The travel suit is light-grey, a little thicker and heavier than ordinary clothing, and warm to the touch.
It shapes itself to me when I put it on, and I feel a trickle of energy from the shield that spreads across the material.
I soon forget that the suit is there, even the mask that covers my face.
I hover over the towers at ten thousand feet, while I scan through terrain maps on the headset display.
There are a few small islands scattered through the ocean, but only four continents, three of them joined to a fourth.
The seven races and the guardians refer to them as the four lands: First, North, West, and East.
FirstLand is the heart of them all, a near-perfect circle, fifteen hundred miles in diameter.
The towers rest on a plateau at its center.
Legend says that creation began here.
The outer lands are more than two thousand miles long.
As I scan through scenes of each land, I view a few samples of the dominant geographic areas and life.
Then I ask the disk to show me unique features of the landscape and unusual life forms.
I mark the areas that I find most interesting, for potential visits.
Without my Gen speed and healing energy, it takes me hours to complete this limited scan of the world, and I’m left exhausted.
I push away the fatigue, and choose one of the marked locations from each land.
There’s no logic in it.
I let my intuition pull at me, telling me where to go.
The headset provides a simulated display of the four places I’ve chosen, superimposed on a view of the four lands.
- North — lake and clouds
- First — desert
- East — cliffs by an ocean
- West — strange, tall trees
It’s late in the day, and the light is fading.
I fly toward NorthLand, where I’ll spend the night.
Tomorrow, I’ll begin my search for the seven shadows.
It’s dark when I touch ground, but the headset within the mask gives me a bright image of my surroundings.
Some of the trees here remind me of Earth.
I open the mask for a few minutes so I can see what night is really like, using my own eyes.
The Jiku have good night vision, and those with Bizra eyes see even better.
The world comes into clear focus for thirty feet around me, even without the help of the headset.
There are no stars surrounding the tower world, only an energy cloud.
It radiates a dim light for this half of the day, and a strong light for the other half.
Day and night are not exactly equal.
There’s a random element to the change between them, so the times can vary by an hour from day to day.
I look up at the night sky.
Above the lake, there are spots that seem brighter than the rest of the sky.
What would cause that?
I close the mask and lay down on top of a small hill that overlooks the lake.
I tell the headset to wake me in eight hours, or when it gets light, whichever comes sooner.
The suit and mask thicken to provide extra padding while I rest, so sleep comes easily.
My sleep is restless, filled with nightmares.
I watch Siksa being conquered, and my family enslaved or killed.
I see them crying out for me, asking me why I failed to come and protect them.
I wake up after four hours, according to the time display in the headset.
I’m half-asleep, but I know that the dreams are not visions of the future.
They don’t have the right taste.
Still, the danger is real.
The Kizak could reach Siksa at any time, while I’m stuck here.
I turn my anger and frustration on these useless thoughts, until they melt away.
Nothing matters now, except recovering my strength.
I can’t return home without it.
Rain is falling, but the travel suit keeps me warm and dry.
I open the mask.
I can see well enough, but it’s still night.
“Did you wake me?” I ask the headset.
“I didn’t,” it answers.
“Your request is still active.”
“The rain, and other sounds woke you.”
“I can set the mask to block them if you wish.”
I push away the dullness that still covers me from the sleep.
Then I take a few deep breaths and listen closely.
The nearest, loudest sound comes from the rain falling on the mask, and the stones around me, but there’s also music.
“Where is the music coming from?”
“A few hundred feet away.”
“Take me there.”
We rise toward a large cloud of green light, high above the lake.
The music grows louder as we approach, until my whole body vibrates with the sound.
Soon after, my head fills with pain.
“I can’t bear it.”
The world around me grows quiet.
“I’ve set the mask to block the sound.”
“Let me hear it, but reduce the volume to safe levels.”
I move us closer, until we’re hovering above the cloud of light.
We’re only a few hundred feet high, but the wind is strong.
A huge mass of vines, covered in flowers, floats in the sky above the lake, casting a great shadow.
Some of the vines ignore the wind and reach straight up.
They move on their own, like the tentacles of a sea creature, tasting its environment.
Small openings in the vines appear and disappear.
A cool, green glow spreads across the vines, erupting in fountains of light wherever there’s a thick concentration of flowers.
“What is this?”
“A colony of Wisni, the largest one on the planet.”
“Why doesn’t it appear in the maps as a unique life form?”
“Trees are included in the directory, but not plants.”
“How does it stay in the air?”
“The colony contains several types of specialized vines.”
“Floating vines are partly hollow, and sealed with gas.”
“Light vines shine with a green glow when night comes, and reach their peak brightness in the middle of the night. They are the only type of vine in the colony that flowers.”
“Shield vines are hollow and open to the strong winds, producing the loud sounds you hear.”
“Sometimes they actively produce music to keep flying creatures away.”
“At other times, the music softens and changes.”
“Most animals that approach are shocked by the colony and consumed.”
“How can a network of vines create complex music?”
“There are multiple openings that open and close, shaping the notes that are produced.”
“But what controls it?”
“Electrical signals pass through conductive fibers in the vines, directed from the colony’s three or four large clusters of neural vines.”
“There are also several types of sensory vines, that let the colony perceive it’s environment.”
“Those are the ones that move on their own.”
“The colony is intelligent?”
“It’s difficult to tell the extent of its awareness.”
“A Wisni colony senses approaching storms, and moves away, or underwater to protect itself.”
“When it grows to a critical size, it splits, and the new colony searches for another location.”
“The colony behaves more like an animal than a plant.”
“It’s a fascinating life form, but only a distraction.”
“I need to find the seven shadows.”
“I have no knowledge of that subject.”
“Tell me how to recognize them, and I’ll help you search for them.”
“They are life forms, located somewhere on the planet.”
“Their touch will restore my strength.”
“I know what two of them look like, but that’s all.”
“How do you know that the Wisni isn’t one of the shadows?”
“You haven’t touched it.”
“No, but it’s just a plant.”
“Is that one of the criteria?”
“The shadows can only be animals?”
“No…I don’t know.”
“In any case, it’s not safe for me to touch it.”
“You said that the Wisni shocks and consumes animals that approach.”
“Usually, but there are certain species that it ignores.”
The headset displays a few species which the colony ignores.
I recognize two: Feldin and Heelu.
They’re also here?
The music stops, and the rain gets harder.
In the distance, I see lightning.
The Wisni moves toward the surface of the lake, and then goes deep underwater.
The Gift of Sight
Some fish swim too close, and the Wisni kills them with an electric shock.
Then, the sensory vines grasp them, and pull them toward an opening where the fish are digested.
“Will the suit insulate me against electric shock?”
“The shield won’t stand up to lightning, but it should protect you against the Wisni shocks.”
I approach the creature slowly, and it raises sensory vines on all sides of me.
I don’t have much energy strength, but I can still feel a trace of the Feldin glow inside me.
I release the glow, until it spreads around my left hand.
It’s weak, but visible.
When I move my hand toward the Wisni, it ignores me, even when my gloved hand comes in contact with one of the light vines.
Maybe I need to touch it with both of my bare hands.
I spread the glow over both hands and remove the gloves.
Then I reach toward the vines again.
The glow is slightly brighter without the interference of the glove.
Sensory vines approach, passing through the glow.
They brush along my hands, but don’t stop me.
I pass through one of the light fountains, and touch the flowering vines below.
Energy runs through me in spinning waves, passing up to my head, and then rushing down to my feet.
It’s not electricity, but it grows in intensity, with each repetition, until it becomes too strong for me to bear.
I don’t let go.
The energy awakens my inner senses, and I won’t let the beauty of this world go.
Wisni light fountains are gateways to the green well, and the creature is bright with energy, far more than any normal animal or plant.
Is this is one of the shadows?
Are all the shadows linked to the wells?
“The lightning storm is gone,” says the headset.
“Let’s leave the water.”
“I won’t break the connection.”
“The shield can’t protect you against this type of energy.”
“You could suffer permanent brain damage.”
My energy senses get more intense, and my physical senses shut down.
I can’t feel my limbs.
I continue to watch my body’s energy, and see that my muscles have relaxed, and my hands are still in contact with the vines.
The Wisni rises, and my whole body comes to rest on it, as the creature carries me out of the water and into the sky.
Sensory vines grab my arms, and push me upright, breaking the connection between my hands and the vines.
My head clears, and my normal sight returns.
I struggle against the vines, but they’re too strong.
They won’t let me reach for the light vines again.
When I calm down, I realize that my energy senses are still here.
I wait, to see if they’ll fade away, but they don’t.
The music starts again, soft and gentle.
Then, all the sensory vines rise, and point at me.
I sing for a few minutes, echoing the music as well as I can.
It’s the only way I can think of to say thank you.
When I stop singing, the music fades, and the vines relax.
I wait for a moment.
Then I activate the disk, and fly away.
Ribbons of life
The wind blows strong to the southeast, along the path that I’m traveling.
The disk carries me at its maximum velocity, twelve hundred miles an hour.
At this speed, I keep the mask closed, and let the headset navigate to our next destination.
I’m headed for the coast, to visit with Heelu in the waters there.
Orbital sensors have located a flock a few hundred feet below the surface.
I use my energy sight to scan the land and skies that I pass, looking for anything with an unusually strong connection to the web, or any sign of the wells.
Who knows where I’ll find the other shadows?
Nothing catches my attention, and an hour passes, before I reach the coast.
I land on the beach, and shut off the disk.
With the return of my energy senses, I feel like I might be able to flow, or fly again.
I reach out to the web to take hold of it, to rise a few feet.
Instead, I shoot up seventy feet, and then start to fall.
One moment I can fly, and the next, nothing.
Even when I’m able to take hold of the web, I have little control of direction or speed.
The jerky movement make me nauseous.
I reactivate the disk, return to the sand, and sit until the world stops spinning.
Flow is just as bad.
There are moments when I’m able to transform the world around me, but I have no control over the results.
I stop the experiments, before they kill me.
I’m even more frustrated than before.
The web is within reach, but for now, it’s a world of chaos that treats me like a stranger.
I throw off the gloves, and pound my hands into the red sand, but it brings me no relief.
There are no tides on the tower world, because it has no moons, but there are winds, so the ocean is still full of waves.
I take off the suit and walk at the edge of the water, letting the warm waves wash over my feet.
The endless water absorbs my inner struggle, and the calm returns.
I only had half a night’s sleep, and I can barely keep my eyes open.
I find a soft spot on the sand, away from the waves and nap for a few hours, still haunted by the same nightmares.
When I wake, I put the suit back on, and activate the disk, so I can breath underwater.
The disk can move me through water as easily as air, but I swim the last hundred feet, stopping twenty feet away.
The flock of Heelu is resting when I find them.
They live in water and air.
On some worlds, they’re nocturnal like the Feldin, only leaving the water at night when the stars come out.
They often follow the Feldin, but there are none here.
Heelu bodies are like ribbons.
They are only three inches thick, but they are two to three feet long and eight inches high.
In the water they move like eels, their colors glowing, even in darkness.
When they rest, most of the colored patterns that cover them are dim.
Only the yellow rings are still bright.
Heelu don’t have eyes or ears, but they have a strong connection with the web, and an energy sense which lets them see the world.
They draw on the web’s energy to fly.
The shadows must be linked to the energy wells.
Are the Heelu one of the shadows?
Do they have that link?
In the past, I’ve taken the Heelu form, but never noticed any connection with the wells.
Still, I wasn’t sensitive to well energy at the time.
I scan the flock with energy eyes, and find no trace of the wells.
Even the Heelu’s connection with the web is dim while they rest.
I need to get them to move.
I go closer, and tell the headset to shine light on them.
They stir slightly, but then, they settle down, and ignore the light.
How do I get their attention?
There are still traces of the glow in me, and I know that it attracts them, so I release it around my whole body.
At first, it bursts out brighter than daylight, as out of control as my other energy abilities.
The Heelu wake, and crowd in on me, attracted by the glow.
My shield protects me, but there are hundreds of them.
I fly out of the water using the disk, before they surround me on all sides.
They follow me, as I rise three hundred feet above the water.
The glow comes and goes, one moment normal, the next blinding.
Then it stops.
I discovered long ago, that transforming into another shape leaves a trace of the special energy tied to that form.
My fire body is a mix of Jiku, Bizra, Fiklow, and other energies, even a trace of Heelu.
With the glow gone, the Heelu drift away, and I focus on the energies of my fire body, hoping to see the glow return.
Instead, I see the small bits of Heelu energy within me are growing, intensifying in the presence of the flock.
My attention turns back to the others when they crowd in on me again.
Their bodies are sparkling now.
I scan them again, finding what I seek: a link to the yellow well.
The flock isn’t after my glow anymore.
They sense my Heelu energy and surround me, accepting me as one of their own.
Then they start to move.
I can’t copy the way they move, while I wear this Jiku body.
The Heelu are infinitely more flexible.
Still, with my energy sight, I can anticipate their movements, and at least stay in the flock, in the place they’ve set aside for me.
Rivers of energy move between the members of the flock, forming their own private energy web.
The Heelu bodies fuel those rivers by drawing energy from the great web and the yellow well.
Surprisingly, the energy moves through me in the same way it moves through them, as if I was just another Heelu.
I feel strange, almost weightless, like my body is fading away.
Waves of nausea assault me, but I stay in formation until the world fades.
I wake up on the sand, with the flock flying in circles above me.
“Did you bring me safely to the ground?” I ask the headset.
“The Heelu brought you here.”
The nausea is gone, and my body feels light and strong.
Now I understand the flock’s gift, and shut off the disk.
Then I rise into the air, in control of my flying and shields again.
I lead the flock back into the water with my still erratic glow, anxious to get them to their home, so I can taste my speed again.
I arrive at my destination in EastLand, a coastal area called the Red Cliffs.
I knew I had to come here the first time I saw it on the maps.
Small mountains rise sharply from the water’s edge.
Long streaks of red crystal tear through the rock faces, giving the area its name.
Water breaks through the stone in three places, and forms parallel streams that fall into the waves.
Tsirak live here, the herd divided into families no bigger than twelve.
They look something like the Madar, with the same red eyes, but their bodies are only three feet tall.
The creatures race quickly up the rocks, in all but the steepest places, using their six limbs.
One pair of arms, and their legs have pads, which like Geckos, seem to stick to the rock.
The other arms have hands with four fingers.
Tsirak have incredible balance, and show no fear of falling.
They love the ocean, and frequently dive from the cliffs into deep water.
Can one small group of them give me the help I need, or do I need to bring all the groups together?
I fly near them as they climb and dive, but they ignore me, except for brief glances.
My glow is still erratic, but I focus on the traces of Madar energy still in me, and try to combine that with the glow.
The light that comes out of me is red, like their eyes, and it draws their attention.
One of the smaller ones, probably a child, is too distracted, and bangs its head against the stone.
Then, it starts to tumble down a jagged path.
I catch it, after ten seconds, but it’s already bleeding badly.
My energy eyes show broken bones, a collapsed lung, and severe internal damage.
She won’t survive long.
A cry goes up from her family, which is echoed by the whole herd.
The other families dive into the water, where they arrange themselves in seven concentric circles.
Then they wait.
I hover near the child’s family, unsure of what to do.
They reach out their arms, and I hand the little one to them.
Three of the Tsirak in the family take hold of her, and jump to the ocean below.
Moments later, they bring the injured child to the center of the herd.
I dive with the rest of the family.
When they reach the water, I pull away, and hover at a distance.
The herd joins together in a rhythmic sound that reminds me of a wordless chant.
Their voices are deep, like the Madar.
The herd’s connection with the web grows stronger and brighter.
Soon, in the center of the innermost circle, an opening to the red well appears.
Web energy mixes with the red, and rushes through the rings of Tsirak.
A sphere of light forms around the herd, extending one hundred feet above and below the ocean’s surface.
Healing energy fills the sphere and then contracts to a stream that moves through the child.
Some of her outer and inner wounds close, but it’s not happening fast enough to save her.
She’s still dying.
The herd’s faces turn toward me with a look of sadness and expectation.
They don’t have words, but they want me to do something.
I drop into the water three feet from the dying child, and let my voice join the herd.
Our bodies sway back and forth, as we hold ourselves half out of the water.
They hand the child to me, and I hold her against me, wishing that my healing sense would return.
The Tsirak touch my body with their climbing pads.
Deep within me a voice speaks:
“From need comes healing.”
My listener awakes, strengthened by the Tsirak and the sea that gives birth to all life.
I am a wind that pulls the stream of healing energy away from the child, and sends it crashing into the water.
The energy rises, and pours through me.
I color it with the glow, and add my own healing strength.
Then I send the thick stream of light in a spiral through the water.
It spreads out to the edges of the herd, and then returns to pass through the child.
Her internal wounds heal quickly now, but she is so still, too still.
The little one has three hearts like the rest of her kind, but they’ve all stopped.
“No,” I cry aloud, in the Madar language.
The herd is silent, and then copies the sound.
They don’t understand the word, but they resonate with the feeling behind it.
It becomes the new chant for thirty seconds, as we pour our healing strength into her.
Soon we all grow silent again.
As the chant dies out, my awareness fades, my strength exhausted.
“How long was I unconscious?” I ask the headset, still feeling weak.
“Only a few seconds.”
The Tsirak are holding my body, keeping my head out of water.
I don’t have enough strength left to tread water or fly.
The child is silent, and the herd has lost hope.
I can feel it.
I give out one long, loud cry of anguish, not human or Jiku or even Madar.
It’s a Tsirak cry, and they all join in.
When it’s over, we look at the child.
A moment later, she coughs, as her hearts begin to pump again.
The stream of healing energy forms again below the waves.
Strength pours into me and the child, a gift from the herd.
Soon, she swims away with help from her family.
A few minutes later my own strength returns.
The sphere of light fades, and the Tsirak pull back, leaving ten feet of clear water around me.
I rise into the air, fly one circle above the edge of the herd, and give out a deep, strong, shout.
It takes me a moment to realize that this is a Tsirak victory yell.
Then I turn toward WestLand.
Forests of Fire
There are no sandy beaches in WestLand.
A half-mile strip of barren rock circles the entire continent, except for the border with FirstLand.
My destination is the Orange Forest, at the southwest corner of the world.
The forest begins at the rocky edge and covers an area of one hundred twenty thousand square miles.
When I first saw images of these trees in the headset, I knew I would walk among them.
And that was before I found out that the Zayo, the shadows of the Bizra, live there.
The trees are a unique life form, and only found in this forest.
The air here is thick with energy, rising up from the trees in geysers and fountains of orange light.
I let my intuition choose a place to land.
Then I walk slowly among the quiet, twisted trees that dominate the forest.
A cloud of energy covers each one, giving them a visible, orange glow.
Are these trees are another shadow species?
The bark of the trees fills the air with a sweet smell.
I’m thrilled to be able to fly again, but at this moment, walking is what I need.
I soon reach a narrow river, one of three that pass through the forest.
Streams of energy move along the edge of the river, through the orange crystal that lines the riverbanks.
Some of the energy passes across the water, leaving a trail of sparks.
To energy eyes, it looks as if the river and the trees are on fire.
Near the river is the largest tree in the forest, four hundred twenty three feet tall.
I fly up and around the tree, touching it multiple times with bare hands.
My glow comes and goes, but when I can, I cover the tree with it.
I do the same with another dozen trees of widely varying heights.
There’s no change in their energy, and I feel nothing unusual, except a great inner calm.
If this is one of the shadows, I don’t know how to connect with it.
I turn my attention to the Zayo, and sense the nearest herd fifty miles away, along the river.
I reach the area a minute later, and land among them, as they rest in a clearing full of dark red flowers.
The creatures look like their cousins, the Bizra, with long, flexible bodies, expressive faces, and rings of orange fur around their paws and faces.
Their minds are said to be much simpler than the Bizra, with no telepathy, and no spoken language.
I have no control over my mind touch, so for now, I just accept what I’ve heard.
The Jiku kings kept the Zayo as pets, and the creatures were loyal, loving companions.
On Siksa, most were killed in the energy wars, but a few survived in the wild.
They stay far away from the Jiku and their cities now.
On the tower world, the Zayo have no fear of Jiku.
Their long ears rise, and they turn toward me, advancing with slow, graceful movements.
Many of them come right up to me, and touch me with their small black noses.
Then they move back and stare at me.
They have some degree of energy sight, and are fascinated by the bits of Bizra energy that they see floating in my fire body.
But the day is almost gone.
Soon they lose interest and lay down, preparing to sleep for the night.
I eat some of the food from my pack, and lay down among them.
A few of them roll closer to me, and share their warmth, accepting me as one of their own.
Morning comes, and I feel something move against me.
Three Zayo are rubbing my face with their noses so I’ll wake up.
Most of them have already left the clearing, running in the direction of the river.
I fill myself with healing energy, and burn away the sleep.
Then I fly ahead to see where the herd is going.
They line up by the river, facing toward the water, with a strange, empty expression on their faces, as though their spirits have left their bodies.
They’re staring at a wall of fire that rises from the river.
They seem entranced, like moths drawn to a flame.
At first, I think the river itself is on fire, however impossible that seems.
But then I open my energy eyes.
The water is gone, and energy from the orange well fills the empty riverbed.
The fire rises from the orange crystal that lines both sides of the river.
It’s not an illusion, or pure light.
I can feel its heat as I hover near it.
When the last of the herd takes their places, the Zayo wake from their trance, and join together in a chorus of sound that reminds me of cats.
Then, wave after wave of them leap into the fire.
As they pass through, they flow into birds, and fly across the river, passing again through the wall of fire on the other side, where they flow back into Zayo.
Soon, only ten remain on this side, and they look up at me.
I land near them, and they enter the trance for a few seconds.
Then, they approach me, and poke their noses at me again and again.
What do they want?
They grab my suit with their teeth and pull at it.
The Zayo can’t damage it, but I understand.
They want me to take it off.
I remove the suit and mask and put them in a safe place.
The Zayo surround me, and howl together, running in circles.
Their smooth form pulls at me, commands me to let go of being Jiku.
A few seconds later, I find myself flowing into their shape.
The flames are full of an overwhelming beauty that pulls at my heart.
I must meet them, feel them, so I leap with the Zayo into the fire.
There’s a strong heat, but no pain.
My brothers and sisters flow into birds, and I become a bird.
When they become Zayo again, I become Zayo.
Soon, we line up on the other side of the river, and repeat our journey through the flames.
When we’re back where we started, we bend down toward the fire, and close our eyes, howling loudly.
A few minutes later we rise.
The fire is gone, and the water has returned.
The herd turns toward me and enter the trance state again.
Images flood my mind, showing a year of days in the forest.
The Zayo perform this ritual each morning.
When they are in trance, their small minds are joined, and together become a single great mind with self-awareness.
This mind has the power to touch the thoughts of other creatures.
It has no words, but I understand.
In their own way, the Zayo remind me of my own people, the Jiku.
We dance the greeting each morning to balance our energy, celebrate life, and welcome the day.
The Zayo meet their day with a dance of fire, a dance of life.
The herd wakes from the group mind, and drifts back to the clearing.
A few of the Zayo stay behind, and stare at me one more time.
Then they chase after their brothers and sisters.
I feel the power of flow, running strong within me, and under control.
I shape myself a robe, and put the headset and belt back on.
The rest of the suit, I stick in the bag.
I fly just above the herd, and flow the air into thousands of red flowers, that rain gently on us.
When the last flower touches down, I flow them all into snowflakes that melt quickly in the warm air.
The Zayo get very still.
It snows in their land only once in twenty years.
When they look up again, I’m gone, flying toward FirstLand.
The way home grows closer.
Four of the seven shadows have found me, and given their gifts.
I travel at maximum speed toward the next destination, but I’m troubled by the thought of what I’m missing in the land that I pass over so quickly.
In the middle of WestLand the feeling becomes unbearable, and I slow down.
A few minutes later I stop, pulled down by the sight of the rain forest, and a creature that watches the sky from the forest canopy.
There are scattered trees that rise above the canopy, and their trunks are covered with epiphytes, flowering plants that rest on the bark without harming the tree.
The creature shows no fear as I approach and land, but I feel strange, like I’m being watched by a large crowd.
The headset calls the watcher Jatzu: forest jumper.
It has golden skin and black eyes.
This one is female, three and a half feet tall, when it stands on its back legs.
She has an almost humanoid face, and limbs far too large for her torso and head.
The Jatzu crouches on all four limbs, and meets my gaze.
Then she jumps ten feet, and takes hold of one of the trees that emerges from the canopy.
She gives out a high-pitched whistling sound, followed by a complex series of clicks.
Dozens of the Jatzu come through the canopy and surround me.
Thousands more cover the canopy for miles in every direction, forming a great ring around me.
They put their faces to the canopy and begin to hum.
The energy of the forest grows brighter, but I find the vibration unsettling, like nails on a blackboard.
A series of shivers run through me, and I feel like I’ve forgotten something important.
The knowledge is there, but it’s just out of reach.
I let my healer touch the balance of the web all around me, and the quiet fills me, and touches the creatures who watch.
The knowledge I seek drifts within reach.
A silent voice whispers within the silence that these creatures are one of the shadows.
What would the inner race look like that corresponds to this shadow?
My heart beats fast as I stare at the golden skin, and my head fills with images of the Mehkeel, the golden-furred humanoid race that gives birth to the Gen.
The golden color?
That’s why I feel that the Jatzu are shadows of the Mehkeel?!
How could the Mehkeel be one of the lights?
The seven towers were only a legend to them.
I try to push the thoughts away, but the feeling circles within me, digs its claws deep into my heart, and shouts that the Jatzu are the shadows of the Mehkeel.
The creatures start their clicks again, all together in a great chorus.
I’m tempted to take their form, but each time I try, I find myself in Neebol’s Mehkeel body, instead.
The sea of Jatzu approach, lift me above them, and pass me across the crowd, at high speed.
A small shock passes through me, and straightens my fur, with each new Jatzu who touches me.
The physical world dims, leaving only my energy senses.
Bright energy floats above the mass of Jatzu, like a thick cloud, not from one of the seven, colored wells, but the black well, the eighth well.
At the center of the cloud is a large gateway to the well, marked with the symbol of the Mehkeel and the Gen, the whisheeku.
The Jatzu are shadows of the Mehkeel, tied to the eighth well.
There are eight shadows, not seven, and eight inner lights.
The Mehkeel are an eighth inner race, forgotten, hidden, lost, with no tower to bridge their world to this one.
I’m getting weaker as the shocks continue, and my energy senses fade, leaving me in an empty space of light.
I try to fly, to escape the Jatzu, but my physical body is somewhere too far away to find.
I search for healing energy to restore my strength, but the world of energy is gone.
Soon, even the light from my prison darkens, along with my awareness.
Sometime later, I wake, resting on the canopy.
The herd has dropped beneath the canopy, except for the female watcher who still sits and stares at the sky.
Does she watch for enemies, or something else?
I retake my Jiku form, and rise into the air.
The world slows and stops around me.
My awareness shifted to Gen speed, a thousand times faster than Jiku thought.
I feel the Gen energy, rushing with strength through my fire body.
Once again, I can let go of my physical body and shape another.
I swoop down, and stop five feet above the watcher, moving so fast that the creature thinks that I’ve suddenly appeared.
She jumps back, and this is the first time that I’ve seen her afraid.
Then she watches with astonishment as I test my renewed strength by dissolving my physical self into snow.
The Jatzu is frozen in place, wondering where I’ve gone, while I hover as a fire body.
A few moments later, I shape Yagrin’s form again, bind my fires to it, and take three deep breaths.
“Don’t be afraid,” I tell her.
She can’t understand my words, but I hope the gentle tone will calm her.
I smile at her, flow one of the sweet fruits that the Jatzu love, and place it in her left hand.
She puts it down gently but quickly, wondering if it’s full of danger.
Then she sniffs it, again and again, balancing the delicious smell against her fear of my strangeness.
Eventually she takes a bite.
When the watcher finally looks up, there’s nothing but empty sky.
I’m already far away.
Beneath the Surface
I slow down when I approach the barren area of FirstLand that my intuition has chosen.
It’s a place of dirt and stone and sand, with a few bushes that challenge the desert.
There’s little rain, not enough to support the life that hides here.
Water moves swiftly below the desert in underground streams, and some of it rises to ten feet below the sand.
The plants that survive have deep roots that hunt for the water.
The headset helps me scan through images of the creatures that live here.
I stop when it displays the Osil, reptilian, but with an expressive face, and penetrating blue eyes.
The animal spends most of its time on two legs when it’s above ground, so some call it the desert walker.
An Osil stands three feet tall, with flexible scales that change color like a chameleon.
It has hands with a thumb and three fingers, and powerful retractable claws that help it dig, although the creature is also seen using sticks and rocks as tools.
Sometimes it sleeps in natural caves, but more often, the Osil digs elaborate tunnels and large underground burrows where twenty or more of them rest.
Below ground, they navigate, like bats, using echolocation.
They wake at night, some to roam the cool desert, while others stay out of sight.
Little is known of what they do when they’re awake in their burrows.
The headset shows me a thirty mile circle of recent Osil activity near me.
I focus my energy senses on the first twenty feet below the surface in the designated area, looking for tunnels, and a nest.
I find many empty tunnels, but no large resting spaces, and no Osil.
The deepest tunnels end eighteen feet below the surface, and rise to just three feet below the surface.
The tunnels are sealed with stone at both ends!
Where have the Osil gone?
“Look again,” whispers a voice within me.
I rescan the area.
The inner surface of the tunnels is a textured blue stone with bright silver bits of crystal scattered through it.
Some of the tunnels pass through sand or dirt, and others pass through black stone, but every tunnel has the same blue inner surface.
But what lies below?
I scan deeper, and find other tunnels with the same blue stone, sloping down to great caverns.
The Osil are there, asleep.
There’s no simple way to get there with my Jiku body, without opening a huge hole in the desert
Instead, I dissolve my flesh into water, and travel as a fire body.
Solid rock is no barrier when I’m pure energy, but I pass through their tunnels for much of the way.
The energy is strange here, linked to the blue well.
In a few moments I reach the cavern, with a floor of black stone.
I take an Osil form, instead of my own, and walk among them.
I’m bombarded with dreamlike images of tunnels and desert and digging.
They’re powerful diggers, but they use more than muscles to make their tunnels.
Energy moves through their fingers and claws to transform the material they touch.
Sand, dirt, and even stone, disappears before them, replaced by moist air.
When the tunnel is wide enough, they touch its surface with their arms and the backs of their hands, creating a layer of blue stone a few inches thick.
The dreams are coming from the Osil all around me.
Our minds are linked.
In their dreams, the Osil remember work and play.
They think in images, not words, with simple thoughts.
In the day, when they dream, the mind link is fully open, and all their dreams mix together to form a sea of images.
When they wake, they dim the incoming connection, so they can concentrate on what they’re doing.
Still, when necessary, an Osil can focus the incoming mind link on one of their brothers or sisters, and look through those eyes, hundreds of miles away.
The creatures sing for pleasure during most of their waking hours, filling the night with song, especially while they work.
The songs are not only for joy.
The Osil use the songs to communicate with the rest of the herd when the mental screen is in place.
Their brains automatically encode and decode images in the songs.
It takes me fifteen minutes of practice before I can dim the stream of images, and hold the barrier in place.
Finally, I can think and see on my own.
It would be useful to focus the link on just one of the sleepers, as they do.
I try it, but I can’t tell if I’m successful.
Their minds are mixed together while they sleep, each mind reflecting all the others.
I close the barrier again, and enjoy the isolation.
With the noise gone, I become aware of an Osil energy sense, that mixes with my physical senses and provides a hybrid view of the world.
A thin trail of purple energy circles the floor of the cavern, with a white energy fire rising from it.
Four octagons appear along the circle, splitting the circle into four equal parts.
Small gems have been carefully arranged to form the shapes.
The stones are Davow, purple like amethysts, but with spiral veins of white passing through them.
The white crystal glows in the dark, lighting up the whole stone.
The circle is also made of Davow, small chips embedded in the floor.
When I look at the gems, energy rushes through my body.
When I turn away, my Osil body feels incomplete, weak, and hungry.
I reconnect with the herd, looking for dreams about the stones.
Images flood through me.
I watch passively, until I find what I’m hunting.
Then I seize the image, and push away the stream.
I see the herd digging carefully for the Davow, and piling them in a storage cave near here.
I find the storage cave.
The whose surface of the cave is covered with Davow, and a liquid mass of the crystal moves slowly around the room.
What is it?
I remember one of the Osil dreams that I saw.
An image of how to arrange the crystals came to their minds from someplace far away.
It has a strange feel to it, not like other Osil images.
I raise the mental screen, and touch the walls, keeping my distance from the moving liquid.
An energy song fills my inner senses.
There are no words, but the music carries an image which my Osil brain decodes.
Dig for Davow.
A hunger to find the crystals fills me, trying to push away all other thoughts.
I fight it, and let go of the crystal.
My Osil body knows that this is the time to sleep, and it lays down, against my will, on the cave floor.
The Osil senses fade, and my awareness with it.
I wake with the other Osil.
Night has come.
They sniff my body, sensing something strange about me, but soon they drift away to start digging.
The Davow stone stream moves toward me.
As it approaches, I lose control of my body.
The liquid crystal pours over me, covering my body, except for the face.
My mind feels strange, like there are words just out of reach, too distant to hear.
Finally the words touch me, but even then, they come and fade.
We are Davow, light that lives in stone.
You hide in Osil, but not soft like them.
We gather their energy.
They dig for us, help us spread.
What are you?
We are young, thoughts weak.
Your mind too cold, takes all energy we harvest.
Go under ocean.
Find the first, old and strong, waiting.
Roots and sparks touch you there, with answers.
They drift away, their energy dull, but they leave me with an image to guide my way.
Far beneath the ocean, nine large caverns alive with tall waves of Davow, that grow and move.
I’m dizzy with the Osil energy that I’ve absorbed from the crystal.
My mind burns too bright, jumping wildly from one thought and image to another.
Can’t think, plan, or move.
I lean against the cave wall, and slip to the floor, waiting for my head to clear.
As the fog lifts, I feel a voice calling, too far away to hear, but filled with strength.
Their words are scattered by the distance between us, but the desire behind the call shines through.
Where do I go?
The world is filled with ocean, and hundreds of miles of rock below it.
Even at Gen speed, the search will be slow.
Maybe the headset can find them.
I let go of the Osil body and rise through the stone to the desert.
My Jiku body reshapes itself, almost without a thought.
Then I look for the device, but it’s gone.
Night has come, and some of the Osil roam the sand.
Did one of them take it?
I reach out instinctively with my thoughts, to find the thief.
My mind web burns brightly, and my mind touch spreads out for miles in all directions, as familiar and strong as my hands.
The image of the headset floats in an Osil a few miles away.
I push on the creature’s awareness with a suggestion.
She puts down the foreign object, afraid of its strangeness, and runs away.
I rebuild my wintzal, happy to be a Mind Weaver once again.
The headset is no help.
It’s aware of the Davow, but only as a type of crystal.
It has no record of its life or intelligence.
My inner sight is as strong as ever, but useless for the task at hand, looking miles below the surface.
An unfamiliar energy rises up from the planet’s core, and creates a fog that reaches to the ocean, and blocks my sight.
I call to the scanning satellites to search.
They see deep into the sea, but not below the sea floor.
Just before I break the connection, images of the Feldin flood the headset.
My glow is still out of control, burning brightly at the sight of the little ones, like tiny seals.
I feel an urge to take their shape and swim with them.
I let go of the hunt for Davow, and rise.
The sky welcomes me as I fly toward a large herd of Feldin, three thousand miles past the far edge of WestLand.
I’m eager to feel the water again, and the miles disappear.
Soon, the ring of small, sandy islands appears, two hundred feet below me.
I dive at full speed, toward the sea.
When I reach the surface, my shield pushes the water aside, or I would be crushed by the impact.
My form changes to Feldin, and I slow down, releasing my shield, tasting the sweet water, streaming by my sleek form.
The herd welcomes me with their glow, and I match the endless patterns of light.
Here, hundreds of feet deep, our glow is dark blue.
The Feldin are bound to the energy of the indigo well.
It fills us, and feeds the glow.
We swim and shine for hours, lost in play and feeding.
I follow the others, letting go of my thoughts, caught up in the simple joys of the ocean.
But then, something awakens me from my sleep.
The herd turns suddenly to avoid the top of a great tower, similar in shape to the seven that rise from the plateau, but far larger, and covered with a layer of ice.
This one is almost two thousand feet tall.
I taste the black energy that is bound to it, but the tower is sealed tight.
Nothing can enter or leave it.
Is this the Mehkeel’s tower that leads to their world?
Why is it hidden, away from the others?
The quiet waters offer no answers to my questions.
The Feldin swim in great circles around the tower, and our indigo energy grows stronger.
My view of the sea fades, and I’m in the Dream Hunter gateway, surrounded by a sea of dark blue fragments that show me endless worlds of possibility, all filled with the Feldin at play.
My Dream Hunting is back, but I need to enter the gateway with my own form to see my future.
A great vibration spreads through the fragments, and I can’t hold on to the gateway.
My vision clears in time to see the herd, almost out of sight.
I stay behind, drawn to the tower.
The Feldin body can’t handle the pressure at the base of the tower, where I want to go, so I cover myself with a shield, and dive.
As I reach the bottom, my inner sight finds a thermal vent thirty feet away that breaks through the cold and the darkness.
The vent is surrounded with rings of Davow crystal, and a strange collection of creatures that feed on the warmth and minerals.
They’re fascinating, but I’m more interested in a thin filament of purple energy that rises a few inches out of the vent.
It forms a trail that continues far below the sand.
I let go of the Feldin shape and follow the path.
Before long it turns away from the vent, and much later, it ends at a wall of plain, cool rock.
Another trail appears within me.
The Davow are calling.
I follow the call, passing through miles of rock, until I reach the nine caverns.
I’m pure energy when I find the caves.
They’re filled with energy, light, and a thick, violet liquid.
Where are the Davow?
“Here,” sounds a voice all around me.
The fluid is the Davow, liquid crystal.
It moves quickly, and takes on beautiful shapes that rise and grow, before dissolving to begin again.
The energy in the room has a unique structure, forming streaming patterns of light that resemble cylinders and stars.
All the caverns are filled with it, just as they’re filled with the Davow.
The patterns of light seem to whisper a secret.
They’re strengthened by the energy from the planet’s core, but would be shattered by the daylight of the world above.
“How does life and intelligence come from stone?” I ask them.
“Davow are energy, full of awareness, not stone.”
“One memory binds us, with a long path from moments after we were created.”
“Why do you need crystal?”
“Your colony at the top of the world enslaves the Osil to gather and arrange the stone for them.”
“Why are you so weak there, and your thoughts dim?”
“At creation, we were brought to these caverns.”
“We live but can’t touch the world without crystal, and our sight is limited.”
“The stone strengthens us, and energy grows.”
“We see and move beyond the caverns, and communicate with physical creatures.”
“Energy moves through the crystal.”
“When there is little stone, our thoughts are clouded by the link.”
“The gathering you met is small, and our intelligence can’t awake at full strength.”
“These caverns are different.”
“Our awareness is strong here.”
“We grow and wait for you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Why do you want me here?”
“This is not our place forever.”
“You met the colony, and your physical form shines in your thoughts.”
“We know this shape.”
“The future flashes before us each day, and your form is seen, years ago.”
“You will free us.”
The energy restructures itself into thirteen, long vertical tubes, with an endless series of 6-pointed stars surrounding each tube.
The cylinders turn and spin through the caverns, visible only to inner eyes.
The liquid crystal takes on a physical shape that echoes the energy patterns, and their movements.
“Pass through us and take what is yours.”
“You live among lights, but you search for the gifts of shadows.”
“What do you know of the shadows?”
“Davow are the seventh shadow, the only one allowed to know that the world was created with lights and shadows.”
“We remember the future, given long ago, see possibilities of time and space, shape what may be.”
“You are here to share our gifts, and you will be with us when all shadows become lights.”
“We have life and intelligence, but we are nothing compared to the lights.”
“Help us forget ourselves, and become light again.”
“Without you, we can’t leave this place, or find the tower where our light has gone.”
“Take us away.”
Crystal thoughts race through me.
Long years in the caverns, looking through pathfinder gateways, watching other worlds and other times.
The Davow see, but they’re not strong enough to travel through the gates.
They’ve waited patiently for my arrival, the first sign that the end is coming.
My fire body is pulled through twelve of the moving, twisting tubes, and bathed in violet well energy.
Then, in the last tube, I’m covered in white well energy, with thin vortices of purple energy that spin around me.
The caverns disappear, replaced by endless rows of colored energy spheres, each carrying pathfinder gateways, all surrounded with violet well energy.
My awareness is pulled into sphere after sphere, staying in each world for a few moments, before leaping through space and time to another.
In each world, I see through the eyes of the creatures who live there.
It’s like returning to the vats, except that each life passes in seconds.
Even with my mind moving at Gen speed, I can’t follow or remember it all.
My travels are focused on the shadows, and what will happen to them over time.
A sadness drifts over me when their future becomes clear.
The caverns return, and the Davow clear a space around me.
My fire body pulses with energy from all eight shadow beings.
Soon, the energies come together, forming a small multi-colored sphere, that rises through me, following a spiral path that touches each of the inner wells.
When the sphere reaches the top, it spirals down around me, passing through the black well.
The sphere repeats its journey without rest, about once per second, giving me another heartbeat.
My thoughts turn to the towers, and my home beyond.
The sphere forms a small, dim copy of itself.
They move together for one cycle through me.
The twin grows brighter as it moves.
Then it bursts out of my fire body, rising out of the caverns, to the ocean, and the dry land beyond.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” comes the Davow thought.
“I’ve seen the future,” I tell them.
“You must build many colonies, and contact all the shadows.”
“Command them, and help them awake and change.”
“They’ll transform into lights before you, and help you finish your journey.”
“You will help us, and make it all pass quickly?”
“This is your task, not mine.”
“It will be a million years before you can join the light that you came from.”
“The vision shows that you receive our gifts, and shine.”
“That has come.”
“Our vision of the end is weak, but we see that shadows meet with lights while your form watches over us.”
“Take that shape and bring the end quickly.”
“There’s nothing I can do to quicken the way.”
“I’ve looked at many paths, but none of them will bring you home sooner.”
“Then open a door through time, and take us to the future.”
“You have the power.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Besides, bringing you there isn’t enough.”
“Your energy can’t survive on the surface as you are.”
“The day’s light will kill you.”
“First you must learn to live in the water at the bottom of the sea.”
“Eventually, you will learn to bear the light.”
They move their energy around me, trapping my fire body.
“If we stay, then you stay.”
I shine daylight at them and push them back.
Then I make a Jiku body.
“Is this what you want?”
I pull my fire body away from the flesh, and leave the corpse on the floor.
The Davow crystal pours over the body, but their thoughts are quiet.
“You can’t hold me, and if you could, what good would it do?”
“I can’t help you.”
“Then bring us to the surface, and let us die.”
“That’s better than living here forever.”
“What if we never find the light when it’s time?”
The Davow experience time differently than I do, but they still need hope to last through the long years.
“There is something I can do to help,” I tell them.
They wait quietly.
“You know that shadows and lights were created, but nothing more.”
“I’ll show you what the shadows look like, and where they live.”
My thoughts share maps of the sea and the surface, and the shadows who live there.
I show the Davow the black tower within the sea, and the plateau of the seven towers, gateways to the seven worlds where the inner races live.
“Your first task is to build another tower in the sea from your crystal, so you can rise high enough to meet the Feldin.”
“You’ll learn to bear their glow, so you can face the daylight.”
“When you and the others are no longer shadows, you’ll be able to pass through the eight towers to join your brothers.”
I transform my dead Jiku body into Davow crystal, and move it to the sea bottom, three hundred miles from the black tower.
I multiply the crystal to ten times its original size, still holding its shape.
This is enough for the Davow to start a colony, although the seawater will make them weak, at first.
I show them images of what I’ve done, and transplant some of their awareness to their new crystal home.
“You stay with us after all,” says the sea Davow.
“Your form will be with us, even though your thoughts are elsewhere.”
I leave them behind, and move toward the black tower.
There’s one thing I couldn’t tell them.
When all the shadows reach the inner worlds, the towers will flow into water and dust.
Will that be the end for all of creation, or a new beginning?