X is for Xylosma Invasion

X is for Xylosma Invasion

Avera stared through the vent out into one of the central arcades, yawned and stretched her cramped legs. Out in the hall, a small bush or tree had proliferated next to the safety railing. A pad of paper with extensive notes from the course of the last two hours sat next to her.

Earlier, during usual rounds of the arcade, she had spotted the small twig in a crack in the tiles. The leaves were a coppery green that blended in with the color of the railings, but the stems were a dark red. Its size was allowed, but since it wasn’t in an approved location or a specially marked container, the twig was immediately suspect. Minutes later when she came back to check on it, the twig had sprouted several more leaves and was two inches taller. There was also the matter of the second plant she spotted further down the walk in another crack.

Avera picked her best option. Slowly, so not to startle the twig, she backed up several dozen feet and then fled. She had been in the vent ever since.

In the first hour, the bush grew several more inches, and the leaves changed to a dark waxy green, shedding its disguise of looking like part of the safety railing. None of the guests noticed.

After another half hour, she realized that the guests were milling around the plant in a wide circle as though it was the most natural thing to do.  Avera had been so focused on this one bush-tree that she failed to notice that dozens were growing all over the arcade in inconceivable locations at first. One grew out of a gas lamp while it was still burning and didn’t catch on fire. In the window of Chromatic Gas and Conveyors. Sally, the girl on register there, put a sign in the window ‘Ruby Check Valves – Half Price!’ right behind the bush instead of in front of it. Another had grown large enough to block off the entire one lane of the arcade. The guests simply turned at the last possible moment and took a different route. She wasn’t even sure that the guests knew they were doing that.

Everywhere Avera looked, she continued to find more and more of the small plants. She wasn’t able to keep up writing down notes for all of the locations she spotted one in and gave up.

It was time to take action before things got more out of hand. Avera wiggled her way out of the ductwork and dropped to the floor. Several people gave Avera an annoyed look but ignored them. She set a pattern in her mind and let the threads flow. It was going to take her several minutes to finish the weaving, and she wanted it soon after she confronted the Alpha Tree.

The tree now stood about ten feet tall and took up a considerable amount of room that someone else should have noticed by now. No one bothered.

Avera strode up to the tree, “Alright, Tree. What are you and —” She coughed as the tree let loose a burst of pollen from its branches.

Waving away the yellow dust, Avera found herself standing at the edge of a forest, looking out towards a beach and ocean. It was pleasantly hot. Waves crashed lazily into the pearl white sand slow and steady. Down by the water, she spotted a lounge chair shaded by an umbrella. A small table with an ice cold drink sat waiting for her. Avera licked her lips; she was incredibly thirsty. She kicked off her boots and wiggled her toes into the warm sand before walking over to the chair and sitting down. With a smile, she picked up the drink, marveling at how lucky she had been to stumble across such a place. Looking around the beach, it faded off in every direction into a calming velvety haze. Even her footsteps vanished off into the distance.  Tiredness washed over Avera, lulling her eyes closed. A short nap would feel so good, after such a long trek from…. from… why couldn’t she remember? At least there were none of those pesky —

“Trees!” Avera shouted, and the sights of the Market flooded back into her vision. Branches had curled around her feet, causing her to fall over as she scrambled away. “Identify yourself, Tree-Thing.”

Avera noticed the crowd that formed. They gawked at her, but not the giant tree that had just attacked her. “Everyone, please step back, this area is not secure,” she announced as politely as possible. The guests ran instead. “I didn’t say run! What’s wrong?” A branch slammed into her head as she was turned towards the crowd, causing her world to spin and tumble as she greeted the floor a second time.

Avera laid motionless until the arcade stopped spinning. Rolling over, she discovered that she had been surrounded by various sized bushes and trees. Several more branches whipped at her, slamming into the tiles with enough force to crack them in half. She twisted and dodged the attacks until an opening provided her with a way to escape. The bushes grew in hot pursuit behind her until she was backed up against a wall and surrounded once again. Looking out over the arcade, Avera saw there was nothing left but a vast expanse of green shrubbery.

The trees continued to advance by growing a newer shrub closer than the last one. The blow to the head had unraveled some of her weaving, and it wasn’t ready yet.  Avera smiled, next to her in the wall was an emergency box. The box contained an emergency fire extinguisher, emergency ax, and emergency flamethrower.

Ax it was and broke the glass. “Take this, trees,” Avera shouted as she swung the ax towards the closest tree. It bounced harmlessly off the trunk. The trees vibrated and then grew in menacingly around her. She swung again, with the same result. “Stupid ax! Just when you’re needed, you’ve let me down!” She climbed up the side of the wall towards one of the vent shafts as the trees paced her height.

All of the trees puffed clouds of pollen, causing the entire arcade to fill with a yellow haze. Avera held her breath as she tried to rip the vent off with one hand until a branch wrapped around her leg and dragged her back down to the ground. Nothing happened as the trees waited for her to inhale.

The familiar sensation of legs buckling and woozy washed over her, the weaving finished. Avera grinned maniacally. She focused the last threads into the pattern to activate it and the entire weaving detonated. Small explosions ripped through the air, floor and everywhere else Avera had been between now and when she had left the air vent earlier.

Trees fell over as the tiles they grew their roots into exploded into shrapnel. Others burst into flames from the generated heat, adding to the rapidly growing. Avera stumbled to her knees, forcing herself to stay upright by leaning on the ax handle. Panting hard, she saw the trees pull back to make a fire break, waiting to strike. Her job wasn’t over yet.

With her mind free, she was able to force a small weaving onto the edge of the ax while the fires around her burned. She finished after a minute, though her vision swam through a rainbow of blurred and mixed colors. Unsteadily, she got back to her feet, and half lunged, half fell towards the closest tree and swung. The ax went through it like a hot knife through butter. Avera twirled around off balance until she pitched over and laid there. “Take that, Trees!” she said coughing through the burnt pollen, smoke, and ash.

Again, she forced herself to get up and chased after the rest of the trees until there were none left or retreating faster than she could stumble. “That will teach you to try to invade MacSweeny’s!” she laughed and coughed. Then fell on her face.

Vicky turned the corner and stopped. The arcade was on fire, blown up and destroyed. She picked her way through the rubble until she found Avera laying face down on the floor, an emergency ax in her hand. Vicky raised an eyebrow at the weapon choice, seeing that the flamethrower was still intact in the emergency box a decent distance away.

Vicky poked Avera with her boot. “What did you do this time?”

Avera gave a weak cough and managed to make a thumbs up. “My job,” she whispered.

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