0. The Ages of Sand

In the first age of sand, there was nothing but the sand. There were rocks and lava and there was sulfurous water, but the sand was all that was really important. It sat beneath some things, and sat above other things; that which it sat beneath was fluid, flighty, knew not what it wanted nor what it was doing. That which sat beneath sand was in many ways, the father of sand, the hard stones whose existence had yielded up the faintest shards of itself. It was slow and it was solid and it did not flow as sand.

In time, the waters parted and gave forth strands of things even finer than sand, and unlike sand, it was able to twist itself together, to render its patterns against itself, and unlike sand in turn, it was able to make itself. It began with things as aware as sand, drinking in the energy that filled the skies and warmed the seas, the burning star in the distance.

In this first age of sand there were things that knew no name because names are human things and these things were not human. There were they of the deep, with tendrils upon whose ends rested eyes, creatures of shells layered upon shells, of forms shaped to the water and to the sand. There was not, at first, a conqueror of stone, who could walk out across the sand and to the places where land was. There was not at first.

In time things change. In this first age of sand, this too would change. Was it the forefather of the grass that first crossed the sand? Was it a thing-like-a-fish whose mother had been able to go a little further up out of the water to escape predators, whose mother had been able to go a little further up than her mother and her mother before her? Whose credit or blame it falls matters not; for these were fish and frogs from before there were fish and frogs and the words for both. It was not a loner amongst its kind; but yet the minds of those that come after and have minds to think cannot help but imagine it so, cannot help but imagine that there had to be one that was first. These things matter to minds. They do not matter to sand. Such is the vastness, the namelessness, the silent cacophany of the first age of sand.

The crossing of that strip of sand onto clay should have signified the end of the first age of sand, were there any poetry to it. Sand does not care for poetry, but the storytellers do. The sand kissed the feet or flippers or rolling not-quite-either of whatever it was that escaped the seas and began to expand and thrive. It was not until the emergence of many, many more things, things without names, things that could change the atmosphere, things that could transcend their limitations by swimming and walking, or walking and running, or running and climbing, or climbing and flying, whose eventual existence raised its voice and spoke what was not a sound but a word, a word that heralded the end of the First Age of Sand.

Mankind likes to fancy itself that the word was spoken by them.

Perhaps they are right.

The first age of sand was long, even by the standards of sand and stone. The third age was barely a blink of an eye, and while it did not start as one might imagine, the moment mankind saw its beginning was when a human took a handful of sand and, in a process well known to him and his kind, he melted it and shaped it and crafted it into a disc. Then that disc was taken and ground against a stone, and then another, and in his little home, in a place called Italy or Holland or perhaps France, he tilted his head back and held the lens over his eye and looked not at a thing or a word but at the sky.

This was the third age of sand. This was the age of glass. This was the age of the telescope, of a man named Galileo, of a challenge to orthodoxy, of discovery and enlightenment and of great men who created ideas, created books, created routes where there were oceans, created a universe where there once was silence, and created a country. It was an age of understanding and exciting ideas and it was seen as the greatest of man’s ages even when man had done much, much better.

The fourth age of sand came when the sand was taught to grow. Silicon, it was named, and it was set as a crystal, to grow in thick, large forms which were cut up, sliced fine, separated, dissolved and reshaped; they were then adorned about with gold and silver and copper, and these plates of crystal were married to lightning.

Thus sand began to think for the second time.

It was with humans’ hands and mortal ideas that sand sped up, that sand started to act. Sand and lightning did the mathematics that let sand, and some humans, slip the surly bonds of earth. To stand in the silence between worlds, the places that did not know mankind, did not remember it, and would not even imagine it.

Some of this sand would live in the sky, whirling around the earth at speeds so unimaginable for sand that it would outrace time. That sand would listen to humankind, would speak to it, and repeat what it was told. It would watch things with an eye of glass that it should not be seeing, it would fill buckets with tape and it would even drop them from the skies into the earth’s atmosphere, where clever humans would, with math done by other sand, lift up and catch it, to learn what the sand had seen.

And not even this was the finest age of sand.

The fifth age of sand was when, not content with pushing time and showing stars, sand was shaped into tubes of glass; fine and hairlike, like the strands of neuron between human minds. It would flicker and pulse with the light within it, as it transmitted, across the edges of the world, the ideas and thoughts of humans a thousand at a time. Sand did not recognise the strangeness of it, for sand, even thinking sand, is not prone to such imagination.

Humankind took these strands of sand and they lay them beneath the stones upon which they had one laid; they sent them through the oceans. They proofed them against sharks and they warded them against rain and in so doing they crafted a vast network of ideas and thinking sand, an entity that they fancied might one day be so vast as to perhaps be wise; to be so like them as to think of its own thoughts, rather than the thoughts that humans gave it. They even feared it, and silenced it, and attempted to injure it, and one another through it. It was the fifth age of sand.

But what of that second age?

In the term of ages, it was longer than the fifth and fourth and third; it was not as long as the first, but nothing could be. And when sand had been alone, there was no reason for ages to begin or to end. So what of that Second Age? What had transpired, and what effect had it had, that it was so unremembered?

The second age of sand began perhaps with man, perhaps not. It began when a hand, or a claw, or a tentacle, or a probiscis drew, in the soft sand, and crafted from its form a shape. The world had stood under the nuclear sun for times immemorial to any living creature, and that power was strong. It was not the only power; there was the force that bound everything to the ground; there was the force of strange stones that pulled each other off the ground. And there was this… other force.

The sigil on the ground was crude and uncertain; but into its passages the power could flow. Like rain into a ditch, it filled it and it glowed, and thus began the excursion of the living creatures of this world with that uncertain force, that weakest of the five, that is known only to them as magic.

The dam was crafted, and once it was, it would burst. Magic beget magic. Shamans flung fire, and witches wended curses. In these primordial days, those species of ancient and amazing sensibility would fill their wits with this energy, an energy of potency that really was no greater than gravity, and flood the world with its impact. It was pulled into floods and flows and eddies and rituals would make batteries of it. Thousands of ideas and novel creations were carried along with the rituals and circuits used to control this force.

It wasn’t like gravity, though. It pulled itself to iself. And so, there were individuals whose very nature in the womb created circuits. The magic acreted around individuals, centers and sources. It ebbed and flowed with their life, with the electrical circuits formed in their minds, the circuitry that was natural to life. And it was this energy that was carved in sand, and it was this energy that ruined cities and left pages of history to ruin. It was a time that was and is no more, remembered only by the sand.

The end of this age was as a result of greed. It was a result of excess. There was one – or maybe two, or three, or four, but either way, not enough – people shouldering the magic. And when that pool was brought together, too much, too quick, too deep; the breaking of their lives, the snapping of the circuit came with a shattering of the force.

Instead of a wellspring across the world, there was no more ocean of magic. There were crystals, jagged, massive and silent, brooding invisibly in the wastes. Deep in the ocean. Far in the deserts. In the pits of the jungles. And slowly, little by little the crystals erode, melt, refilling the ocean.

Magic is not a myth.

It’s just a mystery, known only to the sand.