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Before the war of the Universe, before the Stromlings began a reign of destruction, before the Maelstrom were created, another war was fought, a war for freedom, for a right to live, for a way of life. One boy played a major role in this war, and his part is told here, here in The Sign of the Falsohk.
Chapter 1: Into the LightEdit
Pain. A low, throbbing pain. It seared through my legs, through my arms and up to my head, where it ended in a crushing blow. It seemed as though that was all there was, as if the entire universe had crashed down upon me, leaving one thing, one sensation...Pain. Past the pain that surrounded me I could feel myself slowly waking up, as if I was just becoming human, just finding the world. I tried to force my eyes open only to shut them again quickly as the bright lights burned into my pupils. Lying back, I strained my ears to pick up the dark, mumbling voice that cut through the long beeps and tones around me.
"Amazing, a man rebuilt. If he proves worth the price, a valuable resource he will become." Who was this man, Yoda? What did he mean by 'a man rebuilt?'
I moved my head to the side and attempted to open my eyes once more. I tried it slowly this time, learning from before, and began opening them bit by bit until I could make out the fine details of the metallic wall in front of me. Once my eyes were adjusted to the light, I turned my head toward the strange voice that played across the room. It came from a man standing in front of me, about ten feet away. His face looked surprisingly young for a voice so old and full of wisdom. As I turned my head, the man noticed the movement and started across the floor towards me. His walk was strange, irregular, and somehow seemed unnatural.
"Ah, you are awake," the man said, smiling, showing a mouth of perfect teeth.
I tried to speak, but when I opened my mouth, nothing came out!
"Oh," said the man, reaching out his hand toward my chest, "your voice is turned off." I watched his hand and for the first time I noticed a flexible computer panel embedded into my chest! As the man swiftly touched a button on the panel, I surveyed the rest of my body, stretched out across the table. My legs, once strong and muscular, were now metal, and the joints glinted under the large light above me. Wires twisted around them like weeds choking a tree, and eventually peirced into my skin just above my knee. I looked like the Terminator. I could feel a tingling sensation along my left arm, and when I looked I saw that it and my hand were also artificial. A glance at my right arm revealed the same. I was a man rebuilt, as the man had said.
"What happened to me?" I choked as my voice came to life.
"Don't you remember?" asked the man.
"Where am I?"
"You must be calm!" the man insisted.
"Where are my legs!" I gasped, unable to grasp the truth, what must have happened.
The man pushed a button on the table, and instantly a strange, artificial calm descended over me. I could not feel anything; it was as if my entire nerve system had gone dead.
"Tell me," he said, his voice sounding like an echo reflected through a canyon, "What is your name?"
"What happened?" I asked, ignoring his question.
"I'll tell you once I have learned your name," the man insisted. "Who are you?"
"I'm..." I lay back, trying to remember who I was. I closed my eyes, trying to remember my identity. Then I was struck with the awful truth. "I don't remember."
For some reason the man smiled faintly. "Are you sure?" he asked, leaning close.
"Yes," I said. "I can't find it."
"Doctor!" the man exclaimed. Another man, dressed in a white lab coat, stepped into the room. Again, his walk also seemed somehow artificial though I could see nothing physically wrong with him.
"Ah, he has awoken," the doctor exclaimed.
"Yes, but something seems to be wrong," said the man who stood over me. "He doesn't know who he is."
"No!" said the doctor apprehensively, his eyes darting from the man to me and back again. "I thought we did everything right."
"Call in the doctors who performed the brain copy procedure," the man standing over me announced. Instantly four men walked in, all in a line.
"Yes, sir?" The man in front asked.
"You said the brain copy was a success," the man said.
"Most of it was, sir."
"What couldn't you copy?"
"Most former memories and partial identity, sir."
"Ah, that explains it," the man said. He turned back to me. "It seems that you have no name."
I tried to get up, but the calm that was over me would not let me.
"Well, boy, we must think of a name for you," said the man.
"Who are you, and what made me this way?" I tried to scream out, but because of the strange calm over me it only came out in a monotone.
"I am Captain Ares Fenloe, Commander of the Falsohk aerial and ground military. You are aboard the Falsohk ship Romulus."
To the doctors he said, "Doctors, is there any way to know his former name? Is it possible to find?"
"I'm afraid not, sir," said the doctor. "If something is lost during a brain copy, there is no way to get it back."
"Very well," said the captain, "Though we must give him a new name. How do you like the sound of Troy Vulcan? I knew someone by that name once. A great fighter."
"Alright," I said, deciding the only way I could learn anything about the situation I was in would be to play along with this strange man. "Could you turn off that calming thing you have on?"
The captain reached over and pushed a button on the side of the table, and instantly I could feel its cold surface once again.
"Thank you," I said, sitting up. The pain had subsided quite a bit since I had woken up, but I still winced as I felt muscles in my back snapping into place, and my head still throbbed with every beat of my heart.
"How much of me did you replace?" I asked.
"Nearly everything," said the captain. "You were in bad shape."
"What happened?" I asked, strangely calm in spite of how my identity had suddenly changed over the past few hours.
"Come with me and I will tell you all about it," said the captain, beckoning with his hand. I dropped from the table onto the smooth surface of the deck and carefully made my way over to him. My new artificial legs seemed awkward and cumbersome, but soon I was standing next to the captain.
"I'll give you a bit of a tour of the Romulus while we travel to the lounge," the captain said as we entered the main hallway. We began walking down it, past open doorways leading to rooms the same as the one we had just vacated. Some of them were occupied, with half-mechanical bodies lying stretched out on tables.
"This is the Operation and Hospitalization Bay," said the captain, "where we ship our wounded soldiers from the three major rebel-controlled planets; Tanis, Forsythe, and Droninc. We have nearly regained Droninc, but as we all know, the last battle is the hardest."
A group of men walked past us, talking among themselves, and they all saluted the captain as we passed.
"Continue on your way, men," the captain said, smiling at them.
We continued down the hallway and then entered a huge hanger, easily 70 feet high. Smaller ships were landed here, and pilots and crewmen mingled together. As we passed, they all saluted the captain. While we were in the hanger, we watched the small ship Oedipus land, and I saw them bring in the wounded men from Droninc. They wheeled the men past us on stabilized stretchers through the doorway to the OH bay, as the men called it. More troops filed past us into the Oedipus, and soon the ship wheeled out to the air-lock where it took off out into the star-specked darkness.
As we stood, I asked the captain of the sign which I had been continually seeing since I had woke. It was painted on the doors and wings of the fighters, on the armor of the troops, and was also graven into the pin which Captain Fenloe wore on his vest.
"This is the Sign of the Falsohk," the captain explained, gesturing toward the door of the fighter before us. As best I can draw it, it looks like ¤.
After the Oedipus left, we continued on our way, through the hanger and into another doorway on the other side.
"We shall take the shuttle from here to the lounge," said the captain, and we boarded the open train that ran along a track in the floor. As we traveled past different bays and doors, the captain pointed things out to me.
"There is the Weaponry Factory, where different weapons are tested, stored, and made," he said as we passed a huge room full of machines and row upon row of guns, blasters, and other sorts of weapons.
The train continued along before gliding to a stop in front of a door marked 'Lounge.' We left the train and I followed the captain into the lounge.
My artificial joints felt strange, and they made me walk the same as the captain; irregular and unnatural. I suddenly understood why the Captain and that doctor both walked in that peculiar way; they both had artificial legs, too!
The lounge was large in size; booths, chairs, and potted plants lined the sides while a semi-circular bar counter projected out of one wall. A few men sat in different booths chatting, but the room was relatively empty. The captain sat down in one of the chairs and I sat down facing him.
"I want to know how you found me, who I was, where I came from," I said, looking straight at the captain.
"Patience," Fenloe said as a man came up and he ordered a drink. "Would you like a drink?"
"No, thank you," I said, annoyed at his question. "What do you know about me?" I leaned forward in my seat.
"I will tell," he said after taking a sip of the blueish colored liquid that he had ordered, and he began to tell the tale.
"We were attacked a village where a group of rebels had camped, hiding in houses and barns. Some of the villagers who were for our better government were helping us, but it was hard. We had no place to send the wounded men, and they were falling fast. Then the rebels began burning the houses, and most of the shelters started to collapsed. We retreated into a house, firing out of the windows and doorways. The family in the house bravely helped us, but one by one they dropped to the earth until there remained only a boy, about fifteen years old. I told the boy to stay down, that we would protect him, but suddenly..."
"The boy ran out the door, straight toward the ranks of rebels. He had a gun in his hands, and he quickly ducked into another house and began firing toward them. I feared for the boy greatly, as the house he was in had caught fire, but I knew that the only way I could save him was by eliminating the rebels that were firing at him. The boy kept picking them off, one by one, creating a distraction, and I quickly moved some of my troops across the street, where they had clear line of fire.
As my men were moving across the street, a group of four rebels charged the house where the boy was, firing toward it. One of them lobbed a grenade onto the roof of the house, but it didn't hit hard enough to explode. Only one of them made it to the house. He rushed in, we heard two rifle shots, and at that moment the roof of the house collapsed as the fire reached the unexploded grenade. Ashes and pieces of hardened clay flew everywhere, and smoke rose in a tower to the sky, where the hot Droninc wind carried it away. There was very little chance that the boy was still alive.
Determined to save the boy's life if we could, we quickly brought the number of rebels down to ten, and, once they noticed how little of them were left, they quickly made a hasty retreat. As soon as they had gone, I and four other men ran over to the house where we found the boy still alive, but with many injuries. We quickly brought the boy to our ship, the Romulus, resolute to do everything we could to save him. That boy is you, Troy. We want you to join us in stopping the rebels from accomplishing any other harm to our citizens. Will you join us?"
I thought carefully before I answered; partially because I was stunned by the story. "Are you completely certain my entire family was eliminated by the rebels?"
"Everyone in that house was gone," said the Captain. "I'm sorry."
My entire family had been defeated by these rebels, these people with no laws, who tore across our lands leaving nothing but destruction and heartache in their wake. I felt sick and my mouth turned dry. I looked up at Captain Fenloe's deeply scarred face. "Then I will join your forces," I said, "If only to avenge the horrible fate of my family. I loathe the rebels with every particle that is in me."
"Good man," said the captain, clipping me over the shoulder. "Welcome to the Falsohk."
Chapter 2: Climbing the LadderEdit
(Told mostly in journal entries by Troy)
Tol 5th, 09:36 PM
: Camped on the planet Droninc, close to the rebel outpost Rebothe
Today I first set foot on the planet that was once my home. We made a trek across the sweltering sands of Droninc as we journeyed to the largest rebel outpost, Rebothe, the provider of supplies to all of the other outposts spread across this anarchic desert. Apparently under this sand is a rich soil, which the farmers here use in planting their crops.
A pack of wild dogs have been following us since we started, but they have not given us any trouble. Within the next few days we shall attack Rebothe.
Tol 6th, 08:42 PM
- Droninc, camped 5 miles outside Rebothe
I met a soldier, Cyrill, and we talked a bit today. He was born on the ship Romulus and has lived there his whole life. He says he has been in many battles, yet he seems as unafraid as I am. He has seen many a man killed in battle, some his friends, some his enemies, but he says he has trained himself to be able to let things go. Tonight four spies are going to try and find the best way to get our army into Rebothe. Cyrill will be one of them. According to our reports, the walls are too hard for any man to climb quickly, and too thick to get through without any special machinery. However, not many people live in Rebothe; most of the rebels are scattered in different outposts. Once we get in, it should be easy to take it over. The main problem is getting in. There must be some way...
Tol 7th, 04:37 AM
- After briefing by our sergeant concerning the spies reports
According to the spies, the whole wall surrounding Rebothe is as tight as can be, no flaws anywhere. However, a spring nearby travels down a covered pipe and through the wall into the city. The pipe is big enough for a man, and is covered to prevent all the water evaporating while it travels to the city. Tonight we shall go and enter the pipe, waiting in there until daybreak when we shall attack while everyone is still asleep. It shall be my first actual battle against the rebels; yet I have no fear.
I tore through the rebel outpost, wielding the laser pike in my hand back and forth as men to the left and right of me rose and fell under its blade. I flew through a farm-yard toward a small pub, my synthetic joints moving back and forth, pushing me forward. I felt unconquerable, as if nothing could touch me. A flock of chickens scattered under my feet and my titanium armor glistened in the rising sun. I shattered the wooden door of the clay hut with one super-human kick and I rushed in, splinters of wood falling from my shoulders and helmet.
Four men sitting at a table eating spun around instantaneously; two of them grabbed their guns and began firing. Shots echoed through the house; bullets rained like hail. Two shots from my blaster soon eliminated the men with guns, and the other two ran for the stairs to the roof. I tore after them and began chasing them as they leaped from rooftop to rooftop. In my mind I imagined each of them as the man who had eradicated my family, the man who had fired those shots. One of the men stopped and turned to pull a small pistol from his holster, but before he could fire, I pushed him to his death on the street below.
Tol 12th, 10:48 AM
- On the Oedipus, heading back to the Romulus
Everything went according to plan; only five men were wounded in the fight for Rebothe, which is now ours. With their supplier gone, the other few outposts left on Droninc will soon shrivel like branches cut from a vine. Fighting in the desert thrilled me more than anything I have experienced all through my training; finally I can unleash the bottled-up anger I have in me toward these rebels who took my family from me. We will leave the planet Droninc alone for a while; the leaders of our forces have new plans...
Ber 2nd, 05:27 PM
- Aboard the Remus
Today I attended my first general meeting of the Falsohk; it was held in Bay 3 of the second Falsohk ship, the Remus. At the meeting I was promoted to sergeant; a great honor for one has been on the force for as little time as I have. Of course, with a greater rank comes greater responsibility. I now have my own men to bring home. Together, the Falsohk will eliminate every rebel from our empire; we cannot do it alone. We shall be traveling to the planet Forsythe to attack an encampment of rebels there; I'm not sure if this is part of the forces new plans or not....
Cal 11th, 08:36 AM Today I was promoted in rank once again. I try not to become to proud of my status, for I know that the only way to win is to work alongside your men, not ahead of them. We have almost driven the the rebels from the planet Droninc, although as their number dimineshes, it comes harder to find them. At this moment men are down there building more farms and greenhouses; places to grow our food. As our conquest grows, it is becoming increasingly hard to find farmers willing to cooperate with us. I do not know why the people are becoming more and more hostile towards us; don't they know we are trying to help them?
Yas 2nd , 04:57 PM Lately I have been hearing of a significant meeting between the captains of our forces and our Commander in Chief, Bolman Torage. I do not know much, but expect something large to take place. I'm certain that this meeting will be about the secrets of our 'New plans'. Captain Fenloe, the leader of our forces and my mentor, tells me that generals will be expected there as well, so I will be able to attend. The meeting will be held in the Remus' main theater on the 17th of Yas, in fifteen days.
Chapter 3: Foray of the EnemyEdit
I adjusted my ceremonial blue cape with yellow border and headed down the main hallway of the Remus toward the main theater. I had been staying in a guest suite there for the last few day as we got ready for the meeting. That morning Commander Torage had arrived from his palace via his private ship, the Sardemin, with much commemoration and tribute. Captain Fenloe had given a lengthly speech about the legendary status of Commander Torage, and the Commander had carefully engraved his name into the wings of two new Sycronim fighters, christening them for the battle of the skies.
As I entered the door of the theater, two guards stepped in front of me. “Name please,” one of them asked. “Troy Vulcan, General Romulus, Ground Forces,” I answered calmly. As I did so, I carefully traced the insignia on my chest armor the way the captain had shown me. The guard studied my hand closely as I did so, and I watched his eyes follow my finger around and across the indentation of my insignia. “You may enter,” the guard said as I finished, and I walked past them into the spacious room.
An usher showed me to my seat on one side of a long balcony overlooking a platform where the Commander and his six main escorts and accompanists sat. A few minutes later, the Falsohk military anthem began, and we all rose to repeat:
For the good of the people, For the good of this great empire, I pledge my life; To bring peace and prosperity To the land, The people, And the nation.
Once it was over, the Commander rose to speak.
“Men and women of the Falsohk, as you know we have successfully taken the formerly rebel planet Droninc, and I say we must congratulate ourselves heartily. When we started on our conquest, we were simply a small government with a small fleet and only one ship; now we have the largest fleet of any army in our history. We have made something we can be proud of." "Unfortunately, with large armies comes large problems, and one of the major ones is feeding all those men. As we all know, the planet Tanis has some of the most fertile soil known to us, and it is the agricultural center of the known world. Unfortunately, it is also completely controlled by the rebels. My reports tell me that without that vital planet our men will begin to run out of food within the next year. As we all know from experience, it is impossible to capture a planet of that size and fortification in a year the way we have been trying. It is time for a new strategy! A new plan, a way for us to accomplish all that we have ever dreamed and hoped for! If we are going to take Tanis, we must concentrate our men there, swiftly taking out outpost after outpost until we have them under our control. I cannot say much more of the plan here for fear that it could leak to the rebels; Instead, I shall inform each of you via a private messenger as we work out the details. Remember, our destiny lies in our troops!” The Commander saluted us, and we rose and saluted back, one hand tracing the insignia on our armor. Suddenly a shot rang out, echoing back again and again in the acoustics of the auditorium. The Commander clutched his leg and fell stiff to the floor as his six accompanists jumped to his side.
I quickly turned, but it was impossible to tell where the shot had been fired from. Some of the other men around me had quickly dropped to the floor as soon as they had heard the first shot, fearing that they might be hit by a stray bullet. “Everybody please remain calm,” a scared voice repeated over the sound system. People were pushing and shoving close to the stage, and I craned my neck, trying to see what was going on. Four medics rushed in, wheeling a stretcher between them. As the guards left the entrance to escort them up to the stage, a figure darted around them and through the open, unguarded doors. “No!” I cried, but no one heard me over the general commotion. I fought my way through the crowd toward the door and I reached it a few minutes later. Five other men were there as well, including Captain Fenloe. "You go down there, there, there," he told the other troops, pointing down different hallways. "You come with me to the hanger," he said to me, "Move out!" I ran to the hallway leading to the hanger and peered down it. The corridor was empty. I ran along it toward the hanger, the place most likely for the assultant to head. The captain followed behind me. As I passed a doorway, I heard a noise behind it, like the scrape of metal on metal. I turned toward the sound and the Captain looked over as well. "Come out now," the Captain barked, "or this gun gets fired." I could see the figure of someone hiding behind the door, and suddenly he leaped out and fired toward the Captain! The bullet missed him by inches, and the Captain quickly returned the fire. As I watched, the man slumped over and fell through the doorway, the gun in his hands clattering to the ground. The Captain stood a moment, looking at him, then he walked over and turned the figure with his foot. It was Cyrill, wearing a general's costume.
I looked down at his face, black hair spiking out from under his helmet; a fresh scar running down his cheek. "He's your man!" The captain, said, looking over at me suspiciously. "Yes," I said, looking up and over at him, "he is." "You know why he would do such a foolish thing; attempt to assassinate Commander Boleman? Did he say anything to you?" "No, he never told me anything. I haven't talked to him for a while." "You sure about that?" "Of course; I wouldn't lie to you." "I'll bet," the Captain said sarcastically under his breath. "Oh well, I'll call in to say we caught the idiot who thought he could kill the Commander," said Fenloe, a smirk on his face. I looked back down at Cyrill's pale, motionless face, then turned and walked swiftly down the hall to my room.
I was stunned. How could this person, my own soldier, suddenly do such a thing as this to his own force, the men he worked for and beside? What had come over him to attack the Falsohk Commander, to become an assassin for the rebels? I also wondered if any of my other men were not really mine and were working for the rebels, the very filth of the ground. I turned a corner and walked into my suite, and as I stepped in, I saw a piece of paper lying on the floor. Thinking it was just a bit of trash, I picked it up, intending to throw it away. Then I noticed writing on the other side, and I began to read it. 'General Troy,' it said,
I know how you must think of me now, and I know I cannot console you in any words about what I have done. However, I will try to explain how this came about. Do you remember the last time we were on Droninc, when we plundered that small village? I found there a small journal, kept by a child about ten or eleven I would say, and in it I found the truth about the people on these small planets, the truth that has been kept back in our minds, the truth we try to hide from ourselves. How it is not the rebels who sweep across the land killing, but us. The child's journal was filled with accounts of how her family fled from us, hiding in different locations, and in there I read of the terror felt by the people, not knowing when we would strike, not knowing if they would live through the next day. I read of how their farm was looted and burnt to the ground when her father refused to sell supplies to our men. In that young girl's journal I found the truth, Troy, and I knew I had to make right what I had done to her and her family. I hope I can convince you to make that choice, too. I left the journal in my bunk, under the mattress, and I want you to take it and read it, as I have no use for it anymore. Do what your conscience tells you to, Troy, Signed, Cyrill Perseus : Private, Rebel Armed Force
I quickly tucked the note into my pocket and went back out again, heading towards the soldier's bunkhouses, row upon row, with thousands of bunks. I knew I had to get there quickly because the guards aboard the ship would soon be there to collect anything belonging to Cyrill. Down one of the halls I saw a sergeant standing alone, and I quickly approached him. "Do you know where Private Perseus' bunk is?" I asked. "House 14, Bunk 286," he said, pointing ahead of him. I quickly walked in, past the bunks, scanning for one with the number 286 on it. A few men were lounging and playing cards together, and they looked at me quizzically as I passed. Finally I found it; back at the end of the room. I slid my hand under the mattress and it bumped into something hard and worn. I pulled it out and quickly scanned the front. It was worn and the edges were tattered. Flipping open the cover of the old book, I quickly scanned it, glancing quickly over the childish scrawl detailing a girl's last birthday party. Skipping to the back, I began reading the last entry. Cal 9, This morning Father was able to find five pieces of bread in the burned-out bakery, so we will not be hungry tonight. We aren't able to have a garden to grow food, because every time the Falsohk army comes and destroys everything. My mother fears for my younger brother; his spider bite has grown much worse. He fell into a coma this morning; he looks dead. Every hour my mother dribbles some of the medicine down his throat. I keep thinking about how things used to be; I wonder if my friend Sauneus back at our last home is still there; I haven't seen him for six-. At this point the girl's pen seemed to have slipped in haste and the corner had a large footprint across it, outlined in red. It wasn't too hard to figure out what had happened to the girl. I felt a unbearable knot tighten in my chest, and my now robotic eyes ached to cry. Suddenly I felt someone tap me on the shoulder.
I shoved the journal up underneath my ceremonial breastplate and whirled to face this person who dared disturb me at a time like this. It was Captain Fenloe. "What are you doing here?" he asked, "And still in your ceremonial outfit?" "Why are you here?" I questioned back, staring fiercely at his face. "I came to check over Perseus' bunk, to see if I could find something relating to the incident earlier." "Check all you like," I said, gulping and pushing past him back towards the door. Suddenly Captain Fenloe snatched me by the arm and pulled me back around to face him. "Are you sure you didn't know that he was going to try to assassinate Commander Torage?" "I already told you my answer to that question," I said angrily, feeling about ready to punch the Captain full in the face. "How is the Commander at the moment?" "He's in the OH bay; his leg didn't look too good. He could lose it, a doctor said, but he'll live." I nodded and walked quickly out of the bunkhouse, glad to have avoided the question of whether I had found something at Perseus' bunk. The hard, worn cover of the diary dug into my chest, thumping against the metal control plate as I walked down the hall to my room. As I neared the doorway I could feel it slipping, and I rushed into my room, turning and closing the door quickly as it fell out from beneath my vest onto the floor. I heard a low beeping noise behind me, coming closer, and as I felt something jab my shoulder I stuffed the book under my mattress, as far back as I could. As I pulled my arm back out and dropped to the floor the room turned a hazy cream colour, then black.
Chapter 4: Just Beyond the LightEdit
'Night was cold. Day was hot. Never an in-between, never a 'cool' or a 'warm'. Just hot or cold. The sand beneath my feet felt cold. That meant it was night. Simple. Other things weren't so simple. Goverments were one of them. I and my family were running from a goverment. I didn't know much about it, the goverment, only that some people were fighting it, and some were running. We were running. One of our neighbours had been killed by the Goverment. He had gone off to fight them and he hadn't come back with the rest of the men in our village. Some of the older boys at my school wanted to go fight too, including my friend Suaneus. He wanted to go get a medal, the kind the Goverment's generals wear, all gold and shiny, and bring it back for me. I told him he couldn't, that he probably wouldn't come back at all, that he would just get killed, and I made him promise he wouldn't do it. If I hadn't, he probably would have gone off and never come back, like our neighbour. He would be dead. I wonder how it feels to be dead; maybe you're still there, but no-one can see you. Everybody cries and misses you, but you're still there, right beside them.'
"Ouch!" I said aloud as my toe hit a rock. I winced. I had to remember to pay more attention to what was going on around me. My father, who was up ahead of me and my mother, was carrying my little brother, piggy-back. He looked tired, and as I looked over at my mother, she looked tired as well. I stopped and rubbed the toe of my sandal where I had hit the rock. My mother stopped beside me and smiled wearily, her eyes, though shadowed by a hood around her head and surrounded by dark circles, twinkling surprisingly bright. I smiled back and then turned to follow my father up the dune. The moon shone down upon us four, outlining our footprints in the sand. My father turned around and nodded. "There's a large rock here, an overhang, we can rest," were the words I heard, and I stumbled as fast as I could up to where he was standing. Somewhere to rest for the night.
The small, weak fire burned low , barely casting a glow on the sand. I stared at them, deep into them, and I edged a little closer to the warmth. The small flames flickered, and they reminded me of the last time I ever saw my home; Burning, crashing to the ground. I had been asleep when the thing started, when the Goverment raided our barn and then burnt it and our house to the ground. I had woken up to soldiers laughing, the smell of smoke, and my father's firm hands shaking my shoulders. The Goverment had arrived that morning, marching through our village, knocking on doors and taking food and money. They hadn't bothered the school, so the first time I saw them they were standing outside our front door, asking my father to sell them food. He said that he would never sell anything to help the Goverment as long as he lived. One of the men got really mad and started yelling in my father's face about how the Goverment was helping to protect the people and that people like my father were just 'ungrateful rebel swine who didn't deserve to live'. Then they had gone on to the next house, the empty one that had belonged to my neighbour, and started throwing stuff out the doors and windows. None of us ate very well that night. Now I wish I had.
"Come on, sweetie," my father said, pulling me out of my memories. "You'd better get to bed now." I turned around and saw that my mother and father had already spread out our blankets under the overhang of the rock. My little brother, Simeus, was already curled up on one, right up next to the rock, where it was warmer. I walked over and lay down beside him, pulling the blanket up over us both. I looked back over at the fire, and as my father fed it a bundle of dry grass that he had pulled up around our camp, I thought I saw something move, just beyond the light. I thought it was just my imagination. It wasn't.
Dark. So dark, darkness all around. I reached out with my hand and hit something cool and prickly. I wasn't sure what it was, but it had a warm friendly fragnence to it, and it felt sturdy. I held my other hand up, wondering if I could see it. Suddenly it hit me in the head. I couldn't even see it under my nose! As I let it fall back down to my side, I saw a light, just about ten feet away. The warm, comforting glow it cast was small, but I felt drawn to it, as if it was my only refuge in the sea of black. I took a cautious step toward it, hoping I wouldn't trip over anything. Than another step, and another. Strangely, no matter how many steps I took, I always seemed to be just outside the glow of the light. I began walking faster, becoming desperate. Soon I was running as fast as I could, prickly things scratching my face and hands, clutching at me, trying to sever me from the light I hoped to reach. Suddenly, I tripped over a large, round object and fell flat on my face on the hard ground. I slowly looked up, expecting the light to be far away. Instead, I was just outside the glow that surrounded it. I slowly crept closer, hungry for the light, hoping I could sneak up on it. At that moment, I felt something small drop onto my back and scurry up it toward my neck. I screamed.
I sat up, blinking, covered in cold sweat, and looked around. My mother and father beside me were still asleep; the fire had died. The only light came from the moon, small in the sky and offering only a small glow. My little brother on the other side of me rolled over in his sleep, and I thought I saw something small move on his back. I looked down at the blanket covering us both and screamed again. It was covered in small, dollar-sized spiders.
Spiderlingulis Cordulis. Named after the first man to discover them, Varlis Stromer. It is rumoured that he later died after one bit him on the neck. That is where they always try to bite; that is where their bite is fatal. Even though a new drug has been found, everyone knows that their bite is almost always fatal to small children, no matter where they are bitten. To older children and adults it is only fatal when they are bitten on the back of the neck. The small, sand spiders are known locally as 'Spiderlings.'
All of this information flew through my head as I felt my father sit up next to me. "What's wrong, Jylia?" he asked. I could only point toward my brother as a Spiderling scurried over his chest. My father lept up. "Everyone, get up!" he screamed as he scooped up Simeus, throwing away the blanket and trying to brush the small but deadly Spiderlings off his arms. My mother, who had just woken up, started to grab up all the blankets and things lying on the ground. "Leave everything," my father said as the Spiderlings hissed and clicked around him. "We don't want to take any with us. We just have to get away from here." My mother dropped the bundle she was getting together and grabbed my arm, pulling me up the hill away from the nest of Spiderlings. As she did, I reached down and grabbed my diary off the ground, shaking a Spiderling off into the sand as it scrambled over the cover.
As we reached the top of the sandy dune, my father quickly set Simeus down on the ground and started pulling his shirt off him. Simeus was crying and screaming, and my mother knelt down next to him, trying to comfort him. "Jylia, light that lantern over there," my father said, nodding to the lantern lying on the sand beside him and handing me his sparker. I grabbed up the lantern and pushed the two rods on the sparker together, creating a flash of light that illuminated the scene and set the wick of the lantern on fire. I closed the access of the lantern and held it up over my father and Simeus. My father had already stripped Simeus and checked over his clothes to make sure that there wasn't any Spiderlings hiding inside them. "Here you go, father," I said, holding out the lantern toward him. "That's fine, Jylia," he said, "Just hold it up a bit more." I held the lantern up as he carefully check over my brother's back for bites. "I don't think he was actually bit anywhere," said my father, "which is a miracle I can't believe." "What's that, there?" I asked, holding the lantern over by Simeus's foot. Two small pinpricks lay close together on his ankle. My father breathed out, slowly. "That's a bite."