a more dormant state just a few seconds later.
"Ugh, I think that's our safest bet, but we're gonna need more of that soil. At least we know where to get more though, right?"
“That we do! Just… through the bunnies again. Two trips.” Well that sounded a bit risky. “Just do what we did last time and we’ll be just fine!” She led them back to the bunny room, pausing to scan it. Were they still sound asleep? “Hey, are they nocturnal or something?” She whispered to Love.
"I don't know; Arty fought them around dusk though. So we might have an easy go of this." Loveline said optimistically. And sure enough, when they got back to the first room, the rabbits were still asleep.
"Hehe, alright, seems we're in the clear for now," Love whispered before transforming. She wasn't going to get dirt under her nails just to dig out some dirt. "If you make a large container for the dirt we dig up, we should be able to get as much as we need." Loveline proceeded to swing her scythe at the ground. And nothing happened. The tip failed to pierce the ground at all. "Uh oh..." She said. If even she couldn't even dig in her scythe, how did the previous inhabitants manage to collect the dirt?
“Okay, so they might be… creep puscular.” Ariana tried to remember the word that Becky taught her. “That means they’re active at dawn and dusk.” She explained. “I can’t make anything but anchors out of ice. Here, let’s do this.” She set her backpack down and pulled out some empty bottles. “I was gonna use these for catching bugs, but they can hold dirt!” She declared. It was with excitement that she saw Love swing her scythe. It was always cool to watch it move. Then it simply bounced off of the hard-packed dirt, not even making a scratch. Ariana stared for a second. Then she began to laugh. “Ahahahahahahaha! That’s great! Ahaha, try the, eheeee, this thing.” She waved the shovel she had taken from the other room. So that’s what the magic tools were for!
"Oh, that would explain it," Love said. "Well, we already have your shovel so you can start digging right away if you want. I'll go back there and grab a shovel too. And a wheelbarrow so we can carry a lot of dirt!"
With that, Garnet Rainbow ran back into the hallway. If Ariana started digging without her, she'd soon hear stirring behind her. And then a shadow would appear below her, growing more and more until one of the sleeping monsters landed where she was digging, woken up by the sounds of work.
“Alright! Let’s get a lot for those hungry plants!” Ariana called and began shoveling. The dirt that had so easily repelled Love’s blade yielded to the enchanted shovel, and she happily shoveled away, not hearing a thing as she was crept up upon. But she did see, and the darkness falling over her was easily noticed. It took her a second to put it together, then another to sort out her course of action. Just as the creature lunged, she spun, swinging her shovel right for its face to slap it away. She was transformed partway through the swing, imparting her full force into the attack.