Summary: Myths or legends speak of impossible change for a world of endless light.
Author's Notes: For writerverse, and the prompt of "One Step Away from the Fall of Night."
We have waited for this moment all our lives, like our parents and our parents' parents before us. We are tens of generations later than the first people to ever tell the story of the coming of Night.
My sister, Elera, was always certain the story was a myth. We cannot imagine true darkness here, not in any form that is lasting, nor anything quite as mysterious as having all the light just disappear from the sky. Like being inside a cave, they tell us, like standing in the shadow of an enormous grove of trees. But how do they know whether these things are similar, these people who have only lived with endless light?
We are bound to this part of our world, tethered by warmth and the clear, abundant water that sustains us all. We bask under the beauty of our purple-rose sky, rejoicing in all the living things that surround us. Farther away, the ground goes rock-hard solid and living things are scarce. Water stills into slippery sheets there, and the cold seeps into your bones. If any have journeyed to those frozen lands, they have not returned. This is what we are taught to believe, though some of us wonder if those stories of impending darkness are simply the memories of those who survived?
It is not candle-bright here, but we can find the things we need and it is easy to sleep when we must. The air is nothing like the warmth of our marshweed fires, but the animal furs we wear as clothing serve us well enough to keep us alive. There are legends of older times when this land was too hot to inhabit, strange stories of other places held prisoner to cycles of darkness and light and long arcs when the world died away and no one knew if rebirth would ever come. But there is no one alive who remembers anything at all like that. How could it possibly be true?
Lately, it has seemed colder than it used to be. Perhaps it is only a dissemblance of time, where one's childhood seems better than anything the present has to offer. But even so, we wear thicker furs now, and our fires burn higher than those long-ago days when the bitli were taller than my knees.
Prepare, the elders tell us. We gather food for the ritual offerings, and the drums beat ceaselessly, so loudly we can hardly sleep. Everyone is edgy, each new arrival of omens pushing them from one truth to the next.
Please, I think, but I don't know what I want except to have all of this waiting be over. When it finally happens, it is like nothing anyone would ever suspect.
I am digging up sador roots from the unyielding ground when my eyes begin to ache. I strain harder and harder to see as everything goes dim, dark, black all around me. My eyes prickle with sudden little pieces of scattered light, tiny and brilliant in the far off sky overhead.
There is silence all around, as if every living thing—all our people, even the basest of animals—is holding its breath. We wait to see what this will become, long moments unbroken even by whispers unfolding around us.
We wait with no sense of what might or even should start happening next.
A turvel calls out in the marsh, a lonely, bewildered cry. Soon other birds join in, the flurry of sound rising like a storm. The din becomes so loud that a nearby berok howls in pain, or simply to be heard.
The air grows bitterly cold.
We rush to build up the fires, families clustering together and shivering. Where is the warmth, the light? Where have they gone? When will they return?
My mother's eyes are hardly visible, even here by the fire, but what little of them I can see reflects the worry I know is in my own. It is so terribly, terribly cold, and this darkness is so oppressive. We throw more marshweed on the fire and hover as close to it as we dare. We cannot think about running out of fuel, or whether we will be able to see well enough to gather more. We cannot add up the time it takes for marshweed to become dry enough for burning.
We all feel the desperate need to create more heat, just so we can survive from one moment to the next. I look behind me, where other fires burn higher or lower than ours. The dimmest fires barely reveal the shadows of the unmoving forms lying next to them. One by one I see people settling themselves down, rolling onto their sides or backs or stomachs with the laziness that surrounds sleep.
My toes and fingers ache in spite of the fire, and I have already abandoned my back to misery. My father weaves as if it is the end of a ten-day hunt, and I feel the same weariness seeping inside myself.
A little rest, and I will surely have the patience to wait as long as it takes. I sink to the ground, curling up next to my sister and the daughter of my mother's oldest friend. I watch the flames snapping and wavering in front of me, the colors so beautiful and soothing.
Finally, I become so sleepy that I have to let them go…
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