“I have a gift for you,” Tokelark says. He glides across the dark matter of space and gives the star to Arem.
Arem cradles the star in her hands. The cool fire of the dead star bites at her fingers. She turns it over and feels the sunspot stains and the cracks, a web of history nesting on the surface.
“How do I drink it?” Arem asks. Her transparent face beams and her smile is so wide that Tokelark could count the lights of the universe across her lips.
“You should know something first.” Tokelark takes the star back. “Star Drinking is not for young celestials. You will sip evocation from this star only if you are ready. It will make you old.” He measures Arem with his infinite eyes. “Are you ready to be old?”
Arem snatches the star from Tokelark’s hand. “I have existed for more than a mega-annum. I am ready for my own universe.”
“Then drink from its core,” Tokelark says. His expression darkens until he fades into the vacuum of space. “But remember that a star is a memory.”
Trembling with divine anticipation, Arem cracks the dead star open. The remnants of hydrogen and nitrogen rise from the crust, and the sharp nostalgia of birth brings Arem to a state of almost ecstasy. She places her palms over the ancient sun, and the nebula gas turns a fluorescent liquid orange. Arem drinks from the core turned bowl until Tokelark’s old universe reforms in front of her.
The star’s name is Whilom, The Once. Tokelark sets Whilom in the beyond darkness, and there is light in this universe. Whilom’s light has hands of its own. Its tendrils, the first rays of life, reach out and craft something from the dust of forgotten rocks. Tokelark pushes and pulls, and gravity swirls across the nothing until, together, the star and celestial align the planets.
Tokelark lets Whilom name the universe Brenne, New Burning, and they make a pact; Whilom is the creator and Tokelark is the god.
Whilom shapes the flotilla planet: Fro Soth, the one to bear life. It loves Fro Soth before it even creates it. It fills the world with vermillion water and raises flowers from the depths. These flowers blossom, the petals unfurl, and from within the ovule, the first people float up on stigmas like pedestals.
The people are bright blues and neon pinks. They have yellow spots or black or green, and the color of their gills changes with temperature. Whilom names each new person as they rise from the flowers of the water. The names have a purpose; the names alone make the people different yet the same.
The planet forms like this. Arem, like Whilom, loves it all.
And Tokelark is the god of Fro Soth. The people dive into the waters and sing his name. Their god sings back, his face an ever-moving constellation in Whilom’s shimmering sky. Whilom’s creations know nothing of pain or want. Even so, gravity makes time inevitable. The people grow old and die, but Whilom does not let them die in its heart. It burns the names into the sands of the sea. It’s a beautiful eon.
Whilom could count the spots on its creation’s skin until sleep made earth of fire. But Tokelark cannot be a god forever.
“Arem was born from a thought in my mind,” Tokelark says.
Whilom knows what this means. Still, it pleads in the language of stars. Its solar ring flashes and its fingers touch Tokelark’s body.
“My celestial child will need a universe,” Tokelark insists, unbothered by Whilom’s begging. “Your light will belong to my daughter in a million years.”
Tokelark grasps Whilom with his hands and squeezes until the gasses that burn inside the star form nebulas across a future galaxy. The light vanishes. Whilom becomes a blackened generation saved for the pleasure of a child who doesn’t even know their own name.
Below, the people of Fro Soth are covered in darkness. Their hands reach out from the waters while their god peers over them. The waters freeze in minutes and the final words of Whilom’s creation are no more than ice droplets on Arem’s fingertips.
Arem awakes from the memory. The silence of the universe is a physical weight. It had not always been so quiet. She turns Whilom’s skeleton over their hands once more and watches as the dead star crumbles into embers–the ash promised to her.
Tokelark has been waiting for Arem in the shadow of his own existence.
“A universe cannot be born without a star,” Tokelark says. “A star cannot be born without another star.”
“How could you do this?” Arem asks. Space and time had always felt boundless to her but now it feels finite. The limitations of sanctity are empty.
“You cannot always love two things,” Tokelark says. Their distant voice flaunts potency and omniscience. “You have a price like all creations. Even universes are an inheritance.”
“Will you destroy what I create, too?” A sudden sense of mortality imbues her, and she is sad for the first time. “No.” Tokelark takes Arem’s face in his hands and turns her chin. Arem ages millenniums in minutes. “You will.”