Dr. Abraham Umsuka’s personal journal:
We arrived on the edge of the Kahllian Dome-Plains at about 5:30 this morning, as the hot Kahllis sun climbed over the broken pillars and broken upturned bowls on the horizon, casting jagged shadows over our approach. The locals of a nearby village refer to the Dome-Plains as, in their tongue, “Ancestor’s Folly”. We had also been told by said locals about strange undocumented flora growing between the patches of ground beneath the ancient crystalline dome structures, reportedly having stems as orange as the dirt it sprouted from with bright blue flowers on top.
Finding a clear spot several feet away from the foot of the nearest dome, my team (that is, Dr. Emla Rycmod, Dr. Rolf Taur-Horn, Mr. Kelsey Yan, Mr. Krish Rav, and Padraeg; Mr. Yan’s dog) and I set up camp, laying some of the equipment before heading out to scour the area for the orange plants.
Most of the domes, which covered the landscape like semicircular armor, had their honeycombed crystal shattered over time, seemingly by both natural causes and by man, leaving their contents (whatever they may have been) to be picked clean by thieves, and the crystal shards taken by others as souvenirs. Often we checked the broken domes for floral occupants, but all that they contained were flat patches of dirt. The gaps between did not, at first, seem to hold any more hope than the domes, until we heard Dr. Taur-Horn’s cry in the distance and we came rushing over to see what the commotion was about. When we met Dr. Taur-Horn, we found him with his hands cupped around a small dull-orange sprig—like the one described to us—emerging from a crack in the earth beside a dome. Unfortunately, unlike what we had heard, the sprig bore no blue flowers, and could have easily been the dirt-stained remnants of a shrub. Further analysis at the camp also did not yield many results, as our microscope findings left us baffled.
The day seemed rather disappointing, since all we had found was that particular sprig, before the beating sun began to make us weary and impatient—even Padraeg lay exhausted, panting on his side when we returned to camp. Hopefully tomorrow will yield us much more favorable and exciting results, once we regain our energy under the cool breeze of the fans in our tents.
Today we went farther, crossing deeper through the dusty thoroughfares into the smooth crystal-and-dirt labyrinth (though as linear as we could, as to not lose the direction of the camp), until, finally, one of us made another discovery. It was Dr. Rycmod this time; she had found more plants, similar to the one that Dr. Taur-Horn had discovered yesterday. But these were in a larger abundance; clusters of them, blooming with beautiful blue petals like writhing desert rivers and oases! What luck, it’s only our second day and we have already found what we came for.
I have never seen anything like these before; after we transported a few specimens back to the camp and examined them, I noticed their sprawling copper bodies had the textural qualities of rubber, rather than that of average plant-matter. In fact, it had been rather hard to extract them from the soil when we found them, and I had to saw at their bases with the blade of my pocket knife. Even more peculiar, the plants twitched and jerked their bodies before I cut them from the ground. Though it is not unheard of that a plant should be capable of rapid movement (seen in such plant families as Droseraceae, and some species of Chamaecrista), it seems strange that a moving plant should develop in such a dry environment as this. Studying the stunning blue petals on the plants, we found that each one is incredibly brittle like an old dried-out flower, but appearing more like thin glass, colored like pale sapphire. Even though all other sources pointed to the plant being dead (the lack of nutrients in the petals; their fragility, etc.), their bright colorations and apparent movement showed us otherwise.
As with Dr. Taur-Horn’s specimen, microscope studies came up inconclusive—it was impossible to compare it to any other plant, because it’s very cells are different to any other plant. With that said, I feel as if we may have made a brilliant discovery out here today—maybe there are more plants in hidden corners of the globe that refuse to adhere to common plant structure?
Our work here is still not done, and we must further observe these plants throughout the week. If they are capable of more movement than I have seen already, then we must study their activity.
On the activity within the camp itself, Padraeg still remains dehydrated—or at least, it seems that way; as much water we try to feed him, it simply falls from his slacken jaw with no visible effects other than wetting his sorry face. Mr Yan is affected by his dog’s condition, often avoiding his work moving the equipment to tend to his thirsty pet. Dr. Taur-Horn had advised against bringing the dog with us, suggesting it would only be a burden. But Mr Yan, being a dear old friend of mine, had convinced me that his companion could keep up morale in the camp. Now it seems as though it has done the opposite.
I just hope Mr Yan is aware of what he must do, assuming the dog is beyond repair.
We took another route through domes today, in search of other possible undocumented species in the area, maybe subspecies that split off from the orange-blue specimens we found (which I will refer to now from this point onward as Auran Umsukaii, for the sake of convenience), assuming Auran Umsukaii did most of its adapting and evolving in this general area. However, combing further areas leading away from our original path yielded us less and less concentrations of the plant to the point where we would find clusters of two or three specimens at a time, and then none at all.
Thanks to yet another observation by Dr. Taur-Horn, we had found that there were several thickly-populated trails of Auran Umsukaii flowing from several directions. And, following these trails, we discovered that the highest concentrations lead to, and surrounded, a single dome—one well-deep into the jagged forest. But our biggest discovery today was, when we traversed the base of this dome, we found that, unlike every single other dome on the plains, this one was completely intact.
Strange that we didn’t see it previously, or that this single unbroken dome should go unnoticed by all others. But then again, we had found the structure very far into the plains, and it was fairly difficult to find our way back (Mr Rav set out from the camp to retrieve us after we had to fire a distress flare).
There is no clear point of entry through the crystal, and we are worried that using force will damage such a pristine monument—disturbing it is out of the question, so we will have to find an alternative way through tomorrow. Think of what forgotten secrets of the Auran Umsukaii could be within!
After our return to camp, and after more intense studying of our gathered specimens of Auran Umsukaii, we have found nothing new, and studies of the cell structure remain baffling—each one appears, for lack of a better word—alien in nature. Nothing inside the cell walls (besides the strangely pale blue cytoplasm) is identifiable. All that appears through the microscope lens are the eerie blank blue shapes that drift around with nothing within. Sometimes, I’m sure I can see the nucleus moving around the membrane, camouflaged against the cytoplasm, but further study has proven that it is only the spots of dead cells in my own sun-damaged eyes. Nevertheless, I MUST get to the bottom of my namesake plant before the expedition ends, lest some upstart scholar steal my discovery away from me once the Auran Umsukaii garners public interest.
Dr. Rycmod is eager to find out what is on the other side, almost begging the rest of the camp to come with her back to where we found the intact dome. But now, as I implored her, it is much too late—the sun is down, and Kahllian nights can often fall to -20°C. Hopefully she can hold her enthusiasm for another night, as we will dedicate tomorrow to getting within the dome.
Dr. Taur-Horn awoke me this morning in hysteria—Dr. Rycmod was absent from the camp.
Mr. Rav reported that he had seen her wander off in the night, but did not react as he assumed she was just doing some late work, and all of his attempts to make contact with her were met with “slurred gibberish”.
We later found Dr. Rycmod sat at the base of the unbroken dome that we found yesterday; her arms wrapped around her knees, staring into space through bloodshot eyes and shivering violently. From the looks of it, she had been there all night, and white vertical lines stretching down the crystal seemed to suggest that Dr. Rycmod (possibly in a frenzied bout of sleepwalking) had scratched at the dome, almost as if she was trying to get in—the shiny dust beneath her ravaged fingernails evidenced this.
It is sad to see Dr. Emla Rycmod in such a way—one of the brightest young botanists I have met in my career, reduced to a trembling wretch. Could it be a strange fever that has consumed her? An allergic reaction to our new plant discovery, perhaps?
One thing is for sure—we have sent her back to the camp (despite her objections) to be under the care of Mr. Yan, alongside Padraeg.
In more fortunate events today, Dr. Taur-Horn has come up with an ingenious way to get within the confines of the unbroken dome; as part of our expedition, we had brought a small excavating drill—about the size of a large dog—with the intent of using it to unearth long-buried imprints of prehistoric-era plants. It may take a while, Dr. Taur-Horn tells me, but the gentle touch of this drill will make sure we disturb as little of the pristine plant life (assuming there is some within!) and the crystal relic as possible.
Furthermore, we have also decided to shift our campsite over beside the dome to ease our efforts in tunneling beneath the crystal. Despite my past doubts about Mr. Yan, he was very helpful today in moving our equipment to the new site; pulling much more than his weight as if to make up for his past days of canine-focus—though it does not look like Padraeg has more than two days left in his withered body.
The digging has started tonight, and Mr. Rav has volunteered to stay awake operating the drill.
The continuous gentle whirr outside of my tent is oddly soothing, and I feel the electric wonder or tomorrow dissipate with drowsiness.
I leapt from my cot this morning expecting a magnificent tunnel leading into a virgin field of the undiscovered, but was disappointed when all I discovered was a two-foot deep dent in the earth—the drill is truly gentle. I have since allowed the sleep-deprived Mr. Rav a much needed rest in his tent, from which he has never returned from for the rest of today.
Dr. Rycmod seemed to be in a slightly more stable condition this morning, regaining her ability of intelligible speech (though not as articulate as she once was). I pried her for an explanation of her strange actions the other day, on why she spent the whole night away from camp and what she was doing, but even though the words were intelligible, the sentences did not seem to make much sense; ramblings of “tendrils beckoning, stroking her infant brain”, that “showed [her] such beautiful things, how to live”. Dr. Rycmod’s temperature also seems to be unhealthily high, even beneath our powerful air-conditioning units, and all other symptoms appear feverish. Today I decided to follow up on my theory that it was a reaction brought on by spores(?) from the Auran Umsukaii (seeing as she had the most exposure to the plant when she gathered specimens). Though microscopic study of the leaves proved that they carried no spores or pollen, and it was hard to see what part of the plant could disperse allergens.
If ruling out allergy, I would put Dr. Rycmod’s condition down to heat stroke or, possibly, a disease she picked up in the local village last week, which remained dormant and surfaced only now. I desperately hope that, whatever it may be, it is not fatal, and Dr. Rycmod will be back to her keen self in a week’s time.
With Mr. Rav asleep and Mr. Yan caring for those feverish, Dr. Taur-Horn has volunteered to take the reins of the drill today, leaving me to go further afield within the dome plains, in search of any more patches of our strange undocumented flower. While I did not see many outside the trails leading up to and surrounding our intact dome, I took the opportunity to watch the plants and their habits for natural movement. It is probably worth noting that when we first discovered the things, they refused to move at our approach (except when we harvested them), freezing as if scared. Now, with our prolonged presence, they writhe around rather actively when we pass through where they grow, often brushing themselves against our ankles, now as if they are used to us.
But, I digress, they are merely plants and I should not be attributing sentience to them—but they have surprised me in several other ways already; who’s to say they aren’t thinking plants? Though dissection does not divulge how they are capable of any thought, more extensive research must be carried out once we bring our discovery home.
Excellent news today! I don’t know where to begin.
Dr. Taur-Horn (driven by his passion for knowledge) carried on his work through the night and until 4:00 this morning, when the last of the tunneling was completed and the last of the dirt fell through, breathing a cloud of long-sealed blue dust into our camp.
Before me and Dr. Taur-Horn had a chance to journey through our new tunnel and into the old world on the other side, Padraeg (somehow good-as-new) came barreling from Mr Yan’s tent and disappeared through the tunnel before we even realized what had passed us. Padraeg was shortly followed by Dr. Rycmod, who also seemed a lot better as she eagerly dived in after the dog. Finally, as I was readying my old legs for a crawl inside the tunnel, Mr. Rav emerged too and—rather rudely—pushed past me to join the others. Of course, I thought nothing of it. He put an awful lot of effort into the initial excavation, the least I could do was let him in before me!
I joined them shortly after, crawling on my hands and knees through our underpass, and found myself somewhere beautiful and exotic. Not in my wildest dreams had expected to find something like this!
Before me, as I emerged on the lush blue grass within the dome, stood a magnificent orange tree mantled by glassy leaves; draped in archaic wreathes and garlands; adorned with green tinged copper bells. Carved into the broad twisted trunk was a mural of primitive scenes and symbols, including vaguely humanoid shapes. And around the roots, sprouting from them, were an abundance of healthy Auran Umsukaii. No, this tree is the Auran Umsukaii! All the specimens we had found before were merely protrusions escaping the boundaries of the dome, and now we had found the wonderful centre of it all!
The forgotten vale beneath this crystal dome feels and looks like a different world under a hexagonal sky; ruled over by the towering king in the centre. From the looks of the carvings and decorations, it looked to be celebrated by the people who were here before—maybe the ancestors that the villagers referred to? Whoever they had been, the only trace they had left were in the body of the Auran Umsukaii.
Our discovery here raises a whole spectrum of questions, and not only botanical ones, but questions pertaining to the history of the dome-plains; did all of the shattered domes once contain a single tree within? Who were the men who carved these glyphs into the trunk? I understand that it is probably better to leave these discoveries to a dedicated archaeologist, but it’s all so fascinating!
Dr. Taur-Horn has suggested that we move our campsite to within the dome, and that is what we spent the better part of today doing. Though why we should move our equipment (that was only just outside of the dome) only a few meters from its last position is beyond me, but I trust Dr. Taur-Horn’s good judgement—he tells me it will be a brilliant learning experience to sleep in the presence of this great single specimen of a newly discovered plant.
Dr. Rycmod was very eager to join in on moving our equipment through into the dome, though she seems very restless and not quite herself. I understand that it is probably this illness that has taken a hold of her, but she doesn’t seem much at all like the gifted student she was when I taught her in university. There also seems to be other aspects caused by this strange illness—her eyes look as if they are displaying the onset of cataracts, with whiteness clouding over the pupils in her beautiful green eyes. I’m worried that she will not recover naturally, and I will have to seek medical attention when we return from the expedition; I cannot abandon this discovery prematurely—there is so much more to learn of the secrets of the Auran Umsukaii.
The morning delivered from troubling dreams with a coat of cold sweat. By the time I write this, most memories of last night’s phantasms have dissipated into the forgotten, but certain things were painfully etched into my waking mind; the creeping vines all around me, entangling my helpless body, burrowing through my ears and into my brain. Perhaps my subconscious is simply recreating the delirious imagery recounted to me by Dr. Rycmod the other day. Perhaps the same illness is claiming me and I am experiencing similar dreams. And though I know these memories are not of reality, they left me with anxious discomfort for the whole of today to the point where I feel too weak to even lift the forceps on my desk—writing this is a struggle itself, but my mind is still active and I must document the expedition. And still, I refused to spend the day resting when this opportunity waits right outside of my tent.
I fear for the wellness of the rest of my team as well, as they have been incredibly reluctant to gather samples of the tree, and even Dr. Taur-Horn, who I thought to be in better health than the others, simply stood blankly at the base of the tree trunk when he was to collect shavings of the bark, and it ended up being Mr Yan who took up the scholar’s duty.
Mr. Yan worries too; Padraeg has been acting strange again—disappointing, considering his sudden recovery yesterday. Though he no longer lies weak on his side, he stands straight towards the tree with dead white eyes, rendering Mr. Yan unable to collect much of the bark.
Specimens have been collected today, though. Dr. Taur-Horn and Dr. Rycmod discerned that the innermost branches of the Auran Umsukaii bear spherical fruit, blue as the air and leaves. Due to my current condition, dissecting them seems out of the question and will have to be done tomorrow. Though of all the fruits that were collected, only few remain, and I worry that Padraeg may have eaten them. I hope they are not poisonous.
Mr. Yan went missing yesterday and since has not returned. I spent most of my research time wandering around the vicinity of the dome and calling his name with no avail. I repeatedly asked the other members of my party for assistance, but all remained uncooperative and, at times, acted outright aggressively. Disease has taken them all, I know it; the white spots have appeared in the dead eyes of Dr. Taur-Horn, Mr. Rav and even the dog. Dr. Rycmod has regressed to a state where she stands at the foot of the tree and calls to its branches in a worrying primal tongue brought forth from the deepest darkest recesses of her mind. The others haven’t found this ailing language yet, and simply wander in a dreamlike state, murmuring about nothing like Dr. Rycmod had done in the earlier stages of her illness. Could Mr. Yan have harbored this same disease without much visible symptoms? Had he ran away in infected madness during the night? If this is the case, I cannot say that I don’t envy him, for who is the mad one; the man who escapes an enclosed space filled with ancient disease, or the man who chooses to stay within it?
My dreams were certainly making me feel like madness was taking me, but now I feel that grip loosened and replaced with the fear of treading outside of my tent to be amongst those afflicted, those who seem to be denying the existence of Mr. Yan as if he was never here.
There isn’t much research I can do from here on my own besides observe the tree through the gap in the tent; the members of my party were definitely eating its fruit in their stupor, which seemed to pop like bulbs when they took a bite, leaving blue dust around their dropped jaws. I believe it is the tree’s blue spores that are causing their behavior. Of course, I could be completely wrong—from what I’ve seen of this plant, anything could be possible, and the only way to confirm this is to return with a new research team and whatever medication would be appropriate.
Today I discovered far worse than anything I had feared so far. After working up the courage to leave my tent and observe the tree, I shaved a piece of bark between two branches and found something beneath the rubbery orange wood; the rough yellow fabric of Mr. Yan’s coat. I recoiled to the ground as soon as I recognized it, only to see the faded outline of his horrified expression somewhere above the deep cloth. He had been absorbed as prey to the monstrous tree, fed to it by the enthralled expedition. They weren’t diseased, the tree had taken their minds; I know this because they have all now lost their civility, torn away their clothes and begun worshipping it. And now, I’m sick with anger and horror, to think the brilliant minds that once were once my colleagues—no, my friends—have had their minds warped and taken forcibly from them.
I fear it is only a matter of time before they remember my presence and offer me up to the branches. Fleeing is out of the question, as the vicious feral beast that was once Mr. Yan’s dog stands slavering by the entrance of the tunnel—piercing blue eyes as big as plates. They must know I’m here, otherwise they (assuming the tree has assimilated them under a hive-mind) would not be covering my only exit.
My only choice is to move to somewhere hidden. Somewhere where the poor enthralled souls can’t find me, and then I can wait until they move from the tunnel so I can make my escape.
And maybe I can find help for them.
May God help our doomed souls.
Around the roots of the tree, there is a cave, where I hide. I have brought the journal with me, so that whoever may find this in the likely event I die, they will know to exterminate this specimen of the Auran Umsukaii—or whatever they may call it—before they find themselves in my position.
They were distracted when I moved, engaged in a disgusting primal orgy that can barely be seen as human behavior and something I would not like to describe in the detail I saw it in. I kept low—the interior meadow within the dome is arranged in a slight mound, and I took advantage of the brow of the hill, while staying close to the edge of the dome to avoid detection, and eventually finding myself in a shallow rabbit-like burrow where I barely managed to secrete myself—though the pain in my old bones is the least of my worries as I hear the arboreal tongues above.
The tendrils invade my mind.
But I fight them.
The scalpels and saws and draw-knives in my brain slice and cut and shave the roots before they take hold.
But they grow back.
I fight them.
It’s dark, and my stomach knots and rolls. Every time the ground above me rumbles with sound, I feel as though by heart is about to climb from my chest and out of my mouth.
They talk about how they hunger—I understand their language now. They’re not talking about themselves or for themselves—it’s the tree talking through them, and it hungers for me. They’re puppets of meat, and they’ve been dead for days.
I don’t even know how long I’ve been down here now—I don’t see the sun as it cycles.
They’re restless now. I heard them tear down the tent where I had originally hid. They tore it to shreds, and I heard the sickening crunch of the materials within as they were whipped into a fury over my absence.
I want to leap out and rescue my research, but none of it matters anymore—it was all wrong.
Their howling fury fills the dome, never ending.
Padraeg is still at the entrance; his attention has never shifted, and I fear that he will be able to wait longer than I, for he is sustained by the tree. He needs not eat and his veins are filled with tree-dust. Sooner or later, I will have to run.
The ground beneath rumbles—the tree is desperate for sacrifice, and its roots explore the dirt. It will find me if I don’t move.
Tried to dig today, found human remains. Perhaps it is the remains of the last person in my situation? He stayed too long. I won’t.
The tips of the roots are piercing the dirt now as it gets closer. The cave is collapsing. I hear the voices closer. There is no choice now.
Whoever finds this journal, once again I implore you; do not study the tree.
Don’t try to discern its secrets.
Kill it. Burn it to the ground. Burn the flowers. Dig up the roots. Break the dome.
This thing should not be preserved or catalogued, it should be forgotten, as the ones before intended it to be.
I pray my decrepit form will not hinder my escape.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Benjamin David Knight is a passionate nineteen-year-old writer of speculative fiction from Derby, England. He is currently preparing to study Creative Writing at university, alongside editing the first draft of his first novel.