alsoquin Rapidly leaving the scene of the first battle with the Bone Dagger Kings, the three Solars head upwards in the Wasirranu as Thirteen's warriors head back to mount a second assault on the border.
alsoquin Until now, the Solars have been operating in the area known as the Cradle, the vast central valley formed at the top of the Wasirranu's trunk where the branches begin to rise upwards. However, near in front of them, a long branch -- miles wide and with tinier branches bigger than cities shooting off in every direction --
alsoquin begins to rise rapidly upwards, at a nearly forty-five degree angle.
alsoquin Thirteen remembers this climb all too well -- far above, the smaller branches begin to mingle and intertwine, twisting together to eventually form the Spire, a vast, upwardly spiralling structure of brown and green and red that marks the highest point in Wasirru.
Thirteen begins without hesitation to climb the branch.
alsoquin The branch that stands before them is Kerel, the Enlightener, the fourth branch in the tribe's traditional hierarchy.
alsoquin The climb goes quickly for the Exalts, but the Wasirranu is vast even for those touched by the Sun. A day's climb takes the Solars some great distance up Kerel, but the Spire still hangs quite some ways above. The tree is much alike here, though the animals have shifted towards the more nimble and fleet of foot to deal with the incline... blue foxes and four-winged birds abound.
alsoquin As night begins to fall, the Solars find themselves at a crook in the branch, such that Viridian is laid out to see far, far below, and they settle down to watch as the city's lights are raised for the evening, casting brilliant patterns of green and gold light and black shadow out for miles upon the tree's Cradle.
Cerin Cerin has been deep in thought most of the day, paying more attention the Wasirranu than to any of the flora or fauna that lives upon it, though he does take the time to view the city, spread out so far below, a smile on his face, that fades after they turn back. "This tree is quite spectacular, Thirteen. Do your people have any legends of what thoughts it thinks?"
Thirteen doesn't pause in his stride, but somehow gives the impression of having done so.
Thirteen "I am not sure I understand your question."
Cerin "Oh." He says, if not surprised, then somehow not quite expecting that answer. "You do not know it is sentient then?"
Thirteen does pause, but only just.
alsoquin As Birds' glance catches the city below once more, something clicks for her in the back of her mind, and she begins to remember....
alsoquin Another time, a windy day, as Kerel sways beneath her sandaled feet...
alsoquin Across a nearly one-hundred foot gap where the branch arcs to one side stands a man with a tall spear and a narrowly-pointed hat, which he wears at a jaunty angle and bent down to shadow his face. His simple cotton robes flare dramatically in the eastward wind, and he laughs, loud enough to carry even across the gap.
alsoquin With great effort, he throws something -- it looks like some sort of large melon -- and shouts, "Ten times, now! Without looking."
alsoquin With a giggle, Birds reaches her chain-clad hand up and pulls a blindfold over her face, while simultaneously five other hands draw out narrow blades of Essence, and her feet push up, sending her into the air...
Thirteen opens his mouth slightly, then looks irritated.
Thirteen "I was not aware of that, no."
Thirteen "What order of being does it appear to be?"
Cerin "Ah. The entire tree is a behemoth, and it is most definately sentient." Cerin, on a whim, decides to try something, focusing on the branch beneath his feet.
alsoquin A wave of mental "words" wash over Cerin -- WINDCOOLBRANCHCREATURESBENEATHABOVEBENDCREAKLIGHTGLOW
alsoquin Though underneath, there is a single idea that seems to be repeated, more often -- RIPENING
Thirteen "Perhaps we could ask it about our legend of the tree."
Cerin "...Perhaps." He says, sounding quite distracted.
Birds puts a searching hand on the tree.
Cerin "Ripening." He says quietly.
Cerin very carefully pulls the magic back into himself, watching the faint streamers as they pull from the tree.
Birds She whispers to it, "What do you remember?"
alsoquin The wood beneath Birds' hand seems to grow slightly warm, to the touch....
Birds "Thirteen, why did you stop wearing your hat?"
Birds "You used to wear a hat."
Thirteen "I...have never worn a hat, Birds-of-Trinity."
Thirteen "Do you think I ought?"
Birds "I guess that...wasn't you."
Birds "I was just remembering.
Cerin "The tree seems to think of ripening. Perhaps it is asleep." He pauses. "I wonder what while happen if it wakes."
Thirteen "Can you communicate with it, Cerin?"
Cerin "I can hear the words it does not speak. They are .. Immense. And yet simple."
Thirteen "It speaks of ripening?"
Birds nods. "That seems to be the way of ancient things...to speak the language before words."
Thirteen "Perhaps that is for the best, since we seek its fruit."
Cerin "It thinks of it .. yes. Beneath so many other words."
Thirteen turns again to proceed on the journey up the branch. Perhaps he is more affected by this realization then he lets on, or perhaps he merely makes a careless error, but he misses a step, his foot coming down on thin air...and falls.
Cerin "That was careless of him." Cerin observes, watching the solar fall.
Thirteen 's form is silhouetted in the firelight of the cities below as he hurtles through infinity, the air whistling past him as he holds his spear tightly and reaches in vain for safety with his other hand. He remembers the sounds of his childhood, the tournaments in which he proved his skill, his ordeal...and then he realizes.
Birds "Thirteen, what are you doing?!" Birds zooms after him, keeping at a safe distance in case he does something dramatic in order to reorient himself.
Thirteen 's mouth opens, as if to speak, before his breath is taken from him as he collides heavily with a lower branch. Sliding, he digs his spear in and comes to a halt, lying on a slanted twig depending from Kerel.
Thirteen "I have spoken with the tree before."
Cerin ::You have?::
Thirteen "I am sorry to worry you, Birds. I was distracted."
Thirteen ::Yes. Long ago.::
Thirteen ::I will show you.::
Birds "We all become distracted at times. Speaking of which, yes. Wei Dan wore a hat. It would suit you."
Thirteen "Oh yes?"
Thirteen "Perhaps we may seek it out, once we have rid my world of the menace it faces."
Thirteen "I beg your assistance, Birds. I cannot fly."
Birds takes Thirteen's hand and they return to the branch they started on.
Thirteen "Let us continue to the spire. There we may engage in conversation."
Birds ::Maybe when we have some time, I'll teach you.::
Thirteen "Have you remembered more of Wei Dan's travels, Birds?" The Solars begin to proceed again up the branch.
Birds "Only a flash. We were practicing swordsmanship here on the tree." She concentrates for a moment and has many hands. "I think I learned this from him." She touches his arm with several of them, by way of explanation.
Thirteen ::I think I would enjoy that.::
Thirteen "A trick I have not noticed you using before."
Birds "These hand-flowers were a gift from you, I think. I only now understood their meaning."
Cerin studies the hands, with slightly detached interest.
Thirteen "And what is that meaning?"
Birds "Something secret," Birds evades. "You will have to read about it."
Thirteen "I shall, I hope."
alsoquin Continuing on upwards, the Solars' journey remains swift -- but the distance is still great. Two more days pass as they climb the branch.
alsoquin As they reach further upwards into the highbranches -- the true territory of the Bone Dagger Kings -- the Hundredfold's presence becomes much more visible. Several times the Solars fight off scouting parties, sent to hunt any Spearfolk who might dare chance so high.
alsoquin At one point in the climb, one of the Kings' cities comes into sight on a side-branch hanging nearby. Upside-down, the vast black mass, like a cancerous aphid, clings to the bottom of the branch, with thousands of holes bored into it, edges stained chalk-white. Over its surface, some of the creatures crawl, their clattering sounds echoed across the void...
alsoquin Eventually, the branch begins to wind back in towards the center, and as the Solars come around the bend, it finally comes into view -- the Spire, the vast cathedral-manse at the heart of the Wasirranu. (...)
alsoquin The twelve primary branches of the tree all wind back together, knotting into a great platform of leaves and twigs perhaps five miles wide. In the center, they twist together in a tight, geometric pattern, like a maypole of living wood, growing slowly narrower as it extends up for a thousand feet or more. Out of it spring tiny branches, bearing leaves of gold, red, and green, in brilliant patterns (...)
alsoquin and on many of them, small, circular, greenish-purple fruits hang, clearly not quite ripe. At the very top, the spire bends to one side and forms a tiny hook -- the very point that Thirteen once hung from, performing the Ordeal of Wei Dan.
alsoquin Today, the sun stands directly behind the spire, casting a vast shadow forward and illuminating all in reddish-gold light. It is perhaps the greatest of all tragedies that Thirteen cannot see it.
Thirteen rests for a moment, hand on the Spire, contemplating.
alsoquin All around, the endless fields of greenery, the leaves of the Wasirranu, stretch out for what must be thousands of miles... even here, at the highest point, what lies beyond the tree cannot be seen....
Thirteen "Do you wish to speak with the tree, Cerin, Birds?"
Thirteen "I can guide you."
Cerin Cerin opens up his senses, letting the whole magnificant vista sink in. "I would very much like to, yes."
Birds "YES." Birds coughs. "Ahem, yes. I have curiosities to satisfy."
Thirteen "As you wish."
Thirteen kneels, gargles, and begins to unroll something from his mouth. It proves to be a long length of rope.
Thirteen divides it quickly into three lengths, measuring them out with his thumb and a frown, and deeming them sufficient.
Thirteen hands the other two lengths to his friends, and bends to tie the rope around his ankle.
Cerin does as Thirteen does.
Birds does the same.
Thirteen "Follow me."
Thirteen begins the more arduous climb up the Spire, carefully wrapping the rope around his shoulders as he moves from handhold to handhold, seeking the very top.
alsoquin As Birds ties off her ankle, she remembers again: tying the same knot at the foot of her red and gold robes... looking out into an endless Wasirru night as stars of ten points shift and blow gently through the night sky on the winds....
Thirteen reaches the peak, and holds onto the tree (and his spear) with one hand, reaching out with the other to knot the rope around the hook.
Thirteen "Are you prepared?"
Cerin nods. "Yes."
Thirteen "Then let us begin our ordeal."
Thirteen lets go of the Spire, and falls...
Cerin falls a few moments after
Birds lets go of the Spire and hangs in the air, motionless. After a moment's meditation, she untangles the clenched Essence that suspends her there, and joins the others.
alsoquin As the Solars fall down to their position, upside-down from the Spire, they can feel the Essence of the area shift, grow more... welcoming. Open.
alsoquin It is much like meditation -- the stages of opening up your mind to the experience, quite an unusual task. It is after perhaps twenty minutes of this that Cerin and Thirteen each receive a trademark warning: something is about to occur.
Birds shifts about uncomfortably. "Do you smell fire?"
Thirteen cocks an ear, which looks odd in his inverted position, and attempts to locate the source of the smell.
Cerin looks around him, in all directions, even through the tree.
charlequin Casting their heads around to locate the fire, Birds and Thirteen notice the blaze that has sprung up in one corner of the great Spire platform, still over two miles from their position, rising up menacingly and casting out a growing column of smoke.
Birds "You know, trees are patient."
Birds "Fires do not really share that virtue."
charlequin No sooner does she speak those words, than does Birds remember something else....
charlequin All around her, houses and trees and schools and museums burn, red-hot, as creatures of darkness scurry between them. The poems that bind together the nation die screaming, their last words shrieking into the air as they are consumed. The Ecstatic Plume in one hand, she turns forcefully to the man who stands next to her, cinders sputtering and burning atop his hat. "They keep coming, like kittens from a dam of ill repute."
charlequin The man chuckles, though without mirth, as he battles. "We can still fall back, regroup. Their numbers are great but they plan poorly. We can bring in reinforcements."
charlequin Birds chuckles as well, though even this situation cannot cast down her spirits. "A queen, abandon her citizens as they are roasted like rhinos at a Southwestern wedding?I do not think that would be very becoming." She stabs again and ponders to think."And I've almost performed exactly one hundred auspicious actions. This is the best time to do just one more." A vast building, nearly two hundred feet tall, collapses within feet of her, sending cinders everywhere.
charlequin "I hope you are aware that I do not leave my companions in mortal peril." He ducks under a gout of flame and cleaves in two the creature that emitted it.
charlequin "You should go. Gather the reinforcements. Stop them from reaching further. It is alright."
charlequin She leaps up atop a burning building and waves her blade through the air,casting great, beautiful poems of sonic destruction out at those who raze her home.
charlequin "I will return while you yet live! Do not disappoint me by disagreeing." The man below strikes down two more of the dark creaturesand turns to depart.
charlequin "One more thing!" she shouts after him, before redoubling her assault: "Don't let your hat catch on fire!"
Thirteen "Wasirru." Thirteen's voice is different...deeper, quieter.
charlequin Meanwhile, in the present, Cerin is the first to spot what is coming their way.
Thirteen "I have returned. It has been a long time."
Thirteen "Grant me a boon, as friend to friend, before we may begin our discussions."
Thirteen "Fire consumes wood."
Thirteen "Water extinguishes fire."
charlequin Far below, and still off near the borders of the platform, a great creature, perhaps thirty feet tall, lumbers towards the Spire. Its body is made from a knot of tight ivy vines, each glowing with the opalescent bluish-purple that marks the plantlife which does not gaze upon the sun; its edges are outlined as if in thick, brutal ink marks that shift through the air as it walks.
charlequin Its four great, clawed limbs step, and tiny fires spring up behind... it lacks a head, though the front of its body opens up to reveal great bamboo jaws, and a roar like air pushed through a thouand willow reeds can be heard even at the great distance.
charlequin This... is ashk-alla.
Cerin "Perhaps our discussion may need to be put on hold."
charlequin Cerin notes that it is a behemoth, a singular creature... though clearly not at all so wondrous a one as the Wasirranu.
charlequin As he speaks, the creature charges forward, intent on reaching the Spire.
Birds "Let us see to our new friend's health," suggests Birds, already floating back up into the air and untying her ankles. "Maybe this other creature will cease his activities if alerted to their consequences."
Thirteen "I will, of course, pretend that you have not asked me to be so rude to a compatriot of mine."
Thirteen "If the monster wishes to face us, I am content. Let him come."
charlequin Ashk-alla's speed increases dramatically, and the very edges of its form blur in the air, as long contrails of Essence and increasingly uncontrollable fires are left behind in its wake. It covers the ground quickly, drawing quite near to the Spire now.
Cerin Cerin greets it with an arc of golden fire that falls like a rain from his bow as he hangs by the rope from his ankle, swinging in the breeze.
charlequin Thirteen feels something... a sense of communion, enrapture... almost as if he is being swaddled with Essence.
charlequin The feeling is deeply familiar, of course, but before, he never considered the idea that it might be... speaking. Somewhere, deep in that Essence, are the words of the Wasirranu.
charlequin Two of Cerin's bolts plunge into the creature's hide, sending out jagged streams of purplish smoke into the air.
charlequin It runs on unabated, growing much nearer to the spire now.
Thirteen "Ashk-alla. It is good to see you again."
charlequin The creature roars again in response.
Thirteen holds the spear in the crook of his arm as he reaches out with his other hand to break a branch off of the Spire beside him, breathing sharp words in his native tongue. In his hand it becomes a bundle of golden-red javelins, and he hurls them, one by one, at his foe.
charlequin Three of Thirteen's bolts bounce harmlessly off the opaline hide of the beast, but the others strike true, leading out more great gouts of smoke.
Birds experiments with a new technique, allowing the edge of her weapon to sing in the air to play a song of Thirteen's people in arcs of fire. "I am sorry about this, ashk-alla, but your reputation suggests an unwillingness to negotiate!"
Thirteen absently hums along.
charlequin As Birds-of-Trinity's bolts arc towards the creature, it reaches the base of the spire and, unimpeded, begins to charge directly up it! Individual ivy branches start to unwind and flare out as strangely curved tentacles as it does so.
charlequin The beautifully symmetrical branches of the spire-cathedral wilt and break as ashk-alla charges upwards, its tendrils of ivy striking at the heads of the hanging Solars....
Birds snaps her head back at an unnatural angle to avoid a vine. She glares at ashk-alla with clenched teeth.
Thirteen frowns, concentrating on the embracing flows of Essence, and does not seem to notice the flailing vines. His spear seems to yanks his hand forward, beating back the assault and riposting in a deadly dance, while his other hand rests on the tree, and he thinks.
Cerin Cerin, as he hangs from the branch suddenly ripples with odd energy, swinging away from the attacks and fading from sight as he does so. Brilliant points of light rip out the strange void around him as he fires off another volley of sunlit mtes toward the creature below.
charlequin Thirteen's spear rips away at the nearby tendrils while the rest of him remains blissfully unaware of the literal and metaphorical conflagration growing around him.
Birds slaps her hand against a nearby branch to propel herself into empty air. "What is WRONG WITH THE WORLD? I am trying to help my friend RESTORE THE PROSPERITY OF HIS PEOPLE and none of you have the DECENCY to stay out of the WAY like you should be doing?" (...)
Birds "WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS? WAS IT SIMILAR TO WHAT I AM ABOUT TO DO?"
Birds dives at the behemoth while flinging attacks at it indiscriminately.
charlequin The thick purple smoke from the increasing collection of wounds the beast has taken fills the air, and its acrid smell is almost overpowering....
charlequin Birds and Cerin actually begin to feel the smoke go to their heads... the acrid qualities of the thick, poisonous sap that runs deep in the xylem of the opal ivies...
charlequin The world begins to spin around them, and paralyzing aches begin to set in.
Thirteen coughs irritatedly. "Do you mind? I am trying to concentrate."
charlequin The sesseljae within Birds and Cerin's bodies set to anxious work consuming the poisonous smoke, and the Solars feel the effect abate, though it is too much for the little demons, who drop dead straight out of their host bodies and into the tree below.
Birds bites back a curse. ::Hatch! Steward! This is not the time to be retiring!::
charlequin The tendrils whip around and strike again at the Solars, seeking to wrap tightly around their necks....
charlequin Birds' flurry of attacks slices huge gouts of vines from the back of ashk-alla, sending them tumbling downwards through the holes in the recently-burned terrace and from there down into the abyss.
Thirteen 's attentive hand spins the spear, wrapping one vine around it, but the other vine neatly circumscribes this aegis and whips towards Thirteen's face. Thirteen's mouth tightens, his castemark glows, and he pulls forward with his other hand, sliding through the tree, while the lashing vine knots itself around the trunk.
Thirteen "Perhaps I have not made myself clear."
Thirteen takes his spear in both hands and, kicking off of the tree, executes a wild loop around the ashk-alla, expressing his anger in quick, sharp jabs.
charlequin The blows have little effect, though the thick black smoke cloud continues to gush from the existing wounds.
Thirteen finishes his aerial maneuver, swinging heavily into the tree and gripping it with both hands. His spear falls, and he balances it lengthwise on his instep.
Thirteen "Wasirru! Wei Dan is here! He has need of you."
Thirteen coughs. "I have need of you."
Thirteen "Please, do not forsake me."
charlequin No sooner does Thirteen speak these words than a great crack of lightning splits the air, striking directly at ashk-alla and sending it tumbling down from the Spire.
charlequin A moment later, a thick, heavy rain begins to fall, so thick as to almost crowd out the air itself.
Thirteen smiles. Awkwardly, he tilts his head up, and drinks in the water as it comes.
Thirteen "...you have my thanks, as always."
Birds tastes the rain a little.
Cerin Cerin removes his helmet and coughs up a dead sesselje, starting to breath once more and then drinking of the rain.
charlequin Far below, ashk-alla is bleeding but alive, but the rain seems to soothe it... its colors shift to a greenish-red sheen, and it settles down upon its four limbs, as if about to sleep.
charlequin The rain is clean and pure, with the slightest taste of apricots and honey. It is gloriously refreshing after the thick, poisonous smoke.
Birds clutches a branch near Thirteen and describes the way ashk-alla's colours have shifted. "Does that mean anything to you?"
Thirteen flicks his foot, recovering his spear. "Hm."
Thirteen "Wasirru?" Thirteen touches his hands gingerly to the trunk again.
Birds leans her head on the tree branch for a second and shuts her eyes. It is good to be rained on again.
charlequin Thirteen hears the rumblings of the tree directly in his mind, as if to acknowledge his statement.
Thirteen remarks aside to Birds, "When Wei Dan sealed the ashk-alla, it was purified, and hidden away within a great statue."
Thirteen "I wondered how, and now I do so no longer."
Thirteen "Come, and touch your hands to the tree. I will try to introduce you."
Cerin swings over to the trunk, gripping it.
Birds "How wonderful!"
Thirteen "As always, Wasirru, if you require my assistance at any small task, I will try my best to provide recompense."
Thirteen "Until then, I have only my gratitude, and another unworthy boon to beg of you."
charlequin As the Solars all place their hands upon the great tree, they feel the beating of its wooden heart fill their beings.
Thirteen "Wasirru. I have brought...friends."
charlequin A voice, ancient and warm, speaks, vibrating through their very beings. "The fruit of the Wasirranu... has ripened well."
charlequin "Do you come to complete your destiny?"
Thirteen pauses. His voice comes quieter, with a sudden tinge of...fear?
Thirteen "I hope so, Wasirru. I hope so."
charlequin "Then... enter." As the tree speaks, the very branches that wind together to form the Spire begin to shift and move... sliding to form an opening, about the size of a person, at the base of the cathedral.