When the sun rises, we board the transporter and travel deep into the mountains where the portal to Earth lies. After telling you to cover the windows, I close off the driver’s area and engage the invisibility function on the transporter. You can’t see where we’re going, but you can tell when we go through the portal. Everything goes dark and still for a moment before returning to normal. We emerge on Earth, but I forbid you from looking upon your home planet. The portals on and off Earth must remain a secret for the protection of those who live on the other side.
After a short while, the transporter descends and then hits the ocean, the water muffling the sound of its movement. The world goes black and motionless again, and then we’re on a new planet. It takes a couple hours for us to cross to the other side where the final portal awaits. Most of you doze while some of you talk amongst yourselves. Darkness envelops us for the final time, and we emerge on the next planet.
Welcome to Bursna.
Now you have permission to open the window coverings, and I remove the barrier between my seat and yours. The outside world is dark, so dark you may as well still be going through the portal. A strong wind buffets the trees and the transporter. We sway with each gust of air. I navigate us safely through the forested mountains despite the snowstorm raging around us. You’re not sure how I do it given the darkness, but you trust me. I’ve kept all of you safe so far, and you have no reason to doubt my abilities.
Some of you sleep through the noise and turbulence, but some of you are too restless. You’re ready for us to stop for the night. After about an hour, I ease the transporter to the snow-covered ground and turn off the engine. We’re in the seasonal town of Sa Kwiva. Trappers, hunters, loggers, and miners live here in the summer; but it’s abandoned right now. We’ve arrived in the dead of winter.
I instruct you to stay inside the transporter while I find lodging for what remains of the night. It’s a couple hours past midnight. You’ll be happy to know the days here are almost the same length as those on Earth. They’re an hour longer, but you’ll be able to go back to a somewhat normal sleep schedule.
A few moments later, I return covered in snow. You bundle up as best as you can in the layers you brought before venturing out into the storm with me. You cling to the person in front of you to avoid getting lost. The person behind you keeps a firm grip on your coat.
A howling, biting wind sweeps across the tundra to the north of us, sending snow into your face with a cold sting. Within a minute, you can’t feel your exposed skin; but don’t fret. I parked as close to the building as I could without hitting it. A faint light beckons you. As you draw closer, you see it’s a lantern in the doorway of a wooden building. The people in front of you disappear inside.
At last you’re sheltered, stamping snow off your feet and fighting for a place near the hearth where a warm fire glows. You drop your wet hat, gloves, and scarf to the floor and rub your hands on your face to bring back circulation. Your exposed skin tingles as it warms.
Once everyone is inside, I close the door, muffling the sound of the storm. The wind still finds its way through small cracks in between the thick, wooden beams that make up the building, mainly around the windows and door. It whistles like a kettle of boiling water. You think a warm cup of tea or hot chocolate would be nice right now. You haven’t had anything to eat in about five hours, and thoughts of a warm meal are at the forefront of your mind.
The cabin you’re in is rough and dirty, having been vacant for several months now; but the second floor is well-supplied with bunks of warm blankets. After eating a disappointing meal of cold, leftover food from breakfast, you try to get more sleep before sunrise, knowing you’ll have bad jet lag if you don’t.
When the sun rises, we have another cold meal of leftovers—there’s no food here—and prepare to continue our journey south. The world is quiet now that the storm’s died out. A foot of snow fell during the night, and we have to shovel our way back to the transporter. Once everyone is on board and the cabin we stayed in is secure once more, we leave. The invisibility function is still enabled. Very few people know about the transporter, and it’s best we keep it that way. Plus it offers a better chance at seeing wildlife.
As we travel through the thin, boreal forest skirting the Da Shairvo Mountains, I tell you about the secret you must keep. Very few people know of the portal in the mountains. As far as I know, none of those people live on Bursna. They’re all durmiads from Kareena, spies from Nakivi, and a government official from the planet on the other side. The falarsi, the people here, haven’t trekked far enough into the treacherous Da Shairvos to have found it. You cannot tell anyone we came through it. The portal must remain a secret.
You spot a herd of animals in between the sparse trees. They’re tall with light fur and long, branching antlers. The redoi are one of the primary sources of food in this part of Bursna. Not far off is a large cat. It also has light-colored fur, but it doesn’t completely blend in because of the dark-colored rings on its fur. You can barely make it out as it slinks across the frozen ground, stalking the redoi herd.
We don’t see anything else of note until we pass through another town. This one is the largest of the seasonal towns, but all you can see are a few rooftops and chimneys poking out of the deep snow.
It takes us the better part of a day to reach an inhabited town, Sa Shina. It’s primarily a seasonal town, but a few brave souls choose to dwell here year-round. To the southwest is the tail end of the mountains and forest. Sa Shina is out on the tundra, the only thing besides the foothills with any height to it for miles.
I park the transporter in the trees before handing out snowshoes. We hike across the frozen terrain; and you’re thankful there’s no wind to bite at your skin, though the cold still permeates your thick layers. The buildings in Sa Shina are rough log cabins, the structure of choice in this region. Most are boarded up for the winter, but the single lodge is open. Trappers still pass through here, even in winter, though they come far less frequently. Behind the town, you can see where the seemingly endless white transitions to the dark blue of the ocean.
We enter the lodge, and you’re bombarded with the smell of campfire and warm food. Your stomach grumbles, and your mouth waters. For the first time since seeing Ruben and Kaden on Kareena, you see people. Five men, two women, four boys, and two girls—the only people who live here year-round—are seated around a stone hearth with a roaring fire. They all look up at the sound of us traipsing inside.
One of the men speaks with me in a language you don’t understand—Ahnchanti, the language of the durmiads and all their creations. As we talk, you study the other falarsi, and they stare at you. They look human to you with their blond and brown hair and blue and brown eyes. They’re clad in thick, woolen shirts and pants. The females and men have long hair pulled back into ponytails, and the men have thick beards. The boys have short hair and are clean shaven.
The man leads me upstairs, and I beckon for you to follow. The upper floor is comprised of many rooms. There are enough for each of you to have your own. While you settle in, I tell you about the bathroom on the first floor. It has rudimentary plumbing, and you can bathe in warm water for the first time in nearly two months. While we’re here, you’ll also be served hot meals comprised of the finest food the falarsi have to offer.
Once you’re clean and have a full belly, the sun is gone for the night; and you decide to sleep off the rest of your jet lag. The next morning, I translate your thanks to our hosts, and we return to the transporter.
We leave the tundra behind; but except for the lack of trees, the new landscape isn’t much different. The cold, arid steppe is covered in snow, though it isn’t deeply buried like the places we’ve left behind. We stop at the first town we come across, Sa Amert, and you spend another comfortable night in an inn. Most of its inhabitants live here year-round in sturdy buildings of stone.
The next day, our travels only take half a day instead of a full day. We stop in Sa Sunil, the capital of the State Brosa. We’re still in the snow-covered cold, arid steppe, but now we’re next to a frozen lake and a river.
Sa Sunil is a sprawling city of numerous stone buildings, some standing two stories tall. It’s bustling with daily activity from its high population. Since Bursna has no portals directly connecting it to Earth, no one here speaks any human languages, not even the travelling merchants. You realize you are completely at my mercy when it comes to communication. Yet that doesn’t stop you from exploring the city. I give each of you a handful of money, explaining the names and amounts of each coin. The people who organized this trip for you want you to have a good time, but this is all you get for the next twelve days. Spend it wisely.
Some of you wander the shops in the market, carefully selecting items to spend your allowance on, while others watch performances in the theater. You don’t have to know Ahnchanti to appreciate the plays and concerts. Some of you explore the library and others the university. The only place I’ve forbidden you from going to is the fairgrounds. You’ll want a guide and translator for the festivities that take place there. After staying out late enjoying the sights, you return to the inn and instantly fall asleep in your bed.
The next day we cross the lake to Sa Shirij, the capital of Hila. Sa Sunil is big, but Sa Shirij is even bigger. The city is on the edge of dense temperate forest, the evergreen trees covered in snow, and the deciduous ones bare. Those of you who haven’t squandered your money are able to enjoy more performances at the theater and more merchandise in the shops. There are two universities here and three libraries. You wish you knew Ahnchanti, so you could more thoroughly explore these places of learning.
The next town we stay in is Sa Keroyi. It’s located next to a river in the heart of a rift valley. We’re much farther south now, so it’s slightly warmer and less snowy; but it’s still winter. You have to continue dressing in thick layers as you explore the town. You can see the canyon walls in either direction, and to the north is a lone peak—a volcano. The landscape here is grass, though it’s dead and covered in snow.
The next town is Sa Hoverta, on the other side of the rift valley. It’s beside a river, and a vast prairie stretches in all directions. Sa Hoverta is used to seeing traffic on the river. People travel south from the mountains to the sea, and vice versa, carrying goods with them. The town is active and full of merchants selling their wares.
Once more, you’re able to sleep in a warm bed. I hope I haven’t spoiled you too much here. It won’t always be easy going from here on out. There are still uninhabited places on this planet and the others. And there are still dangers lurking in the corners of the universe.