The Pearl - Chapter 20 (Ending B)

(This ending concludes this novel and sets the scene for a possible future novel. If you want a neat ending, read Chapter 20 A. Of course, the story of the Shutaka is never ending...)

In Leith's mind, Jaycee was projecting an image of the Citadel, showing the most direct route to the launch facility. He had lost contact with Kweela when the Basran defenders attempted to delay the invaders by randomly sealing the passageways, but he was able to trace the progress of her squad by the green shading on the map indicating areas secured by the Shutaka. He was both worried for Kweela's safety and nervous not to have her strong arm at his back. Tanah-Luc moved quickly to take Kweela's place and Leith was more than confident in Tanah's abilities, but he would rather have his Kweela.

They continued to work their way towards the area that Jaycee had determined was the hidden launch facility for which Taran and his guards would be heading. The Basran resistance was becoming no less fierce, but decreasing in intensity. The corridors were filling with smoke and fumes as the air-scrubbers failed keep up with the pace of battle. The Shutaka


Belle had stopped in the corridor about ten paces ahead of Leith and Kweela. The warriors with her stopped also and formed a protective circle around the Sorarainian. They could not see or sense anything unusual, but they did not have the Assasin's skill for detecting subterfuge. Belle scanned the walls and roof with her gold-flecked eyes. On both sides of the wall, at about the level of a man holding a tool above his head, she saw lighter coloured patches of permacrete, indicating recent repairs.

"Kweela," she warned, "The roof!"

The Shutaka warrior glanced up just as the explosive charges buried high in the permacrete walls detontated with a deafening crack. The warriors below were showered with razor-sharp fragments, then, with a final grinding squeal, the entire roof section collapsed. Kweela had just enough time to throw Leith forward and launch herself backwards before fractured slabs, each larger than a person, crashed to the floor where they had been standing. With the force of Kweela's shove Leith slid twenty paced along the corridor, ending up lying across the legs of Belle, who had reacted the instant the charges had blown. He and the Sorarainian untangled themselves and rolled into a crouching position.

Tanah-Luc struggled to he feet, shaking permacrete pieces out of her long blonde hair. She was unscathed, but as she helped Natal-Tah up, Leith noticed that the younger warrior had recieved a deep cut on her shoulder from shrapnel and was holding her hand over the wound to staunch the flow of blood. Tanah reached into the pouch at her belt and withdrew a field dressing that she began applying expertly to Natal's injury.

"Leith-mnan-gar," Tanah said, as she finished fusing the plas-skin of the dressing to Natal's shoulder, "The others have survived on the other side, but the corridor is blocked. The charges were designed to prevent passage down this route, not for maximum casualties. We cannot afford the time to blast our way through - this whole corridor may be booby-trapped. We must go, now." Where, moments before, Tanah had been simply one of the warriors following Kweela's lead, she had immediately adapted to the new situation and rallied the other Shutaka.

"Kweela, is she all right?"

The Shutaka warrior touched her head. "You would know it up here if she wasn't, mnan-gar - she is your ka. Now, Belle needs your help."

Leith looked at Belle, who had stood up and unsheathed a wicked little dagger, that Leith saw was identical to the one used to kill Lilith-Soo. With a quick momement Belle sliced through the material of the left leg of her suit to expose the tip of a permacrete shard the size Leith's thumb. Using three deft surgical strokes, she cut away the surrounding flesh and flicked the still smoking sliver from her thigh.

"Put you hand there, please Leith," she instructed, slipping her knife back into its sheath and reaching into her own pack for a dressing. 'I got lucky; it missed anything vital, but it's inconvenient. And yes," she said, answering his unspoken question, "it's an Assassin's knife."

Leith knelt before the Sorarainian and placed pressure on the wound until Belle had applied the plas-skin dressing. Belle had not flinched once during the entire process and after the dressing had moulded itself to the countours of her leg, she placed her full weight on the injured leg, nodding in satisfaction."

"It will do; I won't slow you down, anyway."

"Good," said Tanah. "Which way Leith-mnan-gar?" Their was a junction in the corridor ahead. The six Shutaka warriors that now made up their group waited expectantly.

"Left, Leith," advised Jaycee. "However, I'm afraid I can't do anything about any more booby-traps; they've been set and armed manually by the Royal Guard. ARAK has no detailed knowledge of their locations."

Leith went to the pile of rubble that had sealed the corridor. The force of the explosion had been expertly directed. Half of the floor above had also collapesed into the corridor.

"Kweela, can you hear me?" he yelled. "We've got to go on!"

"They have already gone back to find another way around," Tanah told him gently. "Come, mnan-gar, it will take more than this to keep you and your ka apart for long."




Through the smoke and flashes of battle, Kweela caught the eye of Taran and he looked aound desperately for a means of escape. As yet more of his troops fell in a bloody heap at his feet, Taran saw one of the warriors, a tall, flame-haired savage, pause in her work and call to him over the din.

"Taran," she yelled, "Look around you; these are Shutaka with the spirits of Willa at their sides. We are coming for you."


Taran used the bodies of his last loyal guards to shield him as he slipped through the narrowing gap of the blast doors. They shut with a solid thud and the sound of battle was cut off.


In the lander, Security Minister Juracke was looking at the scanner screen with the pilot.

"We should leave now, Minsiter," the pilot said. "There is a gap in the mercenary air cover; it won't last long. We should boost now if we're going to have a chance."


The Emperor had just enough time to realise what was happening and begin to form a scream deep in his lungs when the lander's motors fired. Through the immemsly thick clearsteal blastdoors, Kweela watched as the full force of the propulsion exhaust gases caught Taran and slammed him back against the wall. His body instantly boiled away into nothingness. The heavy leather-bound book that Taran had been clutching in his hand was also vapourised and the most important piece of knowledge in human history passed from existence.







Krys-Tian knelt down and took Misha-Dan's hand. As soon as she touched him, the old man relaxed, his pain-contorted features returning to normal. The girl's expression did not change but her eyes took on the shimmering appearance that Leith had come to associate with the power of the Pearl.

"Rest now, my Lord. I can take the pain from you."

"A precious gift, indeed, small one. For that I thank you." Misha-Dan turned to Leith. "So, mnan-gar, it is nearly time I must leave you. You will have to deal with our Kweela-San all by yourself now. I am afraid that without her Lord-priest, she will be a wild one."

Leith felt a tightness beginning in his chest. He realised how much he had come to depend on the guidance of Misha, and how much he had valued him as a friend. He also knelt on the floor beside the old man.

"Do not try to talk, my Lord. And do not concern yourself about your Kweela-San; she will make you proud."

"Talk is all I have left, Leith. It is no effort, I assure you; Krys-Tian has taken my pain into her. This is an blessing I do not deserve, but I am grateful, nevertheless. As for Kweela, she can never bring anything to me except pride." Misha paused and smiled at Leith. "Would not any father be proud of such a warrior?"

"Kweela-San? She is your daughter?"


"Does she know this?"

"Quite likely, Leith Birro, although I have never asked her directly. As you know, the Shutaka do not place a great deal of importance on such matters; I have been father to many and Kweela has had many fathers during her life. However, I must admit to taking particular pleasure in observing her become the woman she is."

At that moment the subject of their conversation came in through the doorway. Kweela was bloodstained and weary, but the fierceness of battle-lust still burned in her eyes.

"The complex is secure," she reported. "The Basran troops offered little resistance once they found out their leaders had deserted them." Kweela knelt down next to Krys-Tian and placed her hand on Misha-Dan's forehead. She looked at Krys. "Is it bad?"

The young girl suddenly looked old beyond her seasons.

"It is almost time for Misha-Dan, Kweela. I'm sorry."

Kweela closed her eyes briefly, then turned to the Lord-priest.

"I wish it was not so, my Lord."

"And I, warrior. But it is so. You have learned well, Kweela-San; there is little more I can teach you. I leave with no regrets, but... there is one more thing I must tell you. And you also, Leith Birro, for it concerns you as well. In fact, it is of probably more concern to you than Kweela."

"What is it Misha?" Leith asked.

"Ah, always there is no time for long explanations. I must be, of necessity, brief. You would have noticed that Jor-Dak is different from a normal Shutaka?"

Leith nodded.

"It is because he has been gene-spliced from non-Shutaka stock," said Misha-Dan

"I guessed as much, although I thought that was forbidden," said Leith.

"There have been occasions when such - experiments - have been allowable. This was such a case. Jor-Dak is unable to father children, so there is little danger to the Shutaka gene pool, and his unique abilities were though to outweigh any potential complications."

"Such as?"

"A man with the perception and sensitivity of a Lord-priest, combined with the strength and courage of a warrior is powerful being. As a Keeper of the Pearl, such abilities were extremely important. As it has turned out, the Pearl would have been lost without him."

"Does Jor-Dak know he is not pure-stock Shutaka?"

"He is far too intelligent not to realise."

"Is his genetic origin special?"

"Some would say so. Much thought was put into what genetic combination would result in the characteristics we needed. Many permutations were trialed and simulated, but only one was finally chosen to be taken to term. Jor-Dak is the result of genetically combining you and Kweela. Kweela-San herself is the result of careful breeding and is as close as you will find to an original Shutaka Priestess-warrior"

For once, Kweela looked almost as surprised as Leith. Misha-Dan smiled again. "I know what is on your mind, Leith Birro. Is Jor-Dak your sibling or your child? Does it matter? He is your friend, that is what is important. And he needs you."

"My Lord, Krys-Tian interrupted, "it is time."

"Ah... so it is. Farewell, then, my friends."

The Lord-priest's body relaxed, and Krys-Tian let out a small sigh. She placed Misha-Dan's hand on his body and closed his lifeless eyes.

"Few spirits could match that of Misha-Dan," she said. "May your next journey be untroubled, Honoured One."

Belle came up to where Leith was kneeling and placed her tiny hand on his shoulder. Leith turned to her, his face almost on the same level as hers.

"Are you all right, Leith?" she asked.

Leith smiled gratefully at the assassin and pulled the small woman gently to him, resting his head on her chest. He embraced her as hard as he dared, as ever underestimating the strength in her tiny body, and she stroked his head softly as he mourned his comrade. Kweela looked at Belle, seeing the longing and sadness in her friend's eyes and smiled to show her understanding and gratitude.

Leith got to his feet and pulled the ring Misha-Dan had given him from his finger. He reached out and took Kweela's hand, dropping the silver circle in her open palm.

"Misha told me that these rings are as old as the Shutaka themselves. This one was very precious to him, and he gave it to me for safekeeping. He said that I would know who to give it to when the time had come. I think he meant it for you."

Kweela held the ring up to the light. The inset pearl glowed with a luminescence of its own. "Thank you, Leith-mnan-gar; it is a life-ring - a promise of a long and full life. It is... it is often worn by those of the Shutaka who enter into a life partnership. It was rumoured that Misha-Dan had once entered into such a relationship with one of the most accomplished and beautiful warriors in the history of the Shutaka. She died in battle not long after. So the story went." She closed her hand around the ring. "Kisa-Mara, Misha-Dan will be buried as a warrior, not a lord-priest. If anyone questions my command, tell them to seek me out."

"No one will question you," Kweela-San. "It will be so, and it will be fitting."

Krys-Tian stood up and looked around the room. All the Shutaka tensed, as if they were suddenly aware of something.

"It seems it is also time for me to leave, as well," she said.

Without another word, she collapsed to the floor. The Shutaka let out a collective sigh, but none rushed to the aid of Krys-Tian.

Leith made a move to go to where the girl lay, but Belle held him back. "No, Leith," she said. "I don't know what it is, but we need to keep out of this for the moment."

Kisa-Mara finally moved to Krys-Tian's body and gently arranged her arms and legs into comfortable positions. She stood up again and stepped back to where the other Shutaka were silently watching.

Kweela moved close beside Leith. "Leith-ka," she said softly, "This is the final secret of the Shutaka. Krys-Tian was not a Keeper of the Pearl - she was the Pearl. This time its physical manifestation was in the form of a human. It has happened before, and it is the most difficult, fragile, aspect of the Pearl to safeguard."

"But what of Krys-Tian; did the Pearl take over control of her body?"

"There is no Krys-Tian," said Kweela. "There never was. There was only the Pearl."

"But I talked with Krys, I touched her, smelt her - she was real, not a manifestation of the Pearl," insisted Leith. "She had thoughts and feelings of her own."

"Yes, The entity known as Krys-Tian had feelings. But that was the Pearl. Or rather, a reflection of it through a human existence. It was real; as real as if a person called Krys-Tian had been born human, but she had no soul. I know it is hard to believe; we Shutaka know it to be true, but it is still difficult not to remember Krys-Tian as a person. I, for one, will be happy to rember her that way."

Leith looked down at the body lying on the floor. There was a look of serenity on Krys-Tian's face. Her chest still rose and fell gently.

"What happens now?" he asked.

"The Pearl is moving on to its next manifestation. It will discard this physical shell. When it leaves, this will just be an empty body."

Through his grief, a thought was forming. Or perhaps it was Jaycee's thought.

"Just an empty body?" he asked Kweela. "How empty? Did the Pearl create a fully functioning body or just a husk?"

"You would not tell any difference between this body and that of mine," replied Kweela. "It will be as if a real person has died."

Leith turned to face Kweela and reached out to hold her hands, still stained with the blood of battle, in his. "Kweela-San, do you want your mnan-gar back - I mean fully back?"

Kweela looked at his quizically. "Leith-ka, I once told you we did not need to speak of this again. I am satisfied that the most important part of you is here in this room with me."

"Kweela, listen. We will have just one chance at this. You have to trust me on this, as much as I trust you." He was trying to make Kweela understand without saying too much to the other Shutaka. He pointed to Krys-Tian's body. "We have a body here that, in a few moments, will be empty. And in me we have a lost soul that we could give new home."

Kweela's eyes widened. "Leith, what you are saying can't be done. It has never been done."

Leith squeezed her hands tightly. "It can be done. You can do it. You are the daughter of a Lord-priest. You are the mother of Jor-Dak. You are my ka - for the first time I really understand that. I also see that you are destined to become the greatest Shutaka Priestess-warrior to have ever lived and I know you can do this."

"Leith, to move a soul..." Kweela whispered. "If I fail, their will be three lost souls. And her memories, I can't take them. She will know who she is, but her other knowledge will be gone - she will be like a newborn baby. I'm not sure I can do it."

"Kweela-San, you may not be, but I have never been so sure of anything in my life. Jaycee says that if we are going to do it, do it now. She's made her decision; she knows she won't get another chance like this."

Leith saw a look of determination cross the warriors face. "Very well, Leith-mnan-gar, we shall try. But you will need to open your mind to me as never before. There can be no barriers.

Leith nodded in acceptance. "I know, Kweela. I'm sorry for what you will have to see, but I also know now that you will understand as only my ka can."

He knelt beside Krys-Tian. Kweela-San knelt also and placed one hand on Leith's forehead, and one on the head of Krys-Tian. They waited while Krys-Tian's breathing grew shallower and, finaly, stopped. There was an intense, blinding flash that seemed to come from everywhere at once, yet when it was gone, they could see perfectly again.

Leith looked at Kweela. "Now, Kweela." He closed his eyes. Almost at once he felt Kweela's presence in his mind. This time he welcomed her openly and sensed her moving through every recess. In an instant she was gone, and so was Jaycee. He opened his eyes again and found Kweela gazing at him with a peaceful expression on her face.

"So, Leith Birro, you are back with me." She smiled. "And we both survived the journey."

"Do you regret you made that journey?" he asked.

Kweela helped him sit up. She sat down beside him and looked at her bloody hands. "Leith-ka, the Shutaka know that there exists, within the human mind, the capacity for great good as well as great evil. In his life, imagine the horrors that Misha-Dan had seen in the minds of people, yet he never grew disillisioned or disheartened with humanity. None of our Priests ever do. Because it is the capacity for great good that exists in every mind that, in itself, justifies the existence of humanity."

She put her arm around Leith's shoulder. "It's time for you to move on, Leith-ka. You cannot change your past, but you can be true to the great good that exists in you. This is what Misha-Dan saw in you; it is what I have seen in you. I feel priviliaged that you shared it with me."

Kweela wiped the blood off the fingers of her right hand, reached into the leather pouch hanging from her belt, and took out Misha-Dan's ring that Leith had given her. "I would like to share something with you, as well." She placed the ring in his hand. "You are not Shutaka, but I would like you to wear this as if you were."

Leith looked at the ring in his hand, then glanced at the other Shutaka in the room. "Kweela, is this allowed?"

"Leith, this is between you and me. I will make it so. And fight to the death any warrior that disagrees."

"You sure know how to make a convincing argument," he smiled, slipping the ring on his finger.

"Have you fogotten about me, then?" The body of Krys-Tian struggled to sit up.

"Jaycee," Leith murmered. "You made it."

"Obviously, but it will probably be less confusing to everyone if you call me Krys-Tian from now on. You humans seem to place a lot of emphasis on appearances, rather than reality."

"You're human now, actually," observed Kweela. "How does it feel?"

"Good, very good," she replied. "No offence, Leith, but this is a much better body than yours."

"That's gratititude for you."




"So, Leith Birro, you have shrugged off the shadow on your soul at last. Misha-Dan could have asked for no greater tribute. My Brother Keeper would also be proud. His sacrifice has not been in vain. When we have settled into this planet, there will be a monument built to honour this day."

Leith looked at Kweela-San, then smiled grimly at the girl-goddess. "This day is not over yet. Kweela, pick a squad of the best warriors"