prelude

“Innocence implies guilt.”
-Saudarkyn axiom

The scent of burnt plastic drifted in the air, a testament to the recent use of now-concealed weapons. Rastor was beginning to suspect that the room he sat in was a torture chamber, and not the office of his new superior. The lack of any burn marks or scuffs upon the few surfaces in the office said the last victim had witnessed first hand those weapons’ lethal accuracy. He moved over and slouched down into the slingchair across from the one who would now command his actions. Studying his master openly, he bluntly observed how its scaled flesh was mottled and battle-scarred, noting with candor the fact that it wore no armor or weapon other than its flesh and claws. A display of respect. Rastor knew that it had been a long time since his new master had last seen battle, yet he was openly aware of its cunning and ruthlessness, its sinewy reptilian agility and strength kept honed long into old age.

Its power.

Though he might travel far from his master in the execution of its orders, Rastor would never be beyond the reach of that power–which seemed a very palpable thing as he sat in its office chamber. It was not the hidden weaponry aimed at him as he leaned forward in his slingchair that would prevent him from attacking the ragged-scaled creature–he was quite faster than those weapons and could easily accomplish such a simple feat–but the fact that its power would lead Rastor to the end he so desperately desired. His master’s power and his own were woven together in such a way as to appear almost a single thing.

It was his very genetics which allowed this. Outwardly, Rastor resembled his master in almost every way-mottled green to black scales covering a saurian frame-and it was for this very reason that he was even capable of gaining audience with one so powerful. It was how he had been able to weave the destinies of five separate space-faring races together so inextricably, their fates no longer their own, and why he was in fact the true master in this chamber. Yet he did nothing to betray these thoughts to his master, choosing instead to let it believe it controlled its fate.

Their species–both Rastor’s and his new master’s–was a language of subtlety, employing an intricate system of body language, eye movement, and facial gestures in a soundless form. It was a language evolved eons ago in the deep vacuum of space while his master’s race was still building its empire. Sight was the most important sense involved in communicating for the Ixallix, a cold-blooded species which had never naturally developed a means by which to vocalize, and therefore did not use the mechanics and syntax of labels as did the languages of the Nyvans, those magic-wielding allies of the Saudarkyn. It was capable of conveying enormous amounts of information in very little time, for, in essence, the language used light as its medium for transferring that information. Appearance itself carried meaning. They looked like the information they wanted to convey, its meaning directly transferred to the brain through sight.

For his master’s kind, meetings were often brief.

A rapid and lengthy exchange took place then, taking nearly twenty seconds. Rastor debriefed his master on the details and results of his latest mission, taking extra milliseconds to leave no detail out. He addressed several issues which were in need of his masters attention, receiving further instructions and resources to deal with them effectively. Then he received his next set of orders, the ones for which he had so carefully planned to be given. The ones his previous two masters had died for not issuing. The ones he had waited so long to carry out.

As he gazed at his master it gazed back at him–information literally flowing back and forth at the speed of light between the two reptiles–he reflected on how he thought of his master as a key, perhaps the key, which would unlock his designs upon Nyva and the ones who had created him. A key built to last. The Ixallix had long ago mastered the ability to adapt to any environment and push their life spans to impressive lengths through the mastery of technology and genetic manipulation, providing the proper tools necessary to build an empire hundreds of thousands of light years wide and lasting an enormous span of time. This master–Jowr, as it called itself–was a pinnacle of achievements in these fine arts, both having altered its own flesh and genetic makeup in a variety of ways, as well as designing and building the vast starship they sat within. It was by far the most qualified Keeper he had ever had as a master, and Rastor’s ego was filled with fiery pride at the knowledge that he had been the one to cause it to fall into the role of master through his skillful manipulation of those who believed him their thrall.

Yet all definitions were temporary; all understanding subjected to radical shifts and unexpected mutations through the course of time, which was nothing more than the fractal complexity of entropy-the universe grinding its way down slowly but surely, like an equation solving itself at the speed of decay. Rastor’s species–a hybrid race of Ixallix, Nyvan and Saudarkyn–was a testament to the impermanence of meaning, a gift of darkened enlightenment thrust into a genetic framework, a terrible purpose of beauty manifest in the flesh. A key like Jowr, no matter how well crafted, was capable of breaking. Or of being lost. Ixall had fallen just as every civilization great and small had before it, its greed and pride and self-predation honed to a science every bit as instrumental in its destruction as science itself was instrumental in its creation. Scattered to the far edges of their domain and beyond, the Ixallix, as a race, had barely survived the destruction of their empire, struggling still to regain a clawhold on the far-flung remnants and forge them back into some semblance of the great galactic society it once had been.

Bent on achieving the destruction of those who had laid waste to their civilization, the Ixallix had gone to great lengths to hide their growing numbers, biding a time when they would reveal themselves once more to their ancient enemies and crush them. Rastor thought the idea foolish and over-confident, but it served more than one of his purposes, and he had spent almost a third of his life fostering the sentiment within his master’s kind. Among the warrior-slaves, Rastor alone was known to be a true champion of his Keeper’s causes, never loosing his vissya–his honor as it was reflected within the mind of his master. It was this inner ability to deceive his master into thinking him a loyal slave that had allowed him to slink up the ranks of his caste to a position of favorability amongst the Keeper class of Ixallix.

He waited for Jowr to release him to his newest task, his impatience showing through his facial tics and swishing tail. His master’s face ticked in light amusement at Rastor, reminding him that all beings were defined by that which they loathed.

Once they had finished, Rastor lifted himself up from the sling and made his parting gestures, leaving the chamber and moving swiftly through the massive ship towards the hanger which contained his own vessel. He passed by the occasional crew member, receiving sharp looks and open curiosity. He had grown used to this type of reaction long ago. No one was ever comfortable around warrior-slaves, not even on a Keeper’s ship.

Finding his own vessel as he had left it, he entered and started up the gens, leaning forward into the command sling as he checked readings. Once his systems were running and his computer had all but taken over his mind, he received clearance from the deck chief to launch, and fired his ship out into the cold vacuum of space. He chose an aft camera to watch through as his master’s starship receded from view, a mass of metal with the darkness of space surrounding it. Rastor wondered if he would need a new crew when it became his. Those he had passed in the corridors had not seemed properly fearful of him.

Then again, it was not his custom to leave someone alive once they had encountered him. If one wanted to remain a ghost, one was forced to haunt those who could see it without mercy

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On Getting Back To it

Well, Time has proven the victor as of late in my battle to remain in control of events, but I am happy to say that I have once again regained my spark of inspiration for this tale, and am planning on composing the next segment of Book One of DRUIN: Ashyra. I hope to have completed a draft for chapter 19 by the end of April, with rewrites and postings in May. From there, I will proceed with the old pattern of one chapter every two weeks (or thereabout) and will try to complete the second of three segments comprising the first book of the trilogy. As it is a rather involved tale, and a rather important one for me, I have been taking my time with it. Perhaps too much time.

At any rate, I assume those few of you with any eagerness left to continue this adventure will be pleased to note this long-overdue update, and I hope to provide further literary entertainment this year.

-Brook. B. Wallace

18: The Spiral Array

“The Eye Is The First Circle”
-words engraved over the entrance of the Temple Of ÅESCHATU at Arivae

“This is the new growth,” Ura sad as she stood and walked over to use the holopad, making an adjustment. “We should be able to hear the gathering from this distance.”

At her touch, the stampede clamor of the caravan swept into the cabin through the recessed speakers. Filx had long ago tuned out the muted vibrations which had been a constant of their journey across the planet. He was suddenly made aware of how loud those muffled vibrations actually were as Ura apologized and adjusted the volume to a tolerable level. Beneath the thunderous sounds of the thousands of metal legs pounding the causeway, the Weaver began to make out the faint cacophony of music and people, echoing through the forest of greypine.

Ura had explained earlier that the new growth they were traveling through was actually close to two thousand cycles old, as old as the Temple at Sun’s Well, which had been constructed from the original forest here. Seeded to replace the vast forest during that time, the vast forest of giant everreds passing by appeared to have been there forever. She had explained that the Alturan Codex strictly forbade the logging of the greypine trees, as the incredibly dense hardwood took nearly a hundred standard cycles to increase its diameter by one centimeter.

“The Uulians obviously were here building the Temple of Uul here long before the Alturan ecomentists arrived,” Ura had stated, “and had found the vast forest already replanted, but felt it necessary to include the regulations in their Codex, considering that it will take another three thousand cycles or so to return the forest back to its original state.”

Filx could see her brief apologetic glance at him, and he was struck again by her empathic nature. He had known long ago of the ways in which their cultures differed, and her sympathetic gaze at his xenophobic discomfort–as slight as it was–caught him more off guard than her species’ strange and violent interaction with their environment. He resisted the urge to scan ahead with his orath, preferring instead to wait and see the  Temple with his own eyes first.

The three companions rode along, listening to the sounds of the caravan as it approached Sun’s Well become gradually muted by the loud sounds of the gathering ahead. The Weaver began to sense the growing anticipation in both Ura and the Ovoa which matched his own. The seemingly endless army of giant pine trees passed them by as they drew closer to the sounds of music, laughter and celebration.

As they climbed higher, Filx began to see clearings amongst the trees, some with encampments set up. The caravan had slowed to nearly a crawl as they entered the outer perimeter of the mountain encampments surrounding the Temple for kilometers in all directions. Crawlers of all shapes and sizes soon began appearing in both sides of the causeway, with humans in larger and larger numbers moving through the maze of trees, tents and vehicles. He saw a wide variety of clothing and appearances: short bald men with long thin beards wrapped in solid white linen and dripping with jewels, tall women dressed in brightly colored tunics and leggings, their skin-tight clothing obviously meant to distract from the fact they were armed to the teeth. The Weaver saw two men dressed in the jet-black robes of the phaerics, and another with the adorned rankings of a high-level g-tech, his olive armored jumper suit polished and gleaming.

The caravan from Jex-La cleared the last of the everreds and moved out above the treelike as the causeway curved gradually around the slope of the mountain, bare rock exposed on all sides covered with people. The enormous ovoid dome of the mountain known as Sun’s Well came fully into view, and Filx saw the Temple for the first time, its enormous spiral structure dominating the landscape as it towered up and over the mountain. Built to honor their god of Space and Matter, Uul, the humans who had done so had truly created an awesome structure with which to accomplish such a feat. As the caravan began breaking apart, the crawler transport they occupied slithering through the mass of celebrants as it made its way slowly closer to the Temple, and Filx was able to only catch glimpses of its massiveness.

Turning back to the party, he heard the Ovoa let out a croak of satisfaction at their arrival. The Weaver mentally echoed the sentiment as he felt their centipede-like vehicle come to a halt at long last. Ura had told them earlier that they were to be given a reserved spot near the Temple due to the fact that the Ovoa and himself were to be honored guests at the ceremonies.

The noise of the crowd hit Filx like a wave as they exited the crawler. Although it was night, Sun’s Well was a nexus of light and energy as the Weaver looked out onto the masses gathered for the biclipse.

Dominating the clearing, however, towered the Temple of Uul, its massive forms spiraling upward in concentric rings that grew larger with each level, creating a gigantic inverted cone shape. The structure stood over six hundred meters, its upper levels supported by enormous columns of greypine, and Filx saw that they already stood well within the shadow it cast by the glow of Virada II’s larger moon, Loascia. Glowglobes, lightbeads, and streamers of multicolored luminescent fabrics lit the courtyard beneath the Temple, where a plethora of booths, stages, fire pits and other various attractions had been set up. The underside of the Temple, as well, was strung with glowing sources of yellow light, and combined with the others luminous objects scattered across the expansive, rocky clearing, the spectacle of lights threw a brilliant glow over the gathering.

Looking up past where the sound and light of the festivities disappeared far overhead, Filx saw the bright glare of Loascia floating overhead, its presence blessing the mass of sentients gathered below to give honor to it. Farther east, the Weaver could make out the much smaller disc of Myrst, Virada II’s second, smaller moon. A dim corona surrounded the distant satellite like a halo of gold, framed by constellations alien to the nyvan, bringing a subtle glow to fall over the treetops below.

The Weaver’s gaze fell back to the loud, colorful crowd before him as he heard the deep baritone of Ura’s uncle Kahlil Rhys bellow a welcome from behind him, and he turned to see the barrel of a man emerge from the thick throng of people and approach them as they stood before the crawler’s ramp. The grizzled, bearded miner wore a grin on his face as he weaved his way through the last of the people, a tankard of ale steaming in his hand.

“Uul’s Belly, girl! Took you long enough to get here! Ahhhh…” Rhys grabbed his niece in a bear hug, lifting her off the ground. Not an easy feat considering the sous priestess was almost two feet taller than her hairy uncle. “Now where’s that Aunt of yours, eh?” He laughed and moved on the Filx and the Ovoa, patting them both gruffly on the shoulders and welcoming them heartily to the celebration.

“Weaver!” he bellowed at Filx. “Smooth trip?”

It was then, with a knowing gleam behind the miner’s drunken gaze, that Filx understood. The crawler he, Ura and the Ovoa had traveled to the surface in had been bugged, so to speak, and Rhys was well aware of what had transpired with the bog soth. It was an instinctual, deductive understanding arrived at through simple reasoning, rather than the Weaver’s ability to inscend such knowledge through reading the miners orath. The musky scent of the miner and his warm ale fell over Filx as the Weaver answered.

“It went as smoothly as possible, all things considered, M. Rhys.”

The man’s bushy eyebrow shot up, followed by a relaxing of the grizzled features as Ura’s uncle saw what Filx saw: they both knew of the danger which had been avoided during the descent.

“It did now, did it? Splendid! Glad to hear it, Weaver, glad to hear it. Never know what you might run into down there, eh?” He glanced again knowingly at Filx and winked, whispering under his breath: “Good job out there, elf.”

Uncomfortable at the praise, Filx nodded in acknowledgement. The memory of killing the soth was an unpleasant one, as it was not in his nature to cause harm to living things. He looked over briefly at Ura, a look of slight embarrassment passing across his features, but the sous priestess was busy searching the group of people exiting the crawler for her Aunt. He saw the manservant Joban, tall and hairless in his grey coat and pants, accompanying Cyrisa through the crowd, making their way from the forward cabins of the long transport crawler. The short, rounded woman was elegantly attired in bejeweled emerald robes and headdress, and she carried a long jeweled staff of office as she made her way through the throng.

Rhys saw her at last and pulled away from the Weaver, grabbing his wife in a bear hug and lifting her off the ground, spilling his ale. She returned the embrace wholeheartedly, allowing him to spin her around as she giggled like a child at his advances. Filx found it heartwarming to see their emotions expressed so passionately, and was reminded again about Ura, and his desire to touch her orath.

“Did Erind make it down, Kahli?” he heard Cyrisa ask of her husband.

“Ah, no, Dear…no. I’m afraid the Bashar has duties topside. They caught a cursed bug, you know…” This last was said in a whisper under the miners ale-fouled breath.

“Mm-hmm,” she replied, extracting herself from her husbands embrace and looking sternly at his grinning face. “Your nice and drunk already, I see.”

“That I am!” claimed the beaming miner, holding his steaming, frothy tankard of half-spilled ale aloft. “Tael brought some of his fabulous weirmead back from Aevenhold, and I simply couldn’t resist! Aww…” his expression turned to feigned sympathy as he looked down at his scolding wife. “Don’t be a maddie, now, my little babushka! We’re here to celebrate! Ha-ha-ha…” Kahlil’s grin returned with fervor as he turned back to the Weaver and the group and took a deep gulp from his tankard.

The stout woman snorted loudly and said, “Well, where’s mine, you drunken fool!?”

“Oh!” The grizzled miner looked down suddenly at his hands, one empty, one holding the huge brass mug. “Well, it was here a minute ago, my love…”

He shrugged, handing his tankard to the woman. Downing it in one mighty gulp, Cyrisa wiped her lips and looked at the group.

“Now,” she said firmly, but with a bright glint in her eye. “Who’s hungry?”

******

As it turned out, they were all hungry, and with a wide variety of foods offered by vendors from all across Virada II, even the Ovoa found plenty with which to soothe his strange palate and voracious appetite. After purchasing a huge chunk of raw meat from a man who clearly intended on cooking it (and was just as clearly happy to take from the sally more than three times its worth), the Ovoa asked where the nearest source of fresh water might be found and politely excused himself, heading off in the direction of the stream Rhys had pointed out.

Laughter, music and the sounds and smells of cooking filled the night air as the evening progressed, and Filx found his gaze drawn time and again to the fat, umber disc of Loascia as it floated overhead. Its pale glare cast a penumbra of light superimposed over the bright multicolored luminescence of the celebration. As they walked through the maze of brightly painted tents, stalls heaped with strange baubles and trinkets, and the fire pits alight with both food and song, Ura explained that most of the music, food and garb represented some branch of the humans’ polytheism. She pointed out this item or that dish, identifying each as belonging to the followings of one God or another, and Filx watched in awe as the parade of symbolism displayed itself before him in the squash of cultural fair. These humans truly were united in their different beliefs, in a way, by recognizing these deities as part of a larger whole, a pantheon allowing them freedom to express themselves in ways he doubted a monotheistic culture would encourage. She explained that the music–each of its own source and style, yet oddly blending into a pleasingly melodic chaos of rhythms and sounds–were praises to the Gods and Goddesses of her species, and at one point grabbing the Weaver’s arm and leading him into a particular group of dancers singing praise to the sous priestess’ Goddess, Gauhura. Filx heard Ura’s voice lift in harmony with the other dancers as she lead him through the simple yet elegant steps of the dance, her enthusiasm sudden and infectious. He danced silently alongside, following easily, as he watched her lithe, graceful form move against his, supple and strong. He was brought once again back to the memory of his people’s mating rituals, and the Weaver let himself go in the feelings of unadulterated joy the dance seemed to express as he and Ura flowed together with the music.

The sudden, intrusive peal of bells ringing loudly overhead brought the two out of their ecstatic motions and back down to the moon-filled night. Laughing and panting and smiling, Ura and Filx looked at one another with flushed cheeks and heaving chests, her hair askew and eyes shining as he stared at her questioningly.

“It’s the evening Calling,” she saw his look of confusion, “when the priests are called to supper, silly!” She let out a slight guffaw at his innocent stare. “Let’s go.”

Grabbing his arm again, Ura led the Weaver further into the evenings celebration. He could not help but be painfully aware of her orath literally touching his, and he distracted himself by asking her where they were going. She laughed again and told him not to worry so much, that they were there to enjoy themselves and to let her lead the way.

After a short while she had brought him to the base of the first ring of the Temple of Uul,–a towering, curved wall of stone and timber–where there were rows of merchant booths set up. She led him through the aisles of vendors, games of chance, and food sellers to a place where the pathway opened up into a large courtyard.

Inside the dodecagonal space it was strangely quiet and devoid of people. Each of the twelve corners held a human-sized statue of a man or a woman, and as Ura led him on into the paved courtyard he noticed that they each appeared to be holding a different type of object. In one, a strongly muscled, bearded male, Filx easily recognized the thing in the man’s hand as a sword, as Groundsmaster Donmar had once called it. In another, a stout woman oddly resembling Ura’s aunt Cyrisa, he identified the object she held as a lute, a type of stringed instrument he had heard played in recordings back on his homeworld. Others eluded him. One–a dark, forbidding figure covered in stone-carved robes–held something which resembled two teardrop-shaped stones connected tip to tip and enclosed in a sort of cage. Another looked oddly like his old imahj’ihn: a tall, thin man with shaved head and robe holding a staff much taller than himself. He briefly pictured his old trainer Furehj using just such a staff to teach him the virtues of distance in combat. He had left the scar on his thigh as a reminder to himself of the lesson Furehj had taught him.

As they had walked along Ura had sampled more than her share of wines and ales from the various vendors located strategically amongst the crowds of celebrants, and she spun around in a lightly drunken twirl as they entered the courtyard. Filx saw her orath as a glowing aura of amber and green, providing a subtle hue over her form the Weaver thought was very beautiful. He could see reflected in it the sheer joy she felt at that moment, as she danced across the stone paving and swept her arms gracefully at the statues in obeisance. He crossed the courtyard to a statue of a woman holding what looked like a common stone, but upon further inspection revealed itself to be a fruit of some type. She was ensconced in armored regalia, and a dagger of some type was depicted in the sculpture strapped to her waist. Looking over at the next statue, he saw a secondary symbolic object depicted along with the staff: a small chain with an odd intersection-shaped symbol hanging from it.

As Ura danced amongst the stone carved figures, the Weaver saw the pattern laid out in the twelve-cornered courtyard. In eleven of the twelve points of the dodecahedron stood a statue of alternate gender, with the final twelfth point facing the Temple empty of obstacle and opening onto a wide, paved pathway leading to an enormous set of doors set into the wall of the Temple.  The stone path was inlaid with a yellow substance which gleamed in the moonlight, and he saw that it was gold. This then, he assumed, must be one of the main entrances to the Temple proper, and the courtyard figures representative of these humans’ pantheon of Gods and Goddesses.

Ura approached as he stood before the statue of the staff-bearer, her scent and the swish of her cloak as she danced up to him reaching him long moments before she was at his side. Her orath glowed violet and yellow in the warm evening air, and Filx tried to act as though he were more fascinated by the statue of the god than by her brilliant aura.

“Toma, God of Light,” she said, her voice panting from the brief exertion. Filx could feel the soft heat of her body next to his as he asked the meaning of the staff.

“Each God has a symbol and a phrase which corresponds to their station. Toma carries the staff and says: ‘We Touch’. It refers to the ubiquitous nature of photons. “Chrono,” she said, pointing to the statue across the courtyard carrying the sword. “He states: ‘We Cut’, referring to the duality of human consciousness.”

Filx looked at the statues surrounding them, each one with its symbol: the staff, the fruit, the book, the lute. Each a symbol of an aspect of Ura’s species’ collective psyche, she had told him back on Enoth-Teril, and of the points upon which they viewed the Weave itself. The way they engaged it. Filx was taken aback slightly by their constant ability to watch themselves as they participated in reality, how their very belief system seemed to reflect their many self-realized facets as a species. War, time, memory, death, light, matter. These were experiences shared by all sentient beings, yet each race seemed to express them in such different ways, and in these gods and goddesses humanity found themselves. His own people simply followed the teachings of their ancestors, as they had since the dawn of the nyvan people itself. He supposed having direct access to those ancestors’ continued thoughts as they existed in the u’sharahd–the Shared Memory–through the Ho’ar-Ush’a’hd of the Order was perhaps a distinct advantage in this respect. His people had communed with those who had existed before them for as long as his race could remember. It was the closest thing to any type of deity the nyvan culture entertained, and it was in no way considered to extol from some ‘external’ or ‘divine’ source. Filx’ ancestors literally lived inside his flesh, embedded for all eternity in his fragile ihmouja–his ‘fabric’, as the humans might say.

The Weaver found himself staring intently at the statue placed directly opposite the doorway to the Temple: a short, muscular yet lean-looking male dressed in a short, form-fitting tunic and sandals, with a ring of thorns around his head. Curly hair framed the mirthful features, and in the spry-looking man’s hand he held a net, carefully carved from stone to look as if it were being flung out at some invisible catch. Filx saw a smaller object in the figure’s other hand, recognizing it as a curved animals horn of some type. The figure of the man was not entirely accurate, however, for looking down, Filx saw that where the man’s feet should be, the sculptor had instead carved the knees and hooves of a grass-grazing animal, the knees bending backwards unlike the Weaver’s own.

“Pho,” Ura said behind him.

Filx turned. “Pho?”

“Oh, yes,” Ura replied, her face flushed and glowing. “The God of Energy and Mind. He’s one of my favorites…”

“Oh? And what does he ‘say’?”

Ura moved up close to the Weaver, and he could smell her lightly perfumed scent mingled with her own sweat. She kept moving closer until they were standing face to face, the sous priestess’ tall form easily matching the Weaver’s own elven height, her eyes ablaze from the spirits and dancing and aura of exalted emotions the night had brought on.

Filx looked into her emerald eyes, his mind ablaze with the desire to reach out with his orath and embrace hers. She responded as she stared back, the look in her eyes so alien and filled with energy.

Ura’s voice was barely a whisper, her lips very close to his as she spoke.

“He says: ‘We Eat.'”

Then she stepped forward and passionately kissed the Weaver, as the moon glowed overhead.

17: Assurances

“It is hard to free fools from the chains they revere.”
-the Voltaire, engraved upon the crypt of Agus Aught

Perched like a ferret on the flowing banister, Pilla looked down at the meeting of adults in the grand room below. Told to remain upstairs, his Choruvian instincts had, of course, explained to him that this simply meant for him to remain unseen. He peered down into the lamp lit hall and watched as dozens of finely dressed guests wandered here and there, mingling with one another and enjoying the sumptuous feast the Prime Forcier had provided in celebration of his son returning home. He had never before seen such people in Choru. The way they moved, talked and ate was strange, as though they took such things for granted. Pilla himself had never seen such a sumptuous feast before, nor such fine clothing and jewelry. He perched atop the uppermost bannister along the sweeping staircase and peered in wonder at the ball.

He knew that until the formalities of Cairn’s return were complete, he would be stuck in the upper floors of the palace with little to do but wander and steal. He already had stashed away as much as he could carry, and more besides in the hiding place he had discovered. It had been only two days since their arrival, and he knew the sprawling building of arches and hallways, balconies and libraries, and all the rest like the back of his fist. Pilla had soon grown bored, and aside from the Forcier’s son there was no one really to talk to, so he had been forced to spend the time until they left doing something he hated.

He had read.

The Prime Forcier’s palace at Villaforei contained no less than six libraries, all of which contained thousands upon thousands of books, maps, scrolls, texts, diskeys, mirrawire, and many other types of stored knowledge in each one. After deciding that he would be unable to get past the security without being away for too long–the army of housekeepers, cooks, servers, and other personnel were a constant presence, and had been collectively informed to keep an eye on him–Pilla had wandered finally into the library closest to his quarters and quickly passed the time reading of the battles of ages long past, of elves and sallies fighting against the now-extinct Ixallix, and of the current war against the Ovid Am-All.

Cairn had found him earlier in the day to inform him that there would be a ball in the evening, yet the guests would be all adults, and it would be best for Pilla to stay upstairs during the festivities. The maidservant assigned to the boy had already delivered a heaping platter of food selected from the array below, and after gorging himself, Pilla had retreated to the staircase where he could watch the party from the shadows. He was well accustomed to watching from dark places, remaining quiet and observant as he cased a potential target for theft or spied for the Casparlyns. Peering down from his vantage point he watched as the Prime Forcier and Cairn entertained their guests.

“Ahhh, I thought I’d find you somewhere up here.”

The voice behind him belonged to Thersha, and he was hardly surprised to see her up here. He had watched her earlier mingle with the guests, her stiff formality a sure sign of her discomfort around the Prime Forcier’s guests. Although her station was such that her presence was accepted, her job was such that she felt uncomfortable around the elite of her society. Her loyalty to both her post and the Forcier himself demanded her appearance, yet Pilla had seen her slip away as soon as she was satisfied that her presence would not be missed among such company.

“I’m just watching,” he replied without turning. “They are all so…unaware.”

“Yes,” she said, stepping closer to the railing. “Many of the people gathered below have never known what it is like to go poor or hungry, to have to commit unspeakable acts for their own survival. You are alien to them, as well.”

Pilla sighed and looked on. “They’re lucky.”

“Ah,” Thersha replied. “You would think so. A life without worry, without fear, you might think. A life full of opportunity. Yet theirs is an imprisoned existence. They feel fear and worry just as you and I, sorrow, remorse, guilt. Yet they are shackled with responsibility. Weighted down by the weight of those whose livelihoods depend upon their decisions being the right ones. When they fail, people can die. This is a heavy burden, and not one many are suited to carry.”

Pilla could see what she meant. Those men and women, nyvan and saudarkyn he had read of who died in battle, they did not go without someone sending them. They did not go empty-handed, without the tools to wage expensive war upon their foes. That’s what leaders were for–to send them into battle. Pilla had read of those leaders as well as the combatants, and Thersha’s words made sense to him. He imagined the worry of sending soldiers into battle only to never return, the fear of knowing you had done so. He shuddered.

“So you see,” the Hejali sensei continued, “their baubles and finery, their lush cuisine and expensive decorum, it is a shield for them of sorts. It is a way for them to feel deserving of the responsibilities they face daily, responsibilities the likes of which you and I will never know. Yes, they are arrogant. Yes, they are dull. But they are not unaware. They are all too aware, more often than not. It is simply what they are aware of which differs from the likes of you and I.”

Pilla turned at last to look at the woman, though he could only make out her form in the darkness. He said, “We are leaving soon.”

“Yes,” Thersha replied. “Gather what you plan to bring with you, and leave whatever you stole. We will provide you with all the money and items you require in the coming weeks.”

Without flinching at the mention of his hidden stash, Pilla nodded. He had found little of interest anyway, aside from the stories of battle in the library. He turned to look back once at the people below, then hopped off his perch and followed Thersha down the hall towards his room.

******

A change had come over the land.

Where there had once been wet darkness cut with splashes of bioluminous seas, glowing lava rivers and other strange sights, Filx had noticed that for the last several hours they had passed nothing but dry forests of trees kilometers in height. The caravan had been moving at a slight incline for some time now, and the others at last noticed the change in scenery as well.

“We’ve reached the base of Wellpoint,” Ura stated, looking up from her game of shards with the Ovoa.

“Wellpoint?” Filx asked.

“Um, yes…” the sous priestess looked at him with her hazel eyes. “The Temple is built at the top of a mountain, Filx.” She turned back to the game as the Ovoa croaked his impatience.

He remembered now reading long ago about the mountains of Virada II. Massive and singular, the jungle planet had few high points of elevation. There was, of course, the famous Arborea Ridge halfway across the planet, but other than that there were only a handful of small mountain ranges, all buried deep beneath a sea of jungle. The Weaver figured that it stood to reason the humans living here would have chosen a high elevation for building such a place as Sun’s Well. He watched as the uniform trees passed by, solemn sentinels to their approach up the forest-covered mountain.

He heard the Ovoa give a croak of approval at some move in the game, and Ura’s voice reached his ears.

“The Temple itself,” she said, continuing where she had left off, “is truly amazing, though. I’ve heard it said the architecture is rivaled only by the Temple of Aynmosynn on Shevash Vol, at least amongst human structures. It is often said that your people are quite gifted architects, M. Ovoa.”

“Yes,” Zevir replied. “Enge Wahid and Enge Lyrm are particularly gifted in this respect, as you said. Yet the Ixallix left ruins scattered across the galaxy which are easily considered the most ambitious creations by a sentient species, Lady Ura. Those reptilian cretin actually succeeded in building more than a few Starshells–what your scholars would refer to as a Dyson Sphere, I believe–before their greatest invention brought them down. Massive things, and ugly too.”

Filx turned away from the viewscreen to look at the Ovoa. More curious words from the sally, and this time about the former Ixallix. The Weaver had heard of these Starshells, ancient remnants of an ancient civilization still surrounding their stars like artificial cocoons. He could only assume the Ovoa had come across one in his travels as a rogue pilot and smuggler/assassin.

“Of course,” the saudarkyn was saying, “the living rings of Nyva have impressed may over the cycles as well.”

Filx spoke up. “Yes, but the iv’ahje grow themselves, we do not construct them. They are not manufactured as the Ixallix ruins or 71-AX near Vir Yasoo are.”

Giving no sign that he was bothered by the mention of his former people’s highly guarded, highly secret military facility orbiting the now-extinct planet, Zevir croaked out a response to the Weaver. Filx was not that surprised. The exile was well-known for his reputation of disloyalty to his people.

“This is true, Weaver.” The Ovoa, however was not finished with his point. He held up a webbed, olive-green hand and extended his finger with its four-centimeter claw sticking out, another attempt at a human gesture Filx found disturbing. “The genetics of these rings–the humans call it DNA–were indeed designed, constructed, by the iy’mausha Weavers, were they not? Is this not ultimately a form of architecture? If I program a nanoswarm to construct me a tower, did I not still build it from the original intent?”

“I’d say so,” Ura spoke before Filx could reply. She looked at him with her hazel eyes, saying: “Even your ships look built or manufactured, even though I know they are actually living things.”

Filx buried the urge to incend into the human’s orath, into her awareness, recalling again her fierce admonishment after he’d attempted to do so back at the chapel at Arivae. He supposed that, to her, the living technologies his species employed would appear as strange as the Cathedral he had first met her in did to him. The sprawling walled buildings and gardens so precisely laid, the jutting spires and crisply geometric courtyards, it had all seemed so dead to Filx. When he walked through the glissades and moru’bouts of his home city he only saw life and he brilliant and subtle interconnecting fluctuations of the orathian energies which flowed through the fosseria, penyanbrii and min’dwah which grew to form the cities and townships of nyvan culture. He longed to see the world the way she did for just a moment.

The idea of fastening dead or inert matter together to form something as sophisticated and complex and a spaceship–not to mention things like the Starshells of Ixallix or the moon-sized military station Enge Ovoa had hidden in orbit near the Oort cloud of Kos Yasoo–was as foreign, as alien, to the Weaver as the idea of growing a ring of living matter around one’s planet must seem to Ura. Manipulating the pathways of iymuya–DNA as Ura thought of it–to compel a living thing to grow and behave according to the wishes of the iy’mausha Weavers, was, he supposed, similar to the way the terilian g-techs and lyrmina of Saudark manipulated their metals and plastics and such to create things. Ura’s observation was most likely due to the common fact that functionality often affected appearances. The means may differ, but the results all three species achieved through their given ways–be it organic or non–were ultimately much the same in the end.

Filx said, “I suppose that outwardly, yes, a dah’vijh would have a somewhat ‘constructed’ appearance. There is, in fact, a large amount of grafting employed during their growth cycle. They are essentially a colony of symbiotes. It requires a minimum of fifty-three different iymuyanii–sorry, species–to form even the most basic of dah’vijh. Most incorporate thousands.”

The Ovoa laughed, a gurgling croak deep in his chest accompanied by a flexing of his clawed digits.

“So you see,” the voice of the saudarkyn’s translator filled the room with its tenor rumbling. “The nyvans are indeed architects. Architects of life!”

******

The thin creature standing over him was weak. They all were, individually. Together, however, he could not resist. He tried. He struggled. He begged. Nothing worked, though, and in the end he gave them what they wanted. Not that it mattered. Their acts upon him caused him only to revise his decisions, pinpoint the flaws, reconstruct the edifice.

His plans had changed.

The tall, spinal creature stood above him, poking and prodding his thoughts as though he were a thing, an object of curiosity, nothing more, nothing less. It’s bony fingers pushed and prodded as its mind mimicked its digits. Rastor cared not at this point. Nothing they had gained would be worthy of acting upon once he was gone from here. He only stayed to lead them on, to goad them into certainty. Once this was completed he could leave this place of stone and decay, pain and filth. His intentions aside, had he the inclination Rastor would have actually enjoyed the setting, had he been more at ease to affect its use. Nonetheless, he waited patiently as the foul thing hovering over him extracted what it wished from his compromised thoughts. In the end, he would punish them for their deeds.

He smelled another of the pale beasts enter the room, crossing towards the one above him. Scents were exchanged, pulses shared. Rastor sensed and translated their strange communications with one another easily, his pain and discomfort only serving to heighten his refined senses to plateaus he’d rarely achieved voluntarily. The exchange lasted only seconds, and the second alien left the way it had entered-out of Rastors’ sight. As he smelled its retreat, he noted a slight shift in the odor of the first as it continued its psychic digging.

The beasts were thorough, he had to admit. Brutal, but thorough. They had left no stone unturned in the Quarazeen’s mind; his thoughts bereft of shielding, he’d succumbed at last willingly to their dance of foreboding pain, dread, deceit and discomfiture, releasing at their will his knowledge without a moment’s regret. All in all, the experience had been rather soothing. He knew, as they now did as well, that events spiraled towards a set of destinies none could prevent, nor foretell to the extent he had. The strange pale, stick-like figures of his captors were all too aware now of that which had driven him to his task. They only waited for decisions to be made.

Inwardly, Rastor allowed himself a smile of accomplishment.

Truth was always the best weapon, he had found.

16: The Silica Sea

“When we have learned to stop asking why, we are able to remember again.”
saying of the Priestesses of Aenmosynn

“Is it awake?”

“It is, sir. From what we can tell it is in a type of self-induced stasis.”

“It’s hibernating.”

“It is, sir.”

“Can it hear us?”

The orderly cleared his throat. “We believe it can, sir.”

Evon pondered this as he looked at the creature in the flashscreen. Fastened to the table with shigawire as well as conventional bindings, its dark, scaled form appeared dead. Yet he trusted the medical staff monitoring its life signs. If the young man before  him said it could hear, then it could think as well.

Despite his misgivings, and despite the warnings of his advisors, Evon Frebrit had wanted to see the prisoner for himself. The man who had brought him in, Donmar, would have to wait.

He said to the orderly: “Lock down the rest of the facility until we know exactly what it is. Have the Endin arrived yet?”

Again the orderly cleared his throat. “Yes, sir. They are unloading as we speak.”

Evon noted the anxiety in the man’s voice; the Prime Forcier was uncomfortable around the strange Endin himself. He could think of only one other way of getting the information he needed, and he was not ready to play that hand just yet. He looked back at the image of the prisoner, its reptilian features sending a slight chill up his spine. Nothing in the intelligence records had been found to suggest even the vaguest clue as to what species it was, and Evon’s instincts told him he would never find out on his own without the help of the Endin: those strange beings from Shevash Vol which grew themselves in such inhuman ways.

Besides, he mused, he was simply following the law.

Evon nodded to the young orderly and moved on through the bowels of the facility: a seven-story underground military bunker replete with science and fabricator laboratories, storage bays filled with fliers and tanks and other military paraphernalia, and of course, prison cells. Yet due to the uniqueness of the strange unidentified prisoner, it was being held in the deepest part of the highly classified facility in a specially designed holding chamber, once used for some of the worst of the experiments conducted here long ago. He therefore had to traverse several floors before reaching the prison section of the underground base, in order to question the Groundsmaster Donmar. The man claimed to have survived the destruction of Arivae, and that his prisoner was the one responsible for the explosion.

He reached the starkly lit room where they had put the man, a seemingly meek individual in drab brown robes who stood when the Prime Forcier entered. Evon shut the door behind him and walked over to the desk, indicating that Donmar should seat himself. Pulling up a small holopad, the Forcier accessed the records on Arivae’s officials, noting that the man was who he claimed to be, but also noting the link to classified data even he might have a hard time getting at. He was kept in the dark about certain projects just as he kept others in his government in the dark about some of his own. Yet he recognized the ideoplasts indicating that the man was a Codarran sleeper. It explained a lot.

Evon turned off the holopad and looked at the man seated before him.

“Where is the girl?”

Donmar straightened, looking back at the Forcier. “I have no idea. The Weaver Filx took her. It is possible he folded space with her to escape the attack. He himself seemed certain that it was the intention of my prisoner–sorry, your prisoner, now–to capture her. His companion, Onveh Ihm’al was found in the ship we used to get here, the prisoner’s vessel.”

“Yes,” Evon said. “He has been given transit back to Staxor-Taupik, to report to council, and the lyrmina are inspecting the ship.” He looked at the strangely meek man seated before him, thinking of the skills he must have in order to overpower such a creature. Impressive work the Codarran project was producing. He made a note to himself to look further into the secret group. “So, you were able to successfully capture the prisoner and rescue the Weaver, escaping before the…”

Donmar’s features remained blank. “Yes.”

“The Endin have arrived to take over interrogations,” the Forcier told the Groundsmaster, “and I expect them to require your assistance on certain matters. You are to accompany them to their facilities on Shevash Vol, and provide whatever information they need to extract the information I need. Stay with them until you can report back to me, and only me, with something I can use, M. Adraechios.” The Prime Forcier stood and walked over to Donmar, extending a hand.

“You have done us all a great service,” he said to the Groundsmaster as they shook hands in the ancient formal style. “If you find anything out about where the girl might be, take the immediate steps necessary to recovering her safely. You will be given full clearance to all resources necessary to do so.”

“I understand, M. Forcier. I will do whatever it takes to bring Lady Ura safely back to us.”

“If the elf folded her somewhere…” Evon began.

He let the thought go unsaid, but saw understanding in the man’s features as Donmar nodded and left. Evon moved back over to the desk and activated the holopad again, speaking an order at it.

“Send in my son.”

*****

“Angels?” Filx asked, raising an eyebrow.

The Ovoa let out a croak. “You’ve not heard of the famous angels of Virada, Weaver? Baaacchhh! Where have you been hiding your head, boy?”

Ura watched the brief exchange between the two aliens with her in the transport cabin, noticing the slight tell in Filx’ elven features upon being called boy by the saudarkyn. Though in actuality much younger than the nyvan, Zevir Ovoa was considered an elder amongst his own species, and despite having been exiled long ago for crimes against his own Enge, the Ovoa still considered himself the oldest and wisest amongst his present company. Ura had little problem with him calling her ‘girl’, but it seemed to Ura that the Weaver was less comfortable with the same nomenclature.

“It’s quite alright, M. Khuv’ael,” Ura replied, holding back a laugh. “The angels of Virada, as the Ovoa put it, are not actually angels.”

She laughed again as she saw him raise an eyebrow in question. The Weaver was human-like enough that she forgot at times that he knew little of her species’ religious history. He had probably just never heard the term before.

She continued to explain. “The silica seas, as they are called, play host to many different lifeforms, yet there seems to be a common trait amongst many of them, something only recently discovered by a group of true Alturan priestesses while exploring a series of the bacterial seas about twenty-five standard cycles ago. If you look closely…” Ura pointed out to the glowing sea of life as the transport crawler moved across the suspended causeway, briefly tapping the holopad to enhance the image projected onto the viewscreen.

She flipped through several spectrums until she settled on the one she wanted. The glowing blue sea had disappeared, replaced by a black translucence, through which could be seen the chaotic ecology which dwelt beneath its surface. As the image settled, she searched for signs of what she wanted to show the Weaver. After a few moments, as her vision adjusted to the ultraviolet image, she found one, and pointed it out to Filx.

The Ovoa let out a mild croak and sat up in his slingchair as Ura and the Weaver watched the angel swim through the living medium of bacteria. Made of what appeared to be some type of nanobiotic creature, she explained to the Weaver, the angels were actually schools of individual particles far smaller than the bacterial entities they lived in.  She and her two companions watched silently as the cloud of creatures moved in unison like a flock of birds or school of fish, diving and turning this way and that, moving gracefully in, around, and even through the bacteria around them. The angel glowed with a bright yellow hue, and the sight was like watching a piece of light dance through matter. Ura and Filx stood entranced, watching the angel swim through the silica sea as the Ovoa let out another croak of approval at the sight.

“It’s beautiful,” said the Weaver.

“Yes. I have only seen them once before, with Uncle Kahli. We found a group of them using a hammingbrad to build skypillars.”

It occurred to Ura that the nyvan probably did not know what a hammingbrad was, nor what skypillars might be, but she thought it best to let him simply watch the angel.

Sure enough, after only a few moments, a group of creatures swam into view, their insides strangely illuminated in the UV spectrum. As the first appeared, Ura recognized it as a volver–a strange creature resembling a cross between a tortoise and a squid–quickly followed by dozens, then by hundreds more. As the three travelers watched, the large group of vovlers moved across the viewscreen as if unaware of the angel in their midst. Their translucent, outlined forms swam undisturbed as the strange cloud of light moved in and amongst them, gradually giving the impression to Ura that they were somehow being steered by the angel. As she watched, the school of vovlers began to act differently, their movement becoming erratic and agitated as they moved through the bacterial medium, the cloud of light seeming to tighten around them. They began to move in closer and closer clusters, until it seemed that the angel had taken control of the vovlers completely, turning them into almost a single unit.

Then, suddenly from off-screen, appeared a quite large creature, its body strangely outlined in black translucent lines. This beast was similar in appearance to the bobbers they had witnessed earlier in battle with the leathery fliers, but also different. Whereas the bobber resembled a spider with a giant head made mostly of mouth, this creature looked more just like a spider, or crab, with a series of tendrils trailing up and back from its body. It walked along the floor of silica, a massive predator grabbing up anything in its path with the dexterous tendrils. Ura had never actually seen a silica soth before, and felt the beast was poorly named. It’s only resemblance to a bog soth was the use of its tendrils, but there the similarities ended. Where the bog soth had actual tentacles it used for locomotion through the dense jungles, these tendril-like appendages stretched and contracted like amoebas, each seeming to protrude at random from the surface of the crab-like body, some appearing newly formed even as others disappeared back into the surface itself. She noticed after a few moments that there was a pattern to this behavior: once a tendril had caught some type of prey, it literally absorbed the morsel, growing itself quickly around whatever it had caught with lightning speed, then retracting back into the main body, most likely to finish digesting it. The contrast between globule-like tendrils and hard, shelled legs and body was a strange one, but no less strange than most anything else found on Ura’s homeworld. She watched as the creature moved along the floor of the bacterial sea, eating as it went, apparently oblivious to the school of vovlers it was drawing nearer to with each step.

Ura looked closely at the vovlers, noticing that their movements were quick and precise as the angel readied them. The glowing cloud seemed in total control of the creatures, guiding them towards the approaching silica soth with obvious purpose. As the distance closed, something she had hoped would happen did, and another glowing cloud of nanobiotic material suddenly appeared, surging up from the silica bed unannounced. This angel, Ura saw, was of a different hue than the one controlling the vovlers. It seeped from the solid surface of crystalline flatrock like a ghost, its glowing green form coalescing in bits and pieces to form a single cloud between the vovlers and the silica soth.

Visible only in the ultraviolet, the soth was unaware of the angel which had appeared before it, nor did it seem aware of the angel-commandeered school of vovlers approaching in tight formation. Without warning the green angel, now a single glowing cloud floating above the hard surface, surged towards the silica soth, enveloping and entering it. The soth, at first, seemed unaffected by the sudden invasion, and Ura knew as she watched that it was completely unaware of itself now. The angel, having taken control of the huge beast, steered the creature directly at the vovlers.

The three travelers watched silently as the two angels closed the gap between them with alarming speed, one a glowing yellow school of vovlers, the other a glowing green silica soth. The Ovoa let out a croak as they engaged, the violent clash sending waves out from it into the sea of living matter in all directions. The two angels fought one another, the giant silica soth tearing and grabbing vovlers by the score as the swift squid-like creatures dodged and struck at the huge beast. The battle was fierce, the energies expended enormous, and it was over in mere seconds. They watched through the ultraviolet spectrum as the vovlers tore the huge soth to pieces almost instantly, then continued to watch as the defeated green angel seeped from the dead flesh it had so briefly inhabited and floated momentarily in the living sea, only to drift apart into nothingness. The yellow angel, having won, immediately abandoned the school of vovlers, its yellow light flowing out of each to coalesce into a single cloud which quickly moved on across the crystal seabed, Ura guessed in search of another enemy.

She adjusted the spectrum on the viewscreen back to the visible, as Filx said:

“That was not predatory.”

The saudarkyn let out a croak and sat forward in its slingchair.

“No,” Ura said. “The angels fight battles over territory, resources, ideologies…we have no idea. Yet they do not consume one another.” Filx nodded at her. “This is only one example of the different types of behavior we have seen from them. They don’t just fight each other, they build structures, create relationships, cause breeding in host creatures, all sorts of things. They seem to act primarily as stewards, yet are only found in the silica seas. Some help, others hinder. They seem to behave with definite purpose of intellect to pursue willful goals, most of which seem to describe higher functions than eating and procreation and the like. We still know very little about them, and the debate is ongoing as to exactly what they are, why they do what they do, and whether or not they are intelligent. No one has yet been successful in communicating with them, and they seem to describe certain overarching patterns of behavior which lend weight to the ‘steward’ theory.”

“I have never seen anything like it before,” Filx said. “They are quite fascinating.”

Zevir croaked, and the caravan moved on across the glowing, living sea.

Later that evening, Ura watched as the caravan moved past yet another heat bog. The frequency of their appearances this far east was new to her, despite her early years of traveling with her uncle. The Weaver seemed entranced by them, and she would catch him staring at the soths they passed as if in reverence, though she never asked him about it.

Instead, to pass the time, she had spent hours upon hours in conversation with the Ovoa. His species, as well as his personal experiences, fascinated her. As they grew closer to their destination she grew closer to the strange amphibian, and began to feel the anxiety he felt over the coming ritual, and what it may impart to him. She sensed that Filx was unmoved by such thoughts, his mind preoccupied with something he was keeping to himself. Whatever occurred, she mused, it would be interesting at least.

“You said the colonies were relatively new, yes?” the translator pinned to his collar  spoke as the Ovoa croaked at Ura.

“Yes,” Ura replied. “About four hundred standard cycles.”

“Yet the treefortresses are much older, are they not?”

“Oh, much older. Almost two thousand standard. They were the first permanent habitations built by the Followers. You are familiar with the Exodus. Well–”

The Ovoa croaked in a way Ura had learned was an expression of displeasure. She raised an eyebrow at the sally, knowing he would recognize the gesture, and respond.

“You mean the abandonment of your home world,” said the Ovoa’s translator.

Ura knew that this was a loaded statement. Humans in no way regarded the Exodus as an abandoning of their how world. To them, it was exile. She had struggled for most of the journey to Sun’s Well to try to explain the difference to the Ovoa, to little effect. The lessons of plexion taught to her by Giana came in handy during these conversations, and she adopted them now as she continued.

“Well, near the end of the Exodus, the deepships carrying what remained of humankind fell around Kos Elana after finding this water-rich planet and investigated, deciding ultimately to move on due to the fierce ecology. Though the ships moved on, the Followers of Uul had decided to stay. They are the ones who first practiced the construction of treefortresses.”

She went on to explain how the AI-constructed deepships had remained in orbit around Enoth-Teril after depositing their human cargo: silent sentinels watching over the makers of their makers, the Ovid Am-All. Ergo Dalt, the unscrupulous leader of the eco-mentalists, had commandeered the Virada and used it to bring his people to the planet, parking it in a slowly decaying orbit and falling to the planet’s surface only to find the Followers of Uul already thriving there. Long after, Hejali pilots had helped to bring the giant deepship down to Virada II, turning it into the center of the only actual human city on the planet. The ship itself had become a museum while the other–the Agammemnon–still spun around Enoth-Teril like a second metal moon. Both deepships had eventually been dismantled and reconstructed practically molecule-by-molecule by saudarkyn lyrmina in an attempt to gain intelligence about the Ovid Am-All and its technologies, but nothing useful had been learned. The Followers of Uul, she explained, had at first taken in Dalt and his people, only to later discover the true nature of why they had come to Virada II. After that, they refused to allow the Alturans to stay in their Bola forts, and with little other recourse, Dalt had begun putting into use the plans he had made to colonize the surface of the planet.

“That was, of course, before we had made first contact with nyvans,” Ura went on. “We had not even developed space travel on our own yet at that point. Dalt had employed the ancient Ovidian technologies, simply telling the deepship where to go. They say the Virada brought itself here, just like it had from Erth to this part of the spiral arm in the Exodus. I’ve seen the captains’ chair in the Virada museum. It’s just a fancy crashcouch with a holoheume. According to the official report given by the saudarkyn engineers–”

“Lyrmina,” croaked the Ovoa, his translator interrupting her.

“Yes,” she corrected, “the lyrmina. Anyway, they discovered that the holoheume wasn’t even a real control node, but merely a thought-reader like we have in the libraries…” Ura realized she was moving off track with her narrative, the true goal being to explain the history of the Bola forts. “The Alturan priests, at least the ones Dalt had convinced to come along with him to Virada II, were determined to keep themselves as safe as possible, and many stayed topside, adopting the ways of the Followers. Though Dalt had moderate success on the surface colonizing, most of the remains of his work are abandoned dig sites. After his death, that was when the real colonies began to be built. Once they had established that it was indeed possible to live on the surface, a gradual blending of the two cultures–the topside Uulians and the surface-dwelling Alturans–began, mostly with the help of saudarkyn technologies. After the Forng wars, the treefortresses were entirely devoted to space defense, and many of the Followers moved to the city, the surface, or off-planet.”

Ura was surprised to hear Filx speak up. “The outpost on Mnemosyne.”

“Yes,” she said. The Weaver had been silent for the better part of the day, and she was glad for his words. He had seemed distant and unresponsive since they had awoken. “There was a pilgrimage to Mnemosyne about two hundred standards ago. Little is known about them. How did you happen to hear about them, M. Khuv’ael?”

She looked at the elven features for tells, but found none as he replied.

“There is a contingent of Hejali stationed on the only other planet in the Kos Bergari system, its moon, actually.” Filx paused, looking at the Ovoa as the sally nodded. Apparently she was the only one in the cabin who was unaware of this nyvan base. “Just a military outpost,” he continued, “recently commissioned by the Prime Forcier in the last forty standards or so. My great-uncle’s line are all Hejali, and it came up at a family gathering a few cycles ago.” He shrugged, then turned back to watch the darkness pass by.

Ura sighed. Her hope was that once this ritual was accomplished they could finally get the meeting with the Council over with, and she could return to Arivae in peace to complete her training. While it was quite comforting to be back on her homeworld, Ura had goals yet to accomplish herself. The sudden thought of her training brought back unwanted images of Giana’s death, and the escape with Filx from the horrible insect-like swarm in her cottage. Shuddering, she let go of these memories, thinking of yet another of Gauhura’s teachings.

It is far more important to remember the future than to forget the past.

Ura sighed again lightly and turned to prepare their evening meal as Filx continued to stare out at the perpetual night passing by.

15: Caravan

“Entertainment is a weapon.”
-Yona Mythe, wife of Agus Aught

The knock on his cubicle door pulled Filx from his deep trance, awareness suddenly returning and replacing the strange depths of ancestral memories he had swum through. Despite hours of meditation and searching, he still had virtually no understanding of the images Wem’w had shown him, and his sense of frustration from before had only grown stronger with the addition of these indecipherable visions. Setting his confusion aside, the Weaver slowly stood and walked to the door, turning the small inset latch and opening it to receive his visitor.

He was only slightly startled to find the erect form of the Ovoa standing just outside, his black and grey robes hanging loosely over his tall, thick frame. Bulbous black eyes stared out at Filx through half-lidded nictitating membranes as he presented one of his trademark tooth-filled smile. Whether in mockery of this human trait or out of respect for it, Filx was unsure, but the act itself was always unsettling to look at. It was far from customary, even in the seclusion of their birthing ponds, for the amphibious species to display their vicious needle-like teeth to anything but their prey. Saudarkyn communicated with a subvocal, guttural language produced with a set of speech organs located deep in their chests, and therefore didn’t require opening their mouths to speak. In fact, most saudarkyn went their entire lives without another sentient being ever seeing their many rows of razor-sharp incisors, and after witnessing the Ovoa’s horrid ‘smile’ more than once, Filx could understand easily why. It was far too difficult not to think of oneself as anything but food when faced with such a terrifying visage. The involuntary chill which always accompanied the sight dissipated as the Ovoa closed his thin green lips and croaked out a greeting, his translator still emitting the common human tongue it had been set to since Filx had first met the smuggler/assassin topside almost six Viradian days ago.

“Weaver,” said the translator, its low tone distinctly male. “I have come to inform you of the humans’ decision.”

Filx bowed slightly as he backed away to allow the Ovoa entrance to his quarters.

“Please come in, M. Ovoa.”

Filx used the common human tongue as well to address the Ovoa as he bowed to enter the room. Filx had noticed during their initial meeting that the exile could understand the spoken form of this language without a translator, and, after the brief display in the crawler of his ability to use its written form as well, the Weaver had decided to employ it when conversing with him. Like most Weavers who ended up in leadership positions, Filx had long ago gone through the juxtaprinting of several of the humans’ primitive-seeming languages–twenty-six of them in all–in order to more readily communicate with ambassadors and other diplomats from the Seven Terras who (rarely, in the case of his home world) came to visit.

Filx crossed the room and released a slingchair from its recess for the Ovoa to seat himself in. “I hope that it was a good decision,” Filx said. “They have spent a  good deal of time making it.”

The Ovoa extended his claws briefly in response to the bad use of sarcasm as he rested his large form down into the sling. The Weaver made an offering of refreshment, indicating the coldbox in the corner containing a variety of beverages.

“No thank you, Weaver,” croaked the Ovoa beneath his translator, “They have provided me with these liquids as well–,” a wet grunt escaped the amphibians’ throat which Filx took as a sign of disgust, “but they are rather unpalatable to my, ah, refined tastes, shall we say? Perhaps, however, you have some olvaroot from home, eh? I have heard the root farmers of Tempus Vey grow the finest olva in all of the Trinios!” Zevir nodded as Filx shook his head in that universally hominid signal for negative. “Ah, just as well. How my old, dry skin longs for Chor’u! Where the olvaroot cider ran like rain through the streets!” The deep, rhythmic croaking accompanied by the rapid extension and retraction of Zevir’s claws (his attempt at a human laugh) went almost unnoticed by the Weaver as his thoughts were pulled by the mention of the ancient city of thieves. For most of his life, Filx had heard legends told about Chor’u. The famous port city of smugglers, thieves and deviants was of personal interest to the Weaver, for reasons, he realized, that perhaps coincided with the Ovoa’s presence on this journey.

He smiled briefly, pushing thoughts of home away, and said, “Yes, in fact my great uncle’s family on my mother’s side have farmed olvaroot and zhin’po for many cycles, but I did not think to bring any from home. I was made to leave rather…hastily.” He spread his hands in apology.

“Ah, we understand, Weaver. The stresses of time upon a pilot are many, and wearisome. But enough with these banalities! I come bearing good news.”

“Then we may journey to Sun’s Well?” Filx smiled.

The Ovoa let out a small croak of pleasure. “Indeed! We will be traveling with the High Priests of Uul themselves! Imagine, Weaver, seeing the rare Viradian biclipse! It shall be truly inspirational, I think–”

Zevir paused.

“What is it, Weaver?”

“It’s–it’s nothing…” Filx replied, shaking his head slightly to clear it. An odd, violating sensation had overcome his orath suddenly, as if it was being pulled up involuntarily on invisible strings, stretching far above, then suddenly let loose and snapping back around him violently. The entire event had only taken a few nanoseconds–up and back–but his orath felt bruised and shaken, and he had no explanation as to what had caused it. He’d never felt anything like it before, nor had he ever heard of such a thing occurring, but decided to ignore the discomfort in the presence of the Ovoa. Despite the obvious tells of pain in his features, the Weaver said:

“Please, M. Ovoa. Continue. I’m fine.”

The Saudarkyn remained silent, apparently unconvinced by the Weaver’s words, but after a few moments it seemed he was satisfied that whatever had suddenly caused the pained look of distress to appear on Filx’ elven features had passed. Letting out a croak, he continued on in a more somber tone.

“Well, yes…anyway. I was saying that we have been given the honor of traveling with the pilgrimage from the Colony. Priests and merchants and such.”

Filx nodded in understanding, the discomfort beginning to ease.

“I believe it will be truly inspirational to witness the biclipse from within the Temple, yes? It is said to be quite a marvelous piece of architecture, Weaver.”

Filx had heard of this as well. It was said that the Temple of Uul at Sun’s Well was perhaps one of the most stunning achievements of terran architecture. The stories of its role in human theology had reached even the distant backwater of Tempus Vey.

“When shall we be leaving, then?” Filx asked.

The Ovoa croaked.

“Within the hour,” his translator module said.

*****

The journey across the surface of Virada II from the colony to the Temple of Uul at Sun’s Well–approximately forty thousand kilometers through the dense swamp-like darkness at the base of the planet’s massive jungles–was very different from the one Filx, Ura and the Ovoa had taken from the treefortress to the surface, and it was with a newfound sense of curiosity that the Weaver now viewed the way humans had adapted to living on this strange and hostile planet. The seemingly endless caravan of giant insect-like transport crawlers swept across the marshy, lightless terrain at an amazing speed as it travelled along the causeways. Surprisingly well-maintained, the wide plasteel causeways were elevated above the swampy surface by a good twenty meters, and stretched across incredible distances along the planet’s surface, connecting the colonies and mining facilities scattered across the northern hemisphere. Lights blaring, the caravan of vehicles resembled a giant mechanical centipede over a kilometer long, and created a sound like a stampede which echoed off into the darkness. For all the shielding technology lining the elevated causeway, Filx knew that the noise the caravan created alone was a strong deterrent to even the largest of beasts hiding out in the mist-filled blackness. Nothing challenged the giant snake of crawling machines as it rumbled its way towards Sun’s Well.

At first Filx had been uncomfortable, his thoughts vacillating worriedly between the possibility of another encounter with one of the planet’s indigenous predators, and thoughts of what had caused the strange unexplained–and quite uncomfortable– pull on his orath back at Jex-La earlier in the day. His guarded attitude had not escaped Ura’s attention, however, and by the end of the third hour of his incessant pacing and flitting about the rather spacious cabin she had finally managed to calm him down some, explaining in detail both the shielding and automated weaponry the giant centipede-like transport crawlers were fitted with. She explained the further redundancies the causeway itself was equipped with: anbaric fencing and spaced turrets at critical locations, even manned fueling stations and guardposts. After confirming his thoughts about the defensive effect the sound of the caravan had as well, he finally settled back on the crashcouch and begun to relax a bit. He allowed Ura to prepare him some haleroot tea, and after a few welcome sips, his frantic thoughts of the violation of his orath–which he had not mentioned to the sous priestess, nor had the Ovoa–to come to a rest as well.

During the course of the next few Viradian days, the three companions ate and rested, watching the viewscreens on the cabin walls projecting images of the passing terrain and conversing on a wide variety of subjects.

Early in the second day of travel, Ura had pointed to one of the wall display viewscreens showing enhanced real-time images of what the transport crawlers’ visual sensors piped in. Looking over his shoulder, Filx saw that they had entered the edge of one of the enormous heat bogs, this one much larger than the previous two the crawlers had skirted earlier that day. Stretching off for kilometers were lakes of glowing green, orange and red earth, dotted here and there with fumaroles and cone-shaped sulfur vents spewing noxious gasses. The Weaver noticed how much larger the sulfur cones were here than the earlier bogs, the formations roughly circular patterns of concentric layers–cooled magma which radiated out from the central cone of calcified rock standing upwards of fifty meters into the steamy, glowing vern. These smaller cones in turn radiated outward along the fumaroles which stretched along the glowing surface, connecting what Ura called the ‘primer’ vents–massive sulfur cones standing over two hundred meters, towering over their smaller counterparts and spewing huge amounts of noxious steam into the air.

What caught the Weaver’s attention were the dark rounded shapes formed randomly over several of the smaller spumes surrounding the larger prime vent: huge bulbous, wooded things which had grown over the steaming cone-shaped vents, preventing the gases from escaping. Thick tendrils extended profusely from the lower halves of the round, woody objects, shooting down into the glowing mud or up into the steamy mists overhead, and the once-symmetrical cone vents, under the weight of the bloated wooden growths, had become distorted and bulbous, their height stunted, from the long exposure to the pressures from within. As the caravan drew nearer, Filx could see that the growths vaguely resembled in some way the creature which he had killed during their descent in the crawler, the bog soth. Yet these were easily ten times the size of the one they had encountered, and thankfully immobile.

Behind him Ura spoke.

“Those are adults.”

Filx noticed the vague similarities between what he was looking at and what had attacked them. Where the thick tendrils emerged from the central growth, he could just make out the hint of former symmetry, the scars where once eyes and mouths had been. There the comparison ended. Where the creature they had encountered had been obviously of an animate, animal nature with thick skin and fierce intent, these creatures looked like bloated tree trunks. Their surfaces were ridged and pitted, and looked as hard as stone and completely inflexible. The tendrils which shot out from them in every direction were in no way evenly distributed or symmetrically placed, as though the tentacles that had once allowed them to move with such swift ferocity through the dense growth now acted as anchors, and had moved to positions which best suited this new purpose.

Stunned at this morphology, he asked, “How is it they reproduce, Lady Ura?”

She pointed to a particular specimen. “A new tendril like the one you see there will be grown to extend across the heat bog to another adult until it has crossed the distance. It then slowly, over time, penetrates the outer layers of the hardened flesh of its mate, where it proceeds to extract the necessary genetic material needed to form a young soth at roughly the midway point along the tendril. The new bog soth takes most of its early nourishment primarily from the penetrated parent, rather than the initiator parent. This often kills the penetrated soth slowly. Soon afterwards the tendril to either side will start to dry and shrivel up, growing thinner as the last of the nutrients are absorbed. Eventually the weight of the new soth will cause the tendrils to snap like so much dry kindling, and the hardened shell at the center will fall and begin to mulch in the heated muds. Soon after the new soothe is capable of breaking out of its woody shell and going off in search of a new sulfur vet to roost over. The entire process can take hundreds of cycles, which is why they are almost never encountered in their animate phase.”

Filx thought of this process as almost parasitic in a way, one parent dying to create an offspring. How did they ever proliferate? He thought of his own parasite and the disturbing images it had shown him. He only paid partial attention to the following conversation which ensued between Ura and the Ovoa–a discussion about Engii and the various philosophical divisions within saudarkyn society in comparison to the polytheistic structure of terran society–until the talk gradually turned to the history and significance of their destination: Sun’s Well and the Temple of Uul which stood there.

“If I remember correctly,” Ura was saying to the saudarkyn, “it is only once every nineteen local cycles–each one approximately fourteen and a half standard cycles each–that Myrst and Loascia actually cross paths. That’s only once every two-hundred seventy-five s-cycles. Even with modern medicine most humans only live about seventy s-cycles, so…,” she paused, and Filx didn’t need to read her orath to know she had suddenly remembered that the Ovoa wouldn’t live half that long, “…and Sun’s Well is one of the only places on the entire planet where the biclipse can be seen from the actual surface. Well, that’s if you don’t include the view from the sea, but we don’t travel on the oceans.”

Everyone had heard of the deadly seas of Virada II.

“Anyway,” Ura continued, “the Temple, it’s about thirteen hundred standard cycles old. The Followers of Uul built it back during a time when exploring the planet was far more dangerous than it is today. There were no colonies, no causeways or any fixed settlements until about four hundred s-cycles ago, when Ergo Dalt started the mining industry here. Before then it was widely believed that Virada II was uninhabitable.”

The Ovoa croaked into his translator.

“How then did the Temple come to be built so much earlier?”

Filx was staring at the adult soths, only half listening to the conversation and thinking about that strange room of tanks Wem’w had shown him. Those things inside, floating in the green fluid…he felt almost as if he knew what they were, knew why they were. He couldn’t escape the fact that the vision was important to his willfate, important most likely to his task of protecting Ura. Look to Yaldoon, the Ahm Ushahd had said. Filx knew of no such place, planet or otherwise, with such a name. Yaldoon. He suspected, however, that it was a very old name.

A loud croak from the Ovoa brought the Weaver out of his reverie, the sally’s translator emitting a startled-sounding “WHAT!?”

More croaks and grunts followed, the little machine at his neck turning the Ovoa’s  words into meaning. “You mean to tell me, human, that you knowingly abandoned that many of your own kind here? To fend or themselves? Achh! Your kind is maddening!”

Filx saw surprise in Ura’s eyes as she looked at the saurdarkyn. She was unaware of the ways in which the Ovoa’s species viewed such behavior, but Filx knew well of the fierce solidarity inherent in the amphibian race. Theirs was one of unbound unity, and the social structure of Engii was often misleading. In many ways, Saudark was almost a hive mind of sorts. They may eat their young, Filx thought, but they would never abandon one of their own to a threatening situation. Saudarkyn had very distinct beliefs about their mortality, and their behavior towards each other was by far the most communal of the three sentient species in the Trinios. Ura, thinking she had caused some offense, spoke in an attempt to defend her statements.

“Oh, no, M. Ovoa, you misunderstand. They chose to remain here when the ships left. It was entirely up to them to stay or leave…” Ura seemed at a loss.

“You misunderstand,” Filx said to her. “M. Ovoa is merely unfamiliar with the independent nature of humankind. His people would never conceive of wanting to be left behind, you see…”

“Achh!” The saudarkyn exile croaked. “I understand independence all too well, dryskin.” Despite the subtle reference to his status as exile amongst his people, Filx saw the Ovoa extend his claws, the sally’s equivalent of a laugh. “I did not mean to interrupt, girl…go on with your tale.”

“Um, yes…well,” Ura said, “As I was saying, the Followers of Uul had stayed behind to colonize Virada II, which they had little success in doing until around the time Dalt arrived to mine the planet. It was the first time anyone from off-planet had seen the work of the Followers. Though their numbers had never really grown, they had indeed managed to carve out a minuscule niche in the harsh ecology, learning how to climb and live in the trees where the sunlight kept the worst of the predators at bay. The treefortresses were but one of the many things the Followers had managed to create over the thousand-plus cycles left to themselves. In turn, Dalt and his ventures brought awareness of the other Terras and our inclusion into the Lehmerian Alliance with Nyva and Saudark. That was, of course, back when they were still trying to break ground at Oran, before they discovered that Pej was simply not inhabitable.”

Filx’ ears pricked up at the mention of the southern continent. While it was well-known how fierce the environment of Virada II was, few knew the varying degrees to which it’s dangers were manifest. Many knew, of course, that the seas were unnavigable, that creatures the size of deepships roamed the surface of the harsh waters as well as their depths in vast abundance. But few were aware that humans only dwelt on the northern continents of the planet. The southern hemisphere’s landmass–a single massive continent called Pej–was said to be completely uninhabitable to humans, nyvans or saudarkyn. Rife with a nearly limitless array of life forms, the most vicious species on Virada II made their home on the southern continent, where temperatures could reach above boiling. Only a handful of species from that massive continent had ever been recorded, and they were the stuff of nightmares.

The Ovoa croaked. “Pej?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “The southern continent of Virada II. Long ago, at the initial stages of prospecting Dalt and his survey crews had begun, a handful had taken up the task of searching the old sensor readings taken by The Virada–one of the three Exodus vessels–back when it had originally found the planet. They had noticed the high content of precious ores on Pej in those original deep-scan surveys, and had decided to mine there.

“At first, as the story goes, when they failed to make contact with the larger operations up here on Jassir, it was assumed that they wanted to keep the vast riches implied by the ancient sensor readings all to themselves. Others believed they had met with trouble, and yet others still believed it was simply communication problems. All of them sent teams to pursue the answers to these questions, but none ever returned.”

The Ovoa, draped over his slingchair and listening to Ura’s tale, let out a croak, asking:

“Of course you now know what became of them, I assume,” his translator module said. “How many failed to return?”

“Oh, hundreds, I would guess,” Ura replied. “It takes quite a bit of gear and personnel to strike down onto a fresh claim on Virada II. Dalt himself finally sent an army of remote crawlers to find out what had happened.” She paused, adjusting herself in her own crashcouch as she gazed at the viewscreen, the last of the heat bog passing away into the distance as she watched.

“So,” Filx prompted, “what did they discover?”

“Predators,” she said, turning back to the Ovoa and the Weaver. “Uncle Kahli had an old diskey with footage from the remote expedition to Oran, the site of the original first venture. He showed it to me once when I asked why we didn’t go to the ‘Downthere’, as we call it, when I was a child.” She visibly shuddered at recalling the memory, and Filx had to once again fight back the urge to touch her orath with his own. The feelings of jeopardy to his mission were part of the cause, he knew, but there was another, less clear reason behind his urges. One he knew would come clearer in time, and yet the thought of this eventuality did little to quell the anxiety it caused.

One thing he was certain of: he had little desire to meet the inhabitants of Pej.

The caravan moved on into the darkness once again, rumbling loudly at the hostile world around it. Filx knew that it was no idle threat. He had seen a virtual horde of creatures literally pour out of the jungle blackness not two hours after leaving the colony, throwing itself at the train of transport crawlers like a wild army. Without slowing, the long caravan of giant centipede-like vehicles had opened a rain of death upon the wave after wave of beasts. Bright lights, which often worked well as weapons against such creatures when confronted in small numbers, were obviously useless in such a case as the attack he had witnessed, as the sea of creatures–some nearly double the size of the huge transport crawlers, and many easily the same size–had been whipped into some sort of frenzied stampede, throwing themselves at the human caravan. Sound, as well, was obviously no deterrent in such a case, for the same reason. Filx had sat, stunned, as he watched wave after wave of creatures big and small be torn to shreds with projectile weaponry and laser fire, explosive rounds and electric bombs, even a few larger fuel-propelled rocket-like projectiles which created astounding amounts of damage to the largest of the beasts. The entire event lasted ten minutes, and the rest of the trip had been virtually uneventful compared to the firestorm of that first attack. When he had offered to help with the fight after the first wave of creatures had been mowed down, Ura had simply told him it was usual and prepared for and not to worry. He did anyway.

The rest of the afternoon and evening–by the clock’s telling on the flashscreen in Filx’ sleeping cubby–went by quietly. The Weaver rested for a bit before their evening meal while the Ovoa and Ura continued their discussion. The smell of roasted vegetables brought Filx awake and back into the main section of their cabin, the viewscreens showing a strange ocean of blue glowing light stretching off into the distance, bright enough to light even the high ceiling of the massive vern. Flying creatures darted across the strange surface, their wings leathery and thick. Dotted across the surface in random placement were huge glowing bulbs of angry red and purple, mottled green and orange. They appeared to grow out of the glowing blue soup, inverted pear-shaped objects ranging from the size of a transport crawler nodule down to the size of his head. Each  glowing, colored bulb floated at a different height above the strange sea, tethered to the surface by a thick strand of fiber-like material. The flying creatures would dart above and around the floating bulbs, almost as if they were drawn to them, then flit away into the lighted night. The entire scene was mesmerizing.

Ura saw the Weaver watching the view and walked over next to him. She pointed to a flock of the leathery-winged fliers as they drifted near the caravan, their size much larger than he had assumed. Easily half the length of the transport, Filx saw that the creatures actually had two sets of wings stemming from the very front of the torpedo-like body, where a head or face would be. From the glow of the strange sea, he could see underneath a row of what he assumed must be eyes–glossy, unblinking jewels of a faceted red material–arranged along the center and stretching back from the wings. Where the eyes ended, a large joint connected a sort of tail to the main body resembling a tentacle with an opening at its tip which seemed to move about in a twitchy fashion as the creatures zoomed past the transport cameras.

Filx watched as Ura pointed again at a different group of fliers, these ones further off amidst a small cluster of the tethered glowing bulbs. They darted and swerved around the bulbs, swooping at them and then veering off at the last second. Pulling up a holopanel, Ura tapped in a command and the image zoomed in dramatically upon the group of fliers and bulbs. Framed in the viewscreen now was a handful of the brightly glowing bulbs, these ones all a lazy reddish color and roughly floating at the same height, which the fliers were buzzing and swooping around. It was hard to tell exactly how many fliers there were, but Filx guessed about thirty or so, each one dive-bombing the glowing bulbs and veering away at the last moment before another repeated the process. At this magnification, however, the Weaver could now see that with each pass, the flier spat a sticky substance from its tail onto the bulb before flying on. The substance, a clear mucus  of some kind, coated the red bulbs completely, running in rivulets off their sides and down into the glowing blue sea below .

“What are they doing?” he asked.

Ura said, “Watch. They’re almost finished.”

The fliers continued for a few more minutes dousing the bulbs with goo, until Filx saw that they were beginning to slowly descend back down to the strange glowing ocean, weighted down by the mucus-like substance the fliers were secreting. As soon as this started to happen, the flock of thirty or so fliers took off, forming into a spinning circle high above the bulbs. Ura hit a command on the panel, and the sound came pouring through speakers set into the wall beside the viewscreen. The screeching caws of the fliers circling above the bulbs was horrendous and grating, a blend of scraping and crying the likes of which he’d never heard before. Yet, in the raucous din, Filx picked out another underlying tone, one which almost sounded like a form of speech. The fliers, it seemed, were talking to each other through the strange rhythms they were making with their screeches, rhythms which, when he listened closely, oddly resembled the call-and-response music of his people’s mating rituals. And their dialogue quickly grew to a frenzy, the underlying beats growing more and more frantic and desperate, until at last a crescendo was reached. At the almost triumphant sounding finale–a final, lone screech cried in unison which pierced the the giant vern, echoing off into the distance–was some sort of signal, and out of the circling throng flew a single flier, its wings placed flat along its sides as it shot straight down at one of the glowing bulbs like a missile.

The bulb, Filx saw, was now quite close to the glowing blue substance it was sinking towards, perhaps three or four meters, when the flier reached it. With a graceful swoop, the flier landed on the top of the bulb, small segmented legs emerging from its underbelly, and began to tap on the surface of the bulb with its tail and the tips of its leathery wings. The rest of the fliers continued to circle overhead, silent now save for the occasional squawk or screech.

“Any minute now…” he heard Ura say next to him, almost to herself.

Then Filx saw something happen which he had not expected. With a violent and sudden burst, something unbelievably huge came up out of the blue glowing ocean. From where they sat in the crawler transport, it looked to the Weaver like a giant mouth filled with concentric rings of quivering, undulating teeth attached to a massive spider-like body. Barely visible above this gaping maw were a row of omniscient-looking eyes set in ring from which the center emerged the now-fallow tether growing from the head of the thing. In less than a second it had erupted up into the air and eaten its own bulb, flier and all. The rest of the creatures circling overhead let out a mighty screech in eerie unison as they saw their fellow flier eaten. Why they would commit such a sacrifice to draw such a thing as the monster attached to the bulb was beyond Filx. The entire scale of the event was breathtaking, the huge fliers dwarfed by the giant beast they had lured out of the glowing sea. Yet even as the giant mouth-beast began to take itself back under the glowing surface it began to thrash and choke on the substance the fliers had coated the bulb with. The thrashing of the beast was mighty, creating huge waves of the milky blue liquid to splash in all directions, hitting the other bulbs gathered nearby. The impacts caused more of the enormous beasts to emerge violently from the depths, in turn swallowing their own bulbs. Yet unlike the first, these giant beasts easily sunk back into the glowing sea, while the first continued to thrash on the surface, seemingly in great agony as it bellowed what looked like smoke from its huge maw. Filx look up to see the fliers circling lower and lower, watching with their rows of jeweled red eyes as the beast died. As the last spasms ended and the smoke cleared, the other bulb creatures had departed for calmer hunting grounds, and the circling fliers descended upon their prey.

“Now they will eat, and lay their eggs in the carcass, using the substance they secrete to turn the dead bobber into a nest for future generations,” Ura explained.

“Bobber?”

“The beast they killed is known as a scaean bobber, or bulbfish. The sea is not water, as I’m sure you gathered, but rather a bioluminescent bacteria which can stretch for kilometers over beds of silica, which some miners believe is sentient. Others believe it is the silica which has the intelligence. Most don’t care.” She turned to Filx. “What do you think?”

“I wouldn’t know, Lady Ura. What would make them assume either hold intelligence?”

The Ovoa let out a croak at hearing the Weaver’s question. He had been eating a strange stew and watching quietly from his slingchair. Ura let out a laugh.

“Why, because of the angels, of course.”

Zevir Ovoa, the infamous exile of Enge Wahid, let out another long, slow croak and flexed his claws in laughter before digging back into his meal as the caravan of machines made its way towards Sun’s Well, and the e’Yashe ritual Filx would perform there under the two moons.

14: Losses And Aquisitions

“Gods? What Gods!? Bring me the heads of these Gods!”
L’dahl ahm Ahl’ma, 17th Tazim of Saudark, Grohg of Enge Ovoa

Cairn watched helplessly as the young boy was dragged away, most likely to be taken to the Firmary, where he would not survive. Struggling to keep his mind from clouding as he stood defiantly before the group of outcasts and miscreants, Cairn was careful not to show any further signs of resistance after the blow to the head had dropped him like a stone. Standing easily six inches over the tallest of the men who had attacked them–Coalgaurds, each of them–he could easily have fought them off had it not been for the boy getting in the way. Stupid boy. Staying to fight should have been the furthest from the urchin’s mind.

“Oy, wot say we fetch you off to tha dingy, there, bully-boy?” The one standing directly in front of him, the gimp with the stayzer, had said this. His gapped-tooth rictus had no humor in it, and his left eye was swollen shut from the rock the boy had thrown. “Ya got a nice upperslice yew doo, oy. When you come from now, eh? En wot we gonna dew wif yew…”

Cairn stood stiffly before the Coalguard. The dark alley they were in was narrow and damp from the recent runoffs, but still held enough light for him to see the man’s brow furrow in what appeared to be legitimate thought as his three henchmen shuffled about, waiting for orders.

The one with the blade implants along his arms and shoulders spoke up. “We might get-get ‘im to fess for wot you dun earlier, Cheece.”

Cheece’s eyes lit up a bit at this suggestion. Cairn had no idea what crime the man had committed, but it was obvious that the idea of a scapegoat sounded beneficial. Whatever it was, Cairn knew that it would end up being his word against theirs, if they even let him live. Resisting the urge to test whatever bound his wrists behind him, he stared quietly into Cheece’s eyes.

“Hmmm…dunno.”

Cairn sensed that the others were impatient to be off, and he was waiting silently for Cheece to decide on a course of actions for their newly acquired prisoner, when a sharp screamed pierced the night, high-pitched and echoing off the roof of the giant underground cave the city of thieves was built in. Instinctive and silent, the men all drew recently concealed weapons and turned in the direction of the scream. It had come from the alley the fifth of their party had gone off down with the boy in tow.

“Jurs, Fifer,” Cheece said quietly. “Get on an’ see wot that’s about, eh? Finley might’a run to a spot a trouble, eh.” He nodded towards the darkened alley, and the two advanced. Cairn was still securely held from behind by the third man, and Cheece had turned back to him with the stayzer held up at eye level.

“Now, yew wouldn’ta gone an’ had a chap or two waitin’ around now, had ye? Cause if’n ye did, mights be best to go on an’ call ’em off now, boy-o. Best to let this go peaceful-like, yeah?” The musky scent of the man’s foul breath wafted up to Cairn as he looked down at his twisted little face. Coalguards were not chosen for their looks, apparently. This one was of a particularly ugly sort, but the paramilitary force that ruled Chor’u were to generally be avoided. Cairn had been caught exchanging contraband electronica with the nameless boy when they’d been jumped by the five Coalguards. Cheece looked at him awaiting an answer.

Shaking his head, Cairn confirmed that the noise up ahead had not come from anyone he knew. The seconds ticked by as Cheece stood looking up at the captive for a sign that Cairn was lying, but found none. The greasy man turned finally to look back down the alley, where Jurs and Fifer had gone to investigate. In the dim lighting of the huge underground cavern city’s alleyways, it was difficult to see where they had gone off to.

Cairn, as well, searched the alleyway for any sign of the two men, or for what had caused the scream. He feared the worst–the boy dead at the hand of the Coalguard meant to escort him to the Firmary. Yet he held out a ray of hope that it had been something else. Peering down into the misty gloom, Cairn saw nothing to either confirm or deny that the boy had been harmed. Cheece apparently was having the same problem, as he began to slowly creep down into the darkness in attempt to see better, his stayzer held out before him at the ready. The man holding Cairn shifted nervously behind him, tightening his grip on the wrist bindings.

“Hol’ up, there, Cheece. Gimma minute, oy,” the man grunted behind him, voicing his tension.

Cheece turned around and bared his teeth.

“Shut it, you. Hole ‘im steady.”

The man behind him said nothing, firmly holding onto Cairn’s wrists. Long seconds stretched into a minute with no sign if either Jurs or Fifer, and Cheece had inched his way up to the edge of the misty shadows ahead, daring the darkness to offer up his henchmen.

Cairn suddenly felt the pressure against his wrists go slack as he heard the soft thud of the man dropping unconscious to the ground behind him. Knowing enough not to turn around, he felt his bindings cut by some unseen blade and a soft pat on the back indicating that he was free. Allowing himself to turn slowly, he caught a brief glimpse of a black hooded figure ascending into the night on silent padded feet.

Looking back towards Cheece, he only had a moment to witness the man slowly creeping into the gloomy darkness ahead before the man let out a muffled gasp and collapsed to the ground. Moments later the mist parted and the boy came running up to Cairn out of the misty shadows, followed by their strange hooded rescuer. The figure walked with the silence and grace of a feline, black form-fitting bucky-carbon filament armor covering every inch. As the boy approached, he handed Cairn back the small sack of currency intended for the purchasing of the electronica he had been given moments before the Coalguards had appeared. Upon capturing Cairn and the boy, the Coalguards had proceeded to destroy the contraband electronica and confiscate the sack of black-gold trinias. Cairn thought it was perhaps under the instruction of their masked savior that the boy was returning the money.

He nodded his thanks, whether at the return of his money, or at the rescue, he wasn’t quite sure. Confused, he stared as the black-armored figure next to the boy reached up and removed he hood, revealing aquiline feminine features. Bright blue eyes, high cheekbones and thin red lips above a button nose, all framed in short-cropped bleached white hair. Cairn gasped.

“Your lessons on Chor’u are not going as well as your father had hoped, boy,” she said.

Thersha was a second-generation Hejali, one of a rare handful of Cairn’s species to have joined the ranks of Nyva’s elite fighting force. As long as he could remember, she had been one of his father’s most trusted personal guards, assigned to him specifically upon request by the Hejali after her own father’s untimely demise. Thersha, like her father before her, was a fierce warrior. Cairn had grown up with Thersha when her father was still the head of security to the Prime Forcier of the Seven Terras, and they knew each other well.

She was, after all, his sensei.

Cairn was well aware that he should feel embarrassed at his near-incarceration, even more embarrassed by placing the life of the boy at risk–a boy he hardly knew–and most of all embarrassed that he had had to be saved by Thersha, thousands of lightcycles away from his father, where she should be. Instead Cairn thought only about the questions storming his mind, first and foremost: why had she come all this way to disturb his careful work here? The Coalguards had been an obstacle, it was true, but not an insurmountable one. He had brought plenty of extra Alliance-issued currency to buy off anyone who interfered with his work–he’d simply not had time yet to bargain with them before Thersha had come onto the scene. The fact was that she would not be here if it wasn’t important, though he knew that if his father was dead he would have been notified through other channels. No. This was something else.

Remaining silent, Cairn bowed briefly to Thersha, and then looked down at the boy. Dirty and disheveled, with a ragged mop of curly red hair, the boy looked the typical street urchin, with patched and torn rags for clothing and a stench one noticed from a distance. It was all of a piece, of course. In Chor’u, no one was what they appeared. This particular waif was actually a member of a smuggler group known as the Casparlyns, a clever bunch of youth who ran electronica and other non-lethal contraband through the city of thieves. Chor’u itself was an interstellar hub for smugglers, thieves, slave traders and other miscreants from throughout the Trinios, and while maintaining a rough visage of order via thugs like the Coalguards (and their aristocrat counterparts who made a thin show of running the city), Chor’u was a haven for deviants. The true business of Chor’u was crime, and almost anything one desired could be obtained there, for a price. Organized smuggler rings truly ruled the city, and it was they who tolerated the Casparlyns, who provided the services the larger gangs felt were below them.

Rubbing at his wrists, Cairn asked the boy his name.

“You ain’t asked me a’fore, an’ you ain’t need be asking’ me now, mister.” The boy put on an air of defensiveness, as if readying himself to flee.

“Now, now, child,” Thersha said to the boy. “No need to get all filthy on us, now. You go on and answer Cairn. Tell us your name, son.”

The effect of her gravelly voice on the boy was instantaneous. Dirty trick, thought Cairn, watching as the boy uttered his name as certainly as if Thersha had reached into his mind and pulled the strings controlling his lungs and muscles. Using things like versal coercion was common practice to a Hejali.

“Pilla, ma’am. Pilla van Yaltsem.” His voice was a squeak, with none of the affected Chor’uvian dialect heaped on. The boy had been educated somewhere, and had adopted the  accent as a part of his guise.

Cairn said, “Pilla, thank you for returning the trinias. Did the men harm you?”

“No, sir. Nothing I can’t handle, sir.”

“Well, then, Pilla. Would you like to come back with me to my den? At least until we can find a way to replace your product?” Pilla would be killed immediately upon returning to the Casparlyns without the money or gear, and they both understood this. The boy was in a sense forfeiting his life to return the money, a debt paid to the fact he had been rescued. Had Thersha not come along when she did, Pilla would have suffered a worse fate as an orphan in the Firmary.

The boy nodded at Cairn, knowing he had no other choice really, save to go rogue upon the streets of Chor’u. An unwise one, considering that a hit would be on him within a few days after his failure to return to the Casparlyns. He glanced back down the alley, where all appeared normal, as if weighing his chances. Cairn knew that Pilla had no prior knowledge of either himself or Thersha, since the meeting had been arranged anonymously for safety’s sake. Usually these types of deals went down smoothly, as there was little to be made by the Coalguards in shaking down the small-change smugglers and dealers like the Casparlyn urchins, but tonight had been unlucky. Perhaps Cheece had woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. At any rate, it was now up to Cairn to provide some manner of safety to the boy who had risked his life to make good on Thresha saving him. Since Cairn had come to the ancient city of thieves on Tempus Vey three years ago, he had never failed to be surprised at the level of honor many of the criminals in Chor’u adhered to. Pilla’s gesture was just one of many examples he’d seen while tending to his work here for his father.

Turning to Thersha, Cairn spoke.

“You aren’t here to check up on me, and Father is well, or it would come through other channels. Do we have time to deal with this before we leave?” He nodded at the boy.

“No.”

“Very well.” He turned back to Pilla.

“Would you like to go on an adventure, Pilla?”

Cairn thought he noted a slight smile crack through the grime and dirt covering the boy’s features as he nodded enthusiastically.

Thersha said, “There will be no time before the transport arrives to gather your things. They will be secure?”

Cairn just looked at her. The question was, of course, rhetorical. He and the boy let her lead the way through the dark alleyways and misty denizens of Chor’u, as she took them into the Port district with a swift purpose. The three went along unnoticed amongst the thin crowds of workers and crewmen, shipping houses and docking yards. Within a few minutes they had reached the side gate of a dockyard unremarkable from the others they had passed, unlatching the locks and allowing the boy and the man to pass through before shutting and locking it behind them. In the center of the lighted clearing a lean Coda streamship sat awaiting them, humming and ready to leave. Thersha led them up the loading ramp and into the passenger quarters, pointing to the wash facilities before heading up to the flightpit. Within moments they were flying, and Cairn watched Pilla as the boy searched around the small room, fascinated.

“Have you ever been in space before, Pilla?” Cairn asked.

The boy looked wide-eyed at Cairn, shaking his head. “No, sir. You must be the richest man I ever met! How did you get a spaceship?”

“Well,” Cairn said with a slight chuckle, “it’s not actually mine. It’s Thersha’s. The woman who saved you. I have been lucky enough to ride in it many times before, however. Isn’t it grand?”

Pilla nodded his agreement that the streamship was indeed grand. Slick chrome-like surfaces dominated the small passenger chamber, with crash couches and other domestic amenities, all designed with a sleekness of function unlike anything found on the typical shipping vessels found in the docks of Chor’u. Whereas most of those ships were clunky and functional, designed for practical purposes of operating in space, Thersha’s  streamship was built for fighting and speed. It’s three torsion engines sat along side one another hugging the base of the slick vessel like three long, white cones. Where the points converged was placed the primary weapons: two short-range waveguns. Fighting in space was done mostly with the onboard calcumeters, with foldings and stratagems occurring with split-second ferocity. The waveguns, which literally caused distortions in the waveforms of realspace (according to the techies), were only used for close infighting, when more ‘conventional’ forms of space battle failed. The pilots’ chamber was seated at the rear of the fuselage, where Thersha, or whomever piloted the streamship, sat suspended in a set of huemeric hyperfields in the flightpit, controlling the stream of data flowing through the calcumeters.

Pilla entertained himself with the flashboard. Calling up flight paths, planar geolyths appeared in the hudscreen floating inches above the board. Pilla watched as the calcumeter simulated their path through the Weave as they made their way to Enoth-Teril. The plot-points for each folding were lit up in green, with star systems mapped around them. The boy, still scroungy and unwashed, sat hypnotized before the hudscreen and watched the display of information showing their progress. Cairn was happy for the distraction, as he was exhausted from the ordeal with the Coalguards. Knowing they were safely on their way with little to do until they arrived, Cairn thought again about what could have possibly brought Thresha all this way to retrieve him. His father must need something from him, else why halt the progress he was making at Chor’u? He was very close to discovering the source of the transmissions to Yaldoon, and even closer to uncovering the secrets the Firmary were hiding. Yet all this would have to wait.

Pilla engrossed in his flight paths, Cairn settled into his couch, allowing a brief smile to pass his lips as he shut his eyes.

When he opened them again, he would be home.

13: Host

“Process is without guilt, without shame. We draw these lines in the sand.”
-Peribius Frebrit, 2nd Prime Forcier of the Seven Terras

 

Although Filx–his vow to never again touch Ura’s orath still strong within him–could not know of her fears and desires, he was nonetheless embroiled within his own about the human female and his mission to see her safely before the Council at Staxor-Taupik. The failures he had endured along the journey so far weighed heavily upon him as he sat meditating in the lavishly decorated guest room he had been given. In a place where space was a rather precious commodity, the significance of the spacious quarters was not lost on the visiting Weaver. He had seen the much smaller quarters Ura had been given, and could only assume the Ovoa’s were larger than his: the average saudarkyn weighed in at over two hundred kilograms. The Weaver sat in the center of the sitting area, his thoughts churning as he silently awaited the return of Ura from her interfacing with the Chennelosaille, and the decision it would bring.

After finally hearing where exactly the Ovoa wished to have the e’Yashe ritual performed–these things were important to the sallies–Filx was not entirely certain he wanted to hear what the formal ruling body of Jex-La would decide. He only desired it to occur quickly, one way or the other.

Filx knew well the dangers of hope. What will be is, was, and ever shall be. The old saying translated strangely into the human tongues, almost providing a different meaning to its original intent. He was no phaeric neurology–that odd subsect of Enge Arakyd transfixed on the infinite probability wavefronts generated by their UA-like computers–nor was he very gifted in that most difficult of attitudes, plearing. Only those ‘born of the Ushahd’ had the gift to truly plear into the hyperpermutations of wildspace itself and discern the outcome of future events. Even as he contemplated this the itch of Wem’w’s memories were strong in his mind–an ever-present reminder of his duty to life itself. There was, perhaps, a way for him to discover how to plear through wildspace by searching the ancestral memories locked inside his mind. He doubted the wisdom in attempting such a thing, however, knowing he would not be the first to have attempted it. Only with the guidance of the Ushahd itself–that sacred force which contained every thought and experience of every nyvan to have ever lived–could one successfully navigate the infinite fractal hyperfolds of wildspace. Filx’ mind merely contained the memories of those who had done so, not the genetic access to that Force of Forces, wildspace. The memory alone of such experiences would be beyond terrifying to one such as he–the memory of minds within minds within minds, hyperimposed upon one another in an eternal holographic feedback loop, all coexisting and channelling the very energies of wildspace–and even his well-disciplined mind shied instinctively away from such a notion. The distant pain of Wem’w’s imprinting on V’ku lingered still, if even as a phantom.

So Filx waited, meditating as the hours crept by. From his own internal rhythms (as well as the elegant time display near his generous bedding) Filx knew that they had now been inside the domed colony for almost two of Virada II’s forty-one hour days. Ura had warned him before leaving with her aunt Cyrisa that it might take some time for the collective cyberentity would reach a decision. The thought of so many minds interfacing–melding–within machine-generated cyberspace was one he was vaguely familiar with, but it chilled him to the core to think of Ura placing herself inside such technology. He knew he must place his trust in these humans’ ways, despite the odd nature of their methods. Cyrisa was one of a dozen High Members of the cybernetic ruling body, and had assured him personally that she would strongly endorse the Ovoa’s request to enter Uul’s Belly. Ura, as well, would speak on behalf of the two petitioning aliens during that juxtaposition of minds. The vague similarity through what the humans achieved through this technology and his own species’ Hoar Usha’hd achieved through thought alone had struck Filx as he had listened Ura explain to him the necessity of this delay.

“There are many places which are sacred to us down here, Weaver,” she had said, her hazel eyes gazing deeply into his own silver-grey. “Sun’s Well is one of the most sacred, especially during the ritual of the biclipse. No one is allowed inside during this event without approval of the Uulian monks who dwell there. Many petition to attend the biclipse, as it happens only once every seventeen cycles, and few receive the honor of attending. Cyrisa and I will do our best to make the case for the Ovoa’s request.”

The faint traces of doubt she struggled to conceal had not gone unnoticed even without touching Ura’s orath, despite his growing desire to do so. He was all too aware of his growing affection for the human sous priestess, and though he assigned no significance to it, he found it strange and disconcerting at times. Since their arrival at the colony a few days earlier, Ura had spent most of her time with her aunt, while the Weaver had busied himself with the meditational preparations the e’Yashe ritual would require should they gain approval to perform the ritual where the saudarkyn wanted it. Though it was unclear precisely why the exiled smuggler wanted the ritual to take place down here, it was customary for the saudarkyn to decide when and where, and just as customary for the nyvan not to ask why. So Filx waited, hoping the colony’s hive-like body of leaders would allow it to occur. Until word from Enoth-Teril was heard about the safety of Arivae, he could not chance taking them back there to continue on to the Council at Staxor-Taupik.

Once Filx was alone, he removed the basiliophorite carving the Ovoa had given to him from his pack and placed it upon a small ornate wooden stand near the chairsling and collapsible hammock. Removing a small orum tug as well from his pack, Filx spread it out in the center of the room and positioned himself before the Ovoa’s l’chal carving in the traditional ih’m pose, with legs tucked back under his knees and spine straight, arms hanging down at his sides with his hands palm out. In this state he began to meditate as the hours passed.

Of the many attitudes which Weavers employed to facilitate the numerous mental abilities most humans thought of as ‘majick’, Filx, like most Weavers, had only truly mastered a handful. Though he was capable of utilizing many more to lesser degrees of skill, like most of his Order he had focused on the ones he was especially gifted at. Filx often likened the variety of attitudes involved in Weaving to the endless variations of musical instruments found throughout the known sentient cultures of the Trinios. Each instrument, like each attitude, served a specific set of functions which in turn were capable of producing a near-infinite set of probabilities int eh ways it might be applied, all determined primarily by the aptitude of the player, or the Weaver. Yet again, like instruments of sound, each attitude had its own unique spectrum of influence upon the Weave, just as each instrument had its own range and timbre. A Weaver was in many ways like a musician in that the Weaver often employed a combination of attitudes to create a larger overall effect, manifesting their willfate upon the Weave much in the way a composer utilized various instruments to convey their thoughts, feelings and emotions through the music. The primary difference was in the outcome of effect. A musician might move the soul, compelling and nourishing it in specific ways. A Weaver moved reality.

Each attitude allowed a Weaver to manipulate a particular set of aspects of the Weave, or what the scientists of Saudark called sub-waveform hyperfunctions. Each aspect was directly related to a certain function reality performed as it wove itself into existence. Like musicians, Weavers spun their attitudinal webs of willfate into the folds of the Weave with different levels of style and precision, creating an endlessly diversified spectrum of talents and skills amongst the Order Of The Weave. Officially, four thousand and eighty-four different types, or sub-orders, of Weaver existed within the Ho’ar Orath, each with its primary attitude, or fa’hseefa’h, commonly referred to as the ‘face’ of that branch of the Order. Over seventy thousand different sub-attitudes, the ih’mseefa’h, had been discovered or explored to some degree, but all were derived from the fa’hseefa’h. This placement, or ‘facing’, of a Weaver within the Order was determined not only by the attitudes a Weaver showed themselves to be particularly proficient in, but also by the overall strength of their orathian ability to exert their willfates upon the Weave. The juxtaposition of these two factors was often why a Weaver was placed under a specific face in the Order, in some ways according to style and ability.

Filx knew that the human concept of coincidence did not truly exist. Their distinct inability to rationalize certain fundamental paradoxes was what caused them to perceive a wide variety of occurrences as something they called ‘accidents’, events which occurred outside their perceived set of agencies, and therefore beyond their control. Nonetheless, he thought it rather odd that circumstances had brought the Ovoa to choose Filx to perform the e’Yashe ritual. He considered himself fairly anonymous as far as Weavers went–young, unmated and with an ungratifying position as Ahm Ho’ara of his home planet, Tempus Vey. His homeworld was a backwater planet, thousands of light years from Staxor-Taupik and the cultural centers of the Trinios, and mostly unheard of even by fellow Weavers, and Filx had done little over the course of his life to draw attention to himself outside his own circle of family and peers. The few campaigns he had fought in early in his career had been minor conflicts at best, and he had emerged from them no more a hero than before. He therefore found it a bit strange that the smuggler/assassin  (who, by all standards, had become rather famous–or infamous–in a very short life span compared to Filx’ own two-hundred thirty-two standard cycles) had chosen him to receive the l’chal and enter into the agreement, even if he did happen to be one of the most gifted kith’ahm rahn currently alive.

It had been Filx Khu’vael’s truly unique and powerful ability in the attitude known as kithening, he was firmly convinced, which had inevitably placed him in such an obscure and dull stationing within the Order. He was little more than a glorified secretary to Tempus Vey’s Vos Ho’ara, the primary planetary representative of the Order of the Weave. Kithening was considered by most–and rightly so–as one of the more obscure attitudes, used primarily in rituals and traditions such as e’Yashe. The usefulness of singing with one’s orath was rather limited, and his nearly equal ability in the attitude of inscending–the mode of weaving which enabled a Weaver to superimpose their perception over that of another life form, allowing almost complete empathic awareness of what that being sensed and thought–was what had caused him to be placed within the Order as nothing more than a common dignitary. The sudden shift in his purpose with that fateful visit from Onveh and Wem’w had only seemed to spiral into more and more unraveling of the Weaver’s willfate.

A strange feeling for Filx, after so many cycles of boredom back on Tempus Vey.

Now, of course, Filx had the memories of the Vos Ushahd sewn into his thread of the Weave, his willfate inextricably intertwined with that of the Trinios itself. His infolding of the ancestral memories of Wem’w, the entrusting of his task to bring Ura before the Council of Lehmeria, the attack at Arivae–it was all of a piece. To what ends, Filx was still not aware, though he was quite certain (as were all nyvans) that the knowledge was there in the back of his mind, where the memories Wem’w had entrusted to him flitted and itched. He knew it had been no mistake that he had been chosen to house these valuable memories. His third primary attitude was membrancing, and it was said to be one of the first of the attitudes learned by Weavers eons ago. Though he was capable of deep castings into his memory–and presumably those of Wem’w as well–he felt ill-equipped to the task. His willfate had thrust him into a role he was loath to play, yet there was no denying it.

As the hours passed, Filx sat meditating on the Ovoa’s l’chal, falling into a deep casting of membrance as he searched his own memories for clues to explain why it seemed that he had repeatedly failed at the mission entrusted to him by the Order. He knew all things were driven by Reason (itself churned into existence and ground up again moment by moment in Wildspace), and intended to mine his experiences for the causes he had helped create to bring he and Ura to such a place.

Perhaps it was the attitude of membrance Filx invoked, or perhaps it was due to his own heightened sense of desire to find answers. Either way, the Weaver was suddenly overcome with the presence of ancestral memories Wem’w had burdened him with. The usual sensation of falling up into his memories was arrested by a stark and impermeable barrier, preventing him suddenly from soaring any further through the casting.

WHO CALLS?

The strange chorus of voices resonated and reverberated within his mind, an all-encompassing vibration which demanded the attention of every cell in his body, every meme in his soul. Searching frantically–instinctually–for the source of these many voices calling out as one, yet he could only determine its origin as a sourcepoint within his own auditory cortex, as if he had somehow asked the question of himself.

WHO CALLS?

The phrase echoed in Filx’s thoughts like a crash of thunder. Somewhere in his overwhelmed consciousness floated the knowledge that it was not really an echo, so much as it was a continuation of the original asking. He felt as if his awareness was trapped within the endless reverberations of the voices resounding inside him, a mote in the eye of a much larger presence. He struggled to form a thought in response to the terrible chorus that resembled something other than terror itself.

 I…Am.

The incessant pressure of the voices echoing around him seemed to ease slightly. He tried again.

I am. Filx.

For a brief moment the echoes seemed to suddenly disappear, returning a mere moment later with a bit less force than at first.

THE HOST.

The inside of the Weaver’s mind throbbed and itched, the presence of the voices still threatening to bring him back to that endless void where they dwelt. Pulling his thoughts, literally, back together as best he could, Filx struggled to keep his breathing steady as he maintained the casting. He knew, of course, to whom he was speaking, but was still unsure as to how he was doing so. He thought Wem’w had died along with the vassal back on the ice moon of V’ku.

THERE IS NO DEATH.

Surprised slightly to discover that actually framing a question was unnecessary, Filx continued to cast into his memory. The impenetrable barrier remained, and so he rested his mind upon it and listened silently, his thoughts flowing openly at last as he reached a more relaxed state.

YOU HAVE NOT FAILED US. ALL THINGS FLOW ACCORDING TO THE WEAVE. NOTHING IS LOST, ONLY TRANSFORMED.

Yes. He could begin to see it, as he started to feel the familiar falling upward sensation despite the barrier, as if it were growing thinner, more permeable to his own thoughts and the pressure against it they invoked. He pushed harder, moving deeper into the flux of ancestral memories.

TRUST THOSE WHO SHARE YOUR PATH. THE ASCENDANT MUST BECOME. HA’JAH REQUIRES THE KEY. YOU ARE THE HOST. WITNESS NOTHING IN GLORY; ALL IS TRANSFORMED.

Filx had no idea who the ‘ascendant’ might be, nor was he aware of what they must become, but he knew he trusted Ura. Of the Ovoa he was less certain. He felt it was better not to get too close to the infamous saudarkyn, despite Zevir’s likability, and he had no personal reason to  necessarily distrust the sally, yet the smuggler/assassin’s reputation as a vicious killer and anarchist was well-known. As he had been raised to do, he approached the Ovoa intuitively, moment by moment, doing his best to not allow his prior knowledge of the alien’s exploits cloud his perception. He still was not quite sure, however, in what way it related to his questions. His inability thus far to bring the human priestess-in-training before the Council of Lehmeria still frustrated him. He was not even sure why exactly he had been chosen to complete this task, or of the exact importance Ura held to those who ruled the Trinios, but he knew that it was his willfate to do so. He simply wanted to better understand why he had failed so utterly do to so.

THE QUARAZA MUST BE STOPPED. THE ASCENDANT MUST RISE. THE ASHYRAI MUST AWAKEN. LOOK TO VAULT’S MYTH. LOOK TO YALDOON.

The darkness of his mind’s eye suddenly lit, his thoughts filling with images of vast, ancient ruins of unimaginable size scattered across the desert landscape of some unknown planet, crumbling stones thousands of meters tall, rust-colored and warped in the ruddy heat and glow of a distant red star. Images of dark, misted swamps set against the glare of a bright, purple-skied morning, filled with strange glowing forms flitting just under the surface of the thick, soupy water brown and mucky and fetid. Of giant dah’vijh deepships and battleships the likes of which he’d never seen or imagined his people growing, but nyvan nonetheless, plunging through realspace towards a beautiful blue planet covered with wispy white weather to unleash horrible energies upon its surface (and its people) until it fell charred and smoldering away beneath the strange spinning acceleration the even stranger nyvan spacecraft employed as they sped away from the destruction. Of a laboratory complex buried deep inside the core of a distant moon (how Filx was aware this was a moon he knew not), filled with fellow Weavers of many fa’hseefa’hs and the slouched forms of grey-robed saudarkyn phaerics. Of cavernous rooms filled with giant artificial vats in long rows of glowing emerald, strange tubes and wires connecting them to a huge machine in the center of the cavern. Of the terrible things the vats contained, suspended in the glowing green viscous fluids.

The emotions enfolded into each vision–awe, fear, conviction, vengeance, remorse, passion, reverence, worry, hatred, and a symphony of others–slammed through Filx with the force of a supernova, drowning him in a torrent of images and feelings, memories and experiences. He struggled desperately to maintain control of his own thoughts as Wem’w flooded his awareness with  these things, eventually giving in to the onslaught he had unleashed onto his consciousness. Gasping unaware, he slipped away into a welcome darkness as his mind was flung helplessly into the void.