(author’s note: I’m about to embark on a new journey with an old CT friend, Carolus. I’m going to be delving into very ancient, and possibly unrecorded, history here. Since I have not experienced most of ARR’s Main story, some of what I create here may deviate from, or even contradict, what has been witnessed in the hundreds of cutscenes I have not seen. I beg for your indulgence, then, as I try to create a past that skirts around most of what is already known, and fill in its blanks with hints of what is yet to come.)
It was a good day, he thought. The Arboretum had produced a new species of tree, a crossbreed of Thatch and Brindle, which the Land Caretakers called Appill, after the woman who had tended it from its idea stage to biogenesis. The fruit was crisp and bright, tart when young and sweet when mature. He carried with him a packet of seeds, which he was to give to the captain of the ship bound for the eastern colony of Giardina.
He waved at Andras as he walked past the man’s home, whose walls glinted, prismatic and many colored with teria crystals. When their starship had crashed, the cargo hold had been torn apart, scattering the crystals. Nothing to worry about, the Land Caretakers had said.
Their exploratory vehicles had been destroyed beyond repair, so they had had to resort to the most primitive forms of transportation. The scans had shown this world to have intelligent life – four to be exact. One was primitive but socially structured; another was advanced and, it had been determined, capable of high science. There had been signs of recent inter-dimensional activity.
For all this, they had yet to encounter one. Of course, they knew what one of the life-forms would look like. As soon as they had landed, their genetically mutable bodies had adapted, changing them to resemble the species most suited to their own biology. They were now bipedal, with long torsos, arms and legs, and pointed ears in different shapes.
“Where are you off to, Carolus? “ shouted Andras.
“The harbor, bearing seeds from Apparla’s new tree!” he shouted.
“I’ve heard they taste wonderful!” And Andras looked at him expectantly.
“Sorry, friend, no samples today!”
“That’s too bad. Give my sister my love!” said Andras, and returned to his work, which was to discover a way to repair the subspace transmitters. No one had yet found a metal suitable for the coils, but Andras kept trying new ones. Currently Andras was using one brought by the Captain who Carolus was to meet today. They rarely saw each other, and Christie, who was Carolus’ wife, would be happy to have that greeting from her brother.
There were just under 600 people who had survived the starship crash. Of those survivors, 50 were on New Serotta Island, a cold snowbound place far to the north, and 40 were in Giardina, a large continent to the west, that was a journey of 75 days by water. That left just over 500 people on Astarlia.
Carolus passed by the gateway of the Housing area, and made his way past the small shops and towns of Noctura’s Bay down to Noctura’s Cove. It was a quiet, beautiful place, a natural cave in a mountainside that, sometime in the far past, had collapsed. It created an enormous upside-down half dome, which sheltered both the town and the Cove. But because it was mostly dark no matter what time of day it was, it had been named after Noctura, Goddess of Night, Death and Rebirth.
The ship that now rested in the Cove’s embrace was the Waverunner. It was their hope of one day contacting the four intelligent native species, completing their exploration and then – if they could make the transmitters work – returning home.
“Captain Torjanede, I bring a package from the Arboretum. Instructions for their planting are inside. Please deliver it to Caretaker Dalan.”
Waverunner’s Captain was remarkable not just for his uncanny weather-sense, but also for his physique. He was unusually tall and very broad-shouldered. After they had lost the map made on the spaceship while in orbit, Torjanede sailed the ship safely to Giardina, earning the respect and undying gratitude of his crew. He took the package and safely stored it in his trouser pocket.
“I hope,” he said, stressing the word hope, “that these grow something that gives those damned popos indigestion!” He referred to the name they had given Giardina’s most voracious forest pests, who would take, or eat, anything that was not safely stored and locked away. “So do I, Captain.”
“You need to get back on land, Ser Carolus. We’re setting sail now.”
“Isn’t that a few hours early?” he asked.
“Yes, but there’s a change in the weather coming. We’re going to have rough seas – the worst we’ve yet seen, I think. It’s just one of my feelings, is all. We need to be at sea.”
“Safe journey, then.”
“Ser Carolus!,” shouted Torjanede, after Carolus had disembarked.
“What?” he asked.
“I am bid to tell you this: Hear. Feel. Think.”
Carolus was about to ask what the man meant by his cryptic message, but the ship had already left the harbor, carried by winds that were slowly getting stronger. Carolus hurried home.
Teria crystals were discovered by the Astarlians millennia ago on a dead planet, where they stopped to investigate the source of some unusual energy readings. They were small, rough-edged but strangely round shaped. There were several types, mainly distinguished by their color: aquamarine, pale green, purple, yellow, and rarest of all, red. Unable to determine their nature or purpose, they were sterilized and placed under quarantine. Later they located a single, ruined city. They found, among the surviving data in a decaying computer, a file describing a civilization that had used the life force of a planet, and its creatures, to create something called materia. The information ended abruptly, as if the author had been killed while entering the data. Scratched into the metal table were the words: “The Cetra are…”
Centuries passed. They shorted the name to teria. As they had seen no evidence of any of the mysterious energy readings once they had been sterilized, they put them in the storage hold. They believed them to be harmless remnants of a dead planet. They could not have been more mistaken.
When you awaken a planet – an entire planet – you can be certain of two things: the shock of consciousness, and its aftermath. The size of the shock is determined by how abrupt the awakening is, and that in turn determines the aftermath.
A gradual awaking causes continental drift, gradual shifts in global weather, the mutation of some species and the death of others. Instant awakening causes massive volcanic eruptions, continent shattering earthquakes, and the possible extinction of all life on the planet – planetary suicide.
The hundreds of teria crystals that burrowed into the ground when the cargo hold burst and scattered them, were almost at the planetary core, each containing alien abilities, or in the case of the red teria, alien consciousness. They were going home, or so they believed.
As the first wave neared its goal, the first shockwave hit as a planet became aware, and thought its first thought: I am.
Carolus lay in bed, in the hazy peacefulness that comes from having made love and being almost asleep. Christie lay next to him, sleeping on her side, with her arm lying across his chest. Although the Travellers had been encouraged to have several bedmates, to ensure genetic diversity should their voyages prove to last several thousand years, a very few, like he and Christie, chose the eternal bond. They were allowed to conceive only two children. Their children were born in their first 100 years together, and were now explorers as well.
He missed his son’s hearty laughter, and his daughter’s ready smile. But he saw them both in his wife’s eyes, every day.
He thanked Chris’ti’ne, Goddess of Day, Birth and Life, and he fell into a deep slumber. Two hours later, the roof caved in, and Armageddon began.
The first hundred teria crystals, upon entering and merging with the core, knew instantly that this was not home. The planet panicked when it discovered it was NOT alone. Continental crusts began to crack, exploding into the sky or plunging onto the sea. The planet discovered the feeling of being invaded, and reacted to protect itself, not knowing that selfsame reaction could tear it apart.
Covered in dust, and carrying the broken body of his wife, Carolus saw the island around him coming apart. Lava erupted forth from cracks that appeared behind him as he made his way to the Harbor’s Town Square, and he dropped to his knees as the dome of Noctura’s Cove began to fall.
The first of the handful of red crystals to enter the core was one of benevolence and healing, and sensing that her new home was on the verge of destruction, she did what any maternal consciousness would do for a frightened child. She sang to it.
She sang of the universes, and other planets. As the terrified planet began to be lulled into acceptance of its newly awakened mind, rifts in space-time opened and closed, altering timelines and events past and present in many universes. As she felt the planet settle down, the consciousness became aware of another entity in agony, as sharp and terrified as the planet’s had been, only much, much smaller. She rose above the layers of magma and soil, into murky churning water and a choked, blood red sky to find its source.
He cradled her in his arms. He prayed to Chris’ti’ne to let Noctura claim them both at once, for he could not bear to think of living one day without his wife. He watched the statue of the Goddess topple and fall, getting out of its way. Christie, in searing pain, looked at him with faraway eyes. Their bodies were covered in soot, the sea raged all around them, and as he felt his skin begin to be burned away in the boiling waters, he thought he saw a flash of white-blue light. His last thoughts were of the Traveller’s Prayer: “From the light of Chris’ti’ne, to the peace of Noctura…”
She did not know this small creature, but she knew the love that shone from the two of them very well. She had many names, this consciousness, and Chris’ti’ne was one of them. She heard the prayer of Carolus, absorbed the essence of love that was his wife, and was pulled back into the planet, a mother being called by her child. But not before she sent Carolus away from the destruction, to continue his long, long journey.
“Ser Carolus! By the Goddesses! Are you alive? Here Jenks, give me that cloth!” He felt his eyes being wiped free of dust, and the taste of wine being poured down his throat. When he could focus, he saw that he was on the Waverunner – or what was left of the ship.
He knew that his face, as well as the faces of Torjanede and the crew, had altered to allow them to breathe the poisonous and ash-laden air. This meant the conditions he found himself in now had existed for several days. Their genetic mutability took time to respond to environmental disaster. “How long?” His voice sounded guttural, and harsh.
“A few months, give or take,” replied the Captain. “The whole world is covered in this cloud of volcanic ash, and will be for many years I’m afraid. I can’t see the stars, so I’m not certain where we are.”
“How did I come to be here?”
“We were hoping that you might know. There was a flash of light on our starboard side, and there you were. Scared us almost as much as when the ship caught fire. Then the whole ship was covered in light, we all passed out, and awoke here…wherever here is.”
“Wait. I was holding Christie. Is she…?”
“Sorry, Ser Carolus. The light brought only you. I’m afraid we’re all that’s left of Astarlia. And whoever may still survive in the colonies. Our first priority is to find land. Or else we’ll become aquatic. And that’s a body change I’d rather not go through.”
Carolus collapsed, and wept.