In the middle of the path upon which Star had been running wide open stood possibly the most breathtaking woman I had ever seen, but she was about three times the size of an average female.
Star kneeled as I gaped in awe, the energy around us was buzzing; alive. I had almost completely slid off over the neck of the horse and had barely noticed. I regained some of my composure, leaving my pride on the ground somewhere with half of the contents of my pockets. While I tried to stand, the being in front of me spoke, and it enveloped me, sounding as if her voice were coming from every direction at once.
Her hair was a beautiful shade that was the green of the foliage I had seen when Benebarak had shared the visions with me earlier, her eyes the color of the oceans I had seen in books, but deeper somehow, as if they contained the entirety of existence within them. A plant I recognized as Ivy sat atop her head in the shape of a crown. She was hard to look at and impossible not to look upon.
“Greetings Topsider, I am The Great Mother. I know you’re tired and you’re ready to get home, to your refuge underground, but you must hear me first. I’ve always known you were special, Kai. Different. Set apart.”
“From my family?” I stupidly interrupted, and Star nudged my leg as if to reiterate how moronic I truly was.
The Great Mother Smiled “Yes, Kai, especially from them, but from all of your kind. You see, I gave humans a chance, the same chance I have given all of my other creatures that walk upon my land, fly through my skies, or swim through my oceans. They repaid my kindness by taking, destroying everything that I am. You’ve seen what I used to look like, and what their opportunistic, wasteful, selfish ways have diminished me to. Your kind wrote me off as dead long ago. Do I look dead to you?”
I shook my head and tried to form words with some semblance of intelligence. “No Great Mother, you look very much alive.”
“I am but a personification of the Earth beneath your feet, Kai. I represent everything around you, above and below you. I represent the trees, the ground, the water, the skies. I am the Earth, the Earth is me. That is why they call me Great Mother. You are different from your kind, I have seen it, and when this animal you see bowing before me saved you, I knew she had felt it as well. She’s not just a regular horse, I know you felt that she is special. You picked it up immediately. She’s immortal, she was created as a gift for those who showed loyalty to me, who tried to save me, but there weren’t many of them, and they faded when the more selfish of the humans took over. They were outnumbered, and they simply couldn’t win. I hold them in the highest regard, and if you could see the stars through the clouds, through the storms that rage, you’d see the beauty of each of them. I made them into the lights which shine down upon the Earth that they tried desperately to save, but couldn’t. It was the best I could do for them. See, I can’t step in and make humans treat me with respect; I can’t mess with free will. Humans threw everything out of balance, and so I created the Stormriders. They, as you saw, were powerful, and a force to be reckoned with and they also had free will. They did everything they could, but shy of eradicating humans, there was nothing else they could do. Oh, they tried teaching them lessons by using the raging storms, and scaring them, but none of it worked. Your people can be very stubborn.”
“I don’t know what to say, Great Mother, I was born underground. All I ever knew was what I was told.”
“Therein lies the trouble. You were ill-informed. You were told that I was useless, that the only thing left up here was death and monsters. That I could not be restored.”
“Benebarak said those were lies. He said that you could be restored if only we were brave enough and we didn’t hide underground.”
The Great Mother smiled again. “You toiled as his slave, but it was not in vain. Among the Stormriders showing work ethic and not complaining makes you as close to an equal as there ever could be. Benebarak was a favorite of mine, and I will weep for his death, but rejoice for the passing on of his power. I believe he has chosen well. He has shown you how to use them? Careful, new power when you’re not used to having any is a heady thing. Don’t take advantage, Kai. I’m trusting you with many secrets and it is my hope that my trust is not misplaced. You will be called upon to lead your people, Kai. Your people will need you as I will need you to cultivate new life. You and Ellie both. She is strong, do not underestimate her.”
“I never would, Great Mother.” At the thought of Ellie, I touched the bracelet she had given me and a lump formed in my throat.
“Good. Now, my time is running short, I can only pause the environment around us and keep us hidden for a little longer because I am weak here in this place. The majority of my energy is being expended elsewhere.” The Great Mother gestured toward the underground. “You should know, Kai, that there are other lifeforms on this planet, ones that do not and never have belonged here. Alien life forms that cultivate the remainder of the humans that adapted to living Topside, and take them to their planet as slaves. They work them to death and then they toss them into space as if they are no better than garbage. I may be unhappy with the behavior of humans, but for each one that dies undeservingly, I weep. You must find a way to stop them, Kai because they’re closing in on the underground. They’ve already taken some of the undergrounders, and have been scoping out your entrance and exits. Once they have taken the last human topside, they WILL go for your people, and you will be trapped in that underground until they decide to remove you. Only you can formulate a plan to get yourselves to safety. I have been growing and cultivating a safe haven for those who are worthy far from this place. I am not dead, but this planet is dying, changing in ways that are irreparable. I can only provide you with guidance. I do not hold sway over mechanical things and while I can provide a new earth, fully restored, for you and others like yourself, I cannot transport you there. You must rely on yourself to achieve that endeavor. I will provide you with as much time here as I am able.”
“Thank you, Great Mother.” I had so many questions, but I knew it wasn’t the time for them. I knew she was on my side, and I had the aid of Benebarak, Star, and Ellie. We would survive, we would stop the aliens, and start the restoration process no matter what that meant. I felt it to my very core.
“And Kai, trust no one but Ellie, Star, and myself until they prove themselves worthy of trust. If you must spill blood, offer it up as a sacrifice, and make sure it is a necessity.”
With that, she disappeared and the wind immediately began to rage around Star and myself once more. The horse stood and looked knowingly into my eyes, and for the first time, I really saw her. I had known she was special, but now I knew just how special.
“Thank you, Star. For everything.” And just like that, we understood one another even better. We had a mission, and we would complete it or die trying.