The skies rumbled with thunder out of the blue.
Vulcan and his group looked up. They could see that the thick dark clouds were dissipating swiftly, as if assuming their own initiative in welcoming something alive.
In the distance, a burning meteor dragging along a red tail of light streaked towards the sky at the same time. The fiery tail of the falling star was as bright as the sun, and there wasn't just onethe light from the ceaseless shower of meteors lit the dark clouds in a dim gold.
Lightning danced across the sky, celestial bodies were falling, and a gigantic pillar of tornado twirled nearbyalbeit barely visible.
"The golems are landing near us. I have to hurry"
After a brief silence, Vulcan told the guards behind him grimly, "Stay here and watch the airship. Quickly leave if anything happensthere won't be any escape if the tornado gets too near."
"But, my lord. What about you?" The soldier who stood the furthest from him who looked extremely worried couldn't stop himself from asking. "We will follow you wherever you go, my lord. As long as we can be your shield, we fear nothing."
His words were earnest, the others were nodding toobut Vulcan shook this head.
"This isn't something you should be concerned about," The leader of the elves said coldly. Unmoved by the loyalty his followers were showing he added another brisk command: "Stay here and await my return. Do not hesitate and retreat if there's any dangerTHAT'S AN ORDER!"
The bodyguards glanced at each other, not quite understanding what the meaning behind that order was. But his seventy-year reign as Lord Commander and his stern gaze left no room for them to retort.
"Yes, my lord!" they replied, seething.
Having gotten a clear answer, Vulcan walked crisply towards the center of the ruins.
His guards stood their ground helplessly. If they obeyed their commander's order, they wouldn't know what to do with themselves; but they did receive a direct order which they had no way of wiggling out from.
Talk about standing between a rock and a hard place.
Vulcan arrived at the heart of the ruins.
Here, at the capital of the final dynasty of the elven Empire, the sounds of the final battle between the Empire and the Federation rang in this city. It had been fearsomesurpassing every other battle seen over a millennium.
The rebel army, who fought for freedom and survival, had recklessly charged past the empire's army defenses and entered the capital. The royalsseeing that their palace, the final bastion was about to fall too, lit up the city and razed everything to the ground.
To avoid the pyres, the rebels were forced to abandon the battlefield. Vulcan, one of the front-liners, could not pull out in time; he hid in one of the vaults under the palace while the fire wrought destruction, piling dust and rubble above ground.
Vulcan thought that it was the end for him then. Still, everything had been worth it. His dream had come true; the empire had fallen.
Although the ending was just a wee bit upsetting, it was acceptable.
However, as he prepared to go gently into the good night, a sudden fissure broke out in the basementone that was big enough to fit a person. Briefly surprised, he instinctively walked inside to see if he had any hope of survival.
It was the place that Vulcan, eventual commander-in-chief of the Federation, was returning to.
After the war, the Federation had held a massive excavation at the former capital of the empire to raise the remains of the elven dynasty. Naturally, the entrance to the basement was discovered then, but the fissure was unnoticed thanks to Vulcan's own machinations.
He kept everything to himself and himself alone.
The skeletons of the buildings and the charred remains of a billion different things lay around, including blackened statues and wall carvings. Amidst all that was left of the elven empire, he saw a little passageway that was dug up.
Drawing a deep breath, Vulcan stepped past the corridor to survey the basement, and quickly spotted the boulder.
He grunted and breathed heavily as he heaved it away laboriously. Looking at the mouth of the fissure, he laughed at himself. "Years of a pampered life. So, this is what's left of my strength."
However, he did not hesitate and entered, trotting along the dry rocky walls towards the world below.
It was dark and silent as he moved along the wall, without a hint of any sound. The blazing winds, booming of falling meteors and thunderous tremors across the night sky were of no concern to him here. It was a bottomless abyss, and Vulcan was walking in its darkness, as if separated from the world.
Everything would have horrified any ordinary being. The desolation and seemingly endless blackness could break any spirit. Even the compact rocky wall wouldn't help; anyone walking through it would fear that it would suddenly close up, crushing them into minced meat.
Vulcan, on the other hand, was troubled. Even if he didn't come by once before and found out what the fissure led to, he would not have pausedhe did not in his first time here either.
This was because he was shouldering billions of elven livesthe weight of a race, a nation, a civilization.
And though it was heavy on his back, he would never be crushed.
Light appeared before him.
After a journey that might or might not be extensive, dim rays of light appeared, sending ripples through Vulcan's heart.
He had arrived.
The air underground was clear and unsullied. He drew it in with huge gasps and finally reached the end of the crack.
Vulcan quickened his steps and walked out to a broadly spread platform, which suddenly lit up.
The elf could only squint at the sight before him while trying to hide the tears that were about to well out. It was already a nostalgic scene though he was only looking upon it for the second time; there was no holding back the stirring and overwhelming feelings within.
A tree that seems to stretch on and hold the skies aloft stood in front of him.
In the middle of the infinitely spacious cavern stood a rock tree. It pillared the world below while its body gleamed in a green hue. As if breathing, waves of refreshing breezes spread from it in every direction. Even if he was standing beside the mouth of the cave, Vulcan could feel the extremely familiar, nostalgic and affectionate sensation.
The final dynasty of the Elven Empire did all they could to erase their tomes and cultural inheritance and bring all that was elven along with them to their graves.
However, the world also held unforgettable myths and legends. That included the tale of the gigantic tree that stood for millions of years, past the era of fire and iron, a tale that had carved itself deep into the memory of every elf.
A tree that gave birth to everything.
A symbol of the very origin of the elves, a tree that lit the fire of their civilization.
The Divine Tree of Beginnings.