The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie


Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'


Part II - Prince of Mondele Royale


Chapter 24





                “I still don’t understand why he keeps such a tight grip on you,” Lucas shouted over the whine of the hov as it lifted off into a blue cloudless sky.


                Jamie held his reply, choosing instead to turn away from the ascending hov and shield his wings from the pummeling exhaust blast as it rose above him. He and his three friends, along with Cristophe and two other boys from the dance academy, were in the city on their most recent day seven. Within seconds the hov was high above their heads. It swiftly flew off, the whine of its engines and roar of its exhaust fading into the distance.


                “He’ll never allow me to join you in the senior section,” Jamie replied bitterly, a frown quickly spreading across his face. “He despises me, and finds every possible excuse to strap that wicked boot on me.”


                “Even Cristophe can’t change his mind,” Jeremy said, nodding in agreement.


                At the mention of his name, Cristophe maneuvered his chair to face the boys and gave Jamie a sad smile. “I’m sorry, Jamie. I’ve tried and tried, but he refuses to release you.”


                “It’s not your fault, Cristophe,” Jamie said, shaking his head. “It’s no one’s fault but Sprague’s, though that doesn’t make it any easier to accept; it doesn’t do any good to talk about it,” he added, his voice rising in anger and frustration. “I understand him more than he realizes.”


                Yves, seeing the direction the discussion was headed, tried to break Jamie’s somber mood by forcing a smile. “So today you’ll finally get to see the Monastery of Infinity,” he said, quickly jumping into the fray with what he hoped was a cheery enough tone to distract his friend.


                The conversation had started innocently enough. Just after they’d boarded the hov, Peter, one of the two other boys who’d traveled with Jamie and his friends, nonchalantly asked Jamie why he still was in the junior troupe. A few months earlier Peter, who was younger and less talented than Jamie, had been promoted to the senior troupe. His question had been straightforward and asked without malice, but the uncomfortable look now painted on his face was a clear sign that he was sorry he’d ever brought up the topic.


Responding to Peter’s question, Jamie began to list all of the reasons he hated Sprague, making no effort to hide his true feeling for the dance master. His response quickly escalated into a diatribe as Jamie’s famous temper took hold, and everyone in the hov began to feel both sympathetic with his plight and uncomfortable at his outburst.


                “You brought it up,” Jamie snapped angrily when Peter tried to back away by apologizing for asking the question.


                Even Cristophe couldn’t stop Jamie as he ranted on about his feelings for the man he was forced to obey. By the time the hov landed everyone but Jamie had fallen into an awkward silence. Then, just as they’d exited the shuttle, Lucas continued by questioning Sprague’s motives, and quickly realized as soon as he saw the faces of his friends and the fire in Jamie’s eyes the mistake he’d made.


                “You shouldn’t let it ruin your day,” Yves added, still trying to sweep away the uncomfortable undercurrent of tension they could all feel.


                “Easy for you to say,” Jamie barked. “Easy for all of you to say, being all seniors.”


                “I know,” Lucas said, his voice almost a whisper, “I’m sorry we brought it up. We all know how you feel.”


“Do you? Some days I wonder. No one in the entire history of the school has been in the junior troupe as long as I have.”


                Nearly two years had passed since Jamie’d come to the Mountain of the Arts. In that time he’d managed to quell any suspicions there may have been about him possessing any special or unusual abilities. A year into his stay at the school, just as he’d been leaving the refectory he’d caught sight of Savaron Loka. Loka was casually talking to a group of men – one of whom was the director of the school. Jamie had no idea why the archduke was there and his heart began to race. Because he was still some distance from the group he thought about ducking back into the dining hall, but at that moment Loka turned and looked at him. In an instant Jamie froze, not sure what to do. For a few seconds the archduke stared at the boy he’d taken from the seaside villa at Dragon’s Cove, and then turned back to his group. Jamie continued down the hall and as he passed the archduke’s party he caught some of their conversation.


“A pity he’s only a dancer,” Loka said quietly to the others.


“And not even that talented, according to his teacher,” the director replied.


Whether the comment had been made for his benefit or not, Jamie heard it and his blood boiled. Though glad he no longer sparked any interest with Loka, and that as far as the empire was concerned he was simply a dancer and nothing more, the fact that even the director of the École felt he was still not good enough to enter the senior troupe infuriated him. In truth, he was quite good, and he knew it. After just one year he’d mastered everything he’d been taught and more, but Sprague continued to hold him in the junior troupe.


Even now, as he approached two years at the school, he continued to perform with the juniors in the same position where he’d started. Week after week he was forced to play an elf, a wood sprite, a dragonfly, a firefly, or one of the countless other characters the junior troupe always portrayed on stage, all while performing the same basic moves over and over again – filling in the time until the stage was reset for the senior troupe’s finale.


                To occupy his time, Jamie continued to work with Cristophe and eventually carved out some private practice time on his own in one of the small studios in the junior school. He’d even worked on new dance steps and at Cristophe’s suggestion choreographed a routine for the senior troupe. And although he was proud of his work on the evening it premiered to great applause and complementary reviews, his feeling of satisfaction was bittered by the simple truth that the only reason it had been approved for performance was that he’d let Cristophe present it to the senior troupe dance masters as his own sketch, without any mention of Jamie.


                Outside of his performances and practices, Jamie continued to visit the library and enter the net. His mental powers increased and his abilities, like his dancing, became more and more honed and polished. As the weeks turned into months, his appearance at the library became so routine no one paid any attention to him. He also kept teaching his friends both Kalorian and Icarian and over time Jeremy, Yves, Lucas, and Cristophe became quite proficient in the two forbidden languages. But while he chafed under the heavy hand of Sprague, his greatest frustration was in knowing that in the bowels of the great opera house stood a door to his brother – a door he’d been thwarted from using. More than once he’d tried, but each time circumstances arose that prevented him from gaining access, and that was the worst part of all.


Yves, Jeremy and Lucas couldn’t quite fathom his frustration, since he’d never completely shared with them the reason for his obsession with the gate. They simply thought that Jamie wanted to embark on a new adventure – just a bit different from what they usually engaged in. Only Cristophe knew the real truth and he tried his best to comfort the boy whom he’d come to view as a younger brother.


Another part of the frustration Jamie felt came from his own feelings of failure. He’d made solemn promises to his father, and as yet hadn’t been able to follow through with even one of them. In the time before he’d been captured and taken to the École he’d realized, because of his youth, that he’d have to hide for a while. He also knew that after he’d handed Charlie over to the Ghröum it would be some time – maybe years – until he’d see his brother again, but as he approached his second year anniversary at the school he was feeling the reality of that loss.


He’d known in his heart when he came to the school he was too young to affect any of the changes his father had spoken of, and for once in his life Jamie’d managed to reign in his brash, devil-may-care attitude and convinced – even forced – himself to wait. In the meantime, in addition to practicing the exercises he’d found in the encoded file Croal had left behind for him, and in order to make his time at the school more bearable, he’d adopted one simple goal – to master his lessons and develop enough proficiency to allow him move from the junior to the senior troupe where he could spend more time with his three closest friends while growing in knowledge and ability as he continued to learn more about the inner workings of the empire.


Because members of the senior troupe were often asked to perform at various imperial and noble private parties and functions, he’d reasoned that once he made the senior troupe, he’d at least get more of a glimpse into the political and aristocratic life in the empire, such knowledge and understanding undoubtedly being of help to him in the future. The fact that the man who was his dance master had thwarted even this simple goal only added to the boy’s ever mounting stress and frustration.


What made Jamie’s failure even more difficult to accept was the progress of the boy he’d briefly encountered years before at the pre-Gahdar training camp. He’d faithfully followed the young man’s career, and while Jamie languished on the Mountain of the Arts still performing in the junior troupe, the boy, Niklas von Agramon, had grown in fame and stature. Tapping into the secret database he’d discovered, Jamie watched with an interest bordering on fascination the spectacular rise of the young man as he swiftly moved from the student ranks at Compari to premier Gahdar in the arena at Castle Rood. The only Gahdar in the history of the games to fight solo, Niklas had earned the title ‘Baron of Rood’ for his amazing and often heart-stopping performances in the arena of the red castle.


                “Let’s get moving,” Jeremy called out impatiently, rousing Jamie from his thoughts. “After the Monastery we’ll visit the Science Academy. It’s also something you’ve wanted to see for some time now.”


                Jamie silently followed the group, but after his outburst toward Sprague, he suddenly found his interest in their excursion evaporating. Although Sprague wouldn’t agree to release him, he knew that it was only Sprague’s jealousy and hatred of Avionnes that bound him to the dance master and the junior troupe. What made Jamie the special target of Sprague’s spite was the fact that he had royal blood flowing through his veins, and that blood was tied to Jacques de Valèn. Had he simply been talented Sprague may have eventually released him, but the fact that he was not only an Avionne, but also a prince and of the ancient, previously presumed extinct House de Valèn, piqued an irrational hatred in the dance master over which he had no control, nor any apparent desire to control.


Sprague came from the lowest of classes – only Kalorian slaves were lower. It was the dance master’s talent as a boy that had moved him up the social strata, and it was the creation of the Avionnes that abruptly ended his career as one of the premier dancers at the Mondele Royale. That Avionnes had taken his place on stage and relegated him to the task of teaching the usurpers was a cold fact that had created a slow festering wound in Sprague’s psyche that could never heal.


That the decree stating only Avionnes would henceforth perform at the Mondele Royale had come directly from the Emperor only caused Sprague’s hatred for aristocrats and their autocratic ways to grow stronger. Sprague never hid his dislike for royals, and now that he had one under his control he delighted in the feeling of power and superiority it gave him; although his rule was only over one small boy, it nevertheless gave him a secret sense of self-satisfaction. Never using the boy’s first name, Sprague always sarcastically referred to Jamie as either the prince, Prince de Valèn, or when he was at his most sarcastic, your majesty.


                “Come on, Jamie,” Lucas called out impatiently when he looked back and saw Jamie trailing far behind the group.


                Forcing himself to catch up with the rest of his friends, Jamie walked with them as they left the hov drop station and entered the center of the city.


                While this was his first trip to the famous and mysterious Monastery of Infinity, Jamie had become quite familiar with the great city of Küronas over the two years he’d been living on the Canon Mon Arts. Throughout the expansive commonwealth it was considered by many to be a rare privilege to live in Küronas. He’d come to appreciate the great urban center for its beauty and its history – a history he might have a hand in someday changing.


As he silently walked with his friends he took in the sights around him and thought about all he’d learned from both his early years of instruction with Mobley and his first hand experience living in the imperial capital.


“I love Küronas,” Lucas said cheerfully. “Every time I walk in the city it makes me feel good.”


“You’re right,” Peter said. “With all the green, and all the water, it’s restful.”


Küronas was a spectacular creation, and eventually became one of the wonders of the expanding commonwealth. Before the interdiction, it had been a popular destination for many of the inhabitants of other commonwealth worlds. 


Chosen for its central location on the continent and the fact that first planet fall had been made near the Tower of Agramon, the early settlement village on the Plain of the Three Rivers eventually gave way to an ambitious building plan that changed the face of the land. It was during the first republic that the decision was made to create the nine hills that became the governing units or canons of the city.


“You have Enrick the Third to thank,” Jamie said as the boys continued their journey into the city proper. “By the beginning of the imperial era the city was already well-established, but it was Enrick the Third who initiated a program of redevelopment and renewal.”


Yves elbowed Jeremy and rolled his eyes shortly after Jamie began his explanation. While the students attending the school of the arts were given a rudimentary education, the primary emphasis of their studies was in their particular area of talent. No one at the school was expected to be superior in other disciplines such as science, mathematics or even history.


The dancers in particular, because of their long hours of practice and time allotted to weekly performances, received even less formal education. Consequently, they were often teased by the students of the other Écoles for being pretty boys who weren’t very bright. Jamie’s intellectual talents, on the other hand, were more than impressive – they were exceptional. Consequently his friends were often treated to off-hand lectures and explanations they hadn’t sought. Sometimes they found them interesting; other times they’d lapse into boredom when the ideas and theories Jamie discussed were far over their heads. Yves was sensing one of those moments was about to occur.


“Did you know the emperor had his architects and engineers study the great imperial cities of the past?” Jamie continued.


“No,” Lucas replied as he cast a glance at his friends, “but I suppose you’re going to tell us.”


“I was just going to say that Enrick the Third was a man who always thought on a grand scale.”


“I’d say that’s fairly obvious,” Yves chuckled.


“Fine,” Jamie said feigning as clutched his chest as if stabbed with a knife. “I’ll leave you to your ignorance.”


“Thank you,” Lucas said as smile he’d been unsuccessfully trying to conceal bloomed on his face.


His friends, although greatly impressed with Jamie’s intelligence, never the less couldn’t resist giving him a good teasing. And in truth, such moments were sometimes necessary to bring their friend back down to earth and the realities of every day life as a student dancer at the École.


Looking first to his friends and then at the surrounding city, Jamie smiled and admitted defeat realizing not every thought or idea deserved expounding on. But the good-natured dialogue and the beauty of the surrounding city managed to pull Jamie out of his black mood.


“We have a lot to do today,” Lucas added. “I really want to get the monastery behind us so we can start having fun.”


Over the past two years, Jamie’s friends had taken him to visit all of the city’s nine hills. Walking the majestic avenues and grand boulevards, he’d visited its museums, traveled its scenic canals by boat, and experienced much of its culture. And although he remained fond of Isewier and still occasionally grew homesick for it and the villa at Dragon’s Cove, he was surprised at how much he truly loved the sprawling metropolis.


The entrance to the hov central drop station opened onto a large plaza, the confluence point for several wide boulevards and intersecting avenues. Ahead, Jamie could see the tall needle-like spire that was the Tower of Agramon – a sight he was quite familiar with.


                “I think we should take the tram,” Yves said, as his eyes went from his three friends to Cristophe in his wheelchair.


                “Good idea,” Jeremy said, catching Yves’ meaning.


                “Ok,” Peter said, “if you’re going to take the tram to the square, we’ll split-up now. We can meet back here in a few hours.”


                The two senior boys who’d ridden in the hov with Jamie and his friends weren’t part of the group going to the monastery. Instead, they planned on visiting one of the new holo exhibits at a nearby museum.


                “That’s fine,” Cristophe said to the two boys. “The four of us will go to the square, visit the Monastery, and then go to the Science Academy. We can meet back here in four hours.”


                The two boys nodded their agreement and with a quick goodbye, took off. As they walked away, a tram pulled up and Jamie and his friends piled on.


                “I don’t know why they just won’t let us fly,” an annoyed Lucas complained. “It’s a straight shot from the station and with all the stops the tram has to make, we’d be there in three minutes instead of fifteen.”


                “You’d still have to wait for me,” Cristophe pointed out.


                Realizing his eager desire to fly had eclipsed any thoughts about Cristophe and the prefect’s inability to accompany them by air, Lucas’ face began to flush with embarrassment.


                “Sorry,” he said quietly. “I forgot.”


                Brushing it off, Cristophe directed them all into the tram. “This one doesn’t make as many stops,” he said. “We’ll be there in less than ten minutes.” And true to his pronouncement, the tram arrived outside the square in only nine minutes.


                The boys disembarked from the tram, helped Cristophe down its short ramp, and then headed toward one of gates of the great plaza first named the Square of the People, but later changed to the Square of Ondra after the first scientist of the empire to receive the Order of Enrick the First – the Imperial Legion of Honor. Approaching the gate, Jamie couldn’t help but look up at the mysterious dark spire – the Tower of Agramon.


Visible from space, the tower was the first sight that greeted the early colonists for it was at a spot nearby – now marked by a large monument, complete with a resplendent fountain – where first planetfall had been made. Because of its prominence, the tower was chosen as the center point of the city and as decades turned to centuries, the area around the tower evolved into a large, walled square with four great gates corresponding to the primary points of the compass.


Jamie and his friends passed through the north gate of the square, known as the Gate of the People. It, like the other three gates, was over twenty-five feet tall; although all of the gates shared a basic design, each had been wrought with enough subtle variation to make it distinct. Although he’d walked through the square past the tower many times before, this would be the first time for Jamie to enter the Monastery – a squat, long, black stone building that sat next to the tower. Both the tower and the monastery next to it – possibly the remnant of some ancient and extinct civilization – had been the subject of much study and speculation.


While the building known as the Monastery had an entrance, the tower offered no access to any secrets it might hold. Built from the same material as the monastery, the tower was impenetrable. Centuries of study, countless scans, and great physical efforts had been mounted to crack its black shell and access the secrets it might hold, but without success. That it was hollow inside had been revealed by scans, although the material it was fashioned from scrambled any and all signals so that what, if anything, might be found inside remained a mystery. Rising hundreds of feet above the surface of the planet, its dark mirror-like windows were often obscured by clouds. That the four large, black surfaces at the very top of the tower were even windows had been debated for centuries. After decades of failure to penetrate its mysteries, the scientific community of Altinestra had given up trying to decipher the tower’s origin and purpose.


Approaching the Monastery, Jamie could see an opening, or more specifically a simple portal without any door. The small, arched passage allowed for only one person at a time to enter or exit the building, and the closer the boys got the more Jamie began to wonder if he’d be able to fit through the passageway with his large wings.


In earlier centuries the doorway had been guarded, but over time, as the structure continued to refuse to give up any secrets, its value to the population and the empire that came to rule the planet waned, and it devolved from mystery to monument. Both the Tower and the Monastery appeared impervious to time, neglect, and even vandalism and since the structure seemed to do a satisfactory job of taking care of itself, it was left unguarded, serving in the present era simply as an ancient curiosity and attraction for the population of the planet.


                Lucas was the first to enter, slowly easing through the opening his wings tucked back. Yves was next, followed by Jamie who couldn’t make it through without scraping his feathers and the tops of his wings against the cold, black stone. Jeremy was the last to enter while Cristophe remained near the doorway after telling the boys that he would wait outside until they were finished exploring.


                Once through the door, Jamie could see that the space opened into a large room. Long and rectangular with high ceilings, the interior space mimicked the exterior of the building and Jamie immediately was reminded of the one of the large dance studios where the senior troupe practiced. Although it had no doors, windows or openings of any kind other than the portal they’d come through, the room was bathed in a soft luminescence – the source of which was another unsolved mystery.


                “This is it,” Lucas said, sounding bored. “You were so eager to see it, and now... well, here it is. Exciting, no?”


                “I’ve seen pictures, vids, and holos of this room,” Jamie replied, “but I really wanted to see it in person.”


                “Well now you have, and I think we should go,” Jeremy piped up, making no secret that he was more than ready to do something - anything - that was more fun and interesting than this.


                “It’s taken me almost two years to get here,” Jamie said, sounding slightly annoyed. “I’d like to take just a few minutes to study the runes.”


                Although the markings on the walls, floor and ceiling bore no resemblance to anything previously thought of as a rune, the term was coined by one of the early scientists who’d spent years trying to analyze the mysterious symbols, and the name had become customary.


                “Fine,” Jeremy said, impatiently shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “But the sooner you do, the sooner we can do something else.”


                When Jamie’s friends had agreed to accompany him to the monastery, they’d made it clear this excursion wasn’t something that interested them at all, and that they’d agreed to go with him because they hoped that once he saw it and the mysterious runes for himself, he’d stop asking about it and finally agree with them that the monastery, while an oddity, was for the most part boring and not worth a great deal of time.


                “If it’s as dull as you all think it is, then give me a few minutes and once I’ve examined the runes we can move on,” he replied as his eyes danced across the so-called runes.


All four walls, along with the floor and ceiling, were covered with the small markings – each of them at most a half-inch square. They were packed tightly together in rows and columns, but there was nothing to indicate that they were some kind of message from an earlier civilization. And although he was now seeing them in person, it wasn’t the first time he’d encountered the Monastery and the strange, alien markings it contained. Mobley, his little comp teacher, had shown both he and Charlie vids of the square. He’d seen holos of the inside of the Monastery, and even walked with Charlie through a holo program created for scientists who wanted to study the runes, but he’d learned from experience that nothing was ever like actually visiting a place, since there were often subtle nuances that a vid or holo could miss.


                Sighing when he realized Jamie’s determination was unstoppable, Lucas rolled his eyes, subconsciously moved into first position, and performed the kind of dramatic, theatrical bow only a dancer could execute as he extended an arm outward toward the room, acting as if he were a lowly Kalorian slave gesturing to one of the lords of the Empire.


Jamie took one look at Lucas, shook his head, rolled his own eyes, and walked past his friend into the center of the room. Once there, he stood and stared. For a few seconds he remained motionless, taking in a full view of the room. Next he concentrated on the wall in front of him as his eyes scanned the markings, then he began to turn, eventually completing a full circle as he looked at each of the four walls. Looking up, he examined the markings on the ceiling and then looking down, he did the same with the ones on the floor. Finally he walked up to one of the walls, put one of his hands on the cold, stone-like material, and ran his fingers over the surface of the wall, feeling the groves and indentations of the runes. By the time he was finished, he had to admit that there wasn’t anything particularly interesting about them.


The ambient light inside the monastery was more than sufficient for him to examine the strange markings that weren’t even detailed enough in design to be called symbols. And since the walls themselves seemed to glow, the runes readily stood out and were easy to view.


What Jamie hadn’t told his friends was that he’d spent more time than he was willing to admit examining the runes in books and at his informatics station in the library. He was proud of his intellect and his deep understanding of mathematics, and for some reason had convinced himself that maybe he would be the one to crack their code. Although his lessons with Mobley were now behind him and the only formal schooling he now received was limited to the dance theory and practice he learned at the École, he’d nevertheless used some of his computer time to continue his scientific lessons. He’d certainly had enough time, especially in the early days before he was allowed to perform with the junior troupe. But even after he began to dance with the juniors, he was talented enough to easily master the routines and had plenty of free time to do other things.


                Moving back to the middle of the large open space inside the monastery, he once more stared at one wall, then another. At first he tried to detect a pattern vertically, horizontally or diagonally, but he knew that others before him had tried the same thing. And while his eyes and intellect was quicker than most, he could discern no pattern of repetition regarding the marks. He didn’t want to signal defeat so quickly, but the more he stared at the runes, the more he had to admit he saw nothing.


                “Satisfied?” Jeremy said, mustering just the right amount of sarcasm.


                “I suppose so,” Jamie said turning toward his friend and noticing that Jeremy too was now standing in first position – it was an unconscious habit many of the boys of the École developed after years of dance training, and he’d even caught himself doing it from time to time.


                “Finally!” Lucas said triumphantly. “Lets do something fun. Even the exhibits at the Science Academy are more interesting than this.”


                Although he wouldn’t say it out loud to his friends, Jamie privately had to agree with them, as his hopes for solving the riddle – if there ever was one – came to a crashing halt. Looking at Jeremy, Yves, and Lucas he prepared to leave with them, but as he turned to go, he stopped. Maybe it was the angle he’d inadvertently placed himself in, but he experienced a sudden feeling of deja vous. He looked at the ceiling, floor and walls around him, but when the feeling passed and he still couldn’t see anything he shrugged, admitting to himself that he’d probably made more out of it than he should have, and most likely his overly active imagination had him grasping at straws.


                “So you’re convinced?” Lucas asked. “It’s nothing? Just some kind of design?”


                “Maybe,” Jamie replied, not willing to completely abandon his dream.


                “Let’s go,” Yves added impatiently. “We still have plenty of time for the Science Academy before we have to meet up with the other boys.”


                They approached the door and began to squeeze through. One by one, each boy passed through the portal until only Jamie remained. Preparing to follow, he stopped and turned to look back into the room one final time. Something deep inside himself just wouldn’t let him accept defeat. Walking back into the center of the room, he stood and looked at the walls one more time. Remembering that he’d thought he’d almost seen something after making a quick turn toward his friends, he moved en pointe and did a simple but rapid pirouette while his eyes scanned the walls. As he did, a strange sensation came over him – as if he could almost touch a familiar feeling – but this too passed and there was still nothing about the runes that stirred anything in him.


“I thought you were ready to go,” an impatient Lucas called to him through the doorway.


“Coming,” Jamie called back.


Leaving the center of the room, he walked to the doorway. Once there, he folded his wings back as best he could and squeezed through the opening. The rest of the boys’ trip went as planned, but Jamie couldn’t shake the fleeting feeling he’d experienced in the Monastery and it haunted him for the rest of the day.


                It wasn’t until a few days later when, during a free afternoon from dance practice he returned to the library, sat down in front of his familiar informatics station, concentrated, and began to enter the data stream of the neural net when suddenly he stopped and let out a gasp as the air rushed from his lungs and his mind quickly leapt out of the data stream. For a few seconds he sat staring at the blank screen, his heart racing. Once again he concentrated and entered the data stream, now hyper-vigilant regarding his actions. Within seconds of immersing himself in the stream, he again quickly withdrew. Staring at the screen he inhaled deeply when he realized he’d been holding his breath for some time. “It can’t be that simple!” he thought, suddenly looking around the empty room as if he were under surveillance. One final time he entered the data stream, easing into the matrix slower than he’d ever done in the past. After remaining for just a few seconds he exited almost as slowly as he’d entered, but this time when he emerged, a smile came to his face. He would most definitely have to revisit the Monastery.


A few weeks passed before he gingerly broached the topic of going back to the monastery and as expected, he had to put up with howls of protest from his friends.


“No, Jamie!” Lucas said. “I’ll be plucked! We wasted the good part of one day seven going there. We took you once. You saw it. Do you think anything has changed?”


“I know something’s changed,” Jamie said calmly.


“What could have changed?” Jeremy said. “The Monastery’s only been around forever. It’s immune to everything. What could possibly have changed?


“Me,” Jamie said quietly. “I’ve changed – or at least my perspective has changed. I need to go back.”


Jeremy sighed, Lucas shook his head and Yves put a hand to his brow as if he’d gotten a sudden headache, but before any of them could say anything Jamie continued.


“You don’t have to go with me, but I’m going back. I only need to be there for a few seconds, but I do need to go.”


“Very well,” Lucas said, “I’ll go with you, but it better be for only a few minutes.”


“I can assure you that I won’t need minutes,” Jamie said, “and maybe only seconds.”


“Now you’re just sounding crazy,” Yves added skeptically. “People have been studying that place forever –  almost from the first days of planetfall – and you’re telling us you only need a few seconds? You stood there and looked and didn’t see a thing. Now you’re telling us that you think you can?”


“Maybe it does sound crazy,” Jamie said, “but no one’s figured out the right way - the only way - to look at it; I think I have.”


“Well, I’ll go too,” Yves added, “I can’t believe I’m agreeing to waste valuable time on a day seven, but somehow your illogic seems to make a kind of crazy sense to me.”


“That’s because we always go against logic,” Jeremy added, “and I’ll go too. You sound so convincing, I have to see what you’re up to.”


“I knew you’d support me,” Jamie said, smiling. “I knew once I explained it to you, you’d agree.”


“Are we that transparent?” Lucas asked. “Trio Chrysalis: the most gullible boys in the dance academy?”


“No,” Jamie said, his smile growing bigger, “just Trio Chrysalis, my best friends.”


And so on the next day seven the boys, minus Cristophe, stood once more in the Square of Ondra, preparing to enter the single portal of the monastery.


“You don’t have to come in,” Jamie said.


“Oh no,” Lucas said. “We’ve come this far and I, for one, am going to see this great feat of yours.”


“It’s not any great feat,” Jamie replied, “and I never said it was. I told you it’s just a different way of looking at something.”


One by one the boys entered the monastery – Jamie being the last.


“Ok,” Jeremy said, an impatient tone entering his voice, “solve the mystery.”


Jamie ignored his friend’s sarcasm and instead he moved to the center of the room, stood still, and slowly surveyed the walls and floor just as he’d done before. After his brief examination, he moved slightly to the right, looked around again, and took a half step forward – two apparently insignificant moves but ones that placed him in the exact center of the room. Looking around the room one final time, his eyes jumped from walls to ceiling to floor, then he closed his eyes and concentrated.


“Great,” Lucas said quietly to Yves and Jeremy. “He brings us here to read the runes, and closes his eyes. That makes a lot of sense to me.”


Acting as if he’d not heard his friend, Jamie opened his eyes and stared straight ahead. Standing as still as a statue he seemed to be looking yet not seeing, and to his friends it almost appeared as if he were daydreaming or lost in thought. Then he blinked, turned toward his friends, walked toward and past them to the doorway of the monastery, and squeezed through it.


“I’ll be plucked,” Lucas said. “We bring him here, he stands in the middle of the room for a few seconds, blinks, and leaves without a word.”


The three boys scrambled to get through the doorway, jostling each other for position. Once they were outside, they surrounded Jamie.


“Well?” Jeremy asked.


Jamie turned and one by one, looked at each of his friends. He gaze seemed strange, as if he were looking at them for the very first time. It was then that Lucas noticed that Jamie seemed subdued, even tense, and his face was pale.


“What is it, Jamie?” he asked, sensing something was amiss.


“I understand,” Jamie said softly, more to himself than to his friends.


“What do you understand?” Yves asked. “Don’t get all mysterious on us now.”


“I have to get back to the school, to the library,” Jamie continued as he began walking away from his friends, moving quickly toward the Gate of the People.


“We just got here!” Jeremy protested. “We have the whole day.”


“Yes,” Jamie said, “We do. You go on and do something. I need the rest of the day to study. I’m going back to the school... to the library.”


“But its a day seven,” Jeremy said, almost pleading. “We only get one a week.”


“Enjoy it,” Jamie said, moving further away from his friends


“I will be plucked,” Lucas said, frowning at Yves and Jeremy. “He’s not going to tell us. He’s going back to the bloody library to study, and he’s not going to tell us!”


But before they could stop him, Jamie was through the gate, and heading to the central drop station. In less than thirty minutes he was back at the school. Going to his room he changed out of the more formal white tunic all the students were required to wear when away from the École. After donning his usual school attire, he left his room and took the nearest set of stairs to the first floor. Leaving the junior dorm, he turned right to cut across the quadrangle demarcated by the buildings of the École but stopped when a rumble from his stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten all day.


Deciding to skip breakfast, he and his friends had caught one of the first hov shuttle runs of the morning agreeing to an early lunch after they’d visited the monastery. After abandoning his friends, he’d left the center of the city immediately and hadn’t yet eaten. Still eager to get to the library as quickly as possible, he changed directions and headed for the refectory. Since it was a day seven, he knew that the customary all-day buffet would be available. Dashing into the dining hall, he made himself a sandwich to eat on his way to the library. He also stuffed a few cookies into the pockets of his tunic, hoping they would sustain him until supper. Finally he poured a glass of milk from a nearby pitcher, gulped it down and left the refectory. He’d just come out into the courtyard when he heard an angry and familiar voice.


“Stupid little oaf!”


Immediately recognizing the sharp, sarcastic tone of his dance master, Jamie froze. Looking about the empty courtyard he paused, not sure what to do, for while he’d heard Sprague’s voice the dance master was nowhere to be seen. Since his goal for the remainder of the day was to conduct some quiet research and study in the library, he didn’t want to risk having a potentially troublesome encounter with Sprague on a day seven to jeopardize his plans. More than once the dance master had ruined a student’s day off, exercising his hatred of Avionnes by meting out some draconian punishment that would keep a boy busy until lights out – effectively taking away his one free day of rest and relaxation.


“Why would they allow you here?” Sprague’s voice echoed from around a nearby corner.


At first relieved that Sprague hadn’t discovered and singled him out for torture, Jamie was nevertheless curious as to what had provoked Sprague’s anger. Moving with the graceful stealth of an experienced dancer, he came to the corner of the building and carefully peered around it. What Jamie saw surprised him. Crouched on the ground was a boy – an Avionne boy.


The boy was young – or at least younger than Jamie. It was never easy to guess the age of an Avionne, but given the size of the boy, his youthful appearance and the fact that his wings weren’t yet fully developed, Jamie pegged him to be close to Charlie’s age – anywhere from thirteen to fifteen commonwealth standard. Delicate and thin, the boy had light brown hair with even lighter blond highlights. His blue eyes were a bit darker in color than Jamie’s, but what surprised Jamie the most was the boy’s wings, for sprouting from between his shoulder blades and rising above him were the golden tinted early markings of a royal throne.


While not quite as rare as imperials, royal thrones were nevertheless a rarity and Jamie couldn’t recall even one who studied on the mountain of the arts. What’s more, from his studies with Mobley and his father he’d learned royals were a sophisticated class of battle angel. The boy now crouched down a few feet in front of him certainly did not appear to be ready for battle. The reason for the boy’s current posture was because he was desperately trying to pick up the many tunics scattered on the ground around him. Hovering over him, an angry Sprague trampled the scattered tunics into the dust as he shouted at the boy.


“What are you doing here?”


“I was told to bring these from the laundry to the senior dormitory,” the boy said softly. He’d stopped trying to pick up the tunics and was looking up at Sprague. That he was afraid of the dance master was quite obvious to Jamie.


“No, you idiot,” Sprague shouted. “I don’t care what you were doing. I want to know why you’re here. This is a Kalorian’s job. And stand up when I’m talking to you,” he added, spitting out the words so forcefully that Jamie saw the boy shudder.


Slowly the boy stood. His head was lowered and his eyes focused on the ground. “I’m from Expedition and Service, sir,” he answered quietly. “I was sent here to work.”


“Avionnes in Expedition and Service work for the nobility. Why are you here at the school?” Sprague growled.


“I don’t know, sir,” the boy said staring intently at his feet, his voice almost a whisper.


“By the Emperor’s beard,” Sprague said. “Now they’re invading everywhere.”


For a few seconds Sprague was silent while he glared at the boy. And except for a few slight tremblings, the boy stood as still as a statue while his eyes remained on the ground.


“Stay out of my way,” Sprague said, finally breaking the silence. “If you see me coming, you’d best be going the other way.” With that he reached out and grabbed the boy’s shoulder and shook him. The boy jumped and grimaced under Sprague’s hand. Jamie couldn’t help but wince. He, along with many of the other dancers of the junior troupe, were used to that vice-like hold that Sprague had mastered so perfectly. It seemed that the dance master always managed to hit just the right set of nerves, sending sharp jolts of pain both up the neck and down the arm of the boy in his grip.


“Do you understand?” Sprague added, finally releasing the boy.


Still in pain, the boy took a breath, or at least tried to, and answered ‘yes’ in a choking rasp that was barely intelligible. Seconds later the encounter was over and Sprague was striding forcefully away from the boy, muttering and cursing to himself. Once Jamie was sure Sprague was gone, he approached the boy, who’d returned to a crouch as he began to pick up the many tunics scattered about him.


“Here,” Jamie said, after bending down and picking one up. “Should I help you fold them?”


The boy jumped. He’d been so scared after his encounter with Sprague and so anxious to quickly pick up the tunics and escape any further danger, he hadn’t noticed Jamie’s approach.


Looking up, he took the tunic from Jamie.


“No,” he said softly. Laying open the tunic Jamie’d handed him, the boy pointed out a footprint – one of many – that had appeared on them after Sprague, in his pique of anger, had trampled them under his feet.


“They were clean,” he added, his voice confused and sad. “Now they’ll have to be washed again. I hope I don’t get in trouble.”


Jamie continued to help the boy gather up the tunics. Once they were all together in a pile, the boy bent down to pick them up.


“Wait,” Jamie said.


The boy stopped and gave Jamie a wary look.


“That seems like a lot of laundry for you to carry, especially since you don’t have a bag,” Jamie said, remembering the times he’d helped Larrus drag heavy bags to the laundry. “Let me help you. I’m going to the library, so I’ll pass right by the laundry anyway.”


Reaching down, Jamie took what he guessed to be about half of the now dirty tunics. The other boy leaned down and grabbed the rest. As they began their walk to the building that housed the laundry, the boy remained quiet.


“I’m Jamie,” Jamie said, deciding to break the silence.


“I’m Giovanni,” the boy replied softly, still appearing hesitant to speak.


“What happened?” Jamie asked.


“I was carrying the cleaned and folded tunics to the senior dormitory,” Giovanni said. “I had a big stack of them and could barely see. As I got to the school, someone came up behind me and began shouting at me. I got scared and dropped the tunics. When I went to pick them up, the man who’d scared me kept shouting. I didn’t know what to do.”


“I noticed,” Jamie said, and gave Giovanni a brief sketch of Sprague and a warning for the boy to be careful.


“But Sprague’s right, you know,” Jamie continued. “It’s unusual for an Avionne in Expedition and Service to be assigned to anyone other than a noble,” he added as his tongue tripped slightly over the word ‘Avionne’ – a term he’d come to personally detest. “What brings you here?”


“I was sent here,” Giovanni said.


“Do you know why?”




Mulling over the possibilities, Jamie didn’t realize they’d reached the laundry until Giovanni shyly asked if Jamie planned on taking the tunics he was carrying into the laundry or if he’d simply leave them on the steps of the building so Giovanni could dispose of them.


“No, I’ll come with you,” Jamie replied and followed Giovanni into the building. When they deposited the now dirty tunics at the laundry, the Kalorian in charge noticed the boys; as they drew closer to him, Jamie could see a frown on his face.


“Weren’t these just cleaned?” he asked, his voice giving away his growing irritation.


“It wasn’t his fault,” Jamie quickly answered. Before Giovanni could say anything, he explained to the Kalorian what had happened. Mollified by Jamie’s explanation, the man excused Giovanni with an admonition not to let it happen again.


Once they left the laundry Giovanni thanked Jamie for his help, but even more so for explaining to the Kalorian what had happened.


“I might have been punished,” Giovanni said. “Thank you for explaining.”


“I know what it’s like to get in trouble,” Jamie said, smiling at the younger boy.


“What do you do here?” Giovanni asked, giving Jamie a curious eye.


“I’m a student,” Jamie said, “In the Dance École.”


“A dancer! It sounds exciting.”


“It can be interesting, but its not all that exciting for me. I’m only in the junior troupe.”


“I was told that some of the best study here and at Eagle’s Rock,” Giovanni said, and quickly added, “You must be quite good.”


“Well, don’t ask Sprague,” Jamie said, raising an eyebrow. “I didn’t tell you, but I’m in his class and he’d say I’m not that talented,” Jamie continued ruefully.


“So that man was your teacher?”


“Yes, I’m sorry to say,” Jamie said. “That’s why I say that he wouldn’t give you a very good report about me.”


“I only know what I was told,” Giovanni said, giving Jamie a shy smile, “that only the best come here.”


There was a brief silence between the two boys. Jamie studied Giovanni for a few seconds and his curiosity returned. “Are there any more of you... any more Avionnes from Expedition and Service here on the Mountain of the Arts?” Jamie asked.


“I don’t think so,” Giovanni said. “I’m the first.”


“Then you’ll need a friend,” Jamie said. “Would you like to be friends?”


“You mean you’d be my friend?” Giovanni said, sounding surprised. “I was told when I came that I wasn’t supposed...”


“Forget what you were told,” Jamie said, grinning. “Its settled, then. We’re friends, and I’ll introduce you to some other boys who will also want to be your friends.” Then he leaned forward and gave Giovanni a kiss on the cheek, just as three strangers had done to him two years before.


The second Jamie kissed him, Giovanni looked into Jamie’s eyes and began to smile. He couldn’t help it. Jamie’s kindness was the very first he’d experienced in a long time.


Stepping back, Jamie saw the smile bloom on Giovanni’s lips and the younger boy’s face lit up. Looking into Giovanni’s eyes, a strange feeling came over him; it only lasted for a fleeting second, but something about the boy touched him and while he couldn’t place the feeling, Jamie knew he couldn’t deny the experience. Surprised at the incident, Jamie was caught off guard for a few seconds. Quickly recovering, he bade goodbye to his new friend, promised that he would see him again soon and hurried on his way, pondering what had just happened.


After reaching the library he went to his usual informatics station and with a simple thought jacked into the net portal. A few hours later, he slipped out of the data stream after a visit to the central data center on Ajax Prime and making a stop at the encrypted imperial archives he’d discovered the previous year. It was located at a secret base hidden on the far side of Argon and even with his talent, it had taken him weeks to crack its codes.


Finally sitting back in his seat, he took a few deep breaths. His head was spinning from what he’d learned. And although he now had what seemed like a thousand more questions, many other things suddenly made sense to him. Staring off into space, he knew he’d have to begin to act. He wasn’t sure how, or when, or by what means, but he did know one thing for certain: before he could do anything, he had to find a way to use the portal and see Charlie. In the meantime he’d begin working on a plan, a plan so large his mind couldn’t begin to fathom it at the moment, but one he knew he’d have to begin. If he was able to successfully reach Charlie, he’d give his younger brother a framework in which to operate; with Charlie’s knowledge of history, government and politics, Jamie knew that the help his younger brother could offer him would be invaluable.


                Pushing his chair back from the informatics station Jamie slowly stood up, his mind racing. Had his father understood the whole picture? Edwin Croal had talked at length with his son about what he must do, yet what Jamie had discovered in the Monastery of Infinity went far beyond what his father had taught him. Early on, Jamie had realized the path his father had placed him on was a dangerous one, but after today he thought it might also be an impossible one.


                “What ever made him think I could do this?” Jamie thought as he left the library, so lost in thought he ignored the cheerful goodbye of the librarian sitting at the main desk in the lobby. “Did Father even know the whole story?” His mind raced, searching for an answer he knew he’d never find. Bringing down an Empire was one thing, but...


                “So did you have fun studying today?”


                The question jarred Jamie from his thoughts. Looking up he saw Lucas, Yves, and Jeremy standing at the bottom of the broad steps of the library.


                “It wasn’t fun, it was work,” Jamie said. “But if you mean did I learn something? The answer is yes.”


                “And what did you learn?” Lucas asked, sounding more than annoyed.


                Jamie walked down the steps of the library. As he approached his friends, he could sense each of their moods and realized they weren’t very happy with him. Knowing he couldn’t tell them what he’d learned, he paused and stood quietly for a few seconds, staring at them.


“I’m sorry,” Jamie began.


“You didn’t seem very sorry when you abandoned us today,” Lucas scowled.


“I know. Maybe I did it the wrong way. I mean... well... I mean, I wasn’t trying to be rude. I wasn’t thinking and I made a mistake. I really am sorry.”


For a few seconds there was silence. His three friends stared suspiciously at him. Then a shy smile came to his face and he quickly closed the distance between them.


“But I can make it up – really,” Jamie said, lowering his voice dramatically.


                “How?” Yves replied impatiently.


                “First, I need your help. Again.” Jamie said, sounding slightly embarrassed. As he lowered his eyes and stared at his feet, he couldn’t hide the smile he was trying so hard to repress.


                “Like you needed our help at the monastery?” Jeremy interrupted sarcastically, “And now won’t tell us anything?”


                “No. Like I need your help to do something that’s more amazing than you could ever dream,” Jamie said, finally looking up at his friends, his smile broadening. “Like going on an adventure the likes of which you can’t even imagine.”


                “You have our attention,” Lucas said, catching the infectious conspiratorial tone in Jamie’s voice.


                “I promise you won’t be disappointed,” Jamie continued, “But you have to swear you won’t...”


                “Tell anyone?” Yves interrupted, “And when have we ever not kept our silence?”


                “I know, I know,” Jamie said, sounding apologetic. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean it that way. But this... well this...,” he paused giving his friends an intense look.


                “Ok, we understand,” Jeremy said. “This is really important. Not just fun, not just mischief. We could get in trouble, maybe serious trouble, right?”


                Jamie nodded his head in agreement. “Walk back to the school with me,” he said. “There’s something I have to tell you; if you’re in this with me, you have to know.”


                Eagerly his three friends followed him, and Jamie began his explanation. They were half way back to the school when Lucas suddenly shouted out, “No, you’re not serious! You mean there are two of you?”


                Hushing an excited Lucas and nodding to his friends, he told them about Charlie and by the time they’d reached the school he’d filled them in on his plan. It was suppertime and the four boys entered the refectory. After filling their plates and taking their seats, Lucas was so excited he looked as if he were about to jump out of his seat and fly around the dining hall doing flips and spins.


                “Brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” he kept repeating.


                “Thanks for telling us,” Yves said. “It is a big thing, and I understand why you’ve been silent about it.”


                “Sorry we were mad at you,” Jeremy added, “but...”


                “I know you thought I was trying to deceive you,” Jamie said. “I’m just trying to protect you, and even more, my brother.”


                “A brother,” Lucas whispered. “A real brother. Is he like you?”


                “You’ll see for yourselves,” Jamie answered quietly. “I don’t want to say anything else. We need to plan it. I have to use the small gate next to the supergate in the basement of the opera house. I’ve waited two years for this. I have to see Charlie, but we can’t get caught and under no circumstances does anyone else find out.”


                “This is too good to be true,” Lucas said. “We’ve never gone through the gates.”


“Really?” Jamie asked. “I thought it would be routine for you by now, especially with your schedule of outside performances.”


“The interdiction has been in place for years.” Jeremy said. “We’ve always performed close by – nothing more than a short hov flight away. Only select people can travel the gates – and that’s only with an imperial transport pass. But to be going to another...”


                “Quiet,” Jeremy said frowning at Lucas, “he told us to keep it to ourselves. We don’t need you telling the whole school.”


                “Sorry,” Lucas said, but the twinkle in his eye told them he was ready for the grand adventure to begin.


                “First we make our plan,” Jamie said in a barely audible tone of voice, “then we execute it. But we have to be prepared, and we can’t muck it up.”


                After finishing their supper the boys took a walk across the campus to one of the small deserted parks on its outer perimeter. Sitting on a soft grassy mound overlooking a small pond the boys talked and planned until daylight began to leave the sky and dusk approached.


                “Back to the school before we get in trouble,” Jamie said jumping to his feet. “We’ll keep planning, just not any more tonight.”


                And in the days that followed, they did.