Seeding Senna

Summary: Senna is an island at the edge of the world, home to an isolated colony. When an unknown event cuts them off from their mother country, unrest foments into civil war. Against this turbulence, a naturalist and amnesiac seek answers in the bizarre ecosystem of the island.

The Garden at the World's End

Senna was located at the absolute extremity of charted waters, undiscovered and unreachable until advances in shipbuilding, navigation, and cartography. The oceanic currents around it formed a gyre, inuring it against the expansion of humanity across the world until a half-century ago. The development of the solar steam engine allowed the Keam Commonwealth to expand its reach as a thalassocratic power, dotting the world with its outposts. Unconstrained by the whims of wind or current, their maritime heritage allowed them to be the first humans to land upon its shores.

So complete was Senna's isolation that it was entirely unpeopled until no technological advances enabled Keamite to reach it. Spotting verdant growth from the deck of his ship, Captain Ames Rook was the first man to set foot upon that new land. Immediately claiming it for his antipodal homeland, he envisioned a prosperous colony with himself at its head. He named the island for Senna Valley, site of the battle that decisively crushed the Old Kingdom during the Unification War. His flagship and landing site provided the namesake and location for the colonial capital, Serenity Bay.

The city grew rapidly, but colonization did not proceed with the facile simplicity the authorities hoped. As Rook noted, the coastal plains of the island's eastern coast provided remarkable fecund and fertile. The central spine of the island was dominated by snow-capped peaks that rose like the jaws of a shark. The west coast of the island was covered by dense rainforests and rocky coastlines, hindering attempts to land by sea. Despite four seasons' worth of erratic weather occurring over the course of a single day on the grasslands, the coastal flatlands provided most hospitable, agricultural settlement lured waves of horticulturists and farmers from the Keam Commonwealth.

Despite settling grassy, sparsely covered flatlands, the Keamite farmers soon discovered the peculiar nature of flesh-colored trees that grew in thick, interwoven copses on the most barren soil. Their trunks were thick with a rugose, squamous carapace in lieu of bark. Strange creature of a taxonomy unknown elsewhere in the world inhabited these arboreal enclaves and defended them with uncharacteristic vigor and intelligence when they were threatened. Like a tribe of angry natives, attempts to clear them were met with immediate and often lethal response. As such, only timbers from fallen trees were used, often used as spare planking in visiting ships.

The trees cast peculiar shadows over the farmlands that erupted around them for reasons genuine and imagined. Their isolated, infrequent nature and continued survival of the wildfires that swept across the prairie gave credence to the idea of them as an antediluvian remnant of a primeval era. Witnesses beheld creatures emerging live from the venous roots of the trees, emerging from a fleshy caul around them in the manner of botfly maggots. As confirmed by the finest Keamite natural philosophers, the resulting creature was identical to others of its species, but possessed an uncharacteristic loyalty to the womb-tree that birthed it. When the womb-trees began to clone livestock that meandered to close to them, unwary farmers were greeted by a grisly sight.

A farmhand named Talo Alvino, recently arrived from Serenity Bay, beheld a newly-calved lamb approaching the clump of womb-trees that lingered ominously at the edge of the farm. Clustered like phalanx soldiers of antiquity, the trees of the glade raised roots around them like a palisade wall. The curious lamb drew closer, lured by curiosity and the odor emitted by a blossom placed above the wound roots. As the lamb drew closer, a single branch struck like a fisherman's spear. The impaled lamb vanished from view, with its baleful cries audible in the farmhouse. The curious farmhands were directed away from the grotesque spectacle, until a mournful silence fell upon that outlying field.

Talo found himself staring at the lethal appendage. The lamb's limp body was a boneless, shriveled husk on the branch, as though digested from within. The nausea that welled up within his stomach was born of more than physical spectacle, but also by a macabre curiosity as to the method of attack. The branch itself detached from the tree and vanished deep into the grove, dripping residual bodily fluids from the carcass in droplets of charnel pollution. He would have turned away entirely, if not for the calling of crying lambs within the forest.

Fearful of his employers' wrath should any more of his flock be missing, Talo counted and found none missing. In his fearful zeal to prevent being ordered into the wood, he ascribed the calls as a decoy by some predator forest-dweller or sheep lured from the neighboring property a dozen kilometers away. He nevertheless held onto a curiosity regarding the calls he heard, which gnawed at his mind like a relentless worm. He nevertheless slept contentedly at sundown, allowing the fatigue upon his body to bear him into the Lethean tranquility of rest.

Midway through the night, Talo was awakened by the shouting of another farmhand. In great haste and feverish terror, he seized the blunderbuss with which he warded off predators and pests. Weapon in hand, he charged down the stairs to find a similarly-armed crowd of farmhands standing quizzically outside the farmhouse. A multitudinous herd of lambs, equal in size and number to the one messily devoured, had emerged from the thicket of womb-trees. He approached one cautiously, but he was far more skittish than the lamb. As it licked him, he wondered exactly what had transpired within the woods.

The natural philosophers that examined the lambs found them identical to each other, and fortunately for the farmer, were deemed safe for consumption and for wool. Other farmers reported similar events transpiring near the womb-trees, but Talo was the first to apply a grander vision. He systematically breed livestock for offering to the trees, which responded by growing ample provinder of livestock. He invited natural philosophers from the Commonwealth and beyond to study the womb-trees, in hopes of using them as ceaseless cornucopias.

From this came an even larger influx of colonists to Senna, primarily consisting of physicians, inventors, natural philosophers, and those knowledgeable in chemistry, botany, and biology. While the Flowering deterred study of the womb-trees for a time, the colonial economy could not sustain such a lull. The discovery of a combustible sap further fueled the development of local industry. As the economy of the Commonwealth grew dependent upon Senna, a rancorous chorus of voices demanded a greater say in governance.

Long fearful of an uprising in its antipodal colony and the depredation of Itaru warlords, the Commonwealth garrisoned a regiment of the Stateholder's finest in Serenity Bay. When ships from home ceased arriving, Governor Fis Errick turned to desperate measures. Tensions raised as curfews and tariffs caused local militias to form and rebels to conspire against him. When the final ship from Keam arrived, a spark set the world on fire. Like a flask of combustible sap igniting, Senna burnt quick and bright.