Leenah and Negasi stop talking and look around. The island is larger than it appeared from the other island, and much more mountainous. There is hardly any flat land at all except the strip that Negasi and Leenah stand on. But just a few feet ahead of them is a narrow trail that winds up the side of the island to a large hole in the rocky wall. Above that, piercing the top of the hilly island, is the phenocryst.

“That cave looks large enough to walk in,” says Leenah. “Shall we go up to it?”

“Why not. Let’s go. I’ll lead,” says Negasi. He and Leenah walk up the trail and look in the small hole. They can see little in the darkness, so they walk inside. The hole becomes a tunnel that continues on for a few feet until it opens into a huge, almost empty room, lit by sconces that contain white, glowing crystals. There are several doorways leading to other rooms. As the two adventurers are wondering which doorway to go through, a thin person suddenly runs through one of them, holding a heavy stick above its head.

“What are you?” it yells in a voice that reveals it is a woman. “How did you get here, creature?”

She isn’t a human like Leenah at all, she is about a foot shorter, with skin as dark as a crow’s. Her hair is dark brown, but her eyes are light blue. She wears little clothing, and what she is wearing is dark red.

“Please don’t hurt us!” cries Leenah, throwing up her hands.

“Yes, we’re only passing through, we came from Pergola, you see, and…”

The woman lowers her stick and looks at the “creature” curiously.

“‘We,’ you say?”

“Yes,” says Leenah. “There was an accident with the phenocryst and we got merged into one body. We came to this island because we saw another shard touching it and we thought there might be someone here who might help us.”

“Who are you?” asks the woman.

“I’m Leenah,” says Leenah. “And the male voice is Negasi. I’m from Escarpa and Negasi’s from…”

“Earth,” says Negasi. “She’s the human, I’m the feline.”

“I’ve never heard of such an accident occurring with a phenocryst,” says the woman. “I’m sorry that such a thing happened to you two, Leenah and Negasi. But I’m amazed to hear that you’re from another world. We haven’t had contact with the other worlds for decades.”

“But that phenocryst comes right down into your home,” says Negasi.

“True. Our ancestors used it to obtain supplies and necessities from the other worlds, but our erresdy supply was used up when our fathers and mothers were our age.”

“So once this land was populated by people like you?”

“Yes. Neel and I are the last of our race. The history of our land is a long one, and if you wish, I can tell you what I know of it.”

“Please do,” says Leenah, “But tell me, what is your name?”

“I was called Jalini by my mother. But come, step into our speaking room before I tell you any more. I want you to meet Neel.”

Jalini leads Leenah and Negasi into the room she came out of. In it are several more crystal sconces, and on the floor are two stone slabs. Sitting on one is a dark man with hazel eyes and blonde hair, who springs to his feet at the sight of the strange individual with Jalini, but Jalini tells him all that the two told her, and the man relaxes.

“Leenah, Negasi, I want you to meet Neel, my soul companion.”

“Hello,” says Neel.

“Hello,” say Negasi and Leenah simultaneously.

“So you were about to tell them the history of Asthenia?” asks Neel.

“Yes,” says Jalini, sitting down on the floor and inviting Negasi and Leenah to sit on the unoccupied slab. The two sit down and Jalini begins to tell her story.

“This world of Asthenia was largely unoccupied when this planet first came into existence. Probably there was no one on it at all. But on some islands there was soil fertile enough to grow plants. And on these our ancestors lived on, growing food and tending to the plants with as much care as a mother treats her child. All the water they needed we obtained from the leaves of our plants.

“The phenocrysts have always been part of this planet, as you may know. Whether they sprouted from the center or burrowed their way down from the surface is still a mystery. Our forefathers worshipped them and associated the plants and the soil with them.

“When erresdy powder was discovered in what was called the Unity Period, suddenly this world was filled with strangers from other worlds unknown to us. They taught the inhabitants of Asthenia how erresdy powder was used and they traveled to their worlds and to all the others of Strata. They learned about the different technologies and brought their discoveries back to their homeworld. Among these discoveries were pumps that mined for water deep within Asthenia’s soil and brought it to the surface. There were also Separators – machines that drained all the moisture out of rocks and lava and made it drinkable for our ancestors. The open minds of the Asthenians and the great technologies of the other worlds mixed together like soil and water. They made great advancements in their technology as well as many connections with people of the other Layers of Strata.

“But near the end of the Unity Period, rumors began to spread through the Layers, rumors that Asthenia was bent on conquering all the other worlds with its unique technology. There were also rumors that the people of this world were hiding great secrets within caves or beneath the soil. So agents from other worlds began to conquer Asthenia. Sure, it sounds ridiculous now, conquering this barren, molten mess, but Asthenia, as I said before, was once a fertile land, except for a few lakes of lava here and there. It was easy for people to believe that our ancestors were concealing something. When they began invading, our forefathers were forced to use their skills to create war machines, such as catapults, battering contraptions and cannons. But our world was unsuccessful in defending itself from the invaders. Many people were killed, and many of the phenocrysts were shattered, except for very few that the elders of the other worlds refused to be let destroyed, in case an era of union should again arise.

“But such a time has not come yet. For many centuries, the few survivors began building intricate mazes and paths to each of the remaining phenocrysts, so that only a select few would be able to find them. Our great-great-grandparents were fortunate enough to be overlooked, living in this little cavern. But some of our forebears secretly traveled to other worlds with what was left of their erresdy powder to obtain supplies from the different Layers. Plants and water were all that they took. Some of my grandparents even brought back some people from the other worlds, possibly The Lands Above, and they gave birth to my parents. As you can see, my eyes are lighter than they usually are among Asthenians. Many of us have no irises at all.

“But our parents told us of prophecies passed down through the ages. Prophecies of a savior that would be born in one of the Layers, travel through each of the five worlds of Strata, and eventually reunite all of them. We assume that there have been similar disconnections between the other worlds, prejudices that the other worlds were malicious and dangerous. I suppose it was only because of the rumors, but who can say what caused such a catastrophe. But there have lately been more rumors about a young man passing through here, too tall to be from Pergola or Escarpa, and too much color in his skin to be from Tenebrous. The way things had been until he showed up, I’d think he was that savior from another world, just passing through on his way to the next Layer.”

“I know who you’re talking about!” interrupts Leenah. “That young man was Torin of The Lands Above! We were on our way to meet him!”

“You are?” gasps Jalini. “Well, boil my blood and snitch my water…it all makes sense now! The prophecy also said that this savior would fall in love with a girl from another world and rule with her as the new king of not only his land, but the whole planet! Leenah, I think you’re the one he’s chosen!”

“That’s amazing,” breathes Negasi. “But we seem to have a slight problem here, Jalini.”

“What is that?”

“Well, We’re not supposed to be together in one body, and if you know of any way to separate us, we’d be eternally grateful.”

“Separate you?” asks Jalini. “Separate…why yes! That’s it?”

“That’s what, Jal?” asks Neel, who has been sitting silently all this time, listening to her.

“There is a Separator in the water room, in case you’ve forgotten, Neel. If it can separate water from stone, I’m sure it can separate these two unfortunate people.”

“Really?” asks Leenah. “I hope it does.”

“By the shards, I swear it will,” says Jalini, getting up from the ground. “Follow me.”

She and Neel lead Leenah and Negasi into another room. In the center is a large, hollow, metallic, egg-shaped device. A small, metal bowl sits beside it, directly below a small spigot.

“Neel, get that bowl out of the way,” says Jalini. “We want to give our feline friend room when he comes out.”

“What do you mean?” asks Negasi.

“Well,” says Jalini, “The way these machines work is this: you put a rock or a container of lava in the belly of the Separator and press this button on the side. The machine then separates the water from the rock and siphons it out into that bowl that Neel just moved. I believe that it will work the same way in separating you from Leenah, Negasi. It seems that your friend Leenah has gotten most of that body you’re sharing, so she should end up on the outside of the belly instead of under the spigot. Oh…it looks like I overestimated how large it was…I think that you, Leenah, should try putting one of your arms in there. There isn’t enough room for your whole body, so we’ll have to do it a piece at a time. Don’t worry. It won’t hurt.”

Leenah walks over to the machine and sticks her right arm inside what Jalini calls “the belly.” Neel presses the button on the side of the machine. Instantly, the belly is filled with a bright light. Leenah flinches slightly as it slowly fades away and looks at the side of the machine. Lying below the small spigot is a tawny, yellow arm.

“Holy cow!” yells Negasi. “It worked! How’s your own arm, Leenah?”

The princess extracts her arm from the belly and looks at it. The fur is gone from it, as is the large paw. She flexes her fingers and smiles in relief.

“It’s fine, Negasi. But let’s do the other arm now.”

Leenah puts her other arm into the machine. Neel presses the button again, and again a yellow arm appears below the spigot. Next Leenah puts each of her legs into the machine, one by one, and two legs appear beside the arms. Negasi is growing nervous about how he will turn out in the end, but Leenah is very excited. After her legs are back to normal, she scoots backwards into the machine, making sure that her tail is all the way in. After Neel pushes the button, Negasi’s lower torso (along with his blue pants) appears, lying on the ground, but fortunately attached to his legs.

“All right, Negasi,” says Leenah. “Are you ready for the last half?”

“I’m ready if you are,” says Negasi.

Leenah carefully kneels on the floor and fits her chest and head into the belly. Neel hesitates, but after a nod from Jalini, he slowly pushes the button. The blinding light lingers slightly longer than before, and when it finally disappears, Negasi is lying on the ground, facedown, completely formed. Leenah withdraws her head from the machine and looks at her reflection in the shiny surface. Then she sees Negasi, who gets to his feet, staring at her. The two look at each other for a moment, then fall into each other’s arms, hugging each other in relief of being in their own bodies at last.

“I’m glad you two are sorted out at last,” says Jalini. “It’s been a long time since I helped anyone like I just helped you two.”

“Oh, thank you so much, Jalini,” cries Leenah, breaking out of Negasi’s arms and hugging her firmly.

“It was our pleasure,” says Neel. “But if you’re on your way to The Lands Above, we’d better show you where our phenocryst is so that you can leave this land and resume your journey.”

“Oh yes,” says Negasi. “Where is it?”

“This way,” says Neel, walking out of the room. He and Jalini lead Negasi and Leenah to yet another room. The only thing in the room is a narrow staircase that spirals steeply upwards, through the roof into a small chamber. The four individuals walk up the stairs into the chamber. The chamber is completely barren of crystal sconces. The only light is coming from the center of the dome-shaped ceiling, and the light is coming from none other than…a phenocryst.

“There it is,” says Jalini. “I hope you brought your own erresdy powder, Leenah.”

“I did,” says Negasi. “But it’s leaking out of my pocket pretty fast. Do you two have anything I could use for a bag?”

“Of course,” says Jalini. She runs back down the stairs and comes back up holding a small, red pouch made from a dried leaf.

“It is a leaf from one of our plants we grow in one of our rooms. It’s the same material my garments are made from.”

“Thank you, Jalini,” says Negasi, scooping the erresdy powder from his right pocket to the pouch as he speaks. “You’ve given us so much, I wish we could repay you…”

“You can,” whispers Leenah, nudging Negasi with her elbow.


“That VidCryst-Instant Teleportation Module thing you got from Noah back in Tenebrous! These poor people could use something like that if they want to communicate with other worlds or go there.”

“You’re right. I’ll also give them a little erresdy powder too.”

“You have barely four handfuls of that stuff left. Let’s save enough of it for our trip to The Lands Above, Neg.”

“All right,” whispers Negasi. “Ahem. Jalini and Neel of Asthenia, I wish to give you this.”

Negasi pulls the VidCryst-Instant Teleportation Module out of his left pocket and sets it before the two people.

“What is it?” asks Jalini.

“It’s a machine that allows you to travel to any of the worlds of Strata if you can visualize them. You can also communicate to anyone who also has one of these.”

“Remarkable,” says Neel. “We accept your gift, Negasi.”

“It was Leenah’s idea. And by the way, you’ll need some of this erresdy powder to use the machine.”

“Where should we put it?”

“There’s a small container on the front of the Teleportation Module. I think you should keep it there.”

“Good idea,” says Neel as Negasi pours some of the powder into the container. “Then, thank you, friends. We wish you luck in finding the savior of Strata.”

“His name is Torin,” says Leenah.

“All right,” says Negasi. “Leenah, I’m going to go through first and use three handfuls. That should get us to The Lands Above. I’ll throw two handfuls and you throw one, okay?”

“Okay,” says Leenah. Negasi gives Leenah one handful and pours out two for himself. Then he stands back, facing away from the phenocryst. He then throws his two handfuls into the air, and Leenah throws hers at the same time. Negasi vanishes into the phenocryst. Leenah gives a handful of the powder to Jalini to throw and pours out a couple handfuls for herself. Before they throw them into the air, though, Leenah asks:



“About the prophecy you told us about…what does it say about the fate of the homeland of the bride of the savior when there are no heirs to take the throne of her homeland?”

“Hmm…the prophecy doesn’t say anything about that, Leenah,” says Jalini sadly.

“Well, thank you anyway,” says Leenah, raising her handful of powder in the air.

“But,” says Neel, “I think that cat you’re traveling with might have something to do with what’s going on right now. Did you see that mark on his shoulder? It’s the same sign that the Reuniter of the Layers is said to bear.”

“Really?” asks Leenah. “We were meaning to ask you, but I never knew…”

“I know no more than what I just told you,” says Neel. “I wish you luck in your quest. Good-bye.”

With that, he flings the powder in the air, as does Leenah. It hovers for a minute, then rushes in upon Leenah’s body, dissolving it into a million tiny fragments and sending her up the phenocyst, where her future awaits her.

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