(Part Three of “Weapons Quest”)

The woods seemed endless to the attractive brunette as she walked along the path. And, Diane Gardner knew, in the Elemental Realm of Earth they could be. That was the nature of the place. If Golden Goddess had had to pick a favorite of the Realms, this was it. Animals were profuse, trees cast deep comfortable shade and soft breezes carried the scent of flowers. Diane felt as if she were walking through the most beautiful natural spot imaginable…which she probably was. Of course, the whole experience was marred by her mission. She figured things were about even now. Lord Sludge was sure to know that the heroine was coming, which was why she had come in disguise. The Chaos Demon would have all the forces of the realm prepared to challenge his enemy, but Golden Goddess had two Elemental Weapons in addition to her own powers. She felt she was doing well, but worried that the remaining Demons might not have as much patience with their captives.

Diane stopped suddenly. Was it her imagination, or had the sound of the breeze in the trees been replaced by a soft whispering? She listened carefully. It seemed like, just outside her hearing, there was the sound of women whispering. “Hello,” she said. “Is anyone there?”

Silence fell, and then a woman stepped out of one of the trees. Diane nodded to herself; she should have realized that voices were from the dryads. The dryad that faced Diane was tall and slender, with platinum blonde hair streaked with black, a beige minidress and green eyes. Her face was hard and she held a white battle staff in her right hand. “Who are you?” she demanded. “Have you come to destroy more of our homes? We will fight you if necessary!”

Diane raised her hands slowly. “I mean no harm. I’m a traveler looking for the royal palace.”

The dryad swung the staff in front of her, prepared to attack. “And why would anyone want to go there, unless they were allied with the monster that now lives there?”

Diane stood tall and tried to look menacing. If necessary, she could become Golden Goddess, but for now she’d rather keep the element of surprise. “I’m going there as an emissary to Queen Terra from her sisters, Atma and Pyria. If the monster you refer to gets in my way, I plan to stop him.”

The dryad studied Diane carefully before lowering the staff and holding out her hand. “I believe you mean to help, so let me give you a simple warning. Lord Sludge will destroy you if you make it to the castle. His xorn will keep you from getting that far.”

Diane nodded slowly as she lowered her hands. “I know he means to try. But I’m not without resources of my own. Will you help me?”

The dryad sighed as she shook her head softly. “You are a fool. Still, if you mean to strike against Sludge, I will offer you my help. My name is Birca. Follow me.”

Birca led the way through the woods, careful not to disturb any branches. Diane followed quickly. Despite being in excellent shape, she had a hard time keeping up with the dryad. “Birca,” she asked, “tell me what happened here?”

“The xorn are the elements of decay that live within the earth,” the blonde said. “For millennia, they have lived in peace with the rest of the realm. We understood that from decay came new life, and they knew that life created decay. This cycle allowed the realm to exist in complete balance since time began. Do you understand?”

“Of course,” Diane said.

Birca continued. “Not long ago, the evil Lord Sludge returned to the realm in secret. He spent his time in the xorn nations, convincing them that THEY were the most important part of the process. He told them that the rest of the denizens of Earth looked down upon them. Somehow, he managed to convince them that they should rise up and take control of the realm…with him as their ruler, of course.”

“And they attacked the castle,” Diane guessed.

“Basically,” Birca agreed. “By themselves, the xorn could never have conquered the Queen’s forces. However, forces from the other realms aided them. The royal army was unprepared for the strength of the air attack, or the ferocity of the fire attack. Sludge’s forced overwhelmed them inside of a day, and he took control.”

Diane sighed nervously as she asked the question, “What happened to Queen Terra?”

Birca shook her head. “Nobody knows. She hasn’t been seen since the attack. Some think she’s dead. Others, like myself, believe that she’s alive and try to act as a resistance force. But only she and Sludge could say for sure.”

* * *

Queen Terra WAS still alive, although she wasn’t sure she wanted to be. Like her sisters, she was the embodiment of the element she represented, and hated being separated from it. With that in mind, her captors had done all they could to make her uncomfortable. The beautiful brown-eyed brunette was clad in her traditional beige blouse, green corset and brown skirt. She was barefoot, and the tiara of flowers that she normally wore was gone. However, that was the least of her worries. She had been strapped to a large X-shaped frame. Her wrists and ankles were bound near the edges of the crosspieces, and more rope bound her at the forearms and thighs. Finally, ropes wound around her waist, fastening her body to the frame. A long, thick cloth had been wound around her head and between her teeth numerous times, effectively gagging her. The frame itself was suspended from the ceiling of a high tower room, approximately 30 feet from the floor. She had been hung here on the evening of the attack. Aside from occasional visits from her jailers to bring her food, she had been left alone to suffer in silence. She couldn’t imagine a worse torture.

* * *

“I’m curious, Birca,” Diane said. “When I first arrived, you said something about destroying your homes. What was that about?”

Birca could be considered lovely if not for the hard edge that her anger brought to her well-formed features. Her features hardened even more at this question. “As you know, a dryad’s life it bound to her tree. In order to maintain his control, Sludge has tried to lower the number of loyalists. Many of the dwarves and gnomes have been turned to stone. The dryads he’s been eliminating by having xorn soldiers cut down and burn our trees. The reports speak of pillars of smoke rising above make-shift funeral pyres of our people.”

Diane stopped and sniffed before looking around. She pointed. “Pillars of smoke like that?”

Birca turned to see smoke rising above the treetops. “By the gods,” she whispered. “Not again!”

“I don’t suppose there’s any chance this is a natural phenomenon?” Diane asked as they ran towards the area.

“None,” Birca gasped. “Fires are not of this realm, so they seldom appear here…unless they are created purposely. The xorn are destroying more of my people.”

When they reached the clearing, the duo was stunned by the scene before them. Hundreds of trees had been cut down and stacked in the center of the circle. Flames rose a hundred feet into the air from the enormous bonfire. Dozens of attractive dryads fought to save their homes, but they were being overwhelmed by the force of the creatures – xorn, Diane assumed – that faced them.

To Diane’s eyes, the xorn were hideous. They stood about five feet tall, but so broad and widely muscled that their size couldn’t be considered a weakness. They had barrel-shaped bodies with four arms, stocky legs and heads that resembled those of saber-toothed gorillas formed crudely out of clay. Their small eyes were jet black with pinpoints of fire-red at the center. The creatures had a thick, leathery skin that almost made it seem as if they were made out of stone. One set of their hands resembled lobster claws with serrated edges; this is what the xorn used to cut down the trees.

“Die, monsters!” Birca screamed as she lunged into the midst of the melee, her battle staff swinging wildly at xorn. Diane had often heard that dryads, normally peaceful beings, could be the fiercest of warriors when pressed. As she watched Birca in battle, she was amazed at her companion’s strength and skill in battle. She knew that it was time for her to join the battle.

“I invoke the Golden Gogggghhhh!” Her power phrase was cut off by a blow from behind as one of the xorn attacked her. She fell to the ground, stunned. The xorn was on top of her in a moment. He used some heavy rope-like vines to bind and gag the girl. When he spoke, his voice was like the sound of two rough stones being scraped together.

“You aren’t one of the dryads,” he said, “nor a dwarf or a gnome! But, whatever you are, you seem to be on the side of the dryads. Since we can’t allow anyone to stop us, you’ll have to be eliminated!”

Diane cursed silently as she struggled against her bonds. The idea of catching Sludge off guard still seemed like a good one, but Birca had warned her that the fire had indicated trouble. She should have changed to Golden Goddess at that point. Diane Gardner was a good fighter in her own right, but that was back on Earth. Here in the Elemental Realms, she was out of her element…and out of her league.

Diane’s arms had been pulled behind her back, her forearms were crossed and bound together. Her ankles had been lashed tightly together, as had her knees and a thick vine parted her lips and muffled any words she might speak. Unable to speak her power phrase, she could only watch Birca strike down two of the xorn with her staff before one of the monsters slipped past her guard. The creature struck the backs of the dryad’s knees, knocking her off balance. In moments, Birca was lying next to Diane, bound and gagged in the same manner.

“What should we do with these wenches?” one of the xorn asked. “Throw them into the fires?”

Another of the creatures, who seemed to be the leader of the pack, responded. “No. I have an even better idea. Bring them.”

One of the xorn lifted Diane by her shoulders and another picked up her ankles. Two of the beasts lifted Birca in the same way, and the creatures carried the pretty captives through the woods. Diane wondered where they were going. She was sure that she wouldn’t like the answer. For the xorn to not just toss her into the fires, they must have had a must worse fate in store for her.

Soon, the woods gave way to a large clearing covered with flowering vines. Birca squealed into her gag in a combination of anger, frustration and fear. Diane couldn’t see what she was concerned about, but if the dryad was afraid, so was Diane.

The xorn tossed the two women into the patch of vines. Diane was confused, but suddenly she gained a new insight into her fate. The vines rose up to grab her and Birca, and began to drag them towards the center of the field! A large blossom in the center of the plant opened up like some giant Venus flytrap! Diane felt like she was trapped in some grade B 1950s science fiction film.

“The eater plant will dissolve the two of them for their nutrients and see that they don’t interfere with our lord’s mission,” the xorn leader said. “Now, let us return to the castle so that we can report to Lord Sludge that the dryads seem to want to fight back.”

As the creatures stomped off through the woods, Diane and Birca strained against their bonds and the vines that held them. As she was pulled along the ground, Diane felt a sharp stone under her hand. She grabbed it, her fingertips barely managing to pull it free of the ground before she was pulled away from the spot. She had no idea if the stone would be sharp enough to cut her free, but it was her only hope.

As she used the stone edge to saw at her bonds, Diane became aware of a dull, tingling numbness on her body wherever the vines grasped her. She realized the plant must secrete some kind of bio-drug that numbed the muscles of its prey. In all probability, the plant’s normal food was smaller animals that would be more susceptible to the drug. It was doubtful that the plant would be able to paralyze her fully, but the numbness was making her task that much harder.

As the two women were dragged closer to the carnivorous plant, more and more of the vines wrapped around them. One of the tendrils wrapped around Diane’s neck as she finally parted the vines around her arms. She wiggled her forearms back and forth and around until they slipped free of the loosened bonds. Then she was able to slip her hands past the vines to remove her gag and say the magic phrase that would transform her into Golden Goddess. When she opened her mouth, however, nothing came out! Diane was shocked until she realized that the drug from the vine that wrapped around her neck must have somehow paralyzed her vocal cords. She didn’t know how she was going to get out of this, but it would have to be without the help of the Golden Goddess!

Dryads, being so closely aligned with the plant kingdom, could often communicate with plants. In any case, Birca might have ideas that Diane didn’t. She struggled against the all-encompassing vines, wiggling closer to her fellow captive, careful not to drop the stone. Finally, she was close enough to grab Birca’s arms and pull her closer. She yanked the gag from the blonde’s lips before attacking the vines with the stone blade. Soon, both women were free of their bonds, but still the plant’s tentacle drew them closer to the central blossom.

“There’s only one thing that might save us,” Birca gasped. “Eater plants can’t digest any form of metal. If we could somehow feed it some metal, it would release us. But we don’t have any metal!”

Diane’s mind raced. Metal? She did have some, but didn’t know if she should risk losing it. Still, if she died it wouldn’t make any difference one way or another. She reached under the bottom of her vest and unbuckled her magic belt, which was hidden under the waistband of her skirt. She pulled the belt loose and held the loose end while she tried to flip the belt buckle into the mouth of the plant. The buckle landed short, so she pulled the buckle back and tried again. With the vines holding her arms, it was hart to aim properly, and this arc went wide, landing to the left of the plant. Her third try, however, sailed into the maw of the otherworldly flora.

For a moment, nothing happened. Diane and Birca continued to be pulled slowly towards the plant. Suddenly, they stopped. The plant convulsed, almost flinging the duo away. Diane struggled to maintain her hold on the belt; if she lost that buckle, all was lost! As she ceased rolling away from the plant, she reached for the belt that lay three feet to her left. As she buckled it about her slender waist again, she turned to look at the plant. It had pulled all of the tentacles around it self, sealing itself into a tight ball. Diane then looked at Birca, who was slowly rising to her own feet.

“Are you all right?” the dryad asked.

Diane shook her head, touched her throat and opened her mouth to indicate her plight.

Birca nodded in understanding. “The numbness will go away soon. For now, there’s nothing we can do about it. Shall we keep moving?” When Diane nodded, the platinum blonde continued to lead the way through the forest.

* * *

“There’s the castle,” Birca said. Almost two whole hours had passed, and the two were crouched in a clump of bushes at the foot of a hill. The castle stood on top of the hill, and they could see xorn on the ramparts. The dryad shook her head. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure we’d even get this far. Now that we have, what next?”

“I’ll take it from her,” Diane said. Her voice was still soft and horse, but audible. She touched the buckle of her belt and said, “I invoke the Golden Goddess.”

The transformation left Birca standing there, her jaw agape. “You’re the Golden Goddess!” she said in awe.

“Yes,” the divine daredoll said. “Not I have to get into that castle and rescue Queen Terra.”

“Not without me,” Birca said, unfolding a second battle staff. “This is my land, and my Queen. And even with all your powers, you’ll be hopelessly outnumbered.”

Golden Goddess nodded as she summoned the Chariot of Air. “All right. Get on.”

* * *

Golden Goddess and Birca sailed up the backside of the castle, where the guards were fewer in number. Only three of the hideous xorn awaited them on the walls, and the two warrior women were quick in dispatching their foes. Once they were inside the castle walls, they moved stealthily as they searched for Queen Terra. Sadly, they were searching blindly, since neither one of them had ever been in the castle before.

Unfamiliar with the layout of the castle, the two heroines moved away from areas that seemed too occupied by xorn. They reasoned that their first order of business had to be to save the captured monarch, who would be in a separate area from the “barracks”. Still, they were surprised when their wandering lead them into the huge dining hall of the castle, which was empty. Or, so it seemed until a torch at the opposite end of the football-field-sized room blazed to light, revealing Lord Sludge.

The demon was well named, for he was a large, hulking beast of a man. His body seemed as if it had been dipped into a thick mud, which had remained as an outer coating. His black hair, beard and moustache looked like mounds of wire poking through the mud. His nose was broad and flat, almost like a pig snout. He had black, soulless eyes and two jagged tusks that grew out of his lower jaw. When he spoke, his voice was deep and gravely and the words were slow and deliberate.

“Golden Goddess,” he said. “I was wondering when you would show up. It is a shame you didn’t get here sooner. Infernac just left for the Realm of Water, and he was SO hoping to see you again.”

“The feeling is mutual,” the divine daredoll said. “I have unfinished business with both Infernac and Tournakain. I’ll have to finish things with them after I’ve freed the Realm of Earth of your evil rule!”

“Brave words, woman. It is too bad that you won’t live long enough to see how wrong you are.” He turned his attention to Birca. “You must be the dryad that has been foolish enough resist my rule. Your death, along with Golden Goddess, should prevent anyone from following your rule.”

“Only if I were to die,” Birca responded through gritted teeth. “But I have no intention of doing so. We’ve come to free the queen. We will be happy to do so over your dead body, if need be.”

“Yes, the queen,” Sludge replied thoughtfully. “Perhaps it’s time I eliminate her, as well. To be honest, I’m not sure WHY Suenam insisted we keep them alive. But I think it’s time to destroy Terra. And perhaps I can convince Suenam to kill Marina, too. Then, nothing can challenge our rule in these two Kingdoms, as we launch an attach to retake the other two.”

Golden Goddess held out her hand. “Sword of Fire,” she said grimly. The blazing blade appeared in her hand. “Stand down, Sludge. Nothing can resist the Sword.”

“Nothing but THIS,” Sludge replied as he pulled the Shield of Earth from behind his back. He charged at the heroine, slamming her with the shield and knocking the blade from her hand. His leg lashed out, catching Birca in the stomach and knocking the wind from the dryad’s lungs. Then he jumped at Golden Goddess, prepared to drive her into the ground. The heroine swung her legs up under the demon, allowing his moment to carry him over her and into the wall. She rolled over and reached for her sword.

As her hand closed on the hilt of the Sword, Golden Goddess heard the pounding of heavy feet. Dozens of xorn stormed into the room, but hesitated when they saw the Sword of Fire in the heroine’s hand. The creatures charged forward, swarming over the two heroines. Golden Goddess swung wildly, the xorn remaining just outside the arc of the fiery sword. She looked over, noticing that the stunned Birca wasn’t doing as well holding her own against the beasts.

“Birca, hold on!” Golden Goddess cried as she leapt over the heads of the xorn to her companion’s side.

As she reached the top of her leap, Sludge hurled the Shield of Earth as if it were a giant discus. The golden buckler smashed the blonde heroine in the back of the skull. She was unconscious before she hit the ground.

* * *

Golden Goddess’s head ached as she struggled back to consciousness. As she opened her eyes, the light caused a sharp, stabbing pain. She blinked her eyes, trying to get them to focus. She tried to raise her hand to her ease the pain in her head, but found that she had been tied, preventing any movement. Her wrists were tied together tightly in front of her body. Her ankles had also been tied, and a rope ran between the two, connecting her wrists and ankles. She was further immobilized by bonds around her torso, holding her arms against her body. A heavy cloth was tied around her head, covering her mouth and preventing her from summoning her weapons. A xorn on either side of her held her arms, keeping her upright. She looked to her left, and saw that Birca and Queen Terra had both been bound and gagged as she was, and they were also held by xorn.

“Thank the powers that be,” Lord Sludge said disdainfully. “I REALLY wanted you to be awake when I destroyed you and your companions, Golden Goddess. But, to be honest, I was getting rather sick of waiting. I must say, this is quite a feather in my cap. People realize that they need air and fire and water, but earth is usually taken for granted. And it’s VERY seldom that the power of the ground is recognized…including the power to destroy! But now, that power will be used to swallow you whole!”

“Hmmmm ummm mmmmph!” Golden Goddess yelled at the creature. She looked at the patch of silvery white sands in front of her, and had a good idea what was in store for her.

“Ah, good,” Sludge said. “I see you recognize the lightning sands. One of the more interesting features of our land. Similar to the ‘quicksand’ that you have on earth, except that lightning sands can actually digest what it swallows. Of course, you’ll have suffocated LONG before that happens, but it is something to think about as you sink in the sands.” He turned towards the xorn. “Throw them in. All of them!”

The xorn lifted their captives, rocked them back and forth a few times, and tossed the women into the sands. The pretty prisoners sank in the sands up to their mid-thighs before they stopped. The sands, almost like water on the top, got progressively thicker as they sank. Golden Goddess currently felt as if her feet were resting on, or rather encased in, marshmallows. To take the analogy a bit further, however, it seemed as if the marshmallows were melting, since she was slowly sinking deeper. The heroine yanked hard on her bonds, searching for some slack that she could use. Unfortunately, the movement caused her to sink a few more inches into the sands, which gave a hungry, “slurping” noise.

“Struggling will only speed your demise,” Sludge cackled. “Of course, by the time the sands have reached your chins, and started digesting your feet, you may wish to speed things up. I leave that up to you. Terra, I want to thank you for taking such good care of my kingdom while I was away. Once I’ve reestablished my dominion of this Realm, I will make humanity once again be thankful for the gifts of the Earth. I think I’ll begin by toppling their skyscrapers with a series of quakes like they’ve never seen. It’s a shame you won’t be around to see it. Now, I’ve got more dryads and gnomes to subjugate or destroy. ‘Ta!” With that, he stormed off, followed by his hideous henchmen.

The attractive avatar strained to slip free of her bonds without too much movement. It was an exercise in futility. If her hands were free, she could easily use her superhuman strength to fight her way to solid ground and pull herself free. If her mouth were ungagged, she could summon the Chariot of Air and allow it to lift her to safety. If she could find something solid on which to stand, she could leap free of the cloying grasp of the sands.

“And if ‘ifs’ and ‘ands’ were pots and pans, the whole world would be a kitchen,” Golden Goddess thought, remembering a phrase that Diane’s grandmother had been fond of. Wishing things were different was not going to save her or her companions. She had to find some constructive way to get free. And, she realized as she felt a tingling on her lower legs, she had to find it fast, before the sands began to digest her and her companions.

Golden Goddess couldn’t get her hands high enough to remove her gag; the way she was tied prevented it. If she could get one of her fellow captives to remove it, however, they might stand a chance. It was very risky. Moving close enough to one of the other women would cause her to slip deeper into the quagmire that currently held her. She quickly decided that she had not other choice, though, and took the risk. Birca was a bit closer to her, so she rocked slowly, slipping another millimeter deeper with each sway, and threw all her weight in the dryad’s direction.

With her feet held fast, Golden Goddess’ body swung like a lever at Birca, her head banging into the tree-woman’s hip. The movement and shifting of weight caused them both to sink deeper, and Birca squealed in protest. The heavenly heroine looked up at her and made a slight bobbing motion with her head, “mmmmphing” into her gag. She prayed Birca would understand her. After a second or two, the light of understanding appeared in the dryad’s eyes. She twisted at the waist, trying to move her hands into a position to grasp the heroine’s gag, without dropping her into the sands.

Golden Goddess felt herself slipping down Birca’s thigh. She strained the mighty muscles of her legs. Normally, she would have no difficulty supporting her body weight, even in this awkward position. Unfortunately, the sands left her nothing to push against, no leverage to work with. If Birca couldn’t free her mouth quickly, they were doomed. As she had this thought, however, the dryad’s fingers hooked under the edge of the gag. Birca tugged. The shift caused the heroine to slip further. As she dropped into the sands, however, the gag was ripped from her mouth. She licked her lips before she spoke.

“Sword of Fire,” she said. “Chariot of Air.” Even though she was now laying on her back in the sucking sands, she felt a thrill of victory as the Sword appeared in her hand. Twisting the weapon around to slice her bonds was awkward, but easily accomplished. Once she was free, she reached up and grasped the sides of the Chariot, which hovered just over her head. Her muscles strained as she pulled herself free, and then turned to pull her companions from the lightning sands. After freeing the duo, they began to plan their strike against Lord Sludge.

* * *

In the world of the Realm of Earth, the machine was an abomination. It stood sixty feet wide and thirty feet high. Massive blades moved back and forth in the front, above huge maws preparing to suck in the trees that the blades cut down. The wood would be hurled into a fire within the machine, a fire which burned beneath the mighty steam engine that powered the device. In this way, each tree destroyed would fuel the machine that was going to destroy others. Sludge thought this irony was wonderful as he fired up the engine and drove onward, heading towards the front line of the giant forest. He was assuming that he would have to cut down relatively little of the wood before the beings that lived there pledged allegiance to him. If need be, however, he was prepared to level the entire forest.

“Stop right there, Sludge!” The villain spun at the voice and cursed. Sailing towards him through the sky was the Chariot of Air. Golden Goddess stood at the forefront, the blazing Sword of Fire in her hand. Queen Terra and that damned dryad stood just behind her. The monster shoved the lever that engaged the gears, causing his horrible creation to lurch forward. Then, he just had time to grab his hammer and the Shield of Earth before the heroines were upon him.

Golden Goddess jumped from the Chariot, swinging the Sword. Sludge blocked the blow with the Shield, calling for reinforcements as he did. In moments, dozens of xorn had clambered up into the “bridge” of his death machine. Golden Goddess was battling mightily, but she was outnumbered. She wasn’t losing any ground, but she also couldn’t move forward to deactivate the machine. She needed the help that was, luckily, close at hand.

As the Chariot swung back over the death machine, Queen Terra jumped down and landed beside Golden Goddess. In her hand, the queen had a heavy black staff topped with a giant emerald. She raised the staff above her head.

“All the races of this realm have pledged loyalty to this staff,” she said. “By it’s authority, I command you xorn to return to your homes!”

Sludge laughed as the creatures paused by a second before they continued to move forward. “I chose the xorn as my minions because they are so simple minded. I’ve cast a spell so that they will obey nobody but me! Get them!”

The queen dropped back so that she and Golden Goddess were standing back to back. With the Sword of Fire and the Royal Staff, they defended themselves, striving to move forward towards the control lever. Golden Goddess glanced ahead, but realized that they were not making as much headway as the death machine. In moments, the machine would start the wholesale slaughter of the forest. The heroine prayed that they weren’t too late.

Birca raced out of the woods, followed by a small army of dryads, nymphs and elves. Desperate to save their homes, the mystic beings climbed up the sides of the death machine. Many fell, knocked back by the xorn. Many more were successful, and joined in the fight. Slowly, they overcame the xorn force. Golden Goddess jumped into action, spinning over the heads of the xorn to again confront Sludge, who was back at the controls.

“You won’t stop me,” he screamed. “As I cut down the trees, your forces will die. Then I will be victorious!”

As they two battled, Golden Goddess used her mental control over the Chariot of Air to bring it behind her opponent. It knocked him over the edge of the machine, where he was sucked into the intake maw. Golden Goddess stopped the machine, and whirled to see that the xorn were now free of Sludge’s control. The fight was over, and the great forest had been saved…with two feet to spare!

Golden Goddess raised her left arm. “Shield of Earth,” she said. She smiled at the familiar tingle as the Shield appeared on her arm. “Three down, one to go.”