Author Topic: Part 2: Meeting the Ambassador  (Read 5172 times)

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Offline Daen

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Part 2: Meeting the Ambassador
« on: April 20, 2022, 06:06:20 AM »
Corerise came slowly, as if luxuriating in the morning ritual. Warm nourishment seeped down from the Core and struck the ground, the nearby stream, and the grove. All treqars reacted the same way, Moss included. The Core was warmth, strength, and life. It didn't matter if a treqar was just a seedling or too old to even care about the process: they all felt the same rush of euphoria as their god reached down from above to touch them.

Not that Moss believed in those old tales. The Core may have created them, or maybe not, but it certainly wasn't alive. His ancestors had also believed that the Great Freeze was a punishment brought on by their faithlessness and heresy, but Moss knew better. The oldest books from that time had been compiled before the interroot, and were therefore fragmentary and unreliable. Still, most of them mentioned a large-scale earthquake that had happened a few days before the weather had turned cold. The prevailing theory among Noq and his fellow thinkers was that it had come from the Void. Something, a very large thing apparently, had fallen from the Void and struck the ground in the mountains to the far northeast. It had caused the quake, and as a result triggered the Great Freeze.

Moss had tried to figure out where this thing had hit, but given the shoddy nature of recordkeeping that long ago, hadn't had much luck. Perhaps one day, if Noq's dreams were realized and treqars finally gained real mobility, they would find it. Maybe if Moss contributed, he might be there himself.

The idea of mobility got him thinking about their guest's imminent arrival again. He and Noq were trying so hard to attain something that their visitor had known and experienced since seedhood. It seemed unfair, somehow.

Grace and the others were waking up again, and getting ready for their daily tasks. Mites had infested one of his branches again, so Moss instructed her and four others to climb up there and begin clearing them out. After they'd had breakfast, of course.

He had read studies about mammals in the wild, and how they nursed their young. In a way, Moss supposed that was what he was doing for his qars. He consciously redirected fluid to various locations in the underground chamber they called home, and they drank from his roots until they were satisfied. Older treqars could redirect more nutrients and support larger colonies, but Moss didn't see the point. More qars often meant more problems.

The Core was rising in the sky, and it was almost time. Bracing his mind, Moss ordered Strength and Solidarity to reconnect him to the network, just as he had done last night with his father. The noise immediately blasted over him: dozens of treqar minds each yammering and chattering at each other. They didn't notice him join up, but the cacophony of souls was still unending, as waves of salt water slowly eating away at a stone cliff.

Moss had never actually experienced an ocean, but one of his friends to the far west had been kind enough to send him an enzyme recording. He still remembered the regular pattern of 'waves' as his friend called them, hitting the ground.

Suddenly he was aware of a 'smaller' presence within the network. It wasn't muted like last night, but the signature was familiar and friendly. It was chor'haraneth'qil, or Rane. One of his childhood friends, Rane was timid and soft-spoken most times, which was probably why they'd gotten along so well. He didn't speak as much as they did from preference, and Rane didn't from timidity. "How have you been?" The slightly younger treqar asked.

Moss sent out a chemical signifying ambivalence through the network. "So-so. I did have some exciting news last night. My work is going to get a boost in a season or so. Looks like all my efforts are finally paying off."

Rane sent out a dash of congratulations. "Good for you. When that happens, will you finally be ready to actually tell us what you've been working on?"

"Maybe," Moss responded wryly. "If it works and I become rich and famous, I'll be sure to mention all the little people I surpassed during my journey."

"Oh, I feel honored already."

Conversation through the local network was usually like this. People paired off or went into small groups to chat privately. If another person's chemical signature wandered too close, the group would become aware. Then they would either welcome the newcomer or stop conversing until they were private again. Praska was a pretty open, small grove, so the former was more likely than the latter.

He and Rane kept up small-talk for a while, before Jora eventually spoke up. As the Grovekeeper, she was listened to universally, and all the other conversations died down immediately. "I just got a message from grove Yaath. The delegate is only minutes away!"

As one, the whole grove turned its attention upwards. All they could hear at first was the usual whistle of wind, the articulated digits of their own qars, or the slight groaning of their bark expanding or contracting. Then, eventually, they could hear buzzing.

It grew louder over time, but it was just sound waves. It didn't bother Moss nearly as much as the raucous noise inside the network. Then a shadow passed over the grove and every treqar focused on the source.

Whatever it was, the object moving above them was massive! It was easily as tall as Jora herself, and at least as wide. The massive hum of beating wings accompanied it as swarms of juns, probably several hundred thousand of them, coordinated to bring their visitor down to the ground!

To his side, Rane was in a hushed awe, which Moss noted with some amusement. Unlike his neighbors, Moss had done research on their visitor and what he represented. He wasn't just an ambassador from another grove—he was a representative of an entirely different way of life!

Trejuns had developed on an isolated island on the far side of the world. They had been spared the Freeze because of that isolation, and had only started reaching out to the world again recently. Or his definition of recently anyway. Over two hundred years ago, these jun insects had been noticed flying over the western seaboard of Bura, this world's largest continent. No one had known what they were, or whether or not they were a threat. Then the first trejun had flown in, carried by swarms of juns just like what was happening now. Her name had been Mors—unlike treqars, her people didn't have ancestry and accomplishments woven into their names.

Mors had been just a sapling really, but news of her arrival had spread like a wildfire. In a way, that news was also as devastating as said wildfire. Many groves had reacted with fear and confusion, which quickly mutated into hatred and a desire for violence. This group didn't rely on qars at all! Instead… they could fly!

It was an unwieldy process, as evidenced by this one's landing. The ground had been dug out for weeks in preparation for their guest, but even so, the juns were a bit off in their placement. Their guest had to instruct them to alter his position a little before dismissing them. Once he had thumped to the ground, the vast majority of the swarm buzzed off in the direction they had come. The remainder flew into the body of their guest, into a hive structure similar in function to the cave underneath Moss. At least they had that much in common.

Two of Jora's own qars were waiting at the landing site. To their credit, they had only flinched a little when the trejun set down, holding their ground against the rush of dust and debris kicked up. Now they followed their orders and connected the new arrival's roots to the network.

The flare of the trejun's presence was blinding! He shone through the local network like a beacon, cowing all who looked at him for the first few seconds. Even Moss, whose curiosity and awe were tempered by research, felt a desire to show subservience to this being. He imagined qars bowing their heads in respect.

Then the surprise had worn off at least a little. Chemical consciousnesses began to flood around their visitor, but Jora ordered them all back. A little harshly, in Moss' opinion. She extended a chemical greeting. "In the name of grove Praska, I welcome you, Ambassador. I am parjo'ratt'lanka, Grovekeeper of this community. I'm called Jora."

"I'm Lord Ter Prajanko, of the Trejun Consensus. It's an honor to be in your presence, Lady Grovekeeper." The response was soft in tone, though Moss could see a slight awkwardness in the Ambassador's branches and roots. Even as they started to burrow into the ground.

His words seemed to awe the crowd as much as his arrival had. Some of the younger saplings approached again, and this time Jora didn't hold them back. He greeted them formally as well, referring to them as Lords and Ladies just like had before. Moss felt encouraged at that. Oftentimes it was best to see how a stranger interacted with children in order to get their true measure.

But of course this guy would put his best persona forward. Like Moss' father, he was a public figure.

"Is it true they went to war with grove Whitefoam?" Rane asked Moss anxiously, in a private conversation. "I heard the trejuns unleashed Combustors on them!"

"Not Whitefoam, but some of the others. And they didn't strike first," Moss said carefully. This was part of his research, and like his hidden work alongside Noq, had taken some effort to uncover. "Do you remember from our history lessons, how the first trejun to arrive was called Mors? When she first arrived, she established a grove on this side of the ocean. It was more of a trading post than anything else, and eventually more trejuns were flown in one after another. They said they wanted to acclimate us to their presence. I suppose I might have done the same in their place. Some of the northern groves objected though. They claimed it was a foreign invasion, and declared war on the 'interlopers'."

Rane let out a signal of disbelief. "The Union attacked them?"

"No, those groves never joined the Continental Union, so the Chancellor had no authority to stop them. They sent three thousand qars to attack the new grove, and they weren't interested in taking prisoners. Mors and fourteen other trejuns were killed, and the grove was razed to the ground. I suspect the northerners didn't really care about foreigners at all. They just wanted the resources that had been collected at that trading post."

"How do you know all this?" Rane's question was equal parts amazement and indignation. "I haven't heard anything about any sneak attack or dead trejuns."

Moss watched the Ambassador slowly greet his way through the assembled crowd. If his geniality was an act, he was keeping it up fairly well. "Because I actually paid attention in history class," he said with mild reproval at his friend. "But I also looked it up myself and asked my friend in grove Ursun. They were right next to the front line, so I trust their account more than any official statement from the Union."

He let out some resignation. "The trejuns struck back. With Combustors, like you heard in rumors. Juns flew over all four groves and dropped a flammable liquid on them. Over two hundred treqars died in fire. Nothing but ash remained."

Rane stayed in silent shock. Hearing a rumor was one thing, but hearing it confirmed was another. All treqars lived in fear of fire. It was the one force within nature that could kill a treqar instantly. Even girdling an enemy treqar, which was considered to be torture, still took seasons or years to eliminate the enemy. That was why Combustors were a most potent—and the most controversial—kind of people. If you were deviant enough to dabble in combustibles, you had to be ready to sacrifice your place in civilized life to it.

That was part of what made refined metals so rare, too. Sending qars to mine ore was one thing, but purifying it required fire! Some particularly hot fire, too. It was one of the main reasons he and Noq were keeping their communications secret.

Suddenly the Ambassador was in front of them! Metaphorically speaking anyway; Moss must have lost track of him thinking about the horrors of flame. After he greeted them, Rane responded nervously. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Lord, uh, Ambassador, sir. I—I was just wondering… what is it like to fly? I'm sure you've got all sorts of stories you could tell—”

"And there will be time enough for all of them," Ter Prajanko responded gravely, cutting Rane off. He focused on Moss briefly, and again Moss felt that urge to show subservience. It was simply the Ambassador's force of will, he supposed. He commanded attention and obedience from sheer habit.

"You're different, aren't you?" The Ambassador asked briefly, as Moss tried to hold back any signs of nervousness and treat him with a kind of distant courtesy. He wasn't sure how successful he'd been though. "You have a hungry mind, young one. I can tell."

"I try, sir," Moss answered as diplomatically as he could. He felt like a qar under a microscope: a preserved insect being examined before vivisection.

"Oh you have no idea," Rane put in excitedly. "He's always got some idea or other he's working on. He's even got friends over in—” He cut off as Moss sent him a sharp dose of warning.

"I'm sure you don't want to hear about my insignificant life, sir," Moss filled the silence, roiling inwardly. He loved his friend, but Rane could be a true idiot at times. "Let me introduce you to my father. He's a skilled speaker, and avid admirer of your people and you in particular. This way, please."

He directed the Ambassador's attention away from Rane, and the older trejun allowed it with some noticeable amusement. "You covered that well, young man. Perhaps we'll speak again soon."

Moss sincerely hoped not, but he claimed otherwise. The old guy was making his bark crawl right now. He gave a socially appropriate introduction to his father, and then politely excused himself.

"Hey," another presence practically bumped into him as he distanced himself from the earlier conversation. It was Tressa, another of his childhood friends. "You haven't been on the network in a long time. I've been worried about you."

Trying to hide his discomfort was becoming more and more difficult. "I've been keeping busy," he evaded carefully. "I appreciate your concern, but it's unnecessary. Besides if I'm ever in trouble, it's quite easy to reconnect and ask for help."

"That only works if you know you need help, though," she said slyly, letting out more than a little interest. "What if you need help and you can't admit it even to yourself?"

"Then I have greater problems than just being insular, don't I?"

Moss spent the next half hour trying to find a diplomatic way to excuse himself. Some young treqars set for themselves the goal of not contributing to the grove so much as latching onto the most promising person they could find and holding on for dear life. Rane had been like that once, but now Tressa was the acknowledged master of fortune hunting. She'd identified him as an easy access point to his father, and now she was going in for the kill.

When he was finally able to disconnect and return to blissful silence, Moss was so tense that Fortitude started an unprompted massage session for the underground roots. Gratefully, Moss dismissed them back to their original tasks. He could relax now, at least.

An overbearing, intrusive father. An idealistic, sometimes foolish friend. A highly aggressive would-be paramour. Didn't he have enough problems already without adding an enigmatic, most likely powerhungry foreign dignitary to the mix? Moss resolved to keep away from Lord Prajanko, despite his curiosity.
« Last Edit: August 10, 2022, 01:30:49 AM by Daen »