~Or, Life As I Knew It~
I will be the first to admit that the story of my life seems more the stuff of myth than biography. Indeed, I know I should be called a liar if my reputation as a child redeemed from the wild wastes did not far precede me. But disbelief is like the barbed insults of the ignorant; it does me no harm, and it only reflects poorly on the caster. My tale is only as fantastic as any myth, which were once truth. Humans once accepted the brothers Remus and Romulus suckled at the teat of an unsapient she-wolf, and raised themselves up from such mean beginnings to found a city and an empire to rival that of the echidna clans of Pachamac and Ix. Accept my story, then, as truth or myth. It is all the same to me, for they are often one in the same.
But if my honesty is still called into question, and I am still believed to be only telling tales, then under the most solemn oath I know:
I, Doctor Miles Prower, Keeper of the Great Temple of the Clan of Pachamac, Guardian of the Master of Chaos, and Purifier of the Holy Land do swear by the gods that there is no lie or falsehood in me. I seal this oath under the eye of the destructive god – may I be made desolate by his hand if there is deceit on my lips, and may my tree be ever barren if I shall break my oath.
That is the short version. The full one, as I learned it, involved a great deal more hand-waving and invocations to every god the ancient echidnas worshipped. Fortunately, one could only speak it in the court of the Chieftain, for it was a stoneable offense to otherwise utter the full Oath.
One will already suspect that my upbringing, such as it was, was far from typical, and he would be right. My earliest memory is of learning my letters – that is, the glyphic script of the ancient echidnas – at the knee of a figure I knew and thought of only as the Guardian. He was neither father or mother to me, nor a brother, or even really a friend, and I think he saw himself the same way. The Guardian was not a vulpine as I, but an echidna of the oldest bloodline, direct descendant of Pachamac's clan, as he made abundantly clear in so many vain and prideful ways.
The Guardian was the only parent I knew, poor though he was at the job, for all I have no memories of him ever being more tender or personable than a brick. As I kept no diary in these earliest years of my life, it will help the reader to better enter my memories of that time if I describe my sole and strange protector.
Due to my ever-small stature, the impression in my mind of the Guardian that remains even to this day is a towering and foreboding presence. I realize now that, as an echidna, he could have stood no taller than one-and-a-third meters; yet what he lacked in height, he more than made up for in bulk. Beneath the nigh-on cherry red fur that covered him from head to toe, the Guardian was a mass of muscle, of primal force that no mere bodybuilder could ever attain. His fur grew into greasy quills that hung down around his face, rimming a permanent scowl that is indelibly inscribed in my memory, for it was the expression he bore through every emotion from anger to sadness to loneliness, only twitching into a hesitant smile when he was pleased: a true rarity. All of this only added to the air of hardness the Guardian exuded from his person at all times.
Such was the stature and nature of my sole, strange parent. He showed me little kindness – I do not think it was ever really on his mind to do so – but neither did he show me meanness. I now believe he was doing his job, his appointment as best he knew how. He did not care for me, he guarded me as an equal value to the many treasures under his office. For, by all accounts, the Guardian would easily have been rich beyond most creatures if he considered anything we watched over actually his.
The archaeological records of artefacts taken from the Floating Island is public knowledge, so I will not waste the reader's time and mine in recounting all the riches under the Guardian's watchful eye. However, it is not an exaggeration to tell that the Guardian kept caches of wealth under the earth filled from floor to ceiling with relics of jade and copper, silver and gold, diamonds and gems. He could recount the history and lineage of every one of these pieces, citing its bearers and keepers and craftsmen all the way down the line, until finally they passed into his care. I learned many of these histories myself, for the Guardian would have me recite, at random, the bearers of an artefact he would reveal, dealing a punishment by cuffing me but lightly if I was ever remiss in my account. Fortunately, my prodigious memory, even at the time, kept such punishments very uncommon indeed, my wit pleasing the Guardian as little else did. I do not hold this occasional rough handling against my memories of him, for it is likely he was taught in the same time-honoured tradition of learning by rote and brutality, and he knew no other way to pass on his knowledge.
Above all other treasures under his and later my own care was a gem around which revolved the whole of our lives and existence. This great jewel was both the legacy of his clan and a force of Nature to be protected and honoured in its own right. This was the Master Emerald.
Though we now know more of the workings and physics of Chaos Emerald activity in this age of progress and information, the Master Emerald was at the time an object of great mystery, deep reverence, and awesome power to the both of us. This massive gem was our protector as much as we over it, for it kept our home, the famed Floating Island, aloft in the sky, and granted to its keeper a measure of power to sanctify the Island, its holy sanctuary, from unwanted presences. However, I do not believe the Guardian ever had need to exorcize the island of anything more troublesome than an errant flock of seagulls, but he was still ever restless in performing his duty as protector.
And dull duty it was. For hours on end each day, the Guardian stood, surly and still, before the Emerald that was his ultimate duty, facing outward to the only doors of the chamber deep inside the Floating Island's hidden depths where the Emerald was housed. There are many things I never understood and may never understand about this strange protector of mine, but it is not without certainty I say that he performed this tedious, interminable, lonely duty out of guilt: a guilt at being the sole survivor of his race he knew of, a guilt at having no one but a mutant kit like myself to whom he might pass down his people's arts and knowledge, a guilt at being forever tied to the same small plot of land until the end of his days – all for the sake of duty. His case was ever as much sad as mine, if not more so; for while I later found friends and companions, and had a pillar of strength in the Guardian himself, he had no one.
* * * * *
It will benefit the reader to know precisely how the Guardian and I lived. We made our home in the caverns, the very bowels of the Floating Island in a place built by the echidnas that once populated that land. The archaeologists have called it the Hidden Palace, after the strange geology that the echidnas of old so easily adapted into architecture. To the Guardian and me, no name was ever needed. It was simply Home.
The Palace was a great cave set in the center of the Island, a fact which could only have arisen by design of its creators. At the middle of these caverns, in the very heart of the Floating Island itself, lay the Shrine of the Master Emerald. Set in a fountain of fresh, cool water which flowed from the Emerald itself, this shrine was as much a place of refreshment and renewal as it was a holy place. The Emerald's housing was a stone gazebo of ornate and ancient craftsmanship, the Emerald's revitalizing force resisting the erosion of ages to keep the carvings and art pristine as the day of their making. Streams of water flowed from this most holy of holies through the Palace caverns and to all corners of the Island, through the millennia carving out rivers flowing off the edge of the world and beautiful waterfalls cascading into mists that diffracted the dim and gentle light of the Palace into rainbows underground.
Only a single door, a high and foreboding gate of jet, admitted into and out of this inner sanctum, which opened into a long stone corridor illuminated by azure and green crystals, formed of aeons of mineral growth in the presence of the Master Emerald, and shining from within with the resonant energies from that selfsame jewel. This stone hall was of very great length indeed, for one could see the opposite end from neither entrance. The Guardian made a habit of calling me to the Master Emerald's chamber for lessons with his great, booming voice from across the Palace, and I would receive a cuff if I could not hasten to the echidna before he grew impatient – which was to say, not long at all. I therefore learned the art of hurrying as so many do: by deadlines.
These minutiae will seem tedious, but consider that I did not leave the Palace for the entire first half of my life on the Floating Island. There was little else to occupy my time while the Guardian and I stood watch over our sacred charge other than the details.
At the end of this corridor and branching off into many others was a sort of grand ante-chamber, a high-vaulted cavern seemingly supported by painted stalagmite pillars, the whole chamber overlaid with fine marble and lapis lazuli. This chamber was a gallery of the finest art of the echidna race, being decorated by mosaics of semiprecious stones depicting the great conquests and triumphs and dark gods of that ancient people. The pillars were painstakingly inscribed with the haunting and beautiful Song of Tikal – in its original pictorial script – preserved whole like nowhere else in the world by the revitalizing force of the Master Emerald's presence. All around the perimeter of the chamber rose aqueducts on spindly wall supports, engineering marvels for their time, carrying water from the inexhaustible spring the Master Emerald tapped or produced. These were as much a part of the scenery as any carving or mural, for the channels were overlaid with tiles of jade and opal, lesser reflections of the source of their stream, but no less beautiful.
Well-publicized when I entered the larger world was my seemingly miraculous ability to fly, unaided, using that split appendage that has led those with whom I share my affections to call me "Tails". I never thought it miraculous, myself, as I only learned to do in imitation and admiration of the Guardian in his race's ability to ride on the winds. I idolized the ancient warriors of the Clan of Pachamac, those graceful and stealthy spearmen who would silently glide into an enemy city at night from the treetops to punish a people for their leader's gross disrespect of honour. I am more mild now, but inspired by such tales as this, all from the Guardian's lips, I wanted to both emulate and know more of the proud echidna warriors, those I thought of as my own people. I wanted to read of their exploits, and the only place where I knew I could do so was on the columns – thus did I learn to touch the heavens.
Branching off from this central chamber were yet more corridors, most of which led to nowhere. I say nowhere, for these chambers had no purpose that even the Guardian could relate in all the histories he knew. It is likely that, as the echidna race dwindled, these rooms lost their purpose through sheer disuse, and what were once kitchens and armories and antechambers, living quarters and rooms of entertainment all lost their meaning. The Palace was vast and filled with such empty rooms, and it was not until my later years that I became the last and sole protector of the Master Emerald myself that I explored all of its depths.
As for the Guardian and myself, we constrained ourselves to a few chambers that still had purpose for our living arrangements. We took for ourselves a small nook that lay down a flight of carven, luminescent crystal steps that I greatly surmise was, at one point, a guardhouse, due to the spears and stone dice that littered the walls and shelves. Or perhaps these were simply the Guardian's decorative caprice; I never asked. We here would bed down on a mattress of soft leaves and undergrowth from outside the Palace lain on a stone slab, which itself may have at one point been an altar. I myself could never be awake any longer than the Guardian wished, for when he tired the echidna would immediately drop everything and tuck me under his arm, carrying me no differently from a precious vase or a bundle of sticks to our chamber. If I ever protested, he was heedless, and he would lay with me locked tightly against his chest, strong arms gripping me so firmly I could not do more than squirm.
Even in sleep, the Guardian protected the treasures under his care. There was no warmth in his embrace, but it was the closest to tenderness that he would show me. But merely to know that the echidna kept me close for my own safety, protecting me as a precious treasure, was enough. I have never forgotten that kindness.
Two different storage rooms lay along the same corridor as our sleeping chamber. The first was a mundane larder in which the Guardian stored the spoils of his hunting and foraging on the outside that kept us fed. He would always return with something to add to our stores whenever he left the Palace, and once in a fortnight he would leave me to stand the silent guard over the Master Emerald, returning a few hours later laden with animals larger than he hoisted over his shoulders. Indeed, because I did not leave this small world of mine for many years, my first sight of many of those animals populating the Floating Island was glassy-eyed and sprawled across the Guardian's strong back. The Master Emerald could preserve these macabre foodstuffs for about a week, whereupon it would be my chore to clean out the remainder which we could not consume in that time.
I hated that room, and the horrible chore that went with it. In time I simply had to become numb to the duty. And after I was Guardian myself, I never went in that room again.
The second room was the storehouse for our personal treasures. Almost certainly once a gallery of echidna craftsmanship, the Guardian had maintained it in this purpose. A dais of fine-polished quartz and pillars of jade around the room were all but buried by the many chaotically strewn treasures on the floor. Very little of this unkempt refuse could be called riches, especially compared to the great caches of wealth the Guardian kept elsewhere on the Floating Island. Mingled equally among the gold and diamonds of ages past were pieces of offal to all the world but our eyes: here a brazen statue of a nude and broad-chested echidna warrior, there a tattered cloth, loving hand-coloured with vegetable dyes, but crumbling to ash at the lightest touch.
All of this – the tiny rooms filled with riches and garbage, the long passageways of unfeeling stone, sparkling waterfalls and cold, unfeeling gems – was the entire expanse of my world. Call it sad, call it sheltered, but it was all I knew for the extent of my childhood, to understand my experience, it is first necessary to know what was dear to me and shaped my young heart.
Now I shall leave you here. What you will read from here is the voice of a different Miles Prower. It is the voice of a younger me, of a kit whose mind greedily lapped up every factoid he encountered, and who longed for stimulation beyond his tiny little world. It is the story of a child forced to grow beyond his years to meet the unforgiving destiny of an ancient mandate, of lonely days spent beneath the earth with no friends but those found within.
This is my story.