As we violently coughed up the dirt from our throats, I dropped the rustic bronze lantern and it went tumbling down the stairs. On the last step, it burst and the oil reserve in the bottom of the lamp ignited into a flame that was as loud as it was hot. It only took a few moments to die down, but the oil trailed the flame towards the far reaches of the basement. From my angle on the staircase, I could make out a shadow… it looked like the shadow of some kind of plant. Abeline was still wiping the dust from her eyes as I slowly inched down the case toward the slow withering flame. As I placed my foot on the last step, the shadow moved –fled actually, like a sentient being. I started backing up the stairs and intertwined in the sound of the flame, I heard an airy “hiiissssss” .
I grabbed Abeline’s shoulder and guided her back up the stairs as hastefully as possible. She was still wiping at her eyes annoyingly and strung together a line of bitter remarks. “Dust… I hate every little devil-ridden particle that ever came into existence.” She moved on to brushing off her shoulders while I rummaged through a closet for a spare lantern. “Right, more fire, that’s what you need.” She flicked one last fleck of dirt from her sleeve and started back towards the basement steps. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to extinguish the little abyssal portal you spawned in my basement. I mean, I’ll give you lessons in black arts if you’d like, you don’t need to go chucking explosives down the steps every time you want a bit of fire.” She smiled facetiously.
I stopped her and went over everything I thought I saw.
“Wait, Leafe, listen to yourself. You thought you saw a living plant? Those are rare in the wilderness, let alone in small, lightless, cold cellar.”
“Can we at least go down prepared?”
She sighed, called me a frightened… skallidash? –some creature I’ve never heard of. Anyway, she did agree, and we each nabbed a machete. She insisted on holding the lamp this time, so I grabbed a slightly worn torch out of my pack.
At the bottom of the stairs, the flame had become weak, and we couldn’t see to the far reaches of the walls. Abeline froze up. I gave her a little jab. “What is it?”
“You’re right” she replied. “There is something down here. I can smell it’s pollen.
Over the flame? I thought. All I could detect was burning oil, and here I though elves were supposed to be the ones with the heightened senses.
She narrowed her eyes to one corner of the room. I did too, and as I did, the light of the flame faded from my mind, and the outline of a writhing, human-sized, living plant protruded from the wall and slithed its way across the ground like a snake toward us.
She whispered “Alright, you’ve got one shot. It’s a man-eater; don’t let it get close, toss the torch.”
“Why don’t you just blast it like you did the pirates?”
“I can’t see balderdash, come on mister elf, I know how those eyes of yours work; they use ‘em in sight potions.”
“Wait-Wa?” I stood abruptly and insulted, forgetting about any degree of danger, the very same danger that had in the same instance whipped out a vine seized my torch-bearing arm and yanked me to the soggy, cold dirt floor. I landed smack on my stomach and found myself sliding into a gaping, drooling mouth. If Cerberus was a plant, and had only one head, this would be it. Abeline took a couple blind shots and two hit the oversized Venus-Flytrap. Its grip around my wrist tightened as it screeched and wailed in pain. I dropped my machete and chucked my torch, clanking it against its head. In three different spots, flame continuously spread across the poor wretch and it finally let go its grip. Abeline walked towards it blasting repetitious shots, an onslaught of flame, not giving the thing any time to recover from each last blow until it lay smoldering and crackling at her feet. The hiss was now unmistakable, a heightened pitch over the flame, painful and sorrow ridden.
Back upstairs we gathered around the batch of artificial wine Abeline had just prepared.
“What… what was that?” I finally broke the most uncomfortable and confusing silence I ever sat in.
Her eyes narrowed on her cup, and then to the rippling image of a candles reflection in her wine. “A twist of nature… things that rise from the ashes of despair. It happens to plants with souls. It happens when they are cut from the world, and removed from the sun.”
“Plants with souls? Like an ent?”
She nodded “Ents are a good example, but there are many others –vines with consciousness, helpful saplings, blades of grass that can return to the earth to offer a traveler a walking path, or subtlety skew his sense of direction if they side against him.”
“So this plant…”
“It became abominable, a twist of nature, like I said.”
“So, how did it get in your cellar then?”
Abeline stood up and finished her wine in one heaping gulp. She broke her soft spoken word with a bellowing command. “Leafe, give me a hand locking up tonight.” She approached a window looking out onto the avenue leading up to our bar. The twilight hour had begun to set on the cobble stone.
She looked back with a smirk of confidence. “Ready for business.”