The Second Sdhlain: Sdhlai 3
Dawn came. Erif knew it not
because the degree of light in the Chasm changed--down below the
first Shift, the only light came from that which the slaves
brought--or because the slight heat-sense her people possessed cued
her to a change in the temperature of the rocks. The everpresent
Great Glacier managed to keep the rocks at a constant level, cool
to the touch and ever-so-slightly damp. No, something else woke
her, some deep reptilian thing that knew of twenty-hour cycles and
of chasing the cowl of sunlight, something from far before her
people woke up to sentience.
That same little core, or something very similar, set her on edge.
Undoubtedly Zeta Enclave still looked for her, and they may indeed
be willing to brave the Chasm to find her. A simple exile was one
thing; an exile who torched a few thousand years' worth of
technological progress . . .
Erif smirked. Ah, Urcksa would be proud. Very proud. She
stopped and shook her head, trying to ward off the thoughts that
often followed. Urcksa's death had been her fault, a fact which no
one argued. Erif least of all. Her exile began then, although she
didn't even bother to wait for the Enclave to decide on her fate.
By then, she had already left.
She sat up and stretched her wings. They ached from the previous
day's adventures. A smile strayed across her lips when she
remembered her close call at the Shift. How many Tel can
honestly say they've flown through the Shift at near-freefall
speeds and survived? Not many, I'd bet. A shame she had no one
to brag to.
Dusting off, she walked back to the entrance to the cleft. A cool
wind whipped around her. If she closed her eyes, she could almost
imagine that she was back home, flying in the great Dome that was
the pride and joy of Omicron. The methods used to build it were
long lost, if indeed the Tel ever knew how, but the Dome still
stood proud, floating serenely over Omicron Enclave like some
benevolent deity, simultaneously protecting the inhabitants from
the deadly rays of sun and providing a massive safety zone, a place
to soar, a place to laugh, a place to love. No tethers bound it to
the ground, yet it never moved from its position. It still looked
as if it had been built yesterday. The Enclave below it had been
destroyed and rebuilt many times over the past millenia, but still
the Dome remained.
She opened her eyes and looked down. Far, far below, the faint heat
signatures of the slaves toiling on the surface of the Glacier
moved, dots of not-quite-black on the darkness that swam in front
of her eyes. She glanced down the Chasm, looking for the lights she
had seen the day before. None appeared now, but she knew the
direction in which to head, and she hoped that they would reappear.
No Tel that she knew would brave the surface of the glacier. No.
I knew a few. Most are dead, though.
She leapt off of the ledge, freefalling for a few moments, letting
the Goddess caress her skin as she plummeted ever closer to the
Glacier. Then, smoothly, she unfurled her wings and set her path
down the length of the Chasm.
She was playing a tricky game with the wind.
She was falling fast enough so that the slaves shouldn't see her,
but slow enough to hopefully keep her body in one piece.
Yesterday's flight was difficult, today's was insane. She hadn't
been this nervous since flying lessons as a child. The glacier
loomed in front of her, and as it grew so did her anxiety.
She felt the air getting considerably colder as she prepared to
enter the crevice. It's such a small crevice, I had hoped that
it was only the height that made it look so very small. There is no
way I can fly that, no one can fly that. Then she was in the
Later, when asked about this fall, she could say nothing except
that it must have been pure instinct. There was no thought process.
It started bad, and got worse. She had misjudged her entrance, and
as a result had to drop straight down for a considerable ways to
avoid the walls. She knew that free-falling at these speeds was
insane under the best of conditions, and these were hardly the
best. As she prepared to slow her speed, she felt the first of the
ice crystals form on her wings. ICE! I've only seen ice three or
four times my entire life, and now I have it on my body! I wonder
what effect this will have on my ability to fly. The only other
thing that she remembered about the rest of the flight was that she
hit her head and lost consciousness. She only knew this from the
injury to her head. She presumed that it must have been near enough
to the bottom, or she would have died.
When she hit the ground, she felt one of her wings break. She
couldn't see, but she knew that she was off target, by how much she
didn't know, but off target. She stood up. She fell. She got to her
knees, and just before she fell over into a comatose state she saw
a light wink on and off, in the distance.
She didn't wake for four days.
When she woke, she was in a room like she had never seen before.
The walls were simultaneously there, and not there. What concerned
her more at the present moment was that she was suspended in air,
by nothing. To her shock, she couldn't move or speak, and
then she heard someone from behind her speak.
"By all rights you should be dead. We do not normally allow
trespassers to live down here. You Tel have ruined the top surface
with stolen technology that you do not understand. We will not
allow anything else happen, it may cost the planet its life."
"MMMM . . ."
"You wish to speak?"
"mmmm hmmm . . ."
"Fine, I will release your mouth, but be careful of what you say.
You are already living on borrowed time; saying the wrong thing may
cause this time to be collected sooner than you wish."
"You said you do not normally let people live. Does this mean
others have made it and been killed?"
"Others have made it, few, but others. You are maybe the fifth Tel
to make it down here in my lifetime."
"Why do you kill my people?"
She can hear a cruel laugh in his voice when he responds, "The Tel
people? You presume too much in imagining the Tel as people, you
and your 'people' are merely animals that have learned how to
communicate. As for killing the Tel, the sins of the Tel should
have caused their extinction centuries ago."
"Who are you; and why, if you despise the Tel so much, was I
"I am Elof. I am your jailer, your doctor, and your master. You
were spared death because you are marked."
"Yes, marked. Now I tire of this banter, and you need your rest if
you are to recover."
Just before a blackness like she could never describe again
engulfed her, she felt her jaw tighten as she tried to question his
answer again. Marked, what kind of an answer is that? Then
as she heard him leaving the door, the darkness descended.
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Last Updated: 2003.01.15.2347