Distantly, very secondary to every other thought in his mind, Firesong knew that he needed to leave, to get reinforcements. If he did not go back--to pass on warnings, to tell the vale what he had found--then the missing scouts tangled in the thing's roots would surely perish.
Indeed, so would he.
Firesong looked up into the massive branches, saw seven bondbirds perched into them, unmolested but unresponsive to Aya's calls. They were not dead. That was promising, was it not?
He approached the twisted tree, studying the tangled roots, counting flashes of limbs, trying account for the four missing scouts he'd been asked to find. He found more than four--at least seven bodies, limp and pale in the grasp of the tree, caught like insects in an orbweaver's web. None of the scouts had enough magic to do more than light a candle. Against a creature such as this, they would have been utterly helpless.
The bondbirds above told him that they lived and that there were at least three other Hawkbrothers not of K'Treva caught up in this. Lured in, perhaps--this close to the borders, the scent that had caught Firesong's attention could have caught theirs as well.
Winterloon, the most recently disappeared, lay flat on his back at the base of the tree, half-hidden by ferns with his clothes folded neatly by his head. Firesong hesitated, his thoughts itching inside his head, begging him to pay attention to them. He looked back the way he'd come, into the silence of the Pelagir's, twisted trees rising from ferns grown as thick as Aya's feathers, though none so extraordinarily large as the one before him. He'd forgotten something, hadn't he? Something important.
A quiet moan distracted Firesong, bringing his eyes back to poor Winterloon. Firesong picked his way through the waist-high ferns, making his way to the scout's side. Winterloon's eyes followed Firesong's movements, devoid of curiosity and sense, his mouth stretched wide around a branch as thick as Firesong's wrist. This close, Firesong could see the slow pulse of the plant's limb and the matching rise and fall of Winterloon's throat as he swallowed the--tree's sap, perhaps? Firesong did not know. The liquid oozed from the corners of Winterloon's mouth, a translucent shade of green. Beads of it had collected on Winterloon's face and neck like the bubbly sap of a pine, dried mid-drip and frozen there.
Firesong pulled back the ferns, exposing Winterloon to his gaze, and his breath caught in his lungs shock. Winterloon's guts were swollen like he was pregnant, round and full beneath the cage of his ribs, and three vines invaded Winterloon's ass, each only sightly thinner than the one in his mouth. Winterloon stretched wider than Firesong had ever seen or hear of being done, opened impossibly wide to fit the vines. The fluid pumping into him through those was oozing back out, same as that in his mouth, drying opaque white and green into the fallen leaves beneath Winterloon's grotesquely stretched hole. He must be too full to take more, Firesong thought, stroking the taut skin gently. Did it hurt? Firesong wondered, his eyes lingering on the vines, silently throbbing between Winterloon's thighs. How does it feel...?
Winterloon's cock was hard, Firesong noticed, curiously detached from that knowledge. Glistening white tendrils climbed it like vines on a trellis, meeting at the tip where they dove into Winterloon's body again. The liquid dripping from Winterloon's cock was white, not the translucent green that was flowing from his ass and mouth, and Firesong suspected it was semen rather than some substance produced by the plant. Fascinating. He feels some pleasure, at least. It seems impossible, but--
Firesong dipped his fingers into the thickening fluid between Winterloon's thighs, and sniffed it. It smelled sweet, and perhaps a touch minty. Firesong's brow wrinkled together, a thought rising to the surface of his mind--Dangerous. I must go--must warn--but it dissipated, left him kneeling by Winterloon's swollen body with nothing but a nagging sense that he'd forgotten something. Firesong shrugged, and licked his fingers clean. He'd remember later. For now, he must check the others. See to them. Winterloon was fine, and did not need his help.
Moonshine had disappeared two weeks before Winterloon--had been lost with her partner, Nightowl. Their hands were clasped, Firesong saw, though their eyes were as vacant as Winterloon's. Both stood, somewhat, held upright by vines and branches binding their limbs. Moonshine's legs were painted with green sap where he could see her skin, and the vines were two thick in her cunt, and two thick in her ass. There was room for more--they had pulled her open until both openings gaped--but even as Firesong watched, something about as large as an egg slid out of her, falling into a pile of similarly white spheres. Her belly was less rounded than Winterloon's, the contents of it spilled onto the forest floor. Incubators, Firesong thought, realizing the tree's purpose. It needs them to breed.
Firesong came closer, walking a path cleared by the tree's roots and vines. Moonshine saw him and gave a strangled cry through the vine that gagged her. Firesong smiled reassuringly, patting her exposed stomach. It'd be over soon. She'd done well, and the tree would use her again. He reached down between her legs, catching a seed in his hand as it fell free of her. The seed was small, and hot to the touch--filled with life, Firesong noted. He smiled fondly at it, and set the little one with its siblings.
Nightowl squirmed, thrashing in his bonds, and Firesong's attention flickered to him. A pile of seeds lay beneath him as well, and he must be empty, for a pair of vines were joining the two holding Nightowl open, heedless of his muted whimpers. Nightowl's face was lined with pain, teeth clamped uselessly into the vine that fed him as tears streaked down his face. The Tree would refill him, that he might give life again, but it could not make it painless. Firesong looked away, unable to watch the first sweet splitting of a new vine, strangely jealous of the wet flood of life that would soon fill Nightowl.
His attention was nudged again, and Firesong found the last scout he had been sent to find, the restlessness of his thoughts settling at having completed his job. Skygoose had disappeared almost a month ago, and been serving the Tree well for all that time. The former scout was on his hands and knees, resting on the fertile earth as he suckled the vine in his mouth and fucked himself on the vine--only one, but very thick--that penetrated him from behind.
Firesong ducked his head to look down Skygoose's front, and found his stomach almost flat, his cock leaking a continuous stream of come onto a sticky pile of seeds. Firesong breathed in sharply, meeting Skygoose's eyes. The scout winked, sap drooling out of his mouth, dripping from his chin to collect on the earth beneath him.
It needs my body, Firesong reasoned, loosening the ties of his robes, stepping out of them and leaving the fabric where it fell. And they have come to no harm.
He heard Nightowl settle, contented now that he was properly plugged.
Firesong stripped, brightly coloured clothes tossed carelessly aside. He would not need them. A nudge to his shoulder made him turn, finding a thick vine hovering like a tree snake waiting to strike. It shivered in the air, and slid away, leading Firesong to the nesting ground the Tree had chosen for him. Firesong knelt, obedient to the gentle pressure on his mind, and opened his mouth.
High above, he heard Aya settling into the branches.