Chapter 16 - A City in the Trees
Mikaen awoke the next morning with the sound of birdsong in his ears and the midday sun shining through the window of his room, the memories of the previous night's dream lingering in his mind.
He had been in the clearing where he had first arrived on Vinta. Tirinia was there too; he could see her clearly, from her amethyst eyes, to the star-shaped patch of white fur on her forehead. They had talked for what felt like hours, talking about their pasts, their likes, their fears, and so much more. The rational part of Mikaen's mind told him it was all just a dream, but there was just too much clarity for him to just write it off as a figment of his imagination.
There were too many little things: her favorite place to nap when she was skiving off, the three songs that always made her want to dance when she heard them playing, the small scar below her right knee from the first time she entered the Longshore Melee, and even her secret wish to dye her hair light blue.
He had been no less forthcoming. He told her about waking up in Bridges, about his life with the Knights of the Star, and even a little about Maria. The thought to not tell her hadn't even occurred to him; if anything, he found himself wanting her to know.
He was just about to drift back asleep again (secretly hoping that Tirinia was still waiting on the other side of consciousness) when someone nearby started whistling jauntily. Groaning, Mikaen pulled the blanket over his head and rolled over.
The door to his room opened, banging slightly against the wall as Jeronem strode through the doorway with a smile. "Good Morning Mikaen!"
Sitting up, Mikaen replied dourly, "You're awfully chipper today."
Jeronem turned away as Mikaen rose and got dressed for the day. "I had the strangest dream about a large chicken, something that looked a little like a sourian, and a weird blue thing with wings."
"Huh. That is strange." Mikaen hopped out of his bed and reached for his shirt, secretly hoping that Jeronem had forgotten about his little rendezvous with Tirinia.
"So what about this tigreth girl, huh?"
Sighing, Mikaen said, "Look, I accidentally wandered into the lake while she was taking a bath. She was … less than happy."
Jeronem let out a laugh. "I'll bet. Still, you're still in one piece, so I'm guessing you calmed her down."
"Er, yeah." Mikaen tried his best to avoid thinking about the outcome of the fight. Unfortunately, trying not to think about it just brought it to the forefront of his thoughts.
Jeronem's jaw dropped. "What?!"
Blushing, Mikaen said, "Look, just drop it, okay?"
Mikaen grabbed his belt and quickly left the room and the portable cabin. Jeronem followed moments later, pausing only to absorb the construct back into his staff.
Much to Mikaen's annoyance, Jeronem didn't let it drop. Mikaen tried to ignore him, but after hours of continual pestering, Mikaen eventually caved in and told his young friend about the encounter in greater detail. Jeronem listened in silence until Mikaen finished telling him how he disarmed the tigreth woman and pinned her to the ground.
"Wow! You beat a tigreth warrior, a princess none-the-less."
Putting a hand on his hip, Mikaen asked, "Now how do you know she's a princess?"
"You just said so."
"Wha … no I didn't!"
"Yes you did! Just a second ago!"
"I didn't say she was a princess," Mikaen snapped, "I said she was a Daughter of the tigreth!"
It took a moment for Mikaen to realize what he had just said. "How did I know that?"
A mischievous smile spread across Jeronem's face. "What's her name?"
"Tirinia Aerith Myssohn." Mikaen replied instantly, much to his own surprise.
Laughing, Jeronem slapped his knee. "I knew it! You're bonded with her!"
Mikaen glared down at his diminutive companion. "Tell me what you're babbling about, or I'm going to tie you up on the nearest branch by your tail and spin you like a top."
"Gotta catch me first!" With that, Jeronem broke into a run.
Mikaen grumbled something unintelligible beneath his breath before following suite. As he rushed around a thick cluster of bushes, he saw Jeronem running between two trees marked with an unfamiliar symbol. About mid-way through, the young vuestan vanished with a flash of light.
Mikaen, just seconds behind him, had no time to react. A brief burst of light blinded him for a moment, and when he could see again, he was standing on a platform overlooking the city of Muonsol.
Elduran taught Mikaen a bit of idestan history. Centuries before Mikaen's arrival, back when the mad Emperor Calliban tried to conquer the world, the idestan found themselves near the top of the list of potential targets as Ircandesta shared a border with Ronisgald. They called out to their vuestan and Rimstakken friends for aid in their time of need, and they weren't disappointed.
The Rimstakken used their machines to build giant platforms in the treetops, the vuestan moving in behind them to transport the buildings of idestan society and form interconnecting bridges throughout the city. It was hurried work, especially for the vuestan who had to prepare their own country for the frontal assault of the Galden army. Their hard work paid off, however; In less than a week's time, Muonsol was safely hidden away in the dense upper limbs of the forest.
After peace had descended upon Vinta, some idestan moved to other areas of the forest to build similar communities. Most, however, remained in the city, where they continued to expand until Muonsol was the wonder that was currently taking Mikaen's breath away.
As impressive as the web-work of bridges that spanned the town and the elaborate buildings carefully crafted around the trees were, they were insignificant compared to the wonder that was Muonsol Palace. It hung in the distance like a magnificent glass ornament, higher than any other building or tree in the city. Shining crystal walls merged with the boughs of the ancient tree in which the palace had been built, a perfect joining of technology, structure, and nature.
Mikaen stared across the city for what felt like hours before it occurred to him that he had no idea where to go without Jeronem. Still, the guards posted on the platform were beginning to stare curiously at the knight, so he decided to figure it out on the move. He walked slowly down the lone bridge leading from the entrance platform, keeping his eyes open for any kind of map or sign that might indicate the location of the Center of Knowledge.
The bridge interconnected with several others; soon, there was a small group of idestan walking nearby, including two young couples, and an elderly gentleman walking with a little girl. Most of them gave Mikaen strange looks, much to the knight's discomfort. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised; he was in full armor that seemed all the more archaic when there were flying cars passing overhead.
Mikaen changed to a bridge with less traffic as soon as he could. After a few minutes, however, he realized that the old man with the little girl was still following him. He switched to another adjoining bridge, only to find the pair still behind him. Even more disconcerting, the little girl ran forward and started walking right beside him. Little more than two feet away from him, The little girl stared at Mikaen with an intensity that was more than just a bit unsettling.
After a few minutes, he glanced at her. "Can I help you, ma'am?" He asked pointedly.
"Are you a Knight?"
The question threw him off-guard. How could this child possibly know about the Knights of the Star? No, he reasoned, there must be some other order native to Vinta.
"I am a Knight, but I'm not from around here." He told her.
She grinned. "You're from another planet, aren't you?"
Mikaen stopped and stared. "Now how would you know that? I don't see any fur on your ears."
She giggled. "Silly! I'm not vuestan. I'm Meryl."
Smiling despite the strangeness of the situation, Mikaen gave the girl a small bow. "Sir Mikaen of the Knights of the Star, at your service."
She gave a little curtsy before running back down the bridge, where the elderly gentleman was waiting for her. They soon disappeared into a crowd of idestan, leaving Mikaen scratching his head. Shaking his head, he continued walking.
From the look of it, the platform ahead of him was some kind of housing complex. The buildings looked much like those he was accustomed to back on Earth; wood siding, slate roofing tiles, even a decorative weather vane here and there. The only difference was that here, they were built into the trees.
The level of technology caught him off-guard; after spending so much time in Homestead, Mikaen had begun to feel that the world of Vinta wasn't as technologically advanced as Earth. Sure, they had a few unique devices such as the VTS and the airships, but they seemed more mystical in nature than mechanical.
Homestead was obviously the exception rather than the rule; floaters practically filled the sky, every road and bridge was lined with artificial lights, and lit billboards and neon advertisements were fairly common, particularly as Mikaen wandered into the more commercial parts of the city.
Many people carried communication devices; some Mikaen recognized: cellphones (or some variant thereof, Mikaen reasoned), wireless earpieces, headsets, and even a few arm-mounted computers. The headsets with the holo-displays were new to him, as were the cybernetic eyes that glowed brightly when in use. As far as Mikaen knew, that kind of cybertechnology hadn't existed on Earth even before the Devastation.
During his wanderings around Muonsol, Mikaen came across a few strange booths, usually installed at the very center of a district. There was something about the technology that seemed oddly out of place with the rest of the city, as though it had been transplanted from somewhere else. No one seemed to be using the booths, so when he eventually came across a booth that looked to be under repair by a short woman with tools strapped across her body, he decided to stop and ask.
"Pardon me, Miss," Mikaen asked, " but what exactly is this?"
The woman turned around, saying, "What are you having said, youngster?"
Mikaen was momentarily taken aback by the thick visor that covered the top half of her head. "Uh, I was curious about this device."
What was visible of her walnut-brown face broke into a wide white-toothed grin. "I am being glad you are of askance!"
She pulled off her visor, revealing that her skin wasn't naturally tanned; the skin around her eyes was quite pale, giving her a rather raccoon-like appearance.
She stepped back and proudly patted the side of the machine, saying, "Ah, you are in admiration of my waypoint station, eh? I've been installation progressing them up throughout the entirety of the city for the previous month-span. This is gladly to me one of the last to have been assembled."
Once Mikaen figured out what the woman had said, he asked, "What exactly do they do?"
The woman began to literally hop up and down with excitement. "Oh, I'm having so much gladness that you inquired. Now, as is the common knowledge, the most quickly way between two points in the space-time continuum …"
Mikaen cut him off, saying, "If anyone knows what teleportation is, it's me. Is this a short or long range teleporter?"
The woman seemed pleased with the question despite the interruption. "Even more impressive than that. Each one and every one of these constructed Waypoint stations throughout the entirety of the city can teleport the user to any other waypoint station."
"Quick transport throughout the city, huh? Not a bad idea in a place this big." Glancing back at the woman, Mikaen asked, "I don't suppose you installed one of these near the Center of Knowledge?"
She gave him an impish grin before turning to the machine. "Waypoint station 45, activate."
The machine did not respond until the man gave it a quick kick.
Coming to life with a slight stutter, the machine said, "P-please select destination."
A miniature holographic representation of the city appeared on a console inside the pod. The hologram had dozens of small glowing dots on it, presumably indicating the position of the other waypoint stations.
"When one is having become ready, one simply has to contact any of the glowing points on the facsimile of the city." The woman told him, pushing him into the booth. "The Center of Knowledge is right there."
Mikaen tapped the console where the woman indicated. The teleportation pod emitted a pleasant humming sound. "Teleportation matrix assembled. Please step inside."
He glanced back at the woman, who gave him a reassuring thumbs-up.
"Here goes nothing." Mikaen reached forward and tapped the image of the Center of Knowledge.
The world suddenly became a glistening display of color whirling around his eyes. It was much different than the teleportation field that brought him to the city; that was almost instantaneous, whereas this was more like being stuck on a merry-go-round spinning wildly out of control.
When the nauseating swirl finally stopped, Mikaen found himself staring at the back of a waypoint station. A hurried check found that his head was on fine; the device had simply teleported him backwards.
When he turned around, Mikaen found himself standing in front of a magnificent tower of stone and glass. Unlike the rest of the city, the tower was not built around or in a tree; rather, a series of trees had grown around the tower. Many smaller towers hung in the air around the central tower, some simply floating in the air while others were attached by complicated-looking machinery. All of the smaller towers encircled a large courtyard in front of the main entrance of the main tower. A statue of a robed figure stood in the center of the courtyard, a glowing crystal in one hand and a large metal cog in the other.
Mikaen stepped from the pad just in time to bump into Jeronem.
The young vuestan staggered back, a surprised look on his face. "By the Creator! How did you get ahead of me so fast?"
Mikaen gestured to the device behind him, "A woman sent me here through this thing."
Jeronem looked impressed. "I don't think I'd have trusted my flux to a Rimstakken machine."
Mikaen knew little about the Rimstakken, other than that their society was considered the pinnacle of technological development. According to Elduran, however, their technology was highly experimental and a more than a little unpredictable at times. Mikaen glanced back at the teleport pod, wondering just how much of a risk he had just taken.
Jeronem grinned at him. "Hey, you're here, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I guess I am. Oh, that reminds me."
Jeronem yelped as Mikaen lifted the young vuestan by his tail. "I think we need to finish our talk about Tirinia."
With nimbleness that caught Mikaen off-guard, Jeronem kicked off the knight's armored chest, landed lightly on the ground, and ran full tilt at the Center of Knowledge.
"Just like having a brother." He muttered with a grin before hurrying after Jeronem.