Authors: Scott Toney
“Enough,” Riad spoke, ceasing his low level blast. The man’s clothes were charred and he lay half dead. “If you had resisted, then I would have known.” Riad turned to Ivanus. “Will you…”
“Yes, let’s lift his body back to the rocks. We should heal him and see if he can be of use.” Ivanus hefted Carcos’s legs while Riad carried his arms. He wondered as they moved what would come of the essence which departed Sar’s body.
Where is it now, this essence which raises the dead?
His legs burned as they carried Carcos.
What soul will you convince to pair with you? Will they be friend or foe?
Julieth stood silently, watching children run around the grove of fruit trees Ineal had brought to life in the city’s center. The people of Gest had been kind to her in the few days since the others’ departure and she was coming to know a kind of serenity here.
I wish those I left behind in Kaskal could know this.
She reached her hand up, feeling the smooth skin of a red fruit, twisting and plucking it from its limb before bringing it to her mouth and crunching a bite. Its sweet juices were fresh and cool as she chewed.
I will bring this peace to you. You do not need to know the hardship you do now. There will be healing and eventually the planet will strengthen and the violence will end.
“You can’t catch me!” a boy shouted as he looked mockingly back at another who was chasing him. The young boy threw a small nut at the other, laughing as he moved.
Joy. Did the young ones of Kaskal ever have this, this playful energy and life? Did Bayne ever have their happiness in his soul?
She could not remember a time when she had. Her first memories were of starvation and fighting within the city’s own population. She remembered a man being killed by another in front of her over a container of recreated food. She vividly remembered the convulsions of his hand as he died, lying in blood before her.
Is that why I am attracted to Ivanus, because he experienced this playful youth and still retains something of it in his spirit?
“Got you!” another boy shouted and then, “Ooomph!” both boys crashed down, laughing as one tackled the other.
Julieth smiled as she took another bite. Warmth came into her heart.
The generations of this city and the others we touch will be different. It will take time, but change will come.
A hand clasped Julieth’s shoulder, startling a breath from her. Her wings spread wide and she turned. “Who…”
Ineal stood silently, knowingly watching her eyes. He lifted his hand, motioning for her to follow him.
“Where are we going?” Julieth asked, walking behind Ineal. They passed venders in the streets, some selling rusted metallic trinkets created by working the metal littering the earth beyond the city walls. Others had already begun peddling the fruits growing about them and different shaped leaves from the trees’ limbs. These things were purchased not with coin, but with services or by bartering. It had been a necessity before to sell whatever one could in the streets, but now fruit was abundant and it was more of a peaceful thing to do with the day.
Ineal turned back to her and then pointed beyond Gest’s open gates, to the low-lying area surrounded by trees that she had slept in with the others the night they arrived to the city.
“Why there?” she asked.
Ineal turned away, walking steadily as she followed, leading her beyond Gest’s walls.
As Julieth neared him he stared up at the open sky. A look of concentration… possibly fear, weighed heavily in his eyes. “Where does the planet’s spirit lead you now?” she asked, standing by his side as Ineal kneeled to the earth.
The pale man touched the soil before him, and though he could not make noise, Julieth could almost feel the reverberation of a tune moving through the wind that had not been there moments before.
There was silence next.
And then the earth shook violently, sending Julieth to her knees as she clasped the arid soil with her nails in an effort to gain control.
Limbs of the newly birthed trees splintered down about them. Screams of fright sang from within Gest. And then all was still again.
All was as it had been, except for a slim crack that ran across the earth beneath the trees. Julieth followed the crevice with her eyes back to the tip of Ineal’s finger, where it began.
Ineal turned to her, holding out his free hand and closing her eyes with the movement of his fingers.
She heard something in the darkness, a hissing sound and then a gentle rush.
What is it?
she wondered, and then felt it as it met the soles of her feet. A cool sensation gently lapped over her toes.
It cannot be.
Julieth opened her eyes. Before her stretched a vast body of water, clear and crisp. It rose around her ankles; then neared her knees, flooding up from the crevice Ineal had opened. It was like nothing she ever experienced and she cupped her hands and dipped them, drinking the substance fully as she brought it to her lips. The water moved between the trees, their veranda stretching above as sunlight filtered through.
Julieth turned to look back at Gest, witnessing a guard pointing excitedly at them and shouting, before looking back to Ineal and seeing he held two clay bowls. She did not know where they came from but took one as he handed it to her.
Did he create them from the sand beneath us?
Nothing would surprise her now. As Ineal dipped his bowl she did the same and the two walked out of the rising water back toward Gest.
They offered the water in their bowls to the city’s people and then led them to the water to drink.
a voice called to her in the distance. White light surrounded her and when she held her hands before her she saw it shimmering over her black silhouette.
Where am I?
she thought, shivering in the stasis void… and then…
Yes, my child, it is I.
Why do you speak to me?
Because you have questions, because Ineal needs your strength.
For a moment there was silence. Questions, what questions did she have?
Today Ineal opened Solaris’s crust and brought a great lake of water where there was none before. How is this possible? How can he do these things?
I am Solaris’s essence. How do the suns rise? How does the breeze blow? How did your mind awaken out of nothing in your Mother’s womb before you took your first breath? These things are. They exist because they are willed to exist. So was the lake created and the water shared. Do not ask how, but instead give thanks for the gifts.
What can one like you ask of me, one who can do these things in our world with a thought? I cannot speak to Ineal, only to you, and I cannot understand him.
Listen, child, and you will hear. Ineal speaks in his mind, but those thoughts travel in the wind… And you are needed more than you know. Men to the West come for Gest’s water and fruit. There will be a storm in the hearts of Gest’s people and Ineal cannot quell this. Only a person of Solaris can change man’s ways. Man is receptive to the gifts given, but does not understand them yet. Man strives for existence, while you strive for peace. This is your great mission. In your heart you have the ability to save all.
And how is Samuel’s reign to be brought down by peace and nature? I cherish these things, but they cannot solve Solaris’s problems alone.
First comes the changing of hearts, and then, if all else fails, we will use our hearts to break the core essence’s hold. Water and wind are great adversaries, but fire is needed as well.
There is a core essence? What do you speak of?
Silence. Julieth could hear a steady breath around her as the brightness of the void faded to gray and then black. She listened to the breath methodically sounding.
It had such strength, such solid movement.
Julieth opened her eyes to sunlight. The breathing was her own.
“Do you remember nothing after our vessel’s crash?” Riad kneeled in the heat of the sun, shading Carcos’s body as he applied rags with healing ointment to the man’s scorched flesh.
Carcos looked at him with weary eyes. One leaked puss and was bruised. “No… Our ship was falling, and then I was here with you.”
“I knew Samuel to be cruel, but this is beyond what I expected. That is because I thought you dead though, not because I believed he could not do it. Ivanus,” he turned from Carcos to look at him. “Tear rags from your cloak so that we may bind them over the ointment on Carcos’s body and protect him from the sun.”
It was not the same. Ivanus had not felt the same about this company since leaving Julieth. True, he had feelings for her that he could not deny. But there was a coldness here which had not been here before, an existence between the group that had nothing to do with her.
He did not like being ordered, but realized Carcos needed clothes to protect him and Ivanus had the most excess garb. He found tears in his robe where a rust shard had torn it in his sleep and with quick pulls, shredded off pieces of cloth. “Here.” He held them out to Riad.
The cyborg wrapped them tightly over portions of the man’s boil-pocked flesh.
“I do not remember Samuel, but knowing what he did to me, I wish to fight by your side. It is hard to believe that Sar turned.” Carcos moved his arms to support himself and sit, shaking but eventually gaining his position.
“Sar was controlled as well. I remember when we explored beyond the ship. That is when he changed.” Riad braced a hand on Carcos’s shoulder. “We will have you,” he said without asking anyone’s opinion. “But I hope that your memory returns. We could use that. I cannot move past what has been done to us until the priest lies in his own blood.”
“Do you have food? I feel as if I have not eaten in years.”
As Riad removed a bar of replicated food from a compartment in his arm, Ivanus knelt to the ground, closing his eyes and sensing something a distance away and beneath Solaris’s crust.
An excited wonder moved over him. “There is someone else near us, many others. I do not know why I did not sense them before. They are in the caverns beneath the earth.”
“The man-beasts?” Riad asked.
“No. I did not sense them before and am not sure I would again. No, these are men with hollow stares. They hold a man in chains. He has a great heat in his eyes.”
“We should move over them and continue as soon as we are able.” Riad wiped beads of sweat from his brow.
“There is something…” Ivanus closed his eyes, fire and raw energy coming to him as he focused on his
of the man. “We are meant to free him. I am sure of that. This man’s power is undeniable. He could be a great resource. And the people who hold him appear to be controlled, possibly by Samuel.”
Riad stood silent for a moment. “How would we reach him?”
“I do not
an entrance to the underground here. We would need to blast one. A distance before us there is a chamber that could be reached, one without people inside.”
Riad motioned Bayne and Andral to their side from where the boys had been standing and talking. “Bayne, Ivanus has discovered something. There is a man held captive in the tunnels beneath us. I need you to stay here with Carcos and Andral to protect them if there is need. Remain within the mountain’s rocks and we will return soon.” Riad handed the boy a gun one of their recent attackers had wielded. “Use this if you need. Ivanus should
any enemy before they reach you and we will return quickly should that happen.”
“I can handle my own,” Bayne said, reaching his hand down and helping Carcos to stand.
The trio hid in the mountain’s crags and Ivanus and Riad walked across the arid land. They went a good distance, barely speaking.
Ivanus breathed deeply. His throat was raw and his lungs felt thick as he moved. His chest burned and he touched within his shirt at his skin there, boils meeting his fingertips.
The essence, it has begun to claim me. But nothing can be done. It is a part of me, and not by my choice.
“Here.” Ivanus stopped, marking an X in the sand with his shoe. “This is where we should enter.” He backed away from the spot, his guns gripped hard in his hands while watching Riad pop mines from his arm and position them on the marking.
A moment later Riad joined him and leveled his massive gun.
Electricity and static convulsed through Ivanus’s spine as Riad released his weapon’s charge.
The earth shook, rock caving beneath them as swarming sand stung Ivanus’s eyes. He went into a free fall and then his tailbone surged with pain as he crashed to the cavern floor. A rock weighted down his arm as he lay sprawled in the rubble. The cavern was dark except for sunlight streaming through the blasted hole above. He aimed the gun in his free hand at the rock and then blasted, splintering it in shards across the chamber.
“Let’s move. Someone is bound to have heard the blast,” Riad spoke from nearby, walking on the broken rocks. He stood above him, reaching down his hand and helping Ivanus up. “Which tunnel do we take?”
Ivanus closed his eyes,
the three passageways leading out from the room and determining which led to their destination. “Over here.” He walked steadily as Riad followed. “A small group has heard us. I
them coming. They are only armed with daggers. They have sent none of their company ahead to warn the main group.”
“Then we wait. We could use the guns.” Riad stopped speaking as Ivanus held a finger to his lips.
“Not yours,” Ivanus whispered, “it would be too loud. These three are mine.”
The thudding of feet and heavy breathing interrupted them as the trio neared them through the tunnel.
Ivanus’s heart was steady and his nerves calm. He had
what was to come and was prepared. As the first leather clad man burst forth from the darkness Ivanus tripped him, sending him to the cragged cavern floor. Ivanus dove at him, blasting the man in the skull and rolling, firing another shot into the second man as his eyes emerged in the darkness. A gargled moan came from the man and he staggered before crumbling with a thud to the ground. “Your dagger!” Ivanus called out to Riad while rolling on the ground to avoid the attack of the third man charging from the tunnel.
With a thrust the attacker spliced his dagger toward Ivanus, peeling flesh from his side as Ivanus struggled for freedom.
Riad’s massive cybernetic hand clasped the attacker’s hair and tore him from Ivanus, thrusting his own blade into the man’s chest as he forced him against the chamber wall.
Blood drooled from the man’s lips.
Riad eyed him, looking into the hollow orbs that stared into his own. “He is in a trance, as you said.” He looked back to Ivanus. “How far does Samuel’s hand stretch? How far does that power go?”
The bleeding man shook, hands twitching as if involuntarily. He should have had the ability to speak, but did not.
“We should finish him and put him out of his misery.” Ivanus stood and began walking into the pitch passageway from which the enemy had emerged.
Riad sliced the enemy deep in the throat and the man crumbled to the ground, drowning in his own blood and then silencing at last.
They moved slowly through the darkness, careful not to draw attention to themselves from connecting passageways. The only light was a faint glow emanating from Riad’s cybernetics. It was cold as they moved, but as they neared the massive chamber they sought, dry warmth came, growing hotter and hotter. A deep crimson glow lit the tunnel at its far end a distance before them.
“The one we seek is there,” Ivanus whispered to Riad. He closed his eyes, watching the future play itself out in his thoughts. “We can walk confidently. His captors will not sense us until we reach the opening. Then be at the ready. There are at least fifty armed men standing guard.”
“Before we move on take this and seal your wound.”
Ivanus turned to see Riad holding a tube of gel for him to take. The tube was warm as Ivanus clutched it, removing its top and spreading the luminescent pink gel inside on his side’s wound where there attacker had grazed him. “What is it?” he asked. He had
that he would use it and that it would work, but had no understanding of how.
Riad took the tube back and stored it once more in a compartment of his mechanics. “It is a byproduct of my cybernetics. It is stored in a tube within them, unless there is excess, and can be used either for the cybernetics’ fuel or as a sealing and healing agent on flesh wounds.”
“Your people must be quite advanced. There is a weapon you keep in your shoulder; it appears to shed a great light. You should keep it at the ready. We will need it at the chamber’s opening.” Ivanus felt the strength to the passage way’s stone floor as he moved. He did not fear what would come, the battle and blood, not because it was not danger but because what would be would be and could not be changed. He saw the movement of each muscle in his body before it came. And so instead of focusing on fear he focused on
What will I do if I ever rid myself of this curse?
he thought as they neared the opening, dense heat rolling over his skin and chapping his exposed face and hands.
What portions of my mind have been destroyed and replaced for this value and curse of seeing the future?
the one they came for first. The majestic being hovered in midair in the center of the vast chamber, his eyes glowing a hallucinogenic orange and his completely exposed flesh radiating a bright yellow-orange light. His mouth was open and a deep resonating sound moaned from within him, vibrating the air of the chamber as Ivanus reached a hand through the passageway’s opening and into it.
“No!” Riad shouted at him as the silence quickly filled with the sound of armor and the clacking of arrows ricocheting off the passageway’s walls.
“It was the time,” Ivanus rebuked him, falling to the hard stone floor and positioning his guns. “Use the light weapon now!” He watched the saucer rocket through the chamber and then land, blasting the area with blinding light and static electricity. Ivanus stood, walking confidently into the white nothing and fired his weapons where he somehow knew the enemy stood. Again and again he fired, hearing metal crush against stone. He jutted to the right and felt air moving along his left arm where an attacker almost dug his sword into Ivanus’s flesh. He fired again and again, hot liquid splaying his face from a close by enemy, and then he ducked low, witnessing the bright light leaving the chamber and taking in the carnage he had reaped about him. The heat resonating from the man in the center area was great, catching Ivanus’s breath in his throat and making it hard for him to take full breath. Sweat rolled down his forehead and into Ivanus’s open, panting mouth.
“Behind you!” Riad shouted.
Ivanus turned to see an attacker’s chest disintegrate to ash as a powerful blast from Riad’s weapon hit him at close range.
They were surrounded and Ivanus stood, on the balls of his feet and at the ready to move swiftly to dodge the arrows he
would come. A second later Riad created a static shield to hold off a shower of arrows and Ivanus dove hard to the ground, rolling and thrusting himself up to standing position again while arrows zinged past. He cocked his guns and fired beams of charge into several archers only a short distance away.
Men with swords separated him and Riad now and Ivanus turned, blasting into the nearest man’s skull and jumping back as the man’s sword clanged down, his headless body crushing with a thump beside it. Ivanus quickly holstered his guns, thrusting down and hefting his attacker’s massive sword and plunging it through the neck of another sword-bearing attacker coming for him. The man struck his sword at Ivanus, barely missing his wrist, before falling and writhing on the ground.
“They are like drones!” Riad shouted over the sound of battle. “Weak and unskilled, but determined to shed their lives!”
Ivanus’s blade parried his new attacker’s own and he was pushed back toward the heat radiating man hovering in stasis above.
Why did I go for the sword when I had the guns?
Ivanus thought. But he had seen it happen and knew that was what he must do. All was fate. All was decided. His chest and arm muscles burned as again and again his blade met the other man’s sword.
Ivanus let a hand loose from his weapon. Then
his attacker’s blade crunched through his remaining sword-hand’s fingers, sending his sword careening away and four of his five digits ripping with blood spewing rage through the air.
Ivanus was numb to the pain, already knowing his fate and too focused on battle to care. As the sword hit he had reached down with his free hand and gripped a gun, blasting through his opponent’s torso and crushing the life from his soul. The blast moved through the man and then struck against the body of the glowing being above them.
Ivanus knelt, tearing fabric from his shirt and wrapping it over his finger nubs tightly, praying it would halt the blood as the fabric soaked through. “Aaah!” he screamed as the figure in the center of the room’s eyes moved from a blank stare to vibrant life.