Disclaimer: more violent.
Emrys groaned, knocked back and thrown off-balance by the force of Monoroe’s kick. She had slammed her furred boot straight into his stomach. Hard. Emrys doubled over, groaning and almost regurgitating his breakfast in the process.
As the fight progressed, the druid could feel his energy rapidly leaving him. The vines tightened around his limbs with every passing second. They were slowly cutting off his blood supply. Emrys could feel himself being pulled towards the ground as the thorns pierced through his clothes and tore open his skin.
He would not last long. Emrys had never been a fighter. He had only survived his encounter with Monoroe the first time around because he had buried himself under six feet of rock, cutting off all access to him. Emrys had had to wait for hours while Monoroe hammered on the stone barrier from the outside. He’d nearly suffocated himself in the process. It wasn’t until she left to hunt down the soldiers that he finally crawled his way back out.
This fight would be no different. He couldn’t beat Monoroe in a straight-up brawl. Not while she was like this. And neither could Morgana – the girl looked even more fragile than he did. Emrys slowly righted himself, glancing over at Lancelot as the young knight parried her spear. Lancelot was their only option. Their only defence- and their only way to win. He needed him. As long as they worked together, Emrys could still-
The next moment, that thought shattered. Monoroe suddenly dropped her spear and spun around, twisting her body into a wild, uncontrolled roundhouse kick. Lancelot had not expected that. He brought his arms up to block her- but the future Duke wasn’t fast enough. Monoroe’s leg violently collided with the knight’s face. Lancelot was knocked off his feet by the momentum, losing his footing and falling backwards in a sprawling mess of limbs.
He landed flat on his back, hitting the ground with a painful thud. Emrys could hear all of the air escape from the knight’s lungs. The force of the impact left Lancelot momentarily dazed-
At the same time that the ground underneath him shifted. Emrys watched in horror as thick, heavy roots burst forth from the earth and wrapped themselves around Lancelot’s body. His arms were pinned to the ground. His legs were violently restrained. Lancelot’s gasp for air turned into a pained howl as a massive, moss-covered root slammed down on top of his torso. The roots tightened, slowly crushing the body underneath.
The druid tried. But Emrys couldn’t get to him. The Huntress was standing in his way, gripping her spear and blocking his access to Lancelot. He wouldn’t be able to guard against her and help him at the same time. There was no other choice. Emrys quickly glanced at the dark-haired girl behind him.
“I’ll distract her. Go to the knight and do what you-”
He never got to finish his sentence. Monoroe pounced, storming forwards like a rampaging bull. He could see the stone-tipped spear swing around in his direction. Emrys steeled himself, throwing up his arms in the same way that he’d seen Lancelot do -and failed miserably. Monoroe bowled right over him. Emrys could feel himself getting hurled backwards, effortlessly pushed aside like Monoroe was swatting away a fly. All of the air was squeezed from his lungs as his back hit the ground. Emrys heaved, anticipating a spear to get jammed into his ribs-
But she wasn’t coming for him.
Emrys groaned, struggling against the rapidly tightening vines as he forced his body to roll over. That last hit had been one blow too many. The druid was at the end of his rope. His vision started to blur. His fingers were numb from an overload of magick. Emrys could feel his arms and legs tremble, using up the last of his energy as he forced himself to get back up. He wouldn’t last much longer. Every inch of his body was screaming for rest, for relief, for him to pass out and welcome the sweet embrace of oblivion.
But he couldn’t give up. Not now. Not when they were this close to saving every druid that was trapped in the forest. The druid gritted his teeth, powering through his exhaustion and summoning the last sliver of magick that remained in his body.
He would not lose. Not here. Not like this.
He could hear Morgana’s frantic, panicked gasps as the Huntress was squeezing the life out of her. Emrys righted himself, firmly planting his feet on the ground as he exhaled. He closed his eyes. Emrys cut off his senses, forgetting his surroundings and solely focusing on the spirit of the creatures around him. He could feel his arms and legs going numb. The druid ignored it. On instinct, Emrys reached out, forcing his way past the surrounding life forms. Within moments he found what he was searching for-
And grabbed it, violently taking hold of Monoroe’s spirit.
The Huntress was abruptly yanked away from her target. Her body flailed in the air as Emrys controlled her spirit, forcefully pulling her arm off Morgana’s neck. Her head jerked backwards. Her feet rose from the ground. Like a puppet on strings, Monoroe rose into the air, her body paralysed and lifted up by the druid behind her.
But Emrys couldn’t take hold of her completely.
She was too powerful. Emrys grit his teeth, tasting blood as he focused – but he couldn’t make her let go. Her grip on his childhood friend was too strong. And when Monoroe was lifted into the air, Morgana got dragged along with her. The sorceress let out a pained whimper. Her fingers scratched across Monoroe’s arm, fruitlessly trying to break free. But the Huntress was too strong. She couldn’t break free. She couldn’t breathe. Morgana’s frantic movements soon slowed, her body shutting down as Monoroe squeezed harder and harder.
She couldn’t break free.
The tree creature had followed Gawain all the way through the cavern, trailing behind him and filling the cave with the scent of wet earth and fungus. He’d never had a tagalong that was this terrifying before. But it didn’t hurt him, even after Gawain turned his back. It merely followed him. Silently. Without making a single sound.
In a way, Gawain was strangely relieved not to be alone.
It didn’t take the two of them long to reach the other side of the cavern. Carefully, Gawain peeked around the corner. He had expected a creepy altar waiting for him at the end, or some kind of disturbing ritual circle. The child inside him had been hoping for a giant, gem-filled treasure chest.
In the end, Gawain found none of those things.
He found a grove. The cavern opened up into a clearing, the heavy stone ceiling giving way to a dark, cloud-filled sky. Gawain could see vibrant green grass with clusters of beautiful white flowers growing in patches throughout the clearing. They were glowing softly. Gawain felt strangely drawn to them. He stared at them for a while, mesmerised, before eventually snapping himself out of it.
The would-be knight turned to the tree at the back of the clearing. He could see the leaves slowly swaying back and forth, disturbed by the cold wind. A number of effigies were hanging from the thick branches. Gawain could hear the soft clacking of wood hitting wood.
It didn’t look scary at all.
It looked… almost peaceful.
Gawain slowly approached the tree, only coming to a halt when he noticed a strange patch on the ground. One of the delicate, glowing flower clusters had snapped. The tops lay broken on the ground. Gawain could see a large footprint in the dirt, stomping across the plant and flattening it. It was a sad sight that remained. The grass had receded from the remains of the flower, exposing the earth underneath it like an open wound.
Gawain could hear the tree creature approach from behind him. The would-be knight frowned, cocking his head as he looked down on the trampled flower bush.
“Is this what’s hurting you?”
There was no answer. But Gawain could hear the creaking of bark behind him, the snapping of twigs as the creature lowered its head. He placed a hand on his chin. Emrys hadn’t told him what to do next. He hadn’t given him any instructions past “fix it” – and Gawain was not a gardener. The young redhead did not know how plants worked. Besides the little snippets that his mother had told him, that was. But he barely remembered any of that, either. She was the botanist in the family, not him. Gawain wracked his brain, trying to recall as much as possible as he wondered about the right thing to do.
How did you heal a broken plant?
“Gawain? What did you do?”
“…I broke it.”
“They snapped off. I didn’t mean to break them, I was just playing and… and… they won’t go back on.”
“I-I don’t want them to die. How do I fix it?”
“I’m afraid that you can’t, Gawain. There is no saving these. The stems are too damaged to survive. Even if I grafted them back on, they wouldn’t make it through winter.”
“They’re going to die? But… but that’s not fair. I didn’t mean to. I want to undo it.”
“You cannot undo your actions, sweetheart. That is why you always need to think carefully before you move. But even if these flowers don’t live, it still won’t be the end.”
“It won’t. There’s still one more thing you can do.”
“Death is not the end, Gawain. Not always. Nature is amazing like that. Even if you can’t stop something from dying – even if something or someone is beyond saving, you can still accept that, and give them back to the earth. Nature will always receive them. And if you give it enough time…”
“Eventually, something new will grow in their place.”
The would-be knight didn’t notice the gradual change that was happening around him. Gawain was oblivious to the skies clearing up. He didn’t notice the spots of sunlight that began to fall into the grove, gradually brightening the scenery around him. The clouds lifted. The chill in the air faded away. The tree in front of him rustled, its leaves shedding little flecks of light as they came into contact with the sun’s rays. Slowly, the cold wind that blew through the cavern turned into a pleasant, warm breeze.
Gawain got back up, dusting off the earth from his armoured gloves. He lifted his head. Slowly, the would-be knight looked up at the terrifying tree creature next to him –
“It’ll grow again. You’ll see.”
Gawain watched, stunned, as the form in front of him began to shift. The bones faded away. The sharpened twigs fell to the ground. He could see the wicked claws and protruding bark recede, pulling back into a body that was rapidly shrinking in size. The creature’s twisted, crooked form disappeared, shifting into something else entirely.
Gawain blinked, standing frozen and rooted into place as the Dryad slowly approached him. He had no idea what to do. He’d never been this close to one of the Fair Folk before. They were taboo to talk about in Camelot- mentioning one of the Fair Folk to anyone else was enough to get you hanged. Gawain had absolutely no idea how to approach one.
He could see her coming closer, slowly bridging the distance between the two of them. She’d reach him soon. A thousand thoughts and warnings echoed through his mind at once, jumbling together and paralysing him as he frantically tried to figure out how to act.
What am I supposed to do?
Oh Watcher, she’s not wearing anything. Why isn’t she wearing anything? Wait, why is she looking at me like that? Am I supposed to do something? Do I talk? Can she talk? What does she want me to do- am I supposed to introduce myself?
Wait- no! I can’t do that! I can’t give her my name! I’ll lose it – do I run away? Do I say something? Am I supposed to give her things? How does this work?!
What do I do?!
Gawain didn’t know. He had no idea how to act. None of his years of training with Arthur had prepared him for this. By now, the Dryad was right in front of him, staring up at him with eyes as vibrant as the butterflies that were flitting around her. The smell of wet earth and fungus had faded, making way for a pleasant, mossy, almost herbal scent. A sliver of a smile played on her lips as she drew closer.
She was looking right at him.
He couldn’t figure it out. In an awkward, unsure stammer, the would-be knight stuttered:
“Um, I… I, uh… I don’t know what-”
The kiss came so far out of left field that it caught Gawain completely off-guard. The would-be knight could feel a rush of warmth course through his body, spreading through his limbs and gathering on his cheeks as the Dryad took a step back. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t think. The herbal scent lingered on his skin, silencing all of his thoughts at once. Gawain stood there, slack-jawed, staring wide-eyed as his head tried to process what had happened.
She still hadn’t said a word to him. It took Gawain a few moments to snap out of his daze. But as his mind caught up to his body, Gawain finally noticed the gesture that the Dryad was making. She lifted her arms, folding her mossy fingers together and softly placing them on top of her chest.
She didn’t have to speak. Even without words, Gawain understood what was meant.
“You’re… you’re welcome.”
Her smile widened. Gawain watched as the Dryad glanced over to the left. The would-be knight could see her looking back and forth between him and the tree. For a moment, she seemed hesitant. Her head was cocked to the side, her eyes glancing back and forth as if she was trying to decide on something.
Then, that moment passed. Her attention waned. The Fae turned away from him, no longer interested in his presence. Gawain looked on in silence as she strolled over to the tree. The grass barely moved as she passed, as if the Dryad was gliding right through.
She did not look back.
Thank you MercuryFoam for the floaty strangley poses! 🥰