“Long day?” Dien asked Raquar as he sauntered back into the central room, looking as though he'd just run into yet another dead end.
“Yeah. Pain in the ass. I’m missing something simple.” he replied, turning about to face the once hacker who now sat in the corner next to the doorway.
“I think we all are,” he remarked, rising to his feet, “something we haven’t thought of before. Care to accompany me on a walk? I want to have another look at that rock.” Taking up his position on the pole, the room once again rotated with ease, Raquar’s answer coming quickly.
“Sure. Couldn’t hurt.” And just then the room set in place on the Egg Meadow, as Dien reached onto the pedestal to rotate the V ‘northward’—facing the bird etching. In the doorway, it flickered for a moment before settling on the image of a boulder – massive and heavily inset in the ground with a single etching written on it.
“Once told, repeated hence. It circles, life. Planted, grows,” Dien read aloud as they came to stand facing the thing, neglecting the overall pleasantness of the meadow in exchange for the task at hand, “but what’s it mean?” He continued to stare, as though through his prolonged glances the secret of the riddle would be revealed.
“Not a clue. The whole planted thing means we plant something in the blank patch of soil. Only other thing I can think of is that the first part refers to an oral tradition, although I don't know anybody who carves tradition into a rock.” Oral tradition: stories passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. In general, Dien agreed with the man’s assessment that this poem was their most solid lead in terms of solving the puzzle. If anything, it pointed to something they needed to do. But that lingering question of a story…wait, what if there was a story they could learn? His eyes lit up.
“You’re onto something with that ‘oral tradition’ bit,” he replied, turning quickly about and walking back to the Pivotal Room, “come with me. By our powers combined, I think we may be able to drive the last nail into this coffin.” Turning the V towards the egg and once again assuming the required position in front of the pole, the doorway was again oriented towards the Bird Meadow – the cottage with the boy. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Maybe?” Raquar replied, followed by a quick chuckle. “I’ll follow your lead for a bit before I catch on then we’ll take care of it.”
“Ask the kid if he’s got any stories,” Dien said, for a moment eliciting a questioning, authority-challenging stare-glare from his longarm friend, before he added, “what? I’m bad with kids.” So Raquar obliged, walking up to the kid.
“Did your parents tell you anything as a bedtime story?” he asked, and immediately the kid went wide-eyed with excitement, responding quickly with.
“All kinds of things! I love stories!”
“What’s your favorite one?” Dien asked, stepping up next to Raq and stooping down to eye level with the kid.
“It’s about a knight and a giant!” he replied, the bubbliness of his enthusiasm refreshing in light of Sheena’s current intensity.
“Can you tell us the story?” the longarm asked, echoed by his battle-mate’s sentiment.
“Yes, it’s been too long since I've heard it.”
“Not really… mommy tells it better.” Mommy – mother, which by Dien’s reasoning didn’t quite exist, and who, by the child’s reasoning had gone to town, which was straight up. Still best to push the line of questioning as far as it could go.
“Do you remember any of the stories your mommy or daddy tell you? Did they write them down perhaps?”
“Do they ever read to you, then?”
“They just tell me.”
“Do you know how we could talk to your-” It was then that Dien cut him off for a moment. ‘Mommy and daddy,’ weren’t real – Sheena would have mentioned something about them, and besides that, there really wasn’t any need to give the kid the third degree. In the moment that his arm was held, Raq seemed to pick up on at least some of that, and decided on a slightly different approach.
“Do you want to play Knight and Giant?” It was the game that Senna had tried to take up with the child, who cheerfully approved of the plan. So, picking up his stick, he proceeded to whack at Raquar’s shins, all while Dien stepped back, digging a resurrect out of his inventory for insurance. Hell only knew if this child was strong enough to actually kill one of them, but it was better to play it safe.
“Ouch. You’re strong.” Doubtful. “How do you win the game?” It’s like ‘Cops and Robbers,’ Raq, Dien thought, though not wanting to voice his thoughts, a child’s game with no real point or purpose. Stop wasting time. This was only confirmed when the kid responded.
“I slay you!”
“Alright, come at me then!” And so he did, taking his stick and proceeding to beat bruise upon bruise into his friend’s shins until the stick decided feebly to break under the abuse (at which point Dien was glad he hadn’t volunteered for the part of giant). Still, Raquar acted un-phased, and responded in the spirit of the game through clenched teeth. “It seems your sword has broken little knight. What now?” With a grin, the child dropped the stick and started hurling rocks at his towering adversary, which Raquar seemed to be narrowly avoiding until one clipped his shoulder, eliciting an under-the-breath curse, but in the character of the moment, the longarm seemed to play up the fact that he was a giant, suddenly acting like he was a great deal larger than he actually was and pretending to stomp and chase the child, who ran and hid in the cottage. Raquar began to follow.
At this, Dien had seen enough. Stepping forward, he spoke. “Come on, Raquar, no need to scare the kid that much.” It was too late, though, as the fighter stood in the threshold of the home, feeling along the wall for a torch to try and find the kid hiding in the gloom and darkness. At least until the blademaster stepped in, his Corona naturally shining more light from within than the door seemed to provide and heating up the air inside a few degrees. Still, Raquar persisted.
“I’m coming to get you.” He called in the spirit of the game, then continuing to look around for a torch before turning back to Dien in the darkness. “Worst case Dien, light the fireplace” Besides the fundamental problems with destructive spells and fireplaces in thatched roof cottages made of thatched roof, there were other objections that the blademaster had to this plan.
“Don’t think I can control it that much, but I also don’t think we're getting anything done here…”
“Do you have a skill or scroll that would allow it? I have a feeling. Light the fireplace.”
“No,” Dien replied, quickly jogging out of the room and turning the V on the pedestal towards the bird, watching the hut flicker slightly before Raquar could further traumatize the child. They had to ask the middle-aged man about the story next—but wait, wouldn’t the old man be better at than him? He could already hear the conflict going on within the shack, and so quickly depressed the V again and turned it to face the bone. Flickering into a state of decay, the cottage was now accompanied by an old man standing outside, and the blademaster proceeded into the room to strike up conversation. It was only upon crossing the threshold that it hit him. Oh come on, it couldn’t be that simple, could it? Confound his memory, he’d forgotten the lines.
By this point, Raquar had made his way back into the center room, and Dien made the adjustments to be able to see the rock again. The poem secure in his mind, he returned to the center room, doubtlessly eliciting the curiosity of his friend.
“Wait. What now?”
“It’s something the kid said,” Dien replied, depressing the V and twisting it back to the egg, “he likes stories, right? Why not try telling him one?” He took up his position on the pole.
“Sure I guess. Though I don’t know how much of a good story that cryptic poem will make. But it couldn’t hurt.” And with that, the blademaster’s pushing stopped leaving the door aligned with the child’s meadow.
“My thoughts exactly.” Raquar led the charge, addressing the kid from a short distance as he began to draw close.
“Really?!” he asked, his excited form being suddenly overtaken with awe as the longarm recited the poem to him. The best way to describe his expression was beady-eyed, and he quietly repeated it to himself again and again, entering into a state of catatonia as he wandered back into the cottage, his body language denoting that there would be no communicating with him. For a moment, Raq and Dien just looked at one another, neither one quite sure what to make of it, but eventually they both returned to the main room, debating whether or not changing the room would have any real effect.
“…well it’s not like we can’t just do it again,” Dien said, coming to a stop as they entered the Pivotal Room to be greeted by Sheena.
“Something just happened,” she said, “what exactly did you do?”
“The kid liked stories. So we gave him a story.” the longarm quickly responded, leaving Dien to clarify.
“We just told the kid the poem from the rock...”
“Whatever else it did, that triggered something.”
“Any idea what?”
“The rooms look more…similar, now, or something. Closer to alignment.” Not sure what this meant, Dien decided to start a systematic search of the rooms to see if anything had fundamentally changed between them. Whether by fortune or by sheer dumb luck the first target of his examination was the next time stage of the bird room. Raquar followed, and they together entered the house, finding inside writings scribbled everywhere, some legible, others entirely not. But perhaps the most notable change in the room was the character of the man, who now sat bent over a desk, seemingly absorbed in the study of a book—something entirely unheard of before their conversation with the child.
“What’re you reading?” Dien asks, trying his best not to startle the man.
“Huh? Who’re you? Research, research.” He seemed a lot more nervous than before, obviously much more withdrawn for society, but not nearly as averse to company as he had been prior.
“If I may ask, what are you researching?” Raquar asked.
“We’re traveling scientists,” Dien added, “on a quest for knowledge.” Had the man bothered to look away from his work, he would have noticed the ‘dude, what the hell are you talking about’ look that Raquar then shot at the blademaster, who merely shrugged, but he kept his eyes faithfully fixed on the book.
“Clues, clues everywhere! In town, etched in trees, written on the clouds! The way people say what they say! It’s all there, if I can just figure it out!” He was surely eccentric, but this gave Dien the idea he was looking for. Tell this man the poem, and then tell it to the old man, and you’ve got your solution.
“What if I told you we found a poem carved in a stone in our travels?”
“A poem…? A poem! In a rock! I remember…no, I don’t remember. Tell me!” Dien wasted no time.
“It goes like this, ‘Once told, repeated hence. It circles, life. Planted, grows.’”
“Once told…once told…” He trailed off muttering it to himself, staring at nothing, his book forgotten. “I remember…”
“Dare I ask what it is you remember?"
The man merely smiled. “I don’t remember!” By this point, Raquar had already started making for the door, and cleared his throat to grab Dien’s attention. Time to go.
“I hope you do at some point, friend, but I'm afraid we must be off.” With a wave, he turned and made his way back to the middle room, a nod from Sheena indicating further progress, and they switched the times once again, watching as the cottage decayed in an instant. Upon entering, they could see bits of writing etched in the walls of the ruins, but it was the man they were more concerned with.
“Excuse me, sir,” Dien began, “how are you this fine day?”
“You…you two haven’t aged a day, yet how can I forget you?” Puzzlement crossed the man’s face, and Raquar was quick to reply, the art of bullshitting amply picked up and applied.
“A boon of our travels. How did your research go?” Only moments later did he follow with the question, “and do you remember?”
A mere sigh came from the man’s lips before he spoke. “A long road, you set me on. I know not why you didn’t travel it yourselves. Though it was a life’s work. Nearly fruitless, in the end. I won’t live to see it through, but you…you don’t seem to need to wait.” It was then that he pulled out a small packet, handing it off to Raquar who received it with thanks.
“I don’t know where to plant it, nor will I live to see it grow…but it’s unique. A world tree lives thousands of years and is said to draw breath from not the air or land, but the spirits of life.”
“I think I might no the place,” Raquar replied, looking up from the packet to the man, “thanks again. We’ll remember you.”
“Indeed,” Dien concluded, “your work shall not have been in vain.”
“I know you’ll do what you must,” he said, before turning around and leaving the meadow, his life’s work now in the hands of two who would be ruffians. It went without saying that the place to go was the patch of dirt in the tree room, and making the necessary adjustments, the room was entered very quickly. Fire&Sky was thrust into the ground and torqued as a spade, giving space for Raquar to embed the seed into the earth. Putting the dirt back on it, it was time to see just what they’d done.
Moving to the middle-time of that room revealed that the tree was covered in words and markings, making even less sense than the walls of the man’s cottage. How he’d gotten a seed out of mere words was beyond him, but nonetheless, Dien switched the room to its future tense, walking back in to see one big final goal of the puzzle: a basketball-sized sphere hanging right at the top of the tree like some kind of defunct nut or pumpkin.
“Well whadaya know?” Dien asked, placing his hands on his hips and eyeing the prize, “would you like to do the honors, or should I?”
Not bothering to respond the boy vaulted up a couple of branches and shimmied up to the appropriate level of the tree. He felt sturdy enough but it was still pretty high up. Reaching out and snagging whatever that object was he tossed it to the Blademaster with a hushed, “catch.” Starting to slide down, it was the first step he took that went wrong, stubbing his big toe and causing his right foot to slip. Losing his grip on the bark he tumbled out of the tree and went crashing down onto the ground beside Dien, a force that caused enough damage to temporarily end his life.
Meanwhile, the blademaster had lost sight of the nut, pulling out a Resurrect to save his comrade the trouble of being ghosted. However, the moment he activated it (the very moment Raquar hit the ground) was the very same moment that he should have caught their prize, and despite the natural protection of his Corona, it cracked him on the top of the head, shattering into a million pieces and eliciting thousands upon thousands of quiet whispers that added together into a deafening roar. Add into it the concussion, and Dien was once again on his knees in pain, clutching his hands to his ears. Sheena was shouting something that he couldn’t make out, but he guessed it didn’t matter as he slumped over. It was only the tapping by Raquar that woke him up in time to hobble out on the newly-revived man’s arm. WBWBSIM style. Oorah.