When the clouds blotted out the sun, and the ground turned black with death, the Sunholder began to build his tower. Rotting wind and doubt buffeted him day and night, but it didn’t stop him from rising the next day to continue his work by candlelight. Those few who still breathed on the earth saw his light and told stories of ghosts and dying gods.
“I will build into heaven,” the Sunholder said to himself, the words frail in the thin air. “Just to see the sun one last time.” Still, a gnawing fear had rooted in him that he would find no light no matter how high he built.
While children grew up without a single memory of sunlight, the tower finally pierced the veil of darkness. Sunlight flooded through the Sunholder as he stood at the zenith of his tower. Every hollow that fear and darkness had dug within him was filled. He smiled, and the radiance clung to him like a cloak.
The Sunholder gathered the light, bottling it in jars, cups, and vases. He brought them down into the gloom, filling every window in his tower with the captured sunlight. Over time, the tower began to glow with an iridescence that could be seen for a hundred miles. Those who saw it made the journey to the tower, following the stories of a man who shone like the sun.
And thus, the town of Brightcandle was born— the last city on Earth.
When the Sunholder came down to the foot of his tower, he was shocked to find a crowd of people waiting for him. He hid in his tower, afraid of the people who saw him as a god.
It was a little girl who had been brave enough to march up to the oaken door of the tower and knock three times. The Sunholder answered the door, shaking like a leaf. She smiled up at him and held out a bar of chocolate. “Can we have some light, please?”
He took a bite, the first bite of food he had had since he had begun his tower, and nodded meekly, handing her a jar of sunlight.
With that exchange, a deal was struck between the Sunholder and the city. Little gardens and greenhouses sprung up around Brightcandle, bearing fruits and vegetables. In return, the people gave him blankets and food, precious stones and art. Part of him felt overjoyed at the happy faces of the people whenever he handed them more illumination. The other part was wondering what he would get for it.
The same little girl visited him every week. They ate candies while she talked to him, telling him stories of the town beyond his tower. He looked forward to those meetings more than he enjoyed the town itself, with its sounds and smells that drew his attention from his work.
One day the girl asked him if she could see the Sun.
The glow of the Sunholder dimmed. “No,” he snapped, “it’s not for you to see.”
She didn’t understand. “But if I saw it, I could glow like you, and help you bring down more light—“
He rose from his chair. “It’s time for you to leave.” And so she left.
Brightcandle grew, and each time its buildings grew taller than those that came before, he clutched his bottled light tighter. But they never grew as tall as his tower.
The next time the girl came to him, she was a woman, and they spoke to each other across a table over coffee. He wanted to ask her how she had been, how the town had been, why she hadn’t come back, but he didn’t. Instead, she talked at him. “There’s more of us now. Too many to feed with what little you give us to grow by. You need to give us more.”
The Sunholder frowned to himself, because this was his tower and his light, not hers, not theirs. He shook his head. The woman didn’t argue. She just left him there with his cooling cup of coffee.
Afterward, he barred his door, only handing out light from a window on the second floor. The town darkened around him while the number of light-jars sitting on his floor grew and grew. To him, the quieting darkness was a gift, some welcome peace after all their demands.
When the dead wind began again, bringing sweet rot, he shut his windows. It wasn’t his problem, he had decided.
The last time the woman came to him, she knocked three times on his door and spoke through the old wood. “The darkness is getting closer,” she told him. “The shadows have claws. If you ever cared at all for us, you have to help us.”
But the man hadn’t cared, so his door remained bolted.
Another knock didn’t come. It took a long time for him to realize that he had stopped glowing. He missed the town, and the woman that had been his friend even more.
But when he opened his rotted door, there was nothing left but a black, empty expanse.