I. Premonitions

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Spaciarum was a vast expanse of desert that dominated the northern basin; a voracious wind-scoured plain where swirling grit tore at anything unfortunate enough to be caught in the open. Mighty Sol, giver of all life, was merely a pale disc trying to pierce the murky atmosphere.

There was a heavy chugging sound--the heartbeat of an ancient combustion engine. It grew louder, culminating in a whoosh of sand and dirt as a large vehicle thundered on its way. It was angular, with bodywork that was rusted and looked like it was assembled in a hurry and without a plan. Four thick tires churned the rusty sand, leaving it hanging in clouds above the tracks left in its wake.

Inside the open cockpit of the All-Terrain Land Auto-Runner, Milo stood leaning on the windscreen. He wore a thick, ragged thawb with a padded jacket protecting his chest and several bundles and bags strapped to him. Squinting through the rectangular pane of the goggles he wore, he suddenly tensed, gripping his companion by the shoulder.

'Goadas! I think we're coming up to it,' he yelled over the engine.

'Understood,' the man behind the wheel responded. Goadas was a broader and taller man than Milo, though both were lean and hard-featured. You almost had to be, out in the wastes.

The ATLAR swayed a little as Goadas weaved through a smatter of boulders and into a narrow pass between the great red rocks rising from the dirt. Milo could smell the kerosene fumes of the engine, mixed with the rusty metallic tang of the air. His legs dampened the bumps and knocks from the road, like a second set of suspension. Even though he rode in the ATLAR all the time, it was always a liberating feeling, like how it might've been to ride on the back of an animal; just like the old Lazuli Order books, back in the librum. Stories of a time when man rode on the backs of equine mammals, roaming green hills and forests that spanned continents.

It was far removed from reality, of course-- but Milo still felt that in some way the ATLAR was his 'horse' on which he could roam the 'fields'. Goadas would probably say he was a mug for saying such, though, so he kept the notion to himself.

Then, they saw it.

A fountain of green miasma with bright blue strings of energy forking from it, like slow lightning; fiercely alive with something unearthly. It spewed from the ground, seeming to evaporate as it ascended. As they got closer, they were able to see the plume in more intricate detail. Groping, clawing strands leapt from its core, sending out shrieks and crackles that sounded all too alike human voices.

Goadas brought the ATLAR to rest about twenty meters from the phenomenon, then the pair lept out of the open sides. The green anomaly seemed to growl at their presence, then shot another angry pulse into the air. Even when it wasn't spewing or shrieking, the sound of it was deeply unsettling.

With a nod to his companion, Milo took a step forward and tapped a button on the side of his visor. The display showed a simple readout of the energies he was witnessing. It made him frown.

'Doesn't look good,' he said.

'Yeah?'

'Way over what we hoped,' Milo elaborated, tapping the visor again to disengage the readout.

Cautiously, Goadas walked over to a small piece of limp vegetation embedded between two rocks. He began to take a careful sample, while Milo looked around with nervous glances.

'Don't take too long, okay?' he said over the wind, placing a hand on his rifle.

'Tch. Just 'cause you got the easy task...' Goadas retorted.

'You kidding me? I don't think there's anything easy about going near a Psyonic Rupture,' Milo said with an edge of foreboding. 'Apart from the obvious, the rupture itself, there's the Council...'

'Yeah, yeah. Tough shit.' Goadas eyed the Rupture as he slipped part of the plant into a tiny metal cannister. They were sometimes considered beautiful in a disturbing kind of way, but Goadas didn't like them. He didn't like anything psychic, psyonic, psychotronic or whatever other ridiculous names such forces had. Oh sure, their existence could be proven now, but there was nevertheless something bewitched and irrational about them. Some essence that made them a prick in his balloon of logic, which annoyed him. Of course, there was also the fact a Psyionic Rupture sounded like a room filled with a hundred people suffocating.

'Let's not hang around any longer than we have to.' Milo turned and glanced at the ATLAR.

'Right.' Goadas walked over to the vehicle in a deliberate manner, placing the sample carefully in the back of it.

A sinuous flow from the Rupture seemed to abruptly turn and snake towards them, like some ghostly tentacle.

'Goadas!' Milo called impatiently.

'All right, all right, I'm just making sure they're not gonna fall out everywhere on the way back!' Goadas replied.

The groping and fizzing tendril seemed to grasp at the dirt and then attempt to reach closer and closer, like a dying man clutching for something to save him.

'Goadas! Lunar's sake-- I'll drive,' Milo said, sliding over to take the wheel and firing up the ignition. He throttled the engine and began reversing as his friend jumped up into the passenger seat.

Goadas glanced over at Milo with annoyance. 'Geez, don't wait up. Didn't you know patience is a virtue?'

'Not near these, it isn't,' Milo replied, slamming the accelerator down and swerving away.

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