Chapter 2: Journey (draft)

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The soft leather seats in the Ifreann Tan ship were more comfortable than Niht expected. They stood out against the austere metal room. The three Sen that boarded the ship with him sat a little way off talking among themselves. Airoh sat in the opposite corner with the other Ceeri. Niht pushed their conversation out of his mind. He didn’t like to eavesdrop on Airoh’s conversations when he wasn’t involved in them. Sharing his entire life with another being made him prize any moments of privacy he stumbled into throughout his life.

One of the Sen, a young boy about his age, broke away from the others and walked over to him.

“My name is Iarann Kynsia.” He said with a broad smile on his cherubic face. His short reddish brown hair stood up atop his head like a well-manicured lawn.

“I’m Nithwyn Scathaan.”

Iarann sat next to him. A quizzical expression took over his face. “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you here?”

Niht weighed the question carefully.

“Don’t misread me.” The boy said with a nervous laugh. “I just meant I don’t recognize you from the temple. Did you come from another?”

Niht sighed. No good relationship started with a lie, so he parsed his words. “No, I just arrived and saw an opportunity to surround myself with those stronger than me. The priest said they were evacuating the novitiates. So, here I am.”

Iarann smiled. “It is a bit scary, isn’t it? I mean, leaving Oben while it is being invaded. Not knowing what is happening with our families, or what we will face in the trials at the mother temple. It’s a lot.”

“It is.” Niht thought about his brothers and hoped they were all right. “What trials are you talking about?”

“The ones that make us Phersu.” Iarann furrowed his brow. “We have sworn our lives to the hidden way, now we face Providence’s judgement. If we are meant to walk the path, we will find our true face, and if not…”

The way his voice trailed off spoke volumes.

Niht glanced over at Airoh, who turned to connect with his eyes. This might have been a mistake. They boarded the ship to find safety, not to risk their lives differently.

“If we don’t find anything, we get to leave, right?”

“Not exactly.” Iarann slid closer to him on the couch and lowered his voice. “The priests should have explained it to you before they let you take the oath. If this isn’t our path, we won’t find the strength to carry on.”

“We’ll die?” Niht’s stomach dropped.

“We won’t survive.” Iarann almost whispered. “We are going to relive the trials of Neevh Tiar.”

The deeds of the Neevh floated in the dark recesses of Niht’s mind. Mobs drove him from several worlds, and he often fought for his life. He hadn't read the scriptures in years. The details were fuzzy. The trials could be anything. After the dark nova, the order of the universe broke down. The Neevh saved his people on so many occasions from famine, disease, raiders, and slavers. What would the Phersu expect a group of young adults to endure?

His fear must have etched itself across his face, because Iarann said, “They will train us before each trial. It’s not like they think we are ready for this life with no preparation.”

Niht watched a member of the Ifreann Tan stride through the room in his jet black armor. “If that is what they ask of their priests, I can’t imagine what they have to go through.”

Iarann laughed. “That is a special calling. Do you know what means of divination speaks to you yet?”

Niht shook his head.

“Me neither.” Iarann said. “I think I might be a scryer. At least once, I think I saw something in the water.”

“I shouldn’t be here.” Niht said. “I’m not cut out for this. I am a nobody. Why would fate tell me anything?”

“The Neevh said, ‘Fate speaks through every action around us.’ You wouldn’t be here if this wasn’t part of your path. Just being here makes it your fate.”

“What was it again? ‘Every circumstance we find ourselves in is our fate. Since it has happened, it cannot be changed.’ My father used to say that all the time.”

“So very true.” Iarann said. “At least we don’t have to go through all this alone. I’ll help you through if you’ll do the same for me. Vaalyn and Sarial have already grouped up.”

“I see why you came over here now.” Niht looked at the cold metal grates on the floor as his shoulders slumped.

“Because you looked lonely.” Iarann put his hand on Niht’s knee. “I thought you needed a friend.”

 

Niht and Iarann discussed the invasion for hours. Neither of them understood what prompted such a dramatic change in relations between the two states. They wondered when the occupation would end. Iarann argued it would be less than a year, since they bothered to land forces. Niht doubted that their people could ever fight off such a superior force.

The Ifreann Tan served a simple meal of fish with a savory broth, vegetables, and some rice. They never talked to them. Whenever they entered the room, a solemn silence filled the space.

Fear silenced Niht. The Tan had a repupation as cold blooded killers. Those stories couldn’t be true. How could they survive as an organization if they summarily executed their novices on their way to where ever they were going, but he didn’t want to risk it.

The four of them shared one cabin with two bunkbeds.

Every morning started with meditation before breakfast, then they were left to do whatever they wanted for the rest of the day.

Their choices were limited. The ship had no library, and they were restricted from accessing the computers. There were no games, not even a deck of cards that could be used for anything that wasn’t divination. So they talked or sat in silence.

Niht preferred the silence to the conversations. The more he spoke with Iarann, the more he realized how out of his depths he was. The casual familiarity he had with the Phersu from his parents hadn’t prepared him at all for the expectations on him.

His only hope was when they arrived at the mother temple, he could slip out of the compound and disappear. With any luck, they wouldn’t waste their time looking for him. He was nobody. 

The ship felt safe.

They weren’t allowed near a viewport, so he didn’t know if they traveled through open space or if they took the sector jump gate. If he had more experience with space travel, he might have noticed something that gave him a hint.

The only other time he had ever been offworld was when he was taken with the other children of the village on the pilgrimage to the ruins of An-uras. It was little more than a small collection of asteroids in a nebula. Those rocks were all that remained of the world his people originated on.

Niht always wondered if he should have felt something looking at the ashes of what once was his people’s home world, but he felt nothing. He had no memories of anything that ever existed on that lost world. The pictures and holograms he’d seen were filled with beauty, but they were something from a picture book, a fantasy. They weren’t real to him.

After eight days on the ship, he settled into a routine to stave off boredom. He spent most of his time talking to Iarann. The other two novices stuck together and tended to ignore them.

On the ninth day, the Ifreann Tan member in the solid black armor invited them into another section of the ship with a large table set before an equal sized viewport. 

Based on the movement of the stars, they were in the forward section of the ship.

“I am Amaru Huriya.” The black armored man said in a deep voice modulated with a slight chorus effect which made it resonate in fuller and richer tones. “I have been assigned to protect you while you are with us. I will also watch your progress to see if any of your paths leads toward the Ifreann Tan.”

A collective gasp filled the room.

“I will also be one of your instructors.” Amaru continued. “Don’t worry if you feel you are not up to the great work set before you. We all feel that way when we arrive at the temple. Those who don’t generally don’t survive the trials.”

Niht glanced around at the others. They all wore an expression that asked if that was a joke and they were meant to laugh, or a threat designed to frighten them.

“While you are here, you will discover the face you will share with the world beyond.” Amaru continued. “Masks are not required in the temple, since we are among our own, but no one is required to remove theirs either. Remember, your mask and public name are for your safety. Our people have been hunted over the centuries. The way is life.”

In the distance, a small collection of silver and steal rings wound in, out, around, and through an asteroid in orbit of a white dwarf star.

Escape was no longer an option. There was no way so slip into the crowd and fade into obscurity.

Niht gulped and accepted that he would be a Phersu. The way was life, everything else was death.


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