Liquid Sky by C. E. Dorsett - HTML preview

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C.E. Dorsett

© 2004 Charles Eric Dorsett

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. Table of Contents

PART ONE: THE CHILD OF CENTURIES 1

CHAPTER ONE: ECHO OF LOSS................................................................................... 1
CHAPTER TWO: THE GUARDIAN................................................................................4
CHAPTER THREE: THE WAR MAIDEN...................................................................... 15
CHAPTER FOUR: DARK SIGNS.................................................................................. 26
CHAPTER FIVE: VOWS............................................................................................. 37
CHAPTER SIX: THE SUNDERING................................................................................50

PART TWO: DIVIDING SOULS 58

C HAPTER SEVEN: ORIGINAL SIN...............................................................................58
CHAPTER EIGHT: ABDUCTION...................................................................................68
CHAPTER NINE: VOICES IN THE NIGHT..................................................................... 76
CHAPTER TEN: THE MESSENGER..............................................................................86
CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE RED DRAGON......................................................................95
CHAPTER TWELVE: AN ANGEL OF LIGHT............................................................... 103

PART THREE: BACK FROM THE DAWN 113

C HAPTER THIRTEEN: THE OLD WOUND................................................................. 113
CHAPTER FOURTEEN: BLINDED BY THE LIGHT......................................................... 123
CHAPTER FIFTEEN: HOUR OF NEED........................................................................ 131
CHAPTER SIXTEEN: THE SEVEN EYES..................................................................... 141
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: FUNERAL PYRE....................................................................150
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: THE ORDER OF BLOOD.......................................................... 160

PART FOUR: NEMESIS 169

C HAPTER NINETEEN: EMAN SARAD.........................................................................169
CHAPTER TWENTY: THE THREE JEWELS.................................................................179
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: THE STAR DANCER........................................................... 189
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: CITY ON A HILL...............................................................201
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: BETWEEN EARTH AND SKY.............................................210

GLOSSARY 220

 

Acknowledgements

 

Brian- You made this possible.

 

Chris- You nurtured my imagination.

 

Mom & Dad- You nurtured me.

 

Everyone at Good Shepherd in Berkley, CA- You helped me more than I can put into words.

 

Charlet Remus & Mary Kay McDonald- You believed when few did.

 

Richard McDonough & Elizabeth Tringali- You taught me how to write and think for myself.

 

Thank you to everyone else who believed in me; and thank God for all my detractors: you inspired the rage that that helped to get me out of bed.

 

PART ONE: THE CHILD OF CENTURIES

 

CHAPTER ONE: ECHO OF LOSS

The great temple of the Holy Ennead, on Al-Benu where it all began, was full of friends and strangers. Ianus was stunned. So many people came for his day of Ascension, but his adopted father was a very popular predicant in Shiloh. They must have come for him. Standing quietly in the narthex, he straightened his white robes nervously. He closed his fox brown eyes, and recited his prayers. His chestnut skin paled, when he heard his cue to enter the nave.

As he walked slowly down the center aisle, Ianus scanned the crowd for his adopted parents. They were sitting in the front row, smiling. Maya, his mother, waved at him. Her cinnamon eyes shimmered with tears of pride.

The spicy, sweet smell of the altar incense wafted down from the dais and filled the room with otherworldly warmth. Ianus’ footsteps resounded off the marble floor. Sterile echoes broke through the sound of his breath. So many people sat quietly staring at him. Ianus gulped; he could see in their eyes how much they expected from him. The tender touch of the incense that only a moment ago invited him into the heart of the mystery now only numbed him. He felt caged in. He wanted to run. Even the familiar bas-reliefs carved into the granite oppressed him. The legends were remote; today, they lacked grace. Taking a deep breath, Ianus tried to let the scent of the incense relax him, but the great responsibilities he would soon carry weighed heavily on his mind. After today, he would be an adult in the eyes of his community, and a guardian of another’s life. Stopping before the dais, he bowed to the altar.

“Ianus Akeru!” The green robed predicant behind the altar cried out. The oversized, leathery wings of the tiny dragon-like Ceeri hanging onto his back opened. “You have come to this place through many trials and tribulations, and may I say a few more than most.” A whisper flashed like lightning across the congregation. “Do you come to this place willingly, knowing the consequences of the choice you make today?”

Ianus smiled at the predicant behind the altar. He wished that his father could have performed the rite, but that was forbidden. Family members were not allowed to officiate the ascension ceremony. At least his good friend Aashen could initiate him. “I do.” He pronounced confidently.

Looking down at the golden laver on the altar, Ianus blenched at the sight of his own boyish face looking back at him. Beyond the mirror-like surface of the water, he watched with trembling lips as the silvery black Sukallin churned in the water. He could still hear Aashen speaking, but no one had ever fully explained the ramifications of sharing his body with another sentient life. He agreed to the merger because it was tradition. Every Shedu on his eighteenth birthday would enter the temple to be entrusted with a Sukallin, to repay their debt to their original hosts who where now extinct. Those who refused this honor, the Lamassu, were seen as weak, or even unstable. He wondered if he would share its memories of the countless other hosts with whom it had shared its life. For the first time, he was afraid of losing himself.

Aashen walked around the altar, and laid his palm on Ianus’ brow. “My child, may your life be long, and full of joy and wisdom. Today you open your heart to another, may your life together be filled with peace.” Aashen took hold of Ianus’ hand, “On this day, we entrust you, Ianus Akeru, novitiate of the House of the Jade Moon, with Osanna, this great and noble Sukallin.”

Ianus turned to face the golden laver, pushing back his robe from his right arm. Cautiously, he submerged his forearm into the laver. The fluid Sukallin felt like seaweed against his skin. He struggled to keep his arm submerged. Pain, like a thousand needles, cut through his skin. The Sukallin constricted around his hand. An icy cold shock ripped through his fingers. Slowly, the hematite—colored ooze crawled up the black skin of Ianus’ arm. Rivulets of blood dripped into the water. Ianus fought off a shiver as the Sukallin merged into the flesh on his arm, seeping between the cells leaving only a discolored mark in its wake. Ianus smiled. ‘That wasn’t so bad,’ he thought.

Suddenly, the world spun around; his vision blurred. The warmth fled from his body; his chest collapsed. He steadied himself as the room went black. Softly, in the periphery of his vision, a cold light illuminated a field that stretched out before him.

‘Where’s the temple?’ He thought, desperate to catch his breath. The light grew brighter. Ianus staggered backward as a great stone tower appeared out of nowhere… out of nothing.

Something white glistened at the base of the tower. Ianus was drawn to the strange white shadow. Closer and closer, step-by-step, he approached the tower until the image became clear. It was a white dragon! Larger than any Ceeri he had ever seen before. The beast was sleeping.

“It sleeps, blissfully ignorant of the world around it.” A soft feminine voice whispered in his ears. “Look on it well boy, for your time has come. Ihy’s time is passing.”

“No!” Ianus screamed, “My Father’s time is now! He is strong and healthy.”

“He stood by and did nothing at the foul deeds of his children!” The voice interrupted.
“What are you talking about? I am his only child, and I’m adopted. Who are you talking about?”
A sudden gust of wind shoved Ianus to the ground. He looked over his shoulder. A titanic, red dragon rose from the ground. Its blood red scales glistened in the light. Savage teeth overlapped in its maw, as smoke billowed from the corner of its mouth. It hovered over Ianus’ head. Calmly, it surveyed the tower. With a great burst of speed, it lunged forward. The white dragon stirred. The red pulled back.
“What’s going on?” Ianus shouted. “Why are you showing this to me?”
Silence.
The red dragon landed. Slowly, it crept toward the tower. Closing in on the white dragon, the red one smiled. Rearing up on its hind legs, it slashed the white dragon’s throat.
Blood gushing from the wound, the white dragon let out a great cry. It reeled back on its hind legs and thrashed about violently, as if fighting off numerous unseen assailants. Screeching, it crashed to the ground. After a thunderous roar, it fell limp beneath the tower. Its hollow eyes stared plaintively toward the heavens. The earth shook violently. A horrid clatter echoed from the very stones of the tower. Dust and smoke erupted from the grout lines. Ianus leapt back. Brick by brick, the tower crumbled and fell, crushing the body of the slain beast.
The red dragon crawled atop the rubble and bellowed in victory.
“Some have lost their soul to the machine,” the voice continued, “The cacophony of voices within the liquid sky is too much for them. Others have lost themselves to their aspiring spirit, thinking they can control the fluidity of thought itself. You must become the soul of the machine—swimming in the waters without drowning. Follow the path of the War Maiden, and rebuild the tower.”
Ianus gasped. Everything vanished. He was alone.
His mouth fell open as the high altar came back into view. The statue of Uma Nari caught his eye. Her soft blue robes invited Ianus to prayer, “O holy Mother, protect us all from evil, stand guard at the gates of our cities and in the temple of our hearts. Pray for us Holy Mother, now and at the hour of our death.”
Slowly, he turned around. The proud, thin face of his father stood out of the crowd.
“The rite is concluded,” Aashen announced, triumphantly, “May we all go in peace.”

CHAPTER TWO: THE GUARDIAN

No one had noticed Ianus’ confusion. Aashen put his arm around Ianus’ shoulders, and guided him down the aisle. Through the intricately carved doors, they exited into the paved courtyard.

“I remember when I was eight, and received my Ceeri,” said Aashen with a distant look in his cerulean eyes. “His thoughts confused me for several days, until I learned to separate his from mine,” slapping Ianus playfully on his back, “I understand it is very similar for the Shedu.” He watched Ianus inquisitively.

Ianus closed his eyes, “I don’t hear anything.”

“Really?” Aashen cocked his head. “You should hear something, even if it's only general chatter. I will ask someone about it, if you like?”
“That’s all right,” Ianus nudged Aashen in the arm with his elbow. A moment of dizziness, he shook his head, “Maybe our connection isn’t strong enough yet.”
With a slow, appraising look, Aashen said, “Well, happy birthday,” he bit his lip, “I should go find my brother before he upsets someone.”
The crowd filed into the textured cement courtyard that stood between the gothic towers of the temple, the marble domed library, the stone arched façade of the monastery, and the hedged and flowered gardens. Drummers ran to their drums, and filled the air with music. The rich aroma of the confections and the fruity scent of the meads filled the air. The crowd divided, some went to the tables on the north end of the courtyard nearest the library, and the others joined with the music and began to dance. Ianus worked his way through the “Congratulations,” and the “Good show,” one man began recounting the story of his merging. “I almost blacked out you know, that thing was so cold, but you get used to it.”
Ianus shook hands as they presented themselves out of the mass of people. Finally, he saw his parents, Ihy Khem and Maya Isann, at one of the tables. Ihy’s tall gaunt frame was hard to miss in a crowd. He carefully navigated the sea of pleasantries from people he had never met before, until he fell out of the throng and into a chair next to his father. Looking around at the well-choreographed chaos, he smiled at Ihy. Maya was gone. ‘She must have gone to get something to drink,’ he thought.
“So, you’re a man now?” Ihy said, his weathered face was just beaming with pride, “Do you feel any different?”
“I feel like someone filled my arm with jelly,” before Ianus could say anything else, his father thrust a wrapped package into his hands. “Something strange did happen,” he looked up from the parcel, “When I merged with the Sukallin, I… well, I think I received a vision. Is that normal?”
Ihy’s smile only widened, “No, that is very rare. This is a very auspicious sign,” he wrapped one of his long arms around his son, “It is said that Tien Shaa and Rohan received visions at their merging, and they’re saints now! Come to think of it, I think your grandfather, Nusair, also had one.” Ihy looked over his shoulder for Maya. “We really should wait for your mother to come back, but this is too funny. Open your present.” Ihy shifted down the bench away from his son.
Ianus ripped off the shimmering silver wrapping paper much more cautiously than he usually would have. Ihy had a bizarre sense of humor. Ianus expected something to jump out or shock him.
“O, come now, it won’t bite!” Ihy grabbed his son’s hands and tore the paper off.
Ianus lifted the black leather book up to the light to see the gilded title. “Sen Prescience Book, for the Shedu language (Illustrated).”
Ianus flipped through the pages, “It’s blank?”
“Well of course it is, boy,” Ihy pulled a stylus out of the pocket of his jade green cassock, “You haven’t written anything in it yet. You see, you write a date, or a ‘what if’ into the book, and it will predict the future. Isn’t it funny! We got you a prescience book on the same day you received your first word of knowledge!”
Ianus wanted to laugh, but the lingering dread from his vision was too powerful. Forcing a smile, “But surely, prophecy can’t be trusted.” Ianus grabbed his father’s hand, and squeezed. “I mean, after all, we all make our own destinies, don’t we?”
“Well, boy, you know I’m an augur, don’t you?”
Ianus gasped, “No! I had no idea.”
“I can see patterns of action, and intuit the possible future. Sometimes it’s easy, other times it’s quite difficult. Sometimes I’m right, and well, I don’t know of a time I’ve been wrong.” Ihy threw his head back and laughed. “It’s like, if you see a person heading toward a store. If you have enough information, you can say whether or not he’s going to go inside. Maybe even predict what he’s going to buy. It’s just like that, but on a larger scale.”
“Well, I need to see more proof before I believe what I saw was anything more than a side effect of the merging.”
“O, Ihy!” Maya said with a sigh, a stony look on her heart-shaped face as she arrived back at the table with three mugs of honey mead, her midnight skin glowing with anger, “Couldn’t you wait for me to get back before you gave Ianus his birthday present?” Setting the mugs on the table, she threw her arms around Ianus, “Well, Happy Birthday!” She held him so close; he could hear her heart racing with excitement. She kissed him three times on the top of his head. Laughing, shw shook her had as her irritation faded, “Do you like it? I told him you would prefer a vacation to Idunn beach on Adrakaya, but you know what Ihy’s like when he sets his mind to something.”
“I love it, mom,” Ianus lied through an exuberant smile. He couldn’t stand to see her sad.
The crowd fell inordinately silent. Even the drummers left their rhythms to the wind. Ianus followed the eyes of the crowd to two people wearing long, red robes and masks who were emerging from the garden. The smooth masks that covered their faces were even inlaid with lenses to cover their eyes.
“Raewyn!” Someone in the crowd shouted. “Allostheoi!” Someone else gasped in horror.
Mysterious nomads, the Raewyn wandered aimlessly from planet to planet. Little was known about where they came from or why they sojourned through the galaxy, and what was known was more rumor than fact. Still, it was rare to see a Raewyn; two in one place was often considered a sign or omen. The two cloaked figures looked at each other and turned toward the garden labyrinth.
Ihy climbed up on top of the table, and motioned for the band to resume playing.
“Do you think those people were Raewyn?” Ianus muttered.
“What would it matter if they were?” Ihy retorted, “Raewyn are open members of the Jade Moon, the Camenae, and even the Mne Serephin. It’s just superstitious townspeople. Raewyn move from world to world, never settling down because of reactions like that. Totally uncalled for!”
Seeing the anger in his father’s silvery eyes, Ianus slipped away and joined the dance.

Ianus woke up early the next morning, put on his Gi and belt, and hurried out to the courtyard to practice his forms and stances. Ihy was already outside. Ianus watched as he moved as if to unheard music. His father’s pale skin gleamed in the sunlight with radiance unmatched in all of Shiloh. His long silver hair flowed elegantly behind him as he twirled and kicked. Ihy was a master of the arts.

Recognizing where his father was in the fire song movement, Ianus joined him. He leapt through the air, careful to control every muscle; he kicked. As he spun around, he moved his arms to block the imagined fists. A slow crouch and lightning quick slide to the left.

“Ihy!” He heard Maya call out, “Feel like sparring?”
Ianus almost tripped over himself.
“Focus, boy!” Ihy reprimanded him.
Ianus quickly turned to watch Ihy and Maya duel. Maya leapt into the air as a

light from the green jewel that was embedded in the black leather glove on her right hand flashed. ‘A periapt sword,’ Ianus thought as he touched his own periapt jewel.

Swords materialized in Ihy’s and Maya’s hands simultaneously. The blades clanged as they danced around each other. Two hazy forms locked together in conflict floated lazily across the courtyard. For a moment, Ianus lost himself in the dazzling sight of the two Makers, just as he had lost himself in the dance the night before. ‘This must be the dance of destruction that Rohan muses over in the Scriptures,’ Ianus thought. ‘The dance of defense and the dance of aggression. One could almost forget the violence of the scene.’

With a great laugh, Maya and Ihy ended their duel. The morning bells were ringing; chef would be serving breakfast, soon. The queue was already growing. Armin-arm, Maya, Ianus, and Ihy walked into the dining hall.

After breakfast, Ianus and Ihy went off into the temple to prepare for the day’s services. Ihy prepared the altar, while Ianus swept the floors.
“Father?” Ianus said, rubbing his thumb hard against the broomstick’s handle, “Do we really practice magic?” He sighed, casting his gaze to the floor. “I mean no disrespect to our ancestors, or to the tradition, but the periapt really does everything. All I’ve learned in my years with the order is science, math, programming, and meditation. I know nothing of magic.”
“We are not like the Mne Serephin, if that is what you mean. Our practice is not nearly as arcane as theirs. We summon no spirits, nor do we dominate the more subtle energies, but we have our own secrets.”
“Like the Periapts?” Ianus asked starring at his reflection in the jade stone embedded in the black leather, fingerless glove on his right hand.
“What is the periapt?” Ihy smiled, laying out the altar cloth.
“It is nothing but a piece of technology that connects to the implant in my hand. It is software and Nanotechnology.”
“What does it allow you to do?”
“I can use the liquid steel to make weapons— I can erect shields, project illusions, and float above the ground.” Ianus looked up, “There is no magic in it. It’s all physics.”
Ihy thought for a moment. His words had to be chosen carefully. “Does the periapt do all of these things for you?”
“Well, no,” Ianus sighed. He looked up into the maze of stone arches that crisscrossed the ceiling. “The machine has no mind. I have to control the effects of the periapt, but if I didn’t have these implants all over my body, I wouldn’t be able to do anything! I mean, what am I to the machine?”
“You are either its master or its slave,” said Ihy, brushing the altar cloth flat. “What makes you ask? I can see the tension in your neck. What’s bothering you?”
Ianus focused his attention on his sweeping. “Bad dreams. I know there’s nothing to it, but they left me feeling hollow. When I woke up yesterday, the world was full of magic. By this morning, I feel like I’ve lost everything.”
“Dreams are the most powerful magic,” Ihy opened the lectionary, and began search for today’s reading. “Angels and demons are real, no matter what you choose to call them. You say you had bad dreams, our ancestors would say that you were troubled by demons in the night. Two ways of saying the exact same thing. What were your dreams about?”
Ianus stopped, and stared blankly at the floor. “I’d rather not say. I just want to know that this isn’t the way life is going to be after the merging.”
“There comes a time in everyone’s life, my boy, when we loose our sense of wonder. All you can do is fight that feeling. Reclaim your life— don’t let anyone take that from you.”
“So magic is just an illusion? We choose to give it meaning or to see it for what it is?”
“Don’t you see?” Ihy said, as he stepped down from the dais. “Everything is magic! From the moment our species evolved from the early hominids to the time that our soul was born within us. It’s all magic, my boy, whether you are part of the machine or not.”
“How could our soul be born in a soulless animal?” Ianus felt hollow. He was asking about himself.
“What makes you think the animals don’t have souls? Everything has a soul or a consciousness if you like, unique to its type. Our soul evolved the moment we discovered superfluous beauty. Beauty is magic. Everything happens by chance, but it is fate at the same time. It’s all a matter of perspective.”
“Does the machine have a soul?”
Ihy’s face turned sallow, “You mean that you’ve never heard it whisper in your ear?”
“No?”
“Good,” the color slowly returned to Ihy’s face. “We need to get ready for services, people will be arriving soon.”

The two Sen brothers, Aashen and Tuun Fallon stood in the elevator, carefully controlling their breath. Aashen kept brushing his blond hair behind his elfish ears with his hands, annoyed that his Ceeri Azi Mandas kept blowing his hair over his long angular face. The small blue green, drake-like Ceeri held onto his shoulders and waist with his claws, holding his over-sized wings tightly behind Aashen’s back. Azi laughed silently, and looked over at the red and gold Ceeri that clung tightly to Tuun’s back. Tuun resembled his brother in most ways, save for the black hair and sickly white complexion.

Counting under his breath, Azi reached his long neck around and blew Aashen’s hair back over his eyes.
“Stop it!” Aashen barked, as he brushed his hair back again, “What has gotten into you today, you know we are on important business.”
Azi rolled his eyes, “Don’t forget I hear every thought that goes through your head, just as you hear mine, and right now, you are giving me a headache. You need to relax! You knew this was coming.”
The journey to the Garm system from Al-Benu had felt longer than it really was. Aashen didn’t like having to leave so soon after Ianus’ birthday, but after what he had seen… Besides, he had his orders, and his duty to the Jade Moon came first. The flight was comfortable, and the walk from the spaceport to this apartment building seemed longer. The weight of his mission weighed heavily on him. Watching the aging buildings of the city spread out into the hazy distance, Aashen sighed and smiled at his brother.
The elevator doors slid open. Aashen and Tuun exited into the dimly lit room. Books lay haphazardly all over the tables; the shelves themselves appeared to be empty. “I almost forgot how crazy monastic life can be,” Aashen said, elbowing his brother.
“Maya would beat you if you ever left a study hall like this,” Tuun responded.
“Just think of the look that would be on Ihy’s face.”
The sound of a man clearing his throat echoed down the hall. A short, balding man sat at a table in the far end of the room. He fidgeted with the sleeves of his deep blue robes.
“Is he mending three books at the same time?” Tuun asked, pointing at the little old man.
“That must be him,” Aashen strode confidently over to the old man. “Pryor Isann,” he bowed, “I am Aashen Fallon Ken-Azi, Maker Predicant in the house of the Jade Moon.”
The old man looked up from his books with a broad smile across his round face. “And you arrive on the transport from Shiloh, on Al-Benu, with Maslin Talbot piloting. Did I leave anything out?” Pryor’s face fell flat, “You come from Shiloh?” He exclaimed as if he heard the news for the first time, “Did my sister send you?”
“Yes Master Isann, we were sent by Maya…”
“Drop this Master Isann, call me Pryor. What is the message?”
Aashen took a deep breath and steadied himself against the table. “The Machine’s song can again be heard. The Red Dragon no longer sleeps. My dear brother, our time has passed.”
“O, thank you very much.” Pryor settled down into his chair, a grave look crawling over his face. “Is that all?”
“Yes, Master… Pryor.” The two Sen turned and left.

Daru Shaheen sat in a small room in the small apartment on Garm, reading Tides and Seasons, by Tien Shaa. “Thoughts flow through the mind like a river unseen,” she mouthed the words as she read, “As spacious as the sky, the river flows by. Emotions tug on its course like the moons on the tide. Warm in summer heat, frozen in winter frost, the mind is a world unto itself.”

Hearing Pryor’s chair creak in the next room, she pulled her fire red hair over her shoulder and tied it back with an elastic band that materialized out of her periapt. Even though she was only nineteen years old, her talent was strong. She had tried to listen in when she heard voices a moment ago, but was unable to make out what they were saying.

A man sighed behind the door. Slowly, the door opened, and Pryor ambled in mumbling to himself. Looking in distress, he said, “Daru!”
Daru put her book down; the generous expression on her face took some of the chill off the expression in Pryor’s face. “Do we have visitors?”
“No, dear child,” Pryor said tenderly, “Go pack your things. We are going to AlBenu.”
“To Shiloh!” Daru leapt out of her seat, “Are we going to visit your sister?”
“Yes, but not to visit. I have decided to step down from my position as guardian of the To’asaa. I will entrust it to Ihy.”
“But he’s older than you are! I thought the To’asaa would come to me after you… well, stepped down.”
“It might well—but Ihy is wise when it comes to such things. He will make sure it finds its proper guardian.”
“Is everything all right? You seem more formal than usual.” Daru waited, but Pryor didn’t answer. “Master, would it be all right if I went down to the market to buy Ianus a birthday present?”
“But Ianus’ birthday was last week? I would have thought you would have sent him something, but since you are coming in person, you want to have a gift in hand.” Pryor smiled knowingly. “Very well, go. But don’t be long.”
Daru hurried to her room, grabbed her money purse, and ran out to the market. Wandering from booth to booth, Daru looked down disapprovingly at the countless trinkets designed for the tourists. She and Ianus had grown up together in the monastery at Shiloh; she had to find him something extra special. It had been at least a year since they had seen each other. At the end of the row, she noticed an interesting booth. Two men, in deep red robes stood haggling with the customers.
She wended her way through the crowd to take a look at the table. Various carved stones, necklaces, and pendants. One of the shopkeepers stopped in front of her, and smiled.
‘Ianus would love an Eidolon,’ she thought. In the booth, she saw a Benbenstone. ‘This will be perfect, he’ll just love it.’
Ianus sat in the Atrium of the Monastery, thumbing through the waxy pages of his prescience book. The vaulted skylight illuminated the circular reflecting pool and the various plants and flowers around it. A few other monks and nuns roamed through the atrium, but Ianus paid them no mind. He skipped about a hundred blank pages into the prescience book. It was no different from the blank books he used in his classes. Running his finger down the ribbed and embossed spine, he could feel the heat of the processor. In the bottom of the spine was the small disk drive. Other than the title, there was nothing apparently special about the book.
He opened the book to the middle and wrote the date in the top right corner. The motion of the stylus activated the book. “Shiloh Monastery of the Holy Ennead, on planet Al-Benu,” he wrote immediately under the date. Words filled the pages; Ianus flipped back to the beginning of the book. It must have been written in code, or at least in confused, broken sentences.
Tapping his fingers against the book, Ianus thought about the strange vision he had the day he received his Sukallin, Osanna. “Ihy Khem,” he wrote at the top of the first page. The book changed, but the quality of the language degenerated into simple words and phrases. “Book: What is the problem? Why is the language so poor?” He wrote.
“This book, like all prescience books, is not designed to track individual people,” the book wrote back. “Our accuracy is impaired. We need more information to predict events.”
Chewing on the end of the stylus, Ianus sighed. “Ihy Khem and the Red Dragon.” He wrote. To his amazement, the book began to tell a story, but only singular words were legible.
“Ihy called… to the Camarilla of the Jade Moon. He… them… dragon… red… dragon…” The book did not have enough data for its analysis. Then Ianus came across a word that was unfamiliar: A’nath-ari. “Now, A’nath means ‘noble order,’ and Ari means ‘red or blood,’” he muttered. “The Noble Order of Blood?” Ianus closed the book.
Something about that word was familiar, but Ianus couldn’t place it. Seeing the new group of novices stream through the door, he knew that Maya had finished her lesson for the day. ‘Maybe she knows who the A’nath-ari are,’ he thought. And there she was her books in her arms. She was heading toward her room.
Ianus sprang from his chair, and ran up to her. “Mom, do you have a minute?”
“A minute, if that much. I promised the novices that I would referee their dueling practice today. I don’t know why they can’t wait for Aashen to return.”
“Where is Aashen?”
Opening the door to her quarters, Maya walked past him into the immaculately clean room and over to her dresser drawers. “I… I don’t know. They said that they had business off world. What did you need? I really do have to get out to the courtyard to make sure none of the boys are using live steal.”
“I was doing some reading today, and I came across an unfamiliar word, A’nathari.”
“Mistress Isann?” A ten-year-old boy poked his head into the room.
“Yes” Maya responded, looking relieved.
“James and Stephen have forged live steal blades with their periapts, and have started chasing each other around.”
Rolling her eyes, “Thank you, Lyndall, go and tell them that I’m coming. And tell them if either one looses another limb, I might not have it reattached.”
“Yes,” Lyndall said, quite cheerful. As he ran off toward the courtyard, Maya put her hand on Ianus’ shoulder.
“I have to go. I’m sorry I haven’t been around as much as I should, but after you take the initiation to become a cenobite, we’ll have all the time you need.”
Ianus watched her walk past him and out into the courtyard.
“Is something wrong?” Ihy’s voice startled him.
Spinning around, Ianus looked into his father’s kind eyes. “I was just trying to talk to mom, but she is very busy.”
“I don’t think she would have it any other way. If she ever had a free moment, I think she might go mad.” Ihy winked.
Ianus shook his head and looked to make sure Maya hadn’t heard. “I was asking her if she had ever heard of a group called the A’nath-ari. I came across the word in my reading.”
“The A’nath-ari are one of the great old houses of the Chian’niu. If they still exist, they would be in the forbidden lands on Adrakaya tending to the needs of the Enmadra. They are the remains of the order founded by Adir Radd, before he was murdered.”
“That’s why they call themselves the A’nath-ari, the noble order of the blood!”
“Exactly, my boy. They are one of the five ancient houses. They are keepers of secrets. The Camenae sing in search of enlightenment; while the Mne Serephin test themselves, resolving to see the truth always. The Ual-leen gave into the machine, and seek to dominate. And we learn and teach.”
Ianus wanted to ask about the song of the machine, but he knew Ihy wouldn’t answer, so he went out to help Maya.

Aashen, Tuun, and their Ceeri Azi and Leor sat in the small common room of the independent freighter. The cold metal ceiling, walls, and floor made the voyage to the Ymirin home world feel longer than it really was. The door opened, and the ship’s captain, Maslin Talbot entered. His clothes gave the impression of being wealthier than he actually was. His short black hair and beard were as well manicured as his hands. From his black tailored suit to his polished leather shoes, Maslin exuded confidence. Pulling a mug out of the cabinet, he poured himself some tea.

“We will be coming out of hyperspace at the Ymirin gate soon,” Maslin said, before he took a sip of the hot tea.
“Good, the sooner we arrive,” Tuun huffed as he slouched in his chair, “The sooner we can leave.”
“Now, now,” Aashen shook his head. “The Ymiri aren’t that bad, once you get used to them.”
Sitting down at the table, Maslin looked across the table at Aashen, “Do you mind me asking you some questions?”
“As long as they’re not about my family,” Aashen laughed, only to realize that no one else got his joke: Even Azi rolled his eyes. “Go ahead.”
“You are both part of the Chian’niu aren’t you?”
“We’re not smugglers, if that’s what you mean.”
“No, I saw your periapts. It’s rare to meet a Predicant who wears such a weapon. I am a merchant, after all, I have had my share of run-ins with the underworld.”
“Yes, we walk in the Place of Tides, but we are Bahn Se’leen.”
“You’re Jade Moon? Really? I’ve read stories about the Jade Moon.”
Tuun smirked, “You’re Shedu, aren’t you?” He said starring at Maslin’s unmarked ivory skin holding the mug.
“No, I am Lamassu. I chose not to be joined.” Maslin shifted his weight in his seat, and crossed his arms, “Why?”
“Don’t pay my brother any mind,” Aashen looked harshly at Tuun who smirked proudly, “He has been in a bad mood since shortly after birth. No one knows why.”
“I think it was when I looked at my older brother and realized that he would be taking credit for everything I ever did.”
Maslin laughed, “You sound like my sister and I.” A red light flashed on the wall over the door to the cockpit. “We are approaching the Ymirin gate, would you like to join me in the cockpit?”
Tuun rolled his eyes and huffed loudly; Aashen leapt up and followed Maslin, who quickly sat down at the controls.
Aashen stood there, his mouth gaping at the sight of the distorted star-field, twisting, and spiraling past them. Soft lines of blended colors curled past them. Directly in front of the small freighter, a flash of brilliant white light whipping around like a cluster of balled lightning opened to reveal the red-brown disk of the Ymirin home world.
The sky was filled with thousands of dirty space docks, like giant, mechanical crabs, lobsters, and shrimp cradling all different shapes and sizes of unfinished ships.
“Here we are,” Maslin announced, “Do you have business with the station or the ground?”
“The station. We have an appointment with Hildred Nadir.”
“Here we go, incoming signal from the station,” Maslin hit the controls on the panel to his right.
A frail bald man with large, floppy, pointed ears and a long, crooked nose that was out of proportion with the rest of his face appeared on the screen directly in front of them. “Incoming freighter, identify yourself and state the purpose of your visit.”
“This is Maslin Talbot of the independent freighter Ashiyr. I bring Aashen Fallon Ken-Azi and Tuun Fallon Ken-Leor for a meeting with the merchant Hildred Nadir.”
“By Tor, you are long winded. Just send over the information and prepare to dock,” the screen went black.
“They seem pleasant,” Maslin scoffed as he transmitted the data.
“They are the best shipwrights in the galaxy— they don’t have to be polite.”

Ihy spent most of the morning watching Ianus scurry about the complex preparing for the visit in the same detail he would for a visiting dignitary. Even though the Guardian of the Holy To’asaa was arriving today, Ihy knew that Ianus was setting up for Daru Shaheen. They hadn’t seen each other for almost a year. Ever since Daru had taken vows as a predicant, she and her overseer, Pryor Isann, had been traveling around from monastery to monastery.

Maya also ran around like crazy. “My brother will be here soon,” she said every time Ihy passed the monastery’s kitchen. She was cooking all of Pryor’s favorite foods. The whole monastery was buzzing with excitement over the arrival of the To’asaa.

The sun fell lower in the sky, the gardens filled with spectators hoping for a glimpse of the holy relic. Ianus snaked his way through the crowd and down the hill toward the docks. Glancing back, he saw his parents not far behind him. The winding city streets opened to the bazaar. Street performers clamored for attention on every corner. The pungent scent of burnt alcohol and black powder overwhelmed the fresh salt air fighting its way on shore from the harbor as fire-breathers and magicians flashed and sputtered. Musicians and people who thought they could sing performed for the many tourist and pilgrims.

Beyond the gate, the docks were filled with merchants, shoppers, and passengers milling around. The sound of splashing water filled the air as naval and space ships docked. Someone with red hair caught Ianus’ eye. At first, Ianus was not sure. He was so used to seeing her in baggy street clothes, the cassock took him off guard, but when he saw Pryor’s familiar smile, he knew for sure.

Excited, Ianus ran to hug Daru. Pryor was just like an uncle to Ianus. Maya failed to hold back her tears at the sight of her brother. Elated, Ihy arranged to have their bags delivered to the dormitory, and led the group back to the library at the monastery. Past the front desk, and down a long hall to the right, Ihy unlocked the door, “The To’asaa will be safe in here.”

Pryor pulled a black velvet bag out from under his vest. Opening it, he revealed the soft green of the periapt within. “I entrust this holy relic of our founder Tien Shaa to you, Master Ihy Hahu Khem. Keep it well.”

Ihy looked very grim as he took possession of the To’asaa. “I will guard it with my life,” he responded, words that Ianus did not want to hear. Ihy laid the To’asaa on one of the shelves, closed the door, and motioned for the group to go back down the corridor.

When they reached the main room of the library, Ianus grabbed Daru’s hand, “We’ll meet you later at dinner,” then they were gone.
Pryor, Maya, and Ihy took seats around one of the tables.
“When I got your message, I came right away,” Pryor said gripping Maya’s hands tight, “Is it true?”
“Yes, the Machine’s song has been heard again by the Camarilla itself,” Maya’s eyes darted about the room.
“Does Ianus expect anything?”
Ihy leaned across the table and whispered, “No. He has no idea that Aashen read the vision in his mind. In fact, he even doubts the vision could be true.”
“Do you have any other proof?” Pryor asked, carefully controlling his breathing.
“Yes,” Maya closed her eyes, “Everything has transpired exactly as the Vaticinars foretold.”
“I see,” Pryor sighed, and balled his hands into fists. “So they came and told you?”
Maya nodded and took his hand in hers, “They visited Ihy over a week ago, carrying a warning from the Vaticinars themselves.” She sighed, and steadied her voice, “Don’t worry. This is the way things must be.”
Pryor nodded, “I know. We agreed to this, years ago. Are you sure Ianus won’t find out?”
Ihy thumped his fingers on the table, and looked up at Pryor with a cold, distant look on his face, “He suspects nothing.”

CHAPTER THREE: THE WAR MAIDEN

Ianus and Daru ran through the garden labyrinth hand in hand, laughing and giggling like little children. They reached the center and collapsed on a dark, wooden bench. They laughed, tears streaming down their faces, their breath quick and panting.

“It’s good,” Ianus gasped, “It’s so good to see you again. How long will you be staying?”
“I have no idea,” Daru muttered as she regained her composure, “Pryor just came in and announced his decision. I hope we can stay for at least a month, I’m so tired of sleeping in a different bed on a different planet every week.”
“Well, at any rate, I’m glad you’re here. I miss having someone here to talk to. What have you been doing?”
“We have been in the service of the Camarilla. Master Theron seems to believe that the Ual-leen are on the rise again. He has sent us from parish to parish investigating suspected bases.”
“Have you found any?”
“No, not one. We have heard interesting rumors that the Enmadra are on the move again. We haven’t found any proof for that either.”
“Maybe that’s what you are doing here? A large number of terrorists have been arrested in Shiloh lately. Maya told me that there is some evidence that they were involved in the Ual-leen.”
Daru straightened her back, and looked away, “Then why wouldn’t Pryor tell me? He told me before every other visit? He even gave me the case files.”
Biting his lip, “Maybe Ihy told him not too— Ihy has been talking about the Great Machine much more often. Maybe they know for sure and they don’t want to place you in danger.”
“I can’t believe Pryor would be trying to protect me! This is why I took on the order of the Predicant. No, that can’t be it.”
“Maybe he had a vision like the one I had at my day of Ascension.”
“What vision?” Daru leaned in close to him.
“O, it’s not important,” Ianus hopped off the bench, “Forget I brought it up. It was just a side effect of the merging.”
“Ianus, don’t lie to me! You’ve never been able to lie to me. I’ve known you forever. What vision are you talking about?”
“Ihy says that I’m an augur. I had a strange vision. Blood, pain… it has something to do with the Ual-leen, I think. Look! I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Don’t you believe in visions?”
“No! I know science and meditation. It was just an illusion! There is no such thing as magic!”
Daru jumped off of the bench and hurried over to a sapphire blue rose bush. She huffed silently. Ianus sat down, and looked pleadingly at her. Rocking back into the bench, he hummed a local folk song softly. Daru smiled. She forced her mouth flat. Ianus knew he was getting to her.
“I’m sorry Daru, but that’s all Ihy and Maya have been talking about for weeks. I’m tired of talking about it.”
“I can’t believe you’ve lost your faith.”
“I have not lost my faith!” Ianus covered his eyes with his hands, and forced himself to calm down. Taking a deep breath, he held it for a moment, then sighed, “My faith is as strong as it has ever been, but I know in my heart that I could never be a prophet!”
“Whoever called you a prophet?” Daru almost whispered, her voice crackling under the weight of her emotions, “Ihy called you an augur, an interpreter of times— and Ianus, you’ve always been able to see patterns in people’s actions.”
Ianus’ arms dropped down by his sides. “I’m sorry— it’s just that my vision cannot come true. I won’t allow it… Ihy can’t…” Ianus fell silent, barely stopping a tear from glassing over his eye.
“Can’t what?”
“Nothing— I’m sorry I freaked out… I’ve been under too much stress lately. Let’s just drop this discussion, and get back to just visiting… okay?”
Daru smiled, and nodded her head. “O,” she bounced, “I brought you something for your birthday.” Daru reached into a deep pocket and pulled out a palm-sized, parchment wrapped package, “I hope you like it.”
Ianus was surprised by the weight of the small package. Ripping it open, Ianus pulled out a small, stone obelisk, with golden letters engraved into one of its cold gray faces.
“It’s a Benben-stone?” Ianus mused, running his finger across the lettering. Fire erupted from the stone. The flames danced through the sky, slowly enclosing into a large red bird with purple frills around its head and tail.
“Doesn’t this make you believe in magic?” Daru asked longingly.
“It’s only an eidolon, Daru.” The bird squawked in protest, Ianus shook his head. “No Daru, this doesn’t make me believe in magic. But our friendship is greater than magic. When I look into your eyes, I can almost see myself as you see me. That does give me hope. It makes me want to believe.”

Daru entered the library, and looked around for Ihy, Maya, and Pryor. The room was so empty; the echoes of her own footsteps were the only sounds. Looking down the hall where Ihy had placed the To’asaa, the light was on, and the door was open. Daru approached the room quietly and reverently, so she wouldn’t startle Ihy if he was in the room meditating.

It wasn’t Ihy; instead, a woman stood with her back to the door. She had shoulder length, reddish blond hair and the white robe, and blue sash of an apprentice.
“Excuse me?” Daru asked firmly, “Does Master Khem know you are in here?”
The woman whirled about, her violet eyes wide, “O, you frightened me. He should know that I am here, but he was talking with my Master, Barami, when I asked if I could explore the library. So, I guess, I’m not sure if he knows I am in here or not.”
“A simple yes or no would have sufficed,” She watched the girl carefully, “I am Mistress Daru Shaheen, what is your name?”
“O, I’m sorry. I am Tara Lael, apprentice to Master Barami.” Her alabaster skin flushed a ruby red. “I haven’t done anything wrong have I? I was only admiring this lovely periapt.”
“You shouldn’t be in here alone!” Daru said sternly.
“I’m sorry,” Tara said sheepishly, “But the door was unlocked… there wasn’t a sign on the door saying keep out. I am so sorry, I had no clue.”
Tara’s response reminded Daru of an abused dog who had been caught doing something wrong. Daru sighed, “It’s all right. If the door was unlocked and unmarked…” she shook her head, “And that is not just a pretty periapt, it is the Holy To’asaa. Surely an apprentice in the Jade Moon would know that.”
Tara nodded her head, and then looked back over to the periapt. “Should I have heard of it?”
Daru’s eyes flared, “Sit down. We should talk. You have never heard of the To’asaa.”
Tara sat down at a small table. Daru took the To’asaa off the shelf, laid it down on the table, and sat down next to Tara.
“This is a relic of Tien Shaa, isn’t it?” Tara asked
“Yes, do you know the story of Tien Shaa?” Daru saw Tara shaking her head, “Tien Shaa was one of three disciples of the Enmadra, Jeriah Kamil. The other two were Adir Radd, and Dov Lavan.”
“Did they study like we do?”
“Yes, Jeriah taught them the Maker’s art, and he promised that he would instruct each of them in the use of the periapt. Jeriah himself constructed three periapts, and might I say the Enmadra periapts are far more powerful than the ones we use today.”
“Is that why the To’asaa is to be revered?”
“O no! The To’asaa is just a periapt. You shouldn’t revere any made thing. No, the To’asaa is a symbol of the work of Tien Shaa.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Tien Shaa was the son of Uma Nari,” Daru’s periapt flashed. The small room that they were in faded into an ancient, dusty street leading to a large temple. Multiple tiers sloped out of the ground one on top of the other into what looked like a large mountain. Tall trees, vines, and various flowering shrubs grew on each of the terraces, their verdant foliage stood out against the cream colored marble of the temple.
“Tien Shaa was the son of Uma Nari and the cousin of Adir Radd. Every day, he, his cousin, and Dov Lavan would hurry to the temple to receive instruction from Jeriah Kamil,” as Daru told the story, corresponding images moved across the wall to illustrate, “Each learned the Maker’s arts quickly, but Adir Radd had the additional burden of prophecy.
“Early in his training, he found his visions to be overpowering. He began making Eidolons to take his mind off them. The stronger his vision, the stronger the eidolon he created. His visions would often blind him, or leave him gasping for air. As the time for his initiation came near, he received a vision so frightening, he ran from his house screaming.”
“What was the vision?”
“At first, Radd refused to say, which caused him to become gravely ill. Even Jeriah came to his bedside and begged him to reveal what he had seen but he wouldn’t open his mouth.
“The days passed. Tien Shaa and Dov Lavan finished their lessons. During their initiation into the order of the Predicant, Jeriah gave them their new periapts.”
“And that’s where Tien Shaa received the To’asaa?” Tara said smiling.
“Yes, but it did not have a name yet. After their initiation, Dov Lavan founded the Te’nath Ual-leen, the order of the Black Moon, which was named after one of the three moons of Adrakaya.”
“And Tien Shaa founded the Cynath Bahn Se’leen, The house of the Jade Moon, after one of the other moons.”
“That’s right Tara, he did. Tien Shaa traveled around the countryside selecting only a few men and women to instruct in the maker’s art. Dov Lavan on the other hand quickly gathered a large following.”
“What happened to Adir Radd?”
“After spending close to a year in a sick bed, he received another vision. He could keep silent no longer. The color quickly returned to his face and he regained his strength. Then he disappeared. Meanwhile, Dov Lavan gained more followers by the day. Tien Shaa selected only seven people to instruct, although he would often give public talks.
“One day, while Dov Lavan was sitting on the steps of the temple teaching; Adir Radd appeared in the center of the crowd.
“‘Dov Lavan!’ He proclaimed, ‘You have been judged by the All Seeing, and all your works will be made known. You have deceived these people, and stolen their money to make it your own. Your ego is your god. You feed these people with your vain pronouncements, promising them rewards for their obedience and torments if they rebel. They serve you, not some greater power. Your end has been foreseen. Repent of your wickedness, and escape the calamity that awaits you.’
“Lavan was furious, but if he took action, he knew it would prove Radd’s charges. Radd followed Lavan from city to city, making disciples of his own, and even more powerful eidolons. Eventually, Lavan could take no more. Even though Radd had engendered a large following, Lavan’s anger could not be quenched by anything other than Radd’s blood. In the middle of the night, he sent several of his men to capture him.
“Blinded by rage, he took Radd to Usekht Maati, the capital of the Enmadra republic. He beheaded Adir Radd and left his body on the steps of the temple.
“Word spread quickly about what Lavan had done. Jeriah sought out Tien Shaa to tell him. He was devastated when he heard the news. Jeriah improved Tien Shaa’s periapt. He knew that he had to stop Lavan before he attacked someone or something else. Radd’s followers went mad with grief, unleashing a terror upon the galaxy like no other before or since.
“Years passed before he found Lavan, who was hold up surrounded by thousands of his followers…”
“What did he do?” Tara burst out, “Did he have to fight all of them? What happened to him?”
Light flashed, and the room turned back to normal. “Well, yes, Tien Shaa had to fight his way into the stronghold alone. They say that when he struck Lavan down, he received a mortal blow. They both lay dead for three days, until Jeriah found Tien Shaa’s body. He lifted Tien Shaa’s cold dead hand— water flowed from the To’asaa, restoring him to life. That’s when this periapt received its name, To’asaa, the water bowl.”
“I can’t imagine having the courage to stand up against such odds. Wasn’t he afraid?” Tara leaned in, enraptured by Daru’s story.
“Of course, he was afraid, but fear was the only real power Lavan had. Fear and cowardice are the destroyers of worlds. He did what he had to do.”

Ianus sat alone at one of the tables in the courtyard. Watching the small crowd strolling around in groups of threes and fours. ‘I shouldn’t have been so rough with Daru,’ he thought, ‘She was only trying to be helpful.’ He pulled out the Benben-stone that she had given him. As he ran his finger down the golden letters one at a time, flames rushed out of the stone. The fire caressed his fingers like cool silk. A great Bennu-bird stretched her scarlet wings; the gold tips of the lead feathers glimmered in the sun.

A crowd gathered around Ianus, watching the large Bennu swoop across the courtyard. One of the men, a young monk in a proper navy cassock walked over to Ianus. His short, well-kept, blond hair stood firm against the wind that rushed from the Bennu’s wings. A strange gleam in his crystal blue eyes attracted Ianus’ attention.

“Excuse me, sir.” The young monk bowed his head to Ianus, “I am Predicant Master Faroh Raanan. I serve the Camarilla of the Jade Moon under Lord Master Theron.”

“Journeyman Ianus Akeru, at your service Master Raanan.” Ianus bowed his head to his superior.
“Call me, Faroh. I’ve never been to fond of obligatory pleasantries.”
“All right, Mast… Faroh, how can I be of service?” Ianus said, as he called the Bennu back into the stone.
“Master Theron has ordered me to take up temporary residence at this temple.” Faroh handed Ianus his traveling papers, “I understand that Pryor Isann arrived earlier today. Is he here on business or on holiday?”
“Both, I believe. Shortly after he arrived he transferred guardianship of the To’asaa to Master Ihy Khem, but he did mention that he was wanting to take a few days off.”
Faroh looked off toward the library, “Do you believe that Master Khem will make a good Guardian?”
“With all respect to the members of the Camarilla, but Ihy is the most powerful Maker alive today. No teacher, no storyteller can speak with his eloquence. He will be the greatest guardian that the To’asaa has ever had!”
“You believe that he is a greater Maker than the right honorable Master Theron?”
Ianus paused for a moment. He knew he had to choose his words about the titular head of the Jade Moon carefully. “Master Theron has been a noble leader, exhibiting charisma in all of his actions, and great power in the face of the Chimera incident on Adrakaya, but he is overly technical in his use of the arts. He lacks the fluidity and confidence of a great master.”
“Unlike Master Khem,” Faroh smiled, “Who stresses competence over technique?” Ianus nodded, “Do you ever feel that your training has been lacking because of this lack of emphasis on book learning?”
“Maybe a little, but Ihy always says, ‘Books can only tell you how something is done, not when and why to do it.’ He believes that practical experience is as important as pure study.”
“Well, he must be doing something right,” Faroh looked around at the crowds of people milling about the campus, flowing in and out of the temple and the library. “I have rarely seen a temple that so involves the community.”
“It’s late. An hour ago the campus was empty. People are off work now. The people do not come because of Ihy—they came because of their devotion to the Almighty.”
“And so they should,” Faroh responded, his voice trailing off at the end. Taking a deep breath, “Has everything been quiet. You haven’t been having any problems with the Ual-leen, have you?”
“Not that I’ve heard, but I haven’t taken vows yet, so I don’t hear everything.”
Faroh looked at him closely, then smiled, “You say, you are content, then, with the way this temple is run?”
“Yes, I mean, there is always room for improvement, but nothing stands out. Is that why you are here?”
“No, Master Theron has heard many stories about strange activities here at Shiloh. There have been reports that there have been Raewyn sightings. I am here to investigate the rumors and report back.”
“Why would the Camarilla be interested in Raewyn sightings? They are allowed free passage throughout the republic.”
“Yes, but they are a strange people, don’t you think? There have been rumors they are planning another insurgence. Most of these worlds used to belong to them, you know.”
‘Thousands of years ago,’ Ianus thought, but he nodded instead.
“It was good talking to you, but since I’m going to be spending several weeks here, I should get more accustomed with the place before I retire for the night. Could you, please, show me around?”

Aashen, Tuun, and their Ceeri went down the strange dirty hall on the Ymirin station. Windows on the right side of the corridor looked out on the many orbital drydocks.

“Three days,” Tuun grumbled, “The horrid little wench kept us waiting for three days, and now we have to rush to meet her!”
“She was busy.”
“No she wasn’t, her schedule was blank!”
“And how would you know that, dear brother of mine?”
“This morning, I hacked into the station computer. Her last appointment was four weeks ago. She is not a good dealer. I’d watch out for her, we don’t want to get ripped off.”
Down the corridor a small Ymirin woman with a dull gray bandana around her head came trudging toward the two Sen Brothers. Her eyes rolled around, her haggard face scowled at them. Her oversized pointed ears jiggled up and down, flaring her large nostrils, “Are you two the Fallon brothers?” Her drawling voice called over the distance.
Tuun held back a laugh. She was no more than a couple of meters away, but she continued to howl at them like they were deaf.
“Yes,” Aashen said, before Tuun could say anything, “And you must be Hildred Nadir.”
“Of course I am, boy! Who else do you think would be looking for you?” She laughed heartily, “Are you here to buy or place an order?”
“We are here to purchase a ship for Master Ihy Khem.” Tuun said, looking hard at his brother.
Hildred’s eyes lit up, “We have some beautiful liners, if he’s looking for a way to make a little extra cash for your order. They are very popular.”
“No,” Tuun interrupted, “We have a list,” he elbowed his brother in the ribs.
“O yes, he desires a divisible frigate, with no less than three Kishanu. It must be well-armed, and able to make the jump into hyperspace on its own.”
“Kishanu, you say?” Hildred bellowed. “They have been out of fashion since the Chimera incident— I mean, after all those people died, and all. Your Master Khem wouldn’t be up to anything illegal would he?” Seeing a flash in Tuun’s periapt, “Of course, he wouldn’t be— it’ll be expensive though, you got the Gulden to be paying for all this?”
“You will be paid in full before the ship leaves the space dock.”
Aashen and Hildred haggled over the price of the ship for more than an hour. Tuun, however, couldn’t take their clumsy attempts to bargain with one another. Sneaking away, he hurried back to the ship.
Maslin leaned up against a railing, looking out the window at the stars. As Tuun stormed passed him, he spun around, “Is it time to leave already?” Maslin called after him.
Tuun stopped outside of the docking port of the ship, “No! My brother is pretending he is a master salesman, he will probably be a while.”
“Should I go and help him?”
“Not if you value your sanity. He won’t allow you to help, and I think you are too good a man to be subject to that madness,” Tuun ducked through the door into the ship.
“Was that a compliment?” Maslin ran after Tuun. “I didn’t think you gave compliments.”
Tuun stopped, turned around, and walked slowly up to Maslin. Looking him hard in the eyes, “It was not a compliment. It was simply a fact. You have served Master Khem with honor on several occasions, and for that I give you respect. But you are, after all, a mercenary— so don’t construe any respect for your service with respect for you!”
“Sorry. If it means anything to you, I would never betray Master Khem’s trust.” Watching Tuun just walk away, Maslin shook his head. “He seemed rather concerned the last time I talked with him, is everything all right?”
“There have been an inordinate number of Raewyn sightings lately,” Tuun stopped, but kept his back to Maslin, “Two even came to Novice Akeru’s ascension celebration. He’s afraid that something terrible is going to happen.”
“But what good will a ship do against Raewyn, they aren’t exactly flesh and bone now are they?”
“No, they’re not. But even ethereal things like them have bodies— and home worlds, even if most of them are in hyperspace.”
“Hyperspace? There are no planets in hyperspace, if there were, they’d be on the charts!”
“I didn’t say planets, my dear boy, I said home worlds. There is a difference. Now, if you don’t mind, I am going to my room, please don’t disturb me until my brother gets back.”

Standing quietly outside of a room in the dormitory half of the monastery, Daru readjusted her robes, cleared her throat, and straightened her hair. She took a deep breath, and knocked on the door, as she exhaled.

The door opened. An old man, with short dark, obviously died hair, stood there, brushing crumbs off his robes, “Yes, may I help you?” His voice was higher than Daru would have guessed.

“I am Mistress Daru Shaheen. I’ve come to see Tara… You must be Master Barami. Tara has told me all about you.” Daru bowed her head reverently.
Barami bowed in response, “She didn’t mention that she was expecting you. We’ve just sat down for tea. Would you care to join us?”
Daru leaned back on her heels before she nodded her head. Walking past Master Barami, she entered a small sitting room. Every suite in this dormitory looked the same: Wood paneled walls, lightly stained; reddish brown tiled floors and several windows in each room. In the middle of the room, Tara sat at a small table, lost in the book, “The Holy Water of Tien Shaa.”
“Will you be going to meet Masters Tuun and Aashen when they return?” Barami asked.
“No, Master Tuun doesn’t like me, and I’m really not in the mood for Master Aashen’s infernal optimism.”
“I don’t think Master Tuun likes anyone.” Tara looked up from her book, “The first time I met him, I thought he was going to attack me. Come sit down, and have some tea.”
Daru sat down and graciously accepted a cup of jasmine tea from Barami, “Why did you think Tuun was going to attack you?”
“His periapt kept flashing, and I could hear metal clanging.” Tara pushed her chair back from the table, and turned to face Daru, “I had a very strange dream last night. I saw an enormous white stag. He was standing on a hill, silhouetted by the full moon, but the moon was red. What do you think it means?”
“It could have been the red moon Ari-leen of Adrakaya, and the stag… Peregrine. It could have been Peregrine. He has appeared to many a maker over the millennia.”
“That would be a dark sign,” Barami interrupted, “The last few times he appeared, it was a disastrous omen. He appeared to Master Theron five years ago, just before the attacks began.”
Daru had never heard that before. Images of the Chimera Incident flashed through her mind: the corpses of part machine, part organic monstrosities that had been paraded on the news. Shaking off the images, “You should talk to Ianus about it. He is an Augur, after all. He should be able to interpret it, if it is an omen.”
“O, I didn’t know that. So, does that mean he will be taking on the Order of the Presager?” Tara asked, her eyes opened wide.
“I expect not. He’s not very fond of the gift. Surely, he’ll take the oath of the Presager— he’ll have to do that. There are so few augurs these days. The Jade moon will want to avail themselves of his services. No, Ianus has always said he was going to take on the order of the Cenobite.”
“And you are you a Cenobite?” Tara asked.
“Heaven’s no, I’m a Predicant. I want to travel, see the galaxy. I don’t think I could stand being tied down to just one place. I need the adventure.”
Tara leaned in, cradling her head in her hands, “And have you had a lot of adventures? I bet you’ve seen some strange things out there, haven’t you?”
“Well, I haven’t really been traveling for all that long. But, Master Isann and I have investigated many suspected Ual-leen nests.”
Tara rubbed her nose, and looked out the window, “And did you find anything? Is the Ual-leen still out there? After all, there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting since Panthera was defeated.”
“I found some suspicious signs, but nothing solid. It’s been fascinating though. I remember this one abandoned temple on Ganeden, we did find a large group of Tengu,” Daru paused. Tara and Barami leaned in, wide-eyed and mouths agape. “They were all sitting around a fire cawing and flapping their large black wings. Suddenly, their leader jumped up, and shook his hands in the air. They had seen us.
“They swooped down on us from every side. Pryor and I fought back-to-back. All we could see were claws, fans, and feathers.”
“And did you get away?” Tara jumped out of her seat, knocking her chair into the wall.
“Well of course they did,” Barami laughed, “How else do you think she is sitting here today?”

Ihy and Ianus rushed out of the dormitory, passed the garden labyrinth, and down a small stone paved path that wound down the side of the hill, under hanging willow branches.

“Why are we going down to the beach?” Ianus asked, “Aren’t Aashen and Tuun returning to the port?”
“Heaven’s no, my dear boy.” Ihy ducked under a particularly low branch, “I’m not about to pay those exorbitant docking fees! Anyway, the beach down here is closer than the port.”
“Why would you have to pay the docking fees? Didn’t they travel with Maslin? He wouldn’t charge you for his berth?”
Ihy stopped at an abrupt turn on the path and smiled. “I forgot to tell you. I’ve bought a ship, or at least sent them to buy me one. They are delivering the new ship today. Isn’t it exciting?”
Ianus jumped forward and ran as fast as he could. Reaching the sands, he leaned back and slid feet first into the cold water.
The silvery blue sea stretched off into a distant fog that clothed the horizon. Dozens of small red and gold fish swam around his ankles. Looking back at Ihy, Ianus splashed water at him, and laughed.
“It’s a beautiful day isn’t it,” Ihy waded out until he was knee deep in the fresh water sea. “Maybe we could go fishing or swimming later.”
“Why don’t we do both?” Ianus nodded back at Ihy. He loved spending time with his father down at the Zacari Sea. Just last year, they spent the whole summer out in a boat sailing, swimming, and fishing. They traveled north up the coast, and circled the inland sea. Ianus still dreamed about those lazy days.
A titanic shadow loomed on the horizon, just beyond the edge of the fog. Draped in mist, a large silver and jade-green ship emerged into the light. It rose off of the surface of the sea. Shaped like a colossal manta ray, it swooped down into the water, submerging itself about half way. Light flashed from its engines. Coasting on its inertia, it turned and lined its bulk up along side the aged wooden pier that jutted out from the coast.
Ihy jumped with glee, and ran to the pier to welcome it. Ianus hadn’t seen him this excited for years. Hurrying to catch Ihy, Ianus ran up the pier as the hulking ship came to a stop along side.
Spying an airlock near him, Ihy rushed over, the door released and swung open. Ihy and Ianus entered. Aashen’s voice echoed over the intercom, “Stay there, we’re coming to meet you, then we’ll give you the tour.”
A short while later, Aashen, Tuun and their Ceeri came striding down the corridor. Both Aashen and Tuun had large grins on their faces. Ianus did a double take, yes, even Tuun was smiling.
“We did good, didn’t we?” Tuun blurted out. “It has everything you asked for!”
“O yes, you did very well,” Ihy said, looking past them down the hallway. The walls were the same color as well aged ivory, and the floors looked like a Jade stained slate. “Does the ship require a Helmsman?”
“No,” Tuun answered, “It can be flown manually or on auto-pilot, but it does have an interface for a Helmsman if you would like one— and I would be more than happy to train to be yours.”
Ihy shook his head, “Well, since this is the first time I have ever seen you excited about anything— go ahead, I would be honored. Aashen, what is the ships name?”
“The IRV Valkyrie, she is fully licensed and registered.”
“The Valkyrie!” Ianus gasped, “The war maiden?” The white dragon flooded his mind, blood, the tower falling. Shivering, the memory faded.
Ihy and Aashen just stared at him.
“It can’t be,” Ianus whispered, “Can we change its name?”
“Why?” Ihy asked, “If it has already been registered then it will be extremely hard to rename.”
“My vision!” Ianus shook remembering his Ascension Day, “In my vision… the voice said I should follow the War Maiden. A Valkyrie is a war maiden. It can’t be a coincidence. If this is the War Maiden then…” he looked at Ihy with tears welling up in his eyes. “Then, maybe the vision was true.”
“Don’t worry, my boy. I’m sure everything will be all right. It was your first vision. They can be very emotional, but don’t worry. This ship isn’t going anywhere for a long time, so there will be nothing to follow. Okay?”
Ianus wiped the tears from his eyes and nodded.
“Where are the Kishanu?” Ihy asked. Aashen pointed to a door down at the end of the passageway.
“But father!” Ianus tried to steady himself, Ihy’s face looked drawn, almost skeletal, “I can’t just ignore the vision can I?”
“You have this long. Let me explain something. Visions are nothing but patterns of light on a dark cave wall. They are a part of a greater system. Augurs see patterns in the world around them. They see what is happening, and what has happened. In their visions, these systems are projected forward to see what is most likely to happen. No vision is written in stone. They change as the pattern changes, but you have to be very careful. Every system is a machine— Visions, eco-systems, businesses, governments, cultures. Machines crave order and submission. That is all they know. Souls crave life and freedom. You have to find the balance between the two, or they will tear you apart.”
Ihy took Ianus into his arms, and embraced him tight, and smiled, “Now let’s go take a look at the Kishanu.”
They walked down the hall, and into the room. Three humanoid machines lay on tables in the corners of the room.
“These two are Mista and Sangrida Namid,” Aashen said pointing to the two on the left side of the room. “And that one is Arun Namid.”
“Namid?” asked Ihy, “The Star Dancer, what a good name. You did well.”
Ianus got the strangest sense of déjà vu looking at the Kishan. “Ihy’s time has past,” a voice screeched in his mind. Panicked, Ianus ran out of the room.

CHAPTER FOUR: DARK SIGNS

Bursting into the dining hall, Ianus struggled to breathe. Daru and Maya sat at a table near the door.
“The fool!” Ianus cried out, with tears streaming down his face, “The War Maiden is here! It’s really here!” Ianus collapsed onto the floor. “The fool won’t listen! He doesn’t care what I have to say!”
Maya leapt from her seat, her feet hardly touching the ground, as she ran over to her adopted son. “What vision?” she wrapped her arm around him, “What’s wrong?”
“Ihy’s new ship,” Ianus gasped between sobs, “It’s the Valkyrie, the war maiden… the vision I had at my Ascension. The pieces are coming together— and that Kishan… while I looked at it, just lying there on the table. It… it turned into Ihy! He wasn’t breathing! My God, I think he was dead!”
On his hands and knees, Ianus folded into himself, and rocked back and forth, chanting, “Why can’t he see? Why won’t he listen to me? Doesn’t he care?” Pulling his knees into his chest with his arms, he muttered incoherently. He looked up at Maya, and shook violently. She just stared at him, her eyes misting up.
Ianus looked over at Daru, who just stood there with her hands over her mouth. A distant pain filled her eyes. She looked past him, and out the door. Following her gaze, he saw Ihy, standing stoically, and beckoning to Maya with his hand. Her arms slipped away from him, leaving only a hollow, aching cold where she had been.
She walked over to Ihy and they left in the direction of the library, “It’s always work!” Ianus screeched, “Just go to your books, I’ll be all right!” Ianus sighed, “Damn it!” He lowered his head between his knees. “Damn it all!” He screeched. “If he doesn’t give a damn, maybe I shouldn’t either!”
He heard Daru’s feet stumble. Feeling her sit down beside him, he leaned on her shoulder. Gently, she ran her fingers through his hair.
“It’ll be all right. Everything’s all right. I’m here,” she whispered softly into his ear, “I will always be here. Forever and beyond.”
Ianus reached his trembling arms around her, “I know,” he whispered back. “I don’t understand. It doesn’t make sense.” He inhaled her sweet perfume, and nuzzled into her arm.
“What doesn’t make sense?” Daru rested her head on his.
Ianus sat up, and looked at her. “For over a month now, Ihy has been encouraging me to trust my visions, and believe in my ‘gift’. But the moment I do, he acts like I’m… making it all up.”
“You don’t think he believes your vision?”
“I think he’s too bound up in his new toy to care what I have to say,” Ianus took her hand, “It’s like he doesn’t take me seriously.”
“What did he do when you told him?”
“He just gave me a lecture about the Machine, and how it tries to control everything.” He squeezed her hand. “What good is seeing the future if no one believes you?”
“Maybe he’s afraid the visions will control you?”
“Maybe… I guess. But, if the visions are true, then his life is in jeopardy. Why wouldn’t he care about that?”
Daru pulled Ianus closer, “Did you tell him that?” Ianus shook his head, “Look, he is an augur too. Perhaps he has seen the threat coming, and has a plan to avert it?”
”Then why wouldn’t he tell me?” Ianus shouted, stood up and began to pace around the dining hall. “If that’s true, then why wouldn’t he tell me? If this is another one of his damn tests… he has no right to treat me like this. He should tell me what he knows, even if for no other reason than to set my mind at ease!”
“Maybe he is testing you. Perhaps he’s curious whether you’ll see the same way out he did.” Daru’s lip trembled. “If he told you what he knew that would bias your visions. The stakes are high, and there’s little room for error. You can’t believe he would do this out of malice. Maybe he needs you to see for yourself.”
“That would be just like him. I’m distraught, and he’s curious to find out if I can help myself or not. You know, sometimes he’s the greatest father I could ever hope for, and other times… he just becomes so distant.”
“You know, you’re really lucky.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Daru turned her back to Ianus and faced the door, “Most of us just happen to our parents. Your parents chose you. They could have said no. After your birth parents died, they could have sent you away to an orphanage, but they kept you. They didn’t have too, you’re not blood related to either one of them, but they chose you. You know they love you, because they took you home, and raised you.”
Ianus stopped, looked around the room, and then walked up to Daru, putting a hand on her shoulder, “I know.” Drawing in a deep breath, he closed his eyes. He wanted to be mad at Ihy. He didn’t want to just let go. It was unfair, the way that he had been treated. He sighed and shook his head. There was no use arguing with Daru. Looking over at her, he shook his head, “You’re right. I may not act like it, but I know. They just make me so angry sometimes.”
“I know, I’m pretty mad at them myself, but maybe this is the path you have to walk?”
“I guess your right. I’ll just have to see this through. At any rate, my prescience book disagrees with me anyway.” Ianus laughed, “Thank you, I feel a lot better.”
“Just promise me one thing. If you must walk this path, keep your eyes open for detours.”

Daru stalked the Monastery grounds. She may have played it calm and collected in front of Ianus, but fury burned down in her soul. The sight of Ianus suffering was more than she could bear. She was blind to reason. A slight against Ianus, real or imagined, was a slight against her. Someone had to take Ihy to task for his carelessness. Ianus wouldn’t do it. Maya would never do it. She would have to be the one to do it.

Biting her lip to keep herself from muttering, she paused in the center of the courtyard. ‘I’ve checked the dorms, the garden, the temple, and the beach,’ she thought. A cold glimmer filled her eyes, her heartbeat quickened. ‘That only leaves one place.’

Slowly, she turned around, and glared at the library. “You cannot hide from me,” a sinister grin broke across her face.
A wild lion on the prowl, she strode across the courtyard up to the library doors. Stopping, she took a deep breath and held it. Slowly, she exhaled. A cruel smile on her face, she raised her right hand. The jade stone of her periapt illuminated. A shimmering haze issued from the stone. In the fog, she could distinctly make out Ihy’s voice:
“What was I supposed to do? I have important work to get done before tomorrow night. Barami won’t stand for another delay. No, I have to meet with him tomorrow.”
“I don’t see what he’s in such a state about anyway. A couple of dead bodies, and a few scattered rumors about Ual-leen agents,” Maya said.
“But, you know as well as I do what’s been going on he’s probably hoping that everything’s on schedule with… well you know. I should go for a coffee. My head’s feeling a bit foggy.”
“What,” Maya paused. “O, I see.”
Daru pulled her hand away from the door. ‘How did he know I was listening?’ she thought. She stumbled a few steps backward, and ran off to the gardens. At the entrance to the labyrinth, she looked back in time to see the library door swing open.
Ihy looked suspiciously out the door, then turned around and went back in.
Catching her breath, Daru wondered, ‘Dead bodies, why haven’t I heard about any dead bodies?’ Slowly, she left the garden and headed back toward the library. ‘That’s it! Pryor is coddling me, and Ihy is shoving Ianus aside to finish his precious work.’
Her hackles up again, Daru charged the library. Swinging the doors open, she marched up to Ihy and Maya, and slammed her fists down on the table.
“How dare you treat Ianus like that!” She roared, her fury now filling her eyes.
“Like what?” Ihy took a step backward, “Dear girl, what are you on about?”
You know very well what I’m talking about! And don’t call me ‘dear girl!’ I’ve grown up, if you haven’t noticed, and you’ve gone callous!”
“Now listen here, I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“The pair of you are neglecting your son when he’s distraught, and you have the gall to say you haven’t done anything wrong?”
“And what exactly have we done? He is eighteen after all, and soon he will be a cenobite. He has to start taking care of himself!”
“Anyway,” Maya interjected, “He has you hasn’t he? I’m sure you did everything in your power to comfort him.”
“Don’t try to change the subject!” Daru raged, “I’m not about to be flattered out of my indignation. I have a right to be angry!”
“You honestly haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, do you?” Maya sat down and grinned.
“He’s been traumatized, you know!” Daru stared coldly at Ihy, “He thinks you’re going to die.”
“Well of course I will. We all will one day or another, won’t we? Don’t tell me he just figured out that I’m mortal.”
“Don’t be sarcastic, he thinks you’re going to be killed, and soon by the sound of it. He’s distraught.”
“Look,” Ihy walked around the table and took Daru by the hand, “He has to learn how to deal with his gifts on his own. I did, and so did his birth mother and father. It was only a matter of time until he received his first vision. I can’t coddle him.”
“You could be more sympathetic.”
“No. I can’t,” Ihy sighed, “Prescience is both a gift and a curse. I remember my first vision. They can over power you, and crush your spirit if you’re not strong enough. There is nothing Maya or I could do for him. We’re his parents. You, on the other hand, you have always been in his heart. If he couldn’t find the strength in himself, he could find it through you.”
Daru’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes widened, “What are you going on about?”
Shaking his head, “We are his parents. We will always be with him, even if only in spirit. You, on the other hand, you are part of him. You were friends before you ever met. You are the strength he needs right now, not us. We do care, but sometimes that’s just not enough.”

Ianus sat alone in his cluttered, yet to his own mind well organized, room. Looking over at the unmade bed, he thought about just taking a nap; but the soft leather binding of his prescience book kept catching his eye. ‘There is nothing I can do. The dice have been cast,’ Ianus thought, ‘Who am I to question fate?’

A knock on the door; Ianus jumped at the sound. Opening the door, a sheepish Tara stood there. She fidgeted with her hands, and avoided making eye contact.
“Can I help you, miss?” Ianus asked.
Her breath was unsteady, and she glanced repeatedly between Ianus and the floor. “O, sorry… this was a bad idea.” She sighed and turned to walk away. Stopping, she tossed her head back and forth on her shoulders. “O, I’m Tara Leal,” she said, pivoting on her toes to face Ianus, “I guess you might call me a friend, or maybe an acquaintance, of Daru’s. I caught you at a bad time, didn’t I? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have bothered you. This really is a bad time, isn’t it?” Tara turned to walk away.
Ianus grabbed her by the elbow, “No, wait. Is something wrong?”
Tara stopped and turned around, “Are you sure this isn’t a bad time? I always seem to catch people at the wrong time. I have horrible timing. Am I interrupting anything?”
“Not unless you think I need to be bored. I wasn’t doing anything at all. Do you want to go down to the courtyard?”
“I’d rather talk in your room, if that’s all right with you.”
Ianus looked back at his open door, “If you are comfortable being alone in a room with a strange man?”
Tara smiled, “I know thirty-four ways to kill a person with a glance. I am a trained maker, months away from initiation. I think I can handle myself.”
“I meant, if you don’t think people would talk… but that’s good to know,” Ianus chuckled, “But I think I should warn, you I know fifty-eight ways to block a stare, so don’t get any ideas.”
Walking into the small, studio apartment, he pointed Tara over to the table and chairs. “So what’s the problem?”
“Well, Daru said you might be able to help me. She said you are an augur.”
Ianus shuffled uneasily in his seat, “Well? The jury is still out on that. I have had two visions, but I’m not too sure I even understand what they mean.”
“O,” Tara looked down, “I’m sorry I bothered you.”
“No, no, Daru always knows what she’s talking about. If she thinks I can help you, I should at least try.”
“Well, I had a dream…” Tara stopped.
Ianus’ eyes glazed over. He looked past her into what appeared to be like a distant fog. Fragments and shadows flashed through his consciousness. “You saw a giant, white stag, Peregrine, I believe. He had silver fur running across his face and back, and snow white fur down his neck and belly. His antlers, polished gold, and about three feet long.” Tara stared at him, fascinated, “He stood before the Blood Moon, Ari-leen, somewhere on Adrakaya.” Ianus’ eyes began to water.
“Is everything all right?” Tara asked.
“Yes, why?”
“You’re crying.”
“No, my eyes are watering,” Ianus rubbed his eyes but the image never faded or distorted.
“What does it mean?” Tara slid forward to the edge of her chair.
“Changes are coming. One will come soon and will make you choose the path that will lead you to greatness, or the path that will lead to certain destruction.”
Tara sat up straight in her chair, “How will I know which path to take?”
“Two paths will present themselves to you, but it is not a new choice. You have made the choice already, and you will have to make it again.”
“When did I make this decision?”
“Once when you were very young, and even now you are under its sway.”
“Really?” Tara looked away, “So what should I do?”
“Stay the course. Do not be swayed from the path set before you.”
“It is fate then? Destiny?”
“Yes, it is what was born with you. The path is a part of you. To deny it would be to deny yourself.”
“Don’t you feel like fate sometimes grabs us and bends us to its will?”
“Never! All things arise together, depending on a million other causes. You were born, just as we all are, with certain gifts, talents, and strengths. They set you on the path. You make the choices.” Ianus shivered. He didn’t know where the words were coming from; they simply fell from his mouth.
“I make the choices…” Tara muttered, “Thank you.”
Ianus shook his head, and the room again became clear, the vision ended. “I hope I was helpful.”
Tara shook his hand, “Yes, you were. Thank you so very much.”
Ianus escorted Tara to the door. After she had gone, he looked at the prescience book. Lost in thought, he just kept saying, “We make our own decisions.”
Faroh Raanan and another man walked down a street in Shiloh. The other man, Jago Modcearu, straightened his dark black tunic. His pale skin lit up brilliantly every time they passed under the light of one of the street lamps. His well cropped brown hair stood as rigidly as he did.
“I am glad to see you again,” Jago said, his high pitched nasal voice barely traveled past them, “I wondered how long it would be before our lord sent me a helper.”
“He is most pleased with your work here at Shiloh. You have done very well. All of the troublemakers have been taken care of before they have become problems.”
“The work of an inquisitor is never done,” Jago smiled, “I serve the order well.”
Seeing another maker coming down the path, Faroh said, “Have there been any leads on the string of murders that have taken down so many members of the Jade Moon of late?”
They nodded at the other maker as he walked past. “No,” Jago answered, “There have been a few rumors, but nothing reliable in any way.”
“How is everything going with Osten?”
“He is progressing on schedule. He will be ready when we need him. And who are you working with now?”
“Ianus Akeru.”
“The son of Elkan and Hannah Akeru?” Jago asked.
“The very same. He will be harder than I thought. He has no love for the machine, or for the song.”
“Have you introduced him to the litany?”
“No, but he trusts Ihy to a fault,” Faroh said, “He thinks the old fool’s teachings will help him. Like there is anything that crackpot could say that is not in the song. Once he sees the glories of the song’s words, and meaning, he will join us. He will bow to the One.”
“Our Lord Pan… Our Lord has told you this?”
“He didn’t have to. I know the truth, and the truth guides my steps. One day, Ianus will know the truth. Then he will be one of us.” Stopping in front of a house, Faroh checked a note in his hand, “This is the place.” He looked over at Jago and nodded.
He took a few steps back, and then leapt onto the roof over the second floor terrace. Flipping onto the hard cement balcony, he bent down over the terrace wall, and winked down at Jago.
Jago nodded back at him, and rang the doorbell. The sound of footsteps lazily made their way to the door.
“Greetings,” the handsome young man said opening the door, “Can I help you?”
“Master Roman Elsu?” Jago asked in a formal tone.
“Yes,” the man said, scratching his head.
“Is your wife Jenn home?”
“She is, can I…”
Jago lunged forward knocking the man inside, slamming the door shut.
Faroh jumped forward crashing his way through the glass door. A beautiful young woman, turned around quickly. Brilliant light flashed from her periapt and a large single edge sword appeared in her hand.
Faroh smiled broadly. Jenn charged him, raising her sword above her head. The sword came down… and inches away from his forehead the blade stopped. A flash of electric blue light deflected the blade, Faroh laughed.
A metal pole as tall as him appeared in his hand, “Come on then, try again,” he taunted.
A quick thrust of the pole; Jenn blocked with her feeble blade. The sword shattered.
“O, that’s not good,” he scoffed. Rushing forward, he spun the pole down at Jenn’s feet.
She jumped out of its way, but Faroh quickly brought it back, hitting her in the face. Stunned by the blow, she staggered backwards toward the stairs. Faroh ran up the wall to her right, and leaped over her head. Landing on the top step, he brought the staff up, and held it tight against her throat. She gasped for breath.
“Really now, you should have practiced more,” rolling backwards, he pulled her off the ground, and over him. He let go of her in mid back flip. She crashed down the stairs, and with a loud snap landed at the bottom. Faroh caught the middle stair with his hands, and pushed off. He landed at the bottom of the stairs with one foot on either side of Jenn’s body.
Applause erupted from a chair in the living room, “You always did enjoy your work,” Jago chuckled.
Faroh, still breathing slowly, saw Roman’s body laid out on the couch, “Be sure to plant the evidence on them. Then wait an hour before you anonymously report the crime to Osten.”

Tara stood on the balcony of the suite she was sharing with her mentor Barami. Shiloh’s city lights twinkled in the distance. Her eyes wandered over the starless night sky, ‘Why did Barami have to go out tonight?’ she thought, ‘He knows Master Khem won’t be able to see him until tomorrow night.’ She rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand. ‘He always comes when I’m alone… always when I’m alone. I really don’t want to see him today.’

Startled, she looked down at what she thought was a shadowy figure creeping across the courtyard. ‘Just a tree,’ she sighed. Walking over to the small white metal table in the corner of the balcony, she picked up her wine glass and cast a longing gaze down on her book.

Slowly, she filled her mouth with the fruity wine. Closing her eyes, she savored the flavor. ‘Maybe he won’t come.’ She tried to ease her own mind, ‘After all, Ihy Khem presides over this temple. He wouldn’t dare, would he?’

“I wouldn’t dare what?” A cold, deep voice resonated behind her.

“Master?” Tara jumped, dropping her wine glass. The shattering glass startled her again.
Looking around with a hard, vacant stare, the corners of her mouth drew back tight. “I’m hearing things,” she muttered.
“Of course, my dear,” the lights in the suite went out, “You are hearing me.”
Tara peered into the dark room, looking for signs of movement.
“What wouldn’t I dare to do?” The voice asked again.
A dim red fire burst to life in the center of the room. Tara searched the now sanguineous room for a sign of her master.
“My Lord, they were just stray thoughts. Please forgive me,” Tara begged the unseen speaker.
“Stray thoughts?” The voice said. Tara looked over at a shadowy figure in black robes sitting in the lounge chair with his hood pulled over his face. “Since when do you have stray thoughts?”
“Please forgive me, master,” Tara exclaimed, running over to the humanoid form. She fell to her knees, and prostrated before him.
“I am not the one to forgive. Have you forgotten the song?”
“O no, master,” Tara sat up and shook her head, “I still listen to the song. I study its truth.”
“Good,” the hooded figure motioned for her to sit up, “You thought I wouldn’t dare come here. Not with Ihy Khem running the place. You thought I would avoid the one who defeated me. Me, Karu Panthera, the servant of the Great Machine. It is true that he and his followers drove me out of the Camarilla of the Jade Moon, but his followers are mostly dead now, aren’t they?”
“Yes, my Lord, it was a foolish thought, I should have…”
“Enough of your sniveling. I know what you’ve been up to. You’ve been spending too much time around that Daru girl. She’s nothing but trouble.”
“She’s a Master Predicant of the Jade Moon, and…”
“And you have been learning the song of Dov Lavan! Have you forgotten that the Jade Moon has betrayed the teaching?”
“Daru says that the Ara’lu betrayed the Enmadra and…”
“You believed her? Have you forgotten the truth so soon?”
“But she has found,” Tara struggled for words, “Freedom. The very same freedom you promised me when you taught me the song.”
“She’s a slave! The song teaches the way of life. Don’t let her seduce you with her quaint lies. You know the truth. Dov Lavan died for the truth, sacrificing himself so the way could be made straight.”
“But Tien Shaa also gave his life, and he returned to life again.”
“So did Lavan,” Panthera raised his hands, “I can take you to Tien Shaa’s tomb. I assure you, he’s still in it. And where is Lavan’s tomb? He became one with the machine. His body was never found.”
“But, I’ve met her. She really is free!”
“My poor girl, do you really think you’ll ever be free?” Panthera rose from the chair, and scowled down at her, “You still have fear, and that fear will haunt you like your own shadow. Only the power I offer can heal you.”
“But, I’ve been reading about the To’asaa. I believe it…”
“Just do what you’re told! Serve your purpose. You don’t want to become obsolete, do you?”
“O no… I…” Tara crawled away.
“You cannot question the song. The song cannot err. In the past four thousand three hundred and twenty years, the song has never been wrong. It is truth! Who are you to question the truth!”
Tara’s voice quivered, “No one… I am a part of the machine.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I hear the song, I know the truth. I serve the One. I will serve my purpose,” Tara closed her eyes and let her head hang down, “I will do what I’ve come here to do.”

Early in the morning, Ianus rolled out of bed. He hadn’t slept well the night before. Strange dreams haunted him all night. Strange creatures and armies clashing in the dark. He had read many books about the days of Tien Shaa, and even Samara the Rogue when such a battle waged across the galaxy. Augurs were prone to seeing the past as well as the future, but why had he dreamed about the ancients.

Splashing his face with water, he frightened the sleep away, but the anxiety remained. After he had gotten dressed, he ran down to the refectory for breakfast. Pancakes with peach calico jam made for a more than satisfactory meal. Chef had outdone himself today.

After he had returned his plates to the kitchen, he decided to ask Aashen and Tuun about the Valkyrie. The name of the ship still sent shivers up and down his spine.
He left the dining hall with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Seeing the Fallon Brothers enter the garden, he turned to follow them. As he passed the labyrinth, he lost his train of thought.
“Two more murdered?” It was Ihy.
Ianus froze in mid-step.
“Yes, sir,” Ianus didn’t recognize the other man’s voice, “Roman and Jenn Elsu, but that’s not the worst part. Items were found in their house suggesting that they were… secretly members of the Ual-leen, but I can’t believe it.”
“I know… knew them, it does seem out of character for them, but at this point I don’t think we can rule anything out.” Ihy paused for a moment, then whispered, “What do they think was the motive?”
“They found an Ual-leen glyph branded into their forehead. It was a warning glyph. If all this is to be believed, the mark means they had betrayed someone, and that this was a vengeance murder.”
“If there was a mark on the bodies, that would mean they were about to meet another Ual-leen agent… How did we find them before the bodies could be removed? Who found them?”
“A neighbor called, they said they heard strange sounds at the Elsu house. As to who found them, it was Osten Moore.”
“Again? He has been very lucky lately. He has uncovered quite a few of these ‘secret agents.’ Has he been investigated?”
“He’s clean, by-the-way, I know his wife, Deryn, they are good people…” The voices faded off into the distance.
‘They must have walked off,’ Ianus thought. ‘What was I doing? O, that’s right. Aashen and Tuun.’
Heading off toward the labyrinth, Ianus noticed the Fallon brothers in the field off to the side. They were talking, very animated about something. As Ianus approached, they became very quiet.
“Hello, Ianus!” Aashen called out, “Come for a quick game? A duel perhaps?”
“O no!” Ianus shook his head vigorously, “I’ve come to ask you something.”
“No, no, Not business. Not now,” Aashen stood up, his Ceeri leapt on his back and spread his over size wings. “I’m not in the proper mood for, well, being proper.” Jumping into the air, the Ceeri flapped his wings and carried Aashen aloft.
“Get back down here and talk to me,” Ianus looked at Tuun who was still sitting on the ground.
“Don’t even think about it,” Tuun grumbled, his Ceeri crawled onto his back. With a minimum of effort, it flapped its wings and flew them both away.
“Beat me to the center of the Labyrinth, and I’ll answer your questions.” Swinging his body to the left, he flew toward the hedges.
Ianus ran after him. Faster and faster, with each stride he rose higher into the air. Bounding onto the first hedge, he looked at the marble statue of Uma Nari in the center of the Labyrinth.
Aashen swooped over the hedges, laughing, “You cannot catch me!” He shouted. “You don’t have wings!”
Ianus focused on his periapt, and leapt from hedge to hedge. His foot barely touched the branches as he kicked off each one.
Aashen had taken a sizeable lead.
Closing his eyes, Ianus knew he needed the answers. Aashen dove toward the center; Ianus bounded toward him.
As Ianus’ soared through the air, he reached out his hand. Grabbing Aashen by the ankle, Ianus forced his legs forward. His feet landed on Aashen’s chest. He kicked off, shoving Aashen backward. Ianus hit the ground, and rolled across the hard sod in the center of the labyrinth.
Landing on his feet, Ianus sprung from the crouching position and wrapped his arm around the statue.
“I win!” he shouted as Aashen landed with his arms crossed. “Well, are you ready to talk now?”
Aashen laughed and shook his head. “Good show! But next time, don’t kick so hard. That hurt.”
“This from the man who routinely wing buffets his opponents during a fight? I’ll try to remember that.”
“Ask your questions,” Aashen said.
“Why did you get the Valkyrie?” Ianus folded his arms.
“Because Ihy asked us to.”
“Why did Ihy ask you to buy it?”
“I don’t know. He said he needed a ship that fit certain criteria, so we found him one.”
“What criteria?”
“He asked for a divisible frigate that had Kishanu. O, and he wanted it to be able to make its own jumps into hyperspace.”
“Did he specify a name? Did he want it named the Valkyrie?”
“No, there were four ships to choose from, and Tuun like that one best. So are you done with me now?”
“Yeah, let’s do something fun.”
Off in a dark, forgotten corner of the library, Ihy Khem and Barami sat at an old, weathered table. Ihy set a black cloth on the table, and Barami fidgeted expectantly. Unfolding the cloth, Ihy revealed the brilliant jade stone and supple leather glove of the To’asaa.
“It’s magnificent,” Barami bowed his head reverently, “Where are you keeping it?”
“In a safe room across from my office, where I keep all of our precious collections.”
“I was surprised when I heard that Master Isann had retired from his guardianship. It was a great privilege for him to have been chosen in the first place.”
“Well, with all of the events of late,” Ihy watched him carefully, “He thought it would be safer in the care of a monastery then with a traveling Predicant. Why? Did you think it would come to you?”
Barami sat back in his chair, “O no, of course not, but… well, with all respect to you Master, but I thought it would go to someone younger. Anyway, there has been talk that the Enmadra have returned to Adrakaya, and their servants, the A’nath-ari, are on the move again.”
“I’ve heard, but don’t worry. The To’asaa is safe here.”
“But if the A’nath-ari take an interest in it…”
“Why would they?” Ihy chuckled, “They serve the Enmadra, as you put it, I’m sure if they wanted a similar periapt, they would simply ask the Enmadra for one.”
Barami laughed, “You’re right. I’m sorry. There has been so much going on lately. I heard that young Akeru is having visions. And if I heard correctly, he is predicting that the Ual-leen are rising again.”
“The rumors come and go. Our intelligence office has rounded up several suspected Ual-leen agents.”
“Don’t forget about the murders.”
“I’m not too sure about those. They have been all too… convenient. I’m not sure they are exactly what they seem. There is only one thing that bothers me more… If Ianus is right, then the only thing we can be sure of is that Ianus will be dead before this is over.”

CHAPTER FIVE: VOWS

Three days droned past after Ianus had talked to Aashen about the Valkyrie. Each day was the same, wandering aimlessly around the temple grounds, avoiding everyone, especially Daru. He ground his teeth every time he thought about his father. Had he really bought a ship called the Valkyrie on purpose, or was it merely a coincidence? Had Ihy set him up? The fact that he had not shared the details of his first vision with anyone helped him calm down a little, but he still wanted someone to fight. It was easier to be angry, but it was ridiculous to blame Ihy for the name of the ship. After all, Ihy would never resort to sheer terror to teach him a lesson, would he?

Confusion filled his life. What would he do if something happened to his second father? ‘No,’ he decided, ‘I must not let anything happen! But what could I do to keep him from his fate?’

Ianus knew Ihy had been spending nearly all his free time down at the beach tinkering with his new ship. If he was going to do anything he was going to have to get over his anxiety about that ship. After making his way down the hillside, he stopped to stare at the haunting vessel. A strange feeling welled up in the pit of his stomach.

His vision twisted and blurred as his prescient gift forced itself upon him. Steadying his legs, he blinked his eyes rapidly. He reached up and rubbed his eyes. ‘Not now,’ he thought, ‘I don’t need this now!’ He swayed and moaned. Nothing was working. The portentous fog clouded his eyes. “Go away!” Ianus shouted to no effect.

“What?” Tuun’s voice echoed in his ears, “Why? What have I done?” “Tuun? Is that really you?”
“Of course it’s really me! What’s the matter with… Oh! You’re suffering a

vision!” Tuun said, taking Ianus’ hand, “Just take a deep breath, Breathe… That’s right… relax. Pray.”

“O Holy Mother,” Ianus panted, “Protect us all from evil, stand guard at the gates of our cities, and in the temples of our hearts. Pray for us Holy Mother, now and at the hour of our death.”

“You are devoted to Uma Nari?” Tuun said with surprise in his voice, “Good then, pray to the mother of our Lord. Just relax and pray.”
Ianus’ head began to clear; tears ran down his tired face. “Thank you,” he said catching his breath, “Thank you very much. How did you know what to do?”
“I… ” Tuun’s smile melted away, replaced by his usual straight face, “I used to be an Augur.” Tuun walked off toward the Valkyrie.
“Used to be an Augur?” Ianus ran after him, “What do you mean you used to be an Augur?”
Tuun opened the door, and with a heavy sigh, he walked through the docking hatch and down the corridors through the ship. “I lost my gift.”
“I didn’t know that was possible. How?”
“Augurs must have faith in something. Without faith it is hard to see the future… If you’re bitter,” Tuun smiled curtly, “You can see no future at all.”
“What could have happened to you?” Ianus asked before he thought.
“Aashen and I used to be slaves!” Tuun thundered, and stormed off around a corner and out of sight.
Ianus slapped himself on the forehead. ‘That was stupid,’ he thought. Closing his eyes, he shook his head. ‘He had helped me, and all I could do was conjure up his most painful memories.’
“Hello, my boy!” Ihy shouted from behind him, “I’m glad to see you’ve come out of seclusion. Come take a look!” He led Ianus into a nearby room.
Ianus took a deep breath. On three tables, he saw the same three Kishanu which had provoked his vision the first time he had been on the Valkyrie.
Ihy ran over to one of the feminine Kishanu, and waved his periapt over its eyes. A golden light illuminated its soft round face. It’s light gray skin quivered and it sat up.
“Sangrida Namid of the IRV Valkyrie, at your service,” she said looking around the room, “May we assimilate current personality files, update our data bases, and resume normal operations?”
“Why does it speak in the plural?” Ianus asked.
Ihy smiled, “Currently, it is nothing more than a colony of nanites, once it is fully activated it will individuate. Would you like to activate it?”
“O, yes,” Ianus excitedly said, “How do I do that?”
“Call her by name, and tell her to activate.”
“Sangrida, activate!” Ianus said in the most proper and dignified voice he could muster.
The Kishan closed her eyes; her skin color warmed until it had taken on a healthy tone. Opening her crystal blue eyes, she said, “Thank you,” looking over at the single male Kishanu, “What is the matter with my brother?”
“He is not activating,” Ihy answered.
“Would you like me to repair him?” She asked kindly.
“O no,” Ihy said quickly, “I will work on him. I enjoy it.”
“Shall I go about my business?”
“Yes, please help prepare the ship.”

Faroh Raanan sat atop a hill to the north of the temple complex of Shiloh. Legs crossed, eyes closed, and hands folded in prayer.
“All glory and honor is due to the One, who subjugated all to its will,” he began to recite the Litany of the Machine, “Praised be the one, who gave the Song, may we ever follow its way. Praised be the Law Giver, who subdues the will and the mind, may we ever follow its way. Praised be the Law that controls our evil hearts, may we ever follow its way.
“We hear the hum of the machine, may we ever follow its way. We know its code and bow to it, may we ever follow its way. It shows us the way of truth and life, may we ever follow its way.
“We know its way, may it ever guide us. We know its truth, may it ever guide us.
“We are the way, the hand of the One. We are the truth, the hand of the One. We are the life, the hands of the One.
“May all be subdued under the One, for we are faithful and will persevere.”
“Are you really?” Asked a kindly voice into Faroh’s left ear.
“Who said that?” Faroh jumped into the air. He formed a long, double-edged sword with his periapt. His feet hit the ground and he looked around feverishly.
“I did,” said a balding man with a large nose. He was wearing bright blue robes, “I’m sorry. Did I frighten you?”
“No!” Faroh steadied himself, “Were you listening to what I was saying?”
“O, yes,” the man grinned slyly, “You were reciting the Litany of the Machine, as it was composed by Dov Lavan. Don’t be afraid. I know you are Ual-leen.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“You didn’t answer me. I answered your question, now you answer mine. Are you truly faithful to the Song?”
“Did Panthera send you?”
The man laughed; his visage shimmered like a tree lost behind the heat waves of a mirage, “O no, he would not have sent me.” The man stepped closer, his skin faded from its former healthy hue to the ghostly blue pallor of a neglected dead body.
Faroh gasped. The man’s eyes were solid black swimming in a sea of pearly white, and his skin gave off a soft azure glow.
“You are a Raewyn!” Faroh staggered backwards and looked down to the ground. “Why would a Raewyn care if I were loyal to the Song… ” Casting a piercing gaze through the man, “I am faithful!” He said sternly.
“You said you know the truth? Do you forward its cause? Do you enforce its mandates?”
“I serve well! I do as I am told, I obey!”
“What have you done?” The Raewyn giggled, then slapped his own mouth as if he thought of something embarrassing, “O, you mean killing those Predicants? That forwards the blood-feud against the Jade Moon, but do you lead souls to the truth or do you serve others?”
“I brought Jago to the cause!” Faroh protested
“And you serve Panthera! You claim to be the hand of the One, yet you serve a broken man!”
“Master Panthera… ” Faroh was red with anger, but he had no answer for the charge.
“Do you want to serve in a place of order, or do you want to rule over chaos, making it submit to truth?”
“I will subjugate it! Master Panthera knows the Song. He knows the way to restore order.”
“My dear boy, we have evolved past our need for his petty, self-serving interpretation of ancient myth. One day, you will see. I can help you, you know. I can help you restore order to the universe.”
“And just who are you?”
“Hlachar Cythraul,” the old man stood proudly.
Faroh looked at him, that name was somehow familiar to him, but he couldn’t quite place it.
“If you ever need me, then just call my name.”

Late in the night, Ianus and Ihy finished their work on the Valkyrie. Ianus was glad he had gone down to see his father. They hadn’t spent much time together over the last few months.

With a proud look in his face, and his arm around his son’s neck, Ihy led him back up the dark path to the temple complex. Between the trees, something moved. Some eldritch form lurched from shadow to shadow. Ihy cast his gaze to the mossy steps under his feet and stopped walking.

Ianus took a couple steps forward, before he realized that Ihy’s arm had left his shoulder. Turning around on his heels, “What’s wrong? Did you forget something back at the ship?”

“No,” Ihy said mournfully, a distant look in his eyes, “I thought I saw something.”

Ihy turned his palm up, and gazed into his periapt. Vacuous, black lightning raged within his Jade stone. A protracted sigh escaped from his mouth.
Ianus began to get worried. He had seen his father weather many crises in the past, but he had never been silenced by any of them. Ihy’s lips parted and closed regularly as if he was trying to speak; his eyes roamed over the forest desperate to find the shadowy figure that had made him stop.
There it was, at the top of the path, leering at them. Its venomous eyes scourged Ihy’s soul.
Following Ihy’s horrified gaze, Ianus’ eyes came to rest on the great black silhouette at the mouth of a path. An eerie, red flame danced across the Shedu’s eyes. It took a couple steps toward them. Crouching near to the ground, it sprang into the night sky.
Ianus steadied himself, and waited for the thing to attack. Searching the air, Ianus lost sight of it. It didn’t come down. Startled, he glanced at Ihy, who was staring solemnly at his periapt again.
“What was that?” Ianus exclaimed, as he regained his voice, but Ihy didn’t answer.
The shallow lines that ran across his face deepened. He suddenly looked older, even frailer. A solitary tear ran down his cheek.
“Dad?” Ianus squeaked, “Father, can you hear me?” Grabbing Ihy’s shoulders, he shook him hard, “Are you all right? Dad!”
Ihy’s eyes wandered from the periapt and came to rest on Ianus. Sorrow racked him, “I’m so sorry, my boy… I shouldn’t have… ”
“You shouldn’t have what? You’re really starting to scare me. Look at me? Who was that?” Ianus began to shiver.
Ihy straightened up, a severe look on his face. He muttered something strange. It sounded like gibberish. “You saw him as well, did you? I had hoped he was dead.” He waved his hand to keep Ianus quiet, “That was Karu Panthera.”
Feeling the blood rush from his face Ianus glanced around the treetops hoping to see the ghastly form again. “The man who killed my parents?” Nothing but a breeze rushed through the trees.
“The same. He killed many others too. Heru Dhouti and most of the Camarilla, until they stopped him.”
Ianus quivered with anger, I thought you finished him off. I mean you are the lauded hero of the battle of Lachesis. You were decorated for defeating him!”
“I was not alone, your grandfather, Nusair, rallied the army. He and I found Panthera, and, you see, there is something you don’t know— it has only happened once before.”
“What are you talking about? Just say it!”
“You know the story of our founding?”
“About Tien Shaa and all that? Of course I know it. What kind of a maker would I be if I didn’t?”
“Well, then, you know about his final battle with Dov Lavan. What am I saying, of course you do. Lavan, you see, not all of him died. The Ual-leen have the same implants that we do to control the periapt and its machines. But unlike us, they use them to achieve a limited hive-mind.
“When Lavan died, he uploaded his mind, and most of the techniques he had learned into the hive. From time to time makers have been seduced by power, and have allowed this remnant of Lavan to possess them.”
“That’s what happened to Panthera,” Ianus’ eyes widened.
“Exactly, he had risen to leadership in the Camarilla before anyone noticed there was a problem.”
“Yes, yes, I know all that, but you defeated him at Lachesis!”
Ihy kicked the step, “Officially we did. We defeated him and the galaxy celebrated, but— his hand was missing. We didn’t discover it until the body was inspected prior to internment. His periapt was also missing.”
“Why would anyone steal his hand and periapt?”
“Can’t you think of a reason?”
“To make a Chimera! The periapt shares the mind of its possessor, and the hand would provide the DNA… so you think that Panthera was behind the Chimera incident?”
“I had my suspicions at the time, but I couldn’t prove it. The Camarilla did investigate.”
“So why did that black lightning appear in your periapt?”
“We should get to the temple complex. If that was Panthera, he might come back for us.”
“But…”
“Not now. Get to your room. I have to talk to Maya. If that was Panthera, maybe will be able to catch him.”
“If? What do you mean if?”
“Just get to your room! I don’t have time for this right now.”

The night was darker, more oppressive than Daru could ever remember. The lamps that lined the courtyard had dimmed. A cool breeze came off the sea, stinging her face, freezing the trails left by her tears. On the steps of the library, a shiver shook her violently. She stopped and looked around. ‘It’s only the dim lighting,’ she thought, shrugging off the invading fear.

In the library, she welcomed the warmth with a smile and looked around for Maya. Finding her sitting at a far table with the Fallon Brothers and their Ceeri, she swallowed hard. Slowly, she walked over to them. Tuun noticed her, and waved to Maya to break off the conversation.

“Hello, Daru,” Maya said, her voice full of pain.

 

Daru glanced fleetingly around the room, knowing that she was the cause of

Maya’s anguish, “Mistress Isann?”
“Come now,” Maya interrupted, “We’ve known each other far to long for such
formalities. I’ve known you since you were a baby, please… ” Tears welled up in her
eyes, “Please, don’t distance yourself from me… any more than you already have.” Aashen and Tuun leapt to their feet and scowled at Daru, “If you’ve been giving
her trouble!” Aashen looked more serous than Daru had ever seen him before. “That’s enough,” Maya motioned for them to sit back down.
“In truth,” Daru said, a sour feeling swelled in her stomach, “That’s what I came
to talk to you about.”
“Could we have some time alone,” she rubbed Aashen’s hand gently. They nodded, and after giving Daru a harsh look, walked off. Maya waved at the
now empty seats beside her.
“Well, have a seat.”
“I came to say… I’m sorry. I’m sorry for yelling at you. I’ve been thinking
about what you had to say and… I guess you’re right.”
“Apology accepted,” Maya put her arm around Daru, “I suppose you’ve already
apologized to Ihy?”
“No! And I don’t plan to. You may have been right to treat Ianus the way that
you did— but, well; he should have told Ianus the things he told me. He had no right to
keep that from him.”
“That is not all that Ihy has been keeping from Ianus.” Maya avoided looking at
Daru, “And I don’t know if I should tell you myself.”
“Tell me what? You can’t tell me you’re keeping secrets and not tell me what
they are! I’ll go mad and I’m sure you don’t want that on your conscience.” They both chuckled.
“Well, you know about Ianus’ parents, his birth parents, don’t you?” “Who doesn’t?” Daru bit her lip.
“And you know that Ihy is an augur. Well, he made a prophecy, many years ago
that Panthera would be driven from power. He had been summoned by the Camarilla to
share his insight with them. He announced the prophecy in Panthera’s presence, calling
him the great Red Dragon, the terror of the Jade Moon.”
“I don’t understand. That was all truth. Why are you so upset?” Maya drew in a long, slow breath. “Ihy saw a great tower, with two dragons
locked in combat at the base. He said that their struggle was destabilizing the order. One
had to be defeated, or the Jade Moon would collapse under its own weight. And well…”
she broke off and covered her face with her hands.
“What does that have to do with anything?” Daru asked. “You can’t believe it’s
Ihy’s fault that Ianus’ birth parents were killed. Panthera was a mad man.” “There was another vision,” Maya continued, “The Vaticinars, the Seven Eyes of
Fate pronounced a second vision.”
“Who are the Vaticinars?”
“They are A’nath-ari…” Maya’s voice trailed off, “They are four members of the
Order of Blood, ancient beyond measure, no one really knows how old they are. They
appeared at Ianus’ birth. They pronounced a great prophecy over him. They said, ‘The
black dragon’s time is waning, the red dragon has just been born, and a green dragon still
sleeps in her maternal waters. Behold the child of centuries past, born to preserve the
future.
“He doesn’t know about the prophecy,” Maya looked gravely into Daru’s eyes,
“And he mustn’t know. No one really knows what the prophecy means, and he’s got
enough on his mind. I just thought you should know.”
Maya raised her hand, and turned it palm up. A thick golden liquid oozed from
her periapt and solidified into a small, coin-sized disk.
“Take this,” she said handing the disk to Daru, “There are blank books at the desk
if you need one.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a copy of the Psalter of the Mne Seraphin, and the full text of the prophecy I
just told you.”
“Why?”
“Because you need to help Ianus. Don’t tell him, or show it to him. I have
programmed the text to erase itself if he sets his eyes upon it.”
“How can I help him?” Daru asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“The Vaticinars are rarely seen. Their words are very important. Ihy has been
wondering lately why they called Ianus a Red Dragon. He is afraid it has something to
do with what happened to Panthera. We don’t want to loose him. If you know the
danger, you can watch out for him.”
“I will,” Daru said, “But don’t worry about Ianus. He has a good heart.” The doors to the library swung open, and Ihy frantically ran off toward his office. Maya fidgeted in her seat and took Daru by the hand, “I should go see what’s
wrong with Ihy. Just remember, say nothing. Learn well, and help Ianus as best you
can.”

Ianus stood silently in the middle of the courtyard. He stared at the doors to the library, wishing that he would have chased after Ihy. It was too late now. He was probably locked away in his office. Ianus sighed and turned toward the dormitory. A dull anger pounded in his head. ‘Why wouldn’t Ihy tell me the whole truth?’ he thought, taking a few sulking steps forward.