Aphelion Issue 274, Volume 26
July 2022
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The Last Warrior

by Joel Doonan

Two ravens sat together on the thin rim of a low crescent moon. They watched silently as I passed, on my way to peer beyond the edge of the world.

Here beside the end islands, where the last forest grew, all the waters of the world converged into a single broad torrent and plunged over the edge of the precipice into a vast abyss of dark and unknown spaces.

I stood at the very edge and leaned out as far as I could to look down, my bare toes grasping the rock under swift, shallow water. Far below, in the half light of space lay a broad ledge; a final catch of earth and rock before the blackness which extended forever beyond. Glistening upon the ledge in the rainbow spray from pounding waters lay the ruins and carved stone columns of lost empires, washed by the torrents of cascading falls. Graceful arches of red sandstone, intricately carved, spanned hundreds of feet, now home to orchids in full bloom with velvety roots wrapped and clinging. Their white flowers appeared every color in the rainbow mist, bathed and jeweled.

The black birds sitting on the rim of moon behind me began to chat in raven talk, a language unknown to me. They talked back and forth, sometimes at once, a dark wing raised now and then. Their chatter was bothersome and I turned around, wanting some peace here at the edge of Earth, tired after three weeks' trek from the eastern range. With my stare they suddenly became quiet, stared back with black eyes and blank expressions as if they had been silent all along, then one spoke directly in a language I understood.

"Tell your people to paint their faces and dance like birds in the snow of the mountaintops. Dance to bring back the fallen empires and once more grace the land with magnificent civilizations."

"But I am the only one left," I replied. "I came here to find answers. To find what happened to the others of my kind."

"Then you can paint your face and dance for us now," said the raven, "Here in the shallow water at the edge of the last land. We will be your audience."

I felt tired, reluctant.

"A dance unseen by others is a dance without purpose," said the other raven. "Dance for us now and you may find the meaning of your travels."

Streaks of yellow mud lay exposed between tree roots along the forest bank and I crouched low to catch it on my fingers. I ran two finger-wide stripes across each cheek and three dots on my forehead and a waving line down each arm in the fashion I had learned long go, and I began to dance in the shallow water. With my arms outstretched my feet splashed in rhythm against the wet stones as I faced the light from above.

Two suns hung together in the western sky, a red giant and a small bright blue which orbited around it. I paused, held up my hands and talked to the suns. I began to sing the ancient poetry from before the beginning. "Two suns who give life to the land and to the waters of the Earth, shine down upon us now, all of us who remain."

The two ravens joined in and the three of us continued the poem together; a song which all life knew in its deepest heart.

"Grant meaning and purpose to all who walk the shores or sail the sky; and if you choose to take us back, we go willingly; because we all know that it was you who put us here at the beginning."

And the two suns became brighter and warmer and the waters rose and fell harder against the ruins of lost empires and the spray rose in a great swirling cloud from beyond the edge. Light from the two suns set the clouds glowing in rainbows so vivid that the ravens and I appeared purple and green and orange.

"Are we three the last ones?" I asked the ravens.

They shook their dark feathered heads, "It is you who are the last one," they said, "The last warrior." They suddenly took to their wings and rose into the mist from the beyond the edge. They disappeared within colors and light, and then I knew that I was alone, but I did not feel abandoned.

The sky began to dim and the distant mountains faded translucent. The world around was gradually swallowed in darkness, and all began to fade and disappear except for the place where I stood. It was then that I heard the words of the two suns, and I looked to the darkened sky. They were still just visible, and they spoke to me. "You will be the one to remember the stories of the world which has passed. And when the rebirth comes, you will teach the new ones the poetry and dances that all life must learn; how to live, how to share love, and how to give. You will teach them the dance of life so that someday, they will again build glorious empires."

I felt a deep tiredness within, and I stepped up on the forest bank.

"This Earth has finished its days," they continued, "You will sleep now and dream of the rise of new life; and when you awake again it will be in a new world."

Now there was peace within me and also a sense of duty and grace. I lay down on the forest bank, between the great roots of the last trees, and moss began to grow up around me. As roots curved in and embraced I felt part of the soil and part of the trees. My arms were their branches and my fingers their leaves. Their great trunks held power and kindness. We blended together in green and brown and gray and as the last light faded, we closed our eyes together for the long night's sleep.


© 2008 Joel Doonan

Bio: Joel Doonan grew up in the rain forest of eastern Peru, where he experienced dangers and wonders not found in your average suburb, and developed, at an early age, an avid interest in writing. Now a small business owner in central Texas, he lives on 22 acres of untamed rural land, where, despite heat, grasshoppers, hail storms, and the natives (he does not specify whether he means Native Americans, or just Texans), he still finds time to write. Joel has had two short stories published by "Wild Child Publishing", and five others by Aphelion, most recently Three Oranges, December, 2007.

E-mail: Joel Doonan

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