With the instincts of a storyteller, Mynoris stopped here. Pulling out the antlers from earlier, and drawing her knife from her boot, she started whittling away. The mothers grouped together with each other to discuss how the story could be tempered for the sake of the children. Mynoris listened attentively, though her eyes stayed focused on her task, and she spoke up when she felt she could best contribute to the conversation. By the time the adults were ready to sleep, the altered tale was ready, and everyone could rest easy.
Dasgar was still quite pleased with himself for coming up with a solution; now he could hear the rest of the story without missing the good parts, and he wouldn’t have to listen to the children fuss over not hearing anymore. But it also gave him the chance to utilize his daylight hours better; he didn’t need to hear the story twice. The day would belong to the children, and each night Mynoris would tell the adults the next segment of the story and prepare a simpler version, subject to their approval. Dasgar had already decided that he would run more regular patrols, perhaps even taking some of the older boys with him to learn a few things.
In the morning, the daily routine was followed. While everyone missed their homes, they were starting to get used to the cave. Still, everyone looked forward to going outside for a little while after breakfast for some air. Mynoris busied herself with building a structure made from the stones the older boys had hauled up from the stream. When everyone had filled their lungs with enough fresh air, and emptied their bodies of any waste, they were ready to settle back in the cave and hear some more of the story. The mothers, much more comfortable with the pre-planned tale, set themselves to tidying the living space, mending clothes, and other various chores. Occasionally they would raise their heads and listen for a moment, just to be sure that things were going according to the agreement from the night before. Dasgar himself only listened in intermittently between his own tasks.
“Even after the news of Venri’s death spread, the other Gods had trouble understanding the nature of what happened. Nelin knew quite a bit about the death of animals, but they weren’t filled with the same kind of energy that the Gods were. When they breathed their last, they were simply no longer alive, and they broke down or were eaten by other creatures, and that was the end of them. They were the opposite of the Gods and none of us had been destroyed by any means. We could still feel the presence of the Elementals, so we knew they had not been extinguished either. But Venri didn’t follow the rules of either the creatures or the Gods, and this mystified them. Their immortal minds couldn’t understand death, and I have to admit that I laughed at them behind their backs. Just a little.
Within the first few years, many of the Younger Gods had children, and those children died. Not a single one of the next Generation was spawned as an immortal. Since the Gods were not only immortal, but purely of divine energy, we had no need for food and drink, or warmth and shelter. We did not understand the needs of a purely mortal being. Even the souls of these early children could tell me nothing; they had died so young that they had no memory of being mortal at all. They were practically blank slates, save for the gift of communication with each other and the Gods. I ended up teaching them very much like I had taught my own children. There would be no help from that quarter.
It took a concerted effort between Nelin, Panoren, and Ondrias to really figure out the things that these fragile, mortal beings needed. And all of the answers were on the core sphere: the only place that supported life that wasn’t divine. Nelin’s tie to the living meant that he had been observing animals for quite a long time. He saw the sorts of things that they consumed into themselves and used these observations to try out things for the mortal children. Some experiments didn’t work as planned, and soon there were far more of these children in my realm than among the living. My realm expanded rapidly in those days, which filled me with a certain pride. But I never let this show to the other Gods; to their faces I was solemn and considerate. The pain of their loss was real, and they were my kin.
Panoren worked closely with Nelin and seemed to have a very good intuition for which plants and animals were best for the mortal children. His tethers focused on such things. Even with the food question out of the way, the children still suffered and died, but they seemed to at least last until the weather turned hostile. Ondrias pitched in to build shelters for them, make them clothes, and create things to store their food in.
The first mortal child to live past the age of ten was Helorn, son of Ateer and Shynae. He was tall and strong for his age and quite sturdy. His parents were quite proud of their success; no one else from the fourth generation had lived so long. It seemed as though they had finally unlocked the secret to mortal care; and did mortals ever need a lot of care. With a much better chance of survival for their offspring, the Netheri seemed almost compelled to prove that they too could keep a child alive.
Time passed, and more children survived, finally growing to adulthood. To us, the time seemed very short, and the changes they went through were so rapid. Because they could not change their bodies by will alone, they seemed to have a need to distinguish themselves from each other by decorating their bodies with fabrics, stones, gems, and anything else they could find. Their interactions were much closer to those of the Younger Gods, but their bodies were even more intricate. They had to process food. They had to sleep and bathe. They could become hurt or sick. And, they were quite driven, upon becoming fully formed adults, to merge with each other. Everything they did seemed to be messy, but some of it was obviously very enjoyable to them. On the other hand, they also had far more capacity to harm each other, and they had to be so careful. And as infinite and immortal beings, we had to be doubly cautious. Any motion of ours could easily bruise or break parts of their frail mortal bodies.
They were also much quicker to create another generation. What was more striking, was that they didn’t seem to have any limitation on how many children they could have. Some had one or two and stopped there. Another might have six or seven, if the mother’s health permitted. We also found it intriguing that their physical structure dictated who they bonded with. Only those whose bodies fit together the right way could produce children. Those who had the same body types, could not, though they could still enjoy each other’s company quite well. This division of the sexes had never been present among any of the Gods.”
“But you’ve used words like father, and daughter, and son, and husband before,” protested one of the women.
“There are two reasons for this,” replied Mynoris. “The first is simply that it was the best language to get the ideas across. But, more importantly, as we interacted more with the mortals, it began to change how we saw ourselves. They were divided, so we divided ourselves as well. It seemed easier for them to understand us that way. But there was no mandate from anywhere to say we had to take on these roles. Eventually they fully became part of our identities, so much so that as I look back, I think of us as being that way from the beginning, even though in truth, we were not. This won’t be very important until a little later in the story.”
“So then, you chose to be a woman?” asked Dasgar, trying to turn this over in his mind. The person sitting there, telling the story, was so undeniably a woman, that it was hard to imagine her as anything else. And again Dasgar had to divorce the story from the reality. Of course, Mynoris was just a normal woman who was telling a story with a character she shared a name with.
“I did. But I’ll get to that later.
In those early days we walked among them. They were our children, and grandchildren, and we had an affection for them. We knew them by name, and they knew us. We held the babies in our arms, sat with the young ones on our knees, walked and played with the older children, and talked long into the evenings with the adults. It felt natural. And because they were precious to us, we literally bent the earth to keep them safe and comfortable. Whatever needs they had, we would provide. It never occurred to us that they would ever have to provide for themselves. Sometimes there would be a rumbling beneath our feet, but we didn’t pay it much attention, guessing it was just an oddity of the world. Surely it was no threat to us, or our mortal kin.
All too quickly, the first living batch of children had become adults, paired off, produced children, and declined. Eventually their bodies gave up, and they died. It was Dyris’ job to bring the newly departed souls to me, a job she did dispassionately and without waver. Her son had never had a chance, and so neither did she give any of the mortals a chance, even if they might plead with her. These dead souls were different than those of the early children that died. They had lived full lives, and brought with them their memories, knowledge, and flaws. And they also brought certain expectations. The empty space of my realm was frightening; they were used to having structure and nature surrounding them. Such a vast darkness was overwhelming, and it just reinforced their fear of death. This did not sit well with me; I was so proud to finally have my own domain, and it was hated and feared by its residents.
So I decided that my realm needed to actually take form, despite the fact that souls really had no natural form; they just tended to take the shape they held in life. Several times I needed assistance growing the realm, until finally we found a way to make it grow on its own, proportionate to the number of souls that resided there. I coaxed Gryan into helping me, along with Zeren, Meklade and Ashoryl. Soon my realm was a large, bowl shaped cavern, lined with glowing crystals of many colors. In the center was a large, circular body of water, later to be known as the Pool of Souls.
But all this was only the base of my realm, the part that remained unchanging. The rest was filled with structures and plants that were born from the memories of the dead. It gave them the security of things they were accustomed to, like houses, wells, gardens, and roads. Anything a person wanted, they could have. But they could only conjure things from their own experiences; they could not create anything new. These changes soothed the souls of the dead, and my realm became one of tranquility rather than fear.
Another thing I realized about these later souls was that they were quite fascinating. With my powers over the dead, I could read their histories clearly. I could see all the things they had done, the choices they made, and the consequences thereof. And the intricacies of their thoughts and emotions made me appreciate the mortals even more. They might not have been Gods, but that spark in them that transcended the death of their bodies was as brilliant as any God’s, if not as powerful. However, they didn’t seem able to learn and grow the way of mortals. I don’t mean that new information would promptly be forgotten, but they couldn’t incorporate new things into their personality, or form new experiences.
Our presence on the core sphere was becoming a danger to our mortal descendants. Every time we used our powers to shape the world, it disturbed the Elements deep within. And the more mortals there were, the more frequently we did this. Finally the land began to swell beneath the first mortal settlement. This was concerning, and we evacuated the mortals to a nearby area. Fortunately, we were able to move everyone before the rising dome burst in a cloud of heat, steam, and chunks of rock. The entire settlement was destroyed. At first, we planned to just rebuild, but then more of these swells started cropping up. Wherever we went, we’d be able to rest for a while, but then the land would start to heave again. If we left before it burst, the land eventually would settle. We decided the best option would be to divide the mortals and go in different directions.
Following the lineage of mothers, we divided the people up as best we could without separating any young children from their parents. Each of the Netheri pairs went with their descendants, while the Aetheri left the sphere altogether to watch over the world from a distance. This seemed to alleviate the problem a bit, and the smaller groups started to settle again. But barely a generation had passed before the land started to rebel again. The mortals began to fear that they would never be able to call a place their home, that they would be forever doomed to wander. We didn’t want that for them. The Netheri explained that they were leaving for a short while, and they came to us to discuss the problem. The moment they all left the core sphere, the land seemed to settle down. The realization dawned on us that it was our presence that was disrupting the land.
Thus the Veil was created. Zeren, Eos, and Ashoryl created a bubble around the core planet, making it so that the mortals could no longer see the Gods on the other side of it. A small hole in the Veil allowed us to go between the realm of mortals, and the rest of the universe. We decided on a set time frame to say our goodbyes to the mortal world, and then we would retreat from it. It was agreed that we could each spend a small amount of time every so often, but that only one of us could ever be there at a time. But first we wanted to get them settled. So we returned to the mortals, gathered them up again, and spread them out even further, manipulating the world a final time to create barriers between the groups; it was our theory that they were less likely to disrupt the land this way. Finally, we said our goodbyes. There were many tears from the mortals and the Netheri, and if we Aetheri had been able to cry, it is certain we would have. We left them with promises that we would watch over them, but we didn’t know how tricky mortal memories were and how the passage of time would fade our words. This became a hallmark in the mortals’ history, and much of their lore dated back to that time. It was commonly called the Sundering, and even though the people had been spread out, this story was something every group recalled in one form or another.
This was the beginning of the end of our connection with the mortals. Initially we communicated with them, through voices only, but this proved to be difficult for us. We watched them grow up strong, then wither and die, just as the mortals themselves might watch a flower go through the same cycle. We knew this would happen to each one of them, but we felt helpless at any tragedy that took the lives of the young. Before we had always protected and sheltered them the best way we knew how. Now we could only watch their suffering from afar. The promises we made became harder and harder to keep. And while the dead were not truly gone, their suffering was real, and the cries of the mortals were painful, especially to their progenitors. Even their continued existence as souls was little comfort: most souls, after their first few years of death, spent a great deal of time in a resting state, generally only waking when they were thought of by the living. So the most recently deceased souls were generally more active than those who had been dead a long time. Venri was an odd exception to this; he rarely rested.
As time passed, the mortals multiplied beyond what we had ever imagined. Since they were limited only by their age and health in their capacity to have children, they spread like wildfire. Left on their own, there was little rhyme or reason to them, and they bred together indiscriminately. This caused a strange illness among some of their children, who would manifest odd elemental lesions on their skin. Some of these afflicted children grew up and led relatively normal lives, but most of them became mad by the time they were adults. Many of them died during fits of rage where they attacked other people and had to be put down like rabid animals. We tracked the problem to its roots and discovered that certain families had too much of one element in their lineage. Zyra was indispensable in this endeavor; with her power linking her to families, we were able to trace the ancestry of any mortal. To prevent further issues, we issued an edict to all people saying that relations with a person’s core family was not allowed, and we made it clear the reason why.
This turned out to be our last act of overt interference. Most of the Gods had lost the will to keep in touch with the mortals. This was primarily for two reasons. The first was that mortals died so quickly. Without physically being in the presence of the mortals, this short time seemed even shorter. The second was that sense of helplessness we felt made it harder to connect with the mortals in the first place. We couldn’t feel the loss of a connection that wasn’t made to begin with. Individually we continued to speak with those we still had a connection to, until they died, but we all agreed to forsake any attempt at making new connections. And so there became silence between the Gods and the mortals.
Within three generations, we had become distant and faded to the people, and eventually there was not a living person left who had seen a God with their own eyes, nor heard their voice. We went from being known personally to being remembered as myths. In effect, they were left to their own devices, though occasionally one of us would intervene now and again on the sly. Since the land never burst apart again, we turned the other cheek. Any further children of the Netheri were left with the mortals as a foundling. These were few, and far in between, and eventually ceased to happen altogether. I was never sure if this was by choice, or by some cosmic force, but my guess was always the former. Either way, it didn’t seem kind to ask the Netheri, and none of them ever spoke to me about it; not even my own children.
After this mass relocation, the mortals banded together in groups and in time we saw seven distinct Tribes emerge, with their own cultures, governments, and physical characteristics. And each of them traced back their lineage to one of the original children of the Gods, using that legendary figure’s name as a title for their people. They were the Helori, Celturi, Zefalri, Kitanri, Alondri, Ulari, and Mytani. The rest of mortality found themselves destroyed, absorbed, or enslaved by these seven major groups.
The Helori became a proud, quarrelsome Tribe that originated from Ateer and Shynae’s oldest living son. They were a strong people, and their war stratagem became unmatched. The men were loud and boastful, prone to taking what they wanted by force. Because of this, they were not well-liked. Their men were too arrogant and domineering; their woman too meek and passive. Yet they were a handsome people with hair the colour of wheat, that tended to curl, and bronzed skin. Their eyes were either blue or black. The men were very tall and broad, as a rule, and the women were generally much smaller. They migrated into dense jungles.
The Kitanri were a quiet Tribe that preferred isolation. They traced their lineage back to Kitan, son of Ashoryl and Kashret. In most ways they were opposites of the Helori, being small and slender and prizing knowledge over strength of arms. They were the first Tribe to have magic, which was taught to them by Ashoryl just after the Sundering. While not pacifistic, they were only likely to fight if they were pressed to, and they typically used magic instead of physical weapons. Their hair was dark, in blues and blacks, while their skin was pale, and their eyes were purple or red. There was very little difference between men and women in height or weight. They migrated into narrow valleys and carved their homes into the steep mountains, often making it hard for outsiders to tell the size of their cities.
The Alondri came from Alondu, the son of Zyra and Ondrias. They were the most tolerant Tribe, and in turn, the most tolerated. They preferred peace, but they also kept themselves ready for war, realizing that their neighbors would not always get along. They were hard workers, and focused extensively on crafting things, for which they were generally respected. In a way they were the most humble, and always looked at how other cultures did things; if another culture had a better way, they would adopt that way. Some of their neighbors didn’t like this habit of theirs. They tended to be short and stocky, with the women typically being a little slimmer than the men. The men could grow beards, and their skin had a slight green tint. They had eyes of grey or green, and hair of red or brown. They migrated into the forests.
The Mytanri descended from Panoren and Lorrai’s daughter, Mytar. They were not generally trusted, though they were generally welcome everywhere. Unlike most other Tribes, they didn’t settle in a singular type of location, but lived among the other Tribes in small groups. They were the best agricultural minds in the world, and their skills were welcome, even if their people were hard to understand. Their women were considered amongst the most beautiful, but the men sprouted animal attributes, such as horns, or tails, and they commonly grew beards. Generally the men stayed on the land and never went into the cities, while the women did all the interaction with the other Tribes.
The Ulari traced back to Ulaaz, the son of Jesryna and Corris. They were primarily known as mediators and judges. Within their own realm, they were very strict and orderly, and wished to see similar order among all the other Tribes. But they did this by words and example, not through force. Both men and women tended to be tall and thin, with blond and brown hair, and amber eyes. They settled on the vast plains, where they could stamp their order on the land with greater ease.
The Celturi and Zefalri were distinct Tribes but lived together in a symbiotic relationship. The Celturi were descended from the daughter of Meklade and Tilephra: Celtay. They were a nocturnal Tribe that was strictly pacifistic. Their reputation was for being healers and artists, as well as being very beautiful themselves, male and female. Their skin was pale and slightly bluish; their hair was white or silver with pale eyes of purple or pink. The Zefalri were descended from Brilazye and Dinairn, through their daughter Zefall. Like the Helori, they were warriors, but they were more interested in combat as a show of personal skill rather than as a means to an end. And they had a particular mania for proving how resistant to pain they were; it was just as well they lived with a Tribe of healers. For the most part, they used their prowess to protect the Celturi. They had dark skin, almost black, with brilliant hair of reds, oranges, and golds, with matching eyes. They lived together in the highest mountains, where they lived in circular cities; the Zefalri lived on the outside, and the Celturi lived on the inside.
Early on there was very little interaction between the tribes. Their first priorities were to tame their own lands and create order amongst themselves. Seeking out other cultures was not important. These people were still quite primitive, especially after the Gods were no longer directing them and giving them constant assistance and assurance. Perhaps it was short-sighted of us to leave them the way we had, or perhaps we could have done things differently. It may have been weak of us to abandon them so fully. But I personally think that they needed the separation as well; they couldn’t have grown fully with us there to tend to all their needs. We Gods had a fixed number; we had never imagined that so many living, intelligent beings could exist at once. Our way of dealing with each other wouldn’t have been sufficient for these people. Especially since we couldn’t grow old and weak or die. Nor could we kill each other.”
For once, Dasgar was relieved that Mynoris stopped. Not that he was getting bored of the story, but she had given a lot of names and descriptions in a very short amount of time. He wanted to sort it all out in his head. It was fascinating, really. But it did set him to wondering where she had gotten this tale from in the first place. No one was such a good storyteller that they could make up such a complex tale on the spot, and relate it so smoothly, without a hitch. And clearly Mynoris had a wide enough range of skills that she hadn’t devoted her entire life to story telling, the way the Bards had. He was sure she could give most Bards a run for their money at any rate. Yawning, he stumbled over to his bedroll and crawled in; he didn’t feel a need to listen to the adults hammer out the details for the next round of story telling for the children.