Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,
Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 8)
When the smoke had cleared, the young man's drastic change of appearance had startled Meren, but she knew better than to mention it. If he reacted the way she assumed he would, his narcissism would be a horrible distraction and he was already distracting her enough. His previously tanned skin was now tinged a definite purple, as far as she could tell from the bits she could see, and that long hair of his was now scattered on the ground in black clumps, but even this was less strange than the fact that the purple smoke had returned when he'd spoken to her; this time, however, it was issuing from his mouth along with the words. Thankfully he didn't seem to notice this problem, either. Meren was no stranger to magical unexpectedness and she very much hoped she hadn't been the cause. This wasn't a reaction she'd ever experienced, but her magic regularly did some odd things. She had been reaching for the trees behind her when the smoke had surrounded him...
But that magic was her best chance at protecting her forest, and themselves, of course. The elf gave a silent prayer to the earth spirits to let her magic work this time and began the first words of the only spell she could think of that would help: the one that had given her such strange results last time. Focusing her power into the ground beneath her, she called to the roots, vines and bushes not far from where she knelt. This time the plants answered, to her relief, and she felt the green energy flow towards her. It moved quickly, much faster than it had done in the past, but she was able to keep it from pulling out of her grasp. When a thick tendril headed towards the man standing behind her, she forced it up rather than out.
Now sensing the familiar feeling of thick forest around her, she opened her eyes to glance up into a dense thicket of plant life that had once been a clearing and up at the only orc caught on this side of the thorny wall, who was about to beam her with a heavy club. Reacting rather than thinking, she rolled to the left, the ground jolting her ribs as she dove. She felt around frantically for her bow, knowing she would never be able to fire an arrow off at this close of range at such a disadvantage. The orc swung the club back but as he was bringing it back around, he flew over her into the new thicket. Meren climbed to her feet, rubbing her sore side. What happened? I didn't do that... The answer became clear, but surprising. Phillip, coughing uncontrollably with smoke blooming out of his mouth and looking quite ill under that new color, brought his quarterstaff back to the ground to lean heavily on it. Injured and clearly unable to breathe fully, the man had found enough strength to swing his staff around in her defense. This, as nothing else he'd done so far had, impressed the warrior-trained elf. Impressed and shocked; she honestly hadn't thought him capable of such an act, physically or by inclination.
As the man dropped to his knees in another coughing fit, Meren pushed through the circle of forest surrounding them to look for any sign of the other monsters. She circled outwards, finding bits of bone, which she kicked further apart in case they could somehow later reform. She assumed that as the trees grew, they'd pulled the slow-moving skeletons into pieces. This was a relief, but less of one was the lack of any orcs. Being much quicker on the uptake than the undead, they must have fled when the spell had begun. They hadn't seemed too happy to be working with skeletons in the first place, so perhaps trees springing up under their feet had pushed them too far. She only hoped that they'd become so frightened that they wouldn't come back.
Thinking they were at least safe for the moment, she retraced her footsteps back to where she'd left the human. Her knowledge of woodlands and a good sense of direction meant she was positive of this fact or else she would have thought she was in the wrong place. The small clearing now lacked any wizards, purple or no. Okay... Well, at least he's finally gone. This was mostly a relief but part of her had been wanting an answer about what had happened. Why skeletons? And why had the human's appearance shifted so drastically? This was certainly something she wanted to speak to her brother about. Kryro would be just as confused as she was, but perhaps he could reassure her that she wasn't going crazy. Maybe by now he's back at camp? That thought in mind, she headed back home.
The next part of the story can be found here.