When you look around in nature what patterns do you see? There are many to choose from.
In the fading warmth of an autumn sunset, the shadows themselves glow with promise.
Another course of EcoArt begins so I’ll share my work here. Beginning the course was Movement. I watched the rain falling, and a continuous stream of water dropped from the roof and was hitting the floor, droplets of water splashing in all directions, leaving the ground soggy. Water is a very powerful example of movement in nature.
Latest short story addition to the Tsorbanth series
“The pictures don’t do it justice.”
“No, they don’t at all. It’s huge and just so magnificent!”
The Arena loomed up ahead – its shadow was awe-inspiring to the passengers of the small space shuttle heading towards it. It wasn’t a little stadium, but a huge comet-sized rock hanging now in orbit over the world of Kasnein, where lived the kasna, a feline-like humanoid race.
“Just imagine, it’s going to take days, if not weeks to get to the core. We don’t have enough supplies.”
“Not at all! Remember your training, not everything is as it seems on the Arena. And if it does take that long, the forest will provide.”
Every year the Arena would stop off at a planet. It was Kasnein’s turn this year to host the Arena and take part in the Game, a gruelling challenge where a small group of candidates would have to gain access to the centre of the Arena to find the Eternal Star, where they would be gifted with a substantial supply of energy for their planet.
“They say it has no pilot and just floats in space.”
“Yes, and there are no cities or villages.”
“The ghoots live as animals in the forest and the hallan are said not to need physical sustenance.”
The team shuddered at their names – the beastly ghoots and ethereal hallan were the creatures native to the Arena, sworn to protect it and its treasure, and would provide many traps and challenges for the chosen team.
The leader stood up.
“Get your equipment ready, we’re almost there.”
They started picking up packs and adjusting straps, and they donned their helmets, covering their expressions of worry and determination. Orzz, the leader, was the most confident of them all, it was her job to make decisions, keep the team coordinated and orientated to their destination. Herrun was the most worried, and it was his job to carry the star node that would collect and store the energy they won. Then there was Kren and her brother Jarron, who would act as scouts and guards. They were forbidden to carry weapons in and, like the ghoots, would have to use whatever they could find on the forest floor. Still useless, of course, against the hallan, whose attacks were based on fear, distraction and deception.
The team’s craft set down and the hatch opened onto a rocky plateau. They ran, in formation, across it until they reached a precipice that gave them the full view of the Arena. They saw a huge bowl, surrounded by the wall of stone they stood on and filled with forest, all centred around a great lake. From this lake rose an island, glowing with the promise of the Eternal Star. It was magnificent, it was real and each one felt an excitement building up within them.
But, their senses heightened, they all suddenly turned, feeling something behind them, and standing there stood a pack of ghoots, hairy beasts on two legs bearing a mixture of hooves, horns, claws, fangs and tusks. All were heavily armed with crude clubs, stones axes and spears, and they had a look in their eyes that said they were ready to use them.
One particularly tall and dark one stood forward, and spoke with a surprisingly civilised tone of voice.
“You are most welcome to the Arena – we hope your sojourn here is an interesting one. We will give you one hour of safe time to descend the wall to the forest and make plans – then the hunt is on.”
The ghoots seemed to dematerialise before them, dissolving into the blackness of space behind.
Orzz quickly regained her wits, “Come on then, you heard what it said – down we go, now!”
They found a way that was like a very steep, windy and narrow stairway down the cliff’s face. The kasna were, fortunately, an agile race, so they were soon down, making camp and planning their next move. Orzz had been scanning the landscape, but trees and thick vegetation made it difficult to make out the contours of the landscape. They would have to walk into it fairly blindly and had only the guidance of a compass to tell them where they were. It didn’t point north – there was no North here – but the closer they got to the core, the faster it span. Some mysterious force interfered with most technologies, and so only skill and native wits would have to serve.
Orzz ordered Jarron and Kren off in two different directions to get some idea about routes.
“Get as far as you can and come back in twenty minutes.”
The scouts left, leaving Orzz to think through strategies – all of which were useless in the Arena, but they served to focus the mind – and Herrun to tend to the star node. He took the fist-sized crystal in his hand, turning its glowing form this way and that.
Almost exactly twenty minutes later, Kren arrived. She glanced around the clearing quickly and there was the faint flicker of concern in her eyes.
“Not here. Report first.”
“There’s a clear path ahead that leads to a stream, and seems to go beyond. And Jarron?”
“We wait one more minute and no longer. Our priority is the Eternal Star.”
Orzz was right, Kren knew, but that didn’t make having her brother missing any easier.
One minute went by, but Jarron still did not appear, and so it was they went ahead without him. Kren lead the way and Orzz took up the rear, leaving Herrun protected in the middle. They were given “safe time” but they still kept their wits about them. It would serve them later not to let down their guard now. They reached the stream where there was a ford, with only a couple of minutes left to spare, but when Kren looked around for Orzz, she was nowhere to be seen. Herrun hadn’t noticed either; he just looked at Kren with a lost look in his eyes. He was a technician, and though he’d had some military and survival training, his expertise couldn’t be relied on to get them through this situation – that honour fell to Kren, she was now the leader.
It dawned on her just how strange a situation this was – they’d been given safe time and yet two members of the team had disappeared. The ghoots had lied to them! Following the path wouldn’t be safe, and all rivers here led to the lake, so she decided to go with the flow. The water was deep and flowing, so Kren looked around and found a log. She set it afloat and the two remaining kasna grabbed hold of it, and let the river follow them.
For a while things were quiet, but occasionally they’d hear things moving around in the forest. Sometimes there were ghoot cries that seemed to come closer and then fade away as if they were chasing some other quarry. At one point the noises came so close that the kasna had to propel their craft towards a bank and hide beneath the overhanging vines. A ghoot came and stood right over them, close enough to smell, but its attention was drawn away by something. They waited for a while longer and pushed off, carrying on down the river.
They had been floating quite a while, but Kren had the impression they weren’t getting anywhere.
“Herrun, next time we come across a break in the banks, we’ll swim towards it. I want to see where we are, okay?”
Herrun just grunted in affirmation, too occupied hanging on to the log to give another reply.
Finally they reached a ford, allowing them to get out of the river and look where they were, but what they saw disheartened them. It was the same ford they had started from earlier.
“How can this happen? All rivers lead to the lake, don’t they?” Kren said.
Herrun seemed to have thought it over, “It could be the hallan. They’ve tricked us!”
Kren thought about crossing the ford and carry on down the path, but she was distracted by the smell of wood smoke and food. Neither hallan nor ghoot had need for fire, so it could mean only one thing. Orzz or Jarron were about.
“Herrun, follow me!”
And so they followed her nose in the direction of the smoke until they came to a clearing. In the centre there was a fire, with an animal of the Arena on a spit. She caught the whiff of meat and felt hungry. By the fire sat two figures, Orzz and Jarron, quietly waiting for their food to cook.
They then turned towards her with smiles on their faces, but something didn’t feel right to Kren, their eyes were blank and staring.
“Herrun, Kren, you’re just in time, we were about to eat.”
Herrun ran forward, dropping his bag on the floor, “Oh good, I’m famished and so cold! Make space.”
“Herrun, it’s another trap!”
But he wasn’t listening he was reaching for the meat, and suddenly the two figures of Orzz and Jarron melted and disappeared, along with Herrun. What was left was the clearing and a ring of ghoot surrounding Kren. They began to close in on her.
Suddenly two shadows came from behind and began attacking the ghoot, throwing mud and stones and swinging sticks. It was the distraction Kren needed, she saw the bag containing the all-important star node and she took it up and went through a gap that had opened up in the circle of ghoot.
She would have to finish this mission by herself. Herrun was the engineer that knew about the star node, but they’d all been trained a bit. She ran through the jungle, not bothering about direction, hearing the sounds of battle continue behind her.
She hadn’t been running long when she came across the shore of a lake. Could it be the lake, she thought to herself? It was covered with a thick mist, and she couldn’t see a thing. Nothing could be trusted here, everything could be a trick created by the hallan, and the mist that began to cover everything seemed to confirm this.
A log floated nearby, one that looked remarkably similar to the one she’d used earlier. She had only her instinct and gut feeling to trust, so she stepped towards the log, caught hold of it and floated into the lake. Kren could see nothing, and couldn’t orientate herself, she just kicked her legs and headed away from the shore. The more she went on the colder it seemed, and though the lake was big, it didn’t seem deep, because she’d often feel her legs bumping against solid stone or entangled in weeds. It wasn’t until a stone moved and some weeds grabbed Kren that she thought maybe they weren’t what they seemed after all.
One tendril, from foot to knee, wrapped itself around her and pulled. She grabbed tightly to the log, which was just enough to keep her afloat. More tendrils wrapped themselves around her, and slowly pulled her down log and all. As the tendrils wrapped around her Kreb wrapped herself around the log, using all her strength to stop it from floating back up. Slowly she freed one arm and took her knife from her belt. She hacked at the tendrils, and with each swipe she felt the log move up. With one final swipe the log shot to the surface carrying Kren with it. She took a long gulp of air, and tried to maintain her balance.
Kren looked around, still virtually blind, but then listened carefully, and heard water lapping gently on a shore. She had to get out of the water as quick as possible, so let go of the log and swam in the direction of the sound. Every time something brushed her leg she cut with her knife just to make sure, but it seemed the tendrils hadn’t come back. She was tiring quickly, getting very cold, and afraid of another trick, but she soon came upon solid ground, that really was solid, that rose until it emerged above the waters. Kren was on land, but what land she didn’t know.
She collapsed, not caring for a moment if she was caught, but then she thought of her planet and her people’s hope for energy from the Eternal Star, and of her companions Orzz, Herrun and her brother Jarron, and their sacrifice that allowed her to get here. She stiffly got up and walked inland, and the mist slowly parted, revealing a stony floor and what seemed to be a cliff with a cave in it. She couldn’t believe her eyes, had she finally made it? She warily approached the cave, but neither saw nor heard anything to arouse her suspicions. She entered the darkness, sniffing the stale air, and listening for any movement, but all was silence. Where she walked the walls illuminated her way, showing a corridor lined with doors. But Kren’s attention was on the faint light up ahead.
Finally, Kren came to the end of the corridor and entered a big chamber at the centre of which was a small, natural plinth with a depression in the top, just enough for the star node to fit. She went towards it, took the node out of her backpack and held it over the plinth where it floated and started spinning. As it span it began to glow brightly as the energy channelled up from the Eternal Star began to fill it. So much energy, her people would be able to use it for the development of their society, as a boost for many of their projects, which in turn would improve their lives and lifestyles. Some races glutted themselves on it, using up the energy all in one go, and then regressing to their previous state for another hundred years. Her own people had already drawn up plans to invest their energy in the development of infrastructure, technology and research, with long-term results. But only if their candidates overcame the twin challenges of the hallan and ghoots and achieved what few did.
As the node brightened, Kren noticed a change in the chamber, figures began appearing, as did tables with food. She realised she was surrounded by a feast populated by a variety of alien species, all participants in the Arena’s history.
She even recognised the faces of previous candidates that had attempted and failed the challenge of the Eternal Star, never returning to their home planet. Three faces particularly caught her attention, and her heart froze in surprise, it was her companions! They grinned sheepishly at her and she just ran towards them, wrapping her arms around each of them in turn.
“What’s happening? How did you get here?” she couldn’t understand any of this.
Had she really found the Eternal Star or was it another trick of the hallan?
Kren’s didn’t have to utter a word, her questioning face evoked an answer from Orzz.
“We are in the presence of the ghoot and hallan. This is the Feast, when the inhabitants of the Arena shed their forms of ghoot and hallan and become what they were before. They were all candidates, people that came to the Arena and failed, and for that they must remain here and live as ghoot or hallan, whichever they choose.”
Sadness overtook Kren’s face as she looked at Jarron.
“Does this mean…?”
Jarron grimaced, “Yeah, sis, we’re staying here, as ghoot or hallan.”
Kren and Jarron hugged, knowing this would be the last time they saw each other.
There was still one thing that she didn’t understand, one doubt hanging over it all.
“Jarron, what happened to you right at the beginning, did the ghoots take you?”
“No, they still kept their promise, they didn’t touch me, or Orzz for that matter.”
Kren furrowed her eyebrows, but then she had it, remembering the moment that she was surrounded by ghoots and then they were attacked.
“You’ve been with me all along! It was you and Orzz that attacked the ghoots when I was surrounded, and you’ve been distracting them all this time, drawing them away when they go close to me and Herrun. You and Orzz have been planning this from the beginning! Were you in on it, too, Herrun?”
“I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t, I didn’t even know about their plan. I was meant to be with you at the end, but the hallan got the better of me. Not the life I imagined for myself, but at least this was we get to see the universe!”
Just then a great mammoth of an alien lofted a drinking horn, “We welcome Orzz, Jarron and Herrun to our fellowship and congratulate Kren on achieving what so few achieve. May the light of the Eternal Star go with her and her planet! Now back to the feast!”
The rest of the celebration was bitter sweet, with beautiful music and delicious fare from the forests of the Arena, and of course the glory of gaining energy for her planet, but it was all to great personal loss. She had known before that she could lose her brother and companions, or even herself, but it still hurt. If each member of her race could feel the same loss, would they allow? Probably, she would, but she’d like to think they would value this sacrifice correctly. The energy of the Eternal Star was a great gift, and was not to be taken for granted.
It’s a common theme: need more time! Well, why not transform the relentless March of Time (which is a human fiction, anyway) to the Flow of Time (which is natural).