In the far future, the human race is divided into two groups striving for power. The Patternmaster rules over all, the leader of the telepathic Patternist race whose thoughts can destroy or heal at his whim. The only threat to his power are the Clayarks, mutant humans created by an alien pandemic, who now live either enslaved by the Patternists or in the wild.
Coransee, son of the ruling Patternmaster, wants the throne and will stop at nothing to get it, even if it means venturing into the wild mutant-infested hills to destroy a young apprentice his equal and his brother.
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The sun had not been up long enough to burn off the cold dampness of morning when Teray and Iray left their dormitory room at Redhill School for the last time.
Iray was all eagerness and apprehension and her emotions were contagious. Teray had resigned himself to being caught up in them. The act of leaving the school together not only reinforced their status as adults, but made them husband and wife. Teray had waited four wearisome years for the chance to leave safely and begin working toward his dream of founding his own House.
Now, with Iray, he walked toward the main gate. There was no ceremonynot for their leaving school, nor for their marriage. Only two people paid any attention to their going. Teray sensed them both inside one of the dormitories, a Patternist girl who had been Iray's friend and a middle-aged mute woman. They stood together at a dormitory window, looking down at Iray. The friend kept her feelings to herself, but the mute radiated such a mixture of sadness and excitement that Teray knew she and Iray must have been close.
Iray was too full of her own emotions to be aware of the pair. Teray flashed her a brief mental image and she reached back, contrite, to say her good-byes.
He sent back no parting thoughts of his own. He had had nothing to do with mutes for years. His maturing mental strength had made him too dangerous to them. For their sakes, he maintained only an impersonal master-servant relationship with them. And he had made few friends among his teachers and fellow students. They too were wary of his strength. He had been a power at the school, but except for Iray hehadbeen much alone.
Outside the main gate, he and Iray met the two men who had been waiting for them. The older man was of medium height and hard, square build, a man of obvious physical strength. The younger man was built more like Teraytall and lean. He was probably no older than Teray.
Joachim! Teray's thought went out to the older man. I didn't expect you to come yourself.
The man smiled faintly and spoke aloud: "It isn't often that I take on such a promising apprentice. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you on your way to my House."
Teray transmitted surprise: There's been trouble, then? Who was raided?
"Coransee. And vocalize. I'm spreading my perception as widely as I can just in case the raiders are still in the area."
"Coransee?" said Teray obediently. "So close inside the sector?"
"And the most powerful one of us." The man with Joachim spoke for the first time. "The raiders killed two of his outsiders and kidnapped a mute."
"I hope to heaven they killed the mute too," said Joachim. "Killed him quickly, I mean."
Teray nodded, sharing the hope. Mutes who were not tortured to death and who did not die of the Clayark disease became the worst of their former-masters' enemies. "You think there are still Clayarks inside the sector?" he asked Joachim.
"Yes. That's why I brought Jer along." Joachim gestured toward his companion. "He's one of my strongest outsiders."
Teray glanced at Jer with interest, wondering how the man's strength measured up against his own. Through the Pattern, Teray had already sensed that Jer was strong. But how strong? It was not possible to make a definite determination guided only by the Pattern. No doubt Joachim knew, though. He had probably tested Jer as thoroughly as he had tested Teray. And after the testing, he had made Jer an outsider and accepted Teray as an apprentice.
Iray's voice brought Teray out of his thoughts. "But, Joachim, with both you and Jer here, won't your House be in danger?"
Joachim glanced at her, his grim expression softening. "Not likely. The Clayarks know my reputation. We're all linked in my House. My lead wife can draw strength from everyone in the House for defense. If the Clayarks attack one of my people, the rest know, and they all respond. The Clayarks wouldn't risk attacking them with less than an army, and I don't think they've managed to smuggle an army into the sector."
"We'd have more dead than the larger Houses," said Jer, "because we don't have their strength. But their people fight as individuals, and we fight as one. Their people always miss some Clayarks and let them escape. We kill them all."
Teray noticed the pride in the man's voice and wondered how Joachim could inspire pride even in an outsider. But then, Teray's attitude toward outsider status was, he knew, colored by his desire never to occupy it. It was a permanently inferior servant position. The best that an outsider could hope for was to find a Housemaster like Joachim whom he could respect and serve with some semblance of pride. The worst he could get was slavery.
The horses waited for them a few steps away in a grove of trees, and Teray noticed that Iray walked the distance beside Joachim. She, who only a few moments before had been so excited about leaving the school with Teray. True, she had known Joachim before she met Teray. The Housemaster had been her second when she made the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood and membership in the Pattern. She would probably have gone into his House as one of his wives if she had not met Teray. Now Teray watched them together with suspicion. He would spend at least two years with Joachim, learning, preparing to begin his own House. If only he did not lose his wife in the process.
He came up beside Iray as they reached the horses. He touched her mind lightly with a one-word reminder carefully screened from Joachim and Jer: Wife!
His caution was lost on her. She seized his thought carelessly like a happy child and magnified it to a mental shout. To it, she added enthusiastically, Husband!
A proclamation. Joachim and Jer could hardly have missed it. He could feel their amusement as keenly as he could feel his own embarrassment. But at least she had told him what he wanted to know. And, fortunately, she had completely missed his meaning. Of course there was a bond between Iray and Joachim. But it was no more than the bond between any man and a woman he had seconded. Affection. No more.
He cast around for a way to end the silence and focus Joachim's and Jer's attention elsewhere. It was then that he noticed the horse that Joachim had mounted. It was a show horse, of course, as were the three others. They were all as carefully bred and trained as most mutes. They were part of a project that Joachim had undertaken more for enjoyment than profit. But the one Joachim rode was something special.
"Joachim, your horse..."
The Housemaster smiled. "I wondered when Iray would let you notice."
Teray let his curiosity be felt partly because he was actually curious, and partly in relief that Joachim too was ignorant of his foolish jealousy. But the horse..."You have no mental controls on it at all?"
"None," said Joachim.
Gingerly, Teray felt the stallion out. Gingerly because animals, like mutes, were easily injured, easily killed. And too, uncontrolled animals unconsciously hit intruding Patternist minds with any emotions they felt. Especially violent emotions. But Teray received only calm from the horse. Unusual calm.
"An experiment of mine," said Joachim. "This horse doesn't need to be controlled any more than the average mute. In fact, you program it like a mute. And once it's programmed, the Clayarks could fire a cannon next to it and the programming would hold. You wouldn't have to waste time controlling the horse when you should be giving all your attention to the Clayarks." Joachim grinned. "I'll tell you more about it when we get home."
Teray nodded. Home. Joachim could not know how good that word sounded. The school had been Teray's home for far too long. He had made his transition to adulthood nearly four years before. Even then, there had been little more that the teachers could teach him. But he had stayed, learning what he could about his abilities on his own, getting occasional help from a visiting Housemaster, waiting and hoping for a Housemaster who would accept him as an apprentice.
Several had offered to take him on as an outsider. If he had not still been under the protection of the school, some of them might have been tempted to take him by force. Doubtless that would be possible now, while he was still young and unskilled. And if they took him now, they could prevent him from learning the skills that might make him a danger to them. But no one wanted to risk accepting him as an apprentice. An outsider was a permanent inferior. An apprentice was a potential superior. An apprentice was the young colt hanging around the edges of the herd, biding his time until he could kill off the old herd stallion and take over. Or at least that was the way the Housemasters he had met seemed to feel.
It was much to Joachim's credit that he had not been afraid. In fact, when Iray had introduced Teray to Joachim, the Housemaster had mentioned the possibility of an apprenticeship before Teray even thought it wise to bring up the matter. It took a confident, powerful Housemaster to accept an apprentice with Teray's potential. But Joachim had had the necessary confidence and power, and now, finally, Teray was going home.
Joachim had taken a lead position with Jer. Now he called back, "We're going to have to stop at Coransee's House first. He wants to see meprobably to get me to help him with his Clayark problem."
Iray caught her breath sharply. "To visit Coransee! Joachim, is he your friend? So powerful a lord." She was a child about half the time.
There was a pause before Joachim answered, then, "I know him." He sounded almost bitter. "We're not friends, but I know him."
As the strongest Housemaster in the sector, Coransee was a kind of unofficial local leader. That made him a celebrity to people like Iray. Teray had heard him spoken of with admiration and envy, but never with bitterness. But then, Teray had been shut away in the school and people were careful what they said before schoolchildren. Well, he was out of school now. It would be best for him to know something more about the Housemaster he was about to visit. "Joachim?" he called.
Joachim dropped back to ride beside Teray, leaving Jer to lead. You'd better make it "Lord Joachim," Teray. For the rest of the day. And definitely "Lord Coransee." He values formality.
Teray accepted this with interest. It was the first nonvocal communication he had had with Joachim this morning, and it was nonvocal only to emphasize its seriousness. It was an order, and a warning.
Joachim went on and Teray realized that he was reaching Iray too. Be introduced to him with Jer and me, then drift away among his women and outsiders.
"Joachim, what is it?" Iray asked.
Joachim looked at her silently, until she corrected herself.
"Sector politics," Joachim said aloud. "Nothing more." And he again took his place beside Jer.
Teray watched him, wondering at his sudden reticence. Now Teray had more questions than ever. But Joachim's silence was a closed one. It did not invite questions.
By midday they had reached Coransee's House. It was a four-story mansion, columned, ancient, ornate, surrounded by well-landscaped grounds and flanked by outbuildings. It had been built on a hill and was visible for miles. Teray could see why it was the envy of many lesser lords, and why Coransee had risked fighting a duel for it several years before. To get it, he had had to kill a powerful woman who had held it for over two decades. In school, Teray had seen pictures of ancient palaces that were probably smaller. Teray gazed out over Coransee's land, seeing the wide pastures and the grazing horses and cattle. Coransee supplied the sector with most of its meat and its riding animals. The small herd that Joachim kept had never been more than a hobby.
Two mutes hurried from one of the outbuildings to greet the four newcomers politely and take their horses. As Joachim led the way to the House, he warned Teray and Iray once more:
"Both of you remember what I told you. Take up with a woman, an outsider, even a mute, and get out of the way fast. I'll make it as easy as I can for you."
Teray nodded and Joachim led them inside.
There were several women and outsiders seated and standing near the fireplace of the huge common room in which Teray found himself. Before Teray could decide what they were doing, one of them sent the informing thought, He knows you're here. He's coming.
Joachim acknowledged with thanks and sat down. The others followed his example. Their wait was not long.
The atmosphere of the room changed, grew tense as Coransee entered. The Housemaster radiated power in the way of a man not only confident but arrogant. A man who meant for people to stand in awe of him. A man Teray disliked instantly. The Pattern told Teray that he and Coransee were temperamentally incompatible. They could be said to be far apart in the Pattern. The reason for the distance might have been great temperamental dissimilarity, or dangerous similaritysimilar inclinations toward dishonesty or greed, for instance. Whatever it was, it separated Teray and Coransee definitely, thoroughly.
The four visitors stood up as the Housemaster entered. Coransee was a big man, tall, well-muscled, but without the heavy, stocky look of Joachim. Teray found himself staring at Coransee's long cold face with a feeling that disturbed him because it was gone before he could recognize it. It took him a moment to realize that Coransee was looking at him in the same way. But Coransee was slower to cover his reaction. Teray had time to wonder whether what he had seen in the Housemaster's eyes, and for an instant in his thoughts, was recognition. But whatever it was, it faded quickly into puzzlement. Then Coransee's shield snapped into place and Teray got nothing more. Reflexively, Teray shielded his own thoughts but behind his shield he continued to wonder.
Suddenly, as though in attack, Coransee drove his massive mental strength hard against Teray's shield. He meant to break through it. There was no doubt of that. He had apparently seen something in Teray's thoughts that caught his attention. He wanted another look. He did not get it; Teray's shield held firm. Before Teray could respond to the unprovoked attack, Joachim spoke up angrily.
"Coransee! My apprentice is a guest in your House. He's given you no offense. What's the matter with you?"
For a moment Coransee stared at him in cold anger, stared at him as though he was an unwelcome intruder breaking into a private conversation. "Nothing is the matter," he said finally. "Your apprentice is a very able young man. I think I may have seen him beforeperhaps in one of my visits to the school."
Joachim gave Teray no time to deny this. "You may have," he said. "Although I can't see why that would be reason for you to attack him now." Joachim took a deep breath, calmed himself. "His name is Teray. This is his wife Iray, and my outsider Jer."
Coransee nodded, acknowledging all three introductions at once. But his attention had fastened on Teray.
"Teray," he repeated, drawing the word out thoughtfully. "How did you happen to choose a name ending in 'ray,' boy?"
The "boy" rankled, but Teray pretended to ignore it. "I'm told that I'm one of the sons of Patternmaster Rayal," he answered. His name had attracted attention before but he had fought for it and won the right to keep it while still in school.
"Rayal?" Coransee raised an eyebrow. "Rayal's children must number in the hundreds by now. But you're the first I've found who thought himself worthy to take his father's name."
Teray shrugged. "An adult is free to take any name. I chose to share my father's."
"And cause your wife to share it too, I see."
"No, Lord. She came to me freely and chose her own name."
"Did she." Coransee's attention seemed to wander. He had relaxed slightly, thinning his total shield down to a more comfortable heavy screen. For a moment, something flickered so close to the surface of his thoughts that Teray almost had it. He could have had it if he had dared to be obvious about his probing. But he let it pass. Abruptly, Coransee changed the subject.
"Joachim, I have an artist for you."
The sudden switch obviously surprised Joachim as much as it did Teray. But Joachim was cautiously enthusiastic. "An artist? I've been around the sector looking for a good one to work with some of my outsiders."
"I know." For the first time, Coransee smiled. "And this one is special. Sensitive. Fantastically sensitive."
Joachim began to draw in even his cautious enthusiasm. "They're usually more than a little crazy when they're too sensitive. They don't have enough control of their ability to receive selectively."
"Oh, this boy has all the control he needs. Picks up latent images from anybodyPatternists, mutes, animals, even Clayarks. How many artists do you know who can lay their hands on a boulder that a Clayark has leaned against and read you the story of that Clayark's life?"
"I've never had an artist who could pick up Clayark images. Call him."
Coransee turned toward the group of women and outsiders near the fireplace and called, "Laro!"
One of the outsiders in the group got up at once and came over to Coransee. He was a young man, probably only a few years older than Teray. Short and small-boned, he moved with quick, fluid grace. The Pattern betrayed him as a man of little mental strength. However competent he was at his art, he could never be anything more than an outsider. If he was lucky, his talent would buy him a comfortable place in someone else's House, and he would be troubled by none of the competitive spirit that sent stronger people out to found Houses of their own. If he was unlucky and did have such spirit, it would soon get him killed.
Coransee introduced the artist. "Laro, this is Lord Joachim and some members of his House. His people are artists and craftsmen."
Laro lowered his head and spoke respectfully. "My Lord." He was close to Joachim in the Pattern, Teray realized. That meant Joachim would probably buy him. Joachim's people were able to form themselves into the deadly fighting machine that Clayarks avoided only because Joachim chose them so carefully. He chose them not only for their skill and strength, but for their compatibility within the Pattern. The Pattern was a vast network of mental links that joined every Patternist with the Patternmaster. Its first purpose was supposed to be to give the Patternmaster the strength he neededstrength drawn through the links from the Patterniststo combat large-scale Clayark attacks. Actually, though, the Pattern was more often used as Joachim used it, as Teray was using it now. To judge, roughly, the mental strength of other Patternists, and to judge, more precisely, their compatibility.
Teray brought his attention back to the two Housemasters and realized that Coransee was listing the artist's accomplishmentsdoubtless to make the young man look as attractive as possible before they began talking about a price. Neither Housemaster was paying any attention to Teray, and Teray had no interest in the bargaining to come. He touched Iray lightly and started to go over to the group that Laro had left. Iray, evidently remembering Joachim's instructions, started to follow. Coransee stopped them.
"Teray, Iray, wait." He smiled again. He had an open, friendly smile that Teray would have trusted on anyone else. "View Laro's work with us." A command disguised as an invitation.
Caught, Teray and Iray came back slowly and sat down. Teray watched as the artist went past him and crossed the huge room to the group of women and outsiders that he had just left. From them he took three ceramic figurines and a small painting. Teray realized now why the group had seemed so absorbed. The artist had been entertaining them. Now Joachim's party was to sample his work.
Laro handed the painting to Joachim. The figurines went to Teray, Iray, and Jer. Teray first thought his was a wild animal. Not until he held it did he realize that the well-muscled four-legged body was human-headed. The thing was a Clayark.
Teray stared at it with interest. He had seen pictures of Clayarks at the school, but nothing as lifelike as this. His hands could almost feel warmth and a texture of flesh.
He folded his hands around the figurine, closed his eyes, and opened his mind to whatever experience awaited him. He expected a jolt. He had prepared himself for itbut not nearly enough.
Abruptly, shockingly, Teray was the Clayark. There was no time for anticipation, no disorientation. He felt himself seized and possessed by the artist-implanted "consciousness" of the figurine. Fortunately, by the time Teray recovered enough to struggle, he had also recovered enough to know that he should not struggle. He was still the Clayark.
He was within a torch-lit cave in the mountains far to the east of Redhill. He could see the rough gray-rock walls and the fire of the torches. He was a member of a munitions clan. His people made the rifles with which other Clayarks hunted food and fought Patternists. Now, though, his mind was not on gun-making. Now he had been challenged.
The sleek young female who stood apart from other onlookers, watching and holding her head so highshe was his. She was the daughter of his mother's brother, and long promised to him. Only he had a right to her. Not this other, this dog with his long jowly muzzle of a face. The other, the challenger, was big both with fat and with muscle. Years of handling heavy metal weights had given him great strength. And years of stuffing his belly like a pig had made him slow and clumsy. Savagely, the Clayark who was Teray lunged at him.
As the Clayark, Teray bit and punched with heavily calloused handsor forefeet. He seized and tore and gouged, all the while leaping about with speed and agility that his opponent could not match. All his opponent's power was in his massive arms. Or forelegs. As long as the Clayark Teray could avoid those arms, he was safe.
Then the Clayark Teray stumbled, and almost fell over a loose rock as he dodged one of his opponent's clumsy swipes. His hand closed around the rock as he leaped away.
He wheeled and charged again. This time he reared back on hind legs, which were more catlike than human. As his opponent reared eagerly to meet him and finally lay hands on him, Teray smashed the rock against the side of the creature's head. Then he stood back in triumph and watched while his opponent died.
Teray opened his eyes and stared at the small figurine in his hands. He could see its beauty, its perfection, even more clearly now. What was it the Clayarks called themselves? Sphinxes. Creatures out of ancient mythology, lion-bodied, human-headed. The description was not really accurate. The Clayarks were furless and tailless, and they did possess hands. But they were much more sphinxescreatures who were at least partly humanthan they were the animals Teray had always considered them.
And outsiders were not necessarily the inferior people Teray had considered them. The artist Laro had done something that Rayal himself could not have done. No Patternist could read the mind of a Clayark directly. The disease the Clayarks carried gave them at least that much protection from their Patternist enemies. And only the most sensitive artist could lift latent impressions of Clayarks from objects the Clayarks had touched. Laro not only lifted those impressions, he refined them, amplified them, and implanted them in his figurines and paintings. Teray caught the artist's attention and sent him silent appreciation. Laro smiled.
Jer and Iray had finished their experiences as Teray had. All three waited now as Joachim gazed silently at the painting. No sign of what he was experiencing appeared on his face, but they all could see that he was completely absorbed in the painting. Finally, Joachim's show was over and he looked up.
He put down the painting and turned to Coransee, his eagerness barely veiled. "What do you want for him?"