Zack was pulled along the rough floor, the roots and rocks of the artificial underjungle shaking and scraping him. The thin vine around his ankle felt weak enough that he might be able to break it off if he could get a moment to work at it, but the rubble was disorienting. He only had one hand to work with as the other hand was still clutching the lumisphere, something he was determined not to lose.
“This way, human,” said Igneous’ voice. “It’s dangerous that way.”
The voice was beginning to sound less and less like Igneous. He had no idea how that plant worked. Either he was getting out of its range, or the plant was recognizing that Igneous’ voice wasn’t what he wanted to hear and was trying to shift to something else that might be more persuasive.
The tiny strand of the Lusca Vine around his ankle snapped up suddenly, and Zack was tossed into the air. He collided with two other, larger vines that were stretched across the path between two trees. One coiled around the hand that held the lumisphere, the other twisted around one of his legs. Held in the air for a moment, the tiny vine shot up and wrapped around his ankle again as the three vines pulled him back down to the ground.
The rough track along the floor resumed, now with three vines the size of small tree branches holding him to the ground. There was something different about the larger branches, something beyond their raw strength, like they were pinching him repeatedly. A quick look to the hand with the lumisphere confirmed strange growths on the vine, growths that reminded him of the suckers on an octopus or squid’s tentacles.
“I’m over here, human,” said Igneous’ voice. “This way!”
“Workin’ on it!” shouted Zack. He grabbed at the vine that gripped the hand with the lumisphere, but he wasn’t able to loosen it. He only had moments to try, though, as a sudden collision between his back and a stumpy stalagmite shook his hands apart. Twisting one of the vines off would be tricky even if it wasn’t actively moving and shaking him, but it didn’t seem possible as it was.
He looked down the path the vines were following, trying to get his bearings. He twisted to avoid another rough impact with an impending tree and snapped his arm around it as he was pulled past. He shouted in pain as the sudden stop jolted his shoulder and the vines continued pulling. Zack tried to pass the lumisphere to the hand around the tree, but the vine pulling the arm made it impossible for the two hands to join under Zack’s terms.
“Where are you?” said Igneous’ voice.
“Closer to the Lusca vine, you lousy flytrap!”
The thicker vine around Zack’s leg loosened slightly, giving Zack a chance to secure his grip on the tree. The vine was only repositioning itself, however, and slithered around him enough to get a grip on his leg and lower torso as well. Zack shouted in pain as the pull of the vines increased dramatically, making his grip loosen.
“Flytrap?” came Igneous’ voice, echoing through the darkness. “What’s a flytrap?”
“It’s what YOU are, you stupid…”
Zack paused. The voice was sounding more like Igneous than it had since he first heard it.
“Igneous, is that you? Really you?!”
“Of course, you foolish human,” came a shouted reply. “Help me find you! I think I’m getting closer, but everything echoes down here. The acoustics are terrible.”
Zack remembered the plant insisting that the acoustics were bad, but shook the thought away. Any shot at survival was worth taking at this point.
“Some sort of vine thing’s got me!” shouted Zack. “It’s-”
A sudden concerted tug from the vines yanked Zack from the tree, and he shouted as the rough ride through the underjungle resumed. Moments later, Zack was pulled into a clearing of sorts. Other plants seemed to stop at an ill-defined treeline that surrounded a crack in the ground, a crack ringed by three stalagmites. And within the crack, made visible by the dim light of Zack’s lumisphere, was the Lusca Vine.
A writhing mass of vegetation all connected to an oblong, lumpy root in the center reminded Zack of a potato. The roots and vines emerging from it swatted the air, as three larger ones shot toward Zack as soon as the light from his lumisphere entered the clearing. Zack saw the sucker-like growths on these largest vines were more well developed than the ones that, so far, had merely been pinching him. They looked like tiny mouths with tiny mandibles, some meant for piercing others meant for grinding. These largest vines moved slowly, and looked less capable of entwining or ensnaring prey, but as one lifted into the air over Zack he wondered if, perhaps, the largest vines had a different purpose.
The raised vine positioned itself carefully and Zack mentally prepared to be clubbed by the equivalent of a small tree when suddenly the vines paused. The sudden stillness was eerie after the writhing movement moments before. Zack wasted no time in trying to pull the vines off of him, but the vines remained tight.
Then he smelled the smoke and saw the light. A dull, red light entered the clearing as a rocky figure pushed its way beyond the treeline, the branch it pushed out of its way beginning to smoulder and smoke. Zack gasped in recognition as Igneous’ light divided the Lusca Vine’s attention. A series of vines all shot toward her, and with her slower speed they easily ensnared her… before quickly recoiling as they began to smoke. Other vines moved toward her, but each of them started to catch fire at they came in contact with her as she slowly pushed her way toward Zack.
Zack felt the heat as Igneous approached, and found it hard to look away from what looked like a walking pile of volcanic rock barely holding itself together. His attention was brought back to his impending demise by the sound of creaking and groaning wood that came from the vine preparing to club him. The living cudgel sped down just as Igneous jumped into its path, grabbing it as it collided with her.
The vines surrounding Zack loosened and surged toward Igneous, each beginning to sizzle as they came in contact with her. She ignored them and wrestled with the largest vine. She looked over her shoulder at Zack, scowling from the effort.
Zack took the hint, scrambled to his feet, and ran. The two other clubbing vines attempted to smash him as he approached the treeline, but neither one had positioned itself as carefully as the first did, and with their slower speeds Zack was able to easily dodge them. He entered the jungle, held the lumisphere in front of him, and ran.
“This way, human!” came Igneous’ false voice from the distant telepathic plant.
Zack hoped that the plant’s voice wouldn’t prove to be disorienting as he tried to get away from the Lusca Vine. His running slowed as he realized that the jungle had other dangers, and he wasn’t sure which way to go.
While he was planning his next move, Igneous ran up behind him. She pointed and Zack moved. She was moving slower than he could, even slower than he remembered her, but she was stable. Zack looked back and saw many vines cautiously following.
Remembering Murk’s comment that the Lusca Vine was drawn to the light and deciding that Igneous would be light enough for the present, he squeezed the lumisphere until it reached its brightest setting. He tossed the lumisphere through the underbrush and was pleased to see the vines surging in the direction of the light that wasn’t accompanied by Igneous’ oppressive heat. Zack smiled, and turned back to follow Igneous’ path, hoping that he’d bought them some time.
“You’re getting close, human,” said Igneous’ voice, but from the darkness ahead.
“Igneous, wait!” said Zack.
Igneous didn’t slow down in time, and the vice-like maw snapped from the darkness, clamping onto her arm. Igneous looked at it for a second as the plant began to smoke before deciding that it was worth her time to pry the plant’s mouth open again and push it to the side. The plant recoiled, and Igneous and Zack passed it safely.
Soon, they reached the very door that Zack had found before hearing Igneous’ voice from the darkness. It was broken, though, ripped from its hinges by something from the other side. A staircase with a dim light existed beyond. Zack took an eager step through the door and collapsed onto the staircase, finally free from the recreation of the underjungles of Ravelar.
Igneous leaned against the door frame, exhausted.
Zack took a moment to look at Igneous. He could tell it was her, but she’d never looked this way. Extreme cracks covered her surface, and the glow from her eyes and the tips of her crown of stone were intense. A distinct odor of brimstone filled the air, a scent he could notice now that the overpowering aroma of the jungle was behind them.
“Igneous,” he said. “I can’t believe that you’re here. Listen, I don’t know if you’re interested in the bounty on me, but one way or another I’m grateful. A bullet from the DMA almost seems like fun compared to… well, you saw it.”
“I told you before, human,” said Igneous, slowly. She took a deep breath and her internal glow intensified momentarily. “I… owed you. I’m not… eager to collect… your bounty.”
“Oh?” said Zack. “When was that?”
“When I told you about… the bounty.”
Zack stared at Igneous and frowned.
“You did, didn’t you. You said I’d be dead in twelve minutes.”
“Of course I did,” said Igneous. “Are you more of… of a simpleton than you… than you appear?”
Zack shook his head.
“I think… I think I’ve been having problems remembering things lately.”