Three by three by three.

Three to link. Three to strengthen. Three to transport. That’s what I remember. That’s what I learned in school. It’s what I talked about with… With me? With Ayra. But I am Ayra. But I am Caél. But I am… Me. Us. Nine names. Which am I?

I thought it was all just for fun. Part of me did. Most of me does. Some of me knew it was real. I knew it was real, but I didn’t think it would work so well. It hasn’t worked this well before. Not that I’ve tried it, as any of myself. I just learned about it, in school.

Nine is the strongest number. Threes are strong, too, and so three threes are very strong. That’s what I had. Nine threes are good, I think. Nine nines would be… unstoppable. But I only had nine of me. Of… us. Already that was a lot. I didn’t really want to do it, but I wanted to do it, and I always do what I want to do.

Wait. This is… It’s so hard to keep track. I am Ayra. I am Caél, Rione, Jena, Ioran, Kiendar, Hira, Ophena, and Nara. I remember nine lives as my own. I pushed too hard on my… minds. Plural, I suppose. I pushed them too closely together. I did not learn that in school.

In school they only said, “Nine is the most powerful arrangement, for stone focusing.” There are nine colors of stone, so this made a sort of sense to me. I did not use all nine colors, in my experiment. I used only three: Violet, to link. Yellow, to strengthen. Black, to transport.

No red. But there is red light, around me. What is this red light? I fell through into blackness. It blinded my eyes. It gave way to a rich, bloody red, which is all I can see for forever. There is a sense of closeness, here, of something dark and heavy pressing in on me, but there is only the red light. There is not even a sense of my own body. It’s as though the light blanks my other senses, more than any darkness ever could.

Caél, Rione, and Kiendar of the Yellow. I am these three. They strengthened me. They strengthened us. Yellow gives strength to other stones: that is its unique focus, the pathway present within it that no other stone possesses.

I try to reach up to touch my forehead, but in this place I have no body. No arms with which to reach. I am only my perception. I feel that I am outside, or that I haven’t entered yet. I don’t know where this feeling comes from. It’s like I’m trapped within a wall, having tried to go through it rather than taking a proper door.

Ayra, Jena, and Ioran of the Violet. I am these three. As them I linked myself together out of nine. I, as they, am why I think as one. I have shared thoughts before, as any one of them. That is the pathway present within Violet stones: to share the products of the spirit. Never have I shared this closely, but then, never have I been strengthened in my sharing by three of the Yellow.

I know this feeling, of being between two spaces. It is the feeling of traveling, by way of the Black stones. I have not pushed far enough. Perhaps even nine is not enough strength. Perhaps it is because we are only three by three by three. Perhaps, with nine by nine by nine, we could achieve more.

Hira, Ophena, and Narah, of the Black. I am these three. I, as them, opened the way with my stone. That is the pathway unique to the Black: to ignore the spaces between the physical, and to traverse great distances in an instant. Alone, I can only ignore so much. But with three of myself linked, and empowered, I thought I could go… beyond.

This is beyond. I feel it. It is not of our world. It is a place other than Aast. Perhaps it is the place to which the Great Work seeks to pierce. I know that there are places of existence other than our own. I have felt them, when traveling, even with my lonesome, meager power. I did not know just how far away they were.

I can feel something more, just beyond my reach. I want to reach out and touch it, but I am disoriented by the closeness of my nine individual selves. I have not come here bodily. There is something wrong about that, some unexpected interaction between Yellow, Violet, and Black. I have sent only my thoughts, or some facsimile of a spirit.

We are separating. I… It is hard to think of myself as I, now. There is a distinctness now dividing those that comprise me. Us. Thoughts are getting harder. This has been… tiring. There is a sense of fatigue. Bodily fatigue, spread out across nine bodies that, for a brief time, operated as one. We are weary. Our foreheads ache with the strain.

There should not be pain among the stones, but there is. We must separate. We must withdraw, or… Or. That or is something we do not wish to consider, and so we unlace, carefully. That which was me, that which was all of us as one, is not real. It fades. There is no sense of self to it anymore, though the nine of us still think in sync. Then that, too, fades.

Nine separate people regard each other, eyes wide at what they have seen. Three reach up to their foreheads in horror: Hira, Ophena, and Nara, of the Black. Their stones have cracked. Hira whimpers. Ophena screams. Nara stares, blankly, into the distance.

The other six gather them. They know that they will be in dire trouble, for what they have done. They know also that if they don’t seek care, their friends will be lost to them forever. Those with no stones do not live for long, and a cracked stone eventually shatters.

They have seen something, now, that they will never forget. They have seen inside each other, yes, but they have also seen a glimpse of what lies beyond. Perhaps, some of them think, it was worth what they might lose. Perhaps, others think, it was not.

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