“Did she have one of them night terrors?” Asked one of the sprouts. “I had one once. My mammy had to sploosh water on my face then cuddle me ‘till I fell asleep!”The Kistoon smiled a surprisingly handsome grin and shook his head. “These weren’t normal dreams, little sprout. Braama fell asleep so soundly, and so near the time of that powerful eruption, that her mind traveled to a strange place. You’ve heard of the Undervine?”
The sprouts nodded vigorously. The Undervine was where Tendraam were said to return when they died, to be nestled in Maarla’s boughs again.
“Braama dreamed herself there. She walked along Maarla’s limbs, talked with nearly invisible Tendraam she never knew…”
“She talked t’ the dead!?”
“Mmmhmm, she walked among them, though apart. And then, off in the distance she spotted a familiar, faintly glowing face - her mother!”
The sprouts pressed in on the Kistoon, their curiosity for the Undervine fueling their courage. The Kistoon continued as if he were talking about the weather.
“She ran on those new legs of hers as if she always had them. Bounding down the boughs and around leaves and strangers until at last she reached her mother. She reached out to feel her but, you see sprouts, her hand passed right through! Through the head of her own mother!”
A sprout piped up from the back, a fearful squeak to her voice. “Can’t go touchin’ the ancestors, or she might get stuck in the Undervine!”
The storyteller nodded at the sprout gravely and carried on in a hushed voice.
“Braama then tried to speak but found her mouth wouldn’t make a sound. She screamed as hard as she could before her mammy turned and looked at her deeply, with eyes that were both grateful and full of fear. Like a wisp of smoke, her mother’s ghostly form swam over Braama and broke into a fountain of smokey tendrils. Braama screamed on the boughs, yelling silently for her mother to stay, but the vapors continued to furl around her. At last, when it all disappeared, she felt a strange calmness, like a heavy blanket, fall over her.”
The storyteller shifted his weight and stood up, pointing his good paw toward his chest.
“A voice, her mother’s voice, rang out from within her. ‘I’m here’, it said.”
Stars shone in the sky like crystals dotting the roof of a cave. A breeze, crisp and with the smell of vegetation on it, drifted by. The Kistoon waded through the sprouts until he stood with a hand atop the glowroot. He leaned an elbow lazily atop it, strikingly a casual pose.
“Braama woke up, sprouts. She was shaken. She looked down at the root she carried, the last remnants of her mother, and noticed it had become pale and brittle, as though the life within it had evaporated. She held it to her chest and wept.”
He waited a long moment, letting the silence of the night fill the gap.
“Braama waited, clutching the root, until a voice joined hers.
“‘I’m here, Braama’, it said. ‘Now get to the Elder, and quicker than you got t’ me!’”
“Whosat talkin’? Her mammy? From beyond the Undervine!?” Asked a sprout. “Ain’t possible don’t think so. Nope nopity nope. I ain’t heard of such a thing before!”
“If the only things that existed were that which you’ve heard of we’d be in a tiny, shallow, hollow world indeed, little sprout!” The Kistoon laughed pointedly until the other sprouts joined in.
The storyteller cleared his voice, having sufficiently shamed the ignorance out of the young sprout.
“So there Braama sat, cradling that root, thinking on how to get to the Elder. She remembered running in her dream - running on those big, strong legs, all along Maarla’s boughs. She tried to channel the feeling in that dream. The switching of the legs, the series of falls that made walking possible.”
“She pushed off the ground and found her two feet sturdier than the night before. As if strengthened, instructed by the dream, she began walking. Slowly, at first, timid. But as she moved and her balance stayed she began to pick up speed. Before long she was running, and much faster than her little wings had ever taken her! So fast, little sprouts, so fast that had a Glidopus charged her right then she would’ve gotten away free!”
“The grief of her errand left her as she sprinted at top speed. She let out a yell, full of freedom and pain, openly challenging the creatures around her. None dared answer the call of Braama the Seedsoul now!”
“She carried on running, blissful, until finally she came upon the Elder’s home.”
The Kistoon paused dramatically.
“Or, what was left of it.”
The sprouts, having gotten into Braama’s running rhythm, were jarred from their reverie.
“Not Glartalar again!”
The storyteller sat down against the glowroot. The dim light it provided early in the evening had grown to a semi-blinding brightness. He raised his arms up high, taking in much of the light and letting it reflect off his yellow-orange fur.“Fire. Fire greeted Braama once again. She used those legs that had carried her so far and ran into the still-smoldering remains of the Elder’s home. Nearly everything was destroyed, sprouts. But she noticed a small, continuous smudge on the floor that carried itself out the back door.”
The Kistoon’s hands went down, as if he was struggling to escape a doorway by crawling.
“You said that crawlin’ ain’t a good way to get anywhere, though! Why someone gonna go crawlin’ out the buildin’?” shouted a sprout.
Another answered in the storyteller’s stead. “Prob’ly like Braama’s crawl, it wasn’t on purpose!”
The Kistoon nodded and smiled briefly to himself.
“Braama’s anxiety tripped her as she exited the building, sending her tumbling into the Savanna. She looked around, searching for the Elder, but was met with nothing save for wild Sawgrasses and Logtrees.”
The storyteller took a slouched position against the Glowroot, so he looked in pain and tired. His hand reached out toward the sprouts as he uttered only a few words.
“The voice came from behind her, sprouts. Braama turned to see the Elder sprawled against the walls of the house, her body touching the Savanna.
“‘You’ve been… touched by Maarla… little one,’ said the Elder. Her voice was weak, sprouts, so weak. ‘Hmmm… ‘n your mammy… she’s joined you, too?’ The Elder’s voice faltered. Braama spilled open,quickly telling her about Maarla, the Seedsoul, and the dream of her mother. She handed the Elder her mother’s root, now a dry husk.”
The Kistoon slumped further down, imitating a dead body so well that his brief silence caused the sprouts to grow concerned. One of them flittered forward at the urging of his friends and prodded the storyteller’s nose before dashing away. The weak voice of the Elder started again.
“‘Gift you’ve gotten… Braama. Each soul that joins… makes that there connection to Maarla stronger.’”
The Kistoon looked up at the little Tendraam in front of him. There was sadness in their eyes, and lots of confusion.
“Braama got angry at this, sprouts. Oh she was hoppin’ mad. She felt the overgrowth in her chest, the energy that so wanted to leap out of her hands and make the ground flourish. And she noticed for the first time that, since her mother’s root dried up, since the dream, she felt like that well of energy had gotten even deeper.”
“So she’s done ‘SORBED THE SOUL OF HER MAMMY?!” One of the sprouts looked on the verge of tears.
“I told you you may not want to be a Seedsoul, little one. Power must come from somewhere.”
The storyteller patted the tearful sprout’s head and carried on, his voice growing weaker.
“‘Braama, them souls you bear, the deaths of your fellow Tendraam… they’ll be your power. The burden to carry them is yours, ‘n yours alone.’ With that the Elder passed the root of Braama’s mother back to her. Braama examined the husk before setting it aside.”
The storyteller slumped even further. Nearly horizontal now, he coughed violently, reaching out a shaky hand to the closest sprout and taking on the Elder’s shaky voice.
“‘That floatin’ head… came by ‘n, well ‘e was lookin’ for someone I wasn’t keen on tellin’ ‘bout. We had some words ‘n then his head lit up… I’m jus’ glad I lasted long ‘nough for you to arrive, Braama.’”
One of the sprouts cut in. “‘Twasn’t Glartalar?! One of them floatin’ heads all the Elder’s been worryin’ us about?!”
The storyteller nodded and continued, picking up the pace. It was getting late, and he didn’t want to cross the Savannah when the deep dark stretched across it.
“That’s right, sprout. Braama’s vision began blurring as the tears came forth. She had all this power, but it couldn’t do anything to save the Elder. Her frustration grew as the Elder uttered her last words.”
“‘My root joins yours, Seedsoul.’”
The Kistoon flopped the rest of the way to the ground and echoed a deathrattle across the Savanna. The sprouts sat in silence until he sat up.
“The Elder reverted to Maarla in a flash leaving just her root on the ground. As Braama lay a hand on it she again felt a great surge of power fill her chest, nearly overflowing her ability to contain it.”
“And by now, sprouts, by now Braama didn’t want to contain it. She wanted it gone, so high were the costs for holding it.
“She thought of her mother, of the Elder, and found their voices chiming inside her head. They were her burden, now. She let the grief, rage, and awe from the previous days pour into her hands. She closed her eyes tight as the sound of growth and rending destruction began to churn around her. Tears dripped out of her eyes and caught on the lush blossoms beneath her body. The feeling of grass tickling her underside only fueled the outpouring of energy. She gripped the ground even harder, the sharp, bark-like fingertips of her new hands digging deep into the soil.
“She screamed as though three voices in unison and felt the ground beneath the Elder’s smoldering home shift. Her eyes opened-”
The sprouts listened eagerly.
“And found the Elder’s house had been completely overtaken by a sea of blooms, vines, and grasses. A lush oasis, like none she had ever seen, sat before her, transforming the smoking rubble of the elder’s home into an enraptured garden.”
The Kistoon waited silently and then began gathering his things, letting the imagery sink into the heads of the sprouts. When they had each shared the illustration and their eyes began to wander he piped up again.
“‘We’re here.’ ” he crooned softly, lovingly, powerfully. The final words to the tale.
The storyteller finished packing his sack and flung it over his shoulder while the sprouts’ minds whirled.
“So she absorbs souls an’ gains power that way?”
“But she walks on the ground! Why would Maarla be allowin’ that?”
“What if she becomes evil an’ kills other Tendraam for their souls!?”
“How big of one them roots can she make? Like, house size or bigger?”
“Is she still ‘round? I wander if my grandmammy would give ‘er soul to Braama...”
The Kistoon waved a gentle goodbye to them and began to hum. He turned to face the open Savanna and spied a light far in the distance - the next step in his pilgrimmage. His first steps into the grass took him over an enormous root. He eyed it for a moment and smiled to himself, then disappeared into the dark.
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