There were at least fifty other arrestees crowded into the holding chamber
inside Alutna Headquarters, but Masnia and I were the only ones who were
not some kind of local authority. There were many teachers, but no students,
long-established residents of Aket, but no newcomers. It was obviously some
kind of political problem between Shamballah and Aket coming to a head.
I checked out that neither Dagrolyt nor Dambaraggan were there yet, but
assumed that they were supposed to be. Figured they were just keeping ahead
of the cops for the moment. The Resistance Movement!
It was a pretty big crowd of captives for the seven Alutna agents based at
Aket to handle all at once. Daklakht and his Alutna were trying to be polite
about it, apologizing for the situation, but insisting that they had orders
to obey. Otherwise there was no information to be had as to WHY any of us
were being detained.
At least we found my missing grandfatherly friend, the Elder Da-nama-hat; he
too had been arrested. Which hardly surprised me, having witnessed how
outspoken he could be over unjust decisions by The Ultimate Nine Elders of
Shamballah. Actually, you couldn't miss him in the crowd because he was
protesting vociferously: "This is a coup d'Útat! This is not legal!"
I went to greet him and he took a break in his ranting to smile and greet me
back, as affectionate and friendly as ever. I introduced him to Masnia and
he was delighted to meet such a young beauty, although perfectly aware that
she was the daughter of the very Alutna-Jii who was enforcing the policy of
To her he smiled and said, "My dear, I consider it in your favor that you
are also under arrest." She laughed.
I asked Da-nama-hat what he knew about the situation and he quickly became
serious again, because he knew enough to formulate a theory.
"It seems that yet another of the individual Elders composing The Ultimate
Nine has unexpectedly died--the third within the last ten season-cycles! The
previously benevolent leaders are being methodically replaced by the Starda
Faction, who support Elder Da-starda-hat's decidedly more sinister agenda!"
No one dared to officially accuse that Elder of committing MURDER to get his
way, but everyone suspected it. Nor did anyone have anything good to say
about him, especially not Da-nama-hat:
"We all knew Dastardat when he was Alutna-Jii here at Aket years ago. He was
corrupt and ruthless back then, striving for power over everyone. Not one of
us were sad to see him leave--away to far-off Shamballah, hooray! But now
he is once again making his presence felt, even from the other side of the
world. A world he is planning to reshape!"
Elder Da-starda-hat has been campaigning for a resurrection of the historical
Nokon Empire, as it had been tens of thousands of years ago-- this time with
himself as Ultimate Dictator, of course. He supposedly wanted the Nokhontli
to come out of hiding, expand their populations, restore the lost technology
from their days of greatness, take all the skesk away from the tiny Nokhsos
and force those few of them who survive the destruction of their civilization
to live as we do now. Basic conquer-the-world stuff.
Those plans do appeal to some few Nokhons, so Da-starda-hat has his Gestapo;
guys like himself who also want lots of personal power. The Ultimate Nine of
Shamballah had been keeping them under control for years. But after this
latest death the balance of power within The Ultimate Nine had become Five Bad
Elders in opposition to Four Good Elders. The bad guys were in charge now.
I remembered those verses of Atli describing the downfall of all-consuming
high-tech civilizations, like Atlantis. I'd assigned them to the category of
fantasy and myth, of course, just like the Biblical battle of Jericho: Joshua
blowing down the walls with his horn; sure, that could happen. It's just that
the more I learn about Nokhon magic and psychic abilities the more I have to
respect the validity of Atli.
But I still wasn't convinced they could take on the firepower of the entire
human race and win, so I had to say: "Da-starda-hat must be insane! Any
attempt to destroy all Nokhsoli skesk could only end up badly for everybody.
I mean, the humans would NUKE Shamballah if it comes to that!"
"Once the Starda Faction has convinced enough Sha-hakas to cooperate on the
task of generating a global energy-pulse it would be over before the skesk-culture
could respond. Besides, they could never find Shamballah to n°°k anyway."
"But Sha-hakas are enlightened," I argued, "most of them would never do that!"
"Da-starda-hat is Sha-haka, there are others like him," Da-nama-hat grimaced,
"and he has already seduced many disreputable Sha-hakas around the world to
join his elite cadre of potential world masters. They are not ready to act
yet, but could be within another few season-cycles."
I would have asked for details, but just then Daklakht entered the chamber with
three Alutna, my ex-buddy Daset among them. They seemed to be busy looking for
someone who was not among us.
Masnia called to her father, "Daddy, how long are you going to keep us here?"
"As long as the Elders of Shamballah require me to," he answered brusquely, no
fatherly friendliness to be heard. He almost seemed not to know her.
Masnia crumpled a little and folded in closer to me. Da-nama-hat got even more
pissed off than he had been before and challenged Daklakht once again:
"What is wrong with you, Daklakht? Who really cares what they want at
"I am required to care," Daklakht answered him coldly, "it is my duty to serve
the wishes of The Ultimate Nine."
"All right, then tell us what their wishes are!" Da-nama-hat insisted.
"I have been ordered not to, until all dissidents are collected."
"Dissidents? When did we become dissidents?" Da-nama-hat ranted, "It is their
politics at Shamballah that have changed, not ours!"
Daklakht's face went blank for a moment, then his expression became entirely
different--we all saw it happen: he just seemed to turn into someone else, a
bad guy on a power trip, someone EVIL. Reminded me of a rooftop in Seattle.
Daklakht--or whoever it was--stepped forward and tapped Da-nama-hata on the
forehead with one finger, obviously some kind of secret martial art technique,
because the big old squatch folded up and would have fallen backwards to the
stone floor if Masnia and I hadn't caught him. He'd been knocked out cold.
"You must all cooperate now or I shall discipline each of you as well," the
Alutna-Jii announced, "the Authority of the Ultimate Nine Elders may not be
Everyone froze in place, even the Alutna officers. Apparently satisfied,
Daklakht turned and left the chamber. No one dared move or say anything for
It was Masnia who broke the silence. "That's NOT my father!"
The eldest of the Alutna spoke up, "No, that was the Elder Da-starda-hat, I recognize
his tone." He seemed as upset as the rest of us.
While we waited, a few more "dissidents" were brought into the chamber, big
fat Dambaraggan among them. He came over to me and Masnia, but sensed that
conversation was to wait. There was some muttering going on but voices were
kept low and words few. Dagrolyt was still among the missing.
Finally Ma-ralla-hata, the Grand old Lady of the Alutna, came into the chamber
briskly and businesslike, apparently no longer confused by the situation.
"We apologize for having had to take all of you into custody," she announced,
"but that was an order from the Ultimate Nine. Most of you will be released
soon, but first they wish to test your loyalties, one by one."
"Loyalties to whom?" one outraged Sha-haka demanded to know.
"Why to The Ultimate Nine, of course," the Great Lady explained.
"But who are THEY now?"
"They shall make that clear in a personal visit with each of you," she said.
All those Elders and Sha-hakas shared worried glances, they knew what that
meant. So did I, remembering what Daklakht had done to me in Seattle: complete
psychic domination, coming up!
The "visitations" were to take place individually, in another chamber. They
began with Da-nama-hat, Alutna Daset asked him to follow. Suddenly it
was all too much for me, I found myself stepping in and saying, "Leave him
alone!" Daset backed a step, surprised to meet any sort of resistance,
one of those things the Nokhontli usually just don't DO. A second later I
found out why: seems that finger-to-forehead trick was standard Alutna
technique. There was never really a struggle, down I went.
When I revived Masnia had my head in her lap and Da-nama-hat was gone along
with Daset. "That was dumb, Da-adam-ee," she told me, then kissed my
forehead, "and I love you for it."
I couldn't tell how long I'd been knocked out but was surprised to see old
Da-nama-hat already coming back into the chamber, seemingly all right. The
others being held were also surprised.
"What did they do to you?" Dambaraggan asked.
"They blessed me with their wisdom," the old squatch assured us all, "the
Ultimate Nine are only interested in what is best for all of us. They have
great plans. So don't worry, just cooperate with them and we can all go
free again." He seemed quite jolly.
Dambaraggan and I shared a glance, we could hear it if no one else could:
Da-nama-hat was changed, brainwashed, reprogrammed just as Daklakht had been.
Then again, when I looked around I saw that everyone could hear it.
"And what IS best for us all?" Dambaraggan innocently asked.
"I shall let them tell you that," the Elder said, "I am only to say that the
Alutna-Jii has requested that his daughter be next to meet the Ultimate Nine."
I sprang up. Now I was REALLY ready to fight. But there was no opponent, no
Alutna in the chamber at present, only us prisoners. Masnia put her hand on
me to calm me down.
"It's okay; I want to go see my father now anyway." She seemed quite calm.
"Masnia, that's not your father and whoever it IS will rape your mind! You're
far too young and inexperienced to fight them off, we've got to get you out
"I agree, but we ALL have to get out of here. I think I can get through to
my...Da-dakh-ee. I'm going to try, anyway."
She gave me a look that reminded me how she had done exactly that at the
Kha-rat, when she had commanded him to be himself. But that look also
revealed that she was not absolutely confident about it this time.
Off she went to the other chamber. I tried to follow her but young Alutna
Daset was in my way again, lifting his knockout finger demonstratively--
although his demeanor seemed more apologetic than arrogant. Actually he
looked kind of scared about what was happening now, but was still firm about
not allowing me to follow Masnia.
Da-nama-hat was evidently free to go and had already left before I could talk
to him. The chamber was not so quiet now, the captives were beginning to
discuss the political situation with great agitation. I learned more by
just listening than participating.
Most of it I'd heard before, but I've always been apolitical by nature, even
back in the States, so I really had not been paying much attention to what was
maybe going on in some maybe mythic lost city in the Himalayas. It had all
seemed too far-fetched and far-away to concern me.
But then Masnia came back into the chamber and announced: "Dadamet! You're
next, come with me now." And suddenly it did concern me.
I couldn't tell if Masnia had been affected or not because she wasn't saying
much as she led me past the Alutna guards and down a long tunnel to the small
chamber to where Daklakht was. But when we came in I was surprised to see
that the Alutna-Jii was alone in the room, lying flat out on the floor, eyes
closed. That seemed odd.
"Is he in a trance?"
"Sort of. I asked him to sleep."
"So you haven't been..."
"Mind-raped by Da-starda-hat? No, I thought I'd avoid that." She tried to
sound tough but I could hear that she had been shaken by whatever had
"How did you do this?" Indicating her father asleep.
She told me how she had been left alone with the Alutna-Jii, who was clearly
not her father. She recognized the psychic copy of Dastardat within him, a
very high-level Syssk. It was a familiar but frightening enemy who put his
hands on her head to invade her mind. She was terrified, but even more so,
indignant. Something inside her took over.
"I remembered how you stopped him once with a my°sik mantra..." So
Masnia sang him her very own ribald verse of I Like to Run and it had worked.
She'd obviously done it by sheer instinct, hardly a master plan.
"It seems to have kicked that Syssk out of Daddy's head, but then he
just passed out and I can't get him to wake up." She looked like a scared
little girl, then steeled herself and sounded like a general: "I've taken this
as far as I can, I need an Orator like you to really get into his head. You
told me that you had enchanted him with words once before..." She was
referring to that time I had once hypnotized Daklakht.
I was pretty amazed, Masnia had somehow exorcised the all-powerful Ultimate
Da-starda-hat's psychic presence in the middle of his attempt to brainwash
her. It didn't make sense, who WAS this girl?
"So what am I supposed to do with him?" I wondered.
"Wake him up. But as my father, not as that nasty Dastardat. We need him on
I said I'd try, squatted down beside Daklakht's unconscious body and began
talking to him. Softly, hypnotically. Not that I knew what to say, just
told him that his daughter wanted him to come back, said how there was a
job for the REAL Alutna-Jii. Masnia squatted behind me, her hand on my
shoulder, she needed contact.
"Ask him who he is," she told me, so I tried. There went a while before we
got a groggy answer out of him: "I am Daklakht now because I have lost
psychic contact with my Master, although he calls me even now."
"Ignore him," Masnia commanded with a very authoritative ring to her voice,
"your daughter craves your attention now."
"But I must submit to my superior," he mumbled, frowning, eyes still closed.
"Yes, and I AM your superior! You must submit to ME!" Actually, Masnia was
kind of scaring me now.
Daklakht twitched, gritted teeth, agitated REMs rolling, clearly experiencing
some kind of struggle on the subconscious level. Then he just collapsed,
relaxed and laid there deep asleep.
I carried on, did the classic hypnotist routine, you know: "You will awaken at
the count of THREE, you feel relaxed and content, TWO, you are happy to be
with...your children, ONE, you are Daklakht and in absolute control of your
self, ZERO, you awaken and..."
I couldn't say any more because he grabbed me by the throat so fast I couldn't
see it coming. He was definitely awake: up on his feet in one fluid move,
ready to fight, me bent over backwards and helpless in his grip. I think he
was about to hit me when a shrill scream stopped him cold:
Lucky for me he instantly obeyed Masnia's command. Then he looked around,
staggered, seemingly confused as to where he was and who he was with. He
quickly released me with an apology.
"Oh sorry, Dadamet, I thought I was being attacked."
"You were," Masnia told him, "but by Dastardat, not us."
"My Beloved Master Elder Da-starda-hat does not attack me, it is his right...
I must obey him..." He seemed to be trancing out again.
"He is an evil man!" Masnia insisted.
"Yes, he is, but I am under his thrall. My own will does not matter."
"Just how evil IS this guy?" I jumped in to ask.
Daklakht looked at me as if he was still not quite awake, but answered
coherently. "He has now murdered four Elders of the Ultimate Nine to put his
own loyal Elders into power, he has been negotiating with Nokhso (Chinese)
military agencies for weapons and technology..."
"I thought he had assigned you to stop another Nokhon revolutionary from doing
that very same thing years ago," I wondered.
"Indeed, but he liked the idea if it was HE who ended up with an army," now
Daklakht appeared to be quite awake, "yes, Dastardat is an unscrupulous
villain, all right. But he is still my Master."
"Don't you want to be free of him?" his daughter asked.
"Ra! But I am in his power no matter what I want. I cannot keep him
out, even now..." His eyes began to look crazy.
I sang a phrase from "I Like to Run" and he was under hypnosis again.
Masnia and I agreed that we needed more expertise and decided to get
Dambaraggan in on this. For some reason she was allowed to walk past the
guards unhindered and there was no guarantee that I could, so she went to
get him. I was just hoping that Daklakht didn't hop up and beat me up while
she was gone; since she obviously had more control over him than I did.
But it didn't take so long and he slept like a baby until Masnia returned with
huge Dambaraggan in tow. The Great Orator was nervous and confused because
she couldn't really explain anything to him in front of Alutna guards, but we
updated him and he pondered the situation.
All we could do was waken Daklakht up again and see how it went. I kept myself
at a distance this time. It seemed to go okay, no attacking and he was lucid.
"Yes, I do want to be free of Dastardat's domination-- in fact, I wish I could
fight against him, defeat him! Instead, he has coerced me to kill in his
service, which was in absolute violation of my own morality! But I haven't
even mentioned the worst part of his plans, for me personally: now he demands
that I deliver my own children to him-- he has plans for both Masnia and
"Hmmm," I pondered, "it did seem kind of a coincidence that all this happens
on the very same day I come back to Aket," I said.
"It's hardly a coincidence; you are a target because Dastardat could use a
Negotiator to work for him. But you are not the most important arrival on
his list," Daklakht said, looking directly at Masnia.
I too looked at my young lover/sister and understood: I had already figured
out that a one-father-only daughter of an Alutna-Jii had to have been specially
bred for some purpose or unique quality, but had assumed it to be her gift for
language. I finally understood that she was intended for something much bigger,
She looked back at me, rolled her eyes the way teen-agers do and admitted,
"All right, yes, I've been specifically bred as a potential candidate for the
Ultimate Nine Elders. But I was expecting to spend about a century getting
ready for that--you know, like when I finally AM an Elder."
"Dastardat wants to gain control over her now, as he has done with me, while
she's far too young and inexperienced to resist his magic. He wishes to
enslave her and use her as his tool here in Aket."
"But he couldn't?" I asked.
"Not yet! She has an innate authority more potent than anyone expected, but he
will wear her down and break in eventually. Dastardat is THE reigning Master
of the skesk arts of domination--young Dadamet has himself experienced
what it can do to an untrained mind. And he will do this through ME, his most
proficient student, once he regains control of me again."
Dambaraggan spoke, "Then we must free you from Dastardat's domination."
"That's not possible, I've tried in vain to break free, many times over many
"Ah, but you have not come to ME, the Great Dambaraggan, Master Orator. I
too am an Ultimate Master--of Words and Definitions. I can sell you a promise
that you cannot break."
"A promise?" Daklakht looked dubious.
But I understood at once, "And so can I! Two promises from two orators would
have twice the clout."
"Indeed!" Dambaraggan shouted, also understanding. But we were the only ones
who did. We had to explain about Orator promise swaps and then formulate a
We considered different versions, two eloquent Orators aiming for foolproof
legalese without loopholes, meticulously defining how Dastardat or the Nine
or anyone else would no longer have authority over Daklakht.
But as usual, it was Masnia who came up with a simple line of poetry that
covered the matter: "I promise to be my own master."
"But I am not," Daklakht said, "nor may I promise to be!"
"No, you may not--but WE may!" Dambaraggan announced and formally recited
the promise, followed by the ritual: "This is the vow of an Orator, inviolable
and eternal. And I hereby now transfer that promise to you, Daklakht."
Dambaraggan offered his hand, asking, "Do you accept that promise?"
Daklakht seemed unable to answer, until Masnia put her face right in front of
his and commanded: "Daddy, say yes." I suddenly realized that she really must
be a potential Elder because that little brat always got her way. Daklakht
slowly reached for Dambaraggan's hand, evidently uphill all the way, until
finally they touched and he said, "Ra, I accept the promise." He was
startled by the little spark that passed between them.
"Then it is done," Dambaraggan released Daklakht's hand, "that is YOUR promise
now, which you can never break."
"Let us hope so." Daklakht did not sound convinced about being free.
When I began to repeat the same words and ceremony he looked at me with
"Wait a minute, Dadamet is an Initiate, not officially an Orator yet," Daklakht
protested. "What if he only undoes the promise?"
"Dadamet is the best natural Orator I have ever met," Dambaraggan stated, "In
fact, I hereby announce that he is graduated and no longer my student." He
gave me a sly little wink to keep me from making a fuss. "What we learn from
each other after this shall be as colleagues."
Dambaraggan knew that I hardly considered myself a finished product; I still
wanted to learn his voice-casting technique, among other useful Orator tricks.
But we had to convince Daklakht that we had the mojo to free him from his
wicked old master, so I just went on with the ceremony. Magic is often more
about believing than hard data.
Anyway, not only did Daklakht buy it, but when he took my hand to accept my
magic vow the spark that passed between us was hot enough that we both
jumped. It stung me, in fact.
Daklakht even laughed. "Kha-ra, I think THAT one did it!" He was suddenly
confident about the possibility of eluding Dastardat's eternal domination.
He jumped up, excited to start doing what needed to be done.
We started in the chamber full of captives; Daklakht gave orders for everyone
to be released. If the Alutna guards were confused they also seemed to be
relieved, none of those guys would have made good Nazi Gestapo agents.
Daset finally even sent me an embarrassed smile. Everyone scrambled out of
Alutna Headquarters, prudently reserving arguments or outraged citizen scenes
for later on.
Daklakht cheerfully mentioned that he could sense psychic assaults aimed at
him, but was easily able to ignore them. Then they quit coming and he knew
what that meant. By then we were in the central HQ office and he was giving
orders to the seven agents there that no one was to obey any commands from
Ma-ralla-hata because it was she with whom Dastardat had the next best
connection. Also, she was to be brought to him immediately. Daset was
obviously eager to get right on it, as if he had a score to settle.
It didn't work out that smoothly, the Grand Lady was already commanding a
front of loyalists to Da-starda-hat's faction and had sealed off a part of
Aket. Those "loyalists" were Nokhons who had already been brainwashed by
Dastardat's psychic domination, whom Ma-ralla-hata had been officially
processing earlier that day. We learned that our old friend Da-nama-hat
was among them. There were reports of actual fights going on all over Aket.
The revolution was in full swing!
Magga came into the HQ office, trying to find out what was going on. She too
had been detained in Daklakht's private chamber until all the confusion had
left the passages unguarded. She'd been looking for Daklakht but was glad to
find me as well.
Daklakht took me aside, said, "Dadamet, I need you to get Masnia out of Aket
right now, please. And Magga too. In fact, get them as far away as you can,
it may become violent here, Da-starda-hat may win, there's no telling how all
this will work out."
I considered staying to help, fight the good fight, but he was right: get the
girls out. Especially Masnia, who was a primary target and queen of this
chessboard. "As far away as I can? You know where that is."
"Yes, just do it."
"I thought you hated the Nokhsosli, now you want me to take your daughter
"She'll be safe from HIM there. And it seems they have treated you well."
"Yes, they have. And so have the Nokhontli, people are pretty much the
same: some bad, but most good."
"Ra, it seems that way: I had considered all Nokhsos morally corrupt, but
Nokhons such as Dastardat and his cohorts prove that we are no better than
any other race. Besides, I am just now realizing how many of my opinions
were determined by the psychic image Dastardat had put in my head. I must
form my own opinions all over again."
I think that for the first time I had a feeling for who Daklakht really
might be, after all the confusion of his shifting personalities, and it was
clear that he too was discovering himself anew. I found myself liking and
respecting him at last.
And it was obvious that he was feeling the same way about me: or at least
that he didn't want to stop talking to me--his son, I guess--even though we
should each be hurrying off to deal with a crisis situation. He went on:
"I have often had my own personal moral qualms about certain missions I
was required to perform, but slavishly accepted that if Da-starda-hat so
commanded there had to be a good reason beyond my own understanding.
I have been simply unable to believe anything negative about him ever
A sudden anger showed. "Khask!" he exclaimed, "After all these years, I first
now realize how that asshole deliberately arranged for me not to learn of
Mayala's death until I had reported to him upon returning from Shamballah.
Whereupon it was HE who told me--knowing that my psychic defenses would
be weakened by grief--and exploited that one moment of vulnerability to
achieve his psychic domination over me! That's how he did it!" He looked
I mentioned, "There is also the rumor that he somehow arranged Mayala's
death. Or maybe mine, but it went wrong."
"I've also heard that, but have always been incapable of believing it. Until
now..." Then he'd said enough and focused on the present situation: "Kha,
Dadamet, please get going!"
"Right, we're outta here-- oh wait, I want my guitar back."
He even managed a little laugh, "It's in my chamber, Magga knows where.
Now go!" Then he was turning his attention elsewhere, man of action moving
on to do heroic deeds.
There were no protests from Masnia or Magga, they wanted out of a war. And
actually, so did I. We went down the corridor to Daklakht's private chamber
on the way out of Alutna Headquarters.
But before we got there Dagrolyt met us on his way into HQ, trying to find
out what was going on. He'd heard that the Alutna-Jii had finally revolted
against the Ultimate Nine Elders and wanted to join forces. I told him that
I was to get Masnia out of Aket fast and explained why.
"You can't take the stairs up and out, they're blocked by Da-starda-hat's
loyalists. The only way out now is the lake." Dagrolyt had once showed me
the way to a secret--and dangerous--underground river passage. He had also
warned me against using it unless absolutely necessary, so I wasn't sure about
putting the girls in danger.
Then we could hear the sounds of real fighting out on Town Square. Fortunately
without weapons, but there were shouts and screams lots of big hairy squatches
doing lots of violent hitting. I dropped any plan to fetch my guitar; I'd be
back in Aket someday, I supposed.
"Let's take the lake," Magga said, "we can get there by a secret tunnel system
under Aket that only the Alutna know."
"If it's secret, how do you know about it?" Masnia asked.
"Your father showed it to me."
"Just to impress you?" Masnia sounding snooty.
"I guess. It worked, I was impressed. Let's go!"
We were all impressed, the secret tunnels ran in straight grids deep under the
city of Aket. In mere moments we came out in the bushes beside the lake. We
could hear fighting on the levels above us, but the only squatches we met were
also trying to escape Aket. Nokhons don't like violence.
Dagrolyt had come with us to show us the way, but we met another guy who had
taken this route several times before and was leading a small group of students
out of Aket. They invited us to join them, so we said a quick Ta'ash to
Dagrolyt and he went back up to join forces with Daklakht and Dambaraggan.
Then we were in the water, holding hands in a chain of seven. I was glad that
I'd decided to leave my guitar back at Daklakht's chamber, it would have been
destroyed by what we went through, hell, WE almost were. It was a wild ride
in a strong current shooting through a narrow crevice, we slammed into rocks
in the dark, sometimes completely submerged and holding our breath until we
came to enough headroom for catching a breath.
When we dumped out the other end into the outside world we were only six
people, one guy had disappeared along the way. I hope he finally came
out alive, but I don't know.