The Tale of Elder Twilyght

... I remember the first time I heard of the Changing.

We students sat on the silkmoss-covered hillside; the graying dusk was lit by the golden gorse and the new stars.

We had finished meditations to clear our minds for the lesson, when Master Laur silently began to instruct us.

One might almost mistake the goodly Laur for one of the True Children, the direct descendants of the Ancients, for the dim light masked the green hue to his skin and his four-fingered hands. But Laur was one of the few Changed who had managed to join the ranks of the Keepers. When he spoke, the wind hushed, and his soft voice carries to each of our ears like a private whisper.

“Learn now the lessons of the past and the great goal set for our lives.

“Before the sky glowed red, before the seas of grass waved blue and deadly, there was a time when the world was a wonder! Mighty cities of metal rose toward the heavens, flying chariots sped across the plains, and man’s companions were creatures of steel. All this was the Ancient’s domain.

“Those Ancients, the forefathers of our world, were mighty beings and all the earth was theirs to command. But this was not enough, they sought greater challenges, new frontiers. And so, their shamans, the legendary Scientists, built vessels of power to explore the Great Void itself. And thus, their glory was spread among all the stars.

“Yet from these mighty achievements, a haughty pride grew and dissatisfaction took root in that rich soil. Man grew jealous of his brother and nation bickered with nation.

“What spark at last ignited the nations’ angers, we don’t know. Some keepers hold that man grew reckless or that some Cosmic Force sought to teach the world a lesson; others believe that outsiders feared the might of man’s nations and tried to eradicate them. Still others fear it was the result of a colossal accident or miscalculation.

“However it came about, a mighty conflict raged and man scoured the earth with awesome tools of destruction. Fire destroyed the cities of man and winds cleansed the debris. When the ash settled, the Age of the Ancients was past.

“Then began the time of Long Dying, that we call the Shadow Years. From out of the shelters crawled the last of the Ancients to behold the destruction they had wrought. They were repentant and called into the Void for their brethren to return. But if any heard, none answered. They had sealed their own doom. In the years that followed, the glow-that-burned blanketed the land, and many of the survivors sickened and died. Yet some few survived to begin the long climb back to civilization.

“It was the Ancients’ greatest terror that proved to be their most precious gift to us. The very earth poison, whose deathglow slew thousands, was the key that unlocked the potential of all creatures.

The gates on the stations of life were thrown wide and plant and animal learned to change their form and to survive in this changed new world.

“These changes were as varied as ice crystals. Some changed their shape, color, or natural defenses. Some gained vastly improved minds, discovering new powers of life and death, while still others changed beyond the Ancient’s recognition.

“Thus from humble beginnings sprang our four races, the children of the Ancient’s. From the plants grew the Earth’s Children; from the lowly beasts evolved the intelligent Man Brothers; the Changed had transformed into the form of man and were able to use both man’s tools and the weapons of their bodies; and finally there are the True Children, the unchanged, direct descendants of the Ancient’s.

“We are of many shapes, but we are all children and heirs of the Ancients. And to us has passed their legacy. We have a second chance, a chance to rebuild, to restore the old glory, and to prove ourselves worthy of our heritage. For only then will we at last escape the wilderness and be welcomed back into the Cities of Man!”

My memory of the rendition fades, and I admit to a distraction at that time, for I had recently passed the rites of manhood. Yet I recall that below the hill spread a panorama of the world that is so familiar to us. It was hard to imagine a world where the plains were not wild blue waving grasses, where forests grew without the towering red watchwoods, where the night was dark and pale, where the violet glow of the Deathlands was absent.

My gaze traveled across the vale, to the Feather Forest whose giant cicadias and immense red roses offered shade to the monstrous mantraps and the darting drakeflies. Beyond lay the Muck Marsh, bubbling orange and acidic; only the metal storks and floating sweetpads dare wade those waters. And there, lying at the foot of the ochre-mantled mountains, surrounded by the deathglow, nestled a silver-green ruin of the Ancients, a treasury of hidden mysteries.

A winged drayfish, its mouth filled with myriad venomous barbs, soured through the red sky seeking prey.

The drayfish spotted its prey and dived towards a fluttering flock of flame moths. I chuckled, for in the beast’s hunger-driven haste it had made a fatal mistake! The moths scattered before the diving creature and beams of ruby light flashed from their eyes, lancing the beast. The diner had just become dinner.

Ah well! As the elders say, “Life is tough, and then you die”

Estelroth Twilyght Keeper of the Everlasting Light