A Thousand Midnights (Excerpt)

     Eluna woke to obsidian night exposed through the skylight, finding herself mired in a world where neither sun nor moon loomed aloft to banish away the darkness. It was all so strange, this ink-shrouded vastness. Even the stars were unbearably absent, rendering the sky barren as any deserted plain. Eluna lingered in her bed, knowing the lamps that shone the way through the midnight would not be lit for another hour. Those artificial beacons served as the only light their planet had known since Solora stole away the celestial luminaries separating day from night

In the dark, she kept her gaze trained to the vacant sky, wishing on all the lost stars for true light to brighten the endless sea of darkness. Somewhere out there, all the light burned fit to sear a thousand midnights into banishment, wherever the all-powerful goddess Solora had spirited them away. Tonight, though, their location was still a mystery.

     Eluna was about to close her eyes again when she heard a whisper in the dark.

            “I remember the moonlight, years ago, before it became so very dark,” said a voice soft as heather mist. “And the sun, without equal across the galaxies…so much light we could only dream of deserving.”

            “Who are you?” demanded Eluna, trembling despite her sharp tone.

            “A ghost, simply,” said the voice, and Eluna could hear the smile creeping through though its owner was still faceless.

            “The ghost of who?” Eluna queried, perplexed.

            “The ghost of what,” her visitor corrected. “Don’t you know? I’m the ghost of the stolen celestial beacons. The specter of so many moonless nights and sun-limned daybreaks. Just the thing you’ve been mourning.”

Eluna scanned the dark room, trying to make out the figure in the blackness. She didn’t know quite what to say, instead hoping that a glimpse of the voice’s owner would give her the answer she needed.

            “What, no reply? Don’t leave me hanging, Eluna,” laughed the voice. “I’m making perfect sense, so far as I can tell.”

            “How can you be a ghost of something with no life?” Eluna retorted. “How do you even know my name?”

            “How do you not recognize your own self addressing you?” countered the voice.

            “What–how can you be–?”

            “Oh, Eluna, dear sweet fae dreamer of nights uncounted, I am you, carrying the burden of three hundred more years,” the voice told her, fond as a rekindled childhood memory.

Eluna peered into the dark, unbelieving. “I must be dreaming,” she said, shaking her head in a grasp for clarity.

            “Only if you’ve stopped believing the light waits out there for you, and we both know that hasn’t come to be.”

Through the gloom, a soft rustling sounded.

            “Here. I’ve kept you in the dark long enough.” When the voice had stopped speaking, a small burst of silver light broke through the velvety nightscape, revealing a figure draped in flowing hair the color of its glow. The face gazing wistfully through a waterfall of luminous stardust strands carried the blemishes and wrinkles of centuries past, but was, with total certainty, that of Eluna.

            “I don’t understand,” the young girl faltered, drawing back as the older version of herself reduced the space between them.

            “You don’t have to,” crooned the self-proclaimed ghost, lovingly pinching Eluna’s cheek. The touch made the visitor all too real, and again, the girl trembled, uncertain. “All you need to understand is that I’ve come with a message about all the light your planet aches for. Every sun, moon, and star are waiting for you to bring them back. The journey’s far, but I know you’ll make it.”

            “You can’t expect me to do anything without knowing where I need to go and what I have to do accomplish the task,” protested Eluna, scared by the importance of what was being asked of her.

            “It’ll come in due time. Just wait for the lamps to be relit and soon enough you’ll find the answers,” said the Eluna of three hundred years to come.

     In the dark, the first flares of light gloaming from faraway lamps began to appear beyond the window. Smiling, the older Eluna blew on the spark of light she held, extinguishing it from view.

            “Wait!” cried the girl she left behind, grasping for any trace of her vanishing ghost. She came away with one long, gossamer strand of hair, longer than she was tall. By then, her eyes had adjusted to the dark, now absent of any form besides her own.

     Eluna climbed out of bed, crossing to her dresser for a bare spool from which the thread had been used up. She twined the strand around it and carefully tucked it away in her jewelry box for safe-keeping. For a moment, she left its lid open, closing her eyes to savor the delicate refrain of Claire de lune emanating through the moonless world she’d succumbed to for far too long.

     After replacing her silken nightgown with a long wool dress the ashen color of the dark, Eluna walked out into the near-empty house. Her mother, Rinza, sat awake by the window, gazing through to the distant trail of lamps that shone in place of the stars. She seemed somewhere far off, not noticing her daughter’s footsteps sounding.

            “Mother?” asked Eluna, concerned.

     Her mother flinched, turning haunted eyes to where her only remaining child stood watching.

            “Oh, Eluna, it’s only you. I could’ve sworn you were still asleep,” said Rinza absently, turning back to the window.

            “You’re never awake this early. You’ve rarely even left your bed since the light was taken away. What’s wrong?” Eluna asked, walking in front of the window so that Rinza would have to look at her.

            “Must something be wrong for me to be awake admiring the dark world that’s now ours?” pondered Rinza, frowning. “After all, does the world need to be aglow for life to carry on?” She sounded lost, almost desperate.

            “No, mother,” replied Eluna softly. “It’s just been a while since I’ve seen you leave your room.”

            “Someone had to answer the knock at the door while you were asleep.”

            “Who was here to visit at this hour?”

            “Not a soul. I opened the door to find only this package, addressed to you,” said Rinza, gesturing to a small box sitting on the nearby coffee table. Eluna picked it up and sat beside her mother, unwrapping the crinkly brown paper that covered the wooden box. Lifting its lid, she found a small glass bottle filled with gleaming silver particles, shining with an ethereal light. Beside the little bottle lay a note, its message legible under the crystalline glow.

It read:

A bottle of stardust is all that remains of your lost cosmos for now. Here, it is now yours, a clue to lead you to the place where the stars are locked away. The sun and moon aren’t far off. Just follow the trail the stardust creates and you will find the treasures of midnight and daybreak at the ends of the earth. Your destiny lies along that path.

     There was no identifying information to reveal the sender, simply a crest bearing a large sun cradling a smaller moon, a single silver star gleaming at its center.

     Eluna looked over to see her mother staring at the vial of stardust, tears streaming down her face as its light was cast across her features. She said not a word.

            “There’s somewhere out there I need to be,” Eluna said, trying to end the empty silence’s reign.

     Her mother only nodded, unfastening the compass necklace she wore and handing it to her daughter wordlessly. Eluna accepted it, donning the family heirloom and tucking the compass away beneath her dress’s neckline. She placed a hand on her mother’s shoulder for a moment, watching Rinza weep silently.

     At last, Eluna stood, returning to her room to pack for the journey ahead. She closed the door to her mother’s quiet tears, feeling for all the world like she was abandoning the mother who had lost far more than she’d anticipated when the world succumbed to a thousand midnights.

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