Eldar watched the horizon to the west. He was certain that this would be the time that En'ger Wills would be wrong. No one would could be right every time. En'ger had said that yesterday or today would be the day when the green Sky Tower, the last one, would fall. It had not fallen yesterday, so today was the day. Eldar, like so many of the People, had bet heavily that it would not fall this day either.
He cringed slightly at the thought. If the Sky Tower fell he would lose a great many of his Shine Discs. Every time En'ger goaded him into a wager, Eldar told himself that this would be his last. Sometimes he resisted. But each time that En'ger Wills predicted a Falling of a Sky Tower, Eldar would find himself gleefully betting some of his possessions along with so many of the People.
It didn't matter, really. The Discs had no value of their own. They were merely reminders of a past that few still remembered, or even cared about. There were many such worthless treasures lying about the world these days. Eldar could name many of the trinkets. For instance, he knew that Shine Discs were once called Boo-ays or Dah-vedees.
He had been taught by this by his master during his days of apprenticeship. He knew the writings and the readings. He knew how to read the Book and the Learning its many pages contained. Of all his tribe only he knew these things. But the trinkets and devices left from before the End had different writings and readings. How to read the words written on them? Well, only the keepers of the Sacret knew those things now.
Yes, he knew many true names. With each passing generation since then End, though, fewer of the People saw the worth of such knowledge. He himself had not yet found an apprentice of his own, someone to pass on the true knowledge, who had a true interest. The People just didn't care anymore.
For a time, the youngest daughter of Weyvar Tem had apprenticed, learned the Learning. But as she had approached the age of adulthood, she had instead chosen to take a Farmer husband, and they had moved away sunward, to the coast, to the Sa'anwah People. Now, he had but one potential left, in Bakmith Fields' family. Her third daughter had shown some interest in the Learning, and in two monts time she would reach the age of apprenticeship.
He hope now was just that he would live long enough to pass on the Learning. At 48 yars he had already lived longer than his master had by two counts of the seasons. Some of the People still lived as old as 65 yars. But in the world now it was never certain to what age the Death would let one live before calling.
The cynical part of him didn't think that any of the People would care much should his knowledge be lost for good. The position of Eldar was created originally in the thought that civilization would rebuild to where it was before the End. But even in the yars just after the End, few cared to try and rebuild what was. And now? Now, no one wanted to rebuild the old ways.
It was well known among all that "civilization that was" was responsible for the End. Few enough had survived those days. It was said that just after the End, only one of People yet lived for every 10,000 that had lived before it. Those that still lived cared only for their daily survival. They gathered into tribes and were content with letting the Earth heal. They lived as much in harmony with nature as they could.
There were still some lessons of civilization that they had not set aside: indoor plumbing, metal working, carpentry, textile manufacture, farming and so forth. Even the limited use of electricity was acceptable so long as it was created from water, wind or sun power and used only for necessary manufacturing. It was part of what Wills and his fellow En'gers did each day.
Some secrets of medicine were also still known. Dotor Bell knew much about anatomy and illness and she made many remedies. But it was said there were once things called Dugs that could make the sick well again more quickly than the remedies. Or they could make a person sicker... or dead. The term was side-effect, or so said the Learning. Why People would use something that would make them worse off than the original sickness was baffling to Eldar. It was a topic of frequent debate among Dotors. But in the end it didn't really matter. None alive still knew the secrets of making the Dugs.
Eldar's eyes unfocused, lost in thought. The Sacret remained. The Sacret knew the truth of it. In the yars following the End, tribes of the People formed throughout the land and each tribe chose one to be Eldar, the keeper of the Learning. After a few yars, the Eldars gathered themselves together and decided upon a mission. Each of them would keep a Book. Written upon its pages they keep the history of the People and certain other knowledge that was important to be kept. The Book for Eldar's branch of the People was actually more than 200 books now, each with hundreds of hand written pages.
Every other written record the Eldars could find they would gather in secret to a single hidden place for preservation against future need. They agreed to meet again in 10 yars, and every 10 yars afterward. In the height of the summer, they would gather in that place they called the Sacret to store any more of the records they had found and to share tales of the goings on across the land. The People only knew that the Eldars gathered to share the stories and news. None knew they were preserving the records. If it were known, far too many would fear that the gathered knowledge would cause another End and try to destroy it.
In the early days many records were brought. In Eldar's time, he had only brought a few. It had been long enough since the End that few written records were to still be found lying about. Eldar's master had told him of a great building with many records, much like the Sacret. But his master had never told him where it was, only that it was a couple of weakes walk to the night-ward and warm-ward from their village. There was a place there called the Burn, where young ones would gather to get Learning. His master said they didn't dare travel there again lest it draw the wrong kinds of attention before they were ready to save the records.
After several yars of planning of how to gather and transport the records to the Sacret, they had finally planned to go once the next spring came. It would be the yar of gathering once more and the Eldars would all travel to the Sacret. But then his Master had died that winter, struck down by the winter fevers. Eldar had made his own limited searches on the way to the Sacret that yar, but had not revealed the place of Learning to him.
His master once told him that at the first meeting at the Sacret, nearly 2000 Eldars had been there. But that was long ago. Since that first, there had been 10 Eldars of this tribe of the People. When his master, 12th in the line, had made his first Depelment, as the treks were called, he had counted perhaps 400 Eldars and a little more than 200 apprentices. When Eldar himself had made his first Depelment as apprentice to his master, he had counted but 250 Eldars and fewer than 100 apprentices.
At his third, and last Depelment – just 4 yars ago – he had counted 50 Eldars and only 4 apprentices. It was clear to all there that the time of the Eldars was drawing to a close. And with them, all knowledge of the Sacret. If that happened, most of the past would be gone forever. And their mission will have been a failure. Some gathered there thought perhaps that was for the best. He had not agreed.
Eldar came back to himself and looked across the crowd that had gathered. The crowds of the People had gathered to watch the Sky Tower. This place gave the best view. Perhaps 5 miles away, it was close enough to see clearly, but far enough to be in no danger when it fell. The Consils didn't make a great complaint about it. By the time Eldar had become an adult, there were only 6 of the Sky Towers left and they knew that once the structures were gone, there would be no more. It was a sight to remember for any who saw one fall.
And this one was the last. When it fell the old place – his master had called the place Ta'anta – there would be no Sky Towers left in that place. Eldar knew, and had seen, several other Sky Towers across the land. Some Eldars said that far to the cold-ward and sun-ward of the land there had been a place called Na'Ark where thousands of Sky Towers had once stood.
Eldar had never seen it himself, of course, but the three Eldars from near Na'Ark always spoke quite proudly of their heritage. Privately, in a late night of drink and gaming at the Sacret, Eldar had learned from one of them had privately confided to him that there were no Sky Towers left there, and had not been for many yars. They had all either fallen or burned.
That being as it may, not all the Sky Towers in the land were gone. But knowledge of how to build such was gone, forgotten on purpose by the People. Only hidden in the archives of the Sacret did such knowledge still exist. And given how rare it was for any of the People other than Eldars or Travelers to venture beyond the borders of their tribe, these gathered would see no more Sky Towers. They knew this. And so nearly all the People of this tribe gathered to watch and wait.
In his youth, there had been more of the Sky Towers here. He could remember how the tops of some even vanished on cloudy days they were so tall. His master had taught him that some groups of the People had even lived within them in the time before Eldar was born. But that was before the Fallings began. From time to time a Sky Tower would burn. Sometimes they fell during the burn. Those that didn't, fell within a yar or two after. But a Sky Tower dying by fire was rare now that People feared to live inside them. Most often they just fell.
En'gar Wills said that their bones were made of metal and that the metal was rotting. "Rush". That's what the Learning called it. The metal turned orange and flaked and grew weak. He'd seen it many times in plows and shovels and other bits that had been left in rain and mud too long. That made it easy enough to understand. Such weakness would not have the strength to hold up the weight of a Sky Tower forever. And so it would fall.
He looked across the crowd and saw the young girl, his potential apprentice. She had just reached 11 yars. In one month's time she would choose her apprenticeship from those that were offered. Eldar frowned. She was standing next to Bakar Emil, engaged in a lively conversation about cakes or pies or bread or some such. Her eyes met his, briefly, then she hurriedly looked away. The brief embarrassment on her face was clear.
So, then, she had chosen. It would not be the Learning for her. He turned to look back to the Tower, his heart growing sad. The Book would not be taught to another in this place. And in the next gathering 6 yars hence there would be at least one fewer Eldar gathered to teach and be taught. When this Tower business was done, he would hire a Traveler to take his Book to Nassvale. The Eldar there was young and had already taken on an apprentice for herself. He would not have the tale of his People be lost forever.
There was a shattering sound and all present turned to look to the Sky Tower. Pieces were falling from the sunward side. The shattering was the sound of windows and rubble crashing to the ground below. He turned to look at En'ger Wills. There was a wide grin on the man's face as he watched the Sky Tower begin its death throes. Eldar scowled, too distracted by the events to notice the growing ache in his left arm. How did the En'ger always do that? How did he always know?
A great, groaning sound drew Eldar's gaze back to the Sky Tower. There was a noticeable lean to the night-ward side now, as if the Sky Tower was stretching away from the sun's light. Then, all at once, there was a buckling and collapse about 10 floors up. A great rumbling sound filled the air as the Sky Tower gave in and died, collapsing to the ground. Plumes of smoke and debris filled the air around the site where the Sky Tower had stood.
So enthralled by the Sky Tower collapse, it was several long moments before any of the People gathered noticed the slumped form of Eldar, collapsed upon the ground. Dotor Bell rushed to his side, but it was too late. The hart was already stilling, the breathing slow and ragged.
As the People gathered about, Eldar knew that old foe Death had come for him. "The old Learning.... is done," he managed to gasp out. "Only the now... remains." The light vanished from Eldar's eyes, the breathing stopped, and he was gone.
Six Yars Later - The Sacret
Only eight Eldars came that summer. Little was said among them. Little needed to be said. Without any discussion they knew their time was done. Even the youngest, the Eldar from Nassvale, made no argument against it. They took a few days to tidy up and ensured that all was in order within the Sacret. Then together, the eight of them slowly pushed the massive steel door shut, sealed the lock and slowly walked away.