Experiment number sixty-two woke up in the dark, cold, cell. Everything hurt so badly. It always did. She was wrong now.
Sixty-two stared down at her leafy hands and sighed. She knew she hadn’t always been like this. She couldn’t possibly have been born like this. She had only been like this since the day she woke up, she was sure of it. She couldn’t remember anything before that day, though, so she couldn’t be certain.
She always wondered what she’d looked like before she became what she was now. She guessed that she had been young, somewhere between the ages of ten and eighteen. All she had to go by for hair was her pallid skin. She had probably had red hair, or maybe blonde.
Now she looked more plant than human. Long flowering vines fell down her back like hair. Leaves and flowers dangled from her wrists and hands. Two ridges of tree-bark grew over her cheekbones. Twigs grew in her skin like veins, causing her face to look like a network of thorny branches. Two strips of moss grew down her arms, and rough tree-bark clung to the soles of her feet.
It still hurt. Sixty-two wanted to cry out, to scream her lungs out. But she couldn’t. She had to stay quiet. If she screamed, her torturer would come back. She pulled herself up to try to peer out of the crack in the wall far above her. She bit back a scream as pain shot up her leg from her foot. She sank back down to the floor.
She heard footsteps tapping down the hall. She braced herself for the horrors ahead. Her torturer came into view. Her ancient face was twisted into an expression of savage glee.
Something gripped Sixty-two’s limbs and she was forced to rise and walk jerkily after her torturer. She was forced to lay down on the table and stay still and rigid as the old woman tied her down.
She shut her eyes as the woman picked up a handful of river reeds and a scalpel from a nearby tray. She bit the inside of her cheek and clenched her fists as the old woman slid the scalpel into the flesh of her legs. It was nothing compared to the burning wave of pain as the old woman fused the river reeds to her vein.
The old woman hummed cheerfully as she worked, sealing the flesh of her leg with her magic. She washed the scalpel off, then slid the knife between the ribs on her left side. Then she grabbed a strand of ivy off the tray and planted one end between Sixty-two’s ribs and grafted the rest of it into the skin down Sixty-two’s chest. It twined around the other vines that had already been planted there. Sixty-two’s torturer picked up a morning glory vine off the tray and slid the scalpel into the ribs on Sixty-two’s right side.
A crash rang out above them. Fear flashed across her torturer’s face. She ran from the room as fast as her ancient legs would carry her, leaving the knife in between Sixty-two’s ribs. Sixty-two stared down at the purple tinged blood that poured out of her chest. She listened to the crashes and screeches that rang out above her somewhere. Then there was silence.
Something entered the room. It held her torturer’s mangled corpse in one of it’s twisted hands. Sixty-two stared at it dully, barely even worrying about what it would do to her. She flinched as it flung her torturer’s body to the floor with a disgusted growl. It leaned over her, hands outstretched…And pulled the knife out of her. It sliced through her bonds with the scalpel and slid one arm under her back, propping her up.
It pulled a roll of bandages off the tray and bandaged the knife wound tightly. Then the creature scooped her up gently. Sixty-two’s vision went dark as the creature carried her out.
When Sixty-two woke, she was lying beside a stream underneath a black cloak. Sixty-two heaved and retched blood onto the ground beside her. The creature looked up, alerted to her waking by the sound of vomiting.
Sixty-two examined the creature more closely than she had before. He was tall and resembled a tree quite a bit. His face looked like it had been carved from wood. Instead of hair, his head was covered by tightly curled brown fur. A short pair of antlers curved over his head. His arms were like long, gnarled tree branches, ending in twisted, branch-like fingers.
“Hello.” The creature rasped at her. Sixty-two tried to answer but ended up coughing up blood instead. The creature hurried over to the brook and filled its water skin and handed it to her.
“Thank you.” She gasped after she’d taken a long draught of water. The creature nodded.
“It’s just the extra magic that the witch forced into your blood trying to leave.” The creature told her. Sixty-two tilted her head at him. “It won’t ever, though. The pain will never really fade. You’ll learn to live with it, eventually.”
Sixty-two tried to push herself up. Pain shot through her ribs and she remembered the knife wound. She lay back down on the ground.
“Do you have a name?” the creature asked her.
“She always called me Number Sixty-two.” She whispered.
“That’s not your name.” the creature growled. “They called me Number Fifty-nine. Did you have a name before she got you?”
“I don’t remember.” Sixty-two said honestly. “I don’t remember a before. I woke up like this.”
“It will probably come back to you. I was like you when I woke up. It came back to me before I escaped.”
“Who were you before?” Sixty-two asked.
The creature looked away. “That’s not a story for today.” He said. Suddenly, alarm lit in his eyes. Sixty-two looked down and saw a wet circle spreading over the black fabric. She pulled the cloak away and saw red staining through the gray fabric of her dress.
She ripped the fabric and pulled the bandage down. The cut was thin, but deep. Blood poured out of the cut. But at least there was no morning glory vine hanging out of it. Sixty-two gingerly felt the bump underneath her dress that was the strand of ivy.
The creature reached into one of the cloak’s pocket and pulled out a roll of bandages and handed it to her. Sixty-two washed the cut out with the last of the water from the skin. She ripped off a strip of cloth and tied it tightly around the cut.
An angry whispering drifted in with the wind. The creature tensed. “We need to leave. Now.” He hissed.
“Um-” Sixty-two started, only to be interrupted by the creature picking her up like a baby and taking off.
The trees blurred by as the creature ran. Suddenly they stopped. Sixty-two looked down and saw that there were roots wrapped around the creature’s ankles. Another root shot out of the ground and grabbed the creature around his left wrist. The creature quickly set Sixty-two down as the root yanked his left arm away. Another root grabbed his right arm and did the same. Another root came up and snaked up his neck, holding his head in place.
A dark skinned young woman and a tan skinned man rose from the ground. Both drew daggers.
“You’re a hard creature to catch, you monster.” The man growled, circling the creature.
“It’s something you learn after being held captive and tortured by witches for months while the Geomancer does nothing.” The creature gasped.
“I’m sorry.” The woman whispered. “Maybe if I had kept a closer rein on the witches, this wouldn’t be happening like this.”
Sixty-two moaned from her place on the ground, clutching her bleeding side. For the first time, they noticed her.
“What did you do to her?” The man shouted, leveling his dagger with the creature’s neck.
“Seren, wait!” The woman ordered. “I don’t think he’s the one that did that! He usually just rips his victims hearts out, unless they’re witches. She’s not a witch, look at her face.”
The man called Seren crouched down beside her and looked at the thorny branches and tree-bark of her face. His eyes traveled to the bloody knife wound. “Silt, look at this. She’s been stabbed between the ribs. She’s bleeding pretty heavily.” Seren said urgently.
The woman called Silt glared at the creature. “The roots can’t hold him here and take us back. We’ll be back for you, creature. Seren, pick her up.” Silt said. Seren picked her up with ease and roots started to pull them under ground.
The creature looked at her. “I will find you,” He promised. “then you’ll finally be safe.” Then the roots pulled Sixty-two from view.
It was too dark beneath the earth to see much, and they were traveling to fast. In minutes, the earth spat them out into a sunny clearing with a stream running through it.
Seren and Silt carried her into a cottage in the center of the clearing and laid her down on a bed. Seren left the room and Silt, or the Geomancer, as the creature had called her, sliced the dress away from the wound and got to work. Sixty-two tried not to scream as the Geomancer placed her hands on the edges of the wound and her skin went clear. The Geomancer stretched the edges of the cut together until they were touching and ran her index finger over it. The wound closed, leaving only a thin white line as reminder that it was ever there. The Geomancer’s shoulders sank in exhaustion.
“There you are.” She said tiredly. “You might want to just rest for a little while.”
Sixty-two nodded, moving into a more comfortable position. The Geomancer left the room, blowing out the candle as she went. Sixty-two fell asleep in moments.