A Star is Born

Sryall had once been a beautiful land, adorned with blooming trees offering many leaves. Serene waters were plenty. The sky above was a tranquil blue by day and a quiet navy blanket by night. Birds sang and animals frolicked in the grass. Humans lived, loved and laughed, generally enjoying the beauties and pleasures that life offered. The Sun rose high, not each day, but frequently, giving many great joy. The moon and stars gave comfort at night. Death was a sad event, for which were shed many tears, but it was often at the time of birth, to carry on the Eternal Cycle.

Life was simple then. People were free to express themselves how they wished. It was a period of great creativity. Much art, music, dance and writing were accomplished throughout the land. Imagination was encouraged. Dreams were seen as the gateway to unlocking the mysteries of the soul, something they truly believed to exist.

The religious beliefs of the people were rather simple. The believed that each being, upon death, was, in time, reborn into another body, perpetuating the Cycle. No one, therefore, was ever truly lost or dead; they could not be. Nor were the people of Sryall ever punished for their actions. Mistakes were allowed. If someone did something, he or she would have to suffer the consequences that their own life instilled. The people worshiped their goddess, Destinar, and believed her to be of a kind, nature, watching over them and helping the Eternal Cycle, without ever interfering unless the balance of life itself was in danger.

They were a happy people. Crime was rare. Anger, jealousy and hatred seemed alien, and could not possess their pure hearts. People were accepted as they were, as were events. Sadness and loneliness did occur—life cannot exist without them—but were used to teach lessons or to strengthen one’s character.

But this time just spoken of was one very long ago. No one presently alive could recall it, though the tales of their ancient land had trickled down through the ages to let all know what once was.

The world was no longer called Sryall, but Ozarrus, after the evil man who had taken it over. The land had changed greatly. The sky was an eternal black, reaching to unfathomable distances. No star twinkled, nor did the Sun shine. The ground was pale green dust, and gold around the Castle of Ozarr. The trees were gone and all bodies of water had dried, except for a lake on the castle grounds, which supplied the entire planet. Any light was artificial, from the lamps of the dwellings. From time to time, a sickening purple cloud of dust passed by, bringing with it foul smells and horrid sounds, like the wailing of a tortured child. They were clouds of smoke from Ozarr’s pipe. No longer did any bird fly or even live. All animals had mysteriously died long ago.

The houses, except for the castle, were quaint, all alike. Each one was an ugly shade of brown with a red door and only five windows.

Ozarr, the king of the land, wore the crown of black magic. He had used his dark knowledge to mold the land into his horrible paradise. All the inhabitants of Ozarrus were his unfortunate subjects.

Ozarr’s power was unlimited. He drank the blood of his sleeping people. He did not let them live as they pleased. They grew up fast and grew up hard. Once reaching the age of 14, each child was taken to work for Ozarr in his enormous castle. They were his slaves, being forced to assist his black rites. Those who did not work out were sent to the small houses to have more children to be enslaved.

No longer was life enjoyed. Almost all would give it up to be free. Yet never did anyone complain; the consequences would by unbearable. Many tears were shed, but never in Ozarr’s presence. The tears were woven in to the tapestry of green dust that was the ground.

Ozarr was a grand man—tall and muscular. His hair was long, black as deep space. His face was ghostly pale. His eyes were a magnetic aqua. He dressed solely in black, save for his long red cape, a deep scarlet that could only be made in blood. Gold fringes dressed the edges, giving him an evil, god-like aura.

In a sense Ozarr could be called a god. He was more powerful than anyone could dream to be. He drew all of the universe to be part of his world, using his evil powers to suck them in. There were no more stars, no moons, only Ozarrus, which held all heavenly bodies within its molten core. Ozarr defied any law of science.

All belief in Destinar was forgotten. Memories of days passed when all believed she was wondrous were like forgotten ashes of a fire. No one had any hope at all. They dealt with a harsh reality.

Ozarr did not just use his powers to create a huge world and take away all that twinkled. He could often be found torturing people who did not do his bidding. He spoke in strange tongues over a bubbling cauldron, into which he put dead snakes, his favorite. He breathed air that smelled like a mixture of decaying bodies and sour milk, over his concoctions, to speak to and gain the strength of every demon of the underworld.

There was only one thing Ozarr could not stop—the Eternal Cycle of Life. He did not want the souls of those he had killed returning to him over and over again; they were of little use to him. Instead, he wished for demonic souls with wills as dark as his, but less powerful. Ozarr was a greedy man and would not stand for anyone being more powerful than he. He had not found a way to conquer the Cycle, but even that would not last. Ozarr was getting some ideas. All would soon be lost for the people.

There was no way to keep track of days, nights, weeks, months or even years, as there was no Sun and the seasons did not change. Nonetheless, each birth had to be immediately reported to the castle. Instead of normal day and night, people slept when they were tired and woke when they were fully rested. Waking was never a pleasant experience on Ozarrus. No dream, no nightmare, could match the hellish qualities of the reality.

A Star is Born

One day was born a child. Frowns crossed the faces of her weary parents, Dolcis and Ganpor. They knew their baby daughter would lead a life marked only by misery, pain, torture and heartache, just as theirs had been. Dolcis asked her husband if they should not just end it right then and spare her daughter the pain. Ganpor argued that she would only be reborn into another life. He also pointed out that there was something else about her. In her tiny pale blue eyes was a joy not seen for many years in the land, a love for life her parents feared would all too quickly fade. There was much tenderness and love in her cute baby face. She was a magnetically beautiful child. They named her Astar—a perfect name for a girl such as she.

As time passed by, the fate of Ozarrus seemed only more doomed, yet Astar remained a happy child, full of laughter and mystery, making it an honor to spend time with her. Her hair grew long and black, like Ozarr’s. Hers was soft and silky, dark as the sky above but shimmering like precious gems. Her eyes were a dazzling blue, penetrating deep into the souls of those who her gaze settled upon. They shone like sparkling pale sapphires. She had a small figure but was quickly growing.

Astar liked to play in the green sand as if there were grass there. She played with the children nearby who had not been taken away yet. She brought ancient traditions into the present, teaching the children games such as Freeze Tag and Hide ‘N’ Seek. She could always be found singing a glorious song with her peers; she loved to sing and to see the bliss it brought to others. She made people think of what it must have been like to have fun, with innocence coursing through her veins. She made smiles grace the faces of all she met.

Ozarr and his servants never laid eyes on Astar, though they knew of her. Dolcis and Ganpor never disobeyed the strict laws that governed the land, and did report her birth. Yet they never told anyone of her undimmable joy and her vibrant spirit, or one of the workers from the castle would have put a stop to her spread of happiness without a doubt.

When Astar was about six of seven, she met Evstra, a boy who lived a few houses down from her. He did not often play with the other children, but frequently watched them from one of his windows. It was on a cool day that Astar spotted his face peering out at them. She promptly marched to the window and knocked on it. Startled, the boy obliged and opened the window. “Why are you not outside?” Astar inquired. “Why do you not join us in our play? It is wonderful fun.”

“My mother tells me that this place is ruled by a very bad man and that he does not like it when people are happy; it angers him. I am told that he will kill me if I have fun.”

Astar threw back her head and laughed, a rippling wave of joy. “Oh, it does not matter what they say. We sing and play every day and none of us are killed! Come on, you’ll have a great time!” After a slight hesitation the boy left his house and met her outside.

Under the light in the back of his house she could see his features more clearly. His hair was a very light blonde, like how she had overheard people describe their ancient Sun. His eyes were emeralds. He was a bit taller than Astar. He introduced himself to her as Evstra. She told him it was a beautiful name.

Evstra looked a bit reluctant, as though he didn’t know what to do. Astar grabbed his hand and they ran over to an assembled group of kids. She introduced him their newfound friend.

From then on, Evstra became a member of their group. He entertained them with stories of the old world, Sryall, many of which he had heard from his parents, who had heard the stories from their ancestors. Others he made up on his own. He spoke of blue skies and trees. Not all of the children believed him, though their parents did confirm the tales. They also learned from Evstra of Ozarr and all the wrongs he had committed. Astar knew, somehow without asking, that all of his tales were true. Somehow she had always known of the old world.

Astar and Evstra’s relationship grew more intimate over the years. They were the best of friends. They would stay outside while the world slept, talking for hours on end. They shared everything.

One day, Astar and Evstra were talking in the backyard of Astar’s small home. They were discussing regular topics of people their age—the lives of their peers and school assignments—interspersed with wonderings of the old world. They believed it must have been beautiful.

While they were discussing these things, a knock was heard on the front door. Dolcis answered the door to see one of Ozarr’s servants, clad in black and silver, the uniform for all officials. Fear immediately crossed Dolcis’ face. These were the men that made their lives rigid and monotone, dull and dark, and void of pleasure, save for Astar’s smile.

“What do you want?” she quivered, fearing she already knew the answer.

“Today, your child turns fourteen years old. She must come with me,” he said in a commanding voice not to be argued with.

Uttering a sigh laden with grief, Dolcis told the man to wait while she gathered Ganpor and called Astar and Evstra inside. A few minutes later all stood near the front door, none happy.

“What makes you positive that she lived fourteen years? There is not even a way to distinguish the years here!” Ganpor bellowed, bitterness evident.

Ozarr’s servant remained calm. “That is not so. In the castle there is a quite accurate calendar. It’s time for her to leave you.”

Evstra had tears in his eyes. “I don’t want to see you go,” he whispered.

Astar’s face lost some of its usual joyful color, but her tone remained lighthearted. “Do not worry. You were the best friend I could wish to have. I will not forget you.” This did not comfort Evstra much.

“It will not be long before you come to the castle,” their visitor informed them, staring intently at Evstra. “I believe it to be about a month.” He paused. “That does not guarantee that you will see her, though.”

Dolcis, Ganpor and Evstra continued to plead that Astar not be taken away. The servant of the castle would not and could not yield. Astar did not complain, or say anything for that matter.

Dolcis was vehement in not letting Astar go. She tried every tactic from bribery to begging, but none worked.

Ozarr’s servant became irritated and impatient. “It is time to go. There is no way around it.”

Everyone was upset, except for Astar. “Do not worry,” she said again, as the man was taking her away, “the darkness is not eternal.”

Then she was gone.

It was hard for anyone to believe her last words, for the darkness only seemed to deepen without the everlasting joy and innocence of that special child.

Outside the homes, children still played their games and sometimes sang the songs Astar had taught them, but the laughter was not as apparent. There seemed to be an unspoken melancholy in all their actions. Without the light and love of Astar, they could not be as carefree or spirited.

At the castle, life was not pleasant. There of course was no natural light and there wasn’t even much artificial light either. The rooms were dim. All had a heavy air, laden with the evil with which the world had been created, and the pain of others who suffered through it. Though most of the workers were of the adolescent age, there was no feeling of youth, playfulness or lightheartedness, none of the unending energy that youth is so renown for.

Ozarr’s servant brought her to the castle dungeon upon her arrival. There she was kept in chains. She was not alone. She was told that it was a ritual for all the newcomers.

Astar found her dreams most disturbing. They were of fire and blood, snakes and spiders. She could not understand this, as her dreams before had often been of sunshine and laughter. She decided it must be the effect of the place. It was the beginning of a new era. No longer could even Astar keep the light in her heart.

The years wore by slowly. Astar never did get to see Evstra. There were different regiments of little servants, all kept apart from each other. Astar thought of him often at first, but in time it became too painful to think of him, so she closed her mind to the memory.

Nor had she ever met Ozarr himself. Her regiment had three Senior Servants to order them about—Singe, Pox and Conpa.

A favorite thing of the leaders was to have all their workers clean the dungeon. While Astar solemnly scrubbed the walls she often dreamt of Sryall. She knew she had seen it somewhere, perhaps in a past life. During working hours talk between slaves was not permitted. All had to be silent, mundane and dreary. There could be no joys of life.

Astar could not help but let the darkness seep into her heart and begin to swallow her. She found it painful to bear life without laughter. She hated the work. She hated Ozarr for putting her and others through this torment. It hardened a person, even one as vivacious and carefree as Astar.

Each regiment of workers had a separate room in the castle where they would stay, after their first months of living in chains. The three Senior Servants stayed with their workers at all times, to keep order and to ensure misery.

Even though the children were prohibited from talking, the Senior Servants did so often and freely, mainly of Ozarr. One night Astar awoke from the land of tortured dreams to hear such a conversation. She lay still, listening to all they said about he whom they called, “The Great Master.” Through this she learned much about the evil ruler and also herself. Much of what she learned was not pleasant, as was the case with most things concerning Ozarr.

Singe started the conversation. “Finding a dinner for the Great Master has been getting harder each day, more and more people are learning about it.”

“Well, it’s not like there’s anywhere for people to hide. All the universe is compacted into this world and Ozarrus is not huge or anything,” said Pox, the newest and most naive of the Senior Servants.

“True,” put in Conpa, “but it used to be easy. Parents used to believe they were sending their pets to a training school. Now they know they are being used as the Great Master’s dinner, and that angers them. People used to be much more loyal to him.”

“That’s because now the parents are people who survived this torture and who Ozarr didn’t want as servants. Sixty years ago, the parents were completely oblivious and naive,” Singe pointed out.

“Yes, parents know too much. At the Council of the Most High we have been discussing a possible brainwashing technique to use to make people more obedient and to make them forget what happens at the castle. Some forget anyway because it is such a harrowing experience,” Conpa replied.

“But that is not the Great Master’s most prevalent problem. You all must have realized that Ozarr is no longer gaining any new power. He has conquered everything except for the Eternal Cycle. Until he does that, he will remain as he is.” Singe appeared genuinely concerned about Ozarr.

“He’s also quickly becoming bored,” added Conpa. “He has already performed every dark rite. He keeps encountering the same souls time and time again. If he gets really bored, that could be very dangerous for us Senior Servants.”

“Especially us, more than any other of his servants, because we look after her.” agreed Singe.

“I still don’t understand what’s so special about her,” complained Pox, finally speaking after his long silence. He threw a disdainful glance in Astar’s direction. “She is only a young girl.”

“She radiates power and joy. I’ve been speaking with the Great Master. He has a real special interest in her. She is the only possible savior for the world, yet only she can help him destroy the Eternal Cycle,” Conpa informed them.

“But how?” Pox asked, looking sheepish and confused.

“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” Singe inquired, his irritation evident. “She is no ordinary girl! She is an incarnation of Destinar, the goddess of the old world! Haven’t you observed the grace and peace with which she moves? The playful laughter she creates even in the saddest hearts? The magic of her voice? The light in her eyes? She charms even me, and I am a hardened soul with a cold heart if ever there was one!”

One of the slaves bolted upright in bed at the loud words of his superior. He was quickly and severely instructed to fall asleep if he wanted not to be put in Ozarr’s special torture chamber, called the Heart of Ozarrus. Only the really privileged enemies of Ozarr went there. None ever returned. It was often used more as a threat to keep the slaves obedient and fearful than as actual punishment. The boy quickly laid down and did his best to sleep. The servants waited a full hour before resuming their discussion. Astar still lay awake but appeared in a deep sleep. She was awaiting eagerly the revelations of more secrets about who she was. She was not disappointed.

“I knew she was special,” Pox began quietly, ”but that does not make her a goddess. The people do not even believe in Destinar anymore.”

“That does not mean she doesn’t exist,” countered Conpa. “She was always watching, even as the Great Mater took over. She let it happen; she never did like to interfere with human affairs. Ozarr told me she enjoyed watching people learn, progress and enjoy life without her help. I don’t know how he knows anything about how Destinar feels, but I do believe his words. I guess the goddess got fed up with the fact that she couldn’t sit idly b and watch her people progress, for instead of learning they were being tortured, as you well know.”

“Also,” put in Singe, “we do have direct proof of her divine origin. She was not born like a normal human being, for her father, Ganpor, was impotent. We know that Destinar must have decided to surrender her power to come here, a big sacrifice that we will no doubt exploit to the fullest.”

“No one questioned the fact that a child was born to parents who couldn’t have children?”

“No,” Singe answered promptly. “They were so ashamed and bewildered that they dared not speak of it to anyone, which served us well. No one told her who she was—I doubt even her parents know the full implications of her unnatural birth—and the secret was kept that Ozarr was sending out a great deal of people who couldn’t have children, in a futile effort to slow the Eternal Cycle.

“Technically she embodies everything these people have lost—youthfulness, energy, light, laughter, love, innocence and hope. The Great Master could end the entire Cycle if he were able to kill her, or better yet, to turn her to his evil ways, for without her, all is truly lost for both sides. And if she switches to the dark side, the future is ours, or rather, Ozarr’s.”

“So why doesn’t he just kill her? Why don’t we kill her right now?” Pox asked.

“You know Ozarr’s nature. He wants a challenge, especially now that he’s growing bored with the monotony of almost-total power. He also wants the supreme power he would acquire if she were converted to his side. Already he is beginning to succeed, slowly but surely. Her eyes don’t twinkle with the wonder they did when she first arrived. The misery in the air is filtering into her soul. The gruesome reality of this castle is weighing on her spirit. Soon she will really crack and lose hope. That’s when Ozarr can begin to turn her will away from the light and to the dark side. Soon she will be helping The Great Master with his incantations and performing new black rites right beside him. Most of all, she will help him break the Eternal Cycle. Then Ozarr will have completed his mission; all will be his,” Conpa replied.

“I can hardly wait,” Pox said, ending the conversation. Soon all of the Senior Servants were asleep, dreaming of how the world would soon change.

However, Astar still lay awake, in great wonder. Could she really be a goddess born into a human body? If she was, why didn’t she know it? She assumed the servants were right, though. She had always had the brightest smile. She had realized from an early age that she could easily influence and lighten the moods of others with a simple glance, and that she radiated joy. Also, her parents had never had another child, while some of her other friends back home had siblings.

She accepted the fact that she must be Destinar; it explained why she had always felt she had known the old world. Now she knew she had to keep her spirit from being crushed by despair and other drudgeries of life in the castle. It might be her only hope of survival.

From that day on, Astar did her work with vigor. She smiled brightly at each glimpse of her superiors, trying to infect them with her innocent joy. She never let a sign of misery into her face. As she worked she moved lightly and with agility and grace, as if she embodied peace and could not be daunted.

But she tried too hard. And the fact that she tried at all rendered her efforts useless. She was not happy and so her smile was forced and false. The harshness of her reality was forcing the light out of her once sparkling blue eyes. She was losing what she needed to help the world go on—her innocence.

Oh, how she longed for those endless days of her childhood where she had played, laughed, sang and made everyone forget their sorrows. She yearned for the carefree way she had dismissed Evstra’s fears on that first day he came out to play, as if there wasn’t a care in the world. She missed the way she could laugh with her entire being and send waves of happiness to those around her. She had never cared what anyone said, had listened to no restraints or cautions, had taken orders as mere whispers of suggestions in the wind, and had had no inhibitions. She was a free spirit now caged, and perhaps now her spirit was dying.

And so she continued the farce, painting a smile across her face as she toiled laboriously with her dreaded work and felt her soul fading. She sensed she was doomed in her feeble charade of joy. She knew she was quickly losing a battle that could not be won either with words or weapons, or no matter how determined she was or how hard she tried. Only her carefree, youthful spirit could save her, and that spirit was exactly what was slowly being stolen from her.

All of Astar’s efforts seemed hopeless and fruitless until one dreary day. While working, she was struck with the sudden urge to sing, which she knew would not be permitted. However, ever so quietly, while washing the walls of the dismal dungeon, she began to hum softly to herself. It came so naturally to her that the volume of her voice slowly crept upward. The Senior Servant watching over them gave her a harsh, dirty look, but it did not daunt her. In fact it made her sing even louder. It was the release of her carefree spirit that she had been missing. Singing was one thing she had always enjoyed with her friends back home. As the servant yelled, she only sang more freely, a mischievous and delightful grin spreading across her face. Astar truly had a remarkably beautiful and inspiring voice. Her euphoria was contagious. All the slaves around her began to smile. Their eyes lifted from the ground as her marvelous voice rang out, echoing off the walls. The servant looked flustered as he tried to keep from joining in the merriment that filled the room.

Astar’s voice continued to consume the dungeon with its beautiful song of life, sung with the grace, intensity and ardor of a great orchestra. Soon the voices of the other workers joined in and the bliss of everyone in the room reached a spectacular crescendo. Even the servant was singing now; he could not help himself.

All music and elation halted as the door burst open and he, the one and only devil, the perpetrator of all suffering, the master of black magic, Ozarr himself, stood in the doorway. His aqua eyes were as cold as ice at absolute zero. A twisted smile tugged at the corners of his cracked lips. His long cape flowed gracefully behind him, making him appear more commanding and powerful. The gold fringes danced on the edge of the cape to signify his importance. In a huge, booming voice caked with hatred he said, “Astar, you have won yourself a trip to the Heart of Ozarrus.”

Many of the other slaves gasped in terror, but Astar merely smiled. “It will be my pleasure to join you there.” She laughed. Then to her peers she said, “Do not worry about me. I’ll be fine.” She stated these words as the servant, who had been the first to stop singing, led her away, following Ozarr. This time her gaiety and carefree manner were no farce. She had awakened that slumbering part of her spirit with that wondrous song and now didn’t care what they did to her. Now that she had regained her endless joy and was again radiating innocence and light, she felt confident she could not be forced to cave in to the evil side. Nor did she believe he could kill her easily.

She was led through a maze of passageways and hallways, down spiraling staircases that seemed to Astar to lead at least ten stories underground. Just when she thought they must be at the end, they turned another corner and descended yet another flight of stairs.

About 40 turns and 50 flights later, Ozarr led Astar and the servant to a horrid room. Candles flickered all along the walls to create an eerie glow. A few of the candles had green flames, others blue and red. However, the most fearsome ones were the four that emitted black flames, each in one corner of the Heart of Ozarrus. In the center of the room was a huge cauldron boiling blood, though there was nothing to heat the enormous pot. Draped on the walls, behind the candles, were large cloths that matched Ozarr’s magnificent cape. The air smelled hideously, just like the purple clouds of smoke from Ozarr’s pipe that sometimes floated across the sky. The cauldron snapped, bubbled and hissed. It was not a pleasant place to be.

Once in the room, Ozarr turned to face Astar, his azure eyes cruel and caustic, his black hair reflecting the light of the wicked candles. “This is the moment I have been waiting for,” he said, his tone arrogant and laced with evil delight. “Since I am such a kind man, I shall give you some choices. You can surrender to me now and agree to be boiled in this potion. Or, if that does not strike your fancy, you can choose to have a chance to live by fighting me here and now. This, of course means that you will surrender to me later and become my personal slave and accomplice.”

“I will never surrender to you, or play any part in either of your scenarios,” Astar declared proudly, “for you do not scare me.” She threw him a charming smile he did not seem to catch.

“You will soon,” Ozarr retorted, his voice growing louder.

“Why should I fear some disgruntled old man who was so weak with envy that he had to build an empire based on torture? It was your weakness, greed and need to feel important that created this disastrous world. You couldn’t even let the stars shine because you feared they were a more beautiful sight than you, which, might I add, is not something hard to come by, for you are an ugly slob and you know it. You were just afraid to let anyone else know it, so you made yourself powerful so all would fear you. You know you have always felt inferior and that that has driven your thirst for power. You are a weak man Ozarr, and never shall I fear you.”

Ozarr’s face beat red with anger as the servant looked on, trying to hide his amusement. Upon seeing the smile on his errand boy’s face, the king of the land sternly ordered him to leave, which the servant did gladly and quickly, still chuckling to himself as he exited.

“Now, my dear, where were we? Oh yes, you were calling me weak. Well, I will prove my power and clout to you!”

With that exclamation, and a wave of Ozarr’s hand, a long, black snake slithered out from the deep folds of his cape. Its ruby eyes were glowing and its hungry mouth was open, ready for a bite. This was Ozarr’s trusted pet, most faithful servant, and most dangerous weapon. No one had ever escaped its wrath. The snake hissed and slithered across the floor, directly towards Astar. Just as it reached her, however, it turned and slithered away to a remote corner of the room lit by a black-flamed candle.

“See?” Astar said with a laugh, “I have no reason to fear you. In fact I believe I’m stronger than you, for I have a spirit of laughter, not pitiful envy.” Upon saying that she began to dance all around the room, her movements filled with charisma and delicate beauty, her temperament not caring about the steam from the awful cauldron or the hideous colored candles. This expression of freedom, rapture and enchantment angered Ozarr. Astar continued to move gracefully across the floor with a smile as bright as the old Sun.

“Stop it!” Ozarr roared. He had not expected to be beaten so easily. In fact, he had not expected to be beaten at all, especially not with his most loyal subject as the instrument of his defeat. It was evident that Astar was impervious to his black magic, and even to the strength of his power. His command only made Astar laugh. In her eyes Ozarr could see the twinkling of the stars. She continued to move about the room as a free spirit, mocking its evil aura with her simple, divine beauty.

“What is this?” she asked, finding a red button on the floor in the corner, almost hidden in the shadows of black light.

“Don’t touch that!” Ozarr screamed. Now real fear shone in his eyes. “If you press that, then the whole world of Ozarrus, which holds the entire universe inside of it, will become one huge, churning ball of fire and gases! All the planets, moon stars and other celestial wonders will be released and hurled back into space with the force of the inferno! Don’t you dare touch it!”

For once Astar actually listened to his words with interest. “If you were content here, being all-powerful, why did you create such a mechanism, one that could so easily undo it all?”

“It is here in case my power should ever be challenged. I would rather die and have my world die with me than give my power to another. Now move away from that button! I said now!”

“I don’t know,” Astar said. “It seems to me that your power is in danger now. Shall I respect your wishes and push the button? I know you must prefer I do that, rather than take over your high and mighty position, an idea I’m toying with now.” She smiled sweetly

“You will do neither and I have a way to ensure that.” He stepped near the cauldron, whispered, and held his hands high above his head. Within seconds a figure appeared beside Ozarr.

“Evstra,” Astar breathed. “What are you doing here?”

“I brought him here,” Ozarr informed her coldly, “for I know you have always cared for him. You will not destroy him. In fact, I’ll make you an even better deal. If you agree to be my most dedicated servant, I will let him go back to his home with his parents. You know that is never going to happen for him any other way.” Now Ozarr smiled sweetly. “Never assume, Astar, that you have won, because I am always a step ahead of you.”

Astar now had a real dilemma on her hands. Ozarr had been right. He had read her like an open book. She could not knowingly hurt Evstra to same the world. It had all seemed fine and harmless in her mind before, when the people she would kill would be mere numbers destroyed in order to return the universe to its natural state. Before Evstra arrived, the people had had no faces.

“Astar, press the button,” Evstra said simply.

“I can’t. I can’t kill you. I can’t make myself do it.”

“Yes you can, and you will. No one wants to live in this Hell anymore, myself included. If the universe could begin all over again, as it began billions of years ago, there might be hope. Right now you are the only hope left for that to happen. You are not going to fail everyone because of me.”

When he saw she was unconvinced, Evstra appealed to her again. “Astar, remember how many hours we spent talking about the old world, Sryall? Here is your chance to give that world another chance, and I doubt an opportunity like this will arise again for centuries. Maybe it never will. Besides, we will see each other again, not for a long time, but we will. You are an embodiment of the Eternal Cycle; you know we will be reborn. Next time we won’t even have to dream about the old world; we’ll be there to enjoy it. Please, Astar, push that button.”

Astar saw the logic and truth to his words. In the same way that she used to feel she must have known the old world, she now felt certain of a future world where skies would again be blue, animals would play and most of all, stars would twinkle in the night. She also saw that people would live and learn as they had before; they would progress and create great beauty. Though they would suffer at times, none would ever endure the oppressing life of that on Ozarrus. She knew, however, that it would be tens of billions of years before this would happen. She prayed she would meet Evstra as she reached down with a deliberate motion and pushed the red button down hard. The last thing she heard was Ozarr’s pained, shocked wailing.

Ozarrus exploded, then sizzled and churned for years and years. Eventually chunks broke free from the gaseous inferno and became the celestial beings they had been before being captured by Ozarr’s black magic.

Tens of billions of years later, the world was as Astar had predicted. The sky was a brilliant blue. Animals and humans alike thrived. Though there were some harsh dictators, control-hungry leaders, and many abuses of power, there were none as severe as Ozarr. The stars remained where they belonged.

Although no living being could appreciate this fact to the fullest and comprehend its implications, or know of their ancient beginnings, there were many who tried to discover the secrets of the universe and its origin. They knew very little about it, in fact it was only a theory never proven, but the day Astar pressed the button was commonly referred to as The Big Bang.

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