And there was Lance Rey, plopped down right in front of me where I’d been waiting for him on the steppe near to Extorlia’s castle. I had to admire his courage. Even with a crushed hand, as well as another crushed thumb, he showed no fear and suppressed the pain.

He rose to his feet with some effort. His immaculate clothes were torn and covered with dust, smudges on his face. Yet he still looked cool and unperturbed.

“You are alone,” I said.

He shrugged. “It would seem so.”

“Even your wife and child you abandoned.”

A slight frown creased his forehead, a tightening of the jaw. “I’ve done my best to protect them.”

I looked past him down the hill and he followed my gaze. Soldiers were approaching on horseback.

“They will take to you to the council and a decision will be made,” I said.

As the soldiers arrived, the others burst through the Paradora, as I knew they would.

The unfortunate unraveling of the freedom fighters’ plans was something they never expected. Not only had all copies of the tapes exposing the corruption of Dark Films been mysteriously destroyed, but all the information Farida had amassed on human trafficking, drugs and weapons deals, along with proof of ties to legitimate companies and government officials, all of which she had sent to the major news outlets, had disappeared as well.

The Dark Films segment was the first of many such damning revelations Farida had set in motion to be aired on television stations across the United States. Yet, those few moments of darkness and static had not only occurred in Le Relais Basque, but around the entire country. For a period of three minutes, every media outlet had gone blank. Once programing resumed, it was all about the fire at Hollywood’s most famous theater and the success of the Moon Wars premiere. According to the reset, the premiere had taken place to resounding success and the fire had happened afterwards.

By the next morning, the public didn’t remember anything about the glitch with its horrifying information. Instead, they were happily overwhelmed with salacious gossip about the stars and the success of the film. As if that wasn’t enough to keep their minds busy, the fire was front and center, featured in every major news outlet. Discussed ad nauseam by pundits everywhere. It was blamed on Islamic terrorists. It was blamed on right-wing extremists. Over the course of the next month, protestors against racism and racial profiling took to the streets and riots ensued. Focus narrowed onto right-wing extremists. The names of suspects were bandied about, but no one was ever put on trial or convicted, although lives were ruined in the court of public opinion. Eventually, it all died down and life went on.

A small band of stubborn renegades, mostly consisting of fans who had been in the theater, tenaciously refused to retract belief that what they had seen with their own eyes was, indeed, true. They were joined by an ever widening conglomeration of people who remembered what they had seen on TV about Dark Films and insisted it had happened. All were met with derision. Most retreated into silence. Those who kept on talking lost jobs, family, and friends. The diehards started connecting with one another. Wild exaggerations, none based on facts, grew out of what they had seen, stories of aliens and government plots. They were forced underground, forming fringe organizations, further proving to the general population that they were all conspiracy theorists, cultists and just plain idiots. What had at first been labeled as a small group of mentally disturbed individuals morphed into an international terrorist organization, intent on destroying America and the rest of the “Free World.”

This wasn’t true, of course. The vast majority of those involved were just ordinary people, in fact, people who were above ordinary since they refused to deny the truth of what they had seen. The irony is that the very animosity of the press and general public, and in many cases acts of violence, towards these ordinary citizens, forced a small group of them further toward the very thing they had been falsely accused of: terrorists who wanted revenge. And then, naturally, the press played it up as if a massive army was building, creating even more misunderstanding, division, and outright hatred. All of this played out over the course of the next few years.

Within an hour of the theater being set ablaze, a special ops team had been dispatched to Le Relais Basque to capture Gunn and the others.

The fireflies were their hope of escape. Only Lana and Jessica didn’t have one. Jessica received one with some fear, but trusting Natasha’s promise that it was okay.

Lana refused to the bitter end to believe what was happening. Against her will, she was given a firefly. After that, they all came through the Paradora. Not easy for the ones who had never experienced it, not after what they saw had happened to the poor waitress. When the forces broke in, they found Le Relais Basque empty, except for the horrible mess of the waitress.

Immediately, upon their arrival on Oran, Gunn rushed at me with his sword raised, screaming, “What have you done!”

Effortlessly, I disarmed him and threw him to the ground. When he tried to get up, I forced him to stay there. “Will you stop?” I said.

“Calm yourself,” Erolin advised him.

With effort, he controlled his anger and I let him up.

“What happens on Earth is not in my jurisdiction,” I said.

Natasha pointed at Rey. “I see you’ve been true to your word and he’s in custody.”

Ariyan pushed Chu forward. “And this one, Phillip Chu.”

“Take him,” I ordered my soldiers.

I am Ith Daktar San, Master of the Vishku Way. I am above the Vishku Council and the other councils of the Moons. As with the other council members, called Meditators, I am covered with a simple hooded monk’s robe of dark purple. There is nothing showing me to be of a higher order than the others. You cannot tell us apart. Yet if you saw us all together, you would know which one was me. My presence has nothing to do with physical appearance. It has all to do with spiritual energy.

The vetting process to become a Meditator of the Council is grueling. We take many vows, one of which is to cover ourselves and never again look on our reflections. Nor can anyone else look on us. We give up our identities for the good of all Oranians. Once we have been trained in the Way, we sit together in a highly guarded room in the Vishku Temple and do not move for another ten years. During this time, we gather and disseminate information from the universe. We control the balance of power between positive and negative. Once our time is up, we are released from this commitment into the Void. I rose higher than the others and I will hold my position for as long as I am needed. I do not know how long that will be. I come and go freely, unlike the other Meditators. But my physical body is still hidden from me.

To be on the council is the highest honor. It can be likened to a guru reaching nirvana. There are such gurus on Earth who have reached this elevated spiritual plane. I heard of one such guru whose vow was never to cut his hair. He stayed in a meditative state for years, being fed and cared for by his wife. One day, health officials came to the village and ordered his hair to be cut. The moment this was done, he died. It is so with our Meditators. Our vows are not the vows of fickle humans who think nothing of giving their word one day and going back on it the next. Once the vow is made, we do not break it.

Why, you might ask, would anyone willingly sit in this manner for ten years, no matter how high the honor may be? Because there is nothing equal to the experience. During this time, we exist in our minds, free of physical constraint, connecting with the billions of stories of the people of Oran. Meditators are the architects of a complex web, similar to information gathered on the internet on Earth. Our internal existence is richer than that of any ordinary person going about their daily lives.

As Master, I am aware of all the stories of Oran and now because a bridge has been crossed, many stories of Earth.

There, on the steppe, faced with the arrival of these dissenters and the potential chaos it presented, a calculation was made from all possibilities and the information relayed to my brain. I turned to my soldiers. “Seize them all,” I said.

Of course, they objected. Chu, Natasha, and Extorlia, who was now called Adonai, followed by Farida and Ariyan, came to the front, meaning to defend the others. This didn’t worry me. I could easily subdue all of them.

Only one of them worried me. She stepped in front of them all.

My daughter, Erolin.

Because, you see it was I who had come to her when she was imprisoned on the Red Moon. It was I who had helped her grow stronger and escape. But she never suspected the truth. She never suspected I was lying when I claimed to be a prisoner. There is no power great enough on Oran to imprison me on the Red Moon. Well, lie is the wrong word. I never lie. Truth and lies are two sides of the same coin, used to maintain the balance.

Erolin spoke defiantly, “You will have to get past me if you want to take them.”

How proud and brave she stood. It did my heart good to see it. Still, I paid no attention to her threats. I raised my arms to incapacitate them all. At the same time, she sent a flash of power to stop me. I felt it as a slight shudder and I was further impressed. Nevertheless, my arms didn’t waver and I forced them all onto the ground, lying face down.

Only Erolin did I allow to remain standing. I approached her, so close I could see into her wide eyes to the purity of her heart. I saw how the blood pumped through her veins with such force. How her impressive brain sparked with rapid connections.

I reached out to touch her hand, but quickly withdrew again, realizing that whatever was inside my robe was incapable of touching her. I could never feel her warm flesh.

She flinched and her eyes went wide with recognition before the knowledge faded again. For one weak moment, I had allowed her to know who I was.

And then, for the sake of balance, I did what I had to do.

The inhabitants of Oran will thrive only as long as they believe they have some control over their own destinies. This gives them the purpose they need to strive for goals. Without such an impetus, humans, not only on Oran but on Earth as well, would waste away and die off very quickly. The infinite web of connecting flashes of pain and pleasure in each life is allowed to exist within a clear perimeter of possibilities, ensuring that, along with my council, no one person, group, not even a type of plant or animal, gains or loses more power than it should.

My soldiers surrounded the rebels. We confiscated their weapons, chained them together, and began the journey back to Aarabaythia. Even my daughter I chained. Not with the full force of an Eipia necklace, but with a bracelet weakening her just enough that I didn’t need to worry about her causing trouble.

Rey was the only one who appeared undaunted, despite the pain of his crushed hand and thumb. As they marched down a long slope, he fell into step with Gunn. “Don’t worry,” he said amiably. “This isn’t like my book where you get tortured on the Red Moon.”

Gunn’s eyes narrowed. “I was tortured, in real life. Thanks to you.”

“And yet here you are, none the worse for wear.”

Gunn shook his head in disbelief. “You really have no feelings for others.”

Lana followed after Rey, holding tightly to her baby.

Earthlings have such strange habits. Allowing a woman to keep her baby. Who would want to make themselves so vulnerable, especially when they never know when a crisis might occur? Like now. No one was more vulnerable than this woman and her baby.

It amused me to watch Chu muttering under his breath, on the edge of losing his mind. The others were quiet. Tired and defeated. I thought of Farida and how her entire life had been motivated by her desire for revenge. All of them had tried so hard, come so close to their goals. Each with a slightly different motivation, yet all circling this eye of the storm: Lance Rey.

And now, everything had crumbled into dust and swirled away on the winds of the steppe.

Rarely do defendants come directly before the Vishku Council. Usually, cases are heard in lower courts. But these crimes were unprecedented. This was the first time fireflies had been manipulated and travel achieved between two worlds. The first time rebels had dared rise up to kill the leaders of Oran.

As we drew closer to Aarabaythia, an air ship sailed overhead, the lords and ladies pointing down at our strange group with as much surprise as the prisoners had looking up at them.

“What powers it?” asked Ariyan in wonder.

“The energy of the Meditators,” said Adonai. “All energy, all thought, all action flows from the universe through the Meditators.”

The Earthlings gave each other puzzled looks but said nothing more. This was not the time for technical or philosophical discussions.

We had crested a hill and now all attention fell upon the view of Aarabaythia below us.

“Wow,” breathed Lilly.

And indeed, all forgot their fears and disappointments in that first clear view of the city, morning sunlight alighting the towers and many-gabled rooftops. The city spiraled upward to the highest point, where what resembled a great cathedral stood. Thick walls surrounded the city. A river snaked through the valley, passing close to the city walls, fishing boats dotting it here and there. Bright green foliage, fields and trees hugged the edge of the river. The greenery ended in a dramatic, clear cut line, beyond which a wasteland stretched to the far off horizon, jagged mountains rising like teeth against the sky.

“A glittering jewel in a sea of green,” said Hannah.

“What’s that highest point?” asked Lilly, pointing to the structure at the center of the city.

“The Vishku Temple,” said Adonai solemnly. “We go there.”

We entered the gates and made our way through the cobbled streets, the inhabitants darting furtive glances at us as they hurried about their business. It must have been strange to the Earthlings that no one stopped or showed any interest in them. The people of Oran are subdued and conscientious. Curiosity or interest in anything outside their preordained responsibilities was not encouraged. Oranians know exactly what is expected of them and they are proud to do their best to achieve their highest goals. No matter how unusual, our arrival should not interfere with that.

We went immediately to the Vishku Temple and entered the Great Hall. Sunlight filtered through stained glass windows on either side of the hall. The windows heralded historical heroes of the Vishku Way, fighting monstrous creatures from other worlds, flying through space and expressing obeisance to the universal gods. The walls were painted with intricate patterns of Moon Flowers and other botanical delights, as well as animals and sea creatures. On the ceiling, at the center of a giant dome, was a painted hand, palm facing down to the ground. Whose hand it was, no one knew. It had been painted a thousand years ago by a man in a trance. He had said it was the hand of the great god, held above us with equal measure of benevolence and malfeasance. After that startling statement, he had walked out of the city and into the wilderness, whereupon he wandered until his death many years later without ever speaking another word.

The 24 members of the Supreme Council appeared as apparitions, floating before the golden Vishku Altar at the front of the hall. Twelve from the Vishku Temple and twelve from the Temple of the Moons on the Isle of Whei. Their corporeal selves remained in the inner sanctuaries of both locations, in keeping with their vows never to leave the temples during their ten years of service.

The lords and ladies of Oran sat stiffly on long benches on the left side of the hall, expressions of disapproval on their faces, while generals and alchemists sat on the right side. The prisoners stood in the middle. Guards stood on either side of the altar and at the back of the hall.

I climbed a narrow, winding staircase to the left of the altar and sat on a great chair placed on a small balcony overlooking those assembled below.

Never had so many powerful forces gathered in one place on Oran as they did that day. Gunn and his band of rebels. The Lords and Ladies of Oran. Generals and alchemists.

And then there was the great alchemist Extorlia, known on Earth as Adonai. The 24 Meditators. My daughter, Erolin. And myself.

This was one of the more defining moments in Oran’s history. Our world had come into contact with Earth. If this crisis wasn’t balanced correctly, both planets might well move ever so slightly off kilter, sending each one spinning out of control. The mistakes of our judgments could very well cost the lives of billions and the destruction of worlds.

My mind met those of the other meditators and a decision was coalesced, based on billions of calculations.

***

For all installments from Luminaria, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Chapter 1: Come to Me — Lana
  2. Chapter 2: The Proposition — Hannah, Part 1
  3. Chapter 2: The Proposition — Hannah, Part 2
  4. Chapter 3: Killer Gene — Natasha, Part 1
  5. Chapter 3: Killer Gene — Natasha, Part 2
  6. Chapter 4: Wrong Turn — Lilly, Part 1
  7. Chapter 4: Wrong Turn — Lilly, Part 2
  8. Chapter 5: How it Happened — Adonai
  9. Chapter 6: Vishku Way — Erolin, Part 1
  10. Chapter 6: Vishku Way — Erolin, Part 2
  11. Chapter 7: Undercover — Farida, Part 1
  12. Chapter 7: Undercover — Farida, Part 2
  13. Chapter 8: Lights, Camera, Action — Jessica, Part 1
  14. Chapter 8: Lights, Camera, Action — Jessica, Part 2