It was back in the days before the Prophet came, when the World Before was still slowing down and the beasts that had hidden in the shadows were just beginning to rear their ugly heads. That was when the Plantin’ Man sowed his tale.
From the edge of the Great Water to where the ‘ol Grassy Desert turns to black he rode, not tradin’, nor hustlin’, but carryin’ a promise. A promise to keep the World from slowin’ any more, to keep them shiny-birds flying high and a motormount sputterin’ ‘tween every set o’ legs. He had a plan all right, he was goin’ to give us all back the world the Old Ones had broken and I’d be damned if he didn’t get one hell of a start.
Every time he came to the old towns, with their skyscratchers stretchin’ to touch the blue, the Plantin’ Man would sow a Seed. And the following morning when he’d packed up and moved on, that Seed would start to grow. It mighta been small at first and in ways that no one barely knowed, but soon the town would start its speeding up again. The water’d get a-churining, the torch-glass shining, and even some motormounts and carriagecarts would sing their low, grumbling songs again.
It didn’t take long for tales of the Plantin’ Man to spread. Why, once he’d blow through a town and bring it up from the ashes his name would be so loose on the people’s lips that when he reached the next town over they’d have a feast already set for him. And by the time he’d been just halfway up and down the lip of the Great Water, people were singin’ his praises as far in as the Salty Cities. But just as all folk live and die, when there’s a man out there plantin’ seeds, there’s another lookin’ to reap his harvest.
They say he never had a real name, no boy raised by the Wolfmen ever do. Well, I couldn’t say ’bout that, but what I could say is that when word of him started spreadin’ he was wearing many names. Some tribes called him “The Night Wolf,” the highway traders named him “Storm Rider,” but if there’s one name he carried almost everywhere he went it was The Shadow Kral.
Before he was even grown from a pup, The Shadow Kral had forged a fist out of the handful of Wolfmen packs that dwelled in the Columbian Foothills. It was a large track of land and the offerings from the many human clans that lived near the ruins of the River City kept his ranks bedded and fed. And if the clans ever stepped out of line, the Kral and his Wolfmen would descend on them like night on day. It’s been said that after destroying only three villages, The Shadow Kral never had need to raise his spear again for the human clans were his and not in a man in all Columbia was fool enough to try and challenge him.
Then one spring the Wolfmen packs came down from their mountain caves to find the human villages abandoned. Their fields lay fallow, their docks in disrepair, and all their hearths were empty as if it were the heart of summer. It wasn’t until one of The Shadow Kral’s scouts spotted a bright light shining high and unmoving in the night’s sky that they found the clans again. It had come from a skyscratcher in the old ruins of the River City. And as more scouts probed closer toward the city, the Kral and his Wolfmen learned of a man who had come just before winter and planted a Seed that had brought the light back to all the torch-glass.
The Kral was furious. He’d spent his entire life tightening his grip ’round the Columbian clans and if they had light-without-fire, what other tricks might they be hiding? Motormounts? Sputter-guns? No, he knew that if he and his Wolfmen wanted to keep their bellies full and their lusts well fed, they’d have to make a move. So in a rage, the Kral and his packs cast their shadow over the River City and in a single night spilled half the blood of the clansfolk, leaving the other half with an offer. They would bring the man who had given them this gift, this magic Seed, to The Shadow Kral before Harvest or their blood too, would dye the river red.
There was a deliberation among the clans. Not one among them wanted to hand the Plantin’ Man over to The Shadow Kral and his horde. But if they were to survive, what choice did they have? The Kral’s packs were too numerous, their own number too feeble, and what was one life, even if it was one as grand as the Plantin’ Man’s, against the countless lives of the clansfolk? So with heavy hearts they loosed their messengers in every which-way to go find the Plantin’ Man and lure him back to Columbia again.
He had crossed the Grandfather Rockies by the time one of the runners reached him. He told the Plantin’ Man about how their Seed had grown too fast, how it was shatterin’ torch-glass and bringing water up like geysers from the old stone streets. And on hearin’ that the Plantin’ Man promptly turned hisself back toward the coast and followed that messenger all the way to the River City so he might right his mishaps with the clans that had once welcomed him as friend.
But when they arrived it didn’t take long for the Plantin’ Man to see that he was friend no longer. Not a single glass had popped, nor was there any water shootin’ up from stone. No, the only thing that the Plantin’ Man could find broken in River City were the clans he’d once helped and the knife they buried in his back. So when they shoved him before The Shadow Kral and the vile wolf demanded to know how the magic of the Seed, the Plantin’ Man showed that bastard all right.
They say he was grinning like a mad man in them final few moments. For when the Plantin’ Man lay his hands upon that Seed again, he didn’t show the Kral and his Wolfmen how to use it, but made it grow instead. Faster and louder and louder and faster, ’til all at once it became more than just a seed. In a great bloom of fire, a Mushroom brought day unto the night as it towered out from the old River City. And when it wilted there wasn’t a Wolfman or human with a beatin’ chest beneath. Not The Shadow Kral, nor a single traitorous clansman, not even the Plantin’ Man hisself.
The remains of Old Columbia still stand solemn and silent to the north. The land is scarred and barren, the ruins of River City quiet as the dead. But there is a some value in it yet, some diamond in that great rough. For the Wastes of Old Columbia remind us all that, while he who invites the wrath of an evil man is certainly a fool, it is a far greater fool indeed who earns the good man’s scorn.
Originally posted as a response to a prompt by /u/RamblerWulf on reddit.com