Two days had passed since that warm afternoon on the hill and, though it seemed the old season was reluctant to let the new one in, a slight chill was beginning to permeate the air. The three friends sat on the hill again and though it felt so much the same, Cassie felt like things were changing.
Kieran still didn’t believe that the Immortals were coming to Tarraneia. But he knew Cassie did and that Gemma believed Cassie. As such, he was content to listen as they discussed it. If nothing else, Gemma told stories well. Right now, they were talking about what the Immortals truly were.
Gemma’s people, the Weeran, were believed to be one of the oldest peoples of Tarraneia. They had great knowledge about the true history of the land, and a deep understanding of legends and folklore. The Weeran were often considered peculiar by others. Despite being one race of people, the difference between one Weeran and another was often startling. Though Gemma’s family looked much alike, Cassie had heard tell that many Weeran were as different from their brother or sister as night was from day. It was rumoured that perhaps it was something to do with the Weeran strong connection and belief in the gods – the Elementals – but they did not speak of it to outsiders and people didn’t ask.
Now, Gemma was explaining what the legends of her people said about the Immortals. Some of it Cassie and Kieran already knew, but Gemma’s telling was far more detailed and complex than the folklore their own people had told.
The Immortals were once people like any other, but they were people who held within them a great sadness or anger. A dark emotion. When these people died of old age, or illness, or some other manner, they crossed the Void and entered the Afterlands. These vast Afterlands were still only a small portion of the lands ruled over by the Elemental gods. Only those no longer of the living were able to cross the Void. It was the boundary between the living world and the eternal world; the world of immortal beings, including the Elementals, and the dead.
There were four gods, one for each element: Gaien for earth, Pyrius for fire, Arya for air and Hydrienne for water. These four were believed to be responsible for the world and for life. Gaien wrought plants and beings from earth. Arya ruled not only the air people breathed, but shaped the world with the forces of wind. Hydrienne shaped the earth, too, with each wave that crashed upon a shore, and gave new life to people and plants alike with rain and rivers. Pyrius was the fire that lit each day and night, as well as that flame which burned as life inside each human and animal. The loss of any of these could lead to death. Especially the loss of Pyrius’s flame.
The four gods reigned in balance and it was only in this balance that they could rule. Each was governed by the others. It was said that the gods were akin to the elements they ruled, both in appearance and temperament. Pyrius was the most volatile of the gods. He needed air to breathe and earth to feed upon, but water kept him from becoming all-consuming. Without him, though, there would be no spark or flame to start new life.
Each of the four Elementals was wrought of light and life and creation, but there was something sequestered in the Void that was none of these things. It was this darkness, this absence, which infiltrated the souls of those who were marred by black emotion, as they crossed the Void. Like an unseen sickness it festered inside them, gradually growing stronger. It was this darkness that saw the Immortals rise up one by one against the gods. Over the years individuals rebelled, but none can stand against the gods. Not all were touched by this unnamed darkness and those who remained untainted had to be protected. And so the Elementals cast the Immortals from the Afterlands.
It was akin to a second betrayal. Feeling unjustly treated in their lives the Immortals were now denied the eternal happiness they could have had in the Afterlands. They half-existed on the edge of the gods’ dominion, constantly teetering upon the twisted nothingness of the Void that bordered it. There was no escape from the barren wasteland. The Elementals were unforgiving and the Immortals could not even seek out the release death offered a living being.
Over time, the Void ate away at their souls, until their bodies could no longer maintain a normal appearance. The decay that had been hidden inside their physical form began to break through.
This was as much as Gemma’s people knew, and it was far more than Cassie and Kieran had ever heard. This knowledge came from tales, passed down through generations and no one could say for sure what was true and what was not. However, the Weeran believed much, if not all, of it and it made Cassie feel a little less irrational.
Still, it told them very little about what to expect or how they could even hope to stop the coming war. Somehow, they needed to find out what to do and uncertain stories were not enough.
“Ellen,” Cassie decided, “Ellen would know.”