The tree had gold bark, a thick trunk, long thick branches that reached for the sky, with tall roots that traveled far, creating a labyrinth of wood walls. It blossomed with beautiful white flower petals and shimmered in the shade.
“No, I’m not Lysyntri, I’m her son.” Responded Ang to the voice.
“Her son,” said the voice in his head. “You must be Angdraoni, she talks about you often. The one thing she has left.”
“Where is my mother? Is she nearby?”
“Don’t you want to know who the voice in your head is?”
“Oh um, who are you? Are you a tree?”
He heard a low gravelly laugh, like stone grating against stone. “Now that I am a tree the name I go by is unpronounceable to you. However, I was originally a dwarf. My name was Yoorei. It’s a pleasure to meet you. My apologies but I initially mistook you for Lysyntri, you have similar auras.”
“What happened to you?”
“I paid a heavy price to use magic that we have no business using.”
“And the price was getting turned into a tree?”
“I returned my body to the land. And the land in its great mercy returned me as a tree.”
“You spoke to Obnenio, you used Obnenio Colm Sceltdor, it turned you into this?”
“You’re familiar with it?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen it used before, don’t you need a partner for it to work, what happened to them, did they also become a tree?”
“No, The Spider is lurking, somewhere.”
“My mom was your partner? She didn’t have to sacrifice her body?”
“She had to sacrifice something. She has had to sacrifice a great number of things. She will go to great lengths to keep those she cares for safe. It’s one of her few redeeming qualities.”
“Are you upset with my mother because now you’re a tree?”
“Oh no, this form has given me a new perspective on life. I have been born again and will probably live for many more millennia. I have grown a deep connection with the Nenio. The flora and fauna can become my eyes and ears. Whole generations have pledged themselves to service me, as my branches provide a home for them. The neighboring trees envy my beauty and desire my seed. I am well loved here, and I have Lysyntri to thank for that. Though sometimes I do miss my original body. You could make a pact with me. I will share all my knowledge and experience with you, in turn I will be able to see through your eyes, don’t worry you can always block me out when you please. What say you?”
“Right Dungii, I’m not making any sort of pact with you. Could you please just tell me where my mother is.”
“What a peculiar creature.”
“Says the talking tree.”
Ang heard the laugh again, louder, and harsher this time, full of something other than amusement. “Fair enough, your mother is probably tending to the great dragon. She’s been ill for sometime now. The path is just beyond these ruins.”
“Well thanks Yoorei, maybe we’ll talk again after I’ve found my mom.”
They started to walk past the tree when a sharp root shot out of the ground piercing Dungii’s body. Ang rolled to the ground. He recovered quickly and drew his axe. He ran to assist Dungii, but a small vine grabbed his ankle. He fell and hacked the vine away. Clawing to his feet he scrambled to his friend. Dungii’s body dissolved into dirt. Something broke within Ang, he got up and slowly turned to Yoorei, with a bright knuckle grip on Hue.
“Why would you harm my friend?”
“My root slipped, I meant to get you. It’s a reflex. I don’t take well to rejection.”
“I don’t take well to anything that hurts my friend.”
“You call that thing a friend?”
“Yes, I DO!” He swung Hue, summoning a strong gust that shred leaves and flower petals off the gold tree. It tore plants from the soil, eroded the stone, and forced the animals to flee.
“Impressive, so young and already able to harness that much power.”
“Shut up,” spat Ang. Hue’s blade turned black, as he swung again, sending a crescent of pure death. Yoorei flicked his root, flinging his own black crescent, cancelling them out. Hue flashed red. Ang readied another swing. He rushed the malicious tree. A root lashed at him. He dodged and swung, generating a vortex of flame. He took his ocarina and manipulated the flame, standing at the center of the inferno, burning with rage. He formed a beast of fire around himself and lashed out with searing claws leaving deep gashes in the golden wood. Burning away a section of leaves and petals. The tree flashed brown, producing a six finger hand of mud to smother the flaming beast. The beast struggled against the hand but could not contend with the opposing elements. Before the mud reached Ang he swung the axe. The blade flashing dark blue, freezing the hand above him. He drew a rune into the palm causing the frozen mud to turn and slap its maker, breaking more branches and shattering the hand. The tree flashed red, launching a fireball back. Ang easily flicked it away with his axe, revealing a thin glass shard of ice. His axe still in mid-swing, he had no time to react. The shard about to pierce his skull, when.
“Meep,” Dungii jumped and deflected the shard.
“Dungii you’re alive!”
“What is that thing?” demanded Yoorei.
“No, Dungii is something else, and you, you’re going to be my new body until you expire.”
“Not before I use yours for tinder.”
“Meet the animals that call my branches home.” Snarling critters with dark fur, crooked fangs, and bent snouts climbed down the canopy all around. Their eyes bloodshot red, needle tip claws, and long thin hairless tails. One of them crept on Ang from behind and lunged. Dungii sprung and mushroom bunted the attacker. Ang ran and dodged as the creatures lunged for him. While evading, he drew a rune in the air, and flashing a complex sequence of colors in Hue’s blade, assumed his grey bear form. He pivoted on his hind legs and swatted the grotesque creatures. Dungii bounced around, colliding into objects and assailants with deadly force. A tree tripped Ang’s bear form, giving the beasts an opportunity to pile on him. They dug their jagged fangs into his fur, but could only graze the skin. Ang jumped back and smashed the brutes against a tree, toppling it. Vines entangled him, and a sharp root stabbed him in the side. Before more roots could pierce him, he turned back into a dwarf, falling between the roots. They pointed down about to strike when Dungii, bulldozed the roots, snapping them like twigs. He stood over Ang as he struggled to get to his feet, blood seeping from the wound in his side. Dungii licked the wound closed picked him up and placed him on his back behind the protective veil. Ang tied the blue cloth around his waist, as Dungii frantically ran around the tree. Yoorei, completely uprooting himself stabbed at them. Dungii ran around too fast for Yoorei to strike. Then a storm swirled around, tearing the trees from the ground and lifting them into the air. Ang and Dungii, caught in the storm spiraled helplessly around with the debris. Yoorei at the center, roots flailing.
“I will kill you child of the Spider.” A root promptly reached up for them, only for Ang to slice it off with sharp wind.
Dungii let out his song, subjugating the storm to him, he spiraled the storm and debris higher into the sky. Then floating over Yoorei, dispersed the wind and dropped the debris on him. They gilded safely to the ground.
“That’s great Dungii you’re already so good at controlling your song.”
“Murp.” The debris burst off the tree. Dungii braced against the impact, Ang grabbed the mushroom.
“Die Die Die Die Die.” screamed Yoorei. He flung debris at Dungii, who bat it away with his tail. Ang climbed to the top of the mushroom, charged his axe and drew runes with tracer light. He swung Hue, dispersing a thick cloud of fog. Yoorei, couldn't see the large stone spike, Ang impaled him with. It nearly split Yoorei in half. The tree stopped moving; the roots fell limp.
“Is he finally dead?”
“Murp murp,” Dungii moved back. A pale emerald lichen spread rapidly across the gold bark. The wood twisted and braided up, forming a long, slender body. At the top the wood warped into a head with a long jaw full of rows of sharp thorns. Two thick trunks sprouted and curled like horns. Mouth agape, breath full of toxins, it bit down on Dungii’s veil and threw them high into the air. Ang swung his axe and shot a sickle of ice through the monster's jaw. Dungii sang, guiding them through the air. Ang played the whale song, causing the sickle of ice to grow. The bottom jutted out, piercing the monsters lower jaw. The upper jaw nearly torn in half by the expanding ice. The monster lunged at the pair, but Ang continued to play the whale song. Another extension jutted out of the sickle. Piercing the back of the monster's mouth and poking out the back of its head. In its attempts to break the ice it tore its jaw in half. Ang climbed the mushroom as Dungii’s song took them higher. He raised the axe. It crackled with electricity. He brought thunder down on Yoorei’s monster. The blast so intense, it melted the ice and burned its body black and rigid.
“It's dead now right.”
“Murp!” Ang fell as the fiend lunged and caught Dungii swallowing him. Below he saw the stone spike still embedded in its body. He raised the axe over his head and struck the spike, severing the body of the serpent from the roots. The force of the impact sent him flying back and rolling to the ground. The beast fell over and from the base of the neck a beige puffball inflated. A rainbow blossom budded, tubulous feet sprung, and a generous helping of fern leaves lay on the body like feathers. A brown mushroom popped out opposite the feet, and the form of Dungii lay on his side. The flower bloomed and he let out a.
“Dungii behind you,” warned Ang.
The monster attempted to attack Dungii, but missing half its jaw, could only bump against the veil. Dungii frantically ran, but the serpent had taken the place of his tail. Ang hobbled to his feet and swung his axe, encasing Dungii’s new tail in clay.
“Morp morp morp morp.”
“Relax Dungii.” Ang walked with a limp to Dungii to inspect his new appendage. “It looks good on you.”
“We’ll have to figure out how to get it to not bite you. Maybe Vlux can help, if not her, then I’m sure Aletha can do something.”
“An excellent fight.” said the stump.
“You’re still alive!”
The stump laughed with its stoney voice, but lacked the harshness from before. “The moment I uprooted myself, I was already dead. I had grown complacent with my life here in this jungle. Seeing a young sturdy dwarf like yourself. It made me long for those days. Honestly, I thought it would be easy to subdue you. But who would have thought the old bull would come back to beat me.”
“Who are you talking to? I defeated you.”
“You did, with the help of your father.”
“How do you know who my father is?”
“You look an awful lot like Ongjorni the Bull, and I would recognize his greatest work Hue. He poured his blood, sweat, and soul into that axe, quite literally. I thought myself a skilled caster. I thought in this form, I had grown even more powerful. Now I see my mistake. Bested by the young son of the Spider and the Bull. You didn’t even draw the full power of that axe.”
“I didn’t need to, you weren’t worth it.”
“Ha, fair enough, you see the red mountain over there, your mother should be there, in a cave near the top. Tread carefully young one, always keep your guard up, your wits sharp, and question everything.” All life from the stump extinguished, it quickly rotted and turned to dirt. He turned and saw the same thing happening to Dungii. He nearly fell over trying to reach him but then remembered Dungii doing this before. He sifted through the pile of loose soil and found the beige puffball body with a small serpent on the end ready to strike. Ang grabbed the snake's head, tied a piece of silk rope around its jaw, and placed the puffball in his bag with the snake head poking out. He looked himself over and inspected the gash in his side. Thanks to the blue cloth it already healed some. He also had a few scratches, bruises, and a twisted ankle. Too close to stop now, he took a strong, thin gold branch and used it for support as he limped through the forest to the mountain where he knew his mother’s embrace awaited him.