Sinesu waits, the home planet of the Jiku.
Makish and I watch it on the viewer as Keesha’s ship completes its first orbit.
I’ve never been there, but I can feel its soft dirt beneath my feet, and taste its sweet air.
I can’t explain it, but the memories are mine.
Sinesu is a little bigger than earth.
Its wide, blue seas surround one immense continent, with thick rivers that pierce the green and red forests.
The air on Sinesu is heavier with oxygen than earth, and this world is rich with plant and animal life.
Not many Jiku call this world home, barely twenty thousand.
Before the Fiklow war, there were a billion Jiku here, and the old forests were shrinking every year.
Now, the forests rule again, and the Jiku live quietly in a ring of small towns.
In war, the Fiklow send death to the homes of those who attack them.
It’s the old Fiklow way.
Every world that sent ships against the Fiklow was wiped out.
World after world was filled with death.
Sinesu was the last world to fall.
A few Jiku ships escaped through the possibility sea, but the fleet was destroyed.
All military facilities on the planet were leveled.
Then, the Fiklow sent death to the population in a way that left the rest of the planet unharmed.
Thousands of missiles entered the atmosphere of the target planet.
The missiles were filled with a virus, bound to nanites, and opened close to the ground.
Virus and nanite pairs swarm out of each missile, forming a beautiful white cloud.
The cloud reached the ground, active, and hungry only for Jiku.
Nanites guided the virus to the Jiku.
A few weeks, and all the Jiku were dead.
Then, the nanites consumed the remnants of the virus, and self-destructed.
Sinesu continued to circle its sun, as a quiet world, empty of Jiku, until a few hundred years ago.
One of the surviving Jiku colonies resettled Sinesu with the help of the Fiklow.
They are a strange race, full of cruelty and kindness, like Humans and Jiku.
The Fiklow kill the families of their enemies without mercy, but they help the Jiku worlds that never attacked them.
I asked Keesha to bring us here, to Sinesu, and I messaged Botzar to join us.
This is the first of the Jiku worlds that Makish and I will visit while we wait for a new queen to be found.
As we travel, my thoughts are clouded by a choice that weighs on me.
Who will I abandon to death and destruction?
This universe is threatened by Diwan, an invisible, deadly enemy.
Do I trust the cryptic words of an ancient queen, and believe that Botzar and I are destined to conquer the Spiral?
If I leave here, the Fiklow will be destroyed or decimated, and all the Jiku in this universe will die.
If I stay here to fight, What will happen to my own world, and my family?
I feel that war is coming to my people on Siksa.
Perhaps the Fiklow will be part of it, but they will not start this war.
Will it be a war of Jiku against Jiku, like the energy war?
Or something even worse, like the Spiral?
I must go home, but once I travel through the possibility sea to fight for my own world, I can’t come back.
The return trip would kill even me.
I want to choose this universe and my own, but how?
Somewhere on Sinesu lies part of the answer.
I feel it.
Botzar signals me on the messager disk as he approaches Keesha’s ship.
Until a few hours ago, Botzar hid from Fiklow patrols.
No ordinary Jiku ship is permitted to carry the level of weapons that the scout ship has.
Now, with the excuse that I will soon be traveling on that ship, Botzar’s vessel broadcasts an authorization signal, with an encrypted message from Commander Keesha.
I’ve already told Botzar about the queen, and my role as shadow, but I’m waiting to tell him in person about Diwan and the twin suns.
Botzar’s ship docks by the transition chamber, and Makish and I transfer to his ship.
I still walk in the Mehkeel shape, hiding my face, at least until we get on the ground.
“I’m happy to be away from the Fiklow,” says Botzar, as we move away Keesha’s ship.
“They treat the Jiku like children.”
“The war is long over.”
“It’s time that they let us carry real weapons on our ships.”
“Botzar,” I answer, “it’s only the military who treat the Jiku like this.”
“Energy masters from both sides have been working together in secret for centuries.”
“They treat each other like brothers.”
I tell him about the school.
“It’s hard to believe, Yagrin,” he answers.
“None of the Jiku ever mention it, and I rarely hear them speak well of any Fiklow.”
“I’m not surprised,” says Makish.
“The school is hidden from the Fiklow military, and the Jiku assume that you’re a Fiklow spy.”
“Even if they know about the school, they won’t admit it to you.”
“Did you tell anyone that you’re an energy master?”
“No,” he answers.
“The energy binders here are less than our apprentices, like children standing against a lightning storm.”
“It’s better if they know nothing of our abilities, or where we come from.”
Makish pauses for a few seconds.
“You’re right,” she says.
“It’s better to be treated like strangers or spies, than be feared for being different and powerful.”
“Yagrin no longer has that choice.”
“Word of his actions will reach here, and the Jiku will know of his power.”
Makish has prepared herself to tell Botzar who she is, and her shyness is gone.
“What happened to the shy girl?” asks Botzar.
“You may meet her again when we land,” answers Makish, “but at least, you’ll learn her name.”
“What will we learn about you, Yagrin?” asks B’tzel.
“Why did you reveal that you’re different and powerful, and why do you still cling to that strange shape?”
“When we land,” I tell him, “I’ll answer all your questions, but not here.”
Soon, the ring of five Jiku towns are visible.
Botzar signals them, and we land near the largest one.
The officials at the landing port are visibly uncomfortable with us.
Especially with the strange shape that I carry.
“The Fiklow told us to give you special treatment, on the authority of Commander Keesha.”
“For a Fiklow, she’s all right.”
Keesha is well known among the Jiku.
“The order says that we treat the one called Yagrin with the respect due a Fiklow commander.”
“I’m guessing that must be you, the strange, hairy one,” he says, looking at me.
The form that I walk in is far stronger than a Jiku or human body.
The Gen world is even larger than Sinesu, and the gravity is more than twice that of earth.
My expressions are not fierce, but this body seems to radiate power, and inspire fear.
The official is trying to stay calm, and hide his fear.
“At least you breathe air,” he says to me at last.
“I’m a friend, not a threat,” I tell him, “and I walk as a Jiku, when I don’t wear this strange form.”
“You’re a Jiku?” asks the official.
“Yes,” I answer.
“You must be an energy binder.”
“I’ve heard of binders changing the shape of small objects,” he says, “but never transforming living things, or themselves!”
“I’ll message the elder binder.”
“She’ll want to hear about this.”
“Tell us where to find her,” says Makish.
“Rest,” says the official, “and she’ll come to meet you.”
“People here are nervous around strangers, especially if they’re friends of the Fiklow.”
He leads us to some kind of lounge, and gives us food and drink.
The windows are open to the outside, and a light breeze blows into the room.
The air is delicious after the stale ship’s air, and the extra oxygen in the atmosphere has a calming effect.
“Wait here,” says the official.
“The elder will arrive in a few minutes.”
“Thanks,” I tell him.
I stand at the window and look at the forests in the distance.
Even within the settlement, there are trees everywhere.
I look out the window, above the trees.
There’s a flock of twenty-three tiny Heelu flying down toward our building.
They hover, just outside the screens that cover our windows, and a crowd starts to gather.
I flow away the screens on the windows, and the Heelu enter.
They fly around me, as though they’re waiting for something.
I take my own Jiku shape, and release the glow.
The Heelu soak up the glow, and double in size.
Then they fly out the window, and rise up into the sky.
“What just happened?” asks B’tzel.
“I have a kind of energy,” I say, “that I call the glow.”
“It was given me by creatures called Feldin.”
“The Heelu are attracted to the glow.”
“Apparently, they feed off of it.”
Botzar looks at me, and then I’m flying across the room.
I hit the floor hard.
“Take whatever shape you want, Yagrin,” says Botzar, angry, “but not mine.”
I rise up on the web, and throw him back against the wall.
Makish stands between us.
“Stop it, both of you!” she says.
Botzar and I glare at each other.
“Sit down, Botzar,” says Makish.
“We both have something to tell you.”
“I’ll stand,” he says, annoyed that I’m still using his shape.
As he looks at me, the annoyance on his face turns to recognition and shock.
I look at Makish.
“You first,” I tell her.
“Botzar,” she says slowly.
“Look at me.”
“I don’t need to look at you,” Botzar says, frustrated.
“You look exactly like a friend from my youth.”
“Do you copy her shape to haunt me, like Yagrin has copied mine?”
“This is my own shape, Botzar,” she answers.
“No,” he says, “you’re just like her.”
“You must be a genetic copy.”
“No,” she says.
Makish is quiet, waiting for Botzar to understand.
“I am Makish,” she says, at last.
Botzar sits down.
“Not after a thousand years.”
Makish moves her hand toward his shoulder, but stops a few inches away, and her hands fall to her sides.
“Remember when Yagrin spoke of the old ones?” she asks.
“I was chosen by the Bizra to be an old one, and spent a thousand years traveling in the vats.”
“The only Mind Weaver among them.”
“How did you become young again?” he asks.
“When Yagrin helped us return to our Jiku form, we all returned at the age of twenty.”
Botzar takes a drink.
“I invited you to the bonding ceremony with my bondmate,” he says.
“You never messaged me, and you didn’t come.”
“You expected me to come?!” she yells.
“It should have been me with you, not her.”
“At least you’re alive,” he says.
“If I bonded with you, then it would have been you that I killed when I released the sword.”
The room is filled with an awkward silence.
“These are old wounds,” says Botzar, “from a long dead past.”
“Let the dead stay dead.”
“The two of you still live.” I say.
“This is our sorrow,” he says, angrily, “not yours.”
“What is your story?” he asks.
“What are you waiting to tell me?”
“This is my true form,” I say quietly, as my heart pounds.
“I was born fifty years ago.”
“I’m a perfect copy of you,” I tell him, given your genetic code so the sword will answer to me.”
“The sword?!” asks Botzar, his face turning white.
He stands up and moves close to me.
“No,” he yells.
“It must stay hidden.”
He raises his fists.
“Will you destroy his life, Sindar, as you destroyed mine?”
He sounds like a madman, talking to the air.
He turns to me.
“Promise me, Yagrin, that you’ll never search for the sword.”
“It’s too late for me to hide from the sword, Botzar,” I answer.
“I’ve been to the breath of life.”
“How did you know that the sword was there, and why did the breath let you in?”
“I knew that I needed to go there, but I wasn’t looking for the sword.”
“I went there with my family, seeking only peace and love, and giving gratitude for life’s treasures.”
“The breath welcomed us, and the sword revealed itself to me.”
“As the bracelets showed themselves to my bondmate and daughter.”
“The family must be four,” says Botzar cryptically, “not three.”
“I have a son,” I tell him, “and Berek carries the shield easily.”
Botzar sits down again, and his thoughts are far away.
“The Dream Hunter promised,” he says, “that my family would use the sword for peace, but it makes no sense.”
“I have no descendants.”
“Your daughter survived, Botzar,” I tell him.
“The current Tshuan kings and others are descended from her.”
“My mother comes from her.”
“Even if I’m a copy of you, I was still born from my mother’s womb.”
“It’s enough to make the Dream Hunter’s words true.”
“There was no copy of me, Yagrin,” he says with a pained voice.
“All my genetic material was destroyed, along with the genetic material of all kings before me.”
“We’re born from the same twisted egg, along with our other, cursed brothers.”
“What are you talking about, Botzar?” I ask.
“I’ll tell you what I’ve heard and seen,” he says, “but I can’t promise how much of it is true.”
“When I was twenty, and still a prince, a package was left at the palace message center.”
“Gold foil wrapped around a light, crystal box, without a note of explanation.”
“The box was engraved with the symbol of Sindar, the PathFinder, on its top, and an image of me on the side.”
“No one, including the energy masters could find a way to open it, or see what was inside.”
“Eventually, my father allowed me to handle the box myself, but the box was quiet, and remained closed, its contents a mystery.”
“I thought that the box would never open, until one day I showed it to Makish.”
“She touched it while I held it, and it opened.”
“I remember how excited we were,” says Makish.
“There was a yellow and blue crystal cube in the box,” says Botzar.
“The cube was silent to everyone, except me.”
“You never told me that the cube spoke to you,” says Makish.
“I wondered why you stared at it for so long!”
“The message sounded in my head, in my own voice,” says Botzar.
So says Sindar, the ancient.
Tell no one of this message, and meet me, at new day, by the silver falls.
Hear these words well, that are older than me.
They tell of your birth:
Let the eyes vanish.
Four will rise on storms of possibility.
Three arrogant, and one a coward.
Four sons, colored by a fifth, in the shadow of a woman.
Only Bizra eyes will bind the arrogance.
One a killer, but two will kill.
Two will die, and one will be reborn.
Two will see the way to walk all paths, but only one will walk them.
“I told no one about the message, until now.”
“Not you, Makish, and not my father.”
“Really, there was nothing to tell.”
“I had no idea what it meant.”
“Still, I went to the silver falls at new day.”
“What are the silver falls?” I ask him.
“Did someone meet you there?”
“The silver falls were a beautiful place that was vaporized by the sword.”
“They were a ring of seven falls that fell around the sides of a cylindrical rise of rock.”
“At new day, the falls looked silver.”
“I went quietly, an hour before new day, and waited.”
“The sunlight rose over the horizon and struck the falls, turning them silver.”
“There, hovering over the falls was the figure of a man, in a black robe.”
“He glided down to where I sat, and removed the hood from his face.”
“His face was identical to yours and mine.”
“My name is Sindar,” he said, “and you are my brother.”
“Once we were four.”
“Benzu is dead, and three remain.”
“Benzu and I were first to be born, a hundred thousand years ago, and you were next.”
“You’re a hundred thousand years old?!”
“I’ve slept almost all of that time.”
“Where is the other living brother?”
“He’s an embryo, waiting in stasis.”
“It’s not yet time for him to be born.”
“Am I supposed to understand your message?” I asked him, frustrated.
“They are Dream Hunter’s words,” he said, “spoken a short time before Benzu and I were born.”
“Dream Hunter’s words are a sharp trap, Botzar.”
“They will not let you rest, and will not let you go.”
“They are often impossible to understand until after the events have come.”
“I gave you the words to make you curious, and challenge you.”
Botzar turns to me, and touches my shoulder.
“Whatever else the message means, Yagrin, this much I know!”
“The fate of the world rests on you, and you are the fourth brother.”