Cyrus paced his quarters slowly, the hum of the Crystifice a small comfort beneath his feet. This afternoon's Council meeting was like a bad dream on repeat in his head. Relentlessly chewing at him, he found no peace in the discussions that took place.

He must be dropped, Avona had exclaimed, regarding what to do with Azad. Cyrus had not argued against it.

The child, unfortunately, must be dropped, Avona she had said of Zee, Azad's natural and illegal son. Cyrus had not argued against it.

Avona's logic seemed sound, was sound, but it still didn't feel right.

Because if Azad was guilty, and surely he was, then Cyrus knew he was guilty himself as well.

His love for Moana was no different than Azad's love for Deena. Azad's actions, probably no different than those Cyrus would have taken in a similar situation. The only difference was, Azad got caught.

And for that, his life would be forfeit.

And his son's life.

And the life Deena had lived, although she herself was not sentenced to death. Cyrus wondered what kind of life she could truly have going forward. She knew love, and freedom, and a way of life that no one else could possibly relate to.

Except, perhaps, the Dryn Mar, which Avona granted an exile to the surface. That thought did comfort him, though it was brief, as comfort became guilt.

He could control his emotions, he knew; he could visualize the cone and bring himself to the tip where no single emotion dominated, and balance the roiling feelings inside him.

Cyrus could not bring himself to do it, though. His guilt was deserved, he believed, and so he accepted it.

Because he knew that Azad felt no comfort right now.

Nor Zee, who was being kept under guard in Station, and was probably terrified. To his knowledge, the boy had never been separated from his family.

Family.

The word was used so rarely, and felt so strange to even think of.

On a whim Cyrus fell into the Pattern.

Colors and shapes rippled and spun as the landscape of the Pattern took form, crisscrossed by the network of silver filaments. He submitted a mental query into the darkness of the aether, and waited to be pulled towards the answer.

Navigating the Pattern was always about the context for him, and he was eager to see where this would go. Somewhere, deep in the Pattern, there might be a record of families. Some ancient memory, like the speech he discovered, perhaps.

Anything that might answer the question: what is a family?

He traveled nowhere as his instinct told him the answer was right in front of him, in a massive purple pentagon with sharp, crisp edges and a soft glimmer to it drifting in the dark.

Initially, Cyrus wasn't sure what he found was what he was looking for; it made no sense for the records to be so new and prominent. At the same time, he knew how to read the Pattern, and his intuition was clearly telling him that within that pentagon he would find the answer to his query.

Following his intuition, he entered the pentagon and was confronted with an array of triangles in every direction. Each was the same size, and the same shade of purple, though some were crisp and sharply defined, while others were slightly blurry. Still more were blurred to the point of being vaguely triangle shaped purple smudges on the darkness.

Never lacking for curiosity, Cyrus willed himself to the nearest record. It spun, and stopped repeatedly as the Crystifice pulled up the memory to show him.

He saw smiling men and women wearing the gowns of Human Resources officials gathered about a bed. Lying on the bed was a woman Cyrus didn't know, with a newborn baby clutched to her breast. In the back of the room stood a man with angular features and a mop of thin, flat hair that Cyrus easily recognized as Azad. As an empath, Cyrus was sensitive to the emotional resonance of the record, which contained traces of love and happiness.

Cyrus left that memory and entered the next one, and saw the same thing. On the third record, he did recognize the woman: a member of the Guild of Scribes, and the first woman to give birth this year.

After watching a dozen more records, all of them showing the same thing, he withdrew from the pattern.

Births.

Mother and child.

Family.

Cyrus sank to his knees and buried his face in his hands, his heart broken by the realization of what the images revealed. Warm tears trickled between his fingers and splattered on the pale blue floor. When the emotions had worked through him, and the tears had dried, Cyrus knew he needed to visit Azad.

Under orders from the Concil, Cyrus had arranged the Ward as it had been when the Dryn Mar first arrived, with individual cells and no common area to share. Azad's cell had previously been Moana's, and the former Director was sitting with his back to the wall, his head buried into his knees when Cyrus arrived.

"Azad."

Azad's head lifted slowly to regard Cyrus. Dark circles sagged under baggy eyes, and Azad's thin mop of hair was akin to a bird's nest. The bandages on his chest were stained where the blood soaked through, the Guild Physicians clearly not giving it their best for a traitor.

"I wondered when you would come by," he said, and after a brief pause added, "I wondered if you would come by."

Azad's voice, harsh and scratchy, made Cyrus wonder if they had even provided him with water.

Cyrus' only other visit occurred with the other Directors yesterday morning, to hear Azad's confessions. Azad made a show of looking around and beyond Cyrus, even though from his position there was no way he could see down the corridor.

"I did not think you would come alone, though," Azad added.

"I did."

"Hmm. To see Moana? What will happen to her?"

"The council has voted to exile the Dryn Mar to the surface."

Azad laughed slowly, and the laughter turned into a cough that had him wincing. When he had regained his breath, he continued.

"And me? Have they decided what's to be done with me? Is that why you're here, to pass my sentence?"

"No. I'm here to talk to you."

"Talk?" Azad shrugged. "About what? I already confessed. You know what I did and why."

"Yes. You had a family," Cyrus said more harshly than he'd intended.

"Have," Azad was quick to reply.

"Have," Cyrus conceded, "which makes what you did all the more difficult to understand.

"So, I did some research, and I've seen what family is. I know it's the natural state of things, the way life begins. And we just tear it apart. You tore it apart! Over, and over, and over." Cyrus choked back tears as he struggled to stay in control, the raw emotions from the records mingling with his already fragile state. "You had – have – a family, and yet every time a child was born, you ripped a family apart."

Azad rose, the movements clearly painful by the expression on his face, and came to the threshold, where he locked eyes with Cyrus.,

"I took no joy in that. I hated it every time."

Cyrus nodded.

"I know." He took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh. "I know you felt guilty. I have decided to no longer use my talents; I don't want another incident like the Drop Rock. But, I remember.

"I remember when I formed a link with you, in the very first meeting, when the arrival of visitors was announced. I looked at your emotional state. Your guilt was there, underneath everything."

"You cannot imagine it."

"I think I can, actually," Cyrus said softly. "Lyka, Alak and Bryne are dead, because of me. Barash Katan, as well. Ada, maybe, I don't know yet."

Azad grimaced at the mention of Ada's name.

"And all of it is my fault." Cyrus paused to wipe away tears that had begun invading his cheeks. "So tell me, how did you live with it? Hmm? How can you live with guilt like this?"

Azad fell back against the wall beside the threshold between them. "I just tried to do the next right thing. For me, I believed that was taking care of my family while I searched for a way to change it."

Cyrus sniffled. "Change it?"

"All of it. The way we live, I wanted to change it. I kept looking for opportunities, for allies, making plans. I had thought to recruit you, actually." Azad paused for a moment, and it seemed to Cyrus that Azad was reliving a memory. "That day on the Drop Rock, when I struck you. I was going to tell you everything then. That was when I thought you and Ela were in love. I believed you would make such powerful allies. But when I realized it wasn't Ela, it upset me so much, angered me so much, I…"

Azad turned back to face Cyrus.

"I'm sorry for that. I was wrong about the Dryn Mar. I only wish I had seen it when it mattered."

Solemn silence passed between them for a moment as Cyrus considered everything Azad had said.

"Thank you," Cyrus said sincerely. He cleared his throat, and then continued. "You mentioned your sentence, earlier. You should know that for your crimes, the council has voted to drop you."

Azad nodded. "Quite as I expected. What of Deena?"

"They plan to rehabilitate her, or at least to try."

Azad chuckled. "That should prove interesting. And Zee? What will happen to my son?"

Cyrus took a deep breath. "Zee, well… he's being held in Station, until they make a decision. Before they do, we need to find a way to rescue him."

Perhaps, Cyrus considered, there was a way to make amends. Or at least a start.

Azad's brows furrowed. "Rescue?"

Cyrus fell into the Pattern and located the white rectangles that represented the presence of his or-walls within it, and dismissed them all.

"I don't understand," Azad said as the high-pitched whine between them ceased.

"We'll talk about it more later."

"They will know it was you."

"I know. All of the walls are down. Get Deena, and wait in the Outer Ward."

Cyrus did not wait for a response, and instead headed down the corridor. Moana's cell was much further down; he passed at least half the Dryn Mar to get to her. She would hear his approach, he knew, and was surprised to find her sitting in the far corner of her cell when he arrived, instead of at the threshold waiting for him.

"Can I come in?" he asked.

She smiled softly, almost sardonically, and invited him in with an exaggerated sweep of her hand.

Cyrus crossed into the room, and Moana's eyes went wide. With a wide smile, he opened his arms to welcome her. She leaped up and rushed into them, and for all too brief a moment they stood in in each-other's embrace.

Letting go of her was not something he wanted to do, but he pushed her to arm's length anyway.

"We'll have time together later," he said, although he wasn't completely convinced it was true. "Right now, we must hurry and get everyone to the surface. Help me gather the others in the Outer Ward?"

"Yes," she said, and she pulled him in quick for one more embrace before dashing out and down the hall.

Cyrus made his way back towards the Outer Ward, stopping to gather Dryn Mar as he went. Moments later, all but one was in the Outer Ward. Ada remained in her cell, still unconscious from her Drycanic release on the Drop Rock.

Each looked at him expectantly as they gathered around.

"The Council has decided it is too dangerous to allow the Dryn Mar to remain inside the walls of the Crystifice," he said in his own tongue. Most of the Dryn Mar understood it at this point, though speaking it was a different story. "They have decided to exile you to the surface. I agree with that.

"What I don't agree with is their stance on Azad and his family."

He noted a confused look cross Deena's face, saw her whisper into Azad's ear. The color drained from her at whatever was contained in his hushed reply.

"So, I am going to defy the Council, and get Azad and his family back to the surface as well. This means that all of you will have to survive up there, together. Is there anyone here who thinks that can't be done?"

Taleb stepped forward before anyone else could, and pointed a scaled finger at Azad.

"That man has been against us since we arrived," he said in the Dryn tongue as he made eye contact with each of the Dryn Mar. "Yet, in the end, he was willing to help us. He even stepped in front of Mady to keep her from getting to Kanin. If he's willing to risk his life to save one of ours, then I am willing to share the surface with him."

Murmurs of agreement rippled through the small crowed, and Cyrus could not contain his smile. When he saw the concerned look on Azad's face, he laughed.

"It's alright, Azad," Cyrus said, and he translated Taleb's words.

"Thank you," Azad sincerely said to Taleb, who merely grunted in return.

A start, Cyrus reminded himself.

"We should go, and quickly," he said, and then gestured towards the corridor leading away from the Ward.

Taleb nodded, and Cyrus took the lead. Azad caught up to him in the corridor as they took the branch that lead to the Drop Rock exit.

"What about Zee?"

Cyrus could hear the anxiety mixed with eagerness in Azad's voice.

"You and I will go get him."

"Do you have a plan for how we will go get him?"

"Yes, of course," Cyrus said, "but first let's get the Dryn Mar on their way."

Cyrus slowed as the dark, warm summer night became visible beyond the mouth of the entrance. He had not been back to the Drop Rock since the incident. Such powerful, emotionally charged things had happened in that moment that he could sense the cerebromantic resonance of it.

His own anger, especially, lingered palpably to his empathic senses.

A shiver coursed through his body, prickling his flesh with tiny bumps.

"What is it," Moana asked. He'd been so engrossed he hadn't heard her claws clack against the crystal floor as she came up beside him.

"This place. "Cyrus took her hand and gave it a squeeze. "This place will haunt me forever."

She nodded in understanding, but said nothing.

"Azad and I need to go rescue his son," he said as he turned to face her, "but we will return to join the rest of you."

She flashed him a warm smile. "Don't taking too long, yes?"

He nodded, and then informed the others that Azad would show them the route to the surface before they depart.

"The trail is treacherous to us in the dark, but you should be fine with your starsight." He turned to Azad and said, "I will wait for you here."

"Very well," the former Director replied before sharing a hushed conversation with Deena, one accompanied with tears and hugs and kisses.

"Cyrus," Kanin called as he approached. "I'd like to go with you and Azad."

"Thank you, but if you are seen, it would be trouble. Plus, you're still recovering."

"So is he," Kanin said, indicating Azad with his nod of his head. Cyrus looked at Azad's bloody bandages, and could not argue the point. "I'm fine, and you can fetch me robes that will cover me. No one would know. If his son is under guard, you may need someone who knows how to fight."

"I appreciate it, truly, but Ada –"

"I will taking care of Ada," Moana interjected.

Cyrus shot her a look, and she came up to give him a parting hug.

"Azad saved Ada," she whispered softly into his ear. "Kanin needs to save Zee."

She squeezed his hand and then was gone, joining the others to begin their ascent to the skyland's surface.

"So, the three of us will be going then, it seems," said Cyrus.

Indeed, he was glad for the company. Kanin was right – if it came to blows, the Dryn Humar would be very handy to have around.

Azad returned and looked Kanin over, and gave a nod, which Kanin returned.

"They are on their way, as we should be," Azad said.

Cyrus nodded, and the trio departed on their way to infiltrate Station and rescue Zee.


v1.0 - Uploaded 11/30/17