The warm glow of the firelight danced around the burning embers, reflecting off of Ophelia’s staff as Jereziah watched and thought deeply.
They had made an encampment at the pool, where Jereziah had carefully questioned the motives of the new additions to the party. Ophelia had vouched for them, but he was wary.
Pondering, he looked at them. First, there was the case of the earth elemental. Jereziah remembered the details he had managed to glean from the elemental, considering their truths as he watched Lizarb chase around the fairy, trying to get his crossbow back.
The earth elemental, calling himself Pebbles, had a clear motive to help their cause. The earth was being torn asunder where Scars were being turned into Sacrificial Shrines. Already, many Earth Elementals were working elsewhere to close them up, but the Hellbourne would not take it lying down. Pebbles had been assigned to this particular Scar, but before he could seal it, the Hellbourne had already arrived. He felt inadequate by himself to destroy it, and therefore joined them to obtain their help for a common goal.
Armadon was an obvious case. Armadillos only helped the weak, and Jereziah knew that they were on the losing side of this war. Having to fight a war immediately after another one had put them at a disadvantage, and Jereziah did not know the amount of enemies that waited behind the Hellbourne’s portals. They seemed endless. But the Armadillo had come to help them, and for that, Jereziah was grateful. Stories passed down through generations told of their great strength and longevity; but this one seemed quite young. However, that did not mean it wasn’t a force to be reckoned with, as Jereziah watched Lizarb accidentally crash into Armadon’s back with a yelp as the fairy flew right over the dangerous spikes, giggling with laughter.
The last one, the fairy, was also unclear in its motives for appearing to lend aid. Fairies were rare, just as rare as the other two. In afterthought, Jereziah realized what an amazing sight this was, having three rare beings at the same place, for his eyes to see. But from his conversation with the fairy known as Nymphora, he didn’t think much of her abilities in battle. Although, he thought, the ability to instantly move herself and another across spaces was helpful, and she had admitted to being the Matron of the pool they were resting at. This was a good addition to their party, Jereziah considered, as that meant she could bring part of its powers with her wherever she went. Her cause was that she was worried her pool and its surroundings would soon be in danger, as it was located within the Forest, and wanted to protect it.
Ultimately, he had admitted all of them into the party, as he had ascertained their motives for working with him. Looking at them now, he felt bolstered by the additions to the party and came to a decision, having understood the extent of Nymphora’s abilities. He considered all the aspects of his plan while watching Lizarb hop around in pain, pulling out Armadon’s spikes. Lizarb made a grab at Nymphora while off balance, missed, and fell onto Pebbles. The earth elemental, perhaps having decided that the scout needed to calm down, chucked the scout into the pool, to Nymphora’s delight. Nymphora then dropped the crossbow into the pool, watching as Lizarb made a hasty dive to retrieve it.
Jereziah stood up, and instantly all eyes were on him. The three newcomers had accepted his command; he had made certain of that. Every leader knows: the chain of command must be well established and monitored.
Lizarb resurfaced, and reached the side, where he clambered out and began to wring his clothes dry, before he realized that Jereziah was standing and seemed to be about to announce something. Everyone’s eyes were on him. Instantly, Lizarb was also at attention. Jereziah did not know where the Treant was, but he was sure the Treant was listening.
Ophelia looked at him questioningly. He gave her a knowing look, and then announced, “I have decided. We are going to attack the Sacrificial Shrine.”
Most faces changed. The Legionnaire frowned, and Pebbles seemed incapable of changing his facial features by much, so Jereziah was unsure of the earth elemental’s reaction. Nymphora seemed happy with the announcement, while Lizarb looked excited. Armadon’s face was unchanged; he probably was accepting of whatever decision was made.
Ophelia, however, asked the question, “Why are we doing that? We are but a small band right now.”
Jereziah acknowledged her question, “And the Hellbourne have only had a few days since their Sacrificial Shrine was created. Their forces are small right now, but if we took too long, their fortress may become impenetrable. Every day, that portal allows their forces to swell in numbers. We are but a limited army; we must end this before their numbers grants them a decisive advantage.”
“We have reinforcements as well.”
Jereziah gestured around. “And it is limited. The Hellbourne may have an unlimited supply behind those portals. Their only limitation is souls. And we cannot allow them to obtain the souls of my men, or your beasts.”
“We will not be going back to reinforce the encampment? The Sefir tree needs protection!”
The Legionnaire nodded in agreement. “The only thing we can do correctly right now is defend, my Lord,” he said respectfully.
Jereziah nodded, their point was a good one. But he had thought of that in advance. “And protection it shall receive. Your beasts, and my men! However, simply defending will not win us this war. We need to destroy that Shrine. If we were to defend, what would it end up with? Siege after siege of Hellbourne assaulting us, working to destroy us. We need to strike now, when they are vulnerable.”
“How will the Legion know of our plans, Lord?” the scout piped up.
Jereziah allowed a slow grin to form on his face, and he pointed at Nymphora. She glanced back at him questioningly.
“Allow me to reconfirm your ability, Nymphora. You can go anywhere as long as a living tree is around, am I correct? And you can bring up to two others with you.”
She flew around in a circle as she answered him, “Yes, that is what I can do!”
Lizarb broke in, “But wait! If the fairy can do that, why can’t she just take us directly to the Shrine and destroy it in a quick mission?”
Jereziah was about to answer before a new voice spoke up, startling him. From his side, the Treant materialized, saying, “Because there are no more living trees there.” There was no change in the Treant’s voice, but all of them had felt the quiet anger, thinly veiled by the baritones. The Treant’s motives for fighting were the most apparent of all.
Lizarb realized his mistake, and apparently decided to be quiet. Nearby, Nymphora’s features had a fleeting change of recognition when she saw the Treant, but she remained quiet. Jereziah, however, had noticed, although he was not unduly surprised.
Jereziah then continued, “Nymphora will take Ophelia and I temporarily back to the base encampment, there are still living trees there,” he said carefully. He was aware of the implications of letting the Treant know that they were cutting down trees to fortify their defenses, and the Treant was not someone he could afford to offend. He made careful note to immediately instruct his men upon his arrival to change to quarrying for rocks as soon as they had the basic foundations laid down; the stories never seemed to mention earth elementals objecting to the use of stone in building.
“Then, as soon as Nymphora’s powers allow her to, we will return. Which will be…?” Jereziah gazed questioningly at Nymphora.
She answered him, “Around dawn, if we leave now.”
“Right,” Jereziah brushed his hands together quickly, “then you are to look after yourselves until our return. Get some rest. I will be instructing my men to send every available man on patrol to join us on the front lines, but until they arrive, we are on our own.”
The group nodded in concert, and the Treant melted back into the trees. Armadon seemed content to sit on the log, and Pebbles wandered over to a pile of rocks. The Legionnaire laid his back against a tree with his axe nearby, but Jereziah knew that those closed eyes did not mean a relaxed vigilance. Scout was now busy drying off his clothing near the fire.
Nymphora glided over to where he stood with Ophelia.
“Do you know the location?” Jereziah asked her.
She shook her head. “You will need to envision the place,” she told him, “I will provide the magic, but you must guide it.”
Slowing the beat of her wings, she sank to the ground, and sat there in a folded leg position.
Ophelia and Jereziah stood around her. “Will we need to hold onto you?”
Nymphora shook her head again. “Simply being near me will do. Now, get ready for a ride. YAH!”
A brilliant purple light enveloped them as Nymphora chanted. Jereziah could feel the magic flowing. He gazed around in wonder, seeing nature magic for the first time in his life.
And then, they were gone.