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					                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA




Chapter One
Visions in the Night




          Four riders braved the chill desert air, shoulders hunched tight against the
gust threatening to dismount them. No moon in the sky to warm the mind - just the
distant stars guiding the priestess and her apprentices onward. Miraj closed her eyes
and let the vision of the hidden grove pull her closer. She retreated deep inside
herself, to the place of the ever-burning sun, where the heat of her will could radiate
out into her blood and bones. Not mind over matter – mind inside matter, governing
its condition, a clear directive that replaced ancient instinct too corrupt to be obeyed.
At last the ring of lights was upon them. Encampments had sprung up in earshot of
the holy forest as of late, and she uttered an easy spell to keep the horses quiet. This
place existed in flux between two worlds, and lately the connection had begun to
waver.
          She clasped hands with her apprentices, and they spoke the words. The sign
of entry flashed on their mindscreens, and they passed through a cervical opening
formed of reddish light. On the other side, the sorceress imbibed timeless serenity
and the rightness of this Kore place. Walking past majestic oaks that lined the
pathway like eternal sentinels, she lowered her head in communion with, and
reverence for all those that had gone before. Miraj Hazmina was willing to die before
she let the Kripalani fall under the axe of human greed. So were the couples who
remained entwined in their last ecstatic breath, taken more than five hundred years
ago. Their bodies shimmered faint, too light against the mossy trees. If they
disappeared, the spell which protected the most sacred hidden grove would be
broken, and the magical forest dismembered. Miraj saw these people merged in soul
as well as body. What would it be like to have a man who could share such spiritual
heights? She had never come anywhere near the climactic power released by the
practitioners of the ancient wisdom.
          Many more couples flickered along the path, but she didn’t look. It only
reminded her of the lonely road she traveled on, and the difficulty of her task. And
yet...she would try anything that held the promise of the past. The Cave of the
Mother nestled at the bottom of a gently sloping hill. Miraj knelt and pawed the fresh
earth, making herself small enough to enter. The stone was smooth once within, and
she continued on all fours. She arrived at a place of oneness that served to quiet the
voices of “I want… I need…” and left only peace behind.
          Her apprentices followed as their teacher crawled down a long tunnel. It
funneled out into a large opening with a hollowed mound at its center. Each woman
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


moved to her special position around the perimeter. With a rattle, bell, gourd, and
small drum, the four women proceeded to honor the Elementals in the way that best
pleased them. Starlight fed the crystal in the middle of the mound. Cut into the
matrix around it were nine ovoid shapes. Long ago they had been the repositories of
the Kripakarta, Nine Sacred Stones of the Mahamarium. Yet those stones had been
lost, along with a way of life that had sustained the land for centuries. Of the ancient
magi, Miraj Hazmina was the last full initiate. These three were close. But she needed
more in order to bring the old ways back and make the land quiver with aliveness.
And there was urgency, here. Without the shield, the forest would materialize into
plain sight – a veritable treasure of old-growth trees so valuable that even their
tremendous spiritual worth might not be enough to save them. If only she could
replace the Kripakarta, the shield would regain its full strength, and the land could
begin to heal.
          The priestess took out her ritual knife, a short flint blade sharpened mostly
at the tip. She made a deep incision on the third fingertip of her right hand and
squeezed out a bright dollop of blood. It fell on the peak of the white crystal. She
passed the blade to Rashmana, sitting at her left. The Tanduri girl opened her heart
as well as her skin to the wisdom of the ancients, sharing some small part of herself
that the grove might maintain its connection with their world. Ingkhar was next, and
she gasped a little as the blade went in, but a strange calm penetrated her mind as she
witnessed herself mingling with the crystal, and saw this organ of the Earth reading
the information contained in her blood, in order to understand and be united with
this wayward species on the surface. Ainah took a deep breath, and kept her eyes
closed even as the blade pressed into and through her flesh. Blinking at the miracle
of that red liquid, she dabbed it gently on the rocky hilt. She felt a profound sense of
connection to the earth and to her sister Mahamari, priestesses of the forest. The four
women held hands and whispered their simple vow to the crystalline keeper of
records:

                                     “I love, I feel…
                               I hear, see, and remember.”
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA




          Ilzhana d’Atrasca let her gaze sweep across the ripe valley. She felt a
profound sense of union with the wide expanse of ancestral land. Rocky
mountainside crowned in the east by the soft glory of a rising sun gave way to
patches of verdant growth and rushing waters below. As was the custom, she spent
the previous night alone in a remote cavern, which had been used for ceremonies
since the time of the prophetess Degari Jehan. Each member of the tribe ventured to
learn the secret of their individuality when Indra, the ringed planet, returned to the
exact location it held at the time of their birth. Ilzhana emerged from the cave with
renewed eagerness to use her singular gifts for the good of all. She was excited about
the day’s events and the opportunity to recount her experiences before the Eldren
and receive the kitana, sash of maturity, which meant she could have say in the
governance of the tribe. In the distance, a rider on horseback advanced rapidly.
Viewing his progress with interest, she felt the familiar thrill of desire singe her skin
when she recognized her husband, Jitan. The sunrise formed a fitting halo for the
man who seemed entirely made of light. No matter how difficult life had been for the
tribe, he was always able to resurrect peoples’ faith and energy. Only an arm’s length
away now, Jitan steadied his horse and smiled at his wife, revealing charmingly
crooked teeth in a darkly tanned face. His blue-green eyes radiated mischief as he
announced pompously, “I come to deliver the Honored One to her day of glory.”
Ilzhana shrieked and lost her balance as she reached out to strike him just as Jitan
attempted to swing her off the ground. They were still laughing when she mounted
behind him of her own accord.
          The rhythmic movement of the steed and the firm relaxing warmth of her
husband’s back made Ilzhana feel totally at home, even though their village was not
yet in sight. “What kind of preparations have been made?” Ilzhana asked. She felt
very hungry, and hoped that food was being readied. Jitan answered nonchalantly, “I
doubt if anything has been started yet. No one was awake when I left.” Feeling
aggravated, she gave a tug to Jitan’s dusty blond braid, and began to sulk. Then she
recalled several occasions on which he tricked her into becoming needlessly annoyed.
“I don’t care what you say. I bet Malini has already made my favorites; especially
kamasake!” With that outburst, she once again relaxed and commanded herself not to
be agitated by Jitan’s foolish remarks, because that was the exact effect he planned on
achieving. Perhaps noticing her newfound equanimity, Jitan said, “Don’t worry, my
love. You will certainly eat your fill today. I guarantee it.” He turned around to kiss
her. She bit his lip. They were in love again.

         Smoke drifted from the large central oven, clearly visible as they made their
way past stone buildings with wooden thatch-roofs to the heart of the village.
Ilzhana recognized her mother’s younger sister, Malini, tending a huge pot. She
jumped off Jitan’s horse and ran over to view its contents. “Oh, Malini! Thank you

                                           3
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


for making kamasake- I’ve been craving it for weeks!” she exclaimed. The delicious
fermented berry stew was a rare treat. It was difficult to collect the right type of fruit
in the necessary quantities because of their popularity with almost every form of life
in the area. Ilzhana had at times been chased away from the lila bush by the very
sharp beaks of taku birds.
           Jitan remained on his mount, reflecting on his wife’s beauty. Dark brown
hair cascaded gently down to her slender waist. Delicate wisps framed Ilzhana’s face,
enhancing her amber skin and eyes the color of wild honey. He marveled at her tiny
feet and hands, remembered their strength massaging his weary body back to life.
Jitan often tried not to show how much he loved his wife, thinking it would make
him oddly vulnerable. At this moment he sensed the intensity of his adoration plainly
visible on his face. Self-awareness broke the reverie, and he was reminded of several
duties that required his attention for the unique day of Ilzhana’s Jumma Marthi. As
the spouse of the jummani, or newly ordained female, he had certain obligations. The
first of these was to cleanse his body with the fibers of the jellyweed plant. Besides
for removing common filth, the plant exuded a moistening gel with esoteric
properties, and softened the skin. Ritual bathing for men also consisted of collecting
pieces of hair from a stallion’s tail to be woven into a genital corsage. This was made
with the addition of kumi flowers, whose delicate blossoms bled white into red, even
as male seed permeates female blood. The intensely provocative perfume of kumi was
an unequaled stimulus and used, therefore, on all important occasions. Citizens of
Antara, who called themselves the Tarin, believed that children conceived on dates of
unusual stellar significance would bring great wealth and joy to their tribe. For that
reason, tremendous care was given to the attractiveness of an Honored One’s mate.
Everyone would be disappointed if Ilzhana did not conceive on this day, and Jitan
would undoubtedly lose face. He was thereby determined to absorb the maximum
virility from the dressing ceremony and perform the sacred rites to the best of his
ability.
           Jitan tethered his stallion, a beautiful chestnut named Ceylon, and took out
his shearing knife. He carefully cut the required pieces of hair from Ceylon’s tail,
wrapping them in a soft cloth which he then placed in his tunic. He planned to offer
some medicinal herbs he had gathered recently in exchange for the kumi flowers and
silk thread he needed to complete his corsage. One of the Eldren tended the ritual
plant, and Jitan decided to visit her next. Rakawa’s dwelling was in the ceremonial
enclave. Trees had been planted there in such a way as to form a large circular
enclosure. Through dedicated pruning over the course of many decades, branches
interlocked in an arboreal maze. Leaves and twisting vines spread over the whole
ceiling of the compound, which allowed for a rarefied light to penetrate; exactly what
was needed for kumi flowers, meditation, and pondering the beauty of life. Many
healing plants were cultivated in the enclave. Rakawa had requested that Jitan bring
certain species that she did not possess in adequate quantity. He sighted her feeding
the fish in the Lumai Pond, a favorite gathering spot for members of the Circle of
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


Eldren. Rakawa gestured for Jitan to sit near her. “You have come early. That is
good.”
          Jitan reached inside his tunic and offered Rakawa the bundle he’d collected.
She unwrapped the cloth, and picked up the plants one by one to examine the roots
and smell the leaves and blossoms, taking care to moisten them again with pond
water. “These will be sufficient. Now we shall seek the delightful kumi.” She led
Jitan to the edge of the enclosure, where an intricate trellis had been constructed of
bamboo and juniper. The kumi plant appeared enraptured with its own form, in that
every segment of the vine curled and doubled back on itself many times, as if it could
not stand any separation. Jitan was touched by the display, and stood for a while
admiring the exquisite color and profusion of the flowers. He looked expectantly at
Rakawa. “Not yet. You must bathe first. Later I will assist you in constructing the
tapasi.” The old woman chuckled, and Jitan felt slightly ashamed of himself for
trying to rush the assemblage of his genital corsage. Rakawa nodded as if reading his
mind, saying, “Go now and gather the jellyweed. Your bath will be ready.”
          He found the jellyweed growing in an orderly patch right outside and began
carefully collecting a handful, wary of the dry bristles scratching his skin. Entering
the wooden tiled structure, he felt immediately refreshed by the odor of minerals and
essential oils. Jitan drew the curtain, woven in pleasing geometric designs, quickly
sinking into the hot mineral water. He placed the jellyweed in the bath so that it
would be ready for use whenever he could arouse himself from this blissful state of
rest. Relaxing deeply, he visualized Ilzhana, looking resplendent in her own ritual
garb, fiery eyes gleaming with nascent passion. How intense, how wonderful would
their lovemaking be tonight? He wanted the reverberations to be felt by the stars
themselves. Only then could they hope to attract the attention of Aphrodite and
conceive a divinely gifted child.
          Jitan was briefly transported to another dimension, where he caught a
glimpse of two identically radiant faces. These were to be their daughters! He felt
overjoyed, even tempted to rush out and tell Ilzhana, until he suddenly remembered
the stricture against twins, which caused his heart to beat a little faster with unease.
He calmed himself by saying that it was just a glimpse, and maybe an illusion, at that.
If it should come to pass - well, there would be no one keeping him out of her
birthing-room, and leaving him in ignorance. Having made his decision, Jitan
relaxed the knot in his belly from tension into firm resolve. It had always been a
surprise that his starmap was matched with Ilzhana’s, since he probably held less
with tradition than most Tarin. Certainly, he would not stand by as a priestess
marked his younger daughter as Castout, which meant death for an infant. Twin or
no, he believed that each child had a chance at life.




                                          5
                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA




Chapter Two
Intent and Dreaming



          At nearly fifteen years of age, Ahna Memsath had reached a critical stage of
his training, and he couldn’t leave the temple grounds with all the knowledge he had
received, having not yet sworn fealty to his path. The boy complained, “I just don’t
think it was fair. What could I possibly have done …sold the ingredients for our most
popular incense?” Mazam Vivira sighed, answering with a grim smirk, “It has
happened, you know. If anyone else could make our products, we wouldn’t
command the prices we do. I remember about five years ago, there was an incident
with an Altaean trader claiming that his Zeemah was identical, if not superior to ours.
The Al’leia sent a scouting party after him. They traced his supplier, and who do you
think we found blending the scent? Lizelle – and she had already taken her path! Of
course we suspected her anyway, once she went missing…fell in with that same
merchant’s son on one of our bazaar trips. Do you know the punishment she got for
that?” Ahna Memsath rolled his eyes, “I know. All the flowers she touched lost their
scent, and she could never blend again.”
           “But that’s not it…she could never smell or taste anything at all from the
day Shaxa caught up with her and transmitted Lizelle to the Al’leia. The worst part
is, her young man was more interested in business than pleasure. When his father
found out what happened, they left her in the middle of the night. Can you
imagine?” The Mazam’s face took on a strange glow, which Ahna Memsath guessed
to be pleasure at that final revelation. A rather plain woman in her middle years, she
gave off the impression of never having elicited any strong reaction one way or
another from the opposite sex. During the time he had been in her care, he had
steadily gained the opinion that she used her role as Mazam for whatever attention
she could extract from the young men in her domain. Every day he was becoming
more tired of her. There would be a lot of good changes when he swore his path.
More freedom, more knowledge – and moving to Mazam Zinat’s ward. At least she
didn’t gossip and pry incessantly, according to what the older boys said. Ahna
Memsath’s thoughts continued to wander...hands moving rhythmically, turning the
essence round and round.

         ‘I really would have liked to have been there for Jitan and Ilzhana’s
         Devagiri. It’s not like I’ll ever have the chance again, either! He’s my only
         brother, and I was too little to remember my sister’s mating dance. Not that
         it would’ve been as good, anyway, with her clumsy ox of a husband.
         Besides, everyone went to Atrasca. I’ve been hearing about it for weeks.
         Hehla’s whole family made the trip from Shanzar, and so did Dema’s and
                         FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


         Yuli’s from Maidal. Some of the rules here are really stupid. You’d think
         they could make an exception for me, for a special thing like that, but no…
         “If we let you go, then we’d have to let all the apprentices visit their families
         anytime someone was getting mated, or holding their Devagiri.” That was
         Mazam Vivira’s way of trying to make me feel better. I can’t wait to swear
         my path!’

            He finally stopped grinding the large bowl of Sheria, which by now had
become an extremely fine powder, suitable for infusions or perfume paste. Placing
the bowl on the wooden counter in front of him, he reached for the sifting spoon. It
was hammered out of soft green metal, with the tiniest possible holes for trapping
larger particles than were considered desirable for the highest quality products. He
scooped up the powder with the spoon and shook it gently over the jar he’d already
filled with three other very fine batches.
           This was his favorite part, breathing in the sweet aroma of his work. He
liked to imagine how other people felt when they wore a perfume essence he’d made,
or sipped a flower remedy. Hopefully, they felt uplifted, and their worries
diminished, just as Ahna Memsath began to feel a little less lonely and frustrated after
taking a few deep breaths of that incredible flower.
           He remembered Lunafra’s stern admonitions about not thinking any bad
thoughts while blending, lest they taint the batch. Ahna Memsath realized that what
he was putting into that blend certainly wasn’t what the people were paying for. He
put aside his irritation with the rules and Mazam Vivira, and placed his hands over
the jar of sheria. He took another deep breath of the magical blend, allowing it to fill
him up. Concentrating on the emotional properties of the plant (celebration, kinship,
praise) he let the idea of these flow through his mind and body into his work. “May
everyone who partakes of this feel the essence of joy and friendship in their hearts,” Ahna
Memsath prayed, repeating the words three times, for the present, past and future.
Afterwards, he felt much better.
           He had been upset, rightly so, but he shouldn’t have let it get away from
him like that. Yet he did catch himself and try to remedy the situation. Surely that
would offset any influence his thoughts may have had on the quality of the blend…?
Most villagers couldn’t tell something like that. But Lunafra had a nose keen as a
wolfdog, like Anubis himself. And it wasn’t just her nose. She could feel if there was
anything wrong with a batch, as soon as she sniffed it. For good measure, he added
an extra genuflection to purify the blend, while pouring out a fresh group of flowers
into his mixing bowl.
           Outside the ward for third level boys, Lunafra glanced at her chart of orders
to be filled:
           Before the Fifth Moon is Full
           Seven pounds of Jizame for the Pasha of Samoha, (already sent)
           Nine bundles of Sacreblen (to be delivered to the Al’leia ’s private chambers)
                                            7
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


         Thirteen vials of Zeemah for Princess Sharonne of Wellans (must send today!)
         Six stonewells of Sheria paste for trade at Bazaar Kuméchon

          At the sight of the last item, she suddenly recalled her reason for being there,
saying aloud, “Oh yes, that’s why I needed to see Ahna Memsath.” Lunafra called
out, deciding to check on his progress with Vivira, who mentioned, “He’s upset about
not being there for his brother’s Sacred Mating. I think it’s affecting the quality of his
work. You should speak to him – but I don’t know if he will listen to you either …
he’s in a mood.” Lunafra pursed her thin lips in an expression of disapproval. Her
frizzy silver hair, pale skin and bright blue eyes gave her the perpetual appearance of
someone who had just been frightened half to death. “I shall speak to him,” she said,
turning on her heel, while clutching her chart authoritatively. She found him seated
at his work-bench humming a familiar song, while energetically stirring a near-
powdered Sheria.
          At the sight of her, he gave a little start, then a greeting, “Yiosi Lunafra.
What a distinct pleasure.” As she neared his recently cleansed jar, he did his utmost
not to squirm uncomfortably in his hard-backed chair. Grasping the jar, she noted,
“This looks to be a very good mix.” She lowered her head to get a sniff, pondering its
nature for a few interminable seconds during which Ahna Memsath forgot to breathe.
Gazing at him thoughtfully, she said, “I am pleased. It has a superior vibration. Your
prayers must have been successful.”
Ahna Memsath nodded weakly, surprise and relief mingling into a queasy gratitude
that he would not be called forth in front of the Al’leia, or worse, held back with
Mazam Vivira, until he could learn some restraint. Mustering his nerve, he spoke at
last, “You’ve taught me well, Yiosi.” Lunafra gave him a searching look, but said,
“Of course. You may help me carry the stonewells. And if you’re very good, perhaps
we can see to it that you participate in their sale at Bazaar Kuméchon.” Ahna
Memsath sighed inwardly, wondering what self-abnegation that choice reward
would require.



         The High Priestess of Antara made a pilgrimage to a shrine in the woods
visited only twice a month, when the moon was new, or fully formed in the sky.
Surrounded with her retinue of lesser officials and common clergy, she felt the
rightness of existence, grateful for her exalted place in the scheme of things.
Moments earlier, just after dusk, her womb warmed with the knowledge that new life
would soon grow in her granddaughter’s belly. She could hardly wait for the birth,
and the time when she, Al’leia Marnatikha, took charge of her destiny.
         Fragrant torches lit her path up to the Temple of the Moon. Tonight the
lunar deity was at her fullness, and the energies radiating would grow the Sea Crystal
at the temple’s core. Each footstep she took in unison with the softly pounding
drums brought Marnatikha closer to complete union with Aphrodite, the Mother
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


Goddess. With bare feet padding on the fresh earth, she approached the base of the
magnificent stone pyramid. Narrow stairways were cut through the central serpent-
flanked columns on all four sides. Rectangular slabs of pure white granite had been
masterfully arranged by the Tukaris to form thirteen carved tiers symbolizing
ascending levels of spiritual achievement, marked also by material influence at
Ransabai. Beginning in the east, the Al’leia circled the structure three times before
ascending the north face of the temple, finally arriving at the shrine’s apex, high
above the trees, with just enough room for her to stand. Ascending to the tier just
below her, twelve Yiosi filed into their special places. Underneath them, sixteen
Sokaz, then twenty Jidari, and so forth, until nearly the entire surface of the pyramid
was covered with the women and men who undertook the organization and
prosperity of the foremost religious center in Antara …holy Ransabai.
         As was customary, she led the chant, and those standing in each direction
joined her, one whole side of the pyramid after another, as she spun about to face
each of the directions – their Al’leia was for all, belonging to none. Voices rose like
waves crashing against a rocky shore, like wind sweeping through ancient ruins, like
flame penetrating matter, like sand swirling across the desert plains, honoring each
direction, each element of existence in turn.

Aen szur, ki nata naraya te manta ageh zhone
In the South, we stand for protecting those of the land that grow and die;
Aen dar, ki nata guahje kuar hyaka lo huala
In the West, we stand for reflections on transforming matter into spirit;
Aen xaka, ki nata wahi zeh, shyam e karuna
In the North, we stand for observing sea, stars and time;
Aen fara, ki nata rahileh gol e dhyan shen
In the East, we stand for creations of the sun and soul inspiration.

          The Al’leia wore a silver disc crown hammered to reflect light, mirroring the
shapes on the surface of the moon. Her butterfly staff, set with rubies, emeralds, and
a vast star sapphire, gleamed powerfully in its protective sheath. Reaching for the
emblem of spiritual sovereignty, the Al’leia lifted the wand from the stone hollow.
Holding it between her palms so that the almond-shaped sapphire which formed the
butterfly's body was nestled between her breasts, she began to spin, slowly at first,
then faster, until all those observing her perceived a deep blue light emanating from
the center of her being.
          This evanescent light spread out over the Tarin on the pyramidal slope, to
gently cover the land in the temple clearing. Everyone began a prolonged toning that
served to purify the space within and their sacred surroundings.
          The sapphire light dissolved into the atmosphere, some small part of it
permeating the head and heart of all present, until at last the pale blue haze was no
longer visible in the air; having been consumed by the Tarin need to unite all within a
                                          9
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


shared framework of spirit. Their Al’leia fed this need, and after her, another of that
blood would be chosen to serve the people.

          Everyone knew of Marnatikha’s ordeals of initiation, how she had fasted for
forty days in the Source, just as the first Al’leia, her ancestress Degari Jehan, had
done, and all others after her. Being absolutely pure, the Nine Sacred Stones came
alive and helped her create a new line through parthenogenesis. She had survived,
mastered, transcended every task set by the Old One. The suffering she had endured
bound the people to her, because they knew she had borne it to purify herself in
order to serve them. For thirty-nine moon circles, she had been Al’leia. Yet even now,
the close of her era was in sight, and she must have another generation to test and
train in the esoteric arts of the ancients. The sacred tenets must continue, so the Blood
of the First Mother, would flow throughout the ages, until the end of time.




          From his vantage point high above the sand dunes, Killain stood observing
his troops readying for the long journey north to Antara. Miraj had promised him
that the hated white powder which chilled the bones would not fall from a graying
sky before they could take what they wanted and return home. He hoped she did not
lie. The woman had a way of convincing people that her schemes were their own.
And yet, they both stood to profit from this latest venture. Let the sorceress keep
control of the largest pebbles of light; for his part, he could make great use of the
stores of smaller polished ambra, the type used in everyday transactions. Just the sort
to pay soldiers with, to entice them to follow at his heels, to heft swords and bloody
his opponents, all the while conquering new lands. Miraj could help him; she should
teach him a few of her tricks. Yet he couldn’t trust her, no matter how often he
sampled the luscious form she presented in bed. Still … he would find a way to learn
from her.
          He remembered a saying of his mother’s, ‘Experience is the greatest teacher,’
which he now appreciated the truth of. It was a long time since those childhood days
in Beljahz - poor, living on the outskirts of a bustling harbor town. Killain Thoracci
felt as though he had lived several different lives after he enlisted with the merchant
guard. He’d seen much more of the world than he ever imagined possible, literally
fighting his way to the top. When the recruiter for the Pasha of Samoha offered him a
command position in the war against Pantagora, he accepted, and had excelled in his
role as Gheda Killain. Their general, Shaznah Lajit, was killed on the third day of
battle, but the troops rallied behind Killain’s leadership, and they won control of
Pantagora two days later, during a night raid when a half moon was made new by
Miraj, the sky blackened by magic.
          Now he himself was Shaznah, aided by the mysterious woman who
suddenly appeared in their camp, practically demanding to assist them. Killain had
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


observed many countries whose citizens actually welcomed their invaders as an
excuse to rid themselves of age-old enemies within. He didn’t question her motives,
although perhaps he should have. In the thirty days since their victory, he stabilized
the position of Samoha, and ensured that the populace would now be loyal to the
Shaznah, and his officers. It was on the Pasha’s secret order, sent that long distance
by feathered Valkin, these troops prepared for another long journey, and another
war. Miraj was determined to accompany him, for reasons of her own, but Killain
was glad. It was unusual to find a woman clever and enticing enough to merit his
attentions for any length of time. But Miraj Hazmina was no ordinary woman. And
he must find a way to spend more hours in her company.
          He could trust Gheda Rovan – if he had the friendship of any man alive, it
surely was he. That youth saved his life back in Ur, he could hardly question his
motives now. The sunset inspection might be safely placed in Rovan’s hands. He was
well aware of the rigorous standards both horse and man must achieve to merit
inclusion in the finest assemblage of Warrior-Mounts known anywhere. And the
men were already accustomed to perform well with him, as Killain’s favorite Gheda.
Letting him take over a fairly routine task would free at least an hour every day, for
the new Shaznah to learn and grow stronger. Killain required every weapon
conceivable for the foray into Antara.
          Not far away, Miraj Hazmina reclined inside the most luxurious tent to be
found in all Pantagora. Tiny mirrors sewn into the patchwork brocade glinted in the
soft light within. Cooling lamb’s milk flowed between her thighs in the bath
constructed of taut stretched skins around a delicate frame, supported with carved
banta wood. The Mistress of the Moon occupied herself by influencing each thought
in the mind of her frequent amour, the illustrious Shaznah Killain. She was greatly
amused to help create these conversations with self, to be privy to all his latest plans.
Miraj always found a path to turn his desires to her advantage, and this evening
would be no different. Miraj, Mistress of the Moon, yes. But with those things that I
seek, then Mastress of the Sun too shall I be! She focused her formidable
concentration on the nine jewels she most desired, imagining them already in her
possession. Chanting in the ancient tongue,
“Lal neh gwein, Lal neh gwein, Aar zhei; Lal neh gwein, Lal neh gwein, Aar zhei,”
 “They are mine, they are mine, the nine; they are mine, they are mine, the nine,” she
entered a trance, wherein she left her body resting in the tub of milk, in the tent, in an
oasis in the Pantagoran desert. Her spirit double flew to the site of those coveted
riches. Ransabai, I shall have thy treasures, as surely as I feel them now. Wafting above
the temple complex, she touched the spirit of the ancient stones it held, coding them
for her keeping. She tried to get closer, but could not penetrate the Al’leia’s warding.
No matter. She would find out their exact location soon enough. Drifting past the
pyramid full of worshipers, she witnessed the blue light coming from their High
Priestess on a night full of promises made that would be kept.

                                           1
                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


          On her left was Neszha, black as the new moon; on the right Oszha, white as
the fullest. The two great cats that acted as her guardians lapped milk from the bath
while their mistress was away. They brushed their scratchy tongues across her
nipples to warn that it was time to return. Footsteps approached the tent, and it
would never do for their mistress to be taken upon while her spirit and body were
divided in space/time. Killain entered, recognizing at once by the wary look Miraj
gave him that he had a slight advantage he did not possess the moment before. If
only he knew what it was…
          The sorceress raised one hand from the bath in greeting. Killain had no
reason to harm her, but events could always change that fact. She must be more
careful. “What fresh mischief has my darling been consorting with?” Killain asked.

         “I have traveled all the galaxies, searching for a man to equal you, but could
         find none,” Miraj replied.
Her lover removed his shoes and sat near the bath. “Such a busy day, and all from the
comfort of this dwelling. How do you manage?”
         “I arrived in this flesh with unusual capacity. While I cannot teach you how
to become like me, if you worship my form, you may in time possess some of its
attributes.”
         “I see. Sort of like that story of the boy rubbing a magic lamp.”
         “Not at all the same thing.”
         “Yet in order to worship you, I must touch your body, caress it, and awaken
desire.”
         “Yes.”
         “And with the lamp, it must be stroked, the inner self revealed.”
         “There may be a rough parallel.”
The general ran his finger down the inside of her arm and inclined his head.
         “I will gladly worship thy flesh with my ardent touch, and I meant no
         offense by that comparison.”
         “Clever words need no apology.”
         Killain laughed, faded blue eyes gleaming with rare pleasure in his desert-
tamed face. Miraj stepped out of the bath onto a woven mat. “You may begin your
training now,” she said. His eyes glanced down her naked body, his parted lips
betraying an eagerness to perform. He wrapped a towel around her shoulders and
pulled her close to his chest. Miraj lowered her heartshield temporarily, knowing it
would bind him even more. His hands slid the cloth over her ample breasts and
Killain bowed his head to one, and then the other. Miraj dug her nails into the back of
his neck and moaned.
          He carried her to a thick pile of white furs on the ground, and her abundant
dark tresses spread like nightfire against the pale backdrop, onyx eyes burning with
crescent passion. Miraj pulled his face next to hers. “Give me everything, and don’t
hold back!” Killain kissed her in urgent exploration, and they became vigorously
entangled. Tumbling on top, she rode him hard, till at the moment of their joint
                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


tr’waikeen, she lunged at his chest, drawing blood with her sharp nails. Miraj smiled
at the sight of thin red rivulets making their way across his skin, and lapped up the
liquid with her tongue. As she did, the trace of impact disappeared; his flesh was
unmarked. That was one of her smaller abilities – to wound and then heal instantly.
“We both drink blood, one way or another,” said the warrior from his erotic stupor.
The sorceress voiced a wordless agreement from her wet lips, and restored the shield.




                                         1
                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA



Chapter Three
A Feast in Atrasca



          Malini sits at a wooden table in the communal kitchen, cheerfully plucking
red-gold feathers from the dansateel. This bird is highly prized not only for its
gorgeous plumage, but also the delectable tenderness of its meat. “Panipa, help me
with the other. I want them to have time to marinate in the sun before roasting,” she
tells her young daughter. “First find Ketra and Jalundri. I need them to prepare the
sweets.” Panipa scampers off to look for her older sisters, happy to wander around
and see what everyone else is doing. But not two seconds passed before someone
inquires, “Can we help?” Malini jumps, surprised to hear Jalundri’s voice right
behind her.      She turns around to see all three of her daughters viewing her
expectantly. There is Ketra, the eldest, beautiful but shy; eager, rosy-faced Jalundri,
and little Panipa between them. She’s obviously disappointed at locating her sisters
so quickly.
          “Since you did such a good job finding them, you can help Jalundri make
the sweets. Ketra, aid me with the dansateels, and you may keep one of the best
feathers for yourself.” This arrangement pleases everyone, as Jalundri and Panipa are
as fond of sweets as Ketra is of all things rare and wondrous. Having organized the
culinary labors of her children, Malini returns to her task, demonstrating the
technique to her daughter. Ketra approaches the dansateel mindfully. Something
about the lifeless, yet lovely creature makes her feel sorrowful. She consoles herself
with the knowledge of its continued existence in the spirit world, and its immediate
usefulness to the Tarin. After her cousin Khetu caught the dansateel with his bow, he
would have made an offering of its blood to the earth, no part of their bodies to be
wasted. Feathers would become treasured ornaments, flesh appreciatively consumed;
head, feet and bones transformed into shaman’s tools, and anything left fed to other
animals.
          One of the male cooks sees a trio of musicians practicing in the distance and
shouts to them, “You, there. Yes, you. Come rehearse over here. Entertain us while
we work. You’ll get to smell the feast right under your nose. Who could want for
greater inspiration?” They laughingly agree, and head towards the kitchen.
Throughout the shaded dome, a flurry of hands making delicacies are suddenly
enlivened by the music. The men and women preparing the feast had been humming
to themselves, going about their tasks happily enough; but now they were being
professionally entertained by Tarin from the surrounding villages.
          Drawn by the music, Hajra appeared with his flute and asked to join in.
Ilzhana’s youngest brother was readily admitted, and proved to be a noticeable asset


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

to the trio. A woman named Eliane played the harp; her husband Jhanas the kitar, a
new kind of lute. Another man, Gebrido, accompanied them on hand-drums. The
cooks clapped and danced around while they put together the ingredients for their
platters. Malini and Ketra finished trimming the dansateel and were busy slicing
pieces to marinade. “I think this is the feather I want to keep,” Ketra said, holding up
an especially lovely, flame-colored plume. “That would set off your black outfit
nicely. What are you planning to wear?” Malini asked. “I thought maybe blue or
green,” Ketra responded. Malini pondered for a moment. “If you want, I’ll braid it in
your hair. Whatever color you choose, it will look wonderful in those dusky tresses.”
Ketra smiled at her mother’s proposal, green eyes gleaming as she imagined her own
beauty. That carefree musing abruptly faded as she detected a trace of anguish in
Malini’s eyes which required no explanation.
          It was Chaysen... her father, the man who looked so like herself. He was a
mystic, an adventurer, searching for the fabled Kryphon of the western seas. He was
obsessed with learning the magic of these fantastic creatures, whose bodies
encompassed every elemental power. Since childhood, he read and studied with
whomever he could to discover their secrets. Five moons ago, he met an old woman
claiming to have telepathic communications with the Kryphon. She offered to teach
him their ways in exchange for his assistance on the long journey to the west.
Chaysen agreed without hesitation, explaining to his family that this opportunity
represented the culmination of a lifelong quest for knowledge. They knew if he did
not go, he would be miserable with self-recrimination. Malini had no choice but to
wish her husband arrive safe at the end of his journey and quickly return home to
them. Yet the date of his promised arrival came and went, with no sign or word from
Chaysen.
          The High Priestess at Ransabai, their own grandmother, Al’leia Marnatikha,
was consulted, and the oracle informed them that Chaysen was alive, and in the
midst of an initiation into Kryphon magic. She felt he would return, but could not say
when. Encouragement from such an august source was a comfort to Malini and her
brood, but they had moments of despair when they doubted if he would ever come
home. Already, two moons had passed since that day at Ransabai.
          Ketra was lost in melancholy, when Panipa pressed a sweet to her mouth,
saying, “You have to try this, Ket. It’s the best. We combined both our favorite
recipes.” The tart fruity flavors mingled with honey and spices were truly
extraordinary. “Thank you, Pipa. It’s very tasty.” The younger girl surveyed Ketra,
putting her arms around her sister’s waist, head nuzzled against her chest. “I know
you’re missing Chaysen. I miss our Pria too. But he is coming back, the Al’leia said
so.” Warmed by her tenderness, Ketra tousled Panipa’s blond hair, wistfully
agreeing, “I know, Pipa… I know.”

        Inside the players’ tent, Kalgisi directed the actors in a humorous scene.
“Dharam, grab her waist when you lunge. The idea is to connect with your partner as
you dance the Devagiri. But instead of letting her go to perform her own steps, drop


                                          15
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

to your knees and look despondent.” Dharam made a pathetic face as he clutched his
dancemate’s shins. “Trini, show surprise and try to get away from him to do your
part. Struggle a little, but don’t actually kick him.” Ilzhana’s little sister looked
alarmed and began to lurch around with Malini’s son still clutching her tightly. Her
boot caught in the fold of the flooring fabric and she tumbled over screaming, copper
hair strewn on the ground.
         Kalgisi was delighted: “Fabulous! Now let me see you do that again. From
the very beginning, but this time Trini, get up and continue your steps.” As a special
amusement for the feast, the players were enacting the very same ritual in jest that
would be commenced with great seriousness later in the evening. The Devagiri was
the formal mating dance of the Tarin. When performed with passion and aplomb the
participants would elicit the adoration of their observers and be commemorated in
song. Kalgisi fervently wanted to start a new tradition…

                   To please the gods and amuse the mortals,
                  henceforth shall Devagiri be preceded by a jester’s dance.

          A lopsided jewel. A crazy mirror of any dancer’s worst fears. He was
determined to produce a comic masterpiece that would dispel the nervousness of the
jummani and her mate. They would thereafter be free to deliver the most ecstatic
performance of the sacred rite. What should such a fateful diversion be called?
Perhaps Devagisi, after himself?
          A brilliant idea.
          “Kalgisi! Are you even watching us?” Trini shouted in exasperation. She and
Dharam had done the whole thing over again, with a few extra flourishes she was
especially proud of, and she could tell by the remote expression on his face that
Kalgisi was not the least bit aware of them.
          Annoyed by this unwelcome interruption of his very satisfying reverie, he
snapped, “Don’t yell at me, you ungrateful gnat! Be thankful I chose you to play this
part. There are other girls whose starmaps are just as suited for the role. I merely
thought presenting a sister of the jummani in my adaptation would be most …
poignant.” Calming down somewhat, he began his customary habit of twisting a
long grey braid between his thumb and forefinger, pausing to glance reproachfully at
Trini. Off to one side Hajra stood suppressing a powerful desire to laugh. From a
small distance away he had witnessed the entire scene, including the inspired
touches. He called to his sister, “You were very good - I was observing you the whole
time. In any case, no one will know when or if you were supposed to fall down, Trini.
Don’t worry about it, you’ll be great,” he encouraged her.
          Kalgisi made a coughing noise and said, “Indeed. Let’s get on with it then -
Dharam, do you believe you’ve got the role down?” The teenager replied, “I know
exactly what you’re going for. Part of the intensity of the real thing, but with plenty of
laughs.” Kalgisi noted, “An oversimplification, but I suppose it will have to do. Trini,
what about you?” She responded, “I think we can pull it off and people will find it


                                            16
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

funny. Hopefully we won’t offend anyone by doing a parody of the sacred dance.
That’s the only thing I’m concerned about.” Kalgisi stood perfectly still for a moment.
“Well, never fear... this is not aimed at those devoid of a sense of humor, after all. At
any rate, I believe we’d best be off to Sanila for costuming now.”
          The two performers ran ahead of the director. Hajra strolled along at the
older man’s languid pace. He asked, “So have you considered who should do your
musical arrangement?” Kalgisi reacted immediately, “You know, I was planning on
using the traditional score, but you just made me think about incorporating the comic
motif into the music. I wonder, do you have any ideas about how it could be done?”
          Hajra beamed, “As a matter of fact, I do. While I was watching Dharam and
Trini, I heard an accompaniment in my head - faster than usual, with sudden pauses
and loud discordant notes. I have a couple of friends in mind plus myself to carry it
out.” Kalgisi’s dark brown eyes shone with anticipation. “Excellent. Why don’t you
collect them and meet me back at the players’ tent in half an hour? I’ve got to see
these two costumed, and then we’ll do a dress rehearsal with your score.” Hajra
squeezed his shoulder, saying, “We’ll be there.” The director, viewing the young man
with seductive appreciation, offered his hand to be kissed. Raising it to his lips, Hajra
used his tongue and teeth wickedly. Kalgisi, eyes glazed with arousal, voiced, “I’ll see
you later.”

          Sanila spread out her scrap fabrics on the earthen floor. “You can use any of
these. Pick what you like,” the weaver said. Several looms of different sizes
populated the space, along with yarns of every imaginable source, color and
thickness. Posts in the wooden beams held baskets with bones, beads and feathers for
simple adornment. Trini enthusiastically began rummaging through the pieces.
“Nila, how would this look?” she asked her sister, holding up a deep red and pale
green weave under her chin, and a purple with orange sunbursts at her waist. Sanila
shook her head, smirking, “As long as it’s supposed to look funny.” Trini chuckled, “It
is. Dharam, let me see what you’ve got.” He held up what could only have been a
child’s weaving, an experimental reject in black, red and blue. Varying thicknesses of
yarn gave it a lumpy, uneven look. “Oh, that’s perfect!” she exclaimed. Kalgisi
entered the tent and approved their choice of fabrics, urging, “Now let’s see about the
most ridiculously inappropriate ornaments - without being too sacrilegious, right?”
Dharam stood nearby, fumbling with a string of fish vertebra, “I don’t know, Kalgisi.
None of this stuff is really that strange or dumb looking,” he commented, rubbing his
incipient mustache.
          Trini erupted, “I know! Refuse from the kitchen – like fresh bones.”
“Are you serious? That is beyond disgusting,” countered Dharam, dark eyes
registering revulsion. Their director thought otherwise, “Ah… yes, but from the
remains of death may rise a pearl of joyous laughter,” voiced Kalgisi definitively.
Dharam was not pleased at the idea of wearing jewelry made of dripping flesh, but
reminded himself of his ambition to be a famed performer. Without Kalgisi’s support,
this goal would be much harder to achieve.


                                           17
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


         Reluctantly he said, “Trini, let’s go to Cook’s and see what we can find.” His
cousin flashed a mischievous look, saying, “I knew you’d like it.” Dharam snorted
and lunged to strike her. They ran off with Kalgisi calling, “Hurry! Dress rehearsal in
twenty minutes.”

          Aromatic tendrils of smoke wafted over Khetu, firstborn child of the Matria,
as he stood tending the roasting spits, turning meat over the fire, bringing the latent
flavors to perfection. Having brought down these animals, and blessed their spirits,
he felt a sense of duty to be involved in their preparation as food for this special feast
day. Khetu’s wife Ashanti assisted him in the basting and spicing. She sat beside him
now, thoroughly covering a breast of fowl with herbs grown in Samoha, her native
land far south of Atrasca.
          Ashanti gazed at his proud profile out of the corner of her eye, noticing his
resemblance to some striking bird of prey. Black hair and piercing blue eyes
complemented a regal jaw and chiseled nose. His taut muscular body was
perpetually alert. Ashanti affectionately thought, ‘Always so serious and noble.’
Everything Khetu did was carried out with great dedication and focus. He truly was
a wonderful man, in so many ways. Although she missed family and the tranquil
grace of her homeland, Ashanti had never regretted this marriage. Besides, Khetu
promised they would visit Samoha each year at the trading season, when Antara
grew cool. She smiled, recalling their meeting, ten months earlier.
          Feeling her scrutiny, Khetu turned to look at his wife. The diminutive
beauty with caramel skin and ebony hair half the length of her body was elsewhere.
Looking both at him and through him. “You must be thinking of home. I recognize
that expression,” he interjected. “Actually, I was remembering when I first saw
you…. and anticipating our visit in a few moons,” she responded. He knelt beside
Ashanti and took her right hand in his left palm, stroking her belly with his other. “I
too am eager to return to Samoha…with our little one in my arms,” he said, kissing
her forehead. She sighed peacefully and agreed, “It will be a great joy. But for now
let’s concentrate on your sister’s celebration. These are ready for the fire.”
          Ashanti handed Khetu the birds she had finished spicing and reached for
the bucket of undesirable remains. “I’ll take that for you,” he offered. “No, my sweet.
The walk will do me good,” she declined, “It’s not heavy, and I’ll be back soon.”
Ashanti headed for the area dubbed “Cook’s Quarry,” where bits and pieces of game
were left to be consumed by small scavengers.
          She rarely went to this place, because the Tarin diet included very little
meat. Generally a hunt would only be undertaken for ritual days, such as a Jumma
Marthi, or in the extremely rare event of crop failure. A pleasing smell of woodsy
pine wafted through the air. Feeling lighthearted despite her burdens, Ashanti began
singing a cheerful tune in the Samohan language about the beauty of nature. When
she saw the Eldren Tyrasya approaching, the song died in her throat.



                                           18
                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          This woman bore her such ill will - it would be a wonder the day she
received a kind word. She had wanted her daughter Vilasha to marry Khetu, and was
mightily aggrieved when he wed Ashanti instead. Time had yet to heal this situation,
worsened in the eldren’s mind by the contrast of Ashanti’s pregnancy with Vilasha’s
continuing maidenhood. Ashanti braced herself for the customary mutterings,
complaints that of course she was meant to hear. But this time Tyrasya in passing
said nothing; she simply stared at the offending womb as if to kill the fragile life
inside. Ashanti hurried past this loathsome nemesis, relieved that Cook’s was in
sight.
          Reaching the rocky overhang, she was surprised to see Dharam and Trini
frantically examining the latest deposits. “What are you doing?” she asked
incredulously. “We have an art project,” Trini responded, “that we have to finish
right away. It’s hard to explain. Can I see your bucket?” The heavily pregnant
woman bent slightly at the knees, slowly dropping it, “Here, take the whole thing,”
she said, turning quickly to retreat. Dharam pleaded, “Don’t tell anyone. It’s a
surprise…. a good one,” he added, noting her dubious hesitation. “As you wish,”
Ashanti conceded before leaving them.
          Dharam grumbled, “Why did you have to come up with this stupid idea,
anyway?” Trini retorted, “Kalgisi didn’t think it was stupid! It’s not as though you’re
going to wear this for the rest of your life, Dharam. It’s only a few minutes! Come on,
he’s probably waiting for us by now.” The elder cousin straightened his lanky frame,
brushing fine brown hair out of his eyes. He felt thoroughly disheveled. Hopefully
becoming famous wouldn’t necessitate any more misadventures like this one was
turning out to be. He wiped his hands on his already filthy pants and vowed to think
up something Trini wouldn’t find so amusing.

          Throngs of hungry travelers filed into the open spaces of Atrasca. News of
the feast had spread to the outer reaches of Antara; nearly everyone who was able
and could be spared from the essential duties of life was there. A great excitement
penetrated the air, as friends from faraway villages jubilantly greeted each other.
Horses laden with blankets and baskets of trade goods made their way into the thick.
          Khetu took charge of directing the horses to the stables, while Sanila helped
the Tarin store their goods in wait for the bazaar after the coming feast and special
entertainment. Over in the kitchen, Malini was diligently managing the last-minute
feast details. “Jalundri, gather all the serving-people for today, so we can assign
dishes to carry.” “Ketra, take Panipa and help the guests form feeding rows.” Would
there be enough food for everyone? Supplies of dried jerky from the last feast could
supplement any shortfall, and all the guests would be fed first. Still, there were so
many of them!
          The fact that it was Ilzhana d’Atrasca, the granddaughter of their High
Priestess, Al’leia Marnatikha, celebrating her Jumma Marthi meant a great deal to
Tarin everywhere. She was expected to produce an heir to the spiritual crown of their
land. And doubtless she would. Of the same proud bloodline, Malini was determined


                                          19
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

that this would be remembered as a day of true glory, with a full range of delicacies
included! The guests quickly seated themselves, reaching into their sacks for their
utensils. Men and women of the host village plied them with saucy fruits, spiced
starbread, hearty soup, and delicious game such as roast dansateel. Cooling leema tea
came in large sacks, while kamasake was poured with a ladle into the empty, eager
cups. The fermented berry brew was a particular luxury, and the travelers’
enjoyment of it added to the already festive atmosphere.
           When serving pots were emptied, people hurriedly went back to the kitchen
to fill them. Not until all the guests were satiated would any of the hosts eat, with the
exception of the jummani, who had fasted since noon the day before. A special
portion had also been set aside for Jitan, who among all present needed his strength
to play out the Devagiri. Malini was pleased to see all the Tarin eating their fill. When
she realized that there would indeed be food enough for the hosts as well, she
instructed the Atrascans to help themselves. They gladly filled their plates with all
the delicacies the day provided and relaxed on the grass with their kin. The last bites
were finally taken, and Kalgisi decided it was time to make the invitation for a unique
form of revelry. He took his position at the Talking Tree and blew the horn. “Dear
travelers,” he began, “I welcome you to enjoy the afternoon performance, which I
have conceived for your delight. At your pleasure, find the player’s tent down yonder
hill and enjoy the treat! The show will start once the audience is assembled.” Kalgisi
gestured towards the southern arena where his actors waited.

         He was dressed in finest silk, said to be spun from the womb of the
underworld goddess, Nedira. It glimmered in light green hues of gold, reflecting the
glamour of the bright sun. Kalgisi truly relished the opportunity to bestow the
splendor of his person on a crowd. Certain that the others would soon follow, he led
the way to the player’s tent, summoning musicians to vacate the area and serve his
purpose, “Quick now! Light the way with your sweet melodies.” Catching sight of
Sanila, he requested, “Darling, show everyone through the main entrance. I need to
check on Dharam and your sister before the performance begins.” Always helpful,
Sanila agreed and walked in front of the group, trading craft secrets with some of her
new friends on the way.

          Kalgisi parted the dressing curtain to see how many guests had arrived. The
blankets on the curving hill were nearly covered with revelers; excitedly he
whispered, “Hajra–begin the music now! Trini, fix your costume…Dharam, get ready
to go on stage!” The first strains of flute echoed through the atmosphere. Hajra
signaled Gebrido to begin the unique beat of the ritual mating dance – the Devagiri.
Flashes of sound rang out from his supple arms striking the taut surface of the skin
drum. Trini and Dharam advanced to the raised earthen platform simultaneously,
bodies moving sinuously to the rhythm. Certain members of the audience were
startled by their odd costumes and began to whisper among themselves, giggling. A
missed beat followed by a sharp note on the strings startled the group. Some laughed
hesitantly. Others looked confused, wondering, ‘What sort of entertainment is this?’


                                           20
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          Standing toward the rear, Malini could not believe her eyes and ears. Her
son, pretending to act out the sacred dance – with his own cousin! She had a mind to
halt this outrageous travesty at once. But she held back, on the instinct it would soon
become even worse. Waiting to see the reactions of others, her indignation mounting,
she pressed forward for a better view of the obscenities. After completing the
opening sequence of steps, Dharam suddenly dropped to his knees and would not
get up. He kissed his cousin’s feet in desperate entreaty, but to no avail. Trini dragged
him across the ground, in mock disgust. This was too much! Much of the crowd burst
out laughing. Others more respectful of Tarin tradition were beset by emotions
varying from anger to incredulity.
          Emboldened by what appeared to be a promising reception, Kalgisi gestured
to Hajra using a prearranged signal. Changing the tempo to throw the actors off
caused Trini and Dharam to stare at each other in perplexed accusation. With the lost
music, they had forgotten what their bodies were supposed to be doing. Finally, they
started to dance again, awkwardly at first, circling each other with slow calculated
steps. According to plan, Trini contrived to catch her foot on the layered sheet
covering the grassy mound. She tumbled gracelessly, and the careless majority
rewarded her with a gust of laughter.
          Dharam reached his hand out to assist her, but quickly withdrew as if in
great pain. He began hopping around on his left foot, shaking his right hand as if it
would dull the imaginary ache. Meanwhile, Trini had risen and was in the midst of
doing an imitation of a wading bird looking for fish. Ilzhana was chortling so
vehemently that she could barely breathe; tears ran down her cheeks. She had never
seen anything like this. It was so unexpected, so unorthodox, and so incredibly funny.
She whispered to her mother, “Only Kalgisi could imagine this.”
          The Matria nodded her assent between stunned giggles, “Only he would
dare!” Onstage, the lovers had arrived at the scene where they would normally sing
out their adoration for each other. Dharam opened his mouth wide to voice the
classical words, but no sound emerged from those youthful lips. Adopting a
rapturous expression, Trini pretended to listen with devotion. Her turn having
arrived, she inhaled with pompous vigor and emitted a series of guttural croaking
sounds. The crowd roared its approval. Their passions inflamed, the cousins ran
toward each other for the ultimate embrace. At the last possible instant, their bodies
stiffened and began to fall in opposite directions, as if magnetically repelled. They
collapsed rigidly on the ground with the eloquent finality of chopped trees. The
music surged to a crescendo and ended with rollicking drumbeats.
          After several rounds of applause, Kalgisi hissed to the actors, “Get up and
let’s thank the audience for loving us!” He strode onto the platform, positioning
himself adroitly between the two players, lending a hand to each as they arose. The
director began, nodding first to Ilzhana, “Thank you for your laughter, your tears,
and your affection. Our fine actors are Dharam and Trini d’ Atrasca. As we all know,
this performance was based on the Devagiri. I would like to request, as the originator
of the comic version, that my name be reflected in its title of ‘Devagisi.’


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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

         Shouts of approval and supportive cheers for Kalgisi and his actors
resounded through the gathering. All three waved thankfully before they humbly
bowed and left the stage. People started exiting the tent, talking about the show.
Some of the older generation voiced their disapproval, but their concerns were
absorbed in the din of the mob, exulting in the creation of something new, the
freedom of change.
         At the first opportunity, Dharam parted ways with Trini and the rest of the
 group. He was rushing over to Cook’s to dispose of the garland of messy bones.
 Incredibly, Trini didn’t appear to feel the same urge to get the abominable trinkets
 off her skin immediately. Although still repulsed, he felt satisfied that the
 performance had been a huge success, and his eagerness to take some bizarre
 retribution had dimmed. Still, if the chance arose…he might profoundly enjoy
 embarrassing her. He laughed out loud as he removed his necklace at Cook’s
 Quarry, throwing it back into the pile of muck from which it came, stepping lightly
 down the hill to take a swim in Tresalimundo.


          Gebrido took hold of Trini’s hand as she walked past him. “You were
 fantastic,” he said, rubbing a moist finger on the inside of her palm. She felt a warm
 current pass through her body, rapidly entering her heart. “Someday I want to
 dance the real Devagiri with you,” he whispered, looking up at her with soulful
 desire. Trini gazed back at him, noticing the way his deep eyes shone with inner
 light and dark curls seemed to dance on his forehead. She replied, “An appealing
 idea, but first should we not see if our starmaps are well-mated?” Gebrido looked
 disappointed. “Must one be so traditional?” He gave a gentle tug to her wrist, and
 asked, “Why don’t you sit with me a moment?” She gestured to her jewels of fresh
 bone. “You really want to view me like this? Any second now, these things may
 begin to smell,” she said. “I don’t care. Just give me a little while to be with you.”
          He moved his drums away and made a place for her on the ground beside
 him. Trini sat, careful to position her limbs downwind from her admirer. Gebrido
 reached to stroke her flame-colored hair, professing, “Even like this, you are
 gorgeous to me. I know we’ve only just met, but your spirit is so familiar. I want to
 spend the rest of the feast with you, if you’ll let me. Tell me how you feel. Are you
 drawn to me too?” Taking in his exotic beauty, Trini smiled at Gebrido with
 uncharacteristic shyness. “Yes, I’m attracted to you. If you want to wait while I
 bathe, we can walk the market together… and see what may happen.” He grinned
 exultantly, saying, “I’ll be right here, my love – awaiting your return.”
          She got up to leave and he caught her hand again, this time kissing it with
longing before releasing her. Trini felt as though her head was swimming. She was
completely unaccustomed to the sensation. She’d had a few dalliances with boys from
nearby villages, but Gebrido was entirely different. Suddenly she was a little afraid.
Could this be what love felt like?




                                          22
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          In the player’s tent, Gebrido relaxed happily, thinking about what just
transpired between himself and Trini d’ Atrasca. Goddess, was she beautiful! Bright
blue eyes, translucent skin, passionate, adorable. And that hair! What a vision. He
imagined them arm-in-arm, strolling past his friends. He sighed with satisfaction, and
stretched his well-toned drummer’s arms. Feeling restless with excitement, he
decided to sit up and practice a new piece he’d been working on recently, an
accompaniment to a historical drama. The particular scene he was writing for
involved a fight on horseback, and he wanted to capture the rhythm and intensity of
the visual moment with the drum. He tried many separate beats and combinations,
but he kept going back to one. Keeping it up was the challenge.
          Just as he was edging beyond the pain, a young woman he knew slightly
came into the tent and engaged him in conversation, “I heard your playing from
outside – why did you stop? It sounded incredible.” Gebrido shrugged, “Actually,
I’m a little weary. I’ve been playing a lot lately. All day long, in fact.” The woman,
whose name he couldn’t quite remember, asked, “Would you teach me just the first
part?” She sat close to him and placed her hands on the drum, smiling flirtatiously.
          Gebrido noticed that she was not altogether without charm, his gaze resting
on the deep hollow between her breasts. If he wasn’t meeting Trini, things might be
different. Or perhaps if she proved unyielding… anyway, he really was not in the
mood to teach. But how could he refuse this woman without being rude? It wasn’t
easy, as the transmission of musical knowledge was a sacred duty, and she did
appear sincere. Trini entered the tent and saw Gebrido sitting close to a woman, in
the same exact spot where he had just proclaimed his infatuation with her. Now he
was examining this other woman’s face intently. Talk about fickle! She made a low
noise of consternation, quickly exiting the area.
          Out of the corner of his eye, Gebrido detected a flicker of movement near the
tent opening. “It must have been Trini,” he thought, jumping up hastily to redeem
himself. Outside, she paced catlike, furiously pondering, ‘How could I be so gullible?
In all likelihood, Gebrido is one of those men who travel around, charming women
everywhere with empty declarations of affection. A typical musician; I had to choose
one of them! But I felt something for him - foolishly, it appears. At any rate, this is a
feast, and males are hardly in short supply.’
          Trini attempted to ignore the nascent emotion in her solar plexus by
breathing it away, like the Eldren always taught. She stood with her eyes closed and
exhaled out the strange, unpleasant feeling. Footsteps approaching from behind
diluted her focus, especially when she heard, “Trini! Why didn’t you come inside? I
was waiting for you,” and Gebrido came to stand in front of her. Sarcastically, fire
glinting in her cerulean eyes, she snarled, “I saw how lonely you were,” and turned to
walk away.
           “What are you saying? I hardly even know that woman – she just came
over and started talking about my music. She wanted me to teach her. Trini, please.
Listen to me.” She pivoted to glare at him, but those imploring eyes, wide-open with
supplication, softened her gaze. Goddess, he seemed honest! But was he really?


                                           23
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

How could she know for sure? She had to protect herself, to warn him somehow. “If
you make a fool of me, I’ll split you from chest to groin, I swear it!” He shrunk back,
startled by a threat of violence. Trini realized as the words left her mouth that she
might have overreacted. A moment later, she proffered her hand, saying by way of
apology, “Come on, let’s go to the market.” Relieved, Gebrido followed her; clasping
hands, they set off down the trail. Soon they were absorbed in the throng and had to
struggle to stay together in the midst of the jostling, excited crowd. Trini heard
travelers exclaiming what they hoped to find at the bazaar, “… dying to buy a
Pantagoran shawl.”        “… new lambswool bedding for winter” “.. Gamoshan shoes
like Xanta has.” Many of the travelers had brought goods to trade and were engaged
in shouting out the nature of their merchandise.
          When no common ground for barter could be established, the Tarin used a
crystallized resin called ambra as currency. It had many amazing properties, such as
appearing to be made of encapsulated sunlight. If one were fortunate, an image of a
tiny flying creature would be contained within. These pieces were the most treasured
and brought the greatest amount of goods in exchange. Remarkably, even a large bag
of this substance carried hardly any weight. “Tell me if you see anyone with silk like
Kalgisi wore,” she asked. Several paces later Gebrido inquired, “What is that cloth? It
looks exceedingly fine,” pointing to a stall a short distance away with colorful fabrics
gently fluttering in the wind.
          As they neared the dark-skinned vendor, his cries became audible; “The
finest fabric to be found anywhere… right here in Atrasca! Spun from Nedira’s womb
– look at this glistening cloth of exquisite beauty!” There were so many different
colors from which to choose, Trini could see it was going to be difficult to make a
selection. Sky blue would complement her eyes; there was her perennial favorite,
fiery red; the deep cobalt was brilliant – even grander than royal blue. Shades of rich
ochre caught her attention, as did a pearly violet. She posed with each in turn, until
she and Gebrido had narrowed the group to only two.
          Trini called to her cousin Ketra, who was bargaining earnestly with a nearby
jeweler, “Which do you like for me?” “Definitely the violet,” she answered. “Then
violet it shall be,” Trini agreed. She reached into her purse for the pinnacle of her
collection, hoping its worth would adequately impress the silk merchant. A delicate
moth of ancient pedigree lay embedded in the golden piece of ambra. He examined it
carefully, turning it over to inspect from every angle. “All who see it comment on its
unique magnificence,” Trini added hopefully. “I’ve never witnessed its equal,”
Gebrido asserted. But the merchant was clearly not one to rush through an exchange.
After a few more moments of thoughtful assessment, he acquiesced to the trade.
“Wear it in health,” he wished, as he wrapped her selection in a small bundle.
          “Now let’s view the jeweler’s goods,” Gebrido said, “I want to present you
with a gift.” At the gem seller’s stand, a shiny black cloth had been spread
underneath the various rings, pendants, bracelets and earlets. Each piece stood out
beautifully against the rich backdrop. Gebrido began his perusal in earnest, but Trini
hesitated to suggest a preference. Better to let him choose, she thought, turning to her


                                          24
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

cousin. “Let me see what you bought,” she asked Ketra, who could not seem to pull
herself away from the finery, though judging by the flatness of her purse, those funds
had been completely exhausted. Ketra held up her left hand, now generously
adorned with a ring and bracelet of yellow metal, set with clear green stones, a
cleverly linked chain adjoining the two. “That is so gorgeous!” Trini said admiringly.
          Ketra gave her a jealous pinch, “You lucky wretch! I had to spend
everything on these, and it looks as though your jewels will be purchased with
someone else’s ambra,” she exclaimed, eyeing Gebrido. Trini smirked, “I think that
bone jewelry really enticed him. You might try it sometime.” Ketra laughed, “Yes, I
can see myself performing in the next Devagisi.”
          Gebrido looked up and she waved at him, still amused at Trini’s joke.
Glancing at all the other pieces she would have liked to own, Ketra sighed, deciding
finally to tear herself away from them. She gave Trini one last pinch before bidding
her goodbye, whispering, “Be careful with that one. I’ve heard he’s as light with his
person as he is with his purse.”
          Trini digested this piece of news, watching her cousin’s red shoes disappear
in the fray. Gebrido distracted her from any further reflection, commenting, “I
wanted to get you something you could wear with your new silk. And, of course, it
should be worn at your heart.” In his hands was the gift he had chosen. It was a rosy
amethyst pendant set in lustrous silver, with an ornately worked chain.
          “Here, my love. Wear this and remember me.” Gebrido fastened the piece
around Trini’s neck, bending slightly to touch his lips to hers for the first time. Their
kiss tasted of sweet forgiveness. After, their eyes met in a wistful searching, a
cautious yearning for the fulfillment of their budding emotion.




                                           25
                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA



Chapter Four
Forming the Kryman



           Within the dank crevice of a seaside cave, Chaysen lay writhing in pain. His
face was covered with scabrous wounds, his lean body moist with fever. A gigantic
talon protruded from the weeds washed in from their abundance on the ocean floor.
Had he been conscious, he might have noticed the stench permeating the air. But he
was unconscious, and had been for three days. A strange metamorphosis was taking
place in his body, one that he barely understood and was utterly powerless to
interrupt. Occasionally, an old woman tended him, bringing a hot pungent brew to
sustain his fragile equilibrium. Feeling images crowded his mindframe, violently
racking his nerves like waves slapping sand at tempest. These memories of the recent
past, of his Changing, only served to trouble his humanity and make tortuous the
fragmentation of his psyche. An eventual reunification would occur, though he was
scarcely aware of it now. Chaysen lay reliving the crucial moments leading to the
demise of his manhood. Lips tasting the remnants of dracha, he found himself again
walking down that narrow passageway leading to the underground den of the
Kryphon. The magnificent creatures were arrayed in clusters, a sum of about forty
avian heads regarding him, their faint odor discernible in the cave air mingling with
his own acrid sweat.
           He looked to Shamra, his traveling companion and guide to the Kryphon
lair. It was she who had given him the mysterious brew, explaining that it would
facilitate the mindlink between himself and the winged beasts, necessary if he were
ever to comprehend their magic. Her face became blurry under his gaze, Chaysen’s
steps faltered. She steadied him with her eyes alone, then reached for his hand,
urging soundlessly, “Come. Be not afraid. They await you.” She led him forward to the
center of their group, where his numbing limbs sagged, pulling his weight to the
stone floor. Feeling himself dissolve, Chaysen cried out in bewildered panic, his voice
a throttled groan. He lost all control of his muscles, and a shallow puddle formed
underneath him. Breathing was the only motion he seemed capable of now.
           Shamra fed him an image of a glassy lake with waterbirds flying overhead
in the hope of calming his mind. Throughout their long journey from his homeland of
Antara, she had probed for signs of his willingness and capacity to successfully
endure this highly experimental transformation. But the physical reality, the shock of
sudden weakness, of virtual immobility, could not have been fully imagined, even
had he been explicitly forewarned. She felt a stab of compassion and earnestly
pleaded with Anubis for Chaysen’s well-being.



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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          Aest began advancing towards the helpless figure, his heavy front paws
padding silently on the rock. The elder Kryphon towered over the recumbent human,
his huge eagle-like head staring down quizzically. Aest projected feeling images of
Kryphon flight and powers of perception to Chaysen. Before the initial penetration,
he wanted to harmonize their frequencies to increase the human’s receptivity.
Opening his true sight to the pattern of true angelic DNA, he sought out those
elements that were common to Kryphae also. Locking onto the visual frequency of
their shared ancestry, Aest sent them to the man chosen to receive and integrate
Kryphon DNA into his angelic metaframe. Chaysen’s energy body resonated in
harmonic entrainment with his sending, so Aest narrowed his claws and tightened
the distance between his forearm and Chaysen’s brow.
          Razor sharp talons plunged into unsuspecting flesh, ripping three deep
fissures parallel to his hairline, and one perpendicular. Moving his paws to either side
of the human’s face, Aest pulled his talons upwards, slicing three lines on each cheek,
which quickly grew red with blood. Dripping powdered quartz mixed with Kryphon
saliva into these wounds from his lowered beak, Aest maintained telepathic contact,
essential to the programming of this new species. Younger males came forward to
repeat the procedure on other parts of his body, forming mindlinks with the human.
          Drast lumbered toward Chaysen’s right side, Klust following him, their
leonine hindlegs gleaming in shades of yellow ochre in the dim cavernous light.
Klust positioned himself along the left half of Chaysen’s body, snipping a quarter-
inch hole in the center of his palm. Drast did the same with his right side, their
digestive juices mingling with crystal and spilling into the human’s opened flesh.
Altast moved to perform the rite on Chaysen’s feet, and Zingost joined him,
penetrating the skin at the soft depression just below the ball of the foot. Shamra sat
on the cool stone floor beside them, somewhat afraid for her friend, but thrilled at the
opportunity this presented for the Kryphae, her true family.
          A few years ago, when she was running from the exiled criminals pursuing
her, they protected her, took her in, and cared for her as best they could. The Castout
totally destroyed her small village and all its inhabitants, save one. Now Shamra felt
as though her life was inextricably wound with the survival of her saviors. Staring at
Chaysen, she continually sent him positive images, acting as a grounding force and
helping to stabilize the process of Changing. His fear must be assuaged before the
females could bond with his new DNA matrix and complete the identity graft,
establishing Chaysen as the first Kryman. Although immobilized, Chaysen lay
sensing what was happening to him. And truly, he was afraid. His thoughts called
out to the woman who had, until now, been his friend and trusted guide.
          “Shamra! How is it I cannot move, but still feel the pain? Like poisoned
          knives slicing my flesh. When will it end?… Tell me!” She answered
          serenely, without speaking the words,
          “The pain cannot last. It is there because you resist the Changing. Do you
          forget your desire, the knowledge and power to be yours? Unweave these



                                          27
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          few threads of Being, and your cloth will be restitched in a finer pattern.
          Come into our circle. Embody the Kryman -- the Glorious First!”
          Willing his turbulent spirit to calm itself, Chaysen moved into deeper
acceptance of the Changing, but there remained inside him a glimmer of doubt,
shards of fear pricking at his subconscious. Observing his turmoil, Shamra again felt
concern, but was chastised by Aest,
          “Do not pity him, Shamrani. He shall be what no other dreamt of. We give
him abilities beyond his expectations. He is merely afraid of that which is not yet
known, worried to be without some vestige of human sensibility. He will forget this
foolishness soon enough, and be unendingly grateful.”
          The elder human wished she shared Aest’s firm assurance. At the very least,
the Kryman must put a stop to the Castout plundering of the Kryphon nesting
ground. So many eggs had been lost to those desperate cretins, ignorant of how to
create a living from the produce of earth, instead filling their cursed bellies by
thieving brutality. Shamra sighed unhappily, wondering if Chaysen could truly
teach the Castout how to live in harmony with their neighbors. He was to be the link
between the two groups in a desperate move towards peaceful coexistence. With the
limited sensitivity of the Castout group, they were unable to perceive telepathic
sendings, and it went against Kryphon beliefs to attack their aggressors without first
attempting all other avenues to resolution.
          It was not so impossible for people to survive in this rugged area, especially
with gifts of seafood from Kryphon catches, and instructions on how to claim their
own – an item to be negotiated in return for absolute non-molestation of their eggs
and hatchlings. Surely the goddess Tiamat offered enough for all – if only they could
learn where best to look, and how to make proper use of the life given up by the
ocean. Her wistful musing was interrupted by Neferlani seeking counsel with her;
“My friend. It should be so that the human is moved into the sunlight. His heart is
willing, and his mind has found greater peace. Let us act now, while the balance is
kept.” Shamra responded to one of her dearest Kryphon allies, a kindred spirit, “He
must be flown up through the Tunnel of Light, but with the utmost care. Call your
two youngest. They shall be best suited to maneuver with his body lodged between
them. Perhaps you will assist me with the ascent yourself, and we may continue our
discussion.”
           Neferlani signaled her agreement with a muted rumble, summoning the last
Kryphae to have hatched unharmed. They approached Chaysen, Himalast securing
his arms and upper body, his sister Kimashi grasping the legs easily. Together they
carried him a short distance to the tunnel entrance. Glancing briefly at each other,
they launched into the air, large golden-brown wings with a touch of white beating
strongly for the steep journey to the top. All the females were already on the plateau,
beginning the Khabal of Sound. The males would follow soon after, and the
bloodbonding would continue in the light of day.
          Shamra nestled against Neferlani, her arms around the Kryphon’s noble
head. It never ceased to thrill her old bones, moving up swiftly toward the light,


                                          28
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

grasping tightly to the furry muscled chest of the creature she called friend, family —
her all. She asked Neferlani, “Do you believe he is ready for the identity graft?” Her
reply came instantly, “First we will let the males finish the Kundalini matrix. Once
the crystalline source is embedded in his spine, we may begin to encode him with our
frequency.”
          They laid Chaysen face down on the bed constructed of woven feathers for
this very purpose. Shamra adjusted his body in the manner she imagined to be most
comfortable, turning his chin gently so she could gaze at him. His eyelids remained
closed, as they had been since the dracha first took effect. She observed his dark
curling lashes, and gently chiseled features, handsome even with their curious lack of
expression, and felt they had found a good specimen to bond with. Resting his
weight on the right side of his body and curling his legs in a fetal position, she placed
his back to the females, who were arrayed in concentric half circles. There were only
eighteen of them now, including young Kimashi. The males were even now flying up
through the Tunnel of Light. Aest directed Ellast and Tazzt to begin the incisions on
Chaysen’s back. The elder Kryphon reserved the areas of the medulla oblongata and
central spinal column for his own uniquely skillful ministrations.
           Unsure of how best to approach the supine figure, Ellast crouched down
beside him. Finding a niche to rest his hindquarters, he began carving the path of a
snake along Chaysen’s back. Starting at the base of the skull behind the right ear, his
claws reaching deep, Ellast dug a winding furrow. Assisting with the mystic
operation, the females continued droning the Khabal of Sound. This helped to
neutralize any fearful thought patterns that could interfere with the success of their
cellular memory imprint. While making the incision, Ellast steadily masticated a
mouthful of quartz powder, mixing it with the curative strength of his saliva. Filling
the groove with this pasty substance, he carefully patted the mixture into place with
the tip of his beak. Finishing with an extra helping for the base of the human’s spine,
Ellast moved from the awkward posture he had forced himself to maintain.
          Making mental contact with his brother, Tazzt, he relinquished the area
closest to Chaysen, glad to yield the function of physician to another. Tazzt
approached Chaysen with his characteristic eagerness to try anything new,
considering it an honor to have been chosen for the important task of forming the
Kryman. Chewing the crystalline powder with relish, Tazzt squatted on his hindlegs,
extending his left forearm, spreading his claws in a wide arc. He drew the power of
intuitive creation through his body, a healing skill recently mastered. Reaching down
to Chaysen, he initiated the pattern beginning at the underside of the left ear.
Piercing the skin, and simultaneously delivering the mixture to the serpentine
wound, he willed the human to become of the Kryphon mind, to enter their sphere of
awareness. He would work magic in their sacred circles, and start a fantastic new
lineage.
          Hemavati, Mrilini, and the other females moved in closer, as Aest stepped
forward to complete the final stage of the operation. Their droning became more
shrill, plaintively ripping the air. Aest knelt beside Chaysen, penetrating the skin


                                           29
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

along the spine and nape of his neck, inserting the essential Kryphon matrix in crystal
form. At the instant of completion, Chaysen felt a burst of white heat radiating from
the small grouping of Kryphae nearest him.
          There were magenta flames inside his still-closed eyelids, turquoise tendrils
coiling around his vertebrae, coding him with their frequency. He saw himself with
resplendent outstretched wings, and raised marks on his forehead and cheeks.
Chaysen lost awareness then, and coming to the end of past memory, awoke to the
present moment. With unfamiliar feebleness, and considerable effort, he raised
himself up on his elbows to assess his condition and surroundings. The seaweed
underneath him was moist, the purifying saltwater within stinging his tender parts.
He thought with groggy annoyance that it was symbolic of this whole endeavor.
Unwittingly enduring biting pain for some notion of improvement. But whose idea
and whose notion was this? He couldn’t remember giving anyone permission to do
what had been done to him.
         Aching in every organ, bone and muscle, he began to feel terribly angry, yet
ludicrously helpless. Weak as a tiny babe after his recently broken fever, he lay back
down on the now-familiar feathers and seaweed. Two pairs of soft footsteps padded
their way over to him. He opened his eyes to see Shamra and Neferlani hovering
about concernedly. Sitting down on either side of him, they initiated the mindlink
that would allow Neferlani to participate in the conversation and save Chaysen the
effort of communicating with speech. Looking down at him with wry compassion,
Shamra addressed her only human companion:
           “It has been three days since the operation. You have Changed, although
with the sickness that came, you may not feel the Kryphon inside. Your own strength
has not returned yet, much less the added powers. You shall heal quickly though,
especially with a greater willingness to fully embody the Kryman. Share with us how
you feel about all that has transpired.” Chaysen responded with some bitterness,
“I don’t need to tell you how painful the process was – you knew that. You should
have warned me and told me what you were planning. I’m furious that I was not
included in this, except as a pawn. I’m afraid because I no longer know who I am or
what I am supposed to be. You have scarred me, and made me into someone who
cannot be accepted back into my community. How will my wife and children look on
me now? They will feel ashamed walking in the village, seeing people’s stares,
hearing their whispers. You must know the laws of Antara. Only criminals or
warriors are scarred, and I am neither. Just because I traveled with you from Antara
to see and learn from the Kryphae didn’t necessarily mean I was willing to sacrifice
my whole life to them!”
           Shamra acknowledged his comments, her face contorting into an expression
of sorrow, dark eyes glimmering in her tan lined face, white hair streaming down her
shoulders like melting snow. She sought to clarify their motives and heal this rift
before it could widen to engulf them all. “It is true, I did not ask you with words. But
we sought the answer from your heart and mind; you replied so that we understood
your agreement. Clearly, it is too late for you to undo this experience. Why,


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

therefore, do you not take it as the gift it is and rejoice in the Changing? Think on
what little reward human existence offers in the waning years of life and the blessing
you have chosen instead to receive. Your strength and wisdom will increase, rather
than diminish. You shall not become enfeebled or a burden to your community.
Surely they will come to acknowledge the benefits of this new self, and if they have
ever truly loved you, your family will make allowances for your changed
appearance.”
          Somberly unimpressed, he replied, “In Antara, Eldren are never considered
useless. Everyone has something to teach. But even then, they have maintained the
purity of their original form, changed only by the passage of Time – the greatest deity
of all.” Nonetheless, he chose to hope that his family could be more forgiving than
most, since certain allowances were sometimes made to people of special status, such
as close relatives of an Al’leia, and their mates. His ire had in fact decreased, as he
admitted in his secret heart that if they had openly given him the chance to belong to
them in such a potent way, he would have taken it. All his life he had studied books
of Kryphon lore and gemstone magic – he honestly couldn’t recall a time when he
wasn’t fascinated with their species, and now he obviously wanted to make the best
of his unique situation. Attempting a smile, he ventured to admit, “ I really could use
some healing.”
          Neferlani’s eyes dilated in preparation for the energy work. “That is exactly
why we are here,” Shamra sent briskly. “First drink this.” Chaysen eyed her warily,
unsure if perhaps another concoction would bring an even greater ordeal. The
herbalist chuckled softly, easily interpreting his expression.
“I will not ask you to trust me – but as a guarantee that the cup I hold is filled with a
natural remedy, and not dracha, I shall sip it first.” She held the mug to her mouth,
taking a deep gulp of the pungent brew, then speaking aloud, “Here, it’s silver thistle
and silkweed tea. You simply must take it if you want to improve.”
          Chaysen sat partially upright, leaning on his left elbow, while he drank the
reminiscent tonic. His face twisted into a grimace as he observed, “It doesn’t taste
like dracha, anyway. But I suppose I’m yours to do with as you please …aren’t I?”
        Neferlani felt the meaning behind the words, even though she could not grasp
the significance of each one. She responded telepathically, “You are not a prisoner.
We want you to be our equal. You hold an esteemed place among us. In the end, we
believe you would not have wished your life to be any other way. Yet we need your
assistance in this too, as with so many things.”
          “But what about my family? How can I serve both Kryphon and Tarin?”
Shamra responded dutifully, “Once you are healed and have made some progress
disciplining the Castout, we will require your assistance only once a year, for the
nesting season, which at six weeks is relatively short. Surely that is not too much to
ask?” Taking a moment to reflect on their entreaties, Chaysen let his fingers idle
amongst the shells and ocean debris. He was attracted to a single stray talon, rising
majestic yet forlorn above the tangled seaweed. Picking it up, he wondered whose
paw it had been joined to, and how it happened to be here, now. The old blend of


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

excitement and awe rose up in his chest for the first time since he had received the
bloodbonding. Chaysen looked deep into the eyes of both Shamra and Neferlani.
Trusting their abilities to help him heal, he laid down once again on his rocky bed.
           Neferlani extended her left paw, claws unsheathed from their padding. She
encircled Chaysen’s right wrist, grasping it lightly, doing the same to Shamra on her
other side. Shamrani stretched her hand out to Chaysen, completing the circuit. With
newfound calm, he remained in his posture of repose as Neferlani began chanting,
her beak oscillating in stages, offering otherworldly sounds to his fresh, untrained
ear. Shamra urged, “Join us – feel your spirit mingling with ours. Let all pain leave your
body. Be at peace.”
           Chaysen felt the sweet melody spill over him – the harmony of womansong
and Kryphoncall striking at his soul, obliterating all discontent. At the second refrain,
he began to sing. Hearing his own voice resonating with their dual echo, feeling his
blood hum with being more than human, he completely surrendered to his destiny as
the first of a new, fledgling species.




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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA




Chapter Five
An Evening of Ecstasy

Inner Earth – Antara



          Although the Tarin generally wore clothing, nakedness was not considered a
shameful aberration, and Jitan felt completely at ease with Rakawa d’Atrasca. “Jitan,
the time has now arrived for the weaving of your tapasi,” she announced. “Vilasha is
collecting the other items of your ritual costume. We shall help you be your most
sensual and majestic tonight.” The elder shaman always presented a unique figure,
and today she was attired in full regalia. Her headdress consisted of the full body of a
wolf. Its arms and legs were attached to a neckpiece made of its polished skull,
mounted with gems. She represented the Iron Maiden herself, the Kore crystal of
Gaia. A leather pouch decorated with hanging beads adorned her waist. It contained
sister herbs - those she used most often in her healing work. Rakawa’s main garment
was a flowing ikat kaftan, woven of threads dyed in mineral pigments. This
produced a wonderfully soft fabric with intricate earth-tone designs. Her shaman
staff was of red chestnut carved with two intertwining snakes. Their heads joined at
the top and were each crowned with a superb piece of ambra. Jitan was always
pleased to see Rakawa, and felt particular enjoyment at viewing her complete
ceremonial dress.

          He inquired, partly in jest, “So I have been patient long enough?” referring
to their conversation of the morning and his anxiousness to wear the tapasi. She
answered in kind, “As I said, the time has come. Whether you were patient, I do not
know.” He smiled sheepishly, “I tried very hard to be, but my excitement is
overwhelming.” Rakawa gave him a reassuring glance, saying, “You shall not have
to wait much longer.” She held up the erotic kumi flower and the bunch of horsetail
Jitan had entrusted to her earlier. Vilasha, expert at perfumery, entered the room
gracefully, bearing a metal tray laden with the other elements of Jitan’s ritual
costume. They placed all the items on a low wooden table. Rakawa began to chant,
circling the room, invoking the spirits of bountiful fertility.

          Vilasha approached Jitan with a slight smile, secretly looking forward to her
only opportunity to touch him intimately. She began anointing Jitan’s wrists and
ankles with musk, caressing the oil over his pulses. Looking down at her fair slender
form and long unbound black hair, her misty grey eyes staring up at him, he fully
realized, “Khetu was a fool to reject this woman!” Sensing his admiration, Vilasha
lowered her gaze, concentrating on tying the adornments of leather studded with
feathers and copper medallions. Dipping her fingers into the clay pots that held

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essences of musk and gardenia, she stood facing Jitan, feeling his virile warmth
awaken her wounded womanhood. Her fingers lingering amongst dark blond curls,
Vilasha reluctantly finished applying the scents to his throat and chest. Listening to
the powerful music and breathing heavenly perfumes was beginning to make Jitan
feel giddy. He scarcely registered the weight of the chestplate as Vilasha placed it
over his shoulders. She gazed into his aquamarine eyes, and Vilasha half-smiled, as
she sensed her loss of Khetu acutely even while she prepared his brother-by-love for
the sacred dance, and clasped the gem-studded harness at his heart center. Even
lighter was the headdress of flame-colored dansateel with the blood-red ruby that
joined the wings adorning his third eye. Kneeling on a large cushion, Vilasha wound
a black silken cord between Jitan’s buttocks, securing it around his waist. She picked
up the horsetail, and separated it into six sections. The first three she began braiding
into Jitan’s pubic hair, stretching his curls around the straight lengths of Ceylon’s tail,
the long stem kumi winding its way through the weave. His manhood stirring, it
occurred to Jitan, ‘This has to be one of the most unusual sensations ever.’ Vilasha
moved to work on his other side, using the remaining strands of horsetail, feeling a
long-lost interest as she witnessed his staff increase under her creation. Three kumi
flowers nestled above each thigh. Vilasha thought with genuine regret, ‘I hate to
cover this up,’ as she reached for the loincloth of spotted black-on-white rabbit fur,
carefully sewing it onto the silken cord around his waist. Instinctively, all were
seated in unison. Each woman held Jitan’s hand, with Rakawa and Vilasha touching
fingertips, arms raised high in the air. They rested like this for a few moments, then
had Jitan stand while they fanned him with feathers. Afterwards, Rakawa whispered
something to Vilasha, to allow her to take over the ceremony. Her presence was
required elsewhere.



          The Gathering of Eldren met inside the ceremonial enclave reserved for the
thirteen members of the high council. Seven women and six men sat on the crescent-
moon shaped dais. Their high-backed wooden chairs were decorated with gold
sunbursts that made each member seem to possess a shining halo. Lush greenery
bedecked the sides of the three-tiered platform. Behind, and flanking the dais were
tapestries that had been in place for generations, celebrating the Atrascan heritage.
The Matria took the kitana and wrapped her daughter’s waist with the sash woven by
Sanila especially for her Jumma Marthi. It was a gorgeous deep blue, with red, green
and gold accents forming the geometric designs associated with the ancestry of the
Tarin. Ilzhana was thrilled to receive her kitana, and felt the powerful wisdom of
many centuries of existence distilled into the symbols she now wore at her solar
plexus. Truly, it was another birth. She lifted her face to the sky, breathing in the
moment. Her parents retreated to their positions among the Eldren. Ilzhana remained
standing in front of the assembly as the Gathering of Eldren raised thirteen conch
shells to their lips, sounding the invocation to the ancestors. This represented
Ilzhana’s acceptance and final rite of passage to the Council of Determination. Malini

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was excited at the prospect of helping Ilzhana get ready to dance the Devagiri. After
the Sacred Crescent was sealed, and the Gathering dispersed, she and the Matria
swept the jummani off to be bathed, massaged and costumed. Ilzhana lay on a soft
mat, blissfully relaxed after her herbal hot tub, spreading her arms and legs away
from her torso, with her palms facing upwards. A deep state of invigorating rest
permeated her mind, body and spirit. The Matria sat nearby with Malini and Rakawa.
The shaman said, “Let her stay resting there. We can bless her garments and
empower Ila while she remains in trance.” The three women surrounded the
sleeping one with the jewelry and silks she would soon wear, and arranged their
forms around hers. Rakawa led the chant:



                                kuha tarin ye

                                lata keesh ma,

                                daleh treya vithalom


          They sung the words in low tones, quickly entering a hypnotic state of
rapture. All three moved their spines in a snake-line undulation. Their arms swayed
like branches in the wind, hands moving in mystic gestures to strengthen her energy
body. Their breathing became more impassioned, the chanting energized, louder.
Fingertips joined in electrical connection over Ilzhana’s still body. Slowly, they stood
up, circling her first in a counter-clockwise direction and then clockwise.

          Finally, they released their delicate grasp, showering healing force upon the
jummani. She awakened from her trance at the light touch of hands on her womb. The
Matria lowered her lips to her daughter’s forehead, whispering, “Awake, my child.
We shall dress you for the Sacred Dance.” Ilzhana stretched her arms out on the mat,
yawning and smiling at once. Her mother felt a surge of affection well up, seeing her
daughter play on the ground in the same manner as when she was a baby. Soon she
would witness Ilzhana’s child performing such endearing acts. The idea filled the
Matria with renewed vigor to dedicate towards preparing Ila for a perfect Devagiri.
She gathered up the bracelets made of fine dansateel feathers and tiny copper bells
sewn onto the woven base cloth, tying them around Ila’s wrists. The anklets were
constructed much the same way, the difference being that the feathers and bells were
larger. Ilzhana rose and began stamping her feet and twirling her hands in the air,
proclaiming, “I love dancing…and tonight Lilakashina herself will be with me!”

           “You may be sure of that,” the Matria agreed emphatically. She held up a
scarlet silk ensemble of seven layered chiffon scarves with gold trim for her daughter
to slip into. The blouse shaped her exquisitely and the long skirt fell enticingly below
Ila’s navel. Revealing slits up the front of her thighs reached almost to her hips, which


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

Ilzhana started to shake enthusiastically. Rakawa noted, “This will definitely be a
memorable Devagiri.” Malini said, “She’s going to drive Jitan wild,” laughing while
smoothing out the wing feathers of Ila’s headdress. “Come here, jummani. Try this
on for size,” her aunt requested. The center of attention hesitated, saying, “I want to
put my necklace on first. It’s easier that way.” The Matria walked over to stand
behind her, advising, “Pick your hair up so it doesn’t get caught.” Ilzhana obliged,
and was rewarded with the feel of urbeia and mamarel at her breast. She touched the
gems in their shining golden setting, relishing the ancient familial heirloom. Turning
to her aunt, she announced, “I’m ready for the headdress now.” Ila advanced,
kneeling down as her aunt fastened the piece using traditional shell combs and
leather hair-ties. More gems hung from the beaded headband, highlighting the
sensual beauty of Ilzhana’s amber eyes. Rakawa took the black residue of a seed
burnt in ritual offering, and applied it to the jummani’s lids and lashes. A red paste of
beet juice and berries stained her lips an even deeper, delectable crimson. Malini
exuded, “You look absolutely divine – the Goddess Incarnate!” The Matria viewed
her with mounting satisfaction. Certainty for the successful continuance of their royal
bloodline was planted in the mother’s mind. Rakawa picked up her rattle-snake, the
Matria chose a wide flat drum, and Malini shaking bells to play for Ilzhana’s final
blessing.

          Ilzhana directed her attention to the earth, sinking energy roots deep
underground to the Kore. Her own nerve endings acted as receptors to draw up this
essential nourishment through feet and legs, then through spine and brain. Universal
polarities had just melded within one frame. She became aware that the music had
stopped, and the Eldren were watching her, adding their power to hers. The Matria
voiced, “The Spirit of the Tribe is calling you. Come with us now to dance the
Devagiri as it has only been dreamt of. Shine like the stars from which you are
made.”
          Ilzhana gazed at her mother, aunt and shaman priestess. She felt completely
transcendent - filled with knowledge that it would be so. Rakawa led the way to the
player’s tent. The two sisters followed behind her, Ilzhana trailing them; as with time,
so it should be in the passage to dance for a new birth. The jummani became more
excited with every step. She finally entered the stage through the back entrance, and
was given last-minute advice and encouragement from her mentors,
          “Stay in the moment!” reminded Rakawa, “Become the ancestors,” Malini
urged, “Dance with all the passion you feel in your heart, with everything, even your
anger,” the Matria commended. Ilzhana thanked each in turn for their support before
venturing further behind the curtain. Kalgisi had been awaiting her arrival for some
time. He welcomed her eagerly, “The stage is set beautifully, everyone is here…you
are so luminous! This is going to be fantastic. Are you ready for me to start the music
now?” The jummani nodded in agreement.
          Her heart was beginning to pound loudly. She had to go onstage soon, or
the anticipation would become excruciating. The musicians struck the initial chords


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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

of the Devagiri, with Kalgisi signaling each complement in turn. More artists were in
evidence than earlier in the day, for a richer, orchestral sound. Beyond the woven
backdrop, the performers were hidden from the view of the audience and also each
other. At Kalgisi’s direction, Jitan and Ilzhana stepped onto the raised platform from
behind opposite sides of the tapestry. They had a brief moment of frozen wonder,
seeing each other dressed in the erotic finery of the Devagiri. Both quickly recovered,
finely executing the required movements. Reaching center stage, Ilzhana parted the
folds of her skirt; Jitan lunged and brushed his thigh hard against hers. He held her
waist as she dipped her head back, arms extending out gracefully.
         They came face to face gradually, lips touching lightly before the music
peaked and Ila spun around, doing a stunning series of rapid hand mudras. She ended
the sequence in a calm, prayerful posture. It was Jitan’s turn to woo Ilzhana with an
ardent display of his masculine attributes. He danced provocatively around her,
demonstrating the firm strength of his gloriously decorated physique. His tapasi
shook enticingly with the movement of his muscular thighs. Tawny hair escaping
from his towering headdress gave him a magnificent lion-like visage.
         Retreating into a passive stance, bronze skin gleaming with exertion, he
waited for the jummani to assail him with adoration. She arose slowly, sinuously
rotating closer to him. Glancing seductively at the audience, she removed the first
scarf from around her chest, throwing it atop a nearby statue. Rosy nipples peaked
behind the remaining chiffon adorning her torso, provoking arousal in members of
the audience. Ilzhana moved in time-honored ways, animating each step with vital,
unique artistry. She stood facing Jitan now, hips swaying gently to the soft flute and
purring drums. Her palms opened in a gesture of blessing. Jitan knelt before her and
began to sing:



                           Oh radiant Goddess
                           I offer you these arms,
                           This heart
                           Ablaze with desire
                           I give to you
                           My sacred seed…

                           Our branch of the ancestral tree


         Jitan’s voice echoed throughout the gathering. All present were profoundly
stirred by the vocal fluidity with which he expressed his raw emotion. Ila’s eyes were
bright with glistening tears. She reached down and grasped Jitan’s hands in her own,
drawing him up toward her breast. He then stood still and the jummani prepared to
sing her worshipful acceptance of his affection. She moved dramatically, delving into




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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

her spirit in apparent slow motion, absorbing this timeless moment. She filled her
lungs and began to voice the classical lyrics:




                           Divine Man,
                           You have flown from stars
                           With limbs of earth and hair of heaven
                           Beckoning me to be your lover

                  I await you as the ocean drinks in the river


          Ila removed veil after silky veil from her bosom and hips, arms swaying as
she threw them out to the appreciative crowd. They began once more to dance,
circling one another with the feverish intensity of a carnivore waiting to devour its
prey. Ilzhana lunged at Jitan, and his foot came out, blocking her. She felt a stinging
rebuke rise up in her gut. He might have tripped her! An electrical tension was
thickly palpable in the air. The music was building up inexorably, drawing to the
final climax. The tension at its peak, the lovers stepped away from center stage.
          All at once, Jitan and Ilzhana ran toward each other. Their bodies collided,
Ilzhana mounted Jitan as he stood supporting her weight. A fine veil was dropped
about them to allow for a hint of privacy as they consummated their union. Music
pounded in their brains… erotic, melodic, hypnotically arousing. Jitan plunged into
Ila’s warmth, their tongues uniting in wet ecstasy. Ilzhana’s arms wrapped around
Jitan’s neck. She moved her hips back and forth over his staff, softly moaning. Jitan
lowered them into a seated posture. He held Ila’s buttocks, sliding her firmly towards
him.
          The jummani’s moans became louder and Jitan’s pace more frantic. A heady
scent of crushed kumi flower surrounded them. Ilzhana let out one long series of cries
before pouring her cream over Jitan’s staff. A half-second later his seed burst out, a
strong current flowing into the infinite ocean of love they created. Resting attached
in that same posture for a few moments longer, breathing deeply, they concentrated
on receiving the blessings of the universe; for life to come out of this beauteous act.
Limbs were gently disengaged, and the two sat facing each other, palms joining in a
moving dance. They gazed into one another’s eyes, tears of joy welling up and
spilling over amidst the revelry.
          Kalgisi directed the music to become softer; flute and harp dominated the
meditative period that closed the Devagiri. Tarin joined hands and circled the lovers,
attracting prosperity and benediction from their ancestors, gods and goddesses. After
resting tranquilly for a few minutes, Ilzhana and Jitan stood up, parting the fine veil
that divided them from the rest of the group. Seeing their blissful faces, a cheer
spontaneously arose from the crowd. Jitan shouted, “Blessed be the mother of our
Al’leia! Blessed be Ilzhana d’Atrasca!” and Ilzhana voiced, “Blessed be the father!

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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

Blessed be Jitan d’Atrasca!” These chants were taken up by the travelers and repeated
many times over.



          Ilzhana felt as though she might swoon with emotion. She looked around at
all these people, speaking her name, depending on her to continue the sacred line, the
holy tradition of the priestesses. She took a silent vow never to disappoint the Tarin,
her greater family. Her heart sought out her parents, brothers and sisters, even as
Jitan moved into the crowd, accepting the accolades bestowed on him by his peers.
She looked up to the box from which they had viewed the Devagiri. It was empty.
She turned around and saw them walking towards her, through the celebratory
throng. She couldn’t wait to know what her family thought of their performance.
Reaching to embrace them all, Ila asked, “So what do you think? How were we?”
          “Oh, you were incredible!” Trini gushed; “Completely passionate!” Hajra
voiced; “Absolutely the best Devagiri I have ever seen,” Khetu assured her. Sanila
added, “You were so beautiful up there, Ila. I’m proud to be your sister.” Tears
formed in Ilzhana’s eyes all over again, “Nila, you are so sweet. Ashina bless you,”
she said, kissing her sister.
          Her parents stood hand in hand; both overcome with pride and love for
their eldest daughter. The Patria clutched her fiercely to his breast; the Matria stroked
her hair, whispering, “It is done, the seed is planted. And now our tree shall grow.”




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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA




Chapter Six
Weaving the Web



The scent of night-blooming jasmine filled the soft air. A full moon shone tranquil
light through the clouds, casting her luxurious mystery on all the lovers entwined,
admiring her magic playing in the eyes of their beloved. Gebrido felt the charm of
this fickle goddess in the fiery warmth of the woman by his side. They had witnessed
the Devagiri together, dancing wildly in the aftermath. All evening they had kissed,
toying with each other’s bodies. He wanted her very badly, and he knew she felt the
same. Trini gave him a sidelong glance now, a teasing smirk unfurling on her
pleasured lips.
          “I can’t help thinking that you must do this quite often,” she noted casually,
glancing sidelong at him with a challenging glint in her sparkling blue eyes. Gebrido
asked, “Do what?” absentmindedly running his hand along the small of her back.
She responded with a slight frown, “You know what I mean. Find someone to spend
a couple days with, then move on to the next celebration.”
          Laughing aloud, Gebrido said, “So that’s how you see me? Roaming the
countryside, beguiling the ladies with my charm?” Trini replied with a touch of
chagrin, “It would seem that’s exactly what you’ve done with me. But I don’t regret
it, even if you leave tomorrow.” Stroking his dark hair, she continued, “It’s been
beautiful – perhaps too much for it to last.”
          Gazing at her solemnly, he pleaded, “How can I make you understand that
what I feel for you is unique?” Holding her close, Gebrido explained, “I won’t
pretend there’s been no one else. But I can tell you my previous companions aren’t as
numerous as you imagine. By Lilla’s blood, Trini, it was never like this for me before!
I don’t want to leave you. I feel as though my heart is a bubble waiting to burst.
I want it to, but I’m also scared of what might happen. I’d ask you to come with me,
but you’re so young. The Eldren won’t approve.”         She countered, “I’m nearly
eighteen! And I know my own mind. I want to go with you…we could perform
together, with Jhanas and Eliane.” Her eyes filling with tears, she lowered her head
to hide them, feeling foolish to be so emotional about someone she hardly even knew
the day before. Turning away from him, looking up at the moon, she wished
absurdly for the kind of radiant, yet self-contained presence emanating from that
silvery sphere. A thousand thoughts were rushing through her head, all in the
opposite direction to the natural inclination of her heart.
          Sensing her quandary, Gebrido came to stand directly behind her, wrapping
his arms around her waist. Bending his head to nuzzle in the shining mass of her


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

hair, he drank in its aroma, the essential perfume of her mind. Trini relaxed back into
Gebrido’s form, angling her face toward his.
           They kissed as if to release all the potential barriers between them, living
only for that infinite moment. When they parted, he assured her, “You don’t have to
decide now. I’ll stay here a few days longer than I had originally planned. I can
always catch up with the others later…what do you think?” She wore a smile of
relief, as she exclaimed, turning to face him, “It’s a great idea! I need a little more
time to sort out my responsibilities here. But you know that I’ve already decided.”
Grinning mischievously, she began to offer up another series of deep, satisfying
kisses. An ebullient joy rising in her heart, she prayed, “Lilla, please let this be for
real…”

          Malini sat on the edge of her bed, hands resting limply on her knees. Her
shoulders hunched forward in a hollow boundless longing for the thrill of
companionship so many others were experiencing at that moment. Sounds echoed
through her mind from the Devagiri – it was so beautiful…yet seeing her niece
dancing the exquisite drama of desire brought back bittersweet memories of her own
sacred mating. Thinking on other events of the day, she became increasingly agitated.
Her fingers clenched the bedframe as if to leave a mark in the soft wood. Kalgisi
should never have profaned the Devagiri that way! The fool’s head was as swollen as
a rotting melon. Devagisi, indeed!
          Remembering that her other niece and her own son had the temerity to
participate in the obscene mockery made her lips tighten even further in displeasure.
She had already scolded Dharam fiercely for his foolishness, made worse by
suspicion that if his father had been present, this problem may never have arisen.
This issue would definitely need to be addressed with the Council. If she judged
correctly, hers wasn’t the only voice missing from the cacophony of heedless
approval. Sighing deeply, she sunk down into finely embroidered red wool pillows
that not so very long ago supported the weight of her husband. Feeling suddenly
overwhelmed by loss and aloneness, she began silently, and for the first time since he
left them, to cry.

          Kalgisi walked alone, contemplating the enormous success of his newest
theatrical endeavor. People had been coming up to him all evening, telling him how
much they enjoyed the performance. It felt good to witness a little fun being poked at
the venerable institution of the Devagiri. With such a positive response from so
many people, he could easily afford to take ‘Devagisi’ on the road. The most
appreciative segment of the audience appeared to come from villages where not
everyone could afford to travel. Instead, Kalgisi and his players would visit them.
Dharam would require no persuasion beyond the prospect of increased adoration.
Malini would simply have to make do without him. But with Chaysen still missing,
she must undoubtedly oppose his travels. Knowing how rigorously traditional
Malini had been in the past, Kalgisi realized it would be unlikely for her to be amused


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

at the whole concept of the Devagisi, much less pleased for her son to take part in it.
He must somehow find a way to mollify her. Either that, or find another young actor,
freer to do as he liked. Trini worked out very well, despite their bickering during
rehearsal. She would be invited to continue in her role as an alluring fool. With her
innate fire and comic flair, she could please some of the most demanding audiences.
And Hajra’s score definitely propelled the comic momentum…he really should come
along. Instinctively Kalgisi made his way to the flute-player’s favorite haunt, the
Asaliki grove, where creatures came together in the greatest confluence of sound and
color. The verdant growth was lush and inviting, always at its most beautiful on a
full moon’s eve. He crept silently, attempting to surprise the musician, whose
plaintive flute, wafting lightly through the air, blended harmonically into the trilling,
chirping backdrop of life.
           Kalgisi inched closer, sighting an opened bottle of wine reflecting blue-green
in the moonlight. Treading carefully, he approached from behind, whispering, “It’s a
shame to drink alone, especially on a night such as this.” Startled, Hajra’s heart began
pounding. A peculiar nervousness momentarily overpowering him, he lowered his
arms over the smooth, yet determined grip of his seducer as if entranced. Calmer
now, he ventured, “You are welcome to share it with me, but I regret I have no flask
to offer it properly.” Encouraged, Kalgisi replied, “No matter…I would much prefer
to drink from your lips instead.” Intrigued, the musician asked, “And what would
you drink from my lips? The wine, or a kiss?” He gazed at Kalgisi with all the erotic
promise of youth, then Hajra took a sip of the deep red liquid. The director caught a
glimpse of his tongue, stained with delight. The view provoking fresh ardor, he
whispered urgently, “It must be both.”
           Sinking back against a nearby tree, Kalgisi waited anxiously for the young
man’s advance. Filling his mouth once again with the wine, Hajra let the warm fluid
enter the other man’s lips, feeling their tongues collide suddenly in wet intoxication.
Kalgisi pulled him close, reveling in fulfillment. Later, as they made their way back
through the forest, he suggested, “I’m putting a tour together – the Devagisi was very
well received, and we’ve been invited to play at almost every village represented
tonight. I want you to come with me. For your music, and for your love. Please tell
me that you will.” Hajra paused in his steps before admitting, “I can think of no
reason to deny you.” Kalgisi’s eyes danced in the darkness, thrilling with Hajra’s
assent.




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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA



Chapter Seven
Patterns in the Flame



          A strong wind blew Chaysen’s dark curls away from his forehead, revealing
brows furrowed in concentration. The sun shone directly overhead, beating down on
the land with the ferocity of a Kryphon circling over its prey. The Kryman knelt on a
slightly cushioned rocky ledge with his palms facing up resting on his thighs. Aest
crouched beside him, leading the new member of their family in a guided meditation
to strengthen his Kryphon potential. He spoke through their silent mind-link,
“Become aware of the crystalline matrix embedded in your body. Use it to connect
with my energy field.”
          Chaysen sensed unusual warmth in each of the places he had been marked.
Before long, his forehead and cheeks were aflame, his spine tingling, his feet and
palms burning with response to the elder Kryphon’s call. Observing this, Aest
commented, “Good. Now bring all your focus into your solar plexus. Breathe long
and very deeply, drawing these threads of light into your abdomen.” The Kryman
complied, and doing so, experienced the pure vibrancy of the sun glowing in his
belly.
          “Empty your mind of any thought or image save this white-gold flame. I
will send you a vision, which you shall see inside the flame, a kind of pattern, or
mandala. I want you to change something about it – some detail of shape or color –
and send it back to me.” Chaysen tried to force his mind to be empty, but he kept
seeing unexpected glimpses of his other life, his Tarin family. His wife and children
appeared fleetingly, but with a distinct clarity missing from the typical daydreams he
had of late. He wished they had lingered longer in his mind’s eye, and that he could
communicate with them in this way. “Do not struggle against the images that arise in
the window of the mind. Be patient. Watch as they move by and fade into the gold
light of K’in-RA. You will reach a time that is emptiness filled with existence. That is
when the vision shall come. There is no hurry,” Aest reminded him.
          The Kryman relaxed into his breath, and decided to take his consciousness,
his point of awareness, from his forehead down to his abdomen. Moving into the
center of the flaming orb, he felt a flash of complete absorption into the Light. In that
brief instant, all knowledge of himself and his personal pain and problems
evaporated into the sensation of being pure undifferentiated spirit.
          A complex geometric shape appeared in the center of the flame, and
Chaysen had just enough presence of mind to realize that he must place his own
imprint on it, and share this with Aest. He concentrated on the inner heart of the
mandala, which was now radiating a rose-shaped pink. The Kryman saw it as green


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instead, and with more triangular, pointing edges. He fixed this new vision in his
mind’s eye for a split second, then sent it to Aest, through the crystalline link they
placed in his body.
          The elder Kryphon received it, acknowledging the fledgling effort. “You
have done well, Chayst. Let us continue in the same way for a little while longer –
changing and sharing the vision.” Chaysen agreed, sending his teacher an upward-
pointing green triangle – a symbol representing acceptance. Maintaining his focus at
the center of the white-gold flame, he continued feeding it with his threads of light.
          Next he perceived the mandala with miniature violet flames around the
edges, where it had been pale blue before. Rather than experiencing the blissful
dissolving of self, as he first did, in these successive visions the Kryman felt he had
reached a calm and tranquil plateau. He was dimly aware of his individual needs, but
any trivial agenda was subsumed by this grander communication with Aest, and the
Kryphon within.
          “Now take the flame and spiral it outward as you inhale. Exhaling, spiral it
back into your belly. Let it spread to your Kryman marks, charging them with light.
Breathe in and hold the sensation until your entire self is aflame. Exhale and lie down
on your back with your palms facing up. Circulate the energy, and allow your
muscles to recover from the exertion.” Chaysen did as instructed, relieved to move
his legs after the long period of having them folded underneath. He shook out the
tension, and lay down on the flat rock covered with dried sea moss. When he awoke,
Aest was gone, but Shamra was nearby, mixing some herbs for a tonic to give her
formerly recalcitrant patient.
          In addition to silver thistle and silkweed, she plied him with honeyhawk,
clawstooth root, and others too numerous to remember. Since he improved steadily
in the five weeks since the Changing, she had regained his trust, certainly enough to
drink anything she offered without hesitation. His wounds were completely healed,
leaving mounds of scar tissue packed with the crystalline matrix, which had
dispersed in part throughout his entire body. He felt stronger than ever physically,
and his visions had become much more intense. His Kryman training had consisted
mostly of those high sun sessions with Aest, and participating in the group rituals at
dawn and sunset. Once, when they had needed some more crystal, he watched in
amazement as they formed the Khabal of Sound, vibrating the rocks loose, lifting
them out of the ground with their voices. After that, he was appreciably excited to
learn again.
          Chaysen wanted to fly with one of them, but so far, Aest would not permit
it. It seemed that he was waiting for some kind of sign that he was truly ready. Or
maybe he was just testing him. Either way, it couldn’t last forever. The younger
Kryphae, like Himalast, seemed perfectly eager to take him on a journey. Himalast
once joked that he had already carried him once, with the help of his sister, because,
“You were limp and heavy as a dead sheep.” Chaysen wasn’t sure how to respond to
that, other than jesting in return, “Well, I promise you, when you next fly with me, I
won’t be under the influence of dracha!”


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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          At least his sense of humor was returning. After what he went through, the
moments of extreme anguish, both physical and mental, there were times he didn’t
think he could ever laugh again. Yet here he was, the merry Kryman, just taking one
day at a time, and doing what he was told. ‘The faster I heal, the greater my options
will be,’ had become his motto.
          “And it’s served you well, too,” Shamra observed aloud, “As have my
herbal concoctions. Drink up. You are going on an important mission soon.”
Chaysen was a bit miffed that he couldn’t have any privacy within the space of his
own skull, but he tried not to dwell on it, as Shamra would only find his annoyance
amusing. Besides, there was something else…“What kind of mission?” he asked with
an obvious show of interest. The old woman said, “I thought that might brighten
your horizon. I won’t say any more now. Neferlani will mention it to you when the
time is right. But it will be soon.”
          Two more days passed before Neferlani chose to share the details of this
mission with Chayst. He was to go with Klust, Himalast, and Drast to the land of
Elwadi, where they would stay for a period of time sufficient enough to learn their
special techniques of growing produce on inhospitable land. It was rumored that
these diminutive peoples coaxed the most astonishing results out of improbably
harsh terrain. The existence of Elwadi bordered on myth, as few had actually seen
members of their race, and fewer still were witness to the paradise they had created
in the rough realm of the Uraelys Mountains. These peaks were the highest in the
Known Lands, and being also at the northernmost edge, they effectively separated
the Elwadi from everyone else. Three years ago the Castout were brought from
Beljahz, and unceremoniously dumped in close proximity to the Kryphon nesting
ground on the edge of the great volcanic crater, Vulhal. Since then, life had become
more difficult for the Kryphae, and nesting almost impossible, as their eggs were
attacked and sometimes even eaten by the criminal waste of an alien society.
          A way had to be found to help them survive (or kill them altogether) so that
Kryphon eggs could hatch unmolested. Many discussions were held on this topic, the
general consensus being that the Kryphae would make an attempt to coexist with the
Castout. The main problem was communication. None of these people could hear
their sendings. Someone else must be brought in who could interpret for them in
their proposed dealings with the Castout. The soil around Vulhal was denuded, but
maybe not hopelessly so. With some assistance from the faerie, even this terrain
might prove bountiful. What human could they find to aid their cause? Shamra was
the obvious choice – but she had only come to live among the Kryphon after her
village was destroyed in a raid the Castout made shortly after their arrival, to
announce their presence and steal that which would be necessary to survive. Shamra
had to flee, and a few of their children ran after her, throwing rocks. Neferlani had
been circling overhead, and heard the human’s distress. In a rare move, she swept
Shamra up, with her claws gripping the woman’s clothing, flying to the Kryphon lair.
          There had been an instant link, an immediate understanding between them,
when after Shamra scrambled to turn around and clutch Neferlani’s neck, their eyes


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                         FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

met. Both human and Kryphon knew that here was an unusual and significant friend.
Chaysen had heard this story more than once now, in the five weeks he’d been on his
feet, but he enjoyed the different tellings – Shamra’s vocal embellishments, and
Neferlani’s heartfelt sending of a very special experience.
          In the Kryman, they had found an ambassador to the Castout, and much
more. By implanting their genetic information into Chaysen, they ensured that
elements of Kryphon DNA would survive in his offspring, even if their own race
should somehow perish. Aest deliberately orchestrated Chaysen’s training at high
sun, so that the solar rays could mutate his blood and quicken the process of
Changing. There was much to accomplish in the future – perhaps even more Krymen
to be initiated… but right now the Castout must be dealt with. Hence the mission to
Elwadi, the first peaceful initiative.
          Klust, Himalast and Drast were to take turns ferrying Chaysen across the
mountains. No Kryphon could carry a human much farther than fifty leagues. They
would make much better time this way, only stopping to rest occasionally. Klust and
Drast were gathering crystal of all colors to offer as gifts to the Elwadi. It was
Chaysen’s job to carry and prepare whatever herbs Shamra chose to complete his
healing and to share with the Elwadi as a symbol of their Friendship.
          The next morning, Chaysen awoke with a tremor in the pit of his stomach.
“Today I will fly with Kryphae for the first time,” he told himself over and over.
Himalast came to rouse him early, as promised the day before. He sent, “I’m going to
be the one to carry you to our first stop –I know you might be a little uncomfortable
in that harness you made at first. But as we go on, I think you’ll see it really is the best
way for a long journey.” Chaysen replied, “I hope you’re right; I got the design from
Shamra, who swears by it. I guess it’s just another thing I have to take her word for!”
          Himalast opened his beak in a gesture of amusement. “You have been a
good student. I can scarcely imagine being in your situation, if our positions were
reversed. You know how much we appreciate you, and your interest in helping
preserve our species. Besides, this is a real adventure. Even visiting the Elwadi. Your
friends and family in Atrasca might not believe you when you tell them!”
          Chaysen grimaced, “That’s if and when I get back home.” He rose to join the
other Kryphae on the beach for the sunrise meditation. The sun was just barely
peeking above the ocean, a golden pink orb with trailing mist, growing quickly with
each passing minute, until it was full above the water. The group watched as always,
erupting in their melodic calls, harmonizing with each other, to signal their joy at the
dawn of another magical day. This day being more significant than most, there was a
sense of extra fervor behind this celebration.
          Aest sent in prayer, “May our neighbors, those who are called ‘Castout’
because of their past actions, come to understand that they are only a part of this
land, not rulers over it. When they honor the land the spirits will see this, and give
gladly to them, so they shall not have to fight and steal, just to eat and live another
day. Let our people go find a way for us to live and grow our young in peace,
together with all the elements.”


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                         FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

           Chaysen wrapped the soft leather harness around his chest, stepping into it
like a vest, to be buttoned in the back, the main difference being that he wouldn’t be
alone in this item of clothing. The Kryphon carrying him had to have the long straps
attached around its neck and waist.
           The whole group watched as Shamra helped prepare them to go on the
longest flight ever attempted with human cargo. “You’ll probably feel a little dizzy at
first. Just breathe easy and let your head adjust to the different pressure. You might
feel something in your ears like an air bubble breaking. Get used to letting your head
hang down. You won’t find it easy to shift in your harness till you land. When you
have to urinate, you just open your pants and go, hoping that it doesn’t fly back at
you. That depends on the wind, of course.”
           The old woman laughed, cheerfully continuing, “I always liked to be facing
down too. You can appreciate the landscape a lot better. But facing the Kryphon
who’s carrying you gives more of a sense of security, if there is such a thing, that high
in the clouds. Anyway, I don’t want to frighten you. I’m sure you’ve nerves enough,
already.”
           “You could say that.” Chaysen stood on a high precipice, with Himalast, his
first transport, directly behind him. The feel of strong Kryphon musculature pressing
against his back did little to assuage his sudden panic. They were on the north end of
the high plateau overlooking Vulhal to the south and Tretonika to the east. If he were
to come out of his harness by mistake, and they could not catch him, he was surely in
for a fatal ride down.
           Shamra handed him a bundle of herbs that Hemavati told her did not grow
in Elwadi. Around each kind, she had tied a thin strip of cloth with the preparation
and indications for use written on it. “I hope the Elwadi will be less afraid of me than
they were of Aest,” he said, eyeing his peace-offering skeptically. The elder Kryphon
sent wryly, “You have a long way to go to approach my visage, Kryman. You may
yet sprout wings, but for now you’ll have to fly without them.” He nodded to
Himalast, and with that gesture the three Kryphae were quickly aloft. Chaysen cried
out in a giddy mixture of fear and excitement. Behind them, he could hear the
ululation of the females. His heart pounded wildly, even as their shrill noise became
lost in the growing distance between the fliers and their cliffside home.
           Marveling at the patterns made by the trees and rivers winding through the
mountains, like some gargantuan puzzle created for the amusement of a deity,
Chaysen absorbed the overarching joy of this timeless moment. He truly loved it – the
cool crisp air filling his lungs, and the thrill of being carried by a Kryphon. He felt the
wind shift with each beating of Himalast’s wings, and took pleasure in seeing Klust
and Drast off to either side. He sensed a kind of belonging, as if somehow he truly
were one of these amazing creatures.
           Every time they flew through a cloud, he relished the soft moisture on the
areas that held his crystalline scars. He learned to open his mouth to catch the mist
and soothe his throat, which was still a bit irritated from his long fever. He felt
surprisingly comfortable in his harness – even the strap holding up his head seemed


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                         FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

natural. Easing into the rhythms of Himalast’s movements, Chaysen began
experiencing an elated transcendence, seeing the unity in the vast pattern below him.
If there was a way to make mountains agree with rivers, and oceans exist with caves,
could there not be harmony between Castout and Kryphae? A sudden surge of
purpose filled his solar plexus, and the Kryman focused his resolve on the
accomplishment of this task, knowing that the pain he underwent was necessary. All
the disparate features of their world fit together as a result of higher vision, just as the
inhabitants of the western edge of the Known Lands must also unite in a vast design
as yet unknown.




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                          FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA




Chapter Eight
Jewels of the Mind

Inner Earth - Pantagora

          Neszha purred contentedly as Killain ran his hand atop her forehead and
down her spine. Miraj lay beside them, stroking Oszha in a similar manner. Both cats’
eyes were narrow slits in their chiseled faces, almost identical, if not for the polarity
of their color. They all rested atop a fur sedan inside Miraj Hazmina’s richly
decorated traveling tent. Since leaving the oasis of Ur, these moments of relaxation
with the general had begun to seem like the only vestige of home. The desert had
never been so harsh before, but then again, Miraj never had the occasion to tread into
its bleakest heart, where sun parched the skin within moments and dried the tongue
to ash. If not for the assistance of her allies, their supply of water would now be
dangerously low. The day before, her spirit guides had shown her where to strike the
earth, so that rivulets of the precious liquid arced up from deep underground, high
enough to collect in the large water sacks the soldiers carried. Food they brought
from Ur, but the crucial role of finding water for thousands had been entrusted to the
sorceress. In essence, Killain had placed the lives of his army, as well as his own, into
the hands of the Mistress of the Moon.
          He would have preferred sailing west around the entire continent and
avoiding this trek through the desert, but that would have taken too long, and the
Pasha was not a patient man. Besides, fall was coming, and a few months’ journey
would have put them at the northern boundary of Antara crossing mountains in the
winter. Either route had serious drawbacks in terms of weather and terrain, so the
most timely way had been chosen. Another factor in the general’s decision to march
through the Pantagoran desert had to do with the smaller oases that dotted the main
road, which in addition to Ur and Shamer, would be necessary to subdue to maintain
ownership of the trade route the Pasha so coveted. This meant the army must seek
them out, whatever the cost. So far, it had not been too high.
          Staring into the Shaznah’s eyes, Miraj Hazmina wondered at the dual nature
of her lover. He was rugged, yet soft; controlled, yet playful; eloquent, yet engaged in
crude battles. His type of war seemed only tedium and filth, from what Miraj had
witnessed thus far. She didn’t like messy fights, had no need for them. One woman
alone was powerful enough to stand in her way- Al’leia Marnatikha of Ransabai,
heiress to the jewel-thieving priestesses of Antara. Whoever tried to come between
them, or attack a sorceress with conventional weaponry, would be dispatched quickly
and cleanly. A severing of the silver cord that joined the body to the soul would bring
instantaneous death to such a fool. The nine sacred gemstones removed from the


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

Cave of the Mother over five hundred circles ago must be replaced, so that balance of
the elements could be restored, and nourishing rain fall once more upon this land.
Already in their crossings she had seen countless withered riverbeds, nearly eroded
to extinction with the passage of winds and time. She simply must find a way to
absorb the excessive solar force that relentlessly scorched Pantagora and truly earn
the title ‘Mastress of the Sun.’ All her training, her abilities, her years of planning -
they all converged upon this goal of seeing her homeland enshrined as the living
jewel it once had been, and starting anew the rich festivals of life. For when a land is
alive with growth, there is much more to celebrate. Her heart burned to see this done,
and she mentally repeated her mantra in the ancient tongue, claiming the nine sacred
stones,

                            ‘Lal neh gwein, Lal neh gwein, Aar zhei.’…
                              They are mine, they are mine, the nine…

          “Tell me what you’re thinking about. Your eyes dance with fire, and that
mouth has never looked so determined. Is it that you want to marry me?” Killain
asked mock-sincerely. Miraj glared at him, annoyed that he should joke about the
soul union, or ask to know her secret thoughts.
          He stretched, muscles flowing under his skin like ripples in a lake. Her gaze
drifting to his superb physique, the sorceress was reminded that she did not indulge
this man for his wit, although he did have moments in that arena occasionally.
Shaznah Killain was a man born to seize opportunity. With a slight smirk, he
suggested, “How about we pet each other for a change?” Gazing at Neszha, he
intoned seriously, “I love you, but I think your mistress is getting jealous.”
          The sorceress barked, “Ha!” then sharply ordered, “Come here, you three-
legged khamel!” The general inched over so he lay facing Miraj with his hand around
her waist. They kissed briefly, but Killain thought she was strangely distant, her eyes
shrouded in mysteries. Since she was largely responsible for installing him as
Shaznah, having orchestrated the deaths of nearly all his Samohen superiors, and
mindswaying the rest, she knew a great deal more than he imagined. Inspecting her
choice, Miraj noted without pleasure how his sun-baked face crinkled like a map with
many roads leading nowhere. She kept telling him to cover with douza, the chalk-like
mineral that maintained her own smooth skin. He refused to wear a protective mask
unless there was enough for all his men. One thing must be said: Shaznah Killain
cared for his soldiers, most of all their high opinion of him. Without that he could not
hope to control them in the chaotic throes of combat.
          The sorceress could understand that. Daily she learned more of his
character, what motivated him to take risks, to overcome fear. She read desires in his
subconscious he had not properly voiced aloud, nor made any real plans for. The
Mistress of the Moon would know everything about her lover. How true were the
words he spoke compared to what she heard going on in his mind? That was the
most important test for trusting a man. Did he lie elsewhere than upon you?


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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          Miraj shifted suddenly in the general’s arms, asking, “So the Pasha will not
care what type of opposition you meet, or how many men may die as a result of this
action?” Killain replied dismissively, “He bought them, but they are not his men. He
cares no more for their lives than they for his purpose.” Miraj digested this harsh
statement; really, she had already surmised as much. Even the native Samohen,
which comprised about a third of the Pasha’s army, exhibited no overt loyalty to him,
probably due to his selfish unconcern for the people. Planting another seed of
conquest in the Shaznah’s mind, she observed, “They will follow whoever carries the
purse and promises them riches.”
          Languidly stroking the general’s hair, she considered the grand scheme of
events. Things were beginning to come together quite nicely. Much work yet to do,
but the central web was strong. The Shaznah seemed to doze off in her arms, then
abruptly lifted his head up, exclaiming, “I have to go… I told Rovan he could have
the night off. He picked up a woman in the last village he’s taken a liking to, so I’m
doing the sunset inspection tonight. It’s a good chance to see if any of the soldiers
have become slack in my absence.”
          “Of course, my darling,” Miraj uttered, secretly pleased at the perfect
execution of this latest weaving, and that she needn’t make an excuse while
convening with her allies for one evening, at least. Killain stood, straightening his
clothing so as not to look too disheveled when exiting the sorceress’ tent. Miraj
waved at him with a wry smile from her perch on the fur sedan. She was happiest
with her great cats, in this private enclosure. Killain wondered at her apparent
weakness - even when the night was slightly warm, she refused to walk with him,
complaining of the cold desert air descending so soon after the sun had set.
          The sorceress arranged herself in front of a nightable carved out of
sandalwood, which had been inset with carnelian and lapis lazuli. Here she stored
treasured perfumes and ointments, as well as other mysterious delicacies. A special
groove had been cut in the table’s surface so she could place her ivory scrollwork
mirror standing up at the perfect angle to apply her douza each dawn and sunset.
Sliding open the drawer to reveal all types of fanciful containers, she selected a jar
made of white stone in the shape of a shell with many compartments curling back
into itself, a symbol of fulfillment and eternal life. Miraj dipped her slender fingers
inside, scooping out a thick oily paste that smelled of desert blossoms. How she
missed Ur and the sweetness of life there.
          All respected her and gave her the proper share of the produce of their
hands. In turn, she healed them, counseled them, birthed their children, and planned
for the revitalization of their common homeland. The Mistress of the Moon was a
generous and kind benefactress to most. Those who had crossed her, or shown
disregard for the sacred principles that governed her life, had naturally been first to
die in the foreign invasion that she now accompanied onward to Antara, where
destiny lie.
          Miraj Hazmina gazed at herself in the mirror. Her face was framed by thick
dark hair hanging in soft waves down to her waist. Deeply set large black eyes


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

glimmered wistfully in the waning light of the setting sun above a strong nose with
just a hint of a curve to it, high cheekbones and full wide lips completing her. She was
not pretty as other women, whose looks wilted like flowers, blooming once, only in
youth. Rather, she was beautiful, like an awesome power striking when one least
expected it, stunning and somehow terrible, not decreasing with time, just coalescing,
becoming more true to herself. Of course, lines would appear, even she was not
immune to that. But there was a certainty that comforted her as she applied the douza
in long strokes across her cheeks, that she would always be satisfied with the image
she presented to a mirror.
          The Mistress of the Moon waited a few moments longer before settling
herself for intercourse with the Six Allies. She wanted to be certain that the general
would not intrude into one of the most secret and intimate rituals of her craft. The
thought-weaver sent her guardians, Neszha and Oszha to sit at the tent opening, just
in case he had a mind to return early. Relaxing deeper into the contours of the
cushiony bed, she projected the two aspects of her personality that corresponded
with a matched pair of Oversouls representing the three phases of life: Creation,
Sustenance, and Destruction-Resurrection.
          Sitting up cross-legged, she called Neszha to open the circular cut-away in
the tent’s domed ceiling. The great cat leapt into the air and caught the strings with
her paws, tearing aside the now unneeded fabric. A pale, tentative moonlight shone
through onto the face of her mistress, her priestess. Neszha retreated to the tent
opening and crouched down opposite Oszha. Their heads leaned forward toward
each other, channeling the forces of Mia’shara, their ancestral home in the stars. They
called on information embedded in their genetic code through their etheric bodies to
receive the latest transmission from Mia’shara, each with a unique part to make a
greater whole. Waves of light emanated from the foreheads of the great cats,
mingling into a shared pattern that changed many times before arranging into its
peak formation, whereby the Mia’shari could hold the most psychic energy.
          At this instant, a six-sided star was formed, with the Mistress of the Moon in
its center, and the great cats at its northern points. The Oversouls of Neszha and
Oszha became fully visible, standing human bodies with graceful feline heads
radiating intelligence and majesty. Standing upright facing the Mia’shari, Miraj took
in magic-imbued breath, slowly raising her arms, feeling energy surge in like
lightning through her fingertips, drowning her hands and heart, settling at her
navel… power so sweet and strong that it might be pain. The sorceress formed a
mindlink with the Mia’shari and together they held the focus of Creation, star energy
becoming earthen. Blissful force. Shimmering with the triangular pattern, Miraj felt
the waves reach fullness, and lowered her arms so they were now parallel to the
ground.
          An enormous golden-red hawk flew inside the circular opening directly
overhead, followed by an equally imposing dark brown vulture. They landed at
either end of the southern points, and quickly transformed into their Oversouls of
Horat and Uazet, Destruction-Resurrection incarnate. Like the Mia’shari, they stood


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

in human form, except for their large avian faces, noble and implacable, filled with
the need to consume the leavings of earth and transmute them into starry matter.
          As they received their stellar input from the constellation Atami, golden
Horat held the force of Resurrection, while Uazet symbolized the Destroyer. As they
linked, shapes carved out of light formed in the air between them flashing and
disappearing just as suddenly between the joint pulsing of their throat centers, whole
creatures dipping into and out of existence. The Mistress of the Moon was imbued
with the magic of the darkest light, sensing the full polarity of life-death and the
duality within her own being. Balancing in the center of Mia’shari and the Atamen,
she poured herself into the space of Sustenance. Out of her navel, two polar opposites
emerged, Ashina and Kemaro, female and male, to her left and right sides. They sent
filaments of light back into the body of the sorceress, colorful spinning webs. The
Atamen and Mia’shari already penetrated her, cocooning the Mistress of the Moon in
waves of light, heat and spirit. She turned now to face the Atamen, shivering with
ecstasy, merging completely with the Six Allies as the risen silvery white orb shone
powerfully on her brow. Miraj wept with the intensity of the experience, and
projected the image of a renewed Pantagora into this sacred space, to become
manifest. Exhaling, and sending this force out to cover the land, she began releasing
her arms, gradually letting them fall, stopping when her palms were two hand-
lengths from her sides.
          The sorceress remained standing with her palms facing the Atamen in this
gesture of offering. They searched for signs of weakness and disease, that which must
be discarded for new life to flourish. Mostly they absorbed the stagnant energy
stemming from the everyday stresses of life which showed in her subtle body as
murky tangled areas with little movement, ensuring now that all power vortexes
were spinning properly, the flow connecting them unimpeded.
          When the Atamen finished, Miraj Hazmina felt cleansed and tranquil, her
soul deeply refreshed by this intercourse. Lifting her hands to meet at her heart
center, she whispered a soft prayer to close the circle, and disperse the energies
unleashed in this gathering. A soft beating of wings alerted her to Horat and Uazet’s
departure in their physical guise. They would return when she needed them, as with
the water finding. The Mistress of the Moon opened her eyes, dabbing lightly at the
tears on her cheeks. Pivoting to the north, she called her Mia’shari, now in their
familiar forms as gorgeous great big cats. Miraj crawled in her large, silk-woven
hamak, which felt more inviting than ever. This session with the Six Allies had been
especially strong, and rest was what she craved at the moment. Neszha jumped up
and laid alongside her, mystical golden yellow eyes in her ebony face holding the
magic of moments before, paws resting on the woman’s belly as they swayed gently
in the air. Oszha usually cradled her while she slept, but tonight he wanted the
nurturing, lying beside Miraj so he could be warmed by both females. Killain always
slept in his own nearby tent; occasionally he did try to insert himself into their trio,
but the Mia’shari relished the night with their mistress, and were never very
welcoming. The sorceress smiled in the darkness. As she ruffled the fur of her closest


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

companions, anticipation at the rest of their journey bubbled inside her like sparkling
wine. She dozed off while affirming, ‘They are mine…’




          The Al’leia wore an apple green silken cloth wrapped around her waist and
one shoulder, belted with a long silver chain. Two serpent heads closed about the
metal cord, fastening it. Jeweled eyes faced each other at her navel, the eternal
duality of life/death, infinite existence the gap between them, the pause between
incarnations. Marnatikha descended a smooth stone stairway. Down it spiraled, into
a crystalline pool filled with memories, of what was, and that which may never be.
Around her throat she wore a circlet of spun iulia, which started to vibrate more
strongly the closer she came to the Source. Casting off her robe and belt, the Al’leia
immersed herself in the beckoning liquid. She felt instantly rejuvenated as the
solution touched her skin, and she eagerly swam the length of the circular enclosure.
Coming up for air, she swept her ash-blonde hair away from her pale grey eyes.
          Buoyed by the extreme salinity of the water, Marnatikha floated on her back,
absorbing the electrical currents that rippled through the pool, magnified by the
circlet. From inside the sapphire pendant nestling at the hollow of her throat, she
withdrew a fine silver needle. Thrusting it into her skin slightly above the center of
her eyebrows, the Al’leia willed an expansion of power and prescience. She began
experiencing herself as increasingly weightless, like a web of light-waves seamlessly
flowing into the still, yet vibrant water. She sought the pattern for this land that
would be most pleasing to the gods and ancestors.
          The Al’leia realized excitedly that each of the deities of the thirteen
monseasons had a constellation associated with them. The new temples would be
erected in the period of time that they ruled. The statues she had already ordered for
their temples would be aligned with the central star in the constellation, to draw
down the energy of the deity. That of Moksha was being prepared, and she would
have everything ready before his monseason of Moksharon.
          Decisions came easily in this sacred chamber that held so many memories,
and the mental imprint of each Al’leia since Degari Jehan built the Source so very
many circles ago. Feeling quite pleased at the whole project and the thought of Tarin
worshipping at this site long after she was gone, Marnatikha removed the needle
from her skin, replacing it in the sheath at her throat. Standing up in the pool of saline
liquid, she positioned herself at the exact center. Dropping her head back, she gazed
up at the nine sacred jewels obtained from the mysterious Cave of the Mother.
          According to legend, Degari Jehan was traveling in the land of her birth,
when an inner voice spoke, urging her to carry them to the north and build a temple
for the Goddess Aphrodite in this new land, which she did. Mating with the elements
to produce a child of magic, she traveled, teaching people, growing her congregation,
defining the very nature of Tarin life, and setting the foundation for each Al’leia
thereafter to build on. Degari Jehan began it all here, at the Source. Marnatikha


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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

marveled at her legend for the hundredth time, as she observed the objects that
initiated the religion of which she was a primary component. Each stone was large
and translucent, shaped like the egg of an enormous bird, with variations in color
from green and purple to goldenrod. They were arrayed in the round, with smaller
local jewels forming a six-pointed star in the middle. The Al’leia believed that they
absorbed both solar and lunar powers, and provided a subtle balancing of the
elemental forces. They were considered sacred, and this pool so important to
maintain in absolute purity, that the Source was reserved only for the Al’leia and her
chosen successor. Marnatikha anticipated the day she would stand here and show
her granddaughter this sight. She closed her eyes for a moment, singing the song of
honoring for her Ka’Matria, who held her hand as they leaned their heads back
together admiring in awe the nine jewels in the high dome of the Source.




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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


Chapter Nine
Wings of Change




          Dagar became the leader of the Castout in the usual manner: he killed his
predecessor. Everything was scarce in their miserable existence at the edge of hell;
Jagad met his death in a brawl over a piece of fish. Their situation was intolerable,
but the remaining villages had become so vigilant against the threat of raiding that
each time, fewer men returned, with less and less to show for it. The matter was made
even worse by the fact that the authorities in Beljahz continued to deem it necessary
to deposit more undesirables here at regular intervals. Men, mostly, but also women
and children - murderers, thieves and beggars considered a danger or an eyesore by
the town planners orchestrating the clean importance of their domain.
          His new role was not a particularly welcome one; it meant that he was
required to consider the well-being of creatures other than himself. By taking the life
of the man who made decisions for them, he was expected to act and think wisely
now, or risk being himself eliminated by an angry, vengeful and terminally hungry
mob. Dagar’s will to live was strong, his justice harsh and his tactics unmerciful. But
he didn’t feel himself equal to this task, which strangely, no one else wanted. The
Chief of Thieves received the best food, slept with the most attractive women they
could find, and had superior accommodations in general. Yet as soon as only five
members of the group were dissatisfied with him, and agreed to his demise, he could
be executed as the common criminal that, in fact, he was.
          Dagar sought to gain the support of the other powerful men who could
conceivably best him, and were potential leaders themselves. For three moons he had
managed to stay alive and provide tolerably well for the ragged, rageful group, but
he felt a fatefulness in the air; something was going to change for him, and it could
only mean death. What else of interest was possible out here in this wasteland?
          He fingered his scar, one of many, but the one that forever identified him as
Castout of Antara. Covering nearly the whole of his left forearm, it revealed his past
and colored his future, not just several inches of flesh, with its black lines he couldn’t
read, but had long since memorized - “By this brand, you remain outside the
protection and grace of our land, Castout of Beljahz, unwelcome at any place inside
the boundaries of Antara.” The exact same words pronounced at each sentencing
were burned into his skin, just as they had seared his mind that day, when
desperation became cruel despair, naked and enduring.
          Munmohan crouched in the smallest of the volcanic caves, watching
nervously as their leader contemplated his situation. He had learned to be afraid of
Dagar, especially during these pensive moods when it seemed that all the injustices of


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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

the man’s existence became excruciatingly plain, and lashing out at his charge
relieved his torment for a short while. The boy shuffled back further into the cave,
trying hard not to make any noise that would attract Dagar’s attention. His right leg
had been crippled since birth, and now it dragged uncomfortably behind, bearing
only a fraction of the weight it should have. His mother tried her best to shelter him,
and it was only Davina’s beauty that fed and housed him, even such as this.
Deformity was considered a crime against nature in Tarin belief, and a child like
Munmohan would normally have been put to death immediately after leaving the
safety of the womb, its mother refused even one look at her shameful offspring.
          Davina ran her fingertips across her disfigured left forearm. Unlike Dagar,
she could read its damning content, the only thing her education was provided to
study in this bleak, harshly beautiful place. Weird black jagged rocks protruded
everywhere out of sand almost nothing could grow in. Large caves shielded them
from the sun, and small streams provided a thin trickle of fresh water, enough to get
a drink if you really worked at it, but certainly not to bathe in. When one became
unbearably grimy, there was nothing to do but brave the shocking strength of the
ocean, whose waves could just as easily smash your head against one of the
ubiquitous sentinels made of volcanic stone. Food consisted of items she never
would have believed possible to cross her palate – mostly small shellfish, grubs and
sand crabs, with the occasional newly dead fish washed up on the shore that she got
to share with her son, if she managed to see it before anyone else.
          A commotion outside attracted Davina’s attention, and she took hold of
Munmohan, not sure what it could mean for them. Cautiously, they exited the cave
entrance. The sun was bright and instinctively, they both shielded their eyes,
allowing them to adjust slowly to the extreme light. Five Kryphae circled overhead,
dropping a welcome array of seafood on the beach. It was an unprecedented and
perplexing act, considering the Castout had been known to break the eggs their
mothers so carefully nestled around Vulhal’s rim, eagerly consuming the nutritive
lives inside.
          A crowd gathered, already fighting over the bounty. Dagar was trying to
assert his rule, and divide everything up with a semblance of fairness, but Zake and
Thyron wouldn’t hear of sharing the largest portions (probably they planned to
smoke and hide any leftovers for a later time) and Dagar wasn’t in the mood to argue
with testy rivals. It was his business now to think first, and this moment was a good
time to do just that. Why in Lilla’s blood were these beasts giving them food they
surely needed for their own kind?
          The Kryphae landed about twenty paces away. Before alighting, their
unfurled wings shone brilliant gold and greenish-brown. Dagar had never seen them
at such close range and had to marvel at their impressive strength and imposing size.
With them was a man, who strode purposefully forward, halving their distance. He
spoke almost at once, “This food is a gift from my friends, who are your neighbors
here. They have asked me to communicate on their behalf. Who among you may
speak for all?”


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

           Dagar came towards him, announcing, “I am our leader. What do these
creatures have to say to us?”
           “First let me introduce myself. I am Chaysen, and it is my pleasure to meet
with all of you. I am here to offer terms of coexistence. Kryphon eggs must not be
eaten in order for their species to survive. You need food in order to live. We will
bring you food, and also teach you how to better navigate the ocean yourselves. In
addition, we have brought seeds that we may be able to grow here to provide a more
complete diet for you. ”
           The group stood quietly conversing behind Dagar. He replied,
            “And all we have to do is stop eating Kryphon eggs?”
           “Yes.”
           “How often will the food be brought?”
           “Every day, until you learn how to catch for yourselves.”
           “What if we prefer to continue receiving these gifts from the sea through the
           sky? We are none of us fishermen here.”
           “You are not children either, and must be willing to do some work.
We will not allow you to starve, or go hungry so often as you have in the past. If you
don’t make a good enough catch on your own , we will supplement it, as long as the
lack isn’t do to sheer laziness on your part.”
           Dagar turned to get a sense of the crowd, although they would have been
imbeciles to refuse an offer as generous as this. He often wondered why the Kryphae
hadn’t attacked in retaliation for the deaths of their potential offspring. Rocks
dropped from the altitude at which they flew would quite definitely, and with very
little effort, destroy the skull of a human. He quickly turned back around. The hope
on the faces of that tattered mass was almost too much to withstand.
           “We agree to this pact if you do as you said. If you leave us to starve before
we can fend for ourselves, it’s null and void.”
           Chaysen affirmed, “You shall not go hungry from this day forth. We will
work together to ensure that. Kryphon and Castout need not be enemy.” He moved
toward the other man, extending his right forearm to be clasped all the way to the
elbow, the traditional Tarin way to cement an agreement. Dagar looked into
Chaysen’s eyes as they did so, and was unnerved by the ineffable quality in them, as
well as the strangely patterned scars on his face, and the unnatural force of his grip.
What kind of man communicated with beasts, anyway? Regardless, he seemed
genuinely enthusiastic about helping Castout, and for now, that was more than
enough.
            Chaysen said, “We have certain varieties of seeds which are thought to be
suitable for the colder season also. They should be planted as soon as possible, to be
harvested in the spring, perhaps. You will need to organize your people to
accomplish this. Please impress on them that the penalty for harming Kryphon eggs,
as of today, is death, not just for the supposed perpetrator, but for all of you.”
           Dagar blinked in dismay, “What if some other wild beast, a Wotan or
Karmangrel, attacks their young and not one of ours? Are we to be blamed for that?


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

We’ve seen them around here, you know.” Chaysen assured him not to worry about
mistaken identities by saying, “These creatures are much more intelligent than you
might imagine. They know such things, by a kind of invisible signature that each
individual leaves. So tell everyone, they will be able to pick out exactly who did it, if
that disastrous event should occur, and they’ll save them the most horrible death by
far.” Chaysen laughed, “Let’s just hope no one among you is that foolish.” The
messenger turned and walked to his bestial friends, satisfied at this result.
          The leader of the Castout stood immobilized by frustration that his existence
was even more closely intertwined with the actions and needs of others, his pale blue
eyes dulling in annoyance momentarily. Pivoting his solid, stocky frame, he looked
with a stern expression at the gathering he nominally controlled.
          He intoned, “We have a great opportunity here, and also a grave threat.
Food will be provided, and our lives will drastically improve with their help. But if
anyone here harms their eggs, we shall all of us be put to death. Is that absolutely
understood? Because I do not want to die for any lack of clarity today!”
          The group had partially dispersed to prepare their meals, but everyone came
to attention for the summation of Dagar’s interaction with this important emissary.
They nodded, looking up to show their comprehension and agreement, shouting
their exuberance aloud, “We’ve had punishment enough!” “Some real food for a
change!” “I didn’t like the taste of those big eggs anyway!”
          Laughter permeated the group, releasing some of the bottled-up pain and
anger they all felt at the finality of their treatment, for crimes that others might not
have suffered for at all. It was common knowledge that relatives of an Order or
Council member were conveniently declared “Chosen” by the Al’leia of Ransabai for
some necessary services, and therefore excused whatever unconscionable deed
prompted their selection. Those who actually served in either of those august bodies
of governance were generally free to do as they liked, within reason.
          A cause to celebrate was rare in the Wasted Place, so the few people that had
managed to keep their instruments took them out, small flutes piping a cheerful tune.
Usually the music was much more mournful, coming directly from the mood of the
man. But not today. The aroma of fish being grilled with dry leaves filled the air, and
Davina hugged Munmohan in the pleasure of anticipation. She would compliment
Dagar on how he handled himself with firmness and dignity. He would like that.
          Yet their leader was nowhere to be seen, and Davina found her mind
drifting to this man who had so suddenly changed their lives. His skin was tanned a
dark bronze, his head adorned with curling brown locks streaked with gold. He
stood half a head taller than Dagar, and was more slender, but it seemed that he
possessed all the compact power of a more thickly muscled man. He wore simple
leather clothing that looked clean and soft.
           Davina realized with a shock that she wished he could have taken her back
with him, wherever he was going. What surprised her even more was an urgent
willingness to put everything aside, Munmohan, her crippled son, even the promise
of a better life shared with people she knew very well for the possibility of an


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

unforeseen future. This stranger awoke sensations inside her that she thought had
died with her lover. How must she look to him? Careworn, bedraggled and harried
these past two years, she could only imagine. The details of her appearance had
become lost. A mirror was not considered a true necessity by the Tarin guard who
assembled the meager supplies allowed a group of Castout. So Davina only caught
glimpses of herself in reflective surfaces like water, and what little she saw forestalled
any further examination.
         Still, there was hope. She was beautiful once, and with health and happiness
restored, might be again. Sighing with a mixture of longing and relief, she ate a piece
of proffered fish with intense relish. Munmohan sat beside her, excitedly consuming
his portion. It pained her to see how thin he had become, but the awareness of this
changing soon added to her feeling of optimism, reawakening her maternal instinct,
which had been temporarily shielded by a more personal one she desired to fulfill.
         The sun was high overhead, and her fellow Castout were spread over the
beach, enjoying the afternoon meal. Davina felt sure they were all secure in this new
arrangement. If anyone dared to violate it for some unfathomable reason, she felt
quite capable of killing them herself! The very idea was so incongruous, it made her
laugh, which was such a rare sound that it startled and amused those nearest her,
setting off a chain reaction amongst the gathering. Davina closed her eyes, savoring
this precious moment, where all of her fellow people who had been removed from
their motherland shared in food and laughter, and there was enough! No need for
fighting over scraps to be secreted for tomorrow’s meal – never again would her child
go hungry. Feeling emotionally overwhelmed, Davina began making the sounds of
both pain and joy as tears streamed down her face, and she hugged Munmohan
tightly.



          Ketra shifted atop the woven saddle, trying hard to ignore the persistent
aching of her inner thighs. Three solid days’ journey on horseback was something she
was not at all accustomed to. Smirking with a touch of malice, she imagined how
uncomfortable Kalgisi must be, to generate the lively flow of invective that began
early in the morning, and showed no sign of abating. Oh well, the price of glory! She
was also amused to see her cousin toying with the older man’s affections, knowing
that Hajra might well break his heart.
          They’d been on the road for a week, with shorter stops on the way to
Kuméchon, Basan Dar, and Myancha, where the Devagisi was thoroughly enjoyed, as
were some of the playwright’s longer, more creative pieces. She estimated it would
take another month and a half to reach Vulhal, not including performances on the
way. Kalgisi had begged her to play a role in one of his dramas, a tragedy about star-
crossed lovers. Trini had wanted the part opposite Gebrido, whose drumming skills
weren’t required for ‘Laila and Evantrael’, but Kalgisi had insisted that Ketra was
better suited for the part of a dark-haired and moody young woman.



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                         FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

           Trini became especially aggravated during the scenes where Ketra and
Gebrido had to kiss, even though Ketra assured her feisty, flame-haired cousin that
she wasn’t about to steal her man. Although, truth be told, she didn’t mind kissing
him, and she knew the feeling was mutual. Trini had been given fair warning about
him, anyway. If his eye didn’t wander to her, it would go elsewhere before long, if his
reputation was to be believed (and half the time they’re not). At any rate, she was
doing something really important at last – searching for her father, and having a bit
of adventure while she was at it!
           Eliane guided her horse over to Ketra’s, asking, “How are you holding up?”
Ketra smiled at the older woman, whose kindness to an inexperienced player had
been much appreciated in the past few days. “I’m fine. Thank you for all your help.
I think this trip would have been rather unpleasant without you, considering how
things stand between Trini and I right now.” Eliane’s fair features took on a scowl,
and she rolled her pale green eyes, “Don’t worry about her. She’ll settle down after a
while. She’s never been in love before, and is jealously trying to protect the feeling.”
           Ketra chuckled, “I hadn’t though of it like that. Well, I hope she starts acting
a little more mature about her love life. Every time we’re onstage and I have to kiss
her boyfriend, I imagine her coming out with a frying pot and clobbering me.” Eliane
responded with a one-note bark of laughter, commenting,
           “I can’t believe she would do something like that. For one thing, Kalgisi
would absolutely kill her if she came out during your performance. You’re his ‘Laila’.
He told me that no one else has ever played her so perfectly.”
           “He keeps threatening not to let me leave the show. But he’ll get someone
else, and I have to continue west.”
           “I know. You’ll find Chaysen, I’m sure you will.”
“I hope so. My mother will be so happy when I bring him back to Atrasca.”
           “Why doesn’t Dharam go with you?”
“Are you kidding? The Devagisi is everything to him. He threatened to run away if
we tried to stop him from coming on this tour with Kalgisi. He thinks his father will
come home when he’s good and ready. He’s not worried like we are.”
           “Maybe you should have faith too.”
“It’s not just that – I want to go to Vulhal, to see the creatures he’s so fascinated with,
and share in what my P’ria is doing. I don’t want to just go halfway and then turn
back because I’m afraid, or I’m not having fun anymore. I have to go the distance. It’s
important. Somehow, I think he needs to be reminded of his family. Otherwise, he
would have come back by now.”
           “Maybe we can hear some news of him when we reach Trevhar’s Gorge,”
Eliane said encouragingly.
           Looking more vulnerable than her bold words belied, Ketra agreed with a
sigh, “That would be so wonderful.”




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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          Carried high above the clouds, Chaysen exulted at the success of his first
diplomatic mission. Before meeting the Castout, he was somewhat prejudiced, as
most Tarin were, towards their exiled group of undesirables. Having grown up in
Beljahz, he saw many people he would have gladly consigned elsewhere, and didn’t
feel badly about the premise of them never returning. Yet seeing the conditions they
lived in made him wonder how just a permanent solution was, and he welcomed the
opportunity to be of some meaningful assistance to these people. One boy in
particular caught his eye, as he leaned awkwardly against his mother, who showed
signs of having been a beauty before the tragedy that caused her current life. With
training, he believed the lad might develop an ability to communicate with Kryphae,
since Chaysen heard the boy’s emotions louder than anyone else’s in the motley
group. It would be very useful for the Kryman to have a deputy, or even a spy of
sorts, to report back to him telepathically if dangerous events were afoot in the
Castout camp. The boy would probably beg to be carried in flight – Chaysen knew he
would have given anything for that kind of opportunity at his age. The mother might
be glad of a respite from her duties for her son – or perhaps she’d like to come along
and experience a change of scene…
          From Chaysen’s perspective, the Kryphae home was much more attractive
than that of the Castout. He enjoyed frequent visits to a nearby waterfall, along the
hidden path that originated in their underground caves. He swam in the pool of
glorious freshwater and also in the ocean, which was usually dramatically different
from that south of Vulhal, less choppy by far, and the Kryphae found it relatively
easy to spot their meals in the calmer water. He sighted the shrubby vegetation
growing along the beach of their seaside home, and felt an eagerness mounting as
they approached the cliffs. Himalast began beating his wings stiffly, so he could glide
the rest of the way and offer a smoother landing to his charge. Chaysen’s eyes stung
from the windforce, and he made a conscious effort to relax – “Almost there now, and
I can get out of this thing,” he counseled himself. The moment of touchdown was
becoming his favorite part of a journey, since the novelty of this method of travel had
been obscured, and its many discomforts painfully apparent on each repeated trip.
He bent his legs upwards, hugging his knees tightly so as not to interfere with his
host’s arrival.
          Himalast deposited him on the upper mesa, where the Kryphae performed
the invocations at the changing of the light. Chaysen happily extricated himself from
his harness, and accepted a hot mug of herbal tea from Shamra, who looked well
pleased, for once. She congratulated him, “We could not have hoped for a better
outcome. You handled yourself very well. Tomorrow may be a test of how you
manage them under pressure, though. Doing something new is always a bit stressful,
and don’t think these Castout will take to farming like fish to water. You’ll have to
hold their hands a little, and think of a way to make it seem less like the kind of work
they used to avoid at all costs.”
          “They don’t exactly have a choice now! But don’t worry, I’ll find a way to
stimulate their pride and perhaps they’ll feel more of a connection to the land they


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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

live on, eventually. I’m not expecting miracles. I just want to solve that problem for
the Kryphae.” Shamra smiled, “We know. And you will. Today demonstrated just
how much can be accomplished with the right person to do it.” She squeezed his
shoulder in parting and left him alone on the mesa. He sipped his tea, and thought of
the seeds they brought back from Elwadi. Could they really change these people’s
lives around? He hoped at least some of them would grow, if not all. Leaning against
a smooth rock on the gritty plateau, the sun a distant memory over the cloudless sky,
Chaysen drank in the magical stillness of being at rest, reflecting on how much he
enjoyed his diplomatic role and relished the sensation of being truly needed.




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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA



Chapter Ten
Initiation



          Every day Killain’s soldiers cursed the rotten luck that forced them to travel
in the unbearable heat of the Pantagoran desert. Their only other alternative was to
move in the chill night, but there were too many creatures desperate for a meal, many
of which had wings and were quick enough to pluck out the eye of a human seen
from eighty feet above. Then there was the Sandsnake, a huge reptile dwelling
underground that awoke at night if it sensed movement. It devoured whole villages
and buried them under the volatile sands.
          Aleff sometimes wondered if that fate wouldn’t be better than the life he was
leading, or if all the nighttime threats even existed. Yet the fact that no one ever
passed by their campgrounds at night, which were pitched near the only road in the
area suggested that caution was appropriate. Still, the heat and the sand were getting
to him. And he was only a lowly foot soldier, it wasn’t like he had a woman to make
it all worthwhile at the end of the day. Even if he could convince one of these village
girls to travel with him, it wouldn’t be permitted because food and water were
rationed, and only the officers were allowed an extra mouth to feed. At the rate they
were going, he might not attain Khamandar rank till he was thirty.
          News of the total surrender of Ur had evidently spread and been taken to
heart, because ever since that first battle there had been absolutely no action, nothing
at all, no contest, just come into our villages and we’re happy to see you. Their
expressions ranging from numb to hopeful seemed to say, “As well you be the next
conquerors, there will always be a strong arm to take its share.”
          Aleff thought he managed to distinguish himself pretty well at Ur, though,
killing three or four men – of course it was hard to know if they were all dead or if
they recovered from their wounds, but two of them must have gone down for sure.
The one he gored in the side lost a lot of blood right away, and the other – well, he
got a good clean blade through his throat and that was the end of him. Gheda Lukar
noticed Aleff Bizzena in action and had five credits added to his roster. But that left
about twenty-five still to earn, and no opportunity to do it without fighting. This
trudging along every day was only enough for the basics, and a piddling share of
ambra at the end.
          Disgustedly, he kicked at the shifting ground under his feet, only to hear an
unpleasant growl from the man in front of him, “Hey! Watch it, buddy.” Aleff
grunted, not an apology, just a grumpy acknowledgment, since he saw some of the
sand fly in the guy’s boots. All right, he shouldn’t have done that. But today he was
in a worse mood than usual. Probably because it was his birthday, and far from


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eating cake, he was getting sand in his mouth. At least they were getting closer to
Antara, and the real payday. Aleff told himself vehemently, ‘I didn’t leave my good post
on a Mawrhian ship for a Pantagoran sunburn!’
           He adjusted the cloth around his head accordingly, doing his best to keep up
the pace the drummers set, steady, not too slow. As he finished tying the wrap, a
large blot on the landscape off to the left attracted his attention. It wasn’t the right
color somehow. And what could that shape be? Aleff asked the soldier to his right
who gave it half a glance and said, “I don’t know, man.” He looked at it for a little
while longer, puzzled, then was distracted by a blister on his heel when suddenly
arrows started whizzing by his head. He shouted, “Druga!” for protection from the
god of war. “Get down!” someone screamed, even as hundreds of men were already
on the ground in panicked haste.
           Aleff raised his head, wondering if there was to be more to this attack than
the volley that grounded them. From experience, he knew that even down here, he
could still be fatally wounded, especially if the tips were poisoned, which was
probably the case. He almost had a better chance of charging straight at them – they’d
be confused and his thick kulgul leather shield was made to absorb heavy impact.
Bizzena looked for his commander, but Gheda Lukar was not providing any direction
for the men at the moment. He was hit, Aleff couldn’t be sure where, but he was
writhing in agony, and his second was frantic in his attempts to calm the soldiers in
the immediate vicinity, ordering, “Stay down and cover with your shields! No flesh
exposed unless you want to end up like him!” Lukar was turning bluish already – it
must be something that cut off oxygen to the tissues, and fast – Aleff had studied a bit
of toxicology at home in Mawrh, but he never saw anything like that. Their
commander was as good as dead.
           Killain directed his archers to fire light missiles in the direction of their
assailants, even as he spun his horse around and he joined Rovan in fighting off the
attack that built up on their rear flank while they were preoccupied with the poisoned
arrows. That supply was likely gone now, since green-robed warriors came towards
them at close range, and no right-minded bowman would risk hitting one of his own
with a deadly poison edging his points.
           Aleff reached for his sword as a burly fellow with a spear looked ready to
skewer him. Bizzena grazed the fellow on his shin, which only made the man groan
in irritation. He grabbed a handful of sand, and threw it in the man’s eyes, using the
few seconds that distraction afforded to throw all his weight behind a blow meant to
end their little dance permanently. A swift upward jab to the solar plexus, twisted at
the hilt.
           It worked! Either he had no armor on underneath those robes, or he was
lucky enough to angle it so his blade slipped between the plates. Either way, it was
on to the next, no time for gloating. Dodging blows from all sides, he jabbed
someone in the ribs with his elbow that had an arm around his neck and twisted out
of the hold, running his sword through another man’s arm. A green-robe with a
helmet came at him, and he reached up with his dagger to lock the visor – it stuck


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and he whipped around fast to pierce his opponent’s left eye with his short-sword.
The man wailed and buckled to the ground, yet determined to share the misery as he
stabbed Bizzena in the thigh. Aleff avoided a deep wound, but another whose helmet
had been lost came to test himself against the Mawrhian, and Aleff Bizzena gladly
sliced his ear off…

          Protected from the calamity outside by a contingent of guards and shielded
also from viewing the exact course of events by a cloth covering the entourage,
women traveling with Shaznah Killain huddled on a raised platform hitched to a trio
of khamel. They were apprentices to the Mistress of the Moon, but many were in no
way confident of their abilities to ward off danger through their magical skills alone.
In dreadful anticipation, the junior members clutched small weapons meant to be
used in self-defense as tools of last resort. Ainah was more noble, as well as
Rashmana and Ingkhar, who had some advanced training. Miraj Hazmina projected
her usual aura of indifferent calm. In reality, she surveyed the scene without,
knowing at once that Killain would have little trouble vastly overpowering the daring
zealots who were trying so assiduously to retain their so-called religious homeland.
          Miraj had only contempt for the Dar el Hajj, whose customs and beliefs were
in complete antipathy to those of the Mahamara. She decided that it was well within
her authority to summon Horat and Uazet and all their progeny to descend upon
them and relieve them of their souls now and for Alltime. Neszha and Oszha rubbed
against her as if to say something, but the Mistress of the Moon was absorbed in
enmity, announcing with eager certitude,
          “I see our black-winged hawks plucking out the minds of the Dar el Hajj – they of
the green cloth, they who took whatever was green from the land and wear its remnant as a
symbol of conquest on their sleeves, those invaders die today!”
          The thought-weaver led a chant to raise the maximum power to attract their
allies from however far they might have wandered. Each woman took out her
rubbing-stone and passed it over their third eye and scalp, then across the right side
down to their throat, heart, navel and womb, whereupon the flow was repeated in
the opposite manner, building an electrical charge which stimulated the allies to
respond.
          After a few minutes of this, Miraj became aware that certain forces of the
Dar el Hajj were already in retreat. She requested that they be followed and
exterminated, mentally diverting some of the flock to this purpose, calling the
remainder to the battle here. She psychically sent to Killain (who was holding his
own and should be clear-minded enough to receive) that the hawks were her doing
and he should order his soldiers not to harm them. Moments later, he did, as the
black mass neared on the horizon.
          Again she scanned the scene, noting for future reference which men
appeared to behave with exceptional valor. There was a tall one with bright red hair
on the far end of the line, only a foot soldier, but someone to watch, a Mawrhian -
what was his name? Ah, yes. There it is. Aleff Bizzena. He was officer material


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without question. Gheda Rovan was earning his promotion as always, cutting a
swath through those sickening fools. Miraj was well pleased overall, marking several
others for personal use, even taking a moment to muse, ‘So many brave men, but so
few apprentices!’
          Killain guided his troops out of the way, as the children of Horat and Uazet
flew down in a cloud of fury, dipping to snatch the tasty morsels of human flesh from
the hated green-robes. Usually they were only active in the night, but a call from the
Mistress was never ignored. Swallowing eyes and emptying sockets, they urged on
the death of these mortals and prepared to carry their souls into Oblivion, where they
would exist outside of time, separate from any possibility of change, cutoff from the
cycle of reincarnation for as long as this world remained standing.




           Gyjas Ananda stood on the rampart of a barge headed toward the tiny
island of Khorfan, feeling the sea mist splash his face much as it had when he made
this same journey as a child of nine. The Keeper of Chronicles wanted to return to the
Temple of Bliss and listen to the ritual stories, to rekindle the love of his profession
that first developed under the spell of lilting tones of chanting priests, gold-robed and
magical amidst the treasures of centuries.
           Courtly life had robbed him of a certain dignity, and nowhere was that
quality more apparent than at the sun-drenched rocky peak at the heart of Khorfan.
There he might resurrect his spirit, and be ennobled, rather than humiliated by
association with the authoritative Seekers of Wisdom. His chief wife had asked to
accompany him, and he would have enjoyed her presence, but at the time he was
hastily collecting a few belongings and felt more inclined to aloneness. Now, as he
moved farther away from his world and all that was familiar of late, his innermost
self was aware that ultimately, each man must make his own journey in solitude.
           The Ujamin reflected on his life, musing about his childhood dream to be a
renunciate like those he was about to visit. It wasn’t entirely too late to choose such a
path – Sachi and the others would be well provided for based on his many years of
service for the Pasha. Yet the Keeper of Chronicles couldn’t really imagine such a
drastic change. He would miss his wives and children too much, and even his work
for the monarch, which gave his relatives great status, and was at times rewarding for
him personally. This must be an adventure for the deeper enrichment of his current
existence, not one to alter it. Gyjas Ananda closed his eyes, feeling the rightness of his
choices and a sense of freedom, long sought for and highly cherished.
           He decided to relax on the wooden benches away from the balustrade, and
found a spot between two other travelers sitting with heads averted indifferently.
Gyjas adjusted the folds of his saffron robe with long slender fingers. The island was
faintly visible – a mound like a turtle shell with a single fantastic structure rising out
of its back. Gyjas Ananda sat with his spine straight and his chin tilted slightly


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upwards, already assuming a meditative posture. Sunlight glinted off his high
cheekbones, soft shadows filling the concave hollows of his eyes, giving him an aura
of mystery. His hair was trimmed short about his ears and streaked with grey, his
face clean-shaven like all Samohan. Unlike most men his age, he maintained the same
size of clothing he wore as a young adult, and was resolved never to allow his flesh to
bloat unseemly.
          In his opinion, Pasha Kygarh el Juasmeh was on the verge of being
distasteful to look at because of his expanding girth, another reason the monarch’s
Ujamin found umbrage with his employment. Thoughtfully, he stroked the small
amount of stubble on his chin, musing that it hadn’t grown in yet the last time he’d
visited Khorfan. So many years had passed, decades even, and most of his teachers
would have made the next journey, but hopefully there might still be some that
remembered a skinny and inquisitive young boy, prone to daydreams and
forgetfulness. Accordingly, his mind began to drift, playing over the major events in
his life: apprenticeship to his uncle, appointment to the Pasha’s court, his first
marriage, the birth of his sons. It traced the evolution of his personality from a more
spiritual and idealistic youth into a somewhat complacent courtier with few moments
of genuine bliss and not a few regrets.
          Somewhere deep inside he wished he could have been a better man – not
that he wasn’t considered exemplary in many ways. He never beat his wives or
children when they were disobedient, and had no excessive indulgences of any sort.
He was simply a good man who believed in the possibility of his own greatness, but
had yet to taste it. Perhaps this excursion was a way to access that hidden part of
himself, to resume the childlike search jettisoned by necessity with adulthood and its
bewildering array of responsibilities.
          Once he thought to undertake a serious historical narrative illustrating the
concepts sacred to Jhe’lal. But as he grew older and began reading the entire books,
and not merely those versions condensed for youth, he realized that everything that
could be said about the past had already been written several times quite eloquently.
He could never compete in the mind of posterity with those chroniclers physically
present, witnessing the events of which history is made. The best that he could hope
for would be modest renown as a commentator on the above, which, logically or no,
was not enough. He needed his own landscape to paint. At least the war in Pantagora
was something new: he should have gone along to record it, but the Pasha was
preoccupied with receiving his Fifth Hari. If the monarch wasn’t traveling, neither
was his Keeper of Chronicles.
          The man on his left stirred, and Gyjas became aware that they had arrived at
Khorfan. The barge anchored close to shore and the passengers began collecting their
satchels. Many had offerings, likely supplicants for improved health, romance, or
luck in business. He picked up his own light bundle – unlike the others, his gift
consisted of a piece of paper, a document entitling the Temple officials to a certain
amount of goods at any of the Pasha’s storehouses.



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                         FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          In addition to the meager needs of the renunciates, they carried out missions
to feed the growing numbers of poor families, with priests reaching out to
communities such as Shannagor, where they boarded today. The value on that chit
would help people who needed it far more than he did, and the knowledge that he
was doing something significant satisfied him enormously. The Keeper of Chronicles
stepped off the boat and began treading the narrow winding path to the temple
entrance. The same wind that so generously filled the sails and sped their journey
now wafted like a soothing balm across his body. Birds cried overhead and the sun
shone mildly through diaphanous mist.
          Everything was much as he remembered, if perhaps smaller. Craggy grey
rocks led to the solid cliff of which the temple had been painstakingly carved, the
final spire an unbelievable labor adding twelve years to the task. Gyjas watched his
feet trodding up the path strewn with ashen pebbles. He’d put aside the ornate
slippers he normally wore in favor of simple leather shoes that had the advantage of
covering his whole foot and ankle. Conversing pleasantly with the priests carrying
supplies up the hill, Gyjas found that the walk was not as tiring as he had expected;
soon they were at the opening. An elegant arched portico adorned the space, and he
lifted his head to read the inscription above it:

              “All who enter seeking bliss must first taste knowledge”

Recalling how lofty and profound that statement seemed when he was nine years old,
Gyjas smiled with a degree of chagrin. Self-knowledge was the foundation of
everything, and he was seeking it still. In the reception area, someone told him where
to find the Receiver of Offerings, and he followed directions down a cold stone
hallway entirely devoid of embellishment until he met with a stout balding man with
a kindly face who accepted his chit with alacrity. Introducing himself as Brother
Gunring, he added enthusiastically, “I would love to give you a tour of the mission if
time permits on your return journey.” Gyjas said, “I had planned on leaving a week
from today, but perhaps I could shorten my stay and make the time. It sounds like
truly meaningful work.”
           “It is. With the drought we’ve had, the peasants are barely surviving on the
harvest. We share whatever we can with them, but the suffering is terrible. I want to
thank you so much for this voucher. It represents a significant difference in their
lives.”
          “It pleases me to think I can help people in such great need, and I may
accept your offer of a tour. Will I find you here in a week’s time or whenever I’m
ready to return?” Brother Gunring said, “Most likely, but if not, then one of my
brothers would be pleased to arrange the visit.” Gyjas nodded, exiting along the
corridor back to the main entrance.
          Tonight, and for the next several evenings, he would sleep on a straw pallet
under the stars like all the other visitors. In his view, the offering he just made did not
entitle him to any special privileges. When he was asked if he wanted a private room,


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

he declined, preferring to spend the time in as similar a fashion to his boyhood as
possible, a great deal of which was in the central prayer area. It was a vast domed
space, illuminated by thousands of tiny holes carved in the rock. At the center, it rose
to a point – above which on the exterior the spire flew much higher.
          The Keeper of Chronicles marveled at the amount of mostly empty space. It
gave him a feeling of dizziness, or was it freedom? Priests milled about quietly,
performing their personal invocations to Jhe’lal – ‘The Light,’ while others busied
themselves counseling the supplicants for religious favor at its perimeter. Gyjas
settled into a hard bench along a straight path from the gateway, pondering all the
various individuals here, their needs and worries. What were his aspirations of
stature against the unthinkable challenges and torment of this world?
          He felt a bitterness squeeze his chest and heave it, acrid tears suddenly
forming in his lower eyelids. Shame at his selfish myopia blended strangely with a
profound desire for achievement of a lofty goal. Bending over at the waist to wipe the
moisture on his robe, he pretended to be absorbed in the act of adjusting his shoelace.
How embarrassing to become so overwrought in a public environment! He chided
himself for that foolishness, even as his truer child-self exhorted him not to defeat the
moment with judgment, but to allow a new purpose to be born in his heart.
          Lifting his head up, he concentrated his eyes on the architectural designs,
opening them wide and staring to distract his mind from emotion. He determined to
visit the mission, and be unafraid to come face-to-face with misery, rather than to
sweep it under one of those precious carpets that took a whole year for nimble child
fingers to tie.
          So many times he sat numbly by while the Pasha comforted or
congratulated one of his officials on extorting food from the masses – their “share of
safety.” How often he recorded the details and managed not to wonder, “Why?”
Gyjas took a deep breath, realizing with some trepidation that many things were
bound to change...




          Trevhar’s Gorge was simply the most beautiful sight that Trini d’Atrasca
had ever seen. The flame-haired actress bounced in her saddle with mounting
pleasure as the caravan of performers threaded their way down through the canyon
side to its verdant bottom. Deep plunging cliffs colored in hues of rosy orange clay
boasted lush evergreen thickets bounding with rabbits, deer and long-horned khelga.
Furry predators like wotan and karmangrel sunned themselves lazily on cave ledges
suspended eerily from the sheer cliff face. Breathtakingly gorgeous, giant pelagra
birds searched for their daily meal of freshwater fish swooping gracefully over the
powerful river coursing through the canyon floor.
          Kalgisi’s troupe would play at the Gorgetown theater for the next three
nights only, no matinees. They were granted days free to enjoy the many spectacular
sights in the area. Trini thought she could easily spend all her time right here in the


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canyon. She was dying to ride a canoe, to follow the path of the river and see all the
beauty up close like the other adventurers were. They looked like little specks in the
distance, but somehow Trini could tell that they were outrageously happy.
          Trini had every reason to be in good spirits herself. At each stop, her
performances in the Devagisi and the ‘Ides of Karch’ had been very well received.
Gebrido had proved himself by being loving and attentive and especially by not
becoming involved with anyone else. He rode by her side now, eagerly pointing out
his favorite features of the landscape. She loved it when his eyes were so illumined
with joy. He looked even more handsome than usual with the wind lifting his curls
and giving him that disheveled, “just made love” hairstyle.
          Eliane rode behind with Jhanas. Together, they were making up the lyrics
for an ‘Ode to Ilzhana’. They’d been working on it ever since they left Atrasca,
probably even before that. Unlike Kalgisi, Jhanas never wrote anything down, just
repeated his verses so often that they became etched in memory, in true bard fashion.
Trini dreamed of a life like they led – always together, always on the road. She
became bored with the same places very quickly, and she just adored change. More
than anyone, she suspected, more than Dharam even, she had been pleased to leave
Atrasca for a while. Not that she didn’t think about or miss her family; of course she
did. When the audience was cheering her and she knew that it was a particularly
great performance, she wished they could be part of it, like that first night before Ila’s
Devagiri. But all in all, she was having the time of her life – her life being the operative
words here. Kalgisi had his quirks and some rules to adhere by if you wanted to stay
in his company, but nothing like regular village life, where practically everyone had
known you since day one, and felt entitled to lecture you whenever an opportunity
presented itself. Her aunt was the worst. And ever since the Jumma Marthi Malini had
been annoyed with her for the supposed “depravity” of the Devagisi.
          The Council of Determination had decided in their favor, and after the
Gathering of Eldren upheld the decision, she believed that was the end of it. Then
Malini sulked in defeat, hardly speaking to her niece at all before they left. Trini
almost felt like saying, “Go ahead…tell me what a bad person I am and that the
voters were wrong,” but she didn’t, mindful of her aunt’s tongue lashing out yet
again, and tired of hearing about it anyway. A woman like that belonged at Ransabai!
          The actress smirked, remembering that she didn’t last two weeks there
herself before she was shuttled back to Atrasca in disgrace. The Eldren should have
known that would happen. If the astrologers had read her starmap correctly, with
impartiality, and not just assumed certain tendencies because she was related to the
Al’leia, they might have noticed a complete disregard for organized religion.
          Everything divine in the world existed before humans came to divide it up,
pretending, “This is sacred, but this is not.” Looking in awe at the exquisite bounty
of nature, Trini thought, ‘I don’t need anyone to tell me when, where or how to pray.
A place like this is the best altar, and my spirit soars with joy being here. I am having
a religious experience!’



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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          Trini d’Atrasca was determined to continue living life on her own terms,
and she was relieved that her parents understood her well enough to allow her the
space and the freedom to do it. Sure, she might make some mistakes. Yet they would
be hers, not Ransabai’s oft-misguided calculations for a person’s usefulness. At
thirteen, she had refused to be broken into society’s idea of a young woman. And at
seventeen, she wasn’t likely to lose that momentum.




          Ahna Memsath dreamily yearned for Amaliki of the strawberry ringlets,
Amaliki of the feather-light kisses and sparkling laughter. How he longed to stroll
through Lilakashina’s plaza hand in hand as they had that one blissful night! He felt a
simultaneous pull at his heart and a gentle throbbing in his loins, but he mustn’t
think of her now, only on his free time. He had to concentrate.
          “Indagi root is for calmness and serenity, is it not? Are you serenely
blushing?” Mazam Vivira teased her youthful charge, one of her favorites. If only she
were young again! Despite popular opinion (which she was painfully aware of) men
had considered her attractive once. But losing a husband and son in the Twelfth
Mawrhian War some nine years before had destroyed her life, and she was ruined by
the sadness. She turned to food as a source of emotional comfort – the kind that
required the presence of no one else.
          The boy’s color deepened as he fruitlessly searched for an excuse, but found
none. Embarrassed, he bent lower over the grinder he was using to pulverize the root
into medicinal tea, hoping that his long dust-blond bangs were covering those rosy
cheeks. Feeling less flushed after a few moments, he turned to look at his ward
mistress, or mazam. She gazed back with affectionate amusement. The others had
finished already and left for the afternoon meal. In his distraction, his pace had
slowed and he became forgetful of the insurmountable rhythms of Ransabai, which
also dictated the time for him to eat.
          The obvious reply finally arriving, Ahna Memsath lied, “I’ve been feeling
feverish this morning, and so fatigued I hardly noticed when the others left.” Always
willing to play along, Vivira said, “Would you like to rest now? We can have your
meal brought to you later if you’d like Yiosi Melaina to look at you.” The boy
stiffened, “No, I’m actually very hungry. Maybe if I still don’t feel well after I’ve
eaten.” Secretly amused at his play-acting, the Mazam agreed with a brisk flourish,
“Well, off you go, then. The lines have been inspected already.” Ahna Memsath
hurried down the cool marble hallway and found his classmates trickling into the
dining room like a string of ants ready to collect their burdens of nourishment.
          He tried to slip unobtrusively into line with the other boys his height,
waiting to dart out until the instant when Jidari Okua’s back was turned. Hopefully
he wouldn’t realize someone was late and uninspected for cleanliness. Ahna



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                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

Memsath nonchalantly picked at his fingernails, wiping the modest grime on the side
of his pants, keeping his gaze steadily forward when he was through.
          The dining hall was a large open room with textured clay walls and a high
decoratively carved wooden ceiling. A generous amount of windows smelted extra
wide in the local glassworks allowed sunlight to stream in, creating the healthful,
peaceful atmosphere Tarin believed essential to the proper enjoyment and efficacy of
a meal. Spiritual as well as physical nutrition was partaken of in this welcoming
space. Ahna Memsath always looked forward to the communal meals and the sense
of refined satiety that pervaded him afterwards.
          Whatever may be said about the discipline and restrictions of Ransabai, it
had to be admitted that one was well-fed here. Cooking was an art in itself, with a
whole college devoted to the science of food and the healing powers of a harmonious
diet. Complementary spices were carefully used, the flavors and essence of the herbs
acting as agents of perfection molding the body in their even likeness.
          After she finished her delicious meal, Jalundri d’Atrasca was directed to a
room on the opposite side of the courtyard. The girls had been separated from the
boys coming out of the dining room. Now she sat in a large semi-circle with all the
other young women whose Menasi had just begun. They came from all over Antara,
and beyond. Some were living in Gamosha, two had parents residing in Wellans, and
one even traveled all the way from Samoha for the opportunity to engage in the
sacred ritual marking the onset of womanhood, and the chance to be a permanent
resident at Ransabai. The room was shaped like a half-sphere, with a single skylight
at its zenith, illuminating the symbolic designs painted in red and yellow ochre on
the curving walls. Yiosi Samvati gazed at all the young girls – their fresh eager faces
waking to the magic of the Blood for the first time. Standing beside her were Prashari
Paraiis, an initiate recently sworn to the Path of Pleasure, and Elena Melanik, a new
mother whose breasts swelled voluptuously with milk. In turn, the girls would spend
a few moments with each of them, and receive a glimmer of the unique quality of
being which each stage of life represents.
          Samvati announced, “This room records the names, written in their own
Menasi, of every woman who has been initiated at Ransabai since the Temple was
built six hundred circles ago. Today you will draw your own names and a symbol
besides, something visual that you believe represents the essence of your soul. As we
walk around this room, you will see many patterns that seem to repeat themselves.
Waves rise and fall, the moon grows to fullness, then wanes away, and a child
becomes a woman, then a mother, and lastly is returned to the Kore – the Great
Mother of us all. Our watery wombs are much the same as the vast oceans which
encircle our world, those waters which heal our emotions and nurture us back to
strength and health when our hearts are hurting. Have you ever noticed that your
tears taste salty, like the ocean? That is our mother’s way of reminding us to seek her
when we are sad, and at the same time, that we need never be lonely, as our bodies
encompass her spirit, just as she engulfs our whole being with her warm embrace.
Also on these walls you will see many of the creatures that share this world with us,


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

and notice that we are all connected, in an incredible tapestry of life. There are circles
within circles, and cycles upon cycles, all related and spinning endlessly.”
          Samvati smiled, her lined face conforming easily to its well-rehearsed
contours, the light in her eyes still dancing gaily, as though she were very young and
playful, not the esteemed elder instructing them. Jalundri liked her instinctively, the
way she spoke with gentleness and authority at the same time and tilted her head
slightly to the left, as if relying on private communications with an invisible source.
She was both comforting and inspiring. Her long silvery-gray hair fell loosely about
her shoulders, and she wore an ankle-length kaftan belted at the waist with a
beautifully woven kitana. A large disc-like amulet resting just below her collarbone
had two crescent shapes balancing it on either side, perhaps to signify the waxing and
waning of the moon, but they also resembled cow horns.
          She wanted to ask the Yiosi what her amulet really meant, but she hesitated,
not knowing if this was the appropriate time or place for a personal discussion. As if
in reply to Jalundri’s unstated question, Samvati gestured to Prashari Paraiis to come
to the center, as she herself moved to the left, allowing space for the next leader.
Paraiis glanced slowly from left to right at the gathering assembled, recalling how she
herself had been among such a group a scant four years earlier. She glowed with
happiness and exuberance, from her clean peachy skin to the shining ends of her
honey-hued mane which flowed over her breasts in snaky tendrils. She wore a short
apple-green dress with golden ornaments linked in circular segments. Her wrists,
ankles, throat and waist all repeated the triune wave-like flame.
          Instead of speaking, she began to dance. At first she moved with boundless
energy, like a child enjoying all the wonders of creation. Then her pace changed to a
calmer, more grounded rate, and it appeared as though Paraiis herself were pouring
forth a world of creativity and expression. Last, she swayed as though retreating into
herself, into a hidden place of quiet contemplation. Sitting with legs crossed and
hands folded atop her heart, right over left, she ended her visual education and
closed her eyes for a few seconds, allowing the moment to become complete.
          Gracefully standing once again, she said, “You saw how I portrayed every
stage of life, moving through time and growth, coming finally to the point of stillness,
where one is integrated back into the void. That is one of the larger cycles that Yiosi
Samvati spoke of. Within a smaller amount of time, the cycle plays out again. When
we bleed, it is a transformative experience, whereby we release the past and give back
to the Kore that made us. In the few days after we cease our flow, we are as the
germinating seed pushing forth tiny shoots of life through the soil of our
consciousness. Our bodies grow and our breasts swell, as we again become full with
blood and the possibility of new birth. Then we either grow a life inside us, or release
the blood of potentiality back to our mother, finishing the cycle of the month, of the
moon. The time at which we end our Menasi corresponds to the dark of the moon,
and the mystery of becoming. This is the time of initiation, which is why you are all
assembled here today, as tonight is the start of a new cycle. Remember to begin new



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projects, as well as release old energies at this time, for it represents the instant of
death as well as rebirthing.”
          She smiled peacefully, revealing an inner grace and serenity that was
unusual to witness in someone so young. Jidari Paraiis stepped to the right and Elena
Melanik was now at the center of their trinity. Elena had the longest hair that Jalundri
had ever seen on anyone – black and shiny, it reached all the way to her knees,
covering each shoulder with its glistening drapery. She appeared to be about halfway
through her pregnancy. Her belly was noticeably rounded, but not so much that the
expected answer to, “When will you give life to the Light?” must be “In a few days,”
or even “One moon hence.” Jalu guessed she was probably yet three to four moons
from releasing her child.
          Elena Melanik had a square jaw and slanting doe eyes with dark caramel
skin reminiscent of Ashanti’s. She wondered how the Samohan lady was enjoying
motherhood, and hoped Phara wasn’t giving her too much trouble. Jalu would have
liked to be around to help care for the newborn, but the calling to Ransabai took
precedence over everything else. So far, it seemed worth it, even considering their
grueling journey on horseback. When Elena began to sing, Jalundri forgot about all
her other concerns, enraptured by a voice soft as silk and pure as rain. Moving her
arms to accentuate the lilting crests of the angelic music, Elena vocalized with sheer
sound what the first two women had described in symbolic and visual language.
Fascinated, Jalundri turned to her friend Kemma, wanting to blurt out, “Isn’t she
incredible?” Instead, they just exchanged enthusiastic grins, the beauty of their
shared experience beginning to drench them in the liquid of an effervescent
understanding. As Elena’s voice dipped and soared like the flight of a magnificent
dansateel, the girls could feel their energy centers being stimulated and awakened by
her powerful song.
          Jalundri wished with all her heart that she could sing like that! She
wondered how many hours of practice, how many ounces of effort, how much divine
grace it required to make that type of sound? She felt magically and permanently
altered by the spirit of this amazing woman. As Elena Melanik completed her
Woman Song, her gaze rested on the initiate in the midst of that fertile longing to
become, and their eyes met with singularity of purpose.




          The boys followed a seldom-traveled path to the site of their initiation
ceremony. Yiosi Zahedan carried an oil-lit torch providing protection from stinging
insects as well as sufficient illumination to negotiate the challenge of penetrating
deeper into the forest. They sought a clearing where a single obelisk had been
erected, made of marble hewn from their own quarry to channel the radiations of the
star Moksha, known to the Tarin as Giver of Rain. Jidari Sahanz carried the store of
irawadi to tip the ritual knives with. They would be pouring the mineral-rich plant
tonic into the soil at the base of the ring of trees surrounding the obelisk. This would


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stimulate the magnetic-electrical field in the area and help to carry their intent up to
Moksha, lending power to the man-making rituals. Ahna Memsath walked just
behind Jidari Sahanz, thinking about all the good things that had happened to him
recently. Today he’d been informed that he would be allowed to swear his path
within half a moon’s time, which meant that he’d be moving into Mazam Zinat’s
ward before long! And the Jidari had suggested to Yiosi Zahedan that he assist them
in the ceremony, which was a kind of reward in itself. All the boys initiated here
today would have a special respect for him afterwards, and add to his prestige at
Ransabai. Already, he was considered “one to watch,” and he hoped for some unique
and important responsibility someday which would allow him to live forever in the
minds of all religious Tarin, all those who came to the holy city to be blessed and
prosperous.
         Earlier in the day, he received a letter from Amaliki, saying that she thought
of him often and would he be coming to the next Bazaar Kuméchon? This made him
want to please Jidari Sahanz all the more, since his authority would persist in the
choice of whomever he selected to accompany him on those frequent selling trips. He
must be absolutely convinced of Ahna Memsath’s integrity and dedication to action
in the best interests of Ransabai, rather than purely selfish motives for his assistance
at the bazaar. With this in mind, he took out a vial of manihata essence, rubbing the
natural perfume on his throat, heart, and third eye centers. The oil came from a multi-
hued flower highly regarded for its ability to bring the mind and heart into harmony,
enabling profound spiritual expression.
         Immediately, Ahna Memsath came into greater awareness of the beauty of
his surroundings, and felt a deeper connection to the forest he was passing through,
and also the people he was with. As they approached the clearing, Yiosi Zahedan
began directing the initiates to where they would stand; the older boy suddenly knew
with excited certainty that he would have no difficulty invoking the power of
Moksha, and the blessing of lightning. He fingered the handle of his ritual knife made
of dansateel bone as he stepped across the last set of fallen branches and took his place
among the circle of elder trees. Yiosi Zahedan and Jidari Sahanz were situated
equidistantly from him, one-third of the circle separating each of them.
         Leading by his own example, Zahedan gestured for the boys to take out the
rainsticks they had constructed of wood and melon seeds earlier that day, and also to
remove their clothing, placing it in neat piles to the center of the circle. He began to
chant, and Ahna Memsath followed after Sahanz joined in too. The braver boys began
accompanying them one by one until all were singing to the energetic percussive
tune. When the moment felt right Yiosi Zahedan led them in a dance clockwise
around the great obelisk. Lifting their arms to the sky, they shook the rainsticks, one
in each hand, lowering them the same way, taking small definitive steps designed to
awake the mother power in the land beneath their feet.
         In their song, they asked Aphrodite to receive this male purpose and create
new life from all their offerings. Building the energy higher and higher, they danced
until sweat began to form on their chests in the cool night. Then Yiosi Zahedan


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stopped, and placed his rainsticks on the ground, picking up his ritual knife and
phallic vessel instead. This was the signal for Jidari Sahanz to continue. Hefting the
sack of liquid from the earth, he began to pour a fraction of its contents in each of the
long clay cups, chanting a different, sweeter song that he performed by himself.
When this part was accomplished, they each took their bone knives and dug into the
ground at the bottom of the trees, creating a deep hole for the liquid to flow into.
Overturning the vessels the boys patted the earth around them so that the clay
remained fixed in the soft soil.
          Ahna Memsath remembered their morning discussion during which the role
of a man was described as seeking a vessel to offer his life-giving waters. They were
needed most at the moment of impregnation – the time represented as the strike of
lightning whereby the entire environment is changed and new growth becomes
possible. It was now his turn to complete the ritual and he wanted to incorporate
those teachings from the morning. He raised both hands high overhead, linking his
fingers together, leaving only the middle one upright. Beginning an intense fire-
breath he led the group to turn around facing the obelisk once more, continuing the
breathing pattern, sometimes slowing, sometimes gaining momentum so that a
sustainable rate was maintained throughout.
          Lowering his arms after some time, Ahna Memsath placed his right hand
over his groin, lightly stroking himself, nodding his head for the others in the group
to do the same. No ordinary words were spoken in a gathering of this sort – only
chanting and body gestures. Placing his other hand on the small of the back of the
boy next to him, he indicated that all should do the same until the circle was joined
around the obelisk. Thirty boys and three men were massaging their own vessels of
life, growing them bigger with touch and the energy racing around their circle - the
rays of Moksha permeating them, giving them power to offer the Kore. They were his
human ambassadors, messengers to a distant lover. They were his minstrels, wooing
her in his far-off absence, bearing presents of organic force that would be carried into
her hidden womb, to grow upwards and finally burst into expansive creation.
          He led a guttural, keening chant that had moments of raw sexuality amidst
ethereal longing. An electrical field was swelling all around them, dark clouds
beginning to form, as Ahna Memsath pulled the cool heavy earthforce up through the
soles of his feet, through his legs and the base of his spine into his groin. He
continued to direct the energy into his forehead and third eye as he massaged his
lingam. Thinking about Amaliki being as vast as Aphrodite, the earth mother, and
himself as yearning and eager to reach her as Moksha, he became even harder. Heat
flushed his body, and his song grew strained with passion that was almost too much
to bear.
          A thunderclap was heard in the vicinity, with lightning in the distance a
short while later. Surrounding him, the initiates were rubbing themselves furiously,
aroused by the moment and the pulsating waves of sound. Ahna Memsath ejaculated
onto the earth near the foot of the obelisk, an unbelievable pleasure flooding his body
as he felt the radiations of Moksha filling him – he was that luminous starlight!


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Embraced by the Mother Goddess, he was honored and needed by her as she eagerly
drank in his essence.
          All around the circle, the initiates were offering their seed to the earth,
coming at last to the experiential awareness of their connection with the sky, the land
and their essential part in the continuation of life. Yiosi Zahedan lay down with his
head toward the obelisk, feet facing the trees, and all the rest followed, glad to lie on
the soft earth and relax from those pleasurable exertions. A cool breeze drying his
sweat, Ahna Memsath smiled at the stars, his heart still beating wildly. Responding to
the efforts of the men below, the clouds gathered to release their gentle moisture as
Moksha’s raindrops began their own mating dance.




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Chapter Eleven
Forgiveness

Inner Earth - Samoha

           The sodden barge leaving the island of Khorfan carried back to Shannagor
its daily dose of penitents flush with absolution and supplicants assured of their
success. Gyjas Ananda watched as the monastery began to shrink again – in the past
week it had grown in his eyes, even as his very soul expanded with fruition within its
walls. He found a deep communion with his higher self through hours of prayerful
meditation, while participating in humble tasks awoke in him an appreciation for the
blessedness of simplicity. Now the Pasha’s Ujamin attempted to steel himself against
what were sure to be heartbreaking sights in the villages where monks helped to feed
the poor.
           Swathed in saffron cloth, Brother Gunring stood by his side speaking in a
jovial tone, “The heart is light when the hands are lifted in service. My friend, I can
see that you are a sensitive man of profound thought. I suggest that you concentrate
on the joy you may bring these people through whatever assistance you can give,
rather than let your spirit sink after viewing their condition. The fact that you care to
witness their plight firsthand will make them feel as though the court has concern,
and give them hope whether or not you are able to secure a remedy. With hope, there
is energy, and with energy, there is will. I believe it is the combined power of human
and Divine will that makes all things possible.”
           Drawing a slender hand through his short hair, the Keeper of Chronicles
absorbed this wisdom, commenting, “You are a very astute man and have spoken
truly. I shall attempt to act righteously while maintaining a level of dispassion, so that
I do not become overwhelmed and simply shut it out of my mind altogether, as I
used to.” The priests’ stubby fingers which had been clasped together over the
railing came apart in a gesture of approbation as he exclaimed, “Exactly what I mean.
Each man may only do his part, and then trust in the way of Jhe’lal for the rest.”
           They relaxed in companionable silence for the remainder of the voyage,
knowing that all was said that needed to be. Gyjas wore palace finery once more, to
mark the end of his personal journey and also for the benefit of the peasants.
Although the logic of parading wealth before suffering people could be called into
question, Brother Gunring had assured him they would find it inspiring to see
someone of stature other than the local tax collector. Especially when that noble
personage took an interest in what may be offered, rather than extricated from them.
           Khorfan was rapidly disappearing from sight, and Gyjas felt a pang of
separation beneath his yearning for family. Who could say if he would ever return to
the holy isle again? New friends met on this excursion might again be gone upon the


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next visit, even if there was one. Such was the cyclical nature of existence. But he
didn’t want to be morose or brood on the downward flow. Just as waves build and
expend themselves on the shore, so humanity renews itself after being seemingly
extinguished. The soul lives on …
          A spray of salty air stung his eyes and Gyjas allowed it to purify his vision -
seeing afresh was his real purpose here, after all. Shannagor Harbor was in sight; a
collection of smaller barges, canoes and sailing vessels dotted the coastline. Workers
tiny as insects busied themselves loading and offloading the trading ships, full of
fibers and grain destined for foreign markets.
          Although the people and their crops suffered from the prevailing drought,
the Pasha’s storehouses continued to feed his mercantile interests. Taxes had been
slightly reduced, but the harsh reality was that much of this year’s harvest had
withered entirely, and any percentage of zero remained a null value. The recent
reduction of debt was therefore something of a ruse, an empty gesture intended to
make the peasants work harder by appealing to their self-preservation. Any happy
results from these increased efforts would of course be taxed at the normal rate,
which was twenty-five percent to the Pasha directly, and fifteen percent to local
government.
          Brother Gunring contemplated how difficult life would be for the people as
long as they were robbed of so much of their labors. Sometimes he tried to imagine
the Pasha’s perspective, to get into the man’s head and figure out why he required so
much personally, accruing more and more riches, more women, more children. The
land was all his, anyway, leased in a variety of terms, possibly the least favorable
being those granted to the sharecroppers who could scarcely afford them. Now that
prices for agricultural commodities were high, they had virtually no harvest to trade
here in Shannagor. When the weather was fine and crops plentiful, prices were lower.
So it was that the people were at the mercy of nature, as well as the unnatural needs
of their ruler.
          In Gyjas Ananda, Keeper of Chronicles and Ujamin to Pasha Kygarh el
Juasmeh, the priest hoped that he would find clues, if not complete answers to these
questions. He sought his companion’s eyes, wanting to read his intentions, which he
believed were sincere. Would this man have the strength of character to question the
Pasha on certain aspects of policy? Gyjas had demonstrated a degree of self-sacrifice
with his generous donation. Was it a one-time offer only, or could he be counted on
to funnel a portion of his earnings into the service of Jhe’lal? Brother Gunring had
experienced disappointment before when people of stature seemed to be deeply
moved by the plight of those tended to in the missions, then forgot their acute needs
when exposed once again to the addictive charms of refined society. Gifts pledged
refused to arrive, and requests for help went unanswered.
          At the kitchens today, he would make a point of telling their patron
explicitly that his chit enabled all the people present to be fed. How could that
possibly fail to make a lasting impression? He must remember the people of
Shannagor even after he was far away, ensconced in those ancient libraries, immersed


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in the daily activities of a monarch. The Ujamin turned to the priest and gave a faint
smile, an expression of thoughtful comprehension in his eyes. “He is different than
the rest. I should not doubt him,” the monk assured himself.
           At the dock, he greeted many of the workers by name, men whose families
he knew well, some of whom he remembered having at Khorfan as children. Most
had been unwilling to dedicate their lives to Jhe’lal, but a few priests who labored in
the missions were in fact feeding their own relatives, which made service all the
sweeter. Brother Gunring intended to begin the tour with the crafts workshop they
set up for the women, making the religious effigies sold at the base of Khorfan. “Little
trinkets for the soul,” they were becoming popular, and eventually might provide an
adequate living with less focus on sharecropping for the artisans, if they could be
distributed in markets throughout Samoha. Later, they would tour the fields where
the peasants struggled to salvage whatever was left of the sad harvest, and see the
mission kitchens, where whole families came for relief from hunger. Lastly, he
wanted to show off the school set up for children aged five through twelve.
           Smiling with genuine enthusiasm, proud of everything good that had been
accomplished, and hopeful of much more, Eddas Gunring of Khorfan Temple led
Gyjas Ananda away from the dock. Heading towards an alley crowded with
shoppers vying for food brought in from inland villages where rain was plentiful, he
nodded to some of the wealthier members of the community, introducing the Ujamin
as such. They were mainly captain’s wives, living off the same bureaucratic system as
the Keeper of Chronicles. Impressed with his status in the governmental hierarchy,
many invited him to their homes for the evening meal.
           Mindful of his real purpose, and eager to return to his family, Gyjas Ananda
politely refused them all, saying, “You are most kind. Perhaps on my next visit, as I
shall be leaving for the capital tonight.” One of the bolder matrons replied, “But
surely not on an empty stomach? Come, you mustn’t refuse. My husband would
never forgive me if I neglected to provide our hospitality to such an esteemed visitor.
Brother Gunring, do bring him. I am making my best arzaab tonight, and I know how
much you enjoyed it last time.”
           With a fatigued look, the priest conceded, “Leila, if his schedule permits, we
may attend, but please do not trouble yourself on our account. I applaud your desire
to feed people, though, and I hope to see you volunteer in the kitchens someday.”
The woman glanced back at him with chagrin, as if he should have known that
serving food to low-class peasants was not what she had in mind. Leila gave a decent
amount of her household allowance to aid the sharecroppers in their despair– she
wasn’t heartless, after all. To actually cook and feed them seemed inappropriate
somehow and she knew that her husband, who was away much of the time, and
suspicious of all her activities, would disapprove. “You know I do my part,” she
responded petulantly after a few moments of sulking.
           “That is true, and we are all grateful. But you might find that serving others
in need would give your life greater meaning, and help to fill all those hours when
the children are with their Nana and Yulein is away.”


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Leila clutched her purchases as if to shield herself from a painful realization. Her
large dark eyes revealed that she acknowledged the truth of those words, if
reluctantly. Ever the hostess, she soon recovered and offered a cheery final pitch,
“Now remember, my arzaab is the most delicious lamb you’ll find in Samoha. It’s not
often that Yulein is in town, and with both of you as our guests, the evening could be
so special.” Smiling coyly at Gyjas, she departed to her elegant home, leaving the men
sighing with mixed emotions behind her.
          The Keeper of Chronicles, who considered himself something of a culinary
connoisseur, looked to Brother Gunring and inquired, “Is it that good, or is she just
desperate for company?” The priest chuckled and said, “She is an excellent cook, and
it might conceivably be the best in Samoha. Of course, I’m only a simple country
peasant who happened to dedicate my life to Jhe’lal. I don’t have the advantage of
your panoramic experience from which to judge. You may be pleasantly surprised, or
conclude that Leila is a horrible braggart. I do thoroughly enjoy her food, personally,
and her husband is a likable enough fellow. Let’s just see how the day goes, shall
we?”
          The Ujamin said, “I am completely at your disposal.” Brother Gunring jested
with characteristic frankness, “Disposing of you is the very last thing I would
consider.” Gyjas laughed, pleasurably shocked by the unusual honesty, allowing
himself to be led past a row of shabby-looking houses. All the better homes were
situated inland, away from the noise, confusion, and squalor of the dock. Children
too young for school crouched in the doorways of those windowless dwellings
looking at Gyjas with excited curiosity. Those playing at marbles in the narrow street
tugged on the hem of his long richly embroidered garment. Instinctively, the Keeper
of Chronicles viewed them with mild disdain, then corrected himself, thinking, “If I
lived under these conditions, my children would probably do the same.” He reached
into a flat pouch worn under a teal-colored outer vest and gave them a handful of
coins, at which point all the other children rushed over for their share, and he gave
more.
          Brother Gunring smiled at him, wryly commenting, “At this rate, your purse
will be empty before we reach the workshop.” Gyjas shook his head, saying, “No,
they were the lucky ones. I need to keep something on hand for my journey back.”
He was true to his word, for they passed many more little urchins requesting a
handout, but he gently extricated himself and his robe from each and every one of
them.
          The mission workshop was situated atop a small hill and had a very
pleasing view of the harbor. Inside the humbly appointed single room with a
thatched roof in need of repair, the simply dressed peasant women were busily
constructing the small effigies which were the lifeblood of their budding business.
The season of Ar’sharam was approaching, the holy time of year for worshippers of
Jhe’lal, which coincided with the late fall harvest and the arrival of the first frost.
Long ago, four holy men were given a vision of the Light, witnessing the presence of
beings clothed in sunshine, with triple halos surrounding their fairly gleaming heads.


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Stars shimmered around them like fireflies blinking happiness on a dark autumn
night. To this day, the people of Samoha celebrated the ancient spectacle with
displays of shining figures floating miraculously above four mortal men.
          Since that era, other legends arose, and there were more visitations from
these illustrious beings, always at the same time of year. There was one story, a
favorite with the people of Shannagor, of a young girl who had been sent by her
mother to collect firewood and got lost in the forest. Tired of walking and carrying
her heavy burden, she sat down to cry, unsure of which direction to turn and afraid
of sleeping in the woods amongst all kinds of unseen, menacing creatures.
          After she squeezed out all the tears, the little girl, whose name was Likara,
closed her eyes, placing her hands over her chest in a covered fist, right over left. She
prayed, “Great Shining Jhe’lal, if it is your will that I rest here awhile, keep me safe
until morning. Yet I know my mother needs me. Without the wood I carry, my
family cannot eat, and then how will they have the strength to find me, or do their
work? Please, please help me.”
          Even before she finished speaking the words, there appeared a host of
luminous beings seemingly floating in the air above her. Realizing that her plea had
been answered, she joyously followed them until she recognized the path. Worried
that she’d be scolded by her mother for coming home so late, she begged the Light
Ones to show themselves to her family. They refused, telling her that visions were
shown to very few, but they would give her a special gift to prove that they had been
with her at night in the forest. Forming a circle, they blew into the air between them
and a round iridescent object was formed. Slowly, it descended through the cool
night air, glimmering like a dotted rainbow until it reached Likara’s palm.
          The Light Ones shone brilliantly as they quickly sped away to their next
mysterious destination. Likara gazed after them in gratitude, wishing they hadn’t
needed to leave so quickly. Propping up her new present atop her bundle of
firewood, it magically lit up the darkness, and she used it to guide the way home.
When she arrived, her mother was overjoyed to see her, and she watched in
amazement as her daughter played with the Light Sphere. While they cooked the late
evening meal, Likara told her mother what had happened, and Keilani was so
thankful that she set aside a portion of the meal for the Light Ones to enjoy.
          Gyjas knew this tale well – as the Ujamin, he knew all stories of mystical
visitations, not just from this land, but all that had been recorded. He could read
many of them written by the original authors, who were sometimes the actual
participants in these holy events. Being so well versed in multiple traditions, he
found it somewhat amusing that the people of Samoha had seized on a relatively
unimportant event (from a theological point of view) and made it their largest
cultural celebration. Yet he had to admit, there was a certain childish appeal in the
small shiny displays that the peasant women made with so much love and belief.
They sat in rows at long wooden tables, with baskets of supplies within easy reach.
          When the Keeper of Chronicles entered and they saw the way that he was
dressed, in formal silk robes embroidered in deep tones of royal blue and emerald,


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they immediately recognized an important visitor. Brother Gunring introduced the
Ujamin, and the energy in the room increased dramatically, as the women began
chattering in the simple local dialect, which Gyjas recalled from decades ago,
speculating as to why he was there among them.
          He glanced directly at one of the younger craftsmen and she flushed with
embarrassment or pleasure, eyes bright as one of her own effigies lying on the table
in wait of completion. Noticing their interaction, Eddas Gunring said, “This is
Gelhadri. She comes from a tiny village a few hours north of here. She’s one of our
best workers.” Gyjas Ananda performed a courtly acknowledgment for her, to the
delight of all present, especially Gelhadri, who giggled and clapped her hands. The
Keeper of Chronicles toured each table patiently, complimenting exceptional artists
on their technique, and answering a few lifestyle questions, such as, “How many
children do you have?” and “Do you live near the palace?” He purchased several of
his favorites, one for each of his offspring, and left the women working there with
renewed faith and optimism.
          As they exited the simple structure, Gyjas found himself feeling enriched by
this experience, affirming once again the correctness of his choice to spend a day
experiencing life in Shannagor beyond the busy harbor. Brother Gunring took the
opportunity to mention, “If you know any merchants who could profit by the sale of
these crafts, please have them contact me at the Temple.” The Ujamin replied,
“Something about the rural simplicity of these people makes their displays all the
more charming and effective. I shall be more observant in the marketplace, and
instruct my wives to speak of you and your mission here whenever it is appropriate.”
The priest bowed slightly, appreciative of this positive indicator of future success.
          They boarded a horse-drawn cart heading out to the fields, with Gyjas
grinning at the thought of the stupefied expressions on the faces of his colleagues
back in the capital if they could have witnessed him now, perched on a bale of hay
with his finely embroidered robe flapping in the wind like the plush wings of a
pheasant. The afternoon was sunny and beautiful, but after a while, this method of
travel began to seem less humorous and more uncomfortable, with the mounting heat
making the thick weight of his robes unusually oppressive. Just as he was beginning
to have thoughts about cutting this tour short, the cart stopped near a small group of
shady trees whose deep roots had been able to supply enough moisture to survive in
the increasing aridity of the rainless land.
          Hunched over like simians, sharecroppers labored in the dry field nearby. A
few men had stopped to take a break beneath the shade, gazing now with nervous
anticipation at the arrival of a courtier, unsure of what fresh burdens may need to be
endured. After they saw Brother Gunring’s enthusiastic expression and read the
inherent kindness in the Keeper of Chronicles’ face, the five men visibly relaxed, their
weathered cheeks forming tentative smiles. Perhaps here was a measure of hope…
          With his bald pate softly glowing in the light filtered through the trees,
saffron robe over his left arm, the stocky priest greeted the farmers, saying, “The
Ujamin has just completed a life-leave at Khorfan Temple. His Eminence gave a


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generous sum of goods to stock the mission, and has taken a special interest in
Shannagor.” Feeling a bit awkward at this introduction, Gyjas Ananda made an
attempt to seem more approachable, “As a boy, I came to stay here for a summer, and
have always yearned to return. That was back in year twenty-seven of Pasha Ryar el
Ceilas, so you can see it was a wish long overdue.”
          The eldest among them, a grizzled warrior-type leaning on his hardwood
cane, bore the signs of man’s eternal struggle with the elements. His spine was
curved below the neck from a lifetime of leaning towards the earth, his skin burnt a
dark brown, and like the plowed soil, rent with a galaxy of furrows. He stared at
Gyjas, searching for something familiar in that noble face with its high cheekbones
and deeply set intelligent eyes. Was it a distant memory, or just the hazy meandering
of an aged mind? The courtier studied him in return, beginning to feel an odd sense
of shared energy between them. Finally the old one spoke, and his voice was strong,
though wistful with remembrance, “I too went to stay at Khorfan Temple as a child in
that long-ago year. It seems to me we may have met. Perhaps you might recall a
young boy by the name of Herashal?” As he straightened with effort to his full
height and looked even more intently at their unusual visitor, the painful realization
struck the Ujamin that this body showing the evidence of many harsh seasons was
none other than a cherished friend from his days at the holy site who had figured in
his memories often.
          Suddenly moved nearly to tears, Gyjas Ananda replied, “I have indeed
recalled that name, and with it, the sweetness of youth and friendship.” The ancient-
looking man was in fact the same age as the Keeper of Chronicles! Unmindful of the
differences in status separating them like a gaping chasm, he walked over to this
erstwhile associate and reached out arms to embrace him. Grateful to be so familiarly
acknowledged, Herashal said, “It is good to see you again, Gyjas. Tell me about your
life and family.” Two old friends sat under the banyan trees for nearly an hour,
reliving fond memories of that pleasant interlude and trading tales of life thereafter.
          The priest observed that the courtier, who normally had a very reserved and
formal demeanor, relaxed so much in the company of this simple farmer, as to be a
different person altogether. He seemed happier somehow, free to be his genuine self,
not weighed down with the artifice of others’ expectations. It was unlikely that
anyone here would report that a court official was observed sitting on the bare earth
chatting with a peasant, and even so, were there not times in which putting aside
preconceived ideas about one’s place in society led to the greatest adventures?
          Afterwards, the Ujamin rode around the perimeter of the parched wheat
field on the same cart, this time laden with what little usable grain remained, en route
back to the village. His expression became pensive again as he watched the
sharecroppers loading a bit more at each stop, their faces all registering the same kind
of despair. Their lives were very hard…much harder than they had to be, and Gyjas
began feeling personally guilty of not doing more to help those who struggled under
the weight of the same administration that so amply housed, clothed and fed himself
and all his relatives. While on the surface he had been terribly pleased to see


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Herashal after such a long time, on another level it had been shocking to witness the
effect of their monarch’s agricultural policies on a human being not so very different
than he himself.
          Brother Gunring understood what he was experiencing, and allowed the
process to unfold, hoping for a deeper commitment to the important work the monks
were doing here in Shannagor. The journey back to the village was very quiet,
marked mainly by the sound of horses’ hooves and the predictable unevenness of the
terrain jostling them about from their assumed positions. The sun had passed its
zenith as clouds began to form overhead, mirroring the assemblage of troubling
thought-forms in the courtier’s mind.
          As much as he was looking forward to seeing his family, he knew there
would be certain battles ahead for him if he were to contribute significantly to the
lives of the people here, as he now planned. Wives and children used to the very best
in everything might be expected to take umbrage at the notion that the needs of
strangers came before their relentless pursuit of luxury. In response, the Keeper of
Chronicles silently decided, “They will have to get used to wearing garments a bit
longer and eating less exotic foods, that is all. If they complain excessively, I’ll
threaten to send them off to work in the fields here, and that should be the end of
their resistance.”




          Dusk had fallen over the encampment at the northern border of Pantagora,
and with it, the softening of boundaries between worlds. The Mistress of the Moon
prepared for her evening ritual with smoky incense filling the air inside her richly
appointed tent. A robe of red lidai caressed her shoulders, and she wore silver
crescent amulets about her throat and forehead. Long dark hair fell straight alongside
her proud jaw, set in unyielding determination. Her eyes spoke of deep passions,
desires for conquest and transformation. Neszha and Oszha flanked her at either
side, black female on her left and white male on her right. They began to channel the
energies of their home star Mia’shara, connecting with the sum of existence there. A
coalition of all the great feline beings formed, gradually taking the shape of a
powerful entity with the wisdom of the entire group. This luminous being, the Adi
Mia’shari, appeared to Miraj, emblazoned across her mind’s eye, addressing her with
intense focus,
          “Greetings, dear one. Our message for you tonight is this:
          When you feel hate for someone, or a whole segment of your society, you
embody that negative emotion and are then hated in return. This is a condition of
imbalance that cannot restore your world. Only by bringing the elemental energies of
Pantagora back into harmony with each other will Tiamat be healed and the Faerie
pleased to work wonders. The earth goddess shudders in pain with the footsteps of
plunderers, awakening in the minds of the Mahamara as the urge for vengeance.
Tiamat speaks to you in the language of the land, but even so, she is still changed by


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the blood shed on her plains. Think not that every death is just, or the scales can ever
be balanced in this way.”
          Feeling remorse attacking her navel, her tendency for argument stilled, Miraj
nodded her head humbly, realizing that she was very much guilty of hating the
green-robes, blaming them for all the destruction, all the pain in her psyche. She did
have many of the erroneous thoughts they were describing, and now that the
Mia’shari were cautioning her thus, the Mistress of the Moon understood that she
should not have sent the Dar el Hajj to Oblivion. What right had she to cut them off
from the cycle of rebirth and resurrection? By attempting to use the children of Horat
and Uazet to destroy their k’ra, the soul template that guides the evolution of the
spirit, she may have done irreversible harm not only to the green-robes, but to her
Self.
          The Mia’shari continued, “By killing others, be very careful that you do not
become them. Hateful, vengeful and uncaring for their pain and suffering, how do
you differ from your enemy? What gives your actions any greater authority or
righteousness when they are sourced out of the same well of misunderstanding and
selfishness? Imagine for a moment that you are part of a vast creature, a being that is
so large you are not even aware that you are all connected. It is as though an arm cuts
off a leg, which cuts a foot, then a finger, or a hand. The creature writhes in agony at
these self-inflicted wounds, but is apparently powerless to stop its own destruction.
          That has long been the way of humanity, but it was not always so. When the
Mirror of Remembrance shone, and there was pilgrimage made in the land now
called Antara, people could look into other lives and see very clearly the
consequences of their past actions. They were aware that aspects of their own spirits
were contained in the body of other beings, too, and that from a cosmic perspective,
all people share in the responsibility of each other’s behavior. This philosophical
understanding and the mind-sharing techniques initiated by the powerful Mahamara
of ages past helped people control their limiting emotions, and remember the
importance of conscious action.
          Seasonal festivals honoring the deities of nature linked whole communities
together in the coordination of delight. We know the re-establishment of these is one
of your dearest aims. It will happen, but not through an excess of violence. Instead,
that is how the decline of the world came to pass. Through a complicated series of
unpleasant events, which included harsh weather that precluded these customary
celebrations, people began to feel more concerned with the immediate world,
forgetting the importance of both that which is unseen and must remain so, as well as
that which is yet to come into manifestation.
          There arose a time of petty chiefs, and then warlords scouring the land in
search of material wealth and power, offering an artificial theology to attract the
people who had completely lost sight of their communal purpose. This system of
belief, of absolute control over nature, rather than co-creation with the Old Ones
began to slavishly devour their minds with false ideals, creating towers of conceit to
fill the emptiness of those hollow souls. You are the Mistress of the Moon, but it was


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not always so. While you had many lifetimes as a just and loving person, whether
male or female, there is always something in the psyche to be perfected; even the
relinquishing of the idea of perfection may be a cause for embodiment. Know now
that the fire in your soul that burns so hot for change is there not only because you
remember and yearn for that time of peace and beauty, but because you were there,
and had a role in its dismemberment. This is not cause for judgment and self-
recrimination. We urge you not to waste time on these fruitless emotions. Rather we
reveal this aspect of your past now, that you may somehow engage in forgiveness, for
yourself and the “others” who you battle, but whom are in reality another view of
Self.”
          Miraj Hazmina was stunned and yet fascinated by what the Mia’shari, from
their broader perspective, could see so clearly. Tears of regret, sadness, relief, hope
flooded down her cheeks, collecting in the hollow of her throat. She wiped them
away, heaving the deep breath of release from the heart. When she had come into
equilibrium, some moments later, the vision in her mind completed the current
directive, “Just as you have found greater equipoise within this small amount of time,
we ask that you strike a larger degree of balance in the framework of your total
karmic history. If you would do this thing, a journey must be made, an adventure to
embrace the enemy within, to achieve healing across opposites and peace among
feuding members of the human family. You will travel far, but not in the physical
sense. Your body will remain in one place, while your spirit journeys to the realm of
Nedira, goddess of the underworld, natural ruler of Oblivion. What you sought to do
to the Dar el Hajj cannot be done by a mortal, no matter how powerful in magic. Yet
you tried to usurp the role of Nedira, and this has offended her. She has some
punishment in store for you if you do not seek her out to make amends for this first.”
          Wary of a catastrophe impeding the successful trajectory of her cherished
plans, the thought-weaver eagerly asked, “What must I do to reach her?” The
stellium of Mia’shari shimmered, their collective eyes twinkling in amusement at the
predictable self-interest, “Tomorrow night, when you merge again with us, we shall
guide you to the domain of the underworld goddess. You will need to alert your
apprentices that you may be long in returning from this journey, and to protect you
when you are traveling. By no means should you be disturbed. There will be psychic
barriers along the way, and obstacles to your achievement. Yet if you attain her
realm, and can do the tasks she sets for you, the rewards will be much more than you
can anticipate now.”
          “What kind of tasks do you think she will set for me?” Miraj Hazmina
asked, a rare flutter of nervousness running up her spine.
          The Mia’shari replied obliquely, “If you are able to transcend your ego and
personal agenda in favor of full awareness of higher Self and the Divine purpose that
called you into form, you may achieve any task set by Nedira. So carefully inspect
your actions and beliefs, seeking their origins. Peace be in your heart. All is well, all
was well, all shall be well, in the Cosmic Spheres of Light.”



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Chapter Twelve
Jewels of the Mind



           Davina could hardly believe her eyes as she watched Munmohan walk for
the first time without a pronounced dragging motion in his right leg. Evidence of an
injury was there, if one really looked for it, but the progress the Kryphae had made
was truly amazing. Chaysen taught her how to massage his flesh to stimulate
reformation of tissues into their natural order, and she liked to think that her efforts
had a little something to do with his improvement. Although Davina felt that she
sensed certain tendencies or intentions from the Kryphae like benevolence from the
females Neferlani and Astani, whose idea it was to heal Munmohan, she could not as
yet intuit clear directions or distinct phrases telepathically. Occasionally, a lone word
would pop into her mind, and she would glance, puzzled, at Chaysen for him to
interpret.
           More than once, their hands touched while smoothing oils of hyssop,
calamin and elderbrush into the afflicted area of her son’s body. Davina imagined
that Chaysen allowed his touch to linger, that perhaps he enjoyed their connection,
and her heart leapt at the prospect. Spending this time with the Kryphae, Shamra
and Chaysen, participating in their rituals, even as an observer, eating fresh food,
drinking clean water from the hidden spring all made Davina feel like a vital being
again, versus an embittered and embattled vagrant, branded and invisibly chained.
           The day before, after Astani took Munmohan to the plateau to receive the
Khabal of Sound, he’d even taken some of the healing oil, and rubbed it into her scar,
saying, “This helps to heal old wounds on the etheric vibratory level. Your skin is
marked, but your lifeforce doesn’t have to be.” His eyes were full of kindness, and
Davina found herself stroking the raised mounds of scar tissue, lighter against his
tanned cheek, asking him, “Did it hurt?” Chaysen shivered a little, whether with
pain or pleasure she couldn’t tell. The Kryman smiled at her in that all-seeing way,
responding, “Yes, it was very painful. But it was worth it, even though there were
moments when I couldn’t imagine ever saying so. I’ve become stronger and more
attuned to Spirit since my Changing. I feel like it was the fulfillment of my destiny to
help perpetuate the Kryphae. Before I made my journey I was only aware of my
fascination with them.”
           Thoughtfully, the exiled woman pondered her son’s existence, a fresh and
powerful hope beckoning that forced her to inquire tentatively, “I wonder if
Munmohan could be like you, another Kryman, if it would heal him all the way? He
loves these creatures. Since we’ve been here, he’s hardly even noticed my presence,
he’s so absorbed in communicating with them and excited about being re-formed. I

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know this is a large request, but would you ask Aest if it’s possible? You see what a
fine boy he is - he could help carry the Kryphon seed too. He’s very intelligent –
already he’s learning about herbs from Shamra, why they’re helping him, how to
recognize and prepare them.” The first Kryman gazed at Davina, gauging her
motives for this surprising development. Chaysen had imagined when the boy was
older, maybe then if he wanted to become like him, why not? But it did make sense to
have him go through the process now, while his body was being adjusted already,
and he was still young. It should be easier on him, and he’d know exactly what to
expect. After a few moments of silence during which Davina became worried that he
would refuse, Chaysen replied, “How do you think Munmohan would feel about it?”
Davina answered, “I’m positive he would be thrilled at the possibilities, but I don’t
want to ask him specifically until the Kryphae give a definite response. It would be
terrible to dash his feelings, if for some reason they decline.” He agreed, saying,
“Disappointing a child is one of the worst things a person can do. But you know that
would mean he’d have to stay here for quite some time, right?” She countered, “He
couldn’t be happier, and I love it here too.” The Kryman noted with enthusiasm,
“Yes, we have been focusing on your son because of his obvious deformity, but you
need healing also. I will speak with Aest and Neferlani.”
          This morning, after the sunrise meditation, he said the Kryphae had agreed,
on the condition that Davina be willing to experience the Changing as well. For a
second only she was taken aback, instantly agreeing. She had been marked and
Castout – perhaps these new scars could elevate her to a supernal level to compensate
for the sub-human sphere to which she had been so cruelly assigned. Returning to
Antara was never a possibility for her – why not seek to become assimilated into a
noble alien society? If she were to be bloodbonded to the Kryphae like Chaysen had
been, similar on such a profound level, wouldn’t their connection grow stronger?
And with her son initiated also, they would form a kind of Krymen family…
          Davina recalled the time when Munmohan was newly born and the bizarre
events that had occurred in their lives since then. Who was to say that an existence as
Krymen wouldn’t be preferable to what they would have had in Antara if he’d been
perfectly formed, if Landarian hadn’t died, if his father had been free to marry her?
All the long ago and recent anguish might yet be worth it, if they were both able to
surge into transcendence. When she looked into Chaysen’s eyes there was a
knowingness in them that spoke to her soul. It was as if he’d walked through a wall
of fire and come out on the other side – not unharmed, but somehow tempered like
glowing steel that her smithy father used to shape. “The heat makes it stronger,” he’d
say, explaining why a fine sword needed to be immersed in the flames repeatedly.
For the first time, she really knew what he was talking about, and blessed his
memory, while experiencing a thrill knowing she would become the product of an
expert craftsman like Aest.
          When Davina told Munmohan that the Kryphae had agreed to bloodbond
with them both (and would he like to do that?) her chest squeezed out a painful joy at
the rapt expression on his face, brown eyes glowing with unexplored fervor as he


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cried out, “Yes! Let’s do it, Matria – I’m so happy here and I know you are too.” Her
eyes filled with tears, as she hugged him close, telepathically thanking the elder
Kryphae who welcomed them into their circle. “We are pleased to receive you,” a voice
in her mind clearly said, and Davina realized excitedly that this was her first
complete transmission - the pathways were finally opening!
          Shamra appeared with two steaming mugs of the herbal blend she’d
prepared to help mother and son with their transformations. Munmohan smiled at
her, and Davina had the impression that they could speak telepathically. For a
moment, she felt left out and slightly jealous, but when she met the old woman’s eyes
and received her focused attention, she knew anything said between them would be
as among family, which included her also, even if she didn’t fully perceive the
transmission.
          As they sipped the bitter tonifying brew, Shamra spoke, “Himalast and
Kimashi will be coming to carry you through the Tunnel of Light. First I want you
both to bathe in the ocean, so that the Khabal of Sound will have greater effect,
working with the enhanced electrical charge given off by the saltwater. We’ll wrap
you in feathers and the skins of ancestors, reserved for special ceremonies. Even
Chaysen didn’t receive the full treatment you both are going to get. I think Aest
learned how to improve on the process from seeing the results of the first Changing.
And you will have more time of preparation in advance. The first actual incisions will
not be made until tomorrow, and will be carried out gradually, taking five days to
complete.”
          Walking through the tunnel leading directly to the ocean, Davina began to
feel nervous at the word ‘incision.’ Instinctively touching her wounded left arm, she
cringed at the prospect of her body being further invaded. Then it occurred to her
that pain was a temporary condition, and it was the symbolism of the event itself
which informed the scars with meaning. Realizing that whatever traces of the
Changing remained on her skin would set her apart from other people, even her
fellow Castout, but in a way that made her proud, she felt an acceptance settle in and
awareness of a higher purpose for the cuts being made. Relieved, she ran the last few
steps to the sea, overjoyed that Munmohan could do the same.
          He shouted, “Look, M’ria! I can run too – I can pick my leg up now!”
Together, they rejoiced at his newfound freedom and the calmness of the water that
made it so much more inviting (and less dangerous) to be immersed in than the ocean
around Vulhal. Davina thought exuberantly, ‘He’s even swimming better now, with
more balance!’ as she playfully splashed seawater at her already wet child. Returning
to the cool cavern after they had exhausted themselves with play, Davina noted that
the sun would be setting before long, quickly trying to dry their skin with the clothes
they would not be needing for tonight’s ritual. Large shapes blocked the light from
overhead, and she saw the twin Kryphae padding over in their direction.
          The wide tunnel was big enough for them to walk side by side without
lowering their heads beyond what they would naturally do when on all fours.
Noiseless and elegant, their golden furry bodies, oversized eagle heads and


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enormous iridescent wings amazed her - she never ceased to marvel at their creation.
Shamra called from her perch atop Neferlani, “Wrap your arms around Himalast’s
neck – he’s the larger one with bright blue in his feathers.” Davina was still learning
how to recognize them – males usually had deeper pigmentation than the females,
but there were a few exceptions. Munmohan needed no coaching, having been
transported by his fast friend Astani several times already. Wrapping his thin arms
around her fluffy throat, he basked in the warmth and security he felt in that exotic
embrace.
          Moving a couple paces towards the opening, she lifted up suddenly,
spreading her wings nearly to their full width, and the young boy thought, “Maybe
this is what I’ll feel like when I die.” Once, when his mother was busy with Dagar, he
had nearly drowned in the turbulent ocean at the base of Vulhal. He choked and
sputtered, then saw only black for what felt like an eternity. Afterwards, a long round
tube not unlike this same tunnel opened in front of him. People he didn’t know were
waving to him with friendly faces, as if they were happy to see him there. They were
surrounded by light, too. Buffeted by the breeze generated by Kimashi’s wings,
Munmohan snuggled deeper against her, but before he could get really comfortable,
they were at the top already, facing the entire family of Kryphae, assembled as if for
an important ceremony. He felt shy and insignificant, naked before this grouping, but
also honored that he would become more like them soon.
          Shamra took his hand and led him to a spot on the rocky plateau next to his
mother. They would both be lying down for the Khabal of Sound, which even the
males would be participating in this time. The feathers smelled good, and he was
reassured by Davina’s presence. As always, whatever happened, they would be in it
together. She touched him, and he felt so glad to be in this place, where the struggles
of the past seemed to recede into a hazy mist. Where was the lame boy who couldn’t
even stand straight? Gone... Where were the days when they had to dig up dead
food and hide while eating those unpalatable scraps? Gone. The future was a bright
and shining thing, and even the agony of his body, which Chayst had explained
would be severe, he could honestly say was a blessing, if it meant being here, safe, in
harmony.




         As she knelt in the center of her opulent dwelling, the Mistress of the Moon
cleansed her body with grains of desert sand. Water in sufficient quantity could not
be had, and the earth element was fitting to invoke on this momentous evening when
she would make amends for many things, mending wounds, knitting together in
harmony her own psyche and that of the planetary sphere she inhabited. A mantra
repeated itself in her mind of its own volition, preparing the way into freedom from
sense affliction. The goddess of the underworld must be appeased, and Miraj
Hazmina would do whatever was required for karmic balance. The sorceress had



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attempted to tune in to Nedira already through her darker, more mysterious allies,
but that essence was buried deep like an impenetrable fortress.
          Rashmana came forward to help, saying, “Allow me, Mistress,” scooping up
a handful of the gritty substance, smoothing it gently but firmly over her back and
shoulders. The petite Tanduri girl was an escaped slave who had miraculously
staggered into Ur, having managed to survive for thirteen days alone in the desert.
Miraj had recognized an individual of rare worth and tremendous willpower, and
made the decision to personally nurse her back to health. Now Rashmana was one of
the most dedicated and skillful apprentices. If she were more beautiful, the sorceress
would have selected her to entice Gheda Rovan, rather than Ainah, because of her
superior thought-weaving. Eventually, with more training, she may be able to
overcome the disadvantage of having one slightly off-kilter eye that was distinctly
larger than the other. For the time being, she was part of her private retinue, although
with her naturally kind and loving nature and other pleasant features, a less choosy
man than the second-in–command might have been content with such a woman.
          Miraj often complimented Rashmana on the exquisite hair she had that
almost dusted her ankles, so long and straight it was. Shiny, too. The sorceress loved
to be draped with that mane. Softly dripping current over her naked body, it made
her tingle with aliveness. Wishing to be serviceful, the apprentice suggested, “Let me
do your chest also. You should relax for your journey tonight. Why don’t you lie
down?”      Without hesitation, the sorceress reclined against the woven mats
underneath, enjoying the rubbing sensation of Rashmana’s fingers manipulating the
tension away from her sternum, creating the feeling of openness and confidence
necessary for such an adventure. Breathing in strength, focus, humility and
generosity, she exhaled out some constrictions at her heart and navel. Meanwhile,
Rashmana massaged the area, moving down to her ovarian palace, thighs, and finally
her feet, which received the most complete treatment, to her absolute delight. At the
end, the former slave stood up and lowered her head, allowing her lustrous hair to
bathe the Mistress of the Moon from brow to toes with its psychic essence. Repeating
the slow sweeping motion several times, she smiled, noticing the effect this had on
her teacher, who lay peacefully radiating total bliss and sensual delight.
          Covering her with a filmy lidai wrap, Rashmana sat on a low cushion
nearby, weaving a web of protective light filaments around the sorceress. These met
and joined in a pattern of amplification with those emanating from the Mistress
herself. A white-gold cocoon formed in the space around the supine woman,
connected by a thick cord to one nearly identical surrounding the apprentice seated
directly above her crown. Rashmana kept her spine straight, with palms upwards,
sending energy out to enhance Miraj Hazmina’s aura. A period of outer stillness
ensued, wherein the breath slowed and the body ceased to be such a weighty thing.
Light as feathers, the thought-weavers felt themselves to be, gliding on angel wings
through the misty corridors of the universe.
          Later, they were met by Neszha and Oszha, who reclined at either side of
their Mistress, adding more power to her cocoon. “We are here to protect you,” they


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sent in unison, as was the Mia’shari way. Miraj rolled over on her belly, allowing
them to walk on her limbs and spine, expelling disharmony with every bone snapped
back into place. Turning her head to one side and keeping her palms facing up, the
Mistress of the Moon savored the sensation of the great cats’ paws kneading her
muscles into position. They told her, “You are still holding something back. As we
press down on you, exhale out completely – force the breath out and hold it out. That
will fire up your lungs and burn away any fear or self-doubt malingering there.
When you come face-to-face with Nedira, you need to be as clear as possible. If you
start to become lost in the webs of illusion, we shall send you a signal that will
remind you of your true Self and purpose. Now breathe out fully.”
          Miraj complied, letting their strength push the last gasp of air out of her
body. Their considerable weight remained pressed against her back - two front paws
over each lung, ensuring that she received the full rewards of this technique. When it
was decided she could breathe in, they removed their forceful touch and air flowed in
more rapidly than before. Performing this sequence six more times, the sorceress
began to feel a rush of energy flooding her brain, and had visions of other realms
bathed in flame-blue light. They stepped on her for a final time and intuitively, she
turned over, relaxing flat on her back, promptly entering a trance state. Pleased with
this result, the Adi Mia’shari coalesced, the feline collective reassembling to guide
her. Their composite visage flickered with shards of individuality over a body that
was neither black nor white, simply formed of light.
          Neszha transmogrified into an ebony female with a panther head, yellow
eyes receiving information on the waves of starry emanations from nearby Mia’shara.
Oszha too manifested his other Self, his lime green eyes absorbing their own
spectrum of communication. Together, they decoded the transmissions, producing a
complex hologram manifesting in the space high above the Mistress of the Moon, at
their lofty eye level. Rashmana had never before witnessed this metamorphosis; she
felt amazed and honored to have been chosen for such an important ritual. The
apprentice watched in fascination as the four-dimensional mandala created by the
Mia’shari connected with the cocoon woven by the Mahamarium, forming an
exquisite multi-hued tetrahedron made of vibrating paths of light.
          Although Rashmana was not aware of this, normally when the sorceress
convened with her allies, both Horat and Uazet would also be present in their true
guise. Tonight she had chosen only the Mia’shari, as the High Priestess of the
Mahamarium felt responsible for any hint of wrongdoing that may have been
attributed to their earthly progeny, when it was at her explicit direction that the
green-robes were eliminated. She also suspected that their presence might further
annoy Nedira, possibly serving as a reminder of her offense; at best making her task
more difficult.
          The paths of snaky light shimmered faster now, culminating at the apex of
the double pyramid in a laser beam streaming down over the Mistress of the Moon’s
energy vortexes from the crown all the way to the root. The Mia’shari began a low



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growling sound, sending it into her solar plexus. Miraj Hazmina felt herself spiraling
rapidly downward through levels of rarefaction, becoming heavier by the instant.
          Suddenly, she was inexorably drawn into the body of a warrior, instantly
becoming aware of the girth and power in this new form, which enabled anger to be
expressed more forcibly than with her own strength unaided by sorcery. Facing a
medium-sized man with dark features and sad eyes, she raised her double-edged
sword and plunged it into his breast with a loud shout, instinctively hating him
because he stood in the way of the achievement of her goal. Seeing the blood gushing
out of the gaping hole in the man’s right side, she thought, “Serves him right,”
automatically swiping the blade clean and re-sheathing it. Something in the dying
man’s gaze gave her pause, though. He was reaching up to her, as if they were the
only two people on the battlefield, as if she didn’t have other men to fight, as if he
somehow knew her.
          “Don’t you recognize me?” he whispered through the pain, dropping his
arm limply back over the flow of blood staining his leather tunic – a paltry armor that
had been, plaited animal skins held together with a thick belt. The warrior retorted,
“How should I know you – who are you to me?”
          “I am your Watcher of the Grove,” the man replied, pulling out a pendant
from inside his tunic, of white metal worked in a complex knot with a single pale
green mamarel in the center. Seeing the ancient symbol of the Mahamara shifted her
consciousness, and Miraj realized with grief and dismay that the man she had just
felled was none other than a revered elder of their faith. The disturbing question,
“Who does that make me?” came to mind, which she answered by looking down at
the guilty weapon. She found at its hilt, cast in yellow metal, the inimitable insignia of
the Samohan rebellion officers, who were the original plundering conquerors of
Pantagora. “How can it be?” she asked the dying man, who told her, “In the end, we
are all one. So never become what you hate, or hate what you have become. Love is
the only remedy.”
          A blinding flash of light seared her mind’s eye, and Miraj saw the Adi
Mia’shari for a brief instant. For the first time, she clearly saw all around her a field of
uniformed warriors killing each other over and over in unending enmity, seemingly
doomed to repeat the same fatal dance forever. Throughout this drama, beings of
light and splendor sought to divert them from this foolish purpose and realize at long
last the futility of violence. Another flash of light came, and when she opened her
eyes again, the man was gone – along with the other soldiers, and their battleground,
too.
          Another scene unfolded, where malformed beings bemoaned their wretched
fate, refusing to acknowledge that the beautiful creatures all around them, that were a
painful source of comparison, were in actuality their own spirit selves, if they would
only release the memory and attachment to the flawed bodies they most recently
possessed. They could not seem to get past the association of Self with Form. Each
carried a two-sided mirror – one side reflected the gross, rotting and disfigured Form
that so disgusted and tormented them, while the opposite side showed the pure


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radiance of Self. The Mistress of the Moon now inhabited a loathsome mass of sores,
and found herself frantically screaming, “This is not my body. Where is my body?
Why am I here? This isn’t happening to me! I don’t deserve this!!”
          Responding to an itching sensation, she scratched her left arm, and a large
section of tissue came off. She screamed at the horrible sight of the stinking flesh,
both on the ground and still attached to the body. After what felt like an eternity of
torture, a higher voice inside her spoke, “I am Spirit. This and every body I inhabit is
but a temporary vehicle to experience another reality. This is not my current reality. I
am not bound here.” Impelled to turn the mirror in her hand over, she did, and
witnessed an altogether different being, shining and joyful. She was released from
that Form, and felt a spinning descent once more.
          This time she was not pulled into a body, rather she felt the thoughts of all
these creatures pummeling her, as if they were scouting for familiar territory. Many
sad wraiths muttered details of their misfortunes,
          “He left me and I couldn’t feed our children. The little one died of fever and
the others had to go work in the mines. They got sick and died too. There is no divine
being running this world – there is only randomness and despair. I tried to make it
work, to be a good person, but in the end, I was alone, dying poor and hungry. That
is all there is, all that can be expected.” Miraj thought, “No, that is not all there is to
life, you must try again. Maybe your lesson was having confidence in your ability to
work and feed your children, or being worthy of someone who would honor and
cherish you. Do not give up on the process of life!”
          Snippets of conversation came to her, “Robbing a beggar - who would do
such a thing?” “It’s just plain dumb fate. I can’t do any better with the cards I’ve been
dealt.” “No one will hire me because I’m a foreigner.” “I’m always sick, the doctors
say I was born that way, and there’s nothing I can do.” All these disparate souls were
bound at this particular level by the one thing they all shared: clinging to belief in
their own powerlessness and irresponsibility, even as higher intelligence sought to
pervade that consciousness with another, “I can choose, and I can change. Whatever
happens is by my own projection, and for the opportunity to learn and evolve.”
          Tugging at her light with their greedy shame, other entities tried to absorb
the shining radiance of protective energy being maintained by her will and that of the
Mia’shari and Rashmana, still laboring under the assumption that they were unable
to draw their own from the infinite well of Spirit. The sorceress scolded them, “Do
not try to take from me that which you do not need. Is it necessary to steal air from
someone else’s lungs in order to breathe? Have faith and love for all the beings, and
then universal power will flow into and through you. It is not to be kept for oneself or
hoarded, any more than our body can keep always breathing in. You must exhale,
and believe that another breath will be there to fill you up again.”
          At the next level, she was humored to see scores of individuals racing about
urgently in search of something they perceived would “fix” them, at least for a little
while. Presumably this was allowing them to not look at whatever aspects of self that
were uncomfortable and needed clearing, preferring instead to perform a repetitive,


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addictive and tiring series of cover-ups, which only buried the real issue beneath
deeper layers of denial. The thought-weaver was not impelled to join this grouping,
but had compassion for them as she drifted by, and sought to join with the angels
who sent more uplifting thought-forms, sending her own advice,
          “Stop and be calm. Nothing inside you could be so terrible that you need to
spend your whole existence running from it. Forgiveness is there – inside your heart
and the hearts of others. Do not hesitate to ask. The time is now.”
          She passed into another level where everyone sat around tables discussing
important matters, as if in council. Dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, this
grouping of souls had as their primary illusion, blame for opposite collectives,
ignoring that on a higher level, they were all One. The sorceress chuckled to herself
with a tinge of superiority, noting, “They are playing the game of Right Hand, Left
Hand,” meaning a comedy where to the amusement (and hopefully education) of
everyone else, a person will stand around and act out the two sides of their body,
saying silly contrary things like, “You know, that right hand really doesn’t know
what it’s doing,” or, “If it wasn’t for the left hand, I wouldn’t be in jail. It was the left
hand that took that loaf of bread that sent us to prison. It should be cut off, not me!”
          Laughing still, the Mistress of the Moon was powerfully absorbed in one of
these scenarios. She sat at the head of a long table, loudly pontificating about the fate
of a rival king captured in battle,
          “I say we kill him - he intended to have our lands and he does still. If given
another chance, he will raise armies against us. Many of his troops escaped
unwounded and could be rallied in a short time. If we keep him under guard, there is
the possibility of an escape, whereas if he is dead, the factions he had united will
again fight each other for control and we may relax for a little while. His son will not
be able to rule for many years yet, so the anguished child avenging a father’s death is
not a scenario we shall need to deal with anytime soon.”
          The adviser on her right said, “They are offering a handsome ransom, my
lord. Our coffers have been lowered by the drought conditions, and we must have
funds to pay the soldiers.” Slapping a mug of wine hard upon the table, the lord
answered, “So we take the ransom and kill him anyway. Those filthy Brakkaducians
have been ruining everything for us, with their cursed dams. Better for us to go to
war again than let a coward and a tyrant live. What say you, good men?”
          Cheering and noisy conversation ensued, and Miraj felt that it was a very
excellent decision. Far away, her allies were filled with alarm, seeing her thus,
forgetting her true nature and purpose, becoming lost in the follies of past actions as
yet unresolved. The Mia’shari, with Rashmana’s help, struggled to send her a flash of
truth to break through the veils of illusion. Before the light faded, she was shown a
scene in her tent at the Pantagoran border, and humbly acknowledged that she had
fallen prey to Nedira’s realm once again.
          Speaking even louder and more jovially than formerly, she shouted, “Have
mercy on him, and do what you think is best. We shall put it to a vote!,” chuckling at
the dumbfounded expressions on the courtier’s faces at that unprecedented and


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democratic generosity. Consciously separating from that incarnation, she sped away
down the twisting tunnel of time, stopping when she heard her name whispered in a
reedy compelling voice:
          “Miraaaj Hazmeeena… I am calling you, who are not so powerful as you
think. Here, take the Dar el Hajj and send them to Oblivion. They are boring me
anyway.” Pieces of the greenrobed warriors came hurtling through space at her,
hitting her face, splattering blood in her eyes. The goddess of the underworld
cackled, “Destruction is always better when you do it yourself. Too bad you don’t
like ‘messy’ battles. I will make this one very clean and easy for you.” Nedira
wrapped something around her neck which felt like an incredibly thick spider web.
Frightened, the Mistress of the Moon pulled on it, but that only made it stronger and
tighter, an inevitable noose closing fast around her throat. Willing herself to be calm,
she sent, “I have offended you with my foolish thoughts and actions. Please accept
my life if this insignificant form will be sufficient. Otherwise, tell me how I may serve
you, oh Goddess.”
          Nedira spun in front of her prisoner, revealing herself for the first time. One
moment hideous, another beautiful, now human-like, then reptilian, canine, arachnid,
serpentine, arboreal, she was the vastness of all that is dark and deep, yet also the
striving of a seed through the hidden towards the sunlight. The sorceress dropped to
her knees, no longer noticing anything binding her. This great being was beyond the
reach of more than a fleeting vision, and here she was, in her domain, witnessing the
total awe-full splendor of an underworld goddess. She continued changing, not
holding any one form, not attached to beauty or revolted by ugliness, unswayed by
years or buoyed by youth. Holding no judgment about which species was superior or
most befitting her, she expressed herself as all that Miraj had seen, and many that
were fantastic and nearly unbelievable.
          She spoke inside the thought-weaver’s mind, “Now you know me, and my
objective. I do not cruelly keep souls from fulfilling their higher purpose. They are
naturally drawn to me, and remain so until they are matched with other fragments
that will assist in freeing them from illusion and learning to grow in a new Form. I
send those beings to Oblivion whose souls have permanently crystallized in their
illusions, so they may be melted into Source Essence and re-Formed again. Only I
may do this, as only I can see deeply enough into the Kore of a being. Mortals who
make very bad choices usually invoke my strongest wrath. But I have waited for you,
rather than taking ‘revenge,’ as on many occasions, I have found you and your
Mahamarium to be honoring of my nature and Universal Law.”
          Miraj Hazmina, who had since risen, was sincerely humbled and awestruck
at this meeting, gazing at the goddess who was now in the shape of a phoenix being
reborn through fire. “Great One, I do honor you, now and always. Without death, life
has no meaning. The whole of earthly existence is but a preparation for the journey of
the spirit. You give these souls a place to rest, and the means to change, if they so will
it.”



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          Speaking now as a young virgin, no more than twelve years old, Nedira
asked the Mistress of the Moon, “And do you desire change? Without the help of
your Mia’shari you may have been caught in the web of your own illusions here. Do
you not seek to put hatred and vengeance aside, and usher in an era of righteousness
and justice instead?” Miraj replied, “I want Pantagora enshrined as the living jewel it
once was – but not for myself only. I used to hate those that stole the tries and dried
the soil to dust, yet now I have seen that I was one of them. I seek to make amends for
the wrongs I have done, in this and every incarnation.” The virgin goddess
applauded, “Well said. Do you believe that the end justifies the means – that
controlling the minds of others and urging soldiers to invade a peaceful country so
that you may reclaim the Nine Sacred Stones will achieve this goal?”
          Knowing that this was a tricky question, and the area of her psyche that
needed the most clarification, the sorceress thought for a moment before responding,
“I only want to take what belongs to the Mahamarium, and what Pantagora needs in
order to be reborn. The Tarin have so much already – that land is fertile, their seas
turn up ambra on the shores. I cannot believe that the Old Ways should be allowed to
die out. I do not want to kill people, but if they stand before us and block our path, it
must be their destiny to die in that way. The choice is certainly theirs.”
          Nedira countered, “Some would say that you would be making that choice
for them, and impeding the free will of another. Be sure that you are absolutely clear
of ego attachment, and not merely suggesting actions to yourself because it is
convenient to believe everything you do is done by Divine Will. It is a dangerous
road you walk on, and I hope that you recognize, now more than ever, how very easy
it is to make the wrong turn. I do not suggest that violence is always to be avoided;
sometimes there is no other way. But it creates the opportunity for much more karma,
inherently separating the spirit from the body. Needless aggression must always be
avoided. Above all, you should understand that Degari Jehan, the Tarin prophetess,
was none other than your Mahamari priestess who had a vision of Samohan exiles
conquering the land. She wanted to save the Nine Sacred Stones from defilement or
destruction in that process, which is why she carried them herself to Antara,
spawning that nation’s religion. Do not treat the Tarin as thieves. Give them the
opportunity to restore what is needed to regenerate the land from which their
religion sprung. Then do what you must.”
          Miraj Hazmina could think of nothing else to say but “Yes,” so
overwhelmed was she by the omniscient perspective and the depth of Nedira’s
perceptions. Becoming a phosphorescent glowing tree-man, she cut off one of her
leafy branches and handed it to the thought-weaver. It shrunk into a compact shape
that fit nicely in the palm of her left hand, slowly losing its greenish light. “When in
doubt of the amount of truth in your purpose at hand, hold this up to your heart, and
remember me. If it glows brightly, you are in alignment with Source Essence. If not,
you will be clouding your spirit by taking that action, and I strongly advise you
against it. If ever you place this stone in front of your heart or that of another person



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and you see no light emitted, you will know that soul is dimmed to the point of being
sent to Oblivion.”
          Transformed into a white unicorn with purple eyes, the goddess said in
closing, “Go now, return to your Mia’shari and apprentice. And be good to your
lover – you may believe his soul is brighter than you think.” Miraj Hazmina thanked
Nedira for that incredible gift, and was immediately sucked upwards, passing
rapidly through levels of illusion. She became aware that angelic forms sought and
often succeeded in helping these beings rid themselves of illusion. Most waited here
for the opportunity to inherit a body again and try through experience to not repeat
the same mistakes in the next incarnation. Above all of the errant souls there was
floating spheres of light of slightly varying size and color. These orbs were
disassociated from them, but symbolized their pure essence seeking reunion.
          Rising through lighter energy fields, the sorceress became once again aware
of the sensations in her usual body and environment - the faint emanations of concern
from Rashmana, starry light coming through the tent and caressing the amulet at her
forehead. The sky was bright with stars, and she realized the passage of time must
have been a few hours here.
          The Adi Mia’shari sent, “A good adventure. And you have a present, too.
Very successful. Rest now and remember her words, remember them well. Farewell,
daughter. Peace.” Her great cats transformed into the household variety, and their
link with the stars was suspended for a time. Excited by the appearance of a Gift in
her teacher’s left hand, but also fatigued from the experience, Rashmana sought to
excuse herself by asking, “Is there anything else you require, Mistress?” Sleepily,
Miraj replied, “Drape me with your hair once more, and then you may bid me good
night.”




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Chapter Thirteen
The Tyranny of Belief



          Nightfall was lifting over the desert, and the canopy of stars that the general
always found so intriguing was becoming less distinct by the moment. Gazing up at
the Charioteer, his favorite constellation, Killain likened himself to that ancient
warrior. They were both destined to ride forward into conquest. The Shaznah had
just dispersed a meeting with his top officers and was now relaxing outside the
command tent established at the Pantagoran border, with his head leaning against
the thick cloth of a folding wooden chair. Everything was snapping into place, just
like the planets in the sky following their predestined circuits. Gheda Rovan was to
lead the first assault on the oases of the Southland. Killain would follow, sending
troops to control Beljahz Port. Miraj had convinced him of the need to take Ransabai,
which was an obvious target as the political and religious seat of leadership for the
whole country. Even still, he was more inclined to make a dramatic sweep of the
Northlands, and then leave.
          Killain Thoracci had now been a mercenary at large for twelve years. Having
grown up nominally Tarin, but really in the gritty Southland, of which Beljahz Port
was the center, he did not possess any particular sense of national loyalty to this
region. Yet establishing permanent control of territory meant maintaining reliable
men there, or letting himself be tied down to a place to govern it personally, neither
of which were without a slew of problems. He felt as though the sea was in his blood
now, and his heart cried out for the rushing of waves and the lilting movement of a
craft on the waters – all this sand was oceanic in its vastness, but it left him dry,
unmoved. Only the miracle of these starry desert nights sustained his spirit toward
completion of the purpose at hand. Sometimes he felt slightly overwhelmed, as
though this life wasn’t entirely his own, and he was acting out a drama not of his own
scripting, making choices that would inevitably entangle him in possibilities grander
than he dared assume, even if he secretly yearned for them.
          Dreams were safe, lofty flights of imagination whereby his power and status
had risen markedly (but deservedly), where he’d always gone to escape the
dreariness of his meager childhood in Beljahz. This existence he was leading seemed
another thing altogether – it was real, even if there were decidedly fantastic elements
about it. Ever since he met Miraj Hazmina, life had felt different. At first he had
attributed that to being in love with a woman for the first time. Yet from what little
he had observed of other men in the past, theirs was not the same. Was it greater,
more intense, deeper? What gave this woman such a hold on his consciousness?


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Never had he missed a lover so much in the few hours they were apart. And she
spoke of separating, traveling to Ransabai by herself, if he didn’t believe in the
mission, if he wanted only to seize the larger stores of ambra in Kuméchon and be
done with conflict. He belittled himself for worrying what would become of her,
partly because she was eminently capable of her own protection, but mainly due to
the clear indication he was losing his habitual detachment.
          As if on cue, the Mistress of the Moon appeared out of the lifting light
wearing a filmy white garment that clung to her voluptuous curves, dark hair spilling
over her bare back. “You shouldn’t be out here like that,” the general said reflexively.
Smirking, the sorceress asked, “Why not? Are you afraid one of your men will see me
and desire his general’s mate? I should imagine that would make them fight harder,
to have me take notice. Only the best will do, you see.” She stood with her chin tilted
haughtily, the perfection of her facial structure imposingly precise. Killain said, “You
look just like a magnificent bird of prey, and I have the strangest feeling of being
hunted.” The thought-weaver laughed shrilly, with a piercing delight that only
unnerved him all the more.
          She stood behind him now, overshadowing Killain with her presence,
making him wait in excruciating suspense just like a hare sees the image of a hawk on
the ground keeping pace with its desperate leaps. When she moved closer to touch
his chest, he relaxed, wanting to feel that magical caress. He inhaled deeply, and
watched as her palms raised, supported by the influx of his lifeforce. A strange
realization came to him just then, demonstrated by that small moment. It was
certainly no surprise that she had designs of her own – which woman didn’t plan to
maximize the benefits of her association with a man? What was genuinely unsettling
to him was the sudden knowledge that she was riding him, governing his actions
somehow.
          Responding to his mood, the sorceress said, “You seem tense. Are you
concerned about marching into Antara? You know it will go well, perhaps not as
easily as here, but no one wishes to die if it’s clear their own fate is not immediately
threatened. We’re just a large group passing through.”
          Annoyed, the general stood up to face his lover. Feeling less dominated
with the advantage of height, Killain retorted, “As easily as that? Sometimes I
wonder how this extra campaign started, and what the Pasha hopes to achieve. He
must know I can't afford to pay these men for a journey of that length unless we are
resoundingly successful. Otherwise we may have a mass desertion, and random
pillaging everywhere.”
          She fixed him with a level gaze, and the Mistress of the Moon said, “I truly
believe that you are capable of controlling your men, and in the success of this
mission. Sometimes it’s hard to see ourselves as others do, though. Believe me, I
know what you’re going through. It must be incredibly strange to have all this
responsibility thrust upon you out of nowhere. When you signed up for this service,
you never could have conceived that you would be leading these men, you, their
Shaznah. Fate deals unexpected cards. If I were you, I would ask myself honestly,


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‘Would I want to be just a Gheda again?’ Your men look up to you and value your
leadership. Now is not the time to doubt your ability, at the very instant you must
earn their trust.”
          Oddly reassured by this lecture, it occurred to the Shaznah, “Perhaps her
scheming is not altogether without merit, and may somehow benefit me.” Miraj
seemed to perceive this line of thought, and said with an expression of utmost
sincerity, “I only want what’s right for you, and our lives together.” Reaching out to
embrace him, she kissed his chest, and squeezed his waist affectionately. His heart
filling with joyful security, Shaznah Killain caressed the exposed skin above the waist
of her nightdress, and nuzzled her neck. Aroused, the sorceress whispered, “Come,
let’s go inside.” She led the way to her tent, where Rashmana was busily packing up
its contents for another day’s journey. Accustomed to Miraj Hazmina’s frequent
sessions with her paramour, the apprentice excused herself readily, exiting with only
the briefest greeting from the rapt couple.
          Neszha decided to accompany her, and Rashmana was glad to have the
great cat’s companionship as she walked back to her own simple makeshift dwelling,
which must be disassembled next. The apprentice had few belongings; when she
arrived in Ur, all that she owned were the ragged clothes on her back. The only
things she treasured were the ancient scrolls that Miraj had entrusted to her, even
though she couldn’t read them, or any language, in fact. Her tradition was oral - all
knowledge was passed down through sound because that way each person
embodied the teachings.
          In some ways, she thought the Tanduri approach was superior, but
Rashmana loved the funny little letters and the feel of the paper. She wanted to learn
how to understand them, and be able to speak their meaning. Miraj said that even
she had difficulty reading these words in the Old Script, but that she would teach her
the regular alphabet. Rashmana was learning slowly – there were so many other
things that needed to be done now.
          She shared this space with Ingkhar, but the other apprentice had been
spending most of her free time with a senior Khamandar who Miraj had slated for
promotion.      Slowly, the Mahamarium were infiltrating this army, attaching
themselves to men of consequence, decision-makers. Rashmana somewhat envied
Ainah and Ingkhar their fair, unflawed features. The dusky hue of her skin was not
in itself objectionable to most– only the disconcerting way her eyes didn’t quite
match. That hadn’t been an issue for the people who owned her before – the Tanduri
slave-trader who tested her out just said, “Don’t look at me when I’m on top of you,”
and went about his business, while the Mawrhian merchant went even further and
had her blindfolded.
          Rashmana had only felt love from one man whose body she shared, and she
was grateful for those moments, which helped her to not hate all men and dread the
very idea of sexual congress. So, although she would have liked to be attractive
enough to be considered for the role, she was thoroughly relieved that ‘Officer’s
Consort’ was not a realistic choice. Even after receiving numerous hours of healing


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and cleansing from the Mistress of the Moon and her students, she maintained a
certain aversion to the uncomfortable thought of some stranger’s skin next to hers.
Rashmana still had difficulty with the concept of Universal Love, whereby a woman
imagines each man to be as worthy and attractive as Krishna, the great Beloved who
takes on the form of every lover’s choosing. Maybe when she could feel a little more
of the tenderness given to her by her childhood sweetheart, there might be a place for
romance in her heart. Ulam had died defending her village from western slavers and
their Mawrhian allies, and ever since, the touch of men had been bitter indeed.
          For now, there was only her service to the Mistress, which had its unique
intimacy, and the pure affection she received from the Mia’shari. Neszha rubbed
against her leg, wanting to be petted with a long heavy stroke. Rashmana massaged
the ebony cat’s spine repeatedly from her forehead all the way down to her tail, and
was rewarded with a loud purr. They lay alongside each other on top of a pile of
bedding, which, any moment now, she must roll up and load on the khamel just
outside. Rashmana was avoiding such details now, paused in the moment with this
vibrant creature that emanated healing lifeforce and nourishing comfort absorbed
through every part of her being, so hungry was she for all that Neszha offered.




         With unease pricking her spine, the High Priestess of Ransabai paced across
the cool stone floor of her sparsely decorated antechamber.            She had the
uncomfortable feeling that there was something imperative for her to see that had not
been revealed in the morning’s devotions. Marnatikha removed her scrying bowl
from the altar built into the far wall, poured consecrated water with a pinch of
powdered crystal into the vessel. The fine gemstone dissolved with a circular
movement of her right index finger stirring the water, forming a conduit for her
deeper sight. Unloosing her hair, the Al’leia placed the scrying bowl on the floor.
Sitting down on a wool mat, she lowered her head and began rocking her spine back
and forth, gently inducing a light trance. Allowing her white hair to flow over her
bare shoulders and around the vessel, she chanted wordlessly to stimulate her third
eye, back undulating to the low resounding melody. Turning her eyes upward in her
head, the High Priestess created a powerful flux. Her hands cupped the vessel
protectively, like a cat securing its sustenance.
         Moving into communion with the crystal waters, Marnatikha felt herself
merging with the still landscape of the water element, the dominant force in her
Starmap. Gradually a scene formed in the interface between the liquid and her
mindscreen. She narrowed her eyelids until they were the merest slits in her solemn
face. Determined to maintain her legendary calm, the priestess let the images flow
without judgment or anxiousness. There was sand such as she’d never seen, mound
upon mound of shifting grains piled into the sky, now becoming light. Tents were
being struck down, many men working, loading horses and khamel. They were
soldiers…another scene: a General with burnt red skin and desert bleached hair,


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directing his men to head north, to cross the Pantagoran border into the oases of the
Tarin Southlands. Beside him was a dark-haired woman with skin the color of winter
wheat. She was the real danger, greater than these legions of men and their weapons.
Marnatikha knew instinctively that here was the source of her warning.

           As the Al’leia watched this woman in vision, she looked directly at her with
confident self-assurance, forming a mental conduit through which she began to
speak. “The Nine Sacred Stones must be returned to Pantagora. Our land is dying
and we need them back in order to survive. I understand that Degari Jehan took
them away for safekeeping, but their real home is not in Antara, and you have
possessed them long enough.”
           Outraged, Al’leia Marnatikha sent, “You have soldiers massed at our
border! Who are you to demand those precious relics? Without them, the royal
bloodline of this land will die out, and all our traditions will waver. The Al’leia
cannot conceive a holy child without them!”
           Miraj shook her head, sickened by that wrong thinking. “Your land is rich in
every way. You do not need the Nine Sacred Stones, and you misuse them to keep
artificially generating the same lifeforms and even the same stagnant liturgy! We
must have them, and as you can see, we are coming. Either yield them willingly or be
forced to give them up. I warn you, do not destroy Antara with stubbornness and
refusal to accept change. Tell your people we only mean to take what we must to
regenerate our land. If they give it up readily, you will hardly feel the loss of it, or
our presence there when we have left.”

         The sorceress disengaged by waving her right arm in front an arc, blocking
her face with the palm of her hand. Accustomed to having the last word, the high
priestess was offended by this abrupt closure. Her commanding tone barely masked
the raw desperation in the woman’s heart. And what of it? She would rip out the
foundation of their faith to try to save a hopeless desert. It was madness, and so
unnerving. This sort of contact through the scrying bowl had never happened to her
before – certainly not with a foreigner, an enemy escorted by hundreds, if not
thousands of armed men, with a savage purpose in their hearts. The villages of the
Southlands must be warned! It was all she could do not to overturn the vessel, so
great was her concern.
         She must call the High Council. There was no question of yielding to these
preposterous demands. Antara must fight to protect its way of life. And yet, a rare
sadness was upon her. What if there was any truth at all in the things she said?




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Chapter Fourteen
Shadows of the Soul

           It was the fifth and final day of Changing for both mother and son.
Ensconced in ancestral robes of Kryphae past, drunk with dracha, their blood imbued
with the ancient race, Davina and Munmohan were almost Krymen. Following the
first evening ritual, with the Khabal of Sound and incisions made on their faces,
Shamra had placed them in a cave adjoining the lofty plateau where the morning sun
would stream in and help to gently transmute human k’ra into a Krymen blend. The
changed energy matrix would enable tissues to seize a new pattern of growth,
gradually transforming with each successive regeneration. Chaysen took turns with
Shamra watching over them, sitting in the space created between parent and child,
fingertips touching opposite hands to allow for a measure of emotional safety. In the
midst of this frightening loss of one’s usual self, nothing was more reassuring than a
familiar touch. It was strange for Chaysen d’Atrasca to witness these next Changings.
To watch these dear friends whimpering in fevered pain brought forth anguished
memories of fear and abandonment that he meant to have laid to rest by now.
Despite his empathy, so many new vistas had opened before him, pathways of spirit,
not only in his imagination, but in firmly real experience, that he knew no pity, only
joy, especially for Munmohan and the confidence this added strength would bring
him. As he passed through adolescence with the taste of Kryphon in his blood, his
Changing would be more profound than was possible for Chaysen as a fully formed
adult.
          ‘How is Malini faring? I never realized how far apart this journey would
bring me from her and our children. It seems as though that Tarin life is a thousand
circles away, and may never be reclaimed. At least I owe her the chance to witness me
as I now am, so she can see firsthand this is not the man she married. After Davina
and Munmohan are settled, I will ask Himalast, Drast and Tazzt to ferry me back to
Atrasca – I cannot take two moons to make the trip again, with my family worrying
about whether I am alive or dead. Maybe I should’ve tried to send a message
through travelers eastward bound. Or I could’ve made another trip into Tretonika to
make sure they received the first one at Sparrow Hill. In a way, I’ve just been
absorbed in my own process, so overwhelmed with having been Changed,
acclimating to the intense physicality of it all and now this role of peacemaker they
have cast me in. It is exactly as I told Shamra, not easy to belong to both Tarin and
Kryphae.’
          Moving his fingertips lightly above Davina’s, Chaysen sensed a kind of
chemistry, a uniquely special connection with her that he never had with his wife
back in Antara. Being with Malini had always been the right thing to do according to


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Tarin society. As the Eldren explained, their Starmaps were well mated, and she was
from the very highest family in the land. At the same time, he had the advantage of
peace, since Malini was the younger daughter and her issue not in direct line for the
succession. His marriage had been affectionate, and respectful enough. Yet it was
not all that he craved from a life partner. He secretly dreamt of someone who would
fulfill his urge for a creative meeting of the minds, who was excited by the same ideas
and Kryphae magics that motivated him; above all, a woman with an adventurous
spirit!
           He had found some of that kindred bond with his daughter Ketra, who he
missed most of all. If only he could share the amazing things he’d learnt, to witness
her eyes gleaming with discovery. For Dharam, Jalundri and Panipa, he felt varieties
of tenderness, but there was always a place reserved in a parent’s heart for the child
that really seemed to have sprung from the same well as they, not that of their
spouse, much less an unrecognizable stranger. Ketra even strongly resembled him
physically, and on some level, was akin to the sister he’d always wanted but never
had. Mature beyond her years, they had profound philosophical discussions as well
as moments of playful research into the natural world that he found deeply
sustaining. It was that same intelligence and keen curiosity he loved about
Munmohan, while Davina was a fascinating woman who had adventures fit only for
storytelling in the quiet village he’d left on the quest for knowledge.
           Her fingers twitched all of the sudden, grasping his hand tightly, and she
murmured some noise that seemed surprisingly pleasurable, given the circumstances.
Chaysen closed his eyes to better understand her experience, opening his mind to her
feeling images. A scene of them naked together making love came clearly onto his
mindscreen, and he allowed himself to be absorbed into her vision, touching her in
places he’d yearned to, but didn’t before, wanting to wait, to know her more fully
first. Now that she’d chosen to join his lifepath, he felt free to embrace her with all
the erotic fervor he’d been harboring for an ultimate partner who could partake in his
truest Self, sharing Krymen ritual on an intimate level unrealizable by anyone else in
their world.
           Knowing the powerful healing force of awakened sexual energy would
greatly assist Davina’s healing, Chaysen poured himself into her astral body, seeing
that what they visualized would eventually come to pass in the flesh. Completely
aroused and revitalized by their shared climax, the Kryman saw their k’ra merging
into one for that all-powerful instant, slowly separating into two streams of light
flowing over each of them, and then Munmohan, Shamra, and the Kryphae as a
group. In this way, they bonded their energy bodies with the whole community. This
birthed coherent paths of communication which enabled them to send and receive
telepathic messages. Davina’s participation in such a ritual would connect her much
more effectively than by her own efforts alone, since Chaysen was already
successfully incorporated into this network.
           During the ‘dream mating,’ Chaysen had come to stand above Davina, to
channel energy down to her from the stars, as was the male role prescribed by both


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Tarin and Kryphon ceremonial traditions. Not wanting Munmohan to feel neglected
while his mother experienced rapture, Chaysen stepped back into the space between
them, once more seating himself as a conduit between their forming Selves, touching
fingertips in a Krymen electromagnetic circuit. Deliberately focusing more of his
mental energy on the child now, Chaysen became aware of Munmohan’s personal
battle, his malformed limb struggling valorously to be straightened, even while the
boy’s mind eagerly beckoned all things Kryphae to be as One with his Self.
          Clearing his mind of all extraneous imagery, the Kryman allowed
Munmohan’s mental activity to be played out on his own mindscreen. Fantastic
beings seemingly floated by, or flew adrift on calm breeze, furred, winged Krymen
more recognizable as possible outcomes of this species interplay in generations to
come, than what could be predicted in the first iteration. In the midst of all this
activity, a young boy, continually Changing, observed all these mutations and
permeations of his race, speculated on his future, willed himself to be first a well-
formed human before he dared assume the honor of carrying the Kryphon seed. His
healing channels particularly charged after the psychic union with the boy’s mother,
Chaysen directed this residual flux to Munmohan’s right leg, amplifying all the work
already done to correct its shape. Picking up an image of the child running
effortlessly, using both legs with a powerful stride, Chaysen augmented it with
physiological accuracy from his own virile gait. Munni gathered that input and the
Kryman looked on joyously as the vision took on a new clarity, with Munmohan
racing across the sandy shore to be embraced by his mother and Chaysen. As he sat
connected with them physically, witnessing the boy’s dreamscape, Chaysen felt
himself embracing the role of father to this child who desperately needed someone to
revere and be safe with, after his abuse at the hands of the Castout, when Davina
couldn’t always protect him.
          Hearing footsteps approaching behind him, the Kryman completed this
cycle of care for his new family with a vision of group chanting as Shamra and
Neferlani had done when he first awoke from his own Changing and became aware
of another dimension to his voice. When used for ceremony, the Kryphoncall acted
as a catalyst, accelerating the growth of fresh tissues with the added genetic imprint.
Touching his shoulder lightly, Shamra sent, “Aest wishes to speak with you.” He left
Davina and Munmohan to be tended to with the same unguents and herbs that
facilitated his own rapid progress, greeting the elder without words, just a moment’s
gaze which spoke volumes - so well did they understand each other now. Chaysen
noted the passage of time from the shade creeping across the cave opening. The sun
was fully overhead now. He was getting accustomed to making the steep climb up to
the plateau where he met Aest for his Kryman training, and today he reveled in the
ease with which he traversed the rock, strength and aliveness coursing through his
veins. Their meetings at high sun had been temporarily suspended for the special
needs and ritual practices required by two more initiates, and he found himself eager
to spend time alone with his teacher.



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          The venerable Kryphon was sunning his iridescent deep blue wings atop the
highest ledge. A truly magnificent creature, Aest had shining golden fur and onyx
eyes in his large bronze eagle face, raised in majesty. Curious as to the rather formal
summons from Shamra, instead of a sending from the Kryphon leader directly,
Chaysen waited patiently for Aest to complete his meditation. Lowering his gaze
after several minutes during which the Kryman continued to study his awesome
leader, the elder sent,
          “It is well that you met another, for together you shall birth a new race. The
children of your blood will be the first to create the Krymen soulform on an etheric
level before taking place in the womb. This organically manifest k’ra shall be more
potent than any splicing we do after the birth of a human. Chayst, in my travels
through our ancestry reading the Book of Worlds which is written across the stars, I
have come to understand how much we Kryphae have done for this sphere known as
Azatlan. Now the Guardians of Creation are calling on the Kryphae as a soul
grouping to return to our origin space to serve in the development of other beneficial
lifeforms, as we have discovered much in our time incarnate here. The transition will
happen slowly, and perhaps we may come to inhabit this realm again someday.
          The Krymen we form now and your descendants will have an important
role to play in the future of this planet. They will be Keepers of Paradise both for
Azatlan as a whole, and Phoenix Clan in particular. Know now that the true mission
of building a Kryman was not simply to prevent the destruction of our young by
foolish exiles, but to ensure the protection of this world sphere in time to come when
the forests may be threatened once more by forces of greed and ignorance. I tell you
this now that you may begin to make peace in your mind and plan the journey to end
your former life in Antara. Your path is here with us, learning and Changing others
who may be of a quality to become valuable when stirred with us genetically.”
          Chaysen grasped the unprecedented scope of this transmission, seeing the
hand of Divine Intelligence behind each unfolding concept, even as petals open to
display their radiant beauty according to some invisible logic. Why not give up the
old for such a glorious cause? There would be repercussions from Antara, but Malini
could find someone better suited to her expectations of Tarin manhood than he could
ever adhere to that narrow path.
          Traditions were fine as long as they maintained significance in the present,
yet all too often he found himself arguing points that could not be won by a
reasonable discussion, if her reply was based on references to past import too sacred
to question. A new existence with all the freedom he had among Kryphae was worth
the sacrifice of homely comforts and ritual pleasantries of cozy village life. He would
miss his children, but perhaps some of them might wish to join his cause in the end,
seeing beyond the shape of society inscribed by others long ago.




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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA




Chapter Fifteen
Tasting Beauty




          Ingkhar rose and gazed out the window, smiling in anticipation as she
recognized a large rock formation a short distance away. “We should separate from
the army now,” she said to her guardian, who had asked to be alerted at the right
time. Miraj nodded, and gave a signal that brought their wagon to a halt. The two
foot soldiers she had selected to be among their drivers for the campaign both
jumped off the top, and Aleff Bizzena inquired, “What may we do for you, Mistress?”
Miraj replied, “Go tell the general that we are nearing the city and I wish to speak
with him.” The Mawrhian unhitched one of the horses, pleased to be able to ride
horseback for a change, however briefly. Killain appeared a few minutes later, and
Miraj took him aside, wanting some privacy for what may be their last meeting for
some time. The thought-weaver had become quite a bit more attached to him than
she had planned, and found herself worried about the general’s safety not only for
tactical reasons. None of the Mahamarium would be in the thick of battle as they
were back at Ur, and she wanted to offer him a talisman to call on her skills if needed.
As Nedira had suggested, she held the heartstone up to his chest while he was asleep,
and was pleasantly surprised to see the healthy glow emanating from the occult gift.
After that, she began to have images of Killain as a modern Watcher of the Grove... he
would be the first in such a long time. It would mean his elevation to a full
partnership, which was something her soul was seeking. Of course she did not
consider mentioning anything of the sort – their acquaintance must be of much longer
duration before she could feel comfortable even discussing the periphery of that
purpose.
          “If the battle starts going against you and help is needed, rub the amulet
once underneath with your right thumb, and whisper my name into the stone above.
I will hear you in every matter. Now that we have been together for some while, you
know the manner of my assistance. Tell me exactly what you need to have done, and
I will do it.” The general’s mouth softened, not erasing the tension around his jaw,
but relaxing it a little. His eyes contained a flurry of emotions, their pale blue fire
glinting brightly against his wide ruddy cheeks. As Miraj lifted her hands to place the
opalescent pendant about his neck, he dropped his arms and pressed her to his chest.
He said quietly, “When you talk this way, I almost want to laugh. I am more afraid
for you, venturing out on your own with only a handful of soldiers for protection.”
          Killain clutched her shoulders, both keeping her at arm’s length yet firmly in
his grasp. Staring at her with fierce intent, he asked, “Why is this Mirror of Memories

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so important to you, anyway? I would have preferred to have you closer by my side,
as Rovan has Ainah still. …don’t answer now – I know what you will tell me, that it
will help bring about peace in the Known Lands. But I say that peace will exist only
when there are no more divisions of lands to fight against each other, when all think,
speak, dress and worship the same, and that day may never come.”
           Touched by this outburst that revealed sentiment more genuine than
glamour could sway, Miraj replied, “My sweet, our days of parting shall be few, but
hours spent enthralled with the Mirror of Memories will be many. Would you not
like to learn in what other times we came to love each other, and the grand purpose
that binds our hearts together?” The general was taken by this lustrous fantasy – a
shared destiny. How long he had yearned for someone who could perceive him truly,
seeing beyond simple physicality. Now he had that person, and he wanted to know
all of her, too; he was tired of feeling that there was much hidden Miraj Hazmina did
not trust him with as yet. Secret adventures and magical powers were not only for
women!
           After having the opal on his chest for a few moments, Killain realized that it
did connect him to the Mistress of the Moon. He felt a subtle pulsing on his skin, and
he wanted her to have something of his too, an item that strongly held his essence.
Reaching into his belt, he pulled out a small knife with a carved bone hilt that he had
owned since he was a boy. In a way, he was loath to part with it, but as he rested it in
the left palm of this sorceress he had come to adore, the general felt there could be no
better place for his childhood prize.
           The small blade looked larger in her hand, and there was a moment of utter
transcendence, a sublime perfection that passed between them as they gazed at the
symbols of their connection on the body of the other. Killain Thoracci sensed that he
himself was greater when taken from the perspective of Miraj Hazmina’s world; she
was making him into someone more powerful than he had been when he first
stepped aboard ship to Pantagora. Only now did he realize that this marvelous
woman had been like the wind filling his sails from the Battle of Ur onward. How
else could he explain a Tarin mercenary taking helm of the entire Samohan force?
Killain knew that he was an excellent sailor and fighting man with big hopes, but
never before had destiny loomed as a tangible entity in his path, calling attention to
its presence by creating such fantastic events. Knowing that the time for farewells had
ended, Miraj kissed Killain Thoracci tenderly on the lips, savoring his touch and the
salty taste of his skin. Before parting, the sorceress visualized a thick orb of light
protecting him as she stood hugging his chest just one more time. Stepping away at
last, Killain mounted his dappled stallion and rode back to the troops, reviewing his
plans for approaching Jhan Teanne once more. Miraj Hazmina walked back to the
women’s transport, acknowledging Aleff’s eager assistance with a smile and quick
gaze from her darkly entrancing eyes.
           The sorceress was enjoying the peaceful afternoon, and the chance to stretch
her limbs a bit after the ride from Farblow. She had chosen to retain Mehudi less for
what little Tarin intelligence he might yield than the possibility that Rashmana may


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be able to respond better to one of her own countrymen, especially considering his
widower’s plight. Using a Mawrhian had its inherent challenges, and yet it would be
an incredible feat if Rashmana could possibly come to love one of the race that she
associated with her abuse and torment. It would mean a profound clearing of
judgment, but it was absolutely necessary that the man be genuinely tender and
appreciative of her. If only she could remedy that problem with her eyes! The girl
had so much potential, but issues with her self-esteem were blocking deeper
progress. Even if she were able to correct the vision, though, Rashmana might be
slow in adjusting to a new concept of self. It would be a real demonstration of
character if either man could develop affection for her given the current condition of
her eyes, which weren’t that disconcerting once you became accustomed to focusing
on one or the other at a time.
          The whole question became: would the right man be willing to do that, and
could Rashmana accept someone new into her heart? She spoke bitterly of the first
love ripped from her side; all encounters with men thereafter had burned an acrid
taste in her mind. Beyond acting like some sort of matchmaker, Miraj truly believed
that intimate relationships are excellent teaching tools, and she wanted each of her
apprentices to have the opportunity to grow in complement to another. Time alone
was not enough to heal Rashmana; she needed a powerful sexual love to eradicate the
misery of the past, maybe even a child.
          Seeing that the soldiers had finished tending to the horses, the sorceress
piled her apprentices back into the wagon. Miraj Hazmina decided the cloth should
be removed from the frame so the girls could enjoy the view as they neared Jhan
Teanne. Looking round, she attracted the eager attentions of both Aleff and Geord,
who were only too happy to comply, as it would enable them to admire the females
more frequently during the voyage. Their spirits buoyed even further by the
shimmering sunlight streaming across the lattice roof, the Mahamarium hardly
resembled a distraught group of refugees fleeing the recent invasion of their
homeland. But that was how Miraj had decided to present this assemblage to the
border guard, and had prompted the girls as to how they must behave.
          She reached down to scoop up a handful of soil, before climbing into the
wagon with an assist from Aleff Bizzena. Something in the young man’s earnest gaze
tipped the scales in her mind. She sat beside Rashmana as usual, and the Tanduri girl
arranged her clothing while the Mistress of the Moon announced, “Rip your skirts a
little and grab some of this dirt to rub in here and there. We can’t appear believable
looking too clean and tidy. We escaped in haste and have barely kept ahead of the
troops. They will accept us because we are the last of the Mahamarium, seeking to
find a home in Ransabai, as our hopes for the spiritual rebirth of Pantagora have been
crushed by this latest Samohan affront. Remember girls, the men traveling with us
are our relatives. Geord is my nephew. Aleff is Rashmana’s husband, and Mehudi is
her brother. Camarsh is my son.”
          Although Miraj had given her an inkling of what she was planning, when
her marriage to a Mawrhian was announced in that matter-of-fact way Rashmana


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found herself beset with a panoply of emotions. This particular man had never been
anything but kind to her in their brief encounters so far. Yet she couldn’t help but
experience a sinking feeling deep inside at the thought of the necessary intimacy that
must be manufactured for their story to have merit. Since she was the eldest
apprentice, it did make a certain amount of sense for Rashmana to be the married
one. But surely, if Miraj had considered for a moment, she could have chosen to make
Aleff Bizzena someone else’s brother, cousin, betrothed, or whatnot.
          It was obvious the sorceress had made her strange decision deliberately, and
with some grander purpose in mind than a temporary subterfuge. So Rashmana had
bottled up her misgivings, throwing them into the ocean of the unconscious. Only
they refused to be taken up by the tide, instead washing up on the same shore,
insistent on being dealt with once and for all. The former slave determined that it
was time to put that crushed mentality behind her at last. For what other purpose
could the Mistress have created this scenario? When she interacted with Aleff, it
would be as a complete equal, with pride and dignity, and yes, kindness! Affection
would be hard to counterfeit, but with the other three present, that last could be
extrapolated. Of course there is affection when people treat each other with genuine
courtesy. Anyway, marital bonds come in many different flavors, from blissfully
tranquil to shrilly discordant, so whatever impression they gave off should be easy to
file somewhere on that spectrum.
          As the transport neared Jhan Teanne, they saw the high thick bamboo wall
around the city that Ingkhar had described, and it seemed every bit as enchanting as
they expected. The wagon had traversed increasingly greener ground since leaving
Farblow, and now it seemed as though Jhan Teanne was nestled in paradise itself.
The gently rolling hills were covered with trees and flowering bushes that exuded a
heavenly fragrance which truly gladdened the heart. Although it was around high
sun, and not a time when visitors were interrogated, those gates would surely be
guarded now. Despite her efforts at establishing a communications break between
settlements on the army’s path, news of their impending arrival had most likely
preceded them. Nevertheless, Miraj did not anticipate much difficulty in entering
Jhan Teanne, even without use of thought-weaving.
          She tried to get the group to adopt the right mixture of enthusiasm and
despair: naturally they were all distraught at having to leave their homes, but the
future looked so much brighter now that they were getting closer to Ransabai.
Arriving at the first city Antara was proud to call its own, Farblow being little more
than a sandtrap, the girls forced themselves to quiet down. An aura of solemn joy
pervaded the atmosphere as Camarsh and Geord (both Gamoshan mercenaries who
could pass for Pantagoran relatives) guided the horse-drawn wagon up to the gates
of Jhan Teanne. The entrance to the southern city was guarded by a single burly man
who appeared out of place resting against the bamboo wall. His arms had many
scars from knife-fighting; it was strange to see someone with that bulky physique in
such a relaxed pose, almost as though there were no threats in the world and his
presence there at the gate of Jhan Teanne was just an amusing way to pass the time.


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As the horses reached the opening, he stood up authoritatively, speaking in a loud
voice that brooked no opposition:
          “Stop at once and state your business here.”
          Camarsh answered exactly as he had been instructed, “My lady wishes to be
our voice. We are refugees from Pantagora.” Miraj clambered out of the wagon and
walked over, craning her head to look up at this giant. She opened her eyes wide,
and took his huge left hand in her own, and almost whispered as she embraced it,
“Our homes have been destroyed. Samohan forces have overrun our villages and in
terror we gathered up what little we could and have tried to keep ahead of them as
they marched north in conquest. We are related spiritually to your holy people of
Ransabai, and seek nothing more than freedom to travel to that place and offer our
lives to its service.” Sending feeling images quite different than the actual events
back home, the sorceress wove thoughts of fear, of flight, danger, hope and faith
leading to the present moment.
          “You may pass,” the kindly giant returned, “But be warned that you may
not be safe from that marauding force even here, as it has already crossed our border
and will surely continue northward. Good journey, nonetheless.” Miraj Hazmina
replied, “Thank you. Your generosity shall not be forgotten.” She sincerely meant
those last words, hoping that there would be a way to make them truthful someday.
Camarsh said, “Your kindness is much appreciated.” As he heard Miraj settle back
into her seat he set the horses moving along the main route, soon arriving at an open-
air market similar to those in his Gamoshan hometown of Kilash.
          As the wagon drew to a halt, the apprentices spilled out of the back like fish
entering a sea of possibilities, delighted at the varieties of wondrous things for sale.
Luscious fruits, fresh baked pastries and breads still warm from the oven were kept
hot by the cheery sun piercing the day with its radiant command. The Mistress of the
Moon was awed by the displays, every bit as excited as her girls as she strode to
marvel at each stall in turn, hardly even knowing what she desired most. The idea of
biting into a ripe passionplum had been dancing in her mind all morning. Faintly
smelling that delectable essence, the sorceress turned right, following her nose
toward its source. She had cautioned the girls against wandering off or becoming
separated from one another, and felt confident enough to leave them with the
opportunity to enjoy their allowances. They grouped in animated clusters around the
vendors, trying unsuccessfully to control outbursts of amazement, yet still hoping
they wouldn’t be charged exorbitant prices as inexperienced foreigners often are.
Even Rashmana was blissfully unaware of her presence, already bargaining for a
sweet-cake.
          Miraj felt swept up by the bounty of Aphrodite, that Great Mother who
feeds all children with her own flesh. Reaching the fruit-sellers area, she moved to
the stand with the strongest aroma, but was momentarily shocked when she looked
at the woman behind the table and saw how very peculiar her etheric template was.
Areas associated with the ability to smell and taste had been covered with a dark
sticky energy that prevented information from traveling through it, keeping that


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aspect of reality within a trap that sealed it off from her awareness. All thoughts of
food left her mind as she blurted, “Who did this to you?” The plump blond woman
looked frightened and confused, darting her sky-blue eyes about to ensure no one
was near enough to overhear their conversation. Lizelle Arameo had Sight enough to
know that this woman was no ordinary shopper. In fact, she had never seen anyone
with such vivid colors sparking from the mind’s eye, and spontaneously decided to
share a truth long kept hidden to all but her husband. “I will tell you in my own way
as you stand directly in front of me, with your head down slightly, examining the
fruit with all your senses.” The dark and strangely beautiful woman agreed,
knowing that words were often used to obfuscate, that feeling images may serve
better to transmit another’s experience. The Mistress of the Moon lowered her gaze,
becoming receptive to whatever information would be offered from the wounded
woman on the other side of the colorful arrays.
          Lizelle sat down on the stool she kept to rest her feet and pretended to be
studying her account book. If anyone were to ask her a question she would ignore
them, but peak trading hours were past anyway. Her mind traveled to Ransabai and
her life as an initiate there – lightning quick scenes of blending and learning her craft;
swearing her path as a Scenter, selling at Bazaar Kuméchon, meeting Hideo Arafan
and his father Muchanse, the fevered, foolish affection that led her to abandon temple
life; being found out by Shoksaw, the Chief Enforcer; having her taste and smell
closed off by him in concert with the Al’leia herself.
          Lizelle opened her eyes, asking, “What do you think? Can you help me?”
The sorceress ran her hands over the assortment of fruits … so much bounty owed to
Pantagora. She replied, “What settles down may rise again. I am not in favor of
punishing children with such finality. You are still very young and should have full
enjoyment of life. What a cruel irony it must be that you share the fruit but cannot
taste it.” The former initiate let out a pained chuckle, “Yes, the situation was never
lost on me. Please, take a passionplum. I see that it’s your favorite.” Miraj gladly
accepted, and was rewarded with a gush of flavor as the juice began dripping down
her chin. It was consumed in no time, and she said, “Thank you - it was delicious.
About your condition … I believe we may be able to help each other. You see, my
apprentices and I are refugees from Pantagora seeking shelter in the spiritual center
of the land. We are trained in similar arts, having a very ancient common source.
Naturally our beliefs differ somewhat, and I am prepared to undo the force that has
limited you, in return for all your recollections about the holy capital. I am
particularly interested in those that involve ritual practices, so that when we arrive at
Ransabai we may be attuned to their customs and not appear as backward cousins
from a dead empire lately come to be familial.”
          The vendor proclaimed, “I’d happily share everything I remember for the
chance to be complete again.” She paused for a moment, feeling awkward that this
stranger knew every significant detail of her life, except one, easily corrected. “Just in
case you didn’t gather it earlier, my name is Lizelle Arameo,” she said shyly. The
Mistress of the Moon smiled with her eyes as she replied simply, “I am Miraj


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Hazmina.” Her gaze taking on a sharper focus, she continued, “Our group must
continue north, so time is of the essence. When is the soonest we may meet?” The
fruit-seller said, “I will close up within the moment and return home with my goods.
We can do the exchange there, if you like.”
          “Is it far away?”

         “No, it’s a short ride. You can bring your companions too.”

         “I will collect my apprentices and meet you back here right away.”

         “Please do - it would mean so much to me.”

          Thrilled at such a fabulous chance to scan the records of an actual initiate,
the thought-weaver began walking briskly the way she had come. She found her
group trading delicacies amongst themselves with uncommon joy. The girls offered
her pieces of their selections, and she tasted a few before whispering, “I have met
someone who can be useful to us. She was initiated into the rites of Ransabai but was
disclaimed and will not hold to her vows of secrecy. Follow me now that we may
learn what she knows and help the woman regain her senses.”
          Their escorts stood nearby, forming a protective arc around the retinue.
“We’ll need the carriage,” she gestured. The men argued briefly about whose turn it
was to drive and Miraj settled it for Camarsh, her ‘son’. He resembled her the most
and the Gamoshan soldier also had the strongest mind for linking, among the
hundreds of men in Killain’s command. He replied with a dutiful nod of his shaggy
brown head and continued eating a leg of lamb, saying, “Thank you, Matria,”
between mouthfuls.
          Rashmana strode alongside, asking, “What happened to this woman of
whom you speak?” The Mistress of the Moon answered, “Her ability to smell or taste
was stripped in retaliation for the fact that she was preparing to offer her magical
knowledge for the gain of a certain young man and his father, who lured her away
from the temple with empty promises. I intend to restore those faculties today.”
They climbed in closest to the carriage door, with Aleff Bizzena assisting them.
Rashmana felt a shudder pass through her as he laid his hand on the small of her
back and gave it a gentle shove. She gazed at him, thinking, “Maybe he really likes
me and doesn’t mind this pretense,” not entirely sure how she would respond if he
ever chose to press his husbandly duties on her.
          Camarsh pulled the vehicle up alongside Lizelle’s open wagon. Miraj waved
to her and they set off down the road with the other vendors, the sweet smell of ripe
fruit leading them on. Rashmana kept an eye on Aleff Bizzena atop his horse, looking
protective and not a little sexy, for a Mawrhian. She never imagined someone with
that color hair could be appealing to her, but maybe Miraj did know what she was
about after all, when the Mistress joined them together in artifice. The Tanduri girl
decided that she might be jealous if she found Aleff looking with favor at the other
apprentices. Why, by all that was holy did her eyes have to be this way? Otherwise,
she would be beautiful! Perhaps she should start wearing a cap over one eye…but


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that would be ridiculous. There is no substitute for the truth, and no remedy for
what plagued her but a miraculous healing.
          Lizelle Arameo drew up the wagon to the small farm that she occupied with
her family. She tied her horses around a short wooden fence and was pleased when
Camarsh offered to help her unload the back. “That’s so kind of you. My husband is
tending to the fields and I always have to do this by myself,” she exclaimed
winningly. A pretty, plump blond, the sorceress thought she would have been
popular with the soldiers if she had cared to end her life here and continue her occult
studies. Yet she seemed to have made a kind of peace with her strange predicament
and was probably in love with her farmer, anyway. Still, Lizelle could have easily
been assigned to a promising young officer, and the sorceress determined not to
forget her.
          Miraj descended the four small steps down from the carriage with a hand
from Geord, dogged as ever in his eager service. He made her laugh, and that was
enough to warrant his presence, even without the stocky man’s zeal in fighting. She
gathered her novices behind her, announcing to their escort, “This is women’s
business. You five wait here for us, and don’t steal any of the fruit,” the Mistress of
the Moon said with a wag of her index finger, suddenly feeling like mother not just to
Camarsh, but the whole lot of them. The soldiers moaned their disbelief, and Aleff
retorted, “Do you think we’re so low as to take from this kind lady? We have the
means to pay for anything we eat, and besides, we’re not even hungry anymore.”
          Determined to have the last word, Miraj said, “Well, just behave yourselves,
then,” recalling his hilarious fantasies. She heard a giggle from one of the girls, and
realized she was acting a bit silly. It was simply excitement at being so close to her
goal… this woman was sure to know something of importance! Getting into the
mind of anyone who had lived there would be a boon, but Lizelle Arameo was
ideally receptive because of the creative punishment meted out to her. The fact that
she would be openly trusting a Pantagoran refugee to make her whole again made all
the difference in extracting every bit of information in a pure and coherent form.
          As Camarsh finished helping Lizelle put her produce away in the cool shed,
Miraj caught a glance between them – a simple moment which she duly filed away in
case anything happened to that farmer husband. Lizelle sauntered over, shielding
her eyes from the sun. Taking a moment to count the apprentices, she asked, “Are
they all going to join you?” Miraj replied, “I was hoping to use this as a lesson for
them. When I link my energy to theirs, it makes me a more powerful tool to right you
again.” Lizelle replied, “Yes, I do remember. And I’m pleased. There is power in
thirteen. Why don’t you all come inside? I think your men will be fine on the patio
here.”
          Miraj agreed and led her group inside the comfortable, albeit humble,
dwelling. The most expensive item was a tapestry laid reverently on the floor so the
couple might sit in prayer together. It was interesting that the girl had not lost her
faith altogether, simply her status within orchestrated spirituality. Lizelle seemed a
trifle embarrassed as she turned around, inquiring, “Is this acceptable or do we need


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more space?” The Mistress of the Moon placed a hand on her spine at the level of the
heart center, sending a warm, loving current there in order to put the farmer’s wife at
ease, as she assured her, “This is more than adequate compared to the carriage we’ve
been trapped in all morning.”
          Visibly relieved, Lizelle Arameo proceeded to find cushions for the
apprentices, asking the thought-weaver, “Do you want me to lie down?”
Miraj Hazmina seated herself near the small altar built into the clay wall, saying,
“Yes, you should be as relaxed as possible. Come here with your head a few inches
in front of me.” Lizelle rested in the space created for her at the center of their oval
ring, recalling the healing sessions performed at Ransabai and how she used to love
them. The sorceress spoke in a calm soothing tone, “Close your eyes and allow your
body to become heavier by the instant. At the same time, your spirit grows lighter.
Your physical self is grounded to the iron Kore in the center of the planet, while your
energy body is responding to the emanations of the stars. We will be working to
remove sense implants on the etheric body, which controls the manifestation of
matter.”
          Miraj placed her palms facing up in the space alongside Lizelle’s temples,
close enough so she could almost touch her cheeks. Signaling the apprentices to
connect, the girls interlaced their fingers with each other so that their elbows were
bent and hands traveled a parallel circuit. The thought-weaver whispered gently,
“Let your breath become ever deeper, and imagine now that you are back at
Ransabai, in the same room that you used to live in. See the people there and your
daily activities. It is sunup, and you have just arisen. There is an exquisite perfume
to be blended today. What is it called?”
          From her misty trance, Lizelle answered, “I am blending Zeemah. It’s my
specialty, and Yiosi Lunafra praises me above all others who make it for Ransabai.”
Entering into a shared vision with the recumbent woman, Miraj Hazmina instructed,
“Drink in that blessed scent. Let the experience of it wash over you anew.” As she
did so, Miraj observed that the sixth wheel began to spin a little faster above Lizelle’s
brow. She placed her left hand over the third eye with her right over the throat
center, sending a high voltage burst into the area uniting the two divergent centers in
the newly expanded frequency. Instantly, the dark coating began to dissolve like
dust igniting into flame, rapidly consuming its volume.
          Traveling further into the energetic matrix, the sorceress viewed Lizelle
Arameo’s injured faculties as severed fibers of light. While she began the laborious
process of reattaching them, her apprentices focused their group will toward Miraj
Hazmina’s solar plexus to amplify her power. At a glance from the Mistress of the
Moon, Rashmana initiated a chant traditionally used for calling lost parts of the
afflicted person’s soul back into harmony. Soon thirteen voices resounded with the
ancient melody, and the small room might have been a glorious temple.
                    aikhar neem mareyliam, jeeta namaha mrindiwam

                  ghotu wameh na maneyah, lani vitra ka duneya


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                  motu jakeh wakeliah,          gisha nitu farogina…gisha nitu farogina

          The chant died down of its own accord, the moment feeling ripe to all
women present. Lizelle Arameo was whole again. The sorceress asked, “What is
your favorite fruit, my dear?” Intoxicated with the sudden onslaught of aroma, the
patient was slow in answering, bringing her body upright first. Smiling in a
delighted, childlike way, she replied, “I would love a jubibi, actually.” Juti ran
outside to retrieve the thin-skinned and lusciously sweet item, presenting it to their
charge with an aura of ceremony that pleased and amused her companions. Lizelle
accepted it in like fashion, eyes downcast in reverence, both palms open to receive the
sacred gift. Completion, healing and resurrection were hers. As she consumed the
fruit, she tasted its essence as if for the very first time, and her chest filled with
immense gratitude.
          Soon enough, Lizelle announced, “I am ready to return the favor now. I
know your time here must be short.” Summoning Ingkhar and Rashmana for the
final exchange, the thought-weaver dismissed her younger apprentices to relax with
the men outside. “I would like you to cross your legs and extend both arms to your
sides,” she told Lizelle. To her assistants, she whispered, “Pyramid of the Soul,”
informing them what their roles would be. As Miraj Hazmina arranged herself back
to back with the sender, the girls sat opposing each other to receive secondary
information from the subconscious mind.
          “Lizelle, turn both your hands so that your palms are facing down, and
allow them to rest comfortably. Reaching to your left, connect with Ingkhar. Feel
that she is supporting you in this process, that you needn’t be afraid. Through her,
feel that you are safe and grounded. Bring that sense of peace into your own body,
your own experience.
          Reaching out to your right, touch Rashmana and offer her your emotions
and the physical knowingness of yourself at Ransabai. Share with us that which you
most loved and feared, what you miss, any regrets you may still have and also the
reasons to feel blessed that you are not bound to its service.” Lizelle chuckled at the
last statement, a half-smile floating at the corner of her mouth as she simultaneously
held the hands of Miraj Hazmina’s senior disciples. Marveling at how different their
energy felt, Ingkhar’s warm and confident, Rashmana’s cooler and secretly masterful,
Lizelle wondered fleetingly how she might fare in such a grouping. Yet she would
never leave her two little ones, not even for strength like the Mistress herself. It was
enough to breathe in the gamut of life once more, fully participating in its pleasures.
          When Miraj spoke again, it startled her, but Ingkhar only covered her hand,
soothing just like a mother. “Begin to feel your lifeforce blending with mine, through
the connection along our spines. Lower your chin slightly and see if you can press
the back of your neck firmly against mine. Yes, that’s better. As I mentioned earlier,
we are particularly interested in what is cherished and treasured above all else at
Ransabai. If we understand what is held sacrosanct, we may not offend anyone with
our ignorance. Share with us now those places, songs, rituals and objects that must


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be honored, and also all that are forbidden. See them clearly on your mindscreen that
we may view these things well.”
          At first the images were hazy and unfocused, but gradually they came faster
and clearer. She remembered the daily prayers, preparations for blending, collecting
the flowers, the special chants they would sing to bring out the essences more
strongly. With a poignant jab of yearning, she recalled those magical nights when
they used to walk through the forest in celebration of the new or full moon. Happily
the faces of friends buried in the recesses of her mind came to life, how they would
ridicule their teachers behind their backs, all the while living in terror of their stern
judgments. Nothing could compare to that time when she snuck into the Al’leia’s
private chambers during the morning assembly. Certain of discovery, she pressed
forward nonetheless, astounded by the beauty of those crystalline waters, awestruck
by the jewel-encrusted ceiling of the Source.




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Chapter Sixteen
Abduction



          Chaysen experienced a potent rush of dread as he buckled up the final strap
on his flight harness. Much as he would like to avoid it, the tedious journey to
Atrasca and the break with his Tarin family could not be delayed any longer. He
counseled himself therefore on the myriad benefits of being truthful, for everyone
involved. Malini would be hurt and angry at first; his children would be frightened
and confused, but knowing the reality of the situation could not help but bring peace
to their minds, after so many months apart. For him, it would mean greater freedom
to embrace his new existence, without the clinging encumbrance of the past to slow
his steps. Again, as on his very first flight, he stood on the cliff facing Tretonika
strapped to Himalast, with Klust and Drast to either side for backup. Chaysen sent to
his host, “I am ready now.” Bracing himself for those vast wings rising to the
windblast of this inevitable change, the Kryman yearned already to be nestled in his
section of the cave with Davina and Munmohan nearby. In his heart he would carry
a beautiful feeling of companionship with two other beings in Krymenité who fully
loved him in his current guise. Their healing was progressing well, but Aest forbade
them to leave the cave as yet, not wanting to upset the gentle shady course of Krymen
evolution prescribed for mother and child with the intensity of late morning sunlight
on the plateau. They exchanged tender thoughts of momentary separation back
inside that left him with deep gratitude at having found a true soulmate at last.
          Nearly the whole tribe was on hand to usher them off with a shrieking
ululation, and Shamra gave him a last-minute hug that made him laugh, because she
was not typically demonstrative. Himalast sent, “I am rising, Chayst,” and the Kryman
bent his knees in preparation for liftup. By now an experienced traveler, the former
Atrascan had liberally doused himself with oil taken from the invertebrate marine
creature, hiluba. It helped with the cold and dryness of the air at the lofty heights his
Kryphon allies customarily reached. Still, the breeze rapidly awoke every pore in his
skin, and he submitted to the cleansing gust of air that, like every other Kryphon
enterprise, promised to separate him from all that was outmoded, dead, stagnant and
useless in himself, leaving behind a shaking vibrant core of new impressions.
          Chaysen lowered his visor and continued chewing on a stick of wortroot to
prevent altitude sickness. Drast and Klust were playing, soaring much higher than
Himalast, with his heavy cargo, could afford to. They had all estimated it would
probably take three days to reach Atrasca, stopping twice daily to rest, eat, and
switch responsibility for the Kryman. “What you really needed was an herb to make


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you rest for a few hours at a time,” Himalast commented. Chaysen agreed, “If such
could be found, I would gladly go anywhere with you, except I’d be worried how my
body might feel when I awoke.” Even though he never mentally tired of viewing the
amazing scenery, physically it was quite draining to hang and be buffeted by the
wind.
          He found himself looking forward already to landing in some secluded spot
in Trevhar’s Gorge, their first stop for the day. To be able to bathe in a river for a
change would be a special treat. He remembered that water to be as pure and fresh as
any in all Antara, and imagined the unique smell of the cliffside forest, which made
the reverie so much more real. Himalast loved to be in flight, and had become
somewhat used to transporting his friend. When he needed to carry a medium sized
catch, it seemed light in comparison, and the added strength he’d developed had
made acrobatic maneuvers all the more possible. Sometimes his friends would mock-
fight him in the air, and he had gained an advantage over those not chosen for long
missions with the Kryman. As much as he loved their stretch of western shoreline,
still Himalast rejoiced in seeing other lands. He almost wished he could have been
present when Aest led the group searching for the new homeland before he was born,
before they knew of Castout or Tarin and were thinking only of where Azatlan would
welcome her oldest children. Someday he would even like to fly over the great
waters and see what lands might exist beyond common knowledge. He sent to
Chaysen, “The place farthest to the east is your enemy, Mawrh, is it not?”
          “Yes, but I would not call them my enemy, anymore than I call myself Tarin
at the moment.” Himalast asked, “Is it so easy to change all those years of belief? Did
you never fight them in battle yourself?” Chaysen shut his eyes to the past, to
villages burning, to his fourteen year old self running around frantically, the truth
revealed at last. “I am a coward. I am not made for war, only posturing and threats.
You saw how I came to you – I spent my time after the fields buried in books, never a
bold man. I was quiet, passionate only for Kryphae, but now that I have bonded with
you, I am changed and would fight if necessary to protect my family, and I believe
you know which group of beings I am referring to. Not the Tarin who will look at my
face aghast as scarred and profane, but Kryphae and Krymenité. Even if my body
has not grown wings, my heart and mind have, and I see myself differently now from
within.”
          Pensive for a moment, Himalast replied, “Hopefully violence will not be
required of you ever. Things are going so well with the Castout…they seem to have
realized that thieving meant hard work and sacrifice also, but for a lesser reward than
fruitful crops year after year.” Himalast rose higher, a shared exuberance at the cool
air and breathtaking scenery replacing the former discussion. They lapsed into silence
as Chaysen returned to his own private misgivings about confronting his old life and
the people no longer so dear.




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            Dappled sunlight fell through the trees as Gebrido led the way into a remote
section of Trevhar’s Gorge, spreading open branches and vines grown over the barely
discernible pathway. “Are you sure we’re not going past Karmangrel territory? I’ve
heard they’re awfully fierce,” Trini said with trepidation. The drummer replied, “I’d
actually like to see one, but I doubt we will since they only hunt at night. We were
lucky the first day we came on horseback and saw that one relaxing up on the ledge.”
            “I thought that was a Wotan,” the actress interjected, slightly reassured.
“No, Wotan have white fur with a black line running from their foreheads all down
their backs, and their tails are black too, while Karmangrel are like a golden brown,”
Gebrido corrected. “I feel much better now,” Trini giggled nervously, “But seriously,
what is so fantastic that we have to crawl through the brush to get to it? I saw plenty
of nice places for a swim just off the horse path, and riding is more fun anyway.”
            “Trust me, this is worthwhile. Don’t you want some privacy for a change?
Those other places have people ogling your backside if you undress to get in the
water, and besides, I want to do more than just swim under the waterfall.” He
grabbed her hastily, urgently hoping she hadn’t been paying attention to the last
word…it was supposed to have been a surprise! Pushing out of his tight grip to
grasp his elbows, Trini shouted, “Wait a minute, there’s a waterfall up here? Is it
more than a trickle...is it a real rush?” Gebrido laughed, kissing her full lips, “Yes, it’s
a real rush. It roars like a Karmangrel. Pretty soon we’ll hear it.” Delighted, she
hugged him, saying, “Oh, I can’t wait. This will make being stuck here that much
easier to bear – although I have to say, you and Hajra did a good job choosing Talia to
take over Ketra’s parts. The locals really do enjoy seeing one of their own on stage
with us.”
            Gebrido concurred, “Thank Moksha that Kalgisi is recuperating quickly.
I think he’s scared to lose Hajra if he’s unavailable too long.” Trini grunted, adding
cynically, “At least he’s faithful to his injured lover.” Gebrido sighed, rolling his
eyes, “How many times do I have to tell you - all I did that night was go dancing!
You had a sprained ankle and were about to bite my head off. What was I supposed
to do?” Trini said angrily, “You could have stayed with me, instead of just thinking
about yourself and your own amusement all the time! I was in a lot of pain, you
know.”
            “Why did you finish the show, then? You should have stopped and let
someone bind it for you.” Snapping righteously, she retorted, “I am a professional.
This is what I have chosen for my lifework, and no one can ever say I think of myself
first. It is the audience that counts more.” Gebrido chucked softly, retorting with self-
righteous certitude, “As long as you keep in mind that when we’re alone, I am your
audience, and your performance can be appreciated by no one else.” Calming, Trini
observed, “Look, I know I can be a little too theatrical at times. But I hope you can
grasp that spending the evening with my shit of a cousin was the worst thing you



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could’ve done from my point of view. It was all his fault that I twisted my ankle in
the first place!”
           The musician sighed, pronouncing sagely, “Revenge is strange, especially
among family. I think you’re even now, and you should just leave it at that.” He
turned around as if to underscore the point, noticing that his girlfriend was lagging
behind. He’d started walking faster as the falls became audible, but the whole idea
was to have a great time together, not argue. Trying to sound a more peaceful note,
he reached for her hand, saying, “I wanted us to come here for a special reason today,
not to go over past insults and injuries. I know we’ve both hurt each other’s pride
with silly flirtations. If we really care about this relationship, it’s time to stop
weaving nets of glamour over others, letting our own web fall into disrepair.”
           “That’s a good way to put it. Maybe I’ll limit my casting of enchantments to
when I’m onstage, and over the audience as a whole, not any one person,” the actress
surmised, screeching suddenly as she caught up to her lover standing in a small
clearing. “I can hear it! What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” Restraining her, he said,
“Patience, my dear…I was waiting for you. Perhaps you would like to walk ahead
and clear the brambles out of the way for me now?” Nuzzling his neck, she replied,
“Sure, Gebi – you demonstrate the technique until we get to the falls and I’ll do it on
the way back.” He bit her ear, whispering, “You lazy wench…I can tell that I’ll have
to prod you with my stick to get you to do any work for me. Well, I have just the
place, if you’ll kindly follow.” Separating from her, Gebrido walked ahead briskly,
excited that his plan was approaching completion. When he read in ‘The Art of Love’
that making love outside gave one a better sense of bliss, being closer to the rhythm
of the gods, he immediately thought of this spot and had been wanting to bring Trini
here ever since those first days in Atrasca. Climaxing in their sacred places was a
special offering, to perpetuate the union of Aphrodite and Anubis in all existence.
           Parting the final branches that revealed a steep downward path, the
drummer announced, “This is it! I’ll go first and try to hold you. Some of these rocks
are a little loose, so be careful and use my same footholds if you can.” He found a
narrow protrusion to secure his hands with, and began the slow descent. Trini gave
him a scare when her foot slipped at a critical point, but otherwise their journey to the
base where the river Irawani formed a large pool for bathing was smooth. Fir trees
clustered among the boulders at the edge of the pool provided an ideal place to nestle
their clothes. Gebrido removed his own as Trini watched, enjoying seeing his naked
body in this exquisitely natural setting. Afterwards, he helped take off her shirt,
sliding his hands inside to caress her breasts before lifting it over her shoulders. She
finished pulling it off as he knelt to unlace her pants, working them in stages off her
buttocks and down her thighs. Trini started to fold her trousers, but Gebrido said,
“Relax. Just enjoy the moment.”
           He pulled aside her undergarment to reveal a bright patch of shining orange
above her woman parts. Placing one hand on her left thigh, he used the first two
fingers of the other to probe inside the voluptuously moist territory, as his tongue
traversed the outer edges and especially concentrated on the floral hilt at its apex.


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Trini gasped, grabbing hold of a nearby branch to steady herself, her brain running
multiple spirals of acute pleasure. Musky aroma filled his nostrils, and Gebrido felt
himself get hard, but he wanted to be in a more powerful location. He gave her just
enough to build her desire to a dizzy plateau, stopping suddenly to arrange their
clothing better.
           Stunned, Trini watched him dive into the water. He shouted, “I’ll race you to
the waterfall!” and began swimming slowly. The water was cold, but not freezing,
and the early afternoon sunlight warmed the surface and their exposed skin. She
splashed her lover when she caught up to him. Trini said, “How could you do that? I
was so close!” Gebrido laughed, pretending to apologize, “I didn’t mean to torture
you. Should I keep my tongue to myself from now on?” She gave him a whack in
response. “I’ll take that for a ‘No’,” he said, pulling ahead of her to find a good
surface to stand on and be massaged by the intense force of the falls. Trini d’Atrasca
stood beside him, letting the water pummel her head and shoulder blades.
           After a few minutes, the cold began to be too much, and she swam to a rock
outcropping which she raised herself above to dry off and warm up a little. Gebrido
stayed beneath the waterfall for what seemed like a shockingly long time. “His skull
must be getting numb!” the actress told herself in amazement. ‘And I’m here waiting
for my seriously fantastic orgasm,’ she thought a moment later, exactly as he finally
stepped out of the water and came to join her. “Your face is pale – are you all right?”
she asked worriedly. He came alongside, lying on his stomach. “I’m fine. All the
blood has started to move where I’ll need it most,” he assured, twirling her nipple.
“You!” she scolded, the aggrieved intonation in that one syllable rendering additional
commentary superfluous. Trini slid back on the rock so that only her face was
shaded. Basking in the heat on her torso and legs, she reached to touch Gebrido,
whose leg was quite cool. He ran his hand down her belly, and she tensed in
anticipation, cautioning, “Don’t tease me.” Dark curls bounced as he rested his cheek
on her thigh, and he spoke directly to the organ of longing, “Just please me.”
           Trini was immersed in total relaxation as she stroked his hair, enjoying a
moment of sheer delight. Between the roaring water, fragrant caressing breeze,
joyous sunlight and the nurturing solidity of the stone underneath, she felt every
element in perfect union with her lover. Gebrido dozed off and Trini took the chance
to study his features in repose. His closed lashes were very long, his eyebrows on the
verge of being too thick. Sensuous lips, not a strong jaw. An average, unremarkable
nose. Yet when all these ingredients were put together, a man of superior
attractiveness arose.
           More than anything, it was his inner fire and playful spontaneity that she
loved. How many other men would have seized her hand when she wore that
preposterous Devagisi outfit? She shuddered to think of how dull her life would be,
had she remained in Atrasca. Everyone needs to eat, but must we all be farmers?
Even high families such as her own were expected to work the land, eschewing the
stratification of society that was the plague of countries such as Samoha, and
especially Mawrh, their eternal enemy.


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          Gebrido stirred, and she realized it was time to get back into the water. “I
think I saw a cave behind the falls. Do you want to join me there?” He agreed
sleepily, lapsing briefly back onto the rock before stepping in the pool again. Trini
felt refreshed by the cold water, deciding to get her whole head wet again, greedy for
more of the nourishing minerals unique to Trevhar’s Gorge. She swam underwater a
short way, surfacing to see her lover dart behind the heavy sheet of falls that she was
suddenly a bit hesitant to penetrate. Finding it to be an ideal location to continue
what they started earlier, he put his arm back through the wall of water, beckoning
her forward. She climbed up and through the powerful blast, reaching for his hand
at the last instant to steady herself.
          “This is fabulous!” she said, and looked around at the spacious, surprisingly
pleasant interior. Gebrido led her to a smooth stone shelf that was partially lit from
above, asking, “Will you be comfortable here?” She dusted it off, and replied, “If not,
we can always stand.” Trini sat down and Gebrido leaned over her, reasoning it was
his turn to be kissed between the legs now. She complied, quickly tripling his size in
her mouth until it threatened to stretch her jaw beyond its normal limits. He
massaged her lower lips with his taut head, thrusting inside when she started to
squirm underneath him. He supported her back with his left hand and himself with
the right, moving rhythmically, pulling out every now and then to glide against the
surface, which made her squeal with delight.
          Later he sat down and she controlled the movement, pushing herself down
on him forcefully, stimulating that special spot inside that made her spine tingle with
aliveness. Grabbing his chest, she rocked her hips faster and faster, needing the
incredible rush to rise up and out her skull, pouring over like a fountain of ecstatic
energy. Moaning, she reached down to kiss him, reveling in the dual connection.
Sighing with completion, she turned around so he could be satisfied as well.
Afterwards, they rinsed off in the falls and found a place to sun themselves away
from the main pool. Lying down on the warm stone, Trini closed her eyes, feeling at
one with Gebrido and this incredibly beautiful place. Suddenly, she felt a hand
moving her knee back and forth, and someone was whispering, “Trini, wake up.
You’ve got to see this. It’s Kryphon – three of them. It must be – and look, they’re
carrying somebody!”
          Confused, she sat up, saying, “What? Where are they?” He pointed to the
large creatures descending to the edge of the pool they were just bathing in. Blinking
her eyes in disbelief, she saw a man who’d been riding underneath one of them begin
to dismantle some sort of harness. He made sounds of relief as he quickly stripped
out of his clothes to display a well-muscled form with a very dark tan. Something
about the man’s voice and gait jogged her memory, and Trini came fully awake when
she recalled why Ketra had come with them in the first place. Clutching Gebrido’s
arm, she whispered, “That’s my uncle Chaysen! Ketra’s gone looking for him and
he’s right here! Oh, Gebi, you have to do something.” Surprised at this revelation, he
asked, “What do you want me to do? Just walk right over there and tell him he’s got
to find her?”


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          Trini replied, “Yes, that’s it! He has to go look for her now. She’ll be
wandering through the mountains, enduring all sorts of dangers. Oh, I do want to
talk to him – but he looks so different. What if it’s not him at all?” Meanwhile, the
three giant beasts lapped water from the pool, rapidly moving their leathery tongues
so the liquid flew in the air before sliding down their throats. “They must have flown
straight from Vulhal – look how thirsty they are,” Gebrido said, marveling at the rare
event, and the glow on their brownish-gold wings. The actress bounced her
shoulders, “I know, we’ll shout questions to him from a distance – that way if it’s a
stranger, he won’t know the answers, and he won’t see us naked, either.”
          Gebrido said, “He’s swimming towards us, anyway. Looks like he’s
heading for the falls too.” Trini peered out, squinting to try to recognize his features
as alternate strokes turned his face in her direction. Crouching behind a boulder, she
called out, “Chaysen, is that you?” as he swam about ten paces away from where she
was hiding. Gebrido neared the water, curious to see the man’s reaction. Clearly
startled that other humans were nearby, he froze midstream, partially opening his
mouth to speak, then closing it in bewilderment. Trini shouted again, “Chaysen! Is it
really you?”
          At which the man knew for certain that someone had in fact spoken his
name, and he replied, “Yes, it is I. Who is there?”      Peeking her head above the
rock, she affirmed, “It’s your niece, Trini! I can hardly believe I’m seeing you after so
many months. As her eyes settled on the strange raised markings on his forehead and
cheeks, she said, “You are much changed. What happened to you?” A distant peace
brewing in his chest, the Kryman swept a scarred palm through his wet hair,
explaining, “I have bonded with the Kryphae in magic, as was my Destiny, and we
travel to put the old life behind me now.” Nonplused, both Trini and Gebrido fired
questions at the erstwhile Tarin. “They are your life now?” and “You’re saying good-
bye, then?” Sighing, Chaysen closed sun-bleached lashes over his green eyes,
speaking truer than he ever had, “It’s past time.”
          Hands clenching the boulder that still partially obscured her from view,
Trini d’Atrasca asked, “What about Ketra? This very moment she walks to the west
in search of you, across the mountains. Surely you realize the danger for her, and the
despair, when she learns you are gone!” Wincing with furrowed brow, he assured
her, “I will send word to my friends to look for Ketra and protect my daughter until
we return.” Content with that, Trini remembered the awesome nature of his
companions, inquiring with her customary enthusiasm, “May we meet your friends?”
          “Certainly. As soon as I have met yours.” Trini gasped, “Oh, I am sorry,
uncle, for the omission.” She tentatively stood, as was proper when one made
introductions, announcing, “May I present Gebrido Sumerkund, drum composer for
Kalgisi’s Atrascan Players, of which troupe I am lead actress.” She felt herself begin
to blush as Chaysen’s gaze flickered with appreciation to the fiery patch below her
smooth white belly. The color only deepened as he climbed out of the shallow water
and she couldn’t help but stare at the enhanced musculature under his glistening
skin, tanned even darker than Gebrido’s bronze hue. After he clasped arms with the


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musician, Chaysen greeted Trini only with a quick stroke of her jawline and a smile
into her eyes, not trusting his body to make the traditional close embrace without
betraying him into arousal.
          His niece almost wished he had, fascinated as she was with this new form he
presented. After all, they weren’t blood-related. And her fantasy of being pleasured
by two men at once could have been realized in this remote paradise. Gebrido’s
pride would never allow it, nor her conscience, despite the fact that she heartily
disliked her prudish, stalwart aunt - not to say anything of Chaysen’s own attitude to
such an outlandish proposition. Yet she did allow herself to touch the ridge of tissue
along his spine, and delighted to see his flesh quiver in return. Passing it off as a
mere curiosity, she asked, “What made your back so bumpy?” The Kryman
hesitated, arriving at the truth as there was no point in lying, “It is crystal laced with
the saliva of those Kryphae who performed the blood-bonding for me.”
          Gebrido blurted out, “You have the spit of these creatures under your skin?”
Chaysen d’Atrasca laughed, “I never thought of it in those words, but yes. Perhaps
when you meet them, you will understand why.” The small group had nearly
completed the circuitous path around the pool, while the Kryphae had finally sated
their thirst and seemed to be expecting them. “They are very intelligent, you know. I
will communicate any questions you have, and you might be surprised at the
answers. Although some they may refuse to answer, also.” Puzzled, Trini wondered,
“What sorts of questions are permissible?” Chaysen returned, “It’s like any other
audience. Ask foolish questions, and you shall receive answers in kind. Kryphae
don’t tolerate human frivolity and wastefulness, which is probably why they sought
me among Tarin, and not elsewhere.”
          Trini chuckled, “So I shouldn’t ask if I will be rich and famous?” Her uncle
replied, “That is exactly the type of query that would be meaningless to them, and I
wouldn’t even bother to convey. Ask them about the natural world, if you like. They
know everything about the flesh of Azatlan.” The Kryman smiled as they
approached his three Kryphae, resting, stretching and looking remarkably at home in
this clearing in Trevhar’s Gorge. Their bodies were immersed in the water, as that
was the only place open enough to accommodate their girth, and they all three
relaxed with their furry feathered heads resting on giant folded paws.
          “They’re adorable!” Trini exclaimed, “What amazingly beautiful creatures.
They look happy here – if only they could stay a little while. Hajra would have loved
to see them. Don’t you think, Gebi?” Her boyfriend agreed, “Yes, they are
magnificent. What is it like to fly with one, Chaysen?” The Kryman answered, “It’s
miraculous at first, but rapidly becomes very uncomfortable. I do it now because
time is of the essence.” The drummer stretched his hands out, thinking of his craft as
he uttered, “Time is at the heart of everything.”
          Noticing Gebrido in a new light, the Kryman agreed, “Nothing could be
truer.” Bored by the philosophical moment, Trini asked, “How long will it take you
to reach Atrasca?” Shrugging noncommittally, Chaysen said, “We plan to arrive in
two days, which is why we need to be pressing on. Now is the time to ask my friends


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any questions you might have.” His niece thought for a moment before speaking,
“There’s really nothing I want to ask except if I might touch one of them. They look
so soft.” The Kryman replied, “That is a small enough request. I would be glad to
ask them on your behalf.” Approaching within a few feet, Trini and Gebrido
stopped, while Chaysen advanced to greet the hybrid trio. He sat down on the
ground in front of them and was very still for a few moments, after which he turned
to his niece and said, “You may have a few moments with each of them. They are
curious about you also.”
           Accustomed to her nakedness by now, Trini didn’t even bother to put on her
clothing ensconced a short distance away, feeling that it made more sense to greet the
Kryphae in a natural state. Even as they were adorned only with what grew from
their bodies as a matter of course, she would be the same. Nearing the one closest to
her on the left, she asked, “May I touch their faces too?” Chaysen said, “Yes, but stay
away from the feathers next to their eyes. They’re very sensitive and if you tickle that
area, they’ll make such a fuss that it will be the end of your exploration. This is Drast,
by the way.”
           Entranced by the large eyes staring at her, Trini spoke quietly, “I’m just
going to feel your fur, Drast. Yes, it is every bit as soft as I thought it would be. If
only I could sleep next to you on cold winter nights, with your enormous warmth
around me. I’d be like a little mouse compared to you, wouldn’t I? I could be your
pet, and you would feed me choice little morsels of whatever you eat.” Speaking
louder, she asked, “What do they eat, uncle?” An indulgent smile playing on his lips,
Chaysen replied, “Seafood or the occasional lamb.”
           Turning to Gebrido, he asked, “Do you have a question for them?” The
drummer said, “Yes, I want to know what they look for in a human. How were you
chosen to bond with them? I can see in your eyes that you’re different from other
men, and not just because of the scars you bear. You have an animal power, a
magnetic charge that marks you as theirs. It’s fascinating, really.” Himalast heard
these words in Chaysen’s mind, and he volunteered, “Tell the young one that what
we require is strength of spirit, simplicity, purity of mind and the willingness to put
aside the usual comforts of human life.”
           After Chaysen conveyed these words, Gebrido shook his head, saying,
“That’s a tall order, Chaysen. I suspect there are precious few who will become like
you. I respect your connection to the Kryphae and your choice to end your previous
life as a citizen of Antara. I just wanted you to know that. It won’t be easy when you
go back and have to explain all this to your family. If ever it matters, know that you
have my support.” His expression becoming more serene, the Kryman returned, “I
am grateful for those words. I have delayed long in journeying not only because I
was needed elsewhere, but for the difficulty of reconciling who I was with what I
have become. But nothing can be put off forever.”
           Seeing that Trini had made her way to the last Kryphon, cooing to him in
her lighthearted feminine way, Gebrido recognized by his posture that her uncle
needed to leave. The musician said by way of farewell, “It was Lilla’s breath that sent


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you here, so we could meet in this place of beauty. Please tell your companions that I
admire their majesty and hope to meet them again someday. And you, too, of
course.” Laughing, Chaysen clasped arms with the drummer before walking over to
Klust to begin the chore of strapping into the harness. Trini came over to her lover,
and they retrieved their clothing from the nearby fir tree, as Chaysen too dressed in
his hiluba-soaked traveling gear. Now that she was properly attired, Trini sought her
uncle for a fitting embrace.
          He smiled, saying, “Let us hope it is not for the last time,” as they hugged.
Trini felt an electric glow when she was next to his skin, but also the sadness and
urgency that was upon him. “Give my love to our family, uncle. I am so happy that
we met you today.” Tears formed in her eyes as she backed away to let him finish
attaching himself beneath Klust, who was now standing upright to give him room to
maneuver. Chaysen’s mouth tightened as he attached the final strap. He bent his
knees, and the Kryphae launched into flight one after the other, Klust leading off first
as he was carrying and would set the pace for this leg of their journey.
          Gebrido and Trini watched them ascending, as they stood hand in hand in
that secluded place where they had touched on the naturally erotic, the supernally
mythic, and the exquisite agony of self-actualization in one unforgettable afternoon.




         Pangs of guilt competed with the nervous gait of her heart as Ilzhana
d’Atrasca witnessed the departure of the village militia. Jitan left her with a swift,
deep kiss. After, he grasped her arm in a firm hold and said, “Please, my love, don’t
do anything foolish. Remember, the Gathering of Eldren ordered you to stay.”
Ilzhana shook her amber mane and glared at her mate. “What good can I do here? If
they reach these walls, we are lost already,” she said with an agonized wrench of
remorse. Moksha bless, she had prayed for something more interesting to discuss in
the Council of Determination than the usual grumblings, but this? This was war,
people would be killed – those she loved most.
         Was she responsible for wishing disaster on them? Ridiculous…she wasn’t
that powerful, even if she did hold the future leader of Antara in a watery sack inside
her belly. Ilzhana waited until the trail of soldiers thinned into the late afternoon mist.
Then she checked for people who might think to restrain her before heading towards
the armory to assemble her stock of arrows and hopefully, her own bow. By rights,
they should have left it for her to use. She glanced left and right inside the
rectangular building, not wanting to be caught and punished like an errant child,
locked up perhaps, until her security was confirmed. No one else was there, so Ila
ran to the end of the long chamber bedecked with vestiges of old battles and
trappings of new combat.
         Sighting her own weapon and armor, she felt a flash of excitement. She
already wore leggings of thick kulgul leather, and the chestplate and shoulder sling
went over her light woolen shirt. Once equipped with a few days’ ration of water and


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food, she would be ready to ride. The Gathering of Eldren demanded her
confinement, but Ilzhana felt compelled by a sense of duty to serve in the way she
knew best – to fight, not just whimper in a corner, or wait until the invaders were at
their doorstep.
          Jitan was so relieved when they ordered her to stay. His aqua eyes melted
into hers as they parted, and he caressed her womb with those callused fingers. In a
way, she hated to disobey his wishes and those of the Gathering. The role of
Lam’matria was more important to the community than anything else she was
capable of, but Ilzhana couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t take action as a warrior
and protector of life. If not Trey, then who else would die this year to haunt her
memories? Whose name to attach after “If only I had done something…?”
          She was tired of ignoring the urges that pricked her like stinging nettles.
Was it selfish to desire something more than a universally awaited motherhood? She
had been taught that all beings have a sacred purpose, a Gift, and deep inside she
knew that motherhood was not the extent of her talents.
          Ilzhana thought it better to go to the communal kitchen for the few
provisions she needed, since her parents would be expecting her at home. Leaving a
note for them was too risky, even when weighed against the fact that her absence
would render them alone, without any of their children nearby. She thanked the
gods that Hajra and Trini were secure out west, while Khetu and Sanila were possibly
in Samoha already.
          Their location would have been a source of considerable alarm, were it not
for the missives sent by the Pasha. While it was of dubious comfort to the Tarin in
their path, the implication that his mercenaries had formed their own rebel outfit
meant safety for half her siblings, provided the foreign ruler spoke true. Oh, the
complexities of politics! It was all she could do to keep abreast of the subtle
machinations in their tiny village, far less the vast gears shifting between nations.
          She filled her water sack and scooped up some nuts and dried fruit. When
she first heard of the approaching troops earlier that morning, Ilzhana made a point
to create a special option. As the Lam’matria, she expected to be left behind in the
safety of the village. Ilzhana determined to leave her horse in a small meadow away
from the roads. She planned to take a shortcut through the forest, and join up with
the remainder of the village guards from all the neighboring towns. With any luck, if
she hung back with the soldiers from Shanzar and Maidal, she would not be
recognized as the Lam’matria, and would make a difference in the battle.
          It was no accident that she was uncommonly skilled with the bow. Once a
proper vantage point was found, there was much she could do to disable the enemy
forces. Tarin defenders had to stave the march of soldiers from reaching Kuméchon,
or worse yet, Ransabai. She moved with no more urgency than average for a
community on alarm, dreading to be held back when excitement and adventure were
so very close. Her chest thudding with anticipation, Ila managed to get past old
Vishka and even Thributi, since a load of firewood obscured his peripheral sight. Her
pace quickened as she entered the foothills, and her heart jumped when she saw


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Taesy looking well-fed, rested and very, very safe. The dun mare nickered at her
approach and Ila took a moment to assure her with a touch, sending images of what
was expected of them both for the next few hours, days, whatever it took for their
lives to get back to normal.
          Ilzhana believed that it was important to share truthfully with all types of
beings, and enlist their aid, rather than force it at the flick of a whip, like the rulers of
Mawrh. Her ability to connect with other species was one of the few things that
Ilzhana prided herself on, something that was personal. Not just an accident of birth.
Although, in reality, her place as the first female child of the Al’leia’s eldest daughter
was no chance occurrence, and even her gift of feeling-images was no doubt rooted in
their spiritual ancestry. Ilzhana shook her head in bemused chagrin and submitted to
Taesy’s lead. As long as she was cantering in the right direction, Ila would shut off
part of her mind and enjoy the rollicking movement, the invigorating tension in her
thighs.
          Both rider and mount reveled in the luxuriant growth and the crisp spiciness
of the forest. Despite (or perhaps due to) the danger of the times, Ilzhana d’Atrasca let
out a chortle of delight. Now she felt alive! A powerful gust of freedom swept into
her lungs and she savored it immensely.
          She continued on apace, feeling very pleased at not seeing anyone just yet.
The land changed after a while as she gained altitude. The fir trees thinned and Ila
urged Taesy into a gallop. She was relieved when they made it to a faint path, and the
denser lowland growth close to Maidal. Soon she would make her way to the
Idelwyle trail and seek a group of Tarin to blend in with. She heard a noise and some
movement ahead to the left. Taesy slowed, sensing her hesitation. Who were they?
Atrascans should have been on the broad path to Kuméchon, and these were too few.
Shanzari?
          Ila kept her hand on the bow, ready to lift an arrow at a moment’s notice.
When she was a stone’s throw away, a woman’s voice called out in slightly accented
Tarin. “Please! Can you help us? We are refugees from Pantagora, seeking asylum at
Ransabai. We are lost, and our horse is injured. Can you help us, please?”
          Hearing that anxiety, Ilzhana couldn’t help but respond, but prudence made
her ask, “Why are you not on the main roads? It is much harder to navigate in the
forest.”
          Nearly wailing in despair, the woman cried, “My foolish nephew thought to
save time this way. But we are a desert people, unused to traveling in dense growth,
and now we are lost, as well. It is by the grace of Ashina that you arrived. Tell me,
lady, have you any medicine for horses?”
“No, but at least I can point you in the right direction.”
          Several young women had stepped out of the covered transport and were
looking beseechingly at her, while the few men hung their heads down or looked
askance, humbled into silence. The foreigner’s eyes bore into her, as if to say, “What
good is your gift if you refuse to share it?”



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           She was vastly outnumbered here, alone in the woods with these strangers,
but they did appear to be a frightened, miserable lot. What harm if she stepped down
for a moment to console a wounded animal? Even the horse lifted its head to stare at
her as she began to dismount. Puzzled by its message, she paused mid-stride.
           Too late she saw that it was hobbled by design. The man nearest her sprang
into action. He seized Ilzhana by the arms, and pinned her back to him. She managed
to kick the assailant hard in the shin, but that did nothing to loose his grip as he spun
her around to face the deceiver. Stunned, Ilzhana said, “Why are you doing this?
What do you want from me?”
           Camarsh only said, “Ask the Mistress,” and marched his prisoner towards
the foreigner who made a liquid transition from distress to glee. Miraj Hazmina felt a
thrill in her loins at the sight of the Lam’matria being delivered to her so completely.
What had Atrasca come to that they would allow her to ride alone in wartime?
Ilzhana’s futile yet furious struggle contained the clue: this was a woman who
reveled in conflict. She had a fire emanating from her belly that would scorch the
little ones inside if it could not consume itself elsewhere. Even now, they shared her
passion and her plight. Suddenly the sorceress understood.
           “You have escaped. You refuse to be nothing more than a royal broodmare.
But you are still a slave to your people with their foolish superstitions against twins.
What will happen to your children at birth? One will have to die, lest they both be
half-souled.”
           Ilzhana trembled, cut to the Kore that anyone should know her secrets. Her
knees wobbled, and she leaned back on her captor for stability. She closed her eyes
and took a deep breath.
           “How do you know me? What makes you think I am with child, much less
two?”
           The Mistress of the Moon smiled indulgently, as if humoring a foolish pet.
           “Not child. Children. Half-souls, each fighting the other for its life, you
Tarin believe. In Pantagora, we do not see duality as the heart of evil, or two babies
born from the same womb as ungodly. It has been a great many circles since the
Mahamarium saw eye to eye on anything. Al’leia Marnatikha should recognize our
common source. If she cannot come to her senses, and aid us, Ransabai will suffer.”
           “If you are so powerful, why do you need me?”
The woman laughed and tossed her black mane.
           “It never hurts to purchase insurance, especially at such a low rate. Come,
did you think I would let you join your husband in battle? You are my gift.”
           She made a face in imitation of her worried captive.
           “Don’t fret, there is still a chance for you to save hundreds of Tarin lives, so
many more than if you play the heroic archer.”
           The idea of being used against her own people made Ilzhana d’Atrasca
clench her fists with impotent fury. Her nostrils flared and her chest heaved.
           “If you believe that attacking the Holy Ones will be profitable, your
judgment is in serious error,” she said. Ilzhana wished disaster on all of them, even


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the horse that tricked her. Regret soaked through her bones, and shame at the
anguish her absence would cause snaked her lungs. Reluctant to let the foreigners
see her waver, she inhaled peace from the forest itself, enough for a moments’ respite.
If nothing else, she had her pride. Ilzhana d’Atrasca shrunk back as the foreigner
approached, unsure what trickery to expect. The Mistress of the Moon came close
enough that her breasts touched Ilzhana’s shoulder. She grazed Ila’s cheek with the
back of her hand and leaned toward her. Ilzhana felt the woman’s hot breath on her
neck. She whispered, “There is no rancor here. We take only what we must, to feed
our homeland before it dies forever. Al’leia Marnatikha would not listen to my plea
to return our sacred relics. Perhaps she will listen to you.”
Miraj withdrew, then trailed an index finger from the Lam’matria’s chest down to her
womb. Releasing her sensuous touch, the sorceress smiled slyly, relishing sex magic,
as always. Ilzhana felt a perverse thrill at the woman’s proximity, missing her
deliberate caress already. It was obvious that she was being manipulated, yet part of
her succumbed willingly. She yearned to know secrets of the universe such as this
woman possessed.
         Taesy was hitched to their wagon, and the man who bound her wrists
marched her forward. Ilzhana recalled one of the Tarin teachings: “Every setback
offers instruction.” This situation was no different. Perhaps Moksha, the Great
Guardian, had something in mind when she took this particular path through the
woods. The Lam’matria had many things troubling her, above all the fate of her
daughters. For now, she would play the prisoner, and collect what wisdom she
could.




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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA



Chapter Seventeen
Enchantment


          Chaysen left the Kryphae to drink from the falls of Tresalimundo. The clean
smell of that unique place refreshed him, and he only needed a little time to recover
from the harness. He decided to bathe later and assault Malini d’Atrasca with the
traveled stench of his new self. If he could thoroughly offend her, there would be no
question of his performing as a husband any longer. After so many months apart,
he’d begun to think that the sooner he faced her with the truth, the lighter he would
feel. Yet each step he took up the path to his former home made his stomach tumble
in anxiety. It was ridiculous, he was a Kryman now, and beyond her censure. In fact,
he was inviting her disgust. Chaysen used to love his wife, and he assumed a rough
shock would be more compassionate, besides for the cruel pleasure it might bring
him.
          Few things he’d done were good enough for the younger daughter of the
Al’leia. He was never respectful enough, never awed enough at the special honor
bestowed on him when he was selected to marry her. If he added to their bloodline,
the holiness was all hers. Since it was something completely and irrevocably his,
Chaysen took special pleasure in the knowledge that his Kryman face would be
reason enough for Malini to disavow him. Freedom had arrived in the form of an old
woman, begging aid on a long journey. Shamra saw the true nature of his pain, when
he himself couldn’t. He smiled suddenly, and blessed her.
          As he reached the top of the hill, the sun was fading and he noticed too
many people about, desperately busy at their tasks. The evening meal was normally a
sacred time to spend with family. Chaysen sensed their fear and walked faster to his
house, ignoring the hurried looks of suspicion thrown by friends who no longer
knew him. He pounded on the door, feeling the stranger. No answer came. “Malini,
it’s Chaysen,” he said in a loud voice. The Kryman glanced down at the mound of
raised flesh in the center of his palm, and touched it with a circular motion to connect
with his Kryphon self in the midst of this human crisis. He knocked again. Then
Malini peered through the curtain and gasped. She opened the door and pulled him
inside, her eyes wide in shock.
          “What have they done to you? My poor husband is disfigured.” Fascinated,
she touched his scarred cheek in tender concern, not even minding his strange odor.
Chaysen twisted his lips in an ugly line and pulled away. “I am not the man you
married, that is certain. I only came back so you could see my transformation with
your own eyes.” He wrested the candle from her and held it so she could inspect the
damage. Malini blinked and recoiled from his hurtful words. “It was difficult for me



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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

to get a message out. I was ill for some time, but my strength is better. Mali, I had to
come and tell you that my home is in the west now... with Kryphae.”
          Malini slumped into a chair and rubbed her temples. It was all wrong, this
could not be happening. In her loneliness, she had prayed for the Goddess to return
him, no matter how wrecked by his ordeals. Yet he stood before her, defending those
hideous marks with prideful arrogance. He wanted to live with beasts instead of his
Tarin family. How could she live with him so many years and never know he was insane?
          She had survived on hope, but now that it was shattered, how could she
continue alone? What fuel did she possess to see her through each day? Malini
searched her husband’s face for a remnant of the man she knew, the bond they used
to share. It was gone, replaced by the hard terrain of that foreign land sculpted in his
very flesh. The children were all that remained between them now.
          “I couldn’t stop Ketra and Dharam from joining that fool Kalgisi. It will
break their hearts to go to the edge of lands only to find you missing,” said Malini.
She wrinkled her lower lip and raised her eyebrows, but still the tears came. “Trini
told of Ketra’s plans when we met in Trevhar’s Gorge. She will be safe until I return.
As for the others, they are welcome to visit when they are older.” He placed a
tentative hand on her shoulder. “Mali, this is hard. I do not expect a portion of my
labor from the years, and you are still young enough to remarry.” Although she has
aged badly these past months, while I have died and been reborn. Chaysen sighed. Despite
everything, he pitied her.
          “Perhaps you will even find someone who is actually worthy of the Al’leia’s
daughter, someone who cares and believes as you do. If you can be honest with
yourself, I think you may recall that I was a disappointment to you, for the most
part.” Malini d’ Atrasca dried her eyes and took a deep breath. She tried to smile but
grimaced instead and reached for his hand.
          “Do you know we’re under attack? Samohan mercenaries…it doesn’t make
sense.” Chaysen knelt beside her. “Does it ever?” he said, recalling the Mawrhian
terror when he was young.
          “I will see what I can do to help. My Kryphon friends who carried me from
the west might be of service, but I must ask them first,” he said, urged by a thread of
Tarin loyalty.
           Malini clutched his arm and brightened. “Oh, please do. Ilzhana has been
missing for three days. We’ve had word from Kuméchon, she’s not with the fighters
there, and we’re so worried about her. If they could only bring her back safely, it
would be wonderful.”
          She broke down in huge sobs that shook her shoulders like an earthquake.
Chaysen found a cloth on the kitchen table and handed it to her. Gulping air, she
accepted the napkin and blew her nose miserably.
          “M’ria, I’m hungry.” Their youngest daughter appeared in the doorway.
Her mouth opened in uncertainty at the sight of her mothers’ blotched face and this
man who was oddly familiar.



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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

         “Come here, Pipa,” Chaysen said, and she knew him. Panipa yelled,
“Patria!” and ran into his arms. He said, “I have Changed, but I am still your father.”
And he kissed her hair and bounced her on his knee, answering all her questions as
best he could, so Malini might compose herself and fix the child something to eat.




          Ketra shook the last drops of water from the skin sack. She had been
traveling alone in the wilderness for the past five days, questioning her sanity at
regular intervals. If she had money, she might be on horseback, but the mare she rode
from Atrasca refused to get up one morning, and her guide wanted more ambra than
she’d ever seen for his precious ride. He let her sit behind him for a day and a half.
When they reached the border of Vulhal, he gave her a portion of water and said,
“I pray your spirit leaves before the karmangrel start on your body.” Then he left
her. Tree cover was sparse, and the sun baked her skin like ochre brick. She wore a
wide-brimmed hat, but the piercing rays swam right through it. The dry heat burnt
her eyes and Ketra’s legs ached from the constant exertion.
          Why didn’t she stay with her mother in Atrasca? She’d never forgive herself
if she died out here. What had she accomplished? Nothing. Perhaps it was a fitting
end to her pointless existence. If Chaysen had wanted Ketra to join him, he would’ve
asked in the beginning. What help could she offer, anyway?
          I’m in a wretched state. Moksha, I need to get there soon.
          It took every bit of willpower she had to keep on walking. The sun was past
its zenith. Ketra wondered where she would sleep and if she would wake up again.
Each step she took mired her deeper in despair. She began to doubt if her father had
ever loved them.
          A clump of scrubby bush caught her eye. It was paltry shade, but she would
rest there. Reaching that spot quickly became the sole objective of her life. Then a
great shadow covered the ground in front of her. It grew even larger and separated
into two pieces. She looked up, and her pulse quickened at the sight of Kryphae
preparing to land nearby, their vast wings pointed upward. Someone was with
them!
          Paws connected with the earth, but the human kept its legs folded tight until
the creature had settled. The Kryphon stood taller and shook its feathers out while
the person crawled out of the straps that held them aloft.
          She forced her legs to move faster, ignoring the stabbing pains. As she
neared the Kryphae, her heart sunk. It wasn’t Chaysen after all, but the old woman
who’d taken him away. Still, she was smiling, and Shamra held up a skin sack in
greeting. “Well met, daughter of Chaysen. It looks as though we found you just in
time. Come, drink. But not too quickly. I prepared some herbs to restore you.”
          Ketra accepted the leather pouch and began to squeeze out its contents. The
liquid had a bittersweet flavor which served to moderate her ardor. She drank about
half and tried to tie the string to close it, but fumbled. She was that tired. “Here, let


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                         FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

me. Why don’t you sit down in Astani’s shade? She’ll carry you to our cliffside
home in a bit.” Shamra took the pouch and pointed to the smaller Kryphon.
Shielding her eyes, Ketra looked up at Astani, who cocked her massive head and
examined her in return.
           Ketra collapsed beneath Astani and leaned her head on the right foreleg of
her new friend. Already relaxed by Shamra’s tonic, she stroked the downy fur above
solid claw. Touching firm sinew under the plump softness made her feel secure in
comfort. Peaceful at last, she closed her eyes, arms wrapped around Astani’s leg. A
few moments later she slept. Astani took the opportunity to scan Ketra’s etheric
body. She saw encrustations of dull light around her spine at the level of her heart,
throat, solar plexus, and womb. Ketra needed healing on a much deeper level than
her blistered lips. She felt unexpected compassion for this lonely girl. They would
form a bond like Neferlani and Shamra, a symbiosis of care. Ketra’s hot breath
tickled her leg, but she was loathe to disturb the human after such an ordeal, the
latest in a chain of lifetimes.
           Neferlani sent, “She is brave to come all this way, and she’ll have to be
braver to face her own past. We must be gentle with this one.” Astani sent, “That
won’t be hard. I’ve taken to her already. I hope she decides to stay a while.” Shamra
untangled the straps of the second harness and sent, “I planned on taking her back
right away, but she looks so comfortable there.”
           Neferlani stretched her spine, front claws spread out of their padded sheath.
“I’m enjoying this place for now. The sun feels nice on my back.” The harness was
clear, and Shamra arranged it on the ground in front of Ketra.
           “I’m trying hard to ignore it, but her breath is tickling my leg. I might not be
able to stand much more of this,” sent Astani, repressing a shiver. “Just move slowly,
and she won’t wake up,” sent Shamra.
           Astani shifted her weight, trying to nudge Ketra just enough to turn her
chin. Chaysen’s daughter blinked her eyes and said, “Was I sleeping?” Shamra
laughed at her adorably comic expression, but Astani regretted her intrusion.
           The old woman moved fast. Astani felt the harness straps fly across her back
and watched as Ketra stepped into her support. This would be the first time she
carried a human, but how hard could it be? Ketra was a slight thing, and Astani was
strong.
           “It’s only a short flight,” Shamra said, and cinched her own harness. “Are
you afraid?” Ketra shrugged, her sleepiness more thoughtful. “I’m nervous about
seeing my father again. Will he be pleased? I can’t help but wonder if he wants
nothing to do with us.” Neferlani sent, “Don’t tell her yet.” Shamra didn’t intend to.
            “He would certainly have welcomed you here, but he went on a trip
himself. He met your cousin and learnt of your plans from her,” Shamra said. “He
wanted you to know that he is thrilled and amazed that you undertook this journey
to meet him, and he’ll be back soon.” Ketra’s eyes flashed. “I hope so. Anyway, I
think I’m ready now.”



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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

           Astani tensed her hind legs and unfurled her golden wings. So sudden was
the liftoff that Ketra had no time to adjust before the sensation of floating like a cloud
came over her. It was so beautiful up here –clean and pure, with everything in its
proper place. The few trees formed patterns that reminded her of constellations.
           What colors the land was painted with! It appeared drab and consistent
from her limited perspective on the ground. Now that she could see the world from
the vantage point of a Kryphon, Ketra thought it magnificent.
           Nestled securely under Astani, she felt safer and more welcome than she
ever had in the human world. If only she could cease to be human altogether and fly
as the Kryphae did. Such joy would be hers…the feeling she had for Astani was such
that no words were necessary – it was communion along a continuum of thought.
           Back in Atrasca, words were required for everything – to eat, to work, to
sleep. There were so many prescribed sayings that Ketra found she put less of herself
into the basic functions of life each day. The part of her that resented this lack of
spontaneity went into a dreamtime much more vital than Tarin prayers and
pleasantries, grown putrid with repetition. As she pondered these things, Ketra
sensed that Astani understood her feelings. She heard her speak through the air, “We
live for the present moment, eternal, yet always changing.”
           Was there any other way to live? All the rest was just an imitation, a hollow
mockery of expression that must once have been sublime. Grey cliffs loomed beneath
them in the distance, and Ketra shared Astani’s excitement, as if this place belonged
to her too. Neferlani led the descent, while Ketra left her stomach six feet above as
Astani prepared to land.
           “Be ready to fold your legs soon,” the Kryphon sent. Ketra was grateful for
the warning. Her reflexes were dull with exhaustion, and she nearly scraped her shin
anyway. Shamra was out of her harness in no time, over to aid Ketra, who struggled
with the complex knot.
           Once freed, she marveled at this new landscape. Her heart was full to
bursting at its shimmering presence. The sun danced on the waves, light vibrated on
the joyous waters. And the scent! Fresh ocean, ripe with salt, the first Ketra had ever
seen of the vast horizon at the edge of land. It was intoxicating. She wanted nothing
more than to sit with her back pressed against this lofty cliff, her stone support
through millennia as she watched the play of light, saw the Kryphae home from the
hunt, saw them tear the mralin to pieces and swallow the bones raw, all the while
hearing the ocean’s refrain.
           “Rest, and be purified,” it said. “Give up the pain of centuries, and love
again. Live once more in the light of life, not in its shadows.”
           She cried for the beauty, and the gift of belonging. The sun was setting, a
great sound welled up from the Kryphae, who spread their wings and threw their
heads back as they called the molten orb by name.
           A boy sat next to her. He whispered, “Everything will be all right. You’re
with us now.” He stroked her hair and the skin of her cheek. “I love you,” he sent.
Ketra wondered at this, at his strangely marked face, the eager wisdom that


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burnished his eyes. He maneuvered all the barriers and went straight to the heart.
She opened under the force of such purity, such passion. “I am Munmohan,” he sent.
Ketra gazed at him and remembered.
         “Our souls have been entwined before,” she sent. Their past was a living
thing, bright with hope. She sat quietly amazed to have found her true mate in a
child. Yet such a wise and tender mind belonged to no man. None that courted her
could ever melt her jagged defense as this boy had done with a touch and a word or
two. Why was he here? Did he know her father? How did he get those scars?
         He traced a finger along her hairline and smiled at her with those warm
brown eyes and she forgot her need to analyze. He took her hand in his dark palm,
bronzed with the heat of SunFather, and pulled her slightly to focus on the ritual
underway.
         The Kryphae were arranged in concentric quarter circles. Shrill cries
ricocheted off the ground as they stomped their heavy paws and beat their wings to
mark the passing of the light. Ketra took in the spectacle with unalloyed joy. Her
tiredness had become a giddy elation.
         “Don’t worry. I will grow fast for you,” Munmohan sent. Ketra felt his
strength ready to burst through that small frame. He touched her and made her
come alive. She believed there was little he could not do.




          It angered the Lam’matria that a Mawhrian, of all people, had been given
her armor and weapons. The one who captured her would have been better. At least
he was only Gamoshan. But Miraj Hazmina did nothing by accident. Doubtless it was
a minor amusement for her that Ilzhana chafed daily to see Aleff Bizzena stroke the
fine wood of her heirloom bow. He gazed at her with insolent calm and fingered the
crest above the center grip, as though he might obliterate her family seal with his
sweaty thumb. Filthy slave-owner! She only hoped Gwayne had been able to take
poison or escape to the Forest of Shadden before living in bondage to such a creature.
Ilzhana looked away. Why should she give that red-haired demon the pleasure of
torment? If ignored, he would tire of the sport soon enough. The other men were not
unkind, and treated her with some deference, as befit her status.
          “Don’t trouble yourself, Lam’matria. You will bring back the peace,”
Mehudi Aron, the little goatherd, tried to console her. She wanted to shout at him,
but fatigue softened her voice, and she only said, “That is, if we ever reach Ransabai.
Do you really think you’re fooling anyone? You’ve never been north of Basan Dar.”
Mehudi winced, and Ila knew she was right. He quickened his pace, as if to avoid
further censure. But what did he care? He wasn’t even Tarin. No man from Atrasca
would betray his people by taking the enemy to their holy citadel. Still, he was truly
alone in the world, and that was enough to make anyone desperate and selfish.



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          Camarsh and Aleff may have overheard, but not likely. Aleff had the lead
with his long gait, the Gamoshan a few paces behind. Perhaps she had slipped, but
what of it? The goatherd was doubtless making a real attempt at civility, but he
should focus his attentions elsewhere. Ilzhana thought him a sniveling hypocrite, but
preferred not to think of him at all.
          The girls bounced along in their covered wagon. They, at least, seemed
impressed with her unique status in Antara. There was no High Priestess in
Pantagora, and they hid behind the veil of dance in order to meet. It was impossible
for Ila to imagine such a different society, or to fathom what drove them on. What
was it, in fact, that kept her feet moving one in front of the other, despite the utter
exhaustion?
          Camarsh tapped her on the shoulder and offered a water skin. She drank
more than usual, but he didn’t seem to mind. “Do you want a turn in the carriage
now?” His brown eyes registered concern, if not respect. Camarsh had a square, open
brow that invited trust, and Ilzhana found a certain solace in his presence now that it
was no longer binding.
          “No, I’m not ready to be shaken about as yet. Do you have any seed berries
left?” He dug a fist into the pocket of his soft leather vest and produced a small
handful. They were dusty and sad-looking, but her standards were not what they
used to be. This was the fifth day of her captivity, and Ilzhana realized with a
shudder that she’d already grown accustomed to the life. Their mode of travel
produced a routine that was itself a source of comfort, and the physical exertion freed
her of incessant worry for her family, even Jitan. They struck camp at dawn after a
breakfast of rye porridge and walnuts. She rode in the carriage part of the morning,
and walked for the rest, with one or another of the apprentices to keep watch beside
her.
          If there were edible herbs along the way, Ilzhana pointed them out. At first
Miraj seemed to think she might want to poison herself, so she held the plants and
asked what powers they held for good or ill. Once assured of their beneficial nature,
Miraj did not question her again. In the late afternoon they would often find a shady
spot to have a meal of dried goat and unleavened bread. When the horses tired, they
stopped for the night. She shared a small tent with Ingkhar and Maitara, which
seemed always to be guarded by one of the men.
          The women only spoke Tarin when they addressed her. Otherwise they
conversed in their own mellifluous tongue, punctuated by many soft vowels. Some
words she recognized from their common ancestry, and Ila was beginning to learn
more, in order to gather clues as to their real plans.
          It was strange that they traveled northwest, away from Ransabai, but she
said nothing to the Mistress to correct their line of attack. Miraj had a window into
her mind which made lying fruitless, but Ila could hardly be faulted if the Mistress of
the Moon failed to ask the right questions...
          By turns the sorceress was cruel and seductive, coaxing emotions and
intelligence along the same table of air. Ilzhana found a few reasons to sympathize


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with her, despite her abhorrent methods. It was easy to believe that her haughty
grandmother denied Miraj an urgent request with resolute indifference. Yet if she
must negotiate a truce, she needed some proof of Pantagora’s claim to these
mysterious stones. If this was the best plan they could come up with, their plight
must be serious indeed.
            The Mistress of the Moon uttered a loud command, and Geord brought the
wagon to a halt. A couple girls headed for the trees immediately. Miraj leaned out
and beckoned to her captive, long fingers dancing through the air. “Come here, my
pet,” Miraj said, and gestured for her captive to sit. The baby of the bunch, Juti, had
her head on Miraj Hazmina’s lap and was still fast asleep. “Rashmana, my love, make
room for Ilzhana.” She supposed there were worse names than “pet” for a prisoner
of war.
           She clambered up the back step and sat between Rashmana and Miraj, who
had quite a hold on her advanced student. Ilzhana couldn’t be certain that Rashi had
escaped slavery at all, or merely traded coarse rope for silken thread. Miraj was so
proud of how she rescued her Tanduri apprentice from the desert. It was one of the
first stories she told in an effort to prove how agreeable a sorceress could be.
           “You have such beautiful hair,” the Mistress of the Moon said, and stroked
Ila’s amber tresses. “So thick and shiny. Tonight Rashmana will show you how I like
it.”
           Ilzhana could feel the Tanduri woman’s displeasure by the sudden tension
of her thigh, and the abrupt change in her breath. They were ascending much steeper
ground than when she first met them near Atrasca, and Rashmana’s weight pressed
on her with some discomfort.
           “I would be pleased, my lady.” Ilzhana could well afford to acquiesce. She
had seized on the means of her escape, and must play it to the hilt. She turned to
Miraj and cupped her jaw, then pulled her chin down so their lips nearly touched.
            “Sometime you should return the favor, don’t you think?”
Miraj Hazmina locked an alert gaze on the captive. Ilzhana dissolved into the deep
well of those black eyes, and she swayed with nausea, terrified of losing herself
completely to the sorceress.
           The carriage jolted, and Rashmana’s shoulder nudged her back. Miraj
pressed Ilzhana’s hand and said, “If you fulfill your destiny as it shall be revealed, I
would do nearly anything.”
           They went on quietly after that, but Ilzhana trembled within at this new
revelation, satisfied only at Rashmana’s thorough misery. It was unavoidable if this
plan were to work, but she was sorry all the same. The girl was not to blame for any
of it, not even her “marriage” to Aleff Bizzena. As if a Mawrhian would ever take
vows with a Tanduri woman, even under pretense to be Wellish. What was worse, if
Rashi wasn’t mooning over Miraj Hazmina, she gazed at the flame-haired man as
though she longed for something more than fiction. “Oh, may Lilith curse the lot of
them!”



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           Ilzhana closed her eyelids and managed to sleep fitfully for a couple hours.
She was jolted awake often enough to be reminded of her preference for walking, if
only her thighs ached a little less, and she were free to locate herself at will.
           Ilzhana was ecstatic when at last they stopped the carriage. Aleff raised the
back flap and the girls flooded out to the bushes. She avoided his hand on her
descent. Rebuffed, he said, “No matter. I’m still guarding you for the rest of the day.
I’ll be only a step away, if you need anything … my lady.” Ilzhana stretched and
said, “The only thing I need from you was mine to begin with, vermin.” She hated
every last hair on Aleff Bizzena’s head, and he seemed to enjoy the knowledge,
because he grew more facetious by the hour. His rough hands encircled Rashmana’s
waist as he helped her down, and he smiled at her with apparent feeling, which
improved Ilzhana’s opinion of him ever so slightly.
           The Lam’matria glanced at the cliffs and pondered her escape. She wouldn’t
get very far on foot, with no food or knowledge of the land so far from her own
village. Taesy was roped in tight with the other horses, and she was unlikely to have
enough time to free the mare before her own recapture. On foot, the Sorceress might
easily reclaim her and be less kind a second time. Even then, she needed her bow in
order to hunt food for the journey. She sighed and made her way to a large clump of
brush to relieve herself. Aleff Bizzena followed. Glad that he wasn’t watching too
closely, Ilzhana slithered out of her pants. Really, a skirt would have been better for this!
           She hid herself well inside the greenery, in case he decided to peek. But he
kept his back turned, and whistled a cheerful little tune which was every bit as
annoying as it was comical. Once the flow began, it lasted for a while.
           “Ah, the sweet sound of running water,” Bizzena said, and turned around
just as Ilzhana was drying off. Deprived of her smallest privacy, she could not resist
an insult. “Reminds you of your homeland, does it?” He laughed and said, “Matter
of fact, it does. The blasted desert in Pantagora was killing me. I’m used to lush
waterfalls, not yellow rivers, my sweet.” Ila grunted, a tacit accord that she would
never get the best of this man. She took no time at all to pull her pants up, but made
sure to tie her drawstring looser, aware of her little ones just beneath.
           Once away from the bushes, the sorceress gestured to them. Ila tried to keep
her distance from Aleff as they walked, but he was so tall, and he insisted on keeping
an arm outstretched in the air to guard about her waist so that his hand sometimes
brushed the top of her buttocks. She chewed her lip in annoyance. Just another
indignity I have to endure courtesy of Miraj Hazmina. Ilzhana stood very close to the
sorceress, so that she had to tilt her head back to meet her eyes. “Yes, Mistress?” she
asked submissively, fluttering her eyelashes a bit. Rashmana was watching, and
Ilzhana needed bitter jealousy to churn within her. For good measure, she might as
well flirt with the Mawrhian too. “Aleff was just telling me how pleased he is to be in
Antara, weren’t you?” Despite her revulsion for the man, Ila reached out to stroke his
arm wickedly. She gazed up at him with such theatrical adoration that Rashmana
must surely be in agony if she cared for him at all. And yet she would also have to be



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blind, or at least cockeyed to believe such a ruse after her recent and consistent vitriol
against the man. And yet, such are the lyrics to the tune of lust.
          Miraj Hazmina licked her wide sensuous lips as if she enjoyed the game.
Her right arm encircled Ila’s small waist. “Come with me,” she said, “We are going
on a short trek. Camarsh and Mehudi will assist you. Aleff, go help Rashmana with
the horses.” He was deliberately goading the prisoner, and Miraj wanted Ilzhana to
be in a more favorable mood when they reached the lake cavern. The sorceress
uttered a high-pitched cry, and the hawk she named Horat came swooping down to
land on her left forearm. Miraj fed it the heart of a rabbit killed that morning, and was
so familiar that she didn’t even use a glove. The Mistress of the Moon stroked the tiny
feathers above its beak when it finished tearing pieces of the meat. She cooed to it for
a moment and then lifted her arm to set it alight. The hawk flew through the trees
and higher, till it became only a small swift object in the sky.
          Miraj had another hawk she named Uazet. She used them as scouts, and
Ilzhana suspected that she could see whatever they did, or how could she always
know what lay ahead? “Where exactly are we going?” she asked in hopes of
something to look forward to. Ilzhana had been fit before, but never had occasion to
walk so far every day. She had only taken a few steep paces, yet her thighs burst with
stabs of fire. Miraj said, “You’ll agree that it’s worth the extra effort.” She rather
doubted it, but Ila counseled herself that anything which delayed Miraj from
obtaining her precious Kripakarta must be worth some measure of excitement, and
yes, the pain.
          The sorceress walked in front for the first time all day. She wore leather
sandals and a long dun colored dress tucked into a thick belt tied near her left hip. At
least Miraj had a change of clothes. Ilzhana loved her kulgul leggings and woolen
shirt, but she was so ready to wear something different. She fantasized about a
perfumed bath, decent food, and a proper Tarin dress when they reached Ransabai.
That is, if she couldn’t escape to a nearby village. Some people from this province
may have been at her Jumma Marthi – and just think if they saw her now, reeking
with humiliation. Even though she had never ventured this far west before, she knew
the land was populated, if sparsely. This mountain range extended all the way across
the northern territory. Ilzhana nursed valiant images of lone travel through the
wilderness, but sometimes other Tarin joined her. She often rode Taesy like a heroine,
but she would gladly enter Ransabai on foot if need be.
          The narrow path rose in a high ascent. Large boulders loomed precariously
to their left, and the earth was cut away sharply to the right. A stream was visible
through the brush below, with dappled sunlight forming beautiful patterns on the
surface of the water. Although it would be very cold, Ila wished to immerse herself in
it, to clear her mind of the sorceress’ presence which seemed to hover in the
background of her thoughts always, an obstinate intruder.
          Miraj said nothing, but kept up a steady pace she found difficult to match.
Behind her, Mehudi Aron was telling one of his interminable stories, doing his best to
keep Rashmana entertained, but Ila could not allow that. She sat down on a boulder


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                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

and extended one leg to block the path. The Tanduri pair slowed and she said, “Oh,
Mehudi, I’m so tired. You’ll just have to carry me.” Rashmana frowned and Ilzhana
could swear that both eyes were glaring at her, even if one was a bit off-course.
           The goatherd patted her knee with sly condescension and said, “Take your
time, lady,” before stepping around her. Within a few paces, Camarsh knelt
alongside. “It can’t be much farther. Look, Uazet is circling above the next pass.” He
grasped her hand, but Ila pulled it away. “I’m not getting up for a while. She can
wait. I’m the one who’s been walking all morning. I deserve to rest.” Camarsh
agreed, “Of course you do. But let’s not make the Mistress angry. Then things will go
badly for all of us.” Ila glanced at him with some amusement, “What, a grown man
so afraid of his mother?” He grimaced and rolled his eyes. “You know that is false.
Come. I will carry you until you find your legs again.”
           She began to protest, but the Gamoshan clutched beneath her knees and
neck, lifting her easily to his chest. Once up, she found herself more nervous about
the precipice, and grasped at any piece of him she could claw at until he tightened his
grip and said, “Relax. I’ve never lost a passenger yet.” Ilzhana had an attack of mirth
so fierce that her body would not stop shaking, although her timing was poor. The
soldier continued on the narrow path, but he almost squeezed the laughter out of her
with the tension in his body for the concentrated effort it took. When they reached the
broader plateau, Camarsh lowered her to the ground with uncommon gentleness. Ila
felt like a traitor for the disappointment that raced through her body and climaxed in
her thighs, which resumed their litany of ache and strain as if never interrupted.
“You’ll carry me again, but only where the trail is wider.” She wiped the tears from
her eyes to see Camarsh actually smile at her, and she realized that he could be
handsome without the perpetual grimace.
           Miraj stood within the cave, her long dark hair an ebony aura about her
olive skin. She held her hands out for Ilzhana to join her, and the prisoner reluctantly
came inside. They walked to a deep cistern, where water flowed up from an
underground supply. Ila drank and the Mistress joined her, stripping to the waist.
Ilzhana had not seen her thus before, and thought her very beautiful. Miraj gestured
for her to do the same and Ila removed her woolen shirt which was very filthy with
travel. Some water on her skin would do a world of good. Miraj had a natural
sponge and some peppermint oil soap that made her skin tingle. It felt amazing, and
Ila was only dimly aware that Miraj must want something from her to be this tender
in her ministrations. It was delightful to be clean and she began to take off her pants
as well, and Miraj smiled, pleased that she didn’t have to exhort her to nakedness; she
stood unclothed of her own free will, ready to receive a vision in the spring. The
Mistress was naked too, and Ila couldn’t help but think she saw herself. Miraj took
her hand and they peered together over the edge. The sorceress splashed water on
her head and Ilzhana did the same. She interlaced her fingers with her captor’s
because it seemed like the right thing to do. They peered over the edge and a scene
developed in the water.



                                          145
                        FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          A woman riding in a wagon, checking on her precious cargo – something
that looked like a giant egg. There was something familiar about her, she looked like
Miraj. Or like Ilzhana. The scene shifted and the egg-shaped stones were cleverly
hidden in a ceiling. On the outside the building looked to be Ransabai. “I’ve never seen
such things – they must be in the Al’leia’s private quarters,” she thought. “We really do
have this Kripakarta that Miraj has desperate need of - the Nine Sacred Stones. But what
could I possibly say to make the Al’leia give them up? How can I make a difference in her
world?” The scene shifted to one where this woman wore vestments and was
preaching to a large throng of people. Ilzhana finally realized that here was Degari
Jehan, the prophetess, the inception of her faith. Miraj watched, entranced. Ila studied
her and then suddenly she looked up and their eyes met. Ilzhana felt that she gazed
at another version of herself. It was a most peculiar sensation. For those few
seconds, a flash of light hung in the air, while the background receded into
nothingness. What did it mean? Was she a part of some grand design as yet
unrecognized? Miraj knew these things, of that she was certain. “Tell me, Mistress,
what you know. Why did you bring me here to this magic place?”
          Miraj Hazmina swayed and said, “I need to know that you’ll do the right
thing if given the chance. The Kripakarta belongs in Azatlan, the New World after the
end of time, in the hidden forest of the Mahamarium. Paradise Earth will be reborn,
even as we together used to be Degari Jehan and are reborn as One. You carry one
stream; I carry the other. Our children must marry and form a new royal line that
incorporates all the ancient teachings in one rich bloodline. You will have your twins,
never fear. I need you to speak some words in the ancient tongue when we get to
Ransabai, when you are on that holy ground. Will you do this for me, for our
children?” I look at the Mistress, and she has never been more serious. She needs this
in earnest, and I cannot deny Paradise. “What must I say?” She takes both my wrists
in her hands. “This is very important, now. You must get as close as possible to the
Al’leia’s private quarters, to the Source. This is the salt-water pool where the
Kripakarta has been embedded in the ceiling. We need them to go back home to the
forest. They contain essential codes from Paradise One. The words I want you to say
mean, “You are free to go home again, Kripakarta, the Mahamarium await thee. Spin
out thy vibrant ecstasy, of celestial beauty. Codes of perfect order, divine law made
manifest. Go home again, Kripakarta. Spin out thy vibrant ecstasy amidst sex magic
and wild celebration! We have won the right to Paradise Earth, Ilzhana d’Atrasca! I
will teach you how to say these words in the ancient way, so the Kripakarta will obey
you as we walk back to the carriage.”
          My heart pounds. “Where will you be? Why do I need to say the words?”
Miraj says, “It is my intention that we should say them together. Then it will be as
though Degari Jehan herself were uttering this command. Do you understand how
powerful we can be? If you’ll only learn from me and share that which you know,
everything that Pantagora has lost.” Ilzhana takes a deep breath. Her skin is
becoming excessively cool now, and she puts back on her dirty shirt. “Could you not
spare a change of clothes for me? Seeing as how we’re practically sisters? I think it


                                          146
                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

shows a lot of nerve to kidnap me and then expect me to believe this story of our
past-life connection. You have an army of mercenaries marching on our capital and I
should just return a priceless treasure with some magic words? You must not have
planned on meeting me. You intended to do this thing an altogether different way,
didn’t you?” Miraj says, “I will lend you some of my own clothing. We just wanted
to see how many days you could go in underwear and leggings. We find it amusing,
you see. Women don’t fight in Pantagora. Perhaps I should give you back your
armor. And especially your bow.” Ilzhana flared her nostrils and said, “That would
be nice. If you expect to enlist my aid in this cause, you might start treating me
decently.” Miraj Hazmina touched her damp hair and said, “No one told you that
you should walk behind the carriage. Why do you fatigue yourself when you are
pregnant? Are you trying to miscarry, so that you won’t have to hide your second
child?”Ilzhana pressed her lips together in displeasure at that painfully accurate
observation.
          “I choose to walk because I need to keep myself fit as a warrior, and I am
accustomed to exercise, rather than riding in a carriage. I would sooner have my
horse back and ride to find my husband, but you have my mare hitched up and I
don’t much like that.” Miraj says, “No, because you are trapped with us. Has it been
such an awful confinement? Have you not learned much about yourself today
alone?” Miraj puts her clothes back on and they walk outside where Camarsh is still
dutifully guarding the entrance. The girls are waiting to see something of their own
in the Mirror of Memories. Rashmana is next and Ila takes care to stand close to Miraj
and touch her conspiratorially for the senior apprentice’s benefit. Rashmana
grimaces, as expected. Good. Ilzhana still has hopes of being a heroine in this war.
But what is the right way to achieve that status?




                                         147
                       FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA


Chapter Eighteen
Reunion Song


          Chaysen flew low beneath Himalast, searching ever westward for Ilzhana,
as she did not appear to be heading for Ransabai at all. Himalast stopped to rest
often, and he found out there was a band of foreigners with a girl who fit Ila’s
description. Nightfall had not yet arrived, and he hoped very much to find her today
since the Kryphae said they could not continue; they had duties back in Vulhal and
were anxious to return. 'I too am eager to meet Ketra, who undertook such a
dangerous journey to find me. That’s true love; she is the only one who ever
understood me. Will even Ketra react to the sight of my scarred face? I have to believe
she will accept me. I raised her up with care, it wasn’t just Malini. I need to see her
safe and know that she is happy among Kryphae. If only I could find Ilzhana soon. I
hate to break my word to Malini. But I only have through tonight; it wasn’t my
decision. It’s the most the Kryphae can do. Wait – I recognize that horse! That’s
Taesy. I’d know that mare anywhere, I practically delivered her, and I remember how
excited Ila was at thirteen to get such a beauty. Ilzhana must be nearby. Himalast
read Chaysen’s mind and began his careful descent, landing a safe distance from the
horses. A red-haired man was there guarding them. And he had Ilzhana’s bow! She
would never have relinquished that without duress; he hoped they had not harmed
her.
          Aleff Bizzena was troubled by the appearance of this strange-looking man
with three huge beasts. He had the air of someone carrying out an important errand,
officious and stern. Chaysen said, “I would like to see your prisoner, if possible.”
Aleff feigned ignorance, but maintained his hold on the telltale bow, of which he had
become quite fond. Chaysen pressed him. “Where did you get that lovely weapon?”
Aleff now understood that this man knew Ila well enough that lies were pointless.
“I’m holding it for a guest of ours.” Chaysen smirked. “That’s a nice way to put it.
But I know Ilzhana d’Atrasca, and she does not consign her bow to anyone. Not even
her husband. It goes on display or in her hands. Like a religious thing, you know? So
where is she, in the mountains?”
          The Mawrhian shrugged, as if he really didn’t know. Chaysen said, “This is
a big wagon here. How many people are you traveling with?” Aleff replied, “Maybe
twelve.” The Kryphae lolled on their haunches and Aleff had a perverse desire to
shoot one of them as a trophy and leave all the girls behind, just ride back home to
Mawrh and hope that the regime had changed enough that he could make a life
there. He was suddenly tired of being a mercenary, making excuses for a sorceress.
Justifying his possession of a bow. So what? “I’d like to know what happened to
your face, since we’re getting to know each other so well.”




                                         148
                         FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA

          Chaysen gestured to the sleeping Kryphae. “They happened to it. I belong
with them now. I said I would look for Ilzhana as a last favor to my Tarin wife who I
have left behind permanently in favor of a Castout woman, her son and these
wonderful new friends of mine. So I suppose I’ll just wait here and eventually she’ll
turn up.” Aleff wouldn’t mind seeing the last of that stuck-up princess. If only he
could keep her armor, he wouldn’t mind making some other woman dress up as a
warrior that he could strip and ravish. When they came upon her in the woods, it
was all Aleff could do to restrain himself! How he longed for his Mawrhian women
warriors. And he missed out on any possible raping and looting by being under the
very nose of the woman who forbid it on this campaign. Nevermind that, Rashmana
was proving to be a very talented substitution, and he did feel something for her
other than lust.
          Miraj and Ilzhana appeared in the distance, singing together, happy sounds
that felt like flowers blooming near a waterfall. Chaysen was delighted to see her
doing so well, and that he would not be forced to return to Atrasca empty-handed.
He hated to interrupt them, so Chaysen decided to wait until she recognized him and
moved to stand apart from the horses. Ilzhana soon broke mid-sentence and stopped
in her tracks. Chaysen smiled and opened his arms. Ila shrieked and ran to him – he
met her and easily picked her up. “Uncle! You’re finally back – oh, look at your face.
It’s so dramatic. You know, I like it. It’s sexy.”
          “I think Trini might have agreed with you there.” Ilzhana jumped, almost
stomping on his foot, “Where did you see Trini?” Chaysen patted her shoulders and
said, “In Trevhar’s Gorge, with her boyfriend.” Ilzhana hugged him again, as if she
could hardly believe he was solid. “What are you doing here? Looking for me?” The
Kryman nodded and said, “Malini and I have parted ways, but I agreed to search for
you first. So I am very glad that you have been found and are on such good terms
with your captors.” Ila nodded, “Yes, it’s a bit complicated but I wonder if you could
possibly take both me and my friend to Ransabai?” Miraj saw the opportunity to
introduce herself and thought this renegade Tarin might be just the man to help.
Chaysen asked, “Why do you need to go to Ransabai? Why not go home to Atrasca
and be with your family?” Ilzhana said, “Of course I will go home, I just need to do
something to save one country and restore balance and equality to the other. We
have to return the Nine Sacred Stones back to Pantagora. Will you please help?” The
Kryman thought for a moment. “My friends are already very tired. But I will ask
them.”
          Himalast sent, “We are listening, my friend. And it is crucial that we do this thing
that they ask, exhausted or not, and do it quickly. The magic is waning in the homeland of the
Old Religion. We must restore it now. Come, let us go right away. For this we have traveled,
and Aest knew of what he spoke. The template of the elders will be replaced, and the world
born anew.”      The Mistress of the Moon quivered with victory as she met Ilzhana
d’Atrasca’s excited gaze, and they set about converting their bridles into a harness for
each, with Chaysen’s expert touch.



                                            149
                    FLESH OF ZENATHA – LILA K. ASHINA




If you liked this fantasy novella, you might want to try some
automatic writings by Lila K. Ashina at www.mythicchannel.com


Comments may be directed to lilakashina@gmail.com
Thank you!




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