“Keep an eye out, Twix.” She led Twix across the border and gently breathed on it. She put the acorn on the ground, tapping into the magic of Bramble Burn. A thrill chilled her. There was a river of power here, waiting to be tapped. It tested her, pulled with a strong current to drown her like it had done so many others, but she knew how to tame wild magic. She pointed it at the acorn and told it to anchor, to not only claim the space, but to own it.
Gleeful to finally have direction, eager to work, it grabbed the acorn and pulled it under the soil. A sprout shot out, making the ground ripple with rapid growth. A normal oak grew a hundred feet tall and four feet wide. This one widened until it was the girth of a house and soared thirty stories, as tall a redwood. The leaves spread over the ruined park, forming a huge canopy of green.
Deep in her trance, Juniper stepped inside the massive hollow tree, followed by Twix, and sealed the door. Dusk was approaching, and they needed solid walls between them and the Bramble, but they also needed light. Narrow windows of thick amber formed beside the door, acting like one-way mirrors. More dotted the trunk, forming an amber spiral, and her eyes slowly adjusted to the gloom.
Juniper breathed deeply of fresh green oak, beginning to feel the exertion. She formed a box stall with a sandy floor and took a break to remove Twix’s tack. She taught the tree to draw water into a basin for him and made one for her own use across the way, adding a drain.
She was trembling now, so she quickly formed a crude toilet and called it a night. Exhausted, she washed up and ate a quick dinner.
The floor was hard, but it was solid and she was safe. She slept like a log.
The tree screeched in her mind, jolting her awake. Twix paced his stall, frantic with the smell of smoke.
What the garbage? Was someone trying to smoke them out? Fuzzy with sleep, Juniper tapped into the tree to see what the problem was and flinched. There were things crawling in the limbs, burrowing into the bark. They were infested with mutant squirrels.
The tree groaned in pain as another blast of fire seared the bark. She peered cautiously through the amber windows and saw a pack of giant hedgehogs breathing fire, having a squirrel barbeque. They were milling in excitement at the all-they-could-eat buffet.
She was already dressed, so she sat in a lotus position and focused on the tree. “Time to exterminate some pests.” She let the tree feel her outrage, the need to protect and avenge. She fed it power and limbs suddenly became limber, swatting and squeezing Rottweiler sized, saber tooth squirrels into jelly. It flung the carcasses at the hedgehogs, bowling them over. While they were distracted, the roots and branches snared the hogs, binding and crushing.
The magic built, and Juniper grew lightheaded. She directed the tap roots to draw on the aquifer, pulling up massive amounts of water to quench the fire ravaging her branches. Dots peppered her vision, and she strained to rein in the energy. It resisted, testing her. She dug deep and hauled up hard, forcing it to spin until it stopped fighting. Roots burrowed into the ground with a sigh and blackened limbs hardened.
Sirens split the night. Dizzy, she crawled to the door and peered out the window. Fire trucks and armored police vehicles screeched to a halt next to smoking carcasses. She made sure the energy was quiet and crawled up the door frame, opening the door. She flinched at the glare of headlights. She reached for the wall, but the light grew and punched her in the face.
She must have fainted, because when she came to, she was lying on a stretcher with a flashlight beam in her eyes. She turned her head and tried to sit up, but that made the world flare white. She gave up.
“She’s awake. I can’t find any injuries,” an elven EMT reported.
“Jus’ tired,” Juniper slurred. “How’s Twix? He bites.”
A head blocked her view and resolved into a man’s face. “My name is Lt. Bjorn. I’m with Fire and Rescue. Can you make a statement?” He had dark eyes and short dark hair and might be in his late twenties. Judging from his black Kevlar and the rifle over his shoulder, he was the Rescue. If there was mayhem, soldiers like him were deployed along with fire crews. They were empowered to make arrests, though mostly they shot things until they stopped twitching.