The Nascency of Dawn by Claire Bugeja
It was the stars that caught her attention first.
She was sitting by herself near the lake, her face lifted to the sky, the bright blotch-mark of sunlight red against her closed eyelids. Her fingers trailed listlessly across the surface of the still waters, and silence enveloped her in its embrace. The world radiated endlessly from where she sat, and the sky descended to kiss the grass in a horizon that swept around her in an unbroken circle. Life flourished endlessly around her; death did not exist in paradise.
She did not know what made her look at the lake. Maybe it was a bird, flying recklessly close to the water, its clawed talons breaking the surface of the water. Maybe it was the sudden discordant note in the song of creation, a jarring clang in that everlasting rhyme that should have warned her to stay away. Maybe it was the sudden freezing cold benumbing her hand as it swirled the water. Whatever it was, she looked down, and saw the starlight. The water, mirror-smooth, had darkened, as if an ocean of water lay beneath its surface. Stars dotted the darkness, forming strange constellations. A portal. They were not allowed here. No one could leave paradise.
She knew of stars, knew of their existence and of how they came to be, but it was never night in this place. The Divine had often mentioned their beauty, but she could only look at them through a mirror, such as this. She turned to the stars again, feeling an almost magnetic pull towards them. Against her wavering will, her hand moved towards them, treading through the water until she was stretching out trembling fingers towards the middle of the lake, balancing precariously on her knees, her other hand tangled in the grass, keeping her grounded. If only she could touch them, she reasoned desperately, she could perhaps experience what it felt like to bask in their twinkling light, to feel the coolness of the darkness, away from the blazing sun, that unblinking eye.
It wasn’t much use, in the end, to hold on to anything; the choice alone had been enough. The Fall was already underway.
Her hand had barely touched the edges of the murky darkness before she felt a great pull surge out of its depths. Her hand still grasped uselessly onto blades of grass that had been torn out of the soil even as she fell into the water. She gasped, water filling her open mouth, and yet she did not choke. All around her, darkness consumed her, and swirling maddeningly around her were the stars that had lured her in. Even though she was amongst them, they felt more distant than ever. For the first time, she realised that she was falling. The water had turned viscous; her dress billowed around her in slow-motion, her hair trailing behind her, a blazing halo in the darkness.
She felt fear ripping through her, and a blinding pain of separation. She did not have to look behind her to know that the doors at her back had been closed forever.
Time sped up to normal in a fraction of a second, and she landed heavily onto the ground. She groaned, the sound of her voice breaking the silence that had greeted her as soon as she became aware that she could hear again. Getting up slowly, she brushed her hair out of her face, noticing that her elbows had been scraped in the fall. Impassively, she looked on as a drop of blood trickled down from the wound, falling to the ground. So this is blood, she thought.
She turned around and started walking, not noticing that from where it had landed, a green shoot had immediately sprouted, leaves pointing in the direction of her receding back.
She walked in no particular direction, the sense of shock fading, bringing with it a flurry of emotions that had, up until that moment, been bottled up inside her in a resoluteness to stop herself from panicking. Questions lined up one after the other, remaining unanswered in her brain. What world had she landed on? What folly had driven her to reach for the unattainable? Looking up at this foreign sky, she noticed that no bright lights pervaded through the foreboding murkiness; the night was absolute.
Her elbows stung.
She fell, harsh ground digging into her knees and breaking flesh again, and this time, she screamed. Frustration and grief tore at her heart, fingers tugging blindly at her hair. In her brief moment of madness, she lifted both hands upwards and yelled, incomprehensible words falling from her lips, barely aware of anything except the overwhelming fear of the unknown.
Suddenly, light split the dark sky like an open wound.
It was so sudden that her abrupt, inexplicable madness was forgotten almost as quickly as it had started; there, kneeling on her bloodied knees, hands still outstretched, she gaped at the sky.
A rustle at her knees tore her gaze from above and forced her to look downwards. From where blood had spotted the ground, grass grew. She stared harder, comprehension dawning on her almost in tandem with the sky.
She consciously tried to will a portal into existence, and was stunned when it worked. She looked at that blazing whirlpool of light, her mind churning. Only the Divine and the Anti could create those. What had occurred during her Fall? How had it come to be that she had gained the power of creation? Had the residue of that power, still clinging to the portal that she had fallen through, been passed on to her in her journey through it? Had she gained all of that power? What were the limitations?
For now, she didn’t care. She knew where she wanted to be; now that her access home had been lost to her forever, she could go to the land of starlight. She would go to the First World, the World loved by the Divine. She braced herself, and plunged in.
She arrived in a blaze of colours, lighting the polar sky with brilliant, strange hues. The First Peoples named her Aurora, the Dawn, because she had lit up the sky like the morning sun. They worshipped her, at first. She gave them gifts, and they gave her shelter. When she had seen three generations live and die, she left them, discovering what a broken heart felt like and not liking it.
She found a tribe of people in a land far off from where she had first arrived in this world, having travelled by portal to many places and finding home in none. On her arrival, she fought off a pack of wild animals that had attacked her and emerged unscathed and triumphant, and so they called her Ashanti, the Undefeatable. Her dark skin matched theirs, and amongst them, she found home. They left many stories to their descendants of the beautiful goddess that had lived with them for centuries, but Ashanti, the Undefeated, the Dawn, lived ever more, and finally departed from her home; alone in every sense of the word, stripped from the Divine, her powers isolating her from everyone, she disappeared in the barrenness of a desert. The stars were far away; cold and mocking, they twinkled at her from the sky, and no matter how far she stretched her hands, she could never reach them.
She had resigned herself to dying alone, one day, when she would decide to stop using her powers to regenerate her dying body, once so effortlessly full of life. Today would be the day, she would say, and night would fall and she would still be clinging on to life, trembling at the thought of the empty void that was already waiting for her.
But one day, her resolve was firm, and she was ready for judgement to fall. Steeling herself, she prepared the words that would stop the ages-old spell that kept her alive.
An interruption, a noise in that barren, silent land. The sound of footsteps, and a man, with eyes of blazing fire.
The spell fled from her brain as she acknowledged him. Could it be true? Could there be another of her kind? She knew, instantly, that this wasn’t the case, but she felt it; a distinct pull towards him, as if something in his very making called out to her in its familiarity. Not a Fallen, no, but someone who came from them.
“Greetings,” he said, politely, blinking away the flames as if they were but a mere nuisance. “I’m Edward. I’m descended from those that Fell. Are you truly Ashanti?” Edward seemed to turn red, muttering to his shoes, “My research did not mention your beauty, my lady.”
Ashanti, alone for what seemed like millennia, convinced that no one would ever see her through her unique powers, burst out laughing, the first real joy she had felt since that fateful Fall.
“I am Ashanti,” she said, adapting to his language flawlessly, with little effort. “Why do you ask?”
Edward held out his hand. “I would rather show you.” He turned redder, stumbling over his words. “If-if you will, of course.”
Ashanti, having lost everything, had nothing to lose. She grasped his hand, and together, they disappeared in a flash of fire.
The desert wind blew on, unceasing and uncaring that the world would heave and burn over the course of the near but still uncharted future. The stars, hidden in the depths of the blue sky, twinkled on, unheeding and distant.