You are Bran of Moras, the wick to which fourteen years previous you came to life. Now, as you wake, for a moment you grapple with your surroundings on the daze of consciousness and in complete darkness.
Shifting, you try to stand, but bump your knee against a hard, cold surface. You realize suddenly that you are in the temple recess, having fallen asleep there once again. You whisper between gritting teeth, “This is becoming a regular occurrence.” Your entire body weakly and gingerly moves due to both the prolonged rest on the marble bench and the inadvertent harm to your knee moments before.
Afraid to stir the Keeper, you cautiously edge from the recess into the courtyard surrounding the Worshipping Circle, stopping an instant to admire the blue glow washing the area in pure light. The seven rounded, flat crystals reflect their essences into the pyramid at the center, while minature rainbows gently cascade off its triangular surface. “Maybe I should pray before leaving,” you decide, starting towards the bowl-shaped decline of the circle. The light keeps drawing you closer with its calming properties, then right before you step into the inner circle of crystals, the flapping of wings to your left distracts your attention. Groaning, you turn in expectation of the meeting.
“Intruder, intruding! State business, state intentions in Shrine! Tell Keeper what you do here!”
“I fell asleep in one of…”
“You want to steal relics; you came to take holy light; you came to kill poor, old Keeper in dead of night.”
“No, no, I have no inten..” you continue shaking your head vehemently.
“Why you wish to bash poor Keeper head to steal relics? What has poor, old Keeper done? Just duty, Keeper should not be blamed for duty, but will if relics taken.”
Holding up your hands, you explain exasperatedly, “Listen, I have no interest in the relics,” slowly reaching your right hand down into a pouch attached to your belt you add, “but I have an offering here you might have an interest in taking.”
Alighting gingerly on your left shoulder, the bird peers down towards the sack as you continue to search for the delicacy. Turning to glance at your face for a second, he queries, “What does dangerous malefactor have for Keeper?”
“An offering for the Guardian of the Gods,” you mock sincerity in your reply. Finally, you manage to find the cloth wrapping covering the chocolate pastry meant as a snack for after dinner. You hold it near the bird’s beak ceremoniously.
Gobbling the morsel down in large chunks, the avian claps his beak together delighted. “Keeper accepts your offering,” then softly muttering in your ear, he conspiratorially adds, “You might take some small relics, hardly used, they should never miss.”
Heartily laughing, you pat the Keeper’s back, advancing into the circle, “Could I pray for a few minutes rather?”
“Sure, why not, but Keeper watches to certify intentions of malefactor.”
“As you wish, O’ Blest Watcher of the Temple, so shall the malefactor comply.” Approaching the pyramid together, you touch its opaque surface. The crystal is cool to the touch as the beams dance along your hands. You kneel slowly before it with both palms pressed firmly to the sides and your head arched upwards where the crystal points. Your eyes are tightly shut as you quickly recite the customary names of family ancestors. Although none of your family has ever been a hero (in fact, only one had even ventured beyond the haven of Pillars protecting the entrance to the nine human wicks from the chaos beyond), you are still required to include their names so that the Gods will know to whom they listen.
“How long think you to continue?” the Keeper squawks out suddenly. When you accusingly glance at him for committing such a sacrilege in the holy of holies, he flies off of your shoulder, landing onto the nearest of the round crystals while constantly muttering, “Rules, regulations, you must always obey the laws of Gods, Keeper. Why can’t you keep straight, Keeper? Why can’t you do duty, Keeper? I don’t know why we keep Keeper…”
Blocking out his words, you concentrate on your message. You want to contact your brother who was taken a year ago in the cavern dweller raids. You hope he is alive, but you have heard too many tales of blood sacrifices and cannibalism to not have doubts. Unable to get a solid picture in your mind, you open your eyes to peer at the blue shaft of light projecting onto the triangle despite the Veteran Master’s warnings to all worshippers never to look directly upon it as this is a grave sin. ‘Mortal eyes are not meant to see the divine purity of the gods. Surely such goodness would consume the observer,’ you have oft heard the Veteran Master intone during the daily rite. “What a bunch of malarkey,” you dryly comment. Since childhood you have watched the shaft beam out its light, not understanding the dynamics of its power, yet certain that the gods must not mind your gaze. After all, you are still alive: none the worse for such indiscretion.
Suddenly, the shaft begins to change color, darkening to purple, then lightening to white. Moving from the triangle, it touches one round crystal with a spark, then another crystal, then another. The Keeper cries out from his pedestal on one of the crystals to return to your shoulder trembling. “What did malefactor do?” he accuses you. Closing his eyes, he starts wobbling back and forth. Gently picking the Keeper up, you open your bag. You keep the flap open and place the bird into the space available for fear he might faint or die of fright. The light finishes moving around the circle and heads towards you. Prepared to flee if you have need, the light directs you with a booming voice, “Do not move or be frightened. I am Alsaya or some call me Asron. I am the knowledge of the past, the knowledge of the future. I am not a god as you understand it, but I have come to warn you of the plight of Earth.”
“Earth, who is Earth? Is this your master?”
“Yes, the Earth is master of all around you. It is the world on which you revolve. The sphere which gives you livelihood. Many nights I have tried to contact one of your kind to warn of this danger, but few have listened to my message. I ask you now to seek Endar before it is too late. Endar can save you if they will, but they must be persuaded that the cause is just.”
“Why pick me? And who is this Endar I know of none of your Gods…”
Endar is a city of science, long lost to your people. Once it was the last outpost of the living, the coldest place on Earth. Now it is amidst a jungle in a valley of vegetation. These seven stone crystals represent the seven mountains blocking the path to the continent on which it resides. The triangle is the lake of pure, clear water before the jungle yet after the mountains. Neither Endar nor its inhabitants nor the Earth are any Gods. There is no god but one, the natural laws of the Universe.”
Confused, you cup your head in your hands, “Who is Natural Laws? Who is Universe? I do not understand any of this.”
“Then the Earth is lost,” the voice sadly replies. “I have failed to protect it and doom will come soon.” Already the voice is fading. “How can I have failed? My purpose is to protect and warn…”
Glancing dumbly back at the fading light, you stare there for several minutes until total darkness engulfs everything. Finally, your thoughts turn to the Keeper as he may need help. Carefully pulling him out of the pouch, you notice he is breathing regularly with closed eyes. Suspecting he is sleeping, you decide not to wake him. “Perhaps, he will believe all was a dream,” you think. Settling him onto the golden perch setup for him in the chamber, his talons clamp onto it, while he tosses his head near his right bright green wing.
The darkness is so thick you are surprised that you so easily discovered the Keeper’s perch. You aren’t so lucky as you descend the stairway that leads down from the alter, stumbling at least three times. Glad to be going home to your safe, normal existence and warm bed, you perceive a strange, orange haze in the center of the village. Concerned, you quietly edge closer to the conflagaration, stopping still in your steps when you see the people surrounding an unnatural fire. They are dressed in lion robes with cups, dancing masked to the roar of the flames. Some are yelling high-pitched chirps, while others laugh merrily as they drink whatever weird brew they have in the skull-like containers. Some of the revellers even might be talking to one another, although to your ears their speech simply consists of grunts and barks with grotesque gestures. Sick at heart, you slip away from the horror to turn into your house which lies close to the trees around the tiny island in the middle of the bog.
No familiar faces are there to greet you when you ascend to the upper living quarters, only the strong stench of burnt wood and some other odor you cannot place. All of the furniture is missing, including the prized books you had stored in your room. “Where have all of my family went?” you wonder, aware in the back of your mind that the truth would not be to your liking. Heading back to the square slowly, you observe a pounding beat now sounding by some of the central dancers, who are clapping together sticks as some of the others chant:
“Perhaps, I’m lucky to not understand them,” you softly note. A spark momentarily lightens the circle, enabling you to discern the true nature of these sticks they are menacingly pounding together as they prance gaily in step. The sticks are really bones of varying sizes and shapes stained with a dark substance. Seized with terror, you are frozen until a child (you think it is a child) at the outer edge notices you at its side. Screeching, “Golag, golag, golag,” at the top of its lungs, all of the masks turn in your direction, including those dancing with the bones in their hands. Not knowing where to go, you quickly begin to run in the opposite direction of the fire.
You find yourself going back to the temple, flying on quick steps. As you enter into the building, you hear a pounding beat and fast movements behind. You are tempted to look back but can already feel their closeness.
As you rush into the upper level where the Worshipping Circle lies, you notice it is still dark there. At once, a blazing light appears in the center of the triangle and a droning whine begins to sound. The shrieks of those chasing you fill the echoing chamber. The voice from earlier booms out, “Who approaches? Who will seek Endar to save Earth? Are there any among you who would will it?” The voices behind you are dying off as they tumble out of the room and leave the Temple. You can hear the grunts fading quickly as you breathe a soft sigh of relief. You do not answer the light this time and it disappears, but the softer lights that typically surround the crystals appear now and leave a warm, familiar glow to the circle.
You approach the Keeper’s perch, surprised he is still asleep. Sitting beside it, you rest your head and fall asleep eventually, a troubled and worried sleep.
In the morning, you awake to hear the Keeper bellowing at you. “What is it you want, lagi?” you question.
“Lagi? Who is Lagi?”
“It means friend, and you appear presently to be my only one,” you say in a forlorn voice.
“Keeper needs guard Temple, not Lagi for night stealers of relics,” the bird pompously squeaks out.
“The village is gone. The Veteran Master and your keeper is gone. We are all who are left.”
Looking at you suspiciously, the bird flies out of the building. Soon afterwards, he is back and swoops onto his perch to look down at you. “What did malefactor to all?”
“Lagi, my friend, my name is Bran and I did not harm any. Last night, the cavern dwellers attacked the wick; slaughtered all. We are what remains.”
The bird seems dumbstruck, speechless for long moments, then he roughly notes, “Keeper continues duty to guard Temple.”
“As you wish. I am going to the next village to ask for help. I will see you when I return. Until then, I will find some sustenance to tide you over during the days while I am away.”
In the days following, each wick you visit is deserted, empty of all inhabitants. You find fires, similar to the one in Moras, in the village center with the smoking embers of the fire leaving a foul odor in the air. After visiting the ninth and final habitation, you return to Moras.
Lagi is circling the air of Moras, spotting you in the distance. Before you enter into the village, he descends and lands with a hefty plop onto your shoulder. Looking at him askew, you inquire, “How goes it my friend?” before he can interrogate you further.
“Gods displeased with Keeper. Light disappear from circle at darktime. No prayers given to Gods, no services…” the Keeper continues providing various indications that the Gods (or Natural Laws as the voice called them) no longer visit the Temple. The Keeper appears still frightened and you can sense his fatigue, likely due to constantly searching for your return. Finally, you begin to give the dreaded details.
“The other wicks are empty. It appears the cavern dwelling trogs have taken everyone save us.” You lay your hand on the Keeper’s back to comfort him.
The bird is silent for a period as he had been prior when finding out about Moras’ fate, he then whispers in a shaky voice, “Chocolate pastries gone forever.” Since the pastries were made only in Tulara village by one family, this would mean they can no longer be created.
Sighing, you state to him, “Lagi, we must go on a journey if we want to ensure the Gods no longer are angered. I was given a task that I refused. What happened must be our punishment.”
The avian’s brightly colored wings set into motion as he flies above you a little ways. The Keeper chirps, “Keeper remains at Temple. It is duty.”
“I cannot provide for you further once I leave. This journey will take a long path, and you will remain alone. This choice is yours, so I will not sway your mind further on it. I am going to gather supplies to take, setting out what I can for you, but the nourishment grows less and you will hunger soon or need to find your own.” You walk away resolutely.
You spend the rest of the day preparing a pack to carry various supplies, a knife, a rope, hammer and other tools. You have never hunted, so you are uncertain what to bring. Your pack is so large and unbearable, you are required to remove items several times before it is finished. You choose this night to sleep outdoors, building your own fire on the outskirts of town. The Keeper, though you see him many times throughout the night, does not approach you again.
At first dawn, you awake and set off. The Keeper is absent from the sky, and you decide against broaching the Temple to say a farewell. Moras fades slowly from sight, and the daytime air seems more chilled than normal at this time of the season. You wipe away a wisp of hair in your eyes, pretending the tear that falls at the same moment is simply due to the coolness.