Dark's History
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“Gather close children, right near the fire. Tonight we tell you histories.” Elder Minnow beckoned the children to sit with a wizened hand. A dozen or so children pulled up close to the ancient woman, cozying right up to her voluminous patchwork garb. Each patch bore the name of a Tota, and no names were repeated. Such was their way. Still, thought Elder Minnow, it certainly is not the best summer attire.

Unseasonably dry summer weather had pushed the Tota farther North, closer to the headwaters of the river Par. A day ago, the drought in the Summer Camp of the Tota broke. Elder Minnow called a feast night to celebrate, and so a roaring bonfire illuminated her people and roasted their fish. As was tradition at Tota feasts, the histories would be told by the Elder to the children, so that the heroes and gods would not be forgotten.

“These histories are the stories of those that came before, those whose actions made the Tota as we are. Our souls may return to the waters, but our stories live on.” Elder Minnow’s voice was steady and resilient, flowing like the wide River. Typically, she would have a waver to her speech, a product of advanced age, but a wellspring of control burst forth for the histories.

Older children stood farther back, on the edge of the bonfire’s light. As they grew, the children often found the histories too vague, or lacking purpose. Elder Minnow eyed the teens.

“You out there, I warn that you should come closer to the fire. Tonight’s history does not make friends among the shadows.” A number of the kids rolled their eyes, and Elder Minnow smiled. The patterns never change. She could remember herself acting similar when Elder Crawfish told the histories. Of course, the story about the dark always managed sort her out. She turned her focus back to the young charges.

A thousand by a thousand years ago, innumerable cycles of the River, Man loved Dark. Man and Dark were born at the same time, albeit not to the same parents. As told in the histories, Man came from the union of the losatar, children of Ramses, with the rhidnaca, children of Rara-Shon. Sky and mud, soul and flesh. Ramses itself then descended and shaped the formless progeny, creating Man. But it’s presence did not go unnoticed in the heavens.

When the Hopeful Star descended, an umbra overtook the land. Something from beyond, something unknown since before the division of Malafta, appeared in the sky. A hidden moon, now seen. A scar, a festering wound neither put out of its misery nor healed. Behemoths of the land and leviathans of the deep quaked in memory of its creation. The corpse of Rinse-Rali, product of the first sin of Sadyr.

We see but a fraction of Rinse-Rali in the sky, and, fortune favor us, what we see is real and truly dead. But just beyond Ramses’ glare is the dark side of Rinse-Rali. It is sickening. Toxic flames have torn the moon asunder, a monolithic wound in the celestial body. A pitch black glow, emanating darkness through sinuous tendrils of metal, as if Rinse-Rali still strives to repair itself. Ramses protects us, but when it is called away, a darker sun shines over the land.

The first night came when Dark was born. Ramses’ attention was away, and the evil within Rinse-Rali took its opportunity. A fragment of the blackness broke away, descended, and hid deep within Rara-Shon’s caverns. And there it remained, Dark, for multiple cycles of the River.

Over the cycles, Dark fed on the things that crawled in the caverns and grew, until it filled the entire underground. But, as with children, Dark got hungrier as it grew bigger, so hungry that it finally decided to leave the caves. The second night was small, only covering a portion of the Greywood. Dark was cautious, only sticking a pinky out into the unknown. It was lucky, scoring a couple of rotting fox kills, carrion. Meal secured, Dark dashed back into the caves. It did this, night after night, and one of these nights, Man saw.

Man was still very young, despite multiple cycles of the River coming and going, with fewer than a hundred members. There were two humans who saw Dark while they were out checking snares. Now, what they thought at first sight is lost to the River, but after seeing the Dark come out, little by little, every night for weeks, they decided to do it a charity.

It wasn’t much, rabbit scraps, parts that weren’t as edible. The Dark emerged on schedule, now covering an entire half of the Greywood and growing every day. It saw the scraps and sweeped them up in a flash of shadow. It regarded the humans dashing away into the brush with curiosity, but paid them little mind as it slinked back to the caves.

This happened for a while, generations in fact. In those days, a human tended to not live long past adulthood, and so perhaps sixty years passed with trappers leaving offerings to the ever growing Dark. Over this period, the Dark grew and grew and covered the entire world when it left the caves. It did not just grow in size, but also power. As a piece of Rinse-Rali, it brought forth creatures from that previous existence. Today, we call them wolves.

The Dark and humanity grew in their symbiosis. When the Dark emerged and brought night, humans struck out, seeking prey. The wolves walked with them, using their keen senses to guide our blinded ancestors. A great hunt was had, and a great success. Several big game kills, enough to feed a village for weeks. And so, that was how it would be. Man and Dark, humans and wolves, would operate as a cohesive unit for the good of one another. And so it would be forever. Or it would have been, except for Man’s discovery of fire.

It had been long since Sadyr crossed through Taradum, but the memory was not forgotten. If not recalled by the existence of Rinse-Rali, the scars from the lava flows still criss-crossed the land with poisoned earth. And so, the ancestors had an idea of what was happening when the earth shook and black clouds began to fill the sky.

Now this was no earth-splitting eruption like that of ages past, but it was still violent. Great chunks of searing hot rock hurtled through the sky, about the Greywood. There were no lava flows, but ashfalls and poisonous gas swept across the entire world. The warmth of summer did not come for that year, nor did the radiance of Ramses' gaze.

One of the hot rocks crashed only a short distance away from where Man had made camp. Aside from making half the camp deaf, it lit a fire in the woods, a fire that spread and spread and would not stop.

Man was enraptured. Look upon the flames yourselves, feel the wonder, the sense of potential, life, that exists in the fire. Our fascination originates back to those ancient times, when we first peered into the primordial mass of Sadyr.

Entranced, the ancient people took these pieces of fire. They carried the fire itself, using their own souls as fuel, an art forbidden to the Tota and all sensible folk. It marred their flesh, entranced their minds, and devoured their being. The Blazing, the very creatures that still roam the scorched lands far to the West, graced the world. The Blazing began to use their flames to ignite the forests, bringing prey stampeding into awaiting snares and spears.

Around the time of these great ignitions, our people came into their own. We of the River did not take on the flames, seeing them for the malignancy that they were. It was our people who beseeched Sahlanymph, our people who learned to call the River to leap from its bounds and quell the flames. This power still slumbers in our blood, awaiting the call of need. The Blazing were pushed from these lands, though the fire itself was not. The Blazing had imbued the earth itself with the memory of fire, such that certain stones would summon it forth when struck. Thus man conquered fire for themselves.

Man’s adoption of fire did not go unnoticed by the Dark. Nor did their use of it against the Dark’s own spawn. During the ignitions, the Dark had hid away within underground, and it discovered the world changed after it emerged. Man had a reasonable trade with the wolves; give up a portion of all kills, and the wolves would aid in the hunt. However with the addition of fire, Man became bold, determined. Man used their fire to fend off the wolves that came for their ration. And the Dark would not have it, scarred by memories of the ignitions.

For the first time, the Dark let loose its terrors upon humanity. The night sky was torn asunder by the cries and howls of the wolves, the sounds of yelling and screaming, flesh being ripped from bones, and bodies falling lifeless to the ground. But humanity prevailed. Using the fire, they beat back the onslaught of the wild.

And from that day, the darkness of the woods has been oppressive, rather than comforting. Where once our ancestors hid, we now peer blindly into. The Dark will not forgive us, not so long as we hold onto that fire.

Elder Minnow had been gazing into the cheery campfire throughout the story. The children about her now looked on it as the alien thing it was, mysterious and changing. Looking more closely, she saw that the older children who had been at the light’s edge now crowded around her voluminous form.

Chuckling, Elder Minnow held her hands over the fire. Her elderly shaking steadied, and she prepared for the final flourish, to really keep the thoughts of the Dark in her charges’ minds.

“They say that out there in the deepest part of the Greywood, there are tribes. People like the Tota, who can trace their lineage back to the origins of creation. They have become penitent, begging mercy of the Dark. Fire no longer illuminates them or their beings.” She raised her hands, palms up, and gazed into the sky illuminated by a new moon. “Beware their dark souls, children, lest you be consumed by that which haunts us.”

As the children went to sleep that night, the woods seemed much louder than usual.

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