-27

Flashes of my life rushed past my unblinking eye. I saw places I’d been and watched as moments of my life played out. I felt the feelings I’d felt at the time as fresh and painful or joyful as they’d been the first time. I watched, passive, until the end. The feeling of failure filled me. Had I been in time to save my sister? I think the dome had come down, I think Fadreel had passed on, but I wasn’t sure. I felt as if things had not been finalized as one might hope for at the end of one’s days.
The colors of the sunrise washed over me like a gentle spring. The light pinks felt like a gentle touch, the light oranges felt warm and soothing, and the light yellows like joy.
Maybe everyone felt the press of unfinished business at the end.
I moved down the stream of colors to where it pooled and I got in and bathed, scrubbing at all of the crusted spots with green, sparkling sand. I rinsed, dunking my head under, and rose, renewed. Looking around, I found myself in the in-between state I’d been in after the fire in Southallow.
Maybe the unfinished business didn’t matter.
Zat, my fire elemental friend, floated to me and grew to my size. Veins of green shot through its body and sparks shot from its tendrils.
“I’d hoped I’d see you again before the end,” I said, reaching out to caress it.
It purred in response.
I looked around at the emptiness filled with color. “Is this it? Am I to wait here until I am recycled back into the world?”
Zat purred and enveloped me.
I got an impression of vast intelligence, patience, and love from it. I also got the impression that I had a choice to stay or go back.
“If I go back, will you be there?”
It placed a tendril against my heart and I felt peace.
A moment later, or it could have been years, a whirlpool opened up and sucked me in.

Consciousness returned and I sucked in air like a drowning man. I lay on a rolling table, naked and bleeding. Rhaenan hovered over me, her eyes wide in the dim torchlight of the cavern.
“Gestin,” she said and wiped a tear from her eye. She helped me sit up. Vytar nodded at me, his sword held ready.
Yerston – of all people – handed me a skin of water. I made myself sip instead of guzzle.
My mother’s voice said in my ear, “You will always have friends.”
I struggled to sit up. Rhaenan’s soft hands and Yerston’s wrinkled ones helped. He put bandages on me and put a ripped tabard over my head.
I stood, dizzy from loss of energy and blood. Fadreel’s body, or what was left of it, lay at the foot of my cage. It looked as if the elementals had shredded it when they were set free. I shook my head, saddened but not sorry he’d passed.
I started to rush over to my sister’s cage, fell, and ended up being carried over there.
“I have to set her free,” I said, pushing the helping hands away.
“But…” Rhaenan started to say something but Yerston shushed her.
The cage door, although made of plas, had a hinge, so I could open it without having to use my elemental power.
I had failed.
I unhooked my sister’s body and carried it to the table.
“Who was she, my lord?” Yerston asked.
“My sister.”
He looked confused, so I clarified. “My mother’s daughter.”
He made comforting sounds but I ignored him. I touched her pale face and tears slid down my cheeks. Such potential cut off, such innocence smothered.
I gathered my power to infuse her body with life, only to realize I had no power. I tried my elemental sight, and nothing happened. I tried to sense those around me and had to use my physical eyes. I had no more magic.
Stunned, I looked at nothing for a moment.
“My lord,” Vytar said, making me jump. “We should get you upstairs so the people can see that you live.”
I looked around at the lake. No sign of the water elemental or the Dvergr priest remained. The lake, although much lower, did look healthier. Stygand stood up from where he had been resting with Uri. They both looked healthy enough.
“Please bring my sister,” I said to Yerston, who nodded. I followed Vytar up the stairs – for the elementals had all gone and no ancient or new technology that had used them worked. The world had changed again. Would I be thanked for this change or hated?

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-26

I ran into the bedroom, but Kala wasn’t there. I concentrated and tried to return to her bedroom, but nothing happened. Panicked, I ran toward the door of my suite, thinking I could just run down to the lake under the castle and find what? I paused, my hand on the door latch. Find something I imagined or dreamed instead of the reality of our enslavement?
I went back to the mirror in the bathing room and asked it to show me my sister. It took a long moment to focus, but I saw the cages. My sister’s form had slumped.
I rushed back to the library room. Maybe there would be something in the books about ancient technology that could help me. I picked a likely one, but didn’t get a chance to look through it before a flash of light shook my dream reality. Burlap weave appeared where my library had been.
With a curse, I thought of going to the big library. Then I thought of Technician Stygand. He had to know how the dome worked and how to disable it.
Would I be able to reach him? He wasn’t Nord, wasn’t an elder who could interface with the elements via the Dreaming. I had to try though.
I went back to the bathing room and looked in the mirror, concentrating on Stygand.
A brief flash of his face showed me startled eyes.
“Show me Stygand,” I said, pounding the dresser with my fist.
Technician Stygand appeared in the mirror, as I had seen him last.
“My lord?”
“Quick, Stygand, how does one disable the dome?”
“The dome?”
“Please. This is important.”
“Fadreel controls it with his staff. You’d have to ask him.”
“I don’t want to ask him. I’m asking you. Without the staff, how would you disable it?”
He pursed his lips and didn’t answer for a moment. Another flash of light and the edges of the bathing room started to become burlap.
“I suppose you could overcharge the battery and make it explode.”
“How?”
“Increase the voltage?” He shrugged. “Excessive current would flow into the battery – which would cause it to heat and destroy the bonds.”
The bonds were people. I felt certain then that Stygand did not know about how the Nord were being used.
“There’s no way to disable it without destroying the bonds?”
“I don’t know. Truly my lord, I..” He stopped. He turned and his face angry. “What are you doing here? What? Put that down. No, no.” His reflection disappeared.
I banged the dresser just as a flash of light blinded me. As my sight returned, the dresser and mirror faded out – but not before I caught a view of Stygand being dragged into the lake area by a group of Dvergr. They tossed him on the ground in front of the priest. The priest pushed aside his most recent victim and picked up his knife. In the background, the lake had turned into a large, muddy puddle.
“No!” I yelled at the now blank wall.
I spun around. Most of the room had turned into burlap weave. I hadn’t the strength to maintain it. I slumped against the wall and covered my eyes with my palms. So many people were going to die because of my lack of strength. Not just my friends, my sister, and myself, but all of the people of Crown City caught up in a war they had no real knowledge of. The Dvergr were sucking the last of the water out of the city. The man who’d lost his arm because he’d tried to express his frustration to me – now he’d die from lack of water.
My belt pouch became hot, distracting me. Rhaenan was correct – this is no time to be selfish. Better the death of the one than the death of the many. I put my hand in the pouch, feeling a bunch of sand and one, small shard. I pictured Fadreel as I’d first seen him in the courtyard at my arrival in Crown City. I pictured myself without chains.
“Take me to Fadreel.”

“Angestirian. I had you subdued.” He frowned.
“Never,” I said and lunged for his staff, calling on the wind as my uncle The Owl had taught me, making me quick and powerful. Fadreel, his stolen life force burning strong, proved just as fast and powerful. We struggled over the staff, spinning, striking, pulling, holding. I managed to get the staff and spun behind him, putting the shaft against his throat and cutting of his breath.
“Turn off the dome.”
“Never,” he said with a grunt, and tossed my over his head, taking the staff from me.
He hit me in the head as I ducked and fell on me, strangling me with his hands.
I changed the scene of my dream, putting myself high on a castle wall. Fadreel followed me, the staff in his hand glowing. I changed to the stable with the intent of setting the horcines on him. Fadreel followed. I changed to the bar, thinking that I could at least throw bottles at him – and maybe break the staff with a lucky shot.
My mother appeared, briefly, as she was in Oakvale.
“Free them,” she whispered. Fadreel stuck his staff through her chest and laughed.
“Go ahead and use your power, Nord, The more you use, the more you die.” The purple and pink orb on the end of the staff pulsed with my heartbeat.
I took his suggestion. Grinding the last of the shard into dust, I put the sand into my mouth and gathered all of my bolstered power. I used my elemental sight and spotted a small elemental within the head of the shaft, below the orb.
“Be free,” I commanded.
The small elemental burst free, causing the orb to shatter. My mind shattered with it, like a broken mirror. Everything went white, then black, then alternating pink and purple. Power flowed through me, over me, drowning me. I saw a flash of Fadreel’s soul shards breaking, then a flash of the underground lake. The crockagatorcine and its water elemental erupted from the lake and dragged the Dvergr priest down into the mud. The sound of cracking filled the air – like the ice on a frozen lake breaking. The dome fell and let in a wind that scattered my mind/dream/memories to the elements.

-25

I sat and watched the scene of my enslavement reflected in my sister’s mirror in the bedroom of her memory. Something seemed to be happening out of view, for a sentinel rushed in and Fadreel turned. From his body language, whatever the sentinel told him did not please him. He gestured to the Dvergr priest. The Dvergr nodded and moved to adjust a lever. Fadreel left with the sentinel.
A pulse of lightning came down through the wires and into both cages. Bright light blinded me and Kala screamed. When I blinked, the room looked smaller and pieces of it had disappeared. A strange cross-hatching, like the weave of burlap, bordered the room. I couldn’t tell if it was actually there or if it was a product of being blinded so many times.
“Make him stop,” Kala said, crying again.
I went to her side and tried to comfort her. A flash of her true visage – emaciated and colorless – covered her face.
Another flash of lightning and the world of the room grew smaller. The stuffed horse and the canopy curtains were gone, leaving more burlap weave in their place.
Think, I told myself. I had to save my sister and get out of this situation. How could I effect the outside world from inside of the machine?
I went back to the mirror. Maybe if I saw myself, I could make myself move and remove the gag from my mouth? My hands did not appear to be tied any more. I just stood there, in the cage, connected. I noticed then that I had connections on each finger and toe.
“How have you survived, Kala?”
When she didn’t answer, I rushed back to the bed. Her body flickered between her healthy self – a memory I guessed – and her true form. I looked down at myself and noted that I wore my favorite tunic that had the rip on the sleeve where I’d caught it on the edge of the bar. My hair was long and pulled back in my customary queue – not short and bluish as I knew it to be.
The room grew smaller.
Would I cease to exist if the room disappeared? How had I been in the room anyway? She didn’t know me from a stone in the creek. How could I be in her memory?
I watched helplessly as she started to fade.
Maybe it wasn’t a memory. Maybe it was dream? Elder Ponmay said this was the Dreaming. Maybe I could dream us to freedom?
I experimented by envisioning the room as my own suite of rooms in the castle. I felt a certain resistance, like thinking through a slight hangover, but my rooms appeared. Kala did not.
Cursing, I changed the room back to the way it was. Kala remained on the bed. She seemed unconscious. I feared that she’d gone on to the elements and had a moment of selfish panic about being left alone in this dream/memory world until I too lost all energy and died. I grasped her thin hands and concentrated again, drawing out the image of my bedroom as carefully as I could.
The room appeared again and this time, Kala lay on the bed.
“Stay and heal,” I told her. My voice echoed as if I’d used the power voice instead of my normal voice. Well, why not? It was my dream after all.
“Heal,” I said, throwing my power behind it.
She woke up, blinked, and then got up, looking refreshed and happy.
Did I trust that her physical body was healed? Could I tell her “Disconnect yourself,” and she would?
“Thanks,” she said. She looked around. “Where are we?”
“My rooms at the palace. How did you make the mirror show you your body?”
She shrugged. “I just looked.”
I went into the bathing chamber and looked into the mirror. It reflected me as I was before having my clothing cut off.
“Show me…” I stopped and reached into my belt pouch. My fingers found shards and the shards responded to my touch by warming. Maybe I could effect the physical. I smiled at my reflection.
“Show me my physical body.”
The mirror shimmered and showed us the lake and our cages. The Dvergr priest had set up some sort of alter on the floor in front of the cages and was on his knees next to a bloody body. He appeared to be chanting, but I couldn’t hear him.
“I want to hear it. Give me sound,” I commanded.
Nothing happened.
“You really don’t want to hear,” Kala said, shaking her head. “Too many screams.”
I nodded.
“Show me the battle.”

The battle did not appear to be going well. The loyalists had lost several people and the sentinels and guards had them cornered against the purple/pink dome. The Adnorians of the loyalist group looked grim, but the Nord of the group looked sick and weak. I did not see Vytar, the twins, or The Owl. I did, however, spot Uri.
For all that he was no older than my sister, he seemed very proficient at killing. My sister hissed and grabbed my shoulder just as he dodged a blow to the head and dispatched his opponent with a spinning cut that took off half of the man’s leg.
My sister gagged and said, “Can we look at something else?”
I asked the mirror to show me Vytar.
The mirror became unfocused for a moment and then cleared, showing me the Captain and The Owl – whom I knew he hated – fighting side by side, protecting someone on the ground. It may have been either of the twins.
“Who’s on the ground?”
The mirror clouded. My room brightened and a small hint of burlap cross hatching appeared on the edge of the mirror.
Kala let out a small eek of surprise and I had a momentary flash of dizziness.
The mirror cleared, showing a familiar and beloved face.
“Gestin, my lord. I found you. I don’t have much time. The dome must come down in order for our forces to enter.”
I was about to ask how when Kala stepped in front of me.
“No, you mustn’t. We’re tied to the dome. If you break it, we’ll die.” She turned to me, her eyes tearing up.
“I don’t want to die.”
“Neither do I.” I looked back at Rhaenan, who shook her head.
“Lots of people – people who believe in you – are dying out here. More importantly, the land is dying due to the Dvergr’s thirst for power. My lord, the dome must –”
The conversation was cut short by a blast of white light. When I got my sight back, the mirror showed a normal reflection. Kala, however, had disappeared.

-24

When my eyesight returned I found myself in a field of long grass, moving to a breeze that I didn’t feel on my skin. There were oak trees in the distance and above me clouds gathered and became dark. I could smell that peculiar scent that hints at a storm coming.
A figured flowed toward me, like a wisp. It turned into my mother.
“I’m glad to see you,” I said.
She smiled and nodded. I could see the trees through her torso.
“I’m sorry. I fear I treated you…”
She held up a finger to my mouth and shook her head. A flash of lightning and the almost immediate crack of thunder made my eyesight go again. In the blind after glow, I heard, “He’s not integrating. Try adjusting the voltage.”
When my eyesight returned, I stood in a strange room that had windows on all of the walls and some of the floor. An orange piece of furniture, stuffed and bench-like with arms, faced the windows. A woman sat on the couch, her back to me. She had long flowing white hair. The room appeared to be high in the sky, and through the windows I could see other tall buildings, lit up with many colors. The occasional odd vehicle passed, flying in the air.
“Mother?”
She stood and turned to me. She wore tight fitting trousers of a blue-gray color and a tight dark tunic that had words on it; “Up the Irons,” whatever that meant.
“Free them,” she said, and gestured toward the window.
“Free who?”
She shook her head and a flash of lightning blinded me once more.
“Ah, he’s connecting now. Good.”
Once again my eyesight returned. This time I could see the greasy lake, the gibbet cages, Fadreel and the Dvergr priest adjusting levers. I seemed to be looking down at them from a height. I could see their mouths moving, but couldn’t hear what they said.
“Gestin, is that you?” A familiar voice said.
The scene changed. I sat in a city garden with a flowing fountain. The sound of the water hitting the pool relaxed me. Elder Ponmay sat next to me and patted my hand.
“Oh, it is good to see you.”
“Where are we?”
“The Dreaming.”
“What’s…?” I started to ask, but she interrupted me.
“Look in the pool. The elements want to talk to you.”
I stood and went to the edge of the fountain. I could see the bottom. It wasn’t very deep.
“Look more closely, Gestin.”
I looked and could make out movement, like the swirl of fish. It resolved itself to be the scene of battle, as seen from above, at what looked like a toy city wall and a pile of sand. I leaned in, almost touching the water. I could see sentinels and castle guards fighting with charcoal gray clad loyalists and others dressed in the bright colors of Crown City. I spotted Captain Vytar blocking a blow to his head and Rhaenan – no it was Draenan – stepping in under his arm and slicing his opponent’s stomach open. Draenan looked up, her eyes meeting mine, and she pointed to the left. I looked left and up, and spotted Rhaenan sitting on the bird horse, who flapped out of reach of a volley of arrows.
“We can’t get through the dome.”
I noticed the pink-purple dome and was sucked into it.
Pain shot across my body and although I screamed, I could not hear it.
Blind, deaf, and shackled to a machine. I had no idea that actual dying – compared to the other times I’d gone to the elements – took so long.
After a moment, I did hear crying.
The blindness receded and I found myself in a child’s bedroom. A ragged stuffed horse sat on a small table next to a canopied bed that had the curtains drawn. The sound of crying came from within the curtains.
“Hello?” I opened the curtains and was surprised find a girl about 12, sniffling and hiding behind her long blond-white hair. I had expected to see Rand, seeing as I was dying and visiting people I knew.
The girl wiped her nose and peeked at me through a strand in a movement that reminded me of Jeslynn.
“I’m Gestin. Who are you?”
“‘Kala. What are you doing here?”
I’m attached to a machine sucking my soul out and dreaming, I thought.
“Oh, me too. Uncle Fadreel must not like you much either.”
“You’re the body in the cage next to mine?”
She sniffed again and got up, walking to a dressing table. She pointed in the mirror. I could see our cages and the lake. Fadreel stood observing us.
She stuck her tongue out at him.
“How is he your uncle?”
“He’s not. That’s just what he called himself when he came to take me away. At first I thought I was apart of the missing royal family because my mother had been queen, but now I think he was just lying to me. He’s a liar.” She made a rude gesture at the mirror and went back to the bed.
“He’s not really my uncle either. Wait, your mother was queen?”
She nodded.
“So I’ve been told. That might have been a lie too.”
“Who was your father?”
“I don’t know. Aunt Byvora wouldn’t tell me.”
Byvora, Byvora. Where…The letter.
“I think,” I said, sitting on the edge of the bed, “that you’re my half-sister.”
She shrugged.
“How long have you been here? Where is here, by the way?”
“This is a memory, I think, of my room at Aunt Byvora’s house. See, you can make it anything you want.”
The room changed to a stable with stalls filled with horses, who put their long, graceful necks over the stall doors and whickered at us. She produced an apple out of the air and fed it to the closest one. After a moment she sighed and the scene changed back to her bedroom.
“He took away my horse.”
Anger, the first concrete emotion I felt in this dream world, shook me. “He took mine too. But I’m going to get it back.”
“How?”
Good question. I sat at the mirror and watched the cages that held my sister and I.

-23

A vision of my skin being flayed off and my bones being replaced by gears made me struggle against my bonds. I could feel the black glass of the Dvergr. Fadreel felt like the slimy bottom of a fetid pool. I felt no others nearby and wished for Zat or Vytar or even The Owl. I couldn’t loosen my bonds and my fused teeth blocked my voice.
He pushed me back on to my back. Something clicked, he moved the table from the room and down the hallway. The Dvergr followed us, chanting. We went into a lifter and it sank. Sweat pulled along my back and dripped from my hair into my eyes. I would rather be ashes blown into the wind than turned into a machine-man.
Fadreel opened the lifter doors and pushed me out into a short hallway. I could smell water and minerals. I felt other persons. One I recognized as Stygand. Another one felt familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out who she could be. Not Rhaenan, thankfully.
We entered a large cavern with a lake. The lighting, dim and flickering, reminded me of the swirling dome over the city. The flickering came from a column of wires. It connected at the bottom to a gibbet-type cage made of plas. Another cage stood open and receptive next to it.
Fadreel stopped the table and pulled out his thin knife again.
“Hold still,” he said, not looking at my face. “This won’t take but a moment.” He sliced my clothing off. My belt pouch he peered in.
“Why do you have sand in your pouch?”
Sand?
He poured some sand out and tossed it at me. The rest he dumped into the lake, along with my pouch. The lake waters churned for a moment and then stilled. A greasy film settled on the lake. I figured this was the water source for the entire city and I wondered that more people had not fallen ill. The sand settled into the crevices of my skin, itching and then burning. I felt sorry to see the last of my mother’s magic go. It had served me well. I wished she were there – at my end – so that I could apologize and gain her forgiveness.
Fadreel showed me a long metal wire ending with a clip with retracting teeth.
“This goes on your nads, so don’t expect to sire any children, my lord.” He laughed.
The bite of the clip caused me to scream through my teeth and trash about.
“I did say to hold still.” He placed cloth with physicker’s assistant over my mouth just long enough for my body to stop resisting, but not long enough to knock me unconscious. I wish it had. I guess his mechanical parts made him stronger, for he flipped me onto my stomach without straining.
“Generally we start with the brain, but I’d like you to be as aware as possible during this process, so we’ll start with your sacrum.”
Another bite at the base of my spine, followed by more, moving upward toward my neck. I realized then that I would not be turned into a machine, I would be apart of a larger machine, providing power from my life force. I would be drained to death and the tossed on a pile to be incinerated. I wondered how long it would be before Captain Vytar looked for me – or Rhaenan – and how Fadreel would explain my absence.
As if reading my mind, Fadreel said, “Your Captain Vytar has been arrested, by this point, as a traitor. You’ve been kidnapped by Vytar – assisted of course by your lovely Nord mistress – and in a day or two, reported killed. I will, of course, be very upset.” He gave a practice sniff and laughed. “I plan to attach your mistress next to you. She made such a fetching boy. Maybe I’ll let her dress as one when I use her. I cannot tell you how much more stamina I have now that I’m mechanical in that area.” He tugged on the wire attached to my nads and I screamed again.
Laughing he left me for a moment to confirm with the Dvergr priest.
Oh Rhaenan.
The chanting grew louder. Fadreel stood me up and moved me over to the edge of the cage.
“Now watch closely,” he said in a cheerful voice.
He put a spike through the base of my skull and my world exploded.

-22

My blackout only seemed but a moment, but when I opened my eyes, I lay on a table with my hands tied out away from my body. Grand Councilor Fadreel’s face appeared above mine. I started to speak but he shook his head, reaching for my face. I tried to turn away but strong fingers pried my mouth open and spoon of something hot and nasty smelling was shoved in. He forced me to bite down on the spoon and the substance oozed around my teeth, sealing them shut. If he hadn’t titled the table upright, the foulness would have gone down my throat.
I stopped screaming.
I was in a workshop. Fadreel stood back, hands on his hips. I still had my elemental sight active and what I saw shocked me. He had two soul sparks. One dimly lit with barely a glitter in his chest, the other, red and encased like a horcine’s, set on his right side, glowing brightly. His right leg, from the glow downward, had a gray tinge. Behind him, a Dvergr stood, grinning. He was the same one who had cut the heart out of the man in Southallow, the same one who had captured Zat. He’d been at Fadreel’s side the entire time I’d been in Crown City. I’d just never noticed him.
“Angestirian, you disappoint me. I had such hopes, didn’t I, Mwaagralt?” The Dvergr priest nodded.
“But you just had to interfere, didn’t you? Like mother like son, I guess. When you said you preferred mules to horcines, I forgave that because you were ignorant. When Sentinel Ernol reported that you’d destroyed all of the horcines, I…Well, that made me angry, but I think he provoked you by stealing your lovely horse. I’ve informed him of his error. But…” He walked closer, a thin blade in his hand. He ran it down my arm, cutting me. I didn’t feel the cut until after the blood dripped. The Dvergr priest said something and Fadreel pulled the knife away.
“You just had to tell Technician Stygand to stop his projects because the elementals ‘were being hurt.'”
I tried to avoid the bloody blade as he shook it in my face.
“You’re weak and a disgrace to the Crown of Adnor.”
Blood spattered my face and I blinked.
Fadreel stood back and cleared his throat. “Of course, Stygand is being punished for his error.”
I shuddered at what that punishment might be.
“I wanted you to be a part of the technological advancements of Adnor. I wanted you to defend your country and uphold what is right and pure.” He glanced at the Dvergr, who nodded. “And so you shall.”

-21

Stygand took me to a tavern in the west of Crown City in an area that could be considered lower class. No one seemed to recognize us or had any interest in bothering us. The waitress came to our table, took our order for the house special beer (very dark with an aftertaste of cherry), and left us alone.
After taking a long sip of beer, Stygand wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said, “I feel the best I’ve felt in a long time. If you could do that to me, imagine what could be done for others.” He gestured around the dimly lit room at the drunk coughing or the doorman’s black eye.
I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d – or Fadreel more likely – find a way to harness that healing power for evil. The technician seemed genuinely upset about hurting the elemental. What was the difference between evil and ignorance?
I agreed and added, “Just to be clear, I am not in favor of torturing any creature – elemental or Nord.”
“Storm God’s Nads, man. I mean, my lord. I’m not either. But not using the elementals causes a problem for me, for everyone, but for me in particular. It’s my job to develop and maintain these ancient systems. When the Flowstoners brought this source of energy to our attention, it was like a gift from the elements.”
“Ha! Literally.”
He gave me a chagrined look and studied the foam in his beer.
“I like my job. Making ancient technology work and inventing new technology based upon that – it’s amazing and I’m blessed to be a part of the process.” He looked up at me, “Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes. I have a sincere interest in the ancients and their lives, including their technology.”
“Don’t you think that having reliable lights and lifters and advances in healing are worth it?”
I looked around the dim room and noted that the lighting came from the open door and a scattering of small candles. I thought of young elemental I’d freed.
“Worth torturing elementals? No. If we torture them, they get mad at us. Perhaps this drought is in response to that.” Although I knew it had to do with the Dvergr.
“Drought – oh yes, outside of the city.” He spoke as one of the elite of the city.
“Crown City is not the only thing in Adnor.”
He shrugged.
“If the country is not able to produce food, Crown City will starve along with its rustic neighbors.”
“Oh I know. It’s just not talked about here. People here are…”
“Near sighted,” I suggested.
“Yes.”
I thought of the poor mule seller who’d lost his arm and his expectation that all of it had to do with me, the Prince.
“Well, I can’t be. If I’m to be responsible for Adnor, I have to be responsible for the whole thing – not just Crown City.”
He nodded and finished his beer. The waitress brought us another round.
Stygand sighed. “What am I going to do?”
“Don’t make anything new, for the time being. The ancients used a different power source – we’ll just have to find it.”
“Yes, my lord.”

We left at the lunch rush and made our way, on foot, back up to the castle. We turned a corner and I spotted Captain Vytar and a familiar looking “lad” stepping into the inn where I’d been attacked recently. I felt for her and confirmed Rhaenan’s identity. What were they doing? Technician Stygand didn’t see them, so I didn’t interrupt their mystery errand. I thought Vytar disliked Rhaenan. Very odd.

We arrived back at the castle and Technician Stygand said he had somethings to look to. I offered to bust more elemental cages, but he declined saying it would be better for me to not be involved. He set off for his tower and I turned to the kitchen to get a quick lunch and some apples from Rand.

Rand wasn’t in his stall. He wasn’t in the paddock. He seemed to be missing all together. The stable man, a burly fellow with a missing front tooth, denied ever seeing my horse.
“What horse, my lord? We’ve only horcines here.”
I felt for my horse, but could only feel the man’s rainbow spark – touched with gray spots as Technician Stygand’s had been – and the solid red spark of the horcines.
Sentinel Ernol, stern and officious, came over to ask if there was something he could help with.
I, having not yet eaten and having a beer or two, lost my temper.
“I have a horse and he’d best not be turned into one of these monsters.”
Ernol smirked. The stable man picked up his rake and held it like a club.
“Ah Nordie, you lost your little horsie?” The sentinel said. “Maybe you shouldn’t have burned my friend.”
I made a rude gesture and turned to the horcines. Touching my pouch, I yelled, “Be free.”
The resistance of the case around the soul sparks made me clutch my pouch more, calling upon the green energy to help me. When it did, a beam of energy shot out of my hand and leapt from one construct to the next. Encased soul shards shattered. Some horcines, the older ones, fell dead. Others started to break their stalls down.
A blow across the back of my head made my world spin.

-20

I still had my elemental sight active, so I couldn’t help but see that parts of Technician Stygand no longer glowed with the spark of life. They’d turned grey, like cooling grease on water. His finger tips, most of his chest, the tip of his nose.
We arrived in the foyer again and he lead me upstairs to the next level. The chamber had no windows and was open to the breezes. I could see out three of the five sides and look down upon the castle and the city. The pink-purple anti-Nord dome shimmered and spun. I should have been able to see the green ribbon of the Lybar river – but of course that river hardly flowed now.
“I set up a demonstration of how the lighting system works to illustrate how most of our recovered technology is powered.” He gestured to a table near one window. A thin wire connected an unlit lantern to a plas cage containing a young fire elemental. It hissed its distress when it saw me.
Technician Stygand said, “Watch,” and pointed to the lantern. He flipped a lever on a small box and the elemental screamed. A light appeared in the lantern.
“Stop, please. You’re hurting it.”
“Hurting what? The elemental? It has no feelings. It is just, well, an it.”
“Of course it does. Can’t you hear it screaming?”
He shook his head.
I debated for a moment about giving him access to elemental sight. Would that allow him to hear the poor creature’s screams. And if he heard them, what would he do?
“May I grant you what I hear and see?”
His eyes widened and he pressed his lips together.
“Okay.” He said after a moment.
I touched his forehead with my hand and said “See and hear.” I felt the shards in my pouch grow warm and that warmth spread up through my core and out my fingers into his head.
“Whoa,” he said, staggering back. The green flickered through his body, chasing away the grayness in his chest, fingers, and nose.
“I feel amazing. Wow.” He grinned like a boy given candy. “Can all Nord do that?”
I shrugged. “I’m not all Nord.”
The elemental whined.
“Of course, my lord.” He turned, enthusiasm damped, to the elemental. It whined again. He studied it.
I flipped the lever and the elemental hissed.
“Be free,” I told it, and the plas cage broke. The elemental huddled back, afraid of the technician.
“Here, little one.” I held out my hand and coxed it to come out. It purred when I stroked it, shooting sparks.
Technician Stygand’s mouth worked for a moment and he finally said, “Nads.”
He tentatively held out a hand to stroke the elemental. It hissed but allowed him to touch it.
“Fire. I’m touching fire. How does that work?”
“It’s letting you touch it.”
I took the elemental to the window. It puffed up and floated away, going invisible. I sighed, missing Zat.
Technician Stygand stared at the now empty cage for a long moment.
“My lord, I have much to ask you. Would you join me for a beer?”
I smiled, “Technician Stygand, I knew I liked you for some reason.”

author intrusion

It seems like the story has bogged down and isn’t very interesting. I mean, I still enjoy writing it, but it’s not getting where I want it to fast enough. I fully admit that I suck at writing climactic scenes. I know what’s going to happen in this story, but I’m not sure how to get there. The Story Grid gurus would say that I should probably look back at the macro instead of concentrating on the micro. They’re probably right. Also, Steven Pressfield mentioned that if one is stuck, one should answer several questions. The second (I think) of those questions was about theme. Well, since my theme seems to waiver, that’s gonna be tough. Characters embodying theme. That takes actual brain power as opposed to back-brain-tell-the-story power, which is what this story is run on.
Yep, I’m whining. Sorry.
Perhaps I need a change of attitude? “First draft” is an okay term, implying the first of many and that’s true. “Zero draft” means notes to me and that’s not very cohesive. I think people use that term to imply that the first draft should be more structured and stuff. So, I have not written a zero draft, since I have limited notes. “Vomit draft” is kind of a revolting term. I agree with the “get it all out” but I personally don’t like that natural function and go out of my way to avoid having to do it. So, let’s call this story the “Discovery” draft. Not only am I discovering my characters and their stories, I am also discovering/rediscovering the story process.
So, what genre do you think this one is? Fantasy – yes, it’s got magic. Dystopian? Well, the world had a more advanced civilization once, so maybe – but not according to this:

Dystopia: A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control.

So, not that. Horror? Yes, it has some horror aspects. Romance? Yes, there’s a romance but it’s not fleshed out and not the center of the story.
It only matters in that I hit some of the conventions, so that the final reader is satisfied. And then there’s marketing, but I am way too early in the process to think about that.

Okay, keep writing. Get it all out. Discover the bleep out this story. Do it.

-19

The next morning I found a pile of clothing on the chair by the fireplace. Tunics made from wool with under tunics made from linen, wool trousers, leather gloves and a vest. All had an outdated version of the royal emblem on them and smelled somewhat musty. But they fit and they had no plas in them.
I put some on and went to see if Rhaenan was in her room. She was, sleeping. She awoke at my soft movement, a knife in her hand.
I thanked her for the clothing.
“Keep the shards with you. I’m going to borrow the map, if I may, and do some research.” She yawned, “In a little bit.”
“Of course. Be careful.”
“You as well, my lord.”
“Gestin. Please call me Gestin.”
“As you wish.” She drifted off to sleep again.
I gathered the shards and put them into my belt pouch and left the map near her sleeping head. I didn’t stay to watch her sleep, although I wanted to.
Yerston brought me breakfast and a summons from the Grand Councilor. He looked me over and shook his head at my fashion choice.

“Angestirian, my boy, how are you today? I heard you had a run in with the locals.” Grand Councilor Fadreel rose and waved me to a seat across from his desk. His office had many bookshelves full of both books and items of interest. The staff I’d seen him using leaned against the wall, its purple/pink orb swirling.
I pulled my attention from it and nodded.
“It’s a good thing Captain Vytar was with you. He’s such a loyal fellow. And you met and conversed with Technician Stygand. Good good.”
I realized I wasn’t going to be required to comment, so I continued to nod.
He held up a piece of paper.
“You may want to consider what you say to the heralds. They report it and pass it all around the city. Do you really prefer mules to horcines?”
His left eye twitched.
“I’m more familiar with mules, certainly,” I temporized. “The man who attacked me had been upset at the price offered for his stock from some ‘preferred’ merchant. Are there ‘preferred’ merchants?”
He waved that concern away. “Not really. All merchants are welcome in Crown City. To restrict trade would be bad for our economy.”
I returned his smile.
“I hear your pretty little Nord lady is feeling better.”
“Yes, she is. Thank you.”
“Good.”
We smiled at each other for a moment too long.
He sat back. “So, I hear you are going on a tour of the Technician’s area today with Stygand.”
“He said he would show me its wonders.”
“I so wanted to show you myself, but I am pleased that you enjoy his company. I’ve tasked him to impress upon you the importance of this revitalized technology to the future of Adnor. We are a country without much mystical power. Should your mother’s people decide to attack us, what would we do? The populace fears the Nords’ powers of mind control. Having technology will allow us to strike back should that attack occur.”
“Grand Councilor,” I asked after a moment, “Has Adnor been so threatened?”
“Not in so many words. But the incursion of Nords in our lands has increased. One of the most evil of their assassins has been seen recently. I have no doubt that we all are in danger.”
I could guess which evil assassin he spoke of and had to agree that someone was in danger.
A knock at the door allowed me the option of not continuing the conversation. A page announced Technician Stygand.
The Grand Councilor rose and limped a little as he walked me to the door and bid us good day.

Stygand looked me up and down, similar to what Yerston did, and said “You look very dignified in that old fashion. I bet you bring it back into style.”
I laughed. Tunics and trousers had never gone out of style outside of Crown City.
He lead me to a tower near the library.
“Speaking of style, you mentioned tin hats. I assume you meant the metallic liripipe hoods I’ve seen people wear. What brought that fashion on?”
He laughed. “They think the metal keeps the Nord from reading and controlling their minds.”
Surprised, I almost said “Nord don’t do that, but then thought about it. Nord could influence people, which I supposed could be considered mind control. Metal hats, however, would not prevent that. “What a strange belief.”
He nodded and opened a door that had a metal gate and a lever on the far wall. We stepped in and he closed the gate and pushed the lever down. The sinking sensation and the hum did not startle me, although I think he expected me to jump.
“What do you call this contraption?”
“A lifter. The ancients had them in their tall buildings. It saves a lot of time and sore legs from climbing all those steps.”
“I can imagine. What drives it?”
“An engine and a system of pulleys.”
I almost asked what powered the engine, but I felt that I knew.
“Besides,” he said, “the dome protects us from the Nord, among other things.”
“Dome?”
“Surrounding the city. Grand Councilor Fadreel developed it. He is a quite a technician himself.”
“I had wondered about its purpose.”
Our downward progress stopped with a thump and he opened the gate and the next door.
“This is where we make elemental containment systems from the refined plas that the Flowstoners provide us.”
“What do the Flowstoners get in return?”
He snorted and pushed the hair from his eyes. “Money, certainly, but more importantly technology. For example, their land is arid. With the containment systems we make, they are able to transport water, which allows them to grow larger crops.”
They eat crops? I almost laughed at myself aloud. Of course Dvergr were like the rest of the peoples of the world and ate crops. I guess I assumed they ate rock or something. The stories I’d been told as a child, not necessarily from my mother, although she’d been present, implied that Dvergr were all around evil.
The well-lit and hot basement smelled of burning plas and made me cough. Technician Stygand handed me a familiar masque with silver disks, which I immediately put over my face. He lead me to a forge, where a Dvergr stoked the fire with wood chips. A large tank with a ladder attached to its side was connected to the chimney of the forge. The chimney funneled out through the ceiling. The Dvergr grabbed a shovel full of black rocks, scampered up the ladder, and dumped them into the tank. On the other side of the tank, a dark gray substance oozed from a faucet into a mold. Once the mold was filled, a Dvergr took it to a table where it solidified. The mould solidified and was connected to others and a cage emerged. I recognized it as the same type of cage that Zat had been captured in back in Southallow. I missed Zat.
Thinking of Zat made me use my elemental sight. I felt a moment of relief that it worked, followed by disgust. The forge had a fire elemental in it, and elemental sparks caused the lights to work. I controlled the urge to set them free.
Technician Stygand touched my sleeve and directed me back to the lifter.
Once inside, we removed our masques he asked, “What do you think, my lord?”
“And the black stone is plas?”
“No, the forge turns the black stone into plas.”
“The grey stuff?”
He nodded.
“And you can weave that in with wool?”
“Yes, exactly.”
I wondered if he knew that the plas acted as a block to elemental magic.