The World Tree
The Sorcerer’s Staff and the Wise Child
As the Tenas Transport began its journey from the Bay of Nerrocen to the Gardens of Peka, Cari Jorah noticed the man sitting across the aisle from her. It would have been hard not to notice his rust-red robe, but the eye-catching garment was not, in fact, what grabbed her attention.
The man was comely in an unconventional way. He was tall and slender with an angular face. His eyes were a striking shade of blue reminiscent of the tail of Pegranu’s Comet. His hair was dark blue, tumbling over his square shoulders in a sleek sheet like the waters of Hamjosaz Falls. His complexion was green as seagrass.
A golden staff with a light pink gem rested against the seat beside the stately chap, and he held a curious infant whose skin was a slightly lighter shade of green than her sire’s, and whose round, little head was topped by a wave of hair the same shade as the dainty reddish-pink flowers that grew near the shoreline of the Queseon Sea. The baby wore an orange-red robe like her father’s, and her iron-brown eyes curiously studied the other passengers of the transport.
The sorcerer pointed out the window and spoke to the child in an unfamiliar language. The little one laughed and clapped her hands.
Cari moved to the seat across from the unusual pair.
“Your daughter wishes to be like you but with her own unique expression,” she said in Derzito, the most common language on Neerqa. “It is good that you encourage her to be herself. However, if you were hoping to blend in, I fear you have not succeeded. I hope you will pardon my forthrightness. I am Cari Jorah, a High Priestess of Shajagel.”
The man smiled, extending his graceful, long-fingered hand to Cari.
“You may call me Zander,” he said. “My daughter likes the name. She says that it has a musical sound to it.”
“I agree that it does. What would your daughter like me to call her?”
“Ask her yourself. Let us see how well you discern her answer. I give you fair warning that she can be a bit of an imp and may attempt to trick you.”
“It only makes sense that the offspring of a trickster would be a trickster herself. I am sensing that the little one would like to be referred to as Roan. Am I correct?”
“My daughter says that she likes the name Roan, and you may refer to her that way. Do not underestimate your powers of observation, Priestess. The others on this transport have not given me a second glance. They believe my child and me to either be off-worlders from Eboja or members of the Zutzias tribe, who are, sadly, disappearing as the waters become more polluted. We will speak more of this matter when we reach Hijere.”
Lost Loves and Unlickable Lollipops
When the transport reached its destination, the fascinating passenger and his unique daughter accompanied Cari Jorah to her chambers at the Temple of Moor. The priestess offered her guest a goblet of Quomo nectar and poured one for herself.
Cari Jorah looked older than her thirty-nine years. She was a wispy, graceful woman who moved swiftly and silently Her hair was as white as the polar icecaps of Joser and her faded complexion combined with coal-black eyes in a gaunt face made her appear wraithlike.
Cari’s new companion understood the reason for her weariness. She was one of a group of adepts charged with either saving her dying world or peacefully releasing the souls unable to relocate to a new home. She was at crossed purposes with some of her fellow clerics whose goals were not nearly so altruistic.
Cari waved her hand and the chamber crackled with energy as the sound of wind and string instruments filled the air. The infant sat on a plush rug resembling a forest floor sprinkled with leaves. The child waved her plump little hands and conjured a glowing pink lollipop, which she proceeded to lick as she listened to her father and the priestess talk.
“The rug is the work of Linnan Eldermouse if I’m not mistaken,” Zander remarked.
“It is, my Lord,” she said. “I am grateful for your presence, but I wish it were not necessary to bring you here in such dire circumstances, especially with your child. I have always preferred to shield younglings from ugliness.”
“My daughter is wise beyond her years,” Zander reassured Cari. “She has, sadly, known adversity from the moment of her birth.”
“I sense your grief,” Cari acknowledged. “The loss of the world that had become your home. The loss of your one true love. If even a God can know such grief, what hope is there for this unfortunate place?”
“Best not to reflect too long on lost loves and unlickable lollipops,” the deity advised, chuckling as his daughter cast a spell to clean the lollipop she had dropped on the floor. The bolts that flew from her fingertips were too powerful for the purpose, and sparkling pink dust filled the air surrounding her.
The infant was nonplussed for a moment, then stuck out her tongue to catch the sweet dust. Cari’s face brightened for the first time since encountering the deity and his daughter.
“I never wished to have a child,” she revealed. “Many people have children without thinking of the youngster’s welfare. Children are generally messy and difficult, and I prefer a life filled with order and lacking emotional attachments. I would be pleased to have a daughter like Roan, though. She is clever and makes her own entertainment.”
“She makes messes enough,” the smiling god countered, lifting his daughter onto his lap.
Soft Centers and Chewy Bits
Cari served Silverrabbit pies with more Quomo wine for herself and Zander and a cup of Laughingberry juice for Roan. The trio sat beside the fireplace to enjoy their dinner.
“I feel it is correct to inform you that there isn’t a single morsel of Abbit in these Silverrabbit pies,” she said, mostly for Roan’s benefit. “In fact, there has never been any Abbit in Silverrabbit pies. They are called Silverrabbit pies because they are filled with the sorts of things that Silverr Abbits eat, such as Glowberries and Sparkleroot and plenty of Groundmallows.
“I must say that I am quite proud of my Silverrabbit pie recipe, which is often imitated but can never be duplicated, for I make mine with a sprinkling of Mystic Stoadfungus dust. Sadly, the Stoadfungus is becoming increasingly rare as its habitat is destroyed, but we will discuss this and other unfortunate topics later. In the meantime, I hope you will relish the soft centers and chewy bits that my Silverrabbit pie is famous for.”
Cari watched in amazement as little Roan daintily transported bits of pie to her mouth with a wave of her hand. The infant enjoyed breaking off the crust but never touched the messy filling.
“She was born with these abilities?” Cari inquired.
“My daughter has never been helpless. She created miniature solar systems on our very first day together. She shares the ability to create life from inertia with her mother and me.”
“I am certain that you could clear up the problems with our world with a wave of your hand. Yet I am just as certain that you will not. Can you explain why? The people of Neerqa would revere you forever.”
The god’s eyes darkened, reminding Cari of the clouds forming before a raging storm. Cari involuntarily shrunk away from him as if she feared that he would render her into a heap of dust with a wave of his hand.
“I have been revered on many worlds, Madam,” he explained. “My being revered would do nothing to save your world. In fact, it might have quite the opposite effect. Do you suppose that I don’t have my enemies? To have an entire moon filled with people singing the praises of Zander Rosewater might well result in the destruction of this entire planetary system.”
“I sense that Zander Rosewater is not your true name.”
“It matters not. I could call myself Zander Rosewater or Hormo Silverrabbit or Martran Glowcloak or Ostan Longdew, or Harcourt Fenton Mudd. It all amounts to the same thing in the end. Roan and I cannot stagnate in one place. Worship means little to me. Genuine gratitude pleases my soul. Fawning and flattery fill me with disdain. Those egotistical sycophants that I play along with tend to find themselves regretting the day that ever they called my name. Know that my functions are granting wishes and restoring balance. I will do whatever is necessary to achieve these ends.”
Guardians of the Graveyard and the Mushroom Forest
“Let us go to the World Tree,” Cari suggested. “We should take the pathway through the Fungus Forest to the Necropolis. As I am a Priestess of Shajagel, the Guardians will allow me passage.”
The god gathered his daughter in a sling which he tied around his shoulders. He slung Cari’s satchel onto his back, and they made their way down the path through a grand park that led to a vast necropolis.
At the gates of the necropolis stood two faceless humanoid statues carved from smooth black stone. As Cari and Zander approached, the statues came to life. They made a graceful gesture and the gates opened to allow the travelers to pass through.
“I normally must speak the hallowed words for them to allow me passage during the night,” Cari remarked.
“They know me,” Zander explained. “All of their kind know me.”
The faceless sentries spoke briefly with Zander. One of the sentries reached to chuck Roan gently under the chin with its great black claw. The infant giggled and gripped the living shadow’s hand.
The trio continued through the gates. The pathway through the necropolis was lit by glowing fungi. Zander gazed in the direction that Roan pointed.
“Yes, I hear them weeping too,” he affirmed.
Zander waved his hand. He gathered pollen from the grieving trees into a small bag that he tied to his belt.
“They will live on in another world, even if I can do nothing for this one,” he explained. “Can I trust you, Priestess, to keep the secret of whose wish it is that I am here to grant?”
“Of course,” Cari swore. “Ask Roan. She may read souls even better than you do.”
“She is her mother’s daughter,” Zander stated, gazing up at the stars.
Cari gently touched Zander’s hand.
“I believe that you will find her again,” she encouraged. “With Roan at your side, you cannot fail.”
“My daughter is my comfort and my reason for continuing,” Zander agreed. “I dearly wish that she did not have to be burdened with the curse of granting wishes. T ‘is an ability that can wear upon the soul.”
“She accepts the mantle willingly,” Cari revealed. “She is truly the result of the bond you shared with your wife. I am sure that you are aware that she appreciates your granting her the wonderful moments of childhood discovery as you do.”
The Tower of Terror and Autumn’s Lair
Zander, Roan, and Cari arrived at the end of the necropolis just as the first rays of the distant sun triggered the sensors that turned on the artificial sunlight. The gas giant Ankas and its other moons faded into the background, although they remained visible in the sky.
“We have reached Teumo,” Cari revealed reverently, extending her hand to indicate a majestic tree whose topmost branches reached some four thousand meters above the clouds.
Thousands of supplicants gathered at the fence surrounding the wondrous World Tree, whose leaves and fruit fell about it like rain. An imposing tower constructed from black stone stood some seven hundred meters away from the tree. Zander shot the tower a disapproving glare.
“It is an offense to His intent,” Zander stated in answer to Cari’s unspoken question. “The people were meant to visit Him freely. Instead, this blasphemous structure was built, and fences were put up around Him as if only the elite should be allowed to come close to Him. He is now forced to be a neighbor of this unsightly tower of terror, trapped in Autumn’s lair. The disruption in this world’s climate causes His leaves to rain down constantly and His fruit to ripen and fall too soon.”
“There were some that tried to harm Teumo,” Cari explained. “It was their intent to show the people that it was only a tree and should not be revered.”
“Those vandals should be dealt with, of course,” Zander demurred. “It makes sense to have guards for Him. It’s a pity that it is necessary, but it is the natural result of colonists believing that they know better than the natives.”
“Most of the natives of Neerqa have perished,” Cari admitted remorsefully. “The Colonists brought pollution and diseases. We deserve to be purged. You are here to grant His wish to heal Neerqa, are you not?”
Zander nodded. He took Cari’s hands.
“He wants what is best for his world. It is already becoming uninhabitable for most corporeal life. I will help you save as many lives as I can. I will journey to the capital and advise your leaders to arrange for the evacuation of Neerqa. It is my hope that at least some of them will be wise enough not to allow the worlds they inhabit in the future to be stripped of their natural resources and protections as this one has.”
“I will remain behind to assist those who cannot or will not leave,” Cari promised. “This is my home. I am devoted to Neerqa and to the majestic and benevolent Teumo. I hope there may be time to tell you and Roan how the seed from which He grew traveled on the stellar winds to land beside the Wildbrook, which nourished Him as He grew from a seedling.”
“Roan and I will delight in learning Teumo’s history,” Zander said, smiling. “Teumo is glad for your presence, Cari Jorah. He knows that you are a good caretaker and will be a benevolent shepherdess to those that remain behind. I will leave Roan in your care while I journey to the capital and encourage Neerqa’s leaders to enact evacuation procedures.”
Smelly Smells and Freaky Finds
“I am delighted to have Roan as my guest, dear Zander,” Cari said, giving a little bow as she took the immortal child in her arms. “We will have a wonderful time together. There are many smelly smells and freaky finds in the Fungus Forest that she is sure to enjoy. I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that you are granting not only Teumo’s wish, but also mine, and that of countless creatures, and of Neerqa Herself. You are also granting a small but delightful wish that I’ve had since I invited you to dinner. I was wishing that I would be able to spend some time with Roan. I know that we will have amazing adventures together.”
“My dear Sister, be assured that I am granting Roan’s wish as well,” Zander stated. He kissed Cari’s cheek and his daughter’s forehead.
“Enjoy your visit with Auntie Cari and Uncle Teumo, my darling,” he said. “Papa will be back soon, and then we will all enjoy a fine celebration together beneath the grand branches of the wonderful World Tree.”
The Trickster gave a salute, then turned and walked jauntily into the shadows to begin the process of granting a dying world’s wish for healing.
Although he is not mentioned by his best-known name in this piece, Zander Rosewater is a manifestation of Nyarlathotep. Nyarlathotep is the creation of H.P. Lovecraft, appearing in his 1920 story of the same name.
The name Harcourt Fenton Mudd is a nod to the original Star Trek series, which was a great inspiration for my own writing. Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd was a popular villain who appeared twice during the series.
Putting My Feet in the Dirt
The Sorcerer’s Staff and the Wise Child
Lost Loves and Unlickable Lollipops
Soft Centers and Chewy Bits
Guardians of the Graveyard and the Mushroom Forest
The tower of terror and Autumn’s lair
Smelly smells and freaky finds
Start your story with someone sitting on a crowded train and end it with them looking out over beautiful natural scenery.
Write about a community that worships Mother Nature.
Set your story in a world living with the consequences of a climate apocalypse.
Write a story in which an endangered species (of plant or animal) plays a central role.
Write a story that weaves together multiple lives through their connection to a particular tree.