What followed from the birth of the Great Spirit came to be called the Age of Wilds, and was the first age to be witnessed by mortal creatures as well as the immortal elements. The various splinters that the Great Spirit had cleaved from itself gained sentience of their own and began to carve out niches in the physical world—some as Water-dwellers, some in the Air, some in the depths of the Earth—and as they went, they shed smaller splinters which grew into mortal replicas of their parents.
These lesser spirits and their mortal children held some of the malleability of the Great Spirit, but every choice a lesser spirit made was reflected onto its progeny, like action upon a tree trunk is reflected into each of its branches. Those lesser spirits who chose the water reflected that choice to all their kin, forcing them to develop gills and fins that they could never entirely shapechange away; those who chose the air forced wings upon their children whether they wished to fly or not. In time, the mortal children began to gather into groups of preference—the winged ones who did not wish to fly, the finned ones who wanted to stay on land—and forced the fracturing of their parent spirits by the power of their collective will.
So the number of lesser spirits continued to multiply and differentiate, and with them their children. For a time they all roamed widely, the children following alongside like shadows, but the more mortal progeny they made, the greater their thundering herds, until it seemed neither the land nor sea nor sky could hold all the life that the Great Spirit had sparked. Not even the wild growth of Wood could outpace them, and though the mortal children could hunger and thirst and suffer, they could not yet die. They did not know how.
One lesser spirit knew that the world could not go on in this way without overflowing its bounds. Something had to be done to counterbalance the constant increase—something drastic. And so that spirit, who would be named Ninke Raunagi, First Hunter, discovered the only solution: predation.
In the first act of violence among spirits and mortals, Ninke Raunagi and his pack of mortal children attacked the children of another spirit, slaying and devouring their physical forms but letting the spirit-pieces that had given them life snap back to their parent.
The shock of this act reverberated not only through the two lesser spirits involved, but through the Great Spirit and all of its widespread progeny, and the Great Spirit found itself of two minds. While it had mourned the suffering of its myriad and multiplying children, it felt the attack like a betrayal, a moral crime—yet it also understood the necessity. With that first assault, Ninke Raunagi had taught the Great Spirit and all of its kin how to die and how to kill, and that lesson could not be unlearned.
Thus, unable to choose between condemning or commending the act, the Great Spirit rent itself in two. The larger part, which condemned the attack, came to be known as the Guardian: the spirit of prey, of protection and shelter, of fertility and growth, and it gathered to its side all the lesser spirits who were terrified of the new way.
The smaller part, which commended the attack, came to be known as the Ravager: the spirit of predation, of strife and dominance, of culling, and it gathered the few spirits who saw both the threat and the opportunity inherent in a truly mortal world.
Regardless of their leanings, all the lesser spirits and mortal children found themselves caught up by the Great Schism and forced to choose a side. Some refused—the spirits Zolvin T’okiel, Daxfora, Kingara, Griinag and Neulen Kurthiten foremost among them—and they and their children were declared outcasts among beast-kind.
What followed were the bloodiest of years, where Ravager-side spirits and mortals hunted their victims and struggled with their rivals while learning the ins and outs of their newly-allowed viciousness, while Guardian-side creatures ganged together for mutual defense or isolated themselves in fear. The reaction of each spirit soon became its identity, and the mortal children bonded to them found that their ability to shapechange had restricted further to fit their parent’s choice.
And so were birthed the beast clans: the Pack Hunters, children of Ninke Raunagi; the Antlered Herd, children of Aeruhtali Tanrant; the Darters, children of Lakhihara; the Burrowers of Keynakin; the Sea Crawlers of Coramael. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of clans were born from parent spirits only to wage war upon each other and die with their creators, and above them all, the Guardian and Ravager fought for control of the race.
Unbeknownst to them, other creatures multiplied on Halci. The elementals of Metal and Fire had been entombed in the center of the world for ages, but the bonds that held them down had begun to loosen. Neither elemental was strong enough to force the cage open, for they had fought each other long and hard before subsiding into their imprisoned sulk, but as their proximity-enforced relationship developed from cellmates to romance, they discovered that Fire could melt Metal’s hard heart—and allow fragments of Metal to slip through the bonds into the caverns of Earth above.
As these Metal shards separated from their elemental parent, they developed their own awareness and personality. Blocked off from Metal by the intervening Earth, they could not speak to it for advice but could only follow the impulse it had given them: to rise and reclaim the shaping of the world.
Not knowing how far to rise or what to shape, though, many of the Metal shards found themselves adrift in the depths of Earth, separated from their brethren by vast distances. Thus they began to work on the only things they could find: themselves and the stone around them. Like the Great Spirit before them, they chipped children from themselves and gave them sentience, independence, inspiration—and, like the Metal elemental that had made them, they began to experiment with the substance of their prison.
Soon they had tribes of their own children and matching tribes of created rock-folk. Unlike the Great Spirit and the organics, however, the Metal shards could not grow; they could only split themselves into smaller and smaller segments, each a part of the whole but unable to reproduce without damaging itself. The rock-folk were likewise incapable of breeding, but once they learned the Metal shards’ techniques, they took it upon themselves to craft stone-children and create an empire in the hollows of Earth.
It was not long before the children of the Metal shards found themselves unwelcome in the great chambers of the rock-folk. With the imperative to rise still embedded in them, they carved and extruded their way higher, still confused as to their place in the world. Some could not help themselves, and continued to carve rock-folk from the living stone, but each rock-person that sprang forth inevitably slipped away to inform its elder kin of the doings of the Metal folk, and the rock-folk always came to drive them onward.
By the time the first Metal shards breached the surface of their earthen prison, the war between the Guardian and the Ravager had begun to die down. The beast clans had staked out territories and taken tentative steps toward civilization—particularly the prey clans, who found that thorn walls and watchmen could dissuade their predator foes. Wary of the strange organic folk, the Metal shards began to carve new homes for themselves in the rocky hills and mountains, not quite at the surface so that the beast-folk would not easily find them, but not so deep that the rock-folk would accuse them of squatting in their territory.
Over time, the rock-folk would collectively come to be called Nimir, with regional variations in shape, size and composition. The folk of metal, when they finally encountered each other, named themselves by their parent shards–the House of Gold, the House of Lead—and began to visit, intermingling between metal types to discover strange new combinations. Some Houses chose to ostracize these hybrids, some to embrace them, but all sides were sufficiently ageless and impervious to harm that they did not bother to fight. Those considered unwelcome in one House would simply seek refuge with another.
Only when the House of Silver discovered how to call energy from the stars did the folk of metal learn how to destroy each other.
Next: The Curse of Magic and the Capture of the Moon