Oak heaved up the ancient tome he had carried from the hut. It was caked in dust, with Bestiary embossed along the spine. He leafed through, musing intently to himself.
“Hmm, let’s see… aha! What we have is a werewolf (that’s a flesh-being who become a wolf at night), a vampire (someone who drinks blood) and and an alien (which it appears is man from space).” He snapped shut the book, as if that somehow solved the matter. The others looked expectantly at him.
“And?” said Holly. “How do we kill them?” Oak sighed and mused over the page again. Research used to be fun, but under pressure he felt very uncomfortable.
“Silver bullet for the wolf? No, no use, I barely know what that is. Your best bet is a sharp object I’d say. As for the vampire, a stake through the heart seems like a good starting point. The alien is tricky, but if someone could get hold of his weapon that would probably do the trick.”
“That sounds complicated,” said Reed, tutting. “There has to be something that can take care of all three.”
“Well, there is sunlight. That will turn back the wolf, kill the vampire and likely impair the alien’s vision.”
“Sunlight!” Larch put his head in his hands. Trying to hold the vampire off until dawn seemed like a very grim prospect. He could feel the bruises on the side of his neck beginning to throb. Moss and Holly seemed to be having similar thoughts.
“Alright, well there’s always fire,” said Oak a little impatiently. “Everything burns.” At this, a mischievous gleam appeared in Willow‘s eyes and she grinned at her brother. Oak was a little shocked: he hadn’t seen her look like that in many years. Nobody else appeared to notice. She opened her mouth to explain the plan when suddenly –
“Youuu!” A beam of light shot between the Roses, burning the tops off a section of reeds. The alien had apparently managed to track them down. Everyone ran in different directions, but Willow seized Moss’ arm and dragged him along with her.
“N-no!” He struggled. “Wh-what if you d-die, Willow? Wh-what will we do?”
“Nobody’s dying tonight, not on my watch.” She watched the others scatter, and called out to them: “Get them into the centre, I’ll take it from there.”
It didn’t take long before the commotion aroused the attention of the other two. The vampire came bursting out of the air again, swiping at Larch’s face. He had managed to dislodge the end of the fishing rod, but a dark stain on his shirt showed that the wound had bled profusely and slowed him down considerably. Larch dodged, reaching out to catch the hand that extended towards his daughter. The vampire snarled and shook him off furiously, casting him back with all his might. Deftly, Lily caught his arm and set him upright. The vampire turned his attention to her, making another grab for Cherry, but Lily, almost without thinking, swiftly tossed her into the air. Everyone watched in slow motion, mouths agape as she sailed through the night sky. Mercifully, Holly turned around at the
very last moment and sprinted forward to catch her before she hit the ground. Larch sighed in relief for a moment, before pain suddenly seared through his body like a wildfire. The vampire, enraged at having his prey snatched from under his nose once again, had come up from behind and sunk his teeth into Larch’s shoulder. He spat him out almost immediately, choking and retching at the taste of the sap. Taking advantage of the brief window, Lily reached into Larch’s pocket and began to fence the vampire towards the centre with the only wooden object she had to hand: the cherry flute.
On the other side of the forest, no sooner had Holly caught her niece than she heard the growl of a familiar adversary. Giving her father an almost imperceptible nod, she crouched down, shielding Cherry with her body. Reed darted in between her and the werewolf and spat a cloud of spores into his eyes. For a moment, the two men stood stock still, staring into each other’s eyes. Reed took a quick glance to make sure they were facing in the right direction, then braced himself for what he knew was coming. The werewolf blinked away the last of the pollen and delivered the most almighty punch to the side of Reed’s head, knocking him flying. At that exact moment, Holly rose up and plunged her screwdriver into his chest. He howled in pain and staggered backwards. Brandishing her weapon she pushed urged him further towards the council circle. Out of the corner of her eyes she noticed the alien running to pick up his weapon, apparently kicked out of his hands in an impressive reflex reaction from Oak, who was now running away from him towards the top of the forest, where Moss was standing with a little box in his hand. He spotted Holly and gestured to her. His arm was jerking wildly, so it took her a little while to work out what he meant. Eventually it dawned on her: he wanted her to throw Cherry to Willow, in the middle of the circle.
Looking at her opponent, she realised this would not only risk Cherry’s life for the umpteenth time this night, the distraction would leave her wide open to attack. But looking down at the wide, trusting eyes of the baby in her arms, she knew it was the right thing to do. Taking a breath, she flung her over to Willow, grimacing as she felt the claws begin to rip open her wounds again.
All three attackers were focused intently on their opponents, until they heard Cherry’s frightened wail as she took her second flight through the air. All eyes followed her as she soared over their heads and landed in the defiant arms of Willow. Her leaves were bristling and her eyes seemed to flash with anger. She was surrounded by jets of flame which formed almost a halo around her body. To an outsider, it might seem as if she possessed some kind of magic, but it took the Roses who were still conscious only seconds to recognise one of Moss’ brilliant inventions. Still, to the attackers the effect was very convincing.
“How dare you come invade our sanctuary, you foul creatures? Well, if you want this baby so badly, just try and take her from me.” At this, Willow threw out another shot of pollen, but this time the flames caught it and sent out a burst of fire towards the werewolf. Two more followed, each directed at a different adversary.
“I say, sprout,” muttered Oak to Moss. “That’s quite the feat of engineering.”
“I-I’m just g-g-glad she’s not b-burned up,” he replied.
The werewolf howled as the jet singed off some of his fur, the alien babbled an extraterrestrial curse and shielded his sensitive eyes with his free arm, and the vampire hissed as he began to sweat and smoke at the edges. Holding Cherry as far from the flames as possible, and trying as hard as she could not to hit the Roses who were still standing, Willow send out another wave of shots. It seemed like the plan was working, all three were on their knees. Willow took a breath as the flames died down around her, waiting to watch what would happen. This momentary ceasefire, however, proved to be a grave mistake. The alien adjusted his course towards Willow, apparently charging his weapon. Beating the flames from his tattered clothes, the werewolf gave Holly a final chomp and pushed her aside. The vampire wrenched the flute from Lily’s hand, grabbed her by the throat and flung her to the ground where Larch was crouched. His words appeared to sum up the thoughts of all three:
“As you wish, plant lady. Say goodbye to your little garden.”
They began to advance, closing the circle ever faster as they raced for their prey. Willow glanced worriedly around her. This wasn’t part of the plan. She signalled to Moss and continued to send out out shot after shot, but anger had made them strong and her old bones weak. It felt like she had failed as leader. There was Holly, still writhing in pain, Reed with sap trickling down his frowning face, Larch and Lily crying hoarsely for the daughter that she was desperately trying to shield from the blasts. Her own son half-charred and quaking. And for nothing. The vampire, the werewolf and the alien all still advanced towards her, the latter pointing his weapon in her direction. It was staring down the barrel of this unfeeling instrument that she realised what must be done.
“Catch!” she called to Oak. He rushed forward and took Cherry into his arms. Willow turned back around. Moss had been wrong, for once in his life. It wasn’t the fire that would do it, she felt quite at home there. It wasn’t the vampire. It wasn’t the werewolf. It wasn’t even the alien, not really. It was – as she had always known – time. She could burn them all to ash in a heartbeat, but there was no way to dodge the beam, no time for her ancient reflexes to react. No matter how much you run from your mistakes, from danger, towards a future you believe will hold something better, eventually time runs out. And, she smiled to herself, she would run to meet it, like the foolish girl she had always been.
Willow felt behind her for the thread that linked Moss’ handset with the devices and swiftly jerked it out of his hands. Deaf to his protests, she scrabbled for the part that she remembered him referring to as a ‘stabiliser’ Closing her eyes, she ripped it from the control and dropped the box to the ground. In one smooth action, and with a ghost of a smile on her lips, Willow ran her fingers through her leaves, stamped hard on the button, and threw out her arms as the alien fired his weapon, one last time.
The sound of the blast alone was enough to send the rest of the Roses flying. All at once, the forest seemed to be engulfed in flames, a momentary vision of hell mingled with a screech, a hiss and a howl.
And then, all was silent.