Actions

Work Header

Crimson-Shell

Chapter Text

Complete darkness engulfed Claudia.

It wasn't a threatening darkness though; it felt warm, soothing even, wrapping around her like a soft blanket and keeping every harm away as she slumbered. Nobody could disturb her like that, sunk so deeply in the eternal blackness. Claudia had long forgotten when she started sinking, her memories fading gently the longer she dwelt in there. Everything disappeared, the pain along with the happiness, until nothing was left anymore. A part of her heart ached though, as if forgetting hurt something deep inside her, but she didn't remember why it would so she ignored it.

For the longest time she remained so detached – until the first dull calls reached her.

“Claudia... Claudia...”

The calls were distant, the voice somehow familiar but then again not, growing louder and louder as time passed. Persistent the voice kept calling for her, repeating her name over and over again, forcing her out of the lethargic slumber steadily. And the more she awoke, the clearer her mind seemed to turn. Memories came back to her, dear pictures of her past with her friends. What first were foreign faces soon gained a name again – Baines. Les and Ruskin. Melissa and Robin. Wilhelm.

And then... eventually Xeno.

The dear memories overweight. The peaceful loneliness she experienced with Wilhelm since the day she awakened was followed by the funny years she spend outside of her room with Xeno and the others. Times where Melissa tackled her with hugs and Robin tried to advance her. The countless fights with the Infected of the Black Roses. How Wilhelm appeared sometimes frustrated with her decisions but still stayed by her side loyally.

However suddenly the memories became dark and painful. She saw her friends getting hurt and killed even – Baines being pierced by her own thorned vines and the life drained from his body. Robin getting shot by a white-haired boy with purple, murderous eyes in a cellar. And eventually, how Xeno fought her until he got back to his senses.

“Claudia...”

The call echoed through the darkness and suddenly she recognized it.

With fluttering eyelids, Claudia opened her eyes with a weak whisper.

“... Xe... no...?”

Her sight still blurry, the first thing Claudia realized was the top of her bed – a white, simple cloth that spread between the bedposts covered in rose-embroided curtains.

“Good morning, Dia.”

Weakly she turned her head, blinking tiredly at the person sitting in a chair by the bed. The moment she looked into the pale, golden eyes she instantly felt more at ease.

“Will,” she gasped, trying to turn to her side but her body failing to obey her.

Instantly Wilhelm reached forward to assist her. “Slowly. You've been asleep for a long time,” he said, his hands gentle and endlessly warm against her skin. He moved securely when he pushed his arms underneath her, aiding her to sit on the soft mattress. It was odd; somehow, Claudia's upper body swayed horribly when she tried to stay up on her own, as if her muscles forgot completely how to work.

Then, realization slowly began to sink to her.

She had been fighting Shion in the secret lab, where Xeno stayed behind as-

“What's with Xeno?” she asked, her hands tightening into fists when a wave of fear took over her body. She turned her head around, her eyes barely staying open as exhaustion caught back to her. Why was she so tired?

Wilhelm didn't reply. Instead he looked at her, his eyes painfully caring.

Claudia knew that look. He always wore it whenever the answer was going to be painful to her.

Tears began to fill her eyes, hot streams running down her cheeks already. “Please,” she begged, her chest hurting already so badly whatever Wilhelm had to say couldn't possibly be worse.

But he just shook his head. “You're still too weak for this, Dia. Please rest a bit more.” With that he gently placed her down again, her body shaking when she struggled to stay up. “I'll tell you everything later. A lot happened while you were asleep,” he added, lowly, and though Claudia fought against it her eyes slid shut, the tears never stopping until she drifted away once more.

~*~

The next time Claudia woke up, she felt considerably stronger than earlier. Wilhelm had moved her while she napped, the large pillow behind her back allowing her to half-way sit in her bed. She was alone when she opened her eyes and took the chance to take a look around.

She was in her room in the greenhouse, but somehow everything was different. The plants she owned were no longer the same – many had grown larger and thicker, carrying considerably more flowers than they used to. New plants had joined as well, all of them blooming and the sweet scent lingering in the air.

When the horrible incident happened, fall was about to approach. Not a single of her flowers had as much as a bud back then. To find them suddenly all blooming and full of life was quite unnerving, to some degree.

Claudia wasn't alone for long; shortly after she was fully awake, the door opened and Wilhelm came in. “Good morning, Dia.” A gentle smile was on his lips when he walked closer, a plate with treats and a bottle on a small tablet he carried in his hands.

“Is it even morning?” Claudia asked, her head instantly craning when she picked up the sweet smell of cocoa. Her eyes lit up when she recognized the food – small, soft loafs of bread made with cocoa butter. Though she didn't need food – apparently, Roses lived off pure water and human life only – she still loved the taste of the sweet treats. Melissa had introduced her to the dish and ever since, Claudia was deeply found of it.

When Wilhelm was close enough, she tried reaching for one of the small loafs – but her hand barely lifted off the mattress and shook so hard she dropped it after a few seconds again. “Why am I so weak?” she murmured, eyebrows furrowing in deep thought.

“I'll explain it to you in a minute,” Wilhelm promised while he set down the tablet. He broke off a bite of the bread and pushed it against Claudia's lips. Surprisingly quickly she snatched the piece up with her teeth, a happy humming coming from her as she chewed. “Water as well?” he prompted, but she only shook her head. Wilhelm still poured a glass, as if he knew better, and his smile faded away when he made himself comfortable in the chair.

Silently Claudia studied him, red eyes blinking once in a while when she waited for him to start.

“It may sound incredible, but since you discovered the hidden laboratory, more than three years have passed.”

Her eyes widened in shock, her jaw stilling though the still had food in her mouth.

Wilhelm locked his eyes with hers when he proceeded, “You were in a strange comatose state until recently. Even when your wounds healed, you just wouldn't wake up. In fact, we started to believe you would never awake again at all.” He paused, his expression looking haunted for the blink of an eye, but he covered it up so quickly Claudia thought she might have been seeing things. “Perhaps you exhausted yourself too much in the fight against the Jet Rose and the wounds from the Death Scythe were more severe than expected. The scientists weren't able to figure out the cause up until now.”

“Three years...” Claudia quietly repeated. She remembered about the strange experience from before she opened her eyes for the first time, how Xeno called her name through the dull darkness. Had it been a dream? Or was it a twisted memory from the time she was in coma?

“What are you thinking about?” Wilhelm asked, his head cocking a bit.

With a swallow Claudia forced the bite of bread down. The taste had faded once she shock started to sink in, so there was no point chewing on it further.

“I heard Xeno's voice while I slept,” she stated, her heart twinging a little as she spoke. “He called me, that's why I woke up.”

Wilhelm studied her for a moment, but she avoided his eyes. “It must have been a dream. Xeno probably died three years ago when the laboratory collapsed.

Suddenly Claudia perked up. “Probably?! Why just probably?” She may not have been the brightest person, but she knew Wilhelm enough for watching his language closely. Whatever he said, he always put a lot of thought into his choice of words.

“Don't get your hopes up too high,” he warned with a sigh. “Neither his nor Shion's bodies were discovered in the laboratory. Apparently some items and papers are missing as well while the rest has turned worthless. It's uncertain whether they managed to escape or somebody removed their corpses before we were able to reach them.” He broke another bit off the bread and left it on the plate.

A small grin laid over Claudia's lips. “I'm sure he's out there,” she claimed, her body feeling stronger at the mere thought of meeting Xeno again. “And I'll find him, no matter how long it takes. This time, I'll be the one saving him.” Her eyes carried a nearly wild gleam in them, the look strong and lively.

Wilhelm sighed again, his lips pressing together into a straight line. “You're not in the shape to save anyone right now. We should stay inside the greenhouse until you recovered.” He leaned forward, his hand reaching for Claudia's while his head rested on top of hers. “You were hurt too much already. I'll be damned if I fail to protect you ever again,” he spoke, voice serious. If she were able to look into his eyes, she might have been able to discover his real intention behind his claim.

Closing her eyes, Claudia leaned against him for a moment, feeling his pain. It was unusual for him to act so open, but apparently the years of sleep took their toll on him as well. She wanted to jump up and start her search for Xeno right away, but for what seemed like the first time she was also aware of Wilhelm's needs. She was certain he'd assist her in every possible way to reach what she wanted, but for now she had to wait and allow them a short break.

“Can I have another bite?” Claudia asked after a while, breaking the silence between them.

“Of course.” Wilhelm pulled away again and reached for the piece he prepared a moment ago. He fed it to her like he did before, a relieved smile on his lips when she energetically chewed on it.

Chapter Text

As it turned out, the three years left an impact on Claudia as well. Her body was constantly tired, her day consisting mostly about sleeping and drinking. But at least she recovered quickly; while at the first day she could barely sit up, now a walk to the bathroom and back was an easy task. Showers were still a struggle though, mostly because her legs tend to start shaking randomly, but she was certain it would pass with time.

 

Oddly enough, not many people showed up in her room in the meantime. Wilhelm was always just a heartbeat away, but none of the scientists had visited her so far. Quite strange, considering they needed her blood for the special bullets they used against the Black Rose. Maybe it meant the fights were over? Wilhelm kept ignoring her questions about the current events, insisting it would only upset her and she still needed to rest. But he kept bringing her more of the cocoa-butter bread, so Claudia had a hard time staying mad at him. And, deep down, she feared what she might learn.

 

Whenever she was alone, Claudia trained her body and skills. Not using the vines for so long turned her rusty; the aim was off and she struggled to control their force properly. Though Wilhelm could not really be hurt by her abilities, she still didn't want to practice near him; beside not wanting to hurt him, her pride simply forbade to expose herself like that. Currently she was moving one of her stuffed rabbits – the white one that she liked a bit less – around with the vines, the tip closed around the toy's neck. In case she broke it, there it would be easy to stitch back up.

 

The vine was curling right above her head while she laid on her back across the bed, her fingers twitching lightly when she made the rabbit turn upside down so the ears barely brushed her forehead. Claudia couldn't help but grin to herself about the sensitivity of her vines; in top form, she could use them to snatch up people and pull them from a potentially dangerous area without as much as hurting them. The ability had proven quite valuable in a couple of battles already. Restoring that was, beside improving her aim with the gun, top priority before she went on her search for Xeno.

 

Suddenly she heard a noise coming from the door.

 

Surprised she sat up while retreating the vine, the movement a bit off – a thorn caught in the material of the rabbit's bow, tearing the clothe a little before the toy landed in her lap. Quickly she picked it up, turning it around so the broken part pressed against her chest. That way, the tear was effectively hidden from view.

 

The door opened slowly and Wilhelm came in – in the company of a young woman. Her hair was long, reaching well down her shoulders, and of a light shade of brown. Gray-blue eyes blinked from behind a pair of simple glasses and she wore a white scientists' coat which reached all the way down to the ground. Her shirt underneath had a high collar, held together by a red ribbon with the metal sign of the Crimson Shell division in the very middle. Something about her felt familiar, but Claudia couldn't exactly point out what.

 

“Dia,” Wilhelm gave her a radiant smile. The more she recovered, the better his mood seemed to turn. “You remember Melissa, don't you?” He waved his arm a bit, gesturing towards the woman who smiled a bit shyly while waving her hand.

 

Shocked speechless, Claudia stared at them open-mouthed. “Me... Melissa?!” she repeated, the disbelieve so clear in her voice Melissa giggled lowly to herself while scratching the top of her head. “T-the last time I saw you, you were barely taller than me!” Claudia added, not trusting her eyes at all.

 

“I had a burst of growth a while back,” Melissa explained while she came closer. “I'm so happy to see you awake again, Claudi! Everyone missed you so much!” Gently she took Claudia's hands into hers, squeezing lightly. The rabbit fall from her lap to the floor, completely forgotten.

 

A bit overwhelmed, Claudia still struggled to get her composure back. Not only the changed appearance confused her, but also the fact how timid and controlled Melissa had turned. Before the slumber, she would tackle her down and be all over her. Now, she seemed borderline restricted in her own nature.

 

“Would the ladies like some tea?” Wilhelm asked, the smile still over his lips. If anything, it confused Claudia even more; in the past, Wilhelm barely tolerated Melissa around, thinking of her as too dull and childish to enjoy her company. To see him being honestly friendly to her was almost creepy.

 

“Oh, that would be great!” Melissa replied. “Can you get some treats as well? I'd rather stay here as long as I can.”

 

“Of course.” Swiftly Wilhelm turned on his heels, the door closing softly behind him as he left.

 

Claudia could only stare at the door, her eyes narrowing in disbelief. Was she perhaps still asleep? She must be. There was no way the scene she just witnessed could actually be real. Wilhelm was so stubborn about her rest he denied visitors for the entire time already, and now he didn't as much as object when Melissa, of all people, announced she planned on staying?

 

“Your face looks funny,” Melissa giggled before she sat down on the bed next to her. The mattress dipped ever so little under her weight. “What's the matter, Claudi?”

 

“I,” Claudia paused there, her eyes dropping onto the sheet of the bed. “Everything is just so... different...”

 

Her room was filled with blooming flowers and plants. Once strong and sharp abilities had weakened and withered. Wilhelm behaved different than he used to. And lastly, time had taken impacts on her friends and comrades. Claudia had barely started to understand and get used to her new life outside of the greenhouse – and now it had changed all over again.

 

She felt the mattress move underneath her when Melissa hopped closer. “I guess it's quite overtaxing. In fact, if I could I'd allow you a longer break.” A rustling came from her and when Claudia looked briefly up, she noticed it came from a hand roaming through one of the large pockets of the coat. After a few moments, Melissa pulled out a small bag and a notepad. “But I really, really need to check on your body. Perhaps I can verify some of my theories that way.”

 

“Theories?” Claudia didn't stop her when Melissa took her arm and turned it around before pushing a thin belt over it, closing it a couple of inches under her shoulder. She wasn't surprised to see a syringe and a couple of phials come from the small bag. Needles never scared Claudia and she was used to the Red Rose needing her blood for their bullets.

 

Melissa adjusted her glasses before rubbing a piece of wet cotton over Claudia's armpit. “A few months after you fell into the coma, I decided to become a researcher. I just felt so helpless when you laid there... I thought I might be able to help you if I understood what was happening.” Carefully she felt around for a vein and inserted the needle when she found one. While holding her breath she quickly filled up three phials with liquid crimson. After she pulled the needle out, she pressed down a small piece of cotton over the wound. “Will you hold it down for me?” Nodding her head, Claudia brought up the hand of her other arm and held the patch in place. “When the secret lab was cleared out,” Melissa moved on while cleaning the tools, “A couple of notes appeared. I spent the last two years decoding them, but it's still unclear whether they are just notes or verified facts.” She flicked her finger against one of the phials, the blood in it sloshing gently. “Most of the content was about the Death Scythe, but there was some info about the origin of Premier Seeds as well. However, everything else is either lost or too withered to read.” She reached into her pocket again, this time taking out a small band-aid with a few panda-heads printed on it. Gently she put it over the small wound, but giggled nervously right afterwards. “Ah, it probably healed already... Sorry!”

 

Claudia shook her head briefly while checking on the small piece of plastic. “It's really cute,” she commented, a tiny spark of relief pulling at her heart. The colorful pattern and how Melissa forgot about her quick healing abilities were reminders of the past, of how the girl Claudia called a friend used to be.

 

To think such a simple, little thing would be so comforting to her... it was borderline embarrassing.

 

“So,” Melissa said at some point, effectively pulling Claudia from her thoughts, “How do you feel? Did you notice any changes beside the fatigue?” Concentration reflected in her eyes when Melissa flipped open her notepad and began writing. The way her eyes narrowed and face hardened she looked utterly serious all of a sudden, an emotion so contrary to her very being Claudia's previous comfort vanished again – because, in the end, the gab of three years remained. She would have to slowly fill it, bit by bit, until the blank parts disappeared. Deep down she knew her friends were still the same, but she'd have to get to know their adult selves all over again anyway.

 

“Claudi? Hey, you with me?”

 

Only when Melissa waved her hand directly in front of her eyes did Claudia snap out of her thoughts. In fact, the movement surprised her so much she actually flinched, the sheets rustling underneath her.

 

Melissa gave a soft laughter. “Aw, it's been so long I forgot how cute you are when you space out.” For a moment she looked about to reach out and touch Claudia, but then she focused back on the small notepad. “According to the research I did, the Death Scythe is supposed to attack the body while cutting its ties with the Premier Seed. So, in other words, the vessel of the seed withers and dies while the core remains untouched.” A slender finger came up to adjust the pair of glasses on the thin nose. “For example, your blood was heavily clotted right after you fell into the coma. But once you slept, it seemed that all of your force retreated from your body in order to sustain the core. You lost quite a lot of muscular mass during that time.”

 

Still listening, Claudia looked down at her right hand. She clenched and relaxed it a couple of times, remembering how hard the task had been the first couple of days. Had she really been close to dying? The thought felt odd now, though she clearly remembered the horrible fear and the burning pain from her fight with Shion. But not a single mark was left from back then – when Claudia stood in the shower she didn't detect a single scar on her body, not even from the deadly bullets. Flawless, still warm skin wherever she looked...

 

Xeno used to have scars. He had a particularly large one over his back, from a deep cut he received in one of his many fights. Claudia had seen it once, when she went to his room without knocking and caught him in the middle of changing clothes.

 

Upon seeing it she had started to wonder if anything could ever leave a visible flaw on her, be it a bruise or scar. She had also wondered if, before she received the Prime Seed, her body had been marked or signed in any way, only managing to turn into the perfect vessel by the power of the core in her chest. Sometimes Claudia wished to turn back into a regular human, a being which aged, got scars, and grew sick once in a while. The seemingly eternal life she gained by the Crimson Rose felt empty sometimes, more so before Xeno found her, but when she first grew a bond with her friends and the people from Crimson Shell Claudia became truly depressed about her situation.

 

Never dying meant she was doomed to watch the people around her turn old and eventually pass away, no matter how close she was to them.

 

Suddenly tears began filling Claudia's eyes.

 

Just now she realized the true loss behind her coma – the loss of spending precious, painfully limited time with her friends. Where they even still alive, all of them? Xeno had always been the most important person to her, but now heavy guilt pulled at her heart. No matter how much the bond to Xeno meant to her, nothing excused forgetting about everyone else.

 

“I'm sorry,” Claudia gasped, unable to keep the tears from running down her cheeks. Sniffing she rubbed her nose, her slender shoulders quivering when she tried to get a hold of herself again – but as soon as Melissa touched her arm in concern the last bit on control left her completely and she started sobbing openly.

 

On the other side of the closed door, Wilhelm waited silently with a tray full of tea and treats.

 

~*~

 

A faint, gentle ruffle could be heard when the comb ran through Claudia's black, still damp hair. She had just left the bathroom after a refreshing shower – which she badly needed, considering the horribly embarrassing scene she made in front of Melissa – and, like always, Wilhelm took care of her long bangs the moment she stepped out. He did that for as long as she could remember, sometimes spending hours just to groom her to perfection while she sat on a high chair. It was an intimate habit they picked up, a relaxing moment for both of them. Beside Wilhelm, only one single person ever had the permission to as much as touch her hair; everyone else who tried was lucky if their hand wasn't broken in the process.

 

Closing her eyes, Claudia tilted her head briefly to the side. She noticed how Wilhelm started pulling on her hair, braiding it starting from the upper right and moving slowly down. Even without the mirror in front of her she knew it was going to look stunning and skillful once finished. It had been quite a while she last had a pigtail, probably much longer than it felt.

 

But she wondered...

 

Turning around enough to see Wilhelm through the corner of her eye, Claudia asked, “Why did you settle for a braid?”

 

At the sudden question, Wilhelm stopped for a moment and instead locked eyes with her. A gentle, caring smile graced his lips when he fixed the tip of the finished, large braid with a crimson bow. “This way, your hair won't get in the way when you practice with the vines again.” He beamed at her, so radiant and charming anyone who'd see it would instantly be enchanted.

 

However the expression only served to make Claudia blush so hard her cheeks felt hot. “... How did you notice?” She pressed her lips together, feeling shy now that she was caught.

 

“I'm your Thorn,” Wilhelm said while walking away, only to return with a small hand-sized mirror in his hands. He held it so Claudia could see her own reflection, but her eyes were directed to the ground while she pouted. “I always know what you're doing, Dia.”

 

Finally she looked up, meeting his gaze. “I want to see everyone else,” she stated, the blush having faded from her cheeks completely. Instead, her eyes carried a determined shine while her hands clenched on the material of her nightshirt.

 

For a moment Wilhelm blinked in confusion, his eyebrows arching so high they disappeared behind the bangs on his forehead. “Where did that wish suddenly come from?” He tilted his head a little while lowering the mirror again. The earlier surprise was gone from both his face and voice, leaving him completely neutral. He sounded curious more than anything and though they were so close, Claudia was certain he couldn't read her mind – at least not always.

 

Fidgeting a little, she reasoned, “Three years have passed and... I wonder how they are doing.” For a moment her thoughts drifted off, remembering about the dangerous environment they lived in. it wasn't unusual to have casualties while fighting the Black Rose and the victims, even if they were greatly equipped for the battle with them. Claudia felt uneasy and equally worried since she started crying in Melissa's company and though both she and Wilhelm assured her everyone she knew was well and alive, somehow the ill feelings didn't fade; perhaps they finally would once Claudia insured herself personally of their well-being.

 

Wilhelm studied her for a moment before sighing softly. “Are you sure you can handle so much stress already?” He offered her a hand which Claudia took before hopping off the chair.

 

Snaking her arm around his, Claudia slowly walked over to the bed with a thoughtful expression on her face. “I'm not completely well again, but seeing Melissa made me so happy...” Now a tiny smile laid over her lips. “I can handle a little tiredness if I get to meet them.”

 

Remaining silent, Wilhelm escorted her all the way. He offered his help there as well, but Claudia climbed into bed all by herself and quickly pulled the blanket over her body. Smiling serenely, she enjoyed the gentle, loving caress Wilhelm gave her – a stroke over her head, so faint it was barely noticeable yet so endlessly calming Claudia almost instantly drifted into sleep. Only a couple of minutes later, her breathing slowed and labored while the muscles on her face relaxed.

 

All the time Wilhelm remained standing by the bed, his eyes observing her while he thought. “You really miss them, don't you, Dia?” he whispered aloud, mostly to himself. Claudia was so fast asleep she didn't hear it anyway. Absently he stroked a few black bangs from her forehead and listened to the content sigh which escaped her lips in return.

 

A couple of minutes passed, then Wilhelm's steps broke the silence of the room as he left.

 

~*~

 

The next morning, Claudia prepared herself to finally leave her room for the first time since she woke up. Melissa wanted to run some tests which needed some bigger equipment and since her condition was pretty well already, the appointment was set in the late morning. Claudia was thrilled as soon as she heard that; she was already having cabin fever.

 

Regardless of her powered-up state, Wilhelm remained by her side. He did give her enough room to act, but he stayed only two steps behind her until they reached the medical wing where Melissa was waiting. Oddly enough, nobody crossed their path – no scientist, no soldier, no person at all. Claudia wondered a little, but quickly disregarded the thoughts it again. Perhaps they were busy with something or working outside. Not unusual, given sometimes larger groups of victims attacked out of the blue.

 

Only Melissa was there when they reached the examination room. A couple of devices surrounded them, machines Claudia knew all too well; when the Crimson Rose was first discovered inside her, the scientists ran countless, at times even painful, tests on her and her body. Claudia still felt uneasy when she thought back on that... and hoped Melissa would be more gentle with her examinations.

 

Wilhelm remained in the room when they began, casually leaning on a nearby wall. Claudia didn't understand why – until the tests moved on.

 

“Alright. Your vitals seem fully restored already,” Melissa murmured while tipping on a keyboard, sharp eyes on the two monitors in front of her. “I don't like the results of the physical performance test so much though... But that should change over time. I doubt there is any remaining damage from the Death Scythe so-over.”

 

Not exactly understanding what Melissa meant, Claudia only nodded in silence. She was only grateful the tests weren't painful so far, though tiring. She was still a bit out of breath because of the running.

 

“Next, I want you to clench your vines around the metal bar as tightly as you can.”

 

Upon hearing that, Claudia stiffened.

 

It wasn't the first time the force of her vines was detected, but she hadn't expected to have to use them so soon – especially in a simple examination room as the one they currently occupied. Usually the scientists wanted her to pull them out in large spaces while they kept their safe distance. And how right they were to do that...

 

Overwhelmed, Claudia turned her head around until she met Wilhelm's gaze. A pained gleam reflected in her red orbs and her bottom lip started to twitch, the uncertainty growing so strong inside her even her body started to cramp. She pleaded for help with her eyes, begging him to come and protect both Claudia herself and everyone else from potential damage.

 

But all Wilhelm did was smile reassuringly at her.

 

… And slowly, his tranquility merged into Claudia, easing her nerves.

 

Steadily her muscles relaxed and the breath she had been holding exhaled, calming her even further down. Her confidence grew stronger the longer Wilhelm looked at her, his entire expression saying, you can do it. The way he entrusted Claudia with the situation motivated her further and, without realizing it, she nodded her head and already tied her vines around the metal bar hanging from the ceiling on the far end of the room. When it whirled around the metal enough she closed her hand into a fist and pulled, the thorned twines immediately tightening. Claudia pulled so hard her teeth gritted and her body tensed up, but she still put even more power into her grab.

 

“Yeah, more, Claudi, more!” Melissa cheered, her eyes growing large when she checked on the scale appearing on the computer.

 

Turning her upper body a little Claudia gave all she got into the pull, the vines squealing a little under the massive pressure. However she only managed to hold the strength for a couple of seconds longer before she let go, the twines relaxing and falling to the ground while she slowly retreated them. Sweat covered her forehead when she lowered to her knees, hands resting on her thighs while her breath came in raged gasps.

 

From the corner of her eye she noticed a shadow approaching and before she knew it, Wilhelm already knelt beside her. She was about to wave him off when Melissa's excited voice suddenly echoed through the room.

 

“This is fantastic!” she all but yelled, her glasses fogging up at the pure energy she radiated, “These results are blowing my mind! I knew you were incredible Claudi, but this, this is just... ah, I don't know!”

 

Still kneeling on the floor, a light blush laid over Claudia's cheeks, however a small smile tugged on her lips anyway. Her chest swelled with pride over the praise she received from Melissa; rarely before had she felt so flattered by a reaction to her vines.

 

Wilhelm's hand felt warm and heavy against her arched back, but Claudia still lacked the breath to call him off. In point of fact, the sight before her eyes blurred every couple of seconds and her head felt light, as if she was about to faint. Damn... she had really worn herself out.

 

Sighing heavily, Claudia saw the world spin a little when Wilhelm picked her up, gently cradling her small body in his arms. “This is enough for now,” he said, matter-of-fact, and though Claudia wanted to protest all she managed to out was a weak moan.

 

“Huh?! Why?!” Melissa gasped, the disappointment clear in her voice. But as soon as she caught sight of the almost unconscious Claudia, she instantly calmed down. “Yeah. Sorry for pushing you so hard.”

 

It's alright, Claudia wanted to say, but only gasps escaped her mouth and by the time Wilhelm started for the door, she already slipped into blackness.