The thirty foot treant's huge leafy fist swiped down at me, flying just over my head with the force of a jetliner. My head rang from one blow already, and my left ear dripped warm blood as I dipped to one side, grabbed my mother's amulet out of habit, and considered drawing on the power of the Winter Mantle as I urged my burning legs to run faster.
The wind whipped my face. I spun, then sprinted off toward the tree line in the opposite direction of the treant. My eyes stung as the crisp fall air changed direction abruptly, and the torturous clomping footsteps that told me the treant was still there just... stopped.
But I didn't. Oh no. You couldn't pay me.
Closing my eyes in pure exhilaration, I ran blind, using my ears for direction as I pulled myself into the shadow of a tree I'd been aiming for and flapped my hand behind me, strengthening the spell I'd just prepared with the adrenaline-zapped shreds of my will.
"Noctus ex illuminus!" I croaked, nearly peeing myself as I felt the treant's ambling car-sized footsteps stomp toward my hiding place through the vibrating ground.
A shimmering figure, handsome and tall and a little bit rugged in his black shirt and duster, popped into place beside me and waited, staring at me and grinning.
"One more step, big and ugly," I murmured, grinning up at my double, "Just. One. More."
I chanced a glance back around the thick oak, saw nothing. I turned to face the forest, away from the thin open edge of the tree line. My breath came heavy and hitched, and my ribs felt like the murder bone from Space Odyssey.
The illusion I'd cast of myself was holding, though- I could feel it running away from me, following along right on top of a ley line that lay deep under the park grounds, and I could feel the creaking treant's footsteps loping away after it.
My turn to run again, then.
I rose to my feet, feeling nausea rise in my throat as I shoved myself off the tree and forced one foot in front of the other. At least I was moving again, I reasoned as I trotted and tripped through sticks and stones and the occasional mud pool, following a less-used hiking trail.
When I got to the field on the other side of the forest, the rain had stopped, and the Carpenters' tent shimmered into sight from beneath Molly's veil, their flashlights flicking around like anxious fireflies.
"Not yet!" I choked, waving my arms wildly as I headed for the tent, "Not yet!"
I skidded across the wet grass and dove into the mud face first, unable to keep my legs under me.
The tent shimmered out of sight again, and I groaned, turning over on my back just in time to see the treant over the top of the forest canopy, his huge torso pouncing down on something at his feet. I felt the illusion snap back to me along the ley line, just like I'd planned, and fought back a wave of dizziness, right on cue.
Then I raised my left hand, snapped my fingers, and yelled,
"Globus Marcasse fulminas!"
And blue ball lightning roared from my outstretched middle finger along the ley line, straight up the treant's...
A cloud of dark smoke issued from the place it was standing, flinging it into the air in a violent acrobatic convulsion of black plumes and splintering wood. Its brief scream pierced the Illinois twilight, and then a howling orange flame burst up over the camp grounds.
"Anyone up for s'mores?" I managed. Then I fell face first into the mud.
After a moment of silence, Michael's voice arrived with the rest of the normal night noises, but my left ear, the one the treant had blown, was the only one upright and not filled with mud. Basically, the reception was low, by that point.
"Harry, you set the forest on fire. Mab called Molly- she left, but she wasn't thrilled. Your nose is bleeding from the adrenaline punch. Are you strong enough to-"
Grumbling a friendly Mab-shaped curse which filled my mouth with squelchy, squishy mud, I then called up the Winter Mantle just long enough to sit up, wave my hand, and whisper, "Ventus iclo procellus!"
The energy of the spell left me, and I felt the steady, dim crackle of fire over where the treant had fallen stop along with the rain again- my magic had drawn the moisture out of the surrounding storm front, just like I'd planned. Then a shivering fit shook all six foot nine of my timbers, and I ran out of breath with a grin, falling back into the mud again with my butt in the air.
The moon shone down on my other face for a minute, and then I passed out.