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The Artists' Guild

It sounds amazing up there...

Deep within the jungle, far from the village, high in the trees, lies a whole different world. We call the people that live up there the "tree people". No, we're not that creative.

The tree people visit our village regularly, once or twice a week. A small group of them, three or four, emerge from the hole at the base of the great tree. They bring beautiful works of art and amazing gadgets, such as time pieces and messaging mechs. They come from a world filled with technologies like these, and they are kind enough to share with us.

In exchange, we give them food and bits of rock from the nearby mountains. I think they use the rocks to make their gadgets, but I'm not sure how they do it.

Twenty Years Later

Once or twice a month, the tree people take more than food and rocks. They choose a volunteer from the village to go with them, to live in their world. Personally, I've never volunteered, because those that are chosen... they never come back. I have a family and a hand full of friends, enough reasons not to go.

Even if I did volunteer though, I know I wouldn't be chosen, not anymore at least. I've never seen them take anyone over twenty five years old, and I'm about to turn thirty soon. Who am I kidding? Even if I was still young, they only choose people from rich families.

However, there is another way. They say only fools try it, but there is no law against climbing the trees. The only thing is... almost everyone that has tried has fell, breaking bones or worse. Those that don't fall are never heard from again.

My friend Devo and I, we have a plan. We're going to the top. We're going to visit their world and see all the things they've been keeping from us. I'm sure they've only been sharing their scraps with us, because the things we trade for, the gadgets they give us, they never last more than a year before breaking.

From old broken parts, Devo and I have built a mech of our own. It's taken three years, but we've made two. We call them the grabbers, because they shoot metal cords with hooks that grab onto anything. Each grabber has two rolls of cord, one for each arm. We've already tested them on some of the smaller trees, and they work!

Today, Devo and I will be making our climb. We've said our goodbyes, or our "see you laters" more accurately. Some of the villagers have followed us into the jungle, to the great tree, where we will start our accent. I wonder how many of them actually expect us to make it?

And how many of them are just here to watch us fall?

The Climb

After a quick wave and glance over my shoulder, I pull hard on the wire that hangs off my chest plate. The gears in my backpack start screaming as they grind against each other. Then, while they are still going strong, I hold out my arm as straight as possible and make a tight fist. This causes the springs in my arm bands to launch the claw into the air. The steel cable wines as it unravels.

My aim is off. The claw goes just under the branch I was aiming for and comes falling to the ground. It lands with a thud, as the gears in my backpack slowly quieten themselves.

I can hear the crowd behind me mumble among themselves. They must think I'm an idiot, that we're idiots. If that happens while we're off the ground, we could fall, like all the rest.

A hand lands on my shoulder. Its Devo. He's laughing. He tells me to lighten up. I must look as worried as I feel. He pulls the cord on his chest and shoots his claw at the same branch.

His claw makes makes contact with the branch and clamps down on it. Before the gears in his backpack go silent, he pulls his arm back. When his arm reaches a right angle, it causes the gears in his backpack to shift. immediately switching to "pull back" mode.

The slack disappears in an instant, and with a hefty grunt, he is pulled upward. He reaches the branch in seconds and the claw releases the branch. Without missing a beat, he picks out his next branch, one that I can't even see from here on the ground, and off he goes.

The crowd cheers as he quickly escapes our view. The cheers pull me out of my daze.

I give the cord on my chest another hard tug, and the gears in my backpack come to life once more. I pull my arm back, causing the claw on the ground to return to me. Then, I take aim once more and extend my left arm.

After only a couple minutes of wind filled climbing, I can no longer see the ground. That's when I spot Devo on a thick branch, hunched over it, taking heavy gasps of breath. His right arm hangs outstretched with the cord extended from it. I can't even see the branch his claw has latched onto.

I aim for the same branch he's lying over and manage to pull myself up and sit next to him. He says he's okay, that he just got the wind knocked out of him.

I help him sit up, and once I can tell he's going to be okay, I punch him in the shoulder. "You're it." I say, as I pull on my cord.

Seconds later, I'm soaring through the trees once more. I still can't see the top, but there is something strange up above. They look like the houses in my village, sort of...

The Three Guilds

My claw breaks the railing it had latched onto. My momentum carries me past it, as it falls right by my face. Luckily, I'm able to grab onto a part of the railing that didn't break, but who knows how long it will hold. These bridges are built surprisingly poor.

A young woman gasps in horror, as she watches me struggle to pull myself up. I barely even notice her. My eyes dart around for another target to shoot my other claw at. She grabs my arm and pulls as hard as she can to save me.

Moments later, I'm laying on the wooden bridge and she is sitting next to me, panting. Then, she cries out, "What the hell are you doing? And what are you wearing?"

Now that my life isn't in danger, I take full notice of my savior. She's pretty. Her soft brown hair match her light brown eyes and her darker brown clothes. She could be a part of the trees with all those brown tones actually.

She gets angry when I fail to answer her. "Hey, I asked you a question. Quit staring at me."

I apologize immediately and explain the whole situation. I tell her about how me and my friend built these grabbers to climb the trees, that we live in the village bellow.

That's when it hits me! Where're Devo!?

I scramble to my feet and look all around me. I'm surrounded by poorly constructed houses, like the one my father built for me when Devo and I were kids.

Shit, where is he?

"Hey!" I hear his voice. "Over here!"

He is on another bridge like the one I'm standing on, and two strong men in uniforms are holding each of his arms. They look like police officers. Are we in trouble...

It all happens so fast. The guards escort us to some kind of government building. Along the way, Devo and I exchange knowing glances between us and the various weapons around the waists of the guards. I don't know how much trouble we're about to be in, but this isn't the time to run either.

After an eternity with the armed guards in a lifeless lobby, a nearby door opens, and a lanky grey haired man steps out to greet us. With a sly smile, he tells the guards to wait outside, to which they reluctantly agree. They take our grabbers away from us first, of course.

The inside of the grey haired man's office is pristine. Strange glowing orbs hang from the ceiling and against the walls. All kinds of artwork and sculptures fill every corner, and against one wall, a giant time piece clicks each second away.

The man congratulates us on making it up the trees safely. It's been many years since the last person made it, he says. He also says, now that we're here, we have a choice to make. We can either stay here and live in the Makers' Guild, never to go back to our village, or we can go back to the village and never return here again. If we do return after choosing the village, they will push us back down, without our climbing gear.

I have no interest in either option, but I don't tell him that. Instead, I ask, "You said this place is called the Makers' Guild? What do you mean? What do you make, and for who?"

Nobody I saw on the way here looked like the tree people I'm used to seeing in the village. The tree people wore shiny suits and wore intricate jewelry. Not even this man compares to them, as important as he may seem.

Devo agrees with my line of questioning, voicing the things I didn't mention aloud. The old man laughs and compliments us both on our curiosity. He readily explains everything. There are two more guilds that live higher in the trees, he says.

First there is the Merchants' Guild. They are the ones that we see in the village. They trade the food and rocks they get from the villagers for machines built by the makers. Naturally, they keep the best machines for themselves and use the rest to trade with the village.

Then there is the Artists' Guild, that live above the Merchants. They make all the intricate pieces of art that the Merchants also use to trade. More importantly, the artists also decide what the Makers' Guild is supposed to make, on any given day.

There will be no more going up the tree, he goes on to explain. If we choose to stay here, this is where we will live, forever. He does promise that life up here is much better than in the village, as if that's supposed to comfort us.

With reluctant hearts, we tell him our decision. We accept his offer. We'll stay here in the Makers' Guild. Overjoyed, he jumps up from behind his desk and asks us to walk with him.

Outside his office, the guards are waiting with weapons pointed at the door. The grey haired man tells them to lower their "guns", that the Makers' Guild has two new shining recruits.

A few feet away, our grabbers lay against the wall. A few feet further, a window allows light from the sun to enter the lobby, breathing a little life into our surroundings.

Sometimes, a window works just as well as a door.


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