Everything around me seemed to have grown naturally, like I was standing underneath some big tree. Where were the imposing walls of iron, and the magnificent gleams of steel? Where was the warm roaring of the forges, the sharp clashing of blades and the passionate cries of battle? I wanted to growl, to scream, to run back through the gate. But all I could do was stand still and look around.
Woven branches and leaves formed the walls, and the walkways were made of living wood. Mushrooms, bigger than a tank, where clustered here and there, and some of them were used as walkways.
Not only the city itself was strange, the creatures in it where bizarre to say the least. Shrubs walking side by side with twigs, talking to each other. Living beings who walked around on two legs and who appeared to have mushrooms as heads seemed to live here as well. It was just all too much, really.
“Hello traveler,” something hailed me. “Is this your first time here?”
I slowly turned my head to find a big-eyed twig staring at me, smiling like a cub who got its first training weapon.
“How did you notice?” I managed to say.
“Well,” the plant continued with a certain innocence in her eyes, “you are staring around with your jaw dropped and yours eyes wide opened. You appear rooted in place. Pardon the pun.”
“It is my first time,” I sighed deeply, feeling my muscles relax as the air left my lungs.
“How do you like it?” she piped, clasping her hands together.
“There’s a lot of green, and wood, and shrubs.”
“Well, you are in the Grove beneath the Pale Tree!”
“The what now?” I asked as I looked upwards.
However, by looking up, the question I posed was already answered. A huge pale-colored tree loomed above me, with huge pink leaves shooting out of long, wiry branches. My initial feeling proved to be true as my eyes traced the roots of the tree all the way down into the city, providing the structure for it.
“It is beautiful, right?” she said beaming.
For a while I stared at her. Unlike me, she obviously felt at peace here, so I said nothing.
“Right?” she solicited. “What do you think about it?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“I hate it.”
For a while she just stared at me, her eyes blinking every few seconds as she tried to grasp what I had just said. Once it did sink in, she closed her eyes and shrugged, although she did not stop smiling.
“That is all right,” she replied, subdued, her eyes still closed. “Not everyone can grasp the tranquility and serenity of this place.”
“Yea,” I said slowly, “that must be it.”
Why won’t she leave?
“So why did you come here?” she asked me as she opened her eyes again.
“I’m looking for someth- er, someone in Caledon Forest. It’s supposed to be near this place.”
“It is!” she piped. “Just outside the city gates!”
The sun was setting, casting its warm orange glow over the treetops, filtering down to the foliage below. I found myself sitting on a small hill, overlooking what I was told was Caledon Forest. It had been a long while since the last time I had been in such a hurry to leave a place, but that city just freaked me out. I would rather go dolyak hugging after an autumn rain than go back in there. The lack of firm iron, or even ground, beneath my paws put me in an overwrought state. Maybe it was due to my run-ins with the Flame Legion, but I was uncomfortable being surrounded by structures that were flammable.
Leaving the city, I hoped to leave all the madness behind me, but that was not the case. Feeling my claws dig into the firm earth instead of walking over living wood gave me a sense of relief; however my unease wasn’t taken away as in the distance, I could see entire towns made out of, and by, plants. Everything from their houses and streetlights to their walls were made of leaves, plants and thick vines. Sure, it might work for them, but it was so natural that it felt… unnatural.
Despite my discomfort, I could not deny that there was some beauty here as well. The fireflies dancing around the light posts provided a spectacle of light. The towering trees that cast shadows on the ground below and whose vines reached down, looked like pillars holding up the sky.
It was time I found shelter. The sky was getting darker and the air was getting colder.
During the day, I was glad with my new clothes. Made of tightly woven linen, reinforced with small patches of cured leather, it was rather cool while still providing some protection.
Pushing myself up from the ground, I started walking towards the nearest settlement when a soft whimpering drew my attention. Looking around, I couldn’t see anything out of place, but the whimpering continued. I shoved the branches from nearby bushes aside, trying to find the source of the sounds.
After five minutes of rummaging, I found what seemed to be the amber sap of a tree which looked awfully like a trail of blood. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if the plant people bled sap, the whimpering, which sounded a lot closer now, was too high pitched to be a syl-thingy.
Following the trail, I found a plant lying on the ground, in the shadow of a bush. Sap had once leaked from it, but a coagulated clot was now on its side, covering a hole the size of my paw. It took a while before I saw that the plant had the shape of a wolf, and that it wasn’t the wind moving it, but a smaller version of it that kept nudging the injured, motionless one. The tiny one was whining, and pressing its nose against the larger one’s face.
Gently I scooped up the small creature and held it close to my face in my paws to study it. As he sniffed my nose, he slowly stopped whimpering. Looking at him, I could see he was indeed akin to a wolf, but very much a plant as well. Instead of hairy fur, it was covered in leaves and thin hair-like vines. Whether the dead plant wolf was the pup’s mother, I did not know, but somehow, it felt wrong to leave the pup behind; he seemed far too young to fend for himself.
Night had just fallen by the time I reached the settlement. As I stepped into the large plant-like building, I saw a twig stare at me with big eyes.
“Welcome!” he piped, “We don’t see many charr around this place! What brings you here?”
“We?” I retorted.
“Yes, my assistant and I! He is cleaning one of the upstairs rooms.”
“Do you rent out those rooms?” I asked.
“We do, would you like to rent one?”
“Yea, but can I ask you something?”
“Of course!” the twig replied with a grin.
“I found this here,” I said, pointing at the plant wolf that had curled itself up in the nook of my arm. “What do I do with it?”
“Oh!” the twig exclaimed, “a sylvan pup! Where did you find it?”
“In the undergrowth, not too far from here, next to its mother’s corpse.”
“Well, sylvan hounds, like us sylvari, are born from the Pale Tree, so it must have been a wild hound. The adult you found dead must have been its caretaker.”
“Right,” I answered with some confusion, “but what do I do with it?”
The twig seemed to be pondering the situation for a while before he answered.
“There is a sylvari who raises pups not too far from here. Maybe you could take it there in the morning?”
“Why not right now?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Because I want you to stay here for the night and spend some coin! Also, at night the undead are more active.”
That was unnervingly straight forward.
“Yes,” the twig sighed, “Zhaitan’s minions are as thick as flies lately. The wardens keep them at bay, but it has made travelling by night impossible.”
“Great,” I sighed, slamming my paw on the countertop.
Although I was confident in my fighting abilities, and even though charr could see better at night than the other races, fighting through waves of undead didn’t appeal to me at all.
“We do have some Amber Ale, if you want some?” the twig continued.
My ears perked up and I stared at him with eyes wide opened. It had been so long since I had proper, charr ale.
I managed to refrain myself from drinking more than one stein, more out of necessity than wisdom. My coin purse had grown lighter than I liked. Somehow, I had to find a way to earn some coin as fast as possible.
With a sigh, I twisted and turned in bed, trying to find the right position. Never had I imagined that I would sleep on a wooden bed, covered by a blanket made of leaves. The blanket felt weird as it struggled to slide across my fur, getting stuck continuously. The best option was to lie still, and hope for sleep to come.
But it didn’t. My mind kept running around like a cub whose tail was lit on fire. The Shiverpeaks felt different from the lands I grew up in, yes, but this area was a world apart. The sheer number of trees here was unnerving. Sure, Ascalon had forests too, but they had grown sparsely. In my lifetime, I have slain many different creatures, but not the undead that might roam this land. Stories about the minions of the Elder Dragon of Orr had reached the Citadel, but never had I imagined actually seeing them.
I attempted to turn in the bed again, but I felt something else was on it. Straining my neck, I saw that during my pondering, the pup had curled itself next to me on the bed.
End of Part 1