Keela and Chiwan walk with me through the clearing, with the hills of Tshuan high around us.
The warm, moist climate nourishes the hills like a caring mother, and fills them with life.
Wicol, thick, and deep green, rises along the hills.
Later in the year, each plant will blossom with dozens of tiny flowers, and the hills will turn a rich purple and white.
The clearing below is covered with tall golden grass that whistles in the light wind.
A few red bushes rest, almost hidden in the grass.
I’m hunting for one of the bushes, not by sight, but by sound.
I hear a low hum all around me, which grows louder as I get closer and closer to what I seek.
I stop, push aside the dirt at the base of the red bush, and reveal the way to the caverns below.
Hidden among the roots is the small, blue entrance stone, with an engraved picture of a child with dark eyes.
“I did as you asked, Master Yagrin,” says Keela.
“I messaged the old ones, and told them you are coming.”
“What did they say, Keela?”
“They are frightened of becoming Jiku again, and leaving their home.”
“Their world is so peaceful, Keela, but it’s not meant to last forever.”
“They are not fools, Master Yagrin.”
“They know that their thousand years as old ones is ending, and they must return to us at this time of need.”
“When will they be ready for the change, Keela?”
“Niyta wants you to enter the outer cave to speak with her.”
“Did she say why?”
“She said that her words are only for you.”
“I will stay here, while you go below ground.”
Keela hands me an armband.
“You don’t have to wear it to use it, Master Yagrin.”
“Just touch the stone while you hold the armband, and you will find yourself in the cave.”
She looks unhappy.
“What’s wrong, Keela?” I ask.
“Every generation of the royal family takes an oath to care for the old ones.”
“It’s my duty to go with you to the outer cave, but the old ones tell me to send you alone!”
“No way lasts forever, Keela, but don’t be troubled.”
“Your oath is unbroken.”
“I don’t understand, Master Yagrin.”
“You said that I’m descended from Tshuan kings, Keela.”
“A member of the royal family is allowed to go alone.”
She can’t dispute my logic, but it still feels wrong to her.
I touch the entrance stone, and find myself in the small round outer cave, surrounded by a soft bluish-green glow.
This room is just outside the main cavern where the old ones live.
The last time I was with her, the wild light of my old one eyes brought me from here to the main cavern.
I am no old one, now.
The armband glows, and I hear Niyta’s voice.
“Are you alone, Yagrin?”
“We can’t leave here yet.”
“We need you now.”
“I know, Yagrin, but it’s not time for us to return.”
“All the vats but one have lost their light, and all the old ones are awake.”
“Then it’s time.”
“No,” she says.
“The one vat was dark all the years of our exile.”
“When the other vats went dark, it absorbed all their light.”
“We can’t leave until the last vat goes dark.”
“When will that happen?”
“There must be a last journey in the vat.
“Why did you call me here, Niyta?”
“Just take the journey, and message me when it’s done.”
“You don’t understand, Yagrin.”
“The vat is not for old ones.”
“The vat sits in a room beneath the temple, and fills the room with blinding light.”
“We can enter the doorway, but the vat is too small, even for us, and it’s sealed with a black stone cover.”
“We have no way to open it.”
“There are words engraved on the cover, only visible to energy eyes.”
The last journey will be taken by the son of kings and lightning and dreams.
“Is this you, Yagrin?”
“How would you ever fit in the tiny vat?”
“How small is it?”
“Only a Bizra would fit in the vat.”
“No one but Bizra and old ones have ever entered the cave and the temple,” she says.
“We don’t know, but we believe that all our vats will work on a Bizra body.”
I remove my robe and medallion without speaking, and leave them on the floor of the cave.
Then I take the form of a Bizra.
For others, there is no return from this transformation, but I have sparks of Gen within me, so I can become Jiku again.
As soon as I complete the transformation, the room is filled with light.
A moment later, I find myself in one of the vat rooms, but all the vats are are empty and dark.
I run to the enormous wooden door, and it opens as I approach.
Niyta is standing near the outside wall, next to a commdisk in the wall.
Most of the old ones are crowded in the temple, in the distance, but they are quiet.
A few old ones are standing with Niyta.
She and her companions turn toward me at the sound of the door opening.
“Yagrin, is that you?” asks Niyta.
“It’s difficult to speak in this form,” I answer, “but it’s me.”
The old ones gasp.
None of them have heard a Bizra speak.
The Bizra bodies are capable of speech, but they never speak aloud.
I tell Niyta and the other old ones about my journey to the Bizra.
I explain that I’ve done the transformation before, and returned to Jiku form.
Niyta leads me toward the temple, which looks more beautiful than ever to my fire eyes.
The many levels of the temple glow, and the column of light in the center seems to whisper to me.
“Why is there no song, Niyta?”
“We sing while others dream in the vats.”
“Before today, there were always dreamers, but now, we are all awake, and there is no song.”
“How long has it been quiet?”
“Just a few hours, but we are lost without the music.”
“We tried to sing, but there is no song in us.”
The old ones clear a sloping path toward the bottom of the temple.
I fly toward the bottom of the temple, and Niyta follows.
“Where is the vat, Niyta?” I ask.
“Enter the column of light,” she says, “and continue down.”
“You’ll find it.”
We enter the light, and continue down a few more feet.
I touch the floor of the cavern, and there is a door ahead.
The door is just big enough for the old ones.
It opens as I approach, and Niyta follows behind me.
I close my eyes when the light from the vat strikes me.
I look with energy eyes at the tiny vat, that glows like a sun.
I leap forward.
The cover becomes transparent and then disappears.
“How long will this journey last, Niyta?”
“I don’t know,” she answers.
“The memcubes say that the last journey will take the dreamer far away, to a place beyond understanding.”
“When you return, the vat will be cool and dim, and the column of light in the temple will go dark forever.”
“Then, we must go.”
“The temple will die without song and light,” she adds, quietly sobbing.
I hover over the warm liquid of the vat.
“When I enter the vat, Niyta, gather the old ones for a last song.”
“See if you can find the song, while I’m traveling again.”
I lay down in the liquid, and float.
And the world fades away.
This journey is different than my other travels in the vats.
Before, I simply found myself within another body as an observer.
Here, I have no body.
I see a crystal chamber near me in the shape of a diamond, and I hear a song.
Let a form fly light.
Night is waiting.
A soul must travel again, and wisdom is born.
A light blue fog appears within the crystal chamber, and then takes shape.
Is it alive?
It’s more like a mathematical puzzle than a living creature.
Three-dimensional shapes appear and disappear.
They first appear as bundles of energy, then become liquid held in that shape, and finally harden.
They pulse, shine, and disappear.
The shapes rotate around a central space filled with pure energy.
The center is shaped like a small sphere, embedded in a pyramid.
I am the spinning shapes, born and dying, again and again.
Soon, my awareness becomes a bright point of light, moving down a tunnel at great speed.
The tunnel is filled with colored points of light, floating on a thick bed of energy.
I leave the tunnel behind, and find a pyramid that extends forever in all direction.
My awareness fills the pyramid and the sphere, and my spinning feels like a pulse, or a heartbeat.
I am pyramid and sphere.
I feel the edge of the pyramid and a resistance beyond, but nothing more.
Is there a world outside of me?
I shape energy hands, and rub the edges of the pyramid to “soften” the boundary there.
A world of chaos opens, filled with endless points of spinning light.
If I had a human or Jiku body, the turning chaos would make me nauseous.
My awareness jumps between thousands of points of light, all around me, each jump turning me in a different direction.
Part of me expands wildly, exploding in all directions, before rapidly contracting and returning to what I was.
Again and again.
There’s a pattern to it, but the rhythm is too complex to take hold of.
It’s not a breath.
The image of a starfish comes to mind.
Throwing up its stomach, surrounding its prey, and re-swallowing its stomach.
I send out shapes of energy bound to bits of awareness, as messengers flying through space, time, and dimensions of possibility.
The shapes of awareness watch and learn from the existence that they touch.
Then they return, and their energy, experiences, and learning melt into me.
The rhythm of exploration and return goes on and on, but the image of an immense, strange creature takes shape.
This being is all energy, but seems to have a shape and appearance.
It lives in a great space of pure energy, surrounded with small points of light.
For a moment I think that the lights are stars.
Then, each one unfolds before me, and reveals itself as a separate universe floating and spinning in dimensions of possibility.
The creature seems immensely flexible, like an octopus or squid, and has many appendages.
Its head seems like a long box, taller than wide.
Its top half thicker than the lower half, and extends out toward me.
It knows that I’m here, and I feel it rushing toward me and surrounding me.
I ask its name.
I have no name.
I am a balancer.
“Are there more than one of you?” I ask.
There is one and more than one.
There are many instances of this creature found in different universes, at different times.
And yet they are all bound together.
“What can I give you?” I ask, as my awareness moves through a space of knowledge like a wave washing over grains of sand.
My knowledge radiates outward, as multiple streams of imagery, rising upward from a single fountain that is me.
Long dark streams of energy, like limbs, reach from the balancer into the pictures and take hold of one bit of awareness, one place.
The information unfolds, as three-dimensional, layered images of solar systems, stars, and other things that I don’t recognize, stream and pulse into the black energy limbs.
The creature is filled with a great feeling of satisfaction.
It found something lost, or discovered something desperately needed.
A stream of three-dimensional rings (torus), pour from the creature toward me, a gift for a gift.
Each ring is slightly larger than the one before it.
The rings of energy have a sea of colors, and pulse brighter and dimmer, in changing rhythms.
As the stream of rings come near me, the rings shrink, until they become points of light, and vanish within me.
I don’t what the rings are, but they fill me with a great hunger to explore.
I am all pyramid and sphere again.
A new torus shape appears and disappears before me, surrounding the pyramid.
It’s a new probe that I send out to live, understand, and digest the life of the universe.
Then, my awareness moves, and I feel myself outside the crystal chamber.
I still have no body, but my thoughts are more Jiku.
A blue fog fills the nearby crystal chamber for a few seconds.
The chamber glows like a star, and the blue fog burns away.
A moment later, the chamber itself is gone.