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 crevice.

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 spared?"

"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