The Final Twilight
William Joseph Roberts
“Ti tu…le lu! Ti tu…du ti da!” From high atop a craggy mountain peak, a lone voice resonated in the yellow-brown glow of twilight. “Ti tu…le lu! Ti tu…du ti da!” The high pitched chant echoed throughout the valley below. Motionless silence hung heavy in the air as the young woman awaited a reply.
With a disconcerted sidelong glance, she nodded to her father, the Elder. The drums of the Abeon sounded, BOOM-da-da-BOOM-da-da-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM. She gazed with slow deliberation about the plaza at each face; warrior, hunter, mother, child and elder alike, each of which returned her gaze with obedient blankness. Each of them had their long dark hair pulled back over their large, wide, elf-like ears. In the dimness of twilight their mottled grey skin melded with the stone of the mountain; but their eyes, their eyes shone as large bright amber stones when illuminated by a flame. A light breeze ruffled the hem of her sandy white robe. With a look of disappointment she glanced to the Elder, then back to the crowd. She inhaled a slow, deep breath and lifted her arms to the sky. In an instant the chorus erupted,“Ti tu…le lu! Ti tu…du ti da!”
Long agonized moments passed as the crowd awaited a reply from the other clans. The wind replied only with silence.
The Elder stepped lightly toward the young girl. “It is time my daughter. There is dust on the horizon. The winds will be here soon,” the Elder whispered in a woeful tone.
“Yes Father.” She forced a smile to the Elder, then looked back to her people. “The old ones recite tales of what once was and what it has now become. Tales passed down through the generations, from Elder to child. A time beyond memory that has been told and retold and will be told again on this day. I, Baelyn, daughter of Boer, Elder of the Abeon clan, will recite the tales of where we have been, to where we are now.”
The drums resounded, and then continued with a slow, rhythmic beat. A light gust arose as if summoned by the cadence of the drums.
“The old ones spoke of the world before. They spoke of the Tuath’Ade, that dwelt within the forests. They spoke of their love, of their compassion, of their sacrifice. They spoke of the Rakta, the malevolent fiends that dwell in the deep darkness of the Underside. The words speak in such detail that one could imagine that the old ones had once ran and played through the lush forests of days gone by. So lush and fertile were these lands that they stretched to forever in all directions. One of my favorite tales to hear as a child myself, was that of the great Magu trees and the abundant fruit that clung from their trunks. The old ones say that at one time the forests of the valleys below were so thick with Magu fruit, that one could eat their fill for days on end and no single tree would be barren. That they would gather bundles of the fruit and lay about in grassy fields or warm water pools. Gluttonous and wasteful they were then. Half eaten fruit cast aside with little concern. They would bathe themselves in the fruit’s sticky sweet juices without concern for thirst in those days.”
“The old ones say that the Rakta grew jealous of our ancestors and their pampered existence. How the old ones adored and worshiped the forest gods and were repaid in kind with all that one could ever want in life. The Rakta desired this same devotion for themselves. Our ancestors scoffed at the Rakta’s desires and in turn the Rakta turned their attention to the forests of the Tuath’Ade.”
The wind blew in light, momentary gusts. The crowd shifted about with low murmurs of nervous anticipation.
“Silent tentacle-like rivers of fire crept from beneath the lands. Neither plant, animal, nor stone could escape its grasp. The great river that once meandered through our valley, and all within its sacred waters, were not immune from the flames. Smoke engulfed the world for a time. Our ancestors fled to these remote mountain keeps which became our salvation.”
The drums resounded, BOOM-da-da-BOOM, then continued with a slow, rhythmic beat.
“The old ones watched from these craggy mountain keeps as the Tuath’Ade rallied upon the plains of Khossadem. War cries echoed across the plains as they charged headlong into the darkness of the Underside. The old ones watched. Unable to join a battle meant for gods alone. They watched…Battles raged as far as the eyes could see. The lands rumbled and shook with such ferocity that the plains of Khossedem split open. Flame and smoke spewed forth, the foul air of the Underside belched from the wounds of our disheveled lands.”
“The old ones watched… They impatiently waited for a sign of the battles outcome. White pillars of smoke became thick black veils of defeat. The war has raged for generations; now only a distant pillar of black smoke on the horizon tells us of the outcome of those distant battles beyond our sight. The forests that the Tuath’Ade fought so feverously to protect have been all but consumed. I fear that the Tuath’Ade are no more. That they have been consumed as with the forests of old, consumed by the Rakta of the Underside.”
“The forests have nearly vanished from existence, and our people with them. The lands below are scorched and lifeless, nothing more than desolate wastes of sand and stone. Only our handful of mountain top oases remain as evidence of what once was. The skies, once green and brilliant are now clouded with the sickly yellow-brown stench of the Rakta’s lair. Towers of thick acrid smoke rise high into the heavens from the depths of the Underdark. It has been generations since our people have seen the light of Hecorvor, our benevolent bringer of light. The leisurely, idle days of the past, the days when our people would bask in the warmth of Hecorvor’s glory, have succumbed to the near darkness of perpetual twilight.”
A heavy gust of wind unbalanced Baelyn and forced her to step forward.
“In the past, the rains would return for a brief period each year. An anticipated time that has always given us hope. It was a time to revitalize our souls in preparation for the expected onslaught, before the scorching winds drove us deep into the safety of our refuge. The once sudden torrential downpours of the past have weakened over time. We have seen less and less rainfall with each passing year. Our numbers have diminished since the last rains, our cisterns have nearly ran dry.”
“We have struggled for generations to survive on our mountaintop, as have the other clans on theirs. Our forests have diminished with each passing year. And so have our hopes of survival. We have endured for most of our lives in the dark seclusion, but we have been safe deep inside of our mountain keep. The mountain has kept us safe, hidden away from the yearly barrage. We are protected from the yearly winds that race up the mountainsides from the valley floor far below. Flames dance and blaze as anything caught within the path of the wind is consumed. Even the great Nepenthes plants, with their stone like outer shells are not immune to this annual assault. Their stores of water gone, only a charred, stony husk to mark where they had once proudly stood.”
A heavy, thunderous roar drew everyone’s attention. Baelyn and Boer both turned toward the west to look out across the valley. Hecorvor’s presence showed its place low in the sky, hidden behind the thick yellow-brown clouds. Others in the crowd rushed to the edge of the terrace to witness the wind for themselves. Far below in the distance, a wall of dust and smoke raced across the valley. The onlookers stared at the sight with reverence and awe. Gasps of fear and panic slipped from the lips of others. Baelyn returned her gaze to her people.
“This dreary plight is not only ours to bear. The Faron, Meron, and Sidon clans of the nearby keeps share in our fate. They have survived atop their mountain refuges just as we, the Abeon do. We remember them also, as with our own. Before the winds, before the battles, we were one people. We were one clan that shared all. And I fear that they will soon share the same bleak fate as our own.”
“As the muted light of day has faded and relinquished itself to the advance of the night. We, the strong and proud Abeon clan will return to the safety of our refuge once again. Both young and old alike will make their way to the clan hollow, deep within our mountain keep. Once again we will be safe during the time of the winds. We will encircle the sacred flame of the clan; the symbolic heart of our people that resides at the center of the clan hollow, as it rests atop the small altar of hewn blood obsidian. We will once again bask in the warm purple hue of the flame. The light of the flame will once again dance with lazy abandon upon its perch, as it has for generations. The streaks of red on the surface of the altar will once again flow as if it were the blood of the land. This alone will imbue the words of the old ones as we invoke the Tuath’Ade through the time of the winds.”
A rumble like that of distant thunder grew louder and louder. Baelyn turned, as did the elder and looked over the edge of their perch. The winds had arrived at their mountain without the rains. She turned to her father, her gaze unsure, almost distant. She turned back to her people with a look of dreaded reluctance. Tears began to well up in her large amber eyes. Those who stood at the edge were thrown back by a powerful gust of wind.
“I reflect on these tales as I watch the massive plumes of dust race across the valley floor far below,” Baelyn shouted over the roar of the winds. “The scorching winds approach us unhindered this year. The rains have failed to return, a sure sign of victory for the Rakta of the Underside.”
The slow rhythmic beat of the drums stopped abruptly. Low murmurs crept about the gathered clan. Shouts of the adults and cries of children inflamed their fear. Tears welled up in the eyes of a few as reality sank in.
“All but the youngest know that this will most likely be our last retreat into the safety of the keep. This will be the last time that we will hear the tales of old and give reverence to our ancestral Gods, the Tuath’Ade.”
Boer, the Elder of the clan walked solemnly and stood prostrate at the entrance to the warren. He motioned the crowd into the entrance. With a blessing and light touch, he received each member of the small family as they descended into the hollow. A single tear trailed down his aged cheek, his face, habitually aglow with a joyful smile, was now frozen into something more akin to that of morbid acknowledgement.
Baelyn approached her father, the Elder and bowed in reverence to his years and wisdom. He nodded somberly. For a moment, he held her face in his hands. He glanced from her eyes, to her nose, to her ears and her half faked smile. Streams of tears washed down his cheeks. His hands brushed down her shoulders as he directed her toward the mouth of the keep. Boer followed close behind, as the Elder was always the last to enter.
Baelyn whispered to herself, “Ti tu…le lu. Ti tu…du ti da. As a family, we once again find safety together. Ti tu…le lu. Ti tu…du ti da. As a people, we will meet our ancestors and the Gods of old. Ti tu…le lu. Ti tu…du ti da. Together we will dance and rejoice in the forests of old once again.”