Another world destroyed. El'dari screaming and fighting with their last breaths as the Shael'Morenni ripped through them and slew every last one of them. The Machines of Death were merciless, and would leave no elf alive.
Vistri appeared on another world, another colony that might yet still be saved. He blinked his three eyes and let out a heavy sigh. He'd long known that this was coming. He'd long suspected that the Shael'Morenni would return to finish the job. Why had he waited so long to act? Now, it might well be too late. He had to find some way to save even a remnant of his people.
This world... he looked around at the enormous trees surrounding him. He believed that this colony world was named Silthor. There weren't many worlds left. The El'dari were dying. This was not a fight they could win.
A group of armed El'dari approached him. They wore armor that had been painted green and blue, covered in shimmering, translucent cloaks. They pointed prism rifles at him. Their armor and weaponry marked them as members of the Aspect Shrine of the Shadow Spectres. These people were clearly preparing for battle against the Death Machines.
"A mutant!" one of them hissed.
"Mutant," said the squad leader. "What is your business on Silthor?"
"I came to warn you about the Shael'Morenni," Vistri replied. He was long used to the prejudice against him for having been born with three eyes. Perhaps if he had not been a mutant, he thought, his warnings may have been heeded in time to do something about it.
"We already know." He shook his head and lowered his weapon. "We have made preparations. Their advance will stop here."
Overconfident as always. Vistri had seen it time and again. The last world he had been on had employed untold numbers of Fire Dragons and Shadow Spectres against the dark waves of the Shael'Morenni, and it had done little good. Their Howling Banshees and Striking Scorpions had been cut down even as they tried to close in.
Perhaps it would have helped if the El'dari had more vehicle support on their side. The Shael'Morenni had known where to strike. Before the El'dari even knew what was happening, their production facilities had been wiped out. El'dari resistance had been struggling ever since, and their numbers were rapidly falling.
"No," Vistri said. "I must speak with your Seeker. There is no time to lose."
The Shadow Spectre stared at him for a long moment, as if debating on whether to shoot him after all, before finally saying, "Fine. Come with us. But this had better not be some trick."
The squad of Shadow Spectres led Vistri away into the heart of the colony, to a large, elegant building nestled amidst the giant trees. He recognized the Seeker immediately. A graceful El'dari woman with silver-gold hair and very pale eyes that seemed to peer into his very soul.
"This mutant demanded to be brought before you, Seeker Almarith."
The Seeker nods to him, and says, "You may leave us. This one rides upon the winds of the storm, but he does not bring destruction; rather he brings a hope for salvation."
"As you wish, Seeker." The Shadow Spectres salute her and stride off again.
"Seeker," Vistri said, bowing toward her. "I am Vistri Lenoreth Antaves, of Til'raine."
"You are the Seeker of Til'raine," Almarith said.
"I never held any such title."
"You foresaw their coming doom and attempted to steer them away from that course," Almarith said. "They chose not to heed your words, and now they are few."
Vistri was a little surprised. She could clearly see the three eyes upon his face, but she did not seem to notice or care that he was a mutant.
"I am the only one left, so far as I know," Vistri protested. She could not possibly know about what had happened on Earth, could she? Perhaps she could. She was a Seeker, after all.
"Now they are few," Almarith insisted, staring off at the canopy of leaves high overhead. "The Shael'Morenni must not take this world."
"Indeed," Vistri agreed. "They must not take the gate to Til'aris. That would be disastrous."
"Moreso even than the end of our race," Almarith said. "The El'dari have lived long lives, but perhaps even we are not eternal. Til'raine has died, and Vel'kira has died, and now death comes for the El'dari. Yet, we should not allow our mistakes to doom all of those who might come after us."
The Seeker of Silthor points up toward the trees, and Vistri saw movement in the leaves above. He took them at first to be birds, but then one of them came down and lit on top of one of the buildings nearby. It was no bird, but a cream-furred mammal with silver-feathered wings.
"Fascinating creatures, are they not?" Almarith said. "Very intelligent animals. We have taken a few of them as pets and trained them to do tricks. But perhaps, in another million years, the Zephyli might take our place among the stars. History has wrought stranger things."
"Seeker..." Vistri murmured, watching the Zephyli thoughtfully. Her words reminded him of the humans he had been recently dealing with on Earth. "I do not wish to see the El'dari die. There has been enough bloodshed in the universe."
"There will always be bloodshed, I think," Almarith said. "If a future without violence can be conceived, then the Seeker who might be able to see it is a better one than I could ever hope to be in this life."
"If you would seek to protect the Zephyli and the Til'aris gate, then, what would you intend to do? Do you mean to face this enemy head-on?"
"We will draw the scythes of the Shael'Morenni away from Silthor. We will protect this place, and leave them no reason to look here further. Already we have set up protections around the Til'aris gate to ward and conceal it, biological and psychic protections that would be difficult to penetrate short of destroying everything for miles around, which would also destroy the gate itself."
"There is no need for everyone to die," Vistri said. For all the death and violence he had seen in his life, it was easy to become demoralized. And yet, he still tried to cling to any faint hope that he could find.
"Already we are completing our preparations," Almarith said, shaking her head. "If the sun must set upon the El'dari, if we must be forgotten in the mists of time, then let us do what we must in order to bring hope for a new future."
It was a strange thing to be hearing from any elf, even an El'dari. The Til'dari were far more arrogant, unwilling to accept even their El'dari cousins as kin. But here were El'dari willing to sacrifice themselves so that... so that flying monkeys could survive? Vistri was incredulous. He had not believed his people capable of such selfless nobility. The thought was almost enough to bring tears to his eyes.
"Then, if you would walk gladly to your own deaths in order to preserve the future," Vistri said quietly, "let us ensure that your souls and memories are also preserved."
"You suggest using soulstones?" Almarith asked.
Vistri shook his head. "The Shael'Morenni destroy those when they can, as they wipe out any remnants of our technology. No, perhaps if we were to use a biological container instead..."
"We will not possess other living beings. That would be an abomination." Almarith frowned thoughtfully. She slowly strode over toward the nearest of the giant trees and rested her fingertips lightly against the bark of the trunk. "But, perhaps that is not the only option. These trees live for much longer lives even than most of the El'dari."
"Could your memories be properly preserved within a tree, even one such as these?" Vistri wondered.
"I do not know. But even if we are to forget all we are and all we have been, if our souls survive, then it will have been worth it."
Vistri watched as the last traces of the El'dari left the surface of Silthor. In his hand, he held the runed key that they had carefully crafted. They'd had to use wood rather than metal, crystal, or wraithbone. They were afraid that the Shael'Morenni would have detected any artificial materials.
Alone on the surface of Silthor now, Vistri settled down against a tree and closed his three eyes. He did not fear the Shael'Morenni finding him. He had evaded their notice for three million years, ever since the fall of Til'raine. And yet, what good had that done for his people? It was mere survival, without destiny or purpose. There had never been a place for him in the universe.
The El'dari went off to engage the Shael'Morenni far from Silthor, so that they would not attack the planet at all. Just another random planet in the galaxy. Nothing special about it.
Vistri had a purpose now, however brief. Each of the El'dari out fighting bore a tiny wooden talisman linking to a specific tree in the forests of Silthor. And this key in his hand... contained their memories. He ran his fingers along its surface, images flitting through his mind. Sunlight and smiles, flowers and tears. The laughter of children, the wonder at learning to play an instrument, the courage at bearing a weapon in defense of one's home and loved ones.
With his third eye, he cast his senses away to where the battle was taking place. The El'dari were hopelessly outnumbered. For every elegant El'dari vessel, there were ten, a hundred more facing off against them, half-discs like crescent moons with long horns. A hopeless battle.
Rain began to fall, and the sky darkened. The soft cries of Zephyli echoed in the canopy overhead. Then, a faint light surrounded a tree, a bluish glow that seemed to sing and hum for a few moments before settling in. Water dripped down off the leaves of the trees around him.
In the skies far from Silthor, the Machines of Death were cutting through the El'dari ships like scythes. The El'dari were putting up a valiant fight, taking down twice, even three times their number, but they were hopelessly outnumbered. This was the final battle of this magnitude that they were capable of fighting, and even this was hopeless.
Vistri went over to touch the tree, allowing his senses to probe beyond the mere physical form of it. He felt a soul inside, an El'dari soul. It was the Shadow Spectre squad leader who had intercepted him on the outskirts of the colony.
"Your sacrifice will not be forgotten," Vistri murmured softly.
The Seeker commanded our deaths, came thoughts from within the tree. It was not my place to question why.
"The gate will remain safe," Vistri told him quietly.
Yes. We will sleep now, and dream.
"Perhaps one day, when the world is safe, you can wake again."
The voice faded, and Vistri looked about. One by one, the other trees emitted a faint glow, and he could feel a tugging sensation at the key. He checked on the others, ensuring that their souls had been transfered properly. For all that they had just died, they were calm, peaceful, tranquil even.
In a way, perhaps this was a victory. Perhaps this was the only victory that was possible. Vistri didn't know. What he did know was that now, he was truly alone.
The fading sunlight glinted upon the golden wings of a brown Zephyl flitting through the rain. Would they realize that there was something special about the trees that were their home? Vistri gazed off into the future with his third eye. Nothing was ever certain, of course. The future was all about possibilities, chances and choices, what may be and what could be.
Vistri saw the Zephyli and the El'dari sharing one another's dreams. He saw, in a distant future, the Zephyli protecting the trees with their lives, even as the El'dari once protected them.
He hung the key around his neck, blinking rainwater out of his eyes, and returned to Earth. The Shael'Morenni had no reason to come to Earth, nothing of importance to detect there. He had nowhere else to go, but there was little enough for him on Earth, but the hope that one day, someone might challenge the Machines of Death, and break the cycle of destruction that had hung over the galaxy for millions of years.
One day, a dawn would come again.
A/N: Vistri previously appeared in "Learning to See", and next appears in "Bringing Change". He also plays a major part in "Kairos: A Flame in the Void".