THE SUN STEPS OF SHUNAI extract

This is the start of the story:

THE COMMUNITY OF THE CLOUDS

Through the drift of gaseous grey, lifting and lowering in time no longer charted, filters the pale gold of a shocked sun.

Shunai is the first to see the feeble light spilling through the sourly fragmenting cloud. He turns to it and is unable to look away.

” Zahra.” He calls his consort quietly, sensing her apprehensive presence. She is equally transfixed, but while he watches the re-birth of the ancient life source in awe, she trembles, receiving waves of warning through the cloud.

The Community of the Clouds had grown accustomed to the sculpted banks of vapour that had colonised Earth since the Cataclysm.

No one knew precisely what had happened. The event that had transformed the planet was already steeped in contradiction. But it was rumoured that after the Darkness, infinite armies of noxious cloud had massed and marched before a frozen wind, briefly fanning fires that, as the wind waned, left dead deserts in their wake.

No other life stirred. Trauma possessed the land that floated in fragments on a festering sea. Africa, America, Europe, had been spliced, flung, bizarrely re-assembled; their original features obliterated and from scars too deep to comprehend, tenuous new life had struggled for existence.

At first the mutations had been grotesque; grossly distorted and ill-equipped beings had lived briefly, then died or been mutually devoured. Like the dinosaurs in another time of violent assertion, they were destined to disappear, while vestigial forms of life with a tougher potential, crept, felt and foundered.

The Community of the Clouds had no written history, although signs like the hieroglyphics of other ancestors, were carved into the soft black rock that had evolved from the upheaval.

These recalled fear and the oppression of the atmosphere, the pain of metamorphosis and later, a slow emergence of strange and haunting beauty.

From the destruction and long pall of death, a new geology grew. Minerals and precious stones, compressed in unprecedented ways, lay at first intermittently in the blackened earth. Then they mysteriously multiplied. The finely banded agate combined its rhythmic crystallisation with the metallic lustre of labradorite; dazzling spectrums of the new Earth appeared.

The collapsed ruins of landscape marble merged with malachite, the old protector against witches. Pyrite, producing fire under pressure, married with black opal, forming cliffs that shone against the grey. Branched black coral grew like a low-lying forest.

For years there were no plants. Then a tenacious type of lichen crept across the burnt earth and as a thin light permeated the low cloud, bizarre fronds, like a distortion of the ancient fern, appeared. From these, in time, grew strands of dancing colour. Heavy plant heads interbred as though no catastrophe had occurred.

Inner reproductive layers expanded. Stamens were sturdy. Blue pollen drifted from great anthers to be carried by the light wind. Long stigmas waved, awaiting the pollen which was stored in the ovaries to generate unprecedented seeds.

Exotic survivors of ancient garden flowers proved hardier than those that had grown wild. Amaryllis crossed with camellia japonica. Canna and viola uncannily combined and there were other liaisons less readily defined.

Iridescence and grace also entered the genes of the animals, birds and fish that softly evolved from their ungainly forbears.

And eventually people walked through the dust blown on new, less contaminated winds. In the wake of those who strove to exist after the Cataclysm, came the Community of the Clouds; tall and strong-limbed, although possessing only three fingers and three toes on slender hands and feet.

Living on fruit that grew among flower-bearing rocks, they were mercurial and mindful without words. Their skin was translucent, shot with the colours of the new spectrum. Their hair tone changed with the light and was elaborately dressed and strung with stones.

In fragile faces were eyes that also absorbed the atmosphere. In them lay unprecedented knowledge, caution, caring and fear, inherited from the horror; an insight none of the old race possessed.

It was so vivid and keenly honed, the people denied it and drew blanks over awesome visions. To bear each day and the knowledge of each other, they created a hierarchy of masks; contrived from the supple raw materials that spiralled, sprawled and shimmered like mirages of minds too long deprived. The masks could not obliterate the eyes but their intricate designs diverted and were a means of deducing status. In townships built crudely of the mineral-laced rocks, the people devised a society that, like its predecessors, consisted of layers, from privilege to servitude. And its creation myth lay in the phenomenon of the clouds.

These toxic cathedrals had ruled the ruined land; infesting, obscuring, distorting. As the Community of the Clouds emerged, they lived in awe of the steeped grey, shot with gold, carmine, unearthly green.

They explained their lonely existence in a legend; man growing in the centre of a great cloud cup suspended in dense air. As the man grew, the cup gained the texture of a flower; mutated, exotically veined, its thick stamens wrapped around the man who absorbed the flower’s luminosity. As he unwound the stamens and stepped from the flower, the man divided like a cell, to form, too, a woman.

Neither spoke. They had no need. For as their strange eyes met, they perceived in painful microcosm, the helplessness and hope, folly and fear that formed the enigma of man. They were compelled to mate but afterwards, walked away in different directions, unable to share the auspicious implications of their knowledge.

 

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