A gasp rent the air as lungs in a body that had been suspended in stasis for nearly five minutes suddenly reawakened and resumed their duties. Their owner’s head sank and remained low as he took several moments to catch his breath. His spine arched and his talons flexed, reviving his muscles somewhat painfully.
With something of an effort, Jal’tai made himself look upon the face of the human before him. Solonn stared expressionlessly back at him through blank, dilated eyes that held a faint, silvery glow. The former glalie was still alive, but suspended in a peculiar state between consciousness and unconsciousness. His psyche was subdued and encapsulated within a psychic prison, barred from access to his own brain. The lati had a name for this state: liasa andielenne
—the waking death.
Entering this state was an invariably unpleasant experience for the subject, which Jal’tai regretted to no small degree, but he knew that it was crucial for what was to be done next. There was work to be done within this human’s brain, and said human could not be present there to witness or interfere with the task at hand.
Still, even with the necessary preparations made, Jal’tai worried for the outcome of this procedure. Major, intrusive psychic methods such as the one he was about to employ bore a significant risk of unwanted, detrimental side effects, especially in brains with no sort of defense against the psychic element. Of particular concern to Jal’tai was the fact that they could corrupt or even destroy psychic anomalies in the brain—anomalies such as the Speech.
Hence Jal’tai had been severely reluctant to resort to this course of action—it had every bit as much potential to ruin his candidate as it had to secure him, if not more. Nevertheless, the latios committed himself to this act, feeling that there truly was no better option. It had been by an extraordinary stroke of luck that he had come by someone who possessed the rare and crucial quality needed to take the reins of this city. The odds were overwhelmingly against finding another Speaker anytime soon; Jal’tai didn’t know how long he had in this world to wait and furthermore knew that he would rest much more easily at night once he could be sure that Convergence’s future was secured.
Thus he was determined to do whatever could be done to keep Solonn as a viable successor. Though this last resort might bring failure to that endeavor, Jal’tai was certain that any chance for success with this candidate would be lost for sure if he didn’t go through with it; he doubted very strongly that Solonn would cooperate otherwise. Jal’tai needed to be sure that his replacement was loyal to the mission of this city and could be counted on to serve that mission once given his office, and he was therefore willing to take this risk.
It would be all or nothing, he knew. Either he would have his successor, dedicated and willing to take the role that Jal’tai truly believed that destiny had assigned to him, or else he would have something that was useless to his cause, casting the future of his project back into an indefinite uncertainty.
Jal’tai cast an imploring glance back over his shoulder toward the marble panel on the wall behind him. Please watch over him, Rei’eli,
he prayed silently to the image of the goddess that smiled at him from the far end of the room. Keep his gift whole.
He turned back toward Solonn, his heart heavy with concern. He placed his talons upon the human’s head, staring intently into his subject’s empty eyes. His breathing slowed dramatically as his focus deepened, stoking his psychic element and manifesting it into a vehicle for his consciousness. As it carried him out of his own mind and into that of the human who lay before him, he dearly hoped that his goddess had heard his prayer.
* * *
Haze enveloped the intruder, hanging calmly over the surrounding mindscape. It was a thick and very murky medium, one that would have offered up no distinction among its constituent elements to less sophisticated senses and would have threatened to erase the lines between itself and any less capable invader.
For Jal’tai, the oppressive haze held no danger of absorbing his consciousness and didn’t obscure his mind’s eye in the least. He could discern the nearly innumerable, individual mental signatures that formed the haze, as well as the intricate ways by which certain among them were connected and associated—a task made all the easier by liasa andielenne
; the haze would have been roiling turbulently in an active mind, making it harder to see what lay within it. It also helped matters that this particular mindscape was not unexplored territory.
Jal’tai knew not only how to distinguish these mental signatures but also what they truly were: memories
. This was the history of Solonn Zgil-Al, far more complete and detailed to Jal’tai’s perception than it could ever be to its owner’s, recorded through Solonn’s own senses.
Among the archives of Solonn’s mind were records of particular importance to Jal’tai, records that held the key to the human’s cooperation—answers to the questions of both why it had not yet been achieved and how it could be. These were the records of the past twelve days, beginning with Solonn’s earliest recollection of Jal’tai from that morning when they had first met west of Lilycove.
Jal’tai focused on his own memories of that morning as he began to sift through the haze, searching for images of that overgrown field and the guise of the swellow that he had worn there. He was fully aware that these images would certainly appear somewhat different in Solonn’s memory than they did in his own, for there were notable differences between the perception of a glalie and that of a latios. Still, Jal’tai reckoned that he’d recognize those memories once he found them, and sure enough, he did.
He had now successfully located Solonn’s memory of departing the field with him and heading off into the forest toward Convergence. Keeping it within his focus, he traced along its connections to other memories, following a backwards route to the moment when Solonn had first encountered him as a swellow.
Having found the starting point for the chain of memories that were of importance to this operation, he proceeded to anchor a part of his own mind to it. He then began to copy this memory and all those that followed it as he allowed them to unfold in chronological order at an incredible speed. Almost as soon as it had begun, the process was finished. In barely more than an instant, Jal’tai had obtained twelve days’ worth of memories, memories that were not his own.
Now the task at hand was to deal with the original copy of this chain of memories, upon which Jal’tai remained tightly focused. There were two options that he could apply here, he knew. One was to simply erase these memories. The other was to keep them intact but heavily suppressed, locking them away deep within Solonn’s subconscious mind.
Erasure was, of course, the more alluring option to Jal’tai; an erased memory was completely irretrievable, after all. However, it was also a much more intrusive method than merely sealing the memories. In even conducting the steps of this procedure that he already had, Jal’tai knew that he was pushing it, endangering the very aspect of this mind for which he was going to these lengths. Comforting though he was sure it would be to know that these memories were gone for good, Jal’tai accepted that for safety’s sake, it would be better not to destroy any of them unless he truly felt that it was necessary.
In order to judge if these memories could be trusted to be preserved in the shadows of Solonn’s mind or if he should try to remove them without a trace despite the added risk that that method brought, he accessed the copy of the chain of memories that he had absorbed and let the sequence of events play out in his mind somewhat more slowly than when he’d last let them unfold, allowing him to vicariously experience the past twelve days as Solonn had experienced them.
He saw himself, disguised as a swellow, leading Solonn through the woods and into Convergence. Through Solonn’s perspective, he experienced the morning when the human had awakened to find himself in a new form, feeling Solonn’s fearful disbelief at his new form and his bereavement at the loss of his element in a secondhand way. Jal’tai beheld the revelation of his own true form, listened to his own attempts to make Solonn listen to reason, and watched—and felt—the excruciating, telekinetic punishment that he had inflicted upon the human when his failure to convince Solonn through words had caused him to lose his patience…
…And here he paused, bringing the playback of Solonn’s memories to a grinding halt. Suddenly confronted with the suffering that his frustration had caused and made to actually experience the pain and terror that he had inflicted, he found himself overwhelmed all at once by immense horror, guilt, and shame.
What in heaven’s name came over me?
he wondered, aghast. By the Goddess… I could have
Long moments passed before he regained himself enough to continue his psychic work. Even then, he remained somewhat shaken by the reminder of what he had done as he resumed studying the former glalie’s memories of the recent past, watching as Solonn dragged himself listlessly through his first few days as a human and then began planning an escape in more recent days, with the chain of memories ending with Solonn’s foiled escape and his subjection to liasa andielenne
Having reviewed the memories that were to be censored, Jal’tai made the decision to seal them rather than erase them. Realizing just how very close he had already come to losing Solonn as a candidate once, he was now especially disinclined to tempt fate any more than he could help. And yet… thoughts of that day when he had lost control and of the pain that that had caused remained close at hand, haunting his mind. Not only was he deeply ashamed of it, but if the human were to somehow recall it against the odds, it was certain that that would destroy any trust that Jal’tai instilled in him.
Jal’tai proceeded to isolate the memory of the past twelve days from the rest of Solonn’s memories. He then set a psychic lock upon them and relocated them to the deepest, most obscure and inaccessible layer of the human’s mind—but not before extracting one particular memory from the chain and annihilating it.
The offending history was now subdued, but Jal’tai’s work was not yet finished. As he departed Solonn’s mindscape to proceed with the next step of the process, he tried to draw some relief and satisfaction from the fact that at least now Solonn would never be able to recall his brutal punishment at the latios’s hands again… but his efforts were hampered by the knowledge that he could not purge that memory from his own mind likewise.
* * *
With his consciousness having returned to the physical plane, Jal’tai once again beheld the motionless form of the human before him. Solonn still wore the same blank, emotionless, lifeless expression that he had been wearing ever since entering liasa andielenne
At least he’s not suffering anymore,
the latios thought wearily as he set himself down on the floor for a short break following the work that he had accomplished thus far; the act of sustaining his presence within a foreign mind for extended periods of time was fairly taxing, especially at his age. He rested his head in his talons as he prepared to initiate the next task, which was to create a different version of events to replace the twelve days that he had just sealed away from Solonn’s memory.
Jal’tai still saw promise in Solonn despite the obstacles that had arisen in trying to get the human to recognize his potential. He was quite certain that Solonn was capable of appreciating the mission of the Convergence Project and might have thereby accepted his new role under different circumstances. Jal’tai still felt that no other course of action but the one that he had taken could have securely yielded success, however; he believed that it was the only way to have been absolutely sure that Solonn would take the form that becoming the new mayor demanded. What was done was done, and because Solonn had reacted so adversely to the way that things were done, the next step for Jal’tai was to make the human believe that things had been done differently.
From what he had gathered both from reviewing Solonn’s memories of the days since the two had met and from his own memories of his interactions with the human over the past several days, Jal’tai had determined that one of the main reasons why Solonn was refusing to accept his new form and the purpose for which it had been bestowed upon him was that the change had not been his choice. He had also determined a number of other elements which, if removed or added to the circumstances, would help to ensure Solonn’s cooperation, as well as to enable Jal’tai to earn the human’s trust and escape his resentment.
With all of these things in mind, Jal’tai entered a trance in which he began to fabricate an alternative version of the circumstances surrounding Solonn’s reception of his new identity. If all went as Jal’tai desired for it to go, this rewrite of history would turn Solonn into the ready and willing successor for which the latios so dearly hoped…
* * *