When last we left, Farwalk was walking to the Others’ village.
Hir terror was, Farwalk found, manageable as long as she didn’t get too close to the Forest. It couldn’t be helped; the fear of being loomed over was simply a natural and universal thing, felt by every Vimwar and every Other. There was no shame in being unable to go closer to the Forest, or so Farwalk told herself.
After a long time walking, Farwalk found hirself tiring, and settled down for a brief rest. After a moment, zie walked a few paces farther from the Forest and rested again.
Something was slightly wrong. There was a strange sound coming from ahead and to the left, down on the beach below. The terror-tales of hir youngling days chose that moment to leap out from Farwalk’s memory and scuttle across her imagination. Terrible dark creatures that lurked in high Trees, Trees that could reach down and snatch you up, Trees that could leave the Forest and come down to the beach to snatch unwary travelers and younglings who didn’t blend their musk-mud properly.
Slowly zie crept closer to the edge of the steep slope down to the beach, until zie could see what was down there just on the edge of one eye. Zie recoiled back, hir top leg-joints drawing together in fright.
What was down on the beach was a primordial nightmare, a horror from the depths of the universal Ivimwi childhood. A titanic beast stood on the beach on three legs, its massive spherical shell glittering in the moonlight. Its three great eyes blazed with unholy blue-white light, leaving the circular patches of beach at which it stared fixedly awash in a glare brighter than full daylight, while gentler, warmer, unsettlingly inviting light spilled from its one open, gaping rectangular mouth, large enough to swallow a Vimwar hole.
But that was nothing compared to the horrors accompanying it: Trees! The stories were true, they were all true. Trees could walk, could make strange noises at one another as they paced the beach around the titan. Horrible Trees, utterly unlike the stiff unyielding gray ones that stood silent on the Forest’s edge–these had two great roots, perhaps half their height, that somehow gripped the ground and propelled the Tree in a parody of walking. Above that was the main trunk, and then at the top of the trunk two great branches emerged, one on either side, jointed like some twisted parody of a Vimwar’s arm. Above those was some kind of bulb or fruit, a solid round ball that twisted sickeningly this way and that as the Tree moved.
Curiosity and terror warred inside Farwalk as zie–or at least hir legs–considered fleeing back home and never leaving the village again. But no. Somewhere inside hir was the Vimwar who journeyed to the Others’ village in the first place, who braved a night journey practically under the Forest itself. Slowly, certain that this was the most foolish action of hir life, that at any moment zie would be destroyed–or worse!–zie crawled back over to the edge and peaked over.
It was just as zie’d been told as a youngling. The Trees were combing the beach, snatching up discarded shells and small creatures in the clusters of jointed twigs at the end of each branch, sickening parodies of claws. Or perhaps, Farwalk thought, and for some reason this was the most frightening thought of all, Ivimwi were the parodies, and the Trees the original reality.
As Farwalk watched in horror, the sphere-beast made some sort of call, a shrill, repetitive shriek. The Trees turned toward it as if as one, and then walked into its maw, bringing all that they had gathered from the beach with them. The mouth closed around them, and there was silence for a moment.
Then the world exploded.
Farwalk clung desperately to the ground with every arm-claw and even the smaller, feebler claws on hir legs as the loudest noise in the history of the world boomed across the quiet night, rolling on and on and on as the great spherical beast rose on a column of fire. Intense heat, just shy of painful, rolled across hir in waves as the beast slowly flew upward, folding its legs.
Above hir it was above hir run run RUN!
Farwalk whirled into panicked motion as the great beast filled the sky. Zie was barely conscious, could barely think, aware only that zie was under something and would be snatched up at any moment, dragged into that terrible maw by grasping claws made of jointed twigs. Zie fled, hardly aware of where zie was going–but with the slope on one side and the Forest on the other, there was little choice of direction. Zie ran toward where zie believed the Others’ village to be.
As Farwalk ran, spinning rapidly, zie, saw the great beast shrinking as it rose higher and higher, until at last it was a blob of light, and then a point, vanishing among the stars–and zie understood.
Zie collapsed. There was nowhere further to run–the stars loomed over everywhere.
In the early hours of the morning Farwalk came to a place where the slope between scrub and beach was almost nonexistent, and staggered down to the water. Shortly after zie staggered into the Others’ village, hir quest achieved, her point proven–and nearly forgotten. Instead zie babbled, in frantic arm-waves, about the terror and the revelation, the dread secret of the spheres.
Zie was right, Farwalk had realized. There was only one Forest, and it was everywhere. Who knew how many villages it birthed younglings for–perhaps one for every place where a terrified young Vimwar could stagger down to the water. And it was even taller than it seemed, impossibly tall, extending up into the heavens, where every light was a great Sphere, a beast that fed on servant Trees and whatever they could gather. All things came from the Forest, and it claimed them all in turn. It birthed the Ivimwi and devoured them, birthed the Spheres and Trees and devoured them. Perhaps the sun and moons were Spheres too, even vaster than the stars. Perhaps the Forest devoured and rebirthed them every day.
Hir head full of Spheres and cycles and the unity of all things, the terrible wonderful looming immensity of sky and time that hung over every Vimwar from the moment they emerged from the Forest to the moment it took them back, Farwalk could do nothing but try to understand, to think and talk and explain it to others in the hopes that in the explaining, zie would understand.
Some listened and understood. Others didn’t. Some thought Farwalk was dangerous, broken by hir experiences; others thought zie was elevated by them. In time hir own village drove hir out, but zie found a home in the Others’ village. A generation later, the hir disciples returned to hir village in force and took control, and Ivimwi Empire was born, rising and falling and rising again over ten thousand years until at last it ruled half a continent. Farwalk became legend, progenitor, even god, until at last the empire splintered and hir teachings splintered with them.
And after fifteen thousand years, when the enlightened Ivimwi of a new age had long outgrown the silly superstitions of their credulous ancestors and set out into the stars, the first primitive rocket to carry one of them above the atmosphere was nonetheless called the Farwalk.
When last we left, Farwalk was walking to the Others’ village.