Paths of Healing
The airship flies toward the school, only minutes away.
“Ilaz looks terrible,” says Keela.
Berek scans him.
“He’s gotten worse.”
“His pattern body was damaged when I drove out the alien.”
Berek streams healing energy over Ilaz, but the energy has little effect.
“His breathing is so weak,” says Keela.
“Have you lost your power of healing?”
“No, but this injury is beyond the strength of a single healer, and Ilaz has lost the will to live.”
“Tzina told me that his spirit said it would rather die than remain in its prison.”
“The alien spirit was the only thing that kept this body alive.”
The ship lands, and Berek glides the body into the school.
“We need several healers, now,” says Berek.
“The king’s son has an injury to his pattern body.”
Four sisters surround Ilaz.
“Can you help him?” asks Keela.
“We can heal the pattern body,” says Niyta, but it will take hours, princess, and his physical body won’t last that long.”
“Tzina,” says Berek, “free Ilaz now.”
“We need him awake.”
“How can he wake up when his body is so weak?” she asks.
“Even if he does, what good will it do?”
“He’s so full of anger that he will fight anyone he sees.”
“That’s what I’m hoping for.”
Tzina dissolves the barrier that imprisons his spirit.
“What mad dream is this?!” he yells.
He see Tzina’s face, and sits up.
“YOU,” he accuses.
“You and your twin freed the parasite, and imprisoned me.
“I’ll kill you!”
Tzina steps back, and Berek comes forward.
“It was an alien traveler,” says Berek.
He pulls the necklace out of his robe, so Ilaz can see it.
“I helped the traveler kill your father, so I could steal this necklace.”
“NO,” says Ilaz, and grabs the necklace.
There is a tremendous flash of light, and Ilaz collapses onto the bed.
“Scan him,” says Berek to Niyta.
“His pattern body is still weak,” she says, “but much better than it was.”
“He might last through the treatment.”
“Once the pattern body is repaired, we can strengthen his physical body, as well.”
“Everyone clear the room, so we can concentrate.”
Berek starts to fall as he tries to walk, but Shazira and Tzina grab him, and help him out of the room.
He leans against the wall of the hallway.
Keela grabs Berek and shakes him.
“What did you do?” asks Keela, angry.
“Why did you tell Ilaz that you killed my father?”
“Is it true?!”
Shazira pushes her away, and Berek sits down on the floor, trying to get his strength back.
“Do you think that Berek would ever do that?” asks Shazira.
“Your father gave him the necklace.”
Keela calms down, and reaches for Berek’s hand.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
“I can’t think straight.”
“My father is dead, and Ilaz is dying.”
“When you get upset, you abandon your friends?” asks Berek, sharply.
He pulls his hand away, so she can’t touch him, and takes a few slow, deep breaths.
He looks very weak.
“What’s wrong, Berek?” asks Tzina.
“Are you all right?”
“No, but I’ll recover.”
“I transferred a lot of energy to Ilaz.”
“Healing energy?” asks Shazira.
“I transferred energy from my pattern body.”
“You could have died,” says Shazira.
“It was dangerous, but I counted on the necklace to protect me.”
“What does the royal necklace have to do with this?” asks Keela.
“The necklace connects with the energy of those who have the right genetics and touch it.”
“I guessed that if Ilaz and I took hold of it at the same time, it would act as a pathway between us.”
“I sent him a large burst of energy.”
“Why did you lie to him?” asks Keela.
“I needed to make Ilaz angry, so he would stay conscious, and try to take the necklace from me.”
“I noticed that the connection is much stronger when I’m focused on it.”
“Berek,” says Shazira, “you’re as reckless as Yagrin!”
“Should I have let Ilaz die?”
“I’m proud to be like ina.”
“He does what no one else will do!”
“What about your parents?”
“Would they approve of you taking such risks?”
“What if both you and Ilaz die from this?!”
“Think how your parents would feel?”
“Don’t tell them what I did.”
“They don’t like me spending so much time in Tshuan, as it is.”
“I’m responsible for you while you’re in Tshuan.”
“Your mother depends on me to keep you safe.”
Shazira stares at Berek for a few seconds.
“I don’t like hiding the truth,” she says finally, “but I’ll keep quiet this time.”
“You look like you’re going to pass out,” says Keela.
“Will you really recover without help?”
“Let me find another healer to help you.”
“No, I’ll just go outside.”
“I think I can use the necklace to draw energy from the sun to heal myself.”
Keela reaches for his arm.
He gives her a look that says, “go away,” but she ignores it.
She helps him get up, walk out of the school, and stagger to a bench in direct sunlight.
“I can do this,” says Berek to himself, trying to stay awake.
He streams his will through the necklace, and sends it out for fifty feet in all directions.
It forms a net, gathering the sun’s energy.
He needs the strength, but it’s coming too fast.
In his weakened state, Berek can’t control it, and he starts to feel like he’s burning up.
He hears Keela calling from far away, but he can’t focus on the words.
Then, he feels the stream of energy stabilize, filling him without harm.
When his strength returns, he pulls the net back through the necklace and opens his eyes.
Keela is holding the necklace, and her eyes are glowing.
“What happened?” he asks her.
“The energy was killing you.”
“I took hold of the necklace to try and stop it.”
“You can let go now, Keela,” says Berek.
“Not until you forgive me.”
“I forgive you, but I’m still angry with you.”
“I deserve it.”
“Will you be there for the burial?” she asks quietly.
“I don’t think I can get through it without you.”
Death and Duty
In Tshuan tradition, the body is buried quietly with only family and the closest of friends present, even for the death of a king.
Then the family goes into the dead person’s house for two weeks.
Friends feed them, and come and console them.
One week after the mourning ends, there’s a party that celebrates the person’s life.
The party must have two hosts, one relative and one friend.
The custom is different when a person is murdered.
The life celebration is delayed up to a month, to give the family a chance to find the murderer and take revenge.
The person who kills the murderer must host the party, together with a relative or friend of the deceased.
At the king’s life celebration, his heir must be one of the hosts.
“I don’t want to be a host, Keela,” says Berek.
“Are you still mad at me?”
“Friends forgive each other.”
“Besides, you saved my life.”
“You have to host the celebration, Berek.”
“You avenged his death.”
“What will I say to all these people?”
“Are you quiet with your family or me?”
“That’s different, Keela.”
“I know you.”
“You’re not afraid to fight, but you’re scared of conversation?”
“I agree it’s ridiculous, but this will be a huge party!”
“Don’t worry,” says Keela, laughing, “I’ll stay by your side and protect you.”
“I give you permission to throw a lightning bolt at anyone who annoys you.”
“It’s not funny,” says Berek, suppressing a smile.
“Yes it is,” she says.
The celebration is held outside, near the seven hills, to make room for the thousands of Tshuans who will come.
There are only a few visitors from the guild lands, including the council and Berek’s parents.
To start the king’s celebration, Keela and Berek fly down through eight rings of guards that hover in the sky.
The guards appear in their dress uniforms, with different color capes that reflect their rank.
The guards look straight ahead as Berek and Keela fly past.
The head of the guards waits on a circular stage.
It’s his duty to announce the arrival of the hosts when they land.
“All welcome the hosts and the heir to the celebration.”
Tradition dictates that the heir must wear the royal necklace from first light today, until the end of the coronation that follows the celebration.
When the heir lands, she must reveal the necklace that she wears, so all can see.
The crowd is waiting for this, and is surprised when Keela makes no move.
Keela sighs, aware of what’s coming.
The head of the king’s council joins Keela on the platform.
“Princess, let your people see the necklace, the sign of royal strength.”
“Do any of you doubt that I am the heir?” she asks, her voice rising.
“No, of course not,” says the council elder.
“The king sealed his will before witnesses.”
“You are the heir to the throne, even if Ilaz wakes from his madness.”
“The will was publicized right after the burial, according to Tshuan law.”
“Good people of Tshuan,” says Keela, “tradition says that the necklace must be hidden away, except on the day of the coronation.”
“That tradition speaks to ordinary times when we know only peace.”
“Our king believed that war is almost upon us, and the necklace must leave its resting place, and become the shield.”
“He gave the necklace into the care of a trusted friend of Tshuan, a distant member of the royal family.”
“The necklace must remain in that friend’s hand, to be used as a weapon to defend Tshuan and all of Siksa.”
“I knew you need to see this treasure today.”
“You must be sure that your future queen’s blood has the strength to lift the necklace.”
Berek reaches under his shirt, and takes off the necklace, holding it up so everyone can see it.
The crowd gasps.
Keela takes the necklace from Berek and lifts it up above her head.
Then they grasp the stone together, and hold it up.
The stone gets warm, and a bright beam of light shines straight up through the rings of guards.
A clap of thunder is heard.
Then the royal symbol, Sindar’s symbol, appears over both their heads for a few seconds, shining in black.
Keela releases the necklace, and Berek puts it back on, this time visible over his clothing.
As the avenger, Berek must speak first.
The crowd quiets down when he rises in the air to speak.
Keela hovers next to him.
“It’s strange that I should speak first, or speak at all,” he says.
“What do I know of Tshuan ways compared to all of you?”
“However, custom and the princess demand that I speak.”
“How can I refuse?”
“I remember the first time I came to Tshuan.”
“My father brought me here for another celebration, one hosted by the king, welcoming the sisters.”
“There is a long history of mistrust between the guilds and Tshuan.”
“There are many reasons for this, and we all bear responsibility for it.”
“Our ways are different, and it’s difficult at first to understand each other.”
“When I came to Tshuan, I didn’t trust any of you, not even the king or the princess.”
“Today is a new day.”
“The princess has given me her friendship, and the king has put his trust in me to fight for you.”
“The guards, the princess and I stood together to fight an enemy spirit, from the same world that war will come.”
“Those enemies are not enemies of Tshuan or the guilds alone.”
“They are enemies of all of Siksa, and we are fools to think otherwise.”
“I am honored to have avenged the king’s blood.”
“Enjoy the day.”
The princess speaks of her father’s love for her and all of Tshuan.
She talks of his strength, and hopes that her people will see the same strength in her one day.
Most life celebrations last a few hours, but the king’s goes on all day.
Berek introduces his foster parents to Keela.
She kisses his mother.
“I’m so happy to meet you,” says Keela.
After a few minutes of chatting, Zias asks to speak to Keela privately.
They go into a tent that has been set up for the princess.
“Thank you for speaking with me,” says Zias.
“You’re Berek’s mother!”
“You can speak with me whenever you wish.”
“I’m concerned that he spends almost all of his time in Tshuan.”
“His sister is here, master Zias.”
“It’s not surprising that he wants to see her.”
“He comes here because of you, not only because of his sister!”
“We’re best friends.”
“Tonight you will be queen, and soon, you will have less time to spend with him.”
“I’ll always find time for Berek.”
“It’s sweet of you to say, but life may not let you.”
“I understand that in Tshuan, it’s unusual for a king or queen to rule long without a bondmate.”
“How long can you put it off?”
“A year or two?”
“Even if war comes, it will soon pass, and you’ll find a bondmate.”
“You’ll have no time for Berek, and he’ll be heartbroken!”
“He’s much stronger than that.”
“He’s as tall and strong as most adults, but he’s had a hard life, and he’s still fragile.”
“Berek is barely thirteen years old!”
“You’re a Tshuan and six years older than him.”
“He doesn’t realize that you can never be more than friends.”
“What has he said to you?”
“Nothing in particular, but he talks about you all the time.”
Keela laughs nervously.
“I used to speak a lot with my father about Berek.”
“The king got a little tired of it, though he approved of our friendship.”
“My father was convinced that I would bond with Berek in a few years.”
“That’s ridiculous,” says Zias, laughing.
“I’m a joke to you?!”
“Am I so strange that no one from the guilds would ever bond with me?!”
“I just meant that our cultures are too different.”
“How could a bond ever last?”
“Besides, you’re old enough to bond now.”
“He won’t be ready for many years.”
Keela is angry, but she stays silent.
“I’m glad you understand,” says Zias, mistaking Keela’s silence for agreement.
“When you become queen, just use it as an excuse to be busy.”
“Eventually, his feelings will subside.”
Zias goes back to the celebration, while Keela is left alone in the tent with her thoughts.
I haven’t thought much about Berek as a bondmate, but I can’t ignore what master Yagrin told my father and me.
He saw a vision of me bonding with a sixteen-year-old boy, who was wearing a black necklace.
He refused to tell me who it is, but who else could it be besides Berek?
Dilasa sticks her head into the tent.
“I know you’re almost queen, but I still have to interrupt.”
“You’re one of the hosts, and Berek can’t handle it alone.”
“I’m coming,” says Keela, and follows Dilasa back.
At midnight, the celebration ends, and the coronation begins.
Keela is dressed at first in simple Tshuan clothing, with a commander’s belt.
She displays her skill with weapons, and hand-to-hand combat.
When she is done, her clothes are dirty and her hair is sweaty.
The crowd waits for a few minutes while she goes off to quickly shower and put on a blue coronation robe.
Berek flies with her, within a ring of thirteen guards, as she returns to the platform.
The council elder leads her through a series of declarations, where she pledges her service to Tshuan as long as she lives.
At the end, she drinks wine from a crystal goblet, and smashes it on the platform.
The public party continues outside for a few hours.
Then, the new queen, her friends, and special guests go to a large inside hall, where a private party continues until first light.
Puppets of the Guild
The celebration is over, and the work of being queen and commander begins.
Keela is sitting at her desk when the council elder enters her office.
“Commander,” he says, “what to do we do about Ilaz?”
“We can’t keep the prince locked up forever.”
“His body is healed, elder, but his mind is twisted.”
“He almost killed a guard when he tried to escape the last time.”
“How can we let him out?”
“Ilaz thinks the kingdom has been overrun by enemies, and he won’t even talk with me.”
“He lives in the past where I’m nine years old, and the king is still alive.”
“Is there any hope for him?”
“Not from the healers.”
“If master Yagrin were here, he might find a way, but he left Siksa to look for our enemies.”
“He may never return!”
“This is not good, princess.”
“The people are troubled.”
“He’s from the guilds, yet you accept him as a close friend.”
“The shield of Tshuan should be hidden away, yet he wears it around his neck, and he admitted in public to killing the king.”
“That was no admission.”
“He was trying to make Ilaz grab the necklace!”
“I explained this to the council, and they promised to publicize my words.”
“Yes, but the people look at the surface of things.”
“They see the prince imprisoned, and they hear rumors of his accusations.”
“Some believe that the kingdom has been taken over by the guilds.”
“The people say the guilds are responsible for the king’s death, and your mind has been enslaved.”
“What do you believe, elder?” says Keela, rising up in anger, and pulling a knife.
“Am I puppet of the guilds?!”
“Put away the weapon, commander.”
“I’m no threat to you, and I don’t think that you are a guild slave.”
“Still, I’m concerned about the sudden influence that the guilds have in Tshuan.”
Keela puts the knife back in its sheath.
“What do the guards say?” asks Keela.
“The guards are loyal to you.”
“They heard the alien spirit in Ilaz.”
“They saw how the king was killed, and they saw how you and master Berek pursued the king’s killer.”
“What do you suggest, elder?”
“Find a way to heal Ilaz, and convince him of the truth.”
“The people need to see their prince walking free, and calling you his queen.”
“What of Master Berek?”
“It would be best if he could leave Tshuan, but I know that will not happen.”
The elder thinks for a few seconds.
“Let him spend time among the people, so they can see that he is strong and direct, without the typical guild arrogance.”
“He’s not a master of words.”
“He has no clever tongue to steal their hearts.”
“I know, commander.”
“They will see straight through to his heart, and that will win them over.”
“He won’t like it.”
“If he is your friend, he’ll do it.”
A Day in the Market
“What will I do among the people, Keela?”
“Talk to them.”
“Show them your art.”
“I’ll do it if you think it’s important.”
The next day, Berek goes to one of the largest open-air marketplaces.
He wanders through the marketplace, sampling the Tshuan food, and looking at the crafts.
He notices that there are a few guards in the market.
Keela explained that the Tshuan guards serve as both army and police, so they are found everywhere.
Two guards approach him.
“Master Berek, we have orders to walk with you through the market, to keep you safe.”
“Do those orders come from the commander.”
“No, but I’m sure she would agree.”
“How can the people get to know me, if I’m guarded like some pompous visitor?”
“Message her, and ask her yourself.”
The guard gets nervous.
“I’m not allowed to trouble the commander.”
“Would you like me to message her, and let you speak with her?”
“No,” says the guard, afraid of the commander’s anger.
“Let us know if you need anything,” he adds, and walks away.
Berek finds a playground next to the market which is full of children, and he sits down to watch them.
A woman approaches him, carrying a crying baby.
“Master Berek, may I speak with you?”
“I’m not a guild master, barely an apprentice.”
“But everyone calls you master!”
“I have some skills, but I’ve never tested for the master’s robe.”
“What do I call you then?”
“You carry the necklace, and are of royal blood.”
“At least I should call you lord.”
“I hate titles, and I’m just a boy.”
“How old are you?”
“You look much older.”
“I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
“What did you want to ask me when you first approached.”
“It doesn’t matter,” the woman says sadly.
“My baby is sick and I need a powerful healer.”
“The herbs I was given to treat her just make her cry more.”
“She’s getting worse, and barely eats.”
“Give her to me for a moment.”
The mother is reluctant, but she hands over the baby.
The child is miserable, and has difficulty breathing.
Berek holds the baby close, and rocks her.
Some of the other mothers gather around to watch, along with some of the children.
“Will you hurt the baby?” asks a three-year-old boy.
His mother tries to apologize.
“Children say what they feel,” says Berek.
“It’s all right.”
“Why would you think that I’d hurt her?” asks Berek.
The mother glares at the boy, so he won’t answer.
“Please let me speak with him,” says Berek, quietly.
The mother reluctantly agrees, and tells the boy to answer.
“Because you’re from the guilds, and they all hate us.”
“Some do hate you,” says Berek, looking the boy in the eyes, “just as some of you hate us.”
“You don’t hate us,” says the boy, staring back at him.
Berek sings to the baby, an ancient song called the warrior’s lullaby.
The crowd listens, and the baby falls asleep in his arms.
“You have a beautiful voice,” says the baby’s mother, reaching for the child.
“Let me hold her a little more.”
“I may be able to discover what’s wrong with her.”
Berek releases the listener, and lets it settle over the baby.
The baby has a virus that effects the brain, like meningitis, along with an additional respiratory infection.
Berek streams healing energy through the baby, beginning with the energy center on the forehead.
Her breathing grows clearer, and her color improves.
She wakes up and smiles at Berek.
“She hasn’t smiled in a month!”
“What did you do?”
“She’s better now.”
“Take her and try to feed her.”
Berek hands her back.
“Can you really fly without the armband?” asks another child.
“Would you like to see?”
Berek rises twenty feet in the air, and spins around.
Then he lands on his feet.
“What’s your favorite animal?” he asks a girl who stares at him.
“They’re so cute!”
“Would you like to see me turn into a Zayo?”
“Then you can hold me, if your mother lets you.”
Her eyes open wide in surprise, and she’s too shocked to respond.
He flows himself into a Zayo, and looks at the girl with his golden eyes.
Hesitantly she picks him up, and strokes his fur.
After a minute, he jumps back to the ground, and takes his old form.
“The guilds taught you to do that?!” asks the girl.
“They do teach it, but not to me.”
“I was born knowing how to do it.”
“You can fool the children with your tricks,” says a voice behind him, “but the men of Tshuan know that you are a murderer and a coward.”
The children and mothers scatter, and Berek turns.
Five men, in their twenties, stand there with knives, and move to surround him.
Berek is taller than them, despite his young age.
A crowd gathers.
“Death to the guilds,” shouts a voice behind the group of five.
“No more queen, and no more wars,” shouts another voice.
“Put down the knives,” says a guard approaching.
“Or what?” asks one of the men.
“Will you kill us to defend this trickster?”
“I don’t need any tricks to fight you,” says Berek.
He slips on an inhibitor armband and locks it into place.
“Now, you can’t blame your defeat on my guild skills.”
“No, master Berek,” says the guard.
“The queen wouldn’t want you to fight and get hurt.”
“Don’t interfere,” says Berek
“I’ll fight my own battles.”
“Five against one?” asks one of the mothers.
“That’s not fair!”
Someone throws a knife to Berek, but he kicks it away.
Instead, he uses an ancient martial art that Mayla taught him, to knock out four of the attackers.
The fifth one finds his own knife held at his throat.
“That’s Kruta,” says one of the men in the crowd.
“Kill me,” says the man with the knife to this throat.
“I was a friend of Ilaz before the accident.”
“Now that he’s woken up, you’ve done something to his mind, so he couldn’t challenge the princess for the throne!”
“If you were his friend, you would know that before the accident, he never wanted to be king.”
Berek lets him up.
“After he woke up, he changed his mind!”
“Did the one that woke up know you?”
“That wasn’t Ilaz.”
“It was a traveler that invaded his body!”
“What proof is there of that?”
Berek takes off the armband, and projects one of the alien’s memories to the crowd.
“That’s from the alien spirit,” says Berek.
“He came from the world that threatens Siksa.”
“I can’t prove it now, but when the aliens come, and you see their pink skins, then you’ll believe me.”
“How did you learn Kruta?” asks one of the men.
“It was so deadly, that it was outlawed long ago.”
“Do the guilds practice it?”
“The guilds know nothing of it.”
“They care little for weapons, or how to fight without their energy skills.”
“My father and I were taught the art by a secret master, who lived far from Tshuan and the guilds.”
“She’s dead now.”
“If the queen permits it, I think we should teach Kruta again, here in Tshuan.”
“The enemies that we face can disable all our weapons.”
“We need to find other ways to fight.”
Berek hands the knife back to his attacker.
The man looks at the knife, and then puts it back in the sheath.
“You would teach us Kruta, even though we tried to kill you?”
“You want to protect Tshuan, don’t you?”
“I’ll teach you Kruta so you can do exactly that.”
“How old are you?”
“How can you teach us anything?!”
“You’re a child.”
“I’m taller than you, and you see what I can do.”
“Judge me by my actions, not my years.”
“What about Ilaz?”
“He still doesn’t know me!”
“Why won’t anyone help him?!”
Berek touches the man lightly on the shoulder.
“We want to, but we don’t know how yet.”
“Give us a chance to prove that we are friends of Tshuan.”
“We’ll see,” says the man, as he leads the others away.
Stones of Life
“It’s too bad that the Mindstones are gone,” says Niyta to one of the other sisters.
“They might have helped Ilaz.”
“What do you know of the stones?” asks Tzina.
“Before the war, we used them to heal twisted minds.”
“Unfortunately, the sand field where we harvested them was at low tide at the end of the war, and the sword’s fire turned the sand into stone.”
“They grew in only one place?”
“I can take you to another sand field,” says Tzina.
“I’ve harvested stones there for myself, but not for others.”
“Will you help me?”
“We’ll do it together.”
“This kind of healing requires a healer and a Mind Weaver.”
They arrange for a Tshuan airship to transport them to watchtower island at low tide.
Niyta asks Berek to come along.
They walk away from the beach onto the wet sand.
“This is not like the other field,” says Niyta.
“It has a very different energy.”
“In the old place, we used energy eyes to find the stones.”
“Not here,” says Tzina.
“I just imagine what I need it for, and then wander through the sand.”
“The stone reveals itself to me.”
“Right now, I’m thinking of Ilaz, his mind caught in the past, and twisted by hate.”
Niyta lets Tzina lead.
After a few minutes, the sand moves apart in one spot, and a Mindstone appears.
Tzina picks it up.
“The energy is familiar,” says Niyta, “but the appearance is different.”
“Are they all so dull and asymmetrical?”
“Our Mindstones were beautiful.”
“Every one is different,” says Tzina, “but some of them grow brighter when I let them rest overnight in the tower.”
“We’ll stay here tonight to see if we can strengthen the stone,” says Niyta, “but we must return to Tshuan long before first light.”
“The stone is still dull,” says Niyta in the morning, “but the energy is much stronger.”
The airship lands near the facility where Ilaz is being held.
Keela is already there, with several other Tshuans as witnesses.
Ilaz is tied up on the ground.
“Berek,” says Niyta, “glide the stone onto Ilaz’s forehead, and hold it in place from a distance.”
“Tzina, look at the stone with energy eyes, and tell me what you see.”
“It has a very simple mind web, pulsing with a slow rhythm.”
“Now look at Ilaz.”
“His mind web is erratic, with no clear rhythm.”
“Pull energy from each of the mind webs toward the other one, and build a thin mind wall from the combined energy to connect them.”
“It hurts,” cries Ilaz, trying to twist free of the restraints.
One of his friends moves to free him.
“Stay back,” says Keela, “if you want this to work!”
“I fill the mind wall with healing energy,” says Niyta, “just before the sun appears.”
“When the light strikes the stone, the energy will move along the wall, and into his mind.”
The sun appears, and the stone begins to glow and smoke.
It’s burning up.
“Is it working?” asks Berek.
“Only a small trickle of healing energy is penetrating his mind web.”
Berek takes off the necklace, and puts it on Ilaz’s neck.
“What?” says Ilaz, opening his eyes and seeing the necklace.
“You’ve given me the shield?”
The stone catches fire and Ilaz screams, a moment before it disappears.
He passes out from the pain, and his forehead is badly burned.
“What do you see now, Tzina?” asks Niyta.
“His mind web has a normal rhythm, with normal patterns of light and darkness.”
“I need your help, Berek,” says Niyta.
“I’m weak from the effort.”
“Can you heal his burn?”
Berek streams healing energy into the forehead, and the burn disappears.
Stories of Pain
“Where am I?” he says.
“What do you remember?” asks the council elder.
“Elder, I know you.”
“Where is my father?”
“Answer my question, prince Ilaz.”
I was climbing with my mother, ahead of her, and something burst into my mind.
I felt like some dead thing had entered me, and I wanted to cut at my head to get it out.
I resisted the urge, and fought with the parasite, while I finished climbing down.
Blasts of energy were bursting all around me.
I saw a Krale approach.
“Get in the cave,” said my mother.
I could barely stay conscious with the inner battle that was going on, but I managed to stumble into the cave.
I came out a moment later, and the Krale was gone, but my mother’s leg had turned to black stone, and she was screaming.
The outside world became covered with a strange fog, and I saw an image within me of a pink-skinned boy.
“Get out,” I yelled at him.
“I have nowhere to go,” he answered.
We fought, and built walls around each other.
I was ready to die, rather than let him escape.
A long time later, twins appeared to me who looked like this girl.
He points to Tzina.
They wanted me to forgive the invader, and join with him to take back my body.
I was tired, and almost gave in, but we couldn’t come together.
Darkness covered me, and I was lost in my own misery.
Finally, I remember seeing the sun again, but I was so filled with anger that I couldn’t think.
“How do you feel, now?” asks Tzina.
“Calm,” says Ilaz.
“I was gone a long time, elder, wasn’t I?”
“You look much older.”
“Ten years,” answers Keela.
“I know that voice,” says Ilaz, turning his head.
“Is it really you, Keela?”
Berek dissolves the ropes, and helps him up, taking the necklace back.
Keela hugs him hard.
“It’s me,” she says.
“It’s good to see you,” says Ilaz, kissing her forehead.
“Who is this” asks Ilaz, pointing to Berek, “and how can he lift the necklace?”
“This is our cousin Berek from the guild lands, born from a hidden branch of the royal family.”
“His connection with the shield is more powerful than any of us.”
“Father has made him the protector and carrier of the shield.”
“Where is the commander?” asks Ilaz.
“Dead, a few weeks ago,” says the elder, “killed by the alien who took over your body.”
“Keela is the commander now.”
Ilaz hugs Keela again.
“I’m sad, but not surprised.”
“Something in me knew that he was gone.”
“I wish I had woken in time to see him again.”
He lets go of Keela, gets down on one knee, and kisses her hand.
“I would have loved to see your coronation, too, my queen.”
Keela pulls him up.
Ilaz grabs a knife from the sheath on Keela’s left leg, and holds it to Berek’s neck.
“I remember this one saying that he killed father, and stole the necklace.”
Keela pulls out a second knife and holds it to Ilaz’s neck.
“Father gave him the necklace weeks before his death,” she says.
“When you awoke, your mind was twisted.”
“Berek told you the lie so you would grab the necklace, and he could heal your body.”
“What happened to the alien?” asks Ilaz.
“Did you let him escape?!”
“You should have killed this body to destroy him, and get your revenge.”
“Berek drove out his spirit and killed him.”
Ilaz stares into Berek’s eyes.
“Are you a coward that you need the queen to defend you?”
“How could you be the avenger?”
Berek doesn’t answer.
“I have a knife at your throat, and you’re not afraid?”
“Krale frighten me, but not you.”
“Your eyes are clear, but you may be a good liar.”
“I have no talent for lying, Prince Ilaz.”
“You’ve seen Krale?”
“I was five when I watched my parents killed by Krale.”
“I didn’t speak for five years after that.”
“They are horrible beyond words,” says Ilaz.
“My father destroyed them all.”
“Is this true, Keela?” asks Ilaz.
“Yes, but it’s only one of the wonders that Master Yagrin has performed.”
“Your feelings pour through your eyes,” says Ilaz, and takes away the knife.
“You are no liar.”
“Careful, Ilaz,” shouts a voice from the crowd.
“He knows Kruta.”
“Who says this lie, and calls me by my name?”
The man who attacked Berek steps out.
They hug each other.
“Berek, Lentu is my best friend.”
“We’ve met,” says Berek.
“He tried to kill me.”
“Yes,” says Lentu, “but he made us look like children.”
“He overcame five of us before we could move.”
“You could have taken the knife from me at any time, Berek!”
“Will you teach me?”
“Yes,” says Berek, “but next time bring your own knife.”
Ilaz laughs and gives the knife back to Keela.
Then he gives Berek the greeting of palms.
“Thank you,” says Ilaz, “for avenging my father, and killing the enemy who brought us so much pain.”
“I’m not sure yet,” says Ilaz to Keela, “but I think I will like him.”
“He has a Tshuan spirit, even if he was raised in the guilds.”
He turns to face the crowd.
“Who helped me escape from my inner prison, and took away the fog from my thoughts?”
“Sister Niyta and Tzina,” says Keela, pointing to each.
“She is one of the sisters of the long path.”
“That’s what we call the old ones, now that they are returned to life.”
“The old ones are free?”
“My father freed them,” says Berek.
“Where is he?”
“I must meet him.”
“Gone to search for an enemy that threatens Siksa.”
“Did he wake the sleepers, too?”
Ilaz turns back to Tzina and Niyta.
“Thank you both,” he says.
“Who are you, Tzina with the beautiful eyes?”
“She’s my sister,” says Berek.
“You look like brother and sister,” says Ilaz, “but of course she’s prettier than you.”
“There are too many stories here, my queen,” says Ilaz to Keela.
“I want to hear them all, but I have no more strength.”
“Let me rest.”
Berek takes holds of Ilaz to keep him from falling, while Keela slips an armband on him.
“Can you fly, Ilaz?” asks Keela.
“It’s been a long time, and I’m too weak.”
“Let me give you strength,” says Berek, as he streams healing energy into the prince.
“Better,” says Ilaz.
“I need to eat and drink, and then sleep, but first I want to dance the greeting to the sun.”
“I haven’t done it in ten years.”
“Lead us,” says Berek.
“I’m out of practice.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Can any of us be as happy as you to greet the day?”
They complete the dance, and then Keela and Berek lead Ilaz back to the royal living quarters for morning meal, and a long, calm sleep.