Children of the Gods

Chapter 1: The Inevitable Student

A sweet sound began to resonate through the halls.

It was gentle, therapeutic like it could solve life’s most complicated faults in a single intonation. Yet it stood with prowess, its demeanour unmoving as it refused to be cast aside. It sought infiltration; demanded corrupt of any within its reach. Slowly it seduced Zion’s mind, until he was all consumed by it.

“Your enemy will not be so forgiving. When your concentration falters they will act without mercy!” Zion heard within his mind, as the very thoughts were placed directly into his frontal lobe.

“None can withstand that seduction! You were merciful with the other students, their minds experience but a distant echo of what you subjected me to. You are cruel!” Spoke Zion vocally, losing his temper.

“You forget yourself.” The voice had an icy chill of authority to it. Instantly, Zion realized he had made a grave mistake. A searing pain rushed through his mind, momentarily bringing his most concealed trauma to its forefront. As the last of his resistant subsided, any composure he had left utterly faltered.

The voice within his mind continued unrelentingly, “if I was your enemy, your mind would now be driven mad. Cast aside as Baudar’s once was.” Invoking the ancient name, a lost soul. One who was once the greatest of their kind, before his mind’s great fall from grace into eternal isolation.

The unspoken voice then cut off all infliction of pain, withdrawing and allowing Zion a momentary impression of peace. But this withdrawal did not subsided, instead it only intensified, continuing past normality until Zion’s mind had been cut off from the surrounding resonance of the universe. All he felt was darkness, extending endlessly in all directions. Disconnected from all energy, his thoughts were forced to wander the mindless void, unable to find any anchor to create original thought, the ultimate torture. An isolation without any glimmer of happiness. Only being forced to endure this separation for a single instant. It was enough.

The days began to merge into one. Slowly Zion forgot how long he had been in this place. With each passing day his old life seemed more distant to him, more unfamiliar. Brief glimpses of what he used to be momentarily flashed before him.

“Your mind is elsewhere today.” Intruded the mind, no longer an unknown. His teacher had a name, Naru. A simple label for a mind which was capable of unfathomable potential. Once Zion had grown curious, attempting to follow Naru’s trail of intruding thoughts back to their origin, yet he was instantly repelled. The mind was hidden behind a solid barrier of protection, without imperfect in its defences. It was entirely immune to any skills Zion had learnt.

“I reminisce of the past. That which was once was. That which will never be again. No matter how deeply I yearn for parts of it to return. I know it cannot be.” Zion thought with a terrible desire, his words were not audible, instead they were left floating in his mind to be directly observed by Naru.

“We have come so far. Why do you only look backwards?” These thoughts were placed directly into Zion’s subconscious, a place which forced him to respond with his most instinct impulses, depriving him of the restrained logic all free minds cherished.

“I cling to them. I-” Zion stuttered, forcing his mind to rebel against this.

“Speak to me plainly. Where I can weigh your thoughts before I respond.” Zion’s words were not a request, but a command. He knew inside that Naru could brush away his existence as if he was dust in the wind, yet he stood without fear. Zion was certain of his conviction in this moment. Ready to defend his freedom, even if he knew logic dictated the attempt to be futile.

“Few can withstand my will, within your subconscious as well…” He let his thought trail off, pondering the implication. “You have passed the first test!” Smiling proudly, for the first time Zion could remember. “Should your resistance have crumble, you would now be with the ancestors.” Naru invoked the ancient fate, a destiny worse than death. The ancients were stuck in perpetual isolated, forever starved of the connection between their fellow minds.

A newfound respect was carved out for Zion. Not yet as an equal, nor did this fact press on his mind. His new status felt godlike compared to his previous. The mental shackles holding his mind from unthwart chaos had now been removed, as he progressed to the next stage within his order. An unimaginable wave of possibilities cascaded upon him, it was in this instant he realized he was still only an infant in his abilities. Surrounding him stood masters of their power. Individuals who could understand the deepest fibres of other minds, extend their awareness outwards to the very fabric of the universe.

Zion grew restless. The tedious repetition inflicted on him by Naru had worn his patience thin. Confined to safety and seclusion of The Sanctuary, he had been given little chance to explore outside of his barren room. Succumbing to his boyish impulses he began to plan an escape. Zion realized he had never been explicitly forbidden from leaving, nor were any guards situated to impeded him, only an unspoken custom restrained him. Gathering his internal courage he made for the main gate, convinced this would draw the least suspicious. Stepping outside of the Sanctuary’s innocence nothing could prepare him for what he saw.

A sprawling metropolis expanded in all directions. Great arcane towers extended skywards, towering high into the clouds, built from the very bedrock of the world, they defied all nature laws Zion had held in default acceptance. In the distance he could see the silhouette of the city walls, interlocking seamlessly to form one gigantic castle, a formidable fortress which would shatter the premature hope of any invader. Any true attempt at escape now felt dire, defying the grandeur in front of him seemed like an impossible task.

Consumed in shock Zion was oblivious to his unusual behaviour. A stranger shot him a deathly stare, their appearance had a likeness to Zion’s, clearly human, yet it seemed different, modified in some unclear way. The stranger briefly inspected Zion’s mind, piecing it deeply, before relenting, unveiling any confidence Zion had of travelling unnoticed.

His mind was still naive, sporadic thoughts poured out without restraint, any stranger within earshot would instantly judge him out of place. Seeking to avoid this attention Zion recalled one of the lessons Naru had taught him, one he had overlooked at the time but now wished he had been more attentive for. It took him several attempts, misjudging small details in the first few tries, causing the sequence of logic to cascade into failure. Finally he succeed, imperfectly, yet he knew it had to do. He had placed a blanket on his mind, any who looked mentally in his direction would only see empty space, assuming to be one of the mindless. However, a closer inspection would reveal several subtleties he neglected. The symmetry of the space was too perfect, its mental edges too geometric, for it to be any natural construction.

The street had an unsettling appearance to it. The houses lining the street were constructed from crisp white panels, with vivid geometric gold patterns etched into them. Shallow set facades left the street with little depth, and the absence of imperfection left it without warmth. It neglected all traces of time, looking as if it had been built this very day. Yet it had stood for ages, long before Zion’s birth. Reprising a futurist nostalgia which had yet to be fulfilled.

It was not this perfection which unsettled Zion, instead it was arcane tower charging towards the heavens at the end of the street. Compared to any skyscraper on his home world it seemed utterly unable to exist, towering above them by magnitudes. Even the street seemed uneasy of it. As the paving approached its base the tiles changed. A mismatched mosaic of designs interlocked, the essence of countless battling artists embodied within its clashing flavours. Before the tiles descended into a pitch black, all consuming in their desire.

Suddenly, Zion realized something had changed, yet he could not pinpoint his mind on what. Concentrating his focus he realized the mental buzz surrounding him had stopped. Turning around he saw the street behind him emptied, and out of no happiness; the residing thoughts reeked with untainted fear.

In the distance he saw a sight wholly ungodly. An incoming wave of blackness was charging towards him, tearing across the lush plains, desecrating their ethereal bliss. Ravaging the serenity they had know for all of eternity. As far as history told, this ground had never known conflict, never been desecrated by bloodshed.

The futuristic street provided nowhere for him to take shelter, and knew he had wandered too far from the sanctuary to reach its protection in time. He was left with only one choice. Run. He sprinted, gracing faster and faster with every step, terrified of the chaos chasing him from behind. Certain should he trip it would be his last mortal action.

He darted from street to street, praying each corner would provide his salvation. He realized the city was laid out in offset blocks, preventing any distant direct line of sight. His hope rose, and collapsed, with each corner he passed. Feeling fatigued he felt he could continue no longer.

Finally something changed, sprinting around a corner he found an entirely different aesthetic surrounding him. Bright vibrant colours, turquoise, magenta, lilac and other colours he had no words to describe were plastered onto the houses, scattered throughout the street coating all outfacing surfaces. They seemed to be placed randomly, yet when considering them as a whole they had a strange appeal of unity. But this entire alien contrast was not in the forefront of Zion’s mind. Instead a deep set house front drew his attention. Extending backwards it provided the cover he desired. Sprinting with impassioned speed he dived inside, not a moment too late, as the darkness ravaged past him.

The storm endured, seconds turned into minutes, and minutes turn into hours. Stuck in physical confinement, Zion’s mind grew restless and began to wander his surroundings. A constant vibrant stream of thoughts encompassed the city. Each individual’s thoughts had a distinct aura to them, allowing Zion to pick them out of the stream of thousands. Brushing past countless mundane conversations, he grew indifferent to the entirely ordinary matters they discussed, until finally he found one which peaked his interest. He only caught the end of the thought, a single word, “Emperor”, yet the impassioned tone signified the gravest importance. Following the trail of the thoughts back to its origin he could only express shock, they came from above, in a distant reach of the sky. Allowing for only one possibility, the thoughts were coming from the pinnacle of one of the mysterious towers, a place Zion knew little about apart from one fact. They were home to the greatest power in the universe, the children of the gods. Curiosity bested his fear, yet he dared not to intercede or intervene, not wishing to consider the consequences.

“You speak of blasphemy!

“Do not let your emotions control you. It is by convention only, our laws and ancient traditions dictate otherwise.” The thoughts had a trace of remorse behind them. “Do you delude yourself into thinking this is what I desire. I speak only what I see.”

“Since the end of isolation we have endured. What we have built is immortal. After the breaking of the last star, the last sound before enduring quiet, we will survive. You speak of impossibilities!”

“Yet I speak only the truth. I open my mind freely to you now. Know you can take my life in a single instant before I can protest rebellion. After what you witness, you will understand.”

The doubter began their search, slowly reaching out into the other’s mind. Uneasy at the transparency as first, convinced deceit was hidden behind it. They became all consumed in shock realizing all protection had been removed. In the history of the children of the gods this level of trust had never been seen, not since their initial creation, it was an act of insanity beyond what any logical mind could comprehend. Their mind was engulfed in fear, chaos resonating. It had a disconnect with any mortal, yet their was a mysterious harmony behind it, a perfect hidden order.

“You do not exaggerate. How can this be-” lost for words, a master of all now feeling like the most primitive novice.

“Look to the past. What we were before Gaia is all that can save us now.”

“We are Gaia. You speak in riddles.”

“There was a before. Our distant ancestors once were confined to isolation within their own minds. On a single planet, Earth.”

“You speak of myths as if they are a certainty. You are a madman.” Yet he remembered the mind, and knew his words held fake promise.

Zion knew danger, more present now then it had been before, but still his curious remained. He felt the power radiating from this individual and knew he could not miss this chance. Breaking all etiquette he intruded into their mind, shunned by what he saw. The mastery was beyond anything he could ever comprehend, undoubtedly human yet their mortality had been tamed, extended indefinitely until their task could be fulfilled.

We are not alone. Go. Look to the past. I fear my death hour encroaches.

Take my blessings with you.

Left unspoken was the ultimatum, they knew should they fail their existence as they knew it would crumble. For millennia their fate had been intertwined with the Emperor’s name, their undisturbed sacrosanct nature only protected at his whim. Should he fall, the age of chaos would resurface once again, shattering the everlasting peace once more, never to be restored.

Zion projected his thoughts throughout the room.

Chapter 2: The Sanctuary

“We must talk!” Spreading his desperation through every inch of the idle air, urgency imprinted into his words that would shake any into sudden alertness.

Naru appeared, cloaked in a fresh linen robe flowing freely down towards the floor. It favoured comfort over the usual formality Zion was accustomed to in his presence.

“Your mind is filled with Chaos.” His words were accusatory, before instantly descending into realization. “You’ve been into the city, outside the peace of these walls. You were not ready.”

“There is a plot on the Emperor’s life!” Zion’s spoke rushed, his thoughts near incomprehensible.

“I should have warned you. Your mind is still untrained for outside the Sanctuary. Out there is like a tsunami of chaos, thoughts spiralling in all direction. Misspoken and misinterpreting words corrupting the air as often as breaths taken.” An element of Naru berated himself for not paying closer attention to Zion’s whereabouts.

“You don’t understand. They plan regicide, they’re going to kill him!” Zion had grown desperate, wishing Naru would understand the severity of the situation.

“These thoughts you heard are nothing more than the idle chatter of common gossip mongers. Where did you hear these thoughts from?”

Zion hesitated, knowing the truth he was about to speak seemed foolish, far-fetched beyond reason. “The thoughts originated from high above. In the kingdom of the children of the gods.”

Naru let out the equivalent of a mental sigh, “the children of the gods have not communication with mortals for aeons, apart from the Emperor himself. Your claim is as significant as a midsummer passing breeze, entirely without vindication.” He paused, studying Zion’s face, the boy’s desire had not lessened. Realizing he had not dissuaded Zion’s interest he invoked his authority, “pursuing this misunderstanding will bring you no peace. I forbidden it.” Naru’s words were explicit.

Yet Zion was without doubt in his conviction. He knew what he saw to be true, utterly and undeniably, without misdirection. It weighed on his mind, he knew he would find no help here in the sanctuary. If he could not alert the Emperor all would be lost, the hopeless search for salvation would be abandoned before it began.

Zion’s mind burned for action. Confined to the solitude of his room his freedoms had been removed. A guard had been posted outside his quarters, making any boyish attempts at escape now futile. His home had been turned into his prison in a single conversation.

His room was barren of the usual furnishings which brought warmth. The bed frame was carved out of a rustic wood which resembled oak on his home world, Earth, yet he knew any resemblance was purely coincidental. The oak he remembered with such familiarity was halfway across the universe. Along with everything else he had known, here he had been stripped back to his core.

Another fact strained on Zion’s mind. Before he had been indifferent to the Emperor, representing nothing more than a name, a distance figurehead. Now he felt a unique connection to him, a desire to warn him of the plot on his life at all costs. Overhearing the conversation the previous day had deeply imprinted on Zion, sharing the same mental space as beings who had transcended mortality had touched him. Slowly he began to construct a plan for escape, an intricate plot which would utterly rely on the success of every step if it was to work.

Suddenly the door burst open! Followed by the guard charging through the carnage, whacking Zion across his face with an unmerciful slap, breaking his concentration before Zion could react. The guard had a unmasked face of rage, all consumed in his hatred. Behind his thoughts a true malice was held, entirely unlike anything Naru had ever conveyed to Zion.

“You dare plan escape!”

“I merely pass the time in here.” Responded Zion, attempting a simple deflection.

“Naru clearly failed to make you understand authority. It is time to fix that.”

The guard began to gather his will inwards, preparing to isolate Zion’s mind as Naru had once in his training. A moment which had not been lost on Zion, forever imprinting his mind with the true potential of pain. The guards aura was shrouded with savage intent, he did not intend on a simple punishment, instead Zion’s doom.

The guard struck out, mentally directing his bloodthirsty intent at the terrified boy, all consumed in his savagery, as if its architect was outside his own being. Zion felt true fear, wishing for the comforts and peace of his old life in this instant. Acting instinctively he snapped the thoughts, breaking them effortlessly as if it was his second nature. He followed the trail of thoughts back to the guard’s mind, shattering them without mercy, leaving only chaos in their wake. Zion recoiled, recovering from his outburst, but the chaos did not dissipate. Instead it only intensified, spreading into the guards mind, shattering all order within it.

The body stood stiff, hanging lifeless in the air before hurling towards the floor. Crash! A great thud echoed throughout the room as it collided with the floor. The pinpointed moment where the deathly sound transcended into silence was lost on Zion, as the last living sound the guard would ever make was sealed in eternity forever.

Zion’s mind trembled from his actions moments before. Despair shaking him down to his core. This had not been his true intent. In all his life he had never acted with malicious aggression before, yet now he had just killed a man. A thought horribly final. Zion could find no way to justify his actions. He feared this was this true identity surfacing, his response had been his second nature, utterly destroying the man without second consideration or hesitation. He wished none of this had happened, wished he had never been taken to this god’s forsaken planet.

Finally regaining some of his intuition, Zion brought his thoughts to the present. The only guidance he had left was the plot on the Emperor’s life. He knew he must escape. Any superficial inquisition into Zion’s mind would reveal his instant guilt, in a city where murder was unheard of his punishment would be swift. In his current state of uncovered guilt, a single stray thought could be his undoing, a risk he was unwilling to take. Once discovered Naru would come looking for him, concealing his mind as a void would not prevent his detection for long, with intent driving them any competent individual would quickly discover the unnatural symmetry.

Zion thought back to his lessons, attempting to recall a single passing phrase. Naru spoke of those who could make their mind appear as another, conceal themselves in plain sight as an entirely ordinary mind. First Zion tried to replicate a mind from scratch, soon realizing this was a impossible task, recreating original thought on that level was a task even the children of the gods would fail at. Cursing his ignorance Zion had lost all hope, before suddenly a thought shot into his mind. The secret was to pick a mundane mind and project it onto his own, using its thoughts and emotions as a facade.

Stepping out the front door, Zion made for the main gate of the Sanctuary. Each step inching him closer to escape. It took every fibre of his self control to not sprint for freedom. Finally stepping past the Sanctuary’s borders he knew each second that passed was now a moment closer to salvation.

He wandered mindlessly without direction, fearful of discovery should he use any of his mental powers. The crime scene grew physically more distance with every step he took, whilst remaining just as prevalent in his mind. The dreadful scene as he murdered a man flashing in his mind. That he acted in self defence gave little relief to Zion’s burdened conscious.

Stepping around the corner a sudden wave of Deja-Vu struck Zion. The street in front of him was lined with bricked buildings. Rustic red blocks were stacked on top of each other, once bright but now dulled from year of weather abrasion. The imperfect craftsmanship was a refreshing reminder of earth, especially compared to the abject perfection this city tried so hard to portray. Sturdy oak timbers arched outwards, overhanging into the street. The houses had a derelict feeling to them, the street seemed barren, devoid of all life compared to the previously packed streets. It brought him back to his youth. His home that lay countless light years away, stranded halfway across the galaxy. Any similarity here could be nothing more than a coincidence. Still he couldn’t shake the resemblance between it and his childhood town, the likeness was uncanny.

“Well what do we have here?” Spoke a figure, slipping out from the shadows to block Zion’s path, who being consumed in his reminiscing had overlooked the present.

“I was just passing through.” Informed Zion as he stepped forward, trying to avoid conflict. A notion which the other boy quickly disregarded, as he shifted to obstruct Zion’s path.

“Turn over your purse.” Demanded the skinny boy in a stern tone.

“I don’t have anything.”

In his haste Zion had overlooked the exquisite silk robes he left the Sanctuary with, they clearly gave the impression he was an unguarded boy of wealth.

“Your two hear that. This one doesn’t have anything!”

Suddenly two callous laughs echoed from the shadows, with a pair of figures emerging moments later. A girl, of just below Zion’s age, nearing the end of her teenage years. She wore dirty grey clothes, as nondescript as you could get, with her hair dyed into a mute colour. But it was her companion whose Zion’s attention was diverted to, a boy towering over a foot above Zion’s own height, with the build to match, his deeply set features gave his face an unnerving impression. If it came to a physical altercation Zion knew he would surely lose.

“Look, I mean no trouble. I’m in a hurry so must really go.” Zion didn’t know where he was heading with his words. In all this time he had forgotten he was no longer speaking mentally, for the first time in months he was having a fully vocal conversation, and the group didn’t find it unusual or unsettling in any way.

“And where would that be?” interrupted the girl.

Zion’s blank face gave off more than he intended. He broke into a run, realizing reasoning was futile.

“We have a runner!” Barked the larger boy, a wide smirk appearing on his face. He turned to his companion, “after we are done with this one take him to the guards and claim his reward,” laughing proudly at his discovery. The three vagabonds rushed out to flank Zion, cutting him off from any path of escape. The intimidating larger boy reached out to grab Zion, as he made connection Zion sensed it was time to act.

Reaching out into the boy’s mind Zion sent a searing thought, a quick offensive to scare him off, only attempting to graze the most superficial parts of his mind. But Zion became too engrossed, overextending his attack, his mind became momentarily interlocked with the boys. Unintentionally projecting a flashing sequence of his earlier actions that day. The lifeless body of the guard crashing to the floor as his mind turned to chaos playing on repeat.

Suddenly the large boy scampered back, placing distant between himself and Zion at great pace. The sheer terror in his eyes made his two companions unwilling to act. It was clear the older boy was the usual leader of the group, and his sudden paralysis had stunned their leadership.

“He is from the sanctuary.” A deep dread encompassed the larger boy’s thoughts. Instantly the trio knew the roles had been reversed, they had turned from predators to prey in a single moment. The Sanctuary was a largely an unknown, a place shrouded in mystery and respect.

The girl spoke softly, seeking to make amends quickly. “We are sorry, we thought you a witless noble’s son,” continuing she introduced the group, “I am Astoria,” giving a swift stiff courtesy. “My friend here”, pointing to the larger boy on the floor still consumed by shock, “Is Valorian.”

“And I am Dendral,” spoke the skinny boy, the initial instigator.

Hesitating, Zion judged honesty the best course of action, “and I am Zion, of Earth.”

Dendral gave a quick glance at Astoria, letting something unsaid pass. They both knew of Earth in their mythology, the supposed origin of all humanity. Yet it was lost ages ago, in the great fall. None had come from Earth in millennia, Astoria thought Zion could only be talking of a newly habited planet bearing its namesake, the other possibility seemed crazy.

Valorian spoke, “the evening patrol is due any moment, we cannot idle here. If we are found here with one from the sanctuary…” He left his words trail off. Zion was unaware of the customs of city, in a society where truth could be obtained with one-hundred percent certainty crime was dealt with ruthlessly.

Only Valorian had seen the glimpse into Zion’s mind, the guard’s yearning for death in the moments before his end. An act he couldn’t believe even the most evil individual would be able of inflicting, yet this boy in front of him, still within his teenager years, had been capable of it. Unsure if Zion was even aware of the unhindered torture he inflicted in that moment, a possibility which was even more terrifying. Valorian dared not to cross this individual. Rising up with what was left of his composure, he spoke,

“Zion, we will take you in for this night. Tomorrow is still yet uncertain.” Astoria and Dendral gave a momentary nod, inclining they would default to his decision. Between the three of them they held a rigid moral framework, and would not dishonest it by acting against Valorian’s declaration.

Zion felt relieved, a refreshing feeling compared to the chaos of the last few days. For the first time in months he was surrounding by people his own age, in the sanctuary his interactions had been exclusively limited to his older male teachers.

Valorian, Astoria and Dendral led him through a series of alleyways at great pace, following a route which had no clear orientation to Zion, he felt they were going in circles. Still maintaining the mental facade he was growing exhausted. He decided to finally reveal his true mind, the three already knew he was from the sanctuary so additional deceit served to aid him little. Noticing the sudden change in Zion’s mental composition, Astoria could investigated, able to now see Zion’s confusion. She placed her own thoughts into his mind, “We are making sure we aren’t being follow. Habit.” Zion was initially taken aback, her mental touch was unlike any he had felt.

Finally their pace slackened as they approached their destination. Their headquarters, the base of operation for their mischief. The room ordained several personal touches, trinkets and nuisances which assured Zion this room held a deep sentimental value to them. It looked well used, at least for several months, he started to wonder exactly who these three were. In a city where wealth was bountiful, how had they ended up as low lying thieves. Abruptly Valorian stopped, starring directly at Zion.

“I think it’s time for an explanation.” Thought Valorian, projecting his thoughts into the middle of the room. Vividly remembering the replay of the guard’s death he had seen in Zion’s mind.

“Why is an honest boy running from the Sanctuary?” Questioned Dendral, extending his thoughts, openly, still in innocence of Zion’s earlier actions.

“I had to escape.” Thrusting his thoughts out too much, directly into the mind of each individual.

Astoria outwardly laughed, speaking out loud, “You are not used to this.” The first light-hearted words he had heard all day, a welcome intervention.

Trying to maintain control over his projection, Zion tried again, “Every interaction I’ve had has been directional, I’ve never communicated like this before.” Overextending again he felt instant embarrassment, grinding Valorian’s and Dendral’s patience at what they considered a trivial skill.

Able to see directly into his mind, and realizing the true extent of his discomfort, Astoria decided to assist him. Grabbing his arm to make the transfer of thoughts easier, she extended her thoughts privately into his mind. “This is how you do it. Look inside my mind.”

Leaving the instructions hanging within her own mind. Unsure how to proceed at first Zion acted timidly, never having plucked the thoughts out of a mind in friendship. Reaching out cautiously to inspect them, he realized she had completely lowered the barriers within her mind. He expected to find more resistant as he intruded further, yet he saw none of the more primitive barriers which he thought of as second nature. The superficial thoughts left him with instant understanding of how the others communication in a group. He knew he would now be able to replicate it with little difficulty.

Something else peaked his intrigue. It was not only these instructions which were left on display to him, but her entire mind, her feelings and her memories. He knew she couldn’t be aware of this, she would never have put herself in this state of vulnerability with a near stranger. It felt wrong, her most intimate secrets revealed to him on the same day they met.

It was like a entire universe within her mind, her own reality where she was overlord, but not necessarily in total control. Chaos and order constantly battling, forever generating originality in their indefinite conflict. He felt her most intimate desires, her most instinctive impulses.

Even after only viewing her mind for a few moments, Zion now knew this girl better than she knew herself. It had a certain appeal to it. The first mind he had truly known and understood. It would forever hold a remembrance with him, as one never forgets, their first love and their first kiss, this moment would forever be imprinted on his mind.

What he had just viewed, even if not his original intent, was the most disrespectful break of etiquette, shattering any hopes at friendship. His morals had already been tested deeply this day. After killing a man, an act he thought unthinkable before, he did not need another mistake weighing on his subconscious. He decided to reciprocate Astoria’s openness. She had only had to relent her most outward layer of protection, but Zion had layers build within his subconscious, taking a great amount of effort to nullify. Their purpose had been to heed against manipulation, stop any attack, and now of Zion’s removed them of his own volition, placing him in a place of ultimate vulnerability. His thoughts wavered, and his mind went into a blur. He saw his mind shown to Astoria, a flash of power, unfathomable in its potential, knowing its own source could be his own mind he could only feel confusion. Suddenly blackness was everywhere. Seeming to endure for all of eternity.

Chapter 3: A Misjudged Robbery

“He’s awake!” shouted Dendral vocally, alerting Valorian.

Still drained Zion overlooked the fact the non-mental communication was unusual. His senses were shaken, slowly recovering he found Astoria holding his chin with unreadable eyes, tears were steaming down her face.

Storming into the room in a bigoted rage Valorian screamed, “What happened!”

Feeling a sudden wave of embarrassment cascade upon her, Astoria recoiled back from her temporary embrace. Swiftly, she left the room in silence, leaving Dendral and Valorian to gaze on in confusion.

“You tried to kill her!” accused infuriated Valorian, yet he knew his words held fake promise. They both viewed Astoria as a stone-hearted girl, should Zion have meant malice she would not have left peacefully.

“She showed me how to communication mentally,” thought Zion, projecting his thoughts into the centre of the room allowing them to communication mentally in a group.

“We’ve already wasted enough time with you!”

Valorian did not like Zion, nor trusted him. Yet he refused to let him be the reason they missed the biggest robbery of their lifetime.

“The influx of unarmed nobles roaming in the city is going to be short lived. The accession only happens once!” Thought Valorian rushed, his thoughts consumed with undiluted frustration.

“There is still Viscount Lioz.” Thought Dendral apprehensively.

“We’ve already decided that was not an option.”

“It would make up for our wasted time. Hell! It would be enough to set us up for life.” Thought Dendral with inflamed passion, as the potential wealth plagued his mind.

“Unbelievable!” Shouted Valorian, directly targeting his thoughts at Dendral.

He stormed out of the room, disappointed with his friend for even suggesting such a risky endeavour.

They clung to the shadows. Sneaking from street to street, down the back passages of the city through alleyways long since publicly closed. Slowly progressing towards where their target lay. A last minute change in itinerary from Viscount Lioz had put their well organized plan into frantic disarray, forcing them to scramble to get into position in time. They knew the window of unarmed nobles roaming the streets of the capital was rapidly coming to a close. Soon these streets would be bustling with soldiers, tasked with keeping the peace between distant provinces who feuds had spanned generations. In these walls no bloodshed would be allowed to transpire, any thieves caught and mistried as assassins would face the gravest of punishments.

Valorian has volunteered to accompany Zion, still not entirely trusting of him, and certain he would be swifter than the others in dealing retribution should Zion betray them. They communicated in whispers, the microscopic mental strands travelling between them barely strong enough to make the distant. Understand these thoughts was a stretch, however neither protested, both knowing the secrecy was an unwelcome necessity. Neither wished to labour on the repercussion should a prying mind uncover their distasteful actions at this hour.

“There the viscount comes!” thought Valorian in a hoarse whisper.

Roughly he grabbed Zion arm, chucking him out into the middle of the street, urgently and without care. Consumed in rage, a feeling which was recently becoming unnaturally frequent, Zion began to construct his counterattack. Valorian quickly cut him off, sending a sharp frustrated thought into his mind, “follow my lead you fool.” As he lunged forward to strike Zion across the face.

Zion raised his fist in response. Gladly whacking Valorian in the side of the head without restraint. At the sight of these two beggar boys brawling in the street, the Viscount’s men showed great disgust. They thought themselves above dealing with street vermin. Instead of intervening they ushered the Viscount’s retinue down a side route, seeking to take the back alleys and avoid the block altogether.

The retinue continue quickly, watching the idle air around them with eagle eyes. Still uneasy at this diversion, they sought to usher the viscount to the safety of main streets as soon as possible.

Suddenly the air above erupted with activity, two of the overhanging arches collapsed from above, crumbling from where they hung above to come crashing down into the alleyway below. Instantly splitting the noble from the protection he depended on, isolating him between two towering piles of rubble on each side. Astoria and Dendral appeared moment later, abseiling from above to ambush the viscount. Both knew time here was paramount, the diversion would only delay the desperate guards for a few minutes, who were already trying to move the rubble in a frantic fury.

Astoria inflicted a sharp intrusive thought, encroaching on the unprotected superficial areas of the viscount’s mind, whose energy had been diverted to defend his inner mind and core thoughts. The attack shattered his concentration. For all of his life he had thought his mind sacrosanct, yet now this street girl defiled it. Touching areas he had thought sacred and private, charging through his mind without signs of relenting, unaccustomed to the same subtleties as Zion.

“Stop!” He screeched, pleading with every fibre of his trembling mind. “I’ll give you anything, please!” His tone was entirely sincere, he could not withstand this punishment for much longer without permanent damage.

Dendral smirked to Astoria, they had gained what they wished with little resistant. The viscounts of the outer worlds tended to be impertinent, suborn beyond reason, yet this one seemed to embody few of their sour characteristics.

Here is my Dagger! The diamonds on it will fetch you more than any estate. Now let me go.” His voice was firm, like a lifetime of undisputed authority had been spoken by it, exceeding that of any common viscount. As Dendral and Astoria began to examine the dagger their hearts sunk, realizing the full extent of their mistake. The dagger adorned the Emperor’s personal family crest, belonging to only to his own kin. They stood before the son of the most powerful man in the galaxy. Overcome by his nerves, Dendral began to shake, inwardly muttering blessing to his gods for forgiveness.

Astoria remembered Zion’s mind, his abject fear at the conversation he had overheard. She knew the Emperor’s son must be warned, even if the delay in escaping could cost her life. Speaking softly directly into his mind, forgetting the chaos ensuing around them, and ignoring the fact they themselves were the perpetuators.

Trust no one, keep your council close. If your father wishes to live past the Accession he must act. Seek absence for whatever excuse, you life depends on it.”

The effect of these words were not lost on the boy, as he stood in shock that a common girl would declare his holy life marked. Astoria still fearing the significance of her words had not imprinted on him added,

This warning come from the children of the gods themselves!” His jaw dropped, she had invoked the spiritual leaders of all mankind, making the gravest of statements.

The next moment Dendral was dragging at her sleeve, urging her to conclude this conversation swiftly, pulling her away before the prince could construct any response. This misjudged robbery had sealed more than any common death sentence for them. If they were caught, an eternity of torment would now be their fate. Suddenly they heard shouts from above, soldiers lined the rooftop, staring in disbelief that any would challenge the prince’s eminence.

“The sewers!” shouted Dendral mentally. Quickly the pair sprinted into a nearby shopfront, running straight into the basement and darting through a trapdoor leading to the sewers. Knowing the soldiers would be minutes behind they made all haste.

Astoria and Dendral grew weary. They had been charging through the expansive sewer system with no sense of direction for hours, hoping to place as much distance between themselves and their pursuers as possible. Suddenly, they heard a distant shout, a clatter of footsteps, the guards had finally found the pairs trail. Without any sense of which direction meant salvation the pair were paralysed with panic.

Astoria’s interaction with Zion the other day had changed her, giving her a deep introspective honesty she hadn’t discovered before. It also filled her with dread, since it happened she had felt a strange connection to him, feeling his distance presence wherever he went. Desperately she tried to communication with him, praying this bond would be something only they shared and that no bystanders would be able to eavesdrop.

“Zion.” Calling gently as first, unsure if he could hear her. Minutes passed, and no response came. Astoria turned to desperation,

We need help! We’re trapped and being hunted. The viscount was the Prince!” Her unconcealed thoughts revealed deep fear.

Finally a response came, straining her mind it took all her concentration to decipher it. The words were weak but understandable,

“follow my mind. I’ll guide you to me and Valorian.” Already aware of the misjudged robbery Zion and Valorian had made for the sewers in the hopes of intercepting the pair, tracking their path and now only waiting a few passageways away from them.

Suddenly they came into view. The spark of hope had finally been restored again.

“Pass me the dagger.” Valorian spoke directly to Astoria, Zion shot her a glance, preparing to protest. Dendral intervened, placing a thought directly into Zion’s mind,“if we’re dead the wealth will have no use to any of us.”

Zion thought hastily, dismissing emotion, “we must be quick. They are only minutes behind us and we have no time to waste.”

He began to lead the group in a half jog, taking them through the dim blackened tunnels. The stench of the sewers would usually be unbearable but now it was the last thing on the groups mind. They had all facilitated this robbery, and feared the Emperor’s punishment above all else. Zion rushed through the tunnels with an assertive confidence, heeding a path that seemed to have no order behind it, rapidly shifting directly several times, yet never hesitating, never looking back.

They saw movement in front of them, yet Zion could not sense the mental sign of a human. Valorian ushered him back, taking charge of the group, a habit which in the trio’s troublesome past had often been necessary. And something which Zion welcomed in this instant, knowing the larger boy would be the more suited should it come to physical conflict.

As they approached they saw something entirely unexpected, Dendral gasped, repulsed by the sight of it. A lifeless man was chained to a chair, his face was dripping with blood. Bruises and blisters covered his tortured body. He had an aged face and his white hair clearly showed his elderly years.

Dendral, Astoria and Valorian started to continue, disgusted at the man’s condition but only concerned about their own safety in this instant. Convinced if they were found they would end up in the same state as the battered man, if not worse. But Zion hesitated.

“We have to go, they’ll be behind us any moment.” Spoke Astoria in a terrified tone, gripping his arm to pull him along.

Zion was stern, “We lost them in the tunnels. It’ll be hours before they find our trail.”

“How can you be sure?” questioned Valorian aggressively.

Zion didn’t respond with words, his eyes showed he was sure of his conviction. Valorian let the question drop, still fearful of Zion.

Unbeknown to the trio was the tireless deceit Zion had left in their wake. Leaving endless trails of thoughts leading off in decoy directions. It would be hours before the pursuers would reach the end of the fake trails, seeing only cold brick walls and not the fugitives they chased. Once they realized they had been deceived they would redouble their efforts, systemically searching every tunnel in the expansive sewer system, but Zion would ensure he and his friends were long gone by that point. At this instant figuring out who this lifeless man was seemed imperative to Zion.

Zion approached the man, pulling his hidden dagger close, fearing unseen danger.

Questioning him vocally he asked, “who are you?”

Moments passed and the questioned remained unanswered. The body stayed unmoved, lifeless. He inspected the man chained to this chair carefully. His aged appearance showed his youth had long since past away, yet his body did not seem as worn as it should be, his hands were unmarked with scars or callouses. The sheer extent of the physical damage to him was unlike anything he had ever seen, his torturer had been meticulous in his work, whatever his secret was it had been worth the inquisitors sanity.

Zion controlled his mind, diving into techniques he had been taught in the sanctuary, using all of his abilities to enhance his mental protection, entirely unsure what he would seen within the man’s mind.

“Do not interrupt me, unless the greatest urgency demands it.” He spoke to Dendral, Valorian and Astoria in a commanding tone, an authority embedded in it that they had not previously heard from Zion.

Zion reached forward, grabbing the lifeless man’s arm, making connection into his mind. Nothing could prepare him for what he saw. Not his months of intensive training in the sanctuary, nor the unsolicited intimacy he shared with Astoria’s mind.

Chaos surrounded him on all sides. The tortured man’s mind had been desecrated, ripped apart without mortals, inhuman in what remained. It was fractured beyond repair, even the greatest masters would fail in any attempt at restoration. It took all of Zion’s composure not run in terror and utterly falter. He yearned for peace, the innate desire to be returned to the normal. Forcing his mind to remain firm, Zion redoubled his strength.

Throughout the mind memories were scattered, stripped apart and distorted. Every mental fibre had been ruthlessly tormented, none remained untouched. It was evident someone had been searching for a secret buried deep within this mind, merciless in their search, willing to reach it at any cost. Zion knew this wasn’t torture, there were far simpler and more effectively methods at inflicting pain.

Suddenly Zion saw something, chaos within the disorder, a dim glimmer of light within the darkness, a thread of structure which had survived the torment. He knew he had to act with unreasonable caution, any forceful action could send this mind to its end, break whatever sanity remained.

“I did not give it to them, and I will not give it to you. I will not betray my kin.” Projecting a voice throughout the mind, a certain finality filling it.

“I do not know what you speak off.” Here inside this mind Zion decided to conceal nothing. Truth and curiosity sprang through his words, with such innate originality no master of this universe could replicate it with concealed deceit.

“You speak the truth. How strange.” The mind began to hum, a soothing tone, one entirely unaware of the narrow border it tread with insanity.

“You physical body is,” Zion hesitated, unsure of what the knowledge would do, “damaged beyond repair. Your mind is fractured.”

“And yet, my secret remains safe, they remain safe.”

“Who is they?”

The mind paused, judging the purity of Zion’s words,

“The Emperor, his family.”

Zion involuntary responded with a smirk. Intimately connected with this mind, it instantly detected the humour.

“What’s so funny!” The mind was in a rage, its fractured thoughts spiralling around like a hurricane. Already fragile this ferocity would soon destroy what was left. Zion knew he must act with haste, and unobscured honesty.

“I mean no offence. I overheard a plot on the Emperor’s life. They seek to dethrone the Emperor before his accession.”

“Blasphemy! You must stop this.” His tone was final, assured in its belief.

“I tried, but I was ignored. I am but-”

Interrupting sharpy the mind spoke, “I grow weary. Listen quickly. I do not know who you are, yet I have little choice left. For I have failed the task ordained to me, as a father I fail to protect my son. You must carry my words to him, the Emperor.”

Zion’s eyes widened, instantly the resemblance struck him.

“My liege, I apologise.”

“Enough. We have little time for flattery.” He sighed, knowing his life was nearing its close.

“Tell my son he has been comprised inwards, beyond recovery. The balance which had been held for ages is breaking, soon chaos will consume all. His only hope is to look to the past. Beyond the lonely steams and the distance mountains, there still remain those who remember. There his salvation will lie.”

Suddenly the mind ceased connection. Unprepared, Zion flew backwards as complete darkness consumed all around him.

Astoria cradled him, mistaking the responsibility for pain she attempted to comfort him. Before slowly recoiling, remembering his distrustful deed of the day before, knowing she would never trust him with any intimacy. He was the perpetrator of the greatest sin.

Zion spoke, “we must go to the Emperor, his life is in danger!”

Worry carried deeply across Astoria’s and Dendral’s faces, yet, Valorian only laughed, a deep dreadful displeasure.

“Your friend seeks to get us killed. I say he lies!” roared Valorian as he descended into a rage.

“Valorian please! I saw it his mind before, he speaks of the truth. The children of the gods spoke to him!” raising her thoughts to a near cry.

Pausing only momentarily he shouted, “then I shall have to see for myself!”

As he reached out to grab the lifeless man.

“Valorian no!” screamed Zion vocally, defaulting back to his fearful human instincts, as he rushed to intercept Valorian.

He was too late. Valorian made connection with the lifeless man. Reaching directly into the mind as Zion had. This time was different. The mind had already grown weary of life and Valorian’s thoughts were steeped in unclouded malice. Once it discovered the dagger in Valorian’s presence the mind became consumed in a rage, taking it as a personal affront.

Instantly the mind overpowered Valorian’s mind, this man had once been the Emperor of the universe. Even now stripped of his liberties what remained of his mind was a formidable force. Consuming Valorian’s mind more and more with each second the connection was still intact. By the time the brute of a boy had finally managed to separate himself it was too late, the damage had been done.

Stepping back his eyes were bloodthirsty, a terrible uncontrollable rage spiralling in them. In that instant Zion, Dendral and Astoria knew true fear. Their friend had been entirely lost. His malice had been amplified, destroying whatever self control remained.

Before they could react Valorian pulled the jewel dagger from its hilt, slitting the chained man’s throat in vengeance for the mental attack moments earlier, quickly disposing of whatever inner motivation bound him to this life.

Then he turned on the three, charging directly at the newcomer. Zion tried to manipulate his mind, but quickly realized Valorian was too consumed to be tampered with. His mind would only respond to one stimulus now, death. Valorian towered over Zion, blood dripping from his terrible knife, all consuming hatred in his eyes.

“This is your doing. Your end will prevent the undoing.” The voice which spoke in this moment was not Valorian’s, but something alien, a persona without morals or remorse.

A terrible recognition of the voice showed in Zion’s eyes, forcing themselves to recoil, as if wishing to abandon this hopeless battle before it began.

Before Valorian could act Dendral lunged forward, impaling him deeply with the tip of his knife. Quickly ending his trail of rage. Even the least experienced surgeon would judge the wound mortal.

Dendral fell backwards with a deep remorse, he had just stabbed his closest friend, no matter how justified the action. His remorse quickly shifted to betrayal as he realized the thoughts were not entirely original, instead placed into his mind. He looked over as Zion, the guilt as clear as daylight. Zion had interfered within his own mind, directly taking control of him, violating any sanctorum he believed he had over his own mind. In this instant Dendral knew true helplessness.