With roots that dig towards the heart of the world, the stoic giant that is known as the world-tree, sits. Its boughs rise up so high as to scratch the clouds above. Its roots reach from the western edge of the continent, all the way to the shores of the eastern one.
And all around its massive base, a trunk, which acts as a pillar strong enough to hold the heavens themselves up into the air, sits a city that thrives like no other.
The world-tree was given to us by the gods, during the season of their departure from our mortal-coil, all of those generations ago.
Nourished and sustained by the ashes and the bones that were left behind after a world-shattering, one-hundred year crisis, a simple sprout grew to become this magnificent icon of our peoples.
At the very base of the world-tree is the central-beginners dungeon. An ancient dungeon that, despite its expertise and central location and floor span of well over one-hundred floors, is still to this day of the very lowest level and difficulty of any known dungeons in the world. It appears to have adopted a unusual strategy of simply never growing too powerful to be a nuisance.
As such, it remains one of the oldest and most sacred dungeons of our nation.
The core has never been communicated with, despite the attempts of the high magical scholars of every generation since.
— Perhaps, like the tree itself, it is simply a generous gift, left to us by our progenitors.
~ A side note on the world-tree, from Barnatus Barnacious’ Big Book of Dungeons
Isaiah looks at the swath of abilities, not really able to make up its mind. There are so many of them and some of these do look very strong. However, they might also fundamentally change the structure of the dungeon in a serious way.
This is a decision best not made hastily. It will take a little time to think about the choices that it needs to make and then return to this later.
First, there is much else to do.
— It turns its head to look at the straggling humans, who it has let discuss amongst themselves their dilema.
Caeli sits, leaning back on a chair that seemingly had appeared out of nowhere. Her leg is crossed over her thigh, her foot twitching up and down. Her arms are folded, her finger tapping against her bicep. She finds herself stuck in impatient thought.
“So, do you really think we’re stuck here?” asks Domi, looking at her and then towards Irascaris.
The man with the lance shrugs and the two of them look towards her again.
She knows that this choice is going to fall on her. The two of them are too indecisive. Maybe that’s why she’s feeling a bit tightly strung?
“I just wanted to make some money,” says the battle-alchemist, sighing. She looks down at the table, letting her hand rest on it instead. Her finger, instead of tapping against herself, now taps against its ornately carved surface.
The table too, had simply appeared here, having been created on the spot by some sort of magical light.
“We’re fucked,” she says. “You saw those scrying crystals,” says Caeli “That means there are high-ranking people who saw our faces,” she says. “After the explosion…” She shakes her head. “I don’t know if we can go back to the city. Those guards were nobles.”
“That’s a crock of shit!” argues Domi, slamming his fist against the table. “They basically kidnapped us!” he argues. “How is that not self-defense? Why are we in trouble?”
Irascaris folds his arms, leaning back to copy Caeli prior posture. “Because we’re poor,” he says. “Like she said, those guards were noble-blooded. That’s the only argument they need against us.”
“I had a run in with the nobles too,” says the strange man, dressed as a priest, Beulah. He sits at their table together with them. “It’s not so bad here,” says the priest. “Let me tell you my story.”
“Thank you, Rorate,” says Isaiah. It finds itself underground, in the resting area below the tower. “I would have been lost without your help.”
Red had explained what the whole situation with the mushroom-brew and the monk had been. It was really very clever of Rorate and her timing was perfect. She really is a useful and valuable person.
— But perhaps it is necessary to stop thinking in those specific terms alone? It seems an unbefitting way to treat someone who has put in so much work.
Rorate lifts her hands, shaking her head. “No, it was nothing. I’m just glad I could really be of use to someone,” she says.
Isaiah lifts a taloned hand, softly pushing hers back down. “Please, accept my gratitude,” it says, looking around awkwardly. They’re just standing there in the hallway at the entrance of the underground. It looks over its shoulder, towards the kitchen.
“Would you care to tell me about your journey?” asks the creature, gesturing towards the kitchen table.
Rorate blinks, staring in surprise for a quiet moment, but then excitedly agrees.
Isaiah can’t help but feel very awkward in the kitchen as it sits at the table. It’s a very unnatural environment for what it holds itself to be. Its massive wings press against the walls that seem to be closing in as it sits there, underground. But it endures the space.
Perhaps this is really only a small sacrifice that is still very good to make.
It listens intently as Rorate excitedly babbles on and on like a stream of flowing water, as she tells it about her trip to the witch and her trip to the city and everything between and after that.
It goes on for a while and Isaiah can’t help but notice that the flow of her speech is so strong and free, that it feels like a cascade of water, breaking free from a dam that had held it in for far too long.
Isaiah lifts a hand.
A new uthra appears. This one is orange.
It stretches itself out, yawning and rubbing its face.
“Hello,” greets Isaiah. “We will be having a lot of foot traffic soon. Please tend to the grounds outside of the tower.”
Orange rubs its tired eyes. “Is that it?”
“— For now. Thank you.”
The new uthra nods and flies off.
Isaiah stands atop the tower once more. With the uthra all returned to their work, the tower can once again resume construction. The death of the second inspection party has sealed the tower's fate as something which the humans will certainly now try to destroy, as far as Red had explained.
Isaiah lifts its gaze, as it clambers up its very-big-tree, towards a high branch. From there, it pops its head through the crown and stares up towards the clouds and the sky above them.
They are still very far away. What a world this is.
Isaiah lowers its gaze, looking at the people sitting at the table up on the roost. They aren’t too bothered by it anymore and are talking to each other, lost in deep discussion. Beulah seems to have calmed them down. Perhaps this would be a good job for him in the future? Outreach?
Red flies in. “Hey, chief,” says the uthra. “Everything is back on track,” she says. “I flew out through the forest a bit, our territory is getting pretty massive, you know?” asks Red. “A lot of interesting stuff out there. The villagers are all talking about the tower.”
Isaiah nods, pleased. It would be worth examining the outer lands of the territory sometime too. So far, it has never really left the direct vicinity of the tower. But perhaps there are things of value elsewhere to find and to learn of? “Thank you for sticking with me,” it says.
Red waves it off and flies away. “Yeah, yeah. Where else would I go?” asks the uthra, somewhat snarkily as she vanishes.
But behind that sass is an honest question, realizes Isaiah.
Where would she go?
Isaiah stares down at the people who are sitting at the table. If not for the tower, where would they go? It thinks of Rorate, who has invested herself in body and soul to this endeavor. Where would she go?
This new life of its is… difficult.
It is challenging and honestly, it still feels very rough and, perhaps even lonesome. Being surrounded by people who are in awe of you, who are under you, who fear you — These things are not the same as having a family.
Isaiah closes its eyes, looking over to a statue, above a nest.
The blackbird stands on the edge of the nest, scooting around its rim as it stares in towards the clutch of eggs in curiosity.
The first egg shakes.
Isaiah opens its eyes, its heart thudding in fear as it jumps down from the very-big-tree in panic. A strike of cold terror shoots through its body. It lands at the base of the tree, sliding down it with a talon along its surface and grabs the time-stopping sun-dial, resting in the tree’s broad, sheltering shadow.
The creature spreads its wings out wide and gets ready to fly off towards the nest. The eggs are hatching. It has to go. It has to use the sun-dial, now.
— But then it doesn’t.
Isaiah finds its feet remaining firmly planted on the grass, growing atop the tower. Its wings, held wide, feel the gentle winds flowing through the gaps between the tips of its feathers.
But Isaiah doesn’t budge as its eyes wander out across the distance, across the beautiful world all around the tower. Bright petals fly free in the spring gales. Birds flock and sing atop the verdant crown of the forest. The sun shines with lazy rays, which linger through the drifting clouds and the azure sky, like streaks of fingerprints that have been left on the surface of crystal glass.
Everything comes together to paint a scene that feels… familiar.
Isaiah lowers a hand, feeling a spot on its breast that it recalls once being pierced with a blade, in its old human life.
It turns its head, looking at the people sitting there at the table, watching it in marked confusion.
Isaiah turns back forward and then sets the sun-dial back down onto the ground.
— It isn’t right.
Rorate had brought it this sun-dial, because she knew of its goal to return to its nest and its family. She knew that Isaiah was trying to get restored to the form of a bird, which would destroy this place, this tower. Red had surely told her as much.
But she went and got it from the witch anyway, likely putting herself in terrible danger.
So what exactly is the plan here?
Is it going to use a strange, dark magic on its own prized family of its old life? Is it going to put their lives on hold, in the hopes that it can selfishly return to them? Is it really going to steal this kind season from their lives? What if the magic has a cost? The item is cursed, after all. What if something terrible happens to the creatures it longs to return to, because of its own selfish, true wish?
Isaiah stares at its long talons.
Isaiah the paladin had died. He is gone forever.
It does not wish to do so, but perhaps…
— Perhaps it is time to make a choice. The choice of if Isaiah, the black-bird, has died as well, just like the man before herself.
Listening to the sounds of the world, to the uthra flying around and working with buzzing wings, to the sounds of someone coming up the staircase from below to the roost with soft steps, to the sounds of a singing voice, down by the babbling river, Isaiah isn’t sure if it has any choice but to do so.
It has been holding on to its old life, desperately trying to claw its way back into it.
But it has found something new now. Well, no. It could do without the tower, in all honesty. But the others, they can not. They need this place, to varying degrees of severity.
Isaiah lets out a long, slow exhalation and closes its eyes again.
The eggs crack. The male blackbird turns its head in excitement as it scans the area and watches the nest, the eggs.
The first piece of shell breaks off and a tiny beak presses itself out through the exterior, squeaking for the first time as it inhales a clean, strong breath with healthy chirps that indicate the struggle of accepting the challenge of life.
If the male blackbird could speak, if he was perhaps a little more advanced in his faculties, he might be wondering why the statue adorning his tree was leaking water from its face.
— As are all of the statues around the area.
But he is just a blackbird.
And life is good that way.
He chirps excitedly, lowering his head as he watches the clutch hatch in full. All of them break free, strong and healthy.
The humming man gets up from the spot he has been resting at and walks across the roost.
The scene is very quiet and serene, frozen in time. What a beautiful view. What a strange place this tower is. It will fit perfectly for his designs of the future.
He looks around himself as he walks across the arena. It is pretty weird for a dungeon. He’ll definitely have to keep an eye on it.
Calmly, he adjusts his hat and strolls towards the weeping, angelic monstrosity.
— Just as planned.
He slips in between it and the tree, despite there being ample room to walk around the creature on its other side. Bending down, he reaches in and grabs the sun-dial from before the entity. It’s pretty heavy. Sheesh. Witches always have to make stuff like this complicated.
He shakes his head and then pulls the sun-dial free from the entity’s grasp, tucking it into his own bag. Hoisting it over his shoulder, he looks at the dungeon-core, standing there, lost in a distant vision.
The man lifts a hand, patting the creature on its back once.
He then nods, content that he had gotten what he came here for and begins to head back down the tower, humming all along the way.
He stops on the staircase, mid-step, seeing the dark-elf, frozen half-way in time. She was on her way upstairs.
The humming man steps back a few steps upstairs and then fixes a loose brick that would have caused her to fall off of the tower and down into the river below.
He gives her a thumbs-up and a wink and makes his way back down the tower.
Time returns to its real flow. People move. Birds fly. The clouds drift. The seasons of the year to come, to be experienced in full by all who might live to see them, develop on with challenges and problems of their own unique natures that can now no longer be avoided.
The kind spring, as the season of rebirth, serves as a passive reminder of the limited moments that one has in this world. Rebirth can not come without death beforehand. A shell must be broken for a chick to hatch.
Seasons come and seasons go and they do appear to be all the same as the ones of the years before, from down here. But the harvests of sensations that they offer are unique to their own moments, not being available to those who had found themselves in the springs now past or even in those yet to come. Spring is spring, but every spring is unique and this year promises to be a very interesting year indeed.
But that limit of possible moments is only a problem for creatures who don't have what he has.
— All the time in the world.
The humming man hums as he walks past a wet statue. Life is good.