WANDERING ON THE PLAINS
On the First Dawn, the Sun rose over an empty plain of barren stone. No wind raced across this plain, for there was no wind. No water trickled down this plain, for there was no water. No grass grew from its skin, nor did game graze its trails, for there were neither grass nor game.
The Sun shone on a Mountain standing alone in the plain, towering over the desolate emptiness. Where the Sun shone on the Mountain, there was light and heat, and where the Mountain blocked the Sun, there was dark and cold. And on each side, at the border where light met dark and heat met cold, there was life.
As the Sun moved, the light and the dark moved with it and with them moved the life. The life that did not move, froze. The life that did not move, burned. In the twin arcs of Twilight, there grew clans of the First Walkers, who followed the life-giving shadows around the Mountain. Soon it came to be that each clan which had believed itself to be alone in the Twilight, came across the old camps of the other, and knew that they were not alone. And one camp rejoiced that they were not alone in the barren plain, yet the other camp wept that they were forever separated from their kin. The camp that rejoiced left messages of hope for the camp that wept; the camp that wept left messages of sorrow.
The Sun turned, and with it turned the twilights in which the clans dwelt. The clans grew, and continued to leave messages for the other, and in time agreed to send scouts along the twilight, some headed for the Mountain, and some out into the emptiness, where they hoped the twilights would join at the shadow of the peak of the Mountain.
The scouts reached the Mountain, and discovered that its many crevices and caves had allowed for life to flourish there, and there were many plants and animals to eat and rocks to use. Neither group of scouts was able to meet the other, for the Mountain’s face was still exposed to the burning light and the freezing dark and no cave was found that reached to the other side. Some were sent back from the Mountain to their clans, each believing the Mountain uninhabited, yet most stayed and began to settle it. Each of their leaders saw the Mountain’s riches and knew that here, WE CAN BE.
The scouts reached the ever-turning apex of the shadow, and saw the fullness of the Mountain and the twin lines of sustaining twilight rimming the shadow. The clans met at the shadow-peak, and looked back to see the twin daggers of the Mountain and its Shadow, and the endless emptiness of the burning plain, with only the thin lines of liveable twilight lying between. The leaders of these saw the harsh barrenness of the empty rock and knew that there, WE CANNOT BE.
DIGGING TO THE CAVE
The clans moved into the Mountain, digging beneath its skin and carving out homes and warrens in the rock.
Some of them were afraid of the dark, and lept out of the Mountain so quickly that they tore new holes in it which let in the light, but were not enough that the inside burned like the plain outside. They could never find the ways in again and the holes they tore were too small to fit through the other way, so now they wander the bright face of the Mountain with skins dark and burned against its heat.
Some more were afraid of the work and of wasting away, so they held back, but the diggers were furious and closed off tunnels behind them, so the lazy ones could not follow. The shirkers became furious at this, and set up their own camps in the empty halls near the skin of the Mountain, where they fought each other as often as they fought the rubble barring the tunnels going further in.
Finally, the diggers came across a great cavern, with springs of water and mushrooms and shells and glowing crystals and rich metal veins, and they agreed that they had found their new home. And the two clans met in numbers for the first time, and held a great feast to celebrate their union and their new-found home in the cavern. But while they were feasting, there was a great Earthquake, and all the large tunnels suddenly collapsed, leaving only scattered holes letting in light from the outside.
One clan was angry, for they felt trapped and betrayed by the digging, and had wanted to be able to go back to the surface and the plain of night and day and twilight where they were free to roam, and blamed the earthquake on the other clan, who had suggested living in the Mountain. The other clan barely took notice, for they had never wanted to go back to wandering in circles balanced between two opposite destructions. And the chief of the trapped ones argued with the chief of the settled ones, and they both became so furious with the other for being stubborn stupid that they started fighting, and then their clans went to war as well.
THE FIRST OF WARS
The war went on for a long time, and the Sun turned many times and the light it cast through the holes riddling the mountain spun and danced to follow, and eventually both clans were exhausted from the fighting and finally met again in the center of the cave. But the trapped Chief who was named Orikal and his Fist who was named Trinimak were more angry than tired, and when the settled Chief who was named Lorkh met them, Trinimak beat Lorkh and stunned him, and Orikal ripped out his heart and ate it and kicked the leavings across the cave.
The Settled were heartbroken by this and broke and scattered to the various edges of the cavern, and the Trapped were drawn together by this victory and moved off as a single clan.
Eventually, some of the Trapped thought they could figure out a way to escape by digging even further down, which the rest of the Trapped thought was foolish because everyone knew the way out was up, so those who wanted to go even Deeper packed up and left.
After that, one of the Shirkers still wandering higher up found a crack in the Mountain he could use to hear some of the Trapped folk down below, and started talking into it. A Trapped man heard the Shirker and listened to her, and the Shirker told him how he could be a king in the cavern and come to dominate the cave. The man called himself a Prophet and drew crowds who believed in his delusions of royalty, and when his followers were many, they cast down their defiance of the Clan and left, following the New Diggers far away.
Trinimak gathered his Army, our fathers, and under orders of Orikal, chased down the fracturing band of Velothiidh. Trinimak demanded that Veloth and his ilk come home, but the Shirker holding Veloth’s ear squirmed through the crack in the Mountain and infested him, and the Plotter-armored-in-Veloth stood up and fought with Trinimak.
The Demon had all its strength, as it had not wasted any of itself digging through the Mountain nor fighting in a long war, whereas Trinimak was tired and his feet caught in mud, and the Demon was able to throw him to the ground and fling itself on him. There it cracked open its jaws began to swallow Trinimak. Trinimak freed one arm and began crawling back out of its hellish mouth, but it bit down and swallowed him, and his arm fell to the rock.
The Demon laughed and laughed at this, and kicked Trinimak’s arm away, and then began to talk and lie. It had eaten Trinimak’s voice as well, and vomited that up enough to speak with it. Trinimak’s army despaired, and Veloth’s followers celebrated, to hear Trinimak’s voice deride the cave and family and preach how separation would let them do better. The Demon soon realized it was still squeezing through that crack in the cave wall and having trouble staying in the cave, so it left Veloth and pulled back to its own realm. It couldn’t fit through the crack with Trinimak still in it, so it digested Trinimak right quick and gave birth to Malak on the far side.
When the Shirker had retreated and its followers moved on, Malak crept up to the gap in the rock and heard his army still despairing over him. Malak wanted to comfort them as he had previously in the cave, but that was when he was Trinimak and Trinimak was dead. Malak knew there was no comfort to be had, and he knew they had to be strong, so he roared through and his people heard his voice and stood up. And when they did, they found that they too had changed. They were no longer soft and pretty and graceful and fair; they were hardy and strong and rugged. And they knew there was no going back.
THE END OF DAYS
All that has a beginning, must have an ending. Only that which has never been may always be.
The shape of Time is a ring. On the Plain, we followed our own footsteps. We walked the path we had always walked; we lived as we had always lived. Know the truth of the Plain, and the empty eternities of its bitter barrenness. Know the knife-edge balance on which existence danced. Know that a future of infinity is as a future of none.
The shape of Time is a spear. In the Mountain, we followed our destiny. We drove deep on paths never walked; we lived as none had ever lived. Know the truth of the Mountain, and the fruitful finities of its cavernous creation. Know the meandering choices existence can take. Know that a future of bounded time is a future of boundless possibility.
A day will come when the Cave begins to crumble. This day is not the last day, but it is a herald. All the peoples of the Cave will grow quarrelsome, and war with each other and themselves. The tribes will be as stone-shell crabs caught in a flood; each fighting to be the last to die. A day will come when the Cave will collapse, our world entombed in stone, leaving behind a graven memory of our lives.
Our time will end, yet Time cannot. Our lives will end, yet Life must not. The Plains will always be desolate, yet so long as light and shadow meet, new life will grow. There was a Cave before ours, with dwellers we do not remember, and there will be a Cave after ours, whose dwellers do not remember us.
The Trapped consider this inevitability, and see it as the thief of meaning. They fear oblivion, and see an ending yet to come as poison to the day at hand. Some among them are driven to despair, and seek to bring the Cave down around them. The Settled consider this inevitability, and see it as the killer of meaning. They defy oblivion, and see an ending yet to come as challenge to the day at hand. Some among them are driven to fury, and seek to shore up the Cave that its fall might be delayed.
Know this for truth: death can only end life; it cannot erase it. The ending of a song does not unsing it. Know this for truth: it is death that gives life meaning. The fleeting nature of mortality makes each moment worth living, for they are numbered and precious. Know this for truth: we will never be forgotten. Each of us shall die, yet while our tribe lives and sings of us, we remain. And when the days of our tribe come to a close, when the world comes crashing down to bury us, we remain.
Our blood runs in the veins of the world. Our bones shape its halls. Our footprints tread indelibly upon the skin of God. We need not fear being forgotten; the Mountain will treasure the memories of us for eternity.
Sing loud the songs of your ancestors. Let your descendants sing of you. Let us live as if we shall never die; let us live as if we shall die tomorrow. Let our lives echo everlasting in the stone of the world.