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The universe was waiting soft silent

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					The universe was waiting – soft, silent... dark. Shimmering with countless stars. Flames drifted like a
banner through the darkness, free falling into thick mists that clung to flesh and beaded on fine body
hair like tiny jewels. The fog moved, spinning slowly into a building maelstrom – electricity heavy on
the air in all of its impressive might.
It was above now, and below the clinging tendrils parted to reveal the land on fire. A thousand voices
speaking all at once, whispering, seeking, wanting. Some of them she recognized, others were
unknown, but above them all was the clear alto of a woman repeating the same message over and over
again. It was important, something she had to remember ... if only it would become clear.
The sweet scent of Mai'Tus groves and the clear fresh inhalation of waterfalls – the home of her
ancestors. The land reached up out of itself, filaments of vibrant green twining around delicate ankles –
feeding energy, love and peace.
“The way is dark.”
The voice was much loved, fondly remembered. She knew the face before she turned to look at it. It
belonged to a S'Hean Male – her deceased Uncle.
“There is always a light in the darkness,” An'Thaya responded.
“Perhaps, but not when all Hope and Joy have gone. The way is dark, but we all must walk it.”
His face faded, and he was gone.
“The loom twists.”
Turning, yet again, she faced her dead nephew – it was Valin, and yet it was not. The eyes were
wrong...
“The Fates do not reveal their will to mortals, nephew.”
“Perhaps, but even they can fall victim to forces beyond their control.”
The earth fell out from beneath her feet, and the Empress dropped breathlessly into the void. Darkness
clung to her like a lover – plunging her deep into nothingness and she knew again, for a moment, the
heat of the Nine Hells – the burning of flesh, the branding of his iron.
Again she heard the voice of the woman, and this time – the words were clear.
                                        Those who slept rise anew
                                           Time's loom twists
                                          Threads fall through.
                                          What is forward lost
                                             Retreat to find
                                             Or it may cost
                                           Your Hope and Joy
Out of the dark, a hand reached towards her – seizing her hair and dragging her deeper. For a bone
chilling moment she saw the faces of poison and death, but the scream was soundless here...
The Amazon's body jerked violently, then shot up into a sitting position. The black silk sheet clung to
her light-muscled form like a second skin, sticking to flesh that was wet with perspiration. Flame-
coloured curls lifted from back and shoulders, floating about her head in eddies of power surrounding
the redhead like a verdant forcefield.
Emerald irises were lost in the intense glow of the 'sight', blind to the world around her, to the rousing
dragon that shared her bed. A breeze touched her face, and An'Thaya's voice was not her own.
“A storm is coming...”
                                                    ***
The first rays of the beta sun broke through the window as if following the morning breeze that teased
at the multi-hued blues of the bed-curtains. The light seemed to refract and infuse the bed with an
ethereal, indigo glow – glittering off skin that was beaded with perspiration. The sheets were shoved
heedlessly aside, the Tyrne and Tyrah of S'Hea entangled with one another – lost in the depths of their
bond and one another.
Y'Roden's fingers were caught in thick, red locks as his heavy frame arched over his wife's smaller,
lushly curved form, bodies locked and shuddering in the final throes – the walls echoing with sound.
Gasping for breath beneath her husband's body, Ghet had entirely lost her sense of self. She always had,
but the soul-merge had made it even more profound: the loss of any boundary, any sense of self-
control. Her Talent always slipped her grasp, safe to let go protected by the thick stone walls of
Windemiire, bathing her lover in her pleasure from the outside, as well as the waves that washed
through their soul.
She didn't hear her own cries, wasn't aware of when she bit him. She had no sense of when her eyes
changed colour, indigo washing to bright green. She missed the sharp ozone smell of aethyr cutting
through the room, lost in the heavy musky scent between them. And when the explosion in her flesh
and in her soul, combined with the Projective force of her Talent, detonated around her, Ghet had no
idea what had happened. All she knew was that she was trapped in an arc of pleasure so sharp and
prolonged and violent it became painful, shaking her, their bed, their room, and she could not escape it.
Ro's head shot up, startled as he turned at the shoulders, watching waves of emerald light explode out
from the bed and shimmer through the walls. He was gripped in his wife's orgasm as firmly as she but
more aware of what was happening. Ghet's fledgling conduit had swept open within their soul, and was
hammering the entire palace with her talent – namely, the current of sensations passing between them.
Something caught between heated pleasure and wild amusement glimmered in the half-elf's verdant
eyes. Panting and laughing at the same time, the S'Hean exerted his phenomenal will and tamped down
the visceral reaction of his body – reaching out with his soul to gently, but firmly, coax his wife's
uncontrolled vortex to close.
Ro became Ghet's anchor point and she clung to him, fighting for mental breath. With excrutiating
slowness, she dragged herself back under control. Her lover's amusement didn't help as she cleared her
mind enough to realise what she'd done.
She shoved panic back as she followed Ro's lead, able to draw directly on his knowledge and
experience to draw the voided conduit shut. Given the nature of her Talent, that didn't mean the effect
just stopped. It lingered, teasing.
Then she put her hands over her face and groaned, mortified. "Oh gods. Shitshitshitshitshit skag it all to
hell, I am never leaving this room again. I'm dead. Dammit, why can't you die from embarassment stop
laughing!" That her own shoulders were shaking with horrified amusement didn't stop her being
completely mortified. "And we so cannot have sex ever again."
Her husband's rough, baritone laughter didn't stop, in fact it only became more pronounced as Ro
lowered his head and kissed the scarab on her breast. “Oh come on, it's not that bad, not really. I mean,
haven't you always wanted to add 'got an entire palace off at once' to your list of accomplishments?
Though I haven't checked all your memories yet, maybe you already have.”
Moving his shoulders the half-elf nuzzled at her hands and kissed Ghet's knuckles. “And just think how
impressed all our subjects are now with their King.”
Parting her hands enough to see him, Ghet made a horrible strangled giggling noise. "Stop it, that is not
helping. I... well, there was... people normally do have to be in the same room."
Lifting her head a little, she kissed him, still caught between laughing and crying. "I know I said just
you for the rest of forever, but I wasn't expecting to be sharing that with... oh no. No. The children!"
Flinging out an arm, she grabbed Ro's pillow and laid it across her face. "Push down. It's the only
solution."
He obligingly pushed down, but not on the pillow. That, he grabbed with his teeth and tossed to the side
of the bed. “Oh come on,” he said, still grinning, “S'Heans are a very open, sensual sort of people, I
doubt you've done more than make a few people's mornings – extra exuberant, given a few folks that
extra zap with their morning calisthenics... so to speak. Most of them were probably already naked
anyway.”
Snickering Ro nipped at Ghet's bottom lip. “Don't worry about the children, most of them are just
wondering why they feel a little funny this morning. The others – well, we can afford the therapy bills.”
In spite of herself, Ghet laughed, body arching as her spine flexed up and then dropped back into the
bed. "You're just not going to let me die, are you? Gods, when I said I was looking to give Rhags a little
push, this is not what I had in mind." She nuzzled idly at his ear, pointed canines hooking into the lobe.
She'd never wanted power, it just seemed to seek her out. She'd known she was going to develop a
conduit after the soul-merge, but she'd stubbornly ignored that fact, and this was the result. She was
supposed to be more responsible these days. "Alright, okay, fine. I won't die. I just won't look anyone
in the face for a couple of days. That'll work, people mostly don't look me in the face anyway. And you
will teach me how to make sure this never, ever happens again. Because I do not want to spend the rest
of our reign beating your subjects off your majesty with a stick." She grinned evilly. "I'd rather spend it
beating your majesty off."
“Rhagi will be fine, he was brought up in a brothel, after all. Besides, out of all of the children, he is the
only one likely to be able to shield himself – poor little bugger.” Ro growled soft and low when she bit
his ear and ground a little harder against Ghet's hips.
“You have a funny idea of discouragement, the majority of people around here enjoy a good stick-
beating.” His eyes lit up and the S'Hean suddenly rolled over, pulling Ghet with him until she lay on his
chest, dark-red hair tumbling down around his face. “That – I can definitely arrange.”
"No," Ghet countered, "he's the only one who'll be able to work out exactly what it was. Which is not
going to make it easier to deal with."
The headrush when he rolled her wasn't helping her concentration. Or rather, it was diverting it right
where he wanted it. The air of passion around them wasn't going to be clearing in a hurry anyway.
Tightening her knees against his hips, she stretched and settled all the muscles in her lower body. "I
take no responsibility for what anyone else enjoys," she said airily. "Just you." She lowered her torso
against his and kissed his throat. "And that you can arrange any way you like."
                                                     ***
It was a beautiful morning, the sort that held you spellbound as the second sun rose, painting the clouds
shades of pink and violet and blazing across the lake far below. Pe'Ris drew in a long, slow breath,
enjoying the fresh, damp air that blew in off the waterfalls, and utterly relaxed against the rail of the
balcony. A shallow cup was perched on his weathered fingertips and the S'Hean Lord brought it to his
lips, sipping at the thick, green jernovise that – like many S'Heans – he made a morning routine.
Hunter-green eyes slid shut as he tipped the cup, so he never saw it coming. Pointed ears perked
slightly as a rushing sound filled the room – and then it hit him full force. A wave of love and visceral
lust that slammed hard straight into the core of him. The spit take was horribly ungraceful and the cup,
his favourite, and a gift from Am'Elle, fell to the floor and shattered into tiny pieces.
Choking, he turned and gripped the rail, knuckles turning white as Pe'Ris gasped for air and doubled
over, eyes wide with shock. He froze for a moment, then seemed to shudder from both ends at once in
an odd little dance crossing the heebies with what appeared to be, perhaps, a groin problem.
“Pe’Ris, were you going to…” was about as far as Am’Elle got as she neared the balcony door before
mint greens widened at the emerald light that shot through her, leaving her gasping for breath and
grasping the nearest chair back until nails punctured through material.
“Oh. My.” She gasped out, followed by an off giggle from the healer as she slid to the floor, and only
worsened as a very 'rambunctious' scream came from the opened door of another balcony.
The Gamel gave his wife a woebegone look, then followed the path of her body as she hit the floor.
“That was highly disturbing,” he muttered, “I never, ever wanted to know that about His Majesty.”
Straightening, somewhat, he made his way over to Am'Elle and dropped to the floor about half way
there, crawling the rest of the distance until he straddled her.
“And I'm not sure how I feel about him – her... them, having this affect on my wife,” he half teased. “I
may have to decide to be jealous.”
“Oh you do?” Am’Elle asked, her eyes sparkling with gentle laughter. “You can always correct the
situation. Perhaps you should correct the situation as they seemed to have a very noticeable affect on
you,” she said, slender fingers lovingly caressing her husband’s cheek.
Pe'Ris laughed, a surprisingly pleasant sound for someone that was well known as a 'bah humbug'. “A
positive side effect from an unfortunate source,” he admitted. “Might as well put it to good use.” He
grinned openly, fully himself-- features softened with the love he held for the most wondrous of
women.
Rough fingers brushed Am'Elle's hair back from her face and Perri leaned down to kiss her, the fire and
passion displayed not something he would ever show outside the privacy of their bond. The residual
effects of the conduit didn't hurt either, and a soft chuckle was lost against his wife's mouth.
She knew what so many people thought of her husband but it didn’t bother her. She loved his
stubbornness, and his perpetual scowl that she enjoyed kissing away when he was home; Am’Elle
loved his ill tempered moods because she knew he wasn’t always that way.
Her fingers slipped into Pe’Ris’ hair, there were those that said she had the patience of the Weeper for
putting up with him, but it wasn’t that. Am’Elle’s lips parted beneath her husband’s.
A path of clothing scattered across the room to the bed like a trail of breadcrumbs and the morning air
was disturbed by soft laughter and breathy sighs that rose in crescendo behind the filmy curtains. The
rest of the palace was forgotten – their voices lost in a chorus of response to the Queen's little accident.
Sometime later, Pe'Ris fell back into the sheets slightly winded and very content. “That is definitely a
better morning perk me up than tea,” he said to his wife.
Laughing, Am’Elle rolled over onto her side to gaze down at Perri, “Well, I hope so. Should I be
worried you’re comparing me to tea?” Pale green eyes sparkled with mischief.
Pe'Ris laughed and reached up to stroke Am'Elle's jaw. “I like tea,” he teased. “I like tea a great deal.”
“I see. So I shouldn’t be worried, I should be competing with a cup of tea for my Ronnan’s affections.”
Chestnut waves tumbled around her gentle features, despite the grin that appeared. “I think I may be up
to that challenge.” Am’Elle smiled and kissed her husband.
It seemed that this morning, the W’Crens would be a little late to their appointments.
                                                    ***
Corin's Regent was a tall, solidly built man who had obviously spent more time in the saddle wielding a
sword than sitting behind a desk, wielding quill and parchment instead. His thick fingers had trouble
holding the delicate instrument and the expression in bright-blue eyes was dower as he bent his head to
the work – short red hair catching the glint of the sun through an open window.
Gardor had never asked for this position – he had been quite content to be High Lord Wyvern – and
even the duties associated with that had been just that. Duty, something he exceeded at, but it wasn't
what he loved. Give him the open sky, a horse, and an opponent to hack at – that was when Gardor was
truly in his element.
The knock at the door was a welcome relief, though he had been hoping for Deirdre, not the guard who
poked his head through.
“M'lord, there is a Aaron Silverleaf who seeks audience with you.”
Heavy red eyebrows lifted slightly and Gardor pushed back from the desk. “Show him in please.”
“Aye, M'lord.”
Outside the Schi was relatively calm, inside though he was a nervous wreck and not so much as to
meeting the Regent. Aaron liked Gardor, he liked his daughter better though, which was why he was
mentally raw.
The guard motioned for the half-elf to precede him into the room. Aaron smiled, “Should I bow, salute,
or run from fatherly wrath?”
Amusement touched Gardor's features as he beckoned Aaron further into the room and rose from his
chair. “Have a seat,” he invited, gesturing to two overstuffed chairs that were set before the fireplace.
“Is there a reason I should be wrathful? Or are you trying to be funny?” A grin dispelled any thoughts
of animosity, he genuinely liked the Schi – and Gardor had always held fast to the belief that his
daughter should marry for love – not political gain.
Aaron chuckled and sat in one of the offered seats. “Trying to be funny, I’d rather fall on my own
sword than ever disgrace Serendip, or face your wrath,” he added the last with a grin. But to him the
former was more important than the latter, which was why he chose to say it that way.
“I’m not disturbing anything too interesting?” He didn’t quite want to jump into the reason he was
there just yet.
The Regent sat opposite the Schi, blue eyes assessing the other man quietly, lifting a decanter of amber
coloured liquid and raising it in question over two crystal tumblers. A laugh that seemed to come all the
way from Gardor's boots worked its way up and he shook his head. “Nothing could possibly be as
uninteresting as the paperwork they subject me to here, trust me. Please, interrupt me every chance you
get.”
Aaron flashed a grin, “Thought as much. Paperwork of any kind seems to be uninteresting.” He nodded
in answer to the silent question.
“How is your wife?” It sounded like a stupid question and time passing chit-chat and he quietly berated
himself for it.
Gardor filled both glasses, a smile lighting his face at the mention of his wife. “Deirdre is just fine,” he
said. “Perfect, really.”
Thick fingers gripped the rim of his glass and the Corinian raised it to his mouth, taking a health
swallow. “Now – why don't you tell my why you've come here? You look like a khetzer caught in a
shewmo web.”
“Feel kind of like one too,” he muttered, eyed his glass then downed the entire contents. There were a
few seconds when talking was the least of his worries and the faces that he made would have probably
made someone wonder about his mentality if they hadn’t seen what he’d just done.
But then again, if they had, they probably still had wondered about his mentality.
“Serendipity,” was the first word he could get out.
One of Gardor's deep-red eyebrows started a long trek upwards. “Yes – Serendipity. What about her?”
The Corinian knew full well, of course, what Aaron was about to ask – it was just terribly entertaining
to watch the Schi squirm.
Aaron rolled his eyes and felt like he was going to slide right out of his chair and into the floor.
Whether it was from the drink or from Gardor having his moment of amusement out of him, he wasn’t
certain.
“Court her. I’d like to daughter your court. I’d court your daughter like. Er, court your daughter I’d
like.” Taking a deep breath he gave it another go, “Court your daughter may I?” The schi let out a
miserable groan and finally slapped a calloused hand over his face, “Let me go find an axe and you can
put me out of my misery.”
The laugh just couldn't be prevented, though Gardor tried his best to look apologetic. “No,” he said,
“you don't get off that easily. No beheadings here today, I'm afraid.” Setting his tumbler down the
Corinian steepled his fingers together and contemplated – for a good long while, a somber expression
on his face that kept threatening to crack beneath a grin.
“Alright,” he said finally, when he figured Aaron had suffered long enough. “I give you permission to
court my daughter. It is up to her, of course, to accept any proposals – but I would like to sort out the
details with you when the time comes. A father needs to be sure his daughter is well taken care of.”
The grin that appeared on the Schi’s face was somewhere between relieved and rather dopey before
mimicking a deer caught in headlights. “Propropro…proposals? Iiii just got my courage up enough to
ask if I could court her, now I gotta face asking Serendip if she agrees to it ‘cause I don’t want her to
think I don’t think her opinion doesn’t matter.”
Aaron frowned in thought then nodded, taking on a more serious, but rather confused, look. “So when
that day comes, should I come to you first or go to her first? Or should I just draw names out of a hat?”
Gardor laughed again, a sound that came from deep within and infected everyone around him. “Ask her
first, boy,” he said, “she's the one that has to live with you for the rest of her life. Come to me later, I'm
the one that gets to decide where you live, and how well.” Merriment danced in the human's blue eyes
and he winked at the Schi, “Good luck.”
“Kaen’men,” Aaron grinned, “I’ll probably need it.”
                                                     ***
Y'Roce had not spent much time in the palace itself since his return to S’Hea. Upon arrival he simply
went straight to Fadil and reported for ranger duties. In fact, he’d taken a double turn before
considering spending any time in leisure. The half-elven prince needed to reconcile himself to
accepting that he and Kee could never be more than close friends. It ached inside because his heart was
still with Kee, and The Weaver had even blessed their courtship. But things beyond his control made
any sort of long term deep union unworkable. It was time now to sort out his feelings and temper them
into a more manageable place.
He did not feel much like roaming the halls of the palace on his furlough time from the rangers. So as
soon as he spent a few hours in his bath and got some rest during zenith, he wanted to get out of the
way and keep to himself. After a bit of pondering he decided to head to Corin and visit his nieces and
nephew. He had left Whispin shortly after his brother’s funeral and had not been back until recently. He
had stayed away from S’Hea far too long while in CathEska as well, and very nearly caused himself
harm for his lack of proper Grounding to the land of his heritage.
Now he stood at the opposite end of the hall in Castle Corin, just staring down its length toward the
vacant thrones. Lost in his thoughts about his deceased brother Valin, he was not paying much attention
to other things around him at the moment.
“Surreal isn't it,” asked a voice from behind the dark-haired elf. Imoreki's soft boot falls advanced until
he stood shoulder to shoulder with his brother. Eyes the same emerald shade as Roc's roved over the
empty room and Ki shoved a hand through his mess of multi-hued hair, “It's even worse when Gardor
is holding court, I mean, I really like the man – he is family in a way. It's just not the same.”
There were deep shadows beneath the geo-mage's eyes, and a deep sorrow within their depths that was
more than just the loss of a brother. His marriage had fallen apart as a result of what had happened here
as well. Helena's obsession with Anaya's loss had eaten at her mind, as it had most of the Mar's Corinth
Clan. Eventually Imoreki had been forced to admit that she just wasn't the same woman he had fallen in
love with and in the end, they had separated. As far as he knew, Helena had moved to Haven with the
rest of her family, as driven as the rest of them to find out once and for all what had befallen the
Corinian Queen.
At least the D'Riels had a small amount of peace. They had seen Valin die, watched his funeral pyre
burn – his soul was at rest, moved on to the next life. There could be joy and hope that he would find
Anaya again... somewhere out there.
“Yes, and I’m sure it is. I still expect Valin to come out from the rear of the dais and sit on the throne. I
can hardly imagine Gardor there.” Y'Roce did not turn his head to look at his brother until he’d finished
speaking. But once he did he was not sure about what he saw.
With his own measure of melancholy notes tingeing his tone Y'Roce eyed Ki more closely and said,
“You feeling ok Ki? You look like you’ve been keel hauled on the airships and left to hang from the
tree canopy. Are the children and Helena all right? Where are they?” Roc didn’t like how Ki looked and
hoped his brother’s reply was not more bad news.
Imoreki shrugged a careless roll of the shoulders that was lighter than what he felt. “Valin's children are
fine; they are outside playing with their nursemaid at the moment. Helena... she and her son have
moved to Haven.” Emerald jewels slid sideways, and the elf smiled wryly, “You don't look so hot
yourself.”
As a brother Y'Roce zeroed in on the words spoken and was glad to know Valin’s heritage was still
thriving. What he didn’t like in that revelation was the news his brother was now a father or the
separation Imoreki implied toward his own son. Putting aside for now any discussion of Valin’s
children since they seemed well attended, Y'Roce focused more on his brother hoping the scars of the
past would not still be a barrier between them.
“Things for me, well let’s say my record is still intact. But what are you saying Ki? What do you mean
by ‘her son’, you had a son? Weren’t you and Helena ruling there? What’s really happened Ki?” Y'Roce
had never stopped loving his brother dearly he had simply had to accept his brother no longer felt the
same after the mistake that was made. Realizing he might just be treading down a path to another
mistake between himself and Ki, Y'Roce tried to forestall damage.
"Forgive me, I am being too nosey and if it is none of my business just say so." quickly trying to keep
from crossing lines again.
Imoreki shook his head. “I thought you knew,” he said, “Helena had a child by someone else before I
met her. We tried for a child, but didn't succeed – which is probably for the best. We stepped down
from the throne when Anaya disappeared and we came here to watch over the children. Things just
disintegrated from there.
“What do you mean your record is intact?”
If Y'Roce had known of his brother’s stepson before he obviously had put his own interests so much in
the fore he failed to really pay proper attention to his brother. This fact made Y'Roce feel all the more a
nyfader for his lack of care for the brother he held so dear. He swore to himself to rectify that problem.
Sincere emerald-green eyes held their opposites, “I am sorry. I guess I failed to remember that bit of
history. As for me it is nothing really I just bowled head on again not thinking things through and
tangled myself in a fool’s dream while in CathEska. But I’ll work it out a little at a time.” Roc shrugged
slightly embarrassed.
“But I hardly have the weight on my shoulders you must have so if you want any help or company or
just someone to talk to please let me help.” Y'Roce meant his offer and hoped Imoreki would not turn
him down out of hand.
Imoreki slapped a companionable hand on his brother's shoulder and smiled. “Women,” he said in one
word summation. He shrugged then and turned away from the throne room. “I'm not sure I have much
to say on the subject. What is done is done. I could, however, use a great deal of ale at the moment.
You?”
“Absolutely!” for answer to both comments, then added, “it really is good to see you again Ki.” Y'Roce
slapped his brother back companionably. "Where to?"
                                                   ***
The cobblestones on the street glittered with the damp of fresh rain, though it was quickly dissipating
beneath the heat of the suns as Cullen ate up the distance between Castle and home with long strides.
His head titled back as he approached the house, the tidy little building gleaming with fresh white paint
that contrasted nicely with the dark wood trim. Containers of flowers brightened the windows and the
sound of a music box playing welcomed the Captain of Corin's Guard as he pushed open the front door.
“Kara?” Cullen's long dark hair tumbled over heavy-muscled shoulders as he turned his head towards
the kitchen where the table was laden with a late lunch, she had obviously been expecting him home,
and he was glad he'd declined an invitation to spar and come directly back here instead.
At the sound of Cullen's voice, Kara stopped dancing and quickly checked the full length mirror by
their bed. Her hands rested on her still flat stomach. It wasn't all that long ago she told Cullen the news
of her pregnancy. A soft giggle escaped and she pushed her stomach out, just to see what she would
look like in a few months.
"I'll look fat," she whispered and quickly relaxed her stomach muscles. Glancing at her image once
more she turned and rushed out of the room. She all but flew down the stairs, her bare feet striking
every other step until she found herself standing in front of her lover with her hands tucked behind her
back.
"Sorry," she giggled, "I was busy...working upstairs," and the music box struck its last cord. She wasn't
about to tell him she had been dancing and day-dreaming about him. So much so she almost burnt
lunch.
"Are you hungry? I fixed you a quick meal. I hope you like it. It's just a little...blackened," and she
started to chew on her lower lip.
"They say well cooked food is good for you. Did you know that?"
The half-elf eyed his lover curiously, his mouth tugging up slightly in amusement. Kara was a delight,
full of energy and mischief that had been missing from his life for a very long time. “Very hungry,” he
answered, “and there is nothing wrong with a little blackening – better than raw.” In truth, Cullen had
been born and raised in Tenobrous – he could eat pretty much anything and not bat an eye.
Reaching for her, he grasped Kara's waist and pulled her towards himself. “What? No kiss hello?
Kara tried squirming away, only because she knew Cullen enjoyed it. Acting defeated, she slipped her
arms around her captain's neck and looked deep into his eyes.
"I thought you would never ask," she whispered, her hot breath tickling his pointed ear. Pulling herself
up to meet him, she nipped at his nose, then she kissed him. Running one hand through his hair she
could feel his heart beating, causing hers to quicken. Breaking the kiss after what felt like hours, she
placed her head on his shoulder and smiled.
"I miss this." She smiled warmly, then ruffled her lovers hair. "Now then, what do I get in return?"
“It's funny you should ask,” Cullen said with a hint of mischief. “I've been carrying around something
I've wanted to give you for awhile now, but with our unexpected house guest and all – I just couldn't
find the right moment. Now seems – about perfect, I'd say.”
Releasing Kara's waist with one hand, he searched the inside breast-pocket of his livery, pulling out a
small gold object that caught the low light of the room. Turning the setting up, he revealed an elegantly
cut, oval tiger's eye stone.
Kara's eyes grew wide. Never before had she seen a more beautiful stone in her life. It winked at her as
Cullen held it up for her to see. It glowed with a life of its own and she slowly looked up.
"For me?" she whispered. Choking back tears she reached down and ran one finger lightly across the
stone. It seemed to respond to her touch, as a warm feeling enveloped her and she caught her breath.
Her whole body shook with excitement, and emotion.
"It's beautiful. Where on earth did you find it? It looks just like a..." and a large lump formed in her
throat.
It look's just like a tiger's eye, she thought as another wave of emotions exploded within her.
Swallowing hard she placed her head on Cullen's chest and bit her lip.
Without saying another word, with tears falling down her cheeks she reached up to kiss him once again,
with far more passion than the first. As their lips slowly parted, she buried her face against his chest
and cried.
"I don't deserve..." were the only words she could speak as she tried choking back tears.
Cullen kissed the top of Kara's head and smiled into her hair. “So is that a yes?” he asked. “It's terribly
hard to tell.” The hand holding the ring caught at her left, finding the proper finger and wiggling it up
past the knuckle. “Perfect.”
Kara shook her head yes, her face still buried in Cullen's chest. Pulling her left hand to her chest she
held him tight until she remembered she needed to breathe. Unsure if nodding her head was the answer
he was seeking she rubbed her damp nose into his chest and sniffled.
"Yes," she whispered. "With all my heart and soul, the answer is yes."
Wiping her damp cheeks dry, she gasped and suddenly pulled away. With her fist still clutched to her
chest she turned with a worried look. Glancing toward the door she chewed on her lip while her thumb
worried her new ring around her finger.
"I...I just remembered I have to go somewhere. It's very, very important. I...I mustn't be late. I...I'll be
back. Soon, I promise."
As an after thought she turned back, stood on her tiptoes and kissed Cullen full on the lips. Then she
tried to push him toward the kitchen. "Did you plant yourself to that spot?" she laughed. "Go eat,
before your lunch gets cold. I'll be back before you can miss me."
She needed to hurry, before the city jewelery shop closed. She now had a reason to buy the ring she'd
been eyeing for months. She now prayed she had saved enough money to purchase it.
Cullen obediently let himself be propelled in the table's direction, never one to turn down food. He did
cast an odd look at Kara though – thinking it was very strange to have someone run off just after they
accepted your proposal. “Alright,” he said, shaking his head. Maybe it was hormones...
                                                    ***
The afternoon was warm. Sunlight streamed in lazily through the open doors that led onto the balcony
beyond. Inside, Faelwen Al'Teron reclined on the chaise, her infant daughter cradled in her arms.
Wondering fingers touched the fine, downy hair on her head -- blonde, just like her own. It was still
hard to believe that she was real. It was all far too amazing for words.
Rem padded quietly through the inner doors, hair still slightly damp from his post-zenith bath. His
features were relaxed with the serene look of meditation, though there was something of mischief in his
pale-green eyes as they alighted on his wife and daughter.
That morning had been – interesting, the entire palace in somewhat of an uproar... so to speak. Rem and
Fael had just taken in in stride, of course – both of them falling under the category of 'just that little
boost' to what they were already up to anyway. It didn't stop him from smirking slightly in memory
though as he leaned over to kiss his wife hello, then kiss the top of his daughter's downy head.
“Dagar, my two favourite ladies.”
Faelwen smiled, cobalt eyes shining. "Dagar to you too." Her lips twitched. "And you can just stop
smirking like that. I can tell exactly what you're thinking. You're far too easy to read."
Her finger brushed the infant's cheek. "Your Addah has absolutely no shame, Aurewen. None at all."
But her expression was all too amused.
Rem'Sero laughed and openly grinned. “There is nothing to be ashamed of,” he said with mock
indignation. “I happen to love –- and lust, my Vonna, nothing wrong with that at all.”
The Gamel's expression softened as his gaze settled on his daughter, the gentle –- and intense -- love of
a S'Hean father glimmering in his eyes. “We've created perfection here,” he observed warmly,
crouching down beside wife and child.
"I know. I still can't quite believe she's really here. I keep thinking that I must be dreaming." A soft
smile curved his wife's lips as the baby yawned and blinked blearily up at them.
"She's going to have eyes like yours." Faelwen glanced across at Rem'Sero, a warm feeling of happy
contentment settling deep inside when she saw the expression on his face. She had everything she had
ever wanted and more right there in the room. A family of her own to love and cherish, and to be loved
by in return.
"Would you like to hold her?"
“Of course I would,” Rem responded, shifting so he could take the baby from her. “Every chance I
get.” It had been a bit of a surprise to him, how much he had missed having a small child. S'Hean
fathers were deeply connected to their offspring anyway, and very involved in everything from
conception, to birth, to raising their children. To actually be in the thick of it again though, was a
wonderful, intense experience – and he was delighted to be a father again.
The elven woman turned onto her side, watching them both together. "I think that even if I hadn't loved
you already, I could have fallen in love with you just because of the way you look at Aurewen," she
said. "You look at her as if she is the most precious thing in the world."
Her fingers brushed through his long, chestnut hair. "I wonder what Rem'Mieris will make of his little
sister."
“She is the most precious thing in the world,” Rem said with a low laugh. “The both of you are.” The
S'Hean gently kissed his daughter on the forehead, then lifted pale greens to meet cobalt blue. “I'm sure
he'll be utterly delighted, though it may be terribly difficult to divert his attention from the lovely little
Schi he has had his eye on.”
His wife laughed. "If he takes after his father, quite possibly so," she teased.
Her expression became thoughtful. "Relainia. That's a very pretty name, don't you think? I wonder
what she's like? I'd love to meet her. Perhaps we ought to invite them to visit sometime soon? Remmy
could meet his sister and we could meet the lady he seems so smitten with." An impish smile curved
her lips.
"Does that sound terribly nosy of me?"
“It is a pretty name,” Rem agreed, “and I think that is a wonderful idea. He has seemed a little
distracted by something of late, never really answers when I get through the wards. I'll try again soon
though and see what he says.”
He laughed then, and leaned in to kiss her. “Only as nosy as I am,” he chuckled.
"That's the important thing I suppose." Her mouth lingered against his, a smile tugging at the corners of
her lips. "Tye-mela'ne."
                                                     ***
Golden sand stretched unblemished as far as the eye can see and reached out into crystal blue green
waters that swept towards the land in small rolling waves that sparkled in the sunlight. It was a serene
setting for the small family that had hidden away from the world and all its responsibilities.
Argent sat bare-chested, his feet dug into the sand as he watched his youngest daughter at play, twirling
and dancing among the waves and giggling all the while. Sunlight caught in her hair, setting its auburn
hues aflame.
Ankle deep in the water, Belle watched her stepdaughter's carefree frolicking with a soft, indulgent
smile-- caught up in the child's innocent, so pure and full of delight. The S'Hean's face was all aglow
when she turned to face Argent, pausing to admire her husband's physique – the smile on her face
altering to something a little more hazy. With a sudden grin she ran up the sands towards him, as bright
and bouncy as the child she was raising as her own.
“This was a fabulous idea,” she told him, falling at the elven bear's feet and kissing him. “Not that I'd
ever argue against spending a day near the water.”
“I thought you might like it,” Gent grinned, “and long over due.” Shifting just enough, he pulled Belle
to him. “I like to see you smile, and love to see you in the water,” reaching out he wound a fiery curl
around his finger and kissed his wife.
The S'Hean relaxed against the Taurësúlë with a long, content sigh, snuggling into his arms as Gent
kissed her. Her fingers grazed the golden bear tracks that wandered over his heart and bicep, the
markings glowing softly under her touch. “I could get use to this,” she murmured, “I suppose people
might get cranky if I stole you away all day, every day, to play in the sun though.”
“Mm, probably,” he said a little hazily, watching Belle’s fingers, “Personally I think they can get
cranky all they want to. My wife,” the elven bear kissed the tip of her nose, “comes first and so does
my children.”
“I like the sound of that,” Belle said with a tinkle of a laugh. She turned her head, flame-red curls
sliding over Gent's shoulder, and watched Elviwen in the water. “One would almost think she is S'Hean
the way she loves the water,” she observed in a soft tone.
Tilting his head slightly to see the elfling in question, he chuckled, “She does seem to be as attracted to
it as you do. I think you’re rubbing off on her.” Argent said with a smile that turned into a shadow of
his normal grin, “Maybe she can have a younger sibling some day.”
Belle tilted her head up to watch the change in his expression and reached up to touch his face. She felt
the ache in him – the grief for Apolla who had never awakened with the rest of Sha'dar. The loss of a
daughter weighed heavily on Argent, and therefore, on B'Elya as well. She regonized the want – the
desire for another child that could never replace the one that was gone – but might just fill a void.
“Perhaps,” the S'Hean said softly. There was a little fear deep within that she kept well hidden. Every
woman who had borne Argent a child had died in childbirth. Not a fate she wished for – but a child of
her own was worth the risk. “I'm open to the idea.”
Forest greens met emerald and he tightened his arms around Belle and buried his face into her hair. He
had the same fear that he might lose his wife in childbirth. The past had a nasty habit of repeating itself
after all. “Ah, someday,” Gent said before raising his head at the sound of Elviwen’s voice.
“Mieve! Ketai! Look!” The Elfling bounced up to them, unaware of the sorrows of the world as she
held out a sand dollar. “Isn’t it pretty? You can have it, Mieve.”
“It's beautiful, Elvi,” Belle said with a bright, loving smile. She accepted the sand dollar and pulled it
close to her chest. “I'll treasure it always, my little water sprite.” Leaning forward, she kissed the child's
cheek affectionately and brushed tangled strands of auburn hair back behind a pointed ear.
Giggling, the little girl kissed her step-mother and then her father on the cheek then danced and twirled
her way back to the water.
Argent watched the exchange with a smile. He’d had a parent’s worry that his child by another woman
wouldn’t be accepted but couldn’t see Belle not except her. He was still relieved all the same.
“Like mother, like daughter,” the elven bear teased, “gives me a kiss then runs back to the water.”
Belle laughed and kissed him soundly. “Even the great Elven Bear cannot overpower the pull of the
tide,” she teased. “Though you do give it a good run for its money.”
“That’s when its wise to say if you can’t beat them, join them.” Grinning he kissed her back, shifted so
he could pass through her and quickly got to his feet to hold a hand out to his wife.
Belle shivered, thinking she'd never quite get use to that, then reached up to grasp his hand. “Such a
wise man,” she laughed, “one of the many reasons I love you so.” Bouncing to her feet, she released
Gent's hand and raced towards the water.
Laughing, he joined Belle and Elvi, playing in the waves.
                                                     ***
Y'Roden's bare foot settled on the first of the stepping stones that crossed the subterranean pool, the
rock lighting up softly beneath his foot and emitting a low tone. Turning, the half-elf offered his hand
to Ghet to help her along. “I have no idea why she said to meet her down here,” he said, “but it's a
change of scenery.”
He grinned suddenly. “And out of the palace.”
Ghet's cross look totally failed, so she gave it up and just grinned. Her near-terminal embarrassment
would keep. "I like it down here," she said lightly. "There's water, there's light, there's you, nobody's
compulsively boinking because of me, what's not to like?"
There was something, though, niggling at her. It was probably something to do with the fact that they
never seemed to get together like this when there wasn't trouble.
“Well, its underground, its a cave? Though it does open up a little further that way,” Ro tilted his head
in the direction they were going. Their footsteps began a pretty pattern of coloured lights and musical
tones, composing a symphony as they progressed to the other side and on to the moss covered bank.
"Caves in S'Hea don't do that to me," Ghet said, obviously just realising it as she spoke. "Nothing in
S'Hea does that to me."
A trail led up into a larger cavern that was a great deal brighter than the one they left behind, and upon
entering, the reason became apparent. There was a large, circular opening in the ceiling that let in the
light of the dual suns to bath a still pool in their brilliance.
Not far from the water on the moss-covered ground sat An'Thaya Blackthorn. Delicate legs tucked
beneath her and aethyr playing along fingers and toes – she was obviously at the tail end of a
grounding. The Amazon's head turned towards them as the couple entered, sending a stunning amount
of flaming hair tumbling down her back.
“Dagar, Y'Roden, Ghetsuhm.”
Ghet's smile was full of genuine warmth. With the demands of both thrones, she didn't see nearly
enough of her sister. The fact that she hadn't embraced her yet was recognition of An'Thaya's right to
choose when she was touched. "Dagar, Thaya, it's good to see you. Is everyone well?" On the surface,
her tone was casual, sociable, but underneath ran fear borne of experience.
Innate grace brought An'Thaya to her feet, watery reflections of the pool dancing across features that
blossomed into a smile. “Everyone is well,” she said assuringly. The Amazon hugged her brother
affectionately, and then gave the same warmth to Ghet.
“Then why,” Ro asked curiously, “are we meeting down here?”
Tay stepped back, the smile fading. “A dream.”
Ghet looked out across the sun-struck pool. Innate comfort in water, it was in the blood. "What," she
said, her tone deliberately light, "you had a dream where you were struggling to keep your brother's
clothes on in the presence of water? Because I have to warn you, this set-up has a certain inevitability
about it." She dropped neatly to sit by the water, and leaned back on her hands. "It's alright. Tell us."
An'Thaya paled slightly, then cleared her throat. “I have no idea who is going to mortify me to death
first, you or Callan,” she laughed. Settling back on the ground she looked up at Y'Roden as he took a
seat next to his wife.
“I think,” she said slowly, “it might be better if I show you. Some things are not easily put into words.”
Y'Roden eyed Ghet with amusement as he settled on the moss, suddenly glad Callan wasn't there.
Tearing his gaze away, he met Thaya's gaze thoughtfully, then nodded slowly, offering his large,
callused hand to her, palm up.
The Amazon's small, but iron-strong fingers slid into her brother's hand and she looked at Ghet as if to
ask – 'ready'?
Ghet smiled, and took the D'Riel's hands with a careless, fatalistic ease. "Callan's job is supposed to be
mortifying Y'Roden," she said reasonably, "but I'm sure there's more than enough to go around. Really
sure."
“You'll get no argument there,” An'Thaya said with a wry smile.
Drawing a slow, even breath, she closed her eyes and immediately fell into a trance-like state, recalling
from memory the sounds and images of the dream that had shocked her awake in a cold sweat the night
before.
Y'Roden's eyes were troubled when they opened again from more than just the sight of his dead son.
He looked to his wife, sharing an alarmed expression – he had heard those words of warning before.
Ghet watched in silence, and her face was just as troubled as her husband's. "Thaya, we... One of the
scroll-keepers found a prophecy at Silver Dragon Ridge, in the archive, while Ro was away. Obviously,
by the time we got our hands on it, we had, y'know, other things on our minds. That was all there was,
though; that woman, those words."
She turned back to her husband, her anxiety obvious. She'd shied away from this because she knew
what would happen to him if he lost hope, if he lost his light. "Did we ever find out who she was?"
“An'Trel Al'Teron,” Ro said quietly, “the wife of the first D'Riel Tyrne. I'm not sure the voice is the
same though...”
An'Thaya's eyelashes flickered up and her gaze wandered from one to the other and back again. “That
can't be a coincidence. Something is on the horizon,” she said, “I don't know what, or when – but I
think we should be prepared. Braced for impact – as it were.” She smiled weakly, “I'm such a killjoy.”
"No you're bloody not," Ghet said, and there was an edge of determined ferocity to her voice. "Don't let
any blakeg tell you that. After everything we've been through, it'd be beyond idiocy to ignore this. How
many of us nearly died the last time there was a damn prophecy?" Her mind was busy, chewing over
the extra details. Valin, Y'Ardyn, An'Trel - was the voice different? Valin had been different.
Then she gave a wry smile. "Bloody difficult to prepare for something when you don't know what it is,
though. Maybe there's something else in the archive. I'll go back in, look for An'Trel again. But honey,
we're strong, we'll get through this. You and Callan, me and Ro, our family has hardly ever been less
vulnerable." Genuine humour sparked in her eyes again. "And if you need cheering up, Ro can tell you
what happened when my conduit came in. I'm not talking about it."
“At least we have a little forewarning this time, as useless as the information may be at the moment.”
An'Thaya's expression evolved from wry to amused, to curious. “Oh? What could possibly be so bad...”
the words trailed off as she caught the expression on Y'Roden's face. “Oh! Oh my gods. I'm glad Callan
was safely on the other side of the wards.” The Amazon choked on a laugh and shot Ghet an apologetic
look. “Sorry – that must have been... I can't think of a strong enough word.”
“Ego-boosting?” Ro asked with a feral grin.
“You want to hit him or should I?” Tay asked blandly.
"When I hit him," Ghet replied, "he enjoys it. So I guess, me. He has been completely, insufferably
pleased with himself, but I don't have the willpower to punish him properly and he knows it." She
leaned back against Y'Roden's shoulder and stared out across the water. "Do you want to come home
with us for a while? The effect has almost completely worn off."
“He is generally insufferable,” An'Thaya laughed, receiving a grunt of half-hearted indignation from
Ro as he wrapped an arm around Ghetsuhm. Tay gazed thoughtfully at the couple for a long moment, a
strange little smile tugging at her mouth. “Yes,” she said finally, “I'd like that.”
                                                  ***
There were good smells emanating from the kitchen, but Galain wasn't going anywhere near that
particular part of the Green Heart. Memories from the first time he'd tried Jerri's cooking were quite
fresh in his mind. Admittedly though, the young woman's sunny nature and excellent cooking skills had
done wonders for the ancient inn's profit line of late. True, she wasn't hard on the eyes either and the
Elen had noticed quite a few appreciative glances sent Jerri's way whenever she entered the taproom.
The elf should have felt guilty for basically making her an indentured servant, but he figured that
payment had to be made one way or another and this was the most productive way.
At the moment the inn was teeming with customers and nary a one had complained about the primitive
plumbing or lack thereof, the inefficiency of some of the chimneys in the various rooms or even the
drafty nature of the windows throughout the upper floor. No... if the food was good and the ale was
cold, then all was right in the world -- and all was then all right in Galain's pocketbook. The elf
surveyed his tiny domain, arms crossed and a satisfied expression on his face, and then a particularly
tantalizing whiff of something amazing escaped from the kitchen and he had to go and at least peek in.
"What're you making?" he asked, definitely hesitant to enter the kitchen, but barely able to resist
stepping in closer.
Pale-blonde lashes framed the robin's egg-blue eyes that lifted from the oven to focus on the Elen
Prince from behind a cascade of ash-blonde hair. The human woman straightened, one hand finding its
way to her hip. Clad in a pair of light denim short shorts and a blue baby-doll t-shirt that read 'Save a
horse, ride a cowgirl', Jerri looked quite out of place in the middle of the quaint little inn – but
somehow she had manged to make it 'home'. At least for the time being.
“Moussaka,” she informed him brightly. “I was in the mood for something Greek, seeing as the Roman
keeps running away from me.” Her grin was more than a little feral, “I could really go for a second
helping of Elen though, whenever you're up for it.”
Galain snorted and took a step backward.
"What makes you think you'd survive seconds?" he couldn't help but retort. He regarded Jerri intently
for a few moments, his expression a blank. Inwardly he had mixed feelings about this woman. She'd
taken the brunt of his anger in one of the most vulnerable situations two people can involve themselves
in, and she was still here, actually teasing him. He turned away for a moment and then returned his
gaze to Jerri.
"You know, if you did produce an actual Greek for Marius... it'd be worth it to see the expression on his
face." And there it was, she was the only person right now with whom he could actually half-joke with.
He was still an incredibly angry and unpredictable person, but the human had the irritating ability to
break through his guard. She was most likely just a few seconds of light in his universe, and would be
gone in an instant, but he had a feeling he'd miss her.
“I survived the first helping,” Jerri stated, smoothly snapping a tea towel at him, then sniggered evilly.
“Any expression Marius makes is worth seeing, though I must say, your 'surprised' look is far more
entertaining.”
A timer dinged and she turned away from Galain, donning an oven mitt and fishing out the scalding hot
tray. Humming to herself, the blonde grabbed a fork and scooped out a portion of the dish, blowing on
it slowly, “Come try a bite,” she offered, “Boss Elf should give his ok before it hits the tables.”
"What's in it?" Galain asked, managing a scowl now. He felt he was perfectly justified in being
cautious. He did venture into the kitchen, but he was ready to bolt at the slightest gleam in Jerri's eye.
"Is there an actual Greek in it?" 'Lain wouldn't have cared, but the elf did have certain digestive
qualms, having too often been at the wrong end of one of his dragon self's impromptu feasts. He
regarded the fork and then the young woman.
“Meat, eggplant, white sauce, that sort of thing,” Jerri said distractedly. “No cannibalism here, weirdo.”
Turning around, she offered the fork and smiled at him. “I promised, remember, I will never, ever slip
anything into your food that isn't supposed to be there ever again. Cross my heart.”
Galain crossed his arms and tilted his head as he let the scowl drift away. It was replaced with a slow,
oddly gentle smile.
"I believe you," he said. "I truly do." He paused and then teased her. "But are you sure the eggplant is
really supposed to be in there?" Nevertheless he leaned forward and took the proffered bite,
straightening as he chewed thoughtfully. He swallowed and paused a moment before he spoke again.
"I take it back. I take it all back." He reached out and took the fork and speared himself another bite of
the moussaka. "On the eggplant, I mean."
Jerri looked immensely pleased with herself, arms crossed across her torso as she watched the Elen dig
in to the food. “I thought you might,” she said with a grin.
Leaning in, she kissed him on the cheek. “Careful, your inner self is showing.” With a wink, she spun
away and strode out into the taproom. “Alright! Who ordered the Chef's Special?”
The Elen shook his head and followed after the young woman. He was frowning again as he re-entered
the taproom, although his disgruntlement was not with the displaced flight attendant from a distant blue
speck of a planet, but with himself. He was still a hell of a mess inside and he had idea how to claw his
way back to sanity.
Maybe he'd start with Jerri's moussaka.
                                                   ***
A crack of lightning crashed bright in the room, illuminating the bed in staggered flashes – casting odd
shadows across the covers. The smell of ozone was thick on the air and a chill breeze swept in off the
lake. Deep-blue sheets slithered down Y'Roden's torso as he pushed up on one elbow, then sat up more
fully, dragging heavy fingers through his short cropped hair. Odd dreams had stirred him from sleep,
and unsettled, he untangled himself from Ghet and reached for the curtains, pushing them aside as he
let one leg slide over the side.
Bare feet touched on the cool marble floor and he snagged a pair of loose black trousers from the stand
near his bed, tugging them on and drawing the string. Drawn by instinct, the S'Hean crossed the room
to the double doors of the balcony and pushed them open, letting in a buffet of wind and a smattering
of icy rain.
Brow furrowed, he stepped out onto the balcony, shoulders glistening with water in the light of another
bolt of lightning that exploded nearby. Turning his face up to the sky, Ro stopped to watch in
fascination – awed by the maelstrom building over the palace of Windemiire – a great vortex of dark
storm clouds that burgeoned with unspent power.
A storm is coming...
The words whispered through his mind as if An'Thaya had been standing at his elbow. Yet he knew she
was several floors down, sleeping restlessly in her chambers.
He had turned just slightly, about to reenter the chambers he shared with his Queen when a warning
trill of electricity ran up his spinal column. His head snapped upwards just in time to see the aethyr
charged strike bear down on him with fearsome power, driving the King to his knees. A roar of pain
exploded from his chest and he realized in that moment, this was a storm of power – of aethyr and
prophecy ... of something deep and forgotten, and it was ready to wake. He writhed in its grip, held
captive to the energy of the land that knew him intimately, to the power of the Web and all who had
ever touched it...
To something that was stirring, breaking free – rousing from a slumber ages old, and there were others
caught in its wake.
“GHET!”
Ghet was already awake, wrapping a robe around herself and pushing sleep-matted hair out of her face.
The turmoil in her soul, from her lover and from her land, had torn her from sleep that echoed
Y'Roden's restlessness.
She hit her knees, burning off most of her speed before she hit her husband, hands gripping his arms
and drawing him to her, regardless of the storm of Aethyr that arced across her skin. She braced him
despite her diminutive size, anchoring him in the here and now. "Rodi... what the Vedes is that?"
Corded muscles bunched as Ro's arms wrapped around Ghet, clutching the redhead's frame to himself
as if anchoring himself in the pitch and sway of the storm. She was small, yes, but she was the soul of
the land, his counterpart, and her presence brought balance to the raging power that crashed all around
them.
“She wakes,” he grated out. “We have to go – we'll need the Emerald and An'Thaya, there are three.” A
frown creased his brow, dark denial in jewel-like eyes, then he shook his head and it was gone. “The
caskets, Ghet.”
Ghet flinched as if she'd been struck. The D'Riel crypt was not a place she was in a hurry to hang out. It
wasn't just the pain and grief she'd felt in there, the sight of her lover so still and so solidly dead, it was
the nagging gaps in her memory too. Feel the fear... "She?" And Valin... "Thaya will be awake, I
wouldn't be surprised if she were already halfway here. We'll get the emerald on the way. Gods, if
they're already waking..." Steadying herself, drawing on strength greater than her own, she stood,
pulling him after her. The caskets were small and short on air. Time was precious.
She was right – and he was moving with her almost automatically. Fingers twined with Ghet's he ran
for the hallway, startling Ja'Kel as they burst through the doors and into the private stairwell reserved
for the royal family. Level by level was a dizzying blur of stairs and doorways until made the second
floor, taking a hard right towards the Stone Room. An'Thaya was already outside the door, relief
relaxing her features slightly when they came into view.
Ro barely managed a nod as he pushed open the door, the soft glow of the treasury lighting his chiseled
features. Callused fingers snatched the ball sized jewel from its stand and he stuffed it unceremoniously
into his shirt.
Ghet shot An'Thaya a wide-eyed look, her mind racing ahead of her even as they turned back to the
stairs and headed further down, below the palace to the catacombs. Only D'Riel men were supposed to
be able to touch the emerald. She'd been able to do it since she'd taken Ro's blood - it thought she was
male. An'Thaya could do it since she'd soul-merged with Callan, and it had kept her alive when the land
had sickened. Two massive co-incidences, events borne out of desperation, bordering on madness.
Unplanned. And yet...
She shook her head to clear it as they entered the paths she had first walked with B'Rodyn. They'd
become more familiar to her since she'd started visiting the Aethyr Well regularly, but the path to the
Casket chamber was longer and more complicated. Too long, stupidly long. "You S'Heans and your
secret passages," she muttered, humour dark. "The number of times I've had to come down here, you
could have put in an elevator."
“You wouldn't love us so much if we made anything easy,” An'Thaya quipped back as she waited for
Ro to unlock the path to the place between. She grinned briefly at Ghet as they passed into the thick
mists of a place that was neither here, nor there, following Y'Roden's unerring footsteps as he followed
a sense that went beyond sight or smell.
It took time to make their way through the fog, time that Ro was afraid they were running far too short
of. When the wall loomed suddenly above them like a dark shadow, it was met with a deep sense of
relief. “Careful,” he murmured to his two redheaded companions as they started down the moss-slick
stairwell that curved deep into the ground.
He emerged in the circular chamber, bare feet chilled by the cold marble, eyes adjusting to the glare of
the emerald caskets that were alive with energy, the occupants stirring within.
An'Thaya peered past Ghetsuhm, drawing a sharp breath as she met the eyes of the only woman to ever
have lain within a D'Riel Casket. No one knew who she was, or how she had come to be there. She was
most obviously S'Hean – but more than that was a mystery. Now she stared out at them with pale-green
eyes that shone with the power of 'sight' and delicate fingers pressed against the sealed lid. There was
no fear in her expression, however, she seemed to be merely... waiting.
“Callan is really going to be sorry he wasn't here for this,” she whispered to Ghet.
“Oh my Gods...” Y'Roden's voice snapped An'Thaya out of her reenumeration's and she looked to
where he was standing, facing the casket where he had been sealed himself not once, but twice. The
Amazon's features were marred by a sudden grimace.
“Just open it, Ro – ask questions later.”
Ghet's attention was caught by the woman as surely as An'Thaya's, and perhaps because she couldn't
bear to look at Valin. But there was something, some kind of pull, and it shocked her. She'd never really
noticed the woman on her previous visits, but looking back now, she could remember Callan asking
who she was, B'Rodyn saying no-one knew. She shivered: it was a memory she'd lost, triggered now by
this achingly beautiful face staring out at them.
With an audible whimper, she tore her eyes away and joined her husband, resting her hand in the small
of his back, channelling strength and warmth. He was going to need it. "The cute redhead is right, Rodi.
Valin needs you. Do it."
Ro shivered involuntarily beneath Ghet's touch, but his eyes remained focused on the face of his eldest
son – a countenance he had known he would never see again. He had, after all, watched Valin's body
burn on the funeral pyre – had lit the arrow himself and sent it aloft to strike the floating last-resting
place of Corin's King.
Yet there he was, confused and in pain, palms pressed against the inside of the casket – eyes
questioning as they met those of his sire.
The emerald clicked into place, the motion mechanical as Y'Roden turned it, then gripped the edges of
the lid and – with a heave of heavy-muscled arms, broke the seal. He tossed the heavy crystal carelessly
to the side and caught Valin as he fell forward, supporting his weight.
“Get the Emerald,” his tone was strained, but not from the effort of holding Valin upright. “Release
Y'Ardyn.
“I'm sorry,” he murmured aloud, “I'm so sorry Valin.”
Breathing was agony – but not so much as the burning of the broken bond. It had killed him once
before, the loss of Anaya dragging him down into death's welcome embrace. He had found peace
there...
The sound that escaped the King of Corin was soul deep, an agony from deep within. Where was the
bliss of forgetfulness? The fresh new life, and a chance to find her again...
Picking up the emerald, Ghet rubbed the tears from her eyes and ran to Y'Ardyn's casket. She'd never
met him, but Thaya and Ro had known him. So old, so long ago, and yet for her family, not history at
all.
She laid the stone in the lock and turned it. As soon as she could get her nails under the lid, she pried
the emerald back out and pushed it across the floor as hard as she could. "Thaya!"
Turning her attention immediately back to Y'Ardyn, she yanked on the heavy lid. "Push, damn you,"
she told the casket's occupant, "I can't do this by myself." Then she swore briefly and repeated herself
in S'Hean, a glimmer of ironic humour in her eyes.
A baffled expression met Ghet's denim gaze, wondering at the strange, but beautiful redhead that
appeared slightly hazy through the crystal. Then he was pushing against it, slamming the heels of his
hands into the barrier as the lack of oxygen began to tug at his lungs. The seal cracked and the lid
shifted, hitting the floor with a clank and toppling to the side.
Y'Ardyn sucked in a long gasp of air and grabbed at the edge of the tilted sarcophagus as his legs
started to go out.
An'Thaya's lithe fingers plucked the sliding emerald from the floor and slammed it home into the
depression, twisting it almost violently and digging her fingers into the edge of the coffin as it's
occupant began to push. There was an odd hissing sound as it cracked open – the sound of something
timeless meeting the air for the first time in ages uncounted.
A moment later, she found herself catching the delicately muscled frame of a woman even more
diminutive in stature than herself. The S'Hean's body trembled with her first intake of breath, and
shapely fingers lifted to stroke An'Thaya's face as they settled to the floor. Her pale gaze slid past the
Amazon's face to watch Ghetsuhm for a short space of time, and an awed smile lit her face.
“It was a success, then,” she said softly, “what was sacrificed has brought balance – it is the time of the
triad.” Dark lashes drifted closed and her golden face relaxed, chestnut curls clinging to her features as
the strange woman collapsed into a deep sleep.
Perplexed, An'Thaya stroked the stray wisps aside and frowned slightly, lifting her stunning gaze to
watch the others with a troubled look.
Ghet slipped under Y'Ardyn's shoulder, providing balance as she helped him out. She was crying
openly and silently: Valin's grief, yes, but there was something about the strange woman's words that
scared her. "They need to sleep," she said, stating the obvious out loud. Then, to her lover, "I can...
ward a room for Valin, if he would want that. It might help him sleep."
Y'Roden looked over his son's shoulder to meet his wife's gaze with a profoundly grateful expression,
nodding silently. The S'Hean had never felt so helpless in his life – this was suppose to be over, done.
Now fresh soul wounds were open and bleeding again – and a deep fear that he was going to watch his
son die all over again had chilled his blood.
For now – they had to get the three resurrected S'Heans back to Windemiire, and then, after they were
asleep, they could figure out where things were going to go next.
                                                   ***
The golden light from the alpha sun highlighted Y'Roden's silhouette against the window, the panes
shut tight against the chill breeze that remained long after the storm had dissipated. The room hummed
with peace and calm, but the S'Hean King seemed oblivious to it. Facing away from the bed where his
sleeping son lay, he stared out through the wet glass where rose petals clung precariously as the sun
began to dry them away.
Ghet sat next to Valin's bed, watching his face. Her dress was white, unusual for her, but she needed to
maintain some degree of detachment. She was steady, calm and compassionate, comforting father and
sleeping son. "We should send to Alcarinque," she said, "and tell Summerlin. She... she'd help." Valin's
mother had resisted his wish to die with her whole heart, where Ro and Ghet herself had completely
supported it. Sum could perhaps talk to him in a way they could not.
Y'Roden's head turned, shadowed between the light of the sun and the dark room. He didn't speak at
first, as if it was taking time for Ghet's words to penetrate his whirling mind. The S'Hean blinked
slowly, then nodded. “You're probably right – she has to be told no matter the outcome.”
Turning towards the bed he crossed the room and stepped through the half-open curtains to look down
at Valin. He didn't look the way he had just before he had faded away into death – he was youthful once
again, the lines of grief and the grey in his hair gone as if they had never existed. The dead bondmark
over his heart throbbed painfully every now and again, still searching for the woman who had given it
life.
“Why would Chezlar do this?” To Ro, his own voice sounded like it belonged to someone else – raspy
with pain and rough with emotion. “Valin made his choice, he had that right.”
Ghet reached out for her husband's hand. "I don't know, love," she said, a trace of frustration in her
voice. "I really can't imagine what would be worth... But it's Chez. There will be a reason, even if we
can't see it." She raised her hands and dropped them, leaning back in her seat wearily. "Something very
big is happening. It may be that Valin is only a tiny part of that, and when have the Fates ever shown
any consideration for our feelings?"
“Truer words were never spoken.” The voice that spoke was tri-toned, layers of harmony in bass, alto
and tenor that came from everywhere all at once, yet only a single source. The Changeling stepped out
of the shadows near the end of the bed, towering over and dwarfing the King of S'Hea – who was of
imposing stature.
“Chezlar Khor,” Y'Roden said, somehow unsurprised.
“Y'Roden D'Riel,” the Messenger responded, bowing his head slightly in acknowledgment. The
movement sent waves of ebony hair slithering over his broad shoulders, the silken mass hanging nearly
to his waist. Dark wings were folded back out of the way, and liquid-gold eyes turned to regard the
Queen of S'Hean with fond recognition. “Ghetsuhm Riker, it is good to see you both again.”
Despite the circumstances, Ghet's smile was full of genuine warmth. "Dagar, Chez. We were just
talking about you, were your ears burning?" She gave the Changeling a wry smile. "The last time I
asked you for answers, you were spectacularly unforthcoming. I don't suppose..." She shook her head.
Despite her frustration, she understood his position and never blamed him. "Is there anything you can
do?"
Chezlar's smile was enigmatic, much like the rest of him, but it faded away to his general, stoic
expression. “Yes,” he said simply, though at first it was hard to tell which question he was answering.
He looked pointedly at Y'Roden. “If you will permit it.”
The S'Hean hesitated, looking at his wife, then the Changeling with indecision plain on his features. It
wasn't often that he paused before taking action, but recent years had taught him that it was sometimes
wise to slow down and consider the consequences.
The final judgment was based on the fact that he had no real reason not to trust Chezlar. He had, after
all, kept Ghetsuhm safe and given her a place to think when she had faced the most difficult, agonizing
decision of her life.
Ro nodded, short, but deliberate, and stepped towards Ghet and out of the Changeling's way. Emerald
gems followed the hulking, eight-foot Changeling as he moved with easy grace to Valin's side and
leaned over him, impossibly large fingers coming to rest over the Corinian King's heart.
“What a Goddess bound together, let now be unraveled. You are released from your promises, Valin
D'Riel – though you do not ask, for you are needed here in ways you cannot yet comprehend.”
Y'Roden's fingers found Ghet's, squeezing slightly as he listened to Chezlar's musical intonations. The
S'Hean's brow was furrowed, his mouth set oddly as he watched the golden glow of the Messenger's
fingers fade and withdraw – leaving Valin's chest bare, the eternity symbol gone.
Dark eyelashes lifted slowly, eyes the colour of the deepest emerald regarding Chezlar Khor without
recognition. The gaze shifted to Y'Roden and Ghet, a slightly bewildered light in their depths before
they closed again.
“His eyes,” Y'Roden murmured, feeling slightly unsettled, “they've gone D'Riel Green...”
Ghet rubbed a hand across her face, pushing a weight of tears from her lashes. "You people and the
eyes," she said, the strain in her voice belying the words. Obviously she'd been going to say more, and
lost heart, her head dropping. "There's always hope, I know. I found another life, he could too."
Large fingers gently squeezed Ghet's and brought them up to his face, mouth brushing across the back
of her knuckles. Internally, the core of Ro's soul emulated the action, brushing against flames. She was
right, as usual, and it brought a certain comfort.
Chezlar turned towards them both and inclined his head. “It is done – though he will not thank me for
it, not right away at least. Give him time.”
“Then I will thank you for him,” Ro said. “You have given me back my son, and though I don't
understand the reasons and grieve for his pain, I am grateful.”
                                                  ***
An'Thaya blew at a stubborn lock of deep-flame hair that keep falling into her almond-shaped eyes, the
curl bouncing tauntingly in front of one emerald-hued gem. Tossing her head, she growled slightly in
frustration as it merely bounced back again. Hands full of scrolls and memory crystals, she made the
top of the stairs and trotted down the hallway, S'Hean skirts swirling around lightly muscled legs.
A crystal slipped from her fingers and bounced across the glossy marble and the Amazon slid to a
squeaking, bare-foot stop. For a moment, she simply glared at the offending object, then turned as
movement down the hall caught her attention.
“Rhagi!” she called in a tone full of both affection and relief, “could you give me a hand L'dynai?”
Rhagi turned, smiling when he saw his aunt. "Sure." He picked up the crystal off the floor and then
reached out towards her. "I can take some of that. Where are you going?"
Gratefully, the redhead turned over some of the burden to her nephew. “My goodness you've sprouted
up,” she noted, “not that I'm unused to having to look up.” Her smile was open and warm, an
expression reserved for family. “It's a bit of a surprise, where I'm going. I'm not sure how much your
parents have told you yet – if anything at all, there hasn't really been time.”
Tilting her head she regarded the young elf with a assessing expression. “How would you like to meet
your great-uncle Y'Ardyn?”
Rhagi blushed. People kept telling him he was tall, which he already knew. He was much bigger than
he felt he should be, and he kept bumping into things. "I knew Valin had come back," he said
uncertainly, "but everybody was busy and upset, so I just didn't ask. Y'Ardyn?" Rhagi knew his family
tree well, which was a kind of survival skill with the D'Riels. "B'Rodyn's father?" Puzzlement was
followed by the sort of bland acceptance with which he took most things. "Alright. Do you know why
they're back? Addah was cagey enough when he died and Mum brought him back, I figure they're not
going to explain this."
An'Thaya frowned momentarily. “Yes... Valin,” she said, a slight hint of distraction in her voice.
Emerald gems focused on Rhagi's face again, and the smile returned. “Yes, B'Rodyn's father, though I
haven't had the chance to tell him yet. That he has resurrected that is, I'm fairly sure he already knows
who his father is.” Humour sparkled in her expression and she made a motion with her head that
beckoned her nephew to follow.
“I'm not sure, to tell you the Gods honest truth. I has something to do with the woman who woke. We
still don't know who she is, much less what she woke for. We'll find out soon enough though, she has
been sleeping. So has Y'Ardyn, but if I know my Doro – which I do, he'll be mowing us down to catch
up on what has happened since he died. I thought I'd come prepared.”
They had come to the doorway to An'Thaya's chambers by then, she'd brought Y'Ardyn there to keep
an eye over him whilst he slept. Pushing into the room she led the way through the outer chamber and
turned away from her own private rooms, taking a smaller corridor that led to the guest rooms.
“Here we are,” she announced quietly, placing her armload of materials on a small table near the bed.
“Just put everything down here, we can sort through it later.”
Laying his armload down on the table, Rhagi wore the small frown that meant he was thinking. His
voice was low to match An'Thaya's as he spoke, a burr-edged tenor. "How long has it been? B'Rodyn
wasn't king for very long, was he? By S'Hean standards? Still." The smile on his face showed a wicked
humour only his family ever saw. "Things seem to happen awfully quickly since Addah took over."
“A little over two-thousand years,” An'Thaya answered, an answering smile on her face. “Your Addah
tends to make things happen – and generally gets what he wants. He is also a magnet for trouble.”
“Yes, yes he is,” Y'Ardyn said from where he lay on the bed, eyes still closed in feigned sleep. “But
you, if I remember right, aren't much better, An'Thaya.”
Tay froze for a moment, her eyes shimmering with bottled up emotion. Turning towards the bed she
padded over to the side of it and settled on the mattress. “Welcome back to the world of the living,
Doro,” she said warmly, leaning in to kiss his cheek. “You've been missed, terribly.”
Emerald eyes cracked open and regarded the redheaded female with undisguised affection. “I have,
have I? I seem to remember being called several names by a certain Amazon that hinted I just might not
want to come back, should I ever find myself on the wrong side of a casket.” Turning his head, the ex-
monarch looked at Rhagi with open curiosity. “So this is Y'Roden's son then? I can hear him in the
boy's voice.”
“Yes, well, you can be relatively impossible sometimes, you know. And yes, this is Rhagi. Rhagi, this
is your great uncle Y'Ardyn.”
Shyly, Rhagi moved closer to the bed, the combination of curiosity and caution making him look like a
very large fawn. "Dagar, Doro Y'Ardyn. I'm one of Y'Roden's sons, he has quite a lot of them."
Y'Ardyn's smile was engaging, and he reached up to grasp Rhagi's wrist – a greeting, and a symbol of
respect from one man to another. “Dagar, Rhagi D'Riel – you look much like your father... and yet...
Who is your mother, lad?”
“You've already met her,” An'Thaya laughed, “the Queen of course.”
“Ah, that striking little thing that helped me out of my coffin? Fine taste in women, my nephew.” He
winked at Rhagi. “Why don't you bring some of those crystals over here, and you can tell me
everything I have missed over the years.” His gaze shifted to the Amazon again. “Starting with where
my son and sister are – and what you have been up to. Did you ever marry that elf of yours?”
Tay nodded encouragement to Rhagi, then smiled at her uncle – a little sad behind her eyes. “Patience,
Doro – you have two thousand years to catch up on, its going to take awhile.”
Rhagi repressed a wry grimace at the mention of his mother's looks, and did as he was bid, sitting next
to the bed and passing some of the crystals across to his uncle. "B'Rodyn and Gwen'Enor... wow, that's
complicated." He shot a look at Thaya, unsure how to explain. He'd just been concentrating on not
talking about Galain. "They died when I was small. But then they came back when Addah died, and
when he came back, they went to live in Danna-Riel, on the other side of the world." He smiled
cautiously. "Mum says in her family their traditions are just things like Christmas treasure hunts and
military service."
“Died?” Y'Ardyn looked from Rhagi to An'Thaya, “How did that happen?”
“Tallin,” Tay explained without elaborating. “They are fine now, and so is your grandson – that is the
important thing.” She smiled and met Rhagi's gaze with a grateful warmth – the last thing she wanted
to do at this moment was explain her overly complicated love life.
“Huh – well, I suppose you're right,” Y'Ardyn muttered, accepting the crystals from Rhagi and eying
both half-elves a little suspiciously. He was clever enough to know when he was being hedged around a
topic. “What is a Christmas?” he asked, allowing himself to be diverted. “And just how many brothers
do you have?”
Rhagi frowned slightly, trying to remember. "I'm not sure. What a Christmas is. There are presents and
my Mum says when she was little they used to hide them and make the children hunt them because
they didn't have much and they needed to make it fun. It's like a birthday for everyone."
The other question made him think too, because he hadn't actualy added it all up for a few years and the
answer had changed. "I have two little brothers, Den'Ayat and R'Avyel. Then on Addah's side there's
Valin and Y'Roce and Imoreki, and Fechine and B'Roden. That's with an e not a y. On Mum's side
there's Marius. And there's Aarien and Si'Lyen and Drysi and Yseult as well, but they're girls. At this
point people usually swear. Then Dera Thaya can tell you how many children she has, and you can do it
again."
Y'Ardyn laughed. “That is astounding, and wonderful. Children are a marvelous gift. I always wished I
had more than just the one, though B'Rodyn was enough to stop my heart a few times all on his own.”
He looked expectantly at An'Thaya then. “Well?”
“Eighteen,” she confessed. “And a few godchildren.”
“Incredible, sounds like your brother has some catching up to do.”
The Amazon exploded into a cascade of uncharacteristic giggles and shook her head. “I think he may
be finished, but you never know. Now, turn on that crystal and we can go over the changes Y'Roden has
made since he took the throne – we wouldn't want you to be caught off guard, now would we.”
                                                  ***
Lord W'Cren frowned deeply to himself as he entered the room where his wife had been summoned in
the middle of the night with not much more information than 'she had awoken'. The 'she' seemed a bit
of a mystery, though Pe'Ris had his suspicions. All of the noble families new of the Place Between and
the caskets there – they were aware of the mystery woman who had slept through the ages, undisturbed
and unknown.
To have her wake now, and to have brought two other lost souls back with her was something that
disturbed Pe'Ris greatly. It was momentous – and nothing big ever happened without life changing
consequences. Lord W'Cren wasn't fond of change. S'Hean elves as a people didn't welcome it openly.
They were an ancient race, and a long lived one. They had a tendency to become set in their patterns
and any disturbance was generally unwelcome.
Tugging the bed curtain aside, Perry stepped into the cocoon of diffused light and looked for the first
time on the resurrected S'Hean woman. Struck momentarily speechless, he stared openly at her.
Long, curly chestnut locks fanned out across the pillow and sheets and her delicately muscled frame
was relaxed in a deep sleep. She was extraordinarily beautiful, even for a S'Hean, with elegant, features
that were gold touched, but dusky High, wide set cheekbones gave her an exotic look, accentuated by a
series of pale-green gemstones that seemed inlaid on her skin, scatted through one canted eyebrow and
curving along the upturned edge of her down and down across one cheek. Her mouth possessed a
sensual appeal – but more than that, it was the face of a strong, confident woman, one of power.
“Will she be alright?” he asked Am'Elle, turning dark-green eyes on his wife.
“Yes,” came the soft reply from where the Healer was sitting on the edge of the bed. “It may take some
time to readjust, but once she does she’ll be alright.” Am’Elle looked from Pe’Ris back down to the
woman. “I’m most concerned about her lungs.”
“Her lungs?”Distracted, Perry wasn't thinking very clearly. He was a proficient Healer himself, but
didn't actively practice anymore. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he automatically reached for Am'Elle's
hand, though his gaze was fixed curiously on it's occupant.
Hiding an amused smile she slipped her hand into her husband’s. “Being in the casket for so long to
breathing in oxygen could cause them to strain, especially when it comes to any kind of activities.”
Dark hair shifted over her shoulders as she studied the woman. “Otherwise I think she will recover as
normally as anyone under her circumstances.”
Am’Elle tilted her head as she studied the petite S’Hean woman. “I can’t help but wonder what is going
to happen.”
“Oh, yes, that would be a strain.” Pe'Ris turned his head and gave his wife a wry smile. “Sorry, I'm a
little distracted.”
“W'Crens,” another voice broke into the conversation, “always talking.” The woman in the bed had
opened her eyes and was looking directly at the Gamel's profile. “I'd recognize those features
anywhere, you are a W'Cren – yes?”
Startled, Pe'Ris turned to look at her. “I... yes, I am. Pe'Ris W'Cren, High Lord of the Healer Caste.”
“Fetch me something to drink, Pe'Ris W'Cren, High Lord of the Healer Caste. It has been far too long
since I have tasted a glass of Mai'Tus.”
Mint greens sparkled with amusement and the Healer subtly nodded in the direction of a tray. Am’Elle
returned her attention to the woman. “Would you like some help sitting up? I imagine you’d like a
chance to get a grasp on things before others start pouring in.”
Pe'Ris looked a little disgruntled, but he moved towards the tray anyway. Mai'Tus juice sparkled rich
and purple in the glass as the S'Hean male poured, then returned to the bedside as An'Telya was assisted
into a sitting position.
She accepted the glass with a graceful gesture and drank deeply before speaking again. “I,” she said,
“am An'Telya Al'Teron, Queen of S'Hea and Prophetess to the S'Hean people. I wish to see what is left
of my line.”
“Al'Teron?” Pe'Ris asked in surprise. “You are descended from the S'Hean line of Kings, then?”
“Line of Kings?” An'Telya laughed richly, a warm sound that filled the room and infused it with her
amusement. “Have you all strayed so far from your history then? The Al'Terons are a line of Queens,
my dear – we are... were, a Matriarchy. Much has been sacrifice to preserve the connection to the land,
and the balance must be restored. Bring to me what Al'Terons remain and the line of Surging Souls who
are our hope.”
For once in his life, Gamel W'Cren looked completely pole-axed. “Matriarchy?”
Am’Elle remained quiet, hands clasped in front of her as she listened, willing to step back and let
Pe’Ris handle the matter. It did look like it would take a few moments first though.
An'Telya's pale gaze shifted to Am'Elle and she smiled at the healer. “Sometimes it takes them a few
minutes to catch up,” she said dryly. “You are a lovely woman – you have the look of someone with
Ra'Meh blood. Oh look, he is back with us now.”
Pe'Ris expression turned dark with irritation for a moment and he straightened. “I will go inform the
King of you request,” he said gruffly.
“Thank you dear,” An'Telya said with a smile, “I'll stay here with who I assume is your lovely wife, she
can catch me up on modern times a little.” She watched as the Lord turned and brushed through the
curtains, then subsided back onto the bed. “I see that bloodline hasn't changed any,” she murmured,
“now tell me, Healer – how well do you love your current King? Has the Sword of Peace lived up to
his name?”
She waited until her husband was gone before she laughed. “Pe’Ris has his faults, but his redeeming
qualities that make up for them.”
Am’Elle smiled, “He is a good King who cares about his people. He does do things differently from the
others, but his decisions reflect the events that have cropped up during his reign.” The Healer thought
as she scooted a chair closer to the other woman’s bed. “I believe he has lived up to his name in
different aspects. Many obstacles have been set in his path and he has overcome them, but he is also
still young.”
“Youth,” An'Telya murmured, a far away look in her eye, “is probably his greatest weapon. The
memory of those who have not lived too many years is all the clearer.” The depths of her gaze slowly
returned to the present and her face filled with warmth. “It is heartening to know that which was seen
so long ago has come to pass. Now, I think I will rest again until your Pe'Ris returns.”
The Healer nodded and settled into her chair. Determined to continue her watch over the unusual living,
breathing, piece of history that was her patient.
                                                   ***
The tips of the SandShadow's fingers were light on his wife's waist as Reece guided Summerlin around
a corner in the Palace of Windemiire, following closely on Ja'Kel's heels. Outwardly the human seemed
calm and unruffled, but there was worry deep in the core of him. When Y'Roden summoned Sum, it
was rarely for something good. Si'Lyen was fine, he was sure of that, he kept tabs on her – the twins,
well, both Ro and Sum had turned their backs on B'Ryan and B'Ryen long ago, but gods only knew
what the pair had got up to. What else could it be?
Ebony eyes flickered to Sum's willowy profile, watching the play of her strawberry-blonde locks down
the graceful line of her spine and the look in her sea-greens as she walked. The Elen Elder was a
woman of calm poise and stunning beauty, a pillar of strength in a fragile casing. Reece's fingers
tightened and flexed, rustling the material of her delicate dress.
“Their Majesties are waiting for you in here,” Ja'Kel said, breaking through the SandShadow's
thoughts. The S'Hean Hyem-Sirke gripped the handles on a pair of double doors and swung them
inwards. “Her Highness Summerlin Alcarin Nightfall and the Captain of Alcarinque's Royal Guard,
Reece Nightfall,” he announced, then bowed to the King and Queen of S'Hea.
Ghet turned shadowed eyes from her husband and smiled, warmth flooding her face at the sight of her
former sister-in-law. "Summerlin, love, it's so good to see you. Thank you, Ja'Kel, we'll be fine now."
It was one of life's little miracles that Ghet's relationship with Summerlin had never suffered through
the men whose lives they'd shared. In truly Ghetly fashion, she put this down entirely to Summerlin's
beautiful, generous nature. Her affection for the other woman didn't begin to extend to Reece. She
didn't like him, but he made Summerlin happy, and that was enough for her.
Still... she returned her gaze to Y'Roden, knowing it was his place. Valin had been a first child for both
his parents, and there was a significance to the first that never faded.
Y'Roden waited for Ja'Kel to leave the room, then met Reece's dark eyes with a look that two men who
understand the heart of one woman sometimes share. There was a deep respect between the two, and a
certain amount of gratitude on Ro's side. Without a word, he told the other man to be prepared, that
Summerlin was going to need his support to get through the shock she was about to experience.
“Reece,” he greeted calmly, then turned to the mother of several of his children. “Summerlin.”
Summerlin smiled warmly at Ghetsuhm, her expression echoing the other woman's spoken sentiment.
It was always wonderful to see the S'Hean queen and she would have moved forward to hug her, but
there was a distinct formality to this particular meeting that had her staying where she was and turning
her head to give Y'Roden another warm smile, but this time one fine eyebrow was arched. She'd
received his summons with no small amount of curiosity and during the walk through the palace had
been turning over various questions and concerns, much as her husband had been doing.
"Y'Roden, Ghetsuhm, it's wonderful to see you both again," she said. There was something to
Y'Roden's body language and tone though that had her reaching blindly for Reece's hand. "Of course I
can't help but wonder at your invitation. I don't see any tea at hand." It was a small attempt on her part
to break a strange and growing sensation of worry.
Y'Roden's mouth curved slightly, though it didn't quite make it all the way to a smile. “We really
should invite the two of you over for a few social engagements,” he said dryly. “It would take the edge
off these little meetings.” He turned away from the window he had been standing near and moved
closer to Ghet, his expression torn – not having the faintest idea how to broach the topic at hand.
“Chezlar has been keeping secrets again,” he said finally. “He did something -- and I really don't know
how to tell you...”
“Why don't you let me then, Addah,” another voice interrupted.
Y'Roden froze, then turned to look behind him into the opened doorway that led to the chambers where
Valin had been sleeping. The Corinian King was awake and had made his way all the way to them all
on his own, his muscled frame braced on one forearm that leaned heavily on the door frame. His eyes –
still the startling D'Riel emerald they had not been when he died, were focused on Summerlin and a
ghost of a smile was fighting its way through.
Dressed only in trousers, other changes were apparent as well. The loss of his bondmark leaving the
elf's chest bare – and his abdomen seemed achingly empty without the dark scales that had once
smattered across it.
Any further banter had been immediately cancelled out by the unexpected voice that filled Summerlin's
ears. She turned, wheeling hard to face the owner of that voice. A puzzled expression had crossed her
face and she squeezed Reece's hand harder than she might have normally.
"Valin?" her voice was faint as she tried to reconcile what she was seeing and hearing with what she
believed and remembered. The eyes of a frantic, disbelieving and yet hopeful mother scanned Valin's
form, noting the differences. Summerwind awoke within the Elen and gave out a silent keen of
renewed grief and Summerlin herself stepped forward, her hand slowly releasing Reece's. The
bondmark was gone, the eyes... what had happened to his eyes? she wondered, disconcerted to see
emerald where the sea had once been. But it was still her son and he was standing right there and...
"Valin!" was all she could say and found herself standing before him, afraid to embrace what might just
be a ghost and yet she couldn't keep her hands still. They traced delicately about his face, not quite
touching.
"You know," she said in a strangely frank but disjointed voice. "You're spinning."
Valin smiled then, though it seemed to be a difficult expression for him to muster. There was a hollow,
consuming sadness about him that only eased slightly as he gathered his mother with the arm he wasn't
supporting himself with and drew her close. “Sulit, A'ma,” he murmured in Elen, turning his face into
the familiar scent of her strawberry curls. “Nes mejas?”
Reece, for all his fortitude, ducked his head and shoved a thumb and forefinger through watery lashes.
His expression was still one of disbelief as his ebony eyes lifted to Ghet, then to Y'Roden with a
million unasked questions.
"Sulit, yono," she replied, trying to make the world stop spinning. She laughed, confused, delighted and
puzzled. "N'mej," she said, closing her eyes and then reopening them before she shifted her weight
herself. "My gods, Valin. Nes mejas" she asked in return. Surely her son couldn't have just died and
resurrected and... she reached a hand up to brush at her son's hair, a line between her eyes emphasizing
the questions she had as she stared into the changed eyes of her son. What had happened? She needed
to know and knew she should ask, but she couldn't, not quite yet.
“I'm alright,” Valin answered, “as alright as can be expected. I'm alive, I'm breathing – that's about all I
can manage right now.” He sighed into Summerlin's hair and looked up at Reece. “The rest – the rest I
can't think about, I'd rather be a little unrealistic right now, if that is ok with everyone.”
"As would we all," Summerlin responded quietly. It was odd... she had railed against his death, had
fought against losing his soul so entirely as Elen souls went. It hadn't quite occured to her that his
S'Hean heritage could bring him right back. But, she thought, at what price? His eyes were not the eyes
she'd looked into so often as she'd raised her son. The marks that had made him who he was, his
Alcarin Dragon and his marriage... gone.
"I've missed you -- wondered where you've been," she said. "I can't help but wonder now what's
happened and how you are." She stopped and turned to look at Y'Roden, Ghetsuhm and Reece. "How?"
she asked.
Ghet shook her head, a look of bemused helplessness on her face. "We don't know. It wasn't just him,
Y'Ardyn too, and… another woman, who was in a casket. But at least they were in the caskets to start
with. Valin… is a very peculiar miracle."
“I'm just blaming Chez,” Y'Roden added. “Not that I'm not profoundly grateful to him, but he does
have a tendency to be insidiously sneaky.” He squeezed Ghet's hand and smiled at her, “Oddly, that
isn't the first time Valin has been called that.”
“Valin,” Valin said, “really needs to lay back down now.”
                                                   ***
Y'Ardyn turned slightly on the balcony when the doors swung open within the inner chamber. His
brilliant eyes focused through the change of light and lit upon his only son. The expression on the ex-
monarch's features did not shift, and he turned back to contemplation of the waterfalls.
B'Rodyn's spine stiffened, then forcibly relaxed. Crossing the room, he stepped out on the balcony until
he stopped at his sire's side, a mere inch in height's difference separating them – the son slightly taller
than the father.
“So you finally decided to crack your seal,” B'Ro said quietly. “I thought you would hide in there
forever.”
“What is a King who can't be a King?” Y'Ardyn answered with an easy shrug. “Your mother was not
easily replaced, but I didn't love her enough to follow into the final death. Without a Queen I could not
hold my throne – better a frozen death than just step aside.” Rough fingers reached up to rub a pale
design of contrast in the other wise tanned, golden skin of his bicep – the place where a S'Hean
Wedding cuff had once been. The elf turned his head, finally, regarding B'Rodyn coolly.
“You lost your throne, boy.”
“I didn't lose it,” B'Rodyn replied quietly. “That implies a certain amount of incompetence. I was run
through with a sword in what seemed, at the time, a rather permanent fashion. I died with my Queen, a
noble way to end a reign, if you ask me.”
Wrapping his fingers over the rail B'Rodyn squeezed slightly, then met his father's gaze. “Don't worry,
old man, I've stopped judging you for decisions I would have done differently myself. I matured after
your death and took a different path, perhaps, than you would have chosen for me. I am happy with
where I am in life now. Y'Roden is the proper King for S'Hea – I don't fit that niche anymore, and
neither do you.”
“I didn't claim to,” Y'Ardyn murmured, his expression softening finally. “I don't covet the S'Hean
throne, not anymore – and I didn't back then either. I just couldn't bear being alone, but something in
me knew that the final death wasn't the right choice for me either. Not like it was, apparently, for my
sister.”
His demeanor seemed shaken then, naked pain reflected in gem-like eyes. Y'Ardyn had loved his sister
deeply, and it had been one of the most difficult choices of his life to give her over to a human King. It
was a decision he had regretted often over the centuries as he watched Se'Liene's family suffer in ways
that went beyond the comprehension of most.
He disliked Derwin Modar, the flame-haired human who had stolen his sister's heart. He could not hate
his children though, for they were of Se'Liene as well. Y'Roden looked the most like her, but An'Thaya
– she had Se'Liene's indomitable spirit. It was the Amazon's courage that had saved them all, and
Y'Ardyn found himself deeply troubled by the evasiveness she had displayed during their earlier
conversation.
“Perhaps you will be more forthright with me” he said. “Your cousin is hiding things from me.”
“My cousin has good reason. Her life hasn't been easy. You were right in your assessment of the Elen I
suppose, but she doesn't need to hear that. And if you know what is good for you, you won't say
anything derogatory about him in front of Y'Roden's Queen either. An'Thaya is happily married to a
friend of S'Hea now. The Black Emperor of the Diirlathe, Callan Blackthorn. That, Addah, is all you
need to know.”
Y'Ardyn's brow furrowed as he attempted to make sense of what B'Rodyn wasn't saying. “I...”
“Just don't, Addah. The firestorm has only just died down after too many years and wounds need time
to heal. Poking at them now will only make them break open and bleed. Everyone seems to be where
they belong now, leave it at that.”
The elder S'Hean snapped his jaw shut, then sighed. Several seconds passed by as he simply watched
his son's profile. “So, I'm told I have a grandson?”
“Aye,” B'Rodyn smiled then, relieved to be on a topic that brought more cheer. “I brought him with me,
I had a feeling you would want to meet my De'Lan, he is six years old now.”
Y'Ardyn openly grinned then, “Aethyr's child, that's a good, strong name. Aye, aye I would very much
like to meet him.”
                                                   ***
Faelwen glanced up at her husband as they approached the door and slipped her hand into his. She was
both intrigued and a little puzzled by their summons, and was hoping that a little more explanation
might be forthcoming in the near future. Everything seemed to be happening with surprising swiftness
and that hadn't left much opportunity for detailed explanations of what was going on. The way she felt
at the moment, she had the feeling it might take Rem'Sero awhile - possibly using small words and
speaking slowly.
Rem smiled down at Fael and gave her hand a gentle squeeze as Ja'Kel opened the door, admitting
them to the room. Ghet and Ro were just ahead of them, entering a sitting room where An'Telya was
propped comfortably up in a chaise lounge. The S'Hean Gamel bowed respectfully to his Tyrne and
Tyrah, pale-green eyes sliding curiously to the strange woman repeatedly.
Ro nodded to Rem and smiled at Faelwen before turning his attention back to Ghet, guiding his wife to
a couch that was set directly across from where their new guest was seated.
Ghetsuhm's grip on her husband's hand was tight with agitation, an intense nervous energy she couldn't
explain even to herself. An'Telya disconcerted her, and it wasn't just the woman's phenomenal, regal
beauty. She was queen, the ur-Queen, and next to her Ghet felt utterly inadequate. On top of that, there
seemed to be a purpose in her coming here that gave the newer S'Hean Queen the chills.
An'Telya's gaze was slightly unfocused, her pale eyes drawn towards the open doors of the chamber.
“This place was only in planning stages in my time,” she said in a distracted tone. “I would like to see
it from the outside soon. This valley was naught but grass and waterfalls – and the entrance to the
sacred places. The S'Hea I ruled was a simpler one, symbiotic with the oldest of trees.”
Her gaze returned to the present and slid across the walls. “We have strayed from our roots in leaps and
bounds.” Luminescent green eyes settled on Ghetsuhm. “In many ways and yet – perhaps not so far as
one would think. You are not of this place, Ghetsuhm Riker D'Riel – and yet, you are more a part of it
than any Tyrah has been for ages gone by.”
Faelwen sat quietly by her husband. Cobalt-blue eyes went first to the stranger and then to Ghetsuhm.
She smiled slightly at her friend, recognising the tension in her even if she didn't understand the reason
for it. She then turned back to the other woman as she spoke. She was clearly S'Hean, and a former
ruler if what she was saying was true, but one from the past - perhaps even the distant past. Faelwen
would be one of the first to admit that her knowledge of her new home was far from perfect, but she
had seen nothing to indicate that the palace and its grounds was not of some age. If this woman
remembered the area before it was built, how long ago must it be since she was Queen - and why had
she returned now?
Ghet shifted uneasily, uncomfortable with the scrutiny and the necessity of being honest in front of an
audience. "Aye," she said quietly, her gaze turned inward. "It was not a path I was born to, or one I
sought. But in the end, I chose it, and it chose me. I don't think I could bear to live without it now, how
it feels. To be so connected and so loved and so necessary..." She shivered, and lifted her head, demin
blue eyes meeting bright emerald honestly. "You must miss it very much."
The S'Hean's eyelashes lowered as she inclined her head. “Yes, one cannot help but mourn such a deep
connection. My time, however, ended somewhere back in the mists of time.”
Bare feet slid from the chaise and she stood, crossing the room with a slow, careful gait. The smile that
shone down on Ghetsuhm was full of warmth, but it was Y'Roden she approached, cupping his face
with tiny hands. “My ultimate descendant.” Delicate thumbs brushed over Ro's cheekbones and pale-
green met deep-emerald. “You are as strong and tempered as your name, your mate chosen impeccably.
Tell me, how many sisters do you have, Sword of Peace?”
The S'Hean King met An'Telya's gaze steadily, despite how deeply his wife was affected by her. “Two.
An'Thaya and B'Elya.”
“And they are both mated?”
“Aye.”
“Then the portents were correct. The time of the double triad has come.” Leaning in close to Ro's ear,
she lowered her voice, eyes glowing softly. “The dyrewolves are at your gate, my Tyrne. Hold tightly to
what is yours, or it may slip through your fingers.”
Ghet shifted uneasily at Y'Roden's side. Normally, there was no better way to get on her good side than
to compliment her husband, but there was something almost proprietal about this she didn't like. She
was forcing herself to keep her temper. "Portents have never seemed to work out very well for me and
mine. People keep dying. And I've just never been terribly comfortable with being fated. I don't
suppose you could be just a little more forthcoming?"
An'Telya lifted her head slightly, looking directly into Ghetsuhm's eyes. “No more so than the Lord of
Time,” she admitted. “I see only flashes – glimpses, metaphors and riddles. I speak what truth I see,
and no more. I am an instrument of the Fates, y'Tyrah – as are we all.”
Y'Roden's gaze was dark as the ancient Queen moved away from them, and he turned to look at his
wife with a troubled expression. His grip on her hand tightened almost painfully and strands of his core
tangled tight with dancing flames. He was shaken, not visibly perhaps, but on a level Ghet could
plainly see.
Ghet returned her husband's look, her unhappiness obvious on her face. Ghet had patience with Chez
because she understood the rules with him, what he could and couldn't do and say, and above all she
trusted him. None of that applied to An'Telya.
She laid her free hand over Y'Roden's, her soul spreading heat through his. "We'll manage, love.
Whatever it is, we'll manage it together."
“A male Al'Teron,” An'Telya said in a quiet voice, having moved on to the other couple in the room.
She gripped Rem'Sero's chin and tilted his head up, examining his features. “The line of Queens died
out – as it was foretold they would. The gift has become weak – sporadic. It lives on in An'Thaya
D'Riel,but it is not what it once was.
How many children have you sired, Rem'Sero Al'Teron – son of Queens.”
Rem's features were softly curious as he met An'Telya's gaze, slightly awed to be staring history in the
face. Here was his ultimate grandmother in the flesh, a link that tied the D'Riels and Al'Terons whose
veins pounded with the power of her blood.
“Two,” he answered finally, “ a son, whose mother is dead, and a daughter with my wife.”
An'Telya's gaze went abruptly to Faelwen, her pale eyes sparking. “You bore an Al'Teron daughter?”
The blonde, who had been prepared to sit quietly and listen to the others talk, blinked. "Yes," she said,
after the barest of hesitations. Her tone of quiet respect and dignity, the one she automatically used in
'court' matters, warmed with the love and pride of the new mother. An unconscious smile touched her
face.
"Her name is Aurewen. It means day maiden in my native language, Aarataurean. She's three months
old."
The S'Hean's expression filled with warmth, the mutual understanding of one mother for another.
An'Telya's daughter – her sons, they were all dead now, reborn, but she could never forget what it was
like to be a mother. The awe and wonder of bringing another life into the world and watching it
flourish.
“I would very much like to meet her,” An'Telya said in a more gentle tone, “soon.”
Cobalt eyes met pale green. Faelwen nodded. "You would be more than welcome."
She glanced across at her husband. "I am sure that Rem has much he would like to ask you too - when
you are have time to talk, of course."
                                                    ***
"B'Roden." Drysi appeared in the doorway and held up a strange-looking object at arms-length. "What
exactly is this and, perhaps more importantly, why was it in my bag?" The raven-haired girl, who had
been unpacking after her return from Aerdon, eyed her younger brother in a suspicious manner. If it
smelled unpleasant, had a nasty tendency to explode, or was otherwise less than desirable to be around,
then in her experience it almost always had something to do with B'Roden.
She tossed the whatever-it-was in his direction. "It smells like rotten fish."
“That's 'cause it is a rotten fish,” B'Roden informed her tartly, deftly ducking the flying object and
watching it smack into a book shelf. “At least, it was until Coalan and I ... well, never mind.”
“Disgusting,” Yse muttered in distaste. The platinum blonde shook her head, then grinned at her sister
across the room. “It was in your bag? Really?”
"Really." Her twin grimaced. "Everything stinks." She gave B'Roden a narrow-eyed look. "Were you
trying to smuggle it out or something?"
A stifled laugh interrupted her and she spun around. Emerald eyes widened fractionally. "Fechine?" she
said in disbelief.
In some ways her older brother seemed hardly to have changed at all. There was the same gem-like
emerald eyes, the same dishevelled chestnut hair that looked as though he had been dragged through a
hedge backwards seconds after he'd brushed it. But there were changes too. His lanky frame had begun
to fill out so that he looked more like their father than ever, and there was a hint of wary hesitation in
his vivid gaze that reminded her of a wild creature when surprised in the forest.
With a cry of delight, she ran forward to hug him. His soft laughter sounded in her ear as his arms
closed about her.
"Dagar, little bit." A crooked grin slashed across his face as he took half a step back to get a better look
at her. "Although not so little now, I see," he teased, studying the sister who was now only a couple of
inches shorter than he was.
“Actually I'd misplaced it,” B'Roden answered whilst grinning hesitantly at his brother. He didn't know
Fechine well, B'Ro had only been five when his elder sibling had left for the Crystal Keep and had
rarely seen him since. Now, six years later, he was open – but unsure of what to say.
“Fechine!” Yse knocked B'Roden out of the way and plowed into Drysi's back, squishing her into
Fechine as she hugged them both with exuberance. Drysi's squeak of protest was muffled against his
shoulder.
"I can't breathe," she gasped.
Fechine's laughter was more open and relaxed as he attempted to juggle the twins so that he could hug
his other sister, the sound more like that of the boy he had been before his abduction by Samara. "It's
good to see you too, Yse. Could you let up though? I think Drysi's going blue."
His arm around the platinum-haired twin's waist, his emerald eyes met those of his younger brother. He
smiled ruefully, recognising the boy's hesitancy and understanding the reasons for it. It wasn't as if he
himself hadn't been certain what to expect when he returned here.
"Dagar, B'Roden," he said quietly. He released Drysi enough to hold out a hand to his brother.
“It's alright, B'Ro,” Yse laughed as B'Roden hesitated. “He doesn't bite... not hard anyway.”
The younger D'Riel shot an annoyed look at her, but seemed to relax. Stepping forward, he grasped
Fechine by the wrist. “Dagar, Fechine. Welcome home.”
Rhagi stood behind the group, drawn by the noise and now uncertain if he should intrude. This was a
family, and one it had been made clear too many times he was not a part of. He remembered Fechine
with warmth, but it was the regard of a boy for an older brother, not the friendship of equals. Still, it
was time to start building again. "Dagar, Fechine."
Fechine clasped B'Roden's wrist and then grinned, and ruffled the younger boy's hair. "I missed you
all," he said honestly. His smile was genuine as he held his hand out to Rhagi, including him in that
statement. It was coming home to him just how much he had missed during his time at the Crystal
Keep. Time seemed to have flown by and so much had changed as a result. Windemiire had seemed
unchanging and unchangeable to him when he was younger - an eternal monument to the S'Hean race
and their kings. Now he was older he could see that that wasn't the case at all. There were subtle
changes, things he did not remember from before. Whether that was genuine or just a different
perspective, he couldn't yet tell for certain, but it added an awkwardness that he wasn't sure how to deal
with.
"Have any of you seen Addah around today?" he asked. "I probably ought to let him know I'm back.
Not that he won't already know, I guess, but for the sake of politeness." The crooked smile showed
again, but a hint of wariness flickered through his eyes as he spoke. Of all of his family, it was his
father that he was most uncertain about meeting. Before he began his studies with Arminiea their
relationship had been rocky to say the least and, whilst Y'Roden had since told him that he was proud
of him, the number of their meetings had been few and far between. His siblings he understood how to
approach, but his father... Fechine mentally shook his head. That was another matter entirely.
Yse put a companionable arm around Rhagi's shoulders and leaned on her little brother, eyes sparkling
with mirth as they focused somewhere beyond Fechine's broad shoulder. “No – no idea where Addah
might be,” she grinned.
A callused hand settled on the same shoulder the young elf was looking over and squeezed
affectionately. “Dagar, Ceren,” Y'Roden's deep baritone rumbled through the room, seeming to fill it
with warmth and affection.
Fechine's head shot up, and he half-turned, unconsciously poised somewhere between standing his
ground and flight. Drysi studied him thoughtfully, seeing again the resemblance to a wild creature that
she had noticed before. She squeezed her older brother's hand reassuringly, and then slipped away,
leaving him to face their father.
"Addah." He gave a self-conscious laugh and ran a hand through his chestnut hair. "I really thought I
was better at paying attention to my surroundings than that." His smile was oddly hesitant, shy.
"Dagar."
Y'Roden grinned openly, an easy, welcoming expression. “I was sneaking up on people millenia before
you were born, I wouldn't take it personally.” Emerald-hued eyes hadn't missed his son's initial reaction
and there was a glint of self-recriminating pain somewhere in their depths – an 'if only' that would
never go away. The fingers of his left hand touched briefly on the amulet that lay against his chest,
knuckles going white as he squeeze the edges of it -- as if crushing it might grind it's occupant into
non-existence and undo the past.
Then he was drawing Fechine into a bear-hug, clapping him on the back and wondering at how tall he
had grown, how the boy had filled out into the man he would become. “I've missed you,” he said
gruffly, “we've all missed you.”
"I've missed all of you too. I don't think I had realised how much until I got here. I guess I got used to
the quiet, after awhile." He met the older man's gaze squarely, slightly shocked to be able to look
straight into his eyes. The Tyrne was larger than life in more ways than one, and was his Addah to boot.
It seemed strange to realise that they were actually now the same height.
Fechine gave a wry smile. "I bet you never expected to hear me say that."
“That you got use to the quiet?” Ro asked with a hint of merriment, “or that you missed us?”
“Addah quit teasing him,” Yse admonished from the background. “He only just got home.”
Behind her husband, Ghet was smiling, a quiet deep happiness about her. Whatever lay ahead of them
now, the pain she knew was coming but couldn't see, it had been time for Fechine to come home. He
had grown so much since she last saw him. "Quiet is something we never have very much of. And the
palace will be bursting at the seams soon. It's very good to see you again, Fechine."
Fechine looked over at her. "D'Anke," he said quietly. "It's good to see you too." He had always liked
the petite redhead.
"I understand I have more brothers to meet too. You'll have to introduce me." His lips quirked into a
half-smile. "Is the nursery still as mad as it used to be? Beth always had her hands full before."
Ghet laughed warmly. "If there's one thing Beth's got, it's job security. All the way from you to
Den'Ayat and somehow she's still marginally sane. I'm sure R'Av and Den will be delighted to meet
their big brother. Watch out for R'Avyen, he bites. I don't know why people say it's the quiet ones you
have to look out for, do you?"
He cast an amused glance at Drysi and Rhagi. "Personally, I've always thought that it's just that the
quiet ones sneak up on you. The loud ones are so much more upfront about their tendency to bite."
                                                   ***
Imoreki tugged at the end of his multi-coloured braid and twined it around his finger as he followed his
older brother into the rooms they'd been directed to by Ja'Kel. The summons had been a surprise, it had
been a long time since their father had called all the D'Riel siblings in to one place for any reason that
Ki could recall, and he had to wonder what the occasion was.
Shooting a look at Y'Roce, he shrugged. “Any theories?”
“Don’t say it…” Shadow warned in amusement, holding a finger up at Ja’Kel. She was certain the
ranger delighted in putting titles where they didn’t belong, but then again, she was determined most
people liked putting titles where they didn’t belong.
Scooting on passed she headed into the directed room, “Maybe they want to see just how long we can
all stay in one room before we start repelling away from each other.” Winking at Y’Roce, she
instinctively ruffled Ki’s hair in pure older sibling annoyance.
Y'Roce had just shrugged at Ki about to make a comment when Shadow passed them tousling Ki. The
playful gesture made a wry quirky smile tug at his lips before he added. “As good a theory as any so
far, good to see you Shadow.” The now oldest son or so he’d thought to date since the loss of his older
brother, winked back. “Do you think they’re placing bets on how long it will take?”
Y'Roce looked around the room as more of his siblings arrived it was good to see them and odd as well
given the summons. He smiled at those across the room and hoped this was not bad news they’d been
called here to receive.
Rhagi was near his sisters, as usual and keeping quiet. He was never comfortable with knowing more
than they did and not being sure how much he could say. He erred on the side of saying very little, and
felt bad about it. It was amazing how long you could go with something just never quite coming up in
conversation.
At least this time it looked like they'd all be on the same page soon enough. It was clear, too, from the
grouping, that he and Drysi and Yseult were considered to be among the adult children now, and that
was something in which he could take reassurance. He liked Y'Ardyn, too, and he'd enjoyed seeing his
aunt laughing, so maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
Yse snagged B'Roden by the tip of his pointed ear, giving it a sharp tweak and putting a stop to any
smart comments he was about to spew. He had a mischievous look about him, likely brought on by the
excitement of so many siblings in the same room. With a teasing smile of her own, she waved at Roc
and Ki across the room and grinned at Shadow.
Ki went cross eyed and elbowed his adopted sister in the ribs. “Brat,” he accused affectionately.
An unavoidable squeak escaped her and she elbowed back. “Stop that, you’re giving B’Roden ideas
and he has enough of them already.” She was still trying to get over the latest ones that her sons had
inherited.
Shadow returned Yse’s grin before replying to Y’Roce. “Probably.” Despite her jovial nature and
teasing, she’d learned that when there were family meetings it meant something was happening and not
always for the good, it was a fact she was willing to hide.
Drysi tucked her arm through Rhagi's, her emerald eyes shrewd, but patient. "You're thinking too hard,"
she murmured in his ear, but she didn't ask any questions. If he wanted to talk about it, he would.
Slightly to one side of the others, Fechine just watched and listened. So many people in one room at the
same time was rather overwhelming after the quiet of the Crystal Keep, and not even the odd trip to
Arlsyn or Aerdon had truly prepared him for the noise and confusion of having most of his siblings
together like this. The feeling was almost claustrophobic, and he had to fight the impression that the
walls were closing in on him.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. He could do this, he told himself. He
had managed to get past that initial awkwardness of greeting his Addah. He could do this too. He
couldn't help wishing Meghan had been able to be here though. It would have been easier with her by
his side.
Roc elbowed Imoreki when he spotted who he thought was Fechine. “Ki, is that Fechine? I thought he
was still at the Crystal Keep? He’s definitely changed a lot. What news could be so monumental to
bring Fechine home? Even so it is good to see him again. Shall we go let him know he’s welcomed
home?” Y’Roce waited for Ki to come with him.
Sil beat Y'Roce and Imoreki to Fechine's side although she didn't immediately say anything. Instead
she stood there and watched him, smiling shyly as she waited for him to open to her eyes. It was quite
something to see all these siblings together one place, and easier to focus on one at a time. Curiosity
over the particular why of this gathering was rampant in the young woman's mind, but she had decided
that all would be revealed in due time and she had no control over that.
“I think you should let him get use to being around more than just a couple of people before you
suffocate him with questions.” Shadow commented, frowning at Y’Roce before finding a chair to sit
crookedly in and wait.
Fechine's lashes lifted as he felt the presence of someone beside him. He gave the strawberry-blonde
standing there a crooked half-smile. "Dagar, Sil." He held out his hand.
"Hello, Fechine," Si'Lyen said softly, pleased by Fechine's half smile. She caught his hands with both of
her hand and squeezed gently. She didn't think anything more needed to be said although she did lean
in and hug him close before turning to regard the roomful of siblings. "Good grief we've got a crew
here," she said, chuckling. "A motley crew if truth be told."
Y'Roden pressed his fingers against the door and pushed it open slightly, watching his older children in
the room beyond. A pensive expression had settled over the S'Hean's features and it was only softened
slightly by the sight of his offspring. The half-elf sighed, shoulders rolling into a relaxed state. “Any
last minute advice on how to handle this?” he asked his wife.
Ghet grimaced, and shrugged. "Oh, you know. Just push right on through that 'how in hell do I start' bit
before the anticipation drives them all completely bugshit. You make the charge, and I'll bring up your
rear." She demonstrated. "Ready? Because it doesn't matter."
The half-elf choked back a laugh, then barged through the door without giving it too much thought. He
paused for just a moment, quietly amazed yet again by the personalities in the room. His children were
a source of never ending pride and joy – each for their own reasons, and being their father was one of
the greatest privileges he had.
“Welcome home,” he said, the expression on his face shifting into a warm smile. “It's wonderful to
have you all in the same room for once.” His arm went instinctively around Ghet's waist, an
subconscious gesture that presented them as a united, parental front. “There is some news I need to
share with all of you.”
The King's eyes settled on his eldest daughter, for whom some of this would mean so much.
“There was an awakening – several, in fact. The unknown female has risen. She brought your Great
Doro Y'Ardyn with her... and someone unexpected.” His gaze held on Si'Lyen's.
“Valin is with us again.”
Sil's chuckle had settled into a pleased smile when her father and Ghetsuhm stepped into the room, but
the expression on her face now was one of surprise, disbelieve and hope. She met her father's gaze and
tried to speak. When words failed her completely she ran to her father and then suddenly stopped,
hovering awkwardly, peeking over Y'Roden's shoulder.
"Where is he? How is he? Really? When?" The words finally spilled out, the only thing registering on
her mind at the moment was that Valin was alive again and she was aching to see him. She told herself
to calm down and then gave both Y'Roden and Ghetsuhm a long, searching look. "Great Doro Y'Ardyn
and who else?" she asked, trying to focus and failing miserably.
Y’Roce’s jaw dropped and a few heartbeats passed before he’d managed to close it again. Roc glanced
at Ki for a moment. His eyes had to be reflecting a multitude of varying emotions and thoughts as his
eyes then sought those of his father. He had been at the funeral had seen the pyre ignite and then burn
away. Of all the possibly bits of news he could have speculated over this was the furthest from his
mind. Still the thought of having Valin back again and so rightly on the throne in Corin made his eyes
twinkle with anticipation and joy.
He wanted more than anything to charge up to his father and embrace him in that moment of joy and
revelation. But he held back to allow the younger ones the chance to deluge the Tyrne with all their
questions first, sure that many of his own would be answered in the sure to be ensuing mayhem.
“Well I'll be buggered,” Imoreki muttered. “Leave it to Valin to cause a ruckus, even posthumously.”
Ghet reached out and placed a hand on Sil's arm comfortingly. "Valin is alive," she said gently. It
needed time and repetition to sink in. "And Y'Ardyn, and a woman called An'Telya, one of the old
queens. Valin is still very tired, but I'm sure he'll want to see you. Your mother is here, too." Her smile
was gently amused. "But all this might be a bit much for him perhaps."
Ro smiled and leaned forward to kiss Sil on the forehead, then looked up to face the rest of his
offspring. “Ghet is right, he can't handle too many visitors at the moment. I know you all have a lot of
questions – and I'll answer them, but Valin needs to rest.” His focus returned to Si'Lyen and he nodded
to the open door he and Ghetsuhm and emerged from. “You go ahead, he has been asking for you.”
Si'Lyen felt like she was going to explode -- her mother was here too? She flashed a bright smile at
both her father and Ghetsuhm and then drew herself up and smoothed invisible wrinkles out of her
dress.
"Thank you," she said, suddenly very calm although excitement sparkled in her eyes. She threw a quick
look back toward the others and then headed through the door toward her brother.
Yse shot an open mouthed look at her twin, then grabbed B'Roden more firmly by the ear. “Oh no you
don't,” she admonished. “You stay here, and do what Addah says.”
B'Roden shot a dark look at his sister, but subsided and crossed his arms indignantly over his chest. His
eyes fell on Rhagi and suddenly lit with suspicion. “You might have said something,” he whispered,
then yelped as Yse cuffed him up the side of the head.
“He knows when to keep his mouth shut, unlike some people.”
Rhagi shifted uneasily. "What makes you think..." Hells. Like most lahaya, Rhagi was no actor. He
appreciated Yse's support, but he still felt kind of guilty. "I didn't want to spoil the surprise for you,
B'Ro. And I really only just found out not long ago." Oh, stop talking. If he blathered too much Yse
would know he was hiding something - or Drysi would.
Drysi squeezed Rhagi's fingers. "It's okay," she said softly. "We understand. You weren't keeping the
secret to be mean. Have you had the chance to see any of them yet? Do you know if Valin's alright?"
Shadow couldn’t help but grin. She wasn’t too certain about who Y’Ardyn was, but she was just as
happy as anyone else about Valin’s return, be it unexpected or not.
"I guess so," Rhagi told Drysi. "Mum wouldn't have said he was alright if he wasn't." There it was
again, that twinge of guilt. "And I met Y'Ardyn. I ran into An'Thaya when she was going to see him
and she took me with her. He seems kind of cool."
“You're forgiven,” B'Roden said begrudgingly, then sighed and gazed off towards the door where
Si'Lyen had disappeared. “I guess it'll be awhile before we get to see him.” His green gaze slid to Rhagi
then and he grinned. “Maybe I'll go track An'Thaya down instead.”
                                                    ***
Ghet lay on her stomach on the grass by the lakeshore, watching her daughter drawing on the pad that
lay in front of them. "And this is the Hunter, see?" Aarien said, sketching in the last couple of stars.
"There's his head, and here's the bow, here are his legs… A'pa says these ones over here are his talking
tiger, but I think he's making that up."
"Well, that's part of your A'pa's charm, love," Ghet said, pushing back her Aarien's long red-gold hair so
she could see properly. "You never quite know when he's shitting you." Something about the way her
daughter had drawn the stars as they actually looked in the sky, rather than pointy, had intrigued Ghet,
and she started leafing back through the pad. She'd been practising S'Hean runes, that was good...
"Aarien, did you draw this?"
"Mmm?" The girl leaned over, hair spilling across the page again. "Of course I did. It's Ramudi."
"Yes, I can see that." Ghet flicked a 'take notice' glance at Y'Roden. Apparently Galain's daughter had
inherited his artistic talent. She was pretty sure a typical eight year old's drawing of a horse didn't look
like this; like a particular actual horse, with the suggestion of strength and weight and movement.
"That's incredible."
The S'Hean rolled off of his back, from where he had been studying the cloud shapes in the sky –
though his mind had been drifting from one topic to another. Listening to Ghet and Aarien was
particularly soothing for him – he loved the little girl as his own and there was a quality about mother
and daughter conversing that was engaging.
Leaning over his stepdaughter Ro tilted his head to regard the drawing, his eyebrows lifting slightly.
“Your mother is right,” he said in a impressed tone, “that is very well done, Aarien. You have a good
grasp on lines of form and shading.”
"It's just drawing," Aarien said. She was bemused, but also pleased: in such a crowd of children, it was
good to be able to stand out. Her two homes were so different: in Alcarinque, she was showered with
attention but had no-one to play with. In Nenlante, she was never short of people, but got less parental
attention. It all balanced out, but the transitions could be a strain.
Done with study, the young Elen bounced to her feet. "Can I go see her now? Ramudi?"
Ghet smiled indulgently. "You know you can't ride her while she's in foal." It wasn't strictly true: the
Obsidian mare was probably sturdy enough to cope with Aarien's slight weight regardless, but it was
her first foal, and Losse's too, and Ghet wasn't taking any chances. Her daughter was still at an age
where she could be a bit rough without intending it.
"I know, I just want to talk to her."
The girl was halfway across the grass before her mother had finished saying yes. Watching her go, Ghet
shook her head. "She is so beautiful, sometimes it scares me. Look at her. She's going to be tall and
slim and fair, like her A'tira Summerlin. She'll stand out like a sore thumb round here, I'd have to beat
the Rangers off her with a stick should I want to stop that kind of thing."
She laid her head in Ro's lap and sighed. "It's not that I love her more than the boys, it's just different.
Because she's a girl. I didn't understand that before, even when she was little. But I see her running
across there with those ridiculously long legs and all that gorgeous hair and it does something to my
heart." She smiled up at him, glad of the break from the worries and irritations that kept nagging at her.
"I meant it, you know. One of our own, one day."
The half-elf canted his head to the side and shifted his weight onto one hand, using the fingers of the
other to gently stroke Ghetsuhm's jawline. “It is different,” he agreed, “my daughters have always held
a special place, especially Si'Lyen – and including Aarien.” Emerald greens dance with self-inflicted
amusement. “I don't care who her biological father is, I can easily forget she isn't mine.”
The smile, though, that reveal a lot – a secret desire. “That doesn't stop me from wanting one of our
own though,” he added softly. “Some day. Just like her mother. No matter how much that particular
thought might terrify you.” He frowned suddenly. “Come to think of it, none of my daughters resemble
me much in any fashion. It's that strange?”
Ghet laughed softly, her expression warm. She was deeply grateful for Ro's affection for Aarien, just as
she had been over the love between Galain and Rhagi. "What, you were after a pack of daughters who
look like front row forwards? I'm not going to complain about some less broad shoulders. Actually,
given the way your family's genes work, I'm surprised none of your daughters look like your sisters."
Not unusually, her mouth had been running slightly forward of her thoughts, and she hadn't spotted the
pothole til she fell in it, her face clouding over. She went quiet, but Ghet's uneasiness was plain on her
face. She was a mess of unfinished thoughts and feelings she wasn't proud of. Finally, she sighed. "I'm
sorry. It's not fair of me. I just... really don't like An'Telya. She makes me feel so utterly bloody useless,
and then... Skrun, the idea that I'm here because someone set something in motion so long ago... that all
those coincidences, all those furkgen choices that I made, everything we went through was just to
conform to someone else's skagging plan and it can all be delivered with a serene smile and the
pronouncement that I've been 'impeccably chosen'... actually makes me want to punch somebody."
Ro laughed. “Yes, females are a great deal smaller – there are some small mercies.” He canted his head
slightly. “I'm not sure why that is either, they all take after their mothers. Maybe its only the Y gene that
is dominant? I have no idea, I'm no geneticist.”
His expression changed, listening quietly to his wife's concerns. “I never think about it, I guess. I grew
up being told I had a destiny – it's just an accepted part of S'Hean culture. We know our gods on a fairly
personal basis and understand that our choices are our own to make, but that there is always a thread of
fate woven into our lives. I could have chosen differently, but the right choices just happened to
coincide with what the Fates wanted of me. The same applies to you, you could have chosen any other
path -- you just happened to choose the one that they wanted for you.”
The smile revealed his dimples. “I happen to think I have impeccable taste – so I have to agree with her
there, you can punch me if you like.”
Lying on her back wasn't a great position for brawling, but she had a fairly clear route to his throat, so
she threw the punch anyway. "Feh, your taste in women has been decidedly erratic over the years and
you know it. Stop being so skrunning reasonable. Do you think I could? I could actually have made
other choices and ended up somewhere different instead of just taking another path to the same place?
Really? Because I'm starting to not think so."
Ro coughed obligingly and rubbed at his Adam's apple. “I'd like to think,” he said after a moment, “that
you followed this path because you are insanely in love with me, and would have ended up here no
matter the path just for that reason. I'd like to think it has nothing to do with destiny or fate – but I think
they purposefully make these things enjoyable just to fool us into thinking that. But, who really cares
about why, what matters is how we feel, and what we are together. The Fates can just get stuffed on the
rest of it.”
Ghet's smile was half-hearted, pain lurking behind her eyes. "I stay with you because I'm insanely in
love with you. The choice was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life: don't diminish it." Her
abiding love for her ex-husband was something Y'Roden was just going to have to bear, as Galain had
always know she loved her Rodi. "I'm happy now, you know that, and more... complete than I've ever
been. And I look back along my life and there isn't a thing I could change that wouldn't mean giving up
something I couldn't stand to lose. I want to be here, with you, for the rest of my life. At least. But the
things I gave up, the price other people had to pay..." She shrugged, and rubbed her head against his
lap. "I need my illusion of free will. Destiny doesn't comfort me, it just makes me absolutely bloody
furious. I guess I'm not as S'Hean as we thought."
Ro frowned and brushed a thumb across Ghet's cheekbone. “I'd never cheapen your pain, Lisse
Nwalme, you know that. Don't misunderstand me, I believe in free will as strongly as you do. I have to.
I make a choice every day and it is perfectly clear to me, especially now, that I could easily have gone
either way. I've chosen love and light, I could have gone against fate and been... perfectly self-justified
in what I became.”
He went quiet for a long moment, turning his head to look out over the lake. “I also won't pretend that
I'm not happy about the choice you made, no matter how deeply it hurt Galain. I can feel for him, I
really can – I know how that feels, I don't envy him. I know how much you still love him, and I'm
grateful every day that you chose to be here with me – and prepared to do just about anything to keep
you here, but never against your will. That is a choice as well, letting you go was the big difference
between being who I am, and who I could have been. You had to come to me of your own free will –
for both of our sakes.”
Ghet's mood was as fluid as the move she made, sitting up and sliding her arms around her husband's
neck. Her face was damp against his shoulder. "Thank you. Rodi... the way I feel about you is too real
to have been arranged for anything. What I've found here has been... is just incredible, and I'm so
scared of losing it."
She smiled wryly. "Do you remember, in the caverns under Silver Dragon Ridge, when you told me
how B'Rodyn made you feel, as a king? That's how An'Telya makes me feel. She's everything a S'Hean
queen should be. S'Hean, for a start. And apparently, an Al'Teron. Me, I'm just a human child; young,
inexperienced, gauche... totally inadequate. I know it's stupid." She slid a hand inside his shirt,
savouring the touch of him. "Do you think you could take a moment to make me feel... adequate?"
“S'Hea is changing.” Ro said quietly, “She always knows what it is she wants, and what she wants is
you, Ghet. You are her, as much as An'Telya ever was. Her time is long past – you are the present, and
everything a S'Hean Queen should be now. An'Telya said it herself, balance has been achieved.”
The half-elf's emerald gaze flared with heat and he slid rough fingers into Ghet's sun-warmed hair.
“You, my Ghettie, have always been more than adequate in everything you have ever done.” The
King's mouth found his Queen's as he lowered her back into the soft grass near the water's edge.
"I can't sew." Ghet's voice in his head was warm with amusement. "Just thought you should know. I'd
hate you to be disappointed." Then she subsided into the grass under his touch, letting the raw heat of
his mouth drown all her doubts.
                                                   ***
The crystalline blue walls of Windemiire shimmered, merging almost seamlessly with the waterfalls
around it. It gave Fechine the eerie sensation of being suspended in mid-air. Standing on top of the
balustrade that surrounded the balcony outside his room, he looked down into the lake far below. A
damp breeze ruffled his hair.
It was good to be back; good, and yet odd. He was definitely out of practice with the whole being
around people thing, and one thing the palace had never been short of was people. With the distance
gained from several years away, he wondered where they all came from. He had never thought about it
before. They were just there, in much the same way as the lake or the palace themselves were just
there.
Tilting his head back, the suns warmed his face and the breeze brought the lush, green scent of the
wilds. A laugh escaped him, and he looked down at the lake again, wondering what it would be like to
just let himself fall. Unbeknownst to him, that had become a typically Badb Catha thought in recent
times. Some part of him yearned for the freedom of the air, the cool touch of water on his skin, and the
rough feel of tree bark beneath his hands and feet. He held out his hand and let the wind caress it.
"I know it must be nice to get out in the open air," Ghet said, amused, "but that looks like a bit much.
I'd hate to have to explain it to your father if you came home only to plummet to your doom. I did
knock, I hope I'm not interrupting."
She came up to join him at the balcony rail, impressed all over again by how much taller than her he
was now. "You look so much like your father now, love. I suppose you've been getting that a lot. He's
so happy to have you home. You know, don't you Fechine, you are always welcome here? Not just put
up with. This is your home, no matter what happens."
"Addah should have nerves of steel after all the flying lessons he's witnessed," Fechine said with a grin.
He bounced down off the railing to land beside her. "I'd be okay as long as I didn't knock myself out. I
can't shift if I'm unconscious. It's why Ammah used to get concerned about Drysi head-butting trees all
the time."
He leaned back against the balustrade, his expression growing pensive. "It is home, and yet it's not. I
can't quite decide whether it's that I've got lots of homes now or none." He laughed and shook his head.
"Don't worry," he said to the redhead. "I'm not unhappy. I'm just - working out where I fit in now.
There's been a lot of changes over the last few years."
Ghet nodded, her mood quietening with his. "There have, for all of us. We've all been picked up and
shaken round by things we can't control, and it's disconcerting. It's not comfortable, but at your age I
think you should be a bit unsettled. You've long out-grown the nursery, and you can't just automatically
belong where your parents are. As long as you know no doors are shut."
Her eyes dropped to her hands, where she was twisting her emerald ring on her finger. "So... it's okay,
being with Arminiea?"
"Most of the time." He shrugged. "I think in some ways, what you find there is what you take with you
- even if you don't know it in the beginning. You heard me tell Addah it was quiet, and it is. I mean
there's only me, Meg and Arminiea there most of the time. It's a fairly extensive curriculum, but
nobody can study all the time. It leaves a lot of time to think. Too much time sometimes, or at least I
found it that way - particularly in the beginning. Meg has to take a lot of credit for the fact that I'm
relatively sane now. I came really close to disappearing up my own backside. If it hadn't been for her, I
probably would have done."
Ghet sighed, her shoulders dropping. "I had rather hoped you'd be a bit more positive. Not just for your
own sake, but for Rhagi's. I have my misgivings about sending him, especially because of the
loneliness. But Y'Roden... Well. We don't exactly see eye to eye on it. Rhagi needs people, like I do. I
don't... I don't really know what to do."
"Ah." Fechine nodded as if something had suddenly made sense. "I see." He fell silent for a moment.
"Addah can be quite big on tradition at times, I think. So can Dera An'Thaya. And they're not always
the most... flexible of people. I respect them both a great deal, but I can't deny that there haven't been
times when I've gotten frustrated by the fact that once Addah in particular gets an idea into his head, it
can be incredibly hard to change it. It's his idea, so it must be right. Even getting him to listen to other
opinions at times can be tough. He can be right there in front of me, and I swear he's not actually
hearing what I'm saying." Emerald eyes flicked to Ghet. "And yes, that is basically how our big bust up
happened. Two people, both as stubborn as one another."
He shrugged. "I'm not perfect, but yeah... anyway... the whole tradition thing. I don't for one moment
believe he doesn't want what's best for us. He loves us, and I know that. But if something is the way the
D'Riels have always done something, then obviously that is the way it must be done in the future too.
"If you want my honest opinion, then I believe that what matters here is what Rhagi wants. If he goes
to the Crystal Keep, then he should do so because he wants to do so. It has to be his choice. Arminiea
hasn't been cruel or anything, but it is an isolated spot, and there have been times when it's felt like a
prison - and I made the choice to go. How much worse would it be to sent there under duress, however
well meaning.
"On the plus side, if Rhagi does choose to go, he'd probably get a kick out of what he was being taught.
He's smart, and he's certainly more academically inclined than I have ever been. He'd probably learn a
lot - if he was willing."
Fechine paused. "Perhaps it would be different when Rhagi went anyway, less lonely. There's not just
him, Drysi and Yse who are about the same age, but also Melian, Elerina, the Quads, even Eos and
Ami. Technically I guess any of them could go any time between now and the next one hundred years.
Arminiea could have quite a crowd on her hands if they all went at once. But I still believe the
voluntary choice is the most important thing. I think all of them need to decide for themselves when, or
even if, they should go - and that they shouldn't be made to feel that it's their duty as a D'Riel to go
when the time isn't right."
Ghet nodded, a wryly amused smile half-hidden. "Aye, I think if he goes at the same time as Drysi and
Yseult, he'll be alright. And Rhagi has your father's sense of loyalty. If it's left up to him, he'll go,
because he knows it's what Y'Roden wants, and it's easier. Duty... Ro asks far more of himself than he
will ever ask of any of you. And I know that's different, because it's his choice, but I don't think in the
end he would ever force any of you. I mean, gods, you're right. Your father can be absolutely bloody-
minded and stubborn. He's been through some absolute hell and that strength of will is the only thing
that's held him together."
She sighed, which turned into a chuckle. "And that's why I wanted to talk to you about it, of course.
Because I needed an unbiased opinion. In many ways Arminiea saved your father, helped make him
what he is. He's understandably grateful. I should be grateful for that too, but I'm not. Or at least it
balances out against what she did to An'Thaya and Galain."
Ghet laid a hand gently on Fechine's arm. "Honey... I don't want to sound all old and preachy, but I was
yelling at your father before you were born. It doesn't do much good. I've been taught to project so it
doesn't even make my throat sore. And he's reduced me to tears and walked away without a flicker
because he thought it was the right thing to do. That doesn't mean he doesn't hurt, and he does. But if
you can ground your argument in reason and stick to it, if you can present him with a workable
solution, he does listen. Sometimes he needs time to take it all in. And you know, sometimes I'm
wrong. But he's learning to take into account how people feel about things... oh dear, how do I say
this?"
Her blue eyes flashed, honesty and a degree of challenge. "When he was bonded to your mother, she
was a big part of him. Not just of his life, but of him. Now he's bonded to me. I'm not talking about
right or wrong or better or worse, but you may well find him different now. He was under a great deal
of stress when the two of you had your... falling out. He's more at peace now. For now. Because if he
were ever to do anything as out of character as forcing one of the children to do something they didn't
want to, I'd kick his arse through the top of his skull and he knows it."
His hand covered hers. "I know," he said. "You're protective of those you care about. In a weird kind of
way you have that in common with Ammah, for all that you're very different personalities in other
ways. If that was an indirect way of checking out how I feel about the way things are now though, then
you don't have to be concerned. I had occasion to go to Aerdon with Meg not that long ago, and I talked
to Ammah a bit whilst I was there. She's happy. She fits there with Daemon. I doesn't take a genius to
see the same is true of you and Addah here too."
He smiled. "I'm glad for all of you. Really. I won't deny that things were painful for a time, but I think
things are getting better now. The dust seems to be settling."
Ghet smiled, her face lighting with humour. "Fechine, love, I'm hardly ever indirect. I said it because
it's true. But I'm glad you're at peace with it. I'm also glad your mother is happy, believe it or not. I've
been doing as much as I can to sort out the knots of the past so we can all go forward. I'm not going to
force happy families where it doesn't work, but I've been surprised how often it does. I've even
managed to make peace with Shadow."
She took a deep breath, looking out across the lake for a moment, centering herself. "Anyway. Thank
you. I do feel better for this. I'm over-protective of Rhagi, of all my children, and I know that, so it's
hard to tell if I'm worrying about nothing or not."
"You're their Ammah," he said simply. "Of course you worry about them. I think it goes in the job
description. On the plus side, Rhagi seems quite a level-headed soul. You're probably going to get far
more grey hairs from Aarien and R'Av." His introduction to his youngest siblings earlier had been both
eye-opening and entertaining.
Laughing, Ghet shook her head, heavy hair falling across her face. "Oh, gods, Aarien. I should have
known, if I wanted to terrify both Galain and Y'Roden at the same time, all I needed to do was have a
daughter. She's quite something, isn't she? More specifically, she's me. I have no idea what I did to
deserve that. And R'Av... I swear, there is nothing that boy won't shove up his nose."
"It's karma," he said, his expression just a little wicked. "And R'Av's just a D'Riel. You should hear
folks holding forth about some of the things I did when I was younger. If I wasn't trying to crack my
head open on fountains in Corin, I was sliding around on the ice at the Dragon Inn." He paused.
"Although that last one was fun, and way more interesting than anything as boring as a wedding at that
age." He laughed.
                                                   ***
A shower of flower petals blew in on the breeze, coating everyone disembarking from the airship with
silky little bits that caught in clothing and hair. Vanyalin paused on the airdock and shook out her mass
of copper-red hair to dislodge them, emerald eyes sparkling with mirth as they met the sea-green of her
older sister, Mena. The taller elf laughed and just let them stay in her strawberry locks, but reached
over to tousle Ruan's, knocking the petals loose.
Melian watched them with a rueful smile on his face. At seventeen he was growing quickly and just
falling into step again with the world outside Alcarinque. He had moved to the keep just over a year
past, beginning lessons with his mother on how to use his flowering D'Riel conduit. He was curious, as
were the rest of them, as to why they had been called here. His gaze focused on the approach of two
more siblings, more children of An'Thaya – Anelain and Culaelin, as they made their way down the
dock towards them.
It wasn’t the first time she had been to S’Hea, she came to visit her mother and brothers, but it was her
first time to be on an airship. Robin’s crystal greens watched as the flower petals drifted through the air
and on instinct she said, “Cal, stop swinging from that. Tay’La?” Robin asked, looking around for her
younger adopted sister. Robin was pretty sure she’d already seen Th’Rax run down the plank; at least
she hoped she did.
“Here!” Tay'La piped up. The six year old dragon peeked at Robin around the legs of a S'Hean
runemaster and grinned. Dark wings flapped madly for a moment, then settled in place as she ducked
out from behind him and dashed towards the plank, hot on the trail of her twin brother Rax.
Steren laughed and shook her head as she stepped up onto the gunwale and plucked Cal'Lanth off a
rope before jumping down beside Robin – nearly falling over under the weight of the ten year old.
“A sister’s work is never done,” Robin joked, grabbing onto Steren to try and help keep her from going
over. “Why do you think we get stuck with winged sibling duty?” She wasn’t actually complaining, she
enjoyed every minute of it. It had offered something familiar at a time when nothing was, even if the
people were.
"I could answer that, but I won't," Cadan said. He was directly behind Steren and Robin and smirking.
"Careful," Mak cautioned his half-brother. He himself had ended up with Cal-duty more than once, not
that he truly minded. He looked around as he too stepped off the airship, finding the brief shower of
flower petals to somehow be propitious -- and beautiful. He caught the eyes of other brothers and
sisters, and wondered at this gathering. There was Glory and the quadruplets were completed by
Kerensa who was near at hand. Elerina was present as well and it hit Mak suddenly that he had an
awful lot of siblings, many of whom he never saw, like Eos who kept to herself for the most part. She
was an absolute stranger to him and he felt odd.
Steren grinned and Robin, then turned to shove Cal at into her redheaded brother's arms. “Fine, you can
take him.” It was all poetic justice really, that Cal'Lanth bit Cadan's fingers in the process.
"Hey! Wait! Ow!" he exclaimed, but naturally he received little to no sympathy from the others.
An'Thaya emerged from the gardens and paused, smiling to herself as she watched the mob of children
– all of them belonging to her. Not that she had borne them all – at least six had been born by past
female lovers, and three were not hers biologically at all. That didn't make them any less hers though,
in that she had raised them all with equal love and affection.
She started down the airdock, laughing as eight year old Th'Rax barreled into her, nearly knocking his
small mother onto the dock, black wings frantically beating as he fought for balance.
The last person to disembark the airship was Tyrel. He'd eyed the rest of his brothers and sisters,
desperate to talk to any one of them, and then shyness had overtaken him and now he stood to one side,
watching Th'Rax greet An'Thaya. He longed to be able to greet her in just the same way, but something
kept him right where he was -- that and he'd have flattened the diminutive woman as well if he'd tried
such an exuberant hello.
There as a quite gleeful and gloating, “HA!” that escaped Robin at Cadan’s predicament. Looking back
behind them, she picked out the quieter of the D’Riel troops and grinned, “Tyrel! Come help me rescue
Iase before Rax beats her with his wings.”
Tyrel gazed at Robin for a moment, surprised to be addressed. But he was also so anxious to join in that
he nodded and took a step forward.
"I can do that," he said, smiling diffidently. "I kind of like my mother in one piece." He was at Robin's
side in a moment, ready to aid in the "rescue" of An'Thaya.
The Empress had begun the long, and pleasant task of doling out kisses of greeting. Tay'La had wound
into the tangle of mother and son and somehow counterbalanced everything. An'Thaya's laughter
drifted down the dock to the rest of her children. Having two of her children by Callan in her arms
made his absence all the more keenly felt, but she pushed aside the ache. There was good news to be
given.
“Come along,” she called, “into the garden, I have an announcement to make.” Her eyes caught Tyrel's
and she winked at her eldest son.
Robin smiled and tilted her head, quiet amusement at her family. “I wonder what kind of
announcement?” She mused, brushing stray hair from her face and tucked it behind a delicately pointed
ear.
Amilyn had been about to pounce Tyrel when Robin had called him over, so instead she jumped on
Conlan, having missed the opportunity earlier in the trip. As they all moved into the garden, she walked
between Melaina and Conlan, watching the rest of her siblings, most of which she hadn't seen for quite
some time.
The small mob gathered together in a clearing centered around a small fountain, seating themselves on
the curved marble benches or flopping down in the grass, some opting for the edge of the fountain
itself. An'Thaya related the news, bright eyed over the return of her uncle and nephew, a little mystified
by the ancient Al'Teron Queen. As she finished, the Amazon looked from one face to another, taking in
their reactions. Tucking her arm through Tyrel's, she leaned on her son and smiled at the others.
“Valin?” Vanyalin said finally, her voice quiet. “Really? But I swear, we all saw the pyre burn...”
Tyrel was gazing wonderingly at his mother and then pondering to himself, unaware of the faint half
smile that crossed his face. He knew quite well how unexpected life was -- and perhaps death. As for
many of his other siblings, they were taking in the news with generally the same reaction: pleased
surprise. Glory had felt a short pang and then when he met the eyes of his twin, had grinned. It would
be good to have their cousin back. More than good, in fact.
Robin looked around the circle. She was happy that Valin had come back, it wasn’t something she
wasn’t unfamiliar with though, but when it came to the person, she didn’t actually know who he was.
“We all thought so,” An'Thaya answered Vanyalin's question. “It seems we were mistaken.” She
nodded towards the palace. “Let's head inside out of this heat – I can answer all your questions there
and then we can get caught up on what everyone has been up to.”
                                                   ***
The sound of conversation and laughter drifted through the royal gardens, winding among the trees and
laying among the flowers in the grass. A soft breeze rustled the leaves in the mai'tus groves and fae
danced through the air, adding their cheeping banter to the gathering.
The second sun was starting to go down, a blazing sunset burning up the horizon as the red orb went to
its rest as most folks in S'Hea were settling in for the light meal just before retiring for the evening.
Those gathered in the garden were a select group – the hub of the House D'Riel.
An'Thaya's delicate feet were pulled up onto her chair, S'Hean skirts pulled over her knee and curly hair
draped around her frame like a curtain. Her face was lit with laughter as she pelted B'Rodyn with a
segment of purple mai'tus fruit in response to a jibe of some sort.
There was a slight ache in her eyes beneath the laughter – as there always was when the wards
separated her from Callan. The bond wasn't built to withstand prolonged absence, and she would need
to return to him soon – driven as instinctively as another part of her was drawn to S'Hea to Ground.
Y'Roden watched her for a long moment, grinning over the banter, then turned his attention to Belle
and Gent who were caught up in conversation with Y'Ardyn. The King's gaze slowly wandered back to
his wife and he leaned over to kiss her cheek. “I can't remember the last time we all sat down to
dinner,” he commented. “I mean, even without Y'Ardyn – obviously.”
Ghet had also been watching An'Thaya, and pondering. It had been a profound relief for her, when she
married Y'Roden, to be able to spend all her time in S'Hea, instead of ruling one kingdom, and needing
to be in another. Thaya was still performing that balancing act, and it had to be a strain sometimes,
bound to both this country, and to Callan and his need to be on Aerdon.
She looked up at Ro's approach and smiled when he kissed her. There was a deep sense of peace about
her now, for all their recent upheavals. He steadied her. "Scheduling this lot is a nightmare," she said
lightly, "but you're right, we should try to manage it more often. Take turns: Whispin, Arlsyn, Aerdon."
Right now, she meant it too: she still felt she hardly knew B'Elya at all. "It's not likely to happen,
though, is it, and we'll just keep meeting when something goes pear-shaped. Which is pretty reliable in
itself."
“What I want to know, is what shape something is before it goes pear-shaped,” Y'Roden mused,
humour lighting his eyes with a soft glow.
Y'Ardyn's attention fell on them at that moment, and curious eyes focused on Ghetsuhm. “So,” he
began, “I'm at a horrible disadvantage, having been dead all of these years. Where are you from,
Ghetsuhm? And how did you meet my rogue nephew?”
A laugh came from An'Thaya and she grinned impishly at Argent. “Just you wait, he'll be grilling you
next.”
Gent chuckled, “And this is anything new?” He was enjoying the get together and could count the
times it had happened before on one hand. He was also enjoying just listening as he was interacting.
Stroking her husband's arm idly, Ghet laughed. "It's a very long and complicated story. My parents
were Terran, though I wasn't born there. I met An'Thaya on Berelath, and a year or so later, Y'Roden on
Arlsyn. We've been friends almost my whole life. It hasn't always been easy, though. I married
someone else, got divorced, married someone else, Ro married someone else, we had a child, we both
got divorced, he died a couple of times, I brought him back, we got married, and here we are. Simple."
She smiled sadly. "There was a great deal of pain along the way, and not all of it is mine to tell."
Y'Ardyn took in all in with silent acceptance, his richly hued eyes holding Ghet's as she spoke. His
head tilted slightly when she finished, gaze sliding towards An'Thaya as B'Rodyn's remembered
warning slid through his mind. The brief revelation of expression on his niece's face said it all, and the
S'Hean wisely left it at that.
His smile, when he looked at Ghetsuhm again, was one of mischief. “This family seems to have a
weakness for redheaded humans, I've found. You've also managed to win the hearts of many of our
people – for that, you have my profound respect. We are not the easiest race to win over.”
B'Elya poked Gent affectionately and kissed his shoulder, amused all the way around. She was at ease,
surprisingly so in her brother's presence, and curious. An'Thaya had spoken of Y'Ardyn often, and with
great affection over the years. To finally meet him had been an unexpected pleasure. “Where is Gwen,
B'Ro?” she asked of her cousin.
Setting down his glass of mai'tus wine, B'Rodyn gestured in the general direction of the Aethyr well.
“She stayed behind to handle things while I'm away, she sends her love though.”
Ghet gave An'Thaya a cautious warning look. Sooner or later Y'Ardyn would hear, and it would be
better coming from Thaya herself. "The S'Hean people have been more welcoming than some I've met.
It's just a matter of not slamming into problems head-on, and treating people with respect. It doesn't
hurt, of course, that I'm utterly charming and irresistible and some people have trouble forming a
sentence in front of me. The others are scared that Y'Roden will slaughter them if they insult me. We
make a good team."
Tay gave the barest hint of a nod in response to Ghet – soon, she'd tell him soon. Let him grieve his
beloved sister and come to terms with the age he had awakened in, then she would tell him.
Y'Ardyn's laughter was warm, bright humour in his eyes. “Yes, Ro does tend to keep people in line
with that imposing demeanour.” His grin was quick and rife with evil. “It hasn't seem to have put you
off any though.”
B'Rodyn snorted and punched his father in the arm, rolling his eyes at Y'Roden. “Death,” he said,
“hasn't changed him at all.”
“That's a surprise?” B'Elya asked. “It didn't change the two of you much either. That I can tell.”
“I have no idea what you are all referring to,” Y'Roden said with feigned indignation.
                                                      ***
An'Thaya wrapped lightly-muscled arms around her own torso and sighed deeply, vision slightly
obscured by her own hair as the breeze grabbed hold and tossed it about the elf's delicate face. Emerald
gems dissappeared behind thick lashes and she turned her head ever so slightly as Y'Ardyn's hand
touched her shoulder. The were standing on his balcony, all other sound obscured by the roaring of the
waterfalls.
“So, do you care to tell me what is between Ghetsuhm and yourself?” her uncle asked. “There is a long
and complicated history there, even I can tell that. I'm assuming it has something to do with Galain –
considering you have avoided any questions I've asked about him.”
Tay held to silence for several long, heavy moments – unmoving and seemingly lost to the world.
When she finally spoke, it was in a soft tone, laced with old agonies.
“It is a painful subject, Uncle – for all of us, and if your intention is to say 'I told you so', I'm not really
willing to go into it.”
“You should know me better than that, An'Thaya. Or have you forgotten me so completely?”
|The Amazon lifted her chin, eyes opening to meet their mirror image. A smile proved illusive, and she
stepped away, curling callused fingers over the railing. “I'm sorry, I meant no insult. It's just... I've
heard it many times, in many fashions – or been called a hypocrit... which I probably deserve.”
“I just want to know you are ok – to know what has happened to change you so deeply. There is so
much of your mother in you, An'Thaya. Your wellbeing is important to me.” Y'Ardyn's tone was
sincere – honest, no hidden intent.
Tay dropped her gaze, studying the fingers so tightly clinging to the rail. “Alright then,” she said. “The
tale of Galain and An'Thaya it is. Yet – it is the story of many others as well. Perhaps I should have
heeded your warnings so many millenia ago, but I don't regret the time I had with him. I did love him,
so very much, and I would not trade our children for anything.
“After you passed away, Galain and I continued on as we had been – until the darkness claimed him.
Claimed us both. We were seperated by blood and death and kept that way by Arminiea herself. We
were never to be together again, on pain of death for me if I ever chose to lay with him again. I moved
on with my life and loved another for a time – a cruelty to Elyen more than anything. Another
relationship that ended in tragedy, but it brought me back to Galain again. It seemed that everything
always did, all roads lead to love, I guess you would say.”
Straightening, the redhead gazed out unseeing at the waterfalls. “We braved Arminiea's wrath and won
– the victory, my life. Yes, to answer your question, I did marry that elf of mine.” Turning, Tay looked
Y'Ardyn in the eye, old pain shining there. “If I had known he loved another, even as he loved me, I
never would have given him my heart again.
“I was taken from him, he thought me dead, and so he turned to Ghetsuhm. If she had just been another
of his conquests... if it had just been physical comfort out of grief, that I could have forgiven. But he
loved her, as much – or more, than he did me. When he discovered I still lived he came for me, but to
this day I cannot tell you if it was out of love, or obligation.
“I was beaten down, weak, helpless in a way I had never been before in my life. I didn't have the
strength to walk away then. So I bore the agony in silent acceptance. I attempted to fill the hollow
places – I had Jaiden, a relationship Galain encouraged and more than accepted. It wasn't enough, so I
took his Uncle for a bondmate after Galain married Ghetsuhm. I loved him in some way, but not like he
deserved.”
The smile that lit her face then was like the sun breaking through heavy stormclouds. “It was all
doomed, all of it, the moment Callan Blackthorn arrived in the Silver Dryad. Deny it – I tried, and for
years, but everything I had paled in comparison to those hidden, raging emotions the Black Dragon
Emperor inspired. He tore down my world, and built it back up again. I broke all of their hearts and my
mind in the process, yet here I am – happier than I ever have been. Some wounds are still raw, but they
heal day by day... and someday they will ease forever.”
Y'Ardyn took in the expression on An'Thaya's face and felt a twinge of envy. He had loved his own
wife in a fashion, but never with the unbridled passion apparent on his neice's face when she spoke of
her husband. “So that is it then,” he said quietly. “You are such a stranger to me now – and yet, so much
the same.” He frowned suddenly. “And what of Galain and Ghetsuhm, how is it that such a great love
was broken and she is with your brother now?”
The Amazon looked slightly uncomfortable suddenly. “It hurts me to know Galain is alone now,” she
said softly. “He is a bright light, with so much love to give. Nothing happened to the love between
Galain and Ghetsuhm – she loves him still, and loved Y'Roden all along. It was a choice, one we all
have to make... and that part, dear uncle, is not my story to tell.”
                                                  ***

The draperies billowed near the window and shadows seemed to separate in the moonlight, the figure
silhouetted in the window a tall, heavily muscled man dressed in elegant clothing, a cloak tossed
carelessly over one broad shoulder. Long, dark tresses caught in the breeze for a moment, and the low
light sparked in ice-blue eyes. Multiple rings glittered on weapon-callused fingers as they pushed the
curtain aside, his boot-falls silent on the floor as he crossed the first bed in the room.
Without a sound, Tallin Modar sat carefully on the edge of the mattress and reached out to brush an
ebony strand of hair away from the sleeping girl's face – the touch oddly tender. “Alatriel,” he
murmured, “Daddy is here.” Leaning down, the Demon Mage kissed his daughter on the cheek, soft
and affectionate. He smiled as the twelve year old started to wake, eyelashes fluttering – a muzzy look
in her eyes.
“Daddy?” she asked sleepily.
“Shhhh...” Bejewelled rings sparkled in front of her eyes as Tallin stroked Alatriel's hair. “Go back to
sleep, poppet.” Large hands cupped her face, the smile still present when he roughly jerked her head to
the side, severing his only daughter's spine at the junction of skull and neck. “Sweet dreams.”
As he rose from the bed, it erupted into flames – a backdrop of burning flesh as he strode across the
rich carpet to the second bed and looked down at his son. “Tiwele.” Studying the waking boy's features,
he was taken aback slightly by how much he resembled his mother.
It made placing his hand over the boy's mouth and nose all the sweeter, the writhing, thrashing death
throes as the boy suffocated all the more pleasing. The bed began to burn before Tiwele lost
consciousness, flame licking at tender young skin.
“Betrayal,” Tallin whispered, knowing full well that Mystical could hear him – knew full well what he
was doing, and didn't care enough to interfere. “Betrayal is paid back in full, bitch. The last of our ties,
cut. Betray me again, and it is you I'll come after.”
Mystical's laughter sounded through the room as she stepped out of seeming nowhere. "Our ties will
never be cut, Grendorin. A fact I learned the hard way centuries ago. Did you think I would be afraid?
You should know better by now."
Dark eyes glinted softly in the light of the flames as she looked at her estranged spouse.
Tallin's blue eyes iced over as he met Mystical's gaze in the flickering illumination. “Afraid? No. But
your continued interference is pathetic. I am done with you – woman, I have no further need of your
power. I've taken what it was that I wanted, it ends here.” His smile was oily. “Go amuse yourself with
your pet Count in Sargasso, whore.”
Mystical laughed. "We'll never be done, Grendorin. The sooner you accept it, the easier it will be. Some
ties cannot be broken, a lesson I learned centuries ago when we first met."
The Ali-Maera idly twirled a lock of hair around her finger, the heat from her youngest children's
funeral pyres warming her flesh. "As for interfering, I might, and I might not. You will find me much
more difficult to kill than our children. I might even enjoy the attempt."
Tallin's hand shot out and grabbed Mystical's face, his body following not far after. “Oh I know just
what you enjoy,” he growled, his head darting in – teeth catching her bottom lip. Another step forward,
and he slammed his wife's back into the wall. “I may not manage to kill you, but I can certainly make
you wish you were,” he hissed. The words were punctuated by a hard, biting kiss, his massive frame
near crushing her.
"Promises, promises." Mystical's smile was almost feral as she returned his kiss with every bit of the
fury he gave to her. "This is why it will never be over. We're too well matched. As for wishing I was
dead, you know that only turns me on. And by the feel of things, you're not unaffected."
Tallin growled, rage in his eyes – and something more. His hands gripped her breasts, fingertips curling
into the fabric and ripping it down, exposing hot flesh to his unkind touch. His mouth stopped
Mystical's words and he forced her hands to the drawstrings of his trousers, then hiked the brunette's
skirts up around her hips.
Mystical answered his rough handling with feral growls, her body responding as he'd known it would.
She matched his cruelty with her own, each stealing pleasure from the other's pain. It was always thus
between them, the cruelty and pain blending into unimaginable pleasure, at least for her. She only
suspected it was the same for him.
He tore into her body with undisguised lust, thrusting deep into slick heat – a hand fastening itself to
Mystical's throat and squeezing, cutting off her air. The other slammed into the wall as he rocked back,
spasming as his body released, then abruptly pulled from her.
Breathing hard, he slid his face through her hair, mouth against her ear. “This changes nothing,” he
whispered, “my little whore. Stay out of my way – or this will never happen again.” His laughter was
low, throaty. “And we both know how much you want this.”
"As if you don't? You may think you can take it or leave it, Grendorin, but I know better. If it's worth
my while, I may stay away. Guess you'd best make it worth my while, hmm?" One delicate eyebrow
arched as she smiled and then leaned in to nip his neck before he could pull away.
Tallin tilted his head, instinctively moving into the bite, then caught Mystical's chin and forced her head
back – examining her grey eyes. He was silent for a long, tense moment, then broke it with a snort.
“Fine. If this is what it will take to keep your fingers out of my plans, why not. I'll pop by and fuck you
every once in awhile.”
Grasping her waist, the Demon Mage jerked her roughly and spun her around, forcing her against the
wall – naked breasts scraping against the stone. With a harsh laugh, he shoved himself inside her and
bit her ear. “I'll even give you two for the price of one.”
                                                   ***

The doors closed with a barely audible snick behind An'Thaya as she left Y'Ardyn's chambers, bare feet
soundless on the cool stone floor of the hallway. Lost in thought, she really didn't see the palace as she
wandered through it, instinct leading her along its corridors without effort.
Eventually, the sound of children playing brought her out of her pondering, and she paused to look out
a window – a smile breaking across her features as she watched a mix of Blackthorn, D'Riel, Riker and
Silverleaf children playing a game of tag – the elder D'Riels and Alcarins involved in more sedate
pursuits. Leaning one shoulder against the frame, she settled in to watch, unnoticed – enjoying a rare
moment where nearly the entire family was together at once.
When her vision crossed from this life to beyond, she could not have said – but her spine went ramrod
straight as, one by one, the younger children began to fade from existance. Blurry, ghostly presences
that dissolved into nothingness before her eyes – and then the elder children as well. Horrified, she
gripped the sill and shook her head, but still, only the Silverleaf children remained... and they somehow
seemed displaced, disoriented, as if they didn't belong there.
“It has begun – the fight for the future. A fight the D'Riels may very well lose if you do not act in
haste.”
The Amazon whirled around, a mass of flaming locks and pale-white, filmy skirts, to find herself
facing An'Telya Al'Teron. The ancient Queen's vision was clouded over with sight, focused beyond
An'Thaya to where the children had been playing... were playing. Tay could clearly hear their voices
again in the garden behind her.
“What you have seen may come to pass – all you have fought for, loved for – dissipated before it even
began. You have seen the face of Death, the visage of Poison. Know you their intent?”
Tay's expression was blank for a long moment, eyes searching Telya's for answers – and what she
found there, terrified her. “They wouldn't dare!” Fear turned her legs to jelly and she grasped the edge
of the window to keep herself from falling. “The Gods, the FATES would not stand for it.”
“Perhaps,” An'Telya said calmly, “but still, they dare. You can feel it beneath your skin, taste it in the
air. The world is changing – and taking all you know and love with it. Fly, An'Thaya Blackthorn, call
the triad to yourself and know that what you do now is for the salvation of all.”
The younger elf turned her head, taking a last look at her children, her brother's children – and those
belonging to people she loved. When she turned back around, An'Telya was gone. A shuddering breath
left her, and she pushed away from the wall, running for the stairs that led to the upper levels and the
Royal Chambers.
Taking the stairs at breakneck speed, she somehow still managed to push open the wards – a desperate
sending searing along the bond to her husband. “Callan – I need you.”
On the top floor, within the chambers he shared with Ghetsuhm, Y'Roden reached for a decanter of
brandy – his hand hesitating halfway there. Eyes glassing over slightly, the S'Hean King tilted his head
– listening to something inaudible in the room. His hand missed its mark, banging into a glass that slid
off the table and shattered on the floor.
Ghet came running in through the balcony doors from the garden, her face pale and grey with fear. She
headed straight for Y'Roden, heedless of the broken glass beneath her dirt-covered bare feet. She buried
her face against his chest and struggled to calm her breathing. She felt like a pit had opened up beneath
her feet; dizzy and nauseous. "Rodi, what the hell is going on?"
Callan... His name had been enough, but the undercurrent of alarm, worry... and terror... had caused the
Black Emperor, in full form, to leave the Keep mid-Jurim*. The two Vorills of rival Houses Minor had
stood speechless when their Emperor and Mediator of their dispute had abruptly rose to his feet,
removed his crown, plopped it unceremoniously on the throne, and had strode out of the Imperial Great
Hall.
No one among the masses had dared question him as he strode past, black cloak swirling around his
calves, boots rapping a harsh rhythm on the polished onyx and ironwood floors. In fact, the two
squabbling Voriils had fully expected to have their throats ripped out for their ridiculous disagreement,
and were profoundly relieved when Araxmarr shouldered his way through them with enough force to
almost knock one to his feet.
The Future, The Present, The Past, remember, Son of Emberlight, Mage of the Sixth Element, time is
not a daggers edge. In the corridor, a vision of a woman made of golden light stood between Callan
and an opening into the void between Here and There.
"Sha'tris." His mouth was tight, his jaw clenched, "Not now."
"Now, later, then, it doesn't matter, Blackthorn." The golden essence of Aerdon spoke in a voice both
masculine and feminine at once.
"If any lesson I have taught you remains when night falls, and Hope is lost, remember this one."
Luminous eyes met topaz, "Time is the Loom and Destiny is the Tapestry. Lose yourself, and all that
you know is lost as well. You know the edge of the dagger, but not the warp and weft. Stand too closely
and the pattern is obscured. Do not forget this, DeathDream, or we will lose you."
The portal inched open, and Sha'tris vanished, leaving the Black Emperor to drop, black wings spread,
through the Whispin sky. The fully draconic form of Callan Blackthorn plummeted like a bird of prey,
then shrank and compressed only seconds before his black war boots slammed into Y'Roden's balcony.
"Tay!?"
Y'Roden caught Ghet in his arms and buried his face into her hair, breathing in the familiar scent as he
tried to order his thoughts. He opened his mouth to speak when the disturbance of wards and air drew
his eyes to the balcony, meeting the brilliant topaz of his brother-in-law's gaze.
The doors burst open behind him, admitting an out-of-breath Amazon. She paused just for a moment to
look at S'Hea's Royal couple, then ran past them both to the dark figure awaiting her, throwing herself
into Callan's arms as much as the bond that flared hot between them.
“Summon Belle and Gent,” she said to Y'Roden, though her eyes were turned up to meet her husband's.
“An'Telya said we would need the triad.”
The S'Hean King's jaw clenched, and he nodded, reaching out to his youngest sister even as he spoke.
“Haldanuru – he has broken his trust with the other gods – he dares to alter time itself. Recent events
are already starting to fade...” his fingers clenched hard on Ghet, terrified that she would simply
dissolve beneath his touch.
Several floors down Belle rose from her desk with a start, scattering parchment across the floor as she
turned to look at Gent – mouth parted slightly in shock. “We need to go,” she stuttered out, “they need
us upstairs.”
Despite his wife’s shock, and the emotions that vibrated through Y’Roden’s connection to the Tapestry,
Gent rose from where he was sitting with his usual calm and held out a hand to Belle. “We can float up,
it’ll be faster.”
The doubts in Ghet's mind disappeared as something else crystallised behind her eyes: a slow,
determined rage. Normally flighty, when Ghet's will was brought to bear, she was a force. Recent
events... "No. Absolutely not." She lifted her head to look her husband in the eyes, her own a sparkling
mess of furious indigo and green. "I told you, I will not be taken from you. I don't care what the skag I
have to do."
Y'Roden's demeanour was intense as he cupped the side of Ghet's face with one hand, his kiss fierce.
“I'm not intending on letting anyone take you,” he growled. The light in the room changed as he spoke,
illuminating his features a ruddy-gold. He looked past his wife again as another presence made itself
felt in the room – this time in the form of the Lord of Time himself.
Ro couldn't remember a time, ever, when he had seen more than a flicker of emotion on Chezlar Khor's
face. Now, however, the Changeling's heartbreakingly beautiful features were contorted in outright
rage.
“I will open the rift for you,” the Prince of Inligh said in vibrational tri-tones, “but more than that, I
may not do. I will take the six of you to the Aethyr Well – then what must be done falls in your hands.
The Tapestry has been rewritten, and I must not interfere more than the Fates allow.”
Callan's gaze went from the top of his wife's flame-coloured hair to the Changeling's face. His fingers
left Tay's back where he'd wrapped his arms around her and had dug his grip slightly into her flesh with
reassuring pressure, "Good thing I've never cared much what the Fates think of me." He nodded, "Let's
go prove the theory that Time cannot be altered, shall we?"


                                                   ***


Cullen stripped off the last of his livery and started pulling on his off-duty clothing, shrugging a plain
white shirt over his head and neatly tying the laces over his chest. A pair of light leather trousers and a
worn pair of hunting boots came next and he pulled the leather thong out of his hair, letting it tumbled
across his shoulders and down his back. Rhia was dropping of their twins today after several weeks
holiday on CathEska and he was eager to see them again.
A typical S'Hean father, the half-elf doted on his two children, and was looking forward to meeting the
son and daughter Kara was carrying.
Amusement curved his mouth for a moment – odd that he should father two sets of twins in a row.
Odder still that both sets were fraternal.
Swinging open the bedroom door, he nearly tripped over Argon – the white tiger that was companion to
his lover. He raised and eyebrow at him, then skirted around the vocal beast and headed down the
stairs. Kara was out at the moment, seeing to a patient – but he had told her his plans. The twins would
need to Ground in S'Hea, so he was heading there immediately after Rhiannon left.
Rhiannon took a deep breath and was about to knock on the door of Cullen's home when Raellen burst
in screaming for her father with the enthusiasm only a child could manage. Seeing no need to admonish
her daughter the tiger elf followed with Rennon feeling a bit out of place and hoping she would not run
into Kara. The healer's presence always managed to make the prideful felinumeara feel awkward and
that in turn caused the feisty redhead to want to lash out or runaway. Either way it did nothing for her
pride which was as plentiful as always.
Laughing, Cullen scooped up his seven year old daughter and hugged her. “Dagar, lil'caren,” he
greeted, kissing her on the cheek. “Did you have a good time with your mother?”
Rennon hugged his mother around the waist, smiling up at her through his dark hair. “Ustro Suz, Fela,”
he said endearingly.
Cullen's gaze settled on his son, then lifted to meet Rhiannon's eyes. “Amlaw, Rhia.” The Aer’Tamdo
bondmark on his chest itched mildly in the Felinumeara's presence, a constant reminder of the
friendship between them.
Kneeling down Rhiannon wrapped her arms around Rennon letting the bond between them open so her
son could feel how very much she loved him and how deeply his words touched her. “Ustro Suz,
Feino,” she whispered kissing his cheek then turned cat green eyes to Cullen whose ear was being
rather eagerly bent by Raellen.
“Daga, y’beken.” Rhia did her best to talk over Raellen who showed no sign of needing breath anytime
soon. “I hear that Kara is expecting. You have my best wishes.” Kissing Rennon one more time the
felinumeara stood turning questioning eyes on their daughter unable to keep her amusement at
Raellen’s unending prattle bottled up a moment longer.
At her father’s question Raellen leapt into a dialog that was moving faster than the speed of light. It
was as if the child no longer needed to breath as she regaled her father with everything that had
happened while on CathEska. It went from their arrival to an Ukrina named, Zob, that kept running off
with her uncle X’Hart’s bread, and finally came to a grand conclusion with the motor mouthed little
redhead declaring she no longer felt she needed to wear cloths. In a split second Raellen had slipped
from her father’s arms and did away with all her clothes to stand proudly and a bit defiantly in her
birthday suit. Already highly amused Rhiannon did the only thing she could do considering her peoples
view on nudity. She began to guffaw with no sign of getting herself under control anytime soon.
Cullen's expression lit with amusement that only grew with each moment his daughter prattled on. He
laughed at her final pronouncement and ruffled her red curls, then grinned at Rhia. “I suppose between
her Felinumeara blood and her S'Hean genes, there was never any hope of keeping her dressed for
long,” he said. Dropping into a crouch he winked at his daughter. “To tell you the truth, I'd go naked
constantly too, if I could. Unfortunately the Corinians are a little stodgy about it.”
The S'Hean looked back up at Rhia and smiled. “Thank you,” he said warmly. “It was a surprise, but a
welcome one.” He had been a little worried – always respectful of Rhiannon's feelings as the mother of
his children. That she seemed to be taking it with sober grace was a profound relief to him. She had her
own life now though, so it wasn't that much of a surprise.
“We'll be marrying soon,” he added. “I asked her just the other day.”
Raellen grinned at her father then tottered off to her room intent on throwing all her clothes away.
Cullen’s words had a way of sobering Rhia like nothing else could have. From the moment Kara had
appeared she had thought the healer’s relationship with Cullen would end in marriage. In the wake of
the confirmation of her suspicions it was one of those rare occasions where Rhiannon was left
speechless for several moments. Finally she said, “The twins speak of her with great love and affection.
In that light I offer no objection only my best wishes to you both.”
Taking a deep breath the feisty redhead knew her words must sound cold and unfeeling. Having no
wish to appear as the slighted female trying to be brave, especially in light of the fact she already had a
new mate, she offered up a smile. “Forgive me, Ke’tamdo, I am terrible in situations such as these
when my heart is so entwined. I truly wish you and Kara all the joy there is to be had in the multiverse.
I’m just finding it a bit hard to swallow around my pride at the moment. And in light of that I think it
best I go.” Kissing her first two fingers she placed them gently on Cullen’s lips then opened her bond
with Raellen. I will see you again soon, Feina. Be good and know that I love you. Turning her attention
to Rennon the felinumeara female knelt down hugging him to her before kissing his forehead.
“Be good for your father and Kara and do try to keep Raellen from causing any major damage.”
Hugging him one more time she whispered, “I love you, Feino,” then stood to leave.
Cullen stood and watched Rhiannon with Rennon, who beamed at his mother and promised to be good,
then zipped past his father to rein Raellen in before she tossed all her laundry. His father canted his
head, then embraced the felinumeara affectionately. “Be happy, kitty-lady, we've both found the path
our feet were meant to trod. You are the mother of my children, and one of my dearest friends, that is a
gift to be treasured.”
Rhiannon nodded her agreement at Cullen’s words, hugged him one last time then stepped away. “You
are right and I must go. Live well and be happy, Lock. Maybe you will be kind enough to send me an
invitation to the wedding, but for now I think I will try to find another child I have to long neglected.”
Turning the proud felinumeara walked out the door hoping with all her heart that Cullen and his healer
would find true joy, Great Weaver knew he deserved it.


                                                   ***


The room seemed to exploded in sparkling gold essence, sweeping them up in a storm of time that stole
breath from the lung and abraded the skin. It was unbearably hot, and insufferably cold – then nothing
at all.
For a flickering moment, Ro could clearly see the Aethyr Well – nexus of power for the D'Riels, the
heart of Whispin herself. It was spinning, faster and faster – or perhaps it was them moving, and not the
well at all.
He turned away from it, expecting to see the glint of crystals embedded in the walls of the Well's
chambers – but instead, he found himself in the throne room of Castle Corin – yet not as it was now.
This room was as it had been when he was a child.
It was crowded and ringing with noise – a tension vibrating through the people gathered there, so many
that they burgeoned out into the hallway. Ro felt a tug at his soul, an odd feeling – rather like being
turned inside out, and then he saw himself. No more than ten, frightened by the oppressive fear in the
air, tucked just behind Tager Terne near the throne. The General was addressing the King, still holding
the babe, Princess An'Thaya, in his arms – Derwin having just entrusted her to his care moments before
as Se'Liene had entered the room.
Derwin's hand lowered onto Se'Liene's and there was an air rending roar – the power of the conduit and
its key come to life.
Y'Roden's attention was caught by something else, however, a movement near the throne – a robed
figure and a glint of steel not far from Tager and the D'Riel children. Reacting, he stepped forward,
only to walk straight into an invisible force that separated one time from another. He could see – he
could not, it seemed, interfere.
His head turned towards Ghet and he reached for her hand. “There,” he said, “see, the figure in the
robe? They shouldn't be there.”
“What do we do?” An'Thaya asked from the shadows, her eyes fixed on Tager – who was the obvious
target of the creeping assassin. This was where it had all begun, one change, and all of their lives would
be forever altered.
“We do what An'Telya sent us to do, we join our strength, we open the barrier and stop Tallin.”
Ghet put a hand to her forehead and shut her eyes, trying to push back the dizziness and nausea. She'd
almost had a grip on it until she'd seen the boy, Y'Roden, and the sense of deja vu was crushing.
She took Ro's hand instinctively, drew in a deep breath, and opened her eyes. Visualisation and energy,
they were strengths. The barrier was like a warding. She could do this. Together, she and her husband
could give love to a world. Tripled... She reached out a hand to Argent instinctively. "Then we do." She
grinned, a little madly. "Best not to think about it too much."
Belle smiled at Ghet and took Gent's other hand, giving it a squeeze that was more to reassure herself
than him. Reaching out with the other, she raised a delicate eyebrow at Callan. “I'd ask if you bite, but
I'm fairly sure that I do,” the tiny redhead said dryly.
"Oh, I do much more than bite," Callan flashed his wife's sister a feral, crooked grin that was equal
parts charm and darkness, "but then, so does Tay. I've got the marks to prove it." His head swiveled
around and he held out his free hand to his wife, his grin still in place.
"M'Tashnae?"
An'Thaya's mouth twitched uncontrollably on one side – amused by Callan, he seemed terribly pleased
that Belle hadn't shied away from him, as she was prone to do with men. She slid her small hand into
his and smiled. “Ol'Shann,” she said in a warm alto, eyes focused on his as she lifted his massive hand
and kissed his fingers.
Argent took Ghet’s hand without hesitation and briefly pulled Belle’s up to his lips to kiss it. “You’re
right,” he said in reply to his wife’s comment, forest greens sparkling as he watched the present-past,
“you do bite.”
"Did I say I?" Belle said in a flustered tone, "I meant you... I mean him."
Turning her head away from Callan, the Amazon met her brother's gaze, and completed the circuit by
placing her right hand in his left. There was an immediate jolt of power between the two, a crackle of
emerald aethyr that wound opposite ways through the circle, conduits spinning open in its wake. They
counted five in number, but Argent's soul was a shadowy counterpart to Belle's, the power nearly on
level with the other two pairs.
A wind howled in the space in which they stood, vortexing in the empty place they encircled. It surged
outwards, pressing against the barrier between here and there. Y'Roden's eyes stayed focused on the
scene in the throne room, but his attention was on Ghet. “Stop him,” he said to her – knowing full well
what it was he was asking.
Ghet's eyes widened, white bleeding into blue as she realised what Ro wanted from her. He was right,
though, and her issues were just going to have to take a back seat for a while. The Triad and the
assassin were aware of each other, the others were not. Those who were meant to be here were rooted
in their moment. The intruders on either side were shifted slightly. She could affect the man and leave
everyone else here untouched, the time-line intact.
She took a deep breath and shut her eyes, relying on Y'Roden to see for her. So much power, surely too
much... but by nature, she bent, yielded herself to others. With a faint smile, she relinquished her self,
and let them all flow through her.
The air around them grew thick, shimmering with the power of vibration pouring out of Ghet, shaped
by her Talent into something tangible. For a moment it paused at the barrier, testing, and then it slid
through, not breaking but simply by-passing.
Ghet's head went back as the tattoo on her thigh burned, Venus's Blessing winding around her Talent,
merging and shaping. What poured from her now was heated and urgent, a deafening siren song that
demanded attention. She glowed, bizarrely both pink and green, as the magic of three worlds wove
around her, and she made a low moaning sound in her throat. To use it, she had to feel it, a ripe and rich
sexual promise, and she knew she couldn't shelter anyone from it. She'd deal with the consequences
later; she had nothing left to spare for conscious thought.
The assassin faltered, the hand approaching Tager's back faltering, then falling away – a glitter of metal
betraying the dagger. Shoulders tensed and the cloaked body shook, collapsing on the floor – obviously
unable to do more than writhe in unmitigated pleasure.
Belle turned her face, hiding in Argent's shoulder, breathing hard – as affected as anyone else in the
circle by Ghet's talent. Her face coloured and she bit down on Gent's shirt, almost unaware when the
pool of power in their midst exploded with dark tendrils of power, the assassin emerging in the nexus,
time warping around him as he through back the hood.
Dark hair spilled down his back, and the strikingly beautiful face of Tallin Modar was revealed. Eyes
black with the magic he wielded were levelled on Ghetsuhm – naked lust written with frightening
intensity on his features.
He moved forward, seeming to be going for the redhead, then suddenly lunged to the side and grabbed
An'Thaya by the throat – yanking the smaller woman into the circle and breaking her contact with Ro.
Caught off guard, An'Thaya froze, then struggled in Tallin's grip as the tide of power swept out of
control around them. He felt him breach her shared soul, felt him rip into specific memories within a
nano-second, though time seemed to be falling away like the floor crumbling beneath her feet...
Eyes still closed, Ghet dropped back heavily, her weight depending from the hands that held her until
she hit her knees. The cry she made was full desire and frustration as the broken circuit slammed into
her, feedback wiping her mind white.
Y'Roden had been frozen for just that split moment, staring at Tallin – hating the way he was looking at
Ghet. His brain registered An'Thaya's danger, but Ghet's safety came first. He went to his knees after
her and tore his wife free from the link, pulling her against his heavy frame – taking them both to the
ground and wrapping himself around her, body, soul and power – taking the feedback onto himself and
pushing calm into her mind.
Belle brought her head up, confusion waring in the depths of her eyes – recognition darkening them as
she saw Tallin's face. “No...”
Callan's low growl changed immediately from a rumbling sound of pure lust to wrath in the split
second it took for him feel the invasion of his and An'Thaya's soul. Windows and doors within the
glittering figure 8 soul slammed shut, painfully clipping any vestige of Modar as he plunderd. Callan's
tight grip on An'Thaya's hand never loosened as Tallin tugged at the Empress.
Within, Callan delved into his wife's soul, drawing on her learned ability as a soul-healer, then he began
warping it, changing it, turning it from a gift of healing to a weapon of rending, a perversion of nature,
a dark thing that ripped the life from its victim and infused the Render with power. It flowed through
their soul, then her body like an electric current and poured into Tallin Modar. Like an unraveling
tapestry, the Rending began stripping away the threads of Modar's soul, shredding them into infinitely
small tendrils, then picking those tendrils apart into even smaller bits. Gold power fused with Emerald
green and licked at Callan's feet and calves, then raced up his own body as the soul of two worlds
swirled together, bolstering the mage the Emperor could truly be. The threads of Tallin's soul began to
peel away faster and faster as Callan's topaz eyes flickered teal, then true emerald rimmed in dancing
gold light, "Always -" he growled the words out, "Always it comes down to you and me, doesn't it,
Modar?"
Tallin's features contorted in agony, his body going rigid, then twisting as his soul was seared. A roar of
outrage tore through his chest and he cranked his head around, his fingers tightening around An'Thaya's
throat – and with ungodly strength, pushed the redheaded Empress of the Diirlathe into the yawning
vortex of time.
She hit the time stream full on, diminutive form jolting with the impact, a panicked expression
flickering over her face. The Amazon turned desperately, grasping for Callan with her free hand as a
force with the strength of a gravity well pulled her inexorably into its core.
An'Thaya's hand seemed to become thinner, smaller, longer, as Callan poured his Rage into the Soul-
Rending of Tallin Modar. The connection was broken between the Emperor and the Mage when Modar
flung the Amazon away from him and into the time-stream. Suddenly her fingers seemed to rake
through his hand, as though one of them were suddenly no more solid than air.
Instinctively, Callan's form lunged forward, black wings spouting as the floor dropped away from him.
For seconds, or maybe it was an eternity, it felt as though he were swimming in gelatin, then his body
slammed into An'Thaya's as time rushed around and through them. Forever became now, and yesterday
became tomorrow. The past was being woven even as the future was being unraveled, and now the
Emperor and Empress of the Black Keep were lost in warp and weft.


                                                   ***


It wasn't too long after Rhia left when Cullen started rounding up his twins for the brief trip to S'Hea.
He even managed to convince Raellen that clothing might be a good idea – brambles could be rather
uncomfortable, and they were heading into the S'Hean wilds. She could get as naked as she liked when
they reached the lake.
Gathering the little redhead up in one arm, Cullen kissed her on the cheek, then crouched down so
Rennon could wrap his little arms around his neck. A weapon callused hand secured the boy's arms as
the half-elf stood up. “Everybody ready?”
“Yeup,” Rennon giggled, kicking his little legs against his father's back.
“Right then, off we go to do some Grounding then,” the Captain of Corin's guard said with a laugh.
The portal he opened glimmered with pale green light, a shimmering pool that went from opaque to
nearly transparent, revealing the lush lands of S'Hea beyond. Raellen laughed, beaming with
excitement, and kissed her father on the cheek as the massive S'Hean stepped into the vortex.
They never knew what hit them – never saw the wall of emerald power that shot through the lands and
slammed into the barrier of the wards. Power seeks an opening, and the small tear Cullen had made was
like a lightening rod. The concussive blast worked like a vacuum, hitting father and children like a
brick wall, then sucking them into the homeland like dry leaves caught in a windstorm – scattering
them across the grass near the edge of Silver Lake.
After leaving Cullen and the twins Rhiannon headed toward Corin Castle. What she had said about
neglecting another one of her children had been true. She had not seen Imoreki since his wedding and
was looking forward to catching up with him.
Standing outside Ki’s chambers about to knock Rhia's bonds with Cullen and the twins lit up like a
Christmas tree during a power surge forcibly throwing her against the wall. Wondering what the heck
had hit her the felinumeara female took several moments to regain full use of her faculties. Then
suddenly she realized the twin’s heart echoes were gone and Cullen’s was little more than a whisper.
Panic rose up seizing the tiger elf as she knew the only reason for a silent heart echo was death.
“KI!” The terror filled scream was ripped from her throat as Rhia pushed herself up and toward the
door she had been about to knock on. “Imoreki,” she yelled reaching the door beating on it furiously.
The stripe-haired elf threw open his door, catching his mother's fists to his chest as she flew forward
into him. “Fela?” he asked in surprise, catching at Rhiannon's arms to stay the unexpected beating.
“What's wrong?”
It took the panicked felinumeara a moment to realize she was beating on her son. Freezing in mid
motion she stared at Ki's face for several moments still searching within her for Rennon and Raellen's
heart echoes subconsciously knowing she would not find them. "You have to do that thingy," she made
wild motions with her hands as she spoke.
"That thingy you elves do. We have to get to them, we have to help them. I think they're dead.. I can't
feel them, Ki. I can't feel them. I CAN'T FEEL THEM!!!" By the time she was screaming Rhiannon
had grabbed Imoreki's arms and was attempting to shake him into action.
Eyes wide, Ki felt like his brain was bumping off his skull for a moment. “Fela! Calm down!” Shaking
loose, he grabbed hold of his mother and looked her in the eye. “Take a breath, ok? We have to find
Kara, she'll know where they went. She's here in the castle treating one of the servants, I saw her not
ten minutes ago.” He had, at least, figured out who she was talking about.
Something in Ki's tone managed to reach his mother or perhaps it was just the mention of Cullen's
intended that brought the felinumeara partway back to her senses. "Calm? How can you expect me to
be calm when my babies are lying dead somewhere? And why do you never call me Ammah?"
Noting that the stripe-haired elf was not moving Rhiannon gave him a peeved glare adding, "and are
we gonna find Kara or not? We don't have a lot of time here. The twins don't register in the bond and
Cullen is no more than whisper."
“Because you are felinumeara?” he said stupidly. He stood still for another second, then blinked and
swung into motion. “Sorry, she's this way,” he said, tugging his mother along down the hallway and
down a set of stairs. They emerged in the kitchen and he cast about, looking for someone.
The cook looked up and eyed them both speculatively. “Your Highness,” she drawled, “Lady Rhiannon
– what can I do ye fer?”
“Could you tell us where Kara went?” Ki asked.
“She be in there,” the cook said, jerking her thumb toward a back room. “One o' the scullery lads burnt
'is hand pretty bad.”
“Thank you, cook,” Ki said gratefully, skirting around her in the direction she indicated. “Kara? Kara,
its Ki, we need you, quickly.”
Kara had just finished inspecting the bandages she had just placed around her patient's hand. Making
sure it wasn't too tight, she gave the young lad a quick nod and a healer's look.
"You'll need to be more careful around hot ovens," she started to explain but was quickly interrupted by
a familiar voice. Something in Ki's voice made her drop the lad's hand as she spun on the heels of her
bare feet, her eyes meeting those of Rhiannon.
She always felt a bit awkward around the felinumeara, never truly knowing what to say, or do. On the
other hand she felt some sort of kinship with her though, thanks in part to her bond with Argon. But she
found it hard to explain why. And never offered to try.
Her bonds with the white tiger gave her a sixth sense when it came to danger, and right now the hairs
on the back of her neck were standing at attention. Instincts kicked in and she found herself searching
for her healers bag, resting on the floor behind her. With help from the cooks helper, she threw the long
strap of the pack over one shoulder, her left hand making sure everything remained in place.
"Ki? Rhiannon? You both look as if you've just swallowed a canary. What's wrong?"
Ki tried a reassuring smile, and utterly failed. “Do you know where Cullen took the twins? Rhia says
something... she says something happened to them.”
Kara's right hand froze within the healers pouch, her left found its way down to her stomach. Forcing
herself to move, she wave the cooks helper from the room and took a somewhat calming breath.
"Cullen's plan were to take the twins to S'Hea this morning. To a place he called Silver Lake. The twins
needed grounding and he thought they might enjoy a swim afterwards. Now what were you saying
about Rhia here? Has something has happened to them Ki? Are the twins alright? Gods, is Cullen safe?
What are you not telling me? For your own safety, one of you had better answer me!"
"I understand your distress, but don't yell at either of us. In case you have forgotten those or my
children and his siblings. I understand that you love them too, but their lives matter to all of us." Kara's
apparent demanding tone and the threat to their safety had brought Rhiannon's backbone back into
place.
"The best I can tell you is that I felt a surge through the bond. Cullen I can feel and the twins I cannot.
So, if you don't mind," cat green eyes turned to the elf, "Ki I think you need to do that portal thingy
now we know where they are."
Closing the space between herself and Kara Rhiannon took her hand squeezing it reassuringly. "It'll be
okay, Ke'ma," she assured in soft tones. "Somehow it will be okay."
Imoreki's mouth opened slightly, an amazed look on his face as Rhia did a complete about face. It was
her compassion for Kara that shocked him, truly. Her children were dead – so she said, and still she had
the heart to comfort a woman who Ki knew she harboured some jealousy for.
“Alright, Ammah,” he said quietly. The S'Hean turned to a clear spot in the room and drew on the
Aethyr, forming the beginnings of a portal.


                                                    ***



The explosion when An'Thaya and Callan were sucked in to time itself was on a catastrophic level, a
power blast of Aethyr that rippled out of the vortex, into the present – rocketing through the lands of
S'Hea until it came onto the wards itself and wrought its fury upon them.
Y'Roden couldn't see, all he knew was that his sister and her husband had wrenched out of phase on the
Web – there, but a pulse so distant it was almost as if they were dead. The S'Hean knew he was
moving, somewhere, somehow, and not under his own steam, Ghet clutched to him as the Aethyr winds
tossed them away from the epicentre like so much detritus in a summer storm.
It ended in a solid impact, his wide back smacking into an unseen wall, driving bits of something
through the skin and an odd crystalline sound as shrapnel from the hit flew past him. The scent of blood
roused his reeling senses in the intense glare of light – it was all he had aside from touch, Ghet's warm
body a firm presence against his chest where he lay pinned between her and the wall.
All Ghet knew was the warmth of Ro's chest, her arms rigid around him. Using her Talent full-bore
always left her weak. The feedback had quite simply wiped her awareness. She came back to herself
slowly now, her body aching pleasantly like the aftermath of sex, and then... The headache descended,
and with it the nausea, the disorientation...
She groaned, and tried to sit up. "Where... the Well? What happened to... oh gods. Ro, let go. I'm going
to be sick."
It took a moment for words to penetrate – but when they did, the S'Hean hurriedly let go. He grunted,
pressing the heel of his hand to a furrowed forehead and squinted his eyes shut – partly because of the
pain, part to block out any 'getting sick' that was going on. He did rub her back though, automatic and
ridiculous at the particular moment in time.
“Belle?” he called out, “Argent?”
Ghet crawled a few steps away, hoping instinct was driving her to an empty corner, and threw up
briefly and efficiently. She hated this part of it, but it also felt justified: she shouldn't be able to cause
suffering without suffering herself.
She shrugged out of the robe she'd been wearing and used it to wipe her face, then threw it away and
curled back against her husband's chest, shaking. It was coming back to her, what had happened. Callan
and Thaya were gone. Gods, she thought, too scared to look, let Belle and Argent be alright at least.
He heard Ro’s shouting, but tuned it out as he checked Belle over trying to remain calm, but it was
slipping away with every second that she didn’t wake.
“We’re here,” Gent finally called back, then lowered his voice“just, not all of us are awake…”
The half-elven King slumped with relief, for a terrifying moment there, he had thought they'd lost
Argent and Belle as well, despite what the Web told him. He took a moment to get his bearings,
blinking against the white-blindness that still held him in its grip. “Thank the Gods – or whomever,” he
muttered. “Maybe they really blessed us, and Tallin died in the blast.” There was anger in the words,
and an underlying fear that he had lost his sister and one of his best friends for good.
Cradling Ghet, he struggled to a seated position and clutched her to his chest. Slowly, he began to sort
out the mess of vibrating threads of the Web, fighting to think straight and struggling to find a calm
centre to offer his emotion sensitive wife.
Belle moaned softly, a small hand shifting to her head as she stirred back into consciousness. Glazed
emerald gems slowly cracked open, searching out Argent's face above her. “What happened? Wait... no,
I know what happened. Where are we?”
For the sake of her husband, Ghet was getting a handle on her rising hysteria. Callan and Thaya were
friends, good friends, they'd kept her going when she'd been living with Ravyel, they'd understood and
accepted... She took a deep breath. Belle was okay. Wherever An'Thaya and Callan were, they were
alive. Selfishly, she tapped along the Web to her children. Rhagi, Den'Ayat, R'Avyen, they were all fine.
Aarien was harder to trace, her connection more tenuous... if anything had happened to her daughter...
"We're in the Well," she told B'Elya shakily. Helping other people was the easiest way to steady herself.
"Well, not in it, not any more, but in the chamber, under Nenlante." Her eyes adjusted faster than
Y'Roden's, and she knew the room well. "Time's right too. We're home."
“We need to go up,” Ro said quietly, “there were repercussions. Cullen's children are dead – gods. He's
hurt, and a few other people as well. The timeline seems intact – Callan and An'Thaya weren't erased,
they're just... missing.” His mind was rattling along as information filtered in from various sources, too
much to keep inside.
“You two go ahead,” Belle said from across the room. “I need a minute.... or two, maybe a week. What
does a concussion feel like? Ow...”


                                                     ***


The light was too bright – blinding and harsh, and the absence of sound was deafening. Brown eyes
opened, not quite seeing the grass blades less than an inch away from them. For the longest time, it
seemed, he couldn't comprehend where he was – who he was... and then the Aethyr was there, soft and
gentle. It tickled over his skin, welcoming him home... oddly apologetic.
Cullen lifted his head out of the grass and wiped at his nose with the back of his hand, staring at the
blood that streaked across tanned skin when he pulled it away. His head felt as if someone were
crushing it under an anvil whilst hammering the top and his entire body felt numb. A grunt of confusion
escaped the half-elf and he turned his face on the sun-warmed grass.
Something came into his vision then – someone? Laying not far from him, sprawled across the ground.
Recognition sparked and the father reached for the son. “Ren... Rennon?” Folding his arm beneath his
body, Cullen pulled himself across the ground – only realizing his left shoulder was broken when he
tried to roll his son over. Gritting his teeth, the S'Hean maneuvered so he could use the right instead,
flashes of light exploding in front of his eyes.
Rolling Ren over he felt for a pulse – a chill of fear striking him when he found none. “No! No!”
Panicked, but forever the warrior, he began CPR, knowing even when he started that it was hopeless. It
was written in the blood that had leaked from his son's ears, in the open, staring eyes that had started to
frost over blue. A cry of frustration and indescribable grief wrenched from the depths of his chest as he
cast his head about, desperately seeking his daughter.
“Raellen!” The tears started then, S'Hean and unashamed, sobs of loss and anger at being helpless. He
had broken more than his shoulder.
The light of a portal glimmered across the lake and a familiar figure stepped through, Imoreki's multi-
coloured hair identifying him immediately.
“Help me,” Cullen rasped, “find my daughter.”
Imoreki froze for a moment, watching the other S'Hean topple back into the grass and lapse into
blessed unconsciousness. By the looks of him, it was a miracle he had managed to crawl as far as he
had. Jerking back into motion, he jogged toward the fallen pair, then veered toward the water – a tangle
of floating red hair drawing his attention near the shore.
Kara was next to appear, her eyes desperately searching for the twins, and their father. Eyes of brown
fell across a small form laying beside a larger one and her feet felt as if they were now standing in
quicksand.
"Gods no," she choked out. Healer instincts kicked into over drive as she found the strength to rush to
Cullen and Ren's side. She felt her own heart racing as she quickly checked for a set of pulses using
both hands at once. Fear struck her when she didn't find Ren's.
She felt relief, then shame when she found Cullen's.
"Hang in there," she ordered, her hands working feverishly, pulling bandages and salve from her pouch.
"Do you hear me Cullen Havenlock? Hang in there or so help me," she warned, knowing full well he
couldn't hear her in his condition. Turning her full attention toward Ren in desperation, she prayed she
could still save him. But a quick assessment told her the young lad had died almost instantly upon
impact, having felt little, if no pain at all. Almost every bone in the childs body had been broken, his
arms and legs strewn, twisted in an intangible fashion, his neck snapped like a dry twig. Knowing there
was nothing anyone could do for him, she re-centered her attention on Cullen.
"How? How could you allow this to happen," she asked but received no answer. Glancing up, she
spotted Ki kneeling near the waters edge. A fluff of red hair caught her attention and tears started to fall
like rain down her cheeks.
"Cullen's alive," she called out, sensing they already knew about Ren. "Just barley though," she
mumbled and curse when a roll of bandages decided to roll free. Pulling her dagger, she went to work
splitting Cullen's shirt from his body, starting as his sleeves and working her way up toward his
shoulders, all the while waiting to hear any word of young Rae's condition.
"Ki? Rhia? What's happening over there," biting her lip when the dagger bit into soft tissue, not fabric.
"Damn it Kara! Concentrate on saving one soul at a time. This soul first..." yet she felt torn, like any
true healer, toward Rhia's plight as well as her lovers.
The moment Rhiannon stepped through the portal and her eyes confirmed what her soul already knew
the felinumeara could not keep the roar of anguish from escaping. Moving to where Ki held Raellen the
tiger elf took the child from his arms cradling her as if the child only slept. Moving as if the weight of
the multi-verse were on her shoulders the tiger female closed the space between where Ki had been and
Rennon's broken body. Scooping him up with her other arm Rhia moved a bit away needing to be alone
with her babies.
Sitting there on the grass in the light of sunshine the mother morned her children. Rocking them ever so
gently as tears streamed down her cheeks. Low sobs shook her body as red hair curtained her face from
view. Their laughter, laughter she would never again hear, rang inside her mind as their faces flashed
bright and cheerful. It felt as though the most important part of her hand been cleaved from her chest.
At that moment all Rhiannon wanted to do was curl herself around the lifeless forms of her children
and join them in death.
Imoreki stood helpless on the beach, watching his mother grieve and sharing her pain. The young elf
dashed tears from his cheeks with his palm and stumbled up the embankment after her. He stopped to
look at Kara and Cullen – the half-elf was obviously in a bad way. The healer was going to need help if
she had any hope at all in saving his life.
Tapping the already strained Web he realized for the first time that something was terribly wrong. He
groaned softly and dropped to his knees beside Rhiannon – an Aunt and an Uncle were lost to him as
well, perhaps dead... “Dero B'Rodyn,” he forced himself to say, contacting the clearest head he could
find. “There has been an accident – I need help, Cullen Havenlock needs to be moved to Wiindemiire
immediately.”
“Ki? Alright, I'll send Tre'Ver and Trey'Gan to help. They are closest to you right now.”
Ki nodded, mostly to himself, and stared blankly at the ground. He should have spent more time with
his little sister and brother, he should have... should have. Life was full of should haves, could haves,
would haves...
Through all the grief and heartache Rhiannon was aware of Imoreki's own pain. Knowing she could do
nothing more for the twins and Astr'Ka was not possible for them due to their age the tiger female lay
each small body gently on the ground. Leaning over she kissed each of their foreheads and whispered,
"Da’ustro suz. Del’Felina, zanot’ka. Lo'mel nuata"
Finished with her good-bye's Rhia stood eyes still leaking tears and moved to stand beside Ki. Without
a word she wiggled her way under his arm wrapping her arms about his waist laying her head in the
crook between shoulder and neck. After several moments she spoke in low loving tones, "You are a
good son and a good brother. Your guilt or regret will not change their fate, Feino. It can, however,
change the fate of others. Whatever should of, would of, could of's that are running about in your mind
at this moment direct them toward those still living and try not to make the same mistake twice."
Leaning a bit away so she could look up into his eyes she added, "No matter what else believe that I
love you and I know you are a good brother."
Suddenly feeling very much the child, which seemed somehow ridiculous considering he was a married
man – separated though he might be, and as tall as his mother, Ki wrapped his arms around her and
buried his face in Rhiannon's hair. There was no weakness in tears – it was rare for a S'Hean male to
hide them in fact. The half-elf let the grief go – for his siblings, for those who were lost, for himself and
his broken heart – for the woman he had loved and lost.
He wondered where his mother found the strength -- and in that moment, found a great deal of respect
for Rhiannon K'Tral. “I love you too, Ammah,” he murmured, unaware that the two Ra'Vidden had
arrived, ghosting through the trees on silent feet. The stripe-haired elf drew a sharp breath and lifted his
head. “Let's do what we can for the living then,” he said.


                                                    ***
The Council Room was alive with activity by the time Y'Roden and Ghetsuhm arrived, several Lords
and the Captains of both guards present. The Tyrne paused just inside the door, meeting Lord W'Cren's
gaze steadily, then moved toward the chairs he and his wife customarily occupied.
“What happened to you?” Pe'Ris asked bluntly, eyeing the King's crystal riddled back with a raised
brow. “Maybe you'd like to explain where that blast came from?”
Ja'Kel rudely elbowed the Gamel and frowned at him. “Maybe you'd like to address your king with a
modicum of respect?”
For many reasons, Ghet had taken the time to wash and put some clothes on, but that hadn't extended to
the time it would take to clean out Ro's back. "We should have come straight here," she told Y'Roden
airily. "I could have blarfed all over him. Can someone lend me a knife? Pe'Ris, love, be a dear and
give us a moment to get our breath back. For once, this wasn't our fault. It was Tallin."
Ro, who had spent that time indulging in some serious drinking, merely glowered at Pe'Ris and
dropped into his chair, though he noticeably leaned forward, forearms on the table.|
“Yes, my Queen,” Ja'Kel said with far too much cheer in his tone. He pulled a dagger from his belt and
held it out, hilt first, to Ghetsuhm. From the look in his eyes, he was hoping she would use it on Lord
W'Cren.
“Tallin?” Pe'Ris looked taken aback, his spine going ramrod straight. “Tallin can't get through the
wards, how the hells could he be responsible for this?”
The Tyrne rubbed at his forehead. “Fadil, before I get into details, give me a damage report. How is
Cullen... Did we lose anyone else aside from his children?”
Ghet took the knife from Ja'Kel and shared a grin as she thoughtfully tossed it, hilt for blade, blade for
hilt. Then she moved round behind Y'Roden, and began pulling the crystal from his back, her hands
sure and steady.
Fadil was suppressing his own questions, his unease at the mention of Tallin. There was something
more here. "Cullen was badly hurt. He has broken bones and a nasty concussion. The healers have
attended him, and physically, he will survive. His spirit... So far, his children seem to be the only
casualties. I've called the rest of the Ra'Vidden back to make sure. But... it's hard to prepare when we
don't know what we're guarding against."
Ghet tossed a blood-stained piece of crystal on to the council table and went back to work with the
blade. "Kara is the best thing for him now." She pushed bloody fingers through her hair. "I don't know
how to explain what happened without sounding like a complete loon."
“All you have to do is say the magic word,” Ro said to her, then ground his teeth and she worked out a
particularly deep piece of crystal. “Chezlar. Without him, none of us would be standing here talking to
each other. We'd all be kissing Tallin's boots, if we were still breathing, that is.”
“The Lord of Time?” W'Cren asked. “Tallin was playing with time?”
"He tried to change the past," Ghet said, her eyes on Ro's back. "Went back to kill... who was that,
love? In any case, yes, he seems to have some kind of problem with this family on the throne. We
stopped him, but the price..."
She flicked another sliver of glass onto the table and looked Pe'Ris in the face. "He tried to take
An'Thaya. I don't think he got her, but... she's missing. She and Callan, lost in the time-stream. We don't
know where or when they are and I can't think where to start looking. What happened to Ro? He saved
your skrunning arse, and this family paid for it again."
She turned, in a swirl of hair and draperies, picked up a brandy decanter, and poured the contents over
her husband's back.
Pe'Ris went pale and took a step back, shock rendering him mute for a rare moment. His dark-green
eyes met those of his King, seeking confirmation, and got it.
Ro's knuckles went white as he gripped the edge of the table, but the look in his eyes betrayed more
than pain as alcohol burned into the wounds on his back. “Tager,” he said through gritted teeth, “he
tried to kill Tager.” Relaxing only slightly, he pulled one hand from the table, grabbed another decanter
and shakily poured himself a glass. “Without him Tallin would have won all those years ago, Tager was
the only thing standing between Tallin and An'Thaya for centuries.”
The half-elf took a long drink, and an even longer breath, gathering his thoughts with eyes closed.
“Fadil, send Y'Roce to Gardor – I want him told about Cullen and the children, but not a word yet about
Valin. He isn't anywhere near ready to attempt the throne yet so we don't need to start alerting the
Corinian Lords – not even Lord Wyvern. Someone will have to be sent to the Blackthorn Keep as well,
to tell them what has happened to their Emperor. Send Vanyalin.”
Fadil inclined his head to Y'Roden. "Aye, y'Tyrne." Then he turned away, anxious both to get on with
the job, and to have a moment to himself to absorb the news.
Ghet laid her hand on Ro's back and took a shaky breath as blood seeped through the back of her dress.
That was another outfit ruined, it was a wonder she ever bothered getting dressed. The pain of the
healing was good, it helped.
"Ro, I should... someone should go to Alcarinque." She still felt bad about not having told Galain what
she was going through when Ravyel had been here. He and Adarin deserved to know about An'Thaya.
"And I can take Aarien. She's harder to keep track of than the other children, and I'd just... I'd feel
better."
Ro turned his head sideways and looked at her for a long moment, then nodded gruffly. “Alright. I'll
feel better though, if you take Marius with you.” Galain had been unpredictable for quite some time –
and he had proven his ability to physically hurt Ghet the day she had left him, it wasn't a chance the
half-elf was willing to take. He smiled weakly. “Humour me?”
For a minute, Ghet looked like she was going to argue, then she nodded. It wasn't worth a fight, and it
wouldn't hurt. She'd seen Galain several times since their break-up, but she understood why Ro would
be protective of her now. "Alright, I'll stop by Riker's on the way and pick him up. It's time I popped
back there anyway, keep an eye on things." Despite the company, she leaned forward and kissed the
back of his neck. "I'll be back before you know it."
Ro swivelled around and slid a hand to the nape of Ghet's neck, pulling her to him. The kiss wasn't
really fit for public consumption, but S'Hea's King had never been much for protocol, or worrying
about other people's comfort. “Hurry back,” he growled.
Her lips vibrated against his, a suppressed, laughing moan. "I probably don't have to leave right
away..."
There was a gentle cough from Ja'Kel and a snort from Pe'Ris as the Foryen of the Ra'Vidden ushered
everyone out of the council room. He had learned over time that trying to divert Y'Roden's attention
once it was on Ghet like that – was pretty much impossible. The doors clicked closed behind them, but
the Royal couple didn't seem to notice.


                                                 ***


Tre'Ver A'Ren leaned against the bedpost and gazed down at Cullen Havenlock, an expression of
genuine concern on his face. He had always held a great deal of respect for Corin's General. What truly
disturbed him at the moment, was that it could have been any of them crossing the wards just at that
moment, for any reasons – they were fortunate that more of them hadn't been hurt. As it was, the death
toll was heartbreaking – two innocent children, and perhaps Cullen himself if he allowed grief to pull
him down.
The Ra'Vidden looked at Kara for a moment, then shook his head. Cullen wouldn't let go – not with
two children on the way. The elven woman and the two precious lives that she carried were probably
the only force tying Cullen Havenlock to his present life. “I'll go see if I can find another healer to
help,” he said. “I won't be long.”
Looking up from her work, Kara nodded slowly. Taking the damp, bloody cloth in her hand she dipped
it in the bowl sitting beside the bed and rung it out, turning the water red.
"Thank you," she said softly. "For all you've done," she quickly added and went back to work. "I may
need your help, once you return. I need to change his bandages, and I'm afraid he's a bit heavy for me
to lift alone. I kept telling him not to eat so much. It's my fault though, serving him such large meals,"
as she reached across and brushed a lock of hair from her lovers face.
"Who did you have in mind?"
She only wanted the best for her captain, and it showed in her voice.
“Just doing my duty, Lady Healer,” Tre'Ver said with a half-smile. “But you're welcome.” He paused,
quietly communing with other Ra'Vidden for a moment. “Myn'Ette,” he said finally. “She is young, but
capable. The others are busy, there were a few other minor injuries when – well, whatever the hell that
was happened.”
"D'Anke, Ra'Vidden." There was a hint of amusement in the soft words which came from the doorway.
"It is always nice to be appreciated." Malachite eyes met pale teal.
Myn'Ette sobered though when she took in the still form lying on the bed. She shook her head, a quiet
sigh escaping her. "What a horrible thing to happen. Kara, I am so sorry." She crossed the room
towards her friend, her hands extended. A couple of inches shorter than the other woman, the S'Hean
healer looked up into her eyes.
"I will do whatever I can to help, I promise."
Kara gave a weak, but caring smile. Wiped her damp hand on her apron, she took the young healer's
hand. Giving it a gentle squeeze she turned it loose and glanced down. "I know you will, and thank you
for coming so quickly."
Without taking a breath, Kara ran down all of Cullen's injuries. The broken shoulder and leg, his
concussion and possible loss of hearing. She even went so far to include every scrape, bump and bruise
he received at Silver Lake. Glancing up, her eyes were filled with tears.
"I'm frightened, Myn'Ette. For the first time in my life I'm afraid to touch him. Look at these hands," as
she held them out, both shaking like leaves in a strong breeze. "Do they look like healer's hands to
you?"
"Yes, they do." The young S'Hean hugged Kara. "They always will. You are a good healer, Kara. You
will be able to help Cullen, I know you will. And I will help you." She gave her an impish smile.
"Now, why don't you sit over in that chair by the side of the bed for a moment? More than anything
right now, Cullen needs to know you are here. Talk to him, maybe hold his hand. You are better placed
than anyone to encourage him to come back to us."
Tre'Ver had managed to look slightly embarrassed for all of five seconds, then faded into the
background as the two women greeted one another. Medical talk tended to make his brain fold up and
go on vacation. He was perfectly capable of healing in field capacity, but preferred to leave it to the
experts. The S'Hean remained in the room, however. Kara was right, Cullen was a half-elf and a native
Whispinian, by nature a heavy, solid creature that the two slightly built women would have difficulty
moving.
Moving over to the bed, Myn'Ette bent over to examine Corin's Captain of the Guard. The broken
bones were obvious, but also the most easily dealt with. The concussion and the damage to his spirit by
the loss of his children concerned her more. She took a steadying breath. One step at a time, she told
herself. One step at a time.
"Ra'Vidden A'Ren, could I have your assistance, please?" she asked. "I wish to stabilise these breaks. It
will be far less painful for Captain Havenlock if we deal with those whilst he is unconscious, and he
will be able to rest more easily."
After the hug, Kara did as she was told. She felt so helpless there, but she took Cullen's hand and
squeesed it tight. Reaching up, she ran the back of her hand across his cheek, allowing the tears to
finally fall. "I have something for you," she whispered softly. Brushing his hair back from his face she
leaned in closer. "I've been wanting to buy this for you the moment I saw it. I had to scrimp and save
every copper, but now you're going to have to wait until you heal in order to wear it. I'll give you a little
hint though."
Reaching in her pouch, she pulled something out of a small black box. Something small and silver.
Pressing it into the palm of his hand she took his fingers and wrapped them around the object, pressing
them down around it. Glancing up, her eyes met that of Myn'Ette.
"I think this will set his mind at rest. Do what you must, but do so quickly. I'll watch for any signs of
infection and fever."
Tre'Ver moved forward to help – knowing automatically where he needed to be, how he needed to
move the unconscious half-elf so Myn'Ette could set the bones. He'd been awake through breakings and
resettings before himself, and was grateful that Cullen was out cold.


                                                    ***


The trickle of wine into a goblet was the only sound in the room – it was nice, the quiet, after a day full
of demands. The responsibilities of a Kingdom weighed heavily on Gardor Wvyern's shoulders, and
sometimes he longed for the days when he had just been High Lord of Corin, with only the needs of his
own demesne to see to – aside from the odd dispute taken care of in the name of the King.
That life was never to be again, however. The King was dead, and his heir would not take the throne in
Gardor's lifetime. Va'Lan was of elven blood – it would take several hundred years before the young
lad was ready to take on the responsibility his father had.
Valin had been young to the throne at over half a millenia – and his reign short, far too short.
Gardor set down the decanter and lifted his glass, pausing half way to his mouth as his brilliant blue
eyes settled on his wife. She was much younger than he, but the love between them was real. Deirdre
was lovely, and a blessing for a man who thought he had seen the great love of his life at too young an
age – only to have it ripped away.
A knock at the door interrupted the thought that almost made it to speech, and the Regent of Corin
sighed. “Come in.”
A guard dressed in the Corin colours of black, rust and gold opened the doors and bowed. “Mi lord,
Prince Y'Roce of S'Hea to see you, he says his father bade him come – it’s an emergency.”
Wyvern set down the goblet and sat back in his chair, “Send him in then.” Running a hand through his
short-cropped red hair, he cast a glance at Deirdre and shrugged helplessly.
The knock on the door seemed over loud to Deirdre. She had seen the tiredness that shrouded her
husband and had hoped for a night of no interruptions. Now, another emergency. It seemed like
everything was an emergency. She walked over to Gardor sat resting her hand on his shoulder, giving it
a gentle squeeze.
“We will have our time later love,” she said.
Y'Roce entered the room and acknowledged Lord Wyvern and his wife, “My Lord, Lady, On behalf of
the Tyrne and Tyrah and the Kingdom of S’Hea I bring grave news. The Captain of the Guard of the
Kingdom of Corin Cullen Havenlock has suffered grave injury while in S’Hea and is being attended to
by the best healers that can be had.” There it was the message delivered. Y'Roce finally took a breath of
relief despite the fact he knew this would only be the beginning of the barrage of questions sure to
follow.
Gardor's shoulders tensed and he straightened in his chair. “Injury? Cullen was off for the day, what
happened?” His eyes closed suddenly as he remembered that the Captain's children were suppose to
have arrived that morning – the reason Cullen had been headed for his ancestral land.
Deirdre, normally quiet, spoke softly, “He was with his children was he not? Are they okay?”
Emerald-green eyes tightened and Y'Roce kept his formal stance, “Just as Cullen was passing through
the wards there was an unusual backlash.” The S'Hean Prince still had trouble with the thought that
such a tragedy had occurred. Swallowing hard he continued, “Cullen was critically injured but…” it
was so very hard to say this. “Had it not been that Rhiannon was still on Whispin no one would have
known soon enough. She is the reason that Cullen may yet recover. But it was her connection to their
children that alerted her first. The children are no more.” Y'Roce paled slightly and felt sick having to
deliver this message
The Regent pressed the knuckle of his thumb to the gap between his eyes to still the sudden throbbing
there. “Send him my condolences, when he is well enough to accept them. Also convey a message from
Corin's throne, that he is to take as much time as he needs for his physical well being... and otherwise.”
Y'Roce nodded slightly before acknowledging the Regent. "I will carry the message of Corin to her
Captain and that of her Regent." the Prince and messenger waited now to be dismissed.
Hearing the children were dead was painful. A tear slipped down Deirdre’s cheek, “Gardor,“ she said in
a whisper, “I pray our best healers are with Cullen and the one called Kara. Is there anything else we
should send them? Word’s seem so empty when there is a lost of ones children.”
One of Gardor's hands reached up to cover his wife's, giving it a gentle squeeze. Deirdre's heart, her
sensitivity was what he loved about her. “There is nothing we can do but wait, my love. Cullen is half-
S'Hean, they know better than we what it is he needs. All we can give is time without pressure.”
Lifting his eyes to meet Roc's, he nodded. “Thank you, Prince Y'Roce, for bringing us this news. Safe
journey back to S'Hea.”
Y'Roce respectfully inclined his head in a salute like gesture; “Calima Almare” he said in a tone of
goodbye. Turning he exited the room to head back to S’Hea to deliver this new message.


                                                   ***


On a world far different from Whispin and Aerdon, a different drama was developing. On Haven, a
mind was slowly unraveling, losing touch with reality, losing its grip on sanity. A soul was falling apart,
and in the darkness, a monster was coming to life. In Yarwin Blackthorn's home on Haven, a beast was
prowling the halls, and in one room, behind a locked door, Taylon held his breath and listened as the
heavy footsteps grew closer.
The sedatives weren't working anymore. They were left with no other choice.
The time had come to play the game, and the twins had know it. Morgan had left and had taken Lianna
with him, and it was up to Taylon to get their father to the Keep. There, someone would know how to
deal with him, someone would be able to help them.
As the footsteps paused just outside Taylon's door, the now teenaged son of Rachel and Yarwin
Blackthorn crept backwards. The furniture had earlier been moved against the walls, leaving the center
of the room clear, leaving a clear path to run through.
And run is exactly what he would have to do when that door finally opened.
"Taylon?" The words were a low growl, and the voice that spoke them sounded nothing like the father
Taylon remembered and loved. This voice raised the hair on the back of his neck and set off every self-
preservation instinct the young Shai'ay mix-blood could have, and those were plentiful.
"Open the door... son."
Two more steps had him safely away from the door before his dark brows furrowed together as he
concentrated on the doorknob. It began to turn, seemingly on its own, then stopped.
The door swung open only a fraction.
Behind him, the room seemed to lose solidity, and as the door swung open further to reveal his father, a
portal was beginning to form.
"This will be the last time we play this game, dad." Lapis eyes met phosphorescent lapis as Yarwin
pushed the door open wide.
The Black Vesahd wouldn't be recognizable now to most who knew him. The boyish form he'd 'worn'
for so long was gone, replaced by his true self. Scars criss-crossed his face and body, pulled up one
corner of his mouth in a hateful, permanent sneer. Heavy
muscles rippled as he stepped forward, but his body moved stiffly, as if he'd been asleep a very long
time.
And he had. The sedatives had been effective for weeks, but now they'd lost their potency, now
Yarwin's body had become used to the dosage, and anything higher would have killed him.|
"Taylon..." Yarwin smiled, it was an expression that would have been considered affable by most, but
was frightening to Taylon, "For that to happen, one of us would have to die, and I don't want that."
Before Taylon could think or even speak, his father lunged forward and his form began shifting to a
hideous mix of Human and Kin. On all fours he charged at his son, and Taylon began stumbling back.
With his concentration broken, the fledgling portal collapsed, leaving the juvenile grandson of Callan
Blackthorn scrambling to get to his feet and get away from his own father.
"RUN!" The word was a snarling slur, an invitation, a threat, a promise of violence.
Almost on his feet, Taylon stumbled, fell into a chair, which flipped on its side. Glass crashed as
Yarwin collided with the far wall and knocked over a lamp, a decorative bowl, and a free-standing
mirror.
"Oh gods!" Taylon managed to mutter the words as he lurched to his feet once more then turned to run
as his father regained his own footing and resumed the chase.
"Concentrate... concentrate... the Keep... get him to the Keep." Taylon's face was pulled into a grimace
as he bolted down the halls of their house, and out the front door into the yard. Once again Taylon's
brows furrowed together and the door slammed shut with a bang, leaving Yarwin to crash headlong into
the steel door. A bellowing roar of white hot Rage came from inside the house, followed by another
crash and a rending sound as the curtains were ripped off one window. Yarwin's scaled and elongated
face was shoved up against one of the now-naked plas-glass floor to ceiling sized living room
windows. Steam fogged the window from his breath as he glared at his son, standing in the dark street
in the dead of night.
Then he vanished.
"Xraden help me..." Came the quiet prayer as the young telepath began working once more to open a
portal. He was coming, somehow, he would get out of the house, Taylon's ability could hold the doors
and windows together only so long. Already a trickle of blood was making its way from one nostril
down his upper lip as he strained to keep his father locked in the house until the portal formed. The
worm-hole began to yawn open just as the plas-glass shattered with the force of Yarwin's body.
Lapis once again met lapis as Yarwin's body began to shift even more to its Kin-form, and Taylon
began to walk backwards once more as his father paced toward him like a prowling predator. Sensing
his prey was about to escape, Yarwin dove forward. In two scrabbling leaps, he cleared the distance
between them and his body slammed into his sons.
Darkness overwhelmed Taylon, but not before he felt them land with a loud WHUF of lost breath into
warm sand, which he prayed was golden... and belonged to Sha'tris.

                                                  ~*~

"Vesai?" Mira's head lifted from the meal she'd been sharing with Muirne and her eyes settled on a
young member of the Orsha Une, "Would you please to come with me? Alone?"
The Dragonelf eyed the young woman, her syntax had improved greatly since she'd come to the Keep,
but there were still errors from time to time, mostly when she was unsettled.
"Of course." Jade eyes shifted to Muirne, "I'll be back in a bit, okay?" Muirne nodded and continued to
chew, but spoke around her mouthful, "Its okay, I want seconds anyway."
That settled, Mira joined the Orsha Une that had come for her. As they passed through the halls, the
Vesai looked to her companion's profile, "What has you upset, Nyaehr?"
The young woman blinked and turned her head, "You come must to see... in Sha'tris. Two have come
that related to you they are." She seemed painfully aware her language abilities were dissolving, and
she felt awkward, speaking to her Vesai so informally, "The one who left, with his wife who is lost...
and his son who looks like the other."
Her palms shoved open a set of doors which lead into the corridors beneath the stands of the Pit, and
then Mira heard it. Her confusion over who the Orsha Une was referring to was instantly cleared.
"Oh blessed Brighid." The bellowing, ground shaking thumps and clawing, thrashing sounds could
mean only one thing.
"He's lost it." Mira's steps changed to a run as she charged forward and shoved through the final set of
doors.
The sight that greeted her was a shock, and she immediately motioned to Nyaehr to go, "Get one of the
Silvers! One skilled in healing! Now!"
In the center of the arena, Taylon lay twisted at the waist, his body limp and bloody. Sand was cratered
around him and blasted out behind where he'd landed. The momentum of the slanting fall through the
portal had caused him to skid, and nearby, Yarwin struggled against the immortal grip of Sha'tris itself.
Hands formed of sun-warmed sand were held together by golden power, and in a reflection of another
moment in time, the Black Vesahd lay pinned, screaming in wrath just as his father had once before.
Mira's braided hair slithered to the ground beside Taylon as she dropped to her knees beside him and
began gingerly feeling for injuries. She could help heal him, but another would be needed, hence the
call for a Silver healer. She could stabilize him, but it would take all her energy, there would be none
left to do more than keep him barely alive. Jade eyes darted to her brother as he paused his thrashing
suddenly and focused on a figure that seemed coalesce just a few inches from the grieving Vesahd.
"Sha'tris?" Mira had never seen the actual form of the Gaia, but knew of her... it. Despite calling the
Gaia by name, it never acknowledged the Vesai.
"Timewalker," Sha'tris, in its feminine form, paused and slid one hand beneath Yarwin's scaled chin,
"You are needed a bit longer... and you will have your chance to find her, and her sister. Now it is time
for sleep." Golden light bathed the struggling Shai'ay, and he slowly began to fall limp. His form, still
pinned to the sand of the arena, began to melt and collapse as it returned to its natural state. As he
dropped face first in the sand, black wings poured out from his scarred back and callused fingers dug
into the warm soil. Dark, sweaty hair replaced scale and horn, and the Black Vesahd lay blessedly
unconscious in the center of the pit.


                                                   ***


Valin woke with difficulty, the vestiges of talle konte clinging to his mind – making things hazy, out of
focus. Something had happened out in the world, something that deserved his focused attention,
something important. Pushing his fingers through short, dark hair the elf groaned softly and fought the
comforter back, catching the flimsy bed curtain with a reaching hand and nearly pulling it from the rod.
“What's going on?” he demanded blearily. “Somebody get this damn thing off me.”
He was met with a muffled giggle and the mischievous smile of his sister, Si'Lyen who snatched the
comforter away.
"Comforter one, Valin zero," she announced before looking back over her shoulders. "He's awake!" she
called out to her mother. Then she looked back at Valin, her expression more sober. "Let me get you
something to clear out the cobwebs, all right?" Anything more to be said would be shared by others
more equipped to do so.
The elf smiled at his younger sister and reached up to ruffle her wealth of curly, strawberry-blonde hair.
“Hey you. What did they give me this time? I think I'm past the point of needing to be sedated now,
honest.” His eyes were still pulled tight at the corners by a grief that might never fade, but the light in
the depths of his eyes grew steadily as time went by.
“We're not sure what that was,” Reece admitted from the doorway. “I do wish I hadn't been upright
when it hit though – knocked me flat on my arse.” The SandShadow was startled, still, and recovering
from a bruised ego after the emerald wall of power had sent him flying at an inopportune moment.
It was true and Summerlin squeezed her husband's hand.
"It's a good arse and it served you well," she said, just a trace of a smile at her lips. She nodded to Sil
who was doing a fine job of being strong. She was off to bring back water at the very least.
"There's a little sedative left in you, but the rest of it is something else entirely," the Elen said.
“Something else?” Valin asked, sitting up in the bed and holding his head between shaking hands.
“You'll have to forgive me, mother, I'm a little addled at the moment.”
"It's all right," Summerlin said, moving to sit on the bed and gently brush her hands through her son's
hair. "We're not all feeling that well either." She looked up at Reece and bit her lip. "Maybe a little food
and drink would be in order."
Reece nodded and partially turned, “I'll go uh... I'll help Sil raid the dinner table, we'll be right back.”
Valin frowned, watching his step-father leave before he looked at his mother. “Something has
happened, hasn't it? What did I miss?”
"Something has happened," Summerlin admitted. "But what, we don't know." She turned again, just
missing her husband and oldest daughter's exit and then turned back to regard Valin. "There was a
massive of wave of power. It sent Reece for a loop, okay it pretty much landed, affected Sil as well and
I can't say that I feel all that terrific either. Neither Reece nor I know what it was though and we haven't
heard word either."
The Elen princess paused, her eyes dilating slightly as she gazed at a point beyond Valin's head.
"I can tell you one thing though, something's not right on the Web. There's something skewed and I feel
it everytime I sense Callan and An'thaya -- or... well, try to sense them. It's the strangest sensation." She
refocused on her son, her expression perplexed and her eyes filled with concern.
Emerald eyes were still for a long moment as Valin looked at his mother, then hazed slightly as he
examined the network of souls he was connected to. “That is strange...” he murmured.
Blinking, he shook his head and smiled weakly. “Something to eat then, and then I need to find Addah.
It's time I start paying attention to what is going on in the world – if I'm ever going to be part of it
again.”


                                                    ***


Faelwen smiled, holding out her hands to their guest. "Edana, olore." Her cobalt-blue eyes were warm
with welcome as they met those of the other woman. "It is good to see you."
The Aarataurean ambassador pressed the younger woman's fingers lightly. "I am glad to see you are
well," she said.
"I am wonderfully well," Faelwen agreed. "I'm looking forward to hearing all of your news, but first let
me introduce you to everyone. Rem'Sero you have met, I know, but do you remember his nephew,
Trey'Gan?"
"Indeed, I do," Edana said. Sunlight gilded her honey-blonde hair as she took a step away from the
other woman, inclining her head in gracious greeting. "Hojet Gamel Al'Teron." Indigo eyes left the
older elf, locking for a breathless instant with the green gaze of the younger. Then golden lashes swept
down. "Ra'Vidden Al'Teron."
“Edana,” Rem'Sero's tone was welcoming, the woman was family in a roundabout way through
Faelwen. The elder S'Hean's eyes did not miss the way Edana looked at his nephew and a spark of
quietly amused realization lit their pale depths.
At the moment of his introduction color flashed in his face leaving as fast as the roguish smile that
came with it. Trey'Gan gave the ambassador his most respectful nod and bow. However the fine sparkle
in peridot eyes held every motion Edana took with awe. He had not words that could express what he
saw in her. But she was to him as the embodiment of S’Hea itself. Trey'Gan though did not miss the
slight bit of recognition in his uncle’s eyes so he curtailed his own feelings out of respect for both his
uncle and Edana. “Calima Almare, Amene Aicasse. D’Anke for remembering.”
"You expected me to forget someone who was so determined not to lose the seemingly foolhardy
woman in his charge that he was prepared to charge into a tornado after her?" Edana's lips curved, a
hint of laughter warming her expression. "You showed remarkable dedication, Trey'Gan."
Faelwen slipped her hand into her husband's and cast an intrigued glance at her older cousin before
glancing up at Rem'Sero. She had not missed the shift in his expression. An ash-blonde brow quirked in
silent enquiry.
“And again should the need rise if only to prevent the loss of such profound adornment when the Lady
graces S’Hea with her presence.” The tiniest of shift tugged a grin at the one corner of Trey'Gan’s
mouth indicating he was anything but totally serious. He knew she had not forgotten him for they had
crossed paths a number of times since the event noted. They had not had opportunity for more than
simple conversation at those times but each of them haunted his thoughts whether awake or asleep.
Despite her many years of diplomatic experience, Edana felt a wave of hot colour creep into her
cheeks. She wasn't a stranger to compliments, but she knew enough to take most with a grain of salt.
Trey'Gan's were apparently another matter.
Recovering her composure, she turned back to the others. "Jared and Danielle send their regards, as do
others in the family. They wanted to offer their congratulations on the birth of your daughter, and to
remind you that you are welcome in Ostohelyanwe if you should choose to visit."
Rem winked at Fael just before Edana's attention focused on him, but by then he was the picture of
courtly grace. “Our thanks,” he nodded, “and regards to them in return. We will take up their invitation
soon – our daughter should be familiar with both sides of her blood, after all. Now, why don't we
dispose with the polite hellos and have a drink.” His expression was slightly self-amused, S'Heans
could be as regal as the next race when they had to be, but they preferred frank conversation and
comfortable surroundings.
Silvery laughter escaped the Aarataurean. "Perhaps I have been an ambassador too long," she said, and
smiled. "Polite hellos seem to be automatic these days, even with family. A drink would be much
appreciated. Even though it isn't my first visit here, your heat and humidity still manage to come as a
surprise when I arrive."
Rem'Sero's deep laughter was a musical undertone to Edana's. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with
good manners,” he said, “and the heat and humidity still manage to surprise me every time I wake up –
and I've been here forty thousand years or so.” Pale eyes sparkled with impish amusement as he turned
to open a shaded cupboard where the decanters were kept cool. “Mai'Tus juice? Or something a little
stronger?”
"Mai'Tus juice, please." Edana sat down on a nearby chaise, straightening the skirts of her blue gown
with one hand. "I'm looking forward to meeting Aurewen," she said to Faelwen.
The younger woman's features lit up, a warm smile curving her lips. "I'll fetch her. It's almost time for
her to wake anyway. We put her down for a nap awhile ago." She headed into the other room.
Moving next to Rem'Sero, Trey’Gan spoke, “Mai'Tus for me as well.” And he took the filled goblets
from his uncle in each hand and moved back to Edana offering her the cool beverage. “May I sit next to
you?” he queried politely. It was hard to keep any distance from Edana so Trey was happy for the
relaxed atmosphere.
"By all means." She shifted over slightly to make room for him, and then accepted a goblet filled with
rich purple juice. She took a sip, and then smiled.
Trey'Gan smiled rakishly as he seated himself next to Edana so their knees touched but at an angle so
he could more easily face her. The soft drift of the air wafted the sweet aroma that was uniquely Edana
right up his nose making his head spin for a moment. He wondered desperately if station in life was the
reason they had not be able to pursue a closer relationship. Gods knew he would have crossed galaxies
if he was sure of his place in her life.
“Rumor has it that the library here in the palace has collections of old terran prose. If you have the time
would you like to peruse any of it?” Trey'Gan wanted to taste the lush full lips painted with Mai'Tus
juice just then and his body language was clear as he leaned in closer. He chanced moving his hand to
cover her free one craving more. But his suggestion he hoped would allow Edana to feel more at ease
and receptive to a bolder move than here in this setting.
Her breath caught at the look in his peridot eyes, and it took a second or two for his question to even
register. It shocked her a little how quickly she became flustered around him. What had happened to
her usual cool, calm composure?
"I would like that," she said quietly. Perhaps if she took the opportunity to get to know him better it
would all make more sense.
A knock at the door distracted Rem'Sero from his contemplation of the couple on the couch, and he
moved to answer it as they spoke, swinging it open to An'Telya's small, composed figure. He bowed
politely and invited her in, offering his arm to the diminutive woman and escorting her to a chair near
the others.
“An'Telya,” he said, “here is an Al'Teron you have yet to meet, my nephew, Trey'Gan Al'Teron – he is
with the Ra'Vidden at present, and this is Edana Aicasse, Ambassador from the Aarataurean Court.
Edana, Trey'Gan, this is An'Telya Al'Teron – a relative of sorts.”
The pale-eyed S'Hean smiled graciously and nodded to them both. “It is a pleasure to meet you,” she
said quietly. “S'Hea has truly opened its doors to the world and beyond – time has changed my people
greatly.”
Trey'Gan mentally bemoaned withdrawing from his closeness to Edana but respect required he at least
stand to welcome the newest arrival to the family gathering. By the name she too was family only Trey
was too befuddled by the moment to recall where he’d known her name from exactly. He had not yet
heard of the revival of this long dead relative having just gotten back into the palace from his ranger
duties.
“Calima Almare.” Trey greeted her finishing with a full bow of respect. Who she was now intrigued
him.
Edana coloured a little under the other woman's clear-eyed scrutiny. Drawing her normal cool
demeanour around her like a cloak, she set her goblet down and rose beside Trey'Gan, inclining her
head in polite greeting. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Lady Al'Teron."
Returning from the other room, her infant daughter cradled carefully in her arms, Faelwen paused as
she spotted the new arrival. "Olore, Heri," she murmured.
An'Telya's smile for Edana brightened further when Rem'Sero's wife and child entered the room.
“Faelwen,” she greeted, “and you've brought my ultimate granddaughter. I would like to meet her now,
if that is alright with you?”
Cobalt eyes met hers, and then Faelwen nodded. "Of course," she said softly. She crossed the room to
place the fair-haired little girl into the S'Hean's arms. Her fingers brushed her cheek. She was so young
and so precious. Instinctively, her gaze sought out her husband's as she took a pace back, motherhood
still new enough for her to feel an unnerving mixture of both anxiety and pride as she handed her child
over to someone else.
The answering look in Rem'Sero's eyes was reassuring, the hint of a smile curving one edge of his
mouth.
An'Telya gathered the babe in her arms and gazed down into pale-green eyes, a soft expression of awe
on her face. “A true Al'Teron,” she said quietly, “I can feel the power of S'Hea within her – her
connection to the land is unusually strong. She is like me – like we all were back then, the Queens of
old. Of S'Hea, within S'Hea. What a precious gift in a tumultuous time.”
"She is?" Faelwen was sure her expression expression looked as confused as she felt. Was An'Telya
suggesting Aurewen was different in some way? "I'm sorry, I'm not entirely sure that I understand."
“She is,” the ancient Queen assured. “All S'Heans are connected to the land of their birth – but
Aurewen, Aurewen feels it more deeply. As she grows older the visions may overtake her, and her
power as an Aethyr mage will only be outmatched by the D'Riels.” She smiled to herself. “It's why we
intermarried with the Danna-Riel, we saw the future from the past and the slow decline of the female
line. The interbreeding made our family stronger, more powerful... perhaps too powerful.”
Her eyes grew distant – sad for a moment. “Power that at times, demands a heavy, heavy price.” The
smile returned then, and she looked up at Faelwen. “Your daughter is a good sign – balance will return
to the land.”


                                                     ***


The blank, nothing of unconsciousness had been a blessing – but it couldn't last, not forever. Eventually
the agony burned through the cloak of absence like flame through dried leaves, searing away
everything else and leaving only the raw wound of loss. The physical trauma paled in comparison to
what was going on in the half-elf's soul, the stars of his spirit glittering erratically – desperately seeking
what was no longer there.
Cullen's heavy frame lurched on the bed, his head twisting to one side with a cry of inarticulate grief
and pain. He longed for the bliss of nothing again, to just give in and follow the path of it ... down,
down, down to where they had gone. It was not to be, however – there were two, bright, pulsing stars
that held him just as firmly to the light of day.
A gentle hand came up, followed by the sounds of dry leaves being crumbled into a bowl of steaming
hot water. The heavenly scent of peppermint soon hung heavy over the captain's bed like a soft blanket.
Kara hoped the sweet scent would calm Cullen down long enough for his mind to clear, allowing the
pain and anguish he now felt to subside.
"Dagar Y' Foryen" she whispered softly, her knuckles brushing his cheek. For the first time in her life
she spoke S'Hean. She had been practicing those very words soon after Cullen asked for her hand in
marriage. She knew full well she might have to recite something during their vows, swearing she would
not bite her tongue in the process. But now she feared her words were falling on deaf ears, so she
started to rub the tips of them, in hopes of calming him even more.
"Cullen, it's Kara. You remember me, don't you?"
The voice – he recognized the voice, and it soothed the frayed edges of his sanity. Dark lashes lifted
slightly, revealing emerald-laced brown eyes that were unfocused, hazed and disoriented. Cullen tried
to say her name, but found his mouth to dry. He coughed, trying to clear his throat, licking at his lips.
“Water,” he whispered.
"Who's Walter?" Kara asked, misunderstanding his request. "No Cullen, it's me, Kara. You remember
me don't you? K-a-r-a."
Suddenly it dawned on her what he had said. "Ohh gee!" She blushed and bit her lip. "You're thirsty. I
have just the thing," as she turned and picked up a cup of steaming hot tea. She had placed a number of
herbs in it earlier, just in case his pain went from bad to worse. With one hand resting behind Cullen's
neck, she slowly lifted his head and placed the rim of the cup to his lips.
"It might be a little hot, so sip it slowly. Oh, try to ignore the smell too. The herbs will help you rest and
heal. And don't give me one of your looks. I'm only doing this for your own good. You're not being
punished, just yet. Now sip it slowly and drink it all down. Nice and easy now," she ordered.
Just like any healer would have done.
Cullen automatically made a face, but didn't have the strength to fight about it. He sipped obediently at
the tea. “Kara,” he said finally, his voice hoarse, “that tastes horrible.” The half-elf choked on an abrupt
laugh that dissolved into silent tears – and he shut his eyes against the light.
“What happened? What took my children from me?”
Slipping the cup away, Kara dabbed Cullen's chin with a clean cloth. "I warned you," she laughed, but
became serious once again at the mention of his children. "We've no word on what really happened just
yet. All I know is that the moment you tried to pass through the wards, there was an unusual backlash
of power. You were seriously injured and if not for Rhiannon, we may never have known. But rest
assured, you're in good hands. Tre'Ver A'Ren, with help from Myn'Ette have set what bones you've
broken. Your shoulder and leg will need time to heal. Which means you'll have to put up with more of
my tea.”
Setting the cup down, she took a seat in bed next to Cullen. Laying her head lightly across his chest,
she looked deep into his eyes. Trying to keep all of her senses in balance, she circled a lock of his hair
around her little finger and tried to hold back her tears.
"The children did not do as well as you I'm afraid. We found Ren...Rennon a few feet from where you
were, his body badly broken. Ki found Raellen, resting face down in the lake, near the shore. There was
nothing any of us could have done. I tried my best to save Ren, but he was gone by the time we found
you. I think the blast may have struck the children first, which may explain how you survived. But we
may never know for sure. I tried my best. We all did, but it wasn't meant to be. I'm sorry..." she choked
out as tears fell, staining his bandages.
“They were just too small,” Cullen said in a stricken tone. “I had Raellen in my arms, Rennon – he had
his arms wrapped around my neck. They were just too small...” His arm tightened around Kara's slight
frame, sharing grief with her. “Thank Arminiea you weren't with us today,” he whispered, “I might
have lost the three of you too.”
Kara gave Cullen a half hearted smile, but the pain, lose and regret still sparkled in her eyes. "If I had
told you to wait for me, none of this would have happened. But I knew how much you loved them,"
and she closed her eyes.
"Are you...are we going to be alright?"
The half-elf shifted his head to kiss the top of Kara's. “I've suffered loss before,” he said, “I know how
to survive it – I won't let the pain take me over this time. I have you to think of, and our children. We'll
be alright... just give me a little time to get through this.” He gave her a gentle squeeze. “I love you
Kara, I won't leave you in the dark.”
"I won't allow the darkness to come anywhere near you, my love," Kara whispered. Rubbing her nose
she dried her tears and sat on on the side of the bed. "While you were unconscious, I pressed something
special into the palm of your hand. Can you feel it resting there," half wondering if there were any
nerves in his shoulder which might have been damaged by the blast.
"It cost me my whole life savings," she lied, knowing full well the tin can above the cabinet still had a
few coins rattling in it. "So promise me you won't lose it, trade it or give it away."
Cullen almost looked amused for a moment. “Like I'd ever give anything away that you gave me,” he
admonished. Lifting his hand, he peeled open his fingers and looked at his palm and the softly glowing
silver band. He smiled then and looked up at her. “It's lovely, Kara, D'Anke.”


                                                     ***
There were times Ghet just didn't understand her children. Aarien hated Riker's. She always had. For
Ghet, just walking through the door (well, alright, opening a portal in the middle of the bar) was like
stepping on a live wire. She glowed: her daughter shut down.
"Why did we have to come here?"
"Because I promised Y'Roden we'd take Marius with us."
"I don't want to."
"That's nice, dear. Listen, why don't you go sit down over there at that table in the corner and do your
drawing? I might be a while."
Aarien sighed, hugely. "Alright. But get me some squirrel and a drink."
"Yes, your ladyship." Ghet settled Aarien on a bench seat in a booth and then turned her attention
towards the bar. Her son appeared to be doing his job. Excellent. And next to her son... She took off at
speed, glad she'd left the boots off the tight jeans and t-shirt outfit. "FOXX!"
Marius lifted his head, winced, and took a step backwards. "I don't know anyone else who can always
make themselves heard over a crowd like that," he told Foxx reflectively, bracing for impact. "Well,
except you."
A flicker of movement by the booth in the corner cast a shadow over the child and her drawing pad, the
stranger's dark cloak brushing the girl's arm. “Hello Aarien.” The voice was a deep baritone, the tone
friendly enough – gentle when addressing a child. Ice-blue eyes settled on the sketch she was working
on. “What are you drawing?”
Foxx shoulder checked Marius lightly and did what small not-built-to-brace-for-impact people did
when equally sized people were coming at them. She headed straight for Ghet with as much speed as
she could manage. "GHET!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHOOOO!!!!!". Distance gave Ghet the advantage though and
the impact as they collided sent the two redheads tumbling across a few of the customers until,
approximately, they reached the ground in front of Marius' feet. Once there Foxx managed as deep a
breath as she could with Ghet on top of her, squeezed the other redhead tightly and squeaked out a
"YAY!". About thirty seconds later she revised with "Can't breathe". It wasn't exactly true, but it
required fewer words than Hey! Lets stand up and get a drink so that we can grin at each other
properly.
As Foxx couldn't breathe anyway, Ghet kissed her. Then, seeing as squeezing their chests together like
that was bound to cause some kind of explosion, she rolled to her feet. "This calls for drinks! Let's go
sexually harass the bartender. I'm not sure if that's more or less fun if that is Marius, or if he just has to
watch."
Shoving her hair back out of her face now she was upright and could tell whose hair it was, she eyed
her son with a grin. He looked more relaxed than she'd seen him lately - or at least, he had before she
turned up. Even now, pretend annoyance couldn't entirely mask his satisfaction. "You could have told
me, you bastard."
"Yeah," Marius said contemplatively. "Yeah, that sounds like something I'd want to do. You were bound
to turn up sooner or later, you always do."
Aarien glanced up briefly from her paper. Her mother and both her brothers had given her instructions
on what to do if strange men came up to her in Riker's and started talking to her, but she'd never had to
use them. Anyway, he knew her name, so he probably wasn't a stranger, but someone she'd forgotten
she was suposed to know. "It's my a'ma. It's a present for my a'pa, because he doesn't get to see her very
much. I can't get her nose right though. She won't sit still."
Dark hair slid over a cloaked shoulder as he tilted his head, examining the drawing carefully. “Ah yes, I
see it now. That is very good, Aarien, very lifelike, you have great talent... just like your father.” A be-
ringed hand settled on the tabletop. “Is that where you are going today? To see your a'pa?”
Aarien lifted her head, surprised, and had her first proper look at the man. "Yes, we are. Do you know
my a'pa? I haven't seen you before..."
Foxx grinned up at the other redhead from where she lay sprawled on the floor "Before we creep the
bartender out, or perhaps as a prelude, this really is the most remarkable angle from which to view you.
I can barely see your head. Without hair, it'd be like you just end." Laughing, she worked her way up to
her feet, shoving her hair out of her face as she did so. "You'd think I'd have noticed that before". For a
moment she paused thoughtfully working the odds "I probably have noticed that before haven't I? Well
Maybe not. Usually by that point you can't stand up either, or there's furniture in the way. Regardless,
it's a valid observation". The tricky philosophical point resolved, Foxx took a moment off from
grinning and leered at Ghet before sliding an arm around the other woman's waist. "I've been sexually
harassing Marius for weeks, it's still harassment if they like it right? Because they usually enjoy it, and
he certainly does. Let's do the bartender. I don't think I've done him before. At least not in a direct
targeted sort of way. At least not in the last hour. And not in a team. Is it a him? I didn't notice when
Marius and I came down. It's fantastic to see you you know."
The cloaked man paused to look through the crowd at the two redheads, then crouched down beside
Aarien. “Yes,” he replied, “I've known your a'pa for longer than you could possibly imagine. Perhaps
you would be kind enough to take him a message for me?”
Aarien smiled, her face bright. A message from an old friend was bound to cheer her father up. "Sure, I
can do that."
Ghet cackled. "Of course it's still harassment if they like it. I think the best fun is when they don't want
to like it but they can't help it. People have said that to me before, about my head disappearing. Or my
feet. Depending on the point of view. I don't remember you doing it before because you're right, we
normally fall down about the same time. Which considering I mass more than you - Oh! You so have to
say hi to Aarien! You remember Aarien, right? Well, you remember me being pregnant with Aarien.
She's eight now."
She swung both of them round so they were pointed in Aarien's direction, and frowned. "Who's that
talking to her?" The face was not familiar. And yet, somehow it was.
The blue-eyed man smiled and scratched lazily at his beard, aware of the three sets of eyes now upon
him. “Tell him that Uncle Tallin sends his warmest greetings, and that I've missed the games we use to
play.” He smiled then and reached over to stroke the girl's glistening hair. “Tell him I've decided to play
with your mother for awhile, we've never had the pleasure and I hear she is very good at games.”
There was a prickling unease at the back of Aarien's neck now. Something about this man felt wrong.
"A'ma is very good at games," she said doubtfully. "Especially Hide and Seek. Even Addah Ro says
so." She shifted uncomfortably. "That's my a'ma over there. She looks kind of cross."
Ghet was swearing under her breath. It had taken a minute to place the man because she'd never seen
his face. It was the side of her that was Y'Roden that recognised him.
None of the security at Riker's carried projectile weapons. It was too dangerous in a crowded
environment. They had to be right up close to someone to hurt them. Nevertheless, she disengaged her
arms from Foxx and gave the series of quick hand signals that indicated the 'problem individual' and his
location, together with the 'extreme caution' warning. They might get lucky.
Then she stalked across the room, a wake of fury and fear around her. Thanks to her brilliant idea of
putting Aarien in a booth, Tallin was between her and her daughter. "Aarien, honey, come here. You,
get the frack away from my daughter."
Marius watched in confusion, the swing in his mother's mood sending a chill through him. Whoever
that was, he obviously wasn't supposed to be here. He shot Foxx a troubled glance, then followed
behind Ghet. He didn't bother asking Foxx to stay put, because it wasn't going to happen.
Tallin laughed, a low, rumbling sound. “That is exactly what we are going to play,” he said to Aarien,
“hide and seek.” The large Corinian rose to his feet, the slither of his mouth curving into a smirk as he
turned fully to face Ghetsuhm. One hand slid behind him to grab Aarien's wrist, and both of them
blinked out of view.
Ghet screamed, sheer fury paralysing her. Panic was rising as she realised she had no way of effectively
tracking Aarien: that was the very reason she'd been removing the girl from Nenlante. She'd taken her
out from behind the wards...
Marius reached out behind her and caught her as she swayed.
Tallin reappeared directly behind mother and son, shoving Aarien toward Foxx and releasing a cloud of
smoke that billowed over those closest to him. “Don't worry, boy,” he said as the paralytic struck. “I'll
take good care of your mother.” The rings on his fingers winked as Tallin grabbed hold of the redhead
and pulled her toward himself – flashing out of sight, leaving nothing behind but wisps of smoke.


                                                     ***


The twin suns had begun to set by the time their guests had departed, but An'Telya's words still rang in
Faelwen's ears. All the explanations, the reassurances - they tumbled around and around in her mind
until she no longer knew what to think. A little dazed, she sank down onto a chaise and just stared at
her daughter.
A true Al'Teron.
What did that mean anyway? The former Queen had seemed pleased, but Faelwen felt uncertain. What
price would Aurewen have to pay for her blood-line? All the talk of power and lineages had made her
nervous. She was just a female off-shoot of an aristocratic Aarataurean house, and even she knew that
power came at a price. The greater the power, the greater that price tended to be. She wasn't sure that
she wanted that for her daughter.
She looked up at her husband, her eyes still a little wide.
Rem smiled down at his wife, though he was a little unsettled himself. “I'm sure she didn't mean to
rattle you,” he said calmly. “She just seemed a little... overjoyed to see a continuation of her line. Not
that the D'Riels aren't impressive in their own right, but Aurewen is a little closer to what she is use to...
I think.” His expression was a little wry by the end of the sentence. “Or, I could just be blowing smoke
out of my pointed ears because I really don't know what she was on about either.”
Faelwen gave a wry laugh. "I can't decide whether I'm glad that I'm not the only one who feels that
way, or even more worried than I was before." She shook her head.
"I'm just... struggling to take it all in, and fretting a little about what it means. Balance returning to the
land - that sounds like a good thing, at least in the general sense. But what does it mean for Aurewen as
an individual? That is what bothers me. It's hard to think about the general sense when the individual at
the heart of it all is someone I love so much."
Rem'Sero crouched down beside the chaise and kissed Fael's forehead. “In An'Telya's time, Aurewen
likely would have been in for a life full of power and harsh decisions, but now? The D'Riels are in
power now, and that isn't going to change anytime soon. There are any number of heirs and our Queen
is as closely knit to the land as An'Telya herself – despite being human.”
He paused, his eye twitching oddly. “I try not to think about that too much, but my point is, I don't
think we have to worry too much. You have to be S'Hean to truly understand what our tie to the land is
like – and from my point of view, being more deeply tied to it than most can't possibly be a bad thing.”
Faelwen's arms slid about his neck, and she rested her head against his. "I'm being silly, aren't I?" she
said quietly. "I'm sure you're right. I trust your judgement even more than my own. I was just - blind-
sided, I guess. It wasn't what I was expecting her to say. Not that I had any idea what she was going to
say."
“Silly?” Rem asked, surprised. “No, you are just being a normal mother. I'd be worried if you didn't
have questions... doubts.” His fingers slid into Fael's silken hair and he kissed her. “Part of parenting is
also learning to accept that you can't rescue them from their life, however. Whatever she is meant to be,
all we can do is raise her to have the confidence and strength to face it.”
"And the knowledge that she is loved no matter what." Her lips curved, and she kissed her husband.
"Thank you, for reminding me of what is most important."
Rem smiled, an impish light in the depths of his eyes. “I knew I had a purpose,” he teased, then grew
serious again. “You're welcome. I love you Fael – and our daughter too.”
"I've never doubted it." She cradled his face in her palm. "I only have to see the way that you look at
her. Your love shines in your eyes, it never even occurs to you to hide it, and I love that about you. I
love the fact that I don't have to question the way that you feel because you show me each and every
day. And I can never thank you enough for that, for making me feel so loved, for creating a family with
me."
“That, my elleska, is like thanking me for breathing,” Rem said in a quiet tone. “I couldn't, and
wouldn't want to do anything else.”


                                                   ***


In the half-light of the chambers Mira had once occupied, the Vesai sat on the edge of the bed, her
slender but callused and tanned fingers stroking the dark and sweaty hair of an unconscious young man
who had only just begun to show the promise of the adult he would become. She'd been here all night,
watching over Taylon, and while they'd managed to piece his broken bones and injured spine back
together, something was wrong.
He wasn't healing.
And Mira knew exactly why.
His soul was what was wounded, and the pain ran deeper than any physical injury he could have
suffered.
"I know, Taylon, I know." Her rich alto was unusually raspy as she tried to speak around the emotions
that threatened to leave her crying.
"I remember what its like, for your mother to one day be gone, and to turn around and see a monster
where your father once stood. Oh gods, Taylon, I know." The Vesai cleared her throat and drew in a
deep, shaky breath, and her head tilted back. Jade eyes blinked back tears as she studied the ceiling far
overhead.
"Vesai?" It was Tonikha, Toni as she was called by most, and she was the Captain of Mira's Orsha Une.
She stood just inside the doorway, her expression one of grave concern and not just for the youth on the
bed.
"Is he any better?"
Mira's head shook side to side as she continued to stare up at the ceiling, rather than look at the blonde
haired woman. Did she know? Mira wondered absently, did she know who's eyes she had? Did he
know that Tia's blood ran in Toni's veins?
Somehow, Mira was certain that neither Toni, nor Daemon, wanted to know. Somehow, life was just
simpler that way.
"So, then it is not his body, but his soul?" Toni nodded and walked across the room and paused at the
edge of the bed near Mira. For a strange moment, time seemed to roll back to the past and transpose
itself over the now for Mira. Another person lay in the bed, her short-cropped hair stained with blood,
her face a network of bruises and cuts.
"You see?" Her fingers and palm curved along Taylon's scalding hot cheek and let the memory slide
along from her memory and its place in he own soul to his.
"I know the monster within, I've seen it, I know it. You're not alone, Taylon.
"You could heal him." The words spoken by Toni were quiet, almost a question, but also a statement
made in faith.
"Could I?" Mira's head turned and her dark hair slithered over one shoulder and brushed against her
thighs as she looked at her Captain, "I suppose I could... but the greater question is: Should I?"|
Toni simply nodded in mute understanding, then her eyes met Mira's, "You have a visitor. A friend, but
she is here by Y'Roden's will. She waits in the throne room, Vesai. It is urgent, and I believe you should
go now. I'll stay with the young vesahd, if you will allow it."
Mira's brows furrowed, "Y'Roden sends a messenger?" Perplexed, Mira blinked, then frowned.
"If I could not trust you to watch over Taylon," Mira nodded and slowly stood. She gave her nephew a
final caress then squeezed Toni on the shoulder, "I could not trust you to give your life for mine. I'll be
back as quickly as possible. If you need me, do not hesitate to Send for me, regardless of what the
messenger may have to tell me."


                                                    ***


Marius hadn't been able to stop Aarien crying since Ghet had vanished. She'd clung to either him or
Foxx constantly and cried with an hysterical fury. He had no idea what to do about it, children not
being his strong point, but there was only one practical thing to do at this point, and it couldn't hurt. He
and Foxx took Aarien to the Green Heart.
Marius himself was icily calm. He was pale, and pinched about the mouth and eyes. Every time he tried
to think about what had just happened, his brain shied away. But he wasn't yelling and he wasn't crying
because Foxx needed him and Aarien needed him and soon Galain was going to need him, and he'd just
have to wait.
By the time the three of them walked through the door, tiredness had worn Aarien down to a low,
constant sobbing on Marius's soaking shoulder. Her brother looked at Galain, and words totally failed
him. How could you possibly say what had to be said?
Galain had been wiping down the bar's already glistening surface when Foxx, Marius and Aarien came
through the door. He stood stock still, his mind registering immediately that besides Aarien's unusual
appearance -- she'd never been brought to the Green Heart before and without her mother -- something
was very wrong. The expression on Marius' face had Galain's stomach lurching and he dropped the rag
on the bar top and crossed around it, quickly striding across the taproom.
"Let me take her," he said. "What's happened? Let me get you a drink."
Aarien pushed against Marius, who put her down. "Galain, it's Ghet. She..." Oh gods. There was no
way his father could be ready for a kick in the head of this magnitude.
Aarien shot across the floor and thudded into her father at speed. "A'pa, the man took A'ma! He took
her away! We have to get her back."
Galain leaned down to wrap his arms around his daughter, but he looked up to give Marius a puzzled
look, his heart suddenly doing double time.
"You're right, yona, and we will," he told his daughter, not quite comprehending what he was hearing,
and fearing what might come next. He directed his question toward his son. "What man took her
away?" His mind was already whittling down the few possibillities in the multiverse, the ones that he
knew of at least. Unconsciously he knelt down to his daughter's level and in the back of his mind was
slightly surprised to see she'd grown a little more since he'd last seen her. "Did you get a good look at
him?" They were all going to need a drink at this point.
Jerri came out of the kitchen just at that moment and stopped in mid-bounce, a small line forming in the
centre of her usually smooth forehead. The general mood in the room was a palpable thing, fear and
grief obvious in the body language off the three adults, more so in the child. The blonde bit her lip, and
did what came naturally – she broke out the booze and started pouring.
Marius shook his head wearily. "I don't know, Galain. It wasn't anyone I've ever seen before, and Ghet
didn't say his name. I don't know who he was or where he took her or why..."
Aarien looked up, and scrubbed at her face. "His name is Tallin. He said he was your friend, but I don't
think he was telling the truth. He said to tell you..." She shut her eyes and scrunched up her face, trying
to remember exactly what the man had said. "He said he missed the games he used to play with you.
And now he was going to play with A'ma for a while." Some instinct told her not to mention what
Tallin had said about her mother.
Marius made himself stop grinding his teeth, went over and took a couple of glasses from Jerri, and
passed one to Foxx. "He had Aarien," he told his father softly. "He used her to get his hands on Ghet."
The look of gratitude he'd sent Jerri's way was cut short by the revelations of both his son and daughter.
Galain felt himself simply settle to the ground. He took Aarien with him and hoped she didn't mind.
"Tallin... is not a good man." He spoke sparingly, but his tone was angry. "We didn't play very nice
games." His eyes lit upon his daughter, but the shine of love and gentleness couldn't quite hide the
gleam of anger and frustration that dwelt deeper within. The Elen closed his eyes. Why should this be
his business anymore? Why? But it was simple he supposed. Tallin liked to drag an old enemy's nose
through the mud, especially when he knew where that old enemy's nose no longer lay, so to speak.
Galain didn't want to be involved, but he couldn't help it. He hugged his daughter close.
"You are so precious," he said quietly into her ear before he opened his eyes and caught Marius' gaze.
"Thank you," he said, both to his daughter and his son. He stood and swung Aarien into his arms and
then headed toward a good enough table -- it was big enough to hold Marius, Foxx, Jerri and himself.
He had no plans to let his daughter go at any moment.
"Anyone been to Y'Roden yet?" he asked.
Marius shook his head. "We wanted to bring Aarien home first. She needed you." Job done now, the
little blonde had curled tightly in against her father's chest, silent. "But Y'Roden should be next, and
Rhagi. Maybe I just didn't want to be the closest thing to Ro's fist when he found out."
A nerve jumped in Marius's jaw. He could see Galain's pain, and the conflict in him, but as far as
Marius was concerned, this wasn't just Y'Roden's business. When he spoke his voice was tight,
bordering on cruelty, born of his own tightly-repressed rage. "We can go, Foxx and I. But if you know
him, if he took her to get to you, then you can help. How could you do anything else, no matter how
you feel about her? You can't sit back and leave her to - you know what he'll do to her, you must!"
Foxx had taken the drink and then the seat all on autopilot. She'd been more or less on auto pilot since
Ghet had disappeared. No, not disappeared, been taken. Sliding one hand over Marius' she knit her
fingers between his and looked across at the blond elf holding his daughter. "Of course Galain will go."
She didn't really know that, but right now she needed Galain to go. She felt small and helpless and still
awash with disbelief. And the sudden thought of Rhagi who was gods knew what size now who she
hadn't even seen yet and it was too soon. None of it felt real. There should have been time to get to see
everyone. Gods she hadn't even had a drink with Ghet or to go to Ingraleis. The redhead flicked her
eyes around looking for something normal and okay, some confirmation that there were parts of the
multiverse not falling apart. Her blue-green's found Jerri and she smiled weakly. "Hey Jerri." That done
she squeezed Marius' hand again and began gathering strength.
Things were going to be okay. They'd beaten Tallin before. Well not her, but the D'Riels. 'Thaya. They'd
have An'Thaya and Callan and Y'Roden and Galain. She looked up and straight at the Elf she suddenly
realised knew her longer and better than anyone else now that Duker was gone, and stared hard waiting
for his response. That'd be step one. Then they could get to step two. And somewhere between step two
and whatever that last step was going to be, she was going kick someone's ass because being scared
shitless for Ghet was not even remotely congruent with her original plan for the day.
Jerri, who had taken a seat beside Galain by now, pulled at her baby-doll t-shirt which read 'I Run With
Scissors – it makes me feel dangerous', and took a long drink before smiling at Foxx. “Hey Foxx,” she
said, as brightly as she was going to manage for the moment. There was confusion in her eyes – none
of the names, aside from Ghetsuhm's, were familiar. She was completely lost and more than a little
alarmed by the change in Marius.
Galain had gone completely still, and the expression on his face as he stared at Marius was thunderous.
He vaguely heard Foxx speak in his defense, but his attention was solely centered on his son.
"I know more than you understand precisely what Tallin can and will do to Ghetsuhm. I gods-damned
well am going, Marius," he said, his voice low but clear in the sudden silence that had dropped over the
taproom. "I wouldn't do anything else. I love your mother and you have no idea what I would and will
do to make sure she's safely back. You had better understand that. I will take Tallin down to whatever
eternal depths of despair I can and stand over him with lock and key if I have to. No one uses my
daughter, no one uses my family, no one uses anyone I love to spite me and gets away with it."
It was a fortunate thing that Aarien was in his lap and the Elen found himself breathing deeply to
control the rage that boiled through his soul and body.
"I'll go to S'Hea myself," he said.
Jerri swallowed hard, then drained her glass and set it down on the table with a tink. The testosterone in
the room was making her woozy. “Well then,” she said cheerily. “I'll go pack. Somebody has to go with
and make sure you don't kill anybody that doesn't deserve it.”
The truth of it was, she had a feeling that Galain was going to need someone on his side – he was
obviously going to have to deal with his ex-wife's new husband, and nobody should have to deal with
that sort of thing without some sort of loyal backup. The human had no idea where she was going, or
what she was getting herself into, but Jerri had grown fond of the grouchy Elen and if nothing else, she
had a talent for distracting him when needed.
Whatever it was that Marius had been going to say first, it was visibly repressed with a hard swallow.
Foxx's hand in his was steadying, something warm and alive and solid he could cling to. The gentle
squeeze on her fingers was as close to an apology as he could get. If his father needed to be mad at him
to actually get up off his arse, Marius could live with that. "Good. And we'll come with you." He'd
think later about why Galain hadn't said he'd kill Tallin. There was something there he hadn't quite got
his head around.
"Make it quick," he told Jerri. "With the three of us, we should be able to form a cordon between
them." Then his eyes went to Aarien, nearly asleep in her father's lap. "Damn. And maybe hold off on
the bloody slaughter for a while."


                                                   ***


The library was much as she remembered it. The ripples that had gone through the palace, along with
the aethyr wave, could still be felt. S'Heans spoke in hushed voices in the corridors, discussing the
tragic deaths and mysterious losses associated with the event, but here was a cool, shadowy oasis of
calm. It was strange, Edana reflected, how libraries could seem so untouched by the present; the one in
Ostohelyanwe was much the same. Perhaps it was because they were repositories for the past.
She glanced across at her companion. It seemed she could not help but be aware of his presence, even
when neither was speaking. She smiled, just a little. "I believe there was some mention in your
invitation of Terran prose," she murmured.
“Indeed there was.” Trey guided Edana through the rows of shelving, some arranged in bins that held
scrolls, many having been newly sealed as the Danna-Riel had done for centuries. Some of the shelves
held the leaved and bound tomes in the manner of Terra. It was here that Trey'Gan escorted Edana deep
in the library where few wandered and the unique odor that only repositories of books held dominance.
It was not a dusty or musty place for the Scroll Keepers meticulously kept it spotless. But it was here
that the rich fragrances that came from cured leather covers and processed paper filled the air. It was
the perfume of scholars.
The S’Hean ranger sensed that Edana might like some of the written works he’d come across here so he
carefully aimed for what was called in Terran terms poetry. Carefully he glided a finger along titles
until something called sonnets caught his attention.
“This looks interesting,” he remarked with a pleasant small grin. “It says here the author’s name is
Shakespeare and this is a collection of something called Sonnets.” Pulling the tome from the shelf he
randomly let the pages fall open finding them each with a number for a title. Pointing to one hundred
sixteen, Trey showed it to Edana. It read:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
“What do you think of their words? Do they make sense to you?” he smiled just because he was
completely enjoying this chance to just look at Edana while she read. He felt his pulse quicken as he
drifted closer to read over her shoulder and savor her rich sweet scent.
"I cannot say," Edana replied. "The words are beautiful, and yet..." Indigo eyes met peridot. "I do not
know that I can truthfully say I understand them, not in the sense of having experienced such an
emotion for myself. Love. I do not know if I have ever truly loved, Trey'Gan." She fell silent, thinking.
Her contact with the S'Hean people had taught her that the way they thought about relationships was
not entirely the same as the way her people did.
"I am an Aarataurean. More specifically, I am an Aarataurean whose family is a founding member of
the Council of Light. I do not know what you know about the way our society operates, but for an
individual of my social rank, marriage for reasons other than wealth and power is highly unusual.
Families arrange suitable marriages when the time is right and, whilst nobody deliberately sets out to
make another unhappy, love is rarely a factor."
She looked down again at the sonnet. "I did not love my husband when we married. We were together
for several centuries. During that time we grew fond of one another and when he was killed I grieved
for him, but it was a gentle affection that I felt, not a grand passion.
"And then there is you. What do I feel for you? I do not know. There is something there, but what it is, I
cannot say. Not for sure. Not now anyway. Can you accept that, Trey'Gan?" She looked up again
suddenly. His answer was important to her. His behaviour had led her to suspect that whatever lay
between them was not one-sided, but if it had any chance at all, she needed him to understand who she
was and why.
Trey listened intently to the words and undertones of Edana’s reply. Trey had to admit to himself that
while he might have known love from a lustier venue, even he had not known the bonding melding
kind of love of two souls. But if the Tyrne was any example it might be worth the risks. If it turned out
to be Edana then Trey was sure he’d need nothing else in life.
The Ra’Vidden’s musing paused to pay more attention to the words the ambassador was speaking. He
had heard some of what she was saying before and even then understood only from a purely duty
perspective. That did not stop him from wondering where he could possibly fit in her life even now.
“So in your society where do you stand now as a widow? Will someone be assigned to pair you again?
Will you be free to make those choices without the first strictures you had to accept because of your
rank?” Trey’Gan reached out his hands to take Edana’s in his own.
Lifting up her chin so her eyes met his he took her hands again and spoke from his core. “Edana, grand
passions do not necessarily mean that a couple could endure the long road together happily. Some have
started that way but it has been my observation that true love is the gentle affection you have spoken of
and the acceptance of the other person as they are at that moment, not looking to change a thing and
willing to stay despite the rough roads you share. As for your feelings regarding me, I ask nothing from
you but to be honest with yourself first and then with me. My feelings on the other hand will not waver
for since first seeing you they have strengthened and grown. I also understand birthright and rank. So
please tell me now if this will be an obstacle that has no good resolution. I would you rather reveal that
so I can put my affection for you in that place it is allowed and not let it fester into frustration neither of
us would find happiness in.” The S’Hean smiled affectionately and added, “Maybe that is what the
Terran writer was talking about.”
Trey’Gan’s face was closing the space between his and hers hoping he could steal just one long kiss.
Not taking it from her but asking with his eyes if she would grant it. “I can wait,” he whispered. Their
lips met in a kiss that seemed as natural as breathing. Edana's eyes closed and she swayed gently into
his embrace, losing track of time as her senses reeled.
"Trey." His name fell unconsciously from her lips, but the sound recalled her enough to where they
were to make her draw back just a little. Golden lashes lifted, and she touched a gentle hand to his
cheek.
"Believe me, I am grateful that you are prepared to accept me as I am. My uncle has already let me
know that next time I wed, if I choose to wed, then that choice is mine alone. He sees no reason to
force me to wed against my will, and it would be poor repayment for the services Tressach and I have
undertaken for our country. So there is no problem there. But I do not wish to seem cruel by keeping
you dancing on a string indefinitely. Nor though do I know exactly how much time I need. So if you
wished to walk away now, I would understand."
She smiled softly. "I cannot help but hope that you are able to be patient with me awhile yet though.
Perhaps, whilst I am here, we could spend more time together, get to know one another better...?"
Trey'Gan felt as if the gravitational pull of Whispin tripled in his stomach when his lips touched
Edana’s. Even his name on her lips in breathless tones made his head swim. But when she backed up he
felt almost bereft to the point of tears. Grasping her hand in his against his face would allow the S’Hean
a few more priceless moments in contact with her. The hunger in him was hard to suppress when this
close and this private.
“Edana, I said I would wait and that means I will wait for however long you need to decide if what you
want is me. I have no desire to walk away now any more than I have felt any need to previously. As for
time to spend together, I am within my rights to step out of the Ra’Vidden. I have given the required
time and service so anything more I give now is voluntary. I would never deny you my time. So what
would you like to do besides kissing elves in musty library corners?” Trey spoke with playful
seriousness. He was prepared to do everything in his power not to miss one single moment with her
while he could.
Her lips quirked, "I would like," she said, "to talk. I would like to stroll the gardens Faelwen has told
me so much about, and to speak with you. I would like to learn what you will do with your time if you
are no longer of the Ra'Vidden. I would like to learn about your past, your present and your hopes of
the future. And in return I would share mine. I want to know what makes you you."|
Trey’Gan could not suppress the grin that broke across his face at this point. “I believe I know just the
proper escort to accompany you to exactly where you speak.” The sparkle in his eyes could not be
mistaken either. He knew he was being playful but he could not stop himself. “If it pleases you
M’Lady, by all means allow me to show you those gardens.” Trey’Gan took the tome from her placing
back on the shelf. Then he looped her arm over his and headed out of the library to the gardens.
                                                   ***


Daylight was breaking and still she sat immobile, on the edge of the onyx throne that was her father's.
The Vesai of the Black Empire stared blankly at the floor just beyond her toes and her fingers stroked
the same pattern over and over again on her knees. The tears had finally stopped falling, leaving the
dragon-elf to simply stare and think.
So it came to this? In the end, ultimately Tallin Modar had accomplished at least one thing - he'd rid the
universe of not only An'Thaya, but Araxmarr as well - for the moment, anyway. Jade eyes slowly lifted
and studied the enormous chamber. It dwarfed and unsettled most people, but then, this hall had not
been designed with anyone other than Black Kin, in full form, in mind. She drew in one breath, then
another as she sat and considered the current situation...and while it was not the first time in her life
that suddenly the weight of all the stones of the Keep seemed heavy on her shoulders, it was the first
time that she was afraid they would come crashing down around her.
Only the distant thrum of the Pull tugged her out of her thoughts, and the Vesai rose to her feet, yet no
one was in the room. Then she noticed it. A faint thermal signature, an outline of a female who began to
materialize from thin air.
"It was once a tradition for the Right Hand to reveal themself on the Eve of Succession." A female clad
in precious little except thigh-high boots, black shorts and a corset became a solid figure several spears
lengths away.
"But then, Nargus' line started a new tradition: The Right Hand of the Father never lived to see the Day
of Ascension."
"I believe you are a bit early, in your revelation." Mira's chin tilted, "I am not yet the Empress."
"No, but you will be. You know the law. The current Emperor goes missing, and does not return within
one year, his heir assumes the throne. The Vesahd will not survive, he is a captive of his own Madness.
You are the next Empress, Mira Blackthorn."
"What is your name?" The Vesai spoke with an air of command as she sank back onto the edge of the
throne, "And why do I feel the Pull from you, yet you are not Kin, or at least full blood."
"Shy'mrr Hellsbane, Vesai." The crimson-haired woman's hand made an elegant, but formal gesture of
greeting, and blood-black wings flowed from her shoulders, stretched, then closed neatly at her back.
"The blood of two worlds flows in my veins, of Aerdon and Whispin. I have been trusted by your sire
since he was little more than a petulant child with a nebulous idea of the ruler he wanted to one day
become. I have been a part of your family since I was a child myself."
Jade eyes remained on the assassin, studying her. Her words were truth, Mira could feel it, and finally,
she nodded, then her gaze went to the doorway of the throne room.
"Shy'mrr Hellsbane, if you are to serve the next Empress of the Diirlathe, then I would like to introduce
you to my Randii, the next Emperor - I'm sure you already know his name."
The tall, blond elf who stood there merely raised a brow. "If this is about crowns and the like, can I
pretend I didn't hear?" he murmured drily. "You know how they chafe."
He walked into the hall, jade eyes thoughtful as they studied the two females. He paused beside the
throne, one hand squeezing his wife's shoulder. Concern darkened his gaze as he looked at her. She
couldn't hide her feelings, not from him.
And she'd learned long ago, never to try.
"Vershan..." Mira's fingers covered his for a moment, "You know of the Emperor's Right Hand?" The
dragon-elf referred to the title, not the person immediately before them, "Meet Shy'mrr, Callan's Right
Hand."
Shy studied Bran for a moment, then greeted him with the same formal gesture she had the Vesai.
"Oh, I promise," One crimson brow lifted in amusement, "there are many more things that chafe far
worse than crowns once you become Emperor, Lord of That Which Lies Between."
"Like thrones, which never have seemed designed for comfort, you mean?" he said mildly. "You're
probably right. You'd think they'd have done something about cushioning, wouldn't you?" Despite the
apparently nonsensical conversation, his expression was shrewd.
"I could murmur the usual civilities, Right Hand, but I think you and I both know that they would be
meaningless. I can't be pleased that you decided to introduce yourself when I know the reason why. I
would ask though what your intentions are now."
"Brandubh Badb Catha," Shy smiled, "I wasn't referring to the throne, or the crowns, or even the formal
dress of the station, but more... the decisions you have to make and the people you have to tolerate."
The Right Hand turned and walked away, then paused and settled into the a seat on the front row of the
many chairs that filled the throne room for the comfort of two-legged petitioners. "As for my
intentions, well." One arm draped itself across the chair beside her, "Let's just say I would be of far too
much use to the Vesai to ever betray her. Araxmarr was a keeper of secrets, but where do you think he
learned many of those secrets from?" One brow arched as she studied the pair.
"I would, as a gesture of my good will to the next Empress and Emperor, offer you a little bit of advice
at this time. The one trapped in the pit by Sha'tris itself will be useful if there is to be any hope of ever
regaining Araxmarr and his Randii. Yarwin is a Seer of the Tapestry, a Walker of Time. If there is
anyone who can save them, it will be him. I would also suggest you make it known, and make it known
now that you are no weak female to be irritated. You have enemies on Whispin, Vesai. You must show
Tallin Modar that the Black Throne endures, as does its power, even without Araxmarr."


                                                    ***


Leather hunting boots made little sound as the King of S'Hea jogged down the last few steps leading
from the Royal Family's private staircase to the landing on the second floor. Corded muscle rippled
beneath the fabric of a black shirt that was loosely laced across the chest as he turned the corner,
heading down the hallway that lead past the Stone Room to the Library. Ro's fingers shoved themselves
habitually through his short-cropped chestnut hair, a motion that outwardly revealed his irritation. The
one thing he didn't do well was 'helpless', and in the current situation around Callan and An'Thaya – he
was nothing but.
“I know that habit, what the hell is going on?” Shadow asked as she paused where one hall met the
main one. “You’re doing that and Gent’s mind is a scramble of images and sounds that I still can’t piece
together yet.”
Something had happened, “And if I shock myself one more bloody time, I’m going to put it too good
use and find a pain in the ass Lord.”
Ro smiled wryly at his daughter and caught her hand, tugging Shadow long as he entered the library.
“Tallin, Chezlar, conduits, it all adds up to no good. I'm in the middle of trying to find out what
happened to Callan and An'Thaya. Which is to say, I know they are alive... I just don't know 'when' they
are.” He gestured toward a gathering of Scroll Keepers with his free hand. “I've gathered a crack team
of 'find the needle in the haystack' people, at least for the scrolls. I still have to track down Maeve and
Holo for the Memory Crystals.”
Shadow scrabbled to keep up as she was tugged along. “What do you mean when… Oh hell,” her
vocabulary disintegrated into a smattering of any derogatory word she knew no matter the language.
“I suppose Chez has to keep the when to himself, or doesn’t he know either.”
“My feelings exactly,” Ro muttered. “And yeah, I haven't seen Chez since it happened, and I doubt he'd
be any help even if I had.” The S'Hean came to an abrupt halt in front of the table and looked from one
Scroll Keeper to another.
Mi’Leah looked up at the sound of voices; a slight frown flickered across her features then disappeared.
“I have a research assignment for you,” he announced, getting right to the punch. “I have no idea how
long this is going to take, so be prepared for some long hours – I expect you all to keep at this until you
find something – night and day, no matter how long it takes. You are to search the records for any
mention in S'Hea's history of unusual breaches of the wards, any sightings of black or crimson dragons,
any mention of half-elves. Keep an eye out for anything involving Death's Dream, or Light's Hope – no
matter how veiled it might seem. For that matter, bring me anything that seems out of the ordinary.”
“Yes, Tyrne,” Mi’Leah replied, “We will find what you require.”
Ner'Ius's usual messy hair was combed neatly the second he heard they would be meeting with the
Tyrne. He simply nodded as the king ordered them and then spoke after Mi'Leah. "Shall we get on it
right away?"
Y'Roden nodded, “The sooner the better. I'd say time was off the essence, but it all seems terribly
relative at the moment.” The Tyrne paused and rubbed between his eyes with two fingers. The concept
of time travel and its ramifications left him with a pounding headache. “Never mind, just get to work.”
“Is there anything specific in the subject of unusual breaches that might help?” Mi’Leah asked as other
scroll keepers hurried away to the assigned task.
The King shook his head. “No – I'm not even sure what, exactly, I'm looking for.” He sighed and turned
back to Shadow. “I'm headed back up to the Council Room,” his smile was warm – filled with the love
of a father for a daughter. “Come with. I could use someone to bounce ideas off of.”


                                                    ***


Their arrival point was the same place as always, the courtyard. There was no reason to go in any
further and Galain wouldn't have anyway for a variety of reasons. He stepped forward, aware of the
others who followed behind him, but concerned most for the bubbly blonde whose first interplanetary
visit had been to Berelath, mercifully like her own home planet. Whispin was a completely different
story. He turned, ready to catch her.
Jerri was reminded of Saturday morning cartoons, when the anvil landed on the coyote – because the
gravity hit her the exact same way. She fell into Galain's arms with an undignified grunt and clung to
his biceps with white knuckled fingers as she gasped for breath. The air was hellishly hot, and sticky
with humidity as well, making the act of breathing as difficult as standing appeared to be at the
moment.
“Christoper Columbus!” she exclaimed when she was able. “You might have mentioned we were going
to Hell.”
Galain's lips twisted and he barked out a laugh.
"Yeah, you about described it," he said. "You okay? It'll take a bit." He was no longer used to the
humidity either and it, combined with the gravity, left his senses reeling. "Weirdly... you'll get used to it
– really."
"It's not hell," Aarien said patiently from behind her. "This is Whispin. It's heavy. A'ma says this is why
when I grow up I'm going to be able to..." She paused, trying to remember the exact phrase her mother
had used. "'Kick the living snot out of those poncy girly elves'. That sounds yucky though."
Marius snorted with laughter and let the girl go: she was coping better than any of them, so he turned
his attention back to Foxx.
Jerri slowly climbed up Galain's chest and flopped her chin onto his shoulder, “I'm okay, I think,” she
said, her eyes taking in the breathtaking gardens they had portalled into. “It's lovely for Hell,” she
added. “So is he – he's also huge.”
Tre'Ver A'Ren smiled wryly at the blonde human, a questioning look on his face as he took in who all
had arrived so suddenly and unannounced in the Rose Gardens. “Dagar,” he greeted. “Prince Galain?”
His tone held a myriad of questions – Galain hadn't been here for many years, and everyone knew why.
The Ra'Vidden smiled at Aarien. “Dagar Princess Aarien.”
Aarien smiled, though her little heart wasn't in it. "Dagar, Tre'Ver. We've come to see Addah Ro. It's
quite important." She wasn't sure why they were still standing around outside, but she wasn't going to
ask. Everyone was very grumpy.
Galain was caught off guard by his daughter's bearing, although somehow he kept his own bearing with
a miserable Jerri attached to him, and yet he wasn't surprised. Aarien was acting as the princess she was
and right now they were guests with a purposeful visit and that meant doing as his daughter was doing.
"She's right," he said. "I need to see Y'Roden." He paused and spoke again. "Please."
Tre'Ver's jaw went slack, but to his credit, didn't bounce off the ground. He hesitated a moment before
nodding and gesturing toward the pathway that led up to the outer doors of the Council Chambers. “His
Majesty just returned from the Library,” he said, “I'll take you to him.” Without any outward sign, he
quietly tapped Fadil and Ja'Kel on the Web, a warning – something was not right. Not when Galain
Alcarin asked for an audience with Y'Roden D'Riel.
Jerri sighed, then tried to right herself. “Something tells me you are going to have better things to do
with your hands than hold me upright.”
"Probably," Galain replied, giving Jerri a rare and wry smile. It was cut off quickly as he regarded
Tre'Ver. "I've been here before without too much incident." He ground his teeth -- he just hadn't been
here before with the sort of news he bore. He looked down at his daughter and smiled, holding out his
hand.
"Help me keep Miss Jerri on her feet?" he asked.
Aarien gave her father a dubious sideways look. Jerri was much bigger than she was, and if she fell on
her, Aarien didn't think she could keep her up. She really didn't see how holding his hand would help.
Still, this seemed like one of those situations where you humoured adults. So she took his hand and
squeezed it reassuringly. "It's alright," she said, "Y'Roden's very nice."
Then she tugged his hand and led him off up the path, simply trusting the others to follow.
The nerve in Marius's jaw was twitching madly as he fell in behind Galain and Jerri. He'd been here
himself not long ago, and things had been tense enough then. Someone was bound to snap before too
long.
Tre'Ver turned his face away before blinking. Galain had stabbed Y'Roden once – for no good reason
that any of the Rangers could figure out – and right in the middle of Windemiire. If that was 'not too
much incident', Tre'Ver really didn't want to know what the Elen thought was. Then there were the
rumours of An'Thaya being dropped off just before she had left Galain for Callan, he hadn't been here
since. Ghet had -- coming and going until suddenly – with no warning, she had left Galain and married
Y'Roden. His sudden reappearance was, needless to say, disturbing.
The Ra'Vidden led the way up the mossy stairs to the double doors of the council room and nodded at
Ar'Tek, one of the Hyem Sirke posted at the entrance. The look at the other S'Hean's face wasn't too
much different than Tre'Ver's had been.
“His Highness, Prince Galain Alcarin, to see His Majesty.”
From the inside, Ja'Kel opened the doors. “It's alright, Ar'Tek,” he said, “let them in. Perhaps, though,
Princess Aarien might like to wait in the garden with Prince Rhagi?”
Galain regarded his daughter for a moment, an inquiring look upon his own face. It was a wise idea and
he nodded encouragingly. His body was already tensing -- he'd felt it happening the moment they'd
stepped through the portal, but the sensation was deepening and he wondered if he'd be able to even
breathe.
Foxx hadn't really ever thought about the fact that aside from it being disgustingly humid and
ridiculously hot the gravity was also huge. It had never been a factor because amoung the many things
the nanoids in her body could and did do there was a program which helped her body adjust to gravity
and she'd just gotten used to taking it for granted. Now however as she watched Jerri struggle she was
trying to figure out how it worked, which was proving a useful distraction from how tense Galain and
Marius were. It also was helping to squelch the urge to poke Marius and tell him he wasn't helping, and
easing her past the 'go see Rhagi vs. avoid Rhagi and not have to tell him what happened with Ghet,
plus get to find out what is going on' interior debate with nary a stumble. It seemed to be a repellant
effect, the gravity thing, but more widespread. She tried experimenting with her big toe. Whispin was
gross. Whispin was heavy and hot and humid and just gross. Foxxfire could totally see why she didn't
hang out here more.
Aarien looked up at Galain and thought about protesting. Usually when people tried to get her out of
the way, it meant things were going to be interesting. Or gross. Her older brother, however, was hugely
resourceful and a whole lot sneakier than most people suspected. He could maybe get them back in,
because apparently they weren't going anywhere until she left.
So she kissed her father and let go. "Alright. Be good, A'pa." Then she skipped off down the path to
find Rhagi.
Right. Be good. Galain shut his eyes and turned away. Oh to be eight again, he thought.
"Let's go," he said and stalked on inward -- there was just no other way to enter this place.
The expression on Y'Roden's face defied description. He was standing in front of his chair at the round
council table, palms on the marble surface as if he had just risen.
Shadow was in the seat to his right, where Rem'Sero normally sat, and there were several Hyem Sirke
dispersed around the room. Emerald eyes settled on Galain's features, then slid past him to look at Jerri
and a subtle gesture sent Ja'Kel to the environmental panel. He had never seen the human before, but
recognized the signs of gravity sickness. The King's gaze continued on to Marius, then Foxx, and his
mouth settled into a frown.
The question in the depths of jewel-like eyes was blatantly obvious. Ghetsuhm had gone to drop Aarien
off with Marius – why the hell were they all here? And she was not?
“Alcarin,” he said simply.
Jerri breathed an audible sigh of relief when the pressure on her slight frame eased dramatically and a
cool breeze seemed to come out of nowhere. Her spine tingled suddenly when she met the gaze of the
S'Hean King and she took an involuntary step back – bumping into Foxx. There was something about
the eyes...
As a Flight Attendant, she was extremely adept at judging people, but there was a solid wall about
Y'Roden D'Riel that defied explanation. His eyes seemed open enough – but what was there conflicted
so deeply it hurt. Old pain – a potential for cruelty that staggered the brain, yet there was a glimmer of
something else... and Galain was about to snuff it out.
Marius shifted uncomfortably, unconsciously moving closer to Foxx for comfort. At least he'd made
that trip here a few months ago with Grym, and got past some of his awkwardness with Y'Roden.
Unfortunately, the basis of that patch-up had been the S'Hean's obvious love for Ghet, and with her not
present, they were solidly back into 'dangerous and unpredictable' territory.
And if there was going to be dangerous and unpredictable, he didn't want his father on the receiving
end of it. He managed a wan smile and a nod for Shadow, whom he liked but hadn't seen for a long
time.
Then he took a step forward, so he was shoulder to shoulder with Galain. "Y'Roden, Ghet came to
Riker's with Aarien. She... she's missing. He took her right in front of me, practically out of my arms.
Tallin has her."
A nerve jumped in Y'Roden's jaw – for a breathless moment, the only outward reaction. Every S'Hean
in the room felt the wards drop beneath the Tyrne's will, felt his hurricane of a soul sweep through
them, searching – seeking, unwilling to believe the words that rang in gently pointed ears.
It was a rapid progression, the visible loss in vibrant jewels – a fathomless agony that crackled through
the fine filaments of soul and exploding stars. Then anger... deep, mindless fury that awoke deep in the
dark where it had been hidden, banked by love and acceptance, tempered by understanding and true
joy. It unleashed with the furor of a storm at sea – wild and out of control. It bled with a crimson flush
through verdant green – an intensity with a life of its own.
It exploded from the half-elf's chest with a crystal rattling roar, and Y'Roden D'Riel, King of Elves,
forgot himself. The blade of The Protector slammed into the dark-marble top of the council table with
so hard an impact that it split down the centre, the large green jewel in the middle popping free of its
setting and hurtling across the room toward the small contingent in the doorway. The heavy table
dropped in two sections, dust billowing out between and the red-eyed S'Hean leapt onto a broken
section, balanced impossibly there in the light gravity of the room – then threw himself forward, the
glint of the setting suns flashing off the edge of his bastard sword.


                                                    ***


The arched, wooden doors flung outwards with a heavy push of be-ringed hands, letting in the cold,
wintry light of Ciwnac, striking harsh on the elegant marble floors of Rakka Keep. The angry sea
tossed restlessly to the south, crashing against stark black cliffs that swept into snowcapped mountains
– stretching as far as the eye could see. Yet no matter how bleak the landscape, it could not match the
chill of ice-blue eyes or the malicious twist of a hard mouth.
A brisk wind blew in, tossing back the Mage's dark hair and rippling his cloak, tugging hard against the
clasp resting against his breastbone. A deep inhalation reflected deep satisfaction and callused fingers
rubbed at the softly glowing mark on the back of his neck – the horns of Haldanuru that protected him
in this time and place from the strain of time itself.
Turning away from the balcony, his boot kicked up several decades of dust from the floor. Rakka Keep
had fallen into disuse during these years – the glorious days in which he had held Corin beneath his
boot heel. He'd had no need of this lonely retreat, not with an entire Kingdom at his beck and call. It
was safe enough to stay here now, undisturbed, with the jewel of Y'Roden's crown.
Crossing the room, he opened a small, dust covered trunk and removed a smooth choker collar and
rubbed a thumb over the pattern of runes that marked the front as his footfalls continued on to the divan
where the unconscious redhead lay.
Sitting on the edge of the couch, he brushed deep-red locks of hair away from her neck and worked the
piece of jewellery around her throat, humming softly to himself as he fastened it and keyed in the
runes. Finished, he studied Ghetsuhm's features – a face that would launch a thousand ships, a beauty
that men would, and had, killed for. Tallin stroked her jawline, tanned olive skin silky-soft beneath
rough fingertips. He could see what had driven Y'Roden all these years, how the mighty Sword of
Peace had cracked and softened toward such a weak emotion as love.
Ghet came to herself slowly, conscious at first of an aching heaviness in her body. She was slightly
cold: that was odd, but she couldn't remember why that was odd. There was something around her
neck, something tight, metal. She was wearing a collar. Her body reacted to that unconsciously,
muscles shifting and softening.
She opened her eyes, squinting at the light. There was a man close to her, a large, dark man. The person
who'd collared her. "Christian?" No, that wasn't right, that was a long time ago, ancient history. And if
that wasn't right...
Her memory came back to her in a rush, and she sat up, sliding backwards so she didn't collide with the
man leaning over her. Her upper lip curled back from her canines, eyes flashing with a rage that
snapped out from her, hard. "My daughter. Where's Aarien, ase'hel?"
Tallin chuckled, low and harsh in his throat. Now he definitely saw what attracted Y'Roden to this one.
“By now? Safely back with her biological father, I should expect.” He sat comfortably against the back
of the couch and stretched his arms out along it – crossing one ankle over a knee. “She is a lovely child,
really, you must be very proud. Unfortunately, she has none of the talents I find particularly useful.”
A slow smirk transfigured his face. “Galain Alcarin – always managed to be a pain in the ass, that one –
but it wasn't his genetics that were of interest to me. He sired quite a few good specimens on my niece,
however, so he has had his uses.”
The Demon Mage tilted his head and long, dark hair tumbled around his shoulders. “You – now your
genetics interest me.” He leaned toward her slightly. “You, I find fascinating.”
A quick succession of emotions flickered over Ghet's face: relief, distaste, sudden knowledge... Her
own daughter might not be of interest to Tallin, but Y'Roden's would be. That she couldn't risk.
She slid to the side and got to her feet, brushing dust off her jeans. "I'm not really supposed to be
flattered, am I? I mean, I hate to blow my own horn, but this wouldn't be the first time I've had a man
fascinated with me. You're not even one of the better specimens. I'm not, for instance, currently rating
your intelligence. Getting me is one thing. How the hells do you think you're going to keep me?"
She flicked her fingers through her sleep-tousled hair. "As for my genes, I don't know what you could
possibly mean. I'm just a simple Terran human woman, everyone knows that. Still..." She laughed.
"This also isn't the first time I've been a poor substitute for An'Thaya."
Smug, Tallin let his booted foot fall to the floor and crossed the room to pour himself a drink. “Can I
get you something?” he asked. “Never let it be said that I don't see to the needs of my guests. As for
how I'm going to keep you – that's easy enough. You have no where else to go – and no one here even
knows that you exist.” He turned his head, eyes of ice peering over his broad shoulder. “Because you
don't.”
Frozen cubes clinked into his glass. “Simple Terran humans don't have pointed ears or slightly canted
eyes – and they certainly don't smell of Aethyr.” His expression turned dark. “Nor do they wield the
power of a Goddess.”
"No thanks," Ghet said, circling away from him. "I'm not staying." Information was going to have to be
her only power here, because she was no match for him physically, and with this Collar on... she had
her Talent, and her wits. It was cold, but the gravity meant Whispin. And if she was cold on Whispin...
"This is Rakka Keep. As soon as Ro realises I'm gone and steps out from behind the wards, he'll know
exactly where I am. I feel pretty existent to me, though you're just going to have to take my word for
that."
She prowled the room, testing her limits. Something was wrong. Apart from the Collar, he didn't seem
to need to restrain her. Despite what she'd said, she didn't think he was stupid. So what didn't she know,
why was he so confident? "Any human can weild the power of a god. You just have to find the right
god, make the right deal... don't you find? Anyway, with this thing round my neck, you won't be seeing
any of that, am I right? As for the rest of it..." She pulled the neck of her t-shirt down, distorting the
lettering that proclaimed 'if you can read this, you're staring at my tits'. "Y'Roden and I share a soul.
What power I have is simply borrowed. But you must know that. You know so many other, interesting
things about me. I do wonder how such knowledge came into your possession."
Tallin snickered into his glass. “What? Do you think I was just trying to strangle my niece back there,
in the time stream? She knows many, many things about you, An'Thaya does – and I managed to rip a
lot out before that behemoth of hers interfered. But that's alright... I don't think we'll be seeing either of
them again – ever.” He smirked and set down the tumbler, then turned and crossed the room with
overbearing strides.
A hand hand closed over Ghet's where it was fastened to her shirt, then slid down to clamp onto her
breast, squeezing hard as he pushed the diminutive woman back into the wall. “You're fishing for
information – Ghetsuhm. There isn't any need, just ask. I'll tell you freely. Y'Roden can step out from
behind the wards as many times as he likes – but he'll never find you, he has no idea when to look.
Right now, when we are, he is safely trapped in Tenobrous... and between Samara's silky, white thighs.”
Shock dropped over Ghet, dizziness making his touch mercifully remote. If he'd managed to look into
An'Thaya's mind, then he knew everything. All her strengths and weaknesses. She had nothing to fight
him with. He was right, he didn't have to watch her, because she had nowhere to go. Even if she got
desperate, got away and went to Y'Roden, her presence would change the Demon-elf, change history,
and take away the life she loved.
Frustrated as she was, she didn't for a moment believe Y'Roden wouldn't find a way to her - eventually.
Nothing had kept them apart: not death, not Hell, not the walls between worlds. Time wasn't going to
either. And Y'Roden wasn't the only one who loved her.
Her shoulders sagged, defiance fading. She replaced it with a deadening sense of despair, her hope and
trust balled tightly in her heart. Her expression was near blank as she looked at the hand on her breast,
then back at his face. "That's what you brought me here for? Surely there are easier ways for you to get
skrunned."
Tallin's mouth curved into an unsettling smile and both hands came up to Ghetsuhm's face, forcing her
head up – forcing her to look him in the eyes. “Do you know what I did before you interrupted me back
in the timestream?” He dropped his head closer, his mouth almost on hers. “I went to pay my wife a
visit – not because I missed her, or even wanted her. But because there was unfinished business to be
taken care of. Children that needed to be disposed of. They were powerful enough in their own right –
but not in the way I needed them to be.
“I had Galain Jr once – but he was male, useless to my purpose. Vanyalin, Amilyn, both too old – even
An'Thaya herself was already poisoned against me. Every female infant has slipped beyond my grasp
before I had the time to train, to bind them to me. You see – it isn't you I want, Ghetsuhm. Your body,
most certainly. I know, you see. I know you took his blood – I saw it there, in An'Thaya's soul. It has
changed you – is changing you still, and the child you give me will have enough D'Riel in her to serve
my purpose. The beauty, the power – and empathic too, but as treacherous and cold as the sea.”
He licked her mouth, his breath hot on her skin. “But best of all – most delicious off all, it will destroy
them both, the men that love you. The two who have stood so unbending in my way and kept her from
me – and it will destroy you too in the knowing that it will break them, and with the knowledge that it
is her... for all of us, the centre storm. I will have my revenge on them all, and what I have desired all
along.”
For herself, Ghet might have shut her eyes and endured. But to protect a child she was never going to
bear... She drew her head back all she could and slammed her forehead into his nose. "No! I will not.
You can rape me, but you can't make me bear for you! I'm S'Hean."
Her face twitched with livid fury. "Chet'furk, it's no wonder you hate them so much. Even your 'wife'
would never have gone near you if years of desperately panting round after Galain had made him love
her half as much as he did me. Your whole life's been one long succession of miserable pathetic failures
and you think you're going to break that with me? Not fucking likely."
“So you admit it then,” Tallin said, “it's surprising, the truths anger and fear will make a person reveal,
don't you think?” He drew back and turned away from her, boot heels clicking on the floor as he
crossed to the doors and closed them. “I can't force you, no, but you will willingly bear me a child.
Even An'Thaya could be bent – even An'Thaya thought she loved me once, and you will as well. All the
strength of your will is nothing against the power that I wield, and you will bend to it – eventually.”
Turning, he faced her across the distance between them. “I don't need any of it to be real – because I
don't give a fuck how you feel. All I care about is what I can take from you, my dear, and take it I will...
all in good time.” His laughter filled more than the room – it filled everything. “After all, we have
nothing but time.”
Ghet wiped a hand over her face, letting the rage shape it, hiding the furious movement of her mind. He
thought she was a tool, and he thought she was a D'Riel, and he didn't give a damn what else she was.
That was a mistake. She was an incubator, and one he'd have no use for once she'd given birth. "You
wanna be careful honey, I've been more than people can take a time or two before. You should give a
fuck how I feel, really, considering how much aggravation it'd save you. But when you had An'Thaya?
She'd never known love, not like we both have now. And just like the last guy who tried to run me,
you've not got the foggiest what that means. You're trying to break what you don't even understand.
Good luck with that. Now, are you done with the posturing, or shall I break out a couple of choruses of
'I Know a Song That Gets on Everyone's Nerves'?"
Tallin looked at her for a long moment, then moved toward a set of inner doors. “I understand you
better than you think, Ghetsuhm Riker D'Riel. Go ahead and sing, its the only sound you are going to
hear for a very long time. I've heard empaths hate being alone – its like terribly cruel sensory
deprivation. Drives them mad after a certain amount of time.” He stepped out into the hall, then turned
and grasped the handles of the double doors – one in each hand. “I'll see you again in about – oh, seven
days. I think you can manage that long without something to eat, just be careful you ration what there is
to drink in here. You wouldn't want to run out.”
The doors shut with a soft snick – and silence fell on the room.
Ghet let it settle, then she snorted. "I have got to stop telling Callan things." Nothing to feel, it's like
having no air to breathe. So we Stockholm Syndrome like nobody's business. If there's only a complete
ase'hel, it's better than nothing. A week. She could talk to herself for a week. If he wasn't going to feed
her she'd probably pass out before then anyway. One week at a time, don't think about the future past
that.
Surveying the room, she shucked off her jeans. Clean clothes would be a problem and she'd need them
later. Then Ghet hiked herself up onto the table, folded her legs into an easy lotus, and began to sing.
Her husky, blues-bar alto warmed the cold room, carrying a love song her husband had written for her,
and all the feeling that went with it.


                                                    ***


Something had been terribly wrong when they'd arrived, and Mira knew it, as did her husband. The
Lathian contingent had stepped from a portal, and the Vesai, in full Imperial battle-garb, had paused,
her fingers curling around the dagger at her hip. She missed it when Enkara remained cold these days,
in the presence of danger. It had always been both disturbing, yet reassuring to know she had a heads
up when she was about to lose her head.
Today, what was so very wrong was that the wards to S'Hea were standing wide open.
Canted, jade eyes narrowed as she tilted her head and looked up and into the distance at the castle
Windemiire. She'd no more looked to Bran, jerked her head in a silent command for the accompanying
Wing of Black Guard and company of Orsha Une to flank them, then proceeded forward than the wards
swept shut, like water rushing together after being parted unnaturally.
"Well. It's not really an invitation, but I'll take it." Mira smiled tightly, "Let's move this along, shall
we?" A portal reopened, this time with Windemiire as its target, specifically the corridor outside the
council hall.
Again she became aware that something was terribly wrong when the second portal was barely open to
its destination and the group entering the council hall itself. It was then that Mira realized Y'Roden
D'Riel was charging them like an enraged bull.
Jade eyes widened, sparked phosphorescent green, and round pupils snapped to serpentine slits. She
was aware of the others in the room, but her focus was narrowed to just Y'Roden. The S'Hean King's
attack was abruptly stopped by a sharp crack of her fist to his jaw. The Dragon-elf rocked back on her
heels, almost taken over by his momentum, and the only thing that saved her was a quick 'shift' of her
mass and weight and a change in her stance.
"Y'Roden D'Riel? What the skagging Rhul is wrong with you!?" The words were bitten out and her fist
rose again, this time in a vertical gesture that commanded the Orsha Une and Black Guard to stand
down. They'd both been dangerously close to returning the attack, the Orsha Une more so.
Momentum broken, Ro staggered, the point of the bastard sword driving into the floor at his feet.
Recognition sparked in his eyes briefly, then his head swung in Galain's direction. For a moment, it
seemed he might renew the initial lunge... then something in him died.
Remembered words haunted the very core of his soul, and staid his hand. It matters to me! Good gods,
how can you still not understand? You and Galain, neither of you ever understood what it meant to
betray me. Not some abstract wife, me. You could have screwed your way through the entire harem, I'll
bet you got told you had to do it, to 'stay alive'. And I wouldn't have cared, because I know you love me.
That wouldn't have mattered. Look into me, you know it's true. But... every time you raise your hand
now, you raise mine. Everything you do I have to live with the memory of. And you knew that.
Falling to one knee, the Tyrne of S'Hea pressed a palm to his forehead – the short forelock of chestnut
hair vibrating against his fingers. He didn't – couldn't – speak, there were no words through the anguish
of his soul. There was just one simple movement, a gesture that mirrored the one Mira had made, and
kept the Hyem-Sirke where they were.
“Ghetsuhm,” Shadow said quietly, a last minute spark of bluish-white dieing, the only sign of what
she’d been ready to do, as she moved forward from where she’d taken a stand by Galain. The irony of
the situation wasn’t lost on her right then.
“Tallin has her.” The Taurësúlë carefully moved the bastard sword out of the way, “Ja’Kel? Would you
bring the brandy please? And perhaps throw something over the emerald so we don’t have any
accidents.” Crouching down beside Y’Roden she touched his shoulder, “Ketai? Come sit, please?”
Very slowly, Marius let out a long breath and lowered his arm. The impact of the stone was going to
leave a mark, but at least it didn't look like anyone was going to die now, and it had. Not for the first
time, he had to wonder what his mother was doing married to a psychotic. He shot a look at his father
and almost grinned, hysterical laughter not far away.
"Ghetsuhm as well as Callan and An'Thaya?" Bran relaxed his grip on the handle of the axe that rested
at his hip. Like his wife, the fair-haired elf was armoured - in his case, in burnished steel that matched
the scales of his draconic self. "It sounds like someone's been planning things suspiciously well, doesn't
it?"
He looked over at Marius. "How?" Ghetsuhm was a good friend. The idea of her being in Tallin's
clutches left a bad taste in his mouth.
During this whole time Galain had felt like he was frozen. He'd come here unarmed, against his better
judgment, but knowing his arrival would cause "concern". He'd thrown Marius a startled look when
he'd told what had happened to Ghetsuhm and then stared in absolute resignation when Y'Roden had
rushed forward. Mira's punch to the S'Hean king's face was precisely what the Elen had been prepared
to do and he gave her an appreciative nod. His eyes swept over to Shadow and watched her with
Y'Roden. He knew she'd moved to his side and could only close his eyes briefly before he caught his
son's expression. One hand closed over Marius' forearm and squeezed, his expression warm for a
moment before he had to turn away. Nothing in life made much sense and it was a madman who might
try to explain it, the Elen thought.
It was Bran's words that had him shaking his head, looking back briefly to be sure Jerri and Foxx were
okay before he stared at both Mira and Bran.
"Now wait -- An'Thaya and Callan are gone too?" he asked before Marius could answer.
"What?" Marius rubbed at a nagging headache he suspected he wasn't losing any time soon. "Alright.
You don't want to tell that story over and over any more than I do this one. Let's all sit down..." He
tailed off, looking at the remains of the table and the mess of dust and stone chips that littered the room.
"Or not, and go through all this once."
Foxx had ducked behind Marius when the table had shattered beneath Y'roden. More reaction than
anything it hadn't even occured to her that Galain might need help. Bran and Mira's appearance had
compounded her surprise and for the moment she settled for giving up fooling with the gravity for a bit,
and just curling into her lover's side. It seemed like this was just going to be another of those times that
got bad and worse.
“Who are An'Thaya and Callan?” Jerri asked. The blonde was staring at the kneeling King, a hand
clutched to her rapidly beating heart. She'd seen Galain's death in those emerald eyes, and more – a
depth of agony that left her shaken. The human's gaze lifted to the shattered table and the portrait that
hung behind the chairs, blue eyes going soft as she studied it. The subject was Ghetsuhm, that much
she knew – she'd met the redhead briefly at the Green Heart – and it was a nude. The painter had
obviously been in love with who he saw – reflecting grace and sensuality in a way she had never seen
before. Somehow she knew it had been painted by Y'Roden D'Riel – and that glimmer of revelation
clashed harshly with the monster she had been witness to only moments before.
“Ketai? Come sit, please?” The words penetrated the dark, mingling with flashing colours of pain.
Ghetsuhm was alive – but so far away it twisted their soul and prevented any communication. It was as
if someone had severed his left arm and raked out his eyes, leaving him blind and slowly bleeding to
death in the cold.
She needed him to be stronger than this – ironic that only his love for her could 'cause such debilitating
agony. Ghettie was out there, somewhere, and it was up to him to bring her home.
With a shudder, the S'Hean Tyrne lifted his head and met Mira's jade gaze for a long moment, then
placed his hand over Shadow's were it had come to rest on his shoulder. “My apologies,” he said
quietly.
Staggering to his feet, Y'Roden swivelled slightly, nodded calmly to Galain Alcarin, then regarded his
council table with a jaundiced eye.
“Brandy?” Ja'Kel asked, offering up the bottle Shadow had requested.
Y'Roden stared at the other elf for a second, then laughed – a harsh, brutal sound that held more
humour than it should have. He drained a good quarter of the bottle and gestured for the others to have
a seat. “My hospitality is somewhat lacking today – you'll have to forgive me. Ghet...” he stared at the
portrait during the silence that fell. “Ghet is always the one that makes people feel comfortable. Now
she is gone. Callan and An'Thaya are lost to the time stream, thanks to Tallin, and now he has taken my
wife as well.”
"As I said, someone has been planning suspiciously well," Bran said. He didn't sound pleased by that
fact. The fair-haired elf crossed the room to the table, resting his hands on the back of a chair.
"It's in relation to the first incident than Mira and I are here primarily. I hate to add even more bad news
to everyone's shoulders, but I don't really have any choice. With Callan and An'Thaya gone, someone
has to take up their role in the Diirlathe. In the past, it has tended to be the Vesahd who has done that.
This time..." He shook his head. "That won't be possible. Yarwin is suffering the Grieving Madness.
Taylon barely survived their last little father-and-son chat." He looked over at his wife.


                                                    ***


It had taken Rhagi a while to get Aarien to calm down, and even longer to get the story out of her. She'd
been pretty insistent that they eavesdrop on Galain and Y'Roden, and pretty pissed off when Rhagi had
refused.
He'd had to stay with her so Beth could get her to bed. Once she'd stopped fighting, she'd dropped like
a brick had hit her. Rhagi had thought he'd be relieved to be free of her, but without the responsibility,
he'd had to start thinking.
Before that had turned to feeling, he'd decided this was just one secret too far, and headed off to find
his sisters. He didn't think either of them would have headed to bed yet, and he was right.
He dropped on to a chaise, took the thong out of his hair and slumped. How in hells did you break news
like this? "Drysi, Yseult..." He sighed and leaned his head forward, hair falling over his face, long
fingers rubbing his temples. "You felt the wards come down, right?"
Twitchy, Yseult spilled Mai'Tus wine on her fingers as she poured out a glass for her brother. Both
S'Heans and Corinians stopped raising their eyebrows when children hit the age of fifteen or so – and
mild alcohol consumption was perfectly acceptable. Given what she had felt earlier along the Web,
Yseult figured it was more than necessary. She held out the glass to him and held another to her chest,
it was already half way gone.
“It was hard to miss,” she said shakily. “So was Addah's temper. What set him off?”
"D'Anke, Yse." He took the glass, but it was still a moment before he raised his head, pinching the
bridge of his nose with his free hand. "Mum, it was Mum. Aarien says she was kidnapped, from
Riker's. By Tallin." He laughed shakily. "It's supposed to be your side of the family that does this stuff,
not mine."
Drysi sat down by his side and put an arm around his shoulders. Phish, draped in his usual position
around her neck, whistled softly. "Family is family," she murmured. "Does it matter whose side it is?"
The look Rhagi turned on Drysi was bewildered. "She's my mother. Of course it matters." It sounded
harsh, because he couldn't articulate how he felt, the gaping improbability of it. For all he'd seen her
near death and near-insane, it was her job to pick up after the disasters of others. She was the rescuer,
he'd never in his life seen her be the damsel in distress. When she broke it was because she pushed
herself too hard, not because someone else had broken her. He couldn't comprehend the idea that
someone else had control over her. "When the wards came down... she's gone. There's just this sort of
deadness. She's not dead, but I can't find her and neither can Addah. And... it's not just her. Dera Thaya
feels the same."
Yseult looked momentarily confused. “I'm fairly sure something didn't come out right there. Wait...
gone?” The platinum blonde fell onto the couch on the opposite side of Rhagi from her twin, not even
noticing when she spilled rich indigo hued wine down the front of her pale jade dress. “No wonder
Addah lost it.” Pushing a hand through the fine strands of her hair she let out an explosive breath. “Oh
Rhagi,” she breathed, “what is he going to do?”
Rhagi shook his head wordlessly, finally remembering he had the glass and drinking. "I don't know. I
don't know. He's in their right now with Marius and my step-father, but if they don't know where to
start looking... but whatever it is, he's damn well not going to do it without me this time." His fingers
tightened on the glass until his knuckles went white, but he couldn't feel it. It felt like he was going to
drop it. "I can't..." He looked at Yseult, huge green eyes utterly lost. "I can't."
Drysi sighed. "I didn't mean that. I meant... Oh never mind." She slid her arm away, feeling very alone
as her brother and sister looked at one another. Yse was a comfort. She... she was just the screw-up who
always managed to make everything worse. She wished she could say the right thing just once, and
then she immediately felt angry with herself for being so self-centred.
"I'm sorry, Rhagi," she whispered. She squeezed his shoulder. "I'm really sorry. If there's anything I can
do... anything at all..."
Yse's eyes brimmed with sympathy and she looked helplessly at Drysi, then at Rhagi again. “You know
he won't give you a choice,” she said gently. “Addah is more than over protective, and he is likely
terrified. The rest of us are undoubtedly under house arrest until he figures all of this out.”
"It's alright, Drysi." He reached over with his free hand and squeezed Drysi's. Then he emptied his
glass, looked at Yseult, and just shrugged. "You two will have to stay here. You're girls. But Tallin's got
no use for me. Alright, Addah might tie me to a chair or something, but this time he's going to have to.
If only because if he and Galain go off together to get her, they'll kill each other before they find her."
Gently freeing himself from both sisters, Rhagi got to his feet and dropped the glass on a table. "I'm
going to bed. I'll see you in the morning." With that, he left the room, bumping gently into the
doorframe on the way.
Yse watched him go and frowned slightly. “Is it just me? Or did he inherit Addah's temperament? He
can be terribly... sullen.” At that moment, it dawned on her that the front of her dress was wet. “Ah,
chuff...”
Her sister just scowled at the door through which her brother had just left. She didn't like the way his
thoughts were headed one little bit. So what if they were girls? Did that make them completely useless
too? For that matter, how dared Rhagi think so little of himself that he would just dismiss himself that
way. Muttering rude remarks under her breath, the raven-haired girl bounced to her feet and began to
pace.
"There has to be something we can do," she said. She spun around.
"I hate this. I hate feeling so bloody helpless. There always seems to be something going on, and there's
always some reason why we're supposed to just sit on our hands and do nothing - as if we're useless or
in the way." Sparks of the anger which was usually so rarely provoked shone in her emerald eyes.
The blonde looked up at her dark-haired twin and lifted a silvery eyebrow. “What are you suggesting?”
she asked. “We're as vulnerable as anyone else to Tallin Modar. I, for one, have no wish to end up in his
filthy paws.” She shrugged, “Maybe there is something we can do from behind the safety of the wards?
We can ask Addah – when he calms down.”
Drysi sighed and rubbed a hand over her face, the brief moment of temper dying as quickly as it had
been born. "I know, I wasn't suggesting we went running off on our own or anything," she said. "It's
just... I don't feel comfortable sitting around and doing nothing either. You're right. We can ask Addah
later."
She looked over at her sister. "I'm sorry, Yse. I shouldn't have taken my bad mood out on you."
Yse got to her feet and swept Drysi up in an affectionate hug. “I didn't think you were, dear heart,” she
said. “Everyone has the right to be a little cranky once in awhile – especially under the circumstances.”
The young elf laughed, “And now we both need a change of clothes, I've gotten Mai'Tus wine all over
you.”


                                                  ***


Galain had taken his seat, far away from Y'Roden, stopping first to make sure Jerri was seated before
he himself sat down. He studiously avoided looking at the portrait that dominated the place. He'd
painted his own portraits of Ghetsuhm, and every last one had been burned and buried on the site where
they'd married each other. He spoke quietly to Jerri, knowing she had to have a million questions
bubbling forth.
"An'Thaya is Y'Roden's sister, my other ex-wife. Callan is her husband. He's also the father of the
woman who possesses that fantastic right hook." He nodded in Mira's direction. He had put his hands
on his knees and realized that if he let go, they would start shaking. He frowned and looked at the
others. What the hell was Tallin up to now? The Elen prince knew now that he'd only been a convenient
target of the moment, that something far deeper was afoot.
Jerri's mouth parted slightly, and her fingers quickly covered it – pressing firmly against her lips. She
had obviously fallen into a hideously tangled web of history and didn't have a hope of making any
sense of it immediately. Questions were best left for later, she realized, and so settled in to listen.
“You're from Terra, hai? And that’s quite alright. Mira’s reassuring Sending drifted to the blonde
Human, “I blundered into it myself quite royally. Forgive the pun. I believe you have also met two of
our children, Caolan and Muirne. I understand there was... some damage... done at the Green Heart
which they had to work off. Mira’s attention drifted from Jerri to Ro, the physical reaction had put many
on guard and alarmed several others, but anyone familiar with Keep life, once they realized what was
wrong with Ro, would understand. Losing a loved one, much less three so closely together would cause
a fair bit of insanity in anyone.
Jerri nearly leapt out of her chair, her knuckles turning white where they clung to the chair. Voices in
her head still freaked the human out, but it was easy to find the source. The jade-eyed woman was
stunningly beautiful and a paragon of strength. The look Jerri levelled on her was a myriad of awed
respect and banked lust – it was never a good thing to openly drool over a married woman. She smiled
and nodded an affirmative for both questions.
Y'Roden's shoulders sagged – how much could possibly go wrong all at the same time? It was a
question he knew the answer too. He'd lived through these nightmares before, become King in the
midst of one of them – died in the midst of another. “Mira will make a formidable Empress,” he said in
a surprisingly firm voice. The half-elf nodded to the dragon-elf. “You have S'Hea's continued support.”
The Monarch surpassed the man in that moment, the Sword finding his equilibrium again. “Keep a
watchful eye over An'Thaya's children who have returned to the Keep. Any female child of the D'Riel
line could be a target at this point.”
Mira’s fingers curled around the hilt of the dagger at her hip and she nodded, “The Orsha Une already
have my orders and the Right Hand of the Emperor sees all.” The last was a quiet, tight sending meant
for Y’Roden only.
“I believe Tallin Modar would receive more than a nasty shock if he tried to get at the children at the
Keep. You are welcome, of course, to send any back with us who you feel may be at risk.” Her husband
gave his own nod of acknowledgement to her words.
Ro's gaze swung heavily to Galain after a nod of approval for Mira. “Gather your daughters and
granddaughters to make sure they are safe, I'll do the same for mine. The Family D'Riel is officially
under attack and we have no way of knowing where Tallin will strike next. I would appreciate it if you
would agree to stay here, Galain.” He smiled in a self mocking manner. “I'm asking for your help to
protect our family – and to find those we have lost.”Instead he met Y'Roden's eyes, his own expression
blank, but he nodded, barely covering the shudder of revulsion that ran through him when he thought of
Tallin actually talking to Aarien, when he remembered what had happened before when it came to his
daughters of D'Riel blood.
Galain nodded.
"I will stay. Word will be immediately sent to all of my daughters by An'Thaya, to my family as a
whole." Adarin would need to know as well and the safest place for them if they weren't in S'Hea was...
"In fact, if they aren't within S'Hea already, I'll be sure the rest are in Alcarinque," he added. Gods, he
thought. How would he sleep here? His eyes strayed accidentally to Y'Roden's paintng and his eyes
focused on Ghetsuhm's face. Paralyzed for several long moments Galain realized he could stay here as
long as he needed to bring that woman home. He tore his gaze away and stared at his knees again.
He'd help bring not just her, but An'Thaya and Callan home. Hysteria rose up deep within him -- what
sort of masochist was he? he wondered.
Shadow looked around at those in the room, the corner of her lips curling up into her unusual grin,
“Does anyone have a camera? We need to document this historical moment, or at the very least save it
to share with the others when they’re back.”
Y'Roden shot Shadow a surprised look, then had to laugh softly, despite himself. “You wouldn't
embarrass us like that, would you?” He sobered again and raked callused fingers through is hair.
“Earlier today – Tallin attempted to change the past. Haldanuru has given him the power to travel
safely in time. He attempted to kill Tager Terne just before Corin was cast into Tenobrous. Most of you
will realize the implications of that.
He will probably try again, and without An'Thaya, Callan and Ghetsuhm, we haven't a hope in hell of
stopping him. There are only Belle, Argent and myself left out of the double triad – and it isn't enough.
If he changes something – anything – it will all be for nothing. He is afraid of Ghetsuhm – of what she
can do, and I assume that is why he took her. I can't feel her, not clearly, so I can only assume he has
taken her somewhen, not somewhere.”
“Your assumption is correct.” The tri-toned voice slid like honey through the room. “Haldanuru
Morelen has broken his Accord with the other Gods. Tallin Modar has crossed a line and attempted to
change the weave of the Tapestry on the loom. For this reason, and this reason alone, I am permitted to
help you.”
Chezlar Khor stepped from the shadows, his liquid gold eyes spinning sedately. “I may not reveal the
fate of Ghetsuhm Riker – as that is not my secret to give, but I can help you to stand in Tallin's way
when he once again attempts to alter what the Fates have woven. I charge you, Y'Roden D'Riel and
Galain Alcarin, with this task – for only the two of you are woven tightly enough into the fabric to
know it for what it is.”
Y'Roden tensed, the nerve in his jaw working. Anger was just below the surface, but part of him knew
enough not to direct it at Chezlar. The Messenger was only the voice, not the will of the Fates. “And
what of my wife then?”
“It is my hope,” Chezlar said quietly, “that our efforts to halt Tallin's plans will reveal her location in
the process.” He smiled then, an expression of sheer light. “Ghetsuhm is loved by many, my friend, and
that love will bring her home.”
Galain remained silent, only the tensing of his jaw revealing his reaction to Chezlar's pronouncement.
Just what the hell was it with the Fates that they felt like dragging him back into the thick of D'Riel
troubles, especially when he was pretty certain he'd washed his hands of the entire family. But it was
true, just as Chezlar said it: Ghetsuhm was surely loved by many and there was no way Galain would
let her remain lost in time, even though it meant returning her to someone else, even though it meant
working with Y'Roden. The Elen had learned, at great cost, that his own will and desires were as
nothing in the great scheme of things. Happiness, for Ghetsuhm, and for An'Thaya as well, was
something he'd provide without second thought, regardless of the cost to himself.
"I'll stand against Tallin," he said at last. "Hells, I'll stand on Tallin to keep him from succeeding at
whatever half-assed plot he's got going," he said.
“Y’Roden?” Mira broke in, “You should know this... Yarwin isn’t just mad, he’s completely lost right
now. He is a... guest... of Sha’tris. He begged for death, but she refused him...” The last brought a low
growl from some of the accompanying Guard.
Suicide was a natural and honorable remedy for the grief that overwhelmed their kind when a loved
one was lost. The true tragedy was when children were involved between a couple. Often the children
were the only thing that kept a surviving mate from being released from their misery. Bran looked over
at them sharply, but kept silent.
“I am told by one whose blood is of both Whispin and Aerdon that he will be of use yet. He is half-
Shai’ay... Y’Roden? He is a Seer of the Tapestry. He has been called a Walker of Threads... of time
itself. Tallin doesn’t know this, surely, but there is hope for Callan and An’Thaya yet... and apparently...
a reason they are whenever they are.”
Y'Roden's features betrayed first sorrow for Yarwin – a man who he respected, and whom his son –
Valin, held the deepest respect and friendship. The two had a shared grief in the twins they had married.
Then surprise, and he looked to Chezlar.
“The Dragon-Elf speaks the truth,” the Changeling confirmed. “Yarwin has a role to play in this yet.”
He smiled briefly. “She is also correct in the reasoning for Callan and An'Thaya's... placement. I did the
best I could for them, and for those they have been sent to aide.” His mouth twitched slightly and dark
strands of hair fell down to cover one golden eye. “In a manner of speaking.”
Stepping back into the shadows, the Messenger disappeared – but his voice remained. “Go now and
seek rest – you will need it in the days to come.”


                                                    ***


Jerri leaned against the wall and stared at the panel of runes – a Ra'Vidden had set the temperature and
gravity to Terran norms before leaving the four off-worlders in a network of chambers that they seemed
to have free roaming rights too. Jerri hadn't seen which way Marius and Foxx had gone, but assumed
they had went to select a room for themselves. Left alone with Galain in a large, central area that
branched off in several directions, the human turned to regard him with a myriad of questions
swimming in her eyes.
“That was, without a doubt, the scariest man I've ever seen in my life,” she remarked. “Your ex has
interesting taste in men.” Crossing to a drink cart, she lifted a decanter and eyed the rich blue-red liquid
inside before pouring herself a glass. Sniffing at it delicately, the blonde shrugged and took a sip.
Sweet... but not bad.
“They don't trust you here,” she continued, “the guards, I mean, they keep looking at you a little
strangely. What is that all about? Let's just be frank, I'm hopelessly confused. You were married to the
King's sister? And his current wife? How does that happen?”
"I was married to the king's sister first," Galain offered. "I also married Ghetsuhm. I stabbed Y'Roden
at one point, but I swear, I wasn't meaning to do it. I might now these days, but then, it wasn't me. Elen
marry multiple times sometimes -- usually to ensure offspring is made. I wasn't thinking that way. I
just... I was in love. I'm not answering much am I." He threw Jerri a frustrated look, found a chair and
sat down into it. "You are now about to find out how much I suck."
Jerri frowned, mostly to herself, and staggered a bit on her way across the room to sit on the arm of his
chair. Slim fingers slid through Galain's golden locks and she smiled down into his sea-green eyes.
“Suck? I know just how much you suck, and I wasn't complaining,” she teased. “Seriously, though. You
suck? For marrying two women when it's so natural to your own race? For loving more than one
person? Really? I find that a fascinating viewpoint.”
She sobered slightly. “Don't get me wrong, I can understand where it all must have went screwy. I
imagine bigamy didn't go down so well with your first wife? Ghet doesn't seem so judgemental though,
from what I gleaned during the short time I met her in. Maybe judgemental is the wrong word. I'm sure
your first wife is perfectly lovely, just not built to share a husband.
Who knows why anyone does anything, really? And who is anyone to judge? We all make mistakes.
Like stabbing Kings.”
"What are you doing walking around?" Galain said. He hadn't missed how Jerri had tottered to his chair
and moved to regard her more fully. He looked away and laughed a little.
"Are you sure you have the entire picture?" he asked.
“I'm not walking around,” Jerri pointed out, “I'm safely seated – and trusting you'll catch me if I
suddenly fall on my face.” The blonde canted her head, robin's-egg blues sparkling in the soft light.
“Am I that far off?” she asked. “Or did you intentionally set out to hurt two women you love?
Somehow, I don't think you did.”
"I'll catch you," Galain grumbled, looking down for a moment before he looked back up into Jerri's
face. "And no, I did not intend to hurt either of them. But there's a saying out there that I've heard,
something about good intentions paving the way to hell or something like that. I'm all about good
intentions, you know." The Elen's expression had twisted slightly. "And I'm honestly glad that they've
both found happiness. I just wish the road to that happiness hadn't been so rotten. I wish that I'd had the
balls to make a decision regarding one or the other. I wish too that..." Galain's voice trailed off and his
look became distant as he thought. "I wish that they hadn't to have nearly died before taking their leave
of me." He refocused on Jerri, his expression pale and serious. "But what's done is done. I don't know if
things happened the way they were supposed to or what -- but they can't be changed, even if Tallin tries
to do just that."
Galain managed a short bark of laughter as he gazed at Jerri.
"Gods, girl. You have just fallen into the most tangled up mess of past relationships and history you
could ever imagine. It's weird though, other than the gravity and heat and humidity here though, you
seem to be taking it all in pretty well." His look was now quizzical.
The human shrugged lightly. “I'm just an outsider looking in. None of it is any of my business, and
certainly not mine to judge. I like you, Galain Alcarin, despite your valiant efforts to push me and just
about everyone else away. I have a feeling you are too hard on yourself – maybe for good reason
though. Pain teaches, I guess. Maybe it's time for you to admit that you've learnt from it, and stop
suffering so much?”
Jerri grinned and gently tweaked the tip of the Elen's ear. “I'm here for you. This can't be easy – and
you shouldn't be alone in it. Mine is a completely loyal, unbiased opinion, and its all yours.” The
blonde's expression gentled and she shook her head, eyes filled with wonder. “Only a completely
unselfish, loving person would put themselves out there to rescue someone who quite obviously broke
their heart, and do it alongside 'the other man'.”
Leaning forward on the chair, she kissed Galain's cheek. “I knew there was a man worth knowing
beneath the hard shell,” she said. “You proved that to me today.”
Galain wasn't certain he was ready to be easier on himself, and he shook his head slightly before he
gave up for the moment and gave Jerri a long look. He was not a very nice person and was the first to
admit it, but would she believe him? Did he want her to? Then he spoke.
"All I can say right now is thank you for being here. Ask me whenever you're confused by something --
I'll be happy to muddle it up further for you." There was a faint smile. "But really, thank you." And then
he couldn't speak anymore. It was refreshing in an odd way to know Jerri really was an objective,
unbiased party in all this.
“You're welcome,” Jerri said. “And trust me, I'll be asking lots of questions. Just tell me if it's none of
my business – I can deal.” She sighed, and slid from the arm of the chair into his lap. “I feel like a bowl
of jelly at the moment. I could really do with finding a bed.” The blonde's grin was lecherous. “You're
welcome to join me again – but ya know, I'll totally understand if you don't.”
"Let me find you a bed -- there's bound to be one or two around here," the elf replied. He wasn't sure
he'd be able to sleep this night -- especially under this particular roof, but he knew Jerri would need all
the rest she could get. Whispin the planet took a whole lot of getting used to, he thought wryly, even
with climate controls. He stood and gathered the human woman up in his arms and chose a branch off
the main room at random, gratified when he did indeed find a room. He gently placed Jerri upon the
bed and then stood there, his jaw working, eyes gleaming in the semi-darkness.
"I need a little time to think," he finally said. "And you need every second you can eke out of the night
to rest your body, all right?" He turned, paused and then turned back, leaned down and kissed Jerri's
forehead before he slipped away, restless energy spurring him back toward the central chamber.
Jerri watched him go and stifled a disappointed little sigh. A girl had needs, after all. For a moment, she
considered finding one of those strapping S'Hean guards to help out with said 'needs', but before she
completed the thought – she was asleep.


                                                   ***


The suns had set hours ago, leaving the moons to bathe the room in liquid light and refract off the
crystal decanters on the drink cart. The brandy was still full – a sign that Y'Roden's mood had
progressed to a point where he needed harder alcohol to cope. He had the neck of a Hell's Fire bottle in
a death grip, the last few swallows washing around in the bottom as it swayed in his grip.
Collapsed in a chair, he was facing the bedroom – staring blankly at the empty bed. His clothing was
rumpled, hair unkempt, and the rims of the half-elf's eyes were red. Sleep was something he wouldn't
be finding the easy way tonight – or ever again until Ghet was back where she belonged. She'd fought
her way from one dimension to another for him – he would breach the walls of time itself for her.
Shadow watched the form of her adopted-father and sighed, wondering what was going to throw at all
of them next. The role of daughter was partially set aside for friend. Right then it almost felt like old
times; times she didn’t particularly miss.
“I think if I ask Ja’Kel for another bottle he’s going to get suspicious,” she attempted to joke but the
other elf seemed too understood. “But at this rate we’re going to have to start mixing drinks or order
out to other worlds.”
Ro snorted and kicked the drink cart with his foot. “Don't worry, I have plenty more in the cupboard
over there,” he sloshed his bottle at it, then drained what was left. “Be a sweet daughter and fetch me
another, will you?”
The half-elf's fingers rubbed distractedly at the stuttering glow of his bondmark, the burning was
starting to dull a little – everything was, the edge coming off ever so slightly. Another bottle or four,
and he'd be close to numb. If he was lucky. “Skrun it, bring whatever is in there – I'm going to need it."
Shadow arched an eyebrow but bit back any comment that was coming to mind and did what she was
told. She offered the bottle over to him. “You’re going to do this until you pass out, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Ro answered bluntly. “Yes I am. You expected something else maybe?” Cracking the seal, he
started in earnest on draining the second bottle too. At some length, he lowered it and wiped his mouth
with the back of one hand. “Don't lecture,” he said, “please? I just need to be out of it until there is
something I can do. B'Rodyn can take care of things for me in the meantime. I just... can't.”
“I don’t lecture," Shadow crossed her legs and sat on the floor, "though I did think about hitting you
over the head with the bottle for shits and giggles. Nothing says I love you like a bottle smashed over
the head you know.”
The Taurësúlë smiled, “I’m here to make sure you don’t do yourself some sort of damage like pass out
on the floor and end up with a stiff neck. And I’m here because you need someone if for nothing else
than to pass you a bottle.”
“That's not true at all, I've smashed Railen through an entire bar-top of bottles, and I don't like him at
all.” A modicum of humour glimmered through the words, and Ro managed a smile for his daughter. “I
know, I know you are, and I love you for it. I don't think I could tolerate anyone else watching me like
that though.”
A chuckle escaped her. “I’m really not giving you much of a choice in the matter. If you ordered me
out you’d have to have someone drag me out and you know how easy it is for someone to make me do
something I don’t want to do.”
“It's like wrestling your own shadow, really,” the half-elf observed, “and about as pointless.” Holding
out the emptied bottle, he gestured for another. “I can't feel my throat anymore – we're making good
progress. I wonder how long it takes for the flesh to grow back.”
“The goal is to make you pass out so you can get some sleep,” she remarked dryly passing the next
bottle over, “not turn you into a living acid container. Maybe finding a different drink but just as strong
isn’t such a bad idea after all.”
Y'Roden shook his head. “The pain will be nicely distracting, and since when have I ever complained
about pain?” Settling deeper into the chair, the King tilted his head back and examined the ceiling. “I'm
going to slide open his chest,” he said decidedly, “then use my sword to crack his ribcage at the
sturnum and pop it apart. Then I'll start removing internal organs in random order – but you know, only
the redundant ones at first, and four of the chambers of his heart. That'll be a good start.”
Shadow scowled. “You missed my meaning, its not about the pain, it’s about making sure you remain
in one piece. I don’t exactly have anyone here to back me up if you decide to do anything stupid.”
There was the sound of clinking bottles as she pulled out a few more and set them up. “Personally, I
think you should start with the less important ones, it’ll take longer, but then again, this is Tallin, so
who cares?”
Ro was quiet for a few minutes, closing his eyes and tilting the third bottle back. His head was starting
to feel fuzzy by the time he reached the bottom – which mean unconsciousness was a bottle or so away
-- and grabbed the fourth. “I won't do anything stupid,” he rasped. “Ghet is going to need me – I intend
to stay in one piece so she has me. Don't worry.”
Shadow arched an eyebrow, “Aye, she is going to need you, but that doesn’t mean you won’t do
something stupid anyway. I know, no lecturing.” She sighed and ran her hand back through her hair to
get it out of her face.
“I’ll run interference with the siblings as much as I can until you can get back to your feet. Do you
want me to stop by B’Rodyn’s and let him know to take care of things for a bit, or have you already
tapped him on the Web?”
“I can't do anything stupid – she'd never forgive me. It is more... difficult now, I guess you'd say, to just
give in to my temper and do what my instincts tell me to do. I have her to thing about, how she would
feel about what I'm doing. Getting drunk and falling on my face, that won't bother her at all. Ripping
someone limb from limb? Not so much of the 'not bothering'.”
He shrugged then and half-nodded. “I poked him – he was far too aware of what was going on,” he said
in a slightly slurred tone, having reached the bottom of bottle four. “You're a good daughter. Have I told
you that lately? I love you, you know.” Cracking open the fifth was more trouble than he remembered
the others being, and the half-elf was good and glassy-eyed when his fingers lost their grip on the neck
of it. It bounced onto the floor, half full, spilling the rest of its contents into the carpet. “Skrun...”
Leaning forward, he made a grab for it – and fell with a heavy thud next to it, blessedly unconscious.
It was probably the fastest she’d ever crawled backwards in her life. When she stopped, she sat there;
arms draped over her bent knees and regarded the S’Hean before shaking her head. “I love you too,
Ketai.”
Sighing, Shadow shoved to her feet, moving bottles as she rose.
“Hey Ja’Kel? Could you come help me for a minute? Please?” she called out then looked back down at
Ro. “I’d have better luck getting Turq to take a bath than move you on my own.”
The doors opened and the tall Ranger stepped into the room, his expression curious until he spotted the
King flat out on the floor. “Nodvig Vedes,” he muttered, “he could have had the decency to aim for the
bed. Last time I tried to move him I pulled a back muscle.” With a pained sigh, he trotted over to
Y'Roden's prone form and dropped into a crouch to take the half-elf's arm and sling it over his shoulder.
Leaf-green eyes lifted to meet Shadow's gaze and a brief grin flashed at her. “At least I have you here
to help me this time. Ready?”
Shadow stopped just sort of falling over laughing. “If he wasn’t passed out I’d happily crow that I’m
not the only one that thinks he should go on a diet.”
Pulling her father’s other arm over her shoulders she nodded. “Ready. I knew I should have suggested
he moved to the bed on that third bottle,” she said, her voice leaning towards the strain end of the
spectrum.
“That may have been prudent,” Ja'Kel shot back. “One.... two... three!” The Hyem-Sirke shot upwards
and headed towards the bed, half jogging with the dead-weight of the King held between them. “Oh
Skrun!”
“Oh, excuse me…you try to…Kiyana!!” It was hard to cringe, but she managed it somehow as the half-
elf’s head was smacked into the bed post. “That’s going to leave a mark. Go more your way there.”
Ja'Kel shot Shadow a half panicked look and pulled Y'Roden toward him, lost his balance, and fell onto
the bed, dragging King and Tauresule down with him. “That was so your fault,” he said quietly. “Now
get him off me, please?”
“He’s taken worse knocks on the head, trust me.” Grinning, she kissed Ja’Kel on the nose just for
orneriness, grabbed Ro’s shoulder and hauled back. “Come on Ketai, time to let the nice Head Guard
up and get you into bed proper. Could you grab a boot?”
Ja'Kel grunted and wormed his way out from under his King, breathing a sigh of relief once he was
free. Turning around, he grabbed one of Ro's black hunting boots and hauled backwards. Dropping the
footwear on the floor he paused to stare at the unconscious half-elf, then looked at Shadow. “What do
we do about the trousers? Usually I just – you know, leave him dressed. I stripped him down once and
he got a little funny about it.”
The Taurësúlë sighed, the humour gone and replaced with the weariness that comes when one isn’t sure
what to do, about anything. She scrubbed at her forehead with the heel of her hand. “Leave them, blood
or not, I’m just not in the mood to deal with a completely naked father. At least not the stripping him
part.
“Boots and shirt, at least it'll make him a little more comfortable.”
Ja'Kel grinned suddenly. “Speak for yourself. The rest of us quite like looking. You're probably right
though, best not to upset him. I suppose you mean I should be the one to take off the shirt? You're going
to have to help, he's not easy to roll over, in case you haven't noticed.” Leaning over, he undid the laces
and pulled Ro's shirt open, tugging it off one arm and grabbing the King's shoulder to haul him to one
side, balancing him. “Now... just... shove the shirt that way, it'll come right off the other arm when I roll
him back.”
“I’m not telling him you said that,” she said dryly, following Ja’Kel’s instructions. “You know cutting it
off would have been easier, its not like he doesn’t lose shirts anyway.”
Ja'Kel let Ro fall back onto the mattress again, and pulled the shirt the rest of the way off. “And waste a
perfectly good shirt?” Standing, he laid it across the back of a chair and turned to offer Shadow a hand
up. His eyes stopped on the King however, and green eyes darkened with worry. “I know he'll be
alright,” he muttered, “he always is – but you'd think the Fates would let him be happy for more than
five seconds at a time.”
Accepting the hand, she slid off of the bed. “It’s not that easy when you have the weight of the world
on your shoulders and a destiny that you only see glimpses of but know there’s more to.”
Letting go of Ja’Kel’s hand she pulled the covers over Y’Roden. “But you can look at it this way as
well. It’s the hard times that make you cherish the happy ones that much more.”
The S'Hean studied Shadow with interest for a long moment, then his mouth formed a quiet smile. “I
can see why he adopted you,” he said. “There is pain in our King that not many have been able to ease.
His children, Ghetsuhm and you. It's a good thing he has you right now.”
With a polite bow, the Ranger returned to his station outside the room.


                                                    ***


Shadow shoved her hair out of her face as she slipped down the dimly lit hallways and towards the
suite of rooms assigned to Galain and his guests. Rounding a corner she smiled at the Hyem Sirke that
stood in front of her friend’s door.
“Dagar Ar’Tek, why don’t you get some sleep? I’ll take over for you.”
Within the chambers assigned to Galain, Marius, Foxxy and Jerri the Elen prince had been
unconsciously working hard to wear a furrow into the floor. He'd paced and prowled the small maze of
suites, checking in on Jerri once, pausing once outside the room where his son and lover slept, and then
he'd returned to the main chamber, his thoughts jumbled up in a mess. He'd thought about his
conversation with Jerri, gone over the events of the day, re-lived that singular moment when he was
certain Y'Roden had been about to run him through or take his head off or... well, Galain had actually
felt a strange calm come over him in those seconds. Oblivion was not an unwelcome thing.
That thought had naturally drifted into thoughts of his youngest daughter and he'd actually laughed to
himself in the darkness. She lay somewhere within this palace, sleeping he hoped. He wasn't thrilled
about not having her closer nearby, but he was the guest here, not her.
And the term "guest" was a nominal one given the guard that stood outside the door. He'd told Jerri that
he hadn't been in his right mind when he'd stabbed Y'Roden, but he was the first to admit that given the
chance, given that he could have no one but himself to answer to, he'd dearly love to smash the S'Hean
King's hard skull into smithereens. His hands gripped reflexively as he imagined them wrapped around
Y'Roden's throat and for a moment he grinned insanely into the darkness before some small flash of
sanity, probably 'Lain, shoved him back into the moment.
"Damn, I need air," he muttered, knowing that what he actually meant was that the walls were starting
to close in on him. He need to get out, guard or no guard. Maybe he'd find out where Aarien spent her
days when she was here -- he wasn't thinking clearly about access or the ability to move freely -- and
he wrenched the door open suddenly, the expression on his face that of one completely preoccupied. It
was startling to find Shadow standing there, apparently relieving the man who'd been standing by the
door since their arrival. His jaw dropped and he stood stock still.
Shadow looked over to the door as it opened, and her lips twitched, curling into a smile. “It’s okay
Ar’Tek,” she said almost absently, “everything will be fine.” She watched the ranger head down the
hall then turned her attention back to Galain, put a copper finger under his chin and pushed his mouth
shut.
“I thought maybe you’d prefer someone that you know and not some stranger." her smile widened into
a grin, "And someone more likely to ask you what the hell you think you're doing when it gets
questionable. Want to go for a walk?”
Had his jaw clicked shut when Shadow had pushed it closed? Galain was certain it had and still stood
there, looking positively dull-witted for a few seconds more, before he nodded. At least Shadow would
ask, he thought wryly.
"I need to go for a walk, in fact," he said at last, relieved he could actually speak intelligently. He
peered down the hallway, in the direction Ar'Tek had gone and scowled before his gaze returned to
Shadow and his expression altered to a more neutral one, although there was a glimmer of humor in his
eyes.
"Can we get outside?" he asked, his skin practically crawled at the idea of being cooped up inside much
longer. Not given how active his mind was at this odd hour.
“Don’t give me that neutral crap, Galain Alcarin, I have blackmail stories.” The Taurësúlë grinned,
“There’s several ways we can get outside, but I suggest using the doors.” Motioning her head down the
hallway she stepped out of the way so he could walk.
Galain gave Shadow a sideways glance and then looked down the hall again. Yes, she had blackmail
stories galore and he knew it. He paused and then stepped out of the doorway, closing it more gently
than he had opened it.
"Name one," he decided to say and then he added, "I mean, blackmail story, not another way to get out
besides the door." He flashed her a rapid smile. It had been a while and he wasn't entirely sure where
they stood with each other at the moment.
“I recall a certain sacrifice that would have made your voice change pitch. Oh! And there was that time
with the hair remover being mixed up with the shampoo, there’s also the rubber duckies. The escape
from that farmer for that check up on his daughter, being turned into a dog, being nearly married off to
that one prince…” she recited as they walked down the hallway, obviously ignoring the request of
naming only one, “Should I go on?”
Galain had been listening and actually had clapped a hand to his forehead as they walked, causing him
to stumble and pause.
"Gods, no. And that's more than one, totally more than one," he said. He stared out into the darkness
and into the past. Good gods, and there were more she hadn't mentioned at all, but could have, and not
just here between themselves.
"The duckies weren't too bad," he said at last "I think." They'd reached a junction in the hallway and he
wasn't too sure where they were going. His mind was certainly derailed from his earlier thoughts.
“The gardens? They’re this way.” Shadow said, as if she knew the problem. “There shouldn’t be
anyone there at this hour.”
The Taurësúlë studied Galain in the shadows and understood what Ghetsuhm had told her about not
recognizing the Elen now. She suddenly felt guilty for not going to see him despite the problems that
were going on in her life.
Galain liked the idea of going to the gardens and nodded, turning his head to give Shadow a fleeting
smile when he felt her gaze upon him.
"It's been a while," he said, meaning both since he'd been here and since he'd seen Shadow. "Not much
seems too changed here though." There was a slight change in the air and he knew the gardens were
near. "Gods, I can't believe how much I need to walk. Tell me how you've been?"
Shadow chuckled, “I’ve been worn ragged chasing after my boys and telling them not to stab each
other mostly.” She smiled, “I’ve been keeping busy. There really isn’t that much that is interesting
really.” It wasn’t the whole truth but she’d never been one to reveal someone else’s secrets.
“Books, there’s always books to keep up on for the guild and the Nation. I ran into Turq not too long
ago. We’re keeping in touch.”
The Elen paused and turned to regard Shadow more fully, realizing just how long it had truly been
since he'd last seen her, since he'd more or less sequestered himself in Alcarinque, even before his
divorce from Ghetsuhm. He also realized she wasn't giving him the entire story or all the details, and he
respected that. It was good simply to hear that she was apparently thriving and that her life was
definitely filled.
"Good to hear -- on Turq that is," he said. "I guess though, that boys will be boys," he added, his tone
dry. He thought about books and how much time he'd spent in the library at Alcarinque and winced.
"I've had my fill of books lately though -- but you're right about them -- one never stays quite caught up
I've found."
“Well, it depends on how your nose is feeling whether it’s good or not,” she grinned, which was
followed by a snort. “Right next time boys will be boys, I’ll bribe someone to help me get them
through the wards and deposit them on your door step.”
Shadow paused, “I never told you about them, did I?” There were many things she hadn’t told him. She
hadn’t been able to tell him. Life got in the way, but that wasn’t the half of it, she could count off all the
reasons she had for not going to visit and would quickly run out of fingers.
Funny how one of those reasons now lived in S’Hea and had been marked out, even from the reasons
why she should return home to Silver Willow.
“What about you? Other than books?” She knew one of his recent ‘past times’ she’d seen the bruises on
Cully when he’d come back from a trip to Alcarinque. Galain had always been a berserker when it
came to fighting; add pain to that and sparring became dangerous.
"No, you haven't told me about them," Galain replied quietly. He didn't begrudge her that. Too much
had gotten between them and it seemed there was too much even now to ever get through. She was no
longer his daughter, he'd done too many stupid things and in the end, the very measure of life events
that had occurred to both himself and Shadow seemed to be a mountainous and insurmountable
thickness of separate experiences. It was alarming to realize that someone once so close to one's heart
could become so distinct a stranger. "Try them on my doorsteps though," he added with a faint smile,
actually meaning it.
They were fully in the gardens now and the scents were both welcome and not. He'd spent a
tremendous amount of time on Whispin and he knew that the blood that had given him a new life still
called out to this place. He resolutely ignored it and let the aromas and warmth wash over him. And
then he shut it all off, twitching slightly as he turned to face Shadow fully.
"Other than books I've..." he paused and frowned. "I've not done much else. I mean, I've done a lot to
relieve Adarin and I've been busy exploring what's left of Alcarinque and. killed some Corinian scum...
" he shot Shadow a quick look and turned his head to one side. "I've kept busy." What was she
thinking? he wondered. He hadn't been all that together for most of the past five or so years. She'd seen
just from the outside and he squirmed inwardly.
"Probably haven't looked all that great from outside Alcarinque," he said.
“I’ve meant to thank you for that. I know you went for Anelain, but you saved Kalab as well. You have
a mother’s gratitude.”
It all felt so stiff, so rehearsed and it annoyed her but she wasn’t sure what else to do. “I don’t have any
right to judge, I voiced my opinion once when I had no right and it’s caused centuries of damage. I’m
learning my lesson.”
Shadow smiled sadly, “What I remember of Alcarinque was beautiful, of course it didn’t get much
further than taking the curtains from your room, but I remember seeing some of it through the
windows.” She tilted her head, “Is something happening to Alcarinque?”
We're all learning our lessons, Galain thought to himself. He allowed himself a hesitant smile when
Shadow thanked him, shrugging a little. Anelain was his daughter and that made Kalab his son, even if
only by marriage.
"I did what a father needed to do. Kalab is part of my family and I'd have gone for him even if Anelain
hadn't been with him." The smile slid away at the mention of his city. What was happening to
Alcarinque? He look away and then answered.
"It's disappearing, Shadow. It's slowly vanishing. The wards are still up, but they're retreating and the
city is slowly... There's so much of it that is simply abandoned," he said looking back at Shadow, pain
evident in his expression. The shadows of the night hid a good deal of his face, but not enough. "One of
these days I'm afraid I'm going to wake up and find everything gone but the bed I'm sleeping in." The
last was said with a hint of wry humor, but it was certainly something he'd thought of before.
She scrubbed at her fore head with the knuckle of her thumb. “Because of the decline in the race…”
Shadow trailed off, “it sounds as though what is needed remains and what isn’t doesn’t. Maybe if it was
needed then it wouldn’t disappear.”
The copper skinned elf grinned, “But it’s a nice bed, and there are those that are certain everyone
should get back to nature…”
Galain so wanted to be angry at that response, but he couldn't. First, because he'd listened to Shadow
put two and two together and come up with a logical answer and second, well... that grin of hers was
infectious.
"Hells, it's a very small bed and it can be very snuggly when I get too tired," he said. He smiled, but
grew serious again. "Do you think it would all appear again if we multiplied again somehow -- or found
some other way to thrive? I am so afraid that we've hit the bottom, that we're done for. I had hopes...
damn high hopes..." He paused and then shook his head. "I should be home and continuing to try and
figure out how to stop the vanishings, but I can't. As locked into my home as I am now, I am locked
into the rest of the multiverse too and I can't let Ghetsuhm or An'Thaya or even that blasted Callan just
disappear." He looked upward and a small, hysterical laugh escaped. "Just can't."
“I don’t know, but maybe if you could some how make the wards stay frozen where they are then
nothing else will disappear.” The Taurësúlë smiled reassuringly and bumped her shoulder into the
Elen’s. “Well, if this is the bottom then there’s two options, straight up or side ways.”
Shadow grew silent for a moment, “Galain, you married into the D’Riel family, and you have children
that are a part of this family. You’ll never be able to be completely free, it’s something I learned when I
married Suriel. I’m still dealing with his family and his race.” She shook her head, “the only way to
ever be free is to sever all your ties including with your children. And I can’t see you doing that, even
with things the way you are. Your heart won’t let you do that, nor will it let you leave the others to their
fate no matter how much you’d like to.”
"You're exactly right," Galain said without a trace of self pity. "I love my children too much and I
couldn't imagine life without them. As much as I regret the mistakes I've made, my children are not
mistakes and my heart sings when I'm with them. Took me a while to grow up and understand that, but
it's the truth. My life is forever tied with the D'Riels and their heritage and that's the way it is." He
thought of Aarien for the umpteenth time this night and hoped she was sleeping the sleep of the young
and innocent, and wished he could do the same. He also wanted to talk more with Shadow about
Alcarinque, about the past several years, her boys, everything. Maybe he'd have that chance while he
remained here.
"I've missed you," he said after several moments, his voice sounding awkward and sudden in the
evening air.
“I’ve missed you too, Galain,” Shadow said with a smile.


                                                    ***


Cullen struggled up through the fog of waking, the warmth of sunlight on his face where he lay in the
bed. Perhaps it had been the light that had wakened him – but he didn't think so. A sound, perhaps?
Though Kara was usually near silent moving about the room. He made a low, waking sound in his
throat and lifted a hand to block the glare before he realized he wasn't alone.
Slow to focus, the half-elf frowned and lifted his head slightly – ignoring the pounding headache it
brought on. As the figure cleared, Corin's General wondered just what Kara had put in the last cup of
tea she had forced down his throat. Obviously a hallucinogen, because the person in front of him had
died years ago.
“Dagar, Cullen,” the familiar voice said. “They told me you were here, so I had to come see you for
myself. My condolences, old friend, for your loss.”
“Valin?” Disbelief was heavy in the tone. “I really must have cracked my skull.”
The King of Corin's laughter rang through the room, and he came closer to sit on the edge of Cullen's
bed. He looked a little tired and pale, and the eyes were wrong – but it was him. “It's me, Cullen. Don't
look so surprised. I am D'Riel, after all. You just can't keep a good D'Riel down.”
“Apparently,” Cullen agreed dryly. “They might have told me sooner. How long?”
“Not very – a few days? Maybe a week, I've lost track.”
Cullen let his hand drop – Valin was blocking the light now anyway. “Arminiea be praised,” he
murmured, “I'm glad to see you, Your Majesty.” He smiled suddenly, a bit of his old mischief shining
through. “I'd kneel... but...”
“Kara would kill me,” Valin chuckled. “You stay put and save me the grief. We both need a little more
time I think – and then, how would you feel about helping me retake my throne?”
“You even have to ask?” Cullen said quietly. “You have my loyalty, and my sword, always, Mo Rìgh ,
and Gardor's as well. The Regency has not sat well with Lord Wyvern, I'm afraid, he will be glad of it
that you have returned.”
“Aye, he will be. Others, I'm afraid, may not be so eager to see me back in my rightful place.”
Cullen's features hardened and he forced his way up onto his elbow, reaching with the other hand to
grasp Valin's wrist. “Then they will be made to see it is where you belong. Corin is rightfully yours,
Valin, there is no one with any valid reason to say otherwise.”
Valin smiled – though there was something lacking still from the expression. “True, true, my friend.
Corin and my children are all that is left to me – I'll not let them take what grace has given me. I've lost
quite enough already.”
"You're about to loose a whole lot more," Kara said, her angered voice all but chasing away the
laughter that was still lingering in the air. Standing in the doorway, with a bowl of mixed fruit, she
stared both men down. If she had known she was speaking to Valin, her tone of voice would not have
been so sharp.
"I left word. This man was not to be disturbed. Yet here I find him propped up in bed, grabbing
anyone's hand who happens to be passing by. By the healer's oath, can you not see he's not at all well?
And you..." She turned toward Cullen, her anger cooling by way of a long, slow breath.
"What do you have to say, in behalf of your defense?"
Cullen looked past Valin at Kara and raised a startled eyebrow. “Your Majesty,” he said, “I believe
you've met my lady, Kara Little?”
The Corinian King released his Captain's wrist and turned around to face the doorway. “Milady Little,”
he said with a half-amused smile, “It has been – quite some time.” You're not going to pelt me with
that, are you? I'm not sure I could stand up under a fruit-barrage at the moment.”
Kara stood there, dumbfounded and a bit ashamed for the way she had spoken moments earlier. Tearing
her eyes from Valin to the bowl, she blushed and shook her head allowing her wild mane-like hair to
frame her face.
"Your Majesty," she said while giving a short curtsy, "then the rumors are true. You must forgive me for
my sudden outburst. Had I known it was you, my tongue would not have been so sharp. And no, I will
not pelt you with fruit. Rather I will do so with questions. The first will not be 'where have you been'. I
know you were laid to rest some time ago."
Stepping to the foot of the bed, she hugged the bowl to her chest and looked up. "Tell me Valin, and by
honest. Have you awakened to take Cullen from me? We were to be married soon you see." She
lowered her head once again.
"Or are you here, just seeking advice from our captain?"
Leaning a bit forward, she glanced up. Then she all but stared into Valin's emerald-green eyes, her own
brown eyes narrowing.
"You know, there is something different about you," she said softly, her left hand slipping into the bowl.
Her fingers found and slowly circled the hilt of a dagger she had placed there earlier, to dice up the
fruit.
"Yes, something different indeed. Your eyes! They are not your own. Why is that..." she asked calmly,
her blade now resting under the bowl's edge.
Valin's hand lifted to his face and a wry expression twisted his features a bit. “A side effect, it seems, of
the sarcophagi. I seem to have lost most of my Alcarin heritage. As for why I'm here – I'll need my
Captain soon when I seek to reinstate myself as King.” His smile was soft then. “Congratulations,
milady, I had wondered when Cullen would ask you. It took him long enough.”
Cullen tilted his head and gazed at his King curiously. “I'd noticed that too. The eyes I mean. You look
even more like your father now.” Settling back into the bed, he grinned at Kara. “Don't be rude, love,
bring the fruit over here. I'm hungry.” He was ignoring Valin's dig.
"I wasn't being rude," Kara explained as she stepped around the edge of the bed and moved between
Valin and Cullen. "I was just being cautious. There's a difference you know. And I almost had to ask
him for his hand. He can be so stubborn at times you know."
Relaxing somewhat, Kara took a seat at the edge of the bed and started slicing the fruit, her eyes never
leaving that of Valin's. "You know it may be some time before he's able to move from this bed on his
own. I'll not allow him to leave it, until I know he's well enough...to tend to his own needs. As far as
you taking back the throne," placing a slice of fruit near Cullen's lips, as if to shut him up, "I will stand
beside you every step of the way."
She went still for a moment, then asked, "Will you bless us, before taking Cullen with you into battle?
In marriage I mean? Will you... marry us?"
Valin closed his eyes and nodded in silent acceptance of Kara's statement. They opened again, and he
regarded her quietly. “Hopefully,” he said mildly, “it will not come to that. But I would be pleased,
milady, to preside the moment Cullen hauls himself out of this bed.”


                                                    ***


Rhagi had slept badly, lying awake for hours before falling into a heavy stupor that left him waking late
and groggy. He felt, not to put too fine a point on it, like shit. He’d had time for the reality of it all to
set in, and now he sat at the table in his room in the loose trousers that were all he could be bothered
with, picking at a late breakfast.
He heard the knock, but he didn’t really process it. That often happened when he was working on
something absorbing, so his family tended to just come in. It wasn’t family this time but his tutor, Matt.
“There you are, Rhagi. I’ve got the pattern for the milk, it arrived last night. So we can right ahead,
grow the cat, and we’ll actually have something to feed… Rhagi? Are you alright?”
He shook his head, pushing his hand through shaggy auburn hair, and vaguely wondered how many
more times he was going to have to go through this. “No. No, I’m not. It’ll be all over the palace today
anyway. My mother.” He stopped, heaved a deep breath, but his voice still cracked. “Someone
kidnapped her. Oh chuff. Sorry.” Rhagi put his hands over his face, hot tears leaking through his
fingers.
“Hey, don’t apologise.” Matt sat beside Rhagi on the chaise and put his arm around the younger man’s
shoulders. There was amazement in his voice, but also sympathy. “She’s your mother. I can’t
imagine… you must be so scared for her.” Rhagi’s back shook harder under his arm. “It’s okay, let it
go.”
Rhagi buried his face against his tutor’s neck and let go. This was someone he didn’t feel guilty about
leaning on, who wasn’t carrying his own worry and grief. Someone who wasn’t too frantic to
remember that Rhagi existed. The huge knot of repressed fear and pain in his chest started to loosen,
and by the time he realised it might overwhelm him, it was too late to pull it back.
Eventually, he started getting his breath back, and lifted his head, rubbing at his face. “I’m still sorry.
I… gods, last night it didn’t even… it wasn’t real.”
Matt pushed Rhagi’s hair back from his face and offered him a hesitant smile. “You were in shock, I
guess. Just a natural way of protecting yourself from what’s too much to bear. It’s safer that way. Do
you feel a bit better now?”
Rhagi nodded, frowning. He was feeling something odd, something that didn’t fit. What his mother
would call an off note. It distracted him. To be honest, so did Matt’s arm. It brought him a feeling that
didn’t hurt, somewhere safe to hide. “I guess. I want… I want to help. But I don’t want to upset my
Addah, he must be so… I felt it last night. So much pain, so much rage. I hope he remembers, someone
needs to make sure he remembers what she would want. Somebody needs to be her voice when she
isn’t here.”
Matt’s thumb brushed across Rhagi’s cheekbone, wiping away tears. “It doesn’t have to be you, surely.”
“But I want to!” Agitated, Rhagi pushed forward against Matt, and the other man’s grip on him
tightened instinctively. In that moment, Rhagi realised what it was he was feeling, what he was picking
up with his Talent: desire. Matt’s physical desire, for him.
It shocked him, stopped him in his tracks. He’d had no idea. And yet… When Matt touched him, the
pain abated. He wanted that.
Their hands were gripping each other’s upper arms, their faces close. Bright, pained emerald green
caught and held a complicated hazel. Then Rhagi leaned forward, and kissed him.
He felt the flare of Matt’s surprise, and a response that was warm and welcome. Comforting. Then the
older man pulled back. “Rhagi. Rhagi, no. I can’t do this.”
Rhagi looked at him, confusion and hurt painfully clear in his face. “Why not? You want to, I can tell.”
The look on Matt’s face was helpless, frustrated, even wryly amused. “It doesn’t matter what I want,
Rhagi. Not since I got here. God, when I met you, you were fifteen! I’m still twenty years older than
you.”
“Eighteen.” Hesitantly, Rhagi reached out and stroked Matt’s face, following the lines of his
cheekbone. “I don’t care. If I don’t care, I don’t see why you would.”
Matt drew a shaky breath. Even to Rhagi it was obvious how thinly his self-control was stretched. “I’m
your teacher. Your parents trust me to look after you. You trust me. Rhagi, I can’t do this.”
Rhagi broke Matt’s weakening hold on him and moved closer, his bare chest pressed against Matt’s
body. “I still trust you. Do you think I should do this with someone I don’t trust? My parents… Matt,
my mother would throw you a party.” Tilting his head up, he renewed their kiss. This time, Matt
responded, moving against him, and the emotion pouring over him made Rhagi’s head spin. “My
father,” he said, his mouth moving to Matt’s chest, hands opening his shirt. “He thinks I’m too young
for everything. He wants me to stay put so he doesn’t have to remember I exist. It doesn’t matter. He
doesn’t have to know. I’m not going to tell him, and he's not going to notice.”
Rhagi took the thread of feeling he was getting from Matt and found the note inside himself. Then he
pushed it back, winding it around his tutor, and heard him gasp. “Trust me,” Rhagi whispered, pushing
his shirt from his shoulders. “Trust me to know what I want.” He smiled, and it transformed his face,
making him beautiful. “Teach me.”
Groaning under his breath, Matt leaned forward, pushing Rhagi back onto the chaise underneath him.
The look Rhagi saw turned on him was heated and full of longing and tenderness. “You have no idea,
do you? How utterly gorgeous you are. That’s what makes you so perfect.” Lowering his head, he bit at
the boy’s full lips. “I can’t say no to you. This is your last chance to say no to me.”
Rhagi laughed, and with it, he felt a weight lift, enormous freedom. “You won’t take yes for an answer,
will you?”
Matt laughed with him, his face lighting with pleasure, his hand moving down between their bodies
with practised assurance. “I bloody well will now.”


                                                   ***


About the only thing Marius was sure of today was that his instincts were all over the place. He'd been
worried about Rhagi and how he might be coping - the boy tended to bottle things up. He wasn't
answering his door right now, though, and Marius didn't want to push it.
Which made him wonder why the hells he was now trying out Y'Roden's door. It didn't seem right to
just walk past, and yet as he knocked, he was perfectly well aware he probably wouldn't be welcomed.
The S'Hean grunted softly and brought a hand up to his head, making a noise that was slightly more
distressed as 'Hell's Fire Head' gripped his skull. There was thunder outside – but it didn't smell like
rain – strange that.
Rolling sideways, he fell ungracefully from the bed – hitting the carpet face on and just laying there as
the thunder struck up again. Except it wasn't thunder – it was... what was it? Growling, Ro pushed up to
hands and knees and blindly grabbed for the bedpost, quite unaware that it had left a stunning goose
egg the night before. “Just a minute,” he snapped, finally clearing enough to focus at least on the fact
that someone was knocking on the door.
Shambling towards it, he kicked a heavy bottle with his foot and swore – fairly certain he had broken a
toe. A little more alert, he fell into a chair. “Come in.”
Outside the doors, Ja'Kel gave Marius an apologetic look. “Yell if you need need help,” he whispered.
“I'll.. uh, well, call somebody, or something.”
Marius smiled wryly at Ja'Kel. "By the time I yell it'll probably be too late, but thanks for the thought."
Walking in, he found a smell he recognised, the combination of stale air, sweat and alcohol that always
seemed to hang around after a bender. Fair enough. At least it took the edge off the monstrous sense of
his mother's presence in the room.
It even took him a minute to find Y'Roden, and that had to be a first. He watched the S'Hean in silence
for a minute, then sighed and sat down. "I know that feeling. Know what you need? Something to hit.
Well, after a large bucket of whatever you people use for coffee."
Y'Roden flexed his fingers, knuckles cracking – his gaze anywhere as long as it didn't meet Marius'.
His palm slid over the scarab over his heart, rubbing at the flickering, dim light – muscles rippling
beneath the scarred flesh of his bared torso. His hand rose, sliding over haggard features and wiping
moisture away from his eyes.
“Yeah,” he said hoarsely. “I could use some Jernorvise. Generally Callan comes in useful around now –
too bad we've misplaced him too. Gods, it normally doesn't affect me this much.” The half-elf winced
as his fingers grazed a tender spot on his head. “I must have hit my head.”
Blood-shot emerald-greens finally lifted to Marius' face, and Y'Roden sighed. “It isn't your fault, you
know. Tallin is a formidable bastard – there isn't anything you could have done to stop him.”
Marius blinked, taken by surprise. That he hadn't expected. "That... it doesn't matter, it's done now,
there's no point worrying about it. There's plenty of other stuff to worry about. Tallin..." He gave a short
bark of humourless laughter. "Is probably right now listening to her talk and realising just what he's got
himself in for. You have hit your head, by the looks of things."
He pushed a hand through his short blond hair, making it stand up in spikes. "When Hades took Foxx,
if there'd been something, anything I could have killed? In some long, drawn-out, bloody fashion? And
I had to get up and walk away from her this morning before I bit her head off. I came to see Rhagi but
either he's not there or he's not answering. I thought he might not be coping, and... well, we're family.
Anyway. I may not be Callan, but I'd be happy to help us both burn off some steam."
Ro smiled briefly – Ghetsuhm did have the gift of 'scathe', and Tallin had probably discovered that by
now. The half-elf's mouth twisted unpleasantly – she had likely pissed the Demon Mage off, and
angered, he was even more dangerous.
“It's a theme for me,” he said suddenly. “At least once in long-standing relationship, a psycho has to
make off with my partner. The last bastard to try it ended up spread out all over a medical facility. I
wonder how Tallin's entrails would look draped like bunting in Rakka Keep.
“Not that I'll do it – maybe I can pay Galain to do it for me. She can't take it when I resort violence in
her name. Unless, of course – I have to stop him for some other reason... I hope he gives me a reason.
I'm not sure I can stand by and let someone else have all the fun. Was I just babbling?”
The S'Hean shot Marius an apologetic look. “Give me an hour or so and I'll probably be up for a round
in the arena or two. Have you tried Jernovise?” He staggered up to his feet and opened the doors to the
balcony where, as it was every morning, breakfast was laid out on a table.
Marius gave a short bark of humourless laughter. "You know, I'd have been a lot happier if you'd said
'at most once every relationship'. And I don't think it's all down to you. I know this has happened to her
at least once before, and I'll bet there's a bunch I don't know about."
He followed Y'Roden out onto the balcony and sat. "I've never been here long enough for Jernovise.
There always seems to be some kind of terrible emergency to deal with. You wouldn't have to pay
Galain, you know, he'd do it for free. No, you don't need me to tell you that, you do know." There was
something there, how gentle Ghet was and how much violence she inspired in other people, but he was
too tired and stressed to get his head around it.
Still, if the S'Hean king was babbling... "Y'Roden, Rhagi and Aarien are here and I can help look out
for them. But, well, my parents made it pretty clear there were some things they just weren't going to
talk about. Galain's parents. Big patches of their past. Ro, does Ghet have a sister?"
Y'Roden looked at Marius from the corner of his eye and didn't say a word for a minute. Instead, he
filled two wide, shallow cups that looked more like small bowls with a thick, steaming, green liquid.
Balancing one on the tips of his fingers, the S'Hean offered it up to the Roman.
“Her name is Jellhi – and if there was anyone that embodied the 'opposite of Ghetsuhm', it would be
her. I have no idea what is keeping her alive – or if she even is, but I wouldn't advise going to look for
her, and if help is what you are after, you'll not find it there.”
Marius eyed the unappetisingly green liquid suspiciously, then mentally shrugged and drank. "What,
you're telling me my aunt is a really mean nun?" He snickered. "That would be weird. My actual aunt,
Livinia's sister I mean, she was a really mean nun."
He stared down into the bowl he was nursing in his fingers. "You know, that's pretty much what they
told me about Galain's father, Gareth: that he was a nasty piece of work and I should stay away from
him. Sometimes I feel like I actually need to check and make sure I'm not still twelve."
Y'Roden laughed harshly and sat, finally. “Opposite in temperament and appearance, perhaps not in...
appetite,” he explained. The nerve in the half-elf's jaw twitched and he drank slowly from his cup.
“Gareth. Gareth's mother should have rolled over, or swallowed. He has caused more misery for more
good people than I care to think about. If I ever find the Bastard, I'll do the universe a favour and rid it
of him. No matter what your mother has to say on the matter.”
Emerald eyes lifted from the tea and met Marius' blue-green gaze. “I'd listen to the warnings, if I were
you. They are not given lightly – and it has nothing to do with your age. He tried to murder your Uncle
Adarin – what he did to everyone else is not my tragedy to tell, but a wise man doesn't invite that sort
of misery into his life willingly.”
The smile that turned the King's mouth was unsettling. “People like Gareth don't often change – and
even when they try, the monster always lurks beneath the skin.”
Marius's spine prickled, and he shifted uncomfortably, reminded of what he'd seen yesterday. "I spent
time in Alcarinque a while back. There's something about that place that makes all that very easy to
believe. But Jellhi? How could you have a psychopath called Jellhi? I know. it's not your tragedy to tell,
right?" He smiled grimly. "I've never been a wise man, anyone would tell you that. Everything worth
having comes from risk."
Sighing, he put his cup down. "You don't need this right now. I'll arm up and meet you downstairs in
half an hour or so, alright?"
“Actually,” Y'Roden said calmly, “its nicely distracting. But no, it isn't mine to tell.” He chuckled
softly. “An'Thaya always says that Alcarinque has a sinister, sterile beauty to it. She refuses to go
there.”
His eyes darkened again as thoughts turned to his missing sister – then he seemed to shake from the
reverie and nodded at Marius. “I'll meet you there.”


                                                    ***


The windows of Castle Wyvern were set deep into the wall – typical of Whispinian buildings to keep
out the heat of the double suns – and this one in particular was not only deep, but wide as well.
Embroidered material of rich crimson and gold stretched out over the window seat that took up the
entire space, making good use of the light.
Reclined against a pile of cushions, Serendipity Wyvern's head was bent in concentration – burnished-
red curls hanging freely about her face and tumbling over shoulders and back as she worked a needle
through the material of one of her brother's doublets. Humming softly to herself, she pulled the thread
and readjusted the material – meticulous about the mending of a minor tear that was a result of two
things. Brenn's ever widening shoulders as he filled out into the man he as becoming, and the strenuous
activity of sparring.
Seren had to admit to deep pride in her brother – young as he was, filling their father's shoes. Since
Gardor had become Regent, it had fallen to Brenn to take up the reins as High Lord Wyvern of Corin –
and so far, he had exercised his duty without fault. Whilst thinking on it, she remembered that he would
turn twenty-two the following month, which meant that in her own current duties as acting lady –
seeing as Brenn had yet to marry, she would have to arrange the celebration.
He’d finally talked himself into approaching her, the fact that he was more nervous now than when he
talked to Gardor seemed to make sense, at least to him. If Gardor said no he’d understand, who would
want a thief courting their daughter? Especially not the daughter of the current regent. Or Gardor could
just cut his head off, which would have seemed like mercy considering the fun the Wyvern Lord had.
The Schi stopped and leaned his shoulder against the wall, his arms crossed as he watched her. If
Serendipity told him no; well then life was going to be a hell of a lot harder.
“I take it Brenn is busting out at the seams again?” he asked, pushing away from the wall and walking
over to her to peer over her shoulder.
The young woman lifted her head, blue eyes warm as the met the Schi's. “Why yes,” she laughed, “he
is. I'm certain he is doing it on purpose, just to keep me busy sewing his clothing.” A soft smile brought
a glow to her features. “What have you been up to? Brenn says you went to Castle Corin a few days
ago – what was that all about?”
“Your brother has a big mouth.” Aaron chuckled, but then again, it seemed natural for someone to be
noticed missing and where they went coming soon after. The half-elf moved away to pull a chair closer
then sat down.
“I wanted to talk to your father.”
“To go with his big shoulders,” Serendip agreed playfully. She sobered slightly, her hands falling into
her lap with her sewing. “My father?”
Aaron scrubbed at the back of his neck, suddenly wishing that Brenn was there so he could strangle the
kid…he really didn’t care if he was High Lord or not.
“Well, I wanted to ask him if it would be okay, er, or if I’d stay in one piece. Well huneld.” The half-elf
looked down at his hands then back up, “I wanted to make sure if it would be okay with him, if I asked
you if I could court you.”
Seren grinned, the Impish side of her quite enjoying Aaron's discomfiture. “And what did he say?” she
asked innocently.
“That he wasn’t going to behead me even though I offered to find an axe.” He replied automatically.
The fact that she was grinning just added to his decision sometime ago that the daughter really wasn’t
too unlike her father…or the D’Riels.
Which wasn’t necessarily a comforting idea.
“Well that sounds promising,” the redhead said thoughtfully. “Not really an answer to your question, I
suppose, but promising.”
“Then he said when it comes to any proposals it would be in your hands.” Aaron grinned, “But could
we worry about proposals later, cause I’d rather like to know if I have your permission to court you
first.”
“He did?” Serendip asked. “Well that was kind of him.” She fell silent for a moment, studying Aaron
with mock solemnity, as if sizing him up. “I suppose,” the redhead mused, “I could be open to the
idea.”
Aaron’s grin faded, “Well at least ‘open to the idea’ isn’t a no,” he mumbled, his shoulders slumping
slightly. Taking a deep breath he straightened them and nodded, “Thank you for considering my
request.”
Serendipity snorted, then threw herself off of the seat – wrapping her arms around the Schi's neck and
kissing him. “Of course you have my permission, Aaron,” she chided him. “I couldn't want anything
more.”
Instinctively he wrapped his arms around her waist. “Really?” he asked after she kissed him, a dopey
grin on his face. “Really really?” He started to spin her around, realized that he was still in his chair so
hugged her tightly to him instead.
Scowling, Aaron pulled back and started down into her blue eyes, “You’re an evil woman.”
The redhead grinned up at him cheekily. “Which makes me the perfect match for you,” she said. “Now
kiss me again before somebody catches us.”
“Gladly,” the half-elf grinned, lowering his lips to hers.
                                                   ***


Rani had gotten up before the suns had begun to rise. It had been almost a week and she had not yet
been able to tell Rhodry he was sire once again and to a male heir. The time that had passed had been
nearly boringly pleasant and relatively quiet. Donning soft looser fitting trews and shirt Rani slipped
her feet into soft leather boots before heading out to the stables. It had become something of a habit
added to her keeping her ranger skills fine tuned to spend the early morning cooler hours currying
Telpe.
As the skies began to lighten Rani felt the urge to mount her silver appaloosa and take a leisurely
morning ride. But despite the fact that this time no dark clouds of trouble seemed to be hanging about
them Rani had early decided to use more caution to protect the life cargo within her. Still it was hard to
fight her warrior blood and be more vigorous in day to day duties and exercises. Walking from the
stable to the paddock with Telpe’s bridle in her grip the elven warrior stood watching the growing light
and wondering if Rhodry had gotten back yet from his tour of the lands.
“There you go girl have a nice day without me.” Rani turned Telpe loose in the large protected paddock
to graze and run as the equine saw fit. “Maybe Adda will visit with one of his stallions and both of us
can increase the population.” Telpe snorted and pranced off when Rani lightly slapped her rump.
“You planning on trading me in for a horse?” a voice asked from behind the S'Hean woman. The one-
eyed Lord was grinning as he slid his arms around Rani's waist and bent to kiss her pointed ear. Sandy-
blond hair ruffled in the breeze as Rhodry turned his head and nuzzled into his wife's reddish-gold hair.
“Miss me, rosy-locks?”
Flush, colored elven cheeks as the startled warrior turned around in the embrace to half-heartedly beat
her fists into his chest. She had yet to figure out how this large Corinian was able to sneak up on her so
easily. Yet despite his mercenary skills, no one else was able to catch the former general of armies off
guard so easily and often as he could. It infuriated, intrigued and endeared him to her all at the same
time. “Yes!” was the answer tainted with her embarrassment yet filled with her love for the road worn
human Lord. It was not clear which question she was answering.
“You mean that you missed me, right? Not that you're trading me in?” Rhodry's one, perfectly-blue eye
sparkled with mischief and he bent his head to kiss her. “So what were you and Telpe conversing
about?”
Rani met the kiss before answering him. She had missed him and the kiss could not mistake that.
“What? Me miss your smelly feet and loud snoring? Miss you sneaking up on me scaring me half to
death or to miscarry? As for Telpe, she’s getting close to not being able to foal and if she gets too old
and I lose her it will break my heart.” Rani smiled hopefully to Rhodry.
“Well we can't breed her to an Obsidian,” Rhodry said, “Malik would have a heart attack. You'll have to
find an off-world stud.” He frowned thoughtfully, then paused – a poleaxed expression settling over his
rugged features. “Wait... did you say miscarry?”
“I know that Rho, that’s why I was talking aloud and said maybe Adda could bring one of his stallions
here to breed with her.” Rani deftly avoided any comment on the last question Rho asked. The look on
his face was priceless to the S’Hean and she wanted to enjoy it a little longer. “Would it be acceptable
to get one of my father’s studs?” she added.
Rhodry stared at his wife for a moment, then sighed in exasperation. “You're trying to kill me, aren't
you? I'm allergic to anticipation. Are you pregnant? There, nice and blunt.” His eye gleamed. “Is it a
boy? How far along? Why are you still standing up?”
“What possible good would it do to kill the father of the next Lord of Arketh? You have lots of allergies
love and you know I so enjoy your discomforts on those lines. Bluntly? Yes pregnant, around the time
of bills before you had to ride out, a son. I am not a cripple Rho but I have been out here a while now
so yes going in and getting off my feet maybe a bit of juice would be nice.” Rani wrapped her arms
around her husband’s neck and kissed his nose. She was enjoying this perhaps a bit more than she
probably should have.
Rhodry let it sink in for a moment, then grinned hugely and hugged his wife against his chest, the
pressure at her shoulders instead of further down. Large hands dug into shimmering curls and he kissed
the top of her head. “My wish is your command, wife.” He released her, however briefly, and scooped
the warrior-woman up in his arms, accepting no protest as he carried her toward the castle. “Myghin!
Bring my lady some juice!”
“Rho! You do not need to bellow. I haven’t told anyone in the house yet just you.” She lay her head on
his shoulder content in the love they shared and happier than she could imagine to be the mother of his
child. This time she would not let anything spoil that. “So how was your review of the lesser lands? Is
everything quieting down?” she spoke softly toward his ear. “And you can tell them all in the house.
It’s ok and I bet they were guessing on their own anyway.”
“The lands are fine – nice and quiet,” Rhodry answered as he took the steps to the door, which was
being opened by an amused Myghin – bearing juice. “And I bellow 'cause they move faster then.” He
grinned at the serving girl who smiled back and led the way inside and into the sitting room. She set the
tray on a table, curtseyed to the Lord and Lady of Castle Arketh, and excused herself.
Rhodry set Rani down in an overstuffed chair and crouched in front of her, offering up a glass of juice.
“I'm sure she's run off to spread the good news.” The Corinian's grin was especially evil.
“Well kindly work on your authority issues when it will not involve doing it over my ears.” Rani’s tone
was playfully chastising, “That was a bit much luv.” Taking the offered juice Rani took several
swallows before adding, “Just what rumor is that? I do not recall anything said that would allow that
assumption?”
“You said on the way in that they've probably already guessed, I'm sure the expression on my face
confirmed it nicely for them,” Rhodry said dryly. His hand slid onto her abdomen, a light, affectionate
caress as much for their unborn son as for Rani. It was impressive, really, that their first active try for a
child once the decision had been made produced a result. S'Heans were wondrous creatures.
Rani laughed hard smiling hugely as her hand landed atop Rhodry’s. “It has been my experience that
house staff knows and guesses far more than they let on. But yes your goofy expression has probably
told them all they needed to know for sure. That and you carrying me in here like a wounded foal.”
Placing her cup on a nearby stand Rani ran her hand down Rhodry’s face leaned in and kissed his
forehead. Softly she teasingly added, “You know the minute my mother hears she could want to come
visit.”
“Bite your tongue!” Rhodry exclaimed, completely aghast. “That woman could scare the silk out of a
Shewmo.” A shudder rippled down the Corinian's spine and he made a face. “Now I need a drink, and
juice isn't going to cut it.”
“Do you think we could sell her to Corryn to help in the silk trade?” Rani grinned back at Rhodry’s
reaction.
“Is that an option?” her husband asked hopefully. Somehow, he didn't think Rani's father would go for
it...


                                                    ***


Fionna crooned softly to her mount as they stood in the stall, stroking his nose with one hand. The
Obsidian Black stallion whickered and nudged at her, and she laughed. Dressed as she was in an old,
somewhat darned, shirt and breeches, the blonde half-elf could have been just another of the grooms
busying themselves around the stables. Only the two silver bands set with blue topaz and diamond she
wore on her left hand marked her as the Lady of the house.
Hearing the crunch of boots on straw, she turned, a smile on her face. Azure eyes sparkled like the sun
on tropical waters. "You know, I'm sure Adhii understands every word I say," she said in an amused
voice. The horse snorted as if in agreement.
Lord Black smiled down at his wife and bent to kiss her, a warm brush of the mouth. “Well,” he said,
“they are terribly clever, Obsidians are.” Tobin looked up at the stallion and chuckled as the large black
shook his head vigorously and flapped his lips at them. “Not to mention cheeky.”
She laughed, one arm sliding around the tall, blond man's waist. "You should know all about that then,"
she teased. Her lips quirked into an impish expression.
Tobin's eyes crinkled at the outer edges, cornflower-blue lighting with amusement. “Just what are you
implying, wife?” Something about his expression said he knew perfectly well what she was on about,
and was terribly guilty of it.
"Exactly what it sounded like, husband." She grinned, and then rose up on her tiptoes to kiss him.
"Do you want to come for a ride with me? I promised Corbin that I'd take him down to the beach later,
but I wanted to exercise Adhii first. Did you want to come?"
The tall, blond Lord kissed her back and smiled. “I do,” he answered. “Just let me saddle up my
grouchy stallion.” He turned towards the stall where the Obsidian Black was snorting impatiently,
sensing a run in his future. “Where did you want to go?”
"I hadn't really decided," she admitted. "Did you have anywhere in mind?"
Tobin looked at her over his shoulder as he tacked up his mount. “Nothing wrong with the beach, if you
ask me,” he suggested. “Gives the horses a long, clear run. Why don't you ask Adhii where he wants to
go? If he understands what you're saying, maybe he'll answer you.” His expression was sheer cheek.
His wife gave a distinctly unlady-like snort. "Intelligent he may be, but he's still a horse. Isn't that right,
Adhii? The beach does sound good though."
The next moment she was staring at her mount in stunned surprise.
"Um, Tobin. Would you say that insanity is hereditary?"
“I sit at a table of Corinian Lords every couple of months – so I would say, yes. Yes, insanity is most
definitely hereditary.” The Corinian paused and looked at his wife. “Uhm. Why do you ask?”
"Oh, no reason," she said. "Just wondering." But she was eyeing her mount suspiciously as she led him
out of the stall. Obsidian stallions did not talk, she told herself firmly. So there was no way he could
have replied to her comment. She was hearing things or hallucinating or something. Whatever it was,
he - had - not – talked.
Tobin stared at Fionna for a long moment, his head canting to the side and an eyebrow lifting perilously
high. “Is there something you'd like to share?” he asked. “Or are you going to just wander around
looking pole-axed all day?”
"If I share," the half-elf said in an eminently reasonable tone, "you'll think I'm nuts. Hell, I think I'm
nuts. And we have enough nuts in the family already."
“You married me,” Tobin pointed out, “you've already proven that you're nuts.” He grinned at her, then
settled into a more sombre expression. “Seriously, what is is?”
Fionna paused, turned around and inhaled slowly. A finger pointed straight at Adhii as she announced, a
little shakily, "he spoke."
Tobin's head tilted in the opposite direction from the first time and he regarded Adhii suspiciously. “He
did? I didn't hear anything. What did he say?” There was nothing of doubt in his tone, and no humour
either. He had, after all, seen his wife transform into a raven – and could, himself, pass through walls as
if they were not there. It was in him to believe the impossible.
"He said something about horses were intelligent enough to do all sorts of things if they wanted to."
Fionna gave her husband a wry smile. "I'm afraid I was a little too shocked to really take it in." Her
expression turned anxious.
"Do you think I'm nuts? I mean, Obsidians aren't supposed to talk back to their riders. What if I'm
hearing voices that aren't there?"
“Just because most of us can't hear them, doesn't mean Obsidians don't talk. I mean, I'm sure they do,
just not in a language we can understand. They are wickedly intelligent.” He smiled wryly at his wife.
“I've seen you turn into a bird, I'm not about to think you are crazy because you can hear a horse talk.”
Tobin frowned. “Maybe the two skills are related?”
"They could be I guess." She frowned, and then sighed. "I feel another mother-daughter chat coming
on. There's so much I still don't know, Tobin."
A chuckle rumbled out of Tobin and he grinned. “Sorry, I was just picturing your mother having a
polite conversation with a goat. I'll be alright in a minute.”
His expression softened. “It'll be alright, love. It seems a harmless talent if you ask me. No one has ever
been 'talked to death'. Unless they were trapped in a room with Kara Little.”
"Tobin Black! If you're not careful, I'll tell her you said that," Fionna replied. "Ammah is inventive
with her vengeance. Callan almost had his jaw dislocated when she set B'Roden on him." A wicked
smile that was pure Badb Catha crossed her face.
Then she laughed softly and held out her hand to him. "As long as you don't think I'm insane, then I
guess it's not that bad."
Tobin's eyes sparkled with mischief. “She'd have to catch me first,” he pointed out. “I'm a terribly
slippery fellow when frightened.”
His large hand enveloped Fionna's smaller one, and he leaned over to kiss her. “I think you are
beautiful, clever, witty and incredibly sexy – but definitely not insane.”
She leaned in to kiss him back, and then giggled as Adhii snorted and butted Tobin with his head.


                                                   ***


The Ra'Vidden who had portalled them into Silver Dragon Ridge had made himself immediately scarce
for some reason, leaving Holo scratching his head as to what they had done to drive him off. Not that
he had any complaints about it – being alone with Maeve was nothing to complain about. They were
here on a mission, of course, but they were both skilled multi-taskers.
Faded-blue eyes met grey from beneath a shock of reddish-blonde hair, and Holo tilted his head. “I
think they shunted us out of the way,” he muttered. “They said someone took Ghet. How does someone
just take a force of nature like that? Research? Bs hax. Our instructions are suspiciously vague. This
sux.”
"You want suspiciously vague, you should have heard my mum explain the birds and the bees," Maeve
said, distracted. Shrugging, she turned back to Holo and wrapped her arms around his neck, "Look at it
this way, they want us here, either to help by finding something or to help by staying out of the way. I
prefer option one myself. And we have the benefit of being ensconced here, instead of a dusty library.
"One of these days though, I plan on getting you between the stacks."
Holo grinned at his lover, mischief sparking in his eyes. “I quite like your stack,” he told her, “and I
wouldn't be opposed to being 'got' between two.” Bending his head, he kissed her and wrapped his
arms around Maeve's waist. “You're right, this is a rather choice spot to be 'out of the way'. More of a
vacation than an assignment.”
She laughed and stepped backward from Holo's arms. Undoing the buttons on her top, she grinned. "I
don't know about you, but I'm going in search of an empty room. Preferrably one with a large bath,"
she said as the last button slipped free. Balling the shirt up she tossed it at Holo as she continued to
walk backwards down the hall.
The Tech caught the shirt square in the face – he hadn't exactly been concentrating on her hands once
the buttons had opened all the way. Fumbling for the material, he pulled it away from his head and
grinned at Maeve as he stalked her down the hall. “A bath? Are you feeling dirty?”
Her boots were a bit of an issue, but each fell with a satisfactory thud as she rounded a corner,
"Absolutely filthy." She pushed opened the nearest door and slipped inside. "Better hurry up, or I'll start
with out you!"
Holo laughed, tugging his shirt over his head as he gave chase through the doorway. “Now that I
wouldn't mind watching,” he teased. “Your not exactly hard on the eyes, you know... especially... you
know, at that moment.” Blue eyes sparkled as he kicked off his sneakers and made a lunge for her.
Maeve's pants landed in a corner somewhere as she wrapped her arms around Holo's neck. "Mmmm,
and who said I'd let you watch? I mean that's not all that fair, make me start by myself and then still get
some of the benefits."
She laughed and bit his lip, her fingers slipped down his chest and toyed with belt of his pants. "You're
a bit overdressed. We should take care of that, unless you would just rather watch. Personally I thought
you were a bit more of the participating type."
“Watching has its benefits,” Holo said, “but nothing beats active participation.” He reached down to
help her with his jeans, and ended up pulling a bag of petals out of his pocket. The seal broke open and
talle konte flew everywhere – though mostly on Maeve. Things were looking better and better from the
Tech's perspective – and definitely 'up' as his pants hit the floor.
“Hold still,” he snickered, “we wouldn't want any of those to go to waste...”


                                                   ***


The promised week had passed, and Tallin had kept his distance, though he had watched of course,
from the pool that revealed what he desired most at any particular moment. To the hour, he made his
way down the cold hallways of Rakka Keep, a servant trailing behind with a tray of food. She would be
hungry, desperately so – but it remained to be see how broken she would be. The D'Riel women were
strong, whether by blood or by marriage – defiant.
Be-ringed fingers flung open the doors and the Demon Mage ushered the servant in ahead of him. “Set
down the tray,” he said. “I'm sure Her Majesty is ready to eat.”
Ghet had kept careful track of the days since Tallin had left, and today she was fully dressed. She'd
nearly drifted off again when he came in though, weak as she was. All she'd had to do after she'd
thoroughly explored her prison was lie and play with her memories, testing herself. What was that
man's name again, when did that happen, where had she been when...
She slowly pushed herself upright when Tallin came in, careful not to make herself too dizzy. "And I'm
sure you're ready for her to. After all, if I die, all this has been a complete waste of time for you."
Steadying herself, she moved to the tray and started picking at it slowly. She was starving, but still
restrained enough not to make herself sick. "In fact, you may need me to be alive more than I do."
Tallin waved a hand in dismissal and paid no more attention to the retreating servant. Seating himself
comfortably, he watched Ghetsuhm with piercing ice-blue eyes, and lifted a dark eyebrow. “Is that so?
And what would make you think that? There is a plentiful supply of D'Riels these days – one of
Y'Roden's daughters is bound to come out from behind the wards again, they would do as well as you.”
He smirked and settled back into the chair. “I prefer red hair of course, but a blonde will do... or even
that quiet, raven haired lovely. Si'Lyen is a delectable little treat, I should have sampled her last time
she was in my grasp, but I was a little too busy.”
Ghet snickered. It was odd, in a way her weakened state helped. Stronger, she'd have been furious at
him talking about her step-daughters like that, but rage took effort. "They'd have to be easier to manage
than I am. If one of them would have done as well as me, you'd have taken her. But no jollies out of
making Galain miserable that way. And... well, there are always rules. Either you have expended a
great deal of effort to drag me back here and keep me where I shouldn't be, or somebody else did it for
you, and you've used up one hell of a favour. Either way I don't reckon you want to start over."
She'd emptied the platter, and she felt both bloated and still hungry. "And you know, if I die... then we
get to start over again, Y'Roden and I. What I need most can't be taken away from me, even in death. If
I give up, if I think he can't get me back? Dying is my best option."
“True, true, easy is boring,” Tallin admitted. “I find you endlessly entertaining, and that talent of
yours...” He sucked a breath through his teeth. “I've never felt anything like that. I suppose it would
take something like you to satisfy someone of Y'Roden's peculiar appetites.” His grin was hard,
vicious. “After Samara, sex must have seemed like dust in the mouth to a man use to fine wine.”
The Mage's gaze grew intense. “Oh, I won't kill you, I won't let you die. I'll make you wish you were
dead – perhaps. Or maybe, just maybe, I'll let the food do the job for me.” His eyes slid to the tray, then
back to her face. “All the willpower in the world won't do you a wit of good, my dear, not if you forget
who you are.”
Ghet's eyes darkened as she looked at the tray in horror. Stupid. Her brain was more complicated and
highly structured than a normal human, but if anything even more vulnerable to drugging. She
considered ramming her fingers down her throat, but he wasn't an idiot. Whatever he'd used had to be
fast-working or he wouldn't have told her about it. It was already too late.
She stared at her hands, the large emerald ring Y'Roden had given her. Y'Roden. Concentrate.
"Samara... love hurts her. She may be a siren but when it comes right down to it all she has is sex.
That's nothing next to what I can give him. I made him what he is just as much as she did. I..." She
frowned slight, and lifted her head, looking at the man sitting across from her in puzzlement. "What
was I saying? Who..."
The dark haired human smiled patiently, relaxing in his chair and looking at her with an unreadable
expression. “It's alright, Ghet – it wasn't important. I've told you many times, it doesn't matter that you
don't love me – our arrangement never called for that. Our marriage is one of convenience for a reason,
right? There are other things more important than love – and we don't risk hurting one another. We
agreed on a child – nothing more.”
Frowning, Ghet shook her head. No, she wouldn't do that, she'd never do that. The certainty slipped
away from her as soon as it came, but it was the only thing she'd had. Hugging herself defensively, her
fingers brushed across the cuff under her t-shirt. She was married, yes. But she also... loved.
Not him, though, this man she didn't recognise. He was right about that. "I don't remember. Why don't I
remember? I don't know what I promised you, but..." She thought about having sex with him. Her
stomach turned over. "I can't do that."
“You had an accident, my dear. Over did it a bit, over extended yourself, so to speak. It seems to have
done something to your memory.” His icy eyes settled on hers, expressionless. “You've never been able
to accept that he is gone. I think you blank it out on purpose sometimes, because you can't take the
pain.”
The Mage smiled, briefly, rings on his fingers reflecting softly in the light as he brought two to rest
against his temple – leaning on an elbow. “We are all we have left in this time, everything else is gone.
There is only our agreement left.”
An accident. That might explain why she felt so weak and tired. The grief he spoke of, too, that seemed
real; something that tore at her heart but stayed beyond the reach of her mind. "In this time? What does
that mean?" She shook her head. "I need more time. I need to remember."
“Take all the time you need,” he answered. “At least let me take you to your rooms. You'll feel better
after a bath, and a change of clothing.”
Ghet hesitated, a chill around her heart she couldn't shake. He was right, though: she was tired and she
needed a bath. That she supposed would make sense if she'd been injured or ill, but then why were her
clothes so dirty?
Giving in, she nodded. "Alright. I would like a bath." Her fingers drifted to the band on her arm again.
Something about it was inherently comforting. He called her 'dear', but he didn't even like her, she
could feel it. "But that's all."
The smile that curved his mouth was chilling all on its own. “Of course – just a bath,” he agreed, rising
from his chair. “Follow me, it’s not far, I’m sure you will find them more than adequate.” Tallin paused
and turned back towards her. “Do you need assistance?”
Ghet flinched, visibly shrinking away from him. Her voice was full of cool precision. "No, thank you,
I'm sure I can manage."
Anger made her get to her feet too quickly, and she stumbled, catching at the table so she didn't end up
in an inelegant heap on the floor. Clinging there, she turned her head and snapped at him. "What the
hells did you do to me?"
“Nothing,” he said. It wasn't a lie – he hadn't actually drugged the food himself and Tallin was a master
of making himself believe whatever he was thinking. The Demon Mage turned away, striding toward
the doors. “I'll have your bath drawn, the chambers are right across the hall.”
Ghet stared after him, her eyes narrowed. Odd how she couldn't remember her own name or anything
about her life, but she knew herself perfectly well. She'd damn well crawl all the way across before
she'd ask him for help. She was also not far from bursting into tears, and she had the strongest feelig
he'd love that.
Pushing off the table, she drew herself up, and focused all her concentration on the door. Pale and
obviously struggling, she nonetheless walked. She was going to work this out, no matter what it took.


                                                    ***


The time difference was totally messing with Jerri's head. One week here equalled two where she was
from – and on Berelath too, and the long hours of sunlight were bound to give her sunstroke if she
wasn't careful. The time had given her the chance to acclimate slightly to the heat, humidity, and
gawdawful gravity... but there were other things she was still having trouble accepting.
Like the small, male, winged pest that was currently agitating her when she was trying to relax on the
balcony. She had happy stretched out on a divan, enjoying the sun and a glass of the rich, purply wine,
when the little critter had come out of nowhere and tried to help himself to the alcohol. Jerri had
immediately protested, and the entire thing had erupted into a ridiculous battle between blonde, baffled
human, and indignant, winged menace.
“Bugger off!” she insisted, swatting and the fellow who peeped in what Jerri was sure was a litany of
impolite language.
“You’re just encouraging him,” Shadow said in amusement from the doorway, “They’re a bit like cats,
if you show you don’t like them, they’ll just swarm you.”
“I love cats,” Jerri said inanely, “these things though? Bloody annoying.” She grinned at the other
woman and sat up on the divan. “Care to join me?”
The forest elf grinned, “That would be a good thing, I get a little catty at times, but I don’t think my
definition is the same as yours.
“You’re right though, they can be.” Shadow nodded and covered her eyes briefly as she stepped out,
and curled up into an empty chair. “I was hoping you might ask that.”
Jerri chuckled and raised her glass, batting the fae out of it again. “You'll discover quite quickly, I never
pass up the chance to share close quarters with a pretty face.” Blue eyes were speculative as they
studied Shadow. “You have the most amazing hair.”
“I see,” the Taurësúlë’s lips twitched into a smile then into a frown before finally settling somewhere
in-between, going slightly cross eyed to get a glimpse of her own hair.
“Really? It has a nasty tendency of getting tangled and draws attention when I generally don’t want it.”
Jerri's eyes lit with mischief. “I've never been in a situation where I didn't want to draw attention, so I
wouldn't know about that.” Her features settled into an expression that was almost serious. “I'm trying
to make sense of all this. It's all so foreign to me in ways that just boggle my mind. I'm use to new
experiences, of fearlessly treading the unknown, but this is just... wild. I want to support Galain, he
obviously needs supporting, but its difficult when my head is spinning from what must be centuries of
history. How do you keep track of it all?”
“I’ve lived through most of it, I’ve been a minor player but my life has been just as wrapped up in it.”
Shadow slumped down in her chair until she could rest her head against the back and stared out at the
landscape. “I try not to think of the history that goes along with everything,” she looked over at Jerri,
“It gets a lot worse than the Soap Operas that the Terrans love to watch so much.
“Galain does need support.” A soft smile touched her lips, “He use to be so bloody frustrating in his
wildness, usually because someone had to help hide him from farmer for taking the daughter for a roll
in the hay. But even when you wanted to wring his neck you were laughing about everything that was
happening.” She sighed, “There’s been so many words thrown around and so much hurt that,” she
shook her head, “He does need support, but I can only give so much with Ro the way he is.”
She grew silent for a moment as if weighing options in her mind. “If you’re in this misadventure for the
long haul, you’ll need to know what’s going on. If you have any questions I’ll be happy to answer
them, granted you’d get the summary since some of it is rather private and personal, but I’ll tell you
everything I can.”
Jerri considered for a moment, biting her lip – wondering if asking was overstepping her bounds with
Galain. Yet, without the knowledge he couldn't give, she had no way to truly understand. “Tell me
about them,” she said. “About An'Thaya and Ghetsuhm – why they loved him, why they left? About
the men they left him for. Galain is so wounded, but I can see how wonderful he is, how someone
could get so caught up in him that the act of loving him alone could break a heart. Spell out the tragedy
for me.”
“I know An’Thaya better than I know Ghetsuhm,” her lips twitched in a wry smile at the
understatement to the latter. “An’Thaya loved him because of his humour, his loyalty when he helped
get her family back. He can also make you feel like you’re the only person in the worlds and everything
else moves around you. Some of those reasons may be the same with Ghet, I don’t know.
“The reasons they left?” She pulled her lower lip between her teeth and worried it for a moment,
“Galain and An’Thaya were together for a little over two millennia, not all at once but they kept
coming back together and eventually married. Galain wasn’t very faithful and An’Thaya was but
eventually it just,” she searched for a word or a phrase, “stopped working. During a time when Galain
was convinced that An’Thaya was dead he bonded to Ghetsuhm.
“A marriage isn’t made for three people and An’Thaya left she didn’t have much of a choice. She tried
to fill the void that was there but it didn’t work.” Shadow shrugged sadly, “Sometimes what you love
the most is what can do the most damage. She eventually married and bonded to Callan.
“And I admit to skipping quite a bit there like Callan going blind and Galain temporarily losing an arm.
Callan gave Aya what she needed, someone that will be there for her and only her. He’s a great guy, a
smart ass most of the time, but that’s just part of his charm. Galain and Callan actually use to be friends
and well then that happened and understandably they aren’t on such great terms.
“As for Ghet. I don’t know why she left Galain any more than I know what she loves about him. For
many years there was a triangle between Ghet, Galain and Y’Roden but she made a decision, I don’t
think it was easy on her and I know it wasn’t on Ro.” Shadow sighed and looked back out over the
railing of the balcony. She’d had to pick up pieces then too. “But they went their separate ways. Ro
married but it didn’t work out, everyone was dieing then too. So to keep his family safe he had himself
killed, Ghet brought him back and she stayed. It wasn’t an easy choice for her. I do know that.
“Ro, he really isn’t as bad as he was in the council room. He’s come a long way from when I first met
him. He has a hell of a sense of humor, a great drinking buddy, but the worst thing anyone could ever
do is to hurt Ghetsuhm or any of his family. But Ghetsuhm especially, he doesn’t take for granted her
decision. He not only loves her but he needs her like a man in the desert needs water.
“It says a lot that Ro has asked Galain to stay and help, and it says just as much that Galain agreed to
stay and help. I meant what I said,” forest greens danced with mischief when she looked back to Jerri,
“we seriously needed a camera to document that moment.”
Jerri realized her cheeks were wet when Shadow finished speaking. She laughed though, at the elf's last
comment, and dried her face with her palms. “How awful, for all of them,” she said in an emotional
tone. “That has to be the most heartbreaking story I've ever heard. So much love and good intentions all
gone wrong.”
A smile lit the blonde's lovely features. “I was right then, about Galain. He was never intentionally
cruel to anyone – he just loved too much. It can happen to the best of people. Now if someone could
just make him believe that – maybe he'd stop being so hard on himself.”
“The only time Galain is intentionally cruel is when someone deserves it and then he can be down right
murderous.” Shadow chuckled, “When he loves he loves with every part of him and when he grieves
it’s the same way. He’s had a lot of hard lessons to learn within the last few decades. He’ll come out of
it. From what I’ve been told of what he’s been like and the one I’ve seen in the last week or so, you’ve
helped a great deal.”
Jerri coloured a bit and laughed. “I've bullied him a bit, and uhm... other things. I think just having an
unbiased ear helps people sometimes.”
Shadow nodded, “He needs that, and unbiased isn’t something you will come by much around here.”
Reaching into her shirt, the Taurësúlë pulled out a flask and took a drink. The fae stopped at the scent
of the new beverage and flew closer.
A dark eyebrow arched, followed by forest-greens narrowing, “Not if you value your wings you
won’t,” she threatened. He seemed to get the idea and chose to try Jerri again.
“How did you run into Galain?” she suddenly asked.
Jerri stuck her finger into her wine and held it up, letting the fae lick it. It was an odd sensation, but it
kept her from blushing like a school girl. “I popped up in the Green Heart awhile back, quite by
accident. I still haven't figured out how – I was on my way to work, and poof, there I was. I'd been
staying there a few days when Galain arrived. I came downstairs half asleep, and there he was. He
seemed sweet enough, even held my hair for me when I tossed my cookies. There was something about
him though...”
The blonde shrugged. “I felt he needed to let something out before he exploded, so I went about
seducing him. It took drugging him to do it, not something I'm really proud of. He was pretty angry
with me – but I guess I'm forgiven.” She swallowed hard, her eyes going far away for a moment.
Wreaking vengeance upon Jerri for the pill was all Galain was focused on for the moment. He
admittedly started making love to her again in an angry, possessive manner that would leave bruises
and marks on the young woman’s body for days afterward. Angry, guttural sounds escaped him,
mingling with Jerri’s screams and when he finally felt some sort of exhaustion he lay atop her,
laughing, the tone slightly hysterical.
“You still alive?” he asked after a few seconds. His anger over the pill was gone and concern filled his
eyes. Perhaps what he’d just done had been fueled by more than just the pill incident and he was
worried that older anger and resentments that had nothing to do with her might actually adversely
affect her.
She smiled wryly. “And so is he.” she didn't say aloud.


                                                    ***


Cullen brushed off one shoulder of his livery and shook out his hair in front of the mirror with a critical
eye. He'd had his uniform sent from Corin – with no explanation as to why, but he'd need it to escort
the King back to his rightful place. Privately, he was incredibly grateful for the distraction. It kept his
mind off his loss, providing a focus he might otherwise have drifted into madness without. Kara and his
unborn child were definitely what he lived for, but his work shaped that life.
A Whispin week had seen him back on his feet, healthy, if not hale. He'd passed Kara's inspection,
however, and had been cleared for duty.
"And where do you think you're off too," Kara asked, standing just inside the door. She held her hands
behind her back, leaning one shoulder against the doorway.
"You weren't leaving without so much as a goodbye kiss, were you?" The sound of her voice held a hint
of laughter. Her eyes showed something else entirely. It had only been a week, seven days for Cullen to
heal from his wounds. The wounds she could not heal, the ones her herbs and medicine could not cure.
Those worried her more, and it showed in her eyes. Stepping up, she picked at a piece of lint, more or
less as a stall tactic to keep him there a bit longer.
Unknown to her, there waited a surprise, all of which needed for her to arrive.
“Did you forget Valin's promise?” Cullen asked with a half-amused smile. “It'll be difficult to marry
you if you don't come back with us.” He took her hand and lifted it to his mouth, kissing the back of it
and playing with the tiger-eye ring on her finger. “You do still want to marry me, yes?”
Kara's eyes went wide and for a moment. She stared into her lovers eyes, whispering, "Valin's promise?
Come back with you? I get to go with you? You mean it?"
Standing on the tips of her toes she wrapped her arms around Cullen's neck and kissed him full on the
lips, her fingers running through his hair. Breaking free to speak, she pressed her ear to his chest and
held him tight.
"I want you to be happy my love. But yes, I...We still wish to marry you," as she brought one hand
down to her stomach. "If you'll have us."
Cullen smiled down at her, his fingers moving gently against her abdomen. “You are what makes me
happy,” he said.
“Should I come back later?” Valin's amused voice asked from the doorway. The Corinian King's eyes
were alight with fond humour. “I think the rest of the entourage is about ready to leave – if the two of
you are?”
Kara's cheeks turned a rosy red as she turned to face Valin. "We're ready," she laughed, "and you sir
have impeccable timing."
Unlacing her fingers from Cullen's locks of hair, giving her captain's ear a soft tug. "I just have to stop
and pick up a few things," wondering how they would travel. But she kept those thoughts to herself for
the time being.
"Now then, who's escorting who?"
Valin smiled, a spark of his old impish self revealing itself in emerald-greens. “So I've been told,” he
said. “I'm sure the Lords will think so too. Go ahead and grab what you need. We'll be travelling with
my mother, Reece and a few of my siblings. They should be along any moment. Cullen will be
escorting us to an airship, and we'll go to Corin from there.”
It was Sil who practically bounced past the doorway and then backed up, smiling over her brother's
shoulder at the pair.
"We're waiting," she sing-songed teasingly before she wrapped an arm through Valin's. "Okay, I'm
waiting, the rest are slowpokes. Can I help you pack?" This last was directed toward Kara.
"I like her," Kara whispered, giving Sil a knowing smile. "Sure, I can use all the help I can get. And if
the others are as slow as you say, we may have time for me to try a few things on first. Before packing
them away. I seemed to have gained a pound or two," her fingers flairing across her stomach. Glancing
at both men her eyes narrowed slightly, waiting for them to agree.
"Follow me. I'm sure the 'men' here have things to talk about while we're away." Kissing Cullen on the
cheek she all but glided past Valin on her way out. Stopping short, she turned toward Sil and tilted her
head.
"I don't think I've ever ridden in an airship. Have you?"
“You have,” Cullen reminded her, “for a short trip, with Drake and Jack.”
“I can see why she'd want to forget,” Valin teased gently.
"Short trips don't count," Kara piped up. "And both of them were perfect gentlemen," giving Valin a
smirk. "Unlike some men, who come unannounced and lurk in shadowed doorways."
Sil laughed and gave Kara a quick smile.
"Men are men. They talk a lot. So let's go. I can help. I have developed a way to pack the least for the
most, although your condition may try my method," she said. She waved to both her brother and Cullen
and then headed out.
"And what we can't pack, we'll buy later," Kara laughed. Blowing a kiss to Cullen she stepped in beside
Sil. "You mention there were others coming? Who else is there, if you don't mind me asking."
“Us,” Reece offered as he and Sum passed the two women in the hallway. “And them,” he jerked his
thumb toward the two D'Riels following in their wake.
Imoreki waved at Kara and winked at Sil as he and Roc followed the couple into Cullen's chambers. It
was good to have something to do again – and Valin's reintroduction to court was going to be
interesting, to say the least.


                                                   ***


The crack of a fist meeting skin echoed through the open arena and a splattering of blood and sweat hit
the sand, dissolving quickly beneath the heat of the suns. Y'Roden shook it off and narrowed his eyes at
Tre'Ver – his concentration had wavered again, giving the other S'Hean an opening he normally would
never have found. The King's bare foot slid between Tre'Ver's and hooked an ankle, pulling the taller elf
off balance as Ro swung, catching his opponent on the chin with a heavy impact.
Despite the heat, he felt cold, and had for a week when he wasn't warmed with copious alcohol. Every
moment felt strangely disjointed – unreal, and it took the sharp pain of sparring to remind him he was
still alive – that Ghet was out there somewhere, waiting for him. Ro had never done well with feeling
helpless and a slow-burning hatred for Tallin Modar had exploded into searing rage as time went on.
He had no where to direct it except at himself, and most of his time was spent alone, avoiding everyone
who might accidentally find themselves on the receiving end of something they didn't deserve.
“Addah?”
The familiar voice cut through his thoughts, distracting him enough to take a punch in the gut from
A'Ren. With a grunt, he elbowed the Ra'Vidden in the ribs and lifted his head.
At the edge of the arena, Yse watched her father with steady, jade-green eyes. She glanced to her side,
at Drysi and Rhagi, then stepped out onto the hot sands.
“You're excused,” Y'Roden rasped to Tre'Ver.
The Ranger hesitated, rubbing at his jaw, then nodded and silently beat a retreat.
Drysi followed her sister, a step or two behind as always. It was in her nature to hang back, to draw no
attention to herself, to not want to be a bother, but the pain she sensed in her father tore at her heart.
"Oh, Addah," she murmured. She touched a gentle hand to his cheek, unshed tears making her emerald
gaze even more gem-like than usual. She blinked them away and then hugged him tightly. "I'm sorry."
Y'Roden seem to retract beneath the touch, not pulling away – but somehow becoming smaller than the
larger than life warrior he was. He wrapped his arms around Drysi's slight frame and hugged her in
return, eyes focused on the sand over her shoulder. “Hey,” he said gentle, “I'll be alright.” His jewel-
like gaze lifted to Rhagi. “I'll get her back – we'll find something soon, and then we'll all be alright.”
Yse bit her lip, unsettled by their father's appearance, and glanced half-nervously at Rhagi.
Rhagi looked at his father steadily, his face almost completely devoid of expression. The last few days
had been so bizarre for him he'd just stopped trying to process it, stopped reacting. He was nearly
content when he was with Matt, but that just made him more closed-off the rest of the time. "I want to
come with you, when you do."
The half-elf released his daughter, his attention focused entirely on his son suddenly. “Rhagi – I have
no idea, right now, where I will have to go, or what I will have to do. I won't make you any promises.
You're almost an adult now, but you are also my son. I've already lost your mother, I'm not about to lose
you in the process of getting her back.”
Unexpectedly, Rhagi laughed. "Did you just say you're only going to take me with you if she's being
kept somewhere safe? Seriously? If Tallin had taken me, you'd take Mum to get me back."
“No, I said I'll only take you with me if I feel I can protect you – that is a great deal different from
'safe'. And I wouldn't bank on that either, I'm fully capable of tying your mother to the bed and leaving
her there if I feel she'd get hurt in a situation.” The half-elf grimaced. “I'd probably regret it for the rest
of my life, but she'd be alive, and that is what counts, and its what counts here too.”
“Is there anything we can do to help?” Yse interjected, hoping to head off an argument. “I mean, Drysi
knows the library backwards and forwards and... well, I can read,” she said with a grin. “I know you've
had the Scroll Keepers looking for something.”
"She'd skin you alive," Rhagi said quietly, "except you'd enjoy it." He wasn't angry, though, and he was
well prepared not to argue. Knowing the truth of someone else's feelings made it inconveniently easy to
accept their point of view.
Ro smiled at his son, an oddly gentle expression for so iron-willed a man. He looked at his two
daughters next, then nodded slowly. “All three of you are more than capable researchers. Your eyes
would be welcome to search the history scrolls for any signs. Ghetsuhm, An'Thaya and Callan are all
out there, somewhere – hopefully in the past, because if they are in the future there can be no clues left
for us to find.”
Drysi could not help the small sigh of relief that escaped her. For an awful moment she had thought
there was going to be an argument. She sagged a little as the tension that had held her spine rigid
suddenly released. A hesitant smile touched her lips. "History is one of my specialities," she offered
slowly. "If they're in the past, I'm sure we can find them. None of them seem the type to just disappear
without trace. They're too – noticeable."
Rhagi nodded, smiling slightly. His mother had taught him the value of a good strategic withdrawl.
"They'd have been noticed, if anyone had the chance to see them, especially Callan." Tracing two small
redheaded women in S'Hea's past might be a little more problematic, but why mention it?
The half-elf regarded all three of his children for a long moment, a certain amount of pride in the gaze.
They were simply amazing. He stepped forward impulsively and swept the trio into his massive arm
span, hugging them tight to his chest. “I love all of you,” he said gruffly. “I'm so proud of the three of
you.”
Yse wheezed a little, smushed between Drysi and Rhagi. “We love you too, Addah.” Her sister just
hugged him back tightly.


                                                     ***


Small, bare feet splashed lightly in the water – sending a lily skidding across the surface to bounce off
the edge of the bath. Emerald eyes stared unseeing at the rippling effect – her expression lax with
thought. Golden bear-paw prints caught the light as she shifted slightly on the edge of the pool and
Belle titled her head, masses of hair tumbling down her back with the movement.
“If we set something up in just the right spots, we could call that lily pool. I’m sure it would be a
perfect bath time game.” Gent sat down beside her, kissing her shoulder in the process.
The S'Hean laughed half-heartedly, and dropper her head onto Argent's shoulder. “I'm just feeling
completely useless,” she admitted. “I've never been very good with Y'Roden. I feel awful for him, but I
don't know how to express that to him, and I don't have any help to offer.”
“I know, Muirvwen,” he rested his head atop hers, his arm circling her waist. “We’re all at a stand still
right now. I think that is what the main problem seems to be.”
The Elven bear frowned slightly, “Y’Roden doesn’t come off to me as the kind of person that wants
that kind of action. Perhaps just being there for him and letting him know that would be enough.”
“Perhaps,” Belle murmured in agreement. “I guess I'm a typical D'Riel after all. Irritated in the face of
helplessness. We aren't built to just sit around and wait for the answers to come to us. I just feel like we
should be doing something, anything -- but there doesn't seem to be any options at the moment.”
“The best thing to do in the face of helplessness is to find something you aren’t helpless about.” Argent
had learned that lesson sometime ago when dealing with hard headed siblings. “At the moment the only
thing that is being done is scratching through the library. The answer could be there somewhere in the
histories, at least about Ghetsuhm.”
Belle chewed on her lip. “I'm not so sure – Tallin is horribly clever, I'm sure wherever he has her, he's
likely keeping her hidden. Callan and An'Thaya, we hope, are together and away from him, so they
have a better chance of leaving some sort of clue.” She lifted her head and smiled at Gent. “You're right
though – researching would be better than just staring at the bottom of the bathing pool.”
“Well, aye, I’ve seen more interesting things happen in a bathing pool too.” Forest-greens sparkled, “I
don’t think the scroll keepers would like it though if bathing pools were mixed with their archives.”
The S’Hean laughed and gently bit her husband’s shoulder. “That would probably cause an aneurism,”
she agreed. “As for more interesting things in bathing pools…” The redhead’s eyes sparkled with
mischief. “Why don’t you demonstrate?”
“Me? Why do I always have to demonstrate? Or model for that matter…my life is filled with unfair
women.” He was, however, grinning as he pushed off the edge and slipped into the water. “You know,
demonstrating is never fun without hands on participation.”
Belle grinned toothily and eyed Argent’s chest and shoulders. “I could explain why those of the female
pursuation like to watch you performing – but I’d do a better line just showing you.” The tiny woman
launched herself off the side of the pool and into her husband’s arms. “Here I am, get busy with the
hands,” she laughed, then kissed him warmly.


                                                    ***


Galain had spent a goodly part of the day, in fact, most of the passing week, with his daughter. Whether
she was with him or he with her it was the same -- Aarien had to show him everything whether it was
new or familiar, and he'd followed along, learning to appreciate Nenlante through his daughter's eyes
and not his own. It had become the most unusual and precious of opportunities for the Elen -- to gain
an eye into the life his daughter lived when she wasn't with him. It was sometimes painful, but it was
also comforting in a bizarre way.
He'd also finally picked up a charcoal pencil and not because he wanted to chuck it at someone. He's
actually used it to help Aarien with some of the finer parts of drawing a face, namely the eyes. He'd
listened carefully to her frustrations and worked with her to see what might be amiss. He found nothing
to be amiss of course except time and experience and a deeper understanding of people -- something he
was sure she'd discover all too soon.
He'd left his daughter contentedly drawing again. Technigues, oils and watercolors would be a natural
for her and it thrilled and amazed him, and Galain wondered if he had any of his brushes and paints left
or had he destroyed them all? It actually made him anxious that he might have been too precipitious in
his destruction of his past. He pushed open the door to the small complex of rooms assigned to he,
Jerri, Marius and Foxx and quickly caught voices -- female ones and in Jerri's area. He paused and
thought, then smiled for a moment. He'd also been spending a tremendous amount of time with the
woman who had once been his daughter before it had been revealed otherwise. As much as he disliked
staying so long on Whispin and in S'Hea, he was more than happy to reconnect with Shadow. Right
now it appeared she and Jerri were getting to know each other and he was curious and a little... he
wasn't sure. Alarmed? He paused, thought and then steeled himself before he stepped onward toward
Jerri's room and found the two. He had no idea he had a massive smear of charcoal across the left half
of his cheek and his ponytail was half yanked out, the latter half more than likely his fault as he'd tried
to help his daughter.
"Hello," he offered, his smile half-practiced and more of a grimace.
Jerri's returning expression was far more genuine – open and warm. “Hello gorgeous,” she said, sitting
up slightly on the divan. The wind caught her hair, blowing it into her face and wine and the human
snorted, attempting to sort herself out. “How is Aarien?” She grinned through her wild blonde locks, “It
looks like the art lesson went well.”
The smile went from self-conscious to an uncontrollable grin -- there was something about Jerri and her
inability to truly control a moment. He might have managed to wipe the expression away, but she'd
asked about Aarien and both women looked well and how could she tell he'd been helping Aarien
draw? He looked at Jerri sideways before he answered.
"She's well -- charcoal you know. She's more advanced than I was," he offered. "How are you two?
What's in your wine?" He thought he spied fluttering wings and heard the burbling of a tiny, drunken
fae -- well, perhaps a tiny, happy fae.
“My wine?” Jerri asked. “Oh shit!” She tipped the glass, spilt the wine, and the fae came soaring out of
it, to land with a splat in the human's cleavage – soaking the pink baby-doll that read 'Hanging with my
Gnomies'. “Gettitout!” she exclaimed, bouncing wildly on the divan. “Oh gods! It tickles!”
Shadow giggled madly, “I only specialize in bathing big smelly human males, cleavage is Galain’s
area. And you’re just in time too, I was getting ready to tell her about the nair and shampoo switch.”
The fae was certainly happy now, Galain thought. Jerri's cleavage was quite admirable after all and the
Elen had often thought in the past that death by boobage was hardly a terrible way to die. He moved
quickly to extricate the fae, nearly getting clocked by Jerri's gyrations as well and held the sodden,
drunken fae away from both women. It dangled upside down by one foot, a huge grin plastered across
its face.
"This is why I still believe fae are best kept tied to twine," he muttered before Shadow's words sunk in
and he cast her an alarmed look. "What have you two been talking about?" he asked.
Jerri flopped back onto the pillowed back with an explosive sigh of relief and shoved mussed hair up
out of her eyes. Grinning at Galain, she winked. “You, of course,” she said brightly. Wait… Nair?
Shampoo? That combination is funny even without the story. Not that I don’t want to hear it though…
spill.”
Galain raised one eyebrow at both Shadow and Jerri and then took a step out onto the balcony before
he tossed the fae away. It wasn't his problem if it failed to regain control of its wings before it hit the
ground and he resolutely ignored the resulting buzz behind him as he crossed his arms, closed his eyes
and tried to forget the entire Nair incident.
"Nair is for short shorts, not for elven heads," he finally said.
Shadow’s smile was entirely too far on the innocent side of things. “Was that before or after the Dryad
exploded? I don’t remember…” she grinned at Jerri, “the explosion wasn’t Galain’s fault, but yeah,
someone got a little too grabby and started going bald.”
“Fortunately,” Jerri said, “I’ve had my legs and other bits lasered, I don’t need Nair anymore – so I
think you’re safe.” She was obviously struggling to keep the giggling back. Picturing Galain bald was
highly traumatic.
The blonde shrugged merrily, “Shadow has been a delight. I have to entertain myself somehow.” The
look she levelled on him was high accusatory. “I haven’t been laid in weeks.”
“You know, there would have been a time when that comment would have fallen under ‘too much
information’ and I would have been making a mad dash to the door.” Shadow looked up at Galain,
“Now I can just sit here and wonder if you’re getting old.”
These two were lethal together, Galain decided immediately. Walking into this room was akin to
navigating the proverbial mine field and he had just stepped on about three mines and was surely
missing most if not all of his limbs. He held up his hands just to be sure and waggled his fingers,
staring at them quizzically before he turned his eyes toward the two women.
"I'm definitely getting old," he said. I... can't remember the last time I actually wanted to get laid." Sea-
green eyes settled upon Jerri and her wine-soaked curves. They were awfully nice curves and he failed
to breathe for several moments before he force himself to focus -- elsewhere, deciding upon a
reproachful look directed toward Shadow that didn't last very long. She was at her mischievous best
right now and he knew it.
"I can't remember what blew up first, but I actually check things first these days before I apply anything
to my hair." Lasered? Jerri had lasered herself? He'd been around technology quite a bit thanks to
Ghetsuhm, but it still sounded absolutely lethal. Legs and other bits? Had the other bits survived? Jerri
looked quite intact though.
Jerri smirked at the Elen and shifted a little for his benefit. “Sure, right,” she said dryly. Personally, she
always wanted to get laid – it was an affliction, really, and if Galain didn’t do something about it soon,
she’d have to find someone to take her frustrations out on for an hour or two. Maybe three.
The human sighed and sat up, setting the wine glass aside. “Well, I don’t know about you two – but I’m
absolutely starving. I say the three of us grab a bite to eat and see what other dark secrets I can pry out
of the two of you.”


                                                     ***


The knock on the door came as a bit of a surprise to Gardor, and he exchanged a startled glance with
his wife. It was drawing close to Zenith, not a time when interruptions usually came. Blue eyes
flickered back to the door and the Regent straightened in his chair.
“Enter.”
The guard who opened the door looked pleased, but slightly confused. “Milord, Captain Havenlock to
see you – and he has brought some of the S'Hean royal family as well.”
A red eyebrow lifted and Gardor scratched at his beard. He hadn't expected Cullen for some time yet,
but was pleased all the same. Perhaps the half-elf felt returning to duty would get his mind off of
things. “See them in.”
Cullen was the first to pass through the doors, Kara on his arm. They were followed by Imoreki and
Roc – and then, startlingly, Summerlin and Reece Nightfall. It was the cloaked figure that entered the
room with Si'Lyen D'Riel... no, Faris, Si'Lyen Faris, on his arm that caught Gardor's immediate
attention though.
“Captain Havenlock,” Gardor greeted, rising from his chair. “This is an unexpected visit – I'm glad to
see you up and about.”
Laying the sheaf of papers aside she was reading Deirdre stood and made her way to Gardor’s side. She
was more then surprised to see all who entered room, but rose to the occasion as hostess.
“Please,” she said quietly, “be seated.” Looking at the guard she nodded her head, “We’ll have some
refreshments brought in.”
Summerlin smiled toward Deirdre, more than aware how unexpected their appearance was. The hostess
within her cringed and wanted to help, and so she did by simply smiling graciously and apologetically,
glancing toward her daughter who was doing the same. Sil looked at her brother and caught his eye and
winked. She was less bouncy than she had been previously -- more demure as befitted the moment and
time. It was difficult though -- to have her brother back and want to rejoice -- and to also contemplate
the reasons, the circumstances, the results. She presented a calm and smiling exterior although she
couldn't kill the sparkle in her eyes.
The guard disappeared through the doors, closing them behind him and Cullen nodded at Deirdre as he
escorted Kara to the side. “Thank you, Milord, Milady – but this visit has nothing to do with me. We’ve
brought someone with us that you really need to see.”
“Oh?” Gardor asked, his gaze drawn back to the cowled figure again. “Do I know you sir?”
A weapon-worn hand patted Si’Lyen’s were it lay on his arm, then reached up to draw back the hood of
the cloak. “Quite well, actually, Lord Wyvern.”
Gardor stood stunned, staring openly at the man who was his King. Part of him wasn’t surprised – it
was a natural thing for a D’Riel to return from the dead. Another part knew it had seen the remains of
Valin D’Riel burn on the pyre out upon the Lake of Kings. It was the first opinion that made him step
forward and kneel, however, his head bowing in respect. “Mo Rìgh, your return is a blessing for the
Kingdom, and its subjects. How might I serve you?”
Valin smiled every so slightly. Ever-loyal Gardor, there had never been any question of his reaction to
the King’s return. “I call on you to help me retake my throne, Lord Wyvern.”
The stocky, redheaded Lord looked up at Valin and smiled in return. “There is no need to take what has
always been yours, but I understand your meaning – and you have my sword at your service."
Kara remained by Cullen's side, silent but listening carefully to everything being said. She felt out of
place, a simple healer standing before Lord Gardor, and his wife. Wrapping her arm tighter around
Cullen's she brushed her stomach, feeling like she had just swollowed a field full of butterflies.
“Thank you, Gardor. Please rise. I’ll need you to send for the Lords – all of them, for a Council
tomorrow.”
Gardor got to his feet and nodded. “As you wish, Your Majesty. What should I tell them?”
“Nothing of my resurrection, as of yet – I’d prefer to keep the upper hand for now. Tell them it is a
mandatory session on a subject of utmost importance to the Kingdom. I want my presence here kept
quiet until then. Except from my children, of course – I want to see them right away. And tonight,” he
smiled and looked in Cullen and Kara’s direction. “I have a marriage ceremony to perform.”


                                                   ***


The soft illumination of a S’Hean glow-light reflected off the emerald set into the top of the gold and
silver case-clock held in hands more familiar with a weapon than something so delicate. All the same, a
callused fingertip tripped the small catch and the jewel slid aside, revealing the letter Y engraved into
the box. The case tilted, catching the light, and the light engraving of a fern appeared – turning the Y to
a G. In the middle, two tiny stones glimmered -- one a garnet, the other an aquamarine.
The clock itself was broken – it had been when she’d given it to him. The time it was caught at was
what mattered – a single moment in time. It was all they’d thought they would have. He had loved her
for so long now that the edges of memory blurred into eternity, like the Celtic knot weaving around the
gold and silver wedding band sitting on the lid of the trunk.
He’d not worn it for long – a painfully short time, but it had meant everything then. A symbol of
something she couldn’t, but wanted to give. It had sat, nearly forgotten, at the bottom of the trunk for
many years now, wrapped in a braided piece of hair that still… amazingly, held the scent of ginseng.
“Y’Roden.” The voice was familiar, tri-toned and musical.
The half-elf lifted his gaze from the clock and stared at Chezlar, hardly surprised that the Changeling
had just appeared from the shadows. “Chezlar, why is it that your visits are never a good thing?”
The Prince of Inligh smiled a little, his wings settling silently onto his back. “It’s time for you to come
with me. We need to fetch Galain – Tallin is on the move again.”
Y’Roden sat up from his half-prone position on the floor, gem-like eyes flashing. “When?” he asked.
“The day you returned from Tenobrous. Hurry, despite what you’d think, we have to move quickly.”
The S’Hean King shook his head – the concept of timelines confused him. How would hurrying now
affect what was happening back then? Chezlar was the expert, however, so he didn’t question. Instead,
he swiped the ring off the top of the trunk and carefully placed the clock-case back inside with the lock
of hair and a small collection of other mementoes. The band he kept, slipping onto his ring finger. It
was comforting, somehow, to have a bit of their past entangled in the present.
“Let’s go,” he said abruptly.
The Changeling laid a hand on Ro’s shoulder and the room disappeared in an explosion of gold. They
appeared moments later, several floors down, in Galain Alcarin’s chambers.
A startled Jerri leapt up from her chair, yelping in surprise and spilling a glass of wine. “Damn! That’s
the second one today! Galain, I think it’s for you.”
Galain, who had been sitting in a nearby chair, had been tempted to make a comment about the wisdom
of teetotaling, but the two "guests" in the room had him clamping his jaw shut, his expression
hardening and going blank. He rose to his feet and acknowledged Chezlar first, then Y'Roden, and then
took the few steps necessary to lean over Jerri's chair and offer her a cloth to wipe herself off with.
Then he turned to regard both men.
"Something tells me there's little time to waste," he finally said.
Chezlar flashed a grin at Galain – slightly uncharacteristic, but an echo of their fast friendship in the
past. “You always were a smart one,” the Changeling teased gently. “But yes, Tallin is about to make a
move – I caught the ripples on the timestream this time, but only because I was looking for them. I can
get you there ahead of time but it will be up to the two of you to figure out where he is and what he is
doing. I only know the when.”
Jerri gratefully took the cloth and started wiping herself down, muttering all the while about ‘magic
critters and their rude propensity for dropping in unexpectedly’. She glanced up. “Don’t I get to go?”
Galain allowed himself a faint smile toward Chezlar before he regarded Jerri a moment, his expression
softening a moment.
"I would like that given the company I'll be in, but at the moment I doubt it would be wise. I've no idea
where or to when I'm going," he said. His eyes were focused on the necklace she wore and he frowned.
That was another variable factor they had no clear understanding of at the moment either.
“Galain is right,” Chezlar said in a gentle tone, “the time we are returning to is torn by war – no place
for someone untrained with a blade.”
Jerri grimaced, then sighed. “Alright… alright fine, I admit, I’m no Xena. I’ll be a good girl and stay
right here.” She clasped Galain by the face and kissed him firmly. “You just be careful, and come back
safely.”
"I'll come back," the Elen replied, coloring a little and speaking gruffly. He pulled away and managed
to look everywhere but at Jerri, Chezler or Y'Roden, especially the S'Hean king. "I take it we go as we
are?" Which would be sufficient -- arming oneself wouldn't be the issue it used to be when he was
younger and less magically stable.
Jerri looked first at Chezlar, then at Y’Roden, and crossed her arms over her chest. “Take care of him,”
she ordered. “Or Xena or no, I’ll kick both of your asses.”
Chezlar bowed politely, hiding a smile behind long dark hair. “Milady,” he said, “I would be remiss in
doing anything else.”
Y’Roden nodded, quiet and subdued – though something just beneath the surface spoke of an
impatience to be moving. To be doing anything but the agonizing waiting that had been driving him
insane over the past week.
“Then we go,” Chezlar said, “as we are.” He placed a hand on each of the male’s shoulders and in an
explosion of essence – all three disappeared


                                                 ***


Due to the need for privacy – Cullen and Kara’s wedding was a small, private affair held in a hidden
garden reserved for the royal family. The moonlight glimmered in the dancing water of fountains and
night-blooming flowers brought a light scent to the cooling air.
Dressed in his livery, Cullen stood in the middle of the small circle of people, facing the King as he
awaited his bride. Valin seemed unearthly calm and there was an aura of content about him – likely a
direct result of being reunited with his children.
Standing at the edge of the circle as a witness to the event about to take place Y'Roce felt an odd
mixture of emotions. It brought to mind his nearly forced marriage to Faelwen, not that life with her
would have been unbearable but the circumstance for which he had been there. He also felt happiness
for Cullen and Kara because they clearly were a good match for each other. It was funny how things
resurfaced without warning. He smiled back at Cullen when their eyes would meet.
Si'Lyen and Summerlin had both helped prepare Kara, but now stood in the small circle, Summerlin
clasping Reece's hand and Sil smiling to herself as she remembered the very private "ceremony" that
had tied her with Malik. She missed him immensely, especially at this particular moment, but a bright
smile illuminated her face regardless.
Standing in the circle Deirdre smiled up at Gardor, her lavender eyes reflecting the moonlight. An
impromptu wedding, a couple totally in love and the King to wed them added a flavor of romance to
the evening that she was sure all would remember. She slipped her arm through his, giving it a squeeze.
She would relish this quiet moment in the garden for afterward she was sure there wasn’t going to be
much peace. Gardor had already been very busy.
Kara stood a short distance away, hidden by tall shrubs with her stomach tied in knots. She had not
expected the wedding to be so soon, but with help she found herself wearing a rather snug fitting blue
dress, one which hugged the earth, covering her bare feet. Her hair had been combed back over her
shoulders and a matching bow kept it from blowing in her face.
With her hair pulled back her somewhat large, pointed ears showed. Much to her embarrassment. Yet
no matter how many times she tried, she was unable to wipe the bright smile from her lips. Resting one
hand on her stomach she took a much needed breath.
"You can do this," she whispered. "You've waited your whole life for this moment. Just walk out there
and be brave. Gods, I sound just like Argon." Her heart sank, knowing she had forgotten to tell Argon
of their departure. She wished her parents could be present to see her wed. Deep within her heart
though, she knew they would have liked Cullen. Every nerve suddenly stood on end. Grabbing her
throat she gasped.
"Who's going to speak on my behalf? I have no family here. I...I can't do this," and she started having
second thoughts.
“Will I do?” a voice asked from behind. Imoreki, who was slightly embarrassed himself over being
tardy, smiled reassuringly at Kara. “I’m not blood related, but my father shared an adventure or two
with you – that makes us almost family… kind of.”
Kara almost jumped out of her skin when Ki spoke. Turning, she held her breath as her eyes locked
upon those of emerald-green. Swallowing, she bit her lip and lowered her hands to her side. Pulling her
skirt up, she bowed softly and blushed.
"Yes," she spoke at last as she stood, her voice filled with nervous laughter. "You'll do just fine. I'm
sorry if I startled you when I jumped. You see, I'm getting married. Now if your father did shared an
adventure with me, then yes, it makes you family. It's Ki, isn't it? I'm Kara, but you knew that, didn't
you? Sorry, I'm just a tad-bit nervous. Does it show?"
Ki’s eyes sparkled with amusement from between his tri-coloured locks. “It does a bit, yes,” he said. “I
am Ki, yes, son of Y’Roden.” He offered his arm, “Shall we? Before Cullen thinks you’ve bolted into
the night?”
"Yes," Kara laughed, "We best move, before we become rooted to this place." Placing her hand on Ki's
arm she started to follow his lead.
The pair entered the circle and Imoreki quietly settled Kara’s hand in Cullen’s before taking a step
back. His eyes met their mirror in Valin’s – which still slightly unsettled him, and the King officially
began the ceremony.
“This day has brought us here to bear witness to share in the joy Cullen Havenlock and Kara Little
have brought to one another. Love is precious and rare, and it binds us together in an eternal dance that
is a reflection of the dual suns that forever chase one another through the sky, and the moons that
eternally dance upon our horizon. Inseparable, a bright light that shines in the darkness.”
“Kara, do you come here of your own free will?”
"Yes," Kara said softly as she looked into Cullen's eyes, "I've come here of my own free will."
“And the family of the Bride? Do they come this day to offer their support and blessing?”
“I stand as Kara’s family,” Imoreki said, “I come this day to offer my support, and my blessing.”
“The couple have prepared their own vows, Kara? If you would like to begin…?”
Kara swallowed. She had been practicing her vows long before Cullen slipped the tiger-eye ring over
her finger. She knew every word, and she spoke them with a somewhat frightened voice.
"By roots and seeds, by bud and stem. By leaf, flower, fruit and herb. By life and love, in the name of
Hicate Morelen, Goddess of the Hunt I, Kara Little, take thee, Cullen Havenlock, to my hand, my heart,
my soul. At the setting of the suns, and the rising of the stars I take thee into my arms, and my bed, for
all eternity. Death shall not part us, for in the fullness of time, we shall be born again, at the same time,
in the same place, beside each other. We shall meet, know, remember and love again, until the seeds of
time flourish no more."
Cullen’s warm-brown eyes shimmered, touched by Kara’s attention to both of their cultures and the
heartfelt words she spoke. He smiled down at her, reassuring.
“By Aethyr, steel and strength, by life and love in the name of Jaran Morelen, God of Light and
Mystery, I – Cullen Havenlock, take thee, Kara Little to my hand, my heart, my soul. Under the racing,
lover moons and the ever-burning stars I take thee into my arms and my bed, for all eternity. Death
shall not part us, for will shall be born again to meet, live and love again.”
“Above you thrum the stars, below you hum the stones, as time passes, remember... Like a stone should
your love be firm like a star should your love be constant. Let the powers of the mind and of the
intellect guide you in your joining, let the strength of your wills bind you together, let the power of love
and desire make you happy, and the strength of your dedication make you inseparable. Be close, but not
too close. Possess one another, yet be understanding. Have patience with one another, for storms will
come, but they will pass quickly. Be free in giving affection and warmth. Have no fear and let not the
ways of the unenlightened give you unease, for the Goddess is with you always."
“Cullen, I have not the right to bind you to Kara, only you have this right. If it be your wish, say so at
this time and place your band in her hand.”
"It is my wish," Cullen said, producing the silvery cuff that was the marriage symbol of his S'Hean
ancestry, and placing it in Kara's hand.
"Kara, I have not the right to bind you to Cullen, only you have this right. If it be your wish, say so at
this time and place your band in his hand."
"It is my wish," Kara said, her fingers circling that of her band. Reaching into the folds of her skirt she
produced Cullen's cuff and placing it in his hand, allowing their fingers to touch. She then slip her hand
away.
"Kara, I accept your band, and the binding of you to me, and I wish the same. I could do nothing else,
and would have no other. I willingly bind myself to thee."
Cullen took Kara's delicate cuff and wound it around her bicep, quickening the metal beneath his touch
to form the ultimate symbol of S'Hean love – eternity.
“I, Cullen, in the name of the spirit of the Gods that resides within us all, by the Aethyr that courses
within my blood and the love that resides within my heart, take you, Kara, to my hand, my heart and
my spirit, to be my chosen one. To desire you and be desired by you, to possess you and be possessed
by you without shame, for naught can exist in the purity of my love for you. I promise to love you
wholly and completely without restraint, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in poverty, in life and
beyond, where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change you in any way. I
shall respect you, your beliefs, your people and your ways as I respect myself.”
"Cullen, I accept your band, and the binding of you to me, and I wish the same. I could do nothing else,
and would have no other. I willingly bind myself to thee."
Kara followed suit by placing the cuff around Cullen's bicep and quickened the metal into the eternity
symbol of love, and devotion.
“I, Kara, in the name of the spirit of the Gods that resides within us all, by the Healers Magic that
courses within my blood and the love that resides within my heart, take you, Cullen, to my hand, my
heart and my spirit, to be my chosen one. To desire you and be desired by you, to possess you and be
possessed by you without shame, for naught can exist in the purity of my love for you. I promise to
love you wholly and completely without restraint, in sickness and in health, in plenty and in poverty, in
life and beyond, where we shall meet, remember, and love again. I shall not seek to change you in any
way. I shall respect you, your beliefs, your people and your ways as I respect myself.”
"By the power vested in me by the Gods and the Kingdom of Corin, I now pronounce you Ronnan and
Vonna. May your love so endure that its flame remains a guiding light unto you. Cullen, you may kiss
your Bride."
Cullen drew Kara into his arms with a smile filled with warmth. “This is the good part,” he told her,
leaning down to kiss her. “I love you, Vonna.”
Kara's arms circled Cullen's neck, and she gave him a deep, teary-eyed passionate kiss. As their lips
parted and the world around them came back into focus she chuckled.
"I love you more, Ronnan. And the best part is yet to come."


                                                   ***


Worry and frustration had finally driven Jerri out of her Chambers. Worry for Galain, frustration that
she hadn’t been allowed to accompany him – wherever it was he was going. It was true, she had no
business in the middle of a fight – but the thought of Galain and Y’Roden alone together was enough to
give her hives. There was Chezlar, she supposed, he seemed more than able to play ‘referee’ if the two
got out of hand.
Mind and feet wandering, she roved the hallways in quiet awe. The S’Hean architecture was gorgeous
– delicate yet filled with iron strength, mingled sensuously with nature so that it was often difficult to
tell where the building began and the foliage ended.
Eventually the human paused, slipping into an alcove and leaning partially out of the window. It was
cooler at night – bearable, and the gargantuan moons racing along the horizon were a point of endless
fascination for her. She could see the gardens below, as well, smell the flowers – and everything
seemed lost in the thunderous roar of the waterfalls. Magical…
Ron'Dar Ra'Meh watched in quiet amusement. This woman who'd arrived with Alcarin and then been
left behind was intriguing - just a little taller, slighter, and fairer than he was used to. "Beautiful, isn't it?
It's refreshing to see it through someone else's eyes."
Jerri squealed in surprise and jumped – nearly out the window. Spinning around she collapsed back
against the frame, a hand over her heart. “Dammit you people like to sneak up on people!” she
exclaimed. Blue eyes were already cataloguing, roving over dusky skin, hard cut muscles, long dark
hair, and sage-green eyes that were eying her with far too much humour.
She grinned cheekily. “Why yes, yes it is beautiful. I suppose it’s hard to look through your own eyes
unless you have a mirror… oh wait, you meant… Never mind.” She stuck out a hand. “I’m Jerri – Jerri
Jensen.”
Smiling broadly, Ra'Meh reached out and grasped her forearm. He liked the spirit in her eyes, and also
the way they'd assessed him. "Ron'Dar Ra'Meh. People call me Ra'Meh. There are some lovely spots
hidden around the Palace," he said, his voice warm with laughter. "I'd love to show them to you.
Forgive me for saying so, but you look like you might rather have company. And we can't have you
going home and saying we S'Heans are inhospitable."
“Wow,” Jerri said, “that’s the best pickup line I’ve heard in months. Mind you, it’s the only pickup line
I’ve heard in months, but don’t let that discourage you.” The wrist grasping was interesting – she rather
liked it, he had some pretty impressive muscles there – and by visual inspection it was just the
precursor.
“Hidden spots, I have some hidden spots of my own I could share,” the human’s grin only got wider,
and she seemed to have forgotten to release her grip. “I think I’d rather enjoy your company.”
Ra'Meh laughed, a low rumbling sound. "I find that very hard to believe, that no-one's tried to pick you
up in months." He looked at her, head to toe and back again, slowly. "I think I could pick you up. Very
little discourages me, I can't remember the last time I just gave up. Now, I think I could find enough
spots to keep us busy for days. And probably some places in the palace, too."
He glanced out the window, then gently shifted his arm from hers to slide around her waist. "Inside,
though, is for avoiding the heat of the day. I think you'd rather enjoy coming out in the garden tonight,
don't you?"
“I think you could probably pick up anything you put your mind to picking up,” Jerri remarked. She
leaned easily against his chest, a lazy, sensual smile curving her mouth. “Biceps like those come in very
useful for heavy lifting.” Delicate fingers settled on the S’Hean’s chest and the blonde tilted her head
up.
“The garden sounds like a nice place to come indeed; I bet there is a lot of nice, soft grass down there.”
Ra'Meh tensed his forearm, lifting Jerri slightly from her feet. "Soft grass, yes. Scented flowers, cool
air on your bare skin. I'm told you off-worlders find the gravity a strain. So picking you up is really
only polite."
He lifted, and hooked his other arm under her legs, bouncing her until he had her settled comfortably
against his chest. "Look at that, you're a good fit. Just mind your head. I'd hate to impair your head, I
have high hopes for it."
Turning easily, he took her down the corridor, then carried her down the stairs and out into the open air.
“That’s definitely much better,” Jerri agreed. Getting carried away by a nice, strapping S’Hean – her
evening was looking up, in a manner of speaking. “The gravity is a strain, everything seems much
easier when I’m on my back.” Twining her arms around Ron’Dar’s neck, she closed her eyes as he
stepped outside, and inhaled an appreciative breath.
Instinctively, she laid her head against his chest, then slid her face up into his hair, mouth brushing
against the dark skin at the crook of his neck.
With an expression that was bordering on smug, the S'Hean lord lay Jerri gently on her back in the
grass, savouring the touch of her lips against his skin. "Anything to make things easier for my lady. On
your back it shall be... at least this time."
His fingers grazed lightly over the v of her collarbone at the base of her neck. "And in the spirit of
making things easier, don't you feel a little over-dressed for the climate?"
Jerri grinned and hooked her thumbs into her baby-glue t-shirt, rumpling the words across her chest
that read ‘I feel like a new man, you’ll do’, and worked it up her torso. “I am definitely hot,” she agreed
as it pulled over her head – blonde locks fanning out over the grass as she tossed the shirt aside.
“That’s a little better. You’re looking a little warm yourself, big fellow.” The view was rather
breathtaking from her position, he had muscles where she’d never seen them before yet he still moved
with the grace of a cat.
"You are hot," Ron'Dar agreed, lowering his head to nip gently at one breast. "And you're only going to
get hotter." Loosening the laces on his tunic, he shrugged it off and tossed it aside. It wouldn't be the
first time the gardeners found themselves hooking discarded clothing out of the shrubbery.
Then finally he lowered his mouth and kissed her, pressing his chest against hers, an embrace that
became less gentle as his hands moved down her sides, grasping her waist and drawing her up against
him.
Jerri’s breath caught, and she grinned against his mouth, glad to see he was about to actually shut up
and get down to business. Her body arched up into Ra’Meh’s grip – her skin pale beneath his dusky
fingers. Lithe arms wrapped around his neck, her mouth pliant beneath his.
A long, delicate leg bent at the knee, sliding up the outside of the S’Hean’s trousers in urgent invitation.
Several weeks of pent up frustration were burning in her, flushing her skin pink as the blood rushed in
response to the large male’s touch. Fingers dragged through his hair and down the highly developed
muscle of Ron’Dar’s back, nails dragging lightly down his spine.
Something in Ron'Dar was surprised by the strength of the woman's reaction. He wasn't used to
encountering so much frustration. Still, he wasn't going to argue: when there was a need, you met it.
Why not?
Obligingly, he lifted himself up on his elbows, slipped to the side, and undid the button on her shorts.
Then he paused, startled despite the amount of blood running round his body. "Ah... what's this?"
“What?” Jerri’s head came up, her eyes glazed with desire and frustration all at once. “What is what?
You’ve obviously seen one of… oh! That, it’s a zipper.” She reached down and grabbed the little tab,
pulling it down so it made a neat little zipping noise. “See, easy, quick access – we like that kind of
thing. You people and your laces – takes far too long to undo them.”
Ron'Dar made a sort of indignant coughing noise. "You humans are always in such a hurry. Undressing
should be savoured. And it certainly shouldn't be hazardous to your health. That thing looks dangerous.
The zip, I mean."
He lifted her hips deftly and freed her from the last of her clothes, then rolled onto his back, drawing
her after him, a hand trailing across her hip and settling between her thighs. "Think you can manage
those laces?"
An amused grin crossed her face, and the human slid her fingers down Ron'Dar's chest, catching on his
trousers. "How slow would you like that?" she asked. Schooling herself, Jerri settled in and took her
time, slowly loosening the trousers.
Pulling them slightly down his hips, she slid a questing hand down and couldn't quite stop the lifting of
both eyebrows.
An indrawn breath became a deep, throaty chuckle as Ron'Dar reacted to her touch. Every inch of still-
covered skin ached with confinement. "Alright," he said, his voice decidedly husky, "you got me.
Rushing is fine."
One hand was stroking gently through her long, fine hair, almost idle, but the other was working
between her legs with increasingly urgency, teasing her slick.
Relief coloured Jerri’s cheeks pink as her body shuddered, releasing much of the built up tension over
Ron’Dar’s fingers. A exuberant cry echoed on the night air and her touch became more demanding –
words and thought lost in a wash of hormones.
With a feral grin, Ra'Meh pushed her shuddering body back over into the grass, helped her shove his
trousers the rest of the way off, and thrust deep into her. Then he took a moment to lick at Jerri's
breasts, sure she had more left in her and determined to give her all the pleasure she was capable of
taking.
A satisfied hiss escaped Jerri and her body arched up against the hard planes of the S’Hean’s body,
pressing her breasts into his mouth. She bit Ron’Dar’s mouth, hands sliding over his skin and hips
twisting to meet his movement – her eyes closed the human fell into the dark warmth of sensual
pleasure, forgetting everything and everyone else for the moment.
Ron'Dar's natural sensuality meant he lost himself in her body easily, making love to her natural and
uncomplicated. Kissing her ferociously, he drove into her with complete abandonment, her intense
response over-powering him. Deep and rhythmic, their bodies worked together until he rose above her
and with brief savagery bucked hard and spent himself inside her.
Rolling to the side, he drew her against his chest, not wanting to crush her. "Whoever left you like
this," he said quietly, "is an idiot."
Breathing erratically, Jerri pushed a hand up through sweat-damp tresses and laughed quietly. “A little
fucked up maybe, but not an idiot.” Lifting her head she grinned at the S’Hean, then nipped at his
chest. “Not everyone is as open and … heh, easy, as you and I, my friend. Besides, if I hadn’t been
feeling pent up, we wouldn’t be here right now.” The human paused. “Ok, that’s a blatant lie.”
Ra'Meh chuckled, and kissed the top of her head. "You should stay longer, then. Well, I meant in S'Hea,
but right here, too. We like to keep things simple." Smiling, he realised just how much he really liked
her. "Lady's choice. If you want me, you'll find me. If not, that's alright too. If you ever manage to get
him unfucked."
Egg-blue eyes sparkled with mischief and Jerri crawled up him, still firmly ensconced in the circle of
his arm, and kissed him slowly. “That sounds awesomely uncomplicated,” she said. “I like that.”
Letting her head fall back she sighed contentedly and stretched. “I think we just might see a little more
of each other – although at the moment that seems physically impossible.”


                                                   ***


Smoke from the ornate S’Hean pipe drifted up towards the dimly lit ceiling, coiling in a serpentine
fashion. The scent of talle-konte was heavy in the air, sweet and inviting, calming to the mind. It passed
from one hand to another and a soft green glow crackled in its bowl.
“Are you adjusting well?” Y’Ardyn asked. His large frame was deeply relaxed into the chair, his
emerald gaze a little hazy as it met the pale green of the woman seated across from him.
Lounging on a chaise, the ancient Queen had her head propped on one hand – her stunning features
languid with the drug. It was pleasant to spend time with family – no matter how removed they were, to
just be herself and lose herself in the pleasant buzz of the leaf. A lazy smile turned the corners of her
mouth and she adjusted her position slightly to see him better – looking past B’Rodyn who currently
had the pipe.
“Well enough,” she answered. “Windemiire is as beautiful and functional as we dreamed it would be.”
“It is an architectural wonder,” Y’Ardyn agreed. “The jewel of our Kingdom. Having all of the nobles
in one place is convenient, and the cut of the valley through the falls has proven an excellent setting for
the homes of our people. It is easy for the Ra’Vidden to protect, and neatly hides the source of our
power. It is impossible to access the well with the palace sitting on top of it.”
“Even back in my day, the Ra’Mehs were genius in the field of architecture and planning,” Telya said
dreamily. “They brought our vision to life in a way that far surpasses my expectations. I love it here.
The gardens were a nice touch, especially the one behind the Healer’s Hall. Whose idea was that?”
“Faelwen’s, actually,” B’Rodyn said as he lowered the pipe, smoke still escaping from his mouth and
nose. “The healing crystals are of Aarataurean origin.”
“Ah, I thought they were new. I shall have to express to her how delighted I am with it.” Telya sighed
and rolled onto her back, turning her head to gaze at the window as a moon hove into view. “Y’Roden
strikes me as a more than capable King – but his recent state of mind worries me,” she said in an abrupt
change of subject.
“You can’t really blame him, the man who took his wife has been an ongoing nightmare for our
family,” the youngest elf pointed out.
“Besides, he has seen to it that his responsibilities do not go untended. I’ve stepped up as temporary
Regent until he gets his life sorted again.”
The chestnut-haired woman turned back towards him, pursing her perfectly-shaped mouth. “Mmm, I
suppose I cannot fault him there. I admit to a moment of blind rage myself – Ghetsuhm is a Queen of
unmatched quality, to lose her would be a tragedy I do not care to dwell upon. Not only would we be
robbed of a valuable asset to S’Hea herself, we would lose a capable King as well. And who would
succeed him? The heir is too young. The two of you are past your time, as am I. S’Hea moves forward
and never looks back.”
“Don’t underestimate my nephew,” Y’Ardyn said calmly. “He is the most stubborn man I have ever
met, even for a D’Riel. His strength runs deep – and his rage deeper still. Tallin has made a fatal error, I
think. Y’Roden will have him weeping for mercy before he is done with him, there is no doubt.”
B’Rodyn laughed softly and offered the refilled pipe to An’Telya. “You do not know Ghetsuhm very
well,” he said. “Y’Roden will get her back, but he will leave Tallin unscathed for the most part – unless
she asks him not to. Ghetsuhm is a powerful empath with a unique outlook on life. She wouldn’t wish
harm on anyone, and it’s not in her to cause pain -- not that way.”
Taking the pipe, the pale-eyed Queen considered for a long moment. “I cannot imagine living with no
desire for revenge,” she murmured. “It doesn’t seem natural – but then, different cultures reflect
different moral codes and beliefs. I cannot expect everyone to live in the S’Hean mindset whether they
be Queen of S’Hea or no.”
“That is very liberal of you,” Y’Ardyn laughed softly.
“I must be getting soft in my old age,” came the amused reply.
Y’Ardyn’s expression grew thoughtful, and half-filled with regret. “Sometimes I wonder if I did the
right thing, letting Se’Liene marry outside of S’Hea. I know what the prophecies say, but the moment
she married Derwin the problems began. It was my decision that brought Tallin into our lives, so I am
ultimately responsible.”
“That isn’t something you could have foreseen,” B’Rodyn dismissed his father’s worries firmly. “Who
would have thought that the promising young Grendorin Modar would lose his mind and resort to
fratricide? Never mind ally himself with the God of Death and Darkness. He is Haldanuru’s chosen, the
most powerful he has had in millenia. It gives him unimaginable power and strength.” The S’Hean's
handsome features pulled into a grimace. “Trust me, I’ve experienced it first hand.
“Your sister made a choice herself, and she loved Derwin more than life. Would you have denied her
that?”
The elf regarded his son with new eyes for a long moment. “No, no I would not. One sacrifices much
for true love, it seems. You’ve all paid for it, in one way or another.”
“Let’s just hope,” Telya said quietly, “that our Y’Roden doesn’t have to pay for long. We need both of
them here – S’Hea's future depends on it.”
Y’Ardyn’s jeweled eyes flickered to the awakened Queen and he frowned. “What have you seen?”
“Nothing clear, my dear… nothing clear, but nothing good either.”


                                                    ***
The thrum of noise in the Corinian Council hall was starting to near a deafening decibel as Gardor
entered the chambers. His face revealed no trace of the knowledge he carried – displaying only his
usual stoic demeanor and a set to his shoulders that said he would brook no foolishness from them
today.
He came to a halt in front of the King’s throne, his fingertips coming to rest on the Wyvern marked rust
and black silk pennant that flowed from a small tip at the table’s center to a wide swath that draped
over the edge of the heavy marble table in front of him.
“Come to order!” Cullen’s deep voice echoed through the room, bringing the conversation to an
immediate halt. “The Regent wishes to address you all on a serious matter,” he continued. “Please take
your seats.”
Gardor met his son’s blue eyes as the young man took his chair to the right of his father, and wondered
how Brenn was going to take this news. It meant a demotion for him – from High Lord to Lord. The
Regent had every intention of reclaiming his title and returning to his life-long home on the Bay of
Tears. Brenn would receive his own lands and title, of course – there was more than enough land under
the Wyvern name to be spread around a little.
Lords Black and Arketh took their seats in tandem, the two blond Lords nodding gruffly to the two
ebony-locked Lords Fearguis on the other side of the table as the pair slid into their chairs as well.
Griffith Talacharn dropped into the chair beside Rhodry, slouching in a casual fashion. He gave the
one-eyed Lord a crooked grin and a shrug, but the usual rakish good humour was missing from his
storm-grey eyes. The past few months had not been entirely kind to the House of Talacharn, and it
showed.
Corryn slid next to Griffith taking his seat. Noting the weariness deeply set in the other Lord’s eyes.
Life at Llewellyn had been for the most part good now that he and Meliah were settled in. still the
shewmo hunting was getting increasingly dangerous and he had lost two good silk reapers recently to
the voracious arachnids.
Emlyn had entered the Council chambers earlier and found few he felt comfortable conversing with.
Either they were fanatical radicals trying to stir up rebellion against the throne or they were
patriotically so devoted to the Regent and the current line of kings as to be nauseating. Still life at
Gravnor under the Regent had proved beneficial for this Lord and though still wavering in his support
he did much prefer the quite life once again under it.
Deren took the Tanagar seat with his usual contained self-assurance. Very little of his curiosity showed
in his face. It was always easier to play his cards to his own advantage if he kept them tight against his
chest for as long as possible.
The last few years had proven him to be a survivor, no matter what else was said about his family. And
yet, he found himself starting to tire of the game. Something of the influence of Rowena Talacharn
seemed to linger long after she was gone.
Wrapped up in his thoughts, Cianan took a seat next to his cousin. He glanced at Griffith quickly,
giving him a tight smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. Perhaps he'd been lax of late, he couldn't
remember the last time he'd visited the Talacharn home -- aside from court duties he rarely left his
estates.
Turning away from his morose thoughts, he focused on the meeting at hand, there would be time for
everything else soon enough.
“I have news,” Gardor announced, “and it affects each and every one of you.” The Regent straightened
and nodded to Cullen who moved towards the small set of doors that exited into the King’s council
chamber. “What was once lost has been returned to Corin’s halls – a blessing, though you may think it
impossible.”
Cullen threw open the doors and stepped to the side to make room for the tall figure who stepped into
the room. Clad in a black and rust doublet, trousers and a dark cloak, the Crown of Corin at his brow,
Valin D’Riel strode towards the head of the Council Table and nodded to Gardor who clearly, and
deliberately, stepped aside to return the King to his rightful place.
Lord Faracháin, a bluff man whose hair was now more silver than red, narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
"Is this some trick, Wyvern?" he demanded.
“I’m no magician, Faracháin,” Gardor responded.
“Do you have trouble believing your own eyes?” Rhodry asked the silvery-haired Lord. “If that isn’t
Valin I’ll eat my boots.”
The King chuckled and shook his head at the one-eyed Lord. “Lucky for you then, it is me. I’m told
leather doesn’t go down so well, even with sauce.” He lifted the ceremonial dagger from its place in
front of his chair and blithely drew it over his palm, spilling blood on the silk banner. “It’s me,” he said
as the scent of D’Riel Aethyr stung the air, “not some shade summoned up to lead you all astray.”
“I was hoping you would say you weren’t just so someone could get Arketh some salt.” Daegan said
with a smile that portrayed that he was pleasantly surprised that the King was alive and well.
Emlyn nearly fell out of his seat from shock. While he'd heard of the peculiar propensity of the D'Riel
to return from the dead he largely considered it some sort of healer’s work or elven trait. But standing
before him was clearly the man he’d seen set to the pyre. It sent a shiver down the Lord’s spine. If this
was a trick the prankster was someone to be feared. Emlyn took one more step closer to support of this
throne simply based on the unknown potential it demonstrated.
Corryn only regretted not being able to see Rhodry gnawing on his own boot. Considering the life those
boots must have led on the other Lord’s feet the sight would have been worth a full bolt of prime
Shewmo silk. As for Valin’s return, Lord Llewellyn could not have been more pleased. He had no
doubts regarding Gardor but the position weighed heavily on the other man and it seemed to have aged
him a little.
"I know better than to discount the possibility of illusion when dealing with elves, Arketh," Faracháin
retorted. "And Wyvern's predilection for cosying up to those is well known." He leaned back, the seat
creaking gently.
"You died, m'lord," he said bluntly. "S'Heans may be used to folks coming back from the dead, but it
isn't a Corinian habit. Your son is the King now, young as he is, not you. There will be those who say
your time has passed."
“He makes a valid point,” Lord Murachadh said from Lord Faracháin's left. “When a King dies, his
issue inherits, there is no precedence for resurrection.”
“Well,” Lord Black spoke up quietly, “technically, the term is 'slept' – if you know anything about
S'Hean culture. Those who are brought back are 'Awakened', not resurrected, there is a difference. A
S'Hean is not actually dead until their body turns to foam upon the water and their soul is released to
the next life. Obviously Valin's soul was never released – so he was never officially dead.”
Valin drew himself up and eyed the two opposing Lords, certain that there were more of the same
opinion among the others. Corin's current full compliment of Lords was twenty-nine in number. Quite a
drop from the original fifty before Tallin's last attempt at a takeover.
“Turn your daggers, Gentlemen. Those who support my bid to retake the throne, turn your points
inward, those who do not, turn your hilt inward. You may also chose to abstain from the voting process
by leaving your blade horizontal. Gardor and I, of course, will not cast our ballots.”
There was a pause, and a hushed murmur through the room, then the soft scrape of metal on stone as
the blades began to turn.


                                                    ***


Tre'Ver had trained many of Y'Roden's sons in the art of being a Ranger over the years. Truth be told,
he had trained Y'Roden and Fadil as well – but it wasn't something he often spoke about. Ro had been
sullen and withdrawn during those years, not yet the man he would become, but Tre had at least given
the future King the gift of music. Something he was immensely, and privately proud of –
understandable to anyone who had ever heard Y'Roden play the S'Hean guitar.
Today, Tre'Ver was starting Fechine on the path of a Ra'Vidden. That morning they young elf had
joined them in the morning ceremonies and then they had set out with Trey'Gan Al'Teron to run a short
patrol. Things were going quite well, and Tre'Ver was starting to think that Fechine was a great deal
like his father had been back then. Quiet, slightly withdrawn... a little haunted, perhaps. He didn't push,
or pry, however – but kept to talking about the job and how much he loved it.
In the dappled shade of a tree, the trio were crouched on a wide branch, watching a pair of Hippogriff
spar in a clearing down below. The creatures were not very high on the 'dangerous animal' list so they
would be left un-harrassed, allowed to continue on their way, but they were beautiful to watch. Their
equine bodies sleek and shining in the sun, noble eagle heads held proud as they pranced, the grasses
bending beneath the wind of massive wings as they flapped in a spectacular display.
“Dominance,” Tre'Ver explained quietly. “There must be a herd somewhere nearby. They'll start to fight
in earnest soon...” His voice trailed off, his head tilted slightly in reaction to a barely heard sound. The
S'Hean glanced over at Trey'Gan, then grinned. “It looks as if our young Prince is in for a special
performance today,” he whispered, rising slightly on the branch and gesturing for them both to follow,
the Hippogriffs quite forgotten.
Trey just nodded keeping his smile hidden in his eyes only. He’d heard the subtle call too and guessed
the young prince was not expecting quite a lesson as what seemed to be the next event at hand.
“Fechine, in your own words, what would you say is the foremost duty of a Ra’Vidden?” Trey’Gan
thought the answer might afford them a curious insight into the way the young Prince’s mind worked.
"To protect the land," Fechine replied shortly, his attention more on following Tre'ver than on
Trey'Gan's words. The chestnut-haired elf was grateful to be out of the palace. He'd have been climbing
walls if he hadn't been able to venture out into the Wilds with the Rangers. Outside, amongst the trees,
he felt less claustrophobic.
He moved easily from one branch to the next, an instinctive confidence in every step. This was
something he could do, was part of, in a way that he couldn't entirely explain, but knew with every part
of his being. As the Call came again, he paused, emerald eyes sliding over to Tre'Ver.
"What is that?" he asked softly.
The older Ra'Vidden came to a halt and crouched on the branch he'd been standing on. With a half-
amused smile, he pointed toward a large tree within their line of vision. It was beautiful – ancient and
tall, broad of trunk and leaf. What was unusual, however, was the undulating of the bark near the base
and a soft sound, almost like singing, that filled the air around it.
“It's her,” Tre'Ver answered.
A face emerged, bark fading away to reveal pale, delicate features. Wispy blonde hair peeled away
from the tree to fall about bare shoulders and breasts as the Dryad reached her hands out in entreaty –
yearning toward the three males in the tree until most of a humanoid torso was revealed, the rest of her
blending into the trunk.
“Part of our duty,” Tre'Ver spoke again, “is to see that all creatures of S'Hea have what they need. The
Dryad needs to mate, to propagate – and its our duty to give her what she needs.” He gripped the
branch beneath his feet, and swung neatly down to the ground. “I'll go first,” he explained, “but she'll
need to cross-pollinate – like a flower attracting bees.”
"Pardon?" Fechine was sure he couldn't have heard that correctly, but the Ra'Vidden was already
swinging down to the ground. Surely he didn't mean what it sounded like he had meant? The chestnut-
haired youth paled beneath his tan. Oh no, most definitely no.
“Watch carefully, Tre will approach her and do certain things to help the Dryad feel safer and at her
ease. The last thing you want is for her to feel any sort of threat. She will still take what she needs but
you may not exactly enjoy it like you could.” Trey’Gan slapped Fechine lightly on the shoulder in a
companionable gesture.
Unaware of his companion's moods or the continued conversation, Tre'Ver moved easily across the
grass toward the Dryad. The pitch of her song had risen, inviting, alluring, arms spread wide to
welcome him. Without hesitation, the S'Hean moved into the creature's grasp and touched her face, a
gesture of acceptance. The leaves in her hair shivered with anticipation and she wrapped thin, bark-
laced arms around his waist, drawing the Ra'Vidden against her and the trunk of the tree.
Lithe fingers slid up the elf's broad back, slithering, shifting into root like digits that dug into his skin –
then penetrated. Tre'Ver closed his eyes, bearing the pain with a grunt and gritted teeth as the Dryad
threw her head back, crying out ecstatically as blood and Aethyr fed her instinctive need. The Ranger's
own fingers gripped the trunk of the tree, digging into the bark as his body shook in a mix of pleasure
and pain, then slowly slid to his knees.
The Dryad slowly withdrew from him, then touched his face gently, as if in thanks. Her soft brown
eyes lifted toward the remaining two males, and she made an entreating gesture, asking for more.
The scent of blood and magic took Fechine back to places that he still visited in his nightmares.
Emerald eyes glazed over, horrors dancing through his mind. He was unaware of the fine tremors
running through his body, the trembling like that of a skittish horse. But when the Dryad beckoned his
nerve broke. He jerked back, raising a hand as if to ward off a blow.
The creature recoiled back into her tree – sensitive to the emotion in the air – the scent of fear. From the
ground, Tre’Ver looked up at the trunk and frowned. Stumbling back up to his feet, he staggered back
across the clearing and reached up to clap Trey’Gan on the knee. “See if you can draw her back out,
Fechine and I will wait back a ways until you are finished.”
Fechine flinched and stared down at Tre'Ver as if he didn't recognise him. He could hear the
Ra'Vidden's words, but they didn't make any sense. He kept hearing the sound of feminine laughter. His
arms wrapped around his own waist and he shivered.
"I..." His voice rasped in his throat.
An alarmed expression flickered over Tre’s face – perhaps Fechine wasn’t as much his father’s child as
he’d thought. “Fechine? We need to leave now,” he insisted quietly, but firmly. “It’s ok, she’s gone.”
That remark startled a fractured laugh out of the younger elf. "I wish," he whispered, but the expression
in his emerald eyes was one of dawning awareness - and then shame. He looked away, unable to meet
the other man's gaze. A sick feeling churned in the pit of his stomach. With none of the grace he had
shown earlier, he slid from the branch onto the ground below.
Tre’Ver’s face was a mask – hiding the concern he felt to save Fechine the embarrassment. Quelling the
urge to clap him on the shoulder – there was something about the other elf’s posture that said he’d not
welcome even so companionable a touch – the Ra’Vidden led the way back into the trees.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I should have told you what we were doing first.”
"It's not your fault," Fechine said. No, he thought to himself. It was his.
As soon as the pair had slipped back into shadow Trey slowly approached the tree as casually and
welcoming as his years of training had afforded him. “Lady of the tree,” he cooed softly as he stroked
the quivering bark. “May I fill your need? The fear you sense is from the young pup we teach. He has
no knowledge of your ways and needs so it startled him.” Trey continued to caress the bark in
approximately the area of the Dryad’s head and shoulder.
He waited for the song hoping it would be her music of acceptance and not her music of alarm and
defense. Trey frowned when the song began discordant fearing he was in for a rough ride. But before
the Dryad reemerged the siren’s song shifted again to welcoming seduction. With that Trey relaxed and
allowed her to repeat her embrace when she surfaced. He was still on his knees panting slightly for a
few moments after she had withdrawn.
Back in the shadows, Fechine leaned back against the rough bark of the tree and tried not to think, but
it was almost impossible. Rationally, he knew there was no similarity between what happened between
the Dryad and the Rangers and what had happened to him at Samara's hands, but rationality had gotten
thrown out of the window at the first smell of blood. It reminded him too much of... Fists clenched,
nails biting into the palms of his hands as he deliberately blocked off that train of thought. He wasn't
going there again. He wasn't. It was so stupid. He thought he'd gotten better than this, had started to
relax because things were going so well, and now... Bitter laughter strangled in his throat.
Tre’Ver’s voice was calm and assuring when he finally spoke – his eyes focused upwards into the
canopy of trees rather than at the young prince. “Do you enjoy music, Fechine?” he asked.
The quiet question penetrated the fog of self-recrimination and pain that clouded Fechine's mind.
Haunted emerald eyes lifted. "What?" The change of direction threw him a little off-balance and it took
him a second or two to construct a response.
"What kind of music?"
“Any kind,” came the steady answer. “I prefer the sound of a S’Hean guitar myself – and a clear,
beautiful voice. Certain songs can move the soul – some songs have a power all of their own.” He
smiled, mostly to himself. “Would you like to learn to play the guitar?”
"I... don't know. Why do you ask?" Fechine's confusion was evident.
Tre’Ver’s pale gaze drifted down until it met Fechine’s. “You’ve been in the Crystal Keep for quite
some time. I thought you might enjoy some more interactive company for awhile.” He smiled briefly.
“Don’t worry; I’m not going to pry into what is bothering you. It’s none of my business. I can,
however, give you a gift – I can’t explain it in words, you’ll come to understand in time if you accept.”
Trey had parted from the Dryad leaving her content for the moment. Softly and silently, he moved back
to where Tre and Fechine were talking. Respectfully, he stood there waiting for Tre and Fechine to
finish their conversation.
Fechine ran a hand through his hair. "I..." He gave a short laugh. "I was going to say I don't know
again. I'm sorry, Tre'Ver. I'm not very good at making decisions at the moment. Ask me again later
when my brain is a little more engaged." A hint of a crooked smile touched his lips; it wasn't much, but
it was there.
Emerald eyes shifted. "Trey'Gan is back."
Tre’Ver nodded, then chuckled, “He’s good at lurking, isn’t he?” Straightening, he rolled his shoulders.
“Should we continue on? Or would you prefer returning to Nenlante?”
"On." That was an easier question by far. "I prefer being outside."


                                                   ***


It was dark – the humid air starting to cool off from the day, and they were standing in the middle of a
clearing. These things registered first on Y’Roden – always aware of his surroundings through sight,
sound and scent. He was aware of Galain standing beside him, and of Chezlar’s overwhelming
presence, though he could no longer see the Changeling.
“Remember,” the tri-toned voice whispered through the dark. “You can see and hear what happens
here, but they cannot see or hear you – because you do not exist as you are – not yet. I will be here,
when you need me, but I cannot act beyond this point, except to take you home.”
“That’s reassuring,” Ro muttered, rolling his heavy shoulders and settling his bastard-sword more
securely into its harness. The half-elf tilted his head back and regarded the stars. “We should be able to
see the City of Corin’s lights from here, the fact that we can’t proves he’s landed us in the right spot
though. Any idea where you were at this point?”
The trouble was, Galain wasn't entirely sure about when they were and after he'd checked that his own
Elen-forged weapon was fitted properly in its scabbard across his back, and that Wyrmfinder was
where it should be in his boot, he shrugged. He looked around, baffled and quietly cursed at Chezlar.
"At what point?" he asked aloud. "I didn't quite get the whens and wheres." He gave Y'Roden a
frustrated look. "Once I know what's going on, the better." He paused and realized he couldn't look
away from the other man. He'd done his best to ignore Y'Roden's existence for some time now. He
looked the way Galain had often felt, still felt at the worst of moments and for a moment the elf's eyes
wandered before he remembered that at least Y'Roden could look forward to the possibility of reuniting
with Ghetsuhm. The Elen's stomach muscles clenched and he wrenched his gaze away. "If we leave this
clearing and get a better idea of our location maybe I can answer you."
“Sorry,” Y’Roden apologized, presumably for the lack of information. He was uncomfortable with the
scrutiny, but nothing betrayed itself on his face. “This should be the night before you and An’Thaya
brought Corin back to Whispin. I wasn’t exactly… in my right mind at the time, but if I remember
correctly it was just breaking dawn when you crossed dimensions. Where were you the night before?”
He gestured towards a break in the trees. “There is a hill that way; we should be able to get a better
bearing from there.”
"Gods," Galain replied, unapologetic for his questions. He was grateful for the answers and weirdly,
grasped Y'Roden's arm in gratitude, unable to speak coherently for the moment.
"Yeah," Galain replied, taking in what he heard. It was simpler that way. His head dropped as he was
fed the information, not because he was mad, but because he had to know. He rubbed his forehead and
let 'Lain groan slightly as he listened.
Y’Roden was quiet for a moment – realizing how hard this must be for the other elf. Galain had loved
An’Thaya – Ro had always known that – and her loss had not been easy on Elen. Now he was being
asked to witness a moment in their past when that love was just being realized. In Galain’s shoes, Ro
didn’t think he could have done it.
He squeezed Galain’s wrist in response, a wordless response that said more than anything he could
have said. He released him and started towards the place where they could see things a little easier.
Galain appreciated the gesture, especially the irony involved as well, and then he drew himself together
and looked upward, thinking back over the millennia and focusing on the sky before he realized he was
staring at the Dragon constellation. His expression cleared and he headed them both away, suddenly
very sure of where he was going. He knew they wouldn't be visible or sensed by those within the camp,
but the Elen still moved soundlessly, not entirely certain about this whole time traveling business. He
drew up short the moment he spied the two he knew would be there, on the outskirts of the little
encampment and he put a hand up to stop Y'Roden. An'Thaya's diminutive form was unmistakable
although his own form was less recognizable to Galain.
"I've found us," he said quietly.
Y’Roden shifted to a silent halt just behind Galain, his gaze fixed on the couple ahead. It was
disturbing to be here, to see something he wasn’t meant to. This was the beginning of something he had
hated for so long…
He saw An’Thaya turn towards Galain, hesitant, and her fingers gently touch his face. For those who
knew her well, the gesture was an obvious sign of what was to come not to far in the future. She was in
love, truly in love, for the first time in her life – and at this moment, so far in the past, she was openly
vulnerable.
The half-elf looked away, a little embarrassed – both for himself, and for Galain. It was an intensely
private moment emotionally that wasn’t meant to be seen buy outside observers.
Galain continued to look, his face blank for a moment. He realized how much he had changed since
this moment in time... he'd aged in many ways... physically, emotionally and spiritually. There was a
wistful expression on his face for several moments before he too had to look away. She was as
beautiful and alive as he'd always remembered and thoght of her, and it altogether too easy to
remember why and how he'd fallen in love with her. But he and An'Thaya had changed so much since
this particular night, and he felt overwhelmed with grief, sadness, frustration and surprise that he felt so
much still. He had loved An'Thaya deeply and he had wounded her deeply. Nothing could describe the
happiness and the pain, the absolute highs and the utter lows of their time together.
"I think Keondre and B'Rodyn are this way," he said at last, his voice thick with repressed emotion. He
was trying to focus on the precise reason for their appearance here. What the hell was Tallin thinking he
could do here? Attack B'Rodyn? An'Thaya? He recognized that a lot of things were occuring at this
time in history that would directly affect S'Hea and Corin. What was spinning in Tallin's peanut-sized
brain?
Y'Roden shook his head, frowning to himself. “Tallin doesn't care about Keondre or B'Rodyn, it'll be
either you or An'Thaya. She brought Corin out of Tenobrous and she couldn't have done it without
you.”
The half-elf fell silent, then looked directly at Galain. “It's you,” he said. “He'll be coming after you.
She's always been too valuable to him, you're the thorn in his side. You were the portal to Tenobrous –
you had the tenacity to win her love, he hates you. One Elen Prince out of the picture and Corin is lost,
An'Thaya and Corin are his – he gets everything he wants in one blow.”
Galain stared back at Y'Roden, a grim look taking over his expression. As much as he wanted to deny
it, Y'Roden's reasoning and conclusion was ominously sound.
"You know, as much as I'd like to go back and change certain things in history I've learned that it's not
only impractical, but too many people are affected by even the smallest changed thing. He's an idiot,"
Galain spat out. He looked around and glowered. "He's around here then, just waiting for his chance."
The half-elf nodded in agreement, his softly-glittering eyes roving the shadows. “If he isn’t yet, he will
be soon. We’ll have to stand guard over you and wait for him to reveal himself. With Haldanuru
guiding him he’ll be well hidden until its time to strike.”
Ro nodded towards a tree, “I’ll go up and keep an eye on the ground. We have one advantage, at least –
you know exactly where you were this night – he has to stumble around in the dark looking.”
"May he stumble right into a gods damned hole," the elf muttered in reply. "I'll head back to your sister
and myself." He shook his head, finding this whole scenario to be incredibly surreal on several levels.


                                                   ***


The group in the King’s Council Chamber was a select one, and a slightly frustrated company. Valin let
his tall frame fall into the chair behind the desk and rubbed at his forehead in irritation. “Fourteen for,
fourteen against, and one abstaining,” he sighed, “how does that happen? We’re in a stalemate for
pity’s sake.”
He looked at Gardor and spread his hands helplessly. “What more can I do to prove my case?”
Bhayne's eyes remained fixed on the horizon, out one of the windows, "My Lord, I am afraid the
answer is both simply and frustratingly complicated. How DO you prove your case, when the fourteen
against you are all watching your throne like starving dyre wolves?" He snorted and his head turned,
"Your case has been proven, I saw it in their eyes, but I also saw the greed. They don't WANT your case
proven."
Gardor nodded in agreement as he scrubbed the back of his neck with one calloused palm. “Bhayne is
right. Things have been eerily peaceful for the last few years, and that always makes me nervous.
Someone has to be planning something, and your return has thrown a hitch into their scheming. More
than one of the fourteen are undoubtedly pissed off. It’s that one abstainer you need on your side, Mo
Rìgh.”
Valin looked from one to the other, his fingers drumming out a beat on the desk. “Which one was it?”
“Lord Mórdha,” Gardor answered. “He’s a major lord with a lot of land near Lake Arketh. He’s a
traditionalist – the family always has been. I’m not truly surprised he abstained, the Mórdhas withdrew
their direct support when the Modar name was so cavalierly set aside.”
Summerlin frowned to herself, being a member of yet another Council herself. Was everyone so
hidebound everywhere she wondered before she found a little fan she'd had fashioned for herself,
delicately Elen, but effectively S'Hean. She felt herself cool as she regarded her son thoughtfully. She
gave her husband a quick look and then spoke.
"Please forgive me," she said. "But I would like to speak. Tell me more about Lord Mórdha. His name
is naturally intriguing and I wonder if... if he might entertain a visit." It was just stupid that her son had
to contest like this, but she maintained a calm demeanor although her fingers itched for the stave she
had carried about in her youth. But it was the intricacies that involved the name of Modar, so close to a
place named for Arketh that didn't bother her own people anymore, for the better or the worst, she
wasn't sure.
Y'Roce sat near Imoreki keenly listening to what was being discussed and the concerns it raised. This
was his brother they were debating and the stability of the kingdom of Corin. What puzzled the lesser
prince most was what all those squabbling Lords thought they would gain from their way of wanting
things. All Roc could see coming from it was more war and thus more death. He trusted that Valin
knew that there was no task he could ask of him that he would not do all he could to complete. He had
to be able to do something to help Valin because their father, the King of S’Hea was otherwise
occupied and not available to offer any help. It felt as if the whole of Whispin was coming apart this
time.
Bhayne's attention shifted from the window he'd been staring out to the chilled mai'tus wine nearby.
Quietly, he poured a glass, sipped at it thoughtfully as Summerlin spoke. A smile pulled at his mouth
and his head inclined as he found himself speaking, "My Lady, I cannot imagine a Lord of Corin who
would not enjoy a visit from you." He coughed then, and covered his mouth politely with a the index
and thumb of one fist. His antiquated manners had always been something the younger Lords and even
older Lords had quietly laughted at, but his betrothed had not found him so amusing. He found himself
more and more at ease in crowds and he had Rowena to thank for it.
"And as to the Modar name, while it conjurs visions of Tallin to some, to many, it was a once noble
name, soiled by filth and greed. I've yet to find a Corinian who would not enjoy seeing the Modar
House restored," His eyes settled on Valin, "Mo righ."
Valin’s emerald eyes settled on Bhayne and his mouth parted slightly, the jewels that regarded the Lord
darkening in thought. “Are you suggesting what I think you are?” It wasn’t really a question; it was
quite obvious what Bhayne meant.
His gaze moved on to Gardor. “Is this true?”
The redheaded Lord nodded and smiled wryly. “The D’Riel name is S’Hean, Mo Rìgh. We Corinians
are a proud lot, and the adoption of your Grandmother’s name was a blow to many egos. Modar means
Royalty, after all – we lost a piece of our heritage with the joining of your two great families.” He
paused and smiled at Summerlin who gave him a quick smile and incline of her head. “Though there
are three in your bloodline, if anyone is counting.”
The King rose from his seat, his body language resolute. “There is someone I must speak to before
making this decision,” he said, “but I think you may be right, Bhayne. The Throne owes you a great
debt.”
Summerlin watched her son and inwardly nodded, finding that Bhayne had spoken wisely. Everything
had quietly clicked together for her when the lord reminded everyone in the room of the rich heritage
and true meaning of the Modar name. What was being suggested made sense on so many levels and she
reached a hand out to clasp her husband's as she gave Valin a warm smile.
Reece gently squeezed Summerlin’s hand in return, a certain smug satisfaction on his face. His family
would never again sit at the table of the Corinian Lords, but the Royal Line he had served faithfully
would be properly restored to their former glory.”
Turning away from the others, Valin faced Y’Roce and Imoreki, though his words were for the elder of
the two. “Go to our Addah, Roc. Tell him I request an audience with him here, this evening. I wouldn’t
bother him under the circumstances – but it is a matter of utmost importance.”
                                                   ***


Tallin emerged from the trees in the full light of the moons, his ebony hair caught back in thong at the
nape of his neck. He had found them, finally – after searching for hours in the woods. The Amazon had
hid herself well in these days, never using magic, never betraying her position. She and the three males
had slipped in under his radar and manage to get to Corin before he was ready for them, opening the
vortex and drawing Corin through.
B’Rodyn would leave soon, they knew the forces of the enemy were converging on the wood and he
would go to King Y’Ardyn for help – which he would receive, in spades. Tager Terne was drawing
close as well, but he would not survive the day.
Now that had been a glorious moment, the death of An’Thaya’s mentor and protector, as delicious as
the death of Reece Nightfall – though that one had been a slight disappointment after his resurrection
centuries later.
Moving through the trees, he stopped to watch the couple – the striking gold of Galain’s hair and the
roaring flames of An’Thaya’s as they sat, heads close together and waiting for the proper hour. He
studied the Elen and felt the age old burning hatred rise in his chest – if not for this one… if not,
everything might have been his.
Reaching into his belt, the Demon Mage drew a wicked stiletto and emerged from the tree line,
crossing the clearing with sure, confident steps – still unseen by the two elves who seemed lost in one
another.
Galain saw him, relieved to be able to do something at last besides sit and be terribly aware of the love
blossoming nearby and knowing how brutally it would end. The Elen was certain Y'Roden had seen
Tallin as well and he raised himself to a half crouch, ready to jump Tallin before he could so much as
shout.
Unaware of the Elen, Tallin moved forward without hesitation, until a near silent thud of boots hitting
earth brought him to a sudden halt. The Mage whirled around, ice-blue eyes searching, straining to see
in the dark – and finding Y’Roden’s feral, cat-slit eyes looking back at him from where the S’Hean had
dropped from the tree.
Balanced on the balls of his feet and the fingertips of one hand, the half-elf had his sword drawn, body
tense like that of a hunting animal. He had Tallin’s attention – but Galain was closer.
The Elen exploded out of the bushes and took advantage of Tallin's surprise, leaping at the man and
shoving him hard to the ground, Wyrmfinder pressed hard against the side of his neck. It was a damn
shame he couldn't kill him outright.
"Guess who?" he hissed into Tallin's ear, looking up once to meet Y'Roden's eyes, a feral glint in his
own.
Caught off guard, Tallin froze beneath Galain’s weight, his pulse throbbing against Wyrmfinder. Part of
his soul had burned where it had been lacerated, bits of its attacker still clinging in wisps to the frayed
edges. It knew who that blade had been meant for, and it wasn’t the Demon Mage. The dagger had
brought Callan’s death, but his life had been restored by the man who now loomed above them both.
“Pissant,” Tallin spit out, “you should be dead, by rights. You ruined all of it, all my plans. You never
deserved her; you never deserved either of them.”
“Shut up,” Y’Roden growled. His booted foot lifted slightly and pressed down ever so lightly on
Wyrmfinder’s edge. A trickle of blood ran down Tallin’s neck, dripping to the grass and the S’Hean
leaned forward menacingly, slowly sniffing the air.
“Where is she?” he asked, though it was more of a demand.
Galain kept his weight on Tallin, wondering that it could be so easy. But it wasn't. He didn't care what
the man called him, and he had already long ago accepted the insults spat at him. No, he hadn't
deserved either woman. But that was then and this was now, somehow. It was confusing and the Elen
had no time to think beyond making sure Tallin didn't rise or that Wyrmfinder drank too deeply of the
mage's blood.
"You'd better tell the man," he chimed in. "You've stolen his wife and you've dared to touch my child.
Do you know how stupid that is?"
Tallin barked out a laugh. “I do that, and you’ll slit my throat on the spot. Do you think me stupid?
You’ve won your life, Elen, but do not think you have conquered the day. Ghetsuhm is mine, and she
will remain so until I am finished with her. If I were you I would put that blade back where it came
from – one accidental slip and you will never, ever find her.”
Y’Roden, for a split second, applied a fraction more weight to the blade, then just as quickly removed
the sole of his boot from its gleaming edge. His shoulders bunched with frustration – because he knew
Tallin was right. They hadn’t a clue what he’d done with her, where or when she was.
“Let him up.” The S’Hean’s voice was strained; an intense physical effort keeping him reined in.
Galain closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He didn't remove the dagger though as he backed off Tallin
and helped him stand up. He kept one of the mage's arms tightly turned against his back and
Wyrmfinder stayed where it was although the Elen knew the dagger's threat was largely impotent now.
He inhaled briefly and thought -- perhaps tonight was saved, but what was next?
“We will keep following you,” Y’Roden said steadily to Tallin. “Eventually you are going to screw up,
and I’ll have my wife back.” His smile was chill, but the jewels of the S’Heans eyes had turned to ice.
“And then, you will have to beg her for your life.”
The Mage laughed and heaved his shoulders, attempting to break Galain’s hold. “The only begging
you’ll hear is her begging for me to take her again and again. She’ll forget you eventually, half-elf.”
The S’Hean stepped forward, a sudden, unexpected movement – and embraced his Uncle roughly.
“Somehow,” he growled in the other man’s ear, “I highly doubt that.” Shoving away, Ro nodded to
Galain. “Release him.”
The elf did, letting the dagger slice along the side of Tallin's neck as he stepped back, distaste and
disgust filling his eyes. The idiot really had no clue about the S'Hean King and Queen.
"Death can't even keep those two apart," he said quietly to the mage. "You're a worse fool than I
thought if you think you can do anything to turn her head your way. A trite, pitiful, shallow little fool."
His eyes were empty of emotion now as he spoke from first-hand experience. "Give her up now, Tallin.
Whatever gain it is that you seek, you're fighting a losing battle."
A serpentine grin split Tallin’s mouth and he backed towards the trees. “You continue to underestimate
me, Elen Prince. It is going to be your downfall someday. In fact, it almost was a few thousand years
ago – your children are so entertaining. Galain Jr, for instance? Your daughter is lovely as well, though
not to my tastes.”
The rings on Tallin’s fingers caught the moonlight as he turned in a swirl of cloak, and disappeared into
the wood.
Y’Roden grunted with frustration and squeezed his fingers, blood dripping from between them from a
self inflicted cut. Tallin had no idea that the back of his cloak was smeared with it – not visible, but the
scent unmistakable. Ro grimaced in Galain’s direction, “She’ll know, at least, that we’re looking for
her.”
Galain noticed the blood and nodded silently.
"Good," he said and looked back in the direction Tallin had gone. The man's insults against his children
and himself had angered the Elen, but he chose to consider the source: Tallin had bitten off more than
he could chew and he was too stupid to realize it yet.


                                                    ***
An'Thaya's first thought, was that they had fallen asleep in the pit again. Soft grains of sand shifted
beneath her cheek and she could feel Callan's familiar weight against her back. The Amazon's body felt
strangely heavy, a deep ache in her muscles that drilled down into the bone – as if she had been
stretched too thin and snapped back again like an elastic. All of this filtered into a mind that was
clouded – fuzzy, unsure of the where or when.
Groggily, Tay opened her eyes – crimson lashes flickering in the shade of her husband's protective
wing. She sighed wearily and reached out to stroke the leathery, black expanse, then lifted her head to
look around.
A frown wrinkled her brow and her hand dropped to the sand – touching it, letting it run between her
fingers. It was too red to be Sha'Tris – she had never seen sand quite like it, truth be told.
With concerted effort, she crawled out from beneath Callan's wing and looked out at a never ending
vista of reddish-gold desert. Her head tilted up, and the frown deepened. Turning on her knees, the
Empress of the Diirlathe shook her heavily built mate. “Ol'Shann? Ol'Shann, wake up! The suns are
backwards!”
It had all happened so fast. One minute he was literally tearing Tallin Modar's soul apart, thread by
thread, and the next thing he remembered was.... searing heat, swirling time, memories in flux, a past
that was being rewritten, then a total stripping of gold and emerald from his soul. The power of
Whispin and Aerdon which had claimed him as 'theirs' was suddenly, painfully, peeled away from his
soul, and was replaced with something different.
Something that reminded him of molten adamantine. So hot it seemed cold to the touch.
A vast expanse of cool black had mercifully overwhelmed him on impact with the ground, if it was the
ground, and all he was aware of for what seemed hours, perhaps days, was his and An'Thaya's souls,
still spinning in that same expanse of endless night.
At some point, he'd almost come to, and had realized they were laying in desert sands. His half-elven
form stretched, writhed, and shifted instinctively, and black wings had stretched wide, both to cool his
own body, as it was designed to do in these conditions, and to shelter his wife's body from the pounding
rays of two suns.
Two suns, that once he cracked open one topaz eye, were indeed...well.
Backwards.
"Oh gods..." His basso voice ground out almost hoarsely rather than its usual warm rumble.
"What the Ruhl did Stophecles tell us that was?" "Remind me to quit drinking anything he hands me. I
should know better than to trust a Satyr by now. Especially my own Master Vinter."
“Stop kidding around!” Tay admonished with no small amount of frustration. The redhead kicked a bit
of sand at the dragon once she got to her feet. “I have no idea where we are!” The heat of the suns
made her sway a bit, and with a small groan, she relented and ducked back under the Black's wing.
“You don't have a hangover, ass. You've got a time-over, I'd say.”
Leaning against the cool scales of his side, she sighed and rubbed at her temple. “I have a roaring
headache.” It might have been from the timestream, or simple dehydration, it was anyone's guess. It did
occur to her, just at the moment, that she was profoundly lucky to have said 'ass' still with her. It was a
miracle of vast proportions that they had made it through to the same place, and the same time.
The thought made her turn and press her face against him, fingers splaying across smooth scale –
feeling Araxmarr's gargantuan heart thrumming against them. “I don't know when we are either – the
Web feels... distant, I can't access it.”
Callan's head swiveled on its long neck and shoveled up under the wing. His nostrils flared as he drew
in a labored breath, "You're right. It's there... but hazed... like it's half formed, almost transparent. It's
like grabbing at fog." His voice rumbled like low thunder in a landscape that was apparently
completely unfamiliar with rain.
"That bastard." A growl followed the thought of Tallin Modar, "But I tore him a new one, for once.
How do you think he's liking having a soul like a worn out sock, with a hole over his big toe?"
A deep, rolling laugh rumbled from Callan's draconian chest, then it abruptly stopped. His head
whipped out from beneath his wing, and snapped up into the air. One, two, then three sniffs of the
scorching air confirmed it.
"I smell smoke. Blood. War. You?"
“Of course you smell me,” An'Thaya said distractedly, “I'm right here.” She paused. “Oh! You mean,
do I smell it to? Yes, yes I do.” The Amazon peeked out from under her husband's wing, eyeing the
Black as he sniffed the air and smirking to herself. War drew him like a magnet – she didn't need to ask
if they were going to take a look.
“Which direction is it in? You have a better view than I at the moment.”
"That way." His snout pointed and his head lifted. His long neck stretched even further, then he levered
his bulk to his feet. His black wings stretched, fanned slightly and his body shook like a dog after being
bathed. Sand scattered and pelted his wife, then his nostrils were back in her face.
"Not that it matters. We won't be here long enough to find out where it is exactly." Callan's body began
to implode and shortly, his half-elven form stood beside her. Black light armour, which would seem
ridiculous given the heat, were it not his own flesh rather than true amour, covered his body, and his
wings continued to fan lightly.
"Time stream or not, I can still work a portal. Its just a matter to fine tuning to get it to bend to the right
time. Let's go home."
The air shrieked around them as Callan’s magic tore the fabric of space and time, forcing and bending
it to his will. An’Thaya’s hair blew into her face as the vortex overtook them and she choked on sand.
Lithe fingers grabbed at tangled locks and forced them out of jewelled eyes. Sharp senses were
overwhelmed with the stench of sweat, blood and burning sand and the view was blotted out by a
massive chest which did not belong to her husband.
The Amazon’s head snapped back, nerves prickling a warning as a great-sword swung down full-force
towards her head.
Well, that wasn't right. The split second thought vanished like a vapor as his fingers hauled An'Thaya
back. The force of his jerk almost tossed her behind him and as the blade crashed down, its forward
motion came to a grinding halt. Trapped between a razor sharp blade of onyx extending from the back
of Callan's fist and the black scaled gauntlet that covered it, the blade's motion stopped just inches short
of carving a path down the center of the Emperor's face.
The fledgling portal howled closed, leaving the Emperor and Empress five years forward in time, in the
midst of a raging war which had spanned centuries for the most precious commodity on the world they
found themselves - water.


                                                     ***


Tallin burst into the room, a storm-cloud expression on his face as he tossed his cloak onto the back of
a chair and strode towards a wash basin. One hand braced on the stand as the other cupped water and
splashed it onto his neck, rinsing away the blood and cleaning the wound left by Wyrmfinder.
Once again, his plans had been waylaid by the D’Riels and Alcarins – it was beginning to get under his
skin. Galain’s death might have been the key to it all… He would have to try again, somewhen else.
A knock at the door broke his thought pattern and the Demon Mage lifted his head. “What is it?”
A servant cracked the doors open and peered inside. “I’ve brought Lady Ghetsuhm to you, as you
asked.”
Tallin froze… he’d hoped things would be far different at this moment. That Alcarin would have been
dead and half of her hopes would have just disappeared. With a grunt, he straightened, then nodded.
“Show her in.”
Ghet moved in slowly, testing the air. Her Talent was the only truth she had left to her any more, and
she was using it all the time. Finding out he was angry was hardly a revelation.
There was something else, though, something that nagged at her. A smell. "You're wounded. What
happened?"
The mage grunted and blotted at the shallow cut with a towel. “Just a disagreement,” he said, looking at
her image in the mirror. “With an old… acquaintance.” With a irritated gesture he bid her to sit down in
the chair where he’d disposed of his cloak. “Sit down, the servant will bring us something to eat – I
need to change before dinner.”
Tossing the towel aside he stepped through an archway to pull clothing out of trunks and a closet,
disappearing from Ghet’s direct line of sight. “Are you feeling better?”
Blood. The scent that was tugging at her was blood. "That depends what you mean by 'feeling better',"
she said, almost too distracted to carp at him. What in hells was wrong with her, why was the scent of
his blood making her feel... like this? She rubbed a hand across the back of her neck. Maybe she was
remembering, maybe there was a reason she was with him, something that made it all make sense.
Bending, she picked up his cloak from the chair and the smell swapped her. Without thinking, she
raised the cloth to her face, and the automatic, overwhelming response of her body made her whimper.
She dropped the cloak on the table and her hands came away red with blood. She'd seen this before,
blood all over her hands... She lifted her hand to her mouth and licked, and she could see him. Her
lover, her life. "Rodi..."
“Did you say something?” Tallin stepped out into the room, dressed in trousers, a shirt held loosely in
his hand. He frowned, staring at Ghet’s hands – it didn’t seem to be her blood.
“Where did that come from?”
"You tell me, fucker." Ghet didn't raise her voice, but the passion in it was clear. "You tell me how you
got his fresh blood on you if he's dead." She rubbed her hands together, because otherwise she was
going to smear them all over her chest. "Where's my real husband? You know, the one who's actually
married to me. The one who's allowed to touch me."
Heavy shoulders tensed and Tallin’s eyes went completely black with rage as he realized what must
have happened. The shirt fell, forgotten, from his fingers and he crossed the room in a matter of
seconds, his hand closing around Ghet’s throat. He lifted her abruptly from her feet and slammed the
redhead’s back onto the table, clearing the top of its contents with her body.
His face descended to a breath from hers and his lips curled back in a snarl. “Maybe,” he hissed, “just
maybe he’s dead now.”
Ghet's eyes purpled, her lips curled back from her teeth. Her anger insulated her from the rest of it:
pain, force, savagery. "What, you're going to keep on lying to me? If he was dead you'd be ecstatic.
Maybe you tried, that I'd believe. And you fucked up again, didn't you? I'm amazed you don't drop dead
of humiliation. And instead you're going to put your hands on me? There are no words for how much
I'm too good for you."
Hard fingers squeezed harder on Ghet’s throat, cutting off her air – cutting off the words. The other
hand fisted into the material of her shirt and shredded it violently from her torso. “You seem to be a
little confused as to who is in control here,” he growled.
Tallin's hand grabbed one of hers and brought it to his face, smearing Ro’s blood over his skin. “Get
use to seeing me steeped in his blood – next time I will kill him and you’ll smell his death on me when
I take you.”
Ghet fought his pull on her hand for long enough, then abruptly pushed, her nails driving into his face.
She couldn't speak, but contempt poured off her, rage that he would dare rather than hatred.
She couldn't breathe, hard fingers on her throat, but her S'Hean lung capacity would stop her passing
out. Yes, her lover, who would never give up on her. His gift would keep her conscious and aware of
what was to come.
She still had her mind, and a lifetime's knowledge of men like this. Ghet stopped struggling against
him, closed her eyes and went limp under him.
Tallin laughed and lowered his head, kissing her unyielding mouth. “You think that will stop me?” he
asked. “Fight me, play dead, either way you hate it and I hurt you.”
The door swung open at that moment and a servant stopped short of crossing the threshold. She turned
around as Tallin’s head came up, then froze as he spoke.
“Bring me the wine.”
The girl hesitated briefly, then moved back towards the table, holding out the tray – eyes wide with
fright as the mage held a hand over one goblet. She shook her head, and he grabbed the second one
instead. Pulling Ghet up from the table he forced the rim against her mouth. “Drink.”
Ghet's nostrils flared briefly, sucking in air. Her jaw, though, remained rigidly shut, and she shook her
head. He could force her, yes, but he'd have to.
Tallin’s features hardened and he shifted his grip, prying open her jaw and cruelly shoving the edge of
the cup into her mouth, using it to part her teeth and pour the rich, drug-tainted wine down her throat.
She kept her throat locked shut as long as she could, every moment she held out a victory of will. Wine
spilled over her face as she struggled, filled her mouth, and then inevitably she had to swallow to keep
from choking. Ghet closed her eyes, desperately hanging on to what she had recovered in her mind. Her
heart, her khela-nhe, who would come for her no matter what. All she had to do was hold together.
Tallin whipped the goblet across the room and shoved away from the table. “Clean her up,” he barked
at the girl, “and burn the cloak. I want nothing of him left to remind her again.”


                                                  ***


Griffith's expression was thoughtful as he left the Council Chamber. The vote had been tighter than
even he had anticipated. Nodding absently to some of the other Lords, the sandy-haired man tucked his
hands in his pockets and kept walking, not inclined to stop and speak to most of them. Gossiping right
now seemed not only pointless, but also a little dangerous. The kingdom seemed to be perched on a
knife-edge.
A familiar figure caught his eye and his gaze lifted from its absent perusal of the floor. "Cianan. Wait
up. I'll walk with you."
Lost in thought, Cianan started and turned to Griffith. He smiled tightly, "That could have gone better,"
he said quietly as they moved down the hall. "You look worn out Griff, I know I haven't been reachable
of late, but I can't have missed that much."
Griffith's smile was crooked. "More than you realise, cousin," he said. "It's not been all that peaceful
these last few months. I would have kept you informed, but well... it blew up all of a sudden, and
you've been so busy with your estates."
He glanced over at the other man. "You heard about Rowena's betrothal, I assume?"
"Yes, I'd heard about that. A good match there," he said, smiling. "How is Rowena taking it?" Cianan
ran his fingers through his hair, "I've missed a lot haven't I? Your mother is well though? I should see
her more often, I never intended to become a recluse, it just seems to have gone that way in recent
months."
"Rowena was agreeable or it would never have gotten this far," Griffith said wryly. "You know how
uncooperative she can be when she chooses. She seems to enjoy Ceanadach's company, and that's the
important thing, I guess. It is only a shame that it got off to such an unfortunate start."
Storm-grey eyes met blue. "Mathair is well, and I am sure she would be delighted to see you. I know
she thinks it is too long since you've been to Talacharn. She worries about you."
He shook his head, "I know, and I've probably done nothing to stop that, I'm sure," he said. "I'm glad
she's doing well. And yourself? How are you doing, cousin?"
"I - could be worse. Better than I have been. Although not entirely happy with that scene back there,"
Griffith said.
Cianan snorted. "Could be worse is still damn bad, Griff." He scrubbed a gloved hand over his face.
"And back there was... disturbing to say the least. The last thing this kingdom needs right now is more
infighting."
"You don't need to tell me that," the other man replied. "But what it needs and what it gets may be two
entirely separate things. I was watching Farachain during the voting. I don't think anything anybody
says is going to change his mind. Some don't want Valin back out of greed and opportunism. Others,
like Farachain, just don't like the idea of an elf on the throne. He's so conservative, he's fossilised, and
he's fairly rock-like in his stubbornness too."
"A rock might actually vote with the times," Cianan said. "There are too many of his type on the
council though, and it's becoming more apparent every year. There are times I don't know what I'd
prefer, backward conservatism, or the scheming hatred some of them have shown over the years."
"Tell me about it," Griffith muttered with heartfelt agreement. He glanced over at his cousin.
"Have you got something you need to hurry back home for? If not, you're more than welcome to stop
off at Talacharn first. You could let Mathair feed you and fuss over you for a bit." He grinned. "You'd
be doing me a favour by re-directing her attentions away from me for awhile."


                                                    ***


Lord Tobin Black led his wife by the hand down a hallway in Corin, a mischievous smile tugging at the
edge of his mouth. He had refused to tell her where they were going, or what they were doing – this
was something she had to see for herself. He nodded to Cullen, who smiled at Fionna, then swung open
the double doors that led into the nursery where Valin was seated in a chair, Va’Lan asleep against his
chest.
The King lifted his head, his features lighting with pleasure at the sight of a woman he still considered
a sister – despite their respective parent’s divorce.
"Tobin, if you don't tell me what's going on in a minute," Fionna was saying as the doors swung open,
"I'll... Oh!" The blonde stopped short, azure eyes widening. "Valin?" The words were a disbelieving
whisper.
She took a hesitant step forward, her hands lifting to her mouth. Tears shimmered in her eyes. "Are you
real? I mean, I'm not imagining this, am I?" She hovered, caught between the urge to hug him, and the
fear that she was hallucinating. It wasn't as if she hadn't had other doubts about her sanity in recent
days. She was still recovering from the talking horse incident.
Valin smiled, used to the shocked reactions by now. The least surprised had been his children; the
young often took things more in stride than their elders did. “Dagar, Teren,” he said quietly. “I’m quite
real.” The boy in his arms stirred a little, making a noise in his sleep and snuggling closer to his father.
The elf looked down and kissed the top of Va’Lan’s head, then rose from the chair to settle him onto a
nearby chaise.
Straightening, he turned to Fionna and grinned with a slightly impish sparkle in his eyes. “Well then,
come give me a hug, or aren’t you glad to see me?”
The choked sound that escaped her was part-sob, part-laugh. Throwing herself into his arms, she
hugged him tightly. "Gods, I've missed you," she said. "It's just not been the same."
Her gaze slid to her husband. "And you, why didn't you warn me? I ought to beat you over the head
with the nearest heavy object."
“Likely just for that reason,” Valin teased, planting an affectionate kiss in Fionna’s hair.
Tobin grinned a little guiltily at his wife, then winked. “You’re beautiful when you’re indignant, why
would I pass up a chance to see that?”
Valin laughed and released his hold on Fionna. “I hear Corbin is growing fast – and through things?
How is motherhood treating you?”
The blonde coloured at the expression on her husband's face, happiness glowing in her eyes.
"Motherhood is wonderful. Corbin can be a holy terror at times, and you haven't experienced panic
until a child with the ability to both shapeshift and phase through things starts trying to dive off
balconies, but... I wouldn't change him for the world." She squeezed Valin's fingers.
"You should come and visit when you get a chance. I'm sure everything must all seem a bit mad at the
moment, I can't begin to imagine all the things you're having to catch up on, but if you're looking for a
place to escape to, Castle Black is always there." She paused.
"I'm sorry about Anaya," she said softly.
Valin’s smile faded and then stuttered back again. “You’re the first person that has actually mentioned
her name to me,” he said quietly. “I miss her every moment of every day – but I’ve been given this
second chance and with or without her, I have to put my Kingdom first. It needs me, whether half the
Lords think so or not.”
"Everyone's probably too afraid that they will hurt you if they do mention her," Fionna said. Her smile
was gentle. "I can understand that. But she was a major part of your life - your wife, the mother of your
children..." Her gaze went to Va'Lan and then back to his father.
"Skirting around that won't make you miss her any the less, won't make others miss her any the less. I
miss her too; she was my friend." Her heart ached, her mixed emotions swirling through her expressive
eyes: joy at Valin's return, compassion for his loss, her own grief for Anaya. "But you're right, I think
this country does need you. Just remember that Valin the King is not all that you are. You are also Valin
the man, and he is far more important to me and a lot of other people."
“Keeping busy keeps my mind off her,” Valin admitted, “I need the Kingdom as much as she needs
me.” His gaze wandered to Va’Lan again and he sighed. “Cullen and I make an odd pair, don’t we? He
has lost so much, and so have I. He has Kara, and his unborn children, I have my children and my
Kingdom – you make do and fight on with what you have left, I guess.”
"That's all anyone can do," Fionna agreed. "Life is hard and not always fair. Unfortunately, we don't get
a lot of choices in the cards we get dealt. We just have to make the most of what we have." She looked
over at Tobin. "And sometimes we get a lucky break."
Valin smiled and looked from Fionna to a grinning Tobin and back again. “I was lucky for awhile,” he
said, “and blessed – that’s a good thing.”


                                                  ***


Jerri shoved her hair back from her face and stifled a yawn with the palm of her hand as she shuffled
out of her bedroom in search of food. Zenith had passed, the heat easing slightly, and this nap in the
middle of the day thing was something she could get use to. Yawning, she stretched and wiggled her
toes in the fluffy bunny slippers on her feet, then shrieked and jumped backwards – hitting a drink cart
and knocking glass flying as three men appeared in the center of the room.
Not something she would normally complain about, but the abruptness of it was startling. “Will you
know that off,” she said to Chezlar in an accusatory tone. “I’m only human; you’re going to give me a
heart attack!” Relief coloured her words as she observed that Galain was safe and sound, and she raised
an eyebrow when she realized that the S’Hean King was bleeding.
The Changeling Prince nodded politely to Jerri, a bit of humour turning the edge of his mouth. “I return
these two to you, milady, safe and sound, as promised.”
“Well, I’ll give you that,” Jerri said, “though that one seems to be bleeding a little.”
“My fault,” Ro explained, opening his large hand to reveal an even slice in his palm. “It’ll heal up
quick enough. We’ll just be on our way now and leave you two to… whatever.” His half-smile was wry
and Chezlar clapped a hand on his shoulder and they both disappeared again.
Galain was a shade too late to retort and stared at empty air for a moment before he turned back to
Jerri.
"As you can see, we behaved ourselves," he said dryly. "Drew my dagger, but not on him." He
shrugged and then inspected Jerri with narrowed eyes, stopping momentarily at the bunny slippers
before shaking his head and meeting her eyes again. "How've you been? Adjusting all right?" he asked.
Jerri grinned brightly. “Oh you know me, I tend to make myself at home in any situation. I like the
S’Heans – friendly bunch.” Shuffling closer she kissed him lightly in greeting and stroked the side of
his face with her thumb. “So what happened? Where did you go? Tell me all about it, can’t leave a girl
in suspense.”
Galain shook his head slightly and shrugged, although the sideways look he gave Jerri might have
spoken volumes. Overall, he was amused that she'd the S'Heans so friendly. She was quite friendly
herself and he'd been more than inattentive to her since their first and so far last time together. That
didn't bother him too deeply.
"You want all the gory details?" he asked and then smiled a little. The expression was a tired one, but
he couln't help it. "I went back in time and stopped something that might have made a lot of people
happy, but... it wouldn't have made an entire people happy. Doesn't that sound weird?"
Jerri grinned a little sheepishly beneath his sideways scrutiny, but her eyes were sparkling. She’d been
quite clear about her allergy to relationships when they’d met, and there was nothing between them but
one crazy, Viagra inspired night and an amiable friendship. As Jerri had said once, she certainly
wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers, but she understood if he never crawled between her –
sheets, again.
A perplexed expression settled across the blonde’s lovely features and she tilted her head. “That was
murky. What did you stop?” She fluttered her hands, urging him towards a chair and a drink.
Galain chuckled, weirdly pleased as he obeyed her flutters and sat down. He could smell himself:
outdoors, wild, some small blood although not his own. It was good.
"Is that coffee? I want coffee," he said. Alcohol killed the edge and he never wanted the edge dead. He
gave Jerri an apologetic smile and wiped at his brow.
"I stopped myself from getting killed. It's weird. I didn't know it would be me. Thought it'd be
An'Thaya or B'Rodyn... It was right before we brought Corin back." He paused. "There's so much more
to it though. It was weird... just weird." 'Weird' was his particular adjective of the moment.
Jerri blinked and stared at him for a moment, then moved to pour him a cup of coffee. The staff
apparently remembered the Elen Prince and his love for the non-S’Hean beverage, and had gone
through the trouble of procuring it for him. Completely unaware of their efforts, Jerri was happy to see
it too.
“Ok, I’m still trying to deal with the concept of timetravel. I was just getting use to the fact that I’ve
been transported across the universe for no apparent reason into a veritable fantasy land. So you went
back in time, and stopped someone from killing… you.” A blank expression followed. “That must have
been surreal, and the very least.”
Blue eyes lifted to meet sea-green and she smiled in a self-amused manner. “I’m afraid you are going to
have to tell me more. What was so weird about it… aside from the obvious.”
Galain took the cup of coffee from Jerri, immensely grateful for the hot brew and the thoughtful person
who had remembered to provide it.
"Thank you," he said and then threw himself into the nearest chair and uncharacteristically patted his
lap, inviting Jerri to join him. "It was surreal. That was a special night not only because it was the night
before Corin was returned, but because... An'Thaya, my first wife, and I figured things out between us
that night. I had to sit there for hours and listen to myself and her talk. I've been pretty good at
purposefully forgetting stuff and I think the Fates were laughing their collective asses off while I sat
there, unable to move and forced to listen to myself from all those years ago."
He made a face and downed more of the coffee.
"I've probably had an epiphany but it's going to take me a little to figure it all out," he continued.
"When this is all over, when Callan, An'Thaya and Ghetsuhm are returned home, I know I need to talk
to An'Thaya. Definitely." There was no doubt in the elf's mind that everyone would be found, he simply
couldn't imagine otherwise.
"The weirdest thing of all was that Y'Roden," he was surprised he could finally say that man's name
and looked bewildered for a moment before he continued, "that he and I actually aren't half bad as a
team. I mean, we've done okay in the past, but we worked Tallin over pretty good -- shook him up
pretty badly I think." He buried his nose into his coffee. "I actually didn't think about killing him." He
gave Jerri a rueful look. "I sound insane to you, but honestly, I might be getting my sanity back. What
do you mean fantasy land?" The caffeine was kicking in.
Jerri looked mildly surprised for a split second, then slid into Galain’s lap and made herself
comfortable – which involved a little wiggling and wrapping an arm around his shoulders. She listened
quietly and shook her head in amazement when he finished.
“I’m not sure I could do that – go back and listen to myself, that is. That goes beyond surreal into
uncharted territory.” She smiled, unusually soft for her. “You don’t sound insane, you sound like
someone that is finding their footing on dry land again after a long time at sea. It’s strange, I don’t
know you at all, but you sound more and more like you every day now. Something in the back of your
eyes, I think, is still that person that loved life.
“Ah… fantasy land,” she laughed and gently tweaked the tip of Galain’s ear. “This is all fantastical;
none of this exists where I come from. It’s like I’ve been tossed through the silver screen into a Peter
Jackson movie or something. Elves, fairies, big winged guys with liquid eyes -- time travel. It’s all a bit
much for my poor little human mind to take.”
"Hmmph," was all Galain could reply at first. He stared off into some unseen distance and thought. Had
he been that bad that even a near stranger recognized he hadn't been himself for a while? He knew it
was so, but he didn't like acknowledging it -- truly acknowledging it and knowing he was going to have
to change or else commit himself to some loony bin for the remainder of his life. He wasn't any good
for anyone and with a stab to his heart he thought of his youngest child, Aarien. She was growing up
and fast and she'd always been a fairly observant child to say the least. And so... he knew he was on
some new path, a healthier one that he'd been treading.
"I don't think I want to volunteer to hear myself again like that," he finally said. "But the way things
work... I'll probably have to again. Life's just stupid that way." He shrugged and then realized his coffee
cup was empty. He sighed and stared at it woefully. "There's so much I wish I could have done
differently, but I'm not stupid. I would still do the same because there's no changing me or whomever.
We do what we do -- perhaps in a different sequence, but it will all wash out the same. If I acted then
with what I knew now... I think despite that everything would still be as it is, or it would turn out that
way eventually. Who is this Peter Jackson?" he shifted and regarded Jerri intently. "I know about
movies, but I don't know about him." He ran his hands through her mess of hair for a few moments.
"It's after Zenith and I bet you're hungry. Let's find some food and let you do the talking."
Jerri would have purred, if she’d been able too. Her smile was lazy, sensual – eyes going slightly hazy
as they gazed into Galain’s lovely sea-greens. “Food would be a fantastic idea,” she murmured. “I’m
starving.”
Galain sat his empty coffee cup on the floor and paused before he looked back at Jerri and shook his
head.
"I just bet you are, " he said.
The blonde laughed and leaned in to kiss him lightly on the mouth. “A girl can only live with so much
temptation, you know. Everything looks delicious around these parts.”
Galain rolled his eyes and gave Jerri a long look. He hadn't minded the kiss and gave her a quick smile.
"I'm tempted to agree, but my belly is speaking louder right now," he said, his face coloring slightly.
That and his mind was still spinning. There was more than just food to digest and he had no idea if he'd
get the time.
Jerri’s eyes danced merrily and she slid out of his lap, her hand trailing down his muscular frame in the
process. “Food it is then,” she said laughingly. “But just to further mess with your head,” she added,
letting her robe fall to the floor to reveal nothing beneath as she walked out onto the balcony where
breakfast was waiting. “I’m eating in the nude.”
Galain knew his jaw had dropped and there was nothing he could do to pull it back up.
"Well that's... that's just wrong," he said mildly, following after her nevertheless


                                                   ***


After Chezlar left, Ro unstrapped his bastard-sword and set it aside. Uncorking a bottle of Hell’s Fire
with his teeth he doused the open wound on his palm and closed his eyes as the pain ate into his flesh –
distracting him from the real agony in his soul. So close… He’d been so close, and so skrunning
powerless to do anything. It festered, growing into a swamping rage in his mind that left the S’Hean
shaking where he stood, his fist clenched so hard that blood and alcohol dripped freely between his
fingers to the floor.
She had lost count the number of times she’d come up to check if Ro and Galain were back yet and she
was fairly certain that Ja’Kel was getting his amusement out of it. Forest greens glanced towards the
Hyem-Sirke then to the open door and to the figure inside.
Shadow bit back a sigh and walked in. “I can grab a couple of daggers if you need to get that out of
your system.”
Ro shook his head – seemingly unsurprised by Shadow’s sudden appearance. “It won’t do any good
right now. I had him, Shady. One word and Galain would have slit him open from ear to ear. But he has
Ghet, and he was right. Anything happens to him, we may never find her.”
“It wouldn’t be impossible; it would just take some time.” Shadow nodded towards his hand then held
out her own. “I just want to make sure there’s no serious damage. Talk. ”
The half-elf looked down at his hand, and suddenly smirked. “The bastard is in for a hell of a surprise,”
he said through his teeth. “I marked him – she’ll know I’m looking for her. She’d know anyway, but a
good solid message doesn’t hurt.”
Ro sighed and stretched out his fingers, holding out his palm for her to examine the shallow cut.
“Nothing serious, just enough to bleed all over the back of his cloak.” He shook his head. “I can’t
believe I went that long without seriously contemplating murdering Galain once. We actually make a
quite effective team – should that worry me?” There was a touch of humour to his tone, the first in
awhile.
“It can still cause problems,” satisfied, she let go of his hand. There really wasn’t any use to healing it
since it was minor, and the pain would help her adopted father.
Shadow flashed a grin, “Probably. But you two are more alike than what either of you have ever
wanted pointed out to you. You’re both single minded, occasionally annoying to the point of a good
thrashing, berserking bastards. And I say that with love.”
The Taurësúlë found a chair and curled up in it, “Really though, you’re both formidable on your own,
when you’re working together its more so. If Tallin isn’t thinking he has a problem on his hands then
he’s a bloody idiot. Plus he has Ghetsuhm. Play cat and mouse long enough and maybe he’ll hand her
over willingly to get away from all three of you and save the sane part of his insanity.”
“In some ways, perhaps,” Ro grudgingly admitted, “but there are other ways in which we are vastly
different.” Bottle in hand, he slumped into a chair across from Shadow and swigged some down before
he spoke again. “There isn’t a logical thought in Tallin’s head. There can’t be, he’s bugshit crazy. Who
the hells kills his own brothers and tries skruns is own niece?”
A quick shake of the head betrayed that he knew he was being hypocritical. “Right, who tries to kill
their own parents and rapes their own sister. Obviously bugshit runs in the family.”
“Stop that line of thought right there. His came out of jealousy, yours didn’t.” Shadow snapped. The
Taurësúlë all but glared at him before shoving her hand back through her hair and leaned her head back
against the chair and stared at the ceiling.
“Okay. So what is the plan now? And what time did you go back to anyway? That probably isn’t my
business, is it? But surely there is a clue in the time frame he chose.”
Ro shrugged. It was pretty easy in the thick of things to try to vindicate behaviour, but he knew he’d
been a monster in the past. It helped to remember that, it kept him from reverting.
“We wait – there isn’t much else we can do. We went back to the night before An’Thaya and Galain
brought Corin out of Tenobrous. He was going to try to kill Galain.”
“Gent said he tried to kill Tager? And now Galain?” she pondered, frowning in thought, “Where’s the
connection other than Aya? Or am I trying to make sense where there isn’t any?” Dropping her head
forward she eyed the bottle in his hand, “You have any more of those? I think I need a drink.”
A bottle fetched from the drink cart was tossed lightly in Shadow’s direction.
“It’s An’Thaya,” Ro said quietly. “If he can alter the past he can get his claws into her. In days gone by
he succeeded in killing both Reece and Tager, but it would have been easier for him if Tager had died a
great deal sooner. Galain was her third Guardian, and now Callan – Callan makes it almost impossible
for him. Take anyone of them out of her history at the right time? It would be disastrous for us all.”
Easily catching the bottle, her nail turned into a black claw that she stuck into the cork and pulled it out
before flicking it back onto the cart.
“So if we go with the idea that he can’t go to the same place twice and he can’t quite get to Callan
unless he went back to a point where Callan was helpless. So that would leave us with what?” She took
a drink and cringed slightly. Hell’s Fire wasn’t something she’d gotten use to quite yet.
“There still has to be something there though. I hate mental puzzles.”
Ro snorfled and choked on his drink. “He’d have to go back to the moment of his hatching for that
one,” he said, “and even then, he’d likely still get bit.” The half-elf shook his head. “I have no idea;
he’s bloody minded and unpredictable. Tallin I mean – though that describes Callan nicely too.”
The S’Hean scrubbed at his forehead and slid deeper down into his chair. “Right now I need to get
really drunk and pass out. Don’t ever make a habit out of travelling through time on a regular basis; it’ll
suck the life out of you.”


                                                    ***


Drysi tucked a lock of raven-black hair behind one pointed ear in an absent fashion and leaned forward
to peer more closely at the scroll laid out on the table in front of her. The writing was crabbed and the
language a little antiquated, but the contents were fascinating - and frustrating. There was no mention
of An'Thaya and Callan anywhere, nor Ghetsuhm for that matter.
She sighed and put it to the side, picking up the next one in her pile.
“This would be easier if they fed us every once in awhile,” Yseult mused, nearly bored to tears. “I’m
about to drop from hunger.”
There was a gentle laugh from the other end of the table. “You’re always hungry, dear,” Belle told her,
“it’s how we can tell you’re a D’Riel.”
A rumbling chuckle escaped Gent from where he sat near his wife. Reaching into a pocket, he pulled
out a Mai’Tus fruit and sent it rolling down the table. “Just make sure you don’t get it on the pages.
I’ve heard scholars grow two heads and breathe fire when their books are endangered.”
"Two heads?" Drysi looked up and blinked at them, emerald eyes a little unfocused. It was clear that
whilst her body might be in the same room with them, her mind was - at least partially - elsewhere.
"What's got two heads?"
Yseult’s jade eyes sparkled with mischief as they met her twin’s gaze. “Well a chimera does, if you
want to get technical, but I think he was referring to folks like Nerdius… erm, Ner’Ius.” She pointed at
another table across the room where the Scroll Keeper in question was deep in concentration.
Drysi's gaze followed her finger, the raven-haired girl's expression still confused. "I see," she said, quite
clearly not seeing at all.
A dark head leaned down beside Yseult, “My brother refers to him as Nerdy.” Mi’Leah’s eyes sparkled
as she put a finger up to her lips and winked. The scroll keeper exchanged discarded scrolls for those
that hadn’t been read yet.
“I believe Lord Argent,” even that title, she noticed, received a dirty, if polite, look. It was obvious to
see how like the Silverleaf twins were. “…is trying to tease, Tyrcaren Drysi.”
“Ah,” Yseult sing-songed, “great minds think alike then.” She smiled brilliantly at Mi’Leah and then
giggled at the expression on Argent’s face. With a content sigh, she bit into a slice of Mai’Tus fruit.
Drysi gave Argent a suspicious look, and then bent down over the scroll in front of her. "What about
this?" she said. "Oh, wait. Maybe not. Dera An'Thaya would have stabbed someone if they tried that."
She shook her head, working her way down the document.
Yseult lowered the segment of fruit she’d been about to inhale and eyed her twin across the table.
“Tried what – exactly?”
"Hmm...?" Drysi blinked up at her again. "Oh. There was something about laying hands on a suspicious
stranger, but Dera An'Thaya is the Amazon Queen, and Amazons don't like people just 'laying hands' on
them. So it can't be her... can it?"
She looked down at the scroll. "If it is her, there doesn't appear to be any mention of Callan, and he
doesn't seem like the type to be particularly easy to miss. He's kind of..." She waved a hand in a vague
gesture. "Well, noticeable."
Belle twittered at her end of the table and snorted behind a sheaf of parchment. “That’s one way of
putting it,” she said. “Obnoxious and loud might be another.”


                                                    ***


Valin felt an instant pang of regret when the doors open to admit his father to the chambers. Y’Roden
looked haggard and tired, and from the look in his eyes, likely on the tail end of a bender. He was the
eldest son of this man – yet he was also a King, they both were, and as such – they both understood
what was at stake. Y’Roden would do what was necessary.
“Tyrne Y’Roden,” Valin said with a solemn nod, the formality of the greeting establishing just what the
meeting was about.
“Rìgh Valin,” Ro responded in kind. His attention turned briefly to the other two people in the room.
“Captain Nightfall, High Elder Summerlin.” A flicker of a smile touched the S’Hean’s features. “Shall
we be seated? From what Roc had to say, there is something momentous afoot.”
Summerlin bowed her head briefly, regretting the formality involved and concerned by Y'Roden's
appearance. She gave her husband a quick glance and then slipped into a chair, and ventured to give
Y'Roden a slow smile.
"Very momentous, your majesty," she said in a low voice. "Something that our son could only request
in person here, with you." And with that she sat back because this was entirely Valin's stage, so to
speak: one King to another King.
Curiosity glimmered in Ro’s jewelled eyes and he returned Summerlin’s smile briefly before looking at
Valin. “A request?” He folded his tall frame into a chair across from the Corinian King and raised an
eyebrow in question. “What manner of request?”
Valin’s changed eyes lingered on his mother for a moment, then shifted to his father. “I need to ask
something of you, as the D’Riel Patriarch, and Tyrne of S’Hea. Corin has upheld her end of our treaty –
the Sword of Peace has held her throne for an acceptable amount of time and Blessed Spirit has
ascended the throne. Corin requests that S’Hea recognize the completion of the stipulations of our
ancestors agreement -- and that she release the Crown to return to its rightful name and title.”
A flicker of surprise betrayed itself in Y’Roden’s eyes, then settled into understanding. The S’Hean
King possessed a quick intellect and a head for politics, and he recognized the reason behind the
motion immediately. Some part of him on a personal level thought that Derwin Modar D’Riel would
have been immensely pleased with his grandson. The Modar was a proud name with a rich history that
had been greatly overshadowed by Derwin’s younger brother, Grendorin – and his actions over the
years.
“S’Hea recognizes that Corin has met the criteria,” he said after a moment’s pause. “She releases her
hold on Corin’s King and names him Valin Modar.”
Weapon-worn fingers reached across the desk, taking a quill from his eldest son’s fingers and
scratching his signature across the parchment. He turned to Summerlin and met her sea-green eyes with
a shared moment of pride in a son who had grown into the man they had raised him to be. He offered
up the quill. “Would Alcarinque of Berelath bear witness?”
"We would," Summerlin replied. She cast a glance toward her son, so changed and strange, yet her son.
She loved him and the expression she cast him was warm. Her smile grew and then she had to hide it
although the residuals hit both Y'Roden and Reece before she picked up the quill and made her
signature.
“Well that was easy enough,” Reece said, visibly relaxing into his chair. “I could use a drink to
celebrate.” His ebony eyes settled on Valin’s face. “Will you change your children’s names as well?”
“Only Va’Lan,” Valin replied. “His is necessary as my heir. The girls will be leaving Corin shortly
anyway. I can’t, in good conscience, keep them here with Tallin up in arms again. I’ve asked Bria to
come to Corin, I’ll be asking her to see that they go safely to Haven. It’s time they learn about their
Mother’s culture anyway – and Ce’Leste is old enough to attend the Ranger Academy.”
“Which Lord was it?” Y’Roden asked blandly. “Farachain?”
“One and the same,” the Corinian King replied with a touch of dark humour. “My pointed ears offend
him.”
“You would think they would be past that by now.” The S’Hean King sighed and nodded as Valin
brought out a bottle of Hell’s Fire. “They’ve known all their lives that Elven blood would hold the
throne. But then, there are S’Heans that still protest human blood holding theirs.” His mouth pulled into
an unpleasant shape. “Not that either of us seem to have much of that left. Every stay in the casket
seems to burn more and more of other genetics out of our DNA.”
“Is that why?” Valin left the rest of the question unsaid, but pointed to his own eyes.
His father nodded. “The eyes at least, you’ll have to ask your A’ma about the dragon.” Ro looked to
Summerlin and raised a questioning eyebrow. “From what I recall though, Melaina was resurrected
without hers as well.”
A dark snicker came from Reece. “One bright thought you can hold onto Valin, at least you’ll outlive
Farachain and likely all of his heirs as well. Y’Roden here isn’t quite so lucky with W’CRen.”
Summerlin waved the alcohol away and gave her husband a reproachful look. But his laughter was
focused on something else and her expression softened slightly. She regarded both Valin and Y'Roden
and shrugged.
"I have no answer about Melaina's dragon or Valin's. They were their own persons however and while
part of the existence of both Mel and Val..." her expression grew sad as Summerwind stirred within her,
a quiet sound of sadness echoing through her mind. "It seems that death is a final answer for the
Alcarin dragon. If they couldn't survive without their Alcarin hosts, then... " she looked away and found
her husband's face. There was too much to be said about the losses and gains her family had become
part of with the D'Riel family and now was not the time. "My children are finding their own way." She
swallowed and then gave the other two men a bright smile.
"It's time for Corin to regain its true King," she said.
“Now that I’ll drink to,” Y’Roden said, raising his glass. “S’Coal.” He clicked its edge against Valin
and Reece’s, who repeated the toast in kind and downed the burning liquid.
Summerlin chuckled and then half stood to reach over and hug her son and kiss his forehead. It was her
way of toasting what had just occurred. "Long live Valin Modar," she said to him, brushing a motherly
hand through his hair and then seating herself again.


                                                   ***


Fechine leaned back against a tree-trunk. It was a peaceful spot with only the splashing of the
waterfalls to disturb the silence. A half-smile touched his lips as he let himself just listen. It was an
almost meditative state, no need to think or do anything except just be. As thinking was when he
seemed to get himself into the most bother these days, just being was oddly relaxing.
His head turned. "Tre'Ver," he said, as his gaze met that of the older elf. "Did I steal your spot?"
The Ra’Vidden smiled and shook his head, teal-green eyes catching the moonlight as he came to a halt
near the tree. “No, there are plenty of places to kick back and make a little music around here. I can
move along if you like?”
Fechine shook his head. "Don't do that just for me. It's not that I mind company." He gave a rueful
smile. "It's just that at the palace there can sometimes be a little too much company, if you get my
meaning."
Tre’Ver laughed -- a warm companionable sound that filled the night air. “I most definitely do,” he
said. Dropping to the grass close by, he unslung his guitar form his back and settled it into his lap.
“Any requests?” he asked.
"I don't know," Fechine said. "What sort of things do you usually play?" A spark of curiosity flickered
in his emerald eyes.
“Usually something melancholy, of course,” Tre’Ver said with a grin, “the ladies like it, for some
reason.” He studied Fechine thoughtfully for a moment. “How about something your father wrote, not
long after I taught him to play?”
Curiosity deepened. "Alright," Fechine said, wondering what sort of song his Addah would have
written.
Tre’Ver nodded and tuned the instrument a little, humming under his breath, then broke into a series of
slow, haunting chords that hung like silk in the night air. He had a strong, clear voice – close enough to
Y’Roden’s singing voice to pull off the song convincingly, the S’Hean words weaving themselves into
a heartbreaking melody.
Til er yona sind mod ne,
Sig tonen ye fra kai olne
Jene ned nodvig skont usere
Kai sunamae om ye skont
Yona kannae kaffe y’maden
Yona kannae kaffe kai ayan
Mie miste om kai ayat
Ditla
Ditla
Til er yona sind mod ne?
The younger elf's expression grew bleak, shadows darkening his emerald gaze. The melody tugged at
his soul, the haunting words exposing wounds that were still raw. Crimson eyes seemed to look out at
him from the shadows, and he could have sworn he heard laughter - darkly seductive and yet strangely
poisonous. He had thought he was healing. Apparently all he was really doing was getting better at
hiding the scars. Gods, what a fool he was.
“I used to see that look in your Addah’s eyes,” Tre’Ver said quietly. “I never intruded, and never asked
– I won’t with you either. I can tell you though, that the look went away over time.”
"Sometimes it feels like I will never shake it off," Fechine replied. He looked out across the pool,
moonlight shimmering off the surface of the water, the mirror-like finish disturbed only by the
waterfalls. "It would be handy at times to be able to just erase memories."
“I suppose it would,” Tre’Ver mused, “but we learn from our experiences. No matter how difficult or
horrible something is to remember, we become who we are by getting through it and moving on.” He
strummed at the strings of his guitar lightly. “I might have chosen never to have been turned into a
Nuru a few years ago, but if I hadn’t been? I might not have Paiden now. I wouldn’t change any of it,
not and risk losing her.”
Fechine's lips twisted into a crooked smile. "Ah, the ever popular 'learning experience' theory," he said.
"You wouldn't believe the number of people who have expounded on that one. They may even be right.
Frankly, though, there are a few educational experiences I could have done without."
He sighed and shook his head. "Ignore me. I'm just being a grouch."
Tre’Ver smiled, mostly to himself. “I think we all feel that way, we never see the strength in ourselves
that result from the nightmares.” He looked up, watching Fechine’s profile.
“Fechine, when I met your father he was haunted, broken by something that… well. I didn’t ask, and
not because I wasn’t curious, but because I didn’t want to know what can make a man look like that.
Now though, he is the strongest, most courageous person I know – and I’m positive that whatever the
hell was he went through, it made him who he is. He still makes mistakes, we all do, but you are on the
path to being a man very much like that. I know that doesn’t make what you are going through any less
traumatic, but it’s a light at the end of a very long tunnel.”
His fingers started to play a soothing tune all of their own accord. “Have the two of you spoken about
it? Whatever it is? It might help to know that you're not alone, to know that no matter how weak and
pathetic you might feel over whatever it was, that it broke him in the same way, and he got past it. So
will you.”
"Sort of," Fechine said. "A few years back." It shook him a little to realise just how long ago it actually
was. Then he shook his head.
"Addah has enough problems to deal with right now. It doesn't seem right to bother him with anything
else."
The song continued for awhile, filling in the silence. “Y’Roden is stricken and feeling helpless at the
moment,” he said. “Perhaps helping his son is just what he needs. Perhaps it is what you both need.”
He glanced up, then away. “But that is completely up to the two of you.”
There was a long silence. "I can't," Fechine said. "I can't ask him." In his mind's eye he saw not just the
pleasure in his father's eyes when he returned from the Crystal Keep, but another scene, far less
pleasant, a few years before. In their way, the pain and anger then had left scars no less deep than those
gained at Samara's hands. "I've screwed up once too often on that front before. I won't do it again."
He pushed himself to his feet. "I should get going. The others will probably be wondering where I've
gotten to. Thank you for the music, it was... interesting. Gutte Ayat."
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked away.
                                                   ***


Early morning found the Lords of Corin assembled once again in chambers, seated at the round table.
Valin remained standing again, preferring to address them on his feet. There was no hesitation in his
voice, his bearing set – he was not backing down. He gripped the royal banner in his fist and lifted the
rumpled material from the stone surface in a clenched fist, accentuating the point as he spoke.
“The Royal Colours of Corin,” he said, “rust, black and gold -- Modar colours, the ancient claim of my
family’s blood. I am the eldest true Modar of the line aside from my sire, but he cannot rule two
Kingdoms fairly. The throne was passed to me – and has merely been held in trust by High Lord
Gardor Wyvern who willingly relinquishes it back to my keeping.
“My son will not be old enough to ascend the throne until all of you and several generations of your
heirs are gone from these lands. None of you can deny that Corin would fare better in the hands of a
rightful King – no matter how competent her Regent.
Last evening S’Hea recognized the fulfillment of our treaty and released Corin from the conditions
written down almost four thousand years ago. I have reclaimed the name Modar and will answer to it
proudly, as will my son. We will restore the Royal House of Modar to her former glory.”
He released the silken pennant, his gaze sweeping around the circle. “Lord Evan Airell has taken ill, so
I do not ask for a decision from you now. We will meet again in two weeks time and your votes will be
recast. I will ask again that you recognize my birthright, and restore my claim to the Corinian Throne.”
Griffith leaned back in his seat, his arms folded casually across his chest. Storm-grey eyes flicked from
one Lord to another, no trace of the hundred and one thoughts flickering rapidly though his mind
evident on his impassive features. It was a bold action, he thought, one that could potentially counter
the arguments of several of the Lords, but would it? Some of those present looked thoughtful, others
scowled or merely grunted in displeasure. It was clear that not all were convinced, although others
could possibly be persuaded.
Lord Afanen Dynawd was not one of those who could possibly be persuaded, although that was his
own personal opinion which he was expressing quite openly with the frown that seemed to have settled
permanently upon his face. Deep within he did have the uncomfortable realization that he could just be
pigheaded, but for the moment he'd stand his ground, stand by his previous vote and wait out the next
two weeks.
"It might take two millennia, not just two weeks," he muttered, casting a dark look Valin's way.
Nevertheless, he had to admit there was some logic involved and the the boy was a canny one. Very
canny.
Deren too was impressed. It was a smart move, taking back the Modar name, and one no-one would
have seen coming. Valin's supporters would accept it, and his opponents would be thrown off by it.
That heir... well, life-span was one thing, but accidents would happen. Things could still be turned
down the track if necessary, but right now... Yes. This was a time to step back and let things play out, to
see what kind of a man this new Valin was.
“An interesting move,” Lord Mórdha said in a thoughtful tone. “I have to admit, I like it. Corin has
been too long without her heritage.” He looked down the length of the table at Valin whilst rubbing the
short beard on his chin. “Two weeks then. By your leave, sire?”
Valin nodded. “If there is nothing else, you are all free to go; this Council is called to a close.”
Farachain's seat grated as he rose abruptly. His nod to Valin was perfunctory at best. "M'Lord," he
growled, and headed for the door.
"Fossilised," Griffith murmured in his cousin's ear, his lips twitching fractionally as his eyes met
Cianan's. Then he too rose from his seat.
"Mo Righ," he said, inclining his head politely.
Valin looked to Gardor, who snorted derisively and shook his head at Farachain’s retreating back.
“Maybe we should just prune those ears of yours,” he said with a wry grin.
“I’ve got a sharp pair of shears,” Tobin said from the other side of Valin.
Beside him, Rhodry snickered and adjusted his eye patch. “While I’d love to help, Rani is expecting me
home.”
The elf rolled his eyes at all three of them, but laughed. “We’ll be leaving my ears alone, go home to
your wife, one eyed wonder, all of your, go home. I’m sure you have a lot of adjustments to make High
Lord Wyvern – take the next two weeks to sort out your family situation.”
“Aye,” Gardor said quietly, “before I go though, I need to talk to you about re-allotment of lands.”
“I thought you might,” Valin said. “Let’s do that now, I’m sure all of you are eager to get settled.” He
laid a hand on Gardor’s shoulder as the other man rose to follow him into private council, the doors
clicking shut behind them.


                                                   ***


In a wild part of Corin’s forest, a few hours ride from a small town and a favourite inn, was a glittering
pool in the center of a dappled wood-glade. The remains of a fire smoked slightly along its banks and
two horses grazed near a pile of tangled blankets. The surface of the water rippled and a dark head
broke through, a large hand sweeping over a handsome face and wiping long, chestnut locks away from
blinking emerald eyes.
Heavy shoulders rolled with smooth, steady strokes as the half-elf swam for shore, the suns setting
drops of water on golden skin sparkling. With a contented sigh, B’Ryan D’Riel waded up to the shore
and shook his naked, well-muscled form like a dog.
His exact twin lounged nearby and laughed aloud.
"Why don't you just bay at the moon next, brother?" he taunted. He'd already taken his swim and had
been enjoying the relative silence of the woods although the pool beckoned to him again. It was hard to
resist, especially as B'Ryen supposed they ought to be on their way. Although the where was up in the
air at the moment.
The elder twin laughed, then threw his head back and spread his arms wide; emitting an eerie howl that
perfectly emulated the cry of a dyrewolf. There was an answer in the far distance, and B’Ryan grinned
toothily. “He sounds hungry.”
Dropping forward the S’Hean landed with his palms to either side of B’Ryen’s head. Water dripped
from his body onto his identical twin’s skin and quickly evaporated in the growing heat of the morning.
For a brief moment, the matching tattoos on their hips brushed over one another and B’Ryan bit his
brother’s lower lip. “I’m hungry too – we should hunt, the next town has some rather pretty prey.”
B'Ryen laughed, huskily this time before he pushed upward and caught B'Ryan's mouth and bit back.
He liked the taste of their blood.
"Then what are we doing lounging around here?" he asked, the question more or less rhetorical. 'Pretty
prey' was always at the top of his list of amusement and they'd been away from such amusement a little
too long in his estimation.
B’Ryan growled, then leaned in and kissed his twin. “I haven’t the faintest.” Pushing back, he slid
down; smearing blood over the crimson horns on B’Ryen’s hip with his mouth before getting to his
feet. “Blonde, brunette or redhead today?”
B'Ryen grinned and sat up. His brother had a remarkable way of awakening his appetites.
"Brunette," he decided aloud.
In the middle of dressing, B’Ryan laughed and rolled his head to the side – several vertebrae snapping
down his spine. “Brunette it is then.” He rolled a gold coin across his knuckles. “Call it,” he said with a
malicious grin, “head or tail?”
"Hells!" B'Ryen got to his feet and stretched, laughing at his brother's offer. "Where's the coin that's got
both?" He leaned over and clamped a hand over his twin's fist and gripped hard.
"But let's go for tails just for the fun of it," he said before he lifted his hand away.
B’Ryan launched the coin upwards, then caught it and slapped it onto his wrist. “Tails – you get first
dibs then on which end you want first.” The half-elf turned and shrugged into his shirt as he
approached their horses, fingers tugging the laces closed. “Tomorrow – tomorrow I say we get
ourselves a pretty youth. I need a change.”
"I'll say," B'Ryen said in return, dressing quickly before loosing his horse. He eyed his brother and gave
him a quick, wicked grin before he leaped easily astride his horse. He adjusted himself a little and
groaned. The brunette could not come soon enough.
His twin brother’s eyes sparkled with dark amusement and he nudged his horse forward. “We’ll just
have to be a little more careful about where we stash the body this time. We wouldn’t want to run low
on good towns to trawl. A barmaid or two goes missing and nobody really notices. They find one turned
inside out and they all get all ‘mob and torches’.”
B'Ryen made a mock face of distaste.
"I just hate the whole mob and torches thing," he said. "They always think it's us." He barked out a
laugh and pulled hard on his horse's reins, causing the animal to rear upward. "Let's go find that
brunette."


                                                    ***

Foxx had spent several days alternating between trying to make Marius feel better, and avoiding
Marius. Then boredom and anxiety had gotten to her. The red head could only come up with two
strategies for the first bit, which repetition had worn thin, and for the second bit? Well there was only
so long that extra long baths, walks in the garden, and meals she didn't really want could keep her
occupied. At first she had wanted something to happen. Something she could do something about so
she could stop feeling so useless. Or at least something distracting. And then she'd figured out how to
distract herself. She'd find Rhagi. And between her first two occupations she'd neatly fitted in the third.
Today was day two. Her red hair was back in a ponytail, her white tshirt and jeans already sticking to
her slightly in the humidity. With her feet bare the half elf was on stealth mode. She didn't want to ask
around, and since on the day previous she hadn't been able to find Rhagi in any of the obvious places,
part of her wondered if he was up to something. It was the part that figured anyone with any Ghetsuhm
in them at all would be up to something. The problem was she had no idea where she'd be if she was
related to Ghetsuhm and up to something in Whispin. But at least trying to be both sneaky and
innocous was a good distraction. Right now she was trying the gardens again.
Rhagi had indeed been up to something, but they were finished now and he'd headed outside to get
some air and clear his head. Also pretty much to get to be alone. He probably should have been in the
library helping his sisters, but he was too restless. He'd only end up hyping up Yseult, and Drysi would
work out that something was wrong. He loved them very much, but they were family, and there were
some things you just didn't talk to family about.
He'd been heading back up to the palace after visiting the Healing Garden when he ran into Foxx. She
didn't look quite her normal self, but he was still damn glad to see her, and just a little guilty that he
hadn't gone looking for her. "Foxx! Dagar!" He enfolded the woman in a hug, and was startled to find
her so small. "How are you? I'm sorry I haven't come to see you, I've been sort of..." He blushed,
suddenly looking much younger, and guilty. "Busy."
Foxx hugged back automatically, grinned wide, and took a step back. She was still trying to figure out
what S'hean she should know that she obviously wasn't knowing, without looking like she didn't know,
when he blushed. Then she squealed "RHAGI!!!" and tried to figure out how you'd swoop someone up
in a hug when they were bigger than you. She settled for looking him up and down and kicking him
lightly in the shin. "You got Big!" It wasn't really surprising she supposed. Especially given Aarien had
been, well no longer in diapers for a start. But still. For a moment she thought she was going to get all
choked up. Then she punched him in the shoulder and swallowed the lump in her throat while taking a
quick look at her toes. then she looked back up, and how weird was it to be looking up! At Rhagi! Blue
green eyes glinted just a little with mischief "Busy, eh?"
Rhagi's blush got deeper. She was still his incredibly cool aunt, and she loved his mother like anything
so she wouldn't be finding this any easier than anyone else. "I did get big. I blame Addah. Mum says
that's best no matter what you're talking about. Here, sit down."
He dropped easily onto the grass and leaned his arms on his knees. "Busy. Yeah. Keeping busy is good,
it stops me thinking about stuff too much. I have this..." The blush deepened: he could feel the heat of
blood in his cheeks. "Mum got me a tutor a couple of years back. He's pretty cool. Matt. You should
meet him. You'd like him. I like him."
Foxx dropped to the grass and sucked back the urge to steeple her fingers, cackle evily, and say
'Indeed'. Instead she grinned "Busy is good. Stuff can be..." the redhead paused to shrug and gesture
randomly before continuing "Escape is sorely underrated. Never mind that though... I'd love to meet
him." The better part of her bit back on 'Is he dreamy? and went with "What subjects does he teach?"
After all, if Ghet had picked him he most probably was dreamy.
Age came back into Rhagi's face as his eyes darkened with thought. Escape is sorely underrated. He
hadn't managed to crystalise it like that, even in his own head, but she appeared to know exactly what
he was doing. It was like a huge weight lifted. "I guess that's something else I've learned," he said
quietly. "It's not like there's anything I can do, anyway, not to help. Addah says I have to stay here. So
it's either sit round being grumpy, or... escape. And I know..." He shrugged, and looked Foxx in the
face. "She'd be okay with it, you know?
"Matt's teaching me biology." The killer blush swept over his face again, suddenly awkward. "That's
not what I mean. Well, it's not... He's a botanist. We do ecology and genetics and stuff. We're making a
cat for Mum. She should have a cat, you know? And I've shown him stuff he hasn't seen. S'Hean stuff.
Plants." Ruefully, he shook his head and laughed. "I'm glad you're here. Really glad."
Foxx couldn't help the laughter that bubbled out. "Well I'm glad you're glad. I am also suddenly
interested in Whispin ecology. What kiiiiind of plants? I'll stop now. Really. For the moment. Cats are
good. I like cats. You can tell me how you're fixing the gravity problem for the cat. I just sort of...
adjust." There was a brief flash of sadness, it was normally the kind of question that would have sent
her off to poke at Duker who then would have rolled his eyes at her before launching into some
incredibly boring explanation. "Nanoids and all, I never really thought about it until I watched Jerri
when we got in." With a deep breath she tossed her head back and stared briefly at the too bright sky as
she pushed the thoughts and feelings down and away. Missing him was hard, she didn't want to do it.
So she looked sideways at Rhagi with a grin. "Or you could tell me more about Matt." Some happiness
would be good. "Does he have dimples? A secret past? Is he tall, dark, and haaaandsome?"
Rhagi looked down at the grass and smiled. "Dimples, yes. Tall, dark and handsome, yes. I guess. For a
human. The tall bit. He's Canadian, one of his parents is French, I think: he has this great accent
anyway. I haven't asked about his secret past." Or much of anything else. "The cat is mostly lynx and
Manx, it's built like..." Wait a minute.
"Foxx? Why are you so sad?"
The redhead gave up sitting and flopped on to her back to better enable her to stare upwards and
pretend she wasn't avoiding eye contact or attempting to corral any emotions. She hadn't counted on
empathy, "Not enough distraction?"
"You're too darn smart kid." Duker got blown up. Well the planet he was on. Dead vaporised. Once
more one with the cosmos. Etc. I'll get over it. Its a time thing. She hadn't even gotten in a good weepy
drunk with Ghet. And Marius was so frustrated, and there was nothing she could do but wait. And wait.
And wait. Wait til it stopped hurting and wait til they could help Ghet and wait for some magical
mystical future time when each moment didn't have layers of unfortunate, bad and worse, and just
maybe she wouldn't feel so stupidly maudlin all the time because things weren't really that bad were
they? She didn't really feel this bad did she? Things had ben getting good. She'd been happy with
Marius. Til this. And Rhagi was too big to throw in the river and just avoid having to talk to about it. "I
was thinking about Duker. He's dead. The science stuff. He'd get all technical and boring with the
explanations. Like I really need a chromosome by nanoid by hormone detail. I used to bug him about it.
I just suddenly remember it and it hurts. And then everything that hurts at all hurts a hundred times
worse."
Rhagi tilted his head to the side and listened, not looking at her, because she needed him to not look at
her. "I'm sorry. I think it's alright to be sad, if your brother died." He wished Ghet was here, suddenly
and painfully. She'd know what to say. She could always make you laugh, when she wasn't driving you
completely skrunning crazy. "I'm not smart, I can just... tell. That's no more clever than you being able
to see. And I'm not smart enough to know what to do about it. Mum would. I really miss her. I try so
hard not to think about her, and when I do... it burns."
Then he did look at her, uncertain what to say but knowing a crashing silence would be so much worse.
"Mum says Marius needs to get in touch with his feelings, whatever than means. He's just scared.
Where he comes from, if someone took a woman from your family and dragged her off and
'dishonoured' her? You'd have to kill her. To get your family honour back. So, y'know, he's screwed up.
He should still be distracting you more.
"So... I'm too old to throw in the river. The twins aren't, though, and neither is Aarien. S'Hean kids are
almost impossible to drown, but with Rav? I don't think that theory's been tested enough. Wanna play?"
Foxx stared upwards letting the light burn floaty black spots into her vision before sitting up and
enjoying the pleasant feeling of disorientation as the world spun at a mild tilt. "Marius, well, he just
needs time too. I didn't realise, that was in his head, about your mom." Fingers dug into the soil briefly
as the half elf turned it over in her mind.
Everything felt so fragile. "And you can think about Ghet whenever you want so long as you remember
we're getting her back."
"You are smart. Because its not just being able to tell, its being willing to tell, and sometimes there's
just nothing to be done about it. There always feels like there should be something you can do, but
sometimes . . Your mom and I would probably go get really drunk and then," she pushed herself
upwards to her feet, wiping the S'hean soil off on her jeans before grinning and stretching a hand out
towards Rhagi "Go Play".
"So where are these kids?"
Rhagi contemplated Foxx's hand, and physics. Then he remembered all that force stuff, and just
reached out and took it, letting her pull him, helping just a bit. "I'm sure you'll get to play with Mum
again. Just, y'know, give the rest of the universe some advance warning so we can get out of the way.
The kids'll be in the nursery, I'm sure Beth won't mind if we take them off her hands for a bit."

                                                   ***

The Lords Fearguis left the council table together, but soon separated when the elder brother spotted
Cianan through the crowd. The tall, dark Corinian said something brief to Deacon and then pushed past
several of his peers in a direct line for the blue-eyed Conchobhair.
They bumped shoulders as the slightly taller, but younger Lord reached him. “Lord Conchobhair? Can
we have a word? There is something I’d been meaning to approach you about.”
Cianan nodded, "Certainly," he said, "walk with me Lord Fearguis, and we'll find somewhere a bit
quieter to speak." Cianan didn't deny that he was more than a bit curious, but he let nothing show
except polite interest for the time being.
The pair made their way down the hall and found an empty meeting chamber that afforded some
privacy and Declan closed the door before joining the older Lord at the table. “I’ll get right to the
point,” he said, “no reason to beat around the bush. If it’s too soon for you, I understand. We both lost
our intendeds when Tallin attempted to take the throne, and I know how difficult it is to get past that.
“However, as Fearguis Major, I’m responsible for my sisters, the youngest of which remains
unmarried. I’ve been lapse, Laliah is already past the age of twenty and I have yet to find her a suitable
husband – a fact she reminds me of at length – and often. I wish for her to be happy, and I know she has
expressed an interest in you. Are you open, Lord Conchobhair, to talk of a betrothal?”
He hadn't been expecting it, though that wasn't to say the thought hadn't crossed his mind before. Over
the last year as the things settled and running the estates didn't take so much of his time, marriage and
the need for an heir had been creeping into his thoughts.
Cianan nodded, what he remembered of Laliah Fearguis was enough to suggest there could be a good
match between them. He would find out more during the betrothal negotiations he was sure. He nodded
once more, sure of decision, "Yes, Lord Fearguis, I think that is a fine idea."
“Excellent.” Declan’s expression was pleased and he reached out to clasp Cianan’s wrist – a gesture of
respect and good intent. “Why don’t we get together in say… a week? I’ll bring my brother as witness,
you choose whomever you like, and we’ll discuss terms. Shall we meet at your estate or mine?”
"A week is perfect," he said, gripping Declan's wrist in kind. "I think my estates will do. Until then,
Lord Fearguis."

                                                     ***

This moment had been a long time coming – too long, if Y’Roden admitted it to himself. Things had
been awkward with his eldest son by Silverthorn for quite some time now, and he was at fault for that.
He was the parent, after all, and Fechine was hurting. Just a child, he was often unaware of how his
actions affected others and he had inherited a huge martyr complex from both of his parents that didn’t
help at all.
Before Tenobrous he had been a different child – a bright and loving child, fun and mischievous.
Samara had destroyed that, as she had destroyed the father thousands of years before. She had nearly
destroyed him again by taking his son – and the effects lingered still.
The half-elf scrubbed at his face with one hand, oddly hesitant for a man that generally barrelled into
life head on and took what he wanted. Then he was knocking on Fechine’s chamber door – the first
attempt at cracking an invisible wall.
Inside, Fechine lifted his head a little to look at the door. "It's open," he said, dropping his head against
the back of the chaise again. He was sprawled, a little untidily, the raven pendant he usually wore
around his neck swinging idly from one hand. A dark brow rose, a hint of surprise sparkling in his
emerald eyes as he saw who his visitor was.
"Addah. I wasn't expecting you."
Y’Roden smiled a little tiredly at his son, his attention straying to the dangling pendant then back to
Fechine’s face. “Hello, m’boy,” he said warmly. “You don’t mind a little company, do you?”
"No. No, not at all," Fechine said. He sat up, eyes narrowing as he took in the look on his father's face.
"What's on your mind?"
Y’Roden settled into a chair across from where his son was sitting and took in Fechine’s expression. It
stung a little, that there was this gap they couldn’t seem to cross.
“I’m more interested in what is on your mind,” he admitted. “It’s been awhile since we’ve talked… I
mean really talked. I think its time we catch up on things. I’m here, and I’ll answer any questions you
want to ask.”
His son blinked, somewhat taken aback. Then realisation dawned. "Have you by chance been having a
little chat with a certain Tre'Ver A'Ren?" he asked, a little irritated that the other man hadn't respected
his genuine wish not to bother his father, particularly given the current situation.
Y’Roden chuckled softly. “Don’t blame Tre’Ver – I’m a bit of a maniac lately and he has been my
sparring partner in the arena. It’s difficult to hide anything form the nexus of the Web when it’s beating
the tar out of you. He didn’t start the conversation; I just picked up his mood on the Web.” He smiled
briefly. “You’re not bothering me, if that is what you’re thinking. You’re my son, and the best
distraction I could have right now.”
"He shouldn't have said anything," Fechine said shortly. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his
thighs. His gaze dropping to the pendant as it swung back and forth between his fingers. His previously
relaxed pose had disappeared, replaced by one that was tense and nervy. Only his stubborn refusal to
give into that kept him in his seat, but he could not completely hide his sudden discomfort. Chestnut
lashes flickered, his gaze unconsciously darting to the balcony as if measuring the distance.
”He didn’t have a choice,” Ro said quietly. He followed the line of Fechine’s antsy glance and stared
out at the waterfalls. “You could fly away,” he said, “but then you wouldn’t have the answers you want
– and probably need. I’ve never spoken to any of my children about my past before… I’m offering you
the chance to know, to understand. It might help you understand what happened to you – and why.”
"I told him I couldn't ask," Fechine muttered. He ran a hand through his chestnut hair, leaving it even
more dishevelled than usual. "Not just wouldn't, but couldn't. I learnt my lesson last time; don't go
poking around in things that aren't any of my business." No matter how desperately he might want to
understand, it was easier to live with the incomprehension than the pain of having someone he loved
and respected tear his character to shreds.
Unable to sit still any longer, he uncoiled suddenly from his seat. "I don't expect you to tell me
anything. It isn't necessary."
Ro’s features softened into an indescribably sad expression briefly and his manner remained
uncharacteristically gentle. “It is necessary,” he said. “You are owed an explanation. What happened to
you is no more your fault than what happened to me was mine. It is your business; it has been since the
day she took you. What you do with it – that is entirely up to you, as it was to me.”
Leaning forward, the half-elf stared at the floor in front of his boots for a moment, then lifted his head
to look Fechine in the eye. “Ask me. Ask me all the questions I know are boiling around in your brain.
Why? Why you? Where did she come from? What does it have to do with me? You have to be
wondering.”
A short laugh escaped his son. "Oh, no. I've always known why it was me. She was very clear about
that. She had a tendency to - reminisce - and she liked the resemblance between us."
He half-turned away, his gaze growing distant. "It's like that Terran fairytale, Goldilocks and the Three
Bears. One bowl of porridge was too hot, one was too cold, but one was just right. Valin, Roc and Ki
were too old, and Rhagi was too young, but I was just right."
The elder elf’s features paled beneath his tan and for a moment, Ro looked as if he might be ill. “I’m
sorry.” The words were hoarse, filled with pain. “I’m the only other person in the universe that knows
what you went through – I never wanted it to touch my children. I’m sorry I didn’t protect you well
enough, that my own weakness in my youth cost you yours.”
Fechine's head snapped around. "It is not your fault," he grated. "You're not perfect. You can't be
expected to..." He broke off, one hand waving in a frustrated gesture.
"I never blamed you. How can it be your fault? Did you stand there and let her take us, or for that
matter open the door and say 'come right on in, take my sons, they'll enjoy the vacation'? No. And you
did what you could to get us back."
Y’Roden smiled and shook his head, not bothering to tell Fechine how much he sounded like
Silverthorn in glorious full temper. It had been one of the reasons Ro had loved her, that strength.
“You’re stronger than me, you know. It’s my fault because she did break me. Not you though, she hurt
you, I can tell that much, but she never broke you down. I set a precedent that made her assume she
could do it to you too.”
His expression was grim as he rose from the chair and strode out onto the balcony, needing the air. “I
wasn’t much older than you were when she took you. She’d been haunting my dreams for years by then
though. I betrayed everyone and everything I loved because I wasn’t strong enough to resist what she
did to me. I became everything she wanted, Fechine. I thought I loved her and I did things…
nightmarish things, all in her name. I fed her need and I learned to love it, to want it.”
The half-elf turned to regard his son with a spark of pride in his eyes. “Not you though – you fought her
every step of the way.”
Fechine shifted uncomfortably. A hot swathe of colour stained his cheek-bones. "First time I've heard
bloody-mindedness listed as a virtue," he said.
He joined his father on the balcony. Resting his elbows on the balustrade, he looked out at the
waterfalls. "Don't make me out to be a hero, Addah. I just... did what I had to do. I thought if I could
keep her attention on me, hold out for long enough, then someone would arrive to rescue us before she
could touch the younger boys. Because the idea of her doing anything to them was far worse to me than
anything she could dream up for me."
He shrugged. "I was lucky. People did come for us. If they hadn't come when they did, maybe the story
would have had a different ending. She had already come close to breaking my mind once." His voice
was bleak as he recalled the horror of watching the demoness take on the form of his best friend,
Meghan. "Maybe if she'd had more time, she'd have succeeded."
“Bloody-mindedness has its uses,” Ro said lightly. He turned and looked at Fechine’s profile. “You
don’t understand, Fechine. Samara is of an ancient, eternal race known as the Ravyel. They embody all
the worst charms of demons, succubi and sirens. It is nothing for them to twist and mould mortal minds
– their powers are irresistible, their song compelling to the strongest of wills. It took Sam a matter of
days to break me – you were there for weeks.
“What you did for your sibling and cousins is just…” Ro shook his head and turned his head away.
“You don’t give yourself enough credit. It took a room full of ridiculously powerful people to ensnare
and bind her – and you fought her off all on your own. She would have succeeded eventually, I don’t
doubt it for a second – but don’t disparage the strength of your own will.”
The S’Hean smiled suddenly, and put a companionable hand on his son’s shoulder. “We are family, all
of us, and we do what we have to do to keep one another safe. Alcarin, Badb Catha, Blackthorn,
D’Riel, Riker, we don’t let each other down, you didn’t let us down. Rhagi, Caolan and the Blackthorn
twins got through that relatively unscathed because of you.” One jewelled emerald eye winked. “Learn
how to take a compliment, you’re a D’Riel – there has to be an ego in there somewhere.”
Fechine laughed suddenly, a genuine sound that had been all too rare in recent years. "Not that much of
a D'Riel then," he said. "Compliments always make me feel awkward, a bit like Ammah."
A crooked smile touched his lips. "Yona Elleska Dai, Addah. Thank you... for putting up with me, I
mean. I'm sure you wanted to smack me aside the ear a time or two."
“Well you are your own man,” Ro said with a smile, “and there is nothing wrong with a little humility
now and then.” His eyes lit up, the darkness in them fading away for a short time and he pulled his son
into a rough but affectionate embrace. “Yona elleska dai mod, Ceren.”

                                                  ***

At forty-six years old, Gardor was still very young for a Corinian who on average lived to be about
one-hundred and fifty years old. He was a Lord, however, and the life expectancy for a feudal noble
was understandably short. Thus they married young, had as many children as fates would allow to
preserve their line, and generally died a bloody death at the end of someone else’s sword.
On his second marriage, and blessed by the fact that he had actually found love a second time, Gardor
was still in his prime and hardly about to retire to some quiet corner of Corin. The Regency had not
suited him – and he had been glad of Valin’s return. Perhaps he was jumping the gun a little by
returning home and making arrangements for his future, but he had every faith that Valin would be
restored to his rightful place.
By force, if need be.
Brilliant-blue eyes examined the four people that had gathered together at his table and the Corinian
shoved a rough hand through his unruly, red hair. “I’m sure you’re not surprised,” he said to his son,
“that I’ve decided to return to my duties as High Lord of Corin. Valin’s return has afforded me to the
chance to return to what I really love. I do not intend, however, to leave you out in the cold so soon
after proving your worth as a Lord.”
If Brenn hadn’t been surprised by the first revelation, he was by the second. He lifted a red eyebrow
slightly in question, sapphire eyes curious. “What did you have in mind, athair?”
“Amherst’s lands,” his father answered. “Wyvern has become way too large for one many to manage; I
intend to break off that chunk of land into Wyvern Minor – if you accept.”
The young man nodded without hesitation. “It would be my honour, athair.”
Gardor smiled briefly before turning his attention to his daughter. Eyes that were equally as blue gazed
back at him from beneath a wealth of dark-red curls, her mouth upturned in a smile – a hand not far
from touching that of the man seated at her side.
“As for you, my Serendip,” Lord Wyvern said in a warm tone. “I have plans for you as well.” His
sparkling gaze leapt to Aaron for a moment and the Corinian’s mouth twitched slightly in amusement.
The Schi often looked ready to bolt at the slightest mention of the word Gardor was about to use.
“I have set aside what use to be Wyvern Minor, when your Cousin still lived. It is to be yours, Seren,
your dowry. When you marry, your husband shall hold a title of his own, and the lands will pass into
his name.”
The young woman’s mouth opened slightly in surprise, and then she laughed. “Athair, you’ve stooped
to a new level of evil.”
“That’s what father’s do, my sweetheart,” Gardor said. The Lord turned his head to regard his wife.
“Do the arrangements suit my lady wife?” he asked. “Does it please you to return to Castle Wyvern?”
Aaron visibly paled, but to his credit he didn’t run screaming from the room. Forest greens appeared
back through a whirl of yellow and narrowed at the Lord before turning to Serendipity.
“I think I agree with you.”
Deirdre listened quietly to Gardor as he dispensed of his lands to his children. She thought of the area
that she had brought to him in their marriage, remembering the beaches where she had run off to many
times to think, to contemplate.
“I’m very please to be home,” she said softly. “There is much to done here, though love, I know there is
no guarantee that you will be able to stay long. But, while you are here you must spend time with your
family.”
She paused for a moment then smiled at him mischievously, “And some time with me wouldn’t hurt.”
She had the grace to blush before the others.
Gardor had a laugh that seemed to come all the way down from his boots to fill the room, and it was
full of loving amusement. “As my Lady wishes,” he teased, leaning in to kiss her cheek. “I think I may
be able to suffer through.”

                                                  ***

"Can I get you something, a drink perhaps?" Faelwen asked. She smiled, the expression welcoming, if
a little nervous. There was something about An'Telya that was just a little intimidating, even when the
other woman wasn't trying to be. It was easy to believe that once she had been a Queen; she still had
the aura of someone used to wielding power.
The tiny S’Hean moved in a flutter of S’Hean skirts as she settled into a chair and nodded an
affirmation. “Mai’Tus wine would be pleasant,” she said, “thank you.” The light caught on the jewels
that decorated the ancient Queen’s temple and cheek as she turned her head to watch Faelwen’s
movements, sending patterns of light playing across her golden-tan skin.
"Of course." The Aarataurean crossed to the side of the room, filling two goblets from the jug that
stood there. Returning, she handed one to the other woman, and then seated herself opposite. Her lips
curved infinitesimally as she took in her guest. They seemed the complete antithesis of one another;
one fair where the other was dark, one tall where the other was petite. Yet, by marriage at least, they
were family. The Gods did, it seemed, work in very mysterious ways.
"I imagine that there must be many changes since you ruled here in S'Hea," Faelwen said quietly.
“Innumerable,” An’Telya admitted. “I ruled a land untouched by civilization. We still lived within the
ancient trees then – though as a people we have not changed overly much.” She sipped at the wine and
smiled at Faelwen. “Tell me of your people, Faelwen. I imagine that the place you have come from is a
great deal different from S’Hea.”
"Oh, very," Faelwen agreed. Her cobalt eyes grew distant as she remembered the land of her birth. "I
come from the Aarataure, the Forest of Dawn, on Elemmiire. My people, a little like the S'Heans, were
originally forest-dwellers, and we still protect those lands, but many of us these days make our home in
Ostohelyanwe - the City of Rainbows - found in the centre of Cloud Lake. It is a very white city, built
of a kind of marble that catches the light and sends it back as a million tiny rainbows, hence the city's
name. Everything is airy, graceful, elegant... I suppose more than anything else our taste runs to
delicacy.
"Perhaps the most obvious difference though is the climate. The Aarataure is more temperate. Your heat
and humidity were something of a shock when I first arrived here, for all that Edana had forewarned
me."
She paused as she brought her goblet to her lips, then continued. "My people originally had a tie to
S'Hea through the Tyrne's first wife, Arianne Badb Catha. Her mother was our current King's sister.
However, when that marriage ended, a more formal treaty was put in place. To seal that treaty, it was
decided that an Aarataurean and a S'Hean would wed. My family, the Helinyetilles, are one of the
Council of Light, the noble Houses of the Aarataure so I was deemed an appropriate subject to carry
out that aspect of the alliance. That is how I came to find myself so far from home; I came to marry one
of the Tyrne's sons, Y'Roce D'Riel."
“I must admit, my contact with off-worlders has been extremely limited,” An’Telya said. “Two or three
perhaps, in all my years – yourself included. In my time, we did not stray outside S’Hea’s wards. I
wasn’t aware that our climate was a hardship for others until just recently.”
Her expression grew thoughtful. “Arranged marriages? How curious. I must admit that is a concept I
find most strange. How is it then, that you came to marry Rem’Sero instead?”
"Ah, that is a long story," came the amused reply. "Arranged marriages are the norm for my people, or
those of my social class anyway. I had always expected my parents to arrange something suitable at
some point, so I was not entirely surprised when they discussed the Aran's intentions with me. I had the
usual concerns, particularly as my betrothed was not only a stranger to me but not even an Aarataurean,
but they were quickly resolved. Prince Y'Roce was both kind and considerate, which is what I had
hoped for in a husband, and if circumstances had been different then I am sure we could have been
content with one another."
Faelwen ran a fingertip around the rim of her goblet. "However, Y'Roce had fallen in love with another
woman before he had ever met me; Kee'Aeryn, I believe her name was. He was... torn. Then I met
Rem'Sero." Her cheeks grew hot.
"There was no dishonour on either side, no-one acted on their feelings when they weren't free to do so.
Yet even though my people rarely marry for love, when I found myself standing with Y'Roce in the
wedding circle, I could not go through with it. I could not make the vows that I needed to make if he
were to be my husband, knowing as I did that not only was his heart not entirely in it, but neither was
my own. If it had just been my own feelings to consider, I might have gone through with it; I was
brought up to put duty first. I couldn't commit everyone to such unhappiness though."
A rueful smile touched her lips. "It was an embarrassing scene. There we were, standing before both
Kings and far more guests than I like to remember, and the bride turns around and says no instead of
yes."
Amusement touched An’Telya’s mouth briefly. “That must have been startling, to say the least.
Obviously it was the right decision to make though. The love between Rem’Sero and yourself is
palpable to anyone in the room. For your story to have taken any other route would have been a
tragedy.”
"It got worse, my bridesmaid attacked the groom with her bouquet," Faelwen confessed, and then
laughed. Looking back on the scene now, she was all too aware of the farcical elements.
"But you're right, I do love Rem'Sero very much. I can't regret making the decision I did, and I'm
grateful to the Tyrah for providing the opportunity she did. It is thanks to her that I stayed here in S'Hea
and that mine and Rem'Sero's relationship was given a chance to grow."
An actual laugh tinkled out of the ancient Queen and her eyes sparkled as brightly as the jewels on her
face. “Beat -- with a bouquet?”
The amusement subsided at the mention of Ghet and An’Telya pursed her lips. “All the more reason
she needs to be returned. I find myself frustrated by lack of vision. I cannot see where she is, not the
smallest wisp of a clue – I’m of no help at all.”
"I don't believe that at all." Faelwen set down her goblet and leaned forward to touch the other woman's
hand with her own. "Have a little faith in yourself. Perhaps it is simply that you are trying to hard - or
that it is not yet meant to be. I do not believe the Tyrah will be lost forever, that seems... unthinkable.
The Tyrne is not the sort of man to just let things lie. But, as hard as it can be to wait because I too
consider Ghetsuhm to be a friend, perhaps the Gods think that it is... not yet time."
An’Telya looked at Faelwen, her pale eyes darkening slightly. “I fear the Gods have no hand in this,”
she said, “just one… just one, and it will not end well. I have seen possible futures, and if Ghetsuhm is
not returned to us…” She fell silent, then shook off the sudden heavy feeling. “I’m sorry. Let’s return to
some lighter conversation, shall we? How is your beautiful daughter?”
An icy chill trickled down Faelwen's spine at the S'Hean's words, and her smile as she accepted the
change of topic was just a little hesitant. "Aurewen is... wonderful. She is such a sunny little girl," she
said, launching into a description of her daughter's latest fascinations.

                                                    ***

The trouble with having been dead so long, was all the things one missed along the way. Y’Ardyn had
been wandering around during the past weeks like a wide-eyed child, taking in all the changes that had
gone on in what had once been his Kingdom. He had to wonder how An’Telya felt – it was surreal
enough for him, he couldn’t imagine how much time had gone by between for her.
For him, there was as much familiar – and strong family ties. A son, a grandson, a nephew and two
nieces – though one was now missing. There were also a plentiful number of grand-nieces and grand-
nephews – but none had caught his attention as fast and firmly as Rhagi.
The boy was astoundingly bright and easy to talk to, when you could draw a conversation out of him.
There was a curious melancholy to him as well that Y’Ardyn didn’t understand, but didn’t poke at
either.
Early in the evening, he found his footsteps had carried him to the top floor of Nenlante, and right to
Rhagi’s door. He’d thought about dropping in to see Y’Roden, then decided not to disturb his nephew
and rapped on the boy’s door instead.
Rhagi, just towelling down his hair after his bath, tilted his head at the knock. It wasn't one he knew, so
not Drysi or Yse or his father. Or Matt.
He pulled on a sleeveless shirt and moved to the door, barefoot, unlaced, and with his hair loose down
his back. "Doro Y'Ardyn." Despite his surprise, or perhaps because of it, the title came easily. He didn't
have any actual uncles. "Um, come in, sit down. It's a bit messy."
“Rhagi,” Y’Ardyn greeted in a pleased tone, then laughed lightly. “No messier than my room, I assure
you. Wait… I may have spoken too soon – is that some sort of experiment gone awry?” He stepped
over a bit of clutter and half-fell into a chair, his eyes crinkling at the edges much like Y’Roden’s did
when he was teasing. “I suppose I should have asked if I was interrupting anything. I’m sure you have
better things to do than to amuse dodgy old people.”
Rhagi was often at his most genuine when startled, and he laughed. "But Doro Y'Ardyn, everyone here
is old and dodgy. From my point of view, anyway. Mum and Doro Callan are incredibly dodgy."
Glancing sideways, he blushed, and tried to push a stack of equipment out of the way. It actually had
been an experiment gone slightly wrong, when someone had got a bit distracted... "I'm not sure I can be
very amusing though. Yseult, she's amusing. And if there's one thing I'm short of lately, it's better things
to do. Since Mum went..." He shrugged, and dropped into a chair. "I've been completely useless."
“I didn’t get to meet Callan,” Y’Ardyn said. “But if you put him in the same category as your mother,
he must be an interesting fellow. He’d have to be, for An’Thaya to have married him.”
The S’Hean pushed his long, dark hair back behind one shoulder and studied Rhagi for a moment –
though not long enough to make him uncomfortable. “It’s understandable, you know. If it helps, your
Addah hasn’t been any better off than I’m sure you feel. Worry will do that, especially to a strong
person who isn’t use to feeling helpless.”
Rhagi nodded slowly. "I know. Right now I think... he needs to not have to worry about us. To sort of
not be our Addah, just for a while. I've been trying to help with R'Av and Den so he doesn't have to
worry about them. But you know, it's not just him. Marius, Foxx, Galain, they're all scared and
grieving. Galain loves her as much as Addah does. And I think it's hard for them, knowing they can't
hide it from me. It's easier to keep away."
Y’Ardyn tilted his head. “You’ll have to forgive if I’ve seemed insensitive – this is all new to me.
When I died things were much different. I haven’t met Marius or Foxx, and it’s difficult for me to
comprehend Galain loving anyone but An’Thaya. So much has happened…”
He smiled then. “Just look at you… an entire person with a life and plans that I hardly know at all,
despite our close blood ties. It’s surreal to just… wake up one day and find all this. So much changed.
And your father. Now there is the biggest change of all.”
Rhagi flushed, but his lips quirked in a smile. "You'll like Foxx. Everybody does. And don't worry
about being detached: it's easier for me to deal with. Calmer. I'm not surprised the change is hard to
deal with, I'm only young and I've seen so much myself. Galain was my step-father when I was little..."
He trailed off, aware he was talking far more than usual and not at all sure what he was trying to say.
"Addah... I don't really understand him. I think there's a lot he doesn't let us see. He's always been a
great father, but... there's more, and I can never quite see it. He's strong, but my mother is his heart. She
gentles his edge." He grimaced, aware yet again of the inadequacy of any language to express what he
picked up from his parents.
Unusually, he lifted his eyes to meet Y'Ardyn's. Normally, he picked up enough of what someone was
feeling not to need to look at them, and he preferred not to. "I know... I'm not stupid, there's a lot about
my father's past that is... missing. And that's okay. It's his choice, not to tell us."
“Your father has always been closed up, except for when he was a child.” Y’Ardyn laughed softly. “He
was quite precocious as a ten year old.” The old King’s eyes seemed to drift for a moment in memory.
“I’m glad your mother, at least, sees through to the heart of him now. Jaran willing, she’ll be returned
to us soon, for all our sakes. S’Hea suffers without her Queen.”
His attention refocused and he smiled with a growing affection at his grand-nephew. “So tell me, what
is all this,” he gestured at the various instruments and the like scattered about the room. “I’ve never
seen anything quite like some of it.”
"I just can't imagine Addah as a child." Rhagi glanced around, trying to see the ecclectic mix of his
parents' worlds scattered about him through someone else's eyes. "A lot of it's lab equipment, for
experiments. This is my computer, it's like... a big crystal reader with millions of crystals already
loaded into it. Mum's always tried to make sure that..." How to put it. "I can always fit back into the
other side of my heritage. Just in case."
Y’Ardyn nodded, “That’s wise of her. S’Hean culture can be a bit overbearing, from what I’ve seen by
comparison. It’s easy to lose everything else in the process.” He reached out, then pulled his fingers
back. “A big crystal reader you say? That’s amazing. What sort of information do you keep in it?” He
paused and grinned at Rhagi. “I have memory crystals, now that I think of it. Of your Addah, I mean.”
Rhagi's eyes lit. "Really? Really? Now, that I'd like to see. And you know, Mum would probably laugh
til she fell over and went purple." It was reassuring, to think of Ghet having that kind of happy surprise
in her future, the sort of thing he instinctively knew would be hugely healing for her.
Returning his gaze to his computer, he shrugged awkwardly. "It's hooked to Mum's, which is connected
to a satelite she had towed in that's linked to the TIFnet. So it's constantly feeding in new information.
News, science, books, movies. And you know, it has our family albums on it, Mum's and Addah's
recordings back to before I was born. Would you like to see?" he offered shyly.
The S’Hean’s emerald eyes lit with utter fascination, though he was grinning over Rhagi’s eagerness to
see the crystals too. “I’m still finding things, everything was packed away after I died and there are a
lot of trunks in there. I’ll dig them out and we’ll arrange an afternoon, just the two of us, to go through
them. You can pick out the ones you like best to show your mother.”
He nodded then, sitting forward. “I would love to see.”

                                                   ***

The doors to Ghet’s chambers swung open so hard they banged off the walls, admitting the Demon
Mage in a swirl of dark cloak and glinting, icy eyes. There was a purpose to his gait – and a plan that
had been burning in him for over a week, since his last defeat at the hands of Y’Roden D’Riel and
Galain Alcarin.
This time, he was going in prepared. One way or another, he was going to win this – and to take down
the S’Hean King, he needed something from his Queen first.
Ghet yelped, startled, and scrabbled backwards, out of her chair. Fear rose in her, and yet... it was a
relief. Too much nothing, too much thick white fog wrapping around her, deadening everything. At
least when he frightened her she felt something.
The emptiness ate at her, like the marks on her skin she couldn't make sense of. Signifying nothing,
when she knew somehow they should sing of passion. She was dying of an excess of emptiness.
And then he stormed in, full of sound and fury. He got her back up automatically, but gods, at least it
was something. "What is it?"
Head lowered like a hunting wolf, Tallin’s lips peeled back from his teeth in a feral grin. “I just need a
little of… this and that from you. I’d say this won’t hurt a bit…” his fingers flexed and a dagger fell
from his sleeve, flashing in the light from the fire as he caught the hilt in lithe fingers, “but that
wouldn’t be very honest of me.”
Ghet flushed. Given the choice, she'd have paled like a normal person, but her blood didn't seem to be
under her control. Her heart thumped against her ribs, making her feel more alive than, ironically, she
could remember being before. "Why?" she demanded, her voice harsh. "Why would you hurt me?
What have I done, I don't know!"
“Because I like it,” he answered simply. The heavy-built human lunged forward and grabbed Ghet by
the neck, heaving her back against the wall. The tip of the small blade touched on the top of one large,
round breast and dug in slowly until a bead of blood bubbled up and trickled down the side into her
cleavage. “But then, so do you.”
Lost to herself, Ghet was astonished and horrified by her own reaction. A wash of adrenaline hazed her
vision as the knife cut across her skin, and the strangled groan she made was not entirely pain.
She closed her eyes, disgusted, and dropped her head back against the wall. "Do what you're going to
do, and be done with it."
Tallin laughed low in his throat and dragged the dagger away. Lowering his face and sliding his cheek
across Ghet’s bloody breast he growled against her skin. “Oh, you don’t get off that easy pet… or
maybe you do.”
Inhaling slowly, he smirked and lifted his face to look her in the eye. “Don’t worry – I don’t need
much…” Callused fingers worked at her jeans and fought their way inside. “Just enough to drive a man
insane, just enough to leave you shaking and wet.”
The malice in him was like a slap in the face. She had nothing left but instinct now, so she trusted it. It
told her that yes, she'd been touched like this before, but the way he felt about it was wrong.
It was too late to stop herself responding, but she fought now, her nails clawing at his wrist. "No! You
fucking bastard, get out!" Digging her fingers into his arm, she twisted her hips sideways, despite the
pain it caused her. Her mind chewed at what he'd said, too. She still didn't know who 'he' was, but he
was alive. She had something to fight for, and she had to remember that.
The pain ignited his eyes and Tallin snarled, slamming his wrist into Ghet’s throat and stretching her
body up the wall. His knee drove between her legs and forced them apart, pinning her open to him. “I’d
comply,” he hissed, “or it’ll be more than my fingers.”
Ghet's breath woofed out with the impact, and the hand on her throat stopped her drawing more. She
still fought, on pure instinct. Something about the way he handled her now brought a raw, visceral
terror. It both made her struggle and took the strength out of her, leaving her shaking. Her fingers slid
along his arm and slipped. She would have wept, but she had no air.
Triumph twisted the Demon Mage’s features as his fingers slid into moist heat, working brutally at
Ghet’s flesh. His eyes watched her face intensely and he leaned in to her. “Give in to it, and it will all
be over. Keep fighting and I’ll fuck you here and now.” He laughed, a rasping bit of sound. “Or maybe
that’s what you want.”
Tears leaked from Ghet's hard-shut eyes, terror and self-loathing making her nauseous. There was a
mantra running through her head, a desperate begging for forgiveness from a man whose name was lost
to her. She was so sorry, he must hate her as much as she hated herself, but she could not stand it if this
man raped her. She'd go mad.
She went limp against the wall and shut him out, his scent, his feelings, and pretended he was someone
else. Someone who loved her and wanted to please her. Perhaps she was already just a little bit mad: it
was easy. She could almost see him, inside her head, and her body responded.
Tallin let out a satisfied grunt and tugged his fingers free. “There’s a good girl. Now look at me.” He
eased the pressure of his wrist, letting her breathe, then shifted his grip to wrap hard fingers around her
jaw.
There’s a good girl. Something in the words made her stomach turn over, and she retched. Her eyes
opened briefly and then shut again, her face working as she fought not to throw up. "Skrun dai."
“And here I was thinking you didn’t want to take things that far. I would, if you insisted, but really – I
don’t have the time. I have an appointment to kill him you see.” He rubbed his wet hand on his shirt
and up his chest to his mouth, inhaling the scent of her. “And you’ve just given me a way to make sure
he’s… not quite on his game.”
The human jerked his hand away from her jaw and turned, boot heels clicking across the stone floor as
Tallin made his way to the door. “I may be gone a while, don’t wait up lover.”
In his wake, Ghet fell to the floor, curled in on herself as she cried. "I'm sorry." It was just a whisper
against the floor, muffled by her hair. "I'm so sorry, love."

                                                     ***

The overstuffed chair was comfortable, and an ideal place to watch his children play in the dappled
light from the window on the nursery floor. The twins were seven years old now, and Ce’Leste was
eleven. It was difficult to realize he had missed nearly three years of their lives – that they had been
without both parents because he hadn’t been strong enough to survive the breaking of his bond to
Anaya. He had put himself first, the agony over the loss of his wife had been the focal point of his
world.
This time he would do better, or at least, make sure he did his best to protect them. Right now his
daughters needed to be out of Tallin’s reach – safe with family.
A soft knock at the door broke his train of thought and Valin looked up as Cullen stepped into the room.
“Your Majesty, Prince Lhach Celeblasse to see you.”
“Thank you Cullen, show him in please.”
Lhach nodded his thanks to Cullen as he was shown in.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get use to that,” he muttered, unknowingly sounding a great deal like his mother.
Gold flecked teal eyes turned to Valin, “It’s nice to see you’re with the living again.”
Valin rose from the chair and smiled wryly as he clasped Lhach’s wrist. “Thanks, it’s good to be among
the breathing again. I was expecting Bria – is she alright?”
“Bria is fine,” the Taurësúlë replied, clasping Valin’s wrist. “Physically that is, emotionally she’s rung
out. Kaelan and the girls have been keeping her busy. We thought it would be better if someone else
filled in on this particular trip.”
“I had heard that she and Jason had separated,” Valin said quietly. “Imoreki has been a little rung out
since he and Helena separated as well. I suppose it’s for the best that you came instead.”
The Corinian signed and turned to look at his daughters across the room. “This isn’t easy for me to ask,
but I need someone to take my girls to Haven. They’ll be safe there. Corin is unstable at the moment
and with Tallin pawing around again I can’t keep them here.”
Lhach nodded in answer. He was still coming to terms with his half brother stepping in where Jason
had been at official functions. Jason and he hadn’t gotten along on some aspects, not entirely, and
Helena’s lack of responsibility and duty had been a large one, the circumstances of his leaving Bria had
become a second one.|
He tucked his thoughts back out of the way and nodded once again, this time in understanding. “You
don’t have to ask, consider it done. I’ll see to it that they get settled in myself.”
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I’ll miss them like I’d miss my own arm, but it can’t be
helped. Ce’Leste is old enough for training now anyway – I suppose I have to let go at some point.”
Valin looked at Lhach – the son of his adopted sister, strange how closely everything was connected.
“How are your wife and children?”
“You never let go, they are always your little girl. Just give her about three years and she’ll be mortified
when you call her that.” Lhach chuckled, his attention turning to watching the children play.
“The girls are finding it difficult to find their footing after taking joint thrones, but they’ll find it.
Leuthil is in the guard now. He seems to be enjoying himself. Kae is doing fine, chasing after the other
three who promise to be proper little heathens complete with one refusing to wear trousers.”
Valin’s grin was sudden, and cheeky. “That’s perfectly understandable, trousers are a hindrance. You’re
sure there isn’t any S’Hean in your bloodline?”
A laugh escaped the Ranger, “I don’t know if there is or isn’t, the Silverleafs have certainly gotten
around in their time. Just don’t ask Mieve unless you have a few hours to kill.”
“Well it won’t be any time in the next year then,” Valin said dryly, “I have a feeling the Lords are going
to be keeping me busy.” He ran a hand through his hair, then scrubbed at his face. “Alright, I’ll have the
nanny get them packed up to go and say goodbye to them before you go.”
“Take your time, Valin, if the Lords are going to be at it for long, it’ll be awhile before its safe to bring
them back.”
The King smiled wanly, though there was gratitude in it. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “Thank you.”

                                                    ***

The black Obsidian snorted and bobbed his head as Fechine stroked his nose. The chestnut-haired
youth crooned softly to his mount whose ears flicked back and forth as he did so. A large white tiger
gambolled around their ankles like a kitten. The sight drew a grin from the youth. When he was
younger, Keira had been his constant companion, but she had remained behind with the younger
children when he had gone to the Crystal Keep.
She leapt on a leaf as it tumbled through the air, pinning it to the ground with her forepaws. She
growled in mock-savagery, and then spun suddenly. "B'Rrrroden," she said in a purring growl, leaping
towards the younger boy.
With a laugh the eleven-year-old boy pounced back, wrapping his arms around Keira’s neck and
wrestling with her briefly before tumbling to the ground and rolling back to his feet. Bright eyes landed
on Fechine and he grinned. “Going for a ride? Can I come?”
"Sure, why not?" his older brother said. "We don't mind the company, do we, Barra?" The horse
whickered quietly.
“Great! Addah said I could have Ziv out any time I like,” B'Roden said in an excited tone. “He’s afraid
he isn’t getting enough exercise. Hi Barra!” Lengths of dark hair fell into the young boy’s eyes and he
jogged through the stable to Ziv’s stall and stuck his head in. “Hey boy. Wanna go out?” There was an
answering snort from within, and the huge black stallion stuck his head out to nibble on B’Roden’s
shirt. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
"As I recall, it was always yes where Ziv was concerned," Fechine said with some amusement. "It
didn't take a great deal of encouragement to persuade him to stretch his legs." He finished tacking up
Barra, and led the Obsidian out of the stall. Keira followed delightedly in his wake.
Ziv turned at the neck, flipped his lips up and wiggled them at Fechine, exposing a cheeky amount of
teeth and gum in the process. He was pretty quick to push out of the stall though, and shoved his
muzzle impatiently into the halter B’Roden held up for him. Shaking his head, he stuck it in the small
of the boy’s back as he turned around, and hurried him towards the saddle.
“Hey! I’m going as fast as I can!” B’Ro protested. “Who is riding who here?” Nonetheless, he picked
up the gear and, with a bit of struggling, managed to swing it up onto the Stallion’s back. There were
several grunting noises as he wrestled with the girth, then the two were following Fechine and Barra
out of the stables.
"Having problems?" his older brother asked, trying not to laugh. He rested one arm across his mount's
back as he waited. Keira purred and bounded over. She bounced around Ziv's hooves for a moment,
rearing up for a second onto her hind-legs to touch noses with the horse in greeting.
"Time to rrrride," she purred.
There was a screech of agreement from over their heads and a mid-sized white draeder streaked off of
the roof to land with a thud against Keira’s back. It dug it’s claws into her fur and straddled her neck,
lashing its tail and crooning in excitement.
B’Roden laughed as he swung up into the saddle. “Sault thinks so too – maybe we should have a saddle
made for your Keira.”
Fechine joined in the laughter. The tiger had leapt into the air in a startled fashion, and was now
spinning around wildly, not quite able to twist her spine around far enough to catch hold of the draeder.
Her jaws snapped on thin air - once, twice.
"Oh, leave him be, Keira," Fechine said with a grin. He swung easily up onto Barra's back. "He's only
playing."
The draeder was making raucous noises and clinging to the twisting cat like a seasoned bronco rider,
his white wings beating the tiger’s head.
Ignoring the fray, B’Roden grinned at his elder brother. “So where are we going?” he asked.
"I hadn't really decided," Fechine admitted. He looked over at the younger boy. He had changed so
much since they had last met; he had been little more than a child then. "Do you have a favourite place
that you like to go?"
B’Roden thought about it for a moment, then nodded. “There is a pass over that way that leads up into
the mountain a little. There is this fantastic grassy ledge and its just huge so there is plenty of room for
the horses to graze, and a big ole waterfall crashing down on one side that runs into a small pool on it.
It’s great for… well, sunning.” Something the young boy did a lot of, he tended to feel a bit cranky and
weak if he was inside for too long.
"Sounds good to me," his brother said. He smiled. "Want to lead the way?"
B’Roden beamed, more than pleased that his big brother trusted him to go first. “Sure!” He applied the
slightest pressure to Ziv’s side and the massive stallion snorted, then charged forward, pounding along
the grass towards the rising mountains that framed the valley of Nenlante.
                                                     ***
In the low light of the nursery, Y’Roden had finally fallen asleep – his youngest son, Den’Ayat,
sprawled across his chest in quiet slumber, the second youngest curled beside the couch in and being
uncharacteristically quiet. He had wrapped his father’s arm around himself and was playing with the
material of Ro’s shirt, his little head close to nodding off as well when a sudden illumination in the
corner caught the four-year-old’s attention.
R’Avyen blinked, then tugged on the arm surrounding him. “Addah,” he chirped. “Addah! Wook!
Sparkly!”
Ro woke with a start, his arms instinctively tightening about both sons, then relaxing as he saw who it
was. “Chezlar,” he said groggily. “That time again?”
The Changeling nodded quietly, not wanting to startle Den’Ayat, and waited somewhat patiently as the
S’Hean King organized his sons, snuggling the youngest into a blanket and setting R’Av up next to
him. “Be good, R’Av – Beth is just in the next room, alright? Addah will be back soon.” He kissed his
son’s dark locks, and Den’s halo of reddish-blond curls, then rose and joined the Messenger.
“Have you tried this?” Jerri was asking Galain, “it tastes like honey – but it's not.” She had stuck her
finger into the pot of syrup and was licking it off industriously, just as Chezlar and Y’Roden made an
appearance. “Heh, I’m starting to get use to that,” she commented.
"Hopefully not for long," Galain replied. He put his elbows on a nearby table, dug at his eyes and then
gave Chezlar and Y'Roden a tired look. Jerri was a very industrious young woman and the syrup was
just the least of her wiles. Seriously, there was indeed a row of little pots between them and she'd been
describing what each one was like. He'd merely been observing, torn between amused and distracted.
"You should get Aarien in on this while I'm gone," he offered to the young human woman. "But not
until after she's slept fully." He paused, then stood and leaned forward to kiss Jerri quickly on the
forehead before he gave the two males a troubled look.
"Any way to be prepared for when we're going?" he asked.
Jerri smiled up at Galain, then turned more fully to look at Y’Roden and Chezlar.
“Just remember it is the past,” Chezlar said quietly, “and that it cannot be changed, no matter how
badly what you see might affect you. If you forget, be sure of the consequences.” His hand was still on
Ro’s shoulder, and he reached out for Galain’s as well. “Good luck, to both of you.”
“That’s foreboding,” Ro commented dryly as they disappeared. A moment later, and they were standing
beneath the light of only one sun in a land both men knew well. The S’Hean tilted his head back to
regard the rundown tower they now stood at the base of and his face lost a bit of its colour. “Oh
gods…”
Galain had been about to add his own observation when they'd abruptly left the present and reappeared
in a past that took him very little time to assimilate.
"That's one of the towers that used to guard Alcarinque," he said, his breath escaping him in puffs. He
didn't feel the cold too much, but it was wintry here, dabs of snow littering the foothills and lower
plains of the area. Beyond were the forbidding double mountain ranges that served as his own city's
backdrop. He shot Y'Roden a quick look before he spun about. "Where the hell is he? He can't just
leave us again. Gods!"
“He’s around – you know Chez, always lurking,” Ro muttered. His gaze had never left the tower. Why
would Tallin be here… unless… oh skrun.” The S’Hean bolted for the door. “I hope you’ve been
keeping up on your cardio,” he called back , “We’ve a hell of a number of stairs to climb.”
"Do I look fat to you?" Galain retorted and ran after Y'Roden. He was acquainted with these towers,
but not with this particular moment in time. It had to be Y'Roden who was Tallin's target this time
around and the Elen's long strides ate up the distance between himself and the S'Hean king.
There were sounds from above, shouts and explosions – the screech of steel on steel, all betraying a
battle going on unseen. Y’Roden bounced off the wall as he turned a corner on the stairs, using the
impact as momentum to keep him hurtling upwards. The S’Hean didn’t look back at Galain, instead his
attention focused on getting upwards. Floor after floor sped by until they emerged, finally, on the top
floor.
Ro was there, as he knew he would be, and Fadil as well. The light of an opening portal was near
blinding in the room and a man and a woman were backing towards it, both blond, and both fleeing the
blind hatred emanating from the Prince of Corin. Avathar and Jellhi…
A moment later – they were gone, and darkness fell in the tower. Ro saw himself dart forward, past the
point where the portal had been to what he had been trying to get to all along. Past exhaustion, bloodied
and bruised, he was, impossibly, still on his feet. The figure he gathered tenderly in his arms was hardly
recognizable as the vibrant, beautiful redhead he had loved since the moment they had met.
She was filthy, broken and weak – insane from what had been done to her here, within these walls.
Even now it hurt his heart to see her that way, set his mind spinning with intense emotion. Love – for
her and a burning malevolence for those who had shattered her.
“Kill me, please kill me…”
He heard the words spoken again and his heart dropped, as it had then. Ro had always granted every
wish Ghetsuhm had voiced, but this time – this time he had not.
Galain had skidded to a stop behind Y'Roden, his heart thudding not just from exertion but from the
sheer sense of urgency that had propelled them up the ruined stairs. He'd seen the escaping figures as
well and had felt a wave of shock roll through his mind. But it was the remaining figures that drew the
Elen's most focused attention and he inhaled sharply. Without thinking he started forward, forgetting
precisely why he and the Y'Roden he knew now were here. All he was saw was Ghetsuhm, his
Ghetsuhm. He should have been here, he shouldn't have been imprisoned in Alcarinque, thought to be
dead by everyone else. He should have been here to throttle Avathar's neck and throw Jellhi from the
ragged window just feet away from where they'd portaled out of the tower. He should have been here to
gather Ghetsuhm up into his arms and take her away from here. Not him. A detached voice in his head
reminded him that it was all moot. If he hadn't been "executed" none of this would have happened -- at
least not this way. He gritted his teeth and a strangled sound escaped from him.
“So touching,” said a voice from the dark, the hiss of fabric against stone betraying movement as Tallin
stepped from the shadows. “I’ve been expecting you.”
Y’Roden’s nostrils flared, anger hardening his features as he laid eyes on his Uncle. A mix of scent
slammed into him as the Demon Mage stepped into the breeze coming from the open window and it
reached inside of him, twisting his innards and tearing at the half-elf’s soul. He’d touched her… and…
Ro’s thought process completely shut off and he lunged at Tallin, eyes bleeding an ugly crimson-red.
An enraged roar of denial ripped out of him and his fingers closed around the human’s neck. Both men
fell back towards the wall, a pair of grappling behemoths in the wind-swept tower. The S’Hean’s skin
began to turn bone-white in odd patches, hardening into shell, and horn-like spikes started breaking
through the skin on his wrists and forehead, the scent of Aethyr-laced blood overwhelming on the air.
Tallin’s eyes snapped wide and he pulled his head back to avoid sharpening, snapping teeth. The lethal
tips of horns lay his cheek and arm open as he struggled to keep the Demon-Elf back, twisting in
Y’Roden’s grip. With a feral grin, he stabbed upwards, catching his nephew at the juncture beneath his
arm with a small, thin blade that punctured Y’Roden’s lung.
The S’Hean King ground to a halt, choking suddenly and spitting up blood. Rage kept him going in the
next few moments, intent on ripping Tallin’s head from his shoulders. Then the open window was at his
back and somehow, the Demon Mage managed to plant the sole of a boot in Ro’s chest, sending him
sailing out into the chill, open air.
Galain, quite shaken out of his mental state, whirled around, his eyes and mouth opening wide as he
realized Y'Roden had fallen out of a window that was a few hundred feet if not more more high. Did he
have wings? Galain turned slightly as he eyed Tallin.
"You are so... " Galain opted for S'Hean. "skrunned"
                                                    ***
B’Ryan woke slowly to the distinct sensation of being watched. He could feel the long hair of the youth
they’d seduced the night fanning across his chest, the boy’s weight across his body and the intermittent,
shallow pulse. He could feel B’Ryen as well, pressed against his side, the three tangled in exhausted
slumber.
The S’Hean cautiously cracked open his eyelids. First he saw only the ceiling of the tavern room they’d
rented, then flicker of peripheral vision. Something crimson -- and huge. With a grunt, he opened his
eyes fully and turned his head to regard the God they served, suddenly becoming aware of the burning
at his hip – the tattoo Haldanuru had marked them with.
“Well good morning,” he said sleepily. “Look B’Ryen,” he nudged his twin, “we’ve got company.”
"Bnngh," B'Ryen replied. It might have been a curse, and then again it might have been a belch. He
turned slightly and his eyes slid open briefly, annoyed by the intrusion of light against his eyelids and
the burning on his own hip. Then he froze and his eyes opened wider.
"Damn it. The least we could have started with was coffee," he said before he moved to sit up, realized
they were a little tangled up and paused, giving Haldanaru a cheeky grin.
"We've been keeping busy," he said, by way of a very obvious explanation.
The God snorted and tilted his heavy-horned head, regarding them both with sickly yellow eyes. “You
would not be among my chosen if you did not – entertain,” he said pointedly. “But you must put aside
your plans for the day, my sons. I have an assignment for you both, and it must be completed just after
the suns set.”
B’Ryan pushed up onto his elbows, letting the youth slide down his chest to land in his lap. “Oh?” He
grinned widely. “Your assignments are always a lot of fun, don’t you find, B’Ryen?”
His twin was staring pointedly at the location of the unconscious youth's head before he lifted his head
and smiled crookedly at B'Ryan before he shrugged helplessly in the god's direction.
"I have to agree," he said and leaned forward. "So, what's up?" The deadline was an interesting one so
this just had to be good.
“A murder, of course,” Haldanuru said simply as he sat on the edge of the bed – the furniture straining
beneath his weight. His talons scraped along B’Ryen’s bared thigh. “To set the Lords of Corin on edge,
we wouldn’t want them getting too comfortable, now would we? They can all spend the next few
weeks pointing fingers at one another instead of concentrating on the question Valin has put to them.”
The Demon God tossed his head in disgust. “I will not suffer that boy on the throne again. I want it
clear for Tallin’s taking should his current plans – fall through.”
"Murder -- sounds like fun," B'Ryen said. "Anyone specific in mind?" There was a disturbingly eager
light in his eyes. But plotting a murder and causing mayhem and dissension was something far more
exciting than what the twins had been up to lately.
Dark laughter swept like velvet over their skin and the Demon God rose from the bed. “Eager pet, you
will know soon enough. Continue with your day’s entertainment and when twilight falls – I will come
for you.”
B’Ryan grinned and tangled his fingers in their human bedmate’s hair, give the young man’s head a
rough jerk. “As our Lord and Master commands,” he said with a hint of sarcasm.
                                                      ***
The years began to slide past on Krakus, as it came to be known to Callan and An'Thaya, and the pair
found themselves slowly changing. They were trapped here, every attempt to bend a portal to the right
time only sent them into battles they'd not began, nor had any desire to end, only to survive. The wars
had raged for centuries before they'd found themselves here, and they would likely rage for centuries
more.
Today, blood soaked the sand and cries of the dying and the fighting filled the air. Through the streets
of of some random city, and through the fires and smoke, they strode, oblivious to the battle that had
reached its peak even as they casually walked among the warriors of two cities.
"I could learn to like this place." Callan paused and his chin jerked to the side as he popped his neck,
then sucked his teeth as he studied in the distance the prize.
"We were hired to take the well. Seems paltry, doesn't it? All these men dying over one well?" His
fingers curled around the hilt of a large sword which was slung across his back, the same sword which
had almost split Tay's skull the first time he'd tried to take them home.
"So. I guess we take the well."
“I’ve seen men kill one another over less,” the Amazon said dryly. “You know – when I said I wished
we had more time together, this really isn’t what I meant -- though I’m starting to like the place
myself.” The S’Hean pushed back the hood of her cloak, letting her wealth of flaming curls tumble
down her back as she eyed the line of strange, pyramid shaped buildings that were the dwellings of the
desert-elves that lived here.
“At least it’s warm.”
A pair of lethal-sharp daggers sang from their scabbards and twirled in delicate-seeming fingers. “So
we take the well.”
The redhead broke into a run that took her light-footed at an angle up the sloping slide of one of the
structures, then sprang over the heads of several fighting-elves and landed in their midst – daggers
flashing, then darkening with blood as she struck out towards their target.
Part of Callan Blackthorn's soul protested the wholesale slaughter of the elves that tried to stand against
him and An'Thaya. That part of his soul was fading, losing ground to the need to survive, the need to
smell the scent of blood pouring onto the ground, the need to smell charred flesh and feel the pulse of a
victim fade and finally cease. All that was good and noble in Callan Blackthorn was beginning to
vanish under bestial greed. The blade in his hands severed first an arm, then a head from one elf, then
cut the legs from under another. The screams of the dying were intoxicating, and topaz eyes began to
bleach out to an icy blue.
In the course of a few years, a thousand years of good deeds and noble intents were fast fading. That
dying part of his soul wanted to rationalize the killing, wanted to excuse it as the need to survive, the
need to return home someday, the need to keep his mate alive... but none of it were true.
Araxmarr was killing for lust and pleasure... with his Randii at his side as Hunting Mate.
They were both going mad – An’Thaya knew it, deep down. Cut off from Whispin, they both needed to
ground, to connect with the Aethyr. Every year that went by was slowly dragging them both further into
insanity. The trouble was, she was starting to like it. Araxmarr had always been irresistible to her. His
strength, the power of his will, and even – if she admitted it – his lust for blood. It was the animal in her
husband that had attracted the Amazon from day one, no matter how hard she tried to deny it.
It was the animal in herself that answered just as viscerally – the part that had fought for survival all of
her life, and won.
She emerged into his view again a few minutes later, blood splattered across her face and dripping from
the blades held in expert hands. The well wasn’t too far off now, but resistance was building up around
it. The two opposing forces of Duskai elves swaying with the pitch of the battle. Rax and Tay were the
wild cards – the weapon of the enemy to seize what they wanted … what they needed above all else.
The redhead turned to look at her Randii across the milling fighters for just a split second, sharing more
than a glance than anyone could have managed with words, then disappeared with a swirl of hair and
flutter of cloak.
Araxmarr's forward progress halted just long enough for his phosphorescent eyes to meet those of
An'Thaya's. The smile that flickered across his mouth was cruel and cold, and remained in place even
after a long blade carved its way under the edge of his armour and up - its mark Rax's heart. Ribs
cracked and a curtain of bloody red and brilliant white shattered across his vision as intense pain
fractured even the Rage that gripped him.
The smile faded and serpentine pupils widened in disbelief as his fingers threatened to go slack. The
blade in his own sword hand dangled, drooped, then clattered to the blood-soaked sand beneath his
feet. Slowly, his head turned, his teeth ground together with enough force that the elf holding the blade
could hear the bone-on-bone sounds.
The disbelief that masked his face became something else entirely. Black scale scattered just beneath
his skin and rippled like some crawling, dark thing up his back and down his spine. Black spikes
erupted from beneath the gashed and bloody backplate and the agony that had broken through his
expression became mockery.
The elven warrior's triumph became horror and the blade impaling Araxmarr was pulled free with a
sickening gout of fresh, iron-laden blood.
"I'mal... derek?"
What are you?
"DeathDream." Came the response, but spoken in the gutteral language of the Krakus elves. His palm
shot out and bloody fingers wrapped around the warrior's neck in a crushing grip while his other palm
met the elf's forehead, fingers squeezing his skull.
The nameless elf battered his blade helpless against the shoulder and arm of the beast that held him so
close, then the true meaning of agony coursed through him. Araxmarr's own wounds began to seal off,
healing, it seemed, even as the wounds reappeared on the warrior. Blood spilled from beneath his own
armour and soaked his thighs on its path to the ground.
Soon, nothing but a blood crusted, dry husk remained where the warrior had been, and on the
Emperor's body were a few new scars, tender and red, but healed through and through. It was an
abomination of D'Riel healing, inflicting the wounds of ones self on another while draining them of
life. It was a horrific blend, a fitting meld of An'Thaya's soul and his own, a Rending of a soul and
reversal of D'Riel healing abilities.
It left Araxmarr's body revived, and his soul infused with energy... and black as night.
Death had come to Krakus and in his company, he'd brought Hope.
                                                   ***
Tallin straightened, his frame back-illuminated in the window as he locked eyes with the Elen Prince.
“Ah – just you and me,” he said, drawing another blade from his robes. “I’ve been waiting for this
moment for a very long time, Alcarin. Though killing you now wouldn’t be nearly as much use as
killing you then -- perhaps I should wait.”
Galain snorted, aware of movement behind him and knowing that the past was still occurring as Tallin
spoke of the future. The Elen refused to look behind himself, not that he could have afforded to anyway
given current circumstances.
"I don't fear being killed," he said. "There's nothing in the future but living for far too damn long
because I'm too lazy to kill myself." He was careful to make sure he stayed standing between himself
and the past Y'Roden and Ghetsuhm. If Tallin thought to continue his mission he'd have to try and blow
Galain away. He had drawn his own sword and pointed it toward Tallin. "Why don't you try to take us
all out?" he said. "Me, and them -- all at once."
“Because you piss me off more,” Tallin snarled. “It’s you that keeps getting in my way – keeping her
from me. The rest of them don’t mean anything at all – not if I have her.” A ringed hand lifted
suddenly, the palm crackling with blue energy that illuminated the gem stones. “If you’re so eager then
– do us all a favour and just die.” The hand shot forward, the flesh-eating balefire flaring, about to leap
from his fingers.
The Demon Mage gave out a surprised grunt and stumbled onto his knees, the fire flying free as Tallin
spun round – utter surprise on his face as the Demon bore down on him. His brain struggled for a
moment, connecting the dots between Y’Roden and the beast that towered above him, wings flared in
the light of the window. The only remnant of the S’Hean King was brilliant cracks of green in the ruby-
like eyes, and the murderous intent in their depths.
A sound of sheer frustration ground out between Tallin’s teeth and his hand clenched into a fist, rings
sparking across his knuckles as it slammed into the stone floor. The solid stone wavered, then flared
open beneath the human’s knees and he fell into the pit of his own making. The black cloak caught and
started to rip in Ravyel’s claws, then jerked free of Tallin as he escaped into the time stream.
“Follow!” Chezlar ordered as he stepped from the stone walls. “Don’t let him escape!”
The Demon’s head jerked round to regard the Changeling, then nodded in a rustle of long, spike-like
black hair. “Come on, elf,” he rasped at Galain, then leapt into the closing fissure, Tallin’s cloak
flapping like a banner in his grip.
Galain, bemused by the Demon Elf's excellent timing and Chezlar's order, followed after, leaping into
the gods knew when or where. Later he might request to have his head examined considering just who
the two he was leaping after were. If nothing else though, it gave the elf a perverse pleasure to know
that his continued living pissed Tallin off so much. It was good to have purpose.
Ravyel landed with a heavy thud in a room that seemed somehow familiar. Alcarinque… Ro knew this
palace well. He’d spent a good deal of time here during his years with Summerlin. His eldest son had
been raised here, his daughter born not far from these rooms.
The scene was eerily similar to the one they had just left behind – only it wasn’t Ro coming to the
rescue this time, and the crazed, brutalized and wild-eyed redhead was not Ghetsuhm. She was
screaming, denying what was right before her eyes. It couldn’t be Galain, she’d felt him die and Iavan
had pulled this trick before, she wouldn’t fall for it again.
Ruby eyes bled through to emerald-green as Ro watched, horrified. He’d never seen his sister broken as
she was now, and the shock brought him back to himself.
Galain's landing was less controlled and he landed with a fierce whump! that left him breathless.
Perhaps that was to the better as all of his previous equanimity dissolved instantly the moment he
realized where they'd landed in time.
"Oh my gods," he breathed aloud, his senses reeling from the scene in the tower to the scene now
before him. He rose to all fours and gritted his teeth. "What the hell--"
Ro shook his deformed head, soft spikes rustling across his back. “I…” Words failed him and the half-
elf had to look away. “I didn’t know,” he said quietly, “I didn’t know it was this bad.”
"It was -- " Galain couldn't answer immediately, but the past was unfolding before their eyes, just like
before. He got to his feet and hopped slightly to regain his momentum. He couldn't finish what he'd
started to say. Instead his face crumpled and he covered it. First Ghetsuhm, then An'Thaya -- new
discovery, old and raw memory... he wavered and tried to control himself.
The blow came unexpectedly, the hilt of Tallin’s sword against the back of Galain’s skull, bringing the
Elen abruptly to his knees.
Y’Roden spun around as the other elf fell – they should have been more careful. They’d been following
Demon Mage, after all – they should have looked for him first. They’d allowed themselves to be
distracted, and fallen right into Tallin’s trap.
The air rippled as the human gripped Galain’s shoulder, and they both faded into the blackness of time.
                                                      ***
As the twin suns crossed the sky, the heat of Zenith faded. Dressed comfortably in a thin tunic and
pants, Cianan leant against the wall a goblet of Mai'tus wine in his hand. The week had passed quickly
enough, though he did manage a quick visit to his cousin's estate. It was probably a good thing he was
beginning these negotiations, even he couldn't deny his recluse tendencies of late.
Turning from the view, he refilled his goblet and waited for the others to arrive.
Declan and Deacon Fearguis came through the door shoulder to shoulder, the same dark hair, ebony
eyes and close features marking them as brothers to even those who did not know them. Deacon fell
behind a little as his elder brother strode forward to greet Cianan, and he let his attention wander a little
towards the window.
“Cianan,” Declan reached out to clasp the other man’s wrist in greeting. “I see we beat Griffith to the
drink – there’s a first.” His tone was brimming with teasing amusement, as was the smile on his face.
"What exactly are you trying to imply, Fearguis?" a voice asked from the doorway. Griffith grinned and
walked forward, holding his hand out to Deacon as he did so.
Deacon laughed, revealing an unbelievable amount of dimple, and grasped Griffith’s wrist. “I think
he’s defaming your character,” he said. “But you only have yourself to blame – it’s difficult to get the
smell of HellsFire and Sargasso out of your clothing, you know.”
"I'd protest, but we'd both know I was lying through my teeth," Griffith replied. "Fortunately, nobody
expects a Talacharn to have an undefamed character."
The laughter came from Declan this time. “Well, gentlemen, shall we have a drink and get down to
business? Griffith can feel all relieved that our sister didn’t single him out and we can outline the terms
of the agreement.”
"Oh, I am, believe me," Griffith said. "Marriage doesn't figure in my plans at the moment, despite
Mathair's best efforts to change my mind in that regard... and besides, I had Laliah down as a girl with
far more sense." He crossed the room to where Cianan stood, clapping his cousin companionably on
the shoulder before picking up the jug to pour himself a goblet of wine.
"If Crystin had her way you would have been married three times over by now, I'm sure," Cianan said,
laughing. He offered a goblet of wine to Declan and Deacon and said, "Come to think of it, I have a
feeling she'd have done the same to me if she could." Refilling his goblet, he indicated the large table
surrounded by sturdy but comfortable chairs. "Let's have a seat, and get down to business."
“There is always Mad Maggie,” Deacon suggested in an evil tone. “If you think you could sit on her
long enough for the nuptials to finish.”
Declan snorted with laughter and sat down near Cianan, accepting the wine all too happily. “Well,
she’ll be happy to hear of our arrangements then,” he said in response to the comment about Lady
Talacharn. “And I know what you mean. My mother is most unhappy about both of our marital states.”
He exchanged a glance with Deacon, who looked momentarily exasperated.
“We’ll get to it eventually. It’s surprising how few eligible females there seem to be in the Kingdom at
the moment.”
"True, and it perhaps explains that business with Amherst a few years back, or even Gravnor's
persistence over Deirdre Grey, as she then was," Griffith observed. He slouched down in his seat.
"Don't get me wrong, I think there's persistence and then there's persistence. Personally, if and when I
do marry, I'd rather my wife was willing, but..." He shrugged and brought his goblet to his lips. "As you
say, there's less choice around these days for one reason or another. That can lead to stupid decisions
sometimes."
“We have Tallin Modar to thank,” Declan said bleakly. “A good number of fine Corinian Noblewomen
were murdered during his attempt at a takeover, including my Aveline. Thank Arminiea our little sisters
didn’t end up lambs to his slaughter.”
"I'd say the same about Rowena, and Modar's machinations didn't make finding her a husband any
easier either. In that case though, it wasn't so much the lack of eligible males so much as finding one
that I was actually prepared to trust with my sister's life." Griffith rolled his shoulders.
"All of which I guess brings us back to the reason why we're here. A potential betrothal." He glanced
over at Cianan and then back at the Fearguis brothers. "Perhaps if you were to lay your cards out on the
table..."
“Ah, yes,” Declan said, “the dowry.” The Corinian Lord started into details then, laying out the terms
and what would be provided with Laliah in return for a suitable marriage and ally in Cianan.
                                                     ***
Sand-coated leather boots balanced on the edge of the glass well, the heavy lid pulled back to reveal the
glistening liquid within. The Amazon’s hair writhed like wind-tossed flames as she watched a dark drop
of blood roll off her fingers and plummet into the depths, sending out ripples and sinking heavily
through the water.
It was like a dream – or perhaps a nightmare, at least to those who had died here. So many of them…
Tay lifted her head and gazed across the city square. They were all dead. Not just the enemy, all of
them. She and her husband had slaughtered every breathing thing in this place – simply because they
could. As the haze of madness lifted a little from her mind a dawning horror glimmered in a hidden
place within the half-elf’s soul.
They were slowly going insane – cut off from everything they new and loved, aside from one another.
They couldn’t sustain this – this was just the beginning, and Tay knew it. Soon it wouldn’t be enough.
Araxmarr was overriding Callan and the silver in their soul was gradually being snuffed out. He’d get
hungry, and in his passion, he’d start killing, taking land, he’d seek to own Krakus.
“We have to try again,” she said in a half distracted tone. “We have to try for Whispin – I need to
Ground, Callan.”
Callan... Bloody fingers and bruised knuckles flexed, black armour retreated, revealing a torso marked
by countless new scars, some of which would fade, others which would not. Sweat mingled freely with
blood and oozed in trickling paths to the waist of his soaked black leather trousers.
Callan. She'd called him by another name, and with that name had come a familiar touch on his soul. It
touched on silver and topaz strands, beckoned them to life once more, and left within him a sense of
revulsion at what he'd done.
Oh, not the killing. That was part of life here, a requirement for survival. They fought for the highest
bidder, but this time? This time they'd killed the highest bidder. The village lay silent except for the
sounds of crackling fire and the ghostly whistle of the wind.
Why? Why did you kill them ALL? It had been so long since he'd heard Atas' voice, so long since that
lesson. He'd been a youth, little more than a child, and he'd been honing his assassin's skills on Imperial
Slaves. It hadn't taken long for the young Vesahd to grow bored with easy marks.
That night he'd slaughtered every. single. Imperial gladiator. in the barracks beneath the Pit - some of
whom had been sons of Noble Black Houses, forced into slavery by the Emperor himself.
Why? The answer had been simple, and he'd responded brashly.
"Because I could."
He'd received a sharp backhand with a closed fist from the old Black, and the look in his eyes alone had
left Araxmarr ashamed of what he'd done. The Vesahd had worn the bruise and fractured jaw in sullen
pride for days, but something in Atas' eyes had made its point. The lesson had been learned.
No more killing those who should have trusted him simply because he could.
At least not in the Keep.
That 'look' drifted from Tay's soul now, unconsciously, unintentionally, but it drove through the
darkness, and within, the silver stirred, the topaz returned to his eyes, the ice in his cold gaze faded.
The back of one filthy hand swiped across his mouth as he slowly walked across the battleground. He
paused beside his wife and leaned forward, palms pressed to the sun-warmed well. His reflection was a
dark shadow, its details obscured by limned with silver sun as he peered at the water below. A heavy
bead of bloody sweat rolled down his nose, then plummeted to join the diluted blood of An'Thaya
below.
"We could have it all. You know that. Everything on this world could belong to us. People, places...
things. All ours to have and to hoard." His words followed the thoughts she'd already had, the feelings
that had echoed along their bond.
"Its already there. The Hunger." His dark head turned and his neck and spine popped with the deliberate
motion.
Then he turned and sank to sit on the wall. Shaking fingers raked through his hair, then scrubbed at his
face before dropping once more to the smooth glass. Eyes fully topaz met emerald.
"Hai. You're right. We have to try... soon."
An’Thaya jumped down from her perch, a small hand firmly on Callan’s shoulder to steady herself. She
turned in the sand and stepped between the dragon’s thighs, leaning in to press her forehead against his
– losing both of them in her wild curls. “We wouldn’t have it all, elleska. Land, power, a world at our
feet – but we’ve left our children behind. What does any of it matter without our family?”
Her fingers slid up to cup the Emperor’s jaw, then slid back into his short, dark hair – her face never
moving from Callan’s. “We’re fortunate to have each other, at least. I hate to think what would have
happened to either of us – had we been separated in the time stream.”
He was content, for a moment, to simply sit here, their foreheads pressed together, every breath
bringing the scent of her sweat and blood into his body. As he inhaled her scent and listened to her
heart beat, words shouted what seemed so long ago rose into his thoughts and drifted in a hazy echo
through his brain.
When was the last time? When was the last time you drew in the scent of her... and it made you hard?"
He remembered the blood, his as well as Galain's, the sudden burn, the darkness that shrouded his
vision for so long, and it seemed that his memories were starting to fragment, to shatter and rearrange
themselves as his persona, what made him 'Callan' rather than Rax, slipped and struggled to remain
dominate.
"I'm not sure which would be worse..." His voice was hoarse, a cracking mixture of a baritone and rich
tenor, a audible reflection of the inner struggle to remain sane, to remain Callan.
"Going insane from Madness again... or going insane together." His laugh was cracked, almost crazy as
his head finally lifted and angled back. The sound ended in a choked sob as he cleared his throat and
shook his head. His fingers curved along either side of her jaw as topaz once again met emerald.
"So we try again. Maybe we'll get lucky this time... or just end up dead if we fail."
                                                  ***
The singing of crystal was near deafening in the blinding white light of Aminiea’s scrying room – and
many of those gathered there looked profoundly uncomfortable, though whether the sound or the bright
illumination was the ‘cause was difficult to say.
Arminea herself glowed as brightly as the chamber, the Goddess aspect gazing upon her peers with
snow-white eyes and billowing, colourless hair. Pale and cold, she seemed to bleed anger until it was
the prevalent emotion in the room.
Beside her, Jaran was less brilliant – he was golden and alive, one eye as blue and stormy as the sea,
the other the warm brown of earth. He gave the illusion of calm, but there was a searing look in the
depths of his mismatched gaze that spoke differently.
To his right stood the God of twilight – hair of silver falling midway down his back, and eyes of
chrome unreadable, Krell seemed untouched… and untouchable. He stood across from his counterpart,
Shivan, Goddess of Twilight, neutrality, and the storm. Her skin was dusky compared to Krell’s pale
complexion – her hair white and windswept, eyes dead and white as winter.
The last of the Whispin Gods – at least those gathered here, was Hicate. She stood slightly apart from
the other for, an expression of distain on her features. It had been in a time beyond memory that she
had last stood here with her brothers and sisters. The Goddess of darkness, luck and the hunt walked
her own path – and she railed against being summoned here. She watched them from beneath her wild,
ebony hair with eyes that were so pale a blue they were near white.
“Your twin has overstepped himself,” Arminea was saying, the words directed at Hicate. “Haldanuru
seeks to destroy everything we have built and he has broken the covenant. Time is the playground of
Chezlar Khor and the Fates who guide him, we all made that agreement in the beginning. We were
never to interfere once an event had occurred unless given dispensation from the Fates.”
“What has that to do with me?” Hicate snarled. “I don’t keep tabs on my brother. I perform the tasks set
to me by this Council in ages past and do not interfere.”
“It is your responsibility to keep tabs on him,” Jaran said in a quiet tone. “Each aspect holds to its own,
you know that. Light, Twilight, Darkness – each court sees to its own.”
From the sidelines, Chezlar Khor listened to the conversation impassively, his golden eyes flickering
from one deity to the other. Interrupting would do no good, not yet.
“Then put a leash on your reflection of light, Jaran,” Hicate hissed. “Arminiea is out of control, she has
been since she put the mark upon the breast of Light's Hope. She has overstepped herself with the
children of other gods too many times.”
The God looked as if he was about to speak once more, but the Weeper held up a hand to stay him, and
diminished somewhat in brilliance... and anger. “She speaks nothing but the truth, my brother. Our
chosen children are our priority, at at times I have taken that a little too far.”
“Then why not invite the other patron gods?” Chezlar inquired softly. “Venus, and Brighid. They both
should have their say – the Goddess of the Flame has her mark upon Death's Dream, and even so, the
Goddess of Love has marked Joy of a Summer's Morning. Their voices should count in this – and
against Haldanuru.”
“The Messenger speaks wisely,” said Krell and Shivan in unison. “We would hear the desires and needs
of those who have been drawn into this against their will. Perhaps it is they who will sway the Fates to
acting against the Demon God.”
Arminiea considered, turning to meet her brother's strange gaze, then nodded quietly – her aspect
becoming more human as she calmed. “Retrieve the Sword of Peace, then bring the others here,
Chezlar Khor – invite them to our court.”
The Changeling Prince bowed respectfully to the Gathering. “Your will, be done.”
                                                  ***
“Wake up.” The toe of Tallin’s boot nudged the prone Elen in the dark. The scent of heavy water,
brimstone and dragon was prevalent on the humid air. There was the muted sound of voices, a laugh,
and then a splash. “You’re missing the show, Elf. Wake up.”
Galain was completely disoriented and remained still for another moment, stunned by how quickly
Tallin had moved. Then he reached out and grabbed Tallin's leg and used the other man as a brace to
haul himself up to his feet, swaying drunkenly for a few seconds as he gathered his wits. Y'Roden was
definitely not here and he pushed himself away from Tallin and turned, recognizing the owner of the
laugh. The hairs on the back of his neck rose as he realized where he was although not the precise
when.
"You have a sick idea of what's entertaining," he muttered, peering into the darkness.
There was dark, twisted laughter in Tallin’s tone, his voice low as he replied to the Elen. “I’m just
offering you an opportunity, Alcarin.”
Moonlight broke through the clouds overhead, lighting the water of the heated pool, and an entangled
pair erupted from the depths – the sound of desperately inhaled air, and a cry of pleasure that verged on
a scream.
“You could kill him right now – change it all, have her back, and no one would ever be the wiser. He’ll
never see it coming.” The demon mage grinned malicously. “He’s too lost in her – even if he could
sense your presence.”
The blood ran from Galain's face and he felt himself go cold all over the place as he stared at An'Thaya
and Callan. There was a rushing sound in his ears as he stood, rooted to the spot. Of course Callan was
lost in her, Galain had always lost his own self in the Amazon when they were together. She had been
his life for millennia. And now he was staring at the beginning of the end of everything he'd cherished,
loved and totally taken for granted and Tallin was right. He could just walk right over, draw
Wyrmfinder and stab Callan through the heart. He could change the past, make a new future -- just like
Tallin kept trying to do. Galain didn't acknowledge that last part of his thoughts. It was one thing to be
all rational and logical about the futility of changing the past when talking in theory. It was quite
another to have that past thumbing its nose at you directly in your face. The Elen swayed on his feet
again and took several steps forward, unaware that he had done so. But it was all just a little too much
to take in and he stopped and ground the palms of his hands into his eyes.
"No!" he shouted. "No! I kill him and you'll get her. I kill him, you kill me and then you'll have her."
He spun around and snarled at Tallin, lunging at him instead of the pair in the water.
Be-ringed fingers latched onto Galain's arms as they slammed back into the wall, Tallin's expression
wild with tortured amusement. "Just listen to the sweet music she makes," he said in a mocking tone.
"Kill him, and you'll have that again – just for a little bit longer. It would be worth it, don't you think?"
Ice-blue eyes stained to black. "Kill him, and I'll even wait paitently over here while you fuck her one
last time."
Galain spat into Tallin's face and wished he could just turn his heel and leave it at that.
"It would be an attractive way to die, but you'd still have what you want and I just... I just can't let that
happen. Which means I'm going to have to politely decline your offer and kill you instead."
Tallin's lips peeled back from his teeth and he let go of Galain's arms, his fingers fastening around the
elf`s neck instead. "Let me know how that works out for you," he hissed. Lightning sparked from the
gems in his rings, crackling around the Elen`s throat. "You're a sad, pathetic creature – unwilling to kill
for what you want, unwilling to even fight for it."
Galain wanted to answer, but cirucmstances precluded that. He grimaced at Tallin and smashed one
hand over the mage's face. He was perfectly willing to kill for what he wanted, he just knew when what
he wanted was no longer his to fight for. Tallin wouldn't understand that and Galain didn't give two
coppers for the man's opinion of himself. And right now, what the Elen wanted was to survive long
enough to grind his boot heel into Tallin's face. That was quickly becoming problematic.
The dark-haired human snarled, muscles bunching in his arms and shoulders as he pushed away from
the wall. “Unbelievable! They both left you, she for someone you once called a friend, and the other
for a man you utterly despise – yet you still love them, both of them. In fact,” he shoved Galain
backwards slightly, “the last one still has your balls in a jar.” A black, inky portal rippled beneath their
feet and Tallin jerked the Elen back towards him as they fell into the vortex of time.
                                                    ***
Jerri jumped, then slid gracelessly to the floor when Chezlar's telltale golden presence illuminated the
room. She shot a look at her drinking partner that was half apologetic, then stared wide eyed as
Y'Roden fell at their feet clutching the side of his chest, blood seeping between his fingers.
“He's been wounded,” the Changeling's layered tones echoed in the chamber. “I can't interfere.”
“Way to state the obvious big guy,” Jerri muttered, dropped to her knees beside the S'Hean King. A
hand fumbled for a light dressing gown that was tossed across her divan, wadded it up, and pressed it
against the wound. “Gods.|” The human went startlingly pale. “I know first aide, but this is way beyond
me.”
Egg-blue eyes lifted to Chezlar's face, and she frowned. Dropping her head she looked the injured King
in the eyes. “Where the hell is Galain?” The stab of fear was nearly immobilizing. If this was the shape
Y'Roden was in... what had happened to the Elen?
“Fa’ilte to you too, Chez.” Shadow flashed the Changeling a friendly, if quick smile, and grabbed a
bottle before dropping to the floor and placing the liquor within arms reach. “Its okay.” It was unsure
whether she was talking to Chezlar or the Human.
“One thing at a time, Jerri,” the Taurësúlë said calmly. “I need you to move your hand.”
Y'Roden reached blindly for the bottle of hell's fire and grinned bleakly up on his daughter, twisting his
head to drink. After about a quarter of a bottle, he stopped to breathe and closed his eyes. “Tallin got
him,” he rasped. “He was alive – last I saw him. The Bastard must want him for something or he could
have just killed him right then.”
Jerri went pale, obeying Shadow instinctively though her eyes never left the S'Hean King. “What will
he do to him?”
A string of Taurësúlë, S’Hean, and Kin curses escaped the copper skinned elf leaving nothing to the
imagination to those who understood and translated into “ooooh, this can’t be good” to those who
didn’t.
Shadow wiped her sleeve over the wound, “There goes another good shirt…” she muttered. “It’s Tallin,
he isn’t the most gracious of hosts.” The forest elf eyed the other elf, “Say one word for the next couple
of seconds and I’m shoving my little finger into that hole.”
“That's suppose to deter me?” Ro asked blandly.
Jerri's eyes flickered from one to the other – the expression on her face blatantly revealing that she
thought they were both completely nuts.
“Stick around long enough, and you’ll get use to this.” Shadow flashed a grin at Jerri then looked back
down.
“Okay, how about this, Y’Roden D’Riel, shut up or I’m going to castrate you.” An ebony eyebrow
arched in a ‘just try me’ challenge.
Ro opened his mouth, then promptly shut it again. He shot a 'hard done by' look at Chezlar who merely
raised a curious eyebrow in response.
“I'll have to remember that one,” Jerri said dryly, “it seems quite effective. Is he always this difficult?”
A little humour distracted her from the maddening 'not knowing' where Galain was concerned. The
blonde's fingers worried at the bloody fabric in her hands and she bit her lip. Lifting her head she
looked at the Changeling for a long moment. “I don't suppose you are going to tell us where he is? You
seem to be the 'all-knowing' creature around these parts.”
Chez shook his head quietly and smiled apologetically.
“Is he always like that?” Jerri asked Shadow. “That quiet 'I know something about your mother' look
gets old really quick.”
“Always,” she said as she set her hands to either side of Ro’s wound. “If you’re around elven males
long enough there are three things that get them to shut up when you don’t feel like stripping. Threaten
unrepairable damage to the neither regions, find the strongest alcohol that you can find, or put a board
full of buttons and flashing bright lights in front of them.”
Shadow glanced up distractedly at the Changeling and laughed. “Try talking to him when he’s had a
piece of candy and you won’t get him to shut up. He still owes me for blowing up my inn.”
Her attention returned to her father and she closed her eyes, as she focused on finding the extent of the
damage. “Chez does what he can as much as he’s allowed to; if he says more than he’s suppose to his
bosses will do worse than fire him.” A swirl of forest green and silver mist spread out from her hands
and seeped into the hole and the scent of violets drifted around them.
“Shit.” The Taurësúlë’s eyes popped open, “Someone wouldn’t happen to have a long pair of tweezers,
would they?”
Ro choked on a mouthful of alcohol and stared at his daughter. “Tweezers? Just what are you
implying?”
Jerri snickered behind the back of her hand and leaned forward. “Relax, big guy, I think she is trying to
say there is something stuck in the wound.” She got up and dusted her hands of on her short shorts
whilst crossing the room to rifle through her travel bag. “I've got a pair, strangely enough. I didn't pack
them when I left, they don't let stuff like that on airplanes, but they appeared in my bag after I arrived at
the Green Heart.”
Waving around a long, thin pair of tongs she dropped to her knees beside Shadow and offered them to
the elf.
“Your finger would have worked just as well,” Ro muttered.
“Thanks.” Grinning she purposely pinched the meat just below the skin, twisted and yanked. “Did that
hurt? So sorry…”pausing Shadow blinked at Jerri. “Air planes? They aren’t anything like air ships are
they? Wait, answer that later.”
Closing her eyes again she found what she was looking for then slid the tongs in and started fishing
around. “Sorry Ketai, I may have long and slender fingers but they aren’t that long and they’re used for
thieving, not for surgery. And if it’s what I think it is…” she pulled the tip of a blade out with a
sickening sucking sound and held it up with a grin. “I’ll see your lack of where, and raise you a
possible when.”
“No... bigger, noisier, made of metal,” Jerri said distractedly as she watched the process. Going slightly
cross eyed she peered at the bit of iron closely. “Wow, that looks really old. Look at that, all pitted
rusty... wait, aren't elves allergic to iron? They kinda frisked me for it when I got here.”
Ro lifted his head to look at Shadow's gory treasure. “Well... I guess it tells us that comes from
somewhere in the past – which probably means he has her there, not forward. Narrows down the search
a little.”
“There’s something in the tea that helps that, it’s the reason why it tastes so nasty.” Shadow grinned
suddenly.
“If we can figure out what kind of blade it might help as well. Different era, different design and so on
it won’t give us an exact time period, but it’ll narrow it down from eons to millennia, maybe culture
reference? I’m not too sure on that last part since the only options would be elven or human, and I
don’t see Tallin as the type to use elven weapons.
“Oh, your lung is fine, probably a good thing since you’re talking now and not wheezing, which is fine
since you’re no longer under threat of missing members. I’ll get the rest of that.”
“Knock yourself out,” Ro grumbled. He subsided back to the floor again and stared at the ceiling, his
thoughts on Ghet again – where she was, what might be happening to her. There was a small hope, at
least, that Galain was with her now – at least she wouldn't be alone, and Galain would protect her as
best he could.
                                                     ***
Moonlight turned the delicate white flowers on the eirëlla over the arbor to silver. Edana inhaled their
sweet perfume. The scent reminded her of her home in the Aarataure. She glanced over at her
companion and smiled. She had come to look forward to her evening strolls with Trey'Gan. It was a
time when, their responsibilities fulfilled for the day, they could just talk and enjoy one another's
company.
"So what are your plans?" she asked him, returning to a topic they had touched on from time to time
before. "Will you move on to some other career now that you have the option to do so, or will you
remain with the Ra'Vidden?"
Trey’Gan moved closer to Edana, not only enjoying the moonlit blossoms, but the proximity to her as
well. The S’Hean loved everything natural; trees, flowers, water, land and air with his attraction to
water being even stronger that most of his kin. “I am not fixed on anything at the moment. I told Fadil I
would stay with the Ra’Vidden for the time being since things have gotten somewhat unsettled of late. I
would feel as though I had abandoned S’Hea if things were to turn for the worse.”
Almost absently Trey’s hand found its way to Edana’s long hair and caressed it as he spoke. “Why, are
you making me an offer of some kind?” his brow rose noticeably.
She laughed softly. "I wasn't propositioning you," she said. "I was just curious. I wondered what you
would choose to do if you could choose anything at all."
Trey laughed richly. “No, no you weren’t but perhaps I was fishing for one. I was wondering though
what life might be like at your side all the time. I have no idea what blending our lives might offer
either of us. I know what my choices here are and if I do not stay with the Ra’Vidden I might enjoy a
more rural life than the courtly one but still keeping my ranger skills in practice from time to time.
What things are options at your home?” Trey laced his fingers in Edana’s and began to slowly walk
around the garden again.
"I've been thinking about myself," Edana confessed. She fell silent for a moment, thinking.
"To live our lives at one another's side, one of us would have to choose to live on another world," she
said in the end. "Not that all ties be cut to the other, but..." She gave a half-shrug. "There would need to
be some sort of choice, a decision made to establish the main home in one place rather than the other.
"For myself, it could be either. Yes, I now live mostly in Ostohelyanwe and visit S'Hea as ambassador,
but it could be done the other way around provided the Kings were in agreement. There is, of course,
the question of Oran, but he is not an infant. If he chose to remain in the Aarataure even when I did not,
I am sure something could be arranged."
Her eyes lifted to meet his. "Or you could move to Ostohelyanwe. But if you did that, what would you
do? I can't imagine you as a kept man, for all that my family do not want for money. That is one reason
why I was curious about what interested you."
A pondering curious expression filtered across Trey’s face with the thoughts of the options Edana
presented. He tried desperately not to allow his grin to form before he commented. “Hmm, I do not
think I ever considered the possibility of being a kept man.” He said with all mock seriousness. “What
exactly are the requirements for such a position in Ostohelyanwe?” the mood did not need to be serious
even if the topic of conversation was. He wanted to hear her laugh, know she was at ease, perhaps even
help himself to think as well.
Edana's lips twitched. The indigo gaze that tilted up to meet peridot-green was filled with laughter, yet
she replied with equal solemnity, "Oh, they're very stringent requirements. I can be a very demanding
woman. I would require your company for evening strolls such as this, for a start. I am very fond of my
garden. I find it helps me to think and I believe I would enjoy sharing it with you. And it would be
pleasant to have your company on other occasions too, to attend court functions with you, to spend
quiet time with you."
She smiled softly. "Mostly though, I would want you to be happy. That would be my strictest
requirement."
“Edana, you already do that. But in all seriousness, I do not have a great knowledge of what there
would be for me in your home. Here I love what I do, being a ranger and a warrior suit me well
enough. I think if I were to change occupations though I would have to know more about them. If I
gave up being a ranger though I would perhaps seek a life that gave me more time in the forests
working the land or caring for animals. I do wish our world could settle into an era of less conflict.”
Trey stopped walking and turned to face Edana. “Do you have horses back home? The nomads here
have such magnificent ones. If you like maybe I could arrange to take you to see Malik and he could
show you his fine beasts.” Trey smiled.
"I would like that very much," she said. "What little I have seen of Whispin's Obsidian Horses has been
magnificent, although very different from the Dawn Horses of the Aarataure."
Edana paused. "You would be most welcome to visit the Aarataure some time if you wished. You have
shown me something of your home, perhaps I should show you something of mine. When I return
home next, if you wanted to come with me..."
Trey almost said yes out of impulse but held back just before speaking. “I would love that, Edana. It
might not be possible now. But if not this time then perhaps as soon as things quiet down again. I
cannot risk being away from Whispin and S'Hea should all out trouble start. But I will speak with
Fadil.”
Trey turned back to walking again, making sure he held Edana’s hand. “Surely you can see Faelwen’s
touch in this garden. She has created such calming beauty here.”
"Yes, she has," Edana agreed. "Faelwen always had a deft touch with landscaping, elegant and yet still
welcoming. It's a gift." She reached out to lightly brush the petals of a lush bloom. "What I particularly
like is the way she has combined the best of both Aarataurean and S'Hean design in one garden."
A teasing tone colored Trey’Gan’s reply. “She is a woman I could love for that. Too bad she’s already
spoken for.” He watched Edana out of the corner of his eye for her response.
The Aarataurean's lips curved. "I might feel jealous were it not for the fact that I know Faelwen's heart
has already been given into your uncle's keeping," she replied. Indigo eyes cast a laughing glance up at
him from beneath golden lashes.
Trey laughed freely. “How could I resist a face as beautiful as this?” He angled his head and kissed her
earnestly.
Edana's hand touched his cheek as she drew back from the kiss to catch her breath. "I'm hoping," she
said simply, "that you can't."
                                                    ***
Cianan sat alone in the study, obscured by shadow. A goblet of wine stood on the table near Cianan's
elbow, forgotten as he perused the finances and affairs of his estates. Negotiations had gone well, but
he couldn't help the worry that percolated in the back of his thoughts. It had been several years since
the death of his father and subsequently Isabella. Still, part of him feared that his life from that point
had been progressing almost too easily.
The figures and projections on the page swam before his eyes and Cianan picked up the half forgotten
wine and finished the dregs. Even at his worst he'd never really been one for brooding. He'd thrown
himself into running the estate, kept his mind off everything as it fell down around him. It stopped him
from making an arse of himself he was sure.
He poured himself another glass of wine and looked out the small window overlooking the courtyard.
The reports could wait until the morning, he should find Griff, if nothing else his cousin would tell him
to stop being so paranoid.
“What luck, to find you alone,” said a voice from the shadows. “This makes our job so much easier –
not that we are really fans of easy. Harder is more fun.” The figure that appeared was a tall, heavily
built elf with striking, emerald-green eyes. There was a hard cruelty about them, a glinting insanity that
held no tendency for mercy. “I'd appreciate it if you put up a fight – I'm just dying for some
entertainment.” This hiss of a dagger lent credence to his words – and a whispered warning of
impending death.
Muttering a string of curses, Cianan didn't wait for the invitation, and threw the first thing available --
the goblet -- at the intruder. Taking no chances, he made a run for his sword, lying several feet away on
the desk. "Has anyone ever told you, you have absolutely rotten timing?"
B'Ryan grinned, watching the Lord scramble for his weapon, patiently waiting for him to arm himself.
“We usually don't make appointments for this kind of thing. People tend not to show up.”
And that's when B'Ryen showed himself, a grinning demon twin who detached himself from the
shadows just behind his brother.
"You're being too generous, brother," he said. "I wouldn't have waited for him to pick that poking stick
up."
“It makes the game more entertaining, brother,” B'Ryan responded as he moved, circling around
Cianan so that the Corinian was between them. “Let's see how good a swordsman this Lordling is, shall
we?”
"Oh yes, let's!" B'Ryen exclaimed, dark mischief glimmering in his eyes. "Let's see who he'll try to
poke first. He's really not to my taste so I'm betting on you."
Cianan gripped the hilt tightly in his sword hand and glanced at the brothers. If he went for either he
would be leaving a side open to attack. Not good, when he considered his odds of getting out of this
intact, let alone alive. "You've been told you're crazy before, haven't you?" He didn't think the sarcasm
would distract them for long, not judging by their stance, they looked too confident, too sure of their
victory.
He might be able to use that against them, but waffling over whom to attack first wasn't helping.
Calculating his odds, he attacked the new comer first, keeping as much guard against the other as he
could, given his position.
B'Ryan closed in from behind as Cianan went for B'Ryen, lips peeled back in a vicious grin as he
slammed into the Corinian's back and drove him ruthlessly forwards. “I guess he likes you better,” he
hissed.
"I said he wasn't really my type!" B'Ryen mock protested, laughing as his brother drove Cianan toward
B'Ryen's bared sword. He laughed gleefully. "Are you trying to hurt our feelings? Of course we're
crazy. We like being crazy."
Cianan tried to push against B'Ryan, but between his own forward momentum, and B'Ryan's, he
couldn't hold out. In a vain attempt to avoid the blade he twisted. He felt the heat first, it spread across
his back, followed by numbing cold. He held onto the blade with numb fingers. All training fled and he
swung wildly, hoping to hit at least one of them.
“Hey!” The doors had swung open, the brothers Fearguis standing in the hall, drawn by the sound of
the fight.
“Oh look,” B'Ryan laughed insanely, “company!”
Declan stared at the strange half-elf, then drew his weapon. “Stand away from him.”
Griffith appeared at his back, his own blade already drawn. Storm-grey eyes narrowed. He knew
madness when he saw it, and sometimes the only way to stop a rabid animal was to put them down.
"Throw down your swords," he said to the twins as he eased past Declan, not really expecting them to
do it nonetheless. Madness had its own logic, but it didn't follow any of the rules of 'normal' society. He
glided slowly to one side, forcing them to divide their attention if they wanted to keep an eye on both
him and the Fearguis' as well as Cianan.
B'Ryen was nursing a cut to his head, a gift from Cianan's wild sword swing. But he was grinning just
like his brother, eyes flitting swiftly from one target to the next, assessing their reduced odds for
success.
"They're awfully bossy sorts, B'Ryen observed before he stuck his tongue out at Griffith. "More
lordlings I suspect, throwing their weight around as if it matters." He kept his attention on Cianan for
the moment -- he was the target after all.
The elder twin flipped the dagger in his hand and winked at Griffith before driving it into Cianan's back
and twisting. He stepped forward, a ball of fire crackling at his fingertips, and launched it at the trio of
Lords. There was an explosion as it hit the door frame and bits of wood-shrapnel flew through the air.
“Time to take our leave, brother,” he said. “Open us a portal, won't you? The welcome here is a little
chilly, and we've done what we came to do.”
"Whoo! Nicely done!" B'Ryen crowed, immediately opening the requested portal. "You think he'll gush
to death or do a slow bleed?" He made a rude gesture at the other set of brothers and disappeared
through the portal.
B'Ryan cackled and backed up towards the opened vortex, then bowed with a flourish. “Gentlemen, its
been a pleasure.”
                                                      ***
A gaping, tearing portal exploded into Ghetsuhm's chambers in Rakka Keep, black lightning stabbing
through its inky depths – the surface rippling like an oily liquid that expelled Tallin Modar and his
struggling prisoner. With a great heave of muscular shoulders, the Demon Mage sent the Elen
sprawling across the floor. The tattered remains of of a cloak blew about his neck as the human stalked
forward, planting a boot in Galain's back.
A collar appeared from nowhere in the mage's fingers and he reached down, fisting his fingers in the
blond elf's hair and hauling his head back. “I've brought you a guest.” His voice boomed through the
room, and he didn't bother to look up. “You've seemed lonely of late, perhaps a little company for a bit
will cheer you up, my dear.”
Ghet had bathed and changed while Tallin had been gone, trying to get his touch off her. It hadn't
worked, and in any case there was nothing she could do about the bruises flowering over her neck or
the wound on her breast.
She got to her feet when he came back, working on not hyperventilating. So much rage and pain...
Then she stopped, staring at the blond man on the floor. "I... know you." Transfixed, she knelt beside
him, simply ignoring her captor as her mind struggled and failed to deliver her any useful information.
But this was a man, and she knew him, and she knew she was missing a husband...
Galain cursed a blue streak. He'd fought like hell and this was not how he'd envisioned things. He
sought to breathe and too late tried to pull 'Lain out. The dragon simply let out a low moan and slipped
away for now. Resourcefulness came with time to consider and the Gold needed that. That and no
collar. The Elen was unaccustomed to such a restraint and suddenly went still, willing himself to calm
down as a very familiar voice entered his consciousness. He knew her too...
"Ghetsuhm," he said, knowing he had found her, but not on purpose and with absolutely no way to
bring her back to where she belonged in time. His breath left him in a slow exhale. He could almost
forgive Tallin for that last insult before he'd been yanked out of time. He was probably right.
“Now see, you've cheered her up already,” Tallin snorted, snapping the collar closed and letting
Galain's head fall. He kept his boot firmly in place as he divested the Elen of his weapons. “Don't let
me interrupt the happy reunion.”
He’d said her name. That was her name. She pushed hair and tears roughly out of her eyes and put her
arms around him. There was metal under her fingers, gods, had she found the armband that matched
her own? She looked up at Tallin and joyous incredulity faded to just plain disbelief. “Why?” she asked
harshly, her grip on Galain’s arms protective. “Why would you give him back to me?”
“Give him back to you?” Tallin turned away from them and strode across the room. “To make him
suffer – because it pleases me.”
It was surreal -- of course. Galain tried to resist the loss of his weapons and would have thrashed harder
but for the arms enwrapping him and the sudden confusing weakness that overcame him. "What are
you going to do when I'm loose?" he shouted. He wanted to damn Tallin to the hells, but it wouldn't
have been very gratifying. The man was already there and enjoying himself. He buried his face into the
floor and then stopped. It was Ghetsuhm who was here -- the Ghetsuhm he and Y'Roden had been
looking for.. He turned his head to look up at her and half rose.
"Ghetsuhm," he said again. Not much more than what had just happened had penetrated his brain yet.
Ghet's concentration was on Tallin now. Something didn't make sense. Something about her was
supposed to hurt this man, just by him being near her. It could just be that Tallin was going to take him
away from her again, which he undoubtedly would...
She didn't know how much time she had. She didn't know anything else, either. She stood, and helped
the blond man to his feet. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I can't remember who you are. I can't remember
who I am."
Galain exhaled hard and then gave Ghetsuhm a wry look.
"Of course you don't," he said softly. "Of course." He shook his head and wondered if he'd been given
an accidental gift And then he looked hard again at the woman before him. It was certainly her. It had
to be her. There were subtle differences about her that told him who she was now, even if he didn't
immediately notice the outer signs.
"You're Ghetsuhm D'Riel," he said. "That's your name. Ghetsuhm Brigid Riker D'Riel. I'm Galain --
Alcarin. You've known me." His eyes burned as he caught her eyes.
Ghet nodded, and there was an urgency in her expression. "Yes. I couldn't remember your name, but I
know your face. You matter to me." The names twinged at her memory, she had a flash of shouting at
someone in a fury; you forgot the Brigid. And those pale, blue-green eyes, she remembered them,
looking at her, laughing, her hands on that soft blond hair, her voice saying his name... "I love you."
That their surnames were different never occured to her: it wasn't normal where she came from for a
woman to take her husband's name. "Why am I here?"
The energy he would have expended upon Tallin dissipated -- slowly -- and the Elen felt his body shift
in focus. A hand reached up to finger the collar around his neck and he regarded Ghetsuhm intently. It
was a strange thing. He'd never called her "Ghet", she'd always been "Ghetsuhm" if he called her by
name. He didn't know why, but it was important to him. He loved her, deeply. Tallin's last taunt was
true and he was embarrassed to a high degree and yet not.
"You are here because you are..." he paused to think about his answer, looking away because it was
easier. "Because Tallin wants something you can offer. Or he wants something close. He's led us on a
merry, damn chase." He paused and realized he was probably not making a lot of sense. He ran a hand
through his hair, broke the band that held his hair in one braid and tossed it away with a growl.
"I can start at at the beginning if it helps any," he said.
Ghet gave him a wry smile, treasuring the break from misery more than dwelling on how she felt.
"How far back is the beginning? I get the feeling that might take a very long time."
She knew Tallin was listening, but she didn't care. It was worth the chance that Galain might
understand the situation better than she did, or that he might get away with what little information she
could give him. "He wants me to have his baby. But... he doesn't much care about me. I'm here to hurt
someone else. You."
Galain regarded Ghetsuhm for a moment, his expression serious and his eyes suddenly devoid of
expression. Tallin had done something to really scramble up her mental synapses, but the elf could see
that she was doing her best to overcome whatever had been done. Sooner or later Galain was certain
Tallin would have to try another tack. Meanwhile...
"Me?" he asked and shook his head, looking away. "It sounds like he's done a lot to hurt you already."
Ghetsuhm have Tallin's baby? The bastard was beyond sick and twisted, the Elen thought to himself.
Ghet shrugged dismissively. "I don't remember. It doesn't really matter what he's done if I can't
remember it." It was odd, standing here talking to this man she knew, but couldn't remember anything
about. Surely they should be closer? "But it isn't me he wants. If you can get away, you have to go."
She reached out hesitantly and brushed her fingers through his hair. "I'm sorry I can't remember. I know
this must hurt you."
"Yeah," Galain said and turned away. It did hurt to realize again that probably the only person she
would remember was Y'Roden himself. His face twisted and he struggled to compose himself before he
breathed in deeply and turned back to give Ghetsuhm a quick smile, wishing he had the guts to do more
than just smile. She was right there... but he couldn't. He was an asshole, but not that much of an
asshole.
"I will get away," he said. "But not without you. Okay?" If Y'Roden couldn't find the holy when they
were, then Galain would try to find the way back -- he so prayed.
“Touching,” Tallin said as he reappeared in the room, “but stupid.” A gesture of his fingers brought the
runes on the collar to life, sending stabbing jolts of pain down Galain's spine. “You probably should
have told her the truth, Alcarin. But then, that isn't your style, is it. I'd leave you in here with her, but
you didn't show Elyen any respect when it came to An'Thaya – and he was your best friend. I hardly
think you'd respect this one's husband and keep off her. Not that I blame you, in either case – but I can't
have you messing up my plans.”
Digging his fingers into Galain's hair, Tallin wrenched him around. “Say goodbye, Ghetsuhm.”
"No." Ghet watched and made herself not fight. She didn't understand much of what Tallin had said,
but she knew. This man cared about her, loved her, she could tell. Nothing Tallin said could change
that. She didn't want Galain hurt, especially because of her. The defiance fell out of her face, her
shoulders dropping. "Don't hurt him. I'll do... Please don't hurt him."
Galain made a strangled sound that was a mixture of both pain and frustration.
"Don't do anything for him, Ghetsuhm. He's right about a few things and --" he grimaced with pain and
tried to turn and pull Tallin off him, failing of course. "Your husband would never forgive me if he
knew I didn't do my best to keep you safe." He snarled and choked. "Y'Roden D'Riel -- remember that
name -- he's trying to find you." Triumph lit Galain's features momentarily and he waited for the the
final blow.
Tallin smirked at Ghet and hauled Galain towards the door. “Oh, don't worry poppet, I couldn't hurt
him more than you already have.” He paused, letting the pair have one last look at one another, than
shoved the Elen out into the hallway. Galain struggled every step of the way, desperate to stay where he
was. He could care less what happened to himself now -- it was Ghetsuhm he was worried about.
"Gods damn you," he hissed at Tallin. "It'll be so great to watch you die."
Left alone, Ghet crumpled, the only thing she'd thought she'd known taken away from her. If not him,
then... who was he, and why did he feel the way he did about her. Y'Roden... the name he gave her
nagged at her, familiar, but somehow not quite right. And in the end, what did it matter? She was alone
again.
                                                    ***
"How's Màthair this morning?"
Caitlin Faracháin paused on her way down the stairs at this question and looked into a pair of pale-grey
eyes she knew as well as her own. Indeed, they were identical to those she saw every time she looked
into a mirror. "Better," she said. "That herbal remedy the healer suggested seems to be easing the pain
somewhat. I'm hoping she can be moved into the solar this afternoon. The change of scene would do
her good."
She made her way down into the hallway as her twin brother nodded. "Good. That's good. I know she
hates it when she's confined to her bed the way she has been for the past few weeks," he said. "And it
bothers Athair to see her that way."
"He doesn't like feeling helpless," Caitlin said quietly. "And who can blame him? It's not my favourite
thing in the world either."
Eamon glanced down at the tray she held in her hands. "I assume that's where you're headed next?"
His sister smiled wryly. "If I didn't put food immediately under his nose, I'm not sure he would eat
some days. He gets so engrossed in the paperwork."
Eamon's expression grew sober. "There's a lot of paperwork to deal with at the moment; trade
negotiations with Culachain and Lauchlan, that disputed border we share with Tanager - again, this
year's harvest... The need for him to keep going back and forth between here and Corin isn't helping
either. There's yet another conclave in the next day or two."
"Oh, not again," Caitlin said with a hint of dismay. "It only seems like yesterday that he got back from
the last one, and they always make him so angry."
"Tell me about it," her brother said, grimacing as he remembered his father's rant. He had gone so red
in the face that Eamon had been convinced he was about to burst a blood vessel.
Glossy brown curls bounced about his sister's shoulders as she sighed and shook her head. "There are
times when I could swear the other Lords take a perverse enjoyment out of baiting him."
"Perhaps they do." Eamon's lips twisted. "Let's face it, Cait. Athair is not the most malleable of
individuals. It's not that I don't respect his opinions, but his values can only be described as
conservative and his distrust of both the S'Heans and the Nomads is deeply unfashionable. His bull-
headedness doesn't help matters either."
Caitlin laughed. "A bull-headed Faracháin, surely not?" She glanced up at the red and brown banners
that decorated the walls and then back at Eamon. Pale-grey eyes were lit with wry amusement. "Our
ancestor earned his crest honestly, it seems."
Eamon grinned. "So it would appear."
"But I really must beard the current bull-headed Faracháin in his lair. His lunch will have gone cold,
else," she said.
"And I ought to get changed," her brother replied. "Archie is expecting me out in the stables in about
ten minutes."
With a smile and a nod, they parted, Caitlin heading in her usual brisk fashion along the corridor to
knock on her father's study door. At an indistinct growl from inside, she pushed the door open and
stepped inside. "Lunch," she announced, and made her way over to the desk. The burly man who sat
behind it looked up.
"Is it that time already?" he asked. Lucas, the current Lord Faracháin, was a burly man more suited to
riding around on horseback than sitting behind a desk. Paperwork was the bane of his life. He loathed
it, and resented the time he had to spend dealing with it. Tossing a scrunched-up piece of parchment
down on to the wooden surface of the desk, he leaned back, rubbing an absent hand across his chest as
a twinge of pain lanced through it. They were getting more frequent, he thought. A sign of getting old.
His chair creaked beneath his weight.
"Yes," his daughter said, setting the tray down on the surface of the desk. "Cook's preparing a roast for
later, so we're just having a light lunch."
Lifting some of the papers in order to make room for the plate and glass, Caitlin glanced at them
absently. Then her eyes narrowed. "Athair, what is this?" she demanded.
"Give me those." Lucas reached across the desk to swipe the papers from her, but she held onto them
and read through them hurriedly.
"These figures can't be right, surely?" Caitlin said. "We always get more than that for the harvest.
Eamon and I were talking about it only a few days ago." Her father's chair scraped backwards as he
lurched onto his feet. Caitlin's eyes widened. "Athair?"
Lucas snatched the papers from her and slammed them down onto the desk. The tray rattled. "Seems
Lauchlan is only prepared to offer two-thirds what he offered last year," he bit out. "Seems a Faracháin
isn't good enough to do business with anymore. Seems he doesn't think we have enough ties to those in
power."
He snorted. "Power. Elves hold the power in Corin these days. Changing the name back to Modar won't
alter that fact. Elves and elf-lovers call the shots, and honest Corinians get shoved to one side to make
room for them. Elves," he growled harshly. "What with them and that bloody Tanager and his games..."
His breath was short, and a dull ache radiated from his lungs. A hand scrubbed across his chest. It felt
like a steel band had wrapped itself around his ribs and had begun to tighten.
Alarmed at how red he had gone, Caitlin tried to urge her father into his seat, but he batted her away
with one hand. "Leave me be, girl," he muttered, and then swayed.
"Athair, please," she begged, and then a rare scream tore from her throat as the older man's powerful
form seemed to crumple and crashed towards the floor.
"Eamon!"
                                                       ***
Frost clung to the windows of Rakka Keep, blocking the view from the windows and setting a
permanent chill in the rooms that the seeped into the bones. Tallin had taken great pleasure in locking
Galain into the room that had belonged, for centuries, to Galain Jr. It was from there he had dragged the
Elen forth to slam through the doors of Ghetsuhm's chambers again, driving Galain to his knees as two
Nuru-kh'ai stood guard outside.
“I thought perhaps the two of you would like to say goodbye,” he said to them both. “The Lady and I
will be leaving shortly.”
Ghet got to her feet, setting her jaw hard so she didn't whimper. The way he kept bursting in here was
like shining a bright light in her eyes after days of darkness. It might almost have been welcome, but it
hurt. She was forgetting how to be a person. "Leaving? Where are you taking me?" Maybe, if he was
shifting her, it was because someone was looking for her.
Tallin grunted and tossed a cloak at her. “Telling you in front of him would defeat the purpose of
moving you, don't you think? Besides, I love surprising you, poppet.” He half-turned towards the
hulking Nurus in the hallway. “Be sure our guest is kept... comfortable. I'll be back soon to check on
him.”
The bigger one grinned toothily and scratched at its armpit. “Roight, boss.”
Galain looked up through a mass of tangled hair and gritted his teeth. It wasn't where, but when, he
thought. He looked up at Tallin.
"What's it matter to you what you say in front of me? It's not like I'm just going to pop out of here and
tell Y'Roden and Chezlar." His eyes shifted toward Ghetsuhm and his heart sank for her. "He's scared,
Ghetsuhm. That's why he's moving you. We've been looking for you and he knows he can't hide you
forever. Piss him off all you can," he said. "Piss him off and keep him off balance! I know you can do
it!" And then he lunged suddenly against Tallin's legs, literally following through on his own advice,
pathetic attempt that it probably was.
Ghet bit her lip in frustration, blood seeping between her teeth. If Tallin didn't want Galain knowing
where she was going, he was admitting the possibility that he was going to get away. And if there was
any chance, she couldn't let him blow it. "No! Stop it!" Wow, screaming was quite theraputic. "Let him
go, Tallin, please!" If they were looking for her, these people, maybe she just had to play for time.
"Take me, and let him go."
Tallin shook Galain off his leg as if trying to dislodge an attacking animal and stumbled sideways. The
Elen was smaller, but still weighty enough to be a threat. With a snarl, he drew his boot back and
slammed it into the side of the Elen's blond head. “Get off me!” He snapped his fingers, beckoning the
Nuru-kh'ai, who lurched forward, black-skinned hands grabbing at the elf and hauling him off the floor.
Striding across the space that separated them, Tallin gripped Ghetsuhm roughly by the arm and hauled
her to himself. He opened the portal that would carry them away and grinned at Galain. “Don't worry, I
still have plans for you, old friend. I'll be back.”
Ghet struggled against Tallin by reflex, without real hope. The look she shot back at Galain was
agonised, full of confusion and longing and guilt. "I'm sorry. Please be careful, I don't want - " Memory
itched at her. She didn't want anyone else to die because of her.
Galain met her eyes and nodded.
"I'll be fine," he said, not sure if she heard him. It was her he was worried about. Himself, hells, he was
the least worry on his mind.
The pair fell away into the darkness, leaving the Elen alone with the two twisted servants of Tallin
Modar.
                                                   ***
Finding deities would have been a bit of a challenge for most – but for Chezlar, it was all part of the
job. The Fates wove the fabric and destiny of the universe, though there was still an element of chance
and choice in the weave. Their Messengers could follow any tread, find any life-force – and Gods or
no, they were just as tangible, and just as traceable as any mortal.
“Venus.” The call was a polite request that echoed everywhere and nowhere at all, a musical invitation
to the Goddess of Love to join him in the mists – surroundings unseen, in a place that was neither here,
nor there.
It was an essential ability of the Fabioni to be aware of the sounds of their many names from wherever
they came - intrinsic to their ability to feed. And when the call came from a source as rich and unusual
as a Messenger, it was more than enough to make Venus take form.
She coalesced in the mists, a feeling of warmth and roses. "Chezlar Khor." Her voice was warm too,
amused and curious. "Why would you be calling me? Tempted to change your allegiance, love?"
Chezlar's expression was vaguely amused. “I have no allegiances, Venus. I'm simply forced to follow
orders by those who created me. There is a difference between loyalty and slavery.” His mouth
twitched briefly. Among his kind he was one of the few allowed a modicum of choice – he was, after
all, half-mortal. “As for temptation... always, always. You know we find beauty difficult to resist.”
There may have been a trace of a smirk, but it was difficult to tell.
“The Gods of Whispin extend their invitation to join them at the Keep – they wish to hear your say on
the fate of your Chosen.”
Her smile was more than a little smug, a raised eyebrow indicating a certain degree of skepticism.
Game-playing was something all her kind enjoyed, finding the loopholes in the rules they were all
subject too, and on another day she might have fenced for hours on allegiance and free will.
Not today. "What, my Ghetyana? What is her fate to the Gods of Whispin? She may have become the
Soul of S'Hea, but she's still mine and under my protection." Venus frowned slightly, a small line
allowed to appear between her eyes. The S'Hean wards interfered with her connection to her Chosen,
blocking her normal peripheral awareness of Ghetsuhm, but a Call still went straight through. "Where
is she?"
“And now we reach the point where my 'free will' ends,” Chezlar said dryly. “That is a question I am
forbidden to answer. It is up to the Sword of Peace to find where she has been taken, I cannot interfere.
So far, however, he has been blocked at every turn by the Demon God and his Chosen. The Gods of
Whispin feel that Haldanuru has overstepped himself, he seeks to change the path of time. They seek to
petition the Fates to break my silence.”
A quick intelligence flickered behind the goddess's eyes as she calculated the implications of what he'd
said. Time: she had access to everywhere physical, but the past and future were forbidden to her race.
Not to Chez's, though. He could walk where she could not, she could interfere where he was
forbidden...
"He can do what he likes to the timeline of Whispin," she said, and the heat in her voice was the
vengeful huntress she could become. Not all of love's aspects were benign. "He has no right to lay his
hands on her. To separate those two by force, against their wills? Is sacrilege."
Her physical form became more definite as she paced, the lush beauty so practised it was unconscious.
"If I go to the Keep, I may end up constrained in ways I don't wish to be. Like you, I have to accept the
rules and keep the agreements I make. But if I had already made some kind of arrangement which
perhaps didn't quite get mentioned..."
A quiet smile lit the ethereal quality of the Changeling's face, a certain patient relief lightening the
liquid-gold of his eyes. “Then you certainly could not be held at fault for your actions. One must
always dance with one that brought them – so to speak.” A shrewd spark revealed itself in the depths of
his swirling gaze. “Would you care to dance, Goddess of Love, where no one else could take you?”
Venus laughed, arch but good humoured. "Such an offer. How could I resist?" Fingers the texture and
scent of rose petals brushed against his chest. "You want to be careful, love, that your allegiances don't
start showing. "I have such a reputation for fickleness, one could hardly blame you for failing to predict
what I might do given the... opening. For myself, my daughter is much-loved. Such simple words
people over-complicate, but they're the path to give me the power to interfere. So tell me, my dear, why
you would offer such a dance. Balance, justice? Or because you, too, love my daughter in your own
way?"
“It's that love that you hold for her that assures me whatever you do will be fore the greater good,”
Chezlar said. “As for my own reasons, they are many. I naturally crave balance, it's in my very nature –
even more so than most of my people. I am the twilight in the brilliance of Inligh. More than any other
of my kin I desire justice, and the will of the Fates does not always satisfy it.”
The answer to the rest came a little more slowly. “I love Ghet, yes – but not in the fashion of others –
not the way I loved my Marion. She is glorious in her ability to bring joy to those around her, including
and most importantly – the Sword of Peace. I have watched over the D'Riels longer than they can
remember and their wellbeing is important to me. The only true balance in Y'Roden's life has been
Ghetsuhm and I will do anything to give that back to him. I have loved, I have lost – I would not wish
that pain on anyone.”
Venus tilted her head and watched him under her brows as she considered, then nodded. "Compassion
is also mine. Were it honour or vengeance that drove you, it would be a dance that wasn't mine to take.
But in that moment, if that love is foremost in your heart..." She laughed, all grandeur and formality
dropping away. "My arse is covered. Figuratively speaking, at least."
She eyed him, grinning toothily. "I do prefer to seal my deals a little more... physically."
Chezlar looked momentarily startled, and somewhat torn. “It's not fair to tempt a Changeling who has
been alone so long,” he scolded gently. “You'll break my non-existent heart.”
Venus's expression was a picture of delighted evil. "'Fair'? 'Heart'? 'Tempt' I understand, it's my job.
And I do like to be thoroughly professional. I've no interest in your heart, my dear, not for myself. But
you know, no matter how deep you are, sometimes there's nothing wrong with a little shallow." She
chuckled. "I know a few dances myself."
The Changeling laughed aloud, a rare and infectious sound. “I should have known better,” he chided
himself softly. “Not even the universe can resist the Goddess of Love at her best... or worst.” Massive
fingers slid under Venus' chin and tipped her head up as Chezlar leaned down from his considerable
height to brush her mouth with the taste nutmeg and cinnamon.
Venus smiled beneath his mouth, raising her head and enjoying the brush of her hair over her back. "It's
best not to try," she murmured. "Save your energy for more important things..."
                                                       ***
Jerri rolled breathlessly away from her bed partner and sat up, her hair disheveled and a sheet tangled
around her middle – a slight sheen of sweat on her skin that glistened in the sunlight filtering through
the window. The blonde made a frustrated little noise and pushed her hair back, then knuckled at her
eyes. “I'm sorry, I'm suffering from a case of ADD this week,” she said. “It's not you, I swear.”
Ron'Dar stayed where he was on his back and let her have the space she needed, watching her quietly.
He'd been pretty much aware the whole time he'd known her of how much it 'wasn't him', and it didn't
bother him. She'd changed, though, that delicate balance tipped. "Do you want to talk about it?" he
asked mildly. "I entirely promise not to fall asleep."
The human sighed and turned to look at the S'Hean, momentarily distracted by hard abs and dark skin.
“I... what was I? Oh yeah. Have you ever wanted to punch someone right in the nose over something
they just can't control? I don't do worry – it's not my style.
Yet here I am, all worried – it's just not right. I should be shagging you rotten without a thought in my
head. I want to be ... what was that word? Skrun, yeah, skrunning your brains out right now and not
thinking about anything.”
"But you do have a thought in your head," her lover said equably, "and it's got to the point where you
can't pretend not to have it any more. And if it's getting in the way of your skrunning then I for one
think you might need to... find a more direct way to express it? Even if that means you have to punch
somebody."
He half sat up, resting his hand on one hand. "Sometimes worry is perfectly reasonable. And if there's
nothing else you can do... I'll warn you though, it's said our Tyrne has a very hard head, you may hurt
your hand."
Jerri snorted. “Surprisingly, its not Y'Roden I want to hit. It's Galain. What the hell was he thinking?
What has he been thinking since both of his wives left him? He goes around masking every emotion he
has until he is this emotionless drone and being all self-recriminating, punishing himself, then he goes
and falls into the hands of a psychopath and leaves me here being Ms Fretsalot.”
She chewed on her lip for a moment. “Maybe I should punch Chezlar in the nose instead. I may need a
footstool to reach. He won't say a damn word about anything – what is with that?”
With a little growl, she flipped over and straddled Ron'Dar's lap, wriggling a bit, and kissed him.
“Maybe it's me that's insane. Why am I worrying about some pretty blond elf when I've got tall dark
and – wow, that's really – what was I saying? Oh yeah, I've got gorgeous right here in my bed.”
With a warm smile, the S'Hean ran his hands up Jerri's smooth thighs. "Well, there I can't help you.
With Galain, I mean. There, I might just be able to do something for you. But I've never met the Elen.
His wives... well, if a man can get a woman like that in the first place, he must have something going
for him. Perhaps he needs reminding, when he gets back. That there's a lovely blonde who just can't get
him out of her mind."
Abruptly, he moved, stomach muscles rippling as he rolled her onto the bed underneath him. "I should
probably give you a hug, and a nice massage." Lowering his head, he nipped at her breast. "Or... we
could give this just one more go."
“I can't tell him that!” Jerri exclaimed, appalled, then sighed with pleasure as his hard frame covered
hers. “I... never mind. I can't explain why.” She grinned then and shifted her hips beneath him. “Has
anyone ever told you, you're a fabulous distraction?”
"Not that I can remember," he replied, working his way down her stomach, "but I have to admit I'm not
concentrating very hard on that right now." His fingers slipped between her thighs, working her body
steadily. "I don't think you should concentrate either, alright?"
“Hmm?” Jerri seemed to have prematurely taken Ron'Dar's advice, her blue eyes glassy with pleasure
as her hips twisted, drawing his fingers deeper into slick flesh as her back arched. Peaches and cream
skin flushed deeply and her breathing reduced to panting gasps for breath as an orgasm rippled through
her body – effectively nullifying and thought in her head.
                                                     ***
On the way back to the rooms he shared with Foxx, Marius caught himself walking more and more
slowly. He didn't want to tell her: he didn't want to hurt her again. He also didn't want to have to talk
about it, the way he'd gone on and on not talking about anything, because he didn't want to get any
closer to the deep well of barely controlled rage he was carrying around.
This, though... it was too much to keep hiding from. He had to tell her. So he figuratively kicked his
own arse and made himself pick up speed, pushing through their doors before he could chicken out.
"Foxx?" he called. "You, um... are you sitting down? You might want to sit down. Or get up and pace."
Foxx had been sitting down. Cross legged on a divan reading some trashy novel dug up from gods
knew where while her red gold hair tumbled over her shoulders and obscured bits of the pages she
wasn't paying attention to anyway. Today she'd decided to hide out in the suite assigned to her and
Marius. He had been gone when she'd woken up, and no one else was likely to come by, which made it
an excellent choice for hiding out. Low on entertainment value though. One eyebrow quirked in
concern as she looked up at him. Even with his tension apparent seeing him made her feel better.
Twitchy and helpless, and given the look on his face slightly queasy. But also better, because whatever
else was wrong he was still there at least. "Can I decide as we go?". Whatever it was wasn't going to be
good.
A wry smile twitched across Marius's face despite everything. No matter how bad it got, she had a way
about her. "Sure. I can't stop you." He thought about sitting down, but if he did he'd only feel like
getting up again, and that would drive her crazy. "Love... the last time Y'Roden and Galain went after
Tallin, Galain didn't make it back. Tallin has him."
Marius held himself braced tightly against her reaction: she loved Galain deeply. And worrying about
her stopped him from thinking about how he felt, now he'd lost both parents.
It was amazing, Foxx thought, how fast your heart could turn to stone, sink to your stomach, form a
lump in your throat, and then albiet with a slightly more uptempo pace return to your chest. Adrenaline
surged as her lungs emptied abruptly, and before she knew it she was perched on the edge of the divan.
Elbows on her knees, head between her hands, eyes focused firmly on the strangely disassociated feet
on the floor, as she focused on 'not dead' and waited for the world to reorient.
So far she'd just kind of been cruising. It was part of the reason she'd spent so much time sticking to
herself. It just wasn't possible for Ghet to die, therefore Ghet was coming back. She'd known this just
like she knew how to breathe and while she was worried, and scared for her friend, and hurting for
everyone, she already had enough grief. Since there wasn't room for anymore, Ghet would ultimately
be fine. It wasn't the strongest stream of logic, but it'd been enough. The half-elf had been loosely
aware of everything going on, had known Galain and Y'Roden were off with Chezlar . . but everything
was going to be fine so long as she maintained a loose disregard, waited patiently, and didn't talk about
anything much. So she couldn't really explain why hearing Galain didn't make it back. Tallin
automatically made her think Galain was dead. She could however scrape together enough sense to
know that if she didn't breathe soon she was probably going to pass out.
Marius dropped to his knees in front of her, and laid his hands on her arms with a sort of sure firmness.
"Foxx, love, listen." Now, what in hell was he going to say? Whatever came out of his mouth now, and
he'd be as surprised as anyone, it was as much for himself as it was for her. "From what I hear, if Tallin
wanted to kill Galain he could have just done it. But he took him, just like he took Ghet. I don't know,
but I don't think he's got anything as quick and easy as knocking him off in mind."
He wanted to tell her that everything was going to be okay, that Galain always made it through, that he
bounced back no matter how hard he got pushed down. Except the last decade had been an object
lesson in just how much that wasn't true. His father was more vulnerable than he'd ever been, and the
passing years just seemed to diminish him more.
The grip of Marius' fingers on her arms seemed to loosen something. She shook, inhaled, sobbed out
air she hadn't know she had. She still felt like she was choking but she managed to move her head. Her
forehead found his and watery eyes found his blue-green. "He's not allowed to die yet." She didn't quite
know what she meant by that, but Galain's vulnerability was way more present than Ghet's was. Where
she'd never needed to tell the universe that Ghet couldn't go, with Galain it needed stating.
Foxx took another breath, trying to make it deeper this time. One arm freeing itself, her fingers
reaching up to brush hair off her forehead, the back of her hand wiping at tears, then turning into a
caress of Marius' face. Her finger tips sliding down his temple, the curve of his cheek. His skin
underneath her fingers helped. The illogical swimminess of the world around her disappated a bit as
she stared, the desire to find strength for him, the knowledge he was hurting as much, giving her a bit
of ground. "We never worked out a family discount."
It wasn't much but it cracked the lump in her throat a bit, let her take a deep breath. Foxx pulled in the
air greedlily, skin cells opening up, drawing in oxygen through humidity and sweat, clearing her head
as she studied her love, her bondmate, and struggled for control.
Something gripped painfully around Marius's heart even as he smiled. He closed his eyes when she
stroked his face, then leaned forward and kissed her gently. Then again, a bit less gently. "I think some
families get special treatment anyway," he said, trying on not-miserable for size. "It's always seemed
that way. And if he's put Galain with Ghet, well, they can take care of each other. That might not be any
better than getting gutted, but at least it'd be distracting."
He wrapped his arms around her shoulders and pulled her head against his chest. "We'll get through
this, alright? We have to. Because Aarien is going to go ballistic, and I've got no idea what's going on in
Rhagi's head these days."
Foxx relaxed into Marius' chest, counting his heartbeats as some of the pain in her heart eased. Of
course they were going to get through it, but it was going to be miserable and painful and unfair and
she hated that . At least if Galain was near Ghetsuhm he'd be angry, more inclined to fight, and
probably the same for Ghet. In the meantime Marius was right. "I've no idea about Aarien, it's odd you
know? Because I feel like I should know her but... anyway. Rhagi's doing alright, he's a teenager, you're
related and therefore not supposed to know what's going on with him. He's like everyone else though.
Impatient and frustrated and helpless."
Marius nodded, thinking about what she'd said and appreciating the way she could always show him
things differently. To him, his younger brother was very much a closed book; difficult and moody.
Aarien, on the other hand, was pretty simple. "Alright. As long as Rhagi's got... something. Someone to
take care of him because honestly I don't think I can carry any more." He knew nobody had asked him
to carry anything, but his heart wouldn't let him leave it. "You know what? I could do with a drink. And
maybe a bath. And then we should go find the kids."
                                                     ***
Castle Modar was an overgrown ruin at what, in this time, was the edge of the King's lands where they
bordered another Lord's. A few centuries without tending had relegated the once grandiose dwelling to
a crumbling, foliage covered mess. Whispin was unkind, even to stone, her ever growing, verdant
swaths of growth tearing down what was not kept clear, the heat and humidity wearing at building
material and frequent rain washing what seemed permanent into memory.
The change in temperature compared to Rakka Keep was sudden, and stifling. Tallin tugged off his
cloak and worked open the laces of his shirt and he opened a set of doors and shoved Ghetsuhm inside.
This room, at least, had been cleared and made ready – he'd obviously been planning ahead.
Ghet jerked away from him, but her heart wasn't in it. She was just... tired. Tired of fighting and hurting
and swinging between being bored and lonely, and being scared out of her mind. "And what the hell is
the point of this? Trying to impress me with your wonderful range of class residences? At least this
time it's warm, though what that smell is..."
Tallin's backhand was swift and sharp, his eyes cold. “How the hells does he stand that mouth,” he
snapped. “There must be a lot of time allocated to keeping it busy, Bitch.” A vicious spark fired the
Mage's expression. “Not that you'd remember.”
Ghet let her head go round when he hit her, then spent a brief moment wondering why she knew
instinctively what to do when hit. Maybe 'he' didn't like the mouth... "No, I don't remember. But some
things I don't have to." She wiped at her lip, tears gathering in the corner of her eyes. Her voice when
she spoke again was flat, the tone belying her defiance. "Any time you get sick of me, you know you
don't have to keep me round."
The hulking mage lunged, digging his fingers into the back of Ghet’s hair and fisting into it, using it to
steer her as he pushed her further into the room and threw her onto a chaise. “Don’t push me,” he
growled. “I’m at the end of my patience with all of you right now and I’m about five seconds away
from just taking what I want from you.”
Ghet pushed her hair out of her face and half-sat up, staying in an unthreatening reclining position. "I'm
not trying to push you. I do figure you can't just take what you want from me or you would have done it
by now. And I don't think I can give it to you, because I don't think I'm what you want. I'm just some
kind of proxy." She dropped her head back on the chaise, weary beyond belief. "If you don't want to
fight all you have to do is leave me the fuck alone."
Tallin's face twisted with rage and he leaned down, one large hand fastening around Ghet's throat and
squeezing, the other brutally ripping her shirt down the front. “Enough words,” he snarled, “obviously
there is only one way to shut you up for more than five seconds.”
With a strangled growl, Ghet twisted her body away from him and into the back of the couch. She was
swamped with his anger, and her own rose to meet it, fury giving her strength and determination. Her
upper hand came up to claw at his arm, trying to pull it back enough so she could breathe. If she passed
out...
Iron-strong fingers grabbed Ghet's upper arm and slid to her wrist, hauling it up over her head and
yanking her body out straight. He was forced to let go of her throat to balance, his knees moving to
force the redhead over on her back and pin her there.
Tallin's knees met Ghet's as she unwound the coil of her body like a spring, the momentum of her legs
aided by a hard push from her lower hand. If he hadn't been trying to get on top of her, the attempt to
get over him might well have worked. As it was they collided with the full force of her dance-trained
body, swinging round the fulcrum of her captured arm, like a pendulum meeting a wall halfway
through its arc.
She let out a growl of frustration as the impact of it jarred through her legs, and then a short bark of
near-hysterical laughter as she realised something. Now almost all their weight was on one side of the
chaise, and she could feel the heavy but elderly piece of furniture move beneath them. With a harsh
smile she stopped pulling her torso back and shoved it forward, making her shoulder scream with the
flex, pushing her weight towards him.
An ominious creak of protest came from the worn, rotting wood and Tallin grunted half in surprise as it
gave way beneath his considerable weight, coupled with Ghet's. They hit the floor with a hard, winding
thud and Tallin collapsed into wheezing laughter for a moment before heaving up onto his hands and
knees and dragging Ghet's lighter form beneath him. “You're not going to win this fight,” he told her
bluntly. “But keep trying.”
A piece of worm-ridden wood was headed for Tallin's temple at speed. "Even if you win you lose," she
growled, her legs twisting and kicking under him. "You're only fighting me because you lost the
important fights."
The mage twisted his head, the wood catching his his thick, dark lengths of hair and tangling as
splinters grazed the skin of his temples. Small droplets of blood welled up and he swore, backhanding
her across the cheek bone and dropping the weight of his body onto hers. “Oh I wouldn't say lost,” he
hissed, “your husband wasn't looking so well the last I saw him, and I'm not just talking about the
hideous exoskeleton. I wouldn't say I lost the fight with Galain either – he is my captive after all, not
the other way around.”
Ghet's head rocked, and she kept her face twisted away, set in revulsion. "Right. And that's what you
wanted, is it? And you tell me I talk too much, you're not so big on the shutting the fuck up yourself."
“Well if you insist,” Tallin's tone was thick with dark humour, “I'd be more than happy to shut the fuck
up.” The mage dropped his head and slowly licked Ghet's exposed neck, his breath hot on her skin, and
a hand slid into her torn shirt, fingers hard on her flesh.
Ghet's nails tore across Tallin's injured temple, reflexively trying to drive his face off her body. Digust
overflowed her, and she used it, pushing her nausea and horror out from herself, flooding him with it as
if it was his own.
A yell of pain, and then something worse ripped out of the dark-haired human and he rolled off of her,
choking and gagging. Disoriented he reared up to his knees and clutched at his head. “Stop!” With an
enraged snarl, he drew back his arm and cracked his fist into the side of Ghet's face, desperate to cut off
the source of his agony.
Ghet tumbled to the side, blood running freely down her face. She dragged herself across the floor,
tried to stand, and settled for sitting. Too ill, too drained, too many blows to the head. She could see the
door, but there was no way in hell she could get there.
Exhausted and dizzy, there wasn't much more she could pour into her Talent, but she wasn't telling him
that. She just pulled it back while she still had the focus, and wadded up what was left of her shirt to
wipe her bleeding face. There was an ominous clicking in her cheekbone. "You rape me," she said, her
voice distorted by swollen lips, "you live through it with me."
Tallin stumbled to his feet and wiped at his temple. He shot a venomous look at Ghetsuhm, then
straightened. “I'll be back,” he ground out, “and you'll pay for that.” The door slammed behind him as
the Demon Mage left, echoing through the room.
Ghet's laugh was short and hysterical. "Course," she said tiredly, pressing the fabric against her broken
face. "Ding ding, round four hundred and fifty fucking four." At least she'd have time to rest.
Looking around, she realised she didn't even have anything to sleep on now, and the laughter bubbled
up again. By the time she hit the floor, it was a thin, exhausted sobbing.
                                                     ***
Kerensa Thorneton stood silently by the window, staring out over the landscapes of Corin. She'd come
to the city with her husband for the council meetings, and she was still uneasy by the events that had
taken place.
But other events played more heavily on her mind, those of a more personal nature. She was certain
now of what she'd suspected before they left their home, and now she couldn't wait to tell Daegan.
Smiling, she turned around and almost waltzed across the room.
The Lord of Thorneton paused in the doorway with a stack of ancient plunder in hand. He’d told the
librarian that the books were for his wife, but it didn’t mean that a few wouldn’t fall into his hands as
well. Reading seemed to be an interest they both shared.
“If you’re picking up dancing, I’ll go find Callean, I’m sure Beathas won’t mind, she’s rather easy
going in that matter.”
Kerensa smiled at her husband. "Don't you dare. How were the libraries?"
“I do dare, I thought you knew that by now?” Daeg asked with a grin, depositing the books on a table.
“He did say that he wouldn’t mind seeing Fynn sometime soon. Which is Ruthven for Beathas wants to
set up a family feast of some sort.”
Chuckling, he held a book out to her. “Why don’t you come see for yourself? I’m sure you’ll find
something of interest.”
Kerensa grinned and walked over to take the book. "Family feasts can be entertaining, depending on
the family involved." She paused to look up at him, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
"I do have to ask what you would think if ours were to grow a bit larger?" She did like to lead into
things vaguely.
A dark eyebrow arched as he considered his wife. “Has someone approached you about a position?”
For as far back as he could remember, Kerensa tested the waters when she was uncertain about
something and he had a vague notion of what she was asking. “It depends on your definition of
growth.”
Daegan began sorting through the tomes, purposely steering clear of the only other subject he could
think of to get her to open up. “There is plenty of room at both castles so if someone is interested in
hiring on quarters wouldn’t be a problem.”
"It's not a case of someone hiring on..." She smiled and held the book close to her chest as she looked at
her husband. One hand slid from the book down her stomach, pausing just under her waist.
"It's more a case of what your father would consider my duty..."
Daegan’s head swung around with the speed of a striking snake, his face darkening at the mention of
his father.
Lulach Thorneton had been a unbearable up until his oldest son had died, leaving him with Daegan and
an invalid after an earth quake, from then on he’d been a bellowing tyrant who always saw someone’s
best not good enough and had a warped sense of duty and honor. It was a blessing when the old man
had died only a few short years after Daeg had asked the King to spare him and a year after the birth of
his final child.
“That isn’t funny, Keren,” he heard himself say gruffly sounding far too much like his father than he
was comfortable with. Taking a deep breath he let it out slowly, his face softening. The Lord paused as
her words and actions seemed to finally sink in.
“Wait, are you saying…? Really? But how…don’t answer that, I know how.” Grinning madly he swept
his wife up.
"I should hope you know how. And yes, Daegan, you're going to be a father." Kerensa laughed as he
lifted her up, joy radiating out of her. If anyone had told her, just a few years ago, that she could be this
happy, she would have thought them crazy.
Daegan’s deep, warm laughter merged with hers.
Life, it seemed, was brightening for the Thorneton clan and was going to be very busy for sometime.
                                                     ***
Cullen pushed his way through the crowd of Lords gathered near the entrance of the Council Chamber.
It was late morning, and the air was heavy with tension. Today the vote would be cast that would either
put Valin back on the throne, or permanently ensconce Gardor as Regent until such time as he died, and
Brenn took his place. An attempt had been made on the life of Cianan Conchobhair and the finger
pointing had already started. If he had been killed, the vote would have been swayed against Valin – or
deadlocked again, so to speak.
The Captain of Corin's Guard stopped short and gazed at a young man in his path. “Eamon?” Dark-
brown eyes studied the young Corinian questioningly. “Where is your father?”
Eamon's lips twisted. His expression was tired. "Dead," he said baldly. He stuffed his hands in his
pockets. "A couple of days ago. Heart attack."
Cullen's expression softened briefly and he nodded. “My condolences, Lord Faracháin. I'll see you
inside.” He nodded respectfully, hurrying his pace a little. A change of this magnitude had to be
reported to Valin before the Council began.
“I hadn't heard,” Lord Fearguis Major said from behind the most recent of his peers. “I'm sorry
Eamon.”
The younger man turned to face Declan. "We haven't really had a chance to make a formal
announcement," he said. "It was... a shock. If it weren't for Caitlin..." A wry smile touched his lips.
"This is one of the rare occasions when I am grateful my sister is as organised as she is."
Declan smiled, “No doubt. My last sister will be leaving home soon so I'm rather glad my mother is
still around. I suppose I will have to marry soon though, can't expect her to run the household forever.”
His expression grew thoughtful for a moment. “Well, that's a discussion for a more appropriate
moment, come along, you are seated between Bhayne and myself.”
The other Lords had started filtering in through the doorway past them by then, taking their positions
around the round table.
Griffith Talacharn was one of the last to arrive. Sliding into his chair, he was all too aware of the empty
seat between himself and Bhayne. He cast a sidelong glance at his sister's betrothed, grimacing slightly,
and then raised an eyebrow as he looked around the other man to look at the young man taking the seat
on the other side.
"What happened to Faracháin?" he murmured, leaning closer to Lord Ceanadach.
Bhayne's brows had knitted together and the space between them had become heavily creased as he
noted the young man, who must surely be the son of Faráchain. His callused fingers gripped and
moulded the skin at his chin as he shook his head. Hazel-green eyes left Eamon and went to Lord
Talacharn.
"I hate to admit my own ignorance, Griffith," Bhayne literally talked out of the side of his mouth, and
in low tones, "but my House is often times the last to know any news that doesn't come from the
sands."
Gardor smirked as he passed by Bhayne's chair – shaking his head as he pulled out his own chair and
dropped into it. He was the last to be seated, and nodded to Cullen, who opened the doors leading into
the King's private council-chamber.
Valin approached the table dressed in full Corinian colours, though he had forgone the crown. He stood
in front of his chair and nodded to what should have been a full compliment of Lords. One was
convalescing, another dead and replaced – a lot to have happened within two weeks time, and he was
aware that it was undermining what might have been solid footing.
His gaze fell on the newest Lord Faracháin. “Welcome to the gathering of Lords, Eamon, and our
condolences for your loss. Under the circumstances, we will leave the swearing of your fealty until this
Council has rendered their decision.” Emerald greens moved three places to the young lord's left and
settled on Griffith. “What news, Lord Talacharn? How fares Lord Conchobhair?"
"He's still alive and kicking," Griffith said. "The attack left him quite badly injured though. I've been
given his proxy to vote for him at this council, it wouldn't have been wise for him to travel in his
condition."
The blades began to turn, Arketh, Black, Fearguis, Wyvern – all turning point inwards, a firm yes on
the part of those loyal to the crown. Others scraped against the cold stone, the hilts roughly forced
towards the center of the table in a forceful no.
Llewellyn did not hesitate but resolutely turned his blade to the center. He silently looked across the
table at Fearguis and gave an almost imperceptable nod to his now relatives.
As for a very quiet Lord Dinawd... he stared at the other lords around him and then he voted. It was
pointed inward. As if it would have mattered, he groused silently to himself. Nevertheless he eyed
Valin quietly, keeping the rest of his thoughts to himself.
There might have been a few who were surprised when Deren Tanagar's blade turned point-in, though
his quiet smile gave nothing away. He was very much enjoying himself, truth be told. There'd been an
assassination attempt that was nothing to do with him, and he really wanted to see what was going to
happen next. Someone wanted Valin off the throne very badly, so obviously the best thing to do was to
make sure he got on, and see who tipped their hand in response. It all promised to be the most fun.
Callean Ruthven leaned forward, turning his blade to the center as he pondered the recent events in his
usual silent manner, his eyes straying around the table to watch his cousin, Daegan, and uncle make
their choices; the same as his own.
Eamon felt thoroughly ill-equipped to be making a decision and he wished, not for the first time over
the last few days, that his father was still around to advise him. He looked around the table, studying
faces and hands as, one by one, each lord cast his vote. As he watched, Griffith Talacharn turned the
daggers for himself and his cousin point inwards.
The younger man rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. Then he reached forward and turned his own
- point inwards.
The very last thing Emlyn wanted was to be a deciding vote. With all the rumors, assassination
attempts and untimely deaths being targeted was not on his favored to do list. He and Elaine were
finally finding common ground which made him hope for a life resembling settled. The other last thing
he wanted was to turn his lands over to estate rendering due to being heirless. Finally his hand reached
forward turning his blade point in, favoring the return of Valin.
Lord Mórdha, nodded his head once in approval of the way things were turning. The King’s heritage
was mixed, but when it came to his people, he did what he could to keep a balance between what was
needed and what was wanted.
“Sixteen for, twelve against,” Gardor's booming voice announced. “The ayes have it.” The High Lord
of Corin bowed respectfully to Valin. “Your Majesty – congratulations, you have successfully
reclaimed your throne.”
A 'here here' resounded from Valin's staunch supporters as he stood and nodded in acceptance to the
Council. Cullen, repressing the smile that was trying to break through, appeared at his elbow, the crown
of Corin held out on a cushion for the King to reclaim. Callused fingers pressed against the sides of the
circlet and the dark-haired elf set it back upon his brow.
“Now that we have that out of the way,” he said, “back to business. Eamon, if you would care to step
forward, it is time to swear you in officially as Lord Faracháin.”
The dark-haired young man's chair scraped back as he rose from his seat. Walking past the other Lords
as he circled the table, he came to a halt in front of the newly-confirmed King and bowed his head.
"Mo righ," he said.
Valin gestured for Eamon to kneel, his demeanour becoming more formal as Cullen opened a set of
side doors and admitted a Herald. “Do you wish to swear fealty at this time?”
"I do, mo righ," Eamon said.
The Herald came to stand beside the young nobleman and cleared his throat. “To your Liege and before
your peers repeat after me:
“Here do I swear fealty and service
to the Crown and Kingdom of Corin,
in all matters as concern the Kingdom
upon my honor
and the lawful command of the Crown
in need or in plenty,
in peace or in war
in living or in dying,
until the King depart from His Throne
death take me, or the world end,
so say I, Eamon Faracháin.”
Eamon's voice was clear and strong as he repeated the Herald's words, his pale-grey eyes meeting the
emerald-green gaze of the King.
Valin's deep baritone rose again in acceptance. “This do We hear, and remember,
and We for Our part do swear fealty to you,
, and to all your household,
to protect and defend you with all Our power,
until We depart from Our Throne,
death take us, or the world end.
So say We, Valin Modar, King of Corin.
“Let the Scroll of Arms be read,” he said to the Herald.
“Know by these presents that We, , King of Corin, do hereby acknowledge him Lord, and do confirm to
him the rank, style, title, and privileges of that estate.”
The King unsheathed his sword and touched the flat of the blade to Eoman's left shoulder, his right,
then the top of his head as the Herald lifted the Chain of Office in both hands, at the ready as Valin re
sheathed his sword. Taking the chain, he placed it around the new Lord's shoulders.
“Eoman Faracháin, now do We, Valin Modar,
King of Corin,
acknowledge your right to the style
and title of Lord,
and We place upon your shoulder
this chain
bearing the weight of your office
which is a symbol of your new estate.
“Rise, Lord Faracháin . We welcome you to our most noble order.”
                                                      ***
There was a knock on the doors to the King's private council chambers almost as soon as Valin had
retired to them. It was not unexpected, Valin was fully prepared to answer a plethora of questions in the
coming weeks. The transfer of power in a Kingdom was always a tumultuous time as the nobles
attempted to figure out where they belonged in the political structure. When Valin had died things had
been in flux anyway, what with numerous deaths as the result of various assassinations, and a Regent
coming into power. The aftershocks were still being felt, and his reclaiming of the throne had sent fresh
ripples across the calming waters.
“Your Majesty,” Cullen said as he entered and bowed at the waist. “Lord Talacharn requests a word.”
Valin nodded and seated himself behind his desk. “Show him in please, Captain Havenlock.”
Griffith nodded to Cullen as he entered the room and then turned to the man behind the desk. "Mo
rìgh," he said, inclining his head politely.
“Griffith,” Valin said quietly in greeting. “Have a seat. What can I do for you?”
The sandy-haired man sat down in a chair opposite. "I wanted to talk to you about the attack at Castle
Conchobhair," he said. "There have been aspects of it that have been bothering me. It doesn't feel like
the usual territorial squabbling. It's different, more like the deaths that occurred a few years back when
Modar was playing his games. I know Delen infiltrated the Assassins guild in Sargasso, and they were
almost certainly to blame for some of them... but all of them?"
He shrugged. "Not all of them felt like their style somehow, but we never could prove that there was
another hand at work. At least until now. If I'm right, if this attack on Cianan was the same people, then
I think we may have more problems than we even realised before."
Griffith paused. "The two who tried to kill my cousin had elven blood in them. They looked S'Hean -
tall, dark-haired - and were clearly identical twins; even brothers wouldn't normally look that much
alike. Their most distinguishing feature though was their eyes. They were green." Storm-grey eyes met
Valin's. "Emerald green."
Valin frowned, a startled shadow passing through the depths of his eyes. “Emerald green?” he repeated.
“D'Riel emerald green?” The half-elf shook his head and leaned back in his chair. “There are no sets of
male twins in my family,” he said. “Mostly fraternal twins, and Drysi and Yseult. You have to be
mistaken.”
"I'll admit that the D'Riel clan is extensive and I'm not going to claim I know them all by sight,"
Griffith said. "These two, in particular, were complete strangers to me. But I know what I saw, and
what I saw were two men - probably a little bit younger than yourself, but older than your brother,
Imoreki - with D'Riel emerald eyes. You're welcome to check with Deacon and Declan Fearguis if you
don't believe me."
The Corinian King's fingers worried the end of a quill and he frowned deeply. “No, it's alright. I know
you're an honest man Griffith – well, as honest as a Hells Fire runner gets – but I trust you. Something
isn't right here. I may have to the S'Hean King on this one.” He hesitated to question his mother. If they
were his brothers, they wouldn't be the first bastards Y'Roden had produced when he'd been in a
relationship with Summerlin. On the other hand, getting an answer out of his father in the present
circumstances might be next to impossible.
“I don't understand why anyone of D'Riel blood would want Cianan dead,” Valin muttered.
"Maybe they don't," Griffith said. "Or rather, maybe it's nothing to do with them being D'Riels." This
topic was one he had been worrying at himself in the days since Cianan had been wounded. Now he
presented his current thinking to the King.
"The first thing you have to bear in mind is, D'Riels or not, these two are insane. Not just mildly nuts,
but completely off their heads. I got the impression, brief as our acquaintance was, that in some ways
they saw the attack almost as a game - like a takka playing with a rodent before it kills it.
"The second thing you have to bear in mind is that they got in and out of Castle Conchobhair as if
security was non-existant." He counted off the points on his fingers.
"The third thing is what the effect would have been of Cianan actually dying. He isn't married yet. He
has no heirs. In effect, if Cianan had died in that attack, Conchobhair would have ceased to exist - and
so would that vote on the Council."
Griffith slouched back in his seat. "So maybe it isn't about Cianan, maybe it's all about politics and who
sits on the throne of Corin. Maybe Cianan was just convenient. And, if that's the case, we don't have to
just worry about the twins, we have to worry about whoever hired them, because I'm not convinced that
their madness allows them to care all that much about anything other than where the next rodent can be
found."
“You're making a disturbing amount of sense,” Valin sighed. “I'm going to have to ask questions that
are going to make people I care about vastly uncomfortable – but the safety of Corin is far more
important. Thank you, Griff, for bringing this to my attention.”
"I wish it hadn't been necessary to do so," the other man said. "But..." He shrugged. "We don't always
get what we want."
A bark of a laugh escaped the King. “That, my friend, is a painful truth.”
                                                     ***
The smell of the sea was unfamiliar, but one Laliah supposed she could learn to love. She would have
to, she was marrying Cianan and his castle bordered the sea, much like the one they were currently
visiting. Perhaps visit was the wrong word – he was recovering from his wounds here at Talacharn
under the expert care of Crystin Talacharn, and Laliah herself.
The dark-haired girl looked up from her needlework, dark eyes soft as they looked on Cianan's sleeping
form. He was healing surprisingly well, and quickly, much to her relief. His handsome, tousled head
was turned away from her, his chest rising and falling in slumber and a light breeze dragged one of the
gauzy bed curtains across his shoulder.
Laliah smiled to herself, then cast a quick, blushing glance at Lady Talacharn before bending her head
once again to her work.
Crystin's lips twitched, pale-blue eyes gleaming with amusement as she studied the dark-haired young
woman opposite. She approved of her nephew's choice of bride. Laliah was intelligent, quick-witted
and vivacious, as well as charmingly flustered by her husband-to-be.
"Don't worry, he will be up and about in no time," she assured the younger woman. "Probably before he
should be too. My nephew has a stubborn streak beneath all that gallantry, most of the men in this
family do."
Laliah lifted her head and smiled, the colour still in her cheeks though her strong personality shone
through. “He's a fine man,” she said. “I'll be fortunate in my husband – not many women can say the
same. It is terrifying to think I nearly lost him before we even had a chance to begin our life together.”
Crystin looked over at the man lying in the bed. "It is," she agreed. "You were both very fortunate, we
all were." She turned back to Laliah.
"Cianan is as dear to me as my own children are. I have already lost one son. I would not have wished
to have lost someone who might as well be another."
The young woman returned Crystin's look with and open expression. “It's good to know I will be
inheriting more close family,” she said. “I think my sister Meliah gets a little lonely sometimes. Corryn
has no close relatives.”
"When you marry Cianan, you will become my niece," the older woman said, "and that means your
sister and her husband will also become a member of our family. I am sure Griffith will be as willing to
welcome them to Castle Talacharn as Cianan will be to welcome them to Castle Conchobhair." She
finished off the seam she was sewing and snipped the thread. Then she shook out what was clearly a
man's tunic to examine it before folding it up neatly.
She looked up and smiled at Laliah. "Rowena would say the same about Castle Ceanadach after she is
wed, I am sure. My daughter has always possessed a friendly nature."
“You are very kind,”the young woman said with an almost shy smile. “I will pass along the sentiment
to my sister.”
Always active, Cianan hated any kind of forced rest. Illness, injury, anything that lasted longer than a
few hours and kept him locked in doors set his teeth on edge and had him fidgeting inside an hour. He
was becoming increasingly suspicious that his aunt was also keeping watch so he wouldn't try to get
out of bed.
Any other day, when he wasn't on the receiving end of such care he might admire her determination.
Right now he was well aware that in his current state he wasn't much of a match for anyone, let alone
Crystin and Laliah. He had a sneaking suspicion that if he tried to escape the confines of his bed, he
would find out very fast how well they could sew him into the bed.
"You're welcome," Crystin said to Laliah. Her pale-blue gaze shifted to the bed once more. Having
raised three children, she had had plenty of experience of knowing the difference between true sleep
and feigned sleep. "And I believe your betrothed is awake. Why don't you enquire whether he requires
anything. I believe it is almost time for dinner."
Laliah nodded and set her sewing aside, then rose to her feet. Crossing over to the bed, she smiled a
little impishly to herself. “Milord,” she said quietly, “is there anything I can get for you? Something to
eat perhaps?”
"I would prefer an escape route, but short of that, something to eat would be acceptable," he said.
Turning slightly to face Laliah, he winked and smiled slightly. He might be in pain, but nothing in this
world would allow him to show a bit of it.
The brunette blushed hotly, but managed a polite curtsy for her betrothed. “I'm hoping you mean from
the bed, and not the company,” she teased. Reaching out, she touched his hair with hesitant fingers,
then smiled and stepped back. “I'll go hurry the servants along.”
"Your company is wonderful, it`s my own that I fear is lacking," he said. His breath caught in his chest
and he reached out to take Laliah's wrist gently. "Would it be too forward of me to say I like your
blush? I'm find that I'm terribly out of my depth in this situation."
Suddenly shy, Laliah found it difficult to meet Cianan's eyes. “I am too be your wife,” she said softly,
“it can only be a good thing that you find me pleasing to look upon.”
Cianan smiled and rubbed his thumb long the soft skin of Laliah`s wrist. "You're more than pleasing,
Laliah. Though I believe if I say much more, Crystin will adding another chaperone to the watch, or
sew me to the bed, whichever proves easier."
Laliah laughed lightly and met his gaze. “Of that, Milord, I have no doubt, and we wouldn't want to see
you trussed up, would we?” She caught his hand and brought it briefly to her mouth, brushing his
knuckles with a chaste kiss before releasing his hand to fleeing towards the door.
                                                   ***
“Get up.” Tallin leaned over Ghetsuhm where she lay on the floor. One forearm braced on a muscular
thigh and his dark, curly locks framed his strikingly handsome features. “I have a surprise for you,” he
growled.
Ghet slowly sat up. Even half-naked, she was not at her prettiest, her face and throat a mass of bruises
against skin that was a pale green-grey. "Why am I so sure I'm not really going to be surprised? It's not
a puppy, is it?"
With obvious effort, she slid backwards away from him, then pushed herself to her feet. She swayed,
but held, as much depressed as exhausted.
“You look tired, my dear,” Tallin purred, “you need rest.” His hand snatched her wrist with bruising
strength and he pulled her towards the doors. “Which is good – because rest is all you will be getting.”
Ghet stumbled after him without a struggle, awkward enough in compliance. She didn't understand
him, but she overwhelmingly didn't care any more. In itself, despair brought a certain insulation. If you
stopped caring, it was almost amusing. "You're supposed to laugh evilly and tell me your fiendish plan
at this point," she muttered. "Though if you're going to kill me, I'm sure I should be wearing evening
dress..."
“You don't like surprises?” Tallin asked as he manhandled her into a stairwell and started down the
spiral. “I rather enjoy them myself.” He said nothing more, letting silence fall as they wound down
through the castle until it became apparent that they had gone underground. The air became chill and
damp, the smell of decay heavy on the air and the steady drip of moisture echoing in the dark.
They came to a set of heavy doors, and he pushed them inwards. “Strip,” he ordered, shoving Ghet into
the wall. “You won't need your clothing for this.”
Ghet hit the wall and staggered. There was a tight anxiety in her chest, something about being
underground, the weight above her and the dead stillness of the air.
She righted herself, thought about arguing, and then shrugged. So low on energy, she needed to keep it
for the important battles. "We changed movies then," she said, pretty much to herself. "We're back
behind the beaded curtain now."
She stripped off the remains of her clothing easily, but without her normal grace. She was left with just
her markings, and banded with metal at throat, arm and hand. Then she lifted her head, and even in her
exhaustion, there was a certain pride in her face.
Walking ahead of the redhead, Tallin approached a large, stone sarcophagus and, with obvious effort,
pushed the heavy slab on the top at an angle. His fingers dipped down, splashing into the cold water
contained within, and he turned towards Ghet. “Come here.”
Well, that was what she got for thinking she'd given up. Ghet backed away until she hit the wall again,
shaking her head. "No. No, please, you can't put me in there." Deep, visceral panic threatened to
overwhelm her. Right now she couldn't imagine anything worse than what he was threatening her with.
Her fear showed naked in her face. "Please."
Pushing away from the cold stone, Tallin crossed the distance between them in a few long strides and
grabbed her by the arm. “You'll do what I say,” he said in an emotionless drone, “and I'll do with you as
I please.” With a sharp jerk he dragged Ghet towards the container.
Ghet let out a yelp as he dragged her, bare feet dragging against the stone floor. She'd pushed him too
much lately to have to ask him why he wanted to hurt her. She fought, though, out of an odd mixture of
panic and pride, struggling against his hands. The closer he got her to the coffin the sharper her fear
got. It was almost a relief to let go and just start screaming.
Muscle-corded arms wrapped around Ghet's waist and hoisted the diminutive woman off her feet,
easily swinging her through the air and tossing her into the chilled liquid, slopping it over the sides of
the sarcophagus. His expression was an old melange of vicious intent and twisted pleasure as he forced
her back, dunking her head under the water.
Panicking was never the best survival skill, and the screaming ensured that Ghet's lungs were empty
when her head went under the water. She thrashed, her hair washing around her face, grabbed the sides
of the sarcophagus and pushed upward. Liquid spilt onto the floor, but she couldn't get her head out or
catch her breath against the freezing sharpness of the water.
The rings on Tallin's fingers exploded with garish light, illuminating Ghet's face and the water around
her head. The muscles in his arm bunched, forcing her deeper beneath the surface. “Relax,” he ordered,
“I'm not going to kill you, but if you keep fighting me, you're going to kill yourself. Just breathe.”
Ghet's eyes snapped open, and her expression clearly said 'you've got to be skagging kidding me'. It
didn't make sense. And yet... she believed him when he said he wasn't going to kill her. Or at least, that
he wasn't going to kill her quickly.
She didn't relax, and she didn't stop fighting him, but she did breathe. She'd have done it out of reflex
very soon anyway.
Tallin watched the rise and fall of Ghet's chest as she drew breath, drawing water into her lungs as
easily as air. A certain satisfaction lit his blackened-blue eyes and the water's surface glimmered as he
withdrew his hand, shimmering with a nearly-invisible barrier that prevented escape from her
entombment. In silence, he moved to the opposite side and grasped the edge of the stone slab. “I'll see
you – when I see you.”
The sensation of liquid in her lungs was odd, unpleasant, but she didn't have time to take it in before
she realised what he was about to do. Her palms slammed into the barrier fruitlessly, powerless to stop
him sealing her in.
Agonizingly slow, Tallin slid the stone into place – then stood alone in the silence. Even outside the
sarcophagus it was dark and achingly silent. Inside – it would be like sensory deprivation. No sight, no
sound, no touch, magically enhanced so that the empath would sense... absolutely nothing. With a soft,
satisfied snort, the Demon Mage walked out of the room.
                                                     ***
Y'Roden was surprisingly sober when he emerged from his chambers and nodded curtly at Ja'Kel as he
strode past. The S'Hean King's hair was unkempt, though he was clean – no matter how distraught they
got a S'Hean was fastidious about bathing. It was a soothing balm, as much as the liquor had been
lately, but none of it was enough of a distraction to keep his mind off Ghet. Nothing could be – but it
didn't stop him from trying.
There were other people he was neglecting however, and he was starting to feel the guilt. His children
needed him, no matter how much his soul was tearing from the inside out. He'd spent the morning with
the toddlers, but his boots stopped sooner than the nursery door this time, turning to knock at Rhagi's
chambers instead.
Rhagi was sitting at his table rummaging through a box of 'things', looking for photos and cubes to
show to Y'Ardyn. Not moving about at all for about seven years seemed to have given him a tendency
to collect junk.
He was distracted, though, so he actually heard the knock, and recognised it. "Come in, Addah!" A
moment later a flash of apprehension went across his face: he hadn't seen a lot of his father lately, and
this could be all kinds of bad news.
Ro pushed open the door and stepped inside, his gaze falling on his son and sparking with curiosity for
a brief moment. “Hey, my boy,” he said, then paused. “What are you doing?” During that second he
caught the fleeting look on Rhagi’s face and he smiled wryly. “Don’t worry, no news is… well, no
news.”
Rhagi relaxed a bit at his father's words, but not entirely. At least it was 'what are you doing', not 'what
have you been up to', so he wasn't even required to lie by omission. "Y'Ardyn wanted to see some
pictures and stuff of the family. I was looking to see what I had. I should ask Drysi and Yse too." He
peeked at his father from behind a wing of shaggy auburn hair, a look that was diffident but carried a
wealth of caring as well. "I didn't want to disturb you."
Ro's mouth pulled slightly into a half-amused smile. “There are those who would say that disturbing
me further is really quite impossible.” His head tilted as he approached the desk. “Y'Ardyn? Really? I
wasn't aware the two of you had been spending time together – that's good to hear. Family is important.
"I think I do have some cubes or crystals he'd like to see. I know what it's like to be out of the loop and
trying desperately to catch up.”
Rhagi's grin was fleeting but mischievous. "I think it might still be possible." Then he sobered again,
obviously thinking as he spoke. "Yes... I'm not sure why he chose me, rather than one of the others..."
Tailing off, he lifted his head and actually looked his father in the face. "Addah... do you think Galain
will be alright?"
Ro's gaze was steady as it met Rhagi's, a calm certainty in the depths of emerald jewels. “I'd bet my life
on it,” he said firmly. “I've seen that elf walk unscathed through situations that would have killed
anyone else. I have no idea whether its resourcefulness on his part, or just dumb luck.” The half-elf
smiled briefly. “He survived the Wrath of Ro – not many can say that either.”
"You wouldn't hurt him," Rhagi said, with perfect, sheltered confidence. Galain was his step-father, and
had been a major influence in the first half of his life. The idea that two men he loved and respected
could loathe each other was beyond him. "And even if you did, Mum would kick your arse so hard."
He shrugged, and pushed a hand through his hair. "I don't know. I want to think so, that he'll be alright.
He's... well, he's family. Family is important."
Ro smiled bleakly and looked away. He'd often surprised himself over the years – passing up chances
when he easily could have let Galain die, and hadn't. “I suppose you're right,” he said.
Ready for a subject change, the half-elf met his son's eyes again. “So what have you been doing lately?
Has Matt taught you anything interesting?”
Even though he'd been waiting for the question, Rhagi blushed, emerald eyes searching the suddenly
fascinating tabletop. "He, um... he doesn't so much teach me stuff any more as just... y'know, advise,
suggest things, keep me on track." He grinned, distracting himself. "We have a surprise we've been
working on, but it should wait til Mum comes back."
The S'Hean King's head tilted slightly to the side, his expression suddenly fascinated. Rhagi's reaction
was unusual, and at first Ro couldn't fathom the reason behind it. “Is there something you want to tell
me, ceren?”
Rhagi couldn't lift his head. He tried, but it wasn't happening. "No," he said quietly, "there isn't. Not
yet, anyway. Please? I just need some time."
“No problem,” Ro said amiably. “Why don't you show me what you've found for Y'Ardyn so far
instead.”
For a moment, and perversely, Rhagi was tempted to tell his father now. Even if he was mad, it had to
be easier than telling his mother, who would be embarrassing. But he'd made up his mind to keep it
secret until she returned, and he couldn't bring himself to change his mind. It would be like admitting
that she might not come back.
"I found this, look." Rummaging through the pile on the table, he took out a cube and stuck it in the
reader. "I must have taken it myself." The first thing it showed was Rhagi's own face, very close up, at
about three years old, scruffy red-blond hair framing a bright grin. Then he vanished out of shot, and
was replaced by a distant and slightly lop-sided view of his mother, laughing and saying something that
wasn't quite audible. It had taken him a moment to recognise the background: his mother's bedroom in
her cottage. You saw quite a lot of it as Ghet and Rhagi moved in and out of the frame, chasing each
other around the room.
Y'Roden's face went slack and he sat down heavily in the chair. His eyes never wavered off the
flickering images and emerald-jewels glistened with moisture. An odd smile curved his mouth and the
half-elf scrubbed at his face. “She's beautiful, isn't she,” he said gruffly.
Rhagi winced, sensing his father's pain and feeling unutterably stupid. And yet, maybe it was necessary.
So he let the cube keep playing. "I guess so. It's hard for me to tell - she's my mother. But she can be so
bright..." He shrugged, an awkward gesture, keeping the pain tamped down. "When I was little, all she
had to do if I was naughty was be sad and it just made me feel so awful, watching that light go out. I
think she knew it, too."
A low, rumble of a laugh dispelled the misery. “She does the same thing to me,” Ro admitted. “But the
most amazing thing is being the one to rekindle that light. I can make her shine – and nothing in the
universe compares to that.”
"Then you have to get her back." He said it without thinking, and then heard it. "I mean... I don't mean,
hey here's a good idea, I mean it's inevitable. It's like gravity."
Ro smiled a little distantly, then refocused on Rhagi's face. “I will,” he said. “Somehow.”
                                                 ***
Valin shifted uncomfortably and eyed the door in front of him for a long moment. This was not a
conversation he wanted to have – but it was necessary. With a deep sigh, he turned the back of his hand
towards the door and rapped with his knuckles.
There was a pause and then it was Summerlin herself who opened the door. There'd been something
about the knock and when the door swung back the Elen was smiling, with the look of a mother
welcoming a dearly beloved child into her arms.
"Valin!" she exclaimed. "Please come in. We've just been talking about you -- as if that's anything
new.”
The dark-haired elf smiled and kissed his mother on the cheek. “Talking about me?” he said. “Only the
good stuff, yes?” Emerald greens sparkled warmly as he embraced her and Valin's gaze briefly met
Reece' across the room.
The SandShadow nodded a greeting, frowning slightly in response to the look in the Corinian King's
eyes. “Always,” he said.
"Nothing but the good stuff," Summerlin agreed, catching her son's hand and squeezing it. "Come sit
with us," she said, not having missed her husband's frown and given Valin an uncertain look. "Tell us
what's on your mind."
Valin's fingers applied gentle pressure to his mother's in return and he accepted her invitation, moving
with her into the room and seating himself across from Reece. “I uhm...” the young elf paused and
rubbed at one pointed ear as he thought through what he needed to ask. “There has been an attempted
assassination on one of Corin's Lords,” he said. “Griffith and the Fearguis brothers interrupted before
the assassins could finish what they'd started.”
“Which Lord?” Reece asked.
“Cianan,” Valin responded. “That isn't what I've come to discuss though – it's the identity of the
assassins.”
“More SandShadows?”
The King shook his head. “No, Reece. Something far more disturbing this time.”
Summerlin's smooth brow creased as she sat down. There was a small knot in her stomach although she
couldn't put a definite name to her anxiety yet.
"Then what?" she asked.
Valin looked at his mother. She was so beautiful, gentle and calm. Fragile somehow – how she had ever
ended up with the man Y'Roden had been was a little beyond Valin's understanding. His father hadn't
been very considerate of Summerlin's feelings during their time together. Bringing this up was difficult
for him – pain in his mother's eyes was the last thing he ever wanted to see.
“A'Ma. I wouldn't ask, I don't want to, but I need to know and Addah has his own troubles at the
moment. Does he... does he have any sons that I don't know about? They're twins, a little younger than
myself.”
Strangely, the lines in Summerlin's forehead cleared and her gaze was clear as she regarded Valin.
There was a buzzing in her head though and she wasn't sure she would be able to speak. When she did
it was because she was drawing upon an inner core of strength, the same core that had kept her spirit,
mind and soul together throughout the past.
"Yes... yes he does," she said. "Dark-haired sons with eyes of emerald green and souls as black as the
deepest dead of night."
Valin swallowed hard, hating the look on his mother's face. “I don't understand,” he said hoarsely.
“How long have you known? Who are they?”
Summerlin's gaze faltered and she looked down at her lap and found that she was clasping her hands so
tightly the knuckles had whitened.
"I've known for too long and had thought, had hoped, that they had dropped into oblivion. They are
both Y'Roden's and mine. My father and his... I suppose she's his wife, took them away -- we'd thought
they hadn't survived..." Summerlin's face twisted. "They were raised by my father and Saya and we
didn't know they existed until much later." She lifted her eyes and met Reece's. She was having a
difficult time speaking further. "They attacked Melaina and we tracked them down and took them to
Arminiea, but they escaped. We haven't been able to find them since."
Valin dragged distracted fingers through his hair, then shook his head. “Full brothers? I have two full
brothers?”
“Brothers is stretching it a bit,” Reece said dryly. His arm slid around Summerlin's waist and callused
fingers squeezed reassuringly on her waist. “They've completely gone mentally, Valin. Your mother is
right – whatever Gareth and Saya did to them, there is no coming back from it.”
“How can you know that?” Valin asked. “They are family.”
"They are not!" Summerlin said vehemently, her face suddenly flushing and her eyes going dark with
revulsion. "They raped family. They hurt Melaina and they won't hesitate to hurt you or anyone else,
family or not." She stared intently into eyes that once had mirrored her own. "Valin, they may have
their genetic codes from Y'Roden and myself, but that does not mean a thing. I would rather have died
in childbirth than have brought those two in the world had I known then what I do now."
Pale and sickened, Valin sat back and went silent – processing what Summerlin and her husband had
said. “Melaina?” he murmured.
Emerald eyes refocused on his mother and he reached out to cover her clenched hands with gentle
fingers. “Don't say that A'ma – it isn't your fault, it isn't their fault either. Turn your hate on Gareth, he
made them what they are.” He stood, then leaned over to kiss Summerlin's cheek. “Thank you for
telling me – it obviously wasn't easy.” Scrubbing at his face the King sighed. “Hell has been unleashed
in my Kingdom again, I have to forewarn the Lords and start a manhunt... for my own blood.”
Summerlin didn't quite believe Valin's soothing words. Those men were their own fault now, and it
made her ache inside. Her expression was more troubled now and she nodded.
"I wish they were otherwise," she said finally. "Warn everyone and keep yourself safe."
                                                   ***
The mark on Tallin's neck burned with the presence of his God long before he entered the chamber
where Haldanuru was waiting, the Demon Twins in tow. The God himself stood near a window,
looking out at the ruined grounds of Castle Modar, a distant expression on his face. The twins were
entangled on a chaise, idly sipping at wine and snickering quietly as they spoke to one another.
Tallin paused and eyed them with distaste, then shifted his attention to the Demon Deity. “Milord,” he
said, dropping to one knee. “How are our plans progressing?”
The crimson-skinned beast turned away from his ruminations and looked on Tallin for a long moment,
then shrugged massive shoulders. His head tilted, light glistening off the length of lethal horns. “These
two did not succeed in slaying the Lordling,” he said finally. “This displeases me – but I am of a mind
to give them a second chance to prove themselves.”
“Conchobhair lives, then?” Tallin sighed. “That is... unfortunate. The vote, I assume, swung towards
Valin retaking the throne?”
“It did – but do not lose heart, my Chosen. You may still reclaim what you desire. There are those who
would still prefer pure blood on the throne.”
Tallin nodded. “There are always a few of the faithful – but what do we do now? Valin's hold is a vice
on the Kingdom.”
Haldie grinned, a sharp-toothed, vicious expression. “We break his hold.” Black talons glittered as he
gestured towards the twins.
B'Ryan, who had been watching with interest, lifted his head and gazed at the towering God of Death.
“Break his hold?” he asked, suddenly alert and interested. “What do you want us to do?”
The laughter of the beast was harsh and unsettling. “I want you, B'Ryan D'Riel, to kill your brother.”
B'Ryen stilled and looked first at Haldanaru, then his brother and then back at the god again. "I get to
help, right?" he could help but ask.
“Of course,” came the half-amused answer. “You do come as a package, after all.”
B'Ryan reached over and stroked his brother beneath the chin. “Were I you, I would have asked which
brother. You may have been volunteering to commit suicide there.”
B'Ryen snorted and kissed his brother's hand.
"Where one goes so goes the other. Besides I hate missing out on anything. Suicide is the least of my
worries." The kiss turned into a bite that drew blood and he laughed before he suddenly sobered and
stared at Haldanaru. Were they a disposable package though? It wasn't often that he stopped to consider
he and his brother's endless variety of fates, most of which he figure would be violent ones.
Haldanuru's laugh was rough and dark in the room. Cloven hooves clattered across the stone and he put
a hand on Tallin's shoulder. “Once the D'Riel line has been removed from Corin's throne you can stake
your claim.”
                                                       ***
Days had gone by before either of them were strong enough, rested enough, sane enough, to attempt yet
one more portal. One more portal. How many had they tried before, and failed? Even with Callan's
ability to manipulate the worm-holes, they'd yet to get one to connect to Whispin, let alone to the right
time on Whispin. Always they came right back to Krakus, in a never ending loop, always it was some
battle, somewhere on the desert world. The outcome was always the same. It seemed they were
destined to remain here, to fight here - to die here.
He didn't speak as they stood before the same well, looking down one of the main roads out of Gha'tiae.
No bodies remained; in a moment of lucidity, Callan had burned them all and had let the ashes be
carried in the wind. Now, he and his flame-haired wife stood, looking out at the endless sea of sand,
and before them, a dark void began to tear a vortex through the atmosphere.
Here was the trick... trying to tie onto a particular time in Whispin, when neither of them knew how far
into the past... or future... they'd gone was like trying to nail jelly to a wall. It slipped and slithered,
writhed and changed as the portal carved through time and space. As the far end connected and the
opening widened, a scream of protest arose from the air, then like a spring stretched to its limit, the
portal whipped back, drew two spaces together, and yawned open and for an aching moment, revealed
a place of haunting familiarity.
Hope battled with disbelief, but rather than give it thought, rather than give the portal time to collapse,
Callan caught An'Thaya's hand, and all but flung himself forward.
Emerald lightning engulfed both of them as the couple landed in the soft, lush grass of S'Hea, humid
hair drawn into moisture starved lungs and energy coursing into two souls that had long missed its
touch. The Amazon wasn't able to speak, but simply collapsed into Whispin's loving embrace and dug
small fingers into the dirt, as if seeking to crawl into the very heart of the land that loved her.
“Home,” she finally managed, “oh Gods... home.”
Callan's own comments echoed An'Thaya's as he flopped the grass beside her. Cracked, insane laughter
welled up in his chest and rolled out, then became rich chuckles as he lay flat on his back, staring up at
Whispin's suns. His own fingers dug into the grass and scrubbed at the soil below as if he were winding
his fingers through Tay's curls and massaging her scalp. Within his soul, dark threads began to tear
apart, replaced by emerald and topaz, and already, his pale blue irises were beginning to fracture and
glow teal as the soul of Whispin began winding its way into his essence... then paused, as if uncertain,
unfamiliar.
"Taayy?, his touch on her soul was wary, cautious. Somehow he felt like a wild animal being touch by a
human hand for the first time - nervous and skittish.
"Something isn't right... it doesn't know me... and I don't think its so sure about you."
The Amazon's head came up slightly, a frown marring her lovely features. He was right – there was
something off about the way S'Hea touched her. It recognized her as belonging to it – but there was
something hesitant... as if she were brand new to it. “Wrong time,” she groaned, “we're in the wrong
time.”
Pushing up onto her hands and knees, An'Thaya suddenly froze. They were being observed. Callan, we
have company. She touched her husband's arm, aware that every movement was being cataloged by the
strange male elf with the pale-blond hair that stood in the shadow of the trees across the clearing. I
know when we are... we have to leave before we screw up our own futures.”
Callan's eyes tracked across the tree-line and feel unerringly on the blonde haired elf. He'd worked out
the 'wrong time' part fairly quickly himself - he'd fumbled for the Web, and found it just as distant as
before, possibly even more muted than it had been.
"Sooo what do you propose we do?" Callan's moves were cautious, his eyes locked on the other elf, his
motions those of a predator being watched by another predator as he rolled to his hands and knees and
eased into a crouch, hands clear of any weapon he could have drawn.
“Try shifting forms, that should discourage him from coming any closer,” she suggested. “I don't think
he is going to attack us, but the last thing we need is to change the time line. That is B'Ren D'Riel, the
first D'Riel King, and I don't really fancy being snuffed from the timeline if you accidentally kill my
ultimate grandfather.”
Still crouched, Callan angled his head slightly and cut his eyes to the side. One brow rose in question,
she didn't think he was going to attack them? A few seconds ticked by while he tried to remember... "Its
not killing him I'm worried about. he cautiously rose to his feet, hands open, palms exposed to the elf,
"Tell me... tell me there are no legends of the First King slaying a vicious black dragon who'd taken a
woman hostage...."
An'Thaya laughed softly, barely audible. “No... the D'Riel Dragon is Black, remember, and not because
someone killed one. It's a symbol of respect.” She paused and glanced sideways at her husband. “I've
often wondered why B'Ren chose a black dragon. They aren't native to Whispin.”
"Yeah, well." He spoke softly in his own tongue, "That's exactly why I asked. Didn't know if it was a
show of respect or, hey look at this! I cut its head off and mounted it on a pike... that's what I'd do
anyway."
Then his head turned and he looked away from the elf to Tay, "Why don't I just go talk to him? I mean,
if I'm going to blow a lot of hot air and bluster, I can do that in this form just fine, and maybe not get
shot at."
“If you think you can manage without saying too much,” the Amazon said in the Black Tongue, “be my
guest.” She had lifted her second eyelids and allowed her gaze to seep slightly towards teal – a mix of
her own eyes and Callan's. The distinctive faceted-emerald would have given her away.
Her husbands own eyes looked into hers for a moment, it was rare opportunity to see her eyes without
the second set of lids over them, and while he had his own, they were rarely used in his second form.
"You know me. When I do say too much, it never makes sense anyway." The Emperor turned time-
traveler shot his wife a crooked grin that pulled at one of the dimples in his cheek, then he gave her a
short nod, and as he faced the first D'Riel to be crowned King.
"Calima almare," Callan paused a comfortable distance from the fair-haired elf and then added, "V'ran
duan, Tyrne D'Riel." The greetings were followed by the formal Black gesture, an elegant sweep of the
hand, fingers pressed to forehead, then heart as he bowed slightly then waited to see if he were filled
full of arrows... or worse.
The Danna-Riel elf looked startled for a brief moment, but that was the extent of his outward reaction.
“You speak the S'Hean tongue,” he said evenly, “yet you are obviously not of them. How did you come
to be here? How did you cross the wards?”
Callan's wary posture relaxed slightly when no blade was drawn, no sound of bow being pulled to full
draw was heard, and though he was tempted to look over his shoulder both to reassure Tay, and to be
reassured, he did not.
"To be truthful, we're not sure how we came to be beyond the Wards, Tyrne D'Riel." He paused,
thinking over his next words. Lying was an art he was skilled at, yet B'Ren struck him as someone
equally adept at sensing lies and half-truths. Instead, he decided to do exactly what An'thaya had asked
him not to. His words switched fluently from Common to S'hean as he spoke.
"We've... been far from home for a long time. I am not S'hean, no. I am from another world, one located
almost beyond sight of this one. If I remember correctly, it is called Br'Yn by you. The light of B'Rodyn
warms my Keep." Here he paused, and wondered just how long he could go without giving his and
Tay's names.
More than likely, not much longer.
B'Ren's eyes flickered to the sky where, at night, the dragon constellation would have been seen, the
brilliant light of dragon's heart pulsing at its center. His striking eyes shifted to meet Callan's gaze
again, then past him to the red-headed beauty who kept her distance.
“You know my name – yet I do not know yours – usually I would feel the necessity to ask more
questions, but something tells me the answers would do my people more harm than good. I was born to
the Danna-Riel, we honour dragon kind.” His eyes focused more pointedly on An'Thaya. “Especially
the Arthaem – their wisdom and foresight is greatly respected, and our race owes them a great debt.
You are welcome in my Kingdom.”
An'Thaya smiled briefly and nodded in acknowledgment. How B'Ren knew, she was unsure – perhaps
it was the purity of his Danna-Riel blood – genes that were protected by the stubbornly unchangeable
structure of the Arthaem. A bane to Haldanuru's curse that resisted the taint of the Nuru-kh'ai.
B'Ren stepped back and made a sweeping gesture towards Silver Dragon Ridge. “I invite you to be my
guests at a newly built retreat – we will not be disturbed there.”
                                                     ***
The soft, fur-like petals of a den-konte plant brushed Y'Roden's knuckles as his hands moved to rest on
his knees – his heavy frame relaxing easily into a cross-legged, meditative pose in the lush grass of
Ghetsuhm's garden. He came here to feel close to her – to plunge into the quiet of their soul and seek
her out, however fruitlessly, in the never ending tides of time.
Eyes closed, the scent of the peaceful blossom filling his senses, the King was aware of everything...
and yet nothing. The practiced, iron-will he was renowned for made the process of elimination easy –
his concentration focusing down to a pinpoint, tension releasing and flowing away like water.
Light washed through his mind, the thunder of his own heartbeat filled the silence, and everything but a
single thought ceased to exist.
Ghetsuhm.
He could see her face, eyes drenched indigo – hear her rich, throaty laughter, feel the silken strands of
deep-red hair slithering over his skin. For several precious moments she was real. The scent of ginseng
and a sense of joy.
A light breeze blew, cooling the trickle of sweat that ran down massive shoulders to meander down the
thick column of the S'Hean's spine and another scent roused him from momentary peace.
Nutmeg and cinnamon.
“Chezlar Khor,”he murmured. “What horrors are you going to subject me to now?”
“Tallin has reappeared, King of S'Hea, he is heading for the not-so-distant past. We can, at least, rescue
Galain from his clutches – if you are up to the challenge.”
Y'Roden's eyes cracked open, revealing the merest glimmer of emerald jewels. For a long moment he
said nothing, remaining still where he sat beneath the shade of a mai'tus tree. When he did move, it was
with a long sigh as he unfolded his muscular frame and rose from the ground.
“You think I would leave him there?” he asked seriously. “Perhaps I would, if doing so didn't affect
Ghet – but it does. She loves him still, and for her... anything.”
“There is no reason to hate Galain any longer,” Chezlar observed quietly. “Your sister is no longer
affected by his actions, and Ghetsuhm made her choice years ago. She is yours, and yours alone.”
“I never claimed to hate him,” Ro answered as he stretched, vertebrae popping along his spine. “Well,
in the past, yes – but now? Pity – I pity him perhaps, because I have been where he is now. I just have
no reason other than Ghet's happiness to see him safely home. When have you ever known me to go out
of my way to help someone when my mind is elsewhere?”
A brief smile flickered across the Changeling's mouth. “I can't argue that, Sword of Peace. You can be
very tunnel visioned. That said – are you coming with me? Yay or nay?”
“I am,” the S'Hean answered. “Just let me get dressed. Even I don't fight in the nude. Often.”
A trace of amusement altered the shade of liquid-gold eyes. Chezlar folded his wings back and settled
in to wait patiently as the S'Hean King disappeared into his chambers. Unheard, he spoke to one that
went unseen. Be ready for the window, may you find what it is you seek.
                                                      ***
The usual noise level had ceased when she'd walked into the mess hall. The sounds of thrown dice,
roaring laughter and even some brawling began an abrupt fade the moment she'd picked up a trencher
and began choosing her meal from the food and drink line. The silence continued as she turned, faced
the group of Black and Silver Guard, then marched to a table sat down, and began to eat. No Orsha Une
accompanied the Vesai, and no obvious weapon could be seen on her aside from a simple, yet elegant
long knife at her hip. She looked to be fresh from training; sweat, dirt, bruises and blood could be seen
on her black leathers, brow, jaw and arms.
In silence, she took a drink of the Kej she'd poured, then began carving into the slab of half-cooked red
meat with a fork and knife. She paused, then lifted the fork to eye-level. One brow rose as she studied
the it. Interesting. It was of Obsidian Glass, as was the knife, and therefore was unbreakable,
unbendable, and would forever be sharp. All excellent reasons to use them in the mess hall, though the
dragonelf wasn't entirely certain that was a good thing in the Guard barracks, but odds were, if they
were going to kill one another, the type of tableware used wouldn't matter one wit.
Gradually, the noise level resumed, but Mira was fully aware that she was being watched by many pairs
of eyes. No one speculated as to why she was here, everyone knew and no one liked it, not even the
Silvers. Not really.
She was here because HE could not be. Their Emperor, the half-breed that had fought beside them, bled
with them, and had led them to victory, Araxmarr, Callan, would never return. She would be the next to
hold the throne, but it would take time, battle, and blood to earn their full trust and complete loyalty.
And she'd expected that. It was, after all, only natural. She'd not come here seeking companionship
anyway. She had come here to watch, and be watched. It was a learning process for everyone. A
necessary.. and difficult one.
Not even halfway through her meal, she picked up motion from her right, someone walking straight for
her through the crowd, and without turning her head, she spoke when he drew close.
"Have a seat... Daemonorel."
Moss-green eyes settled on the Vesai as he half-grunted, half-growled at her and slid onto the bench
across from her. Sometimes it was unsettling to look at her face and see so much of Task in her one
time, and Rax the next.
"Here to tell me I'll never fill his boots, First Captain?" Mira lay the fork down quietly, and met
Daemon's eyes.
"No." The answer hadn't been quick in coming, "No. I'm not. Not this time, but maybe next." His
scarred and callused fingers drummed at the table top as he studied her further, then leaned forward and
finally went on.
"You can't just leave him like that. That's not our way."
It took Mira more than a few seconds to realize who he was talking about, and when she did, she drew
in a long breath as she considered what he expecting her to do.
"He has not asked. Would you make me a Kinslayer, Daemonorel?"
"Pssaugh." Daemon snapped one hand to the side in the air as he made the gutteral sound of disgust,
"You and I both know the truth, as do all in this room. They rarely ever ask, but that doesn't change
what must be done. To leave him captive in the Pit, suffering Madness, is beyond cruel. Cut his throat,
set him free."
Jade eyes met Daemon's murky greens from over the rim of her cup as she drank the Kej, then spoke
quietly.
"He has not yet met his destiny. It is not my place, nor that of anyone else to set him free before that
time." Her next words carried with them all the weight of a fist clothed in a silken glove.
"It was no different for you, Daemon."
Only the tiniest flicker of phosphorescence in his narrowed eyes betrayed that her words had struck
home. The right side of Daemon's lip peeled up in a silent warning snarl.
"Be careful, Vesai." The blonde-haired Captain shoved back from the table and the bench scraped loud
on the stone floor. Silence once more fell across the mess hall.
"You may be Araxmarr's heir, and bonded to my Velkh'airee's Blood," His back turned to her as he
walked away, "but my loyalty to you is no thicker than a smear of blood."
                                                     ***
It was surreal – being here, home, but knowing it.... wasn't. They'd been given chambers and an
opportunity to freshen up. An'Thaya had been grateful to strip out of clothing more suited to a desert
environment and slip into a simple white shift that tolerated the humidity of Whispin more readily.
There were no words for what a bath had done for her – and perhaps she had lingered too long in the
water.
She kept close to Callan as they were ushered into a sitting room where S'Hea's new, and foreign King
lounged on a chaise, his blond hair a stark contrast to the deep green upholstery. He gestured for them
to be seated as they entered, his expression curious but reserved. “I hope the rooms are to your liking,”
he said.
"They are, very much so." Callan inclined his head to the king, then his eyes swept across the chamber.
Silver Dragon Ridge was one of the few places the Emperor had never been in Y'Roden's kingdom, and
not because he'd never been invited, but because time had never allowed it.
That last thought caused him to make a curious sound that was half-snort, half-laugh.
Time... wouldn't allow it. For a moment, the niggling answer to everything teased at the back of his
head, Ininril Naudold - the Wheel of Time, a concept that today, tommorow, and yesterday are all the
same circle, connected by spokes - increments of measurable time, and tied at the hub by one central
moment. Every breath, every moment was a turn of the Wheel, different, yet all the same, and ever
returning.
Callan shook his head and raked his fingers through still damp hair as he met B'ren's eyes, then took a
seat on a lounge nearby. He made certain he left enough room for An'thaya to sit next to him, if she
chose.
"Forgive me, Tyrne. It is not you who amuses me."
An'Thaya settled gracefully at Callan's side, her eyes studying the Danna'Riel who was, now that she
let herself think about it, the brother of B'Roce, present King of Danna-Riel. The revelation startled her
– why had B'Ren died so young when B'Roce still lived? In fact, many of the Danna-Riel were
ancients, compared to the average S'Hean elder who were a mere forty-thousand years old. They had
lost so much over the eons – the question was, why?
B'Ren laughed amiably and grinned at Callan, “There are those that find me vastly amusing. I'd ask
what is on your mind – but I have the feeling that anything you have to say is just going to hurt my
brain. It's obvious that you are out of your own time – and I have no wish to alter the future of my kin.”
His gaze slid to An'Thaya. “You can stop hiding the eyes now that we are alone.”
The Amazon froze, then shook her head and chuckled. “Very well then.” She let her faceted eyelids
slide down and the irises returned to their usual, striking green. “What gave me away?”
“It was the only thing that made sense,” the S'Hean King answered. “You are both connected to the
Land – and since he isn't S'Hean, it must be you. I must admit, that had piqued my curiosity though,” a
callused finger indicated the black dragon twined around Callan's wrist. “The design speaks to me
somehow – and the eyes, they are D'Riel green.”
"I am connected to two lands, my own world, and through her, yours." Callan nodded and gave the king
a quick smile, "My soul has become a tangled web, to say the least, and there are times that very little
of it is tied to the Light."
His eyes dropped to the mark at his wrist. It had become such a part of him that he seldom gave it much
thought, it was like the mark he shared with his Black Guard, and the bond mark with Tay, it had
become like his own breath, something he was rarely consciously aware of.
"You are right, we are out of own time, and not by our choosing. When we felt the wards part, we
thought we'd come home. This..." His fingers went to the D'Riel dragon, "Was a blood gift from a
friend who shares your lineage. Like you, he is a D'Riel Tyre - and" He paused, wondering how much
he should say, then in a fit of wicked defiance, he went on, "He is her brother. My name is a Araxmarr
Zavern Sar'da, and my wife is An'Thaya D'Riel. A hunter stalks the past, and we became lost trying to
stop him."
An'Thaya shot a look at Callan and punched him in the arm. “Don't write that down anywhere,” she
said to B'Ren. “Or put it on your crystals for that matter.”
“I won't,” B'Ren said. “The names mean absolutely nothing to me anyway. What manner of monster
stalks someone's past?”
“Be glad you don't know,” the Amazon muttered. “One of these days... I swear it, he'll get his due.”
Callan shot An'Thaya a strange smile. "He wouldn't have, even if you hadn't asked. Otherwise, we'd
already know about us being here." Somehow this was all starting to make sense, and again the image
of the Wheel turned in his head.
"Pax rata athan. All things turn in full cycle." Callan muttered the words, "An'Thaya? We can tell him
more than you think. As far as your history knows, this never happened."
Callan's teal tinged eyes shifted to B'Ren, "I will not name him, but he is a monster... of course, so am
I." Callan's smile revealed something dark in its depths and gave B'Ren had a glimpse of Araxmarr's
old nature, "I have a request, B'Ren D'Riel."
“Far be it for me to deny a guest a boon,” B'Ren answered. “What would you have of me?”
"Your help in getting us home." Callan nodded, "and your permission to return here, if need be, to
Ground. You've already realised our presence here must remain undocumented, and I would ask that it
continues that way, though..." His fingers scratched idly at the D'Riel mark on his wrist, "If... you could
pass along a message... to your heir when the time comes, and he to his heir, and so on and so forth?"
B'Ren nodded, a curious light in his jewelled eyes. “I don't see any problem with passing along a
sentence or two,” he said thoughtfully.
“Be careful,” An'Thaya said quietly, “this is all making me horribly nervous.” The wrong words could
very well trap them forever – or wipe out her very existence altogether.
Callan gave her a short, understanding nod, then looked to B'Ren, "The one I share this mark with, he
needs to know we're alive, and someday, gods willing, we'll come home. I don't know what may have
been taken from him in our absence, but if knowing I'll bring his sister home to him a second time will
give him some measure of comfort and sanity, then he has to have it."
He leaned forward, "Tell him... Pax Rata Athan. Sar'da uskis a'tar Aleth." Callan looked to Tay, then
back at B'Ren, "Pax rata athan... it... is similar to Lobet Fylde Vaegh. The cycle will always complete
itself. Balance is self-correcting." His serious expression shifted to a slightly twisted smile, "It can also
mean paybacks are hell. As for the rest, it means With Death, Hope will return."
Without thinking, the back of Callan's thumb and the side of his index finger swiped away a think bead
of sweat that had began trickling down his forehead and was invading his eyebrow. The twisted smile
returned, and black wings rippled down his back, then gently spread and fanned. A shadow of onyx
scale slithered just under the skin and feathered up momentarily.
"Mind if I cool off and stretch a little?"
B'Ren, apparently rendered speechless, merely stared for several long moments. He laughed then and
sat forward, pushing his pale, silken hair back over one shoulder. “Now you've roused my curiosity –
and given me an idea or two that should subtly help you along.”
“Well,” An'Thaya said with a quirk of her lip, “since the Tekcar is out of the bag – so to speak...”
                                                       ***
Dark curls bounced over the rough material of Tallin's dark cloak, keeping time to the rhythm of his
boot-falls as he strode up the hallway. His handsome face was set with a hard, cruel amusement – his
thoughts tripping ahead to the next step in his plan. The nuru-kh'ai stationed in front of Galain's
chamber doors moved to open them without so much as a word from their master, swinging them
silently inward and pulling back out of his way as the human swept in.
Giving the Elen no chance to react, Tallin planted the sharp toe of his heavy boots in Galain's side and
knocked him off the chaise he was sleeping on. The Nuru's hadn't bothered to feed the blond elf in a
week, though water was in plentiful supply in the room. “Get up,” the Demon Mage snapped. “We have
places to go, Alcarin.”
The elf lay sprawled on the floor for several moments before he shakily got to all fours and turned his
head to stare up at Tallin, his dirtied face staring through a mass of tangled hair. During the week he'd
spent here he'd envisioned all sorts of scenarios in which he had somehow managed to jump Tallin and
gain the upper hand -- all fantasy of course, but highly satisfying nevertheless.
"Yeah?" he said, slowly getting to his feet. "Places to see, people to do... in?" He wasn't particularly
thrilled by the expression on Tallin's face and wondered what was spinning about in the man's twisted
mind. "And here I'd been enjoying my accomodations and your hospitality." Sea-green eyes glittered as
the Elen spoke. He'd quite appreciated the irony of the chambers he'd inhabited these past few days,
and the thought that his son had lived here all these years under Tallin's thumb had quietly fueled
Galain's rage against the mage.
“That was pretty much what I had in mind – and I'm so glad you are pleased with your rooms.” The
Mage swept back his cloak and opened a portal, a dark, vertical slid in the air that slowly tore open the
fabric of space and time. “I was a little surprised, I should say, to find you teaming up with my nephew
– so I think perhaps there is something you should see.” He made a grand gesture towards the open
vortex. “After you.”
Galain gave Tallin a puzzled look. Where was the surprise? he thought. Desperate situations called for
strange partnerships and while he wasn't thrilled about working so closely with Y'Roden, their goal was
a common and singular one: find and free Ghetsuhm. It all boiled down to that one thing no matter how
he personally felt. He was sure on that, he thought.
Nevertheless, he stepped into the vortex, tripping as he did so.
The scent of blood was subtle – the glimmer of crystals scattered across the floor where they had fallen
when the healer removed them from Y'Roden's back. The sun was shining softly through the windows,
illuminating the comfortable room in Silver Dragon Ridge. Two outlines were pressed against one of
the panes, Ghet's unmistakable form pressed back against the cool glass – Ro's larger frame up against
her.
“Not this time Rodi. No thinking, no more talking. Please.”
There was movement, sensual and slow – her wedding band from Galain tugged off by Y'Roden's teeth,
pressed into her palm. “Not with him between us. Not this time.”
Galain froze, staring at the ring that had fallen to the floor, and then did an abrupt about-face, desperate
to make an escape. His brain was already registering where and when this was and his heart was
constricting painfully. He had managed to handle the scene between Callan and An'Thaya only because
he'd come to terms with that betrayal. He'd been the great betrayer himself and while there was still
pain over the loss of An'Thaya, he'd understood at last that she'd simply been grasping for survival, for
the whole happiness he'd denied her for so long.
But this... this was different.
Tallin's laughter was mocking, his pleasure in Galain's emotional turmoil obvious. “You could kill
him,” he said, “you don't have very long – of course, the Lord of Time is due to arrive at any moment.”
Galain had forgotten Tallin was right there and he rocked to a full stop, eyes gone huge in a face that
had turned white. He blinked and looked away, unable to block out the soft voices behind him. The
image of Y'Roden removing the wedding ring Galain had given Ghetsuhm was seared into his brain
and a hand fluttered shakily over his face. Part of him remembered what Tallin was trying to do, and
Galain tried to focus on that. But it was damned hard. So damned hard and he turned away, only to see
the ring glittering up at him.
"I was faithful to her," he said, his voice scarcely more than a whisper. "I gave her everything I am.
Aarien and I waited -- stop!" he clapped his hands to his ears and gave Tallin a tormented look before
he spun back toward the pair. He wanted them to stop, he wanted them stop, stop, stop. But he had
nothing but his bare hands which clenched into his brow now.
Tallin shrugged and sighed, laughter tangled in the sound. “Faithful to her – yes well, from what I can
tell, the lovely lady has a problem with fidelity. How many hearts did she break on her way to you? Did
you think you'd slow her down any? Besides, you were married to another woman when you claimed
her – 'faithful' was a little much to ask, don't you think?”
A glitter of light close by set Tallin's shoulders into a tense clench and he backed up a step and Chezlar
appeared – in double. One accompanied by Y'Roden himself.
The S'Hean King took one look at the scene near the window and groaned, scrubbing at his face with
one hand.
"I was faithful!" Galain cried. "An'Thaya was gone and I learned. I learned to love just one.
Godsdamnyou!" Galain withdrew his hands and found himself focused on the actual Y'Roden. He
stared at the man and snarled. "Gods damn YOU." And with that he launched himself at the S'Hean
King.
Y'Roden didn't defend himself – he couldn't, not in the face of what Galain had just seen. The Elen hit
him full force and both men slammed into the wall before ending up on the floor. Chezlar watched it all
impartially, though there was a certain sadness about his face as he turned to look at Tallin.
“Satisfied?” he asked.
“Not in the least,” Tallin spit out. “And I'm getting a little tired of your face.” Jewels flared on the
Demon Mage's fingers and the floor ripped open beneath two elves, swallowing them and the dark-
haired human in an instant.
                                                     ***
Valin woke from a deep sleep, his eyes cracking open slightly in the dim illumination. For a moment,
the Corinian King was unsure what had roused him – then it came again. A low, almost inaudible sound
in the shadows that a human would have completely missed. He tensed without moving, straining to
listen – heart pounding – someone was in his chambers, and that someone didn't have his best interests
at heart.
A shadow fell over the bed, and Valin opened his eyes fully – shocked still for a second as they stared
back into their mirror image. He didn't know who the elf was that stood over him, but he could easily
guess.
The stranger drew a slim dagger and grinned, striking for the elder elf. Valin rolled, quick for a male of
his size – and the blade made an odd tearing sound as it drove through the sheets and mattress where
his torso had been a minute before.
“Dagar, brother,” the other hissed. “I'm glad you're awake, this will be much more fun with a little
participation.”
Valin gripped the bedpost, light glinting off the weapon he'd snatched from the bed stand as he dropped
into a semi-crouch, ready to defend himself. “I'm not really sure I want to play your game, brother,” he
said. Cat-slit eyes studied the other male. Just a hair taller, not much heavier, the same colouring and
build. There was something in the elf's gaze that set him apart though – a vacancy, no compassion, no
feeling at all.
“Which one are you?” Valin asked. “B'Ryan? B'Ryen?”
The would-be assassin sketched a bow. “B'Ryan. B'Ryan D'Riel – or so they tell me. I've only met our
father a handful of times – and he didn't seem overly glad to see me.”
“I wonder why,” Valin said dryly. He paused then, backing up slightly and looking around the room.
“Where is B'Ryen?”
The grin that distorted B'Ryan's features was vicious, the glint in his eye partially amused. “Where do
you think?.”
The King stared at his brother uncomprehendingly, then his heart skipped a beat. “Va'Lan!”
Leaping up onto the bed, he crossed it in a bound and drove his fist into B'Ryan's face, sending the
younger elf reeling to the side. Without looking back, Valin hauled open the double doors to his
chambers and burst into the hall, rousing Cullen Havenlock who stood guard in the hall with the noise
as he charged past him and through the doors to the nursery.
Caught off guard, the half-elven Captain stumbled against the wall and stared after Valin, then whirled
around as B'Ryan came through he doors after him. “What the hells?”
“Addah!” The call came from a frightened eight-year-old Crown Prince who found himself alone with
an unfamiliar elf in possession of a knife – and lacking his sanity.
Names were such a nuisance, B'Ryen had thought -- he and his brother, Valin and his son... it was kind
of funny. Made folks sort of hard to keep track of. Valin, Va'Lan... brother, nephew... one target, another
target.
"Scream away little puppy!" he said with a laugh. "Uncle B's gonna skin the hide off you and turn it
into a hat. I've been in the market for a hat." He leaped after the boy and caught him by the ankle.
Va'Lan screamed and twisted, kicking at his attacker with the flat of his foot. “You're not my Uncle!”
he yelled. “Get off me!”
Valin burst into the room and stopped for a fraction of a second as his brain assimilated what was
happening, then bounded forward again to slam into B'Ryen's back.
Back in the hall Cullen was hot on B'Ryan's heels and they reached the doorway at the same time.
Equally matched in size, the Captain shoved his weight into the other elf and slammed him into the
frame.
B'Ryen lost his grip on the boy and gasped hard when he was attacked from behind.
"Idiot!" he hissed as he twisted around and then realized who had jumped him. "Hel-lo sweetie," he
breathed but barely. He lifted his leg, trying to even out the attack, trying to use his weight against his
opponent, unused to actually having an equal adversary.
Valin's eyes flashed dark-emerald with rage as he drew back his fist, cracking his knuckles into his
brother's cheekbone. “Va'Lan,” he growled. “Run.”
The young boy struggled away from the brawling pair and breathlessly regained his feet, fleeing across
the room – never a thought of disobeying his father in his head. He grabbed the handles to the side
doors and flung them open, screaming for the guards.
“Dammit!” B'Ryan hissed, mid struggle with Cullen who was quickly gaining the upper hand. The
expression on the Captain's face was resolute. He'd let Valin down once – years ago, and it had cost
them their Queen. With grim determination, he wrestled the elder twin to the floor and shoved a knee
into his back, twisting the younger elf's arms behind his back and holding him firm.
“Your Majesty?”
B'Ryen, dazed by the blow to his face, snarled at Valin and hit back, his aim slightly off but still
connecting. They were so screwed, he knew, but he wasn't going down without a fight. Okay, so he was
already down. He brought his knee up, seeking to both further hurt Valin and gain some leverage.
Valin's head snapped to the side with the punch and the knee caught him in the gut, momentarily
winding him. With a grunt, he let his weight fall forward, pinning B'Ryen to the floor and grappling
with him as the guards came bursting into the room.
“To the King,” Cullen ordered, “take our would-be assassins into custody.”
                                                    ***
Be ready for the window, may you find what it is you seek.
The touch of the Changeling was familiar to Venus now, tuned to his energy. In time, he would slip her
attention, and she would simply forget, but for now her will was brought to bear in a way it hadn’t been
for centuries. Ghetsuhm was more than a favourite. She was the Fabioni’s Avatar, tuned to the
goddess’s energy so intimately that she was an extension of Venus herself. The loss of her stirred the
normally indolent woman into action, and a different face. She was the Huntress now, vengeful, stung
by a level of fury that could only spring from love.
So when Chezlar opened the door for Y’Roden, she plunged into the corridor without hesitation. Travel
in time wasn’t open to her species, but as soon as the gate was open, she could feel Ghet, and anchor on
her. Faint, so faint and far away, but it was enough.
That trace led her to a dank room in a ruined tower in Corin. At first the chamber seemed empty, but
the burn of the mark insisted Ghet was here. There was only one place she could be, and the realisation
did nothing to calm Venus’s anger.
With a soft oath, she laid her hand on the lid of the sarcophagus. It began to vibrate, gently at first, then
crumbled to powder as the bonds in its molecules broke. Venus leaned in and heaved Ghet’s body out,
as a wash of water flooded over both of them.
Laying the redhead’s limp form on the floor, Venus swore, a drifting current of invective. Ghetsuhm’s
eyes were open, and completely blank, vacant. The S’Hean queen was catatonic. Doll-like, she was
easy to move as Venus rolled her onto her chest, pumping water from her lungs. She didn’t so much as
cough, water running from her mouth in a silent trickle.
Rolling her back, Venus shook her head, purple-black hair washing over her shoulders. “No, I’m not
having this. Time to wake up, darling.”
She brushed her fingers over Ghet’s forehead, and the redhead’s body jerked, convulsed, and curled in
on itself. “No,” she said, her voice cracked and weak, “it hurts.”
Calmly, Venus fought her, arms gentle but irresistable around her. “Of course it hurts. Living hurts, but
you like it.” Her other hand moved between Ghet’s bare wet legs, over the mark of the dove she’d left
on the woman when she’d taken her for her own. “Pain is not always bad.”
Ghet’s body arched beneath her goddess’s touch, and she screamed. This entwined with her, Venus
could feel the other woman’s mind washed white, overwhelmed with sensation, flooded with feeling
and memory. They cried together, holding each other and rocking, the line between one body and
another blurring.
Eventually, Ghet lifted her face from Venus’s chest, pale, tear-streaked, gaunt and marked with the
yellow ghosts of bruises. She was shaking now, wet skin chilled with shock. “Rodi. Rodi! I have to…”
She struggled and fell back, laughing tiredly. “I can’t stand up. Gods, it’s so bright, everything hurts…
Can you get me to him?”
The goddess pushed Ghet’s wet dark hair out of her face, fingers trailing down over the collar round
her neck. “Not on my own, fillia. But I’m not on my own. Get your breath back, darling, but we don’t
have much time.”
“Time…” The word was a breath between lips purple with cold, Ghet’s eyes darting as she furiously
drew her thoughts together. So much had been taken from her. “I’m hidden in time. How did you get
here?”
“The messenger. I can still feel him, I’ve let him know we’re ready to go.”
“Chez…” She laughed weakly, remembering. A large fox, a kiss. A vision of the intense loneliness
she’d felt these last few weeks, without her memory. “Galain! He had Galain, we can’t leave him!”
Venus got to her feet, drawing Ghet after her. “It’s alright, love, they’re all together. It’s all coming
together, and it’s about time.”
Ghet met the seriousness in her goddess’s eyes, and shrugged, hopeless. “I don’t know how to let him
go. I wish I did. He holds to me no matter what I do, and I have done such things, such awful things…”
“Nonsense,” Venus said curtly, as the room faded from around them, pulling them back into the time-
stream. “You have been yourself, and it is a thing no-one else can do.”
                                                  ***
The wrench in time and location left Galain breathless and for a moment he was unable to continue his
assault upon Y'Roden. He gasped and blinked, a week's privation and captivity affecting him as well.
He raised a shaky arm, fist curled -- he wanted Y'Roden's blood no matter what, and it had further
enraged him that the S'Hean hadn't even tried to defend himself.
A soft sound had him pause. Where and when were they now? He blinked again and sagged away from
Y'Roden as he realized they were on Berelath, deep within the Taurë, in the heart of his own Elen
Rangers' forest home. He remembered this room and he remembered what had happened here. His jaw
sagged as gentle words from long ago washed over him.
                                           While my cheek
                                               is cradled
                                                 against
                                              your heart
                                            wipe away my
                                              soul’s tears
                                               with your
                                                whispers
                                           press tomorrow
                                             into my eyes
                                               with your
                                                   lips
                                               and... kiss
                                                me into
                                                   us.
*
Ghetsuhm was sobbing quietly and he could hear himself comforting her. He remembered the grief he'd
felt for An'Thaya's loss and the relief he'd felt with Ghetsuhm in his arms. He leaned away from
Y'Roden and toward the pair wrapped in partial darkness, tormented longing filling his expression.
The S'Hean King sat up, watching Galain with shadowed eyes. His attention slowly shifted from the
Elen to what was happening across the room and he visibly winced. Remembered pain twisted his
features – the agony of losing something that hadn't been his in the first place. She'd been married to
another at the time – he had been just as much in the wrong as Galain had been.
Logic – logic seemed to fail in the face of emotional upheaval, but he clung to it, near turning himself
inside out to stem the flood of rage. Ghet wouldn't want this – this was what Tallin wanted, to make
him angry enough to kill Galain, or vice-versa.
I won't give you want you want,” he said quietly. “The past is the past.”
Galain's head twisted around, remembering that Y'Roden was here and color suffused his face. He
stared at the other man, unable to read his face and wondering why he didn't attack. What held him
back? the Elen wondered and then his gaze dropped. Gods... what hadn't held himself back? he
wondered. He suddenly shifted and clapped his hands over his head, determined to drive out the scene
before them. The past was past -- no matter what had happened, he kept telling himself. And then it was
just too much. Enraged, Galain uncurled himself and struck again -- at Tallin.
There was a tiny sound behind the three men, where Ghet stood between Venus and Chezlar. Next to
the massive Changeling and the enraged goddess, she looked particularly tiny, bare but for the collar
around her neck, tears on her pale bruised face.
Eyes on the couple on the bed, her expression was pained. “I’m sorry,” she breathed, and it was broad
and unspecific, to all three of the men she’d hurt.
Then she lifted her face to her husband, a strange mixture of joy and trepidation. All three of them had
been given this choice by Fate, between love and revenge, comfort and violence. One moment, one
impulse, no time to think. Pure instinct, which was truth. She’d asked him once, what would you have
done. Now she waited for the answer, holding herself rigid, unaware that she swayed or how obvious
her exhaustion was.
Y'Roden watched in surprise as Galain attacked Tallin, then completely froze as Ghetsuhm appeared
out of nowhere. He felt her before he saw her – a blazing fire in their soul that seared through to the
core of him, then he was on his feet and sweeping her up, clutching her to his chest as if desperately
making sure she was real.
“YOU!” Tallin's snarl was rife with rage as he turned on Chezlar, then stared at the Goddess. “Who the
hells are you?
Galain's own attack weakened and stopped. He couldn't have finished it if he'd tried. Not right now. Not
ever. He recoiled and turn in upon himself, watching Y'Roden and Ghetsuhm meet each other,
conscious as well of the past ringing in his ears. His head dropped and he retreated into the background
to settle upon his knees and look up to watch Tallin, Chezlar and Venus. Now seemed to be certainly
crashing in on Tallin. The Elen had far more hitting him, but he couldn't let it settle upon him yet -- not
right now.
Venus's lion-tawny eyes were full of contempt, banked rage, and her voice was scathing. "Who am I? I
am her, as she is mine. What you took belongs to me. Now I know you, and you will not touch her
again. I'm levelling the playing field. What happens now isn't down to me, or to your lord. You're on
your own, as she was."
Ghet had collapsed into her husband's arms, weeping. She shook now, unable to contain the relief and
joy that flooded her. To have him back, after having lost him so completely... her heart burned. His
touch was a gift. "Rodi."
She took a deep, shaky breath, and lifted her head. Now that the offer had been made, she could give
the gift back, and recognise that her grief would have to wait. It was enough, more than enough, to
know that he had no choice to make, that she was first.
She looked at Tallin, and felt nothing. No rage, no pain, no pity. For herself, if it had been just for her,
she would have let him go rather than marked another death beside her name. But it wasn't just her...
So she turned back to Y'Roden, held tight against his chest, her gaze liquid but steady. "I made you a
promise, for our future. And I will not raise our daughter in a cage. She must be safe." On her toes, she
kissed his cheek slowly, a benediction. "Give him a clean death."
He didn't want to let go – it had been too long, and yet, he had to do what had to be done. Y'Roden
nodded, a mild acceptance, and bent his head to kiss her. Stepping back, the Tyrne released Tager's
sword from his back-scabbard with a smooth movement and turned to face Tallin.
The Demon Mage's face twisted into a sneer and he drew his own blade, feet sliding into a defensive
stance. “I killed your father, your cousin and your mentor,” he said. “You're just one in a long line of
failures.”
Ro smiled briefly – a dry, half-amused expression. “I'm the product of your misadventures, Uncle, and
I'm afraid you created a monster.” Green jewels swam with crimson as the S'Hean moved towards the
human – and there were ghosts behind his eyes that cried for vengeance. Every soul Tallin had slain,
and by default – every soul
Y'Roden had taken as well. If not for this man, the Prince of Corin would have grown up to be a very
different man. It was a curse as much as a blessing – who he was now, but he had the power to end
millennia of terror and grief.
Tallin's jaw clenched, but he didn't back away – he was almost unmatched with a blade and the
arrogance shone through. He met the S'Hean King in a sparking screech of metal that lit up the dark
room they all had found themselves within as the past played itself out.
It was a strange, rippling dance of muscle – blows and counterstrikes, first blood and sweat. It began to
dawn on Tallin that his nephew was indeed his physical match with a blade, and the glint of rubies on
his fingers betrayed an act of cowardice, the pull on magic meant to turn the tables. For a moment – he
must have forgotten that he faced a D'Riel – and in the arena of the Magi, he would never be Y'Roden's
equal.
The conduit flared open and snuffed out the fledgling flicker of power almost as soon as it began. The
look of utter shock in Tallin's eyes brought a wry expression to Ro's as he grabbed his Uncle's wrist and
forced it upwards, leaving him wide open. With a well practiced, powerful thrust, Y'Roden shoved the
blade through Tallin's upstretched torso, piercing main and redundant organs alike as he twisted hard,
bone grinding under steel. The Demon Mage choked on a well of blood that splattered across Ro's
chest, hot and sticky – then slumped forward. With a deft movement,the S'Hean released his blade from
his opponent's body and stepped back, letting the mage fall in an inglorious heap at his feet.
Shoulders heaving, he stood frozen, staring almost in disbelief at the fallen man who had caused his
family so much despair for so long.
Throughout, Ghet was silent, her face pale but still. If her mate died, she would die with him, and in
that moment, the thought held no fear. It was out of her hands, and she could be too much of a fatalist.
Then it was over, and she ran to Y'Roden, wrapping her arms around him, heedless of the blood on the
floor, on his clothes, the way his harness bit into her bare skin. It was done, over, and she flooded him
with her love and her incredulity that it could actually all be over.
Venus too stood still and silent, but her gaze was on Galain, her smile quiet and accepting, her face a
refuge.
The Elen felt eyes upon him, but it was an effort to turn his gaze away from Tallin's body. The fight had
been swift, violent and bloody, and it was startling to realize the man that had caused so much pain and
mayhem was actually gone. When Galain finally looked up, he was confused. Nonetheless, he found
himself unable to draw away from Venus' face and the smile that graced it. His eyes burned from
unshed tears as he gazed back.
Y'Roden came back to himself at Ghet's touch, stroking her hair and murmuring quietly – suddenly
realizing there was a chill in the air. Unbuckling his harness, the half-elf stripped off his shirt and
wrapped his wife's tiny frame in it to ward off the cold. It fell to her knees and was partially soaked in
blood, both his own and Tallin's. He gave her a helpless smile of apology and pulled the redhead close,
his eyes sliding shut as he just breathed – unaware of time shifting around them as Chezlar swept them
away.
                                                    ***
Jerri was alone, and half asleep when the tell tale shimmer of gold shone gently in her chambers. The
human sat up, her face drawn as she waited to see just who coalesced with the Changeling this time. A
choked cry of relief mingled with tears as Galain's haggard, but quite living figure appeared and the
blonde couldn't even manage to get to her feet at first – weak with emotion.
Galain stared back at her, not sure he'd be able to stand for long if Chezlar left his side. He was past the
point of exhaustion, his soul, heart and body bruised and battered. He stared mutely at Jerri before he
managed to croak out a greeting.
"Hi," was all he seemed capable of saying.
“Hi,” Jerri replied weakly. Then her usual spark came back and she bounced to her feet, crossing the
room to slide herself under Galain's shoulder for a support. “I've got him,” she said to Chez. “I'll take
care of him.” Pulling the Elen's arm around her shoulders she smiled at him. “Come on, to the bath
with you – you smell like... I'm not sure what that is, but we're going to wash it off, and get you fed,
then put you to bed. I'll save the royal beating for making me worry until later.”
"What? No beating now?" the Elen asked, trying to look disappointed, but entirely too tired to pull it
off. He slipped away from Chezlar, looking up once at the Changeling, his expression blank before his
eyes slid away.
"Nuru-kh'ai," he said. "I smell like Nuru-kh'ai. They stink." He tried to consider what it might be like to
be clean again and have food in his stomach and thought it might be very nice. "How've you been?"
Jerri waited until Chezlar disappeared again, then looked at Galain incredulously. “How've I been?
You've been held captive by a psychopath for weeks and you wonder how I am?” She shook her head
and steered him towards the bathing room. “Worried, that's how I've been. I'd rather you keep that
handsome hide intact.” Stopping beside the pool, she tugged at the laces of his shirt, than started
working it over his head. “Nuru'kh-ai... that doesn't sound pleasant.”
Galain was doing his best to cooperate with Jerri's effort, even raising his arms so the shirt removal
process went a little faster. Unconsciously one hand went to his neck and he sighed. Chezlar had
removed the collar and somehow his weapons had been returned to him, no doubt thanks to Chezlar as
well.
"They're very unpleasant and I hope you never meet up with one," he said. He regarded Jerri, sure he
should be helping her, but he might have more of a hindrance than a help. She'd been worried about
him? A frown crossed his face as he wondered to himself and then his face cleared. She was a friend
and people did worry about their friends.
"Sorry I caused you worry," he blurted.
“It's alright,” Jerri said lightly. The shirt fell to the floor and she started on his trousers. “So what
happened?” she asked as the garment slid down to his boots. “And you need to sit down now.” Lithe
fingers grabbed the hem of her baby-doll t-shirt and she shucked it off, followed by her short shorts as
she slid down into the pool and turned around in the water, fluttering her fingers for him to swing his
boots over to her.
Sit... he could sit, Galain thought, bemused by how quickly Jerri worked and knowing he shouldn't
have expected otherwise from her. He obediently sat down and watched her tug at the boots while he
worked up the energy to speak more.
"Well, Ghetsuhm's found. Y'Roden found me, and she found us," he said. "Probably a good thing," he
added in a mutter before he spoke again. "Anyway. Not much happened there for a bit --
underestimated Tallin, got myself caught, had the distinct frustration of finding Ghetsuhm and not
being able to help her one iota..." As usual, he thought darkly before he refocused on Jerri. One boot
was off and he tried to help get rid of the other. "Tallin threw the past at us, I couldn't take it and you
know... it's a damn thing to find out that you're definitely the lesser man." He actually held up his hand
in case Jerri tried to object. "Trust me on this one -- it's not self-pity talking." The boots and pants were
gone and he slid bonelessly into the water and sighed, closing his eyes. Gods, it felt so good to feel the
dirt, sweat and captivity sloughing away.
"It's a damn thing to see how much of a thief I've been for so long," he continued. "Stealing people
blind, getting away with it and then losing it all. Never professed to be the noble sort, but it's not any
fun when it's smashed back into your face as the truth." He dunked his head beneath the water's surface
and wished his mind could be as buoyant as his body. He really didn't want to talk anymore, but had a
feeling he would anyway. Jerri had a terrible effect upon him that way.
The blonde stared at him for a moment, then silently set to work shampooing Galain's hair. “It's easier
to be the bigger man,” she said, “when you have everything you want. That sort of confidence gives
you a huge bit of leeway. Not having what you want tends to shorten your fuse.” Jerri shrugged easily.
“Maybe you have been a horrible person, a thief and all that – I haven't known you for long, I can't
judge. I've only seen the part of you that is remorseful for what you have done – and that's enough for
me. You're worth my time, and my friendship.”
He'd resurfaced and gave Jerri a fleeting smile. He'd had a pretty short fuse even when he'd had it all
himself. "I'm glad you haven't known me for long," he said. Galain tried to speak again but she had
magic fingers and he succumbed to pure pleasure for a short while. He grabbed for the edge of the pool
finally once he'd dunked himself and rinsed his hair.
"Thank you," he said, not sure if he meant thanks for her words, her help in the bath or probably just
both. He pushed his hair off his face and leaned his head against the pool's edge. "The past is past,
right? So that's that. She's back where she's supposed to be, Tallin's dead, I'm all nice and clean now
and there's nothing to do but look ahead." And right now his future meant getting something in his
stomach and finding a comfortable bed so he could sleep for the next millennium. Or at least a good
hour or or ten.
Jerri smiled and kissed Galain's cheek. “You're welcome,” she said. “And looking ahead is a fabulous
idea. Let's get you something to eat – then to bed, and I'll even let you sleep.”
"You're too kind," he said with faint irony. He actually wasn't sure he'd make it through eating before
he simply crashed. He'd ask Jerri later, he thought muzzily.
                                                   ***
Ghet's eyes were still closed when they returned, but she knew. The sense of home was overwhelming:
the warmth, the scent, and more than anything else, S'Hea reclaiming her. She would go to the Well, but
not just yet. Not for a while yet.
She opened her eyes and looked up at her husband, her expression painfully tender. She was aware that
she looked both silly and stunning in his too-big blood-stained shirt.
After a long moment, she laughed. "I don't know what to say to you. It seems ridiculous to tell you that
I missed you. He took away all my memory of you, and I still missed you." She shifted her head
awkwardly, the collar chafing against her throat. "Can we get this off?"
Ro was silent – more than overwhelmed with relief and other more intense emotions that he didn't need
to put into words. She knew – couldn't help but know, and he needed a moment to pull himself
together. Working on the collar gave him just that – a delicate operation that keyed in a pattern of runes.
He could only hope that Tallin hadn't changed the code over the years – success coming with an
unexpected rush of relieved adrenaline as the piece of metal dropped easily away from Ghet's neck.
The half-elf tossed it away, letting it fall among the greenery of Ghetsuhm's garden where Chezlar had
returned them. He'd find it again later and dispose of it properly. As his fingers brushed her collar bone,
small arcs of emerald energy played up around his fingertips and wound about his wrists. “I...I have no
words,” he murmured finally. “How could you not know already, anyway, how I feel, what I'm
thinking.”
Ghet smiled, warm with humour. "I do. Is it boring you yet? It doesn't mean I always know what you're
going to do. I didn't know."
She stretched indolently, coming back into her strength as it flowed up through her feet. "I need a bath,"
she said decisively. "I need to get him off me. And so do you."
Ro offered her his hand, a good-natured sparkle in his eyes. “Our chambers? Or your private bath?” he
asked. It was had to believe that a few short hours ago, he'd been sitting here by himself – desperately
missing her. Now here she was – and all was right with his universe again.
"Out here, I think," Ghet said, unwinding herself from him. "I have the feeling there are a few people in
there who'd like a piece of me, yes? And I'm not ready yet. This is enough for now." As much as she
loved her children and her friends, it didn't come close to this, her need for him. "And I need to..." she
took a deep breath, white and shaky, and stopped fighting the memory of being pushed into freezing
liquid and forced to breathe it, "get back in the water."
Twining his fingers through hers, Ro turned towards the stairway that led up to the small building at the
end of the garden. The grass rustled softly beneath their feet, and the fountain tinkled soothingly as
they passed it by, mounting the steps and making their way up. “They're eager to see you,” he said
finally just before they reached the door. “But they'll understand.”
Ghet leaned her head on his shoulder as they walked, finding the familiarity of his body as natural as
breathing. "Aarien must have been frantic, but I just... I can't cope with her yet. Tonight will be soon
enough. I doubt she'll understand, though. Rhags will, and he hasn't always in the past. Scary how fast
they grow up, but handy."
She stood on the stone, her toes curled around the edge of the pool, and hesitated. There was pale fear
on her face, and yet it was so like her to charge towards it. "You go first."
A nerve twitched in Ro's jaw – the only visible sign of the rage he still bore against his deceased uncle.
He buried it quietly and stripped down, sliding down into the water and turning, reaching up in
invitation to his wife. “It's alright,” he said, “I won't let anything happen to you.”
"Things happen to me," she said quietly. "It just seems to be my nature. You can't protect me all the
time. And it's alright, to be angry."
There was still a tightness of fear around Ghet's eyes, but she smiled with genuine warmth. "You are,
however, enormously enticing when you're naked. That's enough incentive to overcome pretty much
everything."
Stepping down into the water, into his arms, she was distracted, which helped. "You're wearing my
ring. My gods, you're... I haven't seen that for... you know, I might cry."
“It's rather futile to be angry at a dead man,” Ro said dryly. His expression changed and his thumb
rubbed against the gold band on his finger. “I needed something... it's hard to explain, it was comforting
to have something you gave me so long ago.”
Dipping his head, he kissed her, pulling Ghet tight up against his chest – reveling in the feel of her in
his arms. She was too thin – and pale, but she was his Ghettie, beautiful and full of life.
Ghet shook her head ruefully, then returned his kiss with heat. The water washing around her body was
warm, soft... it was alright. "You know, for most people, something being futile doesn't stop them
feeling it. Futile to love a man married to someone else, as well."
She twined her fingers through his, lifting his hand to her mouth and sliding her tongue around his ring.
"So long... and we've both changed so much. I'd have loved you no matter what happened today, but
what you did..." Her blue eyes were bright with pride, a long-held shadow fled. She kissed his chest,
and slid her hand between his legs. "And I've missed you, yes I have."
Dark laughter rumbled beneath Ghet's mouth and his hand slid down her spine. “Well then,” Ro
murmured huskily, “let's see about getting the two of you reunited – shall we?” He had no real response
for what she had said. What'd he'd done had been sheer instinct – all of it.
Backing her up slowly against the side of the pool, he lifted the redhead slightly in the water, hard
fingers gripping her tiny waist as his mouth found hers again. He surrounded her with his solid
presence, love and reassurance. It was true, he couldn't save her from everything, but he could be
steady and reliable in what he could give.
Wonder and relief turned to heated, feral passion – it always had, it always would and the half-elf
growled as he thrust himself between Ghet's thighs, achingly slow.
Ghet growled underneath him, moving to meet him. What he felt was as tangible to her as his touch,
and just as erotic. She nuzzled against his throat, wet skin sliding across his, every nerve aching for
him.
Steady and reliable she was not, and yet her love for him had been one of the few constants in her life.
It bent, changed, adapted, but it was always there, and she knew beyond anything that it always would
be, no matter what happened.
Heated touch and fluid movement lead to the inevitable, leaving Y'Roden gasping into the crook of
Ghet's neck, hands braced on the edge of the pool, his face buried against the throbbing vein on her
throat. The half-elf's head spun with physical release and the strength of emotion that washed around
and through them both. This was everything he had ever wanted – dreamed of – and nearly losing her
had terrified him.
Ghet cried out, tears on her wet skin as the boundaries between the two of them eroded, sharing their
pleasure. She clung to him as she shook, dead weight between the side of the pool and his body.
Brushing her soft cheek against his face, she opened her eyes, her expression sensual and sated. "I love
you," she breathed. It didn't need saying, but it still felt good to say. "And I think we've earned a little
peace, surely."
One hand lifted to cup his wife's flawless face, Y'Roden's own expression slightly hazy, but soft. “I love
you too, Ghettie.” His laugh was short and full of wry humour. “I keep hoping – you know, that we've
earned it, but the universe seems to be out to prove us wrong... repeatedly. Let's just keep our fingers
crossed, yes?”
His wife chuckled wryly. She knew there was still a lot to be done before things would be back to
normal, but she needed this moment to breathe. "Well, alright then. But just the fingers, alright?"
                                                    ***
Ghet's physical recovery had been startlingly rapid. She was still a bit thin, but a night with her
husband and a morning playing with her twins, and she appeared to be her normal self again.
Behind the bright façade, though, she had a lot on her mind. She might be back, but Callan and Thaya
weren't, there was something odd going on with her sons, she hadn't got to talk to Foxx yet and
something was off there too, and then there was this mess.
Well, she'd never been famed for her subtlety, or been any good at letting things lie. She'd let it be for
six years now, and look what had happened: absolutely bloody nothing.
She came without a guard, and Ja'Kel either trusted her judgement or knew he wouldn't get anywhere
with her. There was an expression on her face as she knocked on Galain's door that said she wasn't
going to be easily put off.
As for Galain, he had been blissfully asleep. Once his stomach had been filled and his head had hit a
pillow there was simply no return to the land of the conscious for many hours. It was the rapping at the
door to the guest chambers he, Jerri, Marius and Foxx occupied that had him slowly stirring, a cross
look filling his expression.
"No, I do not want anymore subscriptions," he mumbled, lost in that gray world between dream and
reality. Another knock and he flopped onto his back, sat up slowly, groaned and realized he was
absolutely starving again. That would probably have to wait he decided, thinking it might be smart to
answer the door. There was a startled grunt from Jerri, who had passed out next to him. She opened one
blue eye and regarded him reproachfully, rubbed at her head where he'd accidentally smacked her, and
promptly fell back asleep again. He got to his feet, swayed impressively for several seconds, had the
presence of mind to find a robe and then staggered and felt his way to the door, opening it as he
finished sashing the robe. He stared at Ghetsuhm for several seconds, uncomprehending, before he had
the presence of mind to speak again.
"Hello, come in," he said. He stepped backward and was glad there were some convenient chairs
nearby.
Ghet took in the robe and blinked, then mentally shrugged, walked in and sat herself down. "Sorry, I
didn't mean to wake you. This place can really screw up your sleep patterns. It can't be that often I've
been up and about before you."
She curled her legs under her in the chair and regarded him steadily. "I wanted to say thank you. This
all can't have been easy for you, and I appreciate it."
Galain flopped into the other chair and stared at his lap. The robe was really a useless thing, he thought
as he focused one eye on Ghetsuhm. The other eye had noticed the robe was pink -- and short. He
shifted slightly.
"I haven't slept in a while, but I'm waking up," he said. Then he decided that was stupidly facetious and
plunged onward, raising an arm and then letting it drop as he tried to speak intelligently. "I mean,
you're welcome. It was... well, you were missing." He had both eyes focused on Ghetsuhm now and he
rubbed at his forehead. "Couldn't very well leave you wandering around in time with a lunatic could
we?" His hand dropped and he gave her a quick smile.
Ghet smiled, her face lighting. "I don't know, some people would say I've spent most of my time
wandering around with lunatics. Most of the people I've loved have been utterly crazy." She shrugged,
determinedly keeping a light tone. "It might not have been you and Ro who brought me back, but you
were the ones who ensured I had something to come back to."
No, it couldn't be done. Well, it could, she could go on pretending nothing was wrong, but she
shouldn't. Her shoulders dropped, slender fingers rubbing at her forehead. "I know... what you saw.
Particularly, I know what you saw at Silver Dragon Ridge, and I'm more sorry than I can bear. I never
had any interest in being Guinevere... But you're both mad, you know that? You and Ro. I can't see how
either of you could have looked at that and thought it was his fault. Galain, you need to blame me for
what I did. I was the one who deceived you, I went to him, I pushed him into it. He tried to say no, I'm
just... very, very persuasive.
"Galain, I was never the love of your life while we were together. Don't make me it now. It's a lie, and
it's a cop-out. You're using me as an excuse to stop living, and it has to end."
Galain did the natural thing. He stared at Ghetsuhm. He stared at her hard, sleepiness slipping away as
suddenly as the night before dawn. And then a torrent of words escaped him.
"Everything you said until right before that end there, I was getting that," he said. He sat forward on the
edge of the chair and gripped his knees. "I was getting that on my own. You went to him, you helped
him figure out that was in your combined best interests to stop being the noble one. I get it. You needed
him. He needed you. I couldn't even begin to give you what you needed and I didn't know that. You
gave me what I needed -- a whole different ballgame. It's been hell figuring that out. It's hell knowing
that. It's never going to feel great to know that I loved you as wholly as I could or can and it just wasn't
enough. It's no cop out that as far as I'm concerned you were and are the love of my life. I wasn't and
am not the love of your life.
"I wasn't supposed to see what happened between you and Y'Roden. I'll never forget it either. I'll never
forget. Some maniac, some all-knowing sort probably, will say that's probably just precisely what I
needed to see. Bully for them. I saw it. I got it. And I'll tell you again, Ghetsuhm. I am one screwed up
person because I love you and it's taking a hell of a while to go from loving you to just... what is it
when you know a person and you love them but you don't?"
He finally stopped, afraid he was ranting and realizing he was on his feet.
"I'm being an ass again," he said.
Ghet shook her head sadly. Ironic how much she hated deliberately hurting people, and how often she
did it. "Galain, love, he's not noble, he never has been. It wasn't nobility that stopped him sleeping with
me, it was selfishness. If I'd wanted to hold on to the both of you, that wouldn't have been enough for
him. He wanted all of me, and he wasn't prepared to settle. Me, I loved both of you, and I never asked
for faith from either of you.
"But don't you try to change the past. What did you ever give up for me? Chuff, Galain, when you
brought me back from Tenobrous you dropped me on the airdock even though I was dying, because I
wasn't your priority. You put me first only when you had nothing else left to love. I don't care much that
you didn't love me more than you did her, but don't lie about it! It's an insult to me, and to her."
Her frustration helped insulate her against the guilt, it drove her forward. "I know, Galain. I know how
hard it is to keep loving someone when they've moved on, because I did it with Y'Roden. And you're
going to tell me I didn't have to do it on my own, but while you were off with An'Thaya, actually I did.
I loved him so much, and I knew I always would. I've never asked you not to love me. And I... wow. I
was going to say I never stopped loving you, but it's not that simple. I grieve for the man I loved. I
haven't seen a trace of him for years. It's almost surreal to look at your face, and know he isn't there. I
miss him. This better person you think you've become by stopping doing everything? I don't like him."
"That's because I'm not a better person," Galain replied. Her words hurt him -- the memories chafed at
his heart. "And the man you loved? He's dead. Gone. All rotted and buried." He stepped toward
Ghetsuhm, unaware of the rage he was radiating. "He died." He drew backward, shaking and trying to
stop himself from speaking. He didn't care to hurt other people either and this was the last person in the
world he wanted to hurt. "You don't have to like me. Don't. I'm whatever I am." He gazed at her and felt
sick inside. "I love nothing now. I can do that. What was I thinking? Love you? Love you only? Love
you because I actually did love you? Fine. Maybe you have the truth of it all. I loved you because I was
left alone. And I am alone now. And I love nothing. It's great." He dropped his head and ground his
teeth. Had they ever yelled at each other like this before? he wondered before he shrugged. They were
beyond overdue.
"Then die," Ghet said, his rage firing hers. Hers was cold, icy and flat, but it would still be regretted
when she calmed down. "You couldn't choose between me and An'Thaya, and now you can't choose
between life and death, you're just sitting on your hands being pointedly miserable and letting existence
flow past you. You ever think maybe you were shown what you saw so that you could finally call
'skrun it' and get up off your arse and stop feeling sorry for yourself? It's not great. You hate it. You can
love, you're just scared. And you know, too, there are so many people who love you still. And if you
board yourself up and shut them out you don't have to feel shitty about how much your self-indulgent
sulking is hurting them. And you bloody well should!"
She got to her feet and stood before him, larger than her diminutive size in her fury. "Let me go! Either
do it because you still love me, because this towering love you claim is worth that, or do it because you
don't love me any more, because you can see me for what I actually am. Move on. Let joy back into
your life, stop walking around as a travesty of everything you and I ever stood for. You're my daughter's
father, but you're also the person who took her a'pa and beat him to death with a shovel. You want to be
a father to her, this theatrical self-loathing has got to stop!"
And then, quick-silver, the rage dropped from her face, and she looked at him in affectionate, loving
sympathy. "Or love me proportionately, honour what we had, and accept that it ended not because you
were some unworthy sack of shit, but because it ended, as everything does. Open your heart to a
normal life. Make love to that pretty blonde who's been given to you to be a lifeline." She reached out,
more cruel in her kindness than in her anger, and stroked his hair. "Honour what we had."
Galain froze when she touched him. He wanted to deny everything she’d just thrown at him. He wanted
to rail against her and tell her she was wrong. He was getting better, he was trying to live again. He’d
told Jerri just hours ago what he’d felt when he’d seen the past. And he knew what he felt when he saw
Ghetsuhm in these latter days. He wasn’t the man she had known and she was certainly not the woman
he had known.
“I do not feel sorry for myself,” he said at last. “Pissed off at myself, yeah. I’ve needed my grief, but
I’ve been lost in it. I know that.” The expression on his face had shifted from anger to desperation and
finally resignation. “I love you – I will always love you. But you’re not mine and you never really
were. It’s taken me some time to learn that particular lesson. Will it put your mind at ease if I say it out
loud? If I say, ‘Ghetsuhm Brigid Riker D’Riel, I love you, but I renounce you. Go live your life as you
have been already, and live it fully with your husband and your children. I understand that the past is
the past and I am now living in the future, my heart emptied of any yearning for what once was, and
waiting for whatever the Fates bring my way.’ Okay?”
He pinched the bridge of his nose before he spoke once more.
“The last thing I want is to dishonor what we had. Nothing lasts forever, nothing, and I was idiotic
enough to forget that.”
There were quiet tears on Ghet's face as her hand dropped to Galain's shoulder, gentle. "Anarnya, I was
as much yours as I was ever anyone's. I didn't come here because I loved him more than I did you, I
promise you that. And no, it doesn't put my mind at ease. What would, is seeing you come back to life.
My heart needs you to stop waiting, to get up and walk forward and take. That's the only thing that will
ease my guilt and pain. And I can't make you do it. But we were a force, and I would like to be able to
enjoy those memories without feeling that it would have been kinder if we'd never met."
It had to be the right moment in time because just weeks ago Galain would have stalked away from
Ghetsuhm, angered and frustrated. He was still frustrated, but that frustration was effectively pointed in
a different direction. He was forever changed by what had happened to him through his losses. To be
anything else would have been to be something less.
"I'll find my life," he said to her. "I've been on that path for a little bit. Really." His brow furrowed and
he reached toward her and touched the place where her heart was, where another mark of love now
existed. "I didn't realize about your guilt -- I haven't been thinking very clearly for a while you know.
You're so happy -- okay, you don't skip around and fling flowers about, but I've always seen it. I'm
sorry, very sorry. I like the memories we made -- confounded them all for a good long time." He
withdrew his hand and then suddenly leaned forward and cupped her head with both his hands and
kissed her hair before he drew back again.
"I'm glad you're back -- you had to be back. Back to make him happy, piss the hell out of me, thrill
Aarien to death... you know, make things happen again." He shrugged and smiled. "Find me in a short,
pink satin robe even."
Ghet hugged him briefly, then let him move away and simply stood, being looked at. "I'm glad to be
back. Things happen around me and to me, you know, but I'm the cause of very little of it. Just... a
catalyst. And... it's not just him. It's S'Hea. If anyone owned me, it would be her. I love her so much."
She quirked an eyebrow up with a smile, the movement of her head washing hair across her shoulders.
"And I don't know, I've seen worse. Much, much worse. Nothing you can do about that."
Ghet smiled, warm and full of mischief. "I'm so glad we had this little chat. I should probably leave you
to... get back to bed. Stuff to do, you know. I'm a fine, lie-downing pillow of the community these days.
We'll see you and Jerri at dinner tonight, alright? Aarien said, and who can argue with her?"
Galain's eyebrows rose.
"Gods, nobody," he said. And that was that. Fiery, crazy, final... Galain showed Ghetsuhm to the door
and despite it all had to laugh. A fine, lie-downing pillow of the community...
                                                    ***
The stone of the wall was cool against Valin's shoulder as he leaned against the wall, staring out the
window into the courtyard below. His brow was furrowed in thought, emerald eyes dark with it, his
mouth pulled into a frown. Muscular arms were folded across his broad chest and the fingers of one
hand worried at the fabric of his doublet, then lifted to tap slowly at the chain of office that draped
across his shoulders.
A knock at the door broke him from the light trance and he lifted his head, but didn't turn around.
“Enter.”
“The Tyrne of S'Hea and Princess Summerlin of Alcarinque to see you, Mo Rìgh.”
Y'Roden stepped forward with his one-time lover, his eyes focusing on their son's back, then shifting to
meet Summerlin's sea-green gaze. The news that Valin had the twins in custody had come as a shock –
and a small amount of relief. At least they were no longer at large, murdering innocents.
Summerlin met Y'Roden's look and gave him a quick smile before she patted his forearm. The
conversation before them was more than bound to be an interesting if not unusual one. She too felt
immense relief that the twins had been caught although she currently had absolutely no desire to visit
them while they were in custody here. She wasn't entirely sure she could handle it.
The door softly clicked shut behind them and Valin still didn't turn from the window. The chain chimed
gently as he let it fall back to his chest. “They attempted to assassinate my son,” he said. “I can protect
myself – but my son? My gods... he's only a child.”
The Corinian King turned to face his parents – for that was who he was addressing with his next
question – not the King, not the Elen Elder. “What do I do with them?” he asked point blank. “These
brothers I never knew I had. You know what the punishment is for treason, for rape, for murder – they
are guilty of all three.”
Perhaps again, it might be easier to see the twins, Summerlin thought to herself, her face going pale.
Anything but see the expression on her son's face. The attempt upon Valin had been expected, but not
the attempt upon their grandson and the Elen exhaled swiftly, her brow furrowing.
"The punishment is death," she said, clasping her hands together, her knuckles whitening as she did so.
"And thus says the law. What say you?" She reached out to touch her son's arm and then met his eyes.
Valin returned Summerlin's gaze, then looked to his father. “Will you speak for them?”
Y'Roden shook his head, pain crinkling the skin around his eyes. “I will not,” he said. “They were
given their chance at redemption, they spat in Arminiea's face.”
A deep sign expanded Valin's chest and he looked away. “I have no choice then,” he said. “My people
won't be satisfied with just a beheading – not when they are guilty of so much more than I care to
contemplate. I'll have to sentence them to Zenith Exposure.”
Summerlin's eyes widened and her gaze dropped. Y'Roden had spoken right though and Valin's
decision would hold.
"Then so be it," she said quietly. She looked back up at her son. "I wish... I wish for so much to have
been different. That they might have been something else." But they weren't and she gave Y'Roden a
quick, hopeless look although she agreed with his decision.
Valin shook his head and looked at his mother, his eyes filled with S'Hean tears. “I hate Gareth,” he
hissed, “may the Fates bring him the misery he deserves.”
“Here, here,” Y'Roden agreed softly. The half-elf took Summerlin's hand and gave it a quick squeeze,
silent empathy that he would never speak aloud. Leaning forward, he wrapped an arm around his son's
shoulders and gave him a quick pat on the back, embracing him briefly. “We can't change the past,” he
said, “that's a lesson that has become painfully clear of late.”
                                                  ***
A physical door was closed and if Galain had thought about it, another door was closed as well. It had
already been for quite some time, it just had some extra new, shiny locks from his side added. The elf
squirmed inwardly, then outwardly and then he tore the pink robe off. Hell of a thing, he thought. He
preferred scarlet when it came to that sort of thing anyway. He walked back to the room that was
supposed to be his own, propped himself in the doorway and stared at the recumbent form sharing the
small bed.
Life line? he scowled and shook his head. She was cute. But was he supposed to jump her just because
she was the first person to walk his way? Because he'd been a jackass for these past few human years?
Because... what?
He wandered into the room and sat down on the edge of the bed and cupped his head in his hands. He
was still damned tired but he had the awful feeling he wouldn't be able to sleep for a long while yet.
“I can feel you brooding,” Jerri's muffled voice informed him from where her face was buried in the
pillow. She reached out a hand and batted at one of the flimsy bed curtains. “Was someone just at the
door? I thought I heard voices.”
"Yeah," he answered. "We've got a dinner date." He shifted a little and looked back at her. "And I'm...
I'm brooding. Sorry." He turned back and ran a hand through his hair, getting caught in the curtains
while he was at it.
The blonde rolled onto her back and pushed thick lengths of hair out of her face, peering up at Galain
with bleary blue eyes. “A dinner date? With who?”
Galain spat out a curtain or two and leaned over to regard Jerri more closely.
"Lessee... a dinner with... I dunno. Well, the King, the Queen... my daughter for sure."
The human coloured a little under his close scrutiny and turned her head, stretching languidly in an
attempt to wake up. “The King and Queen? I don't have a thing to wear to a Royal Dinner,” she sighed.
“Somehow I think baby doll t-shirts and short, shorts aren't the usual sort of dress.”
Galain thought a moment, actually envisioning the whole scene before he laughed.
"Jerri, this particular king and queen could care less. They might notice and then... they probably won't.
It never hurts to look nice," he shrugged. "My daughter's the sort to point out something though." He
paused and then smiled. "I could dress you though." He ducked his head and then cupped it. "It's hours
away, I think."
“Dress me?” Jerri looked dubious. “What are you going to do? Scarlett O'Hara the bed curtains?” She
sat up, a tangle of blond hair slithering over slight, bare shoulders. “Oh wait... you mean like...” Jerri
wiggled her fingers in the air in some approximation of what she'd seen him do a time or two. “You do
still owe me a pair of shorts – that pair is probably floating somewhere in the depths of space or
something.” Frowning, she pondered the matter. “ I wonder where stuff does go when you magic it like
that... or where it comes from when it just appears.”
Galain smothered a true laugh, but just barely.
"Your shorts find a very good, royal home," Galain said. "No loss is involved." He regarded her,
turning more fully. "Do you mind that I dress you? I mean, I can probably ask for someone in the
palace here and they'll take care of you. I'm good with that -- I can sit back and watch." He had no idea
what he'd do with her hair after all. It looked pretty good as it was -- all tangled up and crazy.
Mildly perplexed, Jerri eyed Galain oddly for a moment, then smiled and shrugged. “I don't mind. I'm a
little curious, actually.” She looked to the side of the bed and tilted her head. “Where did my robe go?”
A suspicious look was cast in the Elen's direction, then she laughed and leaned forward to kiss him.
“All right, we should probably get something light to eat and have a bath. Don't you think? Unless you
have anymore pressing to do... I mean, anything more pressing.”
"Your robe took a trip -- it was the first thing I found when the someone who was here knocked on the
door," he said, letting Jerri kiss him. He lifted an arm and sniffed. "Do I still smell bad?" he asked
before he paused and realized the young woman wasn't really thinking of more food and a bath. He
considered her for a few long seconds and worried. It was possible for drowning persons to pull
lifelines down with them despite the best efforts. Was he really ready to attempt even a simple
friendship with benefits? He doubted it, but it was said one couldn't know until one tried. He wasn't too
surprised then when he found himself pulling Jerri against him. His body had overridden his brain --
something it was masterful at. Was there something more pressing to do than eat and bathe?
"I guess... I guess so," he said, his tone filled with surprise.
Jerri laughed breathlessly and shook her head. “You smell really good, actually,” she admitted. There
was a glimmer of surprise in blue eyes when he pulled her close, but her body responded with its usual,
eager flame, pliant and willing. “Then you should probably kiss me now,” she told him in a slightly
husky tone.
"Kiss?" The Elen gave Jerri a blank look for a moment before he realized she was right. He was just
holding her and while that was nice for a starter, it hardly got anyone anywhere. He colored a deep
scarlet that stretched from head to foot and then tentatively kissed her. They'd made love only once
before and he'd been angry and unthinking. This time he was actually trying to please her, not hurt her,
and he felt like an idiot.
Patient and encouraging, Jerri slid her arms around his neck, fingers sliding through long, golden locks
of hair. She could sense the difference in him this time – and hey, there were no 'frisky' inducing drugs
involved. It was a pleasant thing to know he actually wanted her this time, all on his own.
As if he had read her thoughts he spoke aloud.
"Forgive me if I'm not so... well, there's no poutine and I'm not pissed off," he said. However, she was
incredibly soft and warm and it was awfully nice when her hands ran through his hair. That one act
alone did a lot of things to the rest of his body that he'd been certain he'd never really feel again. The
next kiss was more natural and involved a little experimentation that left him thinking that his lips
could find some other interesting spots on Jerri's body as well. In other words, further exploration.
The blonde grinned against his mouth and tugged gently on the back of Galain's neck, coaxing him
down towards the bed. Her mouth slid away from his, nipping gently at the tip of one pointed ear.
“Nothing to forgive,” she murmured, “unless you stop.
"I won't stop," Galain rasped out. "I'm due for a beating anyway, according to you, just... just..." It was
really stupid to talk so much. At the same time his mouth began its explorations he shifted them so they
were joined. Sheets, the few that there were, were shunted to the floor. They rolled and fell off the bed,
Galain taking the brunt of the fall. Beds were so confining anyway.
Jerri cried out, first as a result of their bodies coming together, then out of surprise as they fell, and she
laughed – half-giggling as they hit the floor. Her hips worked to meet him and she bit at his neck, eyes
hazing over as feeling overrode thought.
The Elen muffled his laughter, eyes suddenly shooting wide when Jerri simultaneously discovered his
neck and met his own hips with hers. His lips had found her shoulder, but the hells if he might make it
any lower. It was going to take practice to explore the entirety of Jerri. So he met her body with his,
gratified when they paused just a moment and then matched their rhythm.
Lost in the movement, Jerri arched her back and dug her fingers into Galain's flesh, the jerking of her
hips becoming more and more urgent as heat coiled and threatened to release. The pitch of her cries
went up an octave and the blonde's head snapped forward, egg-blue eyes meeting sea-green as she
clamped around him and shuddered from the base of her spine.
Galain stared back and gasped as his body released itself within Jerri. His hands were grasping her...
somewhere. Her waist perhaps, he wasn't wholly conscious of where they were. He shook and realized
his eyes were burning. He blinked and shuddered as well and closed his eyes. Coherent thought was out
of the question at the moment.
With a small sound, Jerri crumpled to Galain's chest and lay there panting for awhile. A pleasant
warmth had stolen through her body and she murmured in contentment. “Now that,” she murmured,
“was a pressing matter.”
"Uh huh," Galain replied, his reply leaving him in a sigh. He waited a little bit before he spoke again. "I
had no idea." He frowned after that and then gave a mental shrug. No, he'd had idea. And he had a long
way to go, but he had to admit, if he could could travel the path a while with Jerri he was willing.
Jerri lifted her head, fingers curving over Galain's shoulders as she looked down at him. “No idea about
what?” she asked curiously. “I mean, obviously you know how good that is. From the number of
children I've counted so far, you've obviously done this before.”
Galain closed his eyes, embarrassed.
"I have," he said and kissed the tip of her nose. "It's good. It's very good." He kissed her again and then
decided it might be wiser to just hold her. "If I explained what I just said it'd take a long time and it
wouldn't involve what we've been doing."
“Fair enough,” the blonde said brightly. “I much prefer what we've been doing.” She kissed the Elen
back and nuggled into his arms. “You can tell me later... after you've dressed me and taken me to
dinner.”
"It's a deal," he replied, holding Jerri tightly to him. Whoever she was, whatever she was and wherever
she'd come from, he had to admit, she was a godsend. Then his eyes opened wide. He'd promised to
dress her and there was dinner. "What's your favorite color?" he blurted.
“I have to pick just one?” she asked, her voice muffled slightly. “I like blue... and green, shades of
them, I look quite nice in blues and greens.”
"You do?" he asked and then he could have hit himself. "I'm going to look forward to see how you look
in blues and greens."
                                                     ***
Vanyalin slipped through the doors to the chamber where many of her siblings were gathered. The
Blackthorn children were back at the Keep under Mira's watchful eye, but most of the others had
assembled in S'Hea – mutual worry bringing them together.
“Is there any word yet?” she asked, looking to her elder brothers who were seated at a table.
Cully looked up, then glanced at Glory and Tyrel – not wanting to be the one to say anything. Glory
gave his twin a quick look, understanding his reluctance and opened his mouth to speak, only to be
surprised to hear another voice, Tyrel's.
"No," he said and stood. "Nothing yet, but it can't be much longer." He gave his sister a tentative smile,
surprised as well to find himself standing and speaking. "Forgive me, my words are cliched, but
hopeful."
Vanyalin sighed and approached the table, flopping into a chair. “There is nothing to forgive, Tyrel,”
she said. “I'm afraid I'm not as optimistic as you are though – and neither are the residents of the
Blackthorn Keep. Mira is preparing to take over the throne, and there is definite unrest. She still hasn't
reached the age of majority and Yarwin has completely lost his mind. I really don't want to see what
happens if she doesn't prove strong enough to hold it.”
Mena shifted on the chaise she had sprawled across and sat up, looking towards the Quads, then back to
the table again. “Should we be bringing Cal'Lanth and the twins to Nenlante? If someone makes a play
for the throne, won't their lives be at risk?”
At this Glory stirred and gave Tyrel an encouraging smile before he nodded toward Mena.
"You're probably right," he said, mentally grimacing at the thought of what might be occurring amongst
certain minds on Aerdon. He glanced over toward the quadruplets as well.
"We can bring them here," Cadan said without having to think twice, not that he ever did so anyway.
"Mira will prove strong, but we can't take chances meanwhile."
“I'm certainly not going back – not until Ammah comes home,” Melian muttered. “I'd rather go back to
Alcarinque.”
“I rather like the Keep,” Ruan countered, “but I can understand why you feel that way.” He looked to
the eldest of them and raised a questioning, dark eyebrow. “Anelain?”
The blue-eyed redhead turned away from the balcony where she had been contemplating the crashing
waterfalls. “Yes,” she said. “I think it's best – Ammah would want us to protect them. They are
nowhere near the direct line of succession, but why risk it?”
Mak had stayed quiet for now, eyeing each of his many siblings as they spoke or did not.
"You're all a morbid lot," he said at last. "You're speaking like they'll never come back, but they will.
They have to -- both our mother and Callan have been in worse situations. Or they've been in pretty bad
ones where it looked like they were either gone for good or pretty much so. Okay, protect Cal and the
twins, but why are we just sitting here? Isn't there something we can do to find them? Isn't there
something we can do beside plan for the worst?"
“Uncle Ro has people researching in the library,” Anelain said. “They haven't found anything yet
though. We're all just as desperate to find them as you are Mak, but unless you've found a way to time
travel then we just have to wait to see how things come out.”
“On the bright side,” Vanya said viciously, “Tallin is dead.” Her hand lifted to rest on Tyrel's shoulder
and squeezed affectionately. “That is good news for everyone.”
Tyrel turned to clasp his sister's hand and smiled warmly even as Mak's shoulders sagged and he sat
back down. Tyrel looked back at his younger brother, but there was little more to be said or done and it
was true, there was good news mixed with the no news.
                                                   ***
Rhagi opened his door, and yelped in surprise. His mother was leaning on the jamb, arms folded across
her chest. She looked like she’d been there a while, except he’d never seen her keep still for any period
of time. “Mum. Um… what are you doing?”
Smiling, she straightened, and perhaps it was only his Talent that made him notice the tightness around
her eyes. “Well, let’s see. I went to check the refurbishment in the Council Chamber, because the
second I turn my back it seems we need to redecorate. Spent some time with Aarien, checked out my
garden properly, sat down with Faelwen and caught up on all the gossip, paid a ‘visit’ to your father,
and now I’m here, waiting for you to tell me who it is.”
“Who what is?”
“Oh come on, surely I taught you better than that.” She breezed past him, into his chambers, and he
shut the door behind her. “It’s Matt, isn’t it?” she said with assurance, dropping into a chair. “I mean,
your options weren’t exactly broad. And I haven’t seen him since I got back, he appears to be avoiding
me in terror.”
Rhagi dropped his shoulders, and sat. “Alright, yes, you’re right, it’s Matt.” He frowned, looking at his
hands. “I thought you’d be pleased.”
Ghet cursed silently and leaned towards her son. “Oh honey, I am pleased, for you. I just… I’m a little
concerned.”
“I’m fine, really, it’s okay. It was my idea, and he’s been very…” Oh dear. There was an adjective that
didn’t sound terrible, there must be. “Accommodating.”
Ghet rested her chin on her hand and fixed Rhagi with a clear blue gaze. “I didn’t say I was concerned
for you. You don’t… you haven’t… you don’t love him.”
Rhagi was thrown, enough to look up at her, and know it was a bad idea, looking her in the face. “That
isn’t… Mum, really, it’s not your business, is it? I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Just this once, dear. And then I probably won’t bring it up again. Unless I do. I’m not so great with
promises. Have you told him about your Talent?”
“What? No. Why would I do that?”
“Because otherwise he has no idea that what he feels when he’s with you isn’t all him. It’s not fair.
Most people can’t deal with being washed in other people’s feelings like that, they think it’s them. They
think they’ve found something so intense, something they’ve never had before.”
She rubbed at her brow, troubled. This was all so different when it was her child. She didn’t want him
having to do it all the hard way, like she had, and his odd cold detachment worried her. “Chez told
me… I guess it frightens some people, but for others, it’s like a drug. They want that rush of feeling,
and they don’t understand what it is, they think it’s us.”
Rhagi fixed his gaze on a spot slightly to the left of his mother’s face, and there was a hardness in his
eyes. “But it is us. That’s what you taught me, isn’t it, that it’s as much me as anything else is.” Then he
frowned, and shifted to look right at her. “How many of them did you tell?”
You could see Ghet’s thought process smack hard into the wall. “What? That’s not the point.” She
paused. “Alright, maybe it is. But there’s no point, is there, in me telling you that you don’t want
people wandering around being all obsessive over you, caring more than you do. That you don’t want
to feel responsible for that pain. I don’t want you to walk that path, love, but I can’t actually stop you. I
wish you would tell him. I wish you would at least try to make sure that he knows what he’s getting
himself into. But you’re going to insist on learning the hard way. Now.” She smiled, little canines
showing in what her family knew was a danger signal. “You’re bringing him to dinner, aren’t you?”
Rhagi took a moment to look back and try to work out exactly where he’d completely lost control of
the conversation. His mother had always been difficult to follow, like an utterly self-assured steel-
winged butterfly. “I really don’t…” Wait. Surely by now he had some idea how to play this game. “You
should talk to Foxx some time soon. I think she’s feeling a bit rough. Her brother died while she was
away.”
True to form, Ghet attention veered. “Oh, gods no, not Duker. Why didn’t anyone tell me? How much
booze do you think we have? Shit.” She was on her feet again and halfway to the door when she turned.
“You should bring him to dinner soon, while there are still lots of people around. It’ll be less painful
that way. Don’t fight me, my dear, it’s not worth the effort. And Rhagi? I love you.”
                                                    ***
Y'Roden pushed opened the doors to his Council room and paused, eying the unexpected gathering of
people around the table. “Dagar,” he said, canting his head to regard Rhagi, Y'Ardyn and An'Telya.
“What are the three of you doing?” The question was moot, really, giving the number of crystals and
cubes scattered across the marble table.
Y'Ardyn grinned at his nephew, it had been two weeks since Ghet had been rescued and no one had
really seen much of either of them since. He waved a hand at the scatter of shiny objects. “We thought
this would be the perfect venue for viewing. Lots of space, good acoustics. You don't mind, do you?”
The King laughed and shook his head. “Of course not, I'd rather your company than W'Cren&#