Hundreds of millions of years ago, long before humans, way before the dinosaurs, the world was inhabited only by plants and the simplest of primitive organisms. Over millions of years the plants evolved and grew beautiful flowers that coloured the earth with their splendour, but some plants grew apart from the others and on an isolated continent in the northern oceans of the world they evolved into something different. Through the course of time these plants began to move of their own free will and when at last they pulled themselves out of the ground they found they were able to carry their bodies over the surface to find tastier, more nutritious soils. As generations passed their populations grew and speciated so that a certain few became self-aware with intelligence unlike anything the world had ever seen.

For a short period in the history of our planet these creatures built a society and ruled their corner of the earth free from the danger of predators. It was a time of peace, wind and the soft rustle of leaves. It was the time of…

 

 

THE EXECLINTIANS

 

 

Michael Hole

 

 

 

 

 

 

You, I, we, the world

Have a lost consciousness

Floating amongst the trees

On a backdrop of arbitrary time;

Execlintian in nature.

 

 

 

 

 

Fossils

 

The first fossils of Execlintia were discovered in Arctic Siberia in 1968 when a Georgian oil driller by the name of Adnan Kerzetski fell through a crevasse in the ice. Unfortunately he was dead by the time he made this remarkable discovery, as in his final fall he broke through the wall of an ancient cavern where the remains of a number of strange fossils were embedded in the floor and walls.

Siberia was a part of the Soviet Union at the time, and it took many years for the discovery to be disclosed to the rest of the world. Mainly because the soviet scientists spent so long trying to find a military use for their discovery, but also because they weren’t quite sure what kind of botanical genus they’d discovered. In 1989 a small article was published in Nature magazine that should have revolutionized our understanding of the origins of species, but very little funding was ever put into the research, so it remained obscure.

Through the 1990’s as more interest gathered, it became virtually impossible to gain access to the fossils due to a bureaucratic dispute between local government officials, even though it had previously been agreed to have them on display in the Museum of Regional Studies in Tyumen, Siberia.

Nowadays they are safely stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, out of harms way and ready for future generations to learn from.

One can speculate on the number of political and religious reasons for this lack of access to the archaeological find, but it’s hard to hold back the truth, and there are other ways that knowledge of these creatures has come to humans. There is evidence to suggest that we may have come into contact with them over 500 years ago through the author of the Voynich Manuscript – an ancient book that is believed to contain the recipe for the elixir of life. Some of the drawings in that manuscript bare a remarkable resemblance to the specimens found in the Execlintian cave. What is more, the language used in that text has never been deciphered, and it is quite possible that its origins lie in antiquity.

Most of what we know, however, has not come from the fossils of the dead, nor from any ancient manuscripts, but from a new kind of technology discovered in the Execlintian cave. In every fibre of the petrified matter is the genetic memory of their lives, and through this discovery we have gained incredible knowledge and have listened to the earth and breathed in their air, and in our dreams these strange creatures have visited us and told us their stories of the time when they were alive.

 

I am one of the lucky ones who have had these dreams though I don’t know how I came by them, and it is here that I will tell you what went on in that world around 320 million years ago, in the Serpukhovian age.

 

 

 

 

Execlintia

 

The land that we now call Execlintia was one of a few islands and continents that lay in the northern oceans just a few million years before the gigantic supercontinent Pangaea was formed. As the continents drifted, the shape of the world had changed so that if you’d looked down from space you wouldn’t have recognised our Earth at all. Instead you’d have seen a mostly deep blue planet with a large brown-green landmass packed down around the white South Pole, with assorted islands and continents spreading out to the east and stretching up through the central latitudes, the continents breaking up as they passed the equator.

Execlintia was one of the northern most islands of these continents, having drifted away from the others for over 50 million years before crossing the equator. As time advanced and the island crossed into the Tropic of Cancer, its plant life increased, and over millions of years the steaming, moist forests became a wonderful cesspit of creeping plants and insects. As it happened, there were no other animals in this land, and wouldn’t be for many millions of years, even though they were starting to populate the other parts of the world already. For now Execlintia was a haven from such destructive forces, leaving the flora and tiny insect fauna alone to its own devices.

Thick forests roamed the southern and western coastlines, while a huge desert spread down from the north, its dry fingers invading the ancient forests. And on the edge of this desert, in the south where it hit the jungle, the land dropped off to a massive inland sea. But there was no water in that seabed, for it had been dry for over a million years. Instead, due to some unknown phenomenon it had become the cradle for a mass of white, fluffy cloud that hung there perpetually, ever so slowly undulating; heaving and sighing. Sometimes it grew and engulfed the desert and forests around it, while other times it withdrew for a while, like some lingering, lurching giant.

We still don’t know what this cloud was made of, nor do we know its source, but we do know that it was a dominant part of the landscape and the centre of life for all the execlintians that lived around it.

 

 

 

 

Execlintians

 

The land of Execlintia was inhabited by many different species of execlintian. There were zigamons, endrians, parleps, suddaah, earlesloames, angangs and combelians, not to mention the hardy miwinien and the secretive holoame, all of which contributed to the landscape of the time, for they were not just mindless plants, but sentient, thinking creatures with their own customs and culture.

In fact, their culture was quite alien to ours, for their values and basic needs were not based on the biology of animals, but on botany, and something else again. Traditionally it is thought that flowering plants did not evolve until many hundreds of millions of years later, but execlintians appear to be an exception to this, as the most remarkable thing about them was their highly developed floral heads. What was once a large, single flower had slowly folded in on itself, and turned into an execlintian eye. The fossil evidence shows that behind the folded petals was a flowery retina and a visual cortex that proceeded to a highly developed floral brain. The frontal lobe was an over developed visual cortex more dominant than anything we have seen in humans, and deep within those folds was a network of glands and perfunctory organs that were the source of their hormone production. This gave them an awareness of their surroundings that only a plant can feel. If you pulled one apart you might think you were looking at pieces of mottled cauliflower, but within that structure were all the workings of an alien plant mind.

Even the way they communicated was different. They didn’t have voices like we know them, for they had no mouths. Instead they communicated through different combinations of vibration, hormones and electrical charges so that all of them could speak through touch and smell, and through their roots they had an intimate understanding of the language of the earth. Some of the more advanced ones could also hear and communicate through sound, though that was quite uncommon.

There were also a few rare breeds that possessed the highest language of all, one that we’ve never fully understood – the language of vision. Not just sight and pictures, but a driving power that we call perspection – you might think of it as perception from a perspective. It’s something that we humans possess now, in our modern world, but most of us have no idea how to harness it.

The execlintians we’ve come to know the most were frail looking, sapling-like creatures called Miwinien. These creatures rarely grew larger than three feet tall, as their bulbous heads were relatively heavy and stunted their growth. They had a number of long, strong leafy arms with tendril roots that hung down to the ground, and a broad, thick ruffle of leaves that made something of a kind of foot. Within that ruffle they concealed a strong, sharp root that allowed them to feed wherever they went. They didn’t look very strong, but having evolved from weeds, they were some of the hardiest execlintians in the world, and as you will see, were capable of many great things.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

From The Muplunt

 

It begins in the forests of Miwinia with the hot day sun beating down on the sleeping creatures of this land. They speckle the hillsides; their orange, red, yellow and occasional purple flowers open to the sun, with tiny primitive flies buzzing about in the air around them. Their roots are planted firmly in the soil, with their long leafy branches spread out to absorb the light. The older ones are large and woody, while the young are bright and green like small saplings – spindly but supple.

Miwinien spend their days asleep in the sun and their nights in the forest, moving about in family groups to cultivate tasty, nutritious soils – the favourite pastime of their creed. The untold delicacies of the earth are far beyond our understanding as humans, for according to the amunzas, there are 1,734 known varieties of soil in the miwinien index, and once in a while, when a rare delicacy is found, there is great cause for celebration.

But today is a special day when more muplunts are ready to release and more miwinien are about to be born. As the sun sets over the horizon, and the night sky starts to reveal itself, Ominum Verecca and her clan are waking up and gathering for the time when Lusithlaad and his siblings will be welcomed into the world.

They sing as they congregate. It is an ancient buzzing; a low whistling harmony passed down through the ages. They steadily shake their big floral eyes, causing the small brittle leaves to rub together while the tiny seed pods ring like bells on the back of their heads. The muplunts from which the babies will be born are tall, dark green trunks with large round pods attached to the end. Originally the muplunts grew straight out of the ground, but now they strain from the weight of the pods and bend completely over so they hang just above the ground. Some are single trunks, while others have up to four trunks radiating out of the one spot, each spawning a single pod.

The first to come down tonight will be Lusithlaad, and over the next few nights many more will be delivered to the earth, for this is the birthing season that comes every three years.

Lusithlaad’s pod hangs down on its trunk, just a couple of feet from the ground, and as the miwinien surround it, they buzz and sing as they stroke the husk with their leafy hands.

Slowly the pod begins to vibrate, and they all back away. Verecca is the only one that stays, for she is the leader of their clan, and she moves in closer to receive the youngling.

With a sudden crack the pod breaks open and the two husks fall apart releasing a small, glistening, green child that almost glows in the moonlight. It hangs there for a moment, still attached by the fine root-like fibres that grow from its branches and stem. It is tightly folded around on itself, having been encased in its mother cocoon for just under a year. As it starts to wriggle and loosen its branches, the fibres brake away from the mother plant and the young miwinien falls straight into the arms of Verecca. The muplunt whips up into the air with a sharp violence, straightening itself to stand tall again, though still somewhat bent over. It has served its purpose and given life, so now it can die in peace. Eventually it will become dry and break down until it falls and joins the earth from whence it came.

All crowd around as Verecca lowers the small creature to the ground. For a moment the youngling lies motionless, its execlintian eye closed over, though by instinct its root begins to extend and find its way into the earth. With a little help from Verecca it slowly stands up and opens its branches to the world for the first time. She takes hold of the sapling’s stem, inspecting it for a few moments and causing a soft vibration to run through its skin, while a faint odour permeates from her flower. The vibration and perfume are just some of the components of her language that says:

“You are Lusithlaad. This is your first night. Be strong!”

Verecca is obviously disappointed, her violet floral eye glowering at the youngling for all to see. Such a shame that the first born of this day should be a runt, she thinks to herself.

The youngling is rather short and stocky, and its branches are quite uneven, while its stem is rather thick and unsightly with a nasty kink in it. Despite her reaction, the clan fan out their branches and let out a high, shimmering ring in appreciation and abeyance of the newborn as they lift their flowery heads to the sky. Their petals undulate, and for a moment their eyes fold back while their branches rustle. Then they all crane down in unison to look on the newborn child with a kind of love. Lusithlaad tries to look up, his red eye bobbing around bewilderedly, but it is all too much, and he drops down again and falls to sleep.

The miwinien watch carefully for a few moments and then they shuffle off to find the next set of muplunts, for there is a pair growing nearby that is nearly ready to come down. Only one stays behind; a young female who is just two years old. She has been given the charge of Lusithlaad and will help him through his first few nights of life. She slumps down on her stem and spreads out her branches while she watches the newborn sleep.

Lusithlaad was stunned by his first moments of life, but in some vague way he understood what Verecca had said. From the long darkness, he had slowly opened his eye, only to see something that was unknowingly familiar. All around there were red and orange eyes staring down on him. One of them was a scary violet colour, but when she rubbed at his stem the feeling was pleasant and the rest seemed kind and helpful, though so much bigger than him. When it all faded and the vision came back, there was only one orange eye looking straight into his soul.

“Hello Lusithlaad, I’m Meenala,” she said, touching him softly with her leaves, but he couldn’t understand her at all. “I will protect you from the big ones above.”

She carefully pulled him out of the ground, and wrapped him up in two of her branches. Slowly they moved off into the bushes, awkwardly clambering over rocks and around the twiggy plants and underbrush of the ancient forest. Meenala’s movements were slow and cumbersome as her branchy arms stretched out across the ground. With a slow, steady effort she lifted her ruffle of leaves over the rocks, and after a time they came to an old, well worn path.

“Hold on tight,” she said. “We have long and many ways to go.”

Without warning she pitched her upper branches forward and swung her body under them. With a steady three-pointed action they made their way along the path at good speed.

Not far ahead of them, an endrian pair was on the march towards its instinctive destination, the home of its metamorphosis. It marched slowly on two legs made of huge tree trunks. In fact, that was all it appeared to be: two giant tree trunks that were twisted together at the top, culminating in a thick bushy head.

These enormous tree-like creatures began their life as a single endris – a tall, straight tree that spends its time in the perpetual search for a mate. For some it took thousands of paths of the sun to find their mate, but once they were found and paired up, their many flowered and leafy branches would meld together, becoming one. This coupling allowed them to walk on their long trunk legs, though only very slowly, while all the time, growing inside was a large cocoon that would eventually metamorphose into the great ohmadaahn execlintians: amazing, translucent creatures that floated through the air of their own free will, suspended by gas, held aloft like balloons and masters of perspection.

This endrian was huge, moving awkwardly and very slowly while it lifted its left leg from the ground with the roots tearing out of the earth. But once the leg tore free it swung around, with the rear leg twisting and creaking as it turned. It was ten to fifteen times the height of a miwinien and could take a whole day and night just to take one step, each time leaving behind a new patch of fresh, tasty earth in it’s wake. Ready for eating.

The night passed quickly as Meenala and Lusithlaad rocked along the trail. In the middle of their path they found a huge fresh patch of rich smelling earth. It was the perfect place to stop, so they planted their roots for a rest and a feed. To the child’s surprise there was a tree about six feet away that was ever so slowly moving, its roots steadily pulling out of the ground.

“That’s an endrian,” said Meenala. “Something to be careful of when you rest. They never stop moving. Those less vigilant have been trampled in their sleep.” She stopped for a moment, looking for signs of understanding, but carried on nevertheless. “They don’t talk to us, but they do make for good travelling homes. Many execlintians live in their branches.”

Meenala pointed with two branches to the top of the tree where there was a host of strange looking creatures crawling all over the place. They had many legs and many flowering eyes bobbing up and down but with no discernable body. One came running down the trunk towards them. It stopped at the bottom then ran across a dead tree trunk at super speed. Without warning it jumped right over Lusithlaad’s head and onto Meenala, but before she could react it jumped off onto another tree and up into its branches.

The young female shrieked, her leaves and bells rattling furiously. By the time she composed herself she was able to speak again. “That was a zigamon,” she said shaking off the crumbs of dirt. “They‘re harmless, but very annoying!” Lusithlaad still had no idea what she was saying, but it all looked like good fun to him.

Through the rest of the night they traveled onward through the forest, past all manner of extraordinary creatures. Some of them hung from the branches peering down and following with dull eyes as the two passed by, while others remained planted in the ground, also watching and following, though many had only very simple floral eyes.

The forest was a buzz with all manner of noises. In one part it was so loud and piercing that it made the tendrils on Lusithlaad’s branches curl in discomfort. It was the sound of hundreds of trotings that clamped themselves to the trees of this part of the forest. These shy little creatures had two purple leaves that were so fine that when they rubbed together they made a high-pitched noise, not unlike the sound of a cicada. At the front they had a veil of tiny white star shaped flowers, and hidden behind was a single, small, execlintian eye that waited patiently to take a peak. Just as the two miwinien loped past the small eyes locked in on the moving creatures, following as they went, but as soon as Meenala looked back, the eyes vanished again behind their flowers leaving no trace of their presence. Soon after the two miwinien were gone, there was nothing more to fuss over so the creatures relaxed and the forest returned to silence. Their bodies also relaxed and their little inquisitive eyes dropped, hanging down on their long, green stalks, half staring at the ground while their tiny white flowers soaked up the smells of the wind and forest.

At one stage in the night, when the moon was sitting highest in the sky, they came across a large purple and grey creature called a suddaah. It was a wide and round mushroom-like being, about three feet tall and six feet wide, with many purple eyes that danced on long, grey-green stalks. These eyes darted all over the place, each one arched over to carefully inspect the complex folds of the creatures’ own exposed brain. The whole mass of the thing slid along the earth, slowly leaving a trail of dark sticky soil, all the while time making a low throbbing sound that radiated all through the ground, giving the miwinien a strange, dizzy feeling.
“They say these are the wisest of execlintians,” explained Meenala. “But I can’t understand them. They say their eyes see the thought and in seeing, they think to a deeper awareness. Only the amunzas can understand them.”

As Meenala talked, all that he knew was the soft sensation that flowed from her stem, and the warmth of vibration that the suddaah passed out through the earth, and as he looked into her eye, his stem vibrated in a lovely, ticklish way.

All of a sudden Meenala stood up to full height and planted her root in the ground. She grabbed hold of Lusithlaad, the hard woody roots cutting loudly into his young stem.

“Danger ahead. We must change direction. We move as fast as we can.”

She raced off up the hill, this time in a much faster, bounding motion as they sprung over the underbrush, hopping on the leafy foot. Lusithlaad looked back but had no idea what the danger was. All he could see was the forest becoming shrouded in a light, white cloud.

Behind them the forest was coming alive. Wisps of white, strangely translucent cloud were weaving their way through the forest. Gaseous, tendril-like hands wound their way around the trees, and as they did so the trees began to writhe and twist. As the body of the cloud advanced, some of the trees tried to bend away and resist, but it was to no avail. One of them bent so far that it strained and strained until it suddenly snapped at the base; the huge oaken body falling hard to the ground with a thunderous boom.

Up on the hill, now out of danger, the two young miwinien felt the ground shake as a terrifying roar bellowed through the earth. Just as the tree was becoming aware for the first time, it was experiencing the throws of its own sudden death. For a moment it twisted and rolled on the ground, and then it was still and lifeless. As the rest of the trees were engulfed in the fog, they all joined in with the strange, mesmerizing dance and the forest came eerily alive.

Qualia has never come this far into the forest before, she thought. There must be something wrong.

“This is very bad news, Lusithlaad. The cloud destroys the plants wherever it goes. Even the biggest trees die!”

He still didn’t know what she was saying but he felt her sadness and somehow heeded her warning.

As the two miwinien came to the top of the hill, the forest thinned out to a large, treeless clearing, allowing them a good view of the terrain. Looking to the west they could see their path ahead, travelling downhill to where the forest reached an abrupt end and released out to a wide plain of rich, red earth. In the distance on the outer fringes of the plain they could see the greenery of another large forest that covered most of the horizon. Behind them, to the east and south was a forest that spread out over all the land. It covered the hills with a darkness of rich green forest, ominous in the moonlight, but to the north, from where they’d come, their attention was drawn by a soft magical glow where the land dropped off to a huge sea of white, fluffy cloud.

“That is the Sea of Qualia.” She told the young one. “It is larger than the eye can see.”

The cloud glowed under the light of the full moon. It was beautiful, yet terrible, with a sense of almost blue and pink, and yet totally white at the same time. The clouds rolled over its surface, and where it hit the forest it seethed like ocean waves, only slower and somehow more menacing.

“It is very important that you never get close to the cloud, for it will take you and you will be lost forever. No one has ever returned. Anything that comes into contact with the Qualia becomes hypnotized and vanishes into it. Even looking at it can draw you in. Did you feel it?”

Lusithlaad did not, but at least he felt the gravity of what she was saying. From the core of her being he was feeling the fear she felt at the sight of this mysterious sea of cloud. He wanted to answer, but he didn’t know how, and then he remembered something. All the while he had been on the muplunt they had spoken to him with subtle, rubbing vibrations, and he’d felt the singing, felt their perfume. But he’d never learned how to speak.

“You don’t have to talk now,” said Meenala. “You will have plenty of questions when you’re ready.”

They rested for a while on the top of the hill and were soon joined by two older miwinien; one was a long graceful necked female with a purple iris while the other was a stocky, short necked male with an eye the colour of a daffodil. They came bounding up the slope, the male more awkward than the other as he had an extra large load. As they settled down to plant their roots, out dropped three newborn miwinien. Two of them were quite big with purple eye petals while the other was smaller, like Lusithlaad, only with a yellow iris that had orange flecks.

“This is Swerrith and Theera,” said Thulian, touching the two purple-eyed miwinien. “And this is Nantisthlaad,” he said pointing to the one with the yellow and orange flecked iris. He looked down and touched the three younglings lovingly.

“This is Lusithlaad,” Meenala said to the three young ones and Thulian gave her a strange look, tilting his execlintian eye to the side.

“What are you doing, Meenala? They can’t understand you.”

“Oh, I believe they can,” she answered. “I have been speaking all kinds of things to Lusithlaad, and I think he’s getting it.”

The old miwinien looked at her thoughtfully and sighed. “Well, that must be Verecca’s teaching. I have never heard of a young one having any kind of understanding until they reach the saahn,” His head dropped down a little. “But then, she is an Ominum and has journeyed more than I… so we must consider her new ways.”

Meenala looked proudly at Lusithlaad. “I have a feeling he is going to be a very strong miwinien, even though he may be a bit small and – ”

Noosna, the old purple eyed female, butted in on their conversation; the petals in her eye twisting around as she spoke.
“There are more serious things here to speak of. Terrible things have been happening, Meenala. The Qualia has invaded our new birthing grounds. Did you not feel the earth?”

Meenala’s leaves rustled uncomfortably, showing her submission. She had thought it strange when the cloud had blocked their path so suddenly.

“We have little hope of recovering all the muplunts.” Noosna continued. “We were lucky to bring these three down before the cloud came in. Verecca and the others are trying to save all that they can, though some of them are coming down dead. I have great fear for our young ones.” Her branches hung limp and sad, her head hanging heavy and dry.

“These are sad times for our kind,” added Thulian “The Qualia continues to take our young and we do nothing about it.”
The numbers of their clan had been dwindling for many years with more stillbirths every season as the cloud came into their areas in an increasingly unpredictable way. They had tried many ways to combat it but never found a safe place to plant their muplunts, for the right soil was always hard to find.

“I told Verecca this would happen,” said Thulian. “I may not be violet like her, but I have been around a long time. We should have been smarter, but now it’s getting too late. We had to abandon a number of our young as the cloud came in. Verecca was nearly caught in her attempt to bring down Nantisthlaad.”

Meenala interrupted politely. “Well then we must hurry so we can get back and help them, though we must get these ones to safety, before the day comes.”

“Yes, you’re right, Meenala, but I tell you this: You have the touch of Verecca. You are her protégé. You must convince her to leave these birthing grounds. If we plant here even one more season, we will lose too many and the future of our clan will be in jeopardy.”

“That is very true,” agreed Thulian. “It is also important that you keep us informed on her thinking around these matters, for I fear that she has come too close to the Qualia too many times.”

Noosna rattled his head in agreement. “You are right, Thulian. We cannot be sure to trust her judgement in light of these happenings.”

“I will,” said Meenala, though she was shocked and fearful of what she was being asked to do. She had no idea how to influence Verecca in anything. Everyone did as she commanded, but there was no point arguing now.

They did not linger, for the morning was approaching and soon the sun would catch them. The path was downhill from here, so in true miwinien fashion, each of them wrapped their branches around the young ones and rolled their bodies into tight, green balls. Using their branches as paddles to propel themselves across the ground, they rolled off down the hill and folloped towards the wide-open plain. Faster and faster they rolled, with their many leafy arms propelling them over the surface. With every revolution they took a blink from their eye, keeping track all the time of where they were going. Lusithlaad hung on to the stem with all of his strength, somersaulting backwards, while safely wrapped in Meenala’s branches.

Just as the sun started to rise, the group came to the fringes of their forest home and planted their roots into fresh, friendly soil. Meenala planted Lusithlaad in the ground next to her, and as the sun rose through the sky, the petals of their execlintian eyes unfolded and opened up wide to expose the yellowy-cream centres of their flowers to the hot, bright sun. For the first time, Lusithlaad felt the strength and power of the giver of life as it penetrated his whole being, and for what seemed like a few short moments, they bathed in the pleasure of the sun’s hot rays, but before Lusithlaad could get used to the wonderful feeling, the light vanished behind the hills and all the land woke up again. His red petals folded back into an eye as he looked around to find that the forest was aglow with a beautiful, golden light. It reminded him of the first few moments of his life only one night before. So much had happened and he hadn’t even made it home.

As they prepared for the last leg of their journey, Meenala wrapped him up in her leaves and he felt safe again. There was something lovely about Meenala; something which made him feel ticklish all around the top of his stem, but his memory of the sensation didn’t last long, for this time he fell straight to sleep and dreamt of the warmth he’d felt from the sun.
At last they came to a broad open clearing, the home of Verecca’s clan. All the trees had been cleared from this area many hundreds of years before, and in the centre there grew a tall, manipulated tree structure known as a Septhal. It was a wide, spiralling tower of trees that grew up and outwards, creating a flattened, bowl-like structure. It had originally been grown from six large trees of a kind not dissimilar to the modern silver gum, except they didn’t grow straight out of the ground as their growth had been manipulated and moulded so that they flattened out, spiralling around and outwards to nearly twenty metres in diameter and ten metres in height. As the trees grew up, their branches were splayed out and became thick and entwined, while the whole structure was covered in a thick, strong vine that encased the Septhal, filling all the gaps to create a sturdy, sloping platform to support the inhabitants.

The makers of this tower had skilfully created a long, expanding staircase-like formation into each of the six trunks, with small stumps growing out evenly along the way. And the whole structure was filled with terraces of soil where the elder miwinien could plant themselves during their daytime sleeps. This septhal could hold nearly fifty miwinien when required, but in these days of declining populations, they were lucky to have twenty at any given time.

Spanning out along the ground from the tower, were the youngling gardens. There were six patches of rich, pungent soil, all of which spiralled outwards, becoming steadily wider and filling the space right out to the perimeter. As the gardens went around, each spiral arm became longer, creating a shape across the ground similar to a giant apostrophe. Meenala and the others loped up to these gardens and planted their newborns into the dark, rich soil. Swerrith and Nantisthlaad, being of pure form and symmetry were put on the inside of the garden near the septhal, right next to a host of younglings that were already asleep, while Lusithlaad and Theera were planted far out, on the longest arm of the garden, as neither was well formed. Lusithlaad was short and stumpy with a crooked stem, while Theera was much taller though she too was crooked and shorter than Swerrith, her purple-eyed twin, due to a nasty bend in her stem. This was neither here nor there to the younglings, as they had no knowledge of the rules and rankings of the world they’d been born into. All they new was the soil was very yummy and they eagerly soaked up the nutrients through their young roots.

“This is special soil that will help you to grow.” Explained Noosna. “We call it saahn.” As she spoke to them she wondering if there was any chance they might be able to understand what she was saying.

“Now we must go back to the birthing grounds to find the ones that are left. Meenala, you will stay with them here. Don’t worry. Soon we will have more to join them and this will feel like the sanctuary you remember from your first days.”

Lusithlaad tried to say something, but he still couldn’t speak. Noosna turned to look at Meenala with surprise.
“You could be right! I can feel him trying to say something.”

“Don’t try to speak now,” hummed Meenala, her orange iris widening slightly. “Be patient and the soil will teach you. There are many wonders in this earth that will make you strong.

“Grow well, newborns, and grow beautifully!”

 


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CHAPTER 2

 

A Quiet Earth

 

When Lusithlaad woke all was quiet in the clearing. Two nights and two days had passed in a flash and he only had a vague recollection of the sunlight that flowed through his veins. Already he felt stronger and more alert than ever before. Stretching out his branches he noticed that they were a little longer and a new bud was starting to grow out of his stem.

He looked around the clearing, and saw that over thirty young miwinien had been planted in the saahn. Up in the central tower Meenala and four others were now planted in their troughs and were just waking up with the setting sun. As the night became darker they quietly groomed one another, picking out the dead leaves, so they remained fresh and green, that is, except for the dead leaves on their ruffles. Those were left in place as a sign of maturity and wisdom, and it seemed that Noosna and Thulian had the most of all.

Outside of the clearing where the forest began there was an assortment of trees, bushes and cycads. There were tall conifer like trees and ones with long brushy branches that hung down from up high. There were others with long stems and large, round fruity bodies growing in clumps up and down their branches, and there were all kinds of horsetail shrubs, club mosses and ferns that covered the ground. Scattered throughout the forest was the occasional large, broad branched tree with rough-hewn bark that seemed to shiver due to streams of tiny insects that crawled up their trunks on the way to their nests.

There was no grass in the land for it hadn’t evolved yet. Instead there was a short, wiry shrub that covered most of the ground, similar to the plant we now know as cooksonia, though the miwinien knew it as spathadahh. It had a thin green and black woody stem, which grew straight out of the ground and split off at regular intervals, terminating in small orangey yellow berries. Some clumps were packed so close together that they created a kind of shelf above the ground, so much so that the miwinien had to pull it out to create distinct pathways through the forest. And living underneath the low canopy of spathadahh were millions of the tiny black bugs as well as larger insects called archimylacris. They were ancient ancestors of the modern day cockroach, and were just as creepy; crawling and crackling all over the branches of the wiry bush, safe in an ecosystem sheltered from the sun and rain. Thankfully the bugs never came near to the Saahn, for something in the soil repelled them; at least, that’s what the soil told him.

As Lusithlaad looked out he noticed two old miwinien clumped together on the fringe of the forest, their wizened stems woody and stiff. They didn’t look like they could bend very well at all, but what made them look more peculiar was the yellow and black fungus that covered their bodies like some kind of mange. It didn’t stop them from living, but it did cause them some irritation he could tell, and the other members of the clan would not allow them to come near, for fear of becoming infected.

While Lusithlaad stared, one of them looked straight into his eye and fanned its leaves aggressively. The youngling turned away instantly, feeling the liquid shoot up through his stem. He felt unnerved and frightened, taking note to be careful who he stared at, but he couldn’t resist to look again, and when he looked back he saw them loping off into the forest. They stopped for a moment and both turned around, the same one catching his eye again. This time there was no aggression. Just a look of sadness as the old miwinien’s eye narrowed with a sense of knowing.

Thulian, who had been watching the interaction from not far away, came over to Luthislaad and laid a gentle leaf on his head. “Don’t be frightened by those two,” he said, rubbing the youngling’s skin.

“Solianth and Oolahn are mostly harmless. Sometimes we can be exposed to such things that become engrained in our flesh and skin, and they never leave us.”

“You must always be careful of what you touch in the forest,” he continued. “Especially the brightest coloured things. Not everything around us is friendly, Lusithlaad, though I think our fungal friends may have taken a liking to you. Be careful of them though, they may be weak, but their minds are not well and I’m not sure they can be trusted.”

Thulian left him while the young miwinien went back to surveying his surroundings. Further out in the forest there were hundreds of zigamons going about their evening business. They were hard at work collecting balls of dirt and taking them up to the treetops, which is where they built their nests. It was a peaceful place with just the soft crunch of leaves under hundreds of light feet. Every now and then a scuffle would break out and hundreds of little pellets of mud would rain down on the forest floor.

One night, just as Lusithlaad was watching, one of the little creatures came falling and crashing down through the tree, only to get one of its eyes caught in the vee of the branches. It dangled there for a moment confused and bewildered, not sure what to do, but then with one mighty pull, it ripped the flower off and went crashing down to the ground. The thing looked quite silly with only four eyes and a single stalk waving around with no purpose. Lusithlaad was fascinated. It wasn’t moving much but it seemed to have survived the fall and clumped down on the ground for a while to recuperate. Before long it was racing back up to the top of the tree with another ball of lovely, damp mud between its stalks as if nothing had happened.

The execlintian eye it left behind in the branches was jammed there with no way to move. The poor thing could only stair bewilderedly for a time until eventually it’s life would leave it, for without food, water and photosynthesis, there was nothing to keep it alive.

Lusithlaad wasn’t aware of the dreadful plight of that small eye any more than the rest of the zigamon that had grown it, so he bent over and rested his branches on the cool soil as he watched the funny scene. Nothing seemed to worry him. The soil that fed him was invigorating and made him feel incredibly vibrant. He wanted to get out and explore; discover what this world had to offer, but he didn’t feel ready to leave just yet. He reached over to Theera with a branch and asked how she was feeling.

He didn’t even realize he was talking. Just as Meenala had said, the soil had made his senses grow and the innate ability to communicate had been activated. Then he felt a tentative touch to his root from under the ground. For a moment he didn’t know what it was, until he heard a little voice. It was Theera and she was tickling him and telling him how she was. It wasn’t the same kind of conversation as the one he’d had through his branches, but something more intimate.

She is interesting, he thought, though a little bit scary with her violet eye. Not to mention her tall crooked stem and those delicate branches, and then he felt her laugh.

“I heard that! I think you’re interesting too, Lusithlaad. Nice and short too!” And his flower opened up nervously for a moment in embarrassment.

What else can she hear, I wonder?

“Oh everything!” she answered, as their leaves rustled excitedly.

 

As the phases of the moon passed by, Lusithlaad and his siblings grew and became more aware of the world around them, while day after day the village filled with more young ones freshly delivered from muplunts in other parts of the birthing grounds. By the time the summer month began, the long month known as Zaalep, the clearing was nearly half full of younglings, all planted and happily growing in the saahn, and as the older ones got bigger they were allowed to venture a little way into the forest, though never too far away. Occasionally they saw an Endrian marching slowly in the distance, and each night they would go out to see its progress, see the next step it had taken and watch as it slowly moved, though the giant trees never came too close to their clearing, for the older miwinien had a way of steering them off course.

It was after a long hot day when Meenala came down from the septhal to set about organizing the older ones into groups. Now they were old enough to start working and she gave strict instructions for what they were to do. Over the next few nights they would venture out into the forests, working together on a task that was essential for the wellness of their clan. In groups they would travel to the farthest reaches of the land to gather certain ingredients that would be used to make saahn and sonlah – the special soil that the elders lived on. It was a very special task, for it gave the clan great health and joy to have good food, and the recipes of this clan were some of the most prized throughout Miwinia. Only the elders knew the secret ingredients and Meenala was being let in on the recipe for the first time.

Lusithlaad and Theera’s group set off straight away and travelled southwest, dragging their light young bodies over the forest terrain for most of the first night until they were able to find their balance and to pogo-hop along like the adults. It came quite naturally to them to travel this way, although they were still quite slow. They also tried to roll up and follope, but that turned out to be much harder as they so easily fell off course and crashed into trees. So they just practiced when they could and hopped along most of the time.

At times when they stopped to rest they were shown how to make big baskets, weaving long thick leaves together that could hold dirt and other refuse they collected along the way. They were simple and rudimentary containers, but once attached to a group of zigamons, they made great carts for carrying things. The zigamons didn’t like it at all, but they were tied together with a kind of stinging nettle that kept them under control and allowed the adults to make them go wherever they wanted. The hardest part was catching the zigamons they needed to tie up, but the younglings were good at that and had lots of fun doing it.

They travelled far each night, becoming more proficient and faster all the time. At one point they came to a fast moving river, far bigger than the little creeks they’d crossed until now. They searched along the riverbank until they came to high mound on the waters edge, with a path that spiralled upwards and around it.

Teelith, the leader of their party and a lot older than Meenala, called them all to a halt and they held branches while she prepared them for the crossing.

“Here we will go under the river,” she said. “It will be wet but the roots will keep the tunnel open. Once it is open, you must all go through as quickly as you can. Meenala and I will come after. Be alert, especially on the other side, for the rivers edge has many dangers and there are river creatures we do not know. Be careful if you see any for they can come out of the water and have been known to catch the smaller ones.”

They followed the path upwards as it wound around the side of the mound and at the top came to a kind of overhang that was the remnants of a giant old tree. There was new growth on the upper side of the tree with branches and leaves spread out into the light, but the root structure of the tree made up the most of it. The mass of roots all folded over each other in a kind of lattice, with the larger roots on the outside and smaller ones in the middle. Above them, the old tree trunk had grown down over the roots, to strengthen and protect the structure from the wind and rain, creating the natural overhang.

“Come Meenala, you will do this with me,” commanded Teelith.

They moved up close and wrapped their roots around the largest of the trees roots. Holding on tight to the sides of the trunk with their leaves, they started to hum and vibrate, communing with the old tree. Slowly at first, but then faster it started to move, the smaller roots on the inside pulling apart and moving outwards from the centre of the structure. As it opened up, a small tunnel began to appear within the roots until it was large enough to fit a small miwinien.

Theera went in first, as the rest of the roots continued to open out in front of her, the live wood creaking. She dragged her body over the entrance and headed downwards into the tunnel, the dry earth falling in crumbs onto her leaves while the rest followed warily until all ten were climbing down behind her. Lusithlaad was the last of the younglings and really had to push against his fear as he entered the darkness of the tunnel. Something inside him told him it was not natural to go underground into darkness, and all he wanted to do was race back out again and rush for home, after all they were creatures that lived in the light, not underground. To make matters worse, one of them had seen a large strange water creature lurking around. It was one of those strange things with jaws and teeth that somehow tore and chewed its food instead of absorbing it through a root. How it survived in this world none could tell. Zoulith had seen it come onto shore at a rapid pace and she was convinced it was coming behind them into the tunnel. Lusithlaad was sure he could hear the sound of its four legs crunching on the leaves, its tail swinging behind. When he felt something touch the his ruffle it made him jump so far in the air that he rolled into a follope and crashed straight down onto Nantisthlaad and then over him into Zoulith, sending both of them into a panic. He pinned himself up against the root wall in blind fear of the thing, only to realize it was Meenala coming in behind him with Teelith just behind her.

“It’s only me, Lusithlaad. There is nothing that can harm you in here.” But he still wasn’t convinced.

Even so, he and Nantisthlaad and Zoulith continued on and by the time they came to the bottom of the tunnel they could see the light at the other end while the river water was raining down on them from above, though not too heavily, for the roots were firmly wound together, making a strong seal. When Theera poked her head out at the other end, all looked safe, so she dragged herself out to help the others. It wasn’t long before Meenala and Teelith were coming out and the tunnel started to close up again.

“How old is this tree?” asked Theera.

“It’s ancient. It was planted by the amunzas many years ago, even before our septhal was made, though I don’t know when. It is very old and weak now, and says it won’t be able to do this much longer. It told us to take some of its regrowth and plant in it another spot along the river so it can grow afresh and build a new tunnel. This one will do,” Teelith said, pulling a large clump from the side of the trunk.

 

The rest of their journey seemed to go more slowly than before as the air became thinner and the sun felt even hotter on their skin. The plant life in this area was very hardy and dry looking. The whole atmosphere was so dehydrating that it made them feel far more tired than usual. Teelith seemed nervous and said it would get worse before they reached their destination for the air was even thinner there. Dark clouds were forming in the south and she warned them to keep an eye out for any spot fires in the forest, if there was lightning.

To add to the exhaustion, they were being bugged by millions of small flies and tiny gnats that buzzed around and kept biting them. They had to be careful of hairy brown caterpillars too, for they kept falling onto their leaves and eating their flesh. The little things seemed to come from nowhere.

As the landscape changed, it became less hospitable for execlintians in general so that there were no longer any eyes following them from within the forest. Not even trotings were in the trees above. In fact, as he thought about it, Lusithlaad hadn’t seen any execlintians other than themselves since they’d crossed under the river.

“These are not lands for us to live in,” was all that Teelith would say.

He asked Meenala if she knew why execlintians didn’t live in these parts, and all she said was that the air was too thin and the land too dry and hot.

“These parts are more suited to other creatures not of our kind.” She pointed into the undergrowth, off to the side of the track where there were large mounds of insect nests standing out of the earth. In another part there were holes in the ground that were covered in dirty white webs. On some of the trees there were other dark growths surrounded by hundreds of large wasp-like creatures that buzzed around frantically. He hadn’t noticed them before, but now he knew what he was looking for he realized they were everywhere.

“They live here and we live in our land. It has always been that way. They stay in their lairs and keep to themselves when we come through their land. I think it is our scent that repels them and keeps us safe,” Meenala explained.

For the rest of the night Lusithlaad kept noticing more shapes in the forest and wondered what they were, but he didn’t ask for no one seemed to want to talk about them. The path they followed seemed to wind its way deliberately through the forest, running between beds of spathadahh, keeping them well away from these strange obstacles. At some points they had to slow right down while Teelith negotiated a new path, tearing the spathadahh out of the ground to steer them away from new nests that had been built up or dug in since the last time the clan had been this way.

One thought kept whispering through Lusithlaad’s mind, one truth that would not leave him. We don’t belong here, it said. We shouldn’t be here.

 

Early on the following night they came upon their destination; a place that was cooler, with moistness and movement to the air unlike the tinder dry lands they’d crossed over the past few days. Despite the moisture, the air was even harder to breathe, so they had to move deliberately, slowly, otherwise they had to rest more often, which slowed them down too much. Unlike the quiet earth they’d come to know, this place was full of loud noise and wind, with a thunder that rumbled through the ground and scared all the young ones right down to their roots.

Meenala told them not to be scared, but their instinct told otherwise. As they moved forward with every swing of their three-pointed step, the rumble became louder and the soil became salty and gritty, and not very nice tasting at all. When they pulled themselves up over a small hillock they were suddenly hit with a harsh, salty wind that blew cold through their leaves and branches. There in front of them was a gigantic dark blue plain like nothing they’d seen before. Its surface seemed alive as it heaved and swelled like some kind of endless amorphous creature. At its closest edges it was white and frothing, moving back and forth across the dirty grey soil that lay at its edges, creeping outwards before edging back again. It seemed like an eternity as they resisted the instinct to run away, but Meenala commanded them to stay, so they stayed where they were planted until it was clear that this creature was not coming any closer than it already had.

The waves of the sea pounded on the beach in front of them while the sand speckled with tiny glints of mica that reflected the light of the large three-quarter moon. This was the giant northern ocean that went on to be part of the massive body of water that covered most of the planet and was home to giant jellyfish and primitive sea creatures that were barely recognisable to anything we know now.

“What is this place?” one of the younglings asked.

“It is the ocean.”

“Where does it go?” asked Theera.

“Nowhere,” said Teelith. “At least nowhere for us. It leads to the stars, and sometimes to the moon and sun, but we can’t go there. This ocean will not allow us to travel in it. We must be content to live in the lands between.”

They weren’t sure what she meant.

“The lands between Qualia and the ocean,” said Meenala. “It has always been.”

And that was all they said.

Lusithlaad was scared stiff of the noise and wouldn’t go beyond the sand dunes, but it was Theera who took the first step. She took two of his leafy hands in hers and led him down onto the beach. They loped right up to the shore and Theera even let it touch her ruffle, but Meenala put a stop to that before it went too far.

“Do not let it touch you,” she said. “Too much of this water is poison and will dry you out. We cannot survive in this place for too long, though a tiny little bit can be good for you.”

And that’s why they were here. To collect the debris that would make their soil tasty and nutritious. All along the shore there were deposits of seaweed, dried kelp, ammonoid shells and the occasional carcass of a sea creature. There were quite a few starfish and lots of blue bottle jellyfish with long thin stingers that spread across the sand. They also found a number of strange plant-like creatures called crinoids. Usually you’d find these creatures firmly anchored to the rock bed, but for some reason the sea had risen to a fearsome turmoil and ejected them from its depths.

One of the young ones found a very strange creature lying dead on the shore. It was about a metre long with flat fins running down each side of its long, transparent tapered body, with two large spiky tentacles protruding from its head. Unlike any execlintians it had a large square mouth on the underside of its body and two eyes sticking out on short stalks, but strangest of all was its body, for this creature was translucent and almost hollow.

Teelith flapped her branches and opened her floral eye with laughter when she saw the strange thing. It wasn’t a creature at all, she said, but the skin of one.

She didn’t know what kind of creature had left its skin behind and she wasn’t about to guess. Most likely it was a schinderhannes bartelsi or some late form of laggania, though all such creatures are extinct in the modern age.

“There are some creatures in the world that are not execlintian and this is one of them,” she explained. “Look at the square hole on its underside. The mouth of this creature has sharp teeth and would eat your branches if you got too close! Don’t you ever go into the sea or they’ll eat you!”

The younglings were even more scared of the sea at that thought. Teelith said the skin would be good to add to the mix, though, so they put it in their basket and carried on. Lusithlaad stayed close to Theera as they explored the beach and made sure none of them went too close to the frothing, advancing waves.

There was lots of other useful debris on the beach except for one dead creature that Nantisthlaad found. It was a conondont – an ancient eel like creature – but its flesh was rotted so badly and the stench so foul that even Teelith wasn’t game to take it home. All they did was collect the best bits on the beach and soon set off home again, travelling as far as they could that night, despite their exhaustion, so as to get away from the sea with its thin air before daybreak came.

It was evening on the second night of their return journey, when one of the younglings was practicing her folloping and falling about all over the place. The youngling, who Lusithlaad didn’t know very well, called Selsleck, had wandered off the path and gone crashing into a gigantic mound of mud. To her surprise a swarm of giant meganeuras came flying out of their large holes, for the mound was a giant insect nest. For moments they buzzed around her floral head, the sound of their wings beating so loud and fast that the vibration drove deep into the younglings stems. They were frighteningly beautiful creatures, for they looked a bit like modern dragonflies only much larger with a one-metre wingspan, an iridescent blue body and two large stings hanging prone on their tails. They swooped and dived around the youngling, flicking her with their stinging tails. One of them tried to pick her up by the head in its long legs and carry her away, but the weight was to great. She tried to hop away but the thing held on, giving her more lift with every jump. For a moment she was off the ground and flying through the air, only to be dropped down again into a thicket of spathadahh.

The rest of the younglings ran for cover while more of the meganeuras swooped around. Nantisthlaad was stung, while the others escaped. It seemed that the giant insects weren’t interested in anything more than keeping them away, and once the miwinien were out of range, they returned to their nest, buzzing around furiously and fussing over the young they were protecting.

Teelith and Meenala inspected the wounds where the younglings had been stung. There was no pain but the wounds were deep and some of them oozed a black liquid. Nantisthlaad felt fine, as his was only small in his stem, but Selsleck wasn’t feeling very well at all, for she’d been stung on the back of her head.

Folding back her eye, Teelith could see where the blackness had gone into her petals and the folds of her brain. She soon started to feel woozy and clumped down on the ground to fall asleep, just as the skies opened up and it started to rain. Meenala lifted her up and placed her in a basket attached to the zigamons.

“We will need to keep a close watch on this one,” she said. “We don’t know what these flying creatures can do. They never come into our lands to bother us, so we should not have bothered them.”

 

The journey back was slow and sombre; for Selsleck became more and more restless as her body was taken over with the poison, her branches flapping about and making it hard to control the zigamons that carried her. The other younglings were also upset, their daytime dreams full of flying things and black poison. On the second night she was still and died of the wound in her head, her body limp and dehydrated. All they could do was carry her home where she would go back to earth and be added to the soil that fed the clan.

By the time they arrived, all of the young ones were beyond exhaustion. They had dragged their stemmy bodies over all kinds of hills and rocks and dead tree graves, and it had rained the rest of the way back. For four whole nights and days the sky had been full of storm and clouds, with fierce lightning frightening them all the way and in that time they hadn’t seen the sun at all. There had been no shortage of good watery soil, in fact a lot of their pathways had been so flooded that they’d had to cross over on fallen tree trunks and branches, carefully balancing to get through, but most of all they were missing the sun and their stems were waterlogged and their branches hung low on the ground.

Noosna met them as they arrived and without a word she herded them straight into their trenches where they were greeted by the most succulent, fresh saahn they’d ever tasted. With all that journeying and hard cold dirt they’d forgotten how delightful their special soil was, and the air on their skin was so much more rich and vibrant here. It was enough to give them a whole new lease of life in the short time they had before falling asleep. In fact, for a moment it was a party in there as the soil spoke to them and filled them with the knowledge and language of the earth until they were so tired again that they fell asleep and didn’t wake up for three nights and three days, for on the third day the sun came out again and they all enjoyed the rich warmth flowing through their branches, as the steam rose from the thick soaked ground.

They slept deeply and dreamt little, but that evening, not long before the sun went down, they were all woken by a surprise visitor who came rolling into the clearing, taking everyone, even Verecca by surprise.


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