May 15 - September 15, 2000
Category: Fantasy/Dark Elf
Author: Lledrith RavenWolf

[Disclaimer]

Nexus

Prologue
Part 1: First Encounter
Part 2: Second Thoughts
Part 3: Third Clue
Part 4: Fourth Consequence
Part 5: Fifth Revelation
Part 6: Sixth Senses
Part 7: Seventh Hell?
Part 8: Eighth Horror
Part 9: Ninth Hell
Part 10: Tenth Concurrence
Part 11: Eleventh Dreaming
Epilogue
Afterword


Prologue

It started, as many things do, with a fight.

Two elves, one with skin dark obsidian, the other burnished amber, twisting and turning with cat-like grace. Swords met and flashed away, only to meet again with a 'plink' of metal against metal.

"You're good," the dark elf observed mildly, long white hair whipping around his shoulders as he dodged another stab, but something calmly flat in the voice took out quite a bit of the praise. It was as if the dark elf said it to most of his students. With the same mild, casual manner, he pushed out a leg, tripping his opponent.

The gold elf fell, stuck out a hand to flip easily over backwards and land in a crouch, with a feral grin. "Better than you?" he asked, parrying an attack.

Twin swords flared fire and ice as the dark elf smiled. "I wouldn't say that," he commented, flicking his opponent's swords wide, then turning in one fluid movement to swing up and slam his booted heel into the gold elf's face.

"Ah ah," he continued, slapping away the gold elf's hand with one sword as the elf attempted to catch his foot and pull him down. Regaining his balance in a split second, he brushed off his opponent's enraged attack.

"Getting angry?" the dark elf grinned wickedly.

The gold elf shook his head irritably, his attention diverted, long enough for the dark elf to slap the blade of a sword onto the gold elf's cheek.

"Your new lesson," the dark elf commented as the gold elf's eyes burned with new anger, "Don't let your opponent distract you."

"Are you playing?" the gold elf demanded. He was actually losing to a dark elf, of all things. But at least the dark elf wasn't of Feyraen, but an Outsider elf – in other words, not of this world. He'd heard that the dark elf instructor wasn't exactly alive, either – and he now believed it. His opponent didn't even have a thin sheen of sweat on his brow, while he was soaked.

The dark elf raised one elegant white eyebrow. "Of course. How else are you going to stay fighting long enough?"

"I'd say you're bragging," The gold elf muttered angrily. One slice nearly too a sliver off the dark elf's arm, and the gold smiled in a flash of heady triumph.

The dark elf smiled wolfishly. "Wouldn't bet on that."

The next few seconds were crowded ones. The gold elf dimly remembered the dark elf step forward, hands moving as if in a double swords slash pattern. As he brought up both his blades to counter automatically, he realized that he'd been tricked – the dark elf had only used one sword for the slash, that was blocking his two blades, and the other...

Was pressing perfectly over his chest above his heart. Carefully, he lowered his blades.

The dark elf smirked. "Well?" he asked.

"Apologies, Sword Master," the gold elf murmured in a certain horrified fascination. The pointing sword stayed, and flared again in an impossible, hungry shade of red.

"Good." The dark elf said patiently. "Teiwaz LanC'edar, learn that a wish to impress your opponent or a lack of patience is less important than actually winning a fight."

"Er, yes." Teiwaz mumbled. He hoped guiltily that his father wouldn't hear of this. A LanC'edar losing to a dark elf? Unheard of!

But then, his father had never met this dark elf...

"Go and have a rest," the dark elf said, not unkindly. Then the sword dropped from his chest as the elf looked curiously around the room, eyes narrowed as if choosing a next victim. "Aurelia Soelkvar."

Teiwaz exited the hall as a human girl stood up from the very small, watching class of fifth year Sword students and approached, holding her half-moon sword hesitantly.

He was out of the hall when the first clash of metal was heard, but he headed to his room.

Someday, Teiwaz thought to himself, with all the determination of a LanC'edar, he'd beat that dark elf well and good.

"Zaknafein Do'Urden," he grinned, "Just you wait."

***

Teiwaz looked glumly into the mirror. His reflection stared back at him – all short five foot six of it – a burnt-amber skinned, wheat-hair elf, with aristocratic high cheekbones and forehead, and of course the carefully pointed, elongated ear tips. His eyes were intense but small and tapered up slightly at the ends.

Without the least bit of shame, Teiwaz knew that his reflection was a rare beauty - even in elves. "Vain elf," he smiled at himself, nimble fingers combing back his silky hair.

He didn't mind life in Sanctuary that much, he admitted. Though he still did feel he'd suit being a glamorous sorceror or a proud Loremaster better than a common warrior, being a part of Sanctuary, away from stifling Feyraen, was enough for him.

In Feyraen, strife-torn home of the elves, he was the second son of three sons of the ancient LanC'edar Gold duchy – which technically made him a Your Grace. He'd stiffly told that to Zaknafein on the first day, and the dark elf had laughed in his face.

No titles here but earned ones, he'd said. And you certainly haven't earned that one. You don't look graceful at all.

Zaknafein was something new to Teiwaz – and elf that didn't belong to any faction, and worse still, didn't care. An elf who did his job just for the love of playing – not fighting! – Playing with his swords. He just hoped the Sword Master wouldn't join sides with the drow faction, even though he'd heard that they'd send offers via ambassadors every so often.

"At least there aren't any other elves in Sword class," he told his reflection. Infighting sometimes took place because so and so's family killed somebody from so and so's family, and it irritated Masters. And when Masters got irritated, they found ways to spread it to their students. Teiwaz remembered Zaknafein cheerfully running the entire Sword class around Sanctuary until they collapsed from exhaustion just because Nassar D'nan, a cocky human lad, had been feeling rude that morning and used one swear word too many.

He started to remove his armor, starting with the standard issue student cloak, when something told him something else was in the room.

Teiwaz fell into an offensive-defensive stance; swords already out, looking warily around with his back to the wall. There was a heartfelt, disembodied chuckle that seemed to come from everywhere – even behind him.

"Who are you?" Teiwaz demanded. Probably a new Loremaster student trying out for fun...

"Not Loremaster." The voice was also unreal. Asexual – and vaguely interesting.

"Then what are you?"

"Stop scaring the lad," a softer voice chimed, and Teiwaz recognized his mother's voice. For a moment he was intensely glad – and intensely homesick.

"Mother?" he asked.

"How are you doing? Are you eating well?" his mother demanded.

"Berkana..." his father's deeper, sterner voice, and Teiwaz nearly cringed until he remembered himself. His father still scared him... no, he was a student warrior now of the fifth year, and he refused to be scared.

"Teiwaz, there is something important you must do. One of the World-Makers has explained it to us."

"World-Maker?" Teiwaz swallowed at the thought of Them. The All-powerful – the creators of all the worlds. Their names were... well, in most of the 'humorous' songs and jests, but revered, and sometimes feared. Get on the wrong side of a World-Maker, and you'd wish you were dead.

"We cannot say who." His father said coldly. "You must go on a journey to find your Nexus."

"My Nexus?" Teiwaz nearly shouted, "Why? Why now?" I haven't even graduated yet.

A Nexus had many other names – one of the most striking...and cliche-ish, was soulmate. Yes well, there were supposedly all those stuff about together until we part, sort of thing, but more importantly, a complete Nexus pair enhanced each other's abilities.

Teiwaz didn't want the bond yet. He wanted to graduate, to walk the worlds, then maybe consider. Not many found their Nexus – it was sort of optional. You'd be happier with one, but could be just as happy without.

"You can then be classed to Loremaster," his father's voice cracked like a whip, as if sensing his doubt, and Teiwaz did cringe. "With your Nexus, you'd be a Talent." A Talent – a Loremaster that could shape anything using mind and will alone, without any words for restraint... now that would be a new weapon for the gold elves.

"I'm already past re-class..." Teiwaz began. Sure, he did want to be Loremaster, but... It wasn't fair. And just when he was getting good with his swords, too.

"The World-Maker has made a deal with Morikan," his father said sternly. Morikan the dragon World-Maker, head of the World-Makers, of both the warrior school and the Loremaster, whose name was the most respected – and feared.

"Think, Teiwaz," his mother said soothingly, "We have many warriors, but few Loremasters, and to have a Talent..."

He didn't want to do it. But he was of LanC'edar, and had sworn for his family since he could speak. Besides, he did owe his mother... Teiwaz refused to think of it. Maybe his ruthless father had a Mind-seer around somewhere – and might just pick up the thought for more leverage.

Not that his father didn't have enough already, he thought irritably, it was just like him – a total, crushing win, or no win at all. A formidable tactician and general of both the field and his own house. Teiwaz was terrified of him. The debt... the gold elf shook his head to push it away, and felt as though Zaknafein's sword had slapped him again.

Never let your enemy distract you.

Now why was he thinking of his own family as the enemy?

"All right," he muttered, feeling confused and dazed. He'd think out a way later – Teiwaz knew he didn't have much of a brain after a good, hard fight.

"Good." His father said, with such smug satisfaction that Teiwaz felt like... well, trekking back a few hundred miles and smashing in the old elf's mouth, "Here's what we're going to do..."

When he was finished, Teiwaz was very sorry he'd promised.


Part 1: First Encounter

Rae glanced down at her doodle. As with most others over the past few years, it featured a horse, shaded delicately and carefully.

On the horse's back was a human-like creature with pointed ears and a sharp face – but unshaded and therefore oddly unreal on the horse. As if the artist knew what it generally looked like but had to use her mind to fill in the details – and then somehow knew that they weren't right.

"Another elf?" Shirley, who sat next to her, grinned as Rae's blank, unseeing expression seemed to jump into focus. Rae the dreamer, who could quietly read a book and not notice even when the teacher walked in.

Rae nodded, waiting for the inevitable question.

"Why do you like drawing horses and... elves?" Shirley inquired, as if she had difficulty pronouncing the last word.

Rae could almost see the sentence in her mind: Elf = Christmas elf = Small thing with pointed ears that gives out prezzies = Employed saleswomen in absurdly short skirts.

"Because I like to." Rae grinned.

"Dragons and unicorns and this – you like fantasy, don't you?" Shirley said. Rae glanced at the Tom Clancy novel on Shirley's cluttered desk, and knew she wouldn't understand.

"Well, yes," Rae grinned. Fantasy – here where thrillers with authors like John Grisham and Michael Crichton were so popular, high fantasy was Harry Potter. Or worse, Brother's Grimm's Snow White and the Seven bloody Dwarves, or Enid Blyton.

Where dragons were either scaly things with bat wings that breathed fire, or the long, snakelike, lucky chinese ones. Where unicorns were just a vague part of Chinese proverbs. Where elves were silly creatures that wore hats with bobbles on.

Not in Rae's mind, but therein was the frustration – sometimes she got a clear image and just wasn't in the mood for capturing it, or she was in the mood and couldn't think of anything at all.

"Oh." Shirley said vaguely. "You read a lot." And Rae did – she made it a point to read (or eat up, as her mother put it), at least one book a week. It kept her mind going.

"Yep," Rae said, and got back to doodling grass under the horse's prancing hooves.

"Say, can you draw a bird on my file? Just a small one." Shirley said, after watching Rae for a few seconds.

"Sure," Rae sighed, and Shirley reached for her file with the Samurai X logo. Everyone asked her to do this sooner or later. If not a bird, a 'cute puppy', or a cat, or a mouse. No horses, no elves, no dragons.

"She's coming," Jennifer, the girl who sat next to the back door of the classroom, announced. There was a small flurry of activity as everyone hurried back to their desks, and an angelic silence descended on the class.

Mrs Norris walked in. Her inscrutable blue eyes swept over the class, like a general surveying his troops. Called 'old battle-axe' behind her back, she certainly seemed to deserve the nickname, hatchet faced, ice-blue eyes with a manner nearly as cold during school time. After school she was reputed to be a warm, friendly lady, but Rae wanted to see that before she believed it.

Shirley and Rae forgot about the bird when the small-sized but grim – looking teacher spoke up.

"It is now Contact time," Mrs Norris said sourly. Contact time was the time between the end of assembly and the beginning of the first class, for a form teacher of a class to speak to the class. Mrs Norris always appeared to think it was a waste of time.

"You are all to think of four Core values that this class should... have. Like dignity..." Mrs Norris' stare turned to Linda, who quickly straightened from her habitual slouch in her chair, "Neatness..." her blue stare took in Willow, whose desk was not so much a desk as a mass of paper with occasional patches of table. Willow automatically tried to clear up some bits.

"And I want to see Rae." She strode to the teacher's table and sat down.

Rae looked helplessly at her friends sitting around her, swallowed, and got up to walk to the table.

***

"But the girl should have a lot of people who know her..." Teriwaz began.

"The spell is a powerful one," his father cut in. "Trust in the World-Maker."

Teriwaz looked glumly around him. He had been teleported back to Feyraen, in the island stronghold of LanC'edar, probably setting off quite a few alarm bells in the Warrior School.

Zaknafein is going to flip when I don't show up for evening class, Teriwaz thought gloomily. He's going to do worse than Nassar.

The Sword Master was notoriously strict with attendance... and playing truant... well, no one had ever done that before when he came to be Master. Not after one incident still whispered around corners to frighten students.

"Teriwaz LanC'edar," his father said sharply, "Are you listening?"

Teriwaz looked up to his sire, and saw an elf more heavily built than himself. I could probably get in a first swing, he thought, but after that he'd kill me, son or no son.

"Why not Uruz?" he asked, saying the name of his older brother, "I mean, he's graduated..."

"Uruz is mated," his father snapped. "It may interfere with the Nexus bond, as his mate is not his Nexus."

Oh. How obvious.

"Othila?" Teriwaz was grasping at straws and he knew it. Othila the youngest brother had just started in Sanctuary as a SkyKnight, dashing, witty and absolutely could not be serious about anything – quintessal SkyKnight attributes. SkyKnights were either creatures that could fly or humanoids that took Aesthir, a sentient Pegasus charger, as a steed. They were designed to fight in the air, and were more or less useless on the ground.

"SkyKnights usually don't marry," his father said coldly, but Teiwaz knew the real reason: Othila was more or less estranged from LanC'edar, as in his father's words, "Only damned Moon elves want to fly."

"All right, all right," Teiwaz said moodily, "It's just that I still think I'm too... too..."

"Young?" his father finished, "Yes, you are. But you can learn."

How comforting, Teiwaz sighed. Especially if this kills me.

"What was the deal?" Teiwaz inquired mildly.

His father stopped his pacing. "Just that – a deal. None of your business."

Teiwaz made a note to find out exactly what the 'business' was.

"Are you ready?" his father asked.

"No." Teiwaz said absently before realizing he had spoken aloud. Oops.

His father turned a diamond-hard glare on him. "Be ready."

***

"Did you hand in your report book?" Mrs Norris asked.

"Yes," Rae said. A small, dim panic was beginning. She did remember handing in the gray, thin book – the book that recorded all the grades and information of her four years in secondary school. What had happened to it?

"Go home and look for it. It's not with me." Mrs Norris said curtly. Rae was almost relieved when the class secretary, Virginia, glanced at her from her desk nearly against the teacher's table.

"I saw her book," Virginia said clearly.

Mrs Norris looked at Virginia. "I'd go and search again," she said grudgingly, "But go home and look. Put it in my locker if you find it." The message was, when you find it.

***

"How do I know which is my Nexus?" Teiwaz asked.

"You will – once you see her," was the enigmatic reply from the family Loremaster.

Great. Teiwaz sighed.

His father turned his stare on him again. "If you don't find the girl," he said suddenly, "You don't come back."

Teiwaz sank more deeply into his seat.

***

The first thing Rae did when she got home was to sift through the shelf containing all her schoolbooks.

Then she went on to the shelves with her beloved storybooks. Half an hour later, many of those books were lying forgotten on the floor.

Where is it, where is it?

She couldn't have lost it. All four years... with no record of her grades anywhere... she was in deep trouble.

***

"Did you manage to find it?" Mrs Norris asked the next day.

"No." Rae said. A tightness in her eyes, and she felt like crying, but bit her lip quickly. She wasn't about to start bawling now.

"Buy a new book," Mrs Norris said brusquely, "I'd try and print out your records tomorrow."

***

"Everything's finishing soon," Teiwaz's father said with satisfaction. "You go into the world, fetch the girl, tell her about what's happening, then come out when we open a gateway for you."

Teiwaz swallowed, and fingered his scabbards. No way out.

***

"There aren't any computer records for the years," Mrs Norris looked slightly puzzled. "What were the names of your form teachers?"

"Mrs Nar... and Miss Logary for secondary two and three." Rae said. This couldn't be happening.

"Miss Logary transferred to Burdock Convent last year," Mrs Norris murmured, "And Mrs Nar has gone overseas."

When Rae walked back to her desk, she met the eyes of Felicity, who had heard what they'd been saying. "Unlucky," the girl commented.

That, Rae thought, summarized the entire situation perfectly. She felt numb with astonishment and more than a little fear.

"I'm sure you'd find it," Shirley said encouragingly, "I mean, maybe you left it on your study table or something."

I don't have a study table. Rae felt like saying, but then decided not to.

Chemistry class breezed through until it was time for recess.

***

"Be careful," his mother admonished him.

"Yes mother," Teiwaz sighed. She'd said approximately the same thing when he was going to Sanctuary with Othila.

Berkana looked quickly to his father, and noted that he was absorbed in the conversation with LanC'edar's sorcerer and Wordmage. That suggested some 'suspects' for which World-Maker...

"Why don't you want to do it?" she asked softly, "I thought you'd want to find your Nexus." Nexus pairs were scattered around the universe, not necessarily in the same dimension, either. This was, in one light, a very big chance.

"I want to graduate." Teiwaz said. I want to finish being a warrior.

"You will," Berkana promised, "As a Loremaster Talent."

Teiwaz mumbled something under his breath. He didn't look forward to jumping around worlds, yet. He hadn't even gotten his degree in parry yet...

"Are you ready?" his father approached, stern face emotionlessly suggesting that Teiwaz had better be.

"Yes." Teiwaz said, lowering his head, the picture of misery. Behind his back he crossed his fingers, a childish gesture, perhaps, but still one of small defiance.

"Good." His father motioned for the magic users to step forward.

***

Rae had always counted the seconds to recess, especially during a boring class. Today, she felt that it had seemed to come so fast.

"Your homework for today is written on the board," Mrs Davis was saying, "Copy it down, no need to write the question. Hand it in to Jenny tomorrow."

The bell rang, and the lethargic class exploded into motion with an excited chatter.

***

Teiwaz leant against a whitewashed wall to try and get his bearings and fight off the dizziness. The new building was blocky and ugly compared to the LanC'edar castle or any architecture in Sanctuary. The walls were painted white throughout with no hint of tapestry or art to soften it, only with the odd, dog-eared poster stuck half-heartedly on.

The ground was some sort of material he hadn't seen before – gray and uncomfortable to touch and hard. And very ugly – it didn't have an even color at all.

The staircase behind him, Teiwaz noted with a certain tired horror, had walls painted a bright yellow. The steps, instead of marble or carpeted slate or polished wood, were of the same, ugly gray material.

He walked over to the closest railing – a deep green metal bar thicker than his arm, stuck between two pillars a few inches above a lower wall that could be looked easily over – and looked down. He was about three stories up, lower than LanC'edar castle. Which meant that he had purposely been dumped on this level.

The building was too large to search himself, anyway. From here he could see other blocks and places, especially the large semicircular amphitheater below him, with the platform in front and the two flagpoles. Two flags flew in the dying wind, and Teiwaz was suddenly aware of the hot, hot sun.

How do they survive in this weather? Was his first thought. It seemed as hot as the Great Desert. He was used to cool Sanctuary or the mist-blown gold elf territory. Not this.

He looked around the corridor he was on, and noticed several doors leading to rooms in front of him. Each room had a set of lockers outside, also painted alternatively in bright colors or a dull gray. Teiwaz suddenly understood vaguely what place he was actually in. Those rooms were like classrooms, though much, much smaller than Sword Hall. Therefore, he was in a...

A school.

Voices were coming from some of the classrooms, as if someone was 'teaching'. He understood partly – the language was like a mangled dialect of elvish, heavy with slang. He couldn't make out what was being taught, though.

There was a big, red colored metal half-sphere in the top corner where the ceiling met the wall, close to the first classroom on the corridor. Teiwaz looked curiously at it. A security system?

Abruptly the half-sphere erupted into a cacophony of harsh, ringing sound. Teiwaz nearly jumped off the corridor.

Then there was the sound of many people putting their books and stuff down on tables and standing up. Uh-oh.

A human woman walked out of the classroom before Teiwaz could find a place to hide. At first he was astonished when she walked right past him without seeing, then relieved when he remembered that his father had given him a specific dweomer of invisibility. The people would see him, but their minds wouldn't register it on any higher level other than automatically moving around him if he was in the way. His Nexus would be the only one who'd be able to see him – another easy way to find her.

Human younglings poured out of the classrooms, wearing odd-looking clothing, all of the same color. Uniforms, he realized. These were students. They too, walked past him without seeing him.

All girls, his mind registered slowly. Maybe this was a school for 'witches', a term for female magic-users. They weren't a School yet in Sanctuary, but may well be soon, when a World-Maker adopted the all-female group that was rumored to be big.

They all seemed to be heading somewhere. Good. Teiwaz thought. Maybe she'd pass with them, too.

Then his mind belatedly registered something else. All of them are humans.

Oh, great. Was his Nexus human, too? He didn't want to be tied to a human – yeah, well many of the Masters were humans, and elves weren't exactly superior etc, but they live very long lives. And they were supposedly smarter.

A Nexus pair link needed to be 'triggered' before the enhancing ability could work. And if one triggered Nexus partner died before the other...

Teiwaz thumbed the pendant he was wearing, that would trigger a communication link. He hoped his mother would pick it up, but instead he heard his father's voice.

"Have you found her?" the transmission was terrible, but clear enough to hear.

"No," Teiwaz whispered, even though the younglings gave no sign of hearing him, "I think she's human, Father."

"You think?" Along with this was a deprecating opinion of exactly what his father thought of his ability to use his mental processes.

"I'm in a school full of human girls," Teiwaz said coldly, feeling stung, "No elves. No other races. I tell you she's going to be human."

There was a pause and a hint of whispered voices on the other end.

"Just fetch her," his father said just as coldly. "We'd figure out what to do about this... human bit later. In the meantime, stop wasting power." The communications link switched off.

Oh, great. If his father wasn't denying the fact that she could be human, it meant the World-Maker hadn't specified. Which meant she was probably human, and which also meant that most of Teiwaz's life was going to be a big problem.

As he slowly came to that conclusion, she stepped out of the classroom closest to him.

***

Rae picked up her wallet and her notebook for some sketches later in the canteen, and headed out of the classroom. The canteen was going to be really crowded now; all because she decided to stay back a little to finish that silly chemistry sum.

As she pivoted quietly out of the door, she felt that there was something... different. As if there was something she knew around this place. It wasn't a totally unusual feeling – sometimes Rae had dreams of places, and when she reached that place she'd suddenly remember her dream. Except that the 'places' were usually places like a table in a fast food restaurant, or something equally useless.

And this time, that feeling was particularly strong, such that she instinctively turned to see what it was that she could remember.

She faced the stairway down to the canteen, and stopped dead.

In the middle of the corridor, looking straight at her, was an elf.


Part 2: Second Thoughts

Any doubts Teiwaz might have had about whether she was the one dissolved when the girl looked directly at him, was not affected by the spell. She raised an eyebrow as if in astonishment, and curious recognition.

He just stared. She was nearly as tall as he was, and her black hair fell straight to her slender shoulders. Her eyes were dark – he couldn't make out their color, but he had a feeling that their color was wrong. Like her hair. She did have what his father would have called a 'pretty face', not stunningly beautiful, but not exactly plain either. She looked a little fragile, and he suddenly felt rather protective.

This was weird.

Teiwaz noted that she was studying him the same way he was her, and thought that there were probably elves somewhere on this world. She didn't look very surprised at his appearance – even though his clothes were obviously different from any here.

"You're an elf, aren't you?" she said gravely, but with an edge of bubbling laughter in her voice. Her language was that same mangled version of elvish, but he understood her somewhat.

"Er, yes." He said.

"And you're speaking English." Her mouth twitched up as if suppressing laughter. Teiwaz began to feel slightly annoyed.

"Elvish, actually. What's so funny?" he demanded, when she started to laugh.

***

"Great, I'm hallucinating. It's not fair – I didn't drink that much at the party last night – I didn't even have a hangover," Rae was vaguely aware that she was babbling. Losing-report-book-stress, probably.

The hallucination was good, though. Very detailed. The elf was a gold elf, burnished gold skin, wheaten air, amber eyes, and an impossibly beautiful face. He had swords belted on at his side, and the armor was certainly better than that of 'Hercules' or 'Xena' – it was a made thing, a thing made for its actual purpose.

The elf was fighter class, Rae critically noted. Unfair. She wanted to see magic from a mage – it wasn't a first grade hallucination if she didn't...

"You think I'm not real?" the elf was saying in disbelief.

Rae looked carefully at him. "Yeah well, elves don't exist, I've had a long day, I drank some Hooch last night."

His brow furrowed beautifully. "I don't see any connection. What is 'Hooch'?"

"You're a good hallucination, mind," Rae said, "I just thought that hangovers were headaches and not seeing pink elephants. And I thought you had them only when you woke up."

The furrow deepened. "Sorry?" he asked.

He did have a beautiful voice, Rae noted. "Nevermind you." She paused, giving him another once-over. "Look, just go away, okay? I'm late for recess, and the canteen's really going to be crowded."

There was something about him she couldn't put a finger on, as if she'd seen him before, somewhere.

"I'm not the one going anywhere," the elf looked irritated, now, "You're coming with me."

"To La-La land?" the tip of Rae's mouth quirked upwards again in suppressed hysteria.

"Where?" the elf was beginning to look severely puzzled. His frown was perfect, on a perfect face.

"Whatever," Rae was also growing irritated. It wasn't fair. Hallucinations weren't supposed to speak like normal people – well, more or less normal. "I'm going down for recess, and eating something hot. Maybe it'd make this go away."

She turned her back on him and stalked with dignity to the stairway. He was going to disappear soon, anyway. It had been nice seeing an elf, though. Maybe she'd paint an image later, now that she had better, three-dimensional inspiration.

"Wait!" he called and suddenly he was loping beside her, easy, ground-eating paces. "You think I'm not real?"

"Obviously," she rolled her eyes. "Ain't no elves here but in books, sonny boy," she drawled in a TV accent.

"If I'm not real, can I do this?" the elf was looking seriously annoyed now. He reached out, fast as a snake, and grabbed her hand.

Rae's eyebrow arched up even as she automatically tried to yank her hand away. He didn't move – instead she'd pulled herself closer. Through their touch there was a closeness, and sense of togetherness, and dimly, some penned up source, like water behind a dam, that was waiting to come out.

There was a long pause while they stared into each other's eyes. Then Rae spoke, a little shakily, "This is some hallucination. What are you doing? Mind control?"

"I'm no mind mage," the elf looked offended that she had even raised the suggestion. He also seemed as surprised and as shaken as she was at what had happened, but he didn't let go of her hand.

"Whatever you are," Rae snapped, "Let go."

He didn't. "You can feel me and hear me," he said quietly, "And you still say I'm not real?"

"How'm I supposed to know?" Rae demanded, "I've never had hallucinations before. Maybe you see what you want to see, and feel what you want to feel."

The elf pushed with surprising strength, and she was forced against the wall of the beginning of the stairway. "And this?" he asked, angry now. No, not angry – bewildered at why she wasn't accepting his existence, and a little betrayed as if he'd taken a lot of trouble to appear and she... well, wasn't believing in him. Which was still true.

Rae struck without thinking. She stomped on his foot, making him loosen his grip and give a satisfactory yelp of pain, then jerked wildly to her left, yanking her hand out of his altogether. Then she fled down the stairs. Hallucination or no hallucination, he deserved that... what did he think she was to push her around the place?

She hoped he wasn't following, but seconds later a clattering of boots on stairs sounded on the stairs above her, and she knew he was.

Oh no. He was going to be very angry, and for some odd reason he could hurt her if he wanted to – those swords at his belt didn't look like playthings.

Rae fumbled in her pocket, and grasped the Swiss army knife that she had sneaked from her father's toolbox for use in art class later. She took it out, and with some difficulty pulled the longest blade in it out and snapped it in place.

At the next floor below her, she slid out silently and waited, thanking the Lord that there weren't anyone around to see her, a senior in the school, holding a small weapon and apparently waiting for a victim.

This was going to be a bugger to explain about later to herself.

***

Zaknafein padded into the Sword Hall, and noticed immediately when the students lined up respectfully that something wasn't there.

"Where's LanC'edar?" he asked sharply.

The students looked guiltily among themselves, then there was a small whispering and Bern Shadowrun was pushed out, a dark haired, yellow-eyed bear shapeshifter. "We can't find him, sir," he nearly squeaked, even though he towered over the Sword Master. "He wasn't in his room, and he didn't come down for breakfast, so we thought maybe... maybe he was eating outside."

The problem with Sanctuary, Zak reflected sourly as his mind began to work on this, was that there was too much freedom. He didn't like rules as much as the next, but he had to admit that they made things easier sometimes. Like finding a student that was missing.

"Did he say anything about this to any of you?" he asked.

"No sir," Aurelia said in her low, husky voice, "But apparently since yesterday's match with you he's stayed in his room all the time."

"Wonderful," Zak said sarcastically. A Master was responsible for his students, and one of his just got missing without any explanation. Zaknafein had that odd, unbalanced feeling that he felt whenever he was on the edge of sheer boiling rage. "I'm going to report this. All of you stay here and scrub the hall."

"But we only scrubbed it yesterday..." Nassar murmured.

"Did you hear me, student?" Zak asked sweetly. Nassar hung his head and nodded.

"Good. Now start." Zak stalked out of the hall when the students walked desultorily to the cupboards. He could almost hear them cursing Teiwaz in their minds.

Now where would a gold elf student want to go?

***

Teiwaz was feeling very unbalanced now, and it was making him rash. His training finally caught up with him when he was reaching the level below.

He looked casually over the railing, and saw no one on the stairs below, and he didn't believe that she was that fast.

So, she had to have left on this level, and he'd better find her quick before she... before she what? Teiwaz just felt a general sense that he had to find her. Right now.

As he neared the level, there was another shock for him. He could feel her presence, that odd signature of her mind, her soul. She was apparently standing still, right outside the exit of the stairway. And she felt very tense.

Teiwaz sighed. "Very clever," he said, "But I know you're there."

Immediately, her presence jerked to the side as if beginning to run again, and he took the last four steps in a jump and spun out of the exit. "Wait..." he began, then stopped.

The girl was there, pointing a short blade at his throat. "Take that for clever," she said, her voice trembling. She'd tricked him, Teiwaz realized. She hadn't run, and he'd stumbled into her trap by thinking she was going to...

Now that they were closer, Teiwaz could feel the outermost rim of her thoughts. Right now the one that was being mentally shouted out was fear, and underlying fury.

"Go away," she said. Her voice, Teiwaz realized dimly, was slightly low-pitched, alto, and rich.

"I can't. Not unless you go with me," he said helplessly.

She seemed to be making a struggle in herself. Then she tensed again, and he braced himself.

"All right," she said flatly.

"Look, I know this may be hard on you... what?" Teiwaz asked when his ears caught up with his mind.

"I said all right. Are you taking me or not?" she said irritably, "The sooner this hallucination is over the better. Hurry up. Try not to take all recess."

Teiwaz was beginning to say that this was probably going to take up the rest of her life, not only her recess, but shut up. "Okay," he said, feeling a surge of triumph. He thumbed his communications switch and waited.

Nothing happened. The girl looked grimly satisfied. "You can't, right?"

"I can," he protested, fingering the button again. Then he realized what had happened. "Oh great. When he turned off the link he must have turned off the receiver..."

"You have a spaceship?" the girl asked innocently. "A big flying saucer to take me to Mars? Or maybe the Moon, except I think both those planets are boring, go take my brother – he's the one who likes all this stuff."

Teiwaz looked blankly at her, then shrugged. He'd only understood half of what she'd been saying. "All right," he said finally, "We'd have to wait until contact again..."

"Jodie Foster," the girl said.

"Sorry?" The girl seemed to switch from one non sequitur to another, without waiting for anyone else to catch up. She backtracked a little grudgingly.

"Contact the movie. But I don't think you know what a movie is." She smiled, on the edge of hysterical laughter again.

"Until then," Teiwaz doggedly forged on; "I'm staying with you."

"No way," she said firmly.

"Yes," Teiwaz said just as firmly. "I'm not going to lose you after making such a long trip over here."

"Why'd you want me, anyway?" she demanded.

"You're my Nexus," Teiwaz said carelessly. Now she looked puzzled.

"As in, the game?" she asked, "I'm not a game, and Nexus is online, role-play, have-to-pay..."

"As in the soulmate," Teiwaz snapped before she could ramble on. He vaguely sensed that she was attempting to irritate him. And she was succeeding marvelously.

"Soulmate?" her dark eyes grew wide. "You're pulling my leg."

"I'm not touching your leg," Teiwaz said.

"As in, joking," she said, shaking her head. "Soulmate as in two people destined to be together, that sort of thing?"

"Yes," Teiwaz said. She understood... that seemed to matter a lot to him.

"I'm sorry," she said, "This is even weirder. Soulmates are supposed to be able to feel something of the other..."

"You haven't tried," Teiwaz said raggedly, "And anyway, the link hasn't been fully triggered. Touching just now did something, but the rest will have to be done by a World-Maker."

He could see her eyes glazing over at the last bit, but she recovered quickly. "Tried?" she asked curiously.

"Try and feel me. With your mind." He said quickly, when she impulsively reached for his hand.

She frowned, then blinked.

"See?" Teiwaz grinned suddenly.

"This is a really intensive hallucination..." she began then, and something snapped in Teiwaz.

"What's wrong with you?" he nearly shouted, "I'm real! Can't you see that? I'm not a hallucination!"

"Pinch me," she said, not looking impressed at his outburst.

"What?" He hadn't expected this reaction, and lost quite a bit of momentum.

"What the heck." She pinched herself, then winced. "Ow."

Teiwaz was feeling really confused now. "Why?'

"Okay, I believe you're real." She said suddenly, as if what she'd just done had convinced her more than his shouting. "How come the others didn't see you?"

"There's a spell on me," he said automatically, feeling dislocated from reality. She'd changed gear too fast for him to catch up, again.

"Oh. Good," she said, as if she'd been expecting this. "What's your name?"

Teiwaz blinked, then leaned against the wall as his mind reminded him of something. You're stuck on this world until your father decides to check on you – which may be next week, considering him, and you've found your Nexus. And you've spent nearly ten minutes shouting at her and she's shouted at you and you haven't told her your name, or heard hers either...

"Teiwaz LanC'edar," he said. He bowed flamboyantly, like an old medieval prince. Now where had that phrase come from? He didn't even know what 'medieval' was...

"Teiwaz... now that sounds familiar." She was flipping the pages of her notepad, having flicked the knife back into its shiny red handle. "Ah."

Teiwaz leant forward to look closer, and let out a sharp gasp as he knocked the notepad from her startled hands.

***

Pyrikkan shifted from one sickle-toed foot to the other as he probed carefully in the room. Zaknafein watched the Saur silently, one hand absently on Frostbite's handle.

"Well?" he asked, when the Saur's eyes focused on the real world.

"A lot of magic's been expended here," Pyrikkan waved a forearm vaguely near the bed, "As if someone opened a portal, or something."

"Pulling him out?" Zak suggested.

"No," Pyrikkan said, "The emotions spell isn't very good, but he went willingly. Though he didn't feel happy about it. Anyway, there's no sign of a struggle."

Zak had to concede that. Teiwaz had left in a hurry, bring nothing else with him other than what he was wearing.

"Any ideas where he is?" Zak asked.

"The portal, if it was that, is located way out of Sanctuary city," Pyrikkan said, "But on this world."

"Great," Zak said, "Now we have about a few billion square miles or so to search."

"If you're going to be like that," Pyrikkan commented, "I'm going to go back to my illusion. You interrupted me rudely in the middle of a complex casting."

"I'm sorry," Zak sighed.

"No, you're not," Pyrikkan made a Saur's version of a chuckle. "When you want something, you run roughshod over everything else until you get it – and then you usually feel surprised that everything else is irritated at you about that."

"Thank you for the psychology lesson," Zak said shortly, "I think I'd go and find Kverr."

"What makes you think the dragon will have anything?" Kverr was a miniature dragon, only a head or so taller than Zaknafein, and the only dragon, Zak believed, that ever ran a tavern. Kverr always had a lot of information on everything, because Morikan sometimes spoke with him. Something to do with Kverr being one of the only dragons in the city.

"Kverr always has something," Zak said as he left the room. Well, class would just have to be canceled today. This was more serious.

***

"What did you do that for?" Rae said irritably as she bent down to pick up the pad. He was there first, quicksilver amber, slapping her hands away.

"Don't touch," the elf, Teiwaz, said sharply, his voice laced with some fear.

"It's my notebook, okay?" Rae said slowly, "Notebook. Nothing wrong with it."

He'd grabbed her hands, and was turning them gently this way and that, as if looking for some wound.

"Not the book," Teiwaz said, "The writings."

Rae looked. The book had opened on the page she had flipped it to – the rune sketchings. "The runes?" she asked.

Teiwaz nodded. "They're powerful, and very dangerous if you don't know about them – how long have you had the writings?"

"Two years," Rae said, pulling her hands away from him. "Nothing's happened to me. They're only black pen ink, for God's sake. They don't mean anything."

Before he could stop her, she had picked up the notepad. "Right," she said, turning a page and pointing to one of the runes, "'Teiwaz'... I thought I'd heard it before. Wait a minute... your name means 'spiritual warrior'?" Rae couldn't help it – she started to laugh uncontrollably. Teiwaz looked anything but.

"I didn't pick my name," he was saying defensively, but he looked shaken. In his eyes was a new, wary respect. "Are you a witch?"

"Spells, cauldrons and stuff?" Rae commented, "No. I just think runes are interesting." She traced out the symbol of Teiwaz, a crude arrow pointing up, and he shuddered convulsively.

"What's wrong?" she asked quickly.

"Something happened when you drew it," he said in clenched teeth. "Just don't do it again."

"Right..." Rae said contritely. Teiwaz took the notebook from her and began flipping the pages. "It's funny, but I thought all elves had 'ae' in their names somewhere."

"Like yours?" he teased, still looking at the doodles.

She flushed. "I'm no elf," she said stiffly.

"No you're not," he agreed. "Well, only moon elves have 'ae' in their names. Quite a few gold elves are named after runes, and dark elves have 'z' in their names for the males, and 'thel' in the females. Most of the time."

He froze again, and Rae looked at the picture on the notepad.

Now she realized what she seemed to recognize about him.

All the elf pictures in the book were obviously variations of his face. All unshaded, as if she was sure he existed but not sure what he'd really, truly look like...

Teiwaz's face was a picture of dazed shock as he leafed through the book quickly. "You drew this?" he demanded. A statement, not a question.

She flushed again. "Yes," she said, then something devilish in her made her add, "Looks like you, don't they?"

Teiwaz stared at the latest elf on the page. The elf was riding a black horse with a white spot on its flank – the exact horse he rode in Sanctuary city now.

"I see there're some parts of the Nexus bond that I don't know about," he said.

Rae shrugged. "It's probably too late for recess, and I'm not hungry anymore. What are you going to do now?"

"Tail you," Teiwaz said, handing the notepad back to her.

"Great for you," Rae said mysteriously.

***

"You're not even tired," Rae complained as Teiwaz loped beside her. It was P.E. and their teacher had, as usual, ordered them to four meaningless rounds around the field. Her breath was soon going to come out in gasping sobs as her leg muscles were beginning to send signals of wanting to give up, but the gold elf didn't look bothered at all by the run.

"Believe me, I've had much worse," Teiwaz said. Her friends didn't seem to notice that they were talking, or if the two of them existed at all. Maybe the spell had extended slightly to her.

"It's not fair," Rae muttered. She was hoping that running around fields would serve as a small deterrent for tagging behind her like a dog, but it wasn't working.

"Try running around a city everytime your teacher gets slightly irked," Teiwaz bantered.

By the time Rae and the rest of her – to Teiwaz – very large class of forty stopped with relief in front of the school's 'rock wall' to do stretching exercises, Teiwaz was still not sweaty.

Teiwaz craned his neck to look up the three story tall structure. It looked as though someone had taken a miniaturized chunk of Mars, complete with funny colored rock, contours and orange ground, and turned it vertically up. There was even an overhang, where one would have to climb upside down for a short panel.

Belay ropes extended down from the top of the wall, with devices attached to two ends. Teiwaz had never seen the ropes before, and didn't know what they were for. He did know that if any climber reached the fourth or so one-meter square panel and fell, the crash mats wouldn't be much help.

"You're going to climb that?" he hissed to Rae.

"Oh yes," she grinned, "Every P.E. now since January."

"It looks unsafe," he said dubiously. She shrugged at him and wandered off with a friend to fetch helmets and a 'harness', as the short teacher was saying.

"What are you doing?" he asked, walking quickly up to her.

Rae didn't even look up at him as she pulled on her harness over her black P.E. shorts. Teiwaz noted absently that the shorts were really short, showing off most of her legs. "Why, I'm climbing, of course," she grinned, "Celia's belaying me."

"What's belaying..." he began.

"You'd see." Rae said strapping on her helmet as another friend helped her tighten her harness, "Now stop acting like a mother hen."

Teiwaz blinked. Before he could react to that, she'd already taken off her shoes and climbed onto the crash mat, taking one of the devices on the end of a rope and fastening it onto her harness. Her friend Celia, also wearing a harness but no helmet, was fastening the other device onto hers. The rest of the rope ran through Celia's device to a pile on the floor, which another girl was watching.

Teiwaz sensed suddenly that Rae loved to climb, and watched silently as she grinned at Celia.

"Belay?" she asked.

Celia pulled at one part of the rope, which went through the device on her harness – a 'grigri', the teacher had said, until the rope on Rae's side tightened. Pulley system, Teiwaz realized. Celia's hand 'locked' behind her back, which meant if Rae fell, the rope would not allow her to plummet downwards.

A girl was 'anchoring' Celia or holding on to the back of her harness. Simple physics – if Rae went down, Celia might go up if she wasn't heavy enough.

Teiwaz suddenly felt that humans on this world were very inventive.

"Climbing?" Rae grinned, but this time at him.

"Climb on," Celia said, not aware of his presence. She hauled on the rope as Rae's side went slack – Rae had began to climb.

He wasn't watching the other girls that were climbing up other panel routes. He was watching his Nexus push herself up a high wall, and for the first time in his life Teiwaz was feeling afraid for someone else other than himself.

Rae seemed to climb as naturally as she walked. Handholds that seemed too small were duly used as though they were ladder steps, and she seemed to be able to stretch to get holds that seemed too far away.

She didn't seem as fit as some of the others when running, Teiwaz understood, but she really could climb. He felt as though he had been given another jigsaw piece, for a picture, which he wasn't aware of.

Once Rae nearly fell off, and his breath caught in his throat, but she found grips again and eventually reached the top. Cheering erupted around him, and she looked down. Teiwaz made out the exhilarated smile on her face. She looked extraordinarily beautiful there, even more so than any elf he had seen, because her soul seemed to glow brightly on her face.

Celia lowered her slowly down, but Teiwaz could feel that she enjoyed coming down as much as or more than she had going up the wall. When she landed on the crash mat, she smiled at him again, and his heart seemed to leap.

"Had a nice climb?" he managed to say weakly when she had taken off the device and thanked Celia.

"Passable," Rae grinned, then reached out and squeezed his hand. "Sweet of you to ask."

Before he could think of a reply, she'd wandered over to her friends, taking off the harness and helmet and laughing with them. Teiwaz felt excluded then kicked himself mentally. She was soon going to be taken away from them, he knew. So she should have as much time as she wanted with them now... so he should stop feeling jealous. But he couldn't.


Part 3: Third Clue

Kverr Windsgale was wiping the bar with one human-like claw and listening to the recital, swaying gently in appreciation, intense reptilian eyes half-closed.

Zaknafein padded softly up to the bar of the Dragon’s Hoard, Kverr’s tavern, and watched the dragon in amusement. Soon the elderly dragon was going to trill...

An unearthly, but exquisite sound came from the dragon, fluting, sweeter than a nightingale, weaving its own melody around that of the female drow elf’s. She was playing on a large instrument – a ‘piano’, an outsider-world import, the latest treasure of the dragon.

It certainly sounded better than the normal guitars or flutes, Zak had to concede. And the elf was good enough to play the more-than-one melody trick.

He settled himself down on a stool at the bar to wait for Kverr to snap out of it. When the dragon was in this state, it was impossible to talk to him.

The female elf looked up once, to look at Kverr. The dragon threw out musicians whose music he didn’t approve of, as many whom had come looking for a free drink, food and an audience had found out. She needn’t have worried – the dragon was still trilling away.

Zak noted critically that the female was actually very attractive, and he winked suggestively at her when her gaze turned to him. She blushed furiously and looked away, face glowing red in the infrared, but her fingers never lost the melody.

Impressive, Zak grinned to himself, he’d have to go and look her up later.

Kverr woke up immediately at the end of the song, and gave the female a nod of approval. She smiled in relief, and started on another lilting song.

Zak rapped the bar counter before Kverr went back into his trance. The dragon turned its intense stare on the Master.

"Oh. You." Kverr didn’t sound very enthusiastic, but he also didn’t sound too unhappy.

"Yes." Zak said, "Do you have anything about a student known as Teiwaz LanC’edar?"

"The one that disappeared?" Kverr’s voice was softer now, and more businesslike as he held out one scaly claw.

"How do I know that your information’s going to be worth it?" Zak bantered.

"Take it or leave it," Kverr offered his usual reply.

Zak sighed, and shook some gold coins onto the dragon’s claw. Kverr’s eyes flickered in appreciation, and the claw retracted under the counter. There was the small clink of coins.

"Do you know where he went?" Zak asked immediately.

Kverr cocked his head at Zak, the delicate sails on the back of his cheek expanding then closing in thought. "What, where he went to from his room, or where he is now?"

"Both," Zak said.

"Can’t tell you both," Kverr said smugly.

"Which one can you tell, then?" The important thing, Zak knew, was not to lose his temper.

"Where he is now." Kverr said promptly. "He’s not on this world anymore."

"Why is he not?" Zak asked.

"Ask Morikan." Was Kverr’s succinct answer.

"Did he leave of his own free will?" Zak inquired patiently.

"More or less," Kverr said.

"Was it LanC’edar family business?" Zak asked.

"Yes," Kverr replied, apparently enjoying this.

"Why did he leave this world?"

"Ask Morikan."

"When is he coming back here?"

"Ask Morikan."

"Did he go on something dangerous?"

"Ask Morikan."

"Kverr..." Zaknafein began irritably.

"Ask... sorry." the dragon grinned, showing sharp teeth, then sobered. "I haven’t learnt anything else." Zak was impressed. That actually sounded genuine.

"Is Othila LanC’edar here?" Zak asked, with a flash of inspiration.

"No," Kverr said automatically.

"Then it is LanC’edar business." Zak said triumphantly.

"Damn." Kverr muttered.

"Thank you so much, Kverr," Zak said sweetly. "Now, one last thing..."

"What?" Kverr asked cautiously. The dragon was looking deflated now.

"What’s the elf’s name?" Zak tilted his head slightly at the elf at the piano.

Kverr grinned wickedly again, his good humor restored. "Vanethel."

Zak bowed deeply to the dragon, which blew a bubble at him, and slipped out of the door, heading towards the SkyKnight School.

***

"I still don’t understand what kind of School this is," Teiwaz said as they walked out with the rest of the students. School was over, and he could see that his Nexus was feeling very happy. It made her face radiant, and in his eyes, even more beautiful.

"It’s just a normal school," Rae said, "Teaches Math, Sciences, History, that sort of thing."

"Maybe in your world," Teiwaz said, "But in mine it’s like no other school."

"You sound like you’re in one," Rae grinned.

"I am," Teiwaz said, "It’s bigger than this one several times. Warrior School."

"That must be fun," Rae said, "At least you don’t have exams and tests and homework, and you can play with swords and stuff..."

"Do you remember your ‘P.E.’?" Teiwaz asked. They’d agreed on a mutual truce – no pushing each other or stomping on each other’s feet.

"Of course," Rae said sourly, "My muscles are going to ache tomorrow."

"Imagine doing that every day for hours," Teiwaz said, "Then Zaknafein... that is, my teacher, picks a student and fights him or her until he or she loses, which may take several hours. And he doesn’t get tired."

"How big’s your class?" Rae inquired, fascinated.

"Ten," Teiwaz said.

"He fights ten for hours and doesn’t get tired?" Rae asked in disbelief. They were under the covered walkway to the bus stop, and Teiwaz’s eyes kept flickering to the road, where the cars passed in noisy profusion. Obviously there were no such motor vehicles in his world, for Rae could see that they both interested and frightened Teiwaz.

"Nope," Teiwaz said, "Unfair, isn’t it?"

"What, he takes steroids?" Rae grinned. They walked out of the black-painted school gate.

"What’s that?" Teiwaz inquired. Rae shook her head, biting back a grin, and he sighed. "Right. He doesn’t get tired because he’s not technically alive."

At Rae’s raised eyebrow, Teiwaz grinned. He’d finally managed to startle her. "He was ‘brought back’ from the spirit realm by a World-Maker. He always says he’s not happy about it, but really you can see he’s enjoying his ‘second life’."

"I think that you’d have to explain further later," Rae sighed, leaning against one of the posts of the bus stop, and hugging her file to her.

Teiwaz nodded. "What are we waiting for?" he inquired.

"A bus," Rae said. Seeing his resigned expression, she grinned wickedly. "You’d see."

"All right," Teiwaz sighed. "It’s a ‘motor’ vehicle..."

"Yes..." Rae said, slightly patronizing.

"It takes you around to where you want to go?" Teiwaz picked off some of Rae’s outermost thoughts with a slight difficulty.

"Sort of." Rae grinned. "Look out for bus 605."

Teiwaz shrugged, looking nervously at the road now and then. The cars roared on, stopping at intervals, then pushing on again, faster than horses.

***

"That wasn’t so bad, was it?" Rae took the last step off the bus in an exuberant leap, landing catlike on the concrete pavement.

Teiwaz looked back at the bus, which was already starting to move. "Certainly new," he grinned. The metal ‘bus’ had seats inside with a lot of people, and apparently you paid money to sit inside. It stopped at fixed stops, was very jerky, and the inside was oddly cool. Rae had called it ‘air-conditioning’.

"Strange New World?" Rae twirled a full circle, arms outstretched as if to take in all the surroundings.

Teiwaz could only smile, but he felt vaguely troubled. Rae seemed very young – certainly too young to be yanked away from her life on her world.

"How old are you?" Rae asked suddenly, having picked up a dim outline of what Teiwaz was thinking of. "A few hundred years?"

"Twenty, I think," Teiwaz said, "It doesn’t really matter."

"It does," Rae said firmly. "Well, you’re four years older than me, but you’d outlive me."

Teiwaz nodded. "Maybe there’s something that’d help that..."

"Oh no," Rae grinned, "I’d planned to die at seventy before I get decrepit."

"As in, maybe you’d stay young longer," Teiwaz corrected.

"Ha," Rae shrugged. "That’s odd. Soulmates are born at different times?"

"Sometimes a few thousand years apart," Teiwaz said soberly. "We’re lucky."

"I still have to think about that bit," Rae said, her playful demeanor suddenly gone. "Soulmates, that is. Come on, let’s walk back to my home."

She shifted the sling bag strap on her shoulder, and Teiwaz looked at it. "Would you like me to carry that?" he asked solicitously, "I’m probably stronger than you are."

"Thanks a million," Rae said, and smiled warmly. Teiwaz glowed.

Though the elf didn’t know it, his speed of his feelings growing for the girl was mostly due to his family. LanC’edar had a stern father and a mother who treated her children as units at worst, as friends as best, sometimes cool, sometimes solicitous. Teiwaz had never had a pet, and as he was a direct descendant of the LanC’edar line, was not allowed to have any liaisons either that were not chosen by his parents.

Even in Sanctuary, he only had acquaintanceship at best with his students. Not many wished to involve themselves with Feyraen elf nobles, especially those from powerful families. It was well known that they were trouble.

Subconsciously he saw Rae as a spark, no, a blaze of warmth and light in his lonely world, someone who understood him and talked to him as a real friend, all the time, and who wasn’t to be pliant and ordered about like LanC’edar servants. He was beginning to love.

Perhaps he was lucky in that. Not all of the few Nexus pairs love, for love is only optional in the pairing. Most pair for the advantages, which shows that one of the best things you can have in life doesn’t involve love. But it does help... most of the time.

***

Rae lifted her face to the breeze, and to admire the way the yellowed leaves fell from the tree-lined road like a shower of soft golden rain. Beside her, she could feel Teiwaz sharing her joy at the sight.

The trees shaded off most of the hot sun, whose rays penetrated gaps between leaves to speckle the path with patches of aureate yellow. The leaves rustled in the wind and few cars passed to break the tranquil peace.

She turned to look covertly at Teiwaz, and saw that the pensive, slight misery on his face had disappeared. The elf seemed to be actually enjoying himself. He looked at her when he felt her stare, and smiled happily.

Lord, he’s even more handsome when he smiles, Rae thought shakily. I’ve only known him a few hours, and already...

Already she was noticing the way he walked, the way he rolled his shoulders when he did that, the way his eyes twinkled whenever he lit up his face with a smile.

This can’t be happening.

Rae didn’t deny it, though. She usually knew what she felt about something, and readily acknowledged it without attempting to moan about it or deny it like some other people. It wasted energy and stressed her out.

"Is something wrong?" Teiwaz asked.

She snapped out of her thoughts, and grinned at him, meeting his eyes again. Teiwaz looked as if he was struggling to come to a decision, then he tentatively put his arm around her shoulders. Only lightly, as if he was afraid she’d pull away.

Well, Rae thought, I’m not as predictable as you think, elf. She leaned slightly against him and put her hand round his waist, and felt a haze of happy disbelief radiate from his mind as they walked, closely linked, down to the whitewashed fenced house that was her home.

My first boyfriend and he’s not even human, Rae thought wryly. Mom is really going to flip about this, if she can see him.

Teiwaz was feeling warm, fuzzy thoughts, and she nearly snickered at him. They reached Rae’s favorite part about her walk home – where the road split into two, one road heading down a steep hill to her semi-detached house somewhere near the foot before the hill leveled to incline up again in another hill.

Houses lined the road, and tall Saraca trees grew straight in front of them, proud crowns shading them from the sun, always in a blaze of forest green, flame red and golden yellow.

She broke away from him, still cradling her file to her, and laughed as she raced down the slope with the sure-footedness of someone who had been doing this ever since she could walk. "Catch me if you can!"

Teiwaz grinned wolfishly behind her, and sprang after her, finally catching her in his arms, pressing her back to his chest, and swung her around once before the both of them collapsed in a gasping heap to their knees on the pavement.

Rae was the first to look up. Teiwaz had buried his face in her hair, and his voice was slightly muffled. "Warn me first next time."

"Why? You caught me," Rae snorted. "Get up, silly, or I’d never get home."

"I don’t mind it this way," Teiwaz grip tightened.

Rae muttered darkly at him, and struggled up. Teiwaz changed his grip such that only one arm went round her waist. The other picked up her fallen bag with ease.

She led him to her house, unremarkable in the entire row of houses – large garden, sturdy but undecorated balcony, some windows opening out, glass sliding doors in front. Flowers growing half-heartedly. Teiwaz felt that it radiated a greater aura of peace and warmth than his family’s entire beautiful castle.

Rae unlocked the gate and let him in before locking it again. Then there was the sound of pattering paws, and around the garden rushed a blur of black taller than Rae’s knee. It came to an abrupt halt a few meters away, staring at Teiwaz. An ominous growling erupted from its throat.

Teiwaz had unsheathed his swords and gone into a basic stance. Rae sighed, and looked at the creature. "Rex, no."

The dog wagged its stubby tail at her but bared its teeth at Teiwaz.

"What’s that?" Teiwaz said quietly.

"You’re frightening it," Rae accused him and he grudgingly sheathed his weapons and straightened. "Rex is my dog."

Teiwaz looked disbelievingly at the disheveled black and white mass on four paws. Somewhere in the bushy fur a mouth gaped open and a pink tongue lolled out.

"That’s a dog?" he said, "Dog’s don’t look like that..."

"It’s a breed of dog," Rae said, "German Schnauzer."

"Never heard that dogs had ‘breeds’," Teiwaz said. Rae shrugged at him, then patted her knees. Immediately the dog leaped forward at her, capering around her and sniffing all the scents she’d accumulated in the day at school. It pointedly ignored Teiwaz.

"We’d better go in... shoo," she waved her hands ineffectually at the dog, which didn’t stop its capering, almost making her trip.

Finally she made it to the door, taking off her shoes. Teiwaz looked dubiously at his boots. "I wonder what happens if I’m not touching them," he said. "Maybe they can be seen."

"A new pair of boots would be conspicuous," Rae agreed, "You had better take them off and bring them in with you."

Her brother was at the top of the staircase, and he was waving a pack of cards at her, apparently not noticing Teiwaz at all. "I got new cards!"

"Yeah, yeah," Rae went up the stairs, Teiwaz following curiously. The inside of the house was cozy – a large dining table on a carpet, and a glass-shelved cupboard-cabinet that featured several pieces of china porcelain, obviously someone’s collection. Under the stairs to the second story were several musical instruments – three guitars, keyboard, clavinova, stereo system – another collection, though just as obviously someone else’s.

Her brother was chattering on as if he hadn’t heard her. "I have a spare Dratini. Want it?"

"No," Rae said patiently. She looked apologetically at Teiwaz. "He’s a ‘pokemon’ fan."

"Whatever that is," Teiwaz said. The boy’s eyes had glazed slightly when she talked to him. The dweomer was effective indeed.

"I don’t have Blastoise yet, though." Her brother was saying as she fended him off until her room, waited until Teiwaz went in, then closed the door and locked it.

"I have no idea why he wants to talk to me about it," Rae said, "I mean, it’s not like I even like it."

"He wants attention," Teiwaz observed. And so do you, he added mentally.

"He’s not getting mine," Rae said shortly, ignoring the last bit. "You can put the bag there." She pointed vaguely at the pale blue chair in front of her study table. Turning her back on him, she began to rummage through her drawers, fighting off the urge to wear something feminine and nice. She chose jeans and a loose shirt with a nagging feeling of loss, but told herself she didn’t care.

Teiwaz was looking curiously at her choice of clothes. "Don’t you... er, that is..."

"I don’t like dresses or skirts," Rae said quickly, "They’re restraining. The only dress I have is my uniform, and I don’t wear my skirts if I can help it."

"Oh." Teiwaz said, then grinned wolfishly.

"What?" Rae was aware she was becoming defensive.

"Father won’t like that," Teiwaz said, "He has a lot of ideas about this kind of thing."

"Your father can take his opinion and stuff it up..." Rae began.

"Rae!" Teiwaz caught a general feel of what she was going to say, and was blushing hotly. She smirked at him. "I hope you have something to wear yourself so you can take a bath," she told him, "Or at least remove all that armor before you start smelling permanently of rust."

With that, she went out of the room. A door closed outside, and several minutes later the sound of running water could be heard. Teiwaz shook his head ruefully, and sat down on the blue chair.

Rae’s room looked as though its owner had never bothered about the word neat. There were items of food like a cookie jar and a packet of chips on her table, mingled with a glass container that stored gold-colored coins – money in her world, he supposed. There were several containers for pens and pencils, but many of those pencils were scattered on the table along with papers, files and books. Under her table was a large box, where she apparently dumped all the rest of her papers in a big mess.

On the right side of her room was several shelves, full of books. On the top of the lower one, whose top came up to his waist, were several models of birds. Wings outstretched to fly, wings stretched in flight. Pictures of birds on the corkboard that hung above the shelf, a few open books on the creatures. As if the owner had wanted to fly.

Teiwaz felt as though he had been given another jigsaw piece, but again had no idea what it was.

The room was in shades of soft yellow and moon colors, sometimes with a touch of baby blue. Even though it was twice as small as his own in LanC’edar castle, and still smaller than that in Sanctuary city, he felt it was much more desirable.

***

Rae rinsed out her hair, feeling a nearly sensuous delight in the running water.

Teiwaz was real. That meant his world was probably real, too. But exactly why did he want to take her there, and now too? She hadn’t even gone to college yet.

She turned off the water and reached for her towel to dry herself, the flannel soft and fluffy in her hands.

And this ‘soulmate’ thing – she felt that she wasn’t up to dealing with it yet. It was too sudden, too strange, it had shattered what she thought real and what she thought fantasy.

This was even stranger than most of the books she read, Rae thought wryly. Later Teiwaz would have quite a bit of explaining to do, and she’d have to figure out what she was going to have to do about him.

One thing about a bath – it cleared all muddled thoughts in your mind immediately after. As Rae dressed, she assessed herself. She did that quite often – looked at her as someone else might judge her. The problem, which she didn’t know about that, was that she often judged herself too harshly, and worse, hardly ever was determined to change.

This time what she knew was that she was beginning to like Teiwaz too much. Perhaps not the other four-letter ‘L’ yet, but soon if she wasn’t careful. And she didn’t want to be careful.

She wished she could talk to someone about it without getting sent to the nearest mental hospital.

Rae sighed and stepped out of the bathroom into her room lightly. Teiwaz was sitting on her bed, playing with one of his swords. His face lit up when she came in, but she ignored him to pick out a comb from the mess on the table and sat down next to him to comb her hair.

Usually she didn’t do that – Rae didn’t like her hair, and therefore never bothered about combing unless forcibly reminded by her mother, but it gave her fingers something to do.

At least he’d taken off his armor, Rae noted. It was in a pile on the floor, and he was wearing a simple shirt and pants. Though he still smelt faintly of oiled metal, it wasn’t that bad now.

Teiwaz reached out to take her comb, then grinned as he started to do her hair. Rae blinked.

"Many talents, Teiwaz?" She smiled cheerfully.

"Like all LanC’edar," Teiwaz agreed, gentle fingers smoothing out the knots and whorls of the day.

"Cedar," Rae commented.

"Right," Teiwaz said, "All gold elf families are named after trees."

"There are other elves?" Rae asked.

"On Sanctuary – that is, my world, there are moon elves and dark elves," Teiwaz said. "Moon elves are wind elves, named after birds. Dark elves are forest or jungle elves, and usually have elemental ones."

"And gold elves are sun elves?" Rae grinned.

"No, water elves," Teiwaz said. "In my world there’s a country of elves called Feyraen, and it’s split into three, one territory for each. Moon elf territory is mountainous, and they can control the winds there. Gold elf territory is islands and water, mostly water, and we control it. Dark elf is all jungle, and the forest helps them."

"That sounds like some experiment," Rae said.

"It is," Teiwaz sighed.

"Those World-Makers?" Rae inquired.

"Yes, them. Seven of them in seven colors, they made the universe. The three different power thing was just one of their ideas." Teiwaz said. "The fighting amongst the elves hasn’t stopped for several hundred centuries, because we’re all equal."

"They don’t sound very nice to me," Rae said, "If they do that just to let you continue fighting."

"Oh no, some of them are nice," Teiwaz said, "Like Shoshuna, the Unicorn World-Maker. Some of them are okay unless you annoy them, and some of them are totally bad, like Hatch’yet the Snake World-Maker."

"So they created this world, too?" Rae asked slowly.

"Yes," Teiwaz said.

"My religion believes that my God created it," Rae said distantly. Then she brightened up. "But I’m not that serious in it anyway. I don’t even go to church."

"Ah," Teiwaz sighed, "But how do you know if he’s not real?"

"Sorry?" Rae looked startled.

"He may be real. The God," Teiwaz grinned at Rae’s nearly horrified expression, "Maybe he is."

"Many apologies," Rae looked up formally to the ceiling. Teiwaz spoiled the moment by snickering.


Part 4: Fourth Consequence

Zaknafein was beginning to feel severely irritated. Othila was missing, along with his Aesthir, which meant the both of them had gone on a trip willingly. There weren’t many things that could hold a fully-grown flying horse.

He was padding through one of the more shadowed, quieter alleys towards the Warrior School when he heard a slight, clearing-of-throat sound behind him.

Whipping out his swords, he whirled and crouched into a defensive-offensive stance. Behind him was a tall human, features shadowed such that they were indistinct.
He was wearing white clothing, all white from the cape to the robe and the boots. His long hair was silvery white as well.

"Who are you?" Zak demanded, his swords going low to start an attack.

The human stepped forward into the light. Eyes that looked like all the starry nights were contained within twinkled at Zaknafein, and the unnaturally beautiful mouth curved into a smile.

"Oh." Zak said. "Greetings, Morikan." He raised Frostbite’s hilt to his face in a salute.

Morikan nodded acknowledgement. "Greetings, Sword Master, and well met." The dragon World-Maker’s wise eyes looked very amused... and very old.

"Were you following me?" Zak blurted out, "What happened to Teiwaz?"

Heavy lashes drooped for a moment as if in thought, but Zak believed it was more of amusement. "Teiwaz is no longer your concern, Zaknafein."

"He’s still my student," Zak said, "And I keep my oaths."

Morikan leaned against a wall. With another World-Maker, especially Rykvaz, Zaknafein would be a smoking crater for his demands, but Morikan preferred to allow opinions. He did not, however, indulge like Shoshuna, who had never ever killed anything in her existence, and probably never will.

"If he fails in what he’s doing," Morikan said mildly, "He’d be stuck on another world. If he succeeds, well, he probably won’t be a warrior anymore."

"What is he doing?" Zak asked.

"What would you do if I don’t tell you?" Morikan grinned.

"Go to Feyraen and demand it out of the father," Zak replied.

"Why get into so much trouble over one student?"

"I told you," Zak said, "I don’t break my oaths. I took one when I became Master that I’d take care of my students, and I will. Besides, all this elf against elf thing has become very irritating. LanC’edar has to follow Sanctuary’s rules."

"Perhaps so," Morikan said slowly, "But we still find it interesting. Very well, Teiwaz has gone to find his Nexus. Has found his Nexus, actually."

"So he’s coming back?" Zak tried.

"Not until something else happens," Morikan said. "I’ve been watching you, Zaknafein. You’ve been very disruptive in your investigations, and given your students an unscheduled day off..."

"They’re still practicing or cleaning if they know what’s good for them," Zak cut in.

"You’ve disturbed a lot of people and helped in all those rumor in the street..."

"I merely asked a lot of people. What they did to the information is not my business," Zak said smugly.

"You’ve been a catalyst in all the trouble that’s going to start soon here..."

"I thought you World-Makers enjoyed watching trouble." Zak said.

"Not if it may lead to the burning down of several bits of Sanctuary," Morikan snapped.

"You can put fires out with a thought," Zak continued.

"I’ve been very lenient with you so far, Zaknafein," Morikan said coldly, "Stop all this now and go back to the warrior school. Resume the lessons, and forget about Teiwaz. That’s an order, Sword Master."

Zaknafein sighed. When Morikan got into that voice his eyes glittered like hard diamonds and it was impossible to negotiate further. "Very well," he said curtly, and bowed. When he looked up, the World-Maker was gone.

***

Rumors flew around Sanctuary City, and the normally peaceful elf population suddenly became a beehive of tense speculation. A LanC’edar elf had been kidnapped, along with his brother. No, the elves had been killed and left at the city gates. No, the elves had run away. The elves had been captured by dark elves. No, by moon elves...

As such things went, fights began to break out in the streets, first in quiet corners, then openly. Peacemakers tried to break fighters apart and got hurt.

As the sun climbed lower in the sky, the fighting had been so bad that the Schools had to close their gates and put all elf students and Masters from Feyraen under custody, separated into their colors. Elves from Outside were tailed.

This didn’t work well. When many people are together and worried, speculations begin to arise that become more and more wild... and more and more believed in.

Morikan was not happy about this. The first few fireballs had nearly burned the library, and Tauron Thunderhoof, the Head Librarian, had been distinctly unhappy, to the tune of several broken bones from the rioting elves outside until he had been forcibly restrained.

Zaknafein was beginning to regret what he had done earlier. He had been told to stay in the Sword Hall with all his students, and he couldn’t even go out to check on whether Teiwaz had come back. Unlike Morikan, who was in such a foul mood that only Shoshuna dared to go near him, Zaknafein decided to go to sleep until something more definite happened.

***

Teiwaz and Rae didn’t know all that was happening. Rae’s mother was surprised that there weren’t much leftover food during dinner, as Teiwaz had also been eating secretly at the table. The maid didn’t notice that there seemed to be one more set of plates and cutlery than usual.

Right now Teiwaz watched silently on Rae’s bed while Rae did her homework. It was hard concentrating when someone was staring at you, Rae decided.

She looked up suddenly and glanced straight back at him. Teiwaz snapped out of whatever trance he was in, losing the vaguely adoring expression on his face, and raised an eyebrow at her. "Yes?"

Rae looked at her work and sighed. "I don’t suppose you know anything about geography."

"Not your world’s, sorry," Teiwaz said, and grinned.

"Why don’t you go and do something? You must be bored," Rae said.

"I’m not bored," Teiwaz said truthfully. He had been using the time to arrange his thoughts and speculate on what was going to happen.

"Right," Rae said disbelievingly, "Suit yourself."

"Do you really need to do that tonight?" Teiwaz inquired.

"Well yes, since it’s due tomorrow, and your father hasn’t turned on the communications link yet," Rae said, writing down the answers to several of the questions.

"You can’t rely on my father to do anything," Teiwaz muttered.

***

Othila LanC’edar looked at his father, who was pacing around in a circle. "What do you mean, he’s not on this world?" he asked. Othila did care for Teiwaz, in a way. And he also did know the ways of LanC’edar, which was why he’d stubbornly chosen SkyKnight class in the first place.

"Until he finds his Nexus, he won’t be," his father said shortly. "And since he hasn’t called..."

"I don’t understand it," the LanC’edar Loremaster was saying, "He should have gone to a meter or so away from her."

"Maybe he screwed up," his father said coldly.

"Teiwaz doesn’t do that," Othila said calmly. "Maybe there’s something wrong with the communications..."

His father looked grudgingly down at the device he was clutching in one hand then shook it. The Loremaster and the sorcerer both grimaced.

"Doesn’t sound broken to me."

The Loremaster edged forward, and took the device for a closer inspection. "Oh, it’s turned off."

"You see?" Othila said triumphantly, "It’s not..."

"Yeah, only a small mistake," his father said dismissively, thumbing on the link. "Teiwaz?"

***

Teiwaz jumped when the link turned on and his father’s gruff voice came out. His first feeling was that of relief, then of mixed regret. He was going to leave this world, and Rae was going to leave all which she treasured here...

Rae looked up curiously at him.

"Teiwaz?" the voice came again, "Are you there?"

"Yes," Teiwaz said, nodding at Rae. He’s here.

"You got the girl?"

"She’s with me," Teiwaz said cautiously. Rae’s eyebrow shot up at the ‘girl’ bit, and then she leaned back in her chair.

"Right, we’re getting the both of you out... the Loremaster says ten minutes max. And hold her hand or something."

With that, his father’s voice stopped. Teiwaz grinned weakly at Rae. "Er, is there anything you’d like to bring with you?"

Rae shrugged, then smiled wickedly at Teiwaz. "Aren’t you going to protect me?"

Teiwaz was already struggling into his armor, then buckling on his swords. "With my life itself, lady," he said solemnly. The both of them burst into laughter, though Teiwaz’s was slightly strained.

"Maybe I should have worn something more appropriate," Rae said. Her shirt was slightly rumpled, and the jeans only showed off her long legs.

Teiwaz looked appreciatively at her. "Everything looks good on you," he said grandly.

"Liar," Rae said, but sounded pleased. "Now what?"

Teiwaz reached a hand out for her, and she took it, standing up. He pulled her to him until they were hugging in a tight embrace.

"Any last words?" he whispered when the now-familiar humming of the transport spell reached his sensitive ears.

"Goodbye, homework," Rae laughed nervously, leaning the side of her cheek on his chest.

"That’s very..." Teiwaz began, then his words were lost as the spell caught on and sucked them out from the room.

On the forgotten desk, all the papers and books and things with Rae’s writing and name on began to disintegrate. Faster and faster – her identification cards, her library cards, her beloved books and toys. A film of dust formed on her computer and speakers, and her paintings began to fade and curl. The bedspread began to dissolve away, as did her pillows.

When it was over, the room looked like any guestroom – bare and deserted and lifeless, as thought it had never belonged to anyone.

Memories of Rae began to fade quickly from all whom knew her – her best friends, her family, until they became as like a half-remembered dream.

All that she had done or marked with her name slowly and quietly disappeared, as though she had never been.

***

They reappeared, clinging to each other for support from the dizzy journey, in the center of LanC’edar’s audience hall, surrounded by Teiwaz’s father and mother, Othila, the Loremaster and the sorcerer.

Othila was the first to speak to the pair, who didn’t seem to have noticed anything yet. "Teiwaz?"

Teiwaz looked up at the sound of his name, and the human girl also turned to regard Othila with grave eyes. "Well met, Othila," Teiwaz said, his voice a little unsteady.

"I presume she is your Nexus?" Othila inquired.

"Yes," Teiwaz’s voice became slightly belligerent.

Othila recovered some of his normal poise, and bowed deeply to Rae. "My sincerest sympathies."

Rae raised an eyebrow at him. She, the SkyKnight noted approvingly, didn’t seem the least bit hysterical at the sudden change of environment.

"You’d have to live with my brother for the rest of your lives," Othila explained, grinning wickedly at Teiwaz’s mortally furious expression.

"That doesn’t sound so bad," Rae observed.

"Look what you’ve done, brother," Othila said in mock accusation, "You’ve damned another soul."

"Is he always like this?" Rae asked Teiwaz.

Teiwaz gave her a grateful grin. "Always. All SkyKnights are like that. It must be the altitude."

While Othila blinked, startled, Berkana stepped forward, prising Rae away from Teiwaz nearly fastidiously. Teiwaz’s eyes flared briefly in outrage, and then he calmed down when Rae shot him a glance.

"And you haven’t introduced us yet," Berkana said in her beautiful crystal voice.

"Oh," Teiwaz said. "Rae, this is my mother... and father..." he barely looked at his father. "That’s Othila my brother, and Vernan the Loremaster and Atrien the sorcerer."

Rae smiled at each of them, even his scowling father.

"And vice-versa," Teiwaz said, wondering if he’d be able to get Rae away from his mother before she went into her You Must Be Tired state.

"You must be tired," Berkana chirped, "We’d have to give you some more fitting clothes, something nice but simple to match your hair..."

Dresses, Teiwaz thought at Rae. Rae’s eyes widened, and she opened her mouth to say something, but Berkana was prattling on. Teiwaz sighed. Too late.

"And give you something to eat..."

"I’ve already eaten, thank you," Rae said quickly.

"Oh, nothing heavy. Lightly steamed slivers of whiting, and maybe lark’s tongues..."

Teiwaz could feel what Rae felt about lark’s tongues.

"And you’d have a nice rest in a room we’ve prepared specially for this. Then we’d have the small ceremony in the morning," Berkana was already pulling Rae away.

Teiwaz grinned involuntarily. Inside, Rae was seething.

His father waited until Berkana had taken Rae away then strode over to Teiwaz. "How much have you told her?" he demanded.

"Everything except what she would be coming here for," Teiwaz said. "Look, after the ceremony can we send her back to her world?" he pushed back the feeling of loss that welled up in him.

His father smiled grimly. "No. She’s already been erased from her world. All the memories from other people, and also any trace of her. She will have to stay here."

Teiwaz was horrified. Rae was certainly going to hate him after this.

His father patted his shoulder patronizingly. "Take a rest... son. I’d see you in the morning."

Othila led the furious Teiwaz away forcibly. "Nothing you’re going to say will change his mind," The SkyKnight said when they were safely out of earshot.

Teiwaz leaned against the wall dizzily. "She’d hate me," he said quietly.

"Maybe for a short while," Othila shrugged easily. "Women are like that."

"I felt her heart," Teiwaz said, "I know she doesn’t forgive easily."

"Well, this isn’t your fault..." Othila said. "I think you had better change out of that and wear a robe." Othila pointed at Teiwaz’s armor. The SkyKnight wasn’t wearing his armor either.

"I think I’d keep it on," Teiwaz said decisively.

"Women like to see armor from far away," Othila said slyly, as if experienced (which he probably was, considering SkyKnights), "But they don’t like it up close. It has a distinctive smell, you know."

Teiwaz changed into the robe.

***

"What are you here for, anyway?" Teiwaz asked his brother as they walked down to the eating hall.

"I was worried about you," Othila said, "You just disappeared from the School like that," he snapped his fingers, "Without any warning. And the last time that happened..."

"To Uruz," Teiwaz agreed.

"To Uruz..." Othila nodded, "Look what happened to him. A convenience wedding. And look at him and his mate now."

Teiwaz winced. Uruz and his mate were publicly tolerant of each other, but there were nasty rumors of what happened in private.

"That time, we didn’t do anything," Othila said quietly. "Uruz’s entire life... ruined."

It was true. Uruz had tried to take his own life several times, which the LanC’edar family and the mate’s family had hushed up.

"I didn’t want that to happen to you," Othila said, then brightened up. "But you seem to like your Nexus. And she does seem rather fond of you."

"The first is a surety," Teiwaz grinned. He didn’t mind telling his brother these sort of things anymore, after Othila had joined the SkyKnight School and was teetering on the edge of being disowned. "The second... I certainly hope so."

***

Rae pushed away the maid attempting to help her comb her hair into one of the ‘fashions’ favored by those in the elven court. Elvish was remarkably similar to English, and she understood much of what was being said.

Rebelliously, she refused all the jewelry as well. It was enough that she had to wear the dress. She’d been expecting those sort of formless, painful-looking medieval dresses she’d read about and seen on television.

In a way, this was worse. All the dresses were low cut, clinging, or both. Rae had watched her jeans disappear with resignation, and her shirt as well. The maid had looked so scandalized when Rae asked for a simple blouse and plain skirt like hers... anything was better than the dresses... that she’d given up. She chose the least revealing dress in the selection – a pale blue, soft silk and velvet, fur trimmed and yielding, pulling tight on her skin whenever she twisted. It had a sensible neckline and sleeves. The only objectionable thing about it was that there were slits up the side, stopping several inches short of her hips to show her legs.

At least the shoes were better – black leather, soft-soled boots that she would have thought incongruous with the dress, but actually looked good, in a wild sort of way. The boots, along with some silvery patterns on the sides, had dagger sheaths in them – apparently the maid hadn’t looked carefully enough.

Actually, the maid had been horrified when she demanded boots. She certainly didn’t want to wear those silly shiny pointy shoes. The maid had finally acceded, wringing her hands. She had also been upset about Rae absolutely refusing to change in her presence.

One thing certain, Rae decided when she was finally allowed out of the changing room to meet Berkana, Teiwaz’s eyes were going to pop.

Berkana looked her up and down, then smiled her fluff-brained smile. "You look beautiful, dear. But do you have to wear those boots?"

"Yes," Rae said defiantly.

"No jewelry?" Berkana seemed to protest.

"No," Rae said.

Berkana was already rummaging in a drawer as if she hadn’t heard, but what she took out was not some gem-studded monstrosity but two delicate daggers, slightly curved, with a black hilt made of some unknown, hard material, exquisitely carved. There was a large pale-blue gem on the pommel of each. She handed them to Rae.

"These were my grandmother’s treasures," Berkana was saying with that same smile on her face. "I’d like you to have them."

"Thanks," Rae said. Berkana’s grandmother was some female, she thought.

"The daggers fit the boots," Berkana was chattering on, "The boots were hers, too."

Rae bent down and fitted them in. Her step, when she followed Berkana out of the room, was more self-assured. There’s nothing like wearing weapons as jewelry to give one a shot of self-confidence.

Teiwaz was sitting moodily on a chair next to his brother at the dining table, which had several pretty-looking dishes on equally pretty-looking plates. He looked up when they came in, then his eyes widened when he took in what Rae was wearing.

Rae nearly smiled at his stunned shock. It nearly made up for the dress.

Othila, on the other hand, was frankly appreciative, and she avoided his eyes. The father was scowling at her again, but waved her to a chair imperiously. Berkana made sure that she was comfortable then went to sit on the other end of the table.

Rae sat opposite Teiwaz, and noted with some satisfaction that he was still staring.

"Try the quail’s eggs...they’re a delicacy," Berkana was saying to her. Rae’s nose twitched briefly.

Rae looked at the selection of dishes, and wondered briefly why in the hell people gave up normal, tasty food for such weird things. Wings of nightingales lightly grilled? The tails of some obscure creature? Ugh.

"I’m really very full," she protested, and saw with a certain disgusted fascination that Othila was stuffing himself. He waved a fork at her.

In the end, she did eat a side of whiting under urgings from Berkana. At least she knew it was a fish.

The mother is such a white mouse, she thought. The father... looked like a personified storm cloud. His steely eyes seemed to be on her whenever hee accidentally turned in his direction. He seemed to find her presence offensive.

Teiwaz wasn’t any help at all. Through the small, dim link with him she could still feel that he wasn’t going to be articulate any soon, so she tried to talk to Othila. Anything to stop him from eating all those small fried things... lark’s tongues.

"What’s being a SkyKnight like?" she asked politely.

Othila, to her relief, stopped. "Very free," he said, "And very enjoyable, especially if you like falling on belay."

"You climb rock walls?" she asked curiously. She could feel the father’s burning irritation that she was talking to a son in disfavor.

"No," Othila said cheerfully, not the least bothered by his father; "We have mid-air jousts. If we weren’t on belay... let’s just say that falling down to a net several hundred feet up is still dangerous."

Rae wondered briefly at this. "You fly?"

"On Aesthir," Othila said. "Basically horses with wings, very light, magical so that they can fly, eat birdseed and oats."

"That sounds very interesting," Rae said, with a slight hint of envy.

"It is," Othila said carelessly. "It’s more fun than fighting on the ground day in and day out. Isn’t it?" he nudged Teiwaz.

Teiwaz seemed to snap out of his trance. "What? Er... oh."

"We were talking about how boring it is fighting on the ground," Othila said.

"It’s not boring," Teiwaz protested. His eyes slid over to Rae and he seemed to go back into his trance.

"Both are good," Berkana said firmly as the servants began to clear the tables. Rae began to stand up, but Othila was at her side in a second, formally extending his
hand to her. He winked briefly, and his head inclined nearly unnoticeably towards Teiwaz.

Rae had to hold back a snicker as she graciously took his hand and allowed him to guide her up. Teiwaz was frowning at them, also up on his feet.

Then Rae nearly pulled back her hand when Othila lifted it to his lips as if to kiss it. His eyes met hers again and seemed to be saying, just wait for Teiwaz to respond to this one.

"I think I’d better show Rae her room," Teiwaz said loudly, somehow already at her side possessively. He was nearly trembling with suppressed rage as Othila put down her hand unhurriedly and bowed to her.

"Good night, the both of you," he said, "I’m going to check on my Aesthir." With that, he glided off out of the room.

Rae noted that the father had already disappeared, and felt relieved. Berkana tittered at them. "Dear Rae doesn’t have her own room," she said, and tittered again. Rae blinked.

***

"I didn’t plan this," Teiwaz said quickly when the door shut behind them. Rae was glowering at the room – large, ornate, carpeted, and with a bed very obviously placed as the centerpiece, four postered and complete with draperies.

"You’d better haven’t," Rae said darkly. Everything was obscenely rich.

"I could sleep on the floor," Teiwaz said tentatively. Then he rubbed his hand against his arm as a cold wind blew through the window, making the fire in the fireplace flicker. Stone castles were cold and windy even in summer, and especially in spring during thaw.

"And catch a cold," Rae commented. Teiwaz was going to say that it didn’t matter, but she spoke again. "What’s wrong with you sleeping on the bed?"

"Then where would you sleep?" Teiwaz inquired.

"On the bed too," Rae said cheerfully, and grinned at his startled expression.

"I thought you’d be... well..." Teiwaz paused.

Rae was laughing. "What were you thinking?" she waggled a finger, "I wasn’t thinking of that. Nothing wrong with sharing warmth is there? During Outward Bound School I’ve done that with eight other people." All girls, but she didn’t add that.

"If you don’t mind," Teiwaz said slowly.

"If I did, I wouldn’t have raised it," Rae said shortly. "Now, I’m going to change and go to sleep. If you want to stand there all night it’s your problem." She picked up the simple linen shift from the bed and walked behind the screen.


Part 5: Fifth Revelation

Rae woke up at precisely 6 am, supposedly in time for school. Her mind, rather sluggish as it rewired itself to run in the day, noted something different – that she was strangely feeling protected, happy (she never woke up happy. Resigned, yes, regretful, yes. But not happy.) and a very close up view of white cloth.

Then she realized slowly that she wasn't in her bedroom. Someone – Teiwaz, she remembered, was holding her loosely in the circle of his arms, and that seemed so natural that for a moment her mind just passed right over it. She was curled up next to him, left arm lazily resting over his waist, and the other... Rae noted with a mixture of horror and interest that it was inside his robe, hand splayed possessively on his chest.

Wonderful, girl, she told herself, anyone who sees the both of you like this would think something interesting. And it's not like you know how this happened either – the last thing about falling asleep was the both of you on opposite sides of the bed.

Rae had the nagging suspicion that something, or someone, was playing.

She shifted a little to look around. Soft sunlight from a barely risen sun spilled out from a window to splash liberally over the rich carpet, illuminating individual specks of dust, the glittering particles shifting as if in a tranquil dance. The fire in the fireplace had gone out sometime last night, and the room was fairly chilly.

Rae felt warm, and very unreal. She brought up her left hand slowly to touch Teiwaz's cheek. He was real – that meant everything else was real... Rae was attempting to deal with the enormity of this when Teiwaz stirred.

He stretched, accidentally pressing closer, then blinked when he registered what was happening. Rae smiled with satisfaction when he looked at his arms, then stared to blush furiously. With an impulse created from sheer mischief, she let her right hand linger for a moment more before pointedly removing it.

Teiwaz was definitely reddening, but he didn't let go of her. Rae twisted up into a sitting position, aware that her hair was already starting to straighten from rumpled sleep, and patted his hands.

Teiwaz let go reluctantly. Rae smiled warmly at him, and then frowned as something in her mind that had been clamoring for attention finally got a loudspeaker.

"Oh god, Teiwaz. I've got to get back to my world – it's almost time for school." Rae noted that a dark cloud seemed to come down on the elf and misinterpreted it. "It's been great meeting you... maybe I'd see you again after school."

"I'm sorry, Rae," Teiwaz said quietly.

"About what?" Rae smiled, "I don't see anything for you to be sorry of..."

"You don't see everything," Teiwaz said, in that same resigned tone, "I'm sorry because you can't go back." At Rae's raised eyebrow, he raced on; "My father's erased all record or memory of you in your world. Some kind of spell. I'm really sorry."

Rae stared. "All of it?" she asked disbelievingly.

"Believe it," Teiwaz said grimly, propping himself up on one elbow, "Some spells are very effective. And he controls the Loremaster and the sorcerer here, so you can't even get back." That same sad expression on his face, as if he thought he was going to lose something very precious...

"Great. Then I'd be missing today's test," Rae grinned, glad that her voice didn't shake at all. Teiwaz blinked. Thought you knew exactly what I was going to do? Rae's grin threatened to turn into a smirk.

"You're not angry?" Teiwaz asked, nearly pathetically hopefully, sitting up.

"I am angry," Rae said, "But not at you. I don't think you had anything to do with this."

"Other than bringing you here," Teiwaz said.

Rae shrugged at him. "That wasn't too bad... if there are better places to see other than this. I'd like to see your Sanctuary City."

"You will," Teiwaz promised, then pulled her into a hug, trembling slightly, "I'm proud of you. I mean, you're not being hysterical or having a tantrum."

"I see," Rae said dryly, hugging him back, "I'm not a very hysterical person, and as to the tantrum, if you're very nice to me. Now, I'm starting to suffocate."

Teiwaz laughed at this, and let her go. Rae slid off the bed towards the wardrobe, opening it to see the inevitable dresses, and some clothes for Teiwaz.

"I hate dresses," she said, shivering in the cold air. Her breath made small white clouds of condensation. "Why can't I wear these?" She fingered a pair of pants, "I think I might just fit. And it's so cold... do you have a cloak?"

Teiwaz was abruptly close behind her, arms reaching tentatively around her waist, and she leaned backwards. "Better than a cloak?" he murmured.

"Harder to walk with," Rae said dryly, "But more comfortable. Now, about those pants..."

"Father's... well, he's conservative," Teiwaz grinned though there was something desperate in his expression, and the end of his lip curled up slightly as if in dull fear, "And about half the nobles in the court will flip if they see you wearing trousers. All those born and bred and raised in Feyraen, at least."

"Let them flip. Maybe they'd show a better side," Rae said calmly. "If you wear the black one, maybe I can take the dark green..."

"Rae, wear a dress... just this once." Teiwaz said. He didn't add that his father might just decide to go into an angry rage and have her executed. He'd sensed that the old elf hadn't exactly approved of Rae's behavior, or if he ever would.

"No." Rae said absently, still fingering through the pants.

"Rae..." Teiwaz lowered his voice in an attempt at sounding threatening. It failed miserably. Rae merely chuckled, reached up with one slender hand to pat his cheek with in a slightly condescending manner, and took the pair of dark green pants out, putting it against her to see how long it was.

Teiwaz sighed inwardly. "Please?" he tried.

Rae cocked her head up to regard him gravely. "Did you say something?"

"What if I very humbly beg you to wear a dress?" Teiwaz said sourly.

"It may work," Rae grinned, "If you go down on one knee, and be very nice to me later." She laughed at Teiwaz's mortified expression. "Only joking. Very well, I'd wear a dress, but we'd soon have to talk about your father."

"Right," Teiwaz felt relieved. Rae regretfully put the pair of pants back in the closet, and selected one of the dresses at random – another blue one.

"I hope you have a cloak for this," Rae said, disappearing behind the screen to change. "Or I will regret giving in to you..."

"There're several cloaks," Teiwaz shrugged, then frowned. "Cloaks are for going out of the castle with..."

The rustling paused, then pointedly stopped. "No cloak – I wear shirt and pants."

Rae got the cloak.

***

"Good morning," Othila said heartily when they rounded a corner downward to the dining hall. The SkyKnight was dressed in lightweight armor, holding a duffel bag and a padded helmet designed for softening crashes under his arm. His closely cropped gold hair was still rumpled from sleep, and his eyes twinkled briefly at Rae.

"Would you like to see my Aesthir, lady?" he bowed a courtly bow, "N'anvan is at his best in the mornings."

"After the ceremony," Teiwaz cut in quickly, glaring at Othila. "Why're you wearing all that armor? Leaving already?"

"No use for me to linger here, and I'm homesick already," Othila shrugged, "I miss the Flying Horse, I miss the School, I miss the wide open spaces and all my friends. Staying a day in this stuffy castle does that to one."

"I'd say," Rae grinned. She was glad she was wearing the black soled boots with the daggers today.

"I suggest the both of you get off to Sanctuary as fast as possible," Othila said seriously, "At least you'd have some measure of protection there."

Teiwaz nodded, though he still looked faintly disgruntled. Rae winked secretly at Othila, then said, "N'anvan is your Aesthir? Stallion or mare?"

"Stallion," Othila grinned, "I still remember being led out to the Aesthir wings with the rest of the students, and him still a young colt trotting up to me and telling me quite seriously that he chose me."

"I still don't understand why," Teiwaz said darkly. "Stallions usually choose females..."

"There're always exceptions," Othila shrugged. "Rae, when you go to Sanctuary, are you joining a School?"

"We'd see," Rae said. "SkyKnight sounds fun..."

"Father may have other plans," Teiwaz said, again too quickly.

"Loosen up a bit, Teiwaz," Othila smiled, "Rae isn't going anywhere with me."

They rounded another corner into the dining hall. Berkana rose to greet them, and Teiwaz and Othila bowed formally to their father. Rae nearly sighed. They were both so obviously afraid of the old elf, that it made her wonder why.

"Good morning," she said, forcing cheer into her voice as she smiled at Teiwaz's father. His face darkened momentarily then lapsed back into its cold, blank expression.

Teiwaz delicately moved her into a chair, seating himself next to her such that he was between her and his father. "Why'd you do that for?" he whispered, as Berkana clapped her hands, signaling for the servants to come in. They did on cue, laden with plates, their eyes avoiding everyone else's.

"I don't like all this bowing and scraping," Rae whispered back, "In my world, we only do it for teachers. And I won't have your father for a teacher in anything... except possibly in withering stares."

Teiwaz looked oddly at her, then smiled weakly. "Just try to behave, okay? Until we reach the city."

Rae murmured darkly about over indulgent children under her breath, but held her peace. Whatever about the father that could scare both Othila and Teiwaz this badly had to be serious.

No, not only scare. Rae was aware that if he told them to jump, they would, without hesitation. As if they were so used to obeying that it'd become second nature to them.

With this unpleasant thought in mind, she barely picked through the marvelous breakfast spread of fresh-baked bread, fresh jam and fruit and other such delicacies that she, living in a city that had to import all its food, seldom ever enjoyed.

***

Zaknafein paced irritably around until even he felt slightly dizzy, then sat down. His students had long tired of watching him, and were fighting themselves in the rest of the hall.

Something had happened to Othila. Something had happened to Teiwaz. Both were LanC'edar, of a notoriously power-hungry gold elf family. Teiwaz was supposedly not on Sanctuary at all. Othila had taken his Aesthir.

Clues but no questions to them, Zaknafein acknowledged. It was going to be difficult indeed.

Othila's griffin Wing-leader was also worried. Zaknafein had managed to talk to the creature, and the griffin had mentioned something about Othila going back to Feyraen, possibly. "To see what father's doing this time" could only mean one thing, couldn't it?

At least the griffin was willing to help. Every non-elf was now wary of every elf, as the riots were still on the street, smashing elven shops and homes. The Elven Arrows, a good tavern, had been a first target, as it was owned by three elves from all three colors, even though those elves had always been friendly to everyone and each other. The moon elf WordsMage Lyren had set up wards, and the gold elf sorcerer Kelenvril shields. The dark elf Cvarfein had merely shot out arrows from every window quite patiently and happily until the greatly lessened crowd decided to go and bother someone else.

The World-Makers weren't interfering. They hardly interfered in such things unless the crowd would be as stupid as to attempt to burn the Building. The Library was already fully shielded by all the scholars and mages that had been inside when the riot started – Zaknafein had heard that Tauron still needed restraints, and he smiled involuntarily. The centaur was going to be speechless with rage if anyone mentioned this incident to him, ever.

Right now, Zak was aware that he needed to get both gold elves back to the city. Perhaps that would stop all the fighting, so that it'd be safe to go outside and walk without being hit by fireballs, arrows, bolts and whatnot.

Morikan had gone totally out of the picture altogether – Zak was not aware of what had happened to the World-Maker. Calling him hadn't worked, nor had insulting him.

In the meantime, he'd made his own inquiries discreetly at the SkyKnight School. Perhaps there'd be something relevant there about Othila that also applied to Teiwaz.

Besides, he missed his usual tankard of ale at Kverr's.

***

The father got up abruptly after breakfast, and motioned curtly for them to follow. Rae waved away Teiwaz's attempt to help her up – did he think she was a porcelain doll? – and followed them.

Teiwaz's father led them into a large hall that opened up to a balcony. Sunlight poured through the stone balcony into the hall, lighting up the shiny wood-paneled floor. The ceiling was impressively high and a similarly impressive but unstable-looking chandelier hung from it.

The Loremaster and sorcerer of LanC'edar were there, looking nervous. Teiwaz's father nodded imperiously at their bows, then motioned curtly for Teiwaz and Rae to stand before the balcony.

Rae was glowering when she was in place. Berkana fluttered around while Othila merely stood in a nearby shadow and chewed his lip, hugging his helmet to him.

The Loremaster began to chant, then stopped in astonishment when the wind blew glittering dust through the balcony, that swirled together to form a black cowled figure. More dust flew in to form another, smaller-sized one behind the first.

Rae couldn't see the faces of either, and wished she wouldn't. They didn't 'radiate evil' or anything like that – they radiated a quiet confidence, which was in its way even more frightening.

"All is ready?" the first spoke. The voice was inflectionless, emotionless, and unidentifiable.

"Yes, Lord," Teiwaz's father said. His voice trembled slightly.

"Then we begin." The second said, the voice not any different from the first, though lighter and softer as though it was a woman's.

The taller simply glanced at Teiwaz and Rae, and they found themselves facing each other, legs planted as though for support.

Rae stole a glance at Teiwaz, and realized that he was staring hard at the cowled figures as though attempting to identify them.

The second figure looked at her, and Rae abruptly knew that she had to draw – draw a symbol in the air, Teiwaz's symbol. Her finger was moving before she realized it – tracing a straight line, then two slanted ones at the tip – an arrow pointing up. Blue lines of light outlined her drawing, and Rae noticed that the arrow seemed to have many smaller inscriptions on it, complicated and twisting, as if Teiwaz's life was documented on the symbol itself...

Teiwaz was also tracing, not a symbol but a simple picture that seemed to get more complicated on its own. A squiggle became a feather, the lines etching the individual fletching; a wavy line became a wing. A very life-like drawing of a bird-of-prey, one of which she couldn't identify, though it looked like a falcon or a hawk.

The taller figure nodded in satisfaction, and the images began to flow together in a blurring motion that made Rae's eyes water, but she couldn't tear her eyes away. The blue seemed to merge – then disappear without any other fuss, nearly an anticlimax.

Nothing else seemed to happen. Rae had been bracing herself for a shock, but now felt let down. "That's it?" she asked.

The taller figure seemed amused. "Child, close your eyes and think of your partner."

Rae did so – and felt as though she was on a familiar pathway, one that she could navigate even in darkness. One that she knew would lead unerringly to Teiwaz.

"There are other... advantages," the shorter said dryly, "And just as many disadvantages. The both of you will discover that yourselves. Come to the city as soon as you see fit." With that, she, or it vanished.

"What about right now?" Rae quipped, feeling out-of-sorts. Teiwaz shot her a warning glare that she ignored.

The taller seemed to be looking at her curiously, in a manner that reminded her of something that she couldn't grasp as yet. Then it... or he seemed satisfied. "Young children look on you and see another," he commented. "They stop and stare and watch, never crying, never screaming, never laughing, merely watching..."

Rae dimly heard the stifled intakes of breath from others in the room about this apparent non sequitur. Her head was spinning into a dark void – for what the figure said was true. Children that were crying and who caught her eye immediately quieted, and their gazes were curious and slightly puzzled, as if wondering if she was there...

"How you sit in a room and read your book, and everything else you care not to look, how everyone else, they see you not?" the figure continued, his voice taking on a mocking, sardonic tone.

"And what's wrong with that?" Rae shook herself, "I just keep very quiet."

"Your mind slips at times and you wake up later, no collection of what has passed?" the figure was certainly beginning to annoy her.

"And so what if that happens?" She ignored Teiwaz's beseeching look. She'd enough of this world and all its patronizing ways. She wanted to go home...

"How you've always seemed so lucky?" the figure didn't seem to hear her.

"Are you saying it's because of you?" Rae snapped.

The figure chuckled now, a hollow, sinking sound. "Why, yes."

"Well, I for one don't believe it," Rae continued, "You're just talking a load of crap to try and frighten me or anger me. Well, I don't believe you..."

"I have watched you," the figure said, "Nexus pairs are a rare thing indeed, and something we have no control over. When a pair just happened to be born with ages so close to each other, it was – exciting."

"We're born. We're alive," Rae began.

"Some are not born in their true shape," the figure said. This statement, so different from the current topic, stopped Rae short. The figure pushed back his hood, to show white-silver hair and eyes of starry nights on an incredibly beautiful face.

"Morikan..." Teiwaz breathed.

"I bloody well like this shape, thank you," Rae didn't care if the figure was Morikan. "You've killed my life, if you were the one helping him," she jerked her head in the direction of Teiwaz's father, "You've destroyed every memory of me on my world – do you know how painful that is? How lost it feels? All that I've loved or wanted or had, just taken away for an 'experiment'?"

Morikan looked unruffled by her outburst, and Rae stepped forward, anger boiling over her, "Give it back to me. Take away this... this bond if you'd like, but I want my life back. Do you understand?"

The World-Maker was suddenly in front of her, hands cupping her face gently. Rae couldn't get her muscles to allow her to jerk backwards, so she continued to glare at him.

"What is done," Morikan said quietly, "Cannot be undone." He turned her face this way and that, and Rae felt rather than saw Teiwaz step forward hesitantly in protest.

"You use your power and create worlds, and you can't even undo this? Hello?" Rae snarled.

"We cannot do everything," Morikan looked into her eyes. Rae could see only night, stars patterning the bowl of heaven... "If we could, how boring that would be..."

Not everyone is born in their true form...Rae felt herself falling, as if down through the night sky, with not even the inclination to try and spread out her hands in instinct.

"Change to your true form," Morikan smiled, dancing humor in his eyes. Rae's mouth opened to scream as a burning started in her, which seemed to be enveloping all of her in molten metal. Her hair grew longer as if she had somehow pulled it – it certainly felt that way – and she felt a crushing pain as her body seemed to shrink. Her ears felt as though they were being pulled upwards with torturous slowness... her voice failed her, and the last thing she saw before she passed out from the pain was stars – and a Cheshire smile that vanished slowly like the stories.

"Rae!" Teiwaz leaped forward, as if a spell had been broken when Morikan had disappeared. Rae was in a pool of dress and cloak, still and unmoving. He knelt and cradled her to him – and nearly dropped her.

Rae had changed. Her skin, though tanned slightly, had a translucent look, color moon-white, light beige, and a mass of silver hair tumbled to her waist. She seemed more slender and lighter, and Teiwaz didn't need to see the delicately pointed ears, the more pronounced cheekbones and the now inhumanly beautiful face to know what she had become.

Rae was a moon elf.

Teiwaz's father uttered a roar of rage and leaped forward, sword already drawn, snapping the stunned silence.

Teiwaz could only watch, dazed, as his father lunged forward, then Othila slipped between them, deflecting the heavy sword stroke.

His father staggered backwards, shouting for the guards, then lunged again, attacking Othila furiously.

There was a clatter of hooves on the balcony, and Teiwaz turned to see Othila's Aesthir, N'anvan, already saddled, making to charge in as if to defend its partner.

"No!" Othila cried, "N'anvan, take them and go!" He hissed as the father got a stroke through, gashing open his thigh.

The Aesthir whickered indecisively, but Othila snarled an order again, and it skittered over to the edge. Teiwaz looked imploringly at his brother's back.

"He won't carry three," Othila shouted as the guards marched in, "Go!"

Unwillingly, Teiwaz lifted the unconscious Rae and leaped onto the saddle. N'anvan looked back one last time – then leaped off the balcony as the arrows flew.

Teiwaz's stomach plummeted as they dived, then rose into a steep ascent. He looked back at the castle, and bit his lip. "We'd come back for you," he said quietly. "I promise..."

Then N'anvan shrieked, faltering in mid air, and Teiwaz knew what had happened. His first thought was that the Aesthir would drop them, five hundred feet above the water, but the Aesthir continued to fly onwards, towards the moon-elf territory boundary.

Its master and bond had died, but it was following its last order. Teiwaz felt a sting in his eyes that had nothing to do with the cold rushing wind. For a moment he did not notice the sheer drop of air below him as he pulled Rae closer and touched two fingers to his forehead and then to his heart, in a gesture of respect to the SkyKnight pair.

N'anvan was shivering now, trembling, wing beats unsteady, their flight erratic. Teiwaz was simply glad that LanC'edar castle was close to the border, close enough to see it in the distance, anyway.

Below, the waters crashed together in a sudden display of spray, but could not reach them. Teiwaz desperately began to call up his own right to use the waves, and calmed the water, even to his own amazement.

N'anvan's wings beat faster as they reached their goal – past and over the water's edge, towards the steep cliff looming towards them...

The Aesthir was tiring fast. It was not used to 'sprinting' that distance, with a load of two on its back. The cliff wall was close, too close...

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Lledrith RavenWolf

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