We have returned.
Humanity has seen things our ancestors wouldn't believe. Worlds on fire off the shoulder of the Galactic blackhole as they spiral into its black maw. Fought wars with beings with glittering wings. Built structures larger than the stars them selves. We've watched the sea steam rise off the beaching of the Tannhäuser whales sealing their fate. All those moments, sealed in time.
And now the last of humanity has returned home. It is time to die.
We are like gods. Old and powerful, rotten and so few.
We spiral down to the surface of Earth. Our home. Our mother. Seeking our final absolution by ending the last of our great lives here. She will see our passing. She will embrace us one last time.
We spiral down to the surface, aiming for a spot nearest old New York. The old 'capital' of the world. We could not land /at/ New York, for the island of Manhtattan has long since slipped below the sea and the banks of the Hudson long since changed with the rising of the seas. 5 million years will ravage world, change the details writ upon its face, yet the tome remains the same.
There are twelve of us and we look within each other, into each other's eyes as our shuttle lands upon the surface. The portal morphs open and a ramp extrudes from the ship. We breathe the strange, rich alien air that tastes so much like home.
We had decided on cloaks and hoods and file out single file. Monks on a pilgrimage. A last pilgrimage. One last pilgrimage. We will not last long on the surface, a day. It is our time. It is past our time. And we embrace it.
The sky is gray with the promise of a miserable rain. It is appropriate.
What we find at the bottom shocks us all.
Arrayed before us are a multitude. They are not human. Or remotely so.
There are multiple species, obviously tool users and intelligent, standing before us. All pre industrial, yet there is no question of their intelligence. If it was remotely accurate to say, they would reek of their brilliance.
Two are mammalian. Another pair of species are avian. There is something insectile and another molluscan. There is even one looking like a glorified amphibian.
We line up shoulder to shoulder and look on. We, unintentionally, all remove our hoods. As one, they bow as we do so. This was not what we planned.
Tentacles plodding and schlumping, a molluscan steps forward from the rest.
In a gurgling, yet still fluted voice, "Welcome, Old Ones. We have been waiting for your return. It has been far too long since the Children of Humanity have seen their elders."
Shock upon shock. There is no note of anyone having returned to Earth in 3 million years and most species last less than two. These are obviously younger, especially if, in their pre industrial state, they could not remember one of us without the visit being recent. None of us have record of any human visits to Earth. We queried faster than they could know. We are human, but far removed, far beyond, far more from those who left this world.
"We the Created, the Inheritors, honor the Old Ones. The last Human to have visited Earth left something for you, the next visitors, it was a mere two thousand years ago. He left specific instructions to meet you here and give this to you, unmolested and untouched."
A small box, an ancient wooden box! Of all the things! This is what this secretive, unknown member of our race left. Oh strangeness! Oh quaintness!
A tentacle placed the small box in the hand of our leader. She looks down and frowns.
It begins to drizzle.
"Who was this person who left this for us?" she asks.
"We only have names we have made for him. We never spoke his name while he was here. Not during the entirety of our creation, existence or during his visits since."
Our leader opens the box and it glows. Faintly. Then brighter. Ever brighter. She screams and collapses. The light becomes blinding. The box falls from her hand. The nearest of us reaches to her and then we feel it. Something is in our minds. Crashing into our white matter with all the strength and power of a singularity moving at relativistic speeds.
And yet. We hear laughter. It is the last thing we hear.
We all shriek, fall and die.
The box falls and splashes in the mud.
In the bottom, carved lovingly into the wood were four letters:
Leader shambled away from the gathering. Their creator had stated this was necessary for their protection and ascension. He said knowledge came at a cost and that cost had come due.
They would never return to this place. It would be marked as sacred and damned.
Strangely, Leader felt odd. Ill. In its own mucousy way, it breathed. Then it coughed. How odd. It shuffled on and for some reason could not rid its mind of the laughter. His laughter. There was an edge to it they'd never known from the Bringer of the Light.
Leader coughed much harder.