This last chapter in the Rise of the Alliance will begin with a brief jaunt ten years back, which on Sartorias-deles was a couple years after Sartor had emerged from its enchantment beyond time and was struggling to catch up with the rest of the world.
Unknown to any of them, the forgotten world Five hosted not only the Norsundrian stronghold, but hidden deep in one of its mountain ranges, survivors of that long-ago Fall.
We’ll begin with those survivors as the last sands slipped from the massive time-measure canister, marking the end of one round and the beginning of a new, “rounds” being the designation for what had once been days, a concept blurred by centuries of cave living. The Elder in charge of swinging the canister upright again and ringing the wake-time bell stood patiently by as five children pattered past him, up the smooth rocky path to the highest cave belonging to the mage Dom Hildi.
Leotay was the first of the ten-year-olds to reach the ledge outside of Dom Hildi’s cave. Several other children joined her there, including Leotay’s friend Satya. Familiar with one another, they knew that there were no other ten-year-olds due, but still Dom Hildi did not open her tapestry.
“Did you call?” asked the last arrival.
“Yes,” Leotay said, for the fifth time.
“We were supposed to be here at Blue,” Satya pointed out.
Everybody had come early, before the start of the new round.
Moonbeam, the tallest of the boys, hopped to the edge of the ledge and peered down into the big cavern. “Elder Amau is waiting for the last of the sands to drop,” he reported.
His words were unnecessary—no one had heard the Change bell ring —but still the others thanked him with somewhat nervous politeness. When Dom Hildi said that they were to be there at the Blue, that meant precisely when the cannister had been swung around and sand began flowing into the lowest level, marked with a blue stripe. No one wanted to find out what happened to latecomers, so they’d all sidled up during the end of the last sleep-stripe.
They knew that they were to hear The Story this round, but anything more than that (though they’d never tired of speculating) was unknown. Adults, and older cousins and siblings had been disgustingly smirky and teasing, but most repeated tiresome variations on, “We waited until we turned ten, and so will you.”
Leotay got up and stared down into the vast bowl of the main cavern, at the familiar glow-globes along the ledge walkways outside the smaller, tapestry-covered caves in which families dwelt. She knew that The Story was supposed to be about the Past, but how was the Past different from the present? She couldn’t imagine anything different than the family caves along the ledges, the big terrace opposite Dom Hildi’s cave with the massive striped double-canister that measured out their awake-times and sleep-times in the continual flow of soft sands, or the people she’d always known.
She turned around, her toes rubbing on the stone smoothed by hundreds of years of ancestors. Hundreds and hundreds. She gazed at Dom Hildi’s beautiful blue-and-gold embroidered tapestry. As befitted the most respected person in the cavern, she had the best tapestry. Somehow the patterns in the weave seemed to indicate mystery: why were the shapes made this way or that way?
They would find out soon. The thought made her wriggle with impatience.
“Blue!” a boy sang out a heartbeat before Elder Amau hauled the rope that turned the canister, then struck the brass bell down in the cavern to announce the last of sleep-time.
“Ah!” a sigh went through the youngsters on the little ledge.
Don Hildi’s tapestry moved aside.
A wrinkled old face peered out, the eyes sharp but the skin around them crinkled in good humor. “Come in, children.”
They walked single file past the familiar figure with her white hair tied back into a thin braid. Her outer chamber was plain, much like anyone else’s: a few mats, a low table made of silk-tree wood, a patterned weaving on the cave wall. Leotay hoped they wouldn’t have to stay there, though this was usually the room where people kept company. Somehow, she expected something different of Dom Hildi.