“You didn’t bring any marshmallows or anything, did you?” Wilson asked as the forest began to wail, a deep noise that reverberated through Garth’s chest.
“Nah,” Garth said, backing them away from hovering directly above the forest lest they roast or suffocate from the rising hot air.
“True, just sitting here and watching is a bit anticlimactic, but it’s not like I wanted a fair fight anyway.”
“Yeah, fuck that.”
A great hand about the size of a towering redwood reached out of the flames, clawed grasp aiming toward the sky.
“You think he’s gonna do the Terminator 2 thing and give us a thumbs up?” Wilson asked.
Garth looked up and away from the burning forest and saw storm clouds coalescing out of nothing in every direction. The treant was trying to put himself out!
“Sonofabitch!” Who gave you permission to control the weather??
With the crack of thunder, the sky burst open, unleashing a downpour of heavy, thick raindrops on them. In a matter of moments, the forest was out, and Garth was soaked.
What do I do? The Dodder must not have worked, or else he’d be a lot… deader right now, and he rendered the firemoss useless. Garth worked through his options as the hand dragged a head and shoulders out of the ground, revealing a creature of wood and leaf that would give Godzilla a run for his money.
The only weakness I know this thing has is its heartstone. It had the same weakness of any living creature in this fantasy-dimension, but Garth didn’t know any way of locating it. Stay calm, it’s most likely in its center of mass or buried in its head.
Hurricane force winds began to assault Garth, nearly tugging him out of the sky. With a bit of extra mental effort, he encased himself in a Force Shield baffle.
It drew a second castle-shattering arm out of the ground, and began pulling itself upright in the center of its own hurricane.
Wait, it’s got one more weakness. It’s made of wood. his Control Plant spell had worked on it well enough to allow him to escape.
Garth wasn’t able to control nearly enough plant matter to make the big guy kill himself, or even hold him still, but, he could create a construct that might let him reach the Heartstone.
Garth closed his eyes, creating a simple mental construct and channeling all the mana he could form his Lantern into it. In a few short seconds, Garth had a mental construct dedicated to pushing any plant matter within ten feet away from him.
The giant pulled itself the rest of the way out of the ground and fixed Garth with a malevolent stare, his empty eyes filled with a brilliant green energy. Garth was still several hundred feet out of the thing’s reach, but not for long.
Start at the top of the head and run down his center, should give the best chance of finding the heartstone.
“What’s skyfire-Oh crap.”
A bolt of lightning took Garth in the shoulder, burning off the upper right portion of his jacket. It caused his Force armor to flare up and short out in an explosion of white, and the raw white energy didn’t give a damn about how stiff his skin was, burning a fractal pattern across his flesh.
Garth felt the energy go for his heart, and try as he might, the sheer amount of uncontrolled mana couldn’t be slowed by his meager human brain. He felt like he were trying to hold onto a four-wheel drive truck with his fingernails.
The scouring mana flowing through his body stopped just shy of his heart, disrupted and absorbed by the powerful enchantments buried right above it. Garth’s whole body spasmed uncontrollably, and he began to fall out of the sky like a mosquito that made love to the coils of a bug zapper. Garth had been swatted.
The wind whipped by his ears as he fell, force shield baffle dropped. The ground expanded beneath him, trees rapidly growing in size as he fell. Garth struggled to regain control of his flight and arrest his fall, but he was already in range of the massive treant’s arms.
Tanglewood lunged forward, clapping two hands the size of houses around Garth with a deafening concussive blast. A stormy day turned to night in a fraction of a second, and as Garth slipped between the giant hands, it turned back to day.
The mental construct dutifully made sure no plant matter came within ten feet of him, deforming the creature’s palm, allowing him to continue his fall unhindered.
Garth snapped out of his stupor halfway to the creature’s knee, getting dangerously close to the ground. Garth gritted his teeth and put everything into recovering altitude. His body might be able to withstand a thousand foot fall with all his enchantments, but his brain would be a pancake.
Garth looked around for Wilson as he pulled up, skimming the tops of the trees as the giant slowly opened his hands to check for human remains. Well, Wilson didn’t have a brain, hopefully he would be fine.
Garth glanced up and made his way toward the treant’s thigh. Before Tanglewood could recover and slap him out of the air, Garth dove into the gargantuan leg that used bundled trees like muscle fibers.
The trees opened up and garth burrowed into the flesh of the monster like a parasitic worm, heading for a major organ. In this case, the only major organ he knew of. Treants might not have hearts, or lungs, but everything had a Heartstone, and couldn’t live without one.
Garth had no frame of reference, in the darkness inside the treant, but he pulled up his memory of the giant’s posture and what he expected him to do now that there was a human wriggling through his insides. None of that went exactly to plan.
Rather than scream and claw at his skin as a human might, the treant simply turned it’s focus inward, lashing out at Garth with arms and legs formed from individual trunks and branches, aiming to squash him.
The construct continued to faithfully bend the trees out of the way, but some of them brushed against his hair or snagged his clothes, nearly overpowering his spell with sheer force.
Garth turned straight upward when he felt he’d reached the waist. The Heartstone might not be in the center of mass, but Garth would deal with that if it happened. Tanglewood didn’t exactly trike him as the kind of guy to specially hide his weak spot. Hell, who would, if they were four hundred and fifty feet tall and immortal?
He wasn’t sure if he’d even be able to see the Heartstone in the dim light, but in a matter of moments, Garth’s effort was rewarded. In the dark forest of tangling branches, Garth could make out a brilliantly glowing green light.
Either I made it all the way up to the eye already, or that’s the Heartstone, Garth thought, angling for it.
The Heartstone was about the size of Garth’s fist, several orders of magnitude bigger than anything he’d ever seen on a creature before. It was clutched by an almost hand-like set of roots, feeding power up the ancient trunk and into the rest of the creature’s body.
I hope Ellanore doesn’t want me to swallow that, Garth thought as he formed a simple blade of ironwood and began hacking at the roots. Or worse, take it as a suppository.
“AAAAGH!” The treant’s pained shout reverberated through Garth’s little cave where he was attempting to tear away the Heartstone. Garth was about halfway done when the treant decided to make things difficult.
Tanglewood stumbled forward, trying to dislodge Garth. Floating in midair without anything to hang onto within grasping distance, the Heartstone flickered away from him, moving forward without him.
Crap. Garth put on a burst of speed to follow, but the damn stone did a head fake, whipping past him and going far in the other direction. An instant later, he came out of the dark confines of the treant’s chest and out into the gale force wind and rain of the storm surrounding them.
The sudden wind threw Garth off and he tumbled away from the treant who was madly running away and screaming. Parts of its body were sloughing off at it ran, shedding height and weight as the damaged connection to its Heartstone took its toll.
The giant’s legs were tracking great furrows through the air, each stumbling step like the crash site of a passenger jet. And it was heading toward the village.
Garth put on speed, plunging into the creature’s back and dismissing the construct just as he hit the Heartstone, tackling the ancient tree with bodily force. Garth seized the partially uncovered gemstone with one hand, and as trunks were trying to push him away, unceremoniously yanked it out of its cradle.
The roots snapped like dry twigs, showing the behemoth’s age as he severed its connection to its power source.
The trees bundled around him held still for a breathless instant, then they began to shift, before they began to come crashing down, filling the air with the sound of tortured wood.
The last thing Garth saw was a branch bigger than his head going straight for his eyes.
“And then when the flood came, you organized the adventurers to keep everyone safe, and built a wooden dam in a matter of seconds, despite the howling winds and pouring rain, diverting the insta-river away and making sure the entire village wasn’t washed away by the ungodly storm.” Wilson said, gesticulating wildly.
Garth was vacuum sealed into a goose down bed, tucked in by some kind of professional tucker, so securely adhered to the comfortable bed that he felt he might cling to it even if the whole thing were turned upside down. Garth stared up at the ceiling of Beladia’s temple in the center of town. His whole body ached, despite his enchantments that should have returned him to perfect health within minutes of injury.
He was simply exhausted.
“Did any of that actually happen?” Garth asked, looking over at Ellanore, who sat in the chair beside his bed while Wilson was in the other.
“It did, although in retrospect, you may have had a concussion. I should have noticed, what with the bloody nose, ears, eyes and the way you were staggering around. And your pupils wouldn’t contract, either.” Ellanore said.
Garth gave her a look. That was textbook concussion. They let him keep going after all that?
“To be fair, it was a very rough night last night. We didn’t notice most of your symptoms until after the storm had subsided and you fainted.”
“Don’t use the word faint.” Garth protested. “Say collapsed, or succumbed to exhaustion. Men don’t faint.”
Ellanore chortled. “Okay, you collapsed from exhaustion before we brought you into a lighted environment, where we could more clearly make out the details of your injuries. You were clutching a brilliant green heartstone, which is right here.” She lifted the green gemstone into Garth’s vision.
The Heartstone was jagged and crystalline, looking almost like a quartz crystal, but for it’s color and crackling inner radiance.
“You’re lucky I was the first one to see this.” Ellanore said. “The Heartstone of a creature like Tanglewood is priceless, and more respectable teams have done heinous things to acquire them.
“Then what are the adventurers doing?”
“Searching the body for the Heartstone.” Wilson said with a shrug.
“Here, we can re-establish your connection to Beladia while you rest,” Ellanore said, peeling away Garth’s covers and revealing his bare chest.
“Umm… I’m sorry, but I’m already-“
she put the Heartstone against his chest and folded his hands over it before dropping the covers back down.
“Try to relax and drift off while focusing on the Heartstone. May Beladia guide you.”
She leaned down and kissed his forehead. Garth felt energy creeping from the center of his forehead, settling down through his eyes and into his brain like water trickling through loose soil, rejuvenating and relaxing him.
Garth closed his eyes, allowing his mind to drift where it would, pendulously drawn toward the crystal held against his chest, a small green sun that his consciousness orbited around. As Garth relaxed more and more, he sank closer and closer to the green sun, until his awareness dove straight into it, drawn inexorably to the center.
Everything went black.