|Beginning of the End|
The Sixth Order of the Angiosan Clergy, like all of their race, was sensitive to all the things around them. They were not prepared for what they would receive today.
Cleric Paen was oblivious to the silence around him. He was praying, which required his full attention.
Suddenly, he could sense something. It was beyond natural form. Perhaps the Holy Leaf was about to speak to him.
He waited a few moments.
And then, abruptly as the form appeared, Cleric Paen could sense it was not the Holy Leaf, it was something far bigger, far greater, and in no way merciful.
Something was wrong with the fabric of Obeidon.
Apparata gleamed, and continued its journey through Machinus. On the surface, the innumerable Gara dwelt, and lived their unchanging lives. Inside, machinery and clockwork turned endlessly, keeping all manner of everything in check. The Gara felt it. They felt the world turn, and the cogs move, every gear rotating in synchrony, perpetual motion. Droids patrolled the surface, Crawlers taking care of the inner workings. It was always like this, for as long as they could remember. Perhaps they had been there since the beginning. And it was always like this. But then something happened. The perpetual motion had now changed.
The Gara were overridden.
“And so I said to him, ‘Much obliged, but no. I’ll stick to a room you can’t see through!’”
A wave of laughter spread through the crowd, and the lord of the Saalic House smiled. That one always caught a laugh at parties. He proceeded to chuckle at his own joke, and then took a glasek kebab from a passing waiter.
Resplendent in his feathered hat, Saalic had organized this entire bit of merriment. Over three hundred guests had come today, and they were eating, drinking, dancing, and admiring the view. And, of course, laughing at his jokes.
However, he admitted that the view was nice too. The Saalic House was situated in a tall tree that overlooked a lush valley. Canyons ran through the valley floor and created patterns from the air. That was another advantage to real estate. Here, people could get as close as they could to the hex lines without vanishing and never seeing the light of day again.
Saalic climbed across a crystalline branch to the Fest room. He grabbed an already prepared aetini and left as abruptly as he had come, but not without a glance at the Fests themselves. Their bloated bodies filled the milking pens, but that was alright. The more Fests there were, the more aetinis came out of them, the more gifts you received, the more famous you got. The more the merrier, as they said.
As he returned to the main hall, the minstrels started playing a different song. Excellent. One of his favorites, The Ballad of Harksen’s Quest. It never really happened, of course, but it was such a vivid interpretation of epic history.
He watched his guests eat and drink and laugh. This was everything that everyone had ever wanted.
There was a loud scratching at the door.
Saalic looked toward it, curiously. The crowd was still going about their business, but they seemed to have noticed.
Things were slowing now, and a sense of uneasiness drifted throughout the room.
There was a flash of light and a loud bang as the lock gave way and the door opened forward. A figure stumbled in and stopped.
There was a resounding gasp, a small scream, and the shattering of several expensive pieces of china as they were dropped to the ground five stories under the maze of crystal branches.
Saalic stared. He had not expected other guests, and certainly not this one. But he would welcome them, like he did with every guest, once he recovered.
In any case, the Sorcerer had returned.
The Dawn sailed through space. A high-class exploratory vessel, it was designed for traveling long distances and to conduct description of new ecosystems on fertile planets. It was manned by a joint team of Salsenes, Atrenids, and Zyrothans, and they were ready for anything.
That "anything" soon appeared.
Meyor noticed it first. The Zyrothan was messing about with a techdrive when he noticed something on the scanner. It was a large, spherical shape, and it hadn’t been tagged yet. That could only mean...they had found a new planet.
He burst into another room. “Nutay! Sorry to interrupt, but…”
“We’ve found a new planet! And it looks habitable!”
Dwaman looked out at the vast expanse of the planet they were approaching. He always cherished these times of discovery.
He turned to Nutay Rinkam, who was standing nearby. “What were you thinking of calling it?”
She smiled. “A warm name. It’s such a beautiful planet, it deserves one.”
They were interrupted by Meyor. “Hey guys, we’re about to get our first results from the probes!”
It was Dwaman’s turn to smile. Meyor was an enthusiastic young recruit, and it was impossible not to like him.
The team gathered around a large screen, and awaited the footage from the probes.
Suddenly, the split screen was filled with fantastic images. In the grasslands, huge lumbering creatures crossed the land, followed intently by six-legged beasts whose shaggy fur bristled with color. In a desert lit only by the light of a blood-red moon, crested animals without eyes sipped the nectar of exotic flowers. And in the jungles---wild lifeforms which only a dream could have concocted.
One probe had even managed to maneuver through a cave, and it had revealed a fantastical underground maze lit with glowing fungi. It was magical.
Everybody stood speechless.
“This…is amazing,” Dwaman finally spoke.
Nutay straightened up. “It is clear that we have found a planet that ushers in a new chapter of life’s history and diversity. I propose to give this planet the name Dawn, by the way its moon rises and lights up the night like a second sun, and to represent this new discovery by honoring our very ship in which we discovered it. Can we get more footage? I’d like to see more, and then broadcast a live feed down to all the major Viperian planets.”
As soon as news of the feed spread, all were listening or watching. Within minutes, it was broadcasting across fixtures on Centro, New Ishtar, Archimedes, Tandrigith---everywhere. And Nutay Rinkam’s face appeared.
“I am sure that a lot of you know of the vessel called The Dawn. It was designed to explore new planets, and it has now fulfilled its purpose. We have discovered a new planet, and named it after our vessel. Dawn.
“But then there is the life inhabiting the world. This planet was a great surprise to us, because we didn't expect the immense diversity of the lifeforms here. They're almost like nothing else in Viperius. I suppose you could call it a second Kaventro, in a way...but Dawn is a true beginning in a new era of discovery.”
Lairo Herreff sat at a table. He was on The Dawn itself, and was excited to discover a new planet, but there was something pressing on his mind that he couldn’t push away.
He ruffled through his bag, and pulled out the book.
Lairo had never before told anyone about the book. Even after all these years, he had kept it a secret.
When he had found it, all those years ago, he was young and sprightly. Everybody had hailed him as one of the most valuable members of the Kaventro expedition. But that was back in...what? 983? 985? Something like that. He couldn’t remember.
The fact was simple. It was now the year 4 million and 5, and Lairo Herreff wasn’t as young as he used to be.
He dusted off the book’s cover. Whatever was inside its pages still scared him, really. He hadn’t looked through it again since that day in that tightly cramped room. Sure, he had peeked into it a couple of times, but not for very long at all. But he had lived with it for years now. And he couldn’t take it any longer.
Slowly and carefully, Lairo turned the cover to the first page. It was blank, except for one line of writing. It was the same language he had remembered from the rest of the book.
The next few pages were peppered with rough sketches, none of them familiar. But they were exotic and exciting, even in the form of faint lines.
Lairo turned another page, and froze.
On a curtain of pure blackness, the star stared at him from its spherical foundations.
The Hills had Eyes.
There were millions of eyes, clambering in the trees, galloping on the plains, swimming in the streams, and wheeling about in the sky.
It was a magical sight.
Some would call it Paradise.
The sinuous gem-diggers, adorned in their fire and beauty, traversed the cliffs and forests. They know not of their ancestry, but are happy all the same.
The gleaming servants of the sky, dressed in multitudes of color, embraced the clouds. They are a benevolent persistence, symbolic of peace.
The prophetic stags, swept with the light of the stars, lapped at the brooks. They seek independence, tamed only by the willingness of the innocent.
The ancient roamers of the earth, eternal gardeners, tended to the fruit and shrubs. They are full of wisdom, as such full of lasting secrets.
All coalesce without seam, and rejoice.
But something has happened.
The balance has changed.
And so the Vermillion Hills awakened from its sleep.
Gemen dived, dodging a stray rapid fire round, and continued cutting down the approaching onslaught. Landing on top of a rocky peak, he carefully aimed at a joint in a Keraran soldier’s armor and fired, pushing a flaming shell five fingerlengths past the armor and into the soldier’s flesh.
The Ranaptor troop had lured the Kerarans down a river into a narrow canyon. Anyone who had fought for any length of time would know these were dangerous places, but apparently these were new recruits and blitheringly ignorant of the situation. All the better, Gemen thought, as he tossed a high-power grenade into the crowd.
The plan was rather simple. They had the Kerarans boxed in on both ends of the canyon now, so all they had to do next was hold them off and keep well out of the way. Soon enough, there would be a big blow at the top of the canyon wall, thanks to a comrade armed with a multitude of explosives. Instant rockslide.
Explosions rattled around him as a comrade next to him lurched and fell from the sky. He dived behind a pillar of rock, and waited for the Kerarans’ wake-up call.
A tympanum-splitting bang erupted across the canyon, and twelve tons of crumbling stone tumbled down the canyon walls. The Keraran soldiers looked up, gave one shriek of terror, and were instantly buried under a mountain of rock and rubble.
Among the Ranaptor soldiers, a cheer rung out as they started to celebrate. Their optimism was cut short as a large explosion took out one end of the canyon and a few of Gemen’s good friends.
He turned his head toward the sky to see a Battlecrusier bearing down on the planet, surrounded by a volley of Fighters. Gemen knew what would happen immediately. The Kerarans would kill all of the Ranaptor they could lay their guns on, take the rest as slaves, and then proceed to strip mine the entire planet. Their Fighters would have no trouble picking out the troop.
Gemen had a strong feeling that he was going to die today, on this pleasant little colony world, just like his father did so many years ago. And he did not want that.
As stone pillars collapsed around him and the screams of fellow Ranaptor rang out and echoed in the canyon and the rocky desert descended into total hell, Gemen did something he had never done before.
He prayed to Lucifer.
An immense glowing blue light that was not there in the sky before lashed out, and the planet itself shook underneath it. The Keraran ships wobbled, and then after another flash of light the front half of the Battlecrusier simply erupted. It crashed down into the desert gravel with a deafening explosion, and the Fighters fled up into the sky for safety.
The blue glow shined, and each and every Ranaptor heard the voice. I am here for you, and always will be.
And the voice and the light vanished.
Gemen stood up, and brushed himself off. Lucifer had appeared only fairly recently, and when colony worlds were at stake it came to save them. However, it appeared only when they wished it to. No sense it questioning it. There were many things that were beyond your understanding. And besides; he was a young soldier, and had a lot to learn yet.
He helped a comrade up, and said, “Come on. Time to head home.”
After that day he would not say much more for a very long time.
Given time, victory was inevitable.
Why shouldn’t it be? They had all the power and were supreme from the start. They would always come through and strike down upon the inferior pests that spanned the universe.
How many races would rise up in attempt to defend their country, their friends, and themselves? A lot of them. How many would succeed? None of them. How many would be conquered, enslaved, and massacred? All of them, of course. It was hardly cruel; it was merely efficiency.
Perhaps they had waited too long?
Of course, they weren’t really in a rush. They would rule every rock in space soon enough. Patience was a battle tactic, and a valuable one at that. Fight long enough, and your victims will finally crack, and you will win. That was simply how it worked.
And fight they would, with swords and artillery and cannons and terrifying weapons that would light the skies on fire. That was what they always did; and it was what they were always supposed to do.
Now, why was that?
It was partly for fulfillment and partly for pleasure. They were always destined to be the masters of all existence. They had been for a long while. And couldn’t you have fun while doing it? Free fun and a free meal, after all. That is what they did. And they would continue doing so.
The High Emperor of the Yraath stretched his legs and smiled. It was time to fight again.
We used to believe we were perfect. But it was not so.
Maybe it was because, back then, we were young and childish. We would love to believe that. We would love to believe that we just made youthful mistakes and nothing more.
But we were old. We were old even back then. We have stood through time and kept doing ourselves wrong.
Time and again, we have destroyed ourselves from the inside out, and denied it. Even today we do so. Sometimes I wonder when we will all tumble back into the wind from where we came. The way we are going, I think it’s bound to happen eventually. I used to think we would help our friends up from the ground, but I was wrong.
Who am I? I have watched my race through time, making their mistakes. They think I am gone, and yet here I am. They talk about my stories like they were mere myth.
To be honest, they were. But they were based on fact.
I was old, even for my pedigree. I was going to die soon. But the Fire saved me. The Fire is still here, keeping me alive, and letting me watch my race turn into that of hatred and lies.
I keep asking the Fire to go down and show them the light. Apparently, it’s “not time yet.” They can wait. Like I have waited, waited for innumerable years.
But are there things that the Fire isn’t telling me? I think so. But I’ll wait and see what happens. I’m sure I will get my wish soon.
And while I wait, I will write.
“Long ago on the shores of a distant land, there was peace…”
In the desolate wastes, the wind sent the sand and the dust into a flying spindrift, up into the sky. Ancient canyons held no mercy to the outside onslaught; it was dry and empty and nothing more.
The water was no better, salty and detestable. Tiny ponds of it, nearly empty ones, remained where there were once grand oceans.
Further ahead, the remains of a prosperous city rose above the wind. Ancient towers still stood the test of time, even after all these years. But they were empty, abandoned. The people were long gone.
It was all devoid of life, entirely inhospitable, and merely empty.
But something happened.
Amid the rock, the salt, and the towers, something scuttled, and something fluttered.
It was no longer empty.
They were never empty at all.
And the shelly husk of Petaurista began to awaken.