Chapter 1: Under The Surface Of The Earth
"O Earth, O Earth, how long, how many?
Set me free, O Earth, O Earth, let nothing remain.
Others came and gone, O Earth, why me?
O Earth, cast me away, cast me away".
For the last thousands of years, since Nature's rules have suddenly changed and humanity's place at the top of the food chain has diminished, human beings, along with other creatures who could not handle the change, have moved away from the surface of the earth to an asylum, kilometers beneath it.
Back then, 5775 years ago, it was thanks to a joint effort of a human and a beast that allowed the discovery of the network of tunnels and giant caves underneath the earth. Soon after said discovery, the surviving population of humans, nearly eight hundred million in number and around 100 million different kinds of beasts who could not handle life on the surface of the earth, had immigrated underground and lived in separation of species.
Underground, exploration of the tunnels and caves continued nonstop until 3705 years after the mass immigration. Nature's new rules had been set, and humanity and beasts sensed that there was nothing more for them to discover.
To sum up the results of 2070 years of exploration in one word, "Miraculous" would be the right way to put it. Although Nature, as some may say, turned its back on humanity and beasts, it sure has proven that for one drastic change within it, which can be considered unfavorable, another that is just as extreme and of the opposite side of the spectrum, will take place.
How is it interpreted in relation to the network of tunnels and caves? Firstly, the majority of caves were big enough to host cities of millions of people each, and some of the key point tunnels were hundreds of meters high and wide. Not to mention that this network covered nearly half of the planet! In many caves and tunnels even rich greenery and deep and wide clear water lakes were discovered. And yet, the most significant discovery came in the shape of bulky stone, a special type of crystal that seemed to grow only inside this vast network of tunnels and giant caves.
These crystals gained the name "Sun Stones" and became no less valuable than holy items and Heaven's miracles to both humanity and beasts. The initial reason for this was the light radiating from the Sun Stones, which mimicked the sun's light rays, but did not possess the negative effects of overexposure. The Sun Stone that mostly grew at the ceilings of the tunnels and caves were high in number and varying in sizes. The biggest discovered were around a few meters in diameter and the smallest around the size of a child's nail. Just to give an idea to how bright the Sun Stone are, a crystal with a diameter of ten centimeters could light up a small hall and literally turn night into day. In the following years humanity will find a way to harvest the Sun Stones' radiation, at the same time solving the clean energy problem.
A few decades after sharing the complete report regarding the exploration of the underground, humanity and beasts finished their adaptation process to their new life, the boundaries between species were agreed upon and drawn on the rough maps, "New Earths" maps, describing the network of tunnels and giant caves areas, and the New Erath's calendar was officially set, starting from the last day of immigration. That was the start of the 3001 year.
Not far from one of humanity's most populated colonies, named the Taltalon colony after its founding father and mother, situated a couple hundred meters from the end of the tunnel that marked the border between species, a stream of earthquakes coming from the beasts' side shocked the colonists to their bones. The first few hours no one dared to leave his home, but once it became unbearable, some brave and stupid ones decided to check the source of the earthquakes.
What they saw froze them on their feet. Underground earthquakes in New Earth were rare but not that stupefying since they usually were caused by nature. However, not this time!
Two unseen before beasts, less than ten meters from humanity territory, were in a standoff. The bigger of the two was a horse like creature, almost six meters tall with red mane and eyes and brown hair. The other, the human spectators could only categorize as a type of fox only because the shape of its body and head. From the tip of its two tails to the edge of its nose, to its sharp nails, it was completely yellow and two and a half meters long.
Only when the two beasts began to move again, some of the men watching seemed to understand both the cause of the earthquake and its reason. The two beasts were fighting over some kind of an earth stone.
The earth stone was beneath the horse's torso and whenever the eager fox tried to snatch it or bite the horse's legs, the horse would try to kick its head only to miss and strike the ground in disdain. This was the cause of the earthquakes.
Afraid for their life, the best that some of the viewers could do to escape was crawl on their knees, while those who did not turn their back, being too intrigued with the scene before them, gave up on trying to stand and set on the ground, believing that no matter what kind of beasts these two really were, they would respect the boundaries between two species.
The two fought for another hour before the horse finally gave up keeping the earth stone for itself. The fox let out a satisfied purr when it saw the horse steps back, although that purr only last a second since faster than any of the fox's movement during their fight, the horse kicked the stone, breaking its earthly cover and sending to the human's territory a round shiny object. The fox fur immediately stood on its back in resentment. Right away it was about to cross over the border and then stopped when the horse neighed aloud before returning to the deepest parts of the beasts' territory.
The fox's eyes were fixed on the direction the object flew at and then rested on the frightened humans. Knowing the rules it relaxed its tense tails and ears and turned around without looking back.
Jumping on their feet and running as if possessed by the spirits of the two beasts, any of the human spectators who saw clearly how the feud ended tried to get first to where the shiny object had landed. They arrived to the wheat fields before the first line of cabins in the colony. All panting yet still moving nonstop, speculating the value of the shiny object and eager to find it.
They even ignored the calls of the people who gathered outside since the firsts that returned on their knees arrived and spread what they saw.
"There!" A deep voice called and everyone, those who searched and those stood with confused facial expressions, ran to see what the forty something man has found.
Not sure if he should touch it, the man only let his voice attract everyone and then stood the closest to the object as everyone gathered. On the ground, in the size of a grown man fist was a sphere, a smooth object that shone with a mud brown color. When the eyes surrounding the sphere approached closer, reflected from the inside they saw light brown mist.
"Well ... take it, Erdar, you found it". One man tried to push the first to discover the sphere to also be the first to touch it. In truth that man also coveted the sphere, if it turns out to be some sort of a gemstone, then its owner would become the richest man in the colony. The reason that this man still pushed Erdar to take the sphere was its place of origin. Since he was one of those who saw the fight till the very end, he assumed, like everyone else that has been there or heard and believed the story about the two never seen before creatures, that anything that unfamiliar might be dangerous.
Knowing that if he will refuse to take the strange sphere he will instantly lose his right for it, Erdar, who was not very rich and his closest relative was his father, which had not many years to live anyway, decided to bet on his life. His hand hesitantly hovered above the sphere and then, thinking about the fox's face and how it was willing to fight to the death with the horse just to get it, his five fingers formed a claw and snatched the sphere to his chest.
One second, to ten second ... for one whole minute all gazes rested on Erdar while his eyes remained close, hoping that nothing bad will happen. And then "I struck it rich!" Erdar screamed in his heart. "Unbelievable! Unbelievable!" his eyes opened as everyone finally realized that thunder was not going to strike today.
To make the analogy clear, when water from above the ground seeps into the earth and wets the small Sun Stones at the ceilings of the tunnels and caves, a scenario that repeats itself every few years, dozens of the smallest Sun Stones explode in a manner that sounds like the ancient thunder storms. Even ray of light that replace the all might lightning occur in those time and causes small fires. That is the only down size of living in New Earth. And even though no one could find out why only waters from above causes this reaction in contact with Sun Stones, while the water from the clear water lakes has no effect on the crystals whatsoever, they all become accustomed to these events and learned how to deal with the fires quite fast by mainly using their irrigation systems.
"Haha! Everyone, today drinks are on me!" Erdar announced and made his way through the crowd of envy eyes. Bitter, everyone followed him to his favorite tavern in the colony, complying with the saying that with a bottle of ale even the poorest man could feel rich for a day.
"Salony, feast your eyes. Today I, Erdar, will quench the thirst of my fellow men and women". Erdar called loudly at the barkeep that numbered with the few that stayed at their place of work or homes during the earthquake.
"And how are you planning on doing it when just yesterday you avoided a discussion with me about your two months old tab?" Salony ignored Erdar's jolly mood.
"Listen to him, Salony", a few men stepped in. "That lucky bastard found a gemstone from the beasts' side!"
"A gemstone?!" Salony changed his attitude towards Erdar in a flash. "Then it should be my finest bottle for my dearest costumer and friend of over ten years!"
"Haha, Salony, I like how nice you have become. Fine, pour your best drink three times to every empty cup, I will pay for it gladly and also close my tab today".
Hearing Erdar's order, everyone cheered before he could change his mind, afraid of another saying that when a poor man turns rich so fast his judgment also turns very fickle.
"I sure would like to see for myself the gemstone that you found, of course, only if you don't mind". Salony said to Erdar while purring him the forth cup.
"Why not". Erdar agreed and reached into his coat inner pocket. "Empty?" Erdar did not dare to say aloud. "No, it's got to be there". He checked the next pocket and the other three on the right side of his coat, but he could not find the brown gemstone.
"Thief!" In an act of desperation Erdar suddenly shouted. Until the moment his left hand struck Salony's back to harry up with his drink, it did not left the pocket where he safeguarded the gemstone, and now it was empty and because his head was so high near the surface he did not know who might have snatched it and so refrained from pointing fingers. "Thief! Thief! Who dared to steal my gemstone?" He could only continue shouting.
In the blink of an eye, inside the tavern, a commotion erupted. The good people of the Taltalon colony who joined a free drink, Salony, the owner and barkeep of the tavern and above everyone else, Erdar, began to blame one another. From shouting, to cursing to eventually throwing fists, the lost gemstone made the peaceful colonists mad. Most got angered for the act of theft - an unforgiveable crime in any of the human colonies. Some, for just knowing the gemstone disappeared, even though it was not theirs. One, because he already poured two rounds of, apparently, free drinks. Others, because they did not receive their promised third.
"You! You, Erdar! You and your lies!" Salony snapped, stepped over the counter and threw a punch that landed on Erdar's nose.
Blood spurted from Erdar's nose, but when he was about to curse and fight back, "Bowaa!" he felt like his inside spilling out from his mouth. Seeing the great amount of blood coming out from first, Erdar's mouth, then his eyes and ears until finally his body fell on the tavern's floor, shacking like it was about to burst, everyone jumped back and the commotion subsided.
"Poison! The thief also used poison. Hurry, someone call doctor Ernis!" One man shouted and immediately someone ran out. By that time Erdar stopped moving. Everything, every part of his body was too painful. He could no longer taste or smell the puddle of blood of his making. Last thing he saw was the color red, all red.
"I'm dying. I'm really going to die. Why all I see is black... ?" At death's door a strange serenity took hold of Erdar. "Rich or dead, rich or dead. I brought it upon myself. But who could believe that it will be because an act of theft. Very unlike of anyone that I know..." He discussed with himself as the white light approached. "What's that? What's happening?" A sudden burning sensation from his stomach spread all over his body.
"Where is he?! Get me to-" Old doctor Ernis and two young paramedics arrived together with the man who went to call them. The moment doctor Ernis saw Erdar's poor state his mouth shut. "We need to hurry", he opened again and gave orders. "Forget everything and just place him properly on the stretcher. "Oh, how could such thing have happened in our colony?!"
Without anyone's knowledge, time began to move differently between Erdar and the men and women around him. By the time doctor Ernis and the two paramedics reached Erdar's side, a certain event had already taken place inside the seemingly dying man.
The color of the white light Eldar first thought to be the gate to the afterlife slowly turned dimmer and dimmer. The emerging fire in his abdomen was so hot that his soul mistook its heat for intense coldness. "Hell, I'm going to the third hell!" Eldar screamed in his mind, his soul fought the urge to give up and accept his fate, for he knew that after the unavoidable cold fire gates of the third hell all will pass, judgment will be given and incarnation will follow.
"Bang!" Doctor Ernis and the two paramedics flew on the surrounding people who all had faces full of astonishment. Erdar could finally feel his voice coming out of his throat, his ears became sharp, he heard the beating hearts around him, his nose smelled the vegetable fields at the other side of the colony and his eyes saw through the smallest of cracks on the tavern's wooden floor as his body stood on all four.
"Whaaa! It's good, great, amazing!" Erdar had no words to describe how he felt. He raised his right hand and saw small brown mist particles coming out of it and getting back in again and again. He closed his eyes and for the first time in his life sensed not just his body, but also every molecule that made it. His mind sunk deeper in concentration and then he noticed it right beneath his navel, the gemstone! It was much smaller than when he held it, and there were many cracks on it and more forming at a slow pace. From every crack more and more mist got out, passing through his internal parts, leaving his body through the skin and getting back in. It was an endless cycle of "Heaven!"
The people in the tavern all looked with jaws dropped. In a manner of a few minutes, on the forty something man's bald head black hair plume started growing, his torn and broken from hard work skin became as smooth as a baby's bottom and when he opened his once gray and foggy eyes a bright luster reflected back at the spectators and they looked much sharper.
"Erdar, don't move. Let me look at you". Doctor Ernis was so bewildered after witnessing the extraordinary phenomenon. He could not care less if he or his two young pupils got injured when Erdar woke up and unconsciously hit them. He rudely grabbed Erdar's chin and examined his eyes, opened his mouth, checked for fever but the man was as healthy as an ox, even better, he looked twenty years younger!
"A miracle, an undeniably miracle!" Doctor Ernis determined and moved away to take, yet again, a further look at Erdar.
"Haha, old Ernis, wrong, wrong". Erdar jumped nimbly on his feet and stretched. Doctor Ernis did not know how to respond the so sure and confident Erdar. Having nothing to say he just stood and listened together with everybody else. "It's that gemstone I found, it's that, I tell you all. Sorry for all the mess and blaming, nobody stole my gemstone, haha..." He had the audacity to laugh it off, but who could prevent from laughing a man who a moment ago was as good as dead and now full of life like a new born.
"You son of-" Salony barged, "All of it a hoax! How many of you were in it, ah?!" he waved his hands in the air. Hearing the word "gemstone" he remembered all the ale he wasted, and seeing the broken stools and tables his hands clenched into fists. In pure rage Salony shot a straight punch to hit Erdar's nose again.
"Slow". Unlike last time, Erdar could not help but be marveled at how slow Salony was. With a nudge of his head he escaped the fist's trajectory and with a step to the side he struck at Salony's back to put him in his place.
Receiving Erdar's blow, a sound of shattering bones echoed in the tavern. Salony's spine twisted unnaturally and his internals burst. The barkeeper and owner of the tavern fell to the floor, dead.
Soon after, rumors about a gemstone that grants superhuman powers spread like wildfire within humanity's territory.