The jungle canopy grows thicker and thicker as the Solars journey along the barely visible path into the Eastern expanses.
<Cerin> "Well, I'm not sure why they would actually give it away. Not without knowing what those three would do with it..."
The Solars begin to notice that the ground is starting to slant downwards.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Nothing's wrong, thinking about some things. What is the nature of the familiar-bond, have you looked into that?"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "I have recently been thinking about Aliza and Tanty and dear Mirror," she pats his head, "and wondering why they all act so differently towards us, but something is still the same..."
<Zahara> "What do you mean by that?"
<Zahara> "The familiar bond seems to be something similar to sorcery, but on a deeper level. I would say, in fact, that something of the souls are connected, and each becomes stronger for it.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Well, like, our minds are connected somehow, Mirror and I, but I don't feel the motion of my Essence making that connection."
<Zahara> "See, there. You are so alike."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "So it's like a weaker form of the Exaltation bridge, you think?"
<Zahara> "That's an interesting way of looking at it, but yes i think there are similarities."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "That's very clever. Hm."
<Cerin> "Though perhaps they hoped to influence them through the aid they gave, the behemoths and the like."
<Zahara> "Unfortunately it does not seem to work with other humans, or creatures of similar being.
<Zahara> "although... that is only theory. I have never actually TRIED. Hmmm perhaps Bertrand.."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Human souls are more complex than spiritual souls....maybe a link can be formed, but it requires more effort. It seems that we can bind with gods and elementals almost effortlessly."
<BirdsOfTrinity> "Accidentally, even."
<Kai> "Well, also, two human souls are much more alike than a human and an animal... or, uhm, creature."
<Cerin> "Perhaps an Eclipse." Cerin considers, smiling at Aliza as she flies around his head "Or someone who could talk like Markuran."
As this fascinating conversation continues, the Solars continue to walk Eastwards. Eventually they reach a place where the ground begins to plunge downwards at a much faster rate -- suddenly continuing along the ground itself seems difficult. On the other hand, the branches of the trees have grown quite a bit denser --
<Zahara> "Also true, Kai. Hmmm I wonder if one could have a Demon as a familiar. They have singular souls in each incarnation, although the parent demon has many."
Flight would be impossible, but walking through the branches themselves seems viable, especially for those with the unerring grace of the Chosen.
<Cerin> "It could be due to the split soul. The familiar bond is not something I've considered, despite you as my companion."
The Solars carry on like this for some distance, walking upon the dense tree branches as the Earth falls down far below them into the black and leafy space beneath.
<Cerin> "Perhaps then one could bond an Exalt..."
<Zahara> "I think I'll try with Bertrand when we return to the Cascade." she contemplates the tree limbs, and Tanty. "How are you at jumping around tree limbs, Tanty dear?"
<Zahara> "I can't quite put my finger on it... but these trees are... odd. Not what I would expect even here, in the Pole of Wood.
<Kai> Mishkin hops down onto the ground, keeping close it Kai's legs.
Looking at the branch that is returned to her, Zahara can tell... there's something a little bit odd about the shape of it.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "It seems like everything is, these days."
<Zahara> "I wouldn't doubt it." She slices off one of the larger branches with her daiklave, to see if the sap is unusual.
<Zahara> "Hmmm.. The sap tastes like blood. Try it." She gives the branch to Birds
<Zahara> "Sappy blood, but blood nonetheless."
<Cerin> "I'll be back soon." Cerin slips silently away from the tree, climbing up alittle and moving towards the sounds he heard, trying to approach them from behind and above. Cerin takes perhaps three minutes to climb stealthily through the trees, up to where he heard the disturbance. Eventually, with great care, he can disguise himself into a location that grants him an effective view of the situation.
As the group emerges into view, he can pick out exactly what he sees here: eleven humans, or nearly such. They wear a variety of robes, in dark shades of green and black, and what appear to be patches of armor or other clothing items woven of still-living vines and wood. Their bodies are not quite like those of regular humans, however. It is thick, barky, almost as if they were made of wood. Branches and vines leave their head in place of hair, one with dark purple orchid flowers in bloom. They seem to move through the trees with consummate ease -- almost as if their very limbs are in constant communication with the plants around them. Several of the individuals have what appear to be larger plants worn upon their backs, with five thick, emerald-green vines wrapped around their torsos.
Zahara can't see much, looking downwards (the branches are pretty thick here) but the trees do seem to continue their oddity as they go down....
<Zahara> ::Call if you need me, love. And do have a good time.::
<Cerin> ::Of course ... and you too. Take care.::
By shifting perhaps one-hundred feet or so to one side, the Solars can move past the viewing range of the group as they pass by. Cerin ever-so-stealthily follows them down into the depths of the trees.
The Solars can catch slight glimpses of the people moving past as they carefully hide from view.
One hundred feet to that side, the trees seem to have largely returned to normal -- these trees don't seem to have the same strange mutation to them, and the branches bend normally.
<Zahara> "How odd. These ones are normal.." she circles around trying to determine the perimeter of the odd trees"
<BirdsOfTrinity> "I'll go round the other way."
the solars begin to spread out along the border of the unusual blood-trees for some distance, until they almost lose sight of one another -- they seem to take up a great deal of space.
<After more walking, it seems clear that the blood trees extend over a patch of land that is at least several miles on a side.
With some careful comparisons of direction via telepathy, Zahara can determine that the patch most likely has its center at a location some miles to the southeast.
<Zahara> :: Okay, we will head for the center. Join us if you will, and be cautious. The blood-sap indicates that there may be some sentience futher in. ::
As Zahara walks through the branches towards the center, she sees that the trees begin to grow more and more strange further in. They begin to bend and twist in yet more unnerving ways, and the bark grows oddly dark and harsh to the touch.
<Zahara> "Hmm I wonder what I could make out of this.."
The trees begin to grow far, far stranger and darker as they near the center. The leaves, once brilliant emerald, begin to develop visible red veins, finally turning a deep, intense shade of purple-crimson. The bark turns a dark grey, closely approaching black. Looking towards the center, Zahara can see what lies at the middle of this patch of strange trees: a single, vast trunk, dark and scarred, plunging down and upwards to an immense distance.
<Zahara> "That seems to be our target." she gestures toward the obvious.
<Zahara> "Well... It's... sort of.. a pole... but it's not in the right place... perhaps we should get some of its essence, and then look for another likely source?"
<Kai> "Can you tell if there's... another pole?
<Zahara> "Hard to tell from here. All the lines run to this one, here. they may diverge elsewhere.."
Based on information from outside this area, Zahara can work out where the true pole of Wood lies -- some distance to the northeast of here. This tree seems to be working quite hard at spreading its infected Essence to everything it touches -- the other trees have blood flow in their veins due to its influence.
<Zahara> "If I were to guess, though, the true pole would be in that direction." she points northeast. "This... thing... it's corrupting everything around it, though, and it may be best for us to destroy it."
As Zahara utters those words, an unpleasantly warm blast of wind blows past the three Solars, rustling the crimson leaves that surround them and sending the branches up and down vigorously.
<Zahara> "Ah, see, it DOES speak. Or recognize intent, at least. This should be... interesting."
<Zahara> ::If I am not mistaken, it may have some control over the other trees. Be cautious. It may be best to surround it and set it on fire. Although that may get out of control." ::
<Kai> :: I may have an alternative source of damage. ::
<BirdsOfTrinity> ::I will ask Mirror to alert the spirits of the land; they might appreciate it.::
<BirdsOfTrinity> ::What do you suggest, Kai?::
<Kai> :: Are you familiar with a sorcery that swarms an area with razor sharp butterflies? ::
<Zahara> ::The Obsidian Butterflies, yes, I have heard of that. Will it go through these trees?::
<BirdsOfTrinity> ::I cannot perform it, myself. Zahara?::
<Kai> :: Oh, I've got it covered. ::
<Zahara> ::I do not know that one. I do know how to summon the Magma Kraken, but I fear the fire will spread and engulf the whole pole.:: She reflects that a nice Torrential Cascade could put it out again, but that seems like way too much effort.
<Kai> :: Do you want to try and learn anything more from it, or should we demolish now? ::
<Zahara> :: I believe I can learn plenty from its corpse, when it is not trying to kill me. Try not to kill all of the infected trees. Perhaps they can be cured.::
<Zahara> :: Have you enough Essence stored to fuel repeated blasts of your butterflies?::
<Kai> :: Uhm, I think we can only get one. ::
<Zahara> :: One? Is that all? ::
<Kai> :: Well, it's not exactly MY spell... :: Mishkin hops up onto her shoulder, and she pats him, saying quietly, "See, it's a good thing I brought you along."
<Zahara> :: ....? Are you saying the monkey casts sorcery....? ::
<Kai> :: A little. ::
<BirdsOfTrinity> ::I'm scared of monkeys now.::
<BirdsOfTrinity> ::And Zee.::
<Kai> :: If he doesn't mind, sure. ::
Mishkin hops off her shoulder and moves a little closer to the tree. Deftly, he knots some of the smaller branches into a small mandala shape, squeaking and chirping quietly. Finally, he places a finger in the center of the mandala, there is a spark of sunlight, and he scurries back to the group as the rattle of stone wings begins.
<Zahara> :: I don't suppose you taught him how to do that. ::
<Kai> :: Apearently it runs in his family. He's descended from Arexus's familiar, so there's magic in the blood. ::
<Zahara> :: Tanty, how come YOU don't know sorcery? ::
From all around, viciously sharp insects of deepest black swarm in and around the dark tree, tearing and carving away at its bark and leaves. Blood, thick red blood, begins to well out of its wound and drip downwards, forever downwards. Something that sounds like a horrible moan, but low, so low that it almost cannot be heard, fills the air from every side so loud that it almost keeps the Solars from thinking of anything else. Then, as the tree continues to bleed, it's joined by a rustling, as something -- or some things -- begin to scurry into the area to defend their tree.....
<Zahara> :: So the monkey came with the sword. ::
<Kai> :: Kinda, yeah, I guess. ::
<BirdsOfTrinity> :: Also some trees. ::
Foul black smoke arises from the spot where Zahara's bolt strikes, and the low moaning grows far more intense.
<Zahara> Reaver squeaks viciously at the oncoming attackers. AWRRRK!
Six of the bark-skinned humans, ranging widely in age and gender; and four creatures, elaborate wooden knots each trailing out five long, powerful vines. The creatures, with their vine-based locomotion, reach the Solars first. The first plunges a vine into the heart of a nearby tree, and begins to glow greenish-red -- and the trees' hundreds of branches suddenly begin to move, like an animal's limbs. Lurching and bending, they grasp at Kai violently.
The second and third creatures waste no time with such a strategy: they connect to a tree of their own, whose branches begin to twist and shatter in a bizarre fashion, raining viciousy sharp shards of bone-piercing wood upon Zahara and Birds.
The final creature takes a very direct route: running up to Mishkin directly, it wraps its viny tendrils around his tiny monkey body and pulls him off the edge of a branch.
<Zahara> "Fascinating." she observes as her blade whirls to intercept the shards of wood. "I wonder if THEY cast Sorcery."
The shards of wood bob and weave in midair, attempting to evade the blocks and parries of the solars.
The Solars' mighty efforts deflect almost all of the bolts, but one manages to slip by each of their defenses. As the wood burrows deep into the women's flesh, they can feel horrific toxins leaking into their bloodstream -- their coordination and vision growing weaker...
Meanwhile, Kai finds herself encircled by branches, that begin to squeeze mightily against her.
<Zahara> "Oh, that's disgusting." she gazes down at the oozy place where her smooth stomach used to be.
The creatures are thoroughly shaken by the violent energies of the War Bell.
It takes every last bit of strength within her tiny frame, but Kai just barely breaks free of the vicious branches.
<Aliza?> Just as Kai frees herself, the wooden people grow near enough to begin their attacks. Three join hands and begin chanting in a strange, guttural language that is utterly unfamiliar to the Solars. The others draw out long, curved knives of polished ebon wood and green jade and engage the Solars with vicious gleams in their eyes.
<Zahara> "Disrupt the magic!" she shouts as her blade whips through the air so fast that it is merely a tracery of golden light, leaving afterimages behind like the sparklers did before she accidentally burned her neighbor's house down with when she was a small child.
Kai, weakened by the tree branches, tries to bat away the oncoming attacks with Daybreaker, but one stab slips past her blade and slices deep into her side.
<Kai> "Fuck, aah!"
Birds' bolts tear through the three chanting types viciously, loosing their grip on the trees and sending them spiralling rapidly downwards into the darkness.
<Zahara> *Tantamount roars, and lashes his tail at the one who hurt Zahara. The cute spiky ball at the tip of his tail releases barbed spines to return the favor of paralyzation.
<Zahara> "Nice, Birds!"
<Aliza?> The wooden creatures seem to grow filled with rage at the loss of three of the humans. The one which had attempted to grapple Kai starts to glow with a brilliant emerald green light, and the tree it is attached to uproots itself utterly, and begins to walk towards where Zahara stands, its massive branches swinging in vast, powerful arcs against her. The others launch another assault of deadly poisonous spines.
<Zahara> "Hey, *I* didn't kill them!" she grumbles, as she calls upon the Sun to defend herself. "You bastard son of a lawnchair!"
Kai's blades tears the viciously evil wood person limb from limb, and his sap-dripping body parts fall from the tree to either side of Kai.
<Zahara> "Suck on THAT" she yells, as the Bell tolls behind her, its music sweet to her ears.
The creature makes a horrible noise, like wooden planks being ground against one another, as it catches on fire and dies.
The tree it has connected itself to crashes downward into the emptiness below.
The remaining Exalts grow mad with rage as the Solars continue to fight against them. Each of the two suddenly sprouts four extra limbs -- in the form of branching wooden things with vicious sharp claws sticking from their sides -- and redouble their attacks.
<Zahara> ::Tantamount confuses his target with an unsolvable riddle as he leaps on the multi-limbed creature, pinning it down with his massive paws and attempting to bite its head, or barring that, limbs, off.
<BirdsOfTrinity> "WHY doesn't the world LEARN???"
<Zahara> "Well, we don't leave much behind to pass on the lessons."
Tantamount utterly rips the woody beasts to shreds.
Meanwhile, Birds' powerful attacks send the remaining two Exalts flying out of the tree and plummeting to join their fellows in the darkness below.
Their foes defeated, the Solars appear to be safe once more.
Blood drips all over Zahara's nice clean hands, but she does in fact acquire such a branch.
The tree bursts into a massive conflagration, horrific smoke pouring out of it and clouding the air almost beyond visibility.
It gives off a horrible death sound and the trees begin to shake so violently that it is almost impossible to maintain a foothold.
After a few moments, the Solars can barely see a small figure climb up from below -- Mishkin, limping and missing some rather sizeable chunks of fur, but still alive.
Mishkin clambers up to Kai's shoulder, clearly pissed off at this entire turn of events.
Tags: (:tags Familiars, Souls, Exaltation, Infernals, Hundredfold, Ygdommu :)