On the return leg of their journey for the children to choose their new stars, the travelers pick up speed, concerned to make it to shelter to avoid the peak radioactive activity of an impending sunstorm. They rush headlong into brutal desert winds full of obsidian glass. This adventure picks up the pulse!
Posted on 31 Jul 2023 @ 1:39am by Atif ibn Sharjar – Merchant of the Al Ashar
Mission: Ongoing Mission – Planet Obsidian
Location: Northern plains of glass
Timeline: M3 D12 1230Hrs
2089 words – 4.2 OF Standard Post Measure
.: [The northern plains] :.
After the watching the early dawn light reveal the intricate star patterns on the black glass below the Pillar of the Moon the tribes folk had descended back down the rock-cut stairway. Earlier they had climbed in quiet hushed anticipation, now the younger members were chattering with excitement, calling out to each other, naming planets and symbols they had recognized. As they returned to the cavern the chatter faded as the people brought their Eralsu out from the enclosure and prepared themselves for the journey home.
Jelik dispatched his sons to collect their rides, while he and Ibn Sharjar ensured their bedrolls and bags were ready to be strapped to the saddles. The lads returned with Khasta, Fifta and Hrada, the beasts rumbled and shifted with anticipation as they were loaded. Fifta swung her great head and nudged Ibn Sharjar until he reached into his satchel and gave her one of the sticky grass balls. She slurped it up, Ibn Sharjar having mastered the art of feeding her without risking any fingers, and munched away happily, leaving a puddle of drool on the rocky floor.
Jelik applied another smear of salve to his son’s cheeks and they refixed their robes and facemasks. Fifteen minutes later everyone had filed out of the cavern. Outside the column formed up, starting out at a walk they sped up to the elongated rolling canter. Rounding the cliff of rock they set out south, leaving the Pillar of the Moon behind them. The low morning sun casting their shadows along side as the Earulsu settled into their stride.
Ibn Sharjar adjusted his waist strap, clinching himself in tightly as Fifta bounced and churned underneath him, once away from the rocky massive they were exposed to the full force of the wind, and he tilted his head to the left as the gritty hail storm of shards began. Soon one of the cairns came into view, the column shifted direction to pass by it and lined up on the next, a speck on the distant horizon.
The hours passed by and Ibn Sharjar let his thoughts wander over the events of the last few days. The ceremony at the oasis, the legends of history and an ancient generations-long exodus across space to Obsidian. Then the stars and symbols on the cliffs and the intricate cut stone of the caverns, a level of technical craftmanship not possible with hand tools. What had happened to these people during their time on this planet he wondered.
He was brought out of his contemplation by a cry from Jelik riding alongside. He looked, the man was pointing ahead, they had reached the depression in the glass, where there was shelter and a dew catchment cistern. The column slowed and wheeled around to the hole. They dismounted, walked their Eralsu forward and down into the fissure. As soon as they were out of the wind, Ibn Shajar lifted his eye protection away. Immediately he noticed the light seemed different. He looked up, it was nearly noon, Loki was high in the sky, a burning white disc of malevolence but there was a distinct haziness to it, it also seemed a little dimmer than normal at this time of day. He saw Jelik was also looking upwards, his face creased in concern.
“What is it?” Ibn Sharjar asked.
“Sunstorm,” Jelik muttered and called to his sons. “Water our mounts” He passed Sasil and Gebril their reins and set off back up the ramp. “Come with me,” he said to Ibn Sharjar.
They joined a group of Tribesman standing at the edge of the hole, they were huddled together, talking and looking upwards.
“How long?” Jelik asked the oldest man there.
“Four, five hours, maybe less before the Trickster’s hammer will fall,” the man spoke. “See, there is the fire-ring now.” He pointed towards the sun with one hand, the other shielding his eyes.
Ibn Sharjar replaced his glasses, adjusted the tint to the darkest level and cautiously peered up at Loki. The star was a smoldering ball, but where there had been haze, now there was a distinct corona and from one side of it was an eruption of energy, the darker shade of a coronal mass ejection, a solar flare!
He had experienced them before, but never outside of the protection of his ship. Loki was an angry star; it frequently threw out its venomous rage across the planets it had spawned, and Obsidian was often the target of its spite.
The Federation had brought the massive station to the planet’s orbit and it provided a degree of protection with is shields, but that umbrella was projected principally over the central portions of the planet, covering Kalara and the more populated zones. There was no coverage near the poles.
All stars produced solar flares, the normal effect of changes within their magnetic fields and fluxes in energy. The majority were small and relatively harmless to most planets that existed within the normal habitable zone that would produce Humanoid life. The most common sign was nighttime aurora borealis displays.
But Loki’s activity was far above normal, it spluttered and seethed constantly, and its ejections of energy had previously ripped away much of Obsidian’s ozone, leaving the planet the dark scorched world it was today. Here solar flares did more than produce fancy colored skies at night, here solar flares killed!
Two more figures came up to join them, it was Neifle and Selandra. The men nodded respectfully to them.
“Will we make the Nine Stones in time?” Neifle asked, her features sun-darkened, wrinkled and scarred but calm, her voice even.
“I believe so, Teacher,” the elder man replied. “The youngest should ride with their parents now, for we must hurry the pace. There will be a grit storm before long.”
Neifle nodded and turned to Selandra. “Tell our people so, have them eat and drink quickly, we will leave very soon.”
The girl gave a small bow and hurried back down to the others.
“We evoke the blessings and protection of the Divine One, may he turn aside the Tricker’s hammer swung on behalf of the Fiery One against the faithful of the Pathfinders that we may continue our watch,” Neifle intoned, lifting her hand towards the sun, marking a sign to ward off evil. “May the Divine One speed our Eraulsu that they bear us swiftly to our kin.”
She turned back to the group. “Guide us home safety brothers, place four with strong mounts at the back, let none fall behind.” She made a sign of blessing towards them and then started back down the ramp.
She stopped by Ibn Sharjar and tapped him on the shoulder. “Now will ye will learn what it is ride an Eraulsu, man of the stars, for we shall be as fast as the wind. Be sure you buckle your waist strap tightly!” She gave him a grim smile and moved on.
Jelik shared a couple more words with the others, while he did so Ibn Sharjar withdrew him tricorder from his thawb and checked the readings. The current radiation level was normal, but when he raised the device and pointed it towards the sun, the readings began to climb. He tapped in some commands, doing some computations, on the available data the radiation levels would rise to dangerous levels in under five hours.
Jelik joined him. “What does that tell you?” he asked.
“That your elders are right, we will need shelter in less than five hours”
Jelik grunted “We have been watching for sunstorms for generations my friend.” He gave a wry grin. “If you don’t learn, you die!”
He turned serious and continued. ”Khasta and I will be riding at the rear now, to help with any stragglers. The youngsters will be placed in the middle with their families, I want you to watch over my sons. They will stay together on Hrada, but he is young and we will ride hard, being alongside Fifta will steady him and help him keep the pace, especially when the grit flies.”
He reached out and patted Ibn Sharjar’s arm. “And do not worry, Fifta is old but strong, she is still fast enough to outrun the Trickster’s hammer of fire.”
They returned to the cistern. The tribesfolk were hurriedly finishing some food and water and remounting. The youngest children were being handed up to ride with their parents and the spare Eraulsu were being hitched together. All were moving with purpose, quickly and determinedly but without panic.
Ibn Sharjar quickly ate a protein bar and took his fill of water, sharing the bag with Jelik. Sasil and Gebril came back with their mounts. Jelik explained their situation and that they would stay together on Hrada, alongside Atif.
“I shall need you two to help me” Ibn Sharjar grinned to them “Make sure I don’t get lost or fall off!”
Sasil gave him a serious nod. “We will do that Atif.”
There was call and the last few hurried to their beetles. Ibn Sharjar secured his water bag and clambered into the saddle, settling himself in place he strapped in, adjusted his facemask and glasses, and donned his gloves.
They rode back up on to the plain, Jelik looked them all over, gave them a wave and cantered Khasta off to the rear. They joined the column forming up and started forward at a walk, four abreast, Ibn Sharjar on the left side, the boys and Hrada to his right; as soon as everyone was in place the riders at the front increased the pace.
Within a minute the beetles were pounding forward over the black glass. Rapidly moving through their previous canter, the column surged onwards. Ibn Sharjar bounced around as Fifta’s legs settled into the new rhythm, the previously comfortable saddle was now working on punching him in the kidneys, He shifted around to get a better position. He felt the old beetle breathing deeply beneath him, she coughed and hacked a little, then her lungs rapidly expanded, and she ran faster and faster, easily keeping up with the others as Ibn Sharjar held on tightly to the reins.
He glanced over, Sasil and Gabril were hunched together, leaning forward, easily moving along with Hrada’s lumbering gallop. Even though he could not see their expressions due to their robes and masks he got the distinct impression the pair were enjoying themselves. He smiled a little behind his own mask, it was rather exhilarating, pounding across the glass plains in a column of tribal riders, on an enormous insect.
Two hours later he was not smiling. The pace was brutal, the beetle’s galloping action was giving his bruises bruises and he was feeling more than a little seasick. On top of that, the wind had picked up, the previously annoying clatter and rattle of grit had become a battering blast. The sky had darkened and when he peered over his shoulder there was a massive dust storm building up on the northern horizon, ominous roiling black and gray clouds of grit. The storm was gaining on them and above it all was the white heat glare of Loki. The corona was clearer than before, as was the spurt of plasma heading across the void towards Obsidian.
Others had seen the same and the column’s pace quickened furtehr. Fifta’s legs became a blurring clatter as she surged onwards. With the tribe riding four abreast, anyone who fell would have been instantly trampled to a bloody pulp beneath them.
Minutes later the storm caught up and the column was engulfed in a dark maelstrom of flying grit and shards of glass. It tore at Ibn Sharjar’s thwab, trying to find any way in, the grit stung and plucked at him. The shards hammered on the Earulsu’s shells, making an unholy clatter. Visibility dropped to just a few yards and they rode on in a black swirling cacophony, thundering southwards.
Communication was impossible and Ibn Sharjar could only just make out Hrada alongside, the boys little more than a blurry hump on his back. The riders in front and behind were almost impossible to see. He hunched down in the saddle holding on grimly, unable even to check the time.
How long they had ridden he had no idea, nor how long they had before the sunstorm fell upon them.