The Wolf was one and also many. It fractured into several wolves to launch complicated attacks on the Orcs, then gathered into one Wolf again when it struck at the Treants.
“How far do we have to go?” Curian asked Gnarlroot. The Treant raised a mighty branch and pointed. In the distance. A tree stump taller than a noble’s estate stood in the distance. A dull glow emanated from it, and Curian realized it looked like embers still burning.
“Kil’Gronn! Gnarlroot! Now’s the time!” Curian shouted.
A din of laughter arose from the Wolf. “It hardly matters.”
Gnarlroot and Kil’Gronn reached the remains, and a bright light erupted forth. In the distance, birds began chirping as a light breeze danced through the upper reaches of the trees.
“Thank the Gods,” Curian blurted out.
The chase continued, the charred remains of Elderbark just a few lumbering Treant steps ahead.
“Something’s not right,” Curian muttered.
A chorus of laughter rose up from the wolves that made up the Wolf. “You’re catching on, but will you figure it out before I claim your soul?”
Sophia looked around frantically as one of the wolves leapt from branch to branch. It swiped at her with its claws, only having narrowly missed as the Burlknot slammed it back to the ground.
“Hope your little, mountain-mud brain comes up with something,” Burlknot shouted with an offer of an unexpected smile. Curian chuckled; she took note of the insult and told herself she’d have to return the favor later.
If there was a later, of course.
The last several times they’d reached the remains played back in Curian’s mind.
“Kil’Gronn, do you trust me?” Curian shouted over the madness.
Kil’Gronn shrugged. “As much as I’d like to, which is only about half as far as I could throw you.”
Curian nodded. “Good enough,” she said. “Bet you could throw me pretty damn far. What about you, Gnarlroot?”
“Your heart beats like one who is not trying to deceive, and so I will afford you my trust,” Gnarlroot replied.
Sophia furrowed her brow. “I already know that look,” she shouted. “You’ve got something mad and foolish planned, haven’t you?”
“Hey, Gnarlroot! Throw me to the ashes!” Curian shouted.
The colossal leader of the Treants stopped suddenly. Curian held on with all of her strength, the rush of wind from the abrupt stop nearly throwing her from where she stood.
“Just do it, damn you!”
Gnarlroot plucked Curian from his upper branches as gently as they could, swung back the mighty branch that held her, and then released with as much calculated care a sentient tree of some thousand years in age could muster.
Curian soared through the air that spanned the distance between the chaos of the Wolf, the Treants, and the Orcs, her face pinned back by the wind. Her eyes watered and she tried to keep focused. The ashes arrived far quicker than expected, and Curian had only enough time to land with an awkward forward roll that narrowly avoided hitting the far edge of the depression in the mighty stump.
She fumbled with various concealed pockets without looking, her eyes fixed on the wolves as they coalesced into one massive form. Behind it, everything else had frozen in place.
“Here goes nothing,” Curian said as she retrieved a small tool she’d stolen from an Artificier at The Hobbled Drake Tavern after he had shared a few too many opinions with her about he she could be more appealing to the eyes. It was a simple box with a curious wheel at its top next to a small opening that occasionally stunk like bogwater.
Curian flicked the wheel. A small spark issued, but nothing followed. She repeated, watching as the Wolf reared back and leapt at her.
“Shit!” Curian shouted as she repeated the action one last time. The spark ignited, and she dropped the device into the heart of the Heart of the forest. The ashes erupted in brilliant green flames around Curian, though they did not touch her.
“Elderbark,” Curian said as she grasped for the right words. “I, uh…I release you to the next life. Your watch of this forest has ended, and a new one has begun. Rest!” She had little time to be proud of her eulogizing as the Wolf growled, prowling on the outer edge of the flames.
“I will tear the flesh from your bones first,” the Wolf snarled. “Then rend your pitiful soul from your body. I will savor it as your eternal screams roll down my throat.”
The flames burned brighter and brighter. There was an explosion of light outwards, rolling over every inch of the forest. Curian shut her eyes against its radiance, and when she opened them the Wolf was gone. She found herself standing at the foot of the tree stump, her hands shut tightly around something.
“One of the Pieces,” she gasped as she opened her fingers.
“Guess there’s more than dirt between those ears,” Burlknot said, roaring with laughter. The Orcs, slowly, joined in the merriment.
“Thank goodness you’re okay,” Sophia said as she was set down. “How did you know that would work?”
Curian scratched at the back of her head. “Call it a hunch, I guess?”
Sophia massaged her temples.
“That was very brave of you, little one,” Gnarlroot harrumphed.
Kil’Gronn stepped forward, bowing to Curian. Curian returned the gesture.
“Very brave indeed,” Kil’Gronn said. “You are welcome to visit my…” She hesitated, her attention briefly turned to the Treants.
“Our” Kil’Gronn corrected herself, “forest whenever you like.”
Curian smiled. “Only so long as you’re not trying to kill each other,” she said.
Kil’Gronn and Gnarlroot exchanged sheepish glances.
“I believe there is much mending of old wounds to be done,” Gnarlroot said. “As for you two, where will you go next?”
Curian looked toward the sunset, its last rays of light pooling high in the distance on snow-capped mountains.