The emperor wakes early this morning, like every morning.
Teyus spends seven hours in bed, but his sleep doesn’t bring him the rest he needs.
He’s troubled almost every night by dreams of aliens destroying the homeworld.
Teyus shakes off the fear and fatigue, and sits up.
He reaches for a pitcher of juice to ease his thirst, but the pitcher is half-way across the room, spilled on the floor.
Many nights, the pitcher moves from where he left it, along with other random objects.
Security is uncompromised, and video shows the objects moving by themselves.
Despite the cage, the curses still circle somewhere inside him, and burst out.
The emperor activates the wall screen to see what’s in the info-streams.
They’re still full of talk about the Madar val, and Neyima, the hero who turned out to be a traitor, and freed one of the Madar.
The stream commentator speaks to people in the shopping tower.
“Who is this Neyima?” he asks.
“Madar,” says one woman.
“He only became Kizak so he could come here and rescue his brother.”
“There are hundreds or thousands of secret Madar here, walking as Kizak, planning to take over the empire.”
“They have already killed top officials.”
“They eat the dead flesh so they can take their shape, and live their lives.”
“Soon they will kill us all!”
“Neyima lived in the palace compound.”
“What if the Madar have already replaced the emperor and his son?”
Teyus messages his lead advisor, Roobkir.
“What do you think of the stream?” asks the emperor, when he shows it to the advisor.
“I think the people are fools, great father, but we have to do something to reassure them.”
“What do you suggest?”
“You could kill all the beasts.”
“Kill the Madar?”
“The law forbids it!”
“The first emperor made the law, so you have the power to change it.”
“I won’t do it.”
“If we kill them, we admit we are weak and afraid.”
“We must show our strength, by keeping them in cages, and challenging them, again and again.”
“The people are troubled.”
“We must do something.”
“I will speak, and show them just how strong we are.”
“What about the prince?”
“Neyima was tutoring him for months.”
“The people wonder where his loyalties rest.”
“Only the people?”
“The guard, your staff, everyone wonders, great father.”
“I’m sorry, but it’s true.”
The emperor turns away for a minute, deep in thought.
“We must prove Disu’s loyalty.”
“What if he’s not loyal?”
The emperor glares at his advisor.
“You dare suggest this!”
“Through no fault of his own.”
“Neyima may have corrupted him.”
“Even if the prince’s mind has been twisted, it can still be straightened.”
“I agree,” says the emperor, “but this must be done before Disu’s Madar val.”
“If something goes wrong in the arena, the guards must deal with him like any citizen.”
“The law will stand!”
“There’s so little time, only a month until the arena.”
“I’ll contact the corps and let them interrogate Disu.”
“They will persuade him to change his mind, if necessary.”
“What will you let them do to him?”
“Whatever is necessary.”
“The empire is more important than any one of us.”
Roobkir leaves, and the emperor slams his fist on the desk.
The surface is undamaged, but his hand stings.
The desk is made of a rare white hardwood with natural streaks of color.
Teyus paces within the chamber.
Can I blame Disu for being seduced by the curses?
They call to me, though I will always reject them.
Disu’s brother, Harkus, was attracted to the old ways, and died from the fire of the curses.
Is Disu next?
Whatever happens, I will not let the curses in my house infect the empire.
There are several embryos still frozen.
I’ll order one implanted in a host mother.
I must have another heir, in case something happens to Disu or me.
I thought we were stronger than the curses, but I have no choice.
This child must be enhanced.
A week later, the screen flashes in the emperor’s private office.
Teyus looks at the message source.
The head of the corps wants to speak with him.
The emperor activates the image.
“Great father, I have the information you asked for about the prince.”
“The process was more invasive than we had hoped.”
“We could not simply pull the information from his mind.”
“Neyima built a wall around him that none of the corps can penetrate.”
“Still, our persuasion techniques convinced the prince to lower the wall.”
“Neyima wants to remove the star cages from the empire, and he has a device which partially shields an individual from the cage.”
“The prince was wearing one of the devices as an armband.”
“Can you block its function?”
“No, but we have little to fear from it.”
“It will not be easy to mass produce.”
“The device uses a type of crystal which has never been seen before in the empire.”
“Some kind of secret Madar tech?”
“I can’t tell, but there’s nothing like it anywhere.”
“What did Neyima teach the prince?”
“He prepared him, as promised, for the Madar val, but he also taught him to love the curses.”
“I was the fool who asked Neyima to teach the prince.”
“I’m responsible for his mind being corrupted.”
“It seems, great father, that Disu supported the rebels before Neyima came.”
“I should have known!”
“Disu must have worked with the rebels to stage the attack on himself, so Neyima could save him, and become his tutor.”
“The rebels sacrificed thirty of their own men to get Neyima into the palace!”
“Why didn’t the traitor try to kill me?”
“I’m not sure, but it seems that Neyima was more interested in freeing the Madar than in killing you.”
“You’re wrong about one thing.”
“The prince was not involved with the rebels, great father, and he doesn’t think that Neyima is connected with the rebels, either.”
“Disu believes that Neyima is operating on his own.”
“Have you convinced the prince that he must change his ways?”
“We had to use extreme measures to do so.”
“It’s always difficult to tell whether the changes will last, but for now, he’s with us.”
“One more thing.”
“The prince told us of a place which blocks the effects of the cage, an old Madar place near the rainbow caves.”
“We went to the site to prepare it for destruction, in case you gave that order, but we found the cave gone.”
“Who did this?”
“The prince knows nothing about it.”
“We can’t explain it, great father, but there’s no debris and no trace of the cave, just a large empty space, as though it was moved.”
“Is this the Madar transport tech?”
“Possibly, but the stories about the tech insist that it can only move living creatures — nothing else.”
“Perhaps they’ve improved on the tech.”
“We must find it!”
“Did the prince have any idea where the traitor went?”
The emperor closes the connection, and takes several deep breaths to calm himself.
He reviews part of the speech that he will give to the people tonight.
My people, Prince Disu is well, unharmed by the traitor Neyima.
Neyima is nothing more than a man, his Mind Twisted by the curses.
Disu knew nothing of the traitor’s plans to free the beast and break the law.
The prince and I are horrified that this traitor walked among us for so long.
Soon, he will be found and killed.
Some say that the empire is growing weak.
These words are foolish lies.
We are stronger than ever, and have been planning for several years to extend the empire beyond the edge of the galaxy.
Today, I announce that we have identified a candidate world outside the galaxy.
Like us, some among them are afflicted with the curses.
We can drive away the curses which are the source of all war, and help these people to a life of peace.
That planet will be offered the honor of becoming our first colony outside the galaxy.
I will be traveling with the guard for this historic mission.
We leave soon after the prince passes through the Madar val.
We will invite this new race to join us in peace, but we know what the curses bring.
We’re prepared to fight and sacrifice to free another world from the curses, and expand our great empire of peace.
Join me in celebrating our strength.
I’ve been stealing identities, so I can move undetected among the Kizak, and locate the plans for attacking Siksa.
Unfortunately, they’re well hidden.
There’s no trace of them in the networks that I’m able to hack into.
I turn to the info-streams, especially the ones that focus on conspiracies and secrets.
I know most of it is lies, but I might find some hints of the truth buried within.
When I’m ready to give up, the stream replays the emperor’s recent speech.
Teyus speaks of his plans for a colony outside the galaxy.
It must be Siksa.
The guard will leave soon after Disu’s Madar val.
The trip will take two to four weeks, depending on which ships they use.
I have to warn Siksa, and give them some of the tech that I’ve discovered.
I can’t open a PathFinder gate, even with the nullifier.
The field is too small.
Instead, I book passage on a ship, and use an escape pod to leave the ship when we’re between stars, so I can get free of the cage, and open a gateway.
The AI is waiting for me at the rendezvous point in deep space, far away from any caged stars.
“You’re still here,” I tell her after I get on board.
“You ordered me to wait here for three years before going back to Siksa.”
“Just two years have passed.”
I sit at the familiar controls and sigh.
It’s only a ship, but it reminds me of home.
I transfer selected memories to the AI, including detailed technical designs.
The ship will return to Siksa, and broadcast the encoded information, before it meets with Berek.
The AI says that the other Mayla will listen.
I hope it’s true.
I need her to alter her weaponry so it can resist the tech screen.
I can’t be sure that Mayla will help us during the attack, but I hope she will.
Only Mayla will get the plans for the Madar cage generator that uses anti-matter.
I also send her the specs for modifying the device to undo the Kizak cage.
“Does Mayla know how to create and handle anti-matter?” I ask the AI.
“I don’t know.”
“I have no information about it, but I don’t possess all of Mayla’s knowledge.”
“Tell her how much we need her to build the device, so we can fight with the strength of the web.”
“I’ll broadcast the message, but I don’t know if she’ll follow your request.”
I flow armbands for everyone in my family, and record personal messages for each of them.
“When the web fails you completely, it’s time to wear the armbands.”
Shazira will take the technical information to the guild council, while Berek brings it to Tshuan.
The Kizak will attack with their advanced weaponry, protected by the star cage and the tech screen.
Carbon fiber must be added to every Jiku weapon and airship to shield against the screen.
I’ve asked the council to build enough armband nullifiers to equip every guild master, even though I know the device won’t be much help when the war comes.
The nullifiers don’t work for more than a few inches beyond the body, and each power cell only lasts for a few minutes.
Still, they’ll help for healing and flight, and give us confidence.
We need every advantage we can find.
I wonder if the guilds will take my advice.
The nullifiers look just like the Tshuan armbands.
Which is stronger?
The council’s fear of aliens they have never met, or their fear of Tshuan?
“When do we leave?” asks the AI.
“I’m not going with you.”
“I’m going to kill the emperor.”
“I hope it will disrupt the empire so much that the Kizak will abandon their plans for Siksa.”
The ship drops me off on a world without a cage, one hundred miles from the nearest settlement.
Nothing in sight, but an empty desert full of gray sand, and a relentless sun.
I open an intergalactic gateway, and the ship passes out of sight.
When the gate closes, Siksa feels farther away than ever.
Will I ever see my family again?
I push those thoughts away.
All that matters now is stopping the Kizak.
I make my way to the homeworld, borrowing different identities.
It’s a warm day, when Disu’s Madar val comes.
I’ve taken the form of a woman commentator from one of the streams.
She’s safely drugged in her own apartment, so she’ll stay unconscious for the next few hours.
I’ve built a new nullifier that looks like the armbands that are popular with young Kizak women.
I have to pass through security, but my press credentials and reputation result in a superficial search.
It wouldn’t matter.
There’s nothing unusual in the equipment I’m carrying, and they ignore the armband.
I go to the women’s washing room, and put a power cell in the armband.
Then I flow a blaster and a knife.
It’s easy to hide them under this long skirt.
I touch the arm of every guard I meet, looking for information about the emperor’s location, and how many guards are watching him.
I’m surprised to find that the Kizak Guard has been ordered to treat Disu like any citizen, and shoot him if he attacks them.
My seat is high in the stadium, not far from the emperor’s tower.
I try to get to him for an interview before the ritual starts, but the Palace Guard won’t let me in.
Still, when I touch them, I find out that Disu was interrogated and brainwashed.
I feel responsible, but there’s nothing I can do for him right now.
It won’t be easy to reach the emperor.
There are eighteen palace guards spread across three security checkpoints.
Another six are in the chamber with the emperor, including the head of the guard, all heavily armed.
I walk to the first checkpoint and brush against one of the palace guards.
He’s one of the guards whose mind is protected my some kind of tech.
I activate my armband and disable his tech, located in his belt.
I don’t like what I find in his thoughts.
The top leadership of the Palace Guard is planning to take over the empire, assisted by the Mind Corps!
They’ll kill Disu as soon as it’s convenient.
They haven’t yet decided when to kill the emperor, but whenever he dies, the heads of the Palace Guard and the corps will rule together in his place.
This guard believes that the new empire will be far more aggressive and vicious than the old one.
I have no reason to doubt him.
What do I do now?
Killing the emperor will just make things worse!
I go quietly back to my seat, and struggle with my thoughts, as I wait for the Madar val to begin.
When Disu touches the Madar, his face changes, and he screams, but he can’t pull away.
The prince raises his blaster a few inches, trying to point it at the Madar, but then his hand drops.
He raises and lowers it a dozen times, never able to point the weapon at the beast.
Finally, Disu stops struggling and starts walking toward the exit, with the Madar touching his shoulder and following him.
The crowd is yelling.
Disu holds his blaster with new confidence, like he’s ready and able to use it.
It looks like he’s being controlled by the Madar.
If he fires on the guards, he’ll be killed.
Six of the palace guards come running past my seat, headed down to the arena.
I’m guessing that the emperor wants them to disarm Disu without killing him.
One of the passing guards is from the palace.
He’ll make sure that they don’t reach Disu in time.
It’s a simple way to get rid of the prince.
I watch Disu and the Madar move toward the entrance, and wait for him to fire.
It won’t be long.
The seconds seem to last forever.
Disu is doomed, one way or another.
What’s the point in saving him?
When I’m gone, the rebels, the corps, or the guard will kill him soon enough.
“Sit here,” I tell myself, “and let Disu have a quick death.”
My words are like whispers in a storm.
Something in me won’t sit still.
I activate the armband, and fly down to the arena, pushing Disu away from the exit and the Madar.
“Put down your blaster, Disu, or they’ll shoot you!”
“Yes, but there’s no time to talk.”
I change into a Madar shape, and pull the creature away from the exit.
I touch the Madar’s mind for only a few seconds before I raise my mind shield.
This one is not like the high priest.
He’s almost completely insane.
Still, one of his thoughts is clearer than the others.
The Kizak star cages poison the suns and their star spirits.
The Spiral killer is dead from the poison, and soon, a thousand stars will go nova, beginning with the homeworld.
The Sehtoo return.
His words float on a sea of chaos, but they feel true, echoing a Bizra vision that was told to me:
A race burns with buried power.
They tear at the web, and wait to bring an end to the stars.
He adds that the ancient Kizak energy warriors, the Sehtoo, will return.
What does it mean?
The creature is beyond help.
Death is coming for him.
He’s old, even for a Madar, and his mind is too far gone.
I let go, and change back to the shape of the Kizak woman.
Before I can fly, someone opens my armband and pulls it away.
I reach for it with my left hand, while I raise a blaster with my right, but not in time.
The last thing I see is Disu pointing his blaster at me.
There’s chaos among the spectators, all wondering what’s happening here.
Disu holsters his weapon.
His walk is unsteady as he exits the arena, leaving Neyima’s body and the Madar behind.
He looks almost drunk to the guards who see him.
The Palace Guard arrives and takes the body to the emperor.
“Who is she?” asks Teyus, as he looks at the lifeless form of the woman, and speaks to the captain of the palace guard.
“According to her id chip, she’s a commentator from one of the info-streams.”
“We sent guards to her residence, just in case, and found her double, unconscious.”
“Not by birth.”
“There’s no record of her having a twin.”
“Given that the dead one was wearing an arm band, I’m guessing it’s really Neyima.”
“Find the prince and confirm it.”
A few minutes later, the guards bring Disu to the emperor.
He looks sick.
“Are you all right?” asks Teyus.
Disu gestures that he is.
“Is this Neyima?” asks the emperor, pointing to the body.
Disu looks down, but he doesn’t respond.
“Answer me!” says his father.
“Yes, it’s him,” yells Disu at his father.
“I killed him, just like you wanted.”
Disu moves toward the door, and the emperor gestures to the guards to let him go.
“He’s never killed before,” says the head of the guard after Disu leaves.
“The first kill is hard, especially when it’s someone he once considered a friend.”
“How did he know it was Neyima?”
“Neyima identified himself in the arena.”
“We recorded his words.”
“It looks like Neyima was trying to save the prince from getting shot by the guards.”
“Imagine how surprised the traitor was when Disu shot him.”
“Our training worked, great father.”
“We told the prince to shoot Neyima if he ever returned.”
“Do we have counselors who speak with guards after their first kills?”
“The Kizak Guard has counselors, but not the Palace Guard.”
“Should I arrange for one to speak with the prince?”
“I’ll deal with it later.”
“Get the real commentator on her feet as soon as possible.”
“I want her standing next to the body, when we take it and throw it in the sea.”
“Attach floats to the body to keep it from sinking while it’s torn apart by scavengers.”
“Make sure that the info-streams get images of it over the next few weeks.”
“Everyone must know that Neyima is dead, and see the disgraceful death that waits for traitors.”
Waters of Life
I’m drifting, but where?
My memories are here, and I know who I am, but something is wrong with my physical body.
I can’t feel it.
I still have energy senses, but I can barely see past my own fire to my Kizak body.
The flesh is dead, but the cage keeps my fire body bound to the rotting corpse, and traps me in this world.
Will I be stuck here forever?
Days pass, and the body begins to fall apart.
I see a little past the skin now, to the sea below.
We must be floating.
As the body loses itself to the sea, and the creatures within it, my senses expand downward.
The sea reveals itself, bright with a healthy web.
Why can’t I move, or use flow?
Weeks disappear before the physical body decays or is torn apart, and disappears into the sea.
One day, my energy body slips beneath the waters, and my energy senses return at full strength.
It’s like walking through a door to sweet air.
The ocean opens up from end to end, full of fire bodies.
The healthy web sparkles and sings around me.
Amazing that something as simple as salt water can re-balance the web!
“Why are you here?” I ask one of the spirits near me.
“Don’t you know?”
“All life began in the ocean, and this is where we return.”
“You were fortunate beyond measure to die at sea.”
“Most of us are trapped in the grave, tied to our flesh.”
“The body rots slowly, and we suffer the whole time.”
“When we are freed, we rise out of the ground into the fiercely burning air, drifting for a few hours, until the sea slowly draws us in.”
“How do you know that your spirits are meant to go here?”
“What more proof do you need?
I’ve never seen beings go to the sea after death.
The Kizak spirits don’t belong here.
Their star should draw them in, and provide the gateway to their true destination, a world of pure energy.
Why can’t they leave here?
I reach beyond the surface of the water with my energy sight, and find it empty.
The upper world is closed to my senses.
I bring my fire body through the top edge of the water, but just for a moment, until the air pushes me back like a wall of flame.
My energy is much stronger than these spirits, but not strong enough to function in the damaged web, without the protection of the ocean or a physical body.
I fall back into the waters, and the pain fades.
Am I trapped here forever?
My strength can’t rise any higher than the waves, so I test my power within the sea.
Thank the creator, I’m as strong as ever, except when I try to affect the world above the ocean, or open a gateway.
I send out my listener, and touch the balance of the ocean, and the inner world beneath it.
I feel the streams of molten rock, the heat of the core, and even the planet spinning through space.
I could set off an undersea earthquake and tsunami, or find a weak spot, and watch the world crumble.
The thought tempts me for a moment, but I let it go.
I want to stop the Kizak from conquering Siksa, but not by killing millions or billions of people.
“They’re already as good as dead,” I whisper to myself.
Each galaxy has its own gathering of star spirits.
A thousand caged suns are slowly poisoning their star spirits.
When the gathering shatters, the stars will explode.
My thoughts and feelings spin through me, accusing me of not doing enough.
Fool, will you just let the Kizak die?
I don’t know how to help them!
Has that ever stopped you before?
You’re giving up because it’s easy to call them your enemies!
What to I do to stop this coming disaster?
How do I remove the cages, and heal the suns?
I let my thoughts calm, and fill myself with a call to the unconscious for help.
My inner visions fill with colors and movement, as I wait for an end to the silence.
This is not the first time I’ve asked how to remove the cage, but this time, there’s an answer.
I see myself on Siksa with my family, unleashing the sword.
The five of us are covered with a strange sphere that balances the sword’s energy, and sends it toward Siksa’s sun.
I don’t recognize the sphere, but one thing is certain.
It’s time to go home.
The answers are there, waiting for me to find them.
I move down the coast, to a secluded area, and wait until dark.
I don’t want to attract attention when I come out of the water.
The Kizak have such strange ideas about swimming in the ocean.
I shape a new body near the surface of the water, and bind my energy to it.
Then I raise my head out of the water for a first, deep breath.
Back underwater, I give myself clothes and tech, and configure the chip with a temporary identity.
I feel an urge to play with the ocean water, testing how energy flows through it.
Pillars of water rise out of the sea, three hundred feet tall, the water moving at incredible speed.
I hover within the pillars and make strange shapes of water dance on the surface to silent music.
The thinnest projections of water or wave obey me, as long as they are still connected to the ocean below.
I come ashore in a cocoon of water and air.
This city is smaller than the capital, but it’s the center of interstellar trade for the empire.
I activate the armband briefly to dry off.
Then I go to a song shop to find a new identity to borrow.
I’m looking for a woman, so I can wear a stylish armband without arousing suspicion.
Lukara is perfect.
She’s a wealthy young woman, with a steady job, quiet and consistent.
No one would suspect her of causing trouble.
She reviews her credit statements only twice a year, so she won’t see my charges on her account for another few months.
Lukara pretends to be uninterested in politics, although she hates the violence of the empire, and stays away from the capital.
I leave the shop, and find a dark place where I change my appearance to match hers, and set the chip.
Then I take an airship back to the emperor’s city, three hundred miles away.
The info-streams are obsessed with the emperor’s planned trip to another galaxy.
A few of the popular musicians have even released songs about it.
People on the street are tired of the story, but the streams continue to repeat it.
The media pretends to be uncensored, but the emperor and the guard insert or block stories at will.
A large gathering is planned near the ocean in two days.
The emperor will speak once more, before he leads the guard to a new galaxy.
He’ll reach Siksa in a month, if the rumors are true.
I must get there before him, and do what I can to prepare.
How will I escape these caged suns, so I can open a gateway home?
Last time, I traveled on an ordinary ship, hacking into the navigation system to make it stop between stars.
Then I used an escape pod to reach the uncaged space.
I barely got away.
This time, I go to a travel store to find a less risky option.
“I want a tour that visits the ring of worlds, floating free from any star.”
The ring is the closest place to the homeworld with a free planet.
He looks me over, and reads my chip information.
“There’s an archaeological tour leaving in a month that would suit you.”
“The passengers are highly educated, and there will be history lectures on board.”
“I need a ship that goes within a few days, if I’m going to fit the trip into my work schedule.”
“The only thing I have is a pilgrimage tour.”
“The ship leaves soon, and arrives at the first planet a week later.”
“All the passengers will be Dahwee, veiled and silent.”
“Are you a believer?”
“Have you done the pilgrimage?”
“You can go as a pilgrim.”
“Everyone does it eventually.”
“There’s a long set of questions to answer, and you have to go to one of the Dahwee centers for an aptitude test.”
“I can help you schedule an appointment.”
“They speak with you about your beliefs, attitudes, and leadership skills.”
“They like to identify pilgrims with potential to become leaders of the movement.”
“They also have medical scanners to be sure that you’re healthy.”
What if they also scan my energy?
I can’t take a chance.
“The ship leaves in a few days,” I tell him.
“I don’t have time for the testing, so I guess I’ll have to go without becoming a pilgrim.”
“On a pilgrimage ship, Lukara?”
“You’ll be crushed by the boredom.”
“There’s no entertainment, and no one to speak with, except the crew.”
“When you go to the planets, there will be no guide describing their history, just the Dahwee elders and the rituals.”
“I’m looking for quiet, and I want to see those worlds.”
“I don’t care about anything else.”
“Just take my credits.”
A few thousand Kizak gather to listen to the emperor in person.
I watch the streams from my hotel room.
I don’t dare go near the site.
There are guards and hovering airships everywhere, and I’m sure the corps is scanning the crowd, looking for rebels.
My thoughts won’t betray me, hidden behind the mind shield, but the shield itself would be noticed.
I could claim to be Dahwee with a mind block, but they might check and see that I’ve never gone on the pilgrimage.
They would also see that the satellites show me in two different locations.
Disu stands next to his father on the platform, looking sad and uncomfortable.
The stage is decorated with purple and yellow striped banners, the colors of the empire.
The daylight itself is challenged with bright spotlights that fill the sky with the royal colors.
The temporary platform rises ten feet above ground level.
It has a simple wall that stands between the emperor and a cliff.
The crowd gathered on the ground has a high wall that protects them against the drop.
Fifty feet below, the ocean rages against the stone.
There’s nothing in the speech that will help me defend Siksa.
I learn that this cliff is called the path of shame.
It’s the place where they threw my body into the ocean, following an old tradition.
Enemies of the state have been killed and thrown to the sea from here, for a few hundred years.
When the emperor stops speaking, Disu takes his place, to the visible surprise of his father.
The prince unbuttons his coat to show that he’s wearing a ceremonial vest of metal, an ancient artifact of war.
We have a long chain of leadership, that has built a great empire.
I’m sorry, but I’m not worthy to be part of it.
I’ve failed my father, my friends and myself.
The crowd is completely still, unsure what to say or do.
Even the emperor is silent.
Disu looks at the city, his father and the crowd.
Then he jumps off the platform, falls into the sea, and quickly disappears beneath the surface, weighed down by the heavy metal vest.
If I was there, I might have tried to save him, even though Siksa needs me.
But I’m not there.
I feel responsible for encouraging his interest in the old ways.
The guard must have brainwashed him to get him to kill me.
Whatever they did, was not thorough enough.
What inner conflict drove him to try to end his life?
Does he hate himself for killing me, for continued interest in the old ways, or just his new love for the empire?
I’ll never know.
Within a few minutes, rescue guards enter the water with air fountains, but they can’t find him.
The airships aren’t built to submerge, and it takes fifteen minutes for one of the few submersibles to reach the site.
Even with that ship, and the tech it carries, there is no sign of Disu’s body.
The death march takes place the next day.
In Kizak tradition, the body is wrapped in seven shrouds of different colors, and put in a plain wooden box.
The casket’s only decoration is a small painted rainbow in one corner.
Twelve friends and family are appointed as soul watchers.
They carry the box in a circle, seven times, chanting ancient poems that speak of creation and rebirth.
Each circuit takes one minute.
A single flute fills the air, and shapes the feelings of the watchers, while a drum sets the rhythm that guides their steps.
There’s no body, but the march goes on with an empty casket.
When the seven circuits are complete, the twelve form a circle around the box.
Usually, there are speeches about the dead.
Each speaker moves into the circle, and stands next to the box, touching the rainbow.
There are no speeches for a suicide.
Instead one old woman is appointed to stand by the box for a few minutes, silently.
The emperor sits expressionless throughout the ceremony, and gets up promptly when its done.
The emperor’s departure is delayed, but only for one day.
Nothing is more important to Teyus than the glory of the empire.