Darkness seeped from hidden cracks and leaked into the day. Its sinister intent chased away the light and shrouded the world in shadows. Ahead, the Light Dragon hovered low on the horizon. He sent the cool blue of the sky into a frenzy of red, pink and orange, to mourn His retreat from the veil of night. The safety of day would be swallowed soon and Lana would be abandoned in the Shadow Dragon's void, the Light Dragon but a memory in the black nothing. Dawn glanced back, past her, to the shadows on their heels. Her pace quickened at the threat of night so close behind them.
Lana swung her bucket with a lazy flick to match her casual meander. Wooden homes crawled by, neighbours closed within, away from the shadows, oil lamps lit to ward away any that might stray through the gaps in their doors. Spice and warmth reached through the boarded windows, guided to her by glimpses of light. Their mother would have dinner on the table at home, in wait for their return. Dawn turned and paused to close the distance her rush had opened between them. She hurried Lana along with a frantic wave. It was better to be home before night veiled the land.
"Are you afraid of the dark?" Lana called.
"Of course I am - and you should be too!"
Dawn levelled an unimpressed frown at her. Lana poked her tongue out, still no sense of urgency in her feet. She could not muster worry like her sister could. Nothing terrible had come from the night, not in her years. Maybe it had brought terror to her mother's, but everyone told such stories of Dark Dwellers. Of course they were out there. She knew that, she was not stupid. Shadows had consumed her father, after all. There was just no point being afraid of every night. Their kind was not in every dark crevice, ready to leap from every crack in the light or from the end of every day.
Besides, they would not come so far onto the open plains just for their little village, not even for rumours of her gift. Or they would have come years ago. She stopped at her sister's side and grinned down at her. It was not enough to smooth the creases from Dawn's brow.
"The night isn't safe," Dawn cautioned in a low mumble, more for herself than for Lana.
She turned back to her bustle with a brush of her golden hair, the shimmer of sunset on the long locks, and a huff of disapproval to dump weight on her warning. Her bucket squeaked and clunked against her leg in a noisy protest. Lana sighed in quiet sympathy of its complaints. If Dawn did not worry so much they could have played in the fields longer. She rolled her eyes and trailed after her sister.
Stone sung a different tune with their steps. Dawn's a firm and urgent rhythm, hers a relaxed patter in resistance of her sister's fear. Smooth rocks dotted the ground in a familiar pattern, cool against her feet. From scattered places in the dirt they drew together, closer and closer until there was no space for dirt between. Pulled, it seemed, by some unseen force toward a central point. Homes vanished, repelled by the same force that pulled the rocks together. A large tree in the centre of it all, branches spread hide and wide, and leaves still bright green with remnants of spring, took the blame. Around its base it presented wooden benches in amends and bright flowers in apology.
More trees skirted the outermost edges to provide a barrier to the homes and dwellers who lived there. It had been her idea, and her handy work, to embed rocks into the ground. She could not picture how it had looked before. It was worth the labour for the beauty it brought to the village. Many of their neighbours were amazed by the display of her power. Many more had grown concerned for her safety, and distressed for their own.
Lana could understand why. In their minds her gift would bring the wrath of Dark Dwellers from their tales to their doors. Her gift was supposed to ward against the dark, a reassurance not a risk. She wished the Light Dragon had chosen someone else to bless.
Subtle wind carried fresh scents, damp and sweet, more like spring than summer. It was rain on the sky. Unusual that a shower would skip spring and instead grace the warmer season. White, a flicker of purple, a glimpse of silver, caught her eye from the branches of a tree. A tangled flag left over from the bright night celebrations.
The flag struggled to dance in the gentle breeze. Much like the rain, it was a relic of the spring gone. It served as a bitter reminder, tattered, restrained, like the Light Dwellers around her. She paused to watch the flag scuffle with the tree. The Light Dragon could not shelter them from every night. But for the New Year's night when the night was like day, she would have to protect her family, friends and neighbours.
Dawn's footsteps called from the distance and Lana glanced across the paved square. Her sister hurried past the tree in the centre without a glance at its beauty, bucket held firm against her chest to hush its whines. Her head was tilted upwards to watch the Light Dragon's brilliance fade from the sky and fields, behind hills and tress. Lana's mouth tugged into a frown at the corners. Dawn was too young to carry such worry.
She took in a breath of damp air and reached deep within. Power greeted her, ready, eager for her call to action. She could take some of the weight her sister hauled around. Energy surged loose in an excited rush at her permission. Her skin tingled, warmed, energized by the flow of her gift through her chest, arms, legs, to her toes and fingers. Wind, breath, a roar of anarchy and dance of harmony, tangled within her until they were the same. Energy left her to join the wind in freedom. It was what she loved the most, what she favoured and called on by instinct. Desire overwhelmed her, took hold of her control with reckless charge. Air shifted at her wild abandon and a gust caused by the excitement flicked her hair back. She reined back her delight, took control of her impulse and focused on her command.
Moisture tickled her senses. Unseen water carried on the breeze and heavy in the sky at her back. It pulsed with life, restoration to calm the impulse of instinct the wind tempted within. Beneath her the ground hummed, a constant vibration, with movement more patience than any dweller could hope to possess and age older than any dweller could hope to comprehend. Plants greeted her from their perky leaves to their roots, trenched deep in the dirt, brightened by her attention. They held the brilliance of day within, a comfort in the murky dusk, always light even in the night.
Wind swirled by, an invite to join in dance. A celebration of life she could not refuse. She reached for it, pulled at it and it moved to her tempo. She drew it around her, closed her eyes and breathed it deep. Gusts tugged at her dress and spun long locks of her hair about in delight. Her eyes slipped open and she sent the invitation on to Dawn. It whistled by her ears, threw her hair about her face and her skirts in a rush to follow.
Trees rustled in announcement of the breeze. Loose leaves leaped to join the current. The white and purple of the flag fluttered from its confines and harried to break free, to fly on the breeze. The Light Dragon's likeness, bold and clear, proclaimed itself on the flag in silver. His horns a proud two pronged crown atop his head, one eye for the sun to give the white brilliance and the other to watch over New Year's night in purple. The gust threw Dawn's hair over her shoulders and she stumbled to a stop.
Dawn spun on her heel. Her eyes darted to check every dark corner and she pouted at the nothing she found. Lana rolled her eyes. Even if she was diligent she would not be able to spot anything that stirred in the shadows.
"You shouldn't be using your gift so close to night!" she hissed a loud whisper across the square.
Lana let the swell of power ebb and it returned to rest within. The trees settled to silence, flag stopped its flutter and gusts of wind stilled.
"It's not close to night," Lana called.
She strode toward her sister, her step light. The casual clunk of her bucket foiled her sister's attempts at being responsible.
Dawn's brows wrinkled into a small knot in the middle of her forehead. Disapproval and concern so like their mother's and, as if that was not enough, she possessed a better sense of duty than Lana. She should have received the gift. Lana reached Dawn's side and pointed a playful smile at her.
"It's dusk," she corrected.
Lana scrunched her nose in mock distaste and a smile peeked through the clouds of her sister's concern. Her eyes lit up, the slightest gleam in the speckles of green in honey brown, a perfect mix of mother and father. Bright enough to sparkle through the shadows, even her small smile challenged the Light Dragon's brilliance. The Shadow Dragon would cower from its shine if he dared venture from the night to smother it.
Satisfied and taken by a fresh sense of purpose, Lana set the pace. She should be the one to worry, not her sister. It was her that had to protect everyone and it was her that would be taken if they came. She led Dawn from the village square and down a dirt path, between more homes and buildings for use by the community, to the well on the other side of the village. She slowed and glanced at the horizon. The Light Dragon's memory was faded in the sky, His once bright light muted and dulled by dusk.
Dawn charged ahead without her. She reached the well and dropped her bucket. Without clear sight in the murky mix of day and night she fumbled to find the rope and untangle it. Disquiet found Lana in the subdued light, stirred by the panic in her sister's urgency. Her power flowed loose in response, a decision made without thought. Her arms prickled with the sensation. Her skin heated with it.
She ignored the beckon of the wind, the mumble of the earth and call of fauna that responded to her gift. The chimes of water from deep in the well, a jingle in the air, a rumble beneath the ground, were the sounds she listened for. Energy left her to reach for water and she pulled it to her command. Droplets pooled around her, drawn from the air, suspended in bubbles. She released the water from the air and it splattered the ground and splashed her feet.
She fixated on only the water in the well. Her energy gave her sight of the well, carved deep into the ground, water in its depths. It bubbled, an answer she could feel more than one she could hear. She commanded it, urged it forth, and it gurgled its delight to obey. Water twisted from the well in a stream guided by her power. She steered it to Dawn's bucket as best she could. Her control on the element was unpractised, as was her grasp on earth, not refined like her command of air and fauna. It splashed at its target, far less graceful than she had hoped, and water drenched her sister's skirt.
Lana glanced at Dawn. Her lips were pursed shut. Lana beamed and scooted to the edge of the well.
"You're the one who's in a rush!"
Dawn smothered a grin before it reached her lips, though she failed to hide the light from her eyes.
Lana called the water once more and it gurgled with movement. Echoes troubled the night and sent Dawn's eyes to search the shadows again. Lana drew it all the way up the well, until it spilled over the rim, and she scooped water into her pail. Rumbles and growls echoed a noisy departure as she released it to settle back into the depths of the well.
She hauled her full bucket and lead Dawn back to the village. Shadows hovered in wait and snatched for them when they came too close. Their pace was burdened, but they reached the village square with fragments of sunset as their guide. Inky black blanketed the sky and, at their backs, snuffed the last of the Light Dragon's rays. Spots scarred the black with brilliant dots of light, scattered across the expanse, a beautiful scene she often missed when the house was boarded for the night. Lana smiled.
"Look, you can see the Light Dragon's scales," she pointed above.
The bucket punished the gesture with a creak and a splash of water to soak her legs. Dawn glanced up. Her eyes widened and her lips parted in a brief moment of wonder. The smallest flicker of disappointment was enough to end it. She pulled her mouth closed and lowered her gaze. Lana's smile faded. If there was one dweller whose worry she could stop it would be Dawn.
"They're... pretty," Dawn said.
"Don't be sad"
Dawn glanced at her. Shadows hid parts of her face, but the glitter of her eyes danced through them.
"It's just.." she sighed, "every time I see them... it reminds me of the Shadow Dragon's hate."
Lana looked to the ground. Parts of it had seeped into black voids, dark spots she avoided without thought. Her Light Dweller eyes strained to find parts that the night had not yet consumed.
"When I see them," she said, "it reminds me of the Light Dragon's brilliance and the love He has for us."
Water sloshed from her bucket into the dark void around her feet, their steps a shuffle and scrape to assure them they had not yet been swallowed by the night. Light from a house spilled over them as they laboured by, a brief glimpse of what the world had looked like before the night had taken it. Dawn leaned closer and together they passed back into the void.
"If His scales can shine through the Shadow Dragon's darkness I can only imagine His beautiful light."
More torchlight washed over them and Lana glanced at Dawn, at the smile that melted away all of her fear and worry, if just for a moment.
Mother rushed from the gloomy dark. Light reached through gaps in their neighbours' window and touched half of her face. She raised her lamp. Its light chased away more of the night and illuminated the maze of worry that wrought her. She ran a hand through her ruffled hair and pushed the golden strands back from her face. Warmth touched the brown of her eyes, a flicker of relief behind all of her distress.
Her worry did not ease, even as she charged to them and grabbed Lana's shoulder. She washed her in lamplight and then turned to inspect Dawn.
"What were you both doing?!"
"I just wanted to show Dawn -"
"How could you be so irresponsible?" her mother turned a glower on her, an edge in her voice, "it's so late! It's not safe - what would you do if a Dark Dweller came? They'd take you - and your sister! You know better, Lana. You can't take such foolish risks! We need you. What would we do if you were taken?"
Lana sighed and crossed her arms. A frown twitched at her lips. She pressed them together in refusal.
"No one has seen a Dark Dweller for ages."
"Don't be dim, Lana. The King's fortress is two days' travel - you know that. You know they could come under the veil of night."
"I can protect Dawn!" she snapped.
"Besides, it's abandoned! I bet Dark Dwellers never even lived in there."
Her mother sighed and shook her head. She ran her hand back through her hair again. Responsibility gnawed at Lana's stubborn pride. Heart heavy, she looked down and drew her mouth into a tight line. She was being ignorant. She knew better than to deny the dangers that lurked in the darkness.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled, her head still bowed.
Her mother's arm pulled her close. The other pulled Dawn. Lana leaned into her mother's embrace. In that moment it was day, warm and safe. She was sorrier than she wanted to admit.
"I can't lose either of you," mother said
She let go and fixed them both with her gaze, her brown eyes somehow stern and soft all at once.
"Dinner is ready, best not to let it cool. You can both bath afterwards."
Mother took the bucket from Dawn and ushered them both along the path home.
"Lana, you'll take care of Dawn's chores tomorrow."
Lana kept her eyes down. Her mother was right. Dark Dwellers could come, if they wanted to take the risk of being caught by the Light Dragon.
Black had stolen her feet and the ground from her sight, though she felt them carry her across the dirt. If she had never awakened her mother would not have to worry so much. Dawn would not worry so much. The village would not, either. And she would not have to live in caution of the shadows, as if they were some dangerous monster determined to swallow the world whole.