Night of Falling Stars
by Steven Savile
Crowscrest was made up of six peaks that fell away sharply, diving five hundred
feet down into the green-blue of the placid sea. Atop one of its cliffs sat Jayant
Ash, cross-legged, watching the waves roll in. Gulls banked and circled overhead,
scanning the water for scraps thrown up by the current. The sea's salty tang bit in
Ash's throat, and day gradually ceded the sky to night, the red sky bleeding to
death for another day.
Ash always came to the white cliffs to lose himself -- and Nell always laughed at
him for doing so. A soldier with the soul of a poet, she called him. She didn't
understand that it came with the blood. To her life was simple: the things that had
to be done were done, no fuss, no bother. Nell didn't walk with death day after
day -- though she frequently reminded Ash that the uncertainty and the endless
waiting within death's shadow were no better. Both marked the spirit.
Ash loved her as best he could; they both knew that. But there were times like
today when he wished he could be one with the water, a small wave rolling toward
the shore, breaking on the rocks and being absorbed again into the anonymity of
the sea, only do it again, over and over. Not for the first time, he found himself
watching the white caps and wondering about the metaphysical importance of
what he was watching: the endless cycle of death and rebirth being played out by
even the simplest wave. Did it mirror the cycle of the soul? Were soldiers born
again to serve and die and serve and die and serve?
Ash watched the waves and the moonlight's rippling shadow on them. Something
was different about this night. The sea was agitated. Restless.
The gulls sensed the tremors first; their squalling grew more urgent, their circling
flight more and more erratic as they struggled to ride the rising wind. Ash
followed the patterns made by their wings without understanding what he was
seeing or what it meant.
A moment later he felt the earth answer the gulls' cries, a violent shiver that
seemed to cause the dirt and stone to ripple beneath his feet. It was the most
peculiar sensation, a betrayal of the senses that transformed the solidity of the
ground into a continuation of the rippling, crashing waves.
Ash scrambled away from the cliff's edge for fear it might buckle so much that it
slipped away from the headland and fell beneath the waves. His fear was
heightened by the sudden tortured shriek that emerged from the belly of the earth
itself. He had heard nothing like it in his life. It was, Jayant Ash thought sickly,
as though he was listening to the death rattle of the ground beneath his feet.
Above him the first star fell, trailing a tail of silver in the night sky. Another and
another followed, and then more, streaking the sky like the moon's tears of grief
for a dying earth. The sight stole his breath away. So bright were the falling stars
they transformed dusk to dawn, spreading molten silver from horizon to horizon.
It was as though the gods had cut their purses' strings and emptied them out across
He staggered back further from the edge, his gaze torn between the roiling sea and
the bleeding, star-streaked sky. Whatever was happening in the sky was having an
effect on the sea. The waters churned violently, bubbling and frothing as the tidal
pull drew it lower and lower.
Another lurch of the earth had Ash on his knees. Disbelieving his eyes, Ash
followed the waves; instead of crashing into the shore, they retreated. It was a
giant wave rearing up, every bit a match for the shadow of Crowscrest. Ash stared
in mute horror as it continued to swell and swell, only to come crashing back to
shore, hammering the high cliffs.
Then, with another tortured scream from the earth, something tore free.