Poisonroot - Chapter 4

I wrote this in several sittings so it's not as polished as it should be, but it's a first draft and of a decent length. I'm satisfied with it for now.

I'm heavily influenced by D&D at the moment. I've been running a campaign now for about six hours, maybe more, and I have to say it's freakin' awesome. I have a great group to play it with and they've been really imaginative.

I'm hoping I can use some of their ideas in this, and vice versa.

Today is Bank Holiday Monday, I plan to drink coffee from my favourite coffee place and write this novel.

It's worth pointing out that this is set in the same world that we play D&D in. The stories are subtly different for a couple of reasons; my 'Poisonroot' continent of Ehrian has only humans as sentient species, pretty much, while a D&D Ehrian has a mix of D&D races. The protagonists of Poisonroot started their journey in Monk's Retreat; the PCs in D&D have started in South Porton, though last night they made it as far as Oakedge and in the near future will undoubtedly go travelling again.

Writing for D&D has provoked some interesting ideas; I'd not had to think about the shape of the leaves of the One Tree until last night, for example. They've helped me populate South Porton and Oakedge; particularly in the case of the former there's a load of flavour text that I'm just going to put up here in the next post. In the canon of their D&D campaign they could ask pretty much any passer-by to get this information, and it looks like they're set to leave South Porton for a while anyway.

Chapter 4 after the jump!


Victor snored and turned over, disturbing one of the fire’s logs with his foot. Trip looked up, jerked out of his half-stupor at the sudden noise.

Somewhere a bird croaked into the night air and Trip, becoming slightly spooked now, looked in the direction he thought it had come from. There was just blackness; they had camped a few metres off the main road in the middle of nowhere. Shivering, the boy huddled down under his blanket.

It had been a tiring three days; Victor had listened carefully to questions Trip had asked him and then either completely ignored him, grunted, or answered with one-word answers. Trip closed his eyes and, in his mind, opened once again the ragged copy of ‘Victor and the Mind-Warper of Dorth’. The illustration on the front was faded but still visible, a young man with an enormous sword plunging into the mouth of some immense monster, tentacles flying everywhere. Inside, the text was carefully printed on the cheapest paper with the cheapest ink but that didn’t matter. In Trip’s mind the adventures came to life, Victor the Hero ducking, diving, rescuing men and women. Trip opened his eyes; Victor had drunk from a winesack before sleeping and every snore grated on the senses. The old man had a couple of days growth of beard and a small amount of drool glistened in the corner of his mouth. Disgusted, Trip turned his head to look up at the moon.

Which was how he managed to miss the attack.

A rustle was the only warning Trip had that anything was amiss; suddenly the entire campsite was in chaotic action, Victor rolling to his feet with sword in hand. Right there in the middle of their bedrolls stood… something.

It was a little taller than Trip was, squat and broad; its limbs were thin, though, giving it the impression of ranginess and tensile strength. It was green in the light, the head a black circle that blurred at the edges. Impossible though it seemed, it was as if an enormous sunflower had grown legs and arms to attack them.

Victor wasted no time in kicking it in the chest, causing it to stumble backwards. It hissed, spreading its arms as wide as possible, then careened back again as he lashed out with his sword. Trip could see the vicious smile on Victor’s face as the man threw out his arm.

The plantman, already almost falling backwards, took another step away from Victor’s arm and directly into the fire. In a second it was engulfed, a flaming effigy of a man flailing its arms back and forth. Trip dived out of the way just in time as one of its arms waved near him, then watched as it ran off into the darkness. It was visible for a long way before it crumpled to its knees,  finally falling over.

Victor was already kneeling at his bedroll, gathering it up and tying the leather strap around it. “Come on, lad,” he said, “we got lucky with that one but there might be more.”

Trip bent to fold up the blanket that was lying discarded on the ground. Suddenly he was warm, the adrenaline pumping through his system making him feel wide awake and bone tired all at the same time.

“What was that thing?”

Victor didn’t look up. “Some sort of plant-man. I’ve not seen its like before, but it’s a logical step. I mean, look at the thing that destroyed my house.”

“I hadn’t exactly forgotten it,” Trip muttered, guilt rising up inside him again. Victor carried on, apparently not noticing.

“Whatever that was it was intelligent, at least clever enough to move towards humans and destroy whatever was around it. Animal intelligence, like a pack of wolves. It moved too slowly, though; we got away. The logical next step is something else, something that moves like we do. And it’s a plant again…”

His voice drifted off into nothing as he finished tying the pack down. Hoisting it onto his own back, Victor walked back onto the path and set off the way they had been travelling earlier. Trip, suddenly feeling very alone in the night, trotted after him.

The moon was high and graced everything with a silvery lining, casting eerie shadows from the trees and the occasional fence that marked the border of someone’s land. As the minutes turned to hours and the miles passed slowly under Trip’s tired feet, he started to lag behind.

The sky started to lighten, bringing with it a grey feeling that made Trip’s eyes itch. He looked around, hoping for a handy stump or something to sit down on for a moment, but there was nothing. So engrossed was he in looking that he nearly walked into Victor’s back. The man had stopped in the middle of the path.

“What-“ Trip said, but Victor’s hand swept out and cut him off.

“Shh,” he whispered.

Trip looked around again; they had stopped in a small clearing, the path having travelled into a small copse. The sun would be rising in a few minutes and there was nothing particularly threatening to be seen.

“What are we looking for?” Trip whispered.

“Not lookin’. Listenin’,” Victor replied. Trip listened, but heard nothing.

“Nothin’ to hear; where are the birds? Deep Round’s ‘bout an hour away; there’s a farm on the other side of this woodland. Can you hear any animals?”

Trip frowned and listened carefully. Still nothing. Victor quietly unsheathed his sword and handed the pack to Trip.

“Come on, we’re goin’ lookin’,” Victor said, then moved off between the trees without waiting for a response.

Trip slipped his sandals off and picked them up, putting his feet down gently into the grass. Without the slapping noise of leather on skin he was able to move far quieter than the big man. Together they moved out of the trees and into the growing daylight.

The first rays of morning light struck the tallest point of the farm in front of them, the enormous barn walls red in the radiance. Next to the red-painted barn stood a smaller farmhouse, a fenced-off area visible that contained a few pigs and a couple of woe-begone looking sheep. Two cows were in the field that lay between Trip and the farmhouse, their udders fat with milk.

“This is wrong,” Victor muttered. “Farmer should’ve milked them cows by now, there should be people buzzin’ all over this farm like flies on a dungheap.” He stood up straight and stared at the scene for a moment, then sheathed his sword and turned back towards the path.

Trip stared hard at the front of the farmhouse. In the distance, near the door, there was a small brown object moving backwards and forwards and, reflexively, he took a few steps forward and squinted.

It was an arm, waving.

Tiredness forgotten, Trip ran to where Victor was already striding away and grabbed his arm.

“There are people down there, on the floor! They might be hurt!”

“That right?”

“We have to help them!”

Victor shook his arm free of Trip’s grasp. “No, we don’t. Come on.”

Trip’s mouth fell open in amazement as he watched Victor’s receding back. Then he scowled and growled in frustration.

“Fine, you go. I’m going to see if those people need help,” he called, then turned and started walking down the hill towards the farm. Behind him he heard a sigh, something muttered that was probably filthy and Victor’s heavy footfalls.

“I’m comin,” the man said, “You’d prob’ly fall an’ hurt yerself anyway. Who’ll pay me then?”

Trip shook his head. “Is that all you think about? There could be people down here alive and injured and all you can think about is money?”

Victor seemed to think about this for a moment, then shrug. “Mayhap one o’them will pay me if I save ‘em,”

Trip shook his head. It was impossible to reconcile the impression he’d built up of Victor from reading his books to the mercenary that he was travelling with.

The farm was eerily quiet as they approached; the animals looked at them stupidly before going back to eating the meagre food they had.

“Troughs haven’t been refilled in a couple o’days,” Victor muttered, drawing his sword again. “Where’d you see this waving person?”

“Round the front,” Trip whispered. The ground floor of the farmhouse had a wide veranda complete with lanterns strung up; several chairs were visible, the family evidently taking advantage of the lighter evenings to sit outside and relax. The arm protruded from behind the small fence that kept the farm animals from invading and kept moving at a steady rate as they closed in on it.

With two metres to go Trip could hold on no longer.

“Are you ok?” he called in a low voice. Almost immediately Victor hissed something at him and dropped into a crouch but nothing happened.

Victor walked up the steps and bent to examine something. Trip heard him sigh.

“What?” he said.

Victor stood up. In his hands he was holding the fabric arm of a scarecrow.

“Satisfied?” was all he said, holding it out.

Trip took the arm and looked at it. A piece of the fabric had ripped off the end and was trailing, evidently caught by the wind and causing the waving motion. Trip walked up the steps and found the other half of the puzzle; a rocking chair set in motion by the wind. Relief flooded through him, followed hotly by embarrassment. He turned to Victor, an apology already forming on his lips, only to find the man with his sword out again.

Now he moved like a seasoned warrior, one step at a time towards the front door; slowly his hand pushed it open, a shaft of light illuminating chairs, table, a pile of pots and pans. Splashes of red covered everything.