Mari’s eyes glowed a warm yellow, her pupils each a long slit. Ifan held her hand as they hopped over overturned trees and through overgrown bushes.
“I can see them; they’ve not spotted Terry, and they’re north… North-west from us.”
“Another kilometre or so and they’ll enter the Hallowed Copse. Holiwier’s home. Right in front of the Well.” Ifan avoided the worst of the overgrowth, making sure that Mari could keep up while looking through Terry’s eyes. “How far away is Terry?”
“About 2000 metres.” Mari closed her eyes and re-opened them – their green returning and her pupils back to normal. She tapped Ifan’s hand, causing him to glance back at her. Noticing her eyes had returned to their usual selves, he let go of her hand.
“With our speed, it’ll be another ten to fifteen minutes before we catch up to them, and about five minutes until they reach Holiwier.”
“He’ll be alright for ten minutes, right?” questioned Mari.
“He’s strong. But old. And seeing as though the forest hasn’t ‘retaliated’ to these intruders, he probably doesn’t know they’re coming.” Ifan crossed his arms and dove through a large patch of bramble, pulling away the vines that clung to his skin and shirt. Blood trickled out of a number of micro cuts, soaking his sleeves.
“As much as it pains me to admit it – you’re probably right.”
“How did they know it was gone? How did they know we were asked to remove it?” Mari blasted a small fireball at the bramble, clearing it away before following her brother into its thorny mass.
“Who knows. Maybe Orothar. Maybe Haphaestus. We’ll work out who we can trust after we’ve saved Holiwier.”
“We’re here.” Dai held his hand up, indicating for the others to stop. Peering into the Hallowed Copse, he could see a very large oak tree standing alone in the centre of a small meadow.
“Great job, Dai.” Fendrick stopped alongside the elf, glancing into the Copse as well. Tristan followed closely, and soon after, Welk and Gabriel. “Still no sign of Raffi, Gabe?”
“None – barely any sign of him.” Gabe quietly unstrapped the axe from his back. The group had gathered in amongst a small group of trees that provided shelter from Holiwier’s wandering eye.
“We’ll give him another minute – but he may have gotten lost.” Tristan pulled his own axe from his back, its head twice the size of Gabriel’s. Its heft demanded two hands, but Tristan held it close to its blade in one hand, his thick fingers wrapping around the broad wooden shaft.
The group continued to ready themselves, checking their weapons’ sharpness idly and ensuring their armour was well fixed to their bodies.
“No sign of him. We’ll have to do without.” Fendrick made the call, gripping his sword tightly as he let out a frustrated sigh.
“Be prepared for vines and poisonous Cherryblood Blossoms – they’re his favourite to utilise when restraining people, I should know.” Dai showed his forearm to the group, its middle was mangled and withered. It looked as though he had third degree burns. Gabriel made a face as Dai covered his arm back up.
“In formation; Welk, you’ll have to make up for Raffi’s absence and cover our four and six,” ordered Fendrick. Welk nodded, leaning against his massive black, steel Morningstar, lightly pricking his fingers with its spikes. “As soon as he goes down, I’ll deal with the Well.”
The group nodded in unison, and Tristan lead the charge. The group walked into the Copse silently. The sun was still barely visible, exchanging a warm, yellow glow with the meadow. The birds in the area continued their songs as Tristan stepped forward to Holiwier. Holding his axe at his side, he tapped the large roots of the Treant, to no response.
“Well let’s get to it, boys.” Tristan lifted his axe up and swung it with both hands in a wide arc. A thick, wooden tentacle burst from the ground, catching the blade before it made contact with Holiwier’s body.
“Harrruuumph.” The wood on the tree’s front creaked into motion, revealing a splintered maw and impossibly bushy eyebrows. “What business do you have here?” Tristan swung again, joined by Dai and Fendrick taking each side of Holiwier. Welk and Gabe stood behind the front line, patiently awaiting retaliation. Vines shot up at each swing, blocking the trio’s attacks. “So, you’re here to cause trouble, are you?” Holiwier raised an eyebrow at Tristan, before a plume of vines and twisting roots shot from the ground and began harassing the assailants.
Finally arriving at the Hallowed Copse, Mari and Ifan sidled up alongside the trees surrounding Holiwier’s home. Looking into the meadow at the centre of the Copse, Ifan could make out three elves; two of them very large, and all carrying heavy weaponry. As they brushed up against a slightly closer tree, hoping to get a better view of the meadow, the wood against Mari’s hand breathed.
“Get out of our forest. You’ve already killed our father,” a voice creaked out of a hole underneath Mari’s palm.
Mari gasped, placing her hand over her mouth, revealing the face of a young treant – two beady eyes sitting over a circular knot and a barely opened crack for a mouth stared angrily at Mari. Ifan glanced backwards, raising his finger to his lips.
“Master Ifan!” croaked the Treant.
Ifan shushed the tree, before looking out into the meadow once more. Splintered wood littered the flower-covered ground, and Holiwier’s body sat mutilated towards the back of the clearing. Cradled amongst gnarled, knotted vines, Ifan could make out a bloodied elven body being pulled out of the thorny prison by one of the assailants. “Shit,” cursed Ifan under his breath. His hand fell lamely to his side, and he quietly stepped closer to the treant beside Mari. He knelt alongside it and brushed his fingers gently across the side of the cracked, bumpy wood, before leaning his forehead against its face. “I’m sorry we couldn’t get here sooner,” he whispered. Sap rolled down the treant’s cheek, leaving a sticky residue on Ifan’s fingers. Mari clasped her hand over his shoulder.
“We need to stop them. From doing whatever they’re still here for.” Mari stroked the tree with her other hand, her face twisting as she fought back tears. “Three versus two, and with Terry, it’s a fair fight. We can win this. Let’s not lose the element of surprise.”
Ifan turned to face his sister, his eye’s puffy and red as he wiped away tears from his cheeks. “You’re right.” Ifan stood and placed his sap covered hand on his sword’s hilt, “We’ll avenge your father. You have my word.” Ifan watched as the treant’s face hardened, melting back into the wood texture. Waiting for a reply that never came, Ifan turned back to the meadow, and Mari followed suit, gripping her wand firmly. The pair stepped forward quietly, the group of murderers still unaware of their presence as they pried their ally from his tomb. Ifan drew his sword and dashed towards the closest of the group, the largest. His blade flew through the air and made contact with the hulk’s back, tearing through the tight leather gambeson, and cutting into his muscular back. The blood soaked the flora under foot, and the elf unleashed a pained bellow. The other two turned, dropping their ally to the floor in an undignified slump, their lower half still stuck in the vine trap.
“Terry!” Mari waved her wand with vigour, swirling it around in a circle as its tip fizzled with a cherry red pulse. Her brow furrowed as she continued drawing the spell’s glyphs in the air, to no effect. “It’s not working, Ifan!”
Ifan brought his sword down to the hulk’s ankles, slashing across at their Achilles heel in an effort to hamstring his opponent. The hulk fell to their knees, their grip sliding down their Morningstar, allowing Ifan a brief pause to look back at his sister, who was still struggling with her magic. In his peripherals, Ifan saw the other large elf sprint across the meadows, wielding an axe taller than Ifan’s own height with extraordinary ease. Ifan’s eyes widened as Mari’s face scrunched up in annoyance, her wand’s glow dimming. “Mari!”
Mari looked across at her brother, his hand outstretched towards her. To his left she could see a face opposite hers, plastered with harrowing determination. Her wrist continued flicking the wand as she saw the metal streak across her vision. The crack as it made contact with her hips shattered the pained cries from Ifan’s victim. Mari’s mouth opened slowly as her eyes locked with her attackers. His grey pupils stared into her, sliding slowly to her right. Her wand dropped to the floor, and her hand swung out towards the attacker’s body as she lost all semblance of balance. Her fingers struggled to grip onto the leather armour of the elf. They trembled as her eyesight continued to slide to her left and they fell to her stomach. She could feel the warmth on her pinky finger as it grazed the axe’s punishment, her body continuing to tumble. She could see Ifan scrambling towards her. Mari’s eyes struggled to focus, her mouth still agape. She slumped to the floor. The ground beneath was painted crimson with her life as Ifan’s sword drove its way through her murderer’s chest. She could see Ifan’s eyes glowing white, his face soaked with tears, as he tore the blade through the elf’s chest. “If-If-If,” stammering over her words, Mari coughed up blood. Out of the corner of her vision, she could see her legs. Still standing to her left, they slowly buckled under their own weight and fell beside her.