We ran through the forest to the waterfall. It was a distance off and we could hear the struggle still ongoing. I hated that we had to leave them because of my carelessness with magic, but there wasn't much I could do about it now. I wasn't sure what the others would do if something big like an ogre attacked them now though. It was only Lolan and Zef, neither of them were particularly heavy hitters in a fight, and I didn't want to see Lolan's ribs cracked again, or worse.
We ran as fast we could, ignoring the branches and leaves raking against our bodies. It never bothered me much, but I wasn't sure if Tigala would be left with scrapes and cuts later. It didn't matter though. We needed to help quickly.
We arrived at the clearing at the base of the waterfall and found Zef nowhere to be seen. Lolan was in the water with his sword drawn. He stared at the water. Along the shore, I found the body of an enormous crocodile. It was longer than Tigala was tall, even with her arms raised. Blue stripes ran down the ridges of its bloody back. It was probably what had attacked them. I was pretty impressed that they had dispatched it so quickly.
"What are you doing?" I asked Lolan. "Nice job killing the—"
"Help!" he yelled back, cutting me off. "Something has Zef!"
I looked around for Zef and panicked. "What? Where?" I asked. Tigala must have already figured it out as she was diving into the water. I didn't wait for a response and followed after her.
Tigala turned herself into a large silvery fish and swam underwater toward Lolan. Looking now, I could see Zef down there, held underwater.
"It's like living water or something," said Lolan when I surfaced. "It's trying to drown him."
Living water? What was that supposed to mean? I drew in a deep breath and dove down. I felt the current around Zef like a whirlpool. I swam closer and the current began to pull me in too. Tigala was there, though she was strong enough to fight the current on her own.
When it pulled me to Zef, I found him with wide eyes. He looked like he was almost out of air himself. I grabbed him and pushed him above myself, then Tigala pulled him the rest of the way out of the living current. Once she was a few steps beyond the center of it, I grew seaweed from the ground to try and slow the water enough to let me escape. I looked over my shoulder to make sure Tigala wasn't watching.
Tall leafy water plants sprung from the loose soil all around me. They created a small underwater forest. And since I didn't need them thick, like my vines, I was able to grow a lot of them and quickly. The current slowed, and I began pulling my way free of it. But it couldn't be that easy, could it?
The current started to shift with me, and change. Instead of being a whirlpool like before, it swung violently at some of the larger rocks that sat along the bank. I managed to touch my feet down and push off a second before slamming into them. The stone scraped my knee as a result. I had worse problems though.
I grabbed the rock and began pulling myself up onto it. Tigala was already out of the water with a limp Zef. She was laying him on the shore. Lolan was on the opposite shore. He yelled, "Look out!" and I turned his way to find him with an arrow nocked and aimed in my general direction. Then I saw the reason for his warning. The river itself began to rise. A glob of water pushed upward past the water's surface and formed a pillar in front of me. The liquid flowed all around it like it was just part of the river's natural path. It hung there for a moment, towering above me, even as I stood on the rock. Then it slammed down at me.
I was barely on my feet when it attacked. I dove for the shore and missed the bulk of its attack. The water slammed onto my ankle and held on. It wasn't like a hand holding my ankle but more like stepping into mud so deep that it suctions to your foot. It was like stepping in quicksand with just one foot. I pulled on my leg and tried to break free of its grasp, but it was stronger than me. It sucked me back, deeper into itself while swallowing more of my leg at the same time. I looked back at it, trying to figure out what it was or find some form of weakness. All I saw was a blue glow at the core of water mass.
An arrow flew and hit the water, piercing the blue core. The water flailed and dropped my leg. I guess it didn't like that. I tried to get out of the way while my leg was free, but I was too slow on my hands and knees. It grabbed me again, but this time by the waist. I dug my fingers into the stone, tearing skin, but it was too strong. It pulled me back.
"You hit its core," I yelled to Lolan as the thing lifted me into the air. "Do it again. The blue gl—"
I didn't get to finish my sentence as the water sent another appendage of liquid at my face. It was trying to drown me. I clawed at the water and it slammed me back into the river. I sank as the thing held me still, drowning me little by little. Tigala dove in after me and began slashing at the water around me, trying to find the core I had mentioned. She grabbed me and pulled, like a tug of war with my body as the rope. In her fury, she may have hit something. I felt the water's grip loosen as she pulled me free, but as I escaped the water grabbed her instead.
I climbed back out of the water coughing and choking. I pulled myself onto the same rock as before and tried to catch my breath.
"How do we fight that thing?" yelled Lolan from the opposite bank.
I coughed some more. "I don't know. The only thing that affected it so far was when your arrow hit the core." I coughed again. "Or maybe you can evaporate it with some fire."
He shook his head as he tried to steady another arrow on the creature that was now fighting with Tigala underwater. With how big Tigala was, her ears nearly touched the surface of the water. "It keeps pulling more water out of the river. I can't evaporate the whole pool."
That made sense. This thing was impossible to fight. Nothing seemed to affect it. Even the arrow only seemed to anger it. And it was weird that I was even considering that an arrow could anger a pillar of water. What do you even call this thing? I wish Zef was conscious enough to tell us.
I looked down at Tigala, unsure of what to do. I might be able to help at range with my magic, but I didn't want to bring up those bad memories again in the middle of a fight. I didn't want her to have any more reasons to slip up and give that thing another opening.
She found the core of the water and took a bite on it with her sharp canine teeth. The enemy swirled around above the river's surface and Tigala was launched toward the waterfall, landing on a large rock. She picked herself up and swiped her handless arm across her face to clear the water from her matted fur. "Make sure Zef's okay," she said. "I got this." Then she stood and readied herself for the next attack.
I nodded and ran to Zef on the shore. I hadn't thought about if Tigala had made sure he was okay. I was getting drowned myself when she had pulled him free. He was on the ground on his back with his mouth open wide. He looked dead, but he kind of always did. I put a hand above his mouth and felt breath. That was a good sign at least. I pressed a finger against his neck too. He had a pulse. I didn't know much about medical stuff, but he seemed to be stable. I reached under his armpits and dragged him to a nearby tree, far enough from the shore that the water creature hopefully wouldn't risk coming after him. Then I headed back to the shore.
I reached the riverbank and found Tigala struggling against a strong current. It slammed back and forth with enough force that she was losing her footing. What do we do if this thing takes out Tigala, I thought. I don't even know if Lolan and I could carry her together, let alone against a creature like that. It was a scary thought.
I looked down at her and I had to risk it. I had to do anything I could to help or her head was about to be smashed into a rock. That, and she looked like she had been down there for a while. Although, running out of air was less of a concern. She could always turn back into a fish and breathe the water.
Still, I needed to help. I began growing long vined water plants that stretched upward and swayed in the current. But unlike before, these were thick, like my vines. I tried to grow thorns on them as well, but water plants weren't something I had practiced much. The thorns came out soft and floppy.
I looked at Tigala and saw her notice the vines. She flinched at first as they rose in her direction. Then after a moment, she put her head down and tried pushing toward them. She grabbed hold of one and held on as the current swayed. With another, I reached at the core of the creature and looped around it, but the vines were too slippery. It wasn't going to work. Instead, I wove them together, making a kind of net for Tigala to use to climb back out of the water. Her head surfaced on my vine ladder, and she started to speak.
"Tha—" The monstrous tower of water rose behind her and slammed her in the side, launching her at the waterfall once more, but this time, she smacked into the stone behind it with a sickening crack. Then the water turned to me. It glided across the surface of the river as if it were flying, but there was no motion to it other than the small wakes rippling out behind it. There was nothing I could do. I drew my dagger and tried to find the core before impact, then I saw a small bird flying through the air above me.
Chipry? I thought. No! You'll get yourself killed. The distraction cost me my chance at hitting the water creature before it hit me, but it wasn't Chipry. The bird grew in size, and dark brown fur rapidly spread across it. Right before the water monster hit me, Raffa fell from the air, slashing at it with all claws.
I stepped back and watched Raffa take swings at the creature. It sent torrents of water at him in arm-like streams, but Raffa was ready. He slashed at each one, obliterating it before it could make contact. One after the other.
"Hit the core," I yelled. "The blue glowing part."
I saw him look and then adjust his aim, but the creature kept it protected. Lolan crossed the river now to our side, and with Raffa sparring with the water tower, Lolan drew his blade and sliced at the core. The water creature jerked and engulfed Lolan, but it left its core exposed in doing so. With a final swing of a meaty bear claw, the core was hit and the water fell limp, disappearing into the water below. There was a moment of silence as we looked around, wondering if we had dispatched the creature. Then Lolan stood from the rock where he had been drowning a moment earlier and said, "I don't ever want to go swimming again."
I could agree with that. I looked over at the waterfall where Tigala when down. She was above the river's surface strung across one of the ledges with the water beating down on her. I ran to her, hopping across rocks as quickly as I could without slipping and falling.
When I got to her, she was still breathing. I lifted her arm across my shoulder and tried to pick her up, but it wasn't so easy to do. The wet fur only made matters worse.
"Raffa," I yelled. "Help me get her out of the water."
He was already on his way over. He strung her other arm across his shoulder and hauled her up onto his back, needing none of the little help I could give. He hauled her to shore and laid her down.
She was unconscious but breathing. That was good at least. A wound on her head became visible quickly as the blood began to seep into the tan fur around her ears. I looked around and my eyes landed on Raffa's cloak.
"Can you rip a piece of that off?" I asked, pointing at a ragged end that hung down.
"I can't just tear my cloak," he said. "This is a cloak of the Heshima." He scoffed at me. It was already ruined enough. And who cares. I bet they wouldn't if they saw him working for me.
I looked back down at my clothes. There was already too little there, and I wasn't about to ask Lolan to make it easier to spot his Human features. "She needs a bandage. And she doesn't like you very much. Maybe patching her up would help."
He looked at me and then down at the cloak. He drew his lips in a thin line and then tore the fabric free. He handed it to me, and I began wrapping the wound from the top of her head, under her chin, and back around the opposite side. By the time I had finished, Tigala started to come too.
Her head rolled one way, and then the other and she groaned. Then her eyes open wide as the panic of the fight came back to her.
"It's okay. It's gone," I said. "I think."
Her breathing slowed and she looked up at Raffa who was closer than she probably would have liked. "What are you doing?" she said with a furrowed brow.
"He got here right after that thing hit you into the wall," I said. "He saved me, and helped us get you back to the riverbank."
She scowled up at him, but she didn't tell him to go away. That was basically a 'thank you', coming from Tigala.
"Uh, hey guys?" I heard Lolan say over the sound of the waterfall. He still hadn't joined us, but instead was at the foot of the cascade looking into it. "There's something behind the waterfall."