And In the Darkness Bind Them

By Erik Nygren
21W755 with Prof Alter
November 21, 1995

In the beginning there was only Light. Light stretched from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling. Light was selfish. It did not want to share existence with anything else. But in a small corner of the vast cavern lived Dark. Dark hid at the end of the deepest cracks, for it was afraid of the horrible Light. One day when Light was sleeping, Dark carefully crept out of hiding. It bound the sleeping Light and hid it far far away where it could never escape. Now existence belonged to Dark. But Dark was not selfish and soon became lonely in the vastness of the cavern. Dark yearned for its deep crevice so pulled the walls of the cavern together. But the walls did not want to come together. They wrinkled like the skin of a K'ta'ki mushroom and the wrinkles formed long corridors and chambers. Dark roamed the world but still was lonely. So Dark dug out more tunnels and from the dirt created Man and Woman. Dark saw that they were hungry so it made yeast for them to grow and eat. Dark tried to guide them but they stumbled in its perfection. Dark realized that they needed imperfection, so it scattered small fragments of Light onto the ceilings of the tunnels and halls. But Dark was still afraid of Light so he warned Man and Woman to be wary of its evil.

--- Sh'tza'koe creation myth

Kæ'ta ran down the tunnel to catch up with Papa. Her little feet were scrambling over loose rocks but Papa's legs were so much longer than hers that she had trouble keeping up. She could barely see him through the warm darkness. Papa stopped when he reached a place where the tunnel branched off in two directions.

"Come on, little one. We're almost home," Papa said to his daughter as she caught up with him. A draft of air flowed from a distant shaft and cooled them.

"Can we stop and rest, Papa? I'm tired," whined Kæ'ta as she sat down against the wall and folded her arms over her chest.

"Okay, but not for too long. Your mother is probably wondering why we're not home already. We spent longer at the lair of Khoe'da'sha than I had planned, but she did give us a good blessing for the yeast crop."

Kæ'ta thought about the old sage they had just visited. She always loved trips to visit Khoe'da'sha. She looked as ancient as the rocks and her voice resonated with echoes to create a mystical sound that always made Kæ'ta shiver. The ancient's eyes had sunk so far into her face that Kæ'ta wasn't even sure if she still had eyes. Kæ'ta reached into the pocket of her cloak and felt the small box and thought how glad she was that the old woman couldn't see well. She felt the smoothness of the sides of the box. Kæ'ta ran her finger along a thin crack that encircled the edge of the box until it reached a strong metal clasp. She couldn't wait until everyone was sleeping so that she could open the box just a little bit to catch a glimpse of what was inside.

"Let's get going," her father said impatiently after a few minutes. "We wouldn't want your mother's Spoo to get cold."

The two got up and continued on their way home through the imperfect darkness. Only the faintly glowing moss on the ceiling above gave them just enough light to see by. It was a necessary evil.

After dinner, Kæ'ta kissed her parents good rest and crawled down a narrow passage into the small chamber that was hers. She always enjoyed returning to this place after a long day. The total darkness surrounded her and soothed her. She stretched out her arms and felt the rough, damp walls on either side. She sat still and heard the familiar dripping noise that had lulled her to sleep for as long as she could remember. Further off in distant caverns she could hear faint whispers of families and workers talking to each other. Kæ'ta pulled a blanket over herself. She then reached into her pocket and pulled out the little box.

When she cupped her small hands together, Kæ'ta could just about hold the box between them. Whatever could be inside it? But she had been going to visit Khoe'da'sha with her father every week for about a year now. On Kæ'ta's first visit to the sage's lair she had seen the box sitting by itself in a little alcove. She saw swirls of colors on the box that she had never seen before. The sides of the box shimmered softly in the dim light and forgotten ancient letters were finely engraved into the lid.

After a few visits she had gathered the courage to ask, "What's in the little box?"

The old sage turned away from her at the question. Silence engulfed them until finally she spoke and the cavern filled with a tortured whisper, "The deepest trenches, the furthest thoughts, the death of time, the fate of mortals. Sight you must not see. The chains of your freedom."

The forbidden mystery of the box had made Kæ'ta even more fascinated. Now she was holding it between her own hands. She felt somewhat guilty for having taken something from Khoe'da'sha. She had no intention of keeping the box. She only planned to take it home long enough to see what was inside. When they went back to the lair the following week she could put it back in the alcove. No one would ever know it had been missing.

Kæ'ta felt the metal clasp with her fingers. Strangely, it seemed warm to the touch. She would just open it a little bit -- just enough to peek at what was inside, but not enough to do any harm. Shaking with anticipation, she gently pried the clasp apart and lifted the top.

A brilliant light poured out of the box. It was brighter than anything Kæ'ta had ever seen. She closed her eyes tight but the light clawed through her eyelids and burrowed into her skull. She opened her mouth to scream but no words came out. She could feel that she was still clenching the box tightly in her hands.

"Free me," the light screamed into her head. "Smash this box and break my bonds. Only then will I leave you."

The pain slowly subsided as Kæ'ta's eyes adjusted. She soon saw that the light was struggling to escape from the box. It was more horrible than anything she could have imagined. "Free me," it screamed as it flapped its fine silvery wings.

Kæ'ta was filled with terror. She pushed at the thing with all her might and slammed the lid of the box shut. She closed the latch and held the box tightly to her chest.

The thing had been forced into the box, but to her the room still seemed filled with light. She looked around and for the first time ever she saw the walls of her room. The room no longer seemed cozy. Instead, it seemed small and cramped. She stuffed the box in her pocket and crawled out of her room.

Kæ'ta snuck out of the house and started a journey along the familiar path to the lair of Khoe'da'sha. Everything looked so different now. She could see the thoughts hidden deep in people's hearts. From what she saw there, Kæ'ta could tell that she was alone. The light had only been able to get into her eyes and mind. Others still saw only the comforting darkness. She could see down the deep shafts that had always mystified her. Her home and her village no longer looked the same. It didn't seemed like she belonged to them any longer.

After a few hours she reached Khoe'da'sha's lair. The sage was waiting for Kæ'ta. As soon as she looked at her, Kæ'ta could see the relief in the old woman's heart. Her servitude and vigilance were over and she could die in peace.

Khoe'da'sha turned to the young girl and gave her a wide, toothless grin. "Cursed by sight you are now," the withered sage said. "Forever the Evil must remain bound. Guard it. Hide it. Serve our people. One day you too will pass on the duty."

Light waits patiently in its bondage, for one day it knows that it will be set free. On that day, Light will devour Dark and Dark's creations. It will push apart the walls and fill the vast cavern. Light knows that one day it will be alone again at last.

--- Sh'tza'koe apocalyptic myth

Erik Nygren