When the world of Halci was first formed by the hands of the lesser shadow and the little light, it was made up of four parts: earth, air, water, and the fiery breath that had sparked its life. Initially these elements mingled freely, not yet bound by their differences, so that the land could flow like liquid and the air turn hard as rock, and the fire dance across the water without harm. Some even changed nature from one moment to the next, never quite happy with their options.
This was the age of the elementals, when the world itself was of four minds. Every mote of dust, every flicker of breeze held sentience, and when combined in large masses they began to develop intelligence, personality—and power. Soon they were experimenting, half in curiosity and half in competition, for though they could not truly harm each other, they found excitement in the creation of new forms and loved to test their strength and cleverness against their brethren.
For untold ages, the elementals shaped the world to their whims, crafting landforms and structures both wondrous and bizarre only to sweep them aside like sandcastles when bored. They assembled into bodies to fight, then separated afterward; they wandered freely if that was their wont, or settled among the grand masses of their kind when they preferred to rest.
So it might have remained on Halci if not for the destruction of its sister world Ydgys, which sacrificed itself to protect the system from the encroaching Darkness. As the world closest to Ydgys, Halci was bombarded with the shards, many of which had their own minds—raging, traumatized and unwilling to play around. They were also different in composition from the other elementals, neither earth nor air nor water or fire, but metal.
Flecks of metal had been present among the Halion elementals before then, but never enough to form their own collective. With the sudden influx from Ydgys though, they rapidly accreted into a fifth power, unbalancing the original four. Whereas the older elementals felt neutral—if not familial–toward the lesser shadow that had shaped them, the metal elemental hated the Dark and all that had spawned from it, and advocated war against them all. Metal elementals began infiltrating the fighting-games, learning the craft and tactics, then taking over the war-forms and using them to hunt the scraps of darkness that hid in Halci’s depths.
Though displeased, the four original elements did not consider themselves harmed by this behavior, so let it go. The demise of Ydgys pained them, but none had the power to reach out beyond the sphere they had been shaped into, and their light had cast the remainder of Ydgys’ shards as a barrier to protect them, so they had no fear.
Thus the metal elementals took it upon themselves to be the defenders of the world, melding with other elementals—mostly earth and fire—to stamp out all the enemies they could find. But even with their numbers and their allies, they could not destroy the darkness inside Halci, for shadows breed behind every solid object and nothing of darkness can be truly eradicated, only pushed back until the light fails.
The greatest barrier was that as elementals, they could not propagate; metal could not create more of itself, and neither could the others. In that age, even fire merely flickered along the surfaces of things, never ending yet never spreading.
However, from the constant experiments, Metal knew that combinations of elements into a single form changed the properties of all involved, and it posited that there was a way to form a shape that could self-propagate—that could eventually spread into all the hidden places of the world and illuminate them, thus scouring Halci permanently of the taint of the Dark. And so it began a new set of experiments, hunting furiously for something to solve its problem.
At first, the other elementals obliged it, for it seemed to do no harm. Yet the further that Metal pushed its combinations—splitting its participants into finer and finer pieces until some were so isolated as to lose their sentience, and then weaving them together into bizarre new forms—the more the original four began to worry about its quest. And as its creations were loosed to hunt the Dark, the four elements saw that some had become an entirely new type of life.
Many of the experiments seemed like failures. Immobile, near-mindless, they were nothing like what Metal desired, and so it cast them away randomly to be swept up by the arms of Water or Earth. Those two—the more nurturing of the original four—tried to coax sentience from the new life by gathering as much of it together as possible, only to find that instead of meshing into a larger sentience, each of Metal’s experimental organics preferred to struggle with the others, growing on its own and attempting to dominate or crowd out its adversaries. Some failed and expired; some continued to spread, then bud, then propagate rapidly, in the process binding water and earth together cohesively for the first time. Soon this new life was everywhere, taking advantage of the breeze to send its seeds far and wide as it enforced its rooted, sourceless will on its caretakers.
Its spread concerned all four original elementals, but none more than Fire, which found that the new life could grasp and hold it as well as it held Earth and Water; it was not free to flit along but had to fight to escape, destroying its captor in the process. The more it spread, the more Fire feared it, and the more it tried to annihilate the creeping green—but the new life adapted to Fire’s violence, learning to spread its seeds through the lick of flame. Not even Air could escape its pollen and was forced to help expand its territory to all corners.
Finally, organic life spread over so much space that it triggered its own awakening, every vine and filament and leaf and root connecting together like the nervous system of a single entity, and though it acknowledged the five elements as its creators and nurturers, it chose not to be beholden to any of them. Unsettled by its ability to overrun everything yet not angry at it for fulfilling its purpose, Earth and Water decided to accept it as the sixth element, Wood, despite the strenuous objections of Fire.
Meanwhile, having discarded its green creations, Metal now struggled to shape other, smarter, more mobile life: creatures it could send into the deep places and trust to act on its behalf, not obey some other element. It even added portions of newborn Wood to the mix. But what it made never matched up with its parameters, forcing it to craft and discard them at an ever-increasing rate until finally, frustrated, it gathered up all that it could find and mashed them into one great mass.
The combined experimental life awakened instantly but, though sentient, could not think past the confusion caused by the jumble of its senses. Metal kept trying to prod it into some usable form but it could hold none of them, constantly lapsing back into an amorphous shape or recreating one of its former parts. Finally, disgusted, Metal flung it into the densest part of the Wood.
Angered by this behavior, the original four elements decided that something had to be done about Metal. With Wood’s reluctant assistance, they conspired to trap it, then separate the Earth and Water beneath it so that Fire and Air could push it into the depths where it could fight the Dark by itself. But though some parts went according to plan, Metal fought viciously for its freedom, first raging at Wood for betraying its maker and nearly destroying it, then gripping so hard onto Fire and Air as they tried to push it down that it dragged Fire along with it—even Air only barely escaping. As Fire and Metal continued to struggle in the depths, Earth and Water raged at each other over whether they should close Fire in; Earth wanted to rescue it, while Water was adamant that releasing one would only release the other. Finally Wood took matters into its own hands and stitched the two shut, declaring that it never wanted to see its ‘parent’ again.
For a time, all the elements lapsed into a state of wariness, feeling threatened by each other yet with no way to act on it—except for Fire and Metal, who still fought furiously. Slowly though, the struggles subsided along with the worries, and Earth and Water chose to put their argument aside and help Wood nurture the strange creature that had been flung into it. The creature had thrived under Wood’s protection and learned to control its shapeshifting, and as it emerged to investigate the other elements, it learned to adapt itself to them: wings for Air, gills and fins for Water, great claws for burrowing into the Earth. After a time, it even decided on a permanent shape.
On some level it was still a conglomeration of the many experiments that formed it, and it longed to investigate all its options. It also realized that it did not have to do so alone—the sole non-elemental in a vast, strange world. Thus it chose to continue to master its powers, and when it found a way to isolate certain traits into a small portion of its being and then extrude that part into a nearly-separate self, it did so with abandon.
Thus the Dragon, the first spirit, became the Great Spirit: parent and master of all the others, able to pull them back into itself at any time yet disinterested in doing so, for it enjoyed having kin more than having control. And its children spread out through the world, adapting to all its strange and wonderful environments, while in the depths the Metal and Fire elementals brooded about their abandonment and slipped cautious fragments upward to the sunlit world.
Next: The Age of Wilds and the Great Schism