The Founding of the Crystal Palace

This is the legend of how the Crystal Palace was built, how the Founders came to dwell together, and how a plan was formed to safeguard the sprouting of the Next World. Many generations passed between the events of this story and when it was recorded in written form, so it should not be taken literally. However, much of the story has been supported by history and archeology, so it also should not be dismissed. Most importantly, it is the best record we have of the character and vision of the Founders, and our best guide to the mission, the philosophy, and the plan which we have inherited from them.

The Evil Gods' Reign

Before the Makoo became aware, the bayous and forests at the mouth of the Sipsa River were inhabited by half-sentient vicious creatures that lived in fear of the Chthon, their gods of madness, despair, hunger and death. Like their followers, the Chthon were brutal and repulsive, and, although cunning, had no forethought or self- control. There was no benefit to worshipping the Chthon, and the priests among the creatures were merely those adept at averting the Cthonís attention from themselves and drawing it to their enemies. There were also saner powers who opposed the Chthon and thwarted their viler ambitions, such at the Oldest Animal. But these powers were primordial, and had no use or sympathy for worshippers. The Chthon were let to rule over a realm of misery, as long as no permanent taint was left on the land.

Except for occasional acts of useless cruelty, the Chthon and their creatures ignored the primitive ancestors of the Makoo. The small-minded saplings scurried as best they could to find nourishment for their parents in the thin soil of the Chthonic wasteland.

Eventually, the Cthonr's worshippers became extinct, leaving only their petroglyphs as evidence they existed. Some say they died of despair. Bored and frustrated, with no one to consume, torture, or bully, the Chthon went into hibernation in the Caves beneath the World, emerging perhaps once a millennium for a rampage of ravenous hunger and bloodlust.

Then the Makoo flourished. Their saplings increased in perception and began to cooperate in providing for their ancestors. They created language, art, science and philosophy. The Ancients became bonded with the soil, and created havens for the saplings to live without fear and for themselves to contemplate and dream. Still, each Ancient dreamed alone, unaware of other groves. There was no protection from the elements and only a few Makoo became truly Ancient, most living but a few millennia.

Also, the war-like Garu had come into the land. They viewed the Makoo both sapling and elder as less than the beasts they preyed on, tearing off the limbs of the saplings and cutting down the Ancients to build and heat their homes. In retaliation, the saplings built traps and pits, and destroyed unwary Garu cubs that strayed from their parents' sides. In spite of this, the Garu preferred to live near the Makoo Ancients, for safety from the Chthon and other powers. The Garu also learned from the petroglyphs how to avoid the Cthon's wrath and how to summon the Oldest Animal.

Serenity the Teacher

Thus it was when a wondrous sapling sprouted, whose wisdom belied his youth. He was called Serenity, for he could merge his soul with the Ancients' and share their tranquil dreams. Through Serenity, the Eldest Makoo became aware of each other's presence, and reached out their minds to each other. Serenity rejoiced in the creation of this world of thought, full of peace and contemplation, free of pain, suffering, and death. Like a flowering bud, the dream world unfolded as new Saints added their wisdom to the union. Serenity and the Eldest realized that the external world was just a precursor to this one, soil wherein the New World could sprout.

But the perfect world of the Eldest, although germinated, had not yet sprouted, for it still required the physical world to support it while it grew. The Ancients, unprotected from storms and fires, could still die, and when they did, the new world was diminished. Too, the dream lacked the substance and variety of the physical world. So Serenity taught the other saplings of this potential world, a stirring inside the nut of the physical world, which required nurturing and growth, but would one day break from the shell and plant itself as a new reality. He taught the other Makoo not just to care for the physical needs of the Ancients, but to tend them spiritually, by keeping their thoughts pure and directing new ideas and feelings to the Saints to fill up the empty new world. In return, the Saints would lend their power to their descendents, protecting and teaching them.

Serenity's teaching did not stop with the other Makoo. He believed that it was his duty to bring all that was good in this world into that of the Saints' dream. He reached his mind out to all creatures and benevolent spirits, and learned from even the humblest insect or vine. He even went among the fierce Garu, and through his courage earned their respect. Many Garu became his disciples. To every creature, he was a teacher and healer. From every creature, he learned about life in all its forms, and shared what he learned with the Ancients. He especially sought out visitors from far lands, to learn of strange places, ways, and philosophies with which to nourish the growth of the Perfect World to come.

Through these visitors, his fame spread throughout the world. Across the Western ocean, the wisest of the Dragons, Kahn Fu Tze, heard rumors of the new philosophy. Taking a few of his disciples, he set out to see Serenity for himself. After an arduous journey, he finally arrived at the mouth of the Sipsa, and was soon welcomed by Serenity himself.

Kahn Fu Tze was disappointed at the crudeness of the Makoo forests, and doubted any wisdom would be found there. He spoke first. "The claims you make for your ancestors are audacious. So they are long-lived! Dragons have been civilized longer than these sticks of wood, and we've accomplished more than mere are more than mere stationary longevity. How can you believe that the world was created just as a place for you to think? "

Serenity replied, "You are from a glorious civilization, and famed throughout the world for your quick tongue and sharp mind. As you point out, I am but an uncivilized swamp-dweller. I can not hope to convince you by argument, but if you are willing to open your mind, I can show you what I have seen."

Ashamed of losing his temper, Kahn Fu Tze became Serenity's student.

The pair became inseparable. First, they talked continuously; then, they stopped using words. Although at first it seemed to him sterile and tedious, Kahn Fu Tze slowly grew in appreciation of the Saints' dream. Serenity, in return, was amazed by his new friend's learning, his practical knowledge and aesthetic refinement, although many aspects of the Dragon culture shocked him. Kahn Fu Tze decided to dedicate the rest of his life to learning from Serenity and the Eldest Makoo. He sent a message to his many followers in the Dragon Empire to join him. He told them to bring with them the Seed Crystal, for he had decided to build for the Ancients a place where they could dream while protected from all harm.

The Battle of Stones

When the Dragon Emperor heard of the city Kahn Fu Tze was building for the Makoo, his fury was like a flooded river over-spilling its basin. A crystal fortress had been Kahn Fu Tze's gift to the Emperor upon being appointed to the Court. Was the Emperor and his Court worth less than a grove of trees in a desolate swamp?

He summoned his most trusted general, Fan Liu, and the greatest wizards of the Empire, ordering them to go to the Sipsa delta and crush the new city. Kahn Fu Tze himself was to be brought home in chains, to be publicly humiliated. Fan Liu was the custodian of the Phoenix Feather, a mighty artifact of both creation and destruction. The Emperor bade her bring the Feather with her, since, although the Makoo were nothing in his estimation, he respected Kahn Fu Tze's cunning.

Fan Liu and her army of sorcerers armed themselves with crystal rods of power. The Transmogrifiers among them grew great wings, and flew carrying the others in a huge basket. Calling on their goddess Aruzel the Swift to aid their journey with her great winds, they crossed the Ocean. They flew past the remotest islands to the West, the lands of the Stone Giants beyond which even Aruzel the Swift never traveled.

Then their labors began in earnest, for they had to fly for days over hostile waters without food or rest. Only Ng Ree Kim, the blind sage, could divine the path to follow, and many of the company were blown off course and never heard from again.

When at last they arrived in the Sipsa lowlands, their rods pointed the way to the new Crystal city. Surreptitiously, they scouted the city and made their war plans. Not expecting attack, Khan Fu Tze had not built any alarms or defenses for the city, which was on an open field next to the river, a place where many of the Ancients were rooted. Since Kahn Fu Tze was to be taken alive, they first sent in Ng Ree Kim to lure him away from the city, pretending to be a potential convert wishing to be shown the glory of the Saints. A small distance away, they found a rocky hill. They created mystic servants to quarry the rock, and shaped it into a huge golem, which Fan Liu animated with the power of the Phoenix Feather. The golem stood to the height of a tree, and left huge pits in the ground as it walked. It was a crude weapon of destruction, and needed to be guided by the minds of the Dragon Animators, since it had none of its own.

But using the earth from the Delta proved to be a fatal flaw in the plan. The Makoo Eldest were deeply rooted in the soil of the Delta. The removal of so much of the Delta's bedrock disturbed their Dream, and alerted Serenity to the City's danger. Through the minds of animals, he saw the approaching golem, and the Dragon army accompanying it. He knew he must call upon the Saints, but to do so, his soul must be free of panic or hate. He meditated upon the image of the golem, starting with the literal view he had picked up, and stripping it to abstraction. After all, in essence, it was merely a pile of rock which was moving in the wrong direction, like a landslide. Visualizing the golem as an ugly pile of rubble needing to be moved, Serenity calmed himself with meditation, and joined his mind with the Eldest. The Saints agreed that the unsightly stone spoiled their appreciation of the surrounding countryside. They reached out through their bond to the soil to move it back to the hole from which it had been dug.

To the Dragon army, it looked like the golem had turned on them. Indeed, more than one Dragon mage was severely injured as the stone mass suddenly veered. Most of the army scattered. To stop the rout, Fan Liu used the Phoenix Feather to destroy the Golem, which collapsed into what is now known as the Grey Tower. This occurred just as Ng Ree Kim was leading Khan Fu Tze to a rendezvous with the Dragon army. Kahn Fu Tze was startled by the sight of the golem, but after seeing the beautiful Fan Liu, stopped paying attention to anything else. Stunned by love, he did not think to resist as he was taken prisoner and led away with the re- treating army.

Kahn Fu Tze and Fan Liu

The Dragon army retreated and hid deep in the forest. They brought Kahn Fu Tze to a cave deep below the ground, and enclosed him there with strong iron bars. On Fan Liuís orders, they treated him with respect, and tried to make his cap- tivity as comfortable as possible. However, Kahn Fu Tze longed for the sight of Fan Liu, and refused all food unless she would eat with him. After weeks had passed and Kahn Fu Tze was weak with hunger, Fan Liu had him brought to her table. Al- though ravenous, Kahn Fu Tze sat stoically before plates filled with meat. Still bound, he had to be fed, and he refused to eat except from the hands of Fan Liu. This was a great embarrassment for her, not least because she returned Kahn Fu Tzeís attraction. They barely noticed the food, and it was only through long practice at court that they managed to keep up courteous and witty conversation. Afterwards, he was returned to his cell, where he fell into a deep sleep of amorous dreams.

Meanwhile, Serenity had become concerned about his friendís disappear- ance, especially as it coincided with the attack. He made contact with as many ani- mal minds as he could handle simultaneously, spreading his concentration to a point that would have driven a lesser mind insane. Although he picked up images of the Dragon soldiers on foraging expeditions, he could not learn of their headquarters, or any trace of Kahn Fu Tze, for the cave where Kahn Fu Tze was kept was dry and lifeless.

However, not long after the feast Khan Fu Tze and Fan Liu shared, one of the Dragon soldiers brought some beautiful flowers he had found into their head- quarters, hoping to please Fan Liu. An Aerad was lured by their smell into the un- derground camp, then got lost and accidentally flew into Kahn Fu Tzeís cell. Using the skills he had learned from Serenity, Kahn Fu Tze spoke to the Aeradís mind, sending her an impression of Serenity and asking her to fly to the city and inform him of all she had seen.

Serenity was heartened by the Aeradís message, and, linking his mind to hers, was able to trace the way back to the Dragon camp. He asked all sorts of creatures to spy out the camp for him on all sides, and prepared some of Kahn Fu Tzeís followers to raid the camp. One day, the bulk of the Dragon army was hunting for food in a part of the forest where many Saints grew. As they passed on, the for- est seemed to become denser, and they could not find the path. They began to wander in circles, and grew more and more confused. With every step, they became more enmeshed in the undergrowth. Strange and ferocious beasts seemed to be watching them from behind each tree. They panicked, and tried to grow wings to fly away, but every tine they took off, their wings became ensnared in tree branches, and they had to drop back to the ground to escape. The ground had become swamp, and their heavy bodies sank deep into the mud. Legs useless, they could only crawl through the mud on their bellies.

When the Saints finally let them leave the forest, they returned to find an empty headquarters. Kahn Fu Tzeís followers had surprised the few Dragon soldiers there, and taken all of them prisoner, including Fan Liu. Upon reaching the city, the recently liberated Kahn Fu Tze ordered a great meal prepared, and had Fan Liu brought to him. His followers were shocked when he ordered Fan Liuís shackles removed, and then waited on her like a servant. Again, the pair engaged in a polite and witty conversation in the high court style, where talk of military matters was unseemly. The followers were even more stunned when after dinner, he let her leave the City and return to her army, without even de- manding parole.

Serenity was also baffled, and for the first time in his life, lost his patience. "My friend, where has your great cunning gone? If you have no concern for yourself, think of the others who have just risked all for you! Think of the Saints who have just delivered you from captivity, whom your female goes to plot against! Think of the next world, the perfect world, which may die in the nut, never having sprouted be- cause of your incomprehensible actions! You of all people I never expected to be ruled by your bodily hungers. But let us meditate together on the eternal, and cleanse you of these insane compulsions, which , after all, are merely the passing illusions of this transient life."

"I am now purer than I have ever been, and have no need of cleansing." Kahn Fu Tze replied. "I can not hope to convince you by argument, but if you are willing to open your mind, I can show you what I have seen. "

Hearing his own words, Serenity repented his outrage. He embraced his friend, and they opened their minds to each other. He felt his friendís passion for Fan Liu at second hand, like a sunrise reflected in a pool of water, less intense but won- drously beautiful nonetheless. "Truly no world could be perfect that did not contain such perfect madness." Serenity said at last. "You have given me much to contemplate, for I see my vision of the next world was sorely incomplete."

In Fan Liuís honor, he grew a bud, for he had delayed his retirement for many centuries to continue to serve and teach. The bud bloomed into a magnificent flower, which he bade Kahn Fu Tze pick to be Fan Liuís beauty gift. This flower did not wilt, nor has it to this day.

Under flag of truce, Kahn Fu Tze went to meet Fan Liu, bringing Serenity and his best-loved disciples with him. When he gave her Serenityís Flower, she was amazed. No longer fighting her growing love, she gave him the only gift that she thought would match his, the Phoenix Feather itself. As their friends negotiated con- cerning the raising of the offspring, the joyful couple sneaked off to a luxurious dwelling that had been a gift to Kahn Fu Tze from his disciples. They did not emerge for a month.

Summoning the Gibberer

For a while, the Makoo, Kahn Fu Tzeís followers, and the Dragon army lived side by side in peace. Some of the Dragon mages even went to the City to learn the philosophy of the Makoo. In time, a daughter was born to Fan Liu, and named Liu Kahn Minh. As arranged, Liu Kahn Minh spent half her time in the City and half with the Dragon army. The ardor between Fan Liu and Kahn Fu Tze eventually cooled, but affection and respect remained.

But many of the Dragon soldiers resented the primitive Delta life, and longed to return to Court. They plotted against Fan Liu, and sent a message back to the Emperor, describing how Fan Liu had allied herself with the enemy, and surrendered to him their most potent weapon. Enraged beyond control, the Emperor drew upon all the saved somna of his Court to appear to Fan Liu in a dream.

In the dream, the Emperor appeared to Fan Liu to be floating in the sky. Be- hind him, a blood red sun shone so brilliantly she had to avert her gaze. "Why have you not destroyed the City as I bade you? Am I to imagine that the great warrior Fan Liu cannot handle a bunch of walking kindling? Or has the great Serenity put my entire army to sleep with his moralistic preaching?"

"Your Worship, the Makoo are peaceful and represent no threat to the Empire."

"What do my ears hear? Do you presume to suggest that the Dragon Em- peror feared mud-soaked swamp vegetation? I sent you to avenge an insult, not because I feared for my Empire! Now tell me, what do the Makoo fear most?"

"The Chthon and the Garu, Your Worship."

"Then since you are incapable of handling them by yourself, I command you to make alliance with the Chthon and the Garu against the swamp-dwellers."

"Your Worship, you do not know how vile the Chthon are."

"You endanger both your life and your honor! Do not attempt to teach your betters! " The Emperorís words were like thunder in Fan Liuís ears. "I, your Em- peror, have spoken, and to disobey me is to fail in your duty, to dishonor yourself, your ancestors, and all your family! If you fail me, it will take more than your life alone to atone for your disgrace! " With these words, he vanished, and Fan Liu woke with his threat echoing in her head. Sick at heart, she steeled herself to obey the Emperorís commands.

From that night on, she became like an automaton. No word passed from her mouth except those needed to carry out the Emperorís command. The sight of her daughter was too painful to bear. Liu Kahn Minh eventually stopped visiting her inattentive mother. Spreading the story that the Emperor had ordered them home, she brought the Dragon army out of the City. They made camp deep in the Garuís part of the for- est, far from any of the Ancients. With bribes of Crystal tools and weapons, she bought their friendship, and they willingly taught her the lore of the land. She sought out Garu witches, and learned at their feet the dreadful lore of the Chthon. Even the witches would have trembled had they known why she wanted this knowledge! She and her army studied with the Garu several years before she had learned enough to execute the Emperorís command.

Her army found a desolate hilltop overlooking the City. Slowly, so as to not attract the Makooís attention, they began to strip away what little life there was. It took another three years before every blade of grass had been plucked, and every mouse caught. Then she had the earth poisoned so nothing living could grow or en- ter. She commanded her soldiers to chain her to the rocks, and leave her without food or water. The rocks were carved with symbols denoting the spell of summon- ing. To tantalize herself, she ordered her Conjurors to create a spell that brought to phantasmal life mirages of all her desires, whether for food or company. The Dragon Army did as they were told, some mournfully but others spitefully. As they were leaving, she called out her will: Serenityís Flower was to be given to her daughter. They hid back at their camp, and prepared to capture any refugees as they fled the destruction.

As Fan Liu lay chained alone conversing with her ghosts, Liu Kahn Minh had a dream. In the dream, her parents gave her gifts: her father gave her a red bird, and her mother a flower. When she showed her father the flower, he blew a clear vase, and put the flower inside. But then her mother smashed the vase, and ran away. The bird caught the flower as it fell, and planted it in the earth, where Kahn Fu Tze covered it with a huge dome of glass. The flower planted itself and grew into a great tree, still covered by the dome. Liu Kahn Minh did not know what the dream meant, but it frightened her, so she told it to her father.

Kahn Fu Tze knew then that the Dragon Army would destroy the City, but he did not know when or how. He sent Liu Kahn Minh and the other children and Dragon elders out of the City, to wait in the outskirts of the forest. He and Serenity organized the others to evacuate the City, to reverse their work of several years when they had brought hundreds of Saints within the City. They transplanted the Saints at scattered places in the surrounding valley, not knowing where the threat would come from. Then they went to join the young in the forest.

By this time, Fan Liu no longer knew who or where she was. But the carv- ings reminded her of what she needed to do. Automatically, she read the words sur- rounding her, words carved with forbidden symbols that none but the mad could read, and none but the mad would want to read. The symbols started to pulse and writhe as she read them over and over, and each emitted its own sound: shrieks, simpers, moans, whistles. From each rock oozed a hideous substance : black steaming tar, yellow bile, pale white maggots, a stream of clotting blood, entrails. The cacophony continued as the different pieces of the Gibberer combined at the center of the tor. There was no pattern or logic in their assembly, but, in the end, the Gibberer seemed even more foul than the sum of his parts, a personification of all things diseased. At the sight of him, what was left of Fan Liuís mind was destroyed, and her body and spirit soon followed. For the Gibberer, famished from millennia of inactivity, soon devoured her soul. At his touch, her scales grew soft and slimy, and cancerous growths sprouted from head to tail.

Fan Liuís soul barely whetted the Gibbererís appetite. As planned, he no- ticed the City and the scent of somna emanating from it made him drool. He rushed down the hill towards the City. As soon as he left the sterilized hill top, the Makoo Saints felt his approach and tried to prevent his entering the Valley. But in resisting him, they came in contact with his unclean mind, and this drove many of the Ancients insane. Some were corrupted by the touch of his mind, and the places they lived in became the Fouled Lands. Other, more distant Saints, to save themselves from im- purity, broke the ties binding their lands to the Sipsa valley, creating the Lost Islands. The remaining Saints, fed by Serenityís courage and vigor, were able to preserve their resting places from the Gibbererís influence. But they were not able to keep the Gibberer out of the place he once ruled. The Cityís walls unraveled at his touch, and he feasted on the somna within. Finally, lulled by satiation, he rested in the Cityís ru- ins.

The Alliance with the Garu

Leaderless, the Dragon Army was in disarray. They had sent out scouts to spy the City, but even a glimpse of the Gibberer or his work was enough to drive them mad. The scouts returned believing that the other Dragon mages conspired against them, and began devising their own preemptive plots against the others. Even those Dragons not locked in struggle with the rest were content to let the refu- gees run to the Garuís forests. For they knew from their time among the Garu the hatred they felt towards the Makoo, and had learned to respect the Garuís ferocity and cunning. They planned to ransom Kahn Fu Tze or his body when the Garu had finished with the refugees, to bring back to the Emperor.

But Serenity had disciples among the Garu, and chief of these were Baruk and Kara. Serenity used the senses of forest animals to let the refugees avoid the Garu, while they made their way to the home of the pack that Baruk and Kara led. There they were made welcome, fed and sheltered. However, they needed more from the Garu than a temporary home. Barukís father Arun was the most honored warrior and most respected clan-leader of the Garu. Although he was skeptical, Arun was persuaded by Baruk to hold a moot to decide the issue in front of all the clans.

That night, all the pack leaders assembled in a large circle, with Arun at the center. First to be recognized was Ragar, the strongest hunter, who all expected to be clan leader after Arun. He despised the Makoo, and had welcomed the Dragon army to his pack. For this, he had received many gifts. " This is our chance to rid ourselves of the Makoo once and for all. Too long have we waited in their shadows. Let us ally ourselves with the Dragons. They are strong and know potent and strange magic, and have no interest in our lands. They will reward us well with their powerful weapons, and our children will always have enough to eat. The Makoo and renegade Dragons will be easy prey, and we can sacrifice them to appease the Chthon. "

"It would be better to appease the hurricane by whistling, or the sun with a bonfire, than to try to appease the Chthon through sacrifice! " Baruk replied. "Their hunger is endless, and their rage consumes all they encounter. To ally ourselves with those who would summon the Gibberer is to seek counsel from a rabid lunatic. Know that the Makoo Ancients are all that prevent the evil times of the Chthon from returning. Instead of plotting against them, we should learn their wisdom."

Ragar growled. " I have better uses for my time than to listen to trees. A true Garu is a hunter and warrior, not a day-dreamer. Does all the wisdom you have ab- sorbed by sitting on your rump in the swamp with the plants suggest a strategy, or should we just hope to be reincarnated as flowers after our deaths like Serenity preaches?"

Baruk lost his temper at Ragarís taunts. ďIt is only because of the greed and foolishness of a few that this danger has come, but to avert it, we must all make sac- rifices. The only hope I see is to summon the Oldest Animal.Ē

Then Arun spoke. "Barukís words make sense, but I mistrust his character. Too much time with that pacifist Serenity has made him soft. If we summon the Old- est Animal, many will starve in the time without hunting. To ask this sacrifice from the Garu, he must first prove himself strong enough to lead." He drew his dagger and stood. He made no motion or sound as Baruk approached, his own dagger drawn. But when Baruk had sunk his dagger through his heart, Arun collapsed into his sonís arms, and whispered, "Finally, you are strong enough to carry my burden. At last I rest."

Holding his fatherís cooling body in his arms, the grief-stricken Baruk barely noticed the crowds acclaiming him leader. But he did pay attention to a sudden warning shout. Dropping Arun, he whirled to see Ragar charging at him, dagger drawn. He leaped out of the way, shifting in the air. Barukís teeth raked Ragarís leg. But Ragar was so caught up in his rage that he scarcely noticed the wound that left a trail of blood following him. The spectators were aghast at Ragarís breach of protocol, but since Baruk had not yelled for help, it seemed he had accepted Ragarís chal- lenge. Ragar kept Baruk on the defensive, making repeated lunges with his deadly blade. The moot quickly realized that Baruk was toying with him, using his wolf speed to tire Ragar while conserving his own strength. Ragar could shift, too, but that would mean losing the dagger which gave him his chief advantage. In any case, he seemed too caught up in bloodlust to think of strategy, but merely attacked with in- creased savagery every time. Once, then twice, Ragarís dagger drew blood. Baruk rushed past Ragar to the very edge of the circle, whirled and shifted back. Even as he changed, his new-grown arms reached up to grab Ragarís knife hand by the wrist as it descended. Ragar was thrown off balance just enough for Baruk to rise from his crouch, keeping his firm grip on Ragarís wrist. Ragar reached with his left hand, trying to claw Barukís face, but Baruk stepped inside Ragarís reach. The two stood motionless, locked in a mock embrace, while Ragar struggled to push his arm down. Ragar then sunk his teeth deep in Barukís shoulder. Calling on his training with Se- renity, Baruk focused past the pain, and maintained his composure. Pressing down on Ragarís injured leg, he gained leverage as Ragar slipped. There was a snap, and Ragarís shoulder came loose from its socket. Ragar did not release the grip of his jaws even when Baruk ripped his now useless arm from his body, causing a stream of blood to spatter the on-lookers. Baruk could only bear the pain while waiting for his opponent to bleed to death.

When it was clear Ragar was dead, Kara stepped out to pry his jaws from her husbandís neck. The crowd proclaimed Baruk Warlord as Kara held him up in front of them. Then he collapsed.

Serenity was brought to the moot to tend Barukís wounds. The violence of the scene shocked and disturbed him. After he left, he wandered off by himself to ponder. Kahn Fu Tze followed him. After giving Serenity some time alone to think, Kahn Fu Tze approached him. ďTeacher, why is there pain in this world, when it is not needed for the next world?Ē This was the start of many conversations between them.

Serenity gave his standard answer. ďNot everything in the seed becomes the sprout. The husk protects the seed, but it is cast aside when the seed is grown.Ē

"So even the imperfect can be used to reach perfection?"

Serenity said nothing, but went with Kahn Fu Tze back to where Baruk lay healing. Together, they mourned for Arun, for Ragar, and for all the dead and in- jured in the battle to come.

The Oldest Animal

The Gibberer still slept, and the Dragon army was in confusion, so the alli- ance of Makoo, Dragons, and Garu had the week before the next full moon to pre- pare for summoning the Oldest Animal. They spent this time hunting and storing food for the month of the curse. In the hunt, the Garu warriors and Dragon mages learned to work together, the Dragon conjurers creating illusory predators to frighten the game into the nets of the Garu. Baruk decided to use this as the basis for his strategy. The cubs and elderly Garu were sent to caves and other easily defended shelters, while the Garu warriors and Dragon conjurers went ahead on a path leading to the river valley. At the border of the valley, the Dragon conjurers created a wall of darkness, to protect the warriors against the sight of the Gibberer as he lay sleeping, for even a glance meant insanity to the viewer.

At the night of the full moon, Baruk took the Horn of the Oldest Animal to the sacred clearing, and blew a noise that could be heard throughout the forest. From all around, the rustling of leaves was heard as the woods filled with representatives of all the creatures that had ever lived there: enormous beetles, toothed flightless birds, flying monkeys, armored lizards, tiny cloven-hoofed horses, cats with poisoned fangs, dogs with steaming breath, all foraging, stalking, mating, crawling, slurping, fighting, yowling, as if to make up for long years of extinction. Then the Oldest Animal stepped into the clearing. She somehow managed to gracefully combine the fea- tures of a million beasts: scales, hair and feathers; horns, ruff, and antlers; hoofs, claws, wings and flippers. She was startled as Baruk flung his spear at an armored place on her flank, and her fright turned to panic as the Garu warriors leaped into the clearing at this signal, brandishing similar weapons. Simultaneously, the mages among Kahn Fu Tzeís followers struck. The Conjurers nearby created a flash and boom like lightning and thunder, and the Transmogrifiers took the forms of the fiercest of the Oldest Animalís heralds. Surrounded on three sides by frightening sights, sounds, and smells, the Oldest Animal took off in a panicked run in the remaining direction. Baruk, the Garu in the clearing , and the monstrous-formed Transmogrifiers herded her down the chosen path. When she turned to face them, they attacked. The warriors had been warned not to spill her blood, but she was under no such constraint. Many were felled by horn, fang and hoof; others were too successful in defending themselves; drawing blood, they joined her entourage of extinct creatures. But most of the Garu and Transmogrifiers kept clear while menacing the Oldest Animal with idle threats, while the conjurers created an illusory wildfire on all sides but that of the path. Since there seemed to be no escape through battle, the Oldest Animal again took to flight. The Garu warriors pursued, keeping up with the Oldest Animalís frantic pace until they collapsed with exhaustion. By that time, the warriors and magicians in wait fur- ther on pounced out to relieve them. In this way, the Oldest Animal was herded to the river valley.

But at the wall of darkness, sensing the wrongness of the land beyond, the Oldest Animal turned and fought again. No matter how fierce the warriors fought, and no matter how loud and bright the illusions, she could not be frightened into go- ing further. Finally, transforming herself into a great Stone Giant, the transmogrifier Lun Yen picked her up and, ignoring the poison stings and claws that failed to pene- trate her stony skin, threw her into the valley beyond.

The Gibberer had been awakened by the sounds emanating from the forest, and had been attracted by the aura of power that the Oldest Animal brought with her. So he was already half way to the forest when the Oldest Animal was pushed through the barrier of darkness. Having digested the energy of the City, he was larger and more powerful than when Fan Liu had summoned him. He raced towards the Oldest Animal, polluting the land around him as he came. The Oldest Animal was paralyzed with terror, and could not even stand. The Gibberer pounced on her as she sat quivering. Although he knew of the curse, the Gibberer could not control his ravenous craving, and devoured the Oldest Animal body and soul.

As he did, he erupted in animal parts. Horns, fins, feathers, stingers, cara- paces, shells, tentacles, pods, tusks congealed on his unctuous body like scabs. The Gibberer was strong enough that his nature could not be totally subsumed. In- stead of the graceful combination of the Oldest Animal he became a hideous Patch- work Beast. The last memory of the Oldest Animal was fear, and the newborn amalgamation took flight to the only safety it remembered, the Gibbererís den in the Caves Beneath the World.

Building the New City

With the Patchwork Beast gone, the strange animals that had accompanied her began to diminish. Barukís stratagem had worked, but had high costs. Even in the refuges, the cubs and elderly had been menaced by the fiercest of the pastís creatures. Although they tried to use only nets and snares in defense, many of the Garu elderly had been forced to kill and so take the form of the slain. The camp of the Dragon Army had also been besieged. Not knowing of the curse, they had at first killed without hesitation, only gradually realizing to their horror that they were then fighting their transformed companions. Then, after the Oldest Animalís entourage had left, they continued to hunt for a while, not having stockpiled food, and thinking the curse over. The survivors, led by Ng Ree Kim, surrendered to Kahn Fu Tze, bringing Serenityís Flower as a peace offering.

As Arun had predicted, many died of hunger and disease in the long forced fast that followed, especially the young, old, and sickly. When the full moon came again without the reappearance of the Oldest Animal to lift the curse, despair filled the Garu. But Kahn Fu Tze had suspected this possibility, and warned Serenity. He had joined minds with the Eldest Makoo, and drawing on all their power, had called to food animals from beyond the delta and forest. Bison were lured with promises of abundant grain from the Unicorn Prairie, pigeons from the Spice Islands, and wild boars from Bama. As these were needed for breeding, at first only milk and eggs could be eaten, and the Garu and Dragons grew lean and sickly.

Kahn Fu Tze began to scout locations for the new City, since the site of the first City had been corrupted. He chose a place where the Sipsa parted around a small island. The new City was to be even more spectacular than the old, and much more defensible. The remnants of the Dragon army worked alongside his followers to design and create the vast quantities of Crystal required. Before long, the first tower was built. The Garu moved their new herds and flocks inside, starting a new way of settled life. Serenity had postponed his dormancy for centuries. Now he chose the center of the new tower to be his place to dream with the Saints. Many of the other Ancients were transplanted into the City to escape the new wasteland the Gibberer had created.

The seeds of the alliance had been planted in fertile ground. Before long, Liu Kahn Min, Grun, son of Baruk, and Serenityís disciple Patience I would become the first triumvirate. Under their rule, the Radiant Empire began to grow, recapturing the uncorrupted part of the Delta and forest. In time, the dream of the Makoo grew stronger, wider and deeper, taming and civilizing the land. The City became the center of both dream and civilization, fertilized by the somna energy. Other races were attracted by the peace and hope offered by the Makoo. While still imperfect, the Empire represented the dream of the Perfect World to come.