Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.
Everything is blossoming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.
— Rianer Riama Relik
The dazzling and hideous garden that is the Bloom shelters and nurtures its children, the Florets, frolicking perpetually in the forgiving, absent embrace of their Mother. Everything here blossoms and transforms and regenerates unpredictably—yet harmlessly, at least in the eyes of Florets—in a jungle choked with the pheromones of chimerical vegetation and cancerous megaflora. The Floret’s childhood games resemble play, but the Bloom’s unpredictability precludes learning, and ceaseless regrowth shields Florets from any consequences, and so all the creativity, innocence, bravado, earnestness, excess, and cruelty of youth run unhampered and deformed by the ever-increasing stakes of a painless playground.
The landscape of the Bloom ranges across noxious wetland, fantastical jungle, alien scrubland, and the totally unrecognizable, all under a wild assortment of weather systems and lacking coherent cycles of day and night. Despite the chaos, the Bloom is referred to as a “garden.” There is the pervasive sense that this world is cultivated, artificial; there are no animals fulfilling ecological roles, and it appears that everything is an invasive species. Apart from the occasional pond or cave, the land is completely and unnaturally flat, and it is impossible to tell what is the result of a bizarre plan executed perfectly versus what slapdash ideas and mindless play took lives of their own. In one swathe of rainforest this visitor found every last plant possessed a mouth humming each to its own tuneless drone, and elsewhere along a river dozens of Florets stood rooted and half-transformed into flowering brambles, following visitors with silently grinning gazes.
All living things deform here eventually, but growth is the driver. The children themselves grow, of course, and in the process sprout talons and chitinous ridges and extra limbs, gnarl with bark and thorns, and grow to freakish sizes small or large from which they droop and blotch with cysts and buds and teratomas. Vegetation flourishes incomprehensibly, discordant with features of plants and animals and inanimate objects, melding into impassable tangles of fragrant silvery stinging tendrils, rivulets of flame, globs of translucent sap, wet rot squirming wings and maws and drum-beat membranes.
Florets take advantage of the Bloom’s growth, wounding and maiming themselves, each other, flora, and visitors to see what results. There is no method of predicting or controlling what mutations will take place, and anything is possible, but the Bloom does respond to and play off of its collaborators. Intentions and dreams manifest, as do flavors of nearby actions: plucking flowers for a crown might cause the plant to sprout gems on its stalks, a bamboo grove may gasp in unison at a Floret’s mock execution, and imaginary friends spawn wholesale into existence. Pranks often succeed or fail spectacularly. Passing bodily fluids onto vegetation is a poor idea.
There are no native adults here (the age of a given Floret seems to fluctuate randomly, as likely to go up as it is to go down) and visiting adults are gratefully less susceptible to deformations of growth, seeing as they do less growing. The body is, however, naturally in a state of gradual regeneration, and those few mortals who have spent significant time here will find the same lurid flourishes taking root. Far more threatening is that other form of growth: healing. Any injury, activating as it does in the body’s healing processes, provides a foothold for the Bloom’s hideous acceleration, and injury is inevitable in the snarl of thorns, poisons, ambulatory roots, razor leaves, and careless and indulgent Florets.
Inanimate objects resist the Bloom, but there are few truly inanimate things here. Florets fashion tools and props and makeshift structures from scavenged plant material, but those tend to retain their vivacity and continue growth. Truly inanimate articles are mostly foreign, and though they will not on their own sprout five-tendriled roses and begin winding around a tree, foreign objects are eventually co-opted by plants and incorporated into transfigurations. There is for instance a location known as the Armory1 where a battalion of troops stranded here for some cursed reason perished, leaving behind their equipment, resulting in a stretch of jungle where epiphyte ferns and giant orchids have merged with weapons and armor and wield them in a cacophonous dance.
Many aspects of this realm are exquisitely beautiful. This visitor stumbled into a dark forest clearing padded with spectacularly iridescent moss varying in large geometric patterns, though the area was suffused with a sweet and metallic odor, the strength of which rendered it powerfully unpleasant. Often after a heavy rain fungi bloom with unbelievable diversity, in tiny clusters and enormous thickets, neon lattice skirts and crystalline parasols tottering on thread-like stalks, curtainous silk gills, intricate honeycombs, opalescent glistening, needle-bristling, singing and bursting from above and below. The efforts of Florets too, while often juvenile or demented or lost in the intricacies of clique humor, can be just as spectacular: petal-crafted battalion banners, vine-woven tree forts, and elaborate self-flagellation contraptions.
While the Bloom primarily manifests through existing channels of growth and regrowth, powerful surges know as Swells sometimes sweep like wildfires through here, each bringing its own anomalous flavors. This visitor passed a region in which every substance—vegetation, the ground, even florets—had been turned to an unnatural, featureless white. This was by any measure a harmless Swell; other instances have been known to snowball all in their path into an enormous putrefacting mass, or bring hurricanes of razor-like threads that shred everything into a slurry from which new forms coalesce. Other Swells spread more slowly like plagues, and can be carried outside the Bloom by careless travellers.
Whether it is society or nature2 that shapes children into adults that understand and care about the consequences of their actions, these forces are missing here. Consequences—real encounters with them as well as their analogues mirrored in play—are what shape intelligent beings. This is a land of experimentation free from consequence not by its absence but by its unpredictability. A scratch might well migrate in location around one’s body, drip pink sap for a decade, or tear open and put forth a whole new being. Even severe wounds are cause for laughter, healing erratically but surely.3
The inviolable safety of the Bloom is essential for Floret play: when unsafe, one’s goal becomes only ensuring safety, rather than play. Their play follows familiar patterns of childhood recreation: goal-oriented structure and (ever-shifting) rules, activities supporting physical development and athleticism, thrill-seeking, and all manners of role-play and make-believe, from staged warfare to mock construction, in which their imagined substitutions for objects and actions often turn into versions of the real thing. Florets develop exceptional skills in some areas, becoming acrobatic, strong, creative, eloquent, or socially intuitive, while the abundance of their world deftly shelters them from the externally-mandated requirements that turn play into work.
As fertile a foundation for play the Bloom is, it is utterly futile. Where randomness reigns, no generalizable conclusions may be drawn, and so the children learn nothing. Their play is devoid of meaning, for children play as a way to learn about the environment, to practice, and to strengthen bonds. Bonds do not last here and there is nothing to learn, so behind the playing there is nothing. Florets play with great fervor, perhaps to satisfy the itch that play scratches. It does not work; you cannot blame them. And so they play very hard indeed.
The Bloom is a place of manic, charismatic child-demagogues and storytellers rapidly gaining and losing favor. Attempts at alliance-building and even proto-civilization-building fall victim to restlessness and malcontent. Shifting, performative allegiances follow the most provocative trends, trailed by infighting over authenticity and creativity, each endeavor pursued with short-sighted glee. Beyond larger assemblies and social currents Florets roam solo and in bands looking for entertainment: staging elaborate pranks and experimenting with themselves and the landscape to appease their fascinations.
Florets appear as children whose ages slowly fluctuate from about three to perhaps fifteen. The oldest are well into the most hazardous stages of puberty, and this visitor stumbled across some scenes that would alarm even the most deviant OrielThe Macula is a pitch-dark realm where every shred of light and substance has long since been utilized by the alien and fractal Oriels to build curling, spectacular palaces in which they warp their minds and bodies in pursuit of ever more esoteric experiences of beauty.Turn to chapter. They are as likely to present as feral and naked as they are to be bedecked in elaborate fashions and props repurposed from the Bloom’s treasures, and they are often in the thrall of some performance: one is queen and the rest are slaves building her palace-tomb, or emissaries are being sent through hostile territory with inscrutable diplomatic directives, or they play a variant of hide-and-seek in which those hiding attempt to wound those seeking (ideally with vegetation, for instance holding back a thorned branch ready for whiplash) just before being found. All these are pursued with an impressive and enviable lack of self-consciousness.
It is easy to perceive the Florets, with their psychopathic acts of curious cruelty, to be evil, but it is hard to imagine their nature any differently. They pursue their whims as a child cutting a worm in half to see what happens: with the correct assumption that the world and their community will carry on unperturbed. The unfixed nature of a given Floret’s personality and appearance provides anonymity behind which they are free to act as they please. Their actions are suitable for their environment, but they do not understand that mortals are somewhat more attached to, for instance, the shape of their own bodies, and so tales of visitors’ treatment at the hands of Florets leave this plane suffused with imagined malevolence.
They are in a way artists freed from the fear that all artists face: of wasting resources, of actions that cannot be undone. This realm is their utopia. And so it appears that the only thing they might fear—though they fear it in a way that one can only fear that which can’t be understood—is exile from their cradle. They of course face judgment from their peers, resulting in loners and outcasts, but that is not exile: Florets thrive on their own, and can return to their kin transfigured whenever they wish. True exile would require losing the Bloom. Florets speak of a place called the “Smooth Land”, varyingly a high plateau or a deep crater, in which the Bloom’s influence ceases. Some say that Florets who stumble upon the place are trapped there, and others that MotherTurn to section can command a Floret there for violating imagined dictums—this is wielded as a threat by Florets. This visitor was unable to find evidence or even hearsay of a Floret having ever been thus trapped or exiled.
The Bloom is an alarming place, and this visitor travelled primarily under the guidance of the IsletTurn to section’s caretakers, treading gingerly outside their garden with the knowledge that the healing of the slightest scratch or bruise can blossom into a hideous and permanent deformity. You would do well to take similar care, but are unlikely to find support from the caretakers who are suspicious of and reluctant to help visitors. Unfortunately there are few practical suggestions; the best you can do is to proceed slowly, touch as little as possible, and assume the worst of every last twig and flower. Bushwhacking techniques will have unpredictable effects: cutting away vegetation may on average be less dangerous than wading through it, but has a far wider range of outcomes.
In theory no traveller need hunger or thirst in the Bloom, for fruit and moisture abound, and in their absence enough experimentation will produce them. Though any nourishment here will not be fatal, in practice you would be advised to bring sufficient provisions yourself, for obvious reasons.
Florets rarely see outsiders, though they are familiar with concept, and will reliably try to engage you in play. They are not malicious but are insistent, and their games and pranks pose real danger. It is nearly impossible for a Floret to say no to an idea, and so the most reliable way to steer an encounter away from potential hazards is to make an alternative proposal. They are however excited about visitors; in order for your alternate proposals to be effective they should at least appear to involve you.
The Bloom is packed with legends and superstitions, which like everything here are driven by wonder and curiosity rather than fear. Asked for examples, one Floret rattled off a list that included a forest of mirrors that grant onlookers animal shape-shifting powers, a thorn-encrusted fortress inhabited by a tribe of Floret slavers who roam the Bloom on slave-catching raids, and a region of gem-encrusted carnivorous trees sought after by treasure-hunters. Identifying these places is hopeless. Pathfinding is challenging in the ever-shifting landscape lit by wandering and irregular suns, few locations survive unchanged for long, and cartographic hearsay is just as likely to magnify a Floret game of make-believe as it is to represent a real happening.
The only reliable feature is a rough arrangement of biomes, though this visitor is insufficiently well-versed to provide any sort of map. The bulk of the Bloom is dense jungle heavily populated by Florets, but other environments such as swamps, woodlands, and meadows, more varyingly populated, can be found. The climate everywhere is warm to hot and rarely very dry.
This visitor was fortunate to be introduced to the Bloom through a researcher who splits her time between the Islet and the BrinkExultant yet mindful hedonists who form a kaleidoscopic community of explorations in creation and destruction, joy and suffering, exertion and renewal. Visitors are welcomed into the fold, and it is impossible not to be overwhelmed.Turn to chapter, and was able to travel with her community’s expertise and wisdom. The Islet is a small encampment resting deep in an unusual area of barren scrubland, on the site of an intermittent freshwater spring.4 A few dozen mortals of all ages—elders, adults, and their children alike—live in this oasis, a resilient and dedicated group of caretakers who have established safe harbor and learned how to gently harness the chaos of this place.
The settlement began when three matriarchs traced the source of a plague to a group of mortal cultists who believed that the mutations of the Bloom provided divine absolution, and had stationed themselves here to study, cultivate, and spread these blessings. Once the threat had been dealt with, one of the matriarchs remained here to ensure that no other malign visitors would wield the Bloom’s gifts for harm—as well as to pursue her fascinated reverence for the place. Others from her society joined her, along with explorers and colleagues over the years, resulting in an eclectic and tight-knit community.
The Islet is far more deserving of the term “garden” than the Bloom itself. Modest buildings of mud clay surrounded by trellises burst with foliage carefully selected and pruned for stability, safety, and beauty. The Bloom is weaker here. One must still be careful, and various deformities (“Bloom scars”) are found among residents, but a bruise suffered at the Islet is less likely to develop its own personality, and normal injury, aging, and death are indeed possible. The community survives via sophisticated subsistence agriculture5 supplemented by occasional ventures to “the mainland” (as they merrily call the populated areas of the Bloom) to gather plant cuttings, materials for building and tools and, occasionally and with great caution, food.
On these trips to the mainland, members of the Islet interface delicately with Florets—who they regard with the wonder and respect one would give a dangerous animal in its native range—to glean news of any outsiders. They are experts at avoiding injurious games or tangles, and always present themselves as visitors to the plane and take care not to lead Florets back to the Islet, though Florets have little in the way of attention span or patience, never venturing out into the dry wilderness that buffers the Islet for there is nothing for them to play with there, and fortunately it is about a day’s journey from any populated or vegetated place through that wilderness to reach the Islet.6 It is possible that the Florets’ story of the Smooth LandA rumored location, feared by Florets, in which the Bloom's influence ceases.Turn to section is an exaggerated tale of a wilderness that in reality bores rather than frightens them.
At the center of the community, dug into the ground around the rhythmic spring itself, is a lattice-walled conservatory that functions as a botany museum, research laboratory, and art studio. Spring-fed rivulets trickle down multi-level aqueducts and along channels in the floor. From the infinite palette of the Bloom has been composed a baffling harmony of color, scent, shape, and texture. The garden here is tended to largely by a lone mute Floret child who won the trust of one of the founding matriarchs and has remained here since.
The laboratory is dedicated primarily to the breeding of crops for sustenance and the testing of their safety—tasks that requires constant attendance as existing crops slowly mutate or suddenly die out. No small effort is also dedicated to the recreational study and crossbreeding of the ornamental flora which spectacularly adorn the settlement. Due to the history of the place, the caretakers here are reluctant to engage in medicinal research, but their expertise is well suited to such efforts, and intellectual interchange occurs with trusted colleagues who visit to use the Islet’s facilities and knowledge.
Generations of study have found no predictability whatsoever in the mutations of the Bloom, and searching for such foundations is as fruitless an effort as the Florets’ play. But the Islet’s caretakers have found that the volatility and energy of the Bloom can itself be harvested and its yields understood: there is no predicting what might cause a water lily to blossom loaves of bread, but having found such a lily one may pluck it from the chaos for testing and cultivation.7 It is an imperfect and accident-prone endeavor, but in this manner the community here has carved order and sustenance out of the very fruit of chaos.
The stability of the spring and land around is essential to the community’s endeavors: the unrelenting turmoil of the rest of the Bloom would render all civilization efforts hopeless. There is a subtle fear amongst some of the Islet that the Bloom is being cheated of its labors by this anomalously productive work, and that it could somehow seek or stumble upon revenge. Certainly the border of the mainland varies and could eventually approach the Islet, but more worrisome is that one day a tremendous SwellTurn to section could surge through the barren land, over which it normally peters out, and wash disastrously over the Islet.
Florets speak of “Mother” with wide-eyed reverence, more as a cosmic force than an actual being. Mother is the reason they are here, they say, and Mother ensures that they enjoy themselves and are safe. All the Florets say they have seen Mother, for Mother is all around them, but they also speak of seeing her during moments of transfiguration. There is disagreement on whether Mother is a wholly benevolent figure: some Florets invoke her threateningly as one who may exile insufficiently creative or pure Florets to the Smooth LandA rumored location, feared by Florets, in which the Bloom's influence ceases.Turn to section, or out of the Bloom entirely. Others reject these threats and insist that Mother always wishes her children the best, and is always kind.
Mother’s relationship with mortals is even less clear. “Have you met Mother?” the Florets will ask. “She wants you to play with us.” One of the IsletTurn to section’s residents, the recipient of a particularly unfortunate Bloom scar, shared with this visitor that she had in fact met their Mother, but would not speak more of it.
More than one group of Florets excitedly wished to show this visitor the Armory, but she declined.↩︎
In the infinite range of possible outcomes, surely some are considered harmful, you might wonder. Florets do not understand “harm.” There appears to be no death here; even the most thorough of obliterations leaves life intact—nothing can sit still in the Bloom. But certainly the greater the harm, the greater the transformation, often enough to result in something unrecognizable. Florets frequently lose play partners to such transformations, and do not fear this; it is part of their natural understanding of how their reality functions.↩︎
The spring warbles forth from a low rocky outcropping, and every few hours (by this visitor’s estimation) the flow trickles to a stop, only to start again a few hours later. This has carried on since before the encampment’s founding and might be the only reliable phenomenon on the entire lamina.↩︎
Watering their crops, for instance, is accomplished by burying large, narrow-necked clay vessels underground such that the opening is above the surface. Crops are planted around them, and the vessels are regularly filled with water that gradually seeps through the unglazed clay to moisten the soil directly adjacent to the roots, cleverly avoiding the evaporation and wasted water of above-surface irrigation.↩︎
In some directions the wilderness—rocky badlands peppered with alien scrub and tumbleweed—extends farther than any known efforts to explore it.↩︎
One recent such retrieval resulted in the choicest tea this visitor has tasted and which she drank so continuously during her stay at the Islet that they named it “wayfarer’s tea”. Its leaves are an appealingly deep marbled purple (resulting in an unappealingly dim and murky drink), and it holds a rich, round, warm flavor dancing with bright flashes of uncharted berries and a peppery bite. It is not overpowering, yet so complex that every sip is distinct. The plant has been successfully propagated and already has devotees beyond the Bloom, though it likely can only be grown here. Should you make your way to this outpost, referencing this tea may both please your palate and ingratiate yourself with your newfound hosts.↩︎