The last of the sunlight glimmered like blood on the crystalline sand as the wind rose and the air grew cold. The shimmering of the last of the day’s heat escaped like the last breath of a dying man.
A white-robed waif stood on the bank of the oasis looking down at the still water reflecting the twilight. Her back was to me, though she knew I was there.
“This pack is heavy.”
“You could have trained a beast for transport.”
“This was too important to leave to the whims of beasts who like to wander. I wouldn’t have the strength to stop them, so walking was the surest path.”
“Very well. You’re here now. Give me the pack.”
I was going to tell her to be careful of the weight, she looked so frail, but the look she gave me told me not to bother with any pointless attempts at chivalry.
I gave her the pack, and the waters of the oasis began to ripple as the speed of the wind increased and swept across its surface while the sand began to swirl in small eddies of their own.
“Stand back there, and cover your eyes.”
She knelt on the wet sand and opened the pack wide, then she put both arms in and took out two handfuls of multicolored jewels in varied shapes and sizes, all seeming to glow from within.
“What are they?” My voice was breathy, like a child’s that couldn’t put words to a strong feeling.
“The talents of humanity.”
“The collective knowledge of all that’s known in the world up to this moment. In these gems are the talents of art, language, trades, discoveries of knowledge, rituals of superstition, all magic, whether dark or light. But this one,” she held up a bright, shining one streaked through with bands of red that pulsed with a heartbeat rhythm, flaring and dimming, “is the one that holds all the thoughts of men that have perverted the good of them and turned them to evil purpose.”
She set it down, apart from the others.
“And the water here, what will it do?”
“Dissolve them. We must start over.”
She began to toss the gems in the water, and a mist began to form over it as the ripples grew more defined in the twilight.
“Because we do not learn, and seem to go no further than we did before. The cosmos grows weary of us; we are eternal infants in its sight. I do not know how many more turns it will give to us.
“Perhaps we don’t deserve one.”
The wind turned the ripples to waves.
“The oasis will dry up, and the winds will blow the gems remains throughout the world again, to make new combinations of nations and people, new knowledge and skills, and once more we will crawl out of the earth to try again, if the cosmos deems it so.”
She picked up the last jewel and looked back at me. “When I throw in this one, we will both die.”
I took a deep breath, not knowing what to say. I wanted to beg her not to, but we both knew it had to be done.
“Are you ready?” she asked.
“Do I have a choice?”
She gave me a sad smile, and shook her head.
Turning away, she tossed it, and its facets caught the moonlight, flaring, refracting, and pulling a shroud of celestial light over impending, indefinite darkness.
I felt my body fall, heard it hit the sand, and felt it sliding and crusting over me as the wind blew even harder, and I saw her corpse roll into the water, the small waves taking her out to the center before she sank.
My own eyes closed to sleep until the dawn of another age, and with my last breaths I prayed that whatever watched beyond the stars would grant us mercy once more.