|Volume 5: Among the Stars, like Giants||Epilogue: The Final Words Spoken|
ALL stories, if carried on for long enough, will end in death of one kind or another. Of course, that is not always a bad thing.
* * * * * * *
John Sheridan's fate was never known to anyone but Sinoval, and he kept his secrets well, of course.
* * * * * * *
David Corwin led the Community for as long as he was able. There were difficulties, naturally, and more than one major incident, but the Community survived. Seventeen years after it was founded, eighteen-and-a-half after the war ended, he finally stepped down. He continued to live on Kazomi 7, but those who knew him well said that he seemed distant, even somewhat lost. He joked about writing his memoirs or learning to play a game called 'golf', which only the humans had ever heard of. As it was, he died six months later, peacefully, in his sleep. His memoirs had barely been started, although a large collection of untitled love poems was found amongst his personal possessions.
A great many people came to Kazomi 7 for his funeral. Much praise was heaped on him, and all agreed that they would not see his like again. Then, next day, business returned to normal, although Kazomi 7 was more subdued for months afterwards.
* * * * * * *
G'Kar returned to preaching. He travelled across the galaxy, delivering speeches and helping where he could. He is personally credited with achieving an amicable solution to the dispute over Narn and Centauri colony rights in Quadrant 14, although interested parties declare that L'Neer of Narn played a much greater rôle than she is given credit for.
G'Kar died eighteen months after David Corwin. He was on a visit to Dros, one of the leading Narn worlds, and had spoken there about peace and understanding and brotherhood. Afterwards, as usual, he walked about amongst the crowd of his followers. There a Narn stepped forward, raised a plasma gun, and shot him three times in the head.
His assassin was almost lynched on the spot by the furious crowd, but was eventually taken alive. He offered no explanation for his action, and was immediately sentenced to death, despite the Community having abolished the death penalty for most crimes some years before.
L'Neer spoke to the assassin in his cell the night before the execution, but there is no record of their conversation. It was rumoured that she offered him clemency, but the execution went ahead nevertheless.
The greatest lords and leaders of the galaxy gathered for G'Kar's funeral. Only one person spoke, which was deemed fitting. L'Neer did not shed a single tear, although she later broke down in her private quarters. The following day she travelled to Kazomi 7, to help resolve the dispute which had arisen between the Community and the Government of Dros, over the matter of the assassin's execution.
* * * * * * *
Emperor Londo Mollari II did not enjoy good health after the war. Along with the rest of his Government, he moved to Gorash, but he seldom travelled after that, and spent less and less time in the public eye.
Against the advice of his doctors, he travelled to Dros for G'Kar's funeral. The day following his return to Gorash, he suffered another heart attack, the fourth of his reign. He lapsed into a coma, and did not recover. He was officially pronounced dead four days later.
His funeral was a private ceremony for Centauri alone. Most of the lords of the Centarum delivered florid speeches praising his reign, but added smugly that the Republic would live on.
His Lady Consort disappeared following the funeral, to the relief of most of the Centarum. She returned five months later, however, and used an archaic legal article to have herself appointed to the Centarum, where she campaigned vigorously to improve the status of the peasantry in Centauri society. For the most part her efforts were in vain, and she was even imprisoned at one point for calling the Speaker of the Centarum a 'worthless excuse for a bilge rat'. However, the fear of a peasant uprising and the subtle threat of her Shadow allies secured her speedy release, and she returned to the Centarum, working hard to fulfill the promise Londo had made to Malachi over three decades before.
Five years after Londo's death, no successor has yet been named. Timov alone knows about Cartagia's last prophecy.
* * * * * * *
Kulomani served on the Community Council for many years and retired not long after Londo's death. He returned to Dorac 7, and settled in the hut where G'Kar and L'Neer had lived in exile. He began to write his own account of the war, and when the book was finally completed it was accepted as one of the definitive texts on the period.
* * * * * * *
Vizhak continued to serve on the Community Council for some time, but he was eventually recalled after a Drazi 'election' led to a change of Government. That was the second time that had happened to him, but he obeyed with grudging acceptance. Back on Zhabar, he was assassinated by a political rival.
* * * * * * *
Alfred Bester sent no representative to the Community Council, and he politely but firmly made it very clear that he had no wish to be contacted by them. Telepaths from every corner of the galaxy periodically disappeared into Vorlon space. None returned.
Some of the Council were concerned that Bester might get hold of the technology governing the gateways to the Alien universe. Corwin personally assured them that this would not happen, but did not explain the reasons for his certainty. Occasionally there has been talk of sending in 'inspectors' to verify the situation. No action has yet been taken, although the matter is revisited every few months.
* * * * * * *
Delenn lives on, in one form or another. Shrines to her have sprung up on many worlds, and the two main shrines, on Kazomi 7 and Proxima 3, have become the objects of many a holy pilgrimage.
The name 'Delenn' also became very popular for newborn girls immediately after the end of the war, modified by racial conventions. Many human girls were called 'Delenn', Narn women took the name 'D'Lenn' upon reaching adulthood, and so on. However, there are no records of any Minbari children being given that name.
* * * * * * *
There have been no sightings of any Vorlons anywhere in the galaxy since the war ended.
* * * * * * *
There have been no sightings of the Aliens in either universe since the war ended.
* * * * * * *
In death, the First Ones returned to the place where they had always belonged: legend.
* * * * * * *
The Soul Hunters have been largely forgotten, although they are still used as a threat to frighten disobedient children on more than one world.
* * * * * * *
Cathedral is no more, although there is a new Well of Souls. It can at last answer the one question the old one could not.
* * * * * * *
Sinoval has not been seen once, not even in dreams.
* * * * * * *
Kazomi 7, the Human year 2301.
The shadows were faint beneath the light of the twin suns, providing no respite from the heat. Most of the people in the dusty spaceport seemed unaffected by the climate, especially the black-and-silver-clad Rangers, moving around with cold, military efficiency. A small group of Brakiri emerged from a rundown and battered shuttle, preparing crates and forms, meeting a functionary to discuss tariffs and trade.
A moment later, from the same shuttle, came a young man. He took a step out into the sunlight, then pulled back sharply, blinking. He shielded his eyes and stepped forward again, taking in the sights around him. At first it was a quick look around, followed by a second, longer one, and then by a wide grin.
Hoisting his heavily-patched bag up on to his shoulder, Jack walked out across the spaceport, towards the world beyond.
Travelling steerage on a Brakiri merchant vessel carrying two hundred tons of spoo was nobody's idea of luxury, but at least it was cheap. Jack had worked in part-payment for his passage, and he honestly didn't think he would ever smell normal again. But he was here at last, and for a moment the awful smell and the harsh sunlight and his aching muscles didn't seem quite so bad.
Kazomi 7. Birthplace of the Alliance, birthplace of the Community Accord. The Blessed Delenn had lived here. So had General Sheridan the Shadowkiller, President Corwin, even the technomages for a brief time. The Drakh invasion, the Shadow death-cloud attack, the assassination attempt on the Vorlon ambassador....
Still smiling, Jack walked on, savouring his first steps on this historic planet.
It always felt this way, the first few moments on a new world. That sense of wonder, of history weighing down on him, the thought that he might be walking where the Blessed Delenn once walked, or standing where the Prophet G'Kar had delivered a speech....
Eventually that feeling faded of course, and he was left on a planet much like any other. A lot of sand, a lot of rocks. Entirely too hot or too cold, too mountainous or too flat or too any one of a number of other things.
But this was not just any planet. This was Kazomi 7. He had wanted to come here for over five years. He had almost got organised to visit two years ago, but then he had been offered an incredibly cheap trip to Centauri Prime, and he had accepted that instead. He had had another opportunity about six months ago, but he had overslept and missed his shuttle and spent an extra three months on Zhabar, looking frantically for the first transport off-world.
Birthplace of the Alliance.
Only forty years of history by human reckoning. Before that, Kazomi 7 had just been a trading post, conveniently situated across several hyperspace routes, but of no real importance in its own right. Then the Drakh had invaded, and the Alliance had been born....
Jack was a student of history, of a sort. He had certainly not paid any attention to it in school, and had in fact left at the first opportunity, but that was not real history. That was just words. Places and memories and stories.... these were history.
He had been on this quest of his for five years now, longer if you included the time he had spent working to be able to afford his first space journey. He had seen a lot in that time, but he knew it was not one percent of what the galaxy had to offer.
He had taken notes of his travels, lots of them. He had an account of a night spent with a drunken Narn who claimed to have been the one who had apprehended the assassin of the Prophet G'Kar. "One second quicker, and I would have saved him. Just one second. That's what a man's life is."
In a library on Brakir, he had read a copy of Merchant-Lord Kulomani's book on the war, and questioned the elderly librarian about it for hours.
He had visited the more or less abandoned world of Centauri Prime, where he had walked unopposed through the empty and, so it was rumoured, haunted Imperial Palace. He had also spent seven days wandering around the mountains looking for the estate of House Marrago, and never quite finding it.
He had been to Proxima 3 and visited the shrine of the Blessed Delenn, although there had been an uncomfortable feeling there and he had left quickly, not stopping to talk to anyone. In fact, he had left Proxima itself very quickly.
He had spoken to a Minbari warrior, and they had talked for hours about the tales of Marrain and Valen. The warrior declared with complete conviction that Marrain would return again, as he had before.
He had travelled with another Minbari warrior for a time. She had one half of a necklace and claimed to be on a holy quest to find the man who bore the other half. They had parted company at Velatastat, as he had gone on towards Minbar, and she towards the Rim.
He had asked about the whereabouts of Golgotha, but no one knew exactly where it was, although everyone had an uncle's friend's brother's cousin who knew someone who had been present at the Council there. More than one space captain traced a religious symbol in the air when he asked about the place.
Five years he had been travelling, and he had not yet found whatever he was looking for. He doubted he would find it here either, but that was a worry for later. There was so much here that he wanted to see, so much that he wanted to know, so many people to talk to.
Whistling softly to himself, he headed off into the city, waiting for something to find him.
* * * * * * *
The Minbari colony world of Reihaido.
Ninety-seven years after the passing of Valen.
The old warrior stepped out into the sunlight. He knew that it was almost time for him to die. The sun did not warm his skin as it once had, it did not light his path as it once had, it did not soothe his pains as it once had.
As a young man, he had once told the woman who would later become his true love that the worst fate he could imagine was to grow old and feeble and weak, the flesh leaching from his bones, his muscles betraying him, unable to hold a denn'bok, unable to run or dance or fight.
Those were the words of a young man. The old man he had become knew there were, in fact, many worse things. Rekaiji had experienced one of them, dying young and beautiful and very far away from home. He had survived, and age and weakness had been prices well worth paying to see and know the things he had seen and known.
Parlain folded his arms and closed his eyes, looking up into the sky, feeling the faint warmth of the sun's rays on his face.
He found he was remembering it more and more these days. Golgotha, at the far end of the galaxy. Those terrible days filled with madness and death that had seen the end of the greatest friends he would ever have. He alone had survived.
And he had found something greater in the ashes of that hollow victory.
He had found life.
He had not raised a weapon in anger in sixty years. He had not truly fought for his life in all that time. He had lost a lot of the edge and speed he had once had, and not just through old age.
Those were all forfeits he was willing to pay.
He heard her running from a long way off, and he smiled. His hearing might not be what it had once been, but she had not yet learned how to be stealthy. Still, he admired her tenacity. She was almost as worthy a student as he had been at her age, and he had been special, really special.
That was not just the conceit of an old man reliving the days of his glory. That was the truth. The son of Derannimer, the Lord of Shirohida, the last true warrior, the last to wear the scars of morr'dechai. He wore those scars still, pale and faint against his weathered face. Morr'dechai had been banned by Valen, along with so much of the old days and the old ways. Delenn had asked him once why he wore them. He had refused to tell her. She would never wear the scars, and never need to.
He opened his eyes and watched his granddaughter run up the winding mountain trail towards the humble shrine that had been his home for almost sixty years. He could see her clearly, moving with light-footed grace, although her harsh breathing was clearly audible even here. He smiled. Graceful she might be, but she did not yet have stamina. He would have to work on that with her. Fights were not always won in mere seconds. A true warrior needed endurance as well as speed.
Oh well. There was no need for true warriors any longer. The war had ended over a century ago. A thousand years of peace, Valen had promised. There would be no warriors needed for a very long time, and even then, there were the Rangers.
Parlain had heard a lot about them. Despite his isolation, he kept as up to date with events among his people and others as he could. He visited the town of Moseia at least once a month, partly for supplies, partly for company, and partly for gossip. He had seen a few Rangers there once, an instructor and some students. He had had to resist the urge to laugh. They looked so young, and so earnest.
They would never know war as he had known it, and they would certainly never know war as his parents had known it. The Rangers were well-supported now, but that would not last. The Grey Council was led by Mannamann, a student of Nemain, who had served Derannimer all his life. Four of the Grey Council had personally known Derannimer, and two had even known Valen. The memory of the Shadows burned brightly in them.
But times passed and things changed. The Shadows would be forgotten, the Rangers would come to be seen as an unnecessary expense, and Minbar would grow weak. The threat would be remembered only by scholars, zealots....
.... and those who followed him.
Sixty years had passed. Three-fifths of the time he and his descendants had been allotted. Parlain knew he would not live to see the end of that time, but she would, and she would have to make decisions no one should have to make.
A hundred years he had been promised. The bloodline of Valen, a bloodline he shared no part of. His half-brother Vashok had said he was as much related to Valen as a Markab or an Ikarran, and that had been true. Vashok had meant it as an insult, but Parlain took it as a compliment. He was not ashamed of his real father, or of what he had done.
The Vorlons held that one of the blood of Valen and Derannimer would play a great rôle in the war to come in nine hundred years. They had sought to manage and control that bloodline, until Parlain had been able to force a bargain based on his knowledge of some of the Vorlons' less savoury activities.
One hundred years, and then the Vorlons would be back.
Parlain understood many forms of warfare. He had a natural talent for such things. He had studied the texts of the Wind Swords, and the Fire Wings, and even the Emperor Shingen. They had various different philosophies as to the proper course of action when faced by enemies more numerous, powerful and knowledgeable than oneself.
Actually, Shingen had once been asked what he would do if he faced an opponent stronger, faster and more skilled than himself.
He said he would cut off the man's head for being a liar.
Most of the texts spoke of defence and building up forces and counterattacking when the time was right. Parlain had never seen the virtue of defence, but he had always liked the idea of a counterattack.
She came into sight at the top of the trail, covering the last few metres to where he stood waiting. She was clearly winded and exhausted, but she carried on nonetheless. Parlain watched her in silence.
She looked a lot like his mother, her great-grandmother, except for her eyes. They came from her mother, and her mother's father.
Green. Deep, beautiful green.
Deralain's green eyes were flushed with excitement, almost dancing with her youthful enthusiasm. In some ways she was a lot like her mother had been at that age, although Delenn had always had a more serious core. Delenn had married a jeweller thirty years ago, and they lived in Moseia. Deralain was their daughter, and very close to her 'grandfather'. They had sent her to him to be trained some months ago.
"Did you see me, grandfather?" she asked breathlessly.
"Faster than before."
"You've been thinking about something."
"True," he said. She was very perceptive. She got that from her mother. "I've been thinking about travelling. Tell me, little one, how would you like to see Minbar?"
* * * * * * *
He was lost.
For many people, this would not be out of the ordinary when visiting a strange and alien world for the first time, but it irritated Jack. He wasn't some bored tourist or rich sightseer. He'd spent five years travelling across the galaxy and he'd seen more in that time than had most people three times his age. Even in the mountains of Centauri Prime while searching fruitlessly for the estate of House Marrago, he had always known the way back.
But no, here he was lost.
Drazi cities tended to have very narrow, tight streets, as a precaution against invasion. Jack had seen many examples of cities like that on Zhabar and several other Drazi worlds. He'd also seen, mostly on Zhabar, how well that design feature had worked against the Vorlons and the Aliens. Nevertheless, most of Zhabar was still devastated, and would be so for years to come.
However, another side-effect of that design was that it was very easy to take a wrong turning, particularly when there were a lot of people around. By the look of things he was in a market area in a Drazi and Brakiri district of the city. Those two races had bonded closest of all in the aftermath of the war, and they were often found living together, the intelligence of the Brakiri working very well with the strength of the Drazi.
Unfortunately the low cunning of the Brakiri and the brutish intimidation of the Drazi also worked well together. Jack had already turned down three offers to participate in gambling games, one proposition from a Brakiri hustler who promised him any kind of 'companion' he could wish for, and numerous beggars with a variety of deformities. Jack's own funds were running very low, and he did not want to waste any.
He had travelled enough to know not to look lost, so he pretended he knew exactly where he was going. It was quite a practised skill, but unfortunately he had no idea where he was going, and he seemed to be getting deeper and deeper into the bad area of town.
The number of people grew less, and more of them resembled con artists, thieves, prostitutes and thugs than honest travellers or shoppers. Most were Drazi and Brakiri, but there was a mix of other species as well. He was actually mildly impressed by the spirit of co-operation all these races were displaying, even if they were only co-operating for the purpose of fleecing others out of their money.
He walked past the naked form of a Brakiri lying in the corner of an alleyway. His fingers had been broken, no doubt as any rings he might have been wearing were pulled off. Perhaps he was dead, perhaps not. Jack did not stop to check.
The side of Kazomi 7 not mentioned in the history books or the tourist guides.
More than once, he did think about turning back and trying to retrace his steps, but he decided against it. He had noticed several unsavoury types looking at him, and his best hope of avoiding an incident was to pretend he belonged here. Turning back would reveal to everyone just how lost he was, and he had little confidence of getting back to a safe area in one piece.
Still, he had attracted some unsavoury attention. He was being quietly followed, and he thought only by one person. Whoever it was, they were pretty good at being stealthy. He dared not look back to see who it was, and so he continued trying to pretend he knew exactly where he was going.
He turned a corner and came skidding to a halt. There was a small group of people in the middle of the road. Two Drazi, a Narn and a small, wiry Brakiri. The Narn held a long, serrated knife. The two Drazi were unarmed, but that was no reassurance when they would each be twice as strong as he was.
"Human," spat the Narn.
"Got any money, human?" asked the Brakiri, from his position safely behind the other three. "Jewellery, creds, ID card? Even food. We'll take food, won't we?"
One of the Drazi said something in his own language. Jack understood it a little when he had time to concentrate. He wasn't thinking too straight now, but he thought the Drazi had said they would take everything.
He took a step back, spreading his arms wide to show he had no weapons. "Now look, boys, I don't mean any harm. I'm sorry I stumbled into you here, but I really don't have anything of value."
"You don't mean any harm?" grunted the other Drazi.
"That's good to know," said the Brakiri, with an irritatingly high-pitched laugh. "We'd be in trouble otherwise." Jack hated him immediately.
"We don't care what you have of value," the second Drazi said. "We'll have everything anyway, and then we'll take your life."
"Hardly fair," Jack said, wondering if he could outrun them. Drazi were notoriously slow, but they had immense endurance and they clearly knew this area much better than he did.
"What's fair about anything?" said the Brakiri. "This was our planet once, until you lot came and took it over. After the war, of course. Not like you did a lot of fighting in the war, did you? Just huddled on your homeworld and sat it out."
"The war's been over for years. I wasn't even born when it ended."
"Then it was your parents' fault. Doesn't matter. We'll take it out on you."
Jack had had enough of that. Never mind the odds. He'd run for it anyway. He turned on his heel and made to bolt.
He crashed straight into someone before he'd taken a step. He fell back and hit the ground hard, winded for a moment. The person he'd collided with had barely shifted.
Whoever it was, they wore a long black cloak and hood which completely concealed his / her / its face. Jack had no idea who it could be, but he was inclined to think that anyone dressed entirely in black was unlikely to be a good guy.
It stepped over him and took up a position at the mouth of the alley, as if defending him from the others.
Then it pulled back the hood to reveal, in order, a human and a woman. She flipped back the edges of the cloak and pulled out a small metal cylinder, which she extended with a flick of her wrist to form a long staff.
A Ranger. Jack tried to get up. He'd heard of them, but he'd never actually met one in action before. He hadn't thought there were any human Rangers. He'd met a retired Ranger on Dros, a Narn who had stubbornly maintained that everything about them was secret.
"Don't go anywhere," she told him. Jack contemplated running anyway, but then the Drazi moved forward, and she moved to meet them. As soon as he saw her fight, he realised there really was no point in running at all.
* * * * * * *
Deralain had heard many stories about her grandfather. As a child she had sought out those who knew him, and questioned them.
Her mother was tantalisingly vague. She was a medium-sized woman, tending towards plump, with graceful, long-fingered hands and bright green eyes. Deralain looked nothing like her at all, really, except for the eyes. Nor did she look much like her father, a short, serious, dark-eyed man of soft voice and few words.
Deralain was tall, slender and graceful. She had been told for as long as she could remember that she could be anything she wanted to be. This was far away from Minbar, far away from the castes and the strict rules and ritual. Deralain was free.
She had not always known what she wanted to be. She had wanted to be a dancer, or a poet, or a jeweller like her father, or many other things.
But eventually she always returned to the one truth.
She wanted to be like her grandfather.
Parlain was quiet, but oddly forceful. The few words he spoke were filled with authority. Even his shadow seemed to convey a quiet danger. There was something in the way he stood, the way he rested, the way he took in everything with a single glance.
When she was younger she had practised being like him. She had tried being taciturn and saying few words of great meaning, but her natural good nature and enthusiasm had soon got the better of her. She had tried all sorts of exercises to become more poised and stealthy, but she had never had the patience for it.
She invented all sorts of stories about who her dashing, dangerous grandfather was. A great warrior, or a spy, or an exiled Ranger. She was deeply curious about her grandmother, wondering what sort of woman could possibly have captured Parlain's heart. The revelation that her mother knew nothing about her own mother was disappointing, and she never quite mustered the courage to ask Parlain about her.
She did ask others, though. Strangers and wanderers and others who lived in the area.
A farmer who lived in a small settlement high in the mountains had a story about Parlain for her, one she had run over and over in her mind in fascinated wonder.
"This one time, we had a murder up in the mountains. A young family was butchered. Horrible, it was. We thought a wild animal had got them, and we rounded up as many of us as could carry a weapon. As an afterthought, we asked your grandfather to join us. He liked to keep to himself, and we all accepted that. Some of us thought it wasn't too fair on your mother to keep her alone in that mountain hut, but no one wanted to argue with your grandfather.
"I was just a young man then, and I was quite interested in your mother. Those eyes.... you've got them, too. Deep, they are. I thought if I could impress him with my bravery, then he might consider me as a suitor for her.
"Anyway, we followed a trail up into the mountains. Almost lost it a couple of times, but we soon learned that if it was an animal it wasn't anything we knew of. Some of us got scared and went back, but not your grandfather, or me either. I was still trying to impress him.
"Eventually we got to a cave, very high up. The air was cold and quite thin, but your grandfather was fine. There was a revolting smell from the cave. It was then we realised we hadn't seen a single animal for the last two days. Not one.
"We were all milling around, wondering who was going to go in first, when this thing just burst out of the cave. It was huge, and sort of shimmering. One moment it was there, the next it wasn't. Two of us died before they could even move. I was terrified, but I still stood my ground. It wasn't courage, though. It was more like I was too stupid to run.
"Then your grandfather moved forward. He called it something, although I can't remember what. Wykkan, or something. All he had for a weapon was a long wooden staff, but he just swung it around as if it were metal. He caught that thing a hard blow on the head, and even when it disappeared, he still seemed to know where it was.
"I stayed and tried to help as much as I could, but it was obvious I was just getting in his way. It ripped me open, right down my chest, and I was convinced I was going to die.
"I woke up several days later, back in your grandfather's hut. He was there, sitting on the end of the bed.
"'It is dead,' he said.
"'What was it?'
"'Just a relic of a time that is long gone. There may be a few others, scattered across the galaxy, in hiding, but this one is no more.'
"'I was going to run.'
"'You should have run.'
"'You are no warrior, and bravery is no substitute for skill or training. You have no need to impress me. I would concentrate your efforts on impressing Delenn, if I were you.'
"I blushed at that. He had seen straight through me, of course.
"'Although I should tell you, I have no influence on her choices. I have urged her to seek her own happiness. The choice will be hers, and hers alone.'
"Well, she didn't choose me of course, and in a way I'm almost glad. Your grandfather's a strange one, and I'd not want him coming to my door complaining about the way I was treating his daughter. Besides, she's happier with your father, I think."
She had had nightmares for weeks after that, imagining that this Wykka thing was coming after her. Her parents had tried to calm her down, but to no avail. Finally, her grandfather had come.
"There are none of them here," he explained. "Their time is done, and they will not return for a thousand years."
"But what if they do come back?"
"Then you will have to be ready for them, little one."
She had thrown herself into her training after that. She wanted to be a warrior, just like her grandfather. She had pleaded with her parents to be allowed to train with him, and they had finally agreed.
She had heard various other stories about him. How he had quelled a brawl in the street with a simple glance. How he had gone out into the mountains at the height of a snowstorm to find a lost traveller. How a merchant had offered him an immense fortune to act as his bodyguard, but he had turned it down.
And now she had the opportunity to travel with him. And not just anywhere.... but to Minbar itself!
Her mother was not happy, of course.
"She is too young."
"She is older than I was the first time I left my home alone."
"It is too far."
"It is not far enough."
"It is too dangerous."
"I will be with her."
"There are things she must know, things she must see, things she must understand."
"It is too soon."
"It is almost too late."
Eventually of course, her mother had come round. There had been tears in her deep green eyes as she bid them farewell.
Deralain could have been wrong, but she thought she had seen a single tear in her grandfather's eyes as well.
* * * * * * *
This was not fair, not fair at all. Jack was fully convinced this was the final sign, if he had needed another one, that the universe hated him.
It had not been his fault he had got lost. It had not been his fault he had been threatened by a group of criminals. It had not been his fault he had been in precisely the wrong place at the wrong time.
Not that he had been able to explain any of that to the Rangers who had arrested him. There had been three of them - the human woman, a big Narn wearing an elaborate eyepatch, and a Brakiri. They had all wielded different weapons, and Jack had no doubt they were extremely capable of using them.
After the group of muggers had been subdued they had all been brought here, paraded through the streets like a.... well, a group of criminals. They had been brought to a tall round tower at the crossroads of four long, narrow streets. Jack had been processed by a bureaucratic Brakiri Ranger who asked him a great many questions.
That was when Jack's natural stubbornness had kicked in. He really had not done anything wrong, and he was irritated by the implication that he had. He refused to answer any questions unless he was allowed to speak to the human Ambassador, and was promptly thrown into a cell for his pains.
As cells went, it wasn't bad. It wasn't exactly the first time he had been incarcerated, but on the other occasions he had at least done something to merit being locked up. On Centauri Prime he had got involved in a bar brawl and had no money to bribe the Watch, and on Zhabar he had been wandering around a military installation without a pass.
He was not particularly worried this time. He really had not done anything wrong, and the Community was renowned for administering justice, or at least for fair treatment of suspected criminals. Not like the Centauri or the Drazi.
And the conditions weren't bad. The cell was small, but warm and well-lit. He had been given a meal and it had tasted fine. He had slept a bit on the comfortable bunk, and he could just wait for someone to come and let him out.
Someone came eventually, a few hours later.
It was the human woman, the Ranger. He looked up at her through the transparent walls of the cell. He had not seen her clearly before, and this was his first good look at her.
She was quite pretty, with blonde hair curling to her shoulders and soft blue eyes. Unexpectedly, she was quite short. If he had met her in a bar, he might have been tempted to strike up a conversation, but this was hardly an environment conducive to social discourse.
And the black Ranger clothing and the pike hanging at her belt did put him off a little.
She folded her arms and studied him with a withering gaze.
"I know your type," she said suddenly.
"The lovable rogue, yes? A traveller with a woman in every starport and a wealth of stories about all the exotic things you've seen."
"Well...." Jack hesitated. The last was true. He had seen a lot of things, although probably nothing that would impress a Ranger. But as for women.... There had been a very fleeting relationship with a bar owner on the newly rebuilt Orion colony, and a quick romance while travelling between Velatastat and Tarolin 2, but that had been it. He was hardly Casanova, and he resented the implication.
At least he was smart enough to keep his resentment to himself.
"Am I being charged with something?" he asked. "Because I really didn't do anything wrong."
"Yes," she said. "I know. I was following you from the time you entered the Rotting Quarter. I could tell you were lost."
"Damn," Jack muttered under his breath. Had he really been that obvious?
"Hethke confessed to everything as well. We didn't really think you were involved with them, but we had to be sure."
"If you were so sure, why have me arrested?"
She looked a little uncomfortable. "It's not for me to comment on Ranger policy," she said, a trifle coldly.
"Whatever. Can I go now?"
"And my stuff will be returned?"
"There wasn't much...."
"Maybe not, but it's all I have."
"Yes, you'll have it all back. You'll have to sign for it."
"Good." Jack was trying to remember what he had been carrying. There hadn't been much, but....
"Even the pictures."
He tried hard not to blush. "Yes.... well...."
Her face hardened suddenly. For a minute she had almost seemed to be smiling, and it had utterly transformed her appearance. She was pretty anyway, but when she smiled she looked quite beautiful, and also a lot younger. Jack had originally thought her to be a good five years older than he was, but he now had to revise his guess. She was his age, maybe even younger.
She opened his cell door and turned away. "Follow me," she said coldly.
* * * * * * *
Getting transport had not been hard. Moseia was a spaceport. A quiet one, but a spaceport all the same. There were plenty of ships coming and going, and one of them was willing to provide transport for a Minbari and his granddaughter.
Deralain had listened with avid interest as her grandfather negotiated with Vesthir, a Markab pilgrim. It appeared that Vesthir was on a quest to visit all the holy places of the galaxy, in particular the shrines to the dead of the Great War. Deralain did not really see the point of that. The War had been over for decades. Even her grandfather had not been born when it had ended.
But Parlain struck up an odd sort of friendship with Vesthir, and succeeded in arranging passage for the two of them on the Markab's small ship.
Deralain had hardly been able to sleep the night before they set out. She had never left the planet before. To see space would be fascinating, wondrous, exciting....
In fact, it was boring. The nearest jump gate was only a few hours away, but travel through hyperspace seemed to take forever. At first the colours and swirling lights had fascinated her, but they quickly became monotonous.
Her grandfather was very quiet, and spent most of the time either meditating or talking quietly with Vesthir, discussing things she could not understand.
"The Tak'cha sinned against Valen," Vesthir said, during one such debate. It was not quite an argument, for both of them talked quietly and respectfully, but there was certainly plenty of disagreement.
"They believed they were acting from the best of motives," Parlain countered. "Can anyone be said to be evil if they think their actions are good?"
"Words are easy. Deeds are what matter. Intentions are little by themselves. And that is even if these were good, which is doubtful. Glory and power were their motives."
"As to the first, I agree, but not the second. The Tak'cha served and worshipped Valen wholeheartedly. They obeyed him. If they did wrong, should he not have restrained them, or taught them otherwise?"
"He tried. He may have intended to, but as you say, intentions alone are little."
Vesthir became a little huffy at that. "Valen was a hero, a holy figure sent by the Spirits to save us all."
"Valen was a man. A great man, yes. A great leader, and an honourable man. But he was flawed, and it does us no service to pretend such flaws did not exist."
"Because you are of his blood, I do not take offence at such remarks."
Parlain had laughed at that. "I am not his blood. I assure you of that."
"You are Minbari. All Minbari are of his blood."
Later, Deralain had tried to question him about Valen. She had never heard of the Tak'cha, but of course she knew about Valen. She finally managed to muster the courage to ask her grandfather if he had known him.
He had paused at that.
"No," he said, finally. "I do not think anyone truly knew him. Except Derannimer perhaps. Everyone else knew only facets, parts of the whole."
"Did you know her?"
"Derannimer? Yes. When I was a child, your age and a little older."
"What was she like?"
"She was...." He had closed his eyes in memory. "Kind, but burdened with a great sorrow. She had seen too many loved ones die, too much slip away from her. She accomplished so much that was great, but there was so much she regretted as well. By the end of her life, I believe all of that weighed too heavily on her."
"How old was she when she died?" A cold feeling had gripped her heart.
"Younger than I am now."
"Do you regret things, grandfather?"
He had opened his eyes then, and smiled. "No, little one. In that, I am blessed indeed. I regret nothing. I hope you will be as fortunate when you are my age."
She had almost asked him the question then. About her grandmother. A sudden closeness had sprung up between them, and she had gained something of an insight into his youth and his upbringing. It was hard to imagine him at her age, harder still to imagine herself at his age.
But the moment had passed, and the question remained unasked.
And they travelled on, towards Minbar, and his past, and her future.
* * * * * * *
He was free, again. Ready to make his way out into the cradle of freedom and liberty, with a sour taste in his mouth.
Jack could not quite explain what he felt. It was part-disappointment, part-misery. It was the emotion of a child who has just discovered that the world isn't nice, one's parents aren't all-powerful, and one's friends for life aren't really friends after all.
He was on Kazomi 7, birthplace of the Alliance, and this just did not feel right.
It was irrational, he knew. People were people, alien or human, and the same biological impulses shaped them. People were still capable of cruelty and dishonesty and bloody-mindedness, and.... it was just the way things were.
But it shouldn't have to be like that here.
Dusk was falling as he wandered through the city. He was not paying any particular attention to where he was going, but he now knew better than to amble accidentally into the rough side of town. He was roused from his black thoughts for a brief moment as a male Minbari wandered past, an object in his hands Jack thought he recognised, but the two simply passed each other by, and he returned to his brooding.
He was thinking about the Ranger woman, actually. On the aesthetic level there was plenty to admire, but there was more than that. She had seemed almost sad, sometimes. Maybe she was experiencing the same disillusionment as he was. Maybe she had grown up with it.
He stopped himself just in time as someone almost walked into him. As he snapped at the man, he realised that he was human. "What are you, blind?"
Then he looked at the man more closely, and realised that he was.
He looked almost seventy, probably older. His hair was long and grey, and he wore simple black clothing, like a combination of priest and Ranger.
And he was blind. He did not wear a blindfold or a mask or dark glasses, and it was very obvious that there was nothing but a mass of scar tissue where his eyes should have been. Deep and very old scars trailed down his face, looking uncannily like claw marks.
Jack had seen something like this before. If even half the stories he had heard about the Aliens or the Shadows were true, he could easily understand people clawing their eyes out to avoid looking at them. He had seen a beggar on Centauri Prime who had clawed half his face away, but who just sat in his own filth, drooling and muttering to himself about death and stars.
This man did not look mad. In fact he looked very sane indeed, if in somewhat poor health. There was a knowing look on his face.
"I'm sorry," Jack said. "I wasn't looking where I was going. I...."
"Distracted by the scenery, hmm?" croaked the man. "It happens to a lot of people. I saw the shrine once, but that was a very long time ago, and I'm told it's different now."
"Umm...." Jack looked around, and realised for the first time exactly where he was.
The Shrine of the Blessed Delenn. Formerly a shrine to the nameless multitudes who had died in the Drakh invasion, it had been converted into a shrine to Delenn herself in the aftermath of the war. This was one of the places he had most wanted to see.
And it entirely lived up to his expectations.
It had been small once, he had heard, but it was not small now. It dominated the skyline, a vast archway of black and silver stone, lit by glimmering orbs of light. A fire burned beneath the arch, and a mass of tributes had been placed around it. Plants and jewellery and poems and statues and countless mementoes dedicated to the glory and wonder of the Blessed Delenn. People of all races knelt in prayer and meditation. Minbari and human and Narn and Drazi and Brakiri and Centauri and....
Delenn was revered by all races, and beloved by all races. The war had had other heroes of course: the Shadowkiller, the Prophet G'Kar, Emperor Mollari, Susan Ivanova, Commander Ta'Lon, even Sinoval the Accursed to some, but only Delenn inspired the love of all races, without prejudice or hatred or backlash.
"Oh my...." he breathed. "It's.... it's...."
"I hear that a lot," the man said, smiling. "I saw the first shrine, you know. On Proxima."
"I've been there," Jack replied, not looking at the man, but staring around, dumbstruck.
"Really? What did you think?"
"I...." He paused, trying to think of what to say. "It felt strange, uncomfortable. I didn't stay long."
"I don't blame you. All of Proxima is like that now. I tried to go back there when the war was over, but.... I couldn't stay. She died there, the first time."
"She came back from the dead. I've heard the legends, but...."
"You don't believe them?"
"I've heard a lot of legends. But looking at this.... I could almost believe."
"It did happen. I saw it. I was there."
"I killed her."
"Can you put a name to me, young traveller? Few can, these days. I was never a hero, never a legend, simply one man, but some know who I am."
"Dexter Smith," Jack breathed.
He smiled. "Keeper and custodian of the Shrine of the Blessed Delenn, and of her memory."
Jack looked around again, peace and contentment and wonder flooding over him. He felt quiet, blissful, at peace....
He felt hope.
* * * * * * *
The first few questions had been the pebble that started the avalanche - but this avalanche was slow at first, tentative and wary. Deralain took to listening to her grandfather's discussions with Vesthir, and she questioned him later, when they were alone.
"Who are the Soul Hunters?"
"It is said that they are demons. Many races say so. They take something from the dying. Some, such as the Markab and the religious caste, think they take souls."
"Do you believe that?"
"They are alien to us, very much so, and we can understand little of what they are. Perhaps they do steal souls, but I have thought much about the nature of a soul these past few decades, and I am less sure."
"You've met some?"
"A long time ago."
And on that subject, he would say no more.
But there were others:
"Who are the Ikarrans?"
"Another race - dead now, I believe. One of them served Valen. A woman named Kin Stolving."
"Did you meet her?"
"No. She died a very long time ago."
"What happened to them?"
"I do not know for certain. My mother said they tried to create a weapon to defend their world and their people, but it turned on them, as most weapons do, in the end."
"Weapons are designed only for war, but there must be something after war, and when that time comes, there will be no more need for them. Make weapons intelligent and they will eventually realise that for themselves."
"Have you been to war?"
"A long time ago."
And on that subject, he would say no more.
But there were others:
"Who was Marrain?"
"A warrior, in the days before Valen. He served Valen, once."
"Why was he called the Betrayer?"
"He betrayed Valen."
"The mysteries of the heart are not mine to know, little one, although they may be yours to explore and discover one day. Marrain had his reasons, I am sure."
"I've heard him called other things."
"Yes, the First Ranger, the Lord of Stone. I have heard them."
"Why is he called these things?"
"Marrain was a great man, and great men have both friends and enemies. The friends wish to make him greater than he is, and so they give him names like 'First Ranger', while the enemies wish to make him less than he is, and so they give him names like 'Betrayer'."
"Did you know him?"
"In a sense."
"When did he die?"
"A long time ago."
And on that subject, he would say no more.
But there were others....
Everything she asked was about the past, and she realised this after a while. Everything had happened a long time ago: Valen, Derannimer, Marrain, the Ikarrans, the Tak'cha, the Soul Hunters. Nothing happened now, or recently, or few years ago.
She thought about this for a long time, and she finally asked her grandfather about it, the day they arrived on Minbar.
"You are right. There is no real 'now'. There are days, little one, when all that is shakes with fire and fury, when great deeds are performed and great songs sung. Days when heroes walk and wars are fought. But those wars end, eventually, and the heroes die and the songs are sung. These are days of peace and solitude and tranquillity."
"And that is now?"
"Valen could see the future, it was said. He made prophecies. They are the secret of the religious caste, but some are common knowledge. He promised there would be a thousand years of peace. That is now, little one. We have another nine hundred or so years to go."
"I'd rather live in the great days."
"I have known war, Deralain, and I have known peace, and they each have something to recommend them. My ancestors were warriors. They were great men, and weak men, but they should be remembered. That is partly why we are here, to remember the past. Valen wanted much of it to be forgotten, to be replaced by his new ways. He would not like me teaching these things to you."
"You are teaching me?"
"To be like you?"
"Say rather, little one, that I am teaching you to be like you."
They arrived at Yedor while Deralain was still thinking about that, and bade farewell to Vesthir. Her excitement at seeing the sights of Yedor was mingled with her trying to fathom what he had meant, when she realised they would not be staying here.
"Because there is a place we must go first. From there, we will begin our greater journey. That will not be a long time coming, but we must see this place first."
"What is it?"
"You shall soon see."
They arranged transport from Yedor and travelled on for several more days. They did not speak much, and Deralain was lost in thought. She was tempted to look outside to see the world, but something stopped her. Her grandfather had said their real journey would begin when they arrived at this mysterious place. It seemed somehow.... disrespectful to look outside before the time was right, and so she kept to herself.
They arrived at a small town in the mountains, and from there they set out on foot. It was chilly, and the wind cut her. She wrapped up as warmly as she could, and yet she was still cold. Her grandfather not only seemed unaffected, he revelled in their surroundings. He kept looking around, his eyes lighting up with enthusiasm, as if each rock was an old friend he had not seen for decades.
She saw it first at night, a dark, looming presence against the black sky, a shadow against the starlight. At first she thought it another mountain, but then she realised it was a building.
They carried on walking, and she began to appreciate the size and sheer presence of the fortress. It was immense, but somehow sleeping. In a way it reminded her of her grandfather, faded glories slumbering beneath a silent exterior.
Finally she came close enough to see the fire damage. The great hall inside was smoked and ruined, vast statues of lords staring at her with dark, soot-stained faces.
"Where are we?" she asked, her first question since they had arrived.
"Home," her grandfather said. "Shirohida."