Ean climbed. Was climbing. In a murahko.
The immense tree rose, extending beyond Ean’s sight, branching off regularly with the wide, cupped branches murahkos were known for. Loam formed from centuries of bark, leaves and moss filled a channel on the top of each branch, and from the plants growing in that loam, Ean saw the careful cultivation of a well kept tree farm.
Ean continued to go up, fitting his hands to the thick, craggy bark, so dark brown it was almost black. He knew that sound. That quick, metallic slide. Someone nearby was using pruning shears. The large kind that went on the end of a pole.
He looked as he climbed, and eventually saw what he was looking for: a man wearing a white workman’s outfit and attached to one of the wide limbs by a safety harness, snipping away at the newer growth on the outer branches. Ean climbed to the limb the man was on and walked out on the wide branch path, careful not to step on any of the crop plants growing in the bark loam. The man glanced at Ean as he neared, then went back to pruning.
Ean didn’t recognize his face, but he was certain he knew him.
The clothing… so white… so white it glowed…
The man didn’t reply, just kept working, but Ean knew.
After a kella the man paused and studied his work, then motioned for Ean to look at it. Ean saw where some of the green shoots on the branches had been trimmed short.
“Sometimes the branches grow too long,” the man said. “They get in each other’s way and cut off light. They also put too much effort into trying to grow leaves and not enough into growing fruit. Then I have to trim them back, to open them up to light and convince the branches to put more into fruit and less into themselves.”
He moved to another group of branches. These were untouched, and spread in a mess over each other. The man began snipping twigs off with the shears.
It took a moment before Ean realized the twigs weren’t falling down.
They were falling up.
His eyes followed the twigs, up, and up, and up, and where the sky should have been he saw Sunfire Falls. The buildings of the capitol rose amidst the branches of the tree, and he was looking up–down?–onto the streets.
The twigs were falling down. The tree was planted in the sky.
It made sense. Of course.
As he watched, the twigs began to drift and twirl in a hot wind that rose from the city.
The city began to glow.
The city was on fire.
All of it was on fire.
“It will be worth it, when it is done,” the man said. “You will agree. The harvest will be much greater.”
Ean woke, and stared at the wall of his room. The words lingered. The flames lingered.
After a few kellas had passed, he began to cry.
That day he oversaw the wall that was growing around Sunfire Falls.
Mighty hahrax trees, chosen for their near immunity to fire on the outside and already limbed the day before, fell with crashes that felt like earthquakes, dropped by careful use of long steam-driven chainsaws on their bases and ropes tied to their tops and pulled by tractors. As soon as they were down teams cut off the upper two thirds of each tree, leaving a straight section of trunk several heights wide that narrowed very little over its length. Other teams bored clear through the weak, pithy heartwood with bits normally reserved for drilling wells fifty heights deep, then lit fires in those holes that would hollow out the trunk clear to the strong outer wood of the tree’s maturity. While the trunks were still burning, pouring smoke into the sky, steampowered bulldozers rolled them into alignment with the hollow wall sections already in place.
The wall that was growing day by day, at least four-heights high along its entire length and silvery-tan due to the smooth bark left on the trees for additional fire protection, would completely enclose Sunfire Falls just beyond the tower-zone of the city’s forest. Ean had planned for arrow slits, cut from the inside out by pneumatic chainsaws with bars a full height long, so that archers could man galleries inside the wall along its entire length and fire from two heights above ground. Skylights cut the same way would allow steam mortars to launch rounds out without exposing themselves. With wood as much as a height thick in many places, the wall would be immune to the Imperial legions’ cannons, most likely, and the legions’ scaling teams would have great difficulty approaching while arrows and explosive mortar rounds struck them with impunity.
It would be an incredible feat of defense engineering, especially if they got it done in time.
Yet in a way it was useless.
The Garagrans would fly right over it.
Ean thought of his dream. It hadn’t horrified him when he was asleep, but now that he was awake it gnawed at him from the inside. Trin had been right. He didn’t want his people to burn. They were his people.
Even if they were horrible.
And they needed him. Trin had been right about that too. Without him the walls would never have made it this far. Half the other new defenses had come out of his head since Ember’s kidnapping as well. In all seriousness, inventing defenses had been the only way he had been able to keep from thinking about her every waking moment.
Yahsaw, where is she? How is she? Is she…?
No answers. No way to have answers. He just had to keep working.
He had to stop. If he didn’t stop he would fall into a downward spiral again. He wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about her, about her cry as she fell off her horse on that last day. About the promise they had made before that.
Would he ever see her again?
He prayed for strength then looked at the wall again. He decided the work was proceeding well enough that he could leave it to the foremen for the day. Time now to check on the mortar assembly lines. And after that, the refined petroleum production. Then he could look at the ballista-truck prototype. And then…