Over the endless eons I’ve discovered that a mountain sunrise gives me the most delicious light I’ve ever tasted, so whenever possible I go up to the shoulder of Mount Shrak at first light to drink in the beauty of the sunrise. No matter what happens later in the day, the taste of a mountain sunrise gives me a serenity that nothing else can provide.

It was on a day in the late spring of the year when the creatures of the Wasteland had made their futile attempt to seize sister Zelana’s Domain and had been met by Eleria’s flood and Yaltar’s twin volcanos that I went out of my cave under Mount Shrak to greet the morning sun.

When I reached my customary feasting place, I saw that there was a cloud bank off to the east, and that always makes the sunrise even more glorious.

I looked around at the nearby mountains, and it seemed that summer was moving up into my Domain a bit more slowly than usual, and last winter’s snow was still stubbornly clinging to the lower ridges. It occurred to me that this might be a sign of one of those periodic climate changes which appear much more frequently than the people who serve us seem to realize. The temperatures on the face of Father Earth are never really constant. They’re subject almost entirely to the whims of Mother Sea, and if Mother’s feeling chilly, Father will get a lot of snow. That can go on for centuries.

After I’d considered the possibility, though, I dismissed the notion. Zelana had tampered with the weather extensively during the past winter to delay the invasion of her Domain by the servants of the Vlagh until her hired army arrived from the land of Maag, and it might take a while for things to go back to normal.

All in all, though, things had gone rather well this past spring. The more I considered the matter, the more certain I became that my decision to rouse the younger gods from their sleep cycle prematurely and to cause them to regress to infancy in the process had, in fact, fulfilled that ancient prophecy. Eleria’s flood and Yaltar’s twin volcanos had forever sealed off Zelana’s Domain from any more incursions by the creatures of the Wasteland.

The morning sun rose in all her splendor, painting that eastern cloud-bank a glorious crimson, and I feasted on her light. I’ve always found early summer light to be more invigorating than the pale light of winter or the dusty light of autumn, and there was a certain spring to my step as I walked on back down the mountain to the mouth of my cave.

My little toy sun was waiting for me at the cave-mouth, and she flickered her customary question at me.

‘Just taking a look at the weather, little one,’ I lied. She always seems to get all pouty and sullen if she thinks that I prefer the light of the real sun to hers. Pets can be very strange sometimes. ‘Is Ashad still sleeping?’ I asked her.

She bobbed up and down slightly in answer.

‘Good,’ I said. ‘He hasn’t been sleeping too well here lately. I think he was badly frightened by what happened down in Zelana’s Domain. Maybe you should keep your light a bit subdued so that he can sleep longer. He needs the rest.’

She bobbed her agreement, and her light dimmed. She had been just a bit sulky when I’d first brought Ashad into our cave, but that had passed, and she was now very fond of my yellow-haired little boy. She’d never fully understood Ashad’s need for solid food rather than light alone, so she habitually hovered near him, spilling light down on him - just in case he happened to need some.

I went on down through the twisting passageway that led to my cave, ducking under the icicle-like stalactites hanging down from the ceiling. They were much thicker and longer than they’d been at the beginning of my current cycle, and they were starting to get in my way. They were the result of the mineral-rich water that came seeping down through Mount Shrak, and they grew perceptibly longer every century. I made a mental note to take a club to them some day, when I had a little more time.

Ashad, covered with his fur robe, was still sleeping when I came out of the passageway into the large open chamber that was our home, so I thought it best not to disturb him.

I was still convinced that my decision to bring our alternates into the tag-end of our cycle had been the right one, but it was growing increasingly obvious that they’d brought some of their previous memories with them. I sat down in my chair near the table where Ashad ate his meals of what he called ‘real food’ to consider some things I hadn’t anticipated. I rather ruefully admitted to myself that I probably should have examined our alternates a bit more closely before I’d awakened them, but it was a little late now. I’d assumed that the children would respond to any dangers in the Domains of their own surrogate parents, so I’d been more than a little startled when Veltan had told me that Yaltar’s dream had predicted the war in Zelana’s Domain. I’d assumed that it’d be Eleria who’d warn us. Then when the real crisis arose, Yaltar had shoved prediction aside and had gone straight into action with those twin volcanos. That strongly suggested that Yaltar and Eleria had been very close during their previous cycle - a suggestion confirmed by the fact that Yaltar had occasionally referred to Eleria by her true name, ‘Balacenia’, and Eleria in like manner had spoken of ‘Vash’ -Yaltar’s true name.

‘I think there might just be a few holes in this “grand plan” of mine,’ I ruefully admitted.

The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that the core of our problem lay in the fact that the Vlagh had been consciously modifying its servants over the past hundred or so eons. The modification of various life forms goes on all the time, usually in response to changes in the environment. Sometimes these modifications work, and sometimes they don’t. The species that makes the right choice survives, but the wrong choice leads to extinction. In most cases, survival depends on sheer luck.

Before the arrival of the hairy predecessors of the creatures we now call men, vast numbers of creatures had arisen in the Land of Dhrall, but at some point most of them had made a wrong turn and had died out.

The Vlagh, unfortunately, had been among the survivors.

Originally, the Vlagh had been little more than a somewhat exotic insect which had nested near the shore of that inland sea which in the far distant past had covered what is now the Wasteland. A gradual climate change had evaporated that sea, and the Vlagh, driven by necessity, had begun to modify its servants. The change of climate had made avoiding the broiling sunlight a matter of absolute necessity, but as closely as I’ve been able to determine, the Vlagh had not simply groped around in search of a solution, but had relied on observation instead. I’m almost positive that it had been at this point that ‘the overmind’ had appeared. The ability to share information had given the servants of the Vlagh an enormous advantage over their neighbors. What any single one of them had seen, they all had seen. The Vlagh’s species at that time had lived above the ground - most probably up in the trees. Several other species, however, had lived beneath the surface of the ground, and ‘the seekers of knowledge’ - spies, if you wish - had observed those neighbors and had provided very accurate descriptions of the appendages the neighbors used to burrow below the surface. Then ‘the overmind’ had filched the design, the Vlagh had duplicated it, and the next hatch had all been burrowers.

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