The Dark Desert
‘They’re going to catch me, they’re going to catch me!’ Brian’s mind was screaming at him as his feet heavily hit the ground step after step. He didn’t know what planet the ship had landed on, but he had to get away from the ship and its crew, and this place as quickly as possible.
Even though the sun seemed to have long since set over the mountainous horizon, the rocky desert was still sweltering from the day’s heat and the air burned with warmth. All too soon, Brian found himself gasping madly as his throat wobbled with a thick nausea. His legs began to grow heavier and heavier and then, before he could stop himself, he was falling and hitting the hard, black ground. Clouds of black sand dust were thrown up to cover him.
He grunted in pain and then began to cough and brush the grains of sand away from his parched lips. He couldn’t stop now. If the crew of that ship found him then he would either be killed on the spot or taken to Zenok. Neither option was desirable. If Zenok caught him now then he would be severely punished. He couldn’t even think about going back until he’d found at least one ring and ring bearer to take back to his father to prove his worth.
He used his heavy limbs to force himself back to his feet and then he was running again. Close by an immense group of rocks leered up into the navy sky. He might be able to climb up them. He was smaller than any of the ship’s crew and might be able to hide somewhere.
He risked a glance behind him and then stumbled to a stop. He could see the fat bulk of the silver ship squatting in the sand. Surrounding it were various members of the crew, who appeared to be staring interestedly in his direction. They weren’t pursuing him though. Uneasily Brian glanced about him. It was as if they knew something that he didn’t.
He began to walk back towards the rocks but walked backwards so that he could keep an eye on the crew. He didn’t want to start walking only to have them charge across the desert to catch him. He began to take a better interest in his surroundings now. For seemingly miles the black sands of the ebony desert seemed to stretch away form him with no end in sight. Occasionally there were clumps of dark blue rocks rising form the ground like ghastly shades, but there was no sign of any towns. Brian’s heart began to thump sickeningly with him. What if there was no towns or cities on this glum world? He would surely starve to death or die from the heat.
He clutched his hands together, his eyes watching the crew carefully. They didn’t seem to be preparing for take off. He shook his head. They wouldn’t leave yet, they had landed him for some reason and they wouldn’t leave for a while. Maybe he could sneak back aboard… no, that would surely be a bad idea. He’d have to think of another solution.
Suddenly the ground began to move beneath his feet. He gasped in shock and then began to scramble away from the sinking ground that was moving and shaking like a whirlpool. He moved just in time for suddenly a huge purple beetle with gigantic pincers reared out of the sand. If he had been still stood there, it could have grabbed him whole with those pincers wide and waiting. It raised it’s ugly head inquisitively and seemed to be sniffing the air around it. Then it looked directly at Brian with its green. Faceted eyes. Slowly it began to descend into the ground again, the sand covering up the hole as if it had been nothing more than a mirage.
Brian was trembling slightly, but his relief was short lived as once again the sand began to shift beneath him.
“Oh no,” he whispered. He glanced over to the rocks and then began to run. The giant sand beetle wouldn’t be able to hunt him if he were on the rocks!
He swore he could hear something burrowing through the sand and following him and he could feel the vibrations running through the ground and drumming against his flimsy shoes. He tried to run faster but he was so hot and his throat was dry as it pined for sweet water.
Hen slowed, unable to run much further. The rocks were close by but he knew the beetle would not let him reach them easily. He began to leapt aside as he felt a sandy whirlpool tugging at his feet again. The purple beetle rose like a hideous monster from the black desert. It waved all its fat, strong legs in the air in anger at being eluded again and then it began to dive again. As it did, Brian could see that although it had the head of a beetle with horns and pincers, it’s body was similar to that of a great beast with eight legs instead of two. He did not have time to stare anymore though. The sand was moving and Brian began to leap about him in a bizarre ziz-zaz to try and confuse the creature.
He panted hard as he the rocks grew closer, but his heart was beginning to swell with fear as he noticed that the surfaces were not as craggy as he had expected them to be. They were smooth! Why wasn’t it craggy like it always was for escapists in books? They made it all seem so easy.
The grains of sand were writhing, as if they were alive, beneath his feet. He let out a faint cry. Now he knew why the crew of the ship had not chased him. They had known what lurked in this black desert. His fingers scrabbled at the rock before him, but he only succeeded in tearing the skin from his fingers. He leapt away, just in time for the beetle once again reared form the black sand. This time it let out a high pitch squeal that was so loud that Brain was forced to cover his ears as the awful shriek cut into his brain.
Its feelers tested the air and then it was facing him. Instead of burying itself back in the ground though, it began to haul its huge body out of the hole and crawl slowly towards Brian, its pincers outstretched and ready for their meal.
Brian backed away and pressed himself against the rock face of the wall. This one seemed much craggier than the other one…
He gasped and turned. The creature was almost upon him, but he suddenly knew he could escape. He jumped up and grasped a piece of rock with his fingers. He screamed in pain as a shard of rock tore into his thumb, but it was better than being a beetle’s supper. His legs scrabbled ungraciously at the wall, but then he found a hold. Breathing deeply he turned his head. He was only one or two feet from the ground and the beetle was eagerly straining its head to try and reach him. He gritted his teeth and began to climb again, his limbs trembling from fear. He pulled himself further up and then suddenly he heard a huge thud from below him. Adrenaline surged through his body as he looked down. The beetle was unable to reach him and was bashing its head against the rock face, in a weak effort to knock Brian down. Brian smiled. He wasn’t going to be eaten today.
He hung onto the wall for a few seconds, but the beetle continued to bang its head futilely against the rocks. Brian hoped that it might dash its brains out if it went on for too long. The only way left for Brian to go was up. The wall seemed much more craggier upwards and the handholds were firmer and more frequent. A few metres above him there seemed to be a ledge of some description.
He hauled his body further up and finally his bloody fingers clasped the ledge. Grunting he pulled himself up and then lie on his back breathing heavily. Glancing down, he saw that the beetle had given up and was now submerging itself back beneath the sea of sand. Brian tentatively waited a few minutes and then seized a small rock form the ledge. He peered at the sands and then tossed the rock down. It landed with a thunk on the black sand. Only a few seconds later, the beetle was emerging again and snapping the rock up in its great pincers. It was waiting for him to fall it seemed.
“Darn it,” Brian muttered to himself. He wouldn’t be able to get down or back to the ship. He was lucky to have made it here. He would have to climb to the top of the rock face. It looked flat at the top and maybe he could see if there was a city on the horizon. There had to be someone living here!
He began to climb again and then he noticed the small hole to his right. A cave. Brian looked down and then up at the rock face that stretched above. Realistically, could he climb that far? He was already tired. Maybe the cave would help him out somehow. It was at least shelter and it would hide him if the crew came after him.
He began to move sideways across the wall until he could safely clasp the deg of the cave and pulled himself inside. It opened up into a much greater space the moment he entered, but it was dark. Very dark.
He crawled forward a few paces, beginning to think that this was a bad idea. He couldn’t see anything! He frowned. He could feel a coolness emanating from somewhere. At least it was colder in here compared to the stifling heat outside.
He crawled forward a little more and then fell down the back of the cave into the darkness.
Nick was nervous. He sat almost perfectly rigid in his seat as Angel steered them towards the coordinates Howard had given to them. Neither of them had exchanged a word for about half an hour. Nick didn’t know what to say. All he could think about what his brother. He had often wondered how him and his twin brothers would have been with another. He had always wanted siblings. Now he would finally get to meet them, or at least one of them. How could Demitrius back home have been so mistaken? He had always told Nick that his brothers were dead. Why had they never searched for them before?
“Are you all right?” Angel asked.
Nick shook himself out of his thoughts and turned to see her watching him. He smiled at her. “Yeah, I guess I’m just nervous.”
“I really hope that Howard guy wasn’t lying, because it’s a sick joke to get your hopes up like this,” Angel said. Her slender fingers tapped away at the ship’s controls. “Do you remember your brothers at all?”
Nick shook his head. “I was a few years old when they were killed, but I don’t remember them at all. I guess I blanked the whole incident. Demitrius told me that our home colony was attacked and I was the only one who survived.” He sighed. “I always kinda blamed myself. That colony was attacked because Zenok knew me and my brothers were on it and he knew that we were the descendents of the ring bearer.”
Angel’s brow furrowed slightly. “Ring bearer?”
“I didn’t explain that before did I?” Nick said. “Well, there’s this legend about the universe. You know the story about the three realms of the world?”
Angel nodded. “My foster parents used to tell me it as a bedtime story. Once our world was mingled with that of the gods and the demons. Everyone lived happily. The demons were frisky but not cruel, but people used to fight because everybody wanted to dominate the realms and obtain their power. There were big wars. Then somehow they were all separated.”
Nick nodded. He’d had the story drilled into him since he was old enough to speak. “A person with three rings separated the realms and the three universes were peaceful again. Me and my brothers are the last descendents of the ring bearers.”
“You didn’t explain that before,” Angel replied. “You just said that you were a warrior was fighting against Zenok. You never told me you were that important!”
Nick raised an eyebrow. “You believe the story?” he had never really believed it. It all seemed so farfetched. How could one person have such power that they could rearrange the universe?
Angel shrugged. “I always liked that story,” she said softly. “I often wondered what it would be like if we still cohabited with the gods and demons. Pretty interesting huh?”
“I dunno. I think it might be scary. The gods in legends are really powerful.” Nick had been forced to study the stories of their ancient past many times before when he lived back on Earth.
“Maybe we were once as well,” Angel said softly.
Nick stared at her for a moment, but his attention was soon diverted as a panel bleeped slightly. “What does that mean?” he asked anxiously. “Are we under attack?”
Angel shook her head and smiled. “No, we’ve arrived at the Starsras galaxy. We should be at Jivitra in about another half an hour.”
Nick watched as Angel’s eyes swept across the windows, her eyes tracing the stars. For a moment she seemed to drift far away from their ship leaving Nick alone.
“You okay?” he asked.
She shook herself slightly. “I’m fine,” she replied smoothly as she pressed a few panels. “I’m going to scan the region carefully in case it is a trap.”
“Good idea. I don’t really trust that Howard guy. He’s a little spooky.” Nick frowned as he thought about the older man. It was scary how he seemed to know everything, and suspicious. “You said you’d been here before?” he said softly to Angel.
“A long time ago,” she murmured. It may not have been that long since she had left home, but it felt like she’d been away for weeks. “I don’t think I can really go back now,” she added softly. Too many people would recognize her. She was best to let them believe she was dead. She had to be careful though. She didn’t want to place Nick in any danger.
“Maybe you could,” Nick said optimistically.
She smiled sadly and shook her head. “No, I lived there once. Too many would recognize me. Maybe when this is over and Zenok is gone, then it will be safe.”
Nick smiled as well. “Then I guess I do have a reason to fight Zenok after all on top of all this prophecy stuff.”
Angel couldn’t help but feel brighter. Nick had a way of making her want to smile. She hadn’t felt this at ease with anybody in years. Of course Tarkansay had been a friend, but she hadn’t felt this kind of connection with him like she did with Nick.
“Here’s Jivitra’s second moon,” she said as she pulled up a scanner reading of the moon onto the screen for Nick to ay. “It’s nicknamed the Dark Desert because it’s a barren place covered in black sands and blue mountains. Very dark, very grim.”
Nick bit his lip slightly. He didn’t like the sound of that place at all. What was his twin brother doing down there? “Any cities or anything?”
“A few,” Angel replied. “But they’re awful places. Slavery, crime, homeless people. They’re very small cities and no ships ever really stop there. There’s not enough water or food for everyone. It’s also dangerous. There’s all sorts of hostile creatures crawling around that desert.”
Nick stared at the readings desolately. The cities were spread out, mostly on the eastern side of the planet. The rest of it was composed of an endless desert. He pressed a panel and a few shots of the landscape filled the screen. He cringed as he saw the ebony sands sweeping across the planet’s surface as the wind tossed them. The blue mountains were almost as dark as the desert and looked just as dull and imposing as the black ground. “What’s he doing down there?” he murmured.
“And how are we going to find him?” Angel added. “He may be your twin but we don’t even know his name or anything else about his whereabouts.”
Nick studied the screen intently. He was just going to have to use his instincts. He would have liked to believe that he would ‘know’ where his twin was just by looking at the planet, nut unfortunately he didn’t have any abilities like this. “I think we just pick a location and start searching,” he said grimly. He sighed. It all seemed so hopeless!
Angel suddenly tensed beside him. “Maybe that won’t be necessary,” she whispered.
Nick frowned. “What do you mean? We have to start somewhere.”
She pointed at the screen and Nick gasped as he saw the huge shape moving towards them. “That’s one of Zenok’s ships!” he gasped.
Angel nodded. “And it’s headed to the exact same location as us. You think that’s suspicious?”
“It means one of two things. Either Howard set us up or Zenok knows one of my twins is on that planet.”
Angel rapidly began pressing buttons. “He hasn’t seen us yet and I’m going to follow him and see where he goes. We’ll make sure we get your twin before he does!”
Brian groaned. His head was throbbing and a hot pain stung his face. Beneath his hands he felt the hard surface of jagged rock. He was lucky to be alive after that fall.
Dazedly he raised his head and to his surprise he saw that he was in a colossal cavern. Even more surprising was the fact that it was lit by glowing moss that seemed to be a natural plant that inhabited the walls. At least he wasn’t stuck in the dark.
He placed a hand to his forehead and found warm blood. His nose felt sore and he realized that he’d had a nosebleed as well. Blood covered his entire shirt. “Oh great,” he groaned.
He stared about the cavern and saw that there were several tunnels leading out of it. He smiled. He had been afraid that he might be trapped with no way to climb back out. He doubted if he could climb anyway with his head hurting so painfully.
His relief was short lived as he heard a low rumble echoing about the cavern. He gulped slightly and his stomach had turned cold. He could hear slow, heavy thuds as if something were moving closer to him.
“Oh Gods,” he whispered.
Something was coming and he had nothing to defend himself with.