Book 1: Prologue
(Final version at submission)
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 planetal black. That was the way of it here. Brightly lit living quarters contrasted the endless gloom that engulfed Giamat, a planet at the forgotten edge of the universe.
Tallen did not mind the dark, in fact he felt it easier to think straight without the distraction of light. His bulbous black eyes dilated further in order to see the way to the tomb. Tallen looked forward to another encounter with the dead; they were his type of conversationalist, and he felt strangely at peace in their silence.
With his quarters the closest, thus only by proximity did the responsibility to watch over such a sacred site fall to him. He knew there was an irony in that. Tallen the Meek they called him. His fellow colonists thought him timid, and no doubt took pleasure in the thought of Tallen venturing out to ward off trespassers. However, for all the name-calling and sniggers he heard within earshot, he was not one to get upset over the wounding of words. He had spent his whole life in the gloom and was accustomed to taunts of ‘Craven’.
Beyond the colony was a landscape desolate and dour. There was no refuge, no settlements, nothing but the mammoth domed tomb and an endless ocean of pebbled dunes, pocked with faintly lit drill rigs.
A penetrating wind searched for blood vessels beneath his cheeks, intent on bringing colour to the surface. The bluster bit down; its kisses were frosted death, its embrace could chill bones and make heads pound relentlessly. Tallen’s naturally low body temperature meant that he was well matched for his environment. Nonetheless, he wore a reflective silver suit for protection.
He took his strides carefully for he knew he was not the most agile of beings. In fact, none of his fellow Ti Mia were. Their kind were too tall. The Ti Mia had bodies pale as fog adrift on a lake. Theirs were oversized eyes, darker than the gloom that suffocated his ancestral home. And like his kind, Tallen was spindly, such that he could easily be mistaken for a creature famished.
The path grew steeper as he pressed on toward the tomb.
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. It crossed his mind to turn back and run, for the gusts grew stronger. At any moment a fierce pebble storm could brew out of nowhere. Colonists had been known to have the flesh from their faces gashed and cleaved off in such storms, unable to shelter from the violent barrage.
The Purple Sun’s rays did not reach this far into space, so it was eternally black. The dwarf planet Giamat was the most isolated in Astoroz; mayhaps the smallest of all inhabited planets in the universe of D’Olex. Sparsely populated, the outposts here existed only for what lay beneath their crust – minerals.
‘I was forced into mining son,’ his father had once told him. ‘The Ti Mia once lived sustainably with little need for the trade of minerals. Together we produced enough of all things to survive without the reptilians.’ He had spoken of a time before the Gstaddt. A time before the Valkers.
Even in this lonely colony, despite being as far away from the Space Station Quorum Treaty as one could get, the war had touched more lives than most. Tallen had learned colonies here only started mining when forced to produce for these Valker territories known as the Gstaddt. His father eventually perished mining his homeland, his body succumbed to harsh treatment.
These same sad musings came to Tallen each time he reached the grand entry to the tomb. Imposing wooden doors stood five times Tallen’s height, so weighty that they could only be pulled open via a monstrous network of chains. Weak of arm, he 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.
As the doors swung open the humidity embraced him tight, wrapping him in mustiness. A narrow stone passageway led to the great chamber, a burial pit, adorned with foreign glyphs on every wall. The gigantic domed roof veiled itself in shadow. Immense to look upon, the Ti Mia did not build this place, but Tallen knew it was their dead who occupied it now.
Thousands of skeletons lay dumped unceremoniously at the bottom of a pit, fathomless in depth. There were skulls and bones all in a grisly jumble. It was a buried mountain of weathered rags, dust and bone. Fifty-eight Phases had passed since these bodies bore living flesh, and if Tallen were made to guess, the hole was so deep it might almost reach the planet’s core.
He told himself to be careful and not fall in; Tallen being clumsy and all.
A lonesome lantern tried desperately to light the dead, hanging halfway up the tomb wall as if it had been hung for the crime of being dim. He peered into the cavernous abyss, reflecting upon the tales handed down by survivors now long dead from outposts nearby.
When the Valkers besieged this planet, the timing could not have been worse – or better – depending on one’s allegiances. The reptilians came at a time of woeful suffering and grievous misfortune. Back then, Giamat was in the grip of the Great Virus; an illness that claimed nigh on half the population, small as it was. Pox-riddled and in the clutches of death throes, the Ti Mia, peaceful beings by nature, were forced to bleed to protect their families from the leaping, scaly invaders.
‘Twas a massacre.
If the Valkers did not kill them, the virus soon did. At the cessation of battle it was unclear as to which pockets of Giamat had been ravaged by the Great Virus and which had been slaughtered by the reptilians. The easiest way to tell if the virus had wiped out an outpost was the notable absence of blast holes in the corpses. The virus left a different kind of signature to weapons fire. On the faces of its victims were puss-filled boils on ruddy skin and bloodied eyes. To Tallen’s knowledge, the origin of the Great Virus was still unknown.
When it came turn for their colony to face the Valkers, Tallen’s father had been a child.
‘The Valker Gstaddt Leader refused to allow any of our forebears to yield, including your poor, poor grandfather,’ his father had said through sobs. ‘Never forget that Tallen. I survived because I hid.’
Most all colonies on Giamat were afforded the right of surrender by the reptilians. Yet here in this colony, for reasons unknown, no one was given that chance. Even the Alliance of Planets, who had dealt with the tide of Valker aggression throughout the Phases, was left sickened.
Once the hunt had ended and the Valkers had cleaned the blood from their scales, the dead colonists were dragged into this empty tomb. Each body was thrown onto the next with a dull thud and a splash of gore. The Valkers then ordered the doors be locked tight.
Tallen the Meek gazed in quiet thought for a while.
The glint of polished metal caught his eye on the edge of the pit – a copper marker that read: ‘Their Energy binds us all’.
He felt now his purpose in life was to maintain this tomb, as it seemed that his fellow colonists cared little to preserve this reminder of atrocities long past. Thus, every quarter-Phase Tallen came to clean, fix or repair what he could. The Valkers allowed periodic access, provided that the bodies were not moved. Tallen had no intention of that.
“If the stars are aligned, the Valkers will fall before my Energy joins all of you,” he muttered to the dead.
Slouched of shoulder, he produced a rag from his animal hide pouch then wiped away the dust he saw on the marker. Carefully cleaning between embossed words, he used another rag to give it shine. In a colony where mining skills were praised, he would needs be content with the talent of cleanliness, and in his mind there could be no higher purpose than to keep the tomb of their ancestors clean. That was fine with him.
Actually, it was more than fine.
Tallen aspired to be no more than he was. He already knew how to descale the tomb walls of lichen, how to shine copper, and how to make dust disappear as if into the vacuum of space itself. In addition, he could cook a mouth-watering Toxic Dual-horn Grunting fish. These were important skills as any he thought, not glamorous, but hopefully someday a female would admire him for it.
Moreover, his chores came with other benefits. It drew him away from the colony and the child-like games the colonists played on each other and on Tallen especially. The Ti Mia were a race of intense thinkers, evolved to the point where they could play tricks, like turning lights on and off, with their minds. Tallen oft endured sleepless nights as his chamber light became a strobing torture device whilst he lay abed.
He channelled his frustrations into his work, fastidiously cleaning with vigour. Tallen was very good at keeping himself company with his thoughts, allowing Record to float by wistfully. His chores went quicker that way and besides there was little else to do on Giamat.
There was a creepy edge to this tomb and sometimes he felt like he was being watched. His large glossy eyes probed the dim for threats unseen. Tallen reassured himself that the dead had no eyes, and besides, they were his family and would never mean him any harm.
He shook off the unnerving feeling and took a walk around the edge of the pit, wiping down each marker of respect – eight in all – polishing til they shone. Such lustre sparked a thought.
Light Tablets shine, supposedly. Do they truly exist?
Tallen had heard only whispers in passing. Rumour spread across the galaxies of Vylonia and Astoroz of eight Light Tablets, forged by the Gods – the Ancients and the Mystics. These Gods were the opposing Gods of old, the first Light Beings to roam D’Olex. After warring for millennia after millennia, the Ancients and the Mystics formed a pact, agreeing their kin would decide the struggle between Light and Dark. Now scattered across the known universe in a game of chance, each Light Tablet was inscribed with a message. Together, the eight inscriptions foretold of future Record.
It hardly seemed true. Tallen rarely listened to silly hearsay.
Light Tablets supposedly did not perish and did not weather. Their atomic structure was forever fixed, violating the material laws of D’Olex. This made them precious; precious enough that Traders were looking for them. Tallen knew that traders would do anything in search of wealth and power, however idiotic. Even chase things that did not exist.
He flapped his rags, dusting the air and coughing upon the cloud he had created. Slowly the dust began to settle in wisping.
Suddenly, something caught his attention.
There was light reflecting onto his sleeve. The glow grew stronger and appeared to be coming from the pit. Warm air rose from the depths, damp and earthy. The ground seemed to moan far far alow. Tallen quickly got to his feet and stepped back.
“Wh…who is there?” he looked about skittishly.
An eeriness stole into the chamber. The tomb seemed to be playing tricks with sound. It was impossible to know where the noise was coming from.
Rays of light began streaming from the depths; from beneath the skeletal remains. More and more and more the brightness leapt. A brilliant white haze lit the walls. Shadows pranced in the shape of the bodies that covered the source. Fear wriggled inside his protective suit, like an unwanted serpent, snaking its way up his body and limbs leaving a trail of gooseflesh on his milky skin. His gut recoiled. An unnatural glow engulfed the tomb.
It was now bright to the point of blinding.
“Who is…” the rest of his words seemed to stick in his throat.
The wind whistled beyond.
It is them again! They are playing tricks on me.
“Leave me alone!”
He was not going to wait around to hear the mirth of the pranksters. They seemed invisible and everywhere. Tallen dropped his cleaning rag. It floated softly down to meet the dirt; much like his pride. ‘Follow me’, cried the craven to his shadow, as Tallen the Meek turned and fled for the passageway.