World Tree

This week is different. Well in as far as the story this time isn’t Sci-Fi! I know it’s surprising. Felt like a change and so this story is very much fantasy. The idea here is that humanity are not the first species of their kind on Earth. Plus it’s short (for me) at 8,300 words. Really happy I managed to keep it from getting overly long and complicated. So I guess that’s another difference from other stories I’ve posted. To be honest I do find it harder to do fantasy as settings and story ideas do not come as easily as they do Sci-Fi. Because of that I have no idea what you’re going to get next week. But that’s jumping the gun and before that there is this story. With that I’m done waffling and so I hope you enjoy, World Tree.

Gossin is sat at his desk. It’s a simple plain wooden construction sat at the lateral centre of the room which is equally as sparsely decorated. He is facing the door, which is again a simple wooden construction with only a door knob and keyhole to denote the direction it is able to swing open into the room. From his position it would pivot right but at this time it’s closed.

At this time Gossin is busily sifting through the various documented reports that have been passed to him. It is one of his many duties as a 3rd Cleric, but that doesn’t mean he finds it any less dull even after the years he’s held this position. Flames from nearby candles serve as the only illumination he has in this wooden box of a room that is without anything that could appropriately be termed a window. That is not to say that there is no opening to the outside world, as there is. But in truth the opening is little more than a small square that is high up on the wall at his back. To make matters worse it’s offset and has for many months been covered by a shutter to stop a myriad of birds from flitting in and around the space whether he be occupying it or not. Such a thing had been a common issue when he first moved into this space a little over a year ago. Gossin still isn’t sure as to why he was given this space but at least the view when he steps outside at the end of one of his long days is a sight to behold. After all, few get a position up on the Undulating Fields. It’s a place that is about as close to the world tree as one can get without being a 1st or 2nd Cleric.

Those are positions he will never ascend to because of the combat training he embarked upon during his youth. He isn’t quite sure now why he felt so compelled to undertake the training, but something tells him it might have been to impress. He can’t fathom as to whom. It certainly wasn’t his beloved Inara. He pauses. Memories having flooded in at the mere mention, mentally, of her name. His narrow shoulders sink and the gaze of his orange eyes drift from the parchment before him to an empty space of the well-worn desks surface. They linger there, staring, until he gulps loudly. He isn’t even aware of the sigh that has passed his thin dark lips which make the slit shaped nostrils of his flat, almost nonexistent nose flare.

Gossin misses Inara greatly. It’s been nearly a decade since her death and yet he cannot say with any certainty that the pain is any less cutting than it had been in the days since her ceremonial departure. The one that saw her soul returned to Yggdrasil. The ceremony is part of his people’s custom to see those departed from this life returned to the entity that birthed them, the first forms, as the race of man defines them.

The first forms name for themselves is, or at least was once exclusively, Protoss. It’s a name Gossin rarely hears spoken anymore. Perhaps that is because it is not necessary for it to be. Though he cannot be sure of that he must admit. The race of man having had its effect in the millennia since it was birthed into this world by Yggdrasil. Yet, it is the Protoss, the first forms, from which man was then shaped, that still guard and watch over the world tree. It is the giver of life. The provider of all natures’ gifts and without it none of them would be here. Not the birds, the beasts, the trees, the grasses, glades, rivers, them or man. Many a time the first forms had expected man to want control of the tree, especially in the early days of their production, but they had not. Instead, they seemed content to get as far from the first forms, the Protoss, as possible. They said they wished to carve out a world of their own. Build with their hands. Learn using their minds. Documents from that era speak of scepticism on the part of the first forms and yet man had been true to its word.

Still, that was long ago and by all current accounts man is now much closer than they have ever been. The Protoss do not count the period immediately after the dawn of man as part of that proximity assessment. There is no need to. They were always going to be birthed under the great canopy of Yggdrasil. All things are.

Because of man’s closing proximity many first forms have wondered what their intent might be. The consensus is that they are merely doing again what they have done before, back when they left the cradle of their birth, which is to spread. They build communities. That is what man does and again it seems they wish to do that here. It seems to be the result of remembers of an older established order wishing to strike out on their own without the hindrances of things long since established.

Such things are not something the Protoss understand for they have never fractured like man seems so intent on endlessly doing. Then again the first forms also do not engage in frequent bloody war like man either.

In truth it has been almost seven centuries since one Protoss fought another. That was during the Dark Age when the first forms had forgotten who they were, where they had come from and the importance of maintaining a balance of all things. It ended when there was a clear response from Yggdrasil. That response came in the form of eruptions. These eruptions carved and scarred the land for a generation. The Protoss took it as the warning it was meant to be. A declaration made by the creator of all things that this would be their fate, their world, if they continued down their violent path. None had wanted to see their world turn to ash like it had during that generation and so conflict was laid to rest.

Following the warning and during the lands recovery the Protoss had restructured and reformed themselves into the society they are today. It’s a civilization to be proud of and the first forms very much are. Still, Gossin wishes Inara were here. He misses her terribly and can still taste the fragrance she used to dab herself with before starting every day. It clings to the back of his throat. Sometimes he finds it painful, other times it draws a smile to his lips as he remembers the good times they spent together. Today is the former as he replays her demise fearfully wishing it could have been different.

Suddenly there is a knock at the door. The sudden trio of raps pulls Gossin out of his thoughts with a start. Following a brief period of recovery he blinks and finds that he is unable to use his voice. That surprises him. Thankfully following a clearing of his throat, which is drier than he would have anticipated seeing as he hasn’t been incessantly speaking, he tries to speak again. On this attempt to speak he finds himself able to demand, “Enter.”

The reply is swift and comes in form of the door creaking open. Copious amounts of daylight spill through the widening gap as Gossin shuffles the parchments before him. They had gotten into a terrible state that was not at all befitting of a man of his station. But with them having quickly been aligned with a couple taps on the pockmarked surface of his well-worn desk, he places them off to the side. His place amongst them is marked, though to be truthful he cannot remember an ounce of what was written upon them. Such details are lost to him. He frowns frustrated by his lack of concentration, but swiftly dispels the expression so not to draw attention as a guard shuffles into the room.

Gossin isn’t sure why the moniker continues to be bestowed anymore as they guard nothing to be honest. In fact, The Might are the only protectors that carry arms and offer protection of any kind now. Whether they are proficient in their use of weaponry is another matter entirely. None of the first forms living have ever seen battle. Unlike the members of man who frequently engage in bloody scraps amongst their own for conquest of land and glory.

Such antics had long led Gossin to wonder as to why Yggdrasil does not impart the same kind of warning unto the race of man as it had the Protoss so long ago. Perhaps the world tree does not wish man to fulfil the same responsibilities as the first forms. If only they could commune with Yggdrasil like they used to. Or so the stories, long handed from generation to generation, suggest was possible. There is no way of knowing if they were truthful or fabrications morphed by the passage from one generation to the other. Gossin hopes they are true as they offer a sense of comfort that he would feel naked without and if they could, they can’t, be found to be distortions of past events.

“Cleric, I have something to bring to your attention.” The guard, a young looking Protoss with dull blue skin and purple coloured eyes says now that the door is closed and he is stood at the centre of the open space. His hands are clasped behind his back which is straight and held expertly in place. The young guards’ eyes are forward. Not looking at Gossin. Guards rarely look at Cleric’s. Some nonsense about respect that Gossin has never found any mention of but that all guards have convinced themselves, and those that continue to join their ever diminishing ranks, that is necessary. In many ways Gossin will be happy when the guards are no more. They serve little purpose other than as interruptions that break up the days of reviewing reports. At one time the reports he sifts through would have been etched by the guards own hands. Those days are gone. Fairly recently, certainly well within Gossin’s time serving as a cleric, from what he recalls of the changeover, and yet he cannot pin down exactly when. He feels that should trouble him and knows that it would have in his younger days. Now he is used to it. Apparently it is how all Protoss get once they reach a century of age. That is not to say that an end is close. Far from it as Gossin feels he still has plenty of time left within his bones.

The cleric casts his gaze over the guard before him who looks nervous. Whether the nervousness is due to being in a cleric’s presence or what this youth has to say Gossin cannot be sure. He’ll learn soon enough which it is but his impression is that it is likely a mixture of both. He finds that concerning for a number of reason. None of those reasons will be revealed to the guard at any point however. Especially, as those amongst the ranks of the guards seem to be so easily perturbed in this modern era. Gossin isn’t even sure he should term it as such seeing as they are still within an era, which is how the first forms define a period of their history. Yet, he is fully aware that for a new era to be called as such a change has to occur. There has certainly been change for the Protoss, so perhaps this should be considered a new era. He doesn’t know and finds the longer he considers it and the more seconds that pass the more it really doesn’t seem to matter. The reality is that the word has lost much of its original meaning, like most things. Having settled such thoughts in his head he replies, finally. “And what o guardian of our time needs my attention?”

Gossin despises the flowery stupidity of how he’s supposed to commune with what is essentially a glorified butler at this point. And that isn’t the cleric being cruel or superior. It’s truth. Guards do a bit of ceremonial meandering to give a public show to the rest of the Protoss but for the most part they spend their time serving clerics every whim. It’s not something that has ever interested Gossin, which is why he seldom converses with their ilk. As a result that has earned him something of a reputation as a conservative. A first form stuck in an age long passed. The truth however is that Gossin is a self-sufficient soul and gets whatever he needs. Other clerics do not. He is fully aware of that and in reality it should be they who are termed conservatives not him.

Gossin’s self-sufficiency has become especially apparent since the death of his beloved Inara. A sigh passes his lips. He isn’t aware of it and the guard, though young, is well-versed enough to not react. Still, the guard cannot help but feel perhaps he should have gone to another. He quickly shakes such an idea out of his head while going over for the eightieth time why 3rd Cleric Gossin is the man who should be informed of this. He might be a staunch Protoss with a reputation as a conservative but at least he possesses a military background. He’s one of the few remaining clerics that does and yet what Protoss call military backgrounds are little more than a short period of training and study on the subjects.

Unless that is, you are a part of The Might, but no member of that cell would ever be permitted to enter the ranks of the Clerics, the leaders of Protoss. The Might are a tool, an outdated and archaic one to many first forms, and yet the Clerics have not disbanded them. No one is sure, not even the guards, as to why that is. It was what the guards had expected to occur, or so some of the elders had muttered amongst themselves when they thought none of the younger cadets were present.

Perhaps, a small few had suggested, the Clerics know something that they do not wish to share. A prophecy or foretelling that will one day come to pass. It seems unlikely and yet few openly speak on such matters. The few times they’ve been brought to the fore have seen them swiftly and unceremoniously dismissed as a matter for another era. For many of the older guards that had been all the proof they needed of things being hidden from them. Yet, it did not stir them enough to engage in active searches as to what that something might conceivably be.

“Man is moving again. They are encroaching. Soon they will be upon our doorstep.” The young guard with the purple eyes says from beneath his uniform of dark green and grey. The egg shaped headpiece perched and affixed atop his head by ways of a thin band that passes under the Protoss’ pointed chin.

Gossin raises his four digited left hand all so he can run it along either side of his chin in a stroking motion which he repeats over and over as if he has a beard. He doesn’t, and yet it is a display meant to suggest deep thought on his part. Though, Gossin is engaging in no such thing. He doesn’t need to be. He’s heard rumblings that man is closer than ever and even if he hadn’t the reports that land on his desk each day make frequent mention of them. Sightings are becoming ever more prevalent. Why this guard looks so worried though makes little sense to the cleric, much like the uniform he is dressed in.

All this makes Gossin wish he could know answers without questions but such things are not possible and so he asks, “Why does this concern you so greatly o guardian of our time?”

The cleric really has to resist the urge to roll his eyes at the flowery addition he must affix to his question as the words pass his lips. At least, he thinks, its automatic now. His response that is, and not the roll of his eyes. He manages to stop himself performing that. The guard wouldn’t understand the roll if it were performed and that would result in questions or chatter behind his back. He wishes for neither.

“They are armed.” The guard exclaims unable to keep himself in check any longer. Not that he was doing a particularly decent job of containing himself in the first place with his rapid shaking and short sharp nasal breaths.

“And?” Gossin queries unable to see the point that this guard might be attempting to make as it is normal for man to be armed. They go everywhere armed. In fact, it would more surprising if these specimens of their species were not. And that leads the cleric to another problem he has with Guards of this modern era, which isn’t one. They aren’t brave, fearless or knowledgeable in these current times. They are simply the descendants of descendants who joined to serve because it is what their families have done since… Gossin can’t say. It’s not an affliction that he has ever been burdened with. After all, his father, Janerus, had never been a military minded man. In fact he’d been a builder. A real grafter who had spent his days hulking heavy loads and then fixing them in place with tools, or his bare hands if needs be. As a result Janerus had not been thrilled when Gossin had conveyed to him that he intended on partaking in military training. Janerus had questioned the validity of such an avenue, but Gossin had been resolute in his commitment. And while his father was not convinced in the legitimacy of the path, he had been welcoming of his sons’ determination to follow a route of his own, even when it led him to join the Clerics. Though, when that time had come they did have a falling out which lasted a good several years and saw them speak not a word to one another. Chiefly his issue was because it meant his father was unsure as to whether, with his son counted amongst them, he still had the right to whine about decisions he did not agree with, rather than having an actual issue with the position itself.

“They…Well…” The guard is lost for words. His panic has overturned his ability to speak. The sentence, the statement he had rehearsed is gone. It’s lost. He sinks saddened by his faltering and considers what his own father would think. The now retired former Guard who if he were present witnessing this pathetic display of whimpering and snivelling would bellow at the top of his lungs that he, Veritus, needs to get a grip. To spit out whatever words he has confined within his lungs like a real guard would.

“Fear… You feel afraid. It is nothing to be ashamed of.” Gossin is lying, partially. Fear itself is nothing to be ashamed of except if you’re a guard that has let your imagination run wild, like appears to be the case here. As a result the cleric has to suppress such a statement from escaping his lips as it wouldn’t be welcomed. Though, it would be truthful. Guards, at least in the eras before, were confident and capable. What exist now are the descendants of those strong types and they possess few, if any, of those qualities from what he has witnessed. Whether they have been lost to time or simply moved to others Gossin cannot say. His belief is that it is the latter as The Might would not exist if it were the former. Yet, they have not faced battle in… Gossin cannot say. It has been too long and not long enough at the same time. After all, the last thing the light blue skinned 3rd Cleric wants is to return to an era of war. Loss is hard enough to endure without pointless violence over land. That is why man fights. They want land; something to conquer and lay claim to so that they may call it their own. It is clear they have forgotten that the land belongs to the world tree, to Yggdrasil, and that they are but guests here. There are no exceptions to that truth and yet the failure of the creator to remind man of its strength and divinity over them confuses Gossin. It’s why he has been questioning the texts of old recently, and wondering if the stories contained within them hold any fact. Current events suggest they do not. Yet, the cleric cannot bring himself to abandon them. Though, his thoughts have led him to wonder what, if anything, it is that man believes in. He will likely never know as it is unlikely that a Protoss and a human will sit down around the same table to converse anytime soon. Each treats the other with a healthy dose of wariness, in his opinion, and he hopes that continues even with man being so close by.

“But they number so many, and they are so close.” The guard gulps.

“They will pass soon. Venture to greener pastures with greater expanses. That is the way of man.” Gossin says bringing the conversation, if it can be termed as such, to a close. His words are meant to placate and assure the young guard before him. A smile drifts across his thin face soon after as his fingers fall into a steeple that mirrors and point toward the also steepled roof above his head. The one that is slathered with quick pale mud to help to keep moisture and heat from making this enclosed largely empty dimly lit space cool and bearable during the summer months.

Still, the guard, Veritus, at first does not accept the 3rd Cleric’s words. Rather, he stays rooted to the spot considering the statement that has been issued to him. Seconds tick by and soon turn to more than minute. Then finally Veritus accepts, begrudgingly, what the cleric has delivered to him as a comfort. At that point Veritus bows his head in thanks, spins on his heels, still unconvinced, and shuffles to the bland wood door. Once at it he grasps a hold of the knob, twists and wrenches the flat faced yellow coloured mass of wood toward him until the opening is wide enough for him to pass through. The light of day beyond the limits of this dull interior is saturated by the brightness of the rays that lance down from high above. Veritus feels the warmth of the sun, drinks it in and then steps over the threshold, closing the door behind him.

Gossin chuckles once to himself and shakes his head as he is also not convinced by the words that have passed his lips. Yet, it was all he could do. To do anymore might have inspired further panic in the young guard, and Gossin knows well that panic spreads like wildfire. He’s seen both in his life a number of times and the similarities are clear. Still, he isn’t about to do nothing either. He has concerns of his own. They predate this exchange with the guard. Perhaps they are the result of all the reports that have passed his desk. Or perhaps they are for other reasons which he would rather not consider any deeper currently. Regardless, he’ll put in a recommendation. It’ll be ignored. They always are. That is why he’ll also do some digging of his own. Secure the help of The Might to scout where neither he, as a cleric, nor the guards will be capable. It might take months, maybe even years. That that time however will afford him the opportunity to continue his push for The Might to replace the guards. It’s what needs to happen and is long overdue.

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