Fading Light

 
Contact
The world rejects us, as we hover in the sky above the city.
Lightning, thunder and rain are everywhere.
The storm tries to crush us, and take us down.

Dilasa grabs hold of me, frightened by the raw energy.
“We’re safe little one,” I tell her, “as long as we stay within my shield.”

She still holds me tightly, pretending to be an ordinary little girl.
I see past the fear, and remember the one who calls down the strength of the stars.
A few days ago, she was covered in courage, and saved me from the Spiral.
Now, Dilasa wants me to protect her.
She forgets that she’s powerful enough to challenge the storm.
Sometimes her heart is only six years old.

We hover just below the dome, where we came out of the gateway.
The city of life has no natural weather, except for a little wind.
Who made the storm?
Only Berek and I can twist the weather to our will.
I search for his mind throughout the city, but there’s no one here but Dilasa and me.
He’s gone, along with Shazira and Tzina.

“Down, Dilasa,” I call out with a mind touch.
She takes a deep breath and lets go of me.
I glide to the beach and she follows.

The city is dim tonight, and the air stale.
The storm resists me for a moment, but then I dissolve it, and the surface of the ocean grows quiet.
Dilasa finds the balance within her, and looks around.
She steals my feelings without any effort.
“What’s wrong, ina?”

“Shazira and the others have left.”
I sit down on the sand to think, and she sits on my lap.

It’s almost night, so there’s little sunlight filtering through the dome.
The city’s own lights should be shining brightly.
Instead, all I see are dim yellow lights by the transport platforms and the bridges.

A few Feldin come out on the sand, their glow fading as they leave the water.
They approach us and want to play.
I light my own glow, and they touch me with their wet, sleek bodies.
My glow refreshes their own light, but not for long.
They look at me with sad eyes, and release a mournful cry, before they return to the water, where the glow returns.

A few Heelu fly lazily through the sky for a few minutes, before quickly retreating to the water.
Their colors are dim.
What has happened to the city?

We walk to the transport platform.
“Mayla,” I call aloud.
There’s no response.
Normally, Mayla watches the whole world.
Why isn’t she watching her own city?

I set the controls on the platform, and a moment later, we stand in one of the command rooms.
I put my hand on the console to activate it.
The console scans my retina, and then it accepts the command codes to contact Mayla.

I sometimes forget that she’s not Jiku.
Her intelligence lives in an information web, spread across the city.
The core of the web is located in a hidden, underground facility, far below us.

Sometimes she projects an image to speak with us.
Other times, she moves among us in Jiku-like bodies, patterned after a woman who died a thousand years ago.
One of her bodies rests in a stasis chamber, in the corner of this room.
I view the body on a monitor.
She seems to be sleeping, but this is just a shell that she uses.

When Mayla responds to my call, she doesn’t wake the body.
Instead she projects an image of herself.

“Get out of the city, Yagrin.”
“You’re not safe here.”

“What’s going on?”

“There’s an enemy among us.”

“How did it enter the city?”

“One of my probes returned from exploring an area near the edge of our galaxy.”
“The ship signaled its approach, using the standard security codes, so I let it into the city.”
“Then it landed, and downloaded its data.”
“Before I noticed anything was wrong, it released three bursts of energy.”
“The first one was pointed toward deep space, the second toward the center of the planet, and the third toward the sun.”
“The city’s shields should have stopped all three, but the energy moved as if there were no shields at all.”

“The deep space pulse was a signal to an alien race.”
“I was able to jam the signal after a few milliseconds, but the message got through.”

“Aliens?”

“Something found our probe, broke through the security systems, and installed a powerful, artificial intelligence.”

“Why didn’t you destroy it?”

“At first, I didn’t consider it much of a threat.”
“I thought I could control it, and get information about the beings who sent it.”
“Now, it has spread into the information web, and I haven’t been able to break through its defenses.”

“Why did it scan our planet and sun?”

“Not a scan, Yagrin.”
“The energy bursts affected the planet and the sun, and weakened the web’s connection with living things.”
“The connection is still getting weaker.”

“Destroy the probe, now!”

“I’ve tried, Yagrin, but I haven’t even damaged it.”
“So far, all I’ve done is to slow its progress into the city’s information web.”
“That’s why I sent your family away, and put the city into maintenance mode.”
“I’m using all my strength to fight, but it’s not enough.”

“Have you learned anything about the probe?”

“It spoke to me in Jiku.”
“When I realized how powerful it is, I broke the connection, so it can’t use the link against me.”

“What did it say?”

“It’s a scout from a union of worlds that dominates a nearby galaxy.”
“They’ve begun to spread into our galaxy, and they’re looking for worlds that are worthy to join them.”
“They want to meet us, study us, and see if we belong in their union.”

“When will they come?”

“Months or years.”
“Who knows?”

“Can we defend ourselves against them?”

“The probe gave us a warning.”
“If we attack the ships when they arrive, the aliens will destroy us.”

Mayla’s image gazes at Dilasa for a moment, before turning back to me.
“What about your mission?” she asks.
“Did you face the Spiral on Sinesu?”

“Yes, and we destroyed it.”
“Soon, we’ll hunt for the Spiral of this universe, and make sure that it never comes to Siksa.”

“Good.”

“Can we help you?” asks Dilasa.

“This battle is fought within the network,” answers Mayla.
“Neither of you can live or fight in here.”

“I want to help,” says Dilasa.
“Isn’t there something we can do?”

Leave,” she answers.
“I can’t do what I need to do while you’re here.”
“Besides, you need to find a way to reverse what the probe did to the sun and Siksa.”
“The web continues to change into something that we can’t connect with.”
“Soon, there will be no more energy masters.”

Mayla’s image turns to face me.
“I’ve left a cube for you, Yagrin, and a stand-alone viewer.”
“Both seem free from the intelligence, but you should still take precautions.”
“Find a desolate place to watch the cube.”
“Then destroy it and the viewer.”

“Will you be all right?” asks Dilasa.

Mayla smiles at us, but doesn’t answer.

“Answer us, Mayla.”
“We need to know!”

Mayla’s image turns back to Dilasa.
“No, little one,” she answers, her voice softening.
“Another day or two, and the other intelligence will have access to the library, and knowledge of all our weapons.”
“I won’t let that happen.”

“When you go, I’ll destroy the city’s weapons and information web, and myself with it.”
“I’ll also bind the artifact and the walls of the city with shields that even I can’t open.”

“What about the sea and its life?” I ask her.

“It will survive, Yagrin.”
“There are isolated support systems that will activate when the information web dies.”
“These systems will maintain the city when I’m gone.”

Mayla’s image fades, and one of her bodies walks out of the stasis chamber.
She kisses Dilasa on the head, and gives me a hug.
“Go,” she says, as tears form.

I look at the memcube, and wonder if it’s infected with the alien intelligence.
I quickly seal the cube in a crystal that blocks all energy.
Then I take Dilasa’s hand and open a gateway out of the city.

 
Tower of Dreams
We take a series of wild jumps through gateways that criss-cross the planet.
This should make it hard for anything to track us.

We stop on a barren island for a few minutes, long enough at Gen speed for me to absorb the information from the cube.
When I’m done, I destroy the cube and the viewer.

I look at the PathFinder’s robe that I wear.

“What’s wrong, ina?”

“The guild won’t accept me like this, and we need their help more than ever.”
I sigh, and flow my robe back to white with colored bands.
A few more jumps bring us to the beach near the watchtower.

“Why didn’t you take us up to the tower, ina?”

I look at the tower, far above us, rising up from the mountain.
My heart tells me to stay here on the beach.

“I don’t know why, Dilasa, but we need to be here.”

“This is where you first awoke on Siksa,” she says.
“I see it in your memories.”

We take off our sandals and walk slowly along the beach, the waves filling our ears.
In a few days it will be moonwatch, when the moon is full.
Siksa’s large moon dominates the sky, but the tower outshines it, almost as bright as day.

Dilasa runs her hands along the rough stone of the mountain that the tower rests on.
For a minute she looks far away.
“It’s unstable, ina,” she says, finally.

“What do you mean?”

“Something is changing.”

Dilasa glides into the air, high above the tower.
I follow.

She stares at the tower.
“It’s more beautiful than I expected,” she says, “even though I’ve seen your memories of it!”

A few Bizra circle slowly around the mountain as though they were standing guard.
With each pass they rise, and the circle narrows into a spiral, until they fly through the light that rises from the tower.
“Why are the Bizra here, ina?” she asks me, breaking the silence.

“The Bizra fly among us, Dilasa.”
“I told you.”

“Yes, but they’re nervous, different than your memory of them.”

I scan the Bizra with energy eyes.
Their fur is dull, and they seem weak and fragile.
I’ve never seen them like this.

I watch as they pass through the light.
Their strength returns while they bathe in it.
Then they move down to the bottom of the spiral, to begin again.

I focus on the Bizra mind within me, and reach out to ask them what’s wrong.
An image fills me.

A wave of energy spreads out from the planet’s core, like a poison or virus.
Wherever it touches, the web changes, and the planet grows weaker.
A few lakes and rivers dry up.
Finally, the wave reaches the tower.
The poison penetrates deep into the mountain.
The mountain shudders, and then casts off the poison which falls into the nearby sea.
A few seconds later, the tower starts glowing.

The world has changed.
The tower still has its strength, but what did the poison do to it?

The Bizra interrupt their vigil, and fly toward us.
When they reach us, they circle once around us.
Then they begin the spiral again.
Dilasa turns pale, her eyes close, and she goes limp as she starts to fall.
I grab her, and try to revive her with healing energy.
Then I splash her face with cold, salt water that I pull up from the sea.
Still, a few seconds pass before she wakes up.

“I’m all right, ina.”
“I had a vision.”
“The tower will disappear, leaving only the mountain behind.”

“When?”
“How?”

“Soon.”
“That’s all I know.”

Sadness surrounds my heart like wall of darkness.
The tower seems indestructible.
This is home, and I can’t imagine Siksa without it.

A thought rushes through my mind, circling again and again.
Will the tower be destroyed because of me?

I glide down to the deck, and brush the surface with my hand.
Its energy feels strange.

I open my energy eyes, and see a great whirlpool, surrounding me.
Streams that look like crystal flowers pour out of the sky and form a spinning spiral.
The mountain is pulling energy from the stars, and storing it, but for what?
It can’t hold much more.
What will happen when it’s full?

A voice whispers inside me, “it’s waiting to go.”
I shudder, wondering what that means.
Dilasa lands beside me and takes my hand to comfort me.

Zias, Berek’s adopted mother, walks out of the tower toward us.
She gives me the greeting of palms, and I shake off my sadness.

“Berek’s not here,” says Zias, and glances at Dilasa’s face.
Zias is shocked by what she sees.
Without trying, I hear her thoughts.

Another child?
The girl looks just like him, except for the Bizra eyes!
Has he taken her away from her mother?

She struggles to hold back her anger.
Her face is caught in a frown, as she turns back to me.
“I thought that nothing you do could surprise me anymore, Yagrin.”
“Berek disappears for weeks, with little explanation, messaging us every few days from a location that the message wall can’t identify.”
“All he would say was that he was training, but he was happy.”
“Then he returns without you, upset!”
“He won’t tell us what’s wrong, or where he was.”
“What secret is he hiding from us?”

“I asked him not to reveal where we were training.”
“There are places that must stay hidden for now.”

“Why did he come back without you?”
“What upset him so much?

“I left him with my family at the training facility.”
“We agreed that they would wait there for my return.”
“It was the safest place on Siksa until a few days ago.”
“It’s gone now.”

“Why did you leave them?”

“Fiklow came, and I went with them to prevent a war.”

“Fiklow, here?”

“They’re no longer a danger to us.”
“A new enemy, far more powerful, threatened to wipe them out, along with the Jiku on Sinesu.”

The color drains from her face, and she turns.
“Where are you from?” asks Zias, almost shouting at Dilasa.

Dilasa is frightened, but she looks Zias in the eyes, and raises a powerful energy shield.
“Sinesu,” she answers.

“We met there,” I add.
“She has a necklace that helped me destroyed the enemy.”

“There are Jiku still alive there?!”

“Thousands,” I tell her, not mentioning the planet’s destruction.
“Even more Jiku on nearby worlds.”

“Sinesu,” she says aloud, staring into space.
Then she collapses, and her eyes move like she’s dreaming.

I shake her to help her break free of the dream.
“What happened to you?” I ask her.

She doesn’t answer, but she looks weak and frightened.
I take her arm, and stream healing energy through her.
She takes a deep breath and relaxes as her energy returns.
Her anger has vanished.

“Tell me about Sinesu,” she asks.
“Is it as beautiful as the stories say?”

A strange question to ask now.

“It was a beautiful world, what I saw of it, Zias, but no more than Siksa.”
“Many years have passed since the Jiku here left Sinesu, plenty of time for the legends to grow bigger than the world itself.”

“Was?”

“It’s gone, Zias.”

Her eyes fill with tears.
She thinks for a moment, and hesitates before speaking.
“Do you remember my dreams of Sinesu?” she asks.
“I told you of them when we played together as children.”

“Only fragments, something about a river.”

She smiles, pleased that I remember.
“The dreams began when someone told me a story about an ancient place on Sinesu.”
“I dreamt about it every night for weeks afterwards.”
“I spoke about it all the time, and my parents were frightened.”
“They even took me to an old Tshuan witch to make me forget.”
“The witches have some skill with the mind, although nothing like a Mind Weaver.”
“There were no Mind Weavers then,” she adds, looking at me.

“The guilds don’t approve of the witches.”

“No, but my parents were desperate.”

“What happened?”

“The witch touched the memory, and her face turned pale.”
“I can’t help her,” she said.

“Why not?” asked my mother, angry.

“This is no ordinary dream.”
“She must remember the river.”
“Someday the memory will save her life.”

“The dream consumes her,” said my father.
“Can you at least weaken it?”

“Maybe,” she answered.
“The witch gave my parents a crystal necklace, and told them that it might restore my balance.”
“It did.”
“Since then, I only dream of the river, once in a moon.”

“The witch was a strange woman.”
“She wouldn’t tell us what was in the crystal, and she refused to take payment for it.”
“My father asked why, and she said that someday my son would repay her kindness.”

“When I was older, I tried to find the woman, but she was dead.”
“I found relatives, both in Tshuan, and the guild lands, but they know nothing about the crystal.”
“One granddaughter sells Tshuan remedies in the market, and her bondmate is a healer.”
“He tried to help me when I was in a coma for a year.”

“I’ve met them,” I tell her.

“As a child, you were the first one that I ever told about the dreams,” she says, “but I never told you about the necklace.”
“The witch told me never to speak about the necklace, until I met someone from Sinesu.”

Her faces grows serious.
“The witch gave me a message, and said that I should tell it to a healer who could see the darkness within the crystal.”
She slips a hand into her robe by her neck and pulls out a necklace.
“Your energy sight is stronger than other masters, Yagrin.”
“Can you see inside it?”

The crystal is covered in chaos, but the grandmother pattern lifts the shield.
Inside the crystal is a tiny fragment of Kralestone.

“There’s a splinter of Kralestone within the crystal.”

“You’re the one that the witch spoke of.”
“I’m not surprised at all.”

“What’s the message?”

“It means nothing, now,” she says, “with Sinesu gone.”

“Tell me anyway.”

“At last light, when the sun disappears, you must bathe in the river of sound on Sinesu.”

River of Sound?” asks Dilasa.

Zias puts a cube on a platform, and an image of a dry riverbed appears, covered with blue sand.

“This is a memory, recorded by one of the Jiku who came from Sinesu.”

A rich, lush forest surrounds the sand.
Rain pours down the trees, but the sand remains dry.

A Jiku man walks onto the sand, and music fills him.
The music rises from the sand in a great circular wave, like a pebble falling into a still pond, and radiates through the forest.
Where the music touches the rain, light shines up and fills the sky.

“I’ve never heard of it,” says Dilasa, “but maybe it was a secret place, and I was too young to be told.”

“I’ve heard of it,” I tell Zias, “but only as a legend on one of the cubes.”
“If the place ever existed, it was destroyed, buried or forgotten, before I came to Sinesu.”
“The planet was crushed in the ancient wars.”
“The Jiku left behind were killed, and the cities destroyed.”
“Centuries passed before other Jiku returned.”

She takes off the necklace and reaches toward me.
“The witch told me to give this to you.”
“She said that the necklace will help you find the river, but what use are her words now?”
“Sinesu and the river are gone forever.”

I pull my hands away.
“I can’t take it, Zias.”
“You need the necklace.”

“Not any more.”
“The witch promised that when I delivered the message, the dreams would stop.”
“That much is true.”

She stands straight and tall.
“The burden is gone,” she says, smiling.
“I haven’t felt this light since I was a child.”
She grabs my left hand, and puts the necklace in it.

“Go find your family,” adds Zias.
“Berek is with them at your old house.”

“Your head is full of questions,” I tell her, catching her thoughts.
“Why don’t you ask them?”

She glares at me for invading her thoughts.
Then she lets go a breath.
“The questions are as obvious as Dilasa’s face,” she says, irritated.
“If you wanted me to know, you would have told me already.”
“Still, I will ask Dilasa one question.”
“How does a little girl fly so well?”

“I taught her to fly,” I interrupt.
“She’ll be a great master someday.”

The answer doesn’t satisfy Zias.
“No one flies like this, so young.”

Dilasa is about to speak, but I touch her mind and tell her to be silent.
“There’s nothing else to say, Zias.”

Silence circles between us.
“Go, Yagrin,” she says at last.
“There will be a time for answers, but not today.”

I stare at the doorway into the tower, wanting to step inside, and walk its halls.
Instead, I rise into the air, and lead Dilasa away.

 
Ice
Shazira stands outside the house, staring at the moon, as Dilasa and I land.
I hug her, but she’s stiff and distant.
She all but ignores me, while she stares suspiciously at Dilasa.
Someone else seems to peer out of her eyes.
Dilasa is frightened by this woman, and goes inside to find Berek.

“What’s happening, Shazira?”

“I’m standing guard.”

“Why?”

“Something is wrong with the world, Yagrin!”
“Can’t you feel it?”
“Disaster is coming, and I’ve got to protect the children.”
“No one but family is welcome here.”
“Take that girl away.”

She’s frantic, obsessed.
“Listen to yourself, Shazira!”
“You sound crazy!”

I send a wave of healing energy through her.
She shakes herself, and the madness begins to drain away.
“I sound just like you,” she answers, filling with anger, “when you chase after some dream or vision.”

I stop to think over her words.

“You’re right,” I agree.
“Sometimes I lose myself, when I’m caught up in doing what must be done.”
I hug her again, and her faces relaxes.
The anger and strangeness clear as she hugs me back.

“I know I sound strange, Yagrin,” she says into my chest, “but the feelings are real!”

“I believe you.” I tell her, looking in her eyes.
“The world is changing, more than you know.”
“Mayla is dead.”

“Dead?”
“She told us the city was threatened when she sent us away, but she said she would contact us soon, when it was safe to return.”

“An alien race found one of Mayla’s probes, and installed a hostile artificial intelligence.”
“When the probe returned and connected with the network, it began to take over the city.”
“Mayla had to destroy herself and the network to stop the probe.”

Shazira is quiet as she thinks of Mayla.
“Who are the aliens?” she finally asks, as she lets Mayla go.

I show her an image that Mayla put on the cube.

“It’s a monster, nothing like us!”

“The probe showed Mayla this image, and called the creature a watcher, probably a translation of the name of their race.”
“Mayla assumed that this is the alien.”
“Otherwise, why would the probe show it?”

“The aliens are part of a great union of worlds.”
“Other probes brought back reports about the union, but they’re stories and rumours, not facts.”
“None of our probes has reached a union world and returned.”
“Now, the aliens are coming here to see if we’re worthy to join their union.”

“We’ll just refuse,” says Shazira.

“That’s not an option,” I tell her.
“The aliens consider it a great insult when a world rejects them.”
“The stories say that some worlds are forced to join, while others are enslaved or destroyed.”

“I can’t think of this now,” says Shazira, agitated, “or the madness will return.”
“Let’s go back to the tower, Yagrin, now that you’ve come home.”
“I’ll feel safer within its walls.”

She feels my sadness when she mentions the tower.

“What’s wrong, Yagrin?”

“Let’s go there,” I agree.

“Answer the question!”

“I love the watchtower,” I add, “but it won’t be our home for much longer.”
“Soon, it will disappear.”

“Will the aliens destroy it?”

“It’s growing unstable as it gathers energy for some unknown, final task.”
“Dilasa first noticed it.”

“I frightened her with my strange behavior, didn’t I?”

“Yes.”
“You looked like you were about to attack her.”

“Tell her I didn’t mean to scare her.”
“As long as I think of her as my daughter, she’ll be safe around me.”

“Let’s go inside, and you’ll tell her yourself.”

She doesn’t answer, and we let the silence drift for a few seconds.

“Are the aliens more dangerous than the Spiral?” she asks.

“I know how to defeat the Spiral.”
“Dilasa and I destroyed it in the other universe.”
“We can do it again, here.”
“It’s the alien technology that I’m worried about.”
“They overcame Mayla by reprogramming her own probe, and they claim to be able to shut down all energytech on the planet.”
“What will happen when we face them directly?”

“Why do we have to fight, Yagrin?”
“They look horrible, but would it be so bad for us to join their union?”

“The aliens have decided that the ways of energy are dangerous.”
“They’ve outlawed the study of the web, and they enforce that law with technology that weakens our connection to the web.”

“Don’t the Tshuans have technology like that?”

“Yes, but the Tshuan inhibitors are only effective when they touch the skin.”
“The aliens have technology that affects an entire solar system, including the star itself.”

“If we join the union, Shazira, there will be no more guilds, and no more energy masters.”
“Are you ready to give up the web?”

“I can’t imagine life without flow,” she says quietly.
“Still, I’ll give up anything to protect the children!”
“Why don’t we join the union, and learn about their technology.”
“Later, we can destroy or neutralize their weapons, and rebel against them.”

“It’s a good plan, but we don’t know what the aliens will really do to us and our children, once they conquer Siksa.”
“Their technology may change us permanently, so we can never flow or fly or heal again.”
“We need answers, before we can decide whether to join them, or fight.”

“How long before they arrive?”

“Stories say that their ships are impossible to track, even for those who talk with energy.”
“I assume this means energy masters, like us.”

“It’s possible that we won’t see them coming, and we won’t know that they’re here until they reveal themselves.”
“According to the reports, they take a year or more to quietly study a world before asking it to join.”

“I have to convince the council to prepare the guilds for war.”
“Then I’ll go in search of the aliens.”

“What will you do, Yagrin?”

“I’ll find out more about their intentions, and their weapons, along with how they treat the other worlds in their union.”
“If they plan to harm us, we’ll know that our only option is to fight.”

 
Touch of Madness
“Come inside, Shazira,” I tell her, as I take her hand.

“For a few minutes, Yagrin.”
“Then, we call the council to an emergency meeting.”

Tzina and Berek hug me when I come inside.
Dilasa stays back, keeping her distance from Shazira.
“I’m sorry,” says Shazira, and opens her arms to Dilasa.

Berek and Tzina pull me to another room, and we sit at a small, black wooden table.
“What’s wrong with oodah?” asks Tzina.

“She’s a little better after speaking with me, but there’s something wrong with the world, and it’s affecting her.”
“Can you feel it?”

Berek quiets his mind, and searches his feelings.
“There’s a slight hint of nervousness,” answers Berek, “like a warning.”
Tzina echoes his words.
There’s something different about Tzina since I last saw her, a new strength.

“Have you seen anyone else acting strange?” I ask them.

Everyone is nervous, ina, and the masters are the worst.”
“They stay off the streets, and look at even children with suspicion.”

“War is coming,” I tell them, “and it may be a war that we can’t win.”

They look shocked.
“Dilasa told us how you destroyed the Spiral,” says Tzina.
“How could anything be more powerful than that?”

“Ina,” says Berek, “you’re always so confident.”
“What happened?”

“I haven’t given up,” I tell them, “but this enemy has weapons that take away all of our strength, and change the web.”

“What can we do?” asks Tzina.

“We’re going to prepare for war.”
“We’ll practice fighting with energy skills, and with conventional weapons.”

“What about Mind Twisting, ina?” asks Tzina.
“Couldn’t we use it to kill the aliens when they come?”

Mind Twisting is an ancient term for a type of mental warfare, practiced secretly by a few ancient Mind Weavers.
How does Tzina know of it?
I sigh.
“Rumors of it led to the ancient attack on the Mind Weavers.”
“I asked Mayla about it.”
“She knew of it, but refused to teach it to me.”

It’s forbidden, Yagrin!
Even with a simulator, and someone guiding the training, the training is dangerous, usually fatal.
I won’t train you!

“Mayla is gone, and the Dream Schools and training circles have stopped working.”
“There’s information in the cubes, but no one left to guide us.”
“It’s not worth the risk.”

“What about Makish?” asks Berek.

“She stayed behind on Sinesu, and she knows nothing of the twisting.”

“Mayla trained me in it,” says Tzina, quietly.

I scan her.
Her mind shield is blue like Berek’s and mine, and it shines brighter and stronger than ours.

“When did your shield turn blue?” I ask her.

“Berek noticed it after you left.”

“You completed Mind Weaver training, and then she taught you Mind Twisting?”

“Yes, ina.”
“Mayla told me that passing through the madness made me strong for this.”
“She said that we would need this power, and the training was too dangerous for you.”

My heart beats quickly.
Why would Mayla risk a child’s life?
“We’ll speak of this later, Tzina.”
“Let’s find oodah.”
We move to an eating place, and sit on cushions surrounding a low table.
Shazira’s love for the children calms her, but the strangeness is hovering, waiting to return.
I scan her, and find her wintzal open.

“Shazira, why is your mind shield open?”

“I opened it once to see if I could listen for danger.”
“Then, I just left it open.”
“I know you want us to have the wintzals, and keep them closed, but what’s the difference?”
“There’s no one here to attack our minds.”

She stops, breathing heavily.
“Is that it?” she asks, raising her wintzal.
“Is something attacking us?!”

I hold her hand and watch as the strangeness drains away.
“It’s gone,” she says after a few minutes, “except for a distant sense of danger.”
“What does it mean?”

“The alien intelligence altered the web.”
“Everyone without a mind sphere is affected, masters most of all.”

I get up and move to the message wall.
“I’m calling for an emergency council meeting, Shazira, as you suggested.”
“If they agree, we’ll meet an hour after first light.”

“I wasn’t thinking straight, Yagrin, when I suggested that.”

“Still, you were right.”
“The masters are irrational and dangerous, while they’re in the grip of this fear.”
“I’m amazed that no one has been seriously hurt.”
“Tomorrow, I start building wintzals for the guilds, starting with the council.”


Empire of Stone -- 1: Cages of FearNext 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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