Tzina’s bitter cry fills the cave, and her intense feelings wash over Berek who has his shield down.
He holds his head in pain for a few seconds, but quickly recovers after managing to raise his shield.
Shazira hears the cry, and comes rushing toward them.
Yagrin lies motionless in Tzina’s circle, his energy body dim.
“What happened here?” asks Shazira.
“It’s my fault,” says Tzina, crying.
“I found out how to bypass a mind shield, and I was worried the aliens might be able to attack ina the same way.”
“I taught him how to defend himself.”
“What’s wrong with that?” asks Shazira.
“The practice is dangerous.”
“Mayla warned me not to try it.”
“Not even in a simulation, one of your games?”
“I can’t build a game for that, so we did it for real.”
“I slowly increased the strength of my attacks, so he could practice what I showed him.”
“Then he got distracted, and I hurt him.”
“He’s still alive,” says Shazira quietly, “but I can’t feel his presence through the bond.”
“I can’t find any trace of his mind, oodah.”
“He’s gone,” she sobs.
“You can cry later, Tzina,” says Shazira, sharply.
“Right now, ina needs you!”
“You’re a Mind Twister, and you can hear thoughts that the rest of us can’t.”
“Look everywhere for a trace of him.”
“Maybe his consciousness fled to his fire body.”
“I made a fire twin, so I could touch his thoughts there, but I found nothing.”
“Filarin, help us!” pleads Shazira.
“What should I do, Shazira?”
“I can’t find any trace of his mind, and even if I could, I don’t have any power of healing.”
“Healers can’t repair a broken mind,” says Tzina.
“Only ina has ever done it.”
“You’re a healer, Berek,” says Shazira.
“Can’t you do something?”
“I can keep him alive, but that’s all.”
Shazira grows frantic.
“Tzina, go deep into ina’s mind web, like he did for you.”
“Maybe he’s hiding somewhere.”
“I’m not like him, oodah.”
“He has a balance that I’ll never have, and a talent for finding his way out of impossible places.”
“I would lose myself in his inner worlds, if he had any.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at the mind web that should hold his awareness.”
“It’s completely shattered.”
“I can’t go into that!”
“It’s like a storm, and it would tear me apart.”
Shazira and Berek scan him.
Instead of regular patterns of energy, his mind web is almost pure chaos, and it’s bleeding energy.
“The way he’s losing energy,” says Berek, “I can’t keep him alive for more than a day.”
“We need to find a group of healers to heal his mind web, and stabilize his energy.”
“Maybe then he can return from wherever he’s gone.”
“This is my fault,” he adds.
“I distracted him, when I told him about Dilasa.”
“What about Dilasa?” asks Shazira.
“She left the cave to search for the cubes that she saw in the dream.”
“Filarin,” calls Shazira.
He hovers near them.
“Why did you let her go?”
“I’m not your jailer, Shazira.”
“Getting out of the cave is easy.”
“The sixth path will open at any time to let you out, when you approach it from inside the cave.”
“Getting back in from outside is impossible.”
“The way you came in is gone.”
“It took the five of you, using the sword and the other gifts.”
“What about you?” asks Tzina.
“You said you could open the cave.”
“I need my full strength to do it, and it will be months before I get it back.”
“Why would Dilasa leave, knowing she couldn’t return?” asks Shazira
“She said that one of you will die without the cubes,” answers Filarin.
“Another fool blindly following her visions!” says Shazira.
“I told her not to go.”
“That girl is so stubborn, even worse than Yagrin.”
“What do we do, oodah?” asks Tzina.
“Dilasa is flying without her full strength.”
“She can’t do this alone!”
“We can’t chase her,” says Shazira, “and bring ina to healers.”
“I don’t think we have the strength to do either one!”
“Remember how long it took us to fly here?”
“I won’t abandon her,” says Berek.
“Can you help us, Filarin?” asks Shazira.
“I can’t leave the cave, and my strength can’t help you outside the cave.”
Berek seems to look far away.
“We have to go now,” he says.
“We look for Dilasa, and then take ina to Tshuan, where most of the sisters live.”
“Niyta is there, the greatest of the ancient healers.”
“We’ll never make it,” says Shazira.
“Who knows how long it will take to find Dilasa?”
“As slow as we fly, it will take days to get to Tshuan, if we make it at all.”
“Do you remember the starship that carried us to the wanderer?” asks Berek.
“Of course, but it was lost or destroyed in the city, with everything else.”
“Ina and Mayla agreed to hide it far from the city, in case anything ever happened to her.”
“She cut herself off from the ship, and erased her memory of it, long before she was attacked.”
“To protect it.”
“Now, only ina and I can activate the ship.”
“Is it far from here?” asks Tzina.
“Yes, but I’ve already called it to meet us.”
“I was its pilot once, and it obeys my commands.”
“Where is it now?”
“It’s hovering, invisible, a hundred miles from here.”
“We’ll fly to a clearing twenty miles away.”
“Then I’ll call it again.”
“Why not have it pick us up on top of the mountain?”
“It will only take us a few minutes to reach the clearing.”
“I want to keep this cave a secret, in case anyone detected the ship, and is watching it.”
Berek carries Yagrin in an energy net as they rise through the sixth path, and out of the cavern.
He almost drops him when he touches the outside air, and feels the sudden shock of the web taking back some of its strength.
“The web is so sick,” says Tzina.
“I hate the way it makes me feel.”
“We can’t fix it, Tzina,” says Berek, “but you’ll feel better if you raise your wintzal.”
“I forgot,” says Tzina.
She raises her shield and takes a deep breath after her balance is restored.
Shazira and Tzina follow Berek as he flies off the mountain, and over the trees, toward the clearing.
He puts his father on the soft moss, and raises his arms toward the sky.
“How long before the ship comes?” asks Shazira.
“It’s already here,” he answers, “but invisible, even to energy eyes.”
“Only I can find it.”
“Follow my path.”
He glides with Yagrin to the center of the clearing, where he disappears.
The others follow him, vanishing when they enter the cloaked ship.
Berek puts Yagrin in one of the seats and activates a restraining field around his father’s limp body.
“Sit down,” says Berek to the others, “so we can go.”
“The web feels normal inside the ship,” says Shazira, surprised, as she sits down.
“I noticed it, too,” says Berek, “but it’s not important now.”
“The ship will get us where we need to go, without the strength of the web, and help us find Tzina.”
A holographic image of Mayla appears.
“Mayla?” asks Shazira, surprised to see her.
“No, I’m the AI of the ship.”
“I have some of her memories and I use her image, but I’m not her.”
“Have you found Dilasa yet?” asks Berek.
“I have her energy signature from the last flight, but it’s surprisingly hard to get her exact location.”
“Something near her is interfering.”
“How close can you get us to her?” asks Berek.
“Within two hundred feet.”
“Take us there,” says Berek, as he sits in the pilot’s chair.
The ship activates restraining fields around the passengers, and leaves the forest.
Deep darkness, never ending.
Who am I?
Only words, small bits of awareness.
So hard to shape anything in the stillness.
I reach for a way out… and light erupts all around me.
There is no me, no other.
I am the light, nothing else.
Have I always been light?
Is there a past that hides from me, or is this my first awakening?
I spread the light, wider and wider, but only emptiness greets me.
Is it empty, or just quiet, waiting?
Am I already there, just sleeping?
The emptiness glows, and becomes energy, a bright network of patterns that spreads everywhere, a web.
The word is familiar, from another time, before I was alone.
A few memories return, no clearer than fog, far, far away.
Others, friends and family.
Worlds and beings frozen into limited shapes.
My awareness shrinks into a small, dark shape, surrounded by the web and endless light.
I weave the energy into my darkness, forming an egg, and spin myself, faster and faster, glowing brighter than a sun.
The space around me fills with form, color, and sound, as a world takes shape.
I create a shell to interact with this new world.
“Not a shell,” whispers a voice within me, “a body.”
I test the streams of awareness within the shell, and look around.
“I need answers,” I shout.
“Who am I, and why am I here?”
The world reshapes itself, and I’m standing barefoot on a great meadow, covered with a soft green plant.
Streams of energy, like bright pillars, rise straight up from the ground, and disappear into a blood-red sky.
There are thousands, no, millions of streams covering the landscape in all directions, full of images and sounds.
The pillars are ten feet apart, watched over by young children, about eight years old.
Half are boys, and half girls, dressed in white robes, one child standing at each pillar.
The children continually change form, taking animal shapes, as well as the shapes of intelligent creatures from distant worlds.
Every few minutes, they return to the familiar, child’s shape.
Each boy and girl wear the same face.
“I know that face,” I tell myself, “but I can’t remember who it is.”
One child is different than the others, although he carries the same face.
He hovers inside a column of sparkling energy, clear as crystal, a hundred times as thick as the others.
It rains down, a river falling from the sky, piercing the center of the meadow, and disappearing into the ground.
Its energy moves a thousand times faster than the streams.
Sometimes he is a boy, and sometimes a girl.
He watches the others, and seems to be their leader.
Occasionally, they look to her, and she seems to answer them, without speaking.
I approach him.
I stop when I reach the outside of his energy river, and he turns his head toward me, looking at me with piercing eyes, gold and green.
“Who are you?” I ask him.
He stares without answering, giving me nothing but a smile.
“Answer me!” I yell, as I leap into the energy river.
My mind is assaulted with images of a million worlds, and the beings that live in them.
The boy pushes me out of the river, and follows.
I hear a voice in my head.
It’s my own voice, but I know that it comes from the boy.
“You can’t survive in the river.”
“Who are you?” I ask.
No sounds leave her lips, but I continue to hear her in my head.
She looks at her hand, and its surface becomes a mirror.
She holds it up to me, so I can see my own face.
I look like all the children here, only older.
“There is only you,” he answers.
“We are all shadows of each other.”
“Have I been here before?”
“You live in a different world, but when you dream, a thin shadow of you floats upon the streams, and you hear echoes.”
“Sometimes, when you’re awake, you call to us, and ask for our help.”
“What is my name?”
“You have seen many names in this life: Jacob, Yagrin, Jaina, Neebol.”
“There are other names that you carry in other worlds, but you have not seen them.”
As he says each name, my mind fills with memories.
“I’m Yagrin,” I say, pleased to recognize myself and remember my lives, “but how did I get here?”
“Your shell was damaged.”
“It can’t hold your mind, so you came here.”
“What is this place?”
“You call us the unconscious.”
“A strange name.”
“We are so much more aware than you!”
“When I ask for help from my inner self, is it you that answers?”
“We all answer you.”
“We touch endless worlds, and streams of possibility, to find you answers.”
“Do you live in my fire body.”
“Your energy touches this place, but we are far away.”
“Show me how to return to my home.”
“You have many homes and many lives on endless worlds.”
“I am Yagrin!”
“Show me the way.”
“There is no way, that we know, for all of you to pass between this world and the one you live in.”
“There is no way for you to return there.”
“Only the dead come here, on the way to the next life, and their awareness is transformed.”
“No living awareness visits us.”
“Yet I came here.”
“We can’t explain it.”
“You were close to death, but still the way should have been closed to you.”
“You found a path where there is none.”
“If I did it once, I can do it again.”
“Does the world follow your every wish?”
“Why do you seek what can’t be done?”
“How do you answer me when I ask for help?”
The girl looks at the others.
They dip their heads into the streams, and the energy grows brighter.
“We send you knowledge, that reaches you as images.”
“It’s impossible to travel that way.”
“Besides, even that path is closed now.”
She spreads her hands apart, and an image appears between them.
Two mountains stand, with a road that passes between them.
“A bridge must be supported at both ends,” she says, “for something to pass over it.”
One of the mountains merges with the other, leaving no space between them.
Only a fog remains where it once stood.
“You’re here, Yagrin!”
“Without your conscious mind, there is nothing to anchor the other end of the bridge.”
“The path is gone!”
The ship lands in the center of a flat, sandy circle, about four hundred feet wide.
“We’re near Tshuan, oodah,” says Tzina.
“How could Dilasa have flown this far with the web as it is?”
“I don’t know, but she’s a lot like Yagrin.”
“She doesn’t ask if what she wants is possible!”
“It’s almost dark, oodah,” says Tzina.
“If she made it here, she must be weak or dying.”
“We have to find her quickly.”
“Can you find the girl now, ship,” asks Berek.
“She’s near here,” responds the AI, “but that’s all I can know.”
“Her mind shield is open,” says Tzina.
“I hear her thoughts, but her eyes are closed, and she’s only half-conscious.”
“She’s arrived an hour ago, and tried to search for the cubes, but she can’t reach them.”
“She’s laying on the sand, too tired to move, and doesn’t respond to my thoughts.”
They walk outside the ship.
“We split up and go in different directions,” says Shazira, “but we stop at the edge of the sand.”
“Our mind shields stay closed, unless we feel someone calling us.”
Tzina flies toward the north, and Shazira flies to the south.
Berek heads west toward a dull grey rock face that rises straight up three hundred feet.
He stops at the edge of the sand, facing the rock.
“There’s something familiar about this place,” he thinks.
“Could this be the ruins of the falls?”
He flows air into water and blasts it against the rock, with great force.
The dirt falls away, and he sees a brief glint of silver, from the last rays of the sun, as it strikes the crystal.
“The falls are here,” he decides, “and the sand circle is all that remains of the lake.”
Berek rises straight up, and scans the area above the falls.
It’s also covered with sand.
He feels an itch on the outside of his mind shield, and opens it.
“I’ve found her Berek,” calls Tzina, “one hundred feet northwest of the ship.”
“I woke her, and she started digging holes in the sand with her bare hands.”
Berek flies to the spot as quickly as he can.
Dilasa is awake, but weak.
“I can’t leave, until I find the cubes,” she says.
“Ina’s life depends on it.”
“The cubes are somewhere below us, calling to me.”
“When my wintzal is open, I hear Sindar’s voice, but I can’t make out the words.”
“Help me, Berek.”
“My strength is gone.”
Berek picks her up, as Shazira arrives.
“Back to the ship,” he says to the others.
Dilasa tries to protest, but he ignores her.
When they enter the ship and seal the opening, Dilasa’s strength begins to return.
“Why do I feel stronger in here?” she asks.
“The web is normal within the walls of the ship,” answers Tzina.
“We can return here whenever we need to regain our strength.”
Dilasa turns and sees Yagrin unconscious.
She stares at him, and takes a few short breaths, but doesn’t speak.
“His mind is gone,” says Tzina, “and we don’t know if he’ll ever be the same.”
“This is my vision, Tzina,” says Dilasa, looking at her with fire in her eyes.
“That’s why I left the cave.”
“We need the cubes to bring him back!”
“How can the cubes save him?” asks Berek.
“There’s nothing left of his mind.”
“He’s trapped somewhere, and the cubes will help him find his way home.”
“I’m still weak, Berek,” she adds.
“Flow the sand into water.”
“What about the cubes?”
“They’ll hold their shape.”
Berek, Tzina and Shazira focus on the sand, hundreds of feet deep, and flow it into water.
A few seconds later, two cubes float to the surface.
Berek opens the side of the ship, and flies down to retrieve them.
As he rises, he looks toward the grey rock, and flows the sand above it into water.
Springs deep in the ground are freed, and the falls move again.
The sun has disappeared over the horizon, and without direct sunlight the falls are only grey.
Berek stares at them for a moment before entering the ship.
He dries off the cubes, and puts them on a message panel.
“Ship, can you extract the message?”
“No, it has a genetic lock.”
Berek and Dilasa reach for the cubes at the same time, but the cubes won’t release their message.
“I was sure the cubes would open for one of us,” says Berek.
“I thought so, too,” says Dilasa.
“Can you hear Sindar’s voice?”
“I heard it for a moment.”
“Now, it’s gone.”
“There were three words.”
“River of Sound.”