An Agemonia story by Mike Pohjola
Many sleeps ago, back when crystal was plentiful and all peoples lived in abundance, a great evil rose. His name was Xotho, and he believed our kind were superior to all others because crystal grows in our bodies. He and his followers allied themselves with the Aox demons, and turned their backs on all other peoples, including their own. He interned many of our compatriots in the lost mountain of Lok Torr, and they have been asleep ever since.
Sleep comes easy to all peoples and even the beasts and the birds. Our sleep is different. We might plant an acorn just before we fall asleep, and wake up to find a full-grown tree.
While we sleep, we draw strength from the earth, and let our bodies heal and grow more crystal. Some call us crystalbacks, but we call ourselves agurians.
I am Torrax, and this is my story, which may one day be carved on my body.
I am a ward of the Lightbearers, a small group of agurians dedicated to fighting the Aox demons. Or so they say. I have never seen them do any actual fighting. I have never even seen an Aox demon. All I have experienced are endless wise talks, and healthy physical exercise, and abstaining from water, and listening to the earth. It sounds really meaningful until you start doing it. Then it just becomes boring.
Harox is the worst of them. He is so old he is flaking, half asleep most of the time, rattling when he walks, his crystals obscenely big, his hammer frail. The cracked surface of his skin is full of blue runes, each one meticulously carved every time he wakes from the sleep.
"Good morning, Torrax," he says. "Do you remember Lok Torr?"
"I do not", I tell him. "I did not remember it yesterday, and I do not remember it today."
"Ah. I hope you will remember it tomorrow."
I say nothing.
"You carry the memory, you can find it if you look."
"Then why isn't it carved on my body? Look, it's smooth as wet ice."
"You carry the memory inside you. You are older than you think."
"Sure." How could I be older than I think?
He wants me to remember Lok Torr, the mountain where our people are imprisoned. I tell him I have never been there. If I had, I would still be a prisoner! The Lightbearers believe they have to find the mountain and free the people as part of the fight against the Aox demons, and that I have to find it.
There are a million things I would rather be doing. For one, take care of commerce with the Amethyst Order. They want Agura crystals, and only we can grow the crystals on our bodies. We should focus on getting a better deal. Or set up a proper system of defense against the raiders. Instead they want to talk about memories.
We stand in a stone circle, our hands, hammers and faces pointing towards the sky. We hum a low melody. The power of the earth moves inside us and the ground rumbles together with us, joining in on the melody. Pebbles bounce off each other, dirt turns to dust, and small beasts try to escape.
The morning ritual is observed from a high point by someone with dark feathers, gleaming white eyes, and a black cape covering a long beak. The quothian is standing in the shade of a tree, just watching.
"Torrax, go see who it is", Harox tells me after the morning exercise.
I walk towards the tree. Quothians are an uncommon sight in the desolate hills of the Mutelands, for they call the forest beyond Ravenland their home. I have seen a few working for the Amethyst Order, but this one seems younger.
"I'm glad it was you", she says.
I don't know what to tell her so I say nothing.
"Grandmother has told me you have a part to play in the battle in the Breach."
"Where the Aox demons live."
"That's right. And she wants me to help you get there."
"And who are you?"
"My name is Venia. I come from Heartwood in search of you."
"Would you like to talk to my guardians?"
"Not really. Just you."
"Look, I'm not coming. Thanks for the invitation, but I don't really believe in this prophecy stuff."
"It's not a prophecy. It's history."
"Well, whatever, I'm not interested."
I start back towards the others. Then I realize I have been rude, and turn. "Would you like some water or something?"
"I sure would," she says and joins me.
She finds shelter from the sun behind a cliff, and the others gather around her. They ask news from Heartwood, from Benem, from the Amethyst Order. And they ask about her and the Breach. She answers all their questions and asks none, but it is clear she observes them with great interest, and pays close attention to what sorts of things they ask.
Eventually they ask her about her Grandmother.
"She's right here," she says, and points to her bag.
"May we see her?" asks Harox.
She nods, and opens the bag. Inside there is a beaked skull with deep black eye sockets. I look at the skull, her Grandmother. The eyes draw me in. I cannot look away. They seem to grow darker until all I see is black.
No, I see black because it is night. But there is a glow, a radiance, which helps me see better. I see many agurians, some pushing others into a cave. Once they are inside, someone touches the walls and shapes the rock until the gate is closed. It is then sealed with great magic to never be opened again. Another takes his hammer and carves a face and a rune into the closed gate. It is locked with such power that no one inside may open it. Maybe no one at all. But who could hold such power? Is it Xotho? I turn to look for him, but I can see nothing. Water splashes on my face.
It is not raining. I open my eyes and realize Harox is pouring water on me.
"Torrax! Wake up!"
"Was I asleep?"
"This is not how we sleep," Harox says. "This was something else."
I see all the Lightbearers around me, and Venia of Heartwood.
I tell them everything I saw, and they are all very excited. I finally remembered. I remembered Lok Torr.
Harox nods and smiles. "I am proud of you, my ward."
It feels good.
Although I did not see a map or many landmarks, I did see a mountain range that the elders believe to be the Reflection Range mountains. We strike camp and start towards south and west, filled with a new sense of purpose. Venia joins our band.
The Lightbearers have only five members, one of many wandering groups of agurians in the Mutelands. Some groups live and work in Benemite cities, others sleep in caves and hillsides. Many harvest Agura crystals from other agurians, transport it to oases where they barter with the caravan merchants of the Amethyst Order. The caravans take the crystals to Copperton, Ambergate or Starhaven, from whence they are distributed all around the world. The devices of the Ancients need Agura to function, but the machines are too big to carry around. In the cave towns of my people they are in active use in mining and teleportation.
Harox is the leader of our group, and its oldest member. I am the youngest. Matho is big and solemn, the strongest of us, his body shiny black basalt. Clathax jokes, Matho is quiet as a rock. Clathax is the funny one, thin and tall, of red granite. He helps make my days less boring by always having some humorous story or snide mark in store.
The fifth member is Mixxo, a marble bodied warrior who sees the beauty in everything. In the sunset, in the desert, in the animals, in the stories he tells. Agurians do not usually wear clothes but he has acquired a cape of quothian silk that he wears for some reason. Clathax comments on it every day, asking if Mixxo is perhaps cold, or if he hides his body because of his modesty or if he wants to impress a nighteye or a quothian. Mixxo just smiles, and says he think it suits him.
Old Harox usually does not have to bear the edge of Clathax's humor, but if he does, he can deflect it with a sentence or two, reminding us of some foolish mistake Clathax has done.
That is our group. Now including Venia of the Heartwood, as well.
For many days we walk the sunbaked paths of the Mutelands. We debate which road to take. Clathax would have us head south towards Copperton and hire a ship, Mixxo would prefer getting a ship from Moongate to the west. When Harox asks for Matho's opinion, he shakes his head indicating he prefers neither option.
"What, you think we should walk all the way across the continent?" asks Clathax quickly.
Matho is silent at first, and then says only, "Yes."
Harox promises to make a decision soon, but in any case, our first stop will be the glowing pyramid Ata Cahay, where the roads cross.
During the long journey we sing and we talk and we think. Mixxo, and Clathax, and I tell Venia a little of our people, she tells us of hers. Sometimes when she thinks she is alone, she talks to the skull she calls Grandmother. The quothians are a bird-like people who prefer the dark. I have never seen one of them carry a skull around, but they are strange and alien. Unlike us, they have two genders, and keep their men in cages. We have no gender, no birth, no death, no hunger and no defecation. Being made of rock we simply exist, then sleep, then exist again. Often with no memory of the last time we existed.
Do we even live, as beasts do and quothians do? Or are we just moving rocks? I do not know.
It is a day's journey to Ata Cahay when we make camp. We need no rest at night, but we have our rituals. We wash ourselves, we exercise, we hum the melody of the earth. Venia opens her bag to take out her meal.
To be continued…