Authors: Scott Toney
A crowd watched on as Ivanus and Riad entered the tunnels beneath Kaskal through the same passage they used before. The people were in awe, more of Riad than Ivanus, but more than fifty people watched as they descended into darkness. Julieth and Bayne remained in the city, on Julieth’s insistence that they help heal Kaskal as much as possible before their leaving in a day or two’s time.
A shiver ran through Ivanus as he clutched handguns Riad had taken from compartments in his larger weapon. Static from their handles pricked the palms of his hands. “Do you think Kaskal’s people will be alright once we leave?” he asked Riad when they were far enough away from the entrance that they would not be heard. A faint blue glow shimmering off their weapons lit the dark.
“Kaskal survived for centuries before we came,” Riad spoke. “I do not know if they could handle another attack, but their destruction is inevitable if Samuel is not challenged.”
Ivanus led them. He could see a vast portion of the underground catacombs with his future-sight. He
things as if they were behind a fogged glass. He had to focus to see them clearly, and as he
some things, others would slip away.
The stone floor beneath them was strange. In tunnels and caverns from his time there would have been moisture in the air and furry winged creatures that would fly screeching through the dark. But this cavern was dry, and though cooler than the land above, still warm. His lips were cracked because of the planet’s air.
“How far must we go?” Riad asked, kicking a stone as he moved. The sound echoed around them.
“It is a while further, and a level down.” Ivanus sensed something coming their direction, one of the creatures he sensed when he initially
what they were looking for. It startled with the echo Riad caused.
An airy, guttural sound came from the tunnel before them. A shiver ran up Ivanus’s arms, his hair standing on end as he braced his handguns where he knew it would appear. He
how he would fire a blast from each weapon, be hit by the beast and fall back before killing it. His sight was proving to be both a blessing and curse. He had quickly learned he could not change the order of events he envisioned, only live them out.
“Stay back. The creature is mine,” he instructed Riad. “There are no others nearby.” He waited, his heart beating heavily and stress rising in his chest. He did not know when it would come, only that it would. The cold handles of the weapons were solid in his grip. The airy sound consumed his hearing as he leveled them.
Consuming light and electricity erupted from his guns, booming against a wall of the chamber as the blasts narrowly missed a lanky, tone creature with claws lunging for him. It screeched, crashing against Ivanus and hammering him to the cavern floor. It thrashed its talon like claws against his chest, tearing out strips of leather from the vest he wore. Moist, wide eyes peered out from its skull.
Ivanus punched a leg against the creature’s torso, causing it to suck in air and rasp before clawing toward him once more. Its chest met the barrel of one of Ivanus’s weapons, electricity evaporating the creature’s chest as the remainder of the thing’s body thrust backward and crumpled to the catacomb floor.
“There are more!” Ivanus called out as he scrambled to stand and moved back near Riad, taking care not to be alone in a confrontation again.
The airy guttural noises ceased moments later and a haunting feeling flooded over him. He knew they would be upon him and Riad soon. He saw the battle in his sight, and knew the horde now waited for that moment, staying just out of vision in the darkness, their wide eyes watching them.
What intelligence do they have?
Are they beast, or some relation to man?
That thought that worried him the most. They did not look like men, but these creatures had never existed in his time, at least not that the people of his time knew of. Were they fighting some adaptation of humans brought on by the meteor?
A screech deafened him as the first creature thrust into the glow shimmering off their weapons. A vast static charge burst over him as Riad discharged his gun and energy consumed the creature’s body, exploding into fiery particles as flame flecked smoke weaved into the atmosphere of the chamber.
Ivanus discharged his guns simultaneously as more of the creatures charged for them. Two of their bodies exploded, spraying the walls with matter.
“How many are there?” Riad called from nearby.
Ivanus didn’t have the time to register what he was
. “Enough, but we have to get through!” He turned, watching Riad pull a mine from his arm, pound it to the front of his gun and then blast it into the coming beasts.
The blast shook the cavern; knocking Ivanus to the ground as he listened to the high-pitched cries of the creatures. His head was foggy and he realized the future he saw skipped somehow. A taloned hand clutched his arm, knocking his gun free and dragging him across the cavern floor. “Riad!” he shouted for the borg.
Crack! He heard the sound of the creature’s neck breaking above him and then watched as its body tumbled to the ground. Riad’s glowing hand reached down to him and he took it, using the borg’s strength to stand. He grabbed his second gun from the ground nearby.
As he regained footing Ivanus felt sickened by the bodies of the beasts littering the room. There was no time to think, or to second-guess. “The others of their group have fled deeper into the catacombs,” he said. “We have only a short window because they will return. We take this passage.” He pointed to a wall a distance away from them. A line in the stone trailed its edges, but otherwise the passage was hidden from view. As they reached it he stopped, trying to remember how he
himself opening it.
Ivanus felt a surge of power as he touched the crevice in the stone, running his fingers down its edge until they came to a groove that dipped into the crevice and gave a handhold on the door. He leaned back on its heavy weight, putting all of his back’s strength into opening it. With a moan the massive stone opened. Stale air puffed out from the new passageway, causing him to choke before leading Riad in.
They closed the door behind them and continued down a spiraling stairwell chiseled out of earth and rock.
“Are there more creatures here?” Riad asked him. “I have never seen anything like them before. To think, these beasts have lived beneath Kaskal for all this time and never emerged.”
“There should be none in this chamber. It was hidden from them, and I sense no-one but ourselves here.”
Soon they were on a level stone floor once more walking through the dark. Ivanus stopped, knowing they had arrived to their destination, and turned into a dark room.
As the light from their weapons faintly illuminated the walls of the room the two men saw dusty bottles, books and statues lining shelves. Cobwebs disintegrated as the light touched them. “Their age is so great that even light destroys them,” Ivanus said.
“What are they?” Riad asked as he moved toward a corner of the room. Vast webbing blew away as dust as he neared with his lit weapon.
The depth of distance he had traveled from his time, struck Ivanus. “Insects called spiders used to create those. Do they not even have those here?”
“Yes, yes I do remember spiders. But they have been long gone,” Riad remarked. He took a filled bottle and held it close to his cybernetic eye, a red light in his inner eye fluxing as he held it there.
Turning from him, Ivanus moved to another portion of the room, taking a metallic box from a shelf, and then clicking it open. There, inside, was a glowing orb. He wanted to touch it, reaching his fingers out to do so, but then stopping himself, as he knew he had not seen himself touch it in his
A shiver ran over him and he looked up, seeing only darkness above.
Is there someone there?
he thought, afraid of something lurking above them, something he could not sense.
No, I would have seen it.
He tucked the box in his cloak, leery still of whether or not to trust Riad.
It is an orb of essence from the meteor, right? Why would it be down here, and why would it not have bonded to another creature before now? I will take it with us to better examine when we are away from here.
“Have you discovered what we came for?” Riad questioned, turning to him.
A steel ring rested on one of the shelves. Ivanus reached for it, holding it up and making as if he were examining the engravings in its surface. “I do not know why, but this is it.”
“A strange object to be drawn to.” Riad eyed him with suspicion. “If this is what we searched then we should return to the surface.”
The two men took one last, long look around the room before heading back into the darkness of the tunnel.
Ivanus could not shake the feeling that they were being watched.
“I have found him! I have found him!” Bayne’s voice rang up to Julieth from the street below as she flew, pulling heavy cable that connected to a spool below and then attaching it to communication boxes throughout the city. With the cable connected the city’s people would be able to speak to each other quickly should another conflict emerge. It was rudimentary, but better than nothing.
“Who?” she shouted back down to him. She quickly flew to the remains of a stone post and wrapped cable around it before hanging the cable there and diving down toward the boy.
Bayne smiled. “Andral, he is alive. I discovered him on a recovery bed while delivering food to another portion of the city.” Bayne wiped tears from his eyes as Julieth came to him, embracing him in her arms.
“What will you do?” she asked. “We have promised Riad that we will leave within two days’ time.”
“He is not that injured, and we could carry him if need be,” Bayne spoke confidently. “I cannot leave him behind again.”
“And what if he chooses not to follow us? He does not have abilities like us. You should not attempt to force him.”
Bayne stepped back from the embrace. “I have already spoken with him and he insists on coming.”
As the company left the city’s perimeter Julieth turned back to watch Kaskal’s massive rusted gates close. They stood five times a man’s height, as did the city’s outer walls. For the second time in days she would be leaving her people, unsure of her return.
But they are safer now,
she thought, a good feeling swelling inside of her with the knowledge that she had played a large part in their safety. She chose to walk, though she knew she could just as easily fly. She wanted to be near Bayne and his older brother, Andral. She still was not sure she could trust Riad, or even Ivanus.
Heat pulsed over and through them in waves as they trudged through the desert, both of Solaris’s suns overhead beating down on them. They carried heavy packs with edible stores from the food-replicating machine. They would sustain the company for at least a week, but after that time, even if they had not eaten the food, it would change and once again be uneatable matter.
That night they made camp in the shell of a rusted-out metal structure. Most of the building was gone, taken by the winds and sand long ago, but spiked shards of its outer shell made a defendable place for them to rest.
The first sun had set and the second dipped below the horizon as Riad took a sphere from a chamber in his gun and set it on the cooling sand they sat on. It lit quickly with a vibrant red glow and warmth exuded from it as night air cooled about them.
“How many things do you keep in that weapon?” Julieth asked.
Riad just smiled and began removing slabs of food from his pack, passing them around the company of five. “I could have escaped you when you first took me,” he spoke. “But I wanted you to trust me. There is much about me you do not yet know.”
Julieth took her slab of food from him. As she took a bite, muted spices touched her palate. “What was it like to eat real food?” she asked Ivanus, for some reason suddenly wishing she had something different in her hands and that she had lived in his time.
“Delicious. There were fruits, vegetables and animals that we killed and ate. The tastes were nothing like this.” Ivanus held his slab of food before him. “There is no flavor in this. It even tastes metallic. I used to go out into the fields and pick red fruits called pawberries that grew in patches on the earth. They were full, juicy and sweet. It’s a wonder anyone has survived with only slabs of replicated food to eat. What are they replicating anyway? It is certainly nothing from my time.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Julieth grinned, happy to have the opportunity to talk about something mundane and to relax, something she hadn’t been able to do for days. As she chewed the bland meal she looked at the others’ faces, the light of Riad’s sphere shimmering over their forms. She closed her eyes while looking to Bayne and Andral. The two smiled and joked.
What remains of their innocence will be lost.
She dwelled on the reality for a moment.
And yet there is no choice, not with these essences in our lives.
“We need to plan,” Riad said as the others finished eating. “Julieth, can I see an arrow?”
Julieth reached over to her quiver lying on the sand nearby and handed an arrow to Riad. “Gladly.”
Riad took the arrow and used its tip to trace lines in the sand between him and the others. “We are here.” He motioned with the arrow’s tip to a mark he had made. “We are in part of the remains of the city, Canlal. It is a long dead place.”
“Canlal… I remember Canlal.” Ivanus grinned. “Their silks were so beautiful. It was a hub of both sophistication and elegance. The women…” He made a motion with his lips, kissing toward the massive moon above.
“Canlal is gone, unfortunately, and when I knew it and it was alive, it was a desolate, thieving place,” Riad said. “I am sorry, my friend, but even before the desert reclaimed it, Canlal had already died.”
Julieth watched Ivanus close his eyes and continue to smile.
“And here is Kaskal.” Riad moved the tip of the arrow to another mark in the sand. “Obviously, we have not moved far. There are few cities still alive in the desert, but if we are to make progress and come nearer to Samuel’s lands then I know of one city that might welcome us.” He took the tip of the arrow, moving it above a line in the sand and to another mark a good distance off. Here Riad drew lines symbolizing mountains near another marking.
“What city is that?” Julieth asked, not recognizing the location. “I don’t remember it, from what I have been told of our local fellow cities. My people scarcely leave Kaskal’s walls, but I think I would have heard of a city so near to us.”
Riad looked to her, his glowing eye somehow warming to look at in the darkness. “It is possible that I have not shown things to scale. The city’s name is Olan. I have not been there for years, but it would surprise me greatly if it did not still exist. If nothing else, we can hope their food replicater is still there and intact so that we will have something to nourish us as you better learn your abilities.” He handed the arrow back to Julieth. “Olan will take a few days’ time to reach, but I see it as the best way.”
“What do you say?” Ivanus asked Julieth. She was happy to see that he did not just follow Riad blindly.
“We must go somewhere, and Olan seems as good a place as any. Do you know anyone there?” she asked Riad.
“There was an old man and his grandson who I stayed with once while crossing the desert. It has been years. I’m sure that the man has passed, but his son will hopefully remain there and be alive.” The illumination of Riad’s eye changed from red to orange as he looked around them into the darkness of the desert. “We should sleep now, but someone must remain awake, to listen and warn us if there is trouble.”
They decided Ivanus would take the first shift, then Riad the second and Julieth the third.
As Bayne, Andral and Riad slept soundly on the cool desert, shards of the rusted structure rising up around them, Julieth sat awake and alert, leaning against a wall. She could not sleep on her back, because of her wings, and found it hard to sleep on her front against the sand. She watched Ivanus with interest as he left the group, standing a distance beyond them and scanning the terrain as if looking for something.
What does he think is out there?
He would sense it if something were there. He should be able to remain here with us and know if something comes our way.
Just as she opened her mouth to call to him, Ivanus turned toward her and raised an arm, halting her voice.
He came to her, moonlight shimmering around his shadowed form as he moved.
“What are you looking for?” Julieth asked him.
“It is hard to say.” Ivanus gave a glance behind him as he spoke. “Since leaving the catacombs beneath Kaskal I have felt as though we are watched.”
“If we were being followed, then you would sense it,” she assured him.
“It would seem that way, but I just cannot shake this feeling.”
As Julieth sat watching Ivanus walk back into the night, darkness eventually came over her eyes, taking her to slumber.
She awoke suddenly as something cold clasped her shoulder. With a strike of her elbow she pounded into it, thrusting with her legs and pumping her wings while bursting into the night sky. Her heart raced as she realized Riad stood where she flew from. The touch of his metallic hand had been what surprised her. She dove down, landing gently beside him.
“I have seen nothing of interest, but that does not mean we should not be alert,” Riad said. “Wake us if we are needed, even for the slightest thing.”
“I will,” Julieth assured him.
Riad fell asleep almost instantly as he lay down once more on the earth.
With a deep breath, Julieth went to where Bayne and Andral lay. She kneeled down and kissed Bayne’s forehead before thrusting her wings and bursting skyward. Moonlight illuminated her feathers as she intently watched the vast expanse.
Moist eyes watched the illuminated angel as it hovered in the sky, a beacon drawling the creature toward them. The being panted heavily as its furry skeletal ribcage convulsed. Steam wafted from its snout into the night air.