|Ebony Sands of Hell
Author: Midnight Sage PM
Stella Nightblade finds herself in a strange, shifting landscape full of ash-filled dunes and lit by an ethereal light. She is picked up by a motley gang of dune-rovers, who inform her that she's fallen into Hell. Her purpose: To get out. Alive.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Chapters: 4 - Words: 5,633 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 11-20-12 - Published: 08-15-12 - id: 3050816
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"I'm completely freaking confused."
Stella glared at Maku as they headed up the stairs, trailing Ganji. She was fuming inside; she'd just realized the Technician had hardly answered her questions. "I thought you were 'great at questions!' So why do you keep changing the course of our conversations?" She flared her nostrils, staring up at Maku's profile.
He solemnly looked at her from the side of his glasses. "Well. Ah, my mind tends to... wander... sometimes." He glanced up at the clay ceiling. "I've been here for a while. ...I sometimes think I'm turning into a Devral. For one thing, my eyes. They used to be brown, not blue. My eyes are the same color as the sand demons' now." He sighed and shrugged, then flashed a glance at Stella. "I sincerely apologize. Please, ask away. And interrupt me whenever you feel it is necessary."
They strode up the stairway in silence. Stella's knees burned from the effort.
The stairway curved around and around, a thick, clay-built spiral staircase. Faint lights were set in the clay by each stair.
"Maku. Why are Jake's eyes like that?"
Maku exhaled slowly. "He wasn't found when he Fell. So he wandered the Dunes, living off the tiny creatures of the sands, slowly turning Devral. He eventually made it to the Forest, and lived a dark life there until he was discovered by the Foraging Team. They brought him back, and we accepted him into the Squad." Maku frowned. "He's not very talkative. Kind of bitter, actually. But I assure you, he is very much a sane guy."
Stella remained silent.
Sometimes sanity is more dangerous than insanity, she thought.
The stairs stopped and they emerged in a large, looming clay room with a curved ceiling. Ganji waited by the far side, Jake's body draped over his shoulder. "Are you ready, you two?" he asked.
He caught Stella's confused glance and smiled. "This will be a treat for you, Stella. The view is awesome." With that, he shouldered his burden and pushed open the door. They surfaced into open air, and the sight made Stella gasp with disbelief.
The air was cool and carried a faint breeze. A wispy feather of a cloud shimmered motionlessly in the frozen starlight. The horizon shone with a breathtakingly high density of stars, forming a streak like the Milky Way. The streak tapered off in the inky blackness, fading to nothingness directly overhead.
"It is our arm of an elegant Spiral Galaxy," Ganji said, following her gaze and smiling. Stella took in the beautiful sight and felt tears in her eyes. She'd lived her entire life in the city, and had never seen anything like this before.
"It's beautiful," she breathed. Her breath condensed in the chill night air.
Ganji grinned. "Come, let us head back." He turned and strode across the flat, cracked clay ground, picking his path by the gentle, frozen light of the star-filled horizon. The large series of straight tubes on his back was easily visible. Small to large, neatly laced to his back. They reminded Stella of bamboo...
She stretched, then trailed Ganji, Maku by her side.
While they walked, Maku filled her in.
They were at the Outpost, the main settlement of Helland. The huge, flat plane of clay stretched around them, broken periodically by plumes of smoke and manmade clay domes; entrances, like the one they passed through at the Medic's Building.
There was a total of seventeen domes, arranged in a massive circle. They were interconnected by a system of tunnels, which branched off into storage rooms, weapon rooms, meat-processing labs, and countless others. It was a maze down there, Maku explained, and lit by luminescent, not fluorescent, lighting. The luminescent lights were created in a work-intensive process that required lowering people deep into the Carven Pits, where they harvested a fluorescent bacterial biofilm. The biofilms were processed and sealed in glass tubes.
"That's complete bullsh**," Stella said.
"It's not," Maku said solemnly. Then: "There's almost no electricity here. We built a generator, but it's extremely unreliable."
Maku explained that the Vinewood came from beyond the Dunes, at a dense little oasis poisoned by tainted water. "Gruesome place. Thorns everywhere, and swarming, stinging critters. Very painful." But, he explained, the Vinewood was used for rope fibers, paneling, and clothing repair, so Squads made regular trips to the spot. "We're petitioning the Foray Team, trying to get them to haul Vinewood in for us. Stuff grows back like no other. We tried to cultivate it, but it needs that water. So all of our attempts have failed."
They talked some more, and Maku began to explain how clay wells filtered their drinking water, when Ganji suddenly stopped and squinted.
They were near the domed entrance of the Maufau Inn. Here, the first trickles of black sand traced across the clay ground. Shallow Dunes shifted less than three miles away, forming a low, dark, undulating horizon.
"What is it, Ganji?" Maku's cool, measured voice struck froze Stella's heart. She gritted her teeth and clutched her black-leather jacket around herself.
Ganji's face was taut with tension. "I thought I... saw something," he muttered in an incredulous voice. "I saw something. Standing on that dune. Over there..." He raised a shaking finger and pointed.
Maku dug in his pocket and pulled out a leather wallet. He removed two slightly-curved, polished slabs of glass and held both of them in front of the left lens of his glasses. He intently stared through the polished lenses and furrowed his brow. "Checking now."
Stella fidgeted nervously. Maku's voice echoed in her mind... There are nasty things in Hell... Very, very nasty.
A minute passed. Ganji carefully laid Jake on the ground and rolled his shoulders, grunting.
Maku muttered something, and Stella's heart skipped a beat.
"What? What is it?" she hissed. Maku shushed her and continued to peer through the polished slabs.
She watched as a muscle in his jaw slowly tightened. The blood drained from his face and a bead of sweat trickled down his brow. "Ganji. Begin the Alert." He squinted, eyes narrowing to tiny slits. "Tell Captain Corchuk, immediately. Disembodied humanoid. Weird as sh*t. Entering the clay plains approximately thirty degrees west of the Yellow Marker." Maku abruptly pocketed the glass and sprinted towards the farthest Dome, approximately a mile and a half from where they stood.
Stella sprinted after him. Less than four strides later, she found herself winded on the ground, viciously tripped by Ganji's bare foot.
Ganji threw her over his shoulder, his powerful muscles bulging with tension. The world spun as he whipped around, and Stella coughed as Ganji's heavy strides carried them towards Jake's motionless body. The ground rose to meet her, then fell away as Ganji bent over and grabbed Jake, tucking him under the crook of his elbow. The world abruptly lurched and a nauseating feeling spread through her as Ganji hauled them at top speed towards the Maufau Dome.
Ganji reached the door and kicked it open, then sprinted inside and lowered Jake and Stella to the ground. "Leave Jake, and follow me," he boomed. His face was stern. "Now."
He headed down the stairwell, and Stella followed.