The North Wind – Part 8
A swelling, growing mass of indigo and violet swirled up toward the ceiling. Thick waves of mist slithered across the slick floors, and as they curled around Hana’s legs, the damp clouds kissed her skin. Deep blue settled over the hall until everyone at the table disappeared.
Hana blinked. She checked her hand but couldn’t see it in front of her face.
“Ancient Great Night,” Marcus’s tone came soft, “We are thankful you decided to join us.”
The room remained still. Hana waited, her stomach doing a flip. A moment later, at the front door, a stab of white moonlight bloomed from the ground and spread into the room, followed by another and another. They grew closer, passing the Posdin and the Setton official, who bowed as they came past. The lights soon illuminated their faces, but Hana couldn’t see anyone. She stood on her tiptoes to look at the lights and realized the spots were shaped like footprints made by someone invisible.
After a moment, the footsteps stopped in front of Marcus. Instead of looking at them, Marcus glanced up at the ceiling.
“There is much that needs saying,” the Voice broke overhead, shaking the floor and walls. Hana flinched, moving to stand behind Marcus, but he shrunk to child size, younger than she was.
“Great Night,” said Marcus, “Tell us all that you know.”
Hana stared at where the sound had come from. Little stars sparkled throughout the gathering mists in pinpricks, but no eyes, mouth, or face appeared anywhere.
“Let this child tell me her name,” the Voice whispered.
The room went silent. Hana swallowed her fear and tried to answer, but no words would come. After a few awkward seconds, she stuttered, “H-Hana, Ancient One.”
Marcus let out a little snort through his nose, then turned to smile at her. Hana bit her lip, dropping her arm so the Great Night could see what had happened to her. There was no point in hiding it anymore.
“I know your name, child,” the Great Night answered, a note of laughter buried deep inside.
“You have seen what the Ancients have, just as the North Wind wished, and it is time.”
The mists shifted, hovering closer to the map. A small patch separated from the rest, slowly forming into a hand with fingers pointing at the lowest layer.
“This is where the darkness has started. The Adeno. It is the closest to the bottom of the Beyond and the earliest created. The decay began only some months ago, but already most life has been destroyed, though no people live so far down. I live at the very bottom and edges, encompassing the earth. From there, I have watched the trees slowly die and all grasses scorched. Rivers have dried up, and mountains have crumbled.
“It has spread to the second layer of the Beyond. Setton and many other places are becoming overrun with people who once had their minds in place. Now that they are returning after being struck down….”
The Great Night fell silent for so long that Hana wondered if the being would speak anymore.
“What do you believe has caused these sudden changes in people and all other life?” asked the woman to break the silence, “Is it some evil? The Pillars? Or—”
She eyed Hana with an intense glare Hana noticed it from across the darkness.
“Was it the Human?”
“There is no cause here,” the Great Night cut through, startling everyone, “You must understand that. In the Human world, materials rust and decay. All nature grows old and withers away. Things have an end there. Here it is the same, but our realm may be preserved.”
“Impossible…,” whispered a soft voice, one of the small yellow creatures beside Hana’s elbow.
“This is the beginning of the decay in our world. It affects the mind and the body. Soon nature will change here, as in the lower areas. The very bones of our world may feel it and groan.”
“Then Setton is next! I knew it!” the Setton official pulled his round body from his seat and hurried to where Marcus stood, followed by the Posdin, who tried his best to calm him. The official pointed at the map.
“You see all those red dots? How long will it be before we all become Joondins? Posdin, order an evacuation! Order—”
“It would do no good,” said the Posdin, his tone level, “Bringing them to any other region would only speed up the process. Or it would mean those coming from an affected layer would be close to those who haven’t encountered anything. The citizens of Setton are well off in the water. However, Great Night, what do you suggest?”
“Evacuate. Do not evacuate. It does not matter. We will all decay.”
The room went quiet, the weight of the Great Night’s words descending over them and snatching the last bit of hope out of the room.
Hana thought about everyone she knew at home. Maybe there was a chance things had already started going wrong. She couldn’t imagine what it could mean. There couldn’t be a place without gravity, force, or anything.
“What does,” Marcus cleared his throat, “What does it mean for the Humans?”
“The Human World will slowly break. No one can live in such conditions. I don’t want to imagine it anymore.”
“What is the way to reverse it?” asked Marcus, “Is there something we can do? What if Hana and I go to where she lives and search for any support we can find?”
“There may be, but I do not know it,” answered the Great Night.
“Who would help us?” asked the woman, her voice solemn, “What could any Human do to change what is happening?”
“I hoped to bring Hana to her realm to let the rest of the Humans understand our plight,” said Marcus, “I believed they should understand what is happening. We have no secrets down here. Maybe there would be a way for them to help. They at least should know what’s happening when everything gets worse.”
To Hana’s surprise, the Great Night agreed.
“That may be wise. But I do not think anyone could aid you there. Not when we control all aspects of their lives. Gleska is right in that regard. But I have hope if you could say it is hope.”
“What is it, Great Night?” asked the Posdin.
“I will tell you soon. First, I want to show the child something.”
Hana flinched, “Wait, what?”
Marcus disappeared from her side. Hana’s surroundings became pitch black everywhere that she looked. Even the stars and the moonlit footsteps vanished.
“It is only I here,” the Great Night’s voice shuddered.
Hana shivered. “Where are we?”
“You are still where you have been standing. I am taking you to another layer of the earth where I live. Keep still. It will be cold.”
At that instant, Hana felt a rush of biting, chilling wind barreling around her. The ground underneath her fell aside, and the sensation of falling down a dark hole rose in her stomach. Hana clenched her teeth and froze, the fear surging up in her.
A stretch of mossy earth licked Hana’s shoes. The wind died. She caught her breath, her heart rate slowing as the outline of hills and then mountains formed around her. Sluggish rivers roamed past her, and old, dying grass sprang up. Everything around her appeared blue and violet as if covered by storm clouds in the night. As Hana shrank away, a crumbling branch pressed into her back. She whirled around to see the limb break off an old, ashen tree, falling to the ground and dissolving into dust.
“You see how my part of the Beyond has been rotting?” the Great Night said behind her.
A few footsteps of moonlight popped out of the darkness, peppering the area with light. As they edged closer, Hana realized how small they were, but somehow the entire sky seemed filled with the Great Night’s presence. A swath of fluffy gray hovered toward her, forming into a palm that held itself out to her.
“What was it you wanted to show me?” asked Hana.
“Hold out your hand.”
Hana guessed what the Great Night meant. She gave the being the hand that touched the Pillars. The Great Night’s fingers were cold and pliable when she grazed the cloudiness.
“Yes, I thought so. The rot is a new magic, not quite ours or yours either. I want to try something.”
The Great Night guided Hana to the tree she had run into and placed her hand on the trunk. The being waited. More ash fizzled off, but nothing else happened.
“As I suspected,” the Great Night said, “Now….”
A blast of air flew through Hana. She held her breath, gripping the clouds as the Great Night shifted through the darkness. The mountains, rivers, and trees changed, falling away. New but worn paths formed, trickling streams bled into pools, and mountains grew, then collapsed again. The sky changed, growing from pitch-black to violet to a deep blue. It became somewhat lighter as if the night was turning into day.
The Great Night stopped. Hana tumbled onto the grass. “This is the edge of the first layer of the Beyond,” the Great Night explained, “Near where I reside. See, the grass has not quite withered?” It took Hana’s hand again and set it against the ground. It felt like ice picks against her palm.
“You are infused with the magic of the Great Arts, which means many things. I want to believe that there is something you can do to help.”
A light from Hana’s palm flicked across the patch she was touching. The Great Night pulled her aside. A small circle of the same gray, tinged with a white glow, shone before them. A moment later, a sudden sweep of black crossed them. Hana looked up to watch more trees wither away, and a nearby river dry up as darkness set in. The patch, however, remained the same.
“There is hope after all.”
“Did I… did I preserve it?”
“Yes. I wondered if it was possible. All people here know the Great Arts, but your connection to them comes from the Pillars themselves. They have given you power, but this differs greatly from all else who wields it. More powerful than me, and it proves some things can endure. The Pillars are the foundations of our realm, and they will remain while we fall. You, child, may aid us, keep the darkness at bay. Time for the next step.”
Hana’s insides twisted. “Me? I can’t! The North Wind made the Pillars, didn’t He? Why can’t he fix it?”
“I do not control the North Wind. None do. What has happened means strange events are about to happen. There is only one way to get to him. Even I must follow it. My presence only stretches so far. He would be the Being who could take you home permanently, and He would know what to do. If you try, you could speak with him. Until then, practice. Tell the others to keep trying to speak with him.”
Thunder clapped over her head. Hana ducked and found herself in one of Marcus’s halls. The storm outside slithered away and vanished on the horizon.