ASTRUM EXURO • by Rhiannon Morgan

The Shadows are watching.

Withered, pain-tasting smudges; edges blurred like a whore’s morals. Do they have naught better to do?

It is cold in this cell. I always knew it might come to this — that my fate would be reduced to the corner of a dark box, quivering like a lump of carrion in the chill — and still, it is unbearable. I know that somewhere, in the midst of the maelstrom that is forever whispering, I am needed. I am missed.

Tonight, I feel it more than ever. My palms are slick, blood squeals in my ears.

It is calling.

I pat the walls in a fever, feeling for weak spots, stone crumbling beneath my touch. I must leave I must flee must escape run run BREAK through the cage —

Always, the Shadows are watching.

They know what it is I seek to do. They lean in, outlines blurring together, muttering to each other in rasps. They feel it too; the end is coming.

There is blood on my hands now. I anoint the wall, pad an oracle with my crimson tips:

Astrum exuro, divum cado, universitas praefoco. Totus subsisto.

It is the language of Shadows. I see them glance at it, watch it sink in. They lick their dry lips and step from foot to foot. I make them nervous.

Beneath my scrawling, the wall begins to sizzle and the stone is falling away. I hear the Shadows croaking to each other, cursing and calling for their shamen, but the sound is distant to my ears. My blood carves my path, now; a hole spreads into my cell.

The night rushes in and possesses me, flinging me forth into a riot of velvet and ink. My feet glide, treading invisible water, riding the waves in the wind. Behind me, the Shadows groan in their pursuit. I am stonger and faster.

A part of this.

Somewhere, not far out of the city, my siblings are gathering. We must do it together. Their whispers grow louder as I travel: astrum exuro, astrum exuro, astrum exuro divum cado…

The city knows. The streets are dead, roads cold, alleys empty. They have heard the muttered legends of the Endbringers. In their smithys and taverns, they have told great tales of the night when the Stars returned to the sky. It sobs and struggles with the weight of them; it falls upon the world.

Around me, the night trembles.

It won’t be long now.

I reach the mountain and the ascension takes hold. My being gushes upward, my edges blurring like the Shadows that lost me long before. I am not like them. I am a creature of lucid inferno; I am infinite, no longer encased.

At the summit, my brothers and sisters await me. They stand in clusters that flicker and glow. It all grows inside me; fear and power and love.

Why am I afraid? There is no gain without suffering, and no man can simply fall to his place in the world. Totus subsisto…there is not even anything to gain, but the end. Is there…?

I am the last to arrive and I complete the whole. I can no longer keep my eyes open, the lids heavy with desire. It is the last darkness I will know.

At once, I am white hot, sizzling, hurtling up through the clouds. I hear them weep as we tear them asunder and they sob fat tears of agony upon the world beneath. The rain cannot cauterize the burning, the flames that engulf my skin. I am white fire. Astrum exuro. Oh, deliver me! I have never known pain like this.

There are voices in my ears now — screams, cries, shouts of alarm. The Shadows have woken the townspeople and they see Stars blistering the sky.

Not long now…

I smack into the skin of the cosmos and cling to it with smoking fingers. Once, I wrote in blood; now, in ash and flame. Hold on, brothers and sisters. They tug at the skin in silent reply.

There is a great ripping sound that shakes the Earth. It roars in my ears and threatens to break me. And then we are falling to the ground that first bore us, the sky welded to our smouldering hands.

Astrum exuro, divum cado. Stars burn, sky falls…

Before the end, I see a young woman with a babe in her arms. Her face is white, her eye sockets stretched in horror. The baby screams.

Universitas praefoco. World smothered.

The pain is ebbing but all around me, a new one swells and takes hold. It makes me shudder. Was this right? Have we —

Totus subsisto.

All cease.

It is too late, now.

Rhiannon Morgan is a writer of speculative fiction and poetry. She holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature and her work has appeared in several webzines and magazines. When not writing, she likes to poke children with sharp sticks, drink way more Coke than is good for her and ponder the meaning of strife (because it makes for good characters).

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