Reis and Tharol walked to the end of the central dais and to the other side of a wide column, which nearly shut them out of view of the other youth.
“Alright, what is it?” Reis demanded as soon as they were around the pillar.
“I don’t want to embarrass you, Reis,” Tharol explained, “that’s why I had us come here, you understand? I just wanted to ask you why you told the others those–those stories about me. That I was the one who wanted to investigate them, that that was my own idea and not yours?”
“It as good as was your idea. You made it clear that you don’t trust all the rest of them either.”
“Reis…that’s not true. I’m worried for them, but I think that they’re good. And it wasn’t my idea, not even a little. It was yours.”
“So that’s what you’re here for? To accuse me? Try and get some dirt to make the others doubt me?”
“Reis, please stop this!” Tharol sighed in exasperation. “No one is here to hurt you. I just need us to be on the same footing. Why are you so convinced that I’d be a traitor anyway? Why are you telling them things about me that aren’t true?”
“Well I–I still don’t know that you’re not a traitor–“
“Well I don’t, I just know that someone is. It could be you.”
“What makes you so sure that one of us is? I only saw elders attacking us back there.”
“Raystahn…it told me!”
“It did!” Reis was speaking very quickly and excitedly now, unable to hide his eagerness to share his secrets with Tharol. It’s what I was showing to the rest of them here at the centrifuge after you left that day. There was that first set of symbols you heard about, the ones that change whenever you move, but there were also symbols that changed much more slowly. They would stay the same for days at a time, and then shift ever so slightly.”
“And you interpreted them?”
“Not all the way. I had my suspicions, but I wasn’t sure of them until I saw what happened today in the amphitheater.”
“What were the symbols.”
“Just shapes, circles and triangles. But the triangles were breaking the circles, pressing their points into them and splitting them in two! From when I first saw it I could tell whatever that meant it wasn’t good.”
“And after what happened today…you believe the triangles are the elders and we’re the circles? I suppose that could be…though it’s not sure. And I don’t see where the theory of a traitor comes from that either.”
“Because there’s always been another symbol among the circles. One that is also circle, but which has a triangle inscribed within it.”
Something about that struck Tharol very deep.
“I suppose you think that doesn’t mean anything either,” Reis shook his head. “But I can’t explain it to you. It does have a significance, I can just feel it.”
“No, I believe you,” Tharol said, his mind trying to make sense of his intuitions. “But–but it isn’t just elders against acolytes and a traitor in our midst–that’s close, but that’s not quite it.”
“It’s an invasion.”
If possible, Reis’s eyes went wider than before.
“You think–? You think this is what the Invasion looks like?”
“I–I think so…”
Reis looked skeptical. “But what the Cryptics described made the Invasion sound far more…extreme.”
“I think this is how it starts. And from here it gets even worse.”
“Well…then we would still have a traitor. Even worse, actually. Someone among us who’s actively being taken over by the Invasion.”
“And you assume that it’s me.”
“Well–yes? I didn’t think so at first, but then…you were the only one who wouldn’t make a pledge. And you ignored me when I told you about my suspicions.”
I didn’t agree with you, so you assumed I was evil. Tharos thought to himself in exasperation.
“But…you see the importance of what I’ve been saying now, don’t you?” Reis continued. “Now you understand why we need the pledge, now you see why we need to investigate and root out any Invaded. Don’t you?”
Reis was offering to let Tharol back into the circle, but Tharol couldn’t help but sense the implied threat if he didn’t.
“Well of course I see that things have to be different now,” Tharol said. “We’re on our own…we’re facing extinction. We need to be bound to each other, yes, of that I’m certain.”
“So you’re willing to make a pledge to me now?”
“A pledge to everyone. I want all of us to make a pledge to each other. Me to you, and you to me, both of us to Bovik and him to both of us, and so on and so on.”
“What? Well that wouldn’t mean anything,” Reis scrunched up his nose.
“That would mean everything. We’d all be bound in every direction. We’d all be equal, as we should be.”
“No, that’s not it. You just don’t want to follow my lead still. Why not?”
Tharol bit the inside of his cheek. Reis could be a pompous fool, but when it came to a shift of power, he didn’t miss a trick. He was right of course, the last thing Tharol wanted was to be directly bound to Reis. Reis was too proud, too distrusting, and Tharol would rather follow anyone else instead.
“It’s–it’s like you said before, Reis. We all have different strengths, and we’re meant to unite them together. This is how we do it, by sharing the responsibility together equally across us all.”
Reis snorted. “Please. The others need a leader and you know it. And that’s my particular strength: leading. That’s how we band together. Everyone else sees it. Everyone else has already made their pledge. Whether you like it or not, Tharol, the new order has already been formed, and the only question is if you’re with it or not.”
Reis was right, the other youth had already committed themselves. And if Tharol couldn’t convince Reis, there wouldn’t be any convincing them either. They would just defer to whatever they were told, and view any argument against Reis as an attack against them all.
We have to stay together, Tharol thought to himself. Even if it’s an imperfect banner, what matters is that we all stand united under it.
“Alright then, Reis. I’ll make a pledge.”
A few moments later and the two of them came out from behind the stone column, over to the dais where the rest of the youth were collected. Reis was practically beaming with his triumph.
“Well you were quite a while,” Marvi pouted. “I was starting to get worried.”
“It’s fine,” Reis waved his hand dismissively. “I told you that I’d handle things.”
“So what’s the situation with him,” Inol tipped his head towards Tharol.
“We’ve talked things over, and it seems there was a misunderstanding between us. Tharol sees the importance of what we’re doing here now, and he’s made his pledge to our new Order.”
“Are we really our own order now?” Bovik breathed in awe.
“Well certainly we’re not part of the old one anymore,” Golu said bitterly.
“I still don’t understand what happened,” Inol spoke up. “I just can’t believe that every order is supposed to end with its elders trying to kill all of their followers.”
“I don’t think it is,” Tharol shook his head. “They were supposed to just pass on. Did you see how most of them meditated into nothingness? That’s what they were meant to do, resign their lives so that there was space for us to take over.”
“But not all of them did.”
“Yes, well, clearly not every elder was as ready for such a sacrifice. I think Master Orish anticipated that when he made his speech. Maybe that’s how it is every time. Maybe there’s always those who would rather keep their place, even if doing so meant killing the next generation.”
“But why would those be the only choices?” Bovik demanded. “Why can’t they just live alongside us until they die naturally?”
“I…don’t know. Somehow it doesn’t work that way.”
“And would that mean that the elders who defended us were in the wrong, too?” Marvi added. “Do you mean that they should have just blinked away into nothing instead of helping us?”
“I don’t know…maybe.”
“Yes, he doesn’t know,” Reis cut in, frustrated that Tharol had become the center of questions. “And making idle guesses isn’t going to help us right now. What we need now is to act swiftly and strongly. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d say I saw five times as many elders trying to kill us as trying to defend us. It’s only natural to assume that anyone who was going to be a help is already dead. If we see an elder from this point on, they’re our enemy.”
Reis paused a moment to let that notion sink in.
“So…if we see an elder…you want us to kill them?” Bovik asked slowly.
“It’s kill or be killed, simple as that.”
“We could run,” Tharol countered.
“Not a chance!” Reis spat. “This is our Order now. Our chance to earn our future. You heard what Master Orish said, it’s ours, but only if we’re able to take it.”
“But we don’t know how to move and fight like they do,” Tharol shook his head. “They’ve had so many more years and learned so much more.”
“Yeah, they’re old! And weak! Sure, they got the jump on us earlier when we weren’t expecting anything, and things didn’t look so good then. But now, when we know what we’re facing, we’ll cut them to pieces! Or is that not how you escaped?”
“I…did kill two of them. But it wasn’t me. Master Palthio was helping. He was…honestly I don’t know how to say it other than he invaded me! But he was doing it to help, just for a very brief moment. I wouldn’t have had a chance on my own.”
“Well…I guess martial skills never were your forte,” Reis scoffed. “Plus you’re forgetting the most important matter of them all. This is the Invasion. I’ve seen it in Raystahn. So it wouldn’t matter if we were outmatched a hundred-to-one, the simple fact is we have a duty to do. We make our stand here and now. Stand to protect the world from being Invaded because we’re the only ones that have the training to do it.”
Tharol opened his mouth, intending to point out that fighting the Invasion just created strife, which the Cryptics taught could only further Invasion. But before he could say a word Marvi shouted “Hear! Hear!” and then all the other youth rushed in to join her.
Well that’s that, Tharol thought ruefully. The leader has spoken.
Tharol kept himself aloof from the rest of the conversation that evening, while Reis and a few of the others planned how they would retrieve weapons and launch a counterattack against the elders. Tharol felt muddled inside, more than ever before, and he preferred to have some time alone.
So he took up watch at the eastern edge of the centrifuge. There were two youth assigned to watch at every forty-five degrees of the clearing. One youth roamed outside the centrifuge, patrolling the halls of the hedge maze in that area, while the other stood within, demanding a password when the patrolling youth came back inside.
Then the two would swap places and continue their joint patrol/watch. Passing back-and-forth through the centrifuge was exhausting work. Every time you exited, the only way to return was through some totally new mechanic. It became a great mental taxation then, puzzling out one solution after another.
Perhaps the inconsistency of approach was the reason why none of the elders had attempted to invade the centrifuge yet. It couldn’t have taken them long to scour every other corner of the Abbey, and it wasn’t as if the youth’s fascination with the area was much of a secret. But how could the elders plan a proper assault where every member of the attacking party would have to come into the centrifuge by a different method, and thus break into it at different times? The youth would be able to cut them down one-at-a-time.
That was just as well as far as Tharol was concerned. The fact was that he had no desire to kill the elders at all. He had seen how Master Omil’s face had changed from hate to remorse right before he had vanished at the end. He felt that he had seen the real Master Omil in that final moment. Not a monster trying to eat him, but a man who was regretful and broken. Tharol got the sense that Master Omil had not been in his right mind when he attacked. There had been a shadow over his face, and it was that image which convinced Tharol most of all that this was the work of the Invasion.
And perhaps some of the elders had done something wrong. Perhaps they had not been vigilant enough. Perhaps the Invasion had taken them over because they were too naïve or stupid or careless. Perhaps it had taken advantage of their fears, had been invited in by their hesitancy to move on. But now were they to be executed simply for having been human?
“Brilliant,” Reis clapped Inol on the shoulder over at the central dais, praising him for some scheme the youth had just concocted. “They won’t be able to draw near without being cut to ribbons!”
On Monday I spoke about stories that exist in more than one iteration. I even shared how I was considering releasing more than one version of The Favored Son, just so that I could explore all the possible different variations on it that I was thinking of.
And I may yet do that, but for the time being I will write this version to be the fullest, most complete vision that I can, and perhaps after I’ve done that I’ll no longer feel the need for a new interpretation. I’ll see when I get there, and until then I am free to write this first version exactly the way that I want.
That freedom has helped me a great deal to let go of the old ideas, and build on the new. And with that freedom I have worked a recurring pattern into the story that was not in my original design. And that recurring element is the youth in the centrifuge. The story began with them there, contemplating the changing of the Order. Then, after the attack they have returned to it to take stock of the situation and plan their next step. Next they are headed off to battle, and I will have them return to the centrifuge a final time at the end to review the aftermath of that effort.
Thus I will have used the centrifuge as a place for the youth to recollect themselves after every major plot development. It is a place to pause, reflect, and solidify themes and intentions. Of course, mine is not the only story to feature a recurring location like this, a safe zone where characters and readers can collectively gather their thoughts. This is actually a very common trope. Come back on Monday where we will examine the value of a recurring refuge in a story, and how it has been utilized in other tales.