LORE ARCHIVE – Bestiary Series: The Rootbloom

Rootbloom Expedition, Day 1. Report by Captain Ulyss R. Potrich.

By the grace of good winds and the generous financial backing of Lady M, we made excellent time sailing into the lower reaches of the southern Azure. The Dauntless’s drive crystal cleared the roiling banks of miasma as we approached. I had my doubts about the crudely scrawled map in the sailor’s diary that Lady M provided, but the island was exactly where the chart indicated.

The sailor’s story, if it is to be believed, claims that the island is home to a dangerous vegetative entity called the Rootbloom. Or perhaps Rotbloom. There is some disagreement over the exact lettering put down by the shaking hand of the man who first encountered the dread thing. (May the clouds swallow his bones and the wind carry his spirit.)

The crew knows this is a capture mission, but I haven’t told them exactly what we’re up against, nor what happened to the last crew to land here. Sailors are a superstitious lot and the island has them jumpy enough as it is.

We made landfall this morning and established basecamp outside the ship. I had thought to keep all crew on board for safety, but my valet Cricket convinced me that cooking on a campfire will good for morale. He is brewing tea as I write this, though I’m sure he’s already burned it bitter like he always does. I threatened to blast him out of the Dauntless’s cannon into the endless blue if he does that again.

 

Rootbloom Expedition, Day 2. Report by Captain Ulyss R. Potrich.

It’s real. The damn thing’s real, and we’ve lost Boril and Patriss to prove it.

We’d been in the jungle an hour when the blasted thing struck. It burst from the overgrowth with alarming speed, shuddering and shambling and making the most horrible muffled shriek as it went. Its body was a tangle of vines, moss, and dense wooden roots, reinforced here and there with plates of tough bark. Its eyes were two hollow sockets sunken deep into its face, and somewhere in their depths I swear I caught a glimpse of a pair of frenzied eyes… though it may have been my imagination.

Boril, our boatswain, raised his crossbow, but the Rootbloom struck him so hard it lifted him off his feet and sent him careening into the trees, where we lost sight of him. Patriss fired a quarrel into its side, and a sound like a scream of pain issued from the creature, though its mouth did not so much as move.

What happened next I can only… well, I do not trust my memory of events. Its arm extended, shooting snaking tendrils of vines that wrapped around Patriss’ throat and knotted at the back of her neck. The rest of the crew panicked and fled, leaving their companions at the mercy of the creature, and I was given no choice to but to follow. Cricket watched it all unfold, a look of keen interest on his face, but he too came to his senses and joined our retreat.

I came here with seven able men and women. (And Cricket, useless as he is.) The five who remain are full of fear and their campfire talk has turned to abandoning the mission. I will have to remind them who pours the gravy on their ship’s biscuit.

Below is a sketch of the Rootbloom as accurate as I can recall it.

Rootbloom field notes illustration

Rootbloom Expedition, Day 3. Report by Captain Ulyss R. Potrich.

This morning I paid the crew a danger bonus to resolve any unease about this mission. Their spirits have lifted considerably, though they are still nervous.

We returned to the site of yesterday’s attack and caught neither head nor hide of Patriss, Boril, nor the creature. But we found something stranger still.

A body. A dead sailor from the looks of him, and not one of ours.

We hauled him back to camp for Doctor Gladday to examine. His corpse was an emaciated thing: gaunt as the wasting death, pale as maggot flesh and dry as hardtack. She noted that his skin had likely not felt the touch of sunlight in months. There are no signs of any other ships on the island. Perhaps he’d been stranded and found a cave to hide from that creature. The noise of our struggle might have drawn him out.

Gladday says that despite numerous old scars and abrasions, he only died yesterday—likely due to the fresh puncture wound in his ribs.

Doctor Gladday will begin an autopsy tomorrow morning when we have regained daylight.

 

Rootbloom Expedition, Day 4. Report by Captain Ulyss R. Potrich.

As we were strapping on our packs for today’s expedition, we were surprised by Patriss walking out of the woods. She was limping, and had a dreadful scowl on her face along with a few cuts and bruises, but seemed otherwise unharmed.

She says the creature strangled her unconscious, and she awoke sometime last night with the most terrible headache and a burning pain at the base of her neck. She says her dreams were strange—not visions, but hallucinatory sensations of being buried in moss and trying to claw her way out. She shuddered as she spoke.

We asked her for news of Boril and she says she could swear she heard him screaming in her sleep, but the screams felt as though they were coming from inside her. Then her eyes took on a glassy look and she sat down, shaking with cold and fear. We put a blanket on her and sent her to her tent. Doctor Gladday will attend to her when she’s finished the sailor’s autopsy.

Rootbloom Expedition, Day 5. Report by Captain Ulyss R. Potrich.

Doctor Gladday’s report on the dead sailor is most peculiar. He must have been trapped here a long time, given his extreme malnourishment. There are tunnels of scar tissue leading inside his body at the base of his neck, shoulders, elbows, knees and thighs, as if somebody had driven wooden pegs into his flesh and left it to grow around them. Faint green stems of roots seem to be lodged inside them still, almost shot through the tissue itself.

Stranger still is the fresh wound on his body. In the puncture on his ribs, Gladday found a steel-tipped crossbow bolt—the exact kind that Lady M equipped us with for this expedition. Patriss claims she never saw the sailor, let alone fired on him, so perhaps Boril is still alive out there somewhere, fighting for survival, and took him out as a potential threat.

Gladday’s assessment of Patriss is that her wounds are superficial, with the exception of the coin-sized hole of puckered, raw flesh at the base of her neck. She claims it happened while the Rootbloom was assaulting her, but its location is unnervingly similar to the wound on the dead sailor, right at the base of the brainstem. My mind chews on theories, but remains starved for answers.

Patriss has retired to her tent with a terrible headache. A few times during her debriefing she trailed off or seemed to forget what she was saying. Hopefully some rest with have her right as rain soon enough.

At sunset, I caught Cricket whispering with the crew. I smell mutiny on the wind. After dark, I will dismantle the Dauntless’ drive crystal and bury it twenty yards east of our pit latrine. If they turn on me, I will declare that we aren’t leaving until we’ve hunted down the creature, and if I die, their way home dies with me.

Rootbloom Expedition, Day 6. Report by Captain Ulyss R. Potrich.

Another day, another fruitless foray. No sign of Boril or the Rootbloom or any evidence of where the dead sailor had been surviving on this blasted island.

Patriss stayed abed, complaining of a skull-splitting headache and more visions of being swallowed by the jungle and decaying slowly in its humid loam. I fear the poor woman has lost her mind.

I’ve secretly transferred her to the ship’s sickbay and quarantined her so as not to dismay the camp. I just went to check on her, and saw small tendrils of vegetation growing from her nostrils and the wound at the base of her neck. Gladday theorizes that the Rootbloom may have implanted in her tissue. It seems mad—impossible—and yet madness springs eternal.

I caught Cricket peeking in my journal this morning, the tactless half-wit, and upbraided him appropriately. I will have to make sure to hide it better in the future.

Rootbloom Expedition, Day 7. Report by Captain Ulyss R. Potrich.

Doom! Disaster! The crew is gone. They tried to seize the ship last night. When they found the drive crystal missing, they abandoned camp and set out to search for whatever vessel brought the dead sailor to this island in hopes of repairing it. Doctor Gladday herself led the mutiny. “There’s something not right here,” she told me. Coward.

It’s just me, Patriss, and Cricket now, though I haven’t told Cricket about her quarantine in the sickbay.

For the first time I find myself weighing the risks of staying on the island against the swift and brutal misfortune of returning to Lady M empty-handed. I will sleep on it and make my decision in the morning.

Rootbloom Expedition, Day 8. Report by Captain Ulyss R. Potrich.

I cannot stop my hand from shaking as I write, such were the day’s horrors. The Rootbloom? Rotbloom? Curse the skies, now I know how that sailor felt, unable to steady his pen as he scrawled his fevered notes… and that damned map.

The creature came to our camp, and it did not come alone.

It arrived at sundown, standing in unnerving silence at the edge of our cleared perimeter.

I motioned for Cricket’s attention, and he froze when he saw it. “Fetch my crossbow,” I hissed, not taking my eyes off it.

Cricket quietly stepped to the camp table and lifted the weapon, taking aim.

“What are you doing?” I asked him. “Give it to me.”

“I’ve got a clear shot,” he said. Ever a quiet, uncertain lad, I’d never heard his voice so commanding.

A low moaning came from the creature, but its voice sounded different than our first encounter. Deeper, and more familiar.

Boril. It was Boril’s voice.

“Wait—” I hissed, but the snap of the crossbow firing cut me off.

The bolt struck the creature in the head, and we heard Boril scream from within it. Bits of bark and vine fell from the wound, and behind the mask of vegetation we saw the young boatswain encased in a prison of living plant, bleeding from a hole punched in his cheek.

“Kill me!” He screamed. “It’s feeding on me! It’s in my head and— ”

The creature surged forward, its mask somehow repairing itself and muffling Boril’s cries. Cricket reloaded the crossbow with steady, methodical precision. His second quarrel struck Boril through the eye, silencing him, but the Rootbloom didn’t waver. Instead, it released the dead boatswain from its root cage and hurled its empty husk at Cricket, trying to encompass him.

“Run, you damned fool!” he shouted at me, dodging and rolling. It seems my manservant is more resourceful than I realized—likely from his rough upbringing on the streets of Summit.

We fled for the Dauntless, slamming the hold closed as the creature impacted hard enough to rock the whole ship. We scrambled abovedecks, hoping to get a better vantage point to strike from. When we reached the railing overlooking the forest, my heart dropped.

My entire crew was gathered at the treeline, all standing eerily still in the growing dusk. Each of them was partially encased in a tangle of roots. Even as I stood there I could see the slow growth of sapling shoots growing in slow tendrils across their bodies, inch by inch. Attached to each at the base of a neck was a thick cable of vine, and all the cables led back to the Rootbloom. They stared at us with glassy eyes for a long, heart-stopping moment.

Then they slowly began to advance on the ship.

“Man the cannon!” Cricket shouted at me.

“There’s no drive crystal! There’s nothing to power it!” I replied.

“There will be,” he said. “Fire on my signal.”

He bolted for the engine room, and I decided to place my trust in his newfound authority. I ran to the deck cannon, loading a charge into the barrel and frantically winching it until the barrel pointed at the Rootbloom, which stood in the heart of our camp.

Below me, I felt the engines rumble to life and felt the hum of the ship as its crystal activated.

“NOW!” yelled Cricket.

I pulled the firing lever and a thunderous crack shattered the silence of the jungle. My shot blasted through the Rootbloom’s ribcage, sending it stumbling backward until it fell on its back with a gaping wound spurting sap and nectar. It lay twitching on the ground as Cricket gunned the engine and lifted us skyward. Incredible! My valet is full of surprises.

Cricket says he will explain everything after we’ve calmed down over a cup of tea. He’s burned the leaves again, and the flavour is as bitter as our expedition’s failure. Still, I am grateful to have made it out alive.

The events of the day have left me exhausted, and I find my senses growing dull. Perhaps I’ll lay down for a nap before I speak with Cricket. So tired, and oh how my hand shakes, yet there is so much to discuss.

Rootbloom Expedition, Day 8. Report by Oris Grant.

Dear K,

I must apologize for letting the captain live—and ramble—so long. The bitter biledown root in his tea took some time to do its work.

As you suspected, Captain Potrich was deep in the Machias’ pockets, and disastrously underprepared for this expedition. I don’t think he ever suspected that my performance as “Cricket” was a cover, or understood your rival’s true interest in enlisting him to capture the creature.

Machia is a power-mad demagogue, not some doddering botanist. I’m now convinced that her intent is to learn how the Rootbloom parasite controls the minds of its hosts, especially considering her possible role in the recent disappearances from the Gelspar slums.

I have achieved our primary objective and prevented any Rootbloom samples from leaving the island. I made sure the dead sailor was never brought aboard, and convinced Potrich to make our crew camp on land.

As predicted, it was easy to keep tabs on Captain Potrich’s movements by reading this field journal when I had a chance. A good thing I was able to slip out and retrieve the buried drive crystal before the Rootbloom struck, else I would have perished with the blowhard fool. I must catch up on his latest entries, but there is still much to do aboard the ship, and I am now alone, without any surviving crew to assist me.

I have set our course for Adriel, and in the event we are scuppered, the drive crystal’s magnetic field should slowly bring the ship home.

Still, before I sleep I want to check the crystal matrix, reload the cannon, and deal with whatever loose debris I hear banging around the sickbay. Doctor Gladday must not have secured her cupboards well when we landed, because they’re making quite a racket.

I will land at the Pierless Pier in Wingspan and make arrangements for this journal to reach you.

Give Elise my love. Tell her we’ll see each other again soon.

Sincerely,

Oris “Cricket” Grant

 


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This week’s Archive story comes from Peter Chiykowski, co-writer of the forthcoming EMBERWIND: The Songweave Tapestry campaign. He’s the creator of the webcomics Rock Paper Cynic , Is It Canon?, and What’s George Doing Today?, the viral Twitter sensation Dad Joke Han Solo, and the postcard fiction project The Shortest Story