“High Singer! High Singer!” The young boy tore through the atrium of the temple with complete disregard for the sanctity of his surroundings. “High Singer, where are yo….”
“Simellsson, I dearly hope there is a disaster of such proportions as to merit your fouling of my meditations.” The High Singer rose from his position on the floor, moving away from his seat. Simellsson could not help but to take a moment to drink in the splendor of the High Singer and his meditation room. The chamber was shaped as an oval with sweeping curves and arches, fountains played and sparkled in the light cast from the torches lit throughout the room. The eight carved windows above shown with the dull light of the Dark Years and the carvings on the glass played with what little light reached them from the Dark Suns above and the torches below. Twenty feet above where he stood, and still he could make out every detail that had been carved millennia before. Vines of exotic plants curled around the dome and windows, with amazingly fragile flowers hanging down showering the room in heady scents and vibrant colors. The vines crawled across the marbled floor and climbed on every vertical surface, climbing the eight pillars, swirling up the bases of the fountains. Even the High Singer’s seat had not escaped the vines, for they crawled up the legs of the seat and wrapped lovingly around the flaming suns that embossed the arms and the single large sun that made up the entire back of the seat. Simellsson was convinced that if he walked to the back of that stone seat, he would see that the vines completely covered every space. It appeared to be taking over the entire room; however, having heard the ramblings and groanings of those Singers the year ahead of him, he knew that was hardly the case. These vines were tended daily, and trained to grow the way they did. Apparently, the scent and color, mixed with the sounds of the fountains, brought a serenity to the High Singer that allowed his meditations to be the most productive of all the Singers. How could he not know what was going on?
The High Singer stood with arched brow and folded arms, waiting for a response. Simellsson gawked for a moment longer at the enormous seat and the beautifully worked pillows upon it. Surely two or three people of the High Singer’s size could easily fit into its depths. He slowly moved his eyes back to the High Singer and swallowed almost audibly. The immense man before him had skin of true white, with hair and eyes of true black. As with all Singers, his skin and hair shimmered with chatoyance. If the room is magnificent, what would I call him? “S-s-s-sire, I assure you, I would never lightly intrude on your meditations. Especially not now, before the High Ritual of the Return. However, Sire, the leaders of the Seven Families have arrived for ritual, and they are bringing very bad news. The Singers sent me to you immediately to request your presence.”
The High Singer slowly sank back to his seat and considered the young man before him. Red of skin and hair, he was obviously of the First Family, a Manifestor of some ilk. Manifestors were rarely prone to exaggeration, though their flights of fancy had brought about rooms such as the one in which he pursued his meditations. “Simellsson, son of the First Family. New to the Temple two years past?”
“Sire, yes, sire. From down Arcallcena way. W-w-w-was brought to the Temple two years and three months past, Sire.” Simellsson shifted his feet and wanted to tug on the High Singer’s sleeve to get them going. The Singers in council had certainly pushed for all speed.
“I see. That was not during a time of recruitment, so I have to assume that you felt the Call?”
“Yes, Sire. The Shift has begun, already. My skin tones began fluctuating almost three years ago, and my Family felt it would be best for me to come before the next time of Recruitment.” He took a deep breath. “Sire, the council, Sire, they are really anxious for your attendance.”
The High Singer sighed deeply and shifted forward as if to rise. “I realize they wish to see me quickly, Shifter. I also realize that it is of some import. I am having to return to myself and the present before I see them. As I feel your anxiety leaking out of you so steadily, I have attempted to put you at your ease while I Settled. Thus, Shifter, the delay in mundane talk with you.” The High Singer shoved to his feet and began striding toward one of the eight arches. “Come, Simellsson, let us go attend council.” Simellsson rushed to attend the High Singer, striding three paces behind and three to the right, as all male Shifters were instructed to do immediately upon entrance to the Temple. No Shifter ever walked beside a Singer until after the Shift was complete, and they themselves were anointed Singers. Singers, themselves, never walked beside the High Singer, but always one step behind and one to the right or left, depending on gender.
The council was in an uproar, and the cacophony was audible well beyond the boundaries of the council chamber. The High Singer shook his head and slowed at the entrance of the chamber. He stood silent and observing for many moments at the chamber’s threshold, waiting for those within to realize that he had come. Slowly silence fell within the chamber, and Simellsson could hear those within shifting to make way for their leader.
The High Singer strode into the crowd and made his way to the seat directly opposite the door. Again, a sun was carved upon each arm, and a much larger sun formed the back of the seat. As the High Singer settled into his seat, he motioned for the Shifter to take position behind. Simellsson hurried to obey, and heard the council again begin to mutter. It was unheard of that a Shifter, especially a low level Shifter, be given the position of advisor. Still, Simellsson shored up his nerve and took his place on the low bench behind and to the right of the High Singer. Slowly, the other Singers took their positions on the benches surrounding the circular chamber, and the leaders of the Seven Families took their positions, each in a chair slightly smaller than that of the High Singer.
The chairs for the leaders of the Seven Families were spaced so that they were equally separated and formed a perfect ring – each chair had a small bench directly behind and to the right and left of the chair, these were the advisor’s benches. Behind the advisor’s benches began the stair stepped rows of carved stone upon which the Singers sat, eight tiers fully circling the chamber except for the small space that had been allowed for the entry.
The High Singer held his hand up, and the muttering subsided. “Tell me, First Family, what is the distress that sends a Shifter to interrupt my meditations the day before the Rebirth Ritual?” The tone of his voice suggested that nothing could merit such a violation.
The leader of the First Family stood and touched a clenched right fist to her heart, her forehead, and then to her lips and then extended her hand outward while opening it, palm upward. “High Singer, from my heart, my soul and my spirit let the words that come forth be known as truth. The First Family comes without Shifters, without offerings and without hope. No children have been born to our Family for the last Dark Cycle. Eight years, Sire. Eight years in which a Family has not born fruit. The people of my Family despair and hoard that which they have to themselves. No words of mine have had effect. I have traveled through all the lands and all of those of the First Family refuse my words. The Manifestors despair. The flower of their hearts, the wind of their souls, the fountains of their spirits are drying and dying. The work they produce is harsh and angular. No longer do they create with harmony and curvature, but with discord and angles. I fear there will be none come to the Temple this Cycle. I fear my Family is dying.”
The High Singer had gone rigid at the news of the First Family, and Simellson felt sorrow and despair reaching for his heart. Surely his own Family could not be dying. He was a Shifter, only two years ago the Family had sent him to the Temple with blessings and hope. Yet, as he thought back, he remembered that even then there had been no newborns, and the children had been hard and cold.
The leader of the First Family slowly seated herself as the leader of the Second Family arose and saluted as had the leader of the First Family. He was a man of orange tones, skin and hair of the richest orange and eyes the color of rich copper. “High Singer, from my heart, my soul and my spirit let the words that come forth be known as truth. I fear that my story is much like Sansas’. The Second Family has found that through this last Dark Cycle our Family has born no children. Our teachers and councilors find patience to be in short supply, and laughter diminishes over time to where the school yards are no longer gurgling streams of joy, but dry river beds of sorrow and despair. I fear there will be none come to the Temple this Cycle from the Family of Motivators.” Slowly, he sat.
And so the recitations went. Each of the Seven Families finding that their harmony of heart, soul and spirit was disrupted to such an extent that their Families were no longer bearing children and their labors no longer bearing harmony and flow, but discord and staggering edges.
The High Singer touched the fingertips of his left hand to his breast, his forehead and his lips. “From my heart, my soul and my spirit let the words that come forth be known as truth. I have felt the discord within the land, and sorrowed that it was so. Every Dark Cycle the discord grows and eats into the heart, souls and spirits of our people. Truly we need this Rebirth, without it, I fear for the Families. We are long lived, and millennia pass from our birth to our death – yet, without our children, without hope, laughter and the sparkle of new life, how can our Song be true? How can harmony remain?”
“This Ritual must be completed. We must have the Rebirth. If the True Song is not sung, and the Sun Within does not shine, I fear our people will be lost to the UnSinger’s Shadows. The Sun that shines from within is that which maintains us. The balance was struck eons before my time, even before the time of my fathers’ fathers and my mother’s mothers. The agreement made between Light and Shadow. Eight years for each. Yet, I fear I have felt the pull of the Shadows these last many Cycles. Each Rebirth has been more difficult, more draining. All of us here have felt it. I fear the time that the Rebirth becomes more than we can achieve.” His voice faded softly to silence, and the breath of the people within the room reverberated off the marbled walls. The flowing carvings shimmering in the light of the torches showed more life than those seated upon the benches and in the ornate chairs.
Slowly the leader of the Seventh Family stood. “Sire, High Singer, the Ritual is scheduled to begin in less than fourteen hours. I suggest we all retire to our meditations and preparations. We will need all the preparation we can have for the battle that is about to begin. I have felt, as you have said, that every Rebirth has become harder. It used to be that the Ritual was simple and beautiful. An acknowledgment of the agreement and the ending of one Cycle and beginning of another. Now, I fear, it has become a battle. A battle we must arm ourselves for.”
The High Singer nodded his head and stood. “Sarros, dear friend, I fear you are quite right. If none are in disagreement, I suggest we retire to our meditations and preparations for the upcoming Ritual. And, please, my friends, prepare as you would for a battle. I want full regalia, complete in all ways. Athame, tablet, staff, sword, star, chalice, robe and shield – all will be charged and waiting for the Song. We must win, my friends. Eons has it been and beyond our reckoning, but we all know the tales of the last Dark Times. Let’s ensure they don’t return.”
As his words rang through the chamber, the Singers rose as one and began filing slowly from the room. The leaders of the Seven Families moved toward the High Singer, and Simellsson was able to see their chairs fully for the first time. All of them intricately carved with the symbols of each family. Each back bore copies of the exotic flowers he had seen growing on the vines in the High Singer’s meditation room. There appeared to be a change in the number of petals on each flower, with the First Family having the fewest and the Seventh Family having the most. It would make sense that the Family of Wisdom would have the most, he thought. And four for the First Family, that would be right, too….It all made sense. It all flows. How could the flow be disrupted? How could the Families lose their harmony? He stumbled up from his bench, and took his place behind the High Singer as they left the council chamber. Simellsson was uncertain about following; however, he had not been dismissed, and did not want to risk further offending the High Singer.
Simellsson searched frantically for an unobtrusive place in the vine filled mediation room, and thankfully found a small bench nearly hidden behind one of the fountains. He curled up on the bench and tried to make himself disappear. The High Singer had sat upon his seat with the air of one deeply troubled, and Simellsson was not about to intrude on the man’s meditation a second time. Especially not to simply ask if he could be dismissed.
Slowly the room faded, and the scents and sounds overwhelmed him. Colors and motion filled his vision, laughter and song played with the music of the fountains, and light seemed to come from everywhere. He floated upon the wings of Song, and dove beneath the currents of music and laughter. Down into the depths of the vision, deeper and deeper he dove, and slowly silence descended as vision faded to dream, and sleep stole consciousness from the Shifter on a laugh and a sigh.
Simellson shook himself awake and started as he realized he was still in the High Singer’s meditation room. The full light of day was shining through the eight windows above, and he could clearly see the White Sun through the Fourth Family window. “Oh, by harmony’s discord, how did I sleep so late?” He jumped up and looked around frantically for the High Singer, but the room appeared to be empty.
Nervously, he twitched his robes into place and considered the most appropriate course of action. He began to walk toward the door he had entered through the night before, and was amazed to find that the vines were blocking it. Scanning the other entries to the room, he saw that only one was vine free. Slowly walking across the chamber, Simellson began to feel the beads of nervous sweat on his forehead.
“Ah! Simellson! Wonderful of you to wake.” Simellson started and was certain his primary heart had quit beating altogether. Spinning around, he looked frantically for the High Singer. “In here, Shifter. I am so sorry I did not realize you were still with me when I came back to my chamber. How remiss.”
Simellson moved toward the clear entry and peered through. There was the High Singer, at his massive desk of sunwood. This must be his office. Am I, a two year Shifter, actually going to be invited into his private quarters?! Slowly, he moved to the edge of the entry and waited for an indication of what he was to do. He had not reached the training classes, yet, for any of this. He didn’t know proper etiquette for such a situation and was feeling more and more out of his depth as the hours rolled by. He was almost starting to wish that the Singer who had sent him had chosen someone else – a four year, or and eight year Shifter – anyone but him.
The High Singer looked up from his elegantly scrolled desk and swept an arm across the room to point toward one of many comfortable looking chairs. “Please, don’t stand on ceremony. Come in and sit down.” He shifted a bit to get a better view of Simellson as the boy seated himself nervously on the edge of a royal red chair. “I do so apologize, Shifter. By no means should you have been overly exposed to the fumes of the vines. Only those with training on how to control their Wanderings and Songs should be exposed to them for more than a few hours in the day. At night, well, even one hour for one such as yourself is pushing the limit.”
“I….I don’t understand, Sire. What happened? One moment, I am careful to make certain not to disturb you. The next thing I know, I am seeing things I have never seen before, and I could swear someone was laughing at me right there at the end!” Simellson guiltily realized he had sounded offended at the last part of his statement, but – really! – how was a Shifter supposed to feel as if they were accomplishing anything towards Understanding if they were being laughed at! He sniffed in indignation and shifted around on his seat, trying to get more comfortable and still look as dignified as possible.
The High Singer smiled. “You heard laughter, did you? How about a Song? Music? Water? Did you see lights? All of this is typical; however, it is generally reserved for the eight year Shifters and Singers. I was initially concerned when I saw you were still with me, yesterday morning. However, you appeared to be coping quite well, and were showing no signs of distress. I felt it would be best served to allow you to ride out the course of the vision and return on your own.”
Simellson stared. “Yesterday morning! You mean I was in there for two days? But, but….I thought the Ritual was scheduled to start, yesterday?” The Shifter leaned forward in anxiety. “Surely nothing has gone wrong?”
The High Singer leaned back in his chair and regarded the young man before him. “You are what…..89 years old? You seem about ready for your Second Adult naming, though a few years away from your 93rd birth celebration. What field did you apprentice in, Shifter?”
The young man started in surprise. “What did I….? You have got to be kidding me! The Ritual was to have been scheduled for yesterday! I heard you all say so in council. And you are asking me about what I apprenticed in? I do not understand.” He looked toward the floor and clasped his hands in frustration.
The High Singer took on a lecturing Tone. “When one is an apprentice, especially in a Family of Manifestors, one learns that all comes about in the time it is meant to. When one Shifts from any Family to the Eighth – the Family of Singers – one learns that this too has come about in all good time. There are those souls who will not Shift throughout this current life. There are those who shift before their First Adult naming, before they ever apprentice. There are those, such as yourself who Shift out Cycle. Regardless, the Shift happens when it must, and when the time is right. So, too, does the Ritual happen when it must, and when the time is right.” The High Singer sighed and reached for his pipe. Tapping it on the edge of his desk, he settled the herbs within the bowl and hummed a soft Tone. A waft of sweet smoke floated over to Simellson and he relaxed as he realized that he was not the cause of the delay.
“You must realize that though the opinion was that we must begin ritual immediately, upon further reflection and mediation, it was shown that we must be fully prepared in our hearts, spirits and souls, or we will not make it through this Ritual.” The High Singer stared up at his domed ceiling as he pulled on his pipe, and slowly released the smoke. “Had we pursued the Ritual, yesterday, we would have failed. Not only failed, but lost lives doing so.”
Simellson shot upright. “What! I have never heard of such a thing! Lives lost in a Ritual.” He snorted in disbelief. “The Ritual is symbolic, High Singer, even the youngest knows that!”
The High Singer narrowed his eyes and stared harshly at Simellson. “You think so, do you? So the Dark Times are just a myth to scare the younglings with, and nothing real? So the fact that the Singers barely glimmer with their chatoyance through the Dark Cycle, that is just a myth? The fact that we glow from within by the light of the Great Sun during the Light Cycle, that is just a myth? The fact that Shifters begin to fluctuate color and shimmer and fade – from chatoyance to shadow – that is just a myth? You are just a myth?! I am just a myth?” By the end of his recitation, the High Singer’s voice was nearly at a shout.
“And we wonder that our people die, and are not being reborn. We wonder that our Light fades and the Song drifts so faintly on the breeze.” The High Singer stood and began pacing around the room. “Let me tell you, Shifter. The fact that the Singers can assume the body color of any Family is not a myth. The fact that we shimmer from within by the strength of the Song that fires the Sun within is not a myth. The fact that you are Shifting and thus the Song is becoming more fully a part of you is not a myth. The Dark Times and the balance struck is not a myth.” He sighed from so deeply the sound reverberated through the office.
“In the time of my fathers’ father and my mother’s mothers, nearly 5 millennia ago, we lost our Light. We lost our Song. Harmony faded to discord. Peace dwindled to war. Even the strongest of the Singers barely shimmered from within. The Sun had not returned. The UnSinger and his Shadows held sway on the land, and the Families fell into despair. So great was their despair that many took their own lives. Some took the lives of entire clans. My father’s father’s brother took the lives of his three husbands and seven wives. All of their children slaughtered before their color even had time to settle and determine which Family had lost a new life.
“There were a few, such a tiny few, who managed to hold onto the last glimmers of the Sun Within. They managed to remember the Song, and found a way to the Tunes and the Harmony.” The High Singer spun around and reached out to a section of the wall that was covered with ancient hieroglyphs. Tracing them reverently, he continued. “There were, ages past, Shifter, so many of our people that you could not find a place to rest without having company. Our people, our Families went mad, quite mad.”
Simellson slid down into he chair and wondered what story he was hearing. All his life his parents had alluded to the Dark Times, but never had he heard the story. The Shadows were rarely seen in the cities of the Families, even in the Dark Cycle the Song was felt, and surely the Singers still shown with their chatoyance. Looking at the High Singer, he found it difficult to believe that there had ever been a time with the Singer’s Light had failed.
“Simellson, it was a time of destruction so foul and so complete, that the Families were nearly swept from the land. Creatures of foul rock and deep shadow, fell winds and darkest flame were upon the land. Singers would sing out Tunes of Peace, and destruction would follow. Many Singers attempted to Sing the True Song and bring about the Rebirth. All of them, Shifter, all of them died horribly. One Singer just a slight bit off, and the entire Choir was wiped from existence. Not even ash to mark their passing. There are many sides to each Tune, Simellson. Each Tone within the Octave carries more than one shade. We, as Singer’s are able to differentiate, and to control which shade it is that manifests. However, in that Dark Time, Shifter, in that time the Singer’s voices were not True. There was chaos.” The High Singer turned and faced the young man.
“Those few who had retained their hearts, who had kept their spirits and souls immersed in the True Song found that they were drawn to congregate in one location. From all over this large planet they traveled. Families from Trevelone and Bercall, Arcallena and Medolcine. Traveling years in terror, fighting the madness that was plaguing the planet. The family most remembered is the one from which the last True Singer came. Her family was of three wives and four husbands, none from the same Family. Amongst them, there were forty-eight children. They managed to travel from Trevelone to Carcenia without losing a single life along the way.
“Once they had reached Carcenia, they found that there were hundreds of others who had managed to make it in relative safety to the caverns of this great mountainous region. However, the Shadows were growing in numbers, and soon, even the relative safety of the Glowing Caverns would not stand against them.” The High Singer sat on the edge of his desk and tapped out the charred remains of his smoking herbs, picked up his drink and watched Simellson over the rim as he drank deeply. It was obvious that the boy was trouble; however, he was listening and, it appeared, hearing what was being said. The High Singer sat his glass back down on the desk and began packing his pipe.
“The Families in the Caverns realized that something must be done. So, at a time that was deemed best by the True Singer, every Singer that had managed to retain connection to the Song joined together in a choir. The Families each elected a Leader to stand in the center circle with the True Singer, as each Tone of the Octave was sounded. Then the Singers’ Choir began Singing the Song, and the True Singer joined in. Wordless and Soundless the Song became, and the planet shuddered in response. The True Song was being Sung by a True Singer, and the Caverns exploded in Light. From every nook and cranny within the planet, the Sun Within began to shine again, and the Shadows were thrown back into their UnSinger’s embrace.
“However, the Shadows had too thoroughly covered the land, and too few of our people had survived the madness. The True Singer had to compromise, had to find a balance. So she and the UnSinger made an agreement between the Shadows and the Light. For eight years of each Full Cycle, we would dim our Light. Our Song would be quieted, and the Shadows would be darker and deeper. For the other eight years of the Full Cycle, our Light would shine freely and fully, and the Shadows would be dim and shallow. This agreement has served us well through the passing millennia. Sadly, though, Simellson, I – and the council – fear there is an encroaching Dark Time upon us. Our people are growing apathetic, and doubting the tales of the past. I fear our lack of a True Singer, Simellson. I am simply a High Singer. I am close, so close I can feel the vibrations of the Song that I am missing, yet I cannot Sing them. I fear, Shifter. I fear our people going mad……”SHARE