You look up at the number on the docking bay. Bay 12. You recheck your ticket. Bay 12. You frown slightly, and look around you. By day, the spacestation is a busy place with techs hurrying to and fro, loudspeaker announcements and the constant hum of doors as they open and close. But it isn't day now, it is night. By night, the spaceport is filled with silence and shadows. You look again at your ticket, still wondering if it is all some sort of joke.
You had received the ticket earlier in the day. It arrived on the mail transport in a small white envelope with a curious bronze colored seal. The seal seemed almost familiar to you. As though you had seen it elsewhere and forgotten about it since. Inside the envelope, you found a small card bearing your name and a message. The message read, "You are hereby invited to the Conference of Introductions." On the other side of the card was another message. "Insert this card in Flight Simulator number seven to receive your ticket." Curious, you did just that and received another envelope. Inside this envelope, you found a ticket and a single sheet of delicate, rose scented paper. It read "You have been chosen as one of the representatives of your world to attend the Conference of Introductions. The Conference will begin tonight. To attend, present yourself at Docking Bay 12 - at the stroke of midnight. You will be guided from there." Although you were hesitant about the strange request, something deep within you whispered that it was a conference you shouldn't miss. Which is how you came to be standing outside an empty docking bay just before the stroke of midnight.
Even as you think how silly this whole thing is, you open the docking bay doors just as midnight strikes. The glaring brightness of the lights on the other side of the door immediately renders you unable to see. As you stand there, waiting for your eyes to grow accustomed to the light, you hear a gentle male voice. "I'm glad you came." As your sight begins to return, the voice continues, "The ship is ready to leave, you're the last passenger." You blink as the world returns to focus.
The gentle voice belongs to a boy of around 15 cycles. His dark brown hair falls in tousled waves to just below his ears and his smile is warm and friendly. The most striking things about him though are his eyes. The softest of brown, they regard you with calm confidence and just a hint of excitement. Looking at them, you immediately feel reassured. "Let's go," he says, "the conference awaits!" Together, you head towards the small spaceship docked in the bay.
You recognise the ship as one of the spacestation's shuttlecraft. As your gaze follows the sharp lines and angles of the basically rectangular craft, you notice one difference though. Although the ship is painted in the familiar dark grey which the station is known for, someone has removed the thick black number that all the shuttlecraft normally have. Instead, you can see a name "The Hope" painted in graceful swoops and swirls of deep forest green. As you draw nearer, the loading door suddenly pops open in the side. A small figure enveloped in a hooded grey cape appears at the entry. From beneath the cape, a small hand emerges and makes a graceful motion, gesturing for you both to enter. As you pass the figure, a soft male voice with a lightly lilting accent says simply, "I hope you enjoy the flight." He closes the door and then heads towards the front of the ship.
You notice that the inside of the ship is set out rather differently to all the other shuttlecraft the spacestation runs. Instead of the usual bench seats and open cargo area, this craft has been converted into a passenger carrier. Eight rows of seats have been set up in the main section of the ship with two seats on both sides and a narrow center aisle in-between. The seats are well padded and comfortable, and you settle into yours happily. When you get sorted out and look around, you realise that the young man and you are the only passengers. Although this makes you a little uneasy, your curiosity is far stronger than your fear and you decide to just sit back and enjoy the trip.
With a soft hum, the engines start up and you feel the small craft vibrate gently as it begins to lift off the ground. Looking out the small porthole nearby, you watch in silence as the small craft moves out of the docking bay and into space. You watch as the spacestation comes into view and gasp in awe at the magnificence of it. You eyes move over the spherical construction, taking in all the antennae and the numerous towers, large and small, which cover the surface. You know them to be part of the station's intergalactic communications system, but you still find them awe-inspiring. Then the shuttle moves into hyperdrive and the scene blurs until it makes you a little dizzy to look at it. You turn your attention to your fellow passenger. Before long, the two of you are talking amiably.
It seems as though hardly any time at all has passed before you hear the soft whine of the engines as the ship emerges from hyperspeed. You blink in surprise. Surely you can't have arrived anywhere yet. Why, the only planet within so short a distance from the spacestation is... You look out the window and gasp in shock.
As the flashes of the hyperlines revert into their normal appearance of stars and space, you see a small world hovering off to the port (left) side of the ship, the side you are sitting on. Your companion leans over and looks at the world. "It looks like a nice place, look at all that green land, and see how blue the water is!" he comments. You shake your head, still too stunned to speak. You know that world. You know the stories about it and they all say the same thing.
According to the stories, Dalra Star was once an ordinary little world populated by ordinary humanoids at around the Stone Age era of their social and technological development. At that time, the planet was one of two. Twin worlds which circled around the same sun and which shared the same moon. Two worlds so close that they appeared as one to the naked eye, even from as close as the spacestation. But while Dalra Star was perfectly ordinary, it's twin world, Leyra Star, was not.
On Leyra, the medieval era was in its prime. However there was one other, even greater, difference. On Leyra Star, magic thrived. Not only magic, but beings of magic co-existed with the humanoids that populated the planet. Elves, trolls, ogres, dwarves, gnomes and a myriad of other fantastic creatures had lived on Leyra Star. But then the Great War had come. In a single week, so the stories said, Leyra Star had been wracked by terrible disasters as the Wizards of the planet warred with the Mages. But it is during such times that heroes may arise, and so it was with Leyra Star.
A young apprentice Mage uncovered a source of great power, the legendary Wishing Stone. Although the stories never say how it came to pass, they all agree that it was the young Mage's wish that created a bridge formed of such powerful magic that no Wizard or Mage could destroy it. The bridge spanned from Leyra to her sister world, Dalra Star, and it was across this bridge that all the beings and creatures of magic and non-magic fled to escape the Great War. When only the warring Wizards and Mages remained on Leyra, the bridge faded into memory. The moment it vanished entirely, Leyra Star herself began to vanish. By the next dawn, only one world remained of the two.
Not long after the spacestation was built, but several hundred years after Leyra's vanishing, envoys were sent to Dalra Star in an attempt to contact the planet's inhabitants and establish communication with them. Only one of the envoys ever returned.
He brought with him tales of fierce creatures and savage elves who attacked swiftly and silently without waiting to determine why the humans had come to their world. That it was their world, there was no doubt. Of the humans that had originally inhabited the world, the envoy had seen no sign. He was the third envoy sent, he had not found even a trace of his two predecessors.
After that, Dalra Star was left alone for over twenty years, until a dark force began to rise in a neighboring galaxy. Suddenly the small world was very valuable, as it was rich in metal and mineral deposits, which would prove vital in an intergalactic war. Two more tries at establishing contact had been made.
The first had seemed like an excellent idea at the time. The Captain of the spacestation had ordered the construction of two artificial creatures, androids designed to look like elves so they would be able to gather information on the world and it's inhabitants without risking any more human lives. For a time, the idea had worked. However, two months after the reports had begun, they had suddenly stopped. That was when the second, and final, try had been made.
Although no official mention of it has ever been made, you have heard rumours that a young tech was sent down to the planet in an attempt to locate and repair the two androids. A few weeks after the rumours started, the spacestation was hit by a series of strange and unexplained events. After that, the world of Dalra Star was never mentioned again. As a result, you find it almost impossible to believe that you could be brought to this wild world, especially for something as civilized as a conference. Yet, as the small craft starts its landing procedures, you are forced to acknowledge it as the truth.
The shuttle sets down with a light thud and you hear the pilot leave his seat and approach you and your companion. He pauses in passing you and his voice suddenly sounds in your ear, so soft that only you can hear it. "Only those who come to this world uninvited need fear their welcome from us." You look up as his wrist makes a quick movement, tweaking back his hood so you can see his face. Considering everything else that has happened that night, you are not surprised to see that the pilot has the long pointed ears of an elf. What does surprise you is the apparent youthfulness of your pilot, who looks to be no more than a child, and his wide grey eyes which regard you with such a kindly look that you cannot help but be reassured. You stand and exit the ship behind the pilot and other passenger.
Outside, you find that the ship has settled in a small clearing in the middle of a forest. Trees surround you in every direction, but you notice a narrow path that winds through the trees to the East. Your pilot turns and grins at you and your companion. "Come. The village is this way."
The winding path leads the three of you for some distance with only the birdsong and the rustle of the trees in the gentle breezes to keep you company. But gradually another sound begins to rise over the natural ones. The murmur of many voices starts off as an indistinct hum, but grows in volume until you can make out dozens, if not more, individual voices. There are other noises now also. It sounds as though there is a large gathering just up ahead. Then you arrive in the village and realise that is precisely what is happening.
As you look in awe over the tables heaped with food and the many, many different beings present, your pilot chuckles softly. "This is not the actual Conference you understand. Our Elders believed you would prefer meeting all of us before it begins. Besides, we always enjoy a good celebration."
As the afternoon passes into twilight, and the twilight darkens into night, you meet some of the members of the various races that make their home on Dalra Star.
The majority of the group is of the Kindred, an Elven race gifted with a wide range of talents and magic and whose village is hosting the feast. You meet many of them, from the three Elders, two of whom seem to spend a great deal of time arguing with each other, to the adults, or Kinriders as they are known, to the children, also known as Kincubs. Curiously, while the Kinriders talk of magic and adventure, it is usually the deeds of the Kincubs they talk about. It appears that on this world, it is the children that hold the strongest magic.
One of the other Elven races, the Wingriders, appear to be almost identical to the Kindred. It is not until you listen to them that you realise their voices are huskier and more resonant than the lightly lilting tones of the Kindred. Also unlike the forest-based Kindred, the Wingriders live in high cliff aeries with the giant hawks, known as the Wing, that they ride, hence their name. They are often referred to as 'messengers' and seem to be used as a type of message relay system from the elves to the non-Elven races.
At first, you believe that the tall, graceful elves present are also known as Wingriders, but the confusion is soon sorted out. They are Windriders, with a 'd'. Although like the Wingriders, they ride giant birds, the creatures they deal with are called Firebirds, which have the head, wings, tail and talons of birds, but with a body more like a dragon. Allarill, the leader of the Windriders, also tells you that unlike their smaller cousins, the Windriders have the ability to ride the winds without the use of wings.
It seems like an odd comment for her to make, until you meet the Foxriders. The smallest of the four Elven races present, they stand barely two feet high and look like miniature versions of their taller cousins, except for the delicate silver wings that lie folded flat against their backs so they appear to be wearing silver cloaks. They turn out to be a very cheerful and friendly race with a special fondness for relating tales of daring rides and fierce battles. As you listen to the tales, you realise with surprise that although they are the smallest of the Elves, they are also the fiercest warriors.
The Dwarven race is represented by one young male Dwarf and the representative of the Gnome race is constantly at his side. Dalra Star is unusual in that the ties between the two races are exceptionally close. Introduced to you as Redfen and Gallan, the two turn out to be the oldest sons of the ruling houses of both their races. Redfen is a solid young Dwarf with twinkling green eyes and a bright red beard that is trimmed neatly to just below his chin. Gallan also has twinkling green eyes and his short cap of red hair sticks out at unruly angles all over his head, but he has no beard. You find them both to be charming conversationalists, well learned in lore and history and with a surprisingly good knowledge of technology as well. When you comment on this, they explain that they have learned a lot in the past year, but merely smile mysteriously and trade mischievous winks with each other when pressed for further information.
The last race represented at the feast is the Humans. Chief Werem, a large bear of a man, and his small, flower-fragile, daughter Cilla seem amazingly at home among all the Elven races, but you find them to be very shy with you. The Chief speaks little, but you find yourself paying great attention to what he does say because it is always insightful in some way. Cilla's high voice pipes up more often than her father's does, but you find she is very knowing for one as young as she, barely five cycles. You are talking with them as the twilight fades into true night, and Cilla suddenly smiles.
You turn in the direction she is looking and see that two small figures are approaching the gathering. Cloaked in shadows, you are unable to get a good look at them. Then the clouds slip away from the moon and a beam of moonlight shines down directly upon them, revealing them in all their beauty.
Both figures are small, however one is far more so than the other. A mother and her daughter you realise when you note the similarities between them. Both have luxuriant waves of midnight tumbling down their backs and both have the same pale cream complexions and large violet eyes. They are also both wearing black leggings and halter tops, although what is sedate on the child appears as enticing on the mother. There is something about them. You feel strangely drawn to the two. Perhaps it is the solemn look of the child, perhaps the haunting sorrow you glimpse in the mother's eyes. As they move gracefully into the group, you start towards them.
Before you reach them however, a soft note carries with ease over the sounds of the gathering and there is sudden silence as everyone turns their attention to the source of the sound. From high in the treetops, there is a flash of movement and a tall figure swoops gracefully down, born on immense white-feathered wings. When the winged elf lands, you get a good look at him. He looks like a Windrider, apart from the wings, and when Allarill moves to his side your guess is confirmed by the loving way she looks at him. Then he speaks and all gathered listen.
"The Southern Trolls are waiting at High Rock. They seek an audience with both the Starsinger and the Legend Keeper and would not have interrupted this night, except they suggest our guests might find it of interest also." A murmur of agreement ripples through the gathering.
As everyone proceeds from the feast area through the forest, your Pilot appears silently at your side. "You're in for a rare treat. It is not often that the Southern Trolls come down from their Mountain homes. Rarer still that they seek information from both Starsinger and Legend Keeper. We had planned for you to meet them later, but this is a far better way."
While you walk, the Pilot, who reveals his name is Mesmic, explains that Southern Trolls are very different from their northern cousins. "On this world, even as the continent is divided into North and South, so too are many of the races. But usually the differences are slight. The Trolls are the exception. The Northern Trolls are creatures of evil with no heart or soul, their appearance mirrors their nature as their skin is hard and their eyes always gleam with cold cruelty. When they travel, they leave behind a trail of destruction and death. They do not have magic themselves, so they have a special hatred for those who do. The Southern Trolls... Ah, but you will see for yourself. We are here."
High Rock turns out to be a large clearing hidden deep in the forest. It derives its name from the large rock embedded high in the small cliff that borders one side of the clearing. As you step into the clearing, you notice the creatures waiting there.
Five small creatures wait patiently on the far side of the clearing. Three are about three-foot high, while the other two are about a foot shorter. They are all covered in fur and resemble bears, except for their faces, which have the small features of an elf or a human, rather than a bearish muzzle. They are a colourful group as each of the five has a different colour fur and is wearing a loose robe of yet another colour. As you listen to them present a formal request for an audience with the Starsinger and the Legend Keeper, you realise that they are very different from how Mesmic portrayed their northern cousins. The Southern Trolls appear to be quiet and gentle. They make their request with calm politeness.
Mesmic tugs lightly on your sleeve as the Southern Troll with the silver fur ceases speaking. "Come, now we form a circle so we can lend our magic to the scrying." You follow his lead and soon everyone, including the Southern Trolls, has formed a ring around the clearing.
As everyone looks up to the High Rock, you see a young Kincub step out onto the stone. His white tunic and breeches seem to shimmer with moonlight and his long blonde hair waves gently in a light breeze that doesn't reach down into the clearing. He raises his head and his eyes seem to flash in the moonlight. Then he begins to sing. The high notes ripple through the air, carrying easily from the height they are born. They seem to take on life and form as they cascade down to the clearing, you are almost certain you feel their soft caress against your cheek as they glide past you. You turn to speak to Mesmic, but your words die in your throat as you notice the look on his face. He is smiling slightly and you look where he is looking, up at the stars.
As you watch, the stars begin to move. At first they seem to shiver, but the shivering swiftly becomes swaying which becomes dancing. As the young elf's tune rises in intensity, so the stars respond to the call, swirling in an astral dance as old as the magic that gifts them with their movement. The stars move until they form a circle of dancing light in the sky. In the heart of the sky-circle, a misty image begins to form. A rocky tunnel comes into view. Then a small elf appears, moving cautiously down the tunnel. Another comes behind her and another behind him. Then the image fades and the stars dance back to their usual formations, gradually slowing as the Starsinger's voice trails off to silence.
For a long moment, the silence extends to the gathered beings, then the murmuring begins, worry evident in the hushed voices. Before you can ask what the image means though, the voices fall silent again. You look up at the High Rock and realise that the Elven boy has gone and three new figures are stepping out onto the great stone. You get a fleeting impression of moving darkness and shadow from the two at either side of the third, but then they step back off the stone and out of your line of sight. The third stands silent and still but you can barely see her as the moon has taken herself off behind a cloud and the girl stands wreathed in shadows. When she speaks, her soft voice carries on the wind, calm and sure as she relays her news.
"The time of the prophecy is at hand. The Evil One has awoken and leads her army against us. An army which we cannot destroy without destroying ourselves. One chance, and one alone, will we receive to turn the darkness back. Night's daughter is our only warrior; memories are our only weapons. It has begun."
As the girl falls silent, the group begins to talk quietly among themselves. Mesmic turns to you. "This is not good news. Come. I believe Elfwatch has something more to say to you both." He leads you and the other passenger out of the clearing and along a narrow trail until you reach a second, smaller clearing. Two figures suddenly emerge from the shadows. A young boy and girl elf, but you shiver slightly as you meet their gaze. There is something odd about them.
"Elflight, Elvenbright, Elfwatch asked me to bring them to her." The two black-cloaked elves nod and retreat back into the shadows. Soft footfalls announce the arrival of the human girl as she makes her nimble way down the gently sloping hill nearby. As she returns to flat ground, she walks towards you, smiling slightly. Beside you, you sense the boy from the docking bay growing suddenly tense. You glance over at him and discover his eyes are focused intently on the girl from the High Rock.
She is a human girl of around 11 cycles. Her dark hair is gathered high on her head and falls back down past her shoulders in waves of tousled curls. Although she is definitely human, her light green skirt and laced tunic appear to be of Elven creation. She wears a brooch pinned to her tunic, a small circular mirror with a delicate, light blue rose etched in the center. Her grey eyes regard you and your companion with interest as she slowly crosses to you.
"Greetings. I am Elfwatch, Keeper of the Legends. I regret that the Conference of Introductions must be held another time, however I fear that an ancient prophecy is coming to pass and we are needed here." You look into her clear grey eyes and watch in fascination as they begin to mist over with silver. You find yourself unable to look away and her voice seems to echo softly in your mind. "Until the time for the conference comes, your memories of your visit here shall remain veiled. It could prove dangerous for you to recall everything you have learned here. You shall remember..." her voice begins to fade, "but you shall remember as though it were a dream. Or perhaps a story." Everything goes black.
You blink and wonder why you are standing at your window at midnight. You can't remember getting up, but you do vaguely remember a dream, or maybe a story, you can't quite recall.
On another world...
"Richard! Wake up! The Clan's already gathering and if we want to catch a ride into the city we have to go now!" The girl's voice woke Richard out of a deep sleep. As his deep brown eyes opened, he brushed back a wayward lock of dark brown hair and blinked up at his friend and soulmate Jasmine. The shadows from his lamp danced across her hair, making the blonde strands seem much darker, almost brown. For a moment he thought she was someone else. Someone else? Then he remembered.
"I had the strangest dream."
On to the next story