"You are Nightwind," it named me, pulsing slightly, "Call me Warren."
"Warren?" I asked, my first actual thought, in my haze.
"Yes. Relax. We are now as one."
I became conscious of a warm, tingling sensations. I couldn't feel anything but the being entering my soul, mind and body. Then tactile sensation came. I was in some jelly-like mass, encased. It was mushy and dark. I wasn't even breathing yet. It was just like a mother's womb, a thick warm place.
The jelly began sinking downward, sucked out of my little shell. I rested a hand against a wall and found the floor beneath my feet, my first physical sensations. All the gel was gone. Warm, drying air came through the top of the shell. I felt a need to inhale and I did. I felt stronger, more stable.
"Zonam will be impressed!" Warren commented. "I doubt there has ever been a female with the potential you have." Somehow Warren seemed disappointed, though. "Brace yourself."
I took him as literally as he had intended, his thoughts easily understood. I held out my hands to the sides of the shell, and tensed. Information began coursing through my mind from Warren's. Insane amounts...faster and faster. I accepted and rejected information much as any person living through their life does. Then the seeming infinite wisdom ceased. I knew who I was, where I was and why I was. I knew my faults and weaknesses, and of my powers as well. I knew that I was full of energy to use my powers. I knew its source. The walls, the floors...all the stone around me gave me its strength. I was encased in metal, and the metal yielded no power, and it let none in or out, but I could sense it. The metal was attached to technological instruments and crystals to amplify magical power.
I was ready to face Lord Zonam and his entourage, although I was certain I would feel very awkward using my new voice and language for them. I depressed a button inside the shell. The front jerked, a crack of light forming in a rough triangle before me, then it hissed, separating the door into two halves which moved apart, out of sight of me. I stood completely naked in front of five heavily robed people. Four wore black robes with the hoods raised, symbols painted on the outside of the robes from head to foot in all colors. My eyes drank in the diversity eagerly. Warren studied the symbols very briefly before giving me information about each of the people. The fifth person was very unusual, as compared to myself and the other four.
I knew this was Lord Zonam.
Zonam wore black robes, and was hooded as well, but he wore a molded golden face mask. I knew the face under it was old, well wrinkled, even ugly by Elven standards, but most unusual were his swirled blue eyes. Glowing, electric blue, through the mask. He had a scepter in one hand, and his robes were decorated with a symbol of an eye, encased in a triangle, three dots at each point, and three lines from each side.
My eyes met his for a moment, then lowered, involuntarily. I realized that Warren had done this, for I was much below Zonam in station and that was the acceptable action. I fell to one knee automatically, and rose at the flick of his remarkably pale, long-nailed hand.
My own body was strong, short for my people, and definitely feminine. I was perhaps nineteen in human equivalent, or simply coming of adulthood for an Elf. Like the other Elves in the Temple, my skin was nearly black, my own nails long and sharp.
One of the three Elves stepped forward and handed me a plain robe. I slipped it on over my head, and tied the belt around my waist, wondering at the familiarity of the ritual.
"What is your name, Ninth?" Lord Zonam requested, as ritual proscribed. It passed through my head from Warren that the rank was fairly high.
"I am Nightwind, my Lord," I answered shakily. My voice would sound much better with training.
"Welcome, Nightwind the Ninth." He spun on his heel, and two of the others turned a moment afterwards. The other two waited. I took the liberty to look around.
The room was pearly white, eight cylinders were suspended, four along each wall, and an arched doorway led away from this chamber, at both sides. The ceilings weren't too high, and for the first time I realized how much taller Zonam was than the rest of us.
The other two who were left motioned for me to follow him, and walked beside me, through a door.
We entered a chamber with many tables and chairs. There were a few of the robed figures bustling about, and many more who were not wearing the elaborate robes. Everyone's hood was down, and there was a place where we would get food, everyone here was eating. I recognized faces from Warren's memories, but I did not feel comfortable saying hello. Warren admitted that I would have to build relationships with people again.
Zonam stopped. "This is our cafeteria. You will be coming here once a day, whenever you have time, for a meal, and you may return for Fangrah as often as necessary." At the mention of Fangrah, my mouth began watering, and my mind's eye pictured a steamy blue-purple liquid mentioned in Warren's lecture. It was an addictive substance my mind and body already longed for, for it was the life of our Elves. It was their energy for their magic, their vitamins, their spirit-raiser in the dark confines of Temple Black. A robed figure, female, came forward with a goblet. I could smell the rich, sweet aroma, and accepted the cup. But I did not drink, despite every urge of my body to partake. Warren and I in perfect accord with one another about the subject, raised our shared eyes first to my Lord.
He seemed startled. Well he should be. "It takes more than just willpower to hesitate to drink your first cupful," he remarked aloud. "I dislike it myself, but it should be irresistible. What is wrong?"
"I am but awaiting your permission to drink in your presence, my Lord." Warren teased in my serious voice. "I would not wish to violate any customs or traditions." Of course, through Warren, we both knew it wasn't traditional to await permission, but we wanted to impress him.
"Traditionally the cup would be grabbed and emptied in no time. Drink!"
I took a huge sniff of the wispy vapors, and my head swam. The need was nearly irresistible. I raised the cup to my lips and poured it down. I felt it flowing into me, giving me strength, in a warm wash from my toes, up my calves, thighs, body to my head. I felt it coursing through my veins, the world swirled like the fumes.
I began to lose my balance, but the female who served me steadied me with a gentle nudge. I smiled my thanks. She smiled back, revealing pearly white teeth, fanged, against her dark skin. I was led to a seat and I sat down. Another attendant brought food, and Lord Zonam turned and left with an escort of three of the BondElves.
"I know how things run around here, already," Warren forced me to say.
"There is a shortage of Sibling Bonders, right now." Canter's Belek replied. Something was different about the eyes when the Belek spoke, making it obvious for those who knew how to look. "We will need you in top shape as soon as possible."
"I will work on it."
When I finished my first meal and Fangrah, I left the cafeteria. Our past was so detailed, to me, so distant. I had so much open to me through Warren's eyes. I knew that Zonam needed Healers to make him younger so he could use his powers when necessary. I knew that the eight birthcells had cost him many, many years...and those were the ones here, in Temple Black only. He had made many for the Temple of Krelendies...pictures flashed of Temple White, known as Krelendies, its dome and wall against the twilight. Its off-white stones, and many, many rooms were a vivid memory. Much of the Temple would be closed off because the number of inhabitants was reduced, or the rooms changed on purpose.
I went through a corridor until I came to my room, or so Warren told me it was. I entered the room.
It was fairly big, it had two beds, and plenty of extra room. There was a computer terminal on standby, reading lamps, books on the shelves, a secretary-desk with many pigeon holes, scrolled parchment inside of them. I shut off all the lights but one, went to the desk to read in the semi-light.
There was one piece of parchment out on the desk, rolled and sealed, addressed "To whom it may concern" and sub-addressed "(to my next roommate)".
I carefully broke the wax seal, without destroying the emblem, a triangle with stars at each point and a symbol in the center. I saved it in an envelope I found in a drawer, then began to read:
I would like to introduce you to our room, my letters and our library.
It went on to tell about various maps, letters, journals and diaries kept in this room. It told of three magic books in the room, a secret door out and another way out through the ceiling in the bathroom.
If you have just come in from the BirthCells, then there is paint in the third left drawer for your robe,
draw your symbol there, then go to the Workshop, you'll get your amulet and your stamp ring.
Then, afterwards, return to our room until the initiation rites are called. Don't try to have anyone else
read this, the spell I placed upon it is powerful.
It was signed neatly, by Cashous, the Second, and I called up an image of him. Handsome, old, Warren's last BondElf. Dead. Warren sighed, remembering writing the letter before the last time he went out on assignment.
I tossed the letter into a pigeon hole, then rummaged in the drawer, found the paint, disrobed, then thought for a brief moment.
"Use a variation of the Healer symbol, Nightwind. A Triangle for Temple Black, three lines at each point, three circles in the middle, joined by a fourth," Warren instructed.
I did so, and I became Nightwind, the Ninth, officially, and I had a symbol which I would be recognized by from now on. I put my robe back on, pulled up the hood, then left my room.
The workshop was a busy place. There was a book left out in the front, and I noted that it was the symbol book, and I wrote my name, then Warren's, then my symbol, and my preferred colors, then left. They would make my amulet and stamp ring for me now. Back in my room, I went to the bookshelf and pull Cashous' diary out. The last entry read:
I am off on a special mission. It may take a year, but it is worth it for my Lord Zonam.
It went on about some of the preparations. I sat at the desk, took out a pen and ink, and Warren began to add to it, after the page ended in Cashous' signature.
I am now Nightwind, the new Ninth. I was born today and I know that Cashous has died.
I watched as Warren added in how and why he died, then signed it.
There came a brief knock at the door. "Come in," Warren called and Canter entered.
"I hope you weren't looking forward to reading or writing all night, Nightwind, for the Rites will be beginning very, very shortly. We must go."
"Thank you, much, Canter. It was overly kind and thoughtful of you to inform me, even if it was Zonam who told you to do it." I smiled Warren's smile.
Canter wore a look of shock for a moment, and stepped back. "I know that look. Cashous' Ad-Belek?"
I hummed my agreement. "Do you think this form is becoming enough? Or should I trade it for another male?" Warren joked wryly. Canter was still young, Warren had been in Cashous since well before Canter's Birth. "Canter, I have known you since before you were in the BirthCell, if you get my drift. I do not lose track of Belekiv like the others do. You are the first to know, except the Lord himself, if he has interpreted my telling as anything special."
Canter visibly relaxed. Warren continued as though he hadn't noticed, "Do you think he suspects that I will always give breed to superior Elves? From all the Firsts and et-Prefelen I have been in, it was not only because I was the Ad-Belek. Why does he think I was BirthCelled at Ninth?"
Warren reached back and yanked the hood up, then moved out the door past Canter.
"I did not mean to underestimate you, oldest One."
"Be sure it never happens again, or you may become the Fiftieth," Warren joked, in mock-warning. "Sorry, son, I am in a bad mood. I lost Cashous when the trail was hot, which is very upsetting to me. Now, I am Born into a Healer." Warren shrugged, annoyed. "I guess it will be another lifetime and a cold trail to get back to her now."
"She is probably hiding from you." Canter's Belek whispered.
"Not only that, it is so rare that Zonam will let me go out and look." Warren whispered back. Both paused for a split moment, turning to each other, and my body and Canter's fell briefly into each other's arms, our hearts pressed together, and energy lit up between us, at shared grief. The other Belek's grief was less than Warren's, but Warren was grateful of the very brief Joining.
The corridors were long, and it dawned on me that this was not Warren's normal mood, but that the death of Cashous was affecting him, making him angry. By searching his mind and memories, I found that he had been close to finding something for which he searched. Or someone. And it was as important to him as my SoulKey was to me.
It made Warren irritable. Where two weeks ago, in Cashous' body, he had been somehow resembling chipper and cheery. Many people said that Warren wore out his BondElves in his searching, and it did take Warren many lifetimes to learn patience and it did extend Cashous' life. Just not enough.
Near the BirthCells were twin stairways, and between the feet of these, a large set of double-doors, now open. I took my spot, on the left, in the fifth archway from the altar. When everyone was in position, Zonam entered from behind the altar, where stood the entrance to the Lord's Chambers.
Every BondElf who was currently in the Temple was gathered in this room. There was space for fifty of them on a second level, and only the top Ten were on the floor, a few steps below the dais on which the Lord sat. This room was like this for Temple Black only, the other Temples were arranged differently, at their Lord's whims.
Everyone stood still as statues. The Lord's mind sought outwards, energy and Aura radiating outwards and grasping each and every BondElf/Belek pair into a very powerful MindJoining. With a brief flicker of power, the double doors swung shut. No CommonElf would disturb us.
The veins of crystal which formed patterns on the floor between the arches, and on the roof, sang with power. Music, much like that of a large air organ, began to fill the air from the humming of the room in response to Lord Zonam's power. That all of us were Joined meant the cost to the Lord's power was nil. And that was very important.
Words and chants rippled through our minds, causing the CrystalOrgan to sing different notes. All the rituals took place this way, the Lord leading a discussion with his ranks of loyal BondElves and Belekiv, and their individual or group responses. To the rest of the Temple, each ritual was a course of music, rich, swaying, powerful, which caused every rock to tremble with delight, every heart-chakra to shudder with ecstasy. Many of the CommonElves would spend this time away from their normal duties, revelling in the powerful magic, alone or in groups of two or more. Some would exercise their own minds and powers at this time, undertaking AuraJourneys to visit other places and times, or to visit the other Temples.
However, this was the only day I would be initiated. I was rapt, and I hung on every note, every thought, of the music. This music was shortly to become my life, and when my life at the Temple ended, the music would become the haunting melody which other, earthly, music could only echo in poor imitation.
"My little Rangers, do I feel new ones among us? " the Lord's thoughts sang in our minds.
"Yes, there are three," was the massed response. Warren receded, enjoying the facility I had with the music of the CrystalOrgan. He was also a little repulsed by this pure mental contact, after a lifetime of seeking his true self, and failing.
"And who are they? Let them step forward!" was Zonam's ritual reply.
We stepped forward, a selective movement of the mass mind. The other two were above me, on the balcony. I was the only one in the Ten who was new. The space where Cashous had been was already filled by another, probably a week or so ago. It took a while to age a body to be appropriate for a BondElf.
"And I see there is a new one in the Ten!" Zonam exclaimed. "She shall approach me now."
I walked towards the dais.
"Who are you, my daughter, what shall your Siblings call you?" This ritual line asked who the Elf was, and by asking what the Siblings shall call me, he was asking after the Belekiv. In this case, they were not Warren's Siblings. They were his Children. So Zonam really didn't know.
"I am Nightwind, the Ninth, the Healer. I am Warren, Ad-Belek, the Father of Belekiv."
Lord Zonam's eyes were lined with shock and sadness at this, as well as being happy and impressed by my being a Healer. Lord Zonam's MindJoining made his reply echo through all the ranks of BondElves. "We are so saddened by Cashous' passing," he truly meant that, and it made Warren ache for a moment in gratefulness to his old friend. "However, you are an incredible combination. I would thank you all to welcome Nightwind the Ninth, the Healer, Daughter of Warren, the Ad-Belek."
I was thus dismissed for the moment, I stood to the side at the foot of the steps, in faint mimicry of the position of et-Prefelen, who normally stood directly at the Lord's side.
The Lord called out mentally again, "And the Twentieth may approach us now."
The rite continued, with the three new siblings standing before the altar. It was not a normal Rite, it was an Initiation, a Tradition, a Ceremony. There was no more power involved that what was used in the MindJoining and the CrystalOrgan. When it ended, the Lord Zonam looked at me meaningfully, turned and exited through the doors behind the dais. Warren knew to wait until everyone had left, then to go to the Lord's Chamber doors.
I waited, and all left, looking at me, in my motionlessness. Some signaled respect to me, others signalled more personal meanings at me, some from Warren's Children, some from the Elves. Canter smiled at me, a wry grimace, with a glance at the Lord's Chambers before he left. Very few envied my position. Even the First would not have wanted to become et-Prefelen. Not a single BondElf was disillusioned enough to believe that Warren had an easy life. As Cashous, we had only aspired to Second. Not out of any dislike or fear of power, but because Warren was getting very restless and needed to seek Xaron, his twin Ad-Belek. This lifetime, it would be highly unlikely that Zonam would allow me to go on a Journey. He would want me to treat his body for aging. He would want me to take the aches of approaching mortality out of him, and replace it with youthful energy. My presence could easily add one thousand or more years to his life. And since I would probably not be leaving anyway, I would have little reason not to become et-Prefelen again. It was a title that, of all three Temples, only Warren had aspired to so often. And only Warren was known as et-Prefelen, for others it would be a simple title, lasting the length of one life. For Warren, it was his life, and his life was forever. The role he had played in gaining this world as a refuge had given him that title for eternity. That he chose Temple Black over the other two Temples was a fierce and loyal tribute to Zonam for being the first of the Elders to support Warren in his goals to free the Elves from slavery.
Everyone had left, so I went to the Lord's Chamber door, knocked lightly, and waited patiently.
The door opened, and Zonam stood there, robed and masked, towering over me. "Friend Warren, Ninth Nightwind, enter please."
I stepped in, and he shut the chamber door behind us. This room was a reception chamber, richly appointed, white walled, with a cream colored area rug, several large cushioned couches, a few tables, bright wall hangings, and very well lit. Most of Temple Black was gloomy, dark and nearly oppressive. The Lord's chambers were singing of the bright sands around which Zonam had been raised. The CommonElves' chambers were similar, bright and large. Only the BondElves lived in the ritual darkness. Their pleasures and freedom of mind and body were their consolation. Most of the BondElves traveled often, or came to the Lord's private chambers for discussions.
The next room was more simply decorated, a dining table with two chairs, one at each end. He led me through the room.
"Why did you ask us here?" I asked before Warren had a chance to speak for me.
"I normally ask those with Warren in here for their first day, to speak, to get to know them, and usually to ask Warren why he died this time." Zonam glanced at me, wry humor wrinkling his eyes behind the mask. "It has been some time since I had to 'initiate' Warren, again. I think it is very inconvenient to have him in an untrained form."
Most of what he said was true from experience, but the blatant hint at beginning Healer training now dealt me a slight shock. Mere chance had given us a BondElf Healer, and he was jumping at the chance as quickly as possible. Was there something draining his powers that we didn't know of? What pain was he in that he was do desperate?
"Why, it was very kind of you to ask, Nightwind! Yes, I would like that very much!" I felt badly about the callousness which had prompted my offer. We entered the bedroom, which boasted a richly appointed four-post bed, complete with curtains for privacy, a bench at the foot of the bed, a large worktable, now empty, a dark tapestry behind the head of the bed which boasted a map of a variation on the cosmos, mainly areas of intense interest, which was compiled by the Belekiv. There was running water playing down a fountain built into a corner of the room across from the worktable, on the other side of the bed, a fireplace beside that, and a full wardrobe beside the door into the room.
Zonam sat on the bench, turning his back to me, and I stood behind him, not willing to tell him the offer had been mostly sarcastic. I felt his soul, if you could call it that, old and tired, bored with life, lonely. I hoped secretly, as I put my hands on his neck, that I would never feel that way myself.
First I tried to be mechanical about it, but Warren was there, inside me, instructing me. "No, not at all like that. Instinct, the fingers will take themselves." My hands ran along his neck, feathery, then found a hard knot, through sensitive fingertips, and began to knead the muscles.
Warren responded to his friend's pleading tone. "Waiting patiently one hundred years for Cashous to die...? No, ask the Sea, I do not have the knowledge of that one, my Lord."
"So you think she's Fated to be here, now?"
"Well, sir, not to impose my beliefs on you or any Elf, but Yes. I must say I think everything is Fated to happen when and where it happens, if not the Captain of the Sea would have a heart attack, and the Ship would capsize!" We both chuckled at the thought of the skeletal Captain who guided Fate getting sick, or his Ship ever sinking. Zonam did not doubt in the existence of the Ship, the Captain or the First Mate, because Warren had guided him on Aura Travels there in the past. He simply did not believe that Fate ruled over everything.
"A little lower," Zonam commanded.
My hands dropped to his Lateral muscles, and between his shoulder-blades. He moaned his appreciation, and hunched his shoulders over a bit.
Half an hour later, there was a pale Elder lying unclothed, face down on the bed, rubbing oil on the nightstand, and I, a black Elf, sitting comfortably on his rump, pushing unbecomingly down on the hard knots of his back. All that remained was the infernal mask, actually more like a helmet, so that neither his hair or face showed. But his white skin and his other extremities were free to the sight, neither old nor wrinkled, as his soul felt.
"Zonam, if you don't mind our asking, would you please remove that infernal mask? It's been a thousand years since Warren saw your face. Don't you think you trust us enough?"
"Same beautiful eyes, my Lord."
"You aren't in the position to call me your Lord, Night'. We both know you could kill me, or nearly so, rather easily from where you are. Right now you are the master."
"You know Elders can't be killed!" We paused, looking down at Zonam's profile against the pillows.
"Make a bet, Healer? You could age me to oblivion!"
Age was his problem. Healing was a process of speeding metabolism, and age was an Elder's only weakness. Immortal without the use of powers, or very very mortal if used too often. Aging the Elder would cripple him, causing him to have less and less powers available for future use. Zonam was afraid to show his age, because that would be a definite sign of weakness, especially in front of the other Lords, who would be able to calculate exactly what powers Zonam could use by the age of his face. So Zonam hid his face. Admittedly, the two other Elders who were on this world were as trustworthy as could be, and friendly, but should other Elders spy on them, or find out how to get here, and succeed... thus the mask.
I thought about the use of my power to age Zonam to death. Could I? I could, a wrenching in my gut brought me reminders of Fangrah and food in the cafeteria. I jumped off him, and fell to my knees on the floor, to retch, holding the nausea at bay as best as possible.
Zonam propped himself up, "Did I say something wrong? Are you ok?" In a flux of power that passed me on my right and felt like an arm brushing me, a chamber pot came to me, and I gratefully used it.
"Oh, Night', I shouldn't have said that!" He stood in the doorway, propped against the frame, as I slipped my dirty robe up over my head.
Something didn't seem right. My name. "'Wind, not Night'," I snapped, looking at my new robe in disgust.
"'Wind. I didn't mean for you to get sick and upset....How can I amend that?"
"Clean my robe," I smirked, handing it to him.
That we had been so familiar towards each other after being alone not much more than an hour didn't surprise Warren in the least, although, he assured, there was never such an incident in Zonam's private chambers to his knowledge, but this was the first time Warren had been a Healer in these chambers, and the first time he had been reborn into a woman's form at that. It took Warren aback when Zonam paused, holding the robe at arm's length, to seemingly admire my body. We blushed, the heat rising from my thighs upward, but my dark skin hid it.
"One moment, and I will return it to you." Zonam approached the sink.
"Yeah, like hell you will!" snorted Warren.
"Warren, what are you accusing me of?" smiled Zonam. I just stood and blinked at their interplay. I didn't have much of an idea what was so damn important about Zonam looking, then I searched the knowledge Warren had given me, as Zonam began cleaning my robe.
I gasped, and turned twice as red, when I realized that this wasn't just another of Warren's male bodies. I was female and a Healer, and all healed had a tendency to love a Healer through gratitude. I had no mind to have fun with Zonam, not with anyone! And for some reason Warren reinforced my resolve.
"It is important that you don't have sex with anyone, Nightwind. It has a way to foul with the powers of a healer. I don't quite understand it, but Perek had told me this. Thought I might need to know it. He said it was good for the Healers to school themselves verses feeling another's lust feelings. The way they connect to another's feelings they wouldn't be able to stop themselves from giving in," Warren explained to me inwardly as we fought to control everything.
Zonam came out of the bathroom, handing the robe to me. "Zonam, keep yourself under control, please."
He looked at me quizzically, "Warren?"
"Yes. It isn't allowable for Healers to have sex. Did you know that?"
"I vaguely remember that....By the Sea, Warren, you remember that? That was Perek!" Zonam's alarm at so distant a memory widened his glowing eyes.
"I never forget. That's half my curse."
Zonam grunted, perhaps remembering something he would like to forget himself, and thus appreciating the immortal Belek's pain.. The death of the Belekiv had been very painful, and I knew that Warren couldn't even forget it if he wanted, he thought of it nearly every day.
"Look, Zonam, it's about time for me to get back to the dorm, I have lots of things to do. Things Nightwind will want to write in Cashous' diary...things she will want to add to it for herself."
"You are dismissed," Zonam's troubled eyes turned towards me, meeting mine, "but you will report here early on the morrow to give your report on why you died and what you found out."
I returned to my dorm, and wrote what Warren wanted me to write in the diary. An account that Warren had protected me from. Then I added my own account of the events of the day, then went to sleep, fitfully, the other bed in the room empty, as was my heart.
Days of facing Zonam's unvoiced want, in reference to my body, passed. A week of training passed, and each night held thoughts of the excuses I would need to avoid Zonam's bedchambers for another day. The man was incorrigible, and I barely got away with the excuses of my needed training. That was it, I would have to confront him, that was all!
I went to his Chambers, and knocked, first thing in the morning. In a few minutes he answered, and I bowed my head.
"Nightwind, Warren....I was just thinking of you. Come in!" His smile was so bright, I loathed what I had to tell him, and hesitated an important moment.
"Nightwind, I have been wanting to ask you. How would you feel about being et-Prefelen? Would you like to be at my side, and in my quarters?"
As et-Prefelen, Warren spent almost the whole day in Zonam's chambers, and spent nights in a small room outside of Zonam's bedroom. I winced inwardly, pleading in thought with Warren for help.
"Accept, Nightwind....my Seasense tells me to. It's important. Accept or he won't offer it to you again!"
"Yes, mi'Lord. I would like that. I understand everything expected of the position."
"Precisely why I asked you to be in it. Hasn't been filled for a few generations, the bed's a little dusty, and I almost forgot the lines to the Initiation Rite. How about in a week?"
"Oh, that would fit in my schedule, mi'Lord," I joked. "I am glad to have the honor."
"Well, as I'd been pushing you away lately, I wanted to make it up. Would you care for another massage?"
And that was how I never got to telling Zonam that it was time for him to give me room to breathe, and how I got to become Advisor (again). Now I would be above First, and no longer eligible for rotation on Assignments...that is, Zonam regularly guarded worlds and planes of importance, and had many of the BondElves searching out new and rising planes. All Bonders were trained in Plane Travelling, and like other groups of patrolers, the Bonders on Assignment were called Rangers.
Two days later there was a Rite, held in the Cathedral. Everyone in the Temple who could be was present, for it was the Rite of Krelendies, in honor for the First Death on Acres Farendis. As all Rites of importance, some Rangers came back from their travels, and some stayed away due to the importance of their Assignments.
This year the Rite was very empty. Out of sixty Bond Elf seats, only twenty-five were filled. Some were quite new to the seats. In the last three weeks, many of the Seats had changed. I stood within the Ninth arch, and the first floor joined hands, Commonelves between the BondElves, and the musical hum began, capturing all of our minds.
Communion established, the ritual mourning began.
"Where am I?" asked a voice in my mind, fuzzily, distant, and feminine.
"I beg your pardon?" I responded, as Warren asked, "Who is that?"
"I am Drendel...Where am I?" she reitterated.
"This is a Rite....I am Nightwind, this is Warren." Warren nodded mentally, and Drendel appeared in my mind, a beautiful soul, and she picked my SoulKey up, almost visually, and she held it out.
I stumbled with my thoughts, "I'm pleased to meet you," I hesitated.
The door to the Lord's Chamber opened, and Zonam stepped out, his distinctive MindVoice joining the harmony of the ritual.
"What's happening," Drendel asked. Warren quickly opened his mind to her, then turned attention to where my mind was, on the flowing feeling through my hands as the ritual continued.
"Ooh, isn't that the strangest sensastion," and she cooed out my Key again. And the MindVoice of Canter the Third rose out above everyone else's, beginning a chant, that then passed down the assembly, becoming a harmonic round. Then someone on the Second Tier took up a counter-harmony with the Fourth. The music and the sense of Oneness flowed out from everyhone, it was the BondElves in their familiar joining, the Belekiv spreading thinly through everyone, so that everyone was lightly Bound. The Rapture was intense.
"'Wind," gasped Drendel, "it's wonderful!"
"Who are you?" I asked aside from the Music. The Eleventh, to my right, squeezed my hand, seeing that I was losing concentration.
"Later," the apparition whispered to my mind.
The Rite continued until the strength of the Joining was stretched to its fullest. When it ended, the feelings of the entire group were exposed beautifully, and everyone could see eachother's soul right through their eyes.
As everyone was leaving, many were hugging and holding each other. Someone approached me as I leaned against a pillar, trying to find my wits again.
I was torn between two commitments to chat, but the young boy's distress was clear. "Oh, Jenn, of course!" I smiled broadly at him.
We headed for the Dorms, to his, and when we got in, I sat on one of the beds. After the door closed, our eyes locked. I searched his eyes deeply, the softness, the nervousness.
"He wants to spend a night with you," Drendel told me.
"Mostly everyone wants company after a Rite, and I know him, his roommate was on Assignment, and died. The Belek was reborn and has a room alone now, but the closeness was of the Elves not the Belekiv," Warren explained.
"I know your intent," I said aloud, tearing my eyes away from his.
"You are a Telepath? I thought you were a Healer."
"My Belek, he said that it is customary for one to seek company on the nights of Rites. Your normal companion..." I broke off.
"Is dead. Yes, I see. I would like you to spend at least some time with me...."
"Healers cannot indulge in pleasures of the flesh, Jenn."
"That's right. But to touch your soul is all I ask. I feel your strength, and I find your soul appealing, Ninth. I am sorry I was so bold," Jenn blushed and turned away. "You are free to go, no locks on my door."
"But your talent is the lock. You are a Kinetic?" Warren recalled.
"Aye, but I would never lock the door on you." He turned and met my eyes again. "Never." His manner read revulsion, as with the thought of my inflicting pain. He truly wouldn't lock up someone who rightfully should be allowed to leave.
"I think I can understand," I said gently. "I think I will stay, for a while."
He came and sat next to me, enveloped me in his arms, carefully, aware that this was totally new to me.
He half-smiled at me. "There are different types of Initiation, the proud, social one, and the intimate, private one. You've seen one, now I would like to give you a taste of the other."
"Thank you...Jenn," I said hesitantly. One of his arms was around my waist, hugging me to his side, the other found my neck, and his fingertips stroked it, soothing me. Being touched was new to me, and I could feel his soul while he touched me, lifted slightly to be on the surface of his flesh. It was inflicted with deep pain, from the death of his friend.
I stood, not really understanding my own instinctive actions, and grasped the hem of my robe, pulling it up over my head. I was nervous, but I listened to my instinct, and I blocked Drendel and Warren out.
Jenn stared silently at my naked body, as I lay down on the bed. He neither stood nor disrobed, but enveloped me in his embrace, rubbing his face on the hair I splayed on his pillow, gliding his cheek against mine, sliding a hand over my shoulder, whispering my name, humming the tune of the Rite. Tender kisses placed on my collar bones, nibbles on my neck. Never did he turn to the more intimate areas of my body, but for my ears. I felt strange sensations along my whole body, but didn't ask for more, as my body begged. I reached my soul out and tugged at his, played with it, wrapped it around me, kissed it, but never moved a muscle but to breath.
And it ended when we fell asleep together.
Morning commenced when a thunderous boom ignited the silence, and the door to the room burst open.
"Jenn!" snapped the voice. "Get off of her, now!"
It was none other than Zonam. We hustled to stand, I fully naked, Jenn robed from the night before.
"Nightwind! How could you lie to me?!? Or was it rape?" The eyes behind the mask smouldered, murderous. I stepped in front of Jenn.
Warren got words out first. "Neither, Zonam. It was something you might not understand. He did nothing more than kiss me, and we did nothing but touch and heal his soul in return. Call it company, Zonam...it's more than I've had since I was born."
"We shall see!" Power surged, magic by its touch, and instantly a holographic image of Jenn and myself appeared on the bed, repeating the scene fromthe night before. When it was over, Zonam nearly collapsed from relief and spent jealousy. I grabbed my robe and pulled it on over my head. I was very angry and hurt by then.
"I hope you are satisfied. I said I couldn't do anything, I didn't do anything. I couldn't allow much more than what we did. Jenn, thank you for a very wonderful evening, one which I hope will be repeated. In complete private!" I shot a burning glance at Zonam, an apologetic one at Jenn, and fled the room.
I went to my own room, and flung myself on the bed, crying to release the tension of that encounter. Humiliated in front of my own superior, and in front of the Twentieth, when neither of us had done anything wrong.
"Nightwind..." Jenn's voice soothed, coming into my room and softly closing the door. "He apologised. How was he to know how careful we were?" Jenn's pain was less than the night before, but this was pain anew. Hands slid up and down my back, reducing my sobs to silent tears. I turned my face from the pillow sniffling, to look at Jenn, whose eyes were filled with worry.
"Oh, Jenn, I'm so sorry!" I sat up and took him into my arms, and we held eachother. "I hope he won't hold any longterm grudge, but it's none of his business to love an Elf anyway!"
"He loves you?"
"Does the moon rise and set, wax and wane?" I asked, pulling back so our eyes would meet. "Only after Rites, okay?"
A slight grin broke into Jenn's eyes. "Okay. You going to be alright if I leave you?"
"I have to go to Training soon, anyway...so go. I'll be around, until I become Advisor."
"Advisor? You're Warrens new BondElf."
"Yes." He got up to go. "Good luck, Nightwind. I mean it!" He smiled, then left, no locks on the door, ever. If only I would be as free to come and go from the Lord's Chambers.
"I am forever in my Lord's service, even if I feel as though my search for Xaron is much more important. What can I do to get out of the Advisorship so I may go back on Assignment?" Warren muttered, staring at the closed door as though it were the future. Warren felt the Sea's tug as he cursed himself for accepting the Advisor's position.
Giving in to the feeling, I lay back and brought my awareness to my soul. I floated on my soul-thread down and out of my body, to the sky over the Sea. I felt the distinct pleasure of the wind through the hair of my awareness. My mind and soul remained linked to my body, but my awareness of them shifted, and I saw through Warren the beauty of the Sea of Souls. It was either the wind or the voices that I heard wafting about, crying piteously. It was beautiful, yes, but even more frightening.
As Warren could, I found my "body" floating above the water, then a mast and a ship appeared near the horizon, and it was the Engeleer that I saw before me. The Captain, also known as Fate, stood at the wheel, as was His normal post, but it was no ordinary wheel. The center of the wheel was a disk of translucent shell, that when the Captain so willed, the surface would fade and a scene of some "Time" would appear, a precognative vision, and He would know what to do to be certain the tides of Fate would be resolved as planned. He had power over all things, an omnipotent god, but with the rules placed upon Him, He could only use what power was necessary.
There He stood, as any normal captain might, spinning the wheel, searching the water and sky for signs of weather changes, as though He were any mortal captain, and His ship might break as any. Then from below deck, His lame, blind and perhaps mute brother, Accus, arose. He seemed to look across the deck, but he had no eyes, so of course he couldn't see. He signalled to the Captain that there was a visitor, and signalled for me to come down for a chat.
I walked the deck as though it were solid below me, and perhaps it was I that wasn't solid, or the deck, but I coudln't feel it. The Captain approached me, as though tired, and as though genuinely shocked that I was there.
"What brings you, Brother Eternal? Have I met this fair Elfmaiden you have tagging along?" The Captain asked of Warren.
"I see a fork in my road, Father Fate. In my past dealings with You I was assured that there was no more than one hundred years to finding my brother, but I have fifty of those years, my time, left, and have yet to go so far as getting close to him."
The Captain smiled faintly, perhaps at some humorous thought that popped into His mind, then actually laughed. "You are blind, Brother Eternal, to your future...it will be LESS than fifty years to finding your brother, but I cannot tell you much more, I have my rules. You are two worlds away...the path you are on is still the one I referred to, nothing has gone wrong, nothing will. Why is it, Warren, that you ALWAYS doubt my word? Have I ever betrayed you?"
Accus visibly winced at us over the Captain's shoulder, and shook his head sadly. Warren commented as though he had not noticed, "I have a feeling that You have, or will, though I do not understand it, Father Eternal. Tell me, does Your Brother, Your First Mate, have eyes that I canno see?"
"As Nightwind has eyes and cannot see past her physical body, my Brother has no ability to see through his physical body, but can see past it. You know I can only tell you some things, and information on my Brother is off limits to you, Eternal One."
"Oh, but you are, Warren, you are!"
He laughed. He turned to me, a smile still in His eyes. He usually took the visage of a skeleton, I understood, but now He looked like a normal person. Perhaps because it was our first time meeting...
"Nightwind...I suppose you will expect me to remember that, eh? Well, never fear, when you no longer remember your name or those of your companions, I shall be your salvation," and He sang out my Key, as Drendel had, but it was different...it was almost horrid, because the Name belonged on His lips, and not on anyone else's.
I was captured, enraptured. But I was frightened.
"Tell Zonam that I said 'Let those you love be free...'."
We found ourselves suddenly back in physical form. I lay sweating on the bed, unable to recall the ship, the face, the voice, of the Captain...I could only hear His voice playing my key, musically.
"So," Warren said, "You feel that this is the way to finding Xaron? Thank you, Captain. Your help is appreciated." I got up, and got ready to visit the training center as was normally my scheduled activity at this time.
The only thing of consequence that I found around then was the things I learned about Drendel. It turned out that she was my soulsister, that we were bonded in some ways. She told me about her King, who was also her friend, and everyone's friend, by her words. "He won't wear a crown, even if he is King of the Elves...he's not even all-Elven! And he's simply wonderful...we haven't had a government for soooo long, we needed him sooo badly. He appointed Cerwil as his duke..." And she'd continuously rattle off things about the way things were in contrast to where I was, and I secretly longed to be where she was, to see a tree firsthand, roll in the grass, and swim in ponds.
The day came, and I was raised to Advisor...more time passed, I led Rites, I lived within the Lord's Chambers themselves, ate at the Lord's table, trained in a specially designated area...it turned out to be rather sheltered and boring, but there came one good thing from it, I could train the new Bonders myself, if I so desired. And once I did...he was named Serendris, a male born in the same Birthcell I was, and he was to be Fifteenth...this was several months, maybe years later, for I lost contact with time, the boredom bringing me to a certain melancholy state, and depressing Warren too, for he feared that time was running out on the Captain's promise.
Serendris became a brother to me, as I led him about, and showed him the secrets of his room, and of the diaries, and the bonding that came from a Rite (we had a small Rite before his first to prepare him for it), and the glamour of selecting your symbol, and choosing from the magics you could use, how to use the one you selected.
We taught him anything his Belek didn't know, such as the Captain and Accus, the whell of the ship, Xaron and Warren's younger days together...
Then one day a Ranger returned with an object. It was brought immediately to the private chambers where we sat it upon a table to ponder it.
It was about 3 feet tall and resembled, to a wild imagination, an hour glass. The top half looked like a bowl, and it was attached to an inverted bowl, on the bottom. There was no seam to distinguish these as two parts, and the bottom one was closed, solid on th ebottom, unlike the top one.
From the lip of the top, to the lip of the bottom bowl were four vertical spiralled columns. All of this was golden metal. Between the columns, which were evenly spaced around the bowls, was a field, touchable yet not really seeable. It felt like glass, but did not reflect light, and light passed through it seemingly unchanged.
Zonam touched one of the columns, since they protruded slightly from the field, and there was a sparkle, then little streams of swirly gold-green-white lights appeared, then disappeared. Warren watched a few seconds, then mathematically decided it was a random pattern. Such was Warren's power that he should know.
Touching each column caused the field to its right to become illuminated in this fashion.
"What do you think?" Zonam inquired, knowing that my intense knowledge of magic, and Warren's of technology should help him. Zonam continued, "It is both magical and technological, I sense. Intricate...it is not Elder-made."
"True, Zonam, but the pattern may be a message, I doubt this is a self-aware object...some of the patterns are repeated, but the orders are random..." Warren answered, best to answer for the situation rather than I, since I was simply awed by the item.
Warren gave Zonam the percentile chances that the message was prerecorded, which was very doubtful, self aware, still very doubtful, yet that it was either a random design or a symbolic message was about equal chance.
"So as messages go, a symbolic one is the best chance?"
"By my calculations, from my knowledge, and that pattern."
Warren, however, had no idea what the message might symbolized, so I bent my mind on that task, as my imagination was more fluid than his...
"Well...random streaks...it resembles but one thing I've seen all my life."
"What's that?" Zonam said, as Warren approved my theory.
"Somehow it reminds me of the Sea of Souls...the way the souls swim about, then duck, then surface...That is the only thing I can think of. Only the movement of water, and the flickering of things on it. The only water I've seen in such quantities is in the Sea, and that is Souls, not water."
"This is glass, without a reflection, so the parallel might work out. Warren do you think it could be the Sea?"
"In symbolism, most certainly. Past that, I am uncertain."
"Then I am going in."
"What!?" I gasped, uncertain I had heard correctly. "I f something happens..."
"If something happens, it is my responsibility, Advisor. If I end up dying, you have responsibility of the Temple, as Warren."
Warren tensed...If Zonam died, then he would have to take over, and would never be able to find Xaron...but the Captain HAD promised...
"Good, 'Wind will have to heal me the best she can...I'll need all my possible energy. Then I will go into the object...where it leads our answer awaits."
He picked up one side of the object, so I got the other for him and lifted it. We carried it into his bedroom and set it down on the bed. He lay down, on his face, and I sat next to him, putting my hands on his back. I extended my aura and awareness into him and glided into his body from mine...I healed him as I had the skill and power to, and released my hold from him.
"Would you like some of my energy, sir?"
"Yes, even if it only helps me physically...your energy wont work for my powers. Thank you, Nightwind."
I touched him again, and through my fingertips, I allowed my soul to pour some of its energy. I could not give it all up, but I had alot, being quite young as I was. When I stoped, Zonam looked up at me and smiled.
"That was all I needed, thank you again."
He turned to the artifact and laid his hands on it. I stepped away, but stayed within range just in case. His body jerked slightly, but he stayed sitting, then his hands relaxed, and bowed his head down to rest on his arms.
I did nothing. To tear him out may have been worse than anything.
"I'm frightened, Nightwind, I don't understand much in your world, as it is, but this is terrible...I can feel everything he's thinking passing through me so quickly as to be incoherant," Drendel whispered silently. Being a telepath and with her awareness in me, some of her abilities worked from my body, such as detecting thoughts, but not really reading them, something she had a hard time doing even in her own true form.
It seems that Drendel was my Soulsister, and that when she slept she was able to visit me, because sleeping abandons your own body. I knew she was really alive on some other plane, and she knew I was alive, as well, but we both had a hard time understanding eachother's homes. Her's had trees and flowers and things I couldn't really picture. She had a hard time comprehending that myworld was the opposite. Also, she didn't understand how two beings could inhabit the same body, and that she made three made it so confusing she decided to simply accept it. She called herself an Elf also, but assured me that her elves were somewhat different, at the least (but there were many, many similarities, as well).
When Zonam came out of the trance, he collapsed on the bed, yet older than before, but not by too much. Then again, any amount was too much. I went over to him, to be sure he was alright, and laid a hand on him. He was semi-conscious, the healing-trance that a body and mind go into that cannot be sped up. When I touched him, also, Drendel's power amplified his thoughts.
"Can you hear me? Can you hear me?" his mind spun.
"Yes, Zonam, I hear," I answered him aloud, for surely he could hear.
"Advisor, I know what it does and how to work it...we must use ranking procedure for the priveledge..." He meant that one at a time, from Advisor to Fifty-Ninth, they would ask until one volunteered to have it used on him...his thoughts made this very clear.
"What does it do?" He had to tell me before I could accept or refuse.
"It is a passageway for souls fromthe Sea...you were right that that is what was represented...but what it does specifically is that..." he faded into some incomprehensible thoughts.
"You aren't making sense...explain it step by step!"
"The Sea...souls attach to the bodies they belong to through little threads, little avenues throughto the plane and invisibly to the body."
"Yes, go on..." I already knew and understood the concept, but it would help Drendel understand what our religion was based on to hear it.
"The device draws from the Sea of Souls and it makes threads between the body in contact with it when it is put to use, and an unknown amount of souls in the Sea," he continued.
"What does this imply? What do you know of its benefits and maledictions?"
"It brings souls that have already lived a life into the body with the subject to share experiences and awareness, as well as their knowledge as an extension of their past lives. It is good for its knowledge, terrible for the confusion and the pain of their past lives...mostly the souls are knowledgeable representatives of their worlds, but thus they have been isolated in many ways, either because of their knowledge, or their knowledge was gained to occupy their isolation. They are knowledgeable in many ways, or will have been chosen to facilitate the paths of Fate as the Captain sees them into fruition.
"I suppose some will be chosen for their insight or power, too, as long as it will be carried into the new form." He looked up at me hazily, and knowingly. "I know as Warren and Nightwind you know shared awareness, and how strange it sometimes can be to move over and let someone les take over, but who else is with you?"
I balked. My mouth may have dropped wide open, and I certainly had no answer for a seconds.
"Some woman, by the hand that touches me, and a Telepath, by the knowledge of my inner thoughts."
"You shouldn't use your powers!"
"To see if she is a spy apon us? Of course I should. Harmless, curious...she is a soul attached to you in some way? Yes. A soul-sister, you could say...I wonder why that happened?"
He trailed off his question to think, and I chose to interrupt his thought, placing a hand on the strange tapping device, and saying, "I guess it is just Fate."
He chuckled, and shrugged, and decided to accept it.
"So you understand shared awareness very well, despite being born to it?"
"Yes. What else comes with accepting to volunteer for the experiment?"
"I will send the person who accepts to another plane to test out their abilities in a non-sterile enviornment. That's what the Captain said to do."
I thought to myself, with Drendel's ability doing what it could to shield my thoughts. Frankly, Zonam was much too interested with me, Nightwind that is, to make my virginity and my freedom safe. Warren was becoming very restless, and he wanted to go off-plane so he could catch the trail of his brother. The position of Advisor was a trap where this was one way out without resigning. Drendel admitted that, even though she understood little of what was happening, she thought something was saying to accept that was out of all our control. The inevitable, that's what my religion was all about.
So I played with my feelings. We were frightened. Pain. That was all I could comprehend...fear of pain. I was a Healer, based on fearing pain, and banishing it. It might be an untimate experiment to try withstanding the pain...no...I was scared stiff of pain. Not my own, but Zonam's.
Other feelings, fright of going to a new world...I had never thought I would be going off-plane, and as much experience as Warren had with plane-travelling, he was virtually invulnerable...I had alot to fear.
Other souls? Dead already, with pain, and their own pasts, their own knowledge...it would be like living over and over, in different bodies. What would come of it? I could enjoy the knowledge, even if that was mosly Warren's pursuit, I had inherited a great fondness of knowledge, and knowledge of so many worlds...that I could enjoy. I could probably get along fine in any plane with the increased knowledge....
I guessed that despite fears, it would be best to go along withit, despite anything that Zonam might think I would say, and say yes.
"Zonam...is there anything else?"
"That person would never return here."
That shocked me.
"What if he dies? What of the Belek?"
"No worry, Nightwind...this device comes with a guarantee that the adoptive souls and a type of immortality. They will die bodily and be reborn into another plane, complete with Elf and Belek and the other souls."
"It sounds interesting."
"Yes, but, mind you, they'll find no end to it all. Forever. Always in whatever state they find themselves in. Some of the souls might be suicidal, some were in so much trouble or pain they should have taken their own lives, but someone else got them first. Some created their own end through greed or self-interest."
I thought about the information. To never return to New Home. It apalled me in some ways, but it fed me good feelings, in others...pleading that I accept.
"Zonam, it is fated that I accept. I have thought about it, and it seems like it is my destiny. The Captain said I would be leaving soon." Actually the Captain had said I would find Xaron. Oh, well...
He seemed shocked for a few minutes. Then he seemed to slowly accept it, and he nodded his head slowly.
"I can't talk you out of it, I can only give my blessing and offer you astral retreat here, within Temple Black...it will always welcome the projection of your soul."
"I have some loose ends to tie up before I leave...I want a last Rite, too."
I left him to recover, I knew I had only a few days. So, I went to see Serendris and tell him what was happening. He understood, and we arranged to meet after the Rite to spend a last night bonded together.
Then I went to Jenn, and to Canter, to tell them what had happened. The only one I gave full detail to was Serendris, since no one was priveledged enough to be entitled to know. When the Rite time came I took Lead (the first to start the song, usually the setter of the theme. My theme was that I was leaving, and everyone gave me a beautiful song of good luck, remember us, and other similar tidings.), and I went to Serendris after and we loved until morning came.
"Can't I see you off?"
"I think it would be best if we kept a low light on our relationship with Zonam...he'd be none too pleased. My place is with the Elves and Belekiv, Elders are above and beyond my understanding and compassion...especially after..."
"My Belek remembers." The violence of the Battle of Freedom had brought a grim respect but also a respectful distance betwen Belekiv and Elders. Anyone who could and would kill so many Elves had to be somewhat heartless. I loved and trusted Zonam, but I trusted I had no love in return. Not in the right way.
"You will visit me, wont you?"
"I will. You have my word, Seren."
His likeness to Ceren was beyond the pronunciation of his name. His spirit and his power in joining was spectacular. But he wasn't Ceren, and he wasn't Xaron.
I left the little plain cell to go to Zonam's quarters and I entered.
"I am sorry you chose to leave me, Nightwind." The device stood on the table, again, and his gold mask was on as though he wished to hide behind it. He reached out to my forehead and touched it, and the world went black.