Worlds Within Worlds

 
Death
The bed is hard, and my head aches as sleep leaves me.
A groan escapes my lips.
I can’t remember who I am, or how I got here.
My heart beats quickly as fear takes hold of me.
Then I take a deep breath and clear my thoughts to push aside the fear.
I sit up slowly, and find a large room with five beds, all empty except for mine.

There’s a young girl at the far end of the room.
She offers me a drink of water, but avoids looking me in the eyes.
“Are you all right, master?”

“I can’t remember who I am.”
“What is this place?”

“The Healing Center.”
“You were hurt in an earthquake.”
“Let me get the healers.”
“They will complete your treatment, and answer your questions.”

“Go.”

The girl is frightened of me.
Why?

Three women enter the room, and approach me.
Their cloaks identify them as healers.
Ah. So I haven’t forgotten everything.

“Lie down, please, and close your eyes,” says the oldest.

They stand near me for a few minutes, and their bodies seem to glow.
How could I see a glow with my eyes closed?
My whole body relaxes, energy rushes through me, and my headache fades.

“Open your eyes.”
“Has your memory returned?”

“No, I’m empty.”

The three of them sweep their hands and arms over my body in smooth, graceful movements.
“Still nothing,” I tell them, after they stop, “but I know your movements.”

“That’s good,” says the oldest.
“You’ve seen them before, and bits of your memory are coming back.”

“I don’t remember seeing the movements.”
“I remember using them to heal.”

“How could that be, master?”
“You’re no healer, and you have no interest in healing.”
None of them meet my eyes.

“Why do you look away from me?”
“Are you embarrassed that your healing has failed?”

None of them answer, but one looks in my eyes for a moment.

“You,” I say, pointing to her, “what’s your name?”

“Kari.”

“I can’t remember who I am, Kari.”
“Tell me why you’re all afraid of me.”

“I’m not afraid,” she says, “at least, not as much as they are.”

I smile at her.
“Good, I need answers.”
“Start by telling me my name.”

“Some say that you killed your parents at birth, and no one dared give you a name.”
“Others say that you never had parents, and were formed by the creator when the world was new.”

“You are death, master.”
“No one alive knows your true name.”
“When it is time for us to die, you speak your name so that only we may hear it, and our soul leaves the body!”

I laugh.
“I’m death, and millions of years old?”
“Why would you believe these ridiculous stories about me.”
“I look no different than you.”

She doesn’t smile.
“None of us know the years of the world, master, but everyone knows that you don’t die.”
“You let go of one body and take another.”
“Many living people have seen it, and we have records three thousand years old that speak of you, and show your face.”
“When searchers found you unconscious after the earthquake, we thought you were about to die, and the world itself would come to an end.”
She shudders.

“Can you give me back my memory?”

“We’ve done all that we can.”
“At least you have your strength.”
“Your memory will probably return within a few days.”
“You can return here, if you want, and we’ll repeat the treatments once each day.”

The other healers glare at her, for encouraging me to return.
They want to stay far from me.

“What do people call me, other than master?”

“The five masters all hide their true names, but people call you DeathWalker.”

“There are only five of us?”
“Do I know the others?”

“You live with one, and know the others.”

“How do I contact them?”

“We’ve sent messages to them that you’ve woken up.”
“Your bondmate will be here soon.”

 
Guardian
I send them out while I get dressed.
Kari is waiting in the hallway when I leave the room, and she stares at my feet.

I look down.
The floor changes when I step on it.
A round circle of blue and orange crystal forms under me, and moves as I walk.

“What do these colors mean, Kari?”

“No one knows, but all of the masters are shadowed by crystal, each with their own colors.”

She leads me upstairs to the roof.
“Why here?” I ask her.

“Your mate rarely walks in our shape.”
“She would never fit through the doors and halls of the center.”

Kari doesn’t say it, but I hear the question spoken in her mind: “Why would you bond with a monster?”

She leads me to one side of the building.
“This is the west side.”
“You always wait on the west side.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, but you always do.”

Something large approaches from the south with great wings of silver and green.
A yellow mist follows her as she flies.
Her cry shakes the loose objects on the roof, and the color fades from Kari’s face.

This creature is my mate?
I feel the emotions that it feels.
Despite her appearance, she is no monster.

“What is she master of, Kari?”

“War.”
“She protects the city from our enemies.”
“We call her DragonShield.”

When the creature lands, the roof under her changes to a circle of crystal – silver, green, and yellow.
“Leave us,” says the creature to Kari, in a booming voice.

Kari runs into the stairway and goes out of sight.
The dragon changes into a Jiku woman and hugs me.
She has the most beautiful gold and green eyes.

“Your eyes are extraordinary.”
“Are they common here?”

She laughs.
“They are extremely rare.”
“The healer said that your memory is gone, but you could find a mirror, and see what you look like.”

She shapes a mirror out of air, and shows me my face.
I have the same eyes.

“I can’t remember anything, although you feel familiar.”
“I recognize my own face, but not my eyes.”
“They’re beautiful, but they’re not mine.”

“You’re strange today, Death.”
“I hardly know you.”

“Are you a dragon that sometimes takes a woman’s shape, or a woman that takes a dragon shape?”

“I’m a woman,” she says with a laugh, “but I do love the dragon shape.”

“How old are you, that you bond with someone as ancient as me?”

“I don’t know,” she answers.
“I’ve searched, but there’s no record of my birth, anywhere in this world.”
“They say that I’ve protected the city for many generations.”
“The first mention of me is in records over a century old, but they don’t speak of me arriving, just a battle I fought.”
“I can’t remember coming here, or any life before I came.”
“I know we were bonded long ago, but I can’t remember where or when.”

“Do you have a name?”

“I do, but I can’t remember it.”
“You call me Dragon.”
“Legend says that if one of the masters speaks their name aloud, the world will end.”

“Before the earthquake, did I remember my whole life?”

“I don’t know.”
“You never spoke of it.”

“You never asked?”

“No.”
“I wasn’t interested.”

“Isn’t that strange?”

“A little.”

“Doesn’t it bother you that you can’t remember your name or your life before you came here?!”

“I’ve gotten used to the idea that I belong here.”
“As long as you and the children are near, I’m content.”

“Children?”

“The healers told you about the five masters?”

“Yes, but all they would say of the other three is that I know them.”
“Who are they?”

“Our three grown children.”

That feels right and wrong.
I have children, but grown?

“Do you remember their birth, Dragon?”

“No, and I don’t remember raising them.”

“Take me to them.”
“Maybe seeing you together will open up my memory.”
“I’d like to remember something of my life!”

 
Rings of Life
“Can you fly?” she asks.

“Do I change into a dragon like you?”

“No.”
“You fly just as you are.”

I take a deep breath and close my eyes.”
The thoughts disappear, and my mind quiets down.
Then I wait for a clue that will remind me how to fly.

Energy rushes through me and spins all around me.
I feel it, and almost see it, like it’s hiding behind a thick fog.
Something turns in me, my inner vision clears, and another world shows itself.

A spiral rod, like clear crystal, rises through my center, filled with light and color.
Eighteen spinning rings of energy surround my body, one above the other.
They start just below my feet, and continue to just above my head.

Each ring is a donut-shaped cloud of moving, colored energy.
Each has a different blend of colors, and moves at its own speed.
The rings are wider around the middle of my body, and narrower toward my head and feet.
Funnels of energy connect my head and feet with the rings above and below.

Energy flows from the spiral rod to each ring, like spokes from a hub to the outside of a wheel.
Each spoke is a small funnel of energy, a tiny whirlwind.
A shell of energy connects the outsides of all the rings.

I watch the endless movement, and let myself get lost in it.
This is familiar, comfortable.

I surrender to the rivers of energy that flow around me, and remember how to ride them.
They embrace me and I rise into the air.
Dragon shakes the roof with the sudden movement of her wings, and follows.

 
Lightning and Thunder
“Wait,” she yells.
“Let me pass.”

My gliding on the web is faster than her flight.
“The web,” I think to myself.
“That’s what I call it.”

I slow down, and she moves in front of me, to lead us.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“To our son.”
“He lives just outside the city, to the east.”

Three miles east of the city, we approach a great mountain, its top covered in clouds and lightning.

“Where is his house?”

“On the top of the mountain, in the middle of the storm that never ends.”

“What is his power?”

“He gives birth to every storm that covers our world.”
“No rain falls, or strong wind blows, unless he brings it.”

“The lightning is deadly,” I tell her.
“How can we pass through it?”

“To me, it’s deadly, but not to you or your son.”
“It follows your will like a tame animal.”

I look at the storm with an inner sight, and embrace its energy.
A bubble of light forms around me and Dragon, and we fly through the storm, unharmed.

We land near a great, rectangular house, one story tall, built of black and white crystal.
Lightning strikes the mountain all around the house, in a thick sheet, like rain.

Dragon changes into a woman after she lands, and approaches the smooth wall of the house.
An opening forms for her, and she leads me through it, into the house.
The floor is wood, with a bright finish.

A young man, about twenty, who looks like me, is there to greet us.
As he walks, a circle of black and white crystal moves under his feet.
He hugs us both.

“It’s good to see you, ina,” he says.
“Has your memory returned yet?”

“No,” I tell him, “but I know you.”
“I think I remember you younger.”
“Do you remember being a child?”

“No, but all Jiku forget their childhood when they mature.”

“Death remembers how to glide on the web and tame the storm,” says Dragon.
“The energy ways return to him as easily as breathing.”

“I want to remember more than the energy,” I tell them.
“I want to remember my life!”

“The energy ways were always the most important part of your life, ina.”

Is it true, I wonder.
Have I always neglected my children?

“What are you called?” I ask him.

“The world calls him StormFather,” answers Dragon, “but we call him Thunder.”

Dragon, Thunder.”
“I feel foolish when I think of you with these names,” I tell them.
“I must remember your true names.”

“These are the only names we know, Death.”

“I AM NOT DEATH!”

“Come with us to find your sisters,” she says quietly to Thunder.
“Maybe seeing them will calm your father.”

“I want to help, but I can’t come now,” he answers.
“It’s time for me to go and guide the storms.”
“When you reach the cavern, I’ll know, and I’ll join you.”

“Cavern?” I ask.

“Our older daughter lives beneath the surface, in a great cave.”
“We’ll visit her last.”

 
Starlight
We fly a hundred miles north of the city.
The light around us gets brighter and brighter the farther we go.

“Raise a shield, Death, to protect us from the visible light.”
“Use your inner vision to see the rest of the way.”

I shape a sphere of energy around us, and the outside world disappears.
Then I reach inside to find a different way of seeing.

We fly again, approaching a violet building, shaped like a five-pointed star, floating in the sky.
A young woman, about twenty, floats over the building, and is surrounded by light.

“What is her power?”

“She brings the sun in the morning, and sends it away at night.”
“She tells the stars to appear in the sky and brighten the darkness when the sun rests.”

“What about the moon?”

“Moon?” asks Dragon.
“I don’t know that word.”

The woman flies toward us when we approach, and hugs us in mid-air.
She looks like me, but with golden eyes.
I know her, but she should be younger.

“How old are you?” I ask her.

“None of us remember our age, ina.”
“You know that.”

“I don’t remember anything, little one.”

A strange expression fills her face.
“Why did you call me that, ina?”
“I’m grown up.”

“I don’t know, but it feels right.”
“What do I call you?”

“The Jiku call me LightWeaver, but you and oodah call me Stars.”

“I need to get back my memory,” I tell her, avoiding her name.
“Something is wrong with all of us.”

“You worry too much, ina.”
“There’s nothing here to be afraid of.”

“Come with us to your sister.”
“Maybe if we all get together, it will help me remember.”

“The five of us never come together in one place, ina.”
“You know that!”
“It’s bad luck.”
“How can the world continue, if we all stop our work at the same time?”
“Besides, you know how I hate going below ground.”

“Just this once,” I beg.
“Do it for me.

She sighs.

“Come with us to your sister.”
“Thunder will meet us there.”

“I haven’t seen him in a long time,” she answers.
“I’ll come.”

 
Dreams
Dragon leads the way.
My daughter gets nervous, and starts to look sick as we go underground into a tunnel.
A violet circle of crystal moves under her feet.

“I hate that crystal,” she says, looking down, “and I hate the ground.”
“I want to get back up in the sky where I belong!”
“I hope Thunder is already here.”

“Just a few minutes,” I tell her.

We come out of the tunnel into a huge cavern.
A young woman with golden eyes sits cross-legged on a large round platform of red crystal.
An endless cloud of images floats around her.

“What is her power, Dragon?”

“The world calls her Dream Twister.”
“We call her Dreamer.”
“Each night when people are caught in empty sleep, she dreams the events of the next day, and the world follows her dreams.”

“Empty sleep?”

“Yes, only our daughter’s sleep is filled with the images that she calls dreams.”

“We all have dreams full of random images,” I protest.
“Everyone dreams, although only a few can see the future.”

Dragon look at me like I’m a fool, and speaks slowly.
“No one has dreams except for her.”

“Jiku imagine all sorts of nonsense, Death, but not while they sleep.”
“And you don’t understand what your daughter does.”
“She doesn’t predict the future.”
“She shapes the dream to be whatever she desires, and the world follows along.”

At that moment, Thunder arrives, and the cave starts to fill with fog.
We stand together, and the cave floor beneath us becomes one crystal circle, full of swirling, changing colors.

“It’s good to be with all of you,” I tell them, “but I still don’t remember my life.”

“Maybe I can help,” says Dreamer.

Something crawls through my thoughts, and I want to scratch an impossible itch.
The discomfort fades, and I feel memories bursting out from beneath an ocean.
Still, I can’t reach the memories.

“I’m sorry, ina,” says Stars, pulling me out of my head.
“I can’t stay here any longer.”
She hugs each of us, and starts to walk away.

“Wait,” I call after her.
“A word just came to me, familiar and strange.”
“Maybe one of you can tell me what it means.”

I say aloud, “Yagrin,” and the cave begins to shake.

“I know that word,” says Dragon, surprised at herself.
“It’s your name.”

The memories start to return, all mixed together.
I can’t make any sense of them, except for the names of the masters.
I point to my bondmate and two of my children, and pronounce their true names.
“Shazira, Berek, Dilasa.”
When they hear their names, they disappear.

Tzina, the Dreamer is last.
When I pronounce her name aloud, the world shatters, and I fade away.


Empire of Stone -- 1: Cages of FearPrevious StoryPrevious StoryNext Story
  1. Fading Light
  2. Waking the Council
  3. Challenging the Guilds
  4. Crystal Paths
  5. Caves of Dreams
  6. Worlds Within Worlds
  7. Black Fountain
  8. Secrets of the Game
  9. Fast and Slow
  10. Slavery and Death
  11. Silver Falls
  12. Sounds of Healing
  13. Songs of Change

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