The City in Sand

Would you believe me, little sister, if I told you things used to be different?

I see your eyes darken. Your face is as serious as our mother’s, looking out at the horizon to watch the storms approach the City. And our mother’s face is as drawn and wearied as our neighbors, and the City leaders, and every person you’ve ever met. We are a serious people. But, I tell you, it was not always this way. We were not always so close to death.

Yesterday, an elder Loremaster took me deep into the Archives. I remember the air was carefully controlled – no excessive heat, no dust. We went many levels down, where it is easier to keep cool without expending energy. And in one of the deepest vaults, he showed me three old books, their covers fading and their pages worn.

I was not permitted to touch them – that privilege would not come until I was a Loremaster as senior as he – but he told me what was inside, and why they were precious. These books, he said, described a time when the Earth was green and vibrant. Millions of animal species roamed the surface and the waters, eating plants and each other, procreating, surviving in a vast web of interactions sustained by life itself. Trees grew in abundance in places called “forests”. Yes, trees. Those green things on the streets of the city that Growers vie for the honor to maintain. Today, whole communities make it a point of pride to give up their water rations to maintain our block’s tree. But back then, they grew wild, millions thick. Humans were a threat to trees, if you can believe it.

You ask me what else I have learned from the Loremasters, sister. It’s hard to know where to begin. They’ve described a world they insist was real but seems fantastic to my mind. They told me, for example, that there used to be countless cities like ours, dotting the globe and connected by roads and airways. I asked the elder if there were still other cities out there, and he shrugged. Maybe if they were above a deep aquifer like ours, he said. Maybe if they had pulled together like we had, and established a strict order of laws to govern resources. Maybe if their walls were high enough to protect them from sand, and they had maintained enough biodiversity to sustain an ecosystem – thin, in our case, razor thin, but balanced and sustaining. He didn’t know. For certain, no records of the past thousand years speak of people coming from outside our walls. Our most sensitive instruments detect nothing from the outside, not the whisper of radio. As far as we know, our City is the only one left.

You grow bored of my story, and return to your game. Understandable. Childhood is brief. Soon enough you’ll be tested, and pulled into a Guild to learn your part. Probably you’ll be a Grower – you’ve always appreciated order, and nurturing things – but it’s possible you’ll be a Builder, or a Designer, or any number of the other myriad roles we’ve developed to survive. But you’re not likely to be a Loremaster. Despite being the smallest Guild, it is occasionally whispered that we are a luxury that  the City cannot afford.

We know how vital we are, however. If it weren’t for us, the people of the City would only know the present moment, the burning sun and the shifting sands, and whatever brief amusements we’ve all conjured up to keep ourselves happy. But the Loremasters remember more. We look back, days and years, to remember how policies have played out, and great people have come and gone, all the way back to a time when there was abundance and plenty. And this is important, sister. If we are to come to a better time – if we are even to survive – we must expand our perception beyond the moment and struggle to consider the whole. I hope you live to appreciate the work that we do.

– Dal, Apprentice Loremaster