As legend has it, life started with a tree. How or why, no one knows. Neither did the group of eight when they found it. The tree of life stood at the heart of a never-ending forest, on a bed of cinnabar, like a God in its own right.
In front of the tree stood a woman, and behind her seven companions. They stood in front of its mighty roots, below its luminescent peaches. Peaches that were said to grant eternal life. They each climbed the mighty trunk and each claimed a peach. As their teeth punctured the glowing fruits’ skin, they felt the power of the Gods.
The woman and her seven companions stayed by the tree, making their homes around it. However, as they had followed a legend, others would as well. The years passed, and more people reached the tree seeking its power. With no reason to hinder them, the homestead grew into a settlement. All seemed well.
But, while the peaches gave eternity, they were not eternal. The group of eight saw peaches picked would not grow back. Confronted with their fragility, the woman and her companions decided to act. They refused to give up that which gave them power. Together with the current settlers they formed a vanguard, the peaches were theirs and they alone would harness their power.
They had claimed the tree for themselves. Within the wooden walls built they were now thirty odd settlers. But, they knew they were only delaying the inevitable. In search of this now forbidden fruit, more would come and eventually outnumber them. In numbers, even immortality can be overpowered.
The group looked to the tree for whatever gift it may still hide. From its leaves, its bark, its sap, its bed of cinnabar and its precious peaches they sought power. Naked branches shone from the mighty tree, but they had gained what they pursued. Branded with its divine sap they attained the ability to influence nature. And with it they now faced the hordes who sought to claim their power.
The usurpers encroached on the walls. They were many, but numbers meant little. Though but children to their new powers, the woman and her seven wielded it with brutal might. Driving up spike-like stones from the ground, impaling and crushing their enemies like children squashing insects. Through stolen power, they shackled the heavens as their own and ascended their thrones of air.
They had emerged as Gods over mortals, on bloodied soil they now stood, marking the beginning of their ancient empire. The tree which they owed, solemnly hung above them. Naked branches speckled its canopy, deep scars ran down its trunk. What little remorse that lived in the woman and her seven lived strong that day.
Time. Through centuries their empire persevered. The empire whose Gods walked among them. But, time’s grace came at a cost, and the eternal gift of the peaches was not as absolute as it seemed. While a thousand years had borne no fruit, it borne death.
The legend had told of the source of eternal life. The legend did not lie, but truths can be bent. Their gift only lasted one millennia. The vanguard, in their zealous protection of their peaches, was decimated through chariness. They, who once were thirty-two, now found themselves twenty-nine. They sought the remaining peaches for their gifts once again. Infuriated by this reminder of mortality, the woman, their monarch, swore she would once again rise above. She would not shackle; she would claim the heavens.
The years passed, and with new generations the death of the three Gods faded into legend. But, the woman did not forget. She would not lose control again. Experiments and delusion led the remaining to vanity, once again leading to believe themselves above the tree; in control of its gifts. By decree there would be a feast. They would consume all the remaining peaches and retain each one of their thousand year gift.
The empire readied for a harvest festival fit for the Gods. And as the night came to a close, the tree stood naked in its shrine, and the Gods sat content in their thrones. Above them all sat the monarch. A smile rested on her lips, whatever fury she had felt all those years ago now gone.
The storms of sand. Nature’s wrath. Words that had become commonplace as the fringes of their once lush empire were invaded by desolation and death. The tree, the rightful owner of their gifts, stood dying. And like the reaper itself, the sands sought to claim its price, like the monarch and her seven had before.
Panic grew within the once comforting walls of the empire. In both mortal and God. Food and water grew sparse. Prophets of doom foretold the coming end in the streets. And from her perch, the monarch saw it all. She felt her control once again slipping through her fingers.
Fire. Burning pyres. Shouting. Chaos. The sands had crept into the heart of the city, harvests ruined, water evaporated. The riots had started small. But, like hordes of locust they grew in numbers. The revolution had begun.
The monarch watched the massive stone doors of her throne room close. Leaving only silence as her companion. The doors would not open again. She would perish on her throne, by her own dictation, below the husk of the once mighty tree that bestowed her its power. She would die as the eternal monarch.
She invited the darkness and drew her last breath. But, the darkness would did not take her. She awoke to the sound of a forest. The walls of her throne room nowhere to be found. Her hunger for her peaches tenfold. Her punishment had begun.
Long live the eternal monarch.
The story concluded on May 29th, 2017.