Crystal Paths

 
The Last Vision
I wake in the tower to the sound of Dilasa’s screams.
Shazira is up and holding her.

For a moment, half-asleep, I wonder why Dilasa is with us in the Dreaming Room.
Only the guardians sleep here.
Their children stay with relatives, or sleep in the common rooms of the tower, like any visitors.
The tower is quiet at night, with few visitors, and plenty of space.

Then I remember.
The world has changed, and those quiet nights are gone.
The madness is everywhere, brought on by the damaged web.
Guild members are protected with mind shields, but their families are not.

Not long ago, word spread among the guild that the tower protects from the madness.
The first night after that, two thousand Jiku came here.
There is barely space for a few hundred, including the outside decks that are too bright to sleep without a mask.
It was chaos, and several people were hurt.
I drove them all out and sealed the tower with a shield, until I could get help from the council.

Now, no one sleeps here without a council permit, except the guardians and their children.
The permits are good for a moon.
Guards stand on the tower’s deck, by every entrance, to check permits and keep the peace.
I don’t want our children sleeping in the crowded public areas, so they stay with us at night.

Dilasa is still shaking, struggling to catch her breath as Shazira holds her, and Berek and Tzina look on.
“Just a nightmare, Yagrin,” says Shazira, trying to comfort us all.

“No,” says Tzina.
“There’s something real there.”
“I can feel it.”

“You can see her thoughts through her shield?” I ask.

“It’s hard to describe.”
“I can’t see the thoughts, but I can feel them, just a little, and they don’t feel like a dream.”

“It was a vision, ina,” says Dilasa, at last, “but not like any other vision I’ve had.”
“I’ve tried, but I can’t enter the vision gateway anymore, while I’m awake.”

I entered the sea of visions through a narrow tunnel that cut me at every step.
When I got there, I saw a world of tall cities.
The world was thick with people, not so different from us, but shorter, light-skinned, and more hair.
There were soldiers everywhere with strange weapons.

I saw fuzzy images of that vicious creature you showed us, the alien.
It was trying to tell me something, but I was too scared, so I ran away, looking for you.
Finally I found you.
You had a body like one of the pink-skinned people, but I knew it was you.
Your body was floating on an ocean, dead, under a strange sky.

I saw your fire body, bound to the dead flesh.
It was trying to escape but it was too weak.
I couldn’t help you, ina!
I was only a shadow in the vision, with no strength.
The web around us was like glass.
I couldn’t draw strength from it, and I knew that there were no energy masters here.
I watched helplessly as your body was rotting, and I knew that you were not coming back to life!

Dilasa sits on my lap, and I hold her.
The other children look frightened.

“We don’t know what this vision means,” I tell them.
“Even if we did, the future is never certain.”
While we sit, I try to open the Dream Hunter gateway to the place of visions, but I can’t.

“I can’t open the gateway, either, Dilasa.”

“There won’t be any more visions, ina,” she tells me.
“I won’t be able to get through the gateway again, even at night.”
“I know it.”

 
Losing the Way
“First light will be here soon,” I tell them.
“We’ll dance the greeting, and then we’ll go looking for Filarin.”
Berek fingers the necklace.
After his vision, the other night, he’s grown strangely attached to the black stone, so I’ve left it with him.
“This is your gift now, Berek,” I tell him.

“Today, we all wear our gifts,” I announce.
Berek puts on a robe over the black necklace.
Shazira and Tzina put on the sheath, the bracelets they found in the Breath of Life.
Dilasa puts on the necklace from Sindar.

“Where is the sword?” asks Shazira, troubled.
“Will you wear it?”

“It was in Berek’s vision.”
“We need to have it with us.”

I remember how easy it was to hide the medallion deep in a distant mountain, when I could freely draw on the web’s strength.
Now, I struggle to open the gateway.
It keeps trying to close, like the world is fighting against me.
I feel my strength bleeding away as I move the object through the gateway.

I wake up on the floor, dizzy and nauseous.
“You collapsed, Yagrin!” says Shazira.
“What happened?”

I call to my healing body to banish the nausea, but the healer feels far away.
I sit up slowly.

“I need more than skill to open a PathFinder gateway,” I tell them.
“It takes an enormous amount of energy, rushing through me.”
“The web fuels this, as it fuels flow, healing, weaving, everything.”
“I reached out for the energy I needed, but the connection was too weak, too slow.”
“I couldn’t get enough from the web, so I blindly took the rest from my fire body.”
“The effort almost tore me apart.”
“If I wasn’t partly Gen, it would could have killed me.”
“I was just able to open the gateway and bring the sword here.”

Shazira helps me up.

“Do you have enough strength for the trip?” she asks.

“I’m not sure,” I tell her.

I clean off the crystal that surrounds the disk, and attach it to my belt, just below my navel, before I put on my sandals.
The disk, the shield, the sheath, and Sindar’s necklace glow with a purple light that spreads around us.
The sound of a single chord fills the room.
Then, each object releases a different, swirling color, like a mist, as each gift sounds its own pure tone.
The light and sound grow brighter and stronger until they form a sparkling wall around us, spinning, faster and faster.
Dilasa and I reach out to touch the wall.
It’s soft and warm around my hands, and the energy restores some of my strength.
We stand there quietly, until the glow fades away.

“I’m stronger now,” I tell them.
“Let’s do this while we still can.”

Zias and Bintar meet us on the deck, where we dance the greeting together.
Then we pack for the trip, and they see us off.

 
Six Paths
We glide together on the web, turning toward the distant mountain.
I miss seeing Shazira fly in her dragon form, her green and silver wings shining in the sunlight, but with the web as it is, she could never hold that shape for long.
We fly slower than usual, and tire more easily, so we stop to rest every hour.
When we rest, I notice that Berek’s face is strong and bright, while the rest of us struggle to catch our breath.

“You’re not tired?” I ask him.

“No, ina.”
“I could easily keep going, and fly as fast as I ever do.”

“How can you do that, Berek, with the web as it is?” asks Shazira.

“I don’t know,” he answers.

We reach the mountain two hours before nightfall, and land in a clearing, surrounded with flowers and trees.
“The ground is soft,” says Shazira.
“We can sleep here.”

“It’s beautiful,” says Dilasa, “but we need to be someplace else.”

“Where?” asks Shazira.

“I don’t know,” answers Dilasa, “but not here.”

We sit in a circle, and take out some food from the packs.
We eat while we rest, though Berek and I eat quicker than the others, as usual.
I get up, and Berek follows.

“Where are you going?” asks Shazira.

“I want to find the entrances to the six caves, and see what else we can learn about them.”
“We’ll be back soon.”

I wander through the trees at the base of the mountain with Berek.
Strange.
The stone is warm to the touch, and fills me with strength.

We rise, half-way up the mountain, to look for the four caves at the same level, that point to the four directions.
“There are so many caves here, ina!”
“How will we identify the ones that your healer saw?”

We scan the caves with energy sight.
The mountain glows brightly, and the caves brighter still, but there are four caves that remain mostly dark.

“Do you see the darker ones, Berek?” I ask him.
“Let’s focus on those.”

I move toward the nearest of the four, on the west side of the mountain, and stop at the entrance.
The cave is covered with orange and dark blue crystal.
The sword glows, and the opening to the dark cave responds by projecting an energy mark – the Gen whisheeku.
Gen whisheeku

“Do you see it Berek?”

“I see the sword glowing.”
“That’s all.”

“What about the mark on the cave.”

“No.”
“What do you see, ina?”

“The symbol of the first Gen, the whisheeku, one of energy marks that I see on the sword.”
I enter the narrow cave, and Berek tries to follow.

“I can’t enter, ina.” he tells me.
“There’s an energy shield here that won’t let me pass.”

“Wait here for a few minutes,” I tell him.
“I won’t be long.”

I glide through the cave until I reach its end at the edge of the sphere.
Here, at close range, my energy eyes can see the energy mark on the outside of the sphere, another whisheeku.

“What did you find?” asks Berek.

“A whisheeku.”

I follow a hunch, and fly around the mountain to the east side and another of the dark caves.
Berek follows.
This one is covered in black and white crystal.

There’s no mark on the outside of the cave, and I can’t enter.
When he reaches me, I see the black stone necklace, glowing from beneath his robe.

“Do you see the mark?” he asks me.

“No, just your glowing necklace.”

“The symbol for storm is on this cave, and the necklace that I wear.”
Storm symbol

“See if you can enter the cave, and follow it to the end.”

Berek enters the cave and returns a few minutes later.
“Another mark of the storm,” he says.

We return to Shazira and the girls, and tell them what we found.

“Each of us has our own cave, ina?” asks Dilasa.

“I suspect that five of the caves are tied to the five gifts that we carry, but we have to test that theory.”
“Bring your packs with you.”
“We’ll need them if we find a way into the mountain’s core.”

We locate the cave at the top of the mountain that passes straight down, the one that I think penetrates into the core.
The cave is covered in a colorless, transparent crystal.
None of us can enter it, and there’s no mark at the entrance.

Dilasa’s necklace glows when we reach the northern cave, covered in a deep violet crystal.
She’s the only one who can enter it.
“How can you let her explore the cave alone, Yagrin?” asks Shazira.
“She’s too young.”

Dilasa ignores her, and disappears into the cave.
“It’s like the others, ina,” she says, when she returns.
“It ends at the core, and there’s a mark at both ends. It’s Sindar’s symbol on a background of stars.”
Sindar's Symbol with Stars

Shazira’s bracelet glows when we reach the southern cave, covered in silver, green, and yellow crystal.
This cave is larger than the others, but even Shazira can’t enter it.

“What do you see, Shazira?” I ask.

“An image of my dragon form.”

“Try flowing into your dragon shape,” I suggest.

“How will that help us?” she asks.
“I can’t hold it long enough to reach the core, and return.”

“You won’t need the form, except to pass through the shield.”

She struggles to flow into the form, and then passes through the opening.
I’m surprised to see her still holding the shape as flies deeper into the cave, out of sight.
When she returns, she slips back into her Jiku form as soon as she leaves the cave.

“My cave was like the others,” says Shazira.
“It stops at the core, and has images of the dragon at both ends.”

“Did you feel stronger in your caves?” she asks.
“The web is different in there.”
“It strengthened me enough that I was able to hold the form.”

Berek and I agree.
“The web feels almost normal in there,” adds Dilasa.

Tzina is quietly upset, waiting to experience her own cave.
“We have to find Tzina’s cave,” says Berek, sensing Tzina’s distress, “but its opening is below ground!”

I scan the mountain.
The opening to Tzina’s cave lies thirty feet below the surface, within a cavern.
“Follow me,” I tell them.
I lead them into a cave at ground level, which slopes down to an immense cavern, filled with green crystal.

“This looks like a Gen birthing cave,” I think to myself.
The opening to the seventh cave is in the ceiling of the cavern.
The cave is covered in blood-red crystal, with blue lines running through it, creating the appearance of a net.
Tzina’s bracelet glows as we approach.
She smiles, as she flies up into the cave and disappears.

It takes ten minutes for her to return.
“My cave is much longer than your caves,” she says, but otherwise, not so different.”
“It has an image of trees, growing from a sea of clouds, at each end.”

She shows it to us.
“Do you recognize it?”

“It’s the symbol of the Mind Weaver’s guild,” I tell her.
Mind Weaver's Symbol

“What do we do now, Yagrin?” asks Shazira.
“Each of us has our own cave with a symbol that speaks to us, but what good is it?”
“We can’t enter the sixth path, and we can’t get to the mountain’s core.”

“We need to enter the five paths at the same time,” says Berek, “and move to the core.”
“Then we touch our gifts to the core, where we see the symbols.”
“That will get us in.”

“How do you know, Berek?” asks Tzina.

“I just know,” he answers.

“You sound like ina,” she says, sighing.
“Let’s try it,” she adds.
“I’ll bind our thoughts together, so we can enter the caves and touch the core as a group.”

We leave Tzina in the cavern, and fly outside the mountain toward our own paths.
One by one we report that we’re ready to enter.

“Go,” says Tzina.
We enter, and move through our caves to the core.
Each one of us removes our gift, and holds it near the energy image that we see at the end of the cave.
It’s time.

“Oodah,” says Tzina to Shazira, “you call it this time.”

“Now,” says Shazira.
We touch our gifts to the energy images.
The crystal walls of each cave fill with light and music.
Then the world goes dark.


Empire of Stone -- 1: Cages of FearPrevious StoryNext Story
  1. Fading Light
  2. Waking the Council
  3. Challenging the Guilds
  4. Crystal Paths
  5. Caves of Dreams
  6. Worlds Within Worlds
  7. Black Fountain
  8. Secrets of the Game
  9. Fast and Slow
  10. Slavery and Death
  11. Silver Falls
  12. Sounds of Healing
  13. Songs of Change

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