Victor had missed the city. New Orleans had changed quite a bit since he left, but the smell of Cajun spice drifted to the streets from restaurants just the same and people still crowded the sidewalks with unabashed laughter. The shadows of familiarity filled Victor with a sense of satisfaction, but also, deep down, fear. This city had not been kind to him.
On Victor’s shoulder perched a small, green seedling. Its green shoots fluttered in the wind and swayed with the movement of his body. It was the seedling’s first time in a large human city and its two-inch tall body trembled from root to tip in excitement. Victor petted the seedling gently with a finger.
“What do you think, Nora? Do you like the city?”
The seedling trembled harder and spoke directly to Victor’s mind. 'Like.'
Victor grinned and slipped onto a side street to get away from the crush of people. Mardi Gras was fast approaching, and jubilation was tangible in the air. The stimulation might be too intense for a small grass spirit like Nora.
'Why did you leave such a fantastic place?' Nora asked.
Victor’s smile faded. Why, indeed.
Nora, annoyed at his silence, shook furiously on his shoulder, smacking the side of his face with her shoots. Victor patiently pushed the ticklish shoots away and clicked his tongue as if chiding a small child. “You may look like a seedling, but we both know you have two centuries of spiritual accumulation. Be a little more mature.”
'Not my fault you have such a smack-able face.'
“Alright, it’s my fault, then,” Victor sighed. He paused under a red and white striped awning and scrutinized the street he was on. Where was the bar again? It had been too long since he was in the city and his sense of direction was muddled.
As he was thinking, Nora suddenly stiffened, shoots freezing in a Y shape. 'Victor. He’s getting closer.'
“Fuck,” Victor swore, forgetting about the bar. He gathered his spiritual sense and formed a barrier around his body that would shield him from detection by others with spiritual accumulation. He quickly leaped through the crowds of people at such a high speed that he was invisible to the human eye.
Nora was flattened to Victor’s shoulder from the wind, hanging on desperately with her roots. 'Exactly how long do you plan on running?'
Victor gritted his teeth. “Until he dies from exhaustion.”
The determination in his voice didn’t convince Nora. 'He has thousands of years more spiritual accumulation than you. You will die long before he does.'
“How am I just now noticing how much of a pessimist you are?”
'That’s not pessimism, that’s the reality.'
Victor ignored her and kept running until he saw a familiar building surrounded by a dome of gentle green light. He had found the bar. He slowed and removed the spiritual sense cloaking his body.
The inside of the bar was heavily crowded with plants of all kinds, flowers in vibrant colors, thick green vines, even weeds and tree roots. They grew out of the walls, ceiling, and floor, wrapped around tables and chairs, and sometimes floated in mid-air, carrying beer and wine to customers. Victor had barely stepped a foot inside the establishment when several spirits surrounded him with a clamor. Chairs overturned as spirits darted out of them. Voices in languages familiar and alien rose up to catch his attention.
Victor calmly shifted sideways to avoid being tackled by an overzealous vine spirit. “One at a time please, one at a time.”
“Oh! Me, me, me!” cried a mushroom spirit. “A rose spirit keeps calling me ugly I need you to beat him up for me!”
“No, me! A bunny has been eyeing my leaves lately, I feel so scared."
“Sir Earth Spirit, me – pick me! Please! Someone’s cast a binding spell on my tree, please break it!”
This last plea made Victor raise an eyebrow. “A binding spell?” he mumbled.
“Yes!” squeaked the owner of the voice, pushing through the crowd to stand before him. It was a tree spirit, a dryad. She had the form of a young girl, seeming no older than sixteen or seventeen, but Victor could tell with one look that she had at least a hundred years of spiritual accumulation. “Sir Earth Spirit, someone set a binding spell on my tree. I can’t go back inside it at all.”
“Wait. They made the spell so you couldn’t go into your tree?” Victor frowned. Usually if someone did that type of spell it was to keep the spirit inside its original vessel, not out.
“Yes.” The dryad didn’t elaborate any. Victor felt that this matter was somewhat suspicious, but still. He had never dealt with a binding spell before. It would be a good time to get some experience - and money. The more difficult the task the more money in his pocket.
“Alright. Take me to your tree.”
“Yay! Thank you so much!” The girl smiled widely and grabbed his wrist, ushering him out of the bar.
Nora griped in his head. 'Why were you so set on going to that bar if you were just going to leave it five minutes later?'
Victor snorted and replied mentally to avoid revealing anything to the little dryad next to him. 'I went there exactly for this purpose. If we’re lucky, I’ll be able to break this spell and she’ll spare a couple of coins for my service. Have you forgotten we’re broke?'
'...Oh, right. Good plan.'
Victor shook his head, smiling. The little dryad led him a few blocks over to a spacious park that was mostly empty since the local children were all still in school. Her tree was a skinny birch by a small pond.
Victor set his hand against the bark and sent out a thread of spiritual sense, closing his eyes. The spell was like a snake. It curled in a purple thread around the trunk and resentment wafted from it strong enough that Victor could taste it. He smacked his lips with a grimace.
The dryad shifted nervously behind him, brushing long brown hair behind one ear. "Can it be broken?"
Victor watched her twisting fingers and shifty eyes blankly for a long moment, long enough that the dryad started to sweat. He suddenly smiled gently. "What's your name?"
Thrown off, the dryad stammered. "I - uh. My name is Kathryn."
"Ah. How many years of spiritual accumulation do you have?"
Kathryn looked at Victor's dark, glossy eyes and the shallow dimple that appeared alongside his smile. She suddenly had the thought that this person was much more dangerous than he seemed. "I have a hundred and fifty three years, Sir Earth Spirit."
"No need for that. Call me Victor." He removed his hand from Kathryn's tree and glanced around the park. Every plant within hearing distance was undoubtedly straining their ears right now. But eavesdroppers didn't bother Victor so much as the sour taste of resentment emanating from somewhere close by.
At that moment, Nora's voice broke his thread of spiritual sense, causing his head to pound. 'He followed you to the bar. He'll be here in thirty minutes or less.'
Victor's whole body went cold. He felt the urge to immediately flee, but remembering his promise to the dryad - and his desperate need for money - he pushed the impulse down.
"Um. . .so, the spell?"
Victor returned to the present situation. "This kind of spell. . .it requires the essence of the one who cast it. Do you have any idea who would want to lock you out of your tree?"
The dryad scuffed a foot against the ground, chewing her lip in contemplation. Victor was about to offer some incentives, starting with bribes and working his way to violence, but before he could the source of the resentment decided to enter the scene.
A spear made out of purple spiritual light suddenly shot out, faster than a gunshot - headed straight for Kathryn.
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