Chapter 3: Change the World
The sphere of monstrous flames plummeted from the sky, their angry, red glare reflected in Reina's eyes. There was no way she could move in time; Her will kept her bonded with the tree roots, and even if she were to sever her connection with them, it would be impossible to get clear of the devastation that would follow. Reina's mouth fell open in a half-hearted attempt to let out a scream; however, nothing but strained silence followed.
"This is the end," she thought. As the roaring flames greeted her ears, they blocked out the beautiful hymn the forest had surmounted. She could feel her skin begin to bake, almost as if she were nearing the sun itself.
Like a young plant being ripped from the ground, Reina found her body torn from the roots yielded by the earth. She fell hard on her back, with her vision forced skyward. An enormous figure clad in green armor stood over her, their arms outstretched in an attempt to put as much of their body between her and the fireball. The world became blistering hot, and before Reina could gather her thoughts, or gain her bearings, a hell-like heat erupted around her. She shielded her eyes and turned away from the sight, trying to hide as much of her body from the inferno. The moment passed in less than a second, but it felt like Reina had journeyed through the depths of a volcano and back.
The former soft earth now felt like igneous rock, blackened and purged of whatever life and moisture it may have held. Reina struggled to recover from the sensory overload. Who had saved her? It couldn't be...?
"Dynas!" Reina struggled to find her balance, but her eyes found the charred figure still standing, like a tree resisting the brunt of a storm. His armor was falling apart in charred pieces, and beneath that, she could see blackened, burnt skin. Small wisps of fire were still lit in his peppered hair. "Please, speak to me!"
Something between a grunt and a sigh escaped his lips, before the King shuddered and collapsed. Reina ran and struggled to catch his burnt body. What remained of his armor was still hot to the touch, and the exposed areas of skin didn't look any better.
The malevolent voice resonated from the forest again. "How pitiful. The supposed strong King of Decanda has fallen from a single blow. Pathetic." The burning silhouette continued to make its way out of the forest. The red glow from the surrounding fire illuminated his red and black armor; scarlet hair partially hid his young, but defiant face. Through the flames, Reina could see his vibrant, golden brown eyes. As she gazed at him, and into his eyes she thought she could feel her body warm up, as if she were nearing a scorching bonfire.
"Who are you?" She belted out, as she cradled the singed body in her arms. She tried to pull Dynas away from the roots, the parched forest, and the intimidating stranger approaching them.
"Who I am makes no difference in the end. The only thing that matters is that I break this illusion of the Pentacle and what it stands for. I will crush this alliance with my own hand if I must…and I don't care who gets in the way!" Reina was so awestruck with his physical appearance that she somehow failed to notice the double headed glaive he wielded. With it, he severed the entanglement of roots, and proceeded forward.
Reina continued to struggle with the dead weight of King Dynas in her arms, but it was a futile effort. "Why…why are you doing this? What did the alliance ever do to you? Can't you see that you're only causing destruction?" She spat question after question at him, trying to bide as much time as possible. It didn't make sense…surely he knew about the Shadows already wreaking havoc on the continent. If so, why was he only adding to the problem?
The glaive wielding stranger was dangerously close to the wounded pair straggling along the ground; only a few feet separated him and Reina. "What is it to you, child of Naida! Your pestering is witling away my patience!" Before she could blink, the ill-tempered boy shouldered his glaive and used the butt end of it knock Dynas out of her arms. The injured King went sprawling across the steaming ground, and nearly out of sight through the thickening fog and smoke.
Reina half gasped, half coughed in the air. If what Luke told her was right, then what was happening before her was very wrong. How were the children of the divine spirits supposed to work together if the child of fire spilled innocent blood for his own selfish motives?
She looked up into his eyes and for a split second. She thought he saw the anger and frustration ebb away, and something else set in; was it fear? No…he was hesitating. But what matter was he debating?
Just then, the air became still and stagnant. An odd disruption came from behind her from the direction of the Great Tree. Reina imagined what it what sound like for all the life to be literally suddenly sucked out of a tree: Air, water, nutrients and minerals, and even its bright, green plumage being drained like it was being fed on by some parasite. If death had a sound, that's what it would sound like.
Reality quickly sank in, washing over Reina like a cold, unforgiving ocean. This glaive wielding stranger had accomplished his mission, and now the Great Tree of Decanda was dying.
"You! You hateful, close-minded bigot! Don't you realize what you've done?" Reina stood up, fueled by new rage. She notched an arrow and aimed the metal tipped shaft between the red-head's eyes.
The flicker of hesitation that Reina had seen evaporated, and what replaced it was a satisfied, malicious grin. "Fire…it is indeed the superior element. Yes, I know of your stupid quest to save Abrilene, and that you need all the children of the elements to work together. Well, let me tell you something; your effort is futile! I've joined the right side…the side that will win this war!" Shadows began to filter out from the forest in hordes again, and the temperature plummeted dangerously. The arrow notched in Reina's bow began to shake within her hands. She was trapped and she knew it. She was too far from the roots to try and channel water from them, and if she tried to summon it on her own, it would be impossible to wipe out all of her opponents.
The aura from the Shadows was overwhelming. Reina tried backing up, but it felt like ice had crawled through her veins, slowing her movement. Before she knew it, the child of fire was only an arms' length away from her.
"You should have ran away while you could have, little girl." Jeered the boy, as he shouldered his glaive once more.
Reina found the insult slightly ironic; he couldn't be more than a few years older than her. She grinned in the face of his apparent cockiness. "You'll see. We will win, and soon you'll find out that you're nothing more than a stringed puppet." Before her foe could react, she loosed the arrow, even though her aim was badly handicapped by the cold. The chilled metal glanced off the glaive's metal pole, and found its mark in his side.
Her adversary roared with a mixture of pain and anger. He whipped the glaive around, and the butt end connected with Reina's shoulder. Pain shot through her body, and in the next conscious moment, her face found the scorched earth.
"I should have killed you when I had the chance!" Reina turned just in time to see her oppressor yank the arrow out from beneath his armor. "Mercy is for the weak! I need to remember that! Now, you're going to pay, child of Naida!" Uninhibited by his wound, he took the glaive in both his hands, and stationed the bladed end high above his head. Fire seemed to dance in his eyes, and just as before, Reina thought she saw hesitation in them.
She rolled on her back, and made him look into her eyes with her own gaze. "You don't want to do this. I can see it. You're not evil…you can stop this, and become more than what you are right now." Reina formed the words carefully, channeling a firm, but gentle quality into them.
The glaive shook visibly in his hands, and the metal blade began to glow red against the black sky. "If I end your life…I'll be that much closer to my goal! One simple girl like you wouldn't understand!" His body tensed beneath his black and red armor, and he drew back his arms in preparation for the final blow.
Reina closed her eyes as tears began to well from beneath them. "I'm sorry mother…I tried my best."
Luke's voice bellowed mightily from the thickening fog."If you kill her, I swear it'll be the last thing you ever do!" Luke's figure appeared from within its contrails, and as it neared, a green, glowing blade shone radiantly in his hands.
The glaive stopped in mid swing, and the red-head looked dumbfounded.
"I'm talking to you, child of Fire!" Luke's shining green armor became fully apparent right behind Reina's crippled body, and he pointed his weapon directly at the red head. "I've got a bone to pick with you!" The ground beneath the throng began to tremor.
The fire child's face went from shock, to confusion, to amusement in a matter of seconds. Slowly, but surely, he lowered his glaive. As he did so, the Shadows seemed to slow their assault on their victims.
"Well, well, well, look who decided to arrive looking fashionably late. I was going to make mincemeat out of the water girl, but I guess I can put that on hold for a few minutes." He grinned, and waited, as if expecting some response from Luke. However, the ground only shook more violently in the forced silence. The green light from his blade illuminated his unwavering features, and the words spoken to him did not change his expression.
Fire's child smirked, unaffected by Luke's demeanor. "Oh, I understand now. You're upset that I snapped that twig you call the 'Great Tree.' Well good riddance! Now that you've shown up, I can kill both you and this pitiful water girl. You can join the Great twig in death!"
Again, Luke's expression didn't change. More painful moments of silence followed, and it became clear that the enemy was becoming agitated. However, before he could speak another word, Luke's irresolute voice filled the vicinity with such ease that he could have been speaking through a microphone. "Leave now, before I kick your butt and turn you away with your tail between your legs."
"Luke, what are you saying?" Reina was glad to see Luke; it was plainly written on her face, but confusion soon followed. "We're outnumbered and-" But Luke hushed her before she could say anything more.
"I've had with your fake persona! You are weak, just like the rest of these wretched people of Decanda!" His eyes flickered dangerously to Reina, who was still trying to collect herself from the impact of the glaive. "I won't delay any longer! Prepare to die!"
The metal blade of the glaive swung upwards, before coming down like a fireball descending from the sky. Reina cringed and tried to move, but before she could, she felt Luke move past her, and heard metal clash like thunder.
Luke had taken the blunt of the blow, standing irresolutely with the sword poised in front of him. It rattled against the blade and the fire child baring it down on him. His teeth were grit with exertion, but Luke's face emanated cool determination.
"Reina, get back to Dynas! This is going to get a bit messy!" Reina had to shake her head to get herself to focus again; it was quite the spectacle to see someone of Luke's size standing up to someone at least a foot taller than him. He wasn't just standing up to him though….he was clearly winning. However, she collected her thoughts and found the burnt body of King Dynas. Luke had been here; The King had been laid on his back, and his body was wrapped in what looked like Luke's cloak.
The shadows were advancing again. Reina stood and tried to notch another arrow, but her injured shoulder refused to lift her bow up to where it needed to be.
But it quickly became clear that her help would not be needed; although Luke and the Fire Child's body were slightly blurred through the fog, she felt the ground awaken with the ferocity of a full on seismic earthquake. Reina fell back on the seat of her pants, and squinted to see clearly. Luke's was locked in combat with the Fire child; the blade continued to knock aside the glaive like it was child's play, as it continued to sweep up, down, and across the body of the dark armored oppressor. The Shadows staggered and dissipated with the violent tremors rippling across the field. How the overwhelmed red head was staying on his feet defied all logic, but it was clear he was fighting a losing battle. Beads of sweat ran across his face as he tried to fend off Luke's sword strikes, and his red hair lay matted on his forehead.
The metallic resonance shook the air, and Reina's eyes spotted a red and silver glaive go skyward, before peaking and spinning to the ground. It embedded itself in the hardened earth, and not a second later, the Fire Child fell on his back right beside it.
Luke was clearly tired; his blonde hair was wilder than usual, and sweat ran down his face in thick droplets. A single glaive slash had managed to cut his armor diagonally, but otherwise, he looked unharmed. Now, he stood heaving above the Fire Child with his gleaming silver and green sword pointed at his throat.
The earthquake had rid the entire clearing of shadows; the eerie fog was slowly receding, and along with it, the temperature slowly climbed back to normal. Fire finally stopped falling from the sky, and so, the thick smoke finally began to break. Moonlight trickled down through the once impenetrable layer of haze and shone itself brazenly on the face of the red head. A bewildered look plastered it, and his once brilliant armor was cut to and fro with slashes from the green warrior.
"Well," coughed the beaten predator. "You won. Hurry up and finish me." His eyes found Luke's then darted away.
Luke's sword didn't move. "What's your name?"
The request seemed to throw his victim off guard. However, he quickly collected himself and spat out, "What's it to you? Would you rather know the name of the person you're about to kill? Is that it?"
"I'm just curious." Luke said plainly. He still waited for an answer.
The Fire Child was clearly frustrated. He glanced at his glaive, but upon doing so, Luke's sword pressed into his throat, though not enough to draw blood. He swallowed hard. The pair stared at each other, and finally Luke got his answer.
Bane grunted, before half yelling, "Yes, it's Bane! You've defeated me, now just kill me already!" He closed his eyes, and his body tensed.
Luke removed his sword from his throat, then after a moment, offered his would-be prey his hand. "Get up, Bane."
The red head opened his eyes, bewildered more now than he was before. Cautiously, he took Luke's hand, and stood up. Luke had acquired his opponent's glaive, and was now holding it in his spare hand.
"I don't…understand," said Bane reproachfully. "You won…and I should be dead right now. Why have you not-"
"It's called mercy, and compassion. And perhaps a hint of kindness. Maybe you should learn it sometime." With that, Luke tossed Bane his weapon, and he caught it.
A tepid nighttime breeze rustled what was left of the forest. Bane's eyes bore into Luke. In the distance, he could see Reina as well, whose gaze met his.
Bane took a deep breath, and then spoke. "You are a curious knight, young Luke. But…this does not change anything. I will come back, and I will take everything from you, just like everything was taken away from me."
"We'll see," said Luke, his voice deadpan.
Bane stepped slowly backwards, keeping his eyes on Luke until the dark of the night swallowed his beaten armor. Then, he disappeared.
Luke finally let his fatigue show; it wasn't easy keeping up the earthquake, and fighting Bane was even harder. But he had to win. And he did.
"I'm not weak anymore. I am strong," he said under his breath.
"Luke!" Reina called to him, and he joined her at King Dynas' side. The King looked like he was in pain. He looked nothing like the young, powerful man Luke first met. He wanted to know what happened, but he guessed that would have to wait.
The King cleared his throat, and began to speak in short breaths. "Thank you Luke, and thank you, Reina, for protecting Decanda. I know things look dismal, but trust me, if you weren't here we would be without hope. There is still a way to bring back the tree…if you work together."
Luke and Reina exchanged looks, before listening to Dynas again.
"Earth cannot support life on its own, nor can water. Together, they help create life. The Great Tree is not dead…yet. If you work together, you can help bring it back to what it once was. Reina…guide Luke. Show him how to work with nature."
"I can, and I will," said Reina proudly. "But first, we have to get you back to the Tree. If you stay like this…" She trailed off, obviously not wanting to finish the sentence.
Working together, Reina and Luke transported King Dynas back to the tree. Decandan knights were ready to help him, and they hoisted him back up the tree using a plethora of vines and helping hands.
Reina and Luke circumnavigated the tree until they came to the spot Reina had used to usher out a blast of water from earlier.
"I used the water to wipe out Shadows. There were too many. But when I did, I was the one who felt wiped out. I used all that power on my own, and so I suffered the consequences." Reina told Luke how King Dynas taught her about how to work as one with nature to bring out the best of its qualities. Throughout her speech, Luke nodded and seemed to understand.
"So," Luke began. "We have to find a way to bring this enormous tree back to life. Reina, a circle of roots is one thing, but a massive tree? That's…a tall order."
"But we have to! What about the people who live in this tree? Over time, it will decay, and they won't have a home like this anymore. We have to give it our best shot." Reina smiled, and suddenly, Luke felt abnormally hot - different from when he was fighting Bane, or blocking a fireball with his bare hands.
Luke and Reina placed a hand on the dry tree trunk, and journeyed into the heart of the many old layers surrounding the tree's core. They passed cracking, rotting layers of bark and the many rings that were now devoid of any moisture, air, or nutrients. Eventually, they found the heartwood. But even when they did, the same decaying aura met their senses.
"Deeper," Luke thought, and Reina heard his voice. They traveled down, beneath the surface. This time, the passed the homes of thousands of insects who thrived off the shelter the tree provided. Earthworms circled the dry roots, confused as to why the bountiful sources of nutrients no longer yielded their needs. Ants scuttled about in disarray, puzzled as to why they could no longer expand their great colonies due to the rocky, dry earth.
At last, Luke found what he was looking for - the literal "root" of all things that lived in or around the tree: the seed. Luke could just barely feel the small pulse of life from within it, and even then, it occasionally felt like it wasn't there at all. Just then, he thought he heard Demi's voice.
"Luke…Luke…Luke…" It only said his voice, and continued to do so like a steady heartbeat.
Luke remembered what Demi had told him. "We spirits of Abrilene only live if the people who occupy it protect us."
"I'm sorry. I couldn't protect you." Luke felt a surge of regret at his words, and suddenly and didn't feel as strong as he did before.
"I'm sorry too, Demi. But we're here to make it better." Reina reached for Luke's spare hand, and weaved her fingers through his. "Come on Luke. Together, we can do this. We can change the world."
Luke felt warm again. It was a kind of comforting warm that he hadn't felt before, but he definitely liked the feeling. He finally realized that in nature, everything must work together, or everything will fall apart.
Reina and Luke returned to the seed as one being, and with a gentle touch, began channeling their spirits into the seed.
"Change the world…Change the world…Together, change the world," said Demi's essence. However, that was the only response they received.
"More!" said Luke and Reina. At last, the seed contracted and began to explode with new life. It quickly coursed its way through the old veins, igniting life within their cores once again. The roots reawakened old connections and strengthened new ones as it began its ascent toward the surface, racing for the trunk.
The growing life force hit a barrier at the surface. Why wasn't it continuing up the tree?
"Change…" Demi whispered.
"The world!" Luke finished, and he squeezed Reina's hand. She squeezed his back, and life exploded from the base of the Great Tree of the Decanda. The once decrepit, oily black trunk grew fresh with tough bark and spiraled its way toward the peak. Vines thickened and withered leaves became emerald green once again. Even though Luke couldn't see if for his own eyes, he could picture in his mind the glowing essence of Demi at the tree trop become ablaze with golden light again.