I looked at Malcolm and then over the edge of the dragon that we stood on.
"I didn't mean to," I said.
"Oh, didn't you?" said Malcolm. "This is what we do. Why wouldn't you be just waiting for your chance to kill me?"
"No," I said. "I decided not to." I looked down at the knife still in my hand and tucked it back in at my hip. "I want your help."
He let out an abrupt laugh like he was genuinely surprised that the words came out of my mouth. "You want my help? And what would I possibly help you with?"
"Stopping that monster. It killed Humans. It's going to kill more. Arthur was right. Whatever you're doing isn't working and we need to stop it before it's beyond stopping."
"Ah, so you were listening in too. Clever. It must have been a heck of teleportation spell to get you up here," said Malcolm, ignoring my request. "No. I'll control that monster, and then I'll kill all who stand in the way of the Humans."
"Even if you do, do you really think that's going to solve anything?" I said. "If you kill every single other race, wipe them out, you'll find new lines to divide yourselves on. Maybe it'll be height or hair color. Something will become the new line in the sand. At what point does it stop if you allow it now?"
"We're Humans," he glared at me now. Had I said something that resonated? "We take care of the Humans while every other race has and will kill us at any chance they get. It is up to us to secure our place in this world. This is how we do it."
"You're wrong. This is how you continue the cycle of grief. You are fueling the inevitable end of life on this planet by keeping that thing alive." As if it wasn't clue enough that the monster he woke up had tried to end the world once before.
Malcolm sighed. "I really hoped you would have something more interesting to say to me before I finally killed you."
My eyes widened. I had run into Malcolm before, not just in the cavern that the monster crawled from. He was with Havik. He was the "Elf" in the cave under the tower. He was the one who tamed the dragon in the first place. He was strong, with multiple forms of magic. He was strong enough to take me out in an instant. I had to stall.
"Wait," I said. "What's the rush with killing me? What if I'm right? What if you can't mind control that thing. I'm not saying it's necessarily going to go down that way, but if you couldn't, wouldn't you want help to stop it?"
"I wouldn't accept help from a Treek most of all. If I fail to control the doom drake, which I won't, then I will take it out with the help of other Humans."
I looked over the edge of the dragon. We were over Briqor now. Good. I scanned the ground for something that might make for a softer landing. It was all stone buildings.
"But would you want to sacrifice Human lives to take that monster down? Sure, you can protect yourself against it, but what about the Humans that only wield fire magic? They have no real defenses against the monster's other magic. Why not send in the other races to kill it and then you could clean up the remaining forces."
"Then why do I need you, a single Treek? I could kill you now and still enact your plan."
"Because they believe in me. If you kill me, they won't unite. Keep me alive and they'll rally around me to fight the monster."
"Hmm," said Malcolm, contemplating the point. "That's a very good point," he said. He relaxed his posture a fraction. Then, without warning, he threw his hands up and shot a blast of fire at me. I barely managed to dodge it in time without toppling off of the dragon.
"But I think I'll take my chances. You're too much of a nuisance to keep alive."
He raised his hands again and leveled them at me. I didn't have time. I dove off of the dragon as the heat burned the tips of my hair. I plummeted toward the ground below.
The wind rushed around my face as the tiny town of Briqor grew closer and closer.
This was a stupid thing to do. The kind of thing that Tigala would have yelled at me for. And I'm sure she was already mad at me for teleporting to the dragon in the first place. I looked around for a wyvern, hoping she had somehow caught up with us. No such luck. I wasn't going to hear the end of this one, that is, if I got the chance.
The city grew closer by the second. Ruined streets and buildings would be my welcoming party. I had to think of something, but it was so hard to do with the wind making it impossible to keep my eyes open for more than a second.
Think. Think. Think. What can I do? I could try and reach out for plants in the buildings, but by the time they were in range, it would be too late to grow something to catch me. I couldn't see any parks or grassy areas from where I was, and the only thing that would help in an area like that would be a tree. I might be able to bend the branches to soften my landing. But that was _if I had a tree to work with. I didn't.
Something was flapping against my thigh in the wind. I grabbed it. It was the pocket of my skirt, heavy with the dirt I had filled it with!
I wasted no time, pushing my magic into the small clump of dirt as I fell. I had to act quickly.
I could grow a vine, but that would only be useful if I landed on it in the right way. I could only control the fall so much. So instead, I decided to rely on my ancestors. Apparently, I was good with animating plants because my people were as well. I hoped they would be with me now.
I grew a vine creature like the one I grew to show off for Kadero and Coran. Vines spilled out of the dirt clump wrapping around each other. The ends flailed in the wind, making them annoying to control. I wound them tighter and wrapped the cord of vines around the central dirt clump, still inside of my pocket.
Once I had the dirt secured, I grew more vines out of every side, using the first vines to pull the clump free of my pocket. They wound around and formed limbs for the creature. But I couldn't just settle with a small plant creature. I needed something big. Big enough to take the impact and keep me from going splat.
I pushed harder. Then I thought about what Palem had told me. Nature magic comes easier with hope. I focused on the hope I had for Lolan to have his brother back, free of the brainwashing. I thought of Tigala, the friend she had become and far we'd come together. The hope that I could see her again and apologize.
The vine monster grew faster, doubling its speed. And it was good because I was getting close to impact. I looked down at the ground and began to panic. No. Hope, I thought, trying my best to refocus.
I closed my eyes as I thought of the friends I had made along the way and the hope I had that we would all survive this monster and get to celebrate together.
I could feel the vine creature grow even faster than before. I used as much of my magic as I had available, strengthening it and making it more sturdy.
We spun in the air. The ground would be close, but I kept my eyes closed. I called the vine creature to grab me. It hugged me against its chest and put its back to the wind.
Then we hit.
I woke up with my head pounding. Around me lay a pile of vines so long that I couldn't see the end of them. They laid over buildings and streets like someone had spilled green paint in streaks across the city. My landing place was a darker green and slimy from the plant matter that instantly turned to mash as it hit. But it was enough. I survived!
I pushed myself to my feet and the smaller vines fell off of me, deflated. I couldn't believe I had made that. I created a plant giant, without using the nature magic from Grollock. Just as amazing was the fact that it saved me from the fall by exploding beneath me; a giant nature pillow.
But I didn't have time to focus on the plant giant I had made. I had to help. The town was in danger, and many innocent Dwarves would still be there.
I hobbled toward the monster as quickly as I could manage. I looked up to see Malcolm had made it to the monster's head and was using his pink magic again.
I didn't know how we were supposed to take the monster down, but I feared having to take on Malcolm almost as much. I couldn't think about that now. Now I needed to help. I needed to get anyone I could free of the chaos.
I ran keeping an eye out for anyone in trouble. A few Dwarves passed me, a family with several young children. The mother clutched one as she ran. They saw me and looked with wide eyes as they ran in the opposite direction of the monster.
I continued, heading for the destruction.
Ahead of me, a crater broke through the road and still burned with fire magic. Several buildings were torn to pieces.
"Help!" I heard someone scream. It was coming from one of the buildings.
I changed course and ran toward the sound.
The building's front wall was still intact, made of a single slab of stone. But as I stepped in, I could see the collapsed upper floor bow toward the next room over.
It was a short house, perfect for the Dwarves but limiting for me. With every step, I was watching my head as well as my footing.
The next room was some kind of common room. It had seating areas and a stone table. The side wall was blown out entirely showing the remains of the neighboring building.
And there, between the two houses was a female Dwarf. "Help!" she screamed again, not seeing me.
"What happe—" I started, until I saw what she was yelling about. One of the exterior walls had fallen in a large chunk on another Dwarf. Another female Dwarf laid in the rubble, struggling to get her lower half free from being pinned beneath it.
The Dwarf that was calling for help looked at me with wide eyes. Her blonde hair was frayed and unkempt.
"I'm here to help," I said, raising my hands. I seemed to be doing a lot of that gesture lately.
The blonde Dwarf kept her eyes on me while turning her head to face the Dwarf under the rubble. "Uh, yeah. Can you get her out?" she said, hesitating with each word.
"I can try," I said. "You don't know any magic?"
The blonde Dwarf shook her head.
"Okay, but you're going to have to trust me. I'm going to do what I can to get her out."
The Dwarf nodded as she continued to stare at me.
I worked on my magic, growing from the dirt in the front yard of the neighboring building that was visible from where we stood. I would normally just grow a vine, but Palem had gotten me thinking about the plant creatures. I was good at it. It was in my blood. And having a creature at my disposal would be helpful for other people as well. So I grew a vine monster. I made this one smaller than the last. It was harder to grow than the one that I grew while falling. Maybe my magic had kicked in at double strength because my life depended on it. Or maybe it was easier to focus my hopes when they were about to be taken away. Either way, I grew this plant monster until it was about the height of Tigala. The blonde Dwarf's expression didn't change the entire time, other than it becoming more pronounced.
I told the creature to take a step, uprooting itself and spraying dirt as it walked. It walked over to the rock laying on the pinned Dwarf. It was hard to be precise with the large monster. I wasn't used to it whether it was in my blood or not. I took it slow, commanding the creature to bend slowly, then stick limbs beneath the stone. Then, the creature squatted and lifted the rock slightly. The stone groaned at the pressure. I had the creature lift a little further, and the pinned Dwarf pushed herself back. The blonde ran over and grabbed her friend by the armpits, pulling her backward. When the Dwarf's legs were clear of the slab, I let it fall, sending a wave of dust over us.
The blonde Dwarf looked up at me, "Thank you." She let the words hang.
"Can you two get out of here alright?" I asked.
"We'll manage," she said, holding the injured Dwarf upright with an arm around her shoulder.
They began hobbling toward the edge of town. I walked over to my vine creature and looked it over. It was impressive. Being made of a series of twisted vines, I could see it being extremely useful in a fight. It was so much versatility packed into a neat package that could move around with me.
I had it lower its hands and stepped into them. Then, at my command, the monster lifted me up and I climbed onto its shoulders and sat down. I held the vines on the top of its head as reins, and let the creature carry me out into the street where I could look for the next person in trouble.
But when I arrived back on the road, I looked around for the doom drake and didn't see it anywhere. Is it laying down or something, doing more damage on all fours? But the sound of buildings being destroyed had also stopped.
I commanded my vine creature to climb the ruined edge of a building, with me still mounted on its shoulders. It took some work, but we finally made it to the roof of the building. I looked out on the horizon and my suspicions were confirmed. The monster was gone. And worse yet, Briqor had been reduced to rubble.