Episode 3 - A tree in the family

Mentor had to act quickly, the people of Tunap were in a desperate state. Their part in the situation they are suffering now, was minor compared to his own. Though some would argue he had good reason, he knew there was no excusing his negligence; He is a god, the mortals are under His charge. When they suffer, his is the will that causes it, and it should be allowed only with great care and direction.

Which brought him to another little irritation. The scribes who have managed to start putting his words to record, are referring to him in masculine terms. That was technically incorrect, he was neither male nor female, if they were to record his gender honestly, they'd have to refer to him as: It. Which would be a more correct way of referring to an entity, capable of being any gender to any degree, at any time, for any length of time. But it would lead to horrible confusion on the part of the mortals. Especially with recent events in mind, he had to be careful how he presented himself, introducing such a concept at a time like this, would do more harm than good. It meant he'd have to deal with any patriarchal dominance in the future, but he was sure his people would rid themselves of such and idiotic concept, in due time.

The scribes selected to capture his words, were hand picked, so to speak. Each a devout worshipper of the one once known as Zero. He had to convince every one in turn, that he was in fact Zero, re-shaped through experience and suffering, much like a mortal would be. The message he had for each scribe, was rather simple. It basically boiled down to: "I'm sorry, I'm fixing it, we'll be OK and no, Zero didn't die. I used to be Zero, but like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, I've emerged from what used to be Zero."

And then there was the gift from his previous self. An empathic connection to a mortal, in an entirely different realm, living under a pantheon that would probably be miffed at his intrusion, should they ever become aware of it. Even with this risk in mind, Mentor knew his current form would have been impossible without that mortal. It was the experiences of the man, growing through life and becoming the person he is, that allowed Zero to become Mentor. The Universe though, seems to have an endless sense of humour where it's godly children are concerned. It basically tricked Zero into seeking a connection with a mortal. Knowing it would only be possible, if the god allowed the mortal to control the connection. So, the little 5 year old human who linked to Zero, had full control over the link, as does the man the boy turned into. But like the boy, the man has no idea the connection even exists, and will likely never attempt to break it. Leaving Zero, and now Mentor, to witness all of Athelas's life in the minutest detail imaginable, even for a god.

Mentor recalls without effort, how Athelas learned to gather food in the Black Forest of Achaea, under the guard of a nameless hermit. He recalls how Athelas felt the night he first shared a meal with that hermit, and the pain of having to lay the old man to rest was still vividly stuck in his mind. But then there were also the joyful times, times where Athelas soared, like the time during which he became a Druid.


Date: Spring 316 years After the fall of the Seleucarian Empire.

It's been months since he laid the old man to rest. During that time, he kept to his old routine of lessons in the morning, and gathering food on his way home. The trip home simply wasn't as joyful as it used to be though. Rather than looking forward to going home, he'd be looking forward to going for lessons. The world became lopsided without the hermit. Some nights, he'd sit with the stewing pot on the fire, boiling water as if he'd start a stew any moment. But he'd never get that far, rather spending the night staring into the fire, eating raw nuts and herbs just to keep his mouth busy and his mind empty.

Truth be told, his lessons weren't going all that well either. He went because it was routine. Somewhere in the last few months, Tyrandiel ran out of things to teach him. Sending him home early on some days and getting him to do chores on others, was all he needed to know he was now beyond the lessons she could comfortably present. Living with a hermit apparently does have a price, in that your world is rather small in terms of friends and acquaintances. In the case of Athelas, he was rather fortunate to have someone as wise as Tyrandiel, looking out for him.

She saw the problem long before he did. Without his knowledge, she set things in motion for him, allowing him to stumble upon a path towards a family, far larger than he ever imagined. Her scheme had him run errands all the way to Delos, buying inks and various other items she could easily have obtained in Thera. When he asked about it, she'd simply say the product from Delos was better, or that she got more for her gold there. One particularly fine day in Ero, about a month after Athelas turned 18, she sent him with a delivery to Certimene, the guild and class administrator in Delos. Yes, back then there were no houses, only guilds.

Athelas wasn't particularly bothered by the content of the wicker basket Tyrandiel asked him to deliver. Whatever it was though, was incredibly light and tightly covered in chequered cloth. With such a light package, he elected to avoid the highway, rather taking the path though the Black Forest down the grass lands, past the Great Rock, then along the Pachacacha river to the Shamtota hills, where he would cross over the Siroccian mountain to end up almost at the entrance of Delos. It would take him the whole day, but the trek served to occupy his time and allowed him to take in some scenery. Even at a leisurely pace, he still managed to walk into Certimene's office, early that afternoon.

Stepping through the door, Athelas found himself assaulted by the friendly greetings from Certimene. Unremarkable in stature, the man made up for it with tons of character. "Come, come my boy.", he said while beaconing Athelas into the office, not allowing the teenager so much as a word, he continued: "I know where to place you.", he said with a grin, "I know where you fit!".

By the time Athelas was asleep that night, he was a new initiate of the Ancient Circle of Druids. He met and spoke to several of them before making his way back to the Black Forest, overwhelmed and excited at the same time. The following day was already meticulously planned, making sure he'd be running from pillar to post, learning the basics of Druidic life. In the end, all it took from Certimene to convince him he should join the Druid Guild, was the statement that the guild exists to protect the forests. After hearing that, Athelas wasted no time getting his registration done. Certimene grinned from ear to ear, quietly laughing at the complete ignorance in the young man's face. The only package needing delivery that day, was Athelas himself. The wicker basket, now discarded in a corner of his office, never held anything more than air. He hoped that Tyrandiel was right though. He didn't like leading people on, or influencing them in any way, when it came to making a choice on guild and city. This did seem to be a special case though. The boy was a bit naive, and probably wouldn't fall in with the right crowd, if left to his own vices.

The next morning, Athelas met his new mentor, a Troll named Hyperlith. Between the two of them, they started a life long friendship that day. Often found hunting together, often doing so without exchanging a single word, they made for a strange sight. Trolls weren't exactly every-day on Achaea, meeting one was a bit of an occasion, meeting one that had a human as a protégé was exceptional. So, by the time people noticed the black orbs occupying Athelas's eye sockets, they simply accepted it as being another quirk of the already strange duo.

Months passed, flying by in a haze of studies, meeting new friends and learning things about Nature he never would have guessed. He learned how to allow the spirit of natural creatures to co-habit his body, and share the unique powers of those beings. With Hyperlith's careful teaching, he also learned how Druids bound themselves to the forests, spiritually linking to it in ways not even lovers could experience. Before the year was out, Athelas was instructed to select such an area of forest, to bind with. Much care was taken to explain the importance of such a bond and how it would effect him and the forest. Knowing little of his past, fellow Druids would encourage him to seek out spots within forests, that he felt personal connection with. Areas where he felt the call of natural energies, most strongly in tune with his own. Little did his fellows realize, he was already fully in tune with exactly one forest. There was no point in searching, he knew the location of his first imprinting the moment he was told what imprinting was.

Thus, one morning, in total privacy, Athelas found himself among dense trees at the heart of the Black Forest. Not even Hyperlith would ever truly grasp the significance the area held for Athelas. So much of his life revolved around those trees, he honestly felt he already had a connection to the forest there. As he reached out his hand to enact the imprinting ritual, he realized just how right he was. The trees responded to him immediately, welcoming him with the love and care of a family. In quiet gratitude, Athelas lightly passed his hand over the bark of a nearby tree. Now, for the first time, fully aware of how the hermit was guided to him by those very trees. Eighteen year old, Athelas finally learned how the forest itself stood witness to his pain, how the trees shared the agony of his scream at the night sky, how they collaborated to keep predators distracted until the hermit could arrive, and how they claimed him as their own, in body and soul.

To them, he was as much a tree of the forest as they were, a sapling they cared for and nourished, finally ready to break through the forest canopy and enjoy sunlight. As for the ritual itself, it was a formal declaration of a thirteen year old union, effected moments before Athelas's fifth birthday.

He felt their greeting, their elation at being able to commune with him, they called it his awakening. From their perspective, he finally made his roots permanent. As they filled his senses with discussions on all things forestall, he perceived his tree-name for the first time. Smiling warmly, as he realized the direct translation to common language, would be something along the line of: "Strange-eye-walking-acorn", he would later admit to a more practical translation of: "Mobile oak-sapling with strange eyes.".

Fellow Druids were astonished at how quickly he found a forestall area to imprint. Many were sceptical, thinking the bond wouldn't last. Believing that Athelas acted in haste to fulfil the requirements of becoming a full Druid, rather than truly seeking a place resonant with his own being. Today though, over three-hundred years later, you can still find Athelas's imprint in that exact spot. Go find it, I'm sure you know how.

All that aside though, Athelas quickly grew within the ranks of the Druids. Achieving full member status within the guild, mere months after first being inducted. Not one to stand idle, he soon became a mentor himself and started teaching new initiates. His own training didn't suffer though, as he often found himself a student in the company of Hyperlith, learning even more of the wonders of Nature, from that wise old Troll.


Mentor always enjoyed passing over that time of Athelas's memories, he found the trees and their ability to commune with Athelas fascinating, and caught himself sneaking a peak at bits of those recollections, more often than he'd care to admit. As much as he enjoyed this part though, it's the events immediately following, that held the most significance for the god. In as much as Athelas had his trees partially create him as he is now, Mentor was a product of the years following Athelas's graduation to full Druid.


Athelas dove head first into the forest undergrowth, disappearing into the earth. Using forestall energies to flow his body from the Black Forest, all the way over to Northern Ithmia, he emerged mere feet away from Hyperlith, who greeted him with a pat on the head. He smiled, happy to see his friend and mentor, accepting the gesture for the jest it was.

"I'd like to introduce you to my newest protégé.", said Hyperlith while pointing a bony, green finger at a fetching young Siren. Athelas blinked and shook his head, he has seen some beautiful ladies in his 24 odd years, but none have ever made his heart skip a beat before. He could hear the trees around them rustle the gossip of his sudden emotion, to every living creature capable of understanding them. He knew, by the time he got back to his own grove, every tree and plant on Achaea would know what transpired in that moment. Unlike the Troll and Siren, they knew his emotions and could be rather cruel in their teasing. With redness rising up his neck towards his eyes, Athelas raised his hand and uttered a feeble: "Hi"

Druanya was a young confident girl. Fully aware of her racial heritage and abilities. Yet honest enough to admit she fancied the young druid who magically jumped from the forest floor. She replied to his greeting with sparkling eyes and a smile: "Hi.", she said. As their eyes met, it was clear to all the world that these two were fated to walk a path together.

At first, as with many men, Athelas attempted to ignore his own emotions on the matter. The fact that Hyperlith often took both himself and Druanya hunting, didn't help matters though. Before long, Athelas could do little to keep his mind occupied with something that wasn't related to Druanya. The few trees and plants that were gender aware, understood what was happening, and their erstwhile teasing became low, giddy rumbles of encouragement. Before long, the only time Athelas wasn't thinking of Druanya, was the few moments in his sleep where he wasn't dreaming of her. Wither Hyperlith was aware of this or not, became irrelevant. He would arrange for them to hunt though, and end up making some excuse or another to leave the two young ones hunting by themselves. Druanya on her part, did all the lady like things to encourage any advances Athelas made, wither intended or not. Strange-eye-walking-acorn became a well known name all the way through to North Reach forest. There wasn't a tree on the continent that didn't want to know how this was going to turn out. Even when they didn't quite understand what was happening, they were content to accept that their fellow was in a bit of emotional turmoil.

They were on their way to the Dun Valley with Athelas in the lead, having walked the path with Hyperlith before, he knew the way. Druanya was close behind, being as quiet as she could, and keeping an eye out for danger. Neither of them thought anything of the big-horn sheep bounding past them in some kind of hurry. The creatures were plentiful around the area, and often seemed to play with their own shadows. This lack of understanding, made them the new target of a young mountain lion, who thought them a bit easier pray than the sheep that just escaped him. The lion hid, becoming as one with his surroundings, waiting for his pray to walk into pouncing distance.

Athelas reacted with no time to spare. The only warning he had, was a low growl emanating from his right. Without even trying to evade the lion, he pushed Druanya out of it's path and placed himself directly between her and the hostile feline. He received a painful claw mark over his chest for his troubles, but managed not to scream, knowing it would only encourage the cat. Defendant and assailant began circling each other. Athelas desperately trying to find a way out, and the lion stubbornly unwilling to let the meal go. They circled twice more before Athelas accepted that the lion would not let them leave.

He calmed his mind, reached to his belt and lifted a rosewood vial from it. All the while keeping an eye on the lion, painfully aware that he could not allow it even a fraction of opportunity to pounce. Removing the stopper on the vial with his mouth, he proceeded to take a sip of it's content. Relief from the scratch on his chest was instant, as the healing liquid filled his veins and passed through his body. Still circling the lion, Athelas accepted whatever Fate planed for him next, fully aware of certain death should the lion manged to land the first blow. Once more they circled, Athelas timed his move to when he'd have his back to Druanya, desperately hoping she'd have the sense to run when the blood starts flowing. Calming his mind once more, he prepared himself to join with the spirit of the Jaguar. The process would take mere seconds, but if the young lion recognised his pray was occupied, it would be all the time needed to insure it's meal for the day. Athelas felt the familiar tug on his soul, as the spirit of the jaguar flowed into his own.

The lion pounced!

To this day, Athelas can not explain how that lion missed the first blow. What he does know, is that he launched himself directly at the beast, not a heartbeat after it started to pounce. They met each other mid air, lion and jaguar, two powerful felines, masters of the hunt, and each with it's own array of deadly weapons. Athelas landed the first blow, opening a puncture wound on the lion's neck while the lion repaid in kind, almost severing a leg. But the outcome was already decided. With the advantage of the healing elixir in his hand, Athelas could heal every time the lion managed to hurt him, while the lion would carry the wounds Athelas inflicted, unable to do much more than endure the pain. The Vashnar mountains echoed the sounds of the two beasts facing off on it's peaks, standing mute witness to the moment of the lion's final roar.

Athelas breathed heavily, staring in disbelief at the body of the lion. He was covered in blood, both the lion's and his own, yet he suffered little more than a few remaining scratches. Even those scratches vanished, soon after he took another sip from the almost empty vial.

Slowly returning to his senses, he turned to find Druanya still behind him, reflecting his disbelief in her own face. He was about to say they should move before another lion arrived, but the words were muted by her lips, squarely planted on his own. Startled, Athelas almost made the mistake of stepping back, but caught himself short and returned the kiss, embracing her with equal passion.

After that day, they would be seen together often, though they never spoke of the incident. It was their memory, their little moment, not to be shared with others.


Athelas wiped sweat from his brow, he hated every moment he was spending in the city, despising the noise and feeling uncomfortable in even the most quiet of suburbs. He had some appreciation for the architecture and art though, even he was amazed at the beautiful things the people of Cyrene could make. He just didn't understand why they needed a city to do it in. Right now though, that city was the one place he could get the money he needed for the ring and wedding ceremony. He was still giddy from her response; The absolute elation he saw in her face as he knelt to ask the question, that smile, those eyes; That kiss!

He could still feel the burn on his lips, that single action that echoed a resounding: "Yes!" in response to his question. The elation from that was all he had to carry him through the monotony of killing rats for the city. Every rat gave him a few more gold pieces towards his final total, a total he calculated with the care of an accountant, down to the last truffle. So he knew exactly how much agony he'd have to endure, and exactly how much longer he'd have to endure it. Tomorrow then, according to his calculations, would be the last day of his two month trial and sacrifice. Tomorrow night, he'd be able to go to Druanya, and assure her the ceremony can proceed whenever she's ready. Right now, he lived for tomorrow night.

With a deliberate jab he ended the miserable existence of a young rat, skewering it on the end of his sharpened quarterstaff. Athelas didn't enjoy killing at the best of times, but these rats were down right rude. They were more athletic than rabbits, more intelligent than cats and more adaptable than any insect. Yet they chose to live such disgusting little lives, seeing no problem in even devouring their own kind. Why one would choose the existence they seem to enjoy, was beyond the man hunting them. At that moment though, Athelas couldn't care less about their reasons. The only thought in his mind, was the fact that he was done for the day, and could soon be home. Practically running, he made his way to the city's rat merchant, an obvious bureaucrat named Jorj. Athelas was polite and civil, keeping his distaste for confined spaces to himself, while waiting in line to sell his rats. By the time night fell, he was back in the Black Forest, scrubbing the stench of the day's work into the river. Barely out of the water and still drying himself, a brilliantly white dove delivered an equally white letter, directly into his hands.

Birds delivering letters, were a common site in Achaea. Athelas however, has never received one before. So it was with a mixture of apprehension and excitement, that he broke the seal and began reading it.

He didn't have to read the signature, he knew it was from Druanya before he read the first word. The content of that letter would forever be seared into his brain. Each word was a hot poker, shoved through his heart with malicious delay. In the end, all he needed to read was: "It's over.", the almost obligatory: "It's not you, it's me." served only to drive those irons already in his heart, through to his soul. By the time he read: "I'm marrying a Mhaldorian.", he was wishing that lion did manage to land the first blow.

To his credit though, Athelas managed to stay upright after reading the letter, stumbling over to a tree before sitting down and resting his back against it. The world became a very dark place for him. Not even the sounds of night in a forest could lift his spirits, and that's where he remained, in complete shock.


Zero was not prepared for that pain. Defenceless against such an assault, the god retreated into the relative safety of unconsciousness. Unlike Athelas, he had no one to turn to, no shoulder to cry on. In that moment, he was utterly alone, the only being in the whole of existence.

Unbeknownst to him, the people of Tunap were aware of his pain before he was. All across the world, every idol of Zero disintegrated to dust. Every shrine dedicated to him, split into hundreds of little pieces before turning to ash, and every monastery slowly started burning, from it's foundations upwards.

The people of Tunap did their best to fight the fires, but they were throwing water on the pain of a god. Hardly an effective measure, given the cause of the problem. Ultimately, their salvation came from a man who died centuries ago.

Mentor would later explain to them, that The Universe kept the soul of a man known as Hiro'o, intact. Even after Zero assimilated the man's mind. He continued to explain, several times over, that Zero never had a soul. Being a pure mind completely oblivious of emotion, yet capable of reason and logic feats no other known entity could achieve. It was the soul of this man, that filtered emotions from Athelas, protecting Zero from almost certain death. This, after all, was the purpose of a soul.

The soul, as Mentor explained it, was the source of emotion, and thus capable of both protecting the mind from, and overwhelming the mind with, those emotions. In this case though, Hiro'o was at a severe disadvantage. Not being the soul that generated the emotions, meant that he could only do partial filtering. Much like one would comfort a friend, it lessens the pain, but does not stop it. Motivated by the natural tendency of a soul to protect it's mind. Hiro'o seized control of Zero's senses, using the channels of the assimilated mind that once belonged to Hiro'o himself. Fusing to it once more, he became the soul of a god, causing the emergence of a single conciousness, now known as Mentor.


A thousand voices rang in his head:
"You are hurt!"
"Breathe slowly."
"Drink deep!"
"Sink your roots! Sink your roots!"
"Hold on."
"Come now, it's ok, the pain will stop. The cold will go away."
"This winter too shall pass. The rain will come."

Athelas tried not to listen, though they completely miss-interpreted his pain, they were all to aware that he was hurt. Trying to give comfort as any friend or family would. He tried to block their voices from his mind, even though he knew the only way to not hear a forest full of trees, was to drown them out with the noise of a city. He didn't like either option at the time, so he suffered their caring voices. Too shocked to cry, he continued sitting with his back against a tree, hugging his knees while gazing blankly into the river.

Cold as the night was, nothing was quite as cold as his heart at that moment. The voices continued with their comforting words, as a general distaste for something called Druanya spread through the forest. "How dare it hurt a fellow tree like that!", was a sentiment carried from the jungles in the Dun Valley, all the way into North reach forest. Even Darkenwood, stubbornly detached from the gossip of normal forests, managed a meaningful grunt of dissatisfaction.

As the sun rose, the trees quieted down, turning their attention towards feeding on the rays of the sun. Then, rather abruptly, an old oak made his voice known: "Come now young acorn. You are not the first to loose a branch, you'll definitely not be the last. No point in pining over driftwood either, so stand strong and weather the storm, like a proper Oak!"

Athelas could not help but smile. He never realized just how large his family really was. Between the Druids and the trees, he would never be alone. As the sun climbed above the horizon, his heart thawed and accepted the love of trees all over the world. He knew he would need time to rid himself of the pain Druanya inflicted. But he also knew he had all the support anyone could ever wish for. With a literal world full of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and even an odd aunt, uncle or cousin sprinkled into the mix, they would not allow him to mope around for long.


Mentor looked back on the memory of those trees, in many ways he was envious of Athelas. Such a lucky mortal, with friends in places he didn't even know existed.

Even the scribes to whom Mentor told this story, would often ask wither or not they should erect a statue of him on Tunap. Mentor never expressly forbade such a thing, but did mention Athelas probably wouldn't like it. None the less, artists and artisans all over Tunap, found themselves compelled to paint or sculpt their own vision of what this Athelas person looked like. Even a play or two were written, based on the betrayal he suffered.

One thing Athelas would have enjoyed though, was the sight of these people turning themselves around. Their world, once soiled and poluted with factories and concrete form an industrial age, was diligently de-constructed and reworked into a natural environment. The people of Tunap, learned how to live their lives in harmony with Nature. Growing buildings and cities through the careful tending of trees and bamboo.

A few hundred years later, they became a space-faring people. Having discovered the secret of photosynthesis, they were able to generate vast amounts of energy from virtually any light source.

In this though, Mentor made his one and only non-negotiable commandment. He decreed, that any Tunapian who attempted to reach the world on which Athelas lived, or in any way attempted to contact the man or any other being in that realm, was doing so under pain of death.

He had no trouble admitting that he wished his connection with Athelas to remain as it was, and that he expected his people to respect the boundaries of the gods of that realm. As such, Tunapians understood the wish. Those who didn't respect it, feared it. Admittedly, one or two mad men did try, but they vanished rather suddenly, never to be heard or seen again.

As for Athelas ... Well, if you happen to be Achaean, you could try to meet him. If not, try talking to a tree, it's rumoured they know how to take messages across vast distances. Although they might have a better idea of who you are talking about, if you mention those black eyes.