In the year 3017, there was a delightful land hidden behind a range of mountains. It was full of lush greenery and crystal clear water. At the start of each day, beams of sunlight peeked over mountaintops and awoke the land’s unusual inhabitants. One brisk morning, in a far corner of the land, blades of grass parted for a small slithering creature. The little being moved rather unusually, in a sharp zig-zag pattern. He arrived in a pond, where he began swimming around and washing grime off his rounded indigo scales. His back was lined with spikes, and he had three beady eyes at the front of his head. Despite being no bigger than a leaf, he was quite an eye-catching critter. However, a much larger and more unusual beast was sitting right next to him.
This one had plump cheeks, droopy eyes that took up nearly half of his face, and a mouth fixed in a perpetual frown. He had stringy fur, which covered a pair of humongous limbs. Atop this hairy creature’s head was an appendage that resembled flower petals. He was a visually confusing animal, to say the least. And, like his small serpentine companion, he had come to the pond on this pleasant morning with hopes of bathing himself before the daily rush.
A shadow was suddenly cast on the pond, as yet another peculiar thing flew overhead. This being moved with astounding speed, but there was no mistaking her appearance. She could only be described as a massive, veiny eyeball carrying herself with two yellow wings. The eye had a scarlet iris, and a bold black pupil. Somehow, all her vital organs were contained in her glossy, spherical body, which also served as her method of sight. Her wings created powerful and loud bursts of air that woke more of the land’s residents.
Elsewhere in the open fields, a brightly-colored residue of slime trailed behind an organism that stood at roughly four feet tall. Her orange and yellow body moved like gelatin. She navigated the grounds with a sense of urgency, but honestly had nowhere to be. In fact, none of the land’s inhabitants had anywhere to be, other than where they were. This place was formally named the Land of Hope, and it was just as peaceful as one might imagine. Hundreds of these beautifully strange creatures moved throughout the Land of Hope. They were known as Embers.
No two Embers were identical. In fact, no two Embers were even remotely similar. Their colors, sizes, textures, anatomies, social habits, and levels of intelligence varied greatly. They were all completely different, yet connected in an unexplainable way. They had no known parents or siblings, and no recollection of how they came to be. They simply existed in the prosperous Land of Hope. All their needs were provided by nature. The Embers lived in blissful harmony.
There was a feeling of novelty in the Land of Hope. Everyone was well aware that it had not always been there. At least, it had not always been the habitat of this particular set of creatures. But there was also a sense of history. The Embers had been there long enough to establish a community, with routines and unspoken rules. But none of them could recall when they first arrived, nor what lay beyond the mountains that encircled the fields, forests, and ponds they called home.
Deep in one of the forests, as the early morning wind rustled the thick emerald leaves, two Embers were going about their daily routine. These Embers were the best of friends, and rarely interacted with any other members of the community. Their names were FER5 and ERL7. It is perhaps worth mentioning that all Embers have names consisting of three letters, followed by a number. Like many other things, the Embers had no memory of when they received their names, or why their names were so consistent. It was just accepted.
The trees in these gentle woods were tall. They swayed slightly in the wind, creating a relaxing ambience for all those who walked by them. ERL7 gleefully hopped from one treetop to the next. He had a canine-like face, with a defined nose and perky ears. He was roughly the size of a small dog, but with froggish hind legs, and the tail of a monkey. He was an amalgamation of several animals in a way, but also his own unique creature. He had incredible agility and energy; the same could not be said about FER5.
While ERL7 searched the treetops for fruit, FER5 trudged his hairy blue body along the grassy path. His massive tail swung from side to side. His footsteps were louder than ERL7’s distant voice, so he paused as ERL7 spoke.
“I think I see ‘em!” hollered ERL7.
“Mrrrgff,” grunted FER5, who never communicated through words. He was intelligent, and had the ability to learn language, but had never fully committed to the idea of speech. ERL7 understood his grunts just fine, and that was plenty for him.
“Here they are!” ERL7 slid across a branch on his four legs, and began shaking the tree. Delicately hung fruits began falling from the treetop, and FER5 stretched his wide arms to catch them. They came in several shades of orange, and were all equally juicy year-round. ERL7 continued shaking the tree and sending fruit downward until FER5 let out a satisfactory bellow.
ERL7 scurried down the tree. FER5 held the soft fruits in his calloused hands. The fruits were the size of melons, but could have been peaches compared to the giant that held them. FER5 sunk his grisly teeth into each fruit, and the ripe juices streamed down his chin. He chewed and munched. FER5 may have had the appearance of a vicious carnivore, but these fruits contained nearly all the nutrients he needed to live healthily.
While FER5 took his merry time eating his breakfast, ERL7 sat on the ground, quietly thumping his foot and raising one eyebrow. Every thirty seconds or so, he would intentionally brush into FER5’s foot, just to be sure his presence was not forgotten. He was not the most patient Ember. But of course, FER5 had no chance of forgetting their morning ritual; ERL7 climbed high to get the fruit, and in return FER5 would use his strength to summon the bugs.
After licking the final pit of his final fruit, FER5 grumbled happily and began walking toward the tree with the thickest trunk in sight. ERL7 excitedly ran ahead. He put his ears to the base of the tree, and used his acute sense of hearing to listen to the thousands of tiny footsteps. There was an entire colony of insects parading around inside the tree, and they were about to meet their destiny of being ERL7’s breakfast.
FER5 stood before the tree and pounded one fist straight into the bark. His forceful punch sent hundreds of insects crawling out of their little holes, straight into ERL7’s furry white paws. After catching and eating as many as he could, ERL7 licked his lips clean. He climbed to FER5’s shoulder, which was his favorite resting spot.
“Thanks, pal,” he said, still swallowing a bug or two. He nuzzled his face against FER5’s broken horn.
“Hmmrff,” replied FER5.
“What adventures does today hold for us?”
“Oh you’re right! How soon are they expecting us?”
“Well then we should probably start heading over now!” With his tail, ERL7 gestured toward a sunlit path leading out of the woods and toward the main fields. FER5 marched in that direction, leaving massive footprints in the dirt as he did. The duo rarely socialized with other Embers, but today was one of those rare cases.
Somewhere across the Land of Hope, the Embers with whom they’d soon be meeting were observing the final few minutes of the sunrise. KEI2 and CAM4, another pair of best friends, sat at the edge of a tall cliff. Their legs hung off the highest peak in the Land of Hope, aside from the mountains (which were hardly ever explored.) Their eyes stayed focused on the horizon, and their faces were warmed by the sunlight. They heard the dancing of the trees in the wind, the gentle splashing from ponds, and the many sounds of Embers beginning their day. Their minds were at peace, and their hearts were full. This was their morning routine.
As the sun found its place in the sky, KEI2 and CAM4 turned to look at one another. Their bodies were rather ordinary… two legs, two arms, two eyes, and so on. CAM4’s fur was golden yellow, while KEI2’s was red. CAM4 had large compassionate eyes, which were the color of honey when exposed to the sun. KEI2 had a pair of notably large horns, which matched the color of his orange claws. Compared to many other Embers, they were not especially unusual. But the two of them never failed to find each other interesting.
“They’re coming soon, aren’t they?” asked CAM4. Her voice had a certain levity that KEI2 enjoyed. It was soft and sweet, almost as though it belonged in front of a sunrise.
“Yeah, they should be here anytime. I’m sure they had to grab breakfast first.”
“So do you wanna explain this idea to them, or should I?” asked KEI2.
“Well,” said CAM4, turning her head to face the horizon again. “It was my idea, but you have a better way of explaining things. Maybe you should?”
“I’d be happy to. But before they arrive, I gotta ask… you’re not having any second thoughts?”
“Honestly, no. It seems like it just makes sense. We need to give it a try.”
“No one has ever tried before.”
Over the cliff, the two of them could hear the sounds of a high-pitched voice chatting with a much deeper one. They knew their friends were approaching. ERL7 was the first to appear.
“Yep! They’re up here, big guy!” He shouted back at FER5. One thunderous step after another, FER5 made his way to the top of the steep cliff. ERL7 hopped back on his shoulder. KEI2 and CAM4 stood up to meet them. These four unique creatures stood together, above their strange land, about to discuss something incredible.
“Mmrff,” uttered FER5.
“He wants to know how you guys have been,” translated ERL7.
“We’ve been well,” said CAM4. “Yourselves?”
“He says we’ve been good. Can’t complain!”
“That’s good to hear,” said KEI2. “Thank you both for taking some time to come see us.”
“Ah, you know it’s no problem,” said ERL7. “We don’t do much except eat, sleep, play games, and look forward to tomorrow! I wish I could say we have lots of good conversations, but this hairball isn’t as chatty as he looks.” ERL7 let out a chirpy laugh at his own remark.
“Well that’s what I’ve been telling KEI2,” said CAM4. “We all feel happy here. It’s peaceful. The Land of Hope is a terrific place, but…”
“CAM4 thinks there’s more to life than what exists here. She thinks we should explore what lies beyond.”
“Huh?” ERL7’s eyes widened. He looked like he was choking on an insect. “Is that allowed? Is it safe? Are you sure that’s something you wanna do, CAM4? There’s lots to explore here, ya know. We could show you some cool spots in the forest you’ve probably never-”
“She’s sure,” said KEI2, placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “We’re both sure. All of us know the Land of Hope isn’t the only place in the world, but for some reason, no Ember ever goes beyond the mountains. We all just believe this is the best place to be. The only place for us. But what if it’s not? What if there are more Embers? What if there’s something greater out there?”
“I dunno…” ERL7 said, the doubt in his voice growing. “Ya know what happens when bugs leave the tree where they’ve spent their whole lives? They get eaten! By me!”
“But we don’t even know if we’ve spent our whole lives here,” said CAM4. “We don’t know how we got to this place, or where we came from. It’s not just about seeing what else exists. I want to find answers. I need to know our story.”
ERL7 turned to look at FER5 for support. But as the wind briefly lifted the fur from the blue beast’s eyes, he saw a glimmer of wonder in his best friend. He had never seen such a thing before. ERL7 peered off the edge of the cliff, and looked down at the only land he had ever known. He thought of all the joy this place had brought him over the years. He was content and comfortable here. But he understood CAM4’s point; maybe there was more to life than comfort. Maybe there could be some truly great adventures in the unknown lands beyond the mountains.
“Alright,” he said. “Let’s find our story.”