We cover up those things that we wish were not true, hoping that everyone else’s memory will be as selective as yours.Beware the masks you use to hide those painful things from your sight.Others can see through them easier than you think.
Adir Radd, Hope in Darkness.
Ianus couldn’t take his eyes off of Arun.It looked so much like his father, even sounded like him.What was it?Fear, anger, and hatred churned inside him.
Arun took an unsteady step toward Ianus; Ianus grimaced.
He turned his back on the chimera, and ran.Down the steps, around the temple, and past the garden, he ran with only one thought in his mind, away from that monster and his ship.
Dodging the tree trunks and the low-lying branches, his feet pummeled the ground.Harder, faster, must get away, must escape.
The forest opened to the grassy shore of a lake.
Ianus didn’t stop.
He ran out into the water, splashing and thrashing about in the blue-green lake.He let go and fell flat into the cold water.Rising out of the lake, he screamed.Birds leapt from the treetops and circled the lake.
“This was not supposed to happen!”He yelled with all his strength.“I did everything I had to do.He was suppose to survive,” he began to cry, “He was suppose to survive.”
Ianus collapsed, and began to float.The water was refreshing.He rolled onto his back.
“Holy Maker of all that is,” said Ianus, still crying, “Why did it have to happen this way?I did all that was asked of me, except one thing.Should I have gone to Adrakaya?Should I have sacrificed myself to the A’nath-ari?Would the loss of my life restore his?A life for a life, debt and payment, is that it?
“Where are the visions now that I need them?” he cried out.“Where are the visions now?Where is the voice to whisper in my ear?Have you forsaken me?Have I forsaken you?Help me!O please, God, help me!”
Ianus folded his knees into his chest and submerged himself under the water.In the cool embrace, he forgot his pain, forgot his life, and forgot to breathe.
Splashing out of the water, he gasped for air.He treaded water for a moment, and then swam to shore.
Slowly, he walked out of the lake, and sat on a large rock looking at the mist, he felt the sorrow again.He heard footsteps in the forest behind him.Two sets of footsteps, both women, both makers, Ianus could tell by the way their feet delicately landed on the leaves and twigs without crushing or snapping them.
Daru and Maya walked around, and stood before him.He could see the concern in their eyes.
Daru reached her hand toward his shoulder.
He pulled away, and stared at the water.
“How did you know it was us?”Daru asked.She rested her hand on Ianus’ shoulder.
“A good guess.I was sure you would come after me.”
“For what it’s worth,” said Maya, “Tuun read him, Arun I mean.Tuun said it was Ihy’s mind he saw.”
“And you believe him?Tuun’s loyalty was always to Ihy, even though he is trapped in that monstrosity.”
“You have to face the fact that Arun is your father.”
“Then my father is truly dead.He would never allow anything like this to happen to him.He knew the rule.He obeyed the rule.”
“The rule has not been broken,” Maya’s lip curled, “Selwyn is right, as long as he maintains his control over the machine— the rule has not been broken.”
“And our covenant,” said Daru, “Our covenant with Tien Shaa is all we have.He promised that the machine will never overcome his children, as long as we are faithful.We can not abandon him now, or he will loose the fight.”
“So I should just pretend that nothing’s changed.I should just imagine that this Chimera is my father.”
“It...He is your father!”Maya said.
“Maybe it is, but how am I suppose to accept this?”
“Why don’t you try talking to him?Letting your emotions get the better of you and running off.How childish? Please, try talking to him.”
“And what?Reminisce about the good old days before he was in danger of becoming an abomination?”
“Ianus!”Maya said, sternly, “If you can’t accept what is, than pretend he is a new friend and get to know him better.”
“Come now, you’ve made friends before, don’t play coy with me.Why don’t you do something with him that you used to do with Ihy?Maybe you will find that your father has always been with you.”Maya patted him on the shoulder and walked away.
“We’ve been through bad times before,” said Daru, sliding her arms around Ianus.“We can get through this.”
“We were children then.Other people did all of the hard work.”
“I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.”
“But how dirty will they be before this is all over.I will talk to the abomination, but I make no promises.”
Daru stayed with Ianus for the rest of the day.She tried to comfort him.She even tried to get him to be in the same room as Arun, but Ianus would not pass the threshold.By that evening, she had convinced Ianus to think about talking to him.
The next morning, she could not find Ianus on the ship.She asked around, and found that he had returned to the lake to go fishing.She thought about joining him, but she decided against it.He needed time to heal.
She spent most of her day running diagnostics on the ship, she had to make sure everything was ready for flight.They had finished what they had come to do, and Ianus was acting as though he was more than ready to leave.
With the diagnostics finished, Daru left the bridge and went out to the pier beside the Valkyrie.On the end of the pier, she saw Tara sitting with her legs dangling over the water.
“So,” said Daru as she approached, “How are you taking all of this?”
“You mean Arun?”Tara shrugged.“Well, if it means that Ihy survived, then I’m happy.”
“It does.You took the attack on him really personally, didn’t you?”
“An attack on the one is an attack on all.Isn’t that what the rule says?”
Daru thought for a moment, “I guess your right.I think Ianus is taking all of this a little too hard.We set out to save Ihy’s life, and we did.We may have to call him Arun Namid from now on, but I’m sure he’ll be strong enough to fight off the machine.”
“I’m not so sure.The song can be very seductive...”Tara quickly added, “I’ve been reading a lot lately, and the stories make it clear that once the machine calls, few have ever been able to refuse.”
“Well, if anyone can, he can.I’m sure of that.Honestly, I’m more worried about Ianus than I am about Arun.He’s always acted on impulse rather than rational thought, but lately he’s been even more erratic.”
“In what way?”Tara stared into the water, “You told me that his talent as an augur only recently asserted itself.That has to leave your head spinning. Can you imagine waking up one day and having visions?If it were me, it would turn my life inside out.”
“Yeah, Tuun said his visions were becoming uncontrollable.”Daru turned toward the lake she thought Ianus was at.“That could be worse than what Arun’s going through.It is one thing to loose to the machine, then you only become submissive.But when you loose control to the spirit, your only thought is the assimilation of all life.There aren’t enough worlds to sate that appetite for control.The machine controls you.The spirit controls all.What is left?”
Tara straightened up.“Only the middle way,” she said assertively, “Going past fear, desire, and duty to the place where only honesty remains.”
“Honesty?What are you being honest to?”
“Life.Fear, desire, duty, they all make you lie, or at the very least pretend.Tien Shaa said, ‘When you can stand at the center of the fire, with only sincerity in your heart, the flames can no longer touch you.Only then will you see that you are not alone, and never were.You will emerge unharmed and will not even smell of smoke.’Don’t you remember?”
Daru was taken aback to hear Tara quoting Tien Shaa.
Tara rubbed her hands together, “But is that really possible?It sounds like a dream, a phantom on the horizon always out of reach.”
“Pryor says it can be done.He says he’s seen it in many of the people he trained with.”
“Then why are you so afraid for Ianus?”Tara stood up and walked over to Daru.“Aren’t you just blinding yourself?Why should anyone believe the prophet if we don’t believe ourself?”
Daru lost her words.She looked down and watched the waves roll in under the pier.“I’ve never thought about it that way before.”
“He’s always on your mind.You hardly ever talk about anything else.There has to be a reason.You two grew up together, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I came to temple when I was six.That’s when I first met Ianus.”
“So would you say he’s like a brother to you?”
“No, I have a brother.He used to visit me in temple.”
“There has never been another person who took up most of my thoughts,” Tara kicked her foot against the pier.
“He does,” Daru paused, and furrowed her brow.“I can’t get him out of my mind.I can’t imagine my life without him.Maybe that’s what Maya was talking about-I think I love him.”
The next night, Tara carefully made her way out of the Valkyrie and into the forest beside the temple.
“Are they coming?”Panthera asked from behind one of the trees.
“They are.They took your note quite seriously,” Tara looked around, “They didn’t tell anyone, and they’ve been nervously watching the clock all day.They will arrive on time.”
“Good,” Panthera looked past her.“They are coming, and will arrive soon.I want you to wait here.If I need you, I will call for you.”
Tara bowed, and donned her mask.Crouching behind a small bush, she watched Panthera glide into the shadow of one of the spires.
Midnight, Pryor and Barami arrived in the courtyard.
“It is good to see that you are still punctual,” said Panthera from the shadow.“I am glad you are not late.I really wanted to see you again.”
“Do we know you?”Pryor asked, “I don’t recognize your voice.Maybe if I saw your face, it would jog our memory.”
“One thing at a time.We cannot go out of turn.The method is the message.You have served the Jade Moon well.Loyalty means a lot to you, but I have to ask-What has it given you in return?Your families are dead, and madness consumes your wise leaders.”
“We have proven our loyalty to the order,” said Barami, “We are repaid in kind.”
“You mean they pay your loyalty for loyalty?Is that all?They hide the meaning of the Song from you.They tell you to listen to the rhythm, that the words are unimportant.They have betrayed their covenant with the One who is.They teach you heresy, but since you do not know the words of the song, you do not even know.”
“What you ask is forbidden by our covenant with Tien Shaa,” said Pryor.“He knew the words seek to control, while the rhythm brings freedom.”
“So you fall back on your broken messiah?How touching!I offer you a better way.A sure way, that if you follow it, it will guide your every step.You will never be lost again.”
“I am not lost now.I know who I am, and where I came from.”
“But do you know where you are going?”
“I go where I am moved.”
Panthera laughed, “You can only move, you have no where to stand.You reject the grace I offer you?”
“I reject the slavery you offer me!”
“You fool!”Panthera leapt into the light, sword in hand, “If you reject life, there is only death!”
Panthera ran at Pryor, who dodged.Spinning around behind him, Pryor formed a double-edged sword.Panthera’s robes fluttered in the breeze.
The blades clashed, sparks flew from them.Panthera kicked, hooking his foot behind Pryor’s knee.As he lunged forward, he pulled his leg back.
Pryor fell on his back, and rolled quickly to the right to avoid Panthera’s sword.
Barami charged Panthera, a staff in his hand.
Panthera leapt over him, and landed laughing, “You dare challenge me?My boy, that was a mistake you will regret!”His periapt flashed, a dark cloud enshrouded Pryor.“One at a time.”
Pryor struggled against the darkness, but could not move.
“Don’t worry about him, Master Barami.If I wanted to kill him, I would not resort to magic tricks.I would simply slay him.”
Barami stared at Pryor for a moment, but quickly turned his attention to Panthera’s shadowy form descending upon him.Barami rolled hard to his left, and flipped across the courtyard.
“Is this how you fight now?”Panthera asked, “You simply run until the battle is over?”
Barami spun the staff in his hand, blades curled from each end.Slowly, he walked toward Panthera.Their weapons struck each other with a loud crash.
Barami was pushed back.The sheer power behind each blow was more than he could block.With each strike, he stepped backwards, and Panthera hit harder.Finally, Barami’s staff shattered.
Dodging the blade, he tried to run, but Panthera flew through the air and pounced upon him.With a sinister laugh, he turned his sword into a club and struck Barami on the back of his head.
Tara turned away; she couldn’t watch her masters fighting.She could hear Barami’s anguished cries behind her.The only one who ever treated her with respect was being killed by her other master.
“Whose side am I on?”She muttered.
Meanwhile, Ianus was roaming the halls of the Valkyrie.Again, he couldn’t sleep.The nightmares wouldn’t stop:armies of Eidolons marching against each other, leaving nothing behind them but death and destruction.
“Maybe some fresh air,” Ianus muttered under his breath.
He opened the hatch and stepped out into the cool night air.Looking up at the full moons, he sighed.The last few nights were hard.He hadn’t slept well since Arun came into his life.
“What was that?”He spun around on his heels.Weapons clashed in the distance.Someone was fighting, near the temple.
Ianus ran toward the sound.There it was, in the courtyard in front of the temple.Pryor was trapped in some kind of cloud.Barami lay on the ground, blocking the ferocious attacks of a black robed maker.
The dark figure laughed, “You never dreamed your end would come so soon, did you?You have neglected your practice.I am most disappointed.”
Ianus felt dizzy.His vision blurred.The black robed Maker shimmered and turned into a Red dragon.
“It was him!”Screeched a voice in Ianus’ mind, “He killed my former host!He killed Heru Dhouti!”
“Who are you?”Ianus asked, “You sound different.”
“Osanna, your Sukallin!”Replied the voice, “That is Karu Panthera.He killed my former host, Heru Dhouti, and your parents!He was responsible for the attack on Ihy!”
“What?”Ianus yelled, his mind filling with the knowledge of his Sukallin.
Panthera turned, “And who do we have here?”
Ianus stumbled, “Ianus Osanna Akeru!”He mustered the strength to say.“You will pay for your crimes.”
“Pay?I already have!I have had my life reduced to a living hell, for the past two decades.I have suffered my purgatory.Now is my time for glory!”
Panthera jumped into the air.
Quickly, Ianus formed a scimitar, and parried.
Ianus grabbed Panthera’s wrist, and twisted him around, pulling his arm tight around Panthera’s neck.
“Before you die,” said Ianus, “You will know fear.I will break you before the end.”
Hitting Ianus in the gut with his free elbow, Panthera broke free.Light flashed, and dozens of arrows flew from his periapt.
Ianus anchored his feet, and spun his scimitar, deflecting the arrows away.Suddenly, a dark cloud engulfed him.It was hard to breathe.
“You are a good fighter, young Akeru,” Panthera crept toward him, “The first person to survive my arrows.They never missed before.I remember your father, Elkan.He was a great warrior too.Unfortunately, he lacked vision.Do you share that flaw?”
“I have seen more than you have,” said Ianus, struggling against the darkness.“I can see you are an augur, but the future hides itself from you.”
Flames flashed from Panthera’s hand, striking Ianus in the chest.Pain coursed through Ianus’ blood; he gritted his teeth to keep from screaming.
“Nothing hides from me!I have seen your fate, long ago, you will die a most terrible death.”
“But not by your hand.”
“I am the hand of destiny!The universe itself bows to my will.”
“I will never bow to your will!”
“But you already are.Don’t try to escape.The cloud constricts the more you struggle against it.”
Ianus closed his eyes.He began to breathe slower.Panthera continued to talk, but Ianus wasn’t listening.Sinking into his mind, he calmed his thoughts.He felt a strange tingling sensation rush over his body.A cold breath blew through him.
He couldn’t hear anything anymore.He felt a soft pressure between his eyes.Sorrow clouded his mind.He wanted to cry, to let out all of the pain that he felt.A dreamlike haze enraptured him.
Slowly, he opened his eyes.A soft luminescence surrounded him, the cloud was gone.Panthera’s steps floundered.
Ianus opened his mouth; a deep growl broke the silence.Silver claws formed around his fingertips and a double bladed axe in his right hand.
Rushing Panthera, he swung the axe at the murderer’s head.
Panthera caught the axe with his sword, but could not deflect it.Falling to his knees he scowled at Ianus from beneath his hood.
Ianus kicked off the ground, and pushed Panthera down.Bringing the axe around, Ianus slashed his chest open.Blood and sparks sputtered from the wound and he collapsed on the ground.
Standing over Panthera, Ianus smiled, “It seems the universe can no longer hear you.”
Daru ran into the courtyard, “What’s going on here?”
“Not now,” said Ianus, “Tend to Pryor and Barami.”Turning his attention back to Panthera, “Now what should I do with you?Should I turn you over to the authorities, or should I finish you off here and now?”
“Neither!Girl, save your master!”
A woman in black wearing a mask emerged from the edge of the forest.
“I know you!”Ianus screeched, “You were there the night my father was killed!”
The woman bowed her head, and drew her sword.
“I see you still need a mask.What are you afraid of?”
A chain with a hook on the end, flew from her periapt and wrapped itself around Ianus’ axe.A sudden tug and the axe flew out of Ianus hand and clattered to the ground.
Ianus threw himself after it.
The dark lady lunged at him, feet first.Planting her feet on his shoulders, she rolled herself up, and shoved Ianus to the ground.A quick flip and she landed on the ground next to him.She swung her sword at him.
Like a rock across a pond, Ianus skimmed the pavement.He grabbed the floor, and stood on his hands.Up into the air, he somersaulted to his feet in time to hear the woman’s blade hit the ground.
Extending his hand, a chain flew from his periapt.It grappled the axe and returned to him.
The dark lady stared at him.
“Yield!”Ianus said, “And I will see you get the help that you require.”
“No!”The woman said, “I will not yield.”
The dark lady waved her hands in front of her chest.A vortex opened between her palms full of lightning and fire.Darts, arcs of lightning, and fireballs shot at Ianus.
Ianus dodged, and watched in horror as they turned to follow him.Running, he headed towards the forest.
Barami’s jaw dropped, “I didn’t teach her to fight like that!”He whispered.
Daru looked at him then at the masked woman.
Ianus stopped at the edge of the forest, turned, and knelt.A shimmering blue sphere surrounded him.The barrier absorbed the fire, lightning, and even the darts.
Looking up at the dark lady, “You must realize by now that you cannot harm me.I can see through you, you know.I can see the chains that bind you.The dark fetters that even you want removed.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“O, you don’t.You don’t want to fight me.I can see the tension in your muscles, hear the anxiety in your breath.You are his slave.Set down your sword and be free.”
The woman looked at the blade in her hand.“And then what?I have heard the song, it will ever be in my ears.”
“Then listen to the rhythm, not the words.”
The dark lady lowered her sword, and began to pace.
“You know in your heart what I say is truth.”
The masked woman charged Ianus.He easily caught her blade with his axe.
“Why do you continue the attack?”
“I must save my master!”
“But where is your master?”
The lady looked over to the pool of blood where Panthera once laid.
“This can’t be,” she stammered, “Where did he go?He wouldn’t leave me here.He wouldn’t abandon one as loyal as me.”
“He has!”Ianus said, “Can’t you see you are alone?Your own master won’t even stand with you.”
“No!This isn’t right.I’ve done everything he ever asked of me.”
“So where is the To’asaa?Do you still have it?Or did you give it to him?”
“Return it to me, and help me find the man who killed Ihy Khem.All will be forgiven you.”
“But...I heard Master Khem survived.”
“Give me the To’asaa!”
The woman sneered at him, and leapt into the treetops.
“Aren’t you going to go after her?”Daru asked.
“No, she has some thinking to do.In time she will see the light.”
“I hope you’re right, and this isn’t a huge mistake.”
“I’ve seen this.What must be done, must be done.”
“So you know who she was?”
“No, even in my visions I see her with the mask on.Do you know who she is?”
“I have my suspicion.I only hope that I am wrong.”