Chive und Artemisia, Part 3
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Last time on Nexus:
Chive und Artemisia, Part 2

Their way led them past several passers-by. Some looked at them frowning, others… behaved strangely…

Chloe finally recognized this behavior as what she had observed before, when the tree had appeared.

Ahead of them, a car crashed into a wall of a house. The occupants inside growled and threw themselves against the doors until one of them opened by accident. Elsewhere, too, this rabies was now finally spreading. And this time, to more people than last time.

The first screams rang out as people around them were attacked and struck down. Some of the madmen also took aim at Chloe's group.

"Dean?" Elli asked without moving, "Can you knock them down like before?"

"Not in time," he said equally motionless.

"Do you need help?" Hoya asked smugly.

Elli nodded reluctantly after a few seconds, not taking her eyes off the approaching crazies.
Hoya flickered briefly before suddenly all the attackers were chained to the ground in front of them.
"Hey!" it came with an offended voice from Hoya.

Elli just gave her a wide, shit-eating grin.

At least until Dahŭi was attacked by a pensioner behind them. They came from all directions…

Ginam got out his ropes and prepared a spell, but had to hastily back away before he was even halfway done. He had too little room to lunge with his weapons. Hoya, meanwhile, hurried to drag the old, rabid woman off her comrade.

"Damn it, I need thaumaturgy!" Elli yelled hurriedly, pulling out her frying pan.

"Why don't you make it yourself?" Chloe asked, trying with all her might to escape from the crook of Dean's arm as he seemed to be gradually smothering her.

"I'm drunk, Chloe, this will go wrong," was the short answer.

Hoya, who now had to deal with more infected in addition to her attempts to free herself, didn't get to use any thaumaturgy that Elli could use. Consequently, the rest of the group, from which she was now cut off, was pushed farther and farther towards a street food stand that stood against the wall of a building.

Dean saw the fat man coming, running straight at him to ram him, and let go of Chloe before he was hit.

He wasn't knocked over, but he was pushed right into the booth. Pots and glasses flew through the area.

Chloe had to hastily scramble backwards because a teenager had it in for her.

Her hands got hold of something that felt like grass.

Her attacker was now right on top of her and apparently wanted to bite her nose off. Elli was in a similar situation with multiple attackers, but unlike Chloe, she was armed with a frying pan and was using it with much noise against the heads of her opponents.

The teenagers came down on her. Chloe reflexively clenched her fists and crossed her arms in front of her face.

That means, she wanted to do that.

Because she unintentionally punched him in the face.

The boy was more amazed than actually hurt, and chewed on the green stuff that had stuck to Chloe's fist and been delivered into his mouth as it had come up.

"What am I doing here?" he asked, confused, before he too had to fend off an attacking man while screaming. Chloe was spared from this.

There are panic situations in which the brain shuts down all other processes except "escape," resulting in trampling deaths in mass panics. Chloe here, however, now had the opposite case. She still wanted to get out of here, but her grey cells were running at full speed to exhaust every option to achieve this goal.

So, one of her first thoughts after analyzing what had happened was: "Go for the greens!"

Behind her was a small pile next to two overturned stainless-steel containers. Whatever was in them had mixed together. Chloe took as much as she could fit in her hands and put it in the mouth of the man who was still trying to bite the teenager to death which had just come to his senses.

And it worked. The guy abruptly let go of his victim and looked around in confusion. Chloe paid no attention to him after this success and rushed to Elli, who was still struggling with her pan against three attackers. Her only luck was that they seemed to have lost all higher brain functions. Like this, they could kept at distance by simply swinging the pan around. Behind the three lay more people on the ground, who had apparently been hit by flower pots that had spontaneously rained down from the sky.

Since they were on all fours and purely focused on Elli, it was easy for Chloe to sneak up on the only woman of this trio and literally stuff her throat.

Given the result, Elli quickly shifted her gears, distracting the two men long enough for Chloe to restore sanity to them as well.

"Chive und artemisia," Elli asked as she looked at what Chloe had in her hands. "How did you come up with that?"

"Accidental discovery," it came back curtly.

Chloe was out of shape…

"Let's get some more of this green stuff, the others need help."

Ginam was already on the ground, fighting tooth and nail against a whole horde of crazies. As before, Chloe and now Elli used an ambush to heal the first infected and used the ensuing confusion to shove the vegetable mixture into the mouths of the rest as well.

Ginam looked on in disbelief at the development.

"How did-"

"Grab some chives und artemisia, we need to help your Lady Reinecke1."

Chloe considered the word "help" as relative. Hoya stood over a wounded Dahŭi and was surrounded by a whole group of infected had have their living daylights beaten out of them. Some of them were bleeding from wounds inflicted with a very strange looking pistol. It looked like a World War I model and the magazine protruded above the chamber. On top of that, the bullet holes looked strangely burned…

Only a few besiegers dared to attack the vixen, who promised without a word, but with bared teeth and widened eyes, death and destruction to any fool who dared to approach. A young woman tried to wrap her up from behind, but Hoya began to flicker on contact and vanished into thin air.

Only to reappear right behind the attacker, who was still confused at the illusion. After a few quick punches to the torso, the madwoman immediately took off. Another one was kept at a distance with a laser that came out of the strange handgun.

Elli used the distraction of this fight to use her now tried and true tactics to get these people back to normal as well. Only, those on the other side of the siege ring noticed immediately and decided to shift their aim to the blonde. With a respectful bow around Hoya, they hurried towards Elli.

And slammed into several advertising pillars that spontaneously materialized in front of them.
And all began to chew abruptly and thoughtfully…. Hoya had used thaumaturgy, which had promptly been misappropriated by Elli.

They gave each other an incredulous look.

"That doesn't mean we're friends," Hoya then said snappily.

"Never suggested it, anyway," it came back sullenly. "Where's Dean, by the way?"

In reply, a rather fat Korean man landed ungently on the pavement behind her. He immediately tried to get back up and bite Elli, but Chloe responded in time with more vegetables.

A rather disheveled Dean stomped over. He looked as if he had suddenly exerted a magnetic force on all food items in a dining hall.

"Nice of you to think of me," he remarked dryly.

Well, only verbally dry, he was dripping with all sorts of sauces and oils.

Hoya, meanwhile, looked around at the citizens who had come back to their senses, frantically talking to each other and tending to the wounded.

"Can someone explain to me what just happened?"

"Apparently this madness can be cured with chives und artemisia," Ginam explained.

"It's not a mundane disease," Elli added thoughtfully. "The vegetables work right after you swallow them. It's not a cure, it's a condition to be fulfilled. Some curse must be at work here. Ginam, how many cases do they know of where chive und artemisia have brought someone to their senses?"

"None," replied the thaumaturgist. "But I can think of an old Korean tale, of the birth of Dangun. His father Hwanung set a tigress and a she-bear the task of feeding only on chives und artemisia to become humans. But only the she-bear persevered. As a result, she became a human woman and was taken as a wife by Hwanung."

"Uh, garlic, not chives," Dahŭi corrected.

"No, chives," Ginam insisted. "The story takes place in 2333 B.C., garlic only came to us from China around year zero, Dahŭi."

"Well, I only know the fairy tale with garlic," the medium defended herself.

"Well, the roots look similar," Elli agreed.

"Tiger strips," muttered Chloe, who had completely ignored this discussion. "Could that have something to do with the scraps of fabric on the tree?"

"Do you think the tigress was sealed in the tree?" asked Hoya. "It's possible, I suppose. She must have developed quite a hatred for humanity. Maybe that's why she was locked away. I'm sure she's trying to make all the other humans beasts like her, too."

"But then why doesn't the Wanderer's Library know about it?" wondered Elli. "I mean, it's not that big of a deal-"

The ground shook again.

Elli sighed.

"Before the pussycat breaks out, I'd like to see the seal renewed. From here on…"

A Nexus portal opened in a building entrance near them.

"… we'll take a shortcut, if you allow."

"Is that-" asked Dahŭi, before Elli interrupted her as well.

"Yes, and we're going in there now, and you guys keep your fingers to yourselves, understood?"

At the base of the Shin-dan-su, there was a small hole in the ground that suddenly blackened, allowing Ginam to step out, followed by an extremely pale-looking Dahŭi. Then followed a Nexus-cleaned Dean in with Chloe on his shoulders, then Hoya and finally Elli.

A quick glance beyond the rim of her filter glasses confirmed to Elli that the area was in dense fog.
"Dahŭi, are you all right?" asked Hoya.

The medium nodded hastily, even though her complexion spoke a very different language.
"We need to hurry," Ginam said, looking at the almost completely burned strips of cloth high up on the tree.

Chloe was being lowered by Dean, but she was only peripherally aware of it. Her gaze was transfixed on the tree, because up close it was simply gigantic. It towered like a golden mountain in front of them.

Ginam began to perform movements at the roots, which Chloe, for lack of better knowledge, compared to tai chi. Unhealthy, jerky tai chi…

The movements showed effect. A kind of hologram materialized in front of them. It looked like a bright white mandala, littered with characters that would have meant nothing to Chloe without the translation patch. They had meanings like "earth," "water," "seal…" "tiger"

"So, what is it, Ginam?" asked Hoya impatiently.

"Wait, some things don't make sense," the thaumaturge replied. "I have to-"

The ground shook. And since the Shin-dan-su was the epicenter, it lifted everyone present off their feet.

"Woah!" went Elli as she fell forward and hit the ground. "I must have had too much to drink. I'm on the floor and I have to hold on…"

"NOW she notices," Dean mocked, propping himself up on all fours.

Chloe plopped down on her butt and felt something trying to reach for her. Something that hated, something that craved revenge.

And abruptly let go of her, as if Chloe was a hot piece of iron.

Was that Ku?

She looked confusedly at Elli, who had apparently just experienced something similar.

Finally, the tremor subsided. She sighed in relief.

Behind her, something growled menacingly.

Before Chloe could even turn around, Dean reached past her. Whatever he caught whimpered pathetically.

When she finally risked a look, she realized Dean had grabbed Dahŭi by the collar and was holding her aloft. She kicked her legs and clawed at his arm, but he didn't seem to care much.

"Ginam, get ahold of yourself!" she heard Hoya yell.

The vixen held Ginam in a headlock, who tried his damnedest to bite her.

"Did it get them too," Elli asked.

To Chloe's indignation, there was no fear in her voice, just scientific curiosity…

"Hmm, Chloe and I are still fully there, Hoya as well… Apparently, whatever this is, only affects human Koreans. Hmm… "

"Your urge to explore is honorable, but we have more important things to do!" Hoya chided. "We're running out of time! And without Ginam, we have no one-"

"Well, I can still read this," Elli interrupted, studying the hologram.

"Hm… Hm… Uh-oh…"

Chloe hated it when Elli said, "Uh-oh…"

"What, what is it?" asked Hoya scampered.

"Uh, apparently a sacrifice was made for this seal, a god at that," Elli explained. "It seems we would need a new one…. And a god to offer as the sacrifice…. This seal is appears to be from Hwanung himself. Wait, that doesn't make sense… Why would the tiger limit itself to only Koreans…"

"Wah-," Hoya made startled, snapping Elli out of her musings. "Where are we going to get a god willing to sacrifice himself?!"

Elli was already thinking aloud and straining.

"Hmm, how do you get a tigress to not break out of her dimension…"

However, it was Hoya who had the flash of genius.

"By shipping her off to another…"

Elli looked at her, partly puzzled and partly annoyed.

"Just beaten by a second…"

"Are you sure you've read that right?" Hoya asked.

She stood with Elli on a green lawn.

"I think so," Elli replied. "Seals follow algorithms, even in unlocking them. And Ginam had uncovered those, fortunately. But first we have to lure it in here."

She reached for a radio on her pants.

"Dean? How does it look?"

"The stripes are about to be completely burned away. No change in sight yet."

Hoya looked tensely at the small black gap in front of them and began to weave her illusion.

The roots of the tree lifted as the last of the fabrics burned away. A huge earthquake accompanied this process, turning all the Koreans in Mujin City who had not eaten chive und artemisia into mindless beasts that pounced upon the few that remained. The creature, who was now walking with slow, graceful steps towards the exit under the roots, was only peripherally aware of this, however. At last she would be free. At last she would be able to break away from this accursed god. At last-

The being had stepped out and walked across the earth at the foot of the Shin-dan-su, but suddenly its field of vision wavered as if someone had thrown stones into water. The scene changed to a green meadow where two women were standing.

"What was that about the tigress again?" the blonde asked with a raised eyebrow.

Site-64K, a Foundation facility near Mujin City, was in uproar. Within seconds, almost all the employees had gone insane. Only to all come back to their senses quite suddenly. It is probably unnecessary to mention that there was very suddenly a very great confusion in the site, as well as in the city itself, where the phenomenon also occurred…

Wearing gold embroidered traditional Korean robes, an Asian woman, perhaps four meters tall, stood in front of Elli and Hoya. Her brown hair was pinned up and the mere sight of her caused mortals to knot their brains, unless one's name was Elli and one could think four-dimensionally. She looked at them both with amber eyes in confusion.

Elli and Hoya returned the gaze in kind.

Because on the woman's head, two bear ears sat throned…

"If this is supposed to be neglect play, Hwanung is a pretty sick god…" Elli remarked, trying not to burst out laughing at the sight of the ears.

"What is this?" the she-bear asked angrily. "What is this place?"

"Uh, about that later," Hoya said, chuckling stifled. "Can you… Can you explain something to us? We were actually expecting a…. a tiger lady."

The woman snorted contemptuously while Hoya sucked on her cigarette, probably trying to not start laughing.

"A tigress… She let my cursed husband skin her so he could imprison me."

"The tiger was used…" echoed Hoya, suddenly dead serious.

"That explains why the Wanderer's Library didn't know anything about them," it occurred to Elli. "Hwanung couldn't just tell his people that he had locked away his own wife. But what could you have done to…? Oooh…"

Elli's mouth twisted into a grin.

"I guess your own grass was greener in the end, huh? You tried to reassume your original form and the Koreans, over whom you still legally rule today, would have forfeited their humanity as payment due to your transformation… Mujin City was apparently just enough for your ears…. Oh man, Hoya, THAT MUST BE SO EMBARRASSING FOR HER!"

The two women finally started laughing.

In response, the bear stomped her foot in anger. The ground cracked in several places from the force. Hoya struggled to keep her balance as the fissures reached her before she realized she wasn't in danger at all. For Elli was preventing her from falling over…

"Enough of this chatter, where am I! Let me out!"

"Sorry," Hoya said with her cap pulled and grinning mischievously. "But you know, the safety of the Korean Peninsula is more important to us than your welfare."

She took another drag on her cigarette and blew out the smoke.

The huge woman growled and ran towards the vixen to attack her.

However, she was suddenly lifted off the ground and somersaulted struggling, without making contact with the earth again.

Hoya watched the spectacle in confusion and then turned to Elli.

"Was that you? I didn't use any thaumaturgy at all for you to exploit."

"True," Elli replied. "But this is my world. In the Nexus, I make the rules."

To punctuate her words, she pulled a violet from her nose.

"For example, what you see here is zero-gravity."

The she-bear abruptly slapped on the floor and exclaimed a strangled gasp. She couldn't push herself up.

"And that's too much gravity."

"Don't kill her!" warned Hoya. "We don't know what effects her death will have on Korea."

Elli set the gravity back to standard. Immediately, the bear lunged at Elli in blind fury. Elli floated up a little and delivered a punch a fist bump that lifted her off the ground and made her hit it lengthwise again.

"I don't like fisticuffs, to be honest," Elli commented. "Unless it's part of the mattress sport…"

The bear rose again, panting.

"What- what are you scheming?"

Elli made a serious face. A cube-shaped metal frame built up around the huge woman.

"The fact is, we can't leave you behind for Korea's sake. But we can't get rid of you without any care either. That's why I'm going to keep you safe until I can think of something better.

The bear's eyes grew wide.


And then she halted all movement when Elli stopped her time.

"If I got a dime for every time someone said that to me, I'd be able to guzzle the booze one silo at a time… You okay, Chloe?"

Chloe had stood a little bit away, watching the spectacle. She needed both hands to close her jaw again.

Elli pulled out her flask.

Hoya had invited Elli and her companions to dinner to celebrate the overcoming of this crisis. Roots of the Shin-dan-su could be seen outside and showed that the tree was beginning to fade again. Dahŭi and Ginam had regained consciousness after Dean briefly tied them up and were already far enough back up to make Hoya regret agreeing to pay the tab. The only positive aspect was Dean, who, as usual, hadn't ordered anything.

"Don't make a habit of it, though," Elli admonished over her roast meat. "I've agreed to keep the bear, but my Nexus is not a junk room. I also have no idea what the consequences of a goddess staying in it for any length of time are."

Dahŭi gulped audibly.

"That Hwanung was pretty malicious, though," Chloe tried to change the subject. "I mean, he just sacrificed a tiger goddess and no one ever found out about it…"

Hoya chuckled as she speared a piece of chicken.

"Well, we can assume that the tigress' sacrifice was voluntary and honored accordingly."


Hoya pulled out a smartphone and showed Chloe the heraldic animal of South Korea…

"Really nice people when you get to know them better…" noted Ginam as the Nexus closed in front of them.

"Just a shame I didn't get her number," Hoya commented. "Well, we'll go out for a drink next Saturday, maybe I'll have better luck then…"

"You want to keep getting involved with that monster?!" Dahŭi snapped.

Her companions looked at her in confusion.

"Now that you mention it, Dahŭi, what's gotten into you! Ever since you were in the Nexus, you've been-"

Dahŭi interrupted Hoya with a gesture.

"I know, Hoya, but you haven't seen what I've seen!"

The vixen's eyebrows drew together.

"What did you see? What's there in the Nexus?"

Dahŭi collected herself before answering. The words came with difficulty over her lips. She had to force herself.

"The dead. The souls of unimaginable numbers of the dead. The Atoner probably keeps them away from herself with natural laws, forcing them to find peace, but their resentment is still there. It hangs like a miasma in this dimension. I've read what she's done, but to see the effects with my own eyes…"

"Well, it saved us, anyway," Ginam countered…

"But that doesn't mean we should continue to associate with her. Ginam," Dahŭi objected. "She's a monster!"

Hoya thought back to what the scholars of the Wanderer's Library had once told her. The Serpent's Hand knew a lot of unspeakable dangers but Elli, it was said, eclipsed even some of the darkest gods with her deeds…

Next time on Nexus:
The Others, Part 1

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