The Herald

Mist licked at Aidith’s threadbare boots as they reached the summit at the Edge of the Horizon. Aidith threw a gentle kick at the playful fog, watching it fold back in on itself.

They chuckled. “As playful as a puppy,” Aidith said, as the mist danced in the darkness. “And about as restless as one too.”

Aidith stooped over to choose a flat pebble from the ground. They held it close to their lips and whispered a prayer. The pebble flared with a bright, golden light, chasing back the suffocating night. They flung into the sea of fog, laughing as the mist bounced and swirled, chasing the radiant pebble.

“You’ve grown wild without Mother, haven’t you?”

In answer, the mist continued to pounce at the rock, again and again, until it dimmed and sputtered, a plain pebble once more.

“Let’s see if she’s ready to come home.” Aidith smiled at the cloud, hiding the doubt they had felt since they had seen their appearance when awoken.

Aidith, the Herald of the Sun, swallowed hard, attempting to ignore the itching of their rough-spun pants—the smell of their dirty shirt. They had a taste for the more extravagant, remembering days long past when they would wake in fine silks, or glistening armour. Those days when the people loved and cherished the Mother Phoenix. Their prayers would sustain Aidith. The food their devotion conjured, the finest imaginable.

How things change. Aidith thought to themself. How quickly people forget the sacrifices made for them.

The meals Aidith awoke to now were simple: filling, yet flavourless. It was no longer devotion to Mother Phoenix keeping Aidith alive, it was memory. The eldest generation might just remember playing at the park on a summer’s day, or laying in the sand at the beach, sunlight warming their faces. On the days they regaled their grand-grand-children with stories of the sun, Aidith could almost smell freshly baked bread.

Aidith snapped themself out of the reverie—it was time. For millennia, they had chanted the words to the sun, beckoning the Mother Phoenix from her slumber. The Herald would watch, as each morning she would struggle against her infancy. They would safeguard her until her wings flared and she took to the sky, proud and strong.

The words hung in the night air: a roaring silence, heavy with anticipation. An invitation. A plea.

Maybe she’s not coming back. The betrayal flickered into their mind. She will! Aidith beat the fear from their mind, squashing the thought before it took root. If she had failed, the true darkness would have returned for us. She’ll be back.

“Maybe tomorrow?” Aidith said, as the mist curled about their leg. They reached down and swirled their hand through the fog, the haze rearing itself up in appreciation.

Aidith turned from the peak, beginning the slow trek back to the ruins of their former palace. The rocks dug into their feet, and Aidith glanced down. What had been threadbare boots, had become makeshift sandals. “Hopefully tomorrow.”

***

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