Silence. It shrouded the meadow in an unnatural stealth that belied the epic gathering that was to begin in but a few moments time. Night had already arrived. He sat with the same finite stillness as the quiet gathered around him. Neither listening nor staring for any hint of the others who would come to join him. One would have expected he take up more room than he did, that his features would be less discernible than they were and that perhaps he’d bear the look of someone who carried more years to his name. His countenance was ageless, his skin like liquid obsidian poured over a humanoid shell.
His eyes were deep set beneath a stubborn brow, with high cheekbones that accentuated the twinned dark chasms. A prominent nose, full lips, and a perfectly chiseled chin—it was as though an artist had wrought each feature individually. Every angle, every curve, every detail had been made to be flawless on its own. Put together, the result was exemplary, faultless and frightening, but unnatural as it had no place in a simple little meadow within the dark wood.
“How ironic,” a golden voice cut through the quiet like a blade through silk, “that we’d take the form of the creatures who’ve abused us so.”
Night remained still as his dear sister Day appeared. She seemed to have emerged from where the light of the stars fell through the open air. She moved across the meadow with a terrifying grace, wearing nothing but a sheer, gossamer shroud. Like her brother, she was beauty incarnate, her body exemplified the feminine ideal. That was the only similarity they shared, where Night seemed cut from onyx itself, Day seemed to have been dipped in gold. She exuded light, attracted it. It played along her lush contours.
“Ironic, indeed,” Night uttered “but I would say our guests have borne the brunt of that abuse, wouldn’t you agree?”
Day did not answer. She wasn’t expected to.
Slowly the rest of them appeared, first Water having fallen from the sky to ripple across stone and gather himself next to Day. Earth followed, having wrenched her numerous legs from the ground, and pulled her many outstretched arms to twist and fold in on herself until she too took the human form the others had adopted. A sharp breeze struck the bordering trees of their gathering place and pulled at the robes and hair of all present. The large boulder next to Water suddenly had a petite woman sitting awkwardly on its top—Wind. She hardly looked settled, rather like she couldn’t stand being still and was ready to flit away before the final word was uttered. A startling heat and the meadow was flooded with a large spark directly in its center that contorted itself, sporadically taking shape into the form of the council’s final guest, Fire. The Elements had the same faultless features, ethereal airs, that all encapsulated their natures. Humans had been in their world long enough for every aspect of the quintessential ideal of beauty to have been honed to a paralyzing model.
“I thank you all for coming,” Night declared in a soft resonant voice, edged with hard authority “and welcome you all to the Sixth High Council of the Originals.”
A formal bow of heads between all members, in sync, as one.
Mortals may not be privy to it but they were always the reason why these great entities convened throughout time.
“We know why we’re here,” Day spoke more loudly than her brother, “the humans have failed to evolve at an acceptable rate, and we—” she motioned around the circle, “are being affected by their ineptitude.”
A series of nods and deepening frowns were made in answer, eyes gazing at memories, at moments; expressions were grim.
“They continue to poison me,” Water growled. “I’ve tried to teach them, struck at them viciously, the islands and coastal towns I’ve all but destroyed.”
“I aided in the onslaught,” Wind whispered.
“I would have appreciated a warning,” Earth insisted.
“They have rebuilt, haven’t they?” Water accused.
Earth grimaced, “And yet I suffer still. They rip up my children, and have grown too numerous, spreading like a disease. They pierce me with their machines and dig deep into my depths for their precious fuels.”
“I too have endured much.” All eyes turned to Wind. She winced. “The fuels they’ve leeched from you,” she said motioning to Earth, “end up flowing within me and are slow to leave my being. And with the continuous demise of your children, I cannot hasten the cure of my infection.”
“Besides Water and Wind, has anyone else been warning them of their folly?” Night demanded.
“I’ve been striking at the driest parts,” Fire said smoothly, “I’ve moved swiftly through some of their lands, never quite beyond their reach. I at least informed the lovely Earth of my intentions,” he sneered at Water.
“And yet you failed to warn me of numerous eruptions!” Water spluttered, “You seek to constantly sap my control!”
“Fire didn’t cause all of the eruptions. My movement affects you all,” Earth looked to Night. “And I’ve been moving more frequently in the last century. We’re all making small demonstrations of our power but their reaction is slow.”
“They no longer hide from you as they once did either, brother, and their numbers grow, thus their ignorance spreads further,” Day spoke quietly.
Night nodded, “With their increasing desire to forgo sleep and rest, they have more time to cause harm and discord.”
“They’ve nearly stripped me bare!” Water said. “My family was vast and numerous but their nets have grown massive. They take too much! I’ve started to pull in my borders in some parts and kept many of my treasures deep within me, where the light cannot touch and where they dare not venture,” Water clenched his fists and set his mouth in a thin line to keep his calm.
“I still find my way into those deep depths of yours to your treasures,” Day replied smugly.
“No one denies your abilities to appear where least expected, dear Light,” Night said.
“My sweet Darkness,” Day answered.
“I cannot hold my form in the far north and south,” Water brought the focus back to the issues at hand. “I have grown full and pushed myself further inland, as well.”
“They use me tirelessly in all manner of wars, and their battles are endless,” Fire said. “They play at acting gods and destroy in the name of some holy purpose. They manipulate my many forms to violent ends, and still you would gift them with the secrets of my being.” Fire stared at Night, who accepted his gaze calmly.
There was always tension between Darkness and Fire, with many years for hard feelings to be solidified between them. Darkness was all-consuming, his word was law and he demanded complete loyalty. When the humans had first been created, their forms were primitive and it became quickly apparent that they could not survive without divine secrets being unveiled to them. Darkness had decided to show human beings the way of fire, how to summon him in small forms, control him to their ends. Fire could say nothing but abide by the decision, but his anger festered over the millennia. Since then, at every opportunity Fire had to break free of the confines humans placed on him, he raged. Darkness would allow it for only so long before he would order Water to smother him or Wind to suffocate him.
Night held Fire’s eyes as he spoke, “I would offer you in a gilded cage three times over if it taught you your place.”
A startling heat beat at the council, Fire’s eyes ablaze. He almost lost his human form completely. Night watched him, daring him to defy his word, to give him reason for a surrender of his calm.
Fire was no fool. He knew his place. “Perhaps we should just let them kill each other,” he managed to spit out. “We could aid them. Why not another plague?”
There were hesitant nods around the circle.
“The mortals have grown powerful in their destruction, there’s no telling what they would do as the panic took hold in their desperation to outlive each other. A plague could easily backfire on us when they bomb entire infected populations.” As always, Night spoke with reason.
“What about a coordinated attack between all of us?” Wind said.
“Another warning or the final blow?” Day asked.
“How many warnings do we have to give them?” Fire demanded.
“We cannot disregard that there have been some who’ve taken up arms for us, and their numbers do grow each day,” Earth reasoned.
“They’ve taken up arms against each other for centuries over who made the earth and only now start to battle for its preservation,” Wind could hardly keep the derision from her voice. “Their timing is a bit late.”
“Nonetheless,” declared Night, “We cannot ignore their efforts.”
“But we can ignore the centuries of hubris,” Fire mocked.
“Their advancements in technology have only made them worse,” Day said. “I grow weary of watching them tear this world asunder as though they are the only ones on it. They have failed to heed our warnings and are incapable of unity, their inability to set a common goal for their future in this world speaks against them.”
“I know very well how your pessimism has grown over the years, little sister. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the damage you’ve wrought with their sun,” Night said, “searing their skin and bombarding them with an ever- rising heat.”
“A simple response to the sickness they’ve inflicted on Air,” Day replied, motioning to Wind.
The circle turned their eyes to the nymph-like woman dwarfed by the massive boulder on which she sat. She’d been fidgeting, but now held herself still, looking off into the dark wood. “Illness has not kept me from striking back at the sordid little creatures,” she said in a flat voice. “I have twisted, contorted and flung myself at them.” She looked to her left at Water, “I’ve used you when needed,” then looked to her right at Fire, “and you when desired. I fear the mortals have gone past the point of no return. Even if they came to understand the folly of their ways, came to respect and nurture us as they once did, I do not know if I can heal the wounds they’ve inflicted.”
“What about a flood? Another great one?” Water asked as he relived the great deluge in his mind’s eye.
“Your hold on sanity was almost lost the last time. We never agreed to a strike of that magnitude, much less to giving the mortals a glimpse to the extent of that much power. They still teach their children your story, Water. You are lucky that there were survivors left to tell it,” Night’s gaze bore down on Water.
Water looked away. “Would it really have been so bad if they’d all been eradicated?”
“We eradicated the other forms of mortals, these were the first of their kind that held promise. Their worship was significant, the flood was only ever meant to remind them why their place was at our feet,” Night replied.
No one uttered a word. It was rare that any of them spoke against Night. He was the oldest and their undisputed leader. He had been Chaos at the beginning, for how long none could measure. He had reigned in solitude but at some point tore himself and drew Light from within, and so it was that he became Darkness. It was the obverse siblings to which the Elements owed their existence, and each had grown strong in their own power. It was through the union of all that their greatest work, Time, had been accomplished. In its wake Darkness became Night, Light became Day and the creation of the world came into being. The Elements and Primeval siblings bore witness to a great many centuries and much had been done.
The meadow had grown quiet as all the council members looked back into their long memories.
“I could starve them,” Earth declared, breaking hush. “Greater creatures than they have fallen by its plight.”
“Water cannot sustain the losses,” Day reminded them. “A singular act will not suffice. We will have to coordinate our attack. The only question we need consider is whether it will be a final blow to their kind or a stark reminder of their mortality.”
Again silence infused the meadow, leaving humanity’s fate hanging in its midst.
“Why not do what we’ve done before and force the humans to evolve, to create a new species?” Wind asked.
“Our attack would have to be cataclysmic to force an adequate evolution that would best meet our needs,” Day said, as she turned to regard her brother. “We could orchestrate another asteroid.”
“That was rather painful,” Earth protested.
“Rather jarring,” Water agreed.
“I found it invigorating,” Fire said simply.
“It was an interesting change,” Wind replied.
“We pulled that rock from beyond this world for a reason, my darling Light. We wanted to create the humans, they had no place in that time and could never have reached their full potential in such an environment. We wanted an intelligent species that could reign above all others, a species that could sustain the order we created.”
“Have they served that purpose?” Wind asked.
Night looked down at her. “They’ve proved themselves on occasion and that is enough.”
“So, what do we do?” Fire asked.
“We delay our decision,” Day stood and turned to look at each of them, “but we do not remain docile. We give them time, time to see just how much their intelligence serves them as we strike harder, more frequently, erratically. If we see that they begin to retrieve their understanding of their place among us, we practice leniency.” Day turned her gaze on her brother, “but if they continue on the course they’re on, they forfeit their right to existence.”
Night held his sister’s gaze for a time, mulling over her words. He glanced at the others and saw the effect of her reasoning. There was no denying the value of it. “How much time should we give them?”
“A few centuries,” Wind replied. “No more.”
The council nodded, looking to Night. He met their gazes, one by one, satisfied when they looked away. He stretched the calm thin, before rising to his feet. The meadow seemed to expand to accommodate him.
“All those in favor of this final judgement,” he looked to his sister.
Day stretched out her hand. A flash of the purest white light flew across the meadow to float in its center. Water was next, sending a large sphere of his matter to mingle with light. It was joined by a leaf that soon met a plume of fire that whispered over it lovingly without smoke or char. A stream of air flitted forward to twine around its brethren, leaving the final vote to Chaos.
A small tendril of his cloak detached itself from his sleeve and slithered its way to the distorted orb. The moment it settled within the empty space that kept the elements and light from touching, the orb solidified and floated to Night’s outstretched hand.
“And so it is decided—” he cast his eyes to each council member once more, “the mortals have three hundred years to save this world on their own. Should they fail, we strike them from it and destroy everything they’ve built.”