2946-08-14 - Tales From the Inbox - First Contact on Makaharwa
Raukrhan watched the Great Old One silently. There was no mistaking what it was; the song-stories said that the Old Ones would come haloed in fire and gleaming to surpass the finery of all the cladelords, and so it had come to pass. Now, the creature hovered lightly over the Razor Plains, the great blasts of its breath flattening even the stiff blade-bushes below it. Dozens of glowing eyes watched in all directions, and not one of them had blinked since Raukrhan had begun watching.
The Great Old Ones had not come to Makaharwa in at least fifteen generations, but it had been said in all that time that their return was imminent. The story-singers knew that the fickle, changing will of the Highmost Of All Worlds would someday cast its baleful eye on Raukrhan’s people once more, and He would send his servants, the Great Old Ones, to treat, to grant boons, or to destroy, as He had in ages past. In those days, some of Raukrhan’s ancestors had been taken to live among the stars, and it was said that those who had gone were singing still in the heavenly City of Worlds, entertaining the Highmost and his glittering court.
Raukrhan hoped that, in the craggy vantage he had selected, even the multitudinous eyes of a Great Old One would be unable to spy him. He kept his plumage dulled to match the rocky spire onto which he clung, certain that as long as he was still, nothing in the world could see him. The Old Ones were not of the world, of course; this one might spy him out all the same. It was a risk, but a necessary one, and Raukrhan had volunteered quickly, before lots had been cast. As the rest of the clade had fled into the safety of the sacred grottoes, he had come out alone, carrying nothing except a bag with three days’ food for his vigil. Everyone knew that weapons and totems were no proof against the Old Ones.
After a long while, the Great Old One effortlessly seared for itself a blackened hole in the Razor Plains and came to a ponderous rest. Even from a distance, Raukrhan could smell the sour stench of burning and desolation carried on the wind, along with the bitter, venomous smell of the Old One itself.
Any hope that the vast being had come only to take ease in a pleasant place was soon dashed; the creature disgorged a number of tiny things, some of which circled in tandem up into the air, while others tottered about on the scorched ground around their parent. The ground-bound things moved with deliberate caution as they fanned out into the Plains in small groups, while the fliers circled restlessly above their sinister parent.
These fliers, the obvious threat to Raukrhan and his clan, were of a kind with the Old One’s glittering, sinister element. Their odd jerking motion in the air, and their total lack of wings or plumage with which to ride the wind, unsettled him, as did the speed with which they performed their precise aerial dance.
One by one, these tiny subordinates flew off in all directions. This, the song-stories did not prepare Raukrhan for; the Great Old Ones described by the tale-singers never needed to search for what they wanted. When they came, they simply proceeded toward the object of their desire, erasing all obstacles as if they had never been. Perhaps, in all their ages of service to the Highmost, even Old Ones had become forgetful.
Almost too late, Raukrhan noticed one of the flitting minions meandering toward him. He hugged the rock closely, watching it go by, buzzing like a gorged rubyfly and bobbing like a piece of foamwood in a rapid stream. It was not much bigger than himself, and seemed to hang in the air upside down, with its swiveling head hanging below its round body and stubby, fruit-shaped bulbs which seemed a disdainful mockery of wings. Such a thing, he knew, should not fly, and yet it soared jerkily through the air.
Just as it seemed the creature passed Raukrhan’s hiding place without taking notice, it came to a sudden halt, spinning its body in place until it faced him. Hoping still to avoid notice, the sentry froze and held his breath, even as its hot, acrid breath washed over him.
The creature barked something unintelligible, its voice tinny and hollow. Raukrhan could no longer hope that he had not been noticed. After he spent a few seconds in silent deliberation, it repeated its noises, dipping lower, until its many-eyed head was suspended directly in front of his own eyes. Seeing that it lacked teeth or claws of any kind, Raukrhan hoped to spook this thrall from the stars – he threw up his feather-crest and cast his wings wide, shifting his plumage from the dull gray-brown color of the rocks to a vibrant pattern of violet and yellow.
Most of Makaharwa’s more dangerous predators found such a display at least surprising, but this subordinate to the Old One merely backed away slowly, making no move to suggest that it was alarmed. Shifting his colors once more, Raukrhan threw himself at it, clawing at its hardened head with his climbing talons.
To his relief, the shining creature broke off and gained altitude, though he doubted he’d done any damage. Before it could recover, he leapt off his perch over and sped away into a cliff-hugging dive, hoping to hide among the crags and evade the gleaming horror.
Evading an Old One, however, proved as impossible as the song-stories claimed. As soon as Raukrhan had leveled off at the bottom of the cliff, the bobbing abomination dropped down in front of him. It had sprouted a new limb since he turned away; the spindly, talon-like appendage joined its round body just above the hanging head. This limb flailed against the air, but not randomly – Raukrhan decided that it was gesturing, a crude mimicry of how Raukrhan’s people might gesture with their clawed wing-digits. The meaning of the gesture was clear - it was pointing at its prey, as if claiming him as its own.
Raukrhan, imagining the things it might intend to do with someone so claimed, turned and abruptly and dove into the canopy of a narrow, wooded gulch, crashing through the recoiling tendrils of a waterfall tree and taking refuge among its distended roots.
Still, the questing servant of the Old One followed, slowly lowering itself between the trees. It found Raukrhan easily, and pointed at him once more. This time, he realized, it was not quite pointing at him – it was pointing at his little bag of provisions, dangling from its carry-strap.
Raukrhan hissed at it, looking for another way to escape. He didn’t want to part with the food, but he would gladly trade it for his life. Perhaps the Great Old One had merely come to the world to fill its cavernous belly? If so, it had chosen its location well – the hills around the Razor Plains were fertile foraging ground, and even the perilous plains themselves could be made to yield up a great bounty. Carefully, he lifted the leather loop off his neck and tossed the bag to the horror, hoping that this would satisfy its desires. Perhaps while it investigated the contents, he might make his escape.
The shining creature barked again, equally unintelligibly. Its single talon picked up the bag, then held it out, as if to give it back. Raukrhan hissed at it, not understanding the otherworldly creature’s ways, and not wanting to try. The Old Ones were beyond the comprehension of all but the Highmost, and only madness could be the reward of such curiosity.
The servant of the Old One persisted, pointing with its single claw to itself, to Raukrhan, then into the distance, where its sire lay in a circle of devastation. It offered the bag, then again. Raukrhan, despite his best efforts, began to see the edges of its purpose; it wanted him to return with it, and was offering him something if he obeyed. He had no choice; the Old One’s thralls could certainly hunt him to the ends of the world, and if he did by miraculous fortune evade them, they would just as likely search out his clade-mates, since the sacred grotto was only a day’s flight away. Whatever its purpose, he was the sentry, the one who had accepted the risk; it was his responsibility to suffer whatever the Old One willed, in the hope that it would spare the others.
Fear twisting his insides, Raukrhan snatched the bag back. The silvery creature rose past the treetops, and Raukrhan clambered up after it and took to the air, following the bobbing, shining servant back to its titanic master.
He wanted to flee once more, but he saw it was no use; more of the flying servants watched from a distance on all sides, and the tottering groundlings had gathered to watch his approach as well. As it went in the stories, the will of the Highmost, enacted by the Great Old Ones, could not be thwarted.
Today's entry is a rare treat - Raukrhan's account is the only case I've ever known of a first contact event for which both the explorers' and the natives' perspectives are recorded. The highly sensationalized exploration of Makaharwa, the so-called Chromatic Planet, is likely well known to this audience; Raukrhan is to date the only one of the planet's native inhabitants to agree to leave the world and return to the Core Worlds. Raukrhan's tour of the Core Worlds was far less sensationalized than the explorers' efforts to catalog the planet's diverse and beautiful ecosystem, likely for security reasons.
All the information I can find says that this account was likely dictated to a human assistant some time in mid-2943, shortly before Raukrhan returned to Makaharwa with a second research expedition. His impression of human arrival matches neatly with the impressions of several other pre-technological sapients encountered on the Coreward Frontier, and it is curious how nearly identical these legends are iacross wide areas of space. Perhaps in some long-forgotten era, the people of Makaharwa and the other inhabited worlds of the Frontier had dealings with the Xenarchs? I can find no research conclusively showing this to be the case, but a quick datasphere search shows that I am hardly the first person to speculate along these lines.
If there are any among the audience with additional light to shed on why these legends might be so similar, by all means send it along - I would be happy to present that sort of content on this feed.