a sequel story to
Already the forest was no longer silent. Bekthe plodded along the mountainside with her hands outstretched, her glowing skin lighting her way. She touched the trunks she passed, and they seemed to sigh in comfort. It was a comfort for her too, hearing their voices after so long.
The jungle’s hums and murmurs had awoken her moments before, and she’d found herself curled against the great tree where her father had performed his sacrifice. She’d fallen asleep out of pure exhaustion. How much time had passed, she did not know. But utter darkness filled the forest all around her. At long last, Night had arrived.
She paused to gaze up at this strange sky, both old and new. She blinked and squinted. What she expected to be a black emptiness was embedded with millions of tiny, bright specks. How could a sky be so dark yet carry so many twinkling lights? They entranced her, filled her with questions. What were they? How far were they? How long had they existed, and what had brought them into being? Were they actually millions of beings giving off light, just like her?
Was there any way they could help her?
She couldn’t think of a way that they could. Somehow she had to awaken her people, but there was no guidance for that either. In all the writings in the temple, her father had not been able to find the answer. No revelation had come to her in prayer. And now here she was, the last walking creature in her world, with nothing and no one to which she could turn for help.
That realization bore down on her, compressing her chest as she stared helplessly at the glittering sky. She thought of her mother, the first person she would awaken, if she only knew how.
What if she never figured it out? Her father always told her that the answer would come, she would find it…But how could he know that? Even if he was beside her right now, there was no help he could provide her.
Her heartbeat began to drown out everything else. She felt sick, like her insides were twisting. Shuddering, she squeezed her eyes shut and bowed her head, pressing the heels of her palms to her brow.
She felt like screaming, but it would just be futile. Then again, the futility of it just made her want to scream even more. But somehow, sucking her breath, she harnessed herself, shaking away the urge to burst.
“Father…What would Father do?” she thought aloud. “What would Father do?” She breathed in slowly, deeply, forcing herself under control. She repeated the question over and over until an answer appeared in her mind, and she latched onto it. “He’d find Mother. He’d find Mother, and once he got to her…then what, then what…” She breathed again, pushing down the impending swell of panic before her senses suffocated beneath it.
How could she revive her mother? How would it work? She had to wake up…
Like the trees. The trees by the mountain were waking up. Because of her father’s essence in the water, in the roots, the Sun Sage blood…The creations with roots would draw it in themselves, but for her own people…
She had to bring the water!
She sprinted back to the temple, knowing exactly where her father kept a pitcher. She would retrieve it and fill it right from the mountain spring.
And then…Bekthe’s heart raced…I’ll find Mother.
* * *
Like all their people, Bekthe’s mother had been laid to rest in the jungle beyond the city. As the mate of a Sun Sage, her grave was marked by a miniature stone replica of the city’s temple. Otherwise, it was the same as any other grave of their people—above ground, with stones arranged in a circle around the body, which was placed in the fetal position. It never took long for the undergrowth to fill in and the bodies to start becoming part of the jungle whence their ancestors had come. But as Bekthe approached her mother’s remains, the body still remained somewhat intact, though the face was no longer recognizable. The trees here were still quiet, the undergrowth still dead. Her father’s essence had not yet reached this place.
Bekthe stood at the edge of the grave, unable to move against the sadness that seized her. It was all coming back. Her mother had been one of the first to show signs of a failing body when the sun was no longer high enough to shine over the treetops. The leafy parts of her flesh began to wilt and fall away. Her skin, supple and green, faded and thinned, slowly but surely, until it was nearly colorless and translucent. Still she would try to smile at her daughter, even when she was too weak to rise. Her withered face…Looking at her mother had been like staring at a something from a nightmare, and Bekthe had hated herself more than anything in the world for thinking that, even long after her mother’s suffering had ended.
A lump in her throat, Bekthe stepped into the stone ring and knelt beside her mother’s body with the water jug. As carefully as she could, she tilted her mother’s head and parted her mouth. She tipped the jug just enough to pour in a small swallow, and she made sure none spilled back out. She sighed, her hand still cradling her mother’s face. Tears watered her vision as she gazed upon it.
“Come back.” She swallowed, her tears spilling over. She shut her eyes. “Please. Wake up.” She waited, unmoving. “Come back, Mother.”
Nothing. Only the silence and stillness of the dormant trees. A silence that went on and on, as though there would be no end to it but the end of the world.
She was so sure that she’d had the answer. Had it only been a foolish notion after all?
How could she be the one who would bring back her people and lead them through the Night? She was nobody great, and she had no great ideas.
Just like her father had written, she was only a child.
She summoned the courage to look once more at her mother and opened her eyes.
Her mother’s skin gave off the faintest glow. Bekthe shut her eyes tight then looked again, blinking. The glow remained, and it was spreading across her mother’s body, from her core to her extremities. Beneath her hand, the skin was growing warm.
Bekthe trembled. “Mother?”
Her mother remained still. Bekthe poured a little more water into her lips and waited. But her mother did not stir.
So what did it mean? What should she do now?
She heard it so clearly in her mind it was as though her father were right next to her, saying it to her.
Bekthe set down the jug and brought her hands back to her lap. There she waited.
She waited until sitting was unbearably painful and stood. And after standing, then sitting again, and waiting some more, she finally laid down next to the grave and slept. When she woke, she gave her mother more of the precious water and watched for any change.
Wait, her father kept telling her.
To pass the time, she recited poems. Then she recited as much history as she could remember from her father’s lessons and all the scrolls she’d read. She did this over and over, nourishing herself with sips of the water as well. She lived this way, waiting and waiting, so long that she began to wonder how much of the rest of the forest had awoken. But she was too afraid to leave her mother and see.
Just when she realized shortly after waking that there was almost no water left in the jug, she noticed something. New leaves on her mother’s body. They were just beginning to form. And color had started to return to her skin.
She was coming back. She was healing.
There was a jungle of others who could be healing too. It worked so slowly. But, thought Bekthe, if she could go to each one with the water, little by little she could restore them. And when they were healed enough, maybe then they would finally awaken.
She trekked all over the jungle with as much water as she could carry, and one by one she found her people in their graves and gave them water. Much time passed. She grew taller and stronger, and the forest grew thicker with new leaves and vines. Her people’s leaves were growing back as well, filling in over their firming bodies. Their withered skin grew full and lithe. Just like her mother, after having the water they each gave off a faint glow where they lay throughout the forest, a comfort against the Night’s darkness.
Still, her people did not awaken. What was missing? What else could she do?
At her wit’s end, Bekthe returned to the mountain made sacred by her father’s sacrifice. She climbed to the very top and sat amongst a cluster of boulders upon the tallest one. She stared at the night sky, her view unhindered by any branches.
Then she saw, creeping just above the tree-lined horizon, a curved glimpse of pale gold.
She scrambled to her feet, breathless. It was so bright, yet not blinding. It lit up the sky around it and cast some light down on the treetops, yet it didn’t banish the darkness.
“Is it…” Bekthe searched her memory, all the lessons and prophecies passed down to her. “…the Moon?” She stared at it, squinting to better make out the bluish streaks and spots on its surface.
It was written long ago that there was a counterpart to the Sun somewhere beyond in the sky. Ancients called it the Moon. It was said that the Moon wore the Sun’s light, which made it shine, even though it could not be seen.
How bittersweet that it should appear now, something so beautiful with only one person to look upon it.
“Hello, Moon. I believe that’s what you are,” said Bekthe. “You don’t hurt my eyes the way the Sun did. Is it true you wear the Sun’s light?” She smiled, despite the inevitable silence that answered her. “Tell me…do you only shine so brightly when all else is so dark?” Her chest ached, felt heavier. “Do all those little specks of light up there speak to you? They must see you…”
What must it look like from the moon’s eyes, if it could gaze down at her and the jungle? One small, glowing person and the faintly luminescent bodies of her people in the forest all around her. Would it look sad to the Moon?
More time passed, and little by little, the Moon revealed more of itself above the trees. Its light filtered down through the branches as Bekthe continued to trek from person to person with the sacred water. Even after so much time had passed, so much that she was no longer a child, she still sought and found new bodies. She didn’t want to miss a single one. But when her weariness grew too heavy, she always returned to her mother’s side to rest, giving her one more sip of water before laying beside her in the moonlight. Sometimes she would dream of everyone waking up. Sometimes she would dream of the Day. Sometimes she would dream of the Nightfall happening all over again.
* * *
Her name…who was speaking her name?
Dreams were the only place anyone ever spoke to her anymore. But who was this? This voice…
Her eyes opened.
There was a face. Someone leaning over her. She gasped with a jerk.
Mother. It was Mother! She was alive, awake…
Bekthe stared disbelieving at her mother’s tearful eyes, her own eyes flooding instantly. Bekthe cried out, unable to even form a word at first. Gasping, she pushed herself up, terrified that this might once again be only a dream. “Mother!” She pulled her mother into her arms and wailed. They clung to each other, shaking with sobs.
At long last, it had happened. Despite all the agonizing doubt. At long last, Bekthe was no longer by herself.
“I’ve missed you so much,” she wept. “I wanted you back every single day.”
Her mother wept her name, embracing her so tightly. Her mother felt so solid now. So real.
“I’m so sorry, Bekthe.”
Her mother’s smooth hands held her face, lifting it carefully so they could look at each other. Her mother’s lips quivered, her face drawn in sorrow as she gazed at her daughter. “I knew…” She sputtered. “I knew, deep inside, before you were ever born…” She stroked her cheek. “…that you were going to be alone at the end of everything. And I’m so sorry that you’ve been alone.” Her voice cracked. “My child. In this darkness. All this time.”
Bekthe could barely see her mother through her tears. “But not anymore.” She took her mother’s hands in hers. The last time she’d done this, their hands hadn’t been the same size. That was also probably part of her mother’s sorrow: her child had grown without her ever there to see it. “Come see the Moon with me.”
“Yes.” Bekthe squeezed her hands, smiling. “It’s real. It’s beautiful.”
Her mother smiled. For another moment she was lost in thought. Bekthe waited.
“At some point,” said her mother, “I remember part of me ‘waking up’ so long ago.” She gazed down at their hands. “And I knew you there with me. I could feel it. I was adrift in some kind of nothingness, and yet I had hope. And I wanted more than anything to wake up. Until at last I could.” She gazed into Bekthe’s eyes. “From child to adult…you never gave up.”
Bekthe’s stomach clenched with shame, and her whole body tensed at the recollection all the pain, how close she’d been to giving up so many times. Was it true that she’d never given up out of hope, inner strength? Or had she just been too afraid of being unworthy? Afraid to face failure and be a failure. Where was praise deserved in that?
“My daughter.” Her mother pulled her back into her embrace, as if she could sense her Bekthe’s torment. “Even in that nothingness, I had hope because of you.”
New tears filled Bekthe’s eyes, the nauseating clutch of shame gradually leaving her belly.
Her mother’s arms tightened. “You’ve done more than anyone could’ve ever asked of you. Child of a Sun Sage or not.”
Bekthe sank into her mother’s embrace. The trees around them, silent for so long, were just beginning to hum, to speak.
* * *
My people have now lived beneath the Moon for two generations and the start of a third. For many lifetimes we had lived beneath our Father Sun, nurtured by his light and warmth. During the time of the Sun Sage Rahmrev, the present era of Night began and caused the death of all but Rahmrev himself and his daughter, Bekthe. All others withered and were laid to rest throughout the forest, no longer alive in any sense of consciousness, while the forest around them withered as well.
To save his people from extinction and to bring life back to the forest, the Sun Sage ended his own life with a sacrifice of his sacred blood. With his blood, he sanctified the water and infused it with the life-giving power of the sun which ran through him. His blood and essence entered the interconnected springs of our world, which fed his people before and feed us even now, nurturing us while we live without sunlight.
Though the Sun Sage sacrificed himself, it fell upon his child Bekthe to awaken us.
She trekked far through the forest and carried the sacred water to each person she found. She did this by herself from childhood to adulthood, and she became the first person in our recorded history to witness the Moon and the start of its ascension. It was not until her adulthood that the first person at long last awoke.
As others began to awaken, they looked to Bekthe for wisdom and direction, answers for how to live their lives in the Night. She brought them back to their city, where we live even now, and together they revived it. A new generation was born, my generation, the first in recorded history to never lay eyes on the sun. My people speculate that in many generations the Sun will return, which in turn leads to the question, will it again go away many generations after that? Will our springs still flow with holy vitality to take us through another era of Night? Can they sustain us through this current era?
Nothing is certain. But at times when such questions trouble me, I remember the words of Bekthe, our people’s first divine of the Moon: Hope does not live on certainty—hope lives in spite of none. She reminded me this at the end of her long life. She spent half a childhood and so long into adulthood alone in a dark and slowly-healing world. But by the end, she was surrounded by my optimistic, acclimated generation and even held my child in her arms. At her request, she was laid to rest at the foot of the tree where her father performed his sacrifice so long ago. This place will be forever sacred to my people, and I will always remember it as a symbol of hope’s resilience.
The words of Rahmreveil, son of Bekthe.
Praise to our Father Sun.