tree

 

“You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will,
As your will is, so is your deed,
As your deed is, so is your destiny.”

~ Brihadnarayaka Upanishad IV.4.5

 

An unnamed island
Somewhere upon the Sea of Tears
6000 BCE, SR (Sanctuary Reckoning)

The wild-eyed sea captain dropped to his knees on the white beach and savoured the caress of the wind on his sun-ravaged face. Closing his eyes, he let the rush of triumph consume him entirely.

Three haggard crewmen and the rowboat they dragged onto the sand were all that remained of his Arcturian clipper and her crew of eighty-five that had disembarked from Motus Denlar.

How long had it taken him to get here to claim the prize of prizes? A decade? A year? The specifics eluded his ruined mind.

He fell into the hot sand and wept. His crewmen, having secured the landing craft, dared not approach him. Instead, they sat on the beach to watch the remaining third of the Ka Deboreh – their home and their curse – slip beyond all reckoning into the Cartigian Sea.

The sailors whispered to one another about starting to look for wood, but decided instead to stay where they were lest they incur the wrath of their now-wretched master.

The captain regarded the tree line of the tropical island. Teal-hued pines, 200-feet-tall, lined the beach. Were it not for the heat and the murmur of the surf, he could have mistaken the scene for a memory of his childhood in the North of Plaxus Main. The thoughts of his youth fanned the fire in his heart to a roaring flame. He put a hand on the Tau-Cetian cutlass at his side and launched his emaciated, nearly naked form to its full height.

With failing vision he scanned the beach and spotted the peninsula roughly a mile distant. It lay about ten feet across and stretched about a quarter-mile out to sea. At its farthest reach, a solitary pine clung to the rocks. Bent seaward by the wind off the island’s mountains, it pointed like a gnarled sea hag’s finger to somewhere far beyond the ken of men.

Without heed for the crewmen sitting in the sand behind him, he took the first step in the last leg of his journey toward his destiny. The pain of the scars of battle, the agony of thirst and starvation, and the torture of a conscience fragmented and rotten by the things he had done to get to this moment were forgotten. Now, there was only his future – the glorious future of one bold enough to finally possess that which he had come for.

Out on the peninsula, his hunger for his prize took him in earnest. Were spittle available to his dehydrated body he would have wept tears of joy, would have slobbered like his lost ship’s mastiff while he scrabbled on bleeding hands and knees across jagged rocks sharp as the tusks of a Valtovian boar .

When finally he came upon the tree, no capacity for pain or suffering remained. There was only a vacuous kind of ecstasy — and a sensation entirely new to him, touching gently, enticingly, upon the fringes of his mind.

Squatting and slack-jawed, finally, he regarded the mysterious, ancient tree with the awe of a religious zealot come face-to-face with his god.

It had grey bark that was not quite silver in that glorious, subdued patina of heirloom armour, battle-hardened and proven. Though it was said to be old beyond reckoning, it was thin and whimsical in form. Working up the courage to reach out to a low-hanging branch, the mariner found the needles soft to the touch. They were a green that reflected the sea, but with an inclination of the eye or a change in the light of the sky they could also take on a cool tinge of blue.

Then, the gentle touch he had felt before was encroaching inward through a slow-swelling madness. Reluctantly at first, he accepted this intrusion into his mind, for it was soothing and inviting.

And he knew then that the mind that was touching his was indeed the legendary intellect of that very item that marked the end of his quest.

Kindly, politely, it began urging him to stop being who he was. It appealed to him to forsake his delusion of self – the delusion of all humanity. The sea captain’s mind began to sing with notions he had never before even begun to entertain: no beginning or end, no here or there, no me or you, no us or them.

And though he had come to be at peace in his mind, he began shaking violently. Walking became difficult on the loose, uneven footing of the rocky ground. His vision tunnelled to a pinprick. Then, beneath the ecstasy of victory mingled with the grace of the mind now in his, a subtle fear emerged from the deepest within.

He struggled over the rocks and around the ancient pine to stand with his back to the sea. Some portion of his mind, the small sliver that was still him, reflected on the beauty of the ocean, which had been his home nearly his entire life,  for the last time. And then he saw it.

The Glass Grimoire.

It was embedded in the tree about waist-high. It was smaller than he imagined it would be. A rectangle of black glass, it had slightly rounded corners, and we rimmed with silver. It was roughly the size of a deck of cards, though stretched along its height.

It appeared as though the tree had grown up around it, embracing, nurturing and protecting it over millennia. He thought on this. Perhaps the mind of nature coveted the vast arcane knowledge contained within The Grimoire as fiercely as did as the minds of gods and men. Now all that knowledge, and all the power that came with it, would be his.

He reached to The Grimoire and felt it connect with him even before his finger touched the glass. There was an otherworldly chiming sound that seemed almost mechanical.

Then he – at least he as he had regarded himself since childhood – was gone.

The sensation was not unpleasant. For in that instant he was everyone, everywhere, everywhen. There was a blinding – or was it totally illuminating – light. Then there was nothing – or was it everything – just with all the borders removed?

The only witnesses to the end of the captain’s quest were the whistling blue Cartigian seabirds. And caring not at all about what had transpired, they saw the decrepit waif of a sea captain transformed instantly into a cloud of sparkling white sand that was borne upon a swirling breeze and laid upon the beach with all the others that had come before.

The crewmen who had not dared disturb their master’s final triumph experienced the same moment of absolute grace before they too became sand upon that beach.

Within the tree, within the rectangle of glass known for millennia across the multiverse as The Glass Grimoire, a small symbol appeared: a stylized fruit. It was grey in colour, and was rendered to convey that a bite had been taken from it.

The Grimoire did not belong to this brave captain or his men. It belonged to another man: a man who would not be born for another eight thousand years.

For a few more seconds, the bitten-fruit icon glowed in the black glass.

Then, the quiet chime sounded again and it was gone.

To be continued in Chapter 1

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