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Chapter 3

Dawn was just breaking over the kingdom of Aquilla, when high above the planet’s atmosphere in the cold void of space the Ourora’s timekeeper chimed a wakeup call. In his cabin, Hawk stretched and climbed from his bunk. He hadn’t realized how tired he had been. Stumbling across the room, he activated the cabin’s refresher and stood letting the warm cleansing mist soak life back into his sleep stiffened muscles. Exiting the unit, he quickly donned a clean gray flight suit. Now, he felt ready for anything. Whistling a merry tune, he left his cabin and headed for the lounge to meet Jasen. The sensor and probe data should be in by now. If all went well, they would soon be making their descent to the planet.

Hawk entered the lounge to find Jasen seated at the table pouring over a datapad. Grabbing a cup of coffee, he joined him.

“Morning. Anything interesting?”

Looking up, Jasen fixed his friend with a feigned look of disgust. “Well, the dead have decided to return to life.”

Hawk threw up his hands, “OK. So, I’m not a morning person. Sue me. Filidae are nocturnal you know.”

Laughing, Jasen showed Hawk the report he had been reading. “Here, take a look at this. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. No wonder the Empress was destroyed. Jake had no idea what he was flying into until he was actually inside the planet’s atmosphere.”

Scanning the data before him, Hawk gave a low whistle and looked up at Jasen in amazement. “This is incredible…an energy barrier that doesn’t register from the outside, but which sensors can scan once inside. If it hadn’t been for the Empress’s data, we would never have suspected anything was amiss.”

“Correct. Even more interesting, it appears that there are actually two fields. There is a second layer of energy nestled inside the larger outer zone.”

Scrolling down, Hawk continued to study the data. “So it’s the outer field that destroys metal. The inner field hardly registers. Any clue as to what it is? Anything we should worry about?”

Shaking his head, Jasen rose and walked over to the food dispenser and refilled his coffee cup. Turning, he leaned against the cabin wall and sighed. “Aside from readings of high turbulence, we know very little. The best we can do is keep the ship’s shielding at full strength, and take our chances. As long as the field doesn’t overload the shields, we should be able to make it through. It’s a chance we have to take.”

“Sounds fun. So when do we start?”

“No time like the present. I’ve picked us a landing spot on the planet’s largest landmass. Most of the continents are fractured. Whatever happened here, the planet took a beating.” Stowing their cups and making sure all furnishings were safely secured, the two headed for the bridge. Entering the flight deck, Jasen immediately went to his station and began checking the ship’s systems. Once they began their descent, there would be no room for malfunctions.

Taking his seat next to the pilot’s station, Hawk tucked the datapad away and strapped in. As always, seeing Jasen at the helm of the huge starship awoke a longing in him. What must it be like to see space unfettered by the metal shell of a spaceship?

“Hey, wake up over there.” Jasen’s words formed directly in Hawk’s mind, jarring him from his musings. “I’m going to establish a link so that you’ll be able to see what’s happening. I don’t know what we’ll run into down there, but two heads are better than one. Besides, I can’t have you getting bored and running around while I’m trying to land this thing.”

As Jasen formed the mind-link, Hawk suddenly felt himself thrown forward into space. He was no longer on board the ship; he was the ship. The sensors were his eyes and ears. He was drifting naked and alone in the blackness of space. He was falling, falling…

Suddenly, Hawk’s world righted itself. He was still conscious of the space around him, but now he felt anchored. He could feel the ship pulsing around him, but he was also aware of his own identity.

The data from the ship’s sensors flowed slowly through his mind and a strong warm presence enfolded him. Hawk relaxed. He was tuned to the ship but no longer fused with it. He was Hawk again.

“Sorry. That’s a little too much to take in all at once. How’s this?”

Hawk gave a sigh of relief, “Thanks, much better. Now, what?”

In answer, the world around him changed and he was looking down on the northern pole of the planet. Hawk gasped. It was beautiful. Unfiltered by viewing screens and portholes, the planet gleamed like a pearl and the stars shone like diamonds. Hawk felt as if he could reach out and pluck them from their velvet nests. In all his years of space travel, he had never experienced the beauty and mystery of space as he did now. This was just a fraction of what Jasen must be sensing, but to Hawk it was a priceless gift.

“Well, shall we take a closer look at our jeweled lady?”

Hawk chuckled. He wasn’t the only one captivated by the mysterious planet. “We can’t very well sit up here forever. Whenever you’re ready, maestro.”

“Then hold on to your seat. I’m taking us down.”

Obeying Jasen’s will, the ship glided downward toward the planet’s surface. It slid smoothly into the upper atmosphere and passed through the planet’s first energy ring unscathed, the metal dissolving barrier having no effect on the crystal vessel. Continuing downward, the ship approached the second barrier of strange energy. As the ship penetrated the second zone of energy, they were hit by a wave of turbulence. Violent forces battered the Ourora from all sides. It took all of Jasen’s borrowed skill to keep control of the wildly rocking vessel.

Halfway through the layer, the turbulence eased. Jasen drew a deep breath in relief, which quickly turned to a gasp of horror. A bizarre, constantly changing landscape now replaced the familiar stars. They floated in a place filled with creatures and things that could not exist in their reality. Alien thoughts and sensations impossible for the human or Filidae mind to comprehend beat against Jasen’s mental shields. Tightening the mental defenses around his and Hawk’s minds, he shut sensory input down to a minimum. The inhuman images continued to beat against his shields. He didn’t know how long he would be able to withstand the onslaught but what he did know was that their unshielded minds would not survive contact with the alien environment for long.

Just when he was sure that he had reached the end of his strength, they broke through the field into the clear morning air of the planet. Quickly, Jasen slowed their descent and sent the vessel toward the southern mountains. They should be far enough away from people to be unobserved, yet close enough to establish contact with the inhabitants when they were ready.

Gliding down through the blue sky, Jasen set the starship down in a secluded valley. Shutting down the engines, he slumped back into his flight chair and dissolved his mental links with the Ourora and Hawk. They were down.

Freed from Jasen’s mindlock, Hawk stirred and opened his eyes. That was some ride. Jasen had shielded him from most of the distortions, but what had gotten through was enough. Jasen! If it was this bad for him, it must have been much worse for the telepath. Unstrapping himself, Hawk rose and staggered over to the pilot’s chair. Jasen was slumped in his seat, his face pale. Hawk grabbed both shoulders and shook him.

“Jase! Are you all right? Talk to me!”

With a groan, Jasen opened his eyes. Seeing his partner’s worried face, he gave a weak smile. “You wouldn’t happen to have a giant aspirin handy would you?”

With a sigh of relief, Hawk stood and looked down at his friend, “What you need is a good cup of stimi tea.”

“I’d rather die. I hate stimi tea.”

With a chuckle, Hawk walked over to the bridge’s dispenser and ordered two cups of the herbal stimulant. Taking the steaming cups back to the pilot’s station, he handed one to Jasen. “No arguments. Drink your medicine like a good boy.”

Obediently, Jasen took the cup and drank. However, he couldn’t suppress the grimace of distaste which came to his face. The tea had a bite, but it worked. Already he could feel the energy creeping back into his body. Straightening in his chair, Jasen studied Hawk. He wasn’t the only one looking a little pale. “And how are you? Any aftereffects?”

“Well, it’s not an experience I relish repeating, but I’m fine. You shielded me from the worst of it. Thanks.”

“Anytime. Let’s see how the Ourora made out.” Running a quick scan of the ship’s functions, Jasen looked up in satisfaction. “All systems online and in the green. And I intend to see that she stays that way. I’ve set the null field to maximum deflection; it should neutralize any energy not compatible with the Ourora’s operating systems. About the only thing that can get through is gravity and thought.”

“Won’t that be a power drain?”

Jasen nodded, “Yes, but this planet has too many surprises for my taste. I don’t want to come back and find the ship’s systems have been eroded by some strange energy source. At least this way, we should find things like we leave them. Getting stranded here is not in my game plan.”

“Mine either! How long do we have before we must up ship?”

“I packed a dozen power crystals. We could stay here for years and still have enough power to return home. But I don’t want to be here any longer than we have to. The Firehawks could leave these systems at any time. It’s a race between them and us.”

“So how do we proceed? I doubt this planet has a large scientific community dying to give us answers.”

“No, but they may have records. We know this planet was settled by people from hi tech worlds. Something must have happened, and it may have something to do with the energy fields. Anyway, it’s a start.”

“So our first move is to establish contact with the natives. Dangerous. The Ourora may be the only ship to ever make it through the barrier. I have a hunch that your crystal technology may just work on this world. Your people’s science is based on the principles of crystalline structures, light waves and psychic energy, not electricity, and there is no metal in sight. If the inhabitants find out you possess such technology, you may never leave this world.”

“We’ll just have to be careful. We’ll scout the area before revealing ourselves. The translator implants will allow us to speak and understand the language and I’ll be alert for any hostile thoughts. The first thing we need is clothes. These flight suits are a dead giveaway.”

“Where do we start looking?”

Jasen touched a crystal and a large viewing panel appeared on the wall before them. The screen showed an aerial view of the surrounding terrain. Starting with their present position, Jasen traced their route. “At the edge of the mountain range is a forest, at least I think it’s a forest. I’ve never seen one quiet that color before. Beyond the forest is a large settlement; we should be able to gather some information there. We can camp in the forest until we decide how to proceed.”

“Sounds good. Let’s go pack. It’s been a while since I’ve been camping.”

Leaving the bridge, the two headed for their cabins to gather the gear they would need. An hour later they were ready to go. Exiting the ship, Jasen secured the airlock and made sure the null field was operating correctly. Hawk could be right, this strange planet might not be able to harm the starship, but he was not taking any chances. Assured that everything was in order; the two started toward the trail cut into the side of the hills surrounding their valley. Once through the gap they would be a day’s journey from the forest.

Walking in the cool crisp air, Hawk felt light and free. His people lived close to nature, working in harmony with the land and its creatures. He had been cooped up in the cities of Terra far too long. He welcomed the warm sun on his face and the light breeze, which stirred his long white hair. Plant and animal life was plentiful. Jasen too was enjoying being out in the open. Sending his mind outward, he scanned the surrounding area for any signs of danger. His mind touched only animal thoughts. Some were content, lazing in the sun. Others throbbed with the thrill of the hunt or fled in blind panic. All was as it should be.

As the light began to wane, the two friends made camp on the bank of a sparkling stream. After a leisurely meal, Jasen spread his bedroll and stretched out. The soft roar of the water as it rushed over rocks was soothing. He had intended to rest only for a moment but was soon fast asleep.

Jasen awoke the next morning to the smell of fresh coffee. Opening his eyes, he was surprised that he had slept so long. Sitting up, he spotted Hawk by the campfire. Hawk grinned wickedly when he saw Jasen was up. “Well, well! Look who finally decided to get up. I thought you were going to take root and grow. You’d make a lovely tree.”

Picking up a twig, Jasen threw it at his grinning friend. “OK, OK! So I’m a sluggard. Your bad habits are finally rubbing off on me. Hey, is that breakfast? I’m starved.”

Hawk laughed and filled a plate with food. Soon, they were both consuming a hearty meal. As they ate, Hawk covertly studied his friend. Jasen looked better. He had been close to exhaustion last night, though he would never have admitted it. Stimi tea couldn’t take the place of rest. The tea could only give you access to your remaining reserves of strength. When those reserves ran out, the body demanded sleep. Last night’s rest seemed to have returned much of Jasen’s energy.

Finishing their breakfast, they broke camp and resumed their journey.

They made good time and were discussing the best place to stop for a break when they came upon the ruins. Topping a steep rise, they paused and gazed at the scene displayed before them. Below was what must once have been a fertile and prosperous valley. Now it held only death. The ground was blackened, and huge craters and trenches dotted the landscape. In places, the soil had been fused solid. In the center of this desolation, were the remains of what looked to be a large castle. The castle was now reduced to rubble.

Hawk studied the scene before them in amazement. “What could have caused such destruction? It looks like nature had a war.”

“I have no idea. Whatever happened, it looks safe enough now. We have to go through here to reach the forest.”

Descending the hillside, they stepped onto the valley floor. Up close, the destruction was even worse. They had to tread carefully. Reaching out with his senses, Jasen tapped the energy of the earth, building a mental model of the surrounding land. The ground was crisscrossed with deep chasms and the powdery soil was like glass. In places, the soil was only a hard crust over a deep pit. He mapped a safe route across the treacherous terrain, then carefully started forward. After what seemed an eternity, they reached the castle. Here, the ground seemed more solid. They decided to stop for a moment. It was almost noon; they could use a break.

Crawling up onto a fallen block that had once been part of the castle’s outer wall, Jasen opened his pack and took out two ration bars. Tossing one to Hawk, he opened the other and took a bite of the energy rich bar. Gazing at the terrain they had just crossed, Jasen shook his head in wonder. They had been lucky so far. Aside from a few near misses, they had made the trip without incident. Turning his head, Jasen scanned the area they still had to cross. On the other side of the valley was the forest. If all went well, they should reach it before nightfall.

“Hey Jase! Come take a look at this!” Looking around, Jasen spotted Hawk poking through the castle ruins. Leave it to the curious Filidae to go exploring. Rising, he went to see what his partner had uncovered. Near the center of the ruins was a room, which still remained somewhat intact. It was almost as if the forces unleashed had gone outward away from the area, leaving it virtually untouched. Hawk was on the far side of the room sorting through a pile of books.

“Look at these. Some were made by machines while others are hand crafted.” He was holding two large volumes a look of excitement causing his eyes to sparkle. One appeared to be a sort of history book. The vinyl covering and crisp white pages showed that it was the product of advanced technology. The other book was a type of journal. Its worn leather cover and yellowing pages bespoke of great age and a culture where modern preserving techniques were unknown. Without thinking, Jasen took the journal from Hawk’s hand. Instantly, images and feelings from the past slammed into his mind. One of Jasen’s talents was the gift of psychometry. He could relive or experience past events through the psychic traces left on an object. Usually, he was very careful when handling strange artifacts. He did so only with his mental shields at full strength. This time he had been careless. As the psychic emanations swept over him, he was thrown back in time…

He was a woman…a woman of power. She was sitting at a desk writing in the journal. It was almost time. Fear gripped her heart. She didn’t know if she would be able to control what was about to happen. She had been unable to find a suitable complement for her powers. Now it was too late. Suddenly, her body was engulfed by pain. Power grew within her. She was ultimate power; she was a god. Staggering up from her chair, she stood in the center of the room and screamed. She could not contain the power. It flooded her being. The forces hungered to be free. They fought for release. She couldn’t withstand the strain any longer. Waves of raw power exploded from her body in all directions. The streams of energy rippled outward. They struck the castle’s walls, shattering them to dust. Earthquakes shook the surrounding area, cutting deep chasms in the earth. Lava pushed its way up from deep in the planet’s core, forming craters. Liquid death poured from the craters and, from their centers, clouds of ash spewed out. Violent winds swept across the valley, and fires raged out of control, consuming everything in their path. Huge lightning bolts struck the ground, fusing the soil into sheets of glass. As the destruction ranged across the valley, her mind began to darken.T he pain began to fade, replaced by a growing numbness. She was sinking into a pit of cold blackness....

Suddenly, Jasen was snapped back to the present by a savage blow to his wrist. The journal dropped from his numbed hand. Blinking in surprise, he found himself sitting on the ground, his back propped against a stone block. Hawk was kneeling next to him holding the journal. A look of relief passed across his face when he saw that Jasen was once again in the present. “I would think that you’d know better by now. One day you are going to pull a stunt like that and there’s not going to be anyone around to help you. Want to tell me about it?”

“All right. I was careless. The psychic impressions were too strong. The owner of the journal was the one who caused all this.” Jasen replied, indicating the destruction around them.

He paused to rub the wrist Hawk had struck, causing him to drop the book. It was starting to throb. He would have a nasty bruise tomorrow. It was no more than he deserved. Hawk was right; this could have been bad. He had been reliving the woman’s death. If the Filidae hadn’t severed the contact, he might have died with her. Banishing the thoughts, he turned to his friend and held out his injured wrist. “Thanks for breaking the link, but couldn’t you have been a little less zealous. I’ll never use this again.”

“Ha! It serves you right for nearly scaring me to death. You were muttering about power and growing numb. I was afraid you were a goner.” Pointing to the devastation around them, Hawk asked, “What happened here Jase? Did one person really cause all this?”

“I’m afraid so. It was a woman. I could feel her fear. She was about to inherit great power, but she was scared she wouldn’t be able to control it. She was right. The power killed her, but not before running amok and causing all this.”

Rising to his feet, Jasen began to strap on his pack. “Come on. We had better get going. I want to be out of here before dark.”

Glancing at the ravaged valley, Hawk agreed. He didn’t want to stay here one minute longer than necessary. Grabbing his pack, he started walking in the direction of the forest. But, he had forgotten one very important thing. The craters. He had gone only a few feet beyond the castle ruins when the ground beneath his feet gave a loud crack, and he plunged downward into a huge black hole.

The crater was wide with smooth sides. They gleamed as if made of polished glass. There was nothing to grab hold of to stop his rapid descent. He glanced downward and gasped. The shaft was deep, but far below a number of sharp spires grew from the smooth walls. They crisscrossed the crater, pointing upward like huge crystal teeth. If he didn’t stop his fall before he reached them, he was a dead man.

Hawk was sure that he was going to die when suddenly he was jerked to a halt. His pack strap had snagged on a lone spike sprouting from the crater wall not more than twenty feet from the circle of death. It was the only one in sight. He had been lucky! He had one chance, but he had to make it fast. The lifesaving spear was already being to crack under the strain of his weight. He concentrated and a sphere of white light surrounded his body. A few seconds later, the light vanished; revealing a large white hawk with silvery blue eyes, a golden brand gleaming on its breast. No sign remained of the Filidae except for the empty pack swinging from the crystal spine. Extending its wings, the bird launched itself into the air. With a rapid beat of wings, it flew upward toward the top of the crater, leaving the deadly spires far below. Bursting from the pit, the beautiful white hawk dipped and soared in the clear air before spiraling down to land near Jasen. A brief flash of white and Hawk, complete with clothes, stood where the bird had been only moments before.

Jasen pulled back from the crater’s edge and offered up a prayer of thanksgiving. He had lost sight of Hawk as he had plunged downward into the black pit. He had been sure that he was doomed. If he had not been able to shift forms in time, he would have died. As always, Jasen marveled at his friend’s shape changing talent. It both mystified and intrigued him. Most Filidae could assume another form, but only one. Hawk was a rarity; he was not limited in the number of shapes he could take. He could become any living creature he had actually seen in real life. Pictures wouldn’t do; he had to be close enough to the creature to feel its auric field in order to copy its form. Having this strange gift was part of what made them friends. Hawk was the first person, aside from Jake, not to fear Jasen’s abilities. He accepted Jasen for who he was, not what he could do. It didn’t matter that others looked upon Jasen as strange or someone to be feared. Being an oddity was old hat to Hawk, and he had taught Jasen that being different was not always bad.

The Filidae walked up beside Jasen and looked down into the pit that had almost been his tomb. After a moment, he looked back up. “That was too close. Sorry about the pack.” Glancing back at the crater, he shuddered. “I don’t ever want to see another hole in the ground for as long as I live. Let’s get out of this death trap.”

Jasen shared his friend’s sentiments. “I can’t say I’ll miss this place. But this time, we take no chances. We could have lost a lot more than a pack. No one goes anywhere without checking the ground first, remember?”

“I do now!” With a flourish of his hand, Hawk waved Jasen in the direction of the forest. “After you. You lead the way and I’ll stick to you like glue. Consider me your shadow.”

Giving his companion a disgusted look, Jasen moved away from the crater and began the long trek to the nearby hills. Scanning the ground for traps, he slowly guided them across the remaining distance to the valley’s edge. A quick climb later, and they were standing on top of the hillside gazing at the brightly colored forest spread out before them.

Hawk stared at the natural wonder with a look of reverent awe on his face. “It’s beautiful. I have never seen anything like it before.”

“Nor I. Come on; if we hurry we can be under the cover of the trees before nightfall.”

The two friends made camp just as the sun lowered, casting the forest into twilight. They awoke the next morning to the sounds of bird song. After a quick breakfast, they broke camp and resumed their hike through the dense woods.

Seen in the bright light of day, the forest was even more stunning. Studying the riot of color around them, Jasen once again marveled at the wonder of nature. “I can’t believe these trees are natural. Some of the colors...” Jasen’s words died as a sharp pain knifed through his brain. Clutching his head with both hands, he fell to his knees blind to everything but the agony. As the burning in his mind receded momentarily, he was able to think clearly. There was something familiar about this pain. He had felt it before. The ruins! The mysterious lady that had destroyed the valley! One like her was near, and in pain. A new wave of agony washed through his body making further thought impossible.

“Jase! Can you hear me! What’s wrong?”

Hawk’s urgent words penetrated the haze of pain. Jasen forced his eyes open. Hawk knelt beside him, supporting him with one arm. Jasen fought the pain knifing through his mind. He had to make his friend understand before it was too late. Finally, the pain faded enough that he could speak. Through clenched teeth, Jasen forced out his message.

“Must...get to her. Woman of...power. Losing...control. Have to...reach her in time.”

“Woman? What are you talking about?” Hawk was puzzled at the strange words. What woman and what was that about losing control? Suddenly, a wild thought struck him. It couldn’t be! “Jase, what woman…a woman like the one that destroyed the valley? There’s one like her nearby and she’s losing control?”

Jasen nodded, “Must reach her...not much time. I can...stop her. Help me… get to her!”

Hawk was stunned. The idea of the vast destruction he had seen in the valley being loosed here sickened him. How could Jasen stop it? Hawk trusted his friend. If Jasen said he needed to reach the woman, then Hawk would see that he got there. Without another word, he placed his shoulder beneath Jasen’s arm and levered him to his feet. Encircling his waist with his free arm, he steadied the reeling telepath.

“Which way?” He asked quietly.

Jasen pointed to the trail cut through the heart of the great forest.

“There,” he gasped.

Hawk helped Jasen walk the twisting trail cut through the woods. As they penetrated deeper into the trees, Jasen began to recover somewhat. The pain eased and he no longer had to lean on Hawk to walk. However, now he moved like a man entranced. He seemed to be following some inner summons that Hawk couldn’t hear or feel. The Filidae didn’t like this one bit.

Turning a sharp bend in the trail, Hawk froze. Before them stood a tree of turquoise accented with pigments of blue, sliver and white. Beneath the tree lay a young woman. Her body convulsed and her face was etched with pain. He started toward her, only to be blown back as a sudden gust of wind swept him off his feet. Moments later, a fiery circle leaped into existence surrounding the prone figure. Black clouds gathered and lightning flashed through the air, narrowly missing him. Underneath him, the ground trembled. Climbing to his feet, Hawk gazed at Jasen in question. How were they going to help her if she wouldn’t let them near her?

Jasen laid a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Wait here. This is my task.” Stepping forward, Jasen began walking toward the circle of flame. Lightning flashed toward him to be met and deflected by a shimmer of gold. He had activated his telekinetic shield. Reaching out with his mind, Jasen parted the fire and stepped through the deadly ring. Kneeling beside the troubled young woman, he placed his left hand on her forehead and closed his eyes. Gathering his power, he projected himself into her mind.

He was in a world of chaos. Her mind was a maelstrom of colors. Red, yellow, green and blue swirled and clashed. Somehow, Jasen knew that this was wrong. The colors should not be mixed. Searching the mindscape, Jasen sought for a sign of the woman’s mental essence.

There! Huddled on the edge of a black pool lay a faint glow of silver. Bringing the spark to him, Jasen encased it behind his mental shields to protect it from the violent forces ripping through the expanse around him. Now assured that what was left of the woman’s personality was safe, he turned his attention to the whirling forces. He had to separate the colors and keep them apart. Reaching out with mental hands, he gathered a strand of yellow energy and pulled it to him. Grasping other strands of yellow, he began to braid them into a cord of pure color. When all the yellow strands had been tamed, he caught another color and repeated the process. Using all his strength of will, Jasen wove the chaotic colors of power into bands of controlled energy. When he finished, four cords of color flowed serenely across the mindscape. All was calm. The wild forces had been harnessed. His first task was complete.

Scanning the terrain around him, he searched for clues as to what he must do next. Except for the four bands of power, the only other noticeable feature was the dark pool in the center of the mindscape. Of course! Grabbing the colored cables, he placed one end of each band into the black void. The cords glowed and hummed, filling the pool with power. Gently, Jasen drew the silver spark out from behind his shields. Feeding it his strength, he called to the mind hidden deep within the faintly glowing mote. After what seemed an eternity, he felt a faint pulse from the spark.

She still lived! He had feared her mind had been shattered beyond repair. He felt the mental presence quiver to life. Carefully, he pushed the slowing, pulsing dot into the heart of the pool. Instantly, the spark began to grow larger and the glow intensified. The bands of power hummed and throbbed, keeping time with the pulsating ball of light. The silver radiance began to spread, until it filled the entire pool with brilliance.

A wave of dizziness hit Jasen. He was at the end of his strength. With a last act of will, he severed the contact and flung himself back into his own mind. He caught a last glimpse of the sparkling light as it flooded the mindscape with pools of silver shot through with red, blue, green and yellow.

Awakening, Jasen looked up and smiled at the worried Hawk. Then, giving in to his body’s demands, he relaxed and sank into the soft welcoming darkness.

Hawk caught his friend as he slumped forward, unconscious. Gently, he laid the telepath on the ground and checked for signs of life. Jasen was breathing regularly and his pulse was steady, if somewhat weak. Shock and exhaustion, Hawk decided. With rest he should be all right. Leaving Jasen for the moment, he bent and examined the girl. She too seemed to be stable. Glancing from one unconscious figure to the other, Hawk gave a wry smile. It looked like he was elected guardian. He would make them comfortable and keep watch until they awakened.

Whatever Jasen had done seemed to have worked. As soon as he had touched the girl, the wild elements had subsided. Fire and wind had both vanished. Hawk had watched Jasen’s Herculean battle for the woman’s mind. He hadn’t known what his friend was doing, but the struggle and effort were obvious. But Jasen had been victorious. They were safe. There was now no danger of this beautiful forest becoming another valley of death and sorrow.

His thoughts were broken as a twig snapped. Sharp senses alerted him to the presence of animals nearby. Turning, he spotted the unicorns as they stepped from the brush. They were magnificent. They were also carrying packs. He had need of what those packs contained. Cautiously, he approached the animals. The leader, a huge black, snorted and tossed his head in warning.

Hawk smiled. Stopping, he held out his right hand palm up and began speaking to the beast in his native tongue. The Filidae had a natural way with wild things. At the sound of the alien speech, the animals froze, ears straining forward. After a few moments, the black unicorn walked over to him and pressed its nose into his outstretched palm. Accepted. Stripping the packs from the now docile steeds, he set them free to graze and began making camp. In no time, he had a cheery fire going and his patients snuggled in blankets lying next to it. Making himself comfortable, he prepared to wait.

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