“You want me to pick these?” Naffur asked, incredulous.
The treant creature hadn’t been able to answer Naffur, as it couldn’t speak, but it could gesture to indicate that it wanted Naffur’s help. That was why it was so happy when he had shown up out of the blue. With the hand/ branch signals, plus the surprising amount of expressiveness in the treant’s face, Naffur’s caution fell enough that he followed the curious thing.
The treant nodded emphatically, pointing toward a small patch of flowers in a ray of sunlight. As it did so, it began to sway back and forth and smile infectiously. It was almost like it was… dancing…?
Dubious, Naffur looked from the treant to the flowers. They were small and yellow, with a side of the road sort of charm. “…why don’t you do it yourself? Not that I won’t, it’s just… is it dangerous?”
It just looked like a bunch of flowers that bloomed upward into a place where the canopy let some raw sunlight through. But Naffur was still somewhat skittish by the strange situation he was so suddenly thrust into.
For the first time since they had met, the wide and glowing smile fell off of the treant’s face. It seemed to wilt slightly, the many branches stretching upward from its back drooping. Then it reached out an plucked a small yellow flower.
For a strange wood creature, its fingers were surprisingly delicate. It expertly clipped a single flower and held it up for Naffur to view.
There was a split second where nothing happened and Naffur was tempted to ask what was going on. But then the flower began to smolder slightly. Within another few seconds, the flower had caught on fire and withered into nothing but ash.
The treant shrugged helplessly. Then it gestured again, indicating that Naffur should be the one to harvest the flowers.
“Oh wow. Are you- you are! You’re so warm!” Naffur said in shock, holding his hands up to feel the heat radiating off of the treant. It was extremely strange, in Naffur’s opinion, that this thing clearly was a plant, but also was producing so much heat. Was it on fire inside of its body? The leaves certainly sparked sometimes like embers…
Although it was clearly morose by its inability to harvest the flowers, as Naffur held his hands up to the treant, the thing seemed to come to life. As he complimented its warmth more, it began to shake back in forth in its strange dance. In spite of himself, Naffur laughed. The thing was adorable, although it was strange. The very air around it wasn’t just warm, there was a certain… rosiness to everything.
It felt like everything was going to be okay.
Laughing softly, Naffur began to harvest the flowers. Some part of him didn’t want to, but he was laughing, and he felt so warm, and-
And he was thinking about how much Mareen would have loved these flowers.
Instinctively, he began to blot out the thoughts as soon as they rose to the surface. But some stubborn part of himself resisted. He forced his mind to focus on what had happened. On Mareen’s implicit rejection. On the horror on Mareen’s face when Naffur had beaten that monster to a pulp in front of her.
She hadn’t known it was him, but…
But that was her rejecting him for being too violent. Just like she rejected him… well, regular him by returning the flower crown.
“Hey, uh,” Naffur said. His voice trembled in spite of his best efforts, but he kept pushing forward. His shaking hands reached out and began to gather the flowers. “This might not make sense, but… there is this girl… the first time I met her she was gathering flowers just like this… for bracelets. She was making bracelets, and…”
Slowly, in fits and starts, Naffur told this strange treant about his year-long knowing of Mareen. He told it about the many chance times they ran into each other at Naffur’s favorite restaurants. He explained how she began to help him dress, and through that, he had acquired a part-time job at a clothing store.
He explained about being a part of the Order Ducis, and how that happened in the Manhattan Building. He explained the birthday party and the gift.
During his meandering explanation, the treant brought Naffur to several patches of flowers. With Naffur’s hands, they gathered bluebells and tulips and daisies and even roses from a broken greenhouse.
By the end, Naffur’s chest was heaving and tears were streaming down his cheeks. The whole time, the strange treant just looked at Naffur with a sad expression. The strange wooden face was so comically devastated by Naffur’s story that Naffur couldn’t help but laugh.
It only took a laugh, and then the treant was beaming again. Naffur had met people before that seemed to cheer up an entire room with just a smile. Mareen was one of those people. But this treant had something more than that. It was like the ground underneath you was slowly rising, and your mood couldn’t help but go along with it.
After getting Naffur to laugh once, the treant produced three stones from its foliage and began to juggle. Its eyes curved into crescents, and its delight in life was wonderful. As it began to dance while juggling, Naffur found himself giggling and clapping.
When he clapped, it seemed like the world clapped with him. Some part of Naffur seemed to detect something strange was going on, but he was savoring the release of this moment to such an extent that it didn’t matter. The world around him flickered until Naffur was standing in a dark room, in front of a huge towering tree.
Its bark was ash and its leaves were one million small torches and it was dancing. Around Naffur, hundreds of people were standing with him, clapping and swaying to the strange music of this tree. The air was hot and heady. It was easy to lose oneself in the deep rhythm of this space.
This time, when Naffur clapped, the ground seemed to rumble with it. Such was the volume that it woke Naffur from whatever strange vision he had just been experiencing. Abruptly Naffur was back to himself, and he belatedly realized that he had dropped all of the flowers as he had been enjoying the treant’s strange dance.
He was obviously suspicious of what just happened but for the first time in weeks… Naffur felt at peace. Whatever had changed had been good for him. So he was willing to overlook a little strangeness.
Bending over, Naffur began to pick up the flowers while the treant awkwardly watched from the side. As he was finishing up his task, Naffur looked up at the treant with a serious expression. “You know, it’s not your fault, right? That you… are on fire on the inside. It’s… it’s like okay, to just be you.”
Immediately after he said something, Naffur flushed. It… wasn’t like him to try and comfort people. Besides, he was talking to an intelligent tree. There was just… something childlike in his mannerisms that really reminded Naffur of some of the smaller kids he had given food to occasionally.
But just like the kids, the treant seemed to hunch over and to be strangely happy at the same time. Mareen-
Naffur winced but followed the thought.
When Naffur had mentioned this strange phenomenon to Mareen once, she had laughed at him and said, “Obviously. Because part of the pleasure is about attention. Everyone has someone that they want to pay attention to them. Just like you do. Just like I do…”
There did seem to be something lonely about the strange treant. So Naffur continued to speak. “I get it. I’m… I’m not who I want to be either. I’m sorta… uh, scared sometimes. But I know that I can change. Obviously, I won’t just change, but… if I act differently… and try my best… someday…”
Strangely, the treant’s face turned serious it nodded. Then it bent down and gently plucked one of the pink roses they had found in the old greenhouse. To Naffur’s surprise, the treant squished the flower between its hands, crushing the stem and petals together in a pile. Then, with exaggerated slowness, it opened its hands.
There was smoke and a flash of light. A fire was ignited. It was brief and hot and then was gone.
But Naffur had also put a lot of Stat points into Perception. So when he watched the fire, he noticed how strangely it burned. It seemed to explode in a flash of light, but then… but then for a split second, it looked like-
The fire gracefully arched upward, like a swan’s neck. More flames ran upwards along the path and slowly gathered at the top end, pooling at the tip like raindrops on the edge of a wide-brimmed hat. When the gathered fire reached a certain point, that fire exploded-
No, it bloomed. Petals of fire opened and light was released that seemed to warm the soul-
Then the light was snuffed out, and there was only ash.
The treant looked at Naffur. Naffur looked at the Treant.
“Holy shit!” Naffur said, “That was so cool! Can you do it again?!?”
The treant beamed at him.