Chapter 7 (continued)
After fetching their luggage they left the air-port, Anira eyeing the locals suspiciously while Ailu kept her eyes open for a cab to take them to the cities best hotel. she told the delighted cab driver to take the scenic route as they were for the first time in Khirlon and love to take in the sights. The driver fanned the fire setting his vehicle in motion. What had seemed like a flat expanse of land covered in a forest turned out to be an area covered in rolling hills which were well hidden by the trees which all seemed to grow only to a certain height. The city was spread wide over the forest. There hardly were any large groups of buildings together, only ever a handful surrounded by a generous amount of trees.
The driver went along explaining the local custom of venerating the forest that brought them so much wealth affording the people of Khirlon a comfortable life, while he was blasting through the streets. The driver taking his eyes of the street to feed the fires of his auto-mobile told his passengers that hardly ever anything serious happened, as all the people of Khirlon were connected at a basic level they they could feel each others presence. Ailu asked what happened in the rare cases that there were accidents. To which the driver replied as cheerful as ever that those almost always ended in the death of all involved. Ailu hid her face in her hand pretending to be enjoying the green streaks that were the trees rushing them by outside, while Anira murmured something along the lines that she should have worked more on her shell-art.
The driver only ever reduced his speed when they passed noteworthy buildings which where few and far between. Sometime he stopped in front of elder trees which were venerated to a degree that seemed a bit ridiculous and incredibly backwards to Anira and Ailu. Seeing the expression in their faces the driver added that it was from these elder trees that they harvested the heart-wood out of which they carved the mind-roots which were implanted into their heads right after birth. It was the only way to make an implant that kept growing within the human brain. Only the right type of elder tree could be used to make implants that would not damage the brain of its host. After all you wanted the root network that grew out of the mind-root to interface with your brain and not grow right through it. Anira turned to Ailu mouthing "I hate you!" to her while keeping her sweetest master spy smile, nodding politely to the driver.
After an hour they finally arrived at their hotel paid the driver handsomely and walked into the reception. They had not quite reached the door when someone opened the door for them welcoming them to the Forest Flower.
"You knew we were coming?" asked Anira, turning to Ailu to ask if she had reserved rooms while she wasn’t looking at the air-port.
"Yes of course ma'am I sensed the arrival of the cab with its two passengers. It is a honour that you have chosen to stay in the Forest Flower. Please allow me to take care of your luggage." the concierge held open the door while two eager looking bell-boys appeared taking care of the suit cases. "rest assured that we will do our utmost to anticipate your very wishes."
"Thank you." Anira said with her perfect smile still in place. She turned to Ailu to cast a beady eyed gaze in her direction. Ailu only smiled.
"How long will you be staying?" asked the concierge as he ushered the two women into the palatial foyer which was a large hall made entirely of dark polished wood that was encircled by a gallery held up by arcades carved to look like trees.
"Not long we are a here mainly for business. Probably a day or two." answered Anira.
"Of course." he lead them towards the large reception at the far end of the room that was framed by two large stair cases leading up to the gallery.
"How many rooms do you require?"
"That depends how many bedrooms your largest suite has. . ." Anira replied.
"The Elder Father Suite comes with two bedrooms and a large room for up to six servants."
"That will do. Ailu could you take care of the formalities please?" Ailu nodded. While she was taking care of the paperwork Anira started a bit of small talk with the concierge. After the man had warmed to her dropping his formal stance ever so slightly Anira asked if he did know about the seed of the Living City. He did. While he did not quite understand why they wanted to see such an abominable place when they were surrounded by the beauty of Khirlon with its verdant forests, he did explain how to get there. It turned out that it was only a short walk away from the hotel itself. So Anira and Ailu decided to go there after having dinner.
Later that evening they were walking down the surprisingly dark streets of Khirlon City. While there were lights in the streets when there were buildings the forests were without any artificial light. The road was quite broad though so there was a thin strip of open sky visible above their heads with a full moon shining from above. Even though it seemed that the moon was flickering slightly. Anira wondered if this was some kind of creepy side-effect of the thought web that was covering everything in Khirlon.
For one brave minute she had extended her consciousness out of her body after the had left the first batch of buildings behind her. The though-net was everywhere, pulsating from the ground, hanging from the trees like thick vines. The moment she had expanded her mind the net reacted to her, extending tendrils towards her trying to burrow their way into her soul. She did not wait to see how far they got, she retreated immediately inside her body raising every kind of protective shielding technique she knew to prevent any further probing.
About half way to their destination they passed a little hub that seemed to consist mostly of bars. A drunk man came out of one the establishments, washed out from his watering hole by a wave of raucous noise. He stood there swaying gently as the door slowly swung shut behind him leaving him in silence contemplating his next move. It was then that he saw Anira and Ailu.
"Hey!" he called. "Hey, there ladies!" he moved towards them Anira stopped moving while Ailu ignored the man and kept walking until she noticed that her friend wasn't moving any more.
Standing still with arms crossed Anira waited for the man to approach her. Ailu watched the scene unfold looking tired. She was about to say something but she knew that that would just make matters worse.
"Looking for a good time ladies?" the man said.
"Piss off." Anira suggested with a dead pan voice and matching face.
"Ah come on don't be shy. You and your cute friend over there can have a great time with me."
"Not gonna happen. This is your last warning, mate."
"Hey don't play hard to get. We should cut all the talk and go straight to some. . ." the man walked forward and tried to touch Anira's shoulder. Somehow her shoulder wasn't there any more when his hand arrived at its destination.
"How good is you shell-art?" Anira asked.
The man grinned wide. "You'd be surprised what I can do with my. . ."
"Can you get hard really fast?" Anira interrupted him again. "Like if I snap my fingers would you then turn as hard as say stone." her voice still without out any emotion.
The man laughed a nervous laugh half insecure half not quite believing his luck. "Sure." he started fingering his belt.
"You're gonna need that." Anira had reached the man before his fingers had even touched the buckle of his belt, she had past him at the moment he had. By now he had stopped moving. His eyes were bulging out of his head. He doubled over, thunder rolled down the street rattling doors and windows, sending the man flying in a wide arc back towards the bar he had come out of. He crashed right through the door hitting the floor sliding along it on his back only stopped by the bar.
Anira turned to Ailu smiling lifting her hands into the air fingers spread. "Did you see that? No hand seals!"
"You are sooo childish." Was the the only thing Ailu said before she turned around and walked away.
By now the patrons of several bars had rushed to the windows to look at what had caused the detonation they had just heard. As Anira noticed that all eyes were on her she pointed into the direction where she had come from and said: "He went that way!" All pairs of eyes looked into the direction she was pointing then at her. It did not took long for the spectators to decide that what ever had happened they did not really want to know that urgently about the details. Te guard would take care of it surely.
The patrons went back to their drinks while Anira followed Ailu.
"He lied." Anira said after they had walked in silence for a while.
"The guy. I have hit sponges that were harder."
"The sooner we never speak of this episode the better. Why do you be so incredibly embarrassing in public?"
"Oh come on. The idiot had it coming and it was funny."
Ailu didn't say anything to that.
"Look." she finally said pointing towards a solitary house standing in the middle of a clearing, the first they had seen in Khirlon. "We found the seed."
Among the many anomalies of the world the Living City was among the strangest. It was a wandering city hanging suspended from the sky-shell. That alone would not make it all that special were it not for the strange circumstance that its inhabitants had, aeons ago, decided to leave their mortal bodies behind for good and instead to transfer their souls into their very houses. Why they had decided to take such a dramatic step not even the citizens of the Living City remembered. One theory claimed that it was a philosophical question, that in the end the house was nothing more than the body of modern man. Others again said that it was a stab at true immortality, after all a well built house could last for millennia being much more resilient than the body of the even most advanced masters of magic.
What ever the reason the fact remained that there was a city that was alive. Like all living beings it reproduced. Normally by budding new buildings thereby growing in size. But that was not real reproduction so the inhabitants of the Living City devised a plan that should give give them real offspring. These were the seeds. Small parts of the Living City that were dropped down onto the earth. The seeds, mostly just single bricks or a wall, would take root growing into new houses. It was deemed a good idea.
Most people were less thrilled when they noticed that some strange rocks had fallen from the sky and sprouted after some time a sentient house. Errors were made on both sides. The Living City went aggressive taking hostages infecting local structures, the original inhabitants tore the houses down and at some point brought the war to the City itself. No one remembers who started the conflict. In the end it led to a war lasting several decades which only ended after the knights of the Order of Reason got involved into the war with the intention to stop it. The order of reason was the first to recognize the Living City as a sovereign state and its buildings as sentient beings possessing an immortal soul. It took almost another decade until peace was finally declared, treaties were signed and order restored.
This established the deep friendship between the Order of Reason and the Living City that knew now where it could spread its seed, where it was not welcome. Apart from that it had also some success in germinating new daughter metropolises in barren lands that had so far been deemed unattractive by most humans. Establishing some very successful city states that were exceedingly popular with merchants and all kinds of shady folk hailing from the full gradient of the grey scale.
Anira and Ailu were standing in front of what was probably the least successful city-seed in the entire world. The house was three stories tall doing its best to sport a wood finish on its stone walls with the same type of windows as the others they had seen. It even sported the columns that looked like trees that seemed to be the hight of good taste in Khirlon yet it looked completely out of place. The clearing itself looked strange. Not only was there no grass or any other plant growing on the ground but the trees themselves actually grew away from it.
As they walked towards the house a light turned on in one room in the second floor, casting a road of light towards them.
"Looks like the seed is still awake." Ailu said.
The closer they got the more lights turned on. Now the wooden door with its fine carvings showing a forest scene was illuminated by the lights framing it. When they had come even closer the door opened on its own. Inside the house the style of the house was one of elegant understatement. The warm indirect light flowed over the interior accentuating the furnishings without casting one hard shadow. The main door closed behind them with a soft click.
"Good evening." said Ailu. "...er house. We are representatives of the Free Agency. We would like to ask you a couple of questions if that's possible."
In answer they heard a creaking noise coming from the stairs. As they looked in the direction from where the noise had come from the lights along the stairs turned on and of in a rhythm that made it look as if the light was flowing upstairs. Anira and Ailu look at each other exchanging meaningful glances before the followed the leading lights to the second floor, where a door opened for them. As they moved along the corridor it they both though that they saw a human figure moving alongside them down the corridor. They only ever saw the shade out of the corner of their eyes. When ever they looked they only saw their own reflections in the windows.
Beyond the door lay a small atrium with a white marble fountain in its middle. It consisted of a water filled basin reflecting the light of the adjacent rooms with the statue of a woman and a man pouring water from large stone jugs. The door closed behind Anira and Ailu and the statues turned their heads towards them making a rasping noise that sounded like two tombstones rubbing together.
"Welcome strangers. You can call me Lee." the statues intoned with a harmonious unison of a warm male and female voice.
"You name is Lee?" asked Ailu with an arched eyebrow.
"Yes. Do you have a problem with my name?" the twin statue asked back.
"er... no. That's perfectly OK. It's only that as far as I know city-seeds always have the name of their street as their official name."
The statues regarded Ailu for a moment then looked s bit crestfallen. "My address is Alien Square 1. Which I find somewhat insulting to be frank. So I decided to shorten it to Lee."
Vacant looks from Ailu and Anira.
"Like in Ai-LEE-en?"
"Ah" said Ailu. "Oh. . ." added Anira.
"You are obviously not from here."
"No." said Ailu
"Thank the founding houses for that. This place is driving me insane. When I was cast down here I thought I would have an easy life. An advanced civilisation, their representatives all lovely people. They even made me a clearing so that I would not smash into one of their stupid trees on my way down.
But it turns out they were not happy that I could not become a part of their deviant community. And by the corner stones of my parents did they poke me with those stupid stick of theirs. Bunch of mossbacks. . ." the statues rolled their eyes and sighed a sigh full of gravel and strained nerves.
"Well at least they did not tear you down." Anira said.
"I wish." the statue answered. "No they are perfectly polite. They just treat me like a convenient freak."
"Yes. When ever it's official business I am that creepy house, the outsider that is politely tolerated but generally shunned. Who the fuck knows what I am thinking after all. They probably think I will try to eat their stupid trees or some shit. Did you know that they transplanted the trees to form this clearing? Well whatever. As long as the sun is shining it's all: shun the evil house! But the moment the sun sets guess who is the number one address everyone goes to to shag their mistress or experiment with their deviant sexuality? At least I think it is deviant. It's so long ago that I had one of those bodies that I can't quite remember what's proper any more. Spending years among these fucking weirdos. . ." while the female head kept talking the male one added "See what I did there?" winking. ". . .has certainly cost me some sanity and perspective. So yes. I am really convenient and everyone fucking knows it because they are all connected with each other via that parasite tree in their heads. I mean who in their right fucking mind does that?"
"You transferred your ´soul into a house." Anira pointed out.
"So? Being a house is brilliant. You are quasi immortal. You get to shelter other people within you. You can grow some wicked extensions. And the sex is subtle and the orgasms last for an eternity."
"Too much information." Anira said. "I think?" Ailu nodded wide eyed.
"What? Why.? Houses making love are very delicate. We gently touch each other with our plumbing!" the statues ignored the ways their audiences faces distorted somewhere between confused revulsion and laughter. "Apart from semi detacheds of course. They just know no shame. I mean it is nice that you are in love and everything but by the Founding Houses show some decency. And disregarding terraced houses of course. Now those are just perverts."
Anira blinked a couple of times. "Yes. Well about the reason of our visit."
"Oh, please don't tell me that you just came here to fuck. . .' the statues sighed.
"What? No! I am pretty sure official Free Agency business was mentioned."
"Yes. Yes there was something like that. So what do you want?"
"We'd like to know there the Living City is." Ailu said
"I haven't got the faintest idea."
"Huh? I thought you seeds can sense your mother city?" Ailu asked.
"You'd be usually right. But mother is far away right now and this fucking mind-net of the local yokels dampens my perception considerably."
"We came her for nothing?" Anira asked distributing accusatory stares between Ailu and the statues.
"But" the statues interjected "I can sense my nearest sibling. It should be able to tell you where to find mother."
"Well out with it." Anira demanded.
"Sure. But you will have to do me a favour."
"OK what do you want?" Anira shrugged.
"Take me with you."