Razael rhythmically tapped his fountain pen – a very expensive gift – on the desk as he stared at the small pink plant that was starting to grow. It looked like nothing more than a tiny rose plant with one single bud on the main stalk, the rest of the canes curling towards the edge of the decorative pot. He paused tapping for a moment and used the capped tip of the pen to gingerly move one of the thin stalks. Slowly, it curled around his pen.
He smiled warmly like a father looking at his child learning how to do something new with a glint of excitement in his eyes. He carefully unwrapped the tendril, setting it back down on the soft peat moss. It was as close as he could find to the cavern’s abundant mosses and fungi that he could get normally, but it seemed good enough for the little plant. Razael checked the soil and found it bone dry already.
“There’s a good miss,” he said with a small frown. “I just watered you didn’t I..?” He quickly flipped in his notebook he dedicated just to the seedling, checking his watering chart. The last watering was three hours ago, but it felt like there wasn’t a drop of water anywhere to be found. A quick appraisal of the times and he realized it was getting shorter and shorter between waterings. Feedings of nutrients was also becoming more often.
“Maybe you need a constant reservoir… we did find your mama above a pool.” Razael poured his glass of water slowly into the pot, watching it get absorbed into the soil like a dry sponge. He took a couple notes on the updated watering time before standing, looking at his plant for a few more seconds; the little bit of water seemed to perk up the thin tendrils, the pink color almost darkening.
“Alright. I’m going to get you some kind of… watering reservoir to put under your pot. I’ll be back in an hour, then I have to go out. You don’t go anywhere, okay?”
Gardeners had told him that talking to plants seemed to help them grow, so it had to be doubly true for a sentient one. Razael had initially felt stupid talking to a pot of dirt in private. Now that there was a sprout though, it felt less ridiculous to do. He lightly stroked the little flower bud with the tip of his finger like it was a pet before grabbing his jacket and heading out.
It was late evening before Razael was able to make it back to his bedroom with a large glass bowl under his arm and a messenger bag full of books on his other side. He snapped his fingers and the lights magically began to glow without fanfare. He bumped the door shut after himself with his hip, nearly losing his balance to the books at his other hip. He shrugged the bag off onto the floor with a loud ‘thud’ and went over to the desk, setting the bowl down.
“Sorry, love. I got side tra…”
The plant was wilting, the soil and moss around it cracked and brown. Razael stared for ten seconds before sprinting out to get a pitcher of water, cursing under his breath. If the plant died now he’d never get another one – there was no way he could locate such a unique specimen ever again. A Body Thief seedling from a bigger plant that grew on the mystic waters of the God Pool? There was no replacing that.
He nearly spilled the water as he stumbled over the books he left on the floor, but managed to keep his balance while cursing louder. Water slowly, carefully, was poured onto the dry soil. It took five minutes until the whole pitcher was empty and not a drop of water leaked onto his desk. Razael chewed his lip and touched the soil – it was moist enough. He pinched the bridge of his nose for a moment before heading out for another pitcher of water to fill up his makeshift reservoir, hoping he wasn’t too late.
He locked the door after himself and poured the water into the bowl, grumbling angrily at his foolishness. Razael grabbed the pot and sat it in the bowl, the water covering just half an inch up the side. His heart fluttered briefly when he finally looked at the wilted plant again – or what should be the wilted plant. Instead it was perked up just as it was when he left, the pink hue vivid and healthy. If anything, it seemed bigger than when he left this morning.
Uneasily, he stroked the flower bud again. His eyes widened as it slowly opened under his touch – a small split in the pink flesh that looked reminiscent of a mouth. White petals inside its mouth spiraled open, jagged thorns lining the ‘mouth’. Razael laughed softly and sat at his desk, watching it with awe. The flower leaned into his hand like one would expect from a cat or a dog looking for pets. He gently rubbed it with his thumb, taking a moment to pour more water into the slowly depleting reservoir.
“Hello, love, hello…”
It lifted its head from his palm at the sound of his voice, seemingly following him when he leaned or tilted his head. Razael felt his eyes tear up as he stroked the flower under what he’d call its chin, it tilting its head up.
“Oh, you’re beautiful… Are you going to be okay until I get you more bloodmeal tomorrow morning? This was a lot of growth…”
The plant ‘looked’ at him for a few moments before hunkering back down against the soil. The flower closed back up and it seemed to return to a neutral state, the tendrils lazily hanging over the side of the pot into the water. Razael decided that was as close to an ‘yes’ as he would get from a plant and sighed. He looked back at his books on the floor before grabbing his notebook, taking extensive new notes.
He would have to come up with new tracking metrics, new water and feeding measurements, and adjust his schedule accordingly. Razael was taking care of a baby now, and that was time consuming. He briefly wondered if he could convince Miru to give him paternity leave.
“What in the Hells made you decide to name it, Raz?” “It’s a her for one, and two… Audrey’s sentient. It’d be rude.”
The plant was massive now, settled contently in an oak barrel resting in Razael’s full tub. Miru looked at him with tired annoyance at that response before looking back at the plant. The Body thief was the size of a large shrub, about six obvious main tendrils wrapped around her barrel protectively and testing the water. She tilted her head side to side, as if sizing up Miru before slowly opening her mouth. The toothed flower, when completely open, was easily bigger than either of their heads.
“Oh. Hello, Audrey,” Miru said slowly, glancing at Razael. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”
The plant leaned forward, the wood of the barrel creaking slightly as she shifted. One main vine reached out and touched Miru’s face, petting his cheek. Razael grimaced a little, but his boss only smiled slightly.
“I’m sorry, sir. I pet her and—“ “It’s fine. I thought she was going to try to strangle me.” “Oh, of course not! Audrey is very polite. She’s never bit, tried to constrict, or blown acid.”
Miru reached out and carefully touched under the plant’s jaw area, scratching under it with a gloved paw like one would a dog. The plant tipped her head up and lowered her tendril, leaning into the physical attention.
“So this is only a month or so of growth, Razael?” “Yes, sir. She’s quickly outpacing what I can do for her in my room, and I was hoping if I kept her container small she’d not outgrow it.” “What, like a goldfish?” “Y… Yes. It does sound stupid now…” “It’s not stupid. We don’t know how these things grow, it might have worked.”
Razael relaxed when he said that, feeling a small smile form on his face. Miru understood him so well – he understood the ambition and curiosity that drove him, and never thought he was an idiot for his passions. It felt good to be understood, especially after the lengths he had to go to trying to get the seed out of the dungeon intact.
“If she continues to grow like this, we will have to plant her somewhere permanently that can sustain her growth—“ “Audrey has barely been socialized, I’d be terrified if she did something—“ “It would be on my property, fenced off so no one could get to her.”
Razael frowned a little, looking up at Audrey. The idea of letting her go outside of his personal care was not something he wanted to do. He shook his head a little, and Miru side-eyed him with a small twitch of his ear. Disagreeing always annoyed the Catfolk.
“Is that not good enough, Razael?” “I don’t want her to think I abandoned her. I’m all she’s known since she sprouted.” “And I don’t want you to house a dangerous plant in the barracks.”
There was a subtle shift in Miru’s tone that made Razael uneasy – he was quickly running out of ways to politely say no to his boss and he knew it, but this was too important to give up on; sure he would usually roll to Miru, but now? With his child?
“Audrey isn’t dangerous, and while there is very little in depth research about her species, they can’t start to produce pods until they are matured, which if her mother plant is a reference, that’s about fifty feet, give or take; it’s hard to estimate once she was killed. But Audrey? She is only about four foot, maybe six with root system.” “Your point, Razael? It sounds like you don’t want to get rid of a pet.” “Even if she sustains this rate of growth, it’ll be almost a year before she’s anywhere near mature. I know how to take care of her and she trusts me. There’s no guarantee she won’t become hostile with strangers poking and prodding at her like some common topiary. She’s starting to understand language, which means I can teach her appropriately. If I stop now, my lord, all of my research into her could be for nothing… But not only that, she’s sentient. Intelligent. She has a personality and she’s like a child right now.”
Razael frowned and got next to the tub, reaching up and stroking Audrey’s face. The body thief lightly wrapped its tentacles around his arm, swaying with the touch. It almost pained him to think of her being taken away and left outside, alone, in the dark.
“I’ll… I’ll take her to my home in Sandpoint,” Razael said weakly. “If I don’t want you to have it in the barracks, I don’t want you to have it in town, Razael.” “Please, Miru. I need more time with Audrey, and it’s my professional opinion she’d be feral if you took her now.”
Razael heard the Catfolk tapping his foot impatiently and winced, realizing he didn’t address his boss properly, but refused to look at him. After a few long uncomfortable moments of silence, Miru finally scoffed.
“Fine. I want a report every two weeks with her growth and progress. We will revisit this when it—“ “She.” “—When it, Razael… When it becomes too big or dangerous to house. It will not remain here indefinitely.”
And with that, Miru left without a secondary glance back. Razael winced when he heard the door slam shut, but looked up at Audrey. The body thief rubbed against his cheek and he smiled a little, rolling his eyes.
“It’s okay, Audrey. He’ll realize soon enough that you’re perfectly safe… He’ll love you. You should get some rest.”
The flower resettled back into the large oak barrel, hunkering down and leaning back against the wall behind the tub. Razael waited until the tendrils relaxed into the water before leaving the bathroom, shutting the door.
He chewed his lip and went to his notes, flipping through them with a frown. Razael knew he couldn’t keep the progress hidden from his boss – the Bard was too clever, too powerful, too intelligent… he’d have to go around him somehow. He’d have to find an emotional appeal Miru couldn’t ignore or brush off.
“My lord, please. Your husband doesn’t understand—“ “He understands more than I do.” “He wants to take Audrey and plant her in your garden. She’ll get bigger. I don’t know if she’ll eat people yet. She’s still happy with blood and water – much like a rose bush, as I’m sure you know, nothing weird – but I don’t know if she will be forever. I’m still too big for her to try to eat, but…” “Ah. So you’re bringing this up out of the kindness of your heart because of our children.” “… No, sir. I don’t want Lord Coinpelt to take Audrey, but I also cannot guarantee she won’t try to eat your daughters if they play too close by. Or one of your dogs. Body Thieves can eventually move on their own—” “I get it, I don't need hypothetical situations. Why doesn’t Miru want to listen to you on this matter?” “I don’t… know. He usually trusts me with this kind of thing but he doesn’t this time…” “Mm. I’ll ask him about it. Don’t worry too much, Razael. I promise his bark is much worse than his bite.” “… He’s my boss, my lord…”