It stinks of bull shit. It was the nature of farms, but it didn’t make the sickly-sweet scent any less cloying. The mud sucks at my shoes, musty hay scattered lazily across the path doing little to help. It’s crowded, noisy, and a surprisingly small space to hold visitors for such a large plot of land.
I wrestle through the crowd, holding a tray of scalding hot disposable cups over my head. I ford a river of people heading towards the pumpkin patch and wade through a stagnant rivulet of folks waiting for roasted corn cobs. I burst out of the crowd and into open air, just beside the barn.
I find my family gathered around a tall plank of wood painted with pumpkins and marked to measure by the foot. I gingerly pass cups around, then wrap my hands tight around my own. I sip the molton cider and gasp as it burns a line down my throat. I back up against the wall and smile for the camera like we do every year.
“Look!” My sister cries. She points to the barn. She’ll be blurry again this year.
She dashes to the huge barn door and picks up something from just behind it. She shuffles back, cooing, and holds out a small ball of fur.
The fur wiggles, then turns around, it’s long ears drooping off of her hand and its tiny nose twiddling.
Juniper sat up, groaning and stretching from her slumber. Pleasantly warm dreams swam through her head, soaking through her limbs and filling them with soft cotton. Sun drenched her leaves and a cool breeze carried the briny scent of the sea through her branches. She stretched and with her, her tree reached too.
Motion at her feet drew her out of her stupor. She tried to kick at it, only to find herself rooted to the ground. Slowly, she realized it was in fact her roots that she was feeling, the motion coming from a wagon passing over the ground above. With a growing sense of surprise, awe, and wakefulness, she pushed out her senses to explore this new phenomina.
The roots now traveled quite a distance, reaching in all directions under the earth. They stretched under and through a small, but busy, pioneer town and weaved around boulders far below. People of all shapes and sizes moved through the few roads, as well as through various zones that were nearly dead to her detection. A quirk grew at the corner of her mouth as she realized they must be houses.
Juniper sat up and finally rubbed the sleep from her eyes to take in the sights.
The first thing she noticed was that her little tree was still quite little. The trunk remained a sickly sapling, her branches straggling and her leaves few. Yet, despite the minimal shade, she still had visitors resting under her trunk.
Lazing about around her tree were four large lumps roughly the colour of the grass. Juniper grinned, recognizing the large, friendly axolotl creatures that had somehow floated through the air just before her hibernation. However, there was a fifth shape with them, a grey-mottled copy the size of their earthly counterparts. Rather than napping with the adults on the ground, it dangled its thick legs off the edges of a branch just below her.
She could not resist.
Juniper quietly slipped off the branch and floated down to observe the baby. It breathed quietly, its long grey gillstalks drifting lightly in the breeze. As she watched, it opened its mouth, arching its back to accommodate the gaping maw and squeaking almost inaudibly. Yawn complete, it tucked its legs up against the branch and settled back in to sleep.
A warm feeling came over the dryad and she wanted nothing more than to hug the baby amphibian - which was still an inch or two longer than she was tall - but decided against disturbing its sleep.
Instead, she flew out of her meager branch cover and took a look around. Her eyes first fell on a small bush just next to her tree. Where there had once been flowers, there now hung plump lavender fruits. The tiny tree-person flew over the sleeping axolotl creatures and over to the bush that had previously been out of her range.
The new bush was unlike anything she’d seen before. The vines she’d used to kill the monster now appeared as branches exploding out of the plant's base. It curled in around itself like a tumbleweed, covered in tiny bunches of fluted leaves with serrated edges, like a grape plant. The green orb was punctuated by bell-shaped fruits the size of a small squash, half buried in the leaves. Each lavender skin was decorated with green splotches, each splotch shaped like the eyes of the bug monster they came from. She flew over to brush her hand against one, of the fruits, smiling at the pleasant, rubbery skin like that of a tomato. Her light touch caused a shiver through the plant, sinking the fruit slightly deeper into the foliage.
“Ah, ew!” Juniper exclaimed as she felt the plant shiver right against one of her roots.
A thrill of curiosity passed through her and she rose into the air, angling away from her tree. She soared straight out, trying to measure the distance traveled. She sped over the tall grasses, while wind whipped through her short hair. She slapped taller stalks out of the way with an amused chuckle, reveling in the freedom of flight. Eventually, the river cut in under her path and she dipped low to kick her feet into the rushing tide. She tried skipping over the surface, but had to pull up sharply to avoid becoming food to an unfamiliar type of fish. By the time she had crossed back to land, by the time she had neared the edges of her root’s reach, she had already forgotten how far she’d come.
Juniper rose up to squint back west, towards her tree. It was a struggle to gain altitude this far from her trunk, barely getting ten feet off of the ground here. It was hard to tell, but she estimated she was about a mile from her tree, plus a few meters more before she could no longer fly and would have to walk. A brave tendril of her roots had managed to climb onto a floating piece of land, a hidden tower to mark the edge of her expanded domain. She hovered over this root, using it to look out over the new settlement.
A lot had changed in the four months she’d been forced into sleep. Gone were most of the wagons, cannibalized into small buildings that reminded Juniper of old westerns films. A muddy road had been worn through the center of town, another bisecting it and leading out into the plains towards a few patches of cultivated land. Behind her, the road continued on towards the mountains, splitting to ford the river and cut into the forest.
The otherworlder stepped off of the floating land, noting in the back of her mind to investigate the vines more when she had the time - before she grew bigger. For now, her size would do well to keep her hidden from the townsfolk. The more info she could gather before she was noticed, the safer she would be while so vulnerable.
From above, she could see that the town had kept the previous semicircle design, the main road curving in an arch with her tree at the center of it's radius. Open, but maintained, land stood between her tree and town, punctuated only by a deep pit and the bug-bush. A single row of buildings lined the inside edge of the curved road, each with a higher degree of finish than those on the outer edge.
The roads were surprisingly densely packed, as it seemed every member of the hundred and half or so people were hard at work. Human shopkeepers loitered in front of their stores, calling out their wares to passersby by name. A giant bristling with disembodied arms held several beams upright as crossbeams were nailed in by a crew of loud dwarves and willowy elves. Juniper turned to follow the intersecting road, passing over several houses that ranged from drafty to ramshackle.
The crowds quickly vanished as the intersecting road became a meager dirt path. Out here, the land was loose and drifted in massive chunks, each farm occupying its own drifting terrace. In a way, it reminded the Dryad of kinetic desk toys back home in the way they bumped and shifted in the breeze. She drifted lower as she neared the edge of her root’s reach, coming to land on a simple thatched roof. Before her, the island stretched in a short curve, bending out of sight behind a higher terrace, like the shape of a cooked shrimp. The outer wall was fenced with tall, crude stakes lashed together with the same vines that kept the ground anchored.
As she watched, a young man came out of the farmhouse with a huge wooden bucket in both arms. He hollered in the language of the land and broke into a short sprint. To Juniper’s surprise, he began to slosh the contents of the bucket - a mix of vegetable scraps and some viscous brown liquid, over the shorn grasses in the field. He continued this for several minutes until the bucket was empty and his voice was horse.
The rancher appeared young, a human with olive skin and a shock of platinum-blonde hair. He wore a simple tunic and wide straw hat, but also wore a set of embellished, if dirty, plate armour leggings. The armour clattered loudly with each step the svelte farmer took.
A few moments passed as the farmer leaned against the fence, breathing heavily. Then, from the shadowed corner between farmland and the cliffside of the next higher terrace, shapes began to emerge. Brown masses with wide white paws began to slowly hop through the field, their long, droopy fur covering most of their features. They were almost frog-like in their movement, bouncing, freezing, turning, then bouncing once more. Juniper’s mouth slowly fell open as a herd of these furry creatures seemed to appear out of nowhere to descend on the vegetable slop.
The human pushed off of the fence, slowly wandering over to the creatures with a hand outstretched. It vanished into the fur of one such critter, moving in circles as he pet the nearly foot tall mound. Almost lovingly, the creature jumped forward, raming its head into his legs with a resounding metallic report. Juniper moved in closer to watch the rancher pull out a brush and begin laboriously pulling it through the dense living carpet.
Without warning, the herd suddenly broke. The farmer grunted as he was shoved to the ground, the bouncing fur balls scattering in all directions. Where one came in contact with another, they seemed to stick together, rolling into another and collecting into pods of five or six. These pods shuffled in an amorphous mass for a few seconds, then suddenly resolved into the shape of a beast, like a large ox or bison. It dawned on Juniper that these were the creatures she saw pulling the wagons those four months previous.
Moments later, an arrow screamed into the field, burying itself in the grass just feet from the rancher. He startled, then sighed. He scrambled to his feet to avoid a large pod of fur galloping through the field, then retrieved the bolt with an eye on the sky.
Juniper drifted behind him, her curiosity piqued. He pushed his way out through a gate and down a crude wooden ramp that had been grafted into the hillside with vines and stakes. The ramp curved down to meet the road, though the human opted to step off into the grass towards a hut at the base of the hill. There, two figures sat coiled, one leaning on a spear, the other holding a bow. As the dryad got closer she noticed the figures were a pair of snake women of some kind. They reminded her of lamia from myths back home, their scaled, but otherwise human bodies fading into snake tails around the thigh, though the one with the bow had only a barely healed stump instead.
Juniper couldn’t help but drift closer to inspect their alien bodies. Both lamia were tall, even with human legs they’d be amazons. Where one had straight hair cut in an almost egyptian bob, the other had an explosion of curls that obscured most of her face. Despite this, Juniper could tell they were identical, both sharing thin lips and a distinct lack of a nose. Their faces and shoulders were more flesh than scale, though sprinkles of the stuff spattered this skin like freckles. Both wore a simple sash around their waists by way of clothing, their torso covered in the same wide, creme scales that graced the underside of their tails. Under the scales they were nothing but muscle and sinew.
The human made a small sound of greeting and the two looked up with identical expressions of mildly surprised boredom on their muzzles. They chatted amicably for a few moments, the tailless twin taking her arrow back with a smile that vanished as fast as it had appeared. She gestured out to the field where several of the small ant-like worker bugs had been shot with various levels of accuracy.
She then gestured into the air and the three turned to look at the dryad.
Juniper pulled back into the air, her heart racing as she was spotted. How the hell did she see me? She panicked, rushing to fade her green glow into the blue of the sky. The human waved to the retreating sparkle, but by then she was already making haste back to town.
Juniper sat in an awning, carefully positioned behind a candle to hide her glow. Below her, the streets bustled with activity even at this late evening hour. She had watched all kinds of incredible interactions from the hours of observation, a fantasy life she had only seen in books and animations. Here, something as simple as someone borrowing sugar from a neighbor was a sight to behold - especially since the neighbors were an elf family and a humanoid made of living water.
Below her, the door opened once more. The owner of the shop, a stout humanoid with an expansive beard that she could only describe as dwarven, shuffled over to take a seat on the creaky porch steps. He pulled out a small box full of thin yellow grain stalks. He pulled one out, lit one end, and stuck the other in his mouth. It dangled from the corner of his lips, occasionally sparking and popping as it burned. Each time it sparked, he sucked in loudly, then exhaled a gout of yellowy smoke.
The dwarf leaned back and sighed, turning his dour eyes to the sun setting over the ocean. A rumble passed through the building and the many-handed giant awkwardly shuffled into view. The dwarf gave him a wave and they struck up a jovial conversation. The giant seemed to struggle with his words.
Juniper darted out from behind the candle before her glow could stand out any more against the darkening sky. However... when she glanced at the giant, she found his head twisted on his shoulders to stare directly at her. His face was a barely animate mask of stone with piercing blue eyes that fixed back on her own. Her heart stopped and she turned hard to try and shake his gaze. Instead, she slammed into the side of the building and tumbled into a pile of kindle wood.
A rumble rolled through the town, a roar that caused the tiny dryad’s veins to run with ice. She cowered as thunderous claps joined the howl, muttering to herself about the irony of a dryad dying in a pile of dead wood. The torrent of noise raged on for a few long moments before it became more distinct, a rhythmic cadence to the noise almost like… a chuckle.
Cautiously, she snuck out of her hiding spot to peak her head out. There, the giant was still roaring with laughter. His many arms whirling about his body and slapping his legs in mirth. He tried desperately to stammer out an explanation to the dwarf, who glanced back and forth between the hundred-handed one and where he was pointing with growing confusion.
“What?” Cleaver demanded, nearly losing balance as he leaned over the edge of the porch. Tychus’ laughter faded to an amused chuckle, though he still struggled to get a word through his stammer.
“F-f-l-fl-fli- it fl- it fl-!” He chuckled, a hand raising to wipe tears from each of his eyes. Every time another resident looked in his direction to see the source of the commotion a new face would manifest from his head - starting the process of wiping away the tears once again.
Cleaver waved a hand dismissively and slowly got to his feet with a groan. He took a long puff of the still burning stalk of Fleat, then tucked it behind his ear. Warmth washed over his body, the aches of the day coalescing in his lungs before being cast out in the form of yellow smoke.
“Heeere little bird” Cleaver grumbled, crouching down with one hand on a tired knee. He gave a few short whistles, waving a hand to coax whatever it was out. “That big meanie laughing at you?”
Cleaver shot a grin back at Tychus, then let out a shout of surprise when he turned back. A small face peared back at him from within the kindling, its eyes a brilliant yellow and flecked with distrust.
“By my blade…” The earth-blooded murmured, lowering himself to his belly in the muddy grass. “Do you think it’s back?”
“M-m-m-possibly!” the giant rumbled, leaning back on a few pillar-like arms to get a better view. “It’s b-been, what? Five m-moons?”
“Already?!” Cleaver barked out in laughter, then winced as the face retreated deeper in the pile. He reached an open hand out towards her, cooing, “Sorry, sorry little thing”
The stout humanoid creeped closer and he could see the face get nearer. A small tunnel formed in the branches with a dry crackling noise and a tiny child, barely a few inches tall, stepped out. She wore a browning leaf over her green skin and hovered a few inches above Cleaver's calloused palm.
“Well.” Cleaver said pleasantly, slowly getting to his feet, “I do believe it is. Say hello to little miss Town Spirit!”
Tychus’ hands fluttered like leaves in the breeze, a few stroking his marble-white beard. “A little sm-mall in my opinion, but better than nothing.”
The spirit slowly lifted into the air, drifting with cautious care towards the hecatonchires. His hands slowed their constant whirl about his body, the metal cuffs, where each shoulder would be, clattering loudly as they collided midair. She alighted upon an outstretched finger and the giant’s eyes shimmering with excitement. Then, just as quickly, they began to fall as he made eye contact with someone barreling down the main road towards them.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” a nasal voice screeched.
- Seattle, Washington, USA
Busy with life and a broken brain, so chapter releases are a tad slow. I'm aiming for releasing a chapter every other Friday between my two active fictions (Ironically, my only isekai fiction is on hiatus until I figure out where the hell I'm going with it). Critique welcome, as I'm aware my style is a bit stilted and overly-wordy and my ideas half-baked.
Additionally, I am looking for any editing work. I focus primarily on flow and subtext analysis and only ask for exposure at this point in my career.
Please join my subreddit for release announcements and the occasional meme or billion.
- La Fusilada: 20 chapter film-script-cum-novella following an alternative history where El Fusilada was a woman and kicked ass. Revenge western ala Kill Bill meets Hateful Eight.
- I Will Be Everyone: Fully pants-ed episodic superhero story following a hive mind of infinite-clones who are too polite for world domination.
- T.R.E.E.S.E.K.A.I.: Reborn as a dryad in a weird new world (will continue... eventually)