Fear of the Wild

 
Cruelty and Purpose
The emperor calls me in to see him.
“Congratulations, Neyima.”
“Disu has made incredible progress in his fighting skills, and he told me that he has agreed to the Madar val.”

“Yes, great father.”

“I have a few questions for you.”
“I want to understand the training that you’ve been giving him.”
“My staff has been analyzing the sims that you use.”
“Acting?”
“Practicing silence?”
“Being insulted?”
“These seem like a complete waste of time, and totally different from what the other tutors did.”

“May I speak freely?”

“Of course.”

“The other tutors accomplished nothing with Disu, great father.”
“Their approach was clearly the wrong one, at least for him.”

“But acting?”

“A good leader would like to always speak the truth to his people, but sometimes the people aren’t ready for it.”
“The emperor must be convincing whenever he speaks, whether or not he’s telling the truth.”
“He must show the emotion that’s needed, and be in control at all times.”
“To do this, a person needs skill in acting.”
“He must be comfortable with silence, and be able to ignore insults.”
“He must control what and who he allows to influence his thoughts and feelings, and most of all his words.”

“You’re teaching Disu to lie!”

“I’m teaching him to stay focused on what he must to do, great father, whether it’s easy, true, or not.”

“He could lose his way, and misuse these skills.”

“Yes, but all power can be turned toward good or evil.”
“My job is to help him focus his power so he is worthy to be emperor.”

“That’s not what you were asked to do.”

“Great father, Disu will be the next emperor.”
“Is that so little a task, that it requires no preparation?”
“All his training must bring him to that future, whatever other purpose it serves.”
“He has many talents, but where will they take him if he remains undisciplined and scattered, with no sense of duty?”

“You think you can change him so much in a few months?”

“I can start him moving in a new direction, but he’ll have to continue his practice, and work with other teachers when I’m gone.”
“He’ll need help to stay focused, and to learn to put the empire’s needs before his own.”

The emperor thinks.
“I’m still troubled by what you’re doing, Neyima, but I have to admit that the results are exceptional.”
“You may continue this training program, for now.”

“Thank you, great father.”

“Tell me about your time with the Palace Guard trainees.”
“I’ve heard that it has not gone well.”

“The Palace Guard are different than I expected.”

“You refused to follow orders.”

“Yes, but strictly speaking, great father, I’m just an instructor.”
“I’m not in the guard, and therefore, not subject to their orders.”
“They armed a group of five skilled trainees, and told them to kill me, or be killed.”
“Then they asked me to kill the group.”
“I disarmed the trainees instead.”

“You know that the five were killed anyway?”

“True, but I won’t be part of it.”

“The training program has an unmatched record for producing the fiercest guards.”
“They follow orders without question.”

“The palace guards are very capable, I agree, but the program takes all the Kizak out of them.”
“They’re little more than intelligent animals now, with a talent for killing.”
“In many ways, they’re worse than animals.”
“They enjoy killing and being cruel for its own sake, even when it serves no purpose.”
“Eventually, they will destroy the empire.”

“They are loyal!”

“Their loyalty is overrated.”
“I don’t trust them, any more than I would trust a trained wild animal to obey.”
“If the commanders turned against you, the guard would follow them without a thought.”

“You’re angry with the guard for what happened to your friend.”
“She knew the risks.”
Talika was paralyzed during the first month of training.

“I am angry, great father.”
“The trainers broke her back at random, just to inspire fear in the others.”

“A waste of talent, certainly, but it does serve a greater purpose.”
“I value your opinion, Neyima, but we disagree about this.”

“I don’t see how I can work with the guards.”

“I have to agree.”
“You’re released from that responsibility.”

“Thank you, great father.”

He looks at me for a few seconds.
“Why are you so sure that the guards can’t be trusted?”

I don’t respond.

“Yesterday, the corps told me that they found traitors in the palace.”
“Several guards have been executed.”
“You knew of this?”

“Yes, I was ordered to find them.”
I thought I would have trouble betraying the guards who supported the rebels, but it was easy.
They were animals like the others,even though they helped the rebels.

“You entered the minds of every one of my guards?”
“There are hundreds!”

“Most, but not all.”
“A few are protected with some kind of tech, the same as you carry.”

“Can the rest hide any of their thoughts or memories from you?”

“No.”

“Something troubles me, Neyima.”
“Who will search your thoughts?”
“I was told that no one can penetrate your mind, and that no mind thief can resist you.”

“True, as far as I know.”

“Have you heard what happens when a mind thief encounters a Madar in the arena?”

“No.”

“A jammer is used in the arena so the Madar may connect with the mind of those who enter.”
Most children survive this encounter, even if the beast enters their thoughts.”
“Mind thieves do not.”

“I know that some children go mad.”
“Is that what happens to the others?”

“In a way.”
“When a thief touches the Madar, the beast stops its strange behavior and stands there, calmly.”
“Then the Madar and mind thief approach the doorway to the arena, and try to kill the guards.”
“There are few Madar.”
“The only way to stop the attack is to kill the thief.”

“Why not stun them?”

“The stun settings have no effect when a thief is in contact with the Madar.”

Why would you put a mind thief in the arena with a Madar?”

“The Madar had tech that enabled instant transport between distant star systems.”
“We’ve never been able to find it, and we’ve heard reports that the rebels may have it.”
“Once, every few years, I send the most powerful mind thief to try and get the location from the Madar.”
“The corps doesn’t like it, but they can’t refuse.”
“All the thieves have died.”
“Perhaps you’ll be different.”

“When?”

“A month before Disu’s Madar val.”

I’m silent.

“No protest, Neyima?”

“No.”
“I’ve accepted dangerous assignments before, great father.”
“Why should this be different?”

“What do you know about the transport tech, Neyima?”
“How did you disappear from the prison planet?”

“Two prisoners told me they could escape, if only they could get out of the sims.”
“I helped them get back to their bodies.”
“I thought they would lead me to other rebels.”
“We were transported to a ship, but I never saw the tech.”
“When I woke up, my hands were bound, and I was kept in a locked room.”
“There was nothing to identify where I was, or who else was there.”
“The next time I woke, I was alone on the homeworld, with no clothes.”

He smiles.
“Yes, I heard about that.”
Then his face darkens, and he sends me away.

 
The Message
Disu’s storage sphere is empty now.
I erased it to protect us, after extracting what I need.
If I was found with it, I could explain why I need the information, but Disu can’t be caught defying his father.

Of everything that I saw in the sphere, it’s the scientist’s face that haunts me.
It’s the face of the caretaker!
The scientist must have escaped with the help of the Madar, and spent his last days at the school.

His diary is clear in my mind, especially the details of the projector.
I close my eyes and see the schematics.
It took me weeks to build the device.
I haven’t spent as much time in the lab as I hoped to.
The emperor keeps me busy in the evening with staff meetings and social events.

The device that I built is different than the plans, at least on the outside.
I made it look like a modern cage projector, so anyone observing my lab will ignore it.

The critical difference between this device and a regular projector is a special tuning circuit.
According to the diary, it enables the field to resonate with the altered web, and counter the effect of the star cage.
It’s not a cure.
The nullifier will have a limited range, and only work well at night.
Still, I’ll be happy to have it.

When I activate the device, it creates a chaos field, but doesn’t neutralize the star cage.
Disu said that the military was never able to build a working nullifier from the plans, but I didn’t want to believe it.
All this for nothing?!
Why is there so much detail in the diary and the schematics about the tuning circuit, and the six settings that shape it?
The diary repeats the exact numbers for each of the settings thirteen times.
The scientist says, again and again, that the correct values must be used.
I’m about to trash the nullifier when an image fills my mind.

I’m looking down at the scientist as he stands on a dark blue stone floor, with three Madar forming a circle around him.
The Madar dance a slow, spinning dance, sometimes clockwise, sometimes counter-clockwise.
Each Madar spins a few times, but never more than twelve, then waits for three seconds, and begins spinning again.
Several times, they pause for six seconds.
A few times they clap instead of spinning, and follow it with a three second delay.

This is the message that the Madar left for me, but what does it mean?

Is this a dance of numbers?
I count the number of spins, and the direction.
I take note of each pause, and whether it’s short or long.
What do I do with all the numbers, claps, and pauses?
I spend days reviewing the code systems that Mayla gave me through Tzina.
None of them help me decipher the dances.

Finally I realize that the five long pauses separate the dance into six groups, like the six settings of the nullifier!
Each group is one setting.
The short pauses separate the digits within a single number.
A clap must be a zero, and a counter-clockwise spin indicates a negative number.
At first, finding ten, eleven, or twelve spins confuses me.
Then I remember that the Madar number system is base thirteen, so a single place/digit can be as large as twelve.

I adjust the tuning circuit using the new settings, and feel the change in the web’s energy.
I test the range using my healing sense, and find that it works for thirty feet in each direction.

Unfortunately, the device is almost six feet long.
I need something smaller, so I can carry it with me, unnoticed.
The bulk comes from the projector itself.
The tuning circuit itself is tiny.

What about the inhibitor armbands used in Tshuan?
Do they add chaos like the projector?
Will they work against the star cage, if I add a tuning circuit?

The armband requires a special crystal, plentiful on Siksa, but unknown on this world.
I go the Madar cave and activate a tech screen, to hide from any listening or viewing devices.
Then I flow the materials I need.
It feels so good to flow again, even if it’s just for a few minutes within the cave.

I return to my lab, and build the inhibitor armband using Kizak power cells.
Thank the creator!
The inhibitor works as I hoped, adding chaos to the web, similar to the projector.

Now, the real work begins.
First, I insert a security chip that allows the device to avoid a tech screen.
Then, I adapt the tuning circuit to the inhibitor.
An hour before first light I’m ready to test it.
The field is narrow by design, extending only a few feet beyond the body.
I try to expand its range, but the power requirements increase exponentially, so I put it back as it was.
Even so, the inhibitor and tuning circuit only work for five minutes on a standard Kizak power cell.
I use that time to flood my body with healing energy, and restore my strength, as if I had slept.

Tomorrow, I’ll modify the inhibitor so I can quickly replace the power cells.

 
Choices
After the first month, the regular training continues with Disu, but we also speak of energy ways.
We add daily, silent hikes or swims, which build up his stamina, and give me an excuse to mind speak with him, undisturbed.
While we mind speak, I cover us with a temporary mind shield, so no one can hear us.
I teach about the energy wells and the web.
I tell him about healing, weaving, and flow, along with more exotic skills like Mind Weaving and PathFinding.
When we stop for a few seconds to rest, I give him full memories, so he can see and feel what it’s like.

I finish the armbands at the end of the second month, etching decorative designs into the surface.
Disu and I wear them constantly after that, although they’re usually shut off.

The emperor touches Disu’s armband the first time he sees us wearing it.
“What is this, Neyima?” he asks, “and why do you both have it?”

“It signifies that Disu and I are student and teacher, great father.”
“It was an ancient custom among those who learned Kruta.”

“The material is strange,” says the emperor.
“Smooth and cool like metal, but it does strange things with light.”

“It’s a metal alloy with a crystalline dust as one of its ingredients.”

At night, Disu and I walk around the compound, wearing the armbands, and carrying a dozen energy cells.
We practice energy sight and healing for five minutes at a time.
He’s talented, but with so many interruptions, progress is slow.

Every two weeks, we go to the rainbow caves at night.
I’ve installed a tech screen in the eighth cave that I can activate remotely, so no one can monitor our arrival.
Occasionally we enter through the lake, but more often we use one of several old tunnels that connect to the cave.
I’ve expanded the tunnels, and sealed the rock with a coating of metal.
The ends of the tunnels stay closed, except when we use them.

I flow the cave’s water into air when we arrive.
We stay there about an hour, and practice flow.

The months pass, and my Madar val approaches.
A week before the date, the info-streams are told of it.
It’s rare when an adult faces the Madar, and such events attract a large crowd.
This one will bring more people than ever, some because they want to see me killed, other because they are curious if I can resist the beast.

Disu is upset when he hears what his father expect me to do.
“Father, why do the info-streams hear of it before me!”

“You’re right, Disu.”
“I should have told you first.”

“How can you ask Neyima go deep into the beast’s thoughts?”
“Look what happened to the others that you sent to do this!”

“It’s necessary, Disu,” says his father, calmly.

“He’s too valuable to lose on some foolish errand.”

“Bind your words, Disu!”
“I’m your father, and the emperor.”
“You will show respect!”

Disu lets the anger drain away, as Neyima taught him.
“I’m sorry, father, but is the benefit truly worth the risk?”

“You’ll be emperor someday, Disu, so it’s time that you start dealing with the unpleasant side of leadership.”
“I like Neyima, but he knows too much about the palace compound.”
“He’s been in the heads of everyone here except me.”

“You invited him, and he was ordered to investigate the guards!”

“We needed him here, but not anymore.”
“You’re ready for your Madar val, even though it’s a month away.”
“Neyima can’t stay forever, and it’s too risky to let him go.”

“I looked at the records, father.”
“No mind thief has ever survived contact with the Madar.”
“You’re sending him to his death.”

“I’m trying to give him an honorable death, Disu, serving the empire.”
“Would you rather I order his execution, or send him away, and let him be killed by rebels?”

“There has to be another way.”
“The surgeons could change his face, and he could go far away.”

“I can’t take a chance that rebels could extract information from him, or turn him to their cause.”
“This is our only choice.”

Disu comes to me a few hours later, and takes my arm.
I build the mind link, and surround us with a mind shield, so no one can hear our thoughts.
He tells me all that his father said.

“Don’t be troubled, Disu.”

“You don’t deserve death, Neyima.”
“Escape!”
“Take the nullifier, and go.”

“Do you know why I’m here?”

“To teach me?”

“Not exactly, Disu.”
“The empire has forgotten what it means to be alive.”
“Loyal soldiers are prized above everything else, even if they are little more than animals.”
“The empire has no spirit, no imagination, no possibility.”
“Once we were called Kizak, because we were strong like stone, able to do whatever needed to be done.”
“Now, we are as empty of life as stone.”

“I don’t understand.”
“People still live their lives.”
“New worlds join the empire every year.”

“The empire conquers worlds, and then sucks the life out of them.”
“I came here to stop that.”

“As long as the worlds pay their taxes, the empire doesn’t ask much.”

“The empire uses the star cage to keep us trapped in the physical world.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“It’s not bad, but so much more is possible.”
“Imagine that you were a Kizak child raised in a forest without language of any kind.”
“You eat, sleep, even have a family.”
“You can be happy, but you never imagine that another life is possible.”

“I don’t see it like that, Neyima.”
“The things you’ve shown me are mysterious, exciting, and full of power, but would they really change my life?”

“You’ve only seen shadows of that other world, Disu.”
“It’s like trying to understand the sun from inside a cave.”
“You need to spend time living in the web of a world with no cage.”

“I can’t do that on the homeworld.”

“No.”
“When I met you, I listened to your heart and your thoughts.”
“You wanted to see beyond your eyes, and leave this world behind.”
“Have you changed your mind?”

“I don’t know.”

“You have a choice, Disu.”
“You can leave your home and search for a world without the cage, where you can learn about the blessings. If you do this, you’ll never become emperor.”
“Or you can stay here, and grow up to be a different kind of leader than your father, and change the empire.”

“I can’t do it without you.”
“Change your appearance, and stay.”

“It’s not that simple.”
“I need to touch minds with the Madar, and this is my chance.”

“Even if it kills you?”

“I’ll take the risk.”

“You’re as crazy as my father!”
Disu rushes away.

 
Loose Ends
There’s one last thing I have to do before I enter the arena.
Talika is paralyzed from the neck down, and spends her days in a guard hospital where they’ll take care of her for the rest of her life.

I visited her once.
She asked me to kill her, and when I refused she told me to go.
Talika hates being weak, and won’t let any of her friends see her like this.

I take several armbands with fresh power cells, and go to the hospital.
Her room is guarded.

“No visitors,” says the guard.

“I’m on the emperor’s staff.”

“I know who you are,” she says, pointing a blaster.
“Talika doesn’t want to see anyone, especially you.”

I press a remote in my pocket, and active an armband that I’m wearing.
Then I raise a shield.
I strike the guard at a pressure point, knocking her out for a few minutes.
I carry her through the door, and put her down in the corner.

“Get out of here,” shouts Talika from her bed.

“Be quiet and listen,” I tell her, roughly.
“I don’t have much time.”
“The emperor has asked me to have my own Madar val tomorrow.”
“I probably won’t survive it.”

“Do you want pity?” she asks.
“I’d rather die than lie here, but they won’t let me die.”

I slip an armband on her and activate it.
I hold her body immobile with my will, and pour healing energy across her spinal column, repairing the cord, the bones and the disks.
I rebuild the muscles in her upper and lower body that have atrophied.
She screams from the pain, before she realizes that she can feel her body again.
My work is done just before the power runs out on my nullifier.

I take the armband off her, and she runs her hands across her arms and legs, feeling the hard muscles.
“What did you do, Neyima?”

“Sorry I didn’t have time to put you to sleep first.”
“I healed your spine and your back, and put your muscles back in shape.”

“How?”

“No time to explain.”
“I have a lot to do today.”

“You did heal me when the rebels attacked!”
“I knew it.”

“Yes, you were right.”

“Stay.”
“I’m sorry I was so disgusting to you.”

“No problem, but I have to go.”
“Give my apologies to the guard when she wakes up in a few minutes.”

 
Madar val
The Kizak are far more modest than the Jiku.
Still, when I come to the arena, the custom is to wear shorts, sandals, weapons, and little else.
We’re supposed to challenge the animal within us, and then reveal the civilized man.

I carry the long knives and a blaster, but they’re only here to tempt me.
Killing one of the captive Madar is punishable by death.

I visit the emperor and Disu in a high-security room near the top of the arena.
I leave my weapons with a guard at the door.
The room has a large screen showing the center of the arena.

“I don’t want to watch,” says Disu, as I enter.

“You must,” says the emperor.
“It will help you prepare for your own Madar val.”

Disu looks at the armband I wear, and realizes that I’m planning something.

The emperor turns to me.
“There was an incident yesterday at the hospital, Neyima.”
“You attacked a guard.”

“I moved her out of the way without harming her.”
“I needed to see Talika one last time.”

“I heard that your friend had a miraculous recovery.”

“Astonishing, isn’t it?”

“I’m not a fool, Neyima.”
“As I suspected, you’re a healer.”

“Yes, great father, I have that talent, but it’s dangerous for me to do it within the cage.”
“It worked out well this time.”

“The talent for healing is usually found among the cursed.”

“I’ve heard this, but healing has little to do with their other strange ways.”
“How could healing ever be a curse?”

He doesn’t answer.

“Long life, Prince Disu,” I tell the boy.

At first, Disu is quiet.
Finally, he stands up and hugs me.
“Clear days, Neyima, in this world and the next.”

I travel down to ground level and enter the arena.
There are thousands of spectators.
I reach toward the emperor’s room, and salute, a signal that I’m ready.

A large hole opens at the center of the arena, and an elevator rises through it, holding a cage.
The cage opens, and the beast staggers out and looks around.
There are three genders among the Madar, who must join together to produce children.
A group of three choose each other, and bond for life.

This one is female.
She makes strange noises, occasionally mixed with random words in Kizak or Madar.
I move toward her, and begin a dance of numbers, using the spinning Madar movements.
I dance out numbers from one to thirty-nine, all in base thirteen.
Her mind is chaos, but I touch its surface, just enough so she can hear me count the numbers in Madar while I dance.

She stops talking to herself, and the noise in her head starts to quiet down as she stares at me.
When I finish the sequence, I pause for thirteen seconds.
Then I dance the first thirteen prime numbers, from two to forty-one, letting the Madar hear my counting thoughts.

I complete the dance, and move toward the Madar, who looks puzzled.
She pronounces one word in a thunderous voice, “miva.”
Then in a quiet voice, she says “miva-tik”, “miva-na”, “miva-li”, “miva-hu.”
Miva is one of the most important words in the Madar language.
It has four meanings, number, energy web, order, voices, determined by the suffix added to the word.

When I’m close enough to touch the Madar, I remove a large black legband that I’m hiding under my shorts.
I slip the band onto one of its thick arms and activate the device.
Then I stand back.

Her mind clears, freed from the madness of the cage, and she looks around carefully, before taking hold of my arm.
I put a mind shield around both of us to hide our conversation.

There’s a chorus of voices in her head.
One is loud and clear, and says the word Wehdija, again and again.
This voice seems to be hers.
I don’t know what the others are, but they’re whispering, too soft for me to hear.
Are they other personalities?

“This the arena, again,” she says.
“My name is Wehdija, and I’ve been here before.”

“You remember?”

“Whenever I touch a clear mind, I get free of the madness, but today something is different.”
“My mind started to clear without the touch.

“Do you remember the dance?”

“Yes, it settled my mind.”

“I activated the armband to keep your head clear.”
“It interferes with the cage, but lasts for only five minutes.”
“I’ve also put a shield around our minds, so the Kizak can’t hear our mind speech.”

“You’re not like the others.”
“I can’t take over your mind, and control your body.”

“Why do you try to escape every time, even though you never succeed?”

“I’m only pretending to escape.”
“I just want the guards to kill me, and end this torture.”

“Each Kizak who joins you in the arena carries weapons.”
“Why not take a weapon, and kill yourself, or tell the Kizak to shoot you?”

“I can’t.”
“It’s against Madar beliefs to kill, except in self-defense, or to save a life.”

“Why are you here?” she adds.
“Looking for Madar tech like the others?”

“The Kizak want your transport tech, but not me.”
I need to find a way to undo the star cage.”
“My name is Yagrin.”
“I’m not Kizak, and my world is threatened.”

I flood the surface of her mind with my memories of the caretaker and the school.
Then I show her fragments of the years since I came to Siksa, and tell her of being an Embu traveler.
She sees my many shapes: human, Bizra, Jiku, old one, Mehkeel, Fiklow.
She smiles, at least I think it’s a smile.

“Strange tales,” she says.
“I wish I could believe them.”

“How else would I get those memories?”

“I don’t know, but I can’t take a chance.”

“Let me help you.”
“I can build a wall around your mind, which you can open and close.”
“It will keep out the madness, even when you’re alone.”

I start to move deeper into her mind, but I’m pushed back.

“You’re stronger than the others,” she says, “but you will not see my secrets until you prove yourself.”

There’s only one way to convince her.
I activate my armband, resize it, and take a Gen crystal form.
Then I move at unnatural speed around the arena, changing shape, and glowing in different colors.
I stop in front of her, and she touches me.

My heart well fills with energy, and the arena is covered in light for a few seconds.
I look down and see that I’ve changed into a Madar form.

“Did you do this?” I ask her.
“I changed after you touched me.”

“No.”
“You did it without thinking, so you could match my shape.”
“Can you hold it for long.”

“I am Madar now.”
“I can hold it forever.”
“Will you let me help you now?”

“Yes, but not here.”
“Take me somewhere safe.”

Five guards enter the arena, including Talika, back in uniform.
The emperor doesn’t know what I’m doing, but he will not tolerate a display of cursed abilities.
Talika looks at me, and remembers that I was once her friend.
Still, she fires first to prove her loyalty.
The energy is absorbed by my shield.

I take hold of all Wehdija’s arms, and suddenly feel stronger.
The feeling reminds me of Balshown’s people, the Veezal, and the way their strength multiplies when they swarm together.
The healthy web spreads around us to a range of thirty feet.

The quiet voices from Wehdija grow louder and louder, and I start to hear them in me.
I’m filled with images of thousands of worlds, beings of all kinds.
My black well opens wide, and I feel like I’m covered with waters of light.

It’s hard to concentrate, and keep the shield in place.

“What are the voices that I hear coming from many worlds?”
“I can’t concentrate with so much noise!”

“You hear them?” she asks, surprised.
“When Madar are young, our elders open us to the voices, and we learn to control them.”
“We call it swimming with the voices.”
“When we need advice, we speak to the voices, and sometimes they answer.”

I have to get us out of here now!
I squeeze the black well until it shrinks, and the voices grow quiet.
I take us up, into the air and through the open roof, traveling at Gen speed.
Then I expand a PathFinder gateway, and go through.

 
Necklace
We stand in the eighth rainbow cave, where the web is healthy.
I flow the water in this cave into air, and turn the water in the next cave into stone.
They’ll look for us here, eventually, and thirty feet of solid rock will slow them down.
But will it give us enough time?

“How did you move us to the cave?” she asks.
“Do you have the Madar transport tech?”

“No, I’m a PathFinder, another blessing.”
“The word for PathFinder in Jiku is Sindar, and it’s more than one hundred thousand years old.”

“How wonderful.”
“Sindar means guide in the Madar language.”
“What are the limits of that blessing?”
“How far can you travel?”

“Anywhere in this galaxy, and beyond.”
“I know you have a lot of questions, as I do, but we have to hurry.”

“Go ahead,” she says.
“Build the wall.”

I’m surprised by what I find when I move through her mind.
I was told that the Madar high priest was killed, reaching for the black necklace, but that’s wrong.
Wehdija is the high priest, and one of the Madar’s top scientists.
I discover that there is a way to remove the Kizak star cage, but it requires a Madar star cage generator using anti-matter.
I understand the theory, as she does, but the details of the tech aren’t in her head.

It takes me about twenty minutes to complete the mind shield, and train her in its use.

“Did you find what you want?” she asks.

“Only part of it.”
“I understand the theory, but I don’t have the details necessary to create anti-matter, and build the Madar generator.”

“Even if you had the plans, you wouldn’t be able to build it by yourself.”
“Working with anti-matter is dangerous and tricky.”
“It takes months of training to learn to handle it safely.”

“You never completed the training?”

“No, and there were never many Madar who did.”
“The anti-matter was created in one of a small number of secret facilities.”
“All of them were destroyed during the Madar civil war.”

“Do you think anti-matter tech was left with the caretaker?”

“The school was built after I was captured, so I don’t know anything about it.”
“However, I doubt that my people would leave actual tech or even knowledge of anti-matter with any Kizak, even those who believed in the blessings.”
“How could my people trust any Kizak so much after what they did to us?”
“You’ll have to look elsewhere to find a working Madar generator, still loaded with anti-matter.”

“Where should I look?”

“I don’t know.”
“Search beneath the ruins on the old Madar worlds.”
“It’s possible that the Kizak have one.”

“A good suggestion.”
“We need to leave before they find us.”
“I’ll take you to the school.”

“I know it was built by Madar, and it teaches the blessings, but there are Kizak there, and I want to get far away from everything Kizak.”
“Take me to the seven towers.”

“So it’s true.”
“The Madar are from one of the tower worlds.”
“Do you want to take the black necklace with you?”

“What do you know of it?”
“I assumed it was lost, hidden, or destroyed!”

“I know that you only wore it a few times a year.”
“It’s sitting in the emperor’s private treasury, and I’ve seen others like it on my own world.”
I tell her about the necklace I brought with me as a traveler, and the necklace in Tshuan with a symbol, like hers.

“Each of the seven races had identical necklaces,” she says, “but only the first race to leave the towers, and teach the ways of energy carried the necklace.”
“The others agreed to leave the necklaces behind.”
“Perhaps the Bizra violated the agreement.”

I open a gateway into the royal treasury, and we find the Madar necklace.
Her hands shake as she picks it up and carefully pulls it over her head.
Then we return to the cave.

“Can the voices help me stop the empire from conquering my world?” I ask her.

“They give advice, nothing more.”
“Perhaps you could find an answer there, but you haven’t been trained.”
“Without training, you would drown in them, and go mad.”

“Can you train me?”

“No.”
“I’m not skilled in opening the voices for others.”
“Besides, you’re not Madar, even if you can take our form.”
“Who knows if you can learn to do it?”

She looks at me with her intense red eyes.
“I’m disgusted by this world, Yagrin.”
“Take me home.”

“How can I fight them without you?”
“When our hands are joined, and we wear the armbands, the web is strong around us, for thirty feet.”
“Without you, the healthy web ends just a few feet from my skin.”
“I can’t open a gateway in that space.”

“How do you plan to fight them?”

“I haven’t thought it through.”

“Are you going to kill the emperor, and take his place?”

“No, that won’t work.”

“Will you try and destroy the Kizak Guard everywhere in the galaxy?”
“There are a million guards and a few thousand ships.”

“No.”

“You could destroy one of the colonies, and then threaten to shatter the Kizak homeworld, if the guard attacks Siksa.”
“That might work.”
“Of course, you would have to be willing to kill billions of them.”

“Stop the sarcasm!”
“I’m willing to go to war with them, but I’m not a murderer.”

“War is not so different than murder.”
“Madar don’t kill, except in the most extreme circumstances.”
“The Kizak cage made us into beasts, and we killed billions.”
“I hate what the Kizak have done, Yagrin, but I can’t be a part of your war.”

“You don’t have to do anything except stay with me.”

“Just hold your hands, and watch you kill?!”

“I’m desperate.”
“Tell me what to do!”
“The empire will put a star cage around my sun, and take the web from us!”

“I wish I knew how to save your world, Yagrin, but I don’t.”
“I can’t help you.”

“What about their tech screen?”
“Is there a way to disable it?”

“The screen is an energy field that we call the chaos field.”
“It disrupts the normal flow of energy in electronics, weapons, etc.”

“I already know that.”

“Did you ever wonder why the screen doesn’t affect the web, or the electricity that moves through our bodies?”

“No.”

“The chaos field doesn’t touch the more subtle types of energy that flow through the web.”
“That won’t help you fight them, because tech doesn’t use those subtle energies.”
“But it’s also possible to shield a device against the screen.”

“How?”

“The chips that the Kizak put in the guard weapons generate a counter-field.”
“Unfortunately that only works when the counter-field is tuned to the screen, and the Kizak change their screen every day.”
“There’s a better way.”
“Our bodies are unaffected by the chaos field, because there’s so much salt water and carbon in us.”
“Either one neutralizes the field.”
“Build your ships and your weapons with heavy use of carbon fibers.”

“Thank you, Wehdija.”
“This gives us a chance to defend ourselves.”

What will happen when the guard reach this cave.
They know that I’ve been coming here.
Will they destroy it?
The web is healthy for five feet beyond the cave walls.
I flow the metal door into a thick layer of rock, and move the whole cave to a safer place, with us still in it.

Too bad that I have to hide it away to protect it.
Disu will be crushed to find it gone.

What will happen to Disu?
Will his father think that Disu has been tainted by his time with me?
No time for these thoughts now.

I bring Wehdija to the seven towers, and then take back my Jiku form.

“I like your dark skin,” she says.
“Not black like mine, but not bad.”
“At least you don’t look Kizak.”

Wehdija stretches out all four hands toward me, palms open.
I flow into the Madar shape, so I can meet all her hands with mine.
Then I change back.

The towers are about a hundred yards away.
She could fly there, but she decides to walk instead, and I walk with her.

“I don’t have many years left, and I want to die among my people.”

“Nothing more than death?”

“There may still be joy, if my mates live.”
“No matter what I find, you have given me a great gift.”
“My mind is my own again, and I walk free.”

“You’re welcome.”

“You have difficult days ahead, Yagrin, and the empire is powerful.”
“I hope that you defeat them, save your world, and live a long life.”
“If death comes for you, don’t be afraid.”
“It has its own gifts.
“You will find true peace when the weight of your body is gone, and you are all energy.”

“I’ve experienced death many times, Wehdija.”
“Like the Gen, I walk with death.”
“It has no hold on me.”

She stops and looks at me.
“I knew that you walked among the Mehkeel, but are you Gen now?”

“Not exactly, but when my body dies, I make another.”

“Do you know what Gen means, Yagrin?”

“It comes from words in the Mehkeel language, gensai fong, hands of light.”

She laughs a strange laugh.

“In the Madar language, gensai fong means ‘friends of death’.”
“The two meanings seem worlds apart, but it’s not so.”
“We are all energy and light after death.”

She continues.
“A few years before the madness came, one of us had a vision of the civil war.”
“No one believed it could happen, but the vision was true.”

Madar become beasts, and smile as they kill each other.
The High priest is buried for centuries in a circle of madness.
Her mates grieve, but will not forget her.
A friend of death visits her grave, and brings an end to pain.

“You knew of the vision?”

“Yes, but I didn’t believe it until the wars came.”
“When the Madar were weak, our defenses gone, I was captured by the Kizak.”
“Every time I woke in the arena, I remembered the vision, and hoped that death would free me from my torture, but there was no end until you came.”
You are the friend of death in the vision, Yagrin.”

“What does it matter now, Wehdija.”
“You’re free.”
“Don’t be captured by the vision.”
“They tell us what they mean, only after the events come.”
“They twist our lives, as we follow them, or struggle to prevent them.”

“You haven’t heard the rest of the vision, Yagrin.”
“It matters a great deal if you are the friend of death!”
“Only the vision can give meaning to all my pain.”

The friend of death must pass through the sea to the heart of blessings.
He is Madar and not Madar.
The waters of life will welcome him.
He raises the sword, and the suns tremble.
Blessings will return, and the Madar will teach again.

“I don’t understand much of it, but I’m sure it speaks of your visit to the school.”
“Your presence promises a return of blessings, sometime soon.”

Wehdija turns and walks away.
I watch quietly as she disappears into the first tower on the left, that leads to her world.


Empire of Stone -- 2: Lost SonsPrevious StoryNext Story
  1. King’s Son
  2. Lost Courage
  3. Far From Home
  4. Dreams of Life and Death
  5. Children of Fire
  6. Prisons of the Mind
  7. Beyond Darkness and Light
  8. Death of a Child
  9. Truth and Lies
  10. Fear of the Wild
  11. Sweet Waters

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