Tigala dove into the room in her tiger form aiming more for Lobo's arm and weapon than his body. She crashed into him and his shapeshifted sword slid across the floor. Then Tigala turned her back to me and growled at Lobo.
"Don't do this," she roared.
"I would say the same to you, but you've already made your choice." Lobo held out his hand and Mila's stretched arm tossed the sword with the hilt landing directly in Lobo's grey-furred palm. "I guess I'll have to go through you then."
I used the branch I had been readying to grab Mila. She seemed to be one of the bigger threats with the range she had. I wrapped the branch around her chest and arms. She tried to stretch to push her way out, but I caught her off. I continued wrapping her in the tree branch as she struggled and she was unable to break free.
Torm started to grow. After a moment, the oversized warthog had to bend his head to keep from bursting out of the treetop hut and space instantly became more limited.
He grabbed at Lolan who had his sword out. Lolan swung at the slow meaty hand and it connected, creating a growing trail of blood down his oversized fingers. Torm pulled his hand back and then laughed in a deep voice from enlarged vocal cords. Torm reached again and this time Lolan charged him. He ran underneath the warthog Beastfolk's legs and Torm was too slow to catch him in time. He waddled around to try and find his whereabouts.
The bear Beastfolk ran into the room focusing on Zef. Even without Tigala, they matched us in number, and they were better trained than us. They were warriors. Zef began conjuring up some spell right away. He did a funny little dance where he stood as the bear Beastfolk ran in. Zef leaned forward and puffed up his cheeks. His lips formed an 'O' shape and he blew a thick cloud of smoke out of his mouth. It billowed and began to fill the room, making it hard to see more than a few feet in front of you.
The bear Beastfolk and Zef disappeared in the black smoke just before the Beastfolk had reached him. All that was left, all that was visible to me, was Lobo and Tigala.
Lobo had cast aside his machete, and it turned back into a metal rod on the floor. He snapped his jaws at tiger-form Tigala and said, "You want a fight? Let's go!" The bent forward as his body began to rearrange. The fur on his body grew thicker, and his hands were replaced with clawed paws. His back hunched in an unnatural way and he grew a foot or two taller than Tigala as he stood on all fours. Bone stabbed out of the skin on the ridge of his back and joints. He had turned into a dire wolf making even Tigala look like a mere kitten.
Nonetheless, Tigala dove at him and the fight began. The two tussled in the middle of the room, disappearing in the smoke, and then reappearing a moment later.
I had to do something. Zef's smoke had provided some cover for us to possibly escape without getting killed, but I couldn't leave Tigala behind. And I didn't think the Beastfolk would let up until I was dead.
I ducked low in the smoke to remain hidden and poked my head out just enough to get a view of my surroundings. I was still maintaining my tree magic on the branch wrapped around Mila, the cow Beastfolk. She was struggling to break free, using her transformation magic to try and push the branch or stretch out of it. Luckily, the branch was her in place for now.
Then I smelled something. It was the smell of rot from before—the smell of troll's blood. I looked around and saw a couple of the nearby trees shake. Before I could react two trolls launched themselves from the trees and landed on the walkways. One had a trail of blood on its stomach but no wound, but the arrow hole higher on his chest still hadn't healed. The other troll walked with a hop in its step due to a leg that healed backward, probably after we threw it from the treetops earlier.
Great, I thought. This couldn't get any worse.
And then it did.
Three more trolls dove from the trees onto the walkways, a little further back than the first two.
They saw Mila hanging from the trees like fresh bait and came galloping after her on all fours—their oily black hair flicking back and forth with each stride. I couldn't let them tear her to pieces so I dropped her onto the deck and stepped out. I readied my branch at her side.
She looked down at herself, and then at the branch, incredulous. Then she saw me and tensed. This isn't going to work.
Before she could act I said, "We need to work together. There's too many of them."
Mila didn't seem to like that idea. She ran at me, throwing her fists and legs. She was quick, using bursts of magical energy to connect each punch and kick sooner than I could anticipate. She landed a fist against my jaw, and then another to my gut before I could react. And then, the troll's joined us.
One dove into her, tackling her inside of the hut. They disappeared inside of Zef's smoke cloud. Another charged me, but I used my branch to smack it off of the bridge. It knew what to do this time though. The troll wrapped its arms around the branch and held on. I tried to shake it off, but it climbed further up the branch until it was out of sight, somewhere above the large hut.
As I tried to shake it free, a third troll crashed into me, sending me hurtling into darkness. I skidded across the wooden floor, my hardened skin saving me from splinters that the Humans always complain about, and I could hear the troll's snarls nearby in the cloud of smoke.
I tried to back up and found the wall behind me opposite of the doorway I was thrown through. The troll's snarls grew louder and I could hear him swiping his claws through the smoke. There was a swirl of shadow about five feet from me, or maybe further. It was hard to tell.
"Zef!" I yelled loud enough that I hoped Zef would hear me over the commotion. No response.
The troll dove at my voice and I ducked to the side. It slammed into the wall and made an inhuman groaning noise. It saw me and swiped a claw at me but I backed into the smoke and out of the troll's sight.
I bumped into something and felt around it—some sort of table. I ducked underneath it still hearing the clacking of troll jaws nearby and I yelled with all of my might. "Zef! Clear the smoke!"
In an instant, the smoke was gone. I saw ahead of me, the gnarled black toenails of the oily green-skinned monster. It twisted, ducked its head low enough to make eye contact with me, and gave a crazed grin.
I yelled, "Trolls! We need to work together!" And the troll charged.
It dove into the table, smashing it to pieces. I slipped out from under the opposite end and then looked around me for a moment. Nature. It's all nature, I thought.
I formed a glow of green energy on the wall and began growing a branch out of the still-living wood. It worked, but it was slow. The troll saw the spot and slashed at it, sending splinters across the room.
But something strange happened. His slash continued past the mark I had created and broke into one of the green magical veins. A stream of green light poured out of the puncture and seeped into the wood around it. Then, the wall began to crack. It flexed and popped and something like a limb pulled free of the wall, then a leg. A head came next and the swirl of magical energy centered around what would be the chest area. Out of the living-tree wall broke a creature made entirely of tree, powered by the careless release of nature magic by the troll's wild swing.
"That's not good," I said to myself.
The tree monster attacked the troll in a wild fury, giving me a moment to spare. I looked around the room and saw ongoing fights between the Beastfolk and my group. Mila and the other troll were rolling in the middle of the room.
"Stop!" I yelled. "There are three more trolls coming, and fighting in here is dangerous with these magical veins. We need to work together to get out of here." I said it and Lolan was caught by the bear Beastfolk. Lobo and Tigala were circling each other snarling and Torm, in his enlarged state, was having trouble pinning down the old Gnome. None of the Beastfolk listened to me.
"We can handle ourselves," said Lobo. "It's your ragtag group that wants help from us, and we don't help our enemies." He looked back at Tigala. "Especially not traitors."
The troll tossed the tree monster in my direction, and the conversation ended. I should have expected as much from Lobo, but I still had to try.
The tree monster skidded on across the floor and began thrashing at me. I pulled out a dagger but had little else to work with. I tried slicing the creature, but its body was harder than my own. My skin only resembled tree bark and was only a little rougher than the skin of other races, but this was actual tree bark. The knife hit one arm and was ripped from my hand as the creature swung wildly. It flew across the room.
In the meantime, the troll that had created the tree monster looked at the veins and then at the monster. It slashed the veins several more times but received a different result each time. A branch shot out of the wall and began whipping around, another slash caused large thorns to grow out of the wall, and another made that one wall grow taller while the rest of the room maintained its height. I heard a groan and snap above me.
Chipry saw the commotion from his perch outside and dove in. He attacked the face of the tree monster in me but it didn't affect it like it would a normal animal. It was unphased, showing no disruption to its chaotic swings. One arm hit Chipry and sent him skidding across the ground.
"Chipry!" I yelled, but I was given no time to check if he was okay. The tree monster was on me again and the troll was still trying to create another with more slashes to the magical veins. I tried swatting away its arms with my own and received a gash on my arm as a result, but the synchronized motion gave me an idea.
I had just read about Treeks creating and controlling creatures like this. Maybe I could control it.
I kicked the creature in the chest, knocking it onto its back. I tried to focus on the energy inside of it. The green glowing power inside its chest pulsed with life. I focused on that. It was different than working on normal plants in normal soil. It felt strange, like molding clay that had already been partially shaped by someone else, but I could mold it.
The creature was back to its feet by the time I took control of it. It stopped in its tracks and I began to mentally take stock of how it worked. I moved an arm and then a leg. I could do all of it with my own body easily, but puppeting another was strange. I made the creature take a step, and then another, but I made it off balance and it toppled to the ground.
I made it stand up, in the same way a newly walking baby would, with its arms and legs spread further than necessary. Then I had it turn towards the troll.
Another bark creature was peeling away from the wall as a result of the troll's most recent slash at the veins. The troll grabbed it, and ripped it the rest of the way out, snapping off its leg. He threw his thrashing tree monster at my own minion and the two crashed together. I had the plant monster in my control wrap its arms around the other to at least keep it under control.
The troll howled with anger and slashed another vein. This blast of energy started to warp his arm instead of growing anything from the wall itself. The troll's arm grew a bark-like texture turning it into a wooden club with a few buds sticking off of it. This was getting out of hand quickly.
I looked around for an escape and saw that the other trolls had entered. Each one joining in on an ongoing fight. Lobo tried throwing Tigala at a troll while a third tree monster joined the fight with Torm and Zef. The bear Beastfolk was barely holding off another troll from ripping an unconscious Lolan to shreds, and Mila was fending off two more trolls. On top of all of the chaos was a thunderous groaning that continued to grow louder as the lopsided tree tried desperately to hold itself together. This wasn't going to end well.
The troll in front of me that had been slashing the veins got fed up and decided to take me on its own. It roared and charged me on all fours.
We are going to die here. I thought to myself. In my last seconds before impact, I took one final glance around the room and my eyes centered on the converging green veins where the dead deer Beastfolk lay—the magical well.
It was nature magic, and I knew nature magic. Jumping off of that proverbial cliff couldn't be worse than being torn apart and eaten by a troll. Right?
I focused on the center of the veins and put all of my might into shaping the magic. I stepped off of the magical ledge, diving headfirst. The magic rushed around me, pouring out of the center of the hut. It was so much more power than I could ever muster on my own.
I used it to sense the nature around me, and it was like I was looking with my own eyes. A detailed map of the plants in the area filled my mind, everything glowing with green. I searched for the spot where the troll was and pushed out. Hundreds of branches shot out of the wall, wrapping around the creature and pulling it into the wooden wall behind it. It tried to scream in pain, but it couldn't be heard over the pops of bone and flesh.
I searched out the others using my eyes and the map in my mind. One by one, I crushed the troll's, each time more wild and reckless than the last. Despite my best efforts to use only what I needed, the power bubbled over and pushed me to use more and more of it. The room erupted with branches and vines and leaves, erasing all traces of the troll's existence.
I reached for the tree monsters next, each one glowing brightly in my mind's eye. I tried to seize control of one and they all froze in place. It was easy, controlling them—like moving my own body. They all ran to the center of the room at my command and began tearing each other apart.
The magic pulsed through and made me feel invincible yet deeply unstable. It was draining and invigorating at the same time, but I had to let it go. Using it on the Beastfolk would be sure to kill them. I tried to let go, and couldn't. I looked down and my hands glowed bright green. My vision was washed out by a green glow as well as if I was staring into green flames.
I tried again to leave the magic behind, to stop using it. I pushed harder, willing it out of me. It took a lot of effort, like closing a door that a river is running through. I pushed and yelled as I forced the last of the energy back into the veins it came from, but energy like that doesn't want to be contained.
I let out a sigh of relief as the glow left my hands. I let go of the well, and that's when everything went wrong.
- Pennsylvania, USA
I have wanted to write for several years, but always had a reason not to. At the beginning of 2019, I decided I wasn't going to wait any longer and began preparing to write Sprig. Now I have over 40,000 words written and I'm writing more every day.
For the most recent chapters of my fiction, check out my website! https://houstonhare.com
My username on discord is treetrnk