This blog is a place where I share the short stories and flash fiction from the Nol Galaxy. So you'll be reading science fiction and fantasy pieces, but don't think of exploding rocket ships or alien guts.
She woke from the sunlight streaming through her window and into her face, but as she opened her eyes and she to quickly close them, as the light caused a sharp pain to travel across her head. She put her hands over her closed eyes and turned away from the window, only to fall off the bed and land on her dirty clothes from the day before. The metallic smell of blood immediately filled her nose, causing her to run to the bathroom and threw up in the toilet.
“Len, are you okay?” Ruv here auto-server asked from the door, in a sweet voice, that was only slightly robotic.
“Yeh, I’m fine,” she said leaning against the wall, and trying to take deep breaths. “Can you please make some tea?”
“Of course,” Ruv said, and quickly floated away.
After rinsing her mouth, she steeled herself, and walked back into her room. She looked at the clothes she’d thrown off the night before; their former colors were now indeterminable, as they were completely dyed in the maroon color of dried blood, which had also seeped onto the floor as well. She put on gloves, then picked up the clothes. The smell and sticky feeling almost made her throw up again, but she held her breath and put the clothes in a bag, then threw them in the combustion bin. She was about to a activate the instant combustion, but a thought crossed her mind, and her hand froze in front of the activation symbol.
When she considered it carefully, she realized that not only was she a witness to a crime, but she was also about to destroy what could become crucial evidence. As she turned the thought over in her head, she cursed herself for not running right to the City Defense Office. If she had reported what she’d seen immediately, she wouldn’t be in this predicament now. Len sighed, then reached in to pick the clothes out of the combustion bin. She placed her hand on the plastic but didn’t pull it out. Though the bag only had her clothes in it, the sight of the blood, and the fear that it instilled in Len made it difficult for her to pull it out, and when she held it, she felt goosebumps forming all over her body. Her breathing became rapid, and cold sweat dripped down her back. All she wanted to do was erase all traces of what she’d seen, and move on with her life, but her conscience pricked at her. She wondered if she even had a choice. Someone had been murdered, and here she was considering whether or not she should destroy evidence. She let out a dry laugh and slid to the floor. She knew would have to go to the CDO to make the report, but when she closed her eyes and tried to gather her courage, she screamed aloud, as she recalled the deranged eyes of the man in white.
Her night class had ended late, and because the weather that day had been a rare sunny day, she had decided to walk instead of bring her hover-scooter; a choice she deeply regretted. The weather had turned cold and windy, and she had to hunch over, and bury her hands deep in the pockets of her thin coat to keep warm. In addition, the streets that were so familiar to her during the day, or when she rode her scooter, now covered in the shadows of night, seemed alien and oppressive. The walk back home, dragged longer than she was used to, but she was thankful when she saw a familiar street sign that meant she was almost home. She habitually turned into the side street, which was more of a small alley between a few tightly built houses. The alley was off the main road, but it was a shortcut frequently used by the academy students. At the time, she’d just wanted to get home as soon as possible, so she hadn’t considered the fact that while the side street was usually bustling with rushing students by day, it would be chillingly empty by night. She had walked only a few feet in before she started to feel restless by the lack of people and street lights. The ally was lit by a few dim lights hang from people’s houses, and the only sounds she could hear were the muffled voices of people talking, and loud music, coming from inside the buildings. The ally wasn’t long, so she quickened her pace to a jog, and could already see the bright lights of the main street.
It was then that she passed a small gated fence, with one panel missing, and stopped. Len clutched her chest, and tried to keep walking, but she was too terrified by the sight her eyes had fixed on, and no matter how much her brain screamed at her body to move, she was still. Through the panel, she saw a man laying on the floor screaming and screaming. His screams should have filled the entire city block, and drowned it the sound of his agony, yet nothing was heard as the knife was plunged in over and over again. The assailant, dressed in a crisp white track suit that shone like the moonlight, stained with blood, laughed maniacally and seem intoxicated by the torment he was inflicting. His laugh too went unheard through the night. Some small part of Len’s brain registered the fact the killer must have raised a sound shield to prevent any interruption.
Len watched as the man on the floor continued to struggle soundlessly under the assault, then man in white suddenly stopped mid strike. The grin on his face disappeared, and he turned serious. He leaned down and grabbed the man’s collar. His mouth moved, then he paused. Whatever he said or asked was not acknowledged by the other man, so he threw him down. The man in white, threw his knife in the air, catching it by the tip of the blade. He threw it again, catching the hilt, then he drove the knife through the man with the weight of his entire body. He lay on the man for a moment, letting the red blood completely soak into his white clothes. It was when he rose after his final strike, that Len saw his eyes: two empty sockets filled with shadows and swirling green lines. The killer said nothing more and disappeared in a green mist. Slowly, the sound flooded back.
The man on the floor was still breathing, but the sound was a wet gurgling, and Len knew he would soon drown in his own blood. She had regained control over her body again, and she took a step back. She hadn’t made any sounds, but the man’s eyes shot to hers. She took another step back, and was about to run, when a voice echoed in her mind.
“Please wait… help me,” the voice said weakly, and Len turned to face the man again. his eyes were desperate, but they shone with fierce determination. They were not the eyes of a man at death’s door, they were victorious, and there was even small smile on his swollen lips. “Please come, He’s gone… please,” the voice sounded in her mind again, and Len was drawn in. She opened the gate and went to the man’s side. She did everything mechanically and couldn’t understand her own actions. She should have been running away, screaming at the top of her lungs, but there she was kneeling in a puddle of blood, trying to stop bleeding from more holes than she had enough hands for.
“Don’t worry about me,” He said. This was the first time Len had ever been communicated with telepathically, and while it wasn’t unpleasant, she felt somewhat exposed, and each thought came with the feeling of a hand placed on the back of her head. “Sorry, I know it’s not proper to speak into someone’s mind so abruptly, and without prior permission, but as you can see, I don’t really have much of a choice.”
“I understand,” Len said, and her voice sounded hollow even to her. She was numb, and the only feeling she was truly aware of was the warm blood soaking her clothes. The man coughed and attempted to raise his hand. After failing a second time, Len helped him.
“Thank you, again, I’m sorry but I need you help. I want you to take this and keep it for a while. The owner will come retrieve it soon,” he said, and above his palm, a blue light formed, then condensed into the shape of a small black ring. “Please take it.”
Len looked at the ring, then at the man. He still had that desperate look in his eyes, but the determination was fading, and even his telepathic voice was weakening. Len said nothing for a while, then in a voice filled with assertion, she said “No,” while still holding the man’s hand. “I won’t take it, because I’m sure this is the reason why that man did this to you. I’m sorry, but I’m not willing to put my life at risk for something that has nothing to do with me.”
The man sighed audibly but didn’t deny Len’s statement. “I’m sorry,” Len said again, putting the man’s hand down with the ring still resting in his palm. “I think it would be better if I left now, do you want me to call the CDO?”
“Don’t bother,” the man said, and he smiled sadly. “That would only complicate things for you, leave quickly, before someone else notices.”
Len nodded and stood up, but before she left, she wrapped him in her jacket, hoping that it might keep him alive a little longer. After she fished, she took one last look at the man, and the ring in his hand, then turned and ran the rest of the way home. When she got to her room, she was suddenly hit by a wave of exhaustion, and only had the energy to strip off the bloody clothes before passing out.
Len, shaking from the memory, vaguely heard Ruv calling her name. “Len, Len, Len…” he called. “Len if you don’t respond in the next ten seconds, I will call for an emergency vehicle.”
“I’m okay Ruv,” she said weakly, “Just a little shaken.”
“Are you sure?”
“Seriously, I’m fine,” She said smiling. Sometimes, he acted so much like a person that she almost forgot he was a robot.
“Alright. Here’s your tea, it will help you relax,” he said.
“Hold on to it for a bit, I need to finish taking care of this first,” Len said, getting to her feet. She picked up the bag, and without further indecision, threw it in the combustion bin, and activated the sequence. Whatever she had witnessed, was far beyond her average everyday sphere of existence, and the man told her not to go to the CDO. With the clothes gone, the only thing she needed to do to completely erase any physical proof of the event, was to clean the area on her floor that had been stained by the clothes. She laughed sadly at the fact that for the first time she was thankful for the hideous white tile flooring of her apartment, instead of the carpet she had initially wanted.
She scrubbed the floor viciously, wiping twice to get the stains out, and four time to remove smell. As the floor got cleaner, she wished fervently, that she could have as easily wiped the memory from her mind. When she was finished, all the supplies and tools went into the combustion bin. She picked up the empty bottle of soap to throw away as well, but she saw something laying on the floor, and the bottle dropped from her hand. The sound of it clattering on the floor, paralleled the sound her shocked mind would have made, if minds could make sounds. She clenched her fist over her chest, and had to take deliberate breaths, as she stared, eyes shaking, at the small black ring laying on her white floor.
As they walked through the narrow corridor, every sound they made echoed and filled the subterranean room with ghostly life. Along the path, the way was lit by small yellow hovering balls of light, that added much needed warmth to the cold, grey tunnel. The heavy taste of metal lingered longer in Rick’s mouth with each successive breath.
“Have you been on Deltan before, maybe many years ago?” The chancellor asked with his tall frame slightly hunched over, looking back at Rick and Min. He’d never seen an ancient before, and he was surprised by how normal, even average, Rick Lupaine looked. Sure, he was uncommonly handsome, but he din0’t think that had anything to do with the fact that he was an ancient.
Rick smile slightly. “Surprisingly no, you’d think I’d have visited every planet at my age, but as soon as I think I’ve seen everything, I’m surprised by another new society popping up out of nowhere.”
“I’m sure the short life span of civilizations and races must only be a heartbeat to you.”
“Well I wouldn’t say a heartbeat, maybe two?” Rick said then laughed a very loud and obviously fake laugh. The sound echoed back at them sounding even more mechanical and artificial when amplified by the tunnel, and the chancellor beside him, joined in with his own quieter but equally fake laugh.
“I guess two heartbeats would be more realistic,” he said wistfully.
“Of course, my heart beats incredibly slowly… that’s why I’ve lived for so long in the first place.”
The man paused with a stunned expression on his face, and it seemed like he actually believed what Rick said, which made him laugh again, this time, genuinely.
“Chancellor… That was a joke, if anything I think by heart beats faster that normal… I may be having symptoms of high blood pressure… that’s why my little girl’s been telling me to take it easy these days…”
“you have a daughter?”
“No, she refused the offer,” he said ambiguously.
The chancellor shook his head growing more confused as their conversation went on, and Min just sighed at his boss’s antics. He’d been working with Rick for almost 400 years, and he knew that one had to carefully weed through the nonsense the man spouted for fun to get to the important things. Thankfully, the fruitless conversation concluded as they reached the end of the tunnel which was a large circular door with a keycode lock. The chancellor glanced at Min and Rick, the moved to uses his tall frame to block the keypad as he entered the code. Min scoffed internally at the chancellors attempt at secrecy, as despite his efforts, the chancellor’s mind, which should have been heavily guarded, was left open to even their most basic mind probe. Min and Rick made eye contact and rolled their eyes. Rick smiled amused, while Min scoffed again in irritation.
The door opened out into a long walkway that stretched across the city below. The city was built in a large artificially dug spherical space underground. From what Rick had heard, there were many cities similar to this one hidden beneath Deltan’s frozen surface, but this was the oldest and largest one, so it served as a point of connection between the Galactic Union and the rest of the planet. At least that’s what the chancellor had told him when he first sent the request for the House of Lupaine’s help.
Rick and Min walked cautiously across the thin walkway, not out of nervousness, but because the rusting patchwork frame looked like it could shatter at any moment. Each step was accentuated by a painful whine or creak. Rick felt like he was walking on the exposed skeleton of some old and tired creature. Rick glanced down, and saw that the scenery below, too, looked old and tired. The expanse of the city was lit by four large orange artificial suns, that suspended the city in permeant sunset. A patchwork of rock and metal, tall, narrow buildings made up the city center, then further out, were what appeared to be small rock and mortar huts. From the height of the bridge, their heads almost scraped across the ceiling of the city, the overly tall chancellor had to practically fold himself in half to get across.
Once they reached the other side, the chancellor entered a series of numbers into a primitive access system. The screen beeped a few times, then they heard the locking mechanisms whirring. Bolts scrapped out of their locks, then jammed, but after a persuasive kick from the chancellor, the door reluctantly rotated open. A bright chime sounded, and a robotic voice blared from speakers as they walked through the hatch.
“Welcome to Ug, planet Deltan’s Prime city. Enjoy your stay.”
The chancellor immediately hurried them to his private office, brushing off their requests to have a tour of the place. It was evident from his strange urgency that he didn’t want them looking around, but the glimpses they saw as the navigated the hallways, revealed a rust covered, dust filled, rundown set of administrative offices. On their way, they passed through the city’s welcome center, although it was merely a couple desks placed next to each other. It was being attended to by an elderly woman who gave them her biggest smile as they passed, revealing a few missing teeth. Rick silently consider the state of the city of Ug, if their government building was in such a state of disrepair.
# # #
The chancellor’s office was small. One crooked desk stood in front of a window overlooking the city, and the rest of the space was filled with a couple chairs and stacks of files. Rick gasped when he saw the stacks of papers and folders lining the walls, and Min eyed the place in obvious shock. The chancellor took his seat behind the desk, and Rick sat across from him, while Min choose to remain standing instead of taking the dusty seat next Rick.
Rick took a wide-eyed look around the room again. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much paper in one place. Do you not have access to a digital filing system?” Rick asked, noticing more stack of files under the Chancellor’s desk.
“Well, we’ve always managed our files this way for so long, and we have no reason to change it since everything still works fine.”
From the corner of his eyes, Rick noticed Min eye the place with disgust. “Well whatever works for you; I’m not here to tell you how to run your planet,” Rick said, “but with Lyfol being one of your close neighbors, I would have expected to see more hover and holo-technology… besides the artificial suns, and light orbs.”
The chancellor sighed with obvious annoyance, and Rick guess he’d probably been asked that question too many times. “We can’t afford to waste money on purchasing unnecessary things,” The chancellor said quietly, but there was a chill in his tone, and Judging from the look of the place, Rick suspected they couldn’t afford to purchase the necessary things either.
“hmm… well like I said, I’m not here to discuss the way you run your planet, instead, tell me more about these disturbances you’ve noticed.” Rick raised his hand to take the holo-com Min handed to him. The small device cast a slight blue glow across the room, as it projected the information into the air in front of Rick. Rick quickly glanced over the data, confirming his original analysis of the report. “I sensed the urgency in your request, but from the report you sent, I didn’t see anything that was so pressing it warranted the attention of the House of Lupaine.”
“Surely, you’re not serious,” the chancellor said aghast. “People have been going missing, buildings have been attacked,” the chancellor said, then lowering his voice, he continued, “there have even been mauled dead bodies… I sent you the pictures.”
“You’re talking about these,” Rick said pulling up three images showing severely damaged bodies. When Rick had first seen the pictures, the first thing he wonder was why the images were two dimensional. It had become a common practice across the galaxy that all crime scenes be three dimensionally photographed. But now that he’d arrived on Deltan, he knew that such a technologically backwards planet would could not have access to three dimensional cameras.
“Yes, these are obviously the work of some wild beast. I…” the chancellor said.
Rick interrupted the man “These are obviously the work of a person attempting to mimic a wild beast…”
“But if you look…”
“And even if it were the work of a wild beast, these incidents while serious, are not something the we handle… Dark ones, graule, attacks that put your planet at risk. That is what you may call the on us to deal with. If you’re having internal conflicts, you must sort them out yourselves, using the government you’ve set up. Or, you could request help from your parent planet; I believe yours is Iclax?”
With each word Rick spoke, the Chancellor sank deeper into his seat. By the time Rick was done speaking, the man looked like a piece of furniture himself, with how stiff and lifeless his demeanor was. He blinked slowly, then seemed to come back to life by channeling anger through his veins.
“Well, I don’t see any reason why these attacks are not the work of graule, those monsters are unpredictable. If you weren’t interested in helping us, you should have denied the request in the first place… I was mistaken to think an ancient like you could ever understand the suffering of mortals,” the chancellor said gripping the edge of the desk tightly. His eyes were wild and unfocused, and the blue light of Rick’s holo-com reflected in them looked like a vision of the man’s soul: small, shrunken, and cold.
Rick studied the man’s enraged expression and responded with a sad smile. He could see the long hard years written in the man’s face and felt sorry for him. The chancellor couldn’t have been over forty, yet the lines carved into his features aged him far beyond his years. Rick felt his chest tighten, and his throat clog up as he imagined the life the man must have lived. A person looking from the outside, would find it impossible to tell which one of them outstripped the other in age by millions of years.
“Relax Chancellor,” Rick sad quietly, still keeping a smile on his face. “I apologize if it sounded like I was making light of your city’s problems. I came here to offer whatever assistance I can provide, but you must know that it is a failing in the infrastructure of your government if you’re not able to handle such issues.”
The chancellor relaxed visibly, but the desperate look in his eyes had not faded completely. “I don’t understand why anyone on Deltan would do things like this, we may not be the richest people in the galaxy, but we get by fine…” As he was speaking, a commotion was rising up outside the door, growing louder each minute. After a series of crashes and agitated muffled voices, the figure of a small boy burst through the door. He was quickly grabbed on both arms by the chancellor’s secretary, and another man dressed in a uniform that Rick assumed was for security.
“What is the meaning of this?” The chancellor said, obviously taken aback by the unfolding scene. His face morphed through a series of emotions from rage to embarrassment as he looked from the scene to Rick.
“Let go off me… I have something to say to Lord Lupaine,” the boy said, struggling against two grown men with all the power his small body could release. “Let go!” he said, lurching forward.
The frustrated security officer, reached to his belt, and pulled out his baton, ready to use it to strike the boy, but Rick raised his hand, and they all froze mid-action. He got up and unclasped the hands that were holding onto the boy and saw that there were bruises already forming from the force of their grip. Then Rick released his telekinetic hold on the officer and secretary, and they slowly backed away, with fearful looks. “Now, now, don’t look like that, the situation was escalating so quickly I couldn’t keep up,” He said laughing softly, before he turning to the boy.
“So, what’s you name child?” Rick asked.
“My name is Upit, and I’m not a child, I’m already sixteen,” the boy said, glaring defiantly into Rick’s eyes.
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s nothing personal,” Rick said feigning seriousness, “most people are children to me. Now why did you risk getting hurt to come see me.”
The boy stepped closer to Rick and in his eyes, there was a battle between childlike curiosity, and a severe urgency. Ultimately the urgency won, and he glanced over at the chancellor, then took Rick’s hands.
“Lord Lupaine,” the boy said shakily. His eyes kept shifting between the aghast Chancellor at his desk, and the two men still lingering by the door.
“Call me Rick,” Rick said and led the boy to the chair he had been sitting in. Upit sat, but kept a tight grip on Rick’s hand, even as the man Knelt on one knee in front of him.
“Rick,” Upit said shyly, “I came here to warn you. You can’t trust these people, I’ve been warning them about what’s been going on, but they wouldn’t listen even though it’s so obvious. That means that they must be in on it. If it’s so obvious and they won’t do anything about it then they’re in on it too,” Upit said, getting progressively louder and frantic.
“what nonsense are you spouting?” the chancellor yelled from behind his desk.
“He’s obviously high on gip, look at the way he’s shaking… all the kids are messed up with off-world drugs these days,” the security officer said, and Rick shook his head. There was such easy access to off-world drugs, yet they couldn’t even get basic tech from their neighbors.
“Shut up, you old lunatic, I don’t take gip,” Upit said.
Rick scratched the back of his head and sighed. “Please, all of you be silent.” He spoke softly, but his voice echoed forcefully in their minds.
“Now Upit, you’re going to have to be clearer on what your trying to say, what exactly are they in on.”
“The Deltan Alliance Group,” he said conspiratorially, and the chancellor looked like he was about to interrupt, but a look from Rick silenced him. “They’re the ones blowing stuff up and hurting people. They’ve been petitioning the Chancellor for years to allow us to live on the surface and get more off-world technology, but they’ve been ignored, so they started to get more extreme.”
Rick looked to the chancellor. “What do you have to say about that chancellor?”
The chancellor shook his head. “That’s all silly rumors. I’ve had the head of security, Gem, investigate the issue many times,” he said, pointing to the man in uniform at the door, “there’s no evidence that the group exists. It wouldn’t even make sense. The people know we cannot live on the surface, and they are satisfied with our lives underground.”
“That’s not true, the off-worlders that sometimes visit say there’s a lot of technology that could allow us to live on the surface, like heating domes, or stronger artificial suns. And also, I know the Deltan Alliance Group is real cause they tried to recruit me.”
“My goodness… Do you really expect us to believe that?” the chancellor asked incredulously.
“It’s true. I used to work as an assistant in the air circulation control center. It’s the system that circulates air from the surface down here, and if it gets shut down, we wouldn’t be able to survive underground. They wanted me to sabotage the system. I told them I wouldn’t do it, then I went to report what happened to the city police. The next day, by boss told me I was fired.”
“When did this happen?” Rick asked standing up.
“Two weeks ago,” Upit said. The look in his eyes was grave.
The whole room was silent, besides the sound of the constant rushing of air from the aforementioned air circulation system. Rick glanced at Min and could see the lines of tension in his body, and his eyes were monitoring everyone in the room, and all points of entrance. There was clearly something suspicious going on, and he did not want to be caught off guard. Rick was about to say something, when a chilling stillness descended on the room, and the sound of rushing air stopped for a few seconds, then picked back up.
“Did it just stop?” Min said, asking no one in particular, but his blue eyes had turned hard.
The chancellor answered, cautiously. “Well, that’s perfectly normal, it does that sometimes. As you can see, its back on again. We’re all just tense from the boys rambling. I…” another sudden silence cut off his words. They all held their breaths, as the silence dragged on for a full minute before the sound of rushing air began again.
“Their making a move,” Upit said moving closer to Rick, and glancing at the shadows around the room.
“Do not be an alarmist,” the chancellor said picking up a hand phone on his desk. “Let me make a call.” The next sound they heard, was a loud grinding that echoed from within all the vents on the planet, and then a final silence. The chancellor held the phone to his ear, but his call went unanswered.
“This should not be happening. The vent’s systems have never failed before,” the chancellor said putting down the phone.
“The system didn’t fail, the group destroyed it,” Upit said, wide eyed.
“Please stop with your childish talk this is hardly the time, we could all suffocate to death at any moment,” the secretary said. His face eyes were panicked, and the blood had drained from his face.
Slowly, like a sound coming out from deep in the ground, an audible moan and panic was rising from the city below as the people began to realize the meaning of the silence. Outside the office door, people could be heard shouting and running around, and causing a great commotion. The secretary, displaying more professionalism than Rick imagined he possessed, quickly composed himself, and left the office closing the door. From behind the closed door, they heard his clear-cut voice, absent of the panic he displayed earlier, rise above the noise, ordering people to go back to their desks, as the situation was already under control. Rick smiled as the noise settled to mummering.
“How long will it take to restart the system? and if it can’t be restarted, how long till the air runs out?” Rick asked facing the chancellor.
“It depends on what has happened, I’m sure the technicians are busy working on it as we speak, that must be why they aren’t answering my calls,” the chancellor said, although the words were laced with more doubt than he intended.
“I think it’s about time you woke up from whatever delusions are clouding your mind. It quite obvious that everything leading up to this point from the attacks leading to you calling us here, to this situation now, has been clearly orchestrated,” Min said, the irritation evident in his voice and eyes glowing with constrained fury. “Now, how long before the air runs out?”
“We have up to ten hours,” the chancellor said sullenly. His shoulders hunched, and his tall frame bent low. He looked like a marionette, breaking apart under the forces of the hands pulling at him. Then his figure was suddenly turned in to a black silhouette, by the explosion of bright lights outside the window, and a tremor that shook the room, sending the stacks of files to the ground, filling the air with a thick layer of dust.
Upit clung to Rick, and the chancellor fell over his desk, as more resounding booms echoed throughout the city. Outside the window, Rick could see large fires forming in multiple locations, and already smoke was filling the enclosed city. Ten hours, Rick thought skeptically, in an underground city, with a cut of air supply, and now with fire and smoke filling the space and consuming what little breathable air was left.
“What is happening?” the chancellor screamed over the noise. Outside the office all order had broken down, and at some point, during the commotion, the security officer had disappeared. Rick knew the people in the city would be going into mass hysteria by now.
“Min, if you were the mastermind behind all this, what would you do next?” Rick asked, as he gently patted Upit’s back to calm the boy who was now weeping silently.
Min smiled grimly. “I’d either extinguish or drop the suns,” he said.
Rick nodded. “It’s time we took control of the situation. If this is the work of the Alliance group, and at this point, I’m sure it is, then we know their aim… and they’ve made certain we have no choice but to concede,” Rick said, as the bright yellow bloom of another explosion illuminated the room.
“Take Upit up with you and prepare the surface. Your capable of creating a large enough heat shield, right?” Rick said teasingly.
Min glared at him, and didn’t bother answering, as he lifted the crying Upit in his arms, and walked out the door. “let me know when you’re ready,” Rick called after him.
The chancellor watched their exchange, with a distanced look. He couldn’t understand how things could have gone so wrong. He blinked back small tears. Since he’d been elected as chancellor, he believed he had acted in the best interests of the people, so when things started to go wrong, he didn’t even consider that him or the people were somehow responsible. It had to be dark ones, or graule, or anything else, and his advisors agreed with him. It was some of his advisors that had even brought up the idea of contacting the House of Lupaine, they’d reassured him that the people were completely satisfied with their lives. Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually left the government quarters to visit the city and see how the people were living. He closed his eyes and bit his lip so hard that it bled. His heart clench at how foolish he had been.
“Chancellor,” Ricks sharp voice pulled the man out of his thoughts. The chancellor blinked and tried to focus on Rick’s face. “Chancellor now is not the time to reflect, what’s done is done. Now we have to act before the situation becomes irreparable. Do you understand?” Rick asked.
The chancellor nodded slowly, then Rick continued. “We have to evacuate the city and move to the surface.”
“But the surface is too cold, we won’t survive.”
“Don’t worry, Min is taking care of that now.”
The chancellor didn’t understand what Rick meant, but he nodded again, and walked around the table, and started digging through the files that littered the floor. After a few minutes, he pulled out a large sheet of paper and laid it on the table.
“This is the map of the evacuation routes” he said, then looked out the window at the still burning city. “From what I can see, it seems we are fortunate that none of the fires are near the routes.”
“Not fortunate, premeditated. This is what they were hoping for. My guess is that their members are already ushering people to those exists. I just need you to make an official evacuation announcement to help speed up the process.”
The chancellor moved to a part of the wall, where a square panel was cut. He pushed on it, and the section slid out revealing a microphone and a few dials. Turning the dials, the chancellor began his announcement. While the man spoke, Rick felt a pull at the edge of his thoughts that let him know that Min was ready.
“I repeat, please make your way to the emergency exits immediately. Leave everything behind, this is not a drill,” the chancellor finished saying, then turned off the mic.
“Okay, now you and the rest of the people in this building should evacuate as well, I’ll make sure everyone is out, then I’ll come up,” Rick said, “you guys need to try to keep everyone as organized as possible.”
“I understand,” the chancellor said. He opened his mouth like he wanted to say more, but decided against it, and quickly..
In the west garden of Lord Galharm’s small manor, a soft wind was flowing through the flowers, releasing a variety of pleasant scents that always soothed Counsel Albih whenever he visited. The two men had been friends for years, and their weekly garden meeting was a ritual they had sustained even before they both inherited their respective households from their parents. They were now on their knees, no longer as young as they used to be, but still removing weeds, and cleaning up flower beds while chatting as light heartedly as they did in their youth. The servants, as always, waited at a distance, close enough to be called on, but not enough to listen in on their conversations.
“Oh, I think there’s an infestation. This spot here is filled with eggs,” Counsel Albih said, pointing to a small patch in the soil that was covered in a layer of tiny yellow gelatinous insect eggs. “They smell putrid too,” he added, pulling his face away.
“No! How’s that possible?” Lord Galharm said, shoving his friend aside to inspect the area himself. “This is preposterous. Look!” he said, cupping a pink and red striped flower which had obviously been a meal to whatever pests had decided to settle in his garden. “They’ve already eaten some of my babies.”
Albih smiled at his friend’s dramatics. “Hmm… I wonder what they could be? Well that’s what you get for using imported chemicals on your precious babies,” Albih said standing up and moving to a table where drinks and snacks were set up.
Galharm followed him, taking his gloves off and throwing the to the ground. “Quickly call an exterminator,” he said to one of the waiting servants. Then he fell into the chair next to Albih releasing an agonized sigh and slumping his shoulders, so his wings dragged on the ground with the weight of the unfortunate discovery. Albih quickly stuffed his mouth with pastries to prevent himself from laughing. He knew how much Galharm loved flowers, so although Albih found such deep agony over a few bug-eaten plants ridiculous, he didn’t want to mock his friend’s honest emotions.
They were mostly silent for a while, with Albih making a few jokes here and there, until Galharm had recovered his spirits enough to sit up straight and carry on a conversation. In all matters besides where flowers were concerned, Galharm was the most pragmatic and honest advisor. So, whenever Albih, who was on the king’s council, needed to someone to help make sense of difficult issues, he always came to his friend.
“So, what has king Derlin decided to do?” Galharm asked seriously, his soft features contrasting the hard gleam in his eyes.
“He will most likely go with the council’s majority vote to side with Iclax,” Albih said, and his eyebrow knit in a pained expression that made clear what side of the vote he was on.
“But it makes no sense, to side with Iclax over Marak and Cajara. There is history and deep ties between our planets that go back hundreds of thousands of years,” Galharm said, “and this issue shouldn’t even concern Dreakar anyway, it is between Cajara and Iclax.”
Albih sighed and rubbed his temples. For three months now, the King’s Council, which was usually united, had been split into two factions debating the issue of whether or not Dreakar would form an alliance with Iclax to oppose Cajara. The two planets had been disputing over the Colony planet Ouit, for about two years with little progress made, and now Dreakar was being dragged into the issue. The discord in the council was starting to take a toll on Albih. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep, and he’d even begun to notice areas in his hair thinning, as the small dispute seemed to be building up into an all-out war that would engulf the Fuze system in chaos.
“Iclax will withhold their tech and exports to Dreakar if we don’t support them,” Albih said weakly, and even to him, it sounded like a poor excuse.
“Then let them withhold it. Cajara is a part of the Fuze system and while their tech is not as advanced, I’d still prefer to deal with them over an outsider like Iclax. We’re alienating ourselves.” Galharm could hardly control his frustration. He felt that this issue would have never risen if Dreakar had stayed loyal to its established allies, but over the years, Dreakar and Marak had drifted apart, while Cajara had replaced Dreakar as Marak’s closest ally. And Galharm knew Marakian devotion well.
“If we oppose Cajara, Marak will destroy us,” Galharm said morbidly.
Usually Alhim would have brushed off such statements as unnecessary dramatics, but he knew very well that Dreakar was tempting fate. Marak was usually an absent presence in the affairs of the Nol galaxy, preferring to be the aloof observer. It was well known though, that if provoked, they would retaliate with irreparable consequences, and one of the best ways to provoke the sleeping beast was to attack its friends. Dreakar was now, for the first time since the Ancient Wars, hanging on the balance between friend and foe with Marak.
“No matter how you look at it, Iclax is morally wrong, they abandoned Ouit to Cajara when they saw no benefits there. Now thousands of years later, when Cajara has developed the planet into a thriving colony, Iclax decides it reinforce its claim on the planet? Because of some metal? it makes no sense.”
“It is not just some metal, Galharm, lycron can bind with lyfol. Think of the possibilities… and moreover, King Derlin seems to think this is an opportunity to pull us out of Marak’s shadow. You know people are calling us Marak’s stable boy.” Alhim tried to reason, seeing as Galharm was slowly turning red with fury and his wings were tensed straight.
“What nonsense. When Great King Marviel ruled, no one ever said such slander. It is the incompetence of his son that has made us weak and allowed us to be insulted this way,” Galharm yelled with such outrage that the passing servants jumped.
“Please calm down Galharm, this is not like you,” Alhim pleaded, it had been decades since he’d last seen his friend so agitated. The servants stood, jaw slacked, at the change in their mild-mannered Lord. It was at times like this that they all remembered, that their flower loving Lord used to be a general in Great King Marviel’s army.
Galharm stood enraged, pacing back and forth. Part of the reason he retreated from politics was because of the way the planet seemed to be abandoning sacred traditions in place of commercialization and monetary gain. Now it appeared that they were on the verge of going to war with one of their ancient allies. He could practically feel his father’s spirit becoming turbulent in Buhan, the oceans of the deceased.
Both his father and grandfather had fought alongside the Great King. They fought sided by side with Marakian’s for millennia, till this day his family’s name was recognized on Marak whenever he visited. Now all those years of friendship were about to be dissolved over a mining colony and some technology. He clenched and unclenched his hands trying to quell the anger and he felt that if he did not gain control of his emotions, he might storm the king’s castle, and knock some sense into the man.
“Galharm,” Alhim said alarmed.
When Galharm saw his friend’s desperate expression, he stopped his pacing, and deliberately bent to pick a flower that had fallen.
The flower’s stem felt fragile in his hands, so he was forced to relax his grip and the tension in his body. He raised the purple flower to his face, and its gentle aroma calmed him. Earlier that year, he had created an arrangement using these same flowers to give as a goodbye gift to the Marakian ambassadors, Kana and Rolt. He still remembered the expression on their faces when they told him about the fruitlessness of their talks with King Derlin. It was a look of pity and disappointment.
He walked back to the table and gave the flower to Alhim. “It is a shame that we’ve come to this.”
“Indeed,” Alhim said sniffing the flower. “But there may be some hope, I would have told you sooner if I’d known you go off in such a rage,” he said smiling.
Galharm laughed and sat down.
“World-Bearer Cole will be visiting the planet next month to speak with King Derlin directly. I’m certain their talks will bare good fruit.” Alhim said in voice filled with a tone feigned conviction that would have been believed by anyone except Galharm.
Night came slowly that day, Shenor thought uneasily as he climbed the rock edge, arms strong and breathing steady. He was thankful for the light as it made it easier to climb, but he was also anxious, because it would make it easier for their pursuers to spot them. He looked down to see his brother, Elin, whose barely average body fitness was making the already difficult climb harder and tugged gently on the rope holding them together.
“Shenor, please slow down,” Elin begged, his arms shaking as he reached for the next arm hold.
“Can’t do that.” Shenor sighed. He was doing his best to find the easiest path up the mountain and all Elin had to do was follow. “There’s no time if we want to make it to the cave before nightfall.”
“Night won’t be falling anytime soon. Please, slow down.”
“Elin,” Shenor said quietly, but forcefully, and Elin flinched. “Do you want to be killed, or worse recaptured?” He said, stopping to adjust his grip so he could turn to look at his brother. Elin’s watery gold eyes stared back at him, and he would have given in, if not for the knowledge of what they were running from. “Do you know what they’ll do to you if you get recaptured?”
“I know,” Elin said, and the tears fell from his eyes. “I know, but it’s so hard.” He felt such shame at his admission. Not only was Shenor leading the way, but he was also carrying both their bags. He knew that if Shenor was alone, he would have reached the cave already, then for a moment, he considered cutting the rope that held them together. He thought that it would have been better for him to let go and fall than to become a hindrance to Shenor.
“Don’t even think about it,” Shenor said raising his voice. “Don’t…I will carry you if I have to, so stop thinking stupid thoughts.”
“Stop looking into my mind,” Elin said, smiling sadly. “I wouldn’t really do that… ah, I’ve rested enough, let’s keep going.”
Shenor stared at him a moment longer, then turned and continued climbing. “Let’s keep going, we’re almost there.”
The torturous climb lasted a couple hours longer, and by the end, Shenor was almost dragging Elin, who was completely worn-out. When they reached the cave, the sky had just started to dim. Shenor climbed up the lip first, then throwing their bags down, he leaned out and pulled Elin the rest of the way in. Elin lay where Shenor left him and tried to catch his breath. Meanwhile, Shenor looked around the cave, and discovered that it was much deeper than they had initially assumed. They had first spotted the cave when the transport shuttle brought them from the processing facility to the Lycron mine seven months ago and had been planning their escape since then. Shenor walked back to the entrance where Elin still laid on the floor, and quickly looked him over, making sure he wasn’t hurt anywhere. The inspection was quick but detailed, Shenor checked his younger brother for even the lightest scratch.
Elin had been accustomed to his brother’s over protectiveness since childhood, so he soaked up the attention. Sometimes, he wondered how he would survive if he was alone. Even after their family’s farm was ceased and they were separated from their parents, Shenor had made sure they stayed together. Elin smiled, then reached up to pat Shenor’s head.
“Are you done now mom?” he asked sarcastically, and Shenor scoffed.
“I wish you would have put all the energy behind that tone of yours into climbing faster, instead of whining and thinking useless thoughts,” Shenor said squinting to see deeper into of the cave. The fading light from outside, did nothing to pierce the deep shadows of the cave’s depths.
“It looks more like a tunnel than a cave. Do you think it has an exit?” Elin asked
“I’m not sure, but it seems to be going in the opposite direction of the mines, so it won’t hurt to go in deeper. It’s better than staying out here and waiting for the Iclaxians to find us. Light the way,” Shenor said pointing.
Elin stepped forward, and concentrating on a point in front of them, created a ball of light that pushed away most of the darkness and illuminated the cave; even with Elin’s light, they could not see its end. Elin and Shenor’s abilities came from their Cajaran ancestry, but their powers were weak when compared to full Cajarans.
Elin could create bright lights, and small balls of heat, while Shenor possessed above average strength, yet as insignificant as their powers were, they had had been forced to hide them. Elin shuddered at the fact that if the Iclaxians had found, they would have been separated and sent to the deepest high security mines because they were too far removed from their Cajaran roots to be sent back to Cajara or a Cajaran colony like they did to the full Cajarans, and halves like their grandmother.
“Lead the way,” Elin said. Shenor picked up their bags, and was going to carry both, but Elin hurried take his own.
“I can carry my bag.” Elin felt bad enough that Shenor had to climb the mountain carrying both, and he wasn’t going to make him do the same now, when all he had to do was walk. Shenor smiled but said nothing and accepted his brother’s consideration, even though he didn’t think it was necessary.
There was no evidence that people had passed through the cave, but the ground was fairly smooth and free of debris, so they were able to walk fast with Elin’s light moving ahead of them and revealing any dangers. They had already been walking for a couple hours, yet the cave still went deeper into the mountain. Elin suspected again that the cave might would run right through the mountain.
“This feels like a trap,” Elin said.
Shenor didn’t reply, but he was tense, and kept glancing behind them, waiting to see the horrid green glow of the Iclaxian search party. He had always protected his brother, even before the Iclaxians came, so he was trying to keep a brave front, but he knew that if he let himself dwell on their situation, he would be too terrified to take another step. He had climbed faster and walked faster to escape that fear, and the only motivation that kept him from giving up was to make sure Elin was safe and happy.
Elin sensed Shenor’s anxiety and held his hand to comfort him. Shenor was twenty years older than Elin, so Elin had always been on the receiving end of his brother’s comfort, so he was proud that he could support him now. To some extent, a small part of him was happy about their situation. Before the Iclaxian occupation, they had slowly begun to drift apart. Shenor was becoming more involved in running their family’s farm, while Elin wanted to embrace a more urban lifestyle. If things had continued unchanged, they may have gone their separate ways, and even the thought of that made him feel dizzy. He took a step, and realized that he had actually become dizzy, and his legs gave out. It was thanks to his hold on Shenor that he didn’t fall, then he noticed that the shadows in the cave had grown darker and realized that his light that had gotten dimer. He wiped the sweat from his face, and his vision faded in and out.
“Elin?” Shenor said, worry filing his usually calm voice.
“I’m fine, let’s keep going,” he said in gasps, and tried to take another step, but Shenor stopped him by placing a hand on his shoulder.
“We’ve been walking for hours, lets rest and eat something.”
Elin gently moved the hand away, not roughly as a rejection of his help, but assertively to show his determination. “I said I’m fine.”
“I know you are, but I’m not,” Shenor said placating tone. “Seriously,” he added at Elin’s disbelieving look. “If I was at my best mentally, I would have been pacing us properly, not just recklessly marching without any thought. Let’s rest okay?”
Elin thought for a while, then nodded and sank to the ground. His entire body ached, and now that he had sat down, he felt that he would throw up if he was asked to stand again. Shenor chastised himself and was appalled that he had forgotten to keep track of his brother’s condition. Shenor unpacked a couple thin blankets from his bag, and laid them out for Elin to lay on, then the got out some of the food they’d been stashing from their daily rations in the mines. He took out a bottle of water, and gave some to Elin to drink, before sharing the food.
After eating a bit of the nutrition cakes, Elin became livelier. “Hey Shenor,” he said, pointing at a few silver spots like pock marks on the cave wall. “It’s Lycron.”
Shenor looked at the spots on the wall, then his expression turned hard, and his eyes filled with rage. “I wish the darkness of Sol on whoever found this graule-damned metal,” He spat venomously.
Elin watched his brother in surprise, it was rare for Shenor to lose his temper, let alone curse so vehemently, but he understood his brother’s anger. Before Lycron was discovered, their planet, Ouit, had been a Cajaran colony. Their main resource was their fertile soil that took to most vegetation from around the galaxy, so most people were farmers. Like all Cajaran colony’s they enjoyed all the protections and benefits of the Cajaran government and were all consider Cajaran Citizens. Merely two years after Lycron was found, their lives were torn upside down.
Elin could still remember the horrid shock that passed through the planet when Iclax suddenly brought up the fact that they were the original parent planet of Ouit and would now be taking back the planet after loaning it to Cajara. Of course, Cajara protested. They had been supporting Ouit for over 16,000 years, after Iclax had deemed it unprofitable. Now a good portion of the population was Cajaran or of Cajaran decent, even Ouit’s government wanted to remain a part of Cajara, but it was all fruitless. Like swarms of scavengers, the Iclaxian ships descended on the planet and forcefully took control, and the planet was renamed Lycron, after the metal.
Elin pick at the rest of his food and forced himself not to cry over the memories. “Do you think we’ll see them again?” Elin said, and his voice caught at the end of his sentence. He looked up as the tears began to fall. “Are they even still alive?”
“Of course they are. Elin, when did you become so pessimistic? Do you think our parents are that weak? And although the Iclaxians are greedy jits, they not outright murders. If we’ve survived this long, then they’ll have too.”
“But mom’s a quarter Cajaran, they’ll send her into the deeper mines.”
“They will be fine, we on the other hand, need to rest. Sleep first, and I’ll keep watch.”
Elin wanted to argue, but his eyes were already drooping. After Shenor confirmed that he was asleep, he let his mask fall and leaned against the wall, his face filled with worry. He hoped from the bottom of his heart that his words were true, and that their parents were okay. After a couple hours, Shenor woke Elin up, and slept a bit as well. After he woke up, they ate a bit again, then continued walking. They walked for about two days, only stopping occasional to sleep and eat a couple meals. They were still anxious, but they knew Iclaxians were quick to action. If they had not been discovered yet, then they were most likely free, but they couldn’t relax, especially as they started to see signs of that other people had been through cave. First it had been a couple scorch marks from fires, or left-over ash and some food packaging, but now they saw deliberate markings on the wall, which they assumed were some sort of sign left by those that went through before them. They knew the traces weren’t left by Iclaxians, as they wouldn’t need fire or food, but they were unsure of what they were heading to and they could no longer turn back.
They walked silently and resolutely, both steeling their hearts for whatever fate lay at the end of the cave, which they now knew for sure was tunnel as they could feel the wind blowing from its exit even though they couldn’t see it yet.
“I think we’ll reach the exit before the end of the day,” Elin said.
“How can you even tell whether it’s day or night?” Shenor asked, although he didn’t doubt Elin’s words.
“I just know…its like an instinct,” Elin said smiling. “You know, I never really paid much attention to my abilities, after all they’ve been pretty useless until now, but if we make it somewhere safe, I want to see how much they can grow. Maybe I’ll even be able to make fire like mum and grandma.”
“When we make it somewhere safe, you will definitely learn to make fire,” Shenor said, and smacked Elin’s back. “Now that you’ve expressed your determination, I will make sure you train every single day.”
“You really don’t have to do that,” Elin said laughing nervously. Ever since Shenor taught him how to drive years ago, he had vowed never to learn anything from him again. He had had to wake up before sunrise every day for a month to complete a four-hour driving route his brother had mapped out. It was one of the most difficult memories of his childhood, and he was in no hurry to repeat it.
“You’re kidding. The only reason you are such a great driver is because of my lessons,” Shenor said seriously.
“Yes, but the reason I hate driving is also because your lessons… And how many times do I need to tell you to stay out of my mind?” Elin said laughing.
“As many times as it takes for you to learn to guard your mind. Even children do a better job of it than you…maybe I’ll train you in that as well.”
“I’d rather wake Sol from his eternal slumber than let you teach me anything. At least with Sol it would be a quick death,” Elin said. Their banter had distracted them and lightened their mood so much, that they hadn’t realized when the light of Elin’s abilities had begun to be mixed with the rays of daylight from the cave’s exit.
“I’m not so sure about that,” a voice suddenly said from ahead of them. “I know Sol, and on the rare occasion he deliberately decides to kill someone, it’s usually very slowly… his from Munder you know, he feeds on the pain.”
Elin stiffened, and Shenor moved to stand in front of him protectively. “Who’s there?” Shenor said, his voice was steady and strong.
A shadowed figure appeared in front of the them and walked closer. As he entered the range of Elin’s light, he greeted them with a wide grin. Elin sniffed and began to cry against Shenor’s back, while Shenor put his head in his hands and let out a deep sigh that released the tension that had been building in his body for the last two years. Everyone on Ouit knew the face of Cajara’s third prince, Alexil Vi Cajara.
“My name is Alexil, call me Alexil, and you?” He said, extending his hand.
Shenor stared at the hand, dumbfounded for a moment, then smiled broadly and shook it firmly. “I’m Shenor, and this is my younger brother Elin,” he said moving aside so Elin could be seen. “It’s so good to see you, I can’t express how relieved I am… things have been so crazy… but how? Why are you here?”
“I was waiting for you,” he said, then took out a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Elin. “A couple groups escaped through this tunnel earlier this year, so I set up a signal to alert me anytime someone came through here. I wasn’t expecting anything you know? But I did it just in case, and now I’m glad I did.”
Shenor listened as he spoke but was distracted by the worry he noticed in the prince’s eyes. It wasn’t pitying or distant, but a real deep mixture of worry and relief usually reserved for more intimate connections, and not mere strangers. Shenor was almost overwhelmed by the joy he felt seeing that look in the eyes of a prince of Cajara, and he suddenly felt that everything would be okay.
“How long have you been waiting?” Elin asked, his tears finally under control.
“Not that long, about a day. I did know how fast you were traveling… the last groups could all fly, that’s how they made it up to the other entrance. That climb is not easy, did you climb all the way up?”
“We did. Well Shenor basically dragged me to be honest,” Elin said, and Shenor smiled.
“I’m happy you made it,” Alexil said softly, but there was a sharp edge behind his words. “But the fact that you had to risk your lives this way is a failing on our part, this whole state of affairs is just…” then he sighed.
“It not really you fault,” Shenor said, and Alexil smiled.
“Well that’s true.” He laughed, “but, the people of Ouit should not suffer this way…anyway, we shouldn’t linger here too long. I wouldn’t want the Iclaxians to notice my presence here,” he said, then raised one hand, and they were enveloped in the bright light of teleportation, and a lingering hope.
Thanks for reading, this chapter was a bit difficult to write. I feel like I couldn’t find the balance between worldbuilding and storytelling, but I hope you enjoyed it anyway. Thanks for reading. Also, I’m making a website for everything to do with the Nol Galaxy: art, stories, worldbuilding, and more. Check it out here if your interested:https://nolgalaxy.wixsite.com/nolgalaxy
Visalv was a dry world. Sand dunes stretched into the horizon, speckled with red trees, and ancient sandstone monoliths that were the planet’s biggest attraction. Tourists would swarm yearly just to take a picture in front of one of thy mysterious stones. When Tohin looked at the landscape of his home world, he felt like he was seeing the face of a close friend he hadn’t seen in a while. It was familiar enough to be recognized, yet its changes made it felt slightly uncomfortable. Six years ago, when him and his sister left the planet, holo-signs and hover cars were a rare sight, in fact his family was the only one with a hover car in his neighborhood. Now he could see one every few meters that the shuttle drove from the travel station.
“It’s beautiful,” Aevalis, his sister, said.
Tohin gave her a small smile but remained silent.
When they finally arrived at the house after the long drive and a short walk, Tohin was happy that their parents weren’t home yet, because he wouldn’t have wanted them to see the way he began crying at the sight of their home. He quickly ran up to his bedroom, while his sister immediately began looking around the house to see if everything was as she remembered. It had been too long since Tohin had been in his room, and true to their word, his parents had rebuilt everything exactly as it should have been.
There was no trace of dust or age, so he knew his parents must have been cleaning the room regularly. He walked to his bed and sat down. The way it sunk with his weight felt familiar, although, he knew it was a new bed and not the one he’d used before. He sat for what felt like hours, engulfed in memories, then suddenly, he was drawn from his reminiscing, by the glinting of an object in the light. He stood with a start and ran to pick up the object. The smooth sphere shining iridescently in the light of the setting sun sent a chill through him. The orb was bright clear green desk weight his parents gave him many years ago, but in certain lights, it would suddenly be streaked with grey stripes, and it vividly reminded him of how the sky looked that day.
# # #
Immediately he woke up that day, he knew that something wasn’t right. There was a strange static in the air, and his mouth tasted bitter and dry, as if someone had shoved a medicine pill in while he was sleeping. He looked around his room and finding nothing out of the ordinary inside, he got up to look out the window. The sun was just rising, and the sky was a clear green as always. Nothing was wrong, if anything, it looked like the day was going to be the perfect combination of clear skies and cool air. He heard a knock on his door.
“Tohin are you up?” His dad said though the door.
“Yes, I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Alright, no need to rush though, today feels like it will be a great day for work.” His father’s words calmed his fears, and he started to get ready.
His father worked as an archeologist, who studied the Visalvian monoliths, and each year, when a couple new ones were found, and it was his dad’s job to study them. He’d been assisting his dad since he graduated from secondary school, and he was hoping he would soon start his own research. Tohin believed the monoliths could be related to the stone slabs on Ceis, and if that were the case, it meant they would have clues about the origins of the universe and possibly other dimensions. Thinking about such discoveries made Tohin giddy, so he showered and dressed quickly, then rushed down to meet his father in the kitchen.
“If you fall down those stairs, you’ll definitely not make it to the site on time,” his mom told him as she stirred something in a pot. She always woke up early to pack a lunch box for them and see them off.
“Tohin will break his teeth and I’ll keep them in my box!” Aevalis screeched, while having a giggling fit.
“Then I’ll look just like you,” he said, pulling her cheeks. Her teeth had just started to fall out, and she’d suddenly become obsessed. She not only collected her own fallen teeth, but the teeth of their neighbor’s aging pet.
They all sat around the table and ate a quick breakfast together, then Tohin and his father set off. His father drove, while Tohin began looking over their notes. The new site was three hours out of the city, and into the eastern desert, and only one previous team had visited the site. He looked through his holo-com to find the pictures the previous team sent.
“Wow! Dad this is crazy, this thing is huge, the biggest one I’ve seen,” he said. His dad quickly glanced at the projection. The Monolith was at least thirty times the size of a person; the entire thing didn’t even fit in the frame.
“Look how smooth it is, and the symbols look unique as well,” his father said, concentrating on the map projected on the windshield. “You know, I’ve been thinking about your idea. Maybe it’s possible that our planet’s monoliths could be connected to Ceis’s, and if…wait…What is going on?” He said, and slowed down. Ahead, clouds had started to form rapidly, and the wind was picking up. The car started to shake, and his father struggled with the steering wheel to keep them from tipping.
They stared in horror at what appeared to be a tornado suddenly brewing. The car was now spinning, and warning lights were flashing. Sand was being whipped around at high speeds, which hit the windshield like bullets, and formed cracks instantly. His father skillfully maneuvered along with the winds, but the hover car was about to be swept away.
“Dad the anchor! the anchor!” Tohin yelled. Immediately, his father thumbed the emergency symbols on the steering wheel, and an anchor from the bottom of the vehicle shot through the ground securing them in place. The car waved in the air like a balloon caught on a branch. The winds were whipping furiously, more tornadoes were forming, and the clear green sky had turned black with storm clouds, although it did not rain.
“Quickly Tohin,” his dad said, unbuckling his seat belt. “We need to get in the back and crouch down… the glass won’t hold.” As if prompted by his father’s words, a loud crack formed in one of the windows, “go!” his father said.
Tohin did as he asked, and then his dad followed after. The car was used for transporting research materials and tools, so the back was large enough for both of them to squeeze behind the front seats. They crouched with their hands over their heads and face to the floor. The car was being tossed around wildly, and Tohin hoped the anchor would hold. He didn’t realize he was crying until his dad reached over and held his hand. His dad grip was strong and steady.
“It will be okay,” he said confidently. “Trust me, it will be okay.”
He nodded and held on to his dad’s hand. His father was not a large man, in fact he was small and thin. A book worm, that looked like he could barely hold his own weight. Yet his calming presence filled the space. Tohin had always adored his father, and now he felt respect and love well up within him and gripped the hand tighter. If his father said they would be alright, then it would be so. The stayed curled up like that for hours, sweating and shivering at the same time, but taking comfort in each other’s presence.
Tohin felt a hand shake him, and he was pulled from his fear-ridden sleep. In the dim light he made out his father’s concerned face. He became aware of the stillness and realized that the winds had stopped. Fortunately, the anchor had held, but the car was buried beneath the sand.
“Are you alright Tohin?” His dad asked.
His clothes were soaked through with sweat, and his voice came out in a dry croak, but he was still alive, so he smiled and nodded at his dad. “But how do we get out of here?” He asked.
The car’s systems had shut down during the storm, and as Tohin’s dad attempted to restart the vehicle, Tohin clenched his hands together, steadied his breathing, and tried not to wonder what would happen if the car didn’t start. He unclenched his fists and let out a strained breath at the sound of the engine. Tohin’s dad pulled up the anchor and activated the car’s vertical rise thrusters. They must have been buried beneath a few feet of sand because the car would not budge. Tohin’s dad increased the power to the bottom thrusters as high as it would go. The car shuddered violently, and the engine made frightening sounds as it fought against gravity and the sand to rise. His dad slowed the thrusters, then he immediately increases it again, turning the steering wheel side to side. Tohin watched his dad’s determined eyes; the only thing that betrayed any uncertainty was his swollen lower lip held between his teeth. Suddenly, a small light peeked through the top of the windshield, and soon the rest of the sand fell way, and the car shot into the air. Tohin’s dad quickly controlled their accent and brought them to a stable level then began driving home.
It took an hour to get back in to the city, and when they did, they were overwhelmed by the devastation they saw. Skyscrapers were sawed in half, and sand filled their broken parts. There was no difference between were the desert started and were the paved road began. A cacophony of emergency sirens shook the air. Vehicles were abandoned at the side of roads, windows were cracked, and buildings were buried in sand. The entire city looked like an unearthed skeleton with dirt, and sand pouring out of its eye sockets and ribs.
Tohin and his dad drove with their mouths clenched shut and grew graver as they approached their home. They could not voice any thoughts about what may have caused the sudden storm and were too anxious to even think about what awaited them when they arrived home. When they reached where their house should have been, they found only rubble buried under sand and his mom weeping on the curb cradling his unconscious sister.
# # #
Tohin wiped his face and rolled the orb around in his hands. Even now, years later, no one could explain what had caused the storm. In the aftermath, his parents sent them to live with their relatives on a Cajaran colony, where sister received advanced treatments. She underwent multiple surgeries to fix her spine and couldn’t walk for over a year. For the last six years Tohin had been working various jobs and sending money back to help his parents who remained on Visalv to rebuild what they’d lost. Tohin smiled and looked at his room again, they’d made it almost exactly the same. He was about to pick up his old journal when he heard the front door open, and his mother and sister’s joyful shouting.
“Tohin, where are you? come down so I can see you,” his dad yelled. He knew from his voice that he was crying. His father always cried when he was happy.
Sela sat in the corner of the noisy pub with his face to the wall, making himself as small as possible, and using his body to protect a small piece of paper from view. The paper which must have been torn out from some larger book, had words, but since he couldn’t read, he focused on the faded image that took up most of the page. It was a picture of a flower. Sela traced along the green stem of the plant, then spread his palm out over the full orange bloom of the flower and traced down the small white teardrop extensions of the flower’s petals. A smile was spread across his face, and he couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so much happiness. He had never seen a real flower before, and this was his first-time holding paper, but he imagined that paper and flowers must feel the same. His fingers traced over the flower again, and his smile grew, as he marveled at the treasure that had come to him.
He had been walking back from scavenging in the tourist district, with a few pieces of auto-server parts and a rare working hover, which he wrapped twice in a cloth to cover its glow, because if anyone saw it, they would steal it from him before he could trade it in for coins. He was almost on the border of his village when a white object, carried by the wind, flew past his face. He instinctively snatched it from the air and was surprised by the foreign feeling of the object, then he was filled with joy when he saw the image printed on it. The wind kept blowing, and holding the paper to his chest, Sela looked up to the sky. The two suns of Deresh shined brightly, as always, suspended in eternal vigilance, but Sela felt something peculiar in the air. It seemed that fate was on his side that day. The hover he had found, would get him enough coins to sustain him for two whole months, and the piece of paper, although monetarily worthless, was priceless because it would sustain his soul.
Now, still pressed against the wall, Sela rubbed the delicate paper between his fingers, savoring its rough texture, and the sound it made, like wind blowing across rocks. As he felt the paper, he cautiously looked over his shoulders to make sure no one was watching him. Satisfied that everyone was still busy with their loud conversations and drinking, he turned back to his flower, and curled his body even tighter around it. Deresh didn’t have flowers or any vegetation, but he’d seen images of flowers on the holo-coms of tourists. The holo-com images were holographically projected and so incredibly detailed that Sela felt he could touch them. He wanted to spend hours looking at the flowers, but the tourists were always busy doing whatever tourist did, so they eventually left, taking their fancy holo-coms with them. Sela could hardly afford food, much less a holo-com, so although he loved flowers, he had accepted the fact that he would never own even the image of one. Even though his paper flower was flat and unrealistic when compared to the holo-images the tourists had, he thought it was more beautiful, because it was completely his.
He was suddenly filled with such excitement, that although he knew it wasn’t a real flower, he brought the paper up to his nose and took a deep breath. He didn’t expect to smell the rumored sweet aroma of flowers, but he was still surprised by the lung full of dust he inhaled. Holding is mouth shut, he tried to make the coughing fit that followed as quiet as possible, so as not to draw attention to himself, but a sudden presence behind him told him that his sounds had not gone unnoticed.
“what’cha got there Sela,” said a voice that sounded as sweet as the hungry whining of a rabid animal.
Sela couldn’t help his immediate reaction to Tibin’s voice. He stiffened but didn’t look back, and though his body was seemingly curled as tight as it could possibly go, he curled into an even tighter ball, with the flower held protectively close to his chest. His joints and muscles strained painfully from the tension in his body, tears were already streaming down his face, and he began to whimper. The rest pub was still loud and rumbustious, so caught up in their folly that his distress went unnoticed, and even if they noticed, Sela doubted they would intervene. Sela shuddered when he heard Tibin laughing softly as he crouched down and gently, almost tenderly, tapped Sela’s shoulder.
“I said, what’cha got there Sela? Are you ignoring my question?” Tibin asked.
Sela, already used to giving in, let his hand unconsciously loosen around the paper, then catching himself, he quickly tightened it again. “It’s nothing,” he said through tears, forcing the shaky, but defiant words out. No matter what happened, he wouldn’t let go of his treasure, he wouldn’t.
“ohh?” Tibin said, surprised. It had been years since Sela had last stood up to him, and with good reason. Tibin’s parents owned the pub and they let the younger destitute kids, like Sela, get portions of the guests’ leftover meals at a discounted price. Any child who defied Tibin would go hungry till they begged for forgiveness. Sela was especially submissive; a soft spoke child who had to fend for himself because his parents were too busy gambling to take care of him.
“Really Sela? I could’av sworn you were looking at something,” he said digging his fingers into Sela’s hair and pulling. “Are you sure you want to lie to me? Aren’t you hungry? Or do you want to get hurt today? Give it here.” He said forcefully, spit flying from his mouth in wild rage.
“No!” Sela screamed struggling “It’s mine, you can’t have it. You can’t,” he shrieked frantically throwing his fists around to fight against the heavy hand that held him down. “It’s mine,” he said weakly.
Tibin, enraged by the tantrum, pushed the boy down, kicking and punching him with untamed fury, until he no longer struggled. “This is my land Sela, you’ll do what I say and give me what I want,” he said, emphasizing each word with a kick. When he was finished, he searched Sela’s clothes taking the coins he’d gotten form scavenging out of his pocket. “looks like you’ve been working hard. I’ll accept this as your payment for pissing me off,” he said walking away. During the struggle, the fragile paper was torn apart, and the flower was in pieces on the floor, and on Sela’s body, like petals sprinkled over the dead; with some piece’s red with Sela’s blood.
Throughout the beating, no one interrupted or acknowledged the incident, and for hours while the boy lay there, no one even looked at him. They all had their own sorrows and worries and didn’t have enough empathy of pity to interrupt their drinking for anyone.
From her seat, Mila watched the entire scene unfold, from the small boy giggling to himself in the corner, to now lying motionless on the floor. She sipped her drink slowly, cringing each time at the horrid taste. After she finished the drink, she stayed, seated, waiting for hours for someone to help the boy. She perked up once when a man got close to him, and to her outrage, but not surprise, the person searched the boy for valuables and finding nothing, moved on.
Mila’s blood boiled with rage. How could they treat their own kind this way? She thought. Deresh was truly a cesspool of vileness, selfishness, hate, and suffering. She wanted to help the boy herself, but she had her mission to think of. She knew she was going to have to ignore him, like everyone else, and swallowed back her disgust at herself by trying to think rationally. She couldn’t blow her cover, and besides these sorts of things happened all the time here; but as she watched yet another would be thief moving on from the injured child, she rose to her feet, letting her chair slam down behind her. She was Marakian she thought, any rationality that would lead her to abandon this child was not needed. No one paid attention as she approached him, her marks swirly, violently beneath her long cloak.
In the back of her mind she felt the itch of someone try to communicate with her telepathically, but she pushed it back. She knew what her partner was going to say, and she was in no mood to argue or concede. She bent down near Sela and stroked his head. “On my planet, pure and brave souls like yours are revered,” she said.
At the point where her hands met his head, the marks on her body moved through the boy, closing wounds and mending broken bones. Sela’s body relaxed and he began to breath easily in deep sleep. She inspected him once more, then she lifted him up and held him close. He curled towards her warmth, with pieces of the paper still clutched tightly in his fist.
Mila smiled holding him tighter and walked out of the pub towards her rented car. “You too are like a flower. Too beautiful to leave alone, and the only light, I’ve seen, on this desolate planet,” She said. As she laid him on the back seat, she frowned slightly. The car was a dirty rusted piece of metal, but they’d chosen it since they needed to blend in. She sighed and gently stroked his head again. “This isn’t a place you can grow, so when you wake up, if you want, I’ll take you somewhere better.”
Satisfied that he was in the most comfortable position, she got in the car and drove off.
Thanks for reading, also, the first chapter of Len’s story has been posted on Patreon. Here is an excerpt:
It was then that she passed a small gated fence, with one panel missing, and stopped. Len clutched her chest, and tried to keep walking, but she was too terrified by the sight her eyes had fixed on, and no matter how much her brain screamed at her body to move, she was still. Through the panel, she saw a man laying on the floor screaming and screaming. His screams should have filled the entire city block, and drowned it the sound of his agony, yet nothing was heard…
“Are you ok?” Lenol said, putting his hand out to help the fallen man.
The man, ignoring the hand, struggled to get up on his own; a small feat which was made impossible by his malfunctioning mechanical leg. The limb bucked and spasmed with each attempt the man made to stand. He was hindered further by his long, disheveled hair, overgrown beard, and tattered clothes, which seemed to anchor him to the floor. After a significant crowd had gathered and a few more failed attempts the man gave up. He laid sprawled on the floor, panting, hair and clothes drenched in sweat, while the mechanical leg twitched continuously. The sight would have been pitiful, if not for the defiant gleam in the man’s eyes. As Lenol looked around at the gathered crowd in their expensive clothing and jewelry, then back at the man, he couldn’t help feeling embarrassed for him by how out of place the man was in the high-end shopping center. He saw the man’s face begin to redden as some people started taking pictures and laughing while others, mainly tourists, grew angry and threatened to call security if the man didn’t move.
Lenol sensed that the situation might soon get out of control, so he offered his hand to the man again, hoping this time he would take it. The man turned his angry eyes on Lenol as he approached, then his gaze shifted slowly to the outstretched hand, and a look of unconcealable repulsion filled his eyes. It was as if he’d been asked to touch a rotten carcass of vermin often found at the side of the roads where ground cars were still driven. Lenol mentally recoiled at the look, and almost retracted his hand, but the man soon reached out and reluctantly took the hand.
“Thank you,” he said, and to Lenol’s surprise, the man’s voice, in contrast to his rough appearance was deep and soothing.
“Your welcome,” Lenol replied, and lead him through the crowd that quickly parted as they approached.
The man walked with a prominent limp from his mechanical limb, which started from his knee and was at least an inch shorter than his other leg. Lenol took discreet looks at the limb and his confusion grew with each glance. He hadn’t seen or heard of inaccurate mechanical limbs for centuries, and as a matter of fact, he didn’t know of anyone who would choose a mechanical limb replacement. These days even people from colony planets could afford limb regrowth procedures. When he dared take a closer look, he saw the obvious hinges and gears, exposed nerve circuits and cloudy fluid veins. The thing was not only an antique of at least a couple thousand years old, but it was also in terrible shape.
As they walked, they ignored inquisitive looks from passersby and didn’t exchange any words as Lenol escorted the man to a small café, where they sat together in a quiet corner. Lenol quickly browsed through the tables imbedded menu screen, then order some drinks and food for them. They sat facing each other, but they looked at the menu, out the window, or at their hands; anything to avoid making eye-contact. Lenol internally battled with whether he should leave after paying for the man’s drink, or to sit with him. He wasn’t even sure what impulse led him to bring the man to the café. He could have simply left him after helping him up. The drinks and food came after a few minutes, so they focused on it instead of the growing awkwardness. The man ate quickly, then drank the entire fruit juice in one mouthful.
“What’s this?” The man said, licking the fingers of one hand, and turning the cup around in the other. “It’s too sweet.”
“It’s called Falu,” Lenol explained nervously, while the man stared at the bright pink drink that still filled Lenol’s cup ravenously. “It’s popular these days, made from fruit imported from Laurim. It’s quite popular, you know, people usually drink it in the morning because it gives you quite a bit of energy… and although it’s sweet, it has many health benefits. I thought…”
“Yes, well thanks,” the man said quickly, then added hesitantly, since he couldn’t allow himself express honest gratitude, “but it’s too sweet. People should know that are too sweet never last long.”
“I see, that’s understandable,” Lenol said, tugging and twisting the rings on his fingers.
“Stop fidgeting,” the man snapped and Lenol quickly put his hands under the table. The man looked off to the side before Lenol could see the guilt and regret in his eyes. He sighed and clenched his fists till his pale blue skin was nearly white. “Sorry,” he said after a while. Lenol didn’t reply, but he took a sip from his cup, and order another drink for the man. This time something milder.
They sat there sipping their drinks in silence for a while. The man fiddled with a small pendant on a chain hanging from his neck, while Lenol looked out of the window. Since he was younger, he’d always enjoyed observing people in various situations, and would go around with a notepad documenting the little things he saw. Now, he watched as the people passed by with their arms weighed down with shopping bags or children. There was an academy located near the center, so there were also a few students playing around and eating snacks cheerfully, but the group he found the most interesting though, were the Winforans. He’d spent a couple years on Winfora and had concluded that they were most likely the haughtiest race in the entire galaxy. Even here on Cajara, they flew low to the ground, proudly with their chins up, as their carrier auto-servers trailed behind them carrying their bags. Every time the Winforans encountered people carrying their purchases in their hands, they would pause just enough to make sure the other party knew they were being looked down on, before floating away leaving the other party confused and offended. Lenol couldn’t help but scoff at typical Winforan culture, but he wished they would at least act differently when they were on another planet.
The man, who Lenol had noticed was also Winforan from both his appearance and personality, slurped loudly, bring Lenol back to his current situation.
“So, what were you doing here anyway?” Lenol asked in a way he hopped wasn’t offensive.
The man eyed him suspiciously, which Lenol found ridiculous, then answered, “Nothing much, I just wanted to visit someone.”
“Oh, did you get to meet them?” Lenol asked, worried that he may have interfered with the man’s plans.
“No. She didn’t want to see me… then as I was leaving, some punk thought it’d be fun to send an electrical surge through my leg.”
“Oh, that’s why you leg malfunctioned… But why are you walking any way, couldn’t you just hover or fly… by the way, what’s your name?”
“You think I could fly with these wings,” the man said raising his arms. Winforans usually had gloriously colored membrane wings underneath their arms that they enjoyed displaying and showing off, but when the man exposed his wings, Lenol couldn’t hold back his gasp. They looked to Lenol like the flag of a ship shattered by a horrendous storm. Barely managing to keep afloat, but still alive, it raised its tattered flag with a pride that only those that survive may wield when showing off their scars. The wings should have been a lustrous indigo, but they had faded to pale blue in patches, and were filled with holes, and long scars with sickly yellow and pink hues. Lenol suddenly felt squeamish imagining the pain the man must have experienced.
“You look sick,” The man said putting down his arm, with only the slightest hint of embarrassment. “It’s an old wound, I got into an accident a few centuries ago, and besides losing most of my powers and not being able to fly, I’m in pretty good shape for my age,” he said, and it seemed that he meant it, as the prideful tone returned to his voice. “Also, I’m Mivin… you?”
“I’m Lenol,” he said, offering a handshake, but Mivin quickly looked out the window.
“I don’t like formalities,” he said in a gruff voice that sounded disinterested, but Lenol saw the man’s cheeks color with embarrassment and smiled. He needed to learn to be honest with his emotions, Lenol thought.
“What makes you think I was offering you a handshake, I was swatting a bug out of the air,” Lenol said, making swatting motions in the empty air.
For the first time Mivin smiled. “That’s the problem with you Cajaran’s, your too nice. Who else would put up with some grouchy stranger for so long? You even bought me food,” he said lifting a plate. “I’m not sure if your naive or stupid.”
“I’ll admit that most of us are nice,” Lenol said. “I’ve been told that I’m a bit naive though… my parents spoiled be too much.” He said smiling softly.
They fell into silence again, this time it was more comfortable. Then after a few minutes, Mivin suddenly stood up looking at a time piece he pulled from his pocket.
“I need to get going, I have a shuttle to catch,” he paused, and his eyes glazed over looking into the distance “I just wanted to see the kid before I left.” He whispered wistfully.
Lenol quickly stood as well, “where are you going? I’ll give you a ride to the ITS.”
“No, no need for that. You’ve done enough for me,” then he took Lenol’s hand and looked into his eyes. They were the clearest shade of green he’d seen, only match by the eyes of one of his closest friends, Alexil, and the man’s although wised with age, were as revealing and open. “Thank you,” he said, then he dropped Lenol’s had and left.
Through the window, Lenol watched Mivin’s small hunched over form retreating to some unknown destination. He stumbled a few times, and Lenol could hear the hard clinking of his metal leg on the floor, above the noise of the shoppers. Mivin didn’t look back once, even as he blended into the crowd, and disappeared from sight. Lenol stayed until he finished his Fula drink.
It really was too sweet, he thought, then he also left.
Thank you for reading. So in this chapter, I actually introduced three characters we’ll be seeing more of. Lenol and Mivin, who are a fun pair, and Alexil, who will become quite important. Pleas let me know what you think.
In addition, if you’d like to support me on Patreon, click the link below. I will be releasing a Patreon exclusive story each month, that will follow the story of Len and Ruv as the wander the Nol Galaxy, and get mixed up in various incidents. The first story will be released in a couple days. Thank you. https://www.patreon.com/nolgalaxy
The hoop was right in front of her eyes, and she flew faster until it was the only thing that filled her view; Sixty feet in the air, the ball levitating just above her palm, and the small hoop, worth twenty points. As she drew closer, leaving both her teammates and the opposing team behind, she couldn’t even hear the crowd going wild, screaming her name.
“Salia! Salia! Salia!” They said, in a thundering chant.
Salia raised her hand, preparing to shoot. The timer was ticking down the final seconds, but her heart was calm, as she slowed down her accent to focus on aiming. She took a deep breath, keeping her eyes on the hoop, then with a controlled release of power, she sent the small ball sailing. She watched the graceful arc with a serene smile and closed her eyes. She didn’t have to look to know that she’d scored the winning goal, and the roar of the crowd confirmed her victory.
She remained like that for a moment, eyes closed, soaking up the cheers of the crowd, letting their excitement sink into her body and stir her soul, hoping desperately that it would be loud enough to chase away the emptiness that she’d begun to feel creeping in at the end of each match. She opened her eyes, to take in the view of her face on the wide holo-projection, when suddenly she felt a sharp impact on her right cheek, and the world lit up with tiny bright lights. Salia was sent spiraling down, below Gelbrt Lea’s acidic grinning face. She quickly righted herself, and faced the hateful girl, but before she could return the favor, the referee and the rest of their teammates stood between them.
“Now calm down girls, let’s not end such a great match with a fist fight,” the referee said. “Ms. Lea please apologize,” he continued with a smile, and Salia instantly disliked him. Throughout the match, he had constantly ignored misdemeanors by the other team, and now he was trying to brush over obvious violence.
“You’re kidding,” Salia said. “She hit me during a match, and you think a simple apology will be enough? This should call for a suspension.”
“No way. First, the match is already over, and besides, it was an accident,” Gelbrt said, staring down the referee with a hard glare.
The referee said nothing, and Salia wondered how much he’d been bribed to maintain that disgusting smile on his face, meanwhile Gelbrt was already turning to leave like nothing happened. Salia tried to follow her, but her coach placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “Salia, that’s enough, let’s not make a big deal out of something so small. You’ve already won the match,” He said, then added in a whisper, “think about your image. The sponsors pay for Salia the fairy of ril, not some brawler. Let it go.”
Salia felt her chest tighten, and the bitter taste of disappointment filled her mouth. This too was a feeling she’d become accustomed to recently. “You’re kidding, she punched me in the face, and all you can think about is the sponsors?” Salia said wide eyed. She turned to her teammates to seek support, but they all looked elsewhere and shrugged their shoulders. She placed a hand over her mouth, to keep words laced with bitterness and anger from spilling out. If this happened a year ago, they would have stood by her, Salia thought.
“We’ve won our sixteenth consecutive match Salia,” The coach said proudly. “Now smile, the camera is on you,” he added patting her twice on the back before moving away so that she stood alone in the spotlight.
She looked at her face projected in a large hologram that filled the stadium. She looked strong, and in control, as she collected the trophy, and raised it above her head. Across the top of the projection, the words “The prodigy does it again. Salia the fairy of ril secures another win,” scrolled through in bold letters. Yet, as she looked at herself, the only thing she could think about, was how the large projection only served to emphasize hollowness in her eyes.
# # #
After a few interviews, the team returned to their hotel, where they showered and got ready for their customary after match lunch. They rented out one of the hotels private lounges, and all the players and their families celebrated together. Salia sat with her parents. Her father talked about various things, from brand deals to movie offers, while she and her mother remained silent, sipping their fruit juice.
“You know Salia, were thinking of moving. We simply can’t live in that rundown shed of a house anymore,” Her father said, and Salia stared at him in bewilderment.
“Are you being serious, there is absolutely nothing wrong with our current home. You just renovated it three years ago, and didn’t you always say that you’d always live in the house your grandfather built with his own hands?” She said, and the anger was evident in her voice. First it had been cloths; all of a sudden, they couldn’t be seen wearing ‘just anything,’ then they needed two new cars, now a house. When would it end? Salia wondered.
“You don’t need to get so upset. I’m doing this for you. None of the top ril players live in the countryside,” her father said, then continued before she could get a word in. “And don’t you think you should have put some makeup over that bruise, it’s starting to swell. What would happen if someone wanted a picture?”
Her mother reached to touch the bruise, but Salia brushed her had away. The coach then asked her to give a small speech as the team captain. Salia stood quickly, still upset, but she tried to push down those emotions as she looked at her friends and family.
“Looks like we won again,” she said smiling, and they cheered and clapped. “Remember when we all started playing together, and how everyone told us that a small team of country girls would never make it…” As she spoke, her face throbbed painfully, but she continued. She talked about the pride and love she felt for all of them, and how if they retained their sincere love for ril and worked harder, they would definitely continue to win. But, as she spoke, she noticed with a startling clarity, that although all their eyes were on her, they weren’t seeing her. Their gazes were hungry, and frightfully fixed on something beyond that moment. They were looking at sponsorships, endorsements, clothes, cars, money, and her father, he was envisioning his new house. She felt their desires dig into her like the talons of a predatory bird, so heavy, that she thought for a moment she was sinking through the floor. Could they not see the panic rising in her eyes? could they not see that she wasn’t okay?
She spoke absentmindedly, barely able to keep her voice from shaking, and she looked out the large windows while she spoke. Her own gaze, too, soon became fixed on something beyond. Out the hotel window, ten stories below, and far in the distance, to where she saw a lone tree standing tall and defiantly. It’s large pink leaves shining, in the afternoon sun, like a beacon of hope brimming with life in a pit of metal and glass.
After the lunch, everyone went their separate ways, to after parties, movies, meetings, and Salia went to the tree.
# # #
She flew up, and laid in its branches, cradled in a globe of translucent leaves that casted a rose tint over her, and prevented all but the smallest rays of light from peeking through. The tree was taller than the four-story factory beside it, and its trunk as wide as two cars. She sat with one hand on a tree branch, while the other held her cheek. As she sat there, she indulged in the silence, and wondered why this tree alone was spared, when the rest of the forest had been cut down to make room industry. She stroked the tree gently and felt compassion for it, because it knew her pain. Just as this tree remained the sole remnant of some forgotten landscape, she too, remained alone in the past, while her friends and family had already begun moving into the new chapter of their lives.
“Are you okay being here all alone,” she said softly. “You must be lonely…but I think it may be better to feel lonely and be truly alone, than to be surrounded by people, only to feel the same loneliness, as well as constant disappointment.”
Her eyes remained closed, and one hand continued to stroke the tree; while the other poked, pinched, and pulled at the wound. Then carefully she traced around the swollen area, placing her hand over it to cool it. It hurt, especially at the center where Gelbrt’s ring hit her. Salia’s anger rekindled again. Players weren’t even allowed to wear jewelry during games.
“Just how much were you paid off to not only ignore a ring, but also a punch in the face,” she said to the leaves, shaking her fist. She opened her mouth to shriek, but she heard, from below, the sound of doors opening, and carrier shuttles being loaded up, so she held it in, choosing instead to exaggeratedly shake her fists again. She could already feel her anger fading, leaving her feeling numb and in pain.
The wound didn’t, even hurt that badly, but the fact that no one stood by her, not the coach, or her teammates, that pained her deeply. Even her father ignored the injury as soon as he found that it would not affect her ability to play ril in the future, and her mother looked concerned but said nothing. Every day, the joy she used to feel when she played ril, faded away a little bit more, and soon the only reason for her to keep playing would be to make a living. The thought made her sick.
She laid limp on the branch, and watched clouds moving in the speckled sky she saw through the small spaces between the leaves. One day, she hoped she could dissolve into mist and become transient like the clouds, owing nothing to anybody, and to be free of all responsibilities. She stared at them for a while, feeling a gentle breeze and listening to the sound of leaves moving, then as if possessed by the clouds, she unconsciously lifted herself into the sky. Like a bird freeing itself from its shell, she gracefully and desperately kicked herself off the tree branches, through the leaves, and into the sky where she hung above the tree. She kept an eye on the shrinking tree, as she moved higher, already nostalgic for the brief respite she had in it; then she turned and rose rapidly to fly between the clouds.
She gave herself entirely to impulse. Within the clouds, she was not Salia the fairy of ril, she was just another creation of the universe, moving along with the natural forces of nature. Instead of flying, she let the wind push her like it pushed the clouds, letting it dictate where she rose and fell, when she was fast or slow. She spun and twirled, she screamed and laughed, then she let herself fall freely through the clouds, wet with the moisture of un-fallen rain and plummeting in accordance with the will of gravity. This is freedom she thought, catching herself just before she hit the ground.
“…to rise and fall when I want, to fight when I want, and to give in when I want,” she said, face dripping with water from the clouds that mixed with her sweat. “This is freedom.” She screamed facing the sky that had become dark and spotted with stars. Then she felt the bruise on her cheek sting from the salt in her sweat, and her mind was dragged back from the wispy clouds to the immovable ground. She had to go back home, but the clouds called to her, and the distant horizon challenged her like a finish line.
She didn’t know how far she’d drifted from it, but the image of the lone tree came back to her. How long would it last there? How long before it too was cut down to be replaced with pavement? The image of the its silent immobile form seemed to prod her conscious with thoughts of rebellion. Unlike the tree, she was not bound to the ground by ancient roots. She was not forced to remain suspect to the will of whoever decide what trees were cut down, and what trees spared. She looked to the horizon again and made her decision.
# # #
The next morning, a note was found in her empty hotel room, saying she would be back as soon as possible.
Look forward to the continuation of Salia’s story sometime soon as the galaxy of Nol opens up more. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.
In the vast Fralorian landscape the tribe of giants were hunched over against furious winds. Kraglar, the tribe leader for over ten years since he challenged and defeated the previous head, marched at the front, taking the brunt of the blizzard. From the beginning of his rule over the tribe, the people had respected and trusted him completely; but now, after long days of misfortunate trekking, he could feel tension growing in the group. Even his most devoted warriors were showing signs of discontent. Kraglar couldn’t blame them; their journey had been accompanied by hardships since its onset, and Fralorians were brutally intolerant of incompetent leaders.
He had made the difficult decision to move the tribe from land that they had held for over forty years because of the increasing frequency of earth tremors in the area, and as if to validate his decision, after only five days of travel, an earth tremor struck, splitting the ground beneath one of the tribe’s best warriors. Morale immediately dropped, while the crack the warrior fell into filled within minutes from a sudden blizzard. They had now been trekking through that blizzard at an excruciating pace for six days; the exhausted children and elders were being carried on the backs of their equally exhausted but more abled tribespeople.
Kraglar was unusually atheist, for a Fralorian, and he’d only indulged in the religious practices of his tribe in order to promote unity. Now though, his mind was plagued with stress laden superstition, and he had come to believe that the storm was a manifestation deliberately created, by the gods of death and eternal frost, to hinder his duty to protect his tribe members. The swirling snow made haunting hollow sounds and morphed into visions of phantoms, so that although it was the middle of the day, Kraglar could hardly see anything beyond arm’s reach. Using his long spear, he quickly swiped at the shadows; most of his strikes glided smoothly through the air, but a couple hard impacts let him know to avoid large boulders and stray trees.
“It would be great if we could send out scouts,” Bagol, his right-hand man said laughing as he checked the tip of his spear for damage.
“What good are scouts if they cannot find their way back,” Kraglar replied tersely. He knew that the man was speaking facetiously, but he was too frustrated to indulge the comment.
The trees he’d struck had caused his heart to drop in trepidation at the realization that they were approaching a forest. In the original course they had mapped out, he had made sure to avoid any forests within forty days walk, especially the one nearest to them. Now, Kraglar could hardly believe how far they had strayed from their course to end up at Giltan Forest.
Even given the best circumstances, Giltan forest was to be avoided for many reasons, but now, in a blizzard, with a fatigued tribe, arriving there was another great misfortune Kraglar could add to his list of misfortunes they’d faced on their journey. Not only did various vicious beasts fill the forests, but part it was within the territory of their neighboring tribe. A significant part of Kraglar’s motivation to move, was to create distance between his tribe and Apuli’s. They were now deeper in the forest, and the trees were blocking almost all the snow and wind. Kraglar noticed the immediate relief in most his tribe, except the warriors who grew more tense and alert for potential dangers.
He called a stop for an hour to let them rest, then quickly began moving again, ignoring their protests and complaints. They couldn’t afford to linger, and he wanted to get back on track as soon as possible. As they wove through the forest, Kraglar consider whether he would prefer to encounter rapid beasts or Apuli’s tribe; although, he thought he’d probably have a better chance reasoning with the wild beasts. After they walked for some time, Kraglar saw a break in the trees, and got a chance to find an answer as they walked in on a pack of aglun devouring the carcass of some creature at the center of the clearing. He quickly and silently raised a hand to stop the group, then began signaling a retreat cursing his wretched luck and carelessness; a moment too late. The wind changed direction and as one, the pack lifted their heads, catching the scent of the tribe.
For a moment, the eight beasts watched them. Each had two pairs of glassy blue eyes and blood and meat still dripped from their fangs, staining their blue-tinted white fur that perfectly blended with the snow. Kraglar hoped the beasts would simply go back to their kill, but as expected, he could almost see the various degrees aggression and maliciousness creeping into their hungry eyes. The entire tribe stood still; even the youngest children knew the smell of impending death. With deliberate slowness, the alpha aglun flung the meat hanging in its mouth to the side. It opened its wide mouth, and let its split tongue roll out, then began inching its large body forward, ears perked up and fur standing. The others followed it in an instinctual formation.
Kraglar sighed inaudibly. He had spent weeks planning the journey, sent multiple scouts to check the route, he had even reluctantly allowed the head seer to hold a week-long group prayer. He’d done all he could in hopes that the journey would proceed with as little conflict and issues as possible, but this was the final confirmation that his wish was impossible. But he was surprised when rather than more frustration, he felt his body relax and release all the tension and stress he had been holding in since their journey began. He nodded and smiled in resignation, then raised his spear. The rest of his warriors followed suit, smoothly forming a defensive line between the agluns and the tribe who had already began inching back to give the warriors enough room. There was no Fralorian old enough to walk that didn’t know what to do in a conflict situation: fight or get out of the way of those who could. A few of the elders even smiled in anticipation. There was no greater joy for them than watching their young ones in battle.
The agluns roared and sprinted towards the group. Kraglar stepped forward and raised his spear, not pointing it in the direction of the charging beasts, but up to the sky. His twelve warriors stayed behind him and prepared to throw their spears. The agluns cracked the ground as the charged forward. Kraglar did not flinch. The agluns pointed their curved horns forward, their heads low to the ground, and bodies hunched to leap. In one motion, Kraglar twisted his spear and stuck the ground. Mid leap, the agluns appeared to freeze, and snow hung unmoving in the air. In reality, everything remained in motion, but they were slowed down beyond visible perception. The tribe, unaffected by Kraglar’s abilities, cheered as the warrior threw their spears, each dealing a fatal hit to the agluns. Kraglar released his powers, and the bodies fell.
The warriors retrieved their spear and usually they would immediately skin the animals and perform hunting rites, but being in Giltan forest, they quickly left, taking only two of the agluns with them. The use of time freeze was perceptible to all Fralorians, and with Kraglar’s potent powers, it wouldn’t be long before Apuil’s tribe arrived. Kraglar was exhausted from the use of the skill, but he increased their pace until they were out of the forest and could no longer see it. After twelve days of difficult travel, the persistent blizzard had finally calmed to a light flurry and the tribe walked with ease, back on their planned route. They traveled for a few more days before arriving at the edge of a mountain range. The trees opened up to clear skies, and Kraglar looked down beyond the rugged mountains to a frozen valley. It was unfamiliar land, but he was confident that within the valley, they would find their new home.