Here is the Prologue to Silent Steps, the first book of the Takiq Cycle.
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The trees were bathed in darkness as the midnight hour approached. Proudly standing for a thousand years, the thick trunks soared upwards, breaking finally into branches that reached heavenward. As the breeze blew, an almost hissing sound poured out and away into the sky.
But, to the many figures gathered below, the sound was unheard. They made their way slowly through to the heart of the gigantic grove, No lights glittered in the darkness; none were needed by the tall, slender people. No sound beyond a breaking twig or rustle of the underbrush came from them. This night was too sacred for speech to blemish it.
From all directions they came; some carried small children in packs on their back, while others helped the elders among them, holding them upright as they walked. There were many hundreds, with their dark green skin and even darker hair. Some showed skin lighter in tone than others, but all had the same long ears, which extended to a point.
They all wore simple clothing, made from homespun cloth. While some wore clothing more simple than others, they all showed bright colors and much jewelry adorned both men and women.
It took many hours for all to arrive at the heart of the grove, and even the children remained silently waiting. Some people stood, while a few sat, but the only loud sounds came from the forest itself. This was, to these elves, the most sacred place on their world, and none wanted to show disrespect to it.
The trees surrounding the heart spread their branches like archways, allowing the elves to pass through without disturbing them. The heart, itself, lay open to the sky; a giant space forming a circle that was bare of all but grass and starlight.
When the last of the gatherers finally passed through one of the many archways leading to this central part of the forest, the branches drooped downwards, cutting off the easy passage they had all enjoyed. When the final one reached the ground – the final seal put into place – the darkened heart of the grove began to glow.
The light began at the center, a softly glowing white coming from the ground itself. After a moment, brighter strands of light twirled upwards towards the sky. Other, smaller pinpoints of light moved around these strands, much like a moth flitting around a patch of light.
More and more of these strands appeared, gathering together above the grove, forming a dome of light that could be seen from miles away. It was as if the moon, itself, had come down to rest upon the surface, bathing everything in brilliance.
Then, a final column of light appeared, shafting straight and true into the sky. With that, the elves bowed as one to the ground, knowing the reason for their summons had come at last. Some had travelled for days to reach this spot, to live this very moment.
The silence was broken then, with the sound of rushing air and an almost electric “zzip.” All of the elves, heads bowed low, felt a great anticipation when they heard the sound; none had experienced it themselves before, but knew the stories their ancestors told around the hearthfires.
She had come.
The stories that surrounded her were many; some of them were myths and nothing more, but others had glimmers of truth to them. None could do her true justice.
She, like the light, seemed to be centered at the heart of the grove; more of a feeling than seen. The deep femininity of her spirit washed over everything, causing the very wind to sigh with her presence. All things responded to her instantly; she was, after all, their creator – their very reason for being.
She seemed to be both there and not; an impression of her spirit echoed through the forest and seemed to draw energy from all present, including the trees, animals, the very air itself. She was intangible, a no-thing, but the strength of her presence was palpable just the same.
The elves were overwhelmed and could do nothing more than keep their heads bowed. None dared to look at her, fearing what she may do. She was nature embodied, and could be both fierce and loving, often at the same instant. She was mother of all this world, and all knew her intimately, though none had ever seen or felt her presence, personally, before.
All elves heard her voice, then, and it came more from within themselves than any outside force. It started from deep within their minds and bubbled up to the surface. It was beautiful, sad, haunted. But her will was firm as she said, “Look up, my children!”
They all did at once, and, for the first time, took in the sight of their creator.
All of the many hundreds present could see her clearly, then; later, upon talking of what happened that night, they all described seeing her, as if she had been looking straight at them. All looked upon her in the same way, with the same light, as if she was projecting her image to all of them individually. As far as the elves knew, this was precisely what had happened.
She said nothing for a moment; she only gazed directly into their eyes. She gleamed with bright white light, bathed in it as it fell from the dome above. Her lower portions were surrounded in mist, and she seemed to sprout from the ground itself. The part of her that could be clearly seen was naked, and whenever the sparks of light touched her, it was transformed into water. It dropped from her, slowly, glittering in the light from above. Where it met the ground, shoots of plants immediately sprouted, spreading rapidly outward. Soon, the whole of her surroundings were covered in a field of flowers of all shapes and sizes, each one turned towards her, bathing in the light reflecting from her body.
Each flower was bowed, worshipping her.
Her hair, green and lush, fell almost to the ground, as well, and had the look of long strands of grass. No wind blew upon her, but her hair moved gently as if swaying in a breeze.
Her face looked much like an elf; sharp ears could be seen slightly poking out from her hair and her small nose and straight brows made a contrast against the gently sloping cheekbones. Deep-set eyes almost glowed with a light of their own, with a reddish color tone dotted with small waves of blue.
Beauty and grace combined to overwhelm the elves, and she seemed to enjoy their presence as much as they did hers.
It seemed ages before she spoke again, and the elves gratefully, hungrily grasped at her words as they began to flow from her once again. “I love you, my children. I love all of you so much.”
Then her eye contact with them broke and the elves felt they could breathe again. Her face dropped slightly as the next words came, a sadness darkening her eyes.
“I have called you to speak of a grave thing, my little ones. A time of great despair is coming for you.”
A wave of fear and uncertainty came over the gathering, then. Never before, in all of the stories of Ineke, had something like this occurred. Whenever their race had seen her before, it was in times of joy. The first was, of course, when she first created them, forming their ancestors out of her very essence and sending them into the world to be caretakers of it.
But in their memory, extending thousands of years, never had Ineke told them of trouble. They were meant to survive on their own, as a part of her admonition to them when she created them.
So, they awaited her words in anticipation of something dire, indeed.
Her words finally began anew, and the elves soon knew their answer.
“I have watched you, my dear ones, as you have worked together to care for my world. I have been a proud mother as you have taught your little ones about me and kept my ways. You have taken very good care of my world.”
She glanced around and then down, watching with a small smile as the flowers bloomed around her. Then, she reached down and touched one of them, a blue flower with dozens of petals. It reacted instantly to her touch, growing to an even larger size and, almost gratefully, extending its leaves towards her, wrapping around her hand in a desperate embrace.
“I have watched as you and all of my other creations strive together, keeping the balance needed for all things to flourish. You take only what is given freely and give back just the same. There is both goodness and gratitude in your hearts and minds, and dark corners as well. This, too, is necessary for balance, for without darkness, light cannot shine, and without darkness in your hearts, goodness cannot grow. A flower only grows strong when it fights against the winds that blow on it. It is strengthened through the struggle.”
Then, Ineke snapped the flower off of its base, with an audible crack resounding through the gathering elven bodies. Heartbeats stopped for a split second as it happened, and they grew afraid.
The petals of the flower almost instantly began to come apart and fall, and the smell of bitterness and plant rot flowed out from it, cloyingly sweet in their nostrils. The speed at which it rotted in her hands was incredible, pushed by her magic.
She continued, saying, “But with the vigor of life comes the bitter defeat of death, and with gladness comes despair. My children, a time of great despair is coming to this world, and, with it, great changes, as well. Until now, you, my little ones, have enjoyed a world filled with the life of Spring and Summer. Now comes the time of the Fall, and, with it, the inevitability of Winter.”
The elves were confused by this. Hadn’t they experienced the changes of seasons all along? They were the natural order of things on their world.
Ineke knew their confusion, and continued speaking. “A bitter darkness is coming, little ones. A dark thing comes even now through the sky, making its way to my very heart, and much of the life my world holds will be gone, never to be seen again. This is the way of things. All things that come must go, eventually, into the darkness, to see the light of day never again. But such is not the way it will be with you, my little ones. You hold too special of a place in my heart, and I want to see you grow once more.”
She then raised her arms above her head and the light brightened even more, nearly blinding all of those present. She spoke, in a strong and clear voice, and this time it was not just their minds, but their ears as well that could hear her. As she spoke, the ground vibrated, and the trees trembled, leaves falling here and there at the power of her voice.
“The time will come, not far from now, that you will forget me. You will lose your connection to the life of this world, and you will know darkness, my little loves. You will despair, you will weep for the loss you feel, but not even know why you feel it.
“Most of you will not survive the first touches of this darkness, this horrible time to come, but that is the way of things. That is life. Survival is key, adaptation is key. You that are destined, you that will carry the blood of your ancestors into the future, you must learn to adapt and survive the changes. Through your struggle will come strength.”
She lowered her arms again and the light dimmed. It took a few moments for the eyes of the elves to adjust, and in that time, Ineke had begun to fade.
Her words continued. “You will forget me, and that is the way of things, as well. All children eventually leave the homes of their mothers, to continue their new lives. So it will be with you. Do not be sad for this, for it is the way things should be. All birds leave their nests.
“But, after that is when the real sorrows begin. It will be your Winter, then, and it will be harsh. Plan wisely for it, and you will survive. Be like the kwaili that gathers his nuts before the coming snows, and feasts on them nightly in his shelter. Be like the strathan that builds a lair underground while the river outside his door freezes over.
“When you emerge from your nest at the end of Winter, you will see the world anew. Adapt. Survive. And just as the Springtime is destined to come, your own cycle will begin again.”
Her voice began to fade at the end of her words, and the elves could see that she was disappearing rapidly. They could barely see her figure through the mist that now surrounded where she had been speaking to them. The flowers, as well, started to droop.
“Go, now, my children, and find the caverns beneath the surface of this world. Find them, and begin your new lives.”
The mist was now fading, as was the light, and the elves felt their hearts fill with sadness at her leaving. Each one had tears in their eyes, and some began to weep loudly, not just at what she had spoken of, as it sunk in, but at the great loss they felt with the fading of her presence.
As the last of her disappeared, a few final words came; softly, gently, and barely heard, they seemed to come more from the depths of their hearts than anywhere else.
“My little ones, I love you.”
And with that, Ineke was gone.
It took a long time for the elves to disperse from the heart of the grove and the brightening of the day did little to lighten the mood of their hearts. What had Ineke meant? What was in store for them?
None of them really knew, but they all feared it, just the same. It was as if their childhood had ended that night and they were being kicked out of the nest, literally, by a parent that no longer wanted them.
They spoke often of that night over the following weeks, not knowing what to expect or really what to do next. All of the many hundreds that were the entire number of their people stayed together, not wishing to separate, not knowing what was coming.
One day, as one of their number was walking a dreali trail, he heard water flowing and decided to find it to take a drink. That was where the entry to the caverns was found, and where all of the elves gathered the next morning.
None of them had ever seen these caverns before, and none of them were quite sure what they would do with them. The entrance seemed to be huge, able to take four of them abreast and the stream that flowed through the forest ended up there, running into the entrance.
They could hear the water splashing inside, seeming to be quite deep.
Finally, after two days of debate and wondering what to do, a young girl name Kaeli picked up some dead and dropped branches from a nearby tree, lit the ends on fire, and, without hesitation, walked inside the caves.
It was as if a dam had broken inside of all of them at once. The fear and uncertainty that they had been paralyzed with was gone, almost in an instant, and all felt a little foolish for having succumbed to it. Comments were made amongst them about “the young leading the way,” and work began immediately to prepare for the darkness to come, whatever it may be.
It was Kaeli that led the way into darkness, following the stream as it flowed downwards. She knew not where it would lead, but she trusted her goddess to be truthful when she admonished them to go to the caverns.
That was, really, all any of them needed, but it took the courage of one small girl to push them forward.
Two months after the caves began to be explored, a massive cloud of ash and fire shot through the sky above them.
Five hundred of the elves were outside to see it coming.
They had been gathering the last of the animals that would be living underground with their people, while the rest of the six hundred of their number were beneath the surface, digging out living areas that could sustain them.
Those outside knew instantly that the few thousand feet their people gathered below the surface was not going to be nearly far enough to survive what was to come.
The gigantic rock seemed to go slowly, but it was obvious that it would impact at a devastating velocity. They only hoped it was far enough away to give their people time to prepare better. They thought, with regret, that Ineke should have been clearer in her warning, then realized that she had, indeed, given them enough. She always had.
The cloud coming from the deadly meteor as it streaked across the morning sky was already spreading outward, and the day darkened quickly. The damage of its passage was already being done, and it had yet to impact.
Some stood stock still and silent, watching as their world came to an end. Some panicked and ran into the woods, frantic and in shock.
Others kept their minds and made their way inside, hoping there would be enough time to get deep enough to avoid the oncoming, artificial night.
Some were able to make it.
The impact happened a long distance away; far enough that those remaining outside could not see the landing spot. But the way the very sky seemed to rip away, as a stone dropped into a pool of water would rip across the surface, showed them that it was not far enough. The sound that followed soon after drove those that still stood there to their knees, first, then to their backs, as the shockwave ripped through the forest, through the rivers and through nearly the entire surface of the planet itself.
Those that were killed instantly were the lucky ones.
Those that were not saw the ground coming as a wave on a lake, dozens of feet high. Trees literally flew, torn out by their roots and flung through the air like they had been shot from a sling.
The entry area to the cave system that would keep the elves safe was closed up in an instant, and all the world fell into darkness.
Of all those that had gathered that fateful night to listen to Ineke, their loving creator, speak, only one hundred remained alive. The shockwave of the initial impact devastated the interior of the caves they huddled in and they were forced to flee ever-deeper into the darkness.
They carried as much as they could, and drove the animals frantically before them, whispering that safety was down, down, ever deeper down. The animals listened to them, as they always had, and helped to carry belongings, tools, wood and anything else they could quickly gather.
As they went deeper, they could hear the crashing sounds of walls caving in above them and sent prayers to Ineke to keep them safe.
Long hours passed as they ran. They passed through vast chambers and narrow passages. The light of their torches was barely enough to get them by, but some chambers had a soft glow of light, themselves. Some elves wished to stop and look, but they were pressed forward by the others, who did not feel safe stopping.
Finally, a seemingly endless time later, they did come to a stop, but it was not because they felt safe to do so. It was for the sake of their animals, who were crying that they had had enough and could go on no more.
The deep communion they held with each other forced the elves to stop, to take reason into account, and to realize that they were not hearing the sounds of the destruction on the surface anymore.
An account was taken of all that had survived the flight through the dark passageways of the deep cavern system. Eighty of the elves remained; the rest had either become separated and lost or stopped running some time ago. It was hoped that they could be found again, or would catch up on their own, but there was no possibility at that moment to try to find them.
There was food enough for all, including the many animals that survived the devastation, as well, but a few of the clearer-headed elves realized that a rationing system should be set in place immediately, so that they could survive until something could be figured out to sustain them.
Many days passed from there, with the elves grieving the losses of not only their companions, but the very life-essence of their beautiful world. They could feel, through their connection to all life, the very soul of their planet being rapidly destroyed. Small at first, then cascading rapidly, their once vital world fell into death and, while small pockets remained, it felt as if Ineke had closed her eyes forever.
They were finally, utterly, and completely cut off from all sense of what they knew, what they were, and became blind.
They eventually found a cavern system that was large enough to hold all of their animals at once, and another that contained more of the light-emitting mosses that grew along the walls. Those were harvested and used in the darkened zones and, after a time, the elves learned to cultivate it, themselves.
They also learned that there were a large amount of fish in the small rivers that passed through the caves, as well as fungi that could be harvested. These things, and many others, the elves learned to do in their new world and, like all of life, they learned to adapt to survive.
They developed rituals over time to help remind them of what they had once been and where they had come from. Dances to celebrate Ineke and the sun that passed overhead would be told with stories of how life had been lived. Each generation that passed by learned new ways of living in their world under the surface and soon, the very reasons for the rituals were forgotten, left behind like the husks of nuts, to decay away in the soil of the earth.
Vast amounts of time passed and the elves built small cities, carving them out of the very walls of the caves. They became adept at working with the stone and soil, working it to their advantage. The flocks of animals flourished, but, as with their connection to what had been on the surface world, their connection with those that had once been friended to them no longer seemed to be there. Each generation, it grew more distant until, in time, it was no more, and forgotten entirely.
The animals, themselves, of course, were not happy with this fact. They mourned the loss of what once was, and remembered it in an almost genetic way. They regretted it all the more when the elves began to use them not just for their fur and hooves, which they gladly gave, but for meat, as well. There had been a time, so long ago, that to do so would have been inconceivable.
Still, all things change, and they understood that, too. All things flow to Ineke, and so, with sadness, they gave themselves to the elves in this manner, as well.
Thus, this new life for the elves, the once-loved and favored children of Ineke, continued on. They were a race without a past, lost in the darkness that had become their new home.
The deep winter had come, and they sheltered beneath the surface of their cold and ruined world. The miles of stone above them pressed down, and the passage of time was nearly as heavy.
It would be 14000 years before the next elf would see the light of the sun…