“We did good today, but if you guys are gonna keep up the pace we’re gonna need food,” Garth said, reading the book of edible plants with his back to the fire, winding through an exhaustive list of plants whose petals were safe to eat. As if they could fill their stomachs on one blossom at a time. Technically, they could, especially considering he could make as many of them as he wanted, but still, he’d rather something more substantial. “Most of these are just edible flowers and shit...Ah hah!” he stopped on one that looked promising.
“Jerusalem artichoke, a subspecies of sunflower, also known as sunroot, sunchoke or earth apple. Has bigass tubers that grow underground, is hardy as shit, and can be used as a substitute for potatoes.” Garth brought the book closer to the fire, trying to study the shape of the plant in the rapidly fading light. It was a spindlier yellow flower, without the massive sunburst shape that a typical sunflower would have had.
“Think we can find some of these?” he said, tapping the book and showing the picture to Leanne.
“What?” she asked, looking up from where she was sharpening the wicked bowie knife she’d looted from a sporting goods store on one of her runs. The damn thing was as long as her forearm. She’d brought back half a dozen other knives on that run, and after removing their handles and growing handles onto them, they’d finally gotten some real, honest to god spears.
“Oh, I forgot.” She said, reaching into her pocket and bringing out some softly rattling green packets.
“Got these from Garden Center in Wally’s, thought you might be able to use them to make me some dinner.” She tossed him the packets.
“Well, fuck,” he said, tossing aside the book. “If I didn’t have a bullet hole in my leg, I’d thump you one.” I’m not dumb, going to Walmart and getting seeds was just too dangerous for my hobbling, wounded self. Yeah.
“Let’s see, you got… sugar snap peas, carrots, and watermelon?” Garth intoned as he looked at the packets. “You got a bit of a sweet tooth?”
“You’re gonna need veggies with more protein, broccoli maybe?”
She made a sour face.
“This’ll do for now, but you and Doug are gonna need more than peas and watermelon.”
Garth planted the seeds, growing one bush after another until they had gorged themselves on the edible pods of sugar snap peas. He knew he had to be the adult, but he couldn’t fault her choice. They were delicious. Once they were satiated, Garth tucked the dried seed packet in his loincloth and grabbed some pods from a nearby hyper-fertilized pea bush, busting them open with his fingernail.
It was time to find out if his idea would bear fruit. So to speak.
“Look after the sickie,” he said, nodding to Doug. “The panic words are the same.”
“Don’t go too far.”
“Yes, mom.” Garth drawled. Leanne scowled as he limped away from the fire, behind a tree.
Garth took a pea and held it in his hand, concentrating on the tingling feeling, trying to strengthen the sensation until it felt like a river of power was flowing through his arm, into the seed.
Sprout, damn you! Garth thought, taking a seat and closing his eyes, trying to prod the pea into action in his palm. Plant-based magic. That’s what he was aiming for. If he could do that, he’d have a head start on the rest of these shmucks.
Try as he might, no matter how much energy he crammed into it, the stubborn pea sat on his palm, inert. Taunting him.
“F-“ Garth cocked his hand back to throw the pea, before sighing and bringing his hand back down. Getting angry wouldn’t solve anything, he needed to work his mind through the steps, isolate the way his abilities worked and experiment, constantly pushing the boundaries. He couldn’t just give up from being irritated.
Garth took a deep breath and returned his attention to the feeling, focusing more on exploring the tingling sensation in fine detail rather than maxing it out.
Ten minutes later, he thought he felt a crack from the pea. He reached down to pick it up and look at it and wound up rolling it off his palm in the dim light.
Leanne was stewing as she sharpened her knife. There had been blood all over her house when she went back to it during one of her runs. Thanks to the stones, she could run faster and longer than she ever had. Enough to visit her house and make it back without Garth asking any nosy questions. It was none of his business anyway.
The spear beside her reminded her of that wood she’d made a CO2 car with, what was it… balsa wood. Light, breakable, and soft. Everything was starting to seem a little like Balsa wood to Leanne.
Which of them had died? The intrusive thoughts returned, forcing her to ask questions she’d rather put in the back of her mind. Did her dad turn into one of those white things and eat her mother, or did her mom turn into a giant pod like Ms. Henner? Leanne shivered at the thought.
Can’t change any of it, just gotta do what Kolath said, gather people I can trust. Leanne glanced at Doug, the silver aura deep and strong around him. Garth’s aura fluctuated wildly, although it seemed to be purer silver the closer she stood to him.
When she had first seen him, she’d thought maybe the roiling aura meant he was intending to betray her at the first opportunity, at least until she’d seen Harold. The pitch black, slimy feeling she got from seeing that man made all her hairs stand on edge.
Garth was, by comparison, harmless. He was more the kind of guy that would stick with her as long as it didn’t hurt him and was a generally favorable arrangement. The deep silver of Doug’s aura indicated a follower, someone who would follow her unquestioningly as soon as she earned his loyalty away from Harold.
She could still see the faint clinging tendrils of the man’s leech-like aura, but they were being rapidly pushed out and replaced with her own color of pale blue. Doug was a much easier nut to crack than Garth.
“Do right by them,” She murmured, repeating the advice of Kolath, King of Gods, “And they’ll follow your lead.” She turned her gaze away from Doug and returned to her work.
“AGH!” came a shout from the other side of the tree, where Garth thought he was being quiet. Sounded like he was in trouble.
“You okay?” she asked, standing up. It never hurt to double check. Plus if he owed her a debt, it made it harder for him to turn on her later. She’d already saved his life once, making them even.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Garth’s voice came from beyond the tree, along with the sound of leaves thrashing against each other and healthy dose of cursing. “Just taking a shit. It, um, startled me.”
Leanne rolled her eyes. She wasn’t responsible for him getting overgrown for trying to wipe his ass with a leaf. She hunkered down, and returned to sharpening her new knife. It was long enough to take a ghoul’s head clean off. The only problem was the reach, forcing her to step inside range of their grasping claws if she wanted to do so.
A machete would have had better range, but the metal was so thin she knew it would fall apart after a few uses. She sighed. She’d just have to accept that she was short and focus on growing. Extra height would mean extra reach.
Maybe your dad is one of the corpses on the riverbank. You should go and check. Could you stand going the rest of your life not knowing what happened?
Leanne shook her head. Pointless. She didn’t give a damn about either of them and any thoughts otherwise were pure longing for a time when shark-toothed creatures weren’t trying to eat her, not dear old mom and dad.
Tomorrow they were going to move on, look for the outposts and try to find civilization. If Doug was alive, they’d bring him. Maybe he’d had enough stones that he would be able to walk. Garth seemed pretty chipper for having a hole in his leg, and Doug’s fever had broken, so maybe they wouldn’t have to cut him open and pull out his Heartstone.
Leanne tested the edge of the knife with her thumb, wondering whether it would see its first use on a human or Kipling.
“ENTANGLE!” she heard Garth shout, and turned her head in time to see a half dozen little green balls flying through the air toward her. What? She batted one out of the air and the other five bounced harmlessly off her chest.
Immediately upon hitting the ground the peas erupted violently, bright green tendrils burst out of the ground, winding around her legs, then her arms. Her balance compromised, she fell on her butt, more vines wrapping around her and pinning her to the ground.
“What the hell are you doing?” Leanne demanded, glaring at Garth. She could tell that he wasn’t planning on betraying her anytime soon, but his smug expression demanded retribution.
“I call them Combat Peas, Mk.1,” he said with a grin as flowers bloomed and resolved into pea pods on the thick mess of pea stalks. Garth picked a sugar snap pea off her shoulder and crunched down on it with a satisfied expression. “Guaranteed to delay a bad guy without losing any of its flavor-ack!”
Leanne lunged forward, tearing the plants weak root system right out of the ground before chasing Garth around the fire. She almost got a hold of him at first, but the roots slowed her down somewhat, allowing the gimp to dodge out of her way. A moment later another bloom of peas tied her feet together and dropped her to the ground again.
“I see,” Garth said, limping away as fast as he could while readying more peas. “need to breed them for longer, stronger roots, and tougher tendrils. Thank you for your help with testing the Combat Peas, Mk 1. Would you like to share any comments or criticism?”
“Nope,” Garth said, hiding behind the wheelbarrow with the dying man. “Put down the knife or you might hurt Doug.”
“Put down the peas, or I might hurt you.”
“That’s ridiculous, these peas are my last line of defense. You put down the knife.”
The disarmament took roughly twenty minutes, involving a pinky promise not to use the peas on her again, and allowing her another solid punch on his arm. Leanne deliberately aimed for his bruised upper arm again, making the torment that much greater, but Garth kept his silence, not wanting to start another Pea War.
“We done?” he asked, rubbing his arm.
“Then go to bed, I’ll take first watch.” I’ll take first watch. I never thought I would, in all seriousness, be saying those words.
“No peas while I’m asleep.”
“Nah, getting you once was enough for me. It’s completely out of my system.” Garth was briefly tempted to surround her with watermelons while she slept, but decided against it. While it was easy to break the spirit of an agreement, all it bred was distrust and quite possibly human feces in his hair while he slept.
Nothing was crueler than a child.
“I’ll be breeding the peas until sunrise.” Another sentence I never expected to say. “I’ll wake you up at dawn, then I’ll catch some sleep too.”
The day must have exhausted her, because the girl started yawning almost immediately, curled up next to the fire with a couple dime store blankets on top of her. Doug slept in the wheelbarrow, his body facing the fire.
Garth put a hand in front of Doug’s face, judging how much heat he was getting. It was a little tough, but he could still generally tell how hot something was, if he concentrated.
Garth moved the wheelbarrow a little closer to the fire, then walked off to the side of the fire, and picked a couple handfuls of peas from the remnants of their little tiff.
He held them in his two cupped hands, concentrating on the sensation until he pushed in just the right way to cause the little click in the buzzing sensation of the Hyper-Fertility ability.
That done, he tossed them out into the woods, making a fifty or so individual plants. He repeated this until he had about a thousand pea plants of various sizes spread out into the forest, latching onto whatever was nearby. He walked along the plants, testing the strength of their roots and vines in the light of the fire.
Now, which of you fine specimens is going to be Combat Pea Mk.2?
He could do it more scientifically if he had a fish-weighing scale, but eyeballing it would work, albeit a bit slower.
Garth chuckled as he thought about what had happened when the pea had rolled off his hand, exploding between his legs. The tendrils had shot out with near ballistic energy, exploring and wrapping around every nook and cranny of his body. His cock. He’d had to pull vines off his cock before they choked the life out of it. His ass had luckily been pressed firmly to the ground, or else he might have had to call Leanne in to perform amateur rectal surgery.
Garth shuddered. Thank. God. That didn’t happen. He tapped the gunshot wound. Only ten or so hours since it had happened and it was already only tender. It seemed like he could go into town tomorrow.
And about time, because Garth was going to the men’s department and getting himself some clothes. He would rather wear clothes and have to eat than ever go through nearly neutering himself again.
He went through the plants until he found one that was very difficult to uproot, its tendrils thick and strong. He started harvesting the peas from it.
Hello, Combat Pea Mk. 2, Garth thought as he filled his hands. He’d been a little worried that genetic variation was no longer a thing in this brave new world, but if it wasn’t, something else was picking up the slack. By the time the sun came up and he’d reached Combat Pea Mk. 30, the color of the pea had turned orange, along with the entire plant being so tough he couldn’t pull them out of the ground.
Neat, maybe I can make them grow thorns. It was a good goal for the one thousand series of the Combat Pea. Garth thought to himself as he tapped his chin, hands full of orange peas.
To be clear it wasn’t plant-based magic, not exactly. He was just using the hyper-fertility blessing to breed incredibly tough peas in hours instead of years and supercharge their growth until it was explosive, effectively making them into a weapon.
It was a fine distinction to make, but still there.
“Whoah, what’s all this?” Leanne asked as she got out from under the covers, rubbing her eyes and casting her gaze over the forest, which was entirely filled with peas as far as the eye could see.
“Oh, I guess I got carried away.” Garth said, glancing at the sun peeking through the trees to the east.
“Meet the Combat Pea Mk.-“ The ground seemed to tilt up sideways and smack him in the face.
“Garth, are you okay?” He heard Leanne’s voice grow distant. His eyes rolled into his head and the world went dark.