The Tree of the Ages
by Adam Higerd

As the boy ran from the open fields, he was shouting strange words. He sped sobbing into his father's arms. In the comforting, gentle embrace, he began to quiet down, and his heavy sobbing lightened into a light weep. His father asked him what the problem was, and the frightened child responded weakly. "I don't know, Daddy, I don't know. I'm scared!"

The boy's father carried him into the house and laid him gently on his bed. The boy laid his head back on his pillow and began to think. After a moment of confused silence, his father asked, "I know you're frightened, but I want to know what's bothering you. What happened?"

He looked down for a second, then looked back up into the loving gaze of his father. He said through his tears, "I was out p-playing in the fields with my friends. We were playing hide-and-seek a-and Will was It. I c-climbed up this big tree, and... and..." His voice trailed off. The boy closed his eyes and turned over, putting his face into his pillow. His father absentmindedly rubbed the boy's back for a while, then stood and walked quietly away when the crying child's breathing got deep and slow, letting him sleep.

That evening, the man sat down on his couch, and pondered the fragment of a story that his son had told him. Slowly, a fearful light began to twinkle in his eyes as he began to realize what must have happened. He stood up, and resolutely walked into the basement. When he returned, he had his ornate walking stick in one hand, and a cap on his head. With the simple nod that speaks volumes, he communicated to his wife all that needed to be known. He opened the door to his house, walked out, and quietly closed it behind him.

He walked out of the town, following the west road. After a couple of minutes, he reached the field where he had played as a child, and where his son had played during his lifetime. He began to walk around the field rather aimlessly, brushing aside the tall grass as he meandered. He found the old, gnarled tree near the middle of the field, and noted that it seemed bigger than it did when he was a child. He glanced around and noticed that some of the other, younger trees that were there during his childhood were no longer there... not even stumps.

He approached the tree, and looked up into its branches. They did not appear to be broken, so he decided that his son must not have fallen out of the tree. This thought, then, confirmed his fear. The tree had awakened again. It had awakened once before, during his grandfather's time, and lore passed down between generations spoke of the strange effects of the ebony oak. He quickly ran back to the town.

He gathered the men in the town, and they discussed the matter during the night. The next morning, a strange fear passed over the town as the men met up at the spring in the center of town, and mothers kept their children inside. The murmur of tense conversation rose from the assembly. Out from the group four people stepped. These people included the boy's father, one of the town militia, and a strange wanderer from out of town who seemed to know what was going on. The fourth member of the group was a woman. She was young, appearing to be only in her twenties, but wise beyond her years. The four slipped out of town in the midst of the confusion in the town square.

They traveled along the road that the boy's father had traveled the evening before. As they reached the field, the woman collapsed to the ground. The member of the militia kneeled beside her and said, "Callia, are you okay?" She stood carefully, straightened her clothing, and replied, "I'll be fine, Dan. I was just overcome for a moment by a strange feeling." They proceeded to cross the field toward the mysterious old, black oak tree.

Each member of this unlikely group had brought something. Dan had brought his weapon, a fine zwei-hander, and was wearing a heavy brown leather jacket. Jim, the father of the boy whose story began the quest, carried the same walking stick that he had used before, and the same cap with a feather. Callia carried a small pack over her shoulder, and wore a white shirt over a dark blue jumpsuit. The strange wanderer had simply brought a tiny bag attached to his belt. This man was a full foot and a half shorter than the rest of them, but had incredible stamina. He wore a gray cloak with a hood.

They reached the tree, and stopped, not sure of what to do next. Callia put her hand to her head, because she had a headache. Jim suddenly broke the quiet with his voice. "Tree of the Ages, I know you have awakened. Answer my call, why have you returned?" Dan and Callia exchanged surprised glances and looked at Jim.

Callia and Dan both jumped when the tree responded. A voice spoke from within the tree, though there was no movement to show that it really was the tree speaking. Its deep, gravelly voice boomed out, "Yes, I have awakened. My spirit has arisen because it has been called into this world." This time Jim participated in the exchange of surprised looks. Then, the wanderer spoke aloud in a voice unusually low for one of his stature. "Tree of the Ages, who has called you, and what is his purpose?" The voice again spoke, "I know not who has called me, nor do I know of his purposes. I know only this one thing: I have been called from my slumber after three generations."

Then the wanderer took the pouch from his belt and opened it. He looked carefully inside, then reclosed the bag and clipped it to his waistband once more. The four then turned to face each other to talk. Callia said, "Who could have called it?" Jim answered, "I don't know... All I know is that the last time it had awakened was during my grandfather's life." Dan spoke, "Well, let's try to find out!"

Suddenly a new voice sounded from behind them. "You need search no further, for I am the one who has summoned the Tree of the Ages." The foursome turned around to see a tall, stooping figure. "I called it because it has powers beyond what can be found anywhere in THIS world." Then Callia spoke, "But... but how can you have the willpower to control such strength?" The shadowy one answered, "What? What are you talking about?" Then the voice of the Tree of the Ages spoke. "Yes... You do not have the power to control me. Now that you are here, I can take my freedom!"

A pair of roots shot up from the ground and wrapped around the shadowy one. They quickly hardened into a solid cocoon around him. The Tree then boomed, "Now that the one who has summoned me has been dealt with, I am free!" It rose on its roots, and took a step towards Dan, Callia, Jim, and the other. "And now, to SHOW you puny humans what kind of power I truly possess!"

Dan drew his sword and took a battle position, while Jim assumed a martial-arts stance. The tree advanced farther, but they did not retreat. It swung a heavy limb at Callia. Then, causing more surprise still to Dan and Jim, Callia suddenly shouted, "Consefar atalno kazan!" The tree-beast lurched and swayed as Callia shot a stream of fire at it. Realizing the opportunity, Jim ran in and struck the tree with his staff, although there did not seem to be an immediate effect. Dan rushed in with his sword and began to hack at the limbs. About this time, the tree recovered from the fire blast and reached over to grab the annoyance chopping at its wood. It picked Dan up off of the ground, but Jim leaped to the rescue, striking the offending branch with his staff. The branch promptly shattered. Noting Dan's puzzled look, he commented, "It was my grandfather's. Don't know where he got it, didn't know what was so special about it... until now." Dan nodded and leapt back into a more defensive posture.

The strange wanderer had been standing back the whole time, but now he stepped forward and drew the pouch from his belt. He nodded to Callia and shouted out, "Mara! Now!" While the other two shouted "WHAT?!" the wanderer tossed a handful of the powder that was in his pouch into the air. At the same time, Callia (or should we call her Mara?) began chanting quietly. Then she pointed at Dan and Jim, who winced in fear. She shouted a few words in an unknown language, and a beam of light enveloped the two. Then she swung her finger to point at the tree, and it also was surrounded in light. The wanderer blew at the cloud of powder, still suspended in midair, and it rushed to the tree. Callia/Mara shouted to Jim and Dan, "NOW! Go!" Jim rushed over to the tree and struck it. The staff sank in deeply, then Jim pulled it back out. At the same time, Dan ran and swung his sword at the trunk of the tree. The tree, stunned this whole time by the magical assault, wailed and flailed at Dan. He was knocked to the side, but his sword struck the trunk of the tree at the same time that he was hit.

The blade impacted with the wood with such force that it snapped off at the hilt. Jim sped over to his fallen comrade. While he was attending to him, Callia withdrew a shortbow from her pack, as well as a golden-tipped arrow. She aimed at the tree and bulls-eyed it right in the gouge made by Dan's sword. When the arrow struck, the tree groaned and fell to the ground. It glowed brightly, then suddenly went dark as a shadowy image rose from it. At this point, the physical hold on the person who had summoned the tree was broken. Realizing the situation, the wizened old man chanted a few words, and the spirit shrieked and contracted. The wanderer looked upwards suddenly as he decided on what he had to do. He also began to chant, and motioned for Callia/Mara to do the same. Then, the three all shouted at the same time, forever sealing the spirit in the nether realms.

Dan struggled to his feet, then walked over to examine his broken weapon. The short traveler walked over to him and looked at the sword. "It'll need a new hilt, the blade's been ripped clean out of it." He pulled back his hood, revealing a skull helmet. "I'm Watts, and I'm a blacksmith. We dwarves are pretty handy at fixing weapons like this. I could make you a fine new hilt out of this wood. Who knows? Maybe some of the tree's power will go into it."

The one who had called the Spirit of the Ages then spoke. "I apologize. I did not realize that my summoning had become so powerful. I was not able to control it. Such power should never be released on this world!" Mara nodded, as did Watts. The summoner then uttered a Word and vanished. Jim blinked. "Who was that?" Mara answered, "I'm not sure, but I think he came from the same place I did... now if I could only remember where that was." Watts said, "There, there... I'm sure you'll remember in good time."

Dan and Jim returned to their village, and the other two went their separate ways. Then one day, Watts returned to speak to Dan. He presented a bundle of cloth to him. Dan unwrapped the cloth, to look upon his sword, reforged... the Mana Sword.

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