Makish, Dilasa, and I stand naked in the transition chamber as it fills with warm seawater.
The only sounds we hear are the movement of the water, and our breathing.
The three of us seem helpless as we stand here, but we can all bend the energy web to our will.
Even little Dilasa is more powerful than the greatest Fiklow binder, and she is well-protected.
As we flew here in Botzar’s ship, I taught her to raise an energy shield, and I helped her build a wintzal that will guard her mind against any attack.
Botzar and B’tzel remain on the small ship.
They refuse to take the form of the Fiklow, the Jiku’s ancient enemy.
I touch Dilasa’s mind, as the water reaches her chin.
It’s strange to be able to touch another mind with both our wintzals in place, but it’s part of our unusual connection.
She’s nervous about the transformation.
“Are you ok, little one?” I ask.
She answers me by taking a deep breath.
Then she goes underwater and transforms into the squid-like Fiklow.
Makish and I must wait for the water to rise higher before we transform into Fiklow.
Our adult Fiklow bodies will be almost three times the size of Dilasa’s body.
Dilasa pulls playfully at our legs with her tentacles as Makish and I wait.
When the water reaches our shoulders, we complete the transformation.
Soon after, the chamber is full of the sweet smelling sea water, and the door opens to the hallway.
“I absorbed some of your memories of being Fiklow,” says Dilasa with a mind touch, “but it’s not the same as feeling it myself.”
She jets in circles around the chamber.
“It’s exciting and frightening being so different,” she says, “but I love how I feel when I move.”
“It’s like flying.”
We swim into the hallway, and I smell commander Keesha’s presence before I hear or see her.
She’s happy to see us.
“You swim with us, again,” says Keesha, wrapping tentacles, first with me, and then with Makish.
Dilasa is shy of Keesha and her crew, and swims mostly within my tentacles.
“Who is the child?” asks Keesha, sharply.
“Will she behave properly before the new queen?”
“She’s a binder, Keesha.”
“She knows how to change her shape?”
“Yes,” I answer.
“She has great power.”
“Someday soon she will be as strong as me.”
Dilasa sticks her head farther out.
“She hides in your tentacles, Lord Yagrin, like you are her brood-father.”
“We share blood, Keesha, and she is an orphan.”
“I have declared her my daughter, and she has chosen me as teacher and brood-father.”
“Have you taught her our sounds, Lord Yagrin?”
“She understands us, Keesha, but she’s cautious, still tasting her new body.”
Keesha extends a single tentacle toward Dilasa.
When Dilasa moves away, Keesha looks at her, and sings to her.
I’ve never heard a Fiklow sing before, but it sounds sweet to my Fiklow ears.
“Don’t be afraid of me, young one,” says Keesha, when the song ends.
“I’m not afraid,” says Dilasa loudly, wrapping a tentacle with Keesha.
Her voice echoes through the hallway.
“She has spirit, Lord Yagrin.”
“Who among us would have courage to swim in a new form, at her age?”
“Grown up, she would make a great queen.”
“What do you hear of the new queen?” I ask Keesha.
“Troubling reports,” she answers.
“She is not what we expect a queen to be.”
“They say she has a strong spirit, but a queen must be fully grown, unusually large, and possess great physical strength.”
“She must command the attention of all who meet her.”
“The new queen is young and weak, not even old enough to make a small brood.”
“Still,” I suggest, “the egg chose her.”
“Yes,” says Keesha, moving a tentacle nervously.
“It opened for her when she came near, and lit up the crystal forest.”
“Will the Fiklow accept such a queen?” asks Makish.
“I don’t know,” answers Keesha, “but I think many of the traditionalists will reject her.”
“The anti-queen faction will laugh at her weakness.”
“What can we do?” asks Makish.
“We must accept what we cannot change.”
“Come Dilasa,” says Keesha, lifting the dark mood, “let me show you my ship.”
I feel Dilasa’s mind touch as it penetrates my wintzal.
“You trust the Fiklow, Yagrin?”
“I trust some of them, like Keesha,” I tell her, “but keep your wintzal in place at all times.”
“There are some here who might listen to our thoughts, and use them against us.”
“What’s it like to touch their minds, Yagrin?”
“Are they so different from us?”
“Not so different,” I tell her.
“May I touch the minds of some of the Fiklow?” asks Dilasa.
“They won’t even know that I’m there.”
“No,” I tell her.
“Never touch a mind without permission, unless there is a great need.”
“Besides, some of the Fiklow are binders who could feel your presence.”
Dilasa’s mind is quiet, and I sense that she’s troubled.
“I touch your mind all the time,” she says, “and I never ask permission.”
“With me,” I tell her, “you don’t need to ask.”
When Keesha’s tour ends, she brings us into a private chamber, and leaves her crew behind.
“We’ll arrive soon,” says Keesha, “using an enhanced version of the star drive.”
“What’s our hurry?” I ask her.
“Vendik has heard rumors of a plan to kill the new queen.”
“Are you surprised that Vendik is helping us protect the queen?”
“She doesn’t believe in the old ways, Lord Yagrin.”
“I think she’s more interested in protecting you, than in protecting the queen.”
“Vendik is a pragmatic leader,” I tell her.
“She understands that the queen can strengthen the union.”
“The right queen could do that,” says Keesha, “but I believe that this queen will tear the union apart.”
“She is too small to command the respect that a queen needs.”
“I haven’t shared my thoughts with Vendik about the new queen,” says Keesha.
Before long, we circle Gunal, the birth-planet of the Fiklow race.
In Fiklow legend, the planet is the mother of all Fiklow, and their first queen.
So all queens take her name.
Soon after, we swim again in Gunal’s oceans.
The water here smells so sweet, not like the strange, antiseptic water that moves through the ships.
I’ve asked Dilasa and Makish to stay a few hundred feet away with Keesha.
I need time alone with my thoughts.
The new queen will join us soon.
Until then, she is well-guarded in a secret place.
While I wait, I return again and again to the crystal tree where the old queen died, and I think of her.
Soon I will play the role of the queen’s shadow, and help the new queen to be born.
All shadows before me have died, gladly serving as a bridge between the old queen and the new one.
Physical death does not frighten me.
I can reshape a new body and return to life.
I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.
“The sea is so big, Yagrin,” says Dilasa’s mind touch, interrupting my thoughts.
She swims with me.
“I know you want to be alone, Yagrin,” continues Dilasa, “and I’m sorry for hearing your thoughts.”
“This can’t wait.”
“I have to tell you something.”
“Helping this new queen will kill you,” she says.
“Yes,” I agree, “but I can make another body and live again.”
“You don’t understand,” she says.
“I’ve had a vision.”
“You will be attacked at the end of the ceremony, when your fire body is weak.”
“It will shatter, and even you can’t return from that.”
“Did you tell Makish?”
“Yes,” answers Dilasa, “and Makish warned Keesha.”
“Makish will try to protect you, and Keesha is doubling the guard.”
“You’ll still do it?” she asks, knowing the answer.
“The queen will help stabilize the union, and help the Jiku.”
“They all must work together to defend against the Spiral.”
“You and I must fight the Spiral,” says Dilasa.
“If you’re killed, there is no hope for anyone, and I’ll be alone again.”
“I have to do this,” I tell her.
“I feel that there will be danger and sorrow, but it will be all right in the end.”
Dilasa doesn’t believe me, and swims off to stay with Makish.
I swim to the egg, and wait for the new queen’s arrival.
She arrives fifteen minutes later, surrounded by guards.
Keesha leads the group, while Makish and Dilasa stay in the back.
The new queen smells nervous.
She is so young and small.
“This is Lord Yagrin, the old queen’s shadow,” says Keesha.
The new queen approaches me, and we wrap tentacles.
“Leave us,” I tell the group.
“The queen and I will prepare together for the ceremony, in private.”
They all move away from us, and I shape a transparent barrier around us to block the sound.
I smell her confusion.
“I’ve heard of your power, Lord Yagrin,” she says, “but why do you imprison me?”
“This is no prison, my queen.”
“The barrier will block our sounds, so we may speak freely.”
“Now, I can answer the questions that you are afraid to ask, and tell you of things that no other Fiklow are blessed to know.”
“You have no questions?” I ask.
I smell her fear of me.
Is she afraid of my power as a binder, or does she fear the alien in me?
Perhaps she is simply afraid of my large adult body!
I transform myself into a smaller Fiklow body, about her size.
“Now I am young and small, like you,” I tell her.
She swims around me, wondering if she can trust her perceptions.
“Is Yagrin really your name?” she asks at last.
“When the egg opened for me, it taught me the traditions, including the story of Gunal and Yagrin.”
“Yes,” I tell her, “Yagrin is my birth name.”
I feel a mind touch from the future queen.
I open my wintzal, and build a temporary mental barrier around us.
“Our thoughts are private, surrounded by a mental wall,” I tell her.
“Are you truly Jiku” she asks, “traveling from another universe, and a more powerful binder than the old queen?”
“Yes,” I tell her.
“What is it like to change shape, and live in different forms?”
“I can give you memories,” I offer.
I share some of my memories as a Jiku, a Bizra, and even memories of the furry Gen form.
Then I give her some memories of my time with the old queen.
“Wonderful,” she says.
“Can you teach me to change shape like you?”
“We have little time together,” I answer, “before the ceremony.”
“My brood mother is a powerful binder,” she tells me, “and I have some of her power, but I am still young, and small for my age.”
“How will anyone respect me as queen?”
“During the ceremony,” I tell her, “I can make you older and much larger.”
“No one will question your strength after that!”
We speak for a time about family and dreams and distant worlds, and we review what will happen during the ceremony.
I instantly like her.
She has a strong spirit, and a great thirst to learn.
Her birth name is Wiak.
Queens abandon their birth names, but she will wait for my blessing before taking her new name.
“I didn’t want to test for queen,” she tells me.
“I’ve had little time to see what life is.”
“My old life, and my birth name will disappear.”
“No child has ever been chosen to be queen before.”
“I knew that everyone would laugh at me when I came to test, but my mother pushed me to come.”
“Do you always listen to your mother?”
“No,” she laughs, “but I wanted to see the wonder of the first Fiklow world, newly restored to life.”
“I was willing to suffer ridicule during the test to get this amazing trip.”
“I was so sure that I would never be chosen,” she adds, quietly, “but here we are.”
“I release you from being the shadow,” she says, making a formal declaration.
“It’s within my power to do so.”
“The throne will transform me into a queen without your help.”
“I will let go of the old queen’s blessing that you carry for me.”
“I don’t want you to die for me, Lord Yagrin.”
“No,” I answer.
“You need this blessing and the extra strength, so no one can question your right to be queen.”
“No queen has ever faced so many enemies.”
“What about you?” she asks.
“You tell me that you can survive physical death, but what if your fire is also broken?”
“Do you abandon your people and family so easily, and the young daughter who waits for you?”
“My service as shadow will bind the Jiku and Fiklow together,” I tell her.
“It must be done.”
“Bring your daughter,” she says.
“I want to meet her.”
I call to Dilasa with a mind touch, and ask her to come.
I open the barrier to let her pass.
Dilasa is only a little smaller than Wiak.
They speak for a few minutes about binding, and me, and what will happen.
Keesha approaches with the guards.
The transmission equipment is in place, so the Fiklow worlds, and the Jiku may watch their new queen.
I dissolve the barrier.
“Dilasa,” says Keesha, “move to the back now.”
“Only adults may be near the queen during the ceremony.”
Wiak wraps a tentacle with Dilasa to stop her.
“It’s my right,” says Wiak, “to choose who will swim with me as I become queen.”
“My old self must die for the queen to be born, even as the shadow swims to his death.”
“As the shadow follows me at this time, let his daughter, and the binder Makish swim with him.”
“Yes, my queen,” answers Keesha.
There are many visitors, including the leaders of all the Fiklow worlds, including Vendik.
She catches my eye, but according to protocol, I may not greet anyone, only speak according to the needs of the ceremony.
Wiak and I stand on opposite sides of the egg.
Makish and Dilasa stand next to me.
Keesha and Vendik stand about five feet from Wiak.
The guests and guards form a thick circle around us.
Wiak touches the egg, and it opens.
The throne, the necklace of blue pearls, rises from the egg, and comes to rest around Wiak’s neck.
The crowd sees light bathing the new queen, but I have energy eyes.
I see great spinning rivers of energy, greeting the queen.
It’s all energy, yet it has the taste of the four elements.
First, I see spinning rivers of water energy, like great whirlpools, form around her, and surround her on all sides.
Next, spinning rivers of air energy, like tiny tornadoes, form at the surface of the ocean.
They drop quickly through the water, until they surround Wiak.
When the air energy fades, great spinning rivers of fire energy burst forth from the sun.
They move quickly down through the water, leaving a trail of light.
The fire rivers spin around Wiak, and join above her head, forming an egg of fire energy around her.
When the fire energy fades, I hear the distant sound of a Fiklow song, that reminds me of the song that Keesha sang to Dilasa.
The song grows louder and louder.
Spinning rivers of crystal energy rise from the crystal forest, and from the depths of the planet, and bathe Wiak in endless colors.
Soon, the energy rivers fade, and the necklace returns to its resting place in the egg.
She is truly a queen now.
I shape a new body for her, as old as the typical queen, and larger than any of the Fiklow females that I’ve seen.
Then I attach her fire body to her new form, while dissolving her original body.
The transfer happens so quickly, that her young body seems to age and grow.
She shines with a queen’s bright light.
“Queen Gunal,” I say, using her new name for the first time.
I pause for a moment, and then I touch the egg, and let the blessings of the old queen pour out of me and rest upon the new queen.
She reaches out with that energy of blessing, and spreads blessing upon everyone that surrounds us.
I withdraw my hand from the egg, and feel that most of my strength is gone.
The ground begins to soften beneath the egg, and we all swim away.
The dirt and stone seem to melt into a mist, and the egg disappears.
Deep within the planet, the egg finds its resting place, where it will hide until the new queen faces death, and calls the egg to return.
I can barely swim to the crystal tree that grows where the old queen died.
Queen Gunal swims with me.
I touch the tree according to tradition, and a great burst of energy moves through the sea above us, and streams through me to the crystal tree.
The crowd looks on, in sorrow, as my physical body shatters.
Dilasa, Makish and the queen cry out, a moment later, when my fire body dissolves.
I wait for the death of my awareness, but it doesn’t come.
My fire body is gone, but my awareness, and my fire energy, are here, within the crystal forest.
My energy rushes freely throughout the forest, and deep below the ocean floor.
I move easily through stone and fire, even to the center of the planet, but I can’t move in water or air.
Worst of all, I can’t bind my energy into a fire body.
I’m trapped here.
I give thanks that I still have the energy sight that I call energy eyes.
I will not be blind in my prison.
For a moment, I’ve forgotten about my family, friends, and the queen.
I turn my sight to look at the Fiklow, and see that the queen is under attack.
About half of the guards are firing upon Queen Gunal and the crowd that surrounds her.
A dozen small ships hover above the crowd, and join the attack.
The loyal guards try to defend the queen, the guests, and the crowd.
The Queen needs no protection, safe behind her powerful energy shield.
She and Makish attack the ships, and the rebel guards.
Dilasa rests on the ground by Makish, unhurt within her shield, but unable to think of anything but my death.
The water is clouded with Fiklow blood from the dead and wounded.
Captain Fwitay falls and dies, defending Keesha.
Keesha is hurt, but still alive, and firing her weapon at rebel guards.
The attack is soon over, and I scan the dead and dying, looking to see who I know.
Vendik is badly hurt.
She will not live long enough for a healer or doctor to reach her.
Without thought, I release a healing body to help Vendik and the other wounded.
It’s only after the body forms, that I wonder how I can have a healing body without a fire body!
My healing body rests upon Vendik, and the healing energy streams into her, but the damage is more than regular healing can help.
I shape a new Fiklow body for her, and bind her fire body to it.
Vendik awakes suddenly, and feels around her body, expecting to find wounds.
She remembers being attacked, and is surprised to find herself whole.
I leave her, and continue to focus on those who are badly wounded.
Then I attend to Keesha and those with lesser wounds.
Finally, I dissolve my healing body, and bring back my attention to my fire energy that moves through the crystal forest.
“Who heals the wounded?” asks Keesha.
“Is it you, my queen?”
“Not us, answers Makish.
Dilasa straightens up.
“Yagrin,” she answers loudly, not believing her own voice.
“I wish it was true Dilasa,” says Makish sadly, but he’s really gone.”
“We saw his fire body destroyed.”
“I don’t know how he lives,” answers Dilasa, “but no one else here could heal so many, so quickly.”
“Can you touch his mind or see his energies?” asks Makish.
Dilasa tries to reach me with a mind touch, but she finds nothing to connect with.
I can hear and see what takes place through energy senses, but I can’t touch her mind.
I shape a new Fiklow body for myself, as I did for Vendik, but the body is useless.
I can’t bind fire energy to it, and my fire body is gone.
I hesitate, but finally I let the Fiklow body dissolve into water before anyone sees it.
Makish and Dilasa scan the ocean around them, including the crystal forest, but my energy is hidden within the crystal.
“He’s not here,” says Dilasa at last.
“No,” says Makish.
I could flow energy into a familiar shape, and let Dilasa and Makish know that I’m here, but what good will come of it?
There’s nothing they can do to help me.
Why should we all be bound to this place?
The guests return to their ships, eager to escape their memories of the attack.
Makish and Dilasa travel with Keesha and the queen on the scout ship.
The new queen will help build the school for binders, and work with the Jiku, with Keesha at her side as chief advisor.
I watch, sadly, as the ship rises through the water and then the air, and docks with Keesha’s main ship, still in orbit.
In a few hours, Botzar’s ship will return to pick up Dilasa and Makish.
The guests have left the ocean, but many Fiklow remain on Gunal, to help rebuild the Fiklow colony.
I’ll protect them and find ways to help them in secret.
I have little else to do, and the old queen would like it.
I let my energy drift through the crystal and stone of the planet, deeper and deeper, until I reach the molten core, so full of energy.
It’s beautiful here, and this brings me some comfort, especially when I visit the resting place of the egg.
I wonder if the throne within the egg can help me?
Its energy helped me heal the whole planet.
I touch the egg with fire energy, and the egg opens, an energy shield protecting the throne within.
My fire energy suddenly moves, spinning around the egg, and takes the shape of my old fire body.
I can’t hold the shape for more than a moment, before it melts away.
The egg closes, and my energy streams back to the crystal forest.
Makish and Dilasa have returned, and swim near the place where I died.
“It’s time to go, Dilasa,” says Makish.
“You can’t help Yagrin by staying here.”
Dilasa ignores Makish, and releases a healing body, that hovers above the crystal tree.
Makish sees the healing body.
“Stop it, Dilasa,” says Makish.
“You can’t heal the dead.”
“I miss him too, but we have to go.”
She moves away, hoping Dilasa will follow, but Dilasa ignores her.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t contact them, but I can’t keep that promise.
I release my healing body and move it out of the crystal, so Dilasa can see it.
She sees my healing body, and I feel her surprise.
I bring our healing bodies together, pairing up our energy suns.
Then I try to bind the energy suns together, but I can’t build the connections.
Dilasa’s energy flies away from me.
She remembers how I bound us together, but she’s afraid to do it.
Who would dare bind herself to the dead?
She hovers at a distance, unsure what to do next.
I have to let her go.
I shape two words out of energy so her eyes will see: “Goodbye, Dilasa.”
I let my listener fall back toward the crystal forest, but I find Dilasa’s healing body blocking my path.
She lets go of reason, and aligns our suns, and builds the links.
We are together, but we still can’t communicate with each other.
What will this help?
The egg calls me from within the planet, and my fire energy finds its way there, and circles around the egg.
I bring our healing body deep into the planet’s fire, until it faces the egg.
Dilasa sees my swirling fire energy, but doesn’t know what it is.
She continues to watch as the fire energy touches the egg, and it opens.
The throne within the egg glows with a deep blue fire, and it reshapes my fire energy into a fire body with a drifting shape.
Dilasa moves our combined healing body until it rests on the unstable fire body.
Our combined healing energy is strong enough to maintain the balance of the fire body, and hold its shape.
Still, I feel the instability of the body, waiting, hidden beneath the surface.
This fire body won’t last!
“Yagrin,” I hear, as her mind touch finally reaches me.
“Go with Makish, little one.”
“I just wanted to say goodbye.”
“I can’t leave here without a real fire body.”
“This one is only temporary, and you can’t stay here forever.”
A pulse of blue energy rises from the throne, passes through our healing body, and rests on the fire body.
I separate our healing bodies from each other, and push Dilasa away, back to the ocean.
She has to leave.
The egg closes, but surprisingly, the fire body holds its shape, and absorbs my healing body.
I move the fire body out of the planet’s fire, and into the open ocean, by the crystal forest.
Makish is holding Dilasa, comforting her, but they move toward me, when my fire body appears.
I shape myself a new Fiklow body, and bind the fire body to it.
Then, I awake in the Fiklow body, to find Dilasa and Makish wrapped around me.
The sea is sweet, and quiet.