The Fate of Kehema – A Mobile Photography Short Story
The Fate of Kehema was never a full story. It was an aside, a backstory to something larger. In 2013 and 2014 I ran a theme called Sci Fi August, in which I attempted to create one creative work a day of a science fiction nature. I asked others to participate. I didn’t succeed at the workload of a daily piece of both art (or mobile photography/artistry) and also writing for the story that I had in mind. It took me two years, two Sci Fi Augusts. That story, entitled Fire and Night is here. This story is part of that same universe I have created, but is a substory. Some of its details are briefly mentioned in passing in Fire and Night, but it was left as a mystery, mere context. In that story, a particular character is released from prison. This being mentions an old friend, Kehema, and admits ignorance of what happened to her after imprisonment. This is that story. It takes place approximately 4000 years in the past of Fire and Night. (Edit: There is a third part to this story, entitled Cantessa’s Gift. The fourth part is now written, entitles The Fifth Age, recounting the history of the Moltect 4000 years after Kehema arrived.
During this, my third Sci Fi August, I have succeeded in producing one mobile photo or artistic work, as well as a short piece of text for each image. This story was at the beginning of August quite vague. I had more detail about the story of this world that takes place 4000 years in the future (as yet unwritten), with this as back story only. I knew the rough beginning and parts of a hazy ending, but nothing of the middle. So I had some basic material to work with when August arrived. On about August 8th I had a clearer view of all remaining days, and jotted down a rough working title for each day. I sort of stuck to it, but some things changed here and there. I moved this day’s image, skipped that one because it was way too complicated to produce image-wise, or in the unfolding of the story something new presented itself. As the days wound down, I was writing approximately one to two days in advance of the post date for that particular image. This helped me, gave me a couple days to work on some of the harder images, such as the dragon and the exodus image.
This is, as a result, a complete story in itself (excepting some contextual aspects at the beginning which Fire and Night can explain). And I created it in the span 31 days! Needless to say, I am thrilled with the results. I feel I am getting better at this story telling thing using both mobile images and the written word. I do hope you enjoy it. If you do, share it with others. I think it is worth a short 20 minutes.
I have mainly stuck to a square format, though some landscape scenes required more. I have also stuck to a theme of circles. There are numerous circles here and there in the images, though not in all of them of course. The story begins and ends with them. I also attempted to vary between color and monochrome. Being a story about a desert, I wanted to avoid every single image being orange and red and yellow. The apps used were varied. I used over a dosen different Android apps, and four iOS apps. They are as follows, though not in any order: (Android) Shift; Autodesk Pixlr; Photo Editor; PS Touch; Snapseed; HandyPhoto; Imagica+; VSCOcam; DecoSketch; Meld; Infinite Design; Repix; Photo Viva; (iOS) Matter; Alien Sky; Reflect; FX Lens.
The Fate of Kehema
Lord Velor: I have turned out of this misery and into the light again. Yet I am exiled from my home, and my own race approaches to imprison me, for fear of swaying others to leave their rebellious ranks .
Kehema: What will become of me?
Lord Velor: You they will kill. For there are few prisons that can hold the Velor, and none of them can mortals survive. But to lesson your fear, I have a task for you. It will be a grave challenge, and there will be much, much hardship, especially to your heart, to accomplish it. Yet it will be more than worthy of your redemption in the eyes of the heavenly tribunals.
Kehema: What is to be done?
Lord Velor: The Velor will undoubtedly shackle me in the heart of our rebellious territory. I have gained word from a loyal Lord that they intend to detonate the star of Elaph, a system where no living being dwells.
Though Elaph has no life, there is life in the Moltec system,where lives a race of humanoids like yourself, some twelve light cycles from Elaph. It is a cosmic law that all inhabited worlds shall pursue their destiny, whether marred or unscathed by evil. The shock of the supernova will not kill them utterly, yet I fear it will in the end ruin the planet beyond repair and will be a slow death not worth living. The cosmic law of universe destiny is a mysterious one, for it is not enforced, and it seems that the survival of some worlds hangs on pure chance. Yet I would not leave it to chance, though slim it may be.
We cannot prevent the Velor from imprisoning me, from destroying Elaph, from laying waste to the Moltec. You must hide yourself until their tragic days of fire are over. Then you are to live with the Moltec unto the end of your days.
Kehema: This is too much to ask, and it would be easier to lay down and die! How can I possibly do this?
Lord Velor: I do not fully know how, but you must. And how can you lay down and die? If you have truly followed me out of darkness, just as you followed me into it, then you must find a love for them in their utter helplessness, even without as yet knowing them. All life possesses the puissant qualities of endearment. You will nurture a heart for them in time, though they will at first appear alien to you.
Kehema looked at the ship. The master ship that had forever enslaved her. Many a war was fought in that vessel. Many a life ended. Her own life ended. The nanoids coursed through her veins, as an invasion, so that she could interface with the craft.
The Lord Velor instructed her as she entered, “I have configured the ship to reformulate your interface DNA. Once complete, your coding will be compatible with the Moltec; you will breath their air, and require their food.
“There is no time to complete the process here, as it is long and arduous, and the rebel Lords are on their way. You are to head to Shai-lo system, and land on Shai-lo 3, an experimental world. They will not look for you or the ship there.
“Do not exit the ship! The planet will attempt to kill you. There you must initiate the transformation. You will be placed in stasis for a number of light cycles, and slowly, for sake of low energy signature, you will be transformed. Remade.
“When you awaken, set course for Moltec. The ship, if my vision does not fail me, should be sent back to Shai-lo. I perceive it still has work left to do, and there, hidden it shall remain for several thousand years. It cannot remain with you. From that time, you will be on your own. Take no weapon with you. This, your last and greatest mission, is one of peace.”
Kehema turned at the entryway, paused to stare at her Velor master, now setting her free. She had forgotten what freedom was, yet this sort of freedom had a high cost, and felt bitterly forced. Still, she saw no other way, and felt it was the wisest course. If ever there was a chance to live as sentients lived, this was it. And the wisdom of age perceived that it seemed enough to make amends for her past.
She raised her hand in silent farewell, and signaled with her mind for the doors to close.
Kehema would leave the ruins of Besh just days before the Velor would arrive. The location was a last symbolic statement of their former leader, before being imprisoned by his fellows. The ruins were a monument older than even Velor memory, and so, even for them, these had been regarded with some sort of mystery, a rare and untenable emotion in such ancient creatures. Being sacred, it was forbidden to make war on the grounds. Thus the Lord of the Velor forced them into embarrassment in arresting him; some saw this as an evil deed and became secretly divided in loyalty. He greeted his captors with peace on arrival.
From there he was taken to Elaph. The Velor, fearing he would put a stop to the rebellion against the high council of equilibrium he himself had started, imprisoned him. He said nothing of Kehema, and being of strong mind they dared not enter it with force. Yet they wondered and searched long.
His prison was horrible; the Velor detonated a star, and he being placed on an island in a methane lake on world twenty three, he saw the wave of burning fire rush over the world. It did not destroy the planet like the inner worlds. Being Velor, one of the old races as humanoids called them, he was unscathed. Yet none could reach him, for his world perpetually burned and the system fumed hot with deadly radiation. He was isolated.
The system became a byword called simply The Keep, which none dared to go to for 4000 years. But the tale has been told elsewhere of how he would escape, in time.
For now, he entered upon the long waiting.
The Days of Fire. That was what they would be called in the ages to come. The days were not counted then, for those that survived lived underground.
Kehema would eventually instruct survivors of the bright and fading star in the sky, that it was 12 cycles away, and that it was the cause of their destruction. As it slowly dimmed, it became increasingly a shimmer of hope in their night sky.
Few survived the days of fire. Most of those who did were underground at the time the wave of heat hit the planet. The biosphere crumbled, and all but the most desert adapted creatures perished. Then the war began. It was ironically called the days of kindness, for there was none to be found anywhere. Everyone fought against everyone, and many fought even themselves. Cities fell, oceans became bywords, legends, and the stuff of old sayings. Water became the only currency. And there was nought left save scavengers.
It was in those days, a violent time, that Kehema arrived.
She was uncertain. The weapon shook in her hand. She had been at war for so long. But she put it down. She put the ion pistol down in the cabin.
She walked down the dunes a few steps and looked out over this bleak world. She turned and grabbed her gear, her water, and closed the door.
Kehema turned her back to the ship, closed her eyes, and trembling — because with the Velor and their technology there had always been power and certainty — she gave the command. The master ship sped off into the upper atmosphere, and was gone. She stood and counted to three, the amount of time it would take for the ship to get out of range of her mind and her will. Then she opened her eyes.
This was a planet of giants. The Moltec had lived simultaneously with the great behemoths of their world, though that age evaporated in days. Kehema felt the real weight of the loss. She wasn’t reading one mind in this case, but feeling the collective sorrow of those left behind. Was there no hope in this people?
Over the dune she saw the ancient mass of bones, but in the fading light of dusk they whispered no secrets of the past, no rumors of the future. Only sand grinding upon sand could be heard.
Kehema was a unique being. The Velor, after her people’s enslavement, modified select individuals’ coding, splicing it with radically different off-world genetic patterns that would normally be incompatible were it not for interface DNA. Interface DNA was a forbidden art, illegal, as it locked the fates of different worlds together in a single arbitrary stroke, rather than that fate should be meted out justly by a million decisions of a million souls over a million years.
Kehema was further modified in that the nanoids pulsing through her body were not merely robots in the blood. They were an integral part of her every system. She was not wholly organic. A true cyborg at the molecular level.
She could not become sick by any foreign and purely biological agent; she could survive the harshest environment; she could interact with computing systems via touch, if these systems had proper interface. This last component was what allowed for such deep connection between her and her master ship (now gone), and what allowed the notorious Velor fighter ships of old to swim seamlessly through space like a school of fish.
Disconnected from her ship, she would die of old age, though much extended beyond the life of the typical mortal of the earthly realms.
In the desolate reaches of the Dunes of Moltec, she began for the first time to think over her own death. It quickened her sense of purpose and duty.
After a day’s hike over the hills, for it was by design that none should see her ship should the Velor send scouts into the region, Kehema arrived at the last outpost of the Moltec. In no way was it an organized outpost. It was an outpost of clinging survival. This was the ruin of Larcanth, the last great city, now the home of the six warring tribes. They were scavengers, and they roamed the immense tracts of the city for insect, rodent and forgotten technology.
None. None! had ever wandered out of the pit, the desert-earth that all who drank water called hell. The lone figure was spotted on the horizon by watchers as she approached the borders of the city outskirts. They mistook her at first for an evil mirage. The tribe of Estati would be her first contact.
It was not a friendly meeting, for the tribes, last of their race and desperate, fearful of all that moved, saw that she carried water.
The banner stood high on two poles above the king’s makeshift throne. The skeleton of a slithering dragon rose up on a red star in yellow sky. There, beneath the banner sat a strong and harsh looking Moltec man.
Kehema was alien, it was clear, but in form, color and in other subtle ways very much like them. They did not know it but she was in part a mesh of their own peoples. All of this frightened the already fearful Estati, so much so that they refused to kill her despite their laws of trespass. Their king, Eteni, admired her composure and her fearless eye. She was a warrior like himself. He debated heatedly with his advisors as to whether she was some race from a distant land or whether she was from off world. They still carried vague legends of a powerful star people who visited them long ago.
In either case, should they kill her, they might suffer the wrath of a people who could cross the deserts. They further saw that, despite the desert, she still had quite a substantial ration of water. The lure of the raid grasped at their thirsty tongues.
She was brought before the king, bruised and bloody from their petty ambush.
When asked, “Who are you?” she finally spoke, and in their language, for she had learned its nuances during her time of hiding and transformation.
“Kehema I am called. I offer you both peace and survival, and, should my designs be heeded, even prosperity.”
A murmur rose in the crowd. The word prosperity had by then become an ironic swear word for idealistic dreamers. Yet Eteni could not help but perceive she had spoken in all honesty.
“Peace?” Eteni blurted, in his sonorous voice. The people went silent. “And yet you are a warrior. Perhaps even a soldier! Are you not?”
“I was a soldier, yes. But there is no longer time for war. You and all others will die by thirst and your own swords.”
The King sat upp. “Is this a threat? Or are you simply come to tell us what we already know?” He laughed. “Look around you. We are fighting for control of insect hives!” The crowd jeered.
She ignored his question. “I know how to acquire water on this world. But I will not give it to you alone. I will give it to anyone who wishes it.” A greater murmur rose up in the people, and Eteni heard its threatening sound.
This was enough for him. He had been in long and bitter warfare with the other tribes, and the offer to give them water, or to undermine his seat, was too much to hear. Yet he would not kill her. “Well now! How will you do that if you are stuck away in a tower? Guards. Take her to Galan Spire!”
Days and nights went by. She counted 47, but the hours were different here. Her wounds healed faster than the king expected, to his astonishment. From her prison window she could see far out over the desert. Far off in the distance, to the west, she could see on the clearer days, beyond the haze of dust, a single mountain covered in smoke amidst the desert wastes. To the north she saw the ruin of Larcanth in full. This was a crippled world hanging on the edge of the precipice of oblivion. It was no wonder this people had no hope.
To the east and south Kehema could not see. The eastern end of her cell was a rusted metal wall, the southern, an entry room for guards to bring rations and behind this the stairwell leading down to the rubble and the guard station below.
In the entry room outside her cell was a chair and table. It was during these long days that Eteni would come and sit to talk casually with his prisoner. He began with her origins, went over to questioning her battles, and how she came to the city and through the desert. To these questions she chose to leave much of it vague and unanswered, though not enough that it might frustrate her interrogator.
The king grew fond of Kehema, for she had a vast store of knowledge on as many subjects as there were grains of sand. He did not fully understand that she was not just an off-worlder, but one of the highest of the elite slaves of the Velor, educated in law and lore, space navigation, and planetary history. Survival, combat, languages, and diplomacy. She spoke eloquently, and behind her words there was both a charm and a deep sorrow that was nearly 750 years old. She had seen much in the universe. She had seen more endings of things than beginnings.
Increasingly he neglected his duties to come up for a talk. He was becoming dependant on her knowledge. He did not perceive that she was educating him. The weight of her words carried authority, and had increasing sway on his mind and, he could not conceal from his empathic captive, on his heart.
For a long season this went on. They shared stories; they began to laugh. She began slowly to expect his company. It had been ages since she spoke regularly with another humanoid, and when he would leave, she marveled over the new and long forgotten facets of herself. She felt mortal again.
But she sensed that though he longed for the peace she continued to offer, she was still his prisoner, and he still had war on his mind. There was unrest and worry in his thoughts. These betrayed him. Eteni’s people were losing faith in him.
The days went on. Up until now, she had subsisted on insects. Small plates were brought to her once a day. The worms carried the most moisture. The beetles stuck between her teeth. Eteni began to bring portions of his own food rations to Kehema after a time, on hearing her dissatisfaction with the food. He brought more tasty insects, and an occasional piece of rodent meat.
There was talk of releasing her at some point, but to what end and with what roll she would play, he could not tell.
After finishing a plate, the king spoke, “I sometimes get the sense that you read my thoughts. Is it so?”
She did not answer, only looked, chewed.
“Then you know that I am divided. I am losing grasp of my people. They are afraid of you. They see I come here and that I do so more often. They want war. You want peace. I do not know what I want any longer. Some of these insects look like leaves. They are dieing off quickest, with no place to hide. I still remember my childhood, when there were trees, soft violet leaves, green and yellow blossoms.”
His voice faded and the light in his eyes went away.
“Now you’ve come. And I am nearly powerless to release you.”
Time was fading. In the cell, she could do nothing. She grew weary of talk. It was he who did most of the talking of late, and even then he felt it was a waste, as she could read beyond the words.
They sat long and quiet in the tower, one fiery hot day. He stared at the floor, she out to the west.
Then he left and did not return. Some days later she began to receive the worst of the insects. They were filthy, rotten, and tasted of dung.
She stared at the west often now. Was it steam she saw from that western mountain?
Something must have happened to the king. She waited. She longed for him to return to free her, to help her mission, to share his food, even to say just a few idle words. She could not escape her prison, and refused the fight it would mean. She could win it easily. But it would forever set her in opposition to the tribe of Estati.
The sun and heat came up and went down. Night came and the supernova that caused so much despair rose in the sky, shedding its reminding light on her prison tower.
“What am I supposed to do?” she whispered to it. It did not whisper back, and it was then that this spirit, this great and shining star out of the darkness began finally to crack. She couldn’t bear the weight of this world. Without the Velor, she understood, she was nothing. A drop in an evaporated ocean. The solitude was oppressive.
Then one night she heard numerous footsteps coming up the long climbing stair. “They are coming for me,” she thought.
But they didn’t. Instead, they brought a prisoner through the dark, spat on him, beat him, and slung him into the cell beside, on the eastern side of the tower. It looked to be Eteni. The guards were quiet and did their work. She could not see them, but saw through their minds the actions of their thinking. The prisoner was unconscious, for she sensed his dreams. They tied him up and left him.
When the guards had gone, she leaned her head and hands against the wall that separated them, and closed her eyes. She whispered the king’s name.
Children played. And played and played. A small boat sailed by on an ocean of green under violet sky! One of the children met Kehema’s eyes, for she was there in his childhood dream. He looked long at her, and then again at the boat. The boat! He woke up.
The woman from his dream faded, and before him, as a form of torture he saw his own flag upside down. He was unable to move from his shackles.
Kehema viewed his thoughts. She asked him questions, in his own mind. She rarely did this with non-empaths as it was disorienting. Dangerous to some. He was confused as to who it was speaking to him. Yet he was not king Eteni. It was the king’s own brother, Etela, who had gone another way to form his own tribe after their father died.
The flag before him was his flag. The glyph was an old word, now out if use. It meant ship, and to many was now as laughable and slanderous as the word prosperity. A golden ship sailing on a violet sky!
These truths were a shock to Kehema. Had she met Etela instead, from the start, her mission might have been a success. How could Eteni do this! Her disillusionment deepened, as the days went by.
It took several days for Kehema to reach some sort of stable conversation with Etela, through the prison walls and within his mind. She was careful to ask first for talk, and leave him otherwise. It built some sort of trust. She explained that she was in the cell next to him and that she had this gift.
“Have you seen the haze over the mountain? What do you call it?” Kehema asked.
“That is yinjil, a very old name. From a forgotten people. It means tower of smoke.”
“Not smoke,” she corrected him, “Steam. I believe it is the core of an ancient volcano.”
“Volcano? I know this word. From childhood. But steam you say? It would be the greater part of irony were we to be fighting to the last death right at the foot of our only source of water.”
“I’m afraid that is what you are doing,” she said with regret. “There are not that many of you left.”
“Are you not from here?” Etela asked.
It was then that Kehema began teaching Etela of the ways of steam, how to harness it, use it to do work. She taught him how to purify water, and the now forgotten knowledge of how to grow plants. As Etela listened he resolved in his heart that he would lead his people away from the final wars of the city, and make his home at yinjil.
If only he could escape his prison.
Kehema woke one blazing morning to the dread sound of engines. She gave a careful glance out at the noise to confirm with her eyes what her ears had been so familiar with in past years. These were the scout ships of the Velor, though they were an unmanned class. She wasn’t considered a high priority perhaps, or they would have sent empath scouts to look not just for her ship and body, but also her mind.
They passed over quickly, but it wasn’t long before she heard footsteps coming up the stairs hurriedly. The guards entered in, opened her cell with their primitive and makeshift guns aimed at her.
“Bind her hands,” one of the guards said to another. They did, and then dragged her out of the cell and down the stairs.
She managed enough concentration to say in thought, “They are taking me, Etela. Remember all I had told you. Until we meet again.”
She was taken down from the tower and brought before the throne. There sat a woman of middle age, grim and scarred from battle. She looked down on Kehema, “Astana, they call me. It seems someone is looking for you. Have you anything to say?”
Kehema appealed one last to the Estati, “I would teach you how to find and use water, if you would let me. Some of you are old enough to still recall the grass and the sky and the children playing. Is there nothing left in you but war?”
“Were we to have more water,” the queen laughed, “we would simply have more war. We want nothing you have to offer us. You’ve become a burden. There are ships in the sky now looking for you. I won’t kill you, because I do not know their intent, and you will not speak of it. Yet I will see to it that when they find you, you won’t be in our company. You will be bound, taken to the Dunes of Karakon, and then the desert will kill you.” She paused in her new power. Kehema could sense in the people that she too held to the throne loosely. Some of what she had said appealed to them.
Then Astana spoke her judgment, “Banish her!”
They blindfolded Kehema, bound her hands tightly, and gathered their gear and steeds. She could taste a hot dusty wind in her mouth. They spun her in circles before setting her upon a steed, so that she knew nothing of which way they were headed. She attempted to read her captors’ thoughts, but the way was blocked by a wave of fear. They were going where all dreaded.
The dust increased, the wind began to howl. The pack animals moaned at the harsh wind. Even blindfolded, she needed to closed her eyes tight to avoid the hard sand. The heat did not abate for lack of the sun.
One thing she could find relief in was that the dust, which now grew into a wild storm, would hide their movements from the Velor scout ships.
The group feared getting lost in the wind, and she feared getting lost with them.
When she attempted to read their minds, they all held to the singular thought of where they were going. The leader of the march was most sober of them all, and so she glimpsed some brief thought from him. It too was forbidding. He rolled over in his mind the Dunes of Karakon. The name, he pondered it with trepidation, meant in the old tongue “winged fury”.
She woke. She was delirious. They had kept the blindfold on for two days. They spun her around, and then they drugged her. The blindfold and bands were gone. It was a cruel fate by a cruel people. She woke to see the night sky, the light of Elaph, for it shined at night during winter. She saw the shimmering of the arora, for she was in the cool climes of the north of Moltec. But of the stars, she could not tell. They spoke nothing of where she was.
As she looked at the bright nova of Elaph, she realized how on her own she was. The Velor Lord was imprisoned on some planet around that heated star, and could do nothing for her. Yet she remembered his words that cosmic law was never broken.
Perhaps it was intended that she should wake during the day, but infused with nanoids, and being a blend of many people’s, she recovered quickly from the potent concoction.
She could see the faint traces of their tracks, faded in the remaining wind of yesterday’s storm. These she followed while it was night. And then the trail ended.
There was none. There was no water. This was a desert like no other. It burned her feet within her shoes. It was burning her body. It was not yet mid day. Yet she wandered on. To sit still was to decide to die. There was nothing else she could do but chance that this direction would save her. She knew the Estati riders would have doubled back to lose any trail they had made. So she knew continuing this direction after losing their trail was meaningless.
She survived a day, a night, and yet another day. Kehema did not know that she was wandering deeper into the desert. It was grueling terrain and slow going. She collapsed on the second night. Even the nanoids in her body needed fluid to move, and without them, her interface DNA, which held her variegated frame together, would lose so many vital processes that kept her functioning.
She had survived a day longer than most, even in these winter months. For none had ever walked without water for two days in the Dunes of Karakon. Exhausted and dehydrated, she could not go on. One day more of this would kill her, she was certain. She rested under the foreign stars in the heat of the dark desert.
She slept through the morning, nearly a dried carcass. But she woke out of a dream that was not her own. There was a threat in the air. The heat scorched her skin, and so she passed on, losing her thoughts in mirage and fantom.
Finally, after climbing up a long and arduous dune, she collapsed at its crest. She thought as she fell that she saw the great stone of a mountain, and beside it a cave, black like the night. But it was lost in the foreboding dream of her delirium.
Her back was scorched, burning in the heat of a relentless and unforgiving sun. She lay there, facedown. Still, unmoving.
In the remaining ounces of her life she dreamed of the wars of the past. War upon war, world upon world, she conquered. She, in control of a master ship, commandeered armadas and fleets. The worlds had trembled before their might.
It was then, in the height of their power that the Velor took their prize, the glorious and advanced planet Jonav. And it was in that generation that Evenov of Jonava was born. His mind and heart became so bright that the Lord of the Velor, so moved by the manner in which Evenov surrendered his life, removed himself from his rebellion. He could not continue.
Kehema dreamt of these days, and of the ships that came with an iron first to quench all doubt of who ruled the spheres. She too could not continue. She heard their war engines as the Velor tightened their grip. The engines grew in intensity until they sounded real, and the dream seemed only as the dream it was.
She woke and the sound remained. Turning from the sand to look up into the distant sky, she saw the scout ships nearing. They would be upon her soon.
She ran over the hill, fell, rolled, ached and ran again to the base of the mountain and that black hole in the ground. She entered into the black as the ships passed over and disappeared. There she collapsed. Exhausted and spent. It was cool, so that she felt almost cold. As her breathing slowed, Kehema heard with increasing clarity the dripping sound of liquid.
She could smell the water. The moisture. The sweet aroma of life. She went slowly forward into the increasing dark of the cave, stumbling carefully with cyborg eyes.
Then she saw a light ahead. It was a glow. Here the walls were illuminated by thousands of tiny luminescent beetles. She went closer, to eat them for any nourishment, when her feet splashed into the beginnings of a large and smooth pool. Kehema buried her head in the water and drank. She drank, and splashed water on her face, on her arms.
She finally stood and looked deep into the dark of this underground lake. “Here. Here! I will build the foundations of civilization,” she thought aloud.
Kehema spent several days recuperating her strength. She drank from the pools and ate insects and grasses. Her skin healed quickly. She began to explore the caves, illuminated as they were by various forms of life. Though she was not able to catch them, she discovered fish, larger the deeper into the caves she went.
Two days into this exploration she woke in sweat. She was not alone. She was an empath, and an empath of high order, which is why she was selected as assistent to the Lord of the Velor. This gift as a reader extending even into the higher animals, below the humanoid level of mind. She sensed in the caves just such a presence, a mind trainable but wild, intelligent but feral. It was watching her.
There at the opening of a particularly large cavern she stood and heard the deep, rumbling growl of an enormous beast. Then she saw it. Lying on its gigantic side, the winged creature craned its neck and horn, and brought its eye up to what it could only perceive as food.
The roar of the dragon shook the cave and deafened Kehema with fear. She ran through the caves as it pursued. But she was healthy and alert now, and kept her mind on its actions as she ran ahead of it. And this is what saved her, in knowing when it attempted to clamp its jaws on its prey. She ducked and rolled, avoided it’s grasp with warrior skill, and ran through the passages as they narrowed, until at last she came through the last tunnel to the first chamber she had come to.
The dragon could not enter for its bulk. It had other exits into the desert. But it prevented her from discovering anything that might help her escape that heated wasteland outside. She was again prisoner, now of the entry chamber in the den of Karakon.
And in that prison her mind turned to Eteni and their many conversations.
Yet this is not the story of Kehema alone. Eteni too played his part in the unfolding of the events of this era.
It happened that on the last day Kehema spoke to him from prison, he was arrested. His judgement, as Kehema’s would later be, was banishment into the desert. And so he was bound and blindfolded.
Some men of the party who led them to Karakon were secretly loyal to him still, and slew the others as they left the city bounds for the open wastes. Eteni and his three loyal men remained in hiding for some time, scavenging on the outskirts of Larcanth.
When the banishment party did not return, Astana became increasingly suspicious. She knew that as soon as Etela received word of his brother Eteni’s arrest that he would march on them. And so this new and harsh leader attacked the tribe of Etela, forcing the two tribes into the betrayal of family bonds. In so doing, she captured Etela himself! In this way, Etela too came to know Kehema in the prison tower.
Eteni and his men, after much hardship and many days, went over to the remnants of his brother’s tribe and rallied them to war. He would march on Astana during the shining of the northern lights of mid winter.
Just days after Kehema was banished from Larcanth, Eteni attacked his own tribe. Those loyal to him took their chance to liberate themselves from the new and self proclaimed tyrant that had ruled over them these last days. It was a horrible and viscous battle, as it was a war of family. None of the other four tribes shared the close bonds and thorough going blood ties that the Estati and Etelans did. Yet there were some who hated the other. And so this battle would come to be called the last battle in the war of the Days of Kindness. It would not be the last fight amongst kin, but it was the great turning point of history.
During the battle, Eteni and his three loyal men made way for Galan Spire. They broke through the guards, and while two defended the gate, Eteni and one other — Ishen, he was named — ran the height of the stair.
There they came upon the sorry plight of Etela. His chains cut into his wrists as he hung from the walls, barely holding his weight with his feet. His torn flag hung before him and his back was covered in torturous wounds. He was alive. They freed him, took his flag with them and escaped down the tunnel stairwell.
Though his spirits lifted in rescuing his brother, it weighed heavy on Eteni to see that Kehema was no longer in her cell. No soul of those days beat with such a torn heart, having found the one and lost the other.
The last struggle was tragic. Many fell. The Estati had already reduced the numbers of Etela’s people, and they took further losses in this last act of revenge and rescue. Though Eteni escaped with his brother Etela, and though his three warriors, Ishen among them, survived, it was a bitter loss of men and those women who chose to fight. Many of Eteni’s own cousins fought against him and fell among the Estati. Bitter was the era of Human Kindness.
Eteni fell back and in emptying a portion of the water supplies of the Estati, managed their escape with Etela. By morning, Etela, despite his wounds, had assembled the remnants of his people.
“My brother Eteni here, the heavens name a river after him, has rescued me at heavy cost. You too have rescued me. But the price is great. The Estati will come down on us, and we will not be able to stop them.”
Etela held up his torn and bloody flag, the banner of their people.
“They say that the ships once sailed the oceans and even the skies, when it shined with a vivid violet light. I dream of it still. I am leaving, and you must choose to come with me or stay to your ruin with the other five tribes. While I was imprisoned, I spoke with someone of grace and power in the other cell. Kehema is her name. A guard informed me that she was banished into the wastes of Karakon, may she rest by still waters.”
Eteni listened at Etela’s every word of any further knowledge of her. He was heartbroken at the news of her banishment to Karakon.
Etela continued. “I never saw her face, save in dream. I was given a gift. The very precious gift of her knowledge. The Tower of Smoke steams with the heat of boiling water. We sit here warring to the death in the last hour of our world.” He paused in fatigue.
“I can no longer fight. It strives against my dreams. I will lead whoever will come into the desert and up into the cracks of Yinjil. We will work with our hands, our irons, and our steeds to build in that stone tower whatever it is we can build. To our ruin or our promise. I leave this very night with my water, my tools, and the willing.”
And so they set out that night for the Tower of Smoke. The desert between was cracked and empty. By dawn it was deadly. None, not a single individual stayed behind. And so, the remnant of the tribe of Etela, with Eteni and his men, left the ruins of Larcanth forever.
The first day of the journey towards Yinjil was hard on all, though none bore the weight that Eteni did. His was the dread of an inner desert.
Etela rode up beside him. “You brother have a troubled heart.”
“I do. This kingdom you intend to build. What is it without companionship? How much water is one human being worth? What would I give?”
“Weighty questions. None in this horrible age can answer them with any truth.”
“Save I. I cannot go with you Etela to Yinjil. I release Ishen and my guard to your services.”
“I perceive your thoughts, Eteni, and it is madness. I do not know Kehema, but I do know none can survive more than two days, maybe three, in Karakon. You too will die out there.
“We may yet die here.”
“True. But I fear that love would cause you to place your hope in a mirage. Love, as it is said, shackles the heart, and maddens the mind.”
“Love is a shackle only when one’s purposes are evil.”
Etela saw the look in his eye. He would not be swayed. He laughed. “Then you are a dreamer greater than even I. Take this, brother.” Etela stretched out his flag. “If you do find her, she will want to know my fate. I did not know who my captors were when we were attacked, and so, she may think, as my thoughts did, that you are the cause of my imprisonment.”
Eteni took it with honor, stared at it, and remembered once again his childhood of flowing waters, and of ships in the sky. He looked into Etela’s eyes, “Brother, I will get this to her by every last drop of water in me.” He smiled, “But you can be certain if I find her, she will know your fate whether I carry your banner or not. I only hope she lives, and does not remain just a figment of my sorrowful dreams.”
They held arms, and then Eteni turned with his steeds and headed south and west, straight into the heart of Karakon and fate.
Eteni knew the region his people would have taken Kehema. It was tradition. Even then, it was a great expanse. How would he ever find her in this vast hell?
The heat was extreme and so he used his water faster than he had expected. He was two days into Karakon, and could feel his life withering. He pressed on. One of his three steeds had fallen.
On the third day the second fell. He cut its throat and drank from its fluids. He gave his last steed half of his remaining water. He tied himself to the animal so that should death catch him unaware, his steed might at least have a chance of carrying his body and the flag of Etela to Kehema. He refused to accept her death in the desert.
That night he staked the beast’s reins into the sand with his spear and tied a long rope to the reins and his arm, should it panic and try to run. He slept under the stars and dreamt of the winged furies of old.
But he was woken from his dream by the blinding blue light of a roaring scout ship directly above him. He did not move, but he needed to hold tightly to the rope as his steed bucked and jolted about in fright. He lay there awaiting the machine’s decision.
Then the light faded and the ship moved on. He laughed out loud as he stood up. “What fate! Even her enemies haven’t stopped searching for her!”
They flew south, deeper into the desert, but slightly east. His strength renewed and he reigned in his ride. He gave it a handful of water, spilling nothing of it. He drank the last drop himself. And then he mounted with determination and was off. He rode hard to keep after them until they finally disappeared from eye and ear over a final dune. He pursued this course straight into dawn of the fourth day. When the sun rose, his steed at last began to falter.
Kehema woke from a dream. In it, Eteni had put his hand on hers. She was restless that day, and felt a whispered familiarity in her mind. She knew the minds of others, and the sensation of another’s thought-imagery weaving into her own. She could not just now believe the sensation. It was a risk to come up into the sun and be caught by the scout ships. Yet she had to know.
She drank what she could before heading out of the entry, past the stones and burnt earth, and up the dunes.
There, on a far distant crest of sand she saw him. It was Eteni, she was sure. She saw his thoughts, she saw his fatigue, she saw that he saw her. And then she saw, mounted on his steed behind him, waving in the strong wind, the flag of Etela.
She knew by his mind what had happened. She knew as he neared that he no longer had a kingdom. Knew he had given up his war and now carried that symbol of former days, of ships on ocean and sky. She knew he had given up every last drop of all he had and had come for her. It was in that moment that her heart was swayed. She ignored the desert, and spent a few priceless tears.
Eteni had but one of three steeds left on his journey. This last one too perished from the desert. It was a fateful event, for it stranded them both in Karakon. They resolved over the coming days that they should not attempt to head to Yinjil. It would be impossible without pack animals. It was especially dangerous since the scout ships traversed the desert still.
No. They would defeat the dragon and build yet a second center of the Moltec. Eteni had his supplies with him, weapons and tools. They set about exploring those narrow caves and entryways that were not blocked by the dragon. They built traps, ate plenty, built up their strength, and planned.
The dragon fed on the larger fish deep in the caves, and so they would prepare in its chambers when it was away. Kehema could perceive its movement well enough that they could work.
The day of battle came. The two warriors fought hard against Karakon. Eteni attacked from above with spears while Kehema worked a number of ensnaring traps and made her way through the beast’s mind to confuse it.
They had all but defeated the creature when in a final rage it lashed out at the precipice that Eteni was standing on. He fell.
Kehema abandoned their plan and her safety, and faced the dragon. No story remains of this battle, for Eteni was unconscious, and Kehema did not speak of it after. She considered it a tragedy of this wondrous place. Some say that she destroyed the beast with martial skill. Others insist that she mastered it with her mind, filling it through the wounds in its head with the nanoids in her body. But slay the dragon she did.
When the winged fury had fallen at last, she went to Eteni, who was fading. Kehema would use the nanoids in her body to heal his own. She placed a gash on her hand onto his wounds. The nanoids were not Eteni’s, and so, as time passed, they dissipated out of his body, but they strengthened him for a time in his recovery.
Though they had won the caves of Karakon, in their victory they discovered the truth of the Dragon’s last fury. There where Eteni had fallen, they found three eggs. They vowed then to preserve what they could of the wonder of the caves of Karakon. They would train these dragons for their own.
Etela did reach Yinjil. Some say his tribe reached it the day Eteni reached the caves of Karakon. The date, in any case, marks the beginning of the third age of the Moltec. Etela and his people began to build. As long as he lived, and he lived many years still, he taught his people all that he knew of steam, of law, and of peace. And he taught of Kehema who had saved them from oblivion.
In the cliffs of the eastern crags of Yinjil, a city grew up harnessing the power of steam. There would be internal struggles, raids from Larcanth, and other calamities, but the tribe of Etela became the largest of the six.
One day, during the autumn of his years, four individuals came out of the Sands of Karakon bearing gifts.
Kehema and Eteni would stay at Karakon. They founded the seventh tribe of the Moltec, the line of Kehema. Kehema bore 9 children over the course of her life there with Eteni. It is said that none of her children were born with clenched fists. Four of them, when of age, would head over to Yinjil and bring greetings to an ecstatic and overjoyed King Etela. He welcomed them with celebration, and many of his own tribe went into Karakon to help build up that civilization under the desert.
A strong trade grew up. Yinjil brought its machines and unique foods, Karakon its clean waters and harvests. The two tribes mixed and, being a blend of the Moltec and off world peoples, as well as a perfected blend of the Velor’s nanoid technologies, they were a hardy people capable of thriving in that near waterless world. And yet they had water and the knowledge of its use.
Yinjil was occasionally raided by the tribes at Larcanth, especially the vengeful tribe of Estati. These were strengthened by such raids, so that even the ruined city began to thrive. It became custom to banish people from Yinjil to Larcanth, which readily accepted such new blood into their ranks. No longer were they sent to the deserts to die.
The scout ships of the Velor decreased as time moved, and finally ceased. Theirs was an empire in the stars, and Kehema no longer mattered to them.
The winged fury was defeated, but her eggs remained. Kehema and some of her children and grandchildren had the ability as readers to train the Karakon hatchlings deep in the mind. Near the end of Etela’s days, Kehema went over the desert to Yinjil and presented a trained youngling to the king’s son, Eteni the Young he was called, heir to the throne. And this became the custom for ages, that the Queen of Karakon, ruler of the dragon keepers, would present a dragon to the King of Yinjil upon his receiving the crown.
Only one of Kehema’s children, Estat, would be lost. He would disappear into the deep of the caves never to return.
Eteni would die some 30 suns after the founding of Karakon. He is buried at the foot of the stone mountain, the entryway to the foundation that is Karakon. Kehema, though mortal, lived on for a long and lonely night of 82 years. She now rests beside him. She taught her people until the end of her days. She was succeeded by her first born daughter, Kehela they called her, Queen of the Dragon Keepers.