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The Four Winds Forehead lifts

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           The ash was everywhere. Like very fine sand but lighter than the wind that carried it, it covered
the hill that they where behind. Tray could hear his men rustle at bit. He felt himself sink slightly as he
pressed himself back. The cove dug into the back side of the hill hid them away. Though muffled a little
by their hiding place Tray could still hear the rapid thuds of automatic weapons and echoes of carnage
emanating from the other side. Tray pressed back a little more gripping tightly to the forward grip of his
rifle.
           “No matter how much I try, I‟m only emulating the tension of the others.” Tray thought. “I wish I
could understand them.” He trained himself to do this. In previous battles when he felt young, his pure
stillness in battle was unnerving to his comrades and he knew it.
           He peered out from the cove away from the hill. A light breeze caused the top layer of the ash
dance away from the ground. Squinting he saw through a bit. It was mid day but the ash filled sky made
it feel later. It was grey out, like before a storm, but everyone knew no rain was coming.
           Tray caught a flicker of yellow light in his periphery. This was his signal to take up position at the
edge of the cove to his left. He quietly made his way; the ash kicked up a little more and added to his
already covered armor. Reaching the observation point Tray leaned tightly to a grey armored barricade
that lay fastened to the edge of the hill and concealed the cove of hidden soldiers.
           Looking through a separation in the armored wall the scope of the battle came into view. Tray
could see that the hill they were entrenched in was elevated on a plane that flowed downward into a
series of interwoven rolling hills. His position gave him a vantage point over the area of conflict. He was
easily able to see the battle raging on, where the lines were holding and where they were failing. Looking
into the masses of the chaos beasts Tray felt a deep and insistent urge.
           A quick surge of adrenaline and Tray almost feels human. He forced himself to breathe. The
adrenaline stops and pure clarity of thought with the irrepressible stillness comes over him. Looking
again at the ensuing battle Tray immediately knows the points that are weak, and what needs to be done.
            “I can sway the battle” Tray thought. Snapping out of his almost trance like state, “that‟s crazy,
what am I thinking. But if I can make it like the catacombs…I can do this; I can make it like Threa.” Tray
is reemerging into his trance, this time deeper than the last. He can see everything.
           Soldiers were getting trashed and others fighting back viciously. Tray continued to observe the
battle, he saw at a great distance where a section of troops had lost their hold. “That‟s where I‟ll join,
that‟s where I‟ll turn the tide.” Tray grabbed the barricade and began to pull himself up. “It will be like
Threa.” Before pulling himself up completely the sobering aftermath of Threa returned. “Why didn‟t I
die?” He collapsed. Ash billowed hiding him from view.
           “What happened there? They‟re all dead, and I should be too.” Forgetting where he was Tray
sat depressed and pondered the mystery of his life. The floating ash settled over him like his own
thoughts weighing heavily on his heart.
           The battle was moving closer. He could hear the sounds like a storm in the distance. “I‟ve heard
this before.” Tray thought. “But it wasn‟t a distant storm; it was all around us. I hate that feeling. How do
I know the movements of a battle? I hate the way she looked at me when I knew.”
           The fall of Threa was a devastating blow to the human nations. Tray was caught up in it more
now then when he was there. He remembered being locked away with his mother in the palace keep.
Behind the thick walls the noncombatants shuddered at the sounds of terror all around them for days of
warfare. But Tray was still. To anyone self aware enough to look at him it would seem that he was just
listening intently. But it was more than that. When he became fully aware of the complete state of the
battle, he saw the look of complete terror on his mother’s face. “Somehow she knew. How did she
know???”
           Tray was aware of the battle moving closer. Even with his distracting thoughts and looking away
he could still see in his mind’s eye the movements of the chaos hoard. It bothered him that he knew this.
It would soon be time for him to lead the soldiers out of the cove and reveal their strategy. The chaos
beasts are so used to pushing against their resistance they don’t suspect anything.
           Surveying the area Tray determined the angle of attack he would use to advance his unit. After
making his choice he kept looking around.
           “I wonder if there where trees here.” Tray thought. His mind drifted further. The hill he leaned
into reminded him of the hill he used to stare at through the window of the Palace council chambers. A
soft grassy hill with a single tree on the top, it was mostly the focus of his day dreams during the long
meetings. His face was still glazed over with sadness. He remembered the last meeting. It was about
the war. A Zenbrodian official laid out what was ahead of their people. “Father decided to make a
stand… it was his last. But I don‟t know that it was wrong. Why didn‟t he let me fight? I knew everything
that was going to happen there, and he sent me away. I wanted to tell him that he couldn‟t be the
diplomat then. He should have let me… but he didn‟t and he died. I had to be there in the keep, why did
she have to look at me like that?”
          Tray knew time was almost up, questioning his intuition he looked again through the separation in
the barricade. He was right, they needed to prepare. His distractions caused him to forget about
emulating the others; but no one seemed too noticed this time. He pulled a small light out of his chest
zipper pocket and flashed a nearby soldier.
          He quietly made his way over to Tray. He was young and innocent looking. Tray remembered
what that felt like. It’s been a while. Tray felt sorry for him.
          “What‟s your name?” Tray asked.
          “Brandon”
          “You been in a fight like this?”
          “No, you?”
          Tray gives a half smile “a few.”
          “How did a non combatant like you end up in elite squad five?”
          Caught off guard the young soldier stuttered, “I don‟t think anyone knows I‟m here.”
          Tray thought for a moment. “Do you know what position you where in?”
          “Yes.” Brandon replied now a bit more confident.
          “If your not supposed to be here, and no one knows that you are here, than why are you my
second in command?” Tray asked.
          “The position was opened, and I filled it.”
          Tray was some what shocked. A fact he hid from Brandon. He wondered who was supposed to
be his second. Then he wondered more about the state of morale in the troops. Brandon was brave and
unshaken. Tray didn’t feel sorry for him anymore, he envied him. Brandon was strong and feeble at the
same time. Tray could sense his fear, but it was buried deep in him. He was not like the other soldiers;
he was the man Tray wanted as a second. After establishing the strength of character, Tray gave his
orders laying out the details of how they would ambush the beasts when they were drawn in far enough.
          Tray could feel the tension of everyone behind him. He just wanted to relax, he felt completely at
ease. But he knew that behaving the way he naturally felt would be upsetting to the rest. He crouched by
the barricade at the ready.
          A short distance away a disruption rumbled through the grey and smoldering wall. Some heavy
artillery and infantry rolled backward taking shots and returning fire, but consistently moving. They got a
good distance away and started to be obscured by the ash filled air.
          The anticipation of Tray’s men heightened again. The beasts came in view. Some streamed
forward launching great burst of energy from their hands. The creatures resemble apes, but walked
upright with broad hunched shoulders. Behind the lead creatures came thousands more. They flooded
the plane not far from the hill and Tray could feel his men cringe at the number of the beasts. Even
Brandon stress increased.
          They were taking the bait, moving deeper past the hill. All of the ash they created worked against
them hiding the soldiers from their view.
          The beasts committed to the previous infantry and now Tray’s unit was behind them. Tray gave a
hand signal. There was a great unifying yell. Tray, along with the others ran towards the hoard in a great
sprint firing their weapons. The beasts were taken completely by surprise. Tray’s force was now behind
them and the once retreating mobile infantry reinitialized their attack.
          The battle was sore. Tray easily dispatched every creature that fell within his aim. The battle
was getting much closer now. Tray smashed a creature’s skull with the butt of his rifle. He threw his
weapon on the ground and in the same motion drew a sword like bone.
          Tray tore mercilessly through the beasts. On his own he killed more than twenty other soldiers
did together. The sword combat felt so natural to him. And if it wasn’t for the enemy being the beasts
that they were, Tray’s ability normally disgusted him. When he fought with a melee weapon he always
felt like he had an unfair advantage. This was always the case, but he only felt it in melee because it was
more personal.
          Though the creatures were being killed by the thousands, they began to drive back Tray’s force.
The moment Tray became aware of this, within the fluid movement of decapitating a beast; he spun away
from the masses. Without skipping a beat he fluidly moved his hand to a communicator on his armor; as
though it was part of a technical martial arts maneuver. He signaled to the base, which simultaneously
signaled all the soldiers. They began to give the beasts more leeway.
          The beasts seemed to take confidence in their latitude. They fell into the trap once again. Tray
feels the rumbling of artillery as the large mobile arm of the base moves into its firing arc. The ash filled
and darkening sky is completely lit by the fire storm of the cannons. Great shrieks came from the falling
beasts. Any that tried to escape the barrage of the base were picked off by watching soldiers who yelled
in victory. The beasts were completely decimated.
          Soldiers all around Tray were celebrating the victory. And they were right to. But Tray knew that
some beasts where still out there; and they don’t retreat when defeated. All the soldiers gathered near
the base behind large barricades.
          Tray went to the nearest group of celebrating soldiers. He was still in the mental state of battle
and went to them with purpose. They were laughing and patting each other on the back. Brandon was
there laughing with the others. Tray grabbed him by the shoulder from behind. His pull almost knocked
him down. Shocked he stared at Tray blankly.
          “Get four strike bikes on mop up now.” Tray ordered. Instantly Brandon snapped out of his party
like state. He took off running. The other soldiers stood around and gawked at what had just happened.
Tray walked urgently in the same direction ordering and organizing the soldiers into defensive positions
on his way. Though in protest, they obeyed his orders.
          The strike bike technology was new and rushed. The only way to get them to launch effectively
was to overload the engines having their energy feed off of each other for a sudden burst.
          Tray arrived and the four strike bikes were overloaded and ready. They had a sleek design, with
two riders on each. The forward rider held tight to the steering handles. The rear was elevated behind a
large automatic weapon with an extended barrel to muffle for and protect the pilot.
          This gunner looked especially rugged. His armor had a large hole melted into the chest. His
helmet had deep vertical scarring with a facial scare to match. Tray could see it through the digital read
out on his face Shield. The bike and rider’s armor consisted of copper tones with red highlights. There
shapes were extreme and aerodynamic.
          “Flank left and come around in a wide arc to the right.” Tray ordered loudly to talk over the
engine rev.
          The launching platforms lifted up out of the trenched barricade and turned to face the open field.
At the moment the pilot acknowledged Tray’s orders, his elfish designed and technologically advanced
helmet removed from his shoulders with his head still in it. A hidden beast leaped through the air
decapitating the soldier. With his bone carved sword Tray rendered the beast in two before it ever hit the
ground.
          Tray realized for the first time a limitation of his awareness. It humbled him. He made a mental
note to evaluate later what happened there. He knew he had to react quickly.
           The bike is on overload, Tray can sense the fear of the gunner who must realize the eminent
threat to his life. Without hesitation Tray jumps into the empty pilot’s seat. Tray knew he was strong, but
wondered if he could withstand the force of the bike without the strength enhancements of the elfish
armor.
           “I can handle it.” Tray tells himself half thinking, half speaking it out loud. The overload
continues to charges with a loud whine. “I can handle it.” Tray grips tightly to the handles of the bike.
With a loud double bang the four bikes launch into the field Tray had so recently escaped.
          They flew to the left flank and streaked over the heads of a number of beasts. Tray gripped
tighter to withstand the speed and pull as they hooked around throwing the ash of war high into the air
and forming into a staggered position with the other bikes. Tray can feel it clog his lungs.
            The high powered machine guns rip the creatures of chaos to pieces. With an intensely
powerful sound of reaming from behind him, Tray’s gunner very effectively broke through whatever
defenses the beasts once had and crumbled them like old clay; old, bloody, clay.
          Time for a second pass, Tray felt fatigue in his arms and told himself, “I can handle it.”
          The flank maneuver is working; the enemy was been driven inward freeing up a few scattered
and entrenched warriors to join the fight. There were more left than anyone but Tray had imagined. It’s
as if they spawned after the battle had already been won.
          The remaining beasts are being driving unwittingly to the soldiers, and directly into the firing arc of
the bases extension platform. After a gruesome array of demon parts being torn asunder all over the
battle field, the day was won making this the second victory against the chaos beasts in five years since
Threâ was lost. And seven since the War began.
          Tray and the other three bikes where doing final sweeps of the battle field. Tray knew that there
where a few more out there. He could tell that the other bikers wanted to go back. As one of the pilots
became lax in his flying the bike was obliterated.
          The remaining three began to converge on the source of the blast only to have the other two
picked off before they realized what hit them. Then Tray saw ahead that there where three of them. Tray
did a close flyby giving his gunner a good shot at one and reaching with his sword Tray traded blows with
another.
          Tray saw the beasts closely on this pass. They were armored with sharpened quills of thick fur
that protected against most attacks. In the fur were colored streaks on its head, arms and a patch on its
chest. The streaks varied on the beasts. Some had red and others yellow. The colored streaks where in
jagged places with no form or pattern.
          There were three left. He had only injured one. Tray hooked the bike around for another pass.
His intuition told him something was wrong. He realized that the beast had missed him. Looking back
Tray saw the gunner was now only a blood riddled pair of legs. His upper torso had been cleaned.
          Altering his turn Tray began to re-aim the bike and retreat for reinforcements. It was too late.
The intense speed of the bike caused the course to be to near the creatures.
          Tray saw the next blast. Without thinking but only a split reaction he leapt from his bike. Soaring
through the air Tray arced his landing to brake his fall on the ash covered ground. As the field is now
littered with bodies, both enemy and comrade alike, the impact was absorbed enough for Tray to survive.
          In tremendous pain and a decent distance away from the remaining beasts Tray quickly pulled
the corpse of a creature over his pain racked body. With a mouth of ash Tray strived to quiet his
breathing. The stench of the beast made it difficult.
          He hears two of the creatures nearby. Tray can see through the fur of the already rotting beast
under which he took cover. He waited patiently.
          They began to stab through the bodies of the fallen creatures around him. The yellow one moved
just out of view. The red one slams its large claw of a hand into another lifting it over.
          Tray could feel his heart beat slower, and his mind grow calmer. He watched patiently as he
dealt with the pain of the landing. The red one had its side facing him and lunges its claw into another
dead beast. “This is it.” Tray thought.
          As the beast thrusts in, Tray explodes from under the corpse ripping his sword up through its
armpit sending the tip piercing up through its shoulder than into its neck going clear through the brain.
          Tray ducks quickly twisting his sword out to escape a shot of energy from the yellow one. He
takes off in a full sprint dodging left and right heading to a nearby hill planning to dive down for cover. He
jukes right and looks left still ducking the incoming fire. He continues in that direction almost to the hill.
The red beast he had previously injured breaks the crest of Tray’s targeted hill unsuspecting of the
sprinter.
          Without thinking Tray impales the beast through the neck tumbling with it down the hill rolling end
over end. At the bottom Tray hits the ground hard, and grunts in pain grabbing his side. Forcing his eyes
open he quickly snaps out of it knowing the yellow demon won’t be far behind. He scans the ground and
not far away is a dead soldier still grasping tightly to his Zen-Hammer rifle.
          Using the leverage of the barrel Tray wrenches the alloy weapon from the hands of the fallen
soldier. He spins around in a crouched position taking aim uphill waiting for his shot. Clamping his teeth
tightly together and squinting down the barrel, he doesn’t see the target.
          He alters his aim to the right changing his position to take his left knee to the ground. No target.
Tray breathes vocally through his teeth making a slight grunting sound and changes his position again
aiming to his left arc. “The beast isn‟t here yet, and no significant cover.” Tray thought.
          Awkwardly lifting his knees Tray scampers his way toward the northeast where the hill begins to
level. “I must take away the advantage of higher ground.” Tray thought. A nearby pile of corpses
seemed like promising cover. Tray makes his way keeping his sights trained on the crest of the hill. The
lip of the hill is now becoming less steep. Tray senses movement to his far left.
          Falling back and turning, he scans the hill squeezing the butt of the rifle tightly against his
shoulder. Breathing heavily he continues his eyes searching, but sees nothing. “I know your there; I can
feel it.” Tray thought. He sat perfectly still pinning his rifle to his knee with his foot on the ground. His
leg now made a stabilizer for the weapon. Tray was calm and controlled. His breathing was now light,
and his pain had been focused away that it was nearly imperceptible. He is now so still and blended with
the terrain and dead bodies that anything looking for him at range would not be able to spot him.
          The battle had been silenced and Tray can feel the breeze. He can smell the ash from the ground
being carried by the wind. He watched; his focus deepened his transient state. “One mistake, that‟s all I
need you to do make one mistake.” He thought as it was still quiet.
          The sun was set now. Barely any light came through the dusk. The wind is starting to pick up
and Tray can feel the hair on his neck stand. He could hear the wind now getting stronger. It caused the
thick fur on the dead beasts to move making it harder to tell the difference between movement and what
was being moved. But other than his eyes Tray is still; he does not make a sound.
          His legs are beginning to feel the pressure of his sitting position. “I can‟t allow the pain to mess
up my concentration.” Tray thought. He acknowledged the pain then let it go sinking deeper into his near
meditative trance greatly increasing his focus on the current task.
          The silence is broken. A green mass of energy soars breaking the dense fog of ash. Tray returns
fire with a burst to the source of the blast’s angle. He takes a hit on his left side knocking him to his back.
The blast tosses his arms up and slaps the backs of his hands to the ground.
          There is no pain yet. He could hear the sizzle of the energy burning. Tray breathes deep lying on
his back. His air flow is interrupted and difficult. I can feel it, the heat. Though in great pain, Tray is still
calm as a summer day. He senses the beast preparing another burst.
          Blue lightning bursts and white tracer cuts through the ash at speeds barely visible. Impaction
echoes a quick burst of energy like the sound of muffled lightning strikes.
          Tray lifts up his head to look. He sees the Brandon with a look of shock. The Zen-hammer he
was holding had a glowing barrel. This evidence of rescue caused Tray to slip out of his trance. He
futilely reached out with his hand. His strength was completely gone and it fell limp to ground. Tray was
unconscious.

2
          Shīĕl poured over maps and charts in a small room dimly lit by the monitor that displayed them.
The door opened behind him letting in an angle of light that revealed an overly organized and clean
quarters for the type of based they where encamped at. Excuse me Acolyte, we have word. The door
opened wider as Shīĕl took a green cloak and left the room. Closing behind him the door shut with a
metal clunk as the latch moved into to place.
          He walked through an empty hanger that was a little drafty. Shīĕl didn't like it in the mountains.
He preferred a warmer climate like the desert lakes where he grew up. Peerless liked it though. “I guess
that‟s why the Zenbrodians live here.” He thought. He walked through another metal door with the same
clunk following him.
          The room is an octagon with a table in the center of the same shape. Four people sat around it
with similar cloaks and Shīĕl sat down at one of the remaining positions. The other three seats belonged
to the rest of his unit but were empty. The four that where in there noticed him come in but were typing
against the crystal clear interface or moving sliders and markers very intently they did not affect there
work for the moment.
          He looked at the octagonal display that was surrounded and lit by a blue border a few inches in
from the edge of the eight interfaces. The images on the screen were similar to the ones he had seen
before, but it had much better detail and color than the others. The detail was so sharp that it almost hurt
his eyes. He studied the main image more closely. It spanned the two quarters of the world ring that are
possessed by the Humans and the Zenbrode. Near the border between the two nations he could see the
detail of the ash lands where the war was being fought. The previous map images that they would view
had lines scribbled in by hand with a digital pen marking the edges of the ash lands. Something else that
was new was a small blue indicator in the shape of a triangle. They had marked like this a few times
before at locations of victory. This battle was deep into the Human quarter. Shīĕl never put into
perspective how large the ash lands where. The maps before where mostly graphical with only land
marks of the several battles fought, last stands most of them. He studied the land marks closely.
          The battle was a great deal west of the Trench of Arimathea. The ash lands covered the trench,
the lands of the Maderatti, across the sea there was Threa, and Lanton; then the blue triangle near Kay-
tu-or. It hadn't come nearly as far into the Zenbrodian quarter. “I wonder if they don't like the cold either.”
Shīĕl thought. Than thinking more strategically he decided the mountain passes where more defensible;
and if the theories about the chaos symbiotes needing to mutate the people of the areas to gain ground
where true than this direction wouldn't be as tempting. There where only small communities on this side
of the mountains, but for some reason the beasts still pressed.
          The typing and interface movement slowed and then stopped. “If the next strategy is derived and
the orders sent, than why did you need me in here? And where are they, where are Jamin and
Peerless?” Shīĕl asked.
          “The stand at Kay-tu-or was successful, with the least amount of casualties it‟s taken to win a
battle yet. We're sending reinforcements and the orders are to push to the extension tower in Lanton.
You and I will take three Star Spires each too simultaneously take the tower at Maderatti.” Replied Tien;
a young looking girl that ran the strategy room.
          “We'll slip around while the Zenbrodian forces attach with their air wings and mountainside
cannons. The new level of growth the Zenbrode technology has recently undergone should throw the
beasts off balance enough to get us through.”
          “It should work; it threw me off.” Shīĕl replied.
          Sensing that Shīĕl wanted to change the subject Tien forced herself to continue. “Its more than
just displays and Shīĕlding this time, it‟s also...”
          “Where are they?” Shīĕl asked cutting her off.
          Tien looked down silently. She swallowed and gestured to the Star Spires sitting around the
table. They got up and left room while Shīĕl’s gaze fixes more squarely on Tien. The door clamps shut.
Tien leans forward now looking him straight in the eye. “Jamin and Peerless took Jeru and went to
Threa.”
          “They didn't need to go; there are plenty of Star Spires in the area. And I'm still not finished with
Jeru.” He stands abruptly turning his back to Tien interlocking his hands high on his head and breaths
out in irritation.
          Tien a little frustrated herself says, “Jeru is the best trained Acolyte any of us have ever seen.
Those that don't know about you think that he's been augmented.”
          “That‟s ridiculous.” Shīĕl retaliates.
          “In any case they didn't go to Threa to fight, they went to extract and recruit.” Tien replies.
          “Who?” Shīĕl asks.
          Tien hesitates. She didn’t want to go there yet.
          Shīĕl leaned confrontationally on the table. “Who!” He demanded.
          “We can‟t be sure, but we think he‟s your brother.” Tien said as though it had been tortured out of
her.
          Shīĕl was immediately humbled. His interrogating tone turned almost child like.
          “You told me the Zenbrode found me, alone.” Shīĕl said this like it was a question.
          “They did, it wasn‟t a lie. The Zenbrodian officers brought you to the Desert Lake and we took
you in. The Star Spires where the only Humans settled in Zenbrode territory at the time. They found you
on a standard patrol in the mountains. You weren't even a day old, and with no sign of your parents or
anyone, they brought you to us knowing you would need to be cared for.”
          Looking up at the edge where the wall meets the ceiling Shīĕl just breathes.
          “When Jamin brought you home he put you in my arms and told me to watch my new brother. I
was pretty confused but he just dumped you onto me and went in to talk to mom and dad. I held you for a
long time and just looked at you. Somehow I knew that the World had given you to me, to look after.”
She often wondered if there were others like him.
          “I never felt like I was adopted, even after you told me. Shīĕl said.
          Tien replies, “neither did your brother. In fact, we don‟t think he even knows.”
          Shīĕl's face becomes more serious and he slowly looks down shifting his gaze from the edge of
wall and ceiling to that of the floor. “Who is he?” Shīĕl asks.
          He was adopted by King Rathele of Threa. His name is Tray. He is the heir to the seat of
commerce central to the Human and Zenbrodian nations. What do you want to know?”
          Tien waited for a response but Shīĕl just stared quietly. She continued.
          “That day, when I first held you, I can‟t believe it‟s been nineteen years.” After a brief silence Tien
says. „Come on Shīĕl lets take a walk.”
          Shīĕl wraps his cloak around himself more tightly in response to the brisk air of the hanger. It’s
now loud and busy as several people attend to the maintenance of a Zenbrodian atmospheric fighter.
“The air machines look much meaner now. I guess they grew more last night?” Shīĕl asks.
          “Yeah, the Zenbrodians found a new deposit of the living ore. Hopefully the Daragods don't
realize where they are getting it until after the war.” Tien said.
         “Well, if its not one thing it‟s another.” Shīĕl says. “Come on, I don't like to hear them land.”
         They walk out of the hanger as a semi transparent fighter hovers into the open ceiling. With a
loud steady whir of the engine and the light from all around dancing in an array of colors off the
sharpened edges of its crystal looking wings, it came in for landing.
         The hatch clunks behind them and the cool wind makes them both cringe. It was colder now.
The base protruding out of the mountain was in the shadow of dusk. A snow vehicle with organic shaped
armor cruised passed on a path of tread packed snow. The trail went in front of the base where the main
hangers were. Large pine trees surrounded them. The trail went in both directions. The thickness of the
trees with the shadows of dusk made the trail seem like dismal caves.
         “For hating the cold you sure like to come up here a lot”. Tien points out.
         “I like the suns setting here.” Shīĕl said.
         Tien sighed, but not in annoyance.
                   They hiked up a small path that took them between the base and a line of snow covered
pines. The path was slick packed snow from the frequency that it is used, but they have no trouble
navigating it.
         “The lights are on, I think we missed it.” Tien says with a slight dismay.
         The base was lit up all around by high indistinguishable lights that haloed in the sky by fluttering
snow flakes.
         “I think your right.” Shīĕl says with the same degree of disappointment.
         They rounded the steep corner of the trail and walked onto the roof of the base. Shīĕl nods at the
guard who is sitting invisibly on a small rock face up a little higher. He doesn't respond. Shīĕl knows he's
a bit disgusted with himself because he was spotted.
         “It‟s gone… that‟s okay.” Shīĕl said. “I really just need a break.”
         Tien and Shīĕl sat on the edge of the roof looking down the mountain. Small flakes landed lightly
on Tien’s brown hair. Most of them got caught up in the braids on either side of her head. There was still
light from dusk, but the trees were getting dark quickly and in another minute or two they won't be able to
make out any detail in them at all.
         “Tien...” she looks up at him, both are now a bit more adjusted to the cold. “Tell me about my
brother... tell me about Tray.” Shīĕl asks.
         “Well, he looks identical to you. He has the same rectangular birth mark on his forehead; and
probably the same on the sides and back of his head as well. So we assume the rest correspond under
his hair. He was found the same way you where but in a different quarter of the World. You would look
good with short hair. Well, at least he keeps his hair short. What else do you want to know?” Tien
replies.
         “Is he a warrior?” Shīĕl asked.
         “He is currently the best squad leader anyone‟s ever seen, but he's not like you. He's never been
trained to reach for his potential.” Tien said.
         “So he doesn't know then?” Shīĕl asks tightening the expression on his face with curiosity.
         “No he doesn't.” Tien said. “That‟s why we didn‟t send you. We're not really sure what he knows
about himself, and having it all dumped on him at once could be pretty traumatic. Jamin is going to ease
him into it. Everyone from his home in Threa died. He was the only survivor. We think he must have
tapped in like you do, but it was probably more out of desperation. Did you ever read those reports?”
         “I didn‟t have too, Jamin and I went there.” Shīĕl says relaxing his expression. He thought back
remembering what they found. “The Star Spires where all fighting at Maderatti. They didn't have any
support from us. When we got there... at Threa... we found both sides completely decimated. Even
Jamin hadn‟t seen anything like it. Well, at least before then he didn't. I think the figures stated that
Threa's army was out numbered four to one. They where fools for staying; they should have run. I guess
it sounds like he is my brother then.
         “Do you remember anything else?” Tien asked.
         “Yes, the grass was still green there. The beasts of chaos swarmed that place, but the land was
untouched. How‟s Jamin gonna tell him... you know, what he is?”
         Tien leaned forward onto her knees cocking her head side ways. She looked at her brother.
“He's going to take him back to Threa, try and help him remember what happened. Depending on how
that goes the four of them will take down the extension tower to north of them.”
         Shīĕl leans back propping his weight on his hands. “That‟s quite the initiation. Do you think he'll
join... the Star Spires I mean?”
          “I don't know” Tien says, squeezing her knees a little tighter. “He was raised very differently from
you.” She looks down the mountain thinking. “We're not even sure if we want him to join.” She catches
herself in her thoughts and puts her head back where it was resting on her arms hoping that Shīĕl didn't
just read her like he usually can. “I don't think he noticed, or at least he's not letting on that he did. I've
never seen him so distracted. I guess I would be too though.” She thought.
          Interrupting her thoughts Shīĕl said. “Come on... let‟s get some sleep.”
          Tien looks at him a bit funny thinking it’s still pretty early but not arguing gets up with him and they
walk back in.
          It’s early the next morning; Shīĕl can hear the energy cannons echo blasts down the mountain
and into the forest shattering the dead trees. The impacts are about a quarter mile back. He and his men
are covered in the ash from climbing up and moving through the trees. The beasts are everywhere
below, they must stay invisible to their site and their sound, and they haven’t been much for smelling
them out so far.
          Shīĕl gives the signal to move. The Star Spires leap and climb through the trees silently covering
vast amounts of area with each movement. About another mile to go, the cannon fire has ramped up and
Shīĕl can see the beasts, some lumbering and some striding through the woods below. The diversion is
working; they are being drawn away. They move through a few more trees and the clearing of the
extension tower is apparent. They are about four miles south of Maderatti.
          Twenty feet below the ground looks alive. The chaos symbiotes move in great crowds and fill up
every part of the opening. There are no discernable patterns, and so many of them. Shīĕl locked his
vision on one and tracked it briefly but lost it in the chaos of them all. The Star Spires stay invisibly
perched in the trees waiting for the Zenbrodians to draw a greater number away. Shīĕl can still hear the
guns in the distance, but it’s more like rumble from where he is.
          Shīĕl can feel his foot falling asleep as he waited crouched in the tree. He focused his breathing
and concentrates his blood flow to accommodate the discomfort. Deepening his meditation, Shīĕl closed
his eyes and brought the full scope of the area into his minds eye. The lack of patterns he’d observed
before couldn’t touch the complete chaos that now filled the awareness within his being. The bizarre
creatures had overwhelming movement for him to perceive. Separating each of the thousands of beasts
in his mind he delves deeper into each one comprehending their intentions. He kept his scope to the
limits of the area, allowing each beast that left to be free of his intrusion. But as more disembarked, each
was replaced. The spawning centered at the extension tower.
          He focused a section of his mind on the tower itself, searching inside for the source of the
summoning. His mind wove throughout the many corridors and shafts within the tower. “The upper
chamber, I expected something to be there.” Shīĕl thought. Drawing back his inner vision he again took
the whole tower into view. He allowed the majority of the chaos beasts to slip out of view. Shīĕl sought
more deeply the secrets of the tower. He now focused completely and more deeply than he’s ever
reached. With just the tower in contemplation Shīĕl broke through its defenses. “My God” Shīĕl prayed
in the dept of his soul. “The tower, it is alive, it is one of the creatures. Something is wrong. It knows I‟m
here.”
          Snapping out of his near catatonic state Shīĕl took a breath and leapt from his place of
meditation. He sprinted through the branches of the dead trees. He now had as near to a feeling of
dread as he has ever felt. With such tremendous speed he navigated his foot holds as though he was
sprinting on the ground. Aware that the others could not keep up, Shīĕl pressed on as fast as he could.
“I only have a moment, they are dead, but tower will know where I am if I stay.” Shīĕl thought as he flew
around the circular clearing on the edge of the tree line. The intense speed caused the tower to spin in
his peripheral vision.
          A loud crash of hollow branches being smashed by the hundreds sounded behind him. The
beasts yelled out in eerie whines and yelps. “The Star Spires, they are fighting well.” Shīĕl thought
sensing the great energy they were using to destroy as many as they could with their last moments of life.
Though it was futile, Shīĕl respected the nobility of their last stand.
          Safe for the moment, Shīĕl takes in the location of the other Star Spires. They aren’t far and
know concerning their brethren. A large number of beasts went to investigate the brief fight. And a larger
number are near the mountain side getting obliterated by the energy cannons. But they would return
soon. Re-entering his meditative state but in a much more shallow and undetectable depth, Shīĕl sensed
the tension of the remaining Star Spires on the other side of the clearing. They are ready to attack.
         A large bang shuddered through the air. Shīĕl could feel the death of hundreds of creatures
caused by the Star Spires from across the clearing. With their attention in the wrong place they were
caught completely off guard.
         “It is time.” Shīĕl reached his mind deep into his soul and found the place of great stillness. The
whole world and everything in it seemed to stop as he halted and observed from this place. It was like
before, but now it was more than seeing and observing the movements of battle. He was at one with
everything in the vicinity of his previous meditation.
         He looked deep into the youthful eyes of his older sister from across the battle. “I‟m counting on
you.” He said with confidence that she could retrieve him.
         In this place of stillness he walked and pondered for a while. He still feared the place beyond this
one. But he started to feel the irrepressible pull of it. Shīĕl fell low to the ground and entered again his
journey of destruction.
         From the place of stillness he passed through with his mind a great tumultuous field of torment.
The speed at which the noise passed over him was painful and relentless. He quietly bore this pain with
a stern look of intent.
         “I made it.” He thought with a feeling of extreme relief. Beyond the noise he was weightless.
Shīĕl willed his way through a vast nothingness lit with a blinding white light that came from eternity.
Emanating at the center of his nothingness was a great source of power. It was a sphere burning green
like a brilliant alien sun. Amazing surges of energy flowed in all directions from it. Shīĕl reached and
slowly brought himself towards this power. His inner body was on fire with the energy in the air.
         A ribbon like that of a solar flare flowed out toward him. The speed and size of the entity was
overwhelming. It blew through him with tremendous force, infusing him with a familiar power. He felt deep
within that he was somehow born of this. Though he did not understand what this feeling meant.
         The momentum of the blast threw him back. The painful noise dared not touch him. It parted to
his sides clearing the path back to consciousness. The place of stillness was disrupted by his turbulent
retreat.
         Shīĕl could see now the previously stopped world and battle all around him. He opened his eyes.
The four birth marks, long and narrow triangular shapes evenly spaced around his head, lit up with green
intensity. The insane movement of the creatures now frozen and breathless was confounding to observe.
         With a sonic crack shaking the world around him, Shīĕl launched himself from the tree. The tree
he jumped from uprooted and shattered into a thousand splinters. This same moment the beasts of
chaos raged back to life hunting for Star Spires.
         Leaving only a tracer of green light, Shīĕl shot across the clearing toward the living tower.
Enveloped in energy his cloak whipped violently behind him. The infestation of beasts that stood in his
path to the tower were torn to shreds and thrown to the sides like a great wake behind him.
         He impacted the tower and expelled all that he had absorbed. The tower erupted into a dome of
green light sending him into shock and blinding all the beasts around it. A shock wave carried from the
base of the chaos tower in all directions leveling a great deal of the battle field. Tien and her Star Spires
where knocked down, but unharmed.
         Jumping quickly to their feet they once again resumed the battle. The remaining beasts were
confused and weakened by the defeat of their tower. The Star Spires fought through them easily with
their weapons empowered by the energy of their will. Fighting their way to the center of the clearing they
continued the work of death. Where the tower was there now remained a large but shallow crater. Shīĕl,
the weapon of the planet, lay unconscious near the center.

3
         Tray awoke. The bed he was in was comfortable; it wrapped around the edge of his body
cradling him with support. The room was filled with blue ambient light. He looked around without moving
much. He felt fine, but it was nice to relax for a change. He was in a room with walls that didn’t quite
reach the ceiling. The walls where temporary with dark plastic windows, but he could see through them
enough to note the endless beds. All of them where full.
         A small monitor on the side of his bed displayed his vitals. He could see where it had recorded a
change. “That must have been when I woke up.” Tray thought. “I hope they don‟t want to talk to me.
They‟ll probably reprimand me for taking the bike without standard issue junk.” Tray unzipped the high
collar of his shirt pulled it down around his shoulder to exam his wound. There was clear jelly over it. He
could see through it enough to see that the jelly had mended him pretty well, but could see that it still had
some to go. He kept watching it and saw as the jelly grew a new strand of flesh mending its way across
his wound. Looking closer he could see an intricate mesh of newly formed skin in a crosshatch over the
sore. Tray rolled to his side grabbing the pillow under him. His wound felt tender.
           A moment later the flaps that made up the temp room’s door parted and in walked an older, rough
looking man. He was high ranking by the looks of it.
           Tray stayed on his side; he could see a distorted image of the man in the dark reflection of the
plastic window. He thought about pretending that he was asleep, but decided against it.
           After standing there for a moment the old commander spoke. “You Rathele‟s boy?”
           This got Tray’s attention. He rolled over and sat up. “Why?”
           “Just wondering.”
           “My name’s Tray.” He answered rebelling against the question.
           “You okay then, are you feeling alright?” The man asked.
           Tray could tell that bed side manner was not something this guy was accustomed to. He wanted
to just ask him what he wanted, but that would be rude and undiplomatic.
           “Fine” Tray replied; not realizing just how undiplomatic he was already being.
           The man held a thick blue envelope and turned it in his hand. He looked down at it for a second.
“I’ll just get right to it then.” He said.
           “We have a calling for you. In four hours you are to be on your way. This assignment is of a
sensitive nature, you may not speak of it to anyone. If you do they will be consigned to solitary until your
objective has been fulfilled. At the time of your departure you will proceed to the forth level of the inner
base which will be the R & D department. The envelope contains an access card that should get you
past security. There you will find the latest version of armor, a newly grown Zen Hammer and four strike
bikes. You will take the fourth one. Upon exiting the platform it will be assumed that you are a deserter.
You will be fired upon. It is imperative that you make it beyond the reach of the perimeter guns
unscathed. Upon completion you will rendezvous with the other component of your mission. Also in the
envelope there is a data key containing info you will need. Only the fourth bike will accept it. Do you
have any questions?”
           Thinking through what was ahead of him, Tray summed up his questions. “Won’t sending me in
such a way continue to demoralize the soldiers?” He asked.
           “Under normal circumstances it would, but with the yesterday’s victory and the imminent victories
to come we’re not too concerned.”
           “What kind of resistance can I expect getting to R&D?” Tray asked.
           “It should be light; try not to hurt anyone, but do what ya gotta do.”
           “Since I’m deserting I guess security visuals are no big deal, is it really necessary to shoot at
me?” Tray asked.
           The man chuckled a little, and then got real serious. He leaned forward and motioned with his
hand as he spoke. “You’re going to become a ghost. The tough part is that your too good, the under side
of the military wants you. At this stage in the war it’s more of a requirement than a request. We need to
cut your ties.”
           “Can you tell me anything about the other component of the mission?” Tray asked.
           “Would if I could.” The man responded quickly. “They’re Star Spires, that’s all I know.” He
looked a bit antsy.
           Tray could tell he wanted to go. He thought Star Spires weren’t real but was never sure. They
always just sounded like rumors to him, false hope for scared soldiers. He almost asked if they were real,
but didn’t. Tray wanted to ask something else but wasn’t sure what it was. He started to feel strangely
comfortable with this tired old man in the room and didn’t know why.
           “I guess that’s all then.” Tray said.
           The man stood and tossed him the envelope. He started out the door, but paused for a moment.
“Your dad and I never really got along, but I respected him, and she loved him. That’s why I gave him
permission… to marry her.” Looking away he walked quickly, in a stalwart commander way, out of the
room and the nearby door slid open. He was gone before it sunk in.
           Tray jumped out of bed and forced open the door not waiting for it to auto-slide. Rushing out into
the open he furiously looked around but the man was gone. The array of bunkers all around added to the
confusion that surged through his head. He felt disoriented and walked back in to the hospital. The blue
lights where much brighter. And nurses that weren’t there a moment ago busied themselves attending to
patients who were now sitting up and chatting with each another.
          Tray stood in the door and stared. A nurse in green pushed by him and hurried herself along.
Tray walked into the room where he was laying. He thought that it must have been some kind of dream
or hallucination. He decided that he’d better lie back down. Climbing into bed he felt something.
          Grabbing it out from under him, he held the thick blue envelope. Lying back he tried to
comprehend what had just happened. He reached up and set his watch.
          A subtle repetitive chime awoke Tray from his day dream. “Has it really been three hours?” He
grumbled to himself.
          He lay in bed for a moment longer. The lights in the edge of the main ceiling had now turned a
dark green. It was very soothing, Tray didn’t want to leave. Or maybe he didn’t want to be exiled. It was
quiet in the hospital. Most of the patients had fallen asleep. He stood up and slipped his armored officer
jacket on. The calm within the med center was distilling. Tray walked through the hanging plastic strips
that filled the door of his temporary room. He heard them fall back and patter lightly as the outer door slid
open nearby. A warm breeze blew a little ash in from outside and dusted the toe of his grey boots.
          Just outside the door there was the same array of buildings that looked similar to the hospital
bunker, all lined up and neatly organized. It was a standard military building, thick armored walls that
arched on the sides with a flat roof and the same sliding door on each end. Some had windows and
some didn’t. It was a windy day. The ash streamed through the array of buildings like blood coursing
through veins; but thin, and dry. Tray could hear the wind howl above.
          He looked up and saw the arm of the one of the extension platforms. It was easy to get turned
around in the encampments. He just had to wait a minute for the next arm movement so he could tell
where the pivot of it was. The bases like this had four arms, two upper and two lower. Tray could tell he
was under an upper arm because of how high it was. He felt a low hum and the arm arced inwardly to his
right.
          On his way through the bunkers Tray passed a variety of soldiers, but all of them seemed hazy
and undefined. He wanted to yell to them that he’s not a deserter.
          He passed a few more bunkers. The next one on his left had an open door. It was a mess hall.
Everyone stood in line waiting intently for their food. They were all dressed pretty much like Tray, and
had similar hair styles. The conformity was unnerving, but somehow comfortable. Tray felt superior
wearing his jacket that he earned when he became a squad leader. This was his first taste of distinction
within the ranks. He walked past several people in line and reached in between two of them to take some
fruit bars. He ate while he walked out and wished that he could have a better meal before he had to go,
but time was almost up.
          He reached the main center of the base. It was large and cylindrical, with reinforced entry ways
and several security doors. The first level was easy; almost anyone could get in there. Just inside the
gate there was a wall made up of several layers of light. It was a security scanner. The first layer was off
white and as he walked through it he tingled all over. The next was red, but as he came in contact it
changed to a light green and remained that color until he passed through. The next two layers had
similar effects in various colors that he didn’t really pay attention to.
          The ground level was spacious and empty. A couple military guards stood lax against the far wall
near the entrance on the opposite side. Their armor was similar to the strike bike armor, but was much
more flexible. It occurred to Tray that one was probably supposed to be at the other door. He hoped that
security was this relaxed the whole way up, but knew he couldn’t count on that.
          Tray considered the elevator but if he was compromised he would be very easy to trap. He
walked along the curved wall and came to a cylinder out cropping were the stair was. The walls were
white and metallic throughout the cylindrical shaft. It was surprisingly stylish and very nice. The staircase
was spiral and self supporting, with some structural piping underneath. He had just past the first floor
door way and heard the door above him open. A man and a woman chatted indiscernibly while Tray
considered his options. Jumping silently on the railing he reached up and caught hold of the spiral’s
undercarriage. Tray waited till they had passed over him then quickly made his way up the other side of
the railing. He was now above them and waited to move until they got further down. Looking down at
them he noted that they weren’t wearing anything like his uniform or the guards below. He wouldn’t blend
in any more.
          Tray came to the second level. Rather than go all the way up in this stair way, he wanted to
practice a little misdirection in case any one was watching him.
          Opening the door he realized that he was being watched. An officer in full armor, face Shīĕld
read out and all, grabbed hold of him by the arm. Tray dragged him out allowing the door to shut.
Knowing that a simply strike won’t work with against the officer’s protection.
         Tray rotates his arm inward, then up and around interlocking with the aggressor. In the same
movement Tray grips his left hand tightly behind the officer’s helmet at the base of his neck. Continuing
the move he jumps straight up and with the leverage the helmet gave him, Tray forced the officer’s head
into his accelerated knee. The helmet is crushed inward from the front and the officer starts to fall limp a
moment after Trays plants his feet. Tray catches him before he hits the ground preventing anymore
noise, and gently lays him down. He checks the unfortunate soldier and feels relieved that he is still
breathing.
         Tray opens the door enough to look inside. He sees that this is the control level for the massive
rotating arms. There are vast amounts of wiring and computers. Mostly automated, it seemed empty with
a constant hum of cooling fans for the various systems. Tray carried the downed officer on his good
shoulder a short distance along the edge and laid him gently behind a large mechanism. Making his way
across the area, it seemed unusually empty. He crouched near a smaller unit and looked at the door not
far away. “I wonder if their watching me through surveillance and laughing at me.” Tray thought.
         The door had an access panel for a secure card. The soldier he recently encountered must have
opened the last one. Tray shuffled through the contents of the envelope and pulled out the card. He
cautiously approached the door. Reaching over to activate the panel, the door opened before he could
activate it.
         He leaped backward and stood ready to fight. Several men in research uniforms stood with a
surprised look. Tray slowly inched back giving him the best room. “You’re not supposed to be in here.”
The first man said walking forcefully toward him.
         Tray took a couple more steps backward. The group came in and started to surround him. Just
as the first man in started to reach for him; Tray bolted straight through them. Several of them got a hand
on him but couldn’t get a grip. The last two on the opposite side put their full bodies in the way.
         Tray hit the stairway and felt sorry for what happened to those two men. Half way up to the third
level Tray could hear soldiers below him and above him. With his adrenaline already pumping from the
previous encounter he could feel the stillness coming. He did not want that. If he slipped inward now, the
soldiers coming down the stairs probably wouldn’t survive.
         He was in a full sprint of the stairs. One of the soldiers yelled something that quickly became
indiscernible as Tray pummeled his shoulder into the chest of the first one coming. He grunted in pain,
forgetting that he was still mending. They barely saw what hit them. With the single hit Tray knocked
them down like dominos; and continued to run stepping on them as he pasted the third level.
         The fourth level door wouldn’t open. It was pretty heavy. Tray stepped back and kicked it as
hard as he could; nothing. He kicked it again and again. Frustrated he took to the panel. A solid punch
dented it in. The top edge separated from the seal. He dug his fingers in and ripped it off. Inside there
was complex wiring and circuitry. “I have no idea what any of this does.” Tray said to himself with a sigh.
         “Can’t I just hit this some more?” Tray thought. He could hear the soldiers coming up the stairs.
He ripped the wiring out of the wall and tossed it over the edge. His adrenaline had cooled but he was
starting to feel a bit frantic now. Looking around he saw a skylight above him. He stepped up on the
railing of the stair. Then leaned across and propped his foot high against the top of the door frame then
stepped up again and lifted himself leaning into the frame of the sky light. Thrusting a solid palm against
the window the latch popped open. Another hit and the window flew open. He crouched down as much
as he could while maintaining his balance; then leapt upward grabbing the upper side of the outer frame.
With a hard pull his waste was above the edge, and he fell over onto the roof. Below him he heard Zen-
Hammer fire. A second longer and they would’ve had him.
          Tray took off running. The roof was a shortened dome, like the peak of a sphere, but not so
round to cause disorientation. The air was cold and clean. He liked running up high away from the
ground; away from the ash.
         All of the other skylights were bared over. They must not have worried about securing the stair
well. “Those soldiers will find a way up soon.” Tray thought. He went back to the skylight that provided
temporary escape. “I should come around to the other side and knock them back from behind.”
         Tray didn’t have to wait long. The unbalanced soldier slowly lifted up. Before he could realize,
Tray yanked his weapon from behind him. The shock alone was enough to make him lose his footing.
The soldier dangled from the skylight, grasping for a better hold, and kicking his legs looking for a foot
hold.
                   “You can either let go now and they’ll catch you, or I can hurt you badly, and they
probably won’t.” Tray said. The soldier let go causing a rough sounding fall into his comrades.
         Tray threw the gun off the edge and started quickly in the other direction. Headed toward an
extension arm, he heard a clank behind him. He looked over his shoulder only to see a grenade roll off
the building. Quickening his sprint Tray heard a couple more clanks, and the first one exploded in the air
below.
         “Those fraking idiots are going to hurt someone. I guess that’s the idea.” Tray thought, pissed off
about the whole thing. Tray could feel the building tremor from the next two explosions. “This is
attracting far more attention than I wanted it to.” He thought.
         Tray hit the edge of the extension arm. Far below he could see people pointing and staring up at
him. The arm was long and octagonal. The upper surface of it was flat and wide enough for him to feel
comfortable running fast; but not to fast.
         He was half to the end where the cannons were when he heard the engines of air assault
vehicles fire up. He knew they would be their soon. Reaching the end he could hear their powerful
engines suck air. “They must be pissed; the air vehicles don’t function well with all the ash getting sucked
in.” Tray thought.
         The end of the arm widened out. It was large enough to land an assault vehicle on. Tray could
feel them honing in on him. Without losing speed he dove forward; planting one hand on the edge, he
kicked up into a handstand and turned his body hooking and swinging down to the staging area below. It
was wide and open air, much like the bunkers in the fields below.
         He landed firmly between the two turret cannons; the soldiers on duty sat in their rigs shocked by
the intrusion. Tray sprinted quickly by them as they looked at each other with a degree of confusion.
         The long passage was empty except for the launching tracks on the ground, two on the inside
track between the guns, and one on each side. The extension arm was perfect for launching bikes into
the depths of a battle.
         At the end of the passage Tray walked down some stairs on the side, there he found the same
standard door as throughout the base. The secure card worked this time. “They either locked down only
the part of the base where I was, or their setting a trap.” Tray thought.
         Inside the door was another well light corridor. It was the outer edge of the base’s upper level
and spanned in both directions of the cylinder. Tray moved cautiously around the right side, stretching
forward to see further around the continuous corner. He felt more eerie about the silence of the corridor.
         He’d almost missed it; a flat panel terminal on the wall had readout of orders. “Imminent assault
on upper levels; evacuate floors three and four for safety.”
         “Nice” Tray thought. “It probably won’t take them long to figure out where I went.” Running down
the corridor he slowed each time he came to a door. None of the markings made any sense to him. “It
must be some type of code that I’m not privy to.” Tray thought.
         He waved the card at the next door he came too. Inside was a standard office. “I’m pretty sure
that I’ve past three doors.” Tray thought. He opened the next one, another office. In frustration he
opened the next door, and the next. It was all the same office.
         In the next office Tray decided to stop and look around. Everything was bland and ordinary.
There was nothing of interest on the shelves or in the drawers; just the same desk chair and lamp. He
walked over to the back wall. Each office was a wedge cut off before it could reach a point. They were
like pieces of a pie with a cylinder cut out of the center.
         “That must be were the R & D department is.” Tray Thought. Looking closer at the wall he could
see a buffer between it and the floor. It was almost like a seal completely around the edge of the inner
wall. He was in the fifth door from where he entered the level.
         He ran outside the office and up the corridor towards the next extension arm. There were eight
more office doors on the inner wall making thirteen between the extension platform doors on the outer
wall. The same seal as in the office ran the length of the corridor, lining the edge of the ceiling and the
floor. He walked into the office opposite of the extension arm. The inner wall was the same as the others
but there were two large yellow squares painted on it. “This is just annoying.” Tray thought.
         He took off back down the corridor the way he came counting the doors as he ran. Opening the
seventh door a rush of relief came over him as he saw a large flat door with a security access panel.
         Inside the R & D lab Tray saw the most organized and clean mess possible. There were items
everywhere. There were several areas sectioned off with glass paneling, but not like cubicles, more like
boundaries for each project. In the center of the room under a large white light were four bikes. They
were different than anything he’d seen; but recognizable.
          Three of the bikes seemed in order, but bike number three had the seat off and was obviously
missing components. The lifting platform was different as well. There were no energy distributions units.
“These new bikes must be completely self-contained; not having to rely on the charge of the other bikes
to launch.” Tray thought. “I hope it works. It takes a good minute for the bike to be charged up and
ready to go, I better get it started. The firing squad will be here any time.”
          Tray inserted the data key from the envelope into the bike number four’s console. The onboard
computer was also new, and the bike is built for a single rider now. “After what happened to his last
gunner, I understand why.” Tray thought.
          A green bar lit up just above the key and arced half way around the data port. It slowly faded
away as the onboard computer received the data. It finished a moment later and the console lit up with
the words at the bottom reading “operating system installed”. Several options appeared on the screen.
Tray selected a blue circle labeled “launch prep”. An empty box on each side filled quickly with yellow
bars. When they reached the top of the box, the fusion core activated and in a moment the text readout
said “proceed when ready. The platform rose, and what normal took a solid minute was ready in just
seconds. Tray could hear a slight hum, but it was astonishingly quiet compared to the predecessors.
The bike now levitated a little above the rack that it was resting in. The cylindrical engine that ran the
length of the bike on the bottom had three anti-grav plates on each side of it that glowed blue with energy
creating a pressurized pocket around the vehicle. What was more astonishing was how much Tray could
feel the energy from the bike. It filled the room, and drew him towards the bike. Tray hustled down the
stairs that rose up with the launch platform and over to the weapons and armor section.
          He noted a badge that had been left on a nearby work bench. It had a symbol similar to those
above the office doors out in the corridor. There was a large chuck of crystal next to the desk with
rubberized handles sticking out of it and little mechanical pieces worked in various places. He could see
one of the Zen Hammers had just finished growing and pried it the rest of the way out. Inserting the firing
mechanism, it was ready to go. Tray set it on the next bench over, where the new armor was. He also
set down his envelope, his sword and then quickly dressed in the equipment.
          The armor fit well, it was lighter and felt more maneuverable. Though it had many harsh aspects
to its design, but none of them interfered with the drastic movements of a warrior. Tray noticed that the
left bracer felt a little heavier than the right. He grabbed hold of it in an attempt to make some
adjustments. He felt a small button depress, his entire appearance changed. The armor was now black
with a pattern matching the grated floor he stood on. The helmet on the workbench matched the brushed
grey metal it was sitting on. He pressed the button again and it reverted to the normal state. Tray
reached down to pick up his helmet. Standing up he felt the business end of a rectangular pistol press
against the back of his neck.
          “I didn’t think it would have been you.” Tray recognized Brandon’s voice. His heart sunk. He
stood, but his posture was low.
          “I used to look up to you. Even before I joined up, I followed the reports and you always stood
out. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be here. That’s the only reason I don’t shoot right here, right now.”
Brandon said as the room filled with soldiers.
          Tray knew he had to get out of there. He feared that the nature of his mission required him to
escape the military as a test, pass or fail. He could already see in his head the method of escape. Doing
this would bring injury and death to all these men who are just doing their job. And Brandon, who he had
tremendous respect, almost a love for would be the first to go.
          His conscious mind started to slip away. He didn’t even feel the rush prior to it this time, and he
feared for the lives of his comrades. “Brandon” he said, pleadingly as it all slipped away.
          Quickening back to consciousness, Tray barreled through the ash covered hill leaving the air
clouded with smog. At eighty piers an hour and climbing toward the control limit of two hundred, Tray
looked back but the base was already out of view. The console had a display showing how far away he
was. “Still within firing range but nothing is coming.” Tray thought. A feeling of dread came over him.
“What did I do to them? If it was half as bad as I think; then they’re gone.” An incredible anxiety filled his
chest. The hollowness ached inside of him.
          He shot out from the hills into the plains like a bullet from a gun. Tray glanced down and saw he
was going well over two hundred piers an hour. “There must not be a governor on the engine yet.” Tray
thought.
          He was fast approaching the forest. It was now dead and sparse but at this speed would require
great ability to navigate successfully. “Lets to see what you can do.” Tray said to the bike. Aware that
his feelings were now leaning to suicidal, he felt that maybe he deserved to die. He cranked on the
throttle and felt the pressure of gravity force melt away as the servos in his armor activated.
          He felt the same stillness come over him. Though he was complete aware this time. There
wasn’t anything pulling him away and he started to accept that he is something else; something that
nobody else is. He could see ever branch and stump. He was aware at first of only what lay ahead.
Giving in more to his nature, he became aware of all that is around him. From the branch that just missed
the side of the bike, to the large dead tree about to fall over six tiers back. Almost at four hundred piers
now, the bike showed no indication of a top speed.
          Cutting at impossible angles through the trees the force of flying by dismembered the weakened
branches. He had almost reached four hundred piers and his armor stiffened up, but was only a little
restrictive. When the speed o meter reached four hundred, an explosion of air erupted behind leveling a
large area of the woods.
          There was no sound, and though the speed caused his to see in tunnel vision, he was still aware
of all that surrounded.
          The forest ended and the ground had changed. There was no ash here. The area was
decimated but an ancient war of mages. Tray was approaching the trench of Arimethea. He was here
last year. They passed through and destroyed the bridges hoping it would slow down the demons of
chaos. It didn’t, and now he had to find a way across. Still feeling about his means of escape, he kept his
speed and aim for the remaining ramp of a destroyed crossing. He knew he could make it; but deep
down wished that he wouldn’t.
          The bike slammed against the ramp and shot up again. Souring through the air, the many
guidance wings along the bottom of the bike spread to their extents to gain as much lift as possible.


4

         The sword in the center of the room is long and made of eight thick, stone blades that are
interlocked together in a star pattern; so that a victim of such a weapon would suffer not only the edge of
each blade, but the bludgeoning impact as well. The hilt is a perfect cylinder and clothed in fine red
material, that is soft to the touch but firm in the hand. At the top of the hilt a white stone sphere is held
captive in four sturdy clasps reaching around from the edge of the fabric. The stone has four symbols
between each clasp etched just below the surface. They are red, blue, green and grey. The sword is
deep into an alter of twisted and hardened flesh. It is darkened from age, but still recognizable for what it
is. It has thick cords of tissue flowing out from the placement of the weapon and molds neatly around four
stones of differing color all aligned with their corresponding symbol on the stone above.
         Flowing downward from the table of the alter there is an indentation in the side and down more is
a place to kneel. Occupying this place is a dark skinned man, wearing a flowing cape attached just below
his collar and his head is deep into the indent.
         Some time goes by that he does not move; and when he does a suctioning sound releases his
head from the indentation. When he steps clear of the alter two small tentacles remain where his eyes
were and blood streams lightly from each tear duct along the sides of his nose and cheeks.
         "I can tell by the way you look at me that you don't like it when I stay in there that long." Daosho
says. He is tall, even for an elf, with dark hair and a square jaw.
         "So Banlos, what condemnation do you have for me today?" Daosho asks. Waiting for a
response and getting none he replies on his own behalf. "Death is an everyday part of life. This world
shouldn't have anyone living on it, it is too sacred a place."
         "I know what your thinking, but it isn't like our world. I was stupid then and wanted authority over
the clans. I wasn't the only one you know. Dashmael that general and that kid, they used the symbiotes
to gain power too. What was that general's name, I can't remember anymore. Oh well; if I hadn't of killed
him quickly Dashmael or that kid would have taken Kayos and where would we be now?"
         "When I got all four stones, I lost control of them; but its different now I have the sword that holds
the governing stone. We won't lose this world like we did Kayos. This world is much larger, we only have
plans for a quarter of it. That should feed the appetite and the rest of it can live in peace. At least for a
time."
         "I know, I know; Jashor had the governing stone and he lost control, thats what you always say.
Do I look like I can't handle it?" Daosho asked as blood dripped down his face.
         He breaths out. "Okay, I'll cut back use on the alter. You never liked it much when the room
added it for a place to keep the stones. I personally liked to hold them myself. They feel good in my
hands and the sword makes me feel powerful." Daosho says, as he caresses the grey stone.
         "I guess I couldn't really hold them all the time anyway."
         Daosho wiped the blood from his eyes, but it just smeared across his face.
         "Your thinking about Dashmael and that kid again aren't you. I think about them too. I know you
wonder why they gave me their two stones after I had defeated the general. Why don't you accept my
explanations?"
         "I'll tell you again. Dashmael saw the purity of the symbiote mission and knew they needed to be
united to fulfill the cleansing. And that kid realized that I had been called as the instrument of the
governing. It would have worked too, except for when the population fled Kayos they took the governing
stone and sword with them. The star spires tried to bring it back, but it was too late. The symbiotes had
already overrun Kayos and it was beyond my ability alone to contol it."
         "I have it now though. And with this new and larger world, we can obtain a new level of cleansing
that the symbiotes haven't reached yet."
         "I know you have your concerns, but don't worry about me, I can control their movements; the
phasing towers gave that too me."
         "The star spires that came for me? You didn't need to bring them up. I tried to keep them alive,
but they wouldn't listen too me. If they would have given me the govern stone immediately all four of
them would still be alive. The fourth one made it back; what was his name? It doesn't matter, the
symbiote's work is delicate and we both new that people would die."
         A moan came from the alter slightly beckoning Daosho to his place.
         "I know I said I'll cut back, and I will; but we lost a major battle today, and a tower near the
mountains fell. I'm needed for planning right now, but as soon as we recover our losses I'll take some
time away from it."
         "I do appreciate you coming to talk to me Banlos. I need to be alone to interface though."
         Daosho waits for Banlos to leave the doorless and windowless room. After a moment of nothing
happening Daosho say, "thank you Banlos, come back tomorrow and we can talk more; it gets a bit lonely
in here."
         Daosho kneels at the alter and the small tentacles seek for his eyes. Suction pulls him in and the
organic lights dim from above.

5

				
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Description: The Four Winds Forehead lifts