The Snowball's Chance slipped from her moorings early this fine spring morning with just a hint of frost in the air, and soon the harbor of elegant Taranlonde, capital of the far-flung maritime Western Empire, faded into the dawn-lit mists. Her master and captain, Briann mac Diarmid of Clan Mac Ardbheáin, smiled and breathed deeply of the salty mist as he stood on the Chance’s bridge, watching the helmsman and listening to the sail-master bark orders to the crew. I’ll be havin’ a verra profitable trip this time fer sure, he thought. A good load o’ fineries fer the mainland ports, and then goin’ to the Sundering Seas and beyond fer even better profit on the returnin’! And that odd duck o’ a passenger’s payin’ more than his freight fer him and his boys. Good omens all!
But Captain Mac Ardbheáin's high spirits on departure soon turned to frustration. The Snowball’s Chance slowed considerably, as the winds became contrary and sudden squalls tried the patience of even his experienced crew. What should have been a three-week voyage to Londell, capital of the Kingdom of Allon and one of the oldest and largest cities in the world, would now probably take five or even six weeks. It was not long before the captain was thanking Fate for the presence of his "odd duck" passenger. Professor Fearin mac Feinnin of Clan Uí Conghaill of the University of the West had proved to be a masterful storyteller, and his lessons to his three young students had become a great diversion for his tired crew.
On a rare fair afternoon late in the voyage's third week, the Professor was the center of attention in the foredeck, where he and his students leaned over the rail to watch a school of dolphins playing in the Chance’s wake. "Hey, Perfesser, what yarns ye gonna be spinnin’ today?" smirked Timinn mac Shaill, a hulking rope-hauler whose fists and face bore the scars of innumerable brawls.
"Please be tellin' us o’ the Beginnin’s again," begged Adaim mac Fiona, the captain’s cabin-boy, who had become quite enthralled with the Professor and dearly wished he could become one of his students someday.
"'Tis rubbish, I be tellin’ ye. Them stories do be fancy words tied together after a night of too much drink and too little companionship," scoffed Aodha mac Dáill, the bosun’s mate, who trusted in little save his own wits and a good ship.
Adaim, "Oh, no, Bosun Aodha, they be much more than that. Please, sir, we wish to be hearin' the stories o’ the creation o’ the World, and all." Several other sailors chimed in their agreements, and the Professor soon began to meet their wishes.
"So you wish to hear about the Beginnings," he said in his resonant bass. "Know you, then, that Before the Beginning, there was On ["own"] and only On, the One, the Dreamer and the Creator, who wandered the formless Void for eons in happiness and wonder, dreaming of all the things which could be, until at last He felt the stirrings of loneliness. Bringing His dreams into reality, He released a portion of His substance with beautiful, terrifying suddenness in the Light To End All Lights. To His joy, new voices answered His call.
"The first Children of Creation were four in number, whom we now call the Cal-Erani or ‘Nature Powers': Ariella of Earth, Hydrus of Water, Jenelle of Fire, and Tarsis of Air. Each could assume whatever form he wished, of either gender, but the most fundamental aspects of their character were already fixed, Hydrus and Tarsis to male, Ariella and Jenelle to female. Through times uncounted the four Powers found delight in communion with On and in their own companionship. Together they learned the joys of creation and discovery, gaining much knowledge. After long periods of wandering, observing, and creating such things as the stars, the Powers wearied of their constant travels. On, the omnipresent Creator, was One with the Multiverse; He could be literally everywhere at the same time. But the Powers, although possessing abilities far beyond the understanding of men, could only be in one place at a time, and their travels eventually wearied them. And so, with the Creator’s help, the four Powers chose to make one world their home, which became our own World of Novi in its youth. There they built the fabulous palace that would come to be called Tarmen-Erana (literally ‘the Royal House of the Powers’) and shaped the world on which it rested to suit their desires. These great works involved all four of the Powers’ attributes, and great beauty came from their union.
"Aw, Perfesser, do ye really be believin' that load o’ bull ’bout this world bein’ the same as that?" Timinn sneered.
"Yes, I do," the Professor answered with the forced patience of one used to confronting disbelief. "There are souls still living who saw the Powers walk this world in the flesh. But bear with me, and I shall tell of how the world was diminished."
"Let him be, Timinn," growled Aodha the bosun's mate. The two glared at each other silently, but that let the Professor continue.
"Soon, On and the Powers desired the company of other creatures, since so far none of the lights of the heavens answered their calls. With His blessing and instruction, the Powers discovered those joys that would come to be called intimate," several knowing chortles rose at that, "even though they did not truly possess physical bodies or life as we know it. Neither did they restrict themselves as yet to the marriage of two partners, because On had not yet so commanded. Their unions bore fruit, and a second generation of Powers was born. The firstborn of the No-Erani (literally ‘second Powers') was Shaya, daughter of Tarsis and Jenelle, she who delights in the Light of Day and became caretaker of the Sun. Celestra, daughter of Tarsis and Ariella, was born a few days later. She prefers the softer lights and mysteries of evening and became guardian of the Moon. Before long Rhiana was born to Hydrus and Ariella. In her youth before the coming of Life, she delighted in all kinds of sport and challenge; afterwards she was to fall in love with the trees, mightiest of living things, and to become the Power of the Forests.
"The romance of Hydrus and Jenelle was more fiery and tempestuous than any before or since. Their elements clashed with unbridled fury, but this led to a lasting affection. In fact, ever since, opposites have always attracted one another. From their union came the twins Michelle and Jeron, created from their parents' ecstasies, anger, pain, and passions. Together, these two bring much happiness to the Multiverse, but also much regret."
"Ah, but now, let's be havin’ three cheers for happiness and regrets," chimed in Liam mac Cluanáin, a rakishly handsome rigging-walker who allegedly had half a dozen women of as many races in as many ports of the Sundering Seas. The cheering was loud and long for that one.
"Happiness and regrets, indeed," Professor Uí Conghaill nodded. "Before long, the first hint of the conflicts to come arose when Jeron persuaded the Cal-Erani to experiment by taking different shapes and partners. On cautioned against such actions, but did not forbid them outright at that time, so they went ahead. Jenelle came to Ariella in masculine form, and then Fire and Earth merged in a time of powerful disruption. The inner fires of the world ran red upon the ground. From their union was born Atredus, called the Soul-Forger, who despised the ‘unnatural' acts of Jeron and imposed rigid Law upon his desert domains. At the same time, Hydrus came to Tarsis in feminine form. From this tempestuous union came Tharan, called the Wrathful, Power of the Storm, who delights in Chaos and the conflicts of the elements. As the Powers observed the consequences of these unions, they conceded that On’s warning was true, and from then on, they have preserved their inherent natures, whether male or female. On was so pleased with their decision that He made it an imperative, and He looks with disfavor on all those who break it."
"Ha!" Timinn barked. "A few o' our mates dinna believe ye," he winked lewdly.
"Sad, but too often true on long voyages," the Professor agreed. "For another age without measure, On and the Powers, now eleven in number, explored their surroundings, creating or destroying to their hearts' content. Tarsis explored the vastness of the heavens, spending the most time in the company of On. Ariella observed the marvels of the world before there was life, delighting in its stark beauty. Hydrus and Jenelle traveled the world together, sharing their passions, sometimes meeting in anger and sometimes in love. Shaya and Celestra sailed the heavens, making sure their charges took proper turns crossing the skies so that the home of the Erani was blessed with both the bright light of day and the softer light of the full moon. Atredus fell in love with Shaya, but could not allow himself the luxury of sharing his feelings. To this day the only sign of his affections is her strength in his domains. Tharan twisted the elements in his wrath and Jeron enjoyed changing them for his own purposes, but their actions inspired many new creations and were welcomed, in their own way. Rhiana governed the contests and careful balances of the elements, also encouraging more and more fantastic creations. Of them all, only Michelle found little satisfaction, for though all the Erani shared the pleasures of her domain on occasion, there seemed to be little purpose to her existence."
"Michelle's hopes and dreams did not fall on deaf ears, and the time came when On granted her prayers. On called to her one day and told her to prepare herself, for the world was about to change, then He gave to her the Spark, a glowing ember of unknowable power. Michelle joyously accepted the power, realizing that it would fulfill her dreams and share more happiness than ever before. Invoking the blessings and power of all the Erani, she gathered all the elements inside her being, the Spark last of all. At On’s command, two new Powers sprang from her: Annon and Kristine, the Rulers of Life or Kris-Erani, fully as powerful as the Cal-Erani. On a hilltop overlooking the sea, they announced their engagement, and On proclaimed them husband and wife, examples for the living creatures that would follow them. As the new Powers kissed their brothers and sisters in greeting, the smallest kinds of life spread out from their presence to fill all the world.
"Is Annon," Adaim nearly whispered the dread name, "really as evil as they say?"
"No," the Professor answered over Timinn's disagreeing snort. "No, Annon is not truly evil, unlike some others. But let us continue: Life began. The Kristani, living creatures, were simple at first, but grew ever more complex under the Powers’ guidance. Each Power took pleasure in guiding the development of favorite creatures, and many of these retain their affinities for particular elements or environments to this day. Shortly after their wedding, Annon and Kristine bore a son, Basold the Seer, Lord of Time and eighth of the No-Erani. On took great pride in Basold, and Basold has always communed with On. Basold came to know the mind of On perhaps more than any other Power of the age. As On had decreed, after the birth of Time, Annon assumed his duties to end that life which had outlived its purpose and vitality, and to judge its Fate. Thus began the Great Cycle of life, death, and rebirth that continues to this day.
"As time passed and life flourished in its great diversity of creatures, the Powers of Life bore their second son, Mikhail, the Power of Strength, whose favorites are the great beasts whose strength and prowess is legend. Basold loved his younger brother, and took pride in his education. As Mikhail grew, so did his laughter and endless good humor. The contrast between Mikhail and the quiet, reserved Basold served the two brothers well. Basold chose to remain near the Tarmen-Erana and eventually was appointed its guardian and steward. Mikhail, though, filled with wanderlust, voyaged the corners of the Multiverse, sometimes alone, and sometimes with other explorers like Tarsis, Rhiana, and Jeron. In time love bloomed between Mikhail and Rhiana, but they sought no formal ties."
"But ye can imagine the informal ones!" Liam chortled.
"Ahem," the Professor had to clear his throat at that. "As this age of Life neared its end, Annon and Kristine bore a daughter, Sirene, born Power of Intelligence or Cunning, though we know her best as Power of Magic. She took special care of those creatures that showed special talents for animal intelligence or cunning, and also those that could manipulate the Essence of all things in their limited fashions. Sirene was much like her brother Mikhail, and the two grew very close. Most of all, they enjoyed competition, and their special charges contest with one another to this day."
"Sirene's birth heralded a fundamental change in the nature of life. On revealed his most potent secrets to date to Basold, who gathered all the Erani except the absent Mikhail and Sirene and revealed the visions to them. On had declared that Mikhail and Sirene together would discover a second powerful Spark, so massive and potent that only they together could bear it to the Tarmen-Erana. Once there, the ultimate fulfillment of the Creator’s great plan would begin. No longer would On and the Erani wander the Multiverse alone, with only mute beasts for company. Countless voices would answer them." The Professor’s audience was now enthralled, even Timinn.
"And so the Erani gathered many of the Kristani to them, and they all gathered in the palace garden to wait. Mikhail and Sirene were in even higher spirits than usual when they returned with their find, but they sobered quickly when they learned just what their burden, which took the form of a huge, brilliantly faceted jewel, really was. Of course they knew the manner of their parents' creation, and they hoped that they were to be the deliverers of new wonders. How true that was! Slowly, the Erani and the bolder Kristani drew near to touch the Great Jewel. As they did so, they felt the great power and majesty of On radiating through them. And that Kristani who most resembled the Erani in form cried with a new voice, ‘Yes! I accept this Fate.’ Other Kristani who had followed his lead answered as well, but soon all their replies were drowned out in elemental fury as the Jewel exploded. When the light and sound subsided, the assembly saw two miracles. They saw two new Powers, fully formed and glorious: Arisa, crowned with nobility and Wisdom, and Valkorath, cloaked with the majesty and power of Will, known together as the Savan-Erani, Powers of Sapience." Several brows furrowed at that, and the Professor paused to explain. "By sapience I mean rational thought, that which separates us from animals.
"And the second miracle was that those who had touched the Jewel could now speak and understand. And the thundering voice of On rumbled, ‘Behold my Gift, my Children, the power to Speak! Will shall give you the power to choose; let Wisdom guide your choices!' And so from chosen Kristani were created the Savan-Kristani or Savani, the sapient races."
The Professor smiled and released the hypnotic spell of his voice. "And that, my friends, is enough for this afternoon. Some of you will have duty soon."
"Please be tellin' us more tomorrow, sir," Adaim begged. "I dinna be carin’ for these stories before. You do tell them as if you watched with your own eyes."
The Professor nodded and smiled. "Until the next time. Have an easy watch, lads." And so the Snowball's Chance sailed eastward as the Professor and his students went below decks to their dinner, while the setting sun gilded the vessel in magnificent scarlets and golds.