"So, what do you think Brendell is going to do as soon as he wakes up?" I asked Lolan as we walked. The forest floor was chewed up and muddy, showing that we must be close to the wandering forest.
"Honestly, he'll probably try and kill me again," said Lolan. He smirked at me, but I got the feeling that he wasn't joking.
"Even once the mind control wears off?"
"Yeah," he said. He sighed. "He hated me because of what I am and because he had to live a secluded life to protect me. I think attacking me was his way of coping."
"That's horrible. I thought he changed though. Didn't you say he saved you?"
"Yeah. He did. And that was the last time I saw him before all of this. He always looked for ways to make me squirm, ways to show that he was stronger than me. Believe it or not, but I used to idolize Wikith Cresall. I saw him as someone who had it all together. He knew who he was. He was unmatched at storm magic. He was someone I could look up to. But then I got the chance to see him perform. Brendell took it one step further, tricking me into exposing myself in front of Wikith. That's when we both discovered that Wikith hunted down half-breeds."
Lolan's expression darkened. "Wikith likely killed my parents. He went to strike me down and Brendell realized what he had done. He stepped in the way and allowed me to escape. That one time, he showed that he cared about me. But that doesn't erase a childhood of attacks and ridicule."
"That's horrible," I said. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay. So yeah, when he wakes up, there is a small chance that he's grateful that I saved him. There's a much greater chance that he wakes up and is mad at me for not letting him fix the problem himself."
"Wow," I said. "Well, if we're not around when he wakes up, have someone come get us." I said.
I looked to Tigala who was walking silently along with us. She nodded.
"Thanks, guys. I appreciate it."
"Of course. I know you'd do the same for me."
He smiled at me, but there was still a trace of worry behind his eyes.
"So, uh, how long have you three been working together?" asked Palem.
"We met here on Daegal," said Tigala. She still looked a little timid around Palem, but she was trying at least to acknowledge him. I wondered if it had to do with her own hurt caused by the Treeks. Maybe she suspected he had been part of the plague.
"How did you find each other?" asked Palem. "Forgive me for prodding, but I like to dig into mutually beneficial relationships. I use it in my magic, but this is kind of along the same lines."
"No, it's okay," I said. "We didn't really mean to work together. We all came here looking for our people and didn't really have search parties to work with. Lolan started the whole thing though."
"Yeah," said Lolan. "I had never seen a Treek before, and I was curious about what Kaia was doing alone in the woods. I followed her, and we were attacked by an ogre. One thing led to another and we ended up being accidentally forced to work with each other."
"We had a fourth member too," I said. "But he didn't make it out of the cavern." My eyes dropped to the ground.
"I'm sorry," said Palem.
I looked at the others. Just talking about it hurt them too. I could tell. Lolan offered a slight smile to me, catching me looking.
"It's okay," I said. "I'm just hoping we can carry on his legacy."
"And what was that?" asked Palem.
"Lolan was the one that started this whole thing into motion, but it was Zef that held us together. He knew exactly what he was doing when he made us ask Tigala for help."
I looked at Tigala. I knew I was referencing things that wouldn't quite make sense to Palem at this point, but I didn't care. I was saying it more for us. We hadn't gotten much time to process what was going on. There was never enough time for that kind of thing on this island.
"Zef made us a team—a family. He's the one who made us realize what we were reallly looking for," I said.
"Agreed," said Lolan.
Tigala grunted an affirmation.
"Well, he sounds like quite the visionary," said Palem. "I wish I could have met him."
"Me too," I said, thinking about how ironic it was to tell a Treek that I wished he met the Gnome that I had met on this island.
The path ahead of us grew muddier by the second. Drit pulled up in clumps making uneven ground that needed to be climbed hand over hand at times. Palem rode on Bubba, occasionally looking like he might fall off as the elk took leaps to the next bit of stable ground.
Up ahead, I could now see a forest of trees that I didn't recognize. I double-checked the map of Daegal that Malclom had in his watch room. It tracked the wandering forest in this direction toward the river, close to where we had created them. But what was interesting was that there were supposed to be no trees in this area at all. Yet a forest stood directly in front of us, still, positioned around the river.
"Do you think that's them?" I asked.
"What?" asked Lolan.
"The forest," I said. "Do you think that's the wandering forest?"
"They're not wandering," said Lolan. "Do they go dormant like that?"
"I don't know," I said. "I've never seen them do it, but that doesn't mean they don't. Maybe they're sleeping?"
"So what do we do about them?" asked Tigala. "If that is them and we walk in there, we'd be surrounded."
"Yeah," I said. "I don't know. We could try yelling for Grollok from the outside."
"I vote for not entering a forest of trees that want to kill us," said Tigala.
Palem chimed in as if he just realized what we were talking about. "You animated all of those?" he said with wide eyes staring at the patch of trees.
"I think so. I had boosted magic when I did it."
"Heh, I'll say. And you can control them?"
"No," I said. "I can control maybe a couple at a time, but those ones have minds of their own."
"What do you mean? You can give them commands?"
"No," I said. "They're living, thinking creatures now. I don't know how I did it, but they talk and think for themselves."
Palem gave me a confused look. "I've never heard of that. Your people couldn't create minds."
It was weird, but I didn't know anything about creating animated creatures. I didn't know what was normal and what wasn't. But now that he mentioned it, I wasn't sure how that part of it happened.
"Maybe mind magic somehow got in there," said Lolan.
"I don't know mind magic," I said.
"Maybe it's something in the land. Maybe it's a result of that monster sleeping in its center or maybe there was a mind magic vein nearby. I don't know." Lolan shrugged.
"That would make more sense," I said. "That's a scary thought though to think that mind magic can grant minds to things that wouldn't otherwise have them."
"Yeah," said Lolan.
"Are we ready to do this?" Tigala asked. She looked anxious staring up at the towering trees.
I looked at the others who looked back at me with raised eyebrows. No one was ready, but we had to do what we came here for. We needed their help.
"GROLLOCK," I yelled.
There was no response. The trees stayed just as still as they had. I stood there in the silence staring up at the trees. Were these the wrong ones? Did the magic wear off? Or were they sleeping? Do treants sleep?
"Hello?" I yelled again. "It's me, Kaia. I'm the one who created you."
Still nothing. I exchanged looks with the others.
"I don't know what to do," I said. "We can look for Grollock and see if we can provoke him to talk, but that would mean going in there."
"Can you help control them at all?" Tigala asked looking at our newest member.
"I can bend branches and move vines, but against a force that large, I wouldn't do any noticeable damage. If they are in there and want to swarm us, there's is nothing I can do."
"GROLLOCK!" I yelled again. "I came back! You couldn't kill me last time. Here I am."
"Don't ask them to kill you," said Tigala.
"I'm just trying to get them to wake up. I don't know." I said, shrugging.
I reached out with my magic next, focusing on the closest of the large trees. I sent my magic to its lower trunk, trying to move it even in the slightest amount. The green glow formed on it as the others watched. Nothing. I couldn't even budge it.
I looked to Palem. "Can you tell if they are still animated?'
"I can try, but I'm not even sure what that would feel like." He put a hand forward and reached toward one of the smaller plants. The green glow formed as he focused. The sapling swayed with his magic, and then the glow dissipated. "It felt a little easier to use," he said, "but that may just be because we're on this island or because it was previously affected by your magic."
"So we still know nothing," I said. I looked to Tigala. "What do you want to do?"
Tigala furrowed her brow. I knew she wouldn't like the idea of waltzing in there, but I wasn't sure we had much choice at this point.
"I guess we go in. But we stick together," she said, looking at me.
"Okay," I said. I was okay with that given how things went the last time I ran into these trees. I didn't want to have to sacrifice myself again. Tigala didn't want me to either.
"I'll take the lead," said Tigala. She stepped forward into the forest.
The trees loomed over us. Every breeze that swayed a branch made me a little anxious. It was quiet too. There weren't many animals that I could see living in the forest. It had to be the wandering forest, but I had no way of knowing why they were no longer wandering.
We walked in silence through the trees. The ground was churned and turned up by stomping root clumps, making our progress slow. Up ahead, I heard a faint noise. There was a trickle of flowing water. I checked the map again and saw the river that ran through the region. It was the same river that fed into the waterfall above the teleporter, but miles upstream from it.
I looked up at the towering trees. Moss and vines hung from branches. Their branches provided a patched shade over the forest floor. At any moment, they could come back to life and attack us. They could wake up and we would already be surrounded.
"What was that?" Tigala said in a hushed strained voice. I looked at her and saw she was in her tiger form, her ears pointing in a direction ahead of us.
"I didn't hear anything," I said.
"I saw something up there," said Lolan, looking in the same direction as Tigala.
"Should we spread out?" I said.
"No," said Tigala. "We stick together."
"I just meant—"
"Shh" Tigala crept forward with careful steps. She had spotted what she heard. She ducked down below the brush and didn't make a sound as she moved. After a few tense moments, Tigala pounced from the bushes several paces ahead of us.
There was a scream, and then a voice. "Get off of me!"
We ran to her, with our vision obscured by the dense trees and brush.
When I was within view, I saw Tigala in her Tiger-form growling at a blue female Saurian with a spear. The Saurian pulled a hand from behind her toward Tigala and a stream of water shot at the tiger. Tigala dove to the side dodging most of the impact. The Saurian followed up with a spin of her spear and a small wave tumbled across the land behind her. It swallowed her and she disappeared beneath the water. A second later she sprung from behind a tree and jumped at Tigala with the spear poised to strike.
"Wait!" I said.
The Saurian paused for a split second looking for me from the corner of her eye.
"We don't want to hurt you," I said.