Chapter 27 - Ethanac's Burden

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Down the spiral staircase they went for what seemed like hours.

Jaylina was beginning to think she'd made a wrong choice when the steps finally ended, melting into a hard floor of sunstone that served as the base of a cavernous chamber that stretched in every direction, farther than she could see. Ancient stalactites created by eons of ether dripping from limitless ceilings had merged with their stalagmite brothers to form thick, glittering natural pillars.

Throughout the cavern stood several immense and smooth-cut columns, carved from the bones of this place by the original tribes of this universe to create the foundations of the city high above.

From their vantage point, Jaylina could see a great light blazing in a hollow corner of the chamber, not far from where they stood. They picked their way over a slippery trail to find the source of this light.

They came to a particularly enormous column, the largest one they had yet seen, where the light originated. Cracks riddled the pillar, and great chunks had loosened and fallen to the chamber floor, where the pieces lay in broken slabs of smashed stone.

At the foot of the pillar Jaylina discovered what could only be a being of immortal Light. Its powerful arms were outstretched behind it as if it were holding upon its back the entire mass of the pillar and, upon that, the entire city high above. The immortal's face was taut with concentration as it labored under this impossible weight. Every quantum of its being strained with the sheer power it took to singlehandedly hold up this City of Light. It seemed almost a part of this pillar, this chamber.

Jaylina had no sense of time when staring at this being. She could not determine whether this immortal had just arrived to save the city from crashing down on itself, or whether it had squatted there for centuries in that pose. Jaylina imagined what ages might have come and gone while this being stood there propping up the great bones of the city high above it. But still it held fast and unmoving.

Perfectly still this being braced the stone. If it noticed Jaylina as she approached with the other two souls, it showed no indication. A small chunk of the pillar fell from high above and smashed to the ground near her. The being never wavered. Nor did Jaylina flinch. She knew why her intuition had brought them there. She felt a connection with this great being.

But there was something else. She sensed another at the edge of the shadows, something watching them. She reached out to it with her mind, and it pulled away, like a hummingbird when one moves too close, a timid force of nature. Friend or foe, Light or Darkness, she could not tell.

"Ethanac, your house is falling all around you," said Grandmother Yatokya.

Her words echoed around the great cavern and between its great pillars for a moment, fluttering in the quiet tension of this space like unsettled birds.

For the first time, the being looked up. Its eyes blazed with inexhaustible power; a power now confined to acting as the cornerstone for what remained of this fallen city. The line of its mouth turned upwards a fraction into the vaguest of smiles.

"The Light Bringer cometh," it said with a voice that caressed Jaylina's ears. Jaylina could have sworn she detected the slightest tint of sarcasm in that unearthly voice.

Jaylina stepped forward. "The Light Bringer is not here," she said.

"So he sends his navigator as his herald."

The two regarded each other for some time, the immortal Light of Ethanac and the small spirit that was Jaylina. Jaylina could feel her essence thrumming inside her like a heartbeat. Grandmother Yatokya and Aiden waited silently behind her.

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