by Kale Night

With an average surface temperature of -60 Celsius (-76 Fahrenheit) degrees and growing colder every year, planet Thalassinus was a frozen wasteland. The official explanation dictated their sun had neared the end of its celestial lifespan and was slowly dying. Some Terasians believed it to be divine punishment, on account of the heathens in Ibara - a view Emperor Haru strongly encouraged. Ibaran heathens accepted it as a natural phenomenon, a force over which they had no control.

There were no accurate predictions for how long it would take for their limited resources to expire, oxygen to become too difficult to produce, or the cold too painful to endure. The question everyone wanted to know was exactly how cold it was going to get.

-273.15° Celsius. Absolute zero. Any colder and the temperature cycles back, getting warmer instead of cold.

That's what Reisen told Auryn. As usual, Emperor Haru had a different story. The Emperor declared their temperature was falling at an accelerated rate and could go as low as -480° Celsius within the next hundred years, according to his panel of experts. Experts who adhered to the same rigid scientific principles as priests.

The public donated millions in precious gold, funding projects designed to delay the inevitable. Anything guaranteed to prolong the human race or destroy Ibara was a guaranteed investment. Where the money really went, Auryn didn't know.

Their ice-encased planet housed one final bastion of humanity, an island divided into three countries - Terasu, Ibara, and Enma. Beyond the frozen ocean there was nothing and venturing too far from approved areas meant death by hypoxia; oxygen produced by massive algae farms was used strictly in populated regions. Travel outside prescribed areas required an oxygen supply and movement between cities was forbidden. Only military personnel were exempted from the rule. Terasu's civilians lived and died in the cities of their birth. Without farms run by the Terasian government growing and delivering food, people would starve.

Emperor Haru ruled Terasu. Haru hated anyone and anything he didn't personally approve of. This included, but was not limited to, alcohol, pre-marital sex - any kind of sex, really - drugs, denim, adulterers, electric guitars (especially when played with a bow), queers, blasphemers, science, anyone who believed the universe didn't revolve around him, dancing, and grapefruit.

Jadoku, the Ibaran emperor, was more forgiving, but shared Haru's disdain for certain things. He was known for personally executing anyone found guilty of sedition. Convicted criminals were given elaborate executions, complete with refreshments for the guests, so they could nibble expensive crackers and drink champagne while watching some poor bastard get hung, drawn, and quartered. Because nothing worked up an appetite quite like watching someone's genitals burn in front of them.

Anyone was free to attend.

For years the people of Terasu and Ibara had been lead to believe their countries were at war, a battle for which no resolution was logically attainable. The source of their bitter animosity: a disagreement over which Emperor belonged to a lineage traceable back to a time when Gods inhabited the planet. This contrived conflict generated millions in taxes and war bonds. No battles were fought. No blades were drawn. The Emperors sat side-by-side, listening to the gold roll in.

This was their war. Not on a battlefield, but the ruins of a church in Enma, the southernmost part of the island. The church's once majestic frame was reduced to a pale skeleton of stone and ice, heart of the oxygenated region - a 2 km2 section hospitable to life.

Enma's previous incarnation was a civilization more advanced than Terasu or Ibara, a haven for academics and their eager followers, but everything went to shit. The fall of Enma was fairly recent. A few hundred years ago. According to rumors, the people of Enma grew too greedy for knowledge, forsaking ethics for innovation, and the Gods punished them accordingly. As little as Auryn knew about what killed roughly 400,000 Enmish citizens, it was a fair assumption the Gods had nothing to do with it.