The hatchlings curled tightly around one another, closing their eyes. One by one they softened into sleep and Eriphet slid out from beneath them. The dwelling he'd found was one of the old ones; a deep rut in the ground with wide, comfortable rooms and a layer of soft dust on all the floors. Old weavings hung on the walls and hallways. He kept expecting a mairon to surface around a corner, but none came. Only this dusky emptiness; that far off whine. Wearily, he lowered himself into a sling beside a slat window to face the street. As he looked out over the dusty crossing, his vision blurred. The dust began to move; separate and flow. It was rain.
Phayara was coming apart under it. The rain came first in droplets and then quickened into blades, shearing dirt from the buildings into the street. Quickly the water began to rise. He couldn't even remember the last time it rained. The scent of wet sand, sharp and rich, flooded his nostrils. He breathed deeply. He thought to wake the hatchlings, but it was better this way. It was a blessing that they could sleep. Maybe the rain would find a way into their dreams.
He heard the rain change and turned. There came a skittering; a conversation of pebbles and mud. Someone was walking, humming to herself softly.
He ran to the door, the sling still caught around his tail. "Get out of the street!" he hissed. "Quickly-"
She looked up. It took a moment for him to recognize her shape in the rain, silver and naked, her eyes white as if blind. She was smiling, amused.
"Why?" she said. Her voice rolled towards him. "Because of the Mituants?"
She sighed, still smiling, her head a little to one side. Then she looked up. The mist was softer now but still hurt his eyes. He blinked, trying to see what she stared at. The cry of the Mituants had become an atomic scream; plummeting now through the roof of the world. They were riding down the rain.
"What are they," he said, hoarsely. "Help me, Phado. Help me see. I need to know."
She was close to him now. She shut his eyes; held her hand over his face. He smelled the incense of her skin. "You have always known, Eriphet," she said. "The old ways are best. You taught me that."
He opened his eyes, and she held his face, water streaming around them. Her tail found his.
"What now?" he said.
"Now I must make things right. I must make them as they were." She stepped back. She was saying something-saying his name, but he couldn't hear or didn't understand-and in that same moment the goddess shot into the sky and disappeared from Phyrnos forever.
Rain stood still in the air. His ears clicked.
The sound of her ascent sliced out in a shock wave that knocked him sideways. The night turned warm and bright. He looked up, covering his eyes.
The sky was on fire.
Phado had become a disc of white light, stretching as far as he could see, and all around him the crumbling city was bleached in the light-he saw the hatchlings like ghosts in the entrance of the dwelling-screamed at them, but they couldn't hear-things were falling from the sky-cloudbanks that gleamed and then shattered into millions of small dead seeds. They fell, glittering, into the water. In the distance he saw a space-craft falling airlessly towards Phyrnos. And another.
The evacuees. They'd been destroyed by the blast, too.
He ran into the burrow with the hatchlings. He saw they were screaming, but only frightened. Not hurt, not any of them. He covered them with his body. Realized as they lay there that he could hear nothing, nothing anymore. There was only a perpetual scream that went on and on in his ears.
Finally, late in the night, that too died.
Then it was quiet.
He heard things shifting in the city. Falling, resettling. The sand blew softly. The hatchlings went with him to the door. The white city was a boneyard. But still standing. And they would build. He knelt and sifted through the glittering darkness that lay all over the ground. It crunched against his claws. He picked one of the things up and held it to the light.
"Phayara," said the girl hatchling, "it's still here."
He picked her up. "And so are you," he said. "You will grow old together. Black and brilliant, for a thousand years."
She touched his nose and they looked out over the city. The other hatchlings ran down the street, squealing to feel the strange crunch beneath their claws. "What is that?" the girl hatchling said, pulling down his hand. She opened his claws.
The object was oval-shaped and glossy; weirdly beautiful, with its beaded wings and its flat, gemlike head. At least, what she thought was its head. She turned it over in his palm. A proboscis glinted evilly in the halflight. He grabbed her hand before she could touch it.
"What is it?" she said, again.
"It's dead," he said, putting her down carefully. He squatted in the starlight with the thing still in his hands. She peered at it, hopping a little on one leg.
"Good," she said.
" I've seen this before. The gemicene, for our lifters? It comes from rocks," he pointed at the sky, "up in space. And for years the miners have found shadows in the rock that look like this thing here."
"Wow," she said. "What's that mean?"
He smiled at her. "It means that their bodies, when they decay, turn to energy. It means Phyrnos is rich now. We're up to our mouths in gemicene."
She looked up at the sky where he had pointed. "So they died up there, too? The things from the sky?"
He looked up. Somewhere out there something had existed before them. Other planets, other races-maybe dozens-had risen and then fallen to the Mituants. After they'd eaten them all, the mituants had starved, or gone into hibernation. Now Phado had ended the cycle she herself had begun. What happened when the creator dies? A new world is written, he thought. And then: it could be a paradise, if we make it so.
The hatchling shook his arm. "I'm hungry," she said.
"What's your name?" he said.
"Gos," she said.
"Pleased to know you. Let's find something to eat."
And they went out into the white world to see what they could find.