The boy watched as Grandfather stoked the fire-pit dreamily, his old age and wisdom a wonder among men. He knew the wrinkled man was calling deep upon memory, preparing one of his many stories for telling. The boy waited impatiently, letting his gaze drift behind Grandfather, back and back, past the plains of cherried-wheat, beyond grey hills and shadowed ranges of snow-capped mountains. There imposing upon the pink dusk of the sky and leagues higher than the other mountaintops, rose the Great Mountain. The single, conical behemoth, though faded by distance, filled the majestic vista of the boy’s world, and his eyes went captive to it. The mountain’s colossal heights were veiled in eternal clouds, forever hidden. What the summit must look like, the boy could only wonder. None had ever known.
“Your face is fixed upon Ceivva, I see…” whispered Grandfather. “As it has always been, by all men.”
The boy continued to stare at the mountain. “Isn’t it beautiful, Grandfather?”
“That it is, child. That it is…” the old man’s voice sang softly, like hushed secrets. “And what would you ask it, boy, if it could answer you?” He continued to poke at the embers under the fire.
“What lies beyond the clouds, at its peak…”
And here a hint of a smile turned the corner of the old man’s lips. “Ahh,” returned Grandfather. “Then I shall tell you, for the mountain cannot.”
The boy looked to his Grandfather with astonishment. “You know?”
“I do at that, for despite what folk now say, men of ages past-many, many great ages past and nigh-forgotten, came down from its heights. They were our ancestors.”
“Tell me! Is it true Grandfather?” The boy sat across from him, eyes wide with the magic of possibility, the crackling fire spitting between them, and the Great Mountain beyond.
“Indeed,” said Grandfather, “And remember this most of all, boy. They were not so unlike us!” and his voice bespoke the truth of it. “It has been said that Ceivva has no summit, at least, not one that can be reached. But this is only partially true. It is also believed that the Great Mountain is our connection to the heavens. Do you know what ‘Ceivva’ means? Hmm?”
The boy found it curious to think on the question, and realized that he did not.
Grandfather continued, and he carried his story in wisped, reverent tones…
* * *
…Though it is a mountain, ‘Ceivva’ means ‘World Tree.’ It has always carried this name, in our ancient times and in the times before time. As it is with you, boy, the first people of this world cast their adorning gaze upon the Great Mountain, and were captivated by its mysteries. Soon our every ancestor set their desires upon learning the secrets of Ceivva. It became their sole purpose—and a curse.
Every advancement, every progression, every momentous step of ancient man’s evolution through history, every lunge toward civilization was centered upon the Great Mountain. The fathers and mothers of our arcane heritage became obsessed by reaching its summit. Every piece of history now lost to us, good and bad, played out with that common goal in mind. Wars broke out among the fractured tribes as they claimed the vast slopes of the mountain as their own; still they climbed higher. Dangerous expeditions into its freezing heights were waged, all for the honor of being first to reach the top. Men and women died by the thousands along its unforgiving faces. Still, they looked upward toward Ceivva’s elusive summit.
Soon, delayed by the mountain’s unyielding rigors, attentions among men went to the design and building of many great and wondrous things, inventions beyond our understanding today. They used these creations at first to keep each other from scaling higher than themselves. But they soon found they could master the skies with their intellect, and were free to roam the winds like great birds.
Eventually, aided by the power of flight, they reached the very top of the mountain. What was found there was a curious thing, as enigmatic as the mountain itself. Upon the summit, a great tree grew forth, leagues upon leagues in circumference. Here then, was some truth to the Great Mountain’s name, Ceivva- The World Tree. How this coincidence might have occurred baffled our ancestors, but it brought forth, for a time, an era of peace and unison among them, for surely there was some divine work now in play. There was little doubt they were fated to reach the summit, and to ascend the Great Tree toward the heavens.
And so, with wheated-plains, lush forests, and grey hills of their origins long behind them, these first people pushed ever upward, seeking out their destiny. The air grew thin, and thin, and thinner still. Nevertheless, they continued to launch daring campaigns of exploration, climbing up the gargantuan surface of Ceivva, for they had surpassed the heights whose winds afforded them the gift of flight. Such heights had these people reach that the invisible force that holds us tight to the bosom of the world was less and less, until the only force still upon them held them to the tree itself. Looking back now, they saw the world for what it was and what it had always been—a perfect sphere. They began to think of Ceivva not as ‘ascending’ atop the world, but rather as ‘growing outward’ from it, reaching into the expanses of the starry beyond.
And here there was a great split among the first people, for so strange and foreign was this existence that many gave up their eons-birthright, letting go the quest to seek Ceivva’s ultimate end. Those many ancestors turned around, wanting the memories of the past, which told stories of fertile lands, rivers and forests, and fields of red-amber wheat, of kingdoms of animals now long forgotten. And so they returned to the firm stretches of the soiled world, and became known as ‘The Grounded.’ Yet, many more committed themselves to their lust for discovery. They chose to continue venturing outward along Ceivva, always wondering at its extent what lies but a little farther, and so they became known as ‘The Seekers.’ They believed, in all their hearts, the legends that Ceivva would one day link them directly to the Divine.
The path of The Seekers was at first difficult, bereft of the fruits and substances afforded to The Grounded, but Ceivva’s skin yielded the way onward. Soon, her bark of vast valleys and dense foliage became ecosystems unto themselves. Through great toil and a plentiful life provided by this newfound paradise, the achievements of The Seekers eventually surpassed anything The Grounded had hoped to reach. Finally, The Seekers had mastered the flight of the heavens themselves, thus the meter to which their exploration along World Tree progressed had increased a hundred fold, and colonies by countless dozens sprung up ever outward.
The connections and conversing between The Seekers and The Grounded became less frequent and less still. That dialogue, which did reach The Seekers, spoke tales of hunger and strife among their old brethren. The sprawling eras of time bestowed upon The Grounded alternated between curses of disease, war, and famine. Word came of the desperate pleas for aid by The Grounded, begging The Seekers to share their good fortune with them. But The Seekers thought on their ancient kin as an arrogant, backward and foolish people. Sadly, they turned their backs on them, and looked instead toward the ends of Ceivva.
Resolved in leaving the ill fortunes of their cousins behind them, they advanced their designs of an idyllic life yet farther along Ceivva’s incalculable reaches. And idyllic their life was, for eons it would seem. They lived out their lives, each generation, like gods. But despite all this blessing, and all their relentless exploration, they lacked the one thing, which had always eluded them. Outward again, and again, and again, desperately trying to fill their need to know, to fathom where Ceivva might lead them, but she was unwilling to yield this to the minds of men, for men they still were, and soon paradise became a fleeting thing. They had progressed so far away from the world, and here along the infinite regions of World Tree, she began to bare fewer and fewer bountiful areas. The Seekers would push past an immense expanse of deadness, only to reach a quaint vale of struggling life; past countless leagues of inhospitable tree-land, only to find a pitiful spattering of near-dead life.
Whole colonies were lost to these dying regions. Likewise, the once fruitful settlements, which had come before them, were also in loss of their providence. A slow, withering impotence began to overtake the surface of the Great Tree, and the loss of life among The Seekers became an aberration of horrors.
Eventually, at such peril were The Seekers in, they made the unthinkable decision to turn back. So back they went, and back and back, clamoring down Ceivva’s colossal trunk, hoping to gain the firmament of the once-forgotten world beneath their feet before the last of them died out. They would rejoin their kin, and trade with them their secrets of knowledge in exchange for home and sustenance.
Finally, with so very few of them left, they reached again the land of their distant origins. Now, descending the slopes of the Great Mountain and passing through the barrier of constant clouds, they looked down upon the world, and what they saw caused a great sadness among them. Our ancient ancestors saw, at long last, the sums of their past. Or, perhaps, it was the future they glimpsed, and the sight of it nearly stole away their will to live…
* * *
And here, Grandfather’s eyes glazed over, the light of the fire danced across his face, and a few stray tears went unchecked down his leathered cheeks.
“What did they see?” asked the boy. Grandfather sat, stalwart among his thoughts, his gaze lost upon the flames between them. He said nothing. For a long while, it seemed, the boy waited for more, but curiosity and impatience won out. He went around to the other side of the fire-pit, knelt before his Grandfather, and reached for his hand. “Grandfather, is that it? Is that the end of the story?”
The old storyteller blinked through his tears, as if coming out of a long sleep, and turned to look at his grandson. Trapped in his thoughts, he realized the boy had asked him a question. His eyes asked the boy to repeat it.
“Is that the end of the story?”
Grandfather shook his head slowly. “Oh no… Not the end,” he managed at barely a whisper. “Not the end at all.”
“Well, what did they see, beneath the clouds?” the boy asked.
Grandfather moved a hand up to rest it on the boy’s shoulder, and caught his eyes with his own. “The land was neglected. No—not neglected… Devastated! The land was devastated! The Seekers knew, without ever having seen the world for themselves that what lie before them was a vile, horrid rape and mutilation of the land. Hardly a tree remained standing upon the scorched surface. The fabled plains of cherried-wheat were gone. The grey hills were black and ravaged. The snow-capped mountains had lost their snow, standing bare like solemn witnesses. It was an unnatural plight, and they understood then that the wars and desperation of their once-brethren people had brought the soils of the world to the brink of death, and so too had caused the dying of Ceivva.
“But the great sadness and burden that our ancient ancestors, The Seekers, would forever onward carry with them is their part in it—their share of the blame, for they too caused the death of Ceivva. And their kin. And nearly the whole of the world. They who thought themselves like gods, and turned their back on The Grounded, leaving them to work with what was now seen before them.”
The boy and Grandfather remained silent for a time, locked in their thoughts and buried in their emotions.
Finally the boy spoke, “What did they do, The Seekers?”
Grandfather blinked back his slow, impending tears. “From thence… thence came a time of great struggle, and great hardship, when our ancient ancestors were forced to turn all their attentions to the re-nurturing of the world—to rekindle what had once been forgotten.”
The boy looked on the landscape around them. His gaze pierced the evening shadows, swept across the hills and the wheat swaying slowly in the wind.
“Yes,” continued the old man. “After a time, a long time, they succeeded. In doing so, they lost much of the knowledge they had once gained, but they succeeded.
“Now it is time to return home I think, and to bed. I am growing very tired.” Grandfather stood up, slowly, as old age would permit him, and began to make his way from the fire-pit, Ceivva fading in the twilight behind him.
The boy took one last glance at the snow-capped mountain ranges, and The Great Mountain rising above them all, then turned to help his Grandfather.
The old man yawned, then spoke again, as if in afterthought to all he’d said tonight. “Tomorrow, boy… tomorrow, you will tell me the story I have told you today.”