Secrets of the Game

Games of Fire and Ice
While we eat, and during the blessing that follows, Tzina’s face is troubled.
She takes me aside and whispers, “Ina, I need to speak with you alone.”

“Open your mind shield,” I tell her, “and I’ll touch your thoughts.”

“Let’s go to your circle, away from the others.”
“I need to get out of my head.”

I tell everyone that we’ll be back soon, and we glide to my circle.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, as we land.

“There’s a lot about MindTwisting that you don’t know.”

“Show me.”

“MindTwisters call the dreams that we create, the game, and the minds in the dream are called players.”
“Now watch with energy eyes.”
She raises her hands until they’re at heart level, about two feet apart, with palms facing, and the fingers of one hand pointing toward the fingers of the other.
The mind web glows brighter and brighter, as it circles around the head in a ring.
A pillar of energy extends down from the ring, reaching the space between the two hands.
The energy ring around the heart area also glows brighter, with a rod of energy extending outward between the hands,
Dozens of small balls of energy, each with millions of tangled energy strings, spreads out from each hand until the two streams collide.
A larger ball of dark blue energy takes shape, smooth and translucent, with bright spots that send out little sparks of lightning.
It looks like blue ice.

“This is an empty game, ina.”
“Right now, it draws energy from me, but if it had players, their energy would sustain it.”
“I make a world from it, shaping the environment, events, and the artificial beings that live in it.”

“You plan out everything consciously?”

“It’s too complex.”
“I make a plan, with some ideas about what it should be like, who should be there, and what should happen.”
“My unconscious mind does the rest, filling in the details.”

She stares at the ball for a few seconds, and it starts to fill with swirling images of places and Jiku.”

“It’s cloudy, Tzina.”
“I can’t see clearly what’s happening there.”

“No, you can’t.”
“Only MindTwisters can see into the game, and watch what’s going on.”

I reach out to touch the ball.

“Stop ina!” she yells, her face full of fear.”
“Touching the ball is deadly to everyone except the twister.”
“It will pull in your true mind, and never let go!”
“Even I won’t be able to free you.”

She dissolves the ball.

“I can’t show you, so I have to tell you about the game.”

“I’m listening.”

“I can’t be a player in the game.”

“Why not?”

“When we want to make a dream safe for the players, we build it with anchors, ways to escape or stop the dream.”
“The twister sets the anchors, and tells all the players how to end the game.”
“However, the dreams move in unexpected ways, and cloud the player’s memory, so that she forgets the anchors.”
“Even the MindTwister who shaped the game can forget the anchor, if she stays in the dream too long.”
“In the game we entered together, our names were the anchors, but we all forgot them.”
“When a player enters many dreams, day after day, it’s almost certain that she’ll forget herself and her anchors.”
“The only way I can keep you safe, is to stay out of the game, and watch over you.”

“How can the rest of us spend all day in the dreams and leave you alone?!”

“I’m not a little girl any more, ina.”
“Do you think I’m afraid of being in the cave while you’re asleep?”

“It’s not that, Tzina!”
“I promised that we would all be together this week, and we will.”
“Besides, do you think oodah will let us leave you?”

“Open your mind shield, ina.”
“You have to see something.”


“An old vision that Mayla showed me.”

Five dark figures fly together toward a glowing mountain.
They separate and surround the mountain, before they disappear inside.
The mountain becomes a cave, full of colors, constantly shifting.

Four of the five sleep in their own crystal beds, surrounded by images.
Two of them are surrounded with images of Mayla, light pouring out of her in all directions.
The fifth stands at the center of the cave on a deep red crystal circle, awake.
She is surrounded with images of the sword, shield, and sheaths.
A shadow hovers over her.

The cave disappears, replaced by an image of four large starships approaching Siksa.
Two are surrounded by images, and they turn toward each other, colliding, and exploding.

“Here are the DreamHunter’s words, born from the vision.”

A case of war flies toward Siksa, unseen until it explodes, killing thousands.
Six days hidden within months.
Soft stone and darkness that shines.
Five, protected by the sword, and one barely there.

Twister alone in a bright, warm cave.
Four, plus one.
Four, plus one.
Spinning dreams of machine shadows.

“Did you know this trip would fulfill part of the vision?”

“No, but I wondered if it would.”

“What are machine shadows, and what does the image of Mayla mean?”

“The shadows are information networks that carry Artificial Intelligences (AIs), like Mayla.”
“She taught me how to simulate the networks.”


“So you can learn how to move within them, and disrupt them, along with the AIs who live in them.”
“Most advanced technology and weapons rely on networks and AIs.”

“How can we keep up?”
“The networks and the AIs are too fast for any Jiku mind to follow.”

“You’re right.”
“Besides, a game must be fueled by the minds that are joined to it.”
“A regular mind can’t support a dream that moves so fast.”

“Then what’s the point of the training?”

“There’s a way to put the body to sleep, create a copy of the player’s mind, and tie it to the fire body.”
“Mayla called it a fire twin.”
“It lives for about an hour, and while it exists, it moves at the speed of energy.”

“My own twin will build the fast network game.”
“You’ll create your own twin, and it will train there, matching the speed of any AI.”

Games of Danger
“The twin is independent of me, Tzina?”


“What happens to his memories when he dies?”

“They’re lost, unless he streams his memories into your sleeping mind, before his life fades.”
“You can use the twin as a soldier who goes to fight for you, and disappears when his work is done.”

“I want those memories, so I can learn from his experiences!”

“The first part of the game will teach you and oodah how to put your bodies to sleep, and at the same time, create your fire twins.”
“The twin has your knowledge, and knows whether you want to inherit his memories when he dies.”
“Your everyday mind stays awake just long enough for you to use your energy eyes to see if the twin is stable.”
“The two twins will meet as fire minds within the cave, and learn to move and think at fire speed.”
“When your twin begins to fade, he’ll stream his memories into your ordinary mind.”

“What about the memories from oodah’s twin?”

“An hour in the outside world is like centuries in the world of the twin, where life is measured in nanoseconds.”
“The endless thoughts and memories of a fire twin are a shock when they rush into the everyday mind.”
“Our own memories seem unreal among that flood.”
“Imagine what happens to those of us with Bizra eyes.”
“You know our minds are more brittle!”

“You’ll be all right, ina, because you don’t have Bizra eyes.”
“Besides, you’ve lived as a fire body, and already have thousands of years of memories that aren’t your own.”
I can’t safely absorb a twin’s memories, not even once.”

“What about oodah?”

“Mayla thought that oodah is strong enough to bear small fragments of a twin’s experience.”
“Oodah’s twin will be selective about which training memories she passes on, to reduce the strain.”

“Tell me more about the training in the network.”

“When the two of you have enough practice living as fire twins, the second part of the game will begin.”
“I’ll shape my own twin.”
“She has the speed and power to create a true network game.”
“My twin will pull you in, and let herself go.”

“She’ll dissolve before her life ends on its own?”

“Every moment she lives is dangerous for me.”


“The truth is, no one really enters the game.”
“It’s only a copy of you or me that can exist in the game.”
“Usually, that copy is connected with the everyday mind.”

“In a regular simulation, I let the game give birth to a copy of me.”
“She and I bind ourselves together, leaving only one mind, aware in and out of the game.”
“Then I make a copy of each player rise within the game.”
“I can’t hold the dual focus for long, but I need it to bind the player’s game mind to her real self.”
“A normal double will disappear when the player’s true mind leaves the game.”
“When the Twister leaves the game, she has a choice.”
“She can dissolve her double, or let her stay in the game, unaware she’s a copy.”

“The network game is different.”
“My fire twin is a copy, and she knows it, but once she’s created, she’s independent.”
“I can’t be anchored to her mind because she thinks too fast.”
“Besides, I fall sleep just after creating her.”
“That’s why she’s dangerous.”

“I don’t understand.”
“Why would she harm you, just because you’re sleeping?”

“She doesn’t want to harm me, ina.”
“She knows that transferring her memories would drive me insane.”
“Still, the longer she lives, the greater the danger.”
“She’s so powerful in her energy form that she forgets how fragile I am.”

“Tzina, the twin knows that she could live for centuries within the game.”
“Why is she willing to sacrifice herself for you, and end her life early?”
“Do you create her with no will to live?”

“She has to be a perfect copy of me, or she won’t be able to shape the network game.”
“At first, she knows the truth, that her memories are death to me.”
“She also knows that she’ll probably forget that, and eventually share her memories.”
“So, she quickly ends her life to protect me.”

“What’s the danger, then?”

“When she hesitates, ina.”
“She might tell herself that she can safely enjoy life for just a little longer.”

We’re quiet for a few seconds, as Tzina meets my eyes with an intense gaze.
“The fire game is a big risk for me, but I’m prepared to do it”
“We can’t ignore the vision, and we need the network training.”
“Mayla herself is gone because of an AI attack within her network!”
“We need every weapon against the alien AIs when they attack us.

“I miss Mayla,” I tell Tzina, after a few seconds pass.

“I do, too.”
“She was as real to me as any Jiku.”

“After she told you the vision, did Mayla suggest other training for us?”

“The rest is up to us.”

“We should all think about what we want to do, Tzina.”
“I have some ideas, though.”

“Save one of the days, ina, for special games.”
“I can let a game to be shaped by the deep needs of the players, yet focused on a certain theme.”
“Filarin pushed me to create this kind of game, focused on our core strengths.”

“On one of the days, I’ll push your unconscious minds to shape games which focus on the training you need most.”
“It’s worth trying, but the results are unpredictable.”
“The unconscious mind touches sources of knowledge far beyond us, but the game it shapes may be incomprehensible to our conscious minds.”
“I’ll have to monitor those games more closely, and dissolve them if they threaten anyone’s mental health.”

Games of Death
“Tzina, I still don’t see how we’ll convince oodah to enter the games, and leave you behind.”

“That’s easy.”
“I’ll be in the games before you, joined with my double, to welcome you all.”
“When you’re bound to the game, I’ll break my connection with my double.”
“She’ll stay with you, and you won’t be able to tell the difference.”

“What happens to her when we leave the game?”

Tzina frowns.
“I hate what I have to do to her.”
“After she and I have been separate for a few minutes, I can’t reconnect with her.”
“I can’t close the game while she is still in it.”
“She has to die, for the game to end.”

“You have to kill her?”
“Can you do that?

“It was part of my training with Mayla.”
“First I practiced killing monsters or enemies that were threatening me.”
“She said it would give me the courage to kill for real, when it becomes necessary in the coming war.”
“Then she made me shape simulations where innocent beings die from war, disasters, or accidents.”
“Finally, she told me to leave my unconnected double alone in a dream for ten minutes.”
“She made me practice killing the double so I could end the game.”

“I felt sick the first few times that I had to kill someone.”
“It was much worse when I had to kill my game double.”
“I felt terrible for hours, and couldn’t hold down food.”
“Eventually, I got used to it enough that I could eat and function afterwards.”

“How could you get used to killing groups of people, or a copy of yourself?”

“You saw the vision of the ships colliding!”
“Thousands of enemy soldiers will be killed.”
“It’s my destiny, and I had to build up the courage to carry it out.”

“You practiced killing so much that it doesn’t bother you anymore?!”

“You don’t understand, ina.”
“I can do it, but I still feel like I’m killing real living beings.”
“Most of all, I hate killing my double.”
“She’s far more real to me than any other part of the game.”

“Does the double know that she’s not real?”

“I shape her so that she never questions herself or her world.”
“If someone else in the dream speaks about the game or the real world, my double will change the subject, and immediately forget the conversation.”

“Sometimes it scares me, ina, when I see my double.”
“The other Tzina is just like me.”
“She feels alive, and is full of emotions and thoughts.”
“It makes me wonder if my own life is a simulation.”
“In one moment this whole world may disappear.”

“Do you really believe that?”

“Are you sure that this world is real, ina?”

“No one can be sure, but I love our family and this world, and I decided long ago to live as if it’s real.”
“What else can we do?”
“Lay down and die?!”

“Don’t be so dramatic, ina.”
“We’re just talking.”
“I’m happy with my life, and I’m not going to do anything to end it.”

“I think you should build as few games as possible,” I tell her.
“So much killing, and mixing up your life with dreams.”
“What is MindTwisting doing to you?!”

“I’m fine,” she says, starting to get angry.
“Besides, what do you suggest?”
“Do you think oodah will train one third of the day, and spend the rest of the time, stuck in the cave, staring at the walls?”
“She only agreed to the training when you promised to spend our free time in a simulation of the world outside the cave.”

Tzina steps close to me, challenging my personal space.
“And who will fight the AIs that attack us?”
“They will be far more powerful than Mayla, and she’s gone.”

I have no answers.
My silence carries my reluctant agreement.

Tzina turns away from me to fly back to her circle and rejoin the others.
She tries to hide it, but I see her wipe tears from her eyes.
She knows that she must be alone as she monitors the games, but still, she feels abandoned.

Empire of Stone -- 1: Cages of FearPrevious StoryNext Story
  1. Fading Light
  2. Waking the Council
  3. Challenging the Guilds
  4. Crystal Paths
  5. Caves of Dreams
  6. Worlds Within Worlds
  7. Black Fountain
  8. Secrets of the Game
  9. Fast and Slow
  10. Slavery and Death
  11. Silver Falls
  12. Sounds of Healing
  13. Songs of Change

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