5 ~ Help! Grandma is Eating Me!

Inside the dwarf's home, the four companions tense up as they hear the unmistakable cry of a Paradox. Leif strides over to Wendy and guides her into George's arms.

"Make sure to keep her out of harm's way, George."

"Of course."

Leif draws his sword, just as Alicia unsheathes hers as well. A shadow flitters across the curtains covering the window near the door. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door.

The two travelers exchange a look. "Go away!" shouts Leif. "We don't have any omelettes!"

"No, Leif, I don't think that's what they want…" Alicia mutters darkly.

On his tiptoes, the boy sneaks over to the door, his sword drawn. As he and the others hold their collective breaths, a voice sounds from the other end of the door.

"Wendyyyyy!"

The little girl immediately tries to break free from George's grasp. "Granny! It's Granny!"

"Granny?!" says Alicia.

"So she's alive?" says Leif. Lowering his sword, he swings the door open.

Standing on the threshold, in the light of the setting sun, is a wrinkled old woman with a hunchback. Her white hair is tied up in a bun, and bags hang under her eyes. Leif readjusts his gold-colored glasses as he stares at her.

"Granny!" shouts Wendy again, running forward to embrace her grandmother.

But Leif holds out his hand, blocking the girl's way with his sword. He speaks, his voice a low growl. "Stay back, Wendy."

"Huh?"

Calmly removing his glasses and pocketing them, Leif raises his sword again. Next second, he steps forward and elbows Granny Braun in the stomach. The old woman is launched backwards out of the house.

"L-Leif! What the hell are you doing?!" cries Alicia.

"STAY BACK!"

Alicia's question is soon answered for her, as a horrifying transformation overtakes Granny Braun. Her head begins to morph into spider-like face with black armor. Two yellow eyes encasing blood red pupils appear in the place of her eyes. Claws emerge from Granny's hands, and large, poisonous spikes protrude from her arms and back.

"Wh-what's happening to Granny?!" screams Wendy.

Granny lets out a loud, earsplitting screech, causing the others to cringe. Alicia claps her hands over Wendy's ears. Suddenly, the Paradox launches.

Leif blocks the way, swinging his sword just as Granny meets him. He steps out of the way at the last moment, avoiding getting impaled by one of Granny's spikes.

Before the Paradox can even turn around to face Leif again, black, wriggling tentacles fly out from its back, heading straight for Leif.

The gourmet jumps back, swinging his sword wildly to cut down the myriad tentacles. As the ends of the ropes fall to the ground, Leif notices that each individual tentacle has a tiny mouth with sharp, white teeth.

Granny lunges again for Leif, this time swinging its heavy right claw. Raising his blade, Leif manages to fend off the attack with his sword. For several seconds, the two of them struggle against each other, each attempting to push the other back. Leif stares from point-blank at the knife-like teeth in Granny's mouth, and the saliva dripping ravenously from it.

"Spirit of the water, I implore thee to lend me thy flowing strength! Water Stream!"

A jet of water crashes into Granny's back. The Paradox tumbles forward; Leif lets go just in time to flank the creature and plant a diagonal strike across its back. However, the attack barely registers against the tough, metallic armor of Granny Braun.

Alicia sprints to Leif's side. The latter winks at his friend. "Thanks for the help."

"Listen," Alicia says, "I'll distract it with magic. It'll be up to you to land the finishing blow."

"All right."

A rush of blue light envelops Alicia as a cloak of water surrounds her weapon. She swings her blade, sending a blast of water heading straight for Granny.

The Paradox blocks the attack with its massive black claw, just as Leif flashes past her right side. He cuts the air with his sword, ripping Granny's right claw clean off her arm. "Success!"

With a thud, the claw falls to the ground before vanishing in a whirlwind of black particles. Within moments, though, a new claw emerges in its place.

Both Leif and Alicia let out an audible gasp. "It can… regenerate?!"

Quickly regrouping, Leif dashes around to the Paradox's backside and lands another blow on its back. Again, the hard armor merely deflects Leif's attack back at him. He tumbles backwards, losing his balance before several more tentacles emerge from Granny's back and grab him by the arms and legs.

Inch by inch, the Paradox's head turns its head around a complete one hundred eighty degrees and opens its hungry mouth wide, apparently ready to devour Leif's soul. The boy struggles, his eyes widening as he realizes his predicament. Sticky saliva drips onto Leif's shoulders.

"Leif!" Alicia steps forward. "Water Stream!"

Another blast of water pierces Granny in the chest, but she does not even react to the attack.

"Cr-crap!" gasps Leif as he wriggles futilely against the Paradox's vice-like grip. Granny brings her mouth closer to Leif, as though about to kiss him.

A sound like a roar of thunder rocks Leif's eardrums. The smell of gunpowder fills his nose. Craning his head to look despite himself, Leif sees George emerge from his home, a bow in the dwarf's hands. Attached to the ends of each of George's arrows are tiny little black pellets.

George fires again, watching as the tiny little pellets explode against Granny's body. Each pellet leaves a brownish blister that causes the Paradox to shriek in protest.

Instinctively, Leif manages to pull himself free and raise his sword. He swings horizontally, slicing Granny's head clean off. It falls to the ground, bouncing several times before coming to a stop.

Leif collapses onto his knees as the Paradox grows still and then falls forward with a thud. The body and the head vanish in a mass of black particles.

-PARADOX HUNTER 5-