Chapter 6

As Saladin finished his final tale, he shook his head regretfully. He'd been foolish to think that the wish-dragons were gone for good. If the past had taught him anything, it was that all things repeat in time.

Empress Caiatl broke the War Council's contemplative silence. "Valus Forge, you said that among the Cabal, only the Psions could truly understand these dragons."

"As much as anyone can," Saladin replied.

"Then Optus Qorix shall give her opinion on the matter," she declared. All eyes turned to the slight Psion sitting motionless at the edge of the room.

The Optus stood, her head barely clearing the tabletop. The Y-shaped pupil of her eye dilated and the palpitating of her milky facial skin slowed.

Within the minds of the Council members, the room seemed to dim and warm. A pleasant hum began to emanate from the walls. After a relaxing moment, a series of images surfaced in their minds:

[Cabal fleet : Ahamkara : shackles : Psion officer : mindscape : goblet : god-thought : OXA : shackles break : new Torobatl : Psion's throne]

The vision faded, and the cold steel of Caiatl's flagship closed in around them once more.

Valus Tha'rag stood up boldly. "This traitor openly imagines herself on the throne!" he bellowed. "We should—"

His screed was interrupted by a spike of psychic feedback, like a momentary migraine. Everyone was immediately slammed into another vision sequence:

[Cabal fleet : Ahamkara : shackles : Valus Tha'rag : bargain : Mars : Hive corpses burning : Fallen corpses floating in space : Human corpses buried in rubble : Cabal corpses hanging : Emperor Tha'rag]

Tha'rag sagged back into his seat, stunned. The Optus struggled back to her chair and placed a small piece of moist cloth over her exposed eye.

Empress Caiatl swallowed hard, as if fighting back nausea. "Your point is made, Optus."

"And what point is that, exactly?" asked Tha'arec, his hand on his forehead. "That we're all traitors-in-waiting?"

"Exactly," Saladin calmly replied. "It doesn't matter who wishes for what, or how well-meaning they are. Optus Qorix understands that the Ahamkara feed off unintended consequences. That's why we started the Great Hunt in the first place. It wasn't that we couldn't trust the Ahamkara. It's that we couldn't trust ourselves."

"You are not the Cabal," Tha'arec fired back.

Empress Caiatl held up her massive hand for silence. "The Optus's visions remind me of the former Evocate-General. Umun'arath thought she could control Hive magic to our benefit, and it cost us our homeworld. Let us not fall into the same trap again. We will not attempt to capture the Ahamkara alive."

Caiatl stamped her foot on the ship's deck: it was decreed.

"Unfortunately," she continued, "we must also protect ourselves from those who lack our forbearance. Once the Witness is dealt with, the Ahamkara should return to extinction. If there is to be another Great Hunt, the Cabal will support it."

She stamped her foot on the floor once again before standing up. The council was adjourned.

As the rest of the commanders filed out, Caiatl paused near Valus Forge. "I know you regret the harshness of the Great Hunt and long for another solution," the empress said. "But even with the benefit of hindsight, do you see another way?"

Saladin shook his head in resignation. If the past had taught him anything, it was that all things repeat in time.