This takes place three years before the current story arc.
I was in the livingroom, sitting upside down on the sofa and channel surfing when I heard the noise of squealing brakes in the driveway. I righted myself and took a casual glance around.
The room could've looked worse. Not much worse, but still. There could've been actual shit ground into the walls instead of just the mud I’d tracked in. And I was pretty sure the carpet wasn't permanently stained. I stayed sat and decided to wait out the storm.
The front door flew open and Faust tore inside.
"Hey!" he hollered. "Get over here, wherever you are."
He zoomed through the entry hall, past the big fancy hole in the wall that served as the entrance to the livingroom, and went straight into the kitchen, completely ignoring the mess I'd made. I frowned. What was the point of doing hard work if nobody even noticed?
"Come on," he said. "Get in here!"
This was a matter of professional pride, dammit. I spent all morning making sure the place was properly filthy to dick with him and he didn't even have the grace to be a little horrified-
"As your contractual master I order you to get in the fucking kitchen and look at this!"
I rolled my eyes and got off the couch. Just like him to go and pull rank on me.
"What?" I said.
He was standing behind the counter. There was a round box sitting in front of him. It was small and ornate and looked expensive enough to fuel a small South American economy for a few months, so naturally my first instinct was to break it. I probably would have, too, if it he hadn’t been standing right there and the damned thing hadn’t stunk like faith.
"Guess what this is?"
"A pyx." I said, trying not to breath in the smell. "Did you rob another church?"
"No! Possibly. I don't know how my contact- That's not the point! The point is what's inside!" He opened the pyx and tilted it slightly so I could see the thing inside.
I looked. I gave up. “What is it?”
"Don't you know?" he said with barely contained glee. I suddenly had to resist the urge to shove him. "You mean you can't tell?"
"It looks like an avocado pit. A black, wrinkly, kinda ugly avocado pit."
"Wrong! This is a black, wrinkly, kind of ugly seed from the tree of life!"
I looked at the seed.
"The fruit of the tree of life were avocados?" Suddenly life made a little more sense.
"I don't know what the fruit looks like. I'd assumed you would."
"Nope. Babysitting a couple barely evolved monkeys was the last thing I'd want to waste my time-"
"Nevertheless, I am certain that this here is in fact a seed from the tree of life."
"And lemme guess, you're going to plant it-"
"And I am going to plant it!"
He beamed. He looked like a happy child who'd just figured out how to disengage the parental lock on Tivo. Obviously it was my job to do everything in my power to wipe that smile from his face.
"Good luck with getting it to grow," I said. "I'm pretty sure Eden had a different soil quality than your back yard."
He reverently picked the seed up. "I've already looked into that." He single handedly opened the cupboard and took out a cup.
"And?" I said, curious despite myself.
"If we soak it first for a few days, then it should start to sprout. So long as we plant it after that, it can go pretty much anywhere."
He plopped the seed into the cup and headed for the study. I followed. "Anything specific you need to soak it in?"
We went down the steps. He put the cup on the table and started puttered around the shelves, checking the drawers. After a moment, he said,
"Get over here for a sec."
He turned around holding a big-ass syringe that looked like it had come from Dr. Frankenstein's garage sale.
"I just need a little bit of your blood. Give me your arm."
I rolled my eyes and bared my arm. "Honestly, the things I do for you people-"
A second later and the little cup had maybe half an inch of semi-transparent yellow ichor. I'd never seen my blood all bottled up like that before. Normally it was in me, on me, or splattered around the room. Little shots of lightning flickered across the surface.
"I'm made out of lightning?" I said, holding up the glass. "Cool."
He took a jug out from nowhere. "Put that on the table," he said. "Then stand back."
He unscrewed the cap and the stink of holy water choked the air. He didn't notice, as humans are pretty much blind, deaf, and dumb to it, but it got me gagging. I backed the hell away while he poured some into the glass. A loud hissing sound came from the glass as soon as they made contact. Licks of flame shot out of the cup and pale yellow smoke filled the room. I darted up the stairs into the hall, my eyes streaming.
That shit stung.
Bossman emerged from the smoke a little later, carrying the glass, with the not-avocado pit resting at the bottom. The concoction had taken on a green, tea-like tint.
"Well?" he said. "What do you think?"
"I think if that's really a seed from the tree of life, then somebody's gonna get smote."
"I'll interpret that as words of encouragement and leave it at that."
He took the glass into the kitchen and placed it in the garden window so it would get some sun.
He grinned stupidly and walked past me. "Now we wait."
As soon as he was out of the kitchen, I started counting backwards from five under my breath. I was a little off: the ear-splitting scream kicked in at two.
"What have you done to my livingroom?"
* * * * *
The seed was sprouting by the next morning. The glass was crammed full of roots. They poured over the side of the glass while a little greenish stick of proper plant stuck out of the top. We both stood around the counter, looking at it like the pair of easily amused chumps we were.
"Is it supposed to do that?" I said.
"It's the tree of life. Makes perfect sense that it would grow quickly."
"I guess." I reached up and poked one of the leaves.
I swear, all I did was poke it, but as soon as I touched it, there was an electric jolt and the plant went insane. The roots writhed and the leaves shoot and before out eyes, the plant started to grow. The glass shattered with the sudden growth and the roots spread out, trying to drill their way into the countertop. The corian started to crack.
"Get it out!" I shouted.
Faust wasted no time. He grabbed the rapidly growing mass of greenery with his bare hands and ran outside. I don't think I've ever seen him move that fast. We ran across the lawn to the garden proper, to an empty plot of dirt that would've been the next patch of zucchini, but would have to make do with the tree of life.
Bossman hurled the plant into the plot and it immediately took root. Within seconds, it looked like any other sapling, about four feet tall with all the roots underground.
Thirty seconds after that, it was five feet tall. Then six. Then eight.
At twelve feet, it finally stopped growing, and we were left with a huge, fully-formed tree.
Bossman whooped. "Will you look at that?" he shouted.
"Yep, it's a tree. Looks more oak than avocado to me."
"It's spectacular! Look, it's already starting to flower."
It was true. Big pink blossoms that looked like they'd recently escaped some lilypads were starting to dot the branches. "Do you know what this means?" he said. “We’ll have fruit!“
"Yes! Smoothies. Fresh smoothies."
He started for the house. "I have to get my camera. Stay here, watch the tree."
"What, in case it runs away?"
He didn't pay me any attention and hightailed it back to the house, looking happier than I'd seen him in ages. So I stood there and watched the blossoms all start to slowly pry themselves open .
I guess it was kind of a nifty tree. I idly wondered if the fruit of life would taste any good when the side of the trunk started to bulge. It swelled out like it was a thin sheet of cloth and something underneath it was trying to reach out. A face melted into the bark and a body slid out, half merging with the tree.
The creature scurried up the side of the tree, still half merged with the tree. When it hit the first branch, it grabbed hold and pulled itself out.
The end result was a bark-skinned, vaguely woman shaped creature with a mop of green, leafy, viney hair.
"Uh. Hi." I said.
She sat on the branch, crouched like an animal, and watching me intently with bright green eyes.
"I don't think you can be here," I said.
"Really," I said. "Leave. This tree is my boss's favorite thing in the world right now and he won't like you touching it. Get out."
The dryad hissed. Her teeth were like rose thorns.
"Fine," I said. "No skin off my nose."
"What isn‘t?" Bossman jogged over to me. "I've got the camera."
"Your new tree has a squatter."
"What?" The dryad hissed at him. He cursed.
"Go get me a broom," he said. I obliged and returned half a minute later.
"What is it?" I said, handing him the broom. "Dryad?"
"Worse. Hamadryad." He started waving the broom into the branches.
"Shoo!" he said, jabbing at the nymph. "Out! Go away!" She hissed and crawled onto a higher branch.
"That looks like a lot of effort," I said helpfully. "What you need is a gun."
As usual, my helpfulness went unappreciated. "What I need is a ladder. Go get me-"
The nymph grabbed the end of the broom and pulled it up. Bossman shot up several feet before losing his grip and landing on his feet.
"Listen here!" he said, giving the nymph the pointer finger of shame. "You can't just set up shop in someone's garden-"
In one swift motion, the tree itself swooped down and smacked him with one of its bigger branches. Faust went flying several feet away. The hamadryad cackled.
The nymph looked my way and the tree cocked back like it was getting ready for another punch.
Bossman was already on his feet when I plowed in to him. We both went sprawling. He shoved me off. We both got to our feet and started yelling at each other.
"You didn't tell me-" I started.
"I didn't know!"
Before a good, cathartic shouting match could get going, there was a loud crack. A crack, a snap, and the familiar sound of roots being pulled from the ground. We stopped squabbling and looked in time to see the tree uprooting itself.
Faust ran over to it, waving his arms.
"Stop! You can't-"
The tree hit him again, this time sending him sprawling into the cabbage patch. The hamadryad squealed with laughter. Then, satisfied the boss wasn't going to get up soon, the whole tree turned towards me, every inch screaming, 'You want a piece?'
I hastily backed away. "Please, go right ahead."
The nymph grinned and winked and sat herself onto a thicker branch, her arm wrapped around the trunk.
The tree took a few shaky steps, then a few more, trying to keep its balance. It octopus-waddled around the yard, swaying worryingly back and forth and getting used to the whole walking thing. The dryad perched at the topmost branches, looking around with interest.
The tree waddled along and waddling turned to walking and walking turned to loping and loping to outright running until the tree ran right out of the yard. It went down the side yard, through the driveway, and onto the street.
I watched them go in mild amusement.
"Hey, boss," I said. "I think your tree just ran away."
I glanced over my shoulder, expecting to see Faust either still knocked out, fuming with rage, or maybe curled up and weeping. What I saw instead was the rowan tree close to the house picking itself out of the ground. It wobbled a bit in its roots, shook itself off, and then hurried off after the Tree.
Then, one by one, all the other trees in the yard, from Almond to Zethlenbrou pulled itself out of the ground and followed suit.
It was a horde of trees. A troop of trees. A platoon of trees, all marching single file out of our back yard. They went down the driveway, flowed over the front gate, and went off down the street. I closed my eyes and took a quick check. Yep, the life Tree was in the lead, with the dryad's head sticking out of the top, smiling.
Bossman was sitting up in the cabbage patch, staring slack-jawed. I tugged on his sleeve.
"Boss," I said, sauntering over. "Your orchard's getting away."
He went tearing after them. There were a few saplings bringing up the rear of the parade. Faust grabbed one a little taller than me and wrestled it to the ground. The sapling writhed beneath him, and for a second it was like watching those crocodile wrestlers on Animal Planet. Just a second, though, as after that it wriggled out and ran off to join the others, leaving bossman in the dirt.
He looked mad, so I decided not to comment on the fact that he'd gotten his ass handed to him by a plant and instead said, "So, what now?"
"Start the car," he growled.
I grinned. "Sure thing!"
"Only start it!" he said. "That is a direct order. Then wait for me."
Ah well. I guess my joyride had to wait. I did as he said and started up the car while he went digging around through the garage. A little later he returned with rope, a hatchet, some shears, more rope, and a chain.
He got into the driver's seat.
We pulled out.
The tree army was easy to track. We just had to follow the path of destruction and fruit. It seemed that wherever they were going, they picked up new followers along the way: there were trunk-sized holes all over the place where more trees had pulled themselves up to follow the crowd.
Every time we ran over a peach or plum bossman's knuckles would go a little whiter around the wheel. "Those are my fruit," he growled. "They should be at home, waiting for me to eat them."
I deigned not to have any of that righteous fruit fury directed at me and instead looked out the window. Nobody was out. It was midday in a commercial area, and nobody was here. There weren’t even any cars out on the road.
"Where do you think everybody is?" I said.
He snorted. "They probably saw the army of trees and went home to hide. If they're smart, they'll stay there and out of my way."
We found the tail end of the parade going down Main, so boss took a sharp left and went around the block, hoping to cut them off.
"Is that smart?" I said. "I'm pretty sure they could take the car in a fight."
"We need to stop the Tree," he said. There was no question to which he was referring. "If we stop that one, then the others will stop as well."
"Okay," I said. "How do we do that?"
We met the main road again. The Tree and dryad were on their way. He parked in the middle of the street.
"Get onto the roof," he said.
"No." The reply was instant, straight from my lizard brain to my mouth with no interference from me.
He turned in his seat, grabbed a chain and then shoved it into my arms. "Take this. Get onto the roof. Throw it at the Tree."
"No thank you, I choose life."
"Just get out there. The chain will do all the work for you. When it's around the tree, stick it to the car."
I got out and climbed onto the top of the car, muttering impotently about pushy humans. The tree slithered on its roots clearly into view. The hamadryad saw our car and waved. I waved back.
"Don't just stand there!" Faust stuck his head out the window. "Throw the chain!"
"Now?" The tree looked pretty far away. "There's no way I'll-"
I tossed the chain like a lasso. To my surprise, not only did it go farther than a couple feet, but it actually flew all the way over to the Tree, despite the fact that there was no way it was long enough to reach. It wrapped itself around the trunk, and then tied itself into a knot. I stuck the end of the chain onto the car, where it fused together with the metal.
"Now what?" I said.
The dryad looked at the end around the tree with interest.
"Hold on." Faust floored it. I went toppling into the street.
I would've shouted more, but a lemon tree darted out nowhere and rammed into the side of his car. The car flipped over.
"Boss!" I shouted.
Before I could get too worried, a bolt of green lighting blasted out through the window and let me know bossman was alive enough to be hurling magic around. The lemon tree staggered backwards, pinwheeling its sidemost branches for balance, before falling to the ground. All of its lemons fell off at once and went rolling onto the road.
I laughed almost as loudly as the dryad did while the lemon tree struggled to pick itself up. It was funny, and it continued being funny right up until the lemon tree noticed me, who was not encased in a protective metal shell, and decided to try again.
The thing about lemon trees is that they have thorns. Not some wimpy little rose thorns, either, but monster spikes ranging from a couple to a few inches long made specifically to hurt anything stupid enough to be messing with a lemon tree.
I repeat: ow.
Okay, I thought, peeling myself up from the side walk. That's it.
I stood up, the three-and-some-change foot tall incarnation of pissed the hell off. I conjured up the biggest ball of hellfire I could manage while still seeing double from the hit.
The lemon tree never saw it coming, and not just because of the lack of eyes. Nor did the aspen standing next to it. Or some birch that was probably looking at me funny. All told, I probably torched a dozen trees. Every time one caught, it immediately ran to the community center's pool and dove in, flaming tops first.
Things went kind of blurry and red after that. The next thing I knew, all the trees that hadn't caught fire were slinking away down the road, the community pool was full, I was covered in sap, leaves and twigs, and the tree of life was lying in the middle of the road, dead. The chain that had been wrapped around it was melted. The dryad was nowhere to be seen, and my hands were burning hot with hellfire.
I sheepishly turned off the heat and went over to the car, where bossman was halfway through dragging himself out the driver side window.
“You alright?” I said, standing over him.
“I’m upside down stuck in a car that just got hit by a tree. How do you think I am?”
“You’re well enough to snip, you’re well enough to not need a trip to the hospital."
"Help me out."
I did. Nothing, he assured me, was broken, sprained, or splintered, though the way he was going on about it, I could tell there would no doubt be bruises, aches, and a disproportionate amount of self-pity later.
"You killed my tree," he said, like it was my fault trees were flammable.
"I had to boss. It was going insane."
"I paid good money for that!"
"Yeah, well you paid for a crazy killer tree."
His pride dictated that he should yell, either at me or at the tree, I could tell, but neither of us were really in the mood for it, so he shut his mouth and decided to save it for later when he could complain in the comfort of his own home. Instead, we flipped the car back over. The driver door was jammed, so he went in through the passenger seat. A second later and the engine was grumbling to life.
“Oh good, I was afraid we'd have to walk." I opened my door to get in, but instead he got out. "What-?"
He pointed to the tree. "We're not leaving it out here in the middle of the road. Grab the chain and help me tie it."
“Why d’you want that thing?” I said. “It’s been nothing but a pain in the aspen since we got it.”
He probably would’ve thrown something at me if he’d heard the pun, but I guess he wasn’t paying that close attention. He was already at the tree trying to figure out the best way to attach it to the car.
"Should we try and put it on top?" he said. "or maybe just tie the chain around it an drag it home?"
"I don't know," I said. "Do you think anybody will be out on the road?"
I walked by a pile of what I thought branches and leaves and things that had been torn off in the fray. The dryad gasped when I came near. I may have dropped the chain. I may have jumped back a few feet and fallen over. I most assuredly did not make any kind of ’yipe’ noise, no matter what that liar Faust says.
The dryad tried to get up, but wasn’t strong enough. She collapsed and went still.
Bossman ran over to examine her.
“She's alive?" I said.
"Barely. Which means the tree's still alive too. Barely."
I looked at the tree. It was charcoal. It was charcoal in the shape of a tree. From the trunk-up. Even the roots looked pretty singed.
He left me with the dryad and went to the car, returning with some shears. Then he went to the dying tree of life and clipped off one of the few good looking roots.
"We need to get this into some water, fast."
I went into the nearest 7-11 and bought a water bottle and a slurpee cup from the astoundingly apathetic girl working the reg. She hunched over while ringing me up, resting her head in her hand and her elbow on the counter. The counter was in plain view of the glass automatic doors. Faust, the tree, and the dryad were all in perfect view, but the girl just wouldn't turn her head the few degrees necessary to look.
"You know," I said. "There were a bunch of trees marching around outside earlier."
"Yeah, sure, whatever." She gave me back my change.
"Just checking." I went out and found bossman waiting by the car. The dryad was lying down in the back seat. The chain was rolled up next to her.
"Here," I said giving him the cup. He dropped the root in. "Now let's get the hell out of here."
He cast one last regretful look at the Tree before crawling into his seat. We went home, leaving a bunch of charred, waterlogged trees in the pool, one dead tree of life in the road, and a whole lot of fruit and branches everywhere else.
* * * * *
The dryad was out cold by the time we got home. Faust put her on the living room sofa and went to make another blood/holy water tincture for the root. When that was done, we placed it end table next to her. After that, we left her alone.
When we went to look outside, all the unburned trees had returned and were all in their proper places, looking like they’d never left. Only a few spots were empty, one of which I remembered was the spot where the lemon tree used to go.
“I didn’t like lemons anyways,” said Faust.
And we left it at that.
The news mentioned nothing about the rampage of trees. The closest it got was that a few trees were found burned up in the community pool and along the road. They played it up like a freak windstorm blew them in.
Bossman made a few calls to the city cleanup crew and arranged for the dead tree of life to be brought to a friend of his, but he wouldn’t tell me who, what, or why.
* * * *
The root had, once again, fully sprouted by morning, but the hamadryad still looked lethargic. Bossman –not me- transplanted the sprout into a proper plant and set it outside on the patio so it could get some sun. The hamadryad seemed to appreciate this: she went outside, curled up around the pot, and napped.
On the third day we moved the plant into the back of the garden, in the place Faust had wanted the original tree to go to begin with. The dryad was fully awake, but unusually somber. She stayed with the sprout, and completely ignored us.
“So we have a dryad living with us?” I said as we went inside.
“Looks like it.” He set the shovels we’d dug the hole with against the side of the house, just outside the door.
“Is that wise? What if there’s another uprising?” I started getting out the iced tea. He sat at the table.
“I trust you can set that one on fire too.”
Which was obviously the logical thing.
* * * *
The dryad was gone the next morning.
I went out to check on them and only found a hole in the dirt and two trails: one that looked like footprints and another that, if I hadn't known any better, I would have said looked like octopus prints. Bossman wasn't too broken up about it.
I broke the news when he'd come home for his lunch break. "Bound to happen," he said.
Before I could comment, there was a knock at the door. He went to answer it. A few minutes later, and two big burly men who obviously made a living from moving equally big things half-wheeled and half-carried into our house a wardrobe.
It was a large, dark-wood, intricately carved wardrobe that looked like the kind of wardrobe that snotty British kids crawled inside of and got lost in. At bossman's behest, they managed to get it upstairs, settled in to one of the many spare bedrooms. The flurry of action lasted twenty minutes tops, and then they were gone, leaving us looking at the newest addition to the house.
"What do you think?” he said.
“I think that if that’s made out of what I think it is-“
I went to inspect the former tree of life and current future container of shirts and pants. The wood had been stained to a darker shade than the natural one, and the knobs were faux aged metal of some kind made to look antique. I touched it, expecting it to bite or zap me or something. Instead, all I felt was polished wood. I opened the door, then the drawers. All were empty and smelled a bit like sawdust, probably leftover from the work shop it had been in. There wasn’t a trace of magic in the whole thing. Whatever power the tree had had was gone, and the wardrobe was silent. I closed it up.
“I think I like it better this way.”
“Thought you might.”
I shut the light off and he closed the door behind us.
“So what’ll you do now?” I said as we went down the stairs. “Try to get the tree back?”
He snorted. “No. No, I’m done with that. Life is overrated, at any rate. I’ve got something a little more useful in mind.”
I felt a headache coming on, proving that my body is more in tuned with these things than my brain is. “What are you-?”
He turned in to the door that lead to his study, at the time the only other imp-free zone in the house aside from his bedroom. “I’m going to dig up what I can on the Tree of Knowledge. Don’t cause any trouble.”
The door shut, leaving me out in the hall to do whatever.