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5.4 Growth

# 2594 13 - 17 mins.

Leaves slapped against my face as I ran through the forest. The only light that guided me was the reflection of the moon off of the deep green leaves. The flashes in the distance grew louder—closer.

Something about running through the forest in the dark felt natural. I imagined my ancestors doing the same, in their traditional Treek garb, feeling the moist earth beneath their feet. But this was no hunt. This was a rescue, and time was of the essence.

Another scream tore through the night, followed by a torrent of cracks. What would the storm mages want with a little girl?

There were more explosions of energy and the light shot across the forest in short bursts like a bolt of lightning traveling sideways. Each flash cast deep shadows across the wood, displaying the trees as tall dark creatures looming over us.

A tiger ran alongside me with Marv, the Dwarf, mounted it's back. He bounced around, but not as much as you'd expect of such a small person. His dense body must have allowed him to stay put despite the commotion. It was still a comical sight, even if Marv saw none of the humor in it with his daughter's life potentially on the line.

I looked up above and saw Chipry gliding above the tree branches. Good, no owls. Chipry was the only family I had, if you could call him that. I couldn't let myself neglect him to save others.

When I looked back down there was another flash accompanied by a deafening snap of electricity. I heard a snarl to my left, opposite of Tigala. I looked and was blinded by a bright light. The sound of it echoed in my ears as I was knocked off of my feet.

With my eyes still adjusting I threw my hands up and felt fur. I got my feet under it and kicked, launching something into the air. There was another whipcrack of lighting above me and I didn't hear the thing land when or where I would have expected it to.

I got myself to my feet as quickly as I could and looked around, trying to blink the light from my eyes. What the heck was that thing?

"Abigail! Are you there?" Marv had one hand to his mouth as he hollered while the other hand clutched Tigala's fur. Tigala was circling back toward me.

"Marv, Stop! They're going to hear us," I said.

"They already know we're here," said Tigala. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I don't know what it was though. That thing came out of nowhere."

"Aahhh!" Another scream sounded not too far ahead.

"Abigail!" cried Marv. "We're on our way. Let's go," he said, giving his mount a little kick.

"I'm not your horse," growled Tigala, but she turned and darted off toward the scream. I ran after them still seeing no sign of the lightning.

I ran after them, trying to not be left alone in the forest with the lightning monsters. Loud flashes broke out around us as we ran but none charged forward while we ran close to one another.

There was another scream from above us in the forest. I looked up and saw the legs of a little girl hanging from a tree branch. "Up there. Look!"

We ran to the base of the tree. Branches covered most of the girl from view. Tigala and I turned our backs to the tree as Marv hopped off and tried scurrying up it. I whistled a command for Chipry to stay away as flashes and sharp cracks of energy danced around us.

Whatever these things were, there were several of them. They worked their way around us and began closing in, tightening the circle they had formed. Marv huffed behind us as he struggled to climb. I would help him with my plants, but I was already preparing for the coming attack.

One of the streaks of lightning broke formation and charged Tigala. I saw a flash of white fangs in the scuffle, and then the attacker was gone as quick as it came.

Another came for me. It took two flashes to reach us from the outer circle, but even knowing it was coming, I was too slow. I swung a vine to try and intercept it, but I didn't wait to see if it connected. Instead, I closed my eyes. I heard the loud crack of lightning felt the thing land on me. I opened eyes that were still adjusted to the dark and saw a long furred snout snarling at me. Massive teeth bared, the wolf glared at me with residual electricity crackling down the gray fur along its spine.

I swung an arm and a vine slammed into the wolf's side launching it into the darkness.

"Close your eyes before they dive at you. They're some kind of wolf," I yelled to Tigala even though she was standing right next to me.

She grunted in response and didn't bother to look my way.

Another charged me from behind. I heard the crack of energy and closed my eyes as it knocked me off my feet again. I opened my eyes to see it keep running past me.

As I tried to get back up, a third whipcrack of lighting dashed toward me. I was too slow to close my eyes this time and was blinded once again. I threw my arms out swinging at the wolf pinning me to the forest floor, and it connected, but not how I expected. My arm hit something and was then held in place by it. Sharp teeth clamped onto it, breaking the skin, although my rough exterior did hold back any major damage for the moment.

"Ahh!" I cried out in pain and swung my other arm toward the creature's neck. I hit it square in the throat. The wolf yelp and sidestepped away from my free arm while still holding my right arm in its mouth.

My vision came back slowly and I saw the wolf wasn't trying to eat my arm. It held on to make me an easier target. Another wolf approached but I only had time to deal with one. I used my free arm to send my vine down on the wolf that held my arm. The vine slammed onto its back and then coiled around it. It still held on to my arm even as my vine grabbed it. The other wolf did a second charge.

I closed my eyes and waited for the sound of the electricity to end. There was no impact, no tearing at my stomach. My ears were ringing from all of the noise and my arm was bleeding in one wolf's mouth, but other than that, I felt nothing.

I opened my eyes and saw Tigala in Tiger form on top of the wolf. It had a tiger slash across its face and she was going in for the kill with her jungle cat jaws trying to wrap around the dog's neck.

It pushed back, but the wolf was no match for a full-sized tiger. Instead of accepting its fate though, the dog struggled and then disappeared in a flash of lighting. TIgala stumbled backward from the light and the wolf rejoined its pack.

I added thorns to my vine and grew it stronger and longer. The wolf yelped again and its grip loosened enough for me to pull my arm free. I saw the creature start to draw the electrical energy to it to try and bolt out of the vine's grip, but I squeezed tighter and the light dissipated with the wolf still held in place.

"I got one," I said.

"Only twelve to go," said Tigala, her face grim.

I lifted the wolf off the ground and left it there, clawing and biting at the vine that held it in place.

"I don't think we can do this much longer," said Tigala. As she struggled with another wolf.

"Can you get Crag to help Marv?" I asked. I could hear him still struggling at the base of the tree.

"I tried. He's just playing around," said Marv, clearly frustrated.

I began growing another vine while I had a moment. I figured growing thorns on the ground wouldn't be helpful because they can probably flash over most of it. I wasn't sure why they weren't attacking me at the moment. Had I scared them by capturing one of their own? I didn't waste time considering the reasons and grew a second vine instead.

My vines writhed and whipped in front of me as if taunting the wolves to try anything. Then I heard a crack behind me followed by, "Wuh—woah!" With a thud, I turned to see Marv fall out of the tree. "Abigail, stay there. I'm coming!" he yelled. He sounded beaten down like even though his daughter was right in front of him, he still didn't have the tools he needed to save her. And with the way things were looking, I wasn't sure Tigala and I had the right tools either.

My glance behind me had cost me. I turned back toward my vines and the creatures beyond them, and the wolves were no longer circling. Six of them were charging straight at me.

"Tigala!?" I said, and with a glance, I saw that she was tied up with at least three of the creatures.

This was it then? I came all this way just to get eaten by lightning wolves?

I set my jaw.

Not without a fight, at least.

Thorns barbed my vines as I swung them at the dogs. Most flashed passed them but I did land a hit on one, sending it skidding into the brush.

I could somewhat predict where they'd land after their first flash-jump so I slapped at the ground with my vines. One vine hit and I quickly coiled it around the wolf, squeezing it until I heard bones pop. Then there was the second flash. I closed my eyes and tried to sense the vine closest to me that currently held a struggling wolf aloft. I thought I could feel the vine with my magic so I threw my arms down to direct it. When I opened my eyes again, I was amazed to see that the vine had slammed down on the closest wolf like a club, flattening it against the ground. I was so excited about the small victories that I forgot entirely that three more were already headed my way.

One of the wolves crashed into my legs, knocking me off balance. Another jumped up and tackled me to the ground. Then the first two wolves backed off, making room for the third. A tall wolf, easily the largest of the pack, sauntered up to me, snarling with bared teeth.

"No. Not like this," yelled Marv. His voice was raw with emotion. I heard his footsteps and saw him charge with his pickaxe out. A wolf dove on him, easily pinning him to the ground.

Well, nice try Marv.

I looked back at the large wolf approaching. Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, but its face seemed to glow as if some divine light was telling me that this wolf would be the end of me. The wolf stepped onto my belly and then my chest, its sharp nails scratching at my skin. The two flanking wolves stood on my arms, pinning them down, and the wolf looked happy to feed after a long hunt.

"What in the—?" I heard Marv's voice behind me, and the light on the wolf's face grew brighter as it looked towards Marv instead of me. The light wasn't in my head at all, it was coming from something behind me at the base of the tree. While the wolves stared at it, I didn't dare to move, in fear that they would attack as soon as I had their attention again.

There was a sound near Marv like the shifting of stone. "Agghh," Marv yelled. A stomp shook the ground...then another. I heard a yelp of a wolf in Marv's direction. Then there were more heavy footsteps. Something swung out of the darkness and slammed into one of the dogs holding my arms down, launching it into the air where it slammed into a nearby tree trunk and then fell limp to the forest floor. The wolf on my other arm yelped and ran away, while the one, standing on my chest, snarled and then backed away into the darkness.

I clambered onto all fours, terrified of the kind of creature that could scare off a large pack of lightning wolves. I looked up and found a body, about my height, made entirely out of stone. It stared back at me. I wasn't stupid enough to reach out for my magic. Instead, I was ready to run as soon as it came after me. But it didn't. Instead, it raised a hand and shook it, as if waving at me.

The rock monster then turned and ran towards Tigala who was still getting swarmed by lightning wolves."Tigala! Look out!" I yelled as I chased after the thing. I didn't know what I expected to do against both a rock monster and a pack of wolves, but I had to try something.

The monster ran with awkward steps, almost like each step was a small jump from the previous. It wobbled and threatened to fall over, but it never did. It reached Tigala and I tried to trip it with some quick root pulls, but the monster was so heavy that it tore right through. It raised a rock fist and slammed it down towards Tigala with a thunderous thump. But when it stood again, I saw tiger-form Tigala backing away from it untouched. In the crater made by the monster's fist was a flattened lighting wolf.

The rock monster swung at another wolf and sent it skidding across dirt, and with that, the last of the lightning wolves fled from the scene.

I ran closer and examined the rock thing that was now poking itself all over. It began clawing at its own chest trying to rip itself open but found no purchase. I heard a muffled voice and looked up to the creature's face where I discovered it wasn't solid rock after all. Two holes in the face showed Marv's eyes deep inside the stone. He was inside of that thing, controlling it, but it looked like he didn't know how to get out.

Near the back of the rock suit's neck was a rock glowing bronze with earth magic. I put out my hands, motioning to stay still, and pushed on the rock. With that, the stone body became a rockslide with Marv on top of it. Crag dug his way out of the mound and then raised his arms as if flexing.

"That was Crag?" I asked, pointing at the little rock creature.

"I guess so," said Marv, panting with exhaustion. "I don't know how I got him to do that. Something must have happened when I fell out of the tree."

"Woah," I said. "Well, he'll definitely need to figure out how to do that again."

Marv nodded still breathing heavy as he laid on the pile of rocks. "My daughter. Is she okay?"

"Abigail?" I said, trying not to be loud enough that I would alert more creatures.

"Y—yes?" she said in a small scared voice.

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