The world, all its creatures and aspects, began in a deep sleep.

Some say that the world had been brought forth by a powerful Shaper. Saddened by the actions of its creations, the Shaper had put them to sleep and withdrawn from the spheres of mortal ken.

Others maintain that the world has always been, and that it periodically falls into cycles of sleep and wakefulness. The sleep at the dawn of memory was therefore only the latest in a neverending cycle.

Still others claim that the sleep was an illusion, and that rather than waking the world was created. That doesn’t fully explain the actions of the Wakeful One, of course, but each of the theories has their own weaknesses.

What is clear–part of the collective memory of every living and unliving thing in the world–is that the Wakeful One was the first to rise, and that through toil and hardship on its part the rest of the world was awakened and made lively once more. It was with great sorrow that, at the end of its adventures, the Wakeful One revealed that eventually there would be another sleep. As a counterbalance to the wakefulness it had brought into the world, the Wakeful One would return to set the sleep in motion once more.

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Gather around, everyone, for I’d like to tell you a story.

Now, this was a very long time ago, when children stayed children until they were forced to grow up and anything was possible as long as you did it before lunchtime. A little boy lived in a little house on a hill under a great oak tree with his family. And, every night when his chores were done, he would sit under that tree and look up at the stars until it came to be bedtime. It was a very long way to anywhere, and anyone, else from that little house, and the boy often felt like the stars and the great fuzzy belt of the Milky Way were closer than anything, and anyone, else. He used to dream about what, and who, might be looking up at his little star from far-off cosmic hills under far-off cosmic trees.

Of course, there was no way for him to be sure–or so you might think! As it happens, the boy’s house had a very well-stocked library, and he would often take a book to read when the moonlight was at its brightest on hot summer nights. One of the books talked about a lonely castaway on a desert island lost in the seven seas, who had sat under a palm tree on an island hill and wondered the same wonders as the boy. The castaway had written a message and put it into a bottle, which he’d hurled into the vast ocean–not looking for rescue, since he’d come to love his little island, but rather looking for a friend. The bottle had returned bearing a message from a prince in the far-off orient, with the castaway and his new friend exchanging many such bottles in the pages to come.

The boy was enchanted by this idea, and one day he wrote a letter of his own, sealed it up tight in a bottle, and flung it into the sky with a little help from his slingshot.

It was many days later that he found his bottle under the great old oak, warm to the touch and bearing a message back. It was unsigned, but spoke of another child on another hill impossibly far away, sitting under the same sky and wondering the same wonders as the boy. That was the first of many bottles which came and went into the great starry expanse from beneath that old oak on hot summer nights, as the boy and his new friend wrote each other about their shared questions, hopes, and even dreams.

Then, it so happened that the boy’s last bottle went unanswered for a very long time–much longer than usual. When a bottle finally appeared, it looked as if it had been through a fire.

The message inside was brief. It read, simply, “help me.”