DANCING THE WORLD'S END
Miko was old, very old. His flaxen hair had turned grey and the hand that I held had withered into a claw. It would not be long, his passing would probably be that night. The nurses probably took me for his daughter or grand-daughter, but in truth Miko and I had been partners once; when we had danced on stage we had been a blazing light, our feet moving faster than eyes could follow until we had been a blur of movement and sound. Now Miko was old and palsied in the way of his people and I was still fair and young in the way of my people. At seventy he was, by my people's reckoning, a child in years. I had seen the passing of more millennia than a man could comfortably reckon, always dropping from sight before my agelessness became apparent. Poor Miko, his friends had said, abandoned by his young, attractive consort when his hair turned grey and his steps faltered. Only Miko knew the truth, or at least the part of it: that I could not age and that I could take the form of any of earth's animals; furred, feathered or smooth of skin.
"You said there would be four," he whispered, his voice trembling in the shrunken folds of his throat, "and that we would set the whole world alight with our dance. A dream we never realised, Fay."
"There will be four, Miko, but it will be in another lifetime." I told him. It would be in another lifetime for him, but at the end of this lifetime for me. Immortals have no soul, no afterlife, no hope of redemption in another existence. I knew that there would be four of us and that we would set the world alight, and that after that dance only three of those souls would dance again.
"You were well named - you were ever fey. Who else will it be?" he asked. It would not be long now, so I told him.
"Cullen ... "
"Cullen's dead. He died sixteen years ago, dear Fay have you forgotten?"
I smiled. Miko had always seen Cullen as a competitor for my affections. Sweet Cullen who always been overshadowed by Miko's talent, but whose sweet nature had borne no ill will. Cullen had passed without ever knowing what I was; he had seen me become partner - and more - to Miko and had never begrudged Miko his luck.
"The fourth has not yet been born," I said, "Her name is Genie and she danced the beginning of the world."
Whether Miko had heard me I didn't know. He had slipped beyond my reach then, into the long dark sleep of the soul. I would not see him again until the four were reunited to dance the end of the world.
Long years passed. I had seen the passing of thirty millennia, remaining an obscure presence in the shadows, stepping into the light only rarely and vanishing again before my un-ageing could be noticed. The world was dry and dusty, ravaged by its inhabitants, sterilised by their weapons. Almost no animals roamed the wastes, save those who could eke out an existence in the desert that the world had become. The People lived in tents, raggedy tents of metal, plastic and nylon torn from the hulls of aircraft and the ships which had never made it beyond the reaches of this star's planetary system, and from the wood of the One Tree. Hope was dying along with the planet. With no children being born, and that was a mercy since the world could not support even this vestigial population, this was the final generation. It was time to dance the end of the world.
That morning as the sun rose above the dust of the horizon, made bloated and red by the chemical smog of the atmosphere, I put on my moccasins. I had sewn metal to heel and toe. I chose to dance the world's end on a place of dull red rock, close to the ten or so tents that comprised this village. Once a city had stood here, bustling and throbbing with a million inhabitants. Before that, a fertile plain populated by bison.
I began to dance, slowly at first, remembering the steps, then growing in confidence as the memories returned. Some of The People watched. In this sad world it was not odd that someone wanted to dance. Someone beat a drum and a bone flute joined in with a melody. The tune had been written down once as the lament of a great Irish warrior, but in truth it was older than that time, older than this world.
Someone took my hand, the memory of this dance whispering in his soul. Though the body was different and the hair a dull red, not flaxen, I knew him. Miko was one of the four. Together, Miko and I spun and danced on the plain. A dark-haired man came to join the dance. I knew him too. Once he had been called Cullen, but that was in a different time. Three of us made a circle and stepped the old dance. Finally the fourth joined us, a copper-haired woman. Genie had danced the world's beginning, she completed the circle. Fiery Miko, restlessly creative, quick-tempered and proud. Gentle Cullen, slow to anger, compassionate and always able to see the best in people. Enigmatic Genie, intense, who watched and waited before acting. And I.
Under our feet was rock, but in our memories we saw grass and made it so. The grass spread from the centre of the circle outward. Rain, the first rain in centuries began to fall. The music faltered, then settled as the musicians were caught in the spell. For three of the four, the memories of the steps were at odds with bodies that had never known the dance, but as their confidence grew, the dance became faster, a whirling thing of flashing feet and flying hair. A spring welled up from the rock; a sapling broke free of the wet earth. Where there had been only a dusty plain there was woodland.
Next we danced the weather. Clouds began to form and the orange air cleared into blue skies behind the clouds. The grass continued to spread, a green carpet unrolling itself to the edge of sight and beyond. Trees grew straight and tall. We danced now in a grove and that was as it should be, the world's end was danced on a barren plain, the world's beginning was ever danced in a sacred grove. The stream flowed away from us, widening into a silver river, winding between the trees along the path of a forgotten watercourse.
In one of the trees a bird sang. We were now dancing the animals of earth into being. The plains would be full of bison, antelope and great hunting cats. Silver fish leapt in the water, chased by bear and otter. There were four of us and we danced the end of the world which was also the world's beginning.
The tempo changed as we danced the seasons into being. Snow fell, chased away by warm rain. Trees and flowers budded, the sweet smell of spring gave way to the richness and abundance of summer, then for a while we danced on fallen orange leaves, then frost, then the first loam of a new spring. Miko smiled at me; the fiery soul in the body recognising me. Gentle Cullen squeezed my hand, Genie laughed her rippling laughter.
"Four of us, dancing at the world's end," said Miko as his body moved to the rhythm of the awakening world. Now his creativity led the dance. Miko was fire, burning with life; Genie was air, whispering and laughing; Cullen was earth, stable and solid; I was water, a mysterious power, often hidden from sight.
Four of us, soon to be three, for the world needed a spirit of its own. With the seasons set in place the dance slowed. The dancers were tiring. Genie had danced with me at the beginning of the world and had danced in many lifetimes since. Miko and Cullen were spirits tied together, ever to be friendly rivals, two sides of a single coin. I had only one existence to live, I had danced one world into being and had danced its end with Miko, Cullen and Genie. Now we were dancing a new world into being, but the dance would go on without me. I left the dancing circle. The three formed a circle about me and I felt myself change as they danced the spirit of the world into being. Only Genie and I had danced two worlds into being; Genie in another incarnation and I as the un-ageing one who carried the world's patterns within me; now it was time for me to give those patterns back to the world.
Soon where I stood would be the One Tree, the Last Tree and the First Tree. It would stand for centuries, but my spirit would go into the world with its probing roots. Who would be the One to guard the world through another lifetime? My own guardianship was done, now it was for another to remain in the shadows through the millennia, stepping into the light only when needful. Perhaps among The People one would be immortal and carry the memory of the dance through the millennia, or perhaps one from another people would bear the burden. We had danced the world into being, the dance at the world's beginning. Another would know when it was time to dance the world's end.
There is the irony. Until this time I was immortal, now I am the world spirit. Perhaps the true immortals are Miko, Cullen and Genie. Genie whose soul has lived diverse lifetimes has danced two worlds into being with me and who may be the new immortal, holding the memory of the dance through the millennia until next time. Miko and Cullen, two halves of a whole, who might be born to dance the end of another world. And a fourth, whose soul has not yet been forged in the void, to join them. That is not for me to know. The peoples are scattered on the face of this world. The renewal has begun. Ageless, I have seen the cycle through from beginning to end. It is for another now to carry the heavy burden of immortality through the next age of this world.