The elder guided myself and Tristian, who was being carried by several people, to what I know as the oldest tree. The bark was slightly different from the other trees, the fruits it bore were often misshapen, and sometimes contained unusual flavors. They were neither better nor worse, but unusual. Although my toddler years were spent with my mother, after I began to speak, I was cared for by the Elder. During those times, he had taught me many things, including about the Trees, and specifically, this Tree. It was a foreshadow that I was never destined to stay forever.
In this tree, as I had learned, there was a door deep within a room at the base. This door was shut practically the duration of its existence. The exception being when the Trees requested that someone be sent to purgatory. Walking here, and seeing this door, it reminded me of the few things I had been taught over the years directly by the Elder. One would first suffer through the withdrawal of the voices of the Enclave, hence named purgatory, then Acend. This was the process of an Offering. As a member of the Enclave, one would learn this through the thoughts of those around them, but as a void, this was taught to me verbally. As the Trees provided all, and the Elder was the voice of the Trees, this was law unwritten.
It was explained to me that we were the root repository of life, and our offerings fed the Trees. Without those offerings, the trees would cease to provide. So we gave our weakest and strongest. There was reason for this, the strongest was given because they had the highest likelihood to survive the ascension. The weakest because there was a maxim: one who is cornered by their own weakness could grow to be the strongest. If the weakest were to survive they could also become the strongest.
Being here, I had mixed feelings. Despite my feelings that the time Tristain and I had together being plentiful, my focus to prepare him for the trials ahead caused me to neglect to tell him the history. If I was a better teacher, perhaps we could have covered the topics needed. He was truly ignorant of the world, and I was partially responsible for that.
Despite feeling guilt, I also feel a kinship with him, being a void myself. Knowing that there was indeed people like me gave me hope that I could be appreciated as a person. Being the sole outsider in a world of shared thoughts and knowledge was frustrating.
While I wrestling with those emotions, I also felt sadness at his lack of understanding. It makes me wonder if his mother had hidden him somewhere secluded, perhaps suffering the withdrawal of the Enclave as penance for having a Void. This was the only reason I could come up with for why he knew so little. My mother had been selected as an Offering shortly after giving me up. I suppose even her connection to the Enclave could not remedy her mind broken by the shame of having a Void.
Despite his vast ignorance, he has proven unnaturally logical. The way he looked at the runes, and weaved them together to make that monstrous intertwining runescape distilled to simplicity was mind boggling. No one but the elder had such complex arrangements. And even he admitted that his runes had been granted by the Trees themselves.
Tristian was indeed unique.
I looked down at his sleeping form, remembering the walk here. At first I had carried him, but the Elder intervened, stating simply that I should conserve my energy. After we had arrived, the others handed him to me, and the Elder had motioned for us to enter the room. Its door was open and inviting. Even though it was inviting, I was still fearful of what was to come next.
It wasn’t just a room though, it was a simple hallway, with doors on either end, and finally a room at what must be the center of the tree. I had laid him upon one of the couches in the tree, his face gentle and his breaths quiet. When I looked behind me, the doors had already shut.
I calmed my mind to ease my thoughts, smiling slightly, I sunk deep into my consciousness, opening up to the world.
I listened to those around me. I was a void, but I could still hear. Even now though, their voices, those I had grown to know through times of quiet concentration, were fading, muffled more than ever before. It saddened me. Everything I knew was being taken from me, and I would never return.
I cried. Not for what I had lost. Not for whom I would never see again. I cried for myself. I cried because I had done my best, but it was never enough, and never would be. There was no escape from one’s self, after all. Although those of the Enclave rarely showed emotions on their faces, the thoughts that many projected often even permeated my nubilous thoughts. Their absolute pity was enough to make me weep in loneliness, and curse myself for being alive.
Around the time I regained my composure, Tristian had started to stir. I took a deep breath, and smiled to myself again. I wasn’t alone in this, we would make it. The Elder had said I should protect him, so I needed to be strong, like the tree, unwavering.
Unlike myself, looking inwards, he looked around at the room we were in. It was a round dome like room, the walls patterned in a spiral towards a pointed top. There was an atypical bed in the middle. Vines rose from the corners and anchored it to the ceiling. Couches were placed on either side of the bed, and were bigger than average. It was plenty of room for two people to live comfortably with each other, even if they didn’t share the bed.
From the ceiling four more vines hung equidistant from where the walls meet the floor and the bed’s vines. They were adorned with bright green glowing fruits that lit the room. (Editor’s note: does that mean your stomach will glow if you ate one?) Hanging just below those were fruits within arms reach to be eaten. Finally, aside from a latrine off to on side and a small partition blocking it from the rest of the room, the space was mostly barren and empty. Though the floors were smooth and almost reflective. His curiosity satiated, he looked at me.
His face, unlike all of those in the Enclave, showed so much emotion, he laughed, smiled, looked terrified (more often than not), and always had a look that promised mischief.
“Uh, so, is this the purgatory?” He smiled coyly.
“So we’re the offering now?”
I nodded again.
“I see. How long do we stay in here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Uh… okay… I guess I should learn to make use of these…” He inspected the runes inscribed on his skin. The majority of the release runes had been branded on his hands, swirling around his palms and snaking down his fingers. The trigger runes were on the back of his hands and forearms. Whereas the transmission runes were multiplied and elongated for extra reach, running up his arms, allowing them to connect with the power runes. The power generating runes had been placed on his shoulders, a significant distance from the rest of the runes. It was very uncharacteristic of the runes of the Enclave. The majority of those in the enclave would have their runes inscribed or branded along the shoulders, back, face, chest and neck.
Mine were on my stomach. I needed to inscribe my own runes, without the shared sight or knowledge of the Enclave, and so picked somewhere easily seen to myself.
“But before that!” He had a creepy smile for a moment, then dove at my waist, tackling me where I sat.
“Guh!” I am again, caught completely off guard. Again, I might add, again. I feel a certain frustration with how I can’t seem to predict his erratic behaviour. Reflexively, push him off myself, and roll myself onto him, placing a knee in his gut, holding him down, while sitting on top. Victory will be mine!
“Ahh!” Like the previous times he’s been in painful situation, it looks like his reaction times and his movements are slow or delayed, almost as if he doesn’t know what’s happened until it has already happened. He does not seem to be bothered by this lack of foresight or dynamic perception though. Placing his arms above his head in defeat, he smiles and states: “This is quite the nice view.”
I tilt my head in confusion, then look down at myself. Knee in his stomach, with the majority of my weight on it, and, ah. I see now. I get up quickly and pull closed the vest back around my chest. “Uh, I’ll um, forget this happened, so let’s just move on.” I can’t believe the the clasp opened. I feel really warm suddenly, and can hear my heartbeat in my ears. I move away to calm myself, silently telling myself to breathe and center.
He was still smirking, but nodded. “Yeah, okay.”
I still didn’t know much about Tristian, but he was, if nothing else, unique to my experience. He never ceased to surprise me.
“So you just focus on the runes to learn to use them?
“Yes. It helps when you clear your mind.”
He nodded, and moved to a clear section of the room and sat cross legged, with his feet facing upwards on his thighs, and placed his hands open on his knees. I stared somewhat expectantly, but not knowing what for.
After a while, I closed my eyes, and continued sitting where I had settled after pushing Tristian down, and quieted my mind. I figured that perhaps I also should improve the control of my runes. But as my mind slowly became blank, it felt like the noise around me grew.
It built up, increasing to an almost deafening level. And much to my surprise: the noise grew bright. Transforming into images from just sounds, showing me scenes of things I didn’t understand. Not only were there images and sounds, but feelings as well. Before it ended, there was one image in particular accompanied by feelings of great loss, the scene looked like a grey tree. My thoughts were that: perhaps one of the Trees had died. If Tristain came from quite far away, further than I had traveled. Where he was from, maybe the trees were dead and grey. That would make anyone sad, as the Trees provided all.
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