“What was that?!” Saira asks, bewildered, stepping to the spot where the Bunnies disappeared, now featuring a gaping hole.
“I really don’t know,” Gwydion replies, putting the young Bunny down on the ground for a moment and staring down into the blackness. “This is most strange.”
“There was no hole here before,” Alma moans. “Gwydion, where are they?”
“I really don’t know,” the god repeats, rubbing his chin, his expression heavy and pensive. “Is that a pinkish glow at the bottom of the hole?”
“Hey!” a voice cries from inside the hole. “In case ya can’t see right, we’re down here!”
“Aye,” another voice rings. “If it’wouldnae be too much o’a hassle t’throw us a rope or somethin’, I’ll bet we could pop right out!”
Alma sighs in relief at the voices. “Cherry, Merri!” she calls. “Are all six of you down there? Is any of you hurt?”
“We are all fine, Alma!” Sage lets her know.
“But we don’t want to be here anymore!” Chime’s voice grumbles.
“The walls appear to be lined with teeth!” May says.
“They’re slimy too!” Kori complains.
“That doesn’t sound too good,” Saira whispers to the gods. “Maybe I should go down there and help them.”
She holds her foot over the edge of the hole. That’s when the ground starts shaking.
Losing her balance, Saira falls into the hole, only to have Alma grab her at the last minute and pull her out, just as huge teeth seem to appear out of nowhere, emerging from the inner lining of the gaping hole and meeting at the center, sharp and serrated, like a yellowish deadly lid. An immense worm shoots up into the air, arcs, and burrows into ground, mouth first, with the wailing Bunnies still held inside it.
Saira stands looking at Alma in a shock for a minute, but quickly rallies, while Gwydion looks around wildly, the ground still shaking beneath his feet.
“It has to emerge again!” Alma shouts above the din of the artificial earthquake. “Right?”
“I hope so!” Gwydion responds, barely audible over the racket. “But where?”
“Right there!” Saira announces, pointing to the end of the alley, where the ground is beginning to move and rise. “How do we stop it?”
“I don’t know!” Alma cries in desperation.
“I can’t destroy it without harming the Bunnies!” Gwydion states.
“Then how, you two?” Saira yells. “By the sake of your kind, you’re gods! Can’t you trap it?!”
Alma’s mind races between options. All she can think is of how she’d love to be back in her sanctum, the Bunnies all sleeping safely by the pool, Starfax watching them silently through the ivy in her cage.
“Starfax!” Alma suddenly cries.
“What?” Gwydion shouts.
But Alma is already at work. Kneeling on the ground, she places both hands, palms down, on the dirty surface and draws her will in an unusual direction. Breathing deeply, she stretches her senses and feels for old roots beneath the earth, anything she can use. And she finds them.
Sending small bursts of mana, she nurtures them, feeds them, helps them grow, forces them to stretch. The ground shakes even harder, knocking both Gwydion and Saira off their feet. At the mouth of the alley, the wormlike demigod leaps out of the ground…
… and is suddenly caught in an intricate, live web of magically-enhanced plants. Shooting out of the ground, they wrap themselves around the worm, binding it in their slow, inexorable choking hold. The creature struggles and squirms but the web that holds it is too strong and growing ever tighter.
The worm demigod opens its massive mouth and regurgitates the Bunnies, leaving them wheezing in the middle of the street while the creature itself disappears in its vegetable cocoon.
Alma rises slowly, feeling slightly dizzy at the draining effects of her spell and the success at something she has never tried before. Still, seeing the Bunnies free and, for the moment, safe, wipes out any feelings of physical fatigue.
“My turn to say, ‘impressive’,” Gwydion states by her.
“Thank you,” Alma replies, locating the youngest of the Bunnies, who had, wisely enough, chosen a large rusty metal barrel to hide in. “Now, let us leave this godforsaken alley.”
Saira joins them and they swiftly cover the distance to where the Bunnies are just getting back to their feet, unharmed except for some patches of slime on their clothes, faces and ears.
“Ew!” Cherry complains. “What is this sticky gunk on me?”
“Tha’ was the most disgustin’ experience Ah ever…” Rosemary gasps as she helps Chime to his feet.
“It’s in my hair!” Cherry whines. “Oh, ew, it’s in my hair! And it stinks!”
“Come on!” Mayumi insists, dragging at Cherry. “We must go!”
Intent on reaching the portal as quickly as possible, the party clears the alley and two others like it until, at the far end of yet another of those crisscrossing, similar-looking, bleak and abandoned alleys, they finally see it, the portal, majestic and decrepit, standing tall and proudly at the end of a large square.
“There, there’s the portal!” Saira announces happily, but her expression darkens at the sight of dozens of Dukaines trickling into the square, coming from all directions. “Now…to defeat the standard horde of thugs that so efficiently managed to beat us to it…”
“You are quite used to this, aren't you?” Gwydion inquires in a mildly affected tone.
Saira merely shrugs. “Heh. Some things always go down the same way.”