My energy sight is gone.
I can’t feel the web, or the movement of energy.
Still, I have a vague sense that Kihyez is scanning me.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asks, a moment later.
“You were a master when you first met us.”
“Now you have no strength at all!”
“How can you be a watcher like this?”
“The others will crush you.”
He grabs me without answering, and flies toward the second tower.
The towers are great stone cylinders, fifty feet wide and two hundred fifty feet tall, that glitter in the daylight.
The surface of the towers is decorated with thin streams of colored crystal that move up the towers in gentle spirals that branch, merge, and disappear.
A sharp crystal spire rises another thirty feet above the cylinders.
The base of each tower is surrounded by a garden with flowers always in bloom, and a single path to the tower.
As I watch, a glowing, mostly transparent mist rises from the gardens to form a spiral around each tower.
The mist takes the color of the tower, while the rest of the mountain goes dark, suddenly shaded in grey or black.
Just before we reach the door, seven tones fill the air, one from each tower, like trumpets with a pure, clear sound.
Kihyez tries the door, but it refuses to open.
“Aren’t we going in?”
“Too late,” he answers, and flies away from the towers and down the mountain.
“Why are we running away, Kihyez?”
“To save your life, fool!”
I’ve encountered AIs that are capable of emotion, but Kihyez has always seemed more like a machine until now.
Is it possible that he grieves for Sindar?
“A tower is bound to its watcher,” adds Kihyez, “and soon after Sindar died, his tower sealed itself.”
“I thought your presence, as his twin, might keep it open, but I was wrong.”
“An alarm sounded in the other towers, and the watchers were woken by their assistants.”
“A meeting is called to choose his replacement.”
“Sindar chose me.”
“Yes, but we must hide that from the watchers as long as we can, and pretend that you came after his death.”
“The designated successor or anyone found with a watcher at his death must be tested.”
“To see if you’re fit to replace him.”
“The tests would kill you, as you are now.”
“How did Sindar became a watcher?”
“The towers were empty and quiet when he first saw their light.”
“It was a hundred thousand years ago, but they looked as beautiful then as they do now.”
“Sindar barely noticed.”
“He was here to get his brother far from Nilaisa, their homeworld.”
“Benzu was troubled and dangerous, searching for a weapon that would make him invincible, so he could crown himself king.”
“Why did Sindar help him?”
“Twenty years later Benzu returned with a weapon, and destroyed their world!”
“Sindar never thought that Benzu would return.”
“He thought that he was sending his brother to die, alone, on some strange world.
“Sindar should have killed him.”
“It was his brother, and yours too.”
“Besides, Benzu hadn’t killed anyone yet.”
“Sindar promised himself to never look on the towers again.”
“They were a symbol of his betrayal of his only brother.”
“When Benzu unleashed the artifact’s energy, Sindar and some other Jiku survived, but Benzu and the other dead disappeared in the energy storm.”
“There were no bodies to bury, no trace of Sindar’s parents or his bondmate and children.”
“He blamed himself for the destruction, and his spirit was broken.”
“Yet he returned here.”
“Sindar was forced to break his vow.”
“It was the only way to find a new world, where the survivors could start again without him.”
“What about his promise to his father to protect the embryos?”
“He thought that they were all cursed, and he wanted to destroy them, but he couldn’t do it.”
“Instead he explored this world, looking for a site where the embryos could sleep forever.”
“No place seemed right, until he stood before the second tower.”
“It seemed to call to him.”
“The towers are huge, Kihyez.”
“What’s in them?”
“Dozens of empty, sealed rooms, invisible to outsiders, even with energy sight.”
“Sindar found only two open rooms, one large one at ground level, and another near the top.”
“He brought the stasis machines here.”
“We came to serve him, and guard the embryos.”
“Soon after, he left us here, and searched for a world that would welcome his Jiku.”
“He brought them to their new home, and stayed with them for many years.”
“Then, he returned here, and slept for a hundred thousand years.”
“We woke him one day, when we found that his people had been caught in a great war.”
“The Fiklow wars.”
“Sindar discovered that some of the Jiku had escaped to a new world, but he couldn’t find it.”
“He explored all the towers, trying to uncover their secrets.”
“He found a gateway in each one, but they wouldn’t open.”
“The next day, the gateway in the second tower opened from the other side, and Sindar passed through, to the world that hides behind the gate.”
“One of the worlds of the seven races?”
“Watchers are forbidden to speak of those worlds, except to those who know of their existence.”
“Why would Sindar tell you about them?”
“The high priest of the Madar told me that there are seven races, the Bizra and Madar among them.”
“Wehdija was a prisoner of the Kizak, who were once students of the Madar.”
“I helped her escape, and brought us here, to the tower world.”
“She entered the red tower, and passed through the gateway to her home.”
“I went back to the Kizak to find out when they plan to attack my world.”
“Were you successful?”
“I know their plans and their technology, but I can’t get home.”
“Even if I had the strength to open a PathFinder gate, the gates won’t open within light-years of my world.”
“I can’t help you with the gate,” says Kihyez, “but perhaps if you rest for a few days, your strength will return.”
“When it does, I’ll make you a ship, and you can open a gate far from Siksa.”
“Tell me about the paths to the seven worlds.”
“The way is different than an ordinary PathFinder gate.”
“Any of the watchers can show you how to find it, once you are accepted as one of them.”
“You touch the gate with your energy, and the inner world senses your presence.”
“Then, if they wish, they open the gate from the other side.”
“Why did Sindar tell you to keep me from the gate for a year?”
“I don’t know.”
“If no one can open the gates from this side, then why do the towers need watchers?”
“It’s not the towers that need watchers, Yagrin.”
“This place is a hub that connects countless worlds.”
“Once a master reaches here, he can go anywhere.”
“Look at the sorrow that has spread since Benzu came here, and took the artifact from a distant world.”
“Planets have been destroyed, trillions of beings are dead.”
“The inner world asked Sindar to be a watcher when they met him?”
“Not at first.”
“Sindar told them about his brother, Benzu, and suggested that they appoint watchers over each tower, to limit the travel of masters through this world.”
“Sindar was admitted to all seven worlds, and worked with the races to write the laws of the watchers.”
“The fourth race chose him to be their watcher, but he refused.”
“They were persistent, and forced him to agree.”
“They showed him a vision.”
“He saw himself visiting the Jiku on an unfamiliar world, again and again, always returning to the towers.”
“One of the races recognized the world, and promised to tell him how to get there, if he would agree to be a watcher.”
“They were already living on Siksa when the Jiku arrived.”
“Before the Fiklow wars, while Sindar still slept, the seven races met here, among the towers, following a common vision that they all received.”
“It was time for them to teach others about the creator and the ways of energy.”
“Three universes were chosen, seven galaxies in all, one galaxy for each race.”
“They sent ships, and founded colonies to teach about the great web.”
“There was a second part to the vision.”
“Someday soon, the tower world would need to be guarded, to control who would be allowed to pass through to other worlds.”
“The vision showed an energy master would come in search of the races, and he would be the first watcher.”
“They asked him to recruit watchers from among the masters who pass near the towers.”
“Each of the seven watchers is responsible for one day per week.”
“We guarded the tower in Sindar’s place when he slept, but we were commanded to wake him when danger or visitors came to the tower during our weekly watch.”
“By the time, you wake the watcher, visitors will pass through to another world.”
“No one except the watchers can open a gate from this side.”
“Those who come here are trapped, until a watcher allows them to go.”
“I’ve done it.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Perhaps it’s because you are Sindar’s twin.”
“How often does a watcher die?”
“The inner rooms of the tower have a stasis field like ours, which prevents aging.”
“Each watcher is served by machines like us, and woken when he is needed.”
“Some have chosen to leave their posts, but Sindar is the first to die.”
When we return, the watchers are standing next to Sindar’s body, with the machines that serve them.
Each watcher is surrounded by an energy field, that protects them, and hides their forms.
Still, I can feel that some are humanoid, and some are not.
“This is Sindar?” asks one of the watchers, speaking in Madar.
It’s the common language that the watchers use.
“The species looks so weak!”
“The watchers only see the bodies of the watchers that are appointed after them,” says Kihyez softly.
“Sindar was the first, so none have seen him before.”
“Who has come, Kihyez?” asks one of them.
“It looks like Sindar.”
“Do all of the species look so much alike?”
“I’m his brother,” I tell them.
“He has come for the death ceremony,” says Kihyez.
“How does he speak Madar?” asks one of the watchers.
“They stopped teaching a long time ago.”
“Some still remember,” I answer.
“And a few of them remain as captives among their former students.”
“I learned their language, took their form, and spoke with two of them.”
“Enough words,” says another watcher.
“We’re here for death.”
“Why do we delay?”
“Are there others who will come?”
Even with the PathFinder gates and a ship, it would take days to bring Botzar and Dilasa here.
“We have another brother, and a sister, but they know nothing of Sindar’s death, and have no way to get here.”
“No one else will come.”
I’m being scanned again.
“Leave me alone,” I shout.
“How could he change shape, or reach the towers?” asks one of them.
“He has no strength.”
“He can’t be Sindar’s brother,” says another.
“His energy is strange — bits of Jiku, Bizra, Madar, and other beings.”
“He has taken many shapes,” says Kihyez, “and his fire has echoes of them.”
“You’re right that his strength is gone, for now.”
“His fire body was damaged in his journey here.”
“Before that, he was more powerful than Sindar.”
Kihyez lifts Sindar’ body and takes it to an open area, near the edge of the plateau.
Three of Kihyez’s other bodies are waiting there.
The four of them form a circle around me.
Then they project an energy net and raise Sindar’s body eight feet above my head.
Each of the other watchers forms his own circle with his assistants.
Six concentric circles in all, with Sindar, Kihyez, and me at their center.
The watchers fly slowly around their circles, singing.
In one circle they fly clockwise, while in the next, they fly the opposite way.
Two of the songs are Jiku, but the others are full of strange languages that I don’t recognize.
I am no master today, but I can still sing with the voice I had when I was an old one.
We sing, and minutes pass.
Then the outermost circle becomes quiet and comes to a stop.
All of the circles end their songs and their movement, one at a time.
Then Kihyez lowers Sindar to the ground, at my feet.
I pour salt water over Sindar’s eyes from a stone flask that Kihyez gives me.
Then we fly to his burial site, far from the towers.
I don’t like being carried, but I have no choice.
We land in a crystal forest that reminds me of the one on Gunal.
The six watchers form a circle around Sindar’s body, and turn it into blue crystal.
The words are Madar, but the familiar voice sounds like a Jiku woman.
“Sindar was older than all of us, but his long years are done.”
“May his light find peace in the world of eternal energy, where we will meet someday.”
“He’s gone forever!” I announce, bitterly.
“His fire body was destroyed.”
“Is this true?”
“Yes, the accident that killed him also shattered his energy.”
The circle is quiet.
“Go back to your towers,” I tell them.
“There’s nothing more you can do here.”
“We must find another watcher,” says one, “according to Sindar’s laws.”
“Will you accept?”
“I have no strength now,” I tell them, “but maybe it will return.”
“Put off the decision for six weeks, and let Sindar’s assistants guard the tower until then.”
“If my strength returns sooner, I’ll ask your assistants to wake you.”
“Agreed,” they answer, after discussing it.
Then they rise to return to their towers.
One of the six remains, speaking with Kihyez.
She drops her shield, revealing a Jiku woman with grey eyes.
I’ve seen her image before.
“Kihyez tells me,” she says, “that you know of the seven races.”
“Was it you who designed the murals of the living city, and left me the vision of the Spiral?”
“What do you know of the city?”
“How did you get close enough to see the murals?”
“We did what was necessary.”
“I am the bird on the mural, and I opened the wall, and entered the city.”
“What are you called?”
“Was my vision true?”
“Do Jiku live again on Sinesu?”
“Did you save them from that strange creature?”
“There were Jiku living there, but they have left for nearby worlds.”
“The planet itself is gone, transformed into a sun.”
“Then you failed.”
“The Spiral attacked and drove them away.”
“My sister and I destroyed the Spiral of that universe, and freed the Jiku from it.”
“It was the destiny of the planet to become a sun.”
“The fierce child from Sinesu is your sister?”
“I would like to meet her and other Jiku from the old universe,” she says, excitedly.
“And Siksa…I must see how it has been rebuilt after the energy wars.”
“Maybe I can see the city again!”
“Will you take me someday to these places, Yagrin?”
“I’d like that, but I can’t look past tomorrow.”
“If my strength returns, I’m needed on Siksa.”
“Enemies from another galaxy are on their way.”
“War is coming, and Siksa may be conquered.””
“Kihyez says you’re powerful.”
“My strength is gone, and until it returns I can’t go home.”
“The Kizak may have already arrived, while I’m trapped here.”
“But you can help me, Wintu.”
“You’re a Dream Hunter!”
“Tell me what’s happening on Siksa.”
She closes her eyes, and is silent for almost a minute.
“On the tower world,” she says, “it’s hard to see visions of other places.”
“Today, I can’t see Siksa at all, but I see you, getting your strength back.”
“Hear these words:”
Sea, sky, and stone float on a blinding fire.
Song, possibility ,and transformation scatter like sparks from death’s axe.
Seven shadows give their gifts, restore an ancient light, and send it home.
“What does it mean?”
“Did you know, Yagrin, that the seven races live only in the inner worlds, and the seven galaxies where they’ve gone to teach?”
“They call themselves the seven lights, based on an ancient tradition, passed down from their ancestors.”
Once, the creator made a beautiful being, like the others, all of light, but she was too bright and pure for the other beings to look at.
They were embarrassed in her presence.
The creator carried the bright one far away from the others, to a strange, solid world that he had made.
“What is this place?” she asked.
“How can light live here?”
“Why did we leave the others?”
“This place is for you,” he answered, “but you can’t live here as you are.”
He gently pushed the bright one through a rainbow that surrounded the planet.
The rainbow split her into seven bursts of light that circled the planet and spread apart.
Then they rushed toward each other and turned toward the stone below, as thunder filled the air.
When they crashed into the ground, the light disappeared into the mud.
Seven glowing towers rose from those seven spots, and seven beings, of light and earth, stood next to them.
They remembered their life of light, and cried for what they had lost.
The creator made worlds for each one, and he called the new creatures inner lights.
“Do you mock us?” they asked, when they heard the name.
“It’s a name of honor.”
“The light is still in you, only hidden.”
“I need you here,” he told them, “so you can teach others about energy.”
“Someday, when your work is done, even stone will become light.”
After they were safely settled in their new homes, the creator looked back on the mud next to the towers, and saw that seven more creatures had risen.
They looked something like the inner lights, but they were smaller and weaker.
They had little energy and strength compared with the others, so the creator called them shadows.
He took away some of their intelligence so they would not be embarrassed when they met the seven lights who looked like them.
The creator made many universes, and filled them with worlds.
He multiplied the shadows beyond measure, and put them in every universe, except the worlds of the seven lights.
He bound each universe to the first world, by paths of light.
“It’s a beautiful story, Wintu, but is any of it true?”
“The inner lights believe it, Yagrin, and they say that this is the first world.”
“They’ve met the seven creatures that look like them, here on the tower world, and the lights believe that the shadows are found in every universe.”
“Let me finish the story.”
The creator scattered the shadows, never letting more than a few of them live together on one world, except for the first world he created.
He blessed them, saying, “there is only a spark of light within you, but that spark will never be extinguished.”
“Those who are greater than you will seek you.”
“Your touch will have the power to brighten their energy when they lose faith in themselves.”
“Why would the creator put the shadows in every universe, Wintu?”
“No one knows, but one of the races has a theory.”
“They believe that the paths between the tower world and each universe are anchored by the shadows.”
“Without them the paths would disappear.”
“There are so many paths.”
“Why so few visitors?”
“The universes are meant to live apart, Yagrin, and PathFinder talent is extremely rare.”
“Even then, it takes another PathFinder to train and activate the skill.”
“Once trained, PathFinders can only open the paths within a universe.”
“You and your brothers are the only ones strong enough to open paths to the towers.”
“But many people have traveled to the towers.”
“Once a path has been opened to or from the towers, ordinary PathFinders can travel it.”
“Sindar was the first to come here.”
“How did the inner races go out to teach in three universes?”
“Sindar found and trained a few PathFinders among each race, and opened the paths for them.”
“What does all this mean to me?”
“What do I do to get my strength back, and go home?”
“It’s simple, Yagrin.”
“The shadows will help you find your strength again.”
“But how do I recognize them, Wintu?”
“I’ve only seen the Bizra and Madar.”
“What do the other races look like?”
“I’ve seen no more than you.”
“What about Kihyez?”
“He’s been with Sindar since he came to this world.”
“Kihyez may have seen the lights, but he’s not allowed to describe them.”
“Trust yourself, Yagrin, and you’ll feel it when you find them.”
“After your strength returns, come to the red tower and tell my assistants to wake me.”
“We’ll speak more of the war with the Kizak, and those who can help you in your fight.”
She flies away, and one of Kihyez’s bodies approaches.
“You won’t tell me what the races look like?”
“No, but I can give you tech that will help you in your search.”
He flies me back to the second tower, and leaves me in one of the open rooms.
Then he returns with a waterproof pack and a thick belt that holds a multi-function disk.
We go outside.
“Put on the belt,” he says.
I feel a subtle current moving through me.
“Try to fly, but not too fast.”
“You have no shield.”
The disk responds instantly to my will, and I rise up until I’m just above the towers.
Then I fly a few circles before landing.
I take a deep breath.
My energy strength is still gone.
I’m only flying because of the tech, but for now, it brings me some peace.
“The pack contains simple food that will last for a week.”
“There’s only a day’s supply of water, but it’s easy to find in your travels.”
“I’ve also given you special clothing.”
“It will take the place of a shield, and protect you from cold, heat, and other dangers while you fly or swim.”
“There’s a water-tight mask that provides air in places where you can’t breathe, and a communications headset connected to the disk.”
“You can access maps of the entire surface.”
“The disk can sense where life is concentrated, and display real-time images of the creatures who live there.”
“Contact me if you need help.”
Kihyez returns to the tower and leaves me standing alone.