I am Abrihet Beyene, born Eddel Beyene, but my people allowed me a new name when they told me I would be a Sunchaser.
It means “she brings light.”
The Daystar himself whispered the name to me when I was small.
Don’t look at him, my daughter. He will scorch your eyes, and then how will you see anything beautiful?
But the Daystar has always been a part of me. I think he dimmed his glory so I could find him.
Now, here I stand, twenty years later, the sixty-seventh Sunchaser.
Ancient sands shift beneath my feet as the surf foams over them. It fills me with a warmth that shoots up my legs to my core, because even the waves know that tonight, the existence of our world rests on my shoulders.
It is my task to meet the Daystar at the horizon and lead him back to his place of beginning so he can rise again.
No boat follows. If I succeed, I won’t need one; if I fail, drowning is a mercy. The rest of the world will slowly freeze to death.
You must be afraid, the young ones say, to run with nothing but black water beneath your feet.
They do not understand that I am Abrihet, child of the light, and the Daystar calls me.
My father’s gentle voice draws me back to the celebration on the beach behind: voices chanting, bells ringing, feet stamping rhythmically in dance. The beating heart of what it means to chase the light.
I turn, responding to the pressure of his hands on my shoulders. “It is almost time, Abee.”
“But not yet,” he says with a smile and nudges my cheek with one finger. Then he sweeps an arm out across the beach, the gesture provoking a chorus of shouts joined almost at once by his rich laughter.
I close my eyes as my father’s voice swells like music.
“Do you smell what the wind carries you? The gift she brings?”
The sweet scent of fruit drifts down from the mountain groves, mingling with salt tossed up each time the ocean collides with nearby rocks.
“Hear the drums…”
Vibrations thrum through the bones in my feet, up my legs to my chest. “They reach the earth’s heart, and she gives us her music.”
Hands press lightly on my head and shoulders as my tribe gathers around me with prayers for speed and surefootedness.
But every other touch fades away when my father’s hands cradle my face and he presses his forehead to mine.
“May our love embrace and protect you. The Lady of the Night tries to come between you and the Daystar. But tonight, Habibti, you have wings on your feet.”
The pounding surf stills and a chant rises.
Not my name: the pulse of this task is not me or even the Daystar. It can’t be.
It is Life itself, and so my people cry “Haya!…Life!”
The crowd parts for me, clearing my path to the water where the Daystar stretches his golden beams across an ocean holding its breath for my arrival.
Run, Abrihet. Faster than you ever have before…
I launch forward, the balls of my feet springing off of sand that no longer sinks beneath my weight. When I reach the water, it holds as well, a path more certain than any land-bound road because the Daystar forges it for me.
I love you, Abee. Holding my father’s kind, aged face in my mind gives me more strength than I thought possible. He is my heart, and so the heart of all that lives.
The rhythm of it pounds in my ears with each desperate push of my legs, a deep throb that shouts for my success as loudly as my people do.
Ahead, the path of light stretches to the horizon where the Daystar hovers just above it: a brilliant orb of heat and flame, usually unchallenged.
But tonight is different. A shadow creeps between us, chiseling away at his right edge. The light path narrows slightly. Only then does my breath catch as fear squeezes my lungs like fingers constricting around them.
Tonight, Habibti, you have wings on your feet.
Setting my gaze on the Daystar, I ignore the darkness eroding his radiance. I will reach him in time and conquer this usurper, as others have before me.
Faster, faster, I can no longer feel the water beneath my feet. Now, Abee, I am flying.
With every stride, the Daystar grows bigger, brighter, until he fills my vision entirely, a third of his brilliance shrouded by the Lady of the Night. Then half. That darkness whittles away at my path until it is barely wide enough for my feet.
Only ten more strides…nine…eight
My legs do not shake, nor do my lungs burn as though unequal to the task. I am equal. This is the purpose of my first breath, and every breath after. Laughter bubbles up and spills from my mouth.
Then my foot plunges into dark water.
“Abee!” My cry is strangled by the ocean rushing up my nose and down my throat.
After several seconds of struggling, I break through the surface, choking and sucking in lungfuls of air. Air far colder than it had been a moment ago.
The brilliant pinks and purples have faded to the blue of twilight, and the Daystar is now a black circle ringed with a sliver of light.
Tears spring to my eyes as I watch the Daystar slip beneath the horizon…alone.
Fear rushes back, colder than anything I have felt before.
Not for me. For my people waiting on the beach. Their celebration will continue long into the night, because they believe I will bring them another day. Abee will stand at the crest of a dune, waiting to gather me in his arms. But the day will not come, and neither will I.