Chapter One

Chiro yawns, and none of the other acolytes stir. Must be nice, real nifty, this sleep thing.

When he sits up off the mat, pressed against the floor, something makes a popping noise. The boy grumbles.

Somebody makes a raucous shh!

"Yeah, yeah," Chiro whispers, stretching his legs out from under his body; he lays down again, arms splayed and brushing against somebody else's back.

The only sound in the room is the culmination of sleep-laden breaths.

Training tomorrow, bright and early. Great, just what he needs. Something twinges in Chiro's palms and between his eyebrows.

All ages and all types rest at Paralladoll. The planet is like a fishbowl with everything else on the outside distorted—the views, the languages. Heck, the boy's been told a robot monkey once learned here, ironically. Chiro laughs at the concept of robot monkeys.

"Hey," they—those that talked—would always say, "it's called the 'Power Primate', right?"

And Chiro would cross his arms and say, "Uh-huh, sure." He doesn't understand why the power's a primate, but okay.

Chiro tells himself, Two weeks. Just two weeks. Nothing I can't handle, right? I mean, I've been here for fourteen years already, right?

Fourteen years. Ever since he was a baby and couldn't even wash himself. Fourteen years, and the Power Primate still eludes his mind.

How could he betray Master Zan? Master Zan, the guy that mentored him? Watched over him?

A surrogate father to an unwanted orphan.

A surrogate father with a crystalline mask.

(Oh-too-sacred for his—or any, really—eyes, apparently.)

Still—he washed Chiro's fat baby tears away and everything. They all probably did, at one time; apparently, Chiro wasn't normal enough for the rest of the eight-foot people and the bird kiddies with fishbowls on their heads. Was just different enough to not get integrated into such an, er, interesting family unit.

High maintenance, Chiro thought they meant. Trouble. Kept to himself—too weird, too strange.

Most of the acolytes were those who volunteered to come to Paralladoll to study under the Veran-Mystics; they weren't dragged here in the arms of the Veran-Mystics, wailing and ill with blood crusted at their hairlines.

When he arrived, somebody informs Master Zan: It's not his blood. Zan replied, pressing a finger against the child's stained temple, and he already knows whose blood it is.

The boy exhales, forehead scrunched. No, not betrayal. Change in scenery, s'all it is.

An escape.

Chiro lets out a gasp, and somebody shhs him again.

Rainbow colors skitter across the domed ceiling. Pulsating energy. Nobody stirs, not even the acolytes . . . .

But Chiro's tongue feels like it's on fire. His head—

And it's over, everything now a serene black or dull, deep blue.

The boy drifts off in the lulling breaths of those surrounding him.