The past is a dangerous thing. All things are built on the foundation of memory, and sometimes the past is too weak to bare the load of the future. We can't change the past to support the ever growing weight of the future, but we can change to future to rely less on the past.
--The Manual, holy texts of the N'Geenr
Karin woke up slowly, feeling the softness of the bed-linen against her and the warmth of the sun beaming through the window of her hut. She rolled over and hugged her husband.
“I love you Jol.”
Jol stirred and turned around, his eyes opening slowly to stare straight into hers.
“This isn't real Karin.” Jol smiled at her “This is only a dream.”
“The only dream here is you Jol, my dream come true.”
Jol grinned and rolled his eyes. “Come on, lets get up, I want to make you breakfast.”
Jol pushed away the covers of their bed and slid his feet to the floor. He stood up and Karin just laid there, watching the sunlight highlighting the perfect contours of his naked body. Jol turned around and raised an eyebrow at her.
“Hey you, the peep show is over, I thought we were getting up.” He laughed, stooping slightly to pull on some trousers.
Karin giggled and provocatively pulled the covers down her body, exposing herself to him and giving him an inviting look.
“Your going to get cold like that.”
“Then you'd better come and warm me up then, hadn't you?” Karin winked.
Jol stifled a laugh and threw her a robe. “There you go. I'll see you in the kitchen.”
Karin pouted as she watched Jol stride out of the doorway. Tease! She sat on the edge of the bed and brushed her hair in the mirror. She had had her first grey streaks come through, beautiful silvers lines permeating a river of golden brown to the spot between her shoulders. She looked older, but she had aged well and she thought she looked quite good in her 30th skyline. When she was finished, she slid on her robe and walked into the kitchen.
Jol was at the kitchen counter, cutting some melon into slices.
“There is juice on the table, I'll be there in a second.”
Karin took a seat at the breakfast table and poured herself a glass of juice. Jol shortly joined her and slid a plate of melon slices across the table to her.
“Karin, we need to talk about something.”
“What is it Jol?” Karin asked between munches on melon.
“This really is just a dream, and I have something to tell you.”
“Really Jol, now your just being silly, stop it.”
“Karin!” Jol stood up and slammed his hand on the table. “Just listen to me, okay?”
“Your thinking about giving up aren't you? You don't think the N'Geenr deserve to be saved.”
“What are you talking about Jol? Your scaring me!”
Jol walked around the table and took her hand. “Come on, let me show you something.”
Karin took as hand and followed him outside. It was night time, and the village was gathered in the square around a burning pyre. In the sky hovered a huge white disc, casting and eerie light over everything.
“The Axis Moon...” Karin said, not quite sure how she knew what the huge disc was called.
Jol carried on walking through the crowd, towards the pyre, and Karin followed him. The people, the crowd, they all were strange, their faces blurry and ill-defined, they voices muffled and distorted. It was like time had slowed down around them.
They were standing in front of the pyre now, side by side. Karin looked to Jol, afraid.
“Look, in the flames, go closer.”
Karin approached the flames, there should have been immense heat, but she didn't feel it at all. In the flames, she saw Jol, his flesh crisping, blackened curls dropping off and disintegrating in the heat. She turned around, unable to watch, hoping she might she the other Jol behind her still but she only saw herself, blurry and incandescent as the others, running towards the Elders. She watched as she hit out at them, the painful memories resurfacing again. The Protocols fell from the Elders hand and fell into the fire. Karin, though she didn't know why, reached into the fire and picked up the book. The pages crisped and curled to ashes in her hands, but she felt no pain. Slowly the paper fell away accept for one small piece, on it there was written a message.
It is written that an N'Geenrs purpose is to develop themselves, to find the answers to every question, to better everything that can be bettered. In reality, this can be simplified to one simple thing; an N'Geenr must find the truth.
Karin turned around to look at the villagers. They were crying, screaming with hopelessness, the Protocols destroyed, their only salvation lost. Many collapsed to the ground, unable to cope. The two other Elders on the stage by the pyre shook uncontrollably and with a burst of co-joined rage they pushed the Elder who had held the Protocols into the flames.
Karin realised what she had to do. Her people were suffering for a lie, a lie that had been believed for so long. They weren't to blame for the actions of their ancestors, or her ancestors. She had to perform her true purpose as an N'Geenr, the one the first N'Geenr had forgotten. Find the truth. If she could save the N'Geenr, then they would see the truth of the world.
She turned again, and the Jol who was her husband was there.
“Why did you have to die, Jol?”
“Sometimes things happen. Just know that I'm proud of you. I love you Karin and I'll always be with you. Now close your eyes.”
Karin closed her eyes, silently crying as she felt Jol's lips touch hers and fell into his embrace. She kept falling and falling and falling...
* * * * *
Karin opened her eyes. As her vision cleared, she saw Firdlass' face looking over her, and felt his hand on her forehead.
“Karin okay?” he grinned as he sat back and watched her rub the sleep from her eyes.
“Errr.. yes, I'm fine. Hey, wait a minute, you can speak my language?”
Firdlass avoided her gaze and swayed back and forth.
“Firdlass! You can understand me can't you!”
Firdlass shot her a guilty look and scratched at the caked-on blood of the Ja-N'tor that was on his arm.
“Uhuh, Firdlass know N'Geenr words. Firdlass errr... skel-Y'torp Karin. That why Firdlass know Karin N'Paek-tor even if N'Geenr.”
“You what?” Karin tried to translate. “You looked in my Skel? What do you mean?”
Firdlass shrugged and laid himself on his back. “Dunno. Firdlass N'Skel-T'tor. Firdlass see Karin's Skel.”
“You learnt New N'Geenr by reading my Skel! That's amazing Firdlass!”
Firdlass sat up and grinned. “Karin not hate Firdlass?”
“No, of course not! Wait, what else did you see in there?” Karin frowned.
“Firdlass no see more. Man not let me. Anyway, not nice see Skel without Karin say okay.”
“What man? What are you talking about?” she pressed, but Firdlass wouldn't answer, he didn't want to talk about it.
Karin sat down with Firdlass and they ate a meal from the small amount of rations they had. They were running low and would need to get more soon. While she was eating, she thought to herself. So, Firdlass is a N'Skel-T'tor, a skel-seer. Are all Ja-N'tor like that?
“No Karin. Firdlass not like other Ja-N'tor.”
Karin rolled her eyes. “Well, never mind, just ask next time. Is that why you came with me, why you helped me? You could have just killed me and nothing would have changed for you.”
“Firdlass want change. Ja-N'tor not like Firdlass Skel-T'tor. Firdlass not welcome by Ja-N'tor of the shadow. Maybe other Ja-N'tor might welcome Firdlass, but Firdlass not know them or where they are.”
“Firdlass, I wont lie to you. I'm travelling to a place called the Axis. I don't know what's there, or even if I will make it, but I'm doing to save the N'Geenr and everyone else. And more than that, I'm doing it for Jol. Now I know you don't think well of the N'Geenr, and that in the past we ruined the world, but this isn't about the N'Geenr any more, its about everyone. Firdlass, you don't have to come with me any more, but I would be honoured to continue sharing your company. If you come with me, you'd be more than welcome.”
Firdlass stroked his chin. “Firdlass thought Karin would never ask.”
Firdlass stood up and thumped his chest. “Firdlass help Karin find Axis! Firdlass help save Ja-N'tor, N'Geenr and Mae-N'Ja!”
“Okay, then its settled.” Karin nodded at him and grinned. “Firdlass, before we go on I just want to know something, why were you up in the shadow anyway?”
“Firdlass was leaving the Ja-N'tor. Then Firdlass found you and saw Karin-skel. Firdlass thought that maybe if Ja-N'tor saw that Karin was N'Paek-tor and with Firdlass, Ja-N'tor might change better and like Firdlass. Guess Firdlass wrong.”
Karin smiled. “I'm sorry I didn't make everything better Firdlass, but when this is all over, you can stay with me if you like. We're friends now, okay?”
Firdlass smiled and covered Karin's hands with his own.
“Firdlass and Karin go find Axis now?”
“Okay, lets go.” Krin nodded, the fire of determination burning in her eyes.
Karin pulled out Pae's Arrow and it pointed away from the shadow, out towards the horizon.
“Firdlass, this is great! We came out on the other side of the shadow! We don't have to go through it again!”
Firdlass grinned and picked up Karin, swinging her on to his back. “Which way Karin.”
Karin looked at Pae's Arrow and pointed. “That way.”