It starts with a planet called Galem.
From space, it is nothing more than a blue bauble; but as one gets closer, more detail emerges. There are silver clouds, and churning oceans. There is one continent, broken by veins of river – ragged at the edges, and carpeted in green and brown. To the north are mountains, white and frigid; to the east and west, volcanic tropics. Deserts are scattered here and there, to striking effect. To the south is a more homogenous band, brown-yellow, and flat as a sheet.
It is an unremarkable region, except on the fringes, where the mountains rise high and forbidding against the sea. There are times when the land is shaken by earthquakes, or a massive volcano will awaken, spilling ash into the sky.
Everything is grassland here. Green grasses in the wet season; brown grass in the dry season. Amber grassland where the soil is rich. Yellow grassland where the soil is rocky. There is even blue grass, it is said, where the mountains meet the plains; but no one ever goes there. Trees dot the horizon aimlessly. When the sun is high and hot, it pummels the land like a hammer upon an anvil, sending up heat waves and whirling dust devils. The animals of the plain, adapted though they may be to the inferno, dig deep and fly high and run for the shelter of the trees, conserving water and energy for a cooler hour.
This is the Llalate-Di: the Burning Plains.
It is morning. Already the grassland shimmers. Huge rotund animals, like water buffaloes, stand up to their shoulders in grass, chewing grimly. Chattering monkey-rats forage and fight in the shade of a funnel tree. Something huge and scaly slithers through the grass, causing birds to squawk and flush from their hiding places. A great tall creature meanders upon stalk-like legs, reaching up with a clawed hand to stuff branches in its mouth. Everything has been quiet so far; the predators are abed, the grass is still too wet for wildfire. Standing in the midst of it all, one can almost hear the monotonous, collective chewing of cud.
Then it stops. Ears prick up. The buffalo beasts glance at each
other questioningly – predators? All eyes look toward the east. Every nose is up, every tail is raised, every limb is tensed, expecting.
And then the grass ripples as something large slides through it, and the buffalo-things step back, and the monkey-rats shriek, and the tall creatures blanch. Birds fly everywhere. A new creature, moving like a lightning bolt, shoots through the grass and into the open.
All one catches is a glimpse – a bipedal form, enormous legs, a handsomely gracile head set upon a sinuous neck, long ears – and then the creature is gone. The beasts rear back in indignation and alarm; one defecates noisily and bellows with disgust.
But then the grass moves again – another creature on the run. It lollops out, not as fleet as its predecessor, but identical in shape; it zigzags across the feeding ground, and the scene becomes a bedlam. The buffaloes have had enough; they stomp off concussively toward the east, cussing in their low, bellowing snorts.