Terse refused his fate.
He refused to believe that he was destined to be the smallest, to never reach above the rest. He felt it in his entire being, his existence was meant for something greater than the culmination of the cycles he had spent on this vast plain up to this point. Terse yearned for answers, for the end of the mystery that lay beyond the great ridge and pit that divided his world from…well from whatever was on the other side of those boundaries. Most of all, he longed for meaning. Was his life’s growth, filled with constant beratement and belittlement at the hands of his Surroundings, all that he would ever achieve? Terse could not accept it, he would not. So on this, the fourth anniversary of his emergence day, Terse communed with the Great One, high upon his mound, untouched since even before their Gathering began. It was said that he alone had witnessed more than any other, and that he alone could answer the mysteries of world.
The mound is strangely smooth and perfectly round, except near the top where jagged edges of red and purple scar the otherwise brown surface. Prolix sits there, in all his extravagance, seemingly asleep or at least in deep meditation, yet no sooner than Terse manifests, the Great One addresses him.
“It is about time you communed with me,” Prolix says, his voice gravelly with age.
“Great One, please answer my queries. Please help me to understand. I cannot believe that this is all I am destined for.”
Prolix laughs, a deep, booming laugh that is absent of any semblance of age and conversely resonates with youth. “Direct and to the point, just as your father was. I remember how eager he was to gain his answers before his untimely pluck.”
Terse feels a twinge of remorse for the loss, but in truth his father was gone long before he emerged. He had never known him. “Great One, every day I am mocked and tortured. Every day I am reminded of my stature, never given the opportunity to contribute, pushed aside for no other reason than my size. If I could just…just…”
“What youngling, what is it you wish you could do?”
Terse pauses. Never before had he voiced his inner thoughts and desires. “If I could prove that I had knowledge beyond my stature, that I was more than just my physical size, I could earn a place in our Surroundings.”
“And you think returning with the answers as to what lies beyond the ridge and pit will earn you this prowess?”
The Great One laughs again, longer and deeper this time. When he has finished he proceeds. “From this cursed vantage point where I emerged I am able to see myself. It wasn’t so until I first reached length long ago, but I can see now, over that ridge. Do you know what exists beyond? Nothing. Nothing but the same as you see here. Our kind gathered there as much as we have in all that surrounds us on this plain. You would not know it from your place, but there are strips of land, one very thin and one slightly larger that wrap around the pit. At the time of this great Gathering, others of our kind settled there and still others crossed further. In the end, the plain on which you live is mirrored on the other side of that ridge, with those just like us living there. There is no great mystery, no great answer. Those that have grown to be almost as long as I will tell you this, should you commune with them, for they know the answer to this question as well as I.”
Terse inwardly deflates. He had put so much into believing that this answer was the key to his importance. Now, he learns that it is almost as mundane as himself. Prolix can sense the sorrow, and he decides that he will bestow upon the youngling the knowledge that will give him meaning, even if it wasn’t asked for. “Terse, you need not, nor should you, fret and worry about your stature. Look not at your Surroundings, heed not their slurs and insults, for it is exactly your size that will be your salvation. With it, you and none other will carry our kind forward and continue our story. Even I cannot weather what is to come, but one such as you, you can and you will.”
Confused, Terse tries to make sense of it all, but when he cannot he asks yet again. “What Great One? Of what calamity do you speak?” The seer begins to speak again, this time his voice devoid of its jovial banter.
“I witnessed it, so many, many cycles before, the end of our last Gathering. I was young then, so young, and small as you are now upon this mound. I watched as our lands were laid to waste, as all my Surroundings were cut down as if they were nothing. The Edges, they came from the sky, from above the plain…it was…it was…”
Terse senses the Great One’s apprehension, yet he is fixated on every word. “What, oh Great Prolix? What doom do you speak of? Please, tell me!”
“I shall tell you, youngling, for this knowledge will give you the power you so seek, and in doing so, will ensure that our story goes on. For make no mistake, the time of Edges will return, I have foreseen it.”
Prolix goes on, speaking for an eternity, telling him of the events to come. Terse listens, horrified at the prediction, horrified at Prolix for doing nothing about it. There had to be a way to prevent these deeds, to ensure that this wholesale slaughter did not come to pass. And in this, Terse finds his purpose, he greater calling. He knows, even as the Great One continues to speak, that his destiny is not just to survive the coming apocalypse. No, he is being entrusted with this knowledge to go forth and ensure the lives of all of his kind. When their commune ends, Terse wastes no time. He immediately begins to speak with his Surroundings, to warn them of the coming maelstrom.
It does not have the intended effect.
If their mockery before was of a juvenile nature, now it became visceral. Terse, while professing all that the Great One had told him, becomes alienated to the point of criminality. He becomes the focus of anger, of hatred. He is cast down, ostracized, threatened even, should he continue to profess his blasphemies. Yet Terse persists, for cycle after cycle, until nearly his fifth emergence day is upon him. And slowly he loses hope. He stops to proselytize. He succumbs to the vitriol of his Surroundings, to the exile imposed on him. Terse can only sit in his isolation and wonder as to why Prolix bestowed this knowledge on him. Was it a test of some kind? A joke? Was the Great One no better than that of the others, and gained profound enjoyment from furthering his subjugation from high atop his mound? Terse can only wonder, wonder and watch as the cycles pass, falling further into his disbelief.
He is awoken by a distant rumbling, a sound not heard before. From his place, he and his Surroundings look to the west, hearing the rumbling pass again and again, growing louder with each iteration. Bewilderment turns to panic as the rumble appears on their plain, the sound more of a grind now that it is so close. Terse and his Surroundings become frantic as the screams of others call out into the morning sky. He can only watch as some magnificent beast descends from above, it’s teeth gnashing and snarling. The ground shakes as it passes before him, and Terse watches as his Surroundings are cut down by those teeth, their screams of agony a piercing chorus. He freezes as the monster returns, mesmerized in terror as it passes over him while shearing the others. It continues on this way, working back towards the ridge and pit. His Surroundings cry out for his help, they beg for his forgiveness. Even cut as they are, they still stand taller than he, and from this vantage they look to him for salvation, yet he can deliver none. Terse is as powerless as they are.
The grinding rumble ceases, and while the cries continue, he begins to believe the worst of it might be over, even when the rains begin. They are not of the longer type, these are the short rains, the ones that usually come each morning, but now they wash away the appendages of those shorn, and the Surroundings call out helplessly as they watch parts of their own bodies drift away. Next, a great white covering descends on all, and a new chorus of horror resounds as all find themselves frozen in place and unable to move. His Surroundings call out to him, asking him to recall his foretelling, to save them, and only then does Terse awaken from his shocked stupor and realize that this is exactly what the Great One bestowed on him cycles ago.
He looks up to see a new beast, more sleek, more lithe than its predecessor descending from on high. They glisten a voracious silver, hellishly bent on their desire to eviscerate all before them. Never before has such evil been seen. It can only be what Prolix described. The Edges have returned.
They follow the same path of the monster before them, but they do so silently, the only sound emitted being the sickly scrape as they pass across the plain. Terse sits terrified, watching as his Surroundings are mowed down, erased from all existence, their cries of pain and fear suddenly silenced with each pass. Once again the beast passes overhead, and once again he is spared. Terse can look no longer, he can take no more. He does his best to block out the screams, helped in this regard by their gradual fading. When the rains come again they are warm and comforting, and only when they have stopped and he has dried does he look up.
Before him is the vastness of the plain, alien to his vision in it’s present state. Whereas before there was always his Surroundings, now Terse stands alone. The plain is nothing but open ground, the pale peach terrain stretching in all directions. Terse tries to commune with someone, anyone, but no one answers. He next tries Prolix, and finds that he too is gone, victim to his own prophecy, his mound unable to save him. In the solitude of silence, Terse finally feels the breadth of his burden. It was as the Great One foretold, he and he alone was entrusted to carry on their histories, their culture, their very existence to the next generation. For this purpose he suffered, and for this purpose he endured, and for this purpose he would prevail.
She comes into the bathroom, struck at first by his face. “Awww, you shaved it off?”
“Yeah, it was time. Damn near five years. Thought a change would be good.”
She puts her arms around him and talks to him while they stare into the mirror together. “Well you look strikingly handsome, five years younger even,” she says with a wink. “At least, you will once you’re done.”
He furrows his brow. “Huh?”
Picking up his razor, she scrapes a bit on his cheek, just below the birthmark near his eye. “There you go. Missed a spot.”
And Terse too, ceased to be.