How we left Nar Shol, and the nature of the Antecedents.
It is three days now since the Coelacanth departed Shol Ai. At the sixth hour we emerged from the Threading Vein onto the continental shelf, and at the seventh we reached its terminus and descended onto the abyssal plain. Our journey is begun in earnest, now. There will be no more commonhouses awaiting us when we tire, no more hostelries ready to meet our needs when we cannot. We must now rely entirely on ourselves and on one another.
Our farewell feasting and celebration among the Shol Jain already seems strangely far away. A solemnity came over us all as we shared our gloaming, knowing that darkness was upon our homeland now, but that for us darkness was to be a daily reality for some time. We sat in oneness in the hydroponics bay, eating our meals under the low canopy of the Baobab tree, whose heart feeds this little ecosystem that we carry upon our backs like a mollusk. The humidity and artificial sunlight are comforting, a piece of home that goes forward with us. I suspect that Cantor and Veena will rarely lack for assistants; we are each assigned our UV lamp to combat the fading sickness, but this sanctuary is as close as we will come to home for a very long time.
It is a solemn and fearful occasion, but my excitement carries me above water as well as my ship ferries me beneath it, and my heart soars. To see this dream I have carried since I was younger even than you unfolding before my eyes at last – I could ask for no greater gift. To at last break the membrane of the familiar and emerge from the womb of our Mother into a world of peril in which all manner of wonders lie waiting. It is the risk itself which makes the reward, which gives meaning to both struggle and achievement. The one who dons armor will later find it weighs them down: we open ourselves wholly to the world, unafraid to bleed, for without pain, peace would bring no pleasure. We go now beyond all possibility of help should we fail, but it is by this that we will take the measure of our own skill should we succeed.
We intend to make landfall in a sheltered bay along the near coast of Nar Ara, where our unmanned probe awaits and steers us true. Here we will be able to safely house the Coelacanth, and among the bluffs have half the day in the sun to generate power, while shielded from the cruelty of Yol at morning and afternoon. The probe’s intermittent transmissions are unsettling, and this, I believe, is what Ayel would call my talent for casual understatement.
We have been aware of Ara’s desolate biosphere for some time, but its extent unfolds before us like the tale unending, and to infer such a thing from meteorological observation is not to truly believe it. This, we take only from the evidence of our own eyes, and these ideas are beyond imagining. How could I truly explain to you the concept of a land where nothing grows? I apprehended the meaning of the sentence, but I didn’t understand it, and even now I only guess at what I will feel when I see the endless plains with my own eyes – so named for the barren plain of the ocean we now follow, for nowhere else in the world do I find a thing to compare it to.
This will be wonder enough, but the true source of my unease has been more recent. I’ve long entertained the theory that Ara’s devastation was not naturally-occurring, just as I’ve thought that Shol’s contrasting fecundity might not always have been what it is today. Shol’s fossil record supports my reasoning, but it will not be until my own hands mingle with the dust of Ara that I can hope to be definitive. However, seeing what I do now, I think I know already what we will find: that Shol’s biological revolution 900,000 years ago coincides with the devastation of Ara too closely to be coincidental.
The question to be answered, then, is what happened to cause such a polarization? What could have come so close to killing an entire planet that its wounds remain open to this day? Shol’s humidity and hyperaggressive flora leave little of the past untouched, consuming what is dead to give birth to what is new, but on a dead continent the last million years of Nar’s history may lay preserved in greater detail than I ever dared to dream. Yet I will heed Councilor Troy this far and accept that the Eye of Yol is indifferent to that on which it shines: it lays bare the beautiful and the terrible without discrimination, and when one commits oneself to the pursuit of truth, it does not permit one to choose which realities it reveals.
I prepare myself to mourn a land that lived and died in the time of my most distant genetic ancestors, and for these ancestors too I will grieve. The Spiral of Shol is the clearest archaeological evidence of our Antecedents which is known to us, but under the arid veldt of Ara we may find what the deep roots of the Cradle did not spare. We may find the very origin of our people in the ruins that still stand there, glittering like quartz and silver in the sunlight. So too may we find what became of them, how the Way of things came to be.
I think the story may be a terrible one, filled with suffering and hardship, but have I not said this already? Balance is the Way, for every action a response, and it is my duty to do honor to those who suffered such catastrophe at the height of their glory so that we could enjoy abundance, beauty, and peace when we parted the cage of their ribs to emerge anew. We will learn their story and we will sing it, and in bleeding for them we will draw closer to healing.
I will go down into the ruins and let them speak to me, and remember all that I hear. I will carry the memory of the parents of our race back to the people, and we will thank them and honor what is lost. Whatever squalls fortune may bring can be weathered when we know what we strive for, that it is a worthy struggle, and that we never stand alone. Through the tumult of my youth, the work of my hands and the pursuit of my heart has delivered me into a rich middle age, more fruitful than I ever dreamed between the pages of my books as a little girl.
Obstacles and delay delivered you into my arms, and those of your fathers around us both. Try to struggle through the thicket by yourself, and you may never reach the other side. Look where the canopy folds and let the creeping vines guide you on your way. Nevermind the time it takes; have patience, be tranquil, and you will emerge into the light.
Patience. Fine and well to preach it, but already I have little of my own as we commence into the long dark. It warmed me, to see you take on my old habit, restlessly twisting a lock of your dark hair around one finger. I think it less endearing on myself, but I am reminded of you in times of distress, and it calms my spirit.
All my love, now and always,