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6.4 Roots

# 2190 11 - 15 mins. 8

We watched from our perch above the Dwarven workers waiting impatiently for Abigail to make a few footholds into the stone. She was almost finished making a path to another opening below us where the worm's tunnel must have continued before they dug out that section of the cavern. It didn't seem like the Dwarves had been here long, but I was hoping the tunnel had been here a lot longer. Hopefully, its digger was long gone.

Behind us were more taunts from Havik as he got closer. "Just stop running and we'll have a chat." His voice echoed down the tunnel to us. There was no way we were chatting with a slave master.

KRAACKK I heard a sound below and turned my attention to the Treek. He was wielding his vine and digging it into the central column, but seemed to have gone too deep. A large chunk of the column snapped free and broke into pieces as it fell towards Dwarven workers. One stepped forward to protect the rest. He threw his arms back trying to direct the river of stone and it split around him. But his magic was only able to move part of the rock slide. While he moved most of the rocks away from others two larger ones broke through his barrier and slammed into his hip and shoulder. He spun and went down with the remainder of the rocks piling near and on his legs.

That was either a really bad accident or that was our cue to move in. Either way, the Treek's guard was already shouting and moving up to the scene. That was all we needed to get down their unseen.

"Let's go," I whispered and I slid over the edge onto one of Abigail's footholds. Above me, was Tigala in cave spider form, then Marv with a pickaxe on his back and Crag in his bag. We climbed down as far as Abigail's handholds went. They got us close enough to drop into the lower worm tunnel. Zef's illusions covered us as we climbed.

Once we reached the lower hole, we kept a lookout while the others climbed down to us. Zef came last, maintaining the illusion as long as possible before he had to use his hands and climb down himself. He hurried down and landed with a thud from his clumsy landing.

The guard who was now overseeing the cleanup of the Treek's mess heard the noise and we scattered deeper into the worm tunnel. A few seconds later, I peeked my head back out and saw the guard back to watching his subjects.

Above us, I noticed the taunts from Havik had ceased. It made me nervous. Possibly more nervous than knowing he was gaining on us. Based on where I thought he was, he should be pretty close to the opening above us by now. Hopefully, Zef's illusions were good enough to trick Havik. But that didn't seem likely.

"Can you poke some more holes, Abigail?" I asked.

She looked at Marv and then back at me and nodded her head. Zef got his illusion up once again, making the worm hole look like it was empty rather than holding at least one person from nearly every race on Daegal. Abigail punched the holes quickly and then returned to the darkness of the tunnel. The footholds only extended another 10 feet or so—as far as she could reach with her magic. The stone below that was sloped at least, making it a little easier to descend, but it still wasn't something I had a lot of practice in. One loose rock or bad step and I would be pretty badly hurt. I hoped it wouldn't come to that.

I began climbing down again. The others followed. I lead the way even though the thought of Marv falling on me sounded pretty horrible. He was a lot shorter than me but much more dense also. Getting hit by a falling Marv would probably be as bad as getting hit by one of those boulders that were being thrown at us earlier.

We crawled down the wall, handhold by handhold. Chipry sat perched on top of my head in case I needed his help with whatever was about to happen. When we reached the end of the holes made by Abigail, I had to stop and think about what I was doing. I looked around and found a spot where my foot could reach and shifted my position to it. Then, I looked around for a handhold and shifted one hand down—then another foothold. It wasn't too bad.

I kept going, trusting Zef's illusions to keep me out of sight. It took a few minutes of concentrating, but the three of us made it down without much trouble. While the guard was busy we snuck forward into the piles of stone. I crept forward close to the mound of dirt used by the other Treek and started stretching a vine from it around the backside of the closest mound.

I looked over and saw the mess mostly cleaned up. The Dwarven guard, Number Five, pinned the Treek to the stone column, much like Number Six had earlier, and said, "That's the second screw up today, you weed. Make a third and I'll make sure it's your last."

He left the Treek pinned there as he walked away and then dropped the stone. The Treek dropped to the ground clutching at his neck.

The Dwarf rounded the rock pile and saw me growing my vine across the floor of the cavern.

I gasped.

"What the—" he said as he began pulling rocks from the ground. Then Tigala stepped out behind him in her full bobcat Beastfolk form and struck him across the head with her monstrous fist. He went down—out cold—and I ran forward to catch him before his limp body smacked into the hard earth. He was our enemy currently, but we might be able to persuade him to help if he was in the right mind.

I continued to stretch the vine toward the wall where the rest of the group stood in the worm tunnel. While doing so, I crept closer to the Treek. He saw me and his eyes lit up. He went back to his post at the mound of dirt and said, "Glad you made it back. I wasn't sure with Havik after you."

"We took out Number 5," I said.

"Great. Now we just have to get the rest of them so we can get out of here without issue," he said.

"Yeah. Come on. I have help," I said.

"There's more of you?" he asked, sounding even more encouraged despite the fact that he was whispering.

"Yeah," I said. "They're up there. Can you help me get a vine up there for them to climb down on?"

"The guards will see it," he said. "Can't they get in the way you did?"

"That is the way I got in," I said. "Just trust me. We don't have time to explain."

He joined my effort and the vine grew so fast it looked like a snake slithering across the cavern floor. It reached the wall and we pushed it upwards, but as we did, it disappeared. Even though I could feel the vine stretching upward, I couldn't see it. I knew it was hidden behind Zef's illusion, but the Treek next to me stared with his jaw dropped.

Then I heard something behind me. "I was starting to wonder how we were going to recruit more workers. I guess the answer is just to stay put."

How did he get in here before me? I thought. Were they ever in the worm tunnel?

I whirled around and saw Havik standing there, smiling at me. The Treek by my side did the same and his look of amazement turned to horror as he met the Gnome's eyes. But I didn't wait for an invitation. I took hold of the vine that the other Treek had been using and slammed it at the Gnome. He skipped out of the way and smiled at me again, unphased by the giant plant. I pulled the vine back and swiped at him sideways, but as I wound up, he swung his arm in a tall circular motion with purplish-blue energy settling in the air next to him. As the vine swung at him, he stepped into the swirl of magical energy and disappeared from its path.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said Havik, so close to my ear that I jumped. I spun around and saw him stepping into another portal. I was too slow to even attempt hitting him this time. He disappeared and stepped back out of the void on top of one of the piles of stone nearby. "Three and Four, kill the Treeks."

This was bad. With the limited soil, my range was a lot shorter than normal, and Havik was so mobile that he could easily stay out of my range. I wish I had some kind of non-magical way to attack at range. Lolan was smart to learn the bow.

Right. Lolan could help, I thought. "A little help, guys?" I yelled. Our cover was blown anyway.

I grew another vine and tried to reach out toward the Gnome, but it grew faster than before. I looked to my side and saw the other Treek feeding energy into the same vine. It stretched outward and we swung it in unison. At the last second though, I made an adjustment, aiming the vine at the mound rather than directly at the Gnome. It slammed into the rocks and flung them across the room, but we were still too slow. Havik had made a portal parallel to the ground this time and hopped into before the impact.

"Aghh," I shouted in frustration.

"This isn't going to end well," said the Treek. "Maybe we can run. Signal for your friends to run too and we can work together."

I didn't have a chance to respond as Number Four arrived. He had his hair shaved on both sides leaving an earthy brown braid running down the center of his head. He charged in and made the earth beneath us erupt and split. The other Treek and I went different directions to avoid the pushed up rocks and Chipry flew to the air.

Number Four was scarier than Havik because he was actually trying to hurt us. It seemed like Havik's intent was only to scare us and leave the dirty work to the guards. Number Four threw another column of rock into the air near my feet, and I had to roll out of the way. I scampered to the pile of dirt, hoping he'd have a harder time with that and also that I'd be able to create some weapons of my own with my magic. The other Treek was headed that way as well, growing one of the vines as he ran.

I heard more commotion in other parts of the cavern but I didn't have time to look at what was going on. That was probably why I wasn't getting any help from the rest of our team. Maybe they were dealing with the sword Gnome. This was a stupid plan.

We made it to the dirt and both worked to control the vine. I pulled it toward Number Four and the Treek pulled it toward the central column.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

Another pillar of stone erupted towards us. It slammed me in the shoulder and I fell in the musty dirt, getting some of the grit in my mouth.

He didn't have a chance to answer as the Dwarf sent a column after him next. He dodged and rolled before continuing to pull the growing vine toward the central column. I whistled to Chipry and he swooped down at Number Four, attacking his face, much like he had done to the ogre. I didn't like doing it, especially in such close quarters. Chipry could get really hurt, but I didn't know how else to relieve some of the pressure the Dwarf was putting on us.

Then a boulder came barreling toward me. It was familiar at least. I pulled up a vine in front of me as I ran to the side. The boulder tore through it and only altered it's course slightly as a result. It missed me by a hair and I saw Number Three on the other side of it, the female Dwarf that we had tried to talk to on the mountain-side. It was only a matter of time until these guards buried us in stone.

"Help me collapse the column," said the Treek, still working on the vine closest to the room's center. "It's the only way we make it out of this alive."

"Wouldn't that cause a cave-in?" I asked while growing more vines and hiding behind the closest mound of stone.

"Yup," he said.

"That would kill everyone else in here," I said.

"Exactly."

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