Excerpt from Clan of the Ancient Minds

Chapter 1

I looked up from the book I had been reading when I heard Ashel trembling. I took a deep breath and prepared myself for what would feel like an eternity of watching his limbs shake, but would really be over in just a few minutes. Oches and I had finally convinced an exhausted Jalya to go back to our room for a nap, leaving me alone to watch the patient. I had managed to sleep only a few hours earlier in the day. My mind had been racing, but pure exhaustion had ensured that I slept.

Ashel had been in the Beyjerones’ doctors’ quarters most of the night and for the better part of the day as well. The doctors had immediately started him on a strong cocktail of herbs, each dose metered out hourly through a large mug of steaming tea that he could barely choke down and a thick cream that was applied all over his skin. They felt that the prognosis was good, but he was still prone to the occasional trembling fit. He would have to continue to take this medication to control his symptoms, but only the Lamorian rock would provide complete relief—if we could find some.

My hands gripped the edges of my book as I stared at him, hoping that the sheer intensity of my gaze was powerful enough to make the tremors stop. He did look slightly better. The dark circles around his eyes were fading, and his skin was losing its grey cast. He was still very pale, however, with dark streaks ringing his hairline, and his breathing was so shallow that, every now and then, I reached my hand to his chest so I could feel its rise and fall.

I shifted my eyes, allowing them to wander along the length of his body, down to his twitching feet and back up, letting them come to rest upon his hands. They were thick and calloused from years of manual work—building, hunting, digging gardens—why had I never noticed how strong they looked? Now his knuckles were puffy and his fingertips black with whatever evil lurked inside of them. As if they knew I was watching, his thumbs started to jerk and a quivering started in his hands that I knew would continue up along his arms in a few moments. What if the herbs couldn’t control it? What if the Beyjerones considered him a lost cause? Surely, they wouldn’t send him to Lock Up too?

I looked across the doctor’s quarters and out of the large window on the other side. There, I was met by the wall of Malhadron Mountain as it rose into the distant sky. I could just barely make out the craggy peaks of the summit, and I wondered if the Beyjerones soldiers were still there, trying to sort out what had happened to the Lumeai. No one had been by to tell me otherwise, so I assumed that they were still getting things settled in the mountaintop village.

My eyes travelled around the room. It was large, so I enjoyed being there, as the walls didn’t feel like they were closing in on me. There were only two patients other than Ashel: Reyla who was sleeping in the corner and a young Beyjerone boy who had broken a bone in his wing while roughhousing with his friends. He was waiting for the doctor to come back and set his wing in a splint, and he smiled shyly as my eyes met his. I smiled back, noting how young his face looked, like that of a human child, though his body was still broad and muscular. 

A familiar voice boomed from the hallway. “There you are, Haralchuk!” I turned just in time to see Wagna strolling through the doorway and smiling at the young Beyjerone. “I was wondering if you were all right, after that fall you took.”

“I’ll be okay, I think,” the boy-bat answered. “But I guess I need to have a splint. The doctor says no more wrestling for a while.”

Wagna chuckled. “Well, it happens to the best of us.” He then turned toward me. “You should have seen it, Emmy. Young Haralchuk here had another Beyjerone kid pinned on the rocks outside; this kid was way bigger than he was too. But just as he was about to be declared the winner, he got distracted for a second…by a girl I think.” He stopped and gave the young Beyjerone a wink. “Let his guard down just long enough for the big one to throw him off. Then, in an unfortunate turn of events, the momentum carried him over the side of the rocks and he fell on his wing.”

He grinned at the boy-bat. “Don’t worry, Haralchuk. I know who the real winner is.” Haralchuk smiled back at him with pride.

Wagna looked back to me again. “You should really check out the next wrestling match, if we’re still here, that is. Did you know that a Beyjerones’ wings are impenetrable? Can’t be punctured by swords or arrows. That’s why they can use them as shields.” He scratched his head. “Torchuk tried to explain it to me—something about polymers or molecules or something—but it was over my head. Anyway, watching them fight each other is truly incredible.”

I smiled, his enthusiasm making me feel a little more cheerful. “You’ve found a new hobby, I guess.”

“Well, I’d certainly go back and see it again, given the opportunity. Maybe we can extend our stay here.”

“We might have to if he doesn’t get better soon,” I said, turning my head toward Ashel.

Wagna bent down to get a closer look at his face. “Well, he sure don’t look great, but a little better, I think. The shaking stopped yet?”

“No, he just had another episode a few minutes ago.”

“That’s too bad. I’m sure it just takes a while for all that disgusting stuff they’re putting in him and all over him to work. He’ll be all right.”

“Yeah.” We both watched Ashel in silence for a moment. I was imagining the worst possible outcomes again and wondered if Wagna was doing the same. The soft noise of footfalls interrupted our quiet contemplation. I looked past Wagna to see Reyla quietly padding in our direction.

“He doing any better?” he asked in a voice still thick with sleep.

“A little, I guess,” I said.

He looked around as if trying to remember where he was. “Any idea how long I’ve been asleep?”

“Well, it’s almost sundown, if that helps any.”

Reyla turned toward the window and studied the increasingly orange sky. “Looks like I slept away most of the day. Seems to have helped though; feeling strong as an ox again.”

“Well, good,” Wagna said. “Maybe you can get the doctor’s permission to go down to the meeting that’s been called by Professor Madalhandra. Apparently, she’s got some information on the Orlogs that she wants us all to hear. Everyone’s gathering in the meeting hall at sunset.”

“Interesting…” Relya mused. “Well, doctor’s permission or not, I’m going.” He walked back to his bed and started pawing through the sheets frantically. “Where the hell are my clothes? Did that doctor take my damned clothes so I wouldn’t leave? He knows I wouldn’t go anywhere looking like this!” 
He spread his arms out to bring emphasis to the flimsy sleeping gown he wore, and I stifled a laugh.

“Calm down, Mr. Reyla,” the doctor said as he entered the room. “Your clothing is hanging in the wardrobe in the doctor’s station. “I’ll get it for you now, and then you will be released from doctor’s care.”

He carefully laid the supplies for Haralchuk’s wing on the table next to the boy-bat and strode across the room.

“Released…” Reyla broke into a wide grin. “Finally!”

“I wouldn’t be so excited if I were you,” I stated. “It just means that you’ll have to sleep in a smaller room with the rock walls closer to each other. I think I’d rather be here.”

“Well, at least I’ll be free to move around as I please. I’ll sleep outside if I have to.” Reyla turned toward the clothing that the doctor had lain across his bed and began pulling off his gown. I quickly looked away when I realized that he was wearing nothing underneath.

I could hear him chuckling at me as he pulled on his pants. “What’s the matter, Emerin, never seen a naked man before? You should take a good, long look now, cause you’ll never see one better than this.”

“I think I’ll be okay, thanks.” I said while continuing to stare out the window. I imagined the fiery red that now streaked across the sky was likely pale in comparison to the hue of my cheeks.

While Reyla continued to laugh quietly to himself, Wagna made no attempt to stifle his loud guffaws. 
“Oh, Emmy’s still a little shy. Don’t worry, Reyla, I’m sure being around us for a while will change all of that!”

The two men continued to have a laugh at my expense, while I stared at the setting sun. “Um, Wagna, didn’t you say we have to be there at sunset?”

Wagna managed to stop laughing long enough to glance out the window. “Yeah, I guess we’d better be going. You ready yet, Reyla?”

“Absolutely!” Reyla jumped up from the bed.

I looked back toward Ashel, studying the black lines on his face carefully to see if there had been any change.

“What about Ashel?” I asked. “I don’t just want to leave him.”

“I assure you that he’ll be fine, Miss Emerin,” the doctor said from where he was tending to Haralchuk’s wing. “He’s completely out of danger now.”

“He’ll be fine,” Wagna echoed. “We’ll come by and check on him right after the meeting.”

I nodded and stood reluctantly, casting a last glance at Ashel before following Wagna and Reyla out 
into the corridor. I knew it would be pointless to hover over him; there was nothing I could do for him anyway, but I still felt bad leaving him alone in a strange place.

However, once I stepped into the hallway, my mind was quickly taken off of Ashel. I had to focus all my energy into not panicking as I navigated the tiny rock-lined spaces that would eventually lead to the Beyjerones’ meeting hall. One long, unbearably narrow alleyway led to another, which finally terminated at a tightly-enclosed set of stairs.

We followed the stairs for what seemed an eternity down into the lower recesses of the caves, which became darker and more oppressive the further we descended. Reaching the bottom did nothing to offer relief, as another long, narrow corridor stretched out endlessly before us. The air felt damp and thick, and it seemed a struggle just to pull it into my lungs. I prayed that the end of our journey would be found after every corner or bend in the passageway, and each time it wasn’t, my chest felt a little tighter.

I let out a heavy sigh when the doorway to the meeting hall finally appeared, a tiny speck of light at the end of an impossibly dark, rocky tunnel. I watched the Beyjerones that were amassing in front of us striding confidently in from side alleys, none of them seeming to notice that their wings were pressing against the stone walls. We followed them into the meeting hall, a giant room lit by torchlight and packed wing-to-wing with brown bodies.

“Emerin, who’s with Ashel?” Jalya’s voice squeaked from behind me. “Is he okay? Is he still sleeping? He’s not there alone, is he?”

I turned to see her face, the tension in it visible even in the dim lighting.

“He’s fine,” I said. “The doctor’s there with him. He says he’s out of danger now.”

Jalya’s face softened a little, but her brows were still tightly knitted together. “Maybe I should go back there; I don’t like not having one of us there.”

“Maybe you should just try to relax and come to the meeting,” Oches said, grabbing her shoulders and gently steering her toward the doorway. “Emerin said that he’s fine, so stop worrying. We’ll go see him as soon as this is over.”

“I know; you’re right.” Jalya took a deep breath and looked around the room. “So, do we just sit anywhere?”

The room was a mass of brown man-bats huddled against brown rock walls and seated on brown rock benches. The light put forth by the torches only added to the monotony of this uniformly-coloured space. My eyes scanned over the Beyjerone bodies as they chatted and laughed amongst themselves. I was looking for a familiar face, or at the very least, a place to sit.

“Over there,” Wagna stated, pointing to one of the centre rows on the other side of the room.
I followed the length of his arm which led my eyes across the brown haze to Vandalaharis, who was waving wildly at us. We all followed Wagna toward him, pushing past bulging muscles and semi-rigid wings.

Vandalaharis stood when we approached and motioned to the empty space on the bench next to him. 

“I saved you a place to sit,” he said. “It gets crowded in here very quickly. Professor Madalhandra tried to limit attendance to the researchers and the army. But, of course, others heard that something of interest is going on and now everyone is trying to come in.”

 I cast a glance back and saw several Beyjerones in army uniforms standing in the doorway, turning people away. It seemed that whatever we were about to find out was something of great importance.

“Are you sure we should even be here then?” I asked.

The man-bat looked at me incredulously. “Of course, you should! The bei clu and her entourage should attend any and all-important events. You need to be kept informed of the latest news.”

I looked at Jalya and the men who surrounded us and noticed that Kahj and Isrelda had joined the group as well. My entourage. I couldn’t help but grin. I suddenly felt like a princess.

A voice from the front of the room brought me back to reality. I turned to see Professor Madalhandra standing behind a painstakingly-smoothed rock podium. She was staring intently at the entrance, which was now guarded by a wall of Beyjerone military members.

“Sergeant Bandalcris, if we’re no longer waiting on anyone, would you mind closing the doors? We don’t need eavesdroppers hovering in the hallway.”

The soldier that Madalhandra had singled out stepped forward and nodded in her direction. He then turned toward the other guards and ordered two of them to close the thick, metal doors. Each soldier leaned on his door and pushed it across a track in the floor to meet the other. The scraping sound that they made indicated their heaviness, and as they clanged shut and the Beyjerone soldiers lined back up in front of them, I felt a renewed sense of panic. There was no way I was getting out of this room until they were ready to let me out.

I sat on the bench between Wagna and Jalya and studied the front of the room carefully to distract myself from my rapidly increasing heartbeat. Madalhandra and the other scientists had erected quite an elaborate display. Next to the podium, stood an enormous pad of paper that was covered with incomprehensible diagrams and held up to face us by a large wooden stand. Beside that was a wooden case with various items pinned to it, some identifiable, some not. The table in front of the case held stacks of thick books that I imagined were filled with information that I had no hope of understanding. 

What could they have found out? I entertained myself by coming up with ideas. Maybe anyone who had been through the Orlog’s mind bend would die soon or get sick like Ashel or, even worse, become one of them. I decided to quit thinking. Distracting myself really wasn’t making me feel any better.

Madalhandra’s shrill voice rang out from the podium. “All right, I think it’s time for us to begin. I’m sure you’re all anxious to find out why we’ve called you here.” She ran her hand through the long grey fuzz atop her head and slowly rocked back and forth, seeming to shift her weight from one foot to the other.

“As you all probably know by now, our soldiers have made an incredible discovery. We have in our possession four deceased Orlogs. This is so amazing because now we are able to study them and come up with some answers about what they are and how they came to be in our area.”

She turned slightly and held her arm out to call attention to the two scientists behind her. “Professors Hanchelbruk and Yousiris and I spent last night in our lab running tests and performing dissections and, as a result, have come to a startling conclusion.”

“Did she just say dissection?” Jalya whispered. “I think I might actually vomit. Those things are disgusting enough in one piece.”

“Shhh,” I said and glared at her. I wasn’t sure how she’d ever stopped talking long enough to make it through school. I turned my attention back to the podium, certain that the good part was coming.

“Well,” Madalhandra said, as she looked back again at her colleagues and ran her fingers through her hair once more. “We’ll go into more detail in a minute, but the big news is this…” She paused and licked her lips as if she wasn’t sure how to tell us.

“Our tests indicate that the Orlogs, well, they aren’t a new creature at all…they’re…well they’re actually human beings.”

Chapter 2

I sat upright on my seat, and, for the first time since we’d arrived at the caves, forgot about the oppressive walls surrounding me. Human beings? I was fairly sure that I had not heard her right. By the tone of the murmuring that now reverberated about the room, I guessed that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

“Did she say human beings?” Wagna asked. “Now, I’m an old man, and my hearing’s not what it used to be, but I’m damned sure she couldn’t have said human beings.”

“She said human beings,” I heard a voice say. I think it was mine.


Professor Madalhandra stood still for a long moment, presumably waiting for her words to sink in and the crowd to settle down. When that didn’t seem to be happening, she held up her hand to get everyone’s attention. The constant drone of voices trailed off into sporadic whispers and she smiled before she spoke.

“I know what I’m telling you seems implausible, but I assure you the tests that we ran are undeniably accurate. These creatures have human DNA; their organs and body systems are unmistakably human. However, and this is the interesting part, they are extremely, and I mean extremely, old.”

I looked down at my hands, which were now twisted together in a painful knot, and imagined how they might look if I were unbelievably old. Try as I might, I could not envision them contorted to the wizened knobs that the Orlogs walked on, no matter how old they were. But how could I argue with the studies of three scientists? I didn’t even know what DNA was.

Madalhandra turned from the podium to one of the tables next to her and lifted some sort of box from it, which she turned on its side for our viewing. There were two meat-like blobs displayed inside of it. 
“If you’ll have a look inside the box,” she said, “you’ll see, on the left side, a human heart. This heart has been preserved in our laboratory for many years, and it belonged to a 61-year-old man.”

I felt Jalya stiffen next to me. After years of fishing together, I knew that guts were not something she tolerated well. I could clean a fish, but Jalya would have rather starved.

“On the right here,” Madalhandra continued, indicating the other blob with one long finger, “is the Orlog heart. I know it’s hard to see, but you will have the opportunity to come up and look at the display after the presentation. But you can probably tell, even from your seats, that it’s significantly deformed and shrivelled compared to the other. But, by all accounts, it is still human.”

Madalhandra and the other scientists, Hanchelbruk and Yousiris, took turns holding up different organs and body parts for our perusal and insisting that they were human. It was as disgusting as it was fascinating. But Jalya was far more disgusted than she was fascinated, and, by the time we reached the kidneys, she had buried her head in Oches’ shoulder.

I could hear Kahj laughing on the other side of him. “Brother, doesn’t this remind you of the deer we carved up last year, before we left to travel south?”

“That’s right,” Reyla chuckled, “He was delicious, wasn’t he? But we ate all of those organs; too good to save.”

“And we didn’t have any of those fancy boxes to put them in.”

“How is it that all these body parts don’t stink up the room?” Isrelda mused.

Kahj shrugged. “Maybe fancy boxes hold in the stink.”

“Would you please just stop talking about it,” Jalya mumbled through Oches’ vest.

“Yes, stop now,” Oches said to his brothers. “This kind of talk is making me hungry!”

I looked around briefly to make sure that none of the Beyjerones were disturbed by their silliness, but I smiled inside. The moment reminded me of our lectures at school and being disrupted by the antics of the boys. My chest ached a little at the memory of home, so I tried to keep my mind firmly in the present by glaring at my companions as they tried to stifle their laughter. It seemed that boys were the same all over, regardless of age.

The scientists had finally come to the end of their parade of organs, and Madalhandra turned her attention to the large wall of paper that was next to the podium. She retrieved a long, pointed stick from the table and began pointing at various diagrams, which she explained thoroughly with words and concepts that it seemed only the Beyjerones understood. Wagna met my quizzical stare with a shrug, as did Jalya, who had finally unburied her face. Vandalaharis, seeing our confusion, tried to explain things in words we could understand, but I still only grasped a few ideas. The only thing I knew for sure was Orlogs were humans, very old humans.

“Now this is as far as we’ve gotten with our research,” Madalhandra said, finally lending her voice to words that I understood. “What we need to discuss now is what to do with this information. Obviously, we will have to inform the Lumeai. It would be nice to know what their opinion is of all this, now that some of them have seen the creatures up close. That might give us a little more to work with.”

General Sanjarus stood up and cleared his throat. “Excuse me, Professor, but we do already have some information. While we were on Malhadron Mountain, the Lumeai told us their observations of the Orlogs that were holding them prisoner there.”

Madalhandra’s eyes widened, their silver-blue shining bright next to the grey of her fur. “Of course…they must have had quite a bit to say about them while you were there. I welcome your input, General. Please…please come take the podium.”

The general strode toward the stairs that led to the presentation area, his immense shoulders swaying back and forth with each step. His leg muscles bulged as he climbed the steps and he exchanged smiles with Madalhandra as she stepped aside for him.

Sanjarus turned toward us with a serious look. “As you all know,” he began, “our army has recently returned from Malhadron Mountain after dealing with a disturbing situation.” He stopped to scratch the grey fuzz that ran across his chin and scanned the crowd with his eyes. His look implied that he didn’t relish the idea of describing such a situation.

“In fact,” he continued, “some of our soldiers are still stationed there until further notice, as we’re not convinced that the threat has passed.”

“We removed two hundred and thirty-six Orlogs from the Lumeai village last night. Fortunately, none of the Lumeai were hurt during the events, but they were obviously quite distraught. The Orlogs had them held prisoner in their meditation area by using their mind tricks to keep them from escaping. We moved these…creatures… to a landmass that is encircled by Soomie Swamp to the east of us, so unless they can swim or fly, they won’t be able to leave that area.”

The general looked at us grimly, his mouth forming a long, tight line, before he again opened it to speak. “The Lumeai that were there, well, we all know that they are skittish creatures, so it took them a while to calm down enough to give us any information about what happened.

“Once they were able to speak with us, they told us that the Orlogs had arrived when they were conducting their evening meditation. At the time, they were all in their congregation area and did not notice them come into their village, so they couldn’t tell us how they got up there. By the time that they heard the noises of them walking, it was too late; they already couldn’t move.”

I shuddered in remembrance of the mind bend and felt Jalya and Wagna both stiffen next to me. It was an experience that none of us wanted to relive or even remember. The Lumeai were so delicate; I couldn’t even imagine how difficult it would be to handle a whole village of them dealing with the after-effects.

“So, the general consensus of the Lumeai,” Sanjarus continued slowly, “is that the Orlogs have incredibly black bei. Every one of them that we spoke to made sure to stress that their bei had no colour, none at all.” He stopped to let the gravity of his last sentence sink in. The man-bats looked at each other in stunned silence. “They were extremely upset by this discovery and for good reason. This is the first time in known history that any creature has been discovered without any colour in their bei.”

The Beyjerones in the crowd finally found their voices and murmured amongst themselves in serious tones. I, however, was not shocked, as I thought back to what Sharl had said about the Orlogs when Jalya and I visited the Lumeai village back home. They have only darkness, no colour, only dark... I smiled to myself, smug in the knowledge that I finally knew something before everyone else. But Sharl had also said something else that morning…

Jalya stood up even before I could completely form my thoughts. She waved her hand wildly to get General Sanjarus’ attention.

“Yes, Miss Jalya?” the general asked, looking genuinely pleased that she had something to say about the topic.

“Before we came here, Emerin and I visited a Lumeai village on a mountain near our home. The Lumeai there said that the Nebril people had black on their souls as well. And also, the Nebril man that captured my brother, he had two Orlogs with him; they all went away in a wagon together. So, not only are the Orlogs human, but they work with humans as well. Or at least with the Nebril anyway, so maybe they’re related somehow.” She glanced around the room and seemed self-conscious for the first time in her life upon seeing the eyes of so many Beyjerones upon her. “Well, I just thought you should know that,” she blurted out before quickly sitting down.

Sanjarus smiled, his pointed teeth coming fully into view. “Yes…yes, I believe that’s a very good deduction, Miss Jalya. The Lumeai that we talked to last night did mention the blackness of the Nebril. They are also suspicious that the goings on in Nebril City have something to do with the appearance of the Orlogs. But now that we know they are humans and that, as you’ve just told us, they also interact with humans, I think there is no doubt of their origins. Their existence obviously has something to do with that crystal they’ve got in there!” His voice rose in anger and excitement, booming off the rock walls and filling the room with energy.

Another Beyjerone in the audience stood and waited, patiently listening to the chatter around him until the general noticed him. He was older-looking, with lines on his face and white hair encircling his ears.

“Yes, Endralaris?” Sanjarus called on him with a smile, though I noticed it wasn’t as big of a grin as he’d given to Jalya.

The man-bat cleared his throat. “Well, General, as a messenger, I’ve done a lot of flights in and out of Nebril City. I’ve been doing this for almost ninety years now and have therefore become very good at observing the people there. I can tell just by looking at a Nebril whether or not they’ve gone through the ceremony; I can see it in their eyes and facial expressions. There are many of my colleagues that can do the same.”

He looked around the room for confirmation and many of the man-bats nodded their heads and mumbled their affirmations. I was still trying to process how this Beyjerone could have been working for ninety years.

“So,” he continued, “I’ve noticed, as have many of the other messengers, that, over the years, many young Nebril have gone through ‘the change,’ as we call it. At first, their population seemed to swell, as you’d expect when they aren’t dying. But now, it seems that their numbers are staying about the same. There is still a new one going through the ceremony every week and none dying, so where are they all going?

“We’ve noticed, as well, and some friends and I were talking about this just the other day, that some of the Nebril we knew, some that had been in the city for as long as we could remember…these people whom we knew to be hundreds of years old…well, they suddenly vanished.”

I looked around to see some of the older Beyjerones nodding their agreement.

Sanjarus looked out into the audience gravely. “How many of you can confirm what Endralaris is 

Endralaris smiled as several hands went up in his support. “You see,” he said. “Many of us have noticed.” He pursed his lips together as if he weren’t sure if he wanted to let his next words out, but then slowly opened his mouth. “I think, General, there’s a very real possibility that these Orlogs are the Nebril people.”

The general’s eyes opened a little wider and he was silent for a moment as he processed this information. The rest of the room, however, was not silent, as the Beyjerones no longer tried to suppress their voices and discussed their ideas openly.

“I think you may be onto something there, Endralaris,” Sanjarus mused. “I can’t help but be reminded of what happened to the bei clu and wu bei before the Lamorian Rock was discovered. The blackness that they held onto for so long, it did horrible things to their bodies and their minds.”

I heard Wagna take a sharp breath beside me, and I thought back to the story of Sweltz that Lovis had told us. The bei clu and wu bei had gone mad from the black bei, and I saw first-hand what it was doing to Ashel. However, I’d also seen the Orlogs up close and found it hard to believe that even the black bei could turn human beings into those gnarled, unrecognizable creatures.

“The next time you go into Nebril City, Endralaris,” Sanjarus continued, “I would like it if you and your colleagues could find out a bit more information about these disappearances. See if anyone there will tell you anything about where these people have gone.”

Endralaris nodded. “Absolutely,” he said and sat down.

General Sanjarus sighed and looked out into the crowd. His eyes flitted around as though he were judging the reaction of each of us. “Before I hand you back to Madalhandra,” he said, “there is one more thing…”

I shifted on the bench to bring some relief to my sore bottom. What more could there possibly be?

“When we were on top of the mountain,” he began, “There was one Lumeai who claimed that he knew how the Orlogs had gotten up there. Apparently, he was late for the meditation session and he claims that, while he was walking there, he saw Beyjerones flying them in…Beyjerones with black on their souls.”

There were several gasps and some laughter. The overall reaction seemed to be that of disbelief.
“Yes, I do know this seems unlikely,” Sanjarus continued, “But he was very insistent in what he had seen.”

One of the Beyjerones soldiers let out a loud guffaw. “Did this particular Lumeai go by the name of Belul, General?”

“Yes, unfortunately it was Belul,” the general said with a sigh. “And before you ask, Raffalchuk, yes, he was the only one who witnessed it. I know how this looks, but we still have to take his observation seriously.”

“Who’s Belul?” I whispered to Wagna.

“Oh, Belul the sun seeker is famous around these parts,” Wagna said with a chuckle. “When he was young, he got trapped in the shade for a long time where no one could find him. Not sure how it happened; there are various different stories, but what’s certain is, it made him a bit crazy.” He touched his fingers to his head for emphasis. “Likes to tell stories, tall tales, you know. So, no one, not even the other Lumeai, takes what he says as truth.”

“Oh,” I said and thought of Sharl. It was fortunate that Jalya and I had found him when we did. I hoped that he didn’t suffer any permanent damage from his time away from the sun.

“General?” A thin, reedy voice piped up from behind us. I turned around to see a frail, elderly female Beyjerone standing, leaning on the younger one beside her for support.

“Yes, Andalara?” Sanjarus spoke softly as though he might break the old bat with only the sound of his voice.

“General, I think that you’re wise to consider what Belul has said.” She looked around the crowd with moist eyes as she spoke. “Not a lot of us are old enough to remember the theft of our babies. Oh, I suppose it would be more than three hundred years ago now, but I think it’s time that we take that into consideration. We never did find out what happened to them.”

“What’s she talking about?” Jalya whispered to me.

“I don’t know. Wagna, what’s she talking about?”

“I don’t think now’s the time to talk about that.” Wagna shifted in his seat.

“Why not?” Jalya rasped. Leave it to her to press the issue.

“Never mind why not,” he insisted. “I’ll tell you later.”

Jalya shrank back to the side of me while I assessed the reaction of the crowd. They seemed uncomfortable.

“With all due respect, Andalara,” the general said, still keeping his tone low, but obviously fighting to do so, “I don’t think there is any relation between the two events, even if there’s any credibility to what Belul said.”

“My child was stolen from me, General, and I’ve waited my whole life to find out why.” The old bat leaned more heavily on the young one that was next to her, a loud breath escaping from her mouth between every few words. “I don’t have much time left, and I’d like to know the answer before I die.”

“Many children went missing, Andalara,” Sanjarus said, and then his expression softened. “We will look into the possibility. We will certainly be following up on his claims.”

I watched as the young Beyjerone eased Andalara back down to her seat. I could still hear her breathing as I turned around to face the front. General Sanjarus was leaving the stage and spoke to Madalhandra briefly before she again took the podium.

She alternately wrung her hands and smoothed her shirt as she addressed the crowd. “Well, we’re just about to wrap up here, but we will be taking questions, and afterwards, you may all come up and have a look at our display.”

A Beyjerone that was across the room stood up and asked a medical question that was totally incomprehensible to me. So instead of listening to the professor’s equally baffling answer, I let my eyes wander the room. There seemed to be some sort of commotion happening at the entrance. One of the guards held the door open and was talking to someone whom I couldn’t see.

“Does someone need something over there, Sergeant Bandalcris?” Madalhandra asked, cutting short her convoluted explanation.

“Yes, I’m sorry to interrupt, Professor, but there’s news from the doctors’ quarters.” The sergeant stood to one side and I could see the nurse standing behind him. “The doctor requests Miss Jalya and Miss Emerin’s presence there, if possible. Mr. Ashel is awake.”