Sakool approaches the emperor’s work room, nervous about the message he has to deliver.
The advisor signals his presence, and indicates that he has an urgent need to speak with the emperor.

“Come in, Sakool.”

“You’ve been in isolation the last two days, Great father.”
“I wasn’t sure you would see me.”

“Our plans for Siksa are progressing.”
“I have personal matters which need my attention.”
“But you indicates the matter is urgent.”

“Of course, Great Father.”

“What is it?”

“The detention facility in Tshuan was attacked, as we expected.”

“Our guards captured the attackers?”

“No, the terrorists knew about our guards in surrounding buildings, and put them to sleep.”
“Then they destroyed the sim center.”


“Traces of organic material.”
“Not enough for a Kizak or Tshuan death ritual.”

“How many of our guards were lost?”

“Six, but at least the cursed ones died with them.”

“I didn’t want this!”
“We look like fools, that we can’t stop a few terrorists.”
“The Tshuans must not think that we’re weak.”

“They were skilled, emperor, probably from the old Tshuan guard.”
“We think they broke into the building’s net, and cut the power.”
“We’ve spread the word on the infonet that this was a disgusting terrorist act.”
“I’ve sent your words of comfort to the families of the guards, as well as the people of Tshuan.”

“What are the Jiku saying on the infonet?”

“A few accuse us of planning this, but most of the messages are about the terrorists, praising them, or criticizing them.”

“Double the guards at the detention facility in the Guild Lands.”
“And install our most sophisticated warning systems.”
“I want our guards to know when the terrorists are approaching.”

“Yes, Great Father.”

“Now leave me.”
“I need to be alone again.”


It’s quiet here, miles below the planet’s surface.
The sun is far away, but the caves are full of light and life and air.
Plants cover the floor and walls, and timid little creatures run through this world, careful to stay far away from me and the Madar who watches over me.
In place of the sun, we have glowing crystals that light the caves.
An easy walk brings us to underground rivers with pure water, and Shusal shows me which plants to eat.
We sleep during the third of the day when the crystals are dim, but I try to sleep as little as possible.
In my dreams, I see the spirits of the thousands of Kizak that I killed.
They’re burning, screaming in pain, and chasing me.

Each time I dream about them, they get closer.
Still, I fly away until I reach an endless desert.
I can’t breathe and the the sun sets me on fire.
Then I wake up.

When we first came here, I had the dream once a day.
The last few days, the dream comes four or five times a night.
Soon, I won’t get any rest at all.

Did the Bizra send me to this prison because of the death that clings to me?

“It’s time to sleep, Tzina,” says Shusal.
“The crystals are dim.”

“I hate to sleep, Shusal.”
“You know that.”

“Yes, but you still need it.”

“We need to get out of here.”

“We’ve searched the caves for weeks, but there’s no gateway.”

“What about the surface of the planet?”

“I told you.”
“We can’t reach it, and if we could, it would kill us.”

“My energy eyes can’t see past the rock walls.”
“Tell me again what you see.”

Why does she keep asking about a place she will never go?
“It’s all desert, full of violent storms, with an atmosphere that carries too much methane and little oxygen.”

“Are the stars still there, beyond the storms?”

“What a strange question, Tzina!”

“I’m not sure what’s real anymore.”
“Tell me about the stars.”
“I miss them more than the sun.”

“There are few stars in this part of the galaxy.”
“Only a few hundred are visible in the night sky.”
“We must be far from the galactic center.”

Tzina lays down, but tries to stay awake.
Her body betrays her and pulls her into sleep.

The dream comes again.
This time the spirits reach her.
When their energy touches hers, the screams vanish, and she hears voices.
“Save us.”
“That’s all we ask.”

“How can I save you?”
“You’re dead!”

“Our spirits live, but we’re trapped in the cage.”
“Set us free.”

“I’m a prisoner here.”
“There’s nothing I can do.”

“You can escape.”
“The gate is beyond the fire.”

The dream fades, and she sleeps well that night.

“You look rested,” says the Madar, when Tzina wakes.
“No more nightmares?”

“I had the dream again, but the spirits reached me.”

“What happened?”

“They wanted help, not revenge.”

“Help, for Kizak?”
“Even if the dream was real, you should let them all suffer.”
“All the fight has gone out of you!”

“What do you mean?”

“You were strong when you came to the Kizak ship and killed them.”
“Look at you now, afraid of your dreams!”

“I’m not sure anymore that I did the right thing.”
“What did it accomplish?”
“And it’s me I’m afraid of.”

“Long before you were born, they turned the Madar into wild animals, and brought about the death of billions!”
“They want to cage the web, the conduit for all blessings.”
“I’ve lived in a physical and mental cage for hundreds of years.”
“I can’t bare the sight of them.”
“They would happily murder every Jiku child in their crusade against the web.”
“Will you wait for that to happen?!”
“I’m only sorry that you didn’t kill more of them.”

“I can still fight,” says Tzina, stepping close and challenging him.
“But I won’t let my anger turn me into a beast, either!”
“That anger won’t get you home.”

“No, it won’t.”

“What now?”

“I’ve scanned all the caves we can reach, looking for an energy gate.”
“There’s no gate, Tzina, unless it appears and disappears.”

“What about the caves beyond the barrier?”
The barrier is an area of intense radiation a hundred miles away.

“My energy sight can’t see beyond it.”
“Our energy senses may fail completely once we enter the area.”
“Who knows if there are light crystals there?”
“And I don’t think a stable gate is possible in the middle of that energy.”
“Even if there is a gate, with all the radiation, we’ll have to stand next to it before we can see it.”
“It will take us too long to find it.”
“My body is almost as sensitive to radiation as yours.”
“An hour of it will kill both of us.”

“What’s the alternative?”

“Stay here.”
“In a few years, someone may come for us.”

“No, Shusal.”
“I won’t hide when my people are fighting the Kizak.”
“But you don’t have to follow me.”

“Don’t run to your death, Tzina.”
“Let the decision go for a few days or weeks.”

“I’ve thought about this for the last week.”
“I’m going.”

“Then I’ll come with you, Tzina.”
“I don’t want to die alone.”

They fly to an area one hundred feet from the barrier.
The plant life is thin here, and disappears completely in another twenty feet.
“We stay together, Tzina, whatever happens,” says the Madar.

They pass through the edge of the barrier, into a cave entrance.
There’s light here, but the radiation is more intense.
She feels a tingling in her skin.

“Keep moving,” says the Madar.

They run.
After a few minutes, they see plant life.
Another fifty feet, and he stops.
“There’s no radiation at this point.”

They pass through a nearby opening into a perfectly round chamber.

“What is this place?” asks Tzina.

“Look,” says the Madar, pointing his four arms toward the center of the room.
They come to the black stone platform, five feet high.
The top is grey, with a white edge, and an endless stream of images moving across it.

“It’s the desert above us,” says Shusal.

The view slowly moves across the planet.

“That won’t help us,” says Tzina, feeling dizzy.

“The radiation was more intense than I expected,” says Shusal.”
“Rest here while I scan for a gate.”

“Wake up, Tzina.”

“I wasn’t sleeping.”

“You were.”
“I’ve been gone for hours.”
“The livable area on this side of the barrier is small, only a few miles wide.”

“Did you find a gate?”

“No, and there’s no accessible water.”

“We’ll have to go back to the other side.”

“If you like.”
“We’ve been exposed to a lethal dose of radiation.”
“We won’t last long, either way.”

She stands up and slams her fist on the platform.
The images change to a meadow.

“I recognize it,” says Tzina.
“It’s Siksa.”

The Madar touches the platform with his hands and concentrates.
Images of the tower world appear.

“Are they views of the worlds, or just memories of what we’ve seen?”

The view changes and Tzina sees a city filled with Madar.
“They’re not memories,” says Shusal.
“This is the Madar homeworld.”

Shusal turns suddenly.

“What’s wrong?”

“There’s an energy gate behind us, but it’s too small to pass through.”

“Let’s join minds,” says Tzina.
“Maybe the gate will get larger.”

She binds their minds together.
“Show me memories of the towers, so we can both focus on that world.”

As they look at the towers, the gate grows, but she sees that it’s still too small.
“Get ready to move,” she tells him, as she breaks the contact with his mind.

“What are you doing?” he asks.
“The contact widened the gate.”

“Yes, but you can’t be connected to me for what I’m about to do.”
“It’s too dangerous.”

She spins a sim, a world with an immense cave and a copy of the image platform.
There’s a gate in the sim that mirrors the real gate.
At first she stands alone, but then thousands of dead Kizak join her.
She activates the platform in the sim, and fills it with images of the towers.

The gate is larger, but it’s not enough.

The mob of Kizak surround her.
“What can I do?” she shouts to them.

They catch on fire, and start to burn.
“Burn with us,” they answer.

One by one, the faces of the Kizak become covered in fog, and reshape themselves into her.
She feels their pain, but with it, the gate opens wide.

“Now, Shusal,” she yells in the outside world.
Then she and Shusal hit the top of the platform with all their strength, while everyone in the sim does the same.
“Fly!” she says.

They reach and pass through the gate before it shrinks and disappears.

She stands on the side of a mountain, the Madar just behind her.
The sky is dark, but her energy sight reveals a bright world, with great rivers of energy on all sides.
She staggers, but doesn’t fall.

Shusal stares into space.
“Can you still fly?” he asks.

“Yes, but not for long.”

“Follow me.”
“We’re not going far.”

He rises quickly up the slope, and across the plateau at the top.
Soon, she sees eight glowing towers in the distance.
And a minute later, Shusal lands just outside the array of towers.

“My father told me about the towers,” she says, “but there were only seven.”

“I can’t explain the extra one,” he answers, “but this is the same world.”
Shusal moves his upper hands along the unfamiliar stone of the eighth tower.

“How long since you were here?”

“I was born in the Kizak galaxy, so I’ve never walked here, but I know it well.”
“Every Madar child is given memories of the generations before him.”

Two golden creatures approach them, and begin speaking.

“What language is that?” asks Tzina.

“Madar,” says Shusal.
He speaks with them for a few minutes, and then turns to Tzina.

“They’re called Gen.”
“They’re the guardians of the eighth tower.”
“It’s their turn to greet visitors.”

One of the Gen returns to the tower.
“He’ll contact the guardians of the tower that leads to my world.”
“They’ll come and take me home.”

“What about me?”

“There are Jiku among the guardians.”
“One of them must decide what to do with you.”
“You can’t stay here.”

“What will happen to me?”
“Will they send me back to Siksa?”

“Don’t worry,” says someone behind them.
“You’re safe.”

Tzina turns.
“Ina!” she shouts, and grabs him.
She starts crying and can’t stop.

Yagrin hugs her quietly until she calms down.
“What’s wrong?” he asks, kissing her cheek.

“I didn’t think I’d see you again, ina.”
“You were gone so long.”
“And so much has happened.”

“Sindar is your father?” asks the Madar, confused.

“Sindar is dead,” says Yagrin.
“I’m his brother, and I’ve taken his place as guardian.”

“Your flesh is like his, but your energy is strange, colored with bits of Bizra and Madar and others.”

“I’ve lived in the shapes of all eight races and their shadows.”
“Their energy has left its mark on my fire body.”

“Where did the eighth tower come from?”
“My ancestors believed that the tower and the golden race were gone forever.”

“No, the tower was hidden beneath the sea.”
“I returned it to its place, and two of the Gen are here to guard it.”

Tzina collapses.
“What’s wrong with her?” asks Yagrin.

“We’re both dying.”

The Way Home
Tzina wakes on a bed.
“It wasn’t a dream, ina,” she says, when she opens her eyes and sees him.

“You’re safe now.”
“I called a few of the other guardians, and we healed you.”

“What about Shusal?”

“He’s fine.”
“He healed faster than you, and the guardians of his world are with him.”

“Ina, the Kizak have come to Siksa.”
“And they’ve brought the cage for the web.”
“Everything is changing.”
“The kingdom and the guild council won’t last long.”
“You have to help.”

She looks at him.
“How long have you been here?”
“Why didn’t you come home already to help us?”

“A few weeks ago, I escaped from the Kizak through a gate, and came here.”
“I used a dangerous form of energy to open the gate.”
“I call it black energy.”
“Sindar died because of me, and I damaged my connection with the web.”
“When I regained my strength, I chose a gate to a star far from Siksa.”
“I planned to bring a ship through the gate, and fly home from there.”

“Why not come straight home?”

“I tried, but the gate to Siksa wouldn’t open.”
“I blamed it on the cage.”

“What happened with the other gate?”

“Finally, I tried a gate in the Kizak galaxy, to a place where I knew there was no cage.”
None of the gates to our universe would open.”

“Maybe it’s just you.”

“Every other gate opened easily.”
“I decided that the black energy effected all the gateways to our universe.”

“Then we’re stuck here.”

“That’s what I thought, until you arrived.”

“Centuries ago, the Bizra blocked all the gates to Siksa, except one that is watched by ancient masters.”
“While you were resting, I looked at the gates again.”
“Your trip here unlocked the gates to Siksa.”
“The land and air gates still won’t open, but it’s because of the cage.”

“So we are trapped.”

“I’ll cover us with a shield, and open a gate to the ocean.”

“Let me stay here.”

“You can’t.”
“Only guardians are allowed.”

“You don’t know what I’ve done!”
“I can’t go back.”
“Hanli was tortured by the emperor, and I destroyed a whole ship, and now they want to kill me!”

“Slow down and explain.”
She tells Yagrin all the events leading up to the ship’s destruction.
He’s silent when she finishes.

“Say something, ina!”

“I’ve killed, but I won’t choose it if there’s another way.”
“I wasn’t with you when the Kizak came, and I can’t say whether you were right or wrong.”
“They’ve wiped out whole worlds when they thought it was necessary.”
“Who knows what they have in mind for Siksa?”
He pauses.
“Is oodah safe, and Berek, and Dilasa?”

“They were all right when I left them, but anything could have happened.”

“What does oodah think about what you did?”

“She thinks that I’m going crazy.”
“What do you think?”

“You don’t sound crazy, but drop your mind shield and let me in.”
“I’ll go over what you saw and scan your mind web.”
“If there’s any sign that you’re unstable, I’ll find it.”

A few minutes later, Yagrin pulls his mind away from her.

“What did you find, ina?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you.”
“Hanli was tortured.”

“What are you leaving out, ina?”

“The memory is hers, but some of the faces she saw mix together in strange ways.”
“She saw all those Kizak, but we can’t be sure which ones were part of the abuse.”

“I feel sick, ina.”
“I made them all suffer before they died.”

“Yes, but there’s nothing you can do about it, now.”

They rise high above the towers, and hover there.
“We’ll spend the day together before we go back to Siksa.”

“You want us to enjoy ourselves here while our people die?!”

“Siksa is calm at the moment.”
“I can feel it.”
“We both need to clear our thoughts so we can focus on the battles ahead.”
He takes her hands.
“Close your eyes and release the web.”
“I’ll hold you up.”

She feels like a child again, letting go of everything, putting her life in his hands.
Yagrin spreads his healing body on the web, and the world disappears, as a deep quiet fills him and Tzina.
Great waves of energy wash over her.

The waves slow down, and she hears a voice from far away.
“Open your eyes.”

She takes a deep breath and looks again at the towers below them.
“How long have we been here, ina?”

“About an hour.”
“Are you ready to fly with me?”


He shows her some of the wonders of this strange world.
They talk and laugh together, and forget about war.

Night is coming when they return to the towers.
“In the morning, we’ll go to Siksa.”
“I’ll find you a place far from the Kizak.”

Tzina holds on to him as they enter the tower and lay down to sleep.
She trusts him, but she’s still afraid of tomorrow.

“Come in,” says Shazira to Ilaz.
She closes the door after he enters.
“Did you do what I asked when you reached Tshuan?”

“I messaged your father in the guild lands, but he wouldn’t speak with me.”
“He sent back a recorded message.”
“He’s angry, and blames all his problems on Tshuan and the masters.”

She sighs.
“When my parents were children, they watched their parents die in a Krale attack.”
“They fear and hate anything that isn’t Jiku.”
“In my house, the Krale and Bizra were called monsters.”
“Since the Bizra taught energy ways to the Jiku, energy masters were evil.”

“Even healers?”

“They were grudgingly accepted.”

“How did you become a master?”

“When I was thirteen, I was critically injured in a fall, and a healer saved my life.”
“I became friends with her, and she began to teach me about the web.”
“I was fascinated, and discovered that I had talent for flow.”
“My parents were furious when I became an apprentice, and I had to move out of the house.”
“Years later we reconciled, not long before I bonded with Yagrin.”
“They hated him because he was a master, but they softened toward him when he destroyed the Krale, and healed Tzina.”
“We get along now, but we never talk about the guilds.”

“What do your parents think of the Kizak?”

“At first the Kizak were aliens and monsters.”
“But then the cage took away the strength of the masters.”
“My parents loved that!”
“I warned my mother and sister when the Kizak started rounding up people with Bizra eyes.”
“They went into hiding.”
“I wish my father would tell you whether they’re still safe.”

“Your father thinks you’re dead and blames Tshuan for angering the aliens.”
“He believes that Tzina was corrupted by the guilds, and became a killer.”
“He has no reason to speak with me.”

“It’s terrible that I let him think that I’m dead.”
“I should visit him and find out about my mother and Ilisak.”

“Too dangerous.”
“The Kizak would find you and put you with the others.”
“Record a message cube, and I’ll leave it where he’ll find it.”
“At least he’ll know you’re safe.”

“What about my mother?”

“Right before we left Tshuan, Hukal accessed the records of the detention center in the guild lands.”
“There were two women with Bizra eyes discovered after the initial arrests.”
“Your mother and sister.”

Shazira looks stunned, and sits down.
“I felt that they were in trouble, but I didn’t want to believe it.”

“What will you do?” asks Ilaz.

“Find a way to save them.”

“The building will have increased security after our attack in Tshuan.”
“And Niyta won’t help you.”
“Eight sisters died in the last rescue.”

“What else can I do, Ilaz?”
“Let the Kizak kill my family?!”

“Maybe nothing will happen.”

“There’s a vision that shows the detention center full of bodies.”
“I have to stop it from coming true.”

Shazira goes to Niyta for help.
“I’m sorry about your mother and sister,” says Niyta, “but it’s too dangerous.”
“I won’t put more people at risk.”

Shazira walks away, and Ilaz follows.
“I’ll go alone,” she tells him.
“I’ve been practicing the dragon shape, and can hold it long enough to reach the guild lands.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“No,” says Shazira.
“The vision shows you lying among the bodies.”

“I don’t care.”
“What if the emperor decides to kill your family because of the attack that I led in Tshuan?”
“I’m responsible and I’m coming.”
“I just need you to change my shape so I can swim with you.”

Old Friends
They come out of the sea at night.
Ilaz waits while Shazira makes contact with a few trusted friends.

“How did it go?” he asks her, when she returns.

“Five of them agreed to join us.”
“They’re not trained to fight, but they’re brave and can point a weapon.”
“I’ve brought enough for all of us.”

The next night, the seven of them assemble a block from the building, wearing masks.
“I have a device,” says Shazira, “that Yagrin told us how to build.”
“When I activate it, the power will go out in all the buildings for several blocks.”
“Tonight is moonwatch,” she reminds everyone, “so it won’t be completely dark outside.”
“Be careful not to be seen.”

“A perfect night,” says a tall woman, “the only night when the Watchtower is dark.”
“Its light continues every night but tonight, even though there are no guardians anymore.”
“With the cage here, no one can brighten the sky at moonwatch.”

Shazira looks in the direction of the Watchtower, knowing she won’t see it, knowing her old home is abandoned.
She turns back to the group.
“The device has power for ten minutes.”
“During that time, nothing that uses power will function except our visors and weapons.”
“We’ll stun whoever stands against us.”
“Once we get out of the building, my guild friends will go home.”
“I have flying armbands to get the rest of us to the ocean.”

Shazira activates the tech screen, while the rest of them release sleep gas into the buildings near the old council hall.
They stun the guards who come out of the hall, and drag them out of sight.
Shazira and her group enter, wearing the visors that let them see in the dark.
It’s easy to stun the guards, and find the prisoners in five locked rooms.
There is little tech in the guild lands and no sim tanks.

“There’s not enough time,” says Ilaz, as they all move toward the exits.
The lights come back on.
There’s a large explosion, just inside the main entrance which sends a huge shock wave through the building.
The structure is undamaged, but the rescuers and prisoners are knocked to the ground, unconscious.

Not far away, a lone figure flies toward the empty Watchtower.
He lands on the deck, and pulls a crystal from a storage area, hidden in the floor.
Activating the nullifier, he fills his hands with energy from all the wells, and brings the crystal to his chest.
A bright beam of energy, full of colors, radiates from him and activates the Watchtower.
The nearby sky turns almost as bright as day, and Yagrin flies toward the council hall where the Kizak are holding the prisoners.

The color of the sky shifts.
The light is no longer white, but moves in waves through the spectrum.
He feels strange, stronger.
The light shields the city from the cage.
Who knows how long it will last?
He has to hurry.
His energy sight spreads out for fifty miles around the city.

There are airships approaching the council hall, still five minutes away.
And there are guards outside the hall.
He reaches out with his mind to take their thoughts.
No, not guards.
They set off an explosion, to kill those with the Bizra eyes, and any sisters with them.
Every one of the terrorists falls unconscious, outside and inside the building.

There’s still smoke when he enters, and traces of blood in the air.
The explosion tore apart the bodies of Kizak and Jiku guards near the door, and spread their blood throughout the building.
Yagrin finds the sisters and others still unconscious, some bleeding from their fall to the floor.
A few are just starting to wake.
Others are badly hurt.

Shazira is here.
Thank the creator she’s alive!
No time to heal them all and escape before the airships arrive.
He opens a gate to the Watchtower and brings them through the gate.

Shazira wakes, full of energy.
The web is strong, and the place so familiar.
How did they get here?

She gets up slowly, and sees that someone is healing the others.

He turns and smiles.
“You were all hurt in an explosion, and I brought you here.”
“I made you sleep after I healed you.”
“First light is coming.”
“I have to hurry.”
“We’ll speak soon.”

The Watchtower doesn’t shield them completely from the cage.
His healing powers are slower than usual.
It’s taking him the whole night to heal them.

Shazira finds her sister and mother, still sleeping.
Where is Ilaz?
She moves quietly through the sleepers.
He’s sleeping like the others, but he looks weaker.
He’ll survive, but he needs more healing.

She wanders to the deck and looks at the strange light that fills the sky.
First light is coming, and the Watchtower’s light begins to fade.
She feels the web start to fade away as the cage reasserts itself.

“Yagrin, we have to go now.”
“The cage is coming back.”

“I’m too weak to open another gate,” says Yagrin.
“We have to get everyone to the ocean.”

The Watchtower starts to make a strange, deep sound.
Yagrin wakes everyone in the room,and hands Shazira a nullifier.
“Everyone who feels strong enough, take one of the armbands and fly down to the beach.”
“Shazira, there are three or four people who are still unconscious.”
“You and I will carry them down.”

It takes a few minutes to assemble everyone on the sand.
“Look, Yagrin,” says Shazira.
The mountain shakes, and the Watchtower disappears into it, giving a final burst of light.
Above, the sun disappears behind the moon.
The eclipse restores Yagrin’s strength, long enough to get everyone into the water, and covered with air and a shield.
Shazira shows him the way to the underwater city.

Empire of Stone -- 4: ReturnPrevious StoryNext Story
  1. Allies and Enemies
  2. Strangers and their Gifts
  3. Diplomacy and Death
  4. Fall
  5. Sanctuary
  6. Treason
  7. Rescue
  8. Eclipse
  9. Standoff
  10. Into the Storm
  11. Sleepers
  12. Choosing Death
  13. Peace and Destruction
  14. Sacrifice and Rebellion

One Comment:

  1. Yaaay…Yagrin’s back

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