Trial by Fire

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Ruminations of the Past

Thousands of Erodeseans were being led in orderly fashion through a line that stretched from Glyph to the edges of Corinth. Guards maintained order as each citizen awaited their chance to see the little girl who could connect with the dead and the two-spirit who made that all possible. Mostly, they came in hopes to speak with dead family members, or to heal one of their many ailments, access to a proper healer was not normal for many citizens in Glyph. Xilo and Poppy saw this as a great opportunity to hone Nike’s talents, build xyr mystique, and establish rapport with the lower classes.

Onyx and Boreit sat nearby, looking on as the throngs of Erodeseans waited excitedly to get an audience with the two new hometown heroes. Onyx’s eyes lazily drifted about as he silently critiqued the aesthetic of each person. Overall, he was disappointed that those who came to see Nike did not realize that they might be in need of his services as well. Boreit sensed his brooding, putting a hand on Onyx’s dark bark.

“Feeling a bit spurned, Onyx?”

Onyx shook his head as he drained the life of some nearby grass.

“Sir, Boreit. I only wish our people looked more… civil. Why do they look like this?”

Boreit looked around. He motioned to the forest behind himself.

“You see that?”

Onyx nodded.

“We are people of the forest. The Rema and Nami care less about personal appearances than the Lunu. Ironically, we don’t carry the title of “tenders of the forest” and yet look like the gnarled trees that we once came from.”

Onyx could see the glowing smiles and screams of adoration as Nike, with the help of a couple of medics healed a man of his back condition. Another crowd formed a semi-circle around Juniper as she communed with the dead.

“Sir Boreit, then why do you and other high ranking officers look the way you do? Is it not to look more civil, to portray a sense of authority and status?”

Boreit nodded.

“Admittedly, yes. Though I will say that things were quite different before- ah, well, let’s just say that Princess Tulip has spent a lot of time with the Lunu. The commoner should never be worried about the affairs of those above them. If everyone worried, I fear we’d never agree on anything. Common Rema need three things: leaders, plants, and heroes. Everything else is the importance of the higher castes. It is a simple life, one in which many are just happy living and nothing else.”

Onyx nodded, though he was disappointed about the roundabout answer. He observed how Xilo and Poppy never let their sights off of Nike. If someone made a weird movement or got too close they would step in and create space. Onyx stared closely at what looked to him to be a male Erodesean behind Juniper. Boreit saw what he was looking at and explained.

“That is Luko, he is a no-spirit.”

Knowing Onyx did not know what that was, Boreit continued.

“He doesn’t commune with the spirits and is completely infertile. He consumes the spirit of a being to become stronger. This isn’t additive. If he consumes a spirit that is greater than his own, then he inherits the power of that being. If he consumes a lesser spirit, he does so only for keeps.”

Onyx scrunched his face up.

“Sir Boreit, keeps?”

“He keeps spirits captive in his mind. I have no idea what he does with them. Spirits are still alive, so unlike Juniper, he is carrying around possibly thousands of living creatures. Juniper, in case you were curious, is a mystery. Luko is doing three things: trying to figure out if Juniper can be of any importance, or is just a novelty, and safe-guarding the speaker-of-the-dead against any would-be attackers while he figures the former two issues out.”

Boreit got to his feet, finally giving the grass beneath him a chance to breathe.

“I have to go. We have a special announcement in the evening, remember your decorum in front of the royals.”

Onyx nodded.

“Yes Sir Boreit, I will.”

Onyx fiddled with smooth stones that dotted the landscape. He wondered how they got there. In class, which felt so long ago, he was taught that they are the product of water, or wind. He surmised these were weathered by water. He closed his eyes, leaned back, then imagined an ancient river that could have flowed through present day Glyph.

The water moved slowly down the gradual slope as small mammals drank from the edges. The wind was calm, the Great Star just peaking through the forest raining its rays sporadically through tree cover. A small family of dair plodded through the water, their high legs and feet providing purchase beneath the strength of the current. Having reached the other side they wagged their bodies free of water, the droplets flinging through the air creating a mist that smelled equally of earth and body odor. Fish swiveled between rocks, their scales shiny armor that reflected the bits of sunlight revealing a rainbow of colors.

A small group of Erodeseans wandered through the forest coming upon this picturesque river. With a spear in one hand and hope in the other, they approached with caution. Exhausted from their journey, they decided to set up camp. When they consumed animals for energy, the vegetation would grow unruly. With the vegetation plentiful, they relied on plants for food. When the plants needed time to regrow, they switched back. Having tended to the forest for years, the once small group swelled to tens, then hundreds, then a thousand strong. Day in, they would keep the cycle of life, at night, they meditated with the spirits.

The spirits were happy. The forest gave up its fruits and in turn it was protected. No animal, human or otherwise would grow too out of control. No plant would dominate and destroy diversity. But, as the forest provided, the river receded. Soon, only a sliver remained. The Erodeseans tried to cope with this, but without the river, their lifestyle demanded change.

The spirits became unbalanced. Some Erodeseans ate what animals they could, others left in search of another river, and a few exclusively took from plants. Soon, only two groups remained. Those who consumed plants and those who devoured animals.

At first, there was harmony. There weren’t that many mouths to feed once most had left deep into the woods, so the forest could still provide. Once again, their numbers grew, but this time, there was conflict. The river had almost completely dried up. The once great water system was but a shallow murky waterway. Hardly a stream, it was on its last. The Great Star beat its brilliance down, unrelenting, unforgiving and soon, there was nothing.

Without the water, vegetation was more scarce. Soon, animals began to leave. Many blamed this on a certain section of the population, claiming they were responsible for the death of the river and the scarcity of animal life.

Fights broke out, separate camps were drawn. The remains of the river was the boundary line. Those who crossed were killed. The plant eaters realized that the bodies of their brethren could also be harnessed. They became known as the Rema, the Vampires. Humans who crossed into the forest looking for lumber, food, and animals would tell the tale of Zombies. Having heard this, the Rema formed a pact with them to enslave and capture the Nami, who the humans called Zombies. The plan backfired when humans from the East instead raided a tribal village of Erodeseans who were tending to the earth, raising the very same vegetation that the Rema destroyed and reintroducing animals that the Nami hunted.

The humans were brutal. They hacked off the limbs of Erodeseans as they screamed in terror, the upright apes laughing as they collected the exotic lumber. These Erodeseans became known as the Lunu, or the tree shapers. They grew vegetation and in turn the forest spirits provided them with energy.

News of this betrayal against their own kin had reached the Nami and with the Lunu they rode forth to destroy the Rema. In-fighting was one thing, working with the enemy was unforgivable. With a horde of angry Erodeseans, a female Nami led them with spear in hand, ready to assault the camps of the Rema and teach them a lesson.

But when they reached the once proud village they saw nothing but death and despair. The humans had come for their lumber as well. The few survivors slowly came from the bushes, pleading with the great warrior for protection.

Years went by and the Nami proved to be capable opponents against the humans. They consumed their energy, driving fear into the hearts of any would-be wood hunter. Soon, the human tribes no longer ventured in the forest. For a while, all was calm. The three races lived in harmony, trading, communicating, and living separate, but in peace.

Then, all went black.

Onyx woke up from his dream to see Nike laying next to him, xyr eyes just now opening.

With xyr mouth open and xyr arms trembling, Onyx looked around in fright.

“What’s wrong! Nike? Is the-”

Nike cut him off as a small stream of sap ran down xyr cheek. Xe released his hand and in it was a small ball of blue energy.

“I saw everything. The river, our people, the fighting, the humans… the death. Onyx I- I have never experienced or seen anything like that. Was it real? Did that really happen?”

Onyx shook his head.

“I don’t know. I was picking up rocks, I leaned back, then that happened. I can’t explain it. It was like a vision? Wait, when did you get here?”

Nike sat closer to Onyx, xyr hand still clutched in his. Unconsciously, he closed his palm, which Nike found comforting.

“I came after the crowd left. That was about three hours ago. You looked lonely and I didn’t want to bother, so I just sat next to you.”

An awkward silence passed before Onyx spoke.

“So, it’s almost evening.”

“Well, by the star, I think we have about half an hour. We need to hurry too, still have to get dressed.”

Another bit of awkward silence as Onyx looked at Nike’s body, then when xe met his eyes he quickly snapped away. Nike could not only sense he wanted to say something, but xe also knew what he was going to say.

“Nike.” Onyx said, his sap churning in his chest. His wooden heart thumped and pumped with adrenaline, trying to find the words necessary.

“I really enjoy our time together. This has been… a life changing experience and I’m happy I get to do it with someone I can call a friend.”

Nike stood up and was about even height with the now eleven foot Onyx sitting on the ground. Xe noticed he had grown small nodules on the top of his head resembling horns of a dair. Ignoring this, xe leaned in quickly and pecked his cheek with a kiss. Immediately, Onyx’s eyes went bright pink. Nike suppressed the feeling, xyr eyes floating from green to blue and almost red tinged. Xe smiled then quickly ran towards the House.

“Race you!”

Onyx sighed then quickly got up. By then, Nike had already gotten to the door.

“Xe has really gotten fast...” He said to himself as he jogged along.

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