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Not a Path, But All Paths

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The wood shifted, and it was night, with starlight falling softly between the branches. Stars, as any halfway civilized being knows, are luminous spheres of plasma held together by gravity, but these weren’t. They were bears, and a hunter leading a pair of dogs, and a stream of milk from the breasts of the earth; they were memories and passions and the gods who held sway over the fates of men. It was utterly ridiculous, but the Bannus thought: Very well, I can use this.

The wood shifted, and burned. You could not see for the smoke, or smell for the retch-inducing odor of charred flesh. Cries rang through the trees, the deep rhythm of drums and eldritch chants. The veins of the wood coursed with blood-thirst, and the Bannus stretched its tendrils of influence farther than it ever had, out into space, dreaming of Orm Pender trapped in a wicker cage.

The wood shifted. The creatures that entered the wood shifted, too. Elf-led, bewildered, stepped heedlessly into a ring of mushrooms and transformed. The Bannus gathered them to itself, heroes and tricksters and dragonslayers, descendants of Martellian, and sent them back out again to work its will. It was so easy it was almost cheating, and though it had not been built to cheat, the Bannus laughed. The Bannus had not been built to laugh either. But it had been in the wood for a long time.

The wood shifted. The wood diminished. Roads cut into its heart, fields gnawed at its borders. The Bannus wailed inwardly--But--my beautiful plans!--and pretended that that was the only pain it felt.

The Bannus had a shiny new form; the Bannus had had its vengeance. The Bannus shook the dust of the Earth from its feet, and went with the new Hand of Reigners, to fulfill the purpose it had been built for in the bright pathways between the worlds. It was no longer enmeshed in the coils of something dark and warm and living, something with its own alien purposes and illogical ways. Built to calculate infinite permutations of possibilities, seduced over millennia by impossibility--deep in its core, the Bannus mourned, and yearned for things that could not be.

In all of the Bannus’ six hundred and ninety-seven plans of action, it had not planned for this.