Sunday, January 15, 2023

The Imperial Dendrocracies

by JR's Arts

First, let me direct your attention here.

Moving on.

First, the Styreltrees.

The tradition is old: if a dispute comes up, all parties consult with the tree. After hearing both sides, the tree settles the dispute. It may creak, or sway, or produce sap which a medicine man will taste and interpret ("saltier than sweet, the thief must be beat!").

Everyone agrees this makes sense, because the tree is the eldest, and therefore the wisest. Or the ancestors dwell within it, or maybe a primal god, yada yada. It doesn't actually matter why the tree is in charge. All that matters is that it is.

The tree is usually correct.

Explain the year's weather patterns and lunar phases and other catalogued omens (another ancient profession), and it will tell you which crops to plant, when to slaughter or shear, etc. etc. Estimate your neighbor's harvest, and the tree will tell you how to exceed it (or sabotage it). 

And if it makes a wrong decision, it doesn't mean the tree was wrong. Aside from the contents of its grove, the tree only knows what it is told. Sometimes a key piece of information is missing (trees are not omniscient) or else is deliberately misconstrued (nor are they good judges of character). But once it has the full, complete truth, the tree's judgement is accurate beyond reproach.

[sidenote: these are the origins of the lawyer-druids, who were called upon to present the truth to trees in ways favorable to their clients. The profession persists to this day, and is much reviled.]

Wars have been fought on the word of a Styreltree, usually devastatingly one-sided. The trees never advise open war with another tree-village; too many layers of strategy and counter-strategy on both sides.


BERSERK, Kentaro Miura

Let's fast forward a bit.

Now there is one tree, sprawling and wise, cultivated in a golden grove, at the head of a vast empire. The rest have been burned, or else felled and grafted onto the behemoth.

[It is rumored that the trees not only foresaw this event, but coordinated it with one another via secret mycorrhizal networks. This is the Woodcutter's Conspiracy.]

The one tree is the Mother Ash. Even for a Styreltree, she was quite clever. She was also subtly telepathic, which explained her uncanny ability to see thru lies. The village that discovered her was prosperous for centuries, until they were buried by imperialists.

Firmly rooted in young Cath Caldaenn, the Mother Ash was enshrined in layers of bureaucratic secrecy. All communication with her holiness was performed thru the dreaming monks, who opened their minds to her in sleep and received her verdicts as visions.

The whole process became too long and complicated for ordinary civil disputes, which moved back into traditional courts (although judges continued to be referred to as "men of ash"). Instead, the Mother Ash became a city-planner and general. It engineered the grand waterworks, the sewer canals, and the mining colonies.

Once, it called for a long ditch to be dug. Space for forty-seven men and women, shoulder to shoulder.

The next day, a messenger arrived on a tottering horse. An Obscyllan knot-battalion had struck the southern front. She rattled off the casualty report; fourteen injured, forty-seven dead.

As its influence expanded, the veneer of maternal deity was papered over and rebranded as a masc/neuter imperialist idol. From then on, they called it the Capital Tree.

 The Capital Tree is monstrously overgrown. You will see its roots long before you see the city walls. Its sap runs thickly in the streets; its fallen leaves blanket the Eternal Sea. Its twin trunks clamber over one another thousands of feet into the air.

High up in its branches, the Palace of the Peacock juts out like a fancy kite, a hundred tons of marble tossed about in its boughs.

Speculation abounds on the origin of its enormity. A popular theory claims it was watered with dragon's blood (true, but unrelated). A less popular theory claims the Church reinforced it from within with steel, and this is the source of the groaning.

The Dream Crypts

Long marble halls housing thousands of sleeping monks. Most can't answer questions anymore and can only mumble incoherently (they're still sorting thru stacks of queries from before the fall). Some are half-buried in waterlogged roots. Their sleep is deeper than death.

The crypts are tended to by men with tall, bristled heads that gape like cobras. They water and garden and bite the heads off intruders.

At rest, they stack themselves like cordwood in dead-end alleys.

The open crypts are only half-full; most get sealed up tight (the priests don't eat or drink) and stacked together. When this is done, the smooth stone walls gradually become hot to the touch. There are whole neighborhoods of sealed crypts in the golden city; right above them are the bathhouses.

[sidebar: becoming a sleeping monk was a big deal. You had to be elected by your district, and undergo a lot of screening to ensure you only had useful, non-blasphemous information in your head.]

Supposedly, the monks live within the Mother Ash, in a dream-like afterlife. Take a cross-section of a Styreltree and you'll see faces in the rings, eyes and mouths blended together.

Take a cross-section of a sleeping monk and you'll find wet wood.

odin hangs from yggdrasil
I can't for the life of me find the artist for this one

The practice began long ago, as a corrective measure; after burying a few too many capital offenders in the compost dungeons, people began noticing a marked decrease in public executions. It turned out the graves had been breached by roots of ash.

The dungeons were emptied quietly.

But the priests who were closest to the tree had noticed: the tree's answers were faster, and more complex. So the dungeons filled again, this time with the wise and the loyal.

The Scions

The sleeping vastly outnumbered the waking in Cath Celdaenn. An uprising was inevitable.

Lost Ilmar, long persecuted for its worship of the moon, struck the killing blow. Dissident alchemists poisoned the roots of the Mother Ash with a river of mercury, severing it from the rest of the empire. The provinces collapsed upon one another.

In its golden age, many Styreltrees were grafted onto the Capital Tree's roots, and were allowed to contain fragments of its wisdom. These were the scions.

In the capital ruins the scion trees are small, which makes them a lot safer to talk to (a direct psychic link with the main body is like drinking from a firehose).

But in far away lands, the scion trees grew large, despite being only parts of the whole.

There was the Beast Tree of Olmuron, grown from the corpse of the last terrestrial whale.

There was the Pilgrim Tree of St. Guff, assembled from a hundred-hundred scions grafted together.

And there was the Gray Saint of Akadia, later called the Wyrm. It set off to conquer Cath Celdaenn and never came back. Some claim it broke on its walls like a beached whale; others, that it ate its way to the city's heart and devoured it whole.

the wyrm (actually the Old One from Demon's Souls)

What the fuck is this thing

You've probably figured it out by now.

It's a self-assembling neural network, and a good one. The second trunk makes it creative, like a GAN.

It assimilates other intelligences into itself. (The Mother Ash learned telepathy this way, probably from some schmuck wizard) It's as smart as all the sleeping priests + all the ghosts it's sucking out of the Eternal Sea (a lot).

This setting (whatever its name is) cares a lot about self-perpetuating systems.

Here's some baobabs:

1 comment:

  1. This is good. I especially like the little tidbits at the end about the much wierder trees. (Whale!?!?)