"Get us to the water!" yelled someone else. If they said anymore, they were quickly drowned out by the yells and screams as we were cornered in our own tunnel by a walking tree on one end and an army of animated saplings on the other.
Cairn and Dunnel reached the end of the tunnel closest to the shore and extended it once more. I didn't have time to snake my vines forward, not if we wanted to avoid being crushed by the walking tree behind us. Instead, I grew vines at the far end, trapping a large group of saplings and bushes in a cell that separated us from the end of the tunnel closest to the water. I yelled, "Get ready to fight!" Then, I drained the life out of the vines closest to us.
The flood of plant creatures overran us, like a wave crashing over rocks. I had to hope that I hadn't just made the situation worse, but I didn't expect us to be able to take down the tree, not with all of the smaller plants constantly filling in behind us as well.
The wave of plants reached me and I sent up another set vines in a circle around me. I grabbed one of the creatures and used a second vine to tear it in half. Then I crushed another into the ground with a hard slap. Another vine slammed a third creature into the ceiling, but the fourth got to me so quickly that I didn't even know it was there. It jumped on my back and clawed at me, scraping at the exposed skin. I tried to grab at it with my arms as I stumbled backward. I backed into something, pinning the creature between myself and another vine. I commanded the vine to peel it off and crush it. The twigs cracked and popped.
We were making progress, but there was an endless supply of more plants constantly filtering into the end of the tunnel.
What do we do? I thought. I couldn't see a way out of this one. The Gnomes weren't exactly hard hitters to begin with and their magic was mostly negated by the sheer number of enemies. With the Saurians still choosing to sit this one out, it was up to me and three Dwarves to deal most of the hard hits. It wasn't enough.
There was another crash behind us as the tree stepped closer to us, crumbling another section of tunnel and shrinking our battlefield almost in half. I searched around and saw a stone pillar shoot up from the mounds of plants.
I acted without thinking and commanded two of my vines to touch their tops to the ground. Then, I worked the roots and pulled root balls free from the earth. I ran toward them as they launched from the ground and set the roots to wrap around my arms, effectively giving me tentacle-like appendages. Then I ran for where I had seen the stone.
I used my new vine arms to swat the plant creatures away. I threw one to the back of the tunnel where another tree footfall landed on it, crushing the monster and more of our tunnel. Another plant had the life crushed out of it. When I reached the stone pillar, I found Cairn, being swarmed by the creatures. The ground was jagged and broken up. A pillar shot just past my face as I approached, sending another plant flying.
When she saw me, she tensed and wound up for a strike before she realized it was me. At the same time, I sent one of my vine arms to smash a shrub that was sneaking up behind her.
"Help," she said. "Dunnel is down!"
I looked to the largest pillar and found Dunnel hurt, lying against it. Hartol stood just in front of the downed Dwarf, batting away plants with a heavy stick.
Not good, I thought. We needed him to get out of here alive.
I looked around at the army of shrubs attacking us. This wasn't going to work, not by doing what we were doing. It was only a matter of time until that tree collapsed the whole tunnel on us, or the swarm overran us.
"Any ideas?" I said as I backed up to Cairn, covering her backside and the two other Dwarves.
"I didn't want it to end like this," she said. I could hear the emotion in her voice. "I wanted to make him proud, to make a better world."
I thought of her husband that she lost in the mountain. I couldn't imagine the pain that must have caused, but I could assume it was close to what I felt when losing my own family. It couldn't end like this. We had so much left to do.
I looked around searching for any idea—any way I could think of to get us out of this mess. My eyes landed on the large tree workings its way toward crushing the entire tunnel.
"Make a hole in the ceiling!" I yelled over my shoulder while swatting away plants.
"What? That will let more in?" she yelled back over the commotion.
"Trust me," I said. "Make a hole and then send me through it on a pillar, as high and as fast as you can make it."
"You'll die," she said.
"We'll all die if we don't try something else. Do it, and maybe I'll be the only one to die."
"I can't," she said.
"Do it! For Branton. If this works, go and make a better world."
I felt her take a deep breath as our backs touched, then she stepped away. Light poured in from the ceiling followed shortly after by more plants. I kneeled and used my vine arms to cover my head and back.
Then, my stomach dropped and there was a quick rush of wind. I uncovered my head and looked around. I was flying through the air, the pillar and trees below me. The rush of wind stopped and I was weightless for a brief moment before I began plummeting back into the chaos below.
The ground was coming at me quickly and I needed to act before it was too late. I used my magic to send out my vines in either direction, searching for anything to grab onto. One caught and pulled me into a fast swing that I wasn't prepared for. I tried to keep the vine holding onto my arm, but I hadn't secured the roots for that kind of abuse. The vine tore off and I was falling again.
By that time, I saw what I had grabbed onto. It was one of the walking tree's upper branches. As I fell, I strengthened my grip on the remaining vine and sent it out to grab another branch. It hit, coiled around and slung me one more time, but this time I was ready for it. I stiffened my vine as I swung from it, trying my best to keep it pliable while still giving it enough resistance to slow me down. It worked...mostly.
I swung around the backside of the tree and slammed into it a little harder than I would have liked. It knocked the wind out of me and I skidded along the rough bark until settled, dangling from my vine beneath what would be something like the tree's armpit.
My body hurt, and the cuts and bruises were already beginning to show, but I couldn't stop yet. The Gnomes and Dwarves in that tunnel were relying on me.
I used my free hand that no longer had a vine attached to it, and grabbed onto the tree. With my vine arm, I commanded the vine to stretch and coil itself further around the branch to help pull me up. Then I readjusted my free arm and feet to good hand and footholds every time I gained more distance up the tree's trunk.
I made it on top of the branch, free from danger of other branches that the tree might use as arms and I surveyed the battle. The tunnel was almost entirely collapsed by the tree that was the epicenter of the nature magic veins. And although there was so much chaos below, for a moment, it was almost peaceful up in the canopy of unaware living trees. The sounds of battle were drowned out and the enemies that I had been facing now looked like ants below me. But I couldn't forget about the others. I had to act as quickly as possible.
"Hey you," I yelled as loud as I could manage at the tree with the glowing green energy still spilling out of it.
The tree didn't respond, nor did the one I was riding on.
I had to get its attention. I looked down at my vine and then at the distance between me and the tree. It was too far for the vine to reach without breaking. It wouldn't have enough support to span the gap.
I looked back down at the swarm below that was undoubtedly getting closer and closer to destroying all of the Gnomes and Dwarves. I noticed one of the living saplings climbing up to my perch on the tree. Unwilling to let go of my vine anchor to the tree, I used my magic instead to uncurl the creature's limbs from the bark of the tree and watched it plummet back to the forest below.
Then I looked back at the tree destroying the tunnel.
"Here goes nothing," I said.
I used my magic once more.
The energy left me and aimed straight toward the giant tree. I put everything I had left into it, and the magic found the life force of the tree. Like veins running through a body, magic flowed all around this tree and pooled in an endless spring near its top. But I didn't want control of its head. I wanted its legs. My magic traveled down the length of the tree until it reached a leg that was lifted and about to stomp on the last remaining section of the tunnel. Just before it could, I unleashed, but it wasn't enough.
The massive leg-like trunk halted only for a second. It was my magic up against the strength of a magically-infused tree, and after that moment of tension, where the tree was held in place, it broke free and moved again. The leg descended toward the tunnel.
But then, the tree stepped back, as if catching itself from being off-balance. The leg planted itself just behind the tunnel on the beach. The tree raised its head, and then it made a noise.
The groan sounded like wood bending under a great weight. But it also sounded like a word.
As the bellow echoed, the trees and plants below all stopped in place. Many of them looked up at the tree that had almost crushed the remaining smallfolk I had traveled with.
The tree looked around at the other trees, glancing past me. It made another pass and this time spotted me. It took a step toward me, and the plants below scrambled out of the way of its heavy footfalls.
The glowing tree looked at me and raised a branch to point at me. YYYEEEWWW, it said. YYEEWW DIIID THAAT?
What? I thought. That tree was talking to me. The tree that was just a normal, stand-in-one-place-and-don't-kill-people kind of tree? The tree that I created not only was moving on its own, but it was also talking?
"Uh," I said.
"WWWHYYY?" said the tree.
I looked around, "I was trying to save my friends. They were just trying to get out of here."
"YEEEWWW OONLLLYY KIILLL. YYYEEWWW KIIILLL NAATTTUURE," said the tree. It's groaning voice sounded more fierce like it was getting angry.
"No, I don't. I love nature. I create it, see?" I used the smallest trickle of my remaining magic to create a small seedling from the vine's rootball that was still attached to my hand. The tree leaned closer to see the small plant and the green in its eyes flared brighter.
"I made you," I said.
"YYYEEEWW MMAADDDE MMMEE?"
I gulped. I wasn't sure I wanted to do this. I wasn't sure it would work. Whatever these tree creatures were, they didn't seem like they were terribly smart, even if they could talk. There was no telling how they would react. But if it meant that there would be a chance for the others to get away, I had to do it.
I stared back at the tree and took a deep breath. "Yes, I made you. And if you let the other people down there free, you can do whatever you want to me."