Corpse Flower Conundrum, by Lisa Ankrah

Hui knew that they had arrived at the Academy before he had even seen the pagoda-style building when the stench of corpses hit him like a slap. The driver immediately rolled the windows before anyone vomited.

“Yup, definitely corpse flowers,” the necrobotanist muttered. He dug into his bag and pulled out two face masks. “Here you go,” he gestured towards Zhi.

“How is this going to protect us from the smell?”

“It’s enchanted to convert bad smells into a pleasant lavender fragrance.” When he realized how warily Zhi was eyeing the fabric, Hui sighed, “I used earth magic for these, you beansprout.”

Zhi scowled, snatching the mask and wrapping around the lower half of her face. “What about the driver?”

“Only brought two.” Hui turned to the driver. “Sorry, old man, but you’re stuck in here until I’m done.”

With that, the necrobotanist and Zhi got out of the car. During the trip through the forest—made much easier once Hui revoked the protection spells, to Zhi’s indignation—and the car ride to the academy, Zhi explained that the infestation had started in the health sciences labs. But Hui knew from experience that where an infestation began wasn’t necessarily where its source was; those bastards liked to move.

Hui muttered a tracking spell. Red runes materialized and floated towards the right wing of the Academy in response. “What’s over there?”

“The library,” Zhi replied.

“Let’s not waste time then,” he said, rushing over. Unlike his companion, he understood the importance of such places.

The Academy library’s exterior was splattered with chlorophyll, blood, and seeds, but there was no sign of any corpse flowers, which didn’t make sense. Necro-based creations were very protective of their Source.

“Keep your guard up. If this thing’s alone, it’s probably planning something,” Hui said before uttering the tracking spell again. The two followed the new set of runes into the back of the library, where they were greeted by a massive flower made of petals, blood, leaves, and organs. With a shrill shriek, the flower shot a vine towards the duo, who barely managed to dodge it.

Hui shot an orb of light at the monster, causing its side of glow bright blue. “Found the Source! Kid, I need you to distract the flower.”

Contrary to the necrobotanist’s expectations, Zhi eagerly charged towards the monster, her sword encased in flames.

“Not with fire, you idiot! We’re in a library, for spirits’ sake!”

Zhi sidestepped a barrage of seeds, replacing the flames with ice. After jumping away from another vine, she slashed the flower’s center, causing ice to spread from the wound up.

Hui rushed to the creature’s side, slicing it open with a knife. He dug into the corpse flower until his hand grabbed a hot sphere. Satisfied, he tore the Source out of the creature, which unleashed a final scream before crumpling, its leaves, petals, and vines instantly wilting.

“…is…is that it?” Zhi inquired, eyes darting around for any more of the flower’s sentries.

“Yeah. Now, will you please get your headmistress so I can get paid, go home, and burn my clothes?”

-Lisa Ankrah