What created humanity? What does it mean to be human? I’m not completely certain, nor is anyone that I know. To an extent, in our hearts, the people that I know and I all believe in the Maker, a living virtuous force that watches over humanity from the heavens.
When I was a little girl in primary school, like all of my friends, I was taught the Myth of Three. The most important elements in the universe, I learned, were water, earth and light. Because light represented wisdom, understanding and goodness, angels were made entirely of light. Water, a pure, life-giving substance, was inferior to light, but was superior to earth. Humans, according to the myth, were made of a mixture of earth and water, but not light. People, therefore, because we aren’t angels, must strive to rise above our earthly nature and go out of our way to seek the light of virtue.
I won’t start my story, though, by speculating about the Maker or about the true origins of humans. I only want to talk about one wondrous light in particular. But I’ll start with some background. I’m Ayla Shin Ali. “Shin,” on our continent, means “daughter of” and precedes a girl’s surname, which, in older times, was the first name of a person’s father (these days, though, most people have at least two names and inherit their fathers’ last names, not their first names); “Shan” is the term for “son of” and comes before the last name of a boy. Around seventeen years ago, I was born in Corando, a country that lies in the Eastern hemisphere of the world, which is across the Agitate Ocean from the West.
Though my family has a noble lineage, my mother and father were poor. Both of my grandfathers and their forefathers had belonged to a class of warriors that were known as kesweii. Kesweii were considered elite warriors, so in order to claim the title of kesweii, you had to be brave enough and skilled enough to win acknowledgement and certification from a higher authority or inherit the title from your forefathers. My grandfathers had taken on short-term jobs as bodyguards for wealthy and powerful figures and their families in order to provide their own families with comfortable lives. But when I came into the world, times were relatively peaceful in Corando, and hired warriors and bodyguards were in low demand. In all honesty, Corando itself is and, even a century ago, was a relatively poor country. For the most part, it consists of desertlands and mountains, so it hasn’t been as good for agriculture, for example, as other countries are. Because of this, the Corandian ruling class, upper class and middle class have always been very small compared to those of other nations, which has meant a smaller clientele for kesweii. To add to that, I’m my mother’s and father’s only child, and we all knew well that in this economy, a girl didn’t have one-hundredth of a chance of getting a potential employer of kesweii to consider her, anyway - not when boys and full-grown men who were physically stronger than she was were available.
My grandfathers didn’t have a great deal of property or wealth to leave to us when they passed. As a child, I ached for the day when I could get a paying job and help to support myself, Mama and Papa. My motives weren’t altogether altruistic, though; I also longed desperately for a pet to love and play with - in particular, a pretty parakeet - and my parents couldn’t afford to give me one. With their permission, I left school as soon as I was able, graduating from primary school at twelve years old. At that time, the glassmaking and pottery industries were growing in Corando, as we had found sizeable markets for our most beautiful wares in other countries. Mama and Papa encouraged me to seek out an apprenticeship as a glassblower, and I needed no second bidding. I landed an apprenticeship under Mr. Akil Shan Saamir.
As a girl, I admired the beauty of the richly-colored pots, vases, tumblers, jewelry and stained-glass lamps that sat on shelves, catching and reflecting the light of the sun and of our lamps, or hung tantalizingly from elegant little hooks on the walls of Mr. Shan Saamir. I was still just a little thing, though, so, while I was allowed to watch my master at work, I was allowed neither to create nor so much as touch the wonderful glassware and pottery. One of my duties was to go out and gather the sand and soil that would be used to craft the wares, then sift it to remove pebbles and fragments of twig. One day, a year and a half into my apprenticeship, I was out carrying out this chore when I spied the wondrous light that I mentioned to you before
.I came upon what appeared to be a tiny object or fragment of something twinkling against the sand. For most passersby, it would have been easy to overlook and most convenient to ignore, it was so small. But I was a greedy child who hoped I had found a coin that someone had dropped and wasn’t too proud to kneel in and comb through the hot sand for it. To my surprise and wonder, no matter how I hunted, I couldn’t find a solid object, yet the light didn’t vanish beneath the sand when I moved it around. It twinkled as brightly as ever. It took several moments for me to realize that this light, which resembled a tiny white star, wasn’t being reflected by an object. It stood on its own.
Awestruck, I decided to see whether I could move this little star or hold it in my hand. By exercising great care, I was able to pick my little light up. It sat there on the tip of my forefinger, no hotter or more painful to the touch than lukewarm water. I abandoned my work tools and took my treasure back to the shop to show to Mr. Shan Saamir. He had me place my little star in one of his vases and stood back, marveling at the sight. More than that, when the vase was held up and rotated so that the star could be viewed in other lights, I saw what appeared to be rainbows - ribbons of rose-pink, lavender, sun-gold, pale blue and emerald-green - as tiny as the star, forming in the curves of the vase’s inner walls.
I begged my master to have this beautiful little star encased in a tiny globe of stained glass. That way, it would resemble a brilliant gem. Mr. Shan Saamir agreed, but, when he attempted to transfer the star to the plate, found that it refused to adhere to his finger. This caused him to believe that I must have an extraordinarily steady and delicate hand, and he gave the task of creating the gem that would house the star to me. In that way, I received my very first glassblowing job.
My little light was placed in the center of a marble of lustrous sea-green glass. To my astonishment, once it was fully encased in the glass, that tiny spark of a light grew until it was as brilliant as that of a lamp. On the very day that it was finished, Mr. Shan Saamir sent a message to our king and queen, Queen Raihanah and King Raajin, requesting permission to offer my creation to them as a gift. We were invited to the royal palace to present it to them.
Queen Raihanah and King Raajin were delighted to accept our gift. You can only imagine how proud Mama and Papa were, or how happy they were with the rewards that Mr. Shan Saamir and I received. Researchers were employed to attempt to determine the origins and nature of this light. My jewel was kept in a vault of glass and on a bed of velvet, and, as news of it spread, its existence became the wonder of the continent.
Not half a year after my master and I presented our gift to the royal family, shocking, sobering news came from the country of Mareydland, which lay to the east of and across Lake Sakamuraya from Corando. Mareydland’s king and queen had been betrayed them and assassinated by a young kesweii and a distant relative of theirs, Shizuki Shan Sitsuke.
King Seikako Shan Sitsuke had been the head of a clan that had produced many powerful, well-respected kesweii as well as the heir to a dynasty that had spanned two centuries. Along with King and Queen Shan Sitsuke, Shizuki had killed countless relatives of theirs. Most terrifyingly of all, it was believed that he had executed the murders by employing some strange supernatural power. He couldn’t have committed a crime of this magnitude with his own power alone, nor was any evidence found for the existence of accomplices. The last people to lay eyes on Shizuki before he disappeared were the two young sons of the king and queen, whose lives, by some miracle, had been spared.
Things became darker in the days that followed. The two orphaned princes of Mareydland suffered from asthma, and, because of their poor health, were told that they could neither inherit the rulership of Mareydland nor be certified as kesweii. Lord Kesweii Akil Shan Ragama, the head of a related clan, took the throne. In other words, the Sitsuke dynasty had come to an end. King Shan Ragama and his kesweii attempted to track down and capture Shizuki, but were not successful.
The people of Corando grieved for the bereaved princes and worried for ourselves. We had loved and had been loved by the good-hearted and kind King and Queen Shan Sitsuke, but in previous eras, Mareydland had waged war against Corando. With a change in the royal family and a powerful terrorist at large, we couldn’t guess what the future might hold. We knew, too, that my glass jewel, the jewel that was now known as the Fallen Star of Corando, was coveted by people who were enamored of its beauty or even suspected that it could be the key to unlocking supernatural powers and bringing about miracles.
When King Raajin and Queen Raihanah summoned me to the palace and commanded me to break the Fallen Star of Corando, I obeyed, but after destroying the glass and watching that brilliant light fade until it was, once again, nothing but a twinkle, I felt as though I had broken someone’s heart.
Queen Raihanah had come over to place her arms around me.“Don’t cry, little one,” she had whispered. “There’s no need for you to worry or grieve. Your light still shines. We won’t get rid of your star. We must preserve it by sharing it in such a way that it won’t be discovered.”
She had held me close, smoothed my hair and smiled into my wet eyes. “It’s said that when good kings and queens pass away, their spirits find new kingdoms in the Lands of the Sun, the Moon, the Planets and the Stars. I truly believe your light is a fallen star, a gift not only to you, but to us all, sent down from the Maker, the king of the universe.”