Flux adjusted the strap on his lute. As per usual, he had the appearance of a red fox in colorful clothes, wearing deep blue colored lenses over his eyes. Fairly standard look for a bard to have in this world. His ears were raised, turned towards his friend and companion's speech.
"Once again. The Dowager Duchess has asked us to investigate the disappearances in the Malclay mountain pass." This was the third time Oz had laid out their mission since leaving the capital to perform it. The kangaroo rat was dressed in boiled leather armor, the toughened hide flexing easily enough for his movement to be unrestricted while leaving him protected on most of his body.
Tucked into a holster on his hip was the sign of his station, an empty sword grip made of wood with a golden inlay. The Soul Blade turned slightly to address the newer members of the party. "Implicated in the disappearances are sightings of an unknown creature that most witnesses claim to be kobolds."
Standing beside Flux was a tall figure wrapped in metal armor and wood. The body itself, however, was mostly hollow, filled with a dark blue mist. The head was vaguely dragon-shaped with a fine series of grills at the end of the snout and lenses where the eyes should be. A faint luminescence always shone through those viewports in the helm. It was difficult to read Entre's emotions when he was silent.
On the far side of the construct, the newest ally stood bouncing in place on her heels. She was the shortest of the group and the most overtly energetic. Dawn was a purple-furred otter, wrapped in a sort of aquatic diving suit re-enforced for protection under water. The material was black apart from bright green panels and lines etched along her curves. The suit continued over her tail into a sort of pack that differed from the carrying methods of her companions, pouches like for a saddle on either side of the girthy appendage. The only piece of her gear not attached to her rudder was a long, ornate sword nestled into its scabbard on her back.
This was her first mission with the group, and she couldn't be more excited about it.
"Behind me is the entrance of the pass." Oz shifted his weight slightly. "I would hope that we can deal with whatever is happening in a peaceful manner."
Dawn suddenly pointed past him. "Look!"
Flux followed her pointing finger. Out from behind a rock a figure shorter than any of them had emerged. It glistened in the light of day even with the heavy cloud cover. Continuing to watch, it was clear that the creature was indeed shaped like a kobold, but there were only a few areas of its body scaled. The rest was translucent amber, no sign of organs or bones inside of it. "Has it seen us?"
"It has no eyes." Entre's voice resonated out of the suit of armor.
As it grew closer, it became obvious that the face was smoothed of features, no visible eyes or mouth, indeed.
Oz turned back to look towards Flux. "Perhaps with your sight?"
Flux tensed. He adjusted his glasses carefully. "I... uh..."
The Soul Blade closed the distance, a concerned look on his face.
Clearing his throat, the apparent bard murmured. "I don't like doing it around Dawn, Oz..."
Oz raised his brow. "Why's that?"
Flux turned his head, his view of the otter fully blocked by Entre's body, before turning back to the kangaroo rat. "Her sword stares at me when I let down my guard."
Dawn bounced into vision around the metallic figure that had been between them. "Oh! Joy says you're fascinating to look at!"
He grimaced. He'd hoped she wouldn't hear. Or perhaps her sword had heard and told her to speak up.
A hissing sound drew the group's attention back to the matter at hand. There were three other kobolds out in the open as well. The origin of the sound was the first kobold, however. Its simple face had split open into a dripping maw, releasing the aggressive noise.
Oz cleared his throat and stepped back towards it carefully. "Greetings. If you would be so kind, we would like to talk to your people about a pressing matter."
Two of the other kobolds split their muzzles open to hiss, as five others emerged from behind stones and boulders.
"They appear to be slimes in the shape of kobolds." Entre stated impassively. "They might not be intelligent enough to understand you. It could be that they only act on instinct."
"No reason not to try." Oz glanced back, before taking a deep breath. His voice resonated more than his body's size seemed to bely possible as he spoke words in draconic.
Flux sighed. It was just like Oz to exhaust every diplomatic option, even when a simple retreat and regroup may be necessary. They were already outnumbered... he took a moment to count again, three to one. And more kobolds were appearing from the pass every moment.
Entre raised a hand and pointed to the foremost kobold, still some yards away. He twisted his gauntlet, a blue glow coming from the joints of the armor's arm. That same blue glow was replicated, forming a circle around the hostile creature, which rose into a transparent blue barrier of energy taller than it was.
Oz halted his recitation, confused. "Why ensnare one of a score? You could have as easily made a wall across the pass' entrance to keep them all back."
Armor clanking with each step, the construct strode forward. "Because I want to analyze it."
Dawn made to move towards him, but was stopped when Flux held out a hand. The next nearest slime-kobolds were a few more yards past the first, moving slower than Entre was striding. At the same time, he addressed his comrade. "Perhaps wait until we aren't threatened with being surrounded? We don't know where else they can pop out from."
Entre made no response as he arrived at the barrier. He leaned down, blocking all of their view of the contents of his little cell. A loud sound akin to a siphon attempting to handle a glob of fat struck the air.
At the same time all of the visible kobolds froze in place, wobbling quite markedly.
Entre stood back upward, head raised. The amber slime of the kobold's tail was getting dragged through the grill on the front of his helm.
Oz winced. "Oh, that really got their attention, Entre." As he spoke, some cracks in the dry earth between the group and Entre suddenly surged with more amber goo.
Five more slime kobolds emerged, between the party and their construct compatriot.
Dawn got her hand on the hilt of her sword, drawing it free. "Look out, Entre!"
As Entre turned to look, he was pounced from all sides in a move that defied expectation based on how slowly they had been moving so far. He reached a glove into the air to start to cast a spell, but then got knocked out of alignment by an attack from a slimy claw to the back. Their strength was enough that each time he tried to get a spell off, he'd be struck, interrupting the action.
The otter bolted forward, sword fully drawn.
Oz shouted out the thing that Flux realized with a sinking heart. "No Dawn, they're slimes!"
She spun and swung her sword through the first she came across.
It came apart cleanly into two halves... then each half formed into a full kobold half the size as the original.
Dawn continued to slash and cut. Each swing of her sword multiplied the mass that was surrounding the construct into more and more smaller kobolds.
Oz slowly drew the grip from its holster, energy starting to flow through the filigree.
Flux held up a paw. "Wait, it's working." The smaller each kobold got, the less strength each individual hit had.
Entre was finally able to raise his hand and cast a spell. A rush of icy mist flowed forth from the spot between his feet. The dozens of pint-sized kobolds gained the appearance of sugar-dusted jellies as they were rendered immobile.
Oz was still nervous. "Okay, you two get back over here before they thaw or..." He trailed off.
Flux took a step back. While they had been focused on the group attacking Entre, scores more of the regular sized kobolds had emerged from the area. And they pressed into one another, losing their shape as they combined into a swirling, swooping mass of gold-scale tinged amber.
"Run!" The apparent bard and his commander shouted at once.
Dawn managed to keep her balance, even though her feet kept coming down on top of the slightly squishy forms of the chilled slimes that were surrounding them. She ran her way out of the group that she'd cut down to size.
Entre, however, wasn't fast enough.
The roiling ooze surged forward, a swirling curl of slime separating the construct from the rest of the party. Flux could see the flowing substance rapidly thawing each of the frozen kobolds it came in contact with, adding them to the mass.
Oz turned to Flux, amber light bursting from the end of the grip in his height and coalescing into a blade. "I'm going to flank to the side, you get Dawn away from that thing."
Flux was about to respond in the positive when he glanced back.
The mass was taking shape. Grand wings spread out from its back, every surface covered in golden scales. Long neck, bulky body, powerful tail, grasping claws and a menacing set of jaws. Jaws that were descending.
Dawn saw the expression on her comrade's face shift, prompting her to pivot mid-stride to look behind her. She wound back with her sword, preparing to attack, even as she tripped over her own feet.
The slime dragon's maw crashed into the earth over her.
Her sword went flying, spinning freely in midair before thudding blade-first into one of the cracks the kobolds had emerged from, effectively stuck.
The beast raised its smooth, featureless head and made a show of tilting it back, scales shifting along its neck as the lump travelled down into the main mass of its body. The golden scales, barely covering any one of the kobolds, perfectly covered the dragon they had fused to become, obscuring the interior.
"I can't see where they are." Oz said firmly. "I need to know where they are so I can cut them out without hurting them."
Flux looked between the stuck sword, which was jerking slightly at the grip in the direction of the dragon, and Oz before he nodded and removed his spectacles.
Despite their coloration, he saw the full visible spectrum while wearing them. The invisible spectrum flooded his senses now that they were away.
First of note, the sword jerked again, but the origin of the force was now clear to see. A spirit of an ambiguous species had both their hands on the grip, tugging. The feline features were twisted into a crest of desperation as they attempted to work free. Flux wasn't sure why Joy was bound to the sword, but she undeniably was more than just someone talked about.
Gazing up upon the dragon, he saw glowing light in two pools in the slime beast's head. What passed for eyes for such a creature, hidden behind the layer of scales. Whatever method it used to see didn't require light to pass through its surface.
Flux turned his focus down to the giant slime's belly. Soon he was able to see the snape of the construct body that was Entre's hold in the party. The inner slime had pulled the mechanical body apart enough to extract the sample that he had taken and didn't seem interested in putting him back together. It seemed at least that the pieces were clinging onto one another, not fully falling apart.
After a moment of searching the swirling spiritual energy of the slime dragon's insides, he recognized Dawn. The otter was trying to swim towards the surface. Despite her perfect form and the smooth shape of her body, along with her armor clearly built to let her move through water without removing it... She was making no progress. Flux could see the slime eddying around and flowing around her, matching her forward thrust in a conscious display of control.
It was clear that however thoughtless the individual kobolds had seemed, together...
"It will be as useless to cut a dragon as it was to cut any one of my kobolds." The slime rumbled, attention turned towards Oz.
"You'd be surprised what a Soul Blade can cut." Flux bit back, hoping to draw the attention away from his partner before any strike was made. He slipped his glasses back on, the world returning to just what a mundane creature could see.
"What are you doing to them?" Oz called out. There he went, the apparent vulpine thought. Now that he had a talking mind to go against, he'd try to talk things out while their compatriots were trapped...
Rearing up onto its hindlegs, the slime dragon gestured to its barrel with its foreclaws. "Behold, Soul Blade. The fate of trespassers." As it spoke, the scales covering its belly and chest rapidly began to subduct under one another, splitting the opaque coating to reveal the inside of its body.
Flux took a step back. In the chaos of seeing all possible things he had missed two important details that were clear to see with just the naked eye. Dawn's exposed parts were clear, the other side of the dragon able to be seen through her head and tail, but remained the same purple her fur had been. However, at the end of her tail, even that was being changed, fading into the amber of the beast's body.
Similarly, the cracked open construct appeared to be bleeding blue into the surrounding slime, a dark sapphire cloud of impurities that was lightening rapidly as the slime worked on assimilating it as well.
They were still both just hanging on.
No time to think.
No time to worry.
Time to act.
Flux grasped the strap of his lute and tossed it into the air. In the same movement his hand grasped his glasses and threw them aside. Both hung into the air as he pressed properly into the plane. A surge of roiling darkness in the vague form of a fox lunged forward. Winding back a claw that appeared fully carved of obsidian he thrust forward. Even as the scales closed in around his spot of entry, that claw articulated, grasped around the broken construct body.
He yanked backwards, the hollow form coming free with a splash of slime.
Flux looked down at his claw. The shell was devoid of the essence that Entre granted it. And somehow, the slime had slipped dawn's flexible suit inside of it.
Cruel laughter struck the air. "I have already claimed them." The slime dragon taunted, the dripping and splattered slime rapidly surging back up into its body.
The unoccupied claw wrapped around the dragon's throat and tightened until the scaled surface conformed to his palm and digits.
This seemed to change nothing about the situation. The dragon continued to laugh with a sadistic triumph. "I can simply flow around your fingers to escape your grasp."
Flux turned his eyes towards the glowing orbs within his enemy's head. "Do it, then."
Smugly, the beast shifted its neck, but nothing seeped between the black claw's digits. The simple face's expression shifted. "What's... what's happening?"
What was certainly not a fox clenched his fingers tighter, compressing the scales in a manner that made it appear as though it had flesh and bone beneath that armor.
The slime dragon trembled, a choking noise emerging from its neck. Its face wore an expression of confusion and panic.
Flux growled, pouring even more of himself out. He stood taller than the golden dragon now. "Did you think I can't throttle a slime?"
Thrashing desperately, the beast found all of his attacks against Flux proved as ineffective as if they had swapped their natures, solid claws splashing through dark body mass that flowed back into place as if water had been struck with a rake.
"Let them go." The being who most certainly was not a bard rumbled.
"Flux!" Distantly, Oz was crying out the name he gave the Soul Blade.
Finally, the slime dragon slapped its thick tail against the hardened soil of the valley floor. The spade burst apart, gushing a blue puddle to one side and a purple puddle to the other.
"That's enough!" The Soul Blade shouted, voice tinged with fear.
Flux turned his eyes towards the discharge the dragon had let out... each was embued with the spiritual essence of one of them... how many people had this beast consumed that its interior was a swirling mass of such energy...? He snarled and threw the dragon by the neck deeper into the pass.
The moment his claw had left, the slime was able to move as such again. It shapeshifted to right itself to land on all fours, head facing the vector of motion. However, it immediately splashed down, rapidly seeping into the many hidden holes around the valley that the kobolds had been emerging from.
Carefully, the being used his dark claws to extract Dawn's suit from Entre's body and set each beside their respective slime puddle. The second that was done, Flux retracted, pulling back and down... until what appeared to be a normal fox once again stood there... though the shadow cast by the sun as the clouds parted still showed what he had become... or rather... what he'd always been.
Flux turned to look at Joy. The spirit was still grasping the grip of the sword, but they weren't tugging. They were staring in awe. He strode over to her. "Can you help Dawn regain her form?"
"If I touch her." The chimeric soul replied. "I'm still stuck."
He nodded and grasped the crossbar of the sword with both hands. Together they pulled backwards, and finally the blade was freed from the rock. Flux turned, resting the blade against his shoulder. He felt the spirit drape across his back, carried along with the weapon. He shuddered a bit, averting his eyes, before setting the hilt of the sword into the purple slime.
"Are these really all that they are after that thing had them for a few minutes...?" Oz was near again, crouching by Entre's shell, looking into the blue slime. His eponymous blade was holstered again.
"I wouldn't have let that beast go if it hadn't released their spirits into those pools." Flux turned and walked back to where he had first unleashed himself. "I can see them as clearly as I see yours in your meat body." He reached an arm into the air and caught his lute as it fell to him. The fox's other paw grasped the temple of his glasses out of midair and carefully slipped them back on. The moment the lenses covered his eyes again, he cast the shadow of the form he appeared to be, once again.
When he looked back to his party, he could clearly see the fear and worry on his companion's face, even without his extrasensory sight. "It's been a long time since you've had to do that sort of thing." Oz spoke quietly, though in the silence of the valley it practically boomed.
"I hate it." Flux replied as he strode back over, looking down at the two slimes. They were rising out of merely being puddles, at the very least. "I feel exposed. Too much of me is out to be seen..."
As he spoke, the apparent fox saw the blue slime start to flow into the construct body. Rapidly the parts were being tugged back into their proper shape. At the same time, the lump of purple gradually re-shaped into a lutrine form. Dawn's hand formed grasped around the grip of Joy's vessel.
Her form was still too simple to be recognizable, but she had as much of the essence of an otter that the slime kobolds had of a kobold. She gasped as if breaching the surface for the first time in an hour, sitting up sharply. Flux noticed that rather than get pinned under her hips, her tail merely passed through her own body to rest behind her on the ground. Notably, she was mostly on top of her suit, having not formed in it. Gradually, her eyes formed on her glossy surface, blinking with a wet sound as she became more and more recognizably herself.
Oz looked up from the construct body to the clear purple otter. "Are you alright?"
"Well..." Entre's voice resonated from the helm of his body. "I have slime to examine now." As the last of the blue slime flowed into his body, the last gaps in the armor closed themselves up and he moved to stand up, unsteady. "Oh... significantly heavier with a solidus medium than a gaseous one. To be expected I suppose."
Dawn stood up as well, her features having fully formed in the surface of the slime. The only detail not present was fur, replaced with a smooth glossy surface. She looked down at herself and gasped. "Guys... I'm... I'm so shiny..." She let out a squee, starting to bounce in place on her paws. There was no sign of the jostling making her lose shape.
Flux lightly lifted one corner of his glasses up to peek.
Joy was holding her from behind, supportively. They looked up to the apparent bard and smiled. "Thank you. I know all of that was..." The spirit paused. "Well, it took a lot of you."
Dawn let out a sudden gasp, drawing the attention of the others. "Can I swim like this? Would I just dissolve?"
"One way to test that." Entre chuckled a bit, his movements sounding far slicker than before.
The Soul Blade was looking far less worried, but still troubled. Likely, his companion thought, unhappy to have found one of those rare creatures that has reason but cannot be reasoned with.
Flux himself was more upset with himself. If he had applied pressure, he may have been able to free a few of those disappearances from the slime... He looked between the spot the dragon had vanished into, his newly converted comrades, and then back to Oz. "So." He waited for the attention to shift back towards himself, adjusting his glasses back into place. "What are we going to put in the report on this one?"