Siksa is rich with a beautiful, dark blue crystal called ensai, that glows softly in the dark.
On land, the greatest concentration of the stone is in Bizra territory, under the meadows where the Bizra lived for centuries.
In the ocean, the most visible deposit of ensai is found in three undersea mountain ranges.
But the largest mass of the crystal is a great disk, hidden seven feet below the deepest part of the sea floor, extending for a thousand miles in all directions.
The disk generates an energy field in the shape of a sphere.
The sides of the sphere begin twenty feet beyond the edge of the crystal, and rise high above the surface of the stone.
Visible light, ultraviolet, and infrared waves pass freely into the sphere, yet the same waves are absorbed when they try to pass out of the field.
Other waves of energy are absorbed when they touch the sphere from the outside.
Only the great web is unaffected.
Because of the way the sphere absorbs energy, satellites and ships can’t see or sense anything within the sphere, until they enter it.
When the Jiku came to this world they called the stone ensai, foundation.
They chose this name, because the Bizra told them that the stone was the first part of Siksa made by the creator.
Some Jiku refer to it as dragon stone, after intelligent creatures that lived on Siksa long ago, beings that the Bizra call dragons.
The crystal itself is harder than diamond, and no common energy weapon can damage or melt it.
It remains where the creator placed it, far from the cities, serving an unknown purpose.
There are images of ensai in the libraries, so every child knows what it looks like.
Those Jiku who want to see the crystal in person can travel to distant caves where it covers the walls.
Only the brave or foolish go there.
Ensai is considered bad luck.
Masters of flow have the power to split and shape the stone, and even build with it, but no Jiku would dare do that.
Only the Bizra seek out the crystal, and make use of it.
The large herds of Bizra are gone from their meadows.
Most have left Siksa, and the others have abandoned the land and the sun for a hidden city with a great dome, deep in the ocean.
The sisters try to comfort the frightened children as they travel through the dark water at the bottom of the sea.
“We’re going to a new home where we’ll be safe,” says Niyta.
Soon, the darkness is replaced with the sight of a stone dome, covered with a dim glow.
“See the light ahead?”
The glow gets brighter as the travelers move toward the walls, but the little ones keep crying until the Bizra bring the travelers through the airlock.
Spirits rise when their feet touch the smooth floors of a city filled with light.
Their strange journey is over.
Jiku eyes adjust quickly to the brightness, and the group lets out a gasp.
Ensai is everywhere, surrounding every glance and step.
Each Jiku has the same thought.
What disaster will fall on us if we live with the cursed stone, day after day?
The ship’s pilot is taken to a holding area, while the Bizra lead the others to a nearby plaza.
Hundreds of sisters and children start singing when they see the newcomers approach.
A woman at the front of the crowd runs and hugs Niyta.
Wilik was her apprentice long ago.
“Thank the creator, you’re all right,” says Wilik.
“Every school is here now.”
“The Bizra saved us all.”
“The aliens have conquered Siksa and caged the web,” says Shazira.
“How can we celebrate?”
“Shazira is right,” says Niyta.
“This is a time of sadness for the sisters and all Jiku.”
“The Kizak want to wipe out knowledge of the web, and destroy those who love its ways.”
“They tortured Hanli.”
“Who knows what they’ll do to our sisters still in Tshuan and the guild lands?”
“But we still live,” says Wilik, “and the sun shines somewhere above us.”
“We must thank the creator for every blessing, even in times of war.”
“You taught me that.”
“We’ll give thanks, Wilik, and dance the greeting to the sun, even here, but there will be no celebrations.”
“We must remember those who suffer.”
“Remember?” asks Dilasa.
“We suffer as much as them.”
“This is a prison.”
“We’re trapped, far from the sun and sky!”
Wilik stares at Dilasa, and the necklace she wears.
“Who are you?” she asks, upset with the young girl’s arrogance.
“This is Dilasa, one of Yagrin’s children,” answers Niyta.
“Is Yagrin here?”
Dilasa answers, her strength melting away, and tears beginning to form.
“If he ever comes back, how will he find us?”
“Ina will return,” says Shazira, “and Berek will send him to the ocean.”
“Your brother knows we’re somewhere deep underwater.”
“Berek can’t help us,” cries Dilasa.
“Keela will never surrender to the Kizak, and Berek will stand by her.”
“They’ll both be dead soon.”
Shazira glares at her.
“Quiet!” she shouts.
“Berek will survive, and we’ll all be together again.”
Dilasa sobs, and Shazira holds her.
“Shh,” says Shazira quietly.
“Ina will come for us, and everything will be all right.”
“The Bizra see the future,” says Shazira.
“How long do they say we’ll be here?”
“You know they don’t speak,” says Wilik.
“Yes, but they understand us, and respond with images.”
“They ignore us half the time, Shazira, and when they do answer, their images are cryptic.”
“What did they show you?”
Wilik sends the children away and speaks privately with Shazira, Ilaz and the newly arrived sisters.
Life continues in this city, with a chorus of voices filling the schools.
The Kizak hunt us from above, to find our bodies, and make sure that we’re dead, but they never find us.
You, some of the sisters, Ilaz and Dilasa are transformed into sea dragons, and swim in the ocean.
Yagrin and Tzina laugh together.
The family of the sword releases a strange energy that covers the planet, and then touches the sun.
“What happens after the energy is released?”
“It spreads, and covers the whole planet, then forms a bright river that reaches to the sun and beyond.”
“The scene fades as the energy dissipates, before we see its effects.”
“Do you know anything about the energy?”
“What does it do?”
“It’s powerful and dangerous.”
“It may save us all, or destroy the world.”
“That image came with a feeling of hope, Shazira, even if we can’t see what comes next.”
“The Bizra trust that good will come from it.”
“But there are other, more troubling images that the Bizra shared with us.”
Council hall, in the guild lands appears dark and deserted.
The guilds have no political power anymore, and the members of the council are in hiding.
Newly elected leaders want to use the hall at first, but the Kizak build them a beautiful new building, and convince them to stay away from the old, cursed place.
The hall becomes a prison.
Sisters in the guild lands are brought there, with a small group of Jiku that have Bizra eyes.
One night, the building is attacked by terrorists wearing guild robes, and filled with the fire of a great explosion.
The structure of the hall is untouched, but nothing moves within its walls.
Bodies lie quietly, burnt or bloody, as the smoke clears.
The Kizak guard a prison in Tshuan, a simple building that holds a few sisters, and a group of Jiku that have Bizra eyes.
Twenty-three sisters leave our city, their faces covered in shadows, to rescue the prisoners.
Half of the sisters die during the escape, lying among other dead.
Those who survive return here with the Jiku that they freed.
“Do we ever leave this city, and return to the surface?”
“The cage will be erased, and masters will glide freely along the web.”
“Ruined cities will be rebuilt using flow.”
“Your face is there when the cities rise again.”
“But there are no images that show us the way home, or tell how long we wait.”
Shazira feels a push on her mind wall, and opens the barrier.
The Bizra showed me your face, and then gave me one more image.
I haven’t shared it with the sisters.
I think it’s only for you.
When the explosion fills the council hall in the guild lands, Ilaz is there, imprisoned with the sisters.
He dies with them?
The faces of the dead are covered with fog, but I think so.
Will you tell him?
I’ll wait to see how events unfold.
Wilik breaks the mind link.
Shazira raises her mind wall, and two images of dragons fill her.
One shows the form the Bizra swim in.
The other is a memory.
Tzina once brought her family into a dream where they swam with the dragons on a distant world.
The creatures called themselves Chikal.
They were a race of shape shifters who once lived on land, before they fell in love with the sea.
The greatest among them was sent to find a new shape that the sea would welcome.
She went alone to a small island in the middle of the ocean, and fasted, waiting for the ocean to answer.
In her weakness, she saw a vision of the water dragon.
A long flexible body with scales, and an intelligent, expressive face.
The soft scales on the head surround and light up the face with a cold green light that grows stronger in the presence of their brothers and sisters.
When threatened, the body emits bursts of energy to stun or kill their enemies.
The Chikal embraced the new shape, and abandoned the land.
Where did the Bizra find this form?
“What do the Bizra say about the dragon bodies they swim in?” asks Shazira.
“Clear your minds,” says Wilik, “and spread your energy senses over the city.”
“What do you feel?”
Shazira and the sisters form a circle and hold hands to strengthen the movement of energy through them.
Niyta speaks first, giving voice to what they all feel.
“This place is old, with an echo of a strange, alien presence.”
“Something lived here before us.”
“Yes,” says Wilik.
“The city of blue stone is only a few weeks old, shaped by our hosts, but the Bizra showed us the history of this site, reaching deep into the past.”
“Ten thousand years ago, before the Bizra or Jiku came to Siksa, a group of shape-shifting creatures colonized this world.”
“Chikal swam in these oceans for a hundred years, until they were called home for war, against a strange enemy.”
“The dragons never came back to Siksa.”
“How do the Bizra know this?” asks Shazira.
“Their senses are stronger than ours.”
“Some say their eyes can see into the past.”
“I was only an apprentice,” says Wilik, “when I first heard Niyta tell stories of the Bizra, and their eyes that see the past and future.”
“I wondered which tales were true, and which were only legend.”
“The truth stands before us.”
“Bizra built this domed city on the ruins of an old Chikal settlement, and filled it with sweet air.”
“Little remains of the dragons who swam here, except for faint energy traces, invisible to all but the sharpest energy eyes.”
“The Bizra followed this energy trail into the past, and saw Chikal swimming and dancing in the waters.”
“The dragon shape, and the love of movement resonated with the Bizra.”
“Our hosts take the Chikal form when they swim outside the walls of the city, whether to gather food, or just to enjoy the sea.”
“They transform us into Chikal when we have a need to go beyond the walls.”
“Enough talk for now,” says Niyta.
“The children are tired.”
“Let’s get them something to eat, and a place to rest.”
“Of course,” says Wilik.
Soon, the children are resting, safe and warm within their rooms.
They wonder when they will return to the sun and sky.
Shazira and Dilasa walk around the edge of the city, looking at the dark ocean, beyond the clear walls.
The water that covers the city is always calm at these depths.
Sun and sea reach out to all life, and are tightly bound to the great web.
The sun’s energy is twisted by the star cage, and it drags the web with it, but not here in the sea.
The strength of the ocean moves through its salt water and blocks the star cage, leaving the web strong beneath the waves.
Life in the city is still tied to the rhythms of night and day in the world far above them.
Ensai shines brightly during the day within the city walls, while at night the light fades to a dim glow.
The newcomers are physically and mentally exhausted when the first night comes.
Sleep comes easily, even with all the questions that spin through their minds.
The next day comes too quickly, and before long the small city is filled with the sounds of the schools.
Over two hundred sisters are here, with almost five hundred children.
Lessons continue as they were before the cage came.
The students learn everyday subjects like math and science in the morning.
But it’s the afternoon the children wait for, when their teachers make the hidden world of energy dance before their eyes.
Every child learns about the balance that holds the world together, and brings peace.
Those with enough talent learn to practice healing or other energy ways.
Niyta’s school was the last of the twenty schools to be taken from Tshuan by the Kizak, and the last one to be swallowed by the sea and brought here.
It’s difficult at first for her students to pay attention to the lessons.
The city of glowing stone, a mile beneath the water, is a beautiful dream, but the dream is touched by fear.
Endless ocean surrounds the city, visible through the transparent stone, and reminds each child of the moment when the ship first entered the water, and death whispered.
But the days pass, the pain fades, and Niyta’s students pretend that all is well, like the students of the other schools who came here before them.
One morning, a few of the younger children walk with Ilaz and Niyta toward the classrooms.
Hukal walks with Ilaz whenever he can, but he is unusually quiet since coming to the city.
He holds his hand a few inches from the stone wall of the hallway.
“Is it safe to touch it?” he finally asks.
“The whole city is made from it,” answers Niyta.
“We can’t avoid it.”
“Will it bring bad luck?”
“The stories about the crystal are just stories,” she answers, hoping that she’s right.
Ilaz pulls Hukal aside, and lets the others continue.
“What’s wrong?” asks Ilaz.
“You look so sad!”
“I miss my brother and sister.”
“I want them here with me.”
“I heard the twins were away at a healing center when we left,” says Ilaz.
“They’ll be all right.”
“I wanted to stay.”
“Sister Niyta made me go.”
“Are you mad at her?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Let’s go to class.”
“I heard a boy talking.”
“Is it true?”
“What did he say?”
“He said Tzina killed a lot of Kizak.”
“Now, they hate all Jiku.”
“They hate some of us.”
“Tzina has Bizra eyes, like the twins.”
“The Kizak will kill everyone like her.”
“The boy said the eyes are cursed.”
“Don’t worry Hukal.”
“The aliens won’t hurt them.”
“I’m so scared.”
Ilaz rests his hand on Hukal’s shoulder.
“Everyone loves the twins.”
“You know that.”
“Kizak are monsters.”
“They want to kill us.”
“It’s the power of the web that frightens them.”
“Why would they be afraid of the twins?”
“When will the sisters save the twins?”
“I can’t wait.”
“It’s not safe for the sisters to leave the city.”
“But the boy said they will.”
“And bring more children here.”
“What else did you hear?”
The vision of that rescue is clouded.
Half the sisters and some of the captives will die.
Who can tell whether the twins will be among the dead or the living?
“What you heard comes from a vision that the Bizra showed to the sisters.”
“What’s a vision?”
“Images of what’s possible in the future, Hukal.”
“One trail the world may follow.”
“Will it come true?”
“That’s up to us.”
“We can push away the future we see, or help it arrive.”
“A vision is never certain, Hukal, but I think this one is almost impossible.”
“Can you imagine the sisters fighting with the Kizak?”
“Our teachers want peace.”
“An attack on the Kizak will only bring more war.”
“You can tell the sisters to make it true.”
“I won’t ask them to start a war.”
“It’s not right.”
“You’re the prince.”
“Order the Kizak to let the twins go.”
“I never wanted to be a prince, Hukal,” says Ilaz, looking far away, “and now I have my wish.”
“A week has passed since we left, and the kingdom is gone.”
“And even if I was still a prince, the Kizak would never listen.”
“Make them listen.”
“Like my sister?”
“She fought for the honor of Tshuan, even though she knew she couldn’t win.”
“Once, I would have followed her, but I’ve changed.”
“Now, I just think she was a fool.”
“What happened to her?”
“Keela must be dead by now.”
“Aren’t you sad?”
“Don’t you want to go back, find out for sure?”
“Yes, but what good will it do?”
“Everything I cared about in Tshuan is gone.”
“Now, my place is here, with you and the other children.”
Hukal stares at Ilaz, disappointed, and walks away.
Hukal is missing from Ilaz’s classes that day and the next.
Ilaz asks his students about it.
“I haven’t seen him at meals,” says one boy.
“He didn’t sleep on his mat last night,” says a girl.
None of the other students have seen him, and they say he hasn’t gone to any of his classes.
“Maybe he’s in trouble,” says one of Hukal’s other teachers.
Ilaz takes a deep breath.
“No, he’s just mad at me, and the rest of the school.”
“He needs time alone to adjust to everything that’s happened, and calm down.”
But when another day passes without a sign of the boy, Ilaz goes to Niyta.
She scans the city with energy sight.
Hukal is gone.
“How is it possible?” asks Ilaz.
“I can only think of one way,” says Niyta.
“There was a group of seven children, about ten years old, who went outside for a trip.”
“In the ocean?”
“The Bizra changed them and two sisters into dragons, and took them.”
“Hukal looks much older than he is.”
“He must have slipped into the group.”
“They wouldn’t let him go without approval.”
She searches the city’s infonet.
“His name isn’t on the list.”
“Check the images.”
She scans through the details.
“His image isn’t here, but one boy was added to the list a few hours before they left.”
“It’s the only name that doesn’t have an image.”
“And I’m shown as the person who authorized his trip.”
“Hukal is talented with the net, far beyond his age, but he’s never done anything like this.”
“He’s never caused any trouble at all.”
“Why do you think he did this?”
“He was frustrated and angry when he spoke to me, two days ago.”
“He heard about the vision, and wants us to rescue the twins.”
“I told him it won’t happen.”
“You shouldn’t have taken away his hope,” says Niyta.
“None of us ever knows what will come!”
“The sisters are dedicated to peace.”
“Would you authorize such a rescue, and fight the Kizak?!”
“Not today, with the situation as it is.”
“But what will the Kizak do tomorrow or next week?”
“Go prepare for your next class, Ilaz.”
She turns to walk away.
“You’re going to ignore the situation?!”
“We should speak with the Bizra.”
“There’s no point.”
“The group is due back in a few hours, just before second meal.”
“We’ll deal with Hukal when he returns.”
The meal comes and goes, and still the group doesn’t appear.
“Where are they, Niyta?” asks Ilaz.
“They’re only a few hours late, but if it settles your mind, I’ll speak with the Bizra here, and they can contact the others.”
She returns after fifteen minutes, with an unusually serious expression.
“There is a problem, Ilaz.”
“One of the children is missing, and they’re searching for him.”
“Which one?” he asks, already knowing the answer.
“It’s Hukal,” she admits.
“They showed me his Jiku image from their memories, before they transformed him.”
“How could he get away from them?”
“They can scan the ocean for miles around!”
“Near the end of the trip, the group leaders let some of the children go off by themselves in pairs for a few minutes.”
“It should have been completely safe.”
“The dragon form is large, powerful, and fast.”
“None of our ocean’s predators will go anywhere near it.”
“Hukal and his companion swam away.”
“There was a small island nearby, and Hukal said he wanted to explore the sea around the island.”
“The children were told to stay far below the surface, but Hukal didn’t listen.”
“At first, the girl with him thought it was exciting to disobey the sisters, but as they came near the surface she got scared, and dove down two hundred feet.
“According to her, she looked away for a minute to see where the others in the group were.”
“When she turned back toward Hukal, he was gone.”
“Where did he go?”
“The girl brought the sisters and the Bizra to the spot.”
“If someone took him, it wasn’t a fisherman or anyone else on a boat.”
“The Bizra scanned the surface for a hundred miles, and there was no trace of any water craft.”
“In the presence of the cage, energy sight won’t penetrate above the water.”
“One of the Bizra stuck her head through the water and looked around briefly, but the edge of the island was deserted.”
“There was no sign that anything had traveled or been dragged across the sand.”
“The Bizra scanned the ocean depths around the island, but there was no trace of him.”
“Still, the whole group searched the waters near the island for several hours, but found nothing.”
“Then they started back.”
“They’ll be here soon, except for one Bizra who stayed behind.”
“She’ll wait until it’s night, and search the island in her own form.”
Ilaz stands by the airlock waiting for the group to return.
They’re all quiet and sad when they arrive, still wondering what happened to Hukal.
Ilaz looks at them silently.
There’s nothing to say.
Tasting the Ocean
“Let me go, Niyta,” says Ilaz the next morning.
“What’s the point?”
“The Bizra searched the ocean and the island.”
“Hukal isn’t there.”
“The transformation is only temporary.”
“If Hukal is trapped underwater when he turns back, he’ll die.”
“If he’s still alive.”
“I feel responsible, and I won’t have any rest until I look for myself.”
“Maybe I can find a clue that will tell us where he’s gone.”
“You’re stubborn, Ilaz.”
“Have I ever told you that?”
“More than once.”
She contacts the Bizra, and one of them agrees to take Ilaz.
The transformation is not what he expects.
He imagines his body will take a few seconds to change shape between Jiku and Chikal.
And he expects to feel and think the same as before.
Instead, one moment he’s standing in the water-filled transition chamber, holding his breath.
The next, he’s reborn with different senses, and sharper thoughts.
He and the Bizra swim out into the ocean.
His mind moves faster, and he has energy senses that sense life swimming hundreds of feet away.
The deep ocean is no longer dark and cold, but filled with energy, streaming and spinning all around him.
Ilaz feels two hearts beating faster within him, excited to be in the water again.
He remembers a time, long ago, when he loved the sea and its endless variety of life.
That was before the alien took over his body, and stole ten years from him.
The dragons are fast swimmers, but it would take him a day to swim to the site.
The Bizra wraps a shield around herself and Ilaz, and flies them along the web to the destination.
Ilaz looks around when they arrive, troubled by a strange feeling.
He’s sure that there’s something here waiting to be found.
The ocean is shallow ahead as the seabed rises to form an undersea mountain.
“The world above us sees no mountain, only a small island,” thinks Ilaz.
Soon, he understands why this place is familiar.
This is where the airship entered the water!
Maybe Hukal was spotted and captured by a Kizak or Tshuan patrol?
A patrol wouldn’t be interested or equipped to capture a strange sea creature.
Ilaz spreads his dragon senses wide, and finds what he’s looking for.
A small fragment of a net, caught on a rock.
Not a fishing net, but one used to capture valuable specimens alive.
Chikal have acute senses of sight and vibration, but they make no sounds or gestures to communicate.
They link minds.
Ilaz extends his thoughts and tells the Bizra what he’s found.
Then he shows his guide an image of a place along a distant coast, where Tshuan scientists study and exhibit ocean life.
Ilaz used to visit the center as often as father would let him.
Where else would they take a dragon?
The Bizra pauses and shows Ilaz an image of a thin path, passing between two cliffs.
Far below on one side is the research center.
On the other is endless sea.
If he chooses to leave the sea, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to return.
Ilaz projects the image of the research center, to confirm his choice.
The Bizra brings him to a deserted part of the Tshuan shoreline, a few miles from the facility.
They rise close to the surface, and she shows him an image of his Jiku form, lips tightly closed.
He’ll need to hold his breath as soon as he transforms, until he can get out of the water.
Ilaz thinks he’s prepared, but he almost inhales from the shock of the sudden change.
He feels dull, weak, and blind, compared to what he was before.
This body feels too small for his spirit.
A great wave pushes him out of the water and onto the sand.
When he adjusts to the bright light and heat, he opens his eyes.
He’s naked, but there’s a watertight package near him, with clothes, sandals, and a communication disk.
Ilaz sighs as he looks at the water stretching to the horizon, and listens to the waves falling on the sand.
The Bizra is gone, and with her, the way back to the sea.