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When Tomato Plants Attack


by precious_katuch14

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The gangly red Kacheek ran full tilt down the path headed for Meridell Castle, with one hand keeping his straw hat in place on his head. His shirt, boots and overalls were liberally spattered with tomato pulp and juice, as well as mud and dirt. He was heaving, but he did not stop until he got to the bridge over the moat, where two Draik guards stood – or at least, tried to stand against the heady warmth of the afternoon before resorting to leaning against their spears.

     The green Draik looked up at the frantic figure approaching them and straightened up. Raising her spear, she poked her groggy companion’s greaves with the base of it.

     “Bruce. Oy, Bruce, wake up.”

     “Huh?” The mutant Draik blinked as he pulled himself together. Then he looked straight ahead and saw the red Kacheek, who was already slowing down and clutching his side. “Oh, hey, looks like we’ve got a visitor, Floralle. Halt! Who goes there?”

     Floralle rolled her eyes but listened to the Kacheek, who bent down, hands on his knees, as he caught his breath. She wrinkled her snout at his dishevelled state.

     “My name is Absalom,” the Kacheek said, in between wheezes. “I ran all the way from my tomato farm. I seek an audience with Sir Jeran!” Then he paused. “Or…or any knight, for that matter!”

     “State your business, Farmer Absalom,” said Floralle, rapping the base of her spear against the ground.

     “I will state it when Sir Jeran gets here!” Absalom gabbled out his response before adding, “Or any knight. But it’s urgent!”

     Sighing with mild annoyance, the green Draik pointed out, “If it’s so urgent, tell us now.”

     “But he has to hear it now! Who knows how long it’ll – “

     “What’s going on?”

     A short striped Kougra in a rough brown tunic and with a bow and a quiver of arrows slung over his back strode toward the castle door. A red and blue shield badge bordered with gold and marked with a crown was pinned to the front of his tunic. Absalom’s eyes lit up and he ran into the castle toward the Kougra before Floralle or Bruce could stop him, and as he did so, he left a trail of dirt and tomato bits on the floor tiles.

     “I am not cleaning that,” whispered the mutant Draik to his fellow guard.

     “Sir Knight!”

     “Whoa, whoa, where’s the fire?” the Kougra asked, extending his arms to stop the Kacheek from colliding into him – and potentially soiling his tunic. “And do you need a knight to put it out? Sir Oakley of Mulberry, certified knight of Meridell, at your service. I heard you were also looking for Sir Jeran, so…” He turned away from Absalom and cupped his hands around his mouth to yell down the hallway leading into the castle interior. “Jeraaaaaaan!” As he cried out for his colleague, Floralle and Bruce flinched.

     “For a small knight he’s got a big mouth,” Floralle muttered softly. Bruce nodded sagely.

     It didn’t take long for the blue Lupe to come running toward them, followed close behind by a yellow Lupe almost as solidly built as he. Both wore swords and were dressed for comfort in shirts, tunics, breeches, and boots, and had the same badges as Oakley. The yellow Lupe, however, also toted a large halberd. At the sight of the blue Lupe, Floralle and Bruce stood at attention and saluted.

     “What’s going on, Oakley?” Jeran asked.

     “And did you have to shout so loudly?” grumbled Tuffold, sticking one finger into his ear and wincing as he propped the halberd against the wall. “We could hear you all the way from the Corridor of Crowns.”

     “This farmer guy has business!” said Oakley. Then he halted. “What’s your name again?”

     “Absalom.”

     “Right, right. Anyway…what’s your business?”

     “I have a really bad batch of tomato plants,” said the red Kacheek gravely.

     The three knights and the two guards traded looks ranging from confusion to irritated skepticism.

     “O…kay?” said Tuffold tentatively, scratching his head. “I mean, I’m sorry that your tomatoes aren’t – “

     “No, I mean they’ve gone wild!” Absalom flapped his arms.

     “Aren’t there such things as wild tomatoes?” asked Oakley, turning to Jeran.

     Absalom did a panicked jig in place as though needing to use the little knights’ room. “No, no, I mean they’re running wild and tearing up my farm and terrorizing the neighbours!”

     There was a pause until Oakley and Tuffold said, “Ohhhhh!” together.

     Jeran furrowed his brow. “How did it happen? Do you know what caused it?”

     “Well, I woke up this morning and decided to check on my tomato plants, and Ol’ Smithson from next door walked over with a basket of his turnips to sell, and then suddenly, my plants just…uprooted themselves from the ground, tomatoes and all, and roared and ran after him!” Absalom pretended to run in place. “Smithson got away, that crusty old Tonu still has it in him, but he dropped his turnips and they rolled straight into Bertha the Buzz’s yard…oh, I dunno how it happened, it just…did. Maybe someone’s got kooky magic down on their farm and it got into my field.”

     “A mage on a farm? Guess agriculture must be their chosen…field.” Oakley snorted and was immediately silenced by Tuffold elbowing him in the ribs. Floralle looked at Bruce and rolled her eyes.

     “Besides, if I knew what caused it…” The Kacheek’s voice trailed off. “No, even if I knew it, I’d still come running over here for help. I’m just a simple tomato farmer, aye. I don’t know anything about fighting tomato plants gone wild, but I did try to take some shears and a rake. I must’ve done a good job with my crops this year ‘cause they sprouted arms and wrestled my tools out of my hands! I could’ve sworn some of those plants started looking a bit like Queen Fyora with the staff to match, and another like you, Sir Jeran…”

     “Me?” the blue Lupe asked, pointing to himself.

     “Sir Jeran?” echoed Bruce, gesturing to him with a flick of his spear.

     The striped Kougra blinked and tried not to laugh as he commented, “So wouldn’t you say…the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tomato plant?”

     Tuffold groaned and cuffed Oakley soundly.

     “Thank you, Tuffold,” said Jeran gratefully. “All right, I think we’ve heard enough. We should investigate this for ourselves and cut these tomato plants down to size so they don’t bother anyone anymore.”

     Absalom breathed a loud sigh of relief. “Thank you, Sir Jeran! I’ll be forever indebted to you!”

     “’We’?” said Tuffold, raising his eyebrows.

     “That’s what I said. You, me, and Oakley will look into this.”

     “This sounds exciting!” said Oakley, clapping his hands. Then he glanced at Absalom. “Not the part where you’re overrun by crazy tomato plants…no, wait, I mean, it’ll be exciting to do some epic knight-level gardening!”

     Bruce nudged the green Draik. “You were right about Sir Oakley’s mouth, Floralle.”

     * * *

     “Ooh, ooh, what if I run in, screaming, ‘Now you will to-meet-oh your doom!’”

     “Oakley, just how many bad tomato puns are you going to torture me with?” Tuffold complained. He, Oakley and Jeran followed Absalom as they strode through Meri Acres Farm. So far, there was no sign of any trouble, let alone any tomato-related trouble.

     “Well, at least the tomato plants haven’t destroyed all of Meri Acres,” Jeran commented.

     When they passed by Alton’s potato counting booth, Tuffold remarked, “Hey, Jeran, remember that time when you were so into extreme vegetable counting that you missed your squire classes?” The yellow Lupe chuckled. “What was it you told me? You wanted to fit in with the other kids?”

     Jeran scowled. “Shut up, Tuffold.”

     “Did you really take up extreme vegetable counting?” Oakley asked curiously.

     “Well, we’re about to take up extreme vegetable gardening,” Jeran replied grimly as they rounded a corner and saw a brown Skeith running away from a tall, slender, and screeching creature made entirely of branches, stems and of course, tomatoes. Its leaves were arranged at its back like faerie wings.

     Absalom, who had otherwise been quiet since they left the castle, screamed. “They’re here! Help me, knights!”

     “Stay out of our way and you’ll be fine,” said Tuffold as he shoved the red Kacheek behind himself and readied his halberd. Oakley nocked an arrow to his bow and shot, striking the faerie-like creature in its chest – or where its chest would be. The plant immediately stopped chasing the Skeith and turned to look at the striped Kougra with a terrible expression on its sharp face. Then it hissed and lunged toward Oakley, only to fall under the combined strength of Jeran’s sword and Tuffold’s halberd. The two Lupes made short work of the plant, cleaving it into pieces and leaving its fruit smashed on the ground.

     The Skeith, who was halfway up a tree and failing to climb it, let himself slide unceremoniously down the trunk when he saw that the danger was past. Then he lumbered over to Absalom and the knights. “Oh, thank Fyora, Sir Jeran! I thought I was gonna be plant food! But there’s more, there’s more of them down at Absalom’s farm…”

     “That’s why I brought the knights over!” the Kacheek explained.

     “We’re here to help,” Jeran clarified. “Sir Oakley and Sir Tuffold are with me, too.”

     Absalom started glancing this way and that frantically before gasping at the sight of more tomato plant creatures. “Here comes more of them! What do we do now?”

     “I can tell you what you’re going to do,” said Jeran steadily as Oakley drew more arrows from his quiver. “You’re going to run on home and stay safe while we clean up this mess and find out who started this mess in the first place.”

     “That definitely sounds good!”

     “What about me?” the Skeith asked.

     “You should do the same,” said the blue Lupe. He then called out to Tuffold, who was hacking away at a heavyset plant that vaguely resembled an Aisha, down to the branches made to look like its long ears. “Tuffold, can you escort them?”

     Tuffold nodded after drawing his sword in one fluid motion and stabbing his enemy in its stem. “Yeah, but are you and Oakley good with holding them off for us?”

     The Kougra let out a whoop when another one of his arrows found its mark. “Don’t worry about us, we’ve got a lot of juice!” His smile faded when he saw more lumbering plants twined with vines, and he hurried to the top of a pile of crates before continuing to fire.

     After rolling his eyes again, Tuffold grabbed Absalom and the Skeith and pulled them in between a nearby shack and barn to evade the tomato plant monsters.

     * * *

     Tuffold pursed his lips thoughtfully as they peered through a cornfield at Absalom’s farmhouse. The red Kacheek’s field was nearly bare, with only three rogue tomato plants left patrolling the premises and hurling their tomatoes at innocent passersby.

     “Oh, how are we gonna get there?” Absalom’s voice rose by an octave, prompting the knight to clap his hand over the Kacheek’s mouth.

     “Trust me, I’ve got a plan.” The yellow Lupe frowned and spat out a wad of corn silk. “Sort of. I’ll distract the plants, and you make a break for it toward your house. On three.”

     Absalom whimpered.

     “One, two, three!”

     Tuffold leapt out from the corn, brandishing his halberd. Immediately, all the tomato plants snapped to attention and shrieked, rushing toward him.

     “I’m Sir Tuffold of Westwind, master of the halberd! I was born in a summer storm, with the Turmaculus’ strength! Come at me!”

     While the Lupe swung his polearm with practiced ease, pretended to trip and immediately cut down one of the plant monsters bearing down on him, Absalom fled for the relative safety of his house, hands clapped to his mouth to muffle his screaming. One plant turned its cluster of tomatoes toward Absalom.

     “Absalom, hurry!”

     The red Kacheek brought his hands away to unlock his door and hurl himself inside, but as he did so, Tuffold noticed something. The two remaining plants he had been about to destroy had halted for a second while Absalom was close by, only to resume pelting Tuffold with tomatoes and stray branches, snapping the yellow Lupe out of his thoughts. He instantly smashed one plant’s bunch of tomatoes with the base of his halberd before cleaving the other.

     That’s odd. The tomato plants noticed Absalom but didn’t attack him at all.

     Tuffold glanced around, brushing tomato gunk off his clothes. There were trails of overturned baskets, broken stalls, squished tomatoes, and puddles of tomato juice to show where the monsters had gone to wreak havoc, and the houses and barns had all been shuttered and locked.

     Hmm, no one else needs my help for now.

     He turned toward Absalom’s house and opened the door.

     “Absalom?”

     The house was sparsely furnished. There was a coat rack, portraits of vegetables on the walls, and a humble carpet in the middle of a secondhand couch and matching armchairs. Nothing out of the ordinary, yet there was something about the place that remained…dim. Foreboding. Portentous.

     Oh, he drew his windows shut and switched off his lamps. Poor guy must be scared, Tuffold reasoned before calling out, “Are you okay?”

     There was no response from Absalom, not even a scream or the sound of the Kacheek breaking anything out of sheer nervousness.

     But from the hallway, a mass of shoots and stems suddenly shot out and grabbed Tuffold’s arms and legs, sending him crashing to the floor and causing him to drop his halberd. Before the Lupe could shout for help, vines wrapped around his mouth and effectively gagged him.

     * * *

     “Where’s Tuffold?” Jeran grumbled. The piles of desiccated plant matter that were the remains of the monsters had begun to regenerate after being whittled down to size, hissing and spitting. With some help from a brave purple Ixi, Oakley lit one of his arrows on fire.

     “Maybe he ran into the same trouble we’re running into now,” the striped Kougra said. He nocked his flaming arrow. “Get ‘em within range, Jeran!”

     After sticking out his tongue at the reeling, shrieking plants, the blue Lupe sprinted away from them, prompting them to give chase. Oakley let the arrow fly, breathing out at the same time, and watched as his arrow fell into the midst of the plant monsters, instantly igniting them.

     “Bull’s eye!” Oakley crowed.

     “That’s great, but don’t start a fire in Meri Acres!” said Jeran. He looked at the Ixi gardener, who sprang into action and filled up a small trough with water. As the tomato plant monsters shrivelled into ash and shrieked, the blue Lupe and the Ixi filled two buckets and quenched the last of the flames.

     “Is that all of them?” Oakley asked as he checked his quiver of arrows and gestured for the Ixi to leave and find someplace safer, just in case.

     Jeran shook his head and gazed out into the distance. “Doubt it. I can see other Meridellians running from something – or some things. We need to keep moving.”

     “But what about Tuffold?”

     No sooner was the name out of his mouth that something large and bundled in what looked like leaves and vines was tossed unceremoniously beside Oakley. He jumped in shock when he saw what – or rather, who – the bundle was. Jeran was more interested in seeing who – or what – had tossed it to them.

     “Tuffold!” the Kougra cried as he dropped to his knees, drew a knife, and immediately tried to cut his friend’s bonds. “Tuffold, what happened?” He yelped as a plant monster threw a tomato at him, inching instinctively away – only to be snared by a second monster’s long green arms and dangled upside down, his bow and arrows clattering harmlessly to the ground.

     “Looks like it’s a party,” said Jeran, drawing his sword. The tomato plant that lunged at him was swiftly sliced in half.

     “It’s a party, but you three aren’t invited.”

     A sharp, thorny branch shot out toward Jeran, who blocked it with his sword and veered away.

     “Absalom!” Oakley managed to gasp as he tried to stab his captor with the knife still in his hand.

     The red Kacheek was no longer screaming for help or running; this time, he looked much more confident than the knights had ever seen him. “You were wondering how this happened?” He swept his arm over the tomato plants and grinned horribly. “Take a guess.”

     “You…you did this?” asked the blue Lupe, tripping over an empty crate and then kicking it toward the thorny tomato shrub in pursuit of him, which was carrying Tuffold’s halberd.

     “And how did you give tomato plants thorns?” Oakley screamed.

     “Meri Acres is your home, they told me. My family and friends wouldn’t believe me when I told them I wanted to study magic instead of becoming a farmer. Now look at me – the master of plant manipulation!” Absalom spread his arms and cackled, revelling in the distant shrieks of Meridellians and the crashes of garden tools and doors abruptly shut. “The Magic Academy of Meridell will regret the day they tossed out my application, especially when they see knights brought to their knees by my power! Now, prepare to meet your doppelganger, Sir Jeran!”

     The thorny tomato shrub began to grow more branches and bunches of fruit, including a couple of large barbs on its top that resembled Lupe ears and an overlarge tomato that doubled as a nose. Now it was a Jeran tomato plant, and with a wild cry, it swung Tuffold’s halberd at his head. Jeran ducked before parrying the blow with his sword, the air whistling in his ears in the halberd’s wake.

     “The resemblance is pretty good, though,” Oakley remarked, attempting to cut himself free. But vines had begun to wind around his legs and his torso, faster than he could slash them to ribbons.

     “No, he got my nose wrong!” Jeran objected.

     Absalom nodded with approval as he directed one plant to trample upon an innocent flower bed. “I can turn a plant into you if you’d like, Sir Oakley.”

     “Heh, that’d be…impressive!” the striped Kougra howled as he swung himself forward, toward the plant’s head. It stumbled as it tried to avoid the knife, and one of its root feet stepped into a puddle of water. Suddenly its roots descended into the ground, and the vines around Oakley unravelled, unceremoniously dumping him back onto the damp, grimy grass. As soon as he was free, he sprang toward Tuffold and resumed cutting him loose.

     “Water!” Jeran yelled as he sidestepped Tuffold’s halberd. “Fire…or water!”

     “What?” Absalom scowled at first, then made a strangled noise of surprise when he saw one of his tomato plants firmly planted into the soil, no longer attacking. “No. No!” Before he could do anything, Oakley lunged toward him and pinned him to the ground.

     The blue Lupe dashed toward the buckets and the trough that still had some water left. The thorny Jeran plant hissed as it glided after him, only to receive a pailful of water to the face. Its hissing faded into nothing as its roots grasped the ground and spread across the grass. “Time for extreme vegetable gardening!”

     Tuffold finally jumped to his feet and grabbed his halberd from where the monster had dropped it. “Your plants are returning to their roots!”

     “That’s a good one, Tuffold!” Oakley called from where he kept Absalom’s wrists behind his back.

     The yellow Lupe groaned as he grabbed another bucket of water. “You’re rubbing off on me, Oakley.”

     “Meri Acres, grab your buckets! These plant monsters need a bath!” the striped Kougra shouted at the top of his lungs.

     “No! My work…my life’s work!” Absalom howled as one of his plants resembling a Blumaroo avoided a puddle of water, only to get doused by Jeran. But the carnage had only just begun; farmers and the other inhabitants of Meri Acres had begun to crawl out of their hiding places, armed with hoses, pails and jars all filled with water. It didn’t take long for all of the tomato monsters to literally put down roots, trap themselves, and stop moving and terrorizing anyone. Once the last plant froze in place, everyone let out a loud cheer, some even tossing hats and empty pails into the air.

     “Congratulations,” said Tuffold casually as he watered a faerie-shaped tomato plant with a dainty-looking watering can. Absalom glowered at him. “Your application to Meridell Castle’s dungeons has been accepted.”

     Oakley grunted as Absalom howled and struggled against him, but managed to bind the Kacheek’s wrists and ankles with thick vines from the vanquished plant monsters. “Sponsored by the Order of the Knights of Meridell, and Meri Acres Farm!”

     “Thank you so much, good sirs!” the purple Ixi said, lowering his straw hat. “We’re all indebted to you.”

     “No, thank you,” Jeran replied. “You were all a huge help.”

     “Actually, we were, weren’t we?” the Ixi agreed, smiling. “We showed those monsters what we farmers are really made of.”

     “In Absalom’s case, he was made of rubbish,” the brown Skeith commented.

     The Ixi shook his head. “Don’t lump him in with the rest of us honest farmers. You know how a rotten tomato spoils the barrel! Or something like that.”

     “Still, we’re gonna have a pretty good tomato harvest in the days to come. We’ll be sure to send King Skarl and his knights the best of the crop.”

     “Thank you, brave knights! Now we can garden in peace!” a tomato Chia in a shirt and overalls added, waddling toward them. Oakley yelped.

     “Ahhhh! We missed one!”

     “I’ll grab the nearest bucket!” Tuffold cried.

     Jeran clapped a hand to his forehead. “You idiots, that’s a tomato Chia, not a tomato plant!”

     Oakley paused, before laughing sheepishly and rubbing the back of his head. “Ohhhh. Whoops, sorry, Mister Tomato Chia Farmer, sir. You’re not an angry tomato plant – “

     He stopped when Tuffold cuffed him soundly on the ears.

     “Seriously, Oakley, your mouth will get us into trouble one of these days.”

     “But at least they weren’t tomato puns this time!”

     The End.

 
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