You might have learned about the scientific method in school, but you probably never saw it applied like this.
The Sorcerer’s Method, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 658
“It won’t work like that.” Sweat coursed through Dr. Bell’s goatee as he brought his staff to a defensive angle. “Step back, Geoffrey. I’ll cover the retreat.”
Dr. Geoffrey Watson, awestruck, kept both eyes fixed on the creature before him. It had veins and limbs like any other animal, but those veins were filled with chlorophyll. Its limbs were like branches—branches that worked like muscles! A marvel of the Great Architect’s design!
“Dr. Watson,” Bell warned. He tapped one end of his staff impatiently. “The leaves are turning red. It’s threatened!”
“Red signifies danger to most animals,” Watson replied quietly. His heart was racing, but his mind was clear as he spoke. “But here, on Hermes Minor? It’s a whole new paradigm, Scott. We don’t know what red means! It could be curiosity—”
“Or fear,” Bell finished sharply. He tapped his staff again, drawing the creature’s attention. A growl escaped from its throat—at least, Watson suspected it was from the throat. It was hard to tell, given the lack of an obvious head. Perhaps from the entire torso?
This was their plight. Wandered right into this creature’s den in the heart of the Antilles Forest. Trapped by a particularly dense thicket from behind. Their ethereal compass could do nothing but spin uselessly, unable to show a clear path from danger. And to make matters worse, Bell was fatigued from using his pyrokinesis to clear a path through the forest.
But Bell was a reactionary. For all they knew, his fires had stirred this plant-animal hybrid in the first place. Little good that thought would do them now. Watson prayed Bell wouldn’t cast a fireball at this close range. They’d destroy this specimen—and possibly the whole forest.
“Keep your staff low,” Watson advised.
“But if it attacks—”
“It’s a jumper, Scott.” He pointed slowly at the beast’s haunches. “It’s built for speed and gaining altitude. Possibly to gain more sunlight through the dense treetops.”
Bell’s staff dropped, as did his jaw. “How can you be researching at a time like this?”
Watson shook his head. “Force of habit. Doesn’t mean our necromancer can’t learn something from our shades if it kills us.”
“We won’t die.” His colleague tightened his grip. The tip of his staff began to glow red. “I won’t let it take us, Geoffrey. I swear upon the Great Design it won’t.”
Watson was about to reply when he noticed something change in the creature. It was settling on its trunk-like rear limbs. The growl he’d heard before had subsided to a curious yowl. And the red in its leaves was changing to orange.
Of course, thought Watson. The red matches the tree trunks.
“Quick, your staff.” He waved at him without looking away from the specimen. “Increase its hue. Like you’re warning off an attacker.”
Bell hesitated for only a second. Then he set his staff upright and focused his will. The carvings on his tool began to pulse with a deep crimson hue, almost matching the hue of the tree bark all around them.
“Yes, that’s it.” Watson smiled in spite of his anxiety. “Don’t you see? The forest is red, Scott. This creature isn’t a predator. It’s prey.” He gestured at the leaves, now turning to a dull yellow. “The legs propel it away from what hunts its kind. The leaves serve to camouflage it among the rest of the trees.”
“Fascinating,” Bell remarked. He sounded a touch less fearful now. “We’re going to have to change our whole approach when the next expedition team comes in.”
Watson smiled and was about to agree when he heard another growl—from behind. He saw the plant-beast in front of him rear up and its leaves turn red.
Then it turned and leapt away into the forest beyond.
“Scott,” Watson stage-whispered, “better call in the battle magi. Because I think we’ve found what does count for a predator in these woods…”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.