(excerpt from BEYOND THE END)

 

A group of children was gathered listening raptly to what could easily have been the oldest man I’d ever seen. Bent with age, knobby fingers gripped heavily on his staff. His leathery skin was wrinkled like a prune left out in the sun and all that was left of his hair was a few white wisps. He was dressed in red and green robes of fine draa with a blanket draped over his bowed shoulders.

My curiosity was piqued and anything was better than waiting around, agonizing over whether we’d made a ten day journey for nothing. “Let’s go listen,” I said to Autumn.

As we grew closer, I could see the old man stood with his back to a half circle of carved redwood statues of the Gods, facing a herd of children. Though he was bent with age his eyes were bright and clear as he spoke in Common with his musical Manu accent, “…Ten beings that would later become known as the Gods came together and created three distinct Realms: Acala, Eather, and Heaven.”

It was a story I’d heard countless times, yet I found myself listening mesmerized, drawn in by the man’s melodic voice. His ancient eyes twinkled as he continued. “Acala they created to be stable, and be governed by fixed rules. Eather they created to be malleable and fluid, but was attached to Acala to give it stability. At last they needed a place that could accommodate their vast and powerful forms. And so they created Heaven, which constantly shapes itself to their wishes and acts as a bulwark between the Gods and the other Realms, lest their powerful presence accidentally destroy that which they lovingly created.”

Faintly I realized that Autumn and the houseguards were as invested in the old man’s words as I was, which a distant part of my mind realized was a bit odd. My thoughts drifted back to Darian’s performance with his flute.

“Over countless eons they shaped and changed the realms,” the old man continued, “until at last they were happy with what they’d made. Upon our world, the Gods created an abundance of life, including humans and dragons. In Eather, they made the mercurial Fae, as well as the Elementals to help keep the forces of the Realms in balance. In Heaven, the Gods created the Devas, who could bear their powerful presence and act as their servants in all of the Realms.

“Eventually the Gods’ creations drew the attention of other beings similar to the Gods, yet different. These beings, the Rajasa, became envious of what the Gods had created. The Rajasa existed in an alien Realm known as Kardama, and it seems they were unable to create a place that could remain stable without their constant attention. They wished to use Acala and Eather as their canvas, but the Gods denied the Rajasa because their nature would corrupt the Realms with their chaotic presence. The Rajasa decided that, being similar to the Gods, they could simply take what they wanted. They opened a portal to come through with the creatures they had created. The Rajasa, however, had misjudged.”

The old man paused for effect, looking out at the sea of attentive faces hanging on his words, “The Gods fought back. They attacked the Rajasa, striking one of them down. The death of that titanic elder was enough to destroy Kardama. Many of the Rajasa’s creations chose to abandon them, becoming the beings you know as the Forsaken.”

“However, the God Rocana looked forward and realized there was no way to strike down the remaining Rajasa without destroying Acala and Eather with them, so they devised another plan. The God Varga constructed a new Realm, similar to Heaven, but in addition to protecting the other planes from the power of the Rajasa, it would act as a prison to contain them. This new Realm he named Hell.

“The Gods then offered the Rajasa a choice; exile to Hell, or destruction. The Rajasa, becoming aware for the first time that they could die, became afraid and surrendered. The Rajasa accepted their cage but chafed at it, waiting for the moment they could escape and enact vengeance on the Gods, and at last take for themselves the Realms they so coveted.”

Now a few of the children had fearful looks upon their faces. The old man’s smile returned, “But don’t worry, children. The Rajasas’ prison is flawless. It has held them for thousands of years. Now,” he said turning to the statues behind him, “let us pray.”