Hidden Pages – Chapter 18 – Tracking Across the Stars


Creatures composed of sand don’t walked and pounce like creatures of flesh and blood. They flow, shifting like a wave on the sea, their bodies spilling from one place to the next.

Beth knew the Desert Lions weren’t flesh and blood. She knew how they moved and the limitations they had but even her sharpest imagination hadn’t captured the roaring force a Desert Lion held.

“Don’t run,” she said. “Don’t even turn your back.”

“I hadn’t been planning to,” Lagressa said. “What is this creature?”

“Desert Lion, native of this planet, very territorial,” Beth said. “Was kind of hoping we’d see one.”

“Are they friendlier than they appear?” Lagressa asked.

“Not really. Significantly less, in fact,” Beth said.

“We may have a problem then,” Lagressa said. “I don’t think my curse will affect a creature of sand.”

“It doesn’t need to,” Beth said. “Desert Lions are only hostile when they smell invaders with hostile intent.”

The giant cat drew itself up, incorporating more of the desert sand into its body until it was the size of a small hill. Despite its alien nature, the creature’s body language matched that of a earthly house cat exactly. From how it crouched down ready to spring forward, to the set of its ears, every sandy muscle it had sang of being prepared for violence.

“It seems to think we arrived with hostile intent,” Lagressa said, lowering her arms to her side in a placating gesture.

“Not us,” Beth said.

She followed the line of the Desert Lion’s gaze. It was focused in their direction but the eyes  weren’t quite angled at them. Sensing what was about to happen, Beth grabbed Lagressa’s arm, both to steady herself and to prevent Lagressa from making any unfortunate moves.

The latter was largely unnecessary though. There simply weren’t any moves Lagressa could have made against the Lion as it sprang forward, diving not through the air but beneath the sands.

Beth and Lagressa were tossed to the ground as a wave of sand passed underneath them. Lagressa spun and regained her balanced with ease. Beth had a harder time of standing up, but she rose in time to see the Desert Lion break from beneath the surface of the sand with one of the Burners caught in its mouth like a mouse that picked the wrong planet to step foot on.

The two other Burners who’d managed to follow them dodged to either side, but the sand of the Desert Lion’s paws moved with the speed of a hurricane.

Beth was too far away to see the specific effect of the claws, but what was once one intact Burner flew away from the blow as three separate pieces. Each piece faded away in a sparkle of orange and red light before it hit the ground, which suggested that, whatever the Burners were made from, “normal matter” was not on the ingredient list.

The last Burner waved his arms as he ran and a five pointed gate of brilliant white fire opened in the air before him.

“That’s a Stellar Gate!” Beth started running forward, knowing that any effort to reach the gate before the Burner would be futile.

Where Beth lacked sufficient speed to stop the Burner though, the Desert Lion did not.

The Burner tried to shoot at the cat. It waved its hand and produced a Decoherence Gun, one of the deadliest weapons in the Measureless Stars universe. Desert Lions were affected by Decoherence blasts, but lacking centralized organs, they was capable of surviving the loss of significant chunks of their mass where humans and similar entities were not.

Similar entities like the Burners it seemed.

The Burner got in a pair of quick shots as the Desert Lion charged him. Those slowed the giant cat slightly but not enough for the Burner to make it to the Stellar Gate.

At least not in a single piece. Parts of the Burner made it through the gate but the majority of it shattered under the Desert Lion’s claws. Beth was glad to be well away from the fight. She didn’t feel the need to witness the gory details, though she suspected the shredded Burners were less “blood and viscera” and more “discorporating energy fields”.

With the Burners gone, the Desert Lion turned to face Beth and Lagressa.

Beth stopped running and Lagressa stopped just behind her.

The Lion watched them, its sandy tail flicking back and forth as its nose twitched.

“You said it was territorial?” Lagressa asked.

“Yes, but as long as we keep our thoughts peaceful, and move away from its home area, it should stay placated,” Beth said.

She nodded to the big cat, trying to focus on respect for its actions and size rather than fear. Trusting that it wouldn’t sense any threat from her, Beth began walking slowly forward and well around to the side of the Desert Lion.

“We have another problem,” Lagressa said.

“I know. The Burner’s shouldn’t have been able to follow us.”

“Yes, that too,” Lagressa said.

“What do you mean…,” Beth turned to face Lagressa and saw that the blue scaled woman was shimmering faintly. “What’s happening?”

“I feel cut off here,” Lagressa said, as a wobbling wave passed through her body. “It’s as though I’m falling into the Primal Chaos.”

“How long have you felt like that?” Beth asked, a terrible suspicion growing in her mind.

“Since we arrived,” Lagressa said. “It got worse when you ran off though.”

The Desert Lion sniffed and Beth felt the wind of its breath on her back and neck. No creature that large should have been able to be as silent as it was, but Beth managed to stifle her urge to jump or squeak in terror.

When she looked behind herself though, she found the Desert Lion’s posture had lost it’s menacing tension. It seemed curious about the two small interlopers in front of it, and had sank back on its haunches to watch them.

“That’s not good,” Beth said and reached to take Lagressa’s hand. The wobbling diminished immediately, just as the light from the Stellar Gate flared and a troop of Patrollers in the Silver and Black armor of the Reilian Imperial Command stepped through it.

“And that’s worse,” Beth said.