A Free Heart
Late at night, the inside of the ship is quiet and dark, in the areas where the pilgrims sleep.
The elders keep a close watch on the pilgrims, enforcing a rigid schedule, with an early bedtime.
The common rooms for the crew are bright and noisy, hours after the pilgrims have gone to bed.
I sleep near the crew, and I often stay up with them.
The captain lets the staff decide their own hours, as long as the work gets done.
The young body that I wear doesn’t need much sleep.
Still, if I’m tired in the morning, I sleep late, or use healing energy to restore my strength.
The ship has a cage projector that cuts me off from the web, but I can block it.
I use a nullifier sparingly, to shield me from the projector, and reconnect with the web.
We’re far from any stars, but I keep a second nullifier, capable of blocking a star cage, just in case I need it during this trip.
I eat first meal, and then walk among the pilgrims, accepting their daily greeting.
Their excitement washes over me, even before they touch me.
With the Mind Cage active, and my jammer off, I can’t reach their thoughts without skin contact, but I can still read feelings, if they’re strong enough.
We’ve arrived at red world, the first planet of the ring.
Some of the pilgrims are eager to see a different world, full of legends, while other pilgrims just want a break from the ship.
Six shuttles take us down.
The worlds are small balls of rock, with gravity half of Earth.
Each planet has a fusion power plant that provides light and life support to the domes.
There are satellites above us in stationary orbit, including a cage projector.
I’ve left the nullifiers in my room for now.
I’ll stay with the pilgrims until I’ve seen the last of the ring of worlds.
We leave the ships and enter the main visitors area.
The building is seven hundred feet in diameter, with a dome centered over the entrance to the red cavern.
There are many caves on this world, but just one that we have come to see.
The elders and the pilgrims enter the cave, followed by me and a few members of the crew.
The walls are rough, but covered in red crystal.
The floorspace is nearly filled by a round, smooth platform of the same crystal, fifty feet wide, and over seven feet high.
Metal ramps provide access to the ring, but the crew and I aren’t permitted to join the others.
We watch as the elders lead the pilgrims up the ramps, and assemble in rising, concentric circles on the different levels of the platform.
Each circle is a few inches higher than the one before it.
“Welcome to the ring,” says one of the elders to the pilgrims.
“While we stand on the crystal, you may speak, but guard yourself.”
“Do not speak to those outside the ring, and watch your words.”
“This is a holy place.”
I feel strong here.
The crystal accelerates our connection with the red energy well, and it also restores the web’s balance.
I scan the room with energy eyes.
There are faint letters of energy inscribed on the ceiling.
The words are cryptic:
Rings of words, not for Kizak, and not for Madar.
Let go of power, not heart, and be free.
“Once, the beasts ruled the galaxy, and told us to be humble,” says the elder.
“They warned that the crystal rings are dangerous.”
“We could only visit here in secret.”
“Now, the Madar are gone, or slaves, and the galaxy is ours.”
“The red gift will soon be yours.”
“Accept your destiny!”
The elder raises a strange-looking weapon, and fires an energy blast at the ceiling.
The crystal glows brightly, raining energy onto the platform of circles below.
A great sound fills my ears, like waves in the ocean.
Everything in creation is energy in motion.
Each being, place, and thing has its own movements and rhythms of energy.
We call them patterns.
Some are simple, and some complex.
Energy masters have senses that see the patterns and twist them, changing the shape of the world.
I never tire of looking at that world.
The rhythms are extraordinary, and remind me that the world is full of wonder.
I have to guard myself, or I get lost in the endless motion.
Other masters get used to what they see, and the patterns become as ordinary as the dirt beneath their feet.
I might have become like that, too, but a part of me sees the world with Bizra eyes.
They find a deeper beauty in the world’s patterns, which they experience as a song.
It’s been years since I’ve walked in that form, but if I quiet my mind, I can still hear the songs in the patterns around me.
Echoes of these songs reach far beyond their source, songs of praise to the creator.
The sound of the crystal gets brighter, until I hear its song.
It sounds just like a star!
The red gateway in my fire body opens wide, and the energy spins wildly within me.
It feels alien, and I imagine that it wants to rule over me.
I won’t give in.
It seems to be trying to establish a rhythm within me, but can’t stabilize.
I feel sick, and then I pass out.
When I wake up, my face is covered.
I reach instinctively to uncover my face, but someone grabs my hand.
“Calm down, and breathe,” says a voice.
I’m surprised to find that I can breathe easily.
My eyes open and focus, and I look through the cloth that covers my face.
I’m wearing a pilgrim’s robe, my hands wear white gloves, and my feet rest in soft white shoes.
I shake off the elder’s hand, and stand up.
“Why have you given me the robe?”
“I refused it.”
“I covered you with the robe, and brought you onto the platform to help you.”
“It’s not safe for you here, without the protection of the elders.”
I feel pressure on my mind wall, and I let the elder touch the surface of my mind.
You’ve spoken with me before, Lukara.
Let’s continue this conversation in our thoughts.
There are things we must speak of, that the new pilgrims wouldn’t understand.
There’s nothing to say.
I don’t want to be a pilgrim.
I know you’re young, and you haven’t learned Dahwee discipline, but you’re acting like a spoiled child!
You’ve come with us because you want to experience the energy of the ring.
You can’t do that as an outsider.
I felt it the same as any of you!
Most of the new pilgrims don’t feel more than a mild tingling.
You’re highly sensitive to it, maybe more than any of the elders, and that makes you vulnerable.
You were fortunate this time, Lukara.
The raw energy could easily kill you.
I won’t let you stand on the outside again, when we activate the next crystal.
And if I join you?
The gifts move differently in us when we stand on the platform.
There, your body will be able to safely absorb the energy.
You have a choice.
Become a pilgrim and join us in the crystal rings, or take off the robe and stay out of the caverns.
I wait several seconds before I answer aloud, for the benefit of the other pilgrims.
“Thank you for your help, elder.”
“I’ll keep the robe, and accept your protection.”
I hear the song again, but fainter, and feel the red energy below me, still circling through the crystal ring.
I kneel on the crystal, and shape energy hands that reach through the heart gateway to the well beyond.
I hover there in the well, and the deep green grows larger and larger, as the edges rush away from me.
Everyone I have known is there with me, and all places I have seen.
I carry them with me.
A song of energy begins.
It spins through my fire body in endless circles, and the Madar words float upon it.
This is my song, but it has endless room for others.
Far away, I see my body’s hands reach toward the crystal where I kneel.
Then the red song enters me.
I have no desire to control it, and it moves however it needs to.
My song spins with me, a true friend, and continues to shine through me.
The red gift spins through the seven gateways, faster and faster, until soon, it finds its place in the red gateway, and disappears.
I come back to my physical body.
A bright red light shines from the bottom of my spine, and fills the cave, before gently fading away.
Waves of heat radiate from my spine for a few more seconds, and then everything is as it was.
Except my gloves have turned red.
The pilgrims are staring.
“See how the gift blesses your sister, pilgrims,” says the elder who spoke before.
“We should give her new gloves,” says another elder.
“What do you say, sister?” asks the first elder.
“The gloves will turn back to white when we leave this world,” I tell them.
“Let it be so.”
We return to the ship, and my gloves lose their color.
The sleep manager moves me to one of the tiny Dahwee sleeping rooms.
I’m sorry to leave the crew, their food, and their comfortable rooms, but it’s not for long.
The worlds of the ring are in a near-perfect circle, sixty million miles apart.
It’s only three hours between worlds at one-thirtieth of light speed.
The first landing is the most tiring, so this will be our only landing today.
We’ll complete the circuit in just three more days, landing on two planets each day.
Then I’ll open a gate from the seventh cavern, and return to Siksa.
Today leaves me so exhausted that I fall into sleep’s arms, and soon forget everything, even Shazira and my home.
The orange world is smaller than the red, and has a plain round building that covers its cave.
Within, is a set of seven concentric crystal circles, like the circles on the red world, except that these grow smaller as they descend into a deep darkness.
There are more Madar words here, written in energy script:
The Dance is born, and gives birth to life.
The elders lead us into the circles.
One elder stands below us on the last platform, and fires a blast of energy at the orange ceiling.
Ropes of orange light descend, each one searching out one of the pilgrims, the thickest rope coming for me.
It finds its home in the fire body, in a place just below my navel.
I reach energy hands within, and pull my awareness into the orange well.
The words of the Madar appear suddenly, and fade, again and again, black rockets bursting into this world of orange fire.
A song rises from a place far away, and circles around me.
It disappears within me for a moment, my song, again.
Then it spreads out in all directions like a light or mist that nourishes everything near me.
I draw energy from the well, and shape my own ropes which spread out from the mist, arms of energy that connect with the orange gateways of the pilgrims.
My song sounds along all the pathways, leaving an echo of my energy throughout the ring.
The light fades from the crystal, and I’m left with orange gloves.
One of the elders approaches, and I open the mind wall.
Are you the same elder that spoke to me before?
Yes, my name is Mayani.
What’s your true form, girl, and true name?
I don’t understand.
Lukara is still on the homeworld.
Are you Madar, come to crush our spirits, again?
Why are you here?
To experience the ring, that’s all.
Then tell me who you are.
How long have you known that I’m not Lukara?
Since this morning.
I ordered a full search on you when I saw what happened in the red cave.
Who else knows?
Why didn’t you kill me, or send for the guard?
The crystal calls to you, as it calls to none of us.
We’ve been waiting for you for a long time.
The Madar found the seven worlds, shortly after they came to the Kizak.
We are the closest life to the ring of worlds, and the Madar took that as a sign that our destiny is tied to it.
They taught you how to use the crystal platforms on each world?
They brought us to the caves, and told us that the future will meet us here.
The Madar branded each cave with a hidden image, a hint that teaches how to use the energy properly.
We could never see all the images, and even the ones that we saw, we never understood.
The beasts refused to explain them, promising that a stranger would discover the truth, someday.
They stayed away from the caves, telling us that the ring is not for Madar.
We grew tired of being treated like children, who are never allowed to grow up.
We called ourselves, Sehtoo, ancient ones, in defiance.
The caves became a symbol of the Madar holding us back.
You attacked the Madar?
No, we were too weak then.
Instead, we looked for a way to convince them to abandon us.
The Madar always spoke of peace, so we decided to reject their teaching, and used our energy skills to conquer other worlds.
We thought this would disgust the beasts.
Instead, they rose up and crushed us.
During that brief war, we captured one of them, and tortured an important secret from her.
A certain type of energy beam, passing through a chip of the cave’s crystal, activates the energy in the cave.
That secret was preserved when the Sehtoo went into hiding.
Two centuries later, the Dahwee were born, and we began the pilgrimages to the ring.
Didn’t the Madar see what the Dahwee did in the caves?
They were arrogant, and thought we couldn’t master the crystals without their help, so they ignored us.
The caves gave us energy abilities, including the mind barrier, that remained when the emperor surrounded us all with the star cage.
These gifts are weak compared to what’s possible when the cage is lifted.
Many of us wonder whether the caves will be abandoned when the cage is gone.
Where is the greatness in this?
Something else must be hidden here.
We hate the Madar, but some of us still wait for the future that they promised us.
Lately, we’ve come to think that we are fools, believing a Madar lie.
Until I came.
You understand the Madar words, and use them to bring the cave to life in a new way.
The words are simple.
We see them, and can translate, but that’s not enough.
How do you know what to do?
It’s hard to explain.
You’d call it intuition.
I let an intelligence within me take over.
Will you be able to do this for all the caves?
I don’t know.
You’ll let me continue?
I have no choice.
We need you.
Usually, only a small percentage of the pilgrims feel the energy of the caves, even after several visits.
When you unleash the energy of the caves, every pilgrim feels it.
We can turn most of them into true believers.
What will happen when we leave the ring of worlds?
You’ll kill me, or turn me over to the guard.
Perhaps, but I’d rather learn to do what you’ve done, so we can turn all the Kizak into believers.
When the pilgrimage is over, you’ll have to answer my questions, and then I’ll decide what to do with you.
Even though I am first among the Dahwee, I can’t be sure that the decision will be mine to make.
The Dahwee have kept their love of energy ways secret, first, from the Madar, and now from the emperor.
If we don’t seem to want power, then no one will fear us.
It was a good plan, but the emperor has many spies.
He must know by now what we believe, and someday, he will act on it.
There are different factions among the Dahwee.
Most of the elders on this pilgrimage follow the way as truth, and regret the wars and destruction.
I walk among them.
Many other elders think we are still Sehtoo.
Pretending to be Dahwee is a disguise that hides an endless selfishness.
They say that the universe exists for the Kizak alone.
Twenty years ago, few of the elders walked in this path, but they are the majority now.
They have a great hunger, and think that they should rule the empire, and all other races.
Soon, I will be pushed aside, or killed, and one of them will take my place as first.
Many of us can see your inner energy body, including the Sehtoo elders.
Some say that your fires are not Madar or Kizak.
I’ve suggested that you look so different because of your unusual talent, but I’m sure they don’t accept my explanation.
They’ll keep silent until the end of the trip, but who knows what they will do then?
No permanent lighting is allowed in any of the caves.
The elders carry portable lights to push away the darkness, and the lights are shut off, just before the gift is activated.
The pilgrims descend the yellow cave through a steep path that goes down over a hundred feet.
A hill, black and yellow, rises from its center.
The top of the hill is flat and narrow, wide enough for two elders and me.
The ceiling and walls are full of the yellow crystal, but mixed with rings and speckles of white.
The black is obsidian, volcanic glass.
There are dozens of veins of yellow crystal that begin at the hilltop, and pour down the hillside in all directions, widening, and streaming to the bottom.
The elders arrange the pilgrims so everyone stands along the rivers of crystal.
I look at the walls and ceiling of the cave for Madar words, but there are none.
A different elder leads the procession in each cave.
The current leader looks toward me, as if to ask if I’m ready.
Mayani does not wait, and signals the leader to begin.
As the elder fires the burst of yellow and white energy, the world seems to slow down, giving me the time I need.
I scan the hill, and in its center I find the Madar words:
Seeds of light falling into darkness.
I clear my thoughts, and shape energy hands, which I plunge into the yellow well.
My awareness follows, and a song rolls through me.
The yellow gift spreads through the cave.
It rises from the crystal paths, and covers the fire bodies of the pilgrims.
The gift is rejected.
The yellow gateways within the new pilgrims are dark, unable to feel the light.
I shape hundreds of yellow spheres within the well, that shine like little suns.
I send them through my gateway, and into the cave.
They float like bubbles in the cave, and cover the pilgrims with their energy.
Not with rays of light, but with bursts of energy, pretending to be yellow flowers with white circles at their centers.
The energy awakens the pilgrims, intensifying and becoming visible to all.
The light gathers itself into thousands of bright, spinning winds that circle the hill, three times slowly, before disappearing into the hill.
Soon, darkness returns to the cave, except for the eyes of the pilgrims that still glow.
The elders switch on the portable lights and lead us out.
The green cave has a sloping, spiral entrance, that descends into an immense space, warmer than the other caves, and bright.
No portable lights are needed in here.
I feel like I’m standing in a meadow.
The floor is level, and covered in a thick carpet of glowing green grass that moves in great waves, as though it was blowing in the wind.
But there is no wind.
The ceiling and walls are also covered with the same grass.
Of the four caves, this one looks the most artificial, with straight walls, and perfect curves where the walls meet the ceiling.
The cave is a mile wide, and two hundred feet high.
“How is the air pumped into the caves?” I ask Mayani.
“I can’t find any ventilation openings, or moving air.”
“I don’t know,” he answers.
“The Madar told us that they couldn’t understand it.”
“When we started the pilgrimages, we tried to determine how the air stays fresh, but we gave up.”
“We just accept it as part of the gift.”
The lead elder brings us to the center of the cave, and into a large dark circle.
The floor is also covered with grass, except that it doesn’t glow until we stand on it.
My energy eyes scan it to explore its secrets.
The grass is not organic.
It’s a soft, growing crystal.
The green light in the center circle brightens and dims, with a pleasant series of audible tones.
The cave is breathing, not air, but energy.
The grass is calling to the world, over and over.
No words, only a feeling that says, “all is life and awareness.”
All life forms exchange energy with the web, but the more self-aware creatures, with energy bodies, often interfere with the movement of energy.
The grass embraces the energy of the web, strong in the cave, holding nothing back.
It dances with the web, and swims in it.
An energy song rises from the living crystal, and drifts through the cave, carried by the green light.
Two words from the Madar language come to mind: Galis Tsira, waves of song.
“This cave is different from the others,” says the lead elder.
He fires the energy beam at the floor instead of the ceiling, and the crystal glows brighter.
The brighter light spreads out from the center in a great circular wave, and then returns to the center.
When it reaches the starting point, the whole cave lights up at once, floor, walls, and ceiling.
Madar words reveal themselves to my inner eyes, reflecting the cave’s green energy:
Ginda Tsira, breathing a song.
I go within myself, dipping energy hands into the green well.
I sing the song that I am, stronger, and stronger.
We are great trees, standing together, growing toward the source of life, and praising the awareness that surrounds us.
Living mirrors, reaching out for light, and passing it to those who cannot see.
I let go of all resistance to the energy around me.
I let go of all fear that holds me back from embracing the world with all my strength.
My fire body glows more and more,
a moon, reflecting the green energy of the well that streams through the gateway,
a magnet, attracting and absorbing all the green light in the cave.
Soon, my physical body glows green in great waves that brighten and dim, and shine through the white clothes that I wear.
The pilgrims float upon these waves of light for several minutes, and they breathe the green gift with me.
Then the cave darkens for a few seconds, before the normal glow returns.
My whole robe stays filled with this cave’s color, not just my gloves.
A pilgrim approaches me as we prepare to leave the surface of the green world.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
The robe’s cloth interacts with the sound waves of the wearer’s voice, distorting and disguising the voice.
The elders want the pilgrims to be anonymous on the journey.
For me, it’s too late.
They all saw my face before I took the pilgrim’s robe.
“Are you a believer?”
“Not before the trip.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Look at what you’ve done, and all the wonders you’ve seen!”
“How can you deny the truth of the Dahwee beliefs?”
I hear the frustration in his voice.
He can’t understand why I don’t believe.
“The caves are extraordinary,” I say gently, “but they were here long before the Dahwee came.”
“No one owns them.”
“The elders are ready to welcome you as one of them.”
“All you have to do is accept the way.”
“How do you know this?”
“I overheard their surface thoughts,” he says quietly, embarrassed.
Surface thoughts can’t be trusted.
They are often full of lies, but I don’t tell him that.
“I would have guessed that you’re a first-time pilgrim, but that can’t be right, if you’re able to hear thoughts.”
“This is my first journey, Lukara.”
“I started hearing some thoughts after the green gift.”
“What’s your name?”
He pauses for a few seconds.
His emotions at the moment are so intense that I feel them without any effort.
“I’m not denying the Dahwee way, Wootak.”
“Some of us are stubborn, and slow to admit the truth.”
“Be patient with us.”
“I’ll think more about what you’ve said, but we have to board the shuttle now.”
“It’s late and I’m tired.”
“Of course, but I hope we’ll speak again.”
I turn away from him, and move toward the ship.
The blue cave is above ground, but hidden within mountains.
A simple building covers the entrance.
An elder leads us through a tall tunnel, eighty feet long, and into the dark cave.
Other elders are mixed in with the pilgrims, and carry lights, so we can watch our steps.
The pilgrims also carry lights, but they’re turned off, and our lights are small compared to the lights of the elders.
“Why do we all need lights?” asks one of the pilgrims, but his question goes unanswered.
The elders place their lanterns of cool white light on the floor, along the walls of the room, revealing its shape to us.
It looks like a diamond, with a smooth disk of blue crystal in the center.
Each wall, floor to ceiling is dotted with small caves.
“The individual caves are all the same size, seven feet tall, and ten feet deep,” says the lead elder.
“Ninety-one on each wall, seven rows of thirteen.”
“While the elders stand on the platform, each of you will sit at the front of a cave, with your small light at your back.”
“How will we get to our caves?” asks a pilgrim, looking up.
The leader points to four elders, each one standing at the center of a wall, with a large black case at her feet.
He raises his arms high, and the elders remove grav projectors from their cases, and activate them.
“The elders will lift you to your places,” says the leader, “and then we’ll activate the blue gift.”
Each pilgrim’s name is called by one of elders, until only I am left.
“Where does Lukara go?” asks Mayani.
The leader shouts at one of the wall elders, annoyed.
“You are short one pilgrim,” he complains.
“Lukara goes with you!”
“She strengthens the gifts for all,” says the elder.
“How can we hide her away in a cave?”
“The traditions will be kept,” says the leader, sharply.
“She is a new pilgrim, not an elder, and the caves must be filled.”
“The gifts were here before she came, and they will still be here when she is gone.”
“Put her in the center of your wall, seventh cave of the fourth row.”
I join the group without speaking.
“Go,” says the elder to me, and she lifts me up and into the cave using the projector.
I put my light at the back of the cave, and turn it on.
Then I sit and wait for the other pilgrims to be raised into their places.
When all the pilgrims are in place, the elders shut off the strong lights, and form a circle in the center of the platform.
I see rows and rows of the white pilgrims sitting quietly, bathed in blue light by the small lights in each cave, reflecting off the blue crystal.
“As you sit today,” shouts the lead elder, “so each of you has your own inner light that fills the world.”
“How wonderful when all the lights come together.”
The elder activates the blue energy beam, pointing it at the ceiling.
The blue energy forms a large sphere at the top of the cavern, and then bursts into four rivers which spread out along each wall, and fill each cave.
Madar words float beneath the ceiling, burning with blue fire.
Deep inside, we are not quiet, one call, one shout, that has no beginning, no end.
Life carries light through the fog, true fire, that ignites the world.
I can see each pilgrim touched by the gift, their gateways to the blue well lighting up.
Some feel the gift, but most do not.
Deeper, there is a hunger that hides in all of them, but it can’t reach the surface.
As the gift fades away, that hunger turns into a great, hidden cry.
I leap out of the cave, and into the air of the great cavern, weaving a blue stream of energy that moves around me, faster and faster, stronger and stronger, until the energy becomes visible to ordinary eyes as blue light.
The air in the cavern follows the energy stream, and becomes a spinning wind.
A song rushes from my throat, and spreads, carried on the wind.
I pull at the caves that surround me, and the pilgrims float into the air, their robes filled with the blue wind.
Their blue gateways open wide, and energy streams from their throat in all directions.
The hunger within each of them pushes its way to the surface, and they sing.
Each voice is different, some made of sweet sounds, and others a rough mix of cries and shouts.
Each pilgrim has her own song, is a song, sent out to touch the world.
The energy and the song makes their skin glow so brightly that their faces are visible through their robes.
A cloud of light forms around each pilgrim, with drifting, dancing streams of color, and sparkling energy bursts.
Our songs dance together for a few minutes, before they fade away.
I take a deep breath, give a gentle push, and watch, as the pilgrims settle back into their caves, and the air is quiet.
Knowing and Unknowing
The indigo cave is above ground, like the blue cave before it, but half-way up a mountain.
The visitor’s building is built around the mountain at that height.
The elders ask me to join them as they enter the cave, while the other pilgrims remain in the visitor area.
The indigo leader carries a portable light, but the cave remains dark.
“Ordinary light is useless in this cave,” she says.
“Only those with energy sight can see here.”
My energy eyes scan the cave.
The walls, floors, and ceiling are rough stone, with no sign of indigo crystal.
I look deeper into the mountain, but there’s nothing here but rock.
“Is this the right place?” I ask.
“There’s no crystal anywhere!”
“So it seems,” says the leader, “but the Madar showed us this place, and told us that it’s one of the seven caves.”
“Why have we come here without the pilgrims?”
“I wanted to give you time, Lukara,” says Mayani, “to find the Madar words, and discover what you need to do to enhance the indigo gift.”
“Does anything happen when you activate the indigo energy beam?”
“Show her,” says Mayani.
We stand in the center of the cave, and the leader activates the energy beam.
The beam looks completely ordinary to energy eyes, not like the beams in the other caves.
“What crystal did you use for the beam?”
“Do you see any crystal in here?” asks the leader.
“We’ve taken an ordinary stone chip from the wall.”
“The beam had no effect.”
“Wait,” says Mayani.
“In other caves, we activate the beam for a few seconds.”
“Here, it takes more time.”
Thirty seconds pass, and suddenly, the cave is covered with indigo crystal, but only visible to energy eyes.
Random bursts of indigo energy pass from the ceiling to the floor, throughout the cave.
After a few minutes, the bursts stop, and the crystal fades away.
“Is the crystal real or an illusion?” I ask them.
“I think there’s something here that deceives our energy sight,” says the leader, “but decide for yourself.”
“None of us feel anything, even when we’re struck by the energy bursts.”
“You still come here.”
“We follow tradition.”
“What can you tell us about the cave?” he adds.
“I see only what you see.”
“There are no Madar words here.”
“Try again,” says Mayani.
“They must be here!”
“You are a fool, Mayani,” says the cave leader, “to believe so much in the promises of the Madar.”
I quiet my mind, and ask myself how to reveal what is hidden.
The word glow comes into my thoughts.
I pull energy from the web, and radiate the energy that I call the Feldin glow.
An unbearable brightness assaults our energy eyes.
“Stop,” cries Mayani.
“What did you do?”
“I released energy to push away the shadows, and show us what’s really here.”
“Give me the beam, shut down your energy senses, and close your eyes.”
“I’m going to try again.”
I wait a few seconds, and then release the glow, this time using the blue well to power it, and directing it through the chip of rock in the beam.
The cave fills with an indigo energy brighter than before, that overloads my energy senses.
I force myself to keep my senses open, but the energy blinds me to everything else.
I scan through the fog of energy, looking for a clue.
The energy is the same wherever I look, boringly consistent, no strange patterns that could hide a message.
I close off my energy senses in frustration.
Where else can I look?
I listen to the quiet and chaos within me, waiting.
There’s an ache, a longing to search.
I pour out that feeling, and cover the cave with the energy.
I give it all my strength, a search more powerful than any question needs, or any answer can satisfy.
Something returns, not a seeing, but a feeling of place, of dark, thick walls, covered with something thin and fast – crystal.
Then I feel the energy still rushing through the cave in perfect circles.
A brief weakness in the energy as it passes one place.
I send more indigo energy into the cave, touched with the glow, and focused on that spot.
The weakness takes shape, and forms Madar words:
Make yourself blind to what others see and fear.
Search beyond anything you can know.
See what cannot be seen, but must be.
I close down the energy, and let the cave become dull again.
“Open your senses,” I tell the elders.
“I’ve let the energy go.”
“Did you find anything?”
I give them the words I felt.
“Do you know what it means?”
“Bring the pilgrims, and I’ll show you.”
“Tell them to close their eyes.”
“When we’re all in place, close your eyes, and your energy senses, and give me the beam.”
“I know what to do.”
I feed the indigo energy and the glow, and an endless feeling of searching through the beam.
The energy fills the cave, and everyone in it.
We stay conscious, but lose control of our physical bodies.
I sense it coming, and lower us all, gently, to the floor.
Then I call out to everyone with a mind touch so they won’t panic.
Don’t be afraid.
It’s part of the gift, and it’s only temporary.
The cave disappears, and we are elsewhere, a place with no boundaries, and energy everywhere.
I see us all as clouds of light that hover and mix together.
The clouds are thick where we come together, but our spreads thinly in all directions.
No words move within us, just a feeling of reaching out, forever.
A moment later, the cave returns, empty of light and energy, plain stone.
The pilgrims stand up, and are led out of the cave, and into the visitor’s building.
“Explain,” says the leader, when she returns.
“Elder, first tell me what you feel.”
“I came to a strange place.”
“Were we all there?”
“All the elders and all the pilgrims.”
“This is the cave’s true gift.”
“I felt endless, Lukara, but now that I’m here, I feel small.”
“Nothing else remains?”
“There’s a movement within me, an endless desire to touch that which can’t be bound in words or color or place or time.”
“We all feel that,” I tell her.
“What good is a gift that makes us feel small?” says one of the elders.
“Who are you elder?” asks Mayani.
“What do you mean?”
“We are comfortable with our small self, elder,” says Mayani, “and call it home, but we are also something endless.”
“The cave gave us a glimpse of it, but now, only the endless desire hints at who we really are.”
“We were born, far away, in an infinite world, and part of us searches, wanting to find that world, again.”
“Will that feeling stay with us, Lukara?” asks the elder.
“It’s possible, but only if we work at it.”
“The Dahwee teachings speak of it:
Leave behind the comfort of the familiar, every day.
Let it die, if you wish to touch the infinite.
I gather with most of the pilgrims to watch the last of the ring worlds appear on the ship’s view-screen.
I can feel the excitement, but there’s no shouting or cheering.
We’re still pledged to be silent aboard ship.
The shuttles will board soon.
One of the elders approaches, and I feel pressure against the mind wall.
I open the wall, and let the elder touch the surface of my mind.
Is it you, Mayani?
I came to warn you.
One of the elders has contacted the guards, and accused you of being a rebel.
How do you know?
I get copies of all elder communication aboard ship.
What will happen?
The guards will not appear until after we begin our journey home.
Don’t return with us, when we leave the violet world.
Each of the ring worlds has a few escape ships, hidden away for emergencies.
I’ll give you the location, and the codes to release the security lock.
Travel won’t be comfortable, but you’ll survive it.
The ship is stocked with emergency rations, and the AI can open a hyperspace gate, and get you to a safe place.
Why are you doing this?
You’ve strengthened all the elders on this journey, and most of us follow the true way.
Many of the pilgrims have been transformed, and I hope to bring them to our side.
The few Sehtoo elders with us are rethinking their allegiance.
Soon, we will be strong enough to eliminate the Sehtoo faction within the Dahwee.
Then, we can restore peace to the empire.
I hope you succeed, Mayani.
How do I thank you?
I’ll tell you how to safely contact me after you escape.
We’ll arrange for you to take the form and place of one of the Sehtoo elders after we eliminate him or her.
You’re more powerful than all of us.
You can crush the Sehtoo.
The Kizak have plans to conquer my world, Mayani, and the attack ships have already left.
I would like to help you, but I have to go home and defend my people.
If your sisters are like you, the guard can’t win.
The cage takes away our strength, the same as yours, and will leave us helpless.
The ring has given me new strength that the cage can’t banish.
I will be able to fight, but I don’t know if it will be enough.
Our silent conversation is interrupted when Mayani is called away to board the first shuttle.
I follow on the next.
The violet world is just rock, like the others, but the surface is smooth, like a polished stone.
Only one mountain interrupts the unchanging landscape.
Our destination is a great cavern near the top.
Before the visitor’s center was built, one could stand in the open cavern and look up at the sky, thick with stars.
Now the building, and the landing pad on its roof, form a cover for the cave.
The walls and floors are covered with a smooth layer of violet crystal.
The new ceiling looks like crystal, but it’s only artificial stone, painted to match the walls.
This place is broken, giving us no protection from the cage.
Still, with the strength I’ve gained in the ring, I can scan the cave.
There are no Madar words here.
“Where do you point the beam?” I ask the leader.
“The Madar we captured told us that the beam is useless here.”
“Someday,” he told us, “one of you will discover what to do there.”
“We tried directing the energy toward the walls and floor, but it had no effect.”
“How do you activate the crystal?”
“If there’s a way, we haven’t found it.”
“Why come here?”
“Maybe this cave affects us without being activated.”
“Besides, we need to says a proper goodbye to the ring.”
The leader arranges us in seven concentric circles.
This time, the elders, and even the leader stand among us.
“Now,” says the elder, “we are the same, walking the same road, all touched by the ring.”
“The gifts in the ring are bright, but the creator has gifts for us everywhere we go.”
He leads us in three prayers of gratitude.
“Time to go,” he says, when our echoes die out.
“May we circle the ring, together again, strong, in sweet days to come.”
“Stop,” I call to the leader.
“Fire the beam at my head.”
“The energy is strong.”
“It will harm or kill you.”
“No, it won’t.”
He hesitates, but the other elders motion to him to continue.
I can control the energy within six of the gateways, even with the cage around me, but not the seventh.
I open the six, and pour the energy of those wells toward the violet gateway, and the well beyond it.
It opens within me a moment before he fires.
A shell of energy forms around me, lighting up the cave, and making the crystal on the floor light up.
My shape changes, taking on the look of living crystal, covered with my own glow, full of all the colors.
The beam touches my crystal glow, and the cave shakes.
“Earthquake?” asks the leader.
“No,” I answer, “but move everyone next to the walls.”
The others move away, leaving me in the center.
I pull at the energy of the wells, and manage to hover just above the stone.
“Fire at me, again,” I tell the leader.
The violet well echoes the violet beam, and a flood of energy moves through me, striking the floor in pulsing waves.
I feel a gentle wind move through the cave, driven by vibrations in the floor.
A clear, high tone is heard, louder and louder, and the center of the floor crumbles.
White-hot crystal fragments rise from the deep hole, avoid me by a few inches, and form a fountain that spreads across the roof of the cave.
The scraps of stone melt together, forming a permanent crystal ceiling.
When the fountain stops, the floor seals itself, and I feel the cage disappear.
“Aim the beam at the ceiling,” I tell the leader, and he does.
The words reveal themselves:
Death calls you, birds of light.
The day disappears, and another comes.
The future weaves itself before your eyes, every moment precious.
New dreams are born, and become life.
Each face searches for itself, and finds another.
Death is midwife to all, and the world grows, hunting for itself, forever.
Violet energy pours out of me and rushes along the surface of the crystal, opening the gateway wide within each pilgrim.
A few seconds later it fades, and I return to Lukara’s form.
The pilgrims look at the new ceiling, glowing with a gentle light that fills the cave.