Starlight Aria

ˇEons ago the immortal uplifters of our world, the dragons, appeared. With their voices, they destroyed the demons of war and greed, and from the sands weaved the new children of the world.”

- First Draconic Exegesis

Chapter 1

Night stood fast above the silent wasteland. The rings of the planet carved a bright arc across the sky, illuminating the jagged planes of crystal that dotted the landscape. There was no sound but the whining icy wind as it cut its path through the familiar valleys of the Glitchwastes. Tiny fragments of pink dust crunched under Alyx’s feet. The quantic stabilizers in the bottom of her boots kept the reality altering properties of the crystals from causing her harm, but each step let loose a crackle as metastructures snapped and bled stored energy back into the universe. The wastes were thick with them here.

Alyx tread carefully. She had never explored this area of the wastes before. Her bright brown eyes shone underneath her helmet, taking in every detail of this long forgotten world. With the preparations she had made, the mine could be run autonomously for up to a week without her supervision. Her job was tedious, but she didn’t mind it. It was the times in between the work that she lived for. Her unauthorized excursions deeper into the Glitchwastes punctuated her otherwise monotonous schedule.

She was a long way from the mining outpost now, far enough away that it was entirely possible no other being had stepped foot here since the war. In that moment, it felt like the world belonged to her and her alone. Alyx’s footsteps echoed through the empty stone streets of the ancient city, and she shuddered at the thought of the extinct race of warring beings that used to walk these roads.

Entering a ruined courtyard, she ascended the stone steps that thousands must have used in the forgotten ages. As she reached the threshold of the building at the top of the stairs, she looked back to survey the path that brought here there. Far away, she could see the distant speck of the mining outpost, and the thin stretch of the rail line connecting it to the edge of the horizon.

It certainly was an eerie landscape. Crystalline planes jutted from the ground amidst ruined stone cityscapes, utterly silent and razed for hundreds of years. On top of that, thick sproutings of grass and plant life emerged from beneath the stonework. Nature was reclaiming her domain, slowly but surely. The harmonic matter deposits that turned the Glitchwastes into the danger that it was had only recently been tamed, crushed into dust and used in the production of neural meta-circuits. With these circuits, Formants were born.

In the sky, the long, ever-meandering forms of the dragons unfurled as bright threads of white reflecting the light of the planet’s rings. They drifted lazily through the upper atmosphere as they always did, riding on ethereal currents. She blinked, and a camera shutter clicked inside her eye, capturing an image of the skies. She turned and entered the collapsed building.

Alyx strode down the stone floor of the cavernous hall fearlessly, but with an air of caution. She had been through ruins like this too many times to not treat the site with a sense of reverence. In all the times she’d decided to explore this deep into the Glitchwastes, she sensed that the land itself was watching her, a presence buried deep in history. Perhaps an audience of ghosts could see her now, even though the bones of the Preliminate had been burnt to ash by dragonfire centuries ago. She imagined their dead eyes peering from behind every ruined archway, every piece of alien architecture, every ancient rubble pile. To think, this city once teemed with the Preliminate, the ancient race of demons whose warlike ways drove them into extinction, and from the corpse of their society, modern Etara arose. She spied a mostly undamaged pair of stone artworks occupying the left hand wall of the room.

“Begin log.” she said, analyzing the slab before her.

“Recording the contents of a series of stone murals of Preliminate origin on Askan Mountain. The site appears nearly undamaged by harmonic matter growth. This log will consist of photographs of the site, along with my interpretations of the works.” with this, she stepped back to get a full view of the two murals. A shutter inside her eye clicked, capturing the entire stone face.

“This mural appears to be a diptych depicting the events of the Last War.” She approached the stone, running her hand over the ancient grooves and indentations.

“The first segment is a scene depicting Preliminate society at the height of the conflict. Rival houses engaged in bloody conflict, each leading their armies into a cycle of destruction that consumed the entire world.” Her hand passed over the engraved forms of hundreds of identical warriors lorded over by their faction’s generals, each visage more vile and twisted than the last. She continued on.

“The second mural depicts the turning point of the war. Deadlocked, the leaders of the world looked skyward to the dragons. The dragons had long ago sworn to never meddle in the affairs of the surface world, but made an exception as they saw that the Preliminate were at the brink of wiping each other out entirely. In response to the Preliminate prayers for a way to end the Last War they delivered to them the ultimate weapon.” The top of the mural depicted the snaking, coiling forms of the dragons in the skies high above the world, contrasted by storm-dark skies. Below them, the huddled masses of Preliminates lay prostrate, lamenting. The center of the mural would presumably have been dominated by that weapon, as carved rays of light radiated from that point, but it was too heavily damaged to make out. 

“This of course, is my own conjecture.” Alyx noted. “The mural is too defaced by time to tell what the central subject of the second mural is. Continuing exploration of the site.”

She turned away from the murals and continued on into the room, but something caused her to pause, and she quickly analyzed her surroundings. There was no rubble on the floor ahead of her. Thinking quickly, she grabbed a small metal bolt tied to a piece of fabric from her pouch. Tossing it down the length of the room, it made a graceful parabola towards the ground, the fabric tail trailing in the air behind it. Before it could reach the ground, it veered upwards, and completed a sinusoidal arc towards the ceiling, thudding as it impacted the old stonework. Alyx saw the bolt impact, then leapt forward, flying up to the ruin’s ceiling, and righting herself as she landed. Gravity distortions were among the more minor challenges the wastes posed.

Walking upside-down along the ceiling of the room, she continued down a hallway, testing the area ahead for the outer edge of the gravity distortion. On the side of the hallway, she looked down at a massive broken stone mural depicting a vicious ancient warlord at his throne. Inside her eye, the camera shutter clicked again.

In a crevice near the floor now above her, a glint of light caught her eye. She took another bolt from her satchel and threw it straight up. It sailed upward, then slowed, then continued until it escaped the reversed gravity and impacted the floor. From this high up, she could not reach it, but if she could just jump high enough to right herself…

With a mighty leap, she jumped back towards the floor of the building, grabbing onto a stone handhold on the mural and using it to direct her momentum at the ground. Placing her legs in front of her, she impacted the ground forcefully, but gracefully. The stonework of the building shifted nigh imperceptibly. A crumbling noise echoed from deeper down the hall. Not a good sound.

Looking back at the crevice, she noticed that the twinkle of light she had seen earlier was a metal artifact. It was a necklace of some kind, wedged in a crack in the stones of the wall. A perfect specimen. She felt around the necklace, careful to remove it without damaging it. Who’s neck could this ruined amulet have graced so long ago? How much blood was spilled to create it? To protect it? Pondering these questions, Alyx slipped the amulet into her bag gingerly.

“Log update: recovered artifact. Appears to be jewelry of a crellate based material inset with unidentified gemstones. Retrieving for further analysis.”

From somewhere in the room behind her, the sound of shifting stonework grabbed her attention. It seemed like it was time for her to make her exit. Turning to the doorway, she analyzed the room. The gravity distortion affected the large majority of the space, preventing her from leaving the way she came safely. The ceiling appeared to be well supported and fairly intact compared to some other ruins in the area. The danger of it falling, she deduced, would be quite low. As she looked up at the ceiling, a small piece of stone flew upwards and struck it, followed by a trail of dust. She looked down. The floor of the room was splintered into pieces, being pulled upwards, and on the brink of collapse. Another crash. The floor broke upwards and massive pieces of stone sailed towards the ceiling.

Feeling her equilibrium shift as the piece of floor she was standing on collapsed, she quickly dashed forward, leaping from massive shard of stone to massive shard of stone, spiralling into the reversed gravity field, kicking off of stonework to right herself. As the largest section of floor impacted the roof, breaking through it and into the sky, she flew flailing through the hole it created, following the momentum out of the gravity distortion and through the open air, hundreds of feet above the ruined cityscape. As she fell back down, she stuck her legs out forward to slide along a sloped rooftop, then jumped off, rolling as she hit the ground. Exhausted, she collapsed from the effort.

Just as she caught her breath, she heard a rush of air from behind her. A large piece of masonry flew from the collapsing ruin behind her, crushing her left arm entirely. She raised her head up, then the rest of her body on her one intact arm. She paused, then flexed her shoulder, surveying the damage. No blood flowed from her wound, and only scraps of flesh and twisted intricate metal remained of her limb. 

She took a deep breath and uttered a horrified wail into the sky. Then another. And again, she tried out different inflections of screams of terror into the quiet night. After several howls of pain, she stopped, then sighed.

“Log update.” She paused. “Log update: severe physical damage sustained. Returning to base.” Then, to herself she muttered under her breath “Of course it had to happen the day before inspection.”

The necklace, still being held in her right hand, glinted capriciously in the soft light of the night. She put it gingerly onto her neck, then grabbed the ruined remains of her left arm and pulled it entirely out of her shoulder. Dragging its dead weight behind her, she began the long walk back home.