The Eighth Hill
My Jiku eyes adjust quickly to the bright sunlight.
It’s wonderful to see the sky again, and this open, endless world, but I turn my attention back to freeing the old ones.
They don’t have much time.
I scan the hills around me, looking for a place to grow another hill.
Six of the hills form a ring, a mile wide, with the seventh hill at the center of the ring.
The top of the center hill is a hundred feet shorter than the other hills, with a flat top, called the clearing.
Keela’s guards stand in the clearing, surrounding the entrance stone.
They speak into their armbands as soon as I appear, and Keela and Chiwan arrive a few minutes later.
“We must hurry,” I tell them.
“The cavern is crumbling.”
Kayla is shocked.
“Are you ready to free them, Master Yagrin?”
“Do you need the army here to protect the old ones?”
“Bring one hundred guards, Keela, with flight bands.”
“Tell them to get everyone and everything out of the clearing.”
“The clearing will be destroyed when I free the old ones.”
“It will be dangerous to be anywhere inside the ring of hills.”
“Tell the guards to hover a few hundred feet outside the ring.”
“The seven hills are sacred, Master Yagrin!”
“You can’t destroy them!”
“The outer hills will survive, Keela.”
“The seventh hill will change, but I don’t know what it will become.”
“My father won’t agree to this.”
“Don’t argue with me, Keela.”
“The old ones will die, if I don’t act now.”
“I will do whatever is necessary to save them, but if you don’t clear the area now, any of your people inside the ring will die.”
“It’s your choice.”
“I’ll help,” she says quietly.
“How long will it take the guards to get here and clear the area?”
“The area is already clear, Master Yagrin, except for a few guards,” she says quietly.
“If I order it, the one hundred guards will be in position in less than five minutes.”
“Order it now, and follow the guard outside the ring.”
“At the first sign of danger, move everyone even farther back.”
I know how to begin, but I don’t know what will happen, or how long it will take.
The skies fill with guards who take their positions outside the ring of hills.
Keela signals me when everything is ready.
Alone in the clearing, I rise, straight up, until I am high above the seven hills.
My listener expands and touches every part of the seventh hill, each stone, bush, and clump of dirt.
It’s complex beyond measure, but I trust that something within me can do this.
I bring back the listener, raise my hands high, and think of my sisters, the old ones.
I remember the songs that we sang together, and the memories that they shared with me.
Then, I let go of my two outer bodies, and flow myself into an exact twin of the seventh hill.
I am stone, an eighth hill, floating in the sky.
The hills pulse with energy, almost alive, and I am their heart.
My listener flies again, and fills every part of the seventh hill.
My mind fills with the hill’s history, the building of the temple below the hill, and even the lives of the old ones within the caverns.
I close my listening eyes and turn my attention to the sky around me, and the seventh hill below me.
The hill is unchanged, and the old ones are still trapped within.
What else should I do?
Lightning flies from me, seven bolts that strike the seven hills simultaneously.
Energy pulses through me like a heartbeat, and I listen for an inner voice to tell me what to do.
An image fills me, of my Jiku body, standing on its head, spinning.
Now, I understand.
I turn the eighth hill upside down, and start it spinning.
Keela, Chiwan and the guards move back from the intense wind that becomes a small tornado.
Then, I lower myself, until one clearing comes to rest on the other.
The golden grass and red bushes are scattered, and they rise into the sky in the whirlwind, along with the surface dirt.
The stone shakes and cracks where the two hills collide, until a space forms between them.
The ground of the seventh hill opens, and eight rivers of hot blue stone pour across the two clearings.
A light fills the liquid stone, and its energy passes through me into the sky, and through the seventh hill into the cavern below.
The center of my hill turns to fire, and bursts up and out into the sky.
I extend my energy sight, to see what’s happening to the old ones.
The temple is crumbling, but the cave where they’re standing is still undamaged.
Their pattern bodies are transforming!
The top of the seventh hill flows into a fountain of water, exposing the cavern of the old ones, below.
The water passes through the hole in my hill and extinguishes the fire.
The old ones, wearing Jiku bodies, are pulled gently toward me, until they touch my clearing, and form a circle around the smoldering, central hole.
I hold them there, and rise above the hills again, this time, a thousand feet high, and rotate myself, so the clearing again points skyward.
I move out of the ring, hovering above some of the guards who clear out of the way.
The rest of the seventh hill crumbles into bits of rock which shoot skyward, turning a dark blue.
The rock goes up ten thousand feet.
It takes the rough shape of a thick platform, and spins, faster and faster.
As it spins, the rock melts together to form a thick dark blue mass.
Then it falls, and melts onto the ruins of the temple, forming a flat, perfectly round, training circle.
A small dome, of the same blue stone, rises to cover the circle.
Tremors attack a wide area of jagged boulders that surrounds the dome, turning the boulders into a flat, sunken area of grey pebbles.
I move my hill back within the ring of hills, and release the old ones from my clearing, gliding them to the top of one of the outer hills.
Then I drop my hill until my clearing is fifty feet above the training circle.
Tremors fill my hill, and it begins to crumble.
Water and dirt fall over the pebbles, and form a new clearing.
The familiar golden grass rises from the dirt and covers the new clearing.
The remainder of my hill flows into fire and steam, and is gone, except for a single black stone that floats gently onto the top of the dome, and remains there.
I reshape my Jiku body, and land on the new clearing, beside the blue dome.
About half the old ones can fly, and they move toward me, carrying the rest, followed closely by the guards.
“Raise your shields,” says an urgent voice, that I suspect is Niyta’s.
They are women again, each wearing a master’s robe with the bands of their mastery.
A New Beginning
Their bodies are young and strong, all twenty years old.
While I greet them in my middle-aged body.
“Now, Yagrin,” says one of them, “you are the old one.”
“Niyta?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says with a smile.
“What does it feel like to be stone, and yet fly through the sky?”
“I felt old, solid, and safe,” I say.
“I knew that my place was to serve those who needed me.”
“Flying was as natural as breathing.”
“It was something I needed to do to fulfill my purpose, and free you.”
The old ones are walking around excitedly, and talking non-stop with each other.
They are full of sunlight, youth, and joy.
The guards land around the old ones, and wait for further orders.
Chiwan and Keela land near me.
“Master Yagrin,” says Keela, “they look only a few years older than me!”
“Were they all so young when they became old ones?”
“No, Keela,” I answer.
“It’s a gift of the transformation.”
“Remember that I looked the same age, when I was freed from being an old one.”
Niyta introduces herself to Chiwan and Keela.
Keela and Niyta have messaged each other, but have never met before.
The memcubes speak of Niyta as a great healer, so Chiwan is thrilled to meet her.
I let them speak for a few minutes before I make an announcement.
“I’ve asked Chiwan,” I tell the old ones, “to help you adjust to life among us.”
“Ask him for whatever you need.”
“A good choice, Yagrin,” says Niyta.
“Chiwan’s spirit is full of balance, and he is the eldest of my guild among you.”
A few of the old ones that I know by name, re-introduce themselves to me.
Others introduce themselves to me for the first time.
Makish needs no introduction, for I know her by her eyes.
I notice that her robe has mastery bands for healing, flow, energy weaving, and one more that I don’t recognize.
She stands by herself, silent and sad.
The only one who seems unhappy.
“Makish,” I say quietly, “is something wrong?”
“I never imagined, Yagrin,” she says, “that the transformation would make me young again.”
“I don’t want to be young again, and watch my sisters find bondmates and have children.”
“While I stay alone.”
Her eyes fill with tears.
“When the coming war is done, many of my sisters will find bondmates and leave me.”
“As an old woman, I would be content to be a teacher, or an adopted aunt for a family such as yours, but young, I am lost again.”
“I can take away your youth, Makish.”
“How?” she asks.
“I can make you a new body at any age you’ve lived through, with details pulled from your memory.”
“Then I can detach your energy bodies from your young physical body, and reattach them to the older, physical body.”
I replace my fifty-year-old body, with a twenty-year-old body.
Then return again to my original form.
“Do it now, Yagrin,” she says.
“Make me older.”
“If you still want it after the war, I’ll make you older, but not now.”
“The coming war will demand all your strength, and you’ll have greater energy with a young body.”
“Let Shazira, my bondmate, tell you what it’s like to live in our world with fire eyes.”
“You may find a place in this world, just as you are.”
“We don’t fear fire eyes as your world did.”
“You must meet the people of Tshuan!” says Keela.
“Women such as you are sought after here.”
“My father’s grandfather married a woman with fire eyes.”
She thinks it over.
“I’ll wait,” she says.
Sisters of the Long Path
The king arrives, accompanied by his personal bodyguards.
The bodyguards are nervous, unsure of how to protect the king among hundreds of energy masters who wear no inhibitors.
“Commander,” says one of the bodyguards, “there’s no way we can protect you among them.”
“Don’t worry,” says the king, “the old ones have sworn to serve peace, and preserve the balance of the world.”
“What about him?” asks the guard, motioning toward me.
“I trust Master Yagrin with my life, and the life of my family.”
The guard moves away, afraid that he has offended the king.
I introduce the king to Niyta, and several of the others, including Makish.
“You’ve taken one of our hills, Yagrin,” says the king to me with a smile.
“You’re not upset, father?” asks Keela.
“The visions speak of it, Keela.”
“Who am I to hold back the future?”
“Still, Master Yagrin,” he adds, “you’ve taken something from us, and we demand payment.”
“What will you give us in return?”
“I’ve already given you new subjects, Commander,” I answer.
“Many of the old ones were born in Tshuan.”
“We’re no longer old ones,” says Niyta.
“It’s time to accept our new name.”
“What name?” I ask.
“When people speak of an endless length of years,” says Niyta, “they call it the long path.
“The Bizra told us to call ourselves sisters of the long path, or simply the sisters.”
I taste the new name quietly, and find it beautiful.
“Tshuan welcomes you,” proclaims the king in a loud voice, “sisters of the long path.”
“You are all welcome to settle in Tshuan.”
“Thank you for the offer, but it’s too soon for us to decide where we will go.”
“I understand, but will you stay with us for at least one night, before you continue your journey?”
“Tonight, there will be a banquet in your honor.”
“We’re honored, Commander,” answers Niyta.
“I’m told that as old ones you never needed to eat.”
“You must be hungry after a thousand years,” he says with a smile.
Niyta accepts his invitation, on behalf of all the sisters.
“Masters Yagrin, and Chiwan,” says the king, “will you join us, along with your families?”
“I have no family,” says Chiwan, “but I will join the celebration.”
“Master Yagrin?” he asks.
“Of course,” I answer.
“Then it will be my honor to greet you all later,” says the king, and leaves with his bodyguards.”
Keela approaches us.
“We can provide all of you,” she says, “with elegant clothing for the banquet.”
“Our machines will measure you, and make the clothing in a few minutes.”
“What about my family?” I ask her.
“Of course,” she answers.
“Message me when you return with your family, and I’ll tell you where to find me.”
“I’ll help everyone choose clothing for the party,” says Keela, excitedly.
“It’s been so long since my father has made a big celebration,” she whispers to me.
I say my goodbyes and prepare to leave.
“Yagrin,” says Makish, “I know that I ask too much, but may I come with you to bring your family here.”
Niyta eyes me from a distance, encouraging me to say yes.
I would have agreed, anyway.
“Of course, Makish.”
“My family will be honored to meet you.”
Makish flies straight up, for thousands of feet, and I follow.
She flies high, like Chiwan.
She is full of joy, speeding through the open sky.
It’s the first time that I’ve seen her completely happy.