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Rated: 13+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2036184
Our Heroes approach the elusive exit- but is it too late for the Republic?
[Introduction] (Thank-you to Ticklesfan04, for creating the Facility!
Pt #1
 From Lowest Depths...  [13+]
Eight ticklish heroes, a mysterious new world, and one hidden exit...
by jdstephens


Interactive:

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by A Guest Visitor


(Remember -feel free to request an invite at any time!)

Note: During the Campfire, you'll have one week to add, give or take an extra day if you're pressed for time but still want to write. If not, I'll have to skip to the next person on the roster (I should send you a reminder at three days). Screw it; I broke the rule. Add when you're ready. Ahem.

When last we left our heroes....

The Republic of Resistance Against the Programmer grows ever more factious. Divided by sword colour, groups of rival featherblades harass and attack one another in the streets of the capitol city. Rioting and prejudice spiral to greater heights daily. With chaos rising, a curfew, the complete banning of tickling, and a militarized police force have been introduced by desperate President Jennifer Thresk. The most elite riot-police are doubtless the Hounds, commanded by Captain Sebastian Rex; they aggressively hunt and incarcerate even the most minor of ticklers.

But not to be stopped, these measures have by all appearances only served to escalate the violence, orchestrated by a sinister 'Order' of implacable ticklers, and their elusive leaders, Puck and Theseus. As the atmosphere grows ever more militant and chaotic, important eyes look to the Expedition long since dispatched in search of an escape route from the Facility. It is vital that order be maintained long enough for word to be sent back, but is it already too late?

And yet zealous Hounds, beleaguered citizenry, phantasmal Order members, and nervous leaders are not all that plot in the Republic. Already, faint rumours circulate of an intended coup, to be made by the numerous and implacable Yellow Feathers, a shadowy movement some believe goes all the way up to President Thresk herself...

Meanwhile, in the monster-haunted wastes of corridors and rooms far from human habitation, Adonis the White, Jain the Purple, Veritas the Red, Marcus the Grey, Atlanta the Pink, Titania the Yellow, Jason the Blue, and Oberon the Green struggle ever onwards. They know their mission, they know their duty, but will it be enough to quell petty disputes and quarrels until escape can be found?

The Cast:

-New Babylon-
President Jennifer Thresk: /F President of the Republic, centred around New Babylon.
Captain Sebastian Rex: /M Head of the Extraordinary Civil Security (ECS/'Hounds') forces.
Puck: /F Joint head of the Order of Ticklers
Theseus: /M Joint head of the Order of Ticklers

-The Expedition-
Adonis: /M White Leader of Expedition; in a relationship with Jain (mutual loathing with Oberon)
Jain: /F Purple Scout; in a relationship with Adonis (mutual loathing with Titania)
Marcus: /M Grey Muscle; firm friends with Veritas
Veritas: /F Red Member; firm friends with Marcus
Jason: /M Blue Member; in a relationship with Atlanta
Atlanta: /F Pink Member; in a relationship with Jason
Oberon:/M Green Member; in a relationship with Titania (mutual loathing with Adonis)
Titania:/F Yellow Member; in a relationship with Oberon (huge crush on Adonis/mutual loathing with Jain)
"The Programmer," The voice of Adonis the White was stiff with finality. "Is an ass-hole.” The endless forest of plant-monsters hissed and slithered as his T-Phaser spewed pale light over their rubbery bark. Mutant hides seemed to simply fade away under the beam, reduced to thin air by the burning light.

All around him, trees –disquieting heteroclite specimens of flora with endless writhing banks of tentacles drooping from their almost tumescently distended trunks- swayed and flailed, leaning forward in uncanny perception of the prey caught in their midst. The air was filled with laughter, shouts, and the alien rustling of hordes of mutant vegetation thrashing in an inhuman hunger for ticklish flesh.

"Are you so certain, Sherlock?" Called Oberon the Green from his position at the rear, panting as his sword slashed against encroaching tendrils in a blur. "Please, do tell us more!"

"Oh, shut-up." Jain the Purple cut the head off a giant toothed vice of plant-matter savagely. "He just meant; 'Who puts a path through a whole forest of cephlo-cedars, anyway'? And he's got a point." She stabbed her blade deep into the hungry pocket of plant matter, grunting with satisfaction as the bulbous appendage faded to purple and vanished.

Behind her, Jacen went down, Blue laughing and squirming as a dozen feathery fronds darted at long last past his defences to tease over his bare midriff. He curled up into a ball in the centre of the path, laughing too hard to even acknowledge the meaty roots that seized hold of his ankles and began to gently drag him away...

Atlanta was on him in a Flash, Blue featherblade falling like a logging axe to smash back the tendrils. She laughed crazily as the sheer number of tendrils assailing them both redoubled, sneaky tips prodding and brushing all over her body, steadily forcing her back and down. One feather-tipped tentacle sliced across her lower abdomen, and the Pink was knocked to her knees next to her boyfriend, laughing and thrashing.

And then Marcus was looming over them both, massive Grey weapon moving like a conductor’s baton to knock the hostile things back. Veritas swayed at his heels, the diminutive Red looking entirely elfin next to the huge Grey, sword easily picking off the rare interloper to seriously challenge her comrades’ defences.

Almost back-to-back with them on the narrow pathway, Titannia grappled with a flurry of darting vines, Yellow sword shearing in textbook precision as she gradually shuffled to the side. Bronzed skin shone glossily with sweat under the chamber’s artificial sun.

“This has to be the biggest Yard outside of the Ocean one!” She panted, chest heaving under the result of hours of continuous exertion. Glacially, the group moved forward down the ghost of the old Vine Forest trail, fighting a running battle with the aggressive plant-life for every step of the way.

“Would you believe we’ve only covered three miles since this mor-ourning?” Jain called, breaking off with a gasp as a lucky tendril ran up her side, making the fleet purple squirm. She hacked back savagely, darting to the side as Adonis finished blazing open a new space for them to move through. On human flesh, the phaser elicited an overwhelming ticklish response; on the animate trees, it worked like a flame-thrower. Yet another of the Programmer’s amusing little quirks.

“Keep moving! We’re not stopping until we’re out!” Adonis called over his shoulder, unloading another round into the teeth of the hungry jungle. At the point of the group, he was exhausted as any of them, but his voice held firm as he shouted.

The advance was going slow, but all things considered, they were making good time. Almost any other eight individuals in the Facility would have been overwhelmed before they got half a mile in. “Stay tight –there can’t be much more to go!” No sooner had he spouted the encouragement than had disaster made itself known.

Fighting her way along on their right flank, Titania never even saw the Deathhead. The rare green fungi crunched inside out softly as the Yellow’s heel brushed against it. It died with a soft click and phantasmal giggle –elocution echoed by Titannia’s cry as the muscles in her entire lower torso fell inert.

She staggered forward as her legs went limp, falling straightforward into a waiting mass of tentacles. Titania flailed, hacking away with the tangled remains of her defences, cutting down vines wildly as the snaking assailants embraced her greedily. She burst into hysterics, the vines heaved once –and in the space of a moment with copious room to spare, she was gone, sucked deep into the gullet of the ravenous jungle.

Fighting to her immediate right in the long of battle, Oberon was the only one to even see her vanish, half-paralyzed, into the trees. The Green leapt through the air, coming down exactly where she had left off, slashing back the tendrils that flew at his torso. But not at those offending his legs; as his sword vanished into his Pocket, replaced by two daggers, they duly hefted him up and yanked him inwards, following the exact same reflexive path as their previous victim had been swept along.

Here goes nothing, He thought wryly through the waves of tickling swamping his mind, knives flashing as his sides as the light and noise of the path vanished behind like a dream.
A Non-Existent User
Titania slashed wildly with her sword as she was dragged away from the path and her comrades and under the canopy of trees, but it was no use; for every vine she destroyed, three more took its place. The paralysis induced in her legs had, much to both her relief and disappointment, also numbed them to any tickling, but the tickling on her upperbody was still sending her into hysterics. Under other circumstances, she would probably enjoy this quite a bit, but right now they were on a mission; the tickling was just a distraction--a torturous, maddening, wonderful distraction--that she had to fight for the sake of her team and her country.

So she cut and slashed and swiped at vine after vine, hoping against hope that sooner or later the nearby trees would run out. But they didn't. In fact, through her tear-stained eyes, Titania though she saw vines she had already sliced through starting to heal themselves. And at that moment, Titania had a startling realization.

They're toying with me. It didn't make sense; the cephlo-cedars were just trees after all. All the scientists who insisted that the Facility was part of the physical world claimed that cephlo-cedars only attacked animals as a defense mechanism. And yet Titania couldn't shake the feeling that the trees were intentionally trying to give her the hope of escape by not restraining her arms or attacking her full force.

As if to prove her suspicion, an increasing number of vines started to line up above her, just out of her Feather Sword's reach, taunting her with the knowledge that they could strike at any moment. Titania panicked for just a moment, taking a few swipes at the vines beyond her reach, but in that moment, she forgot to pay attention to the vines already tickling her, and one of them suddenly lashed out and grabbed her sword's handle. At the same time, another vine swished along the underside of her breasts just long enough to make her squeal, let go of her sword, and bring her arms down under her breasts in a vain effort to protect herself.

The vines then lifted her legs off the forest floor, causing her to dangle in mid-air, and then they swiftly grabbed and restrained her arms. The tickling then stopped for a moment, and Titania was allowed to access her situation clearly. She was now completely restrained, a multitude of vines was braced to attack her at any second, one of them was threatening her with her own sword, and on top of everything, gravity was pulling her breasts down toward her head, leaving their undersides completely exposed and highly accessible.

Nearby, Titania heard a male voice call out her name and heard the sound of a Feather Sword slashing through vines nearby. She had just enough time to cry, "Adonis, help!" before the vines began their assault, tickling her upperbody with a vengeance and exploiting her boobs with her own Feather Sword.

"HAHAHAHAHAHA, NOHOHOHOHOHO, TOOHOOHOOHOOHOO MUHUHUHUHUHUCH!" As Titania started succumbing to the sensations, she vaguely realized that Oberon, not Adonis, was one who'd called her name, and she felt a sudden pang of disappointment... which quickly passed away as world started to revolve around tickling.
Any attempt at rescue from Oberon stopped shortly as he heard Titania call out for Adonis rather than him. Now, he was no fool, he knew their relationship was more born out of him being the most ruthless tickler of the group and Titania being someone who'd happily jump into a feather pit if no one was looking, but he still had his pride. With a slash of his sword that cut through the vines creeping towards him, he was content to let Titania stew in her own juices for a while as the vines descended upon her.

Watching the scene with a grin, Oberon soaked in the sight of a naked Titania, suspended upside down and helpless as the vines continued to torment her body, more moving towards her, attracted by the sound of her laughter. Her lower body soon got as much attention as her upper as vines started to wiggle at the back of her knees, a spot that Oberon knew made her all gooey inside. Four vines, two on each foot, soon assaulted her soles as well, scrabbling over the wriggling feet and even flicking over her scrunched toes, showing how pointless it was to even try to defend herself.

The vines seemed to focus most on her upper body though, which had practically all of Titania's hot spots. One vine slid into her bellybutton and started to wiggle about at great speeds, practically vibrating as it plunged deep into the navel and made Titania howl. Other vines fought for space in her underarms, stroking against the stretched, exposed hollow as they each tried to get into the middle and tickle there, with devastating results as the six or so tentacles fighting for purchase made the Yellow Feather scream each time one managed to get to the centre of the pits.

But the worst was reserved for her ample breasts and the Yellow Feather which Titania carried with pride was now being used against her. The long plume swished slowly over the underside of her breasts, teasing the skin slowly and softly, the stroking agonisingly slow as the Feather Sword went across every inch of her wonderfully ticklish undersides of her breasts. With that, Titania's defences were utterly destroyed and the Yellow Feather screamed and laughed, completely overwhelmed by the sensations that covered her body.

With Titania offering such a lovely target, Oberon watched with a smile as the vines that had gone for him now aimed themselves at Titania herself, more ticklish spots being exploited every second. This left Oberon rather safe to enjoy the view before a sudden presence to his right reminded him that there were others on this trip. He glanced and saw Adonis standing beside him, glaring at the Green Feather "Why aren't you doing anything?!" The White Feather demanded, getting in Oberon's face.

"OOOHHYYEEHEESSS!!! MOORREEHHEEMOOOREHHAHAHAAAA!!!" Titania screamed as the Feather Sword swished over one of her hardened nipples, making her body jolt in pleasure from the sudden target switch.

"... That answer your question?" Oberon replied with a smirk.
Adonis stood frozen as he started at the sight of Titania writhing, laughing, and moaning in her botanical bonds. In the entire time he had known her, she had always been stoic and controlled. The perfect lieutenant. Of course she was ticklish, everyone in the Facility was, and those that weren't sufficiently ticklish for the Programer's twisted designs seemed to become that way over time. One way or another. But this… seeing the ecstatic look on her face, the lustful bucking of her hips as the vines teased her, the reddened tinge on her face from all the tickling, arousal, and being flipped upside down… Adonis didn't know what to think. It was the sort of thing he'd expect from Atlanta.

"Oh plehehehease!" Titania begged shamelessly. "MOHOHOHORE!" Oberon obliged, swiping his feathersword across her breasts, pendulously hanging upside down, making the dark skinned woman arch her back and squeal. But only once, causing her to whimper in frustration, Oberon doling out the needed tickles in a sadistic mixture of kindness and cruelty. And the entire time, the vines eagerly attended to the woman: multiple vines swirled under each arm, tormenting each millimeter of exposed skin and seeming to fight with each other for space. More wriggles over her writhing hips, and a single soft vine twirled and wiggled inside her navel. It made Titania want to curl up defensively, but her bonds and sapped strength no longer allowed it.

"And to think, she could've been all yours, fearless leader." Oberon muttered with a sneer, swiping his weapon across her pert nipples in a quick motion before retracting back again. Adonis looked at Oberon dumbfounded, doubly surprised by the interaction between the two, and those comments in particular.

"What're you talking about?" Adonis cried out, still not sure what to do in this dynamic. He wanted to free Titania, but Oberon was positioning himself possessively between her and Adonis, preventing the hero from acting.

"This." Oberon said simply, and sawed his feathersword right between Titania's legs. This time he didn't tease, didn't pull away. He kept at it, causing Titania to burst into giggling and moaning, as if she couldn't decide whether she was being tickled or pleased, but didn't care either way. She bucked into Oberon's weapon as much as possible, while the vines eagerly continued to tickle as much skin as they could find, a number of them now licking against her exposed rear. And then Titania seemed to burst, her strong muscles pulling taut with a scream as her eyes rolled back in her head. She squirmed animalistically as the overwhelming pleasure overtook her, her laughter and moaning going silent as all sounds caught in her throat. And as the sensual display ended, Titania slumped in her vines, unconscious.

Before either Adonis or Oberon could say or do anything more, they heard someone push through the all-to-alive brush behind them. "You men are all alike." Jain said, glaring at each of them, although her angry look seemed to linger on Adonis. "Instead of a free and fighting Titania, we have an unconscious and heavy one. Who's going to carry her? And who's going to keep the vine's off of whoever's doing it? Not me." The shorter woman said with a huff, and the two noticed a sheen of sweat on her lithe body. None of them could keep dodging and slicing at these plants forever.

"Wait." Adonis said, his eyes lighting up. "I have an idea. Let the vines have Titania." True enough, the vines wrapped around the tall woman's legs were now slowly pulling her deeper into the forest, away from the three of them.

"What?!" Oberon exclaimed in surprise, while Jain seemed to grin. "Are you out of your mind? I thought we were all in this together!" He said angrily, turning his sword at Adonis.

"Hold on!" Adonis barked. "No way we can hack our way through here. But what if this place has some kind of center. Some kind of brain! If those vines are taking Titania there, and we can beat that, maybe we can shut this place down long enough to get through!"

"And hopefully long enough to meet up with the others." Jain told them. "When you two barreled off after the princess with the secret passion, Marcus pushed the rest forward. We can't go back that way now, the vines are swarming."

"Fine." Oberon growled, turning after Titania and slashing any vines that can within range of him. "Then let's do this. And Adonis," he said, not bothering to turn around. "If this idea of yours doesn't pan out, I'm taking you down before the vines get to me."
Adonis didn't bother to roll his eyes at the Green's threat, Jain noted. As her own orbs rolled back, she almost wished she had that much control.

"I'm in front -you two will trip half the forest before you've gone two steps." She said, elbowing past Oberon to slip into the trees. Perhaps it was the reduction of the number of targets, perhaps it was the heavy tickling they had so recently dished out -in any case, the long wavy curtains of vines draped from each tree hung inert, only giving the softest twitch as the veritable ninja passed between them. "And try not to slice or burn off anything -if we don't attack them, it might be a while before they attack us." She called over her shoulder.

Just her luck -she was leading a rescue mission in one of the most hostile Yards in the Facility. And for what? To rescue Titania. Because the idiot couldn't even recognize poisonous fungi well enough to know not to step in it. Ugh. And what was with her yelling for Adonis? She thought that the Yellow had a thing with Oberon -or barring that, she should have asked Marcus for help, since he'd probably have the best luck of them all, and rescuing them from aggressive plant-life was literally in his job description. But no, she had called out on reflex to her Commanding Officer, the one individual who she would care if they thought her incapable...

Such were the thoughts of the Purple as she crept between the tight trees like a phantom, periodically listening for the sound of distant laughter -and flinching at the crashing noises of the duo behind her. Both were good at what they did, but together they were hardly the best pair to have working towards for a common goal. Oh well; as long as they didn't get any special ideas. Jain sighed and pressed on, following almost painfully subtle clues in the way the forest squirmed and swayed to deduce the proper pathway. After the tempest of assaults against them earlier, it was positively eerie. She thought about what Adonis had said previously.

Maybe this... thing... Is just trying to lure us in before going in for the kill. A less-professional individual would have shuddered.

***
Titania came awake giggling. Something small and spidery was creeping along her foot, tracing a dainty path from the ball of to her heel and back. Smiling through her veritable coma, she giggled and yanked her foot away- and was rebuked by the fleshy mass of tissue entrenched around her shin. The Yellow came fully awake, taking huge gulps of horribly humid air, pulling frantically at her arms and legs.

Calm. She ordered herself, relaxing with an effort of sheer will. Darkness met her eyes, so complete that she could only be certain she wasn't blind-folded by swinging her head from side to side. The air was thick and still around her, giving her the sense of an enclosed space. The feeling redoubled as she giggled under the incessant light tickling to her feet, desperation in trying to pull her feet to safety matched only be her own hope that the restraints around them would hold firm.

Titania soon surmised that she was stretched taut, arms and legs wide, with everything from her elbows on up and knees on down encased in some disturbingly organic material that held her tight, keeping her firmly locked in place. Perfectly exposed. A single tendril was still doodling and probing over the soles of her feet, but Titania knew that it'd probably not be alone for very long. Even as she giggled, her lung ached. After fighting her way through the forest, being grabbed by the vines and tickled to unconscious -she wasn't sure how much more she could take.

Hopefully the others hadn't written her off as a lost cause. Jain would go on, skipping and whistling, Marcus would shrug and forget she existed -but the others would at least make an attempt. Oberon certainly wouldn't leave her, and Adonis, well, his only verifiable fault as a commander and as a human being was his complete inability to leave a comrade behind. But knowing that, every second she spent stuck in this seed-pod or whatever it was, was another moment the Expedition couldn't advance.

"Can anyone here me? I'm over here -help me!" She called, fighting to break free with renewed determination, and not just because of the ever-escalating teasing being performed upon her soles. She had a duty and a job to do, and she wasn't going to sit here and become fertilizer!
A Non-Existent User
Oberon tried to rush right in when the group heard Titania's cry for help, but Adonis raised a hand to stop him. "What are you doing?" he asked incredulously. "We know exactly where she is now."

"But we don't know what's with her or what traps are between here and there," Adonis rebuked. In his mind, though, there was something else disturbing him. From the moment they'd entered this forest, the cephlo-cedars had displayed an incredibly coordinated attack, yet they weren't trying very hard at the moment. The whole situation reeked of a trap.

Just then, a wretched sound like that of whistling birds mixed with laughing goblins and screaming banshies echoed through the forest. Oberon and Jain visibly shuddered, and Jain asked the obvious question. "What the hell was that?"

But Adonis knew that sound; he'd dealt with one of these creatures before on a mission through a dark mirror maze. "A phantom dryad," he said gripping his blade tighter. "No one's ever actually seen one up close before and escaped to tell about it; phantom dryad's can control any nearby plant-life to hunt for them."

"Great, now we know what the brain of this forest is," Oberon said impatiently. "Can we make it go 'poof' now?"

"You don't understand," Adonis said, struggling to remain calm. "The dryad can see through the other plants, including the grass we're stepping on. It knows exactly where we are; we won't be able to catch this thing off guard."

"Sooo..." Jain said slowly, "does this mean we're leaving Titania behind?"

"...No, no but..." Adonis trailed off as memories of a ridiculously sneaky laughing willow under the control of a phantom dryad picking off his old squad one-by-one in the mirror maze flashed through his mind. Despite the fact that his comrades had needed his help, Adonis had panicked and ran off, leaving them to be the dryad's tickle slaves. He couldn't do that again--he couldn't turn his back on Titania too, and yet...

"Vines coming at us from above!"
With Jain's shout, all three dove to the side, just about managing to avoid getting caught and wrapped up in the mass of vines aiming towards them. The large amount of tentacles churned for a moment before splitting off to attack the three at the same time, looking to take them out and then bring them to their Mistress.

With several swipes of his Feather-Sword, Adonis managed to burn through most of the vines aiming towards him and a second attack drove off the rest. He looked over to see Oberon and Jain had managed just as well but the foliage around them was stirring and it wouldn't be long before yet another attack.

Just as he tried to think of what to do next, a scream pierced through the area to grab Adonis' attention. The laughter that hastily followed was Titania's and it seemed that the Dryad was getting to work on her. The guilt over abandoning his comrades before flared up and he looked to where the sound was coming from. It was a relatively clear path and if he hurried, he could rescue her, he was sure of that.

"You guys distract the vines, I'll get Titania!" He ordered before rushing off, ignoring the protests from both Jain and Oberon before their attention was quickly grabbed by the tentacles diving towards them. They fought them off, but with Adonis now rushing away, their flank was wide open and several vines started to slink across the ground towards their feet, neither noticing the approaching appendages until they wrapped around their ankles.

Adonis had managed to get through the trees as he heard Titania's laughter and desperate pleading for mercy. It appeared that she wasn't too far away when he heard the laughter of Oberon and Jain from behind him, the vines having gotten through their defences and truck their naked bodies. Now, Adonis was left with a choice, to go back and help the Purple and Green Feathers, or strive on and try to save Titania...
Adonis looked back to see the vines overtake Oberon and Jain.

Oberon's strength was in his aggression and ruthlessness, but in his haste to get to Titania it had turned to recklessness. Charging forward and slashing anything and everything near him, he didn't see a low vine crawling along the forest floor. It had tripped him, sending the lanky sadist tumbling onto his face. If looks could kill, the glare coming from Oberon's dark eyes would have set the entire forest on fire. But he didn't have time to glower, as vine tips poked and prodded at his feet. His mouth twisted into a forced grin, and still more vines appeared, worming their way between his toes and stretching out his arches. The sadist howled and tried to swipe back at them, but he couldn't reach his own feet and the vines wouldn't let him twist around. Vines licked up and down his soles as he chuckled and thrashed, uselessly expending energy like a caged wild animal.

Jain had also been overwhelmed. The vines coming down from above had managed to wrap around both her wrists, and pulled the short girl up off her feet. The purple swung in the air and kicked at any vine she could, but she could only do so much. The vines at coiled down her forearms, preventing her from swinging her feathersword. And as the vines coiled down, down… delicate feathery tips reached the outstretched hollows under Jain's arms.

Adonis realized he had never seen Jain tickled before. In all the group's training and time together, he couldn't think of a single time Jain had ended up on the wrong end of a feather. She was always too fast, too quick to retaliate. Usually she could take down an opponent before they even made the first move. And Adonis knew first had that her verbal teasing had a sensual and… persuasive quality to it. But this time Jain was simply outnumbered and overpowered.

Her laughter had a quiet, breathy quality to it, befitting her aura as a silent ninja. Her nose scrunched up cutely as she her mind warred with the relentless yet soft tickles. The vines almost seemed to be toying with her, one feathery vine tip under each arm was stroking her almost tenderly. It was a kind of tickling Jain had always been nimble enough to avoid. But now her underarms were taut and vulnerable, and all she could do was kick her legs and snicker madly. Then a tangle of vines came up behind her, finding the girl's rear end and digging in. Jain squeaked, the tempo of her low giggles doubling. She swung away from the ticklish touch as much as she could, but the pendulum movement swung her right back into the awaiting vines, sliding over the girl's sensitive backside. And all the while her underarms were being slowly and relentlessly feathered, the twin attacks weakening Jain's struggles as she swung about in midair.

Adonis could still hear Titania's laughter somewhere ahead, although he couldn't see her yet. He looked back again, and the hero knew. They wouldn't be able to find their way out of the forest without Jain's help. And whether he liked it or not, Oberon talents were necessary ones. Adonis doubted he could free Titania and stop this dryad on his own, so with a frustrated growl retreated to free his fallen comrades.

***

Marcus sat down on the worn old cobblestones. He had managed to slice his way to a clearing, but he wasn't sure if he had found it or the four of them had sliced enough vines to make it themselves. They seemed to be on what used to be the path through here. "But none of that means a damn if we lose half the group." he muttered.

Veritas sat down quietly next to him. "I've been watching, and the vines aren't getting any closer." she said softly, ignoring Marcus's grumbles. She looked at him sympathetically, and with a faint smirk thought that at the moment he looked just like a grumpy bear that had been woken up in the middle of a nap.

"Any sign of the others?" He asked, and Veritas shook her head. Somehow they had gotten separated. Marcus had been pushing forward, with Atlanta and Jacen protecting his side, Veritas the rear. It had been an effective strategy, but they had also expected the others to be right behind them. But before they knew it, the other four disappeared behind thick messes of vines. While Marcus would never say it out loud, he realized the mission would be nearly doomed if they lost them. The big independent was no leader, and he got the feeling that he was running the 'B' team. "How're Jacen and Atlanta?"

Veritas shrugged, her freckled shoulders moving in and out of the large man's shadow. "You know them, only Adonis could really keep them in line." Behind them, they could hear the sound of Jacen's laughter as the two of them rolled around on the grass, tickling and flirting, as if the forest were just another game to them. Veritas looked down and spoke quietly, so that even Marcus could barely hear. "We're in trouble if we don't find them. Jacen and Atlanta have the least incentive to be on this mission, and if it's just us long enough, they'll start to realize it."

Marcus looked at Veritas carefully. "And what about you, Very?"

Veritas's green eyes met his gaze with a warm, friendly look. "I won't abandon you, Marcus, even if it ends up just the two of us." Then her eyes narrowed in a stern expression that still betrayed a hint of playfulness. "And don't. Call. Me. Very."
Meanwhile, in New Babylon...

"Sir! Sir!" Captain Rex's hapless door shivered in its frame, the heavy old portal trembling under some monstrous punishment from beyond. "Sir- we have a situation! Please respond; I have to-" The orderly almost fell over himself as Rex tugged open the door to squint down at them. The red messenger before him was the same colour as their feathersword, except where his skin was shining glossily from sweat.

"At ease. What's wrong?" Rex queried calmly, waiting for the gasping orderly to hunt down their elusive breath. Still, seeing them here at all, during a time when his entire staff knew not to disturb him -it was disquieting in the extreme. He had handpicked the secretaries and bureaucrats in charge of running New Babylon's security personally; not one would violate a direct order for privacy unless the matter was gravely important. Even as he mused, the bearer of information at last marshalled the strength to spew something intelligible.

"It's the President sir- she's been kidnapped!" The wide-eyed red stammered.

Later that the hour, Rex stood in the middle of the War Room -without any hostile nations to fight, but waves of monsters, the distinction between policing and war-making had always been rather blurred, and this was an emergency- eyes roving over a bank of consoles, hands clasped behind his back. To the frightened swarms of adjutants droning and flitting around the many-tiered room, he seemed like a pillar, a font of calm and focus in a terrifyingly chaotic situation. To the onlooker, it would seem that a sledgehammer wouldn't have stirred the Captain as he dispensed orders and advice with the regularity of ticker-tape. For Rex himself, well, he was worried that someone would open a door quickly and knock him over with the resultant microscopic gust.

On one of the many screens before him, three of his finest Hounds were trussed up like pigs in front of the President's residence, gagged, slobbering, trapped in such a way that there own feather-swords were tucked through their bindings to tickle them agonizingly. The way the reporter's camera was centred, it really highlighted the majestic building's obvious signs of disturbance. As of now, the body-guards were alright, expertly trained physiques and psyches adapting in all ways but pride -but the Press had been showing that same clip every couple of minutes now for half an hour.

Inwardly, Sebastian was still reeling himself from the shock- at his own stupidity, as much as anything else. All those months busting safe-houses, interrupting illicit meetings, tracking down and picking off people with contact to the Order, the hundreds of arrests... A set-up. Deliberately giving ground -not merely faking loosing, but quite actually 'loosing'- and lulling them into a false sense of security. Setting them up for the worst criminal act in the history of the Republic. And, like a shark getting tickled on the snout, he had been lulled completely.

"Sir! Order claims responsibility!" A analyst's head popped out of her cubicle. Angelica Menshaw; a reassuringly competent Yellow. "...But no demands have been placed." She added hesitantly, giving him a surreptitious glance to see if her could make anything of that.

Rex kept his countenance as impassable as a glacier. With one hand, he personally inspected the ransom-note given to him earlier, bound in a thermatically sealed container, with minute pieces already undergoing thorough analysis by forensics -and done in multiple colours of crayon. Haha -Got da prez now, suckah'! Haha! Was the inscription. Not a single request or offer that could that be forcibly negotiated. Rex fought the urge to crumple the potentially valuable thing in his fist.

Damn these tickle-crazed terrorists; what do these people want?!
-----

The torture chamber vibrated with activity.

The dim, low-ceilinged room seemed almost to tremble and shake with the action that filled it, endless movement and happenstance compressed and forced into an area that inevitably seemed too small for it. Lights flashed in the gloom, neon and urgent, in time with the laughter and screams of the room's occupants, almost huddled together for space as they grappled with machines and each other. Mechanical arms flew and darted, bodies writhed, lungs pulsed, and straps twisted like things alive in an orgy of raw ticklish simulation.

Here, a screaming red-feather tried desperately to shimmy up the sides of a transparent glass tube; inevitably sliding backwards to dance erratically on the carpet of revolving brushed plugging one end. The smooth container bottled their laughter and struggles, as the unlucky figure shimmied and pounded on the walls frantically, hopping from foot to foot endlessly. So occupied was the screaming figure in their endlessly futile quest to allay the tickling to their feet, that they probably didn't even notice the predicament of another subdued immediately to their left of their confines.

Forcibly locked into a human arch, giggling and squirming as they were, it was doubtful that the Yellow prisoner in question even appreciated the countless minute ways that the two-pile droving rubber-clad probes hammered into their taut body, humming cheerfully as they shifted back and forth. And in their respective predicaments, neither could appreciate the buxom duo bound together farther away, hands squeezed and tickling each at the other furiously as they tried to force an upper-hand. Two sets of curvy feet wiggled and struggled in a set of stocks, kicking back and forth as a huge pink feather teased over them both, tip flicking and twitching teasingly over the silently protesting soles.

“Remember ladies,” Said the feather's owner cheerfully, watching the laughing duel with relaxed smugness. “First one to say 'Uncle' gets a five minute break- and then gets their hands stocked too!" The frantic laughter of the struggle red-doubled as the body on top at last managed to force her fingers into her foe's underarms, while squeezing her chest in so tight as to pin her arms between them.

Around them strove and hovered other feathers and their wielders- Pink, Blue, Green- darting and slashing in the confined space against each other and any number of howling restrained bodies and each other. Teasing voices sang their taunts, their purveyors too enthused to bother with the way the cacophonous storm of laughter inveterately drowned out their catcalls.

Hovering amidst the centre of the maelstrom, busying about like a devoted gardener tending her preened flora, Puck the Sadist tread lightly. Administering advice here as a mentor, flicking her blade over a victim like a chef tasting an apprentice's batter there, giving the dials and readings on a machine a lovingly infinitesimal adjustment still further on- a conductor, a painter, an artist wholly dedicated to the perfection of the tickling pandemonium that swirled about her. She was in her element.

"I think that's enough teasing around the edges," She called to a Blue who was giving the entrapped midriff of a Pink a studious working-over, carefully swirling a pair of tiny dusters over the skin around her arched and stretch navel. "You can dig in for real now- make sure to give a swirl!" The young man nodded earnestly before bending back to his work, inserting his brush in the specimen's button and shivering the barrage of tiny bristles back and forth. By the way the unlucky girl screamed into her gag, snorting like a pig, the technique was as successful as one could ever expect.

"That's it!" Called Puck, as she casually re-set the rings around a naughty set of toes that had shaken themselves loose. "Remember to tease and build-up, but don't overwork the nerve endings!" At his nod, Puck turned back to flick a finger over the curvy set of soles neatly displayed before her, properly locked-back and restricted as any decently pair of ticklish feet ought to be. The soft surface twitched receptively, plump toes jerking subtly, and at her command, a quartet of pen-heads set into mechanical arms began to methodically close in...

"Wait! Waitwaitwaitwait!" Babbled the Red owner of the feet so stimulated, trying to jerk his arms around in a hopeless drive to protect himself. "Please- let me go! I'll do anything, I'll-" Puck gently put a hand on his shoulder, leaning in to press the other over his lips.

"Shush... Shush; just relax, and try not to let the binds chafe. If you only give in, you'll learn to appreciate it. Eventually." She gave his abdomen a roguish poke -sensitive skin flushed pink from the ministrations of tickler's past jerking at the contact- before moving on.

"You're a monster..." Whimpered the exhausted Red, somehow audible even over the thunder of miscellaneous laughter, slumping as the tickling implements approached menacingly, not even trying to fight anymore.

"....And a whole lot more!" Added Puck, not even turning around, but smiling to herself nonetheless. So many tickle-toys, so many victims! In this secure safe-house, the Hounds would never find them. They had the whole complex well-stocked with both kidnapped victims -and countless pieces of tickle equipment, found simply lying about in the tunnels. A gift from the Programmer himself, she suspected. It included some boring but especially amazing artifacts, recently recovered...

Puck's grin only re-doubled as she at last approached her pride and joy at the far end of the room. Said happy device was an oblong sarcophagus of dull grey-brown metal, reposing innocuously on the stony ground, draped liberally in shadow. It was silent except for a distant humming, lying innate and sharply jaxtapositized with the loud-and-proud mechanized tickling dominating the room. But Puck had gotten it open earlier, and the Yellow prisoner who had 'volunteered' to test it had reported tickling beyond description after their hour-long session.

And, tickling capabilities aside, it was valuable in other ways as well. After all, it was the only thing she owned that contained the half-mad body of President Jennifer Thresk. Her absence could only further increase chaos in the Capitol.

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