Untold ages in the future, Mankind is nearing extinction
It was not war, nor plague, nor famine that had brought them to this state. No, it was something far less dramatic, something that they had not foreseen in their millions upon millions of years in existence.
Mankind was bored.
Long ago was the time when they had left their home planet in search of new places live. Long ago was the time when they had broken free of the bonds of their solar system to explore the galaxy. Still long ago did they expand outward from the Milky Way to explore the Universe at large.
The Universe they found was beautiful and vast, but cold and sterile. There was no other life for mankind to meet with, not animals, not plants, not even an errant bacterium. Undaunted, Mankind continued grow and develop, learning the very nature of reality as they went. Truth after truth and law after law were revealed by their curious minds, driven by a voracious appetite to know all things. In time, they succeeded. Time and Space, Probability and Possibility, all things were laid bare by their thirst for knowledge.
In the end, they no longer resembled the hairless apes that had walked to surface of the planet Earth so many millions of years in the past. They were akin to Gods, capable of feats that staggered the mind, feats that reached the very furthest limits of possibility. They were at the very zenith of life, masters of the reality that had begot them.
At first, they reveled in their achievements, pleased with themselves for having overcome millions years of pain and confusion and conflict to reach such heights. Ultimately, that sense of satisfaction did not last, feeding them for mere millions of years, when billions of boredom awaited them. When one knows all that has occurred, all that can occur, and all that will occur, what is left? Mankind had long ago thwarted the very concept of death, but as the eons continued on, death found them again. Slowly, one by one, mankind began to disappear, slipping away into the same darkness that had consumed trillions of their ancestors. Mankind, it seemed, was dying of old age.
Then, when their numbers reached a mere fraction’s fraction of their once-great host, a miracle occurred. A certain sequence of actions resulted in a product that was not foretold by the iron laws of possibility, a product that defied the very nature of existence as they understood it. Then, as suddenly as it came into being, it was destroyed, crushed the universe around it.
Mankind was shocked to the core. It was beyond impossible. How could they create something that exhibited such different properties than their reality, *from* their reality? When the shock subsided, curiosity took its place, a curiosity deeper than anything they had ever known. They went to work as if possessed, guided by some unknown force, deep inside their being. Some of them fashioned a planet from their impossible creation, marveling at the sense of familiarity which accompanied their task. Others built a great wall around the forming globe, a miracle creation of old and new reality both, to protect it from the ravages of the Universe. The remainder of Mankind took a stand against existence, holding it back from their fragile creation. Their task was herculean, for the Universe could not abide the existence of something to contrary to its nature. If Mankind failed to halt its progress, reality would completely and utterly destroy all their efforts. And yet, they held. The planet and wall were both completed, but one last task awaited them.
Mankind could not exist in the world that they had created. In the same way that our Universe could not abide the new one, this new reality could not abide our own. If they attempted to enter, they would be completely eliminated. This did not stop them. Summoning the last of their strength, mankind worked yet another miracle, creating mortal bodies from the substasnce, much like those that they had long since left behind, and transferred their consciousness into them. At last, they descended to the surface and sealed the wall behind them.
The New Age
The new race of humans was filled to the brim with excitement. They had left behind near-omniscience and omnipotence for this new land, but that seemed unimportant to them. The chance to learn and experiment in a foreign environment was worth far more to them than their old strength. They named the land that they had created Wellspring, and the mysterious substance from which they had built it Ether, delighting in the opportunity to once again rely upon the imperfect ways of language, and went to work.
As Mankind studied and experimented, they noticed strange things occurring all around them. Their old, god-like selves had created a small place for themselves, a garden filled with crude approximations of flora and fauna from Earth, redesigned for the world of Ether. The world outside this garden was bare, a fresh canvas for Mankind to fill in time. However, after many years had passed, they noticed peculiarities in vast expanses of rock and soil that surrounded them. Small green shoots were breaking the land's surface, the vanguard of plants not made by Man, but somehow born from the Ether which spilled out from their little Eden. Mankind was ecstatic upon seeing them, and observed their growth with an eagerness more readily seen in children. Small, simple animals followed the plants many years later, eventually covering the whole planet in life.
Many wondrous things were created by Humanity in their golden age, but nothing was more awe-inspiring than the Tower. At the spot where Mankind first touched Wellspring, they raised a vast tower, extending all the way up to the Wall which protected them from the Old Universe. Then, at the edges of the continent, they built four great Forges, which produced Ether through strange and arcane technologies, piped back to the Tower, where it would be sent up to the Wall, and distributed across the entirety of the planet. The Tower also served as transportation, an elevator up to the very limit of the sky, to the Wall itself.
Mankind continued to build and learn for thousands of years on Wellspring, until the day that one of their number fell to the ground, dead. Mankind was shocked. So enamoured with their new existence were they, that they had forgotten time's effect on mortal bodies, and had grown old without realizing it. Surprisingly, they discovered that they bore no bitterness, or sorrow upon learning this fate. There was more to see, and more to do, but they were content. The billions of years of boredom that they had endured had been fulfilled in mere thousands of years. Mankind was satisfied. They would leave this new world in peace, to make its own future.
The Guardians and The First Inheritors of Man
Humanity had one fear in their old age. They were afraid that their creation might fall apart without anyone to care for it. So, before passing on, the last of humanity gathered together and poured all their energy into one last project. Four beings were fashioned out of Ether and metal, four sisters to watch over the planet in their stead, to keep it safe from destruction. They were to be Guardians of the world, forged in the image of Man’s old companions, those thinking machines of steel and electricity. Then, shortly after finishing their final creations, the last members of humanity quietly slipped away into death. After billions of years of existence, Humanity finally became extinct.
The Guardians took their duties seriously, vigilantly watching over the world for anything that might bring it harm. Thousands upon thousands of years they watched, as Ether diffused across the whole world, leaving life in its wake. In time, the small simple plants that first bloomed in the age of Man became tall, proud and beautiful, and the animals grew large and complex, a process that they observed for great interest. Each of them was responsible for monitoring a quarter of the world, and they had agreed to only interfere with anything if there was a threat to the planet at large. Each of them abided by this rule religiously, desiring nothing more than to keep their creator's world safe.
One day, one the Guardians, who had been given the name Gospel, noticed something unusual as she walked through the thick jungle of a small continent in her quadrant. There, skittering through the shadows and foliage was a creature unlike any she had seen before in her lands. It was not large, or hairy, or scaly, or even feathered. It did not walk on four legs, or six, or eight, or none at all. No, this creature looked much like her creators, walking upright on two legs, with two arms and a large head. It looked at her, terrified, before scurrying away and out of sight.
Gospel was amazed, and took to the sky to find out more. Eventually she found them. They were pitiful creatures, living in poorly constructed shelters up in the trees, spending all their time searching for food to scavenge, or running from the jungle's savage predators. Gospel's heart wept for them. How could she allow these beautiful descendants of her creators to live in such a state? And thus, she descended into their midst, to raise them up from their squalor.
The jungle-folk learned many things from Gospel. She taught them how to make and use fire, how to build weapons and shelter, and how to control the Ether for their own benefit. She taught them of humanity, the creators of this world, and by extension, them. She told them of a grand future, where they would inherit mankind's role as rulers. Under her guidance, the people grew strong. Isolated settlements congregated to form a strong country, filled with the same spirit of curiosity that had driven Humanity.
Now, by some quirk of the New World's reality, the Tower could be seen from anywhere on the planet, rising up seemingly endlessly into the sky. The sight of the Tower had fascinated the jungle-folk since they had first laid eyes upon it, and now that they had secured a comfortable life, their curiosity burned. They approached Gospel for help, who taught them how to sail. Then, she guided them to their destination, keeping them safe from the strange and dangerous currents that surrounded the continent upon which the Tower lay. Not a one among them stayed behind, abandoning their ancestral home for this new land.
Proud of her people, Gospel bid them farewell, heading back to her lands to continue her watch for anything that might endanger their world. Meanwhile, her people made rapid technological advancements, thanks to the wealth of human structures and artifacts on the continent.
Years later, Gospel returned to check upon her people's progress. What she found horrified her. In her absence, her people had grown arrogant and headstrong. They had found and attempted to take control of a Forge, to use it for their own benefit, but their efforts backfired spectacularly. Instead of pure, life-sustaining Ether, the Forge now produced a twisted poison, carried by the Ether itself, one that slowly broke down whatever it came into contact with. The people's great cities were in shambles, filled with corpses and the despairing living. The people that Gospel had loved were little more than rotting bodies, unable to move or speak. Pain was the only sensation for those poor souls as they felt themselves slowly rot and fall away. All their atrophied bodies could manage was a piteous moan, gasped out of parched throats and past decayed and broken teeth, the whole race joined together in a chorus of suffering.
Gospel wept. Sensing her presence, the whole country of people struggled to raise their heads up to the sky, begging silently for salvation. Gospel... complied.
It was the first time that a Guardian's power had been used. The blast carved a jagged channel into the ground from near the Tower all the way out to the Western sea, where the people had first landed, blowing away the Western Forge in the process. More followed, wiping out cities and settlements, until nothing remained. Gospel’s people, the first Inheritors of Man, along with a decent chunk of the Western side of the continent, were destroyed.
Gospel disappeared that day, her heart rent by anguish and grief. Her sisters arrived not long after, drawn to the use of force that could be heard and felt the whole world over. They did not know why exactly Gospel had committed such actions, but they did know that there was something far more pressing than discovering why. There was a poison in the System. The tainted Forge had sent its Etheric product on the pipeline to the Tower, where it would be distributed across the entire planet, causing major damage to both the Wall and the world at large. If left unchecked, the Wall would be breached, leading to the total erasure of their existence.. The poison had to be removed, and as quickly as possible, but how?
After a short debate, the Guardians reached their conclusion. Before they could proceed, however, they had to take steps to ensure that such an outcome would not occur again. First, they shut down the three remaining Forges. The world would simply have to deal with a reduced quantity of Ether for a while. Then, they traveled back to their respective quadrants. Now, each of the remaining Guardians had discovered sentient life themselves, but they had remained true to their oaths, and had not come into contact with them. On this day, however, they visited as many of them as they could, descending down into their midsts like deities. To these primitive peoples they delivered various warnings and laws, hoping to steer them away from the path that had lead to the first people's destruction. Finally, they returned to the Tower, to complete their task.
Near the Tower's top lay the controls for Mankind’s vast System, responsible for controlling all of their creations. Using their positions as Administrators of this System, the Guardians induced a flow into the world's Ether, drawing it toward the Tower, where it would travel through a single point. Steeling themselves, the remaining Guardians placed themselves within the flow, using their bodies and souls, the most advanced and complete of all Mankind's creations, as a filter, to purge the poison from the Ether.
Hundreds of years passed before the Guardians completed their task. The four individuals that walked free of the flow were not quite the same as those who had entered it, however. The sheer force and volume of the Ether, combined with the corrupting properties of the poison, had exacted a harsh toll on them, body, mind, and soul. The flow had damaged the complex systems that sustained their bodies, stripping their memories away from them like leaves in the wind. Desperate to regain these memories, their souls had sifted through the endless flow of Ether, looking for what they had lost. They did not find their lost memories, for they had already been wicked away, but they did find something similar. The primitive peoples they visited viewed the Guardians as deities, and had fashioned myths and legends after these supposed divine beings. These myths and false memories were appropriated by the Guardians as replacements, and when the stepped free of the flow, they believed themselves to be not Guardians, but Goddesses.
The world they found outside the Tower was not as they left it. The peoples that they had left in crude huts, cowering in fear of the creatures outside, now lived cities of wood and stone, carving lands for themselves out of their harsh world. Ignoring their kin, the newborn Goddesses set out for the people who had created their new memories, seeking to fulfil the duties assigned to them.
The World Today
Many years have passed since the Goddesses first stepped out into the world. Three races, each patroned by one of the three Goddesses, have built powerful countries on the continent, vying for control of what each views as their sacred land. After many years of separation, the Goddesses had finally reunited, but their reunion was conflicted. They had lost their memories of each other long ago in the Flow, and now viewed each other not as sisters, but rivals. Seeing themselves as deities of opposing cultures, conflict was inevitable. The resulting battle was devastating, for despite having lost the majority of their power to the poison, they were still far stronger than any living thing on the planet. The terrain for nearly a mile around the site of their engagement was ruined, blasted to dry, barren soil.
It was clear that such conflicts could not be allowed. If they continued, they risked the total destruction of their beloved followers, along with the land itself. So, once again, the Guardians turned Goddesses agreed to abide by a pact of non-interference, separated from the world’s peoples, with one exception, for the Goddesses could not abide being completely apart from the world. One of the few functions which survived the Flow was the ability to designate living beings as Proxies. Proxies gain restricted Admin access to the System, the most important aspect of which is the authorization to access the same vast store of Ether that the Goddesses use, albeit at a lesser scale.
In order to leverage this power, the Goddesses spend their time observing their people, searching constantly for individuals with ideals that mirror their own, anointing them as Proxies when satisfied that they will use the power in a manner they approve of. Historically, Proxies have used this seemingly divine strength to become great leaders and warriors, guiding the the great countries in the directions desired by their patron Goddesses.
Despite the Goddesses’ watchful gaze, all is not well in Wellspring. A problem has arisen that Humanity had not quite foreseen. Simply put, there is too much Ether. Living things produce Ether naturally, with intelligent life producing the most Ether by far. As the amount of sapient beings increased exponentially, so did the amount of Ether in the world. Ether flows freely through the air, streams of liquid Ether run under the soil, and the center of the planet, a vast space devoted entirely to Ether storage, is nearly filled to bursting. On a normal planet, this would be a non-issue. Excess Ether would simply diffuse up through the atmosphere, leaving the world with a healthy quantity of Ether. This world, however, was sealed, leaving no possible exits whatsoever, for even the smallest of holes in the Wall would mean the end of their entire reality
The most striking and prevalent of the symptoms of this excess are the beings known as Nightmares. Every now and then, The Ether in the planet's core breaks free from its intangible moorings and bubbles up toward the surface. If this Ether comes across a bright enough Soul, it connects said Soul to the planet's storage, delivering a constant stream of Ether to the afflicted individual. Such a quantity of Ether is far beyond anyone’s ability to handle, so their body responds by mostly shutting down, leaving them in a coma-like state. Without a conscious mind to direct it, the endless flow of Ether resorts to its host's subconscious to give it shape. The result is a Nightmare, a fever-dream made physical. Horrifying creatures as infinitely varied as the workings of the mind, powered by a functionally endless well of energy.
As the ranks of the Nightmares continue to swell, things look quite bleak for the denizens of Wellspring. Another war between the nations looms as they bicker and squabble, unaware of their impending doom, for no one is left who remembers the true nature of their world. No one, that is, save for Gospel, who had disappeared many years in the past. Gospel, seeking atonement for her horrifying actions, had decided to renounce her position as Guardian. To accomplish this, she emulated the actions of her creators, seeking to transfer herself into a normal body. She worked without rest to this end, eventually constructing machinery capable of transferring both her mind and Soul out of her current body and into one made of flesh. When her task was completed, she initiated the procedure. Her device worked, but only partly. Gospel’s Soul successfully moved to her new vessel, but her memories failed to complete the process. Her equipment detected the failure, but could not manage to move her memories, no matter how many times it tried.
So Gospel waits in the dark, stuck in an endless loop as the world turns around her. She sleeps, trapped until someone can come and free her from her self-inflicted shackles. But, even if someone were to do such a thing, what use would it be? Without her memories, she is merely another mortal, incapable of using her powerful Soul to its full potential. Times are dark, and the world’s eventual end seems to be not a question of “if”, but “how”.