I sketched this short a while back while waiting in an airport.

“Hurry, they’re almost to the bridge! Val stood as close as they could bear the heat. The sweat was dripping so freely now that they could taste salt with every burning blink.

“Hurry, damn!” they screamed. Beyond the fire and debris, a roaring dust cloud, the harbinger of destruction and chaos, the end to what little remained of their community. Both in the distance, and all around, the wavering, orange fog transformed reality into a feverish panic. 

Another explosion, this time too close, nearly ending things abruptly. Finally, Lacy clambered up the embankment, grabbing Val’s sweating hands and pulling herself through the heat. Seeing the cloud of dust like a tornado made her throat clench.

“How… where are we going to go?” 

Her question came too late, quickly followed by a frantic turn. Val was already running south toward the garden. Lacy took another look at the approaching disaster–barely more than a churning soup of red ochre that seemed to roll outward, upward, and backward all at once. Lacy stumbled, then ran south after Val’s twisting, dusty cloud. 

Usually this time of year dozens of the village members gathered for the Pel-norat–the harvest competition to showcase the season’s best crops. Colonists play games, and celebrate community under the watchful moons. It had become comfortable here despite the harsh outer climates and unforgiving, newly-terraformed terrain; for all its faults, The Pathdwellers had established this as their home. No one ever labors thinking their efforts could be made so insignificant in an instant. “Could we have done something differently?” Val kept wondering frantically as they continued to run. 

Another nearby explosion heralded the fiery loss of the colony’s first quarter, the first place where people settled so long ago and first began to search for their homeland among the strange-purple stars. Val stopped short–they could see legs and what looked like someone’s arm trapped under burning debris. There was nothing that could be done for those colonists, and Val’s tears muddied their face with dust and ash. As the fire continued down the entire quarter and part of the street, Lacy caught up, coughing. 

“Where… now?”

“We need to–”

Another explosion interrupted Val in the worst way. The entire south bluff became visible, the clouds parted from the impact of an explosion, revealing a rush of blue-green flora which slowly transformed into an unforgiving wall of flames. The landscape seemed to churn upward, like a river giving way from a dam. This explosion made Val scream loudly. Lacy fell to the ground. Next to her, Jeyson Reynold’s bread cabinet landed only a foot or so away, shattering into pieces. Jeyson had built this last winter for Seyrah and Giene, the couple who had discovered how to make a gluten-like bread dough from the yellow roots that grow in the harsh ridges beyond the northern fields. More debris continued to rain downward.

Val pointed toward the skies above the newly formed explosion. Several rocket trails traced upward. 

“But they said there were no ships…” 

Lacy and Val locked eyes. The ground rumbled unceasingly, nauseatingly. Cracks began to form, and venting hotter than any steam formed a barrier between them and the path forward. Lacy, crying, looked around for where else they might run. Val took her hand. 

“There’s nowhere else to run, Lace. It’s just you and me.”

They locked eyes again. With nothing more to say, they embraced, closing their eyes, squeezing as if the harder they held, the more the colony around them would disappear. 

By Ruadhán

Ethnomediologist, writer, digital creator, & gamer. Author & developer of Augur's Lore TTRPGs. Polyhedral dice & pizza enthusiast. Pronouns: they/them/their

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