Beneath a Dying Sun
This week, Kemi Ashing-Giwa joins us for the first time with a story of two intrepid investigators who must find out exactly what’s happened to a group of ambassadors on a dying planet. ~ Julian and Fran, September 17, 2023
Beneath a Dying Sun
by Kemi Ashing-Giwa
Unaffiliated Zone, Year 1023
Oiwa was not a particularly critical world, and had not been for centuries. The facts were simple: its star was dying, the result of a disastrous pre-Merging attempt to harness all its energy. The chances that any sort of civilization would survive there for long were approximately nil. Nobody knew what screwing around with stellar cores did to stars, but scientists agreed: it wouldn’t be pretty.
The Interstellar Union had been trying to woo Oiwa into joining up so evacuation efforts could finally get underway without the infernal League interfering, but all four plenipotentiaries had vanished. With the Oiwans refusing to divulge any information about themselves or their planet (beyond what had been necessary to produce translator implants and the necessary vaccinations), the Union had sent in two of its Shadow-summoning paladins. Tosan and Vaylra were there to figure out what had happened and, if possible, retrieve the missing ambassadors.
Bad manners would hardly help matters.
Which was why the paladins were currently withstanding an uninvited and undesired history lecture. It wasn’t their planet, after all. (But hopefully, once they found the diplomats, it would be, legally.)
“. . . The sands of Oiwa were once stained red with the blood of those who fought and died for their a’mohat.” First-rank Aide Z’Aji gestured grandly at the desert below the palace complex, where an ocean of shimmering gold rippled over the land like liquid.
“A’mohat?” Tosan repeated. The translator implant in his ear couldn’t wrangle the word into Galactic Standard.
“Their closest companions, their kin in every way but by blood,” said Z’Aji. She sniffed. “You Union types wouldn’t understand.”
If Tosan hadn’t been a consummate professional, he would’ve struggled not to roll his eyes.
Meanwhile, Vaylra, who was not a consummate professional, bared his teeth. “Probably not, no. Take us to your leader.”
Z’Aji narrowed her eyes at him.
“We’re short on time, and I’ll remind you that the same goes for your whole world,” said Vaylra. “Where’s the—the Worldking?”
Tosan pinched the bridge of his nose. “Forgive my colleague—”
“Don’t apologize for me.”
“The Worldking is currently resting,” said Z’Aji, touching a finger to her aural implant, “but She will meet you soon. In the meantime, please feel free to explore the palace. I shall find you when She is ready to receive you.”
Monarchies of any sort put a bad taste in Tosan’s mouth. He made himself smile. “No apologies necessary. Thank you for your hospitality.”
“You’re too polite,” said Vaylra as soon as the aide was gone. “We’re not here to make nice. We’re here to figure out what happened to the cookie pushers.” He reached for the Lightless, the realm between realms from which all power flowed, and summoned a tendril of night-black Shadow, winding it between his fingers.
Little had changed when the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies had coalesced. The space between objects—stars, planets, etc.—was so great that virtually nothing collided. The Merging did, however, create the Lightless, an unreal realm of shadows that nonetheless wove itself into all matter in real space. Making contact with the Lightless was what allowed paladins and uninitiated adepts to do what they did—mentally manipulate living Shadow.
The late-morning heat hit them like a hammer as they stepped from the shaded balcony and onto a tiled path. Up ahead sprawled a vast, tiered garden. Twisting cacti, in a rainbow of bright hues, were festooned with even brighter blossoms, filling the space with life and color. The air was sweet and warm, carrying the scent of fragrant blossoms and burning wood.
“First: rude. And second: it’s not that simple,” Tosan said, running a hand through his short braids. “Oiwa’s still on the fence about joining the Union. If we can convince them to our side, that’s another world saved.”
“Please.” Vaylra, who had only been brought along to look pretty and kill things, lifted his gaze to the pinkish sky above. “You know the council’s already given up on this dust ball. Otherwise, they would’ve sent real diplomats.”
“We are real diplomats,” Tosan said stiffly.
“Authorized to serve as envoys pro tem isn’t the same thing as being a real diplomat,” said Vaylra, who’d never won an argument without violence in his whole entire life. He commanded his Shadow to spiral in the air before vanishing like a puff of smoke. (Show-off, Tosan thought.) “If we were real diplomats, we’d probably be dead already. Come on, I want to smell those flowers.”