Standoff

 
Safe Return
“They’re close!” shouts Niyta.

“Is Shazira there?” asks Dilasa, nervous.

“There are two dragons,” says Niyta, “probably Shazira and Ilaz, moving impossibly fast.”
“The rest of the group are still Jiku.”
“But I don’t understand how Shazira can pull the group, and move like that.”
“She isn’t even an energy weaver.”

“Maybe it’s one of the sisters who was rescued.”

“It might be, but the dragon’s energy is so strange.”

The sisters and others enter through the airlock, carrying the ones who are unconscious or too weak to walk.
The dragons transform and enter last.

“Shazira!” yells Dilasa as she enters, hugging her tightly, and holding on.
“I was worried you wouldn’t come back.”

“We would have been killed, but we had some help at the last moment.”

Yagrin enters.
Dilasa stands there, too shocked to move.
“Is it really you, ina?” she says quietly.
“I was sure you were dead.”

He hugs Shazira and Dilasa, the three of them crying.
“It’s really me, little one.”
He looks at both of them.
“I’m sorry it took so long to get home.”

“Are you hurt, Yagrin?” asks Niyta.
“Your energy is even stranger than the last time I saw you!”

“Don’t worry about me.”
“The others need healing from burns, and worse.”

“A group of healers is with them right now.”
“Shazira told you how we came here?”

“Not yet.”
“I know the Kizak are on Siksa, but not much else.”

“He put all his strength into flying us quickly,” says Shazira.
“He couldn’t even hold a mind touch.”

“Go with your family,” says Niyta.
“We’ll talk later.”

He opens his mouth to speak, but passes out.
Dilasa is sitting by his bed when he wakes.
“Are you all right, ina?”
“The Jiku healers tried to help you, but your body wouldn’t absorb much of their energy.”
“The Bizra worked on you after that.”
“When they finished, they put you here, and told us to leave you alone.”
“You’ve been sleeping for hours.

“I’m much better now.”
“Where’s Shazira?”

“Oodah is with her mother and sister.”
“They’re really frightened, and she’s trying to calm them down.”

Two Jiku are standing at the doorway.
“Can we speak with you?” asks one of them.

“Come in, Ilaz,” says Yagrin, sitting up.

“You know who I am?” asks the young Jiku man.

“Don’t you remember when we met?”

“No.”

“It wasn’t him, ina,” says Dilasa.
“It was a Kizak spirit that possessed his body.”

“Kizak?!”

She explains how Berek drove out the spirit.

“And I’m Hukal,” says the boy with him.

“Hukal?!”
“You’ve gotten so tall.”
“Tell me about the twins.”

“You remember us?”

“How could I forget you?”

“Ina,” says Dilasa, “there’s so much to tell you.”
“Are you strong enough to absorb my memories.”

“Yes.”

“I’m surprised,” says Yagrin, after the transfer is complete.
“I thought the Kizak would be more violent after Tzina destroyed one of their ships.”

“I hope she’s all right,” says Dilasa.
“I miss her.”

“She’s fine, and safely hidden.”
“But I need to find out what happened after you left Tshuan.”

“That’s why I’m here,” says Ilaz.
“Hukal and I were on the surface not long ago, and I visited the emperor.”

“And I pulled information from the Kizak military net,” says Hukal.

“Will you let me see your memories?” asks Yagrin.
“It’s so much faster than speaking.”

Ilaz agrees, and Yagrin takes the memories.

“I’m happy that few Jiku have died, but it’s too bad the Jiku voted to accept the empire.”
“That will make it hard to get rid of the Kizak, and find a way to repair the web.”

“What about Berek and Keela?” asks Ilaz.
“They seem to be safe, but I don’t trust the emperor.”

“Neither do I.”
“I’m going to convince him to release them.”

“I’ll come with you,” says Ilaz.

“No.”
“You need to stay far away from this.”
“The emperor will probably try to kill me.”
“Excuse me, now, but I need to get dressed.”
“There’s so much to do.”

Yagrin eats some food, and then moves toward the airlock.

“Dilasa told me what you said,” says Shazira, walking in front of him, “but I didn’t believe it.”
“I never thought you would leave us so soon.”

“I’m just going into the ocean to practice.”

“Practice?”

“I have an idea how to strengthen my connection with the web, but it’s dangerous, so I can’t try it in the city.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that Tzina is safe?”
“How did you find her?”

“I was in the world of the towers when she and the Madar arrived there.”

“What happened to her, Yagrin?”
“How could she kill so many people?”

“Her instincts are right, Shazira.”
“The emperor and his guard are vicious.”
“I’ve lived among them, and know them well.”
“They would destroy all of Siksa in a moment if they thought that was the best way to achieve their goals.”

“But they haven’t done any of that, Yagrin!”

“You’re right.”
“Teyus caged the web, and manipulated Siksa into joining the empire, but he hasn’t declared war on us.”
“The Kizak don’t yet deserve so much death.”
“And destroying one ship won’t stop them.”

“How do we restore the web?”

“I don’t know yet, but the sword is the key.”

“The sword?!”
“We can’t control it.”
“Find a way to strengthen the connection to the web, and we can teach that method to all the masters.”

“The method I’ve found is only for me, if it works at all.”
He takes her hand and walks away from the airlock.

“Where are we going?”

“My practice can wait.”
“We need time together.”

 
Waves of Fire
Yagrin takes the dragon shape in the airlock, and goes outside.
The cold ocean water rushes by his soft scales as he swims away from the city.
He would love to swim the whole way, but there’s too much to do, and little time.
Instead, he surrounds himself with a shield and flies the rest of the way, stopping a thousand miles from the city, far from any land.

The world fades as he searches his past for a way to overcome the cage.

What do I know of the web and energy mastery?

Underlying all existence is a sea of wild energy.
Our visible world of things and living creatures is a world of energy, slowing down and taking form for a brief moment in time.
The great web is a system, shaped by the creator, that balances the movement of energy and connects all of creation.
The web puts an orderly face on the primal energy, pretends to tame it, and makes a fraction of its power available to masters.

Portals to the seven energy wells are found in the fire bodies of all intelligent creatures.
Wells are a direct path to the primal energy.
What does this mean for energy masters?

Every master draws power from the web and uses it to reshape the world around us.
But few masters realize that they unconsciously take power from the wells.
Drawing small amounts of power from the wells does them no harm.
But extensive use of this power without the web is dangerous.

When the Kizak Dahwee pass through the ring of worlds multiple times, their connection with the wells is strengthened, they start to pull more energy from the wells, and manifest many energy abilities, but without the web.
This often shortens their lives.
And after many generations of Kizak using the ring, some children are born with a strong connection to the wells that burns them alive.

The Gen make great use of well energy, but always in the presence of the web.
When I began to actively use well energy in the Kizak galaxy, the nullifier was with me, and covered me with a small, healthy layer of the web.
But then I abandoned caution, and let the well energy burst out.
I grew weaker and weaker.
Finally I used a storm of black energy to open a gate to the towers.
It damaged my fire body, took away my energy mastery, and led to Sindar’s death.
I regained my strength on the tower world, but who knows what damage I’ll do the next time?

The wells must be part of the answer, but how do I use them safely?

Three things restore my strength, even in the presence of the cage.

  1. The nullifier device.
    Useful, but has limited range and takes a lot of power, so portable ones don’t last long.
  2. Ocean water.
    The surface of the ocean is taken over by storms, but deep within, it’s always quiet and calm.
    So too, the web is balanced and healthy below the surface.
    The energy patterns for salt water are especially simple.
    It’s the first substance that apprentices learn to flow.
  3. The Watchtower’s light, at last moonwatch.
    The light was full of color this time, and it came from the wells that pour energy into me.

Thought has taken me as far as it can.
I release my healing body to spread through the ocean around me, while I listen for an inner voice.
Quiet fills me, and calls me to wait patiently.
An hour passes until the images come.

I see myself in my Jiku body, deep within the ocean.
The sounds of thunder and ocean waves are all I hear.
Bolts of lightning race through the water toward me from six directions.
When they strike me, my body splits in two, and a young Yagrin with shining black eyes steps out of the corpse.
He jumps out of the ocean onto a tiny island, takes a deep breath, and looks down.
A tiny storm full of colors balances on his green, outstretched hand.
The storm is surrounded by a shell of healing energy, with a hint of salt water that it captured from the sea.

I won’t find strength by hiding from the power in the wells, but I have to give it shape and balance.
My healing body returns without being called, goes faster and faster around me, and forms a moving cocoon, twelve feet wide.
I mix faint traces of ocean water into the healing body.
The sound of ocean waves is heard for a moment, and a great calm washes over me.

I look deep into the black well that surrounds me within the cocoon.
Storms rage within the well, but I’m not afraid.
I call to the storms.
Black fire races out of the well, and pours into each of the other wells, four waves of fire for each of the seven wells.
I spin a feeling, an invitation, around each of the seven wells.
Wild colored storms rise in the wells, and four waves of colored fire, edged in black, burst out from each one.
Twenty-eight streams of fire mix with my healing body, and form a transparent, spherical shell with sparks of green.
Of course it’s green, the source of balance among the wells.

My energy eyes scan the space within the sphere, and find a stable, rich matrix of energy that looks like the great web, plus scattered traces of green energy.

Now, the work begins.
At first, I can’t keep a stable web for more than a minute.
I focus too much on the shell, and the streams of fire weaken, or I get lost in the storms and the fire, and the shell explodes.
I heal myself, and start again.
After an hour of practice, and a few new bodies, I can bring the web in eight seconds and hold it for twenty minutes.

It takes the same effort to make a shell at any size between twelve and forty-eight feet feet wide. Outside that range, I can’t hold the web together for more than a few seconds.
I’ll accept that limitation, for now.

Can I use this web to fly?
Energy weavers glide on the great web by letting the rivers of energy carry us, but how can I carry myself?

It’s simple.
Whatever part of the great web that my shell touches, will be temporarily rebalanced.
All I have to do is extend one end of the shell like a healing hand, in the direction I want to travel, and then fly along the healthy path.

Time to taste the air.
It takes me an hour of practice before I can hover in the air, even for a second.
Slowly, I get better.
Eight hours later, the daylight is gone, and it’s time to return to the city.
But the shell feels like an old friend.
I raise it with barely a thought, hold it as long as I wish, and claim my place in the sky again.

Shazira and I are alone in our room when I start to tell her about the shell.
“You can do what?!” asks Shazira.

“I told you.”
“I can make my own small web.”

I give her the details.

“Amazing, Yagrin, but there are many unanswered questions.”
“What will happen to your shell and web when they contact other people, water, fire, buildings, energy blasts?”
“Will energy penetrate the shell from outside?”
“Can you fire weapons through it from the inside?”

“I’m planning to practice again, tomorrow.”
“I’ll test the shell all day.”

“Are you the only master in this world?
“Teach us to do what you do!”

“Today’s practice took my body, more than once, and I have years of experience with the wells.”
“Should I condemn you and the sisters to death?”

“What about showing us how to use your web?”
“Your shell is a fifty-foot sphere.”
“Bring other masters near it or into it, and let them try and draw energy.”
“See if you can maintain the web, while they flow or heal.”

“You’re right.”
“Assemble twelve masters.”
“We’ll leave an hour after first light.”
“I’ll find out the shell’s limitations, and mine.”
“If the shell proves strong enough, I’ll go to Tshuan the following day, and contact the emperor.”

I slip away in the night for more practice, returning an hour before first light.
I want to make sure that the masters who join me in the day will be safe.
As I expected, Shazira is part of the group.
Our tests are a complete success.
The shell isn’t affected by energy blasts coming in or going out.
The masters gain their full strength, as long as they are inside the sphere, or within three feet of it.
And I don’t even notice when they draw power from my web.
The only limitation is they can’t fly without armbands.

I send them back to the city after a few hours, and practice alone until midnight comes.

 
Aiding the Enemy
I walk up to one of the Kizak healing centers in Tshuan, wearing long black robes with golden circles by each wrist.
I need to find out what they’re doing in the centers.
My shell sparkles with green energy, and it catches the eye of a Kizak guard.

“What do you want citizen?” asks the guard, in Jiku.
“Do you have a medical problem?

I answer in fluent Kizak.
“I was a healer, once, before the cage.”

“The old world is gone.”

“I know.”
“I want to learn about the healing machines.”
“Maybe I can work here someday.”

“Wait here.”
“I’ll speak to the director.”

A Kizak woman comes back with the guard.
“I’m Oohli.”

“Yagrin.”

“Did you search him?” she says to the guard.
“Sorry, Yagrin,” she tells me, “but we’ve had problems, and I need to make sure you’re not carrying weapons.”

“Go ahead,” I tell the guard.

“He’s not carrying anything, not even a commdisk.”

“What makes the cloud of sparks?” she asks.

“It’s natural.”

She frowns and makes me stand inside a scanner.
“There are no electronics in you,” she says, surprised.

“I told you.”

She looks worried.

“I’m harmless.”

“Don’t let him inside,” says the guard.

Oohli calls another guard to walk with us, as we go inside.
“I’ve been curious to speak with a healer, but they won’t speak of the old ways.”

“They’re afraid.”

“You’re not?”

“No.”
“I can take care of myself.”

“That’s a strange garment, similar to one of the robes worn in the Guild lands.”

“I lived there once.”

She displays images of organs, tissue samples, different types of cells, and asks me to identify them.
I know them all, the healthy and the diseased.

“Were all healers so knowledgeable?”

“Some.”

“Let me show you the birthing area.”

“Why do these women come here to give birth?” I ask her,
“Complications were always rare among the Tshuans.”

“We provide vaccinations for the newborn babies, and intelligence enhancements.”

My heart pounds.
“What kind of enhancements?”

“Don’t worry.”
“The process isn’t invasive.”
“The device emits energy that passes through the newborn baby’s skull and stimulates growth in key areas of the brain.”
“It’s completely safe.”
“We’ve been giving it to Kizak babies for years.”

These enhancements bury energy talent, and have side effects.

An alarm sounds, and she looks at her commdisk.
“What’s wrong?” I ask her.

“Terrorists attacked a group of ten Kizak guards near the center.”
“They’re being brought here now, and I’m the only one who can handle these injuries.”
“You have to go.”

“I can help.”

“You don’t know Kizak anatomy, or how to use our machines.”

I reach into her mind, and take the information I need.
I explain what each machine does, and how it’s used.

“How do you know this?”

The guards are brought in.
I scan them quickly.

“There’s no time to explain,” I tell her.
“Let me work on these three,” I say, pointing to the most critically injured.
“By the time you finish with the others, they’ll be dead.”
“You lose nothing by letting me try.”

She has them brought to one station, while she goes to another and starts working.
I seal the bleeding arteries with my healing sense, and connect all three to blood transfusers.
They have severe organ damage, and there are no Kizak organs available for transplant.
Some are missing limbs.

My healing body spreads over them to keep them alive while I work.
I shape replacement organs and limbs compatible with their tissue types, and put them in place, repairing the blood vessels and nerves.
It takes me ten minutes for each of the guards.

I look up when I’m done with the last one, and I see Oohli watching me.

“You gave them new organs and limbs!”
“How?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I was here when they first came in, and the station AI registered their internal condition.”
“I saw limbs appear in your hands, and watched the display as organs shaped themselves inside the last guard!”
“You’re still a healer, even inside the cage!”

I take a wipe and clean the blood and dirt off the faces of my patients.
One opens her eyes, and I recognize her.

“What’s your name?” asks Oohli.

“Talika.”

“Do you remember what happened?”

“A bomb went off as we passed through an empty plaza.”
“I was bleeding to death when I passed out.”

I finish wiping the dirt off her face.
“What is that Jiku doing here, and why is he touching me?”

“I saved your life,” I answer in Kizak.

“You look like the boy that’s with the Tshuan queen.”

“He’s my son.”

She grabs Oohli’s arm.
“He’s dangerous.”
“The emperor will want him captured.”

She aims a blow at my throat, but I grab her arm.
Talika reaches for her weapon with her other hand.

“Are you crazy?” asks Oohli.
“Would you fire a weapon in here?”
“Besides, this Jiku saved your life and gave you new limbs.”

One of the other guards fires at me with a stun blast, but my shield blocks it.

“I’m not here to harm anyone, but I need to speak with the emperor.”

Oohli goes to the wall and contacts the emperor’s ship.
She speaks to a guard on the ship, and the image fades.

“What did they say?”

“I told the guard what happened here, and he’ll show the message to the emperor.”
“Wait.”

Talika and the other guards stand up, and point their weapons at me.
I don’t want them firing in here, and hurting any of the patients.
Before they can move, I make their weapons vanish.
They assault me, but I put them down without hurting them.

“Stop!” cries a voice from the display.
Teyus.

 
Truce
“Emperor,” says Talika, getting up.

“You must be Yagrin,” says the emperor.
“Or should I call you Neyima?”

Talika looks at the emperor, puzzled, and then looks at me.
“I don’t understand,” she says.

“It’s good to see you again, emperor.”

“Liar.”
“You wanted to kill me, and twisted Disu’s mind until he killed himself!”

“If I wanted you dead, I would have killed you on the homeworld.”
“Remember that I revealed the identity of traitors among the palace guard, and you rewarded me by ordering my death.”
“I only wanted to stop the Kizak from coming to Siksa, but I failed.”
“And I never harmed Disu.”
“It was the mind corps that twisted him, so he would shoot me.”

“What do you want, Neyima?” he asks, angrily.

“My son.”
“You’re holding him.”

“Siksa is part of the empire now.”
“The Tshuan government ordered the confinement of Berek and the Queen.”
I arranged for it to be comfortable and safe.”
“My guards assist.”
“That’s all.”

“The cage no longer affects me.”
“I can take him by force, but I’d rather not.”

“It would be a tragedy if your son was killed during your attack.”

I take Neyima’s Kizak form.
Oohli and many of the others move back, frightened.
“You don’t want to get me angry.”

“Will you kill thousands of Kizak, like your daughter?”
“And all the Jiku that want to be part of the empire?”

“I’ll do whatever is necessary, but I have no love of death, great father.”
“Today I saved the lives of three of your guards.”

“You saved me?” asks Talika, “even though I once tried to kill you?”

“I didn’t know it was you when I healed you, but I would have done it anyway.”
“You did what any of the guard would do.”

“Are you behind these Jiku attacks on my guards, Neyima?” asks the emperor.

“No.”
“I’ve only been back on Siksa for a few days.”

“I have nothing more to say to you.”
“Berek stays where he is.”
“If you’re as strong as you promise, you’ll take him, but there will be consequences.”
“I will no longer risk my guards to protect the old guild masters from terrorist attacks.”

“I have something to offer you.”

“More lies?!”

“No.”
“I uncovered plots against you before I left Wenri.”
“The leaders of the palace guard are working with the corps to arrange your death, and rule in your place.”

“You and I are enemies.”
“Why would you help me?”

“The ones who replace you will be far more vicious than you have been.”

“Tell me what you know.”
“If I’m convinced, I’ll arrange for Berek’s release.”

The screen goes blank.
I turn toward Talika.
“Someone on the emperor’s ship blocked the connection!”
“They’ll kill him.”

“You sabotaged the equipment here.”

“I don’t think so,” says Oohli.
“I can still connect with medical staff on the ships.”

“I have to go!” says Talika.

“You’ll never reach him in time.”
“Give me the position of his ship, and I’ll take you there.”

One of the guards fires on Talika, but I protect her with my shield.
She picks up a weapon and shoots him.

“I don’t trust you,” she says.

I give her the memory that I pulled from the guard.
She hesitates.

“There’s no time, Talika.”
“If I’m right, and we don’t act now, he’s dead.”

She shows me an image of the emperor’s ship, and its current orbit.

“Tell me where he was calling from in the ship.”
She shows me where the emperor’s rooms are in the ship.

I open a gate to the ship, and take her with me.

When we appear in the emperor’s chamber, five guards have their weapons pointed at Teyus.
Four turn away from him and fire at us.
The fifth fires at the emperor.
My shield protects us all.
I knock the guards to the ground, leaving the emperor and his advisor, Sakool, unharmed.

“Thank the creator that they failed, emperor,” says Sakool.
His heart rate increased after the guards were shot.
Was he part of the plot?
I find the mind shield device in Sakool’s belt, disable it, and reach into his thoughts.

“Why did you save me?” the emperor asks me.
“Do you want the pleasure of killing me yourself?”

“I’m tired of this talk, Teyus.”
“I saved you.”
“Just accept it.”

Sakool moves slowly away from the emperor, but I block his path.
“Where are you going, advisor?”

“I don’t answer to you, Jiku.”

“He’s part of the plot,” I tell the emperor.

“Neyima lies, great father,” says Sakool.

I turn Sakool’s thoughts into images and sound, and display them in the room.
His thoughts grow more frantic, and his face follows.
Finally, he runs for the door.
Talika stuns him.

“I pulled some useful information from his mind.”
“Two members of the mind corps in your fleet are still loyal to you.” I tell the emperor.
“The other five are traitors.”
“A third of the palace guard in the fleet are aware of the plot.”
“But it’s difficult to say what the others would do if their commanders ordered them to oppose you.”
“The regular guard are still loyal.”

“There were twelve hundred of the palace guard when we came to Siksa, but a thousand were on the lead ship that Tzina destroyed.”
“What about Talika?” asks the emperor.
“Can I trust her?”

“I’ve already scanned her.”
“She’s completely loyal to you.”

“How can I listen to you, Neyima?”
“What if you twisted the minds of Sakool and the guards, so you could save me and gain my trust.”

“Seal the door, wait here, and watch the sunward sensors.”
“I’ll be back soon.”

A gate takes me a hundred thousand miles into space, toward the sun.
Four minutes later, five small spheres take shape within my shell.
They’re called Spheres of Itarus, some of the most powerful weapons that Siksa has ever seen.
I place them a hundred feet apart, and set the timers to go off every five seconds, starting in one minute.

“Nothing happened,” says Talika, when I return.

“Watch.”
The bombs detonate, lighting up the display.

“Don’t worry,” says the emperor when his commanders contact him.
“It’s only a test.”

“What’s the point of this, Neyima?”

“Look at the energy output of each explosion.”

The emperor looks at his display.
“They’re not planet killers, but they’re close.”
“How big were they?”

“Two feet across.”

“Incredible.”

“I brought five of them into existence in empty space, while you waited.”
“Anytime I want to, I could put ones just like them aboard your ships, and destroy them all.”

“Impressive, but remember that my ships can turn the whole planet into rubble!”
“And I’ve hidden weapons on the surface that can level your population centers, if the ships are destroyed.”

“I’ve seen the plans for other colonies, so I’m not surprised.”
“That’s why we need to find a better way to settle this.”

“I’m listening.”

“Release Berek and Keela, and leave the energy masters alone.”
“Stop the enhancements at the healing centers.”
“According to Kizak law established by the first emperor, colony status is not final until a year after first acceptance.”
“The colony must ask for permanent membership at that time.”
“Before then, Kizak law has no power on Siksa, and your guards are only visitors.”

“That’s an old law, not followed for centuries.”

“But never rescinded, and it can only be changed by a joint session of the emperor and his council on the homeworld.”
“In return, I’ll help you find and capture the traitors on your ships.”

“What about your daughter?”

“Exile beyond the end of the world for ten months can take the place of death, according to the ancient books.”
“And when she returns, she must serve the Kizak people for the rest of her life.”

“It’s a legend Yagrin.”
“The end of the world is a universe apart, with no sun or stars, where no ship could ever reach.”
“What lies beyond that?”
“And how could she go and return?”

“She’s there, emperor.”
“When her exile is over, I’ll show you the place, and bring you back safely.”

“If she agrees to serve the Kizak people when the time is up, and you can prove your words are true, I’ll consider it.”

“And the rest?”

“Agreed.”
“Keep your Kizak body, and go find the traitors.”


Empire of Stone -- 4: ReturnPrevious StoryNext Story
  1. Allies and Enemies
  2. Strangers and their Gifts
  3. Diplomacy and Death
  4. Fall
  5. Sanctuary
  6. Treason
  7. Rescue
  8. Eclipse
  9. Standoff
  10. Into the Storm
  11. Sleepers
  12. Choosing Death
  13. Peace and Destruction
  14. Sacrifice and Rebellion

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