1.21

Posted by cameron - 2022-09-07 12:04:03

Root didn’t like to throw around the term “worst-case scenario” lightly; she had faced a whole host of mediumly-bad case scenarios in her life, and even a hearty helping of closing-in-on-worst-case scenarios, such as her mother dying or her whole house and farm and older sister sliding down the gullet of a massive spirit. But it could always be worse. Root was kept well aware of this fact because, in most instances, it did get worse after the dust settled on the first wave of bad things, like the water slurping off down the beach between a first tsunami and an equally bad second tsunami. Root’s whole life had been riddled with bad things, quick breaks to catch her emotional-metaphorical breath, and then follow-up bad things. This moment was certainly no exception, but still Root was hesitant to call it the worst-case scenario. It was far from ideal, but Root still had all her essential parts inside and/or attached to her body, and was walking and talking and thinking and living. Those factors should not be quickly discounted; for a while there they were spinning high up in the air on the back of fate’s coin. Ophylla turning up at this horribly inopportune moment, then, was more accurately one of those closing-in-on-worst-case scenarios, with the coy potential to slip into something a little more disastrous if so inclined.

Ophylla still stood well away up the hill, but Root could feel her eyes on her—those eyes like swirling silt in a riverbed, fixed on the mirror in her hand. It was still uncovered from their dash back through the tunnels when they’d used it as a guide. There was no point concealing it now. They wouldn’t be able to lie.

They could still run. Ophylla guarded the far side of the dell, but if they were quick they might skirt by and outrun her.

It struck Root that she’d never actually seen the spirit woman move more than a few feet at a time; from the door to her desk, from the corner of the abandoned barn into the middle of the floor. She’d never watched her cover any notable expanse of ground. Was she blindingly fast? Was she embarrassingly slow? Root had a clear preference on the matter, but she didn’t expect it was up to her—and frankly, she wasn’t going to hope one way or the other, for fear of circumstance laughing in her face. Better not to chance it, then.

So if they wanted to cross her, they’d have to fight. Surely Ophylla wasn’t going to hear any counter-deals.

But was all that fuss even worth it? Lying to her face or running off and disappearing was one thing. It would’ve been so easy. But to come to blows over some trinket that, at least consciously, they didn’t even want in the first place? Maybe Azriah was right.

Ophylla waved to them, then beckoned them forward. She didn’t move to meet them; for now, it seemed, she was keeping her secrets. It disappointed Root. If nothing else, now she was curious.

Azriah led the way. Root felt like she was being yanked along beside him, and judging by the sour and panicked look on Vit’s face, and the purely panicked expression on Beel’s, the others felt the same. Whether it was Ophylla or Azriah doing the yanking, Root couldn’t say. She stalked forward, the mirror gripped tightly in her white-knuckled hand.

“What a marvelous day,” said Ophylla as they approached. “I just knew I had selected a team of the highest caliber.” She beamed. Root had to fight back the swell of pride she felt at the praise. She rarely received praise.

Or was the feeling just another trick of the mirror?

Azriah bowed his head. “Thank you. It was no easy task, but we managed it.”

“As I knew you would.”

Azriah dipped his head again. “I must say, I am somewhat surprised that you’ve come all the way out here to meet us. But grateful, of course.”

“Oh it was no trouble. I wouldn’t want to make you all do any more running around for me than you already have. Now you can return to your own dealings all the sooner.”

“Of course. Thank you.”

“Now, I’ll take that, of course.” Ophylla held out her hand towards Root, her eyes on the mirror.

Root looked to the others; her eyes met Azriah’s. He held her gaze for a moment, and then, as perceptible as a whisper in a windstorm, he gave her a shrug and a nod. She knew how he felt. Going back on their word now would cost him more than the rest of them. Could she do that to him?

She hesitated. Something shifted in Ophylla’s expression—faint, virulent. Root scrambled to cover her mistake under the guise of looking over the mirror with a parting curiosity.

As soon as Ophylla had the mirror, it was over. They couldn’t stand against the power of two mote periapts to take it back, could they?

“And here’s the rest of your cut,” said Azriah. Root looked up. From the bulging bag of loot, Azriah withdrew a smaller pouch—Ophylla’s cut of the gold, already portioned out. “Twenty-one helixes and eight mantles, the value of our down payments. Five percent of the value in coins was just shy of this much. Factoring in the rest of the treasure after it’s been sold, the value would be higher, but I think the difference is sufficient to account for the unforeseen… difficulty of the job.”

Well, at least Azriah wasn’t a total pushover.

“Hm. I suppose if that seems like a fair deal to you, I will agree.” She took the pouch of coins and opened the satchel that hung at her hip.

It was a mess of contents inside, and what drew Root’s attention first was the assortment of plants, unpotted, yet still in their own little clumps of dirt, jostling about loose in the bag alongside all manner of other things. But what held her attention was the corner of something poking up out of the dirt and junk. Something familiar. Something Root had been scanning the tunnel passageways for, though not as attentively as Vit.

It was Ajis’s book.

Ophylla dropped the bundle of coins into the bag and snapped it shut. Once more she extended her hand for the mirror. But Root looked to Azriah and Vit. Vit didn’t seem to have noticed, but Azriah’s attention was locked on Ophylla’s bag.

“The book,” said Azriah, and pointed with his chin. Ophylla’s attention darted from the mirror for only a second.

“Excuse me?”

“The book,” repeated Azriah. “The one we were using to locate the mirror. You have it in your bag.”

Ophylla paused. Then she smiled. “Oh, this old thing?” she asked and tugged it from the mess. “Yes. I found it out in the wilds on my way over here. Must not have been too careful with it, hm?”

Azriah studied her silently, carefully. “It’s Vit’s.”

Ophylla shrugged. “You keep the extra value in treasure, I keep the book. A fair deal. Now, the mirror.” This time, Ophylla reached across the remainder of the gap to take it from Root’s hand. Root took a step back. Ophylla scoffed.

“Keep your crew in line,” she said to Azriah. Her voice was icy now.

But Azriah wasn’t looking at Ophylla anymore. He exchanged a look with Vit, then with Root. They held each other’s eyes for a moment. Something had changed.

He turned back to Ophylla, and then slowly he set down the bag of loot. One hand rested firmly on his sword in its sheath.

“Hand over the book. The deal’s off.”

Ophylla didn’t move. Her eyes flicked between Azriah’s face, his sword, and the mirror in Root’s hand. The hue of her eyes grew colder—the flecks of sun-washed mica in the silt sank into the muddy current, down into the dark and the time-lost depths.

“What is this, some kind of mutiny? I employed you. You cannot back out of a job with such dishonor.”

“Too late,” said Azriah. “The book.”

Again, Ophylla stood unmoving, calculating. Then she grinned. It sent a wintery chill through Root.

“I would advise you to take a moment to reconsider. From our first meeting, you struck me as wise and honorable. But what of your friends? Have they put you up to this betrayal?”

“They put me up to nothing.”

“No? But can you trust them?”

Power flowed through the words as she spoke them, as if they came from a chorus of voices bellowing in tandem. With them came a light that erupted from her amulet. It arced high into the air and then dove down like a raptor diving for its prey. It crashed against Azriah as a forked and razor-tipped whip, the fangs of a colossal serpent boring into each shoulder. Azriah’s body went rigid. Then he turned and set his sights on Root.

“You!” he growled. “You want it for yourself! You’ll cost us all!”

Root backpedaled away, eyes wide. “No, Azriah… Azriah stop!” But he took two stalking steps forward. Vit and Beel looked on in shock and horror.

“You’re trying to take it… you want the mirror. I could see it in your eyes back there in the crypt.”

“No, Azriah, listen to me. She’s doing this to you! It’s the periapt!”

Azriah sneered. “Who says you should have it? You never would have made it this far without me. It’s mine.” He drew his sword and continued to advance.

“Fight it!” But Azriah’s eyes never left the mirror.

“Give it to me!” he cried. And then he lunged.

Shit. Things were really starting to teeter on the lip of “worst-case scenario.”

Azriah was fast. Root had appreciated it when they were fighting on the same team, but now it was just annoying. She hardly had a chance to funnel smoke into her hand and bring up the form of her weapon before his sword crashed against the wispy blade of her own. The parry hardly fazed him; he drew back and then barreled into her, shoulder thrust forward like a battering ram. Again he met the flat of her blade, but this time with all the force of his body, bigger than her and stronger by a degree. The momentum toppled her and she landed on her back.

More annoying than Azriah’s speed was his fighting skill. Root knew how to hack at jungle vegetation that encroached on her family farm; Azriah knew how to skewer bodies. Azriah sure wasn’t vegetation, but Root certainly was a body.

She rolled to avoid another blow, a kick aimed at her side. She scrambled across the coarse ground on her hands and knees and then pushed herself back up to stand.

Fuck, her hands still hurt like hell.

“Azriah, Azriah stop! Fucking listen to me, you have to fight through it! It’s not you!”

There was no change in Azriah’s eyes—no comprehension. Only snarling, consuming desire.

He started to lunge again, sword out, but then Vit was there, one arm around his neck, holding him back in a chokehold. Azriah’s eyes bugged. He kicked and bellowed.

“You’re both colluding! You’re trying to rob me of my cut! You’ve been talking this whole time—sharing secrets—all behind my back! Let me go, let me go!” He wrenched and struggled, but Vit held tight. Azriah swung his head forward, and Root started to shout a warning, but it had hardly leaped from her tongue before Azriah bashed his skull hard into Vit’s cheek. Dazed, Vit’s grip slackened.

Now free, Azriah charged towards Root again. Root raised her sword to meet Azriah’s incoming blade.

She met one swing, then two, but it was all she could do to stay on defense and keep his attacks from dumping her guts in the dirt. Even still, it was clear that his swings were sloppy, hardly representative of his true skill with the weapon. Between each strike he snatched for the mirror in her left hand, moving his body in close, leaving himself exposed. But Root couldn’t stab him—she wasn’t trying to end this fight in blood. She had to snap him out of this.

Azriah grunted in frustration and raised his sword high. Root’s eyes widened.

If he cut her down, at least Orne Tyn would be pleased.

Breathing ragged, Root held her sword higher. Azriah started his downward swing.

His blade stalled.

Vit stood behind him, arms out, one web wrapped around the blade and a second encircling his forearm. Their eyes were alight.

One strong yank and the sword flew from Azriah’s hand. Root took the opening. She slammed the flat of her blade against Azriah’s hip. He buckled, and before he regained his footing, she shoved him hard. He landed on his back.

Root let her sword dissipate now, and she threw herself down to pin Azriah. He struggled; she held tight, like a rider on a rampaging bull.

A sudden flash of recognition flared through her like a hearth caught by a fresh blast from the bellows. Azriah on his back, writhing and spitting; Root on his chest, pinning him down. She could almost see his hair smoldering, his skin blistering. Her hands hovered over him, one still clutching the mirror, the other trembling as a new feeling surged unbidden through her: heat—like acid, like blood, like steam like smoke like a rising geyser like f—

F—

Root shrieked and threw herself backwards—off of Azriah, clutching her hands close, holding them back like they might come alive and lash out of their own accord, a bundle of snakes, a paw of sharp claws, a hot iron pulled from the hearth.

Azriah jumped up and stumbled after her, eyes still fixed on the mirror. Root sat sprawled in the dirt; she could no longer get away. She shrouded herself under one arm.

But Azriah tripped, and then he lay face-down in the dirt. Root looked past him to the golden ring clamped around his ankles.

Vit’s web still hung from his arm, and with a flick of their wrist, Vit strung the cord around to ensnare his other arm, and then pinned them both to his sides and the ground. Azriah pulled against the binds, but in his frenzy he couldn’t free himself.

“Azriah! Azriah!” Root shouted. “For fuck’s sake, snap out of it! This feeling… it’s not real!” She shook him by the shoulders. A dazed look came about him, but still his eyes refocused on the mirror and he snarled.

Root looked up the hill to where Ophylla stood beneath the tree. She had her hand on her amulet. A stabbing glow lanced from its gem up high into the air and then into Azriah, a faint trail that could go unnoticed until it was looked for. Ophylla still had him in her grasp, like a marionette with strings sewn into its mind.

Fucking fine then—if that was the game, she’d play it too.

“Shit, I’m so sorry,” she muttered, and then she stood and leveled the mirror. “I hope this isn’t a huge mistake.”

She dove into the fabric of the mirror’s magical field, letting it pick her up like whitewater and suck her down into its depths. It felt like she was drowning in it, overwhelmed by its enormity, flailing as she grabbed for something familiar. Something—anything, like… like the fledgling sense of pride that nested in her chest, burrowing into her by the mirror’s will. Yes. She grabbed hold of it, wrung its neck, pulled it into her control. The ebb around her calmed. Like a whirlpool of water going down a drain, she focused the feeling to a point, flowed through the mirror, and reached for Azriah.

Master yourself you fucking moron, you look like an idiot. Have some pride.

She could feel Azriah’s will. And contesting it, she could feel Ophylla’s—or the amulet’s. He was fighting her, and he was losing.

Somewhere, in some intangible corner of the conduit between them, Root opened the floodgates.

Her consciousness snapped back into the dell. Azriah twitched on the ground, the fangs of Ophylla’s periapt still boring into his shoulders.

A new beam whipped out from the mirror and snapped across his face, pumping a glow of energy through its tether and into his body.

His eyes snapped open.

The arc from Ophylla’s periapt shattered.

“Let him go, let him up!” shouted Root. Beel released the manacle on his ankles.

“Uh, that’s not really… how this works,” said Vit, and gave a performative tug on the end of the web.

“Damn it,” muttered Root. She reformed her sword and slashed through the binds. Slowly, stoically, Azriah climbed to his feet. And then, with a sensation like swallowing an oversized pill, Root drew back the influence of the mirror. Azriah’s shoulders slumped.

“I’m sorry—” she started.

Azriah gave her a hard look. Then he almost smiled. “Thanks.”

Vit stepped forward with Orne Tyn and passed the blade off to Azriah.

“Things were really looking up there for a minute,” said Orne Tyn, exasperated.

“Shove it, you oversized letter opener,” said Root.

Briiiiiib.”

“Do we run now?” asked Beel.

“No,” said Azriah, and then he turned to look up the slope towards Ophylla.

She leaned against the trunk of the tree, breathing heavy, her eyes awash in malice and a twinge of fear. Root reveled in it. She tightened her grip on her sword.

“What, you’re going to march up here and kill me, is that it?” said Ophylla. “After I gave you all the job of a piddly human lifetime? After I was so generous? After… after I—”

“After you used that thing on me, maybe?” suggested Azriah.

Ophylla stared across the gap between them as she caught her breath. “I should’ve known you all were too clever. Listen to you… talking about periapts now. I should’ve known you’d sniff your way into more information than you’d know what to do with, especially after your run-in with that Ajis. Oh, Ajis—don’t you understand? I kept him at bay—I kept you all safe from him! I sent him halfway across Atnaterra on his wild hunt for the four of you.”

“We can deal with Ajis, and we can deal with you,” said Azriah. “If you staved him off, you did it in your own interests.”

“I was protecting you. And look at how I’ve been treated in return. I’ve only ever wanted to help.”

“Yeah?” said Vit, marching forward. “Help who, exactly? We know what these mote periapt things can do. We know you’re trying to get your hands on all of them.”

“Of course you do. You’re more clever than I anticipated. And what of it? What’s so wrong with that?”

“These things are destructive. You just want power—power to kill.”

Ophylla’s grin broke wide. “Oh, so clever, and yet not so clever, isn’t that right? You think you understand the periapts, but you’re new to the hunt. For many, you’re right—there are hundreds of factions striving and clawing and bleeding and dying to get their hands on the full set. Some of them want power. Some of them want to kill. But not me. My aims are pure. They’ve always been pure. Maybe you’d understand that if you stopped and took some time to really understand the forces you’re trying so desperately to meddle in. You don’t really understand the periapts at all. You don’t really know what they can do.”

“We know they’re powerful. They’re too dangerous for anyone to have.”

“And you think you can stop me—stop anyone? You’re humans.” She spat the word. “Humans and a coward, that is. How will you stand in my way? A hundred years go by, and you’ll be dust, but I’ll still be here. You’re like stones in a riverbed. Eventually you’ll erode away. But the river will still be there.”

“Unless it dries up,” said Root.

Ophylla paused. “What?”

“Unless the river, like, dries up, right? Maybe there’s a drought or something.”

“It’s a metaphor, darling.”

“What, droughts can’t be part of a metaphor? You wanna be the river? I’ll be the drought.”

Ophylla scoffed. “Fine. But it will always rain again.”

“I’ll be the trees that suck up all the water and grow bigger,” said Vit.

“I’m fine being a stone,” said Beel.

Root shook her head. “No, you’re not a stone. She meant for the stones to be humans.”

“I’ll just be me, then.”

“This is not the time!” said Azriah. “Ophylla, hand over the book.”

“And the amulet,” said Vit.

Ophylla laughed. “As I said: it’s obvious you’re new to this. If you want them, you’ll have to claim them for yourselves.” At that, one length of her hair began to grow rapidly. It snaked down past her shoulder and into her hand. Longer and longer it wound, until it nearly brushed her tentacles. There, hanging just above the dirt, it sprouted a tumorous mass, a sickly bur thick with hooked barbs. She hefted the rope and let it sway.

“You’re not the only one who can summon a weapon from nothing,” she said to Root. And then, with a great arcing swing, she whipped it towards them.

On the bright side, Root had an answer to her question. Ophylla was pretty damn fast.

The flail extended as it flew and struck the ground just to Root’s right. Root darted left and circled around as Ophylla sped down the hill towards them. Just behind her, dropping from hidden points amidst the boughs of the tree, came Spaghetti and… and the other one, tumbling after their mistress with equal fervor but none of the intimidating ferocity. Already Ophylla was reeling in her bur for another strike, ungrowing the vine and drawing the weapon back into her hand.

Azriah rushed forward and slashed with his sword, severing the bur from the vine near its end. In the span of a second, the weapon had regrown, whole once more.

Ophylla lashed out with one of her tentacles and caught Azriah by the wrist. Vit reared up and snapped at the limb, severing it with the ghastly fangs they’d used back in the tunnels.

Root darted in, bracing her sword arm as she approached Ophylla’s right flank. She slashed for the spirit’s hip where her torso broke into a viney mass.

To her great relief, Root was back in familiar territory: hacking at vegetation.

The blade cut through several of Ophylla’s tentacles, and Ophylla whipped around and staggered back to put all of her adversaries in front of her. The tentacle stumps wriggled and regrew as the lopped remains twitched on the ground and then melted into goo.

Azriah pressed in towards Ophylla. Before he had taken more than two steps, Spaghetti was there, coiling around his ankles. Azriah fell promptly and unceremoniously into the dirt.

“Look out!” called Root and raised her sword. Azriah had the good sense to pry his legs as far apart as he could manage and say a quick prayer to any deities with an anti-castration policy.

(Deities are, for whatever reason, overwhelmingly pro-castration.)

Root swung. Her blade zipped between Azriah’s heels and cleaved Spaghetti in two. With a pop, Spaghetti was gone, reduced to the familiar smell of hot milk and seaweed, a glittering wisp of wind, and a pool of goo, floating in which lay a single strand of very old, very crusty spaghetti, now cut neatly in half—Low Fishdrum’s finest.

Root had even managed the added benefit of not taking off any bits Azriah hoped to keep.

Vit sighed as they watched Spaghetti’s remains shoot off into the air and disappear. They helped Azriah to his feet and then turned their attention back to Ophylla and Not Spaghetti.

Ophylla lashed out with her flail again. Root ducked the swing; Azriah dashed backwards. The bur cracked against Vit’s left bicep, the barbs delving deep into their flesh and taking hold. Vit grimaced and fell to one knee.

“Sorry,” called Azriah, and he swung his sword at the weapon, again severing the bur. “But quite honestly, it was just payback for last time.”

“No, that’s fair,” said Vit through clenched teeth as the bur and limp-hanging vine dribbled away into nothing, leaving half a dozen puncture holes in Vit’s arm that beaded with blood.

Ophylla was already bringing the flail around again, once more aimed for Vit while they were down. But this blow they anticipated; in a flash, they’d changed their right arm into two spider arms and snatched the bur from midair like a fly. They let it fall.

Now Ophylla was backpedaling, putting distance between the group and herself. When she’d gained some ground, she lifted a hand and clutched at her amulet. A green aura bubbled up around her.

“Get down!” shouted Root as one thick tendril of energy launched towards them. She dove to the side and came up running.

The ray off the periapt had just missed her, but Ophylla was unfazed, her eyes following their running forms, scattered. Not Spaghetti tumbled over the ground, seeking a victim to ensnare and turn into an easy target for Ophylla’s next strike.

But he never got the chance. As he rushed Vit, they caught the spirit in a bolt of web, and then turned the creature into a flail of their own. They spun the web up around their head and launched Not Spaghetti against the cliffside behind them. Root didn’t see Not Spaghetti strike the stone, but she had no doubt that it happened, and no doubt that it was horribly lethal.

“Sorry!” called Vit, several seconds past the last moment in which Not Spaghetti might have had the organs necessary to hear the hollow word.

Ophylla howled in frustration. She whipped her flail around again, but her strikes were growing desperate and uncalculated, fueled by anger—and perhaps fear—and losing the razor edge of carefully employed skill. Her strike went wide and hit the ground to Azriah’s right.

Again she drew up the power of the periapt, but Vit was on her in an instant. They threw two webs up towards the peak of a stone outcropping and used them to launch themself into the air. Bounding off the cliff face, they dove for Ophylla. Webs struck her shoulders; her concentration on the periapt faltered, interrupted as Vit yanked themself down, feet first, driving one heel hard against Ophylla’s chest. They landed lightly as Ophylla crashed end over end, tumbling through the dirt, her body a tangled mess of tentacles.

She pushed herself up with surprising speed despite the blow, breathing heavy but moving quick. She turned from the group and fled for the lip of the dell.

“Stop her!” cried Azriah.

A buzzing filled the air as a spinning golden ring snapped around Ophylla’s midsection, clamping her arms to her sides. Her tentacles still worked the ground in a frenzy, and the ring did little to halt her. Beel strained with a squealing, clenching sound as he tried to pull the ring back towards himself, but it only resulted in his feet cutting long trenches in the dirt beneath him.

“Her tentacles, maybe?” shouted Root.

“She’ll just slip out of it!” Vit called back. They shot a web at her lower half, but it disappeared amidst the tangle.

Azriah, meanwhile, pursued Ophylla in the good old-fashioned way: running after her. It was remarkably efficient.

As he drew up behind her, he swung his sword low, driving the blade through the column of tentacles in its entirety. The severed limbs squelched and oozed to nothing. Ophylla—considerably shorter now—wailed in pain, but all too quickly the tentacles regrew and she was moving once more.

“You cannot have it—you will not take it!” she cried. Her voice sounded desperate now—strangled, panicked. In her stunted sluggishness, Root caught up to them. Ophylla’s gaze flashed to the side, meeting Root’s. She seethed.

She was cornered and helpless. But that made her dangerous.

Root watched as she reared back her head, letting one length of her thick vine hair lengthen. She raised her sword, expecting a blow.

She did not expect the tentacle to crack against her left hand.

Root jumped back in pain, and her grasp on the halfway-wrapped mirror loosened. Ophylla snaked her tentacle through the open face once, twice, and then wrenched it hard from Root’s hand before Root even had a moment to process it. The metal handle slipped from the fabric.

“No!” Root cried, reaching for the periapt, but Ophylla had already drawn it in close.

Her face was awash in overwhelming, drowning emotion; the amulet’s lime jewel pulsed in tandem with the golden one set in the mirror’s handle.

Shit, shit, no. Fuck.

Azriah slashed at Ophylla’s hair. The tendril holding the mirror tore free, but Ophylla snapped the mirror out of the air in her hand. Now that she had them both, she wouldn’t let them go. And she wouldn’t have to. She was too powerful.

“It’s gotta be fucking lethal, Azriah!”

Azriah ground his teeth.

Ophylla whirled, a blur of gold and green energy swirling around her. She thrust out her hands and caught Azriah square in the chest with a blast from both periapts.

She was fast. Incredibly fast. But Azriah was just that slight margin faster.

(Not fast enough to avoid the full force of two mote periapts slamming against his comparatively frail form. The energy tore through his mind like bulls through the market stall of a seamstress with a penchant for silken red dresses. But Ophylla had a sword buried in her chest, and while neither was in any way pleasant, one was notably more deadly—at least in this instance.)

Ophylla’s body burst apart; wind from her collapsing form whipped hot against Root’s face. The light pouring from the amulet and mirror dulled at once as Azriah crumpled to his knees, dazed. The two periapts landed in the dust alongside Ophylla’s bag.

And then there was silence in the dell.

 

All in all, things came out to a nice, clean, pretty-damn-unfavorable-case scenario, wouldn’t you say? That is, once all was said and done. That’s another problem with the term “worst-case scenario”—bad-case scenarios are sort of an ongoing, malleable thing in the face of circumstances that change radically over time.

For instance, emerging from the tunnels only to find Ophylla suddenly there waiting? That was a horribly-unfortunate-case scenario for sure. But then she refrained from trying to kill them all for several minutes—a not-too-bad-at-all continuation of their horribly-unfortunate-case scenario. But then she used her periapt on Azriah. That was definitely a troublingly-grim-case scenario. They freed him in the end, though—and that was a pretty-all-right-case scenario! Then Ophylla fought them; a tricky-slippery-disagreeable-case scenario. And then she got the mirror after all, which was certainly a discouragingly-awful-case scenario. But finally they killed her. A not-too-shabby-case scenario indeed.

Worst-case scenario would have been Ophylla slaughtering them the instant they walked out of the tunnels, taking the mirror, magically procuring all of the other mote periapts, becoming unstoppable, and enslaving the worlds in their entirety. And, through means unknown, causing everyone to be damp for the rest of time.

Wouldn’t you say?

 

 

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