There was a time on our planet when the days were severely short, lasting only a few hours. The planet itself was a hurried cobble of rock and water. Trees grew low to the ground, and most animals lived in the sea. Each nightfall, the world was consumed with supernaturally dense darkness.
So thick was the darkness, it choked and sometimes suffocated poor creatures caught outside when the Sun would disappear each day.
In this time, men counted themselves among the rest of the animals, but when the beasts of the wilderness would emerge to hunt during the long nights, the human settlements were forced to remain awake. They had to do keep watch, in order to fend off hordes of wild and fearsome creatures that would venture out from the jungle and set upon the vulnerable tribes.
Many people lived in mountainside caves, whose caverns were cold and treacherous, but whose darkness was somehow different than that of the outside; It was a motherly embrace.
From within these caves, the sick, feeble, and the youngest children could hear the ravages of the nightmare outside their stone walls. Legions of unimaginable monsters created a cacophony of hellish whistles and bellows, harmonizing with the agonizing screams and horrified cries of human warriors, before everything would fall silent at once.
Then would come the sound of scratching and scraping along the mountain’s sides, as claws and talons of satisfied predators would sluggishly drag themselves back to the wilderness for a few hours’ rest. Until tomorrow.
Life had always been this way, and presumably would have remained so, if not for a young child and her mother;
In the daylight hours, an Azicocha woman called Risa would bring her little girl to a local lake, to wash their rags and enjoy the warmth of their distant, ever-sinking Sun.
The toddler, Pilaia, was usually a handful, and during this visit, the curious explorer had wandered away a short distance from her mother, who was too distracted with finishing her chores. Her haste was understandable, as night was always rushing closer.
Little Pilaia climbed a small rock formation at the water’s edge, and gazed out over the shimmering lake, when something far out above the water seemed to flash like a lightning bolt. The scared young girl lost her balance and fell backwards, down into the water below.
Frantic, Risa came dashing down the hill to where she thought she’d heard the splash. No sign of her baby. Her mind was racing, the air was thickening, and it was beginning to get dark.
Dizzy and distraught, the shaken Azicocha woman fell to her knees before the lake. She saw the Sun had nearly set, sinking fast into the horizon over the waters. Hope was now surrendered, and the weeping mother allowed herself to remain on the ground, where soon she would be discovered by the beasts of the night. She would join her daughter in the underworld.
The last remnants of sunlight finally disappeared behind the lake. Risa shook in fear as a loud scream came shooting out from the dark. It was her daughter’s voice.
The woman lifted her face, tears still dripping from her chin, to see the Sun beginning to rise again over the stirring waters. It rose halfway and stopped there, shining unlike ever before. And then he lifted his head. The Sun had indeed risen again, but with it, something else had emerged from the lake. Something like a man.
This man wore a mask so brilliant, its crest had been mistaken for the half-disk shape of the newly risen star, by the trembling woman, not believing her eyes.
He was glowing. His mask was of impossible design, and bore radiance beyond earthly comparison. His eyes were hidden behind ornate panels of jade, in-laid with bits of black malachite, his features pressed beneath a collage of geometric shapes, carved into a strange, red-tinted plate of gold.
This man held the living child, Pilaia, in his arms. The horrified woman screamed and fell back to the ground, whimpering and blurting out curses and praises to the Azicocha gods.
The masked man floated over the surface of the lake, toward the frightened woman, and came to a stop right before her. He spoke to her in her own language;
“Leave your child and your basket of clothes here with me. Tell your people of the man you saw rise from this lake. Have them follow you here.”
Shocked, and knowing the murderous, suffocating darkness would smother both her and her daughter, the terrified woman stared back toward the mountains. Everything was blackness.
She knew the cave entrances would already be blocked by massive boulders, and the path back home would be littered with bloodthirsty monsters. She turned again to face the lake, and the strange man, floating above the surface of the water, still holding her young daughter in his cloaked arms.
“I will keep her.” he spoke again, bringing the apparently sleeping Pilaia to his chest. “And I will set a safe path for you.” The eye-holes of his mysterious mask began to glow with the intensity of the breaking dawn. He lifted his gaze to the mountains, and a powerful light shone from his mask, revealing the dirt trail leading back to the Azicocha caverns.
“Now go.” The woman turned to run toward the brightly lit path, but she could hear the howls of lunatic beasts, and every inch of ground outside the path was saturated with impassable darkness.
A primal shriek sounded out from the shrouded woods, lowering in pitch until it became a demonic belly laugh.
She stepped backward, in fear. “I will keep you.” he repeated.