Late in the evening, the Watchtower is quiet, and I come out of hiding.
Most of the visitors are gone now.
A few stay overnight, sleeping on soft mats in the white and violet rooms, but it’s easy enough to avoid them.
So many of the people I meet are filled with hatred and fear of me.
I can’t bear it.
Something is broken in me, and I can’t face anyone except Shazira or Tzina.
Emotions scream at me, circle within me, over and over, larger and larger.
I have to escape to another room to quiet this madness.
Feelings awaken in children, long before thoughts.
They fly, like arrows, from one person to the next.
Then thoughts come, and feelings are pushed away, filtered, buried, hidden.
As a child, I tried again and again to bury the borrowed feelings that made it hard to think.
I failed, and remained a broken mirror, hiding myself away to find the quiet.
I’ve often wished to see deeply into the hearts and minds of other people, and I never imagined it as a curse.
Here, in the Watchtower I’ve felt the unbearable weight of deep empathy, but I’ve also known its blessing.
The bonding process gives bondmates a deep connection with each other.
Shazira’s heart is wide open to me, her emotions pure and bright.
Each one passes through me like a gentle stream and disappears, leaving a beautiful memory, floating in a sea of wonder.
I have a light empathy with Tzina.
Her emotions come in a quick, gentle way, at a safe distance.
The empathy I feel with everyone else is a plague that began when I was healed by the mindstone.
It grows stronger every day, and now, it’s out of control.
If I look at someone for more than a few seconds, I feel assaulted and violated by threatening and alien emotions.
I can’t meet their eyes, so most of the time, I hide in the Dreaming Room and hope this curse will end.
I’m scheduled to begin training with Balshown in two days, but I can’t focus, and I can’t train when I’m like this.
I stand just outside the doorway of the Dreaming Room, and wait for Shazira and Tzina.
Tzina arrives first.
“This is yours, ina,” she says, and hands me something.
It’s a thin chain, with dark blue links, made into a bracelet.
It doesn’t feel like metal, but who would carve tiny links out of stone?
“What is it, Tzina?”
“Who shaped it?”
“I went searching for mindstone today, my thoughts full of you.”
“This is what I found.”
“I just added a clasp.”
On Earth, I don’t wear jewelry, but it’s common for men to wear it here.
I slip it onto my wrist, and close it.
The mindstone grows hot, and burns.
I struggle to open the clasp to get it off my wrist, but it disappears, leaving a dark blue image of the bracelet, that circles my wrist.
The Shape of Imagination
Shazira says that the touch of the Watchtower twists and shakes us, at first.
“It passes in a few days,” she says.
I’ve been touched by four of the six rooms in the Watchtower.
“Enter and understand the other two rooms, Yagrin,” she says.
“Maybe they’ll help you find what you need.”
“One thing is certain,” I answer.
“I can’t stay like this.”
Tzina and Shazira take my hands and lead me toward the Orange room.
The sweet, high sound of Tzina’s voice pulls me out of my thoughts.
She reminds me that the Orange room is for movement and flow.
I’ve been here once before.
Shazira brought me here to practice the greeting, but I fell in agony the moment my hand passed through the doorway.
My strange dance of the greeting came from that brief touch.
I’m sure of it.
Shazira says that the partial touch is not enough.
The room still waits for me.
Tzina and I will enter together, so I can be fully embraced by its power.
“There are movements, like the greeting,” says Shazira at the doorway, “that create, balance or destroy energy.”
“You’ve tasted their power, but you still need to be touched by flow.”
“Tzina will show you.”
Tzina leads me into the room, leaving Shazira outside.
I hesitate at the opening, remembering the pain, but I pass through with only a slight tingling in my hands.
The inside of the room reminds me of a gym.
The ceiling, walls, and floor are all covered with padding, except for the windows and the spaces where the vines grow,
Tzina moves with the smooth grace of a cat, like her mother, and her eyes glow in the Orange light.
She glides ten feet across the floor, and turns to face me.
She wears a white robe with stripes of orange by the shoulders, elbows and wrists, and throws off the robe with one quick motion.
Jiku bodies have legs far more powerful than a human body.
Tzina leaps three feet off the floor, and flows into the animal shape she wore when I first met her.
A graceful cat and snake-like animal.
An inner voice says Bizra, and leaves me with a feeling of mystery, danger, and resentment.
I open my energy eyes to understand how she changes shape.
I see several energy clouds, one in Tzina’s shape, and another, like a shell that covers the first.
A network of complex patterns pulse through the shell.
It pulls me in, deeper and deeper, until I can’t look away.
I’m surrounded by a blinding orange light.
The pattern spins around me, absorbing the light.
My body is different, wrong, and my mind moves in ways I can’t follow or understand.
Only one thought is clear.
“I am Bizra.”
Something slams into me, and knocks me out the doorway.
In the hallway, an orange mist rises off of me, as I struggle to clear my head.
My Jiku body returns.
Tzina stands in the doorway, wearing her Bizra shape.
Staring at me with those alien eyes, so much like her own.
She’s the one who pushed me out of the room.
My wrist burns.
An orange fire spins around my wrist, covering the blue mark of the mindstone.
Tzina circles me in her Bizra form, her eyes full of the orange fire.
Then she takes her old shape.
The ring of fire fades, and the blue mark with it.
My mind struggles to adjust to my old shape as Tzina retrieves our robes from the room.
Then she takes my hand, and helps me to my feet.
Two visitors are standing nearby, speaking with Shazira and staring at me.
I put on my robe, and brace myself for the wild emotions, but nothing comes.
The mindstone has healed me, again.
“Oodah,” says Tzina, “he almost transformed to Bizra.”
“The mask was strong,” says Shazira, “but that’s all.”
“No,” Tzina answers, “the mask was drifting into his pattern body before I pushed him.”
“Strange,” says the man, “for the room to touch him so strongly.”
The hallway is absolutely still for a few seconds, and my mind drifts away.
Then Shazira’s voice brings the world back into focus.
“Yagrin,” says Shazira, “come greet our guests.”
The woman is vaguely familiar, and the colors on her robe mark her as a master weaver.
“Zias,” whispers the inner voice.
I gave them the greeting of palms.
They respond stiffly.
“Has your memory come back, Yagrin?” asks the woman.
“Some, Zias,” I answer.
I flash on memories of her as a child.
I see us playing together in a meadow full of grass and wildflowers.
Our parents were friends.
“I remember playing together as children,” I add.
She’s upset and angry.
She liked Yagrin, and doesn’t trust me.
“What brings you here so late?” I ask her.
“Our son,” answers the man.
“I’m sorry,” I tell him, “but I can’t remember your name.”
“Bintar,” he says coldly.
“Our son Berek often sleeps in the Watchtower,” adds Zias.
“He was attacked by the Krale as a child.”
“His mind is troubled, and the Watchtower is the only place that seems to bring him peace.”
“Can I do anything to help?” I ask her.
Bintar’s face shows his anger, and his hand slips into a fist.
Does he think I would hurt his son?
“Bintar,” I tell him, “whatever I am, I’m no threat to Berek.”
“Do you think I’ve travelled across the possibility sea to attack children?”
Bintar takes a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself.
“Berek and I visited you after moonwatch, when you were near death, after lighting up the sky.”
“I thought you were dying, and I wanted Berek to see you, at least once.”
“Why would you bring him to see me?”
“And why are you so angry?”
“You don’t remember anything about our son, do you?” asks Bintar.
“You never knew him, Yagrin,” says Zias, crying.
“That was always the problem.”
They walk away.
“What was that about?” I ask, puzzled.
“Your relationship with them and their son is complicated,” answers Shazira,
“I don’t understand it, myself, but we can’t speak about it now.”
“You have to stay focused on your training if there’s any hope of passing the tests.”
“How can I ignore what happened?”
“Please Yagrin!” she says.
“Just for a few weeks, until the tests are done.”
“Are you all right after your time as a Bizra?” she asks, changing the subject.
“My mind is familiar again, and my enhanced empathy for others is gone, except for you and Tzina.”
She lets go a deep, satisfied breath.
“The mindstone seems to like you, Yagrin,” she says.
“I’m not sure,” I tell her.
“The first healing with the mindstone brought on the empathy.”
“The second pushed it away.”
“Can you explain it?”
“I don’t understand it any more than you,” she says.
“Let it go for now.”
“When will I get answers?”
“I don’t have the answers, Yagrin.”
“I can only help you search for them.”
I form a fist in frustration and dig the tips of my fingers into my hand.
My hard nails draw blood.
“You’re bleeding!” she says.
“It’s too much for me, Shazira.”
“I don’t know why I’m here, or where I’m going.”
“One moment I trust in some inner strength, and I’m confident that everything will be fine.”
“Then, I feel completely lost.”
“It seems impossible, Yagrin, I know.”
“Just focus on the training, and hope the answers will come in time.”
I look at my hands.
The blood is gone, and there’s no trace of the cuts I made with my nails.
I take a breath, and try to focus on the moment.
“What’s next?” I ask her, ignoring the thoughts that race through my mind.
“Tell me,” she says, “what you feel when you think of flow.”
I let my body relax, and let its weight and tension fall through me, and into the floor.
My stray thoughts follow.
I can’t make sense of my own experience with flow.
I fill my mind with images of Shazira and Tzina changing themselves using flow, and let my feelings speak.
“It’s like watching a miracle,” I tell her, “a child being born.”
She smiles, and I catch and hold her eyes.
“I know it was the room that helped me change this time, but can you teach me to do it again?”
“Not everyone can be taught to flow, Yagrin,” she says.
“At the other extreme are a few Jiku who flow naturally without any training, but I’ve only met one flow natural.”
She pauses, and for a moment I feel she’s hiding something.
Then her feelings clear, and she continues.
“Only one in ten million can flow without training, and most of these harm themselves with their gift.”
“Still, a student needs talent or the training won’t help.”
“I have the talent, and so does Tzina, although she’s more interested in her art than flow.”
“Can you tell if I have the talent, Shazira?”
“The old Yagrin never had any interest in flow, and never tested.”
“I never knew if he had the talent.”
“The room helped you, and it only helps those with talent.”
“Not only that.”
“You were pushed toward a type of flow, so advanced, that masters are afraid of it.”
“Clearly, you have plenty of talent!”
“We’ll begin your training after you pass the weaver’s test.”
“Can you tell me something about it now, that will help me understand what I see when I watch you flow?”
“Flow has two parts.”
“Flow masters change their own form with masks, and transform one object into another.”
“Both actions are powered by energy taken from the web.”
“Every type of object has a unique energy pattern.”
“Living creatures have a more complex pattern that we call an energy body.”
“A flow master uses the pattern as a mask over her true shape, but it only lasts a day or two.”
“Masters use transformations to permanently change the shape of an object.”
“First, you spin a mask for the new form.”
“Then you push the mask deep into the object, and replace the old pattern.”
“Tzina said that the pattern was moving into my pattern body.”
“What does that mean?”
“There are three bodies, Yagrin — physical, pattern, and fire.”
“Pattern and fire bodies are both energy, but the fire body is the deepest.”
“It’s the only part of us that survives death.”
“There’s a second type of transformation a master could use to transform herself.”
“She builds a mask for the new form, and pushes it into the old pattern body.”
“The new pattern binds to the fire body, and drives the old pattern body into the heart center, a hidden place in the fire body.”
“The new pattern takes over, and the master uses it to build a new physical body.
“Why are the masters afraid of this?”
“It’s extremely dangerous.”
“The fire body can be damaged, the memories and awareness twisted.”
“When the initial transformation succeeds, the master’s awareness starts to change to match the new body.”
“A few hours, or a day, and the master’s awareness and memories change so much she can never go back to her old body.”
“No one does this anymore.”
“We will not pursue power at any cost, Yagrin!”
“Flow is not for those that want excitement and thrills.”
“Our training is slow and tedious.”
“We memorize hundreds of basic patterns,and learn some of the common variations on the patterns based on size, and other factors.”
“We spin raw energy until it takes the shape of a pattern or body, and forms the mask.”
“Few have the patience for it, and many abandon the training.”
“Some can see and memorize the basic patterns, but they never get a feel for the variations, or they can’t spin the masks.”
“Others can’t hold the masks for more than a moment.”
“Why did Tzina take the Bizra form?”
“We begin our training with the Bizra pattern.”
“It’s easy to learn, spin, and hold.”
“What does it mean, that I almost transformed?”
“I don’t know, but you have a connection to the Bizra that we don’t understand.”
“Also, you are an Embu traveler.”
“Someday, with your power, you may master the transformation.”
“My thoughts were so strange when I was Bizra, intelligent, but alien.”
“I thought the Bizra were just animals!”
“They’re far more intelligent than we are, and masters of all the energy ways.”
“Maybe someday you’ll meet one.”
“They rarely come among us anymore, and we don’t visit them.”
“Their land is far away, across the ocean, and the Bizra live with the Krale, the monsters that attack at moonwatch.”
“How did the Jiku discover how to flow?”
“The Bizra taught us flow and other skills so we would survive.”
“The Jiku aren’t native to this world.”
“Our ancestors came here, escaping from a horrible war that killed trillions of people.”
“Great ships landed, burnt and broken.”
“Those who survived were weak, and afraid of being found, but the Bizra sought us out, and helped us.”
“They taught us to flow, to heal, and to weave energy.”
“Great cities were built, and thousands of Bizra glided through the streets, living and flowing among us.”
“They don’t speak, but they put images in our heads to communicate with us.”
“The only sound they make is a smooth vibration which seems to balance the whole spirit.”
“What happened to all the cities?” I ask.
“No enemy followed us here.”
“We made our own war.”
“Energy masters fought among themselves, and nearly killed everyone.”
“The Bizra abandoned us during that war, but time passed, and the Bizra returned, to help us rebuild.”
“Many of the old ways were lost in the war, and the Bizra let many of those secrets stay hidden.”
“There were hundreds of years of peace until something happened to drive away the Bizra.”
“Only a few weeks after they left us, the Krale first appeared, and began to attack and destroy our cities.”
“The farms and towns were left alone, but the cities were destroyed, one by one.”
“Finally, only one city remained of the great cities, the city by the harbor.”
“A few Bizra returned to help us build the wall and the Watchtower, to protect the last city.”
“Then the Bizra left us again.”
“Every two or three years, some Bizra visit, and stay for a few days.”
“They don’t explain why they visit, but those who meet them say that the Bizra are looking for something, expecting something.”
“The Bizra seem sad when they go.”
“What do you think they want, Shazira?”
“I have no idea,” she says, “but the old Yagrin knew.”
“He knew and he didn’t tell you?”
“A few months ago, Yagrin started acting strange.”
“He was restless when he slept, irritable and anxious when awake, always waiting for something bad to happen.”
“At first, he denied it, and wouldn’t tell me what was wrong.”
“Then he admitted that he met a Bizra who was full of hope, and said that help was coming.”
“But Yagrin was so sad, and he made the Bizra’s words sound like a curse.”
“I think he knew a traveler would come, and steal his life.”
She takes my hand and looks far away, remembering him.
I feel confused and guilty for a moment, but soon my calm returns.
It’s no accident that I came to this world.
I belong here.
“I can’t imagine what it was like for him, waiting his own death.”
“He was wrong.”
“This is birth, not death.”
“Most of his memories are gone, but he is here, in you.”
“You came with your memories, but you’re changing every day, becoming a master like him, and leaving your past behind.”
“In the end, it will be hard to say who lived and who died.”
“Both of you are here, and both of you are gone.”