"You wanted to see me, Gaea?"
Wu stood off to her right as Tabitha waddled into the room, pulling back the curtain of shells, beads and sea glass so that the former warrior may enter. The dark, bark-colored walls wrapped around this circular room, and it surely had been a spacious room at one point, but with piles upon disorganized piles of empty food containers, boxes and jars filled with miscellaneous items, keepsakes and mementos collected from around the world, a few old sheets and clothes, and a skeleton taking up said space, it felt just a tiny bit on the cramped side of things. For a big girl like Tabitha, it was a poor setting to be stuck in. Gaea was slouched in a chair constructed from the interweaving stems of several enormous sunflowers. She seemed only half-awake, lazily munching on handfuls of roasted seeds and nuts while staring straight ahead at nothing. Maybe she was in some sort of trance, or she was simply feeling gloomy. When Wu announced Tabitha's presence, Gaea suddenly snapped to attention, dropping her bag of seeds and sitting up straight. It only took a flick of her wrist for the bag and its contents to reform themselves in her hands.
"Welcome, Tabitha! Good morning! It's been a few days, hasn't it? A few days? A week maybe? Longer than that? Ah, it doesn't matter! How have you been adapting? Have you enjoyed your time here? Isn't it cool? It's pretty... djúpr here, isn't it? No, that isn't the right word, kaldr or frjōsa I think? Ah, I must be getting a little behind the time, that wasn't even the right language...heh heh heh..."
Tabitha blinked. Gaea was certainly acting a little strange, talking fast and rambling on, like an awkward mother trying to fit in with her teenage daughter's group of friends. The Goddess seemed out of sorts. Gaea kept wearing her odd smile as she wiped a few crumbs off of her burgeoning belly; like the four warriors, she was looking a little plumper around the middle too. Sighing, Wu stepped forward.
"Lady Gaea. Please."
Her bag of nuts toppled over onto the floor again. "Ah! Uh, s-sorry! I was just...um...anyway, Tabitha, please, tell me how you've been!"
Wu leaned over to Tabitha. "Sorry about this; sometimes she gets a little depressed about her age. It's one of those days."
"Uh...okay...?" Tabitha didn't really get it. How could there be any sort of downside such as 'age' when you're supposed to have immortal youth? No one would have even been able to tell the difference if the immortal in question hadn't brought it up in the first place.
"Just answer her. Help keep her mind off it." said Wu.
Tabitha met eyes with the goddess as she spoke, "It's been...it's been very fine here! Thank you for allowing us to stay here, providing us beds and food! I apologize for the trouble this must have caused you and your followers!"
"You really need to understand, Tabitha; I'm more than happy to do it! But thank you for your compliments!" Gaea beamed, looking much happier now. Wu was relieved.
"It really was no trouble at all." Gaea continued, "My powers allow the creation of infinite resources whenever I wish, and the Flor only eat what is normally considered 'inedible' for humans, they have special stomachs you see, so there was plenty of food to pass around. Wu and I had missed having a human element in our lives after we had split ways with the tribal pirate-cannibals of the deep south ten years ago, and so you four were quite welcomed. If anything, I am touched that you are touched by our hospitality."
Tabitha bowed her head. "Nonetheless, we will not stay here and impede you, whether allowed or not, for much longer."
"No?" Gaea asked.
"We have...we have been eating and lounging for far too long, and it is beginning to take a toll on our bodies. We have become too fat to properly fight or even wield our weapons as we once did," Tabitha's face burned as she spoke these words, the humiliation of having to admit and discuss her own obesity and poor lack of self-control around food made her wish she'd let those desert monsters eat her face, "We must return to society while we still can walk on our own two feet. We have spent too long away from our guild, and they will be demanding reports on what we have accomplished here, as well. Our livelihoods are at stake the longer we stay, even though we know you mean no harm, but we had originally come here on a mission, and we must accomplish that mission under orders of the guild. I apologize in chance that I may have offended you, but it may be time that we say good-bye to you, Wu, and the Flor, madam Goddess."
Gaea took in everything that Tabitha had just said, mulled it over in a split-second, and started to smirk.
"Tabitha, I'm glad that you told me those things. It actually makes a good segue into why I asked Wu to bring you to meet me in the first place."
"...What?" Tabitha realized, she had almost forgotten that was the purpose she was brought here. She did wonder why Gaea would want to speak to Tabitha, and Tabitha alone. Wu had been rather cryptic about it; she'd said that Tabitha was supposed to be 'speaking on the behalf of humanity'. That did not sound too promising, and Tabitha wanted nothing to do with that. She wasn't fit to be humanity's representative, she wasn't fit to be anyone's representative, she wasn't fit period! She was an overweight and washed-up warrior who had no right to make decisions for the entire human race, and she certainly didn't deserve to be able to speak to a Goddess face-to-face like this. Tabitha was prepared to voice her objections, but then Gaea continued speaking.
"I noticed how you're the only one who doesn't refer to me as 'Lady Gaea'." the goddess remarked.
Tabitha blanched. "Oh...uh...I didn't...I mean, I never meant to offend or undermine you and your greatness in any way-"
"No, no! Don't apologize! I was happy that you didn't call me that, really!" Gaea quickly replied.
Tabitha was looking skeptical at this point, and it must have been obvious, since Gaea was hasty to explain herself.
"It means you were suspicious of me, you questioned my authenticity! That's a good thing! Immediate compliance doesn't compel anyone to state the big questions or argue against me. During my travels around the world, it was the shamans, the medicine men, the doctors, the scientists, they who would question my existence and my abilities to my face. I always enjoyed talking with them the most, because people who are willing to accept me, they are wonderful people, I won't deny that. but they're not the ones that I need to work hard to prove myself to."
"W-Well, err, you're welcome?"
"Oh, and I am not saying your friends are idiots. They're all quite intelligent, but they are so grateful to me that they have already openly and willingly accepted me for what I appear to be. You, on the other hand, still have your doubts. Not many humans would still question a deity even after having been shown around, fed, clothed and allowed to stay overnight in their village, but since you do, I can depend on you to make a wiser, more trustworthy decision than any of your friends. You are also a leader, I've seen how you four interact, so I can also expect a responsible answer too."
"I...this is...uh...a little much..."
"I want you to help me figure out the right way so that I can lend humanity a hand. After everything I've seen, I've realized that I might need to lift my self-imposed ban and offer a bit of aid. However, as a Goddess, I am not able to think about these things on the same level as a human, even though I'm supposed to be above them in every single way. The way someone lives their life can greatly alter their perspective, and my perspective is too skewed by my own talents to ever hope to match a human's. That's where you come in."
Tabitha and Wu stared back at the Goddess with wide eyes and slacked jaws. Gaea started blushing.
"I...I mean...that's, that's totally radical, isn't it?" The poor Goddess was desperate to prove that she wasn't too old just yet.
Before Tabitha could even manage to open her mouth or think up a single remark, Wu was already interjecting her thoughts into the matter. Whether she had intended it or not, whether she possessed as much control over it as she sometimes displayed, her tail shot out and whipped Tabitha across her wide bottom. Tabitha shrieked. Caressed her wounded rear, she could already tell that the monkey-girl was not quite pleased about this arrangement between the Goddess and the human. Even her face seemed as flushed as her red fur.
"Lady Gaea, I don't mean to disrespect, but I have to raise my objections at this point!"
Gaea coughed. "Wu...?"
"I hope you don't hate me for doing this, I have nothing against you personally," Wu had suddenly started speaking to Tabitha, who only opened and closed her mouth, speechless, with bugged eyes. Her butt still felt the sting resonating from the tail-slap too.
"Wu, what are you doing?" Gaea asked, slightly intrigued.
The monkey-girl outstretched an arm; the band on her wrist unraveled, expanding larger and larger in both width and size as it gently slithered into her open palm, where it quickly stretched horizontally, going in both directions until it touched the floor, straightened itself, and finally solidified, transforming into a long, slender staff. It fit perfectly in Wu's grasp as she clenched her fingers around the thick shaft. She spun the staff in her hand before turning it and aiming it threateningly at Tabitha's head.
"I don't want your influence to affect her! Lady Gaea is simply feeling lonely from mortal companionship, but she doesn't really need it! She's simply confused! Please, I do not mind having to cook for you or your friends, but you may be right, it may be high time that you four depart from this place!"
Tabitha had already disliked the path that her discussion with Gaea was taking; right now they had already driven so far off the path that they were barreling face-first off of a cliff, taking a five-hundred-foot drop and straight into a field of dynamite, wolves and poisonous spikes.
"Wu! What in the name of Niflheim are you doing to our guest? Please put your staff away; there's no need to bring out your weapon here!"
Wu sighed. "I'm sorry, Lady Gaea. I...I don't think it's right. You had made an oath to me and the Flor...and I want to make sure that you stay with it...you told me that that is part of my job, as your guardian and confidante...that is why I had come here in full body gear." This time, though, she'd forgotten to wear her combat boots, she had on sandals instead.
"Am I able to say anything in my defense?" Tabitha asked.
"Wu, this is ridiculous. Times change, and so do I, I am not afraid to admit it. I don't intend to play too large of a role in humanity's development, though; it's only going to be a bit of a push, a nudge in the right direction! You like humans too, don't you, Wu?"
Wu narrowed her eyes, those glistening orbs full of suspicion and apprehension and years upon years of concealed disgust, toward the fat warrior standing before her. She was directing all of her past grudges upon this single woman. Tabitha did not know what had happened in Wu's past, of course she wouldn't, but she could only assume that before she was taken under Gaea's wing, she had suffered terribly. Her appearance was likely the reason why. As Tabitha thought back on the past while she and her allies had spent in Gaea's village, it was apparent that they had never interacted with Wu for more than a minute at any given time. The monkey-girl had been avoiding them deliberately, and now she had an understanding as to why.
"...Not as much as you, my Lady Goddess, I'm sorry to say..." Wu replied after a moment's deliberation.
Gaea rose up from her chair, standing tall, and Tabitha could have sworn she felt the floor tremble for a moment beneath her feet. However, that trembling may have just been the cold, prickly sensation making its way up the length of her spine. Gaea stepped forward. Tabitha's breath caught itself in her throat; she could hear a quiet shifting coming from far away, like the way that the trees' branches shook in the breeze. This giant flower they were living in, so grandiose in scale that it was able to reach through the clouds, was starting to bend under the weight of Gaea's footsteps. It was the power of a Goddess she was witnessing, but to cause this sort of effect without what appeared to be any conscious effort, then to see her truly enraged...Tabitha felt the shiver finally reach her shoulders.
"Wu," Gaea spoke clearly with her voice raised only the slightest bit, but it seemed like she was intentionally holding herself back, for Wu's own sake, "Don't do anything you'll end up regretting. Please, turn your staff away from our guest. It's very rude."
"But, Lady Gaea!"
"She didn't hurt you, Wu. None of them did."
"But they're just like them! Wayward warriors from some unimportant little guild!"
"Wu, the people who hurt you have been dead for almost a thousand years."
"I know! But these people, these warriors," she spoke the word like it was venom in her spit, "They were coming for you, they came here to find something! That's why they had weapons, and that's why they were hired to inspect this place! Not like everyone else we've met, who we always approached first! They were going to attack our home! How can you trust them so easily? Why give them the chance to decide humanity's fate?"
"Wu...you're not making any sense..." Gaea shook her head, and the air around her seemed to twist and distort, "Are they the same, or are they different? Please, calm down, Wu. We can settle this like adults, can't we?"
"Argh," Wu was faltering; Tabitha could see how her eyes were already losing that rage reflecting in them, dripping away under the weight of her past tragedies replaying over and over in her thoughts, and the grip on her staff loosened. "...Lady Gaea..."
"I love you, Wu, so please, I don't want to have to see you this way. I would never let anyone hurt you again, not over my dead body, even if I could die. Now lower your staff."
Wu's staff lowered.
"Wu, now tell me, would you really deny the people of this planet from me being able to help them, because of one past grudge? I don't expect you to forget, Wu, but I do hope you can forgive at least yourself, and to get beyond it. So, please, don't try to strike out at our guest. You don't need to worry about Tabitha or about me. You know full well I can take care of myself, and the decision I'm asking Tabitha to make...if I thought she wouldn't make a good choice, I would not have asked her at all."
Wu sniffled. "...I'm sorry..."
"Don't apologize to me."
Wu and Tabitha locked eyes, and the obese warrior could feel that the animosity was completely gone, and she let out a breath of relief. The monkey-girl was red-faced, mostly because she was struggling not to start crying in front of the Goddess or their esteemed guest. Sniffling again, sucking back in some loose phlegm in her nose, the monkey-girl wiped her face on her sleeve.
"I'm sorry." Wu bowed her head.
"It's, it's okay." Tabitha briskly nodded back.
"The equipment you brought here, the armor and the spear," Wu's voice cracked as she continued, but she attempted to ignore that little blunder, "It reminded me of that time, and it caused me to become very suspicious of you and your comrades..."
"I see..." Tabitha's armor and spear were both handed down from her father, and he had told her on that day that he had received the armor and weapon from his own father, as part of tradition. He had not told her how many hands the spear had gone through, or how many years since the armor first existed, nor even the actual origins of either. It seemed that her father had no idea, and Tabitha had neglected to ask him, as she had not considered it important at the time, nor never would have, until this very moment. Maybe Wu did have a reason to be wary after all, if one of her attackers long ago had been wearing similar attire. Tabitha made note that, whenever she returned home, she would look into her family's past a little deeper.
Gaea smiled. The flower no longer felt like it was tipping; the world had returned to normal. "I'm so glad we were able to make this up without any fighting! You really got me worried, Wu!" She had never intended to use force from the start, but the threat of it had certainly been real.
She gave the monkey-girl's tail a playful tug. Wu was about ready to drop on her hands and knees to beg forgiveness, in fact she'd spun on her heel to put herself face to face with Gaea, when a knock on the door summoned the attention of all three women.
"Come in!" Gaea called in a sing-song kind of way.
The door opened to reveal an elderly Flor. "Lady Gaea, is...is everything alright in here?"
"Oh, I'm sorry! Did you all feel that?"
"Y-Yes, we did..."
"Oh dear - I mean, oh shucks! I didn't mean to make all of you scared too! Please, tell the others it will be alright, especially the children! There's nothing wrong here anymore! No need to be afraid!"
"That is wonderful news, my Lady, but that is not all the reason I came here..."
The Flor hacked. "There are...koff koff...visitors, at the base of the flower. Two of them."
Gaea arched an eyebrow, puzzled. "Visitors?" she hadn't been expecting any more guests these days. It would have been odd for her to even assume so, with the surrounding Lunar Plains deadly enough to keep out most headstrong heroes looking to make a name for themselves. Then again, a portly crew like Tabitha's had managed to reach here safely, albeit with some aid from Gaea herself, so others more fit and more determined would likely reach here one of these days. Today seemed to be that day.
"Let's go see who it is!"
Gaea, Wu and Tabitha walked/waddled with the elderly Flor in the lead, taking them out of Gaea's home and across the bridges, to where the flower's vantage point, a small gap of space between two gigantic petals, allowed its occupants to look out at the world outside. Not that there was ever much to see: flat, empty land for miles and miles in every direction. A beam of sunlight was leering through the hole, and Tabitha's skin tingled from the touch of its warmth as they approached. Gaea thanked the old Flor and sent him on his way. She leaned over to peer through the slit, to see who these mysterious strangers were that had decided to pay them a house-call on this sunny day-
"Excuse me, but I need to come in."
Gaea jumped back. A mysterious figure was standing there halfway through the hole, having appeared practically out of the air itself. Clad in a back body-suit that hid all but their eyes, the visitor kept one hand on their hip and the other on the hilt of the blade strapped to their thigh. With the sunlight on the visitor's back, they cast a grand shadow, one that eclipsed the stunned onlookers. The ninja stepped out and landed in front of Gaea. They stared at one another. Wu summoned her staff to her hand.
"...It took a lot of kunai to climb up here...shit..." breathed the ninja, and then promptly collapsed.
"Whoa." was all Gaea could manage to say.
"An attacker!" Wu was ready to strike even while the visitor was lying motionless on the ground. She raised her staff high over her head.
"Wait!" Tabitha cried, running over to the ninja, "I think I know who this is-"
Tabitha reached out to the ninja. Suddenly, the ninja sprang up with a new-found surge of vigor, swiped at Tabitha's hand to slap it away, and jumped back to put space between them. One hand was always kept close to their blade.
"Ouch!" Tabitha gripped her wounded hand; it was just a slap, but still, it had stung.
The ninja's eyes bulged from behind its black mask. "...Tabitha? You're still alive? My God! We thought you were dead!"
"Oh! It's one of your friends! That's a relief!" Gaea exclaimed. Wu remained in her offensive stance.
The ninja finally took the time to look around at their surroundings, and realized it was very, very different to what they had expected.
"What in the world is this place?"
The ninja shook their head after a quiet moment.
"No, no, that doesn't matter right now. Tabitha, are the others alive? Tsara? Yangdra? Morgana?"
"Yes, all of them! We've been-"
"You can tell me after I kill these two for taking you hostage." The ninja unsheathed their blade. It seemed to glint and sparkle like it was setting off sparks in the sunlight. Running down the length of the sword were a set of foreign characters, written in a language of the weapon's home country.
Wu had heard enough to be convinced, and she lunged forward. A pointed tip made of the world's hardest bark protruded out of the staff. Wu swung, and the ninja raised their sword to block the attack. Unfortunately, one swing was all that it took. Tabitha did not know what sort of training Wu had experienced under Gaea, or maybe if her species, whatever she really was, were naturally stronger than the average human, but the ninja hadn't stood a chance. When the staff came in contact with the blade, it cut through the latter as if it were nothing but a stick of warm, unsalted butter, and even the ninja's own uniform was torn to shreds, leaving a giant gap revealing a laced bra and average-sized breasts. Along with that, a plump gut, round and well-fed over years of unfettered indulgence, came plummeting over the female ninja's waistline, hanging far enough to cover her crotch. Her belly bounced about as the ninja tried to regain her footing. Wu stepped back, stunned by this surprise reveal, nearly as much as her opponent was.
"You...you broke my sword!" the ninja screeched, "YOU BROKE MY CORSET!"
Gaea covered her mouth to catch a snicker attempting to sneak out.