FlashFic: The Pillar

Monoliths always seem kind of mysterious and otherworldly. Whether it’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or Stone Henge, I feel like it’s pretty universal. ReneAigner’s Monolith struck me as having that quintessential mystery with a scifi bend. ReneAigner is an artist over on DeviantArt, and this piece, with its vague outlines and shapes, was a digital speed painting that took about an hour to do. I hope you enjoy my interpretation of his #NerdArt in… The Pillar.

Monolith by ReneAigner over at DeviantArt
Monolith by ReneAigner over at DeviantArt

The wind howled, almost drowning out the electronic whine of the beast’s engine. If not for the team’s thick storm suits, their soft skins would have long-since peeled away under the harsh sandstorm winds and parched air. It was dangerous to be above ground during the day.

Kalix glanced back over his shoulder. The massive orange ball that was the sun blazed through the swirling clouds of sand about an inch above the horizon. They were running out of time; they had to find the Pillar soon. As dangerous as the day was, night was a death sentence. The sandshades would see to that.

A part of him wanted to turn the beast around and drive like a shade-out-of-Hell back toward the Hovel. He knew they wouldn’t make it, they were way too far out to get back before the sun disappeared below the horizon. They could at least try, though. But, Kalix knew better. Dren sent them out here to find the Pillar, and he’d never let them back in without it.

That’s how it worked. Every year, a team of three Ratts would venture out of humanity’s last refuge, the underground complex known as the Hovel, to find this mythical monolith. Kalix didn’t even think the damn thing existed. He wasn’t even sure he believed in the ancient tales of massive human cities above-ground with lush, green parks and water everywhere. A dry, deadly world was all he, his father, and his father’s father had ever known.

And if there was no ancient human paradise, then there was no Last Ark.

But, he’d been picked in the lottery. So here he was, driving one of the Hovel’s last electric beasts out into the wastes above to die along with Caley, a woman he hated, and Fren, a man he’d been in love with since as far back as he could remember.

“THERE!” Fren’s faint voice came from over his shoulder, almost lost to the wind.

An arm appeared beside his head, pointing just off to their left. Kalix’s gaze followed the man’s finger and saw it. A soft, unnatural, blue glow a couple of kliks away. Could it really be? Could the legends be true?

The glow vanished as a gust of sandwind kicked up and Kalix’s heart sank, but just as he started to think it might have been some kind of mirage, the light reappeared. He squinted and could barely make out the dark outline of the tall spire. The light came from the center of that spire.

Kalix’s heart lept. Maybe they weren’t doomed after all. “Hang on,” he yelled to his two passengers. He wasn’t sure if they heard him, but he pulled the steering wheel over anyway. The beast angled toward the azure point in the distance and Kalix gunned the engine. No need to worry about the power cells now.

As they got closer, the shape loomed up over them and saw just how massive the thing really was. Never had he seen a single object that was so huge. Well over a hundred paces tall and twenty paces wide… This truly must be the Pillar.

Kalix eased back on the throttle, letting the beast roll to a stop at the base of the Pillar. He glanced over at the seat beside him to see Caley already climbing out of the vehicle. She was also so matter-of-fact and focused that she ignored everything and everyone else. With a scoff, he hopped and turned back to Fren.

The other man jumped down from the beast’s back and clapped Kalix on the shoulder. “We did it! We found it.”

Kalix’s heart jumped at the touch, even though it was through multiple layers of protective clothing. He smiled back. Realizing that the other man could not see his face, Kalix just nodded.

Fren’s words sank in, filling Kalix with a strange sense of accomplishment. For more than twenty-five years, he’d been little more than a simple mechanic’s son and apprentice. Now, he was part of something truly momentous. For the first time ever, someone from Hovel actually found the Pillar. Now they would all be safe. And he was part of making that happen.

As he turned to head over and take a better look at the monolith, his gaze passed over the sun. Half of it was gone now below the horizon. Time weighed down on his shoulders, whispering that their end was coming if they didn’t move faster.

A distant voice, Caley’s, drew him back to the Pillar. He lumbered against the buffeting wind to the sheltered side of the giant object and found both of his companions inspecting the thing’s surface.

Kalix ran his gloved hand along the hard, stone-like surface, seemingly unmarred by the blasting sandwinds. It wasn’t as if the material was smooth. Instead, it was rough and uneven like stone, but even stone stood long against the storms. Yet, somehow this thing’s surface looked unmarred.

He let his gaze trail up the spire to the glow. His jaw fell open as he realized that the light actually came from inside the Pillar. Gigantic cracks in the surface of the spire at least twenty meters overhead created fractured gaps where the light shown through. Some of the gaps were as wide as a person and as long as ten.

A hand on his shoulder made him jump.

“We have to find the Oracle Panel.” Caley’s shrill voice came to his ears.

He nodded. This part was just as important as finding the Pillar itself. The legend said there was a small part of the Pillar that lit up and spoke like an oracle and was called the Panel. Those who were worthy had to speak the sacred words and the Oracle Panel would open the gates of paradise to them. Then they could bring everyone to safety.

Kalix ran his hands along the Pillar’s surface from the ground up as high as he could reach, looking for anything that might be the Oracle Panel. He worked his way to his left and moved around the corner. The rough surface rippled and felt almost like it had been poured over whatever was underneath.

To his left, the last third of the sun peeked over the horizon. Fren’s distant voice drifted over the howling wind. Kalix rushed back to find Fren facing Caley, who was, in turn, staring at a blue square of light coming from the Pillar. After a second, he realized the blue light had shapes moving on it.

They’d found it.

Far off, a new, different howl rose in the air. Sandshades. Kalix peeked around the corner and scanned the horizon. Blood pounded in his ears and his heart raced. Finally, his gaze fell on something that filled him with sheer horror. In the shadow of one of the dunes, the very sand itself came alive. The golden sand turned black and lifted off the ground to become a dark cloud. The cloud swirled around in the shadow, but never left it. As the shadow grew, so did the cloud.

“Hurry!” Kalix screamed as he turned back to his companions. “The sandshades are coming.”

A strange electric buzzing accompanied by a soft clickety-clack, like the sound of tiny bits of gravel tumbling together, filled his ears. He looked to his right and saw another of the dark clouds, hovering just out of the soft blue glow created by the Oracle Panel.

Panic flooded into Kalix. He jumped back and pressed himself against the monolith. “Hurry!”

Caley turned to him. “It’s not working. It’s not accepting the magic words.”

Kalix shoved her aside. He waited for the Oracle Panel to finish it’s strange language and spoke. “Ack sess koda. For svento treenighen.”

A broken circle appeared on the Oracle Panel and rotated like a wheel. A harsh buzzing sound came from the Panel as it suddenly blinked red. Then it went dark.

Terror gripped Kalix. He spun around just in time to see the dark cloud lunge toward them. All coherent thoughts fled his mind as he ran. The screams of his companions faded into the howling wind as he rounded the corner of the Pillar.

Pain stabbed at his feet and shot up his legs like a raging fire. The ground rushed up to meet him and his face slammed into the hard sand. He looked down and saw the cloud of black dots swarming up his body. With fresh horror, he saw that where his feet should have been, there was only sand.

Kalix twisted and tried to brush off the shade, but they moved onto his hands. Red-hot agony consumed his fingers. He thrashed and wailed, rolling onto his stomach. Something hard bumped against his cheek. He reached for whatever it was, desperate to find something to get the shade off of him, but his hands were gone.

As the shade moved up the rest of his body, devouring the rest of his flesh, his gaze fell on something white poking out of the sand. A human skull. Stripped of all flesh and blood, the skull told him the truth of his fate. They were not the first to find the Pillar.

And they would probably not be the last.

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