Death is a summer home
We rest in the darkness
It swallows us…
Frozen skin and all.
I knew I was falling in and out of dreams but I didn’t wake up until I hit the ground.
Slowly, my mind stirred from its spellbound state. My arms felt like chilly, wet clay. My legs thawed slowly from an icy dream into a warm, wet wake. I drew one hot breath into my frozen lungs, and the tissue burned with expansion. I was so cold.
Where am I?
I couldn’t see. Reaching out, my hand knocked a wall. A barrier of some kind. A lid. Was I dead? Was this a coffin? My head bobbled forward. I had little sense of balance.
I awoke from stasis.
An automated voice spoke.
“Stasis is now deactivated. Transport capsule will open in 20 seconds.”
My body returned to life as I felt the pain of circulation course through my extremities. My blood vessels stung with amplified heat. The blood that once wrapped around my heart now rushed back to my elbows, knees, and fingertips – racing its way through my core. The sensation sent me into a conniption of violent shivering. Unrestrained and urgent, my teeth chattered. I clenched them just to stop the convulsion.
“Now opening transport capsule.”
As the capsule’s lid rose, the surrounding darkness was swept away by light. I winced as my vision quaked in sudden repeal. The abrupt throe of the light was unbearable. I may as well have stared into the sun.
As it poured into my capsule, I realized I was blind. Blindness was an unfortunate side effect of stasis, but it was temporary. At that moment, the world appeared as it would through wax paper – hazy, and riddled with colorful blobs. I saw things that were not there. Dancing colors and speckles pulsed across my vision – then vanished. My ears rang and I heard various noises in the back of my head – hisses and whirrs. They rattled my head like an instrument. The echoes bounced from my skull to my ears. The air was hard on my lungs and smelled of ash.
Shaking, I stood up, and caught myself as I was about to fall. My muscles were weak and the air was colder than usual. I realized that I was naked. Reaching under the capsule, I found a latch. Underneath they typically stored a prisoner’s effects in a small compartment. Clothing fell out as I popped it open. Dressing myself, I fumbled with my garments in an unsteady manner.
Where did they send me? Why can’t I remember anything?
I shook my head, trying to recall the events that led me here. Slowly, bits and pieces came together. I remembered standing trial, a series of them, in fact. They never seemed to end. James never came to my rescue. I couldn’t recall their resolution.
I remembered bits of conversations. I could only listen. They called experts and witnesses. Council members would present evidence and whisper about exile or execution, but I couldn’t defend myself…
“…unwavering disobedience for Backslider procedures?”
“Yes, Councilman, with complete neglect for her obligations.”
“I’d like to invite her commanding officer to provide testimony…”
“…but at the time I was an operations supervisor for security and defense.”
“And despite a successful record, she persisted with her own agenda?”
“Yes, sir, with no evidence to support the existence of kill-switches in any control hub.”
I remembered Bangor gritting his teeth, staring at me with contempt as he told the Council what they wanted to hear. He knew what a guilty verdict meant for me. It meant I was a threat to Humanity.
“…with a full analysis which revealed her tampered DNA.”
“Traced back to which Versinon operation?”
“The Nails Jane Project, Councilman. Confirmed to be discontinued.”
“Bring forth the project host…”
I remembered Eva. Memories of our last night in prison came to me. Someone was sent to kill me in my sleep – but they failed. Eva and I were both dressed in prisoners’ uniforms. We looked identical. Thal sat in the cell across from us, brooding quietly. I saw a shadow lurking around corners, behind the darkness of the walls. Those prison cells were located deep beneath the base. They were very old.
Eva and I were both chained. My legs were bound to the floor; my neck was bound to the wall. Eva hung from the wall in the same manner, fading in and out of consciousness. Thal was given better accommodations. She sat in her own cell, free to move about. She meditated for comfort. A shadow approached us in the night and I shouted at Eva to keep her head up, but she could not. She did not see the shadow.
“Ati!” a voice whispered from the darkness.
I opened my mouth, but before my words came out, Eva groaned loudly. The killer interpreted it as my reply. He raised a weapon and opened fire on her. One shot and she was dead. A morbid silence hung over the dank mist of our cell; my eyes soaked up the image of Eva’s chest bursting open. The words that froze in my throat now emerged, but as shouts and cries. I screamed combatively, calling out to the assassin. But he was gone. He fled.
Tears coated my cheeks like sweat. My mouth gaped open as saliva dripped from my chin, forming a thin line to the floor. Eva did not move.
What was it like to watch Eva die? Was it like watching myself die? She was the Original. She was, in all essence, my Mother. In my exile across the stars, I dreamed of her face. And in those dreams, I wept.
They forced me into a capsule without food or supplies, and propelled me into space. I was expected to die out there. Not to land in a safe place. Not to survive. Yet there I was, fallen and blind, abandoned to a cold, paralyzed body. Was it survival? Or would it claim me?
I have to start moving…
I didn’t know where I was and that could be dangerous. I had to ignore the voices in my head, and the prickling through my limbs. I had to be strong. As I moved from the capsule, I steadied myself on what I could. My vision was distorted, but my eyes adjusted to the dim light ahead of me. The sky seemed overcast, as if rain might be on its way.
Grabbing onto what felt like a tree, I moved forward with a clumsy gait. Then I grabbed the next tree, feeling the rough, wet bark beneath my fingertips. I had to get somewhere safe. So I grabbed the next tree, and the next, and so on. My palms carried me across the damp trees, as my legs struggled and gave out with each movement. This went on until I ran out of trees.
I approached what I guessed to be a clearing, though I wasn’t sure. It seemed wide open. Shivering and shaking, I fell to my knees. Reduced to crawling through the grass, this nightmare was my new home. I prayed that I would regain my vision soon, or I wouldn’t survive for much longer. I knew the blindness was temporary, but every moment of it proved maddening.
Suddenly, I heard a noise above. Looking up, I noticed a shape moving through the sky. Through my weak vision, it looked like a dark blur growing bigger and bigger. The ringing in my ears rose in volume as the shape loomed overhead. And from it came a shrill cry; the thing screamed in such a way I had never heard. I covered my ears and kneeled, genuflecting with fear. The blur grew bigger and I realized it was falling toward me.
It fell fast.
The impact of its body upon the ground was tremendous. The planet seemed to shake. I lost my balance and collapsed into the wet grass. I thought the creature should be dead, however it began thrashing and screaming once more. My vision improved and I had a better look. It was built like a man – but it had wings. That much I could tell from its blurry shape. It looked like an Angel, but it behaved like something else.
It screamed over and over; its voice was horrific. Earsplitting and brazen, oh how the thing shrieked. It curled up and stretched out, repeatedly, kicking its legs and flapping its heavy wings against the ground. It created tremors that bounced me up and down with every beat. Too many times I fell over. I hoisted myself back to my knees, which proved more painful than I imagined. My arms stung. My legs were sore. The screaming sundered my ears, and rattled my skull. It was in that moment that I realized something.
This thing is in pain.
I crawled toward it, cautious of its thrashing. The thing was giant, maybe seven feet tall; its wingspan must have been over twelve feet.
“Calm down,” I said. These were my first words since coming out of stasis. My voice shook as I bounced with the soil.
My trembling hands slid through the wet, muddy grass, reaching across the skin of the monster. It was as cold as clay. From what I could tell, the thing favored its leg. It did not move the leg as much as the rest of its body. But before I could reach it, a swift, solid wing cracked me in the face and I flew backward. Blood gushed from my nose and ran down my throat; I gagged on the terrible flavor. My dry, icy tongue burned with the hot sensation.
The creature still thrashed about, though aware of my presence. As the wing pulled away, I saw the blurred shape a little clearer. It was much like a dragon wing, reptilian, though covered in white feathers. I reached out to the favored leg, moving closer to its foot. Something was lodged in its flesh. Warmth oozed from beneath the object wedged in the foot.
I wriggled my fingers through its skin and pulled a sharp object from deep within. The creature howled with pain as blood spilled over my hands. It thrashed a bit more and murmured something in a language I could not decipher. Then, the creature slowly quieted down, calming its body. Still in possession of the object, I stashed it in my pocket. I could hear its breath through the ringing in my ears. It was now deep and strong, more controlled than before.
I turned to crawl away, back to those trees, I decided. Near the trees I could find my dignity somewhere at eye level with the world. My work there was done. I didn’t want to stick around to see if the thing intended to eat me. However, two large hands grabbed me, lifting me from the ground. Rising up, my feet dangled over the grass. I was so weak that I did not struggle.
“A human,” it said. The creature spoke in a low, ethereal voice. His tone was undoubtedly deep.
“A human that I do not recognize…”
As it pulled me closer, my eyes identified a male, human-like face. He had long dark hair and a very narrow jaw. He stared at me with wide, charcoal eyes. As his hands enveloped me, I smelled his skin. It smelled of sand and stone. Whatever he was, he had the face of a man, the wings of an angel, and the voice of a demon.
“No human has ever done such a thing,” he said. “No human has ever been so brave. In all my time I’ve spent watching this universe – never has this happened.”
Frightened as I was, I stared back at the creature and found the courage to speak.
“I don’t think you should call me human,” I clenched my teeth to stop the chattering. Whether he knew it or not, I was just a clone – a copy.
The creature stared right back at me.
“You are a human,” he said, “though I do not recognize you.”
“Then either let me go or kill me,” I said, bravely.
He placed me on the ground.
Then he told me, “I will reward your kind act. You have won my future services. But for now, I must leave. I am in your debt.”
Before I could say more, he turned and flapped his wings, lifting into the air. He flew up into the gray sky above. As quickly as he fell, he was gone.
Maug was the Council’s choice planet for clone exile – uncharted, remote, and anything but lifeless. I knew very little about the dwarf planet except that nothing sent there ever came back.
Terrain droids sometimes transmitted data, but little was known outside of the Council. Other Backsliders speculated monsters, large beasts, and other strange life dwelled there, but the Council trashed them as a delusion. Maug drove explorers mad – to the point of suicide or worse. No one ever left Maug. Occasional rogue clones were sent there, too. I wondered what humans, if any, lurked about, lost in Paranoia. I wasn’t worried about beasts in the dark, though. I was worried about nutcases, hiding in the bushes, convinced that I was the monster.
Hours passed and during that span of time I managed to fully regain my vision. I no longer needed to lean upon trees and rocks to find my way around those dismal woods. As I walked, I reflected upon my encounter with the winged creature. It felt like a dream. I reached into my pocket and felt the object that I pulled from the creature’s foot.
That did happen, right?
I wouldn’t fall victim to insanity. Though, I couldn’t decipher if what I did was real. I was probably still coming out of delirium. My disorientation lifted and my senses were restored, but my perceptions of reality may still have been warped. As I walked, convincing myself it never happened, I noticed that my nose throbbed. I rubbed it and flakes of blood stuck to my fingertips. Peering down at my fingers, I questioned myself.
How do you explain the crack on the nose?
“I’m sure I fell and smacked my face on the ground,” I said aloud.
As if in reply, there came a snort from behind the trees – a short, muffled, grunt. That was no hallucination. I looked over my shoulder and scanned the foliage. The leaves were too dense. I saw nothing, but knew I was not alone. Something was there.
I made my way across the wooded terrain. Initially, I hoped to find an abandoned capsule or broken droid – something to plan an escape. By the second day, I was happy enough just to stumble upon fresh water. Each day, I grew more certain that something followed me. Each night, I kept up my guard until I couldn’t stay awake.
Am I being hunted? Why won’t it make its move?
By the third day, I gave up all hope of scavenging any technology. I wondered if the planet wasn’t Maug after all. The faceless hunter among the trees slowly became my only companion. Each night I fell asleep and each morning I woke up unharmed. I was thankful. Threat fell from mind, as I grew accustomed to my stalker.
As I prepared for sleep on the third evening, I let my fire die down. Maug nights were cold, but I couldn’t find the motivation to get the flames going again. If my hunter still watched me, surely it would let me sleep in the cold. It wouldn’t harm me, yet. I would only be uncomfortable until morning. I convinced myself that night that my stalker would rather meet me face to face.
I have faced death on many occasions. I am a rebel. A fighter. A warrior. I will die sooner or later. I won’t die in my sleep.
I nodded off.
Jolted awake, I felt an unpleasant sting. A residual fleck of ash burned on my nose. I couldn’t have slept long. I came to a strong realization.
Perhaps it would be better to die fighting.
But, I needed a weapon. So, I hunted around. It wouldn’t be a fancy one – a rock, perhaps. I ran my hand over the grassy soil, scanning for a decent rock. I found one. One end fit into my hand like the handle of a gun. The other end was a jagged edge.
My hunter wouldn’t be prepared for me to be on the move at night. I walked deeper into the woods, past dense trees – a wall between my intended killer and myself. Shadows enveloped me until my eyes adjusted to the scarce light. Maug’s blue moon shined down upon my eerie surroundings. Those woods were rich with confusing images, shapes that disappeared into the darkness. My sight failed me once again. It was imperative I rely on my other senses. I heard only the sound of my breath and the beat of my heart – but I knew my hunter was there.
I could smell it. I detected a strange aroma of sweet, rotting waste. The stench came from the creature. It might have been its breath, from having killed and eaten smaller animals. I imagined their bones and fur rotted in between rows of its sharp teeth. I imagined a gaping mouth somewhere along the ground, waiting for my foot to cross its path.
However, the stench may have been from the animal’s other end. Like any creature, I imagined it left piles of filth when necessary. My foot could just as easily cross the path of something as vile as dung. Neither scenario appealed to me, though I’d rather be covered in shit than ripped from my limbs.
I breathed deep, bringing the smell into my lungs, consuming its repulsion, and exhaling its warmth. Repeating this step, I faced different directions. Where the smell was strongest, I stopped. That was my heading. Reinforcing my grip on the rock, I prepared to strike. Moving forward, where I suspected the creature lay, I raised my arm and plunged the rock to the shadows below.
I missed. A long, scaly body whipped along my arm, lashing out from the depths. It wrapped its cold, muscular form around me.
Through dense trees, soft moonlight revealed red eyes and a pale body tightening its grip upon me. It squeezed slowly, pushing my bones closer to my organs. This was my end. This was my execution. My breathing slowed and I prepared to black out.
Then, I heard a voice.
“Let it go, Baras!”
More glowing eyes emerged from the darkness. My assailant turned his head to the voice and hissed.
“Foolish dog! You dare steal my dinner? I will break your spine and swallow you whole. Then I will swallow your brothers!”
“Do not tempt me, snake,” the voice replied. “Hand the creature over, or you will be wriggling between my jaws – like a worm.”
“Insolent beast!” screamed the snake. Loosening its grasp, the thing propelled toward the voice. I fell to the ground, too numb to move.
Then there was a howl, low and melodic. My hunter, Baras, was pinned by five large, white wolves. They nipped and tore at his scales. His neck whipped back and forth violently, and he sunk his teeth into a wolf’s leg. The animal yowled.
Another wolf – large and lofty – clamped its jaw around Baras’ neck, forcibly shaking the serpent’s head to and fro. Baras freed himself and attempted to bite the wolf’s underbelly, but to no avail. With a synchronized shake, three wolves snapped Baras’ neck in their jaws. His body sunk to the ground, lifeless and defeated.
Spared the fate of becoming his prey, I found myself at the mercy of a pack of wolves. The white serpent was no match for these animals, thus I stood no chance. They circled me, sniffing at the ground, moving closer and closer.
A smaller wolf spoke first, “What business have we with this creature?”
The largest replied, “The creature is not from here, Paka. It must be taken to the Wise One. He will know what this creature is. He will tell us what to do with it.”
“Yes, Lyr,” Paka grumbled. “But I do not trust it.”
I lifted myself and rested on a mossy rock. My ribs ached from Baras’ attack. Whatever the wolves wanted with me, I was glad to be spared from becoming a meal.
“Please,” I said, reaching out my hand, “I’m no threat. Take me to speak with your Wise One.”
The wolves stepped back, somewhat taken off guard. It seemed like they did not realize I had the ability to speak as they did. The largest cautiously approached me, sniffing the air. As he moved closer he sniffed my hand. Before I knew it, his muzzle was up in my face, taking in all the new smells. He stared at me with deep, gray eyes. Then, he paused.
“I trust the creature,” he said to his pack. He added, “You are injured and will slow us. Ride on my back. Don’t fall off.”
I hoisted myself to the animal’s back, and looked down once more upon Baras’ lifeless body. The pack broke into a swift pace as I rode along. All the while I nervously contemplated meeting their Wise One.
By morning, the wolves had brought me to their dwellings. My eyes met an infinite view of their territory. It was not just a home, but a kingdom. The mountains were tall and gray. At each base I saw hundreds of holes scattered along the ground; it must have been a complex system of tunnels. Wolf dens stretched for miles in the long valley.
Hundreds of wolves roamed about, and so many eyes locked with mine as we passed. Noses rose in the air to catch my scent. Some sniffed and paid no attention; others glared defensively. Out of caves and nests, heads emerged to see what the commotion was. And oh the nests! All were carefully built domes – sticks and reeds piled high and then hollowed out. Each one had enough room to hold four or five of the massive animals.
A creek ran through the valley where wolves with young cubs bathed in the waters. At the sight of me, the adults nipped their young by the scruff, carrying them away. The path dipped and rose again. At the top of the hill was a large cave entrance surrounded by strategically organized rocks.
The wolf upon which I rode, the largest of his pack, bent down as I hopped to the ground. I groaned as I stood up, ribs burning. The other wolves positioned themselves around me. I turned and met the gaze of each one. Looking back on our path through the valley, hundreds of canine heads turned in our direction.
“Rest here, upon this boulder,” said the largest wolf. I didn’t argue.
One wolf carried wet reeds in his mouth. He said, “Eat these if you are hungry.”
I wasn’t, but I chewed one to see what it tasted like.
“My name is Lyr,” said the largest, “I am the leader of this clan. Do you have a name?”
“My name is Ati.”
“Do you know what that monster was, the one that tried to crush you?”
“His name was Baras, and he was following you. We know this because we were following him. He recently killed and devoured one of our clan’s young. We hunted him for retribution. You are lucky that we found you.”
“Yes, thank you,” I nodded.
“Serpents like Baras do not eat for weeks. You would have been crushed but not killed. You would have spent days in his stomach, dissolving alive.”
“Perish the thought,” I said.
“I am not from this planet. This is Maug, correct?” I asked.
“Yes, you are familiar with it, then?”
“Barely. I’ve only been here a few days. I am in a lot of pain.”
I rubbed at my sides.
“Your ribs will heal, but we must know what other creatures you have encountered. There is a war here and we need to stay aware of intruders.”
I rescued a demon…
It must not have been a dream. No matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise, it was real.
“I met a winged creature. It was large.”
“What sort of creature?”
“Built like me, with two legs. It was injured. I helped it.”
The wolves looked at one another, suspiciously.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“The creature you describe, did it see you?”
“Did it threaten you?”
“We have no reason to think that you are lying to us, but if you understood the nature of the creature you describe…”
“You must speak to the Wise One. He will know what to do. When you meet him, call him Olar. He is our wolf-god.”
At the mouth of the large cave, the five wolves gathered to usher me inside. Their eyes hovered upon me, scrutinizing my every move.
“Go in there,” said Lyr. He nudged me into the direction of the cave’s opening. “He waits for you. I shall remain here for your return.”
Each wolf slowly backed away as I approached the cave. As I crossed the threshold of darkness, the entrance was like a giant, distorted mouth, waiting to swallow me whole. I continued walking, periodically checking the glint of light behind me. It grew smaller in the distance the deeper I traveled. I was frightened. I trembled, clutching my arms around my waist. My heart thumped, heavy in my chest. I walked deeper into the cave and felt shadows upon my back. Looking over my shoulder, the glint of light was gone.
Blackness spread out ahead of me, enveloping me as I cut into it with my shivering body. I waved my arms wildly to ensure that I didn’t collide with a rock or a wall. However, there was little I could do if I fell into a hole and broke my leg. I took small steps, sliding my boots over the bumpy floor, hoping my toes felt any sudden gaps in the ground.
My breathing labored, adrenaline surged. I was petrified. Were the wolves sending me to my doom? Was I to be a sacrifice to their mysterious god? Despite my thoughts, something compelled me to press on. Lyr seemed concerned about me – why would he carry me all the way back just to end my life? There had to be more to this than petty malevolence. Despite how little I knew of Lyr, he was my first and only acquaintance on that planet. In spite of finding myself there in that cave, facing shapeless fears as they danced in the dark, I trusted Lyr. It was a test, a rite of passage.
Then, something stirred in the darkness. I couldn’t make out what it was. It moved around, slowly.
“Hello?” I called out.
My voice bounced from wall to wall.
“I’ve come to speak with Olar, the Wise One. Lyr sent me.”
I shook. Not only was I scared of the place, but the temperature dropped as I walked even further. There was silence all around me. The darkness was not empty but rich with the echoes of my every movement.
Then there was a sound – a deep voice. It said, “Come closer.”
I moved forward by a few steps.
“Closer,” it commanded, “Your scent is too faint.”
I took a deep breath and replied, “I… I am frightened. Please… I can’t see-”
The voice shook the cavern walls.
I moved closer.
It spoke again.
“Reach forward and pick up the two rocks before you. Strike them upon one another so that light may once again reach these old eyes.”
I nodded and did as requested, grabbing at items in the dark. Sure enough, the two rocks rested on a smooth surface – a table. I felt along the table and my hands discovered a tray holding many candles among rubbish. I guessed that I should strike the flint above the candles to light them. Holding the two rocks over the rubble, I clacked them together. A spark eventually fell and caught the debris. A small flame grew.
Beyond the fire, my eyes caught a glimpse of fur and bone. The Wise One was large. He sat on his haunches, nestled against the cave wall. The wall was covered in ancient paintings, and their age I could not determine. But in the context of the artwork there were scenes of war; wolves gathered around monstrous creatures with reptilian faces. Above them shined a sun, and above that were other planets. And above the wolves, sun, and planets, there hung a human handprint – looming mysteriously beyond the reach of the stars.
The Wise One’s head hung eight feet above my own. He was very old, his fur no longer white, but dingy and gray. It hung on him like a throw, barely clinging to his bones. As I inspected his face, I realized part of it was covered by neither fur nor skin. The right half was all bone. The Wise One’s face was half skull. The teeth of the skull had no gums, thus appearing bared. Part of his nose was deteriorated and a cloudy white eyeball clung to the skeletal hollow above his cheekbone.
His body appeared to be in the same condition as his face. The left side was intact, while the right half rotted away, leaving behind nothing more than the exposed skeleton of an animal. Whatever sort of creature the Wise One was, he could not have been mortal. Death left him to this world.
“I am Olar,” he said. “You have never seen a sight such as me – have you, human?”
“I haven’t,” I replied.
“You are human, aren’t you?”
“I am, despite my origin,” I said.
“You have been to many worlds. Humans spread and adapt easily,” observed Olar.
“Most of the aliens I have met are bipedal. Your race resembles a creature native to earth. Since landing here, I have seen creatures unlike those on any planet.”
“My wolves are flesh and blood organisms like your race. We have no magical qualities. Living things are quite similar from world to world,” he explained.
“Or what is left of my world…” I answered.
“There are other worlds,” he said. His cloudy eyes stared past me, unfixed. I realized he was blind.
“Most worlds are already inhabited. For me, there is only this world. And I was sent here to die,” I said.
Olar ignored my words. He nodded to the flames between us.
“It has been so long since I have felt the warmth of a fire. I cannot pick up the stones and create it. I am powerful in many ways, human, yet you possess a simple gift that even I cannot wield.”
“Then why keep the stones?”
“A friend,” said Olar. He turned his head, as if deep in thought, “A friend gave me these stones. He showed me the warmth of fire. Then he died here, but that was long ago.”
“A human?” I asked.
“Yes,” He answered.
Then Olar went silent for a moment, weakly sniffing the air.
“What is in your pocket?” he asked. “Bring it here, close to my snout.”
I pulled the object out of my pocket. There it was – the shard that cut the winged monster. It was clear, like glass, but thicker – made of something more durable. The shard looked like a broken piece, as if produced in a shatter. I reached my arm above my head, lifting it to Olar’s nose. He investigated it carefully.
“Marou,” he muttered.
“Marou?” I asked.
“That is who gave this to you.”
“Is he an Angel? A Demon? Is he wicked?”
“He can be, but we can all be wicked, human. His kind is not intended to be cruel. He did not kill you. So there must be some benevolence in him.”
Olar shifted his weight, scraping part of his rib cage along the floor.
“Demons. Angels. The Jar qu’ Wa. They are the Creators of this universe. The Protectors. Our Guardians. Long ago there were many of them, but today their existence is meager.”
“Why?” I asked.
“There is an evil,” he said, “It haunts our worlds. It kills. It destroys the Guardians.”
“Versinon,” I whispered.
“No. Versinon, itself, is nothing.”
“Nothing? Versinon has devastated my planet…”
“Versinon is destructive, true. But Humanoids have their own motives and desires. I know your history, human. Your kind returns to Earth, hoping to rescue survivors. Your world has become a farm. Versinon drains your planet.”
Olar’s empty eyes froze, somehow focused. Then he continued, “The evil I speak of devours worlds as well as gods. It is Versinon’s ultimate weapon. It is a Monster.”
“The shard you plucked from Marou’s foot… it troubles me. It is a remnant of an isolated world – an infant planet guarded by Marou. The shard is a piece of its shield.”
“Like a force field?” I asked.
“Yes. The shard would indicate that the shield has been cracked. Something was trying to get in,” explained Olar. “Marou’s infant world is uninhabited, though. It has not been touched by corruption. It is a paradise that my wolves can only dream of.”
“Olar,” I said as I held the shard, gazing at its texture, “What will happen to my people? The people of Earth…”
“No planet is safe,” he said. “Not even Maug. It has been very active lately. Unpredictable.”
“How can it be stopped?”
Olar sighed. “Seek the Guardians. They hunt the Monster, and they call it The Ruin, for it devours entire worlds. They wish to destroy it, but refuse to confront Versinon. They do not understand what they must do to stop the Monster.”
“And you think I can convince them?”
“You understand Versinon better than any other creature at this end of the galaxy. The Guardians would be wise to listen to you.”
“How can I speak with them?” I asked.
“Your presence here will not be for long,” Olar replied. “In the meantime, my wolves shall watch over you.”
“Marou…” I murmured, returning the shard back to my pocket.
Olar turned away.
“Leave me now,” he said. “The fire is dying down.”
The worship of Guardians, galaxy-wide, was not unheard of. Mainly on Earth, all living creatures revered one Guardian or another – depending on their structure. Humans, of course, created the act of worship using definitive words, while other living things felt no need to force implication upon familiar apotheosis.
Regardless of vernacular, all creatures felt eternal devotion to a Great Origin that lingered effectively distant from their proliferation. Humans, being the most vocal, became all too comfortable with the act of preaching. Their behavior followed suit, evolutionarily speaking, but stunted transcendental sophistication in the long run. Versinon was the transgressor that introduced the Institutionalization of Worship – confining the natural tendency to revere celestial efficacy. “Worship Institutions” were designed by Versinon and subsequently launched amongst the masses. All masses… plant, animal, and human.
But only humans took to it while all other Earth creatures suspected foul play. Suddenly the others went dumb, feigning muteness to avoid Versinon’s debatable stratagem. Without speech, they were not expected to speak on behalf of divine omnipotence. Humans, instinctively cursed by vanity, took to this without hesitation or question. They defined themselves as the authority on all things seraphic, and latterly defined every aspect of divination through writ, homily, law, and social parameters.
After my audience with Olar, the wolves no longer feared me. I became their guest. Living among wolves was a strange thing, however. They were different from wolves back home on Earth. They were able to communicate with me.
To fit in, I did as they did. I ate what they ate; I ate the flesh raw. My body was not used to raw meat, so one can imagine that the first few days of digesting it proved to be difficult. My stomach rejected the food almost immediately. When I finally managed to keep it down, my bowels could no longer hold it. At first, I tried to dry the meat or cook it, but this was unconventional to the wolves. Eventually I adapted to the consumption of raw meat and the sickness went away.
I slept as they slept – in a den, huddled between their large, soft bodies. I admit that it was better than sleeping alone in the woods, at the mercy of predators. There, I felt safe and warm. I spent most of my days with Lyr. He was a good leader to his pack – intelligent, strong, and fair. I trusted him with my life. He and I conversed at great length. He listened, intently, observing my gestures and words with intrigue. I felt no wonder as to why a canine is Man’s best friend. I felt nothing but loyalty for my new companion – a confidence I had lost among Backsliders.
I eventually explained to Lyr what happened to me and how I ended up on Maug. I explained the things Olar told me, confessing my worries and doubts. I didn’t know what plan he had in mind, but I was willing to go through with it. Until then I had to wait for Olar to call upon me.
Lyr heard all about my search for Robert, and how James, Thal, and Reed sacrificed so much to find him. I told him about Eva, and how we were connected. He seemed to listen, to understand.
“I’m sorry that you lost your pack,” he said.
I had never quite thought of them like that before.
“If they are loyal to you,” he continued, “then they will come for you.”
“Loyalty isn’t the issue,” I replied.
“Then what is?”
“Thal was captured along with Eva and I. And I don’t know what became of James and Reed after I was exiled. They may have disappeared to save their own skin.”
“Cowards,” Lyr growled.
“No,” I insisted. “They aren’t cowards. I cannot tell you how many times they’ve saved my life. If I know the three of them, they’ve escaped in order to lay low and find me. They’ll take some time to devise a plan, though.”
“Do you know this?” asked Lyr.
“I know them well,” I said. “I just wish I knew what the plan was.”
“And what of your mate, Robert? What do you think his plan will be?”
“That I don’t know. He began a new life with Eva. I want to resent him. But I also feel flattered. He married a woman identical to me. That means something. It could not have been a coincidence. But I no longer know what his plans are. He is alive, however. I am certain. And wherever he is, he may very well be in a better place than me.”
Lyr looked away. Then he said, “I have lost a mate.”
“It was Baras, not long ago, that wretched snake. He picked off our young.”
“He murdered your children?”
“Yes, and she wouldn’t wait for me to organize a pack to search for them. She left quickly, very angry, ready to crush his throat. So the pack searched for her, only to discover that Baras had killed her along with our pups.”
“Your whole family…”
Lyr sat quietly, gazing at the stars. The cold wind blew over his fur, creating a wave of movement in the hairs along his back.
“We have ended Baras’ life. He can no longer eat our young and take our families. Though, I fear his followers…”
“Followers?” I asked.
Lyr said nothing. He remained quiet – deep in thought.
“It’s time for sleep,” he said, yawning.
There was nothing further to discuss. We moved back into the den, silently, so as to not wake the others. Lying down quietly, I curled up into a ball. As I settled, I quieted my thoughts.
James, Reed, Thal… I know you are still alive. I’m waiting.
Hello readers! This is your hardworking author, Trista. I hope you enjoyed these last few months of the first eight chapters of “Nails Jane“. The book holds a total of 25 chapters. If you’d like to finish Ati’s story, as well as have the artwork which is included in the official copy, you can purchase Nails Jane via Amazon, lulu – digital, lulu – print, createspace, Barnes and Noble, or smashwords. Prices vary from vendor to vendor. Nails Jane is available in print and ebook format.