Hiero's Journey, Chapter 11:
(For the previous installment in this series, click here.)
At the top of Chapter Eleven, and from the top of the forest, the Dryad Queen Vilah-ree tells Hiero a little bit more about his new adversary, The House. This formidable mutant slime-mold, Per Desteen realizes, probably occupies the very site of the ruined city he had come so far to explore. This convenient coincidence reconciles him to doing battle with the monster, though in his patriarchal way he does ask if there are any dryad-type men who can help him fight. Vilah-ree first says no, then backtracks and says there are none capable of fighting. We will learn the cause of her hesitation later in the chapter.
Hiero also demands to see his companions again, and Vilah-ree, at length, agrees. Once the priest and dryad return to the companions' campsite all of Hiero's compadres have a good leer, and Brother Aldo gives Vilah-ree a pious swat on the bottom, which she ignores. The dryad queen asks to have a word alone with Hiero's fiancee Luchare, presumably about post-apocalyptic girl stuff. “Women! Who knew what they were thinking?” asks Hiero (p. 264). I am tempted to say “Not Lanier,” but we've already established that Per Desteen isn't omniscient, and by mid-chapter it becomes clear that Vilah-ree and Luchare have motives that make sense to the reader but which Hiero can't predict. This is far better characterization than one finds in the average pulp novel, and Lanier deserves some credit for it.
After Vilah-ree and Luchare have their private chat, a party of dryads leads Hiero and his core companions to the edge of the forest, where they are stopped by the overpowering odor of corruption. Gorm and Hiero go ahead as scouts, leaving Aldo and Luchare behind. The latter is quite angry at being ditched again, and as it turns out her anger will prove Hiero's salvation.
Per Desteen and his mutant bear friend advance into a landscape of evil mushrooms, puffballs, and blowflies, all of which turn out to be part of The House's collective intelligence. The flies alert the enemy to the intruders' presence, and abruptly The House seizes control of Hiero's mind. As Hiero stands paralyzed, with his foe extruding psychic tendrils into his brain, he learns that The House is a hive mind, with many life-forms' mentalities “swarming like so many maggots in and through the gelid and gelatinous structure” (268). It is also more than a little Borg-like, and mentally urges Hiero, “leeringly” as Lanier puts it, to abandon his physical body and become part of the all-consuming hive. Is The House trying to seduce Hiero or just eat him? Both, apparently. That's just how post-apocalyptic wastelands roll.
Fortunately for Hiero, he is not alone with Mssr./Mlle.* House. The House is not interested in mutant bears, and Gorm is able to interrupt Hiero's communion with the slime-hive, allowing Per Desteen to regain control of his mind if not of his limbs. Then, as the giant slime creature with burning tentacles from Chapter 10 hoves into view, Hiero's other companions come to the rescue. Luchare, who I suspect is the leader of the rescue party, and Aldo and several of the dryads – whom Luchare and Aldo have finally persuaded to fight – enter the scene and fire flaming arrows at the monster. The House proves highly inflammable, and the flames quickly spread to the nearby fungi and puffballs, cleansing the land of the fungal menace and its “filthy vapors” (272).
Luchare apparently got fed up with Hiero's insistence that she stay out of harm's way, and decided to prove that she hadn't forgotten the combat skills she learned earlier in the narrative. It seems that you can only patronize and marginalize a D'alwah princess for so long before she decides she has to rescue you from certain death.
Coming next: Hiero does field research on the reproductive cycle of the post-apocalyptic dryad.
* I assume The House is of indeterminate gender, but it doesn't hurt to be polite.