In the beginning we were of the stars, not the sand. After the great falling there was only heat and burning eyes, and the bitter cold of night. Our fathers fought to survive, building shelters whipped by the winds, little defence against the predators of the sand: the lizards and snakes, and worse below.
Our fathers led us deep into the sands, through storms, so our numbers grew smaller and food was scarce, and water was the dwindling supply brought from the crash-ship. We didn’t know how to read the sand. How to tell when it crusted beneath our feet and became dangerous. We learned as our people fell through the ground, taken, not killed, their screams echoing through the hollowed caves.
We learned what occupied the nests below when the clutterbacks emerged, their great legs bowed, their backs bent and hard, eyes searching prey. We learned to fear the spiders, to know that even the lizards, giant though they were, refused to face them. As we ran, they chased us down and we died. And then we huddled together, prepared to face our end.
So it was that Ankshara stood to face us all. We were prey, she said, but we were something the lizards weren’t – we were clever, had brains that had allowed us to fly through the stars, were civilized. The spiders were a challenge and what had we left our planet for, but adventure? Were we to be defeated by a spider? Believe her, she urged – she had been born in the desert-lands of Earth: she knew how to read the sand.
She showed us the dusted red rocks, and the desert-brush, sharpened by the harsh winds rasping on its wood. We had weapons, she said, if we cared to use them.
Some argued that there must be people on the planet we could reach, who would help if we begged, but she held firm. We’d be dead before we found help and, besides, those who helped themselves would be rewarded, not those who cowered, waiting for death.
We took up the stones. We ripped the sharpest, thickest branches from the brush. We lined across the desert, a pitiful fifty to the hundreds the mother-ship had carried. We waited, even as darkness fell. The wind shifted the sand under our feet, silky on our ankles. It touched our cheeks, caressed our bare arms, made us shiver with its cold, but still we waited. As the sun rose, we saw the spiders gathered below, coming closer and closer through the depths of the dawn-light, creeping to us, knowing we were trapped.
“Launch!” Ankshara’s cry filled the air, giving no time to argue. Rocks flew, shattering the thin shells of the spiders, exposing their soft innards to our spears. They fought, hissing, their great fangs biting exposed flesh. Some of us fell, screaming, but the spiders fell back.
Ankshara pushed us forwards, over the sands, but stopped when the surface changed, became hard and brittle. We who were star-born and weak stopped too, obeying the child of the desert.
“Now,” she said, “we dig.” She stabbed down with her spear, catching the edge of the crust, and her strike shattered the ground. Shrieks came from below, a scuttling movement as the spiders sought to flee the attack on their nest.
Ankshara allowed no such fate. She led the attack, taking spider after spider, emptying the nest and then she turned to us, spear jammed in the earth, face running with blood.
“We have shelter from the winds,” she said. She kicked the nearest spider’s body. “We have food, for those who will eat.” She reached behind her and touched the wall, holding her finger up so we could see the sheen of water. “We have water to drink.” She knelt to the ground, her face solemn. “And it is water from the bedrock. It is sweet and good.” Her eyes widened, and she clambered over a fallen spider’s body, until she reached a glowing pearl, the size of her hand. She lifted it, hefting it high so we could see how it caught the sun’s light and shone, bathing her face, showing her for the goddess she would become – one from the stars, yet desert-born.
We named the pearls for her, the Ankshar which our women wear, in memory that it was a woman who saved us, who was strong enough to lead. We gave the men who tackled nest after nest Ankhars hung with stones as gaudy as the hunt, sharp, with brittle edges which break and shatter as men do.
It is the Ankshar which holds the power, and the memory, passed on from daughter to daughter. This one, child, is mine bequeathed to you. Feel it, won’t you? Feel how smooth it is, how strong? This was Ankshara’s herself, and you, descendant of hers, will hold it through your life for your own child. This, then, is our way.
For more on Abendau, the Inheritance Trilogy, book one (Abendau's Heir) is available from Amazon: