The rest of the group moved with speed born of desperation. Cass and Riam helped to brace Fangorn in place, slowly his advance towards the portal, whilst Aran leapt up and sliced through a couple of the tentacles. In response, yet more tendrils burst from the black surface of the arch, lashing out and fastening on to the Treeforged. With a lurch, he was pulled forwards another step.
Elwanen drew his sword and moved forwards to assist, calling back to Theron “Chant faster!” Nodding, Theron picked up the pace of his incantation, gesturing with small, precise movements.
Fangorn could feel the chill spreading through his limbs. As the noise of the others started to recede, he could feel the flow of sap through his veins start to slow. Distantly, he became aware of the Heartstone – the magical artifact that had first sparked him into life. He knew now that a permanent connection had been forged between this fount of life and himself – a connection that the tendrils were seeking to capture and convert for their own use, to feed and grow more powerful.
Forcing his head to turn, he saw Elwanen closing in, ready to swing at the tentacles holding him. With an effort of will, Fangorn spoke one final time.
“The Heartstone – linked – don’t let them –“ Another step towards the portal, another tick off the clock of his life.
Elwanen paused only for a second. Looking into the eyes of his friend, he gripped his sword, Aecris, in both hands and swung in a smooth arc. The magical blade cut cleanly through the neck of Fangorn, and as his head separated from his body the connection, too, was severed. Fangorn’s body collapsed to the ground as the tendrils retracted instantly into the portal, their purpose defeated. The Thunderhammer sparked as it struck rock, falling and lying inert on the floor.
With a cry of triumph, Theron completed his spell and pointed at the archway. A single bolt of lightning sprang from his finger and crashed into the keystone. In a crackling mass of energy, the blackness within the archway slowly faded away, leaving only bare stone behind it. Panting from the exertion, the Wizard put his hands on his knees and leant forwards.
Cass stared down at the body of the creature she had only come recently to know. “What happened?” she said disbelievingly. “We could have kept him out if you’d let us.” Accusingly, she looked up at the Paladin, who now seemed more Fey than ever before, and she was struck by how different his very nature was from hers.
“I had to do it,” replied Elwanen, looking at her but speaking to all of them. “He told me that he could feel, well, whatever that was, that it was trying to reach the Heartstone through the link that he and it shared. If it had succeeded, that creature would have had access to a magical power of life and it could have sucked it dry. Think about how much power that represents. I had to sever the connection, and this was the only way to do it. I am sorry, Cass, but I had no choice.”
The normally cheery Aran saluted the fallen warrior with a sword, his face now unsmiling. “You fought a good fight, Fangorn,” he said. “We’ll remember you – and when I tell my stories your name, and your sacrifice, will be known and heard all through the world.”
As if in answer, the body of Fangorn quivered slightly, and then appeared to split open slightly. Jumping back and moving his shield to defend himself, Riam said “By Bane’s mailed fist! What the hell is this?”
Elwanen leant forwards carefully, keeping his sword in place. Peering inside the cracked shell of his former companion, he let out a cry of surprise. “There’s some sort of person in here!”