Epic Fantasy

STAZR The World Of Z: The Dawn of Athir

By

This book will launch on Apr 20, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒
Synopsis

A secret lost in time. A prophesied savior found. Can a naïve hero return his people to the stars?
 
Aspiring novelist Lael believes he’s destined for greatness. But he’s stunned when a talking pig arrives with a prophecy naming him the Chosen One. Guided by a vision, he embarks on a life-threatening quest to reopen the gates to forgotten interstellar worlds. 
 
Chronicling his encounters with volcanoes spewing body parts and monstrous hybrid beasts, Lael discovers dark secrets buried within his own realm. And when a mysterious flying lady-bird takes him into dangerous territory, his grand ambition may come to a deadly end.
 
Can the people’s last hope fulfill his destiny, or will he watch his star die?
 
The Dawn of Athir is the enthralling first adventure in the STAZR The World of Z science fiction fantasy series. If you like imaginative creatures, wisecracking heroes, and magical lands, then you’ll love Dr. Anay Ayarovu’s utterly unique tale.

A Mousy Little Secret

Prologue


Chronicle
First Segmen. Author’s foreword.
Traveller
Professor of a broad range of topics
Ratadat Fibb



For the story to be heard.

For the lessons of the past to be learnt.

Five travellers went to the Stazr gates.

To save their planet, their race, and themselves from their own mistakes was no easy task.

The journey was long.

Not everyone made it. Not everyone needed to.

Those who did witness the conclusion of this story, however, opened up new worlds for themselves and for others. Those who remembered the new worlds soon forgot, and those who did not forget distorted the truth to such an extent that the wheat became indistinguishable from the chaff, the seeds indistinguishable from the husks.

Readers beware, the twists and turns that await you as you set off on this erradet adventure are numerous and often bizarre, and some may be difficult to accept, given the differences between our worlds. But the deeper you go, the more logical these events will seem to you, and a return to your old ways of thinking will become impossible. Take care that stazrdust does not penetrate every cell in your heart.

Throughout the travellers’ journey from one Stazr beam to another, and another and another, there was a great deal of good fortune, but a great deal of misfortune as well. It so happens that I was there and saw it all. In the aftermath of the events described in these chronicles, the Great Race, as we know it, disappeared and has never been the same. The second heart was found and the third returned, but not everyone received it. The two separated parts became a single whole once more, exposing old secrets along with all sorts of unpleasant details, and each had to face up to the unflattering truth about itself and the other. Those who longed for freedom got more than they could have imagined. Shoots of new, hitherto unknown life have sprung up in the new worlds.

As for the heroes of this story, the first manuscript, which the curious reader is now idly scanning, consists mainly of Ratadat Lael’s account of his journey to the first Stazr gate in the company of Ratadat Salar, his maratadat Slap, and Ratadat Kharis. This mainly serves as a backstory to the events hitherto mentioned by the author of these chronicles. The second and subsequent parts will allow you to become better acquainted with the rest of the erradet and other equally important characters so that the stazrous (as it were) reader can draw their own conclusions about the Greats who set these events into motion. Whether these be conclusions positive or negative, I cannot say. Forgive me writer reader for reading recording my seasons at length, but you will not find any rainbow dust on the stazr where I reside.

The following manuscript appears as written by the fair hand of Ratadat Lael, with almost no edits. As for me, I have added only a few clarifications that I deemed necessary for comprehension but have preserved some eccentricities of the writer’s style, many of which will no doubt be familiar to the stazrous reader, and others unknown to the general public, but that I, old scoundrel that I am, have retained. How they came to me is another story altogether.

This is how it all began...



CHAPTER ONE


A MAUSY LITTLE SECRET



Day one, two and maybe even three
Travel log. Ratadat Lael.


I often used to lie in bed musing on the subject of my great novel. I had written a good few short stories and felt ready to move on to something weightier. I was no longer a youth, but neither was I mature. My lifeblood still coursed through my body in a most vital and satisfying fashion, without the slightest hint of treacherous stagnation, and my hearts ached, not unpleasantly, in anticipation of my future literary triumphs.

I spent most days occupied with these thoughts, along with everyday banalities not worthy of the slightest mention.

I lived alone and found it hard to envision adventures, but I am a changeable fellow – I never felt down for too long and always had faith that the opportunity would arise and my time would come.

On that day, as I filled my bag with goose sausages and various other items, (which, by the way, I never saw again), I had no idea what was awaiting me. Such is the beauty of any journey without a particular destination. Of course the destination revealed itself soon enough, but enjoying that brief period of partial ignorance was something of a boon.

Slap was kicking his hind leg restlessly while I was preparing for the journey but, unusually, his obvious impatience did not give rise to one of my frequent bouts of misanthropy. Not that I am even sure this term can be applied to a shwine, being only a member of the lesser species, however the definition of the word that I gleaned from one of those amusing Earth books seemed appropriate. After all, what difference does it make whether enduring hostility is directed at a member of a superior or inferior race?

At this point I think it would be appropriate to educate the reader as to the reason for my preparations and how this maratadat appeared in my life.

Everything happened, as always happens in a good story, unexpectedly and under rather obscure circumstances, which I will present for your consideration in just a few munites.

It was one of those utterly ordinary days when the prospect of dinner was the only excitement on the horizon, and on the assumption that I had no particular objective for the day, I went for a stroll along a path that was densely overgrown with all possible varieties of Stazr weeds. Such a walk was a part of my evening routine in those days.

It was growing dark, and I was basking in the last rays of the setting Athir, which was especially magnificent that day. Eorin had already sunk below the horizon so nothing was getting in the way of the second luminary’s single-handed dominance, filling the still stazrless sky with a turquoise glow indicating rain on the way and frost not far behind. There were signs of the changing seasons – frosty flakes had fallen ceaselessly throughout the day, and though it was not yet truly cold, every self-respecting shrub had already armed itself with beautiful fuzz against the bracing chill. Before I left the house I threw on a silver parka made of brothataur scales, but only because of the ingrained caution instilled in me by my old nanny.

There was not a soul to be seen, as usual, so I walked in pleasant solitude at a pleasant pace, with my old leather bag across my shoulders, a seventeenth birthday gift from my mother. Such a shame that the old bag is not with me today. The leather one, that is. My dear mama did not live to see me enjoy her gift for long; stubbornness and stupidity brought her to the grave. This was a shame, of course, but I did not grieve too much. The bag has remained sturdy, and my mother and I were not particularly close. I had packed my usual items, the standard walking kit, as I called it: a travel journal for notes; a few bitter almonds, which I had stuffed my pockets with that morning as I fought my way through the marsh hazel; beautiful peafowl feathers to get me into character, because nothing on Stazr ornaments a writer like good writing implements; and, of course, a supply of those naughty crystals which are nowhere to be found these days, not even in the many potholes you find along the road.

After I had been walking for about one char, the narrow track open up into an extensive swamp, all covered with yellow blooming duckweed, one of many such places around these parts of Stazr. I jumped from mound to mound, got my boots dirty and quietly cursed at the cold, vile quagmire and its spiteful release of oppressively odorous bubbles in my wake.

Brushing the dirt off my trouser leg, my heart suddenly began to race. In the dusk light, literally five paces from me, something was hiding.

I remember being terrified. The area around the white lakes is considered safe, but you never really know when some nastiness or other might decide to make you their dinner. I immediately reached for my whip — I did not carry a knife on principle — realising that it was time to put my defensive skills to the test. I had spent the last few days reading a book about the manufacture and use of whips for self-defence, which I must say had taken a lot of time away from other beneficial activities, but I was grateful for those efforts as I uncoiled my incredible whip in all its glory before my unknown aggressor.

“Most honourable ratadat, not be rushing to use your weapon against me, for I am meaning you no harm.” From the bushes, with the crunch of dry frost-bitten leaves, there emerged a cautious but nevertheless dignified shwine. I hesitated a moment before lowering my whip and squinting to take a closer look. Years of reading had rendered my eyesight only so-so. “Being sent by the Sy-rak family of Treebarad to speak to you.”

His face was laughable, of course, because of his characteristic little shwiny snout, but a cute little face like his does not rule out the potential for troublemaking. And shwine have long been notorious on Stazr for their crafty ways.

To my knowledge, which is not unextensive, they did not enter urban settlements, and besides, I was not in the habit of going to great pains to memorise the names of the ruling families. I had no idea why they might be searching for me specifically, or how they would even know of my existence, so I shrugged my shoulders and replied:

“Let’s say I spare you the whip for the time being, little shwine, in exchange you will need to explain yourself in more detail.”

The marvellous story that proceeded to flow from the lips of this little pot-bellied piggy lasted the duration of a lengthy dinner, in which he ate no less than half of my supplies, and which I could have summarised in one sentence.

Namely:

Allegedly, A Certain Prophecy was revealed by A Certain Someone from beyond Roum, claiming that there is A Certain Stazr-Mythtic capable of re-opening the gates sealed by the Greats millennia ago.

The coordinates of my residence were included in the conclusion of this message and, after long wanderings and many mishaps deemed irrelevant to this narration for the time being, this shwine messenger reached his intended recipient by way of psychic powers (or someone’s vaguely legible scribbles) in order to deliver me this message and request that I come to the court of Treebarad for the clarification of further details which (it did not take a genius to realise) could not be entrusted to a member of a lesser race.

Let me apologise straight away for omitting the plentiful unnecessary details in the shwine’s story, of names of people and places I had never heard of or read about and could not be sure were real. He had no prophecy behind him, and not much to him at all to be honest but, surprisingly, his own sense of self-worth served as compensation.

Of course, I could have taken this story as mere fiction from start to finish and sent this shwine known as Slap straight home, especially when he started devouring the second half of my already dwindling supplies. There were, however, several details in his chaotic but colourful story that seemed vaguely familiar to me. And his account provided a logical explanation for the particular characteristics that I have come to think of as particular to my character.

So, helping himself to a fifth red carrot before he had even swallowed his third or shown appreciation for the fourth, the piggy asked: “So, noble ratadat be having a mother then?”

“That’s right,” I confirmed, watching out of the corner of my eye as his little trotter reached for a sixth carrot.

“Yes, you knowing to be effulgent Stazr-Mythtic,” he continued, loudly chomping away.

“That’s debatable,” I interjected.

“To you!” He raised his vegetable-holding trotter high in the air, which I supposed was mimicking the human gesture of raising a finger. “To us, all being perfectly clear. The Greats having no mother and no women in general. Well, except those half-and-halfs, but they not be counting,” he said in an engimatic tone. His eyes were open so wide that I was rather concerned, as if something he had eaten was about to come back up again. “In any case, here we be...” he waved his trotter, looking for the right word, “to Arisam!” he concluded triumphantly, belched, and gave me an impish look, clearly expecting objections.

Not to disappoint, I opened my mouth to protest, but the shwine immediately cut me off and continued.

“And you be having a ratadish childhood, supposing?”

“That’s right,” I repeated, having concluded that agreeing with him was immeasurably simpler than trying to present any kind of reasonable objection.

“And your mother be giving birth to you herself?”

“I expect so,” I said, not entirely sure what he was getting at.

“Well, the illustrious Stazr-Mythtic” - he paused in anticipation of further protest at this accolade, but realising none was coming, continued - “be knowing that the Greats not be born, but coming from beyond Roum as adults, remembering absolutely nothing at all.” He looked at me triumphantly. “Well, in order to be convincing you once and for all, I giving you one last fact,” he leaned forward conspiratorially so that even with my eyesight I could make out the unfinished carrot in his teeth. I involuntarily leaned forward too. “You always be having visions that you cannot explain,” he concluded.

I had to give him credit, as well as whoever’s idea it was to send this particular shwine as envoy, because though he did not manage to convince me entirely, he did sow in me the necessary seeds of vanity which, thanks to my innate confidence in my own exceptional nature, sprouted rather quickly and came into full bloom the next day, prompting me to embark on the greatest adventure of my life.

But back to that evening, I tidied up our impromptu picnic and told him I would take my leave, have a bath, muse upon the matter and give him my answer in the morning. I invited him to stay the night as my guest and make himself at home. I regretted this quite soon, however, on hearing the clatter of overturned food pots from the bathroom.

I filled the bathtub with warm mineral water, threw in half a nail of rainbow dust, let out a quiet sigh, and blissfully dunked my head a couple of times, as I always have since childhood. Lying in the thick white liquid, I felt my mind gradually clear, and my body, responding to the enveloping sensation of warm currents, slowly loosened up and returned to its usual constitution. I had not made up my mind for sure, but after some reflection, as the bath was beginning to get cold, I felt rather inclined to join Slap on this journey in order to form my own opinion on the matter. After all, travel had long been something of an obsession in my mind, slowly contaminating the mundane life I had been living in my family home.

I tossed and turned for hours, twisting my bed sheets into an impermeable wodge, unable to sleep. I suspected that this shwine wanted something from me and had invented this whole story just to lure me away from home. Eventually this nocturnal activity took its toll, I was exhausted and   my eyes finally closed.

I found myself sitting in a fragrant meadow. Mullions of silver stazrs flickered enigmatically in the night sky above me and a light breeze danced through the aromatic greenery. I took a deep blissful breath and settled myself to wait patiently. Of all my many visions, as the swhine previously mentioned, this was my favourite.

Unusually, she did not hesitate and appeared straight away, coming from the direction where Eorin and Atir rise. Slowly and almost weightlessly, without disturbing a single blade of grass, as if hovering above ground, she came to me, lightly brushed my neck with her fingertips and sat down beside me.

I smiled widely. “Hello Stazr.”

But she did not seem to be in the mood today, as is fairly often the case. Two meetings out of five, at least, she was either moody or gloomy. Or both.

“Hello,” she said, then plucked a blade of grass and went silent as she examined it carefully, twirling it this way and that in her long fingers. At moments such as these I knew it was better not to touch her. So I simply enjoyed her company and recalled our first meeting.

It was one of the first lucid dreams that I can remember. I could not have been older than five or six seasons. I had drifted off at home in a soft bed, and when I opened my eyes I found myself on a bleak, rocky terrain, where an icy cold wind caused a hundred curious goosebumps to poke out and see what was happening. I had no idea where I was or how I had ended up there, so, having an empirical mindset even back then, I bit my own finger, drawing blood. When I did not wake up, I decided to take everything I saw as truth until proven otherwise. I wandered for a few chars without encountering a single soul and grew rather hungry along the way. Eventually I spotted an almost unnoticeable entrance to a dark cave nearby, so I shrugged my shoulders and went over to investigate. Approaching the semicircular hole, I peered inside cautiously and shouted a couple of times, just in case. I certainly did not want to become something’s dinner but I was determined and stepped inside. It was there that I met a little dark-haired girl of about my age. She did not acknowledge my presence and continued sitting in the corner with her bony knees on display, playing with pebbles.

“What are you doing?” I asked timidly, trying to be brave despite my pounding hearts. I had never seen a girl before in my life and I thought she was the most beautiful creature on the planet. Her plump red lips curled into a contrary smile.

“That’s none of your concern, silly boy.” Her grey eyes flashed in the darkness. Taken aback by such injustice, I could think of no reply, so I just continued watching this extraordinary girl and moved no closer. The beautiful stranger’s hair was so long that it flowed around her on the ground like a shiny black wave and her skin, purest white like real Stazr stone, glistened mysteriously.

“I will call you Stazr,” I said with boyish stubbornness and sat down beside her. “You are very beautiful.”

The girl rolled her eyes, but I noticed a pretty little dimple form from a brief smile that she hid behind her silky wave of black hair. She thought I would not see, but of course I was quite the detective.

I sat down. The girl arranged her pebbles in silence, occasionally singing a tune under her breath. Eventually I supposed it must be time to wake up, because I had grown terribly hungry and, having reached the logical conclusion that this was a dream inspired by the many books I had been reading, I decided to say goodbye just in case I woke up.

“I’ll probably wake up soon,” I said, standing up, my legs stiff from sitting for so long. “It was nice to meet you, Stazr.” I stood there for a few moments waiting for some sort of answer before traipsing out of the cave.

“Come back another time,” the girl said suddenly just as I was leaving. “I’ll teach you how to play pebbles.”

“Of course I’ll come back,” I said happily. “Of course.”

And so began our strange friendship, which lasted years. I was in high spirits the next morning and my mother, always miserable in that season, even deigned to inquire as to the reason why, but it was my secret and I was determined not to share it with anyone. Not even my nanny.

Now here I was again, looking at the woman this girl had become, whom I had grown up with, and whom I could only see from time to time in my dreams. Something told me she was the one who chose when to visit me, but I did not know for sure and chose not to ask. We had a sort of unspoken rule not to ask unnecessary questions, and I adhered to it strictly so that I might spend time with her.

Smiling to myself, I rubbed the scar on my left finger from the first bite in my first dream.

“When will you stop that?” she said irritably, noticing this involuntary movement.

“What do you mean?” I said, pretending not to understand, just to tease her.

“This,” she gave me a sideways glance with her flashing grey eyes, and a slender hand suddenly reached out and firmly grasped mine. Unexpectedly, she gently ran her finger over the numerous ugly scars left from the visions that had haunted me for as long as I can remember.

“Habit,” I shrugged nonchalantly.

“A vile habit,” she muttered and pushed my hand away with visible disgust. I said nothing. “You should go with him,” she said, turning away and picking another blade of grass between slender fingers.

“OK,” I shrugged again, not in the least bit surprised that she knew about Slap. She always knew what was happening in my life. “I’m considering it. But I don’t think he’s telling me everything.”

“Nobody does,” Stazr interjected, impatient as always. She never liked it when I started to express any doubts. I said nothing. I inhaled the fragrant night air deep into my lungs and leaned back. I looked at her shimmering silhouette in the deceptive stazrlight. Once again I was amazed at what a beautiful young woman that dark-haired little girl had grown up to be. Her indigo-black hair was even longer than before and enveloped her in a continuous soft wave, covering her whole body so that she had no need for clothes. Flawless porcelain skin, full red lips and large grey eyes framed by thick black eyelashes. She was a vision and the nickname I had given her upon our first meeting was most suitable for such a brooding beauty. She pulled out her usual velvet bag and I heard her tip out the pebbles.

“Will you play?” she looked at me with one eyebrow raised and I nodded.

It was a kind of ritual. The game of pebbles was an essential part of our nocturnal dream meetings. Lost in thought, she wrinkled her forehead and quickly laid out the image, before contentedly lying on her back next to me.

I lay beside her for a little while enjoying the faint smell of fresh bitter honeysuckle emanating from her body and, after waiting the appropriate length of time (I was not supposed to guess right away), I propped myself up on one elbow and looked at the image composed of black and white pebbles. Then I lay back down.

“An eagull with a mause in its talons,” I suggested glibly.

“Guess again!” she gave me a shove in the side.

“Oh I don’t know...” I pretended to think hard about it. “Shnail eggs?” This time she shoved me a little harder and I chuckled. “I don’t know!”

“Don’t joke!” She became serious, and I realised playtime was over and it was time to give the correct answer.

“It’s a comet,” I said, pointing a finger to the sky. “And not just any comet. It’s the one that flew over us that year you cut your hair.” My reward for guessing right was another dangerous flash of her grey eyes.

“It’s no fun playing with you any more!” she said menacingly, but I was not worried. She only said that because I had solved her riddle. As long as I continue playing pebbles, she will always come to me. I calmed myself with this thought and refused to indulge any negative thoughts. Huffing and puffing, she mixed up the pebbles and laid them out in another picture.

“Guess!” Her serious eyes bored into me from beneath jet-black eyebrows, making me feel as awkward as I had that first time in the cave. She had a strange, inexplicable power over me. I sat and examined the new puzzle.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Stazr nodded in satisfaction. “I know you don’t know. This time I’ve thought up a harder one.”

I turned my head this way and that, trying to understand what this long-haired prankster was portraying, but no sensible suggestions came to mind, try as I might.

“Some kind of pattern,” I muttered, bewildered.

“OK.” She walked her cold fingers lightly across my neck. “I’ll leave and you’ll stay right here. Think about it.” She laughed a lilting laugh like the peal of silver bells, rose with ease and left, dissolving into the pre-dawn haze, gracefully as always.




We left early the next morning and I was in a better mood than I had been in a long time. For one moment I even lamented how much time I had wasted living as a hermit, but stopped myself at once. It would be more logical to think of that time not as waiting but as preparation for what was to come.

At first I decided not to look back, like a real raveler, but a few seconds later, I glanced furtively back at the tidy little house lurking in dense greenery, where I had lived my whole life. Young undergrowth surrounded him on all sides, as if inviting the old man to come out and play long-forgotten games. And he appeared to be peeking out mischievously, silently asking where I was going without him. At once I felt guilty that I had not said a proper goodbye to my oldest and perhaps only remaining friend, and raised a hand in a pensive wave. And just at that moment, as if in response to my farewell, a swift gust of wind blew a pile of dried leaves in a bright swirl around the house. Smiling at this amusing coincidence, I adjusted the straps of my bag, turned back to face ahead, and, muttering under my breath the names of the cities and villages I had spent all the previous night studying, I walked forward.

Slap was a heartwarming sight, cheerfully trotting ahead, deliberately frightening the gullagots lurking here and there. They always congregate in the marshland before migrating to the Deep Sea. And for the first time, after all my deliberate solitude, I thought it would be rather nice to have some sort of companion.

Every distinguished writer you can think of had a maratadat companion. Take Mr Kroml for example. In all the books I know of, he was accompanied by a prime fuzzer of the Baat race. They do not talk much – all the better – but he helped him out of trouble on more than one occasion and undoubtedly brought great luck to the intrepid raveler. Or Mr Beale, who never went anywhere without a fuzzy mutt from the Woof race, who could talk if need be, or otherwise bark at passers by and bite viciously on occasion. Musing on this, I suddenly remembered that at one point I had given serious thought to taking a shwine, but my maratadats advised me against it. Shwine are headstrong and talk out of turn, but are not easily fooled, and it is with good reason that they are considered the smartest of the lesser races (although I imagine they have had a trotter in forming that opinion, to put it mildly.)

It is believed that humans brought the original ancestors of the shwine here to us here on Stazr, and with the influence of Stazr dust they began to jabber away in their own languages. It was only later, under the pressure of circumstances, that they moved on to speaking Stazr language like the rest of the lesser species. Again, this is all more or less rumours and speculation. I have never seen humans personally. They have not been here in such a long time that practically no one remembers what they really looked like or why they came. Some have said that I can pass for one of them, and now I understand why.

As we moved briskly over the rough terrain, carefully skipping from hummock to hummock, I hardly noticed the familiar marshland gradually transform into small ponds. Eventually the water became cleaner and small ray-carps became visible, frolicking in the icy water.

“Stupid things having fun. Before they totally totally freezing,” Slap said thoughtfully. Noticing my interest in the vertebrates, he paused for a moment before trotting ahead independently as if nothing in this life could surprise him any more.

Such independent traveler brought me back to thinking about shwine. It has been a long time since they bore any resemblance to pigs. Dr Fibb, who wrote no less than three encyclopedias on the subject, and is a well-respected traveler and speciologist not only here on Stazr, but apparently on several planets, has the following to say on the matter:




The Ultimate Stazr Encyclopedia
Fifteenth Segmen: The Lesser Species
Traveller
Professor of a broad range of topics
Ratadat Fibb


Shwine {Svinus} – genus of the protoshwine family of the vertebral order. Two species belong to this genus: the common shwine (svinus troglodytes) and the pygmy shwine (svinus paniscus), also known on Stazr as the shwinnet. Both species are currently threatened with extinction due to a cantankerous disposition and innumerable attempts at double-crossing, all of which have had unfavourable consequences for the shwine family. They are direct descendants of actual pigs, which are believed to have been taken aboard stazrships by humans specifically to dispose of excess food, but then upon arrival on Stazr they, like some other terrestrial animals, evolved into the

lesser species. When the Zodiac Council passed the Lesser Species Act, they were given permission to dissociate from earthly pigs and establish themselves as an independent race, though naturally remaining a denomination of the maratadikas.




My musings on shwine were interrupted when a strong, dank wind came out of nowhere, causing a large ripple through the lakes, frightening the flitting little carps, while the larger ones continued to turn somersaults languidly in the depths as if nothing could disturb their unhurried flow. It had been dark when first we set out, so I turned around and paused to admire the pale pink reflection of the slowly rising Eorin in a hundred shallow ponds stretching out before us between narrow strips of milky white sand. I was often left to entertain myself as a child, and some of my happiest memories were connected with those same little pools. In the scorching season I used to take out some homemade purple gooseberry lemonade and play there. My favourite pastime was launching little boats made from resilient leaves, and when a fierce frost came and no maratadat dared stick out their subordinate little snout, I would simply pull a hat out of my bag, and set off fearlessly to catch azure salmon in the icy water at this very shore where they came to spawn. And in the off-season, carefully, so as not to fracture the ice crust that was growing ever thinner in the heat of Atir, I walked out into the very middle of the clawed lake in search of milk mushrooms.




Presently, my thoughts moved on from childhood pastimes to my conversation with the shwine the day before, when he had mentioned my walking visions so casually. Recently they had been occurring weekly, and I had long since grown used to them. When I woke up, I gave myself enough time to catch my breath, and then immediately tried to record what I saw as accurately as possible.

… A snow-white plain stretching out across infinite scores of moiles. I raise my head and, despite the leaden clouds hanging so low I could reach out and touch them, I can see Eorin and Atir shining grimly through the dense cover of the obscured sky. The wind howls mournfully in my ears and through my hair, which is longer than usual, causing it to flap in impotent fury. I lift my hand to remove the annoying strands from the face, then stand still. Heavy and silent, like an archaic monument, a huge mountain looms at the very edge of this cold, hopeless expanse. I bite my finger, already accustomed to having the strength to do so. It never works, but I am stubborn. I lick the warm blood. On closer inspection I can just about see subtle, rhythmic movements on the mountainside. I feel like if I stare long enough I will be able to see what it is twitching and stirring on the slopes of the overcast monument. I cannot get a clear view, but I strain my eyes and eventually catch a momentary glimpse when the medley of pale yellows that make up the mountain comes into focus and I see that it is completely littered with some vile thing akin to fish spawn, as can often be seen in a bloated carp belly during spawning season. Only this spawn is hundreds, no, thousands of times larger, and I can see quite clearly now that more and more are oozing out of the mouth of the volcano, sliding down, pressing, pushing and burying those that came before them. I start to make my way forward at the same time as thick white snow begins to fall from the enter clouds. I am dressed only in pajamas. It is cold. Doggedly, I move my feet in their warm enter socks. The mountain approaches slowly, but even through the snow I can make out more details now. I think I see something lying at the foot of this volcano spewing forth these mysterious eggs. A layer has formed at its base. It is still too far away so I pick up the pace, almost running. No need to conserve energy. The wind has subsided and icy vertical snowfall forms a white carpet underfoot. I cannot feel my toes and the frozen earth is doing nothing to help warm me up.

That is better. Now I am close enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Many of the yellowish, translucent eggs erupting from the belly of the volcano are empty. Many, but not all. In others I see bodies. Humans? Hairless. Naked. Fragile. But they are not the reason I shudder. Practically choking with horror, I realise that the layer at the foot of the mountain is entirely formed of these very same bodies, sliding from the vent in their fish-spawn bubbles. A scrapyard of defenseless flesh. I move closer. I shudder again, hit by another wave of disgust. Many of the bodies are not fully formed – some lack an arm or leg, others are missing a good half of their body. Deformed. Some appear to have no bones and lie on the frozen ground like amorphous jelly. Not all of them are dead either – half of them are still moving. They are dying in terrible agony, moaning, reaching their hands out toward me, begging for something without knowing what. Boys and girls, no older than fifteen winters. Skin gleaming despite the gloomy weather. So they are Great Ones, not humans. They are like me. For some reason, I begin to stubbornly make my way forward through the hideous jumble of living and dead bodies, many of which are already beginning to decompose into Stazr dust. More and more weak hands try to grab at me. Pleading eyes seek my gaze; I do not look.

There is a whistling sound in my ears, which at first I assume is the rising, harshening wind; somewhere in the distance lilting bells begin to ring and suddenly there is no air and I gasp for breath with all my might. I run back, my woolly socks slipping over the limp pile of bodies scattered throughout the valley. I trample them like bunches of ripe grapes. Finally I get away, leaving a thin chain of black footsteps behind me on the white virgin field. Then another frail hand grabs at my leg and I let out a long scream. In anguish I find myself at home, on bedsheets sodden with cold sweat – the eternal companion of my visions. Returning is unbearably painful.

Frustrated and exhausted, mentally and physically, after this grim excursion, it is a long time before I return to my senses. That was not the first dream in which I have run through that field, only for a hand to stop me at the last moment. Afterwards, I always toss and turn late into the night, and those mysterious bells ring out in my mind, mocking me.

These visions had been occurring more frequently for the past year and according to my observations almost always coincided with my maladies. I think I chose writing as my life’s calling largely because of these half-waking half-dreams that have haunted me since childhood. Musing on deep childhood memories, I pulled out my notebook and fished out a pen, walking all the while, and scribbled down some important questions that I wanted to reflect on while I had some leisure time.

Such as:

- Who was my father (obviously)

- Who was my mother (it is now quite clear that I was purposefully kept in the dark about this fact throughout my childhood)

- Who was my nanny (who must have been in league with my mother in a joint effort to keep me in ignorance. And considering the fact the there are no females on Arisam, where did these women come from? And what relationship did Nanny have with Mama anyway?)

I re-read the red lines and added decisively:

“Who am I?”

Now everything was in order. It seemed advisable to answer the former questions before reaching a verdict on the latter, but I was convinced I could begin in reverse order, given the information and memories available to me.

I glanced irritably at the columns of other questions that filled my little book of questioning. Flicking through, one important query appeared consistently on every page, haunting me my whole life, written in uppercase letters across the enterfold: IS THIS TRUE? Naturally this related to the disturbing visions that poisoned my serene existence.

Having thus transferred all the questions that I did not currently need in my head down onto paper, I postponed their resolution until an opportune moment, put the peafowl feather back in my bag and ran to catch up with Slap who had got far for someone with such short legs.




My travel attire was extravagant but nevertheless stylish (naturally). I may have given you a contrary impression of my nature, but I assure you that I love to dress up, though I live as a recluse. I was wearing my favourite gem-studded red slacks, a gorgeous grey sveater that my old nanny felted herself, and that same brothaurus-scale jacket, which I happened to mention a few paragraphs ago. Some might say that my attire was unnecessarily elegant for such a trip, but I had long since had my own opinion on all issues, and was used to paying attention only to things that truly mattered. No matter the circumstances, I am convinced that not being like everyone else is always a good thing. Ideally, if you are unfortunate enough to be missing an arm or a leg, or any body part such as I have, really your only choice is to be sufficiently resourceful to find plausible alternatives. My thin shiny whip, which had not yet been put into practice as a means of self-defence, was, as always, carefully folded into a ring and elegantly hung on a belt with a buckle that I had made myself quite recently. The beauty part was that the metal ring had a small notch so that, should I need it, the whip would unfurl in the desired direction as soon as I pulled it out.





A brief guide to raveler basics
Fifth division. Beasts large and small
Professor of Speciology
Ratadat Miel


The azure carp is a large carnivorous fish with a thin, moderately elongated body, densely covered with small fragments of azure stone, which they eat in abundance before spawning, and from whence they get their name. Lemon-yellow sides, dark spine. Colouring may vary depending on habitat. Azure carp is an edible fish, but experienced anglers strongly advise that the stones be removed before cooking, as they give the finished dish an acidic taste and can lead to intense hallucinations. It is not recommended to catch the azure carp with one’s bare hands due to their large protruding front teeth, which they use for self-defence.




Preoccupied with thought as I was, I did not notice the landscape slowly begin to change. Shallow ponds were still trying to appear deep, but soon became mere puddles and then dried up completely, leaving nothing but damp dirt as a memento, which in turn transitioned smoothly into hard white slate, marking our entrance into the Worthless Lands, which as far as I could tell were always overhung by dark, heavy clouds.

Atir was still high overhead, flooding everything with its bright malachite light, and Eorin was already slowly sinking to the south, ationali the imminent twilight. Our first day on the road was drawing to a close, and there had been no events of interest to write about in my notebook. I felt the need to share my concern with the piggy.

“Do you think...” I fiddled my fingers searching for the appropriate way to address the shwine, “good Slap, do you think we will encounter any noteworthy adventures on this journey?”

My companion turned to look at me without stopping and said soberly: “Honourable ratadat, nothing be giving me more pleasure than us arriving at Treebarad unharmed, though such a hope seeming highly optimistic to me.” He lifted his leg and scratched himself behind the ear before adding in a more friendly tone: “Having anything we can share for dinner?” He came to a halt and glumly inspected his round flanks, as far as his short neck allowed, then sat down on the ground with the facial expression of someone who had not eaten in aeons.

Try as I might to get him to speak frankly, he remained silent, sighed and glanced mournfully at my bag of provisions. Realising I had no choice, I untied the bag, at which point Slap suddenly came back to life and came to sit closer to me. Gorging on a crispy urkar from my own garden, he suddenly started talking.

“We are also wanting equality. Justice be for everybody. If I be ratadat and you be ratadat, you feeding me, I treating you well, and if not, bad. And if you be ratadat and I be maratadat, I loving you, and if no feeding me, still need loving you. Why be that way?”

“Based on the existing class structure, which you might also call the rule of power,” I shrugged, “justice is a relative concept.”

“I not agreeing. Now, taking this urkarka as an example,” he twisted the core wedged in his trotter right under my nose, “it be an urkarka even if we salting it, boiling it and frying it.”

“I suppose,” I looked at the shwine, puzzled, and saw that he was getting genuinely angry. Who would have thought that the lesser ones would be able to ationalize so freely in our times.

“That be the maratadikas, anyway you slicing it – it remaining the maratadikas!”

“I agree, little shwine.” I do not like bickering and yet I decided to explain to my ignorant travelling companion the only correct opinion on this issue. “However, the relevant point in this case is not that the maratadikas exists, but rather that there is nothing the lesser species can do about it. We can discuss the issue for as long as you like but it won’t change your situation one bit.”

After this remark, our conversation faded into silence and the urkarka soon disappeared too. I decided not to dip into my strategic reserves of yellow berries yet; I could not stomach another bout of talkativeness on the topic of class inequality from my four-legged friend. Tying up the bag of provisions, I could only shake my head in bewilderment. How had I got myself into this?




A Book about This and That and More Besides!
Segmen Six. Fauna encountered along the way
Traveller
Ratadat Kroml


Urkarka {Urkarius Domesticus} – annual agricultural crop. Tall stem. The leaves are large, very fleshy and form a sweet edible core wrapped tightly around the stem. Although urkarka is a popular vegetable among gardeners it can also be very dangerous and caution is recommended. This volatile vegetable can easily become toxic without sufficient water or proper cultivation procedures. Grower beware!




So we continued in easy silence for a long time across the white slate of the Worthless Lands. Slap’s trotters and my square boot heels made dull clattering sounds, as if there were hollow cavities underfoot. At one point I even paused to tap my foot harder but Slap urged me on with an impatient nod of his head, saying our task could not wait. On we went.

Dusk was falling, and my thoughts turned to sleeping under the stazrs. The bittersweet scent of flying axits was all around us and the landscape was magically transformed. During the day, these endless wastelands are a largely dismal sight, but at night the Worthless Lands became a captivating scene. As soon as both suns sank below the horizon, all the patient plant life peeked out, tentatively stretching out their feelers before allowing their whole selves to unfurl into the brisk air, blanketing the desert with beautiful green peonies, blazing red cockerels, bizarre two-horned rositas and other colourful variations of desert flora I knew nothing about.

If you have never been to Stazr and are unfamiliar with the scent of axit, perhaps I can compare it to a mouth-watering honeydew melon, freshly cut and ready to eat. The aroma is so intoxicating that travellers can quite forget themselves and their friends, and remain wandering through the axit valleys forever. I was not all that familiar with the terrain, but I knew that we were only at the outskirts of the Worthless Lands and it was at least five, maybe six, Stazr days to Treebarad, which was all the way on the other edge. It is said that these lands bring nothing but bad luck to travellers, and encounters with malevolent flora and fauna are more or less unavoidable. When I lived as a hermit, I tried not to stray too far, but living close to the border made this a difficult resolution to keep, and every so often I would venture a few moiles from home.

We had already walked a few chars through the nocturnal desert and my feet were getting tired. I am in the habit of long walks but not day-long walks, so I suggested to Slap that we stop at the nearest dust volcano along the way. Their exceptionally fresh aroma repels most nocturnal predators, as well as all manner of confused insects still scurrying about in the hope of finding warm earth blood before they inevitably die in agony, inebriated on Stazr emissions, squealing in horrendous torment all night long. Hence the safest place to avoid all these creatures was as close to the volcano vent as possible.

I chose a rather pot-bellied volcano and once I was about half way through my ascent, waving away the thick, greenish clouds of concentrated menthol vapour that were spewing from the top, I looked back and found that the shwine was not behind me.

“Slap!” I shouted, but that sneaky dense vapour muffled the sound, and the vent kept puffing out fresh dust columns of a billion murmuring sparkles, and I doubted he could hear me. I bellowed a couple more times but no answer came, so I slowly climbed back down.

Once back down, I rubbed my eyes and nose clean of the tiny slate fragments and caustic fumes and sneezed a couple of times before I was finally able to look around. The shwine was lying calmly at the foot of the volcano with his trotters neatly laid out.

“Why are you lying down here?” I asked, not even trying to hide the indignation in my voice.

“Because,” said the shwine, casually nodding at his legs, “not being able to climb up after the honourable Stazr-Mythtic with these little legs.”

“But why didn’t you say so?” I looked carefully at the shwine. I got the feeling that this maverick was not as innocent as he wished to appear.

“Being frightened,” Slap answered, and theatrically laid his head on his forelegs.

“‘Being frightened’?” I rubbed my neck. A helpless victim, my foot. Not too frightened to spend the night at the foot of the volcano where he could easily be eaten, but too frightened to ask me to carry him, preferring to just lie there in silence. I could see no logic in this behaviour and I must admit it irked me.

“In that case I’m going to sleep up there, and I’ll see you right here tomorrow to continue our journey, little shwine.” He lay there not looking at me. I could not say why, but for some reason I opened my bag, fished out a pouch of yellow berries, laid them next to him and swiftly turned back to climb up into the clouds of foul-smelling smoke, to safety.

When I reached the top and laid out my simple belongings, I regretted leaving that stupid pig down there. Still, there was no use in judging his logic by my standards. After all, I had explained the maratadikas just a few chars earlier, and if he got eaten by some creature or other in the night, it would be my fault that someone lost their legal property, which was hardly the way to make a first impression with a member of the ruling families. But descending a third time would have been quite absurd, so I ate the goose sausages, wrote in my journal about the events of the day and, hoping for the best, put my bag under my head. I was asleep before I knew it.




Telling


Humans came to Stazr in a rowdy rabble. Refusing to live alongside the Great Ones, despite ample space, they instead began to behave like masters in someone else’s home. But they forgot that if you rob a stranger’s house and take all the best things for yourself, with no knowledge of what you are taking, everything you have stolen will turn against you. Like a beautiful Stazr maiden beckoning you with a slender finger, promising a kiss with her Enigmatic smile, and then clapping her hands at once with a mocking laugh like silver bells. So our Stazr shook her thick, clean hair over her subservient lands, showering them with Stazr dust. At first, the earthly humans rejoiced at the beautiful pollen that swirled through the air and turned into coarse flakes, and they sang and danced in praise of Stazr’s gracious acceptance. Several seasons passed and they began to notice hideous growths forming on their skin, and later they became stooped, their bones bent into unimaginable shapes, and their once clear minds grew dull. At first they received treatment in their superlative stazrships, but nothing helped, and so they began to call in different doctors to help them with their terrible maladies, but all failed. As they staggered around in confusion, trying to recover, the humans took a long time to notice that not everyone was suffering from this terrible affliction. Had they stopped and taken a closer look through that fog in their minds that prevented them from thinking clearly forever more, they soon would have sooner realised that only very few had been spared. The sick began asking the healthy if they had eaten something special or smeared themselves with some substance the others knew nothing of. But they could only shrug their shoulders, and although they tried to help, they remained healthy, inciting fierce hostility in their fellow man. And the more monstrous they became, the stronger they suspected that their neighbours and relatives were deliberately and spitefully hiding some wonderful remedy. One day, all who survived the Terrible Event gathered together and burned the healthy ones in great bonfires of wicked red flame. And so they never learned the truth – that the only reason these people, whom they had killed with their own hands, had not succumb to the disease that Stazr had set upon them was because they were luminous and pure.




I was awoken by a hot spray from the volcano and opened my eyes to see a fresh stream of snow-white dust with a pale azure tint spewing out. I looked down at myself and saw that I had been half covered in the shimmering flakes while I was sleeping. I made a sluggish attempt to shake them off. I desperately wanted to go back to sleep but the sky was beginning to lighten. I thoroughly disapproved of these early morning eruptions.

I lay still for a while longer, utterly failing to fall asleep, and eventually decided to check on the shwine. Peering into the crater one last time, I saw viscous lilac magma with thick orange veins gurgling and bubbling right up to the edge, clearly about to erupt again and scatter billions of tiny dust particles, so I threw my bag over my shoulder in haste and began my slow descent. Once I was about half way down I realisin that I was going the wrong way. This side was steeper and I had already had the dubious pleasure of sliding down on my backside at least twice. I stopped for a moment and looked around during a brief pause between eruptions. From that height, at least eight times taller than me, the view was extraordinary, even by my exacting standards. A thin, pearly purple strip slashed across the distant horizon, marking the beginning of a new day. Wet, heavy slate clouds, as occur only in the early chars in the Worthless Lands, floated just a few centimetres above the ground, watering the nocturnal plants that had been waiting patiently all night. This would last a little while and then the clouds would melt away as if they had never existed, having succumb to the scorching rays of Eorin and Atir.

The area spanning below was made up of boundless, translucent, crystalline fields, where a constant fine dust fell silently like snow, covering Stazr with a shimmering carpet.

Beautiful, I must say.

Some travellers claim that this dust contains particles of rainbow dust and that there are  methods for obtaining the purest strain. But were it so simple, I imagine the Worthless Lands would soon change their name to the Valuable Lands and be swarming with miners and others seeking easy wealth. I had on occasion indulged in a walk here, enjoying the peace and solitude, but no great inspiration ever came to me in this lifeless place.

As I mentioned briefly before, these parts are only notionally uninhabited. After humans left Stazr, several of the lesser species bred with native Stazr flora and fauna and moved here – another sort of human relic. Meece are one such example. Personally, I always found them rather amusing. They grew twice as large as their historical ancestors, began standing on their hind legs and learned to speak, like all of the lesser species, and also acquired a rather sarcastic sense of humour. There have been occasions when, hoping for some solitude to muse on a new story, I have unwittingly become the object of ridicule for a whole swarm of meece. They would line up behind me, mimicking my walking and copying my mannerisms for a good while before I noticed, or before a particularly impatient little mause would advance and continue its pompous march ahead of me. They considered this to be a particularly impressive move and, given my disagreeable nature, only the most daring meece would chance it. After that, of course, I would scatter the swarm and they would scurry into their holes with squeaks of amusement. And if I was able to catch one of the little troublemakers, I would sit it on my shoulder and force it to tell me mause stories of Stazr Folklore, after which I would always give it a morsel of onion cheese. Frankly, I have always thought meece were rather fond of me and it was only because of their exuberant nature that they made fun of me.

So I was in no way surprised to see a large mause with long whiskers sneaking along behind me. He looked somewhat conspiratorial, which was rather amusing, but he brought his finger to his little pink mouth (the universal Stazr Sign for silence) and twitched his long whiskers in such a way that showed he was not in the mood for jokes. With a desperate wink, but still completely silent, which I must confess intrigued me even more, he beckoned me with a long claw. What could I do? Curiosity is an essential characteristic of a good writer, so I am proud to say that I followed him.

We walked for nearly ten munites. All sounds faded, leaving only cottony silence, and particles of white shimmering dust hung in the air, covering me from head to toe with a mysterious flicker, and I paused for a moment to admire the neverending expanse. The mause must have heard me stop, because he looked around and impatiently waved a mausy paw, still in silence, so I had no choice but to continue following him at a rapid pace. As soon as he was convinced that I was still with him, he sank down to all fours and sped up to a mausy lope. I had never seen meece running on all fours before, but this seemed fairly insignificant – I had plenty on my mind as it was.

I contemplated my most recent story, which I could not get out of my head, and then my thinking, as often happens, turned to humans. Who were they and why did they come here? What happened to them and might they ever come again? Then I remembered that the reason I was on this journey is because I was chosen. I found this both amusing and pathetic: amusing that I had gone along with such a flimsy pretext to leave the house; pathetic that I still wanted to believe it was true.

About five minutes of rapid strides and multidirectional thoughts later, I spied a small object about half a moile away. The mause and I accelerated our pace as if on cue, and I finally saw why I had been summoned.

It was a tiny little mause. She could not have been more than a couple of weeks old. Her little body was that pale pink colour found only in newborn meece, which gradually turns into a  dark grey as they grow up. Her thin little legs were splayed at a strange angle, and her head lay lifelessly on the ground. I went closer to try to figure out what might have happened to her, supposing the mause was expecting me to help in some way. I touched her gently to shake the white dust from her tiny body. It appeared she had been attacked during our walk. Then I withdrew my hand at once, suddenly realising that they must be playing a trick on me.

I looked around with a stupid smile, expecting to see a bunch of whiskered meece killing themselves laughing behind me, but instead something bit me, sharp and quick, and a sudden weakness fell upon me like a heavy fog. The last thing I saw as I fell clumsily on my side was the silent white dust covering the Worthless Lands in a neverending shroud.




The Ultimate Stazr Encyclopedia
Fourth Segmen. The Five-fold world of Stazr.
Traveller
Professor of a broad range of topics
Ratadat Fibb


The dark path is the second significant point in the life cycle of a Great One, and is marked by a sudden and complete cessation of the flow of lifeblood and its transition to a new state. Like a butterfly, they hatch from a caterpillar-body and, leaving behind their past life and an empty shell, rush into a new unknown. For physiological reasons, it is a rather painful change from solid to semi-solid (or ‘semi-soft’ in some resources).

In high Stazr the dark path is often referred to interchangeably with ultimate termination, which is not in fact true. On the contrary, it is a new stage in the life of a Great One and has absolutely nothing to do with death (in the earthly sense). However, unlike terrestrial terminology, even this widely used term implies no element of mystery or mysticism. Gentle grief is not unusual, but no one spills sacred fluid on the occasion of the departure of a Great One to join the other Stazrs of the Universe. “What comes from Stazr returns to Stazr”, one of the most widespread greetings among the Greats, as is confirmed by one of the essential truths, tells us that the ratadat are not afraid of final termination, perceiving it simply as the logical completion of one life cycle and the transition to another.




I have always considered the short story a cruel genre. To present a new world, all beautifully wrapped, and then take it away, with a smug smile, grabbing it from the readers’ grasping fingers. Really, mercy costs nothing. Although I have no personal experience with fans of the genre, possibly due to a lack of acquaintances in general, I have been in correspondence with no fewer than two authors of short story collections, both of whom agreed in their letters that theirs is a wonderful business. They are very highly regarded in the big cities, and the main thing is to find a good draftsman to draw entertaining pictures. Apparently they are mainly read by lesser ones, probably because they find it too taxing to concentrate on lengthier prose. One of these cheeky fellows even claimed in one of his letters that he had seen or made acquaintance with a certain Stazr maiden who could read.

But that was clearly hogwash.

I grew utterly tired of our correspondence after that, which was a pity after how much time I had devoted to it.

Novels, on the other hand, are the real thing. Although their creation is more difficult, and there are even fewer in our century who can appreciate such great work, I still consider myself to belong to this magnificent genre and write my short stories solely for practice.

Just warming up the nib. Ha!

These thoughts whirred through my mind for rather a while. I cannot say how long I spent unconscious, but I was overjoyed when I eventually came round. I had been sure that my time had come and my journey had ended just a few dozen moiles from home.

Which would have been laughable.

I shook my head and smiled to myself. Being captured unawares with these ridiculous mause tricks was certainly not a stellar demonstration of intelligence, let us be honest. How blind I had been. It is a part of my character, in fact – I always believe each and everyone until the moment they fool me, and only then do I stop trusting them. On the other hand, I thought, the fact that I had the intention of helping someone also proved me to be a sympathetic and highly educated character, because none of the lesser species, I repeat, none of them would help a ratadat if there were the slightest hint of danger. We live in dangerous times, and a helping hand outstretched at an unwise moment can deprive you not only of your hand, but of your life too.

That is how I was taught and I never forgot it.

I was confined to a dark space where the air was awfully musty and smelled of mause excrement, with not a hint of breeze to refresh the atmosphere even slightly. I could not move my arms or legs, from which I drew the educated conclusion that I was tied up or in some other way immobilised. Perhaps, I mused to myself, meece possess some sort of paralytic poison unknown to me, in which case it stood to reason that I had been bitten by that crafty mause, in order to... but I could not finish this line of reasoning because it was utterly impossible for me to imagine what meece would need me for. As far as I was aware, meece keep themselves to themselves and show little interest in the outside world.

These thoughts occupied me a for a few munites more and I was just wondering whether I should try calling for help, when suddenly I heard a distant rhythmic rustle like the patter of many paws, and a shrill semblance of singing, which brought about a second bout of dizziness. This was all so out of keeping with my everyday life that it was beginning to seem like a ridiculous farce, but a farce in which I might actually lose my life. Despite the fact that none of them were showing me any hostility or even particular attention, with the exception of that bite, I had the impression that I was to be the protagonist of an upcoming performance. On the other hand, this may have been my oversized ego, and in reality I was nothing more than a prelude to the main banquet. For some reason, all post-abduction scenarios I could imagine involved being eaten. Maybe those sausages had worn off and hunger was affecting my thought processes. In any case, I decided to try to start moving at least some parts of my body, starting with my big toes.

After several unsuccessful attempts, I finally got the feeling back in my left big toe, and then suddenly the singing grew rapidly louder, turned vibrato and stopped abruptly on a high note. I could hear them coming closer, at least a few dozen fast little legs hammering out a low patter, beating on the shale rock with sharp claws. I was not sure whether I should be relieved or afraid. Nevertheless, intuition told me that there was little cause to expect good news. In recent years I had come to the conclusion that if problems begin to arise one after another, it is advisable to lie low and wait, rather than start a journey in which you are statistically likely to encounter more. On the other hand, if all journeys were based on sound logic alone, there would be no adventure at all. Then again, I had no choice in my current predicament. I tore myself away from these idle, vapid thoughts and began to prepare myself for whatever trickery the meece might intend. I actually found myself rather curious to see how this was going to turn out.

Finally, a whole swarm of rather well-fed meece appeared in my field of vision, and once again I was amused by the absurd manner of my capture, and decided that I would be much more prudent the next time I felt the tug of spontaneous curiosity.

I counted eight meece carrying torches with red flames – another revelation, because I had been of the rather well-founded opinion that meece knew nothing of fire, let alone flames of such an unusual colour, and not light or dark blue, as we have on Stazr. As soon as they arrived, a strange heat swept over me, and it seemed to be emanating from the red torches, unbelievable though that may sound.

At least fifty of the well-fed meece with red eyes surrounded me in a silent semicircle, then lifted me up without a sound and carried me into the unknown. They placed small fragrant crystals in my nose; clearly wherever they were dragging me to was not going to be a pleasant olfactory experience. At any rate, these crystals had a wonderful scent, like a stormy evening sky. Judging by the intensity of the smell, they must have been collected just after a meteor shower, the most recent of which I believed had been a couple of weeks earlier.

I was still unable to move, but I felt my legs and arms begin to tingle slightly, which I took as a sign that the mysterious toxin was starting to wear off. So I blinked a few times and looked up at the ceiling as it flew past, illuminated by flashes of the strange torchlight, and tried to ignore the sharp little claws sunk painfully into my back and other sensitive parts.

After few more munites winding through endless dark tunnels, they brought me into a high pentagonal hall illuminated by a more familiar light source: giant medula floating freely at various heights, their long tentacles slowly undulating to the beat of an internal intermittent flicker, creating a mysterious pale blue atmosphere in the hall.

It appeared to be some sort of meeting hall because there were at least a mousand meece (ha ha!) and more kept crowding in and squashing the others even higher up the walls until the first arrivals were pushed all the way up to the ceiling. Nevertheless, a passage cleared for us. They stopped and leaned me up against some kind of pillar. There I was, a motionless lump, but what an amazing sight I saw.

Directly in front of me was a solid example of mause handicraft – a throne carved entirely with mause teeth, made of real Stazr stone and covered all over with numerous patterns. Not my idea of beauty at all. The seat was empty, so I took a good look around at the rest of the architecture. We appeared to be rather deep underground; the ceiling was a giant dome at least thirty feet high, ridged with millions of mause teeth and claws. For a moment I thought I could see strange patterns formed by these marks, and could have sworn that I was on the verge of deciphering their sinister meaning. There was nothing particularly interesting to look at apart from the throne, so I settled in to wait for the main character of this spectacle. He arrived before long.

Just a few munites later, the meece carried in a huge, fat, dun-coloured kit-kot. With a heavy waddle he somehow managed to climb into his royal armchair, squirmed a bit, and made himself comfortable by spilling his flabby sides over the sides of the throne. Then he stared at me with unblinking yellow eyes. I took an instant dislike to him. He had far too much arrogance for someone with such a shameless appearance.

“What be this? A Great One” – he uttered these words with distinct mockery – “captured?” The kit-kot drew out his words deliberately. “Like a mause in a mause trap?” The meece that had previously been listening in reverent silence burst into inane giggling. The kit-kot looked at them affectionately and then turned back to me.

The joke was fairly mediocre, as far as I was concerned, but I smiled politely.

“And on what authority have your esteemed subjects kidnapped me?” I asked.

At this point he burst into obscene, deep-bellied laughter that shook all his numerous folds of fur.

“Making me laugh, making me laugh, and no mistake!” he said, still panting with laughter.

Then he looked around his flock like a veteran preacher and shook his head. The meece copied his movement as if spellbound and thousands of little heads shook all around me like wooden bobbleheads.

“My subjects?” he said.

The wary meece flattened their ears as the kit-kot smacked his lips distastefully, took a sharp intake of breath and hissed obsequiously through his teeth.

“Here there be equ-rrrr-uality!” he shouted as loud as he could, spitting saliva. “Yes, they clearly knowing what be about to begin. We being free lesser ones and you and your maratadikas dying!”

All the meece cried frantically: “Dying! Dying!” and began to chant what must have been their leader’s name: “Tabby! Tabby! Tabby!” Do not ask why their revolutionary leader went by this name, I will tell you later. Tabby waited until the crowd had calmed down, took a breath and addressed his audience again with an equally fiery speech.

“The time having come to bring justice to each of the lesser ones under Stazr. No no no, we not being satisfied and we not be satisfied until justice be sweeping through the cities of the Great Ones like a catastrophic dust storm. I telling you friends that despite the troubles we facing today, I having a dream. A dream of equality for all!”

“Are you familiar with the work of the esteemed Martin Luther King?” I interrupted the kit-kot. “Your speech is rather reminiscent of a famous speech he once gave on Earth which became rather iconic.”

He blinked, clearly surprised that I dared interrupt him, and looked at me meaningfully for the first time.

“Yes,” Tabby said after a pause. “I be a big fan of maratadat King.” He reached behind his throne and fished out a greasy little book, a human relic he had managed to get his paws on somehow. “Genuine,” he said proudly.

Suddenly I understood why earth literature is kept such a closely guarded secret – so it does not fall into the clutches of the likes of him.

“Prove it,” I said, without noticing that I had slipped into the middle language, trying to buy a snippet of time. The strange poison seemed to be leaving the left side of my body and I waited for the same thing to happen on the right. Unfortunately my courageous venture did not have the intended effect.

“Don’t be worrying, Stazr-Mythtic, we killing you not be painful. We having an idea, but not torturing.”

“Uh,” I began, but the kit-kot majestically raised a heavy paw to silence me, and continued. He pointed to a mause standing proudly at the foot of the throne (and I could have terminated that whiskered scoundrel with my bare hands for luring me into this hotbed of underhanded maniacs) and said: “Yorkie eavesdropping on you and your shwine and informing us, then we tracking you down and catching you, and now we killing you. And the Great Ones be weeping.”

Once again everyone began dancing around in a frenzy and singing some vaguely familiar tune, but horribly off-key, and I realised that it was high time I escaped this farce. I only had one chance to try out my skills, and I decided to go for it.

I tore the whip from my belt with my right hand, lashed it out with all my might, and lassoed the kit-kot, who was taken completely by surprise. Luckily, the whip coiled right around his neck, and his impudent little eyes bulged out. I pulled him towards me at once before the meece could realise what was going on. I had just grabbed his body when the meece rushed at me – they had stopped singing at last – and all of a sudden at least three meece were hanging onto my trouser leg, two leapt down from the ceiling and clung to my hair, and another, as I discovered later, bit off a piece of my left earlobe.

“I’ll terminate him!” I roared, clutching Tabby by the neck and holding his fluffy body tightly against mine.“Stay back!” The wave of meece stopped, not knowing what to do. I squeezed the kit-kot harder. “Tell him to let me go,” I hissed. Something told me that this proponent for lesser species’s rights would not risk his life while his political career was on the rise. The kit-kot was silent. A cursory glance revealed that he was unconscious. Stazr had shown mercy on this lummox (the fact that I had overdone it with the noose did not occur to me at the time). The meece were agitated and surged towards me as one, but then suddenly Tabby woke up and yelled in a very different voice (which even I found rather authoritative – so there really is such thing as a natural leader, then): “Stopping! Everybody stopping! Stazr-Mythtic letting go! Letting gooo-oo-o-o!” I pulled his tail, out of pure spite, which occasionally rears its head at necessary moments. It felt good to be in charge at any rate.

I was so happy about my little victory that I hardly know how I managed to get to the exit of the cave with the heavy kit-kot under my arm. One’s own burden is not heavy, as we say on Stazr. Tabby’s behaviour changed significantly in his role as hostage; he became quite obedient and politely pointed me in the right direction, while the same treacherous meece that lured me here silently illuminated our way with smoking red torches.

“Here, the most radiant ratadat deigning to turn left, and now please right to the end of the corridor, and there, not far to the exit,” the kit-kot pontificated in an articulate baritone. “Will you, oh Stazr-elected one, be letting this little kit-kot go?” he whispered between each direction he gave, and then returned to the middle language and said: “Continuing straight ahead, the road be uneven here, please being careful.”

We walked this way for a good twenty munites, with the meece following us quietly at a respectful distance, until eventually a path appeared.

I ordered the meece to stay inside and, finally escaping the endless underground caverns,  breathed deeply.

“Letting me go, letting me go, good kind ratadat,” the kit-kot began to whine in a weepy voice. I could even see genuine tears in his cunning eyes. It seemed my new friend was frightened of getting a taste of his own medicine. I silently laid him down on the ground, looked at him sternly, and tightened the noose until he wheezed and gasped and tried to curl up around my legs.

I bent right down to his face and whispered slowly: “If I see you again, I’ll terminate you once and for all.” After all, I was very angry with him. Not only had he been after my lifeblood, but right at the beginning of my adventure. The nerve!

The kit-kot nodded vigorously and started crying again – tears of happiness, I suppose. I  removed the whip from his neck at once and ran as fast as I could without looking back towards the dusty volcano, just about visible in the distance. I doubted the meece would leave me alone. I did not suppose that I had intimidated Tabby enough to make him abandon his original intentions.

To my shame, after leaving Slap asleep at our little camp, I had forgotten all about him. I had been so distracted by the mausy mystery that I had lost all track of time. How long had I spent in the mause realm? Nevertheless, I was sure that Slap would be waiting for me, if for no other reason than the fact that I was the purpose of his journey.

The faint, usually pale Eorin had already gone down, and the aggressive Atir was sloping towards the horizon, conserving its bravado for the morrow, which told me that I had lain unconscious in the mause realm all day, at least.

I continued to run as fast as I could, my heels banging loudly on the hollow surface – which I now knew was due to the warren of mause tunnels underfoot – and raising clouds of shiny white dust behind me. It was literally five minutes until I looked back and saw at least a hundred meece scurrying behind me, desperately howling something at me, presumably bent on revenge for my capture of their party leader. I did not see the kit-kot among them, but I assumed he was participating somehow. He may have been a slow mover but he was probably the mastermind.

I ran with all my might. To my relief, the shimmering flakes began to fall all the harder (Tabby had mentioned the coming of a sparkle storm), and a continuous stream of Stazr rock particles obscured me from my pursuers. But there was no time to celebrate, because when I finally reached the volcano my heart sank. Just my luck! Slap was not there. Without a moment’s hesitation I circled the volcano, but my new friend was nowhere to be seen. I searched carefully for his tracks, but the flakes were falling so heavily that each spot was covered over just as soon as it was cleared. If there had been any tracks, there were none now.

And suddenly a terrible thought occurred to me: what if this was not the same volcano? I thought I knew the direction I had gone in when I followed the mause, but it was dark at the time. Now, in the light of day, I could not say for sure whether it was the same one. I had used this giant mound as a distant landmark, but now, looking around I saw at least two more huge volcanoes in the vicinity and could not be so sure that I had run to the right one.

Meanwhile, the wind was picking up, the reddish clouds were thickening and completely obscuring the sky and, as I stood there trying to decide which direction to take, the volcano beside me let out a long groan and spewed out even more dust, as if emptying long-accumulated reserves.

In the Worthless Lands began the Sparkle Storm.




Notes in the margins of the diary


A Stazr maiden is a legendary female, distinguished by the so-called special powers granted by Stazr. No one really knows what they are or what exactly their special capabilities are, however, we know that Some rank the Stazr Maidens as Great Ones, which, in the opinion of your humble researcher, is not only utterly untrue, but also harmful, as it creates baseless rumours that condone attempts to locate them. There are no reliable oral or written sources, except for bizarre baseless rumours from idle inhabitants, that Stazr maidens actually exist on the Arisam side.






About the author

My name is Dr. Anay Ayarovu and I dream of changing the way people read for fear that the time it takes to sit down and read a book is turning people away from reading altogether. I hope to make the joy of storytelling more accessible to the common day adult. view profile

Published on February 20, 2020

Published by

110000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Epic Fantasy

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