In the event of the end, the Unwinding, a sign will appear. It will light the world so that a chief N'Geenr might find their way to the Axis, and mend the sins of the world with the ritual of Rutin Mae-t'nans. Only those of up-most Skel can mend the world.
--The Manual, holy texts of the N'Geenr
Torturous, tearing, twisting. That was the sound, as if the sky itself was being torn apart, that rang through the night air like fire. Karin awoke with a start, hands clamped to her ears. Trying to drown out the horrendous screeching, she slid herself out of bed and stumbled out into the hall.
The hall was illuminated with a strange pale light unlike any Karin had seen before, and she squinted, unused to the light this time of night and stepped off the cold stone tiles onto the rug that lined the length of the hallway.
“Father!” She yelled, silent against the backdrop of the tortuous sound.
There was no answer. She tripped over a bump in the rug and fell against the course plaster walls of the hut. Quickly, she released her hands from her hand to steady herself then quickly clamped them back down again. The horrendous sound was still there, but it seemed to be dying down now.
“FathER!” She yelled again, almost shocked to hear herself over the quieting noise.
“Karin, come here...”
Her fathers voice sounded strange, something was wrong. Maybe father knew something about the light. As the sound faded away, her hands retreating slowly from her ears and she crept into her fathers bedroom.
“Father, what's wrong, what's going on?”
Her father was sat on the other side of the room in front of the window, staring out. He beckoned her over, but already she had seen what he was staring at. Outside the window, up in the sky was a huge white disc. She just gasped at it as she approached the window and sat down on the side on the side of the bed, not knowing what to say. As she stared alongside her father in the pale light of the disc, she noticed people leaving their houses to gather awestruck in the village square.
“Father, I'm... afraid...”
“So am I Karin. Lets join the others outside, the Elders will surely have an answer for us.” He smiled weakly as he grasped her hand and led her outside.
The light was brighter out in the square. The strange, pale light made the gathering of the villagers look like living statues, Karin thought. Everyone had gathered here and the night was a bustle of fears, conjectures and crying children. Karin promised to herself that she wouldn't get upset, she just knew that Jol would have an answer.
Jol was training as an acolyte to the Elders and so he had been granted the privilege of reading the Manual. Sometimes, when everyone was asleep, he would let Karin into the temple and they would read it together and kiss and cuddle under the altar. She knew that if Jol had seen anything bad in there about this he would tell her, he just had to.
“Quiet! Quiet! The Elders have something to say!”
Silence quickly swept across the square as each head turned to face the Elders as they emerged from the temple. Karin stretched her neck, trying to see if she could see Jol anywhere in the crowd.
“Fellow N'Geenr, we bring grave news. Having studied the Manual we have found that the time for the end of our people is nigh. The glowing circle in the sky is known as the Axis Moon, and it is a sign of the coming of the Unwinding.”
Karin gasped. Were they really doomed? Why hadn't Jol come to her, surely he must have known already? Maybe he hadn't had wanted to upset her, but nothing could have prepared her for this.
“But isn't there anything we can do?” A villager called out.
“No, there is nothing. We don't have any among us that are Chief N'Geenr, only they can bring about salvation. Skel has grown thinner in each of us with each generation, now none of us are strong enough to ever achieve develop enough Skel to become a Chief N'Geenr. All we can do now is pray to our Pae for forgiveness and hope that he grants us safe passage to the Halls of Ret'ir-Met.”
Karin couldn't bear listening to this, she wouldn't accept it, not from them. If Jol told her they couldn't be saved, it would be then, but not before. She let go of her fathers hand and ran through the crowd, tears welling up inside her.
“Let her go. This is going to be hard for all of us Mathis.”
It seemed like hours before Karin stopped running, but it had only been a few minutes. She had run to Jol's hut, but when it came to entering, she faltered. What if he wasn't there either? What if he had abandoned her in panic? She couldn't cope with that. Karin slumped down against the white pottery-tiled wall and sighed. Why did this have to happen? She cried a bit before anger took her.
“Idiots! They're all idiots!' She cried to herself, “Why can't they do do something? We do we all have to wait here to die!”
Karin thumped the wall, and then thumped it again, and again. Before long she was pounding at the wall in fury until her knuckles were raw and bleeding. Dejected and upset she walked into Jol's hut to wash off her hands.
* * * * *
“The skylines look beautiful in this strange light don't they?”
“Jol? Jol! Yo-your here!” Karin spun around to see Jol behind her.
He was standing there, leant against the wall in his usual cocky pose. His long blonde hair hung down over the left part of his face, just part his chin. He smiled his usual smile and his beautiful brown eyes illuminated his face, so much so that Karin could almost forgive his persistent stubble.
Karin ran up to him and hugged him. He felt warm in her arms and she smiled. Then she remembered she was angry at him and thumped him in the shoulder.
“No they don't! I hate this light and that horrible thing up there! Why didn't you tell me this would happen!?”
“Hey!” Jol grunted at her, rubbing his shoulder “I can't see the future you know, if I had known this would happen in my lifetime I would have done something sooner.”
“So you did know it was going to happen! Why didn't you tell me!”
“And worry you over nothing? This might not have happened for thousands of years! Look, I don't have time for this, I've got to get going.”
“What? Where!? What are you going to do?”
“The Elders are wrong, I think they interpreted the Manual incorrectly. I think that I can save the N'Geenr, even though I'm not a Chief N'Geenr.”
“You mean, we aren't doomed? I knew you wouldn't give up Jol, I just knew it! So when do we go?”
“No we Karin, it could be dangerous. I shouldn't even be going, only Chief N'Geenr are allowed to venture outside of the boundaries. If we went we'd be breaking the Protocol. If we should get caught, we'd both be burnt, I don't want to put you at risk Karin.”
“But nothing Karin! Only I can do this. Look, if you want to help me, help me pack okay? I was trying to do this secretly until you showed up.”
Karin smiled sullenly and helped grab some food from the kitchen while Jol went into the bedroom to grab some clothes. As she tucked the morsels into Jol's bag, she felt something. She reached for it and as she pulled it suddenly came loose and flew out of the bag onto the floor.
“My Pae, you stole the Protocols!” Karin gasped as she picked it up and flicked through it. “Jol! The Elders will burn you to pieces!”
Jol leaned round the canvas archway to the bedroom and frowned at her.
“I really wish you hadn't have found that you know. Your more trouble than your worth sometimes.”
Jol smiled, walked over to Karin and kissed her. “I love you, you know?”
“I-I... love you too Jol.”
“Look, do you want to see what I've been working on?”
Jol picked up the bag and pulled out another, smaller book.
“This is it. I was hoping that I would have had time to finish it so that the later generations could use it, but it looks like I'll have to use it now.”
“What is it?”
“It's a Manual Karin. I think that the Elders have been reading the Manual wrong, so I've been writing my own one, with my corrections, interpretations and my own Protocol. The Protocols are wrong Karin, we shouldn't just give up because we aren't allowed, even the Manual says: The task of all N'Geenr is to exceed to limits imposed on them by nature.”
“But Jol, the Protocol tells us how to live, you can't take that away from the N'Geenr!”
“Wrong! Having studied them both I've come to a different conclusion. It's the Manual that tells us how to live, the Protocols tell how how not to die. There is a difference. I think that long ago, the Protocol used to be for guiding us on how to be healthy and safe, but somewhere in the revisions and interpretations it got twisted to control us.”
“What are you going to do Jol?”
“I told you, I'm going to find the Axis, like the Manual says and find a way to save us.”
“Then I'm going with you.”
Jol rolled his eyes and hugged her again. “Look, I've already wasted too much time talking with you, there's no more time to argue. I'm going right now.”
Jol leant down, grabbed his bag and slid the Manual back into it. He brushed himself down, slid the bag over his shoulder and began towards the door.
Karin smiled. “Sure.”
Arm in arm they walked out the door.