Chapter I Golden Age of Guilt
I gazed long off into the dim twilight of the setting sun. My head tilted toward the heavens as if I were at prayer. Far off in the distance, the roar of falling stars filled my ears. They rocketed down with white hot flare illuminating the dim evening sky. In a blaze of fire, their radiance could be seen for miles out, raining down over the horizon, impacting with a deafening crash, violently scarring the planet's surface and corrupting its atmosphere.
I watched them descend from the safe distance to the Yuti canyons several miles outside Madalva, my hometown. The cliffs I sat upon rose no more than thirty feet high, and there were multiple passageways that led to higher ground. The stones were a sight that never grew old or dull with me. I'd stay up late some nights just to watch them shoot across the clear night sky safely from my rooftop back in Madalva.
One after another, they rocketed down with tremendous force bombarding the earth. The stones were a natural phenomenon that no one could undoubtedly explain. And in the years that followed, man began to fabricate his own theories about the origins of humanity, divine beings, the stones themselves, their purpose, and mankind's future.
The era we live in is known as the Golden Age of Guilt, it is referred to as this because man has come to view themselves as the masters of our own destiny. After the Technological Revolution, things changed drastically. Steam engines were replaced with matra-powered mechanisms; new types of machinery and weaponry were developed. Breakthroughs in sciences across the board had occurred; new understandings of physics, engineering, and biology were almost perpetual. Buildings now scraped the sky, food was abundant, and people seemed to live their lives happily.
But as time passed and technology advanced, people’s ideals changed, and with it, so did their values. The spoils would not be evenly distributed. A few grew in power, while most remained poor, living life as humanity had for thousands of years-by the old customs.
Greed would prove too powerful for the few, overwhelming them, causing a class system to be formed. This is why many now claim our enlightenment came at a price. They say we've negated our faith, turned our backs on our humble beginnings, siding with science over religion.
But the few would not hear the many; they continued casting out the old ways and building life anew in our own image. Many years have passed since those days, and we now live in the world left for us by those few. The Technological Revolution would last for over 70 years, changing the world in its wake. I often thought of such things as I was an avid reader. I enjoyed studying history, reading of times past, but at most, my reading helped me escape reality.
The sun had set further and the more audacious of the stars made their appearance, while the more timid of the bunch were still masked by the pale sunset now barely creeping over the peaks of the western Scarita Mountains.
Evening winds blew in hard from the southeast, occasionally pushing my hair in front of my face which I now brushed back with trembling fingertips. There, I sat alone enjoying my own company as I often did, eyes still fixed upward. The sky, now darker than before, was filled with clouds shaded a brilliant purple all displaying an ominous yellow glow about the edge of them hovered overhead. Such tranquility was a blessing to me. I looked downward to the prairies below and watched the tall grass sway back and forth, back and forth as the wind asserted itself further; it was as if the grass itself were an ocean.
Just then, I felt a small hand place itself on my shoulder, followed by warm lips pressed against my cheek. "Hello, Elliot," her voice began. "What are you doing?"
"Watching the sky," I replied. "I am watching the sky."
"That kiss was for you," she said, then sat down beside me. "Another day fades away, and with it, the stars come out to play."
I grinned slightly at her words. "Stars come out to play?" I repeated. "Old nursery rhymes, Liana? You're fourteen now."
"Aren't they lovely, Elliot?" She went on, ignoring my comment. "See how they twinkle?" she said. "It is as if they are dancing-dancing because they are happy."
"And what are they happy for?" I questioned. She looked at me, and for a moment, I saw stars part in her eyes.
"They are happy because they carry out their lives high above without worriers, burning brightly, delivering to us their love. Like the feeling you get when you awake from an early spring slumber and there upon your cheek to greet you is the gentle sunlight slowly warming your body from a cold night past. Also last, but certainly not least, they have each other like we have."
She paused, turned to me, and smiled. Taking her hand, I said the only thing I could think of at the moment. "Where do you come up with these sayings?" I replied with a sarcastic yet agreeable tone.
"I'm ready for bed," I said. "How about you?"
"Yup," she replied with a nod.
"Tomorrow, we'll go down into the fields and pick some of those berries you like before heading back, how's that sound?"
"Great!" she exclaimed.
"Okay, Liana, let's get back to the shelter."
Fulfilling my promise the next morning, we hiked down into the valley below. There lay a small stream which I could use to draw water. From my pocket, I drew a small pouch; inside was an herb mixture. I then added water to it. I placed the pouch on the ground beside me then took hold of a small sharp stone. I ran the stone through the stream to cleanse it of any unholy substance then used the stone to mix the solution. A runny green substance was the result.
To the east, a herd of gazee was grazing. Gazee are large creatures who stood upon four very powerful legs. They are huge, swift, and could reach speeds up to forty miles per hour. Although quite a sight, these monstrosities weren't violent by nature, just their sheer size made them difficult to saddle. I grinned slightly at the thought of my first ride. Remembering how difficult they were to tame and how proud I felt the first time I had enslaved one.
Heavy winds blew in from the east, and rays of light broke through heavily clouded skies, adding a luster to the moist world below. Still, the sky remained dark as the clouds seemed to cast a giant shadow over all life that lay under its massive hand. Sometime later, it began to rain, a light drizzle common to the season. Liana could be seen splashing and playing off in the distance. I worried she'd run off too far and warned her not to do so, and soon after, I'd summon her to return.
"Sorry to interrupt," I said.
"That's all right," she said smiling.
Raindrops ran down her forehead and on to her cheeks. Others used her nose as a diving board, bouncing and dancing their way off and down to the ground.
"Here . . . I need you to drink this," I said, holding out the pouch.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"Yes, now come on, Liana, drink up." I said encouraging her to drink.
She placed the pouch to her lips and drank the potion.
"Yuck! Bitter!" she said, wiping her mouth.
I stepped closer to her, taking a better look. "How do you feel, Liana?"
"I feel fine," she said.
"Are you still having your night terrors, cold sweats?"
"Not lately, and also not as often as I used to."
"Good, I'm glad to hear that," I said, looking about, evaluating our surroundings. "It looks like just a light sprinkle," I said. "The clouds aren't so dreary."
I turned back around to see Liana once again prancing off in the rain, head tilted back, mouth open, swallowing big gulps of fresh rainwater.
"Enjoying the weather?" I said.
"Yes the water feels good to my skin . . . nice and cool. I love this time of year," she said, "warm air and brisk rain."
"Enjoy it while you can, Liana. Weather's been somewhat unpredictable this season; it'll retreat faster than it sprang."
She ran off again, laughing and splashing, spinning and twirling herself into a daze before falling down to the ground, her fun momentarily interrupted by her bewilderment. Gathering herself, she looked up and called out to me.
"Come play with me, Elliot!" She laughed.
"What is it you ask me, Liana, to join you in the rain?"
"Why yes," she replied. "Remember when we used to always play back at the parish? You taught me so many different games; you were always so creative."
"Yes, I remember, but I was still a boy, and you were merely six."
Looking at the sky, I felt droplets hit my forehead.
"And what of the rain? You don't want to get all muddy, do you?"
"I suppose not," she said disappointed.
She rolled her eyes. "So nineteen makes you all grown up?" she inquired.
"In the eyes of the Council . . . yes it does."
"What about me? What will I do if you are forced to join rank?"
"Don't worry about that now. The only thing that matters now is your health. We have to get you better."
She looked anyway from me in silence.
"Look, Liana, the rain's letting up. Liana, we should continue."
"Elliot what happens to us when we return to Madalva? Are you not to take rank and join the others? How much longer must you live and hide under, Elis?"
"I will not join rank and abandon you. I'm no soldier, especially not to the Council."
"You've been hiding for a little over a year now, Elliot. You were to be summoned on your eighteenth birthday, weren't you? If you are discovered, they'll rank you by force, or you could even be punished. What if they hurt you? I know what happens behind those closed doors, Elliot. The Council can be cruel."
I'd never heard her say such things before. I guess in my eyes, she was still that little girl I'd known all these years. Elis and I had tried our best to shade her from the outside world, to let her live a happy childhood. A childhood without fear or despair, but I guess she was no longer a child.
"You contemplate such things?" I said. "You worry about me?"
"I do. I know you're afraid. It's like what you taught be about monsters, pretending they don't exist doesn't make it so. You said that I should face them or ‘avoid them completely.’”
“That is what I'm doing, Liana, ‘avoiding them completely.’”
“But Elliot…monsters aren’t real, the Council is.”
I hesitated to reply.
“Your game, Liana, let’s play it…I’ll join you,” I said, in an effort to break the tension and divert her mind back to more joyful affairs.
“We’ll play a game, one game,” I said. “How about hide and seek?”
“Uh-huh.” She nodded.
“Very well, you go hide, and I’ll try and find you.”
“Okay!” she shouted with excitement.
The ploy worked, and she quickly sprang off. I allowed her no time whatsoever, quickly running after her, keeping a close eye on her to end the game sooner rather than later. She didn’t take notice as she was busy seeking a place to hide. Her resolve was stronger than I’d given her credit and she soon lost me in the tall grass.
A few minutes passed, and still, I could not find her, when suddenly something strange caught my eye. One of the gazee was on the move. The large beast raced by in quite an erratic manner. Something had spooked the animal causing it to flee…but these beasts were a collective bunch and always traveled in herds, it was rare to see one alone.
Now the faint sound of hooves could be heard off in the distance. I closed my eyes and centered on the noise; it grew louder.
“It’s a stampede!” I shouted. “Liana!”
I called out to her, but there was no reply.
“Liana, come quickly!” I shouted.
“You’ll have to find me first!” her voice echoed.
She thinks I’m still playing the game I thought to myself.
“No, Liana, come to me now!” I warned but it was too late. She’d wandered far into the tall grass beyond my sight, her voice faint, she couldn’t be found.
“Damn it!” I said, dashing off into the grass after her. The massive beasts could easily trample us both as we were hidden deep within the meadow. I pushed my way through the tall grass calling out to her.
“Liana, where are you?” Now, the vibrations of their massive hooves could be felt. I looked at the ground. There, small twigs and stones danced, and tiny pools of water rippled irately. Just then, one of the beasts raced by, I barely managed to avoid being trampled, sprinting blindly for my right. Then another shot by within a few feet from shoulder. The sheer force of the animal proved too much, knocking me to the ground.
A shrill scream echoed a few yards off in the distance. I sprang up and headed in its direction.
"Liana!" I called to no avail pushing further into the brush looking for any sign of her.
"Liana!" I called again desperately. This time my efforts met with success.
"I'm here, Elliot, I'm here!" she cried, jumping up waving her arms. I saw her just a few feet away.
I rushed to her, immediately taking her by the arm forcing her to my back..
"Hang on to me!" I yelled, looking around, realizing it was too late. The beasts where right on top of us. One after another, they darted past, their massive hooves shaking the earth beneath us. It was only a matter of time until we'd be run down for sure by the frantic herd.
A run to safety would be too dangerous, I thought, for we'd be running blind. We could not see the beasts nor they us through the thick, grass.
I wouldn't chance it. Another came raging by, as I scrambled to evade its path. The roar of their hooves grew like drums, as mud and sludge were flung into the air.
"Liana, hold on to me tightly!" I shouted, holding Liana piggyback. "Lock your fingers and don't let go!". I caught sight of another approaching; it drew closer and closer until it seemed we'd be run down for sure.
"I've only got one shot at this," I thought to myself.
"Now!" I cried, leaping into the air, grabbing the beast by its thick mane, holding on for dear life.
The beast let out a great roar but still sprinted onward. "Ride the wind!" I shouted, as we were carried off to safety.