“This is how I know we’re dreaming,” Jayson said. “Galaxies are thousands of light years across. Do you know how huge that is? A light year is how far light travels in a year. Light travels at over a hundred thousand miles per second.“
“You made that up,” Randy snorted.
“I didnot, it’s in our science book.” Jayson pulled the book out of his backpack and flipped to the table of contents. “I’ll show you, but think about it. If this Iresca is on the other side of the galaxy, how can we travel all that way in a split second?”
“Magic,” Randy said.
Jayson sighed and cradled his head in one hand. “OK. But even if it is. Our galaxy is about a hundred thousand light years across. Multiply that by twenty. Fuse is saying that the four of us are supposed to protect all of that. That’s impossible.”
“Hey, I know light powers aren’t the greatest, but you’re not giving us enough credit.”
“Are you even listening to me?”
Ru wanted to speak up, to tell him that he was right. That Fuse hadn’t told them the truth. That it was impossible. But this conversation was in the past, her words would not reach over the distance in time.
She cried out and opened her eyes.
There was an older woman with long blue hair sitting on a cushioned stool near the foot of her bed. No — this wasn’t her bed, or even her room. It was a small chamber with a highly polished floor and walls split by long windows, the glass the only thing between her and an impressive field of stars. The room was filled with some familiar, tall potted plants and flowers, and others not so familiar, but the thick fragrance of them all at once was comforting. The bed looked like a cloud, so full of white fluff she couldn’t see the structure underneath, if there was one.
Ru’s mind whirled. The last thing she remembered was seeing the Council and intense pain — she sat up and felt her chest. It was normal.
“Your pendant wasn’t damaged, so I was able to use it to restructure your body,” the young woman said softly. “How do you feel?”
“I — I don’t –” Ru barely had a grasp on words. “I saw you before?”
“My name is Cutyri. I am the representative of Galaxy Kalaedes, and a friend of Fuse.” She plucked a bottle from among the plants, and poured a viscous blue liquid into a glass. “Drink this.”
Ru hadn’t realized until that moment how hollow and hungry she was feeling. She gulped down the drink in seconds, not caring what it was or what it tasted like. Fortunately, it was pleasant, and it brought her mind to life. Cutyru took the glass back, rose from her stool, and took a long staff with what looked like butterfly wings from the corner. She tapped a wing to one of the windows, and something small and bright flitted up to her outside. As Cutyri spoke to it, Ru could feel the unfamiliar Accilean words ripple through the air. After, Ru was somehow able to see the thing at the window, a lightbulb-shaped insect with wings like the ones on Cutyri’s staff. Cutyri nodded, and it flew away.
“What is that?”
“A le’at. They are our messengers. Very adaptable creatures, they can withstand the vacuum of space without technological support. We based much of our atmospheric adjustment technology on their biology. I am letting the Council know you will survive, since it seems to be one of the most important factors in a major decision we have to make now.” Cutyri moved her seat up to the head of Ru’s bed. “Do you remember what Fuse told you?”
A knot tightened sharply in Ru’s throat, and tears brimmed in her eyes again. She wanted more than anything for that memory to be a nightmare. “He said you want to destroy the galaxy.”
“Not all of us, and not yet. Our situation has become even more complicated.” There was a tiny fire in Cutryi’s voice that made Ru wonder if she had a plan. “Forgive me for not addressing you in your language. I can understand you, but as you can hear –” she winced as she made an attempt at English. It was recognizable, but she clearly struggled with it. “I om noat os skaeld aen Aenglash aes Fyuss aes.”
“I’m supposed to learn Accilean anyway,” Ru said. “Though — I don’t see how it matters.”
“All hope is not lost. But I will not omit the truth as Fuse did — your chances of saving your galaxy are slim.” Cutyru folded her hands on her lap. “Ember and the prophecies given to you for reference, once told us of an entity called the Angel. This being is embedded somewhere deep in the Accilean System. This Angel was supposed to bring us a message, a clue as to how to save the galaxies should our system be severely threatened. The Angel conveyed this message through you: ‘We three have been separated by a deep rift in time. We need unity.’ Do you remember that?”
Ru shook her head, and a wave of dizziness made her regret it immediately.
“I believe she was referring to particular artifacts that may have the ability to seal the Lraenu. But no one knows where they are, and the Angel’s appearance has thrown the Council into panic. Many say the Angel’s appearance is a sign that the galaxies are in extreme danger. The Council as a whole has chosen to give you, the Skaeya, one of your weeks to prove yourself before Kelsilde is destroyed.”
“What?” Ru’s anger fired, dispelling any disorientation left in her head. “The Angel didn’t say to destroy the galaxy! That doesn’t make any sense! Doesn’t anyone living there get a say in it?”
“Fuse, technically,” Cutyri sighed. “Worlds are created and destroyed by no will of our own every day, and the Lraenu are taking that further out of our hands. The Council fears losing what control they have left.”
“There’s no way you have the power to destroy a whole galaxy,” Ru challenged.
“The Accilean System gives us that power.”
For once Ru found herself clinging to her doubts, but when she recalled the power that flowed through her during transformation, she could not deny that it could possibly be true.
“The System is supposed to bring us peace and order,” Cutyri continued, “to bring us understanding on levels we could never reach on our own. It is our primary duty to maintain the system so the galaxies remain peaceful. But the Lraenu have found a way to corrupt that system along with the galaxies it contains. If they were to completely gain control of the system, it would be even more disastrous than the destruction of a galaxy.”
“Then let us fight them!” Ru said. “That’s what we’re here for!”
Cutyri’s eyes were icy. “Why should we believe in you if you don’t?”
The words cut deep. Ru couldn’t even muster the weakest of denials. Nothing came but tears. “IT’S NOT FAIR!” she screamed. “You can’t do this! You can’t kill Mom and Vince and Ms. Graham and even Joe — tell them to do something else! You’re in the Council, they have to listen to you!”
Cutyri was gripping her robes, her expression tinged with pain. “I am trying. I will not give up. But as I said, most of the Council is terrified and desperate. You’ve felt the Lraenian presence. You feel the void when they are near, the agony they cause when they speak.” She gently brushed aside Ru’s bangs and pressed a finger to her forehead. “This presence is in the core of your galaxy and has spread mostly throughout.”
Ru could feel it. Visually the stars looked the same, a spiral of glitter, but there was an inversion. The core had rotted out, and the presence there was so overwhelmingly wrong that she immediately shied away upon contact. But the aftereffect was almost as strong. She collapsed into a ball of tears, feeling helpless to even remove the energy from her mind even though she wanted it out more than anything. Cutyri wrapped her arms around Ru, and a gentle, steady calm seeped in. “It is not fair,” Cutyri agreed quietly. “There is still hope, young one. Will you help us?”
“Fuse will know of the artifacts I speak of. I will send you back to Skae, and you will gather the other Skaeya and meet Fuse in the Irescan forest as soon as you possibly can. Your search will begin immediately. Can you do that?”