The result of my third #bookstorewindow fiction writing exercise, inspired by the late Harlan Ellison, based on writing prompts supplied by Colchek, entropymanor, and nickpalaz0123. Wrote it live on our Slack site in about an hour:
The discovery, like so many before and since, was an accident.
Every 87 years, the six moons in the sky above our world form a perfect alignment with each other. However, it turns out that once every 261 years, that alignment causes a total eclipse of our sun.
And, on that day, something truly wondrous happens.
It was 1,044 years ago that my great-great-great-something grandfather, Helefont Shawmel, left a goblet of clear liquid on a column in the Honor Temple, on the outskirts of what today is Fastheld’s Forest District. Long before the powerful mages of the Shadow Council raised the Aegis as a defense against the Wildlings.
Helefont passed out drunk, but awoke just in time to see the eclipse in progress – one moon sliding in front of another, and then the sun settling behind them all, blotted out and leaving bright coils of light like shining tears brimming.
He stared into the clear liquid of the goblet and it was then, legend holds, that he saw one of those moonshine droplets falling from the eclipsed star and into the drink. He swore to any who would listen that the surface of the drink actually rippled.
Helefont Shawmel then sipped once more from the goblet. What happened next, some say, was a descent into madness. Others called it the blessing of prophecy. Regardless, he went blind for six weeks and wouldn’t stop screaming about the Wildling threat.
So our family tradition was born.
Now, once again, the moons creep toward alignment: the blue moon called Herald, the crimson Dayhunter, the green moon Stormwatcher, the violet Serpent’s Eye, and the twin white-gray moons called the Torches. Once again, the time has come for a total multiple eclipse.
Normally, the honor of seeing with the Eyes of the Stars would fall to our father, Yancey Seamel. However, he died a few years ago in a duel with Jaswiv Zahir. In his stead, by right of succession, the goblet should pass to his eldest son. I, however, am untouched by the Gift.
So it falls to my younger brother, Emmot.
“I don’t want it,” he says, staring at the golden chalice on the squat column in the ruins of the same temple where Helefont took the first sip.
“The honor is great beyond all reckoning,” I tell him, but how can I convince him if I can scarcely convince myself?
“What if I see the end of all things?” Emmot asks.
“Then we prepare for the end and make the best of what time remains to us,” I say. Although what I do not say is that perhaps, if that is his vision, I should smother him with a pillow as he sleeps before panic tears across the realm.
“What harm is there in not doing a thing?” he asks. He gestures at the goblet. “Could we not just let the night pass without compliance with tradition? Can I not leave the drink untouched?”
Maybe we could, I think. But the Emperor has certain expectations, and his Hawk would arrive soon enough for the latest tidings of the stars.
“It falls to you, Emmot, and none other,” I say. “It must be done. It will be done. None in our line has refused it before.”
He frowns at the moons as they continue their relentless geometry toward the waiting sun. “I will go mad,” he says.
I do not disagree. “Certainly possible.”
“When we were children, you always swore you would protect me,” Emmot says.
“Do so now!”
“Sometimes, I must protect you from yourself,” I say. “Watch the goblet. Await the moon teardrop. I will not leave your side.”
Unhappy about it, Emmot takes a step closer to the column with the cup resting upon it. He scowls at the reflection. “I wish father were here.” Not plaintive. Accusatory.
“Yes,” I say, softly. “But he’s not.”
The moons align, taking their place ahead of the sun for the first time in more than two centuries, and I watch the strange shadows and slivers of light dance on the stone floor.
Emmot waits. Waits. The moment of the brimming starlight tear comes, and he gasps in awestruck wonder. In his amazement, perhaps, he finds lost courage. He takes the goblet. He drinks.
“Brother,” he says.
I look to him. He gazes at me with eyes of void and nothingness. “Are you well, Emmot?”
“I see everything,” he says, his eyes now swirling with scattered stars. “What has come before. What is yet to come.”
I step toward him, placing a hand on his shoulder, and I ask: “What should I tell the Emperor’s Hawk?”
In his eyes, this time, I see twin stars, blazing red and plummeting through the sky. “The end comes,” Emmot says.
And in that moment, I realize, there’s no time to wait for a pillow and merciful slumber.