Prism, p.1
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       Prism, p.1

           Matthew D. Ryan
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Prism
Prism

  Matthew D. Ryan

  Copyright 2016 by Matthew D. Ryan

  To keep abreast of other writing by Matthew D. Ryan

  Fiction by Matthew D. Ryan

  From the Ashes of Ruin

  Drasmyr (The Prequel)

  Book I: The Children of Lubrochius

  Book II: The Sceptre of Morgulan

  Book III: The Citadel*

  Short Story Collections

  Of Dragons, Love, and Poison

  Novellas

  Prism

  Non-Fiction by Matthew D. Ryan

  Delusions of Grandeur

  * Coming Soon

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Glossary

  About the Author

  Prologue (to Drasmyr)

  Chapter 1

  Akarra ran a three-fingered hand across her two antennae. Like her antennae, fingers, and hands, all the parts of her body were made of segmented quartz. Beneath her quartzflesh pulsed her lifelight: the powerful multi-hued energy that nourished her and expressed her deepest desires. She was a Quartzian, an inhabitant of the vast underground realm known simply as The Cavern.

  She lived in Isha, the main village of the Ishod tribe, a complex of disparate caves and carven formations that housed the Quartzian people. Among this collection of dwellings, one stood out: the Shardshaper’s Cave, home to Yridia Felstaff, the Ishod Shardshaper, and Akarra’s instructor.

  Akarra knelt expectantly on the floor near the back corner of Yridia’s Cave.

  “Pattern matching is most important, dear,” Yridia said.

  “I know, Mistress Shardshaper,” Akarra replied, head bowed in deference. “You’ve told me so—many times—but I just don’t see the use of geometry.” She was tired; it had been a long training session and she still wasn’t through.

  The small but cozy cave—one in which she had spent many long hours engaged in study—had been hollowed out in the shape of a twelve-sided figure of exquisite design—a dodecahedron, it was called. It at once conveyed a sense of space, mystery, and power. Much like the element it represented: the ether. Each of the twelve faces of the shape formed a perfect pentagon—a five sided figure of further significance and meaning. The pentagon-shaped floor, of course, was made of clouded white quartz; the ceiling, clear. The pentagons on the walls alternated between white and clear. There were no cracks or fissures or blemishes; all the angles and divisions were neat, clean, and precise, thus regulating the temperature of the room perfectly. As Akarra perused the features of the cave, she felt contentment and peace, and her antennae glowed a pale greenish yellow in response. This was like a second home for her. She was the apprentice Shardshaper. One of the most respected members of the tribe.

  Akarra watched Yridia move to the center of the pentagon floor and squat down in front of her. Yridai’s yenshi robe billowed out and she produced a crystal of transparent blue quartz in the shape of a perfect tetrahedron. Her Heartshard. A piece of the Heart Crystal itself, the source of the Shardshaper’s power.

  Akarra could feel the Shard’s presence.

  “Your next task shall involve manipulating the stonelight in the Heartshard,” Yridia said, holding the precious object out to Akarra. Akarra lifted her stumpy arms and grasped the shard with three thick fingers. She bowed her head to her Mistress, took the Shard into her possession, and patiently waited for Yridia to speak.

  Suddenly, Yridia coughed violently and a shimmer of multi-colored lifelight passed through her quartzflesh body. Akarra looked on in concern; such coughing fits were becoming more and more frequent with Yridia.

  But Yridia ignored it.

  Instead, Yridia produced another crystal: a clump of cracked, twisted quartz. She placed it in front of Akarra and said, “I want you to shape this crystal into an icosahedron. Work quickly. Now, go.”

  Akarra blanched: An icosahedron was the most complicated perfect solid known. It was a quasi-spherical shape consisting of twenty identical triangular sides. A correctly formed icosahedron would fit in a perfect sphere in such a way that every vertex of every triangle would just touch the inner surface of the sphere. Actually, that was true of all perfect solids.

  Akarra lifted the Shard and pointed the flat face of one of its triangular faces towards the clump of crystal. She bowed her head in concentration, summoning the power of her will. Her mind reached into the Shard; she could sense the Bond it had made with Yridia. The Bond inhibited Akarra’s control of the Heartshard, but not entirely: she could still harness the power of the Shard, just at a less effective level. She did so, and the Shard began to glow in her hands. First it glowed red, pulsing with energy, temperature rising. Next, orange, and the temperature began to drop. Next, yellow and a flash of cold. The other colors followed in turn: green, blue, indigo, violet, and then finally, it went clear. She sensed the presence of deathlight, and saw it in her mind’s eye although her normal vision failed her. She discharged a thick beam of deathlight focused on the lump of crystal. Immediately, the crystal began to morph and ripple.

  She altered the stonelight emitted by the Heartshard, adding a thin stream of blue to the deathlight.

  The cracks in the crystal disappeared first. Then the clump of quartz bulged outward until it formed a rough sphere. The sphere became more exact; perfect in appearance. Then, a protrusion formed on its surface—something much like a tiny ridge—it was soon echoed by another, then another. The three formed a triangular face. The first of the twenty sides of the icosahedron. Once the first such side had formed, the others quickly followed. Soon, the quartz had been shaped into a perfectly formed twenty-sided polyhedron.

  Akarra cut off the deathlight and lowered the Heartshard to the floor in front of her. She passed a cursory glance over the icosahedron, pleased with her work. Then, she expulsed a ripple of joyful golden lifelight. She’d never formed an icosahedron before, and was quite happy with her success.

  Yridia smiled then doubled over as she was seized with a round of violent shimmering and coughing again. Her body flickered through a dozen colors, many not from the standard spectrum, but instead a mix from those basic colors. After a moment she straightened, cleared her throat, and said, “You have done well, student. Now name the five perfect solids, describe them, and tell me what they represent.”

  It was an easy question, but Akarra bowed her head once again, and dutifully responded, “The first is the tetrahedron; it has four triangular sides and represents fire. The second is the hexahedron; it has six square sides and represents earth. Third is the octahedron with eight triangular sides; it represents air. Fourth is the dodecahedron; it has twelve pentagons for sides and represents ether. Finally, there is the icosahedron which I have just formed here—”she gestured toward the crystal. “It has twenty triangular sides and represents water.”

  “Excellent,” Yridia said. “You have done well, student. Now, tell me: Which element can form a dual only with itself?”

  Another easy question.

  Pairing was the name given to combining one perfect solid with another—called its dual—by placing one inside the other so that the vertices of the inner solid would contact the outer solid. Such a process could be repeated, theoretically, an infinite number of times or at least as far as the meaning of spatial expansion would allow. For example, the cube and the octahedron were duals. One could place a cube—that is, a hexahedron—inside an octahedron. And then an octahedron inside a cube. And so on. Flipping back and forth between the two and getting smaller and smaller with each progression. Of the five perfect solids, there was only one shap
e that was a dual of itself.

  “The tetrahedron, Mistress,” Akarra said. “Or fire.”

  “Why is this?” Yridia asked.

  “No one knows,” Akarra said. “It is a mystery why the opposite of Fire, Water, pairs with Ether and not Fire, while Earth and Air are quite content with each other.”

  “Indeed,” Yridia said. “Now ...” She paused and was once again wracked by a violent spasm. Sprinkles of multi-colored light flashed outward from her neck and shoulders. Suddenly, she crumpled in a heap on the floor, quaking.

  “Mistress,” Akarra asked, alarmed, “what is wrong?” She arose and moved over to Yridia, placing a hand on her teacher’s shoulder.

  At first, Yridia did not respond; she simply lay on the floor quivering and expelling flickering sparkles of lifelight. Finally, she managed to get her hands beneath her chest and push herself back into a sitting position. Her gaze met Akarra’s, and she seemed to shrink back from her concern.

  “Mistress?” Akarra asked again.

  “I did not want to worry you,” Yridia said.

  “What is it?”

  “I am sick. Very sick,” Yridia said.

  “How sick?”

  Yridia didn’t respond at first, she simply frowned and looked downward.

  “How sick?” Akarra repeated, more firmly.

  “I am dying,” Yridia said.

  Akarra didn’t know how to respond, at first. Finally, she said, “You didn’t want to worry me? And you’re dying?”

  “Well, I would have told you eventually,” Yridia said.

  “Assuming you lived to do so,” Akarra said, bitingly. She didn’t want to believe Yridia’s news. She didn’t know how to handle it. “What is wrong? Surely the Heartshard can help?”

  “I have been using the Heartshard regularly for three great cycles now. And I continue to weaken.”

  “That long,” Akarra said, softly.

  “Yes,” Yridia said. “My end is soon.”

  “But you can’t die!” Akarra said, now hurt, scared, and angry. Her antennae reflected as much, oscillating through a series of colors from black to red.

  “Oh, but I can. And long have I waited for it. It will be my final peace.” Her crystalline eyes flickered with amber light, taking on a faraway look. A look of expectation and even longing. Then, suddenly, her expression changed. Her antennae twittered nervously, glowing grey with doubt, and her eyes took on a now haunted look. “... I hope.”

  Akarra watched the transformation from eager Shaper to weary, even frightened, old she-quartz. At first, she tried to deny the truth of Yridia’s statement. Yridia had been like another mother to her, or perhaps even a grandmother. She had grown up in this cave, learning the ancient Shaper lore. Learning how to access and control the energy of Yridia’s Heartshard. She was the Shardshaper’s Apprentice. If Yridia died, Akarra would become the Shardshaper. That was a responsibility she did not feel prepared to take on. Nor could she reconcile her feelings of love for this she-quartz with the knowledge of her impending death. What would she do? Such an event would leave a hole in her heart, one she could never fill. She would miss her teacher greatly.

  The pain was sharp, piercing the center of her being. Her antennae fluttered in sorrow, and emitted a spray of blue lifelight—the color of sadness. Suddenly, she sprang up from the floor, sobbed uncontrollably for a moment as she looked at the crumpled form of her teacher, and then ran from the room.

  Outside the Shardshaper’s Cave she glanced around the Crystal Court, the large central square of her village. In the center of the square, four Lightshards—ten foot tall quartz crystal columns that glowed with white light—stuck up from the cracked crystal floor. A small group of younglings had gathered around the Lightshards and, using a plain prism to separate the light, they were sharing a quick meal.

  Along the edges of the square, the edifices and homes of the most important members of the Ishod tribe sprang up. A collection of white quartz structures graced the edges of the square—a jumbled collection of polyhedrons and less well-shaped blobs of quartz. On her left, she saw the Caves of the Hierarchy, the five edifices in which the chieftain and elders of the tribe made their homes. Each was shaped in the likeness of one of the many imperfect arch-solids.

  She headed toward those immediately.

  The chieftain’s home was shaped like a truncated tetrahedron—a tetrahedron with every vertex sliced off; such formed a structure consisting of four hexagonal faces and four triangular faces. It was supposed to represent the power and energy of fire, but controlled by the wisdom of the chieftain. The foremost triangular face of the structure held an opening that led into the building proper. On either side of the doorway stood two quartzian soldiers holding glittering quartz spears and dressed in yenshi armor.

  Akarra approached the two warriors and inclined her head slightly, jostling her antennae.

  The two warriors replied in kind. The one on the left said, “Greetings Shaper’s Apprentice. Is everything all right? What do you need?”

  Akarra quivered as another ripple of blue energy passed through her body and out through her antennae. She took a moment to compose herself then said, “My Mistress is ill. I wish to speak to Thaygos.”

  The warrior on the left gave the other warrior a nod. That warrior in turn gave a salute then turned and disappeared into the Chieftain’s Hut.

  Akarra crossed her arms to wait, her antennae drooping and glowing blue. The remaining guard looked at her, puzzled. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked. “Is it just because your Mistress is ill?”

  “Yes,” Akarra said. She wanted to say more. To expound on all the pressure and the whole writhing clump of emotion that Yridia’s impending death created. And although she knew this warrior well—indeed, she knew every member of their tribe well—she did not feel it was appropriate to share her feelings with him. After all, he was only a warrior, one of the lowest castes in the tribe. Valued, yes, but still low in rank. Thaygos, her friend and lover, was a more appropriate sounding board.

  And fortunately, before the warrior could inquire further, Thaygos emerged from the hut. Thaygos was tall for a quartzian measuring nearly five feet in height. His features were smooth and bright; he had glittering eyes—usually green in color—and two very long antennae that flickered back and forth with energy. There were no fissures or stress cracks anywhere along his body. His arms and legs were well-sculpted and powerful. Like the soldiers, he wore yenshi armor and carried a spear. As the Chieftain’s Son, his voice was second only to his father’s; he had a knack for fighting and naturally was the leader of the tribe’s warriors. What standing in the tribe the warriors lacked, he possessed.

  He had a brief word with each of the warriors and then approached Akarra.

  Immediately, Akarra wrapped her arms around him and buried her head in his powerful chest. His antennae flashed orange in bewilderment as he spread his arms in surprise. He placed his hands on Akarra’s shoulders and gently pushed her away so he could hold her at arms’ length and look into her eyes.

  “What is wrong?” he asked, his antennae flickering between green and orange. Alarm.

  Akarra’s shoulders slumped. “Yridia is dying. She told me this morning.”

  “Oh,” Thaygos said. “I was afraid you would not take her news well.”

  “You knew?” Akarra asked, now angry. Her antennae flashed red.

  “Yes,” Thaygos said. “She told my father and I three days ago. She swore us to secrecy. She told us that she would tell you when you were ready and when the time was right. I’ve been wondering how you would react.”

  “You wondered how I would react?” Akarra snapped. “You wondered?”

  “Please be calm, my shinsin,” Thaygos said, reaching up to cup her cheek.

  “I am not your shinsin,” Akarra said, drawing away from his touch. “Or, at least, I won’t be so for much longer. When she dies, I will replace her. I will become Shardshaper. And we will be no more.”


  “That remains to be seen,” Thaygos said.

  “I am merely stating a fact,” she said.

  Thaygos sighed, his shoulders slumping. “You should not be so determined to spurn me.”

  “Not I, my ... shinsin,” Akarra replied. “The Law of Tradition binds us as surely as the Words of Yin. When I become Shardshaper there will be no room in my life for a lifemate.” Her antennae pulsed blue.

  She looked up at Thaygos and saw the blue light coursing in his antennae as well. Once more, she felt a piercing pain inside her. This one, though, was for a much more nebulous reason. To love and to lose ... was there anything more dreadful?

  Well, perhaps the death of someone close. Like Yridia. Was she being selfish worrying over her relationship with Thaygos when she should be worrying over her teacher? Surely, she could find time to do both. Even as she thought of it, the pain of Yridia’s impending death ravaged her soul.

  Watching her, Thaygos’ antennae glowed purple, the color of compassion and concern. “We still have some time together left to us,” he said. “I know your heart aches for Yridia. Come. Walk with me. And trust me with the depths of your sorrow.”

  Akarra looked up at him again; his antennae shifted to pink, the color of love. She felt a similar response in herself. So, taking his arm in hers, she let him lead her across the square.

  They talked. And she wept. Until the pain was less.

 
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