No Small FeatMature

Grow, tear, shriek, grow, slice, grow, grow GROW!

Heather backed away slowly as her offensive attack was continuously being sliced away by shards of darkness. The inexorable shadow was drawing nearer and nearer in the form of an infuriated half-elf. Heather could only watch in terror as root-like objects of darkness flew from Lance's hands, straight towards her helpless human body.

Heather readied her stance, closed her eyes, and waited calmly for death to come. She was a strong, tall protector of trees. She would not be uprooted. She would take death willingly and sacrifice for the good of the trees. She would...

Death did not come.

Heather opened her eyes to the sight of Engle hurling punches at the motionless Lance, darkness coating the forest floor at her feet. Heather took a minute to adjust to the fact that she was, indeed, alive. Finally her head cleared and Heather was filled with an astonishing calm. She had seen this happen plenty of times before. Bucks would clash antlers for the doe, the squirrels would bite and scratch for the nut, and the mother bird would go all out assassin in order to protect her unhatched chicks.

"Stop!" Heather's voice screamed with authority as she walked to Engle's side. Engle didn't seem to hear her, so she grabbed his suspended fist before he could hurl it down for another blow. Engle seemed to resist, but Heather was a wood nymph, and her grasp outweighed his in strength. They glared at each other briefly before Engle eventually gave up.

"I'm sorry," he said as he took a few steps away from the motionless body on the ground. "I don't know what I was thinking. I've broken so many rules already."

Heather frowned. Maybe Lance was right. Maybe there was something deep within this man that had turned sour. "Well I've just about had enough with all of this violence! It's hard enough that I have to keep the raccoons from eating each other," Heather sighed. She noticed Engle glance wearily at the half-elf. "Leave him. It's best if we continue. I need to get you out of my forest as soon as possible."

Engle nodded and sighed, adjusting his helmet on his head. "I suppose you're right. Go on, lead the way."

Heather continued through the forest, growing increasingly aware of the eyes that watched their slow process. Surely there were Elders watching her, judging her on her ability to handle the situation. Heather scowled. They never had to be judged for taking care of something so extreme. At most, the other nymphs only had to prove their abilities against a forest fire.

Heather also became progressively more conscious of their location. As the sun began to lower behind the Toothridge Mountains, Heather and Engle were drawing nearer and nearer to the forest edge and into other nymph territory. The trees grew sparser and Heather had to concentrate more closely on the low resonance of the beckoning trees. Occasionally her focus would be broken by the shrill call of a jay or the just audible tsk-tsks of a disapproving Elder.

The road came by surprise. Heather had never ventured so far from her division of the forest before, and now found herself at an obstacle. Engle seemed elated to reach the patch of solid, meagerly vegetated, and frankly, disgustingly dusty ground. However, Heather was horrified. She stopped abruptly before the road in apprehension. The calls of the trees were immediately replaced by the warnings of the forest people. Everything in Heather told her to not dare take another step forward.

Except for that strange drive to help the man named Engle.

After realizing Heather had stopped, Engle turned around. His face was no mask, and showed concern, impatience, determination, and still the small trace of melancholy. Heather was drawn toward it. She took a step forward, suddenly resolute to follow through with her promise  and help Engle leave. However, as soon as she did so, a twig cracked behind her. Heather spun around.

Standing amidst the bushes and oak trees was the Birch Elder, staring at her with a face devoid of emotion. Immediately his thoughts entered hers, filling Heather with a list of the consequences for leaving the forest. She would lose her territory to another wood nymph, if she were to return she would be classified as a Rotten and lose the possibility of ever becoming an Elder. She would also lose the power of the forest and would face the dangers of mortality.

Heather turned back to Engle with tears in her eyes. She couldn't lose all that she had. Sure, sometimes it was hard tolerating the needy Elders, but to lose her division? To lose her ability to become an Elder? That was too great of a price to ask. Yet, Engle continued to stare at her with those incredibly open blue eyes. While the man had caused her grief, Heather couldn't allow herself to break a promise with a man that so desperately needed her help.

Heather was torn.

Looking back to the now silent Elder, Heather saw nothing but the endless years of service to the forest. She saw responsibility, she saw pride, she saw safety. To leave that was public shame.

But in Engle she saw a colorful display of emotions. She saw adventure, she saw courage, she saw the thrill of risk. And to leave Engle would be a lifetime of regret, doubt and personal shame.

Heather took a deep breath and stepped forward....

onto the dry earth of the road, and into a new, mad, and oddly squirrel-devoid life.

The End

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