Circle of Seven sing safe passage
Divide by two and send in deep sleep
The Blood and Balance shall each save one
Awakening three to rejoice with time’s message
Time will soon come for reunion’s leap
Six will Sing joining three homes and suns
Renloret reread the first verse of the first song of the oldest manuscript he’d found on the shelves. The ancient language sang in his head. He wondered how the true melody would have sounded. It was a curious little song, and he wondered what it meant. All the early songs had meaning.
The sweet high notes of the nine bells crept into Renloret’s consciousness and he looked sharply at the tower visible from the library’s third floor windows. “Blades, I’m late,” he muttered to himself as he slammed the heavy book shut, raising a cloud of dust particles that scattered in the midmorning light. He waved his hand briefly to scatter them further, then shoved the book back onto the shelf, not caring if it was in the correct space. The librarians could figure it out later.
“I can’t afford to be late this time,” he grumbled. “Don’t have time for the lift. Take the stairs.” He hurried to the old stairway and took two stairs at a time all the way to the main floor, vaulting the last four steps and grinning as he thought about how his demeanor clashed with the pilot’s uniform he wore and the manner in which most pilots were perceived. He slowed to a respectable walk, ducked his head away from the stern shushings of the librarians scowling from behind the counter, and slipped out of the library and into the broad expanse of the university’s central plaza. Once away from the building he glanced up at the bell tower, wishing it had not yet tolled the ninth hour, and broke into a run.
His headlong sprint carried him across the plaza’s mosaic carpet of mosses designed to inspire peacefulness as he dodged around startled students. A few tried to slow his pace by shouting, but he continued on, finally disappearing through the crystalline doors of the administrative building that stood in cold juxtaposition to the ancient stone and wood buildings of the original university.
All the newest buildings were constructed with thin sheets of synthetic crystal to remind the citizens that they lived in the great city of Awarna at the foot of the Digoson Mountains, home of the fabled Anyala Stone. To Renloret, the citizens behaved as if they had advanced beyond the ancient, mystic mouthings, ignoring the fables and teachings of the Stones and their Singers. Raised in the Sancharos Peaks on the eastern edge of the continent, he’d been fully educated in those fables and tales. And now, though he had no right to be, he was concerned about the lack of respect for the Stones and the Singers. He disliked the pretentious synthetic structures the government used. He was more comfortable in the stone and mortar buildings of the past, though he would put up with a lot in order to fly between the stars.
Once in the lobby, he paused briefly to straighten his jacket and brush off the remnants of book dust from his sleeves. The lift in the corner opened to spew out its passengers and he nodded a greeting to several of the uniformed officers on their way out.
Once in the lift, he was grateful he would be the only passenger. As the doors slid shut, he said, “Main conference room, twelfth level,” and the lift took off.
He pulled the small personal com-pad from his hip pocket, touched one of the twelve squares on its surface, and spoke. “Personal, date, Mevon 14, ninth bell. I’m late, again. I still can’t figure out why I’m supposed to be at this meeting. Trimag insisted I attend, in uniform, at nine bells. So . . . I’m late. I never should have gone to the library. The Singers will never look to the old books for answers. But as my mother would say, ‘Ren, a pilot cannot cure the world’s ills. He can only escape them. Leave the Stones to the Singers. You have the stars.’ I wish it were that simple.”
The movement slowed and the door slid open. He leaned out, hand on the open pad, and sighed with relief. The hallway was empty.
Large double doors at the end of the hall glowed green. The meeting was already in session. Renloret straightened his jacket again, ran fingers through his hair, and marched rapidly to the doors. They opened without his asking.
“The fifth planet harbors a progressive populace. The two major governmental factions are frequently at odds and wars occasionally occur. However . . .”
All eyes turned from the star map on the screen to Renloret as he entered. The trio of gold-robed figures seated on the left side of the table stared at him in stony silence. Stone Singers.
Blades, what did I do to deserve this? He looked to the speaker. Trimag, High Commander of Planetary Safety and his main supporter, was apparently in charge of the meeting. Renloret groaned inwardly. He assumed he was in trouble—probably big trouble—but he had no idea what he’d done.
“Pilot, take a seat,” Trimag said, pointing to the one empty seat, next to an ebony-skinned man in red scholars’ robes whose eyes measured Renloret before turning back to face the screen.
Renloret nodded and slipped into the assigned place. He glanced at his com-pad. It continued to record. He placed it in front of him on the table, as the others had done with their own devices.
Trimag pointed at the now enlarged image of a small bluish planet with a single ringed moon and continued. “At this time, Teramar’s northern continent appears to be concerned with its own problems and not those of the southern continent or the islands. War is not a consideration if we arrive soon. However, we do need to be cautious. Certain local factions strongly disapprove of the idea of alien life and space travel.” Trimag glanced at the scholar. “This is what got our original research team in trouble and why the commander had to return before the research could be completed. The rest of the team and his family remain on the planet, possibly in hiding, but we are not sure.”
Renloret wanted to ask dozens of questions. With only two sun-cycles of post-academy training, he wondered why he was even here. He cleared his throat for attention but halted as the glare from the Stone Singer directly across the table cut into his concentration. He shivered and wondered why they were present. They should be with the Stones, whispering prayers or at least asking them about this “plague.” In his estimation, they should be in the library, studying the ancient manuscripts. Some of the prophecies of the Stones had already come true. Didn’t they talk or sing with the Stones anymore? Or had the Singers slipped beyond them just as society had, letting other traditions slide into disuse?
The dark-skinned scholar spoke, his voice rumbling across the room, bringing Renloret’s thoughts back to the meeting.
“We must retrieve them as soon as possible. Our entire planet depends on the research gathered there. I’m sure my hypothesis is correct. But I need my brother’s corroboration on the findings.” He hesitated, turning tear-filled eyes to the glaring Stone Singer on the other side of the table. “More importantly, my daughter may be the sole link to finding a cure. She, at least, must be returned. And her mother, please.” He pressed shaking fingers to his temple in ill-hidden grief.
That same Stone Singer stared sullenly at the scholar. Anger and loathing radiated from her. Her fellow Singers whispered urgently, but she continued to stare.
A push began in Renloret’s head, a deep throbbing, almost a sob. It was not only uncomfortable but unfamiliar. He stared back at the Stone Singers. The one with amber eyes and graying hair shifted her gaze from the scholar to him. He dropped his eyes in embarrassment and concentrated on listening, trying to ignore the throbbing at the base of his skull.
“We are readying a rescue crew as we speak, Commander,” Trimag said as he shifted his gaze from the scholar to Renloret.
Renloret missed the look as he reacted to the conflicting titles. Exactly who was this military commander in scholar red? He again considered questions that his rank made impossible to ask.
The angry Stone Singer spoke. “We understand, Commander, more than you know. The Lentine provinces are reporting a rapid increase in the number of women afflicted per moon-cycle. The disease will reach global proportions within a few short years unless we find a cure. Within one generation there will be no more children and no women to bear them. Not even your daughter’s blood will bring us back from possible extinction if the cure takes more than twenty years to bring to market. And we all know how long the research will take once the marketers get involved. Besides, how can you be sure your child is the cure?” Her tone was sarcastic.
“The research has already been done, Singer. Once my daughter is here, the results of our research can be corroborated, but I’m sure she is the key. We will need a number of blood samples to produce enough vaccine within a few moon-cycles of her return to protect every female. Distribution will be the only problem. Marketers will not be involved.”
Two of the Singers acknowledged this with skeptical looks. The angry Singer continued to glare at the commander.
Renloret found his voice, finally, and spoke, unmindful of the consequences. “Sir?”
“Yes, pilot,” Trimag said gruffly.
“I need a bit more explanation.”
Trimag seemed to welcome the interruption. “The Stone Singers informed us of an ancient prophesy warning of a plague that would bring an end to our civilization unless a child with Singer’s blood was brought home and balance was returned to the Stones. Combining this information with what we have from the commander’s research, we must retrieve the team from Teramar.”
Trimag turned to the star map, tapping the planet and its sun at the edge of the triple spiral galaxy. “Commander Chenakainet returned half a moon-cycle ago from this planet. He had to leave behind the rest of the research team, including his wife, child, and brother. What information he was able to bring with him has led us to believe the child is the cure. We don’t know why yet, but it appears that the five-sun-cycles-old child and her blood may be our only hope for a future. Without a cure, we will all be gone in one generation.”
“What about cloning?” Renloret asked.
“That would be a temporary solution, at best, according to studies done here in the past five sun-cycles.” Trimag shrugged his shoulders. “It has something to do with absolute gender genetics. Evidence indicates that all females are hard-coded to develop the disease should they become pregnant through any technique. We need a true cure. The commander’s daughter is our only hope.”
A contemplative silence seemed to endorse Trimag’s statement.
“Then it is settled,” Trimag said. “A rescue team has been assembled. You, Renloret, will be the pilot.”
Stunned, Renloret cleared his throat to speak, but Trimag held up his hand.
“I know what you’re thinking, Ren. However, you and everyone else in this room should know that you are my best pilot.” His eyes pinned the angry Stone Singer and she looked away. “And you have not been told why you were chosen. Commander Chenakainet, will you explain?”
The commander turned to Renloret. “You are the one in my vision. I saw you when I touched the Anyala Stone. I’ve never had a Stone-vision before. The Stone told me to find you. I don’t know why the Stone chose you, but you must accept. I depend on you to reunite my family. Our world depends on you to bring the cure safely home.”
All eyes in the room bore into Renloret, some pleading, some jealous, some awed, most eager to hear his response.
Renloret heard himself speak. “When do we go?” The words just formed themselves. The push in his head began again, not hurting, but calling to him, needing him. He had to see the Anyala Stone. He rubbed his neck and the push ebbed away.
Trimag came to attention. “In two sun-times you will leave with your team. I have informed your superiors. Consider yourself upgraded with honors, pilot. We salute you.”
Suddenly, everyone stood and placed their left hands on their right shoulders. To Renloret’s surprise, even the angry Stone Singer saluted him. Renloret slowly stood and returned the salute, unnerved by the suddenness of events and the heaviness of the group’s expectations.
Renloret nodded his thanks to the Singer’s assistant, watching as she backed away several steps with bowed head, then turned sharply and returned to her desk in the main hall. He studied the intricate carvings on the door and realized he had been delivered to the wrong Singer’s chamber. Instead of Singer Selabec’s office, he found himself at one of the guest offices. He turned to go after the assistant, but was halted by a female voice leaking through the door. Perhaps all the Singers had gathered in one room. Renloret checked the time and chuckled when he saw that he was early because he could not recall being early to anything, as far back as he could remember. He moved to knock on the door but stopped as the tone of the voices changed, then stepped closer to the crack.
“Yes, you should allow this,” said Commander Chenakainet, his deep voice easily identifiable. “The Stone requested him specifically. I spent days locating this pilot because the Anyala Stone told me to. It didn’t ask me to. I was ordered to find him and bring him here. And he has asked to see the Stone.”
The answer from an unrecognized female was harsh. “How can you be sure he is the right pilot?”
“Shouldn’t we allow the Stone to decide?”
This swift reply was met with momentary silence.
“Commoners are not allowed physical contact, by Singer Law, Commander,” the woman retorted.
“Then why was I allowed?” Chenakainet asked softly.
“Because . . . because the Stone requested it,” she replied with defiance.
“Yes,” the commander said, “the Stone requested it. And it told me to find the pilot. It told me he was its hope, that only he could pilot the necessary mission. And as you yourself have researched, he is not a commoner, but directly connected to the Kita Stone.”
“Only through his great-grandmother,” the Singer hissed. “He wouldn’t know how to connect with it. It takes years of training. Besides, he is a male.”
“Am I not? The Stone spoke to me. I needed no training. New circumstances require us to respond in new ways, Singer. Or are you so deeply buried in your beliefs that you are inflexible?”
Silence was her answer. Renloret could hear footsteps crossing the chamber beyond. He pressed his ear to the door, not wanting to miss a word.
“Commander, six sun-cycles ago when you left, you took Selabec’s daughter, S’Hendale.”
He snapped back, “I did not take her. She demanded to leave with us. We didn’t even know her true name until we had reached our destination. We tried to send her back, Diani. She refused, saying the Anyala Stone had told her she would provide the cure if she left Lrakira. S’Hendale had made a blade promise to the Stone. Everyone agreed we couldn’t return her after that.”
The woman, now identified as the Pericha Stone’s Singer Diani, said, “Selabec was so angry when she received the news. As far as the Stones have communicated, Selabec has not been in the presence of the Anyala Stone since. She said that without the blade in her possession, there was no reason to.”
“Selabec has not connected with her Stone in almost six sun-cycles? How do the Stones feel about that?”
“They are not concerned. We are told that all has been planned for and that the Singer position will be filled on the return of your family. Because your daughter is only five, I assume the Stone’s choice will be S’Hendale. For now, the Anyala Stone is content with being without a Singer.”
Renloret held his breath. What were the rules to becoming an heir to one of the Stones? He always thought that the Stones chose from the female side of the families unless there were no direct descendant females. In that rare case, the choice was usually the next closest female, perhaps the wife of a male descendant. At least that was the standard thinking. What about the commander’s daughter? Could she inherit the Stone at such a young age? How old did you have to be? Renloret wished for the musty confines of the library and time to delve deeper into the mystical singings of the Stones. He was positive the answers lay there.
“What use would this audience be?” Diani asked.
“But what harm?” the commander answered.
“I don’t know.” Defeat echoed in Diani’s voice.
“Then let the pilot see the Stone. He needs the Stone, itself, to confirm my vision. We all need that confirmation, and only the Stone can give it to us. We cannot cease to hope. The Stone told me Renloret was its hope. Perhaps we should believe the Stone.”
“Very well, he may have his audience. Is he here or must I send for him?”
“He should be here soon. I sent for him before our meeting.”
“Ah, you are so confident, Commander. Perhaps . . . perhaps this youngster can save us all.”
Footsteps approached the door. Renloret stepped back and jerked his jacket straight as the door swung open. The Singer Renloret recognized as Diani glared at him as he mumbled that he had been just about to knock, but stood back to let him in. He nodded respectfully to the commander and was then led by the two to a small chamber at the end of a twisting hallway. Once inside, Diani and the commander disappeared through a side door. Renloret drank in the ancient feel of the embroidered rugs and hangings and shivered. In the room’s center, a large alabaster pedestal cradled the Anyala Stone.
Never this close to one of the stones, Renloret was uncomfortable. He decided to salute the dull green crystal and whispered a child’s stone prayer.
Stone of crystal, Stone of light
Stone of promise, Stone of sight
See my heart, Hear my prayer
See my soul, Hear my song
Give your answer with loving care
The push returned to the back of his skull, bringing on a greenish undertone to his vision. He glanced from the ornate rugs at the base of the pedestal to the massive stone resting in its cool embrace.
A shimmer crossed the Anyala Stone’s surface. He felt its mind touch his.
Renloret stepped close to touch the stone. It was cool, smooth, hard . . . and yet not hard. The shimmer danced under his hands. He closed his eyes as the Stone hummed a tune into him through his hands. Warmth spread through his body, the tune becoming words.
Pilot. You have come. You must return my blades to Lrakira. She will bring The Blood to save your people and he shall bring balance to our existence once again. You, Renloret, son of Yorsa, grandson of Ramer, great-grandson to Tivi, are the promised pilot. What is done was told eons ago. The beginning has begun and the pilot will return the blades. As we waited for the plague, we waited for The Blood and The Balance. They will save the people and us. S’Hendale has served us well. Return all, Renloret, and all will be well. You are our choice. You are our hope.
The voice faded back to a hum, leaving Renloret cool and calm.
He opened his eyes to see the faint green glow shimmer. He would “return all.” His world would continue. He would succeed.
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