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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Coming Home
A Tale of Destruction, Redemption and Penguins

by Jeff Hersh (Shilree)

Chapter 3: Lies, Half-Truths and Secrets

Where in the course of one evening,
secrets long forgotten are revealed
and Shilree’s true quest begins.

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Even in torchlight, the palace of the Emperor was stunning. Shilree had heard about the opulent palace in the center of Ekyarn, but she had never expected to actually see it. The cool marble that covered the walls and floors echoed solidly with each footfall. The large and ornate columns of onyx and silver, which lined the halls, gave the illusion of simultaneously reflecting and absorbing the torchlight.

“You are awfully quiet,” said the ghostly form of the Emperor who was floating beside her.

“I am just a little in awe.”

“Yes, the palace has that effect. I am often struck by the weight of history here. It is hard to believe that this place has been around for close to ten thousand years.”

Shilree nodded slightly. She was taken in by the architecture of the place. Huge flying buttresses and columns supported a massive and ornate ceiling. Large and intricate tapestries hung from the walls; some of them could easily have dated back to the time of the Exodus, over five thousand years ago. Complex marble and granite reliefs chronicling eras of Diari history spread over large sections of the walls in the main hall. The entire palace was heavy with history.

The Emperor and Shilree continued to walk down the long hallway, her echoing steps the only sound being made. Shilree had so many questions for the Emperor, but she didn’t know how to ask. Talking with the Emperor was not like negotiating back in Trade. In Trade, an error could at worst cost her the deal. Here the price for any mistake could very well be her mind.

The Emperor chuckled slightly. “Do not worry, Shilree Vestrin. I do not take offense as easily as you would believe. You are much more valuable to me alive, and with your mind and sanity intact.”

Shilree didn’t say a word. She wasn’t very comfortable with the Emperor being able to pick up her thoughts. All the years she was with Trade, she had guarded her mental privacy with the vigor of a religious zealot. She felt almost naked without her protective headband. Such measures, however, were considered rude in the presence of the Emperor.

Turning a corner, the Emperor and Shilree passed a small group of palace staff. They were trying to remove a stain on one section of the marble walls. Shilree recognized the dark splotch immediately. It was blood.

“Yes, the Shattering even affected the palace,” said the Emperor with great sadness. “Our people suffered greatly in those few hours.”

Shilree was about to speak when the Emperor interrupted her.

“Here we are,” he said, as they closed on a set of ornate ivory and onyx doors.

The large doors opened as they approached. It was as if an invisible hand was slowly pushing them aside. Shilree followed the Emperor into the room beyond. After both of them passed through the entryway, the doors closed behind them.

The chamber was large, but not grotesquely so. Rich decorations and plush furniture filled the room. Near the room’s center sat an impressive triangular wooden table. The table was low to the floor, and surrounded by fluffy pillows to sit and lean on. Shilree knew that this was the Chamber of the Tri-Council, the body that used to rule Diaria along with the Emperor, before he took direct control of Diaria after the Shadow Wars.

Seeing the table, Shilree remembered all that had happened to her homeland in the last few years. Eastern Diaria, under the Emperor’s direction, betrayed and isolated itself from Western Diaria, and let the province fall to Cynystran rule. The betrayal filled her with anger and cool rage. Shilree was about to speak when she thought better of it, and quashed the emotions. She turned to face the Emperor. He was looking straight at her. Shilree felt ice fill her blood. The Emperor knew she was angry and where that anger came from.

“Do not hide your emotions, Shilree Vestrin. You are right to be angry,” whispered the Emperor. “We were wrong.”

Shilree was shocked. The Emperor, who had been around since Diari civilization began, was saying he had made a mistake.

“It is not what you think,” he said. “The mistake wasn’t cutting off Western Diaria from Eastern Diaria. Yes, that was an error, but it was not the real mistake. The mistake was the Exodus Inward itself.”

Shilree couldn’t believe what was she was hearing. The Exodus Inward was the long standing policy of Diari isolationism. Its philosophy was the strongest ingrained belief that any Diarian had. Outsiders were considered a virulent plague that would, given the slightest opportunity, infest the body of Diaria. As with any plague, there were two means for dealing with it; kill the infection or strengthen and isolate the body. Since mass genocide was not a practical option, the Diari chose to isolate themselves from the world. The first stage of the Exodus Inward occurred just after the Cataclysm, close to two thousand years ago. At that time the major nations were Diaria, Kyoko-Ra and Shikintu. Diaria, covering close to three quarters of the world, was the greatest in scope of the three. The Exodus Inward, over the intervening millennia since that time, had reduced Diaria’s size to its current much smaller one.

The Emperor could see the mixture of shock and surprise on Shilree’s face. He smiled a broad smile at her.

“Yes, I know I speak blasphemy, but that is the Emperor’s privilege. However, think for a moment, Shilree Vestrin. Look what the Exodus Inward has done to Diaria. It turned us from a people who thirsted for knowledge and exploration, to one that sits on its past achievements. Much good that did, when the Shattering occurred.”

The Emperor was livid and bitter. Shilree could feel his anger and guilt in her mind. The assault of emotion was overpowering. She felt as if she was going to drown in a sea of liquid fire.

“Enough,” he said, regaining his composure. Shilree felt the hot tide recede from her mind. “I did not bring you here to rant about politics and ancient history. Sit down at the table, Shilree Vestrin. I have much to tell you and the night grows short.”

As the Emperor commanded, Shilree sat at the table of the former Tri-Council with the Emperor on her right. After both were seated, one of the Emperor’s servants came into the chamber through a door in the back of the room.

“You summoned me?” the servant girl asked.

The Emperor nodded. “Virla Sarrani, bring something to drink and eat for my guest. She hasn’t had a *real* meal in a long time.”

“Yes, my Emperor,” she said as she rushed out. A few minutes later Virla was back with other servants. They placed a jug of cold water and a platter of traditional Diari foods before Shilree. Once the trays were placed, the horde of servants exited quietly back through the same door. Shilree’s mouth watered; it had been too long since she had tasted real Diari cuisine.

“Go ahead, Shilree Vestrin. I will not take offense if we talk while you eat. I prefer to speak mind to mind anyway.”

Shilree dug into the feast before her. The water, no doubt due to some minor enchantment of the jug, was ice cold. The food was succulent. Roast duck wings spiced with timer roots, broiled pig in an apple glaze and a shank of honey smoked beef quickly disappeared from the platter. She was just starting on the islri berry pie when she remembered her manners.

-Thank you, my Emperor,- Shilree thought at the Emperor. -The food is delicious.-

The Emperor laughed. -While my station keeps me from the people, I have not forgotten basic hospitality.-

Shilree smiled as she gulped down a fork full of the delicious pie. She was actually in a good mood. The food and water, as well as the unexpected casualness of the conversation, had put her at ease. However, something was wrong. Tension surrounded the Emperor, and its presence disturbed Shilree. She could tell something was bothering him. Even so, there was something she had to know.

-My Lord?-

-Yes.-

-Before you tell me what you want of me, could you answer a question for me?-

-That depends on the question, Shilree Vestrin.-

-What happened in Diaria during the Shattering? I know that I have been away for a long time, but I can sense something is different about the land. Something just under the surface.-

The Emperor’s mind and the room fell quiet as Shilree asked her question. Sighing, the Emperor answered out loud.

“I guess you deserve to know. Unlike the rest of the world, our people didn’t just face their darker selves during the Shattering. What happened to us was much, much worse.”

The Emperor continued in Shilree’s mind. -I suppose you know that Shadow somehow to managed to kill the gods?-

-Yes, I personally saw it happen to two Nylevian gods. Their essence was sucked out of them.-

-Well, the same thing happened to our gods. One by one they were slaughtered. However, two managed to escape.-

-Two? Which ones?-

-According to the priests, Rekzyr, who has not had an avatar since time began, couldn’t be forced into physical form and thus couldn’t be killed.-

-Makes sense.-

-The other god to survive was Pysyri.- If you can call what she did survival.-

-What do you mean?-

-Pysyri managed to flee from Shadow just before the entire world went mad. She escaped by transporting a part of herself into every available Diarian.-

Zhey Tak!” Shilree whispered. “Why wasn’t I affected?”

“I think that is obvious, Shilree Vestrin,” the Emperor said calmly. -You were not affected because you were not in Diaria at the time.-

-I see,- Shilree thought. This news made her once again feel isolated from her people. Once more, she was separated from her people by her actions.

-Do not feel sorry for yourself, Shilree Vestrin, be thankful. The merging of Pysyri with the Diari was not pleasant. Many people couldn’t take the strain and went insane. In others the gift awoke within them with disastrous effects. However, the worst part was that for a brief moment, all Diari were joined into a single mind.-

Shilree knew enough psionic theory to know what the Emperor was talking about. The entire Diari nation merged, for the briefest time, into a group mind, a gestalt.

The Emperor interrupted her thoughts as he continued.

-The joining was very painful, and had major effects across Diaria. The Westerners’ hatred for being abandoned was made manifest and the Great Wall was torn to pieces. The hatred of all of Diarians joined, and then turned upon all non-Diari in our land. They all died quite horribly, and each of us felt them die one by one.-

Shilree tried to fathom what the Emperor was saying, but she just couldn’t get her mind around it. In that brief moment of the Shattering, everything she had tried to work for over the years was accomplished. Yes, the slaughter of the non-Diari was a tragedy, but it was also a blessing. After all, that meant all the Cynystrans in Western Diaria were dead. Even so, she wondered how many innocents were killed by the fury of her people. There was also the matter of the Great Diarian Wall. That cursed wall had severed the link between East and West, and was a standing reminder of the abandonment. Now it no longer existed, at least not in a form that mattered.

-Yes, Shilree Vestrin,- the Emperor continued, -it is hard to contemplate. During those few minutes that we were all joined, everything changed. We all understood each other at some level and many wounds were healed. I’m afraid, however, that the joining did much more than that erase the mistakes of the past few years. Somehow it changed the very land. Diaria is now a wilder place. The southern jungles have expanded. The mountains have grown more threatening. Worse of all, the two holiest of places in the land have been irrevocably changed.-

Shilree mentally gasped. The Emperor nodded sadly in reply.

-Yes, the Spires of Irla and the Charoc whirlpool were affected. Half of the holy spires of rock shattered and fell on the city of Irla. Hundreds died when the huge sections of falling stones crashed into the holy city. Charoc was also split by the gestalt. There are now three whirlpools in Diarmn Bay. These three wander randomly throughout the Bay, and travel there is now nearly impossible. The clerics of Rekzyr work daily on maintaining and sending current maps and charts to the shipping guilds on the status of the Bay. No ship that has entered Diarmn Bay without these accurate maps has returned. This has put a great strain on commerce throughout Diaria.-

With this news Shilree felt defeat and a twinge of hopelessness. She could also feel Trillarillia laughing at her from within her prison. Shilree had been hoping to place the gem that contained Trill’s spirit in the shadows of the Spires of Irla. It was said that anything chaotic placed in the shadows of those holy manifestations of lawfulness would be utterly destroyed. Even though not all of the Spires of Irla had been destroyed, she had a feeling that those that did survive wouldn’t have the abilities she needed.

The Emperor paused and gave Shilree a quizzical look. Eager for the Emperor to remain ignorant of the two spirits she carried with her, Shilree asked him to continue.

-After the Shattering I had to move quickly. The land was on the brink of self destruction. Reestablishing control of Eastern Diaria was no problem, within a week order was restored. Western Diaria, however, was another matter.-

-The Cynystrans were quite effective in wiping out the Western provincial government. All records were either stolen or destroyed. Diaromyn and Tesin were in anarchy. I sent the military in to reestablish order. Until I can reestablish the provincial government, Western Diaria is under martial law and my direct control.-

Shilree grew stoic. She didn’t like this. After the Shadow Wars the Emperor disbanded the Tri-Council and took direct control of Diaria. Now, it seemed, that he was doing it again. However, this time under his direct control, instead of through the provincial government.

-I am sorry, Shilree Vestrin, but I have no choice. In order to heal our nation we cannot be apart. If I didn’t move to establish tight control, Western Diaria most likely would have split off, and there would have been another civil war. I cannot allow that. We need to heal, and we can only do that as one nation.-

Shilree sat silently, trying to gauge the Emperor. He was harder to read than Magnate. Shilree suspected the Emperor was not being entirely truthful with her. She wondered what he was hiding.

-Enough of recent history,- the Emperor thought abruptly. -Now it is time for business, Shilree Vestrin.-

Not wanting to press, Shilree went along with the change of subject.

-What do you want of me?-

-What do you know of the Diaryn?-

-The Diaryn? Not much more than most others. They were our aquatic cousins. They disappeared rather mysteriously, about two hundred years ago.-

The Emperor nodded.

-Well, the truth of the matter is a bit more disturbing. Their disappearance wasn’t that mysterious, to some people.-

Shilree was intrigued. The disappearance of the Diaryn was one of the greatest Diari mysteries. Careers in the Academy had been made and destroyed on theories about what happened to the aquatic race.

-I am afraid the Diaryn’s disappearance was partly our fault,- the Emperor said with regret.

Shilree was stunned. -Our fault? How? They were our greatest allies and friends.-

-They were all that and more. Both of our races learned much from each other. However, they learned some things a little too well.-

-Just before they disappeared, word was passed to me that the Diaryn capitol, Shastri, was in a state of civil war. It turns out that they were adopting their own version of the Exodus Inward. Most of the Diaryn people didn’t agree with their leader’s decision.-

-I guess we should have paid more attention to what was going on beneath the waves, but at the time we were preoccupied with the Forty-Seven Year War with Cynystra. Even I cannot be in two places at once.-

-No matter, all of that is a fragment lost to time. The crux of the matter is that because of our influence, they decided to leave. Up until now I have respected their decision. But with the Shattering things have changed for the worse.-

-As I have said, Shilree Vestrin, our people need to heal. To do that, we need to come together as soon as possible. Not just the Diari, but the Diaryn as well. We need them, and I suspect they need us.-

“So you want me to...”

-Shilree Vestrin, I want you to do what no Diari has even thought about in over two hundred years. I want you to find our cousins. Find them and bring them home.-

History

On to Chapter 4

'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

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