In the eternal twilight of the forest, life was simple for the earth-folk. The People, as they called themselves, communed with the other living things in the forest, from the tiny, hard-working woodmouse to the massive, lordly hawk that flew overhead and from the towering hardwoods that sheltered the people, to the delicately flowering mosses that cushioned the folk’s beds.
For thousands of years, generation upon generation, the People had lived in the Forest of Gendreau. Several clans roamed the sprawling forest, coming together only once every year. During the longest days of the snow season, every member of every clan met in the heart of Gendreau, despite the shortened days and bitter cold. In the midst of the dormant forest, life blossomed within the people. Bonds were formed and children conceived, trading and crafting boomed, and clans grew stronger within themselves and the whole.
On the last night of the gathering, while the eldest of the clans were conferring within a steam-lodge, a shrill, shrieking thunder boomed across the clearing at the heart of Gendreau. The folk, frightened out of their hide huts, gathered together, searching the darkness of the surrounding forest with questioning eyes. A young hunter, bolder than the rest, stepped away from the huddled masses and stepped toward the forest.
The elders calmed their people the best they could, but fear caused their steps and their words to falter. Snow began to fall, though it was not the pristine white that usually floated from the heavens. These flakes, though shaped as delicate lace, were tinged with crimson.
A smell, of iron and blood, washed across the crowd as the elders stumbled through. The terrified people stood frozen, waiting for reassurances that never came.
Near the forest edge, the young hunter still stood, now joined by other of his clansmen. Still more stepped forward, of other clans, but all were young and fearless. The elders consulted among themselves. The leaders of the clans moved to the hunters.
“Go,” they said, their voices strained. “Go and find out what has come to Gendreau, what has come to the People. Run quickly, remain hidden. Take no chances. Return on the winds.”
The hunters shouldered their weapons and melted into the forest.
The elders whispered among themselves. Wild speculations moved within the crush of clans, stifled with the turning of their leaders.
“The gathering ends,” the eldest of the old intoned. “But we will not disperse. The Time of Change has come.”
In shock, the people kneeled, their faces drawn and serious. After a brief blessing from the elders, the earth-folk returned to their huts. But soon enough, all the men of the People had re-emerged, holding tightly to laser-scoped assault rifles and clad in ancient polycarbonate armor.