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by Engor

Chapter 11

They were in a hurry, and even though Aïn the Guide had the ability to stretch time enough for a second to feel like several minutes, he didn't think he could stop to try to find answers to the questions that were swarming through his head. Right now the only thing he could do was to grab hold of the tiny opportunity he had been given to rescue, not only the young girl, but some of the others, too. Maybe even all of them...

First he had to persuade the injured boy, who was already out on his feet, to give him permission to enter his mind. No Guide was permitted to do that without specific permission, not even in the direst emergency.

Julien, he thought, I am Aïn Zadilak Bilalil ez a Katak, Master Guide. I need to enter your mind in order to use your Gifts and your Force to help the people for whose safety I am responsible. Please can I do that?


Julien didn't have the remotest idea of what the Guide actually wanted to do, but he was willing to do anything he could to help. But then he realised to his absolute horror that he was no longer alone in his own head. He hadn't imagined for a moment that Aïn would be able to take such complete control, nor that he would be able to access all his memories – ALL of them – even the ones that he normally kept hidden even from himself, as far as he could, because of the shame and embarrassment they caused him. It was a million times worse than discovering that someone has invaded your bedroom and read your secret diary, because he would never have written down some of these things. But now absolutely everything – all his most secret thoughts, all the things he had never told another living soul, everything he had tried to bury for ever in some dark sub-basement of his mind – every last one of them was spread out beneath the gaze of the Guide. Julien felt he was going to die of shame, and the sooner, the better.

Don't worry, I'm only going to look at what I absolutely need to see. True, you can't hide anything, but I won't look at anything that you'd think embarrassing. There's nothing you can do, but I swear I won't look at anything you would prefer me not to see.

This time it wasn't like hearing someone else's thought in his head: this time it was more as if he'd thought it himself. And he knew straight away that it was the truth: Aïn was his friend and would never want to cause him any embarrassment. Aïn wanted only what was best for him, and if he had taken control of his body it was only for a moment – just for long enough to do what had to be done.

Aïn had almost lost the boy: he'd never before entered a mind so completely unprepared to receive him. Until now the only times he had actually achieved a full mental fusion had been with another Master Guide. But this child clearly had no idea what he was, nor did he have the remotest idea of how to use the Gifts present within him – Gifts which were so much more powerful than anything Aïn had encountered previously. So he took a few precious seconds to try to calm the strange boy down, to soothe him with feelings of love and only then, once the boy was sufficiently relaxed, did Aïn really set to work.

Relying on the vast power hidden at the heart of the boy's consciousness he created an invisible bubble which spread out to include every member of their party, adapting itself to fit their movements and utterly excluding anything which was not part of them – especially anything even remotely connected to the ghorr and its allies. For a non-existent fraction of time the seven members of the group existed solely through the combined abilities of a Master Guide and a child who had no idea what was going on.

Then they were in the Outside, and only Aïn and Julien could see exactly what now surrounded them. The others simply had no sense that could have perceived it, just as someone born blind is unable to see a landscape. But Julien was able to see. The ghorr had been scary enough, but the sight of what might, for want of a better term, be called the other side of the universe would have destroyed his mind if Aïn had not somehow closed his eyes and thus protected him from this new sense that he was using for the very first time.

Aïn had been trained, not only to withstand the chaos, but also to navigate his way through it. The klirks existed in order to make the process simpler, and indeed using the paths they marked out was no more difficult than following a bobsleigh course. On the other hand, travelling without using klirks was a great deal more difficult, because it meant that you had to find your own way through the chaos unaided. The difference was akin to that between travelling by train and hacking your way with a machete through the Amazonian rainforest.

The crossing would take no time at all - at least, not as time is measured in the normal world. But if the Guide were to die in mid-journey while trying to find the way, everyone who was with him would simply cease to exist, and not even a button would be left behind.

Of course, Aïn had no intention of dying. All the same, he was starting to wonder if he had bitten off more than he could chew by trying to rescue everyone. Even using Julien's massive resources, which were far above his own, he felt as if he was swimming in treacle and wearing himself out without making any headway. If he had been accompanied by another Master Guide he would have shared the load – but then even if another Guide had been with him, moving this number of people in these circumstances would still have been impossible.

Ideally he would have preferred to keep the whole thing secret and land discreetly on one of the hidden klirks inside the Tower, but he no longer had the strength to go looking for those hidden portals. Instead he took the simple route and went direct to the Great Gate.

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