Maybe a cold drink and a bit of puffroot might help dispel the nagging tug of the temple…
Fortunately, the feeling is less a compulsion and more like a suggestion from something far away. When fought, it is easily overcome; almost as if it’s resigned to it.
As Ane scans around for some refreshment, there are a couple of options. One location, tucked cozily underneath one of the root-sprawls, emits the earthy scent of the puffroot. It has a softly-carpeted entrance and a welcoming glow of light coming from around the curtains. A painted dye-and-sap sign depicts a small fire with a puffy cloud of smoke over-top.
Higher-up on another tree, positioned slightly above ground-level, is a tavern with open seating upon the raised roots. There are cloth banners and overhangs on the outside, tied up on cattail-fibre cords. The place has an open, sociable vibe about it, presumably with a bar situated inside the tree itself. People come and go from the place freely, often sitting on the outside to enjoy their drinks in earthenware cups.
The need to decide which desire to satisfy first — the puffroot or the drink — lets the gentle tug awaken again. Maybe there are more options closer to the temple. It certainly won’t hurt to walk a little farther, it’ll be so long before the caravan returns to Paakoponde…
Allowing her whims to take her along the path of the pull, Ane makes her way nearer. The large step-temple looms even greater, seeming to creep from the horizon to the foreground like a massive stone tortoise. Now, a number of people are visible near its entrance; some have the garb and gait of cityfolk, towing children or carrying baskets of offerings. Others show the uniform shades of Eternalist robes, some training and exercising along the steps and rails, while others simply ascend or descend the stair.
The pull, growing more insistent, draws Ane in. It seems to lead to a point behind the temple, rather than within the temple itself. It makes little sense, as the temple is backed by the great Jian River. However, there may be a thin stretch of earth behind the mighty stonework… It’s hard to say from this point.
The taverns and puffroot dens are quite nice along the river as well, though with a notably more spiritual vibe. They have a bit less of that rustic charm, but trade it out for a more esoteric one. There’s wispy trails of incense smoke, some iconography on the outer roots, and perhaps a more respectable sort of clientele. There are still travelers aplenty, though they’re most likely here to see the temple and the archives of the Eternalists.
Ane makes a mental note of the taverns and puffroot dens, though she ignores them for now. The river isn’t far, and a walk around the swamps might be nice, right? At the very least, it won’t take long for her to satisfy her curiosity and grab a pipe of puffroot and a pint of something refreshing on the way back to her wagon.
As Ane continues her walk, the feeling grows slightly stronger. It’s not as if the gentle tug is swelling in strength; it’s more like a cry, increasing in clarity. Now it begins to have a melancholy tone to it — lost, secluded, forgotten. The regrets of a life unlived. The sorrow of a sight unseen. The shadows of a place where people do not see fit to tread.
Ane’s walk first takes her through a number of curated gardens, which trail along the sides of the Eternalist temple — which a passerby calls the “Vault of Sojethys.” Its gardens are numerous and broad, providing a number of different vistas and habitats. Some are similar to the surrounding lands, with bogs that host the floating zool and lurking snakes, and swamps that boast the occasional zwarf, all with guided-root walkways to allow for easy passage. Other gardens boast different climes, somehow simulated by a higher or lower density of shardflies in the area. There are chilly highlands with gurrans and a couple of trumba, all herded between stone railings and stepped paths. There are also dry savannahs, with a few curltongued, bundle-backed bunduks, as well as a few of the sightless, carnivorous camels that are seen in sinward lands. The sands are raked and dotted with meaningfully-placed rocks, following some unknown, improvisational aesthetic sense.
It’s a natural temptation to linger in these areas, though the violet cry comes from beyond them. It’s along the riverbed somewhere further, where the walkways cease and give way to cattails, mud, and rocky shores. Given its position behind the Vault, it’s unlikely that most anyone would travel back there. Even the monks likely wouldn’t find it suitable for their training and meditation.
The only thing Ane lingers for is to pick a few of the mushrooms that rise from the occasional fallen, mossy log, grown soft and spongy with water. Judging by the velvety spots across their caps and the fine pores on their undersides, they’re more blue boletes — the freshest she’s come across. She tucks them into her basket with a smile before she continues along the river.
Despite the many sights, the Teller of Fortunes moves onward. Picking the mushrooms takes barely a minute, leaving plenty of time to continue. The walk through the gardens is bewildering, like travelling around the world over the course of a mere hour or two. Each is like a window to a foreign land, albeit with the strange walkways and aesthetic trappings of the Eternalist tenders. By the time she reaches the opposite edge, it all seems to have passed surprisingly quickly.
Now Ane is faced by the Great Jian River, stretching all the way to a thick green line on the horizon. Its surface ripples and wavers, constantly in motion, with all manner of creature underneath. It’s said that man people draw their lives from this river, gathering at a great embankment in the dexward direction. There they supposedly drink, bathe, and even wash their clothes, whenever the space isn’t taken up by one mass ritual or another. However, this place is downstream from there. And as Ane looks down the span trailing behind the temple, its size is far too great and forbidding to allow for such activity. In fact, the back of the Vault is tall and steep with no apparent steps downward. Even the monks would have a tricky time coming back here, if they so wished.
Up ahead, the land grows thin and muddy, thick with vegetation. Luckily, the zools drifting purposelessly over the ground don’t frighten her and she isn’t in her work clothing — it’s no great matter to continue on at a decent pace. She picks her way along the marshy ground, carefully seeking out flat stones, stumps, and firm-looking patches to keep from sinking up to her knees in mud.
The trip is long and across wild terrain, calling Ane’s nimble steps into service. As she makes decent haste, some mud splashes about her sandals and trousers. It’s considerable, and will likely call for a decent washing, though it’s nothing that’ll see her excused from a tavern. At one point a zool floats by, not minding her as it skirts the water’s edge for food. Its bulbous body thumps gently against Ane’s side, but it continues on anyway, hardly disturbing her course.
Now the violet cries are at their most clear, and they sound like something small. It’s not an infant, but something somehow without a voice. Its creaking is from deeper inside, overcoming the limits of its form with the depth of its emotion. And as it becomes more distinct, Ane’s easily able to pick out its source, even though she doesn’t hear it with her ears. Then again, she can just barely imagine it, right there on the edge of her perception…
Looking down into the mud, Ane comes face to face with what appears to be a small, stone fetish of some kind. Its edges are smoothed, carved from a dun marbled rock, perhaps soapstone or something similar. The details are obscured, but the form is clear: a vaguely pyramidal shell over stout, rounded legs, with a wide club-tail trailing off behind. The head is covered in small, irregular nubs, and the eyes are sad little divots upon the rounded top of its head. The whole thing is caked with mud, with a bug and part of a cattail stuck to the back.
It rests down there in the ground, overturned on its back.
For as much as she enjoys her visions, she hates it when her dreams are right. It’s one thing to go seeking knowledge, or even just ride along in another creature for awhile, but reality intruding on her sleep just strikes her as rude.
She bends down over the stone creature. With one corner of her shirt, she wipes the mud from its belly as best as she can. When that doesn’t prove to be enough, she attempts to dislodge it from the surrounding mud and give it a few splashes of river water to get a better look at it.
As the mud is washed away and the carving is hefted, the pang in Ane’s chest begins to ease. It changes from a forlorn call to a slow, gentle warmth settled in the center. Strangely, even the fetish begins to look slightly different; the divot-eyes no longer look quite so downturned, and the vaguely-pyramidal shell now has a little shine to it. All of its edges are stylized, like what one may see on a ceremonial totem. It’s not a bad trinket, all told; it wouldn’t “wow” a guest, but it’d fetch a decent price at a shop. But there’s something… More, perhaps nested within it.
Might it be violet..?
The slipshell totem might be smiling, faintly, with that silly little line of a mouth.
She doesn’t quite realize what she’s doing when she gives the stone totem a little rub across the top of its flat, nubble-horned head. Part of her wonders if she should take it to the temple, in case it’s a cultural object of value… But, if that was the case, would it not have been discovered by now?
Ane has spent enough time mucking around back here, anyway, and she’s starting to get hungry. She slips the totem into her basket and begins the trek back the way she came. If she passes a monk she can ask about it, she will, she decides. If not, it’ll have to wait — she’s got a meal to eat and caravan business to attend to before they pull up stakes and roll on to a different part of the city.
The slipshell totem sits comfortably in her hand. It’s as if its taking a ride, or perhaps settling in. A little bit of moss clings to the back even after cleaning, but really that just adds to the aesthetic.
As Ane makes her way back to the gardens, it becomes apparent that she has an audience. A number of the rocks have lifted up slightly, revealing that many of them were actually slipshells — the sort of mossy, shell-backed creature that often causes river-goers to, well, slip.
They raise their heads, looking up with wizened expressions, seemingly… Approving? It’s almost as if she’d passed some sort of silly trial, or done them some small service. They blink, craning their nubble-lined heads slowly. They don’t particularly move, just sort of hang out, as slipshells do. When Ane passes by, they eventually sink back down, settling into the riverbed. They all seem rather content to sit, munch on reeds and clumps of algae, and wait for someone to mistake them for stepping stones.
Not long after nearing the gardens, Ane manages to spot one of the Eternalist monks. She’s wearing their traditional robes, the bottom billowing as she floats over the top of a grassy span, which is likely meant to imitate the Gurran Plains. She seems to be combing over the field with a short metal rake, ensuring that the grass follows the direction of some unfelt wind.
Ane, not really wishing to disturb the woman’s gardening, clears her throat softly before calling out.
“Pardon me. I had a question, if you don’t mind!”
The woman pauses her gardening, and holds the rake at her side as she straightens her back. Her short crop of braids clips against her shoulder as she turns, smiling in a welcoming fashion.
“Of course; it’s my pleasure to answer, as it would be for any of us,” she says warmly. “What is your question?”
Ane gingerly withdraws the stone slipshell from her basket. She holds it out for inspection, cupped carefully in the palm of her hand as though it were a rare jewel or a baby bird.
“I found this in the mud… I don’t know if one of your order misplaced it, or if it was something that needed returning…”
Curious, the monk takes a moment to examine the slipshell totem. She doesn’t take it from Ane’s hand, but instead leans close and peers around it with her trio of eyes. She murmurs in thought, then leans back, pursing her lips pensively.
“Well, it doesn’t appear to be something from our archives… I can’t place its origin, or culture. It looks old, maybe something from a foreign land?” She shrugs. “Whatever the case, it doesn’t strike me as a stray artifact or anything. It’s yours to keep. Some of the world’s treasures and secrets are for their beholder,” she appraises cheerily.
The monk gives no hint of awareness to the item’s properties. Perhaps it’s an off day for her? Either that, or it’s just not an item familiar to their order. It’s hard to tell. Still, the warmth it instills is unmistakable — as if this item somehow experiences emotion.
“Huh. Well, thank you,” Ane says, with appreciation tinged with bewilderment. It doesn’t seem foreign — how could it be, surrounded by live slipshells? That strikes her as pretty sincerely local. Nonetheless, she slips the totem into her basket again, and offers the monk a smile as she turns to depart.
Now, maybe she can find a place to sit and relax for a little while.