At The Base Of A Gnarled Tree

18 minutes read


On top of a small hill at the base of the large gnarled tree, Enadrome two men stood in one set of hands holding manacles and chains. The other bound and presented before the great tree.

“Enadrome, I have found another; open your door and allow Oculi to take them back to the world they belong to.”

The tree creaked and swayed gently in the wind.

“I pushed my way through interdimensional walls with technology that took generations to perfect. You expect me to believe this tree just has the magical powers of inter-dimensional travel.”

“This magic tree is the guardian Enadrome; he guards the inter-dimensional doorways. But some do manage to slip through. Just be thankful Oculi did not apprehend you.”

“Who or what is an Oculi.”

The tree started to shake as the core of the tree split open, revealing a black abyss that expelled arctic winds at high speeds. The bound man stepped back as his eyes opened with wonder and fear.

“How is this possible? Surely this is a machine designed to look like a tree.”

“Your universe may have the intelligence that allows you to jump worlds. But you have a lot to learn about the different powers of the universe.”

A high pitch scream emanated from the black that resided within the tree.

“And a lot to fear.”

A writhing mass of tentacles emerged from the black; they outstretched around the opening. Encircling both men, blotting out the sun. They both stood in darkness before a set of eyes opened before them. Then another, and another. Soon both men were surrounded by lightly glowing eyes, all human, varying in color. The bound man fell to the ground in fear.

“What are you?”

An eye as large as the man opened before him, he then heard a shrieking voice all around him.


“Oculi, I have apprehended the individual in question. May I take my leave?”

“Go, Tiberius, you have done well this day.”

The eyes looked at Tiberius for a short moment before creating an opening in her tentacles. Tiberius gave a humble bow and left her embrace. As the tentacles closed, screams started immediately before the mass shifted back into the black, leaving the chained man on the ground. His hands clutched at his eyes as blood poured out. His hands pulled down to reveal his eyes had been removed from his skull. Oculi gently wrapped her tentacles around the man and dragged him back into the black portal. Enadrome closed his front, returning back to his tree state.

Tiberius lit a cigarette and walked out into the fields below the hill he stood on. A long slow walk through the countryside is what lay before him; he had his SMG and pistol hidden under his coat in case anyone came between him and the temple of Oculi. The knee-high grasses gave plenty of opportunity for nightmares to hide, giving Tiberius a level of unrest that he was not comfortable with. But no matter how many times his order cut a path, it had always regrown the next day. Slight rustling caught Tiberius’s attention; he gave a glance and knew what was trying to stalk him. He calmed his heart and walked over to the noise, picking up a small shadow rab that tried desperately to escape his grasp. Its black wire-like hair scratching Tiberius as he struggled to get a good group.

“Hey there, little guy, you’re going to come with me.”

While continuing his walk, he wrestled the little monster. A rabbit-like creature with a long tail and long black, wire-y fur. It gave off little screeches as it continued to resist its capture. Eventually, giving in to his embrace. It lay unmoving with an irked look on its face.

“I actually have a friend I want you to meet, my little friend.” Tiberius said to the Shadow Rab.

“He is afraid of a lot of things, so you should have a lot of fun with him. He stole from our temple, we tracked him down, and now he is our…guest.”

Tiberius found himself standing before the walls of his town Verinal. A small town with a simple wooden wall. The wall was varied from additional fortifications and parts where large creatures had made a good attempt to try to get through the wall. Many patch jobs gave the wall a uniqueness from any other in the area. The partially ajar wall gate was open enough for him to squeeze through with his traveling companion, which he hid from view under his coat. He walked the streets in the early morning air. Many people already wandering around from their early morning start. Silently Tiberius moved as he tried to avoid the eyes of anyone else. Quickly he found himself stepping into a small shack near the back wall of the town. Closing the door firmly behind him, he looked around the small shack, a plain interior with a bed jammed in the corner of the room. He walked over to the bed and dragged it out into the center of the room, pulling the floorboards beneath it with it. Where the bed once was, now an opening with a staircase that led down.

“Welcome to your new home, little guy. A place that you will thrive in as you help us deal with our enemies.”

Tiberius descended the stairs, pulling a lever to close the stairs off once again. Through a dark corridor he walked with light beaming from under the door in front of him, along with the commotion of hastened footsteps that laid just beyond. Pushing the door open, he was once again among his people; he was back in the temple dedicated to Oculi. He was in the Hands of the eye.

He made his way through the barren halls, navigating his way through the various rooms until he eventually found himself standing in front of a prison cell. Inside, a scarred woman sat in the dark; she held her sores as she looked through swollen eyes at Tiberius.

“What more could you possibly have? How are you going ruin my day today?”

Tiberius remained silent, his empty stare unbroken from her eye line. He slowly opened the cell, revealing the now restless Shadow Rab. He tossed it in and closed the cell behind it.

“No more games, no more gimmicks. We need answers, and you will provide them.”

The woman stared at the Shadow Rab as it scurried around the cell, hissing at her. She recoiled further into the corner of her cell.

“Take it out, or you won’t get anything from me. You’ll have to get me out of this cell with a mop.”

The Shadow Rab started to twitch as it rose its nose to the air sniffing towards the captured woman.

“It is a simple question, where is he? You better answer quickly; your fear will soon transform the Rab, and our janitors will have to clean you out of the cell with a mop. Just like you said.”

“I can’t tell you.” The woman stared at the Rab as it started to shake uncontrollably.

“But I can take you there.”

Tiberius stared at her with an un-amused expression; folding his arms, he continued to watch as Rab’s form started to change. The woman started to crawl towards the bars, reaching through them with desperation.

“Please, I will take you to him. Just get me out of this damn cell.”

She broke down and started to cry as she lay down on the cold cell floor. Her wailing was drowned out by the sounds of gunfire.  Body tensed, the woman turned to see the half-deformed body of the Shadow Rab with bleeding holes in its grotesque body.

“We leave in the morning; get sleep now because we won’t wait for you.”

Tiberius turned and walked away from the still-weeping woman, heading back to his sleeping quarters. He changed and climbed into his bed.

“Your back late. Did you catch the world jumper?” A soft voice sounded from the other side of the bed.

“yea, I had to go to Oculi. I don’t think I am used to her form yet, or the way she removes eyes so violently.”

The woman reached across the bed and spooned with Tiberius’s back. He pushed back into her embrace.

“We do dark things here, don’t think I am unaware of that. But we do what we must for Oculi and to protect this world from the invaders of others. Since Anodyne grounded Enadrome, he has been unable to do his job properly. We need to pick up the slack, and in this world, you don’t gain unless someone loses. It is the law of this universe, one that can’t be broken.”

The woman cuddled up as much as she could, kissing Tiberius softly on the back of his neck.

“We are doing something good, and I will always love you because of how this affects you. Shows me you still have a heart that not even this evil world can break.”

Tiberius grabbed her hand and kissed it.

“I love you too, Rachel; I have a long few days ahead of me. I should go to sleep.”

“Okay, I will be quiet for you.”

A moment of silence fell over the room before Tiberius spoke up.

“Or you could talk like you always do; I like falling asleep to your voice.”

Rachel smiled and started talking about various trivial details of her day, her voice trailing off as she fell from consciousness, not before leading Tiberius into a blissful sleep.

Come the morning, Rachel rolled over to an empty bed; she gave a little smile before cuddling up to Tiberius’s pillow, allowing his scent to lead her back to sleep.

“Get up.”

Tiberius threw a bucket of ice water over the woman. She shook as she rocketed off of the floor. Her swelling was slightly reduced by the night’s sleep. She looked with clearer vision as water ran down her face.

“I am up; please stop.”

She looked at herself, trying her best to push the water from her clothes.

“Can I please get something to dry off? It is cold where we are going.”

Tiberius opened the cell and waited to the side. The woman lowered her head and started to walk up the stairs from the cell with her head hanging low. As she climbed the stairs, hands appeared from behind her and bound her eyes, tying a cloth tightly around her head.

“You will get to see once we are far enough away. For now, you will be blind.”

Tiberius walked the blindfolded woman through the town till he felt safe that she would not know where they came from. He removed her blindfold and looked at her.

“Alright, let’s go. I don’t have much patience, so you better lead me quickly.”

“It is a long journey, as you can imagine; we will be gone a long while.”

“Well, you shall make it as quick as possible; I have many tasks to attend to here.”

The woman groaned.

“The faster I make this journey, the more dangerous it becomes. I can get you to him in a day, but there is a near guarantee of death for both of us.”

He looked at his watch.

“In that case, I should be home in time to make good on plans I had for tomorrow. Lead on a woman.”

The woman gripped at the bruises on her arm before she started her slow walk out of town. Every few steps, Tiberius jabbed at the woman.

“Move faster; I have to talk to him now.”

“I don’t understand why you want to meet him so badly; no one really likes him once they meet him. Hell, no one likes him, even before they meet him.”

“I also hear he kills everyone who figures out where he lives. So, what makes you so special?”

“Because I am the only person that has ever broken him emotionally.”

“I doubt that; no one can hurt him like that. He is dead inside; you won’t convince me otherwise.”

The two reached the edge of town, the morning sun’s golden rays breaching the layers of fog that surrounded the town.

“We go west; there is a craggy field not too far from here. That is technically where we find him. At least that is where we will find his door.”

They headed west, the woman struggled through the chill her wet clothes gave her. Every time the wind hit her, her whole body shook, as she could feel the cold latching onto her bones. Tiberius watched her, and his mind went back to a memory of meeting Rachel for the first time.

Two years earlier

“Tiberius, get her before she gets away!” Jerico yelled as a woman broke his grasp, dropping him to the ground. Tiberius made off with hasted determination; attempting to tackle the woman to the ground, he fell short. Outstretching his arm, he grabbed her ankle, plunging her into a pool of water. Splashing the other members of his order with the same frosted mud water. The woman was quickly dragged off by two others, and Jerico pulled Tiberius up.

“Good work Tiberius, not as useless as I thought. Now go home; the rest of us can take it from here.”

Tiberius patted down his clothes as he stood up. Watching as those higher up in the order took their mark off into the distance. Making their way to Oculi. Like everyone else around him, Tiberius turned and walked back the way he came from. Those who got splashed tried their best to push the muddied water from their clothes. All of them wore heavy, warm clothing that absorbed most of the water and kept the cold from reaching them. All but one who seemed to be struggling to deal with the water that had completely drenched her thin sac clothes. Tiberius followed behind her, watching her as she twitched to every breeze. Eventually, after feeling like he could not watch her shiver anymore, he removed his jacket and placed it over her.

“Can’t have you dying out here; Oculi needs all of us.”

She took the jacket without question, closing it up and reveling quietly at the warmth. With a soft voice, she responded.

“Thanks, I don’t have much, but I am willing to do my part.”

Tiberius Groaned, rubbing his hand through his hair.

“Just keep it; I can get another one.”

Present day

Tiberius’s attention was drawn back as the woman before him sneezed loudly. She started to shiver noticeably, her hands on either side of her arms. Rubbing with an intensity, she made attempts to warm herself. Tiberius through his jacket over her.

“I need you to be strong enough to get me to him; you will give that back once you have gotten us far enough.”

The woman begrudgingly took the jacket and warmed up. She could feel her head clearing nearly immediately, her body feeling more able to move. Tiberius could already feel the cold winds on his body.

“You better be worth all this work. Otherwise, I will be very unhappy with you, and you will experience my hate in a way that you would not think possible.”

The woman kept her head forward, marching on over the rocky terrain.

“We are nearly there; it is just past those two large boulders.”

Ahead were two large boulders that sat at building height, looming over the otherwise flat landscape. The rocks parallel had a small gap in between them.

“I assume that is his doorway?”

“That is one of many doorways. Not just to him but to all the deities that live around Hollow.”

The woman approached it and turned to Tiberius.

“I need a knife if I am to get us through.”

She stretched out her hand expectantly; Tiberius pulled out a knife and his pistol. Aiming his pistol, he tossed the knife onto the ground. The woman rolled her eyes and picked it up.

“Don’t worry; I have no interest in fighting you. Not worth it.”

The woman made a deep wound in her hand; she flicked the blood towards the gap of the rocks. The blood stopped mid-air and started to drip down a flat surface. She dropped the knife and started to smear the blood from her hand across the surface; eventually, she found a protrusion.

“This is it, one of many. The door to the realm of gods.”

Turning her wrist, she pushed through, taking both of them to a long hallway filled with identical unlabeled doors.

“This is not what I expected. I imagined so much more than a white hall with doors.”

“That is because, as mortals, we are incapable of seeing what this room truly is; our brains are doing their best to make sense. But be warned, it takes a toll on those who enter; we need to be quick. His door is far down this hall; we will need to run.”

They both started to jog down the hall, door after door passing by. Each one is identical to the last.

“There are no numbers, no markings of any kind. How do you know where you are going?”

“I have been here a lot; I just kind of remember how far to run. It is like memorizing a driving route to someone’s house but not knowing any of the street names. I could not tell anyone how to get here, but I can get here with no issue.”

The woman slowed down and stood silently before a door; dancing shadows bounced from under it, and inaudible voices bled through the door.

“He is home; sounds like he has company.”

Tiberius was hesitant; during his moment of indecisiveness, he felt something dripping down his face; he raised a hand to see what it was.

“Hmm, blood. I guess you were right; my body is already struggling. I am going in.”

Tiberius moved forward with determination and bowled through the door, a blinding light causing him to be blind momentarily. Looking up through the pain and shining light, he saw his objective.

“Anodyne, you need to fix Enadrome. He holds Oculi back in the between space; she is incapable of apprehending those who cross into our world. We do our best, but we are not enough; we need her, and she needs Enadrome.”

Anodyne turned from the conductor, glaring towards Tiberius.

“I thought making you mortal would keep you out; why do you come back to torment me?”

Tiberius’s eyes went wide.

“What do you mean, was I once immortal?”

“I missed you.” The woman said, stepping forward. “You could give me back by rank as a deity, and I could serve you once again; I will do anything.”

Tiberius looked at the woman, her eyes tearing blood as more blood curved down her cheeks from her ears. Anodyne looked as if he was getting mad.

“You stay here, and you will die; this realm was not made for mortal brains.”

“Please, Anodyne, I need you. I miss you more than anything. Do you remember the days we would work on Hollow together? Side by side, we had something.”

“Wrong; you had something I needed; you outlived your purpose.”

Anodyne looked to Tiberius; he was handling being in the realm much better than the woman that now resided on her knees.

“Tiberius, you speed up her death, and I will give you what you want. I will restore…”

Before Anodyne could finish, Tiberius had shot the woman in her head.

“Enadrome is whole once again. Now run, little man, or you may not make it back through the door you once came from.”

Tiberius ran through the door, making his way back to the start of the hall. Anodyne dismissed the Conductor; he knelt next to the dead woman. Kissing her softly on the forehead before lighting her body on fire.

“No one is to know of you, my greatest weakness. A weakness I cannot afford, but the only one I wanted.”

Tiberius was trying to sprint but found his legs to be turning rubber. The gentle curve of the hall kept his target out of sight. Eventually, seeing his exit, he put in all his effort but fell meters from the base of the door. Blood pouring heavy from every hole on his head, he crawled, his fingers slipping from his own blood, which had pooled all around him. With desperation, he made contact with the bottom of the door, pushing on it with the last of his strength.

Meanwhile, Rachel was standing at the base of the gnarled tree Enadrome with a crowd of followers, all praying. He started to lift from the ground. His lumbering form moved for the first time since Rachel was a little girl. Opening the doorway into his chest, he called to Oculi; not a moment passed before she came flooding out. Wrapping her tentacles around Enadrome, they stood in an embrace. Occuli turned to see her followers all knelt before them. She took Holite form and stood before them as a man with a velvet red robe.

“Thank you for freeing my Enadrome. Who do I have to thank for this impossible feat?”

Rachel stepped forward.

“My partner Tiberius, although he is not back. I am sure he would love to meet both of you properly.”

“Are you sure he is returning?”

Rachel smiled. “I know he is. I can still feel him in my heart.”

Anodyne walked down the hallway to see if Tiberius made it. Turning the last corner, he looked at the door.

“Hmm, not what I expected.”