Kang couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept. His days and nights were a blur of dream and reality, and the further the book pushed him and the tiny horse the more trouble he had distinguishing between his dreams and the waking world.
Strange things appeared in his mind and obstructed his view of the world around him...a great silver bird with fire erupting from its tail feathers descended from the heavens, nesting on a plateau above a river valley...seven shining orbs circled a lone figure on a hilltop, she pulled the lightning from the clouds and the book called her Ambriel, sixth of seven, binder of the Great Book of Power, right hand of the Gods...an old man with hair as white as snow and eyes as keen as a crow addressed him directly, showing him how to stand against an opponent, flexible yet grounded...listen to Jing, boy, reprimanded the old man...he held his fingers tightly together forming a claw and struck at an imaginary foe...Jing spoke of the crane, the snake and the tiger...symbols and glyphs flashed before him over and over a thousand times until he understood their meanings...was able to put them together to convey ideas and utter incantations.
Occasionally the book would speak, but not to him. It spoke as if to itself, for Kang never heard a reply. Recalculate triangulation to Cassiopeia...intersect fifth of seven...respond...hailing Cassiopeia...unable to initiate failsafe Innova...sixth of seven offline...acknowledge.
The grassy plains and Duku trees had given way to green slopes and dense vegetation that slowed their progress. How many days had it been since they’d fled the Sea Dragon? Five, six, more? He couldn’t be sure. He considered asking the book, but he was so exhausted that he was beginning to think he was delusional and the book was the voice of madness.
A warm pulse of energy emanating from the leather pouch traveled through his core and out to his extremities. His thoughts became a little more clear, a little more coherent.
The horse changed its course, heading toward a grouping of trees at the base of a terraced slope. The voice spoke in his mind, softer than before, like a gentle stream. I have nearly depleted your energy young Kang. We have put a considerable distance between ourselves and our pursuers. You may rest here for the night. There is a water source nearby and those trees are fruit bearing...persimmons.
As soon as the horse reached the trees, Kang dismounted and collapsed against the nearest one. The tiny horse trotted away through the trees, looking for the water Kang presumed. He didn’t really care anymore. He was so tired, so very tired. His eyes regarded the darkening sky for a moment, catching a shooting star before he fell into a deep sleep.
Kang sat upright and blinked his eyes several times trying desperately to make sense of what he saw. He took in a sharp and frightened breath, relieved that he could still breathe despite the fact that he seemed to be underwater. He reached outward, but quickly pulled his hand back when it hit a hard surface. The night sky shimmered behind this strange cage he was in.
“Hello?” He tried to stand, but sat back down again when the horizon shifted.
The familiar voice of the book spoke to him. Do not be frightened. Your consciousness is inside me...the Eye of Jupiter. It is easier for me to interface with you while you sleep. Your mind is more open to suggestion and instruction.
“So am I here or in the forest?”
You are here and in the forest...your body is resting outside...I have pulled your dreaming mind into myself.
I have calculated the odds of us reaching our destination before our pursuers intercept us. There is a very low probability of success.
A movement beyond the orb caught Kang’s attention for a second. “So I’m going to die?”
The interior of the orb glowed with a brilliant blue light and then subsided. Not if I can help it young Kang, but there is a high probability we will have to confront our pursuers at some point. I have sent the call for help from the fifth, but she must travel a great distance to reach us. Once she finds us, our chances of making it to our destination are greatly improved.
“So how am I supposed to stand against an enemy that not even Princess Xi Shi and Wang Xu and my master Sheng-Li were able to defeat?”
I have been sending images and instructions to you along our journey so that you may understand the things I am about to show you...or rather my surrogate is about to show you.
When the sixth interfaced with me thousands of years ago, she left a sort of ghost of herself within me. She did this as a way to communicate with her future self in the event of her death. Sadly there have been many deaths...like her untimely death as the Princess. She is going to relay some very important information and skills to you while your body renews...and while I continue my attempts to hail the Cassiopeia.
Kang furrowed his brow. “So this surrogate is the Princess?”
She is the Princess before she was the Princess...she is the first incarnation of the sixth...created by the hands of the Gods. She is Ambriel Ona--
“Sixth of seven, binder of the Great Book of Power...right hand of the Gods.” A pathway opened up in Kang’s mind. Information connected and flowed together like streams rushing toward the river in a monsoon.
Yes, and revered member of the Order of the Seraph. Her ghost within knows of the things that I know. Are you ready to meet her young Kang?
The blue light flashed within the orb again, momentarily blinding him. When his vision returned, a hazy image of a woman stood before him. Her dark hair swirled and flowed as though she were underwater, and her bright blue eyes reminded him of sapphires. Her garments looked to Kang as though an artist had painted them over her body using the same brilliant color of her eyes. Her skin was so bright that it was almost hard to look at.
The way she regarded him, the way she pursed her lips reminded him of Princess Xi Shi. “I am Ambriel.”
He fought back tears. “I am Kang.”
She studied him for a moment. It reminded Kang of the way Sheng-Li had looked at him the first day he went to work on the Sea Dragon. He stood up.
Ambriel smiled. “I see strength in you already.” She arched an eyebrow. “Perhaps a little defiance too...that’s good.”
Kang stood up a little straighter and puffed out his chest. “My master said I made up for my size with agility and determination.”
Ambriel nodded. “Undoubtedly. Agility and determination are often all one needs against brute strength. What I will show you now requires less physical strength than it does strength of mind and spirit.”
“Will it be enough to stop them?”
A sadness washed over her features. “It was not enough for me.”
Kang hung his head.
Ambriel placed a ghostly hand on his shoulder. “I did not mean to discourage you, Kang. You do not need to stop them, you just need to delay them until help arrives...and if the Eye can raise the Cassiopeia you may not even need to do that.”
He looked up into her eyes. The same compassion he’d seen in Xi Shi’s eyes was there, not as evident, but still there. “Then teach me and I will learn.”
“I can see you are also an initiate of the Eye of Jupiter, as am I.” She placed her translucent hand over his heart.
“How can you tell?”
“They Eye transcribes its circuitry...its pathways across an initiate’s soul. In this way an initiate is able to harness and channel the power of the Eye without actually possessing it.”
Kang tilted his head. “I don’t understand.”
“It is akin to the way in which a parent’s being is transferred to a child. Their habits and mannerisms and gifts are often passed to the child. It is similar with the Eye. She has passed her gifts to you.”
Kang bit at his lower lip. “So doesn’t that mean the enemy can harness the same power? Aren’t they also initiates.”
Ambriel crossed her arms. “It is true that the others interfaced with the Eye of Jupiter when they placed their seals on the Great Book of Power, but it was never necessary for them to become initiates to do so.”
“So why can’t the Eye of Jupiter just stop them herself?”
“Be assured that the others are capable of wielding great power, they just have to do it by another means. The Eye may evade them and put up forces against them, but her directives forbid her from directly bringing about their destruction...unless Innova is initiated.”
Ambriel shook her head. “It matters not. Innova is not an option.” She stood upright and held her arms out to her sides. “We have much to go over and little time left to us. Do as I do.”
Kang mirrored her stance.
“Good. Now close your eyes and reach out for the energy all around you.”
Kang closed his eyes tightly and wriggled his fingers, but he could feel nothing.
“You’re trying too hard. Think of someone you care for...or love even.”
“Now imagine that person was in danger or was even killed...imagine that you could call upon the energy to protect that person or to breathe life-force back into their body.”
He pictured Princess Xi Shi on the deck of the Sea Dragon covered in blood, surrounded by her attackers. He saw her being killed by a thousand tiny cuts and jabs, and yet she persisted...she persisted so that he could escape...so he could survive.
Even through eyes closed tight, Kang saw the flash of light. He felt the hair on his head stand on end and the warmth travel up from the floor, through his legs, up into his chest and through his skull.
After the electricity stopped hissing and crackling, and his hair settled back down against the nape of his neck, he heard laughter. It was her laughter, Xi Shi’s. His heart thrummed in his chest and his face flushed. He opened his eyes.
Ambriel leaned over him, her dark flowing hair caressing his cheeks, the smile of a proud mother playing across her face. “That was perfect, little one. Now we just need to teach you to control it.”