The Epic of Serina | Part 5

The Epic of Serina | Part 5

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Welcome back to Curious Archive. This video is a new chapter in my long-running series exploring the incredible speculative evolution saga of Serina, the world of birds. Serina was created by the talented artist and worldbuilder Dylan Bajda — and many extraordinary developments have occurred since we last explored this distant moon. The triumphs and tragedies, the joys and the sorrows of this era are perhaps greater than any that have come before. So, for this entry into the archive, we’ll chronicle the rise and fall of fascinating species, and discover astonishing revelations as the world of Serina creeps ever closer to its end… …Two-hundred and seventy million years since the story began, we have now entered the Late Ocean Age, an era where the encroachment of ice is at its worst yet — with a shallow, vegetated equatorial ocean now the last haven for most species on Serina.

When we left off, the Gravediggers and Daydreamers had joined forces and established a unified society. With the battle against the Warmongers becoming a faint memory, these two species will create a culture that will persist on a timescale greater than any that came before. Over the coming era, Gravediggers and Daydreamers will transform the equatorial ocean into a paradise.

With deep knowledge of the principles of ecology, they become ecosystem engineers, carefully influencing the evolution of other species to ensure the environment remains stable. And a third intelligent species has joined their alliance, one descended from the earlier Luddies, a playful herbivore species who have been growing more and more intelligent. And after millions of years of co-evolution, the Luddies have now become the wise Greenskeepers. Together, these three remarkable species — collectively called the Sea Stewards, will influence the path of all creatures that swim in this shallow ocean. One of the most extreme examples of a species whose evolution has been shaped by the Sea Stewards’ influence is the Floating Bloat.

Over 140 feet, or 42 meters in length, this herbivore is the largest creature to evolve on Serina, eclipsing the length and weight of blue whales on Earth. The Bloat is now so large that it is too buoyant to fully submerge itself, instead floating along like a boat with its elongated neck dipping below the sea to feed on thousands of pounds of vegetation per-day. A semi-domesticated animal, the Floating Bloat serves as a source of food and raw material for the Sea Stewards, yet lives a life of relative bliss. Another species much changed by the Sea Stewards presence are the Aukvultures. A type of seraph, the Aukvultures are one of the last descendants of the Archangles that once ruled Serina’s skies. Like Earth vultures, Aukvultures have converged upon a scavenger niche, feeding off the scrap piles of the Sea Stewards.

This behavior has caused the Aukvultures to become unusually intelligent, able to manipulate Gravediggers into offering them scraps by performing simple tricks. They’re a lineage to keep an eye on. Within this engineered ecosystem, many species remain wild. One of the more fascinating keystone lineages of this era are the Sealumps. An offshoot of the Land Trunkos we’ve seen in past eras, Sealumps managed to escape the ice-scarred mainland to the lush underwater Eden just beyond the shore. Now a specialized marine subspecies, the Sealumps have become a keystone lineage in the shallow oceans.

One species seems more changed than any other. The Sea Shoggoths, once mighty predators feared by all, now function as a garbage disposal service. Fed by the Sea Stewards’ regular supply of waste, these terrifying ant colonies have learned not to attack the providers of their consistent meals. But the Sea Shoggoths have not been tamed by this partnership. They have only been made smarter.

The colonies know that for now, the path of least resistance is waiting passively for offerings of garbage. But if this uneasy contract is ever terminated, the Sea Shoggoths will not hesitate to do whatever they need to survive… Over the next several million years, Sea Steward society remains remarkably unchanged, as the foundations of their civilization are ecologically sustainable and not inclined to technological shifts. And the ancient Daydreamer prophecy, which told of three different essences of a deity creator — land, water, and air — finding each other once again, has now been largely relegated to a myth.

In all their travels, Sea Stewards have never encountered flying lifeforms with advanced intelligence, so many assume the third essence never existed after all... Yet there are regions the Sea Stewards have yet to chart. Few species from the shallow sea venture past the southernmost islands.

But this young Glacial Foxtrotter — the last of the three-legged canithere lineage — is about to stumble upon a forgotten land. Crossing a newly-formed bridge of sea ice, the Foxtrotter reaches the southern continent of Serinaustra. This frozen region is a wasteland, yet it is not uninhibited. A few creatures eke out their lives in Serina’s least welcoming environment — like the fearsome Snowscrounger. These scavengers are the single living descendent of the Squork, a tentacle-bird lineage that hasn’t been as successful as the Trunkos in adapting to the changing world.

The Snowscrounger’s presence makes life on Serinaustra an uneasy prospect for the lone Foxtrotter. Against all odds though, it will establish a place here—and will not be the last Foxtrotter to do so... Yet Serinaustra isn’t the only frozen wasteland on Serina. Its northern counterpart, the continent of Serinarcta, is home to a long-lost relative of the ocean-going Gravedigger. The Savage Gravediggers are hulking predators that lost the spark of sapience in favor of physical strength.

Rumors of these monsters form the basis of campfire stories among the ocean-going Gravediggers, although few believe the stories to be true... And there is another remarkable species on Serinarcta that has slipped the detection of the Sea Stewards. The Blue-Tailed Chatteravens are a territorial and often aggressive omnivore species that are nonetheless abnormally intelligent. For the Chatteravens are the descendants of the White-Margined Chatterers — a species notable for being the pet of the Last Woodcrafter. And the Chatterers are, in turn, distantly evolved from the Babbling Jays — the first advanced intelligent life to emerge on Serina for a brief time all those eons ago. In the present, Chatteravens are intelligent enough to possess a rudimentary language, but none of them are truly sapient.

That is, except for one. Brighteye is a young chatterraven with a rare mutation that allows for abstract thinking and imagination. He is a genetic throwback, having regained the spark of his ancestral species. And he isn’t the only mutant in his family.

His brother, whose name translates to Whitecrown, was born an outcast due to his lack of pigment. Unwelcome within the brutal Chatterraven hierarchy, the two siblings set off on their own across Serinarcta. While isolated in this harsh wilderness, they at least have each other. And Brighteye has seen things he can’t explain to his younger brother. Visions of species he doesn’t recognize, and whispers from a mysterious voice telling him he’s not alone. And though neither knows it yet, the actions of Brighteye and Whitecrown will change Serina for millions of years to come.

Many dangers await the brothers in the snowy wilds of Seinarcta. On silent, fur-lined wings, the startling Snowspirit stalks prey like a vengeful ghost. The ice-age descendant of the early-ultimocene tribbats, Snowspirits fortunately rarely go for prey larger than rats. Like barn owls, they are nocturnal hunters, and have convergently evolved a facial disc to improve their hearing. In the winter darkness, spotting a Snowspirit’s large, expressive eyes is a frightening sight. Yet there are larger predators than Snowspirits.

Scissorjaws — the last species of the once thriving circuagodogs (sir-quaggo-dogs) — are hunters with asymmetrical jaws capable of bringing down large predators. The Scissorjaws, though, are on the absolute brink of extinction. For they are being systematically hunted by a force they cannot hope to understand. While journeying across the ice, the brothers encounter the body of a fallen Scissorjaw. While Whitecrown takes the free meal without question, Brightyeye can’t help but wonder: what kind of predator hunts without eating their prey? Soon, the brothers find the answer. A wooly giant roams not far from the fallen Scissorjaw.

Brighteye recognizes it as a plant eater, and, more-remarkably, notices what appears to be a tool in its trunk-like beak. And when their eyes meet, Brighteye recognizes something else — the spark of intelligence. This is a Wolly Wumpo, the largest living land animal of this age, and one of the most intelligent. At long last, sapience has struck within the tentacle bird lineage.

The Wooly Whumpos possess a unique language and can use tools, but they are fearful of outside dangers, eliminating the Scissorjaws due to the potential threat they posed. And Wumpos have good reason to be wary. Not only are their numbers few, but they are sometimes hunted by none other than the Chatteravens.

On their own, a flock of Chatteravens has no hope of taking down a Wumpo, but they have a grim hunting strategy. By singing in eerie harmony, they can alert large predators to the location of lone Wumpos — and then feed on any scraps left behind. But Brighteye isn’t like most Chatteravens. Through silent gestures, he is able to convince the Wumpo — an elder whose name roughly translates to ‘Blaze’ — that he means her no harm. And what’s more, Brighteye is able to indicate his intelligence.

From here on out, their lives are intertwined. Convincing the other Wumpos that the two Chatteravens aren’t a threat isn’t an easy task for Blaze, as their society has long been fearful of outsiders. But Blaze knows that, somehow, these Chatteravens are special. Communication between such separate lineages isn’t easy, as Brighteye can’t register most of the sounds that make up the Wumpo language. But like the Gravediggers and Woodcrafters long before them, they find a way. Through the use of symbolic drawings, Brighteye and Blaze break down the communication barrier — inventing a unique language of pictograms.

Soon, other Whumpos learn to do the same, and a new world of possibilities opens up between them… At the same time, the Sea Stewards have come to a grim realization that all other species on Serina are blissfully unaware of: The planet is freezing over, and soon the ocean will be uninhabitable. But if there’s anything the Sea Stewards excel at, it’s cooperation towards a common goal. And there are rumors that the Gravediggers of the northern coasts have discovered something beneath the ground that might help. Traveling to the north, the Stewards discover vast deposits of peat and coal. Formed from remains of ancient tropical swamps, these deposits also house the bones of huge and terrifying animals that roamed across Serina millions of years ago. Transporting these materials to the southern ice sheets requires an engineering project of an unmatched scale, but the Stewards are determined to save the sea.

Transporting thousands of tons of material to the expanding glaciers and setting them ablaze, the Stewards begin to experience some success. But the region their mines are located in is a perilous one, home to the monsters of their myths — demons that look like they do, but attack without mercy. Their project cannot be completed quickly enough… Yet unbeknownst to the miners, they are being watched. Brighteye is curious about these new arrivals, but Blaze sees them as monsters. For there is a legend that all Wumpos know, that tells of an evil that came from the sea.

Generations prior, the Gravediggers made landfall and began to hunt the Wumpos — not recognizing their intelligence. In retaliation, one Wumpo stole fire from the Gravediggers to drive them back — but couldn’t control the wild substance, and caused the destruction of the herd and themselves. Now, all Wumpos fear the Gravediggers — and the fire they command. But Brighteye isn’t convinced.

He believes the fire could be an asset to the Wumpos and himself, if only they could learn to make it. And as a descendent of a speech-mimicking bird, through careful practice, he is able to ask the Gravediggers directly how they make fire. One can only imagine how the first Gravediggers reacted to hearing a talking bird — a scene right out of their oldest prophecy. And unbeknownst to Brighteye, his actions will ignite more than just coal… Word of a talking bird spreads like wildfire among the Sea Stewards. At last, the prophecy seems to be upon them—the third essence of their deity—the wings—having seemingly arrived.

So, when Brighteye asks the Sea Stewards to give fire to the Wumpos and leave them in peace, who are they to say no? The Steward’s engineering project is nearly complete, and with the danger of ice on the decline, sharing fire seems like little consequence. And far away, a presence watches all this unfold. Some of what it sees impresses the observer, yet other things have it worried. With the mass-extraction of coal, a Pandora's box was now open. For the first time in 270 million years of its observation, something has arisen within the project that has the potential to destroy it.

Time passes. The Wumpos use the gift of fire to drive back any predators that threaten the herd. Whitecrown eventually departs, guided by instinct to return to the wild. In time, Blaze departs too, the elder Wumpo passing away peacefully. Brighteye mourns his loss, and becomes increasingly frustrated with the strange expectations of the Sea Stewards. Then, to his horror, Brighteye discovers a growing wildfire sweeping across the land.

The Chatteravens, following the example of his brother Whitecrown, have learned to use fire to hunt — but they can’t control it. The fire spreads to an underground coal seam, and an apocalyptic chain reaction begins. Like the ancient Wumpo who thought they could control fire, Brighteye now realizes the depths of his mistake. In perhaps the greatest tragedy in all of Serina’s history, the inferno spreads for miles across the land, all the way to the sunset.

And so, this chapter of the world ends not with ice, but with fire. From miles away, the Sea Stewards can see the fire too, and know their world is coming to an end. And from far away, the observer, the one who has overseen this experiment since the beginning, feels something it isn’t supposed to feel. It feels guilty.

By whispering to Brighteye that he was not alone all those years ago, it interfered, and now everything had fallen apart. Dying on a smoldering beach, Brighteye hears the observer’s voice again. It apologizes for all the suffering its curiosity caused.

But Brighteye doesn’t care, and with his last breath, he spits a curse at his creator… On the southern iceshelf, a lone Snowscrounger notices the sky glows a brilliant orange. It has no way of knowing a global apocalypse is consuming Serina. But the observer knows what is to come, just as it knows everything that came before. Over the course of Serina’s history, the observer has witnessed many tragedies. Seen many brilliant sparks go out, and never has it interfered. Yet this tragedy was the indirect result of its own meddling, and as the observer reflects on the last living moments of one brave little bird, it makes a decision it has never before made.

To offer help. Appearing to the surviving Sea Stewards as an amalgamation of many sapient species, the observer speaks. It tells them their world is ending because of the consequences of the choices it made. So now, it is giving them a choice. The Sea Stewards can go to a planet just like the one they know, except where the fire never happened, and the ice will not close in.

So that one far and distant day their descendants will swim across a far wider sea (stars). The Sea Stewards accept. The Sea Stewards awaken to a calm night, having forgotten all they have seen. To them, nothing has changed, and not a moment has passed. The observer has solved its conundrum — splitting off the sea stewards and cloning their familiar world to colonize a new project as a compromise for its interference.

On this new world, the Sea Stewards’ culture is now free to advance… Yet far away, back on Serina, the experiment isn’t over yet. With the observer returning to its impartial surveillance, Serina is left to see through another mass extinction on its own. With its major keystone species effectively gone in an instant, the consequences will be severe as Serina at last closes the door on one chapter, and enters its final age… Six hours into the Late-Ultimocene, the dawn rises on a world without the Sea Stewards. Ravenous Nimicorn Thorngrazers feed on the bodies of animals claimed by the fire, which continues to burn through the coal seams beneath the earth. In time, the Sea Shoggoths — no longer provided with regular meals, will revert to their ancestral condition.

And so, Serina enters a wild era where for now only the toughest living things will be rewarded. The mighty bloats are one of the first species to vanish from this new world. With no natural defenses against horrors like the Sea Shoggoths, they make for easy targets. In just a few centuries, only the skeletons of these mighty oceanic titans remain. As Serina warms and the ice melts, the oceans grow deeper, and decaying plant life adapted for the shallows turns the seas toxic — resulting in almost 95% of ocean life becoming extinct.

On land, a great thaw has begun. Duck-billed sealumps — the only sealump species still capable of walking — arrive in large numbers on Serinaustra, fleeing the collapsing oceanic ecosystem. The Foxtrotters that arrived here just five centuries ago find food is more plentiful, as do the Snowscroungers. In Serinarcta, the ice has also retreated, allowing for a rise in biodiversity. Yet the loss of the glaciers brings forth its own dangers. Millions of years of built-up ice exerted an extreme force upon Serina's crust, creating concentrated subsurface pockets.

With the pressure now relieved, the plains have been transformed into a deadly minefield. Over the coming eons, volcanoes will come to life after tens of millions of years of dormancy, which will result in even more rapid warming. Yet Serina, eventually, begins to heal.

Several millennia later, there are few visible signs of the Sea Stewards civilization left, with the occasional exception of a Gravedigger knife or a shard of pottery exposed through erosion. Their legacy though, has left one final mark on Serina. The Aukvulture — always an intelligent species that learned to perform tricks in exchange for food — has evolved to be even smarter now that they must fend for themselves.

Most Aukvultures are highly intelligent for an animal. But among a small population — which refer to themselves as reapers — a fluke of nature has caused the spark of Sapience to arise once more. The reapers are a spiritual, melancholy group who know their kind is not likely long for this world. Yet one reaper, whom we will call Eve, will play a central role in a story unlike any other... The story begins in the atmosphere above Serina.

Something that looks like a comet from the surface is circling the moon. Two pods detach and crash-land on the ground, sustaining heavy damage. These mysterious probes are perhaps the first new stimulus to enter the closed system of Serina in over 270 million years. Losing connection to the host satellite, they are now very much alone. One of these bizarre probes sets out from the crash site, searching for the other.

From the sky, the reaper known as Eve watches the strange star-creature with curiosity. She’s never seen anything like this being that moves like a living thing, yet doesn’t seem to be alive. Soon, the autonomous probe finds their sibling has not survived the crash. They will have to explore this strange world all on their own. But Eve follows the being, which she names Fellstar, on their journey across the uncharted surface. For she is alone as well — having not seen another intelligent Reaper in over a decade.

At first, Fellstar spends their time cataloguing the world around them with mechanical indifference. But in time, they take notice of Eve, who points out native species to the curious robot. Over time, Fellstar’s personality grows bigger, and they learn to communicate with Eve through gestures and imitation. Across the widest chasms, they forge an unbreakable bond.

Two lonely souls, isolated by space and by time, ultimately find whatever they need in each other. They travel for many seasons, and find there is much to live for. Eventually, Fellstar no longer seems to remember how - or why - they came here.

The story never directly states what kind of intelligent life made Fellstar, but given their avian appearance and gentle nature, it seems likely Fellstar is an emissary from the Sea Stewards planet. While the Sea Stewards no longer remember Serina, and having lost contact with Fellstar might never find it again, the possibility that their civilization is out there thriving somewhere in the stars is a comfort after so much devastation. Yet eventually, everything — no matter how extraordinary – must come to an end. One might assume that Fellstar would last beyond Eve, or perhaps beyond everything.

But while Fellstar doesn’t age or require rest, they are not immortal. Like most machines, Fellstar isn’t built to function forever. And so, they simply fall apart: piece by piece, bit by bit, over the years, like a skeleton on the plains. While Fellstar doesn’t mind, Eve does, using scavenged parts to keep their dear friend functioning long past their natural ‘lifespan.’ While both of them know Fellstar’s end is near, they make every day the best they can — exploring new regions and cataloging new species. When no easy fixes remain, and Fellstar can no longer travel, Eve brings specimens directly to Fellstar instead.

Small comforts to take their mind off the enviable. Eve is prepared to take care of Fellstar forever, but she knows they don’t want this. Fellstar doesn’t fear the end of their journey like organic creatures do. In the end, Fellstar gestures for Eve to sit beside them, and they spend one final moment together. When the spark that is Fellstar finally goes out, all that is left is a cold shell. Eve knows that her friend is gone.

She knows Fellstar’s body will stay where it lies, untouched by animals and plants, slowly falling apart into fragments, but never truly vanishing. It’s not a sight she can bare to see. So, not knowing what else to do, she moves on. Reapers typically embrace solitude, but Eve soon finds that being alone is not the same as being lonely. In time, she realizes that Fellstar would want her to keep exploring. To see what else is still out there, beyond the world they walked together.

So, she decides to keep the adventure alive in memory of her friend, and continue the pursuit of discovery… Setting out on her own, Eve has been forever changed through her time with Fellstar, and seeks to be a benevolent force in an uncaring world. She adopts an orphaned Foxtrotter, whom she rears to adulthood as if it were her own child. And in time, she discovers other intelligent Reapers like her, and becomes part of their flock. And so Fellstar, in life and death, is a catalyst for change within Eve, expanding her worldview, and continuing an ancient chain of ideas shared from one species to another, even after the Sea Stewards have long left Serina. Eve’s flock might very well be the last group of Reapers under the sun, but they face their fate head on.

For in the words of the author, everything has its beginning, and so too everything has its end. But until that time, they will not stop living. They won't give up.

One never knows how long their story might be, but the world is wide, and life is full of surprises… The story of Serina isn’t over yet. The End Ultimocene — an era home to some of the most unique lifeforms of all — is just beginning. But that’s all I can give away for now. If you find this project as incredible as I do, I’d encourage you to check out the main website linked in the description and read more of Dylan Bajda’s incredible project of Serina. And as always, thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this entry, please lend your support by liking, subscribing, and hitting the notification icon to stay up to date on all things Curious.

See you in the next video.

2022-07-31 13:21

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