Chapter 1: Witch Hunt
Torl sighed heavily and gazed appreciatively out over the beautiful green mountainous country side. Much greener now because of the rain.
Torl allowed himself to feel the tidal wave of the collisions of red hot anger, grayish-black hatred and sour green envy that was normal this close to such a large town. He shook them off as easily as he took off his shoes.
Then he allowed himself to feel the harmonies of pink joy and maroon laughter. And the peaceful dancing of nature’s mint and emerald greens. These were harder to connect to because they had to be hidden. Tucked away so no one would notice and report you to the Witch Hunters. Someday, he told himself as he shook off this energy, someday we’ll experience it freely. And again, Torl shook off the power colors. He was a Master trained by the greatest masters of this time, and, he had a lifetime of practice.
He’d spent many years hiding his own powers and secretly warding off the most offensive energies of others. He had been taught to never let his guard down, even up here, on this hill, away from the monitors and the hunters and the fear.
With no interference from man, the powers were quite agreeable...But then there was always man. ...He gasped in horror as he watched the tidal wave of offensive emotions and powers coming towards him from the city, ready to engulf him, smother him, bury him alive...
Again he shook off the sludge with lightning speed. His guard had indeed slipped. If someone had detected his power shifts, even as quick as they were, he could have found himself incarcerated in a power camp, or worse, facing death at the hands of Witch Hunters.
They were appalling and worse than horrifying. The Witch Hunters were as ruthless and as oppressing as Earth’s Roman Legions of 30 A.D. They originated four or five generations ago, in the early years of 20000. Slowly integrating themselves into small communities, rushing in to help those in need, they were quickly dubbed the protectors of the helpless.
But, the more the Witch Hunters helped, the more power they were given. The more disobedience they stamped out, the more rules they wrote. And in time, the Witch Hunters were able to convince the majority “that those evil ones with special powers” were such a tremendous threat to all of humanity that they should be eliminated. That’s how the Witch Hunters gained total control and why Torl and others like him, had to hide their powers...their God-given gifts of color harmonizing and healing, of prophecy, and of energy utilization.
Now the Witch Hunters were the Supreme Governmental Police Agency, much like the Witch Hunters of Salem in the Earth’s 1600s. Neither then nor now were the Witch Hunter’s actions questioned or their methods disputed.
Torl sighed again deeply and then quickly and smoothly, he confined his wondrous powers and forced them to appear natural again, just like all the other men. He had to get back to the city quickly and mingle with other people. If he were lucky, any Witch Watcher might mistake his energy for a power storm, the energy he created by releasing emotions of joy and excitement while he watched the dance. He shook his head in disgust. I must get into a crowd. If I can get into a group, I can create a storm, if need be. Again he shook his head. No that’s too dangerous...It must only be done if I’m sure someone has noticed...
He returned swiftly to what passed for civilization on this out world planet called Earth. Secretly he prayed that he would find his way to Aleron soon. Aleron, a planet somewhere in the universe where one could just relax...relax and enjoy the flow of the energies and powers. A place where mountains and streams met, where the air was clean, where it rained, and where trees kissed the sky. “Guide me to this wonderful place.” he prayed as he walked. “Help me, please. I need time to research on the Mega Database.” That is, he said to himself, when no one is watching and when I have time to cover my data trail.
Nearing the town of Purity, his protective training took over. Torl unconsciously started to generate surface thoughts that would fool any but the most expert of Witch Hunters.
As he entered town, he was accosted by Jelru, a very noisy young farm girl who had apparently adopted him on a previous long trip from Base Two. She was pleasant enough, but a bit overbearing and obviously knew nothing but farming.
He recalled her talking for hours about the art of setting up sprinkler buildings just so, then planting just the right soy producers on certain planets to get the best harvest. Using the right terminology and enough bluff to be convincing, Jelru tried to convince Torl that farming was a very enjoyable life and also quite profitable
He agreed, at least with the profitability side since Jelru swore that she had traveled to seven other planets to study horticultural processes in the last five years and was just now returning home. He, on the other hand, had scrimped and saved every credit he could get for past twelve!
As young man of 21, he had known today would come and when it did, he would need to be prepared. Now he was 33, had a bit of a nest egg of credits, and was a class five comp spec servicing the environmental control systems. Ironic, he thought while politely nodding his head at Jelru’s one-sided conversation, ironic that I’m in control of an environment that someone else screwed up.
He secretly wondered if Jelru hadn’t picked him out to take home as a souvenir. It would be quite a feat for a plain, pale green eyed farm girl with large features to catch a class five. Back home there were thousands of class fives, but Torl suspected that very few of them ventured this far from the safety of the camp houses....
...“just a few parses from town...come on, Torl, we’ve got to run!”
She grabbed for his hand as she spoke and he suddenly realized that Jelru was very frightened.
“There’s a house shutdown in process...Hurry! Hurry! We have to get to the town square....”
“What is it Jelru? What’s the matter?”
“Didn’t you hear a word I said? There’s a Witch on planet!!!”
Torl’s stomach flipped upside down.
“The Master Huntress spotted a power gathering just a few parses from town. She’s called for an immediate house shutdown...we will be locked out if you don’t hurry up!”
Torl began to run with her, but he found it very hard to breathe with his heart in his throat. His mind raced as a clammy, cold panic engulfed him. A Master Huntress...Oh my God, they have a Master Huntress here? He’d been a fool! How could he escape a Master Huntress? The only chance I’ve got, he thought, is if she doesn’t come near...
The horrifying idea of a Master Huntress ripping out his eyes to see what he sees pushed him ahead of Jelru. He reached back for her hand and grabbed it, pulling her with him.
“Think, man, think!” he screamed silently to himself as he ran at full speed. Think, man, if a Master Huntress is on your trail, you’re dead meat. There’s nowhere to hide and no one to help you. Think now...running away would be noticed. Think...self-control, man, self-control. Get in control.
The town square was in sight and his reasoning faculties were, too. At least here, he told himself, I can hide in the mass confusion of a shutdown. With any luck at all, the Master Huntress will not be able to track me down. Maybe, just maybe, she would not come here. Maybe she would just do a Cursory Scan of the town... Too many maybes to hope for, but that was all that he had...
Suddenly, they were there and with a final burst of speed, Torl and Jelru squeezed between the closing doors. Heavy bolts were quickly hammered in to place and the sound of metal against metal echoed above the screams. Screams that heralded the beginning of the Witch Hunt.
There was so much noise and confusion that Torl could hardly hear himself think. Jelru grabbed his wrist and hauled him through the crowd as if he were a sack of potatoes. She pulled him to the back of the square and shoved him into a Spike shop. Amazingly, there was only a hand full of people here. Jelru lead the way and headed straight toward an empty table in the back corner where there was soft light. Torl followed her, quickly building his best shield of thoughts. Mostly a shield of fear. Fear was everywhere. Well, at least he didn’t have to fake that. He was scared to death...
He sat in the seat next to her and they both worked at getting their breathing under control. Jelru turned on the Vid and ordered two Tranques, something akin to Scotch-on-the-Rocks. Great, he thought sarcastically, I really enjoy drinking a glass of cleaning fluid.
The drinks arrived in seconds, but Torl didn’t notice. His eyes were glued to the Vid. Oh my God, there she was. The Master Huntress. She was a small, hard looking woman who appeared to be about 50 years old. Her black hair looked pasted to her head and face and that actually made Torl chuckle until he saw her eyes. They were large, almost too large for her small face. They were gray-green and extremely intense. The longer he looked at them, the more he found himself hypnotized by her stare. Her powerful, all-seeing eyes looked through the Vid screen and straight into his heart.
She described the situation. “...at 21.3 this afternoon...a house shutdown...the town square...It appears that this little, spineless, dirty Witch is still outside the city limits. We will be in lock down for as long as it takes to track down this evil, venomous one and capture her. Your cooperation is expected. This message will be rebroadcast every .5 until the job is complete.”
Torl almost jumped out of his skin when Jelru touched his hand, asking him if he liked his Tranque.
“My God, Torl, you’re really shook up. Here”, she pushed his drink into his hand. “You’d better drink this down while I order another round.”
Torl swallowed the Tranque in one large gulp, hoping it would steady his stomach and quiet the pounding of his heart. It did neither. He wiped the sweat from his brow and refocused on Jelru.
“Don’t worry.” Jelru was saying, smoothing back her dishwater blonde hair. “The Master Huntress said that the Witch is outside the city limits.” She patted Torl’s hand then smoothed out her blouse. “She’ll catch the Witch soon because after all, Torl, she is a Master.”
Well that was a comforting thought Torl told himself sarcastically. But at least Jelru has interpreted my fear as a fear of the hunted, rather than a fear of the hunter.
“You’re right.” he stated as he took the second tranque and gulped it at only a slightly slower pace than the first. He ran his fingers through his curly hair, using them as a comb. Now the tranque began to take effect and Torl began to relax and think more clearly.
The Hunter did say that the Witch she sought was still outside the town. Did he dare to hope that she was hunting someone else? What were the odds that someone else had been careless? Not very good... The careless ones had been weeded out in the early stages of the Purge. Those few that were left had to be careful at all times. Still, there was at least a small glimmer of hope that the Hunter was either not very good or that someone else had been foolish. Torl preferred the first option. He didn’t know if he could stand to watch another of his kind being tortured while he had to stand and cheer, as though he, too, were one of the “power free”.
He looked over at Jelru, who had a distinctly worried look on her face, and asked if she was okay.
“I’m fine, but I’m not so sure about you. I take it that you have never been around Witch Hunts before. Don’t worry, this happens regularly here, and they usually catch the Witch in just a few hours....Say, how about a game? No comp games though, I don’t want you to have an unfair advantage... How about checks?”
Before he could answer, Jelru had dialed up the game. What the hell, the Hunter will either find me or not. No sense in worrying about it and creating something bad. It’s not like I can do anything about it. This has to be the Tranques talking, Torl thought. He shook his head a few times as if he were trying to shake out the thoughts of apathy. The game began....
In the middle of the fourth game, a large cheer went up from the crowd outside.
“They caught the Witch! They caught the Witch!”
It was almost a chant.
“They caught the Witch!”
Torl’s stomach flipped over and his blood went cold. Another would die, and he had escaped again.
Why? Why did they fear the power so much?
But Torl knew the answer...it was simple... They feared the power because they didn’t understand it and because they were told to fear it. Yet knowing this did nothing to diminish the anger and frustration he was feeling.
The fear started because Sawtan, a man of wealth and position, had abused his power. But most people abused their power. Abused it until they learned what happened when you used it for the wrong reasons and what happened when you used it for the right reasons. What Sawtan did was nothing new; he just got caught while in the first stages of learning.
Sawtan was from the sector of Trali. That region promoted education of all types. Torl remembered tall buildings with sky high towers reaching into the clouds and big, beautiful columns that held up the roofs. They were once the universities. But early in his childhood the structures had been partially torn down, big gaping holes put through the walls, and the beautiful columns knocked over and left where they fell. And it all remained that way to this day as a public reminder. A reminder of why Sawtan was brought down.
The Witch Hunters destroyed the universities while they tortured and killed Trali’s people... Trali, who had risked everything to stop the abuse, was gone... They killed her and all her relatives and followers to stop the education because they feared that someone like Sawtan would come again.
Torl had been only a small boy on that awful, awful day. He was smart though and hid his small body under a large tree trunk. He would never forget that horrible bloody day, the tortured screams, or the stench of death. Eventually, his father came to get him and took him to safety off planet.
Not long after that, Torl’s parents told him he would be sent to live with the Shalri Monks. He never saw or heard from his family again. The Monks told him that his family had been killed in the Purge some time later. Eventually he had learned that after his mother had been killed, his father had used the power colors to destroy the witch hunter’s military. He had died in the process though, and left the Tali sector leaderless and unprotected.
The monks taught him all about the power colors and how to use them for many years before his talent finally blossomed. They taught Torl to hide his mastery of the power colors and continued his training with a few others like him that they also sheltered. Over time, they gave them all skills to make a living and when each was ready, the loving Monks slipped them back into society.
Less than one year after he had been slipped back into society, the Monks, too, were Purged. For harboring witches, it was said. But Torl knew that it was really because the Hunters couldn’t make them talk. If they had any evidence at all, the Hunters would have been able to trace the witches that had been returned to society. But the Monks were good, very good. And even the Master Hunters had not been able to tell that the Monks, too, were witches...
Jelru was talking again...
“Look,” she was saying as she pointed towards the screen, “it’s a girl. Why, she can’t be more than 15. But that’s impossible; everybody knows that it is genetic... And there haven’t been any resident witches here for many years. Where did she come from?”
Torl looked at the Vid, which had somehow come alive. Jelru must have turned it on while he was off in thought. Sure enough, it was a small girl. Oh God, she was just a child! There must be a mistake. Torl’s powers hadn’t become detectable until he was nearly grown. But, there it was, unmistakable to his highly skilled eye; the power was swirling about her. She was angry and the reds were darting all around her. With a flip of her head she’d blast one of the Hunters then release black energy from one of her hands.
My God, he thought, how many will she blast before they kill her? She appeared to be nearly as powerful as he was. What could he do? Without even thinking, Torl connected to this angry child, an extremely dangerous thing to do... but he did it anyway.
What is your name?
Who.... Seala.... Break, they’ll catch you....
Listen... use the whites... focus on safety... when you get there, shutdown.... complete shutdown.... I will find you...
As everyone watched the Vid in silence, there was suddenly a synchronous gasp as the girl disappeared from the screen. There was complete panic among the Hunters on the screen. They were yelling and screaming. Confusion. Lights flashed and two Hunters fell. Then the Vid went blank.
Had he succeeded? Or had they noticed the power ripple? Could he really find her? The Hunters would be looking for power fluxes...for the moment Torl couldn’t use his true power to locate her. He was torn. Maybe, in the confusion, he could chance a locator. But if he was caught, the girl would be, too. Then the risk would have been for nothing and two would die instead of just one.
Unplanned porting left one completely drained. Unless she was a natural, Seala would not be able to do this again for half a day or longer. If he didn’t find her though, she might die of starvation, dehydration or even the elements. No telling where a person would go when porting was used in haste.
Torl decided he would take the chance. He sent a tracer..blue-red, then power, followed by love... He felt the drain, but resisted the urge to replenish. This was dangerous enough, no sense rippling the power even more. ...Then he found her, 10 parses north-north east. A quick check told him that she was lucky... there was air and water and she was clearly out of town. One more thing... she was truly shut down now... Break... He, too, shut down.
He refocused on Jelru, who had a very concerned look on her face. He had a fleeting thought about what Jelru would think, but exhaustion overcame him and he passed out.