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Charlie Dorsett

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Chapter 3: The War Maiden

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Everything changes.  Our most dangerous tendency is our desire to freeze everything as it is.  This is as foolish as saying, “This is my favorite breath.  I will never let it out.”  Just let go, and the beauty of all things will become clear.

Adir Radd, “Hope in Darkness”

Ianus and Daru ran through the garden labyrinth hand in hand, laughing and giggling like little children.  

With each turn they slid on the dusty stone path into the interwoven limbs of the hedge.  The whole row shook from the impact, and they bounced off to the next sharp turn.

A couple times they had to let go of each other as they passed a monastic using the labyrinth for meditation.  Ianus hoped that they were not being too disruptive, but the concern passed quickly.

When they reached the center, they collapsed on a dark, wooden bench.  Panting, they laughed, tears streaming down their faces.

“It’s good,” Ianus gasped, “It’s so good to see you again. How long will you be staying?”

“I have no idea,” Daru muttered as she regained her composure, “Pryor just came in and announced the trip.  I hope we can stay for at least a month.  I’m so tired of sleeping in a different bed on a different planet every week.”  She fell back into the bench, and slouched.

“Well, at any rate, I’m glad you’re here.  I miss having someone here to talk to.  What have you been doing?”

“We have been in the service of the Camarilla,” Daru rolled her eyes.  “Master Theron believes the Ual-leen are on the rise again.  He sent us from parish to parish investigating suspected bases.”

“Have you found any?”

“No,” she said flatly, “Not one.  We heard some interesting rumors about the Enmadra being sighted here and there.  We haven’t found any proof for that either.”

“Maybe that’s what you are doing here?”  Ianus straightened up, “A large number of terrorists have been arrested in Shiloh lately.  Mom told me that there is some evidence they were involved in the Ual-leen.”

Daru sat up, and looked away, “Then why wouldn’t Pryor tell me?  He briefed me before every other mission?  He even gave me the case files.”

Biting his lip, “Maybe Dad told him not too— he has been talking about the Song of the Machine a lot lately.  Maybe they are certain and they don’t want to place you in danger.”

Daru’s eyes flared, “I can’t believe Pryor would leave me behind!  This is why I took the order of the Predicant.  No, that can’t be it.”

“Maybe he had a vision like the one I had on my birthday.”  He looked at the Sukallin mark on his arm.  He still heard nothing.

“What vision?”  Daru leaned in close to him.

“O, it’s not important,” Ianus hopped off the bench, “Forget I brought it up.  It was just a side effect of the merging.”

“Ianus, don’t lie to me!  You’ve never been able to lie to me.  I’ve known you forever.  What vision are you talking about?”

“Ihy thinks I’m an augur.  When I merged, I saw...  Blood, pain… I think it had something to do with the Ual-leen.  Look!  I don’t want to talk about it.”

Daru furrowed her brow, “Don’t you believe in visions?”

“No!  I believe in what I can touch- what is real.  It was just an illusion!  There is no such thing as magic!”

Daru jumped off of the bench and hurried over to a sapphire blue rose bush.  She struggled to contain her emotion.  

Ianus sat down, and looked at her pleadingly.  Rocking back into the bench, he hummed softly a local folk song Maya taught him.  

Daru smiled.  She forced her mouth flat.  

Ianus knew he was getting to her.

“I’m sorry Daru, but that’s all mom and dad have been talking about for weeks.  I’m tired of talking about it.”

“I can’t believe you’ve lost your faith.”

“I have not lost my faith!”  Ianus covered his eyes with his hands, and breathed slowly to calm down.  He held it in for a moment, then sighed, “My faith is as strong as it has ever been, but I know in my heart that I could never be a prophet!”

“Whoever called you a prophet?”  Daru almost whispered, her voice crackling with hurt and confusion, “Ihy called you an augur, an interpreter of times— and Ianus, you’ve always been able to see patterns in people’s actions.”

Ianus’ arms dropped down by his sides.  “Maybe you’re right— it’s just that my vision cannot come true.  I won’t allow it… Dad can’t…” Ianus fell silent, almost stopping the tear from glassing over his eye.

“Can’t what?”

“Nothing,” The image of the bleeding dragon flashed before his eyes.  “I’m sorry I freaked out… I’ve been under too much stress lately.  Let’s just drop this, and get back to visiting… okay?”

Daru smiled, and nodded her head.  “O,” she bounced, “I brought you something for your birthday.”  Daru reached into a deep pocket and pulled out a palm-sized, parchment wrapped package, “I hope you like it.”

The weight of the small package surprised Ianus.  Ripping it open, he pulled out a small, stone obelisk, with golden letters engraved into one of its cold gray faces.

“It’s a Benben-stone?”  Ianus mused, running his finger across the lettering.  Fire erupted from the stone.  The flames danced through the sky, slowly enclosing into a large red bird with purple frills around its head and tail.

“Doesn’t this make you believe?”  Daru asked longingly.

“It’s only an eidolon, Daru.”  The bird squawked in protest, Ianus shook his head.  “No Daru, this doesn’t make me believe in magic.  When I look into your eyes, I can almost see myself as you see me.  That does give me hope.  It makes me want to believe.”

 

Daru entered the library, and looked around for Ihy, Maya, and Pryor.  

The room was so empty.  

Her footsteps echoed in the silence.  Looking down the hall where Ihy had placed the To’asaa, she noticed the light was on, and the door was open.  

Daru approached the room quietly and reverently, so she wouldn’t startle Ihy if he were in the room meditating.

It wasn’t Ihy.

A woman stood with her back to the door.  Her reddish blond hair came down to her shoulders.  She wore the white robe, and blue, apprentice sash.

“Excuse me?”  Daru asked firmly, “Does Master Khem know you are in here?”

The woman whirled about, her violet eyes wide, “O, you frightened me.  He should know I am here, but he was talking with my Master, Barami, when I asked if I could explore the library.  So, I guess, I’m not sure if he knows I am in here or not.”

“A simple yes or no would have sufficed,” She watched the girl carefully, “I am Mistress Daru Shaheen, what is your name?”

“O, I’m sorry.  I am Tara Lael, apprentice to Master Barami.”  Her alabaster skin flushed a ruby red.  “I haven’t done anything wrong have I?  I was only admiring this lovely periapt.”

“You shouldn’t be in here alone!”  Daru said sternly.

“I’m sorry,” Tara said sheepishly, “But the door was unlocked… there wasn’t a sign on the door saying keep out.  I am so sorry, I had no clue.”

Tara’s response reminded Daru of an abused dog who had been caught doing something wrong.  

Daru sighed, “It’s all right.  If the door was unlocked and unmarked…” she shook her head, “And that is not just a pretty periapt, it is the Holy To’asaa.  Surely an apprentice in the Jade Moon would know that.”

Tara nodded her head, and then looked back over to the periapt.  “Should I have heard of it?”

Daru’s eyes flared, “Sit down.  We should talk.  You have never heard of the To’asaa?”

Tara sat down at a small table.  

Daru took the To’asaa off the shelf, laid it down on the table, and sat down next to Tara.

“This is a relic of Tien Shaa, isn’t it?”  Tara asked

“Yes, do you know the story of Tien Shaa?”  Daru saw Tara shaking her head, “Tien Shaa was one of three disciples of the Enmadra, Jeriah Kamil.  The other two were Adir Radd, and Dov Lavan.”

“Did they study like we do?”  Tara asked.

“Yes,” Daru said patiently, “Jeriah taught them the Maker’s Arts, and in the use of the periapt.  Jeriah himself constructed three periapts, and I must say the Enmadra periapts are far more powerful than the ones we use today.”

Tara examined the To’asaa, “Is that why this periapt is to be revered?”

“O no!  The To’asaa is just an object.  You shouldn’t revere any made thing.  No, the To’asaa is a symbol of the work of Tien Shaa.”

“I don’t understand.”

Daru wet her lips, “Tien Shaa was the son of Uma Nari,” her periapt flashed.  The small room faded into an ancient, dusty street leading to a large temple.  Multiple tiers sloped out of the ground one on top of the other into what looked like a large mountain.  Tall trees, vines, and various flowering shrubs grew on each of the terraces, their verdant foliage stood out against the cream colored marble of the temple.

“Tien Shaa was the son of Uma Nari and the cousin of Adir Radd.  Every day, he, his cousin, and Dov Lavan would hurry to the temple to receive instruction from Jeriah Kamil,” as Daru told the story, corresponding images moved across the wall to illustrate, “Each learned the Maker’s Arts quickly, but Adir Radd had the additional burden of prophecy.

“Early in his training, he found his visions overpowering.  He began making Eidolons to take his mind off them.  The stronger his vision, the stronger the eidolon he created.  His visions would often blind him, or leave him gasping for air.  As the time for his initiation came near, he received a vision so frightening- he was literally paralyzed with fear.”

“What was the vision?”  Tara listened attentively.

“At first, Radd refused to say, which caused him to become gravely ill.  Even Jeriah came to his bedside and begged him to reveal what he had seen but he wouldn’t or couldn’t open his mouth.

“The days passed.  Tien Shaa and Dov Lavan finished their lessons.  During their initiation into the order of the Predicant, Jeriah gave them their new periapts.”

“And that’s where Tien Shaa received the To’asaa?”  Tara said smiling.

“Yes, but it did not have a name yet.  After their initiation, Dov Lavan founded the Te’nath Ual-leen, the Order of the Black Moon, which was named after one of the three moons of Adrakaya.”

“And Tien Shaa founded the Cynath Bahn Se’leen,” Tara interjected, “The House of the Jade Moon, after one of the other moons.”

“That’s right Tara, he did.  Tien Shaa traveled around the countryside selecting only a few men and women to instruct in the Maker’s Art.  Dov Lavan on the other hand quickly gathered a large following.”

“What happened to Adir Radd?”

“After spending close to a year in a sick bed, he received another vision.  He could keep silent no longer.  The color quickly returned to his face and he regained his strength.  Then he disappeared.  Meanwhile, Dov Lavan gained more followers by the day.  Tien Shaa selected only seven people to instruct, although he would often give public talks.

“One day, while Dov Lavan was sitting on the steps of the temple teaching- Adir Radd appeared in the center of the crowd.  

“‘Dov Lavan!’  He proclaimed, ‘You have been judged by the All Seeing, and all your works will be made known.  You have deceived these people, and stolen their money to make it your own.  Your ego is your god.  You feed these people with your vain pronouncements, promising them rewards for their obedience and torments if they rebel.  They serve you, not some greater power.  Your end has been foreseen.  Repent of your wickedness, and escape the calamity that awaits you.’

“Lavan was furious, but if he took action, he knew it would prove Radd’s charges.  Radd followed Lavan from city to city, making disciples of his own, and even more powerful eidolons.  Eventually, Lavan could take no more.  Even though Radd had engendered a large following, Lavan’s anger could not be quenched by anything other than Radd’s blood.  In the middle of the night, he sent several of his men to capture him.

“Blinded by rage, he took Radd to Usekht Maati, the capital of the Enmadra republic.  He beheaded Adir Radd and left his body on the steps of the temple.

“Word spread quickly about what Lavan had done.  Jeriah sought out Tien Shaa to tell him.  He was devastated when he heard the news.  Jeriah improved Tien Shaa’s periapt.  He knew that he had to stop Lavan before he attacked someone or something else.  Radd’s followers went mad with grief, unleashing a terror upon the galaxy like no other before or since.

“Years passed before he found Lavan, who was hold up surrounded by thousands of his followers…”

“What did he do?”  Tara burst out, “Did he have to fight all of them?  What happened to him?”

Light flashed, and the room turned back to normal.  “Well, yes, Tien Shaa had to fight his way into the stronghold alone.  They say that when he struck Lavan down, he received a mortal blow.  They both lay dead for three days, until Jeriah found Tien Shaa’s body.  He lifted Tien Shaa’s cold dead hand— water flowed from the To’asaa, restoring him to life.  That’s when this periapt received its name, To’asaa, the water bowl.”

“I can’t imagine having the courage to stand up against such odds.  Wasn’t he afraid?”  Tara leaned in, enraptured by Daru’s story.

“Of course, he was afraid, but fear was the only real power Lavan had.  Fear and cowardice are the destroyers of worlds.  He did what he had to do.”

 

Ianus sat alone at one of the tables in the courtyard, watching the small crowd strolling around in groups of threes and fours.  

*I shouldn’t have been so rough with Daru,* he thought, *She was only trying to be helpful.*

He pulled out the Benben-stone she had given him.  As he ran his finger down the golden letters one at a time, flames rushed out of the stone.  The fire caressed his fingers like cool silk.  A great Bennu-bird stretched her scarlet wings- the gold tips of the lead feathers glimmered in the sun.

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

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

“Journeyman Ianus Akeru, at your service Master Raanan.”  Ianus bowed his head to his superior.

“Call me, Faroh.  I’ve never been to fond of obligatory pleasantries.”

“All right, Mast… Faroh, how can I be of service?”  Ianus said, as he called the Bennu back into the stone.

“Master Theron has ordered me to take temporary residence at this temple.”  Faroh handed Ianus his traveling papers, “I understand Pryor Isann arrived earlier today.  Is he here on business or on holiday?”

“Both, I believe.  Shortly after he arrived, he transferred guardianship of the To’asaa to Master Khem, but he did mention that he was wanting to take a few days off.”

Faroh looked off toward the library, “Do you believe that Master Khem will make a good Guardian?”

“With all respect to the members of the Camarilla,” Ianus said reverently, “But Ihy is the most powerful Maker alive today.  No teacher, no storyteller can speak with his eloquence.  He will be the greatest guardian that the To’asaa has ever had!”

“You believe that he is a greater Maker than the right honorable Master Theron?”

Ianus paused for a moment.  He knew he had to choose his words about the titular head of the Jade Moon carefully.  “Master Theron has been a noble leader, exhibiting charisma in all of his actions, and great power in the face of the Chimera Incident on Adrakaya, but he is overly technical in his use of the arts.  He lacks the fluidity and confidence of a great master.”

“Unlike Master Khem,” Faroh smiled, “Who stresses competence over technique?”  

Ianus nodded. 

“Do you ever feel that your training has been lacking because of this lack of emphasis on book learning?”

“Maybe a little, but Ihy always says, ‘Books can only tell you how something is done, not when and why to do it.’  He believes that practical experience is as important as pure study.”

“Well, he must be doing something right,” Faroh looked around at the crowd milling about the campus, flowing in and out of the temple and the library.  “I have rarely seen a temple that so involves the community.”

“It’s late,” Ianus grinned proudly, “An hour ago the campus was empty.  People are off work now.  They do not come because of Ihy— they came because of their devotion to the Almighty.”  

“And so they should,” Faroh responded, his voice trailing off at the end.  Taking a deep breath, “Has everything been quiet.  You haven’t been having any problems with the Ual-leen, have you?”

“Not that I’ve heard, but I haven’t taken vows yet, so I don’t hear everything.”

Faroh looked at him closely, then smiled, “You say, you are content, then, with the way this temple is run?”

“Yes, I mean, there is always room for improvement, but nothing stands out.  Is that why you are here?”

“No, Master Theron has heard many stories about strange activities here at Shiloh.  There have been reports of Raewyn sightings.  I am here to investigate the rumors and report back.”

“Why would the Camarilla be interested in Raewyn sightings?  They are allowed free passage throughout the republic.”

“Yes, but they are a strange people, don’t you think?  There are rumors they are planning another insurgence.  Most of these worlds used to belong to them, you know.”

*Thousands of years ago,* Ianus thought, but he nodded instead.

“It was good talking to you, but since I’m going to be spending several weeks here, I should get more accustomed with the place before I retire for the night.  Would you, please, show me around?”

 

Aashen and Tuun, with their Ceeri on their backs walked down the strange dirty hall on the Ymirin station.  Windows on the right side of the corridor looked out on the numerous orbital dry-docks.  

“Three days,” Tuun grumbled, “The horrid little wench kept us waiting for three days, and now we have to rush to meet her!”

“She was busy,” said Aashen casually.

“No she wasn’t, her schedule was blank!”

“And how would you know that, dear brother of mine?”

Tuun rolled his eyes, “This morning, I hacked into the station computer.  Her last appointment was four weeks ago.  She is not a good dealer.  I’d watch out for her, we don’t want to get ripped off.”

At the far end of the corridor, a small Ymirin woman with a dull gray bandana around her head came trudging toward them.  Her eyes rolled around wildly, her haggard face scowled at them.  Her oversized pointed ears jiggled up and down.  As she spoke, her large nostrils flared, “Are you two the Fallon brothers?”  Her drawling voice called over the distance.

Tuun held back a laugh.  She was no more than a couple of meters away, but she howled at them like they were deaf.

“Yes,” Aashen said, before Tuun could say anything, “And you must be Hildred Nadir.”

“Of course I am!  Who else do you think would be looking for you?”  She laughed heartily, “Are you here to buy or place an order?”

“We are here to purchase a ship for Master Ihy Khem.”  Tuun said, looking hard at his brother.

Hildred’s eyes lit up, “We have some beautiful liners, if he’s looking for a way to make a little extra cash for your order.  They are very popular.”

“No,” Tuun interrupted, “We have a list,” he elbowed his brother in the ribs.

“O yes, he desires a divisible frigate, with no less than three Kishanu.  It must be well-armed, and able to make the jump into hyperspace on its own.”

“Kishanu, you say?”  Hildred bellowed.  “They have been out of fashion since the Chimera Incident— I mean, after all those people died, and all.  Your Master Khem wouldn’t be up to anything illegal would he?”  Seeing a flash in Tuun’s periapt, “Of course, he wouldn’t be— it’ll be expensive though, you got the Gulden to be paying for all this?”

Ashen nodded, “You will be paid in full before the ship leaves the space dock.”

Aashen and Hildred haggled over the price of the ship for more than an hour.  Tuun couldn’t take their clumsy attempts to bargain with one another.  Sneaking away, he hurried back to the ship.

Just outside the air lock, Maslin leaned up against a railing, looking out the window at the stars.  As Tuun stormed passed him, he spun around, “Is it time to leave already?”  Maslin called after him.

Tuun stopped outside of the docking port, “No!  My brother is pretending he is a master salesman, he will probably be a while.”

“Should I go and help him?”

“Not if you value your sanity.  He won’t allow you to help, and I think you are too good a man to be subjected to that madness,” Tuun ducked through the door into the ship.

“Was that a compliment?”  Maslin ran after Tuun.  “I didn’t think you gave compliments.”

Tuun stopped, turned around, and walked slowly up to Maslin.  Looking him hard in the eyes, “It was not a compliment.  It was simply a fact.  You have served Master Khem with honor on several occasions, and for that I give you respect.  But you are, after all, a mercenary— so don’t construe any respect for your service with respect for you.”

“Sorry.  If it means anything to you, I would never betray Master Khem’s trust.”  Watching Tuun just walk away, Maslin shook his head.  “He seemed rather concerned the last time I talked with him, is everything all right?”

“There have been an inordinate number of Raewyn sightings lately,” Tuun stopped, but kept his back to Maslin, “Two even came to Novice Akeru’s ascension celebration.  He’s afraid that something terrible is going to happen.”

“But what good will a ship do against Raewyn, they aren’t exactly flesh and bone now are they?”

“No, they’re not.  But even ethereal things like them have bodies— and home worlds, even if most of them are in hyperspace.”

“Hyperspace?  There are no planets in hyperspace, if there were, they’d be on the charts!”

“I didn’t say planets, my dear boy,” Tuun’s voice dripped with condescension, “I said worlds.  There is a difference.  Now, if you don’t mind, I am going to my room, please don’t disturb me until my brother gets back.”

 

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

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

“I am Mistress Daru Shaheen.  I’ve come to see Tara. You must be Master Barami.  Tara has told me all about you.”  She bowed her head reverently.

Barami bowed in response, “She didn’t mention that she was expecting you.  We’ve just sat down for tea.  Would you care to join us?”

Daru leaned back on her heels before she nodded her head.  Walking past Master Barami, she entered a small sitting room.  Every suite in this dormitory looked the same:  Wood paneled walls, lightly stained; reddish brown tiled floors and several windows in each room.  In the middle of the room, Tara sat at a small table, lost in the book, The Holy Water of Tien Shaa.

“Will you be going to meet Masters Tuun and Aashen when they return?”  Barami asked.

“No, Master Tuun doesn’t like me, and I’m really not in the mood for Master Aashen’s infernal optimism.”

“I don’t think Master Tuun likes anyone.”  Tara looked up from her book, “The first time I met him, I thought he was going to attack me.  Come sit down, and have some tea.”

Daru sat down and graciously accepted a cup of jasmine tea from Barami, “Why did you think Tuun was going to attack you?”

“His periapt kept flashing, and I could hear metal clanging.”  Tara pushed her chair back from the table, and turned to face Daru, “I had a very strange dream last night.  I saw an enormous white stag.  He was standing on a hill, silhouetted by the full moon, but the moon was red.  What do you think it means?”

“It could have been the red moon Ari-leen of Adrakaya, and the stag… Peregrine.  It could have been Peregrine.  He has appeared to many a maker over the millennia.”

“That would be a dark sign,” Barami interrupted, “The last few times he appeared, it was a disastrous omen.  He appeared to Master Theron five years ago, just before the attacks began.”

Daru had never heard that before.  Images of the Chimera Incident flashed through her mind: the corpses of part machine, part organic monstrosities that had been paraded on the news.  Shaking off the images, “You should talk to Ianus about it.  He is an Augur, after all.  He should be able to interpret it, if it is an omen.”

“O, I didn’t know that.  So, does that mean he will be taking on the Order of the Presager?”  Tara asked, her eyes opening wide.

“I expect not.  He’s not very fond of the gift.”

“Surely, he’ll take the oath of the Presager— he’ll have to do that.  There are so few augurs these days.  The Jade Moon will want to avail themselves of his services.”

“No, Ianus has always said he was going to take on the order of the Cenobite.”

“And you, are you a Cenobite?”  Tara asked.

“Heaven’s no, I’m a Predicant.  I want to travel, see the galaxy.  I don’t think I could stand being tied down to just one place.  I need the adventure.”

Tara leaned in, cradling her head in her hands, “And have you had a lot of adventures?  I bet you’ve seen some strange things out there, haven’t you?”

“Well,” Daru grinned wistfully, “I haven’t really been traveling for all that long.  But, Master Isann and I have investigated many suspected Ual-leen nests.”

Tara rubbed her nose, and looked out the window, “And did you find anything?  Is the Ual-leen still out there?  After all, there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting since Panthera was defeated.”

“I found some suspicious signs, but nothing solid.  It’s been fascinating though.  I remember this one abandoned temple on Ganeden, we did find a large group of Tengu,” Daru paused.  

Tara and Barami leaned in, wide-eyed and mouths agape.  

“They were all sitting around a fire cawing and flapping their large black wings.  Suddenly, their leader jumped up, and shook his hands in the air.  They had seen us.

“They swooped down on us from every side.  Pryor and I fought back-to-back.  All we could see were claws, fans, and feathers.”

“And did you get away?”  Tara jumped out of her seat, knocking her chair into the wall.

“Well of course they did,” Barami laughed, “How else do you think she is sitting here today?”

 

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

“Why are we going down to the beach?”  Ianus asked, “Aren’t Aashen and Tuun returning to the port?”

“Heaven’s no, my dear boy.”  Ihy ducked under a particularly low branch, “I’m not about to pay those exorbitant docking fees!  Anyway, the beach is closer than the port.”

“Why would you have to pay the docking fees?  Didn’t they travel with Maslin?  He wouldn’t charge you for his berth?”

Ihy stopped at an abrupt turn on the path and smiled.  “I forgot to tell you.  I’ve bought a ship, or at least sent them to buy me one.  They are delivering the new ship today.  Isn’t it exciting?”

Ianus jumped forward and ran as fast as he could.  Reaching the sands, he leaned back and slid feet first into the cold water.

The silvery blue sea stretched off into a distant fog that clothed the horizon.  Dozens of small red and gold fish swam around his ankles.  Looking back at Ihy, Ianus splashed water at him, and laughed.

“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it,” Ihy waded out until he was knee deep in the fresh water sea.  “Maybe we could go fishing or swimming later.”

“Why don’t we do both?”  Ianus nodded back at Ihy.  He loved spending time with his father down at the Zacari Sea.  Just last year, they spent the whole summer out in a boat sailing, swimming, and fishing.  They traveled north up the coast, and circled the inland sea.  Ianus still dreamed about those lazy days.

A titanic shadow loomed on the horizon, just beyond the edge of the fog.  Draped in mist, a large silver and jade-green ship emerged into the light.  It rose off of the surface of the sea.  Shaped like a colossal manta ray, it swooped down into the water, submerging itself about half way.  Light flashed from its engines.  Coasting on its inertia, it turned and lined its bulk up alongside the aged wooden pier that jutted out from the coast.

Ihy jumped with glee, and ran to the pier to welcome his new ship.  Ianus hadn’t seen him this excited for years.  Hurrying to catch Ihy, Ianus ran up the pier as the hulking ship came to a stop alongside.

Spying an airlock near him, Ihy rushed over, the door released and swung open.  Ihy and Ianus entered.  

Aashen’s voice echoed over the intercom, “Stay there, we’re coming to meet you, then we’ll give you the tour.”

A short while later, Aashen, Tuun and their Ceeri came striding down the corridor.  Both Aashen and Tuun had large grins on their faces.  

Ianus did a double take, yes, even Tuun was smiling.

“We did good, didn’t we?”  Tuun blurted out.  “It has everything you asked for!”

“O yes, you did very well,” Ihy said, looking past them down the hallway.  The walls were the color of well aged ivory, and the floors looked like a Jade stained slate.  “Does the ship require a Helmsman?”

“No,” Tuun answered, “It can be flown manually or on auto-pilot, but it does have an interface for a Helmsman if you would like one— and I would be more than happy to train to be yours.”

Ihy shook his head, “Well, since this is the first time I have ever seen you excited about anything— go ahead, I would be honored.  Aashen, what is the ships name?”

“The IRV Valkyrie, she is fully licensed and registered.”

“The Valkyrie!”  Ianus gasped, “The war maiden?”  The white dragon flooded his mind, blood, the tower falling.  Shivering, the memory faded.  

Ihy and Aashen just stared at him.  

“It can’t be,” Ianus whispered, “Can we change its name?”

“Why?”  Ihy asked, “It has already been registered- it will be extremely hard to rename.”

“My vision!”  Ianus shook remembering his Ascension Day, “In my vision... the voice said I should follow the War Maiden.  A Valkyrie is a war maiden.  It can’t be a coincidence.  If this is the War Maiden then...” he looked at Ihy with tears welling up in his eyes.  “Then, maybe the vision was true.”

“Don’t worry, my boy.  I’m sure everything will be all right.  It was your first vision.  They can be very emotional, but don’t worry.  This ship isn’t going anywhere for a long time, so there will be nothing to follow.  Okay?”

Ianus wiped the tears from his eyes and nodded.

“Where are the Kishanu?”  Ihy asked.  Aashen pointed to a door down at the end of the passageway.

“But father!”  Ianus tried to steady himself, Ihy’s face looked drawn, almost skeletal, “I can’t just ignore the vision, can I?”

“What?  You have this long,” Ihy said calmly, “Let me explain something.  Visions are nothing but patterns of light on a dark cave wall.  They are a part of a greater system.  We see what is happening, and what has happened.  In our visions, these systems project forward to what is most likely to happen.  No vision is written in stone.  They change as the pattern changes.  You have to be very careful.  Every system is a machine— Visions, eco-systems, businesses, governments, cultures.  Machines crave order and submission.  That is all they know.  Souls crave life and freedom.  You have to find the balance between the two, or they will tear you apart.”

Ihy took Ianus into his arms, and embraced him tight, and smiled, “Now let’s go take a look at the Kishanu.”

They walked down the hall, and into the room.  Three humanoid machines lay on tables in the corners of the room.

“These two are Mista and Sangrida Namid,” Aashen said pointing to the two on the left side of the room.  “And that one is Arun Namid.”

“Namid?” asked Ihy, “The Star Dancer, what a good name.  You did well.”

Ianus got the strangest sense of déjà vu looking at the Kishan.  “Ihy’s time has past,” a voice screeched in his mind.  It looked like a dead body.  Panicked, Ianus ran out of the room.

 


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