Cloud of Darkness
The gate opens seven thousand feet into a dark sky, with no stars.
Light rises from the ground and the sea.
My field surrounds us and remains strong, even when the power of the nullifier runs out.
There are no cages here.
“Who are you?” asks Fenik, as we float in the air.
“What is this place, and where is Rishku?”
“My name is Yagrin.”
“There is no Rishku.”
“I wore that identity in the prison, so I could enter the women’s sims.”
“You’re the alien,” says Fenik.
“Alien?” asks Mehkoos.
I explain how I revealed myself to Fenik, when I asked for her help.
“Get us down, Yagrin,” says Fenik, “and find us something to cover ourselves!”
“I was in a rush.”
I flow simple clothes and sandals on their bodies, and take us down.
The world gets brighter as we descend, with light rising from the ground and sea.
What is the source of the light below, and why is the sky dark?
I scan the surface of the planet, and listen to its energy and rhythms, looking for answers.
I find a star facing the other side of the planet.
Great rivers of crystal break through the darkness, carrying light along the ground from the sunlit side.
The sea is also decorated with light, covered in living rivers, great swarms of tiny creatures that glow just below the ocean surface.
Both sides of this world are filled with sea, forests, and ruins, but no sign of active intelligent life.
A strange place.
There’s no cycle of day and night here.
One side of the planet always turned toward the star, the other side always dark.
The planet is tidal locked to its sun.
The time it takes this world to rotate on its axis is the same as the time it takes to complete an orbit – six weeks.
But where are the other stars?
A cloud of black holes, two hundred light years wide, surrounds the planet’s star.
The black holes are clustered along the outside edge of the cloud, as though they’re guarding the star at the center.
We land in a large open meadow, welcomed by a thick covering of small plants with sharp red leaves and fuzzy black flowers.
“I’ve seen these plants and trees before,” says Mehkoos, “but not in this endless, open space.”
“They look familiar to me, too,” I tell them.
“How?” asks Fenik.
“Are you stealing our thoughts?”
“I needed to find a safe place to escape to.”
“I pulled thoughts and images from your mind while we were in the sims.
“Finally, I found a few memories of the great school that teaches about the blessings of energy.”
“They should have been hidden from you,” says Fenik.
“When we leave the School of Light, the caretaker binds our memories, so no mind thief can read them.”
“We remember, but it’s impossible for us to even speak of the place.”
“Yet you’re speaking about it now.”
“You’re right,” says Fenik, raising a fist.
“What did you do to us?”
“Have I harmed you in any way?!”
“I used your memories to help us escape.”
“How can our memories guide you?”
“We don’t even know where the school is.”
“I’m a PathFinder.”
“It’s one of the blessings.”
“There an infinite number of pathways between stars.”
“When I look for one, something within me helps me choose.”
“I looked for the school in the same way.”
“I focused on your image of a settlement covered in light, and found a path, but it can’t be the right one.”
“There are no schools here, and no one but us.”
“Where are we?”
I tell them about the light and dark sides of the planet, the single star, and the darkness that protects us.
“The star is hidden,” says Mehkoos.
“Maybe the school is hidden, too.”
“When we were there, there was no sky, dark or light.”
“We were inside a large enclosed space, beautiful and green, but there were always walls around us.”
“How long were you there?”
“Two years, same as everyone who visits the school, except for those who commit to stay for life.”
“And how did you travel there?”
“That memory is gone, along with the names and faces of those we saw in the school.”
“Still, we’ve been told how about.”
“Emissaries of the school travel the empire, searching for those who would benefit from the training.”
“Yes, carrying their own version of a jammer.”
“They look deeply into the minds of those they meet.”
“When they find a potential student, they use a transport device to send her to the school.”
“Only the body goes.”
“Clothes, weapons, etc. are detected and left behind.”
“The students arrive in a holding area, and are examined by more powerful mind thieves.”
“Some students are accepted, while others are sent back, with all their memories erased.”
“A few are killed.”
“Let’s rest for a few hours,” I tell them.
“Then we’ll decide what to do next.”
I flow a structure around us, with mats, blankets, and some food.
Mehkoos and I lay down on our mats, but Fenik sits there.
“I don’t want to go to sleep.”
“I’m afraid that this is all a sim, and I’ll wake back in the prison.”
“Do you like to sing?” I ask her.
“I guess so,” she answer, “but I’m not much good at it.”
I sing them Jiku and Gen songs, and they teach me some Kizak songs, including one from the school.
We sing together, and after that, sleep comes easily.
The Glowing Ocean
Even though there is no sunrise and no sun visible here, I dance the greeting to the sun.
Then we eat.
“Do you find my ways strange?” I ask them.
“Different, but not strange,” says Fenik.
“You remind us of the teachers in the school.”
“The greatest among them can fly without tech, and change air into objects, like you do.”
“What next, Yagrin?” asks Mehkoos.
I flow an opening in the structure, and we step out.
We’re not alone, our house surrounded by a herd of small animals, a little bigger than chipmunks.
They wake when they hear us, and move back.
A thin line forms with ten of the creatures in it.
They move slowly, calmly, toward me, and the first of them stops at my feet.
I bend down and put my palm on the ground.
The head of the line steps into my hand, and the whole group starts to glow.
I glow with them, my webbed feet the brightest part of my Kizak body, and my mind is filled with an image of an ocean, its waves crashing on an endless beach.
There’s a dim glow beneath the waves, so far down that I can’t see it, yet I feel it calling me.
Each minute, the creature in my hand steps out, and another one of the ten takes its place.
When they have all had a turn, they scatter into the meadow, and the image of the ocean fades.
“What was that, Yagrin?” asks Mehkoos.
“I’m not sure.”
“I have a kind of energy that I call the glow.”
“It must have attracted them.”
“Did you see the image of the ocean while they were here?”
“We saw nothing,” says Fenik.
“The ocean is only two hundred miles from here,” I tell them.
“Let’s go there.”
“I have an idea.”
I pick them up in an energy net, and fly them to the beach, staying just above the tops of the trees.
They look nervous when they stand on the beach, and look at the waves.
“Did you ever wonder,” I ask them, “why the Kizak who are great swimmers hate to go into salt water?”
“Maybe it’s the predators in the waters,” says Fenik, “or maybe there’s something unhealthy about the water itself.”
“It’s none of those reasons,” says Mehkoos.”
“The early empire made a law against swimming in the ocean, to remind us that we must rise above the mindless creatures of the sea.”
“The law eventually disappeared, but the custom continued.”
“I’m going to search the sea,” I tell them, “for any sign of a settlement.”
“Normally, I would be able to scan the sea from here, but something is blocking my energy vision.”
“You’re going into the sea?”
“Yes, and you’re coming with me.”
“We’ll be surrounded with a large bubble of air.”
“Your feet will never touch water.”
“Can’t you go without us?” asks Fenik.
“I could, but I won’t leave you alone in this strange place.”
“It’s safer if you come with me.”
Once underwater, my energy vision clears.
There’s something that pulls at me from the bottom of the ocean.
I take us there, and find a small dome, about ten feet wide, that extends into the sea bottom.
I wonder what’s underneath it, but my energy vision can’t penetrate the strange material that it’s made from.
The ocean floor is filled with sea life, but they all avoid the dome.
Our bubble of air settles over the dome, pushing the water away.
The three of us stand there, feeling out of place.
I run my hand along the surface of the dome.
I wonder how long it’s been here!
It’s still perfectly smooth.
There was no light when we first got here, but now there are four round areas on the dome that start to glow.
I touch one and sense an energy pattern.
“Don’t be frightened,” I tell the women, “but I’m going to change shape.”
“They’re vicious killers!” says Fenik.
“When you become Madar, you’ll thirst for our blood.”
“We’ll be fine.”
“I took the form once before, and nothing bad happened.”
They move back to the far edge of the dome, still within the shield and the air pocket.
I kneel down and flow my body into the Madar shape.
Then I touch the four circles with my four hands.
The entire dome glows, and an energy field forms above us.
“Hold on!” I say, in a voice that sounds deep and strange.
The dome flattens and sinks ten feet with us riding on it.
Railings rise at the outside edge, and the ceiling closes above us, as we continue moving down.
The Old Ways
We descend about four hundred feet, and come to rest in a plain chamber.
Everything here is over-sized, designed for Madar, not Kizak.
The lights turns on, and fans activate, bringing in fresh air, but from where?
I scan the air in the chamber just outside my shield.
Stale, but warm and breathable, and getting sweeter.
An alarm sounds.
“What is this place?” asks Mehkoos.
“An ancient entrance that opens only for Madar.”
“Your voice is frightening,” says Fenik.
I press a large, hand-shaped control pad near the main door.
It opens to another world, filled with light and fountains and green, everywhere.
We step through, and the door closes behind us.
Four women are waiting, weapons pointed.
When they see me, they drop their weapons, and bow their heads to the ground.
A small group of older Kizak approach us.
“Get up, and shut off the alarm,” says one of the women in the new group, raising her own weapon toward me.
“Master Tefri,” says a woman, raising her head from the ground, “he is Madar!”
“We wait for his command.”
“You forget who your master is!” says Tefri, rebuking the guards.
“Who guides the school for as long as you can remember?” she asks.
“You and the caretaker,” answers the woman, meekly.
“But Master Tefri,” says another guard, “we were ordered to come here.”
“The caretaker said we must guard the gate, and welcome a visitor!”
“The opening has been closed for centuries.”
“Who else but Madar could enter?”
“Remember your teachings!” says Tefri.
“Truth is more than what you see.”
She moves to a console and shuts off the alarm.
I reach two of my large hands toward the women still on the ground, and pull them up.
“Bow before no one,” I tell them, staring into their eyes.
They turn their heads, and recoil in fear.
“How can he be anything but Madar?” asks one of the women.
“His eyes swallow all light, yet he sees.”
What does she mean?
“What are you talking about?” I ask her.
“My eyes are red!”
Fenik steps between me and the woman.
“We see no eyes,” she says, “only darkness.”
“When the Madar die, this darkness melts, and at that moment the body catches fire and turns to ash.”
“Enough,” I tell them.
“The Madar have great mastery of energy, but they are living beings like you and me.”
I change back to the Kizak shape.
“Get him some clothes,” says Tefri.
“No need,” I tell her, as I shape a robe to cover myself.
“What are you?” asks Tefri.
“He’s not Kizak, ” says Mehkoos.
“Are you Madar?” asks Tefri.
“Yet you take their shape, so you can enter through the ocean!”
“How did you know?”
“I came to this world, trying to reach the school, but I couldn’t find you on the surface.”
“Then I met glowing creatures that gave me an image of the waves.”
“They showed me the way.”
“I looked beneath the ocean, and found a small dome.”
“One small dome in an immense ocean?”
“How long did it take you to find it?”
“A few minutes.”
“My mind and energy sight can move much faster than anything you know.”
“Once I found the place, I carried the three of us, surrounded by air.”
“The moment that air touched the dome, the surface lit up and showed me Madar energy.”
“What do you mean by Madar energy?” asks Tefri.
I radiate the patterns.
“Every object or living body has its own unique energy, but that energy is a variation on a common pattern.”
“There is a core pattern for every species, element, and so on.”
“We see these patterns, but we don’t understand them.”
“They move too quickly for us to analyze.”
“How do you change shape?”
“Only the strongest among us can change our form at all, and then, only for a few minutes.”
“We spend days or weeks studying a form that we want to become, letting it fill our minds and hearts.”
“If we are worthy, the essence of that shape becomes part of us, and we can use it after that to transform.”
“We learn to shape objects in the same way, although those changes are permanent.”
“Our way is not so different, yet we are able to make use of the patterns.”
I feel strong pressure on my mind wall, but the wall holds.
Someone is trying to touch my thoughts.
“We can’t get to his thoughts, master Tefri,” says one of the men.
“Are you Dahwee?” she asks.
“The Dahwee mind block is permanent.”
“I can raise and lower my mind wall at will.”
She looks at me, and touches a necklace that she wears.
It glows brightly, and I feel pressure again, even stronger than before.
“His words are true,” she tells the others.
“I can’t break through, even when I borrow the strength of the necklace.”
“If he had a mind block, I could reach his thoughts.”
“The mind shield I have is virtually impenetrable,” I tell her, “and it takes no effort to hold in place.”
“It protects us even when we sleep, or are unconscious.”
“Some kind of tech?”
“Among my people there’s a blessing called Mind Weaving.”
“It’s found among those who have eyes like mine.”
“We have the ability to build this shield for anyone.”
“Why are you here?” she asks.
“It’s clear that we have little or nothing to teach you about blessings.”
“Have you allied yourself with the empire, and come here to destroy us?”
“Whatever they promise, they will never let you keep your blessings, after they get what they want!”
“My world and its blessings are threatened by the empire.”
“The stars around us have all been caged.”
“We still have the blessings, although they have been weakened.”
“Strange, the empire has never done that before.”
“What does it matter?”
“Soon the empire will complete the cage, steal our blessings from us, and try to make us a colony.”
“We won’t let our blessings go without a fight, but we can’t win with technology alone.”
“The empire tech is more advanced.”
“Our only hope is to understand how they cage the stars, so we can find a way to undo it.”
“Can you help us?”
“I don’t know,” says Tefri, “but the caretaker will decide.”
“Who is he?”
“You’ll see, soon enough.”
We enter a room, accompanied by two guards.
The walls are covered with tapestries, and the center of the room has a small fountain, surrounded by growing flowers.
Two curved wood benches are placed on opposite sites of the fountain.
The door closes, the room darkens slightly, and the hologram of an old Kizak man walks toward us.
He sits down on one of the benches and watches the flowers and fountain for a few seconds before he speaks.
“Welcome,” he says.
“You’re the caretaker?”
“An artificial intelligence?”
“Yes and no.”
“I was alive when the Madar were conquered by the Kizak.”
“My name is Illwi.”
“The Madar built this facility shortly before my death.”
“They copied my memories and personality to help manage this place, until they return.”
“I don’t understand.”
“If the Madar went away, why are some still imprisoned?”
“Do you know how the Madar were conquered?”
“I’ve heard stories.”
“The stories say that the Madar went insane and started a terrible war.”
“Then, the Kizak rose up and defeated their former masters.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“It’s just a lie that lets them feel good that they destroyed the Madar, and outlawed the blessings.”
“Send out the guards,” says the caretaker to Tefri.
“But he’s dangerous!”
“If he wants to harm us, your guards won’t stop him.”
“My words are for him and you alone.”
When the guards leave, the caretaker continues.
“The Kizak stories are true.”
“The Madar went insane, and turned violent.”
“You never told me that!” says Tefri.
“You had no need to know, and now you must keep it secret.”
“Why tell him?”
“He’s not Kizak.”
“Can you be sure?”
“Yes, his energy is nothing like the Kizak even though he wears the body.”
“You can see my energy?”
“The Madar gave me energy senses.”
“I have everything but a body.”
I smile sadly as I think of Mayla.
“What are you thinking?”
“On my world, there was an ancient hidden city, managed by an AI named Mayla.”
“She had several organic bodies that she could use when she wished.”
“Are you familiar with that tech?”
“I would like to smell the flowers again.”
“What’s your name?” he asks me.
“Show us other forms that you’ve taken.”
I share images of myself as Jiku, Bizra, Mehkeel, old one, Fiklow, star spirit.
“I recognize two of those images,” says Illwi, “the ones you call Bizra and Mehkeel.”
“The Madar showed me images of the Bizra.”
“They’re one of the seven races.”
“Seven races of intelligent beings have existed for millions of years in strange, isolated worlds.”
“They speak different languages now, but once there was only one language, and one way of writing.”
“A long time ago, they met and decided to journey to our universe and teach us about the blessings.”
“The Madar were the first race to leave their home.”
“They came to this galaxy, and choose the Kizak as their first students.”
“Did the Madar go to many galaxies?”
“By agreement, each race could choose only one galaxy, and begin with one world.”
“What was the other image you recognized?”
“I was told that they are not of our universe.”
“They are unique among physical being, for they are born, but do not die.”
“Impossible,” says Tefri.
“It’s true,” I tell her.
“Many physical races live as energy after their physical form dies, but some of the Mehkeel transform into an energy being called Gen, without death.”
“The Gen take and dissolve bodies as they wish.”
“They are not from our universe,” says Tefri.
“How could you know them?”
“I’ve travelled to other universes.”
“I’ll show you.”
I project images of traveling from universe to universe.
Then I show myself dying and reshaping new bodies, again and again.
“Are you Gen?” asks Illwi.
“Do you leave the physical and return, at will?”
I pull my fire energy away from the physical body, and let the pattern body go.
Tefri gasps when the body stops breathing and falls lifeless to the ground.
I flow a Jiku body out of air, and enter it, to stand next to the dead Kizak body.
“This is my true form,” I tell them.
Then I transform the Kizak flesh into flowers, which soon after, rise, and melt into water and air.
Tefri backs away from me.
“He is dead, caretaker,” she says.
“He’ll bring a curse on all of us.”
“Send him back to the Kizak.”
“Don’t be afraid, Tefri,” says the caretaker.
“Yagrin is alive like you, but his life does not depend on his body.”
“Caretaker,” I tell him, “I assume that you were listening when I asked Tefri for help.”
“Can you help me?”
“You can’t understand what happened to the Madar until you ask the question that no one asks.”
“What drove the Madar insane?” I ask him, finally.
The image smiles.
“Do you have any suggestions?”
“Why do you say that?” he asks, with a look of surprise.
“The cage was driving my people insane, until I found a way to protect their minds.”
“You’re right, Yagrin.”
“It was the cage that changed the Madar.”
“Many Madar believed that the madness came from a biological weapon introduced at the same time as the cage.”
“Others thought that madness came from the cage itself.”
“Didn’t they see that when someone leaves the cage, they recover?”
“They saw that this was sometimes true, and sometimes not.”
“How is that possible?”
“The Madar studied the madness for years, and the research is here.”
“When the madness fills the mind long enough, the effects often remain even when the cage is gone.”
“There is no cure for the madness.”
“The Kizak are generally unaffected, but I heard of one Kizak man who developed the madness.”
“He was born on a fringe world and was completely normal until he came to a caged world.”
“The Kizak locked him up for years in a facility for the insane, until I brought him here.”
“What did you learn?”
“His mind’s mental energy moved in rigid ways, not with the living rhythms typical of Kizak minds.”
“It’s just like the cage, Illwi,” I tell him.
“What do you mean?”
“The cage makes the energy in the great web move in rigid ways.”
“I know this, but I don’t know how to restore the normal rhythms.”
“Do you know who invented the first cage, Yagrin?”
“I told you that the Kizak were the first students of the blessings, but the blessings became a curse.”
“The Kizak abused that power, enslaving nearby races who had no talent with the blessings.”
“The Madar sought a way to stop the abuse, without war.”
“They created and activated the first cage on the star of the Kizak homeworld, a thousand years ago.”
“The cage was kept in place there for five hundred years, but was rarely used elsewhere.”
“Did the Madar know that the cage would twist minds?”
“The original cage didn’t have that effect.”
“Time passed, and the Madar removed the cage from the Kizak homeworld.”
“The Kizak pretended to be a changed people, but secretly they were determined to get their revenge.”
“It took them two hundred years to reverse engineer the generator, so they could use it against the Madar.”
“When they finally understood how it worked, they realized it was useless to them.”
“The original cage uses anti-matter, and only the Madar had the technology to create it and transport it.”
“Besides, the treatment only lasted for three years.”
“The Kizak improved on the design.”
“Their generator uses dark matter, and the treatment lasts twenty to thirty years.”
“They tested the generator on fringe worlds, and then attacked four Madar stars.”
“The blessings disappeared, and then something unexpected happened.”
“The Madar population on those worlds turned paranoid and violent, killing a dozen nearby worlds for plotting against them.”
“The unaffected Madar tried to stop their sick brothers, and this resulted in a great civil war.”
“When it was over, there were only a few thousand Madar left in the galaxy.”
“They left us, the Kizak took over, and the empire grew.”
“Before long, the Kizak outlawed the use of the blessings, blaming them for the Madar civil war.”
“Every Kizak colony was forced to use the new generator, and every race with the blessings was forced to join the empire.”
“When was the school built?”
“A dozen Madar stayed with us for five years to build the school, so a shadow of the old ways would continue.”
“When they left, they told us that the blessings would someday fill a Kizak empire of peace.”
“How do you keep this world safe?”
“No ship can navigate past the black holes.”
“The school can only be reached with special Madar tech that enables instantaneous travel across huge distances.”
“The Kizak don’t have the tech, and have no knowledge of this world.”
“Some of the captive Madar may know of it, but their minds are too twisted to reveal anything.”
“This was once a Madar world?”
“Yes, but the surface cities were destroyed in the civil war.”
“The school was built below the sea to protect it, in case the Kizak ever reach this planet.”
“I’ve heard rumors that some Madar captive?”
“The empire uses them as a symbol of the madness that comes when society rejects order.”
“They’re still alive?”
“The Madar life span is over a thousand years.”
“Did the Madar ever discover a way to completely reverse the Kizak cage?”
“A few Madar scientists were working on it during the civil war, but they were captured.”
“A student who came to this school once heard that a crazed Madar scientist is still alive on the Kizak homeworld.”
“The Kizak take great pleasure in announcing that the greatest of Madar scientists is nothing more than a mindless beast.”
“I must find him.”
“His mind has been twisted for hundreds of years.”
“What could he tell you now?”
“Still, I have to try.”
“There is one thing I can do to help you,” says Illwi.
A door in the wall slides open revealing a small room with a Madar-sized chair.
“This is a learning chair, Yagrin, but it only works on a Madar brain.”
“Take their form, and sit here.”
“This will help you in your search.”
I flow into the Madar form and sit down.
A light headset moves into place.
“What will you teach me, Illwi?”
- “The history of the Madar and Kizak empires,
- Geography of the homeworld,
- Kizak business methods, government, social customs and tech,
- Prominent businesses and individuals,
- Madar and Kizak physiology,
- and the Madar language.”
“Why the Madar language?”
“You have a better chance of communicating with a broken Madar mind, if you can speak in their native language.”
“Also, there’s a message left by the Madar for you.”
“I was told to give it to the first Madar who returns and enters by the sea.”
“How can you let Yagrin hear it?” asks Tefri.
“He’s not truly Madar.”
“No,” says Illwi, “but the message is for the Madar who comes as a friend of death.”
“Who could that be but Yagrin?”
“The Madar had no mastery of death.”
“Go now, Tefri.”
“It will take Yagrin days to complete this.”
“Thank you for your help, Illwi,” I tell him.
She leaves the room, and Illwi activates the chair.
It reclines and a cover slides into place.
I enter a dream-like state, where I’m more receptive to the information.
I don’t remember much of my time in the chair, but it takes only twelve hours, much faster than the caretaker expected.
Two things stand out from what I’ve learned about Madar culture.
- Despite their large size, they’re graceful and love to dance.
- They’re obsessed with numbers.
When the chair releases me, Tefri is waiting, along with Mehkoos and Fenik.
I feel weak as I stand.
“Tell us about the message,” says Tefri.
“Give him a few minutes,” says the caretaker.
“Take this,” says Mehkoos, offering me food and drink.
“Wait,” I tell her.
I renew my strength with healing energy, and then I flow back into the Kizak shape.
I rebuild my mind shield, and activate the Neyima identity in the chip.
Mehkoos hands me the food, and walks with me to the garden bench, where I sit and eat.
Tefri is clearly impatient.
“What’s the message?” she asks roughly, as soon as I take the last bite.
“It doesn’t work like that,” says the caretaker.
“What do you mean?” asks Tefri.
“He’s not fully conscious during the transfer of information.”
“The knowledge is fully integrated into his permanent memory, and can be easily found whenever he looks for it, or needs it.”
“Then let him try to remember it,” says Tefri, frustrated.
I reach for the message, but there’s nothing there.
“I’m sorry,” I tell her, “but I can’t find it.”
“Are you sure, Yagrin?” asks Illwi.
“I see all the information that you promised me, but no sign of a message.”
“It must be hidden,” suggests Illwi, “and will only come to you when you need it.”
“What about the school?” asks Tefri.
“What do you mean?”
“Will you abandon us after you discover how to reverse the cage?”
“I’ll return to my world and give them the tech.”
“The empire could attack at any time.”
“Then, I’ll return here.”
“You’re in another galaxy!”
“We’ll never see you again,” says Tefri bitterly.
She storms out of the room.
“Forgive her,” says the caretaker.
“It’s been years since she’s seen the sky.”
“She hopes for an end to this exile, a day when the blessings are no longer feared among the Kizak.”
“The Madar promised to return, and spread the blessings again.”
“When you arrived she had so much hope, but she sees that for all your power, you’re struggling like the rest of us.”
“What did she expect?”
“Someone stronger than the empire, who will make all of our difficulties disappear.”
“It will never be easy.”
“What will the two of you do now?” I ask Mehkoos and Fenik.
“The women will stay here,” says the caretaker, “and learn more about the blessings.”
“The empire will be searching for them and the tech that helped them escape.”
“It’s not safe for them to return to the empire.”
“It will also be dangerous for you,” says Illwi.
“Are you sure you’re ready to go?”
“Thank you for getting us out of prison,” say the women.
The caretaker sends everyone out of the room.
“I need your help,” he says.
“There’s an old Madar prophecy about the emperor’s family.”
The family of the emperor shrinks and burns.
When there is no blood left to follow his ways, the Madar will come again.
“There are a group of rebels, some of whom studied in the school.”
“They’ve been around for centuries, trying to kill the emperor’s family and bring back the old ways.”
“Do you support them?”
“The school must survive.”
“We don’t lead the rebellion, but we hope the rebels will succeed, and sometimes we offer assistance.”
“What do the words mean?”
“First, most of the emperor’s family will die out, some through fire.”
“His extended family is gone, through accidents or murder, with help from the rebels.”
“His oldest son burst into flames and died ten years ago.”
“He has only one child left, a son.”
“Finally, when the emperor has no descendants to follow him, the Madar will return.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Help the rebels kill his young son.”
“Murder a child?”
“I kill only when it’s necessary.”
“This is necessary.”
“This child will grow up no different than his father.”
“Will you let this child survive, and let your world be destroyed?”
“Your name will be passed to emissaries, and then to the rebels.”
“They’ll contact you.”
“Remember,” says Illwi, “that the transfer will leave you naked.”
“I’ll send you to a lake where Kizak swim without clothes.”
“May your journey be brief.”
The room disappears.