Cloud

It was a hot day, the apex of the summer, when Ah-Rill the sorcerer was brought to the gallows. All were gathered in the public square to watch that man, the bringer of much pain and despair, brought to his ultimate judgement. At high noon, the time of least darkness and the time when the powers of evil were at their weakest, Ah-Rill was walked up the stairs to the hanging platform. He did not resist the executioner; any such resistance would have been useless, for his hands were bound and his small, angular frame would have been greatly over-powered by the large executioner. But despite his physical complacency, one could see in his eyes that he did not plan to go quietly-- one could see that the harsh silver storm which seemed always to rage from the center of each of those two vile orbs now raged as never before. All those gathered there in the crowd sensed this, and were afraid for it, and were all the more eager for Ah-Rill to meet his maker, so it could be over and the fear no more.

At the top of the platform, Ah-Rill's head was placed through the noose. The loop was tightened around his neck. "Ah-Rill the Accursed", the stout executioner spoke, "You have been accused by your fellow men and been found guilty of vile sorcery, uncounted murders, robbery and theft of material and immaterial goods, rape, torture, treason to your species, and other crimes too vile to mention in broad day. For this you are to die. Have you any last words of apology to your fellow men before your sentence is carried through?"

The plasma of Ah-Rill's eyes flared brighter than ever before. He turned his gaze out upon the staring crowd, and strained his neck within the noose. "You," he said, "You pithy little people. So, you've captured me. So you managed to spring on me, during the middle of the day and rip me from my sanctum, and now you hold me here, in your square, under your sun, and you think you're nice and safe, and the big bad man is going to die? Well, wrong! You-" His voice was jerked off as the executioner, warned of the power of wizard's words, opened the trapdoor beneath Ah-Rill's feet before he could make any curses or intone any dark phrases of evil. Ah-Rill dropped, and the rope went taut. The evil one had been hanged.

Those in the back of the crowd, seeing the wizard drop, began to leave, believing the affair was over. But soon they noticed the center of the crowd was still watching in awe, and as they gaped over shoulders to view the gallow-rope, they realized that the wizard was not dead. Ah-Rill had been a sorcerer of extraordinary power, so much so that it had taken the combined psychic power of 48 good mages, focused through the mystical ring of Orat, to draw him from his fortress and imprison him, even in the middle of the day. Of the 36 who had survived this ordeal, another 7 had died from the strain of keeping him incarcerated while all of his talismans, shrines, and evil artifacts were destroyed. And now, on noon of the longest day of the year, over oceans from the dark places of his unholy sanctum, with all his items of power and focus destroyed in holy fire, and after weeks of incarceration with no water or food, the wizard still had the power to lift himself from hanging, to ease the pull on his neck.

Straining visibly, his pale flesh sweating profusely under the bright sun to which it was unaccustomed, Ah-Rill levitated his erect body to above the level of the gallow's platform. In voice of flame, with the noose-rope still trailing down from behind his neck, he spoke to the crowd. "Know ye that your comforting sun may shield you now from my full wraith, but though my body may die my soul shall remain here on this earth till 20 moons have grown and died, to wreak vengeance upon you when your bright orb is no more. When the time of darkness comes, my black swarms will fall upon you, and scour your flesh from your bones." The magician stared down at the crowd once more, looked up to the center of the sky, closed his eyes, and fell straight downward with a sharp "Crack!". Now, at last, his body swung lifeless at the end of the rope, his neck broken at the base of the spine. Ah-Rill was dead.

 

The council of the wise met immediately to discuss the wizard's threat. "We barely had the power to handle him while he was alive," spoke Eril, "Now that we have freed his spirit from his earthly limitations, "There is no hope to stop him, even if all of us focus together."

"Yes," spoke Lonto, "Our doom when the sun perishes in the west is as sure as Ah-Rill's was as he dropped do the bottom of that rope."

"We must flee!", cried Glascon, "Perhaps if we flee to other realms before sunset, we can hide from him. Perhaps he will just kill the villagers and forget about us if we cower small in some other place. Or maybe if we kill ourselves with the right intonations? We may be devoured by something else in the other world before he can find us..."

"Fools!" spoke Ento the young, at the end of the table, "Look at you all, simpering like babies, in fear of a dead man! We killed him to stop him from being a threat, did we not?"

"He may be dead, young one," spoke Lonto, "but his spirit lives on. Did you not yourself see his display of power when we thought his power would be all but gone? Do you not remember the horrors and atrocities of his time upon this earth, and the universe-rending power behind them? Did you not yourself lose three of your closest friends, wizards of power to a magnitude attained once in centuries, when the man made a glancing blow upon us before we turned the tide? He is, was, and ever will be a monster! His body may be dead, but his awful spirit still rages!"

"I do not fear," spoke Ento, "for, while you fleed from the sight of his tethered, dead body as if it were any more of a threat than the flies that buzzed around it, I took action to counter the wizard. In two ways.

"Firstly, I listened to what he said, when he spoke to us with his 'tongue of flame'. He said that his wraith would not be until the sun set, and that his spirit would only stay on this earth for the course of twenty moons. So, I realized that the simple way to stop his spirit from attacking is simply to not let the sun set until his spirit is gone."

"Keep the sun up for 20 moons?" said Glascon, incredulously. "That would practically destroy us! The ground would parch, the crops would die! Surely, not even clouds would shade us, for were the sun covered at all, the spirit of the accursed one would gain strength. We could not survive under such conditions!"

"Would you rather have the Accursed One reign free over us for that time instead? I, for one, would rather live or perish beneath the cleansing sun than be hunted in an unholy night."

"Bah," spoke Lonto, "it is useless to ponder in any case. No mortal man could have the power to keep the sun in the heavens for that long. Even before others could perish from the heat, he would perish from the strain of doing the nearly impossible for nearly an eternity."

"Ah," Ento said, "you are right. No mage of ordinary power could achieve such a feat. However, today I had access to a mage of a power unparalleled throughout all of history, and I tapped that power and plan to use it as soon as possible. For that was my second step to counter the wizard. You all know that I have been researching the dark practices of leaching of life-force and wisdom and power. Although I could not bring myself to practice such evil things as pulling these quantities from living things and placing them inside myself, I have perfected a measure of draining out the powers and wisdom of a creature just dead, and storing it in a magic vessel. And this I have done to Ah-Rill the Accursed. As the crowds of the city all wandered back to their lives after they got their glimpse of the dead sorcerer, I practiced my rites of drain and store upon his freshly killed body, before the spirit could escape fully from the body's bonds. And now, in this jug," and Ento placed an arcanely marked earthen vessel upon the council table, "I have the powers in full of the dark wizard, ready to be tapped for any spell I wish to attach to it.

"Hence, the wizard is no threat on two counts. First, his time of darkness will not come, and second, his powers have been separated from him. Instead of harming others, his power will prevent his spirit from any menacing moves upon the mortal realm, until the twenty moons have passed and it must move on to deeper reaches."

The council of the wise were stunned. All stared at the mystic bottle which contained the greatest psychic powers ever known to man. Finally, Lonto, looking out the window at the early afternoon sun, spoke. "You are wiser than we thought, Ento. But you had better move quickly. Already the sun is moving towards its place of rest. Have no doubts that if the sun should indeed somehow sink or be enshrouded, that vessel of yours, no matter how strong its markings, will burst like an egg in the hatching, and the full powers of Ah-Rill the Damned will strike out hard and vicious, upon your soul first."

Ento smiled. "Worry not," he said, "The spell is already prepared, and needs but a few words to begin. I simply wanted to wait until the sun was partly down, so I could have some shade for the next twenty moons." He rose from the table. "LOK. NUTHID. BOK KIN!" he spoke, and a great peal of thunder shook out from the sky above. All was unusually quiet for a moment, as if the earth itself were stunned by the noise.

"It is done," said Ento. The other councilmen looked nervously out the window at the frozen sun. Although, of course, it had not moved, it somehow seemed already hotter.

 

By the time ten moons had passed, the sun was indeed much hotter, but by now the people were accustomed to its sweltering heat. At first, some had been glad to have the sun always overhead, and many festivals had played on for days straight at the beginning of the time of the sun. But, as time marched on and the shadows remained fixed in one position and building facades began to fade under the constant light, the people's enthusiasm faded as well. Time had proceeded as always, marked off by clockwork mechanisms and announced to the commonfolk by the tolling of temple bells, and gradually months had passed away. When autumn did not appear as it always had before, and when winter had failed to show any sign underneath the constantly radiant face of the sun, the novelty had worn off completely.

Now it would have been spring, but the sounds of birdsong and the sight of budding leaves were absent across the countryside. Indeed, few birds or trees, or any plants or animals at all, could be seen beneath the fixed light of the sky. At first, the plants had flourished beneath the non-stop sunlight, and had grown to giant proportions. However, the snow of the mountains had soon been melted off completely, and no new snow could be deposited, for few clouds could make it inland beneath the sun's heat, and there was no cold winter to freeze their water into snow. What little rain they could carry in was irrigated to the city's cropland, and so the rivers ran dry and the wild forests and meadows wilted into brown skeletons.

With no trees or grass left for them, the grazing beasts of the countryside had at first headed for the only remaining plants, the cultivated fields of man, in search of food. These animals trampled or devoured many acres of crops before being shooed off, hunted down, or burned with the fields in last ditch attempts at destroying the pests. With their natural prey destroyed, the hunting beasts of the forest had gone for the only remaining source of large, closely packed animals: the crowds of the city. They, too, managed to cause much trouble before their final destruction. And the small creatures of the wilds all learned to scavenge among the refuse of man, or died if they could not.

But all that had happened months ago, and now, although the calendars all proclaimed it to be mid-spring, it felt like the worst summer the world had ever known. The people of the land, darkened by sun, still toiled through their lives, rose sluggishly in the heat, labored through the appointed hours, and returned home when the clocks told them it was night, and once a week traveled to their shrines to thank the gods for the protection of the scorching sun. But deep down, slowly burning hotter and hotter like a coin left on the pavement in the sun, there grew a flame of dissent, a spark of hatred towards the awful solar orb that disrupted their lives so. So it was that the people felt relief along with the fear when the clouds first showed above the horizon.

The clouds were first spotted by one of the watchmen of the vessel of Ah-Rill. Short hours after Ento's invocation, the vessel of Ah-Rill's energy had been placed high up in the great temple spire of the sun-worshipping cult of Ockett, in a room always facing the sun and constantly guarded by a troop of soldier-priests to protect it from sabotage of material or spiritual nature. It was one of these guards, looking absently across the bright-lit horizon, who first noticed the slowly advancing front of clouds. Dark the clouds were, and slow, so much so that the guard stared straight at them for hours before it registered in his mind that they were a line of clouds rather than the horizon itself. The clouds were spread wide, stretching along the entire eastern half of the circumference of the sky's edge, although just barely in view.

The council of the wise was called for immediately. Standing atop the spire of Ockett, they looked through the city's finest telescopes at the distant wall of cloud. Through the scopes, the clouds showed a sulfurish yellow-grey above and a darkness like a million midnights beneath. They dropped no rain, shot no lightning, and did not move at a visible rate. They simply sat in place like an extension of the dark side of the world, slowly inching toward this land which rebelled against the night. Ento looked at them with a troubled face.

"Those clouds could block the sun if they came far enough," he said. "Why are they here? Why do they not burn up like all of the others have?"

"I see no need for worry," said Glascon, "These clouds move so slowly that they will take months to reach us. Surely they can not last that long beneath the rays of the sun."

Eril frowned at Glascon's words. "There has been talk," he said, "Of constant darkness in the distant lands, and of a wall of darkness that moves upon the land, working the curse of Ah-Rill. Wretched, worn men claiming to be emissaries of the distant lands have come to the gates of the city shouting such things and begging for aid and entrance. They have been ignored, for any fool can see that the light has been constant, but now I begin to wonder if their stories are true."

"Let us speak to one of these men," said Ento, "I fear our safety may not be as secure as I believed."

A short time later, a thin, dirty, starved-looking man was dragged into a meeting room beneath the roof of the Spire of Ockett, to be confronted by the council of the wise. "This man was captured some time back to stop him from scaring the horses at the city gates," said one of the guards holding his arms.

Ento stepped in front of the man and looked him in the eyes. "Well," he said, "you wanted to speak to the city's leaders? Now you have our audience. Tell us of the darkness that plagues your land."

The man's eyes flashed with hope. "Finally, someone believes me!" he said, "Oh, thank you, sir! We must move fast; it has been months since I left my land in search of help, and when I left things were horrible beyond nightmares! It began when one day in summer the sun froze in place just when it was about to set, plunging us into perpetual twilight! Then a wall of darkness descended upon us from above, blocking off the last of the light and killing off what few plants still lived in the dimness. It moved until it blocked any light from coming through. Not a drop of sunlight, starlight, moonlight, nor any light except the torches of man broke the pitch black. And then things came in the darkness, terrible things that moved unseen and killed us as we scavenged in the fields, and spilled our blood across the streets of our cities. I was sent by our king to go to your great city and beg aid of you, to beg food for our people and magic to cure the curse of darkness that has befallen us! I know not if anyone still lives back in my land, for I have been held in your dungeons for months, and the scene was dire already when I left. But we can still save some, and we must try, we must try to save my noble land!"

Ento listened to the man thoughtfully. "I have something to show you," he said to the man. Then, to the guards, "Take him to the roof."

Once all were upon the roof, blinking in the sunlight, Ento held a telescope up to the prisoner's eye. "Look," he commanded, and pointed the lens at the distant clouds.

At first, the man looked in incomprehension, then he convulsed as if struck by lightning as the realization of what he saw hit him. "The darkness!" he shouted, his voice high with terror, "The darkness! I have not escaped! It has followed me here! All are doomed! All are doomed!"

Lonto lowered Ento's telescope from the man's eye and nodded to the guards, and the man was dragged, still screaming, from the roof, to disappear back into the city's dungeons. Lonto looked off at the invisibly slow-moving clouds. "Perhaps," he said to his fellow councilmen, "There is something to these rumors after all."

 

By the time the clockwork mechanisms said that 15 moons had passed, the clouds had moved visibly upon the sky. They now loomed halfway up the distance from the horizon to the motionless sun, covering a full quarter of the pale blue sky with their ominous dirty grey. No shadow from the clouds yet fell upon the city or its domain, however, for the clouds were very high above the ground, impossibly high, much higher than normal clouds. A thin ribbon of deeper darkness, the distant shadow of the clouds upon the ground, could be seen through a telescope from the tallest buildings of the city, but no land within reach was yet covered. Still, the clouds showed no signs of evaporating beneath the scorching sun, as suggested. They simply hung beneath the sun, and blocked its light, and inched, day by day, towards the city.

The people, however, were no longer afraid. They no longer had the energy for fear, nor even anxiety. The constant blaze of the sun had bleached the concern from their bones, had drained them free of the desire to do anything but sit in the hot, dark shade and attempt to radiate off the excess heat from their bodies like lizards. If the people were still capable of feeling emotion, they might be grateful for having survived the drought when the rivers and even the canals stopped flowing, and the famine, when finally the last of the city's plants refused to grow in the parched dust of the soil. Or they might be nervous, worried about the plague that had swept through the city's crowded shady areas, killing off those already weak from hunger, the plague that still raged in isolated pockets and was still as deadly as ever. But the people were not capable of emotion, and so they simply sat, and basked, and waited for the bells that announced the end of each day. Besides, most of the city's problems had been caused by over-population, and over-population was no longer a problem in the city.

Only one emotion still survived in the people, and as all other sentiments were burned off by the heat, this one emotion grew stronger and tougher, like a fallen fruit withering into hardness beneath the sun. The emotion was annoyance, concentrating gradually into anger, which crystallized into fiery rage. Whenever people were in contact with one another in the city, the rage ignited into full flame. Fistfights broke out over traffic disputes, deathmatches arose when two men bumped one another in passing, and riots burst into being almost every day when the people gathered to collect their daily portion of the stockpiled grain and water the city now subsisted on. But it was an undirected rage, and each time that it flamed up the city's soldiers would quickly squelch the fire, and impose an uneasy order back upon the people.

The people did not know what they were angry at, simply that they were angry. When rioters were asked why they rioted they would mutter indecisively about the sun and the heat and the dry, dry air. In truth, the people's rage arose from the world around them, from the desert that had replaced their land, from the constant baby blue brightness of the sky, and from the sun that always hung mockingly overhead, drying and melting the world. But they could not attack the sun, and so they attacked one another.

Then, in the midst of one day's food riot, one man turned around to face one who had just struck him from behind. But, as he turned, he found himself blinded by a reflection of the sun. Forgetting his assailant, he instead looked for the blinding glint, tracing it up to a window near the top of the distant spire of Ockett. There! From through that window, the sun shone off of an urn, blinding him despite its distance, blinding both his eye and his mind, filling all with a bright red shine like an all-encompassing rage. Suddenly, his rage had found a focus. That urn!, thought the man, That cursed urn! That same urn that blinded him was the same one that halted the sun from resting, that held the last of Ah-Rill's accursed essence, that generated all that was bad with the world!

"The urn!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. Around him, people slowed in their rioting and turned heads to look at him. Some power he gained from his focused rage pulled their attention away from the spilling of blood and towards his voice. "The urn of Ah-Rill, in the spire of Ockett! If we destroy the urn, the sun will set, the Earth will cool, the rain will come, and all will be saved! We must destroy the urn! Destroy the urn!"

The cry quickly spread to the edges of the crowd. "The urn!" "The accursed urn!" "Destroy the urn!" "The urn of the damned!" Soon, the crowd was no longer fighting, but was unified in their hatred, all chanting for the destruction of the urn. Their energy now had a purpose. Their riot had just become a revolt.

Lonto was atop the spire of Ockett, gazing at the distant clouds when the crowd came surging about the base of the tower. Even from high atop the mighty building, he could hear the shouting on the street. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and looked down upon the gathering crowds far, far below, then up at the clouds far, far above. "Destruction from above and destruction from below," he said, shaking his head, "What have we done?" He looked back down and watched in silence as the guards rushed to fight back the crowds.

 

As supplies grew fewer and the days grew hotter still until the buildings began to crumble from heat, the fever of dissent spread more and more rapidly amongst the people. Only the city's rulers, priests, and soldiers were untaken by the chaos and sought to fight its lure. But gradually, as they were weakened by the sun, and as the commonfolk's rage was heated by the sun, the side of order lost ground. One quarter of the city after another fell to the mobs as their numbers and their anger grew. Always, though, after that first attack the city elders fought the hardest to keep them away from the spire of Ockett, and the all-important urn that was guarded in its highest chambers.

The clouds, too had moved forward, conquering more and more of the sky. Now, they covered one full half of the sky, and their shadow could be seen moving forward inch by inch upon the lands mere miles from the city walls. But they had been slow in coming, and now, by consensus of all the surviving clock-mechanisms in the city, only hours remained before the twenty moons, the interminable twenty moons which now stretched out behind them in time like an eternity, would be over.

The terror of the clouds, though, was close at hand. Hordes of sullied refugees had come with the clouds approach, fleeing the shadows and adding to the armies of the rebels. When the wind blew right, an evil stench from the lands beneath the clouds was carried in, watering men's eyes and clogging their throats. And dark, flickering shapes could be dimly discerned beneath the clouds' darkness, swooping about in the distant twilight just beyond the reach of the sun. With the effect the clouds were having upon the populace, they would never need to reach the sun in order to destroy the city. Although their physical shadow was not upon the city itself, their mental shadow had been strong for months already.

As the rebels stepped up their frenzied, unreasoning efforts once more, Ento and Lonto met in a room in the spire of Ockett to discuss whether their forces could hold out. They were all that was left of the council of the wise. The others had died of disease, hunger, draught, and dismay, or were caught by the rebels and beaten to death. The sounds of fighting on the streets could be heard through the room's open windows.

"They are close," said Lonto, "We can not hold out much longer."

"We don't need to," said Ento. "In a few short hours, we will have outlasted Ah-Rill's curse. Then, his spirit will depart the Earth, the sun can move again, and this insanity will surely depart like a bad dream."

"And the clouds?" asked Lonto.

"The clouds must go as well. Or perhaps, when the wholesome night cools them, they will change from their dark, baked form and bring us the rain we so desperately need."

"Perhaps," said Lonto, "Perhaps, but I am not so sure. The clouds were never supposed to be here in the first place. The enchantment you placed using Ah-Rill's power was supposed to freeze the sun in the sky and keep it safe from clouds as well. And yet, for the space of ten moons these clouds have moved ever forward, ever towards blocking us from the protection of the sun. How?"

Ento sighed. "I do not-" his eyes shot wide open. "Look!" he said, and pointed wildly toward the window.

Lonto turned to look out the window. Outside, falling like snow, were flakes of blackness. Lonto reached a hand out the window and collected several of the flakes on his hand. They were composed of gritty ash and smelled acrid like the winds that blew in from beneath the shadows. He looked up at the sky. The flakes were falling down from the clouds, blending with the darkness behind them until they fell to the level of the city, where they showed easily against the bright, white stone. "A change in the wind," he said, "This ash must have fallen from the clouds and been blown in on the breeze."

Ento's face lit up. "Of course!" he said, "It explains everything! That's why the clouds bring such darkness with them. It's not magic, it's simply this fallen ash. Stupid, superstitious people must have believed it to be the dead sorcerer's work, and spread the rumor to our land to disrupt us when we needed order the most! And, more, it explains why the clouds evade the spell of the urn. The urn was only set up to stop rain clouds. But these clouds are not made of rain-they are made of ash. Obviously some volcano somewhere has been spouting ash, and spreading it more day by day through some fluke of the earth!" Ento laughed a nervous laugh. "It's not the sorcerer at all! It's not him at all!"

Lonto scowled. "Ento, such things do not happen. Volcanoes do not spout ash for ten moons at a time. Ash does not stay in the sky for months at a stretch. Ash does not ravage kingdoms and fill their streets with blood. No-"

A loud bang from the temple doors, below, broke off Lonto's speech. Lonto looked out the window again, and Ento rushed to join him. Down on the street, spurred on by the fallen ash, the people had fought on with renewed vigor and had slain all the guards outside the temple. Now, they had broken down a pillar from somewhere and they carried it forward and back as a battering ram to smash the mighty temple doors.

"No!" said Ento, "The fools! We must stop them, Lonto, or all our efforts are in vain!"

"I will stop them," said Lonto. Walking swiftly, with Ento behind him, he traveled to another room, with a window looking out upon the temple doors. The people were still battering the door. Lonto looked out across them, took a deep breath, and spoke.

"People!" he shouted out to them, "People of our city!" For a moment, the crowd below stopped what they were doing and looked up at him. Lonto had always had a commanding voice, and now he used it to its utmost extent, to exercise what little capacity for control the populace still contained. "People, why do you attack the spire of Ockett? Why do you seek to smash the urn of Ah-Rill? We know that you have suffered greatly beneath the burning of the sun, but do you forget why you must suffer? Let me remind you, then! Two years ago at this time, the mighty and evil sorcerer Ah-Rill roamed freely upon the Earth. It seems much longer, but truly it was only two years ago! Ah-Rill brought us plagues, he shook our ground, he killed our plants, he stole our women and he brought dragons and monsters upon us from the heavens. But we stopped him.

"Yes, at great expense to ourselves, at great risk and at the sacrifice of many lives and many minds, we, your city elders, captured the wizard, stripped him of power, and brought him to the gallows. And there, as he was about to be hanged, in front of a crowd much like this, in front of many of you here today, he cursed us all! He told us that for twenty moons he would seek to impose wraith on us, for twenty moons he would come to us when the sun was no more, and destroy us!

"Again you were in trouble, and again we saved you. We captured the wizard's essence and employed it to stop the sun, to hold back the night and save our lives and souls. And now, for twenty moons we have persisted, guarded by the sun, saved by the sun. Twenty moons we have lasted, and now you would throw it all away to move the sun a few hours sooner? Ignore the clouds, my people, ignore them and have faith, and you shall be saved!"

For a moment the crowd was awed, silent. But then, the wind shifted and a new flurry of black flakes fell among them. "The shadows!", someone cried, "They fall upon us already! Destroy the urn! Save us all!" Soon, despite Lonto's shouts of protest, the crowd was angry again. They backed up their battering ram and ran it against the door once more. Lonto, leaning out the open window, was jarred loose by the fall. He fell through the open window into the crowd below. His back broke across the battering ram. He was already dead when the crowd began to rip him to pieces.

Ento, in terror, ran from the window, to the spire's stairway. Around him the building shook with each butt of the ram. Just as Ento reached the stairs he heard a crash from the temple entrance. The door had been broken! Ento could hear the temple guards fighting furiously, and losing. Panicked, he rushed up the stairs, toward the room of the urn. Below him, the crowd had broken through the guards and could be heard storming up the tight stairwell.

Ento ran up the stairs, barreling to stay ahead of the frenzied crowd. He reached the urn's room, slammed the door shut, and fastened the bolt. He back up against the pedestal with urn on it, and stared in horror at the door. The crowd's shouting came closer and close, until finally they were outside the door, beating on it. Within seconds, their concentrated fury had broken the door down, and they were pressing through the open doorway, filling the room.

Ento huddled against the urn's pillar. "No!" he shouted, "NO NO NO NO!!!! Stop! Stop it all! This urn is our only hope! If you smash it, Ah-Rill will be free! He will come to us, destroy us, devour us! Your destruction will be nothing to match his!" Ento grasped the urn and backed to the furthest reach of the room.

He was no match for the crowd. Despite his iron determination, a dozen eager grasps ripped the urn from his hands and tossed it through the open window facing the sun. The urn sailed gracefully down through the sun-backed air, glinted one last time as it plummeted, and smashed against the blood-caked streets of the city.

Darkness. Suddenly, the sunlight which had covered the city for days beyond counting was gone, doused like a flame. Before the crowd could cheer the destruction of the urn they were frozen with fear of the awful darkness.

Ento looked out through the window. The clouds had advanced at last. The sun was covered. He turned to the crowd. "Look!" he cried, "You have destroyed us at last, just as I said!" The crowd was too stunned to respond. Before they could respond, they were stunned again.

Light! Bright light once more fell down into the room from above. The shadow retreated. The crowd broke out in cheers.

But something wasn't right. Ento looked out the window again, and his face froze with fear. His fear killed the jubilation of the rebels, who pressed in to the window to look with him.

Something was indeed wrong. For, high up in the sky, in the area just vacated by the clouds, where the sun should have been, there was no sun. The sky still shone blue, the land was still lighted, and the shadows still showed at the same angles as always, but the sun was gone. And in its place, growing swiftly larger in the distance, was a flickering swarm of black shapes, swooping down in the light of a sun that was gone.

1998