(Originally written: April 6, 2020)
Ranya stumbled and dropped Rin. The soldier grunted as he fell on his wounded side, more blood gushing out onto his tunic. “Thanks for that.” He said between clenched teeth.
“Sorry sorry sorry.” Ranya’s eyebrows furrowed as she helped him into a sitting position, leaning him against a nearby tree. The bark was uncomfortable against his back but he scarcely noticed it. “I tripped over a root.”
“It’s fine.” Rin briefly leaned to the side so he could draw his sword from its scabbard then settled back down. He gripped it in a weak hand. “Go on without me, Princess.”
“I said no.” She flicked her wrist. A vine shot out of the ground, whipped Rin on the cheek, then retreated. “I’ll take care of them.”
“Ranya there are fifteen of them!” Rin hissed. “I don’t care how powerful you are. You can’t risk it.”
“We’ll just have to see about that.” Ranya tied her black hair up in a ponytail then held her hand out. “Sword please. Just for a moment.”
Rin begrudgingly handed it over. She used it to cut her dress from the knee down. She then used the scraps to tightly bind Rin’s torso. He clenched his jaw to keep from grunting in pain. “Your father will resurrect me just to kill me again after you die to those men.”
“Why wouldn’t he just resurrect me since he apparently has that ability?” Ranya put the sword back in his hand, then looked over her shoulder. “Looks like we lost them for now.”
“Yeah. For now.” Rin said. “We left behind tracks that a blind man could follow.”
“What’s a blind man doing in the middle of a forest?”
“He’s also deaf and trying to prove that trees do make noise when they fall and no one is there to hear it.”
“Ah. Interesting man. Would like to meet him.”
“I’ll arrange for it.”
“Shame they didn’t shoot your mouth.”
“Then I wouldn’t be able to kiss you.”
“Yes. I’d surely miss that.” She said, face blank. “Shut up and let me get to work. Who knows when they’ll find us.”
“Wish he’d tell us.”
“Yes him. You said he knows when they’ll find us.”
Ranya whipped him with a vine again, though she did it with a smile this time. “Okay. So they’ll likely come at us from the same spot we entered this clearing. But I need to make that an inevitability.” She stood and put a hand on the tree Rin was laying against. “Your name, please. Given name. Not your birth name.”
A single leaf fell upon Ranya’s head.
“Oakwill.” Ranya smiled at the tree. “Powerful. I don’t have time to talk to all of your friends in this clearing, so could you please carry my request to all of them?”
Two leaves this time.
“Thank you, Oakwill.” Ranya said. “I need you and all of them to stretch your limbs. Lock this clearing down and don’t let anyone enter,” She pointed at the spot they came in. “Except from there. Please.”
“Why not just close us in entirely?” Rin asked.
“Because then they might chop at the trees to get in here. And we don’t want that.” Ranya said, not looking at him. “Excuse my friend, Oakwill. Much of his blood is staining the grass at your feet instead of going to his brain.”
Nothing happened for a moment. Then a branch snaked down and touched Ranya’s head. She smiled and nodded. Followed by that, the clearing was filled with a loud rustling. The two looked around them and saw the trees in the clearing extend their branches or grow out new ones entirely to fill in gaps between themselves. The bushes at the feet of the trees also grew, becoming thicker and filling with thorns. The smell of dirt greeted them as roots broke out from under the ground and curled protectively around Rin.
“Ah. That’s kind of you, Oakwill.” Ranya got out of the way. “Where are your manners, Rin? Thank him.”
“Thank you, Oakwill.” Rin patted the root. He was used to the Princess’ magic by now and wasn’t phased by it. “Sorry about the blood.”
A leaf fell on his head.
“Oakwill says it’s fine.” Ranya said. “Alright. A little bit more needs to be done.” She stretched then walked to the brand new entrance. “Some traps would be nice.” She said to herself, digging at the ground near the entrance and burying her hands in the dirt. She sighed at the pleasant coolness, then tugged at the prickly feeling in her mind. Nothing. “Come on. Please?” She tugged harder. Then again. This time, it listened. Thick, green stalks sprouted from the holes her hands were in seconds ago and moved around lazily like a snake being charmed with music. The stalks were thicker at the bottom and tapered to a point, with thorns scattered randomly on them. A viscous, pink liquid dripped from the thorns. “That should slow them down some more.”
“You learned the poison magic?” Rin asked.
“Still working on that.” Ranya said. “These thorns will only inflict a mild paralytic. If there are any expert swordsmen among them, they’ll be as useful as an amateur.”
“I’m sure your plants will be useful against sharp objects wielded by amateurs.”
“Shut it, Rin.” Ranya dug again. The trees around her lent their roots to clear out dirt. Thanks to that, she had her right arm in a hole all the way to her shoulders. “I call upon you, Thornsong. Please lend me your strength. Water your blade with the blood of my enemies.” She felt something harden in the palm of her hand. Smiling gleefully, she pulled so hard she stumbled back onto her behind. In her hand was a sword. It’s hilt and crossguard looked to be made of dark wood that could be mistaken for stone. The blade itself was the length of her arm and colored a dark green. It glowed with a red hue.
“That’s new. How long have you had that?” Rin raised an eyebrow. Okay maybe she could still phase him.
“As of yesterday afternoon. Before we left.”
“And you were going to tell me when?”
“When I needed to!” She was standing near him now. They could both hear the shouting getting close. “Like right now.”
“Hope you know how to use it, Princess.”
“I have an excellent teacher so yes I do.” She smiled at him. “Ready to see me show off?”
“Of course.” Rin smiled. “But really. Please don’t die.”
“Don’t plan on it!”
The men came crashing through the entrance, screaming at the thrashing thornstalks. The ones that had thicker leather armor managed to make it through, disappointed Ranya. Still. Enough were being occupied by the thornstalks and, to her surprise, thornvines draping down from the trees.
“Thank you, Oakwill!” She shouted, running to meet her first enemy. The man smirked at her.
“A dryad, eh? Made yourself even more valuable.”
Ranya ducked under the swing of his ax and swung her freehand towards his leg. A vine burst from the ground and wrapped itself all the way up to his thigh. She clenched her fist and the vines tightened. When he groaned in pain and surprise, Ranya slit his throat. “Keep count for me, Rin!”
“Yes, Princess!” Rin called back. “Say Oakwill. Think you can make me a bow or something? Along with some arrows. Feeling a tad useless.”
“Figured.” Rin sighed. “Ah well. It’s nice to have my body be the one that’s being guarded for once.”
Thornsong glowed stronger now that it had gotten some of the blood it had been promised. The hilt also began to grow around Ranya’s hand. After she killed two more of their assailants, it fully covered her hand and looked like a dark, wooden gauntlet. “Come on, Thornsong. Don’t like me yet?” Ranya sighed. The first kill alone should have covered her hand in the gauntlet. Ranya’s grandmother had used the sword last and had told her that the more blood it drank, the more armor it would grant its user. She fought some more.
“That’s five total!” Rin said, seeing her arm get covered halfway up her forearm. “Is your hand okay? Is that supposed to be happening?”
“Yep!” She stabbed a man, watched her entire forearm get covered, then used the new armor to block an incoming chop. “Six now!” She used the arm again to block, smiling at the man’s confusion. “Seven!” She said, before killing the confused man.
“Don’t get cocky, Princess.”
“Don’t know how to stop it. Learned from you, remember?” She killed another. Eight. The seven remaining men were in the clearing now, having chopped away the traps. Her arm was fully covered to her shoulder and the glow from Thornsong could light there way in the dark if needed. For normal swordsman, facing more than one opponent at once was dumb. How dumb it was depended on the skill level of the swordsman and the number of opponents. Skilled swordsman and two opponents? Fairly dumb but doable. A swordswoman of Ranya’s skill level versus seven opponents? Dumber than a deaf and blind man in a forest attempting to answer a philosophical thought experiment. That’s if they’re not a dryad, though. These normal men didn’t stand a chance even if she didn’t have Thornsong. “He’s starting to like me, Rin. Guess all I had to do was kill some more.”
“I assume you mean your sword.”
“Yep!” She held Thornsong defensively. The men were also wary and holding back. Some were hunched over from the paralytic coursing through their veins but they were still dangerous. “Are you boys scared?”
No answer, but they did glare at her.
“That’s a yes, then.” She lurched left, causing the men on that side to fall back. She immediately twisted and attacked the men to her right, managing to strike one on the thigh. He fell to the ground and Ranya summoned a vine to wrap around his throat and choke him. “There’s six of you left.” She pointed at them. “I’ll allow you to leave with your lives if you leave right this second.” One spat at her. Five vines burst from the ground and dragged him down to his knees. As his companions jerked away in fear, Ranya ran her sword through his screaming mouth. “Five.” She looked at them, eyes gleaming and taunting them. “Would you like to spit at me too?”
They turned and ran. Tried to, at least. The clearing had shut completely. The only escape would be if they sprouted wings and flew. From the menacing, tentacle-like way the tree branches and vines were moving, chopping their way through would not be possible while also keeping their lives.
“Oakwill?” She walked to the tree and touched it. “What’s wrong? Let them go.”
A large bundle of leaves fell on her head, drifting in individual pieces to the ground after touching her. Many remained in her hair.
“You are angry they hurt your friends.” Ranya said out loud, mostly for Rin’s sake. “They tried to chop their way through even though there was an entrance.”
A rustling noise.
“Okay.” She patted the trunk.
“Ranya…” Rin’s voice trailed off. It seemed fair when they were all attacking her. But now that they had surrendered…He shook his head in disappointment. Honor had no place in a fight. It would get you killed. But honor at least let you feel good about yourself. This? What Ranya was about to do? It would stick to her. He watched with a grim expression as Ranya used vines to hold the men to the ground.
“Oakwill does not wish for your death.”
Rin frowned in surprise.
“It has asked me to tell you that you are to remain in this forest for as long as it wishes. You will tend to it, nurturing its life, until it allows you to leave. You will be able to feed on its fruits and vegetables, drink from its rivers and streams, and sleep under its trees.” She pointed Thornsong at them. “If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, I’ll kill you right now.”
They all shouted yes in a variety of ways.
She looked to the tree. “Happy, Oakwill?”
“Good.” She looked at the men. “Now go! Earn the life you have been given.” She let the vines whither. Once they were free, the men ran. They’d try to escape the forest first but they’d find themselves growing lost and going in circles. They could return to the clearing if they wished. Or go anywhere in the forest. But if they tried to leave, it would not let them. Not until it decided they had paid the price.
“That’s not how I saw that going.”
“Really?” Ranya smiled and let Thornsong drop to the ground. It hit the grass point first, then sank through until it disappeared. Her arm was pink from where it had been covered by the wooden armor but looked fine otherwise. “You think I’d slaughter men that had surrendered?”
“Not willingly. But yes.”
“Well Oakwill wanted me to. I convinced it otherwise.”
“You did?” Rin frowned. “You talked for two seconds.”
“That’s what it seemed like.” Ranya said, kneeling down. Oakwill retracted the roots it had put around Rin. “I’m a Princess. I can’t go around mercilessly killing people.” She held up her hand before Rin could make a quip. “The other men attacked me first!”
“Fair.” He smiled. “Any chance you’ve got healing magic learned?”
“I do.” Ranya said. “But I’ll need some herbs. All of which were with our horses. That we had to abandon.”
“You think Oakwill’s friends would help you find them?”
“I’m sure they would.” Ranya looked up at the tree.
A single leaf fell down onto Rin’s head.