Mother wakes with the dawn as Hiperstus’ reborn sun at its center, the catalyst for all life, announces its return. Even before the cock crows, Man is moving: farmers towards their fields and flocks, craftsman and traders to their shops. And all the while Mother watches from her home. She is the dreamer, the storyteller, who weaves tales of what she sees while she sleeps. Truths that not even she understands. Truths of the black outside their world, dotted with diamonds that glimmered beyond their sight. Truths of the home that awaits them in the afterlife, of the home they are cast from and search for still. Mere metaphors, she thinks, for a people in desperate need of hope.
Each night she tells these stories, and they echo through Hiperstus, and give those hardworking men and women hope that, if not for themselves, then for their children, there would one day be a better life. Each day she walks among her people, whose eyes light up as she passes, beloved Mother, a role that past from daughter to daughter, their beacon of encouragement. In her line the first children wareere always daughters, with grey eyes and brown skin, who share the dreams of their foremothers, and who pass the dreams down to their own.
This is how life has always been.
As the sun sets, before her flock assembles before her to be told of salvation. She walks through the wood by her house on the hill, listening to its whispers. They contribute to her dreams, she knows, though she knows not how. Listen… Hushes the voices of the wood, and as her ancestors did, so does she. She lies in the grass and listens to words, familiar words, she does not quite understand. And when she leaves the wood, were she asked what they said, she would not quite be able to recall.
“The truth, my child, the truth. What is more important than that?” Is all she would say, and nothing more.
And as the sun dims, slowly expending itself and collapsing the world into black. Men and women retreat from their fields, close up their shops, and gather their children. They make the short pilgrimage from their homes to a small amphitheater at the base of Mother’s hill. They sit on rows of black stone, gleaming even in the night, refracting light from their torches, shooting their flickering glow into the sky so all can see. Mother sits at their center, still youthful, in a plain tan frock that ends just below her knees.
Her hair, kinky and unkempt, falls about her ears. Her eyes, ancient and gray, despite her apparent youth, touch on every man, woman and child who sits around her, eager for her tale. They linger on a young man, with rough hands and an open smile, bouncing their daughter upon their knee. The young girl waves, but her countenance is serious. She knows the story well, could recite it word for word. They are the same in ways that escapes even Mother. It is always the same tale, different parts, but the same tale. She waits for a hush to fall upon them before raising her hands, signaling the beginning.
“Tonight we start again. There are young ones here who have not yet heard it, the beginning, others, older than even myself, who got wind of it first from my grandmother’s lips. This tale is cyclical, and we live here still trapped in its edge, still creeping round to the beginning. With each generation we crawl closer, back to the world we lost. With each child we fall further, further towards the world we will find. This is the tale of the edge. This is the tale Ouroburos, and the Mouth who chases us still.
“It begins at an ending. The ending of a world that once was ours.”
Here she pauses to gather herself and take a deep-breath. The old ones in the circle around her already quietly weeping.
It is important. She reminds herself, or is reminded by herself. We all must feel this loss. The children must know. Even in their innocence they must know what we lost.
She steels herself, and continues, the story telling itself, she a mere vessel for its telling: “In the beginning…
…there is Earth, our home. In the beginning, it is dying.
On Earth, the seas boil and the land burns under the glaring eye of an exploding sun. Its mountains, once high, noble peaks, crumble into basins once called oceans. Once blue and filled with water that stretched as far as the eye can see. The world is become bereft of life, all scorched clean from its surface. The verdant green of jungles, rustling grasses of the plains and frigid poles are all become a distant memory, replaced by smoke and ash and rivulets of molten rock streaking across Earth’s surface. A planet-wide desert of sand melted to glass colored the angry red of the kiln.
An old man watches, let’s call him Father, skin sloughing from flesh. The end of all things.
Father turns to his flock. The hundreds who still live, dying men huddled in hovels underground, drenched in sweat, in shade, in steaming blood. Their skin drapes loosely from their frames like tattered rags, their clothing, little more than rotten scraps, curls away from their bodies and sizzles in the heat. Their bones, baking, are brittle and hollow. They are starved and thirsty, cuddled up with the dead and the dying, unable to distinguish themselves from those they chase into the grave. Each man, woman and child stares with the listlessness of the hopeless. He must speak to them, comfort them. But what does one say in a moment such as this?
The truth is all that remains.
"It has come..." He begins with a sigh.
"I will not say 'do not despair'." His heart grows heavier with every word. "I will not say 'there is hope'. This is no time for lies.” His reflection shimmers in a pool in each cave, some trick of forgotten magic, voice cracking from desperation.
“I say this: Life goes on. If not here, for us, then elsewhere. Life goes on." His voice, a forlorn rasp, falls on deaf ears, dull eyes. Man does not hear him. They do not care. Their dwindling masses have no spirit left. And why should they? This is the end.
"Life goes on," He repeats, now for his own sake, eyes fixed on flaming skies, his hopes centered on a single, twinkling ‘star’. One not visible in the wake of a dying sun, yet growing more distant from it and a doomed solar system nonetheless. "Life goes on. Life goes on. Life goes o-" Despite his despair, despite the heat, despite his own smoking flesh, despite joining with a swelling star, despite the death of all he had ever known and loved, the old man smiles knowingly to himself as blistering gas engulfs the world. Mankind, and Mankind’s only home, deliquesce from the universe and into the quiet of history.
“All men on Earth died that day.” Mother circles back to the present, the first portion of the tale done. “But not us. We remained, asleep and dormant, on that single, twinkling star, borne away from destruction. We must try to remember, as best we can, what was lost. That was our home! Those were our brothers and sisters! And we mourn them each day. But we also endure, and one day we will be carried to another home, of lush green and vast pools of life-giving water. There we will thrive. But until then, we must content ourselves with survival. With hard-work on this closed-loop of a planet, where we are denied the sky and the stars. Where we suffice with this false sun.”
She stops. This is always the hardest part. The words she does not not understand, the concepts that are beyond her and all humankind. They had forgotten so much since the early years. That much she knew. What little is left, endures in words she repeats from her memories verbatim. Recitation without comprehension. This world they lived on was some kind of vessel as well, and beyond it existed… a whole universe that she would live and die without seeing. That countless more generations would live and die without even knowing about. But until they were free once more, she fulfilled a simple purpose. Explained by the voices on the wind.
It falls to you Roan. It has always fallen to you. Keep the spark of man alive in the wilderness until the embers take seed on a world once more…
…and civilization can begin again.