Every action performed in secret is filled with power and risk.Subterfuge increases danger, but stealth is power.There is a fine line between them.If you have to act in secret, maintain honor or you have lost everything.
Adir Radd, Hope in Darkness
Ianus stood by his father’s bedside.Ihy’s skin was now a morbid blue, and the Raewyn luminescence cast a ghostly hue over his body and the room.Ianus picked up his father’s hand.His skin was cold and clammy.
“Aashen and Tuun are working on the Valkyrie.”Ianus said quietly, “It is almost ready for launch.You would be so pleased.As soon as it’s prepared they will come to tell us.”
Ianus gently laid his father’s hand over his heart.Setting it back down, he began to pace around the room.
“The doctors gave me a clean bill of health this morning,” Ianus continued, “They said they would have liked to keep me in for observation for a few more days.But since they had no legitimate reason to hold me, I was free to go.Well, they didn’t have to tell me twice.I had my bags packed and sent down to the surface in fifteen minutes.”
Ianus glanced back at Ihy, smiling, expecting some kind of response.
Ianus’ grin quickly melted away.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me about the Vaticinars’ prophecy?Were you afraid of my reaction, or were you just being sensible?”Ianus paused and thought about what his father might say, “After all the prophecy had been sealed so that no interpretation could be rendered by any but the Vaticinars themselves.It was just prudent.I can hear you now, ‘Why burden the boy with nonsense that can neither help him, nor hurt him?’”
Ianus laughed as his lower lip quivered.Pain filled his eyes.“It was probably for the best.If I had known I would have driven myself mad.‘You need to focus on your studies not some old prophecy,’ you would say.I do tend to become obsessed with mysteries.”
“But the Vaticinars called me a Red Dragon.My vision warned me that a Red Dragon would kill you... but I didn’t kill you.I tried to save you.I wonder if I wasn’t the only one.‘Prophecy is a very fluid thing.’” He quoted Ihy with a tear in his eye, “How many times did you say that? What was going through your mind when you said it?”
Ianus stopped pacing, and looked at his father, “Do you know a Camenae named Selwyn Avrum?What was it you said about the Camenae?O yes, ‘The Camenae sing in search of enlightenment.’They are a strange bunch.I did some reading about them.They tamed the Ubasti, turning them from their warrior ways.They are centered on Kur-gal.Have you ever been there?”Ianus paused, he wasn’t waiting for a response, but he thought it was the right thing to do.
“Of course you wouldn’t tell me if you had.‘I have been to too many systems to remember them all.’Sometimes I wonder if you didn’t trust me.You kept so many secrets.”
“It was for your own good,” Tuun said entering the room.
“It is good that you are talking to him.They say it can help,” said Aashen.“The Valkyrie is ready for departure.There’s only one problem.The doctors will not allow Ihy to be transferred,” said Tuun, his Ceeri flexed his wings menacingly.
“Well then,” said Ianus, “I suppose we have no other choice.”
Aashen and Tuun nodded.
They stood very close to Ianus and each of them raised their right hand.Light flickered between the three periapts.A silky, silver fluid poured from each periapt.The three knelt, slowly lowering their hands.Standing back, Ianus was pleased with the highly polished tripod.
Aashen reached over, and slid his finger across the back panel.The single shaft split open.An electric arc flashed opening a gate through which Ianus could see the corridor of the Valkyrie.
“Aashen, you and Tuun take Ihy through the Nexus, I will clean up here and meet you on the ship.”
The Fallon brothers nodded, and pushed Ihy’s bed through the luminous portal.After they had passed safely through, Ianus ran his finger across the back panel, the light went off, and the shaft closed.Ianus touched it with his periapt.The shaft and tripod melted into a silver liquid and flowed back into his periapt.
Collecting himself, he left the room.He waved at the doctors as he passed.Quickly, he made his way to the Kanthaka’s nexus room.He set one of the gates for the Valkyrie’s bridge.
He emerged from the gate, turned to shut it down, and smiled at Daru, “He’s on board.Do we have a full crew?”
“We have all the people we will need,” replied Maya.
Moments later, Tuun ran onto the bridge.Touching his palm to one of the doors, he smiled at Ianus, “We are about to take off.Tell the crew to prepare for our maiden flight to Kur-gal.”
Faroh sat at one of the nicest café’s in Shiloh enjoying a hot tea.The memory of his last encounter with Panthera haunted him.*Why did he seem so afraid of Cythraul?*He thought, *He was just a silly old man—there was nothing special about him.Well, he did seem to be able to conceal the fact that he was a Raewyn. That was quite a feat in and of it self.*
The whole town seamed to be in mourning for Master Khem.Posters hung in the window of every shop in town asking people to pray for his quick recovery.Faroh had stolen one from the Temple.He fancied it a grand trophy.
*All of these poor simpletons spending their time praying for that half-witted traitor.They have no idea what is really going on,* he thought to himself.*One day, they will understand.The time is coming for these wrongs to be righted.*
He was very pleased with the work he had done.Every day Jago Modcearu met him at the café with an update on Ihy’s condition, which, to Faroh’s delight, worsened day by day.
Staring at the bottom of his now empty cup, he wondered what could be holding Jago up.*Maybe it’s good news,* he thought, *Maybe the old fool is dead and Jago is waiting for confirmation.*
Jago entered the café, but didn’t order a drink.Instead he walked straight over to Faroh’s table and sat down.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” said Jago, lowering his eyes.
“Good news, I hope.”
“Not exactly.Master Khem has gone missing.”
“What do you mean, missing?” Faroh hoped Panthera hadn’t heard the news.Echoes of torture taunted him.
“About an hour ago, the doctors entered his room and found that the bed was missing.”
“Well, where is he then?Don’t tell me you took him.”
“O no, I know how important it is not to draw attention to myself.But that is what took me so long.I was sure you would want to know who took him and where he was.”
“Are you gonna tell me, or am I gonna have to take the information from you?”Faroh sneered, his patience worn thin.
“It seems Masters Akeru, Fallon, and Isann have taken him.”
“What do you mean, it seems?”
“Ianus and the two Fallon brothers were his last registered visitors, and they have departed for Kur-gal.”
“They wouldn’t leave him behind.”Faroh looked into the sky
“Exactly, and they wouldn’t risk taking him from the hospital unless they thought they knew a way to heal him.”
Faroh’s face became ashy, almost corpselike, “They are taking him to Kur-gal to cure him?Does Panthera know?”He held his breath.
“It is hard to tell.He always seems to know things that he had no way of knowing.”
Faroh closed his eyes and sighed, “Do you have access to a ship?”
“I’m afraid not, but if you go down to the port there are always pilots looking for fares.”
Faroh rose from his seat, “Should you encounter our Master, let him know I have everything under control.”
Faroh quickly left the café, and made his way through the busy streets to the port.Several pilots stood around talking to the passersby.Just beyond them, Faroh caught sight of a black-feathered Tengu, with his wings held tight against his back.
When he approached the pilots, they all started shouting.“Best ship in the fleet.”
“A faster vessel you’ll never find.”
“I’m looking for passage to Kur-Gal!”Faroh shouted over the din.
The pilots responded by barking out prices.
Faroh pointed to a well-dressed pilot, near him who had called out a rather low fare.
“When would you like to leave?”The man asked, grinning from ear to ear.
“Very well, follow me,” the man beckoned to Faroh.
They walked down winding paths off toward a ship.They were far away from the crowds.
Faroh felt a strange jerking in his right hand, and his periapt flew off.
Lunging forward to catch it, a large black wing buffeted him.As he fell to the ground, he could hear a great bird screech.
Five Tengu emerged from the darkness.Their raven-like heads stared down at him.
“Defenseless, surrender or we kill you now!”One of them demanded.
Faroh looked over at a Tengu pulling his periapt off a fan made of black feathers.He was unarmed and outnumbered.*This is not the time to fight them,* he thought.He relaxed his muscles and sighed.
“Dressed like that, someone will pay a hefty ransom for you.”
In the main dining room of the Valkyrie, Ianus, Tuun, Khensu Min, and Sakkara Corazon sat around the table talking.
“I do hope it was a wise move to leave my brother at the helm,” said Tuun, “He has never flown so long before.”
“He is an accomplished pilot, I’m sure there is nothing to worry about,” said Ianus, “So, you are Khensu Min and Sakkara Corazon.Khensu, you are an oblate?”
“Yes,” he fiddled with the trailing tail of his violet liripipe, “I also serve in the civil government at Shiloh.”
“Your voice is familiar.You used to meet Ihy in the labyrinth to give him his updates, didn’t you?I overheard you once.You really should be more careful.”
“And Sakkara, here,” said Tuun, “Is looking for a master to complete her training.I would take her under my wing, but I have my studies with the guild now.I’m afraid I wouldn’t have time to help her fulfill her talent.”
“What do you think about me training her?”Ianus asked.
“You?”Tuun asked skeptically, “You have only just taken your initiation, but it is a matter between the two of you.Once you have taken vows, you are a friar.You can teach whoever you want.”
Ianus looked at Sakkara, “Would you be interested in becoming my apprentice?”
Sakkara grinned, “Master Akeru?To be taught by the son of Master Khem?It would be a great honor.Too great an honor for a lowly Kahraman like me.”
“O,” Ianus cupped his face in his hands, “Please, don’t say things like that.There is absolutely nothing special about me.”
“Master Akeru should not be saying such things.Master Akeru is an Augur.”
“Well yeah,” he peeked between his fingers, “But that makes me abnormal, maybe even bazaar, not special.”
“Master Akeru should think more highly of his talents.”
“How about this— you teach me to respect my talents, and I will complete your training for the vows.”
Sakkara clapped her hands vigorously, “That can be done.Sakkara will serve Master Akeru well.”
Ianus nodded his head, and zoned out as Tuun began to lecture.He pulled the red periapt out of his pocket, and began fidgeting with it under the table.“How is Ihy?”He interjected mindlessly.
“I’m afraid,” said Khensu, “He appears to be getting worse.Not because we brought him with us, though.He is following the prognosis the doctors gave him.”
“I hope this works,” said Tuun, “Should something terrible happen the Camarilla will blame us.”
“It has to work!”Ianus said, “It is the only path left open to us.I don’t believe he is without hope.If this Selwyn helped him before, I’m sure he can do it again.”
“Master Akeru has to be right,” said Sakkara, “Master Akeru’s gifts have shown him the ways.If he has chosen this one, then this one must be correct.”
“It is as simple as that?”Ianus asked.
“As simple as that,” Sakkara smiled, “Master Akeru has embraced his destiny.There is no reason fate should turn against Master Akeru now.”
Ianus smiled and looked away.
“What are you doing under there?”Tuun asked, glancing under the table.
Ianus set the red periapt on the table, “I was just looking at this.It intrigues me.”
“Where did you get it?”Khensu asked.
“Kahlil Vamu Shaa gave it to me during my initiation.”
The room fell silent.
Tuun’s mouth gaped open.
Khensu glanced between Tuun and Sakkara, whose eyes were open so wide they began to bulge out slightly.
“Is something wrong?” Ianus asked.
“Where did you say you got that periapt?”Tuun asked, leaning forward.
“After I was led into that dark room, Kahlil Vamu Shaa appeared to me.He gave it to me.”
“You mean you brought something back from the simulacrum?”
“What do you mean?Was I supposed to leave it in that room?”
“I’m not talking about the room, you silly boy, I’m talking about the simulacrum.The field of illusion you found yourself in after you had taken your vows.The illusionary realm that stands between our minds and the ultimate source?”
“You mean Heka.”
“No.I mean what is ultimately true.I’m talking about what exists beyond all names.Propaganda, media, religion, they all mask what is real.They make up the imaginal world that you think is real.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The vision occurred in your mind.There is no way you could have brought something back with you.”
“But here it is,” Ianus said, “I have it right here.I know where I got it.Kahlil gave it to me before I saw the rest of the Ennead.”
“Master Akeru saw the whole Ennead?”Sakkara asked.“Then maybe he is more special than he thought!”
In the heart of the Valkyrie, Tara walked around in the large practice room.The floor responded to her steps.The harder her feet hit, the more cushioned it became.Running across the room, she leapt onto the wood paneled wall.Up the wall, she curled her knees into her chest.She flipped off the wall, and landed on all fours.
Curling her back like an animal about to pounce on it’s prey she lifted herself onto her hands, and began to walk around the room.Finally, she noticed someone’s feet.She pushed off the floor, twisted through the air, and bounced onto her own feet.
“Hello Daru,” she said, “Have you come to practice?”
“No, I’m impressed at your agility.You are amazingly light on your feet.”
“Thank you,” Tara bowed her head, “That is a great compliment coming from you.”
“Why?You’ve never seen me fight, have you?”
Tara turned, and walked over to get a towel, “Your opinion means a lot to me.Don’t get me wrong, Master Barami is a great teacher, but I have never respected him, the way I respect you.You are the ‘me’ I would like to be.O, that sounded wrong.”
“I understand.Your art is well refined.I’m sure if you keep practicing, you will achieve your goal.”
“Do you ever feel like the forms hold you back?”
“No one likes discipline, but without the skills it provides we would all be lost.”
“Lost,” Tara wiped her forehead with the towel, “That’s an interesting way of putting it.”
“Are you beginning to doubt your vocation?Formation is a long process, people do change,” Daru smiled understandingly.
“I’m not sure what my vocation is anymore.There once were so many voices calling me, clawing at me.If I do not choose quickly they will destroy me, or maybe they already have.”
“What’s bothering you?”
“Master Barami was the first person I ever met who treated me like I was more than a bit of dirt that had gotten stuck on his shoes.And Master Khem, he was so kind to me.Grant it, he didn’t know me very well.”
“Do you think that would have made a difference?”
“I don’t know.I have wondered about that quite a lot lately.Maybe I didn’t know him well enough,” a cold chill ran down her spine, echoes of nightmarish pain.
“Are you all right?”
“Memories are my greatest enemies, and strongest allies.I’m rambling now.”
“No, your not.I know what you mean.I became a friar because I wanted to make a difference.Pryor, though he is a good man, he has is own flaws.He thinks I have to be protected.Our mentors only want what is best for us.”
“Yeah, when I joined the Jade Moon, I thought I would have a life of adventure.But now I feel trapped.Cold hands holding me in my place.”Another shiver ran through her bones, “Sometimes I wonder how I can escape my fate.”
“Life is nothing but choices.Don’t ever forget that.”
The lights were intentionally dim on the Tengu ship.Faroh had resisted laughing when they tied him up in the chair and adjusted the illumination.The ropes were tight, but oddly smooth.They were designed to restrain him, yet not to cause him undue discomfort.Sitting relaxed in the chair set in the small alcove off to the side of the bridge, Faroh planned his escape.
“Captain,” one of the Tengu with a large patch of white feathers under his right eye said, “Do you think it is wise to hold this man?”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”The captain clicked his beak.
“He is obviously a maker.”
“What makes you think that?”The captain laughed, “O, the periapt we took from him.It is no more than a prop.If he was a maker we could not have captured him so easily.”
“I may only be a Helmsman, but I can tell that he is a maker.You can see it in his eyes.The guild has expressed their concern about our ‘activities’ before, but if they find out we have kidnapped a maker, they will revoke our license.”
“They will not find out, because you won’t tell them.”
“You are assuming we survive this.Don’t forget, the guild has a way of learning about things without asking.”
The captain clapped his wings against his side, and turned to face Faroh.
“What is your name, boy?”
Faroh smiled, and tugged on the ropes.
“Now, now, boy, you can’t escape.Better to cooperate.It will keep your stay with us short,” the captain leaned in closer, “What is your name?”
“Faroh Raanan, I serve the Camarilla of the Jade Moon under Master Theron.”
The captain laughed, “Do you expect me to believe that?I cracked my shell a long time ago.Well Faroh, if that is your real name, do you have any family that would pay for your safe return?”
“I am of house Raanan, and you ask if I have any family?”
“Yes, of course, House Raanan is quite large, and wealthy if memory serves.I will check out your story,” the captain turned to walk away.“O, yes, one last thing.If you are lying to me, you will come to know pain like you cannot imagine.”
Faroh laughed.The bridge crew turned to look at him.
“Don’t worry about him,” said the captain, “He’s obviously mad.”
Faroh watched the crew go back about their business, and started tugging on the ropes again.Nothing, they wouldn’t give.
*There has to be a way out of here,* he thought.*There is no trap that doesn’t have a way out.*
He closed his eyes.“If you ever needed me, just call on my name.”The silky Raewyn voice filled his mind.
*That old fool.Panthera was right.There’s no way he could be who he claimed to be.He’s a fraud.*
Faroh continued to struggle with his bonds for close to an hour, his patience wore thin.The number of Tengu on the bridge were increasing.They had obviously taken flight, and broken orbit by now.
*I have a mission,* Faroh repeated to himself, *That Akeru boy could be a problem.He must be removed.I must complete my mission.*
“If you ever need me, just call my name,” the voice returned to his mind.
*What could it hurt?* he thought, *They already think I’m mad.Besides, they wouldn’t recognize the name.*
“Hlachar Cythraul, if you are who you say you are, reveal yourself to me.If you are who you say you are, show your power, and I will be your most faithful servant.”
“My child,” a loud voice echoed throughout the bridge, “I have heard your prayers.”
Flames engulfed the Tengu on either side of the captain.They howled with pain, but couldn’t move.
“Be free, my son,” the voice thundered.
The ropes around Faroh’s arms and legs snapped.He looked down, his periapt had returned to his hand.
The captain screeched as he flew up into the air, his arms extended far above his head.He reeled in agony, as several other Tengu dropped to their knees gasping for air.
Faroh pointed at the helmsman, “Spare this one.He spoke in my defense.”
Light flashed in the vacant captain’s chair, Cythraul folded his hands together, and tapped his index fingers on his lips, “And the rest?What would you have me do with them?”
“Do with them as you see fit.”
Cythraul waved his hand, everyone vanished except himself, Faroh, and the Helmsman, “Atoms to Atoms, dust to dust,” Cythraul laughed.“Now, what is our next move?”
“We must go to Kur-gal, destroy Ihy Khem, and make sure that Ianus will never be a problem again.”