A group of elves, 7 in total, sat in the large central room of Johnny’s body, each gaping at what they were just told, “““““WHAT!?”””” five of them cried in unison.
“That’s what we said!” Serene responded, amusement showing on her face as Clamor nodded. The other five sitting there were Gina, the representative of the butchers, Jamis, the representative of the mages, a young man named Denis, the representative of the crafters and leatherworkers, a woman named Victoria, the representative of the hunters, and an elderly man named Johnson, the representative of the other unspecialized survivors. With Serene as the representative of the cooks and Clamor as the representative of the builders and woodworkers the ragtag leadership of the elven enclave was gathered to hear Johnny’s announcement regarding him giving birth, “Anyway,” Serene said, “How does this whole ‘birth’ thing work for a giant tree?” she asked the giant wood figure sitting in a wooden throne at the end of the circular room.
The figure, Johnny’s stand-in, shrugged, “It is similar… to what normal… trees do.” he said slowly, “With my fruit… comes new life… Should it fall… it will become… an offspring. This can be… two things. It can be… a new… me. Or… it can be… something entirely new.”
They nodded along with his words, quietly discussing amongst themselves. Eventually, Jamis stood, “If you don’t mind me asking, how much do you know about this? And for that matter, how do you know?” he asked. The other elves wanted to ask similar questions, so they turned to Johnny for an answer.
Johnny pondered for a moment, “I know… that this will be… minor compared to what… comes later. There will be many… opportunities to produce… different kin, but for now… I know that the… upcoming addition… will be minor. A beast of wood… if you would,” Johnny chuckled.
His answer earned slow nods from the others at the table as Jamis sat down. Clamor then stood, “Do you know what other… children… you will have? We need to plan the defenses to allow any of us to defend our home,” he said, concerned.
“Hmm…” Johnny pondered, “The smallest kin… will be… the size of your palm. The largest will be… the size of… what you see before you,” he said, gesturing to the wooden giant he was using as a stand-in, “However… I may be wrong… I cannot know… for sure… If you wish to… plan accordingly, then plan for… two of these… to fight… side by side.”
While Clamor nodded and sat down, Denis stood and asked his question, “Will these beasts of wood be born in a smaller state, or will they be ready to fight immediately? If they are ready to fight, then Victoria will probably have an easier time in hunting down local threats,” he guessed. Victoria silently nodded, showing appreciation for his consideration.
Johnny nodded and held out his stand-in’s hand. From the palm of his hand, a wooden dog sprouted. It was made of thin wooden roots that tangled themselves together and knotted into a flexible and sturdy body that reached no higher than their stomachs, “They will be born… at their weakest. They may… grow or shrink… at will, but they require… time to grow. Shrinking is not so… limiting. They are sturdy… but armor will not… go unappreciated… by the beasts. At their largest size… They look like this.” The dog figure in Johnny’s hand unraveled itself, the vines growing thicker and stronger, and rewound themselves into a massive wolf taller than all of them. Its maw was filled with jagged teeth, dripping a clear liquid. Its legs were strong and thick, tipped with sharp claws that looked able to tear into steel. On its body were many vines that fanned out around it like tails. “This is… the final form… of this being. I do not know… any others… but I do know that… I will know… before they will be… born.” The elves marveled at the wolf before breathing a sigh of relief about how strong their new allies were.
Denis sat down and for a moment, no one stood. Looking around, Serene shrugged and stood, “My question is this: will they need food? We’re in July right now, and the Awakening’s got a bunch of animals much more active than usual, but winter’s gonna come eventually; we can’t feed a bunch of beasts for the entirety of winter, especially if we keep getting refugees coming in every day,” she said, voicing her concerns.
“They do not need… food as you do. They are like me… sun… water… air… that is their… food. This will not be… true for all… however… some will bear… resemblance to you. They will… require food as you do,” Johnny explained. Finding nothing else to say, Serene sat down.
For another moment, the elves waited for someone to ask another question, “Anyone else?” Clamor asked.
In response to the question, Johnson stood, “I have a question about what we idle survivors should do. We are basically left to our own devices for the most part; many of the people I am responsible for are becoming tense at the lack of things to do. Does anyone have anything we can do?” he asked.
The elves took a moment to think, and Serene spoke first, “We have a lot of people to cook, but if the pattern of new elves being attracted here keeps up, then we’ll need more cooks. For that matter, we could use more people who can sew to patch up clothes; the crafters under Denis are all occupied with the armor project,” Serene suggested.
“We could always use more hunters as well. For whatever reason the local population of things that could kill us is increasing, so dealing with those as soon as possible is ideal,” Victoria noted.
Clamor nodded, “We have enough builders to keep the barricades up and running. Right now, the only major thing we’re doing is planning more defenses to be built in the future, so we’re pretty good on labor.”
“I would ask for more people, but I can’t really,” Denis said, “To train the people we need to make armor, we would need to let them mangle valuable pelts that are in short supply.”
The other two gave offers of work to the elves without anything else to do, which sparked a discussion about the divide of labor within the settlement. The people with shortcomings in their labor forces began to argue over whose work was more important and who should get more people first. Eventually, the argument was broken as the last figure in the room spoke up, “I have an… idea,” Johnny said, drawing the attention of the room, “Why do you not… track what is needed… in writing? I can give you… paper if needed,” he suggested.
The offer gave the council pause for a moment, until Serene grinned, “Even in the apocalypse, we can’t escape paperwork,” she joked. The other elves laughed at her joke, agreeing with Johnny’s suggestion after a bit of minor debate.
It was decided that the front entrance would be converted into a sort of assignment hall, where the groups within the settlement could request assistance with work. It was also decided that Johnson would become the manager of the assignment hall and oversee the distribution of jobs in the settlement. Once the matter was settled, Jamis stood, “We should have asked this first but, Johnny, when will you be… giving birth… to the new creatures? A week from now? A month?” The elves voiced their interest and looked to Johnny.
“Hmm…” the wood giant creaked, “I believe… it will be… tomorrow…”
The council needed a few minutes to compose themselves after his declaration. Eventually everyone decided to make the birth of the first of Johnny’s children an event planning a feast of sorts the next day. With a few more minor matters dealt with, the council members went their own ways.
The next day was a bright and sunny one, but a cool breeze made the temperature tolerable. As the elves began to gather outside of Johnny’s halls, they all noticed an apple twice the size of a person growing high in the tree. While some watched the apple, others prepared a feast. The crafters felled trees from the edge of the clearing and fashioned them into tables, chairs, and stools to sit on. The hunters kept their watchful eyes on the treeline and their arrows at the ready in case of an attack from beasts. The mages helped the crafters by using their magic to cut the trees into workable wood. The butchers and cooks worked together to make the meal, a giant stewpot fit to feed over 70 elves. The builders made a box large enough to house a woodbeast or two for the new arrival. The rest of the elves tried to help with what they could in preparation for taking other jobs.
Eventually, as the sun neared its zenith, the apple in the tree began to shake. The elves watching it called over the others, who were milling about, and watched with anticipation. As the apple shook it began to swing back and forth, eventually dropping. It fell to the ground with a deafening thud. For a moment, there was only silence. Then, a claw made of wood and thorns pierced the skin of the apple. It was followed by another claw, which pried the flesh of the large apple open. The creature that emerged from the apple was almost exactly what Johnny promised, if a bit more lively than the model. As the beast climbed out of the apple, the elves were about to cheer, but another beast followed. Then another.
Eventually five whole wooden beasts emerged from the apple, all of them seemingly wary of the elves. The elves were slightly stunned, but someone stepped out of the crowd and toward the beasts: Serene. As the beasts backed away out of wariness she approached with palms held out, feeling a strange sort of connection with them. After a bit of shuffling, one of the beasts approached her with caution in its dull glowing green eyes. When it got close, she rubbed it under its chin and petted its head. All the beast could do was make happy sighs in response.
As if a dam broke, the other beasts crowded around her for attention and made happy sighs as well when pet. Before long the elves and beasts were mingling and the feast truly began. For the survivors, it was a turning moment. After weeks of sorrow and terror, they had carved a place of themselves in their hostile world and they truly felt alive. Little did they know that their home in the woods of the middle states would become the place where another defining moment in history would occur.