Niva’s eyes twinkled and every face was turned on her as she switched into the role of storyteller. “This world was created by special people. They were never born, and will never grow old. They walked between the stars, wove the moons on their path, and understand the secrets of the sun. Their purpose was to breathe life into Eridan from its rock and dust, and every one of us owes our existence to them.”
Lacey sat forward. This was the last place she thought she would hear about the Founders.
Niva continued, “They brought with them, immense knowledge from afar, and had discovered boundless mysteries on their path between the stars. As powerful as they were, the one thing they could not achieve was harmony—with each other, with their purpose, with their own perseveration.”
Lacey wasn’t sure Niva knew the meaning of all the words she was using. The fox-girl didn’t pause or stumble, but she spoke as if she were reciting something she had memorized.
Niva began to recount a few specific tales of the Founders, but not what Lacey expected. They were stories of arguments and dissent. Niva hopped around playing different roles and basked in the applause of her audience. Someone had taught her this tale, someone like a Founder, Lacey thought. How else would she know so many details?
Niva used names like Chahine, Susan, Tomi, and Hockheim. The names of the Founders. Lacey was rapt. The history articles never gave their names—and never mentioned these petty jealousies and bickering. Probably not what Founder City wanted them remembered for.
“And then, there was Adeline.” Niva bowed her head. The fire crackled loudly as a hush settled around the circle; its former devotees had forsaken it for the red blaze of Niva.
“Adeline found herself living the life of a Founder, with all of these miseries. Stuck. No longer any purpose. Many of her fellows eventually chose the Abeyance. But to Adeline it was a horror. She might never wake up again. And suicide was out of the question. Those who had created the Founders imbued them with such a high esteem of life, it was almost impossible for her to even contemplate manufacturing her own death.”
Lacey was taken aback by the idea. She had suffered too, but the idea of taking her own life never crossed her mind. She wondered what she would do if she knew she was going to live forever. She shuddered at the thought of an eternity in Pine Ridge—taunts and ear tugs everyday. Never-ending.
Lacey struggled not to interrupt the story with all the questions rattling around in her head. Besides, she doubted Niva knew anything more than the story she was recounting. If Lacey wanted answers she would have to find the Founder who had taught Niva the story.
“But Adeline had something that gave her a reason to continue. Something few of her fellows had ever experienced.” Niva came over and crouched down in front of Lacey. She waited a moment longer than necessary, and then let the word escape in a breath: “Love.”
Lacey shifted her eyes, trying to find something other than Niva’s consuming gaze to look at. The weasel- girl, Star, sighed and rested her chin on her palms.
“After so long together, many of the Founders couldn’t stand to be in each other’s company. Those that got along were at best aloof. But Adeline had found love with Daniel—and nothing could stop it. Except time.”
The name Daniel sounded familiar to Lacey, but it wasn’t a name of anyone in Pine Ridge. Maybe it had been someone on a caravan, or an explorer. Would she know a Founder if she met one?
“Stories tell us the strongest love is eternal. Nobody was better suited to test the bounds of this than the Founders. Adeline’s love was undying. But Daniel found new passions out in the world they had created, spending more and more time away from Adeline, exploring the lakes and the mountains. She spent more and more time pining for him, wondering if the fuel of his love had run out. When he was home her fears caused her to snap at him with sour words, so he came home less. Adeline cried three lifetimes of tears.”
Niva dropped to her knees, putting her hands together, and tilting her face to the moon above. Lacey thought she was overdoing it.
“One day, when Daniel was out exploring, Adeline decided to seek the forbidden. She knew the deep mysteries of the stars and the planets. She knew of the dragon that curls within the belly of Eridan, its weeping filling the rivers and the oceans, its passions fueling cataclysms. Dragon fire is the spark of creation. If anything could bring back Daniel’s love it was the dragon. Adeline searched out a special place, a well that had been sealed with the mark of the Founders. She broke the seal and stared into the black gullet beneath it. She wrestled with her heart. Should she wish for Daniel’s love? Should she wish for an end to hers? Finally, she leaned forward to simply wish for the pain to stop—and let the dragon decide. But as she did, a small stone rolled under her palm and she lost her balance, tumbling into the well, down into the waiting maw of the dragon.”
Star cried out, “No! Poor Adeline!”
Niva reached up from where she was laying, prostrate on the ground in mock-death, to caress the girl’s knee.
“That was the very first time the well laid it’s curse on the world,” Niva whispered. “And the last time Adeline felt love in her heart.”
The creatures around the fire applauded, Star the loudest. Niva bounced to her feet and then snuggled into the seat next to her admirer.
Normally a good campfire story put Lacey in good spirits, but this one left her brooding. She watched the two older girls. How could they let themselves get tangled up in each other’s lives? Especially after the story—evidence of the inevitable disaster, right in front of them.
There were two things Lacey was determined about more than ever: she would never wish at the well and never muddle her life with the insanity of love. She was like Daniel; there was only one wilderness she wanted to explore.
Author's Note: So this is a bit rough, and I am leery of it being an info dump. If there are any parts that it feels like it drags and you want it to move forward faster, please help me by pointing them out.
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Lacey is a bat girl. Seven years ago, her mother wished at the well in the heart of the Wish Wood, transforming a young bat-ling into a human girl--mostly human. But Lacey is growing up, Mama has a real daughter now, the kids in town tug on her poin...