This cover was illustrated by the author.
The AMT Starter Stories chronologically take place between Episodes 40 and 41.
“About that tall?” I asked. The pointed evergreens towered twenty meters or more into the air. Swarms of birds flocked across the marbled twilight sky. Across from me, a dozen of the local orange peoples gazed to the trees at which I motioned.
They nodded in unison.
Two meters or so tall each, they towered over me.
I scanned their village, full of log cabins and chimney smoke stacks, and saw no evidence of what they’d described. No downed buildings, titanic footprints, or any kind of smashed trees. The forest should be flattened. Nothing seemed changed.
Nothing except for piles of dirt outside each doorway. Small piles—a half meter high—but piles nonetheless. Perhaps a cultural choice? Some cultures had candles, or lamps, or potted plants outside their entryways.
“And where did it go?”
Each person pointed in a different direction. The chieftain—whose head was adorned in a bowl-like crown of nut shells and sea shells—said, “He left a hundred ways! A hundred directions! A hundred of him!”
I nodded respectfully, trying to hold back the pinch of potential laughter. I don’t know why I found it funny, but I did. “A hundred ways? A hundred directions? A hundred of him?”
“Yes! Precisely.” His words lacked irony. His thick green sideburns flanked his rigid lips. “Same skin as me and my kin. Same fur as our hair. Orange and green! And he broke into a thousand plants and disappeared.”
“And he stole your fruit plants,” I said, looking around at the piles of dirt. “He took the pots, too?”
They all nodded together.
I wanted to help these people, but there was very little information to go forward on. The natives collected plants. Each family was given a tree per member—typically on their sixth or seventh birthday—and that tree bore fruit with the cycles of the moon. The sheer amount of food given meant that even in the winter months, the people wouldn’t starve because at the very least, they’d have a bit of fruit added to whatever they hunted in the wilds or fished from the mountain streams.
A giant came and stole their sacred fruit trees, though, and apparently the pots, too. Then apparently that giant split into a hundred tiny versions of himself and ran into the wood.
Sometimes I had to remind myself that most of the weirdest things I heard ended up being not only true, but quite a bit weirder than words used to describe them.
“They’re already eaten,” said the chieftain, who eyed the wood menacingly, “I watched as he threw them into his pit. Devoured our sacred trees with lost and ancient magic.”
“I will do my best,” I announced to half-hearted applause. I returned with a, “I shall find this giant,” to thunderous cheers. I made my promise. Now I’d attempt to keep it.
Tracking a giant’s footsteps should be simple, but as I previously acknowledged—there lacked any evidence of the giant’s presence. No downed trees. No smashed homes. Not enormous footprints, etc. Merely the assertion that this titan devoured all the plants and pots and then scuttled off in the form of hundreds of mini-titans.
So, I would start with finding footprints. One piece of the big guy should help track down what exactly was going on, or, at the least, give me a picture of what exactly I had walked into. You never quite know how a native peoples’ understandings and explanations may differ from your own interpretation. The Many Tongues Song which blessed me with my multi-lingual abilities can only go so far. Some cultures simply work entirely different, and that is often reflected in their language.
Perhaps this giant didn’t pop into hundreds of mini giants, but instead was destroyed somehow and dissipated? That would explain the lack of evidence.
Perhaps it wasn’t a giant at all, and instead some sort of machine, or drone swarm clustered together? Again, explains the lack of ground evidence or any disturbance.
I try to keep these sorts of thoughts in my mind when traversing such foreign lands. My homeworld, Dahn, though advanced in its magic of sorcery, lacked many technological advancements of other worlds. I grew up in a pastoral land as a meadow mouse. The first time I saw a metallic vehicle, or a flying city, or even an engine running purely on fuel and not magic, I still can’t quite quantify those feelings of awe and wonder and bewilderment.
It is not about seeing different worlds as primitive. It is about understanding their language in the context of what they have seen.
I once called the first starship I ever saw a starboat, and ended up being fairly close! Have to keep that in mind, too.
In this case, the natives knew exactly what they saw.
I hiked up the corner of a mountain. A fair hours’ climb. I followed after a feeling I cannot quite describe. Fresh air and misted fog flowed through my fur. The thick scent of alien wood and strange blue mushrooms filled my nostrils. Then, a pinch. A faded tingling. The lightest tickle on my very soul.
My Aura struggled to process what I felt. But as my eyes skimmed the mountain side, my brain struggled to process as well. For as my eyes moved, the mountain moved. And as the mountain shifted, my Aura churned.
An evergreen rose upon the heights, and beneath it came the enormous sixty-meter tall silhouette of a humanoid encased in vibrant terra-cotta. A thick, bulbous figure, the titan appeared to be entirely formed of rusty clay embedded with runes of all shapes and sizes. Cracks and fissures lined the behemoth yet were filled by plants of all shapes and sizes. Ivies of green and red and blue, flowers of gold and violet, trees even climbed from his shoulders and neck and brush and thorns curled around his joints like clothing.
A single hole six meters wide churned with white energy on his trapezoidal head. Two similar holes adorned his chest and barrel stomach. The mist in the valley swarmed up in displacement and even the wind changed direction as the monster moved.
His hole-for-a-face swirled with energy, and that smoke squinted like an eye to me as I swarmed down the mountain and into a glade of long grass. Beneath his stature, I was again humbled, and flashes of my past came by.
For then, beneath the behemoth’s shadow, I felt as a meadow mouse once again beneath the heels of mankind. And all the memories of my good friend Bigby, and the fairies, and the Orchards of Laska played in my mind like the beating of a summer’s thunderstorm. Unrelenting. Unquestionable. Unwarranted.
And when I thought of Bigby, I thought of the son I named in his honor.
And my heart broke thinking of That Time and the family I left behind, and how I would never see my Queen again or all my children. Or even the family on Dahn—a world known to be destroyed—and how they, too, were now mere blips in my memory.
Would a time come when I forgot them all? Threshold and Porbiyo could recall some memories of their far and away pasts. But others, like Venefica, or Hum Dum acted more like animals—or forces of nature—in their simplicity. Their minds so far gone into Agglomeration that their behavior is almost perfectly in line.
Beneath the giant, all the swells of my smallness rushed into remembrance. And I, rapacious in nostalgic sorrow, let it wash over me. Yet a specific trigger seemed requisite for such a circumstance.
Most times, I did not think of my old homeworld. Sometimes, I did not even think of That Time. I had a wife. Children. I had been a ruler of Kaihanas—a King. And yet it still slips into the vastness of all I was cursed to endure.
What becomes of that meaning when there is more time away from a memory than I ever spent there? I was a mouse merely two years on Dahn before I joined Peridot in Curse.
One day, the five decades during That Time and all the memories—fond and not—would be just that, decades. Time markers in the scalable impossibility of my existence.
It would become, someday, so minimal to me that only a trigger could bring about my recollection of it all. It would take a giant to stand before me and send my mind down the thought-labyrinth to see those memories again. For the moment would be all my feeble mind could care for. Holding onto my sanity, my existence. And letting the past die in favor of the present.
That terrified me.
That was Agglomeration.
And these thoughts? This spiral of my potential and the depth of my memory? This was no coincidence brought on by chance alone. For my Aura singed as the titan loomed above.
A familiar sensation.
Who stood before me was stranger by name alone. For we shared our fates. This giant who imparted such memories by his mere presence was no native. This was a WorldWalker.
He rose one hand in a mellow, indolent wave. Then a rush of roaring pines swelled with his voice.
“Hi.” Spoke the voice, not unlike a titanic toddler.
“Hello there,” I yelled and my yell barely escaped the valley.
He pressed his hand to his chest, “Saxa Orias.”
His enormous hole for a face glanced about, “You buzz like a honey bee. Soul goes vrum vrum. You are new.”
“I suppose.” My voice strained from the yelling.
“Me too. I too suppose.”
“Any way that you could come closer?” I put my paws to my ears.
“Oops loops. Sorry. Can be done.” Then the ground began to shake, and the enormous form called Saxa Orias cracked like a pot dropped to a concrete floor. His terracotta shell broke into all shapes and sizes along the runes—the magical indentations bursting with green light as the shards fell free of their esoteric language.
The wind boomed over the pines once again. Saxa Orias was gone from my sight. Moments later, the lowest brush line vibrated. As if a herd of herbivores galloped from a predator’s chase, the entire forest became kinetic.
Small shrubs moved towards me in the long grass. The tops of tiny trees and thorn bushes and even large pines sprinted across the field as if pulled by strings. As the herd of plants moved closer, I saw from the largest offerings that they were, in fact, in pots. Pots according to size in all manner of shapes and volumes. Vases, flat pots, rotund yard decor and the like. The pots moved along the ground with root-legs which sprang out from pant-like holes in the clay.
All of them seemed held together by magic, of course, and powered by the very runes upon which they had separated.
The herd came up the hill, and I realized all these pots and plants were possibly people in their own right. Each individual flower, tree, or shrub—in their own sized pot, of course—expressed emotion upon the very pots themselves, with the hardened clay softening to form all sorts of anthropomorphic expressions.
Though most plants were in appropriately sized wears, one orange pot nearly the size of a gas-powered automobile shifted towards me with a single orange-stemmed, green petalled flower rising from its soil-filled maw.
This thick pot turned on its three root legs to reveal a smaller version of the giant holes on Saxa’s humanoid titan form. The hole contained a shadow-like smoke that expressed emotion in the same manner that the other pots’ clay faces did.
Three arms swiveled around his sides, greeting me one after another. These arms were giant handles that unlatched to greet me. After I shook each hand in a slap-slap-slap (yes, three slaps rather than a shake), The handles gripped onto the edge of the lip and hardened back into carriers for a giant.
“You have the smell,” said Saxa, his voice fractured between all his plant-like bodies.
“I’ll try and take that as a compliment.”
“Oops loops. No offending. You smell like many worlds. Not your own musk. No one wants own musk.” All the leaves and petals on his plants shook upon their separate bodies. “Want a little taste of all of it.”
“I think I know what you mean,” I said. “So you like plants? Your collection is mesmerizing. Though lots of green here.” Green vegetation is fairly common across the Garden. There are theories about why. Some have to do with light spectrums, others about heat retention, others about Draconic ideals—the ideals being my personal belief. There is a reason most Dragons build worlds with bipedal, two-armed, one headed sapients. That is their preference of form.
That is also the reason why, when life does evolve or get created elsewhere, it is often modeled in that same structure. Such as the elemental god-titans formed of the primordial atoms of new worlds—Rotamar.
But I suppose Rotamar are a story for another time.
“Only green,” said Saxa.
“Why is that?” I regretted saying it quickly after. As though Saxa appeared friendly, Threshold could be friendly until her line was crossed, and Porb all the same. Agglomeration had a line in the sand quite easily crossed. If green plants were essential to Saxa’s state of mind, conversing on the matter may send him into a cosmic state of madness.
I’d rather not make him mad. I had no way of knowing what his emotional state could be like, or what his powers entitled him to.
“Green was hard to find. Now I keep it the best I can.” The many pots which comprised Saxa’s single psyche whispered softly in echo to his voice.
“You are a ‘he’?” I’d met ‘he’s and ‘she’s and anything in between. Saxa most certainly felt like a ‘he.’ I still feel wonder when thinking of contacting Agglomerates. There was this connection in the soul so dumbfounding in concept. Terrifying at times, yes, but remarkable at others.
“Saxa Orias, Boy Wonder,” each pot saluted with their foliage fingers. An instinctual, rehearsed move. A instantaneous effect brought about thousands of repetitive stimuli. I could almost feel a thousand lifetimes pulsate through that movement, through those words, around his bodies.
Our Curse was a strange thing. For we were forever tied to our pasts and yet perpetually driven into a future only in our own existence. We were simultaneously the slaves to our condition and masters of our destiny.
Something as simple as the manner in which Saxa responded with “Boy Wonder,” brought about a million memories of my own past. What did Porbiyo think of my past when mentioned in glimpses? Or Threshold? What did they really know of me, as a person, if my past was confined to small snippets of words or actions conditioned by my old lifetime?
And what did I know of them?
Porbiyo and Vispar came from the same world. Each an Agglomerate—each collectors of beasts. What was their history? I know Porbiyo hunted Peridot and that is how he became Cursed. Was Vispar’s fate similar?
Malabeenith mentioned to me Threshold’s true name. Salowyne. When did that name fade into oblivion? When did that name fade so far that even Peridot left it behind? What caused her focus on spaces, and rooms, and whispering walls with voices taken by memory?
How long had Venefica hunted me before turning into a monster?
Polly was a doll. Why did his madness collect more?
All of the other Agglomerates I’d heard of or knew were out there—each had stories far, far longer than my own. If statues were built of me on worlds I hadn’t seen yet, then how many religions, institutions, and cultures had been effected by Threshold enacting her justice, or Porb letting loose his beasts, or Vispar shedding her skin and transforming into new monsters, or Bigklau showing his alien instruments and their sounds to new worlds?
I spoke to Saxa Orias for a time of his collection. All of the plants and pots he’d collected over his timeless travels. The numbers were astronomical. The details, procured. And night fell in far more hours than most worlds. I yawned but kept listening. And Saxa continued his speech. Each plant. Each pot. Precisely where they came from, their significance, and more.
Eventually I fell asleep. When I woke in the long grass, heat of the mountain sun beaming down onto me, Saxa hadn’t stopped. His choir of voices still listed more specimens and their stories. I sat up as if I hadn’t fallen asleep, and lie back on my paws.
I pondered on whether or not it was even worth my attempt to try and retrieve the plants for the locals. Ultimately, Saxa would see me far more than these indigenous peoples. We were, technically, friends. Loyalty is a funny thing when Cursed between worlds.
What does loyalty even mean?
Saxa’s mental state appeared unwell. Deeply unwell. Beyond Threshold’s for certain. She maintained control, and could converse as normal. Saxa did not afford that luxury. I had barely spoken a word in our entire conversation.
He needed someone to listen to him.
When was the last time someone listened to him? How many lifetimes ago? How many worlds between his last conversation and myself? Perhaps my mind hyperbolized that thought. Maybe it wasn’t so long. But part of me felt as if it had been longer than I could even imagine.
Could I really ask this person—who’s entire self worth is derived from his collection—to return a piece of his horde?
Yet, he was an invader. Just like me.
Wasn’t it the right thing to do? Even if it hurt Saxa, something inside told me to return those pots to their natural home. But if it hurt Saxa, and made him distrust me after all the trust gained by listening to him, was that not wrong also? It was as if I used him merely to thieve what he already stole.
I needed to decide.
But then we blipped.
And that choice was stolen from me. In a way, for once in all of this damned eternity, I was relieved. Because the pressure was off of me. Then a sickness took hold. Those people would lose everything, now. I disappeared after making an oath, and never returned.
Saxa made a friend.
Yet the natives lost their most precious resource.
On the new world, Saxa reformed into an enormous titan. We were near a city. The lights flickered in the distance. He strode from the lights. “Goodbye. Thank you. Oops loops, almost forgot,” and in the shadow of that titanic Agglomerate, something leapt off his finger.
On the reddish earthen ground, a minuscule vase—tall and curved—held a succulent tall as my finger. Saxa bowed the giant pine upon his head as if tipping his hat.
I looked up, somewhat shocked that he’d given it to me.
“You dreamt the entire time I explained about the miniature ragged-stalked carracumbell. Here you go. Dreams come true.” And the lumbering titan marched into the distance.
“I felt you near one another,” Peridot appeared upon one of the tiny succulent leaves of the carracumbell. She cocked her violet head to the side, “He gave this to you?”
“Yes. It seems so.”
“Indeed. Maybe it’s a loan.”
“Treat it like a gift.”
“I failed those people. I should have asked Saxa to return their plants.”
“Should haves aren’t worth the time it takes to regret them. You should know that by now.”
I eyed the city in the distance.
“Go to them,” she said, “banish the shame.”
I rose, tucked Saxa’s gift into my Boundless Bag, and stared off towards the city of towering skyscrapers set between blackened mountains. I stopped staring and strode.
Beasts relaxed Porbiyo. Threshold attached herself to space. Bigklau, instruments. Saxa, plants and their domesticated vessels.
Would I be able to feel myself descend into the madness?
Or would it feel rational, righteous, and desperate—the only way to hold onto what mortality I had left? At least I had Peridot by my side. At least she could be there when even I lost hope, or needed to talk to someone.
Or. . .
Did she always treat young Agglomerates like me? When Porbiyo was young, did she keep him company? Threshold? Peridot knew so much about them all. She is a Dragon—she could learn. But her relationships to the others, did they all start out this way?
I took out my top. It spun several rotations.
No. We were different. Me and Peridot were different.
She imparted her Syndel to me. I’d rescued her from the clutches of the Eldest Oldes and she’d saved me from my own hands more times than I could count.
She would always be there.
And maybe I could be that person for someone else, too.
Note: Chronologically in Opaline's journey come the AMT Starter Stories, but they are not vital to understanding the remainder of Arc I and do not directly connect to Episode 41.