The spirits wander through our world just in the periphery of our vision.Only a few ever learn to see them.Most are simply blinded by light and shadow.
Tien Shaa, Tides and Seasons.
Daru slept well after she heard that none of Pryor or Barami’s wounds were serious.The next morning, she met Ianus at breakfast.She felt a little odd in his presence.After all that she had seen last night, she didn’t really know what to say.
“Are you going to sit down, or are you just going to stand there?”Ianus asked, pointing to an empty seat across the table from him.
“O, sorry,” Daru sat down, and stared at her tray, “I was just thinking about last night.”
“I know, I can’t believe you let Karu Panthera escape.”
Daru pushed her seat back, and drummed her fingers on the table.“I was a little busy.There were two injured makers, and you were on fire!”
“On fire?What do you mean, on fire?”
“Your entire body was engulfed in flames— I’ve never seen anything like it.How did you do that?”
“I didn’t realize...” Images flashed through his mind, “I noticed a slight glow, but I had no idea.It started when I was fighting Panthera.He had trapped me in this cloud.”
“I’ve heard of that.The old stories are full of tales about it.Dov Lavan was famous for it.He used it to kill everyone who got in his way, but I’ve never read about it affecting someone like that.In fact, I’ve never read about any maker who burned like you did.”
Ianus rubbed his chin, “My talent was especially strong last night.Everyone I looked at was part of a web.I could see their past, present, and future.”
“Even the woman in the mask?”Daru leaned in.
“Yes, I could see right through her.Her path was particularly clear.”
“Could you tell who she is?”
“No.All of the faces on her path were clouded.I have no idea who she is.”
“Well, I do,” Daru held her tongue, “But I can’t prove it.”
“You can’t make such allegations lightly.It could destroy her reputation.”
Daru laughed, “You can’t be serious, you of all people are telling me not to do something rash.”
“The voice of experience.Look, I have trouble when I follow my head, and when I follow my heart.I mean.I did everything in my power to save Ihy, and look what happened.”
“You’re not still going on about that, are you?You haven’t even talked to Arun yet.”
“No, I haven’t, and I don’t expect to any time soon.”
“You don’t honestly believe that he will become an abomination.I’m tired of hearing about it.”
“He already is an abomination.”Ianus lip curled.
Barami entered the galley, the effects of the battle clear on his face: two black eyes, and a cut lip.He sat down next to them and rested his head in his hands.
“How are you feeling, today?”Daru asked.
“I’ve been better.And to think, I was complaining about having too much paper work, and not enough action,” he gave out a pathetic laugh.
“I guess a night like that would make bureaucracy look like a heaven,” said Ianus.“Why were you and Pryor out there in the first place?”
“We received a letter.”Barami shook his head, “I don’t want to believe what I’ve seen and heard.It can’t be true.”
“I know, as if we didn’t have enough trouble without Karu Panthera returning from the dead.”
“Panthera?O, yes, he and his...disciple.They attacked like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
“But I thought you fought along side Ihy to remove Panthera from power,” said Daru.
“I did.I was there the day he was defeated.He is quite dead!”
“But you fought him last night,” said Ianus.
“Last night?That was Panthera?O, yes, the hooded figure in the black robes.He said he was Panthera, if you can believe that.”
Tara walked into the galley, got herself some juice, and sat down on the other side of Ianus and away from Barami.
“Good morning, Tara,” said Daru, “I suppose you heard about the happenings of last night?”
“Yeah, I heard,” Tara sipped her juice.
“It was the same mystery woman that stole the To’asaa on Al-Benu.”
“Really?”Tara couldn’t look her in the eyes.
“Ianus pleaded with her to return the To’asaa,” Daru stared daggers into her, “And I hope she does, because if she doesn’t, she’ll be caught.And with everything that’s been going on, it won’t go well for her.”
“I hope she does, too.”Tara nodded her head in agreement, “We need some peace around here.”
Tara waited until late in the night before she made her move.She checked to make sure that only the Kishanu were roaming around the ship.Pulling a small wooden chest out from under her bed, she opened it, and looked at the jade orb and supple leather glove of the To’asaa.Next to it the soft black fabric she had worn to obscure her face the night she stole it.She picked it up, and held her breath.Full of trepidation, she tied the mask.Pausing, she ran her fingers over the gem and picked up the To’asaa.
Quietly, she crept out of the ship onto the pier.The ocean mist loomed all around her.The cold ache of anxiety filled her chest, and rippled down her arms.Her eyes felt heavy.This had to be done.There could be no turning back.
She walked down the pier and up to the Temple doors.Cautiously, she pushed the door open.The statue of Samara the Rogue stood with her Red cape hanging from her shoulders and her red cowl silhouetting her face.The smell of incense from the day’s rites lingered on the air.Dim light in a kaleidoscope of colors cut through the darkness.
Approaching the altar, her eyes fixed on the statue of Kahlil Vamu Shaa.
“I wondered when you would get here,” said Ianus, standing up from the back pew, “You are a little later than I thought you would be.”
Tara closed her eyes, and touched her mask.“Do you know who I am?”
“A better question would be, do you know who you are.”
Tara’s face paled, “I came to return the To’asaa.”
“Have you spent much time with it in the time that you’ve had it, or have you just been hoarding it like a plundered treasure.”
“It is not my place to...”
“Open yourself.Listen with all your heart— let the power of the To’asaa wash over you.”
Tara looked down at the To’asaa in her hand.The Jade stone had a strange iridescence in the moonlight.It glimmered and gleamed, attracting her attention deeper and deeper into the heart of the gem.A smile forced itself across her face; her heart warmed.She felt like she was lost in the comforting embrace of a parent.
A cool breeze brushed across her right ear, “Resist evil, and it must flee.”
Tara screeched, and jumped back, dropping the To’asaa, she formed a sword with her own periapt, “Who said that?”
“Who said what?”Ianus asked, “Did you hear the voice from the cloud?Did it open your eyes?Can you see more clearly?”
“What kind of trick are you trying to pull?You are just like the others!You want to control me too!It won’t work.I have seen through you.It won’t work.”
“It isn’t wise to lie to an augur.We can see behind your words.What are you so afraid of?Haven’t you faced your fears by now?”
“I fear nothing!”Tara stiffened up, “I am the heart of the machine.I turn as it does, and the whole world turns with us.”
Ianus laughed, “I’ve heard it before, when I defeated your Master.Please don’t waste my time with litanies and false words.”
“At least I know where I stand.”
“Do you?Do you know what you want, or does guilt own you?O dear, shoulders slumped, head down.I would say it must be guilt.”
“Are you talking about me or you?I hear you are forever haunted by guilt.Don’t push your inadequacies off on me!”
“Then why did you bring the To’asaa back?”Ianus asked.“If it wasn’t guilt, then what was it?Was it shame?Your great master destroyed so easily on the eve of his return to power.Is that it?Does shame hold you down?It will steal your power, you know.Maybe that is why you don’t fight as well as you could.”
“I am not ashamed of anything I’ve ever done,” immediately Tara looked away.She couldn’t look him in the eye and lie like that.
“What’s the matter?The truth too uncomfortable for you?Do you even know who you are?I can see many things before you.Why do you wear the mask?Who must you hide from?”
“Everyone!”Tara exclaimed, “No one must ever know who I am, or what I’ve done!No one!”She began to walk toward the door, pointing her sword at Ianus.
“Are you going to kill me?I won’t resist.If it is my time, I could not stop you if I wanted to.Listen to your intuition.Walk through the illusion that surrounds you.Free your mind, and let your imagination run free.Let go, be in the present moment.You are there, and there your true strength lies.”
Tara ran past Ianus, out the temple doors, and into the forest.
She could just hear Ianus call after her, “Your secret is safe with me!”
Leaping into the branches of a tree, she escaped into the canopy:The only place she ever felt at home.What to do now?Questions flooded her mind, she had to think.
Ianus walked back into the temple, and picked up the To’asaa off the floor in front of the altar.He bowed to the altar.As he left the temple, he made a mental note to tell Daru not to press Tara for information.This was Tara’s struggle and he knew only she could fight these demons.
Back in his room, he placed the To’asaa in his desk drawer.Remembering what Tara said to him, Ianus sat on the floor.He rested his back against the wall, and closed his eyes.He had never succeeded in this before, but his Sukallin had made contact with him, why couldn’t he make contact with her.
He felt himself falling away from his senses.The room was more and more distant.An electric tingling in his right arm.His hematite colored Sukallin mark wriggled in his arm.
“Osanna?”Ianus said in a faint whisper, “Osanna, can you hear me?”
“I can always hear you,” the Sukallin replied, a soothing feminine voice filled his mind.“And you always hear me, even though you often don’t realize it.”
“The other night, you recognized that man I was fighting, how?”
“He killed my former host, Heru Dhouti.”
“You told me that, but why did he kill him?”
“In those days, Panthera had lost control of the Camarilla of the Jade Moon, and Heru Dhouti had taken his place.Panthera couldn’t allow that.He sent a letter to Dhouti, and to your grandfather Nusair Akeru.He said he wanted to discuss a cease-fire.Nusair didn’t believe him, in fact, I don’t think he believed anybody.He had a strong suspicious nature...Any way, they went to meet him, hoping that they could at least capture him.As you guessed, it was an ambush.Nusair was able to fight Panthera and his men off, but Heru Dhouti was mortally wounded.He died not too long after that.”
“But that would have been ages ago.My grandfather died when I was an infant.Why weren’t you given a new host then?”
“Ihy knew that I had seen and heard too much to be allowed to rejoin the sea, and should I be given a new host, their secrets could be compromised.As you will learn, over time as our memories will begin to mingle.You will come to know all that I know, and vice-a-versa.So, Ihy engineered a device to keep me alive, and sent me away to a place where I would be safe until the time was right.”
“So why were you given to me?Why after all this time were you brought back and placed in my care?”
“Well, you must understand it was for the best intentions.Every host I’ve ever had was an augur.For the last two thousand years I have witness countless prophecies, I was even there when the Vaticinars prophesied over your cradle.That changes a Sukallin— it bestows the gift upon us, and our children.You’ve got the talent and the disposition, but the talent had not awakened.It was your eighteenth birthday and you’d never had a vision.So I gave you a nudge in the right direction.”
“I...I shared my talent with you, it helped yours awaken.Soon our gifts will combine and you will be able to see more than any other living augur.”
“You shared your talent with me!What do you mean by that?”Ianus shivered, “My vision on my ascension day, that was from you!You put those images before my eyes!It was a fraud!”
“No!The vision was real.At least it was real for me.You were so fixated on making your father proud, it triggered the vision.I simply shared it with you.Ihy had said something like that might happen, but neither one of us thought it would happen so soon.”
“That’s why Ihy was so cavalier when I told him I had a vision.He was expecting it.It wasn’t a surprise.He planned the whole thing.I was set up!”
“No!You are the hand of prophecy.Ihy did what he had to do to fulfill the Vaticinars’ prophecy.These things had to happen.”
“No, they didn’t.That is what none of you understand.If we know what is ahead of us, we can change it.Damn all this secrecy!If either of you would have told me what you knew, we could have avoided a lot of suffering.”
“And caused more than you could imagine—there were two paths stretching into the future, one would have led to a full scale war.House against House, world against world, a nightmare the likes of which the universe has never known.We chose the other path, and all that has transpired has led us down the safer road.There has been much suffering, and there will be more, but know this is better than what would have been.”
“No future is safe, no prophecy inerrant, but you have chosen.I will walk the path set before me.I will see where they want me to go.”
Faroh stalked around the small cottage like a rabid dog in the pound.It was long into the night, he and Cythraul hadn’t left the cottage since they arrived on Kur-gal.
“Sit down,” barked Cythraul, “You need to learn patience.”
“Patience?I’ve turned my back on my master, and you want me to be patient.I heard his voice overtake the song, and then he became silent.Maybe he knows I’ve betrayed him.”
“Betrayed him,” Cythraul scoffed, “What have you done to betray him?Even while you are in my service, you have been carrying out the work that he commanded.My dear boy, you have nothing to fear from him, you can be sure of that.”
“Then why can I no longer hear him?If he hasn’t cut me off I should be able to hear him.”
“Perhaps he’s dead.The fool was always impatient, maybe he has rushed to his own death without ever realizing it.No, I suppose not.That would be more good fortune than I have ever been afforded.”
“Good fortune, whose side are you on?Karu Panthera’s the most loyal servant the Holy One has ever had.”
Cythraul grinned, a sinister sneer filled his voice, “That is not exactly true.Where reality is concerned, you will soon see, Panthera has been deaf, blind, and dumb.One day soon, the scales will fall from your eyes, and you will know more than you ever wanted to.”
“You sound wise, but I don’t even know why I’m here.You said you would give me power, but you were not even capable of defeating young Akeru.If you really are who you claim to be, how could this pathetic little man defeat you?”
“Yes, that’s been worrying me as well.Someone must be helping him.It’s the only way he could have escaped me.The question is, who is helping him, and why?”
“Of course someone must be helping him, why didn’t I see it before?Just who do you think you’re fooling?I’m not stupid, you know!”
“Then prove it!Have you forgotten what I did on the Tengu ship?What more do you need?”
Faroh stopped pacing, “Yes, a wonderful trick.You were able to destroy the entire crew, save one that I asked you to spare, but this Akeru is a problem for you.”
“He is not the problem.He is no more than an ant to me, but someone is giving him support.I had not foreseen this.I knew of the prophecy of course, but this is out of the rules.Someone is acting undercover.This troubles me.”
“You keep saying that, but what does it mean?”
“One thing at a time.First, I must be sure you are who I think you are.”
“Really funny, turning around my concerns about you.”
“Who’s being funny?I am old, my visions are not as reliable as they once were.My memories’ bias is too strong.Soon you will be tested, and only then will I let you see more of the picture.”
“Tested?How?By who?Will you challenge me?”
“Not everything revolves around combat,” Cythraul shook his head, “Soon you will understand— satisfy yourself with that for now.That is all I will tell you, that is all you need to know.”
Faroh sat down by the window, and stared at the minaret of the temple of Samara the Rogue rising above the trees.“So when will we finish this?”
“Itching for a fight?Good, that fighting spirit will serve you well, but this is not the time.”
“Yes, yes, I have to calm down, and be more patient.You’re beginning to repeat yourself, old man.Maybe your augury isn’t the only faculty that you’re losing.It looks like you’re memories are going as well.”
Cythraul laughed, “If you are wise, you will come to rely on my experiences.I have seen and done more than you ever will.Remember that.”
“So what?You’re an old Raewyn.Find me a young one and then maybe I’ll be impressed.”
“Don’t talk about things you don’t understand.”
“You do.Why shouldn’t I?’
“When? I have never...No, you won’t provoke a fight that easily.My talent may be limited by my age, but I can still read you.You are not as complicated as you think you are.Neither are you as powerful.”
“Then why did you pick me?”
“I have my reasons, that should be good enough for you.”
“And this Akeru?What about him?”
“We can’t touch him now.Someone is helping him.Someone is guiding him to...” a devilish smile broke across Cythraul’s face, “We can use his faith against him.He will fall to his beliefs like so many before him.I will get rid of this menace once and for all.”
Tara waited until late into the night before she returned to the ship.As soon as her head hit her pillow, she drifted right off to sleep.
Her alarm woke her up early the next morning.Even though she was exhausted, she forced herself out of bed and down to breakfast.
The room was full, and everyone was talking about what they should do next.They didn’t seem to know about what transpired last night.Ianus had evidently kept his promise.They didn’t even know that the To’asaa had been returned.He must have put it in his room for safekeeping.
After breakfast, she went back to her room.She had too many adventures of late, and more on her mind than she ever wanted to think about.
Things were not going the way she hoped.In fact, she wasn’t ever sure she knew what she hoped for anymore.The only thing she knew for sure was that she had gone past the point of no return.Panthera would never forgive her for returning the To’asaa, and if her complicity in the attack on Ihy became public knowledge, she was sure she would be ostracized.
There was nowhere for her to go.She had betrayed everyone.She could see no way to atone to either side.
To make matters worse, Ianus knew it was her.He was not the puzzle solving type.If he could put the pieces together, anyone could.
What to do?What to do?She was trapped between her sins and her attempt to expiate them.Now, more than ever, she felt alone.No one could help her now.
She rummaged through her papers.She wasn’t sure exactly what she was looking for, but she needed some hope.Any chance she could find anything to help herself, but what could help her?Daru had once told her that no one was ever beyond hope.Maybe if Daru knew about her present situation, maybe she would change her story.
Nothing in her notes, perhaps in one of the books.Desperate, she flipped from index to index, skimming the pages looking for anything relevant to her situation.With over four thousand years of history at her fingertips, she knew she had to be able to find something.Anything that would help.
Tara glanced feverishly around the room.She was sure she heard a book fall somewhere.There it was again.
It wasn’t a book it was a feeble knock on her door.Opening it, she smiled at the sight of Master Barami.
“May I come in, Tara?”He asked, shyly.
“Yes, of course you may.”
Barami walked past her, and after he was sure the door was completely closed, he said, “I know that was you the other night on the temple courtyard.I know you are one of Panthera’s disciples.Don’t try to deny it.You’ll only be wasting your breath.”
“Your right,” Tara lowered her head, “It was me.”
“What are you thinking?Do you really want to live in the shadows of the Uru?”
“To be honest, I’m not sure what I want anymore.”
“You must know the fate that awaits all who join the Ual-leen,” Barami didn’t blink.
“I didn’t, but I do now.”
“Then you will leave them and come home?Home to the Jade Moon.Home to me.”
“I don’t know.I don’t know where my home is anymore. I don’t belong anywhere anymore.I am alone.”
“You have committed yourself to me and to the order. Submit to our authority, and come home.In time, I’m sure we will forgive you.”
“Submission?”Tara winced, “That’s how I got into trouble in the first place, do you really think it will get me out?”
“Obedience is required of all who take the oaths.”
“But I haven’t taken the oaths, have I?You kept postponing my initiation, remember?”
“Then submit to me, I can help you.Believe me, I can do more for you than you think I can.”
“I will live my life, my way!No one owns me!I am not chattel!I will find my own way.”
“Listen.I got myself into this mess, only I can get myself out again.I’ve returned the To’asaa to Ianus.”
Barami’s eyes widened, then fell with the weight of disappointment.
“I’m doing the best that I can.Just give me some time.All my life I’ve done what was expected of me, what other people wanted.I have to find out what I want.Until I do that, I’ll never find redemption.”
Barami sighed, “I understand.I will give you one week to sort everything out, but after that I have to take action.”
As the afternoon fell to the evening, Ianus was exploring the forest around the temple.The sun loomed ever closer to the horizon, and Ianus found himself in an expansive field.On the hillside, small village cottages punctuated the grass and trees.
He turned around, and could just barely see the minaret of the Temple of Samara the Rogue over the treetops.For the first time in weeks, Ianus had peace of mind.All of his problems were so distant to him.They no longer forced their weight upon him.
There was a clarity that came with knowing the truth.He was being used by so many, but he was content knowing the truth.The game had begun.The rules had changed; he was no longer their pawn.Even though he couldn’t see all of their faces, he could see the hands that sought to control him.There was power in knowledge, especially in the knowledge of one’s weaknesses.Ignorance kills, but weakness can be overcome.
He sat down on the bough of a fallen tree, and began to meditate in hopes of reestablishing contact with his Sukallin, Osanna.He found it hard to keep his eyes closed.Something was weighing on his mind, holding him back.
A presence forced itself onto his mind.A powerful personage was making itself known.A dark shadow passed before his eyes; the soft touch of a cloak brushed against his cheeks.
A furious burst of brilliant light knocked him to the ground.Thunder and lightning crashed around him.A woman in a soft sky blue robe and cowl hovered inches off the ground.Her skin was milk white, and large silver wings stretched out behind her.
“Uma Nari!”Ianus exclaimed.
Again thunder and lightning flashed, and a breastplate appeared on her body and a spear in her right hand.
“My child, I have seen your pain.”
“My lady?Why have you come to me?In all these years, why now?Why not before?”
“This is the time, there could be no better.I have a message for you.It is very important.All of the answers you seek are at Usekht Maati.”
“What did you say?Usekht Maati!What is there for me?”Ianus stared at the apparition, and listened for an echoing voice inside.None.This was not exactly what it seemed.
Closing his eyes.He concentrated on the voice of Osanna, he remembered.*Osanna, are you doing this too?*He thought.
Time froze, his lungs seized up.
*Osanna!Stop this!*He thought, *This is not funny!*
“This isn’t me,” Osanna’s voice filled his mind, “I couldn’t do this even if I wanted to.”
*What is going on?*
He looked up at Uma Nari.The image shimmered like a mirage.Just for a moment, Uma Nari broke into the ghastly form of an old man with ashy blue skin.
Ianus gasped, everything began to move again.The spectral lady smiled at him.Ianus wondered what caused it to do that.
“Go to Tai-wer and seek out Usekht Maati,” it said.
“Tai-wer?That is in the Forbidden Lands,” said Ianus with a good imitation of horror in his voice.“No one who goes into the forbidden lands ever returns.”
“I will protect you, as I always have.Have I ever abandoned any of my devotees?”
“No, Uma Nari has never forgotten her children.”
“Then I will not forget you.Go to Tai-wer, find Usekht Maati.”
The phantom disappeared.
Ianus rubbed his eyes.*Everyone wants me to go to the forbidden lands, but why?*
Walking down the paths through the forest, he made his way back to the Valkyrie.
*What was that thing?Was it the same thing that has been haunting me?The voices that came at my initiation, and when we arrived at Kur-gal.It has been trying to control me.It must have been.*
*Yes, it must have been the same thing, but why would it want me to go to Tai-wer?Maybe it wants me dead.*
*It must know the dangers it is asking me to face.Everyone knows about the horrors of the forbidden lands.If it wants me to go, then maybe I should, after all what’s the point trying to fight inertia.You have to lean into the turn to keep from falling, now might be the time to lean into the turn.*
*If I go, I might die.Maybe my death shall serve a purpose.Maybe if I give it what it wants, I can find out what it wants.If it wants my blood, it can have it.If it wants my death.Then so be it.I don’t really have anything to live for anymore.*