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Coming of Age Science Fiction Fantasy

   The gorge's name was Tybus. A crooked lesion of sun bleached sandstone and exposed shale, marked by the passage of a dead river bed. Yellow sunlight swallowed the gorge in its predatory immensity, locked leech-like upon the crooked stone like some eternal unavoidable predator, weathering the fissured rise of rock on either side. 

   A fitty place for endings.

   Valen suppressed a shudder at the sight, closing his eyes to the oppressive sunlight glaring all around him. He breathed deep, feeling the bruised swell of his chest, the savage ache of the wound along his thigh. The moisture mask which crossed his jaw line click-click-clicked in time with the stuttering inhalation of battered lungs. 

   Not much father now, he thought, tightening his grip upon his sun-lance. The beast could not have gotten much farther. 

   Ghosts danced within the flawed darkness of Valen’s closed eyes. Shaped and shadows emerged, faces within the mire of his mind. The youth saw the cold gazes of Elders wrapped in ceremonial garb, their minds cast on future events as they called out the rituals of his trial. The memory played out in the grey haze, sending a shudder down Valen’s spine.

   Even with eyes closed sunlight found a way to plague his vision, spreading its migraine madness across his thoughts. 

   Valen forced his eyes open, feeling every ache and swell of his lean form in that moment. It was as if the sunlight exposed everything in harsh light, laying them upon the bleached sands for the suns merciless inspection. He felt as he often did in his meagre moments of rest; the sudden swell of anger broiling impotently beneath the surface of his mind until, eventually, only the numb silence of his emotions remained. 

   Tracks. The tracks stumbled off through the sands, reaching the rim of the gorge in their desperate limping stutter. Valen stumbled forwards along the track line, his every shuddering step aided by the heavy but of his sun-speer. Here and there blood and ichor pooled in the puncture wound depression of the beast's tracks, a testament to the injuries his quarry bore after their last encounter. Valen felt his free hand stray to the empty reigns affixed to his belt. 

   The endless sun warped time here, shredding his perceptions like parchment before the fire side. When had the beast killed his mount? One week? Eight? WHen had he managed to give a limping chase, catching the beast on its return journey to the Night Side? Such wounds he had given in return for the death of his Amor mare. 

   Regret stung his awareness at the memoires passing. How could I have been so stupid? How could I take so long in this hunt? The tribe will think I have failed them, that I have died out here, sport for the daylight killers and carrion beasts.

   Valen shuddered, gasping in tearless agitation. He could almost perceive on some primal level his sense of self collapsing, tearing apart under the sun's relentless siege. Every iota of who he was, who he thought himself to be was being strung out upon the desert, burned away by the hateful mercurial sun above. Years living within the twilight trench lands, that space between Jamus’ eternal day and eternal night bled away, reducing him to the spectre of a boy on the cusp of manhood. 

   Darkness. He almost longed for that darkness. The ever present cold of eternal night, swallowing him whole like some ancient slumbering inevitability. The image twisted in his mind tempting and teasing him in his limping sun-sieged trude. 

    A dark shape loomed out of the yellow sands. Valen gasped in surprise, his eyes widening as the cave mouth came into view. Before he was fully aware he was staggering forwards, the percussive limp-run sending up tufts of yellow dust and sand around him. Pain lanced down the savaged length of his right leg, a vicious sensation swallowed by the overwhelming desire to avoid the endless daylight. 

   Valen staggered, falling to his knees as the dune sands rose before the cave mouth. The youth persisted, dragging himself bodily forward, puppeted by some old reptilian aspect deep within his psykey. He didn't stop until he had passed the cave's mouth.

   Shadow. Shade. Valen felt the reduction in light like a physical thing, a weight ripped from his mental shoulders. He let out a shuddering breath, feeling the mad dash of a smile twist the sun-dried dance of his features. His whole being seemed to collapse in on itself, swallowed up in the caves twilight embrace. 

   Valen lay, curled up within the darkened entrance for what felt like an age. Exhaustion swallowed him. Shades and memories danced across the stuttering blackness at the edge of his vision, populating the darkness with faces he was too weak to force aside. 

   Something hissed within the cave. Valen felt his eyes snap open, staring into the wall of blackness before him with animal intensity. The hiss came again, a rhythmic cascade of ruined bellows pipes. Valen stumbled to his feet, swaying heavily as he dragged himself up with the shaft of the sun-speer.

   The darkness remained, barely pierced by his sun-tortured vision. The youth blinked, trying to clear the rainbow atina of retinal scars from his vision. Something large lay heaped before him, a gasping struggling patch of darkness that shuddered beyond the grasping claws of light from the cave's mouth. Valen felt his pupils struggle to dilate, the process alien now after what felt like an age in the desert sun. 

   The darkness shifted again, twisting painfully as if to regard Valen. The thing growled as pain flooded it, the snarl ghosting into a weakling hiss of abused lungs. VAlen felt his eyes grow wide.

   The beast. The beast was here. Valen drew the sun-speer up, ready for the massive crustaceans attack. 

   The attack never came. 

   The beast gasped, releasing another tortured breath. The scent of blood and torn flesh reached Valen as the beast attempted to rise. It sagged back down in a pained fall of weakened savaged legs. A multi set of eyes and torn scent-feelers gazed at Valen from the darkness making him shudder. 

   “You-you are dieing” Valen stammered, his own voice a pained rasp. The realisation struck him like a hammer. The beast sighed before him as if in ascent, a wet gurgle of damaged mouth pieces. Valen stood before the multiploid of ruined eyes, feeling the attention of the thing before him like a sibilant question and accusation in one.

   Why? The eyes seemed to say to him. Why did we do this to each other

   Valen stammered before the question. He felt a sudden weightlessness within the darkness, as if this moment was adrift, separate from all other moments in either of their lives. The light of the eternal desert sun disappeared from his awareness, leaving him standing in perpetual night, alone before the ruined eyes of his adversary. 

   “The tribe” Valen stammered in the darkness and he felt the weakness in his words, the lack of conviction a physical emptiness. “I did it for the tribe.”

   Did you? The eyes seemed to gaze back at him, seeing the emptiness of his words. Valen could not decide if the question had been spoken by his own mind or the massive beast with whom he shared this darkness. 

   Valen stuttered. This was not how the elders had told him his trials would go. He had left on the riders of the tribe. It was his time, his time to leave boyhood behind. He would be a man, a man of the Twilight Tribes of Jamus. A warrior of the Trench Lodges. All it took was-

   For you to kill me? The eyes gazed back as if all Valen’s thoughts lay bare before him. So that you might join the men and women of your Elders?

   Valen did not immediately answer. The silence stretched between them, and Valen saw the growth of humour across those in human eyes. The beast looked at him from its coffin crater in the darkness, familiarity writ across the crustacean eyes. 

   Valen started. Did the great Mirror Crabs of Jamus have their own ritual? It was said that they migrated from the great darkness of the frozen night side in tribes of their own, that young bulls like this left after many rotations journeyed to the sun drenched desert for an unknown journey. What little he had gleaned from the infrequent passage of foreigners to his people suggested the crustaceans had their own rites and processes to rise in society. 

   The great eyes shifted as the body shuddered within the darkness. Valen flinched, the sun speer rising in his hand, pointing the firearm barrel at the largest of the alien eyes.

   Only they were not so alien. Valen gasped. Before him, in this moment, time seemed to peel away. The wounded bull before him lay slumped, a boy wearing his skin. He looked down, seeing the heavy knotted exoskeleton of the crustacean, lined and scored and frost marked and yet so powerful. The pair seemed to meld together within that darkness, morphed and moulded as the darkness swirled around them both. 

   Valen stepped back, feeling the shudder of sand beneath him. Multi Jointed legs moved in brief succession, segmented exoskeletal plates sliding across one another with the silence of an alien predator. The youth shuddered, feeling the raw power of the body, the strength of the foreclaws, the solidity of the skeletal horns.

   Then the vision passed. He stood, sun speer still up raised, his hands the dusky palour of Jamus’ people. The hissing bellows breath was returned, drawing the youths eyes back to the slumped form before him. The eye lids seemed to grew, the head to dip in the dark shadows. Regret seemed to open up within his stomach, leaving Valen frozen in the dark. 

   It is time to be about it then, the eyes seemed to say to him and again Valen could not determine if the voice was within his mind or that he read the words across the space between their eyes. 

   “I do not want to” Valen stammered, feeling his chest tighten. Despite the cool of the darkened cave, sweat beaded on the palms of his hands. His eyes strayed to the merky outline of the scars that decorated the exoskeletal form of the bull.

   You must, the voice said with all the finality of a landslide. This is the rite they do not tell us about, our Elders and Pack Leaders. I and you, we are now bound, bound like nothing beyond this world can understand. Oen may appear to return to their tribe, but both will be present, both within the body. The victor gains the spoils, the mind and aid of the other for their people, the continued cycle which will bear down the ages. 

   Valen staggered, shocked. Truth rang from those wordless eyes with a shuddering reality. BHis awareness traced the wave of time, seeing down the vast bow wave of the aeons. The eventual result of that force stood stark before him, the children of both lines mingling before him to produce their inevitable result. 

   Yes, the eye-voice whispered, shuddering within its own new found acceptance. Gaze down the line of time, tribes boy. See what the dance of fate has in store for both of us. 

   Valen staggered, falling to his haunches in numb surprise. The barest ach of his legs reached his dulled awareness. Comprehension fell away, staggered by the immensity of the fate lying in store for his people.

   “This planet is alive.”

   The crustacean nodded its head weakly. 

   Jamus has its own desires, its own impressions to place upon its adoptive children. It has shaped cultures, our cultures, to such a purpose. The force of its presence is astonishing.

   Valen peered within the bow wave of the darkness, feeling exactly as the eye-voice described. A vast presence, beyond malignancy or magnanimity, sat within that space. It watched them without eyes with a sight that bore down upon the viewed. Valen shuddered, casting his mind along any possible alternative route of the future. Anything, anything must be better than the sacrifice such an inhuman, incrustacean force demanded. Valen shuddered as he surfed the alternating lines of potentiality, his mind dancing from one weave to the other in the stumbling gate of the uninitiated and frightened. 

   Tribes man, the crustaecian’s eye-voice returned, reaching Valen even in the frightened dance of potentialities. You must be swift. I am dieing, and once dead you cannot possess my awareness. The future of that potentiality alone is dire enough. 

   Valen stopped, panning his vision down the weave of that particular future as he did so. The vista that greeted him made him shudder. After a moment he retracted his awareness, every step of the way feeling that enormous presence within the weave of the future. 

   He came back to himself just as the mirror crab began its true death. The bull shivered, the last of its ichor gathering, pooling below its slumped exoskeleton. Valen approached, his slow trudge dislodging ichor stained sand beneath him. The ghost edge of sunlight danced beyond the cave mouth, swaddling everything in familiar twilight. 

   Valen hefted the sun speer. His eyes met the crustaceans the two sharing this final static moment. After this, everything would change. They had both foreseen it.

   “When I kill you” Valenb asked, the edge of his speer quivering, “our awareness will join? We will be one?”

   The mirror crab managed a weak nod, suckimg in a last breath through dieing lungs. 

   We will be one, its said in the final instance of eye-thought speech. And all that we saw upon the future shall be ours to conduct, we the orchestral puppeteer, the script written by the will of Jamus itself.

   Valen shuddered, feeling the alienness of those words in his mind. The speer held for the briefest instant, trembling in the static air. Visions of the myriad potential futures danced across his sight, desperately seeking any alternative. Tighter and tighter his chest grew, until the last instant hung before him and the youth knew he was trapped in this role. 

   Now we become the puppet, he thought, and we go to this fate willingly.

   Then the speer fell, the future’s wave roaring with the weight of inevitability

June 21, 2021 09:06

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2 comments

Katie Morgan
21:55 Jun 30, 2021

Wow. Just wow. I would love to dissect this line by line with all the things I thought and felt with your every word choice. It's very well polished, aside from a few typos, and overall very well written. One point for you to improve on: I LOVED the word choice, metaphors, and intentionality of every phrase, however some parts seemed to be almost too well written. The writing itself distracted from the story and I found myself a little lost until I read it over. Other than that, I really enjoyed what you did here, and would love to read mor...

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Joe S
09:51 Jul 05, 2021

Hi Katie, thanks for the feedback I was really stoked to actually be writing and getting feedback on short fiction! I will be sure to take your points on and get better but thank you so much, I really appreciate it :)

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