The ghosts of our past live uncomfortably close to us.They breathe down our necks and watch our every move.It is our choice whether we apease or anger them.
Adir Radd, Hope in Darkness.
The bridge was silent.Everyone stared at Ianus, obviously curious about his inability to act, even though they did not ask.They could see the distress clearly on his face.Whatever had happened, they knew better than to pry it out of him.He would explain when he was ready.
“We are receiving a signal from Kur-gal,” said Tuun.
Pryor looked over at Ianus, but he was trapped in his own mind, “Put it through,” said Pryor, hoping his nephew would be all right.
The main view screen flickered to life.The lion-like face of an Ubasti surveyed the bridge.“Kur-gal station here,” he said, rolling his R’s in the back of his throat.“We have monitored weapons fire in your vicinity.Do you require assistance?”
“We were able to fight off the ship, but you should send out a patrol, they may come back,” Pryor glanced back at Ianus.
“What is your business on Kur-gal?”
“We are here to visit Selwyn Avrum, may we have clearance for the landing gate?”
“Clearance granted.”The Ubasti punched something into the console in front of him, “Continue your approach and please, enjoy your visit.”
The screen went black.
Daru transferred her monitor display to the main viewer.
The image of a bright blue orb grew larger.A silvery white dot expanded into the gleaming station.Three concentric rings spun around; lights flashed brilliant reds and blues around the outermost ring.Below the station, a thin line hung down, suspending three concave dishes back to back.Lightning swirled and danced around the dishes.
Tuun directed the Valkyrie toward them.
“Transmitting clearance code,” said Tuun.
A red beam shot from the Valkyrie’s starboard wing.
A cerulean bubble swelled in the heart of the dish, splattering open, the entire dish went deep blue.
Lightning flashed around the Valkyrie as she entered the vortex.The image on the view screen went deep blue and melted away into the beautiful scene of Kur-gal’s southernmost ocean and cloudless sky.
In the distance, the verdant green coastline came into view, followed by the golden wood of the docking berths.
“We are receiving a message from the port,” said Maya.She quickly looked over at Pryor, who excused himself and left the bridge.“Selwyn is waiting for us at the dock.”
Relief engulfed Ianus, “We should prepare Ihy to move.”
“Aashen has already taken care of that.”Maya said, her eyes fixed on the view screen.
The ship glided into its birth and came to a full stop.The docking hatch opened.Ianus and Daru walked down the ramp.
“Is Ihy with you?”An Ubasti man with a long black mane, and black striped fur wearing dusty tan robes asked.
“Are you Selwyn Avrum?”Ianus asked hopefully.
“Yes, and you are Ianus Akeru and Daru Shaheen.I’m sorry for not introducing myself, but if Ihy is as bad off as you said, then we don’t have a lot of time for pleasantries.”
Aashen came down the ramp pushing Ihy on a stretcher.He was followed by Pryor pushing another stretcher with a blanket covering a humanoid form.
“Take them up to the temple,” said Selwyn, “I have acolytes up there waiting for you.”
Aashen and Pryor nodded, and walked past them.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Daru said, “Selwyn isn’t an Ubasti name is it?”
“No, it’s not.I was orphaned as a baby during a border skirmish with the Uridimmu.Thankfully, I was found by a group of Raewyn who were traveling through the sector.They named me and raised me.Taught me everything I know about medicine and the maker’s art.”
“That’s how you were able to help Ihy,” Ianus said.
“Yes, I have a very good understanding of the Raewyn physique,” said Selwyn.“I was raised on one of their worlds.You cannot imagine the things I have seen.I can speak seven languages, and yet I’m still incapable of finding a word to describe it.”
They walked up a small path lined by weeping willows.On a knoll in the clearing, the gold and jewel encrusted onion domes of the temple came into view.Amazingly detailed murals and mandalas were painted on the exteriors, and large stained glass windows glinted in the sun.
“Not a bad post is it?”Selwyn grinned.
“Not at all,” said Daru.
“Selwyn?”Ianus said, desperation filling his voice, “Will you be able to help him?”
“I should be able to, but I can’t make any promises.Don’t get your hopes up too high.A lot will depend on him.He may not want to live.If he gives up, there is nothing I can do for him.Pray for his quick recovery, and that I will know what to do to save him.”
After Selwyn had left to help Ihy, Ianus and Daru roamed around the Temple grounds.The dark red masonry harmonized with the vibrant green grasses, and the violet leaves of the trees.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this before,” Daru said, marveling at the spires, minarets, and domes.
Behind the temple was a small garden full of Vermillion lilies and violet daffodils with twinkling stamens.Several stone benches with ornately carved legs were scattered among the vibrant foliage.
Pryor sat in the center of the garden counting his prayer beads.Across from him, Ianus and Daru took a seat on another bench and smiled at him.
“I haven’t seen you this happy for a long time,” Daru said, prying her eyes away from the temple.
“Well, I’ve been worried about my father.Now that he’s here, there are less uncertainties.”
“Don’t forget what Selwyn said.There are no guaranties that he will be able to help Ihy.”
“I would rather focus on the positive.That’s all I have, especially with all the strange things that have been happening lately.”
“Like the attack by the Tengu?”
Ianus stood up and began to pace in front of the bench.“Yes, like on the bridge.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Daru asked sheepishly.
“So many mysteries,” Ianus shook his head.“I heard a voice, friendly, calming, oddly inviting.It offered me help.Part of me wanted to say yes— to take whatever it was offering.But there was another voice, quiet, deep in the recesses of my mind keeping me from saying yes.”
“Do you know whose voice it was?”
“It said it was Hlachar Cythraul.”
“Cythraul?” Daru stuttered, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I think so.Why?Do you recognize the name?”
Daru stood up and joined Ianus in his pacing, “I hope not.According to legend, a Raewyn named Hlachar Cythraul incited Dov Lavan to rebel against the Enmadra, but that was over four thousand years ago.He couldn’t still be alive, could he?”
“Who knows?The Raewyn aren’t exactly like the rest of us, are they?For all we know he could be.But why would he be interested in my initiation?”
“What do you mean?”
“I heard that voice once before, just after my initiation.It said, ‘This is not your time,’ and threw me across the room.If he is who he says he is, why would he be so interested in me?”
“I’m sure if Sakkara was here, she would say, ‘Ianus is more important than he thinks.’As for me, I just don’t know.Maybe it is just someone playing tricks on you.”
“Not even Tuun is that cruel.Maybe it is Cythraul.”
“And what if it is him?It doesn’t matter.Samara recorded many stories about people being harassed by others claiming to be Cythraul.She portrays it as one more peril of being a Maker.”
“So she says he was still alive over a thousand years ago, that might mean he is still alive.”
“No,” Daru sat back down, “She doesn’t take sides.She leaves it up to the reader’s interpretation.They could have been imposters.This could be an imposter.”
“But what if it isn’t?”
“But, but, but, just let it go.If it happens again just fight it off.We have enough to worry about without searching for more.Please, forget about it, for me.”
Ianus stopped walking.He took a deep breath, and rocked on his heels.
Daru’s eyes were full of tears.
Ianus held her gaze.Pain filled him, he could not stand to see her cry.He tried to look away.He had to look away or he would fold, giving in to her.
“I’m sorry, Daru,” Ianus knelt down in front of her, “But I can’t let go of this.If Cythraul has returned, I have to find out what he’s up to.Please understand.”
“If I have to, I will,” her lips quivered, “But you have to let me help you.”
“Maybe that’s what he meant?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Maybe I should go to Adrakaya to find the A’nath-ari?Maybe dad knew about this, and that’s why he said I should go?”
“Ianus, I thought we had settled this.No one who enters the forbidden land has ever returned.”
“That’s not true,” Pryor said, looking up from his prayers, “Ihy did.”
“What did you say?”Ianus and Daru said in unison.
“What?O, forget I said anything, and don’t bring this up again.There are some secrets that kill.I have to go.”Pryor stood up and walked away.
After five days on Kur-gal, the crew of the Valkyrie had settled in.They lived aboard ship, but came and went as they pleased.Tara spent most of her days and late into the night exploring the creeks and gullies around the temple and beach.
It reminded her of her home on Adrakaya, and the old creek she used to play at when she was a child.
The water was cold on her bare feet, but refreshing.Splashing through the creek, Tara stopped, and stared at the gnarled trunk of a large tree.She scrambled up the muddy bank.She reached up and grabbed on the low branches.Pulling herself into the tree, she found a sturdy limb to sit upon.She sat comfortably and rested her back against the trunk.
“Is it really time to play?”The ghastly, metallic voice of Panthera broke the silence.
“Master?”Tara exclaimed, steadying herself on the branch.
“Have you forgotten me?It has not been that long since we last talked.”
“No, master, I am just surprised to see you here.”Tara watched the black mass of fluttering robes in the shadow of the tree.“I did not know that you were coming.”
“Plans change.We may be having a problem with Faroh.His thoughts have become distant.I cannot hear him anymore.I fear he may have betrayed us.”
“Faroh?I don’t believe it.He is loyal to the song.”
“He was,” Panthera’s voice rang like a cracked bell, “But now he is under the influence of another.Someone who claims a great name for himself.Another ghost from the past, much like me.This one, though, I have my doubts about him.”
“Who is it?”Tara shivered.
“That is none of your concern.He is my problem not yours.”
“Your problems are my problems, my Lord.”
“Good answer, but I assure you, he is my problem alone.I have been too focused on revenge, too concerned that Ihy Khem would stand in my way and prevent me from my return to power.A great darkness looms on the horizon, a darkness that I had not foreseen.Things are changing.The tapestry weaves a new picture.Everything falls apart, the center cannot hold.”
Tara climbed down from the tree and bowed.“What is the matter?”
“I can only tell you what I see.”
“Then I will listen.”
“The eagle that once flew free is now bound, and the wolves howl in the distance.The sabers rattle and the drums are being beaten with a fury unmatched for millennia.The crowds close their eyes and cry out, ‘Faith, we have all we need.’Again, the wolves howl.The people gather in the streets and call out, ‘Peace, Peace.’The dreamer will have his day.The three sisters serve their fate.I am laying dead on the ground, a sacrifice to an unholy terror.I will not die this way!”
“What does it mean?”
“I do not know,” Panthera sounded concerned, “My prescience fails me.No interpretation comes.Have you been reciting the litany?”
“Not as often as I should.”
“At least you’ve stopped lying to me.You have stopped, haven’t you?”
“Yes, it is futile.You will know the truth anyway.”
“You are troubled about your complicity in the attack on Ihy,” Panthera wrapped his cold, hard arm around Tara.
“Yes.I can’t keep the image out of my mind,” Tara leaned into his frosty, metallic chest.
“It hurts you to see others suffer.I understand.Unnecessary pain is troubling.His death was meant to be quick and painless.It is unfortunate that he was made to suffer.”
“Pardon me, but it is strange to hear you say that.I thought you wanted him dead.”
“I do, but he is an honorable man.He deserved to die with honor.That troubles you, doesn’t it?”
“It does.I do not have your strength.”
“Just remember your place.You are like me, merely a cog in the machine.Serve your purpose or the machine will replace you. It is as simple as that.”
“I see.I will try to remember that.”
“Good.There are others who need to be sorted out before we proceed.We still have a lot of work ahead of us.Our time is coming closer.”
“What do you mean sorted out?”
“I have to know where they stand.It is time I made my presence known.I cannot stay in the shadows forever.It is time I start gathering more followers.”
“Are you sure that’s wise.”
“It is the only option open to us.”He gave her two beautifully embellished envelopes, with black wax seals holding them closed, “You will take these letters and deliver them to Master Isann, and Master Barami,” handing her a plain white envelope, “This one is for you.You will, of course, not tell them where the messages came from.”
Tara flipped through the three sealed envelopes and looked at the names printed on them, “I will obey.”
In the galley of the Valkyrie, Pryor and Barami were playing cards.
“I am surprised you aren’t exploring the city or the countryside,” said Barami as he discarded.
“You forget, I’ve been traveling throughout the galaxy hunting down the Ual-leen.I just want to sit back and relax before I go back out on the prowl.”
“O yes, the order does keep you on the move.Me on the other hand, they like to keep me in the thick of the bureaucracy.I do not know why.I guess they think I like it or something.”
“Maybe they think you’re good at your work.”
“Don’t you think you could use that king?”Pryor asked.
“O, sorry.I wasn’t thinking.I have a lot on my mind.I was hoping that a quick game would get my mind off business.”
“What have you been working on?”
“I can’t say.Master Theron has been clear about that.All I can tell you is that rumors have been circulating, and there is much unrest between worlds.Something is happening.We’re not sure what it is yet, but be ready for a storm.Thunder rumbles on the horizon.It won’t be long until the lightning strikes.”
“Are you sure?”
“It is all the Camarilla can talk about.I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t.”
“So, that’s why we haven’t seen you at all on this visit.I hope you are at least getting some rest.It sounds like you are going to need it.”
“We all will.”
The door to the galley opened.Timidly, Tara walked in, her head hung low and her breath stilted.
“Hello Tara,” said Barami, bowing his head, “I was hoping to see you before I had to go back to my meetings.How have you been?”
“Honestly,” said Tara, not taking her eyes off the floor, “I have been better.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No. There is nothing anyone can do,” Tara held up two sealed envelopes, “A messenger delivered these for you.”
Barami took the envelopes from her hand.Passing Pryor the one with his name on it, Barami opened and read the letter:
Your service to the Light of Truth is an example for your brothers and sisters in the Order.The time has come to make a stand for the truth, before the window of opportunity passes us by.
Meet me in the temple courtyard in three days at midnight to discuss the future.Do not be late, and do not tell anyone else.I will know if you do and will not come.
A Voice Crying in the Wilderness
When Barami finished reading, he looked over at Pryor’s letter.It was identical.
“It’s beginning again,” Pryor said, closing his eyes.
“Where did you get these letters?”Barami demanded.
“I was on the temple grounds,” Tara stuttered, “And a messenger gave them to me.”
“What did they look like?”
“He wore a cloak, I couldn’t see his face.”
“Did you notice anything strange about him?Do you know who it was?”
“I am sorry, I didn’t pay close attention.I didn’t think it was important.I’m sorry, Master, if I could answer your questions, I would, but I can’t.I’m sorry to fail you.”Tears streamed down her cheeks.
“Sit down, girl,” said Barami, pain etched on his face, “Don’t blame yourself.You couldn’t have known.How many letters have you delivered to me in the past few months?I don’t blame you for not seeing the significance of one more.”
Tara slumped into the chair, and collapsed onto Barami’s shoulder.
Barami wrapped his arms around her, and rubbed her back, “It’s all right.It’s not your fault.Calm down.Calm down and don’t cry.It’ll be all right.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”Pryor asked.
Tara sat up and dried her eyes, “No, I’ll be fine.I’m sorry, I’ve been having a hard time controlling my emotions lately.”
“Don’t bother with apologies, my girl,” said Barami, “There is much to do, and little time for all of this.I know it’s hard to do your work when you don’t feel like it.Believe me, I know, but the work has to be done.You’ll get through it.I know you will.Now promise me you will tell no one about these messages.”
“Good.We have to make arrangements.”
“If this is what it looks like,” said Pryor, “Then I am afraid we should practice for battle.It could be an ambush.”
“Either way,” said Barami, “We have to go, and come what may, we have to find out what’s going on.”
Early the next morning, Ianus awoke to the sound of an incoming message.Scrambling out of bed, he pulled on a bathrobe and answered the call.
Selwyn’s face appeared on the monitor, “I’m sorry, I didn’t wake you did I?”
“Don’t worry about it, what can I do to help you?”
“Please gather the others, I’ve done all I can do.Meet me at the temple, there is a lot to discuss.”
“We will be there in thirty minutes.”
After getting dressed, Ianus ran around the ship waking people up and telling them to go to the temple.
Ianus sat on the steps of the temple.He cradled his forehead in his hands, as he pumped his legs to relieve his anxiety.The morning fog was still thick on the ground, and long lines of sunlight danced through the trees.One by one, the others emerged from the mist.Aashen, Tuun, and their Ceeri arrived first.Then Maya, Pryor, and Daru arrived.Finally, Tara, Barami, Sakkara, and Khensu walked out of the fog.
“Are you sure about this?”Tara asked, “Ihy is all better.”
Ianus shook his head, “I hope so.I’m sorry.I was too excited, I may have said things I shouldn’t have.”
“I can understand,” said Daru, “Believe me I can understand.”
The doors to the temple opened.Selwyn stepped out with his hands folded over his heart.“It is good to see you are all punctual.”
“Where’s Ihy?”Ianus asked.
“One thing at a time,” said Selwyn, “Some things have to be said slowly.”
“Is every thing all right?”
“Patience.Please let me say what needs to be said.When you brought Ihy to me, he was very close to death.The three parts of him were at war.The Shedu, the Sukallin, and the Raewyn are very different from each other.The Shedu and the Sukallin have learned to live together, but the Raewyn is not used to being burdened with flesh.It was never meant to have blood coursing through it.I was able to help, some, but I wasn’t able to save all of him.”
“What does that mean?”Ianus said, jumping to his feet, “What do you mean?”
Selwyn lowered his head, “Arun!”He said in a loud voice, “Please join us.”
The doors of the temple opened, and a man walked out wearing black robes.His skin was ash white, colorless, and his eyes were solid black, but his face was familiar.It was Ihy.Somehow he was younger, but it was him.
The man stared at him and furrowed his brow.“I know you,” he said, a metallic ring in his voice, “But I do not know you.”
“What have you done to him?”Ianus scowled at Selwyn.
“I did what I had to do,” said Selwyn, “I saved what I could save, but he was pretty far gone when you arrived.He still lives, but he has not acclimated to his new body yet.”
“New body?”Ianus said, “By all the stars in heaven, he’s a chimera.You have blasphemed the holy rule, and made him one of those horrors.”
Selwyn looked away, “I did not blaspheme Rule of the Bahn Se’leen, or that of the Camenae,” he said quietly, “Both rules forbid submitting oneself to the machine.Once the systems acclimate to one another, he will be in control.He will not fall to the machine.”
“If you will forgive me,” said Tuun gravely, “But no chimera has ever withstood the temptation of its new body.”
“But none of them were Raewyn, were they,” Selwyn responded.“The part of him that is Raewyn will assert itself once the Kishan in him settles itself.”
“So why did you call him Arun, and not Ihy?” Ianus asked.
“Because he is something new.The Kishan is now mediating the differences between the other three.Besides, it will be safer to pass him off as one of the three Kishanu that came with the ship.No one will question a Kishan, but a chimera could draw unnecessary questions.Just talk to him.You will find he is the same person you always knew.”
“Why are you talking about me like I’m not here?”Arun asked looking back and forth at them, “You look familiar.”He said, his eyes settling on Ianus.
“I was... am your son, Ianus, don’t you remember me?”
Arun walked closer to him and ran his fingers down Ianus’ cheek, “I’m sorry.It is distant.I can almost remember, but I remember you having other parents.I was not your first father.”
Ianus’ eyes glistened as tears welled up in his eyes, “This is not what I expected.I wanted to help, but not like this.I wanted my father made whole, not made into an abomination.”
Arun turned around to face Selwyn, “Am I an abomination?”
“No,” said Selwyn, “You are the boy’s father restored to him.”
“This thing is not my father!”Ianus shouted, “This thing is an abomination, a horror!If this is what has become of my father, then my father is truly dead!”