|AzothTree_Body_01_01||So Merchand and his band of drunken loons were at it in the inn again, enjoying the adoration of the crowd, telling their usual round of wild tales. I thought they'd draw every beast a mile round to our walls – or perhaps drive them away, which would be the best to be had this night. “The First and Finest Company of Aeternum's Shores,” they've taken to calling themselves, when I think “Fermented” would be best tossed in there as well.|
It was the usual tales of the azoth they've uncovered, the horde of Withered they've butchered from the Cleave and back (which might number three in all, if the claimed bounties are to be believed). Then the drunken shouts and boasts of the rabble turned to how quick one would fell a tree, of all things.
Yet one in the crowd spoke up, most carelessly, and said he knew of a tree that none could fell.
They inn got quiet at this, and Merchand demanded where this tree was. The man – no doubt regretting his unintended challenge – said he had seen it on the Eastern edge of Brightwood, but curiously, it had not always been there – it had risen from the earth not long after the Night of Blue Lanterns. Many in the inn to make the sign to ward off evil.
Merchand, on the contrary, seemed invigorated by this (perhaps seeing a tree as easy prey), and said he would go at once to this tree and “true to his word” (true to his boast more like, and with none but the First and Finest to bear witness) chop it down and bring back its lumber to shore up the walls.
It has been a week since their departure – and while there's been scattered talk of going to find them, none has volunteered for the task.
|AzothTree_Body_01_02||I inquired of the tradesmen in the outpost, and of the “First and Finest” I caught not a word. If they had gone to the great azoth tree in eastern Brightwood, they had not made it this far, even to resupply. More telling of the truth of this was the untapped kegs in the outpost – had they lain empty or shattered, I would have known that Merchand and his band had surely come this way.|
I think upon the Night of Blue Lanterns and the rumors of the tree's sudden appearance, and I am uneasy. Perhaps Merchand came upon… not a tree to cut down for its azoth-soaked wood, as he'd hoped, but something that cut him down instead.
The fact he and his band have not been seen since… perhaps he was not one of the blessed of the isle after all, reborn to try to fell the tree again. Whatever his company's end, this much is clear – none are eager to travel to this so-called azoth tree. For if it had the strength to end Merchand's boasts and make him swallow his pride when he could not, it could certainly silence other bold travelers seeking to follow his footsteps, and quickly, too.
|AzothTree_Body_01_03||It is I, Yorke, that writes this chronicle, feigning to record Merchand's nightful boasts for “posterity,” and I have not the ink, the parchment, nor patience for all of Merchand's rambling. It is fortunate he cannot read this chronicle, for writing the truth of his adventures is one of the sole joys of his company.|
It is plain to see he and the fellows have some regret for striking out for the “azoth tree” (a fool's errand – what manner of tree suddenly sprouts from the earth, and why would one risk crossing deity or devil for it, esp. seeing what azoth has done elsewhere!). Laying sight upon it, they seemed not driven for fame at cutting down the tree, but confusion as to how they might set about dismantling and hauling it away. None had thought to bring a wagon big enough for the task.
I, for one, do not like camping here. I find the coincidence of the Night of Blue Lanterns and the sudden appearance of this tree to be a warning most clear, not another feat fit for a rabble who playact at a “task worthy of Hercules.”
As night fell, the Blue Lanterns of the highway seemed to glow brighter, and even the ones in the distance seemed most sharp to my eyes. I write these final lines as Merchand has gone off to slumber, and I'll make up words “worthy of the myth” tomorrow… unless he decided to tear up the parchment in anger, like he has for half of our expeditions that fortune did not favor.
- “The Great Merchand” (i.e., Chronicler Yorke)
|AzothTree_Body_01_04||I did not sleep. I felt as if something was watching us as we camped beneath the tree. Yet when the light of dawn touched the camp, I felt relief, and my fears were dispelled – and the day brought a new joy: Merchand's humiliation!|
It is with no small amusement that I chronicle this – I watched Merchand, then his men, one by one – then in tandem, and finally a half-dozen, all take their hatchets to the tree, and the wood remained untouched! Merchand, finally, his face red, sought about seeking to chop the tree down with curses, to pry at the branches with hatchet and chop at it with sword – but to no avail.
Had he not been so angry, I would have laughed, but the unease I had felt earlier in the day became stronger as night drew on and bid me to keep my tongue. More to my unease, I noticed that Merchand had made no signs of packing up camp – it seemed as if he would work in the light of the moon and the glow of the tree.
Yet… the blue light within the tree's wood seemed sharper to my senses as he hacked at it, as if what was within was resisting his efforts. It may have been the trick of the light… but it seemed to grow stronger, pulsing like a heart after every stroke. Turning from the tree, I scanned the growing darkness, but saw naught but the blue lamps burning… except some… seemed moving, as if carried by men.
What manner of men carry a flame of azoth to their chest?
- “The Great Merchand” (i.e., Chronicler Yorke)
|AzothTree_Body_01_05||Be warned, traveler – there is a great tree, but do not seek shelter beneath it – others who came before sought to do so, and their bodies lie spread across its roots. I did not bury the ones I saw, for a corpse in Aeternum is an unusual thing if it does not rise, and there was still hope the corpses would vanish in the light of the sun – but it seemed as if they had been there for some time, which was as unsettling as the tree itself.|
The tree seems a lesson in that Aeternum takes its own, and leaves others to rot in the sun. On the crest of one's shield, I recognized the mark of the “First and Finest Company” – Merchand's band of opportunists – yet the shield had been cleaved in two with a sword sharper than the crest that defended its owner.
Around the Company, I saw tracks, not unlike those I'd seen at the ruins where Grenville's curiosity had led him (how many fools does this land inspire?). The Ancient Keepers had come for Merchand's band, one and all.
The tree is a thing born of azoth, born of the blue light in the lanterns. And where the dead walk with azoth burning in the orbs in their chest, I fear these men now walk with them.