She sat on the folded up mattress just outsider the entrance to the tent…and watched the death of the sky. There was really no better summary of the experience. This would be the fifth time Amber had seen it—it still made her shudder. No wonder it had infected her dreams.
from Nefastus Venereæ
World: Calyptra [no such world identified in the 30 Aions —ed.]
Type: Iron Age Type II (Rudimentary Magick) [Deduced from reports of the principal city in the Lore of the Hermitage of Azhure’en —ed.]
Date: Circa 100,650 UT
omewhere out there in the glowing tawny night, they waited.
Amber was safe here only until sunrise when the air would turn black and the stars come out.
Calyptra was a fucked up world for sure. The days looked like nights as they looked from space: the sun amid stars. The nights glowed like the heart of a sandstorm. Orange and yellow air moved overhead; deep red lines wriggled and flickered horizon to horizon. As the sun rose, all of it would evanesce; gasses and particulate matter would be drawn into natural vents in the earth like tornadoes in reverse.
Surface features were obscured. She could see along the ridge she stood on, her meagre camp and the thin, spidery trees around it. At about twenty yards, though, details began to blur. At forty, there was only the burning, blowing air.
Higher up, she could see further. Amber looked West (toward where the sun had set, anyway). On a ridge much higher up, she was what she was sure was an artificial structure. It looked, in fact, like a castle out of the stories of her childhood.\n\nThose stories had included the undead.
Which thought brought her back to her predicament. Something had been hunting her for the last few days. She’d seen the remnants of predation on the small fauna of this world and didn’t relish becoming something’s meal; not that kind of meal, anyway.
They only hunted at night, which gave her a bit of an advantage. Amber was almost sure she could see better in this glowing night than the native life here could. She also managed to find a way to keep them at bay. Fire was too hard to maintain but the predators, which she had yet to see up close, apparently didn’t like the smell of her perfume. She’d brought cases of it with her for barter on Glyph. She’d had to leave most behind with the wreck of her ship, but had brought several bottles of the eye-wateringly powerful stuff with her once she realized that none of the native species of animal could stand to be near it. She merely sprinkled it in a circle around where she slept every night.
Travel by day was easy, but strange. The sky was black and frosted with stars. The sun was small and white and too bright to look at directly. Everything was brightly lit, the shadows of trees and scrub sharp-edged. It was warm, the air mostly still. Amber kept thinking it should be freezing cold.
After spraying the sickening perfume around the camp and setting the electronic wards, Amber crawled into her tent and lay, fully clothed atop the foam mattress, trying to let go of her consciousness. When she finally managed it, her unconscious had a tale to tell about naked ghosts stealing the breath from her lungs on a world suddenly devoid of air.
t first, nothing interrupted her sleep.
Amber broke the night’s fast with some of the tasteless nutritional paste which was all the food she had. Well, that and coffee, water boiled with a hand laser. Water was getting low; that last stream had been a while ago. She had to hope there’d be another sometime today.
She sat on the folded up mattress just outsider the entrance to the tent, sipping scalding black gold, and watched the death of the sky. There was really no better summary of the experience. This would be the fifth time Amber had seen it—it still made her shudder. No wonder it had infected her dreams.
At first, it looked little different than a sunrise. As she looked toward the ridge that held what she hoped was a sign of civilization, she saw the sky brighten in that quarter. The orange brightened to yellow and the yellow to white.
Then the white faded to black. A circular ring of stars pushed up behind the mountain, dragging the large star that was this system’s sun. Soon the same process was happening everywhere. The sky shed colour and depth. Accompanying all this was the slow dying of the sound of wind. It had been an accompaniment of her night, slipping into her dreams. Now the sound of it faded.\n\nAll through the twenty minutes or so it took to happen, Amber kept expecting to feel the sickening sensation of suffocation as the last of the gases boiled off into space. It never happened. At the very end, only plumes of orangey-yellow remained near the ground, looking a bit like zephyrs. One was quite near to her; nearer by far than any had been on previous nights.
Reason suggested there must be a hole where those coloured gases went. It was near enough to her line of march. Making note of its location, she decided to make for it.
It took all of ten minutes to pack up. Soon, backpack strapped on, walking stick in hand, Amber started down the slope of the hill.
For the last day and a bit, the land had been a series of ridges, with broad valleys between. One fifteen or twenty ridges back had provided a stream running along its middle. There had been one near the crash site, too. She had subconsciously counted on there being more. The lack was beginning to worry her.
The quiet overcame all worry during the half hour it took to reach the valley floor. There was not a hint of movement to the air.
The trees looked like the corpses of huge crouching centipedes. Sharp-edged shadows made the blue-green ground cover look crazed. The ground was relatively even; no hint of trenches, burrows, or trails indicating animal life. That some type of fauna existed here she had no doubt. Besides chewed bone fragments, she’d caught glimpses of low, long things scurrying for cover during the ignition of the sky at evening. And there were the things that hunted them—hunted her. All seemed nocturnal; as if there were something about these black-skied days they feared.
February 2013 e.v.