“Write about light returning to a place that has been deprived of it for a long time”
I can still remember the day the light left. I was four years old. I was in the small oak tree in my back yard, holding onto my children’s book, flipping through the pages and looking at the pictures. I was too young to read yet, but I remember loving the pictures and trying to figure out the story. Then the shadow came, swallowing the great Aonani. Her light slowly left our town, then it was black. The screams started soon after.
Today is the fifth year without Aonani’s blessing on us. I can still feel the change in the pasture when her blessing left. The dark was cold at first, but then we adapted. We sued the glowing algae to make light. We got used to the dark and the cold. We overcame the darkness. In school, they teach us about this, and what it might mean. There are many theories, and the most prominent one is that Adreanna -the god of the shadows- kidnapped Aonani. That’s the one they usually talk about. I don’t get why they teach it at school, at least to this grade. We were all there; we saw it happen. We don’t need to know more about it.
As I walk to school I think about all of this. I remember that day again and again. Watching the sliver of light disappear from up above. As I’m walking, one of the Leader’s attendants comes up to me.
“Hello?” They seem breathless. Did they run to catch up with me? “Are you Ace?”
I’ve never even been acknowledged by the Leader, much less have had one of his attendants come up to me before, “Yes. I’m Ace.”
“You need to come with me. Now.” The attendant walks away briskly away, expecting me to do the same.
“Huh? What?” I don’t’ wan t to be left behind, so I follow.
“All your questions will be answered when we get there and your teachers have been notified,” the attendant says. They don’t even turn around. They just keep walking.
I mumble under my breath, “Okay then…”
“What was that?”
Thanks to the attendant’s brisk pace, we arrive at the Leader’s house in no time. The attendant tells me where to go, and stays at the door. I try to remember all the directions, but end up lost anyway. Just as I’m trying to trace back my steps to the front door, a voice from behind me asks: “Are you lost?”
I whip my head around, startled, to see the Leader. “No- I mean yes. I am lost, but I’m supposed to be here. By which I mean in this house.”
“So you’re Ace, I presume?” The leader asks.
“Yep. That’s me,” I reply, thinking I need to be more formal, I add, “I’m Ace, Leader.”
“Just call me Felix,” The man says.
“Okay?” I say.
“Come with me. To my office,” Felix directs me. He walk off, but unlike his attendant, he walks a bit slower, and looks behind him to see if I’m following.
“Sure. Why not,” I say quietly. Soon we get to the leader’s office, and he directs me to a small cushioned chair in front of a desk. Felix sits in the large chair on the other side.
“I bet you’re wondering what you’re here for,” he says.
“Yeah,” I reply.
“Well,” the leader fixes his posture and straightens some papers on his desk. “As you know, the great Aonani left us and sent us to the shadows. Every few years, we send some brave civilians to try and bring her back.”
As I listen to this, all I can think about is who they’ve sent before. I’ve never noticed anyone leaving, but I don’t pay attention that much to people outside my small friend group. “And this applies to me how?”
“As you may have guessed, I have selected you to be the newest adventurer.” As the leader says this, the tone of his voice drops, and becomes more serious.
“Why did you pick me?” I ask.
“Well, You’re a smart boy, Ace,” the Leader says, “We need people who could be inventive and creative.”
“This is a dangerous mission. You don’t have to accept this task. We could find another person.”
What can I say? The leader of the place I live in just asked me to go save the most important goddess in our culture. “I’d love to accept this mission.”
“Good. You can invite a friend to come with you, if you would like.” The leader smiles now. “You can leave whenever you want. You should go talk to your parents now.”
“Okay.” I say, starting to leave. Then I realize that I should probably say something else, leading to this awkward afterthought: “Thank you for this opportunity, Leader- er- Felix.” I walk out of the room before he could reply.
I jog all the way home, wracking my mind to figure out what to say to my dad. He’s already lost my mom, and I’d feel so bad if something happened to me and he’s left alone. Eventually I come up with a script in my head.
“Hey dad,” I say once I walk in the door of out house.
“Hey bud, why’re you home so early. I was notified you didn’t go to school?” He gives me a mischievous grin“Were you getting into trouble again?”
“No, dad. I was called to the Leader’s house. He wanted to talk to me.” Its alright, I say to myself, follow the script.
“Oh. What for? Did you really get into trouble?”
“No. He wants me to do this special mission. He wants me to get the light back.” I try to pass this statement off as nonchalant, but I think I failed, because my dad looks at me shocked.
“What?! Are you going to do it?”
“I’m not sure yet. He told me to ask you.” I feel bad already. He looks so sad at the thought of me wanting to leave.
“Ace, this is an amazing opportunity, if you want to, you should totally take it.” He tries to make himself smile, but the tone of his voice tells a different story.
“If its okay with you, I think I will.”
“Sure. When are you leaving?”
“I was thinking tomorrow,” I say, “Leader said I could bring a friend, so I’m going to go ask around.”
“You should bring Max. He was always such a nice kid.” My dad says. Max was my best friend in elementary school. He always got me in trouble, though. I stopped talking to him as much once we got to middle school.
“No. I was thinking I would ask Lora. She’d really smart and would probably help me more than what Max would do,” I say.
“Oooooh,” my dad says, wiggling his eyebrows, “Lora.” My dad knows that we’re just friends, but can’t help but make jokes whenever I mention her.
“Dad,” I complain, matching his playful tone.
“Okay, Okay,” he says, holding his hands up in surrender, “If you’re going to ask her, you should go now.”
“Okay dad. I‘ll be back soon.”
My dad waves at me as I walk out the door, but I look away once I get to the end of our algae coated sidewalk. Lora’s house is just down the street, so I assume a leisurely pace. Soon enough, I arrive on her doorstep. I knock, and she comes to the door.
“Hi Ace, what do you need?” She asks, poking her head out the door.
“Can you talk for a sec? I have a question for you,” I explain.
“Yeah,” she says, coming outside.
“I was called to the Leader’s house today, and eh asked me to go on a mission for him to try and return the light.” I begin, “He said I could bring a friend to go with me, and I thought I’d ask you.”
“Wow, Ace. That’s awesome. I can ask my parents, but I’d love to,” she answers quickly.
“Remember, this mission will be dangerous, Lora. Don’t come if you’re not prepared for that,” I warn her.
“You think I’m scared? Of course not. Its been a bit boring here anyway,” she says, gesturing around to the dark world around us.
“Just making sure,” I reply.
Lora heads back to her home, presumably to ask her parents about this. After about five minutes outside, she pokes her head out the door again. She gives me a thumbs up, and I grin.
“Meet me at my house in the morning with your stuff,” I say, “We leave tomorrow.”
She gives me another thumbs up, and goes back inside once more. I walk home at a faster pace. I’m very excited to do this, but I’m also terrified. The Leader said this was a dangerous mission, what If I die? What if Lora dies because of me? I don’t’ think I could live with that. I can’t let that happen.
I get home soon enough, and me and my dad have dinner. I can barely sleep that night, I’m so nervous. I wake up early, which is weird for me. I pack. My backpack with power bars, water bottles, and other essentials. I wear a t-shirt and a light hoodie, but put a heavier coat in my backpack in case. I wear sweatpants, but pack shorts as well. The only shoes I bring are my hiking shoes.
Just a few minute after I’m done packing, Lora shows up at my door, also sporting a backpack. I hug my dad good-bye and Lora and I start off on out adventure.
The first thing we do is try and find a way into the tunnels that will lead us up to the light. We soon find one behind the school. We both take a deep breath and start on the first leg of the journey. There are no real obstacles, unless you count that I’m wildly out of shape. Lora, on the other hand, is just chugging along, not even stopping for breaks unless I ask for one.
I check my watch, and its soon for rest. I realize that I didn’t pack anything to sleep with, but Lora pulls out two sleeping bags, because of course she packed extra. We sleep until Lora wakes me up in the morning. Then we continue our journey.
Today is the first day we encounter our first real problem. There’s a big crack in the ground, with no way to get around it. Lora and I were contemplating just giving up and going back, when a voice speaks up from the darkness: “You need some help from that?”
Both me and Lora jump. “Who’s there?” I ask the darkness.
“Someone like you, sent here to find Aonani,” the voice says.
“Why are you stuck here?” Lora asks.
“Just decided to give up. This is a nice place if you get to know it,” the voice says, “There’s a stream with clean water over there, and there are always bats to eat.”
“Where are you?” Lora asks again.
“On the other side, of course.” It says.
“How did you get there?” I ask.
“That bridge over there,” it says. The voice seems to have turned to one side of the crack. Both Lora and I mov over to that spot, and immediately spot what the voice is a talking about.
It’s a small rope bridge, with two rope railings and one rope for the bottom. It isn’t the most secure thing in the world, but it’s better than falling to my death. I start to edge across the bridge, and Lora follows me. I can hear her breath about a foot behind me. As we near the end of the bridge, we start to hear the ropes squeak under our combined weight.We both rush to the solid ground on the other end.
“Alright. We’re here. Where are you and who are you?” Lora asks, now breathless.
“My name is Dimitri, and I’m right here,” as they say this, the light shifts, and I see a woman, only a bit taller than me emerge front he shadows. At first, I think she’s slightly glowing, but then I realize she has put some of the lowing algae in her hair. Not enough for it to fully light her, but enough to see.
“Hello there, Dimitri. I’m Lora, and this is my friend, Ace.” Then Lora explains all about how they got here and what they’ve been through. She ends with the unexpected question of if Dimitri would like to join us on the adventure. Dimitri reluctantly agrees, and we continue on.
The rest of the day was mainly just walking, Dimitri going in front, then myself, then Lora. We sleep again, then get up and continue walking. This cycle continues for Aonani knows how many days.
On what I think is the seventh day, our first tragedy happens. We had run out of ink, which we were splashing on the ground to light the way, and Lora spotted a patch of the algae. She ran ahead into unlighted ground, and fell through an unseen crack. I’d like to think that thy heard my screams all the back in the town.
We wait in that area for another day, honoring her memory, then decide to continue on. Three more days in almost unbroken silence ends when we encounter a sheer wall. There are little to no hand or footholds, but this is obviously the way to go. We spend two days in the area where the wall is located, trying to figure out how to climb it.
It’s Dimitri who figures out the solution. She makes two pairs of shoes with spikes made out of sharpened stone pieces on the bottoms. It takes two more days to make all of them, but finally, she finishes. We start the climb early in the morning, and when we get to the top, its evening. We can see a ledge, and above it is an oval hole in the ceiling. Above the hole is a rock. Dimitri and I sit on the ledge and use our combined strength to lift the stone covering the hole.
As we lift it, we are both blinded my the light streaming in through the crack in the ceiling. Because of this, Dimitri falls down the wall. She shouts up that she’s okay, but she’s broken her legs.
I use what’s left of my strength to lift and move over the rock covering the hole. I climb up through that, to see if there’s anything in what’s sure to be this barren land that could help Dimitri.
Instead of a barren land, once I cope up out of the hole, I see green. Green plants coating the floor. Green things on brown trunks. I’ve never seen this before. I would never have guessed that this world above the cave would be so lush. I think I’ll stay up here.
I quickly find some sticks and throw them down for Dimitri to make a crutch with. I shout at her to find her way back and tell their stories. Tell the village that they can come to the surface too.
Then I leave. Walking through what must be forests. Basking in the everlasting light of Aonani.