Wither at the Root

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Wither at the Root

Grand Grimcleaver

A fugue had fallen over Grei. His Essence was plied against his will until reason surrendered and he’d begun to walk. The forest was dense, the footpath lost long ago, but the call dragged him on, nagging his dreams when he rested.

He took in his surroundings through the fog: trees growing close together in strange forms, with leaves of glass and gold and jewel, their trunks twisted ivory and silver mist, and draped in silk woven by spiders of copper filigree. They moved around him, whispering and reaching out with fingers of smoke that scratched against his armor, then drew back in sorrow. His footfalls were soft over the many-colored feathers that carpeted the forest floor as the foliage sang in high tones—either to cover the sounds of his passage, or announce it.

He stopped, pressing his palms to his temples and squeezing his eyes shut. The trees’ song filled his blood, inviting him to lie down and sleep. Conviction wavered, but he steeled himself and opened his mouth, shouting defiance in counterpoint to the music.

The leaves rattled against each other in disapproval, then were still.

He opened his eyes to see a great and shining tree, her limbs stretched to encompass the forest canopy, clad in darkly-iridescent feathers. Her trunk was lithe. The skirt of her roots swept wide over the ground in fine waves. Her trembling song put the others to shame, power bent in pretense of humility, her promise pulling at his soul.

The Solar fought to restrain legs that wanted to approach, hands that ached to touch, taking a step back and snarling at the thing. Her voice wept, her body shimmering, pleading as he took another step away, then a third.

Her cry rose in anger, a sharp note shattering her vows of love. A shadow passed over him, and before he could turn, vines wrapped him, lifting and throwing him to the ground. He crashed in a flurry of feathers and lay winded.

Her guardian loomed, raising a double-edged grimcleaver in its gnarled hands. The blade flashed gold as it cut the air, and the Solar twisted away, pulling his sword from his belt as he sprang into a crouch. The thing’s bark-like face crackled as it scowled at him, vines uncoiling from its body and lunging forward.

A ringing cry shuddered from the tree as Grei’s sword slashed, slicing through her champion’s vines. It hissed and pulled back, shorn vines oozing. Grei stepped forward, leaping inside of the axe’s range and lashing out with the blade.

Again the vines sprung forward, hurling him away as the creature danced back. The Solar leaned up, then dropped back as the grimcleaver rose and fell again. He jumped to his feet as it passed his head, sprinting in close. The creature glowed with a green light as it arrested its swing, rounding on Grei.

The Solar lashed out with his sword, catching the edge of the sun-touched weapon, baring his teeth with the strain of stopping its progress. His blade held for a moment before the steel shattered—but even so, it was enough. The creature stumbled, and Grei lunged, bulling forward and knocking it down.

The axe went sliding away in a torrent of feathers. Vines shot out, but Grei was faster, swooping in and seizing the haft. Fury blazed in the creature’s eyes as the Solar struggled to lift the grimcleaver wrought of sun’s gold. Recognizing one of the Solar Exalted triggered a memory of its own Exaltation. The Dragon-Blooded jumped to his feet, his hand cracking as the flesh hardened to a wood claw.

He dove at Grei’s back, and with a yell, Grei swung the grimcleaver.

The tree’s shriek shattered the glass leaves of all the others, and they exploded with a piercing cry. The Dragon-Blooded fell screaming and clutching the stump of his shoulder. Then, before Grei could cut the thing’s head off, feathers exploded into the air, disorienting him. He raised a hand to swipe them away, but when they cleared, he saw nothing but the northern forest, and sensed nothing but a lingering feeling of hatred.

In his hands, he still clutched the axe.

Wither at the Root

An End to this Rainbow. silverwinglie