Turnstone — dressed only in a loincloth — crouched, flexed his well-developed muscles, planted his bare feet into the ground, locked his elbows at his sides, and stared into the eyes of the elf standing directly across from him in the small clearing near the Holt. That elf – also tall and strong and dressed the same — lowered his thick black eyebrows and curled the side of his mustached lip into a sneer.
In the distance, lightning flashed. Thunder rumbled. The wind began to pick up dust and bits of leaves, swirling them haphazardly around the sides of tree trunks and bushes.
“Think you can take me down today?” Stoneback teased as he, too, assumed a similar position.
“Just like I did yesterday, uncle,” came the white-haired elf's retort. “You're getting slow in your old age.”
Turnstone and his uncle were two of the biggest and strongest elves in the tribe, and the fight would be evenly matched – as it was every day they came to the clearing to train and test their strength together.
Lightning flashed again, closer this time. The following peal of thunder echoed in the near distance.
Stoneback snorted and beckoned to his nephew with the tips of his fingers. “Quit blabbering and come at me before the clouds decide to open up on us.”
That was all the provocation Turnstone needed. He leapt toward Stoneback just as the older elf rushed toward him. They met in the middle of the clearing and locked arms in a grapple, each trying to overpower the other. The winner of the contest would be the one who either pushed the other out of the clearing or who threw him to the ground.
Another flash of lightning. Another crash of thunder, this time right on the heels of the heralding light. A drop of rain splashed on Turnstone's shoulder, followed by a second, and then a third.
“That's getting awfully close to us, uncle,” Turnstone said through clenched teeth as he tried to snake a foot around his uncle's leg to trip him. “Why don't you just give up now? We can go back to our dens and get out of this mess.”
Stoneback took a quick step to the side to escape his nephew's maneuver and nearly succeeded in throwing Turnstone off-balance. “Me give up? Looks like you're the one who's struggling.”
The younger elf managed to splay his leg out to the side and catch himself before Stoneback could throw him to the ground. He bent forward and locked arms with his uncle again. “I'm just getting started.”
Stoneback matched that response with a resolute grin.
Rain began to pour in sheets from the sky, drenching them both, and making the ground instantly slippery. Turnstone attempted to take the advantage, pushing forward with all his strength while Stoneback had his legs firmly planted. The elder's feet began to slide backward. He tried to latch onto the ground with his bare toes, but only managed to squish wet mud and leaves in-between them.
Turnstone continued to push and Stoneback continued to move. If Turnstone could just get his uncle to the edge of the forest, Stoneback would be out of bounds, and Turnstone would be the winner. A quick glance over his uncle's shoulder told Turnstone he was almost there. He looked back in his uncle's eyes and grinned widely.
That's when Stoneback suddenly ducked down, planted his shoulder against Turnstone's middle, and used his nephew's forward momentum against him. Turnstone cried out in dismay as Stonecalf flipped him over his shoulder. He landed with a splash in the river of muddy water that now flowed over the saturated ground.
“Got you!” Stoneback howled, laughing at the muddy elf who was now lying at his feet.
Turnstone wiped mud out of his eyes and started laughing, too. “Yes, good move. I almost had you to the edge.”
“You got too confident. You should have kept focus on your goal, and not tried to gloat.” Stoneback extended a hand to his nephew to help him up. “Time for gloating's after you win.”
Turnstone took the advice in stride and with a smile and accepted Stoneback's help. “Tomorrow is another eve.”
Stoneback smiled back. “That it is.”
Lightning flashed – this time blindingly close. The instantaneous thunder was deafening. And the send that came from nearby was frightening.
The send came from Owl — something was wrong.
Turnstone and Stoneback looked at one another and took off in that direction at a dead run.
It didn't take long to find Owl and Wren, nor to see that the situation was dire. Stoneback and Turnstone skidded to a stop when they reached the scene, and they couldn't help but to gape in disbelief. A tree trunk that was easily twice size of Turnstone's torso, and nearly eight times as long, was lying across a prone and bleeding Wren. The end of it was smoldering despite the sheets of rain still pouring from the skies. Splinters of charred wood were scattered everywhere, testament to the heat and force of the lightning bolt that had shorn the tree in two.
Owl and Wren were both bathed in golden healing light, but Wren was not moving. The healer didn't look up to acknowledge the two new arrivals, but he knew they were there. **She's bleeding to death on the inside,** he sent to them. **I can't fix anything. The weight of the tree is crushing her!**
Turnstone shot his uncle another look, and knew immediately that his uncle felt the same way – save for a plantshaper, there were no two better elves that could have been close by.
**It's not going to be easy,** Stoneback warned him.
**Not a question of how easy. We just have to do it!**
Stoneback nodded at him, and uncle and nephew both took position at the opposite ends of the shorn-off tree. Without a word to coordinate, both elves squatted, found handholds on the trunk's splintered edges, and began to lift. The tree hardly moved.
They didn't give up. They both dug their feet into the ground and tried even harder. They clenched teeth, they groaned. They strained. And then, they managed to make the tree trunk shift to the side.
But that just made things worse. For the first time, Wren opened up her eyes and screamed in pain.
**Be careful, you lumbering oafs!** The scolding in Owl's sending was laced with worry. **You're making it worse!**
**Do you want the tree off her or what?** Stoneback shot back to Owl. **We're doing our best!**
Turnstone set his end of the trunk down and put his hands up. **Easy, uncle. Lifting isn't going to work. The tree is just too heavy.**
Stoneback set his end down, too, and looked into the woods in the direction of the Holt. He sent to see where others who surely heard Owl's send for help might be. **Five coming, including the Chieftess and Cedarwing. Just getting to the Broad Meadow now.**
**We don't have that long!** Owl countered. He, Wren, Turnstone, and Stoneback were on the other side – close to Cattail Marsh. The Chieftess and the plantshaper would arrive far too late to save Wren.
**I can't breathe!** Wren added. She couldn't keep her agony from leeching into her send. She couldn't hold on much longer.
In a panic, Turnstone looked around, trying to find anything that could help. There was nothing there. The branches scattered about were too small to use as a lever. The plants that were large enough or thick enough to try and tie around the tree were too high to reach. And there was no stone to speak of underneath the mud and muck below their feet.
However, there was one large, almost elf-sized, rock nearby.
**There!** Turnstone gestured and began to run. Stoneback dashed that way, too. Both reached the rock at the same time.
Wren had fallen silent. And when Owl cried out, “I'm losing her!” the shapers knew they had to act fast. Both strained as they lifted the rock from its place and dragged it through the mud to where Owl worked and Wren lay dying. They dropped it on the rain-soaked ground with a thud and a splash.
**Hurry!** the healer sent.
Turnstone dropped to his knees in the mud and placed his hands on the bottom of the stone. Stoneback stood with his hands on top. “Under,” Turnstone said to his uncle. “We can shape it under the tree and then use it to lift it up off her.”
Stoneback nodded, and both elves began to channel their shaping magic into the rock. It began to ooze and flow underneath the body of the tree, like lava. Then, as if it were made of clay, it molded to the wooden surface above it.
“Up,” Turnstone instructed, and the pink glow around the stone began to pillar upward. The old trunk shuddered and lifted from the ground. There was an audible gasp of air from Wren's direction as she took in her first, unhindered breath.
“You've got it!” Owl shouted. The golden light around Wren and him intensified as he quickly went to mending what the tree trunk had crushed. **I've got her...** There was nothing but relief in that sending.
Turnstone was out of breath as he let go of the rock he and his uncle had just been shaping. Never before had he shaped something so quickly. Exhausted, the white-haired elf bent over and rested his head on the sopping wet ground, just trying to breathe. Moments later, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Stoneback smiling down at him.
“Good move,” his uncle panted, out of breath as well. “Never would have thought of that, and neither of us would have been able to shape that rock so quickly just by ourselves.” He extended a hand down to his nephew, and Turnstone happily accepted the help to his feet.
“I'm just glad we were able to help. I was worried for a while that we...” he trailed off, not willing to say what he was thinking.
“She'll be fine. Look, she already has her color back.” Stoneback gestured to Wren, who did seem to be mending just fine under Owl's experienced hands.
The downpour stopped just as suddenly as it had begun. One more lone rumble of thunder faded into the distance, and the sky began to lighten.
“We work well together, don't we, Uncle?” Turnstone said with a smile.
Stoneback clapped him on the back and grinned. “Always have. Always will. Now what do you say we help Owl get Wren back to the Holt and we find some dry clothes to wear? We both look like something that got washed up in last month's flood!”
Turnstone couldn't help but laugh. If he looked anything like his muddy, wet uncle did, he must be a sight to see!