Berek and I wear the same style party robes, but in different colors.
I’m not used to so much color, but it’s common in Tshuan.
This elegant pattern of cobalt blue, gold, and black caught me, the moment I first saw it.
The fabric weighs almost nothing.
Why am I here at this party?
To walk around in beautiful clothing?
To enjoy the king’s attention?
I’m here to help the sisters, and understand more about Tshuan, and what role it will play in the coming time of war.
Keela approaches me, looking troubled.
“How long until the party begins?” I ask her.
“Thirty minutes,” she answers.
“Master Yagrin, may I speak with you and Berek privately?”
We enter a small room and she seals the opening, while the others go off to see the preparations for the party.
She looks nervous as she begins speaking.
“Master Yagrin, Berek and I have seen you reshape the age of your body.”
“Who else knows of it?”
“Chiwan and Makish.”
“She may have told some of the other sisters, but I doubt it.”
“We have a problem,” says Keela.
“The guards overheard you speaking about it with me and Makish, and saw you make yourself young.”
“Word has spread, and most of Tshuan is talking about it.”
“What does it matter, Keela?”
She looks at me like I’m a foolish child.
“They think that you’ve discovered how to overcome death.”
“Is it true?” she asks.
“Can you erase the years, and make anyone younger?”
“I think so, Keela, although I’ve only tried it once, on Master Chiwan.”
She looks puzzled.
Master Chiwan doesn’t look young.
I see her puzzled expression, and laugh.
“His new body is fifty years younger than his old body,” I explain.
“Master Yagrin,” she says excitedly, “this is incredible!”
“Don’t you realize that everyone around you is afraid of becoming old and weak, and losing their beauty and strength?”
“We think of death as a wild, vicious creature, and we wonder what terrors wait for us when we die, but death sees you and runs away!”
You can keep us young, forever!”
“Why are you obsessed with aging and death at seventeen?” I ask her.
“My mother died when I was young,” she answers.
Berek looks at her.
“Keela,” he says, “I saw my first parents die when I was five years old, when our city was destroyed by Krale.”
He touches my shoulder.
“A year ago, I met my father for the first time.”
“I thought he was my uncle then.”
“He was unconscious, dying, and his body was bleeding energy, but the healers brought him back.”
“Then, he died in the tower, saving me from the Krale.”
“The Bizra brought him back to life as an old one.”
“I’ve been surrounded with death my whole life.”
“It destroyed by childhood.”
“I don’t know what it means to be a child.
“Still, even though I’m afraid of death, I know that this life is only a moment, and a beginning.”
“If you hold on too tightly to life, you give up a bigger world beyond it.”
“There are many stories about the next world,” says Keela to Berek, “but what is the truth?”
She turns to me.
“Do you know, Master Yagrin, what lies beyond death?
“Our fire body survives,” I tell them, “but it can’t stay here.”
“It goes on to another world.”
“For someone who has never seen the energy world, losing the physical body is a great shock.”
“You see and think differently, and live in a much bigger universe.”
“Your memories of this small world become dim, against a brighter light.”
“The physical world becomes a shadow, and your fire body is pulled away from here.”
“When I first died, I was within the Watchtower.”
“It protected my weak fire body, so I wasn’t pulled away.”
“Since then, my fire body has changed.”
“When my physical body dies, I don’t have to leave this world.”
“I’ve learned how to rebuild my body, again and again.”
“Then, you’ll stay on Siksa, forever?” asks Keela.
“Someday, I’ll feel it’s time to leave, and then, I’ll follow the fire body of someone that dies, and see where they go.”
“Death is not an enemy to conquer, Keela.”
“It’s a friend who we dance with.”
“When the need comes, I invite death to take my outer bodies, so I can be free of them, and move as pure energy.”
“Death helps us shatter the familiar, and leave behind only the light.”
“It hides the old roads, and pushes us to find another way.”
“It awakens us, and teaches us to be new.”
“I’m afraid of death, Master Yagrin,” says Keela, in a quiet voice.
“I don’t want to face some other world.”
“I want to stay here, with the world that I know, and be young and strong.”
“Why not share your gift of youth with the people of Tshuan?”
“They will fight for you, and serve you however you wish.”
“You hold the power of the creator in your hands!”
Berek looks toward me.
He hopes that I’m disgusted by her, as he is, but there is a hint of fear, mixed with his look of disgust.
He wonders if I’m hungry for honor and worship.
He straightens up, and looks at Keela, angry enough to strike her.
She moves back a few feet, and avoids his powerful gaze.
I touch his shoulder lightly.
“Calm down, Berek,” I tell him.
“Her words can’t hurt us.”
“What do we care for honor from those who are trapped in their own flesh, those who have never seen the energy web?”
“Our eyes are turned toward an endless universe, to discover, and explore.”
I move close to Keela at Gen speed.
She doesn’t see me move, until I stop a foot away from her.
She cries out in shock.
“Do you think that I want people to worship me, Keela?!” I say, raising my voice.
She’s frightened, and embarrassed.
“Of course, you don’t!” she says, lowering her head, “but you have to understand how we feel.”
“We cling tightly to life like a dream we’re afraid to awake from.”
“Nothing else matters.”
“We’ll do anything to keep it.”
“Once, Master Yagrin, even you must have felt that way about life?”
“I’ve never felt like that.”
“I’ve always known that life is just one adventure among many.”
“I can imagine seeing life like that,” she says, “but I can’t feel it.”
“Maybe someday, you can teach me to see the world as you do.”
“For now, remember my words, and be watchful, Master Yagrin.”
“People move in an instant from admiration, to fear and hatred.”
“Who knows what they will try to do to you, or your family!”
“We’ll be careful, Keela,” I tell her, “but let’s go now.”
“The others are waiting for us.”
The End of Youth
“Father,” says Berek, “I need to speak with you.”
I look in his eyes.
He has never called me father until now.
The party can wait.
“Go ahead of us, Keela,” I tell her.
“We’ll come in a few minutes.”
We stand there silently until she’s gone.
“What’s wrong, Berek?” I ask him.
“Are we really in danger?” he asks.
“There are many Jiku in Tshuan and the guild lands who will fear or hate me, and want to harm all of us.”
“I’m sorry that I’ve made you a target, but soon, everyone on Siksa will face even greater enemies.”
“We’re all in danger.”
For a moment, Berek looks small and frightened, but then he straightens up.
“I’ve been trying to ignore what you’ve said about the coming war,” he tells me.
“I wanted to pretend to be a child a little longer, but it’s foolish.”
“I don’t know what it means to be a child, and feel safe and free of worry.”
“The only thing I’ve known as a child is fear.”
“When you died in the black column of the Watchtower, your necklace fell into my hands.”
“I was afraid to hold it, and afraid to let go.”
“It still frightens me.”
“Today, we hear that the necklace is a shield, and I must wear it.
“I can’t imagine myself with you in battle, raising the shield, and helping you control the spinning sword.”
“You’re talented Berek,” I tell him.
“You know that.”
“Yes,” he answers.
“I’m a natural at flow, but that’s not enough, and my fear holds me back from using what I know.”
“I’m no use to you as I am now, and no one can prepare me for this, except you!”
“Train me in energy weaving, and teach me to fight.”
“Berek, the guild won’t let you test for master until you’re twenty.”
“Father, we can’t follow the guild schedule.”
“Besides, I’m not interested in the master’s band, or the title, just the knowledge.”
“I know I’m filled with fear.”
“I’m afraid of many things, but I’m not afraid to follow you.”
“You can teach me to get past my fear.”
“What will your parents say, Berek, when we tell them that you are preparing for war?”
“We can’t tell them,” he answers.
“They would never let me do it.”
“Take me as an apprentice in energy weaving, and say that it’s a good way for us to spend time together.”
“What about school?”
“I’m far ahead of my age in general studies.”
“I’ll miss my art, though,” he says sadly.
“Why would you give it up?” I ask.
“How can I spend time on sculpture,” he says, “when the world is threatened with war?”
“I won’t train you,” I tell him, “if you give up your art.”
“It’s an important part of who you are.”
“You need to bring all of yourself, fully alive, to the training.”
“The part of you that fuels your art is not your thoughts.”
“It reaches beyond thought into mystery, and brings back sparks from that distant world.”
“Your art reveals your playful, creative side.”
“That joy and freshness will accelerate your learning like nothing else, and show you who you need to become.”
“We need that insight, and that joy, to face all that this war will demand of us.”
I’m talking to myself, as much as I’m talking to Berek.
Too often, I’m a stranger to joy and play.
Every action becomes a burden, a heavy responsibility that struggle with.
If I only open my heart, there’s an extraordinary adventure here that I can enjoy, despite the magnitude of what’s at stake.
The sounds of the invited guests grows louder and louder through the walls of the room.
We have to go.
“I’ll take you as an apprentice, but I’m not a warrior.”
“We’ll both have to learn to fight.”
There are seven hundred guests at the party when we arrive.
The three hundred sisters are scattered among the guests, moving around a large room with high ceilings.
The walls are covered with richly colored tapestries, and sweet scents fill the air.
There’s an extraordinary variety of food and drink, and the guests are dressed in a sea of color and strange fabrics.
The king is known for his simplicity, and military manner.
He has little use for lavish displays of wealth.
Tonight, there is a new feeling in the air.
Some say the party marks the true return of the kingdom.
Word has spread that my family and I are newfound members of the royal family, so all eyes are on us tonight.
Shazira and Tzina shine like stars, even in a crowd like this.
I tolerate the attention, but I hate it.
Berek drowns in it until Tzina takes hold of his hand, and doesn’t leave him.
The custom is to eat while standing and speaking with others.
Keela leads us around, introducing us to an endless string of military, business, and scientific leaders.
Several guests mention that they have unbonded children, like Berek and Tzina.
I hear the hint in their words, and tell them that my children are still too young.
When we get a short rest from the endless conversations about nothing, I pull Keela aside.
“Keela, I need a break from this.”
“I’d rather face the Krale again!”
“Master Yagrin,” she says, “the people see this party as a sign of a new era.”
“Let them have their moment.”
“Besides,” she whispers to me, “the entertainment is about to begin.”
Keela leads me and my family out of the ballroom, through a long hallway to 3 large, guarded doors.
The doors open into to a private room with a clear crystal wall that overlooks a great stadium and its stage.
The king waits for us in the room.
“Who else will join us, Commander?” I ask.
“No one, Master Yagrin.”
“This room is only for the royal family.”
The rest of the stadium fills up as we wait.
“You have no other family, Commander?” asks Shazira.
“The Tshuan custom is that the royal family has only one child, except for rare exceptions.”
The king looks at Keela with a far away look as he says this.
“So our family is always small.”
“No parents or grandparents, Commander?”
“The Jiku are long lived.”
“Not the royal family,” he answers.
“We don’t live past seventy or eighty years.”
“There are always accidents or strange illnesses that take us.”
“Some think it’s a curse that was placed on the last king and his descendants.”
“Do you believe that?” I ask him.
“I’m not sure,” he answers.
“The illness could be explained by genetic disease, but the accidents?”
“What about you, Yagrin?” he asks.
“Do you have older family?”
“My brother and parents died in a Krale attack,” I tell him.
“The older, living relatives shun me, as a traveler.”
He’s surprised that I have older relatives.
“My wife died almost ten years ago,” he adds, “on a multi-day climbing trip.”
“Keela and I were all that remained of the royal family until you came to us.”
“Father!” says Keela, in an angry voice.
He glares at her.
“You may be a princess,” he says to her, raising his voice, “but I am king.
“My mother was found on a ledge, her ropes still attached,” says Keela.
“There were no signs of a fall, or a blow to the head.”
“The searchers found her, held by the ropes, without life.”
“Half of her body had turned to Kralestone.”
“Was she attacked by the Krale, Commander?” asks Berek, his face white.
The king is uncomfortable speaking of this, but he knows that Berek lost his mother to the Krale.
“No one knows for sure,” he answers, “but what else would turn her to Kralestone?”
“What troubles me most is that she may have suffered alone for a day or two.”
“She never climbed with a commdisk.”
“The last of the large Tshuan cities was destroyed by the Krale, years before that.”
“Though the Krale sometimes attack lone masters, my bondmate was no master.”
He touches my arm.
“I take great comfort in knowing that you put an end to the Krale.”
“Thank you for that.”
He turns to Keela.
“Now tell me, Keela.”
“Why do we need to speak of this?”
“Because of Ilaz!” she says.
The king turns away.
“Ilaz is my brother,” says Keela.
“He was fifteen years old, when he went climbing with our mother.”
“He was found sitting on the ledge, near her body.”
“He hasn’t spoken since then, and never shows any feeling.”
“He’s unaware, or uninterested in what goes on around him.”
“There’s nothing physically wrong with him,” says the king quietly.
“Our healers, like yours, have little skill in healing the mind.”
“Those among us who can touch minds say he is beyond reach.”
“He eats, sleeps, and grows older, but this is no life.”
“I wish he had died with his mother.”
“Father!” says Keela in protest.
“It’s true, Keela,” he says.
“Ilaz will never come back to us, and you have ruined my celebration with this sadness!”
“Master Yagrin can help Ilaz,” she says to her father.
“We have brought other healing masters to treat Ilaz,” says the king, “and they were powerless to help him.”
Keela takes my hands.
“Master Yagrin,” says Keela, “I’ve heard how you healed your daughter.”
“Enter Ilaz’s mind, and show him the way back!”
The king’s face brightens.
“I was able to heal Tzina’s mind,” I tell him, “but I could have been trapped there.”
“Still, I will try to heal Ilaz.”
“No,” says the king.
“I won’t allow it.”
“The risk is too great.”
“Father, please!” begs Keela.
“Should I risk the whole world to save one boy?” he asks her.
“What if Master Yagrin is the only one who can save us from our enemies?”
Keela has no answer but her feelings.
She moves to a corner of the room and cries quietly.
Berek leads Tzina to Keela without speaking, and each of them take one of her hands.
“Don’t cry, Keela,” says Berek, in a calm, strong voice.
“There are great healers among the sisters.”
“Maybe one of them can help your brother.”
Keela stops crying and looks at Berek.
“You remind me so much of your father,” she says.
“We look alike,” says Berek, embarrassed.
“That’s not what I meant,” she says.
“Master Yagrin knows what to say to comfort me when I’m troubled, and so do you.”