“How many have we lost today?” sixteen-year-old Anastasia Swallow asked the young officer in a navy blue uniform.
It was two months since the Great Lighting of Darkness, as the people called it in their various languages. The world was still sorting itself out.
“None,” he said, and smiled at her with white even teeth. It was the first time he had smiled in a month, since he had lost his parents and six siblings and Anastasia had been invited to join the team of senior reformers.
The reformers worked in great shifts, searching through the wreckage of the underground cavern which had collapsed shortly after Anastasia and her exhausted band had crawled up the shaft, through the library and out into the open, looking for the many corpses; researching the shadows and their motives to capturing the entire human race; visiting the recovering; issuing messages to unaffected parts of the world and making decisions about the future of the world.
“What’s the latest plan about what to do with the exiles?” Anastasia said. The cavern had been the worldwide base for the shadows, beneath her own house and town. In that chamber had been people from Australia, Peru, Spain, Finland, China, Italy, Albania, Madagascar, Togo, Libya, Alaska and many more places from all over the world. Black and white, small and tall, old and young. They had all been affected the same.
“They will be distributed among the unaffected countries,” said Rex Hender. He was partly French, with tan-coloured brown skin and floppy black hair.
Through the red cords, from the people to a great red lake in the centre of the world, flowed a never-ending stream of energy. Nothing had been discovered as yet, but Anastasia’s theory was that the shadows would destroy the sun with this mass of energy. Destroy the main light source. Destroy the light for their dark lives. Earth would have become a second hell. Hell on earth. What a common phrase that was. Common. A common phrase couldn’t describe accurately the intense horror of a world without light. It couldn’t even come close.
“Anything else?” she queried anxiously. Her mother was missing. They hoped she was alive, though she was still buried by the earth packed on top of the collapsed grotto deep in the earth.
Rex’s smile faded. “I’m sorry, Anastasia. We have nothing as yet. Your sisters are coming along fine in the infirmary. But your mother…I’m sorry.”
Anastasia sighed. She was pale, sleeping and eating badly. She had nightmares every night. She knew that they were ivory dreams. And she told herself that light had been shone on the evil. But that didn’t stop the nightmares. Perhaps if her mother turned up they would stop. Even dead. How could a person survive for two months in an evil underground chamber? No; it wasn’t evil. The evil came from her own thoughts. There was no evil, she told herself. But she knew there was.
She had instincts. She knew she had.
As if to prove it, suddenly a strange sensation gripped her, making her throat contract and her muscles work the wrong way. Anastasia breathed in short gasps. She could feel the presence of the body somewhere.
“I think I can find her,” Anastasia said in a strangled voice.
A well of hope sprung in Rex Hender’s eyes, and he nodded.
“Lead on,” was all he said.
Anastasia paused a moment and glanced at the sea and the heaving waves before her. Taking her ivory-handled knife from a secret pocket, she looked at it a moment. Her last memory of her father. But she didn’t need to make a decision.
Gritting her teeth, she slowly brought back her arm, and hurled the knife as far as she could over the water. The blade flashed. It broke the surface of the water without a single splash. The lasts she saw of it was the pale ivory carvings reflecting the light of the sun. Only reflecting. Ivory; false.
“Lead on,” Rex Hender said again. He had paused to wait for her.
Anastasia nodded grimly.