The people of the desert grew uneasy as the drought persisted, their creeping sense of imminent catastrophe strengthening by the day. First the commoners began to gossip amongst themselves in the marketplace. The hunters, when peddling their daily takes, heard the commoners' fears and mocked them. But the hunters soon began to confess that they, too, had grown fearful. This, in turn, frightened the elders, who kept company with the priests, and in time, even the priests admitted that the evidence was mounting.
The Advent of Boiling Rain was drawing near.
It had been prophesied for millennia that a Great Drought would afflict the desert for three hundred days as the vernal equinox approached, at which time the light in the heavens would bloat and grow fierce, heating the sweet water dome above the earth until it cracked open and dropped a scalding torrent on every man, woman, and child. When this day came, it was said, the swift and violent extermination of the people of the desert was certain.
Each significant drought over the years had brought with it similar whispers and predictions, but never had the conditions been so precisely aligned with the words passed down through the ages.
When the priests first publicly confirmed the Advent's approach, the people of the desert grew hysterical, lamenting their misfortune and preparing in all conceivable ways for the impending purge. Some prayed all day and all night. Some fortified their roofs and wove protective garments. Some even tried to leave the desert.
But as the days passed, the people began to accept their fate, and some came to embrace the prophecy. Many convinced themselves that they deserved the heavenly light's wrath, and the priests, sensing the sorrow of their people, insisted that the Advent of Boiling Rain would pave the way for a new, better society to rise from the ruins of their own.
The eve of the Advent was soon upon the people of the desert. Perhaps as a way to comfort their followers, or perhaps out of a genuine, foolish hope, the priests announced that a sacrifice was in order. Maybe, they surmised, an appropriate offering would demonstrate contrition on the part of the people of the desert, and the heavenly light, seeing that their offering was good, would show them mercy.
So the people of the desert made a large woodpile and placed their most valuable possessions therein. Around the fire pit, they arranged a wreath of orange desert honeysuckle and violet thistles. The priests recited a short prayer of supplication, and a torch was touched to the dry branches and fine fabrics.
Black, white, and gray ash floated into the night sky, carrying with it the prayers of the men and women below. They huddled close and waited, breathless with the knowledge that the answer to their plea would soon be borne on the first rays of dawn.