My brother came to me at the edge of life, annoying me with endless empty threats. I greeted him as I’ve always had, and served him some sweets. As degenerated as he’d become over the years, he never could contain himself with such treats. In no time, he spilled his guts out, babbling garbage in a stream I feared would never end. Then he starts talking about a pest he encountered recently; one that laid him low. For all his grandstanding, the fear that tinged his words became clearer as he described the man. Yes, a single man—he emphasized this—wielding a spear that killed his pet and absorbed his ghosts. At this point, I stopped ignoring him and began to listen for once to what he had to say. His description, as well as the weapon of choice, made me think of one person.
Mathis Moreau. The name came on my lips, ready to be spoken. It conjured to me half-remembered propaganda pieces. They were shouted by the foolish and plastered everywhere by the deluded. That was the other side to the continuous conflict between East and West. Each side's belief was "better" than the other, and no alternatives existed. As I did my best to process this information, I waved some trees over and ordered them to send Riil away to his usual spot. His confusion gave way to protests of indignation, which I ignored as usual.
And now, I was basked in the sun with not much care in the world. The trio has made themselves comfortable in their new homes. I had plans for them, of course, but for now, I'll let them get used to their new lives. I fully expect my generosity to be returned in full, and if they resist, well, I'm sure I can persuade them. I'm a very persuasive person, after all.
My thoughts then turned towards threats to my plans, mainly from the outside. What the explosion did to my staff was regrettable, but at least there was no chance of one of them being a traitor now. Being this far out from the capital and so close to the border, no one important should be looking this way for whatever reason. And even if they did, I could put up false leads here and there to throw them off my trail.
Well, maybe Mathis Moreau could find me. I chuckled to myself at the thought. The stories often told of him and others like him being able to pick a scent from a mountain range away. They also told of them being able to shake off an avalanche with ease, and other nonsense. The most improbable part about them was that they were capable of such feats without spells. Granted, I'd seen things that came close to such tales, but I know they're true. I saw them myself, not that I'd tell anyone about them.
I raised a hand and made a quick gesture for some tea. A tree approached me with part of its trunk split open, wherein a hot cup of tea lie in wait. Ah, blueberries. Perfect for morning tea. I took the cup and set it on a nearby table. One of the perks of living in a forest is that there was no shortage of things to make tea out of. This is nice. Not having to worry about that stupid spy, or my research, or this giant fucking hole in the ground that used to be my base.
I can relax and have a nap. Yes, let’s do that for now. I leaned back into my chair, shaped out of one of my trees. It seemed to be what they’re only good for nowadays, as well as furniture. The clothes in the wardrobe are all “found”, as they were, from here and there and all around. No one ever looks twice at a tree, after all. I took a glance at my ensemble and wondered if I should get some new clothes. They are looking a bit faded, even with magic. And they’d stand out too much if I tried going Westward. Granted, it’s not like I keep up anymore with fashion in the East. I sighed as the reality of my ordeal reared its ugly head in the form of messages from my trees.
Enemy detected. Extreme danger. Protect Master. The rudimentary words of the trees came through to me like a splash of cold water. I took a sharp breath and stood up straight, looking from every branch and leaf for the intruder. Did I wake up a dragon somewhere? No, I made sure to stay away from all nests when I made the base. I couldn’t even dig anywhere too close to those scaly bastards, so then what’s coming? The question hung like a mark above my head, to which my answer came in the form of an ax, or rather, axes.
The swings rained hard and without pause, cutting up my trees like they were twigs. What made it worse were the flames the cuts left behind, roaring up into blazes. I recoiled from the sight and sensation, ordering the rest to retreat. My mind raced as I tried to figure out how to handle the intruder, which meant finding out what they wanted. I tried my best to put on a friendly face while I approached the threat. At the same time, I cast spell after spell on me and everywhere I could.
We met as he, wreathed in ash and anger, saw me, wrapped in traps and smiles. His grip didn’t loosen and neither did my steps falter. The distance we kept came naturally, as we both regarded the other and measured what we could see. I saw on Mathis Moreau—the man, the legend, and many other things—a serene rage I only ever saw once before. My eyes flickered to the axes he held, only to see instead a spear in his grasp.
So that’s the Sky-piercer. I thought. It’s … a bit disappointing. I expected something bigger and longer.
“So, you’re the one.” Moreau suddenly spoke up. “The one that captured my daughter.”
“I’m sorry sir, but I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said truthfully for a second. A second later, my mind made the connection. So, that’s his daughter. She’s awfully young, but looks can deceive. I pursed my lips and crossed my arms, making it look like I’m the offended party.
“Oh, I’m certain you do know.” He leveled the spear at me and proclaimed, “Give her back, and I’ll let you live.”
“Who? I have no idea what you’re talking about, old man. I’m a simple hermit, living away from people and not getting into any trouble.” I made a show of twirling around to display my earthen garb. “But if you’re looking for a child that’s been lost in these woods, then I’m afraid you're a tad too late. Monsters, you know.”
“The most dangerous kinds have human faces.” The man spoke, “And human failings.”
“Isn’t that everyone?” I said, “Look around. There’s not a thing in this world that people haven’t had their hands on and ruined. The world’s gone to shit, and nobody cares.”
“Enough!” The man growled. “Your stalling does you no favors.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” A small smile grew on my face until it became a grin. “It’s working for me.”
Just at that moment, I sprung my trap. The ground underneath him gave way, made hollow by countless roots. At the same time, my trees launched boulders after boulders into the target. I took the lead next, entangling Mathis Moreau’s arms and legs with parasitic vines. Despite his struggles, the legend fell into the hole. A barrage of falling rocks followed suit, burying him under an avalanche.
“There.” I said with a rising mood, “Go and find your daughter in the dark, you old fool.” I turned my back on the hole and began to walk away when the ground shook. I stopped and tried to feel around if a tree’s roots were still burrowing about without my knowledge. There were none, and with that realization, I whirled to see at the site of Mathis Moreau’s downfall. The boulders were there, packed as much as they could be into the hole. I could even still feel the vines I put draining Mathis Moreau’s strength. All in all, it was a praiseworthy setup.
“No, focus. It doesn’t matter whether he’s dead or not. He’s out of the way and I can move on with my plan.” I assured myself as I took one step away from the place. But then the shock came, and another. A small earthquake began, and I found myself retreating further and further from the source of it all. I rallied my trees to me, and I did my best to cast as many traps and spells as I could before the inevitable.
For a brief moment, I saw the ground bulge outward right before it popped in an explosion of debris and heat. I raised the earth in front of me, angling it to let the bigger bits glance over me. Once things calmed down, I lowered the shield to see my reckoning. My parasitic vines were somehow absorbed into the Sky-piercer. The man himself was no more, replaced by a monolith more akin to a statue than a soldier. The sight brought to mind an epithet of Mathis Moreau I never understood, until now.
“The Faceless Demon,” I spoke with rising frustration. “You sure those horns won’t get in the way, old man? Not going to snag on any branches and roots, will they?” The silence was my answer, and the legend followed up with a simple leap. Simple, I say, but its speed was such that I only managed to escape by the virtue of my traps. They gave me seconds to teleport away, not that anywhere I went could be safe now. I felt his eyes lock onto me even with the distance between us, and he gave chase.
“Come on, come on, stop him already!” I shouted in vain to my trees, who were evaded and ignored to an embarrassing degree. My traps fared a bit better, giving him pause, but the Sky-piercer cut them down soon enough. It was coming to a point that my mind became a mess of emotions and thoughts. Do I run? Do I stay and fight? My enemy made my choice for me, throwing the Sky-piercer right at me.
My teleportation spell finished just as the blade began to pierce. I arrived at my destination screaming, a white-hot lance of pain seared into my chest. I clutched at the wound, casting a hasty healing spell on it before resuming my escape.
This is the worst thing that could happen right now. I need time to lose the bastard, but he’s not going to give me that big of a chance. Fuck, is there anything I can use besides these stupid trees, anything at all?!
And then I saw it. A plan that would save me. It was mad and stupid in equal measure, which my brother would no doubt find endlessly amusing once he hears of it. Well, the things I do for myself. I made a quiet resolve before casting an illusion spell on myself and the ground behind me. I converted the closest tree to me into a waiting bundle of barbed vines, ready to be. For good measure, I began casting my teleportation spell just as Mathis Moreau spots me. He began the wind-up for throwing his blasted pointed stick, and I had enough. I decided to go ahead and meet him head-on, or rather, an image of me did. It moved and cast spells, and my foe did a marvelous job at dodging them and getting closer and closer.
The spell would expire the moment Sky-piercer touched it, which was just as well as it did right on top of my humble trap. My second illusion would start then and there, giving him an interesting show, to say the least. As for how long it would hold him, I couldn’t really say, given how little I know of the man behind the legend. But given his current berserk state, I daresay he cares a great deal for his daughter. A shame if he were to see something bad happen to her, like say, having her soul harvested while she was alive. Or seeing that soul used to create for all intents and purpose, an abomination with her memories.
But enough pondering for me. Mathis Moreau proved himself a greater threat than I anticipated. There was no way I could return to the area any time soon. A return to anonymity was needed, as well as a new place where no one can disturb me and my work again. And well, as I arrived at my destination, I realized that I needed to get something better than trees for minions. Way better.
Or do I?
No, I definitely need something better than trees.