Fertile Ground

It was hard to reconcile this Diniella with the erstwhile healer who had so lovingly tended his wounds. This Diniella was...well, bordering on witch, in Ragnar's opinion. She harangued him without mercy, called him variations of epithets he'd never heard before, berating his toughness, or calling him lazy. Some of the things she said he could not directly translate, but was fairly certain that the air sailors of Throal would likely blush at them, or take his head off. Or both.  The past two hours had been spent pushing his weakened limb to move in ways it wasn't meant to. The itch was gone, but the pain was back...and either his memory was horrible, or the pain was worse than he'd endured in the attack itself.

"Swing again! Our children can do better! Complain less too!" she berated him. It was probably the least offensive thing she had said in the past hour. However, it surprised him immensely that he was able to comply, even if it felt like his arm was being torn off by a hungry bear.  Panting in pain and exertion, he followed her instructions, moving as instructed, avoiding fast, tearing motions, but swinging a blunted  sword heavier than he'd ever held, or pushing or pulling objects. The most painful part was when she had had him grasp a rope, and attempt to keep his arm steady and locked as she proceeded to tug and pull in every direction.

Finally, she stopped and smiled at him. "Very well done, Ragnar. Enough for today, we will see if you can manage to outwork our children on the morrow."

"Very funny."  said Ragnar, panting.  "I do believe that sword would swing your children, instead of...backwards?" 

"Reverse." she corrected him. " and ten year old boys train with that beast routinely."  Of course she did not tell him that ten year old boys were far harder to find these days, nor that the dull, heavy blade was not meant to mimic a real sword, but to allow greater strength and speed in handling a less weighty one.

"I'm hungry. Will food arrive soon?" asked Ragnar, arching an eyebrow.

"In other words, you ask me to cook for you?" said Viniella with a grin. "I am to be dismissed to the kitchens?"

Ragnar laughed. "Not till I can swing sword much faster. To protect self. But for serious, I care not where food come from, I just need some."

She nodded and opened the door. "Still you must stay here, as Vamir wished." she told him. He did not need the reminder, but he was fairly certain it was said apologetically.

The door closed behind her, and Ragnar was alone once more, rolling his shoulders, wincing as he fought the urge to just flop on the bed and feign death. His head pounded and his ribs and arm throbbed as if the wounds were fresh. He was certain she would return with one of the seemingly magical poultices to ease his pain shortly. Of course then he’d be back to the itch, which would be all the worse when he had nothing to do to take his mind off it.

He paced the room, moving his arm in slow circles, testing it’s ability to rise above shoulder level. Tears came to his eyes at the attempt. This was his greatest fear, that he might have lost that range of motion for future battles. He had the use of his arm, but if it came down to it, the inability to block high incoming attacks was something that he had always taken for granted. Being here amongst humans, it accentuated that worry, for nearly all attacks (if they should come) would be coming from above. He had never felt so short as he did now. Even amongst the Trolls, he had been able to look way up, and know that his sword or shield would not fail him. The inability to trust in that made the differences between him and his hosts all the more apparent, and frightening.

He moved towards the small natural pool in the corner of his room, and went to his knees, grasping the pitcher. He forced himself to hold steady on his wounded arm, and used the other to pour water over his head and shoulders to cool himself. It was then that the sound of something clattering to the floor startled him.

A lantern had fallen from the wall, along with it’s bracket. He looked bewildered, at it a moment, then noted the tapestry beside it was undulating, almost as if in a breeze. He wiped the water from his face, and looked once more, a sense of alarm stealing over him. It was then that the tapestry began to bunch up in two locations, and tear, revealing the hideous source of the movement. Ragnar shouted in alarm, and pushed to his feet. Undulating ahead of him were two thick vines of a sickly mottled green, churning in a decidedly un-plant-like fashion. At his shout of alarm the ends of the two vines split apart into what appeared to be a viscous black flower, save with spikes along the inside portion of the previously integrated radiating appendages. The "flowers" seemed to snap towards the sound of the shout, and hover, seeking prey.

Ragnar stayed motionless, attempting to still his suddenly hammering heart, and will himself not to breathe. He looked down noting the pitcher in his hand, and in a flash of inspiration, threw at the wall to his right. The two vines closed in the blink of an eye, and darted towards the sound, stabbing into the rock wall with two thick thuds. Ragnar blinked in amazement that the ends of the vines disappeared almost a foot into the wall, despite it being solid granite. The vines retracted then, and undulated back to their former positions, the flower like heads opening once more to seek their prey. Ragnar inched towards the door, as quietly as possible, intent on reaching both the exit, and his sword, which lay atop his gear shelved beside it.

The vines seemed to hesitantly follow his movement, as if it could tell something was there, yet could not determine what. Was it because he moved slowly? Did they respond to movement or sound? Or a combination? He’d seen the speed of the things, and did not want to test their reactions against his own at the moment, but saw little choice. He reached the wall nearest the door, and slowly pulled his blade from the scabbard until it was at the very tip of his blade, and swung the sword to fling the scabbard towards the wall to his left, side-stepping as he did so… the tentacles darted once more, and because of the increased distance, Ragnar could see them as they rushed seemingly towards him and past him slam beside the fallen scabbard. Ragnar noted that the heads (or buds) of the vinelike creature seemed to glow and shimmer as they rushed their target. He also noted that they did not seem to strike until clear sound was heard, such as the clatter of his scabbard near him.

Ragnar did not need to know more than this. He swung hard, amazed at how difficult it was to fight in silence. The desire to yell as he swung his blade was something he had never considered before now. He grit his teeth and put as much force as he could into the blow, chopping downwards from shoulder height, still unable to raise his blade above that point. He caught the undulating vines just behind the head (buds) as they extracted themselves from the wall and floor beside him. He expected to hear a cry of pain or rage, but the only such cry came from him as his blade jarringly hit the stone underneath… the two vines, though silent, thrashed wildly, one hitting him in the shoulder, eliciting another cry of pain from him as he was thrown heavily into the bed.

He heard it then, a rumbling…a crack formed in the ceiling above, and along the wall the two vines had come from three more vines, slightly smaller than the first two, burst into the room immediately opening into shimmering black flowers. The wall then crumbled further, and a wave of sound entered the room, not coming from the beast, or plant, whatever it might be. Screams and gurgles could be heard from outside the confines of his room. He could see the infirmary torn apart by the undulating mass of vines. The central stalk was huge, and Ragnar could not count the number of vines the creature possessed. On the positive side, as Ragnar gritted his teeth and rose to make his way towards the door, he noted that the two vines he had severed were no longer undulating, and were slowly disintegrating into a mottled green fluid, reminiscent of either pus or mucus. He had to let the others know that silence was the only way to beat the creature…It would rip this place apart otherwise. He turned the handle on the door slowly, almost panicking as the click caught the attention of all three vines. Luckily, as the noise was but slight, they appeared to wait for another noise to confirm a strike zone.

Ragnar was happy to oblige. He swung the door with all its might into the wall on the other side, and pushed through the pain to swing his blade up and over, his shoulder, through the three vines as they buried themselves in both the door and the wall behind… he felt his wounded arm rip, and a roar of pain escaped him, even as he ducked and rushed through the door into the carnage of the infirmary. At the sound of his roar of pain, several vines took note and struck towards him, two whistling past his head. In the more open chamber of the infirmary, they did not extend as far as the walls, and recovered from a strike even faster. However, Ragnar had marshaled his will, and had forced back the pain behind his gritted teeth once more.

The infirmary was a charnel house. He could see how the creature was feeding now. It had impaled itself in several wounded patients, and the vines pumped the blood towards the central stalk. It seemed that for each body struck and being drained, two vines sprouted in it’s place, ready to seek new targets. It grew stronger with each new victim, and there was no shortage of victims here. Somehow this creature had found itself the most fertile possible ground.

He snuck along, moving towards the corridor where he could hear reinforcements coming. A moment of panick struck him then…Diniella…had she walked out into this? Was she dead? He stood from his crouch, and looked around desperately, seeking any sign of his healer. He almost called out for her, but caught himself in time. He saw no sign of her…nothing but the churning vines. No, wait! Behind an overturned stone table, he saw a bare female foot, bloodied. He had dismissed it as another body, but then it moved, as if slipping in the blood from a huddled position, and then retracting back into cover. The distinct white of a healer’s frock was unmistakeable, even spotted with blood. He saw a vine take notice of the slight whisk of sound made by the foot, and readied himself to shout and draw it’s attention, but then a guard turned the corner, roaring a challenge. He side-stepped two of the vines, and chopped aside another, only to be impaled by the one that he had sidestepped. A gurgled scream, and it was all over. He could no longer see the foot of the healer. He hoped to the Passions that it was Diniella, or that if it wasn’t, that Diniella was far from this chamber.

He could hear more troops coming, and he swore to himself, knowing it would be a slaughter if he didn’t cut them off. He ran as quickly and silently as he could towards the corridor, and the corner where the churning vines awaited…he saw the vines hovering, waiting for the yelling, charging men to get in range. He wasn’t going to make it. He churned his short legs as fast as he could, sacrificing foot - silence then, and dove across the corridor, into the loud, raised-sword bearing would-be heroes and tackled two of the three nearest to the floor behind the corner of wall. The two soldiers swore loudly and almost struck Ragnar dead, when the third soldier cried out ahead of him, three vines impaling him at once...

"Back! Back!" panted Ragnar. "More men…need more! Fight quiet!" said Ragnar, grasping the chainmail of one of the men to get his attention. "What is word? Regroup! Get men, regroup!" The man nodded understanding, though he looked bewildered at the source of the warning, a short bearded individual he had never seen, and who spoke in an accent never heard.

Ragnar took a deep breath, leaning against the wall, and thanked the Passions the man had listened. The soldier motioned him down the corridor, and told him to wait there, and began marshaling the new arrivals. Rushing, roaring soldiers slowed and quieted under orders, gathering 20 yards from the corner, and prepared a more silent assault. It was then that he felt the blade against his throat…

"What have you done, Tainted!? What did you bring on us!? " hissed Volgra.

Ragnar could only stare helplessly, unable to voice protest under the wild-eyed rage of the human swordsman. He felt for sure he was going to die there, but then heard Volgra’s name shouted by the two soldiers he had saved.

"Stop, Volgra! Sir, he saved us!" said the one who had begun marshaling the forces. "He told us how to fight it!"

"It’s true! All the men here would be dead now if it were not for him." Said the other.

Volgra spat on the floor beside the dwarf. "That would mean something if he had not brought it to begin with."

Ragnar growled. "Did not bring it. Attack me in my chamber first. I think it was meant for me."

Volgra’s eyes widened. "It speaks our language now? I knew I should have killed you when I had the chance. Before you spread your tainted words and lies further!"

"But sir! Why would it…he…save us?" sputtered the soldier. Several others muttered in agreement.

Rovaris seethed, behind Volgra. It was gratifying to see the obvious hatred he had fed into his chosen protégé. But the other soldiers were witnesses now. Rovaris could not be seen to allow an execution when so many were convinced of the dwarf’s innocence. His fingernails dug into his palms, leaving bloody furrows. "Volgra! We cannot kill this creature. It speaks. It likely has a Name. We must give it an opportunity to defend itself, or we become what we fight." Rovaris wanted nothing more than to rip off the head of the dwarf and defecate down it’s neck. But this could not be done with witnesses. His Bloodvine had failed him. It would die quickly and painfully for this. He would be the hero who had saved both the dwarf and the infirmary. One had to make do with the opportunities given.

"We waste time! The dwarf said to fight silently, no?" he looked to Ragnar, trying to keep the hate from his eyes.

Ragnar nodded as best he could with a blade to his throat. " Create noises to side of you, along walls, or ground. Attack when stuck in wall, ground. Not smart, creature. Goes after noise."

Rovaris nodded sagely. "You heard him. Let’s kill this beast."

Volgra removed the blade from Ragnar’s throat. "This isn’t over, creature. You’ll pay for this crime, I swear it." He hissed.

"Kill me later. Save Diniella. I think she is there, center of room. Saw white dress, and move. She stay quiet, could not be sure. But someone alive in there."

Volgra looked at him, mouth a grim, flat line. His eyebrows turned downwards quizzically at the last words, as if he was considering more than simply the dwarf’s demise. He nodded curtly, and turned to join the rest of the men. They moved silently around the corner to face the Horror. Ragnar knew that he would hear very little, unless someone made a mistake.

Rovaris looked behind him. "Stay where you are dwarf, your wounds will need tending. And you will need to explain your presence here to all. And why you did not make yourself known to us."

Ragnar nodded and closed his eyes. Vamir’s decision to hide his presence was going to prove costly. His task had just become monumentally more difficult.

The End

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