The towers shine when seen with energy eyes, even the black tower that hides in the sea.
As I approach it, I see that something has changed while I was with the Davow.
The bottom edge of the tower has a visible glow.
I need to get back to the surface, and go to Siksa, but something inside the tower pulls at me.
Neither my fire body or my inner sight can penetrate the walls, and there are no openings.
A voice within me whispers that I need a physical body to get answers, so I raise a shield, and fill it with a pressurized bubble of air.
Then I take my Jiku form.
The tower glows even brighter when I reach out to touch it, but the light fades the moment I pull away.
I flow into a Davow form, and wrap myself around the base of the tower.
The glow at the base spreads quickly up the tower, and the nearby ocean is filled with light.
Feldin approach the spire at the top, and answer the light with their own glow.
The spire begins to pulse, moving through the colors of the spectrum.
I hear a distant voice trying to get out.
I still can’t see within it, and its patterns are hidden, so I can’t use flow to open it.
I throw energy blasts at the tower, trying to punch a hole in it, with no effect.
Frustrated, I let go of the Davow shape.
The bright light remains.
I wrap my listener around the tower, and see the energy striking it like waves crashing on the sand.
I feel the edge of its balance.
There’s a force pulling at the tower, and another force holding it in place.
I cover my energy with the Jatzu shape, and touch the tower.
Still holding on, I flow into a flexible crystal body with a humanoid shape, like the ones that the Gen sometimes wear.
I shape the energy pattern of the whisheeku around both my hands, and touch the tower.
The force holding the tower dissolves, and a tremor throws me backward.
An energy storm rushes toward me.
It crushes my shield and shatters the crystal body.
My fire body is thrown out of the sea, and into the air above.
I’m disoriented from the attack for a few seconds, but then I return to the water.
I wonder at first if I’m in the right place, but I recognize several landmarks including the Davow colony not far away.
The tower is gone, its place on the sea bed replaced by a ten-foot tall crystal circle, a whisheeku with a black rim.
A PathFinder gate appears before me, leading to the plateau.
My fire body hovers in place, but I feel a force trying to pull me through the gate.
I let go of everything that holds me here, surrender to the call, and leave the water behind.
My Jiku shape wraps itself around my fires, a moment after I arrive at the towers.
Kihyez is sitting quietly near the orange tower, but he stands up and turns toward me when he feels my presence.
“You’ve recovered your strength, Yagrin.”
“Yes, I’m ready to go home.”
“I can’t get into the tower, and the shaping machines are in there.”
“Without them, I can’t build you a ship.”
“I don’t need your help.”
“In a few hours, I can make my own ship.”
“It won’t do you any good without a gate that leads to your universe.”
“They’re all sealed.”
I scan the gates to other worlds.
I can sense a hint of where they go, but I can’t see through them.
“How do you know?”
“Are you a PathFinder, Kihyez?”
“No, but the watchers and their assistants are taught to sense when a gate from another world opens.”
“We need this skill to protect the towers.”
“Usually, the gates feel flexible, like they’re waiting to open.”
“Now, they’re hard, and tightly closed.”
“But I just traveled here from the ocean through a gate.”
“The local paths aren’t affected.”
“Has this ever happened before?”
“I was approaching the plateau, when the base of the towers started glowing.”
“Soon after, the towers and gates sealed themselves, and the mental link with my other bodies was broken.”
“At first I thought this was some kind of practice for your test.”
“During the test, the public areas of all the towers are sealed, and you have to find a way to enter one tower.”
“Finally, I realized that it’s no test, and the watchers are trapped.”
I did this when I tried to enter the black tower.
“What can I do to help?”
“You’re not a watcher.”
“You haven’t been taught the ways of the towers, according to Sindar’s laws.”
“If there’s a way to open the towers, the inner races or the watchers will find it.”
“You’re a watcher, and you don’t know what to do.”
“Yes, but I’m cut off.”
“I can’t access the data store, and I don’t hold all the knowledge within me.”
“Tell me more about the test.”
“Maybe I’ll learn something that I can use to open the towers.”
“Typically, the test is given by seven watchers, one from each tower.”
“If necessary, even one watcher is enough to prepare and test the recruit.”
“Then prepare me!”
“You get only one chance to become a watcher.”
“If I prepare you, and you can’t enter a tower, then you will be an outsider forever.”
“It’s what we call those who live in other worlds.”
“I was with Sindar at his death.”
“According to the law, it’s my right to be tested.”
“Yes,” admits Kihyez, grudgingly, “but with the towers sealed, they may refuse to challenge you.”
“Without the challenge, you will never enter.”
“No more words!”
“Start it now!”
“We begin,” says Kihyez.
“The words that prepare you are old, spoken by the inner races.”
“It is said once, unexplained, and never spoken aloud.”
His thoughts touch mine.
We are made of stars and light and heart.
Whispers hide within you, rising from a true voice.
Run away or run toward the inner dance.
Either way, the towers will steal your life, and laugh at time.
The circle of will pushes and pulls with all your strength, pretending to be an endless struggle.
Will it throw you down, or let you fly?
Fight with it, and fall.
Embrace it, your world will shatter, and give birth to new dreams.
“Raise your strongest shield, Yagrin.”
“You’ll need it to survive.”
“Stay within one hundred feet of the towers at all times, and go no higher than the top of the spires.”
“This area is called the test circle.”
“Leave it, and the test is over, and you fail.”
Kihyez walks the path to the center tower, whispering the whole time in Madar.
Then he sings one final phrase in Madar as he touches the tower.
The words and the tune are a key which starts the test:
“Let the storm challenge the weak.”
Kihyez rises high above the towers, until he’s out of sight.
The skies darken, full of a sudden thunderstorm that covers the entire plateau with lightning.
Hurricane-strength winds target me alone, leaving the ground and gardens untouched.
The winds pull and push me without mercy.
I fly at Gen speed to avoid them, but they follow and batter me wherever I go.
If I resist the push of the wind with all my strength, I’m pulled in another direction, with the winds slamming me into stone, and lightning striking my shield.
I try to stop holding on, to see where the winds take me.
The storm throws me between the towers, pushing and pulling, never letting me pass beyond the edge of the circle.
I feel like I’m being punished.
What is the storm trying to tell me?
I spread my listener into the storm, and touch the balance of the great web.
A great calm settles over my spirit.
I see resistance and surrender hiding within me, still pushing and pulling or giving in to one part of the storm, looking for release from the struggle.
I let energy hands take shape, and soak them in the green well near my energy heart.
Then I pass the hands through my body until the action melts away.
I accept nothing, resist nothing, only watch the endless play of forces which always circle around me.
The world grows quiet for a moment.
Then two winds move on me, perfectly balanced.
One pulls at me with great strength, while the second pulls in the opposite direction.
Every few seconds the winds switch between pushing and pulling, always opposing each other.
The forces should pull me apart or crush me, but instead they cancel each other out, as long as I let go of all resistance.
Pairs of winds assault me from many directions at once.
I am the hub of a wheel, with forces, like spokes paired all around me.
I feel their presence.
One grows stronger for a moment and calls to me, to follow or fight, but I ignore it.
I let them all do what they must do, and remain untouched.
This is the storm’s question.
Where do I need to go within the world that always pulses around me?
In the past, I always tried to force my way forward, resisting or following winds that aren’t mine.
What future calls me, that is mine alone?
I will listen to that great trumpet, and fly with the strength of that music.
I look around, and find myself hovering, just below the top of the towers.
There is no sun on this world, but the skies are bright again.
I let go of my shield, and dance the greeting of the sun, weaving my way around the towers, touching each one gently.
When the dance is done, I expect the towers and gates to open, but they remain tightly closed.
“You quieted the storm, Yagrin.”
“Another time, your tower would have welcomed you as watcher, but now, it will never be.”
I look at him quietly.
I see the energy all around us, pushing and pulling in every moment.
The struggle is not mine.
Where is my future?
“I’m not done, yet, Kihyez,” I tell him.
“Go back above the towers where you’ll be safe.”
“Safe?” he asks.
“Go now, Kihyez, before I bring the storms.”
“What are you planning to do?”
“Nothing can harm the towers or the watchers within.”
“I’m not trying to destroy the towers, just get them to open again.”
He hesitates, but then rises again, out of sight.
I shape seven goblets of energy, one at the base of each tower.
They’re made from light, but they look like the clear crystal bodies of the Gen.
Each one glows with the color of its tower.
I spread my listener past the towers, in all direction, until it covers the plateau, and then continues, until it reaches the sea.
The ocean waters speak to me from far away, and resonates within me.
All living things carry the voice of the ocean, large beyond measure, patient, mother to all.
I shape four great waves at the far ends of the plateau, taller than the towers.
They sparkle with well energy, and rush toward me, answering my call.
Soon I see them coming with physical eyes, and watch them wash over the tower, leaving the gardens and ground undamaged.
Then they melt away into light, leaving the goblets filled with well energy.
I raise the cups and drink the energy within them.
When they’re empty, the vessels turn into grains of sand that stream to the ground.
Where they land, a ring of colored crystal forms for a brief moment, before it disappears.
The sky turns grey as I shape great storms, and send wind and lightning to do battle with the towers.
I let the forces rage for an hour, but the towers take no notice of my attack, and the world remains closed.
A voice whispers within me.
Will you give up now?
You hold the power of the wells.
Turn all your strength on one tower, the seventh, and it will shatter.
Then you can return to your family.
The voice seems to be mine, but, would I be willing to damage a tower and kill its innocent watchers, so I can get home and save my own people?
I would do it if it was the only way, but there must be another option.
And there’s something strange in the voice.
Where does it really come from?
And why focus on the seventh tower, and not the second, Sindar’s tower?
I scan my mind web and find foreign thoughts planted there, with a touch of Davow energy in them.
Who else but the Davow would push me to open the way to the inner race beyond the seventh tower.
There’s another thought still hidden.
Bring the seventh shadow together with its light.
The Davow left their thoughts here like a virus, to capture my will, and use my strength to do what they desire.
As a Mind Weaver, it’s easy to tear out those alien thoughts, and burn them away.
When my head is clear again, I quiet my mind and listen.
What do I do now?
Something in me whispers that I need to listen to the Davow.
Is this some echo of their thoughts?
I search my feelings, and decide that it’s all mine.
Should I continue to attack the tower?
There are many forms of energy that I could use against it.
I spread my listener across the towers, and quiet my mind, waiting for the future to reach toward me, and show me what I need to do, to make the world whole again.
It takes hours of waiting, letting the endless forces dance around me, until I know what to do.
The Davow were right in a way.
The shadows and the lights must stand together to open the towers.
Kihyez has returned to the towers during my long hours of listening.
“Have you given up yet, Yagrin?”
“When the day’s light is done, the test is officially over, and night will be here soon.”
“Then I have to hurry.”
“Get far away from the towers.”
“I’ll do whatever is necessary to open them.”
Kihyez thinks I’ll fail again, but he saw the chaos I brought here, and he flies beyond the edge of the plateau.
The sky is still grey from my storms, but it feels right to leave it like this for now.
Salt and Light
I fly to the white platform at the center of the paths, where the red, blue, silver, and gold paths all meet.
I take a few deep breaths, and spin a wall of salt water around each of the towers.
Then I flow myself into the Tsirak, the red shadow of the Madar.
I pour my glow through the multi-colored sphere within me that weaves together the energy of all the shadows.
An energy rainbow shines toward the red tower.
I continue to light up the tower, while I shape copies of the sphere, and throw them at the tower, as I walk toward it.
Each time the sphere strikes the tower, the tower responds with a blast of energy, powered by the red well.
The blast meets my shield, and is transformed to a gentle red rain that penetrates the shield, and fills me with new strength.
I transform my body from Tsirak to Madar and back, again and again, as I move.
I pass through the water, and reach the tower, touching it as Tsirak, and then as Madar.
I let go, and back away, expecting something to happen.
Wait, the top of the tower is glowing.
I send another energy sphere, this time toward the top of the tower.
The resulting energy blast is far stronger than the others.
It penetrates my shield, destroys my Madar body, and throws my fire body back to the white platform.
An energy storm surrounds me, holding me in place.
I look toward the red tower.
The bottom is glowing.
I flow myself into the Zayo shape, and follow the path to the second tower, pushing against the storm, alternating between Zayo and Bizra forms, repeating what I did when I approached the first tower.
Soon, my Bizra body is gone, the tower glows, and I’m sent back again to the white circle.
The energy storm is stronger this time, as I turn toward the third tower.
The inner race corresponding to the Heelu is called Loosta.
They’re round, and full of sparkling colors.
Like the Heelu they love the sky, although the Loosta also have a bond with the stars of their universe.
Soon their tower glows.
Each time, the destruction of my physical body is more violent, my energy sphere is brighter, and the energy storm that surrounds the white platform is stronger.
The fourth inner race is called Owti.
Their energy bodies are tied to great trees.
The trees spread by launching a great swarm of seedlings into the air.
The swarm travels far away, and starts a new forest.
The Owti prefer the quiet strength of the trees, but can take on other forms when needed.
I struggle hard to move down this path, switching between Wisni and Owti.
The fifth race is Yutil, reptilian like their shadow, the Osil, with the same blue eyes.
They have a powerful group mind that reaches out to the other life that shares their world.
The sixth race is Waya, much larger than their shadow, the Feldin, sharing their time between sea and land.
They are just as playful as their cousins, with beautiful voices.
Their glow lights up the ocean, and keeps the sea plants alive during long winters when the world is covered in clouds.
The seventh race is Zista, distant cousins to the Davow.
They spend most of their time as a cloud of pure energy, but take on a fluid crystal body to better interact with physical life forms.
Their crystal takes many shapes, including a clear crystal humanoid form that reminds me of the Gen.
I can barely move down the last path.
The storm is so strong, and my fire body is losing its strength, but I keep going.
Finally, the tower glows, and my energy is thrown back to the white circle.
The storm is gone, and the gateways open.
I take back Yagrin’s shape, and wear the black PathFinder’s robe, but I can’t stand.
“So weak,” I think, as awareness slips away.
“Get up, watcher,” comes a voice in Madar.
I feel the energy flowing into me, when my eyes open.
Kihyez and the six watchers surround me in the white circle.
Nine beings surround them, three Madar, plus one from each of the other inner races.
The group is drawing streams of energy from each tower and pouring them into me.
“Enough,” says one of them, as a strong inner voice, when I stand, facing the green tower.
Zista, with a violet crystal body.
“He is healed.”
“How do you tell?” asks another.
“His energy is so strange.”
“What is that sphere within him?”
The streams of energy stop.
“Thank you,” I tell them.
“First, watcher, tell us what you have done.”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“I opened the towers and the gates.”
“Yes, but was it you who sealed them?”
“I’m not sure.”
“It happened while I was far from here.”
“What did you do, and why have you brought the tower here?”
The black tower has taken its place with the others, its icy spire decorated with snow.
“The tower was sealed on the bottom of the sea when I last saw it.”
“I tried to open it, but instead it changed shape.”
“When I returned here I found that the seven towers were closed.”
“The eighth tower must be bound in some way to the others.”
“I didn’t bring it here.”
“It appeared when the seven towers were opened,” says Kihyez.
“Its garden and path took shape after Yagrin lost his strength.”
“Outsiders!” says one of the watchers.
Two humanoid shapes hover above the towers, covered with strong shields.
I look at them with energy eyes, and then rise to meet them.
Other watchers follow.
The visitors carry Mehkeel bodies, but they’re Gen.
“Welcome Gensai Fong,” I tell them in the Mehkeel language, “to the world of the towers.”
“Look at his face!” she says to Neebol.
“Change a few things, and he could be your twin.”
She turns back to me.
“You know what we are, and speak our language?” asks Vala.
“No Gen has ever come to this world before!”
“Who are you?”
“You’re not Gen, but there’s something familiar about your energy.”
“My name is Yagrin, and I know more than I can explain right now.”
“Your names are Neebol and Vala.”
“I’m the alien in the black robes that Neebol saw in his vision.”
“Follow me down.”
“Why should we trust you?” she asks.
“You don’t have to trust me, but your old world is gone, and you’re here.”
“The Gen know that this world is the home of powerful energy beings.”
“How do you know that?”
“Legends that say little, visions of the towers and strange beings.”
“Listen to the way you speak of the towers.”
“Don’t you wonder why the Gen have such reverence for a place they’ve never been?”
“Don’t you want to find out the truth of the towers?”
I feel their confusion, as we land at the center of the white tower.
The watchers and the inner races form a tight energy shield around us.
“Back!” shouts Vala, pushing them away.
“We can’t hold them,” says one of the watchers.
“They’re a threat to all of us.”
“Stop!” I shout to the watchers and inner races.
“They’re no danger to you, unless you attack them!”
I turn to Neebol and Vala.
“Keep your shields up,” I say in Mehkeel.
“They’re scared of you, so they might try to attack.”
I speak to the visitors at Gen speed, telling them about the towers and the creation story, and my theory that the Gen are an eighth inner race.
“I’ll tell them who you are,” I add, “and translate my conversation with them to Mehkeel.”
“Explain, watcher,” says one of the Madar.
“Who are the outsiders?”
“Are they from your universe?”
“They’re from the eighth inner race, and come from a world beyond the black tower.”
“The eighth race was exiled long ago,” says the Madar, “and their tower destroyed.”
“They will never return.”
“They are erased from the creation story, and we never speak of them.”
“The tower was not destroyed, only moved and sealed,” I tell them.
“They are here, so we must speak of them now.”
“Tell us exactly what the story says, not what you believe it means.”
The Madar hesitates before beginning.
“The creator made eight lights, and eight shadows followed after them.”
“The eighth race was the strongest of all, golden in color, and the most curious.”
“They were great explorers, and traveled throughout their own universe.”
“Long ago, before there were watchers, the Madar took care of the tower world.”
“The golden ones often came here to the world of the towers, and told stories of their travels to the Madar.”
“One day, some came here to travel through the gateways.”
“What’s wrong with that?” I ask.
“The creator told all races at the beginning of time to wait for a sign when they should gather to pass beyond the world of the towers.”
“The eighth race knew this, but they dismissed the story as legend.”
“The Madar tried to convince them to stop, but they refused.”
“One Madar was killed, and then suddenly, the eighth tower disappeared, and the golden race with it.”
“A vision came to one of the Madar, and she spread it to all the inner races.”
“The Golden ones had lost their strength, and were sealed in their own world.”
“This much made sense, but the rest of the vision was a paradox.”
“The golden ones could never return to the towers until they regained their strength, and the eighth tower was brought back to its place.”
“But how could this ever happen, when the vision showed that one of the Golden ones must restore the tower to its place, before they could come?!”
“I am part Gen,” I tell them, taking the Mehkeel form.
“That’s how I was able to restore the eighth tower.”
I tell the watchers and the others about my travels in the vats, and how I lived with Neebol’s thoughts for decades.
“When I returned to my own world, there was Gen energy in me, and death could no longer touch me.”
“How dare you steal my thoughts and feelings!” interrupts Neebol, angrily.
“Are you so tired of your own life, that you need to live through others?”
“I never chose to join you, Neebol,” I tell him.
“I don’t even know how the vats work.”
“They were built by the Bizra.”
I point to the Bizra standing there, and the Gen turn toward her.
“The vats draw on a knowing that is beyond any of us,” says the Bizra.
“They bring the sleepers to the places they must go, to learn what must be learned, to do what must be done.”
Neebol moves toward the Bizra threateningly.
I move between them.
“I had to come to you,” I tell him, “so I could learn Gen ways, and absorb your energy.”
“Everything changed after that.”
“I’ve died countless times since then to save my people.”
“And without me, the tower would be sealed at the bottom of the sea, and you would never have reached us.”
Vala reaches out to Neebol, and her touch calms him.
“Do you think I was quietly watching you?” I ask.
“When I was with you, I forgot myself.”
“There was only you.”
“I’ve seen the world through your eyes, and called your thoughts my own.”
“I can only think of you as my twin, my brother.”
“Is it an accident that we look alike, though born worlds apart?”
“Speak of this later,” says the Zista.
“We must decide what to do.”
“The golden ones are too powerful.”
“More will come, and who will guide them, and prevent them from doing harm?”
“And who will watch the eighth tower?” asks one of the Madar.
“According to Sindar’s laws, all of the towers must be watched.”
“We’ve tried to enter the eighth tower, but it won’t open for us.”
“It will be a long time before others come,” I tell them.
“Only some of their race have regained their strength.”
“And none but these two know how to travel here.”
Vala and Neebol touch the tower, and an opening appears, free of ice.
“We will watch the tower for now,” she says, “and protect this world from any Gen that come.”
“The Gen must be tested,” says one of the Madar.
“The tower opens for them, not us!” says the Bizra.
“What greater test is there?”