Running Weasel looked up. Both moons were washed in blood. "The elders were right. The Time is upon us," he said. "We should warn the others." Thunder Cloud stood still beside him, staring at the night sky. "The Archer has not yet fired." He pointed to the familiar constellation with the tip of his spear. "The One Who Gathers Sticks will know what to do," said Running Weasel. In the eerie moonlight, the pair made their way to the ring of carved timbers known to their people as the Sanctuary. The One Who Gathers Sticks was leaning heavily on his staff near the glowing bed of a dying fire, his cloak around him. He was studying the heavens. "The nights are beginning to chill," said the One, his eyes still fixed on the stars. The aroma of herbed incense hung in the air. "Yes, Master," replied Running Weasel. "You have seen the signs?" "Seen and foreseen." "What shall we do?" The old man turned toward the boys, a benign look in his eyes. "What can we do, my Sons?" Running Weasel was puzzled. Thunder Cloud spoke, "Is it really upon us, then? Mustn't we warn the others?" A spark crackled from the fire. "What would you have us tell them?" asked the elder. "That it is the End of all things as the gods have decreed!" "And what would you have them do?" Thunder Cloud was about to speak again, but paused. "We await the Gatherings," the old man continued. "The Gathering of stars?" asked Running Weasel, his face aglow with the orange light of the embers. "And the Gathering of the Chosen?" "As it should be, my Son." "But Father, is there nothing that can be done?" Thunder Cloud said. "Others must have also seen the signs. Surely they will wonder." "They will wonder. And they will come." The One Who Gathers Sticks raised the end of his staff off the ground and pointed it at the boys' feet. "You are but the first. The Gatherings have begun." "But the Archer's bow is still drawn!" "I know," said the old man. "The Viper has not yet stung, either." He pointed his staff to a nearby timber and began to read the markings carved into it. "...and the moons bleed and the stars collect unto themselves, then the chosen shall assemble as the lights of the firmament fall. The Hunter shall assail, the Archer shall loose, the Urn overrun, the Serpent shall strike-" "The End... is it inevitable?" asked Thunder Cloud, concern in his voice. "The End is necessary." The old man stooped to place a few sticks of wood on the glowing coals. "And yet it must be remembered that the conclusion of some things is often the commencement of others. Likewise, the snows of winter give way to spring, and spring in turn yields to summer. It is but a cycle of continual change. Such is the way of all things." "The stars!" Running Weasel exclaimed. "They gather!" Indeed, they moved. Slowly at first, and not all, but gradually they were coming together at a point in the sky above the Great Timber. Red Stone emerged into the clearing with young Two Trees in his arms and his wife beside him. "We have seen strange signs," he said. "Please," replied the One Who Gathers Sticks, "the fire is warm." Others arrived throughout the night. Some in groups, some alone. But they all came knowing, and they all sat patiently, huddled by the fire, waiting. Waiting for the End. Then at once, the gathered points of light began to fall. The very stars rained down, down to the earth, wiping the age old constellations from the night sky forever. And as they impacted each glowing sphere hissed, crackled, and split open. Then one by one new and unusual beings slowly emerged from the debris of a million spent pods, each one ready for a New Beginning.
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