Ally Lichen’s Friend: 13. Gargoyle

The gargoyle was made of wood–woven roots and branches that had sprouted from the enchanted ground of the Tanglewood long ago. They formed into the body of a creature with wings, four clawed feet, a long thrashing tail, and a twisted, boar-like face.

Crouching on one of the lower branches, it glowered down at Ally with a snarl, moonlight highlighting its gnarled edges in silver, dark shadows in its empty eye sockets. 

Ally breathed slowly, trying to stay as still as she could. Treetop gargoyles only attacked if they thought you were threatening their tree.

As it turned out, this gargoyle considered shooting panicked magic in all directions quite threatening.

There was a great heave of wings and a scraping of clawed feet leaving the branch and a deep roar of anger, but Ally spared no time to look, she was already running. The world flew past her, her heart as loud as thunder in her ears. The frigid air hurt her chest with each panicked breath, and the ground was uneven beneath her feet. Howls of fury echoed behind her, along with great gusts of air from its wings.

For all she knew, she was running further away from the campfire. For all she knew, she was running into a den of poison ivy pixies or bindweed goblins or another shadow nymph. But all she could do was keep moving. Gargoyles, protected by the enchanted trees they inhabited, were the one creature of Tanglewood that could not be banished with a witch’s magic.

“Madge!” Ally screamed at the top of her aching lungs, lost her focus, and stepped straight into a mole hole.

She plummeted forward, pain shooting up her ankle. She caught herself on her hands, yanked her foot out, and scrambled to the side. On her knees, Ally ducked behind the nearest redwood just as the ground shook with the gargoyle’s landing.

Ally pressed her lips together to stifle a cry of pain. She breathed deeply through her nose, clapping a hand over her face to muffle the sound. Tears pricked her eyes as her ankle throbbed again. Could she have broken it?

No. No, this couldn’t be happening.

The gargoyle was still growling and snuffling. She could hear heavy footfalls on dry leaves. Ally pressed her head against the bark of the tree and tried to think, her mind a tempest of fear.

And then the creature of root and branch and earth stood in front of her, sharp wooden claws outstretched. Ally couldn’t move. She couldn’t even close her eyes—


An axe spun through the air, turning end over end, and lodged itself in the gargoyle’s neck, sticking in the wood.

The gargoyle howled in pain, and Ally flinched to the side as its claws dragged down the tree trunk she had been pressed up against moments before.

There was the crash of footsteps running through leaves, and then a familiar head of short blonde hair came bobbing into view.

Madge raced by, yanking her axe neatly from the gargoyle’s neck as she passed, shooting flashes of purple sparks into the air with her free hand to catch its attention.

Roaring in rage the gargoyle charged after her, out of Ally’s sight.

Ally scrambled to her hands and knees, and crawled around the side of the tree, past the ruts clawed into the bark. She made it around just in time to see Madge throw her axe again. The spinning wheapon hit the gargoyle in the heart this time, nearly knocking it back with a sadisfying thud.

“Just let it go, you petty property protector!” Madge shouted, with more annoyance than anything.

The monster thrashed and dislodged the weapon, letting it fall with a crunch into the leaves below. Still roaring in pain and fury, it rose higher into the sky, soaring into the darkness.

At last, its growls faded, replaced by the sound of the crickets and Ally’s labored breathing.

“Buttered crumpets!” Madge gasped, running a hand through her hair, her eyes wide. She raced across the forest floor, snatching her axe from where it had fallen before dropping to her knees beside Ally.

“Are you alright?” Madge reached out a tentative hand.

“I—“ Ally stared, gasping. “You can throw an axe?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Madge laughed, her posture relaxing. “It’s good to know when you live in Tanglewood. Multipurpose and all that. Although admittedly I just started for fun when I was about seven.”

“Seven!” Ally’s voice was barely above a squeak.

“Are you okay?” Madge repeated.

“My ankle hurts.” Ally took a deep breath, the world slowly coming back into focus again. “I’m not sure if I can walk or not. Haven’t tried.”

Madge nodded grimly. “We should get back to the fire. Flicker is waiting for you. Here.”

Madge held out her hand. Ally hesitated only a moment before accepting.

“Thanks.” Ally swallowed as Madge pulled her to her feet. She winced at putting weight on her ankle. Madge noticed and slung Ally’s arm over her shoulder, supporting her injured side.

“You saved my life.” Ally breathed. Then laughed softly. “You literally saved my life.”

Madge returned Ally’s laugh with one of her own. “I don’t know about that. I’m just glad you’re okay!”

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docendo disco scribendo cogito

(I learn by teaching and think by writing.)

Millie Florence

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