A fantasy-western serial
Episode 15: “Reborn”
Reed wandered through a forest with trees so tall that he couldn't see the sky. But he could feel the sun. He held up his hands. Sunlight penetrated the canopy, yellow rays illuminating the new seeds of life blowing on the wind. Regeneration had begun. He could feel it deep within himself.
"Plant the seed!"
Reed spun around, but there was no one there. That was impossible. He had heard someone!
The dream faded as he regained consciousness, although the words echoed in his mind as if they had been shouted directly into his ear. He could feel fingers pressed against his neck. Reed could understand the words being spoken near him again.
“How do you even know if he has a heart? He's not like us.”
“He does. It may not be exactly like ours, but it’s there. I’ve felt it before.”
“Shush! He’s coming around. Give him room.”
Reed opened his eyes and found his two companions staring down at him. Sam promptly cuffed him on the side of the head. Reed grimaced at him.
“You scared the living daylights outta me,” Sam said, “What the hell was that all about?” They laid their hands on him and helped him sit up straight, his limbs still lodged deep into the crevice.
“That was the best soil I’ve ever tasted,” Reed said, “After so long without food…”
“Too much at once?” Anna asked.
He nodded, glad he didn’t have to elaborate further, especially since he couldn’t explain it himself. Even the soil his village had never been that rich with nutrients and minerals, even when he was a sprout himself. He worried maybe it could be dangerous for him to consume. Although, he was feeling surprisingly better. He stretched out, his arms stretching farther than usual. They were almost like rubber as they retracted back with a powerful snap.
“I’ve never seen you do that before,” Anna said, “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I feel…” Reed shook his head. “I feel great.” He cautiously rotated his shoulders, but stopped halfway through the rotation. That’s strange, no pain there either. He unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it back to reveal his shoulder. The gunshot wound from Reinheart had completely healed, as if he had never been shot in the first place. He poked his sides and belly. No more bruises either. Something metal jangled to the floor, falling loose from his shirt.
Sam picked it up and examined it before he could. “Thirty-three caliber. Did this come… from you?”
“I was shot but--” he stopped, showing Sam his bare, green skin. Not even a trace of a scar graced its surface.
Sam whistled, examining the bullet hole clearly in the fabric of the shirt and even the bit of dried fluid from the wound itself. “I heard you Xylem could regenerate lost limbs and such, but I never thought I’d see something like this with my own two eyes. You’re a walking miracle!”
Reed carefully pulled his legs out of the crevice and started to slip his boots back on. It was harder than he thought because the shackles were in the way. At first he tried to mash the soft leather under the metal but it would not give. He soon grew frustrated. He grabbed one shackle and tugged. It snapped open like tin foil, clattering to the ground with its chain.
The trio stared at the broken shackle. Before either of them could reply, he ripped off the other one just as easily. He flexed his fist and then his arm, the vine-like texture bulging with strength. He grinned and picked up a length of chain. He stretched it between his chest until the links gave way and popped, spraying everywhere, making Sam and Anna hit the floor before one took out their eyes.
“Reed! Stop!” Anna shouted, but it was too late, the men above came rushing to the edge to see what had happened. They saw Reed there standing tall without anything shackling him down. They pulled out their guns.
“Get behind the cart!” Reed shouted to them.
Sam pulled Anna before she could grab onto Reed to take him to safety as well. A spray of bullets ricocheted off the cart as Sam held her down, praying the old cart was still as sturdy as she looked.
“Reed!" Her voice was lost under the noise.
Every fiber of Reed’s stretched like elastic, allowing him to easily dodge the shots. He flung his arms onto one of the overhanging blue crystals and pulled himself up into the air, slingshotting himself into the fray as the men kept shooting. They dove away as he landed in the midst of them, keeping his back to the cliffside.
He retracted his arms only to sprout three more vines and fling all five appendages out at them, grabbing all of their guns and pulling them to himself, dropping them in a pile, the men tumbling down. Again he shot his arms out and snaked around the men, tying his vines quickly into knots to hold them. With a grunt and a snap he broke off his vines, sealing the ends as his limbs retracted.
He turned his head to see the other guards from the lower levels approaching. He picked up two of the bound guards, flinging them at the oncoming horde, bowling them down like a stack of milk bottles. He ran towards them and whipped at them sharply, grabbing their guns and flinging them over his head, adding them to the pile he had started earlier.
Until the arms wrapped around his neck, Reed hadn’t realized he was in danger. The man laughed at him, “Not so tough now! Huh?” He was losing his breath. Pain erupted in his side as the knife sank in. Anger boiled up in him.
The man yelped, releasing him, bleeding from small cuts all over his arms. Reed looked down to see hundreds of sharp thorns emerging from his body. He pulled out the knife and watched as the cut closed almost immediately, the pain fading as if it had never happened.
“What are you?” The man backed away, staring at Reed like he was a zombie.
Reed did not dignify him with a reply. Surging forward, he punched the man with all his might. He went flying backwards, landing on top of the other men. Reed listened for a moment, feeling the vibrations through the ground. Their shouts had alerted more of the compound. Reed could feel more of Reinheart’s men coming down. So much for a covert escape plan, he thought.
He certainly couldn’t take on all of Reinheart’s men at once. He had been lucky so far but the man who had jumped him proved he wasn’t invincible. He looked around at the prisoners. They would be in danger as well if more fighting broke out.
For now he just had to block more of Reinheart’s men from coming in. That would buy him some time. He shoved his hands deep into the ground and concentrated. He could hear the men stomping through the tunnels but he focused. There! He found life deep within the soil, wrapping his fingers around it. A buried seed that had been long dormant. Grow, he willed it. Grow! It glowed brilliantly.
The ground shook violently as vine-like structures erupted from the ground. Within moments they grew together into a thick web, blocking the entrance to the crystal mines just as the men arrived down the tunnel. With one last surge of power, he sprouted sharp thorns all along every inch of the network. The netting spread further on the ground just beyond causing the men to jump back. They began firing at the vines. When Reed cut himself off from it again the vines lost their life and flexibility and solidified like a bush of hardened weeds. He breathed heavily. Even with his new strength, that had taken a lot out of him. He knew he had no time to rest. The wall would hold them for a few minutes at the most, if he was lucky.
Reed rushed back to the men and guns, grabbing a couple sets of keys from the bound guards who continued to curse and shout at him. He ignored them, slinging his vines again onto the huge blue crystals and swinging down, making his way back to Sam and Anna. All around him the prisoners were on their feet and shouting at him. He realized it wasn’t in anger. They were cheering for him!
“You did it!” Anna cheered.
“Not yet he hasn’t,” Sam pointed up at the wall of vines, “That won’t hold them for long. You got a plan, son?”
Reed glanced around. The workers had gathered as close as they could, bound by their chains. They were all watching him from a distance. Many of them looked like strong men and women. They had been hardened by working in the mines. Even in their exhausted state they stood tall, holding themselves up proudly and supporting the ones who couldn’t.
Reed knew what to do. He tossed one set of keys to Anna and the other to her father, gesturing to the other prisoners.
“Set them free!”
To be continued...