Though I sit alone in the cell, waiting for the sun to rise, I can close my eyes and see that elsewhere, everyone is doing the same. The crowds of people in streets and on rooftops; the mother sitting at the foot of her child’s bed, staring out the window, barely daring to hope; even the cynics who shut their curtains and light their rooms brighter than day and pretend to believe everything is normal, who would never admit they peak out, and lose a piece of hope each time they see only darkness.
Is the world going to end? It would be easier, perhaps, if we knew it would. Then we--well, those who are not imprisoned, at least, could eat their favorite meals and hug their families close and live the world’s last moments the way they chose. But perhaps the world won’t end, but endure under the clouds of hopelessness and the eternal darkness. Or maybe, and this is the only real hope, it’s a lie. Maybe the sun will rise after all, and though nothing will be the same, living ruled by the essence of evil, at least, well, life will go on.
Nobody knows, because this has never happened before. Evil is always defeated. I don’t mean bad people, tyrants and sorcerers. But this…. In the epic battle between good and evil, good must prevail. Pure evil, as a force itself, has to be defeated. But it wasn’t. We failed. I failed.
I close my eyes for only a moment, not wanting to take them from the eastern horizon for long. The moment is enough; there’s not much to see. Tani and Raida and Zes sit in cells just like mine, peering through tiny barred windows just as I am. Tani’s wound is no longer bleeding, I’m glad to see, and Raida is holding together better than I would have thought after the loss of the man she loved. Zes’s window faces west, and I know it must be hard for him, knowing that he won’t even be able to see whether the sun rises at first. I linger on him longer than I should. His hands grip the bars on the window and he murmurs so softly I can barely hear, “Haeril.” At hearing my name I can tell he loves me as much as I love him, but it brings me no joy. It’s too late for that now. We’ll never see each other again, and even if we do…. There’s no room for love in a world ruled by evil.
I turn my attention back to the sky. Stars are out, that must mean something. I can hear the desperation in my thoughts. All it means is that there’s not a cloud in the sky, so if the sun doesn’t rise, there are no excuses.
It is dark. It is dark. It continues to be dark.
For distraction, I turn my gaze on the strangers sharing this vigil. People stand on rooftops, the better to see the horizon, but also to jump if dawn does not come. Their deaths will be on me, on us. It was up to us, the five of us, to defeat the evil. We were the best; we should have been able to. Now one of us is dead, one injured, and all who are alive imprisoned. We tried our best, did everything we possibly could and then some, and we failed. I blame myself, of course, but I’m sure Raida and Tani and Zes each blame themselves. It doesn’t matter. When the world ends, it doesn’t matter whose fault it was.
I close my eyes and look at burned remnants of my home, at the meadow I played in as a child, at a lake surrounded by mountains that I’ve never seen in person, and then at Zes again. I wish I could tell him I love him, even if it is too late. I want to be with him and tell him it’s not his fault, and hear him tell me it’s not mine.
I open my eyes again. It takes me a moment to realize what I’m seeing. The sky has begun to lighten. I stare, transfixed, as it turns pink and rays of light break over the horizon, and slowly, slowly, the sun begins to rise.
It’s halfway up, a glowing ball of hope framed against a pink and orange sky, when I hear a sound behind me. I can barely draw myself away from the sight to turn and look. To my shock, the door of my cell opens, and Raida is standing there.
“It’s not over,” she says, and I’m shocked to realize she’s right. We haven’t lost yet after all.
“A guard came in my cell with breakfast. I knocked him out.” She holds up a ring of keys, studies them, and hands me one. “Go get Zes; I’ll get Tani. We’ll meet at the stairs.” She rushes off.
Zes is staring out his window when I arrive. The cell door scrapes the floor as it opens, and Zes turns at the noise. He stares at me. “Haeril.” He jumps to his feet and we rush to each other. I don’t know if I kiss him, or he kisses me, but we stand in the middle of the prison cell, kissing. Finally, we pull away. “I love you,” Zes tells me.
“I love you too. Let’s go save the world.”