We have travelled deep into the Haven of Purity to meet the homins of one of the Bark's most important tribes, the Company of the Eternal Tree. Having made contact with Bian La-Viang, the welcome host, he finally directs us towards an old Zoraï stooped over an earthenware vase.
Hello, who are you?
Ssh... Just a second if you please...
He taps the vase for a moment before putting it down.
...There you go, isn't that better? Thank you for waiting. Patience is a great virtue. What are a few minutes at my age? No doubt not more than my life in proportion to that of the Progenitor... They call me Yi Be-Pian. They say I'm a sage, but no doubt that's just a polite way of saying I'm the oldest in the Company of the Eternal Tree. (smiles)
Let's talk about the Company. When was it founded?
I may be old, but I'm not so old that I was around when our company was created by the revered Mai Loo-Kai, may we all follow her example, in 2364. Few like to remember that time. Zoraï society had developed and, despite its devotion to spiritual matters, it began to turn away from the Kami to concern itself with much more... material matters. Seeing the Zoraï put homins before the Kami more and more often, Mai Loo-Kai, may her spirit guide us for a long time, gathered many of her friends around her and decided to found a guild entirely dedicated to the Kami. In its great wisdom, the council applauded her initiative and gave her its full backing. So Mai Loo-Kai created the Company of the Eternal Tree. Along with those who soon came to be called her disciples, she preached respect for the Kami and regularly called the Zoraï to order.
But aren't you a tribe?
Ma-Duk didn't create Atys in a day, I can't tell my story in a sapbeat. (smiles) So there came a day when Mai Loo-Kai, may her sap flow through the veins of Ma-Duk, realised that those who called themselves sages weren't following the advice that they encouraged her to give. So she turned and addressed her reprimands to them as well. They didn't appreciate being called to order in the slightest and so the guild's problems began. The council began to criticize it, accusing it of trying to spread trouble with the aim of obtaining power for itself. Feeling that if she stayed in Zoran the power of the homins would end up corrupting the guild and its ideals, Mai Loo-Kai gathered those who had remained faithful, dissolved the guild and left to establish herself far from the authority of the council which was perverting her noble design.
And the central power of Zoran left her alone?
Mai Loo-Kai, praised be her wisdom, stopped preaching, preferring to devote all her energy to those she revered, the Kami. In so doing, she proved the council wrong and the example set by her devotion had more effect on Zoraï society than all her preaching. By distancing herself from homins she led them along the path of enlightenment. Ashamed, the council asked her to return, but she refused. Nowhere in Zoran could she live in such symbiosis with the Kami. Not long afterwards she disappeared, the first to have attained the Kami Age. Her sap is now one with Ma-Duk. Soon, I know, it will be my turn to rejoin her.
Observing your camp, there's something I've been wondering. There are many different peoples here, and yet you have only spoken to me of Zoraï...
Observation. A great quality for those who know how to see. My people remained very inward-looking for a long time through fear but, also, I think, through ignorance, ignorance having led to vanity. But when the Kami recognised us as their most loyal servants, we were induced into bringing the sacred word of Ma-Duk to other peoples. Meeting souls desirous of following our path, we opened our doors to all homins that the Kami considered to be worthy of serving. Then came the great wave of kitins which swept away all civilisation, including much of ours. The Kami fled, all the better to return after they'd gathered their strength, as we later realised. Once the Bark was accessible to us again, we retook our place beside the Kamis in 2483. The tribe had lost many members, so we opened our arms wide to all those who wished to rebuild a world of harmony with the Kami, whether they be Zoraï, Trykers, Fyros or Matis. It's time for me to perform my devotions to the eternal Ma-Duk. Hold on to those questions you're dying to ask, the answers will come in their own time.
I left Yi Be-Pian to his meditations and made the most of the time to soak up the atmosphere of calm which reigned in the tribe. As I silently observed the camp, I didn't immediately see Yi Be-Pian sit down beside me. Smiling, he finally broke the silence.
Your respect for our traditions honours you. It seems that the day hasn't yet come for my return to Ma-Duk. So some of your questions will be answered.
There's something I don't get. You swear by the Kami and yet you don't seem to have that bad a relationship with the Matis.
We may condemn their tendency to help the Karavan, but we respect their love of plants and the research they carry out in that field. We only hope that one day we can open their eyes and convince them to use their immense scientific learning for the good of the Kami and the fight against the Goo. No, those we consider to be real fools are the Fyros. They're worse than children. We can't tolerate their government's acceptance of their dangerous games with fire. They say that they're devoted to the Kami but, like the sages of the past, they put their own personal interests before those of Atys.
How does one become worthy of serving the Kami in the Company?
The Kami alone decide. Those who respect the sacred rules most faithfully and learn to know all the Kami have the immense honour of being chosen to serve. Before, when the tribe was respected for its immense valour, its members were considered by all to be sacred beings and, although there existed many religious orders, the Company of the Eternal Tree was considered to be the elite and we were regarded as the most pious of the pious.
How do you serve the Kami?
There are a thousand ways of serving the Kami. Dedicating prayers to them and looking after a corner of the land is already a way of honouring them. However, the tribe's most important task is spreading the teachings of Ma-Duk, may her sap flow eternally, and making homins aware that they must safeguard Atys. Those who have been chosen to serve the Kami directly have the honour of serving as their spokespersons. They go to live with the Kami in order to familiarise themselves with their way of life and to better learn their language. These elect will be the first to attain the Kami Age, I'm quite sure, because they understand the word that they bring to us better than anyone. Our devotion also requires lots of practical action to safeguard Atys. We work the land to remove harmful things or, conversely, to resow the springs which have been dried up by unscrupulous foragers. Finally, we try to protect Atys from its most dangerous enemies: The Karavan and the homins who have debased themselves to serve them, the Kuilde. One of our encampments is situated just inside Nexus in order to try and restrict their harmful actions.
But why in Nexus?
There you go again, asking questions without thinking. Consider the geographic location of Nexus, which is strengthened by the three vortexes. You see, the answers are sometimes closer than you realise, you just need to take the time to think about it. Nexus occupies a central position on Atys. Nowhere else are you so close to all the regions at once. The Kuilde tries to use it to strengthen its control over all of Atys' resources and in particular those of the upper Primes. The Karavan cares little for the equilibrium of Atys; we have to stop them from using those stinking, toadying ragus, the Kuilde, to devastate the regions. Mind you, at least by concentrating on Nexus, they leave us alone to carry out research into our ultimate enemy, the Goo.
Tell me about the fight against the Goo. How can it be that with all the time the Kami have known about it, they still haven't found a way to eradicate it?
The Kami are powerless against it. What's more, they are extremely vulnerable to it. I've seen with my own eyes a Kami being sucked up by the Goo before I could intervene. No, I tell you, it's up to us to protect them. Did you know that homins have a better resistance to the Goo than most other living creatures? Our latest findings seem to bear this out.So the Kami protect Atys and we protect the Kami. There is equilibrium in everything.
How do you explain the fact that it's only in the jungle that the Goo is to be found so persistently?
Despite all our research, unfortunately we haven't found the answer to that question. However, our most recent observations lead us to believe that if the Goo attacks Atys in the jungle, it may be due to the greater presence of plant life. The Goo attacks any living matter. If it feeds off it, it makes sense that it will take hold where life is most flourishing...
Does the upcoming conflict risk compromising your fight against the Goo?
We fear so. All our forces will be mobilised to defend Ma-Duk, revered creator of everything, which will stop us regulating the Goo. To that is added our fear of seeing the Karavan try to use it to attack the Kami and, in doing so, hastening the end of Atys. We hope to be able to stop those fanatics before they resort to such extremes. Part of me, though, is happy to know that I will soon join Ma-Duk. I no longer have the strength to take up arms and it would eat away at my soul to witness an event, one which is likely to be a major turning point in the history of hominity, and not be able to take part in it. May I attain the Kami Age before the arrival of Jena!