The machine man stumbles by me through the frozen desert dust. I look at his face of steel and glass and it meets my gaze with a lifeless stare. Their old minds turn violent from time to time and their kind is ten times stronger than a man, but I do not fear it. I feel only pity. The machine man is demented and broken, nothing but an obsolete remnant. I give the it a respectful nod and wait for it to continue on its way. It shuffles off into the darkness without acknowledging me.
I continue on my way through the icy wastes; the shards above me light my way with a cool, faint glow. Once, the shards were one big and round light, beautiful and silver, or so the stories claim. It was no accident or misfortune that destroyed it, but wrath: it is said that our own ancestors shattered their beautiful night-light in the skies. Another cold gust makes me shudder, and I readjust the scarf over my face and grip my spear tighter. My cloak flutters and dances in the wind as though it has gained a mind of its own.
I can only travel long distances at night. In the day, the sun would burn my skin even through thick clothing. Many have died of the sun-sickness, where the skin fills with dark spots and blisters, then bleeds and blackens. Those who have a house sometimes venture out in the day for just an hour, wrapped in so many layers of cloth, but for a wanderer like me, that is not feasible. Besides: Even after all these years, I still love the fearful beauty of the nightly wastes.
The land ahead is empty and barren except for the beasts that call it home. Most of those flee men or run in terror from fire or light – others are predators that would consider me food, but until this day, I have always found victory against them. One day, when my body has aged too much and my limbs have become tired, I will not win, and then I will be devoured, to become one with the desert again.
I have seen creatures that were like humans out here, with the same face, but too many limbs and empty, uncomprehending, frightened eyes. They hide in the dust and scuttle after me but flee when I light my torch. I believe they want to eat me, but sometimes I suspect that they feel that I am whole, that I can help them become human again, or that they just wish for some comfort from another who resembles them.
In the shadow of a humongous mountain of black, glassy rock I make my camp and light dry lichen for warmth and protection. As soon as I strike the flame, something small scuttles away into the darkness—either this is its home, or it has been following me, hoping that I would die and that it could then burrow into my body to feast on my guts. I would not blame it for that, since it only acts according to its nature.
The sun rises in the North, just barely peering over the horizon, but I have chosen my resting place well and the obsidian mountain shields me from the blinding and deadly green sunlight. The wastes are littered with the blackened skeletons of those who chose badly and died within hours, soon stripped of their skin and flesh by the burning rays of daylight, the freezing cold of night, and the beasts of the desert.
I continue at break of night, leaving half of my fire lichen unburnt and buried under the rocks around the fireplace as a gift for other wanderers and as a signal that this camp is safe. Had the sun touched the site, I would have taken the lichen with me, as is custom.
A brisk walk of two hours takes me to the edge of Kraist Crater. It is a deep, circular gash in the wasteland, right at the edge of the Great Ice Plain, which they say was once called the Ocean. Eons ago, many thousand human beings or more lived here, but when the day of the wrath came, the city was burnt with searing sun-fire. They call this valley Kraist Crater for the big charred statue of the man with the outstretched arms, who used to watch over the city, but now lies in the dirt at the edge of the pit. Kraist was the son of the Great God of Technology and he had nails driven through his hands and feet, though why he was tortured thus, nobody knows. The large, half-molten face of the statue is an image of horror to many, but I just see pitiful suffering, not a threat.
Likewise, many fear the ghosts that live in the crater, but I would rather weep for what they had to endure. As I descend the icy slopes down into the great hollow, I feel them around me, not thousands but thousands of thousands, wiped out in an instant of fire. Their presence presses on my mind like heavy smoke and it seems as though they are attempting to speak to me, to tell me how lonely and frightened they are, that they don’t understand, that they want to be allowed to rest but do not know how. I cannot help them, and I think they will not judge me for treading on their resting ground, where their black silhouettes are burned into what is left of their once great houses.
I pass some ruins without looking inside: There are tracks near the doors telling me they have been searched by other wanderers. Far away, I hear the thunderous cracks of ice that had been molten by the sunlight and is now freezing again. Two of the shards are right above the crater, helping me find my way with their ghostly light. The Moon of Old must have been beautiful.