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A Misbegotten Duty

By Keb RogersPublished 7 months ago 25 min read

The red lament of the setting sun is a promise always fulfilled. Its bladed fangs pierce through the dense, glimmering canopy of the Lumos Wood, a massive forest bisecting the domineering continent of Anpherial. The slick skin of the leaves reflecting the morose light from the sun above conjures a sea of sparkling, red, mirror-like reflections along the canopy surface, save for one portion. Deep in the expansive interior lies a darkened teardrop cut into monochromatic sheen. Tails of smoke rise from edges outlined with the hungry darkness peeking beneath the canopy. Roots tear from the ground raised skyward with ashen edges, shattered trees scattered in ruin. Molten blood drips from scattered branches and upended roots, flaring intermittently. A massive, scaled mound lays at the smoldering crater’s apex.

“Do you believe it lives, Lorella? It has remained still for some time…” wonders Vella, a stout and young red oak tree. “I am unable to feel if it breathes. Could it be my inability, or has the creature passed?'' her leaves jitter, remaining a constant tremor as she tries to focus.

“Oh, Vella, you are closer than you think. Your limbs and leaves rattle and tense in your attempt to feel what it is you seek - they prevent you from true focus,” Lorella, an ancient, towering white oak croons back to her younger neighbor. “Each rhythm from all living beings is different, so allow those flows of vibration to show you where they are rather than trying to find them yourself. Let go of your strain and allow yourself to simply feel what is around you.”

She extends a root connecting the two for conversation, her words coming through in guttural, rhythmic hums. “Once within the Mortal Rhythm, separate the flowing vibrations around you by what they are. Which one differs, young Vella?” her tender encouragement putting Vella at ease.

“Breathe. Let the flow guide me. Through it, I will find what I seek,” a calmed eagerness pulses down her roots to her elder. She begins to shake slightly while looking into the eye of her roots around the dragon.

“Believe, young one. Release the grip on your mind and let it carry you through the strings of the Rhythm. Find the dragon's vibration,” Lorella hums tenderly so as not to disturb Vella. Her strain lessens, letting the flow of the Mortal Rhythm surround and envelop her, suppressing her own vibrations. Her roots extend toward the crater at lengths to which she was not aware she could stretch, being as young as she is.

A subtle, unique heartbeat beacons at the ends of her roots. It lightly thumps delicate sensations of life with a careful cadence. She had not felt anything like this before. “I... I feel it. You were right Lorella. It is different from all the others surrounding it. Why is it so weak for such a large creature?” she says to Lorella, her limbs swaying in untamed excitement.

“Yes, young one, that is it. It is weak right now and is conserving strength. This young warrior has endured so much pain, and its wounds must heal,” she says to Vella, sorrow in her voice. Her vast root system begins to feel the area around the crater for any neighboring trees that might have survived the impact to no avail. “The ones who cushioned its fall have passed. Many of those trees were my neighbors – my friends. We held onto one another through many ages - through all manner of rulers, storms, and droughts.” Lorella’s hums now heavy and aching. She shifts her branches toward the ruin this beast has brought. “All those who pass will return anew, as permitted by The Great Root. Remember that, young one,” her hums solemn and reverent through the earth. Those surrounding the elder and her student echo a hum in a rolling, yet subtle approval.

“They will be remembered. I believe many Fallings from now, more lovely souls shall return in place of those lost today,” Vella hums back. “What will happen with the dragon? This is the first I have seen! Has one ever come to Lumos Wood before, Lorella?” Vella hums energetically, hoping to scatter any lingering painful thoughts Lorella might be having. Staggered leaves fall from her, followed by a couple of acorns as Vella’s tone shifts.

Her youthful inquisition nudges Lorella to begin her reluctant release of those lost. Her friends, her neighbors, her kin all fulfilled their purpose – their role in maintaining the Mortal Rhythm. They drift into the memory of the Lumos Wood, akin to leaves departing on their journey to the forest floor during the Fallings.

Her branches perk up as she regains her composure. “I have only seen one before, though it landed more mindfully than this one. It was a prominent and proud creature. It observed us as though a ruler – at least, that is the sensation he emanated through his vibrations in the Rhythm,” Lorella’s roots shift as she adjusts her focus on the dragon now before them. Why is this one so much smaller than the one before?

She continues, “I cannot be certain if there are more, but I have heard the northern regions of the Lumos are visited frequently by these creatures,” her hums powerful even through the strain of inspecting the massive dragon. “Endure, young warrior.” Her branches, like arms extended, lower to cradle the wounded beast in front of her. Others follow by flexing their branches forward, the dense canopy now forming a verdant iris overhead.

Vella’s branches perk up, “Lorella, do you feel it? An unfamiliar vibration approaches — its flow unlike any being I have felt before…”

Staggered tails of smoke hang above the distant canopy from the south near Nirvader. Only days prior was the nexus of an unexpected tipping point in the war between humans and dragons. The tension that had grown for years reached its peak, and with weapons now drawn, a similar, albeit anguished future is destined to follow. She had only made it one full sun and moon cycle inland before plummeting from her exhaustion and wounds. Her darkened, orange scales streaked with vibrant, yellow, wisping patterns were covered in dirt and debris due to the force of impact. She relented deep and pained groans while attempting a slight shift, the movement exposing on her bright yellow and white belly a large gash accompanied by smaller cuts and punctures, trickling superheated blood that pooled on the ground below. Her vertical pupils are surrounded by a torrent of weaving red, yellow, and orange threads that trail into a peeking white ring around her eye. She searches, hoping to gauge where she is, though not sure of which part of the Lumos Wood she could have landed. The occasional flaring flicker of scorching grass as the superheated blood gained ground offers bursts of life into the graying forest, allowing intermittent moments of hope of localizing her position.

A flash of bright, blonde hair slowly bobs through the dimly lit forest; his olive, sun-kissed skin all but hidden in the shadows beneath the dense canopy. A singular, rectangle cloth that was once khaki covers him from shoulders to knees like an open sack with holes for the head and arms. He waddles with young tired legs, an unknown world before him. Tiny, bare feet make no noise in the hushed forest with only the trees feeling his approach. Intemperate shivers dominate him in his search for warmth, the light blood- and ash-dirtied cloth doing little to aid. His sights are now set on a bright amber pool occasionally flaring bright past the labyrinth of oaks. Curiosity overpowering his fear, he steadily approaches the growling amber and yellow boulder from which it comes. His steps are inconsistent and strained as his infant-like mind frantically thinks about what the boulder could be, yet his reluctance is overpowered by the warmth of the pool beside him. His eyes look towards the smaller boulder attached to the larger one, and he is met with a large orb of swirling colors that moves down, now staring back at him.

“Does the young human know that is a dragon, Lorella?” Vella hums, dropping several more acorns, aiming to get the boy’s attention. “If the memories passed on to me are true then this dragon will kill the boy even in its weakened state. Why would he get so close?” Vella’s concern grows in her voice while her limbs begin to sway emphatically.

Lorella strains, shifting the roots below the surface to hone in on the central vibrations of the dragon and child. Lorella’s roots feel both of their flows carefully. “That child would not know any better. He is no more than three Fallings old and knows not the severity of his actions. He is far too young to bear the unpleasant nature fueled by the hate and fear for the dragons that the humans know in their later years.”

Her worry begins to mount, fearful of what she might soon feel from this interaction. “This union, however, has never been seen in this forest – let alone in this world. I retain the memories of thousands upon thousands of trees, and there has never been such a meeting.” She tries to dive deeper into the flow, seeking the vibrations both parties emanate.

The boy’s body reels with fear, unable to understand what is in front of him and why it is growling. War wages within him in between the pursuit of safety or of warmth. Yet, the dragon, which Lorella can now make out to be female, has an overpowering, protective reflex toward the unknown human approaching. She groans loudly, attempting to halt the advancing human from drawing closer. He jumps backward, stumbling in retreat at every noise, fear winning the moment, but warmth winning the war. The need for warmth conquering every frightened recoil, he continues forward.

“In the ages I have seen and all knowledge gained, none could have prepared me for this formal, friendly standoff between Dragon and Man,” remarked Lorella.

Vella strains, arranging her roots in a similar position to Lorella as to feel the same flow of each Rhythm in the vibrations. “I recall you counting only one dragon to ever fall upon this portion of the Lumos Wood. Throughout all the memories past, there has never been an attempted peace?”

“No, young one, this feud has long held this land in turmoil before even my birth. The memories from my predecessors carry a muddled knowledge of the conflict’s beginning,” Lorella’s tone, distant as she searches for the origin. “Throughout our time we Trees have ascertained all we can from both Dragon and Man. The trees who live along the borders of both factions provide a fountain of growing knowledge in each passing season.”

Lorella ponders for a moment, choosing her next words carefully. Droves of neighboring trees now lean in hoping their roots reach to feel the hums of the great elder before them.

“Dragon and Man have not been kind to the Trees of the Lumos Wood. Their war has brought upon us a pain this lowly dragon and child have never and will never grasp. Memories and feelings have been passed throughout our forest, portraying the invaders from both sides as pillagers, murderers, and thieves alike.” Her thrum gains a tone unknown to Vella – its slight, yet exacting anger quite unorthodox for Lorella. Her hums strengthened with every furthering word, like tremendous drums beating louder and louder beneath the soil. “Humans take everything they can from us. They require wood to fuel fires for warmth and food. They seek to build war machines to fight the dragons. Is this wise?” she ends, awaiting a response from the young Vella.

“If it is to aid them, then yes… but why do they take so much?” Vella’s bark quivers with worry.

“With the Lumos Wood gone, no life remains. So in this you are correct, young Vella. They need us, and we need them to retain the Mortal Rhythm. Man, indeed, has a need for us, and we are to provide, but this war will end us. I am sure not long from now they will come with their axes to claim us for their next war machine - regardless of our depth in the Wood.”

Lorella’s thought is interrupted by a faint shift of vibration in the flow from the dragon. “Dragons are no different in the eyes of the Trees. Across the frosted edges of the northern rims, they swoop in, hunting their prey that reside beneath our branches, burning or crushing those beneath to sate their hunger. They are nothing but self-proclaimed kings surrounded by mandated subservience,” her rage builds, causing the vibrations in the surrounding flow to become violent and untamed. Surrounding trees unable to continue the connection rescind their roots, intimidated by Lorella’s fervor.

“We lose countless lives, and the dragons fly away, ignorant of the damage they have caused,” she quakes with deep, primordial hums, the bark beginning to peel from multiple surrounding trees with each memory availed, her form swelling in size.

Vella’s branches rattle from the force as acorns and leaves fall, but she digs deeper into the flow for vibrations that could disprove these hideous traits. Vella’s faint hum casts into Lorella’s torrent, “Lorella, can they truly all be that vile? Look before you now.”

Lorella’s expanding maelstrom of agonizing memory is halted suddenly by Vella’s simple, hopeful proposal.

“Perhaps today marks the birth of a new path.” Lorella responds pensively, guiding Vella’s root beside hers so that she may enter the flow around the dragon and boy. “What do their vibrations tell you, young one?”

“From the dragon, I feel... pain... rage... and fear. Though it is not a pain from her wounds, but rather a pain in her soul. It is an instinctual… maternal ache. Is she…” Vella says, now focusing intently so as to not waste the rare opportunity of witnessing and understanding this interaction.

“Oh?” Lorella replies, now repositioning her roots to examine a different angle beneath the crater. The dragon – a mother – is losing the hatchling she carries within her. She is using her strength to sustain her hatchling rather than to save herself, and of this, she is running out.

The terrified boy averts his sight from the massive dragon eye, shaking and frozen in place. The wing of the dragon lifts, exposing the wide cut on her belly. He is unable to move, fear overpowering his instinct to run. He shrinks, huddling down, pressing his knees to his chest with eyes shut tight. He smashes his tiny hands around the acorn, nearly cracking it. The dragon’s large gash peeking through the streams of heat contains an odd, scaled object, its dark charcoal color different from the boulder’s orange and yellow scales. The boy’s tiny eyes crack open upon noticing the dragon’s now silent and still form. Curious, he examines the odd ridges of the strange scaly object, making sure not to get too close. He squints terribly, his eyes burdened against the rising heat, but he cannot help but feel called to it. It is as though the egg is trying to speak to him.

“So, war between Dragon and Man came before even you, Lorella?” Vella continues, “What is causing this dragon’s hesitation?”

Lorella furls her leaves, utilizing all previous memories in response to this abnormality. “I… I am unsure. No matter the outcome, we observe and pass on memory. The Mortal Rhythm must remain unchanged, despite the witness of newfound vibrations in its flow.”

“Lorella, is this not the birth of a change? We are in a losing war - a war that we do not even defend ourselves against!” Vella swells, finding her own fury. “Should we not use this rare union to preserve the Lumos Wood – to protect it?” Vella hums with a hopeful, yet fiery tone. Her limbs sway up and down confidently, and more trees begin to pay attention to the conversation.

“Are the youth of two warring nations destined to die as we observe? If they live after this rare moment, would it not spur the ending of this eon of violence? The forest is a place of life, of healing, of belief!” Vella insists, now pulsing with purpose. “Who are we if we are not to uphold those virtues – we who have paid so dearly protecting them from those undeserving of our gift?” Slight cracks from her flexing branches and small pieces of bark tumble down with her intensity.

The deep ashen color of Lorella’s white oak bark is commanding in the center of the smaller forest of oaks. Her form is nearly twice as tall as the surrounding trees, her aura and wisdom seeping out with each careful rebuttal. “It is not our place to deem who is deserving and who is not. Young one, if we allow the world to see what we are they will take until nothing remains. You are asking us as a collective to jeopardize our Wood for two children. Our magik, that of The Great Root, must be protected. We are the Mortal Rhythm, young one.”

Her roots plummet into the depths of earth around her, going far enough to transfer the vibrations of the ancient abyssal layers of the world. Few trees have ever and will ever feel the depths of the cool, dark soil of the Great Root’s flow. She then takes one of Vella’s roots, bridging the flowing vibrations between The Great Root itself and Vella.

“The Mortal Rhythm holds the boundaries of life and death in its weave, guiding them along their path for each living being. If the magik of the Lumos Wood were to be manipulated or harnessed by any force capable of evil intent… all would be lost.”

Enormous amounts of flowing vibrations begin to flood from the earthly chasm through Lorella. She strains heavily as the substantial amount of flow thunders through each pulsing wave in her roots, traveling to Vella.

The low, rhythmic hum of the primordial vibrations envelops Vella, punishing her with tremendous pressure. “Ahh! What… is this?! Where is… this power… coming from?!” she screams, painfully forcing her own vibrating hums out.

“The Great Root is the originator of the Mortal Rhythm, and we are its guardians – privileged with the gift of remaining outside its domain to preserve its flow. We are the only ones capable of keeping its balance,” Lorella says, her roots gripping hard to make sure Vella stays in the vibrating flow long enough to understand its message. “Do you see it, young one?” Her own stance buckles under the dominating pressure.

“Yes. Yes, Lorella, I... I do. The Root... it... wait... Lorella, the children can live. Our power can save them!”

The boy’s restraint caves, and he edges nearer to the egg, arm extended. The dragon – in too much pain to issue a defense against the advancing human – simply watches as he gets closer. I must not let it hurt my child. Never has a human laid its hands on the egg of a dragon. If only I could move just… Another groan escapes the dragon in her attempt to swat the child with her punctured and torn wing, but she only manages a slight movement before slumping onto her side. The child jumps back, falling backward with eyes wide. He had completely forgotten about the large, growling boulder in front of him, as he was enraptured by the egg. His rough landing causes his loose cloth tunic to flare out, the fraying edges meeting the growing pool of scorching viscera. The tunic erupts. Fire climbs the right side of the tunic, covering the boy’s back and torso in a tiny half-robe of flames. A shrill screech rips through the living labyrinth followed by tortuous wails as the cloth melts into his skin. Searing burns raze the landscape of the right side of his torso and shoulder, slight sizzling sounds emanating from his scalding skin.

An unknown feeling overcomes the dragon. She uses a large amount of her remaining energy to move her wing forward, pushing the burned human away from her pool of fiery blood. Why did he not attack me when he had the chance? Do human children not learn from birth to fight such as ours? she pondered, unable to discern her own actions – let alone the human’s – as her large eye centered on the now barely breathing fleshy coal. She can feel inside the egg that her own child's life slowly fades. She understands her own life is forfeit; however, there is one possibility to allow her own child to live on.

“This use of our magik has never been attempted, Vella. I fully denounce this action,” Lorella says back, stern and disappointed, her hums weak from exhaustion, but holding her tone all the same. “This decision requires convening the Seven Ancient Oaks, and we are both aware that the process takes time.”

“Lorella, when you tethered me to the Mortal Rhythm itself, The Great Root spoke. It said, ‘Old cycles, born anew. Fire, Steel, and Wood converge. Guide them.’ You are the one who showed me the beauty of The Great Root’s vibrations, and I say to you now this is what It spoke. As one of the Seven, a herald of the Mortal Rhythm, your actions here will speak for them. We have no time for assembly – we must take action!” Vella’s branches fly up in exclamation. Her strong tone must have carried through the earth, as other trees begin to weigh in on the decision.

“We must defend our promise to The Great Root – to the lives of this world – by not defending ourselves. The Root itself declares this child and hatchling not only protectors of our Lumos Wood, but heralds of change for all.”

Worfin, a rather old, light-limbed red oak, gruffly hums through the soil, “I know you feel the pain when they pass, too, Lorella. If we have an option to save our kin, should we leave it aside?”

“Worfin, do not pretend you are unaware that those who pass will not always return to continue their journey. Their memories are given to one in their place, and they receive their own new memories from others passed. Our neighbors leave, but are never gone,” Lorella’s tone now domineering. Her size grows with every counter.

“We must keep our promise to The Great Root – none shall interfere with the Mortal Rhythm!” Mesella, a stocky white oak with abnormally peeling bark, planted on the back side of the crater, heavily hums out.

The forest floor is now alight with signals passing through the root connections surrounding the crater. Equal numbers of trees argue for either side of the decision, the ground now vibrating with contention. “I, Lorella, one of the Seven Ancient Oaks, shall speak for my equals, for those in my region, and for the Lumos Wood,” her voice now brutal and exacting compared to the others shouting, sending booming tremors through the ground. “We will not show our hand on this matter of chance. The ones before you have found fate and will–” she halts, gasping.

The dragon had used the final amount of her energy to lift one of her front legs, gently placing the tip of her giant, hooked claw onto the chest of the child. A strong force begins pouring out of the claw and punches into the child’s chest, a whoosh of air sending dust and leaves flying around them. There is only one chance to save him. I know it is forbidden, but I am dead already. “Live on my warrior. Be strong and show no fear in this life. From The Flames we begin, and in The Flames we end. Become something more than any of us ever could,” her energy now all but gone, she roars for the last time into the silver twilight sky, the pulsing energy no longer flowing. Her large claw gently falls to the ground beside the child as her final breath leaves her body.

Stillness takes all. Lorella feels the vibrations around the hatchling extinguish, its Rhythm concluded. “Her Choice, she used it on a human. She passed onto him what she hoped her own would become — something more — an agent of change. The beginning of a new line.” Lorella whispered, stunned with her understanding of the dragon's passing message. Her roots feel the vibrations coming from Vella. The forest lights up around the lifeless crater, glares of ascending petals and glowing acorns gleam, falling through twilight’s gray.

“Vella, what are you doing? We must not interfere! There has never been a Choice given between Dragon and Man!” Lorella cries out, now panicked and rocked by indecision in her own words following the dragon’s.

“Lorella, The Great Root made my purpose for the Lumos Wood clear,” Vella’s voice strains, noticing the hatchling’s vibrations gone, her flow of magik pumping up into the boy’s back. Energy latches onto the acorn he carries, pulling it into his burn-scarred chest. “The boy will be of the forest as much as they are of Dragon and Man.”

Lorella watches on as Vella’s beautiful ferocity rips through the earth in a torrent of luminescent petals and leaves. To defy the Seven Oaks has never happened, yet neither have any of the events of today.

“I showed you the Mortal Rhythm, and within it, The Great Root sought you out and gave you purpose. Who am I to deny you this cause? By Its will, we remain; by Its gift, we renew. My neighbors, we must follow young Vella and the will of The Great Root. We must save the boy!” Lorella shouts, pushing all her energy into the human.

Dancing, gleaming petals, motes of light, and multicolored leaves swirl and zoom in erratic patterns, forming a funnel toward the boy’s body. Vibrant pink, yellow, and purple flowers bloom through the cleaved and burned crater, growing thicker in proximity to the boy's body. The iris canopy above the crater closes as every tree leans toward the center, their collective flow forcing every ounce of magik into the middle of the crater. Low hums fill the space, echoing through the trees as the forest thrums with an aura unimaginable in the interior of the Lumos Wood. An enormous pillar of light taller than any tree – even Lorella – rips from the ground and into the now-dark sky.

“Do not stop! We can save them! We must save them!” Vella bears down into the earth, her bark cracking vertically from pressure.

The power of thousands of oaks – both white and red – now descends upon the body of the boy. The forest emits a brilliant beacon of fluorescent light that punches into the sky and hums with the same rhythm of waves as the trees push.

Then… silence.

The pillar of light fades, dimming until no longer visible. Hunkered trees return to their upright stature, exhausted and concerned. A protruding mound of thick grass littered with wilted flowers covers the child. A collective of oaks, their power never tested at this scale, waits motionless for whatever is to happen next.

“How will we know?” Vella says, winded, not taking her roots off the boy's location.

“We are all learning now, young one. This has never been done, and the outcome will be a new memory for all trees going forward,” a proud and relieved contentment showing across Lorella’s bark.

“Neighbors, what we have just witnessed has never been attempted. Our magik has only ever sustained the Mortal Rhythm, but today, our veil is removed. Prepare for whispers from the edges of our Wood from outsiders who have seen our power tonight. I pray that The Great Root has not led us astray,” Lorella’s fortitude breaks faintly.

Vella catches her bark quake with a single tremor of worry. “If the child is to be born anew in this wood, we will guide him to herald change and protect our Wood, as The Great Root permits. In Its will, we remain,” her heartfelt words glide under the soil hitting the core root of every tree for thousands of acres.

Three moon cycles pass without any movement from the mound. “Lorella, I… I feel something…” Vella says with a hint of fear, anxious of what will come next, her whole form jittering slightly.

“Hold on, young one… let me see,” she extends her roots to the boy. A faint, creeping heartbeat begins to thump from his body. “By The Great Root... he is alive…” Lorella is unable to fully understand what she is feeling, even though it is familiar. She extends her roots to the hatchling egg, feeling nothing. “We… saved one of them.”

A tiny hand extends from the mound covering the boy. His arm reaches out, dirt falling from his hand. Green dragon scales adorn his tricep and flow up into a small patch of dark oak bark along his shoulder, covering where there had once been burns. His tiny body emerges from the mound with patches of scales and bark replacing the entirety of his melded flesh fabric form.

His round pupils, surrounded by swirling threads reminiscent of the fallen dragon’s, search the woods before landing on a nearby, small red oak tree. Vella’s branches hang in disbelief as she sends a vibration towards the child, “Hello, little warrior, I am Vella.”

He smiles back.


About the Creator

Keb Rogers

I am a new aspiring writer with much to learn. I am excited to share my worlds with you and more so the receiving knowledge and feedback from this lovely community. Thank you to all who read, Enjoy!

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  • Hunter Willis7 months ago

    I am not a reader. I am not a writer. But I very much enjoyed this. A dragonborn made from the forest. At least that is how I see it. Well done. I could never imagine writing anything of this caliber. Even more impressive that this was born from your brain. I am proud of you.

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