Mandilyn trudged through a dense forest, her clothing continuously becoming caught between shrubs and branches. Her frustration grew quite visible as she voiced her disagreements typically with her foot and trampled ground. “Arslan.” She called out, voiced almost trembling with rage, “Where is this tree!?”
Arslan shrugged and snickered. “No idea!”
Mandilyn stopped walking and yelled, “What!?”
In between chuckles, he was able to say, “We are looking for a specific type of tree in a forest. The best we can do is to just stumble upon it.”
Her eye twitched. “Aren’t you like smart or something? Think of something to make it faster!”
Arslan cut down a hanging vine. “You know for a rabbit. You’re oddly displeased with this place.”
She kicked a fallen branch out of her way. “Somehow, I remember there being some dangerous things in this forest.”
“Huh. Interesting.” Arslan crossed his arms leaning on a nearby tree.
“It seems you share more than just physical traits from your host body.” Arslan squinted looking at the female. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Suddenly, Mandilyn screamed as she lost her footing and was hoisted into the air, a branch had wrapped itself around her ankle and flipped her upside down.
“Ah!” Arslan exclaimed, “I see you found the tree. Good work.”
She was immediately pulled further up. She braced her body as she was pulled in between branches, leaves scratched against her skin and got stuck in her hair, the branches cracked as they broke and fell. She was finally pulled past the tree canopy and high into the air. She came face to face with the creature that had her. It was a Butterwood’s tree-beast, an immobile hulking beast made of wood, the appearance was that of a regular tree but with a toothy salivating mouth carved into its bark. The monster had one single, cat-like eye, but also sprouted several tentacles from its head.
“Eugh.” Mandilyn cringed noticing the pungent odor of rotting corpses. Everything on the ground was either a skeleton or in the late stages of decomposition. Roots covered over most of the bones and dead flesh: a clearing, a graveyard in the middle of the forest. “Arslan, h-help?” she cried out.
Three other vines wrapped around her arms and legs and pulled tight, her arms and legs were all stretched to the point of inflexibility. She started screaming as the vines continued to pull further, threatening to pull her apart limb by limb. However, an arrow pierced one of the vines, relieving the pressure around her arm. She looked up to see an upside down Arslan readying another arrow. Her heart fluttered with ecstasy. The next arrow was heading in her direction again, but when the sunlight caught at the right angle, she noticed her scythe was attached. She reached out grabbing the shaft and imbued her magic, erecting her weapon to full size. She sliced off the pulling plant tentacles and began a ten-foot drop. She gritted her teeth as her stomach went through the motions of feeling weightless.
But, ten-feet was just enough height for her to correct her balance and land on her two feet. Arslan approached, his bow in his offhand.
Mandilyn panted, the adrenaline coursing through her veins. “What...took you so long?”
Arslan flashed her four small amber colored, sap-filled vials. “I had to collect.” he extended a hand for her. She took the help he offered and stood. “I have what I need so... do what you want with the tree.” The tentacles didn’t particularly move very fast, almost like it was ignoring the two now that it lost its prey.
Mandilyn took a few steps forward as vines came at her, but were severed almost immediately once they got in blade range. She was about to deal out three hours worth of built up rabbit rage. However, she was stopped short as she stumbled over a root taking her out of her tunnel vision. She traced the roots back to the main body. “Hey, Arslan.”
“Hm?” He hummed wrapping a cloth around an arrow.
She tucked the blade of the scythe through an overshooting root. “What happens if I cut these?”
“You’d probably kill it.”
“Good.” She raised the weapon slicing the root in two. Clear liquid spurted from both sections. The tree swayed in pain. She moved onto the next root, and then the next, and the next. Dodging and counter striking all the vines that came her way. The tree visibly looked like it was in pain each time she cut. The bark became an off gray while the leaves began withering. However, the carnivorous tree stabbed the ground with each of its remaining vines.
The ground shook as any connected roots were forcefully taken underground. The Butterwood Tree-beast had begun removing itself from the ground. The bark screeched as it scraped across itself, bending in unnatural ways. It twisted into a more ‘primate’ form. It appeared to use the remaining connected roots as a tail.
“Uh...” Mandilyn droned.
“That doesn’t look too good,” Arslan said, lighting the cloth on fire and letting go of the arrow, it landed somewhere in the top. Unfortunately, all it did was make the tree-beast more dangerous as it was now on fire. “Huh.”
Two thick branches broke from the canopy and slammed on the ground; the creature was no longer willing to take prisoners. It fully intended to turn these two into fertilizer. One branch slammed in the vicinity of Mandilyn, the shockwave alone was enough to lift her and drop her back to the ground.
She rolled away from the beast as it came down for another strike. “What the hell!?” she yelled, being knocked around by the pressure again. Flames trickled down overtop of her. An ember or two landed on her bare legs. She yelped each time. “Arslan! You made it worse!. Do something more useful!”
“That was the best I could do.” Arslan shrugged shouldering his bow.
“These things are listed as A-tier monsters for a reason. Not a whole lot of people actively go documenting them.”
Mandilyn pierced straight through the bark of one of the bark arms but, almost immediately the division was surrounded by vines and reconnected.
“Gah!” She shouted in frustration. “This is exactly why I hate forests!”
“Hang on. Keep it distracted.” Arslan said flipping through the pages of the book. “oh,” he said pressing the two pages together moving them in separate directions. “Hey, looks like I skipped over a page or two.”
“And!?” Mandilyn shouted back jumping in between trees.
“Yeah, looks like you gotta expose its heart.”
“And where’s that!?”
Arslan smiled. “Get this; it's in the mouth! Also, it said never to cut the roots.”
“Argh!” she winced as several pieces of bark ricochetted from a destroyed tree cutting her. “I don’t think I can do that very easily!”
“Then keep doing what you’re doing,” Arslan said.
“Hard not to!” she announced while extinguishing a small fire caused by the falling embers. Fighting a tree-beast was dangerous enough, but fighting a tree-beast while a forest was on fire was increasingly worse.
Arslan rubbed his hands together generating a small amount of friction then planted them firmly on the ground. His hands lit up a neon green, and so did most of the ground. He removed them from the earth. “Great!” he exclaimed, “Mandi when I give you the signal, lure it over towards me!”
“What!? Are you crazy!?”
Arslan cracked his knuckles and planted them back on the dirt. “Now!” He shouted.
“Ugh.” She grumbled, she ducked from the creature’s attack and ran through the middle of the creature’s vines. It creaked as it turned around and slowly followed her.
Arslan’s hands erupted with a translucent liquid that quickly spread through the middle of the clearing. The dirt began to bubble and sink inward. The tree beast’s vines stepped into the muck. The weight of it caused it to drop rapidly until only the ‘head’ remained above the ground. It struggled to pull itself up from the ground just managing to get stuck in worse positions.
Mandilyn turned around to see the tree beast flailing its tentacles into the air. The embers fell into the mud and quickly extinguished. She switched directions and went straight for the creature. She jumped at the edge of the mud line careening for its mouth.
The tree-beast noticed her approach and tried to catch her, but the vines couldn’t even stop her with the momentum she was going with. They wrapped around her legs but by the time they could muster enough force to pull her out she had already approached the heart, a small round glowing green orb. Almost all the roots had been connected to this point.
She cut the orb in half as vines expelled her from its insides. She screamed until Arslan caught her; both of them fell in the soft mud.
The tree-beast’s movements began to stiffen, its bark dulled to light gray and the vines fell limply to the sides. Covered in mud and sap Mandilyn sat up looked at the still burning, but dead husk of the monster. She sighed and relaxed her posture. She looked down noticing that she was straddling Arslan’s waist. She planted her hands on his chest and smiled. “Good thinking with the mud!”
Arslan only grunted in response.
The two sauntered into the lab. The sun had set, and the moon was high in the sky. The two were covered in mud, sap, blood, and sweat. They were exhausted and had one thing on their minds, sleep.