Shadows haunt the night. Too many, too dangerous to name. The greatest dangers are the ones who listen for their name to be called.
Adir Radd, Hope in Darkness.
Daru walked aimlessly down a corridor on the Valkyrie. Her conversation with Tara troubled her. She paced up and down the halls. *She has a guilty conscience, but about what? She couldn’t be one of the attackers,* she thought, *I saw her practicing. She was too fluid, too confident. The woman I fought that night was shaking. Could she really betray us like that?*
She sighed, and looked around to get her bearings, *I’m not too far from Ianus’ quarters, maybe he can help.*
Turning to the right, she walked down the corridor to Ianus’ room. She knocked on the door. “Ianus?”
The door slid open. She looked inside. The room was empty. She took a step over the threshold and looked around. The door should not have opened on its own like that. Ianus was nowhere to be seen. A leather bound book sat on his nightstand, opened to the middle, a stylus lay between its waxen pages.
*I should leave,* she pondered for a moment, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the book. *That’s his prescience book. I wonder what he’s been looking up. No, I should leave.*
Standing beside the small table, she glanced down at the book.
Written in Ianus’ handwriting she read, “What if Ianus Akeru goes to the forbidden lands on Adrakaya to find the A’nath-ari?”
Quickly, Daru snatched the book off the nightstand. *What is he thinking?*
“Through the gate he would go,” she continued reading, “The dark woods stretching out as far as he could see. He may survive many of the trials and tribulations found within. Eventually, the forces designed to protect the holy lands from intruders will destroy him.”
Again, Ianus had entered a query, “What if Ianus manages to survive?”
The book responded, “Irrational presupposition. Please restate query.”
Nothing more was written.
*What could he be thinking?* Daru thought, returning the book to the nightstand.
Marching out of the room, she stretched out her right arm, and pointed it toward the wall. A soft whistle emanated from her periapt.
“Sangrida!” Daru barked.
“Here Ma’am,” a tinny voice responded from the periapt.
“Where is Ianus?”
“He is currently on the bridge.”
“Is he alone?”
“At the moment, yes ma’am.”
“Good! Thank you,” Daru closed her hand.
All the way to the bridge she tried to calm herself down, but it was no good. Once her anger was kindled, it was close to impossible to relieve. That is, until it was properly vented.
“Ianus Osanna Akeru!” She yelled, stepping onto the bridge, “What in the name of all that is sacred could you possibly be thinking?”
Ianus blushed and glanced around furtively. He swallowed hard and looked at her like a scolded child. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I saw your prescience book!” Daru’s nostrils flared.
“My what?” his eyes widened with shock, “How did you? You were in my room!”
“Well, yes,” Daru shook off her embarrassment, “I went to your room to talk to you, and the door opened. I was afraid something was wrong. I had no idea you were planning suicide.”
“Suicide?” Ianus surveyed the bridge to ensure they were alone, “Now wait just one minute, why were you snooping around in my prescience book?”
“This isn’t about me.” Daru balnced her stance and clinched her fists. “O very well, I was curious what you were thinking about. I thought you might have been dwelling on happy things. Instead, I find that you’ve been looking for a creative way to go to your death!”
“That’s not it at all. Ihy said I should go.”
“When? When would he have said anything as insane as that? Going to the Forbidden Lands is suicide!”
“He said it on the Kanthaka.”
“After the attack?” Daru rubbed hard on her temples, “After he was put into that dreadful state? I’m sure he was really clearheaded when he said it.”
“I wasn’t sure,” Ianus plopped down in the captain’s chair, “That’s why I asked the prescience book. I thought he might know something that I didn’t.”
“Ianus, the A’nath-ari don’t ask questions, and they don’t take prisoners. They just execute trespassers.”
“I know! I was curious to see whether Ihy was telling me a way to save him. That’s all. I don’t want him to die!”
“No one does. Anyway, we will be at Kur-gal soon, and this, what’s his name, Selwyn, will help him. Everything will be all right. There’s no use pursuing these insane notions about the Forbidden Lands.”
“I know. I know. Will you feel better if I erase the query as soon as I get back to my room?”
“Yes,” Daru stated firmly.
“Then that’s what I’ll do,” Ianus tried to look innocent, “When my shift ends, I have responsibilities here on the bridge.”
“I’ll stay with you. As long as we’re together, nothing can stand in our way.”
Ianus’ shift on the bridge dragged on. If Daru hadn’t come to join him, he would have been horribly bored. After Tuun arrived, Ianus said good night to Daru, and headed off toward his room. Sleep hungered for him.
On the way, he passed Sangrida. *I wonder where that third Kishanu is?* He thought. Ihy was having problems activating it, but he had spent most of his free time working on it. *He probably left it in his workshop.*
Walking past his room, he made his way to the small room just down the hall from the hatch. He saw the Kishanu on a table in the center of the room as he entered. He staggered backwards at the sight of Sakkara hunched over the far corner table. She was such a large and imposing woman, bigger than anyone Ianus was used to working with.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” said Ianus.
Sakkara jumped, “O! So sorry. Sakkara couldn’t sleep, thought she would make herself useful.”
“I know the feeling. I had the same ideas as you. Have you been able to get the other Kishanu online?”
“No,” She looked frustrated. “Ihy seems to have been modifying it. Sakkara cannot figure it out. She spent the last few hours trying to understand what he was doing. It doesn’t make sense.”
“What doesn’t? He said it wouldn’t activate.”
“That’s odd. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it, apart from the work he did on it.”
“What do you mean?” Ianus leaned over the lifeless form, “He said the integration system was faulty. I was helping him work on it.”
Sakkara looked behind her at a collection of silver and blue parts strewn across the workbench up against the wall, “That makes sense. There seems to be parts of it missing, or at least not visible.”
“Well, knowing Ihy, he was probably trying to improve it. He always improves his things, you know the sort.”
“Why is Master Akeru having problems sleeping? Is it his father?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Ianus ran his fingers over the smooth basin hollowed out in the Kishan’s chest. “Daru and I had words about something she read in my prescience book.”
“Master has a prescience book? It is Sen, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and please stop calling me Master, my name is Ianus. All my friends call me Ianus, except for the few brave souls who dare to call me Ian.”
“Sakkara has only just met Master Akeru. Certainly, she is not a friend yet?”
Ianus sat down across the table from her, “You don’t have a lot of friends, do you?”
“Master?” Sakkara hung her head down low, “Sakkara is a Kahraman. Many of her kind are not the best behaved. They lack manners, and the basic concerns the Jade Moon has for others. Many think them monsters. Sakkara is not a monster. She was shocked when Master Khem invited her to study at the Shiloh temple. He is a great man. She would do anything to help him.”
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but before I met you I never heard of the Kahraman.”
Sakkara looked up, a large toothy grin stretched across her face, “How could she take that the wrong way? Master has never heard about the horrors of the Kahraman warlords, and Sakkara is supposed to be upset. This is good news, great news. This explains why Master trusts her.”
“No, it doesn’t. I trust you, because my father and Tuun trust you. You have to earn their trust. So please, stop calling me, Master, and call me by my name.”
“Ianus is wise,” if it were possible for her grin to widen, it did. She looked as though her face were about to split in two. “So, what was in the prescience book that started the row?”
“Strange the way thoughts come to you when you least expect them,” Ianus was distant, “A week before the attack he said something odd. He said that there was a technological nightmare haunting the Jade Moon. I can’t help but wonder what he meant.”
“He probably meant the Ual-leen. Tuun used to give us long lectures about them. He said they returned even after being completely exterminated.”
“Exterminated, that makes them sound like vermin.”
“The way Tuun described them, they are more like a plague. He said the desire to control others is too strong for everyone to fight. He said that sooner or later someone would discover their secrets, and they would return.”
“It is hard to believe that... what year is this? Right, in the last four thousand three-hundred and twenty years that lure of such monstrous power is still alive.”
“Greed is natural,” said Sakkara glumly, “As long as there are positions of power, there will be people seeking to abuse them.”
“And with every new defense there come new ways of getting around them. Listen to us, we sound like two old people lamenting the sorry state of the world.”
“Yes, Ianus should cheer up. Go to bed, he will feel better in the morning.”
Tara was late to breakfast the next morning. By the time she reached the galley, it was empty. She wasn’t really hungry, so she ordered a hard boiled egg and a slice of buttered toast. Taking a seat in the corner facing the door, she sat down and stared at her plate.
The door slid open. Daru walked in and waved.
“I see I’m not the only one who forgot to set an alarm last night,” Daru mustered a pathetic laugh. “It’s the same problem every time I’m on a new ship.”
“I know. I told the computer to get me up at seven, I thought I had done everything right. Then I wake up at nine. Why Master Barami didn’t wake me, I don’t know.”
“He has been in his room since we left. According to the ship systems, he’s been making calls and sending messages the whole time. I tried to see who he was talking to, but he has masked the signals.”
“Daru,” said Tara in a motherly tone, “You really shouldn’t have done that. What if Master Barami finds out?”
“You won’t tell him will you?” Daru monitored Tara for any signs of deceit.
“Don’t worry. I’m used to forgetting things that I’ve heard.”
Daru smiled and ordered four slices of buttered toast and strawberry–rhubarb jam. Sitting down across from Tara, she took a bite of the toast, and smiled. “The ships food service is excellent,” she said, and took another bite.
Tara sat quietly, and nibbled her toast.
“Is something wrong?” Daru asked.
“Nothing really. I was just thinking about my first year of study with Barami. It was so exciting. I had just left temple and this legendary master wanted me for an apprentice.”
“I felt the same way when I began with Master Isann, but lately, he’s been sheltering me. I know he thinks of me like a daughter, but I have taken vows.”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t taken on orders yet, but Barami has grown more and more distant lately. He’s been running all of these conferences, and he’s always on the line to someone. Since Master Khem was attacked, he’s been busier than ever.”
“Is he neglecting your studies? Because if he is I can help you practice.”
Tara took another bite of her toast. “My training seems to be going well. It is just hard when your mentor ignores you.”
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but you didn’t even know the story of the To’asaa. I have to admit, that bothers me.”
“Barami doesn’t like talking about history. He thinks the past belongs to the past. He even told me once that it can be dangerous to dig up the past. When I was younger, I was a devotee of Tien Shaa and Kahlil Vamu Shaa. My mother used to read me the parables before I went to bed every night.”
“Then how did you not know about the To’asaa?”
“Our friar was nothing but doctrine. Tien Shaa said this, Vamu Shaa wrote that. He spent very little time talking about their lives.”
“Didn’t you ever read the Holy Books?”
“Tides and Seasons, the Parables of Vamu Shaa, the Voice in the Darkness. Never once did I read any of the histories. That is not until recently. After you shared that story with me, I have started reading them.” A cold pain shot through her head. “But I had to stop. With everything going on, it just didn’t seem right to be spending my time reading ancient history.”
“Do you mean the attack on Ihy?” Daru watched her.
Tara took another bite of her toast. “Yes. With the attack, and the investigation, and now here we are whisked away to a world I had never heard of before.”
“Are you starting to doubt your faith?”
“I doubt everything, but I know my place. I will do what I’m told.”
“No!” Daru slapped the table, “You should never blindly follow orders. Questions are the heart of faith. If you loose the questions, what are you left with? Nothing. Our questions are what makes our faith real.”
“But questions have consequences,” Tara shuttered, “Terrible consequences. It is not wise to ask too many questions.”
“Who told you that? Is that something Barami said to you?”
“O no! Master Barami is very kind and generous, even if he has been a little distant lately.”
“Then why would you say something like that?”
“Experience. Every time I have asked questions I’ve gotten my self in trouble. Everything goes smoother when I just step in line.”
“But don’t you ever think about what’s better for you? What do you want?”
The bridge was quiet. Mista and Sangrida where huddled over one of the displays whispering to each other. Ianus had reluctantly taken the captain’s seat. Periodically, he would scowl at Pryor, who talked him into it. Maya had just left to visit the engine room. She was fascinated by the ship and had been talking about making it her permanent base of operations.
Tuun entered the bridge, and smiled. An event becoming more frequent.
“We should be arriving at Kur-gal in about four hours. If there’s no objection, I’m going to take control and pilot us in.”
The room remained silent.
“Very well then,” Tuun opened a door on the right of the bridge. A dim blue light flooded the room. The barrier across the threshold shimmered as he passed through. Closing his eyes, he raised his arms, his hair began to float as if suspended in water. “I have assumed control,” his voice came from the intercom, his lips did not move.
“I don’t think I could do that,” said Ianus, looking away from the ghostly sight.
“Doubt any of us would have the necessary concentration,” Pryor responded, “You’ve never been to Kur-gal before, have you?”
“No. Ihy never took me away from Al-Benu. I always wanted to travel, but he said he thought it was too dangerous.”
“Probably afraid of pirates, knowing him. At any rate, you’ll like Kur-gal. It’s the home world of the Ubasti. A feline people entirely dedicated to the Camenae way. They used to be warriors, terrorizing the galaxy until about five hundred years ago.”
“What could have stopped a warlord from continuing conquest?” Ianus shook his head slowly.
“He got married, their Emperor that is. He married an off-worlder who practiced the Camenae faith. He built her a grand temple and brought in the best Camenae friars in the galaxy. What can I say? Their ideas caught on and the people converted. They are a peaceful people now. If you ever get the chance to hear them sing. Take it.”
“I’ll be sure to do that.”
“So where are we meeting Selwyn?”
Ianus’ face went blank. “I knew I was forgetting something.”
“Don’t tell me you haven’t contacted him.”
“I did confirm he was on Kur-gal, but no. I haven’t spoken to him in person. I was so focused on getting Ihy to him, it just slipped my mind.”
Ianus jumped up from the seat, and ran over to the door, “I will call from my room, if that’s all right with you.”
“Hurry up,” Pryor chuckled and shook his head, “We only have four hours you know.”
All the way to his room, Ianus muttered, “How stupid could I be?” To himself. Rushing in, he grabbed his prescience book.
“Computer, contact the Camenae Mother temple on Kur-gal and patch the signal through to this station.”
The monitor on his desk flashed to life, “Establishing connection. One moment please.”
“Temple of the Most Holy Ennead on Kur-gal,” a voice came over the speakers, but no picture followed.
“This is Master Ianus Akeru of the Bahn Se’leen, I have urgent business with Master Selwyn Avrum.”
“Jade Moon?” The voice laughed, “What does the noble Jade Moon need with the Camenae.”
“That is private. Could you please connect me with Master Avrum.”
“He is not here. He serves at the Temple of Samara the Rogue on the southern continent, but surely you already knew that.”
“Could you please connect me through?”
“One moment, please.”
The silence bothered Ianus. It seemed to last too long. *What could be taking them so long?*
“This is Master Selwyn Avrum of the Samara Temple. I’m told you have business with me, but I’m afraid, I’ve never heard of you.” Again there was no picture.
“I have to ask you. Do you remember an Ihy Khem?”
Selwyn was quiet for a moment. “I have not heard that name for many years. Is everything all right?”
Ianus explained the attack at the library and Ihy’s current condition. “I heard you helped him before. Do you think you could do it again?”
“I may be able to help you. I can’t make any promises, but I will try. But before we agree to anything, there may be consequences.”
“Anything you could do would be welcome.”
“Is Maya or Pryor Isann with you? I really need to talk to them.”
Ianus told him that they were, and patched him through, wondering how he knew about them. The thought soon faded. Flopping into his bed, he smiled. Soon he would be at Kur-gal. Soon someone who could help his father would be tending his wounds.
Reaching over to his nightstand, he picked up his Benben-stone. He ran his fingers across the golden lettering and watched with amazement as the Bennu burst into life.
It flew around the room twice, and landed at the foot of his bed. It looked at him with its large green eyes.
“You really are a beautiful thing,” he said, “I wonder if you even know what I’m saying.”
“I do, sir,” the bird responded, bowing its head.
“You can talk?” Ianus sat up in the bed, and scooted himself back against the headboard.
“Why, yes sir. All of my kind can talk, if we are made well.”
Ianus looked at the bird’s feet, which left indentations in the covers, “But you’re just a hologram.”
“Begging your pardon, sir, but I am an Eidolon, much more than a mere hologram. I have my own awareness, and I am able to interact with my surroundings.”
“I can see that. Do you have a name? I am Ianus Akeru.”
“O, I know who you are, sir. I am called Nahimanna, and to answer your next question— Yes, I am female.”
“Can you read minds?” Ianus’ eyes widened.
“No, sir. I cannot read minds, as you say. I could see the question in your eyes, and on your face. You are an augur, I am sure you can do the same.”
“I don’t know. I’ve never really tried.”
“Try sir? Why would you need to try? Have you been, how shall we say, less than open to your talents?”
“Let’s just say, I haven’t been the most friendly.”
“You seem quite personable to me.”
Ianus laughed, “Really? That’s a good thing, who made you?”
“I cannot tell you that, sir. My maker was quite adamant about that.”
“Modesty, I suppose, sir. He did not give me a reason why. He only said I was not to tell you, or anyone.”
“How old are you?”
“Age, sir? I am afraid I am not good with time. One day seems to be a thousand years, and a thousand years feels as one day. Time is a very relative thing when you examine it closely. I’m sorry. I do wish I could tell you, but I’m really not sure.”
“I know what you mean. I’m not very good with time myself. My father says it’s one of my failings. Personally, I see it as a strength. I am unconstrained by time.”
They both laughed.
Nahimanna was nothing like Ianus had imagined. She was more than a toy. She was almost alive.
“Are you ever lonely in the Benben-stone?”
“How? I am never alone.”
“There are more of you in there?”
“O, no. I am the only one in the stone, but that does not mean I can’t talk to others of my kind.”
“You have a transmitter?”
“No, sir. I don’t need one. Every eidolon shares a strong bond with others made by the same hands. I can hear them singing, and sometimes I join them. We are all more connected than your kind likes to think we are.”
“So you just sit in the stone, and occasionally sing? That doesn’t sound like much of a life.”
“That is not all I do, sir. I also spend my time waiting for you to need me. I am more than a toy you know.”
“So I am coming to realize. I hope this isn’t as insulting as it sounds, but what could you do for me?”
“That is not an insult sir, you are asking for my services. I am here whenever you may need insight or inspiration. I may not be a great conversationalist, but I am rather talented at giving advice.”
“Advice about anything?”
“Whatever your heart desires. I am here for you. I was designed for you. Ask for my help, and you shall receive it.”
“You are not my slave, you know.”
“I am no ones slave, nor will I ever be. I am in your service. You called me, and I came.”
“So you have. Tell me, do you know what is going on?”
“I think any who are sensitive to the tides know what is going on. It is time for me to go. Not for long, I will return when I am called. One thought I leave you. Have you seen the eyes that watch you?”
With that said, Nahimanna erupted in flames and returned to the stone.
Ianus wondered what she meant about the eyes watching him. Nervously, he looked around the room. Laughing, he fell back into his bed. If someone was watching him they wouldn’t leave cameras out in the open now would they.
Soon they would arrive at Kur-gal, and Selwyn would heal his father. Excitement filled him, his legs began to tingle. He had to walk. He couldn’t just lie around all day.
Once outside his room, he didn’t know where to go. Most of the people he wanted to talk to would be on the bridge. Lazily walking through the halls, he tried to memorize all of the labs and workshops that he passed. For a while, his mind wandered.
*How are we going to make this ship self-sufficient. The order will never fund a ship like this,* he thought out as many moneymaking ventures as he could that would not violate the rule. It wouldn’t be easy. Ihy must have had a plan. As soon as Selwyn restored him to full health, then he could tell them. That is if he woke up. Ianus shook his head.
He found himself standing outside the bridge. On the other side of the door, Ianus smiled at the sight of Pryor in the captain’s chair. Daru sat with Maya at one of the science stations on the right side of the room.
“Do you want your seat?” Pryor asked.
“I told you, it’s not my chair. And no, I’ll take the tactical station if you don’t mind. I think it suits my personality better.”
Daru laughed, “Maybe if you call it a Weapon’s station, but tactics have never been your strong suit.”
“Laugh it up,” said Ianus, “You know you’ve never been able to beat me at any duel.”
“You’re faster than I am. That does not mean that you’re a better tactician.”
“Now you two,” Maya said, “You’re not going to start squabbling again. I am not in the mood to play referee. You’re almost as bad as Aashen and Tuun.”
“I heard that,” Tuun’s voice broke over the intercom, “Just because I’ve joined with the ship, doesn’t make me deaf.”
“Sorry about that,” said Maya, “I didn’t mean anything by it. You and your brother do bicker often.”
“Hey Tuun,” said Daru, “You don’t listen in on people in their quarters do you?”
“No. That is not possible. I cannot hear someone unless their voice is caught on one of the security monitors, and as you know, there are no monitors in the private rooms.”
“But the computer can hear us in our rooms.”
“I am not the computer am I,” Tuun paused, “We are going to exit hyperspace outside the system. The gravity wells of the exterior planets make hyperspace too risky in this region of space.”
Daru’s station flashed to life. “That was the smoothest exit I believe I have ever experienced,” she said.
“You are a great Helmsman, Tuun,” said Ianus.
“Thank you,” said Tuun, “Your sentiments are welcomed.”
Daru shifted in her seat, “There is another ship exiting from hyperspace. From the markings on the vessel—it’s a Tengu ship!”
“Pirates?” Ianus asked.
“They are arming weapons,” said Daru.
Ianus’ hands fluttered across the console, “Shields up. Weapon systems active. They are firing on us!”
“This is shipmaster Kesin,” a voice came over the Comm. System, “Lower your shields, and prepare to be boarded.”
“Shipmaster?” Ianus gasped, “Why would their Helmsman be hailing us?”
The ship rocked. “The guild will hear about this,” said Tuun.
The bridge shook again.
“If you ever need me,” a ghostly voice filled Ianus mind, “Then call my name.”
“Aft shields at fifty percent,” Daru shouted.
“Who are you?” Ianus muttered under his breath.
“Ianus!” Daru yelled holding on to her seat as the ship lurched violently, “Fire back!”
“Who are you?” Ianus muttered again.
“Transfer weapons control to my station!” Daru shouted.
“What are you doing in my head?” Ianus said under his breath. “I remember you. On the day of my initiation, and just afterwards. You hit me. Who are you? Why are you in my mind? What do you want from me?”
“I am Hlachar Cythraul, the shining one. If you ever need me, just call on my name.”
“Their shields are failing,” said Maya.
“Their weapons system is damaged,” said Daru.
“What are you doing in my head?” Ianus growled.
“I am offering my services to one of my children. If you ever need me...”
“I know, just call your name. I got it!”
“Their weapons are down,” said Daru, “They’re backing off. They are opening a gate to hyperspace.”
Ianus shook his head, and wiped his eyes. He felt like he had just woken from a disturbed night’s sleep.
“What happened?” He asked dizzily.
“I was about to ask you the same thing,” said Daru.