My Bizra body is so far away.
I see it floating in the vat, but I can’t reach it.
When I was an old one, it was easy to wake up from the vat.
Not this time.
I hear Niyta calling me, and I start to feel my body.
My eyes won’t open, but the voice helps to clear the fog that fills my mind.
I feel the shock of something cold, and struggle to catch my breath.
Finally, I feel my face clearly, and open my eyes.
It takes another minute before I’m in control of the rest of my Bizra body.
During that time, I feel a cold rain that helps melt the fog that still fills me.
When my awareness clears, I look up.
Niyta is flowing the air into water which falls on my face.
“Cold water, Niyta?” I ask, as I struggle to speak with my Bizra voice.
“It’s not elegant,” she says, “but it works.”
“How long was the journey?” I ask her, after stretching, and taking a deep breath.
“About a day,” Niyta answers.
“I messaged the princess when you first entered the vat.”
“She told your family that you’d been delayed.”
Another promise broken.
I was supposed to return before first light.
“You were right about the song, Yagrin,” she adds with a smile.
“It came as soon as you started traveling, and all of us sang together.”
“It was glorious, and we lost all sense of time.”
“Then the column of light vanished, and the song stopped suddenly, like glass shattering.”
“We knew that you’d returned.”
“I came here to greet you.”
“At first, I thought you were dead, but then I saw your body twitch, and I found your breath.”
“You were caught in transition, unable to break free of the journey, but the rain helped.”
Her mention of rain reminds me that I’m extremely thirsty.
Old ones rise from the vat strong and whole, but then again, they never need to eat or drink.
The vats must weaken the Bizra body, the same as Dream Schools weaken a Jiku body.
I transform some of the air into a glass bowl, and fill it with water.
Legends of the Balancer
I drink deeply, and describe my travels.
Niyta’s smile disappears when I mention the Balancer.
“The Balancer,” says Niyta, “is described in ancient legends on many worlds.”
“Each world tells its own, different story of the Balancer, but every story seems full of tragedy.”
“Some worlds confuse the Balancer with the creator, or imagine it to be an enemy of the creator.”
“We believe the Balancer is only a messenger of the creator, despite its incredible power, but the Balancer is alien, and beyond understanding.”
“Not evil, but it must do its work in silence, far apart from all of life.”
“Meeting it is a sign of impending doom.”
“You believe the legends, Niyta?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she answers.
“We’re usually not a superstitious people, Yagrin, but this is an old legend, widely believed.”
“Every time, there is a catastrophe among our people, there is a story of someone dreaming of the Balancer.”
“The Balancer often hints to the dreamer of the danger to come.”
“Five months before the aliens attacked our people, and drove them to this world, there was a widely publicized dream of the Balancer.”
“When the attack came, the aliens slaughtered the inhabitants of three hundred worlds – a trillion people.”
“Some people called the war the Balancer’s game.”
“Yagrin,” she says, “tell no one that you met the Balancer.”
“In my journey, Niyta, the Balancer was excited to see the map of a particular star and planet.”
“This world, Niyta.”
“It saw Siksa.”
She looks down for a few moments, unable to meet my eyes.
“I don’t know what to think, Yagrin.”
“I just don’t know.”
I’m fully aware now, and my energy sight returns.
My heart is pounding from my thoughts about the Balancer and the legends, but legends are not fact.
What if the Balancer is not the one who brings disaster?
What if the Balancer gives us a warning, telling us to prepare for a great challenge?
The web glows brightly around me, but the vat I float in is dark, and the liquid no longer warm.
I fly out of the vat, and rise up to the top of the temple, in the space where the column of light once was.
I land outside of the temple, and transform myself back into my Jiku shape.
The tattoos of the black knives on my legs have changed.
The black of the knives is more vivid, and the images of the well and the tower have a soft glow.
Each handle of the knives has a pure band of white.
Within the white band on my left leg, is a blue ring.
On the right leg, a gold ring.
I reach my hands toward the tattoos of the knives.
As usual, the knives appear in my hands, but this time, my left hand turns blue, and my right hand turns gold, and there is a sparkling, thin fog that rests on each hand.
I’ve told Niyta about the knives before, but the rings are new.
“What do the rings mean, Yagrin?” she asks.
“They’re a gift from the Balancer,” I whisper to her alone, as I move the knives back toward my legs.
The knives disappear, and the tattoos return.
“Despite all your legends, I believe that the Balancer is trying to help us.”
Battling the Mind
“We’re ready to go, Yagrin,” says Niyta.
“What do you need us to do?”
“Stay here a little longer,” I tell her, “while I travel to the surface.”
“I’ll become a perfect copy of the seventh hill that holds this cavern, an eighth hill.”
“Energy will pass between the seventh and eighth hills, and you will become Jiku again.”
“Then I’ll return to my Jiku shape and message you.”
Niyta’s smile turns from a smile to a gentle, serious expression.
“The last time you were here,” she says, “you sang with us in the temple, touched our minds, and shared our thoughts, but not all our thoughts.”
“We hid the ways of war from you, and some of the prophecies.”
“There are things that you must discover for yourself, but it’s time for you to hear the prophecy that speaks of our freedom.”
When a Jiku turns to stone, stone turns to Jiku, seven hills become eight, and you will walk in the sunlight, with eyes wide open.
I’m quiet for a moment.
“I hope, Niyta, that it will be safe for you and your sisters to walk again among the Jiku.”
“The guilds will not be happy with your return.”
“The Tshuans have sworn to protect you, but I expect them to try and turn you to their own plans.”
“Don’t worry Yagrin,” says Niyta, “we can protect ourselves.”
“We all have powerful energy shields, and wintzals!”
“What’s a wintzal?” I ask.
“A mental barrier,” she answers, “which you turn on and off at will.”
“A wall that protects you from any mental attack, including travelers.”
“The skills of mental attack and defense have been lost among us,”I tell her.
“The knowledge may be hidden now,” she says, “but we can’t rely on it staying hidden.”
“When the enemy comes, we must be prepared for every type of warfare.”
“You need to be protected,” she says, “as soon as possible.”
“Makish,” she calls loudly, “come here.”
An old one comes forward.
When she sees me, she almost stumbles, turns pale, and then, her face is struck by anger.
I’ve never seen an old one upset like this.
She acts as if she knows me, but we’ve never met before.
I would remember.
She has unforgettable fire eyes, and stares at me with an intense gaze.
“Are you all right?” I ask.
“Yes,” she answers.
“Greet our guest, Makish,” says Niyta.
“He’s here to free us.”
She gives me the greeting of palms, but her palms are sweaty.
“Are there many old ones with fire eyes?” I ask her.
“No other old ones, and no Jiku,” she answers.
“We were hunted down and slaughtered.”
“I’m the last of my kind.”
“Does the world still speak of fire eyes?” she asks bitterly.
She stares at me again, her eyes full of anger.
Why does she think that she is the last one with fire eyes?
Before I can ask her, Niyta speaks.
“Makish,” says Niyta, “you forget yourself.”
“Yagrin is not our enemy.”
“He has sung with us.”
“In his heart, he’s still an old one, and he will give us back our lives.”
“Some of us,” says Makish, “don’t want our lives back!”
“I remember, Niyta, all that you’ve told us about Yagrin, but I was in the vats when he was among us.”
“He’s still a stranger to me.”
“I haven’t touched his thoughts, and I don’t know him.”
Niyta stares silently at Makish, expecting her to apologize.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” she says, turning to me.
She speaks the words, but she’s not sorry.
“Makish,” I tell her, “I didn’t mean to insult you, but you’re wrong about being the last one with fire eyes.”
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“True, there aren’t many, no more than a few dozen, but they haven’t vanished.”
Makish calms, and the anger drains from her face.
“I don’t believe you,” she says, incredulous.
“There are two in my own family.”
“My bondmate and daughter both have fire eyes.”
“You bonded with a woman with fire eyes?”
“Why not?” I ask her.
“Madness and death,” she answers.
“Time is short, Yagrin,” interrupts Niyta.
“You need the wintzal now.”
“In ancient times,” adds Niyta, “every master had a mind wall for protection.”
“The walls were common, but building the walls was a rare skill.”
“We call it Mind Weaving.”
“Weavers perceive the mind as a type of energy web, and they learn to control the energy.”
“Each master hired a Mind Weaver to build a wall.”
“The Mind Weavers were needed, but widely feared, and for good reason.”
“The Mind Weaver sees all your secrets when she opens your mind to build your wall.”
“And many masters believed that the Mind Weaver can penetrate the wall she builds.
“When the war came, the masters on both sides began to imagine enemies everywhere.”
“On one night, all the Mind Weavers were killed, except Makish.”
“She was warned by a powerful old friend, only a few minutes before the attack came.”
“Over the next week, even ordinary Jiku with fire eyes were hunted and killed.”
“We thought they were all dead, but from what you’ve told us, Yagrin, a few must have hidden and survived.”
“Still, Makish is the last Mind Weaver in the world.”
“Only she can build the wintzal.”
“How do you build it, Makish?” I ask her.
“I enter your mind,” says Makish, “and go to places deep within you, that you have never seen, or that you have long forgotten.”
“The wall must surround every corner of your mind.”
“Can you penetrate the walls that you build?”
“I could leave a weak spot in the wall that only a Mind Weaver could find, but I will never do it.”
“We make an oath when we complete our training, to never betray the trust of those who open their minds to us, and no weaver has ever betrayed her oath.”
“When I leave your mind, only you will control the wintzal.”
“Do it now, then,” I tell her.
“Who knows what dangers I’ll face, and when they’ll come?”
Her entry into my mind is sudden, and rough.
When I touch minds the way that I learned from the Gen, it is light and gentle.
Not this, and it’s even more unpleasant when she actually builds the wall.
I feel her in my mind, moving around, searching out every distant corner.
It’s like being operated on without enough anesthetic.
Children of Fire Eyes
When she finishes, she teaches me how to raise and lower the wall.
I shudder as she lets go of me.
I’m alone again with my thoughts, and I raise the wintzal.
“I’ve seen every corner of his mind,” Makish tells the others.
“We can trust him.”
“Yagrin,” she says, “forgive me for my anger.”
“Your thoughts and feelings are proof that you meant no insult.”
“In your dreams, you see yourself with fire eyes.”
“You see only beauty when you face fire eyes, free of pity or fear for those who carry them.”
“In my own time, even those of us with the eyes, were troubled by them.”
“Your family has never seen anything but love, when you look at their eyes.
“I only wish that I was part of a family like yours.”
“Thank you, Makish, but this community of old ones is an extraordinary family.”
“It’s true,” she says, “that the song bound us together over the long years, but now the song is gone, and without it, we will drift apart.”
She’s quiet for a moment, trying to decide something.
“May I speak of your daughter, and her madness?” she asks.
She turns to Niyta.
“Yagrin’s daughter became trapped in her own mind, when she returned from a Dream School.”
“I’m sorry, Yagrin,” says Niyta.
“It’s terrible to lose a child to madness.”
“Yagrin saved his daughter,” adds Makish.
“Do you realize what this means?”
“Yagrin,” says Makish, “those of us with fire eyes, have a talent for Mind Weaving.”
“I believe that the children with fire eyes who go crazy, do so because they build mind walls that they can’t bring down.”
“I can’t be sure of the strength of your daughter’s wall, but I suspect it was as strong as any that I’ve built.”
“You found a way through the barrier, and no one has ever done that before.”
“You build the walls, Makish!”
“Can’t you break through them?”
“I plant my awareness at the center of an unprotected mind.”
“Then, I extend my energy to the far edges of the mind, and weave the wall around both of us from inside the mind.”
“When I’m done, I lower the wall, and go out.”
“The mind’s owner raises the wall, and I am left outside like anyone else.”
“There’s nothing to learn from what I did,” I tell her.
“I had to become Tzina to reach inside her mind, and no one else can do that.”
“Going inside wasn’t enough.”
“I had to convince her to dissolve the wall.”
“Yes,” agrees Makish.
“Your daughter finally listened to you because of her love for you, but if you were a Mind Weaver, you could have dissolved the wall from inside, without her help.”
“To free other children, you’ll need to learn how to explore minds, and build and dissolve mental walls.”
“You may be able to save every fire eyes child that’s born, Yagrin.”
“Children like your precious son who died.”
“I don’t remember him.”
“As a traveler, you lost the memory, but the pain is still buried in you, Yagrin.”
“I felt it.”
Her eyes are full of tears.
“That could be my child,” she says, “dying from the madness.”
“It’s the same madness, Yagrin, that kept you and Shazira from having more children.”
“If you learn to heal every child with fire eyes, then you and your bondmate could have another child!”
“This is all talk, Makish.”
“Only those with the eyes have the talent.”
“How can I heal the children without becoming a Mind Weaver?”
“You don’t have the eyes, it’s true, but there’s a certain feel to your mind that makes me think you have the talent.”
“I’m a very private person, Yagrin,” she admits.
“I’ve never shared my memories with anyone, except when I first learned to Mind Weave, but I’ll share them with you, if there’s a chance that you will save one child!”
“Touch my mind, and accept some of my thoughts and feelings.”
“With this gift, and some practice, perhaps you’ll learn to glide freely through other minds, build the wintzals, and free children like your son from death.”
I have no choice.
Of course, I’ll do this!
I lower my wintzal, and reach out to touch her thoughts.
She carries me through her many memories of Mind Weaving.
As my mind fills with her memories of Mind Weaving, she uncovers part of her personal life.
She was a powerful energy master, at a young age, and loves using her talent.
It has always been the center of her life.
There’s nothing else.
Each time she built a wall for a Jiku, she tasted their fear or hatred of her.
Makish lived alone, long before she became an old one, but not by choice.
There was only one man she ever loved.
She hides her memories of him from me, but I know that he rejected her eyes.
No one else would have her for a bondmate, rejecting her fire eyes, or afraid of her strength and Mind Weaving.
Makish never bonded, and her only friends came from her guild.
Then the war came, and after the war she became an old one.
The old ones, here, are the only family she has, and she is afraid of losing them.
Tears fill my eyes.
“Why are you crying?” she asks.
“No one should have to live alone.”
I see a tear begin to form in one of her eyes.
She coughs, and finds an excuse to wipe her eye.
She turns away from me.
There is a loud rumble all around us.
“What happened?” asks Niyta.
The old ones report that every vat has cracked.
“No more talk, Yagrin,” says Niyta.
“You have the wintzal.”
“Let Makish test your Mind Weaving talent another time.”
“We can’t stay here.”
“The temple and the cave were built to be sustained by the song.”
“They’ll all crumble in a few hours, maybe less.”
“Makish,” I ask, “will you visit me soon, and help me train?”
“Yes,” she answers quietly.
I turn to Niyta.
“Call the Princess and tell her that I’m coming.”
“Soon, we’ll meet again, in the sunlight.”
I look upon the hundreds of old ones, and the dark temple behind them.
This will all be gone.
I press the golden crystal on the wall, and find myself in the small round cave.
I put on my robe and belt, and take the armband in my hand.
Then I press the next golden crystal.
And greet the sunlight.