Authors: Scott Toney
Earth surrounded Ineal as his consciousness awoke. And yet it did not contain him.
How long has my mind been asleep?
he wondered, looking through the soil around him for his arms’ forms.
He saw nothing. The chewing of insects and slithering of worms echoed in his hearing.
He focused hard in the darkness of the earth, and then, when looking again, could see the limbs of his body like an ethereal vision before him.
Have I died? How long has it been since the meteor I was encased in landed?
Then it suddenly came to him that the essences’ voices were gone… all of them.
Whether I am dead or alive, I am free.
Full, natural energy pulsed through his form. He could feel the earth around him, sense the movements of the insects as if they moved over and through him. Far above, he felt the feet of beings pressing down on the planet’s surface.
You must renew me. They have forgotten. All is dry and barren, but through you I can touch them again,
the warm voice of a woman spoke in his mind.
Who are you? How are you in my thoughts?
I am the mother of all things. Solaris’s people have forgotten me. I need you to show them. I am within you now. You are now connected with me, but I am not the same as you.
Are you one of the essences? I denied them for so long, and yet now I hear you within me.
No, they are not I. They are dead and wish to spread their own means. I wish to restore and provide.
And what if I deny you? What if I chose to travel my own path?
All paths lead to me. Your choice is your own. If you choose my lead, then I will provide the way.
Are you a god?
The warmth of the soil around him set like a deep ocean in his soul. Somehow in the darkness and soil he felt more free and alive than he ever had. Images swam through his thoughts. He saw the universe’s creation, the birth of multiple worlds and the fall of many as the essences devoured them. Before observing Solaris’s infection by the essences he witnessed the death of Eon, his home world.
I see now, mother of all. The essences must be stopped here. I will return your touch to Solaris and help them to remember. The essences are somehow the absence of you, aren’t they?
Nothing… no response… and then…
See me by my spirit, sole survivor of Eon. I charge you as my herald.
Ineal wanted to go to the surface see the suns and Solaris’s land with his sight. With just a thought, his ethereal form moved through the earth upward. Then, as he neared the surface, he paused.
I feel the earth as part of me. Will I feel the wind and the sunlight in the same way?
He slowly raised his hand above the surface of the land, not disturbing the planet’s crust, but passing through it. He felt one with the wind, unable to control it but feeling the freeness in his heart of its movements. He did not feel the sunlight’s heat on his arm, but instead a connection with the fiery orbs radiating far out in space. It was both overwhelming and surreal.
You cannot control the world around you, but you will be able to touch and renew life in it,
the woman’s voice spoke to him again.
After a moment’s hesitation Ineal rose into the sunlight, standing firm on the cracked earth of the planet. Every portion of the world called to him, speaking with their movements and existence to his soul. In the distance he could feel the footsteps of several of the planet’s beings slowly approaching him. One was in need. He could somehow sense the beings’ physical stability because of their touch to the world surrounding them.
Ineal smiled a caring, true smile.
I will start with you.
He held out his hand, beckoning them forward through the wind.
“Look, is that a man? Ivanus, can you sense someone out there?” Julieth squinted as sand whipped across the dry earth before them. The figure she had assumed a mirage in the distance solidified into human form, wavering as if it were a shadow somehow set down in the heat of the day.
“I’ve sensed its life force for some time now,” Ivanus said. “It was beneath the earth and had been moving toward us. It is not one of our people. It must be a member of an alien race.”
“Can you sense what it’s going to do?”
“It will not move until we reach it. It stretches its arm toward us. I believe we can trust it, but yes, I sense its movements. I should be able to sense its intents before it does us harm.”
Riad looked back to Ivanus. “Stay back with Bayne as we approach. Leave initial contact to Julieth and myself and call out if you sense danger. We can not risk Bayne’s fear especially if the being is immune to his ability.”
As they neared the being’s form it fully solidified. Its skin was stark white. It had a nude form, without genitalia. No hair was on its head and its deep blue eyes glowed, somehow visible in the distance where it stood before them. One of its arms stretched out, pointing at them.
“Why do you come to us?” Riad leveled his weapon at the man.
They halted their approach as Ivanus, Bayne and Andral waited a distance behind them.
The albino did not speak. It stood with wide eyes, watching them, and then began to approach.
Julieth leveled the gun Riad had given her, her heart racing as the albino quickly moved.
A sudden charge of electricity birthed from Riad’s weapon, pulsing through the thing’s body as if it were not there.
Julieth fired two charges of her own. “Are we in danger?” she called back to Ivanus after each shot failed to hinder the thing.
“No, but it will approach Bayne!”
Julieth beat her wings, lifting to the air and swooping down toward the albino, firing several shots into it and then reaching out to grab its body. Her grasp found only air, passing through the thing’s form as she soared skyward once more.
She landed hard on the ground while Riad fired shot after shot into its body. Sand whipped over her, her heart beating heavy with fear.
“It cannot be stopped!” Ivanus shouted out over the sound of the electric charges Riad fired.
“Retreat!” Riad shouted, running at the albino and firing a shot through its skull before the thing disappeared.
Julieth ran, closing the distance between her and Ivanus quickly, then lifted up into the sky as the albino’s form reappeared beside Andral.
It touched him, placing its nova white hand to his cheek and then kneeled and touched its fingers to Solaris’s surface.
Julieth stood, stunned and unable to fire for fear of harming Andral.
She moved cautiously toward them and then stopped, captivated as something green sprouted out from the earth, rising quickly upward and sprouting limbs at its sides.
“What is it?” Bayne asked in awe.
“I don’t know,” Julieth said as Riad joined them. He leveled his weapon at the albino, preparing to fire.
“He will not harm us,” Ivanus assured them. “And I have seen that thing before. It is a tree.”
The green form changed to brown, sprouting other, thin green things from its limbs. Then a sweet aroma moved around them as delicate blooms formed.
“A tree…” Julieth spoke in disbelief. “That is what people ate ages ago, or at least I have heard.”
“No.” Ivanus grinned. “We ate those.”
Red and orange spheres grew on the tree’s arms as the flower blooms were carried away in the wind around them.
“What are they?” Bayne asked.
Ivanus came to him, placing his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Fruit.”
“We can not trust him. It is a trick of the heat,” Riad spoke.
Julieth watched Bayne reach up, twist a fruit from one of the limbs and then reach out and place it in Andral’s palm. “You are weak, brother. We can live a long time without food, but you need this.”
“How do I eat it?” Andral asked Ivanus, who had just picked a fruit of his own from the tree.
“Bite through the skin. The insides of the fruit are sweet. It has only been days since I have eaten one, in my time, and yet this is such a delicious relief to have.”
Julieth took a step toward the tree and reached up, feeling the smoothness of the fruit with her fingertips. “Do you speak, man of miracles, and why have you brought us this gift?”
The albino pointed to the suns overhead and then to his heart before watching her with a smile.
Her fears quelled as she watched Andral take his first bite. Energy appeared to fill his body once more as his eyes lit with life. Juice from the fruit dripped down his arm. “Delicious,” he said, taking another bite and then passing it to Bayne in an offer to share.
Julieth brought her fruit to her lips, savoring the sweet scent before biting through its skin and enjoying the way its juices caressed her throat. “Fruit, I never dreamed I’d have fruit.”
“You do not have an essence marking in your flesh, or scar mapping.” Riad approached, inserting a shard of metal from his finger into a still hanging fruit. The red sphere steamed as he spoke, and then cracked and fell to the ground, exploding as mush. “How do you create vegetation out of dry earth? How do we know you are not poisoning us?”
The albino did not answer, only turned and walked away from them as they ate and watched in stunned wonder. The way the sun reflected off his flesh was almost blinding.
Julieth and the others picked the remaining fruit and then followed. They kept a safe distance, cautious of this mysterious new being and knowing that if they were to keep Andral alive, then they would need this creature’s abilities.
“We cannot trust him. He is unnatural.” Riad remained in the lead and looked back to Julieth. A burst of sand whipped around them.
“How could we trust you in Kaskal? How can we trust you now?” Julieth answered. “In these times we need all the allies that come our way. I will trust him because I need to trust him. That is why you are here as well.”
Julieth flew above the others, eying the unknown man who had given life to a tree out of the desert soil. The sunlight heating the ground below almost blanked the stark white being from her vision, but the movements of his muscles and arms contrasted with the textures of the whipping sand.
Who are you?
she thought, bringing a hand to her chest where one of the essences had entered her body. She felt the smooth scar seared in her flesh.
You are not one of us, and yet you have these abilities. What does that mean?
A city had been growing larger and larger in the distance for some time now. The being led them there. She trusted him, partially because she knew Ivanus would be able to warn them of danger, and mostly because there would have been no point in feeding them if the man had intended to kill them. The city was encased in a circular wall much like Kaskal’s, only instead of being stone and clay, the wall appeared to be mostly forged by the remnants of rusted-out walls of buildings from a distant age.
she thought. She had heard mention of the place twice by nomads on the brink of death. They spoke of it as a place where few still lived, a dark place where the people had broken souls.
As they neared the city she landed.
A sentry looked down to them from the wall. “Why do you come? We do not accept travelers here!”
Julieth remained a distance back with the others.
The albino looked up, staring but saying nothing.
“You are unwelcome!” An arrow spliced from the sentry’s bow, thrusting before the being’s feet. “Approach and the next will pierce your heart!”
The albino knelt, touching the earth as a green sprout pushed up from the sand and grew. He stood, took a few steps and touched the sand again, causing another tree to rise.
“He is unnatural.” Riad held his weapon up, eying it before lowering it to his side.
“And a woman with wings, that is natural?” she smiled.
Tree after tree bloomed, young limbs morphing to bark, moaning with the rapid growth, until a small forest of fruit trees shaded Gest’s massive rust gates. The trees grew to ten times a man’s height.
The people of Gest congregated, looking out over the rust wall in awe. Dozens stood, pointing to the foliage, unable to believe their eyes.
“They would not open their gates for nomads, but will they open them for fruit?” Ivanus asked beside Julieth.
As if on cue, the massive gates screeched, slowly opening as several poorly armed men walked out.
Julieth followed Riad as their group came to greet Gest’s people.
One man approached the nearest tree, reaching up and plucking a red fruit from its branch. “What game is this that you play?”
“He does not speak,” Julieth spoke up after the albino had not offered a reply. “We came upon him in the desert and he brought fruit to life for us as well. He is trustable.”
“We will judge that,” a second guard spoke. “If you wish to enter our walls, then you will come in in chains.”
A surge of light charged across Riad’s gun. “Then we will remain here. We have no need for you or your people if you will not accept us.”
The albino held out his arms, standing silently as large chains were brought and secured around his arms and torso. He was led through the gates. They closed and those that had congregated on the wall’s edge disappeared behind its façade. One lone watchman stood guard as they made camp beneath the trees.