Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes spoke softly to each other in their native tongue — Veritas — as they explored their “House of the King.” They wanted to plan without being overheard.
Shadow Walker suggested, “At no time should both of us be asleep. I think I can trust our three ministers, but I am not sure. Cat Eyes told us that most of the Z-Lotz do not even believe the myths and legends that they insist everyone else believe! How can one see into such a heart? They shade their soul windows. Can you know the heart of such a one? Can your eagle eyes penetrate the blank stare?”
Eagle Eyes shook her head. “I cannot.” She paused for a moment and took a deep breath. “You are strong and wise and handsome and these things help. But you are still seen as something foreign. I cannot imagine that the people held much love for NUT-PI. He was a cruel and ineffective leader who repeatedly betrayed those loyal to him. There may be others from among the Z-Lotz…no, there must be others from among the Z-Lotz who are popular and who are ambitious enough to be King. Even among the three ministers.”
Shadow Walker nodded. As they spoke, they strode through the King’s House. Shadow Walker’s hand’s idly trailed along the walls as they spoke. The surface felt shiny like rock, but felt warm, something like a rock in the sun, but they were inside. Odd. The surface seemed rock-like but not really rock. It was also much too regular. He wondered whether some of the tiny but deadly red spiders were on the walls.
Eagle Eyes explored her surroundings a different way — by darting her eyes everywhere. Shadow Walker stopped and took the hands of Eagle Eyes. Unlike the Z-Lotz, his eyes were open as he said, “Thank you for saving my life! We will get through this, but I must confess…I don’t know how. I need you and your quick thinking if we are too survive.”
Eagle Eyes tried not to blush, but she couldn’t help herself. She bit her lip and tried to plan. That helped some. Wild images swarmed before her like hiveless bees not knowing where to alight. “Sometimes, I wish we could escape in the night. I’m not sure we could even do that, but it would be wrong. Even if these are Z-Lotz and ROI, they need a leader who isn’t corrupt.”
Shadow Walker gave no outward sign as to whether he had seen her blush. He nodded. “To leave now would be — cowardly. I do trust the parents of Cat Eyes. And, that’s good because we need them to translate. But — now that they know their daughter is alive, I presume that they will wish to journey to see her very soon. Tree Vines has already told me so. When that happens….?”
Eagle Eyes nodded. “Regardless of what the future brings, it seems that you and I would do well to learn more of the language — and of the ways — of the Z-Lotz and ROI.”
Shadow Walker grimaced. “You are right. Though I wish they would learn more to be like the Veritas, to tell the truth. Just think. The only way for me not to be leader is for someone to kill me! That method ensures that only the most powerful — or most treacherous — will become King. And it will encourage intrigue among the people — not honesty and openness. Both of which we desperately need to kill off this plague.”
Eagle Eyes sighed. “If we even can kill it off. We have to try though. That has to be our top priority. Meanwhile, we need to learn as much as we can including who, if anyone, we can trust. I know you must miss Many Paths. I miss her as well. Still, our lives would be simpler if we were together. We could stay here and rule and teach our children to rule and how to stay alive. When the time comes, our offspring could wrest control from you by “force” — though — “farce” might be closer to the truth. We could feign your death and then, once the new ruler was firmly in place, you and I could leave.”
Shadow Walker frowned and then laughed. “That is way too long to wait! But I — I do like your idea about faking my death. That might be a way to provide them another ruler. Anyway, first we must try to help them avoid being killed off. They’ll be plenty of time to plot out our leaving after that. But you said you missed Many Paths.”
Eagle Eyes nodded. “I do. Don’t you?”
Shadow Walker nodded. “Of course, but … I thought you would say you miss Trunk of Tree.”
Eagle Eyes frowned. “Have you noticed how all of the rock in this place is the same exact color?”
“I don’t think it’s really rock. At least, it’s not like any rock I’ve seen before, but — yes. It’s all the same. Too much the same. Not like real rock.” Shadow Walker wondered whether Eagle Eyes wanted to avoid answering his implied question.
Eagle Eyes pointed, “Except over there. Look.” She strode over to a spot behind the throne.
Shadow Walker followed her over. It was subtle, but there was a definite set of lines making a rectangle. Shadow Walker traced the line. It felt different too. He pushed on various spots and felt a slight give. They tried pushing at the same time in a variety of places but nothing happened.
Shadow Walker again found himself wishing that Many Paths were here — or, even better, that he was with her back in the Center Place of the Veritas. Yet again, he took out the Sixth Ring of Empathy. As he felt it and stared at the crystal, as always, he felt a little closer to her.
In his mind’s eye flashed a clear image. Shadow Walker saw himself as a very young boy. He held a leaf in his hand — a dry leaf. He turned and looked up to the side where he saw a beautiful woman smiling at him. It wasn’t Many Paths though. It was She Who Saves Many Lives. Her hair was only flecked with a little gray. Shadow Walker’s tiny hand moved from the dry leaf to a dry seed pod. He heard his little boy’s voice ask the plant, “Thirsty?” He looked up to the kind face of the Shaman and saw her nod. He saw himself bend down and pick up his cup of water from the ground. He lifted it to the leaf and frowned, unsure how to give the plant a drink. She Who Saves Many Lives gently took the cup from his hands and bent down beside him. “Here, Shadow Walker. Here is where the plant drinks.” She slowly poured the water into the ground all around the base of the plant. The soil darkened and turned muddy. He heard his young self ask the Shaman, “Why did you waste the water and not give the plant a drink?”
She Who Saves Many Lives smiled and said, “I did. Be patient and you’ll see.”
Shadow Walker shook his head to clear his mind of the clear memory. He turned away from the wall and looked instead at the back of his Throne. He shook his head. He didn’t like sitting up there. It seemed absurdly huge. It was elaborately carved, not only on the front, but here on the back as well. The front and sides at least were beautifully turned out. The back however…? He glanced at Eagle Eyes who had also turned around and she was pointing to a part of the carving that looked like a small house with rectangular windows and a rectangular door. He touched the door and heard a loud creaking behind him. The noise startled them both. Shadow Walker’s hand flew instinctively to his sword. But no-one else was near. The noise, it became obvious, arose from the grinding of stone rubbing against stone as a hole appeared in the wall behind them. After the noise stopped, the pair peered into the darkness beyond the wall. They each cupped their hands around their eyes and waited for their eyes to adjust.