RASU TREKKED THROUGH THE PEMLEM TUNDRA. He hadn’t thought in his wildest dreams that his ’71 sloop Stargalleon would fry a quantum converter. Only three more segments and this mess would be over. Damn, he thought. It serves me right for listening to Melton. Guess I deserve this for listening to a fool like him.
He checked his coat to make sure that his pet, Lech, was cozy. As he opened up his jacket, Rasu looked down; his little buddy was still chewing on the snarlack treat he had given him earlier. What the heck is this stuff? he thought as the dioxide hail rained down. The wind was staggering, two feet of fog covered the ground, and that, combined with the blowing sand, made it difficult to see let alone walk.
Rasu recalled all he could about this distant land and its inhabitants. The ancients eventually had left the plain due to the ever-increasing friction storms. One-hundred-year wars had been fought many times over this land—all in vain. Great cities had been destroyed and felled. Smoldering ruins upon crumbling walls were all that were left of the once great civilization. After the decline, archeologists worked to uncover truths about this land’s former inhabitants. But in the end, only the great storm prevailed leaving only nearly forgotten history and lore. Looters and thieves had ransacked this world to desolation. Rasu recalled the history of the war and the small but powerful group of insurgents who were eventually scattered; they were known as “The Zebulim.”
The only thing this land was good for was the hunting of huge hyperlock beast that stalked the land, thriving on the departure of mankind. That was what Rasu came here for, to hunt, but that was before his ship’s converter blew its gasket. Now he was stranded; it would be wise to find a way off this planet—and soon.
It was thought that somewhere in this tundra was the lost Hall of Thoros. The Hall was a library that contained hidden ancient transcripts detailing the history of the Zebulim and the keys to the physical universe. After the friction storms changed the magnetic polar alignment, many of the “Old World” technology mediums collapsed, leaving only the scribed books and written tomes, which recorded the most advanced works. The Hall of Thoros was also buried in the sand and, like the rest of the ancient world, was never to be seen again. Rasu’s father was a historian. It was his father’s dream to return one day to search the Nehntu caverns on this planet and uncover the crypts and the Hall of Thoros. It would not be anytime soon, with the constant blistering red hail falling.
The Zebulim were heroes of old; men of renown. Legend told of their honor and valor. Rasu’s favorite Zebulim tale was of Jersac, of the Second Order; he was a shrouded blade cavalier of the Dark Realm. It was recorded that his ship had fallen south of the Nehntu chasms during the Great Lost War. Rasu’s grandfather had told him that during the altercation, Jersac had been captured and sold into slavery to the Hyac, a feared mountain people.
Jersac was eventually executed—but not before he contributed to the “Archives of Truth.” The Archives were the principles that men should live by as inherent and self-evident truths, most of which had been forgotten in this day and age. They were also a collection of the highest sciences of mankind, which should be used only for good. Jersac was proof that heroes don’t always come back alive; they just make a decision at one point to sacrifice everything on the altar of truth, regardless of the consequences.
The Archives stated that all men were “born free with liberty and should bear witness to the One True Spirit of God, but the law of the land shall be separate and men shall be free to choose their own faith. Good or bad, right or wrong, none shall be imprisoned for his beliefs—or for having no beliefs at all.” Jersac had read the partial copies of the Archives on many days and Rasu wanted to learn more. Partial copies were not only rare, but also illegal. Under the Authority of the Western District, even copies had been banned for teaching the arts of equality, liberty, and individual freedom. Those values were a direct challenge to this government’s authority and sovereignty. Any renegade teaching such “blasphemy” would be quickly rounded up and executed.
Jersac had hoped that one day he could find a Sage of the Dark Realm to teach him more about the Archives and the laws men were meant to live by. The Sages of the Dark Realm were the holders and prophets of these truths, but their power had become dim because the Nations of the Plains had grown cold at heart and folded under the tyranny of the Western District. It was not called the Dark Realm because the study was evil, but rather because it acknowledged that not all people who appear to be “shining lights” are such. Fame and riches and stardom don’t equate to virtue. It is God who judges the heart and the outward appearance is just and only that. The Sages strove to see the unseen, not only in the physical world, but they were also the ones who judged between right and wrong.
But now was a time never seen or imagined in all of creation; it was an evil, exceedingly violent existence. Savagery and brutality reigned. Gangs and criminals prevailed, and the established Western District government made sure they could succeed. It was justice to the highest bidder. Rasu’s family had vowed to walk the right way; although they were poor, they relished in the wonders of their faith, which none could take away. But the wicked were rising in power daily, and there came a time when even Rasu understood that the sword was law.
Sages of the Dark Realm were mysterious and rare, if they existed at all. Only Rasu’s great-grandfather, “Uriah of the Opaque Order,” had ever even claimed to have seen one. If he ever even was, thought Rasu. That old fossil is probably dead or gumming his food somewhere.
The wind raged and swirled; the sand, roared, choked, and blinded. It was back to reality. Rasu knew that if he could just climb the top peak of the crags, he might be able to find the Oblin constellation. That would point him north to the village of Epin. Epin was the only outpost on this half of the plain. The thunder was boiling above, his mouth was salivating from the dream of being back at “the inn at the cliff,” and Rasu found himself fantasizing of the golden mead and a tasty goat steak.
CRACK—the thunder shattered overhead. Lech twisted under his cloak, and Rasu dropped to his knees. Hellfire, I am not going to make it out of this stuff, thought Rasu. The tundra’s punch was fierce. Rasu threw his outer cape over his head and curled up in a ball; he took a sip from his canteen and poured a drop to Lech, who clicked in joy. Rasu knew that he must move on or he would succumb to the full force of the red storm. In one last ditch effort, he scaled the final pinnacle to the cliff top.
As he rose above the blistering sand, his heart sank. From the south, miles of open desert lay. Northward was the same, but along the ridge westward, the dunes ran as an endless sea into the heart of the storm. In every parcel, in every direction, were blustery badlands and driving hail. Rasu knew that his situation was dire, rather done. Self-realization of one’s demise was never an easy conclusion to come to. Rasu’s mistakes were becoming so clear now. In futility and fury it all added up to nothing. Would anyone find him? Hours passed and he realized bitterly that his life was now like a shadow passing away.
Rasu had already tied his feet with extra rags, but the blood was starting to show through anyway. It was going to be a long slow death. He crawled down from the mount and once again threw the cloak back over his head. Lech was licking Rasu’s blistered face, knowing his choices had run full course. He was slowly shifting down the hill; the exact spot of his demise would make no difference. Rasu looked at his corresponder one last time, but the power light was quite dim and fading, the power supply nearly dead. There was no escaping; the closest city was days away at this pace, and for this storm to shift it might take as long. It was hopeless—the waiting for death was to begin.
Numb, Rasu blacked out the hail, the shifting sand below was of no bother either. The slow low purring of Lech was Rasu’s last comfort. He wondered if his family would ever figure out that his hunt had gone south. He would be the first in a long series, possibly ever, who had not returned home with a hyperlock beast during the annual lotto season. And that was the good news; the bad news was that it wasn’t going to be this year. Not next year either—not ever.
Rasu’s raven black hair had been tied in knots from the wind and sweat dripped from every pore. He contorted to ease the pain of an uncomfortable rock digging into his back. He moved again, hoping the sand would sink and become more hospitable. It was of no help. In a final irritation, Rasu pulled his outer cloak back from his head and cursed the hail. He screamed at the Great Spirit, “This is all your fault! Had Milton not won the Lynthic Lottery, or if the tickets for Gridlock Rockers had not been sold out, I would be back home and not in this mess.”
Soaked and in a scream of rage and bitterness Rasu turned and pulled on a rock that had been jamming into the crook of his back. In defeat, he looked closer at the jagged rock sitting down as he pondered the end of his soon-to-be over life, then fell down in disgust.
“Well, good buddy, I guess this is it for us,” he said. He pulled out Lech and took out the rest of the dried snarlack; the little jinx ran up to the food and put his nose up against Rasu’s lips.
“Go ahead and eat me if I die, little fella,” whispered Rasu. The jinx looked at him in disgust and nuzzled under his arm. Rasu knew he had five or six more hours at best; with no strength left, he dug himself in under the jagged rock to wait.