O' Branch Brother Where are You?
rating: +5+x

In the first winter of the Reign of King Shield of the Plant Kingdom, I took it upon myself to lead the first expedition outside our borders. To seek out new lands to conquer or riches to be gained. I found neither of those things, yet what I did find was something greater.

Once I was an unimportant leaf grown from the Royal Mother Tree. The same tree from which grew the Great Kings. But I was no King, I had not yet earned my name, I had nothing and was nothing. Nothing except for one want: Adventure.

I wanted to go to new places, fight new enemies, experience the Kingdom from end to end. And so when King Spear called for Commanders from the Royal Tree, I was among the first to take a weapon.

I marched under our King, all the way to the River’s shore. When he ordered us to build rafts to take the other side, I was among the first to venture across the water. When the River surrendered and the time came to take the Fire, I again marched under the King. Braving the fury of their torches, I slew several, purging their heresy from the Light of the Sun. When the Fire fell and the Hill invaded, I marched again. Through the mountains all the way to the edge. There, for the first time, I looked beyond. To the endless ruins of the First. A land shrouded in destruction, filled with the spirits of the endless dead, peering back with curious mystery. But the Hill required my attention just a moment longer.

The King of the Hill fell, and with him King Spear. With the Kingdom unified, I was no longer needed. And so I went to our new King Shield. I asked him ’What is beyond the mountains?’ He, with even his King’s wisdom, did not know. And so it was he sent me away with three soldiers to find out.

None of these soldiers had earned their names in life, so I will name them in death: The Scarred, the Virtuous, and the Faithful. All three were of the Sun Province like me, and all just as eager to set out into the strange lands beyond.

We set out from the City Under the Sun just as King Shield did the same. While the King went east to fight the King of Fire, we went north to fight the unknown.

On the way we visited the Hill Palace, and met with the Branch that would later be known as The Halfwit. He gave me a mace of bronze and told me to use it well. We then ventured out of the mountains, into the lands beyond.

Unlike us, the First made their paths not by removing the grass, but by placing down a black stone. Like a web all across the land. On them they painted stripes and lines of white and yellow, what they mean I could not tell. Littered all over them we could see metal chariots, all broken and rusting. We chose one path, and followed it.

At this time the Scarred began to fall behind. He grew weaker, and his injuries began to turn red and brittle. We knew it was the fire plague. We debated turning back, but the Scarred persuaded us to continue. We waited, from a distance, while he expired. When the Scarred was at last with the Great Tree, we entombed him in the dirt, covered in slabs of stone to protect his form. On them we carved all the symbols he would need to remain in the afterlife.

The First’s buildings, even in their decaying glory, still dwarf any on which we’ve slaved away in the City Under the Sun. The First could shape stone as easily as we shape clay, giving it any form they needed. As strong as this stone was, they made it stronger by placing within it cores of steel and iron. But even this strength did not protect them from the wrath of the Sun on the day it burned bright. On the walls one can still see their stained shadows. And occasionally we found their bones.

In one place, which we believe was the ruins of a small town, we found buildings which had been spared much of the destruction. Many little things were still intact. Crystals that could glow like torches and not burn. White bowls of water, perhaps for drinking. Many big square objects, one side always containing a pane of black glass, behind which were crisscrossing colored cords of copper. On occasion we would spot different pieces of furniture and objects on the walls. All very different, but would always contain some sort of circle, which would be lined with twelve sets of symbols around the edge. Some contained flat rods attached at the center and reaching the edge, many of them pointed straight up.

We ventured as far as we could, the ruins of the First seemed to stretch on forever. No doubt to have seen their Kingdom at its peak would almost marvel the Great Tree. But as we all know, the Sun destroyed them for a reason. With fire and light.

Then, one night, the Virtuous left to find sticks for our fire. When he returned, he told of a noise he’d heard out in the darkness. We ignored it as some lone animal, and continued on. But the Virtuous kept looking around. He fell over, seemingly spooked by something. Though nothing was around us, or so it seemed.

At once, a great towering bat-like monster came out of the darkness. It thrust at the Virtuous with its beak. As they fought, we each grabbed our spears, and stabbed at the fearsome creature. When that had little effect, I grabbed the mace I had received from the halfwit. I slashed the monster’s flesh open, to which it let out a shriek, and opened its wings, launching itself away.

Victory, but not for the Virtuous. The creature had its way with him before we had been able to drive it off. With his dying words, he thought of himself as a coward for his failure. I assured him he was no such thing, and that the Kingdom would remember him a hero.

Under the light of the Morning Sun, we buried the Virtuous like we did the Scarred. With him I placed the mace which I had used to fend off the beast, should he need it in the afterlife. For the rest of the day and the next night, the Faithful and I discussed our next move. I wished to keep exploring, he claimed that the monster was a sign from the Sun that we should not dare going further.

By the time the sun rose again, we’d agreed to return to the Kingdom with our stories. Having remembered now, the odds had been stacked against us. Only two leaves against the wild monsters outside. Had I not allowed the Faithful to convince me to return, I’m sure we would have perished.

The return to the Kingdom was uneventful. I have not mentioned until now just how quiet the ruins of the First are. When one sits down and doesn’t speak, they can almost feel the suffering that must have taken place here. You may get the feeling that this place is meant to be left alone. I would not keep these thoughts, after all we had too many problems within the valley to be expanding outward soon.

We returned to the City Under the Sun on the day of the Festival of the Sun, perhaps another omen that I did not decide to turn back too soon. The Faithful parted with me immediately, wanting to pray his thanks alone in his home. I have only seen him twice since, he now lives a simple life as a wandering Priest within the Sun Province.

When I returned to King Shield, I was welcomed as a hero. The King allowed me to tell my story in front of him and his high audience. When the festival had finished, I saw him again. He said we would benefit from a written account of my Expedition, which would also mean not having to repeat the tale to every curious noble who asked.

This is the account. I hope for its eternal use in satisfying the curiosity of those who seek adventure as I do. Though I may never be a King or a Branch or any such figure bent on reshaping the Kingdom, I can say I’ve ventured further than any other. These have been the words of the Commander now known as Scout.




Scout jumped. Turning around to see his friend.

"What were you looking at?" Treetop asked.

"Nothing," Scout told him. "Thinking."

"This is the place," Treetop said. "Isn't it?"

"Yes," Scout said. "Do you have the shovel?"

"Cloudcatcher does," Treetop responded.

Scout nodded, Treetop turned and left. Scout could see the bits of metal and cloth that held his body together, not unlike his own. I've used the sarcophagus three times, he's used it twice, Cloudcatcher used it once, burned as he is. How many more times will it work before we're dust?

Scout, Treetop, and Cloudcatcher hopped around the nearby buildings. They were much more decayed than the last time Scout had been here, and it was hard to jog his memory.

Cloudcatcher hopped behind him. Unlike Scout and Treetop, who were of the Sun Province, Cloudcatcher's body consisted of three spear-shaped lobes sitting on top of a long stem. But his injuries kept him wrapped in cloth, his weak stem covered in a mechanical spring to allow him to hop around. Still a relative newcomer, he always had questions.

"So…" Cloudcatcher said. "Did you ever meet King Spear?"

"Once," Scout told him. "I stood in line with the other commanders, he hopped by, then looked me over up and down. Then he gave a nod and went on to the next one."

"His Unification…" Cloudcatcher thought a moment. "That's near ancient legend for us."

"So is my Expedition, I bet." Scout said.

"That account you wrote is still read all around the Kingdom," Treetop said. "Or it was when I was there."

"It still is now," Cloudcatcher confirmed. "Wait…"

He stopped, looking around, the shovel glinting in his arms.

"This is… where…"

"The fight, yes," Scout said. "It was here."

Then he spotted it. Hopping to the center of an overgrown parking lot, Scout bent over a small ring of loose stones.

"Our fire. That means he must be…" Scout raised his head, looking over to a grassy area next to the road.

He ventured into it, stopping at a specific spot.

"Dig here."

Slowly, the three revealed several slabs of rock, sitting on top of several more. With some difficulty, they were removed. Scout saw again the symbols that had been carved into the bottom. The four elements, the depiction of the Great Tree and the afterlife. All that would be required after death.

The three looked down into the coffin that had been assembled with stone.

"How long has it been?" Treetop asked.

"Eighty-five years."

"Years?" Cloudcatcher said.

"Sorry, winters," Scout told him.

The body was decayed. Beetles had eaten half the face, and left holes all through his flesh. Which had turned a brownish-gray color. On top of him was the lumpy, oxidized remains of a Hill mace.

Virtuous in death. Scout thought. He picked up the rusty mace. Strange, holding this again.

He was holding it to the light for a better view when the top portion crumbled and fell off. Leaving him holding the handle.

Tossing it behind him, Scout went back to the body. He saw the large gash that had been made near the middle.

"Did the monster do that?" Treetop asked.

"No," Scout told him. "That thing was just an animal. An out of place animal, only hunting."

When they'd finished wrapping the body, Treetop and Cloudcatcher each took an end, carrying it back to the truck.

"I'm glad you got that working," Treetop said.

"The metal wagon?" Cloudcatcher asked.

"Yes, but we call it a truck."

The body was placed in the trunk, while the trio took their seats.

"So that's the Virtuous," Cloudcatcher said. "Do you know what happened to the Scarred?"

Scout and Treetop looked at each other. Scout spoke first.

"He was… too far gone."

"Oh." Cloudcatcher said, sitting back. "I hope the sarcophagus can at least bring back this one. "

“Yeah,” Scout said. “Maybe you can bug him with your questions instead.” He turned the key in the ignition. The truck rumbled to life.

Then they heard the screech. A sound Scout never thought he’d hear again.

It’s back.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License