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Hunting Shadows - by Marguerite Coetzee

It was the day of The Feast. When the last burning ember died after a season of firestorms, much of the planet was scorched. At the time, the only life that could be found was underground. Fenicians were emerging from their hidden homes after having sought shelter from the flames above. As was customary, this particular cycle’s gatherers were retrieving food from storage while self-elected hunters prepared themselves for The Ritual. Over generations, extensive measures had been put in place to ensure that the blazing sun passed through transparent glass or reflected off the shiny metal – whether structures, tools, or armour, it all contained and adapted light. Most people lived out their lives underground; the risk for them was too great on the surface. It had long been believed that there exists in the shadows a parasite. It was clear when someone’s mind had been occupied by this parasite; the light in their eyes went dim, and shadows danced across their face. The Forgotten, as they were known, were sent to live in the darkness where no shadows could be cast onto others. Argo had volunteered to be a hunter. She had often been told that she carried the traits required for a successful hunt; to be curious, inventive, and dynamic. Like all Fenicians, Argo knew not from whence she came. She had no lineage, no connection, no legacy. She only knew the stories she was told, of times, people, and places gone by. Like all Fenicians, she was destined for a life of mining. Buried deep in the charcoal mines were little orbs of energy. An orb, almost like a small self-contained sphere of fire, provided the same kind of energy a lightning bolt would - if lightning could be captured and stored. Unlike solar power, these orbs did not require panels to generate energy or battery capacity to save energy. They were regenerative energy microcosms. They were highly sought after by the planet Nangun Wruk who used them to power their blockchain. What made the orbs so appealing – apart from their intricate energy ecosystems – was that it required no burning of coal, no absorption of solar, no vast land for wind, no mechanisation of water, and no nuclear waste. However, the origins of the orb remain a mystery, ancient wisdom that was lost when the last original elder on the planet died. After The Great Conflict between the five planets, many moons ago, there lingered a divide between them. As part of the Fenician ceremonies, during The Feast, a peace offering would be made to Airmed, the life planet, in the form of a plant. Not just any plant - the first plant that grows after the fires. Believed to instil properties of rejuvenation and revitalisation when ingested by the Airmed leader, it is a symbol of renewal, hope, and peace. The relationship with the water planet, Pani, was beyond repair. Panis feared the extinguishing properties of fire and were reluctant to trust the Fenicians. To honour Armonia, the air planet, the gatherers scout the above-ground for any remnants of a sacred plant. This Part 5: Social Change 86 87 would be burned in The Ritual and the smoke inhaled by the hunters. This was so that the ancestors of the air may protect and guide them on their hunt. Argo was given a mug of tea. The brew was made from a variant of fynbos, one of the only plant species from the original Earth planet that not only withstood the fires but built resilience because of it. The tea gave the hunters strength and courage. Argo selected a torch. The hunters were given strict instructions to only light their torches if they were to hear the whispers of parasites. They were also told to travel in groups – pairs at least. Parasites entered the mind through loneliness; being alone was forbidden for this reason. Argo was in a group of three: herself, Nyx, and Ereb. How unfortunate, thought Argo to herself. Of course, she would be partnered with two people who were inseparably in love; their life-forces were burning for one another. Was she loved? Wondered Argo. They were allocated a journey-line. It was to be completed by dawn. When the sun rises, the shadows elongate across the surface, and it would be too dangerous for them to return. Several hours into the journey, they had not happened upon any parasites. Argo wished her pack would quieten. They had been whispering to one another endlessly. Their breath carried fleeting words and muffled the silence of the night. “You go on ahead”, said Argo, “I need to adjust my armour to fit more comfortably.” Nyx and Ereb gave each other a nervous glance. How bright the light shone in their eyes, thought Argo. Nyx nodded, and Ereb shrugged. They walked on, too absorbed to reason. Argo looked around and saw a small sliver of silver glistening on the ground. Water. She licked the dust and ash from her lips. How parched she felt. Thirst truly is a disease, she thought. All the great teachings warned of the temptations of water, of what lurked beneath. But how consuming her thirst was. Argo could see only her silhouette reflected in the water. The darkness had already absorbed Nyx and Ereb; they would not know what she was about to do. Placing her torch next to the small pool, she leaned over to drink. Peering into the depths, she could not believe what she saw: an orb! Instinctively she removed the armour around her arm. Immediately the radiating heat around her seeped into her skin. She dipped her fingers into the boiling water. So sure was Argo that she could touch the orb if she simply reached out a little more. Further and further, she stretched until her face glided through the liquid threshold. The armour too heavy for her to balance toppled her over. Into the water she fell. So fixated on the orb was she that she had not noticed her body now fully submerged. “Closer”, came a whisper. Argo’s face lit up in a brilliant white light, her eyes like two small orbs. “Closer.” Argo’s finger touched the orb. Shadows danced across her face. The light dimmed. Forgotten.

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