Chapter 4: Vision of the Host
The Hall of Technology had no floor, ceiling, or walls. The space was wrapped in a blanket of darkness. Square white stages rose from the darkness in a perfect grid throughout the hall. On each was a presenter with a display, and these exhibits, like those in the Hall of History, were mostly physical. There were magspheres, grav engines, all manner of robotics, self-sustaining gardens, and even a 'Relative Suppression Grid,' whatever that meant.
Since there was no floor in the Hall of Technology, guests instead rode around on floating white disks. The thin glowing platforms soared freely through the air, carrying guests from display to display. Some were smaller and could only carry one or two people, while others were large enough to fit six or seven. Evolice could see that all the guests and contestants here were wearing the same style harness over their clothes. At the very back of the hall was a stage, rising like the platforms from the darkness. Its great silver curtains were currently drawn, and several rows of round white disks had already lined up in front of it.
"Welcome to the Hall of Technology."
Caught up in the wonder of the hall, Evolice hadn't heard the man come up behind them. He had scruffy sandy hair and a dark unkempt beard. His shirt, sporting a squirrel surfing a rocket ship, fit too small and showed just enough of his hairy stomach to not want to see any more.
"No way," cried Kyrillis.
"It can't be," exclaimed Eamon.
"Billionaire, Tech mogul, Roy Elman, here to please," spoke the man. His eyes were glazed red. "You kids ready to fly? That's what, one... two... seven of you?"
Evolice exchanged a look with a girl from the group just ahead of them and shook her head.
"Oh, no. It's just the four of us," said a tall blonde with neon green glasses who looked like she led the group of girls.
"And you three?" asked Roy.
"Y— y— yes," stuttered Kyrillis.
"It's really you," sighed Eamon, almost drooling.
"Cool." Roy went to the edge of the landing and extended an arm. "Check this out," he said, as two floating disks rose from the darkness below. Their surface was glassy smooth and glowed a faint white. "Formflex so they can do this... hey platform, gimme a chair." A perfectly circular stool rose out of the surface of the platform.
"Can I just shake your hand?" Eamon interrupted. "I'll never wash my hand again."
"You're welcome to try," bellowed Roy. He stuck out his hand, but when Eamon reached out to grab it, his hand passed right through.
"What?" cried Roy, "I'm a hologram... how can it be?"
"Whoa," gasped everyone at once.
"Are you controlling that?" asked Kyrillis. "Or are you just an AI?"
"Both," proclaimed Roy, "or neither I suppose, depending on how you look at it. I'm speakin' from a couch right now with a nice glass of mushturnip tea, but this me," he pointed at himself, "he's got the acting chops. Check this out— Vest me!" He stuck his hand out over the edge of the landing. A harness flew up from the darkness below. He caught it and pulled the vest over his shirt. "Real vest, hologram me, how is that even possible? Because I'm Roy Elman, and what I dream, I make."
Roy strutted over to one of the platforms and stepped onto the surface. "Now these vests are gonna keep you all from falling to a very gruesome death in the darkness below." He stepped off the back of the platform and floated in midair. "You'll also get a glove." He reached out a hand, and a glove soared up from the darkness. "It's got a little joystick for direction, and these buttons here for height." He began zooming around, doing flips and spins. "Look at me! How am I doing this? I'm not even real!"
Eamon was obsessed. His face was pure joy as he watched Roy zoom around.
"And don't worry novice pilots, these things are built with safety in mind," said Roy, returning to the platform. "They're speed locked, nice and slow, with anti collision sensors. So... if there's no other questions, you can go ahead and get yourselves suited up."
Seven vests and gloves rose around the landing's edge, and each teen grabbed their own. It wasn't difficult to secure. There were only three clips, and the harness tightened to a comfortable snug on its own. The glove just slid on, though the controls felt a bit awkward between Evolice's forefinger and thumb.
"Let's get you all assignments," said Roy. "We got a center position in row two and just off to the left in row three. Any preference?"
"Well I don't really care that much," said the girl in the green glasses. "You guys wanna toss a coin for the second row?"
"Sure!" said Eamon. "It's my specialty."
Kyrillis gave him an odd look.
"Oh, I've got this covered," said Roy. He reached behind his ear and pulled out a golden prekkut. The coin had the image of a sun on top and moon on the bottom.
"Sun or moon? Call it in the air," cried Roy, flicking the coin.
"Sun," shouted Eamon immediately.
"Uh, moon then," said the girl.
Roy plucked the coin out of the air and slapped it onto his arm. He lifted his hand.
"Sun it is!" said Roy.
"My luck," whispered Eamon to Evolice with a nudge.
"Oh, and while we're on coins... Yo, Tommy, get in here."
An orb of light popped into existence beside the holographic Roy.
"Ayy, Tommy," roared Roy. "Okay, if any of you have metal, just show it to Tommy here so he can scan it in. This whole place is rigged up in magtech; don't wanna go stealing rings by accident."
"Here," said a girl, "I have earrings. And some stuff in my bag." The orb zipped over and shone a light into her purse.
"I have this necklace," said Evolice, and the orb came to scan her next.
"On my back too, near the bottom," said Kyrillis. "Two studs." The orb went to him next.
"Alright, last thing," said Roy, walking to the first platform. "These disks will dim on top when the show begins, but the bottom will stay lit. If you need a release mid-show, you can always press the red button on your glove there. It'll light up the bottom of your display in a nice green for you. Now, let's get you all on your way. Can we get some seats for our friends here?" Several round stools rose out of the platform's glassy surface. Roy beckoned to Evolice, Eamon, and Kyrillis.
They walked to the edge. Eamon was the first to step on the platform. Evolice and Kyrillis both hesitated, just a moment, to make sure it held Eamon. The seats were surprisingly cushioned, and, as Evolice sat, a second piece floated up from the floor to support her back. It took a moment for her to trust her full weight on it, but soon she was leaning comfortably, giving her sore feet a well-earned rest.
"Go ahead, just tell your platform where you want to go," said Roy. "Spot's claimed for you, so feel free to explore the hall a bit before the show."
"Let's do that," said Kyrillis, and the platform began to move. It accelerated smoothly, and Evolice was never uncomfortable or worried she would topple from her stool. The platform rode a short distance from the landing to the edge of the exhibit grid then paused for further instructions.
"We could just wait here," offered Eamon from his seat. "There's no prying eyes to watch Evolice practice."
"Not this again," groaned Kyrillis. "Let's just tour the exhibits. You two can do whatever, but some of this stuff looks pretty cool to me."
"That's fine," said Evolice. "Crazy or not, a bit of practice might make the difference in me winning; Serenade proved that. You just check out the exhibits."
"Works for me," said Eamon. "Platform, go on and take us on a nice tour, would you?"
They began to move.
"Alright," said Eamon excitedly, leaping up from his seat. "Let's try to recreate your experience with the judge. Were you sitting or standing?"
"Standing," said Evolice, returning to her feet.
"And were you two touching at all?" asked Eamon.
"No," replied Evolice.
Their moving platform passed by a robot exhibit. He looked almost human, but every inch of skin, cloth, and hair was bleached white. The robot was repeating a wide range of acrobatic motions. In front was a smaller platform, where an older gentleman sat discussing the display with its presenter.
"And what about my theory from earlier?" asked Eamon. "Was the moment emotional."
"Sort of," said Evolice. "She was really intimidating, but mostly she talked about an old romance, hates their guts now. Anyway, while she was talking, I heard what she was thinking."
Kyrillis crossed to the far end of the platform, getting a closer look at the exhibits they passed.
"Okay," said Eamon, closing his eyes and placing his hands dramatically on his temple. "So I have to tell one story but think about something else? Got it. When I was thirteen, I went to a fair with my best friend at the time."
As he spoke, Evolice clutched her necklace. Hard as she tried to strain her mind, she just couldn't hear anything else.
"We rode the Slegtown Speeder twice, back to back," said Eamon, "and he barfed right at the end."
"Nothing is happening," said Evolice, frustrated. Her necklace wasn't shining, even a little.
"No worries. I have another plan," said Eamon. "The kytra were said to calm their minds to obtain a one-ness with the light. They had a meditation that Mathas has me do nightly to try and strengthen my own connection to the light. It's easy, we can do it right now, just have a seat."
"Sure," grumbled Evolice, falling back into her stool.
"Good, now close your eyes," said Eamon from the seat beside her.
She did as he said.
"I want you to wiggle your toes."
"Excuse me?" said Evolice.
"Trust me," said Eamon calmly. "I want you to feel every muscle in your foot. I want you to scrunch it up tight, breathe in deep, and then release as you let it all out. Feel your feet falling away."
Evolice followed his instruction. She tightened her sore feet muscles, breathed in, and released. The pain of standing all day washed from them.
"Next your legs," said Eamon.
Evolice repeated the steps in her legs.
In and out.
In and out.
"Shoulders... hands... neck... and face. Let your body fall away. Now, it's time for your thoughts. Hear the people around you, their voices. In..."
Evolice listened to the ambient chatter, focusing on every voice, every mechanical whir, every laugh, and every clap.
"That looks just like... shoot what's the name..." Kyrillis was saying to a presenter.
As Evolice breathed out, she released all that noise, and it was replaced with a different sound, Kyrillis' voice stark in her mind.
Capri-flower that's it, with the swirl pattern.
"Capri-flower," shouted Evolice, her eyes shooting open. Liquid light surged from the stone in her necklace and spun around her fingers. A surprised looking Kyrillis spun around.
"What did you just say?" he asked.
"A capri-flower, it's the swirl pattern," boasted Evolice confidently. "I heard you say it." Even as her heart was pumping, the light was receding back into the stone.
They locked eyes and Eamon glanced excitedly between them.
"I ..." Kyrillis started. "No, it's crazy. Just. Not. Possible. I don't know what that was, so I guess I have no place to tell you what it wasn't, but..."
"Baby steps," said Eamon smugly. "You'll come around."
They coasted down the line of displays. While most were physical, others showed applications.
"Design a digital you in seconds," called a chubby boy as they passed by his exhibit. "See, even famous actor Rasko Fludd had a go." The wild-haired comedian popped into existence beside the boy.
"Ay, hey, Chipakowonga," he called after them with his nonsensical catchphrase.
Rounding the next row of exhibits, Eamon suddenly gasped.
"What's up?" asked Evolice, but clearly Kyrillis saw it, too.
"Oh no, he's looking this way," mumbled Kyrillis, pointing.
Standing at the corner exhibit, just beside them, was Garrett Kobb and his giant metal sphere. The fair-skinned boy wore a sneer beneath his cut cheek, although he hardly looked menacing with both hands wrapped up in bandages.
"Will you look at that," said Kobb in a fake sweet voice. "Lapour let you stay to watch me win. Judges have all said it. The Kobb engine and I are going to sweep in the finals."
"I am disgusted but not at all surprised that you named it after yourself," said Eamon.
"Don't antagonize him," said Kyrillis.
"Aww, look at that," smirked Kobb. "You've already learned to roll over. If you keep up the good work, you might even be able to pick up fetch."
Kyrillis sighed deeply. "Platform, get us back to our spot. The ceremony should start soon enough.”
"Oh, what's that?" asked Kobb as they drifted away. "You don't want to see the machine that will crush your hopes of seeing Roani soil?"
"We're good, thanks," called Kyrillis back to him.
Each row of platforms in front of the stage was raised slightly above the next, so that tall students never blocked the view of others. Their platform parked itself just behind twin brothers in the front row, just two platforms left from center.
For the next half-hour, Eamon and Evolice practiced meditating and listening, while Kyrillis watched on skeptically. It would take Evolice a few minutes each time to clear her mind, and once she did, she only ever heard a word or two, but it was steady progress.
"Okay, Kyrillis, whisper a word you want me to send her," said Eamon, his voice sounding distant, as Evolice breathed slow, in and out. "Ready Evolice, I'll say another word, you try to hear Kyrillis's word. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate," rainbow, "chocolate, chocolate—"
"Rainbow," cried Evolice, breaking her mental quiet.
"I don't understand," said Kyrillis, looking amazed. "If this is some prank you two have dreamed up..."
"And how would I know what word you'd say?" said Eamon. "If this was a prank."
"I don't know," admitted Kyrillis. "Some sort of manipulation, maybe you've been planting it all day— no... that's just as insane."
The rows of moving platforms were filling up now, as closing ceremony drew near. Some students were sitting in groups chatting excitedly; others were floating around the open space, playing tag and trying to one-up each other with stylish tricks in the air. Without warning, the great silver curtains lurched into motion. Heads turned, chatter quieted, the disks dimmed, and a spotlight shone on the wide stage, revealing a lone man standing in the center.
"Will you look at that," said Doctor Hawberk, his voice booming throughout the hall. "We have reached the end of the day, and might I say how proud I am of everything we accomplished here today."
There was clapping from the students, as last stragglers floated in and those playing with the vests scampered back their spots.
"It seems like every year a Vision Scholar makes the news for changing the world. It seems like every month I see a new article, a new story, something new that makes me realize just how incredible of an experience it is to meet such talent. Now, I've been told in the past I have a tendency to draw these things out, and so I will try to be brief with you all today."
"In this envelope," he held up his hand for the hall to see, "I hold four names. These will be your Vision Scholars and competitors for the Visionary grand prize." He ripped open the envelope and looked for a moment. "From the Hall of History, we have Sanden Ramance and her discovery of a new ancestral link in human-capillum divergence."
"Woohoo!" called a voice in the back.
"Indeed!," replied Doctor Hawberk, "next, from the Hall of Science, we have Kyrillis Ma-Ikkut, with his work gene-splicing the Lyza Bush."
"Hey, hey!" cried Eamon, slugging Kyrillis' arm.
"Well, look at that," said Evolice, shooting him a smile across Eamon. "And here you thought you didn't belong."
"Yeah, thanks," said Kyrillis, his face flushed scarlet.
"Moving on to the Hall of Technology," said Doctor Hawberk, and Evolice knew the name he would say even before the words left his mouth. "Garett Kobb!"
There was a wild whooping from a group off to right, and Evolice spotted Kobb among them, glaring smugly back at her.
"Finally, the Hall of Language Arts," he said, and Evolice's chest grew tight. This was the moment of truth. "So much talent, and so hard to compare. But, for her Proof of the Human Soul, we award this year's Vision Scholarship for Language Arts to Evolice Nadima!"
Evolice couldn't breathe. Her head felt light. The world around her had a surreal glow to it. Kyrillis and Eamon were congratulating her, but she could hardly hear them. She couldn't believe she'd won. Now, she just had to prove her talent in front of a room full of strangers to beat Kobb, but it wouldn't just be Kobb she had to beat. Evolice looked suddenly to Kyrillis, and she could tell he was thinking the same thing.
"You give it your all," he said. "I certainly will. Either way, better one of us than Kobb."
"Now you have your Vision Scholars," announced Doctor Hawberk. "Let's give them a big round of applause."
The room burst into cheering. Once it settled down, Doctor Hawberk spoke again.
"Very soon, each Vision Scholar will take the stage and present their exhibit to our panel of four. Each judge represents one of the four halls, but our scholars will need to win over all four judges if they wish to come out on top."
"But first, we must allow our scholars a moment of rest. I am proud to present to you one of the most popular acts of the decade. They entertained you at lunch, and we'd hoped they'd accompany our final social hour as well. The road calls, however, so give everything to them, every ounce of excitement while you can. Announcing the infamous, the mysterious, the impossible, Circus Ivira."
Doctor Hawberk left the stage, as two children, a boy and a girl in black spandex outfits, replaced him. They both wore masks, and as the spotlight cut out, the masks suddenly glowed. The boy's mask shone blue, the girl's, red. The children rose into the air, and a beam shone between them. They stepped onto opposite ends and then the music began. The children leapt across the beam, balancing in their dance. For nearly five minutes they twirled around each other, performing increasingly daring feats. As the orchestral music built to a crescendo, they began their final trick. They ran towards each other. The boy in the blue mask slid while the girl leapt, springing high with a boost from the boy. The girl twirled through the air, flipping four times before landing upside down, catching herself in a one-armed handstand. The beam slowly dropped as the children held their pose, and when it reached the ground, they left the stage, showered in applause.
After several moments, a spotlight returned, and standing in its warm glow was a capillum.
"Serenade," said Evolice excitedly. "That was one of my judges."
The capillum pulled two hand fans from her belt, and with a broad sweep of her arms, she began her dance. Every movement she took was trailed in shimmering silver light. The way the light pulsed and danced, it looked just like what Evolice saw when she read.
"Eamon..." she said.
"I see it, too," he told her.
"See what?" asked Kyrillis.
"The light following her, what does it look like to you?" asked Eamon.
"You mean the spotlight?" asked Kyrillis.
"He can't see it," gasped Evolice.
"There you have it," said Eamon excitedly. "Serenade has to be a kytra."
As Serenade danced to the sweeping orchestra, Evolice could almost feel the woman watching her from behind the veil. Something in her gut told her that Serenade was more than she was letting on, that this day and all its crazy events were somehow tied to the capillum.
"We need to talk to her," whispered Evolice urgently.
"You're right, another kytra? We can't miss the opportunity," said Eamon. "Only problem is, they're leaving right after the show. We might not get a chance."
"What are you two going on about?" asked Kyrillis.
"I can't explain it to you now," said Eamon, "but we need to go speak with that capillum."
"So, send a letter," said Kyrillis. "No point in getting all worked up now."
As Kyrillis spoke, Serenade leapt to the very front of the stage. She bowed and rose, leapt and slid, and as she danced, her fans traced the air, leaving a trail of light.
"Look," gasped Eamon. "She's writing something."
Sure enough, Serenade was painting letters with her trail of light. Her message read: Follow Me
Serenade paused and looked directly towards Evolice and Eamon. With the smallest of nods, she swept back behind the curtain, leaving a trail of light in her wake. The students cheered.
Eamon stood up straight. "Come on," he said to Evolice. "You saw that message, too."
"I..." said Evolice. "Well, we can't just go get up on stage, can we? We'll ruin the show."
"What do you suggest then?" asked Eamon. "Are you saying we just sit here? Not me!"
"Well, there has to be another way to the stage..." said Evolice. "Maybe in the hall, past where it was roped off."
"Smart thinking," said Eamon.
"What do you two think you're doing?" asked Kyrillis sharply. "You can't leave. Evolice needs to defend her exhibit. She'll get disqualified."
"Oh, it won't take long," said Eamon dismissively. "We'll be back before the show ends."
"You aren't really serious?" demanded Kyrillis, as Eamon stepped off the platform and hung in the air. "Evolice, this is what you want?"
Evolice's mind raced. The scholarship was about finding answers, and she had that secured already. As much as she wanted to see Roana, an invitation from someone who could actually shape the light would be idiotic to turn down.
"I'll be back before the show ends, I promise" said Evolice, and she stepped off the platform.
Floating was a strange sensation, and trying to move proved quite difficult. Evolice jerked back and forward violently as she fiddled with her controls until Eamon finally came and caught her by the harness. He seemed to have the vest mastered.
"Come on, down here," he said, pulling her underneath the platforms. The pair of them floated slowly underneath row after row of glowing white disks. Each time they passed under one, the light from its underside lit up their faces, and Evolice could see Eamon's grey-blue eyes alight with excitement. They made their way back to the entry, and as they rose, Eamon lined them up perfectly with the landing. They stepped onto the marble floor, and Eamon released Evolice's strap.
"Okay, this way," said Evolice, running for the entrance.
"Hold it there." Roy appeared out of thin air in front of them. "Harnesses stay here. Those things aren't cheap."
"Right," said Eamon, unclipping himself. "Should I just..."
"I'll take it from here," said Roy, and as Evolice removed the last loop from her foot, the harness tugged its way out of her hand and flew off. "Cool, so you—"
"No time, sorry." Evolice stepped right through Roy and into the hallway. To the right, a long section of the corridor was roped off.
"That's it for sure," said Eamon, joining her. He ducked under the rope.
They ran to the end of the passage and found another door. A plaque read: Stage Access.
"Let's hope it's unlocked," said Eamon, giving the handle a turn. The door sprung open, and Eamon beamed back at Evolice. "Come on."
The backstage hallway was completely dark. Eamon and Evolice felt their way along the wall until they came to the first bend.
"Look!" said Eamon.
A trail of wispy silver light snaked through the hallway, curving right around a corner at the end.
"She's left a trail," said Evolice excitedly.
They followed the trail to the turn in the corridor and found a wide space with several enormous curtains running its length. The light cut left, around the back curtain, and down a set of steps.
Evolice continued after the trail, but Eamon grabbed her hand.
"This is backstage right?" said Eamon. "So where is everyone?"
"I... I don't know," said Evolice. Surely there would be acts practicing here, or at least waiting their turn to go out on stage. There was no one operating the curtains, and now that Evolice thought about it, she couldn't hear anyone either. No music, no voices, just silence.
Eamon ran to the end and peeked around the front curtain.
"What are you—" hissed Evolice, but Eamon didn't let her finish.
"Evolice, check this out," he said, sounding almost in a panic.
She joined him at the curtain and looked out. The Hall of Technology was empty. There were no students, no platforms, no exhibits, or lights of any kind. It was completely dark.
Evolice's heart skipped. There was no way they had the wrong stage. Everything and everyone in the Hall of Technology was gone.
"We can't think about this," said Eamon decisively. "It's only gonna screw us up."
"They're gone," cried Evolice. "Kyrillis, everyone, where are they?"
"I don't know," said Eamon. "This isn't right. We need to follow that trail. It's the only way we'll get answers."
"Okay," said Evolice, and she followed Eamon to the stairs backstage. The path of light was much fainter than before.
"We need to hurry, before it fades completely," said Eamon. He tore down the steps and Evolice did the best she could to follow. They took the passage below at a sprint until they reached a door where the light ended.
The door opened into the outdoor courtyard where they had eaten lunch. They were on the far side from the cafeteria, near where the circus tents had been set up. Although it was only around four in the afternoon, the sky was black as a starless night. There were no lights in any of the conference center's windows, and the air stood deathly still. The only sound was the crackling of standing torches between the tents.
"Kyrillis is right, I've gone mad," said Evolice, staring at the impossible scene.
"Not mad..." said Eamon. "We've got someone's attention, someone powerful. The question is whether they're friendly or not."
Evolice shuttered to imagine the sort of being that could conjure all this.
"Serenade was nice, right?" asked Eamon. "So, if it's her, we're not about to die. Probably."
"Yeah," said Evolice. "Let's go with not about to die. So where do we go now?"
"I think the torches are a trail," said Eamon. "Come on."
He raced between the tents, with Evolice just behind him. In all the silence, there was only the sound of their feet, beating along the cement, and the crackling flame of the torches lighting their way.
"There, the big one," said Eamon, pointing to a wide red tent, nearly twice the size of the others. On either side of its entrance, standing torches burned bright, and inside, there was a welcoming light.
"Do we just go in?" asked Evolice nervously.
"Hello?" called Eamon. "Hello? Is anyone in there?"
There was no response.
"Alright, I'm coming in," said Eamon, and he stepped into the tent.
For a moment, Evolice didn't know whether to follow, but coming this far, she knew it was too late to go back. Evolice entered the tent.
It was a roomy tent lit by a dozen or so candles that looked as though they'd never been used before. Off to the left was a cloth separator and a bed, poking out on one end. There were several couches, a table for company, and a tall bookshelf filled with all sorts of crystal odds and ends. The crystals all shone with their own light, like Evolice's necklace had, but none were so bright as the orb sitting on a stone pedestal at the center of the room. The orb shone in resplendent gold light that was almost blinding to look at. The light flared from the orb in great swirling tongues. It pulsed, just as the light when Evolice read, and in her necklace, and in Serenade's dance. This light was familiar, yet it was more powerful than any she had ever seen, even stronger than in the circuscript of her ancient notebook.
"What is it?" asked Evolice in awe.
"I don't know," said Eamon. "You think we should touch it?"
"Why would we do that?" asked Evolice, panicked. She wanted nothing more than to leave before she pissed off whoever owned this impressive collection.
"Look, Serenade, or whoever else is responsible for all this, they brought us here for a reason," said Eamon. "That orb looks like a very reason-y thing to me."
"Don't do it," begged Evolice.
"I'm going to do it," said Eamon. Confidently, he strode up to the pedestal and placed his hands on the orb.
Light exploded through the tent. Evolice was thrown to the ground, and all she saw was gold. Fierce, blinding, golden light. It erupted like a forceful wind from the orb and swirled violently around the edges of the room, blocking their exit. The cloth divider was thrown onto the bed, and all manner of linens and small decorations were sucked up into the fierce gale.
Eamon was hunched with his hands locked on the orb.
"Evolice, I see, oh no, I can't— Evolice, help me—" Eamon began to scream. His horrible cries of pain cut at Evolice's ears.
Evolice pushed against the surging light and reached to grab Eamon.
"No, don't touch," he screamed. "I think it's—"
A second explosion of light shook the tent, and Eamon was thrown from the orb. He plowed into Evolice, sending her toppling into the bookshelf. Dozens of crystal ornaments toppled to the floor all around her, but none of them shattered. Eamon, writhed, clutching his eyes and shrieking in pain.
"Help me," he cried. "Make it stop."
"I don't know what to do," said Evolice frantically. She fell to her knees, kneeling over Eamon and took his hands in hers, gasping as she saw his eyes.
Brilliant gold light oozed through his irises, drowning out their cold-grey blue.
"I see- I see- I see too much! Please, make it stop!" cried Eamon in horror.
"Eamon, I don't know how," she said, but even as the words left her mouth, she knew there was only one thing she could try.
Evolice placed one hand on her necklace and rested the other over Eamon's eyes. Her necklace remained dim, and she knew meditation was her only chance. Evolice breathed deep, as, muscle by muscle, she let her body go. Then came the thoughts, the panic, there was no time for it now. In she breathed and out she released. There was only the sound left, Eamon's shrieks of agony tearing through the tent. They made her heart ache, but she knew if she wanted to help, this, too, had to go. In and out. For a moment, there was only darkness, and then she saw the golden light.
It was like a current, flowing before her eyes: a bright golden river, and in its waters, she could see shapes. First, there came death, bones and bodies littering city streets; then, a forest of crystal trees, and finally, a city with high walls, an enclave from death and suffering. It was all so detailed but too fast to make out in more than broad strokes. The city faded, and Evolice's mind went dark. The gold light was gone, and Eamon was quiet. He rested, limp and unconscious on Evolice's lap.
"So, he has chosen."
Evolice turned, panicked, towards the entryway.
Standing there was not Serenade, as Evolice had expected, but Ms. Lapour.
The woman smiled knowingly. "Not who you were expecting?" she asked.
"Are you real?" asked Evolice, trying to find reason in everything she'd just witnessed.
"As real as anything you've seen today," said the woman. She strutted across the tent to the bed and stood the cloth divider back up. Stepping behind the divider, the woman's shadow began to shift and shrink. It was not Ms. Lapour that stepped out, but Annalaide Martin. "Oh, how very unexpected, but truly any stranger than what you've witnessed so far?" she asked in a soothing voice.
"What did you do to Eamon," cried Evolice, holding his limp body in her arms.
"You've seen for yourself, Eamon has been chosen."
"Chosen?" asked Evolice weakly.
"A great death is coming," proclaimed Annalaide. "There will be no escape, and it will ravage the world of man. However, we have a protector, one who would shelter his people."
"Glavius Adaius," gasped Evolice, her mind returning to the ancient notebook Annalaide had given her just a couple of hours ago.
Annalaide smiled, and her whole body began to glow with golden light. A second figure stepped out of her, and then came a third. Ms. Lapour, Serenade, and Annalaide Martin stood side by side. Serenade unhooked her veil, and both Annalaide and Ms. Lapour removed their shaded glasses. Underneath, their eyes all shone gold.
"I knew I'd met you before," said Evolice, her voice trembling. "So, which one is real? Who are you really?"
"My name is Ithris, they said in unison." A light filled them as they stepped back together. The woman that remained was a new face. Her skin was smooth like a human, but her features were long like a capillum. She stood frighteningly tall, and her eyes shone a holy gold.
"Eamon never told you about the Host, did he?" asked Ithris.
Evolice shook her head.
"In times of great turmoil," said Ithris, "Glavius has lent his aid to those worthy enough to head his table. Eamon will be fine; he has received a great power within him. It will take him some time to recover, and when he does, he will need you. The vision was granted to him, but without you, he will never be able to discern its meaning."
"But..." said Evolice, thinking of the Visionary Award; she may never have another chance to see Roana. She shook the thought from her head. This was more important. "I don't understand, why Eamon?" she asked. "If only I can see the vision properly, why didn't Glavius give it to me?"
"Who touched the stone?" Ithris countered.
"So, because he happened to touch the stone first, he was chosen over me?" Evolice shot back as boldly as she dared.
"It was not because he touched the stone that Eamon was chosen as Host; it is because Eamon is, at heart, a Host that he chose to touch the stone."
"Who stood up for Kyrillis, taking action when he saw his friend in danger?"
"Eamon," admitted Evolice.
"And who pushed you to practice shaping the light?"
"And who was the first to jump and follow the light?"
"Bold must the Host of Glavius be, for to lead his table is no easy task. This is Eamon's destiny. You need not fret, however. Yours will be no ordinary tale," cooed Ithris. "Glavius Adaius is not the only great spirit of the patronage. Nylk, mother of flora, is one of his oldest allies. For years, the Old-Scholars served as her voice among men. In the millennia since their slaughter, several have taken up this mantle, but it has been many centuries since the spirit last had a champion of her own. You will go to her, serve as her voice. Tell her to clear land for the holy city of Eredith. Tell her that her people are coming home."
"I don't know where to even begin," said Evolice.
"A forest South and West," said Ithris. "Eamon will know the place. Let the book be a guide to you. Nylk and Glavius were as close as blood, and just as Eamon will need you to understand his visions, so will you need him. The new Host is in possession of a mask. It will serve invaluable in your search."
"I understand," said Evolice, though in truth, she wasn't sure any of this was real. The night sky, the silence, the light, and the orb, Evolice wouldn't be surprised if she suddenly woke up to find it was all a dream.
"My time here is at its end; the gift of the Host is nearly passed," said Ithris, her body slowly fading. "Do not underestimate this great death, Evolice. You and the Host hold humanity in your hand."
With a final flash of golden light, the woman disappeared, and Eamon stirred.
"Huh," he said, sitting up suddenly. "Evolice!"
"Are you okay?" asked Evolice. "You were screaming."
"Screaming?" he groaned. "My head is splitting, but I'll live."
"Well, just take it slow, alright?" said Evolice, relieved to see him okay. "How much do you remember?"
"I just remember the orb and then there was this golden light," said Eamon. "Next thing I knew I was here on the ground. What happened?"
"Exactly how much do you know about the Host?"
For some time they sat there, Evolice telling Eamon everything she saw.
"Urgh," said Eamon, rubbing his temple. "It feels like someone put bleach in my eyes."
"Your eyes..." said Evolice, scanning the ruined tent. It looked like a tornado had come through, but she quickly spotted what she was searching for. There was a hand mirror on the ground beside the bed. She scampered over and picked it up, bringing it back to Eamon. "You need to see."
Eamon held up the mirror to his face and looked terrified at the strange eyes staring back at him. For some time, he didn't speak. He simply stared at his reflection. Finally, he looked to her, breaking the silence, "Everything you said is true then..."
"And you don't remember anything about your vision?" asked Evolice.
"No," said Eamon. "Just pain. Can you read me... you know... go back and see what I saw?"
"Ithris seemed to think so," said Evolice. "She said we'll need to work together to save humanity from some coming doom."
"Well, one step at a time," said Eamon, propping himself up. "We need to find Nylk."
"You seem to be taking all this rather well," she said.
"We don't have an option, do we?" asked Eamon. "If the world is at stake, we'll do what we have to do."
"Spoken like a true Host," said Evolice with admiration. Despite everything he'd gone through, Eamon wasn't considering himself for even a moment. "Ithris told me you knew where Nylk would be."
"The Nylkwood, sure, that's right about where I found the mask," he said. "Navigating the Nylkwood is impossible though. People lose their minds in there. Only the Arborals knew how to craft masks that could keep out the spores."
"But you already have one, right?" asked Evolice.
"It hasn't aged well, has it?" sighed Eamon. "Even if you can fix the mask, the Nylkwood goes for miles, and we don't know what we're looking for."
"Ithris seemed to think the book should help us there," said Evolice.
"Of course," cried Eamon, leaping to his feet. He looked off-balance for a moment but held himself. "Glavius was closer to Nylk than anyone. Maybe he says something that could help us find her."
"Then that just leaves—"
"Your award!" cried Eamon. "Evolice, we need to go right now." He grabbed her hand and pulled her to the entrance of the tent. "Hold on," he said, running back to the pedestal. He grabbed the midnight-black orb, which no longer shone. "If this is what I think it is, we'll need it as well."
They exited the tent to a bright sunny day. The circus was lively with performers packing up.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" cried a humongous bearded woman.
"You're already done?" asked Eamon.
"Of course, did you not watch the show?" asked the woman, sounding very offended.
"Oh no," said Evolice, sprinting through the tents to the crew door. It was locked.
"Can anyone let us in?" begged Evolice, but the performers ignored her.
"This way," cried Eamon, running towards the cafeteria. They entered by the food court and tore up the passage to the southern landing. As soon as they reached the bridge to the north wing, Evolice knew they were too late. Students were already coming out of the Hall of Technology, chatting eagerly with each other.
"Oh no," said Eamon. "Evolice, I'm so sorry."
"Don't be," said Evolice, looking at him with a smile. "I came here looking for answers, and I got more of those than I know what to do with."
"Look," Eamon pointed among the crowd, where the lean figure of Garrett Kobb was stomping furiously.
As he passed, Garrett made eye contact with Evolice for only a second. Streaking tears fell along his gashed cheek. As much as he deserved everything that happened to him, seeing him cut up and beaten, Evolice felt bad for the boy.
"Suppose that means Kyrillis won?" asked Eamon excitedly.
"It could still be the girl from History but... let’s go find him."
They pushed against the students, scanning everyone they could in search of Kyrillis's floral shave. They were nearly at the north wing when they saw him and had to fight to reach him among the crowd of eager students all trying to talk to him.
"Hey, outta my way," Kyrillis yelled as he saw Eamon and Evolice. He pushed and shoved his way towards them. "What happened to you? When you didn't come back... Eamon, your eyes!"
"It's a crazy story," said Eamon. "And this..." he looked around the crowded hall, "is not the place to tell it."
"What about you, did you... you know?" asked Evolice.
Kyrillis smiled. He couldn't contain his excitement as he pulled the plaque from behind his back. At the top it read: Visionary, and below was his name.
"I thought Kobb had it for sure, but looks like I'm going to Roana," he boasted.
Evolice threw her arms around him. "I'm so proud of you," she said.
"I hope your little adventure was worth it," he said, a twinge of disappointment staining his otherwise cheery tone. "But, thank you. Both of you. Imagine if I'd given up or socked Kobb at lunch..."
"You really missed out," said Eamon cheekily. "I hardly knew the kid and it was the highlight of my day."
"That was the highlight of your day?" asked Evolice in disbelief. "Not finding out You. Know. What?"
"Alright, I suppose that was rather life shaping, but the tray maneuver was a close second for sure."
"Okay, now I need to know what happened," said Kyrillis. "Fill me in over drinks? Hawberk said they're serving shakes down in the south lobby."
"I'm in," chimed Evolice.
"As long as you swear not to call us crazy," added Eamon.
"I make no promises," laughed Kyrillis.
Evolice left the Westkemper Conference Center at precisely six that afternoon. The Eighty-Eighth Annual Vision Scholar Awards had been split into four categories: history, technology, language arts, and the sciences, and Evolice Nadima was now certain where her proof of the human soul fit in.