Tala and Terry watched as Mistress Odera sat facing them, allowing them to take in the city, while she only watched them.
“So, have you had a chance to think on your encounter with the juggernauts?”
Tala snorted, a rueful smile coming across her face. “Absolutely.”
She took another moment to put her words in order. “I’m too durable.”
Mistress Odera cocked an eyebrow but didn’t comment.
“I don’t mean in absolute terms, more relatively speaking.”
“My spars with Terry showed a part of it, but the juggernauts really brought it into focus. My offensive power is atrocious, especially in comparison to my durability.”
Mistress Odera shrugged. “Yes and no. You took a juggernaut down with your ranged attack the other day.”
“And the loss of a limb took that ability from me.”
The older Mage shook her head. “Do you know how many Mages could continue after losing an arm?”
Mistress Odera rolled her eyes. “Very few. Few combat-oriented Archons, even.”
“That can’t be right.”
“Mistress Tala. Most combat-oriented Mages wouldn’t have been in a position to lose the arm to begin with.”
Oh… Yeah, that makes sense.
“The fact that you are still an asset to the caravan after receiving such a blow is a testament to the wisdom of allowing you to take up the dual role.”
Tala gave a small smile. “Thank you. That’s kind.”
Mistress Odera waved that off. “The truth is true, Mistress. My point is this: You are not too well defended, nor are you offensively ineffective. You have limited use at range, for now, but you also have tools that you haven’t fully explored. You’re judging half your deck against half that of others. That is foolish.”
There she is. “So then, what is your assessment?”
“You need something to affix you in place, at need. You could also use something to take damage on your behalf, rather than simply hoping for the best and healing after.”
“Yeah, I have been violently removed from this wagon-top a few too many times…” What could I use? Straps? They wouldn’t hold up to the things that have knocked me free. “Is there any form of magic to lock me in place?”
Mistress Odera gave her an odd look. “You’re the dimensional Mage; you tell me.”
Tala’s eyes widened. I didn’t think of it in that way. If I approach it from a dimensional standpoint, teleportation could be the field to start with. Teleportation receiving scripts had what amounted to dimensional anchors, fixing them in place, relative to Zeme, so that incoming travelers wouldn’t be reconstructed across a wide area. Would that work?
It wasn’t perfect, as teleportation anchors were a combination of functions, including a beacon to aid in targeting specific destinations, and she did not want to be a beacon if she could help it. Worth talking to the Constructionist Guild about, though. There had to be something there…
Even if that worked, the result might be her taking more damage from any given attack. So, it would solve one of the two issues raised by Mistress Odera, while making the second one worse.
“It seems like that might have triggered something. I’ll leave you to your thoughts.” The older woman lifted her feet and spun around, before resettling to gaze at the city before them.
Let’s assume I get the dimensional anchor all worked out, what would be the consequences?
She would have to take the full force behind any blow, rather than allowing a large portion to be translated into kinetic energy and thus motion.
So, I’ll get hit harder, but wouldn’t move.
Depending on how it worked, could she hit harder as well, or would her entire body be locked in place?
I’ll have to investigate the different options. I’m sure there will be cost differences as well…
Also, if it were to be truly useful, it would have to have a variable lock, letting her lock herself in place in relationship to the cargo-wagon. Otherwise, she’d only be able to use it while at a dead stop.
So many possibilities, and possible restrictions. An inertial lock?
She looked up as they came under the farthest-reaching limbs of Makinaven’s tree. Tala immediately felt a suffusion of power moving through her from above, into the ground below.
Rather than being a water-skin of power that she could draw and drink from, it felt more like a heavy mist, something that changed the environment without giving her anything to use, directly.
Not that I can use ambient magic, normally. But something about the feeling made her think that arcanous creatures wouldn’t be able to draw on it either, unlike normal ambient power.
Tala found herself breathing more deeply, drinking in the sensation, if not the power.
I’ve been in a desert and come to an oasis. Those never-experienced geographic features seemed to accurately convey how she felt. Bless books and the provision of a wider view of the world.
The guards visibly relaxed as well, reminding Tala of her homecoming to Bandfast.
Wait… She looked around. There aren’t any defensive towers surrounding the farmland. How was it defended?
She looked up, noticing that she hadn’t heard the repulsion of any arcanous birds, either. “Where are all the defenses?”
Mistress Odera looked back, a smile on her face. “Most are passive; the claiming of all power in the near-region starves out and drives away beasts before they can attack.”
That made some sense, but there would always be beasts that were outliers. They can’t be defenseless.
“Look up. Tell me what you see.”
Tala did so, and focused, trying to see through the haze of power in the air. After a long minute, she shook her head. “I can’t see through the power in the air. It’s too mobile, varied, and aspected. My mage-sight won’t dismiss it, so I can’t see through it.”
“And what does your normal vision see?”
Tala blinked. I’m not used to dismissing my mage-sight. With a thought, she suppressed the added layer of information. Immediately, she was able to see what looked like long, steel gray fruit hanging around the outer reaches of the branches. “Those don’t look natural.”
“And they aren’t. They are solid tungsten, an incredibly weighty metal. They have inscriptions to allow for faster acceleration, once released, as well as guiding spell-workings.”
Tala’s eyes widened. “How big are they?” They were visible from her position, even though the tips of the branches from which they hung were well over a thousand feet up.
“I don’t know the exact specifications, but my understanding is that, near the waning, a single one can obliterate a half-dozen juggernauts, if properly aimed.”
She found herself nodding. “The striking power is…” She shook her head, then. “That would be incredibly lethal, if they didn’t see it coming.”
“Did you not hear me say it has spell-forms for speed and guidance? The time between detachment and impact is only a second or two, and the projectile can track a target over a half mile range.”
Ah, yeah. No dodging that. She couldn’t think of anything that could easily move nearly two thousand miles per hour. It would take almost that much speed to escape. And that’s assuming the defenses can’t compensate, if something comes in moving that fast…somehow.
Mistress Odera lifted her face towards the sky, closing her eyes and smiling in the cool breeze.
“So, well defended.” Tala nodded to herself. “What about things that come from above?”
“There are inscribed defenses in the upper branches that dissuade or ultimately destroy any flying threat.”
Tala found herself nodding again, this time feeling a bit of awe. Before her was a city that was able to stay at nearly full size for most of its lifecycle. It was truly impressive. “Why haven’t we planted such trees for every city?”
Mistress Odera’s smile widened. “Some of the Builders want just that. However, the trees we use for our forest cities are not replicable.”
“Precisely. Humanity can plant the seeds, and even nurture them to what would normally be an incredible size, some four or five hundred feet, but they don’t grow bigger than that, and their canopy spread is miniscule by comparison.”
“And while they still draw in power for redistribution, their roots don’t go as deep, nor is the influx nearly as strong.”
“So, those arcanes had some lost way of enhancing the trees.”
“So it seems.”
They lapsed back into silence as they moved onto well-worn roads. Wait… are these paved?
As she looked closer, Tala saw that the roads through the farmland and orchards were, indeed, paved. Smooth stone having been formed into a textured, even surface to easily support regular traffic. I suppose if they will be used for most of the life of the city, it makes more sense to invest the time and resources.
The smell of citrus came from the trees on their right, and Tala frowned in confusion. “How…” She stopped herself, taking a moment to really feel her surroundings.
It was significantly warmer at ground level under the Makinaven tree than it had been even half a mile back, in the forest.
A micro-climate? The differences seemed more extreme than that. It was practically a late spring day, by the feel. We left winter behind.
No wonder Makinaven and the other forest cities were popular. More dangerous to get to, but such amazing opportunities for long-lasting gains. Well, this city would enter its waning in just over twenty years, so that way of thinking was less true than it would have been in years past.
I wonder what the waning will do, here? The level of magic around the city was hard to determine, hard to compare to the cities she’d been in before, because it was just so different.
The last leg of their journey was peaceful and relaxing. A good portion of that was a moderately steep slope up, towards the base of the tree. When they were nearly to the trunk, Tala noticed one particular farm, and began forming a plan in her mind. I want to do something nice for Terry.
Massive roots were on either side of them as the caravan moved up the rise, and they drew together until they met at the trunk on either side of a gateway that was worthy of the city beyond.
The entrance was easily wide enough for three or four wagons to pass through, side by side, depending on the margin the drivers needed to feel comfortable. It was about half as tall as it was wide, making an almost perfectly half-circular opening.
The city guards talked with Tion, briefly, before waving the whole group forward. Several of the caravan guards also talked with the men and women at the gate as they passed.
A warm light filtered down from magically empowered fixtures, embedded into the ceiling. They weren’t too bright to look at, yet still illuminated the tunnel as well as a noon-day sun.
Now that they were inside the tunnel, Tala could see that the wood, which made up the structure, had been polished to a near mirror finish, allowing the tight grain of the material to be on full display, showing amazingly intricate swirls and striations.
Trees don’t grow like this; how is the grain so convoluted? Her focus triggered her mage-sight to tick back on, and she realized that she’d been keeping it suppressed until that point.
She felt like she’d been smacked in the face with information, and shook her head, eyes closed tightly to allow her mind to recover.
After a short moment, Tala reopened her eyes and found the sight more bearable.
The answer as to the origin of the odd grain patterns became immediately clear, and she huffed a laugh at her own folly. Of course.
The grain of the wood was the spell-lines.
While Tala’s inscriptions were mostly gold in living, human flesh, these were living wood, within living wood. This was beyond even an artifact.
Artifact style items had spell-forms wrought of magic, itself, affixed or anchored to physical materials.
This tree, by its very nature, was the spell-form. It didn’t matter if it ran out of power. As soon as power returned, the magic would come back to life without issue.
And because it’s living wood, any materials that would be used up are likely regrown in short order, if not effectively immediately.
It was a stunning display of magic, so far beyond what humanity was capable of reproducing.
We are primitives, excited by our log fire, while our betters just shake their heads and return to the forge.
With those last thoughts echoing in her mind, Tala and the wagon she was atop exited the tunnel, coming into the open, central space, inside of the tree.
The ceiling was easily a hundred feet overhead, the far wall at least seven hundred feet away.
The central open space was dotted with towering buildings, several reaching all the way to the ceiling above, seeming almost like pillars in the vast space.
Directly opposite the entrance that Tala and her caravan had used, as well as to the left and right, were other exit tunnels, meaning that each cardinal direction had a main gate into and out of the city. Probably for easier access to the fertile land, outside.
The perimeter of the large space had layers of activity. There were twelve roads spiraling in the same direction, upward from the city floor, starting at various points around the outside of this open space. Each had uncounted tunnels, periodically running radially outward, acting as streets through the myriad levels of this section of the city.
From what Tala could see with her enhanced vision, buildings had been carved into the wood throughout the tree. How strong is this wood, to still be able to support the tree with so much material removed?
She shuddered. If it were up to her, she would not trust the tree to remain standing. Still, the Builders have used this tree on at least a couple of occasions, for hundreds of years. It must be sound enough… She didn’t like it, but she wasn’t about to go wait outside until her caravan departed again.
Everything was carved out of the wood of the tree, though it did look like stone and other materials had been added in various places as ornamentation, to break up the monotony.
The wood itself was nearly universally polished to an almost ridiculous degree. In places, it was stained or painted to add color or hue for decoration, but in all cases, near-high-gloss was maintained. That reflectivity helped bounce light around the massive interior, giving the entire enclosed vastness lighting similar to a glen in some quiet forest. Though, the murmur of thousands of people, living their lives, put the ‘quiet’ part to lie.
As she set aside her trepidation concerning the city’s structural integrity, she found herself utterly captivated by the beauty of it all. This is so much better than the cities of stone.
There was a lightness, a warmth to the space that spoke of life, growth, and power.
As might be expected, the smell reminded Tala of the best scents within a carpentry workshop mixed with culinary hints and undertones of smoke.
Fire in here must be pretty highly regulated…right? That gave her something new to be concerned about. Though, it only took a moment’s thought to realize that if the city didn’t have a good way of regulating and controlling fire within it, there was little chance that it would still be standing.
The normal sounds of a city were present. Though, again, the wooden walls added a unique character to the mutters, babbles, and other noises that Tala expected.
People moved around freely, going about their day, many more going back and forth through the gates than Tala was used to, if she were being honest. That made sense, though, given the somewhat unique layout of the city. If cities can be in different layouts, what else is possible?
It was a somewhat childlike thought. If she’d considered it, she would have obviously known that cities could have any number of layouts. Bandfast and Alefast had simply been in similar environments. So, the Builders had built them off the same template. Marliweather was another of that type, but she’d spent years at the Academy, which was almost entirely different, structurally, and easily as large as a later stage city.
As she considered the implications, she remembered a cold mountain, late in the night and a woman simply calling herself ‘Mistress.’ She spoke of villages. I never looked into that.
Mistress Odera moved, catching Tala’s attention and interrupting her thoughts. The older woman smiled towards her. “Welcome to Makinaven, Mistress Tala.”
Tala smiled in return. “It is good to finally be here.”
Mistress Odera let out a mirthless snort and nodded. “Travel around the forest cities is always a bit brutal. It’s why most people who can teleport in or out do so, rather than taking a caravan.” A frown settled into place across her features. “Something did seem off about this trip, though. I imagine that a high-level Archon or three will be sent to sweep the Leshkin lands to the east and see if something is stirring them up.”
The caravan turned right as they cleared the gates fully, heading north, towards the closest work-yard. “Has this happened before?”
“Exactly? No. But similar, yes. If I recall correctly, the last time there was an expanding magical anomaly that was making a section of the southeastern forest impassible and increasingly dangerous, thus driving the Leshkin our direction more than was standard.”
“What happened, then?” Tala knew this was hardly the time for a long-winded story, but that was fine. She was mainly interested in the short version.
Mistress Odera gave her a small smile. “We corrected the anomaly.”
“So, we removed something that threatened them.”
“That is one way to view it.”
“But not how you view it?”
“No. We removed something that indirectly threatened us.”
Quite the human centric view, but it makes sense. Tala almost laughed at her own thoughts. Of course, we’re focused on how things affect us. “Were you there?”
“No. That was before my time.”
Tala shrugged. Worth asking.
The wagons moved in a small circle to position themselves near a group of warehouses before pulling to a stop. “Shall we go make our reports?”
Tala lifted her eyes from the wagon top, where her gaze had fallen as she’d considered.
Laborers and administrators were moving their way to begin the processes intrinsic in the end of every caravan journey.