Story 1: The Climb Part 4
Part 3 (cont): Branch
14th day of Maia, 1456 AA
The air is getting steadily colder the higher up I go. I am now over five miles up, far too far to be looking down too often. I did chance a look, kneeling down on a broad branch and crawling as close to a sharp edge as I dared. Five miles isn’t much; standing on a hill on a clear day I can see for much further. When that distance is beneath you, the effect is startling.
I have made very little in the way of discoveries in the last few days, but I am nearing the clouds. Tomorrow, or the day after, I will pass through them and see what few had seen clearly, and none up close.
Postscript: that I have made no discoveries is not entirely true. I am experiencing none of the breathing fatigue that mountain climbers have reported. They say that, at lower heights than I have climbed, the very substance of the air becomes hard to breath; those who brave the Giant’s Toe in Zar, the tallest peak in all Ehrian, are hardy individuals indeed, and many have died there. Strangely, I feel fine, though cold. It has long been identified that plants contribute to the air’s wholesome nature, and places with more plants in them are generally gifted with sweeter air. Is the Arbour somehow generating breathable air in a cloud around itself? I may be secure until its peak, in that case.
16th day of Maia, 1456 AA
More climbing. My excitement is beginning to wane, for a day and a half ago I entered the cloud bank and have been unable to see a hand in front of my face since. Twice I nearly missed my footing, as the cloud has the unique property of destroying my depth perception. I am lucky that the climb, up until now, has been almost entirely like walking up steep steps, for otherwise I am certain that I would have had to abandon the attempt.
I can only hope that the cloud breaks soon.
17th day of Maia, 1456 AA
How thick is this cloud? Last day before I turn back.
Postscript: Just realised that I have been on the road now for a month! If only I were writing this under more celebratory conditions, but one works with what one has.
18th day of Maia, 1456 AA
Praise be! Not only have I broken the cloud barrier but the tree’s canopy looms above me! I am free to begin my observations as I approach the canopy.
To begin with, there is the odd matter of the light around the Arbour, one that I have never really stopped to ponder. The canopy stretches out for many miles in all directions from the trunk; why, then, is the entire area under the Arbour not a sunless wasteland? No plants should grow, no animals able to thrive and the Rootholme budget for candles should be phenomenal. I am in a position to provide some answers.
The leaves of the canopy are quite closely meshed, although massive; I should be able to climb through them as if I were a miniature human on a normal tree. Here is the oddest thing: the light seems to shine directly from the leaves themselves, as if they were sources of light. I wonder if the Arbour will allow me to retrieve a sample, though the leaves may not behave the same in a laboratory.
Perhaps the sunlight shines onto their tops, is stored in some sort of… reservoir, then shines out during the day. Why does this not happen at night? Curious.
19th day of Maia, 1456 AA
A good day of climbing; I found what appears to be a vine, part of the Arbour itself, but forming a smoothly looping upwards path. I have no idea how far I will be able to travel on the Vine Road, as I have decided to name it, but I plan to take advantage of it. The upwards progress is slightly slower but, I feel, vastly outweighed by the much easier passage.
The canopy looms closer, though it will undoubtedly continue to dwarf my vision for at least another week. Surely some creatures must live in there, unwilling to come down to ground level, for it represents an enormous environment untouched by man. Even in my lifetime we have seen the invention of the ambersteel furnace and the harnessing of steam; vast tracts of land dug up in the search for precious amber and woodlands cut down to feed the steam furnaces, and for what? Humanity is short sighted. I am certain that future generations, maybe even the next that I have trained, will be able to surmount these problems and make a better world.
20th day of Maia, 1456 AA
Illness. I think that some of the salted meat in my backpack was tainted when I passed through the cloud and I find that I am squatting near the edge of the Vine Road more often than moving, or that is how it feels. I can only hope that the wind is carrying what I am producing far away, or else I am giving some Rootholme researcher the worst day of his career!
22nd day of Maia, 1456 AA
Yesterday I rested and recuperated my energy for another burst skywards, towards the glowing leaves and the secrets therein. Today, I climbed higher and was witness to a fascinating thing, an event which both scared and enthralled me.
I had passed by several small holes in the trunk, about large enough to admit my head with a little breathing space. I had almost put my head into one when I suddenly recalled my last encounter in a trunk-cave, and hastily back away. I settled instead for making observations of the exterior; small tooth marks, evidence that the bark had been somehow peeled away and the hardwood underneath bored into. Satisfied, I sketched one hole and moved on.
Many turns of the Vine Road later, without realising it I was almost directly above the holes, though several hundred feet higher up. I chanced to realise that I should probably toss the spoiled meat over the side, something that had slipped my mind until that point. I did so, and was amazed to hear a chittering sound growing below me. Peering over the edge of the Vine Road, I could see an immense black cloud of insects boiling out from the holes, circling the meat as it descended. Such was the fury and opacity of the cloud, and the way that they moved almost as one organism, that I doubt a single scrap of the meat made it into the cloud cover. The insects circled around a few times, then poured back into the holes in thin streams.
I only wish that I had been closer. Perhaps, on the way down, I will be able to make more observations.
23rd day of Maia, 1456 AA
Food is beginning to run low, and the canopy seems only a little closer. I have hope that I will find food up there, though; creatures certainly live in and around the Arbour, so I am sure I can find something to sustain me.
25th day of Maia 1456
Tomorrow I am sure that I will encounter the first leaves of the canopy, but far three greater concerns have become much higher priorities.
Firstly, food. My situation is not yet dire; I could turn back now and probably only have to starve myself for a day, as the downward spiral would be much quicker.
Secondly, the Vine Road. There is no way that this is a natural path. No, wait, let me reconsider that statement. The road itself is undoubtedly natural, produced by the Arbour like a raised cord wrapping in almost perfect spiralling circles. And that’s just it; the road is so regular, far more so than anything seen in nature. I am beginning to wonder at the wisdom of the ancients who decreed that none should climb the Arbour, when this road was set out specifically for that purpose and by the Arbour itself!
Finally, I write this from a slightly precarious position, though I do not wish to move. I am sat, at this moment, in an enormous nest. Some sort of creature, bird or animal, has gnawed a large cave many times my height into the trunk of the tree, cleverly concealing it from anything looking up by bending the lower lip of the trunk out slightly. Inside, it is warm; the cave doesn’t go back far, but has a lower area, then a step up to a higher area where I have climbed. The lower area, which I can now look down on, has an unmistakeable nest, a circle of leaves and branches taken from the Arbour. The leaves, I can see, lose their ability to project light once plucked; something there for future botanists to quarrel over, I am sure. The centre of the nest was padded with something that appeared to be a type of moss; on closer inspection it appears to be shredded leaves and wood pulp, probably chewed and regurgitated by whatever made this nest.
I can tell little about it; if it is a bird, it is monstrous in size, three or four times my height at least. If it is a burrowing creature, such as a squirrel, I fear that its teeth alone will be taller than I am, for it would dwarf one of the gigantic Koruan pack bison. Whether it is carnivorous or not may decide my fate.
Part of me quails to think that I may meet the beast that lives here. The other part, the scientific part, longs to meet, observe, dissect analytically this fantastic find.