It is the end of the world. A groaning, growing canyon of char wreaks itself across all living things. Stale air lunges in and out, interrupted frequently by coughs and spasms. The Harbinger of Five Circles lifts his eyes to the blackening horizon, strong arms steady as he holds a single olive tree upright in his hands. His mouth is grim, his eyes wet and his mind made of stone and water.
A million years ago, one dirty traveler lay down under the stars to rest. The sky sparkled like the ocean under a full moon. Flora was put to rest to breathe sleep for another day. Everything around him was life reposed, a cup of hot awakening set before him to be lifted to his lips in later hours.
That night he dreamed, or thought he dreamed. He could never decide on that night or any night after whether it was a dream or a meeting. He dreamed of, or met, the Harbinger of All Things’ End. Neither the Messenger or the traveler had control of this meeting – not the time or place. Only the purpose was in the hands of the Harbinger.
The traveler was astonished, and the Harbinger read the questions on his face.
“I am the Harbinger. I have come to warn you of the end, to tell you of the might and power of your kind and of the able and willing planet on which you live.” He told the traveler of natural powers waiting for the perfect relationship with humankind, of great and fearsome times, of mistakes and death, and of never-ending life. “I leave you the keys of survival. With them, you will outlive the end and you will make the beginning, when the Five Circles are complete.”
The power was unfamiliar to humankind. It hovered over them only in fleeting dreams. It might barely flourish, for a moment, in the most daring dreams; but those dreams never lasted, never passed over to great works. Lesser, backward powers seized the march of humans and bent their backs, imprisoning them in hopeless spirals of droning loss. They gathered decay in their hands and used it for currency.
The words of the Harbinger became children’s stories – talismans of hope lasting only a few years in a lifetime, like bubbles in the rain. They were taught to hope for a short time before being taught to crush hope. They were taught to build just before being shown how to destroy. A few years of joy, and then the iron crown and tail.
The Harbinger turns from the End with his tree full of children. He walks slowly from the galaxy, through the dark open spaces where terrors growl and Nothing screams. He walks forever until he comes here to plant the tree. It is long ago and as the world speeds in its five circles, so rushes the end into the beginning.