Book 1: Prologue
(Updated version Jan 2021)
When D’Olex was very young, its energy flowed as one.
It gave life to the stars and planets, and gave birth to the gods.
Upon stepping outside, Tallen’s unique system of optic nerves went into overdrive, piercing the relentless planetary black. A landscape desolate and dour. That was the way of it here. The colony’s brightly lit living quarters contrasted with the endless gloom that engulfed Giamat, a dwarf planet at the forgotten edge of the universe, as far away from the space station Quorum Treaty as one could get.
Tallen didn’t mind the dark, it was easier to think straight without the distraction of light. His bulbous black eyes dilated further in order to navigate the way to the tomb as he trudged toward another encounter with the dead—they were his type of conversationalist, and he felt strangely at peace in their silence.
A penetrating wind searched for blood vessels beneath Tallen’s cheeks, intent on bringing color to the surface of his skin. The bluster bit down. Its kisses were frosted death, its embrace could chill bones and make heads pound relentlessly. He wore a silver vest for protection, for all the good it would do him.
Tallen took his strides carefully as he pressed on, for he knew he wasn’t the most agile of beings. In fact, none of his fellow Ti Mia were. Their kind were too tall. The Ti Mia had spindly bodies, pale as fog adrift on a lake. Theirs were oversized eyes, darker than the gloom that suffocated his ancestral home.
Small rocks skidded across the dunes driven by the bitter squall. Pebbles, harmless alone but deathly perilous in legion, threw themselves at Tallen’s legs by the thousand, over and over.
At the entry to the tomb stood imposing doors. These doors were so weighty that they could only be pulled open via a network of chains. Weak of arm, Tallen began to wind the crank wheel. He heaved and pulled, heaved and pulled, until the momentum of rolling links clinked and clanked a mess of metal noise.
When the doors swung open, a passageway led to the chamber. At the end, a gigantic domed roof revealed itself, veiled in shadow. A lonesome lantern tried desperately to give light, hanging halfway up the tomb wall as if it had been hung for the crime of being dim. Tallen knew the Ti Mia had not built this place, but it was their dead that occupied it now. Tens of skeletons lay dumped unceremoniously at the bottom of a pit, fathomless in depth. There were skulls and bones all in a jumble. He peered down, mournfully. Disquiet dwelled in his gut, a sadness never too far from the surface.
Fifty-eight phases had passed since these bodies of his ancestors bore living flesh, and if Tallen were made to guess, the hole was so deep it might almost reach the planet’s core. His mother and father were down there, somewhere.
As Tallen navigated the edge of the pit, he slipped. A clumsy misstep. His front foot slid out from beneath him, skating upon sandy ground to the noise of granules crunching. In a quick reflex, his arms shot out sideways for balance. Two frantic heart beats later, Tallen regained his footing and with it, his life. A close call. His body buzzed the adrenal experience of near death. What if he had of fallen, his mind raced? Would it matter if he died? The discomforting and frightfully honest answer came to him. Would anyone even bother to visit his insignificant tomb when he was gone? Doubtful, Tallen decided, no one mourns an outcast. He realized then, that all he ever wanted was to be remembered, in a fond way, by someone, by anyone. Little good these thoughts would do him. He had more chance of finding a Light Tablet than being remembered by anyone in this forsaken, lonely colony.
Upon catching his breath, he peered into the cavernous abyss, reflecting upon the tales handed down by survivors now long dead from outposts nearby. Tallen had learned the few colonies here only started mining when forced to produce for the reptilians known as the Valkers.
It was said that the Valkers had besieged Giamat at a time of woeful suffering and grievous misfortune. Back then, this planet was in the grip of the Great Virus; a mystery illness that claimed nigh on half the population, small as it was. With pus-filled boils on ruddy skin and in the clutches of death throes, the Ti Mia, peaceful beings by nature, were forced to fight to protect their families from the leaping, scaly invaders.
Most colonies on Giamat were afforded the right of surrender.
But not here.
Not this colony.
For reasons unknown, no one was given that chance. Once the heartless hunt had ended and the Valkers had cleaned the blood from their scales, the dead colonists, including his parents, were dragged into this very tomb. Each body was thrown onto the next with a dull thud and a splash of gore.
Tallen was one of but a handful of children who hid, and lived.
He gazed in quiet contemplation, until he produced a rag from his animal hide pouch then stooped to wipe away the dust off the tombstone set before him. In Tallen’s mind there could be no higher purpose than to keep the tomb of his forebears clean.
There was a creepy edge to this place. His eyes probed the dim for threats unseen. His fellow colonists thought him skittish, and he had spent his whole life in the gloom, accustomed to taunts of ‘craven’.
Tallen shook off the unnerving feeling and took a walk around the edge of the pit. He channeled his frustrations into his chores, fastidiously cleaning what he could. Besides, there was little else to do on Giamat. As his thoughts floated wistfully through his mind, he pictured what a Light Tablet might look like.
Tallen had heard only whispers in passing. Rumor spread of eight Light Tablets, created by reptilian gods—the Ancients and the Mystics—now scattered throughout the galaxies of D’Olex in a game of chance, each tablet inscribed with a message, a section of a prophecy.
It hardly seemed true. Tallen rarely listened to silly hearsay.
Light Tablets supposedly did not perish and did not weather. This made them precious, precious enough that traders were looking for them. Tallen concluded that traders would do anything in search of wealth, however idiotic.
He flapped his rags, dusting the air and coughing upon the cloud he’d created.
Then, something caught his eye.
Light reflected onto his vest, the glow of which grew stronger and appeared to be coming from the pit. Warm air rose as the ground seemingly moaned far, far, below. Tallen quickly got to his feet and stepped back.
“Wh … who is there?” He looked about panicky.
An eeriness stole into the chamber. The tomb seemed to be playing tricks with sound.
Rays of light began streaming from the depths, from beneath the skeletal remains. More and more the brightness rose. Shadows pranced in the shape of the bodies that covered the source. Fear wriggled inside Tallen’s protective suit like an unwanted serpent, snaking its way up his body leaving a trail of gooseflesh on his skin. His gut recoiled. An unnatural glow engulfed the tomb as Tallen shielded his eyes. A dazzling white haze lit the walls, igniting the tomb anew with such brilliance, to the point of blinding.
“Who is …” the rest of his words seemed to stick in his throat.
The wind whistled beyond.
He wasn’t going to wait around to hear the mirth of the pranksters. His fellow colonists were cruel, to be sure. They seemed invisible and everywhere. Tallen dropped his cleaning rag. It floated softly down to meet the dirt, much like his pride.
Blinded, Tallen tried to flee. Too late. A tremor shot through the stone. The ground quaked. The noise went barreling into Tallen’s ear canals. The rumble shook the entire tomb, dislodging his feet. Before Tallen knew it he was falling. Falling. Falling into the pit of bodies. He screamed as he fell like a white stick into the black abyss.