Millr took out the second ReeL, placed it down and opened it.
Then he was somewhere outside, but he couldn't see very far because of fog. No—it was smoke. He smelled smoke. Was it a forest fire? It tasted like that. It wasn't nighttime yet, he could make out a pale circle of sun on the horizon. But it would be night soon.
He heard two things. In front of him he heard the roar of fire. It was large enough to suck in air, he could feel it, whipping flames and bursts of wind. It must be a large, he thought. And behind him he heard voices, farther away at first, then closer. He couldn't hear what they were saying but he could hear a tone of urgency. He waited, assuming he was supposed to meet them to advance the story.
A moment later out of the haze he saw three people approach. Two men and a woman, sweating, wearing t-shirts or bandanas over their faces. One of the men was bare-chested. They were moving quickly. When they saw Millr one of them said "Hey! Don't just stand there, come on!" leading him along.
A first person ReeL. That's an unusual choice, Millr thought, except for porn and retros. All those decades of the same, repetitive games people had gobbled up had created low expectations, any deviance from the format would be met with disappointment. He expected this one to deviate. Like the first ReeL this too had something special and substantive that he noticed immediately. It wasn't merely production values, he thought, there was a distinct aura of subversion and anxiety. He couldn't place it, he didn't know how it was achieving this, but it drew him in. He felt compelled to follow these people.
They went ahead of him, almost running. The temperature was rising. "Why are we going towards the fire?" he yelled. They ignored him.
Suddenly out of the haze a burning Shrub crop staggered forward, moving obscenely, lurching, while fire burned away the upper half. It made a disturbing wheezing noise, like it was painfully gasping for air. He wasn't sure which crop this was, but he assumed it was one of the lesser known, dangerous species that could be found deep in the countryside.
He moved out of the way. The shambling, burning mass stumbled forward a few feet more then collapsed, exuding a burst of sparks.
He'd lost sight of the men and woman, but he heard shouting nearby. He ran towards the voices. Figures emerged out of the smoke, there were people standing in a circle around another plant, this one different than the last, taller, at least ten feet tall. It had a large, thick stalk ending in a flanged opening, out of which hung a vine-like appendage. Without warning the vine whipped around in an arc, creating a snapping sound and catching one of the people on the side of the head with a loud thwack. The person grunted and was thrown to the ground, unconscious. "Look out!" the others yelled.
Each person was holding something—a pitch fork, a spear-like piece of fencing, a long pointed shovel, a machete, an old pole saw. The people adjusted themselves, tightening their circle around the plant. Without a word, or seemingly any other coordination, they rushed forward, closing the circle and attacking the plant with the various implements. The plant struggled. The whip-like tentacle quivered and flailed, but the attackers were too close for it to be effective. They struck, hacked, and cut into the plant, chopping away parts of it, skewering other areas. The people acted silently with oddly precise violence. The plant made no sound. Soon it stopped moving.
The circle relaxed, people backing away then disbanding. He saw them fade into the smoke. He followed one of them as well as he could given how little he could reliably see. He heard more shouting from various directions. He went towards an outburst, wondering if this were another scene like the last. He knew that if the makers of the ReeL were good they would add sufficient variation to keep him interested. And he was interested. He found himself breathing heavily, his heart was pounding.
But he couldn't locate the source of the voices, he was ascending a hill and the smoke was clearing.
That's when he saw her. She was huge, a dozen times the size of a normal person. She was immediately recognizable, but it couldn't be her. She was made of leaves and sticks, she was constructed from hay bales and ears of corn. There were squash and soybeans, there were tomatoes and grapes and hops and cannabis. Her hair was great rolling swaths of seeding grasses. Her arms and legs were covered in bark. Her eyes were pools of clear water topped by beds of flowers. And birds flew around her, pecking occasionally, hovering sentinels. As she stepped forward slowly she became part of the soil, it merging and transforming into fertile land, tendrils of growth spreading out from each point of contact.
He saw more of her, copies of her—he saw maybe twenty along the horizon. They were moving slowly in the same direction across the landscape, towards the Shrub citadel, the gigantic mound of alien vegetation that punctured the Earth. And he saw fields around it burning, Shrub fields.