"Kremmer, please," I pleaded. "Ungar is going to kill my clerics. I don't give a damn about the Pond. I just want to save my clerics."
Something pierced my shoulder. Multiple health and status updates blurred into my mind's vision. I kept them there since my actual vision was gone. There were no clerics nearby whose channels I could use to see what was happening to me. I had no way to dodge my attacks except through claritas, diving into my own instinct.
From that instinct I Transformed into a rain drop. I knew that move saved me several more spikes bursting in to me. I had gone deeper into my instints farther than I ever had before, desperate for the plunge so Gaia could direct my movements. The spike that had pierced me felt wood, probably one of Vinda's sees.
As soon as I became water, something trapped me in my path as I fell laterally away from my opponents. As a raindrop, my whole body burned with a severe flame that my instinctual mind told me was from Kremmer. In an instant, I evaporated.
I panicked. Lymeria had been a naiad, a spirit formed of water. The memories I Devoured from her told me she had never evaporated before. I transformed into a small cat, but my fur was still on fire. I became a stone from Cre's memories, and the fire was put out.
My stone body was punted into the air, and through my instincts I could feel several leaves touching me. I Transformed into a quicksilver fox, darting out from the growing leaves. I didn't know which direction, and so just went the way I felt was best. I was supposed to land on earth, but tumbled into thick thorns that drained my life faster than they drained my blood. I jumped, airborne again, but this time as the small red fox, Schadof, tumbling through the air in a fetal position, my fluffy tail balancing me.
"The nature of magic," I could hear Kremmer say to me as if we were old friends exchanging gossip at the well. "is change. Each magic from each Epoch is eventually lost over time. But these little shells trap the memory of those magics. They produce various results, depending on the memory. This one is a cold memory."
I heard the sound of the ocean, and I was immediately flooded by salt water. My human mind calculated what was happening to me, the part of me trained to piece puzzles together. Water. Kremmer had just given me water. I was about to slip into my Transformation of Lymeria, but something in my instinct told me not to. Of course. Kremmer had flooded me with salt water. Lymeria was a naiad of fresh water. I didn't know what would have happened if I tried absorbing that into my naiad Transformation, but my instincts told me it wouldn't be good.
I was Deinos again, a large wolf who was born able to tread water. The salt water flood disappeared as if the water was a ghost. It gave me a hint with how Kremmer's magic worked, but I didn't know that information was helping me. Kremmer the Wise had just told me he had spent the last several Epochs collecting every kind of magic that had existed, magics too ancient to exist now.
Kremmer had so much of my attention that I had forgotten about Vinda of the Wet Pines. I heard a cackle and the sound of a thousand seeds falling on the grass. Before I could listen to what Gaia had for me to escape what was happening, my body was wrapped in a thousand leaves and thorns. I Transformed in every shape I had, and I couldn't get out.
She had me.
"Urgh!" I managed to gasp as the vines constricted around me even more. The thorns grew and lanced deeper into my body. "Compared to Kremmer, Vinda, you're a one trick pony."
The vines stopped constricting. "Release him," the dryad said, and added hastily. "Please, master Kremmer."
My sight returned to me. It was hard to feel grateful for the reprieve when I was punctured a thousand different ways while a flurry of status screens warned me of my dwindling health. Kremmer the Wise stood behind Vinda and her saplings. The little moving trees had grown since I had last seen them. Normally, this wouldn't have had my attention except for the fact the small trees now sported faces on their bark. The faces looked as if they were emerging from the living wood, screaming painfully into existence. Even under all the pressure of the vines, I managed a shiver.
Vinda of the Wet Pines tilted her head up with a practiced dignity. "Little god, you know nothing of my magics."
"En-enlighten me, then." I muttered. I was down to fifteen percent of my health. I didn't know how I could buy time but it seemed like the only thing I could do was talk. Talk was fine. Hopefully, talk got me out of this, or at least gave me an option to get out. I searched as deep as I could manage in my instincts, and all I got was darkness. Even Gaia's will had limits, I guess.
Vinda petted her tallest sapling, whose branches for arms stretched out to the group of vines I was imprisoned in. The sapling connected to the vines with its own branches, tugging at the vines with a fiendish joy. The face on its bark pushed forward. My health hadn't dwindled, but the vines had begun to glow. Somehow, I could recognize the glow as something that had come from me. Whatever Vinda was sucking out of me, it was now feeding the saplings.
Vinda gave me an easy smile. "You may have already guessed by now. My children are here to absorb your energy. I've been waiting for this for months."
I felt my mouth go dry ."Really? You should have gone through a matchmaker. We humans don't rush into something so intimate as draining each other's life force until we've had our first kiss. You really know how to make a guy feel special."
The vines stopped constricting and my health stopped dwindling at ten percent. I hadn't meant to say what I did. I was never really one for wit, but bathing in my instincts had helped me just sputter whatever came to mind. Either way, I was very glad that whatever was coming out of my mouth had stopped the slow drain on my health. That didn't stop the life force the vines had stolen from me to stop feeding the sapling. The little bastard's face now had teeth. I did my best not to look at it, and I was suddenly thankful I didn't sleep, saving myself from the repeated nightmares of the screaming wooden face.
Vinda's smile soured, and the vines tightend around my human neck. "Dryads, at least in the past few Epochs, have only been able to procreate by absorbing the life force of humans. The humans around here have not been sufficient energy. Ungar had told me a beast who was once a human now had his own Dominion. When my Dominion had been taken over by another beast, I lost all my children in the battle. In exchange for my help, Ungar promised me you."
My instinct kicked in my stomach and spewed out of my mouth. "And you didn't get me a ring? Arranged marriages aren't quite what they used to-"
The vines clamped around my jaw. I could still talk, but moving my jaw would forceme to lose more of my little remaining health. Vinda continued. "I couldn't have imagined that your human life force blended so well with your god and beast energy. I was tentative at first, but your life will be able to grow ten more children. Your life moves into another. This is a noble death."
Kremmer looked away in shame. I liked the old mollusk, but his tentacles were tied in this mess.
I nodded in agreement. "True, but before I die, I'd like for you to grant me one last little curiosity. I know your part in this Vinda of the Wet Pines. It makes sense. You just want to grow your Dominion again. No hard - ugh- feelings. But Kremmer? What does Ungar have on you?"
Vinda's eyes widened, and I could tell she had this exact question on her mind but had been too afraid to ask the powerful beast why. From the memory magic he desrcibed he had, he was not only powerful but had a wide arsenal of magics. He was the worse opponent for anyone to take on.
"It's funny," Kremmer said. His eyes were all half-lidded. His heart was not in this battle, but his voice tried to find the humor in the situation. "Vinda's sapling is absorbing your life force to become a dryad. The dryads need humans to become what they truly are, even though dryads tend to despise human. But the truly funny thing is that Vinda is absorbing from you."
Vinda gave a frown, but she didn't voice any concern. Looking to buy as much time as I could to find a way out of my predicament, I went along with Kremmer. "Why is that funny?"
Kremmer inched closer to us, but still positioned in a way that Vinda stood between us. "You would have noticed my sight on you."
I managed a small nod as a single point of health flickered away on my screen. The fraction of life was worth being polite to the ancient mollusk. "My magic identified it as Kremmer's Sight."
He managed to chortle at that. "I didn't name it that. I never had a name for it. That was completely your magic."
I rolled my eyes dramatically as if silently saying, "Sure, sure." That managed another chuckle, and Kremmer inched forward again until he stood towering over Vinda. The dryad was getting impatient, but she was not in the position to make demands of Kremmer.
The ancient mollusk said, but this time he addressed Vinda. "I can see things no one else can see. I can see the shape of your soul. Do you know what Lysander's soul is shaped like? Say yes." His eyes took on a wilder look, like a gleeful child about to tell a secret he had been holding in all day.
"Y-yes, ancient one." She replied.
Think, dammit. There had to be a way out. Father said that most of the time you had all the pieces to build something. So far, I had been waiting for something. There was something, there had to be something I could use to get out of here. Even if I didn't have the pieces, it was important for a master tinkerer and toymaker to think creatively, to force the pieces to work in ways you never thought before. I was never good at that part. I had always excelled in just putting the pieces where they should be instead of making new roles for them.
Kremmer's tentacles on his face wriggled. "Our little godling's soul is shaped like a tree. If you could only see what I see, little Vinda. It is a glorious thing. His roots spread out farther than any I have ever seen. The roots aren't just waiting for more spiritual energy to feed it, they grow aggresively."
I didn't know what to make of Kremmer's insight, but I took it as a compliment. "Thank you."
Kremmer shook one of his crab-like pincers at me as if admonishing a child. "But tall trees tend to not let other trees grow. Nearby saplings die from it. The larger trees always eat up the smaller trees."
He looked down to Vinda, who now had a speck of fear on her. He said, "And you, Vinda of the Wet Pines, are a small tree, a very small tree."
Why was he complimenting me now? None of this made any sense. Large trees eat smaller trees? Eat. He was giving me a hint. Vinda shook like a dry leaf in the wind. "Y-you owed a debt to Ungar."
Kremmer sighed. "Technically, I owed a debt to his wonderful mother, who spawned that awful, turbulent child."
"You were tasked to delay the god and then burn him. Then why are you helping us?" Vinda asked. She said it clearly. Kremmer had made it known he was not only reluctant to move against me, but regretted. Why would someone so powerful serve a mission he didn't believe in for someone he did not like.
My instinct kicked my gut and more words came out. "He has something on you."
Kremmer nodded. "Actually, he has something. The memories I've collected in my shells. He has the most precious one, a gift I had lent to his mother for what she had done for me so many Epochs ago." He gazed fondly into the distant past.
My instinct told me nothing. I couldn't rely on it anymore. What was I good at? I was good at putting the pieces together. What did I have? Kremmer was willing to help me. He had dropped a hint about a big tree eating a small tree.
Vinda growled. "Enough of this talk. Children, drain the god."
Think! Ungar had Kremmer's most important memory. Vinda was a tree and fire was her natural enemy. Kremmer's magic was based off of memories. He trapped them in his shells to use for later. When I had first fought him, he had used lightning magic and a green dragon made of fire. He was tasked to delay me and burn me.
My health began dwindling again, faster as time ticked by. "Wise and ancient Kremmer, you've absolutely delayed me, not even a little, but considerably."
Kremmer eyes focused on me, curiosity filling them all. He nodded. Vinda was ignoring our conversation now, focusing on her saplings to absorb both my health and life force to shut me up. Whatever we were doing, she did not like it.
I continued. "Would you say you've satisfied that part of your task in order to get your memory back from Ungar?"
Vinda laughed ruefully. "He was also tasked to burn you."
I kept my smile. "So, Kremmer the Wise. Do it. Burn me before this dryad steals me life force. I had given you hospitality and food and a Dominion of peace and rest. I even took on your regretful challenge. I asked nothing in exchange. So, I ask this of you now. Burn me with the same green fire memory you attacked me with under the high moon."
Kremmer laughed and pulled pushed his pincer into his tentacles, searching for something. Vinda screamed. "No! The human god is mine!"
A green fire dragon emblazoned over Vinda of the Wet Pines. The fire burned through her saplings, and they fell apart in thousand chunks of burnt charcoal. The vines and leaves that had trapped me withered and were burned away.
My health hadn't reduced under the fire. The green fire came from Kremmer's magic. Kremmer's magic came from memories. I had a skill that relied on eating memories.
I Devoured the dragon of the green fire.