New Dawning (fantasy short story)
© Kasey Mackenzie.
[This is another short story I wrote for the Writers of the Future Contest, as well as one I want to re-work someday. Mostly to cut out some of the unnecessary backstory that comes off infodump-ish, especially right in the beginning. I’m also going to re-think the speshul horse companion angle. It’s obvious I had a great affection for Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books when I was younger.]
As the first amber rays of Dawning swept across the horizon to the east, Ampara felt a fresh wave of terror assail her. Dawning—and not the slightest hint of shelter nearby. She urged her already-exhausted mare on to greater speed, moaning out rushed prayers to the Starswept that she would reach refuge in time. Dawning—the brief moments of sunlight before the heat became dangerously warm—and then full Daylight was at hand. The horrible stories of those caught outside at Daylight that frustrated parents told to naughty children filled her mind to the exclusion of all else. “Be good, or the Sunriders will carry you off into the Sun.”
Ampara shivered as the pale red-gold light of Dawning began taking on a brighter hue. She had to contain her terror, or it would be difficult to control her mount. The mare would react to her fear, as well as its own instincts. No animal, whether domestic or wild, would willingly venture forth from safety with even the smallest hint of Sunlight in the air. Only a more urgent sense of danger, or the impetus of either a beloved or feared master, could encourage animals to go against such deeply-ingrained instincts.
Ampara had always been a firm but loving mistress to the creature. Her deep affinity with nature allowed her to form a significant bond with any animal that she spent more than a few passing moments with. In the past days and weeks since she had rescued the horse from her cruel former master, Ampara had nurtured her bond with Dusk at every waking moment. She knew that her only chance for survival in this frenzied quest would ultimately spring from the respect and trust that Dusk had in her new mistress. So far, that bond had not failed her.
It was fortunate that she did not have enough traveling gear to make having an additional packhorse necessary. That would have slowed her progress considerably. She had been sent away from the Starburst’s presence at Sundown, as was customary, allowed to carry with her only the clothes upon her back and one simple belt knife. A part of the testing for Ascendant dictated that she feed herself from the bounty of Mother Earth, and gather what else she might need by using her wits and the gifts that she had been given by the Starswept. Each questing took as long as it took, with none being shorter than two Moons, and none longer than a full Passing. Being gifted as a Starseeker was the deepest honor that one could be granted, and carried with it the greatest burden of responsibility. The testings were thus exceptionally taxing—both physically and emotionally.
Each Aspirant was sent away nearly empty-handed and on foot. They were allowed to use whatever items they could gain in order to reach their goal, but were given only one specific instruction about how to proceed upon their journey—to travel south, never faltering in their resolve or trust in the Starswept. Each felt a strong compulsion to continue in that direction, a mystical mandate that was part of the Blessing bestowed by the Starburst.. For some that compulsion was stronger than it was for others. For Ampara, it had been strong indeed.
That compulsion had forced her to travel swiftly southward, allowing her to pause only when it was too dangerous to travel during full Daylight. She forced herself to dwell on thoughts of the recent past whenever her fear of the immediate future became so intense that she nearly felt as if it were choking her. While those thoughts were mostly far from pleasant, it helped calm her state of mind without requiring her to slip into one of the trancelike states that she had been trained to employ for meditation. She felt pangs of remorse sweep her at the thought of some of the things that she had been forced to neglect because attempting to do anything would have taken her out of her way, something that was forbidden to one on such a journey.
She bit her lip when she thought of the tormented screams that had reached her ears from a house set afire by brigands near the beginning of her journey. Those people had been so near her ability to help—and yet too far away when faced with the mandates an Aspirant must hold to. Their home had been well over a mile northwest of the road that lead in the direction she had to travel. She had managed to take three steps in that direction when trembling had overtaken her, followed by intense nausea. She had been Blessed by the Starburst and sent on her way, and she could not falter in the path before her for even a moment. Not even to help those that she would be sworn to protect as a full Starseeker.
As she had turned to flee southward along the road, the screams had slowly faded into the distance, until at last she could no longer hear the anguished pleas for mercy. Tears had streaked down her face in rivulets, causing her to come close to cursing the Starswept for their apparent indifference to pain and suffering. What good did it do for her to pass by those who needed her help most merely because it might take away an hour or two from her journey? Was not the greatest good a Starseeker could do helping Mother Earth’s children, especially those who were helpless? An Aspirant was well-trained in all forms of combat, for a Starseeker must be able to defend the helpless when violence could not be avoided. In addition, the bonds that a Starseeker had with nature imbued them with many abilities that normal humans did not possess. Some of what they could do was termed “magical” by those who did not possess their gifts. Starseekers simply considered their abilities as bestowed upon them by the Starswept, and used those gifts only when need called for them. At least, it had been so since the Day of Burning had cost Mother Earth and her children so much indeed. A simple farmer and his family could have no hope of defending themselves against an armed band of marauders. Yet pass them by she had been forced to do.
Ampara sighed deeply as she leaned forward to pat Dusk’s neck. It served to comfort her more than it did to comfort the mare. Try as she might, however, she could not push thoughts of what she had faced on this questing from her mind. In the end, she had forced aside her anger at the Starswept and grimly determined to do as she had been charged—continue ceaselessly southward without hesitation. Perhaps she could not fathom the reasons for what she had been told to do, but she could not bear to think that it was all for no good purpose. She would find answers on this questing—she had to. Otherwise, she would be forced to face the possibility that all she had spent the last few years training for was a carefully laid-out sham, a farcical façade that had been created to dupe Aspirants such as herself. She could not bear that thought…
Of course, no sooner had she worked those thoughts out in her head, than her faith had again been tested a scant three days later. This time, she had been confronted on the road by two tattered, mud-splattered children that had at first cowered at her approach. When at last they had spied the silver and gold stars woven into the single thin braid that an Aspirant was allowed to wear in her hair, the children had broken into loud sobs and thrust themselves into her arms. The youngest had been too incoherent to do more than clutch at her leg while the oldest had started to choke out a heartbreaking story of a terrible sickness that had struck their family. The malady had claimed the lives of several members of their extended family before passing onto their youngest sibling, who had succumbed to the disease quickly. Their mother, who had tended to each ill person in kind, had contracted the disease soon after. When she passed on, their father had not taken it at all well.
“P…Pa…he won’t leave her, Aspirant. He just sits there, in the house, acting all funny-like. We tried to tell him that we’s out of food, but he would just stare at us, then look at Mama and…and act like she was still…still…” the girl, no more than ten Passings at most, had struggled not to give into the sobs barely held in check. Ampara had soothed her both physically and mentally, embracing both girls tightly as she waited.
“T…then we’s got so hungry we couldn’t take it no more, so we went to Uncle Fellys’ farm so we could ask for some food…And they’s all gone…all…passed on…” she had said with a significant look at her younger sister. “We found some food there, and took it back and gave some to Pa, and tried to make it last, honest we did…but it ran out two or maybe three days back, I can’t ‘member.” Her lip had trembled slightly. “So finally we ‘membered this road, and that it wasn’t but a day’s walk from our place, so we came here, hopin’ and prayin’ to find someone to help. And the Starswept answered our prayers!” she had finished in a tone of triumph and gratitude.
Ampara’s heart had nearly broken as she looked down into the trusting eyes of those two awe-struck little girls. Everyone knew that Starseekers served the Starswept, and by extension all of Mother Earth’s children. Whether a Starseeker was assigned to a community or not, one could always count on a Starseeker to do what was required to ease pain and suffering, or to mete out justice when required. While the two little girls might have recognized that she wore only one braid with stars and was thus “merely” an Aspirant to the Starseekers, that did not lessen her duty or sense of responsibility to help. Or so they thought…
The girls had seemed bewildered when she simply gave them all the food she had left, hugged them both tightly, and gave them directions to a town that was a two-day walk northward along the road. Three for such tired, small little girls. It was as if they did not truly comprehend her explanation that she could not take them herself because she was on an important quest for the Starswept themselves. Indeed, they likely could not comprehend such an explanation. She was an adult, a Starseeker. She was supposed to take their worries and ease them. Instead, she had been forced to pat them on their heads and send them on their way, praying with each step she took away from them that the Starswept would see them safely to their destination. Such little girls to make such a long journey along an unfamiliar road.Please, let no harm come to them…
The compulsion to journey southward had pulsed through her so strongly as she left the girls that she had managed to force all dismay at what she was doing to a tiny portion of her mind and lock it away. Only later, when she stopped shortly after Dawning had began to sweep the sky, had she broken down and cried for those two little girls who had lost so much, and been betrayed by one they thought would help them.
I gave them food, a hug, and told them to keep walking north, she thought bitterly, furious with both herself—and yet again—the Starswept. How could they require such a thing of me? HOW? To send such little girls back to the north, knowing that they could be accosted by bandits or yet another tragedy—Dear Mother and Father, HOW could they require that?
It had taken her quite awhile to fall asleep that morning, torn between sobbing at the horror and cursing everything that she had ever been taught as an Aspirant to the Starseekers. Finally, she had managed to achieve a modicum of peace with what had been required of her, and she had lapsed into a fitful sleep. Fortunately for her sense of faith in the Starswept, she had not been forced to pass by when next confronted with another’s plight.
Ampara took a deep breath, her thoughts returning to the present as her eyes moved to the sky, trying to judge just how much time remained until Dawning would slip into full Daylight. She dredged up enough serenity to tap into her inner reserves of stamina and used her bond with nature to bolster Dusk’s flagging speed. A tender smile curved her lips as she recalled how much the poor mare had been through, and yet how loyally the animal had served her new mistress since deciding that the Aspirant could be trusted.
Always one eager to help the helpless, Ampara had come across the beautiful silver mare being beaten relentlessly with a whip by a cruel drunken sot of a man. Furious at his needlessly harsh treatment of an obviously well-mannered beast, Ampara had been unable to simply ignore the animal’s plight. A Starseeker’s duties lay with protecting all of Mother Earth’s children, whether human or not.
Although not constrained against harming those who defied Mother Nature’s precepts, a Starseeker was at all times to use his or her wits to defuse a situation before resorting to violence. All but invisible in her forest garb, Ampara had observed the man from the safety of the camouflaging foliage as she considered her options. The pained whinnies of the mare had hammered her soul as if she, too, were being struck. Ampara had forced herself to concentrate on a solution for the crisis at hand, battering down the twinges of pain that she could feel in empathy with the terrified animal.
All at once the solution had burst into her mind as if it had always been there, waiting for her conscious mind to draw it out. She had smiled in grim amusement as she attempted to send a comforting emotion through her rapport with nature to the frightened creature, then had turned to silently slip through the forest, back to a spot that she had passed several moments ago. Moving with silent swiftness, she had reached the patch of bar’ain in short order. Quickly, she had shucked off her clothing and leaned down to dip her hands in the stark white chalky substance.
The drunken man had yelled out a few curses at the mare as she approached with silent grace moments later. He had shook the whip threateningly, then flicked it behind his back in order to give another lash to the quivering animal. He had never moved his whip forward, however, for he had caught sight of a ghostly-white figure appearing noiselessly from the forestland about him. To him, it seemed as if she had appeared from thin air.
He had gaped as she stopped a dozen feet before him, glowing with an ethereal light as she raised her hand to point at him with an otherworldly glare. “You!” she had hissed in a voice amplified by her very sincere rage.
The man had begun to tremble, forgetting the whip as it slipped from his fingers and hit the ground with a soft thud. He had shook his head as if in denial, then let out a low whine of disbelief.
“You!” she had hissed again. “You dare to beat one of our children? You dare to blame an innocent animal for your own intoxication? You are the lowest slime imaginable!”
At her words, the man had fallen to his knees, shaking even more violently. “I…I…I…Forgive me, Starry One!” he had cried out in very real fright.
She had narrowed her eyes as she gestured with both hands, “Why should we forgive one such as yourself? If you will stoop to beating an animal for your own shortcomings, what is to stop you from hurting others as well?”
The man had taken in a deep sob of air, stuttering in his rush to reassure the “Starry One” that he would never hurt anyone else, “I…I…f…forgive me, Starry One! I was w…wrong! P…please forgive me!”
She had allowed the man to wallow in his fear of what she would do to him for several long, tense moments. At last, she had spoken again, “We will consider forgiving you—this time. You can be confident that we shall be watching you at all times, cruel one. If you raise your hand in anger towards one of our children again—without fear for your own life—we shall not be so quick to forgive.”
The man had nearly choked as he blurted out, “Oh thank you, Starry One! Th…thank you for your m…mercy!”
She had nodded grimly to the shuddering horse. “As a gesture of your intent to do good, you will release our child immediately. You are not worthy.”
The man had stumbled to his feet, unsteady due to his fear—no longer his intoxication. She had succeeded in scaring the affects of the spirits right out of him. The mare had tossed her head in panic, but was unable to move. The man had taken the time to stake her down before retaliating for his own stupidity in riding a newly-broken horse while stone drunk. Ampara had a difficult time not clouting the man for his foolishness in addition to his cruelty, but she managed to restrain herself. The man had used his belt knife to free the animal with speed, then jumped back in fear of reprisal.
The mare had trumpeted loudly, in fury as much as in pain. She had pawed the ground, regarding the man for a moment. Ampara held herself ready to intercede on the man’s behalf. Oddly, the mare seemed almost to understand what Ampara was thinking, for her eyes turned in the ghostly-white woman’s direction. Ampara had extended peaceful, friendly thoughts to the horse, beckoning her to come. After a last angry whinny, she had approached Ampara without hesitation.
The man had fallen to his knees once again. If he had not fully believed that she was a representative of the Starswept, he believed now. He had closed his eyes tightly and whispered frenzied prayers to the Starswept for forgiveness and protection, refusing to even glance at her or the animal. Ampara had said simply, “We will be watching,” then turned back to slip into the forest, followed by a now-docile mare.
Ampara had been surprised—and gratified—that the mare had taken to her relatively quickly. Her natural affinity with nature enabled her to quickly tame any animal, but with this particular creature it had seemed somehow—easier. She had taken it as a sign of approval from the Starswept.
After leaving the clearing where she had encountered the man, Ampara had lead the mare many miles away before stopping. She had shied slightly as the Aspirant approached, but Ampara patiently persuaded the horse to allow her near. Carefully, moving with the greatest of ease so that she would not frighten her into bolting, Ampara had removed the heavy saddle from the mare’s back. Biting her lip in anger at the vile thing, she had heaved it as far as she could. Regarding the portions of the poor beast’s flesh that had been lashed, she knew that the animal was fortunate in that her back had been partially protected by the saddle.
It had taken several days for her to coax the mare to allow her to mount. She would not have ridden before that at any rate as it took several days for the animal’s cuts from the lashes she had received to heal over. Ampara had assisted the healing, using her knowledge of herbs to make a poultice that sped the horse’s natural healing process. And as a Starseeker—although an Aspirant—she had been able to use her heightened abilities to aid even further in that process.
When she had deemed that she would not cause the mare further pain by mounting, she had begun the task of convincing the beast that she would not harm her as she had already been harmed. The animal had been harshly-used in the time that the man had possessed her, and Ampara had to overcome all of the negative associations the mare had for humankind. Fortunately, she was blessed with her affinity for nature and able to gain the mare’s trust in a very short time, even after the atrocities that the beast had endured.
It also enabled her to journey southward towards her all-consuming goal at a much greater speed. For that, she thanked the Starswept each evening as the sun’s rays faded enough to make travel safe.
The five hours of full Sunup, when Father Sun’s rays were the most harsh—and fatal after more than a few moments—made finding a haven each Dawning a necessity. Fortunately for Ampara, and all other Aspirants who sought to become full Starseekers, Mother Earth provided ample shelter in nearly all places for her children—both human and otherwise—to pass the hours of Sunup. The moment that it became bearable to leave shelter, Ampara mounted the horse and guided her always south. For that reason, she began calling the mare “Dusk,” unwilling to continue referring to the mare as simply “the horse.”
As the days had turned into weeks, and the weeks into Moonpasses, shelter had slowly grown more and more scarce, causing Ampara to feel twinges of unease each morning when she set out from safety. It took so long in the pre-dawn hours to find shelter that she began to fear someday not finding any shelter at all. The thought of being caught at full Sunup without the slightest hint of shelter caused her to shudder. It was the worst occurrence that a person could possibly contemplate. To face Father Sun’s full Radiance unprotected…Only a Sunrider could face such a prospect and have the slightest hope to survive more than a few moments in the blazing heat that flared to magical proportions.
The previous Twilight had found Ampara reluctant indeed to venture forth from the scanty shelter that she had just barely managed to scrounge for Dusk and herself. Scarcely more than a hole in the ground covered by a single huge boulder, Ampara had been forced to use her abilities as an Aspirant to enlarge the hole, pushing deeper and farther beneath the rock. Slipping into a light trance, she used her bond with nature to coax the earth into meeting her needs, forming itself the way she desired. By some miracle of the Starswept, both she and Dusk had fit into the haphazard shelter, protected from the rays of Father Sun, and relatively cooled by being at least somewhat beneath Mother Earth.
As she had closed her eyes and prayed to the Starswept for guidance with the setting of the sun, Ampara had spent a few extra moments in silent meditation. She did not know if she had the courage it would take to keep blindly continuing southward as the land become more and more flat, with absolutely no hint of trees, boulders, caves, or hills. She had struggled with what she had faced thus far on this journey, and she struggled with the thoughts of what she had yet to face. The testing of each Pinnacle would be many times more difficult than what she had already faced, and she had nearly wept with frustration at some of those memories…
Shaking her head, Ampara ruthlessly forced down the useless memories and emotions that were interfering with her control of Dusk. She took a deep, calming breath, slipping into the semi-trance state that had been taught to her as an Aspirant of the Starseekers. As her own heartrate slowed with each long breath, so, too, did the mare’s.
With the benefit of senses heightened from her near-trance, Ampara’s penetrating gaze swept across the vast expanse of grasslands that surrounded her. Although her mind screamed that there could not possibly be the slightest hint of shelter in the direction that she must needs travel, Ampara’s heart yearned to journey ever southward. She had not been sent on this questing for nothing. All the Starseekers before her had traveled the same path she now traveled. There had to be a way. She could not falter in continuing south, not even once. She must prove her loyalty and worth to the Starswept at all costs. Gritting her teeth in determination, Ampara urged Dusk to begin a brisk trot. Southward.
The sun continued to slip further above the horizon, causing even more sweat to pour forth from both woman and horse. Ampara kept an ironclad mental control over both herself and her mount, concentrating only on the thought of reaching cool shade as quickly as possible. As the minutes danced by and the heat was still bearable, Ampara found it easier to focus her thoughts and emotions upon the reasons she had been sent out into the wilds of the world with nothing but her clothing and her strength of will. As her sense of peace and faith that all would be well increased, she finally attained a level of consciousness that each Aspirant strove to attain. All at once, every element of life within and without herself seemed to connect. At that moment, she felt herself overcome by a higher power. The Starswept.
Her awareness of the outer world disappeared as if layers of an onion peeled away. The heat, the exhaustion, the fear and anxiety dissipated, replaced by a singular feeling of self-awareness, and the knowledge that she was not alone. This sensation was to her bond of nature as a raging inferno was to the single flame of a candle. Rather than achieving affinity with an individual creature, she was caught up in a symbiosis with the immortal souls that made up the collective higher power known as the Starswept.
As her mundane senses faded and she gained the use of her inner senses, she seemed to be surrounded by an interminable field of black that was pierced with endless points of soft white light. She felt intense joy at the sight of those lights—so bright, and yet not harmful to her in the least. As her joy grew deeper and more profound, a gentle presence caressed her mind. She gasped, welcoming the Starswept with every fiber of her being. The presence seemed to wrap her in an ethereal embrace, and then whispered words spoke directly into her mind, as if spoken by hundreds of voices at once. Her happiness increased tenfold.
“To you be blessings, Aspirant. You have taken the first true step in unlocking your potential in this moment. As your Mentors have instructed you, a Starseeker’s Awakening begins inward, and radiates outward. As you reach each new Pinnacle in your Awakening, so shall you gain further enlightenment and control, both inner and outer. Your faith in the past weeks, months, and years has brought you to this point and earned you the right to attempt the first of the Five Pinnacles, if you have the strength of will to go on. Do you wish to proceed?”
Ampara answered without hesitation, “I do so wish, Starry Ones. I wish to attempt the First Pinnacle, that I may be found worthy.”
The voice that was many reverberated about her, causing ecstasy with each word, “You may be found worthy, if you display the heart and strength required. There are many, and you are but one. You must prove you have the discernment and wisdom a Starseeker must have to benefit Nature’s Balance. Open your mind and your heart. See what could be.”
Ampara held herself ready, not sure what to expect. She wished that her Mentors had told her more of what was to come. How could she pass this testing when she did not—
She found herself dressed in the brown and green leathers of a hunter, stalking her prey with bow and arrow. The beauty of Mother Earth surrounded her on all sides, and permeated the depths of her soul. Glancing up at the Midday sky, she smiled at the sheer joy of being alive. There was nothing finer than walking through the unspoiled forests of Mother Earth, enjoying the warm rays of Father Sun, and seeking to fill the family’s cookpot with fresh game. Nothing finer indeed.
All at once the ground beneath her feet turned boggy. She sighed in annoyance as her newly-made boots squished in the thick muck that had seemed to appear from nowhere. Odd. She could not remember a patch of bogland in this part of the forest, and she had walked its paths many times. She paused briefly, outer senses alert to the world about her. Something was not right. Something seemed…twisted.
She began to move again—or at least tried to move. Her right foot would not budge from the brownish-gray muck. Striving to control her temper, she tried to move with more strength. To her horror, a thick sucking sound issued from the muck, and her feet began to sink deeper into the morass. Her eyes widened at such a phenomenon. She had never heard of Mother Earth’s flesh doing such a thing to one of Her children. Her breathing quickened as she struggled harder to free her feet. Slowly, she began sinking even further. The muck was now up to the tops of her knee-high boots. Panic set in.
With every frenzied motion that she made in an attempt to free herself, the farther into the muck she became trapped. She began flailing about wildly, losing touch with rational thought as her sole purpose became freeing herself from the voracious muck. The more she fought, the more she sank, until she was submerged in the morass nearly to her neck. She finally managed to control her panic. She stilled, and immediately stopped sinking.
Shuddering breaths racked her body as she began to feel foolish for so completely losing control of her emotions. She had no logical explanation for why she had panicked so quickly. Exerting her will upon her body, she extended her outer senses one by one. There had to be a way to escape this mire, and Mother Earth would provide it if she merely remained calm and vigilant. Moments passed, each seeming to last an eternity as she remained totally motionless.
Suddenly, she sensed the presence of another being. A soft whispering sound seemed to echo in the air about her. She held herself still, senses straining to discern who or what approached. At last, she detected a faint shimmering pass into her line of vision directly in front of her. The shimmering pulsed, appearing to her as a dancing mist that she could discern only because her outer senses were extended so fully. She let out a choked groan of relief, thanking the Starswept sincerely. In that moment she was able to submit completely to the will of the Starswept, trusting that her elder sibling would see her to safety.
The mist approached, bringing with it an extreme feeling of love and peace. She sighed softly, smiling, and the mist touched her. As it enveloped her in its cool touch, the mysterious abilities that the elder race had been blessed with by Mother Earth extended to the younger. She let out a cry of rapturous delight as she began floating above the thick muck, losing her solid form as the mist fully accepted her. Both beings, joined fully in that moment—and yet separate entities—danced in the air above the sinkhole until above solid ground. The mist descended, and two creatures stood where once had been a single incandescent form.
She found her arms clutched around a glorious creature that physically resembled a pure silver horse, yet was so much more than a mere animal. Shay’ra. At that instant, her faith and trust were returned manyfold, bouncing from the shay’ra to her, and back again. The entire world felt aligned, and she seemed to hear a soft melody in the air about her. She surrendered completely, losing herself to the rhythm…swept up into the great Harmony…
All at once, Ampara found herself back with the Starswept, surrounded by the endless points of light. Again, the voice that was many spoke. “You are found worthy. You have proven you have the discernment and wisdom to know when it is futile to fight, when the wisest course of action is to submit and seek a different way to restore balance. You can sense when Mother Earth is in pain, and you can achieve rapport. You have achieved the Pinnacle of Harmony. Go, seek the next Pinnacle in your Awakening, if you have the strength of will to go on.”
As suddenly as they had come, the Starswept were gone. Ampara shuddered with the sense of abandonment as she lost touch with her inner senses and the outer world intruded once more. Trembling hands reached up to brush back sweat-soaked locks of ebony hair from her eyes, which widened in awe as her fingers tightened in the tangled mass and brought it closer to her eyes. The tips of her hair were no longer as black as deepest night. Instead, they were now the deep burnished copper of dying embers. She now had the right to wear two braids in her hair. Her heart soared at the sign that she had passed the first Testing, had attained the first Pinnacle in her Awakening. The Pinnacle of Harmony.
By some strange power only the Starswept held, time had been twisted and it was now just past Sundown. The cool breezes that heralded Father Sun’s withdrawal from Mother Earth caressed her skin lovingly. Drawing a deep breath, Ampara began to notice the world about her in an entirely new way. She was aware of the plants and animals more deeply than ever before. She had always had to spend a period of time coaxing the animal in order to form a significant bonding with it—as with Dusk. Now—it came practically without thought. She could see through the eyes of a hawk soaring high above in the early evening sky. She could hear through the ears of a timid rabbit eating grass nearby…
A muddled fog suddenly slipped over Ampara’s brain as her mind and body finally gave into the exhaustion of the ordeal she had just endured. Vague impressions swept through her mind; being lead by a silvery figure that emanated affection and encouragement…entering some sort of shelter that seemed to radiate safety…finding herself lying on soft white pillows…Ampara sighed deeply as she curled into a fetal position and allowed herself to sink further towards blissful oblivion.
<Sleep now, little sister. You have earned the rest.>
A startled smile of pleasure passed over Ampara’s lips as a smooth mental voice washed over her. Somehow she knew that it was Dusk, and she also knew that the fact that she could now hear the mare in words meant something important…The answer tickled her mind just as her eyelids closed for the final time. Shay’ra…Dusk was shay’ra.
And then her tiredness was too much. She could only send a brief prayer of thanksgiving to the Starswept as she lost all consciousness, already dreaming of what the new dawning might bring in the next step of her journey.