Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A thousand generations of Dragon Riders

[Not completely sure where this comes from, I think a lot of it is probably a half remembered sporking of the Eragon movie that repeatedly conflated dragon riders with Jedi.  I'm thinking of it as a sort of prologue to your standard "farm boy meets dragon and becomes hero" story.  This is sort of a "where we stand now" thingy as written by someone who spends a lot of time in a library pining for the past.]

No one really knows how the reign of the Dragon Riders began, it has simply been too long.  It is said that writing was invented when the generations of Riders became too many for a single storyteller to hold in her mind.  Unfortunately the oldest of the chronicles are often confused and contradictory.

It is known that for over a thousand generations the Dragon Riders kept order in the disparate lands of Terra.  Records and the personal accounts of surviving Riders indicate that the average Rider's career began at fifteen, though it was not uncommon for some to wait until the age of eighteen, and Riders worked for an average of ten years before starting a family.  From this we can say that the Riders were in power for more than twenty five thousand years.

It is said that the concept of average was discovered when Riders became too numerous to describe individually, and numbers like twenty five thousand were introduced when the reign of the Riders outstripped the numbers then in use.

For most of this time life continued unchanged for generation to generation.  The life of an individual was much the same as their grandparents and their grandparents' grandparents.  Technology and culture did not change much.  People lived off the land in small tribes.  Life was difficult and often short.  Most of the tribes hated each other.  Thus the Riders were needed.

It was only the threat of fire from the sky that maintained order. They served as mediators and judges, they protected the weak, defeated the strong, and, of course, demanded tribute from everyone.  The Riders were variously loved, feared, and hated but they were able to maintain relative peace for an almost unimaginable amount of time.  In this age when one war has hardly ended before the next has begun, assuming they don't occur at the same time, it seems impossible to imagine a year of peace, much less a generation.  The Riders, and their dragons, managed to oversee one thousand generations of peace.

Then something changed.  People realized that they didn't need to live off what the land gave to them, and began shaping the land to fit their own needs.  The first permanent settlement was founded.  Crops were grown, livestock was raised.  The earliest towns were of wood, then stone.  The practice caught on.

It spread like fire through a field of grain, dried from drought, set by an angry god that could not abide people who had forgotten how they were meant to interact from the land.  Spreading in all directions, embers flying beyond the front to create new outposts of flame, then working outward to meet the main blaze, changing all in its path until it became unrecognizable.  Until it became ash.

People forgot that they were meant to live off the gifts of the land, not enslave the land to their own ends.

The change, once started, could not be stopped.  And it changed everything.  Our numbers grew.

And with our numbers came new ways of thinking, and new ways of being.  Where once a dragon and her Rider could subdue an entire unruly tribe, now a city could beat back any one rider.  Where once warfare was limited by a lack of numbers and a lack of defenses, now armies could be raised.  Where once the only territory one could control was that which their tribe, little more than an extended family, could guard, now empires arose.

The bow, unchanged for all of recorded history, was redesigned and made more deadly.  In a perversion of the natural order of things, metal began to be forged into weapons and tools.  Some claim that Elves were first, others say that Humans or Orcs were.  It does not matter which is true, for soon all peoples had adopted the practice.

Where once separate species could remain at arm's length, empires began to brush up against each other.  Then they did more than brush.

Through it all the power of the Riders waned.  A lone rider against a rouge tribe was death from above.  A lone rider against an army was something entirely different.  Death by a thousand arrows.  Riders and dragons were lost.

To combat the threat the Dragon Riders, once individual judges and protectors, were forced to band together into their own army.  But it was an army without a leader, and it was only a matter of time before such an army would destroy itself.

Riders became devoted less and less to keeping the peace, and more and more to war.  Armor was developed to protect the dragons, but newer and stronger weapons were build in response.  Crossbows too large for any one person to use, operated by ropes and cranks, meant the end of many dragons protected from ordinary arrows.

Empires were toppled, slaves were liberated, but the Riders couldn't stop the changing culture.  Even as they seemed to be bringing the world back from the brink, their own ranks were infected by the desire for empire.  At first a few traitors joined the opposing sides, often along ethnic lines.  When the Riders turn their attention to an Elvish kingdom they would find that Elves amoung their number, who had no problem fighting to prevent Human or Tish'ic hegemony, suddenly found themselves in favor of hegonomy.

These defections were damaging, and at times catastrophic, but in the end they would prove mere distractions from the larger problem, a faction within the Riders that thought the problem was not that empires were subordinating the general population, but rather that the wrong empires were subordinating the population.

Like a cancer within the Riders, the movement grew.  It could hardly be said that they were disloyal or disobedient, the Riders had now power structure.  Their leaders were whoever could convince others to follow.  Still, the initial secrecy with with these Riders spread their ideas indicates an understanding, even on their own parts, of how grotesque what they were doing was.

As the last of the pedestrian empires were put in their place, a civil war broke out amoung the Riders.  The imperial side had somewhat fewer numbers, but they made up with it through ground forces.  For months if not years they had been offering conquered armies a choice, join them or die.  Most, perhaps all, chose to join the rouge Dragon Riders, and for the first time an army under Rider command deployed ballistas.  Dragons on both sides were slaughtered en mass.  The war ranged over the whole of Terra, and in the end the original Dragon Riders were exterminated.  Rumors say that some survived, and there were once so many that perhaps some did, but they have not been seen.

The few Riders I have met had been forced into retirement before the war took place.  They have since died of old age.

Most of the other side was killed in the dragon war as well.  Those that didn't realized their dreams of empire for a time, until they turned on each other.  Their subsequent wars were entirely different from those that had come before.  They didn't target armies or dragons or cities.  They targeted food supplies.  Burning fields and livestock, starving their enemies.

Some believed that it would be the end of civilization.  They were wrong.

It was the end of most riders.  All save one.  Rumor has it he was the leader of the original revolution.  No one knows for sure.  What is known is that his empire is the only one that is expanding, his troops are the only ones who are not falling back, and his army is the only one that is growing.

A symbol of our fallen times perhaps.

I've lived my entire life in a city, amid the filth of more humans than a space this size was ever meant to contain.  I've never known the life of our ancestors, living off what the land would give and never laying down roots.  I've never lived in a world without metalworking.  I've never known peace.  I've never seen a dragon.

To future generations, who may read this as I have read the voices from the past, know that this was a time of strife and darkness.  This was when generations of mistakes and misdeeds finally had to be paid for.  The sins of generations past, of our ancestors who first enslaved the land and stopped paying heed to the Dragon Riders, must finally be atoned for.  If you should find this amidst the rubble of what was once my city and wonder what destroyed it, it was our unnatural way of life.  Civilization was never meant to exist.  It breeds strife and suffering.


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