Time passes. Memories are lost or forgotten or both. Fact fades to fable, and truth becomes nothing more than an ancient whispered rumor. The great mountains of history crumble into the dusts of myths and legends. The strong grow weak, the young grow old, and the light begins to fade. Few can remember their own tales, and rare is he that can recall the tale of another.
And then there are those who are different. They are the ones bound to proclaim the legends, recite the ballads, and rebuild history from the dust that it becomes. These are the Children of the Past, and theirs is not a life of ease. But who will tell their tale? Who will remember them when the last one has faded from existence, for theirs is a blood that begins to run thin...
Jehd sat up suddenly, hitting his head against a low hanging branch. Massaging the point of impact, he glanced around himself cautiously. It was late afternoon, and the sunlight slanting through the far above leaves cast dancing dapples upon the forest's sparse underbrush. The air was heavy, suffocating, and scratched at the skin like an old wool blanket. But above all, it was silent.
Jehd glanced down at the small bundle beside him. It was breathing gently, pulsating inwards and outwards with the quiet serenity of the innocent, young, and asleep. He smiled protectively down at it, when the corner of his eye was caught by a flicker of movement. His muscles tensed slightly, and the glass grey eyes darted back and forth, searching for another tidbit to satisfy his now peeked instinct.
Moving with all the meticulous slowness of a season, he gently nudged the contently unaware bundle into the crook of the tree he had been sleeping against. Brushing a few dry leaves over it to further the concealment, Jehd then turned around in a completely normal manner. His searching gaze once more noted the ghost of a shadow, almost indecipherable among the greeny-gold shades. Jehd busied himself with packing up camp, all the while watching the shadow unnoticeably.
There was another movement, and this time the shape was discernible. It was like a wolf, but much too large, and somehow obscured. Jehd smiled then and relaxed."You've taught me too well, old friend. Come out now, the game is up," he called, half laughing. There was a whuffling grunt of aggravation, and from behind a tiny tree that should not have hidden something of that great a size stalked a large, white wolf. Larger than Jehd's horse, it could have easily carried Jehd, horse, bundle, camp, and probably a good bit of the rest of the forest. But as it approached him, glaring at him with mock spite, it shrunk, until, as it stopped before him, the two, Jehd and the wolf, stood, facing each other at eye level."Why do you choose to travel in so bulky a form?" Jehd asked, after embracing the wolf about the neck. It simply grunted."It is easier to travel great distances when one is greater in distance himself," it answered, the voice gruff but cultured and full of knowledge. Jehd laughed."And when one can conceal themselves behind or inside of the smallest of things," he added. The wolf shrugged, looking somewhat sheepish."I-It is an added benefit, one must admit," it mumbled, shuffling its great paws. Jehd grinned."Whiff, my old friend, it is good to see you again! But while my sore eyes are now contented, my curiosity is not. What brings you here all this way from Temlar? I assume it was not my incredible wit and stimulating conversation that inspired you to travel half way across Padaria, though they are sure to be enough to bring anyone that far," he asked then, in a tone of mock vanity. Whiff scoffed."Nay, they are not, for you posses no such capabilities," he replied. Jehd laughed as the wolf continued. "I come for two reasons. One we shall discuss later. But the second...," his voice trailed off as he looked yet again sheepishly at Jehd, who simply grinned all the wider."I have a good drop of brandy in my bags," he chuckled, and Whiff looked relieved."None of the others keep brandy about them," the wolf grumbled aloud as Jehd rummaged through the saddlebags for his flask. "They say it 'dulls the senses and mind.' Load of rubbish if I ever heard one. It might 'dull the senses' of some of our cubs and hybrids, but the Old Wolves are above these newer, interbred generations! Ha! As if I can't down as much of that as a dozen humans and think all the clearer for it!""Here you are, oh Lord of Royal Whiners," Jehd snickered, finally producing the brandy and tossing it to the wolf. As Whiff lifted one of his paws, the pads suddenly elongated out into fingers, which caught the flask as it began to descend. He then quickly shrank to the size of a normal wolf, and proceeded to unburden the flask of its contents.
§¤§"Now, Whiff, that your 'mind is cleared', what was this first reason you had for seeing me?" Jehd asked, once the wolf had drunk his fill. Whiff nodded, flopping down, and resting his great head on his forepaws."It is about the cub you carry," he responded. Jehd looked startled and confused. Sitting down, he looked questioningly at his old friend."What about it? I left Temlar in peace, the cub freely and willingly given to me, to my sister and me, that is. Is there trouble?" Whiff sighed."Jehd, you know the old bloodlines are beginning to run thin as well as I do-," he began, but Jehd cut him off."But this is exactly why we need an Old cub, instead of one of these newer, hybrid generations! They cannot possibly hope to help protect and secure the Children's blood as a pure one can!" Jehd cried, his eyes darting towards the bundle, still peacefully concealed in the crook of the tree."I understand, better than the others, might I add, and argued your point before the council when they began to have misgivings after your departure. But we are dwindling and much too quickly. We cannot spare a pure cub at this time, even for the salvation of the Children of the Past...""But if we die out, who will tell your tales, sing your days of glory when the last Old Wolf has vanished from this world?!" Jehd cried angrily. He gestured about him, the glass grey of his eyes flashing with infuriated indignation. "Who will remember these woods, these hills, when they are flattened by the hands of time? Will you tell them? Will you?!" Whiff sighed, looking at his friend with mournful, violet eyes."I know my friend... I know... But I have orders... And there is nothing I can do." §¤§T'leve looked up from the dusty scrolls that were littering her desk and hit her head against the low hanging lantern she was using as a reading light. Rubbing the spot she had bumped, she cursed her and her brother's mutually inherited clumsiness and smiled politely at the two men standing before her."How may I help you, gentlemen?" she asked sweetly, her glass grey eyes surveying them, noting their every feature, mentally recording for future notation, if so needed. One was tall and stringy, like a bad harvest, with a pointed face and sunken eyes, as if that was exactly what he had seen too many of. The other was a stocky and muscular man, with a tight, piggy face and quick, black eyes. Altogether a rather unsavory pair, but a job was a job, and a binding was even worse."We's need sum rec'rds, if'n yer please, miss," said the stocky one. T'leve nodded comprehendingly."Of what, may I ask, do these need to be of?" she replied, perching a pair of small, wire rimmed spectacles on the bridge of her nose. Whilst T'leve had perfect vision, most times people had only very vague explanations of what they were looking for. The glasses allowed her to see into the minds of her "customers" to better understand their badly orated needs. These two needed an account of a property settlement between their ancestors. The settlement had been made so far back, neither could remember where or how the plots had been drawn.As the stocky man stumbled over his words in a jumbled explanation, T'leve sighed inwardly and massaged her temples in tedium as she mocked listening. Record Keeper was the most intensely dull job a Child could get landed with. Her mind strayed to the cub her brother would be bringing home with him. That would change things around here. They might be able to spare more than ten at a time to spread the tales and songs again... Why, there might even come another age of knowledge and enlightenment. T'leve smiled to herself. And it'd all be because of Jehd and-"T'LEVE!" Hearing her name yelled, T'leve snapped out of her thoughts, looking up placidly at her addresser. A waterfall of silver hair hung down around the shoulders of an ancient man, though his only stoop came from the fact that his hands were clamped on the edge of her desk and he was staring hard into her eyes with an icy, silver glare."Why don't we attend to these two gentlemen, instead of daydreaming, which is what got you into this position in the first place?" he growled through clenched teeth, accenting each word with suppressed anger. T'leve looked at him apologetically through the spectacles, and accidentally caught the trace of a thought. She smiled inwardly once again, for the Head of the Children was unaware that she had caught him reminding himself that this was one of his best Wanderers and he hated being short a good woman.Removing the spectacles, she motioned for the two men to follow her. She rose, dodging the lantern this time, and removed it from its lowered hook. She led them to the back of the hall they were in to an old oaken door. Unlocking it with a large brass key, T'leve motioned them through, shutting and locking the door behind them. She then turned to them in the dim lantern light."You have now entered the Top Level of the Archives of the Children of the Past. This place is hallowed by Time and Fate alike and is as holy as the kingdom of the Gods. Disturb nothing. Touch nothing. You have been warned. Follow me."Holding the lantern above her slightly, T'leve began to descend the long, winding stairway that lead to the various levels of the Archives. She had not been exaggerating, either. Though thousands of millions of years old, the stones of the Archives were as smooth and unworn as when they had been first laid to form the massive cellar that the Archives were. It was said that when Padaria was first created, the entire inside of the world had been hollowed out to build the Archives of the Children. Of course, the Children knew this to be false, but it was an awe-inspiring legend, and they were the keepers of legends, so who were they to dispel it?The Archives stored every event, every happening that had ever occurred since the Gods had created Padaria. The story went, and rightly so according to records, that when the Gods had created the world, they had sent down six humans first to prepare the world for the rest; Meori, the seamstress, who sewed the lands with vegetation of all kinds; Beltar, the sailor, who navigated all the seas and oceans to calm them of their untamed and wild natures; Tifor, the builder, who dug and carved and shaped to form the hills and valleys and mountains; Jeueno, the artist, who, with her quick and nimble sculpting and painting, devised every beast and bird that now roams the land, who painted the sunrises and sunsets and the sparkles on the water; Varlo, the orator, who whispered life into Jeueno's creations, commanded magic into the purest of them, called song into the birds, blew wind into the air, and laughed spirit into the rain; and finally Lenora, the recorder, who recorded all these events. And when their tasks were completed, the six returned to the Gods, showing them all they had done and begging eternal rest. And rest was granted to them, all but one. Lenora, the last of them all, was sent back, for her work would never be done. She would live immortal among those mortal, forever recording all of history until Padaria's last sunset, when none should ever rise again.Lenora still walked the passageways and levels of the Archives, her eternal life's work: recording forever every event and happening; endlessly at work, never stopping, never resting until her work finally ends. Her thoughts, which were endless and always of each happening as it came to be, became written word upon printed page, though she herself never lifted a pen or turned a leaf. And every Child of the Past was marked by her and bound to her at their birth specially to help her in her task until the day they were able to go to rest, though she was not.But she had been troubled lately, and was not finding enough pure blood to mark any longer. Her thoughts were troubled, and this troubled the thoughts of all her Children. Two of her favorites, a pair of twins, had consulted with her, and had promised to bring her a Old Wolf cub, for they contained all the wisdom of the ancient past, but kept an innocent open-mindedness, being children. They had said it would help advise her in matters as of what to do, to save their race from dying out.T'leve showed the two men to the Third Level, and, after a quick scan of one particular section, pulled a volume down from the shelf. Though it must have been hundreds of years old, the thick leather cover was as polished and new as if it was but a day old. Flipping through the crisp, pristine pages, she quickly found the record of the deed, which just as quickly settled the two men's dispute. She showed them out again, bade them good day, and shut and locked the heavy door behind her. §¤§Jehd reigned in his horse as he entered the courtyard, sliding out of the saddle wearily and tossed the reigns to a stable attendant who ran up to take them. He heaved a great sigh, the glass grey of his eyes misted with suppressed tears. He looked up at the hall that had been his home for as long as he could remember. It was build of rosy sandstone with a tiled red roof. It was not large or imposing, but inviting and answering, a place of rest for those who were allowed none. But holding up the roof overhang in the front of the building were six great pillars, each shaped in the image of each of the six creators. It was the Hall of History, home of the Children of the Past and prison of Lenora, the recorder."And I've let them all down...," he murmured to himself, staring at the pillar of Lenora, as a tear dashed down his cheek, for his eyes held a sadness too great for it to bear. "I've let her down..."He took a deep, rattling breath, straightened his shoulders, and strode resolutely into the hall. Those who saw him as he passed stopped their tasks and whispered amongst themselves excitedly. Rumor had got around somehow that the two favored twins had devised some plan to help secure the future of the hall, of the Children, of all of History. Surely he had returned with the answer, for he looked so dashingly determined and sure. Some of the girls stopped to stare after him, for Jehd had not been short changed when it came to looks. Tall and thinly built, he reminded one of a young willow tree in the prime of life. Untamed dark hair was cut short about his handsome, well-defined features. But above all, his glass grey eyes flashed like windows into the depths of time.T'leve looked up from the scrolls she had been looking over, this time making sure to avoid the lantern. It took her eyes a moment to recognize the tall, willowy figure that was walking towards her. When they finally did, she let out a cry of delight and, vaulting over the desk, threw herself into her brother's arms. T'leve was as alike to her brother in looks as it was possible for a girl to be. Her own hair fell to her shoulder blades, wavy, unkempt, and unruly. She face was fair and not as care worn as his, but the twins were so similar you could have mistaken one for the other.As T'leve finally released Jehd, she smiled at him, expectancy written clearly across her features and in her glass grey eyes. But Jehd could not smile. He simply looked at her, his own eyes sad and solemn and devoid of answers. It was incredible to see two things so exactly alike so completely different in that one moment."T'leve," Jehd whispered, the level calmness of his voice so obviously forced it hurt, "we must find Lenora." §¤§In the shadowy darkness the bottom level of the Archives, there was silence. It was so utterly complete, it pushed in around and against one, suffocating any sound you could possibly make out of you, as if to make sure the ancients of ancient records would be disturbed by nothing. A small, lean figure was fingering through one particular section of the books, finally pulling one particular volume off the shelf. It let the book fall open, sighing as it read one line over and over again: "And rest was granted to them, all but one."At the sound of footsteps, which echoed as clearly at a gong being struck in a canyon, the figure looked up, taking in a hissing breath full of fright. Snapping the book closed once more silently, it hid the oldest of all volumes back on its shelf, and then ran to hide in the shadows itself. It watched, terrified, as two young humans walked down the stairway, holding up a dim lantern and looking all over. The figure sighed with the relief of a frightened animal as it recognized the twins Jehd and T'leve."Lenora?" T'leve called, glancing around. "Jehd, where could she be? We've searched everywhere else. Are there secrets in the Archives even Children do no know about?""If there were, how would I know about them?" Jehd answered logically, peering down long rows of volumes. He shuddered, for the ancient magic that guarded the entire cellar was as thick as a briar in the lowest level.The figure swallowed hard, trying to control its uncontrollable shaking and stepped out into the lantern light. Jehd and T'leve gasped at the sight of it, for, though they had seen it many times before, it was such a pitiable creature it was startling no matter how many times you gazed upon it.Lenora was tiny, no taller than five feet, pale and gaunt in an almost stretched way. Blue eyes that had once contained wisdom and merriment were now sunken and helpless, hunted and fearful. Her lips were pale and thin and trembled like a small child who was on the verge of crying at any moment. Thin, blonde hair hung down to her waist, matted and unkempt, for who was there to care about appearances down there? Altogether, she was the incarnation of lost love of life, one who wished only to rest for all the remainder of eternity, but who was bound unwillingly to walk this sacred pit until the world's final day. She was like a starved fawn, searching for its lost mother, with no hope of ever finding her.Jehd opened his mouth to begin, but Lenora held up a trembling hand to silence him."I know already what news you bring me," she whispered, her voice thin and faint, like the last breath of a dying dream. Jehd hung his head, for though this creature had been robbed and stripped unmercifully of all her beauty, he loved her as a mother, for being bound and marked at birth, she was the closest thing to a mother he, T'leve, or any other Child had ever known."I am sorry...," he whispered, clenching his fists hatefully in an attempt to suppress the sobs that fought mercilessly to escape. Lenora looked now at him pityingly, laying a thin hand upon his strong shoulder."It will all be well, my son, and it is not your fault," she murmured. T'leve hung her head, sitting down despondently on the lowest step."What are we to do now?" she whimpered, helplessly. Lenora sat down beside her, putting her tiny arms around T'leve and hugging her. It was beautiful, that this the most wronged and helpless creature on all of Padaria now showed love, tenderness, hope, and compassion to two who were of the strongest willed humans ever created."Have courage," she whispered. "We shall think of something..." §¤§"So when are we going to tell them?" T'leve demanded, hissing to her brother, who was sitting placidly next to her, eating his soup."At the next council meeting," he answered calmly, and continued to eat his soup. T'leve growled."Why can't we just tell them all right now?! If we wait till a council meeting, only council members will know, and this affects all the Children! And they're all here right now!" she hissed again, her own soup untouched and growing cold. The young man across the table from her was eyeing it, wondering if it was wise to hurt his chances with the young beauty by stealing her dinner."Because it's dinner. You don't make displays during dinner. It's not right," Jehd replied, not noticing the gleam that passed across the glass of his sister's eyes as he said that.Standing, T'leve stepped onto her chair, and from there onto the one long table that every single one of the Children was seated along at that very moment. There was a general commotion and shouts of "Get off of there!" and "What are you doing?!" replaced the quiet evening talk of a moment before."Be quiet everyone, I have something to say that concerns all of you, so you're all just going to shut up and listen!" T'leve yelled back at everyone angrily. The silence that followed was stunned and shocked. Then the Head of the Children stood up, his silver eyes flashing angrily."T'leve, seat you immediately! If a matter must be discussed, it shall be at the next council meeting! You are making a spectacle of yourself!" he boomed, his commanding voice reverberating around the dining hall. Thinking it was settled now, he reseated himself and picked up his soup spoon again.T'leve quavered for a moment, but she clenched her teeth and stood her ground, or, in this case, table."NO!" she yelled. "No, I'm not going to sit down! You all deserve to hear this! You all bear the mark of Lenora upon you; you are all the Children of the Past! You all deserve to know our fate!"Whispers began to flutter around the room like moths. The younger Children talked excitedly amongst themselves as one of their fellows was standing up to the stodgy, better than thou Head. The elders were full of stunned indignation at having their dinner disturbed."Listen, now, everyone! You all know our blood is running thin. We are only able to spare ten wanderers at a time now, to help spread the legends and tales of old. Time was when more than half of the Hall would be out amid the people. My brother and I believed we had the answer, to bring back an Old Wolf cub, to advice our Lenora as to what she should do. But we were wrong on one point. Thinning blood is not only our problem. It is the problem of all, and so a cub could not be spared. The races begin to grow weak! Why is this?! Can any of you answer? Can you?!" she cried passionately, turning to point the last question at the Head."No. The answer is no. Not even Lenora can answer this question. But we are the Children of the Past, keepers of all knowledge, answerers of all questions! And therefore it is our responsibility, our duty to know the answer! Therefore, I offer forward the following proposition! Any others and I shall journey to the place where all bloods flow from, where all time flows from! We must go to the Halls of Time and Fate and seek their guidance and council on what we must do!"Silence followed this exclamation. The Halls of Time and Fate were the only barriers between the kingdom of the Gods and the mortal world of Padaria. Time and Fate were almost gods themselves, if not greater than gods. None that now lived, save possibly Lenora, had looked upon their faces ever before. And this girl was suddenly proposing to go and speak with them, to ask them for advice! It was unheard of!T'leve stepped down onto her chair once more, sat down, and exclaimed, "Hey! Who ate my soup?!" §¤§"Oh, well, that was just perfect at dinner tonight!" yelled Jehd, pacing up and down in front of his sister. "Now, instead of just having almost no chance at being able to assemble a group to go and figure this whole mess out, we have NONE! No, even better than that, we've been confined to our room until 'further notice'! Genius, T'leve! You're just so brilliant sometimes!"T'leve was sitting on her bed, head hung and staring at her feet dejectedly. They were in their room, the door locked from the outside. It wasn't a small room, but somehow it didn't seem quite large enough to contain all of Jehd's anger towards his younger sister."I guess I thought-," she began, quietly, but Jehd cut her off."No! That's just it! You didn't think! There's an order and a procedure to life, T'leve! You need to learn to abide by the rules!" At this, T'leve looked up."Jehd, the only way we're going to be able to save our people is if we break the rules and procedures! Can't you see that?!"Jehd sighed, running his hands angrily through his hair. He had always been the "good child", abiding by the rules and following the guidelines given to him. He'd been the voice of reason in so many of T'leve's crazy schemes, and he hadn't even liked the idea of her suggesting this idea to Lenora. But she had, and the light of hope that had come into those otherwise hopeless blue eyes was too much for anyone to say no to. Jehd growled again."Even so, how do you expect to do any of this if we're stuck in here?!" he retorted, throwing himself into a chair in angered exasperation and helplessness.But T'leve was no longer listening. An idea peered through the glass grey of her eyes, roving the room's contents for anything that would suit its purposes. It finally settled on a thick rope of hemp that T'leve kept meaning to spin and weave into a light-weight bridle and other random, but useful tack for her horse. It was about the thickness of Jehd's arm, and whilst it was still loose and un-spun, it would hold stronger than Jehd's arm when it became taut.Jehd caught the wandering eye, and groaned as his own eye reached the other's final resting place."T'leve...," he began, but his sister was already uncoiling the unruly fiber, twisting it quickly and roughly and tying it off to one of the bed posts. She grinned at him. But Jehd just groaned once more."T'leve, you're forgetting one minor detail," he explained, massaging his temples in annoyance. T'leve looked around."What've I forgotten?" she inquired, sounding confused. Her apparent confusion agitated her brother even more."T'leve, we don't have a window," he growled, looking up at her in aggravation. T'leve paused, glancing at the solid wall facing her."... OH!" she exclaimed, dropping the make-shift rope. Jehd sighed, sinking his face into his hands. However, his ears soon picked up the sounds of rummaging. T'leve and sounds of rummaging were never good when used in the same thought."Don't do it..." he thought to himself, but he did anyway. He looked up. And was immediately sorry he had."T'leve!!!" he shrieked, but it was too late.Long ago, T'leve had traded a gown her brother had bought her for a rather large hammer. She had said it was for the purpose of beating some sense into his thick skull, since T'leve wasn't exactly a dress type of person. He'd hidden it in the back of his closet, just in case she'd been serious. Jehd had always slightly suspected she might know where it was, but never thought she'd actually use it for anything.Unfortunately, however, he'd been wrong. Just as he'd screamed, the hammer head smashed itself into the wall with all the adrenaline induced impact of an energized, determined, and rather strong female. With a resounding whack, a good chunk of the once peaceful, sandstone wall facing the outside crumbled away, leaving a pile of rubble, a cloud of smoke, and- a new window.T'leve grinned. Jehd gaped. The wall began to get used to missing a good bit of itself."There," T'leve stated simply. "Problem solved." Jehd sighed and helped her finish tying off the makeshift rope. §¤§"So how do you propose getting to the Halls of Time and Fate anyway? We don't even know the way," asked Jehd, after the two had been riding for about two hours. A rosy violet dawn was spreading across the sky like scattered dusty rose petals. Streaks of new light wandered over the land, alighting strips of grassy earth, stretching out like stems from the budding sky."Jehd," T'leve replied, "look at the sunrise. How can anything go wrong with a sunrise like that? Don't worry; it'll work out."Jehd grumbled, looking ahead of him at the newly rising sun. It was now high enough to have lit up most of their surroundings. They were riding through a valley, having just come down over the rather high lip of one of its sides. The sides of it were so high one felt like they were in a bowl, and covering the top was a thin layer of mist. Jehd wondered to himself how they hadn't seen this coming up when they had been riding on level ground, but he shrugged it off as simple carelessness.It wasn't a very large valley, maybe an acre or so in area. Not even vegetation as large as a shrub grew anywhere in it, but the grass was young and thick and soft. Small, violet-blue flowers carpeted the bowl almost as thickly as the grass had. The whole place had a sense of peace, tranquility, and the pureness of something that is seemingly untouched by man, beast, and time alike.T'leve reigned in her horse suddenly, looking around her in confusion. If there was one person who knew Padaria better than the Gods themselves, it would have been T'leve. She had more trips from Temlar to Cavlyn to Grummlot and back again to her name than she had years under her belt. She had seen the hills and mountains that rolled through the epics and legends that she told. She had smelt the smarmy air of jungles, tasted the salt of the seas, and felt the charred sands of desserts between her toes. All of this she had taken in and stored in vast banks of memory, so that she could give you directions to a small farmer's cottage located seven oceans away. But this place she had never seen or been in before and it troubled her greatly."Jehd, I think I'm lost...," she whispered, hardly daring to admit the fact to herself, much less her often overly worrisome brother."Oh, alright," he replied simply, a look of tranquility upon his features. T'leve almost fell off her horse in astonishment. For the first time in either of their lives, T'leve was worried when Jehd just simply did not care."You know, I don't believe anyone has ever been here before," she continued quietly. She dismounted, patting her horse's flank and gazed around herself curiously. "It just seems so... completely untouched. By anything. It's so pure...," Her brother nodded, following her dismount.Then T'leve did something very odd. She began to sniff. Not anything in particular, she just began to sniff at the air. Jehd looked at her quizzically."What are you doing?" he asked, a slight note of annoyance playing in his voice. This odd action of his sister's had obviously bent, if not broken, his inner serenity, much to his aggravation. Under his breath, he muttered, "You just had to go and break my tranquility, didn't you? Gods damn it, T'leve, I liked being serene!"But T'leve wasn't listening. She was sniffing the air, listening to the silence with a cocked ear, and drinking in the entire site, all with such searching scrutiny, one would think she was a miser examining a gem. Jehd grumbled again, secretly rather jealous of his sister's acute ability for observation."Jehd," she whispered after awhile, "I think we're here." Jehd raised an eyebrow at her."What do you mean?" he inquired quizzically. T'leve turned to him then, her face alight with an awed wonderment, and a light sparkling behind the glass-grey of her eyes."Think about it! When we were riding towards this valley, I didn't even know there was even the slightest dip in the earth until we were suddenly riding down one of the sides. This place looks completely untouched by even time itself. I've never even seen or heard tell of this place. Something about this place caused you, for however short a while, to become completely tranquil and unworried. And there's something in the air, in the ground, in this whole place that twangs the senses with suspense, like something that's as new as the day but is as old as the sky. It's like there's no time here. I don't know where or when or what or how, but I'd bet my honor that we're near our destination."Jehd gulped, looking all around him cautiously. If T'leve was right, the twins where standing on hallowed ground, never before touched by a mortal's tread that was still around to tell about it. He yelped as he suddenly realized his mare was making a breakfast out of the timeless grass. But even as he dashed forward, he stopped. For as the blades were bitten off, they simply grew back instantly. He walked over to stand close to T'leve, terrified and awestruck by the place both in the same instant.But T'leve had her hands in her pockets, peering around thoughtfully, as if a puzzle had presented itself and she was attempting to work it out."But how do we get there? Do you speak some sort of password or have an offering of some kind and then the entrance will appear?" His sister's complete lack of reverence for the place twanged a nerve sharply for Jehd, and he glared at her in a slight amount of indignation."How should I know? If we'd actually researched this and discussed it with someone logically and rationally before we just ran off instead of doing a table-top performance, maybe we'd at least have some kind of a clue," he grumbled, more to himself than T'leve. He hadn't really meant anything by the statement; it was simply a channel for his frustration, which he was merely used to using his sister as the brunt of.But something inside T'leve snapped. It had been stretched thinner and thinner, tighter and tighter over the many years they had been together to the point at which it was nothing more than a thread waiting to be plucked once more and once more too hard."Then why don't you come up with a plan, for once in your entire life?! I'm always the one blamed, the one punished, the one reprimanded and chided and scorned and mocked! For what?! Trying to save my race, my people, my family?! And you just sit back on your heels, always waiting for someone to take the first chop at my suggestions and then you instantly spring in with your own sharp-bladed tongue, to cut me down even more, over and over and over again! Maybe if you'd have enough nerve to speak out and up against your "superiors", I'd be able to plan things better because I wouldn't have to spend all my time coming up with the ideas in the first place! You call me a disgrace, Jehd?! I call you a disgrace! A disgrace to the Children, to Lenora, and most importantly to me! So maybe I don't play by the rules all the time! But the only point in knowing the rules is so you can know how to break them! Life just isn't worth anything if you're always worrying what's going to happen next or what someone else is going to think! So, fine! You want to discuss this problem logically?! Go back to your darling Head, then, and ask him if he has any brilliant ideas about how to save the fate all of Padaria! And if he does, come back and tell me, because I'll be waiting for you right here!!!"A silence as stretched, awkward, and uncomfortable as an article of clothing quite a few sizes too small for a person followed this outburst. Jehd was stunned. His mind raced through all the possible things he could say, but somehow, none of them sounded right. T'leve had seated herself in the grass and had her chin resting on the knuckles of her two clenched fists. She was glaring off into the distance. Jehd looked over sheepishly at her, and choked as he watched an angry tear slip down one of her cheeks."I... I'm sorry...," he whispered, flopping down onto the grass a few feet away from his sister and staring at his feet.T'leve looked up then, wiping away the tears and hoping he hadn't seen them. The wave of angry indignation began to ebb away as she recognized the look on his face, the droop of his head, the slump of his shoulders. It was the same way she always looked after one of his "lectures" to her. Slowly, she stood and walked over to him, sitting down again next to him. Placing an arm around his shoulders, she smiled comfortingly at him."It's alright. None of us are perfect," she whispered. Jehd looked up at her, a small, frightened child staring through the glass-grey of his eyes. Placing her arms gently around him, T'leve hugged him to her, rocking him gently like a mother with her offspring."I just don't know what to do now. I don't know what to do," he whispered, burying his face in her shoulder in a last attempt to hold back the tears that fought to escape."Neither do I," T'leve replied. "Neither do I..." §¤§As the twins sat there, one comforting, the other receiving the comfort, they were completely unaware they were being watched. Watched by two, in fact; a short ways off from them, a tall man stood, and by his side was an equally tall woman. They were richly robed, and were beautiful in face and form. They had an aura of timelessness about them, of control and capability, reason, truth, and knowledge.The man was stately and strong and as straight as a column. His features were well defined, seeming to be chiseled from the very bedrock of history. Purposeful and unswayable, he watched the twins emotionlessly and seemed to be only waiting for the woman to have her fill of this touching pair.But the woman showed no signs of growing weary of the scene. On the contrary, she was smiling with delighted amusement at the twins. She was lithe and slender, like a young Adler tree. She was beautifully fair, and her eyes were bright with laughter, amusement, and mischievousness.Smiling, she glanced at the man who stood silently beside her. He looked back at her, his expression serious and even slightly bored. She smiled even wider then, laughing a little at him, then nodded, indicating she was finished enjoying her handiwork. The man's mouth twitched slightly as if a smile was being brutally suppressed.T'leve looked up suddenly. She could've sworn she'd heard someone, but no one seemed to be around. Jehd looked up, too, wiping his face and glancing around as if he'd heard something as well. They looked at each other and stood up, the crumpled grass returning itself to pristine form.As if stepping out from behind a wall, a man and a woman suddenly appeared before the twins. They were tall and richly robed, the man stern and serious, the woman laughing and droll. T'leve gulped, and Jehd took a step in front of her, to protect her in case this pair wasn't quite as friendly as they seemed. A few feet away from the twins, they stopped, the woman smiling warmly and the man surveying them with a critical eye."Welcome, Children," the woman began. Her voice was light and tinkling, yet had a subtle power to it, like the current in a stream. She then glanced at the man, as if expecting him to say something. But he was still examining the twins. The woman's face fell, and she glared at him in agitation."Eh-hem, Welcome, Children," she repeated, accenting each syllable, obviously prompting the man to reply. But he made none. He seemed lost in thought. The woman muttered in exasperation, kicking the man in the ankle."OW! What was that for?!" he yelped, glaring reproachfully at the offender. She glared back at him in annoyance."Don't you know who these two are?!" she scolded. "They come all this way and then you won't even give them a proper greeting. Honestly, Time, I'm ashamed of you sometimes! The first visitors we've had in ages, and you don't even welcome them!"Jehd's and T'leve's jaws simultaneously dropped open as they stared wide eyed at the pair. For standing before them were Time and Fate, arguing over welcoming them.Time and Fate suddenly realized they were being gawked at and immediately ceased argument. Fate looked rather sheepish and grinned widely, chuckling uncomfortable. Time had turned a brilliant red, and was playing with his hands nervously.T'leve and Jehd simply stared all the wider. Fate was apologizing to them for not receiving them well! It was incredible."Sorry for not receiving you properly. It's just, well, we've never actually had guests since, well, actually, I can't really remember the last time we did, so we're a bit rusty on the whole welcoming bit," explained Fate, her voice slightly off from before."You're apologizing to us?!" Jehd exclaimed. Fate must have mistaken this for disbelief at their quirky welcoming, and she began to wring her hands in distress."Well, dash it all, it's not as if we're able to practice and what not! With everyone being so humble and 'I'm not worthy!' all the time, we've never really had a chance to entertain anyone!" she whimpered, looking pleadingly at them. Time placed a hand on her shoulder then."Dear, I don't think that's quite what they meant," he explained, glancing at the twins for confirmation. They nodded vigorously, stammering out apologies and assurances that they took no offense at all and that it was all perfectly fine. Fate seemed relieved by this, and the playful smile returned once again to her face and eyes.Gesturing for the twins to follow them, Time and Fate walked briskly to the middle of the valley, and then stopped abruptly. Jehd and T'leve looked around quizzically."Why are we stopping?" T'leve asked. Her question, however, was soon answered. Reaching out, Time grasped a bit of air firmly, twisted his wrist, and pulled outwards. A door swung open, though the front of it seemed to be completely invisible. Only the back of the door could be seen, made of cedar with intricate depictions of scenes carved into the sweet-smelling wood. Fate entered first, followed nervously by Jehd and T'leve, and Time came last, closing the door behind him.They were now standing in a dimly lit hall. The ambience came from small fires, burning in shallow bowls which were hung from the ceiling. The hall was not particularly vast, being more of a large corridor in actuality. Doors lined the walls on each side, and a large set of double oak doors had placed themselves at the other end of the place. Towards these large doors, Time and Fate now proceeded, arguing quietly amongst themselves. Though they strained their ears, Jehd and T'leve were only able to pick up snatches of the discussion."... But what are we going to tell them? If you think this whole thing is finished and decided, you've got another thing coming...""Oh for the sakes of the Gods, just let it end! I'm tired of watching her suffer!""I'm not ready to end it yet! I've got so many good endings planned; I don't want to waste them!""No one will miss them.""Oh, be quiet, you."When they reached the end of the hall, T'leve suddenly realized the peculiar nature of the doors that now faced them. Whilst they were a large pair of double doors, there were no handles and the hinge mechanism on them was not one that allowed for pushing in. Carved on the doors was a depiction that the twins, being well read and versed Children, recognized immediately as the First Feast.The First Feast was said, and accurately so, to have been held in the Hall of Time and Fate. Every beast and bird and man had been summoned to it, and there they all discussed the future of Padaria. The only ones still living who would remember the feast would be Time and Fate, and the Children's own dear Lenora. They had decided there who should be master of what, who would pay homage to whom, and when the world should finally end. It was there that the Old Wolves had first fancied the taste of brandy, that the dragons had first been deemed too powerful and dangerous and so drugged into a sleep that they would never awaken from till the end of all days, and where the first of the Children had been chosen and marked.Leaning forward until his lips almost touched the doors, Time whispered something to them. The doors neither swung open nor fell down or anything else that you would expect them to do when commanded by Time himself. Time grumbled something under his breath and kicked the doors. There was a sound of locking on the other side, as if the doors were petulant towards their master."You deal with this accursed portal," Time huffed, crossing his arms irritably over his chest. Fate giggled and stepped forward. Stroking the doors, she smiled at them and whispered something tenderly to them. The sound of unlocking was audible, but the doors were apparently still put out by Time. Fate giggled again and began to tickle the doors, if it is possible to tickle a door; a creaking that sounded like laughter came from them. The doors then simply opened themselves outward, though as Time passed through, he being the last to enter, they closed themselves suddenly, snapping him sharply on the backside.At first there was total and undistinguishable darkness in the room they now stood in. Then someone whistled; a high, shrill whistle, like the first call of a bird in the morning. In a huge fireplace that had not apparently been there before, a cheerfully crackling blaze suddenly sprang to life. It illuminated the room, and the twins gasped."Impressive, isn't it?!" Fate twinkled, grinning merrily at the twins. Time groaned."But it's so- so- so... small!!" Jehd stammered, glancing around at the comfortable little dining room they suddenly found themselves in. In fact, the room was about the size of a large sitting room, but in the middle of it was a small dining table which would've seated six to eight occupants at most. The floor was blanketed with a beautifully woven deep pile rug. Tapestries, hangings, and other lovelies languished on the walls of the room, and the ceiling was painted as a representation of the night sky."But- but, how was the First Feast held here?!" T'leve asked, her mouth slightly open, not in awe, but in shock and, though she never would've admitted it, severe disappointment."Oh, well, after everyone went off to do their own thing and completely forgot all about us," Fate pouted, folding her arms across her chest crossly, "we decided to do some redesigning to make the place more comfortable." She seemed to cheer up at the thought of redecorating.Out from the shadows stepped three retainers, though they themselves were more of the stuff of shadows than of human flesh. Each carried a tray laden with what the twins' stomachs loudly hoped was dinner. When the trays were set down and unloaded, dinner was precisely what was now before them. The three servants then stepped back, melding into the shadows once more."Please, sit down," Time said, taking a chair himself at one end of the table. T'leve and Jehd needed no second command. In the blink of an eye, they were in their seats and, manners forgotten, had begun to help themselves to the steaming spread. But while their two visitors sat, filling their famished stomachs, Time and Fate sent a worried glance to one another across the table, for both were wondering the exact same thing. §¤§"Jehd, it's been two days now," T'leve whispered to her brother. They were wandering around the valley outside the Halls, whilst Time and Fate attended to "important matters". It had, in fact, been two days since their melodramatic arrival to the Halls. Yet they had not even been able to bring up the subject that had sent them there in the first place."I know that as well as you do," Jehd sighed, jamming his hands into his pockets in frustration. "But what am I supposed to do? Just go up to one of them and say, 'Oh, by the way, I was wondering why you're trying to make all the races die out. Care to enlighten me?' I mean, that's just-""I know, I know- 'That's just not how it's done.'" T'leve mimicked in a bored sort of way. She sighed and began to rub one of her temples. "I'm just starting to get rather tired of waiting.""Waiting for what?" came a voice from behind them. Brother and sister both jumped simultaneously and whirled around to meet the gaze of Time and Fate."Oh, um, I was just, er, well, heh heh, it's really nothing, but, uh..." T'leve stammered, turning red. It was obvious that in this particular situation, you simply had to do it how it was done, as Jehd would've put it.Fate sighed, and Time looked at them searchingly, much as he always did. He was the first one to speak, though."We know why you came to us. We know what you're wondering. And we do have answers for you," he stated solemnly."Well, actually, I was the one who gave you the idea to come here looking for answers in the first place," Fate admitted sheepishly, grinning shyly at T'leve. "I guess I've always taken some fun liberties with you, often at your brother's expense. We've just always thought of you two as our children, in a way, and well, we just couldn't bear to see you two die..." Fate's voice trailed off, and the twins looked quizzically at the two in front of them."Um... by what do you mean... die, exactly?" Jehd inquired nervously. He and T'leve glanced at each other and suddenly everything made sense. Bloodlines running thin... how could they have been so daft? Bloodlines running thin could only mean one thing... A stone dropped heavily and simultaneously in the two stomachs of Jehd and T'leve, taken from their parents at birth, raised to become Children of the Past, chosen ones by Time and Fate themselves, and now to become the only two mortals to witness the end of the world. §¤§The sun was setting. As if it knew that it would never rise again, it sank slowly and reluctantly behind the hills, dying the purple velvet of the sky with splashes of red and golden fire, which burned away to the tiny, jewel-like embers of the stars. And suddenly, calmly and quietly, these too faded into darkness. Everything was silent. In the deepest chasms of the earth, a rumbling could be heard as the fabled dragons, just a myth and legend until now, awoke from their deep slumber, roaring out their anguished indignations at the trickery that had kept them unaware till the last few hours of the last day of this world.And suddenly, across the plains and fields, in the forests and jungles, over the mountains and hills and oceans, across every part of the land, strange things began to stir. Things that had not been heard of or seen since time began. They roamed about, seeking refuge from their impending doom, but unhappily found none.But of all these strange and wonderful things, one above all was the most beautiful to behold. It took a human form, but was small and frail, centuries of anguish having drained it of all happiness. A true smile had not graced its haggard lips in years, and true happiness had not shown through those hopeless eyes in even longer periods of time. And yet now, as it walked purposefully towards its destination, it was singing. A sweet, haunting melody of rest and peace, of happy dreams and hope regained. The smile that shown forth from its face was even more beautiful than the sun's last tribute to the dying world.It walked slowly down into a peaceful valley that had a timeless air about it. And standing in this valley were four people, all four familiar and well-loved. And as they turned their heads, it smiled even wider."I am home now..." Lenora sighed contentedly. "I am finally home..." §¤§The time for this Padaria is passed. When next the sun rises over that land, it shall be wiped clean, a new easel for a new artist's brush. Yet the gods remain constant. Time and Fate remain constant. But when that new world, that new Padaria is made, two shall there be that shall know of the secret archives of that old world lost. Two shall know the legends and tales and histories of those that once were. Those two shall be the ones to sing the songs and recite the epics of the past.Those two are T'leve and Jehd, last remaining of the once glorious Children of the Past, once helpers of Lenora, now to be servers of all peoples, watching over the world with a mind for the future, a will for the present, and two pairs of glass-grey eyes to serves as windows to the past.
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