Beginnings and Ends
A distant thunderhead roared in the south, wrenching Taitich from the land of memories back to the present. The soft cries of children laughing and splashing in the pools echoed through the mezzanine and out into the crowded boulevard, mixing with the sounds of the awakening city and becoming lost. It would storm, and soon. Taitich shook his head and smiled. It wasnt even zenith yet and his charges were already soaked through with rain on the way. But he had promised them if they all recited the Twae'qum without mistakes, he'd bring them to the pools today.
"At Morntide?" They had asked, voices thick with hope that only children could seem to muster. Taitich had agreed, never thinking they'd manage to recite flawlessly - he knew his charges afterall. But perhaps not well enough, for even the owl can be surprised by the mouse. Sometimes.
The thought of the oncoming storm brought a dull ache to the elderly teacher's joints. A life spent in the Artisan Caste was one filled with cumulative injury, second only to the Warriors. Storms always reminded him of past mistakes. Accidents. Memories shoved their way to the forefront following pain. He was ashamed, at first, when his eyes and hands had finally failed him the winter before. His Caste had come and forced him here, to live out his days teaching the children that would replace him and others like him in the Artisan Caste. But, after the sting wore away, Taitich found to his surprise that he quite liked it. The children were eager to learn, eager to fulfill their role in the Moch; He had never had any children of his own. Apprentices, yes. But apprentices were older. He could count the winters these children had seen on his left hand, if not his right.
Taitich ignored his protesting legs and forced himself to stand, stepping forward to the pool with shaky steps. "Come, little ones. It won't do to splash and snooze the day away." He called out over the din. His charges came readily and shuffled out of the pools and followed their teacher across the tiled mezzanine to a series of stone benches set against a railed overlook. Taitich took a much needed seat and gestured for his charges to gather around him. They unrolled the woven hemp mats Taitich had taught them to make in the spring and plopped down on them, looking at their teacher expectantly.
Taitich cleared his throat and sighed lazily, eyeing the children. "This storm brings to mind a tale told often enough to children your age. One of loss, fragility, and the realization of mortality. One, fittingly, I think you're ready to hear." The elder closed his eyes, rubbing his temple before continuing . . .
But he would never get to tell that story. Nor any story ever again.
Taitich's words were lost. Drowned out in a thunderous roar from the south, one so vicious that no storm for all eternity would ever match it. So powerful was it that stones shook loose from the buildings around them and shattered on the tiles below, narrowly missing the children, who were now cowering in fear. The elder leapt to his feet, pain far forgotten, and hung out over the balcony to see the skyline to the south.
He didn't see a storm, but a churning mass of clouds rising from the mountains. He was frozen there, equal parts confused and terrified. There was no time to ponder what was happening, no time for anything - Movement snapped Taitich's gaze upward so that he may bare witness to the falling sky.
The elder fell backwards hard and scrambled beneath the stone benches, screaming for the children to do the same.
They couldnt hear him.
Nothing could be heard save the ripping wind, the towering roars, and the bonejarring impact. Then silence.
Taitich pushed against the bench he had been buried under. Coughing horribly on the, sand? No - Ash. It was ash. He crawled out of his cradled cave to see a shattered mezzanine buried in the dark grey ash. Pools, gone. Buildings, collapsed. Children... Children gone.
He crawled forward over the twisted, ash covered forms of his charges, towards the sounds of screams from below. Dragging himself up onto the railing, Taitich couldn't register fully what he was seeing - Fire and Ash rained from the sky, flowed from the mountains, enveloped the city and fields. Buildings crumbled with each impact, men and women died clutching eachother in the streets. What god had wrought this? What had these children and people done to deserve this?
Taitich wouldn't have time to contemplate the answers to his last questions. He turned his tear streaked face upward to see yet another comet of brimstone bearing down on him.