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Charlie Dorsett

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Chapter 4: Dark Signs

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Life moves with the undulating rhythm of the sea.  We rise and fall in an endless cycle.  The more we press something down, the higher it rises elsewhere.  Nothing ever truly ends.  It only changes its form.

Tien Shaa, “Tides and Seasons”

Ianus burst into the dining hall.  Blue grey face of his father haunted his vision.  The cold in his chest strangled him.  He could barely breathe.  

Daru and Maya sat at a table near the door.  

“That fool...”  Ianus shivered with tears, his voice quivered, “The War Maiden... is here... It’s really here...”  He looked at them, hoping they would deny it.  It was a lie...  They just stared at him.  Ianus crumpled into a ball, collapsing to the floor.  “He won’t listen to me...  He doesn’t care...”

Maya leapt from her seat, her feet hardly touching the ground, as she ran over to her adopted son.  “What are you talking about?” she knelt down and wrapped her arm around him, “What’s wrong?”

“Dad’s new ship,” Ianus gasped between sobs, “It’s called the Valkyrie, the war maiden... my vision...  The pieces are coming together— and that Kishan... while I looked at it, just lying there on the table.  It... it turned into dad!  He wasn’t breathing!  My God, I think he was dead!”

Ianus rolled onto his hands and knees, and folded further into himself as if he was searching for the living warmth within.  Rocking back and forth, he chanted, “Why won’t he listen to me?  Doesn’t he care?”  Pulling his knees into his chest with his arms, he muttered incoherently.  His eyes locked on Maya.  He shook violently.  

She just stared at him, her eyes misting up.

Ianus shifted his attention to Daru, who stood silently with her hands over her mouth.  

Hauntingly distant pain filled her eyes.  She looked past him, and out the door.  

Following her gaze, Ianus saw Ihy stoically beckoning to Maya with his hand.  Her arms slipped away from him, leaving a hollow, aching cold where she had been.

She left with Ihy in the direction of the library. 

“It’s always work, isn’t it!”  Ianus screeched, “Just go to your books...”  He closed his eyes, his tears froze as the warmth fled him.  “Damn it!” He lowered his head between his knees.  “Damn it all!”  He screeched.  “If he doesn’t give a damn, maybe I shouldn’t either!”

He heard Daru’s feet stumble.  Feeling her sit down beside him, he leaned on her shoulder.  Gently, she ran her fingers through his raven hair.

“It’ll be alright.  Everything’s alright.  I’m here,” she whispered softly into his ear, “I will always be here.  Forever and beyond.”

Ianus reached his trembling arm around her, “I know,” he whispered back, every moment stretched into an eternity.  “I don’t understand.”  He inhaled her sweet perfume, and nuzzled into her.

“What don’t you understand?”  Daru rested her head on the top of his.

Ianus sat up, and turned to face her.  He felt calm in her arms.  “For over a month now, dad has encouraged me to trust my visions, and believe in my gift.  But the moment I do, he acts like I’m... making it all up.”

“You don’t think he believes?”

Ianus sighed, “I think he’s too bound up in his new toy to care what I have to say,” he took her hand, “You know how lost he is in his own world sometimes.”

“What did he do when you told him?”  Daru asked protectively.

“He just gave me a lecture about the Machine.”  He squeezed her hand.  “What good is seeing the future if no one believes you?”

“Maybe he’s afraid the visions will control you?”

“Maybe… I guess.  But, if the visions are true, then his life is in jeopardy.  Why wouldn’t he care about that?”

Daru pulled Ianus closer, “Did you tell him that?”  

Ianus shook his head.

“He is an augur too,” Daru said, “Maybe he has seen the same threat, and has a plan to avert it?”

”Then why wouldn’t he tell me?”  Ianus said venomously.  Pushing her aside, he stood up and paced around the dining hall.  “If this is another one of his damn tests,” he struggled for words.  “He has no right to treat me like this.  He should tell me what he knows, even if for no other reason than to set my mind at ease!”

“Maybe he is testing you.  Perhaps he’s curious to see if you’ll find the same way out he did.”  Daru’s lip trembled.  “If he told you what he knew that would bias your visions.  The stakes are high, and there’s no room for error.  You can’t believe he would do this out of malice.  Maybe he needs you to see for yourself.”

“That would be just like him,” Ianus fumed, “I’m distraught, and he’s curious to find out if I can help myself or not.  You know, sometimes he’s the greatest father I could ever hope for, and other times... he is so distant.”

Daru hung her head, “You know, you’re really lucky.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Daru turned away from Ianus and faced the door, “Most of us just happen to our parents.  Your parents chose you.  They could have said no.  After your birth parents were killed, they could have sent you away to an orphanage, but they kept you.  They didn’t have too, you’re not blood related to either one of them, but they chose you.  You know they love you, because they took you home, and raised you.”

Ianus stopped pacing and looked around the room.  Slowly, he walked up to Daru and put his hand on her shoulder, “I know.”  Drawing in a deep breath, he closed his eyes.  He wanted to be mad at Ihy.  He didn’t want to let it go.  He had been treated unfairly.  Sighing, he shook his head.  There was no use arguing with Daru.  Looking over at her, he smiled, “You’re right.  I may not act like it, but I know.  They just make me so angry sometimes.”

“I know, I’m pretty mad at them myself, but maybe this is the path you have to walk?”

“I guess your right.  I’ll just have to see this through.  Anyway, my prescience book disagrees with me.”  Ianus laughed weakly, “Thank you, I feel a lot better.”

“Just promise me, keep your eyes open and don’t leave me out of the solution.”


Daru stalked the monastery grounds.  Taking in long slow breaths through her nose.  She looked for any sign of weakness or opportunity.  Fury burned in her soul.  The sight of Ianus suffering was more than she could bear.  She prowled for a solution.  A slight against Ianus was a slight against her.  She wanted to scream at Ihy for his carelessness.  Ianus wouldn’t do it.  Maya would never do it.  She knew she was the only one.

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

Slowly, she turned around, and glared at the library.  “You cannot hide from me,” a sinister grin broke across her face.  

A wild lion on the prowl, she strode across the courtyard up to the library doors.  Stopping, she took a deep breath and held it.  

Slowly, she exhaled.  A cruel smile on her face, she raised her right hand.  The jade stone of her periapt illuminated.  A shimmering haze issued from the stone.  In the fog, she could distinctly make out Ihy’s voice:

“What was I supposed to do?  I have important work to get done before tomorrow night.  Barami won’t stand for another delay.  No, I have to meet with him tomorrow.”

“I don’t see what he’s in such a state about anyway,” Maya said.  “A couple of dead bodies, and a few scattered rumors about Ual-leen agents.” 

“But, you know as well as I do what’s been going on. He’s probably hoping everything’s on schedule with... well you know.”  Silence.  “I should go for a coffee.  My head’s feeling a bit foggy.”

“What,” Maya paused.  “O, I see.”

Daru pulled her hand away from the door.  *How did he know I was listening?* she thought.  She stumbled a few steps backward, and ran off to the gardens.  At the entrance to the labyrinth, she looked back in time to see the library door swing open.

Ihy looked suspiciously out the door, then turned around and went back in.

Catching her breath, Daru wondered, *Dead bodies, why haven’t I heard about any dead bodies?*  Slowly, she left the garden and headed back toward the library.  *That’s it!  Pryor is coddling me, and Ihy is shoving Ianus aside to finish his precious work.*

Her hackles up again, Daru charged the library.  Swinging the doors open, she marched up to Ihy and Maya, and slammed her fists down on the table.

“How dare you treat Ianus like that!”  She roared, her fury filling her eyes.

“Like what?”  Ihy took a step backward, “Dear girl, what are you on about?”

“You know very well what I’m talking about!  And don’t call me dear girl!  I’ve grown up, if you haven’t noticed and you’ve grown cold!”

“Now listen here,” Ihy’s voice continued steadily.  “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“The pair of you are neglecting your son when he’s distraught, and you have the gall to say you haven’t done anything wrong?”

“And what exactly have we done?” he asked stoically.  “He is eighteen after all, and soon he will be a cenobite.  He has to start taking care of himself.”

“Anyway,” Maya interjected, “He has you, hasn’t he?  I’m sure you did everything in your power to comfort him.”

“Don’t try to change the subject!”  Daru raged, “I have a right to be angry!”

“You honestly haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, do you?”  Maya sat down and grinned.

“He’s been traumatized, you know!”  Daru stared coldly at Ihy, “He thinks you’re going to die.”

“Well of course I will.  We all will one day or another, won’t we?  Don’t tell me he just figured out that I’m mortal.”

“Don’t be sarcastic, he thinks you’re going to be killed, and soon by the sound of it.  He’s distraught.”

“Look,” Ihy walked around the table and took Daru by the hand, “He has to learn how to deal with his gifts on his own.  I did, and so did his birth mother and father.  It was only a matter of time until he received his first vision.  I can’t coddle him.”

That last statement stung Daru.  That was the last thing she wanted.  “You could be more sympathetic.”

“No.  I can’t,” Ihy sighed, “Prescience is both a gift and a curse.  I remember my first vision.”  Ihy winced “They can over power you, and crush your spirit if you’re not strong enough.  There is nothing Maya or I could do for him.  We’re his parents.  You, on the other hand, you have always been in his heart.  If he couldn’t find the strength in himself, he could find it through you.”

Daru’s mouth dropped open, and her eyes widened, “What are you going on about?”

Shaking his head, “We are his parents.  We will always be with him, even if only in spirit.  You, on the other hand, you are part of him.  You were friends before you ever met.  You are the strength he needs right now, not us.  We do care, but sometimes that’s just not enough.”


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

A knock on the door.

Ianus jumped at the sound.  Scrambling to the door, he opened it.

Tara stood there sheepishly.  She fidgeted with her hands, and avoided making eye contact.

“Can I help you, miss?” Ianus asked.

Her breath was unsteady, and she glanced repeatedly between Ianus and the floor.  “O, sorry... this was a bad idea.”  She sighed and turned to walk away.  Stopping, she tossed her head back and forth on her shoulders.  “O, I’m Tara Leal,” she said, pivoting on her toes to face Ianus, “I guess you might call me a friend, or maybe an acquaintance, of Daru’s.  I caught you at a bad time, didn’t I?  I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come.  I shouldn’t have bothered you.”  

Tara turned to walk away.  

Ianus grabbed her by the elbow, “No, wait.  Is something wrong?”

Tara stopped and turned around, “Are you sure this isn’t a bad time?  I always seem to catch people at the wrong time.  I have horrible timing.  Am I interrupting anything?”

“Not unless you think I need to be bored.  I wasn’t doing anything at all.  Do you want to go down to the courtyard?”

“I’d rather talk in your room, if that’s all right with you.”

Ianus looked back at his open door, “If you are comfortable being alone in a room with a strange man?”

Tara smiled, “I know thirty-four ways to kill a person with a glance.  I am a trained maker, months away from initiation.  I think I can handle myself.”

“I meant, if you don’t think people would talk... but that’s good to know,” Ianus chuckled, “But I think I should warn, you I know fifty-eight ways to block a stare, so don’t get any ideas.”

Walking into the small, studio apartment, he pointed Tara over to the table and chairs.  “So what’s the problem?”

They sat down.

“Well, Daru said you might be able to help me.  She said you are an augur.”

Tara fidgeted with her hands.

Ianus shuffled uneasily in his seat, “Well?  The jury is still out on that.  I have had two visions, but I’m not too sure I even understand what they mean.”

“O,” Tara looked down, “I’m sorry I bothered you.”

“No, no, Daru always knows what she’s talking about.  If she thinks I can help you, I should at least try.”

“Well, I had a dream...” Tara stopped.

Ianus’ eyes glazed over.  He looked past her into a distant fog.  Fragments and shadows flashed through his consciousness.  “You saw a giant, white stag, Peregrine, I believe.  He had silver fur running across his face and back, and snow white fur down his neck and belly.  His antlers, polished gold, and about three feet long.”  

Tara stared at him, fascinated.

Ianus continued.  “He stood before the Blood Moon, Ari-leen, somewhere on Adrakaya.”  Ianus’ eyes began to water.

“Is everything all right?”  Tara asked.

“Yes, why?”

“You’re crying.”

“No, my eyes are watering,” Ianus rubbed his eyes but the image never faded or distorted.

“What does it mean?”  Tara slid forward to the edge of her chair.

“Changes are coming.  One will come soon and will make you choose the path that will lead you to greatness, or the path that will lead to certain destruction.”

Tara sat up straight in her chair, “How will I know which path to take?”

“Two paths will present themselves to you, but it is not a new choice.  You have made it already, and you will have to make it again.”

“When did I make this decision?”

“Once when you were very young, and even now you are under its sway.”

“Really?”  Tara looked away, “So what should I do?”

“Stay the course.  Do not be swayed from the path set before you.”

“It is fate then?  Destiny?”

“Yes,” Ianus said.  “It is what was born with you.  The path is a part of you.  To deny it would be to deny yourself.”

“Don’t you feel like fate’s slave sometimes?”

“Never!  All things arise together, depending on a million other causes.  You were born, just as we all are, with certain gifts, talents, and strengths.  They set you on the path.  You make the choices.”  Ianus shivered.  He didn’t know where the words were coming from, they simply fell from his mouth.  “Nortia tries to guide us through.”

“I make the choices...” Tara muttered, “Thank you.”

Ianus shook his head, and the room again became clear, the vision ended.  “I hope I was helpful.”

Tara shook his hand, “Yes, you were.  Thank you so very much.”

Ianus escorted Tara to the door.  After she had gone, he looked at the prescience book.  Lost in thought, he just kept saying, “We make our own decisions.”


Faroh Raanan and a man with pale skin lit up brilliantly every time they passed under the light of one of the street lamps.  Walked down a street in Shiloh.  The other man, Jago Modcearu, straightened his dark black tunic.  His well cropped brown hair stood as rigidly as he did.

“I am glad to see you again,” Jago said, his high pitched nasal voice barely traveled past them, “I wondered how long it would be before our lord sent me a helper.”

“He is most pleased with your work here at Shiloh.”  Faroh smiled, “You have done very well.  All of the troublemakers have been taken care of before they have become problems.”

“The work of an inquisitor is never done,” Jago said modestly, “I serve the order well.”

Seeing another maker coming down the path, Faroh said, “Have there been any leads on the string of murders that have taken down so many members of the Jade Moon of late?”

They nodded at the other maker as he walked past.  “No,” Jago answered, “There have been a few rumors, but nothing reliable in any way.”

When the stranger was out of ear shot, Faroh said, “How is everything going with Osten?”

“He is progressing on schedule.  He will be ready when the master needs him.  And who are you working with now?”

“Ianus Akeru.”  Faroh smirked.

“The son of Elkan and Hannah Akeru?” Jago asked slyly.

“The very same,” Faroh fought not to laugh.  “He will be harder than I thought.  He has no love for the song.”

“Have you introduced him to the litany?”

“No, but he trusts Ihy to a fault,” Faroh said, “He thinks the old fool’s teachings will help him.  Like there is anything that crackpot could say that is not in the Song.  Once he sees the glories of the Song’s words, and meaning, he will join us.  He will bow to the One.”

“Our Lord Pan...” Jago looked around quickly to make sure he hadn’t been heard.  “Our Lord has told you this?”

“He didn’t have to.  I know the truth, and the truth guides my steps.  One day, Ianus will know the truth.  Then he will be one of us.”  Stopping in front of a house, Faroh checked a note in his hand, “This is the place.”  He looked at Jago and nodded.

Faroh took a few steps back, and then leapt onto the roof over the second floor terrace.  Flipping onto the hard cement balcony, he bent down over the terrace wall, and winked down at Jago.

Jago nodded back at him, and rang the doorbell.  The sound of footsteps lazily made their way to the door. 

“Greetings,” the handsome young man said opening the door, “Can I help you?”

“Master Roman Elsu?”  Jago asked in a formal tone.

“Yes,” the man said, scratching his head.

“Is your wife Jenn home?”

“She is, can I...”

Jago lunged forward knocking the man inside, slamming the door shut.

Faroh jumped forward crashing through the glass door.  A beautiful young woman, turned around quickly.  Brilliant light flashed from her periapt and a large single edge sword appeared in her hand.

Faroh smiled broadly.  Jenn charged him, raising her sword above her head.  The sword came down.

Inches away from his forehead the blade stopped.  A flash of electric blue light deflected the blade, Faroh laughed.

A metal pole as tall as him appeared in his hand, “Come on then, try again,” he taunted.

A quick thrust of the pole - Jenn blocked with her feeble blade.  The sword shattered.

“O, that’s not good,” he scoffed.  Rushing forward, he spun the pole down at Jenn’s feet.

She jumped out of its way, but Faroh quickly brought it back, hitting her in the face.  

Stunned by the blow, she staggered backwards toward the stairs.  

Faroh ran up the wall to her right, and leaped over her head.  Landing on the top step, he brought the staff up, and held it tight against her throat.  She gasped for breath.

“Really now, you should have practiced more,” rolling backwards, Faroh pulled her off the ground, and over him.  He let go of her in mid back flip.  

She crashed down the stairs, and with a loud snap landed at the bottom.  

Faroh caught the middle stair with his hands, and pushed off.  He landed at the bottom of the stairs with one foot on either side of Jenn’s body.

Applause erupted from a chair in the living room, “You always did enjoy your work,” Jago chuckled.

Faroh, still breathing slowly, saw Roman’s body laid out on the couch, “Be sure to plant the evidence on them.  Then wait an hour before you anonymously report the crime to Osten.”


Tara stood on the balcony of the suite she was sharing with her mentor Barami.  Shiloh’s city lights twinkled in the distance.  Her eyes wandered over the starless night sky, 

*Why did Barami have to go out tonight?* she thought, *He knows Master Khem won’t be able to see him until tomorrow night.*  

She rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand.  *He always comes when I’m alone… always when I’m alone.  I really don’t want to see him today.*

Startled, she looked down at what she thought was a shadowy figure creeping across the courtyard.  

*Just a tree,* she sighed.  

Walking over to the small white metal table in the corner of the balcony, she picked up her wine glass and cast a longing gaze down on her book.

Slowly, she filled her mouth with the fruity wine.  Closing her eyes, she savored the flavor.  

*Maybe he won’t come.*  She tried to ease her own mind, *After all, Ihy Khem presides over this temple.  He wouldn’t dare, would he?*

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

“Master?”  Tara jumped, dropping her wine.  The shattering glass startled her again.

Looking around with a hard, vacant stare, the corners of her mouth drew back tight.  “I’m hearing things,” she muttered.

“Of course, my dear,” the lights in the suite went out, “You are hearing me.”

Tara peered into the dark room, looking for signs of movement.

“What wouldn’t I dare to do?”  The voice asked again. 

A dim red fire burst to life in the center of the room.  Tara searched the now sanguineness room for a sign of her master.

“My Lord, they were just stray thoughts.  Please forgive me,” Tara begged the unseen speaker.

“Stray thoughts?”  The voice said.  Tara looked over at a shadowy figure in black robes sitting in the lounge chair with his hood pulled over his face.  “Since when do you have stray thoughts?”

“Please forgive me, master,” Tara exclaimed, running over to the humanoid form.  She fell to her knees, and prostrated before him.

“I am not the one to forgive.  Have you forgotten the Song?”

“O no, master,” Tara sat up and shook her head, “I still listen to the Song.  I study its truth.”

“Good,” the hooded figure motioned for her to stand, “You thought I wouldn’t dare come here.  Not with Ihy Khem running the place.  You thought I would avoid the one who defeated me.  Me, Karu Panthera, the servant of the Great Machine.  It is true that he and his followers drove me out of the Camarilla of the Jade Moon, but his followers are mostly dead now, aren’t they?”

“Yes, my Lord, it was a foolish thought, I should have...”

“Enough of your sniveling.  I know what you’ve been up to.  You’ve been spending too much time around that Daru girl.  She’s nothing but trouble.”

“She’s a Master Predicant of the Jade Moon, and...”

“And you have been learning the Song of Ara’lu Lavan!  Have you forgotten that the Jade Moon betrayed the teaching?”

“Daru says that the Ara’lu betrayed the Enmadra and...”

“You believed her?  Have you forgotten the truth so soon?”

“But she has found,” Tara struggled for words, “Freedom. The very same freedom you promised me when you taught me the Song.”

“She’s a slave!  The Song is life.  Don’t let her seduce you with her quaint lies.  You know the truth.  Dov Lavan died for the truth, sacrificing himself so the way could be made straight.”

“But Tien Shaa also gave his life, and he returned to life again.”

“So did Lavan,” Panthera raised his hands, “I can take you to Tien Shaa’s tomb.  I assure you, he’s still in it.  And where is Lavan’s tomb?  He became one with the machine.  His body was never found.”

“But, I’ve met her.  She really is free!”

“My poor girl, do you really think you’ll ever be free?”  Panthera rose from the chair, and scowled down at her, “You still have fear, and that fear will haunt you like your own shadow.  Only the power I offer can heal you.”

“But, I’ve been reading about the To’asaa.  I believe it...”

“Just do what you’re told!  Serve your purpose.  You don’t want to become obsolete, do you?”

“O no... I...” Tara scurried back.

“You cannot question the Song.  The Song cannot err.  In the past four thousand three hundred and twenty years, the Song has never been wrong.  It is truth!  Who are you to question the truth?”

Tara’s voice quivered, “No one... I am a part of the machine.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“I hear the song, I know the truth.  I serve the One. I will serve my purpose,” Tara closed her eyes and let her head hang down, “I will do what I’ve come here to do.”


Early in the morning, Ianus rolled out of bed.  He hadn’t slept well.  Strange dreams haunted him all night.  Creatures and armies clashing in the dark.  It was like the epic battles from the days of Tien Shaa, and even Samara the Rogue when the galaxy burned with war.  Augurs often saw the past as well as the future, but why had he dreamed about the ancients.

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

After he had returned his plates to the kitchen, he decided to ask Aashen and Tuun about the Valkyrie.  The name of the ship still sent shivers up and down his spine.

He left the dining hall with a spring in his step and a smile on his face.  Seeing the Fallon Brothers enter the garden, he turned to follow them.  As he passed the labyrinth, he lost his train of thought.

“Two more murdered?”  It was Ihy.

Ianus froze in mid-step.

“Yes, sir,” Ianus didn’t recognize the other man’s voice, “Roman and Jenn Elsu, but that’s not the worst part.  Items were found in their house suggesting that they were... secretly members of the Ual-leen, but I can’t believe it.”

“I know... knew them, it does seem out of character for them, but at this point I don’t think we can rule anything out.”  Ihy paused for a moment, then whispered, “What do they think was the motive?”

“They found an Ual-leen glyph branded into their forehead.  It was a warning glyph.  If all this is true, the mark means they had betrayed someone, and that this was a vengeance murder.”

“If there was a mark on the bodies, that would mean they were about to meet another Ual-leen agent... How did we find them before the bodies could be removed?  Who found them?”

“A neighbor called, they said they heard strange sounds at the Elsu house.  As to who found them, it was Osten Moore.”

“Again?  He has been very lucky lately.  He has uncovered quite a few of these secret agents.  Has he been investigated?”

“He’s clean, by-the-way, I know his wife, Deryn, they are good people...” The voices faded off into the distance.

*They must have walked off,* Ianus thought.  *What was I doing?  O, that’s right.  Aashen and Tuun.*

Heading off toward the labyrinth, Ianus noticed the Fallon brothers in the field off to the side.  They were talking, very animated about something.  As Ianus approached, they became very quiet.

“Hello, Ianus!”  Aashen called out, “Come for a quick game?  A duel perhaps?”

“O no!”  Ianus shook his head vigorously, “I’ve come to ask you something.”

“No, no, not business.  Not now,” Aashen stood up, his Ceeri leapt on his back and spread his over size wings.  “I’m not in the proper mood for, well, being proper.”  Jumping into the air, the Ceeri flapped his wings and carried Aashen aloft.

“Get back down here and talk to me,” Ianus looked at Tuun who was still sitting on the ground.

“Don’t even think about it,” Tuun grumbled, his Ceeri crawled onto his back.  With a minimum of effort, it flapped its wings and flew them both away.

Aashen smiled mischievously, “Beat me to the center of the Labyrinth, and I’ll answer your questions.”  Swinging his body to the left, he flew toward the hedges.

Ianus ran after him.  Faster and faster, with each stride he rose higher into the air.  Bounding onto the first hedge, he looked at the marble statue of Uma Nari in the center of the Labyrinth.

Aashen swooped over the hedges, laughing, “You cannot catch me!”  He shouted.  “You don’t have wings!”  

Ianus focused on his periapt, and leapt from hedge to hedge.  His foot barely touched the branches as he kicked off each one.

Aashen had taken a sizable lead.

Closing his eyes, Ianus knew he needed the answers.  Aashen dove toward the center; Ianus bounded toward him.

As Ianus’ soared through the air, he reached out his hand.  Grabbing Aashen by the ankle, Ianus forced his legs forward.  His feet landed on Aashen’s chest.  He kicked off, shoving Aashen backward.  Ianus hit the ground, and rolled across the hard sod in the center of the labyrinth.

Landing on his feet, Ianus sprung from the crouching position and wrapped his arm around the statue.

“I win!” he shouted as Aashen landed with his arms crossed.  “Well, are you ready to talk now?”

Aashen laughed and shook his head.  “Good show!  But next time, don’t kick so hard.  That hurt.”

“This from the man who routinely wing buffets his opponents during a fight?  I’ll try to remember that.” 

“Ask your questions,” Aashen said.

“Why did you get the Valkyrie?”  Ianus folded his arms.

“Because Ihy asked us to.”

“Why did Ihy ask you to buy it?”

“I don’t know.  He said he needed a ship that fit certain criteria, so we found him one.”

“What criteria?”  Ianus narrowed his eyes.

“He asked for a divisible frigate that had Kishanu.  O, and he wanted it to be able to make its own jumps into hyperspace.”

“Did he specify a name?  Did he want it named the Valkyrie?”

“No, there were four ships to choose from, and Tuun like that one best.  So are you done with me now?”

“Yeah, let’s do something fun.”


Off in a dark, forgotten corner of the library, Ihy Khem and Barami sat at an old, weathered table.  Ihy laid a black cloth out.  

Barami fidgeted expectantly.  

Unfolding the cloth, Ihy revealed the brilliant jade stone and supple leather glove of the To’asaa.

“It’s magnificent,” Barami bowed his head reverently, “Where are you keeping it?”

“In a safe room across from my office, where I keep all of our precious collections.”

“I was surprised when I heard that Master Isann had retired from his guardianship.  It was a great privilege for him to have been chosen in the first place.”

“Well, with all of the events of late,” Ihy watched him carefully, “He thought it would be safer in the care of a monastery then with a traveling Predicant.  Why?  Did you think it would come to you?”

Barami sat back in his chair, “O no, of course not, but... well, with all respect to you, Master, but I thought it would go to someone,” He paused “younger.  Anyway, there has been talk that the Enmadra have returned to Adrakaya, and their servants, the A’nath-ari, are on the move again.”

“I’ve heard, but don’t worry.  The To’asaa is safe here.”

“But if the A’nath-ari take an interest in it...”

“Why would they?”  Ihy chuckled, “They serve the Enmadra, as you put it.  I’m sure if they wanted a similar periapt, they would simply ask the Enmadra for one.”

Barami laughed, “You’re right.  I’m sorry.  There has been so much going on lately.  I heard that young Akeru is having visions.  And if I heard correctly, he is predicting that the Ual-leen are rising again.”

“The rumors come and go.  Our intelligence office has rounded up several suspected Ual-leen agents.”

“Don’t forget about the murders.”

“I’m not too sure about those.  They have been all too... convenient.  I’m not sure they are exactly what they seem.  There is only one thing that bothers me more…  If Ianus is right, then the only thing we can be sure of is that he will be dead before this is over.”

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