Welcome to Amortentia! We're a unique personified animation site set in the HP universe. The second semester is in full swing, the Yule Ball is finished complete with our royalty poll, the Goblet of Fire ceremony has been conducted, and our champions for the Triwizard Tournament have been selected! The first task will be under way beginning in March. In the meantime we are wrapping up a Valentine's Hogsmeade Weekend and the champions are preparing themselves for the first task. The effects of an illegal truth serum finding its way into the punch bowl at the Yule Ball have rippled their way through the populace, resulting in the firing of two staff members and friendships made and broken. So fall into place and let your own stories unwind!
"Good luck, dude." The St. Mungo's healer gives you a playful punch on the arm as he passes by, heading over to join two other standby healers sitting on the locker room benches. "Oh, wait!" He stops suddenly, spins around, and walks back to you, pulling something small and green out of his pocket. "You sort of need this... pin... thing. Hold on." Fumbling a bit with the collar of your shirt, he fastens the small, leaf-shaped pin before giving you a rough sort of slap on the back and turning around once more. "All eyes on you now, bro."
Starting down the familiar black and yellow brick hall of Hufflepuff's south-southeast Quidditch pitch entrance, there's a familiarity to the muffled sound of a crowd through the concrete of the stadium. Familiar as this might be, the light ahead, at the end of the hall, glows an earthy green -- and... that's just not normal. Leaving the locker room behind, you walk down the long hall with your curious little, bright yellow flower in hand. Penelope, as Wally's come to call her, doesn't seem pleased with you. At all. Her vine-like leaves are crossed in a huffy manner, and the blossom is distinctly turned away from you no matter which direction you turn her. Every so often, she lets out small black and red puffs of pollen. This flower could not be less whelmed at the prospect of abandonment, even if it is going to see its own family.
"Reunite me with my family at the heart of the jungle."
Though, you couldn't be farther from a jungle with the flat, open grass of a Quidditch-- Wait, what...!? As you approach a barred gate at the end of the hall and look out onto what should have been your pristine, manicured field, your gaze stops short. Foliage. A lot of foliage. Broad leaves, thick underbrush, towering trees that scatter the sun in small patches of green light in the quiet, sub-tropical jungle. There's no mistaking it. There is a wet heat rolling through the bars of the gate and a distinct, earthy scent in the air. Ahead in the dim, green light, you can make out a narrow path that disappears into the trees.
Quite suddenly, the sound of a loud buzzer rings through the hall and the gate in front of you springs open. Ready? Set? Go!
OBJECTIVE: Starting from your south-southeast entrance, make your way to the heart of the jungle and transplant your Happy Crocus alongside their awaiting family of identical flowers.
SETTING: The Hogwarts Quidditch pitch has been transformed into a dim, hot, and damp subtropical jungle. There is a narrow path that appears to head toward the center of the jungle, but it disappears into trees and foliage. The ground underfoot is uneven, and the path itself is not so neatly groomed. At the center of the Quidditch-pitch-turned-jungle stands the Heart Tree, the sentient mother of the jungle interconnected with all forms of plant life in the jungle. At her base, you will find your flower's family.
GOALS: Complete the objective in 6 or 7 rounds. The completion of five or more rounds by the Champion is considered a success. The objective may be completed on round 5, but will be considered "barely successful". If the objective is completed on rounds 6 or 7, the Champion is "highly successful". If Interference stalls the Champion for eight or more rounds, the Champion is "moderately successful". Failure to complete five rounds will result in "task failure".
If Interference does not reply within three days of the Champion during any round, the Champion may move onto the next round and mildly Power Play the Interference's failure to intercept, stall, or stop them. If this occurs on Round Six or higher, the Champion may claim an automatic success in their post. If an interference player misses a three day deadline, staff will take over their interference posts for the remainder of the task and they will not be allowed to play another interference role in the tournament.
MECHANICS: The task starts with an Introduction Round the week before APR 01 in which the Champion replies to the task introduction with thoughts and a reaction to the conditions presented. They may act toward their objective, but must be realistic in allowing Interference the chance to act before progressing too far down the path.
Round One begins on APR 01 with a reply post from Interference, followed by a response from the Champion.
Round Two and beyond follow the format of Round One.
Champions have until APR 24 to complete their objective.
Interference will present challenges and obstacles for the Champion to overcome. The Champion's ingenuity and realism in how they overcome, or fail to overcome, each threat or distraction will be reflected in their score at the end of the task.
PREPARATION: The Champion is armed with their wands, their wits, and a small, emotional flower. The Champion has received a message from their Second Task clue to reunite their flower with its family at the heart of the jungle.
OOC: In the week leading up to Round One, the players of the Champions may PM a staff member up to two questions pertaining to the task. Choose your questions well, as the staff will answer them ONLY to the point of knowledge your character would have. For example, a question like "What is in the jungle with me?" would receive the answer "Ahead of you, you see a rough, narrow path obscured by foliage. The area his heavily wooded with trees, and the path cuts through a thick underbrush.". Players may PM the staff another question at the beginning of each round of play. Keep in mind: we will not complete your task for you.
It’s always been about catching people when they fall.
”Thanks!” Dick was extremely chipper for someone about to face another potentially life threatening situation. But then, he did volunteer for it. And there was no way he could pass up the opportunity to represent the school in an event like this. The challenge alone was more than enough to grab his attention. Dick had already been turning to leave the locker room when the healer came back. Pin thing...must be the technical term. Once the man gave him the all clear, Dick nodded and was on his way.
”All eyes on you now, bro.”
Now what did that mean? As Dick walked down the hallway, he could already see something odd in the distance. Green? The grass especially green on sunny days but never enough to color the walls like that. Even the herbaceous scent of the freshly trimmed pitch wasn’t as strong on an especially warm day. It was definitely enough to divert his attention from the pin for now. At this point in time, anything could distract the Hogwarts champion. His mind was racing from one idea to the next at lightning speed. His nerves were steadily rising to their peak. After the minotaur, Dick could only imagine what was planned for this task.
He could feel Penelope shifting ever so slightly in his palm. At first, Dick might have thought she was maybe going to miss him and the others(Wally). But one look and Dick could see otherwise. Wouldn’t even ‘look’ at Dick. Honestly, what did that sassy flower want from him? That probably was her being unamused by his stalling. ”Bitter until the very end. Yeah, I’ll miss you too.” The sarcasm was evident as Dick rolled his eyes and let his arm drop back down to his side.
Almost to the end of the hallway now, a passing thought rolled through his mind. ”Eyes on me....Oh hey, live stream?” Was that what he was wearing? GraysonCam? Could very well be. So if all eyes were on him, did that include ears? Because they would so be missing out on the true Dick Grayson experience if it didn’t. ”Hi Babs!” There was no way he could have been more corny in the delivery of that sentence. It was the only way to send a shout out on live ‘television.’
Soon Dick reached the barred off doorway onto the Quidditch pitch. Well, someone had let the groundskeeping go. Sorry, Kristoff. But seriously, the already large arena now looked monstrous with all the new additions. If the darkness from the last challenge wasn’t daunting enough, the lack of vision in the thick forest was sure to be.
Dick waited with Penelope in hand and wand holstered from his belt at his side. He needed to figure out a way to free up his other hand. Between trying not to crush the crocus in his left hand and soon the inevitable brandishing of the wand in the other, Dick was going to be left very limited. That needed to be figured out soon. However, it appeared he wasn’t going to be able to dwell on that for very long. The buzzer pierced the air and Dick took off down the path at a decently paced, fast jog. Last time, Dick managed to snag the leading position for the first task based on performance, but he could easily get put back in the rankings by finishing in second or last place. The Hufflepuff was determined to finish first this round. He wanted that win. As opposed to the slow feeling around of the dungeon, Dick could see his surroundings. He was relying on quick reflexes for safety. Also, taking a slower approach here didn’t seem like the key. This new, fast-paced approach felt right. There wasn’t a real plan other than survive and win, thanks to the mysterious nature of the tournament. But that was okay. Dick wasn’t particularly fond of plans. He worked without nets.
There's a shudder that rushes through the branches overhead at the piercing scream of a man-made contraption. Though the roots of the towering capironas and kapoks stand firmly grounded, the canopy sways with a rustling of leaves like a hundred-thousand whispering voices. The insects pause at the sudden blaring that echoes through the jungle, but soon they, too, have joined the quiet chatter. There's a hush that follows, however, in the wake of a dark-haired boy. Each footfall down the path silences the living chorus in the immediate vicinity, and even the branches overhead pause as if to look down on him in contemplation. A man sprout? Three. Traveling through the veins of the old growth with some sense of purpose.
Where was the man sprout going? Where the trickle of life was inevitable to flow through: the heart. Where all things were connected. This man sprout -- and the others -- were converging on the center, rushing through the forest like particulates in the lifestream. This dark-haired sprout was moving curiously fast, and the trees whispered their concerns high above him. An uneasy quake of branches sent a few leaves showering down from above, but they fluttered and toppled through the air slowly, hitting the ground silently behind him as he continued on his way. It was most unfortunate, as this was all the trees could think of as a last ditch effort to communicate with the man sprout about what lay ahead. Such creatures were entirely frustrating and exhausting to speak with, and most were incapable of speech in the proper sense of the word. Depraved, flighty beasts.
Ahead on the path, something small, purple, bulbous, and sprouting a fringe of green leaves from its top bounced into view. Roughly the size of a -- what do humans relate to? The clenched gnarl of their stubby tentacles? The top pair -- for the bottom rarely contracted as such to form clubs and were better suited for mobility than anything else. So, yes, this purple bulb was roughly the size of one of the man sprout's clumped fronds -- should he care to compare -- and continued to bounce in place as he jogged toward it down the path. It was quickly joined by another, nearly identical bulb, and they bounced together off-tempo until they were joined by a third, which boasted nearly twice the girth of the other two. Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten -- of varying sizes, the largest which looked to be the size of an ocelot, they continued to pour onto the path in a chaotic bunch of motion. (Humans knew what ocelots were, right? They should.) And, bouncing in place and obstructing the path before the dark-haired man sprout most thoroughly, these purple bulbs waited.
It’s always been about catching people when they fall.
Dick’s pace was a not-so-subtle mixture of adrenaline and arrogance. A complete flip from the cautious approach in the dungeon, sort of. While he may not have been feeling his way blindly, he was still on high alert. But this time, Dick had the thoughts of finishing first and making it out to that party outside. Sad to say, the whole ‘finishing first’ goal was top priority. His ego from his top score position was only fueling his actions as Dick proceeded to tread over the uneven terrain. Recklessness was a recurring problem that Dick had with for many, many years.
”I spy with my little eye, something green…” The Hogwarts champion didn’t know if the pin on his collar was indeed more than a camera, if even that. But the talking was a tension reliever for him. Always had been. And now he could share his commentary with the audience. Whether or not they could actually hear a word he was saying. ”In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight!” Dick was half mumbling through the tune under his breath. So, yes, his nerves were way more present than he’d like to let himself believe. ”Oh-we-mum-bum-baway!” Nothing like a nice little ditty while running through the foliage while he fruitlessly tried to hide his nervousness. Again, out of his element, limited by the cover that kept him from his full range of skills, and the lack of resource, Dick was trying to formulate a semi-decent strategy. Plan? No. Strategy? Yes. Difference.
Behind him, Dick could hear the shifting plants shaking silently above him. He slowed suddenly, spinning around to see the final few leaves twirling down to the moist ground. What was there? Another nightmarish creature? Dick’s gaze shot up to the understory. Nothing but more branches... ”Well, that isn’t reassuring. Why do I have the feeling this isn’t just a nature hike?” It was the calm before the storm. He could feel it. It wouldn’t be much of a competition if it was a walk in an overgrown park to give Penelope back to her family.
Dick took a couple steps backwards before turning back to his path and stopping completely. ”Oh. Hello.” Dick glanced down at the flower in his hand momentarily, ”friends of yours?” This wasn’t the ‘family’ he’d heard so much about. First of all, wrong color. Second, Dick wasn’t trusting the closed bulbs. Though, the Happy Crocus in his hands wasn’t exactly trustworthy itself. Dick was still under the impression he was holding the next ‘Audrey.’
”Oh and the friends have...more friends.” His whispers were barely audible now. Okay, the numbers of bulbs were increasing way too fast and Dick was running short on weed killer. Too big, too. One of them was big enough that it looked like it could swallow Damian. Exaggeration? Maybe to anyone else. But in Dick's mind, the two foot bud was looking like trouble. Dick’s hand moved slowly to lightly grip around the handle of his wand that was secured at his hip. No sudden movements.
The large plant was blocking his path and Dick wasn’t too keen on trying to go over it. ‘Around it’ sounded like the better option. Carefully, the Hufflepuff started sidestepping his way off the path. His thoughts, now faced with a potential threat, were starting to come to order. Listen, be ready, be aware. Never taking his eyes off the moving, purple bulbs, Dick slowly raised Penelope in one hand up to his right shoulder. His movements were slow, his pace even and cautious again, but not sluggish. Once the yellow flower was on his shoulders, Dick drew his wand and twirled it between his fingers until it was secure in his hand. Carefully, Dick aimed the stick between Penelope and his shoulder, casting a silent sticking charm. He had to make sure he wasn’t hitting anything but the connection between some of the flower’s roots and his shirt. That would free up a much-needed hand. ”Buckle up.” Now barely mumbling his words, Dick continued through the rough terrain, off the path, to walk around the plant in his path. His wand was ready. Dick’s ears were open, especially toward his back, to help prevent a surprise encounter. Now he was regretting all those times he ate his vegetables. This plant was sketchy to say the least. Was it going to open up and shoot poison at him? Blades? Try and eat him? It was barely beginning and Dick's imagination was running wild.
Trees often wonder for what purpose animals were given a gaping hole on the anterior facet of their censory hub. To a tree, this is silly. Holes are not desirable in the least; they created homes for parasites and small animals, lent way to premature rotting, and are not at all fashionable. Some trees may think, at first, "Oh, look! I have a new hole! That's different! That's trendy!" Then, only a few weeks later, they begin to realize it is not trendy at all to have one's bark permeated for no good reason. But, alas! One little hole is only the start of their problems. It's a slippery slope from there. One hole turns into three, or four-- and next thing they know, their once strong, stalwart bodies are withered beyond their years from within, and they're decaying before their peers in a most ungainly way. Health becomes a slow, uphill battle from there, and, before they know it, the world goes silent and their broken body crashes to the forest floor ungracefully, sprawling in a gruesome manner as they succumb to an untimely death. Meanwhile, the rest of the trees must stand around and watch. It is a very unpleasant experience for all involved.
Man, however, had developed the most curious affinities for their "mouth" gashes, though. They had even learned to emote through these defenseless, bacteria infested passageways straight to their vitals, using series of odd sounds in varying patterns, pitches, and volumes. At times, it almost seems as if they have their own language! It is quite a sight, actually -- watching from above as they walk beneath the mingled bows of the great forest and chitter back and forth. It makes the trees shiver in a giddy way, sometimes. The crude, guttural sounds of man are funny to hear ring through the forest, and it is quite amusing to imagine what one might have to say if they were actually capable of real speech. It is, in fact, a great past time of trees to assign comical dialogue to the random oozing of noise a man emits, and they have a great laugh together over the subject.
This man sprout seemed especially fond of his ability to emote with sounds from his mouthhole. The leaves overhead whispered together as they listen to his solitary chatter, and they were, indeed, taking part in the aforementioned past time of creating dialogue for his nonsensical emissions. One capirona suggested he was rather reminiscent of a songbird with the way he so chipperly chirped to himself despite being entirely alone on the path below. An older, wiser kapok said, "Yes, but listen closely. There is an almost uneasy note to his mewling." And a third, far less likable sort of fellow inserted that this human must be far more simple than they thought if he was wary and afraid, but still thrashed about on the jungle floor so recklessly. It fell silent, however, as it felt the collective disapproval of those around it. There was a hush, though, as yet another pointed out that something was going on down below, and the canopy settled to relative stillness as they all watched the scene play out.
The dark-haired man sprout had slowed his pace, turning around as he finally payed attention to yet another of the forest giant's attempt to catch his attention. This excited the trees greatly, and the canopy quivered in giddy approval as he looked up to them at last. They waited with bated breath (yes, trees breath -- just not that poisonous oxygen those humans are so partial to) for him to make some further acknowledgments. One of the less patient capironas decided to throw a few more leaves, but its aim was terrible, and the small shower fluttered down silently several yards away. Of course, the moment and excitement was short-lived, as that was about as much notice as the man sprout could muster, and, soon, he was turning back to continue on his way. And, to think they had almost communed with man. What a disappointment...
The sprout didn't get very far, though. Stopping as he turned around to notice the slowly growing crowd of purple, bouncing plants, he seemed to adapt a far more cautious exterior as he and they took notice of one another. "What did it think was going to happen, thundering around making so much noise?" asked that same, rather unlikable fellow. The other trees hissed for him to hush up. They were trying to watch.
Down below, the purple bulbs continued to bounce in place on the rough jungle path, a few more trickling in here and there including one that was nearly half the size of the man sprout before them. They were numbering in the dozens now -- maybe three or four -- and there was certainly a collective captivation held on the man sprout and his flowery companion. But, as he was not moving, neither did the purple mass of bulbs, except to bounce, of course. Incessantly. It was a real problem, sometimes, having so much energy that one could not keep still. Jostling together, often accidentally being bumped out of the way by one of the larger bulbs and ricocheting off of nearby tree trunks. But the man sprout began to move, and one bulb took that as a cue to do the same. It bounced into the thick jungle brush, mirroring the man sprout's initial movement. The others were not to be left behind, however, and some were more bold than others. What had started out as one bouncing, purple bulb making a leap into the forest growth turned into a wave of motion as the rest decided that wasn't enough and rapidly converged on the slowly creeping man sprout. They swarmed around him -- even more trickling into sight, a jumbling mass of purple, bulbous plants bouncing around him on all sides now with but a couple yards of distance as a buffer zone.
It’s always been about catching people when they fall.
Watching the horde of purple bulbs, Dick was attempting to get his head back into a far more logical place. Maybe running through the jungle wasn't the safest way to go. But winning the race aspect of the challenge was of much importance. But, then, Dick had to remember that it had to certainly be on par in priority to getting out safely. These bouncing bulbs were were not going to make it easy though...whatever they did. What had he studied back in the Great Hall? That was the day he and Babs met Lilo...but what was he studying? One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi, yes, but he needed specific facts. What Dick wouldn't give for some eidetic memory. Or maybe a little more attention span--wait! Bouncing Bulbs? Duh!
Even though Dick might have gone astray many, many times on the study front, he was still able to get usable information. Actually, probably a lot more than he would give himself credit for. By no means did Dick have the ability to read and absorb information instantly. However, some things stuck from the actual study time. Bouncing Bulbs. He knew this. Just had to remember the text and information. However, the mass of purple moving around him from all directions was proving to be a little distracting. ”Alright, this may be a little problematic…” He muttered under bated breath. Dick glanced behind his back, the sides, and finally back to his main path. He was surrounded. They were moving in little by little and Dick was running out of room. So, he knew that most of the bulbs could be moved with a simple Knockback Jinx. Bigger ones would require more firepower. Knew that one too. But as long as he didn’t threaten the bulbs, they shouldn’t have been aggressive. The bulbs were tough and for some of their small sizes, they could really deal some damage if they were to start attacking by throwing themselves at him.
Slowly, Dick proceeded walking forward, wand held low, but ready. No sudden movements. They were close to mirroring his movements at first, but now they were giving him hardly any breathing room. He needed to do something, because just standing there was not an option. As far as he could tell, the plants weren’t on a killing spree. Maybe they were curious? And had no sense of personal space. Best to keep a wary eye open. Obviously...If only it had been on his mind before he started tromping through an unknown jungle. Maybe he wouldn't be in a sea of purple plants.
It was quiet for a very long moment. The man sprout stood, surrounded by the bouncing, purple children in relative silence. There were murmurs in the leaves as some of the more curious trees began to stir with questions. "What is it doing?" "Why isn't it moving?" "What's it got curled in its tentacle?" "DO SOMETHING!" The last commentator was not at all pleasant or patient in its tone. It, in fact, grew so impatient that it flailed quite violently for a tree and smacked its branch against that of its neighbor's. With a sharp crack that sounded in the air, the unfortunate neighbor lost a good length from one of its more proud looking limbs. The canopy fell silent as they watched the broken appendage crash down to the forest floor, and nobody dared speak for a few seconds. Finally, the victim of the misadventure broke the silence with a sad, "But I'd been growing that one out for years." The impatient neighbor apologized sheepishly and muttered something about how accidents do happen.
Down below, however, the dark-haired man sprout was chirping again. It wasn't quite as loud as his previous garbled sounds, nor was it as pleasantly musical as it had been just a couple minutes before. Indeed, it sounded as if the man sprout was rather concerned. The purple bouncing bulbs did not understand this, continuing to crowd around the foreign creature and inching in closer still. It wasn't striking out at them, or making loud noises to try and scare them off... And it was so very odd to look at. What a strange thing to come across in their romp!
There was a collective flinch in the gathering of bouncy, purple children when the man sprout started moving again. Those closest to it jumped backward quickly. One of the smaller bulbs moved away in such a violent manner that it collided with one of its much larger brothers and ricocheted forward, accidentally launched straight into one of the man sprout's thick stalks. The impact was harmless, of course, and the embarrassed little bulb bounced away between its many siblings to hide in shame. The others, however, became only more curious by the man sprout's docile movements and inched closer, quickly losing their fear of the gentle beast as many children were wont to do. They jostled around him, close enough that many were now brushing against the strange film of the man sprout's stalks as they bounced around. But, as the man sprout moved slowly down the path, they followed in extremely close proximity -- several still bouncing in his way now and then, and a few daring to drift ahead on the trail before quickly bouncing back to the swarm.
As much commotion as these children were causing over the arrival of something new and exciting in the forest, another was bound to notice. It happened slowly, the way these vines yawned and stretched from their beds in the branches of the understory, but they soon began to dribble down toward the sound of thrashing caused by all this bouncing and bobbing on the narrow path. In curtains, hanging only a couple inches apart, the dark green tendrils lowered down around the crowd of bouncing bulbs and -- a man sprout? Yes, that's what it was. Such a strange, distinct scent it had. That's what all the hubbub was about. Exciting, indeed! The vines began to descend with all new vigor at this revelation, a regular suspended grove dropping down from all sides. They curled and stretched and flexed blindly until one such tendril felt the thin film of the man sprout's outer bark. Exciting! It gripped lightly around the thicker part of the man sprout's upper-left appendage, squeezing gently to test the pleasant resistance of its body. The understory hissed with motion as more of these vines snaked down toward the man sprout, eager to experience this sensation, too. Anticipation! Excitement! Thrill!
It’s always been about catching people when they fall.
As the horde jumped, Dick jumped. Being knee deep in the bouncing purple bulbs was highly intimidating. It was probably due to him being so far out of his element. This wasn’t the concrete jungle in which Dick knew how to dominate. This was a literal, living jungle with an unsettling mystery about it. He wasn’t sure if there were creatures in the pitch with him, people, dangerous plants, or what. Every sound outside of the bouncing and crunching wave around him was still on his radar. The crash of a branch in the distance had him flinching and searching around to find what caused the wood to break off so violently. This was all so unnerving. All he knew was that he had to return Penelope in the quickest fashion possible. While trying not to make enemies of the foliage. Frozen mid-step, Dick looked down at the bulb that hit his leg. Okay, not too concerning yet. Even now as Dick attempted to swallow some nerve, he was holding a breath in as he picked up his pace a bit more. He was trying not to kick or step on the smaller bulbs. And he really didn't want to make the larger ones upset either.
His actions seemed to excite the bulbs, if they could be excited, because now they were swarming at his feet, brushing the bottoms of his pants and not letting him have much room at all. But he was able to move, so this was okay. Even if it was a little slower than desired. If Dick didn’t know any better, he’d say the plants were curious. But, that couldn’t be the case, right? Did plants get curious? Well, more specifically, this kind of plant? The mundane plants were so much simpler than their magical counterparts. Dick wasn’t sure which ones he could offend and which ones could be just another plant. Didn’t appear to be a threat yet. That was good, as this was his intention. The less he had to fight through the better. ”You know, if it weren’t for the fact that at any time something could jump out and attack me, these might actually be cute.” For the first time in the tournament, Dick actually smiled as he looked down at them. This he could handle. If the rest of the challenge was like this, Penelope would be home in no time and he’d have made some other flora friends. At least these seemed to like him more than the yellow flower.
However, the moment of relaxation was starting to come to an end. Dick knew it couldn’t last forever but this was not exactly what he was expecting. Out of the corner of his eye, Dick caught movement. Head raised and back to full alert, Dick still couldn't see what had changed. Now things were back to being unsettling. Before Dick even knew they were coming for him, vines were descending from the trees. At first, Dick thought ‘snakes,’ but no, they weren't snakes. Which, Dick was perfectly fine with. Not that he was entering a cake walk with the actual challenge. A vine slithered onto his shoulder and soon started getting a little too comfortable. Dick stopped and spun to get better leverage as the tendril wrapped around his bicep and started constricting. ”Why yes, I do work out, but at least let me take you to dinner first.” Facing the vine gripping his arm, Dick balled a fist and flexed that arm and pulled, hoping to provide some slack room when he relaxed and slip out. But that didn’t work. Dick used his right hand to grip his left wrist and pulled again to perhaps break the grip, wand still in hand. Couldn’t afford to lose that.
The vines were coming in and much faster now and Dick still wasn’t free. They were just like snakes the way they crept closer from above and below. This was going to get bad if he didn’t act fast. He’d already concluded that he was facing the Devil’s Snare. He wasn’t sure what else it could be. The way it was constricting and snaking plus the lack of spikes and dark red color meant it was not the Venomous Tentacula. This could have been the Flitterbloom if he was going by appearance, but the way it was feeling up his arm, Dick wasn’t counting on it to be the harmless houseplant. It had to be the Snare.
This new revelation meant a quick change in his escape plan. Struggling was getting him nowhere and Dick needed to free himself before he could be mummified in the plant’s tendrils. ”Lumos Solem!” Dick pointed his wand at the vine keeping him captive sending a hot narrow beam of light from the tip. Light and heat were the plant’s weaknesses so that should have been enough to let him get out of the hold. Dick could have played dead, but there wasn’t time for that. Plus, that would only delay the inevitable strangling that would happen regardless. If that worked, Dick would stepping away as fast as possible and twisting out of the way of more vines. If possible, he’d be jumping over the bulbs in a front handspring before taking off in a sprint toward his desired location at the heart of the jungle. How far would he get? All depended on the resiliency of the Snare. Usually, throwing laser beams was enough to make someone, or something, pretty upset.
"Oh, no! Not infants!" One of the younger, more spirited kapoks mocked the jumpy little man sprout, swaying in a gesture of sarcasm. "Children can be quite terrifying, actually," mentioned another, who looked down towards its own roots where several little tree sprouts were just beginning to get their second and third tiers of leaves. It could feel the innocent little sprouts' roots intermingled with its own. One day, and the old tree didn't know when... One day, these sprouts were going to uproot it, tip it over, and use its rotting body for nutrients. This was a real concern for the old tree, though it had learned by now not to go into more detail. Nobody liked to be called a "conspiracy theorist". For now, the old tree just shifted its branches slightly -- nonchalantly cutting off a patch of sunlight one of the sprouts had been basking in. The tree wasn't going to make it easy for the vicious little undertakers.
Chirp, chirp, chirp. The man sprout was making more garbled sounds, and it was exciting the purple bouncing bulbs quite a bit. Even they could understand the tone. "I think it likes us!" "It sure is friendly!" "Don't be scared!" "We won't hurt you!" "Want to play?" Each bulb vying for the dark-haired sprout's attention as they bobbed and sprang up as high as they could, their chatter had grown quite loud over the jungle's internal frequency. It was a difficult thing to tune out for the nearby spectators. Quite distracting. And several were now rather disappointed that they could not focus on the man sprout's latest tweet. However, it was evident by tone, despite the inability to decipher the individual sounds pouring from its open wound, that the man sprout was rather suddenly concerned about something. Strange... The children were still just bouncing along to its stride, not exactly causing any sort of concern themselves. But then, one of the forest giants felt the slither of something small across its branches. "Oh." Well... They'd woken the Devil's Snare. Suddenly, nobody felt like watching any longer. Unfortunately, those present did not boast the ability to uproot and walk away. Being a tree was quite difficult and depressing at times...
The hiss of the vines through the understory was nearly hungry with excitement as they felt the flex of the man sprout in their hold. There was a tug, and then the flesh under the vines relaxed. "Oh, no, little man sprout. I'm not done with you yet," the Devil whispered in near playful menace as it tightened its grip rather quickly. While the cascade of vines all around made quite a show of converging toward their prey, another of these tendrils snaked low along the forest floor from the man sprout's other side and began gently, slowly working its way up the sprout's thick stalk while the man sprout busied himself with more fruitless struggling. But then, from nowhere came a flare of hot, white light. Wincing painfully away from the light, the Devil's Snare let out a scream so loud that it silenced the forest around them, though the sound was at a frequency so high that the man sprout would undoubtedly be unable to hear with such a limited range. Still reeling from the pain and having lost it's hold from the sprout's upper stalk, the Devil was delayed in its reaction as the man sprout sprang away. The vine which had so stealthily wound its way around the tough fibers of the sprout's roots was weakened by the collective flinch of the snare grove, but attempted to recover with a quick clench as the man sprout leaped from the ground, turning end over end in a strange, springy manner. With the sprout in mid air, the tendril tightened around the unrooted stalk and pulled as hard as it could, but the hold it had was unsure at best and quickly slipped off the man sprout's root. It had slowed down the retreat, though, and the furious motion of the Devil's Snare was quick to follow the sprout as it took off sprinting down the path. How far would the man sprout get? Could it outrun the Devil and reach the boundary point of the suspended arbor before the vines could catch up? "Doubtful..."
The purple forest children scattered at the sudden movement of the man sprout, quite confused with what was going on. They did not understand why he flailed and were completely oblivious to the presence of the Snare. They had never been victim to such a thing before, and, so, the new presence of vines had not provoked much of a thought. The jolt of bright light and piercing scream, however, frightened them entirely. Some took off down the path and others into the forest, moving in groups and feeling quite unsettled by the sudden violence all around them. Those on the path froze momentarily, quaking in fear as the man sprout rushed by them before their group consciousness forced them to spring after him in a frenzied flight. "Stay together!" That's all they knew to do. The man sprout was much faster, however, and panic began to rise as the distance between the bouncing bulbs and the man sprout increased. "Wait for us!"
The man sprout hadn't run very far, though, before an obstruction became visible, blocking his path. Up ahead, only a few yards now, a fallen tree hung diagonally across the trail, it's dead body resting most uncomfortably against a rather unfortunate neighbor. It was one of those aforementioned victims of holes. And now, long after the large capirona's death, a rather rude assortment of vines had moved in to take advantage of the nutrients in the rotting wood. Thick, dark red, and lined in tooth-like spikes, the vines were coiled around the entire length of the dead body, making it hardly distinguishable between small gaps in the barbed vines. From the rotting carcass, the tangle of nasty thorns both dropped and climbed, creating a red wall ten feet high and stretching well into either side of the thick underbrush bordering the path. With the sudden rush of commotion coming their way, the barbed vines clenched and snaked uncomfortable. They were the defensive, disapproving sort, and they wanted none of this trouble they saw barreling toward them.
It’s always been about catching people when they fall.
Crap! He didn’t even notice the vine creeping around his leg as he was trying to free his arm. But once he jumped, Dick felt the cinch starting to tighten around his ankle. Being pulled back in midair was never an easy fix. Not for the average person anyway. Which, Dick was trying to preserve the illusion of. Even if he was showing a bit more of a gymnastic flair than usual. But, before Dick could twist mid-jump to somehow, discretely, sever the vine, it let go. Yes! Now to stick the landing. Dick’s balance was thrown even from the momentary tug. But the acrobat wasn’t about to let that stop him. Keeping Penelope in mind, Dick tucked into a roll instead of the completed handspring. ”That would be pain…” Rolling rather ungracefully on large rocks and uneven forest floors was not nearly the same as level concrete. Especially without some form of padding. Moss, apparently, did not count. Stumbling back up, Dick glanced at the flower on his shoulder who simply puffed a hardy cloud of black pollen into his face. ”You’re fine! I know we’re in trouble. Just hold on! Now is not the time!” Dick choked a bit on the pollen but waved his hand to clear the air as he ran, trying not to trip on uneven roots and dirt with assaulting contaminants in his airways and eyes. As if it wasn’t hard enough to breathe in a frustratingly hot, damp environment.
Dick wasn’t sure how long he could outrun the Snare. If he could at all. But for now it seemed to be okay. Even if the deadly plant was right on his tail. Dick couldn’t even spare a glance to acknowledge the trailing bulbs either. He’d seen a good amount split when he fought back at the Devil’s Snare, but he wasn’t aware that some were still along for the ride. If he listened, perhaps he would hear the bouncing and crunching behind him, but the sound of his heart racing and lungs working overtime in the warm humidity was a little more than distracting. The forest proved a challenging place to run as it was all but sapping away his stamina now that he was starting to truly exert himself. He’d barely gotten any distance and he could already feel the lack of oxygen starting to creep in as his breathing became uneven. In a climate like that, Dick’s first concern should have been regulating his breathing. He was exhibiting so much laziness in this task! As it was, Dick was having a hard time keeping his shirt on in this arena. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the shirt was wicking away sweat(that wasn’t evaporating thanks to the humidity), Dick would have ditched it after the Devil’s Snare. Honestly, the heat was getting to him in the worst way. He had half a mind to just conjure up some water to sluice away the sweat and heat. Not that he had time for such action.
Then, the hits kept coming. Dick wasn’t even able to mentally scold himself for long before the newest deadly challenge presented himself. Trying not to slow too much, Dick prepared himself for the obstacle ahead. He knew what that plant was too. Red-devil-spike-plant-thing, with a weakness for severing charms. Or, more commonly known as the Venomous Tentacula, with a lethal bite. And it just so happened to be occupying the entire path. He could have used a severing charm, but with a monstrous construct like that, Dick wasn’t going to chance running through it. That wasn’t even considering that he couldn’t tell how much further he had until he arrived at the ‘heart of the jungle.’ Or even how thick the Tentacula barrier was. It was the Quidditch pitch, but he couldn’t see very far at all, and everywhere he looked, it was forest. Every direction was blocked by more trees. Since this wasn’t an open environment, Dick was more blind than in the pitch black dungeon. At least it was clear. Here, there may have been light, but hardly any range of vision.
Last minute decision. Either he was going to fight his way through the vines, or find some way to avoid the obstacle without letting the snare catch him from behind. ”Well, hope no one gets motion sickness.” Dick commented before thrusting his wand high above his head. ”Ascendio!” Like a bullet, Dick was propelled into the air, high above the Tentacula and past the barrier. But also thanks to the general angle of the initial jump, Dick also had a diagonal angle going as he slipped into a gainer at the peak. The last thing Dick wanted was to jump right into the tree branches. Didn’t want to know what was inside there quite yet. There was even less visibility in there than from the ground. So, he stayed within the semi-clear layer of the forest. Once or if Dick cleared the jump, he would have turned to make sure nothing was coming after him.
Snap! Crack! Overhead, the Devil's Snare thrashed through the branches of the trees, straining its roots and vines as it tried to follow the rolling man sprout. The trees had all whispered in concern for the poor little creature as it tumble rather ungracefully down the path, but the soft chatter was turned into loud exclamations as the snare stretch and pulled on their limbs. What an inconsiderate lout! But, then, it always had been. How many times did they have to tell him that eating animals long before they're well and dead and their bodies have merged with the soil was not very nice? Of course, Devil never listened. Devil thought itself above their standard.
What nobody was prepared for, in all their preoccupied harrumphing over uncomfortable squeezing and snagging, was the sudden flight the man sprout took. Even as the Devil continued to throw its vines violently through the understory and snap the occasional branch here and there, all those standing by were caught in a surprised silence as the dark-haired sprout took off from the ground with a roar, twisted in the air, and landed on the other side of their long dead brother and the rude Tentaculas which had claimed its body. Dumbfounded. Since when was man capable of limited flight? And... This was just a sprout. Were the fully grown version limitless? Maybe the sprout was still learning? Odd... For once, the trees had something entirely new to ponder.
There was a loud crack, a crash, and then everything fell to silence for a long moment. Devil had reached the end of its bindings and finally broken something substantial with its un-thoughtful charge through the branches. It didn't look to well, either, the trees decided. Half the arbor had come crashing down with the final yank of vines in its effort to snag the man sprout out of thin air. And, for what? Nothing. Devil didn't get the meat sack, as it so fondly referred to it. Well, good. Served him right, causing so much trouble.
Curious, though... The little sprout had stopped running once it landed on the other side of the Tentaculas. Maybe it wasn't a flighty as they thought. "Or its survival instincts are lacking," suggested a rather ornery kapok. Nobody replied. They understood it was only angry because the snare had broken off one of its larger limbs in all the chaos -- hence the aforementioned crash. Poor bloke. The others, however, noticed the attentive way in which the dark-haired sprout turned about to assess its danger.
"Don't worry, little guy. I don't think Devil will be making it much farther."
"Oh, shut up! I almost had him!"
The trees shook with quiet laughter. It hadn't even been a close call, really. The snare's vines had been well off-target even before everything came crashing down. And now, all was silent on the other side of the fallen brother's barbed body. At least for a moment. For, when the Tentaculas recovered from the sudden commotion, they puffed up uncomfortably. Their vines hissed as they snaked together, hugging the corpse with a series of crackles from what was left of the outer husk. The trees had to listen closely to the uncouth mumbling and grumbling, but the general message was received: "Dare you to come any closer, meatbag." Oh, how rude! What was with carnivorous vines these days!?
Not too suddenly came a sound of thrashing from the other side of the Tentacula mob. It paused momentarily, and then... Pop! From between some of the barbed vines, a small, purple bulb squeezed its way through and came firing out the other side of the barrier. It traveled a good two yards before hitting the ground and rolling uncontrollably into the foliage off to the left side of the path, landing, finally, on a large, pink pod. The pod snapped open with the force of the bulb, spilling out a cascade of dozens of shiny black seeds that instantly exploded into a shower of bright pink flowers as they, too, made contact with the bulb. As the blooms rained down, more of these pods burst into action. One after another -- a chain reaction -- the pink flowers bloomed in a winding line off into the foliage, eventually curving off almost parallel to the forest trail before disappearing into the greenery. The small purple bulb righted itself, slowly picking up its normal bounce. For a moment, it jumped in place, turning about until it found the dark-haired man sprout again. It was glad the sprout had survived! In fact, when the man sprout had run out of view, it had been downright worried that something bad had happened to it! Well, what a relief!
A few more bulbs squeezed their way through the same small gap in the Tentaculas and joined the first once they had recovered from their roll. There was a small, jittering sort of reunion before the lot of them jumbled onto the un-groomed, uneven path of pink flowers. They tumbled and rolled here and there, but the rough terrain was almost fun. It wasn't long, however, before sight and sound of the purple forest children disappeared from sight.
It’s always been about catching people when they fall.
Dick should have braced for a better landing. Seriously, he might have twisted an ankle on impact. Those uneven surfaces were the bane of his existence. But after a jump like that, rolling would not have been good for Penelope’s health. There wasn’t any guarantee he wouldn’t have crushed her trying to distribute the force. Getting up from his forced crouched position, Dick added a little bit of a hop as he straightened. Yup, ankle was tweaked. That would be the result of landing on your feet after a massive 20/30 foot drop. Nothing too serious though. Could have been worse though. He’d dealt with worse. ”Note to self, learn airbags spell before attempting that again.”
It seemed like the tentacula wasn’t going to pursue him. And the loud crack, while unsettling, was maybe a sign of the Snare’s failure? Dick waited for a little to see if he needed to start firing off more defensive charms. But there weren’t any vines coming through. Maybe he was in the clear for now. It couldn’t be much further to the ‘heart of the jungle,’ right? The Quidditch pitch wasn’t that large, even if it seemed that way at the moment. Then again, Dick wasn’t used to walking the pitch. Perspective had a way of changing with the high altitudes, breathtaking speeds, and daring maneuvers of a Quidditch player.
Just as Dick was about to turn and be on his way, one of the Bouncing Bulbs squeezed through the red monster plant to join him. Even if it sort of took a tumble into the jungle. Okay, why was he finding this so cute? Seriously, the stress of this task must have been getting to his head. Soon, a small horde was following behind, rolling off the path with about the same ‘grace’ as Dick. They didn’t go too far. He sort of saw a chain of small pink explosions in the grass, but the bulbs didn’t seem to mind. He could see them bouncing above the green still. And then they were off. ”My. People come and go so quickly here.” Dick could understand Dorothy Gale’s feelings as he watched the bulbs bounce off. Oh well, it looked as if his new plant friends wouldn’t be along for the rest of his adventure...Speaking of which, he still had to keep moving. So Dick turned back around on the trail and slowly picked up pace from a walk back to a jog. With a twisted ankle, Dick wasn’t going to push a run quite yet. He could get by without a limp for now, but he was probably going to need that strength later. Besides, he really needed to catch his breath.
Quiet. Relatively speaking. The forest seemed to be holding its collective breath, all except for the the angry tangle of Tentaculas that kept up a low muttering of things like, "One step. I dare you," and, "Try anything funny and we'll cut you, meatsack!" The trees decided it was best to just ignore such pomp, for scolding or arguing only seemed to encourage the audacious vines. They weren't exactly the most reasonable of fellows. Instead, the forest giants watched the man sprout below, curious to his new trickle of chittering.
It seemed to be hurt, poor thing. The way hobbled its first steps looked quite painful, but... Nobody felt particularly good after falling to the ground. In fact, it usually meant death for a tree. Or else, it was just a very uncomfortable position to be in. And, if one managed to survive the fall, the uprooting meant a slow, hungry death anyway. So, yes. Falling meant death. It was best not to fall and should have been avoided at all cost. Why hadn't the little man sprout used its flight to cushion its fall? Was it not good at landings, yet? Hmn... Such a curious thing, it was. And it didn't altogether make much sense at times.
As the purple forest children bounced off along the trail of pink flowers, the trees heard a lonesome burble issue from the man sprout. "Go on," one tree urged gently, its branches swaying toward the trail of Puffapod flowers. "Go after them!" But the man sprout turned around and started down the jungle path all alone. There was a collective protest of, "Nooo!", sad and worried, as the trees shuffled their leaves overhead. One young kapok, which claimed it was not at all as invested in the affairs of this man sprout as the others were, burst out with a rather concerned, "Don't go that way!" Some of its neighbors might have chuckled if not for the fact that ahead on the path was a serious problem.
The dark-haired sprout was moving at a fairly swift pace now, though not so fast as before its injury. The path began to smooth out and widen slightly, giving a greater range to vision as it slowly inclined. Of course, that would make the man sprout's wounded jog a little less daunting, but there were others which enjoyed this stretch of the forest path, and they were not too far ahead now. The path began to plateau, and through the intermingling branches far ahead shone something silvery with a spattering of bright red. As the man sprout rounded the top of the hill, the silver became apparent as the shimmering bark of a squat, thick tree, and it's crimson leaves reflected the trickle of light from above around the clearing in which it stood with a ethereal red glow. At its roots, facing the path, was a sparse bed of flowers, small and yellow. However, the splendor of such a sight would not be at the forefront of the man sprout's mind for very long.
The path began to dip back down in a slope toward the silver tree with a hundred or so feet between. However, drawn to the thunder of the man sprout's footfalls, two rather unpleasant looking fellows made their way onto the path only a few yards in front of it. Nearly reaching the dark-haired sprout's chest in height, their bodies were very much similar to that of the sprout. The green of their twisted root bodies was a near match to the lush green of the jungle, and from the tops of their bulbous, ugly heads sprouted an array of purple-green leaves. They regarded the man sprout coldly with their solid, beady black eyes, and their hideous mouths twisted into snarls that showed an array of pointed, needle-like teeth. The man-shaped plant to the right of the man sprout's vision lifted a gnarled appendage and pointed in the sprout's direction, it's bared teeth parting as it let out a horrible screech that resonated through the flesh and brain in a physically painful way, screaming with fury at a pitch that stung the very nerves.
For as silent as the trees had been, gravely and unwillingly captive to watch the scene below, they noted that the banshee cry was not as loud or as powerful as it could be. Still adolescents, their screams would not kill the dark-haired sprout. But, perhaps they were not looking to kill the man sprout, though that was hardly a comfort. These feral creatures were, as the forest full well knew, rather sadistic things in nature. Pain. Incredible, crippling pain was well within their youthful range of pitch.
It’s always been about catching people when they fall.
The farther Dick walked, the harder it was to manage the pain of his throbbing ankle. He’d misjudged the severity. Or maybe it was the climb, which made every step a stab of agony. A quick spell would have his ankle healed up in a second, but that would require stopping, taking his boot off and hoping nothing came at him while he was down. Even though he seemed to be encountering each challenge as more of an obstacle, his guard was up just in case. Enduring this injury would have to be the solution. There were healers at the ready for when Dick completed the task. A limp wasn’t going to have him quitting. Not when he was doing relatively well. Dick was stubborn, there was no way a minor injury would keep him from finishing.
After what seemed like an eerily calm walk, Dick sighed as he saw the metallic tree. Not far either. Roughly the length of a professional basketball court. Give or take. Distance was quickly shrinking though. It was something straight out of a magic book for sure. And it was what Dick assumed to be the highly anticipated ‘heart of the jungle.’ It looked special enough. Plus the small patch of Penelope-esque flowers looked promising. So close. All he had to do was reunite his flower with the group of other flowers that rested below. At the bottom of this hill. Super. Wincing, with a slight hiss of pain, Dick started down the slope slowly. There was a lot of stress being put on that ankle. It was probably more than a simple twist. ”Seriously, do not try leaping tall buildings in a single bound without proper landing spells.” If only he’d thought to do that before he hit the ground. To add just a bit more salt to the wound, two nasty looking things came to greet him. ”Mmn, don’t suppose they’re part of the Lollipop Gu--Argh!” Dick doubled over in pain, clutching his ears desperately to block out the deafening screech that assaulted the air. As soon as Dick heard it, he knew what it was. But, he’d never seen one like that before. The only mandrakes Dick had encountered or seen were the young ones that needed to be transplanted in Herbology. Even the books didn’t have great illustrations of the plants in this stage of their life. Guess they went through an awkward phase as well because the adult variety did not look that bad.
The scream of a mandrake wasn’t enough to kill him yet, obviously, but it was piercing and numbingly painful. Every part of his body hurt. But it was a distant, almost tingling pain? It was a strange sensation, really. The sound was traveling throughout every nerve, muscle and bone, vibrating to an alarming level. One that he did not ever want to experience again. Enough to knock someone out if they listened long enough. Dick was fighting it with everything he had. The intense pain felt like his brain was splitting in two, it took so much strength to stay conscious. But he couldn’t allow himself to go down. Quickly, Dick came up with a solution. This wasn’t a minotaur or a dragon with some serious magical protection. These were mandrakes. Just another variety of plant that was used in ways that wouldn’t work if these things were resistant to spells. So, this should have worked. Daring to uncover one ear for just a split second, Dick waved his wand past both of the root creatures with a shouted, ”Quietus!” That would put an end to the sounds for those two. But apparently not the ringing in his ears that still had him seeing spots. Dick stood himself up straight once more and kept moving. ”And….ugh.” It was hard not to press a hand to his aching head after that screech. ”People say I talk too much.”
His vision was still spotted with dancing lights as he looked over at the two humanoid plants. Their primary threat was their cry. But these looked vicious. Whether or not it was just their generally deformed appearance or the stink eye he was getting, Dick wasn’t about to go up and shake their hands...roots. This was going to be a distanced attack.
Now that he could see better, Dick was on the move again. He hobbled a few rushed steps before trying to pick up that speed again. If Dick was getting close, the other champions couldn’t be that far behind. ”Flippendo!” He swung his wand to curve the spell and knock one of the mandrakes quite far off to one side. Then with a backswing, he cast the same jinx at the other, attempting clearing his path with as much leeway as possible. With that adrenaline pumping again, Dick was able to break back into a mad sprint for the patch of golden flowers. It wasn’t nearly as fast as his intended speed and he knew his ankle would simply collapse if he ran that hard for too long. But he’d deal with the pain afterwards, right now he was just steps from the heart and the flowers.
As soon as he reached the ‘family’, Dick would unstick Penelope from his shoulder and crouch down to put her with the rest of the yellow crocuses. ”We made it. Have fun with plant life.” Yeah, he was running out of enthusiasm for this task. With a pounding headache, mild dehydration, and a sprained ankle, his crouch gave way and Dick was sat down with his legs out in front of him. Ever ready, though. He’d not killed the mandrake-things. So technically they could be coming back at any time. But he’d also reunited a happy crocus with it’s family at the heart of the jungle. He was waiting to be collected? Or maybe shown a way out? Something?
The little yellow crocus did its best to cling to the man sprout's shoulder as he lifted her away, and it continued to struggle angrily as he placed her down beside a bed of nearly identical flowers. A steady stream of red pollen issued from the center of its bloom, dotted here or there by the occasional black puff. The crocus had been saving it for this moment, just to show how very not okay it was with the whole ordeal. The other little yellow crocuses bobbed happily, puffing out a brilliant rainbow of colorful pollen at the sight of their long lost family member. Those closest to "Penelope" reached out with their vine-like appendages to embrace the flower, but the haughty yellow bloom snapped its own at them, flopped over on the jungle floor, and started to slowly drag itself across the ground, away from the happy family of crocuses. The others, however, reached out to gently pull it back into the fold. Penelope was not impressed.
Back on the path, the pair of adolescent mandrakes struggled back onto their roots and turned to face the offending man sprout responsible for their upending. Seeing that the man sprout had given up and fallen to the forest floor gave them a wicked sort of pleasure, and the pair of them began to prowl closer, shoulder to shoulder. One of the ugly, plaintoid creatures opened its twisted mouth, but no sound came out. What trickery was this? Oh... This man sprout was going to pay. They did not know or understand what it had done to steal their voices, but they were certain that revenge would be satisfyingly awful.
There was a rumble, then, and the ground beneath the man sprout began to shake rather violently. A few yards ahead of the sitting sprout, the jungle floor erupted in a wave that cascaded down the path, and the mandrakes were toppled as the shock wave rolled under their feet. From out of the thick foliage lining the trail, vines snaked out to grasp the creatures by their midsection and slowly dragged them out of sight. The vibrations underground settled, and the forest was quiet and serene once more... save for the quiet thrashing of the small yellow flower which was still attempting to escape the welcoming touch of its kin. Dots of yellow began to appear on the jungle floor before the man sprout's legs. Buttercups -- tiny, sweet smelling flowers started sprouting in a line, back toward the jungle path the man sprout had traveled, up the hill it had just descended, and continued to bloom as they disappeared out of sight at the top of the hill.
From around the shimmering silver tree, a thick vine snaked along the ground, drawing itself up like a cobra in front of the man sprout and holding a large, closed flower bud about eye level. It regarded him for only a moment before the bloom sprang open, and hundreds of multicolored petals showered down into the dark-haired sprout's face like confetti. It had done it! It had made it to the Heart of the jungle, and it had successfully reunited its reluctant flower with its family! Why wasn't it celebrating? An identical, bud-tipped vine wound its way from the other side of the Heart Tree to join the second, letting loose another shower of petals to encourage celebratory behavior. The man sprout should be happy! It should be proud of itself!
Overhead, the silver branches creaked as the Heart Tree observed the child resting below. It did not look well, to put it mildly. After hearing the mandrake's cry, the tree had not expected the man sprout to be feeling so well, but it also recalled the way this sprout had hobbled its last steps and collapsed once the Happy Crocus had been deposited. It was injured, poor thing, and silver mother tree took pity in this. The silver branches overhead groaned in the effort of a gentle motion, and a single, bright red, heart shaped leaf was sent fluttering down through the air. It landed in the man sprout's lap, it's edges curled up to make a small, oddly shaped bowl. There was a drop. Then two. And a trickle of clean, clear liquid dribbled down from above to fill the concave leaf. There was no voice -- no words projected into the sprouts head -- but a feeling that was not his own was telling him to drink. Gentle, soothing, and motherly.
Judges will be by soon to review and score your task. You will receive information on your third task during the Beltane celebrations. Feel free to stick around the Heart Tree for a moment of recuperation, wait for the other champions to reach the tree, or simply head back along your own path back to the locker room.