The Corpse World of Myesma

Originally written, 5/3/2014. Originally published on NationStates.net.

I

The Master when he lays to sleep

His bed of ashen robes shall keep

A coffin in the shadows deep

His mind a rotted waste

And He that sought to bring

Fire to the highest king

Fallen from his puppet string

The scriptures all defaced

The god that sleeps on in the dark

Shall come extinguish every spark

We provide the unholy ark

Our faith long past misplaced

The faithful shall not be spared

The faithless’ final fate is shared

The horizon’s dispassion is bared

And every light erased

 

I woke drenched in a cold sweat, the cruel phantoms of some awful dream hiding in the recesses of my mind. By the time I calmed myself and realised where I was, I could not recall what awful imagining had woken me. Glancing at the time, I resigned myself to the waking world. There was little reason to try and sleep again, for I would be arriving at my destination soon and I did not need the sleep. Instead, I rose and showered before joining the crew in the canteen. Our craft had been travelling for some weeks now, flitting between the stars with speeds I could barely conceive. I am not a man well versed in science and do not pretend to understand the technologies buried in the restricted corners of the glorified tugboat. It was enough to carry me to my destination, and that alone satisfied my curiosity.

Our journey had taken us, at my request, through the stars near Sol and the empty spaces of the Hyades and on to the edges of the ProtoWealth, ruled by those vicious creatures – for they are surely too violent to truly be men – known as the Menschen. We dared not enter their domain and quickly made our way onwards when our searches returned nothing of worth. Stories, nothing more, of the valiant and heroic efforts of the Imperial Republic in fighting the ProtoWealth, and the mysteries of the Rhust made their way to our ears, all fascinating tales but nothing that we sought with more than idle curiosity. From there we broached the edges of the Cooperative, and again dared not enter its territory proper for there are few as wretched as the aliens that call that nation home. We heard a great many stories, some more relevant to our search than others. The tale of a few brave Saethian who had helped save a species from extinction, or who had allowed a group of religious aliens to make safe refuge with them. The Magnanimous Collective was mentioned more than once, the death of the Stratocracy a sordid tale (if not relevant to our quest) we regarded with caution…. The galaxy is flooded with such stories, and we heard a great many and took note of so very, very few.

We flew on past the desolate station known as ‘Consort’ and followed our trail to a long-dead world where once there had, supposedly, been towering forests of glass and a hideous mass of unlife hidden in the soil. We heard many words but saw so little of what we searched for, the crew was beginning to doubt me and whispered of abandoning this venture for something more worthwhile. But thankfully the captain of this tiny vessel was suitably enamoured with my payments and quelled all discontent sharply and succinctly. Presently, we were closing on what I felt to be our final stop at long last and I retired to my quarters to prepare for what would hopefully be a much more fruitful expedition.

I was ready in minutes and waited for the call that would herald our slowing to a more bearable speed. Clutched in my fingers, worn ragged by my incessant readings, lay a tome of dreadful things. I knew it to be some ancient writings of those hideous things, spoken of in hushed tones and whispers, whose name is long since lost to time and is known now as the Order. Again, my fingers traced the writing carved into the cover, running across the vandalised ebony that protected the pages within (written on a material not entirely unlike vellum). I have come to understand that the tome was written by the Master in Ashen Robes himself, before his banishment from the Order for the crime of heresy. Surely the Robed Master is long since dead, for there are few hiding places in the galaxy that the Order does not know of, so I hold no concerns of his ownership of this tome. No, I hold concern only for the Order as it now lives, for if they discover I have the tome they will surely seek me out. Or worse still, that soulless organisation that seeks the Order’s destruction. I am never certain which faction is more heinous in their actions, and I can never answer when asked whom I fear more. The Master is long dead, and I will not follow him until I know the truths the Order seeks to bury.

The words are ingrained in my memory, but they mean so very little to me without context. Scratched into the wooden cover, they must be the words of a man gone mad, but they are carved with such finesse and beauty I am forced to believe he was of sound mind when they were written. Some song which speaks of the Master’s demise, and tells the tale of the demise of the Order and – forbid it! – all others as well. I am not a believer in prophecy, the strands of time are made apparent to no mortal being in this universe, but something in these words stirred me to action. Were it on them alone that I funded this journey I would consider myself quite mad, but the tome told more and it was enough to convince myself this was a task that could be profitable, both in terms of payment and of knowledge.

The captain called! We had arrived and were to make planetfall shortly.

The images that were put on display for us were disheartening in the extreme, and I held my beloved book close to my chest. Here, before us, was undoubtedly one of the blackened stars the Master had written of in his delirium. The planets orbited about the lightless star as though it were intact and whole, but the tell-tale signs of fusion were all absent and our eyes were greeted with only an immense orb of the utmost black. The ship’s science officer was aghast, whispering of impossibilities and ‘black bodies’ but the evidence was overwhelming. What little light the star gave off painted an alien landscape of twisting reds and greys across an expanse of impossible darkness, but our limited instruments could not detect what element the star was made of. The captain shook me from my reverie, and I pointed him towards the fourth world out from the star. From orbit, the planet was as I expected. The Ashen Master had made quite clear that his home was a dead world now, and it took some time to locate the desired landing site amongst the nondescript landscape of rust coloured soil. But the tome did not lead us astray, and in mere minutes we had landed (with no small amount of discomfort of my own. I have never enjoyed atmospheric entry and I doubt I ever shall) on the sterile wastes of Myesma.

 

II

A horizon of infinite black

It looked to us and we called back

The Sphere at last begins to crack

It comes on all we say

The songs we’ve sung all go unheard

It crawls upon our every word

The lines of sleep shall all be blurred

In the shadow of its day

Behold the dimming of brightened skies

A sea of blackened stars shall rise

A wealth of futile life that dies

The scenery turns grey

Colours lie forever dead

Eternally dry, sources bled

Mournful tears are all we shed

For we led it on its way

 

We made camp in the dust-coated ruins of some city that the writings seemed to indicate was a former capital, and we began our search immediately. Without the light of a star to illuminate the world, we were reliant wholly on the machineries at our disposal to find our way. The world was wrapped in a coldness I could scarce believe was possible, and it was a miracle the atmosphere had not turned to ice. What little heat the planet’s core was still producing, and what small amounts of radiation still emanated from the rocks in its crust seemed enough to stave off such a fate. As it was, we trudged through a thick and soupy air into the depths of this once majestic city in search of the artefact I had learned of from the Master. The Sphere, as far as I could discern, was some prison or tomb flooded with knowledge regarding the origins of the Order and – much more importantly – whatever doom the Master believed was due to fall upon us. I did not know what we were looking for precisely, the Sphere is almost as ill described as the enigmatic Horizon and there are no diagrams or drawings to illustrate its appearance to those who would seek it. Whether this is by design, or the Master simply did not know what it looked like, I can not say.

We searched for eleven days as this wretched world measures time, and on the twelfth, we heard a call from one of the canteen staff. We hurried to his location, and my breath caught in my throat at the magnificence of the thing he had found. An immense chasm lay before us somehow obscured from our geological scans, buried beneath the city. He had stumbled upon it by pure chance when the floor had given way beneath him, and I knew that luck was on our side. We took time to recharge our batteries and restock our supplies before venturing into the murky depths of the chasm. If possible, the temperature here dropped even further. Our instruments registered it as being double-digit Kelvin and I thanked the stars for providing us with a properly functioning environment suits. Again the science officer spoke of how this was impossible – without the warmth of a living star, all the planet’s heat must be produced underground. How then was it colder here, beneath the surface, than it had been when we walked the wastes and in the shadows of towering skyscrapers?

While he and a few others squabbled over explanations, myself and the young cook lead the way forward and down the slope. The rock gave way to a murky oil that coated every visible surface, and we had to watch out step lest we slip and fall to our untimely end. The air seemed to get sparser and thinner, yet our lights did not reach as far as they had above. We could see no mist, no cloud to obscure the beams that guided our way, and I heard members of the crew whisper uncertainly to themselves behind me. But the Sphere was nearby, I could tell, and it would not be long before we were forced to return to the surface. Even as advanced as our suits were, in this frigid environment we could not remain long without suffering from mechanical failure upon which we would be claimed by the cold. Yet as much as I did not wish to be denied, the darkness pressed in against us and eventually, our lights would reach barely a metre in front of us. I could feel a numbness begin to claim my extremities, and with a heavy heart, I ordered our retreat. The young cook consoled me with promises of returning again when we were better prepared for the dark and the cold. He was so insistent and desperate to fill me with cheer, that I failed to realise an important fact.

We had ascended from the chasm and were halfway up the path that should have lead us into the dusty streets. Yet the light from our torches did not strengthen, and our exit could not be seen.

Panic set in then, my comrades claimed I had gotten them lost. That I had been so blinded by ambition as to have wandered off the beaten path, yet I knew this was not so. We had walked in a perfectly straight line, and the devices in our suits showed we were exactly where we had begun our descent. I stepped forward, inching my way carefully to where the collapsed floor should have been and came upon a sight that chilled me more than the frigid depths ever could have.

The oil.

It had sealed us in, somehow stretching across the gap and holding fast. I pressed against it, and it felt like steel to the touch. It did not give way. I turned to face my allies, asking who carried with them the cutting torch and saw an impossible sight beyond them. The oil, that insidious substance which had claimed the depths of the chasm, had followed us. Even as my unbelieving eyes saw it creep and slide up the slope to the crew, it coiled and twisted into shapes that hurt to even think back upon. Fractal geometries course across its surface, and I had barely time to cry out before it had shot forward and impaled the young cook upon its coiled tendril. I heard screams then, and little else, and fueled by desperation I lunged forward to snatch the cutting torch from the woman who held it even as she was grabbed and pulled into the darkness that was no barely a foot away. I felt my throat go raw, and tasted blood, and knew that the screams were my own. I hacked and torched and blazed and ignored the vice-like grip on my legs until at last the oil before me retracted. Out of pain, perhaps, or maybe I had succeeded in cutting through. It meant little to me, and I hurled myself through the gap to land with a sickening crunch on the marble floor beyond it. I looked back and saw that the grip was not the oils, but the last desperate effort of the young cook to be saved. He pulled at the ground, said something I could not hear over my now raspy and tired scream, and tried so hard to follow me. The oil latched onto him and threw him over the edge of the precipice.

I ran.

The radio channels were flooded with screams and orders, and so little of it made sense to me. Even in the streets, my torch refused to light my way and I could see the oil as it appeared on the ground all around me. What a fool I had been! The air was not thick with condensation, but with this putrid oil and now it was gathering on every surface like dew. It moved with a life of its own, and the beauty of its movements was matched only by the sheer agony my mind felt as I perceived the undulating patterns on its surface. I fled through streets now clogged with that living liquid instead of dust, ever building coated in a thin veneer of blackness. Ahead of me I saw the faint silhouette of our craft and burst for salvation.

It was not to be. As I closed on the craft I saw that it too had suffered the fate of all those skyscrapers and roads. The oil stretched across every surface and had punctured the hull in several places. It clung to the landing struts like some sickening moss and slithered through the breaches with a mesmerising smoothness. I knew then that I was lost and collapsed to my knees. The sharp stabs of pain and sudden paralysing cold were, I thought, to be the last things I would feel as the oil penetrated my suit at long last. With my final strength, I retrieved the final diary of the Master in Ashen Robes and looked skyward to that awful, blackened star.

And I saw light.

Dim as it was, there was light there and it illuminated a colourless landscape all around me. Where the impossible black of the oil did not cover, some malevolent force had leached the colour from the air. Everything was blurring into one solid field of white, the edges of objects faded and I could see nothing but the endless, colourless world around me, the white interrupted only by the hideous contrast of the black oil. I looked above again and understood as that shell of black and red and grey peeled back to reveal a tiny, dying star I knew.

The Sphere was beginning to crack.