A Good Death
Dilasa and I walk again on Sinesu, among shattered, blood-stained pieces of Sindar’s monument.
Nearby, one of the large, automated weapons sits, quiet and dark.
Part of the vision has come true
Wisten is dead and the monument gone, but the town survives with little damage, and we’ve driven away the hunters.
Dilasa looks at the blood, her face pale.
No child should see this.
For a moment, I ask myself why I’ve brought her here.
“Fool,” I tell myself, “you know the answer.”
She will never be like other children, never shielded from death.
The world needs her to fight, now, against the Spiral’s hunger.
She has seen death before this, and she will see it again.
One of Wisten’s assistants approaches me.
“You’re too late,” he says angrily.
“I was in the ship above, coordinating the battle.”
“You were with the Fiklow?” he accuses.
“Yes,” I answer, “but they risked their lives in this fight the same as you.”
“The leader of the union was with us on the ship.”
“How did Wisten die?” I ask him, quietly.
“With a good death,” he answers, “defending the people she loved.”
“Most of the Jiku went underground at the start of the battle, but a few remained on the surface with hand weapons, including Wisten.”
“She didn’t trust the automated weapon to protect us.”
“The built-in power source was defective, and the external source is in the woods, a mile from here, connected by a long cable.
“Wisten told me that she had a feeling that the weapon or its power source would fail.”
“Near the end of the battle, the power cable was broken, and the automated weapon became useless.”
“Dozens of Hikweh moved toward the center of town.”
“Wisten and a few others stayed to fight.”
“She was worried that so many Hikweh would find and penetrate the bright room.”
“I wanted to stay with her, but she forced me to go with the others and hide.”
“I’m sorry,” I tell him.
“This battle was necessary, and a vision told of her death.”
“I warned her to stay away from the monument.”
“I knew her for fifty years,” he yells.
“I don’t care about your visions or your wars!”
The death ceremony comes a few hours later.
Dilasa and I walk with the body, and speak the blessings of the dead.
Afterwards Dilasa is very quiet.
“Are you all right, little one?”
“Death scares me.”
“Death is no end, Dilasa.”
“Our spirits turn to a life of pure energy, and leave this world behind.”
“Someday, I’ll also join them.”
“I know what the elders say, ina, but how can we be sure?”
“Death takes everyone, and only you return.”
“You’ve seen the fire body, Dilasa.”
“Yes, but maybe it also dies!”
“Have you ever seen the spirit of any Jiku after death?”
“No,” I admit, “only Fiklow fire bodies.”
She looks at me, troubled.
“You can’t even remember how it feels to be afraid of death!”
“I’m not afraid of my own death, Dilasa.”
“I’ve never been afraid of what lies beyond death, even when I was young.”
“How is that possible?”
“I’ve always felt certain there is life beyond life.”
“Still, I’m afraid of pain, and afraid of being alone.”
“Who would I be little one, if everyone I love died?”
“Yes, and Tzina and Berek and you.”
“You’re afraid of losing me?”
I smile at her.
She hugs me for a long time before she speaks again.
“Can’t we push away death, ina?”
“I’ve heard stories of masters living a long time.”
“On Sindar’s world there were masters who refreshed their body every day with healing energy.”
“They lived for thousands of years, but eventually they tired of life, and let the body go.”
“Did this happen to Sindar, ina?”
“Does he want to die?”
“I’m not sure, but I think he’s forgotten what it’s like to really live.”
“He heals his body, and sleeps away the years, with only machines around him.”
“That’s not life.”
“Can I learn to build a new physical body like you do?”
“It’s more than shaping a new body, Dilasa.”
“You have to disconnect your fire body from the old one, and reconnect it to the new.”
“The cubes teach of masters who tried to move into new bodies, and turned insane.”
“I think that the new connection was incomplete.”
“It’s not hard for you, ina!”
“Yes, I’ve done it for myself, and even for others, but I’m not pure Jiku.”
“My fire energy is part Bizra, Gen, and Feldin.”
We walk away from the town, toward her aunt’s old farm.
The burnt building has been torn down, and the fields are overgrown.
We pass by the fields and into the nearby forest, where her old swing still waits for her.
“Would you like me to push you on the swing, Dilasa?”
“Not today, ina.”
“I don’t feel like playing.”
Dilasa and I hover a few hundred feet above the lightning storm, over the center of the sea.
I feel her mind touch.
“Why are we here, ina?”
I tell her of the inner voice that I heard during the battle.
“Something in the storm will help us face the Spiral.”
“The Spiral’s gone!”
“Just for now.”
“It will come back, and we have to be ready.”
“Hold the mind touch, and follow my energy sight.”
I scan the storm, looking for anything unusual, but it’s just a storm.
“Try the ocean below it, ina,” suggests Dilasa.
I scan the ocean, all the way to the sea floor.
The sea life is fascinating, but how will that help us?
“We need different eyes,” she says.
“Let’s swim in the ocean.”
We move far from the storm, and flow our bodies as we enter the water.
We go deep enough to be safe from the storm, before we swim underneath it.
“Can we go deeper, ina?” asks Dilasa.
“Yes, but the ocean is exceptionally deep here, too deep, even for Fiklow.”
We move farther down, relying on our bodies to tell us when we’re approaching our limits.
“It’s beautiful, ina.”
Her sounds attract a number of shining small creatures.
“What are they, ina?”
“These are the Ketkin.”
“We took their name for our weapons.”
Ketkin are small stinging creatures that live on most of the Fiklow worlds, but are native to Gunal.
Fiklow are immune to the Ketkin neurotoxin, and enjoy the company of the colorful little creatures.
When I pronounce the Fiklow sound for Ketkin, they surround me, and produce sounds of their own.
One approaches and hesitantly tries to sting me.
Thankfully the Fiklow body is immune to the poison’s effects.
My body instinctively releases a chemical which calms the creatures, and marks us as friends.
They begin to dance around Dilasa, and look like they want to play.
“I like them, ina,” she says, “but they can’t help us with the Spiral.”
When the creatures hear her emit the Fiklow sound for the Spiral, they swim away toward the sea floor.
“Don’t follow them, Dilasa,” I tell her with a mind touch.
“They can stand the pressure, even at the bottom of the sea, but we can’t”
Dilasa touches my mind as I follow the Ketkin with energy eyes.
The swarm moves to the sea floor, and swims in a circle, over and over, for a minute.
Then they drift away, dissolving the swarm.
I expand the sensitivity of my energy vision, and look carefully at the sea bottom where they circled.
There’s an unusual shape floating on the great web, spiral-shaped energy that looks like a dim copy of the heart of the star spirits.
“Do you see it, Dilasa?”
“I see it through your eyes, ina.”
“It looks like the heart of the wanderer.”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t know, but it’s only energy.”
“There’s nothing physical at the spot.”
“Is there anything below it?” asks Dilasa.
“No,” I answer.
“Just rock and dirt.”
“Go below the rock, ina, deeper.”
My vision drops through the rock, until I reach a place where the stone melts into fire, and the web dances with life.
The fire is full of energy creatures with spiral energy at their core.
“Their energy looks like the wanderer!” says Dilasa.
“Yes, but these beings are much weaker than the star spirits.”
“Try to talk to them, ina.”
“I’ll have to take an energy form, and go there without you.”
“I want to speak to Keesha first, and find out what she knows about the Ketkin.”
“They’re connected somehow to the fire spirits.”
I send a message to Keesha, and her ship retrieves us.
Vendik has gone home, and the queen has come.
It’s the first time I’ve seen her, since I returned from Siksa.
She swims to Dilasa and me, and wraps two tentacles with each of us, a greeting for old friends.
“How is your family, Lord Yagrin?” asks the queen.
“Strong, but they wait for me to swim home again.”
She spins a tentacle in agreement, and screams a victory sound.
“You have conquered the enemy,” she says.
“Why not go home?”
“The enemy will return, unless we find a way to destroy it forever.”
“I am full of that search, and I need Keesha’s advice.”
The queen gestures to Keesha, and Keesha turns toward me.
“How may I help you, Lord Yagrin?”
“I have questions about the Ketkin.”
I smell her surprise.
“How will the little ones help us against the Spiral?” she asks.
“Something powerful hides behind them.”
“It’s no accident that we called the weapons Ketkin.”
“The colorful ones will lead me to the answers I need.”
She remains silent, waiting for my questions.
“Are the Ketkin intelligent?” I ask.
“They recognize their owners when they are kept as pets,and they can be trained to perform sophisticated tricks.”
“When they swarm together in the ocean, they are different, and far more intelligent, but they usually swarm too deep for us to follow.”
“Do they have language?”
“They rarely make any sounds, except when they swarm, and the sounds are too simple to be a language.”
“They responded when Dilasa and I spoke around them.”
“They like our sounds, Lord Yagrin, but they don’t understand us.”
I tell her what happened when I mentioned the Spiral, and what I saw.
“I can’t explain it,” she says.
I spin a tentacle in agreement.
“There is a strange legend about the Ketkin,” she tells me.
“Maybe it will help you.”
“Once there were beings of fire who fell from the stars into the oceans.”
“Some went to live in the fires deep below the oceans.”
“Others loved the waters, but could not remain there as they were.”
“The little Ketkin saw them and offered them a home inside their bodies, with one condition – the Ketkin must be free to swim and play as they wish.”
“The Ketkin became messengers between the oceans and the stars.”
“They listen to the songs sung by Fiklow hearts, and tell the stars what they hear.”
“Who would make up such a story about your pets?”
The queen speaks.
“The first queen heard this story from the egg that protects the throne.”
“She recorded the story in the throne, so other queens may hear it.”
“The throne speaks to all the queens when it transforms them, but the egg spoke only to the first queen.”
“What else did the egg say?”
“The Ketkin gave life to me,” said the egg.
“Show your gratitude by protecting them.”
Dilasa and I swim to my chamber, as I think of the happy creatures.
I remember how they danced around me, and led me to the bottom of the ocean.
Strange that the queen’s story gives so much power to a simple creature, that the Fiklow keep as a pet.
The queen’s teaching is far more than legend, but what does it mean?
“Ina,” shouts Dilasa.
“I was talking to you.”
“Didn’t you hear me?”
“My thoughts were in the ocean and the world below it.”
“Are we going back to the ocean now?”
“You can’t come with me this time,” I tell her.
“I need to be pure energy, to enter the world of fire.”
“Why can’t I swim in the ocean above you while you explore?”
“Stay on this ship, Dilasa.”
“It’s safer for you here, if the Hikweh return.”
“I’ll watch,” she says within my thoughts.
I wrap tentacles with her, and then move out of sight.
She still finds it troubling when I let my physical body dissolve in front of her.
With the body gone, I open a gateway to the ocean far below me.
I lose the connection with Dilasa for a few seconds as my fire body travels through the gateway.
Her mind touch returns when I reach the ocean.
“Where were you, Ina?” she asks, her thoughts faint.
“Traveling through a gateway.”
“The link is weak, Dilasa.”
“I won’t be able to hear you much longer.”
I go down through the water, wearing only my fire body.
A swarm of Ketkin greets me, five hundred feet from the ocean floor.
They form a sphere, with a tunnel through the center.
Strange that they open that space for me, even though I’m only energy.
They can see me, or sense me, even though I have no form, and their colors shine brighter as I move along the path.
I reach the ocean bottom, and pass through it, deep into the earth.
Dilasa’s presence fades when the world becomes fire, and the energy beings surround me.
They remind me of the star spirits.
A small energy spiral spins within each of them.
Their shapes are fluid, cycling between random streams of energy and a spinning torus with vague edges.
They live without a fire body, like the Spiral.
I approach the creatures, but they move away.
They form a new circle, far from me, and watch to see what I will do next.
Unlike the star spirits, they are repelled by the balance pattern that holds my fire body together.
The pattern seems like a prison to them, with the power to hold their energy in a stable shape.
They will never accept me while the balance stands between us.
I shatter it, and watch my body melt into streams of energy that circle around the fire beings, like a whirlpool.
For a few minutes my awareness is captured in the movement, but then I remember myself and stop, waiting for them to come near.
They are still afraid.
The fire world grows brighter as I release the Feldin glow.
The creatures surround me, and then close the circle.
Their energy meets mine, and filaments of energy us all.
We dance as I danced with the star spirits, but we can’t touch each other’s thoughts, and after a while, they pull away, frustrated.
The listener is restless within me.
It leaps out, and covers one of the fire creatures.
For a moment they struggle, but then the two of them shake and glow, shells of energy surrounding them, like an aura.
Before long, they separate, and the listener returns to me, disappearing within my fire.
My energy begins to spin, copying the shapes and movements of the creatures.
We connect again, and swim together in the planet’s fire, full of the rhythms and waves of this bright sea.
Diamond-shaped, spinning, sparkling, we dance, weave a web of color, and our thoughts come together.
We are Mayru, living deep within a planet’s fire.
Once there were many worlds full of us, but no more.
We are fragments, eggs of the wanderering suns who cross the universe without planets.
Over long years, we work to transform a planet into a sun.
Then the community of Mayru joins together as one, and becomes a single star spirit to the new sun.
“The star spirits do not speak of us,” I tell my brothers.
“Do they know our ways?”
“The creator made star spirits and suns and bound some of them together.”
“Later, the wanderers came, and gave birth to Mayru, who gave birth to other spirits, and other suns.”
“The spirits know of Mayru, but Suns and spirits are born in cycles, and this cycle of birth is very old, almost gone.”
“We are among the last of the Mayru, and the spirits have forgotten that we still live.”
“We cannot call to them and touch their thoughts, only the thoughts of a wanderer.”
“When will this planet become a sun?”
“Never!” they answer in shame.
“We cannot complete our work.”
“When the world accepts its coming death, and the sun is ready to be born, the Mayru embrace death, and become a star spirt.”
“The spirit moves the planet far away, to a new home, where it can safely complete the transformation.”
“We have forgotten how to move the planet, and find a home for the new star.”
“The wanderers could tell us, but they are all gone.”
“Who will come, and teach us the way?”
Pain flows through us: a hiding, a darkness, a weight that cannot be lifted.
“How could the wanderer come near us without destroying the planet?”
“The thoughts of a star spirit can touch a wanderer at great distances.”
“How could we lose the way?”
“Some of our knowing rests in the water above us, including knowledge of the way.”
“Before the world becomes a sun, the planet grows hot, and the oceans vanish.”
“The knowledge returns from the water to the fire.”
“Until then, we are permitted touch the knowledge, and hear it, even though we cannot understand.”
“The world does not grow hot yet, but the knowledge no longer speaks to us.”
“It is gone forever.”
The Mayru surround me.
“You are not Mayru,” they accuse.
“What are you?”
With their question, my feeling of self grows stronger.
“I think your thoughts while I am joined with you, but I am not truly Mayru.”
“I spin in many forms, and speak with star spirits, and a new wanderer.”
“Let it come and teach us the way!”
The wanderer I know is far away, in Siksa’s universe.
No star can pass through the possibility sea or the seven towers, but maybe there is another wanderer here, that can help them.
“The wanderer I know cannot come to Sinesu.”
They are quiet.
“Why do you ask us to remember and speak of our sadness?”
“Why are you here?”
“There is danger, and the answer lies here with you.”
“We are the danger?”
“No. You will end the danger.”
“I don’t know, yet, but when I discover the way, will you help me?”
“Help us, and we will help you.”
“Bring us the wanderer, or its knowledge, and we will follow your ways.”
Ways of the Wanderer
I stop spinning, and move to the edge of the fire sea, where the molten rock begins to cool.
When I bind the balance pattern to my energy, the fire body takes shape, and I rise upward, still shining with the Feldin glow.
I leave the rock behind, and pass through the bottom of the sea.
The Ketkin clear a path for me again, but this time I stop when I reach them.
They dance around me, as they danced when I was Fiklow.
What hides behind their colorful shapes?
What’s their connection to the Mayru?
The energy patterns that shape their bodies are almost Heelu.
I must know more, and I flow myself a Ketkin body from the seawater, and bind my energy to it.
I feel the body, feel myself swimming in the ocean, but it’s like a distant dream, and there is a second awareness here.
Part of me is in another place, surrounded by lights.
It feels like the Ketkin are possessed by another intelligence.
Are they carrying the Spiral?
It’s something else.
We are all lights, all one.
Memories rush through me, of star spirits, and wanderers.
We are the ones that know how to move a sun through space!
We are water Mayru, light Mayru.
Once, ages ago, when the planet was much younger, before the Bizra and Jiku were here, the Spiral came to this place.
It touched us for a moment, tried to rest on us, and enslave us.
We raised our light and pushed it away.
It fled from us in fear, but that touch left us with a scar.
We are one, but we are broken, our link with the fire Mayru gone.
Apart, we cannot be whole.
I let those sad memories go, and dance and play among the water Mayru for long moments.
Our lights are great spheres, clear and bright.
Flashes of energy pass between us, and disappear.
Our time together fades, and I let my Ketkin body become water again.