Tzina and I approach the Blue Room, the room of art, music, and story.
She stops and turns to me.
“Ina, your tests are in a few hours.”
“Shouldn’t you be practicing?”
“I’m done with practice, Tzina.”
“Tell me about your friend Berek.”
“Ina,” she says, “I shouldn’t have mentioned him to you.”
“Oodah will be furious if I bring you to him.”
“She doesn’t want you to meet him before the tests.”
“I’ve been curious about Berek since you told me that he loves the storms.”
“Then I met his parents, who acted strange and angry around me.”
“Your mother knows but won’t explain why they’re behaving like that.”
“Berek has become mysterious, and I love a mystery.”
“I’ll find him whether you take me there, or not.”
“Besides, meeting him will take my mind off the tests.”
Tzina is confused and troubled.
“Berek is an orphan, ina.”
“You met his adopted parents.”
“He’s not like other boys.”
“The Krale killed his parents and sisters while he watched, and destroyed his city.”
“He was five years old.”
“Five years have passed since then, but he’s still haunted by it.”
“He has terrible nightmares, and screams in a way that no boy should ever be able to scream.”
“How did he survive, Tzina?”
“He’s a natural at flow.”
“Some believe that he found that skill within him, in desperation, during the attack.”
“He flowed himself into the shape of a great bird and circled above the city, watching the horrors below.”
“The Krale just ignored him.”
“When people came to look for survivors, they saw the Kishla sitting on the rubble.”
“It’s common to find Kishla among us, so at first, everyone ignored it.
“The bird just stayed there.”
“It didn’t feed, or move, or even sing.”
“A few hours later, the council sent several guild masters to investigate.”
“Bintar, from the flow guild, looked at the Kishla, and saw that this was not its true shape.”
“The master took the Kishla form, and sang to Berek for a whole day.”
“Finally, Berek let go of the bird’s shape and became a boy again.”
“Berek has lived with Bintar ever since.”
“Bintar and his wife adopted him, and they’ve raised him as their own son.”
“Except for the inhuman screams in his nightmares, Berek has not spoken since that day.”
Strangers Among the Storms
Tzina and I come to the blue room, and she guides me to the potter’s wheel.
A young boy sits, intensely focused on his work, with eyes full of quiet and sadness and distance.
His robe is solid blue, the color of the artist’s guild.
This is the student’s robe, the stage before apprentice.
“Tzina!” I whisper, “he looks just like me!”
“He’s your nephew, ina, your dead brother’s son.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Why does he live with foster parents instead of us?”
“Oodah told me you had a terrible fight with your brother before Berek was born, and never saw each other again.”
“You refused to speak to me about it, and wouldn’t visit Berek, even after your brother’s death.”
“I first met him at last moonwatch, when you almost died.”
“Bintar brought him here.”
“Bintar knew you didn’t want to see your nephew, but he brought him here anyway, so at least once, Berek would see his dying uncle.”
“Berek looked at you, and ran.”
“He wandered into the blue room.”
“He fell in love with the room, and visits almost every day.”
“The Watchtower brings him some comfort when he sleeps here.”
“At least his nightmares come less often then before.”
I look as Berek rapidly flows the clay from one shape to another, but it’s not the changing shape that catches my eye.
It’s the color of the clay.
The clay mixes many colors that continually swirl and sparkle and change.
The air above Berek darkens and spins.
A moment later, the air flows into his rainbow clay and then gently falls to the table.
He takes the additional clay and works it with his hands.
“Berek,” says Tzina, “this is my father.”
Berek turns toward me, intrigued, angry, and shy all at once.
He extends his right palm, facing up, in the way that a child greets an elder.
Then I place my right palm on top of his.
A burst of energy passes between us.
To my energy eyes, it looks like a bright, spinning wind.
We feel a large spark of static electricity, and instinctively pull our hands away.
He looks at me, curious for a moment, before the look fades.
Then we just stare at each other awkwardly.
“You wanted to meet him, ina,” she says.
“Don’t stand there!”
“Help me, Tzina,” I ask, quietly.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“He’s lonely, ina.”
“Children and adults avoid him, since he’s been touched by Krale.”
“He loves to listen when I tell him about my day and my family.”
“He tells me what he’s thinking.”
“How, with sign language?”
“What’s that, ina?”
“On some worlds there are people who can’t hear or speak.”
“They use hand movements to take the place of words.”
“There’s nothing like that on our world, ina, but Berek can write.”
“Show him, Berek.”
The rainbow clay rises up in the air, and instantly forms itself into the shape of words.
It’s a strange conversation.
My spoken words, and his sparkling clay.
“Berek, Tzina told me that you love storms, as I do.”
“The energy is so free in the storm!” he writes.
“NOTHING holds it back.”
“Life buries energy.”
“We push so hard to feel it, and shape it, but it’s out of reach.”
Berek’s face hides his feelings, but I still sense his emotions in the way the clay moves and forms letters.
“What about you?” he asks.
“Why do you like the storms?”
“The storm frees me,” I answer, “and the storm’s strength is my own.”
“I’m a child of the storm.”
“The quiet of the day is too small and weak,” I add.
“In the midst of the storm, I’m finally alive.”
Berek nods, and smiles.
“I wish I could live in a storm,” he writes.
Then he throws the clay violently to the ground.
I bend over to help him pick up the clay, and my black necklace slips out of my robe.
He sees the necklace and turns white, hyperventilating amid audible sobs.
“What’s wrong Berek?” asks Tzina.
Berek’s face is dark and angry.
He shapes objects out of air, and throws them around the room at random.
An easel smashes into Tzina and knocks her out.
Her head is bleeding.
I hold her head between my hands.
Something in the shape of my body drifts away from me, and settles on Tzina.
My hands glow, and the bleeding stops.
I turn toward Berek to yell at him.
I see a vicious expression on his face, and I’m filled with anger.
I’ve never flown within the Watchtower, but I grab Berek and fly, barely missing the edge of the doorway.
We fly into the white room, and then, toward the black room.
A moment later, I hurl the two of us into the black column where no one goes.
Inside the darkness, it’s as light as day.
Fierce winds blow in all directions, but our hair and clothes barely move.
Lightning flashes all around us, and strikes us again, and again, but there is no shock and no discomfort.
The wind holds us steady in the air.
Above us is the bright crystal roof of the Watchtower, and below us is a large bright passageway that leads into the mountain.
“You hurt Tzina on purpose,” I scream at him!
“No,” he yells back.
“It was an accident.”
“I was trying to hurt you!”
“You’re one of them,” he accuses, and pounds my chest with his fists.
“Who?” I scream right back, forgetting that he’s able to speak.
“The Krale. The monsters. The killers,” he says.
Most Jiku see the Krale as eight foot long creatures of black stone.
Some see the beast as a person with black eyes.
Others see it in an endless variety of forms.
“I’m no monster or killer, Berek!”
“I’m your uncle.”
“The Krale are made of black stone,” he accuses me, “and you carry the black stone.”
“Maybe you pretended to be a Krale, just so you could kill us!”
“My father told me that you hated us because your own son died.”
“Why else would you let me be raised by strangers?”
Could this be true?
I know that there was a son who died, but could Yagrin be so petty?
I grab Berek’s fists, still pounding at my chest, and lock eyes with him.
“I’m your uncle, but I’m also a traveler.”
“The black stone came with me from my world.”
“I don’t remember hating your father,” I tell him, and turn away.
Then I turn back and face him.
“I know how it feels to be alone and hated.”
“Soon they’ll send me away, and leave Tzina with no father.”
Berek cries, and I cry with him.
“I remember,” he tells me, “when the Krale approached the city.”
“We heard a loud, low hum.”
“The weavers, the flow guild, even the healers planned to use their powers to fight, but then the Krale came near and spoke.
“The powers of the guilds vanished in a moment.”
“The Krale seem to have great and powerful voices, but I think it was just in our heads.”
“They say, leave now and you won’t be harmed, but they don’t want you to leave.”
“Their voices make you feel like stone.”
“You can’t move or speak, and you feel dull and dead inside.”
“Then, the Krale smile an evil smile.”
“Darkness flies from their eyes, like bolts of dark lightning, and the world explodes.”
“How did you survive, Berek?”
“One of the great birds, circled high above us during the attack.”
“I heard its song, and it was stronger than the cold voices of the Krale.”
“I don’t remember anything after that until I saw Bintar’s face.”
“When I woke up, I could move normally, but when I tried to speak, I couldn’t make a sound.”
“Sometimes I felt afraid to speak.”
“Maybe my voice would sound like the Krale.”
“Other times, my voice felt hard and dead.”
“I never spoke after that horrible day, until now.”
We hear the low hum far below us, but before we can react, the sound and vibration are close, and everywhere.
I reach for the web, to fly away.
I see the energy web, but it feels like glass.
I can’t grab it, connect to it, or glide along it.
Berek tries to flow his shape, but can’t.
Below us, rising out of the light, is a creature shaped like a puffer fish or a whale.
It’s a strange creature of black stone, with glowing red eyes and a twisted smile.