“It’s dark outside,” says Dilasa, “but Tshuan looks as bright as day on the ship’s view-screen.”
“The ship can see in the dark,” says Berek, “and it creates a daytime image for us.”
“Why are we approaching slowly?” asks Shazira.
“We could be there already!”
“I can keep Ina’s body alive for now, and I’m trying to hide our approach.”
“I don’t want the Tshuans to know how powerful this little ship is.”
“Let them think that it’s a simple airship, of an unusual design.”
“The ship hides itself, Berek,” says Shazira.
“Yes, but when we move quickly through air, we create strange winds that would be noticed by the Tshuan army.”
Soon, a mountain lake comes into view, centered in a great meadow, and surrounded with wildflowers.
A few buildings form a circle at one end of the lake.
“That’s the school?” asks Tzina.
“I can’t be sure,” says Berek, “but Niyta is there.”
They land one hundred feet from the buildings, and Berek opens the ship.
The moon is bright overhead, as they step on the cool grass.
Berek carries his father.
The meadow is split by neat paths, with NightGlows on both sides of the walkways, flowers that challenge the night with a cool light just before they bloom.
Berek and the others move twenty feet toward the school, when twelve sisters surround them, pointing Tshuan weapons.
“Don’t move or we’ll fire.”
“The army will be here soon.”
“How dare you threaten a children’s school!”
Dilasa raises a shield around her family as she rises into the air, and prepares to attack them.
“Stop, Dilasa,” says Shazira.
“They just don’t recognize us, yet, in the dim light.”
Another sister approaches, coming closer than the others, until she sees Dilasa’s face.
“A child master?” says Niyta.
“She reminds me of our time as old ones,” says Niyta to the other sisters.
Dilasa doesn’t respond, glaring at the sisters, and holding the shield in place.
Berek steps forward so Niyta can see him.
“Yagrin?,” asks Niyta.
“I thought I felt your presence.”
“Why didn’t you message us?”
“We were about to attack you!”
“Why do you come to us at night, in a hidden ship?”
“Why do the sisters carry weapons?” asks Dilasa, still hovering.
“These are difficult times,” answers Niyta.
“The web holds back its strength, so we look for other ways to keep the peace.”
“We’ve met before,” says Berek, but I’m not Yagrin.”
“I’m his son.”
“My father is hurt, and we came for your help.”
Berek fills the area around them with bright light for a few seconds, so the sisters can see all their faces clearly.
Shazira sees so much of Yagrin when she looks at Berek.
He’s only twelve, but already he’s as physically strong as his father, holding him in his arms without strain.
The frightened child is almost gone, replaced with a courage that also reminds me of Yagrin.
“You look just like your father,” says Niyta.
“Lower your weapons,” she yells out to the other sisters.
“Forgive us,” says Niyta, “but your arrival was seen as a threat by the watchers, the sisters who guard the school.”
“When you opened the ship, they sensed a strange energy, like nothing in Tshuan or the guild lands.”
“Then they saw that the web glows brighter within your ship then among us.”
“Finally, when you came outside, they felt the energy of four powerful masters.”
“What else could we think?”
“Unknown masters arriving at night in a strange ship?”
“We have to protect the children.”
“We understand,” says Shazira, “but Yagrin needs your healing right away.”
“Lower your shield, Shazira,” says Niyta.
“No one will harm you.”
“Dilasa,” says Shazira, “lower the shield.”
“The little one?” asks Niyta.
She stares at Dilasa for a few seconds.
“She looks just like Yagrin, flies effortlessly, and carries so much power!”
“Why did Yagrin never speak of her?”
“I’m his daughter,” says Dilasa, angrily.
“Stop talking, and start helping him.”
“Dilasa!” says Shazira.
“Watch your words!”
“She’s right, Shazira,” says Niyta.
“Healing comes first.”
The stone building is well-lit when they enter, with a dozen children staring quietly at the visitors.
“I’ve messaged the army,” says one of the sisters, “and told them that Yagrin has come with his family.”
“Put him here,” says Niyta, as she points to a wide table covered with thin cushions.
A boy, about five, approaches Dilasa.
“Is that your father?” he asks quietly.
“I had a father once, but he died.”
“We’re all orphans.”
“The sisters watch over us.”
“I hope your father doesn’t die.”
She takes his hand.
“Thank you, Hukal.”
“He’s my new father,” she whispers.
“I’m also an orphan.”
“You look just like him!” says the boy.
“We’re related,” says Dilasa.
“I heard that you fly!” whispers Hukal.
“Show me your armband!”
She pulls up her sleeves to show her bare arms.
“I don’t use an armband to fly.”
“You’re a master!”
“I want to be a master someday.”
Dilasa smiles at him.
“How many children live here?”
“About a hundred.”
A group of healers gather around Yagrin.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” says one of them.
“There’s no trace of his mind.”
“What good will it do to heal the mind web, when his thoughts and memories are gone?”
“Have you ever seen a mind web so damaged?” says one of the others.
“Never,” says Niyta.
“Was this done by Makish, when Yagrin’s wintzal was open?”
“His shield was closed,” says Tzina.
“We were training, he was distracted, and I broke through.”
“Even Makish can’t break through a mind shield,” says Niyta.
“How can you?”
“I’m a Mind Twister.”
“No, it’s not possible.”
“There was only one twister, and she died in the energy wars.”
“Thank the creator, her ways were lost.”
“We’re wasting time,” says Dilasa.
“Can you rebuild the mind web, or not?”
“We can heal the tears in the mind web,” answers Niyta, “but if there’s anything left of his mind in the web, he’ll be completely insane after such an injury.”
“Maybe it’s better just to let him die.”
“Heal him,” says Shazira.
“Dilasa says that she can bring him back.”
“How?” asks Niyta.
“I don’t know,” says Shazira, “but she’s like Yagrin.”
“If she says that she can do it, believe her!”
“Whatever you’re going to do,” says Niyta, “you’ll need sleep.”
“Our healing will take hours.”
“Go rest, and we’ll wake you when we’re done.”
“I’ll stay,” says Berek.
“We’ll all stay,” says Tzina.
“No,” says Shazira.
“We’ll all rest, so we’ll have strength to do whatever Dilasa asks of us.”
“Wake us up, as soon as his mind web is healed,” says Dilasa.
“His life depends on it.”
“Yes, little one,” says Niyta.
Shazira leads her family into a simple room, with several soft mats, and they lay down.
“I didn’t know how tired I was,” thinks Shazira, just before she sleeps.
The sisters wake them when the healing is done.
The night is half gone.
They hear a moan from a nearby room.
“Is that ina?” asks Berek.
“No,” answers Niyta.
“Yagrin is quiet, completely empty.”
“There are twins here with Bizra eyes, a boy and girl three years old, and both of them have caught the madness.”
“Their minds seem mixed together.”
“The madness struck both on the same day, and they cry out together, an echo of their inner struggle.”
“Soon, they’ll grow quiet, and finally, in a few weeks, or a month, they’ll find true peace.”
“Can’t we help them?” asks Dilasa.
“Maybe it’s just the web sickness that tears at them.”
“They both wear inhibitors to protect them from the poison in the web, but the inhibitors are no help against their own eyes.”
“No boy with the eyes has ever survived past five years old.”
“Every one of them gets the madness.”
“Some girls grow up without the madness, but there’s no healing for the ones who get it.”
“Ina healed me from it,” says Tzina.
“Yes, from a sort of Bizra madness.”
“Who knows if it’s the same as what the children get?”
“Besides, you and he have a father-daughter bond.”
“Could he heal the madness without that special connection?”
“Maybe, someday, he’ll try to heal one of the children, and we’ll find out.”
Niyta turns her face from Tzina to hide her own tears.
“You don’t believe that ina will return,” says Tzina.
“Yagrin’s body is strong now, and his mind web is whole again, but there’s no trace of him.”
“There’s nothing more anyone can do.”
“We will mourn his death.”
“There is something that we can do!” says Dilasa.
“I wish you well, little one, but those who healed his web are exhausted, and must rest.”
“There are other sisters who will bring you food, and help you any way that they can.”
“I suggest that you go back to sleep.”
“Whatever you try can wait until morning.”
Niyta kisses Dilasa and walks away.
“We have to hurry,” says Dilasa to her family.
“The vision shows him dying unless we must bring him back before first light.”
“We only have a few hours.”
“Let’s take him to the ship,” says Shazira.
“We’re stronger there.”
“What now, Dilasa?” asks Shazira, as the opening to the ship closes.
“I’m not sure.”
“All I know is that the cubes are needed to set him free.”
“Move back,” says Tzina.
She stands near Yagrin, and reaches out her hands.
A ball of dark blue energy takes shape, floating over his body.
“A game?” asks Shazira.
“How will that help?”
“If someone touches the ball, it traps their true mind.”
“You want to trap Yagrin there?”
“You told us that the mind will stay there until it dies.”
“That’s what the twisters believe.”
“They don’t know how to free a mind once it’s trapped, and no ordinary mind can escape on its own.”
“Ina isn’t ordinary.”
“If I can bring his mind to the game, I can speak with him.”
“Together, we’ll find a way out.”
“Dilasa, did you see any of this in your vision?” asks Shazira.
“No, but a vision is never complete.”
“All I saw were the cubes and seven balls of energy, sparkling like lightning.”
“What now, oodah?” asks Tzina.
“Do it,” says Shazira.
“We don’t have another way.”
Tzina moves the energy sphere until it touches Yagrin’s hands.
Then she looks into the game to see if he’s there.
“Well?” asks Shazira.
“Nothing,” says Tzina.
“The sphere can’t reach him.”
She has an idea.
“Berek, I need you to form seven balls of energy, and push them into his energy wells, all at once.”
“What will that do?”
“When ina and I were training, I told him that he needed the help of his unconscious to fight.”
“He sent spheres of lightning into his energy wells, and it helped him connect with his unconscious, and ask for the help he needed.”
“You think he’s there?”
“How could the unconscious still exist when the mind web was torn.”
“The unconscious is larger than any single mind web.”
“We only see the surface of the unconscious, when we dream, when it helps us, or when we build mind shields for others.”
“None of us knows what it’s really like.”
“Ina must be there, out of reach!”
I wander through the strange landscape.
The children ignore me, busy working with the knowledge that moves through the streams.
How can all of this be just for me?
I return to the river at the center of the world, and call to the boy there, the leader of the others.
“You said there is only me here.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“I have no connection with this knowledge.”
“Is there one unconscious or many?”
“What you see is what your awareness will let you see, a dream that is just for you.”
“We serve you, and we serve all.”
“We are you, and not you.”
He stops speaking, and stares at me.
I feel something strange within me, and see light shining from me.
The ekrisa, the star heart within me, is burning brightly, and every energy well is glowing with a sphere of lightning that floats upon it.
“What does it mean?” I ask the girl.
She sticks her head in the river.
Trickles of energy fall from her face when she turns to me again.
“It’s from your world, Yagrin.”
“Someone is calling you.”
“Your daughter, Tzina.”
“Can you send a message to her from me?”
“Intention is all.”
“Focus on an image, and keep your thoughts free of words.”
“When you’re ready, step into the river, and I’ll come with you.”
“Let nothing else enter your mind except the image.”
“If you can hold that focus for a few seconds, then the image will reach her.”
“I’ll push you out of the river when the message is sent.”
In this form, I can’t build a wintzal, but I cover myself with a temporary mental shield that Tzina showed me how to build.
What image should I use for the message?
A memory of a special moment between Tzina and me.
Soon after I came to Siksa, Tzina brought me out on the deck of the watchtower in the middle of a lightning storm, forcing me to protect her.
Filling myself with the image, I step into the river.
The shield protects me from the river while I prepare myself.
When I’m sufficiently focused, I open the shield, with a single intention:
Let Tzina know that I hear her, and that I’m all right.
The river seems to move all around me, without touching me.
I feel the image of the tower leap into the river, move into the ground, and rise through the endless streams all around me, toward a distant reality.
When the image is almost gone, the boy moves to push me out of the river.
Before he reaches me, I feel myself pulled by the image, and the river disappears.
“The sphere is glowing, Tzina,” says Berek.
“What’s it mean?”
“Quiet, Berek,” she says.
“I have to focus.”
She speaks again, a few seconds later.
“Oodah, a silent, vivid image appeared in my mind.”
“It was the time when I took ina onto the deck of the tower.”
“I didn’t want to believe you when you told me about the traveler.”
“You said that he came from another world, and had lived another life, yet somehow he and my ina were one spirit.”
“I still don’t understand it, but when that stranger protected me from the lightning, and I felt his love, then I knew he was my ina, even if made no sense.”
“Is that the message?” asks Dilasa.
“Is he telling you that he’s still here?”
“Can it be that simple?” asks Shazira.
“I want it to be a message,” says Tzina, “but maybe it’s just a vivid memory.”
“Don’t you think it’s strange that you’d have a vivid picture with no words?” asks Berek.
“Look at the image, to see if it’s different than what you remember.”
“You’re right!” says Tzina.
“Ina’s robe carries a picture of my circle in the cave, with the sword and the other gifts resting there.”
“If he is alive, how do we find him?” asks Shazira.
“What about the sphere?” asks Berek again.
“Why is it glowing?”
Tzina scans the sphere.
“I can’t get inside, Berek, but there’s a presence that wasn’t there before.”
“It must be ina.”
“The message was a link between him and our world.”
“The sphere used that link to capture him.”
“Can’t we just destroy the sphere?” asks Dilasa.
“If we do, we damage anyone or anything that’s in the game.”
“What kind of a dream did you shape this time?” asks Berek.
“An empty world, where the laws of nature are broken.”
“I hope that ina’s mind will feel that something is wrong with the world, and realize that it’s only a simulation.”
“If he knows that he’s in a game, he has a chance to escape.”
“I thought I would be able to touch his mind, and help him, but when the sphere trapped him, it cut him off from us.”
“Ina will still find a way out,” says Berek.
“We can give him some help,” says Dilasa.
She takes the two cubes, throws them at the blue sphere, and they disappear.
Past and Future
The world of the unconscious seems far away.
I wander along an endless stretch of desert.
Nothing lives here, and every mile is like the last, but I feel driven to keep moving.
This is a strange world.
I never get tired, hungry or thirsty.
I can jump a hundred feet without strain, but I prefer to walk.
What is this place?
Will I be here forever?
Something sparkles in the sand up ahead.
I jump there, and find two cubes half buried in the sand.
I blow on the cubes, and the sand moves away from them, as though it was caught in a strong wind.
The cubes rise, and then stop when they’re level with my eyes.
They’re just like the ones that Dilasa found in the game!
Could this be one of Tzina’s dreams?
How did I get here?
I reach for the cubes, but I never get hold of them.
They race toward my eyes, faster than I can react, and disappear within.
The desert is gone, replaced by a waterfall, the Silver Falls that disappeared long ago.
Someone is swimming in the lake near the falls.
He waves, and I jump in the water and swim toward him.
“Who are you,” I call, as I approach.
He turns and pulls back his long hair, revealing a face like mine.
“We’ve never met.”
“I left this cube for you to find, just like the Bizra asked.”
“I’m Yagrin, the old Yagrin.”
“The Bizra tell me that you’re a traveler, and you’re going to take over my life, and save the world.”
“They say that we are one spirit, and that part of me will still be there after you come.”
“The two of you will save the Jiku,” they tell me.
“I don’t understand it, and there’s no way I can stop you from coming.”
“It scares me.”
“I don’t want to disappear and die.”
“I feel sick when I think about it.”
“I ask them if you’ll be good to my family, and they tell me that you’ll love Shazira as I do.”
“I don’t know whether to be jealous or comforted.”
“You recorded this cube just to make me feel guilty?!” I ask him.
“I never planned to come to Siksa, and leave my world behind, but I’m not sorry that I’m here.”
“The Jiku are wonderful, and our family is amazing.”
“I made the cube,” he says, “to carry a vision from the Bizra.”
“The image is simple and distant from the words.”
“It’s strange for the Bizra to see the future like this, almost all in words.”
“They know this vision is for you, but the meaning is hidden from them.”
A race burns with buried power.
They tear at the web, and wait to bring an end to the stars.
Lose your strength, and find another.
Your enemy conquers you and calls you friend.
He teaches you betrayal and murder.
Siksa feels his anger.
Cool waters protect your children, while you thirst.
The sword changes all.
“Once you save Siksa, it may be possible to split us apart, and for you to return to your old world.”
“It’s dangerous, and we may both die, but there’s a chance that it could work.”
“Think about it,” he adds, “and no matter what, take care of our family.”
“That’s all I ask.”
The scene fades and I’m back on the sand.
The sky has changed color to a dark blue, full of sparkling energy.
It reminds me of Tzina’s game spheres.
“Am I in a game?”
“How did I get here, and how do I escape?”
The world spins so fast that I black out for a few seconds.
When I wake, I’m on Sinesu, in a rainstorm, surrounded by tall trees.
This dream is shaped by the second cube.
The necklace that Zias gave me hangs from my neck, to lead me to the River of Sound.
I enjoy the rain, but it’s getting dark.
I have to find the river before last light.
The necklace pulls at my heart, and tells me which way to go.
I reach a clearing in the forest, and straight ahead is a long gap in the trees that reaches to the edge of the forest.
The sun is about to disappear over the horizon.
The clearing is full of dark blue sand.
Rain falls, and water runs across the sand, but the clearing stays as dry as any desert.
I forget the rain, distracted by music that fills me and circles around me like a storm.
This is the River of Sound that Zias spoke of!
Music rises from the trees and the sand, and falls from the sky, and the rain.
Some music is sweet, some bitter, but everything is full of song and sound.
The sounds join together and rush through the world like a flood.
I turn, and Sindar approaches.
“What you see is a place that existed on Sinesu long ago, destroyed in the Fiklow wars.”
“We called it the river of sound.”
“The one who needs this message will find it.”
“All of creation is filled with song, yet unaware that they sing too softly to be heard.
“Everything is filled with music.”
“The river of sound awakens a new sense within you.”
“Listen, and every obstacle will disappear.”
The message ends, and I return to the desert.
The sand looks different now, like plastic, and the edge of the game sphere is visible in a broken sky.
“Where is the music here?” I ask myself, and it begins.
The sand sings to the still air, and the air sings to the wind.
The sphere also has a song, and it fills the world around me.
What is my song?
I listen to the music that fills me, and see countless images of Siksa, Sinesu, Earth, and the seven towers.
Images and voices of my family are woven into the music.
I turn my attention to the sphere, and listen to its song.
I copy its music, and let it fill me, and the whole world around me.
When this whole dream is pulsing with that sound, I turn to my own song, and let it pour out of me.
It fills the world and then the sphere itself, and finally, reaches beyond the edge of the sphere.
The sand, the trees, and the sky fade away, as the sphere turns into a mirror.
In the mirror, I see my face, and the faces of my family, and then the world is silent.