Kahlil Vamu Shaa stood silently before Ianus.The candle light highlighted his chiseled features; compassion radiated from his childlike, blue eyes.“We have been waiting for you a long time, Ianus Akeru.”He said, stepping forward into the faint light of the candle in Ianus’ left hand.
“Vamu Shaa?”Ianus couldn’t move, “It can’t be you.You’ve been dead for more than four thousand years!”
Kahlil nodded, “I have served the Light.I learned at the feet of Tien Shaa himself, and I have slept for so long.O, Ianus, what dreams I’ve seen, since my body passed to dust.Prepare yourself, you will meet many dreamers this night.Guard your heart against the nightmares that may come.”
“You must be awake now, one day your sleep will come.Now is the time for living.Be alert,” a lamp and a red periapt appeared in Kahlil’s hands.
“Now listen well,” Kahlil said sternly, “Be sure to see into its heart.”
Kahlil handed Ianus the crimson periapt and the lamp.
Ianus looked around for a place to put down the candle Ihy had given him.It was suddenly dark- the candle disappeared.Cautiously, he took the lamp and periapt from Kahlil.He could not pull his eyes away from the familiar, rich, blood colored stone.
“I don’t understand,” said Ianus, “How do I see into its heart?”
“Be open to it and it will be open to you,” Kahlil smiled.“Patience opens many locks.”
Out from the shadows behind Kahlil, a beautiful woman with olive skin, green eyes, and curly black hair walked up to Ianus.She carried a leather wine skin over her shoulder.
The woman nodded, “Follow me.”She led Ianus off into the darkness.Ianus smiled tentatively as he walked past Kahlil.
“What is in the wine skin?”Ianus asked.
“The sky,” lightning flashed.A lamp flickered to life in the hand of a red haired girl, standing beside a golden throne.An older woman sat there regally, surveying the land before her.Her kindly face and the brilliant glimmer in her eyes softened her otherworldly stern expression.
“Uma Nari!”Ianus stared at her.Slowly, he looked back at the younger woman by her right side, “Phaedra?”
“Yes, my dear,” Uma said softly, “I have been pleased by the devotion you have shown to my son, and the service you have paid to the Light.”
“O holy Mother!”Ianus face brightened, and tears welled up in his eyes, “I have done what I’ve had to do, to save my father.”
Uma turned and looked at a raven that stood on her right shoulder, “I know, but that is not why you have come here.You have always wanted to walk this path, your vision gave you a reason to defy the expectations placed upon you.”
“Do you mean this will not work?”
“O no, my child, you must pay attention to what is said.Your father must walk his path, and you must follow yours.”She motioned to Seraphin, who approached Ianus, and offered him the wine skin.
Suddenly, he felt lighter.A peace draped over him.Opening his eyes, a lady in shimmering white dress and luminous, pale blue skin walked toward him.“Atarah!”He muttered.
She raised her hand and blessed him.
Everything went black, save for the small perimeter illuminated by the lamp in his right hand.
“Holy Mother?”Ianus squeaked, not sure if he had done something wrong.“I cannot see anything!Where am I supposed to go?What am I supposed to do?”
Slowly, he began to walk toward the throne.There was nothing there.The throne was gone.Ianus was alone.Glancing around, he scanned the darkness, then the floor.Again, nothing, he had hoped to see some mark, some sign to guide his stumbling through the blackness, he began to pray.He reviewed what he had said and done.He had not done anything wrong that he could tell.
A light flashed.An elderly man with long, white beard and hair stood smiling.“You have found your way, my boy.Surely you know me.”
“You are Omer Yul, the uncle of Tien Shaa and one of his most devoted disciples.”
“Good!Good!I don’t know about that most devoted part, but you do indeed seem to know me.I am proud of you, my boy.Very few could have found their way to me.”
“You honor me.I do not deserve such praise from you.”Ianus lowered his head.“I have done nothing to get here.”
“You breathe,” said Omer, “You had the courage to walk when you could have run.You have chosen to stand when you could have remained silent.Your humility is refreshing, but you do not understand the power you hold in your hands.”
“Master Yul, I have no power in my hands.”
“You lack but one thing,” holding up his periapt, “You must learn to see.”Light, brighter than the sun burned Ianus’ eyes.
Electric tingling stormed around his body.It was hard to breathe.A cold pressure beat down on him.His body seemed suddenly frail, and he feared he might just snap.
Relief was followed by an icy chill.Blue lightning swirled by like ominous storm clouds.Twisting, Ianus felt the ground give way under his feet.Thunder crashed, and air rushed past.Ianus resisted the urge to scream.
In his room in the dormitory, Faroh Raanan looked out of the glass door past his balcony at the library.He couldn’t stop thinking about what Cythraul had told him.Opening the door, he walked onto his balcony.The brisk night air welcomed him.Something was wrong, something was out of place.
“How astute of you to notice,” Panthera’s artificial voice pronounced behind him.
“Master,” Faroh quickly turned and bowed, “I was not expecting to see you this evening.”
“Plans change.We may be having a problem with Tara.”
“Do you think she’s getting cold feet?”
“I’m afraid she may not have the courage of her convictions.Her faith has wavered recently.She may not be able, or willing to carry out her purpose to its logical end.”
“And what would you have me do, my Master?”Faroh lowered his head.
“Follow her, and do what she will not.Make sure that everything that must happen, happens.”
“Of course, my Lord, but...”
“What?” Panthera leaned back to appraise him, “You are not becoming lost as well?”
“No!No, my Master.It is this young Akeru.He may not turn as easily as we thought.He may be more of a problem than we planned.”
“Then kill him!He cannot be a problem if he’s dead!”
“Yes, it will be done.”
“Is there something wrong?”
“No.I know the truth.Obedience is required.Not only mine, but all others.”
Lost in the coruscant nimbus, Ianus craned his neck toward each shadow he caught out of the corner of his eye.
“Hello!” he screamed, “What am I to do now?”
“Can’t you remember?”A voice said on his right.
“I do believe he has forgotten,” came a voice on his left.
“It is a shame.Omer must not have thought him ready.”
“A great shame, too bad we cannot show him.”
Ianus thought quickly, he did not wish to loose his chance.“He told me... he said I needed to learn to see.”
“And that you do,” said the voice on the right.
To the left, “Lost in the cloud?Seek, and you will find.”
“Seek what?”Ianus asked.
“The Light of course,” the voice on his right grew closer.
“No, No,” came the voice on his left, “Not the light in the cloud.”
“O, no, the one that hides itself in darkness.”
“What better place to hide the light than in the shadows?”
“Who would think to look for it there?”
“I know who you are!”Ianus exclaimed, “You are Rohan and Makarios, the attendants to Tien Shaa.”
“Very good,” said the voice on his right.
“Yes, Yes, very good indeed.”
“But I am afraid, one problem remains.”
“You only see with your eyes.”
A raven blacker than a moonless and starless night flew over Ianus’ head, and stopped right before his eyes.
“This belongs to one of us,”
“Choose wisely.You get one chance,” the voice on his left said.
“If you are wrong, you cannot stay.”
Ianus paused for a moment.“May I have a clue?”
“One clue you’ve got,” came the voice on his right.
“You will get no more.”
“Unless we give you another.”
“Which we were not supposed to give.”
Ianus focused on the raven.“You are Rohan and Makarios, twins, telepathic from the womb.You are identical in every way but one.Master Rohan, you were marked by the Raewyn.They made you immortal.You cannot die.So, Master Makarios, this raven belongs to you.But which one of you is which.”
Ianus paused for a moment and thought.Bowing to his left, “Master Makarios, this raven belongs to you.”
“Are you sure?” said the voice on his right.
“Certainty is a fleeting thing.”
“I am sure,” Ianus smiled.“I listened to your words.Master Rohan, you stand on my right.Your words are unencumbered by time.Master Makarios, you are to my left.You told me that I have but one chance, and that I would get no more.These are words that limit.What did you just say?‘Certainty is fleeting.’Those are not the words of an immortal.Master Makarios,” Ianus bowed again to his left, “This raven belongs to you.”
The nimbus cleared to a light mist.Two men with black hair and jade robes came into view.
“Very good,” said Rohan, bowing on Ianus right.
“Now you can see,” said Makarios.He waved behind Ianus.
Ianus turned and saw the glowing center of the nimbus.Radiance surrounded a kindly old man who stood motionless with his arms out stretched.
“Tien Shaa!”Ianus exclaimed, running toward the old man.
“What do you seek?”Tien Shaa asked.
“I seek the truth.”
“O no you don’t, you seek to save your father’s life.You seek to stand in the face of prophecy and strike it down.”
Ianus froze- he didn’t know what to say.
“You remind me of myself, when I was younger,” Tien Shaa looked away sharply, “What you seek may be done, but it will not be easy for you.Seek, first, to preserve all life, and your motivations will be pure.”
“Yes, my Lord,” Ianus bowed.
“Stand up!Do not bow to anyone, lest you forget they are made of the same materials as you are.Show them courtesy, but never deference.”
“Thank you, I will.”
“The road here has been a difficult one.The loss of your birth parents, and the traumas of your youth, but do not expect the path to become easier.It never will.Trials and tribulations come to all who walk under the stars, but you can choose to find your joy through them.”
Ianus looked away, “So, the vision...”
“No more about the vision.You cannot live by prophecy.The twists and turns of time are more than any could read completely, besides, you may misapprehend the words.”
Ianus opened his mouth to speak, but before anything came out, Tien Shaa began to sing.The other eight members of the Holy Ennead behind him joined in the song.
*The song of life,* Ianus thought as the melody carried him away.
Struggling, Ianus tried to make out the words, but there were no words to make out.The rhythm, the melody, the harmony, these were all that mattered.Soon, Ianus could no longer think.The song had entered his mind, blinding his senses to everything else.
Ianus opened his eyes.He had never left the dark room behind the shrine.His hood was still covering his face.In his left hand, he held the candle Ihy had given him.He held the periapt Kahlil had given him in his right.Closing his eyes, he could still hear the song.
Tara sat at one of the tables in the courtyard meditating, or at least trying to.Tears leaked through her closed eyes, and her breath was anything but calm.
“All glory and honor is due to the One, who subjugated all to its will,” she stuttered under her breath.The Litany of the Machine always calmed her, but not tonight.A frosty weight lodged itself in her chest.Her eyes were heavy with tears.
The breeze ripped a shiver over her body.Opening her glossy eyes, she listened for the song of the machine.It was distant, but present.
Slowly, she stood up.The chill in the air made her fingers ache.“There is nothing left for me,” she muttered, “There is nothing left, but duty and honor.”
Stepping around the table, she stopped to look at the library.
“Don’t think about the consequences,” she told herself, “Serve your purpose, or you will become obsolete.”Panthera’s words echoed behind her own.
Step-by-step, she slowly inched her way toward the library.“Tonight is the night, they will all be distracted, I cannot put it off any longer.”
Baby steps grew into adult strides, but the door was still a barrier.Not that it was locked.She had watched several people come and go over the past couple hours as she sat, mustering up the courage to continue.No, the door was the only thing between her and her mission.Once she stepped over the threshold, there could be no turning back.
The door swung open.Aashen, Tuun, and their Ceeri exited.Tuun shot her a dirty look and walked past, Aashen stopped.
“Are you going to join the vigil for Ianus?”He asked her, “I’m afraid only Ihy and Daru are left in there now.I would wait, but I have a lot of work to do in the morning.”
Tara couldn’t speak.She nodded quickly, though, hoping not to have raised suspicion.
“Well, have fun, peace be with you.”He bounced slightly, and ran off after his brother.
That had done it.If Ihy, Daru, and Ianus were in there, she couldn’t possibly proceed.
Opening the door, she looked around the library.To her great disappointment, it was empty except for a figure kneeling in front of a corridor at the opposite side of the room.
Unable to find another excuse, she pulled a black, silken mask out of her pocket, and tied it on.Slowly, she crept over to the hall to the side of the main desk.
*It is in the room, just down there,* she thought to herself.There is nothing to hold me back.I must do my duty.
Ianus stood, with his eyes closed, still listening to the song of life.Opening his eyes, he took seven steps forward, and then turned around to look at the place where he had stood.He lifted his eyes to where the door must have been that he entered through, but there was nothing there.The wall was smooth.
“Where is the exit?”He said out loud, sure there would come an answer.Silence.
Putting the periapt Kahlil had given him in his pocket, he began to follow the wall looking for an exit.
“It is not your time, boy!”An oddly insubstantial voice bellowed.
Ianus spun around, “Who said that?Show yourself!”
“Don’t you think you have seen enough strange things for one day?”Came the voice again.It echoed from the walls themselves.
“Who are you?”Ianus demanded, continuing his hunt for a door.
“I am he who walks to and fro among the worlds.I am the accuser.I am the one who stood closest to glory, and was repaid with treachery.”
Ianus mouth went dry, and his palms began to sweat.
“Surely, you know who I am boy.You knew the others, or have I fallen out of fashion these days.Are the great Makers of the Jade Moon afraid to speak my name?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” Ianus walked on.“If you tell me your name, I’m sure I have heard of you.I must apologize.I am tired.I have had a full day.”
“I am Hlachar Cythraul.It is my hand that guides so many to their fate.”
“I have heard of you.You were once great.In the time before Tien Shaa, you were quite something to behold.”
“I still am!”The walls creaked under the thunderous weight of the voice.“Do not flatter yourself.You have heard the song, but did they share its words with you?”
Ianus felt his way around the room, “The song is a mirror of life.It is the music that matters, not the words.”
“You fool!”A large crash.
Ianus flew against the wall, knocking the breath from his lungs.Desperate to inhale, he called out for help.Nothing but a cold vacuum.
“It is not your time!Turn from the vain conceits of your heart!Turn to the One who can help you.To the One who will answer your feeble prayer!”
“No!”Ianus screeched, suddenly able to breathe, “You are nothing!”
“It is not your time!”Cythraul taunted.
“Unfortunately, I was born all the same.I guess I will have to make do.”
“The time has come, you foolish boy, the tower falls now!”
Ianus heard a loud crash upstairs.Running around the room, he groped in the dark for an exit.
“You will be too late, it is already done,” Cythraul hissed.
There it was.A door and stairs to the library.“As I said, I will just have to make do!”
As fast as he could, Ianus ran up the stairs.An eerie silence followed him.Emerging into the library, he saw Ihy standing with a blade drawn.Beyond him, Daru, leapt through the air.
She landed in front of the entrance.Another woman, masked, and dressed in black stopped within arms reach of her.
Chinking of metal, and flashing like lightening.Both Daru and the other woman brandish single edged long swords at each other.
The masked woman sprung into the air.Before she could reach a window, Daru clashed blades with her.Pressing down with all of her weight, she knocked the masked woman to the ground.
Daru landed with her back to the door.The masked woman stirred desperately, rocking on her heels.The sword in her hand melted into a staff, easily her own height.
The masked woman charged the door.Daru transformed her blade into a staff, and knocked the other woman back.
“Give yourself up!”Daru yelled, careful to maintain calm breathing.
“There is nowhere for you to go!”Ihy added, “If you turn yourself in now, we will show you mercy.”
The masked woman’s staff vanished.She lowered her head, and knelt down on one knee.
“That’s it,” Ihy said, “Daru, go, take her periapt.”
Cautiously, Daru approached the other woman.
Before Daru could react, the masked woman lunged forward, a bright flash from her periapt.The luminous wave struck Daru flinging her to the side and wrenching the air out of her.
The masked woman flew through the door into the courtyard.
Ihy followed, his feet barely touching the ground.With a quick step, he threw himself through the air.His staff slammed into the back of the woman’s head, causing her to stumble.
The woman’s periapt flashed again.
Ihy waved his hand, deflecting the wave back on her.Lunging out of its way, the woman scurried across the pavement.
“Yield!You cannot hope to best me, if that is the best you can do.Better to surrender now, I think.”
The woman’s periapt again began to glow.She leapt into the air, a halberd materializing in her hand.Ihy met her in midair.Metal scraped on metal.
The woman kicked.
Ihy intercepted each foot in turn and forced them toward the ground.
Before they hit the pavement, the masked woman flipped backwards, and landed on her feet at a safe distance.
“Run!”An oddly familiar male voice called out, as a masked man attacked Ihy from behind.
Ihy parried the blow, knocking the new assailant off balance.
The masked man laughed as the blade of his sword sharpened on both edges, “I said run!”He yelled at the woman, who bowed timidly, and ran off into the gardens.
Ihy spun through the air, his staff shattered on impact with the stranger’s sword.
“Exotic metals, you old fool!Now fight harder!”
The stranger ran at Ihy, who reformed his staff.
The two men clashed.Neither made the other move.Each man pressed with all his strength, sparks rained down from their weapons.
Lurching backwards, the masked man’s feet flew into the air.Suddenly, he twisted at the waist.Blades extended from the soles of his boots, with a quick kick, he slashed Ihy’s stomach open.
Blood splattered onto the pavement.Ihy staggered backwards.
The masked man caught himself with his hands and sprang to his feet.Flourishing his blade with a maniacal laugh, he slashed Ihy’s throat open.
“No!”Ianus and Daru screamed in unison.Their voices echoed throughout the complex.
Together, they attacked the masked man.Still laughing, he clutched his blade with both hands, and divided it in two.
Ianus and Daru each struck a blade.The masked man twirled his blades, forcing each of them to dodge.
Doors clattered open, the courtyard began to fill.
Mindlessly, Ianus hacked at the masked man, who simply parried each blow.
A red mist leaked from the man’s periapt.Ianus fell to the ground, screaming as though someone had set his blood on fire.
Daru’s blade deflected the stranger’s inches above Ianus’ neck.
The courtyard was filling quickly.
Darting around anxiously, the masked man melted his blades back into his periapt.Light flashed as bright as the noonday sun.
By the time her sight had returned, the masked man was gone.Rushing to Ianus’ side.She helped him sit up.
Ianus looked over at the blood stained body of his father.Quickly, he ran over to him, and lifted his head onto his lap.
Blood bubbled from Ihy’s mouth, “Take... care... of...Maya...” he gasped.
“Be quiet,” Ianus said, fighting back tears.“Get a doctor!”He yelled at Daru, “You are going to be all right.I did what had to be done,” he sobbed, “Everything’s going to be all right.”Ianus rocked uncontrollably.
The crowd gasped.
Ianus’ eyes widened.
Ihy’s breathing became more labored, his eyes rolled back into his head, and his skin began to glow soft blue.
“What’s going on?”A voice in the crowd muttered.
“Don’t die!”Ianus chanted, “Everything’s all right.Just breathe.Don’t die!Everything’s all right.”