Imagine a world after the sun, the source of all life, has abandoned us on this lonely rock amidst the cosmos. A forgotten people live amidst that nightmare as a small elite atop the mountains in towers of ivory and ice suppress them, harness them as expendable laborers, and leave them to die in darkness. However, there are those within the remaining colonies of the living, these last people, who believe that the sun will return. Thus, Beyond the Sunset explores the rise of a herald proclaiming the coming of the sunrise and the forgotten people’s subsequent crusade to retake the Earth and rebirth the sun.
“It will get darker for us, for all of us, darker before it gets lighter…” he said with wavering hope before confidently asserting, “but he will return someday…” He was holding Jane close, soaking in the dwindling warmth of the flame. She stared up at him then, light and shadow flickering upon his face and, for that brief moment, she felt that as long as Darren was with her, she could bear the blackness that their world had become. It was nice to lose touch with reality during those brief moments, to find some light within the darkness, to escape from the trudgery. She could imagine living within novels with him, living as they did in the films that she saw as a child, anywhere but here, anywhere but in this world.
The world outside was shrouded, dangerous, and had become a terrifying vision that previous generations had only seen in movies, read about in books, and experienced in their darkest nightmares. The air made one’s eyes and lungs burn and, when it got under your skin, it began to consume you as if the earth herself had begun to crave her children. Jane’s grandmother had told her stories when she was a child. It began slowly with darker clouds and then suddenly a pestilence, birds falling from the sky, acts of god’s wrath—a punishment for a crime unknown, for all crimes of humanity, a damnation within which the future would toil, gradually suffocated from the light of their prior god. Yes, god himself had abandoned them, forsaken them within a dark storm. He had a name and an image, a golden orb within the sky above that had given life, coming daily to bless humanity and all creatures on Earth. Her grandmother called him the sun, our shared father. She had felt his warmth and the coldness of his desertion years and years before Jane was ever born.
Yes, Jane had never felt the touch of any such god, but Darren and the fire felt warm against her. Here and now in his little hut within the sanctuary city, a compound where they had gathered in a deep valley where a rare river flowed and the storms of anger from above were quelled by the mountains protecting their colony, she could enjoy a moment of fantastic peace. Darren was solemn as he looked into the flame and, laying down now at his side, Jane could see his deep brown eyes searching, probing. He looked as if there was some answer to be found within the silent fire at their side, as if some other god, the one they called djinn, might be whispering answers to their plight and providing guidance about how to bring about some brighter future, a new dawn.
“Darren, come lay down with me”, she said luringly, reaching up to caress his arm, attempting to pull him downward and toward her. He glanced over toward her, almost remorsefully, and nodded faintly. She was a shimmering star bathing in the dim light, and he abided, leaning forward to drink her radiance, to feel her life against his own, and to know the sensations that he caused her to feel. As they kissed, the light began to shrink and the flame faded; each felt the shock of the other’s flesh as they drifted into the evening’s darkness and beyond it into their sleep where they might live as one did in the past, their dreamworlds composed of images, videos, and tales that they had been told about the unseen, but never forgotten sun.
Darren was a man of the new world, optimally adapted to survival within the harshness of a desolated planet. He found that it required a duality, a love of people and a sustained detachment, a hope for a better future and an embrace of the one and only reality that he had ever known. Everything was terrible, but one still had to live. Not everyone felt that way, but he did, and he did so with conviction. He felt that one had to take a leap of faith that it might be worth it someday. Those with children had a longer time horizon to think about, a world for their children, their children’s children—“certainly this world will get better someday”, they thought to themselves—but Darren and others like him within the colonies lived for this life and this world. Perhaps some of them thought about some abstract concept of “the species”, that is what the voices from the cities always urged them to think about in all of their actions—”preserve, protect, and we will create prosperity”—but who gave a f*** about a “we” that no living person was a part of, especially when it came to matters of life and death and the quality thereof.
Anyhow, Jane died a couple of days ago, and Darren felt relatively unmoved, numb to it all at this point. She had been out in the hills when a jerl got her. A jerl is sort of like a cloud of insects that travel as one being and consume all life that they encounter further out within the darkness. You can’t see them in the dark, but you can hear a little whirl in the distance before their blaring buzzing lets you know that it is too late. People wore metal tags when they went out into the hills to hunt and to gather materials; they had to ensure that their bones could be identified and returned to their family to be used as tools, if they had any family left. Jane’s remains had been shipped off to the colony’s commons, but word had reached Darren. He had been fond of her. You also had to find moments to make it all worth it along the way and Jane had given him hope. She had been like a wellspring of imagination from which he could feel intimately connected to the sun; it had burned so brightly within her.
Life goes on though and, though it was a half-life of sorts, one had to continue living and loving, though their forms had been distorted and suppressed after so much time within the dark. Darren loved the people within his colony, but he knew that he and the others had a more important mission; the others shared this belief as well. Beyond mere survival amidst the remains of civilization, they were the protectors of a sunshrine, a hidden archive of knowledge from which they all drew strength. In a way, it demonstrated that there was actually still some humanity in them, some hope for the abstract being of “the species” that existed within these people of the colonies—the desire to protect a shared patrimony and to witness the sun’s return. It was mostly selfish, each of them hoping to see it for themselves one day, softer and sweeter than flesh upon flesh, brighter than fire, and more magnificent than dreams. However, it also bonded them, not to the human species that might one day be reborn within the light after their death, but to their brothers and sisters within the colonies. The bonds between them had, in many cases, become tighter than blood and the sunshrines a source of hope brighter than anything that any of them had ever seen. Thus, they went to great lengths to protect it; it was what they had been born to do, their purpose and their keenly felt desire.
This particular colony had felt peaceful during Darren’s youth. He had grown up in a world of relative security, as secure as one could feel in a dying world. There had been whispers though, hushed as they were while he was young, about colonies in the distance being taken over, sunshrines destroyed, and the agents of the government forcing children into reeducation and labor camps. Darren was shielded though, nestled safe within the womb of the valley and in training to become a member of the sunspeakers’ order, studying within the sunshrine and developing his survival skills on the edge of the colony. Growing up, Darren’s father believed that the sunrise was just beyond the horizon. He would tell Darren stories about it, doing so with excitement and such vivid detail that it was hard to believe that he had never seen it himself. A sun shone brightly within him to illuminate Darren’s earliest years.
However, his father left one day, venturing forth into the darkness, abandoning Darren in the colony with his mother. Seeking to bring about the sunrise for his son, if not for himself, he went to work in the distant mines, a treacherous place according to the few who had ever returned. They were further than Darren had ever travelled, even now at the age of twenty-five, into the devastated lowlands that extended beyond his knowledge. The maps showed what was there before, but no one could be quite so certain fifty years later, after the sky became permanent night and ashen, the air grew colder, and the water that had come from the glaciers and mountaintops above froze to a standstill.
Meanwhile, the light of hope that had cascaded from the cities upon the world’s tallest mountaintops, the last remnants of true civilization, flowed to a trickle until not even the metaphysical light of a brighter future illuminated the land. The cities had been built above the glaciers in the West where people of science and letters had retreated to mount humanity’s resurgence. Yet as their experiments failed, the populace grew agitated, and darker forces seized control. In the wake of a coup within the cities upon the mountaintops, the government began a campaign of extraction, reformation, and draconian control of the world beyond their icy havens. The promises of space faded quickly
The future was in space they said, “Space is the future!”; there would be a sun, many suns, but it would require untold sacrifice to achieve. In the early days, the leaders of the world viewed Darren and others like him as the roots and seeds of the future from which humanity would rise once more into the heavens. Yet as time went on, resources dwindled, sacrifices were unevenly distributed, and life continued to fade in a world without the sun. Thus, the world grew darker, pricklier, and, somehow, even more barbaric, as if nature had hit self-destruct on all living things.
Thus, the reeducation programs suddenly changed one day. The world had always been dark. There had never been a sun. Such myths were dangerous and the cause of human suffering within the colonies. The government also began an aggressive military campaign to squash them, capturing sunspeakers, sunshrines, and spreading the doctrine of darkness’s embrace throughout the colonies. The people were to be retrained to work in labor camps to produce what little food they could and to work in mines to gather resources, resources for unknown projects conducted by the dark figures upon the mountaintops. As had water and light, information about what was really happening became scarce and dark rumors began to fly; uncertainty began to reign supreme.
Yet within the cloud of smog, dust, and uncertainty that blanketed the Earth, Darren and the other forgotten people remained, defiantly, proudly, and still with a glimmer of hope. Here in Darren’s colony, the Valley of the Sun’s Return—all the colonies named themselves similarly: Site of the Sunrise, City of the Star’s Light, etc.—the people had yet to be intimately touched by the government’s campaigns of reform and control. Here they lived in relative peace. Here in the valley, they remained hidden, with little huts radiating out from the underground sunshrine to the feeble fences between them and the harsh black omnipresent night. Here in the womb of the mountains, they remained huddled together, a flickering light struggling to survive.
Darren never went on missions to other colonies throughout the years like the other sunspeakers. He had been selected by the elders as a child, at the age of ten, to follow the path of the teacher. Upon reaching the age of thirty, a rare occurrence amongst the forgotten people, one became an elder within their colony, a steward that would take residence within the sunshrine and train the youth. Most stewards, the few of them that there were, trained them equally so on the outskirts of the colony as well as within the sunshrine. However, each colony designated one, the teacher, to remain within the sunshrine to preserve and to share the knowledge contained within. Not yet an elder, Darren resisted his teacher’s insistence that he remain within the sunshrine. He managed to sneak his way onto missions without the teacher’s knowledge, to hunt with the others, and to explore the cliffs of their mountainous guardians.
Yet as time went on, the teacher became more watchful and Darren found himself trapped within the enclosure of their colony. The others recognized the duty that had fallen upon his shoulders and began to insist upon his remaining within the confines of the colony, preparing for the day when he would become the teacher to them and to their children. Gradually he had come to recognize and accept the role himself, begrudgingly, though he longed to venture forth into the darkness. He believed vehemently that answers existed not within the sunshrine, but somewhere out in the darkness—a sun waiting to be found and reborn.
Yes, time went on and Darren adapted to a more contemplative life within the sunshrine. To him, the sun was a puzzle and the pieces required to bring about its return were strewn about within the archives that surrounded him. Thus, his adventurous spirit turned to books, to examining the footage and visual evidence contained within the archive, and to developing theories to be shared with his teacher and, later, sent and challenged by the teachers within the distant sunshrines of other colonies.
Most often, his early theories were swiftly rejected as the teacher was able to quickly present countervailing evidence. However, as he grew more adept, moving beyond sun knowledge into unexplored areas of the archives, examining the few pieces of knowledge related to aspects of the world beyond the sun, his theories became more convincing and the teacher felt compelled to send them out for review. Thus, Darren’s name began to spread throughout the colonies, his theories capturing the attention of the other teachers. His work was known for being spectacular, yet seemingly possible.
In these cases, rejection took time to reach him as sunspeakers travelled through the darkness to carry the light of his words to other teachers and back again. By the time a rejection would reach him, the theory would already have matured further, metastasized, and overcome their common objections. In other cases, new theories would take their place, similarly growing in the vacuum of his mind without the challenge of others. The sun had not disappeared, it was merely obscured by a layer of haze that could be surpassed, if only we found a location with a high enough elevation. “No, no”, he was assured, “there is no such place on Earth.” The sun had not disappeared, it was merely obscured by a haze that could be counteracted in some way, a veil that could be destroyed so as to return the sun to its former glory. “Yes, but how? The people upon the mountains, in their towers of ivory and houses of ice have assured us that no such solution exists. They certainly know more than us.”
Darren used to find these answers convincing, but as time went on, the lights from the distant sunshrines began to fade as the colonies throughout the land fell to the government one by one. Within this deepening night of the mind amidst a shrouded world, his theories began to reject received wisdom, principally that which came from the government, those upon the mountains, their overlords towering above them as if they were gods. Thus, in the darkness of his sunshrine, his theories began to drift into more creative, innovative, and, to his mind, potentially successful ideas for how to bring about the sunrise.
The sun had not disappeared; they had taken it away. The sun was not out there beyond his people’s grasp, but hidden, hidden somewhere known to those upon the mountaintops, likely fueling their ability to oppress Darren and the others within the colonies. The sun was not a lost cause, but the very reason for their suffering and the source of their salvation. Thus, Darren sent forth the sunspeakers to announce his theory to the remaining colonies as well as his call for a generation to begin searching for it, within the depths, within their towers, and within the farthest reaches of their world. Thus, people began to flock to The Valley of the Sun’s Return, as refugees from the fallen colonies, as pilgrims to meet the prophet, and as loyal servants in Darren’s quest to bring light to the world.
The day began like any other. Darren, now an elder of thirty and the teacher of all children within The Valley of the Sun’s Return, watched and listened as they sang the colonies’ anthem.
The sky will part
for the pure of heart,
those with light within—
the gift of djinn.
As we carry on
until the dawn,
come emergent light
to end the night.
Because the blackness,
it covers all
and in the darkness
we all will fall
until the sunrise,
it lifts us all
The sky will part
for the true of heart,
shining in the dark—
a rising monarch.
Come from up above,
source of light & love,
to end this night…
Thus, the chorus continued, their angelic voices brightening his day, until Darren’s attention suddenly turned to the horizon. A light had begun to emerge from the distance, an unholy light, the blue flames of the government’s approaching invasion. There was little time. Others had noticed it as well. Screams began to rise. Mothers grabbed their children and their children’s soothing voices became painful shrieks of panic and terror. Yet, as quickly as the fervor has risen, the valley became quiet.
Darren looked on from a cliff above as his world was destroyed. He witnessed a flash as the sunshrine burst into flames before consuming the entire village. He had not taken even a moment to collect a sliver of the sun before bolting into the mountains surrounding his home. It existed within him now, the history of his people and the world that was rightfully theirs. At this moment it burned more brightly than it ever had before, more brightly, he thought, than it had ever shone within any other living person. He shed a tear as the light of the fire faded to darkness, a pale blue light flickering where all that he had known and loved once stood, knowing what he would find if he were to descend.
He wandered then through the hills, gathering his flock, those that had escaped the twin evils of the government and the purity of nature that existed beyond their sanctuary. Overcome with grief upon reaching the summit of the mountain, he wept before them, prostrating himself upon the ground, praying silently to their god, the one that they called djinn. The people wept too, and Darren realized that he had to rise, that he had to give them strength. Untold horrors awaited them on their pilgrimage to find a new home.
Thus, he began to pray, to do so loudly, calling upon djinn to grant them light, a clear light to guide them to the land of the eternal sun. Thus, he shouted into the heavens, calling upon the sun, calling upon it to show itself and to smite the forces of the government. Thus, the earth began to tremble, and in the distance, the mountains in the East, a brilliant light began to shine. Pulses of orange and red glimmered through the endarkened air, shining brighter at first than any flame. Gradually though, it softened, the Earth grew still, and the new light continued to glow alluringly in the distance. Thus, invigorated and possessed by a sensation of power that he had never before felt, Darren turned to his people and declared, “behold, my words are light and of the brightest. I will bring about the sunrise for I am the sun; behold, my words have illuminated our path and the sun is rising; our new dawn approaches.” A slight tremor, an aftershock, shot through the Earth in the wake of Darren’s pronouncement and the people dropped to their knees, bowing before him in silence.
Copyright: Thomas Christopher Elliott, 2021.
To Be Continued…
Book One would have been released in the Summer of 2021, but I never secured funding. I’m currently working to scrounge up funding to write it beyond the outlines and sketches that I have already prepared. It will recount the harrowing journey of Darren and his people as they venture into the depths of the dying lands to seek evidence to confirm his theories about the sun’s disappearance and to devise a plot to bring about its return to its former glory. What they find perplexes them, but more people flock to join the rising herald, some become devout while others succumb to doubt, and a plan is hatched to rebirth the sun and to reclaim the Earth.
Beyond the Sunset is actually a four book series and is also Volume III within my A Dance of Light and Shadows series.