The goblin and I walked together in silence.
I reached out with my mind, trying to contact whatever had given me this power, but it was nowhere to be found. Had I bothered it so much with my display of independence? What if the voice never returned?
A chill ran through me. I had to test my power. I had to be sure I could fend for myself.
I reached out my hand and brushed it against a tree branch. It was an old oak, tall, strong, and powerful. Though it lay dormant, I could feel the life force inside of it, biding its time, waiting for spring.
Somewhere inside the tree a family of birds had made its home, tiny creatures huddling together for warmth, sharing what little warmth they could find. Depending on each other for survival.
And then, with a breath, they were gone. Tiny wisps of potential wafted up from the old oak's insides, only to disappear in the foggy morning.
I pulled harder. I would have to be stronger than that to survive on my own. It was not birds I was after, though their tiny frozen bodies would make a poignant addition to the hollow of the tree. As I strained against it I could feel the old oak's spirit fighting back, desperately clinging to the earth it was rooted in so deeply.
It was not enough. I ripped the tree's spirit from its body, holding it away from the forest that enfolded it. In my mind I could feel it struggling in vain against the force of my will.
And then, suddenly, a blast of fire - a physical sensation that wrenched me back inside myself. The goblin's flames were scorching my flesh. I could smell the acrid stench of burning skin.
To face the goblin I would have to let go of the tree. But the tree, I was sure, would give me great power - its ancient frame held secrets beyond imagining. Secrets that I would lose, unless I held onto its spirit until it was dead.
So I held on, though my body burned.
"So you wish to know if you can stay alive without me?" the voice whispered mockingly. "Here's your answer. Power you have, and more, but wisdom? You will need to depend on me for that."
"Unless," I replied through gritted teeth, "I can find a way to take some for myself."
In its last second of life, the oak tree's spirit released a scream of agony - so pained, so penetrating, I thought for a moment it was my own.
I had tapped into something primordial. The tree's roots ran deep into the ground, where they entwined with the rest of the forest. I had thought I was killing one individual tree, ancient and mighty though it might be. When I consumed its soul I realized my mistake.
This entire forest would die now. I had killed it.
For a moment the fire goblin stopped his attack. He had no choice - his machinery was choking, clogged by thick, dark smoke. It was everywhere, erupting in billowy waves from the ground, the trees, the air - everything I had touched, everything I had come near.
It was all dying at once, and giving up its potential all at once. Clouds of it were escaping into the air, choking and suffocating the goblin as well as his device. I suppose I was choking too. The horrible searing pain from the burns made it hard to concentrate on.
"You can't do this!" the goblin coughed. "This forest - my home! You've killed my home!"
I shook my head, sucking in the magic of nature. The magic of its end.
"And now it's time to kill you, little goblin."
"Do it, then!" the goblin snarled. "I've done my duty. I've burned you. Marked you! Now everywhere you go, they will see your hideousness. Someone will destroy you!"
"Perhaps," I said, "but not you."
And then I killed him.