Minor backscene — Natalie visits Ang about her power explosion out there in the snow, and Ang tells her what she already knows. She needs to see Langston. sigh So off she goes, in QUITE the mood, to stick her arm in Langston’s face and tell him to take her blood. She cannot look at Melody in the eye — she recounts for Langston what happened out there, and he makes thoughtful noises a lot. Melody tries to get Natalie to look at her, telling her that they will not lose their friendship, but Nat is clearly feeling very very insecure about that, as well as worried about what this explosion of power will do not only to the child she carries but to Refuge Point too. There’s a bit of chatter between Langston, Melody, and Natalie about that part – and Natalie does send Jared to go get his blood extracted by the resident vampire too.
A Science Montage happens. Langston is doing work on the protein marker previously noted in Ang’s blood, and he also notes it in Natalie’s blood. Still uncertain of exactly the link here, but there clearly is one. And whereas in Ang’s case when her power blew out and created the earthquake, the markers dropped very low… the indicators here are that whatever explosion happened with Natalie, EITHER she just carries more of the markers in her blood regularly OR … well, that massive blast she let off wasn’t the strongest she could have managed. Which is a concern as time goes on — if she’s overloaded in this way, she could prove dangerous to Refuge Point.
With the cultists’ arrival the next day, the plan is already in place for the group to travel aboveground (for a variety of reasons) to the Botanical Garden. There’s about 18 inches of snow on the ground, which makes travel hard but not impossible for everyone but Langston. A travois has to be fashioned — Maddy makes it look similar to an Eskimo sledge. During the course of the day and a half of travel time, the group does learn a little more from Calder. The cult’s attention, like Refuge Point’s, has turned from mere survival at this point to growth. To LIVING instead of existing. Calder has seen Odin in person, and we ascertain that it is NOT Franklin — so Ang warns the Cult about Franklin and the possible dangers he brings. We learn that in fact the people DO communicate directly with the tree through those vines about their neck and jacked into their heads. Langston engages them in a lot of conversation, and we find out that they consider themselves “better specimens” of humans — then no longer need medications. Plants, along the travel path, are not flourishing in the snow, but they are also not dying out the way we’d expect. As the group approaches the location of what we had thought was the World Tree, some of the travelers break off to stay there and we are told that although it is still a revered locale, it is not what they originally thought it was, so it is not quite as sacred a space.
When the group arrives to the botanical gardens, it is to see Mjoltivir (spelling?), the giant tree, is some 40 meters tall. This was not here before D-Day for certain. One of the primary features of the Botanical Gardens was the Climatron, a geodesic dome building that housed the tropical plants. Mjoltivir appears to be similar to a banyan tree, hollow at the center with massive vines that surround the dome. As we enter, we can see a man dangling far above at the center of the tree, facing down into the dome. Inside, the dome is still intact and there is obviously come kind of generator. The tropical plants are still growing. People dressed in jumpsuits walk around, giving the impression of “staff” from before D-Day, perhaps. They are definitely a little off — free will seems to be … missing?
When the group meets with the tree… it shapes itself into forms that we perceive as the Norn. It’s clear that the guy hanging up there has a worldview that is seriously impacting the tree-being. It speaks to us with a whispery kind of voice in the wind, with a telepathic component so that we can hear the words it speaks. It reiterates to us that yes, those connected to it are of a kind of hive mind, but that they cannot bring in the unwilling. It cannot be forced on anyone. And the level of free will each person retains is entirely up to them. Langston informs the tree that we wish to remain distinct persons in our own right, but we all do want to talk alliance. The tree agrees that as long as an accord doesn’t unreasonably restrict its growth, it is more than happy to have a relationship. Langston and Maddy volunteer to merge with the tree for a show of good faith — and what the tree learns from them is perhaps significant. Their worldviews on people are not exactly the norm, after all.
Through this merge, we learn that the Cult is some 400-500 people strong. That it is building a neural network, something that was speculated before and is very similar to Sandra’s intentions. It is just trying to “become.” We learn that the tree understands there is SOME kind of difference in the people it has connected with, but it’s only just barely beginning to understand the basics of the genetic differences — this could, in fact, be useful later. It doesn’t have enough knowledge right now to be helpful to us, but it learned some things from Langston. We also learn about the man suspended in the tree — he is the reason the tree is now sentient, and it knows that. It also knows that he is… completely insane. We have the conversation about that, and the tree definitely does not seem to have the intention of letting the man ever get down or be in charge of things. The symbiotic relationship works for them both because the man suspended there doesn’t want to give up the power and knowledge that the merge gives him either. We are able to hammer out the beginnings of a treaty, with resources as part of the initial agreement and boundaries defined and the understanding that some things over time will obviously be renegotiated as necessary. We may be willing to loan people in return for food, etc.