Volume 5:  Among the Stars, like Giants Part VI:  A Great Hand Out of the Sky




Chapter 3


SO few of us had known of his existence.  I had never even suspected anything before that terrifying, thrilling experience in the Council Hall at Golgotha.  The name Lorien meant nothing to me, and yet I felt the grief of his loss as much as the others.
      Susan felt it most keenly.  Her cry of 'No!' chilled me with its combination of grief and anger and loss.  I did not know what had happened between her and Lorien, but I recognised the grief of one who had lost a friend and mentor and father-figure.
      I pondered then the lack of grief I had felt over the loss of my own father.  I had not cried for him, or wept, or grieved or mourned.  I remembered him, but mainly in the context of how much he would have hated this new life of which I had become a part.
      Then I looked up at G'Kar, his eyes closed as he whispered a silent prayer.  I remembered holding myself tightly against him, shivering from the cold terror that swept through me as Primarch Sinoval had spoken about these creatures of Death from another dimension.  I promised myself then that, when G'Kar died, I would grieve as Susan was grieving now.
      I did not, of course.  I have learned a lot in the years from then until now.  I cried, yes, but there was no anger.  I was able to look at the things he had done and the achievements he had fulfilled, and I remembered his last words to me and felt his immense pride.
      I can still remember speaking to the people immediately after he died.  The memory of that speech, those words, so meaningless to me but so meaningful to those who heard them....
      Sometimes there is no way to describe how I felt.
      But I can describe how I felt at the end of the Council of Sinoval, as the impact of the death of the First One swept over us.
      There was a great and terrible sadness, on top of the numbing fear and thrilled excitement I had felt at simply being in a room with such glorious people.
      There was also a sense of optimism, although I could not really understand why or how.  These creatures from elsewhere were immeasurably powerful.  I could not comprehend then just how powerful, and nor can I now.  The Vorlons were also powerful and terrible.  Worlds had been destroyed, battles fought and lost, great people killed.
      And yet Primarch Sinoval had spoken of the Vorlons making a mistake.  Was this the mistake?  I could not figure out how, but when I dared to look at some of the others I saw understanding in their eyes, and I knew I must be right.  Marrain, as terrifying and incomprehensible to me as he was, seemed to be nodding.  Marrago, dear Jorah, understood as well.
      So did Delenn, although that did not stop her crying.  I saw her hand rest on her belly in a pained gesture.
      The Council ended not long after that, and I wandered away.  G'Kar was busy and distracted, talking with Jorah and G'Lorn, and no one seemed to notice me.  I was thinking about what I had been told, and about the faces I was sure I had seen in the surface of the table, and how they seemed so sad but also so optimistic.
      Then suddenly I looked up and saw doors before me, the biggest and most majestic doors I have ever seen.
      They opened up at my gaze.
L'Neer of Narn, Learning at the Prophet's Feet.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Susan hit him.
      Sinoval had been struck before, many times, but it seemed to him that he had never been hit with such force and emotion as that one blow.  He actually reeled backwards.  She meant to hit him again, but he caught her arm and pushed her back, not roughly, but enough to keep her off balance.
      "You knew!" she cried.  "You knew they were going to do this!"
      "I suspected," he said, calmly.  "And so did you.  And so did he."
      "I did n...."  She stopped.
      "Why did they choose now?  Because for the first time he has actively interfered.  Had he not shown us all the argument between Sheridan and the Light Cardinal, they would not have been exposed.  They would not have lost so much of their support.  They would not have permitted us to leave.
      "And why did he intervene as he did?"
      "You bastard," she hissed under her breath.  "You cold-hearted...."
      "Sheridan's death bought us this opportunity.  Is Lorien's death equally valuable?  And whom do you hate more?  Myself, or those responsible?"
      She turned away, and he could feel the anger and the passion burning within her.
      For the first time since they had felt the aftershocks of Lorien's murder, Sinoval seemed to realise that they were not alone.  He breathed out slowly, in reflex more than anything, and began to speak.
      "I have told you what we face," he said, and then paused, coughing.  "You have.... felt for yourselves the power of our enemies.  The Vorlons must be defeated.  Their Masters from Elsewhere must be defeated as well.
      "You all began this war in your own ways, for your own reasons.  You may have thought you were alone.  Now you know you are not.
      "Talk to each other.  Plan, and decide.  Make alliances and friendships.  I do not seek to command this myself.  This is your war every bit as much as it is mine.
      "We will meet here again in one day.  Then we can seek to create something more substantial from all of this."
      He bowed deeply.
      "Thank you all for coming," he said, then turned into the shadows and disappeared.
      There was a moment's silence.
      And then the talking began.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

This was what war must be like.
      The rush of blood through his body, the strain in his muscles, the burning energy, the song of his ancestors in his mind.
      Parlain knew in that moment the glory and the majesty of battle.
      The Eloi'a hovered in the air before him, dark lightning crackling around its form.  The black, fiery wings beat leisurely and arrogantly, and the look on the alien's face combined complete disdain with passionate fervour.
      Death, came the voice echoing through the room, like drums beating rhythmically.  Death death death death
      Blood began to pour from his ears and his eyes, clouding his vision.  Everything existed through a crimson haze.  He dimly saw Innaken slump against the far wall, shielding the body of the fallen Qirin.
      The Eloi'a looked at Parlain and raised one arm slowly and regally.  A ball of lightning formed in one long-fingered hand.  Another arm lifted and it plunged a second hand into the ball, doubling its size.  The alien's other two arms rested, folded high on its chest.
      Parlain spat out gobbets of blood and blinked furiously.  The Eloi'a's rhythmic cadence still boomed in his mind.
      Death death death death
      I am Parlain of the Wind Swords
      death death death
      My mother was Derannimer of the Fire Wings
      death death
      She faced warriors and Shadows and nightmares and she never feared
      death
      I shall know no fear
      death
      My mother died with honour
      death
      You know nothing of death, creature
      death
      Nothing compared to what I shall show you
      death
      death
      death
      Nothing
      Nothing
      Nothing

      It raised two arms above its head.  The glare from the coruscating ball of lightning cast dark shadows over its face, turning what had once been angelic and beautiful into something demonic and terrifying - but still lovely.
      It looked at him.
      Death.
      He reeled before the onslaught, stumbling backwards, his body shaking.  Blood flew from his mouth, forming droplets of bright crimson in the air, held motionless for a single instant, each one like a tiny sun.
      Then they fell, and everything happened at once.
      The Eloi'a hurled the ball of lightning at him just as he threw himself forward.  It exploded on contact with the ground, darts of power crackling along the floor.  He felt a stunning jolt in his feet and knees, and he rolled forward behind the creature and staggered to his feet.
      It turned instantly, with no moment for thought or planning.  Its baleful eyes looked at him, and blazed.
      Death!
      Parlain reeled back.  His prone body was lifted into the air by the sheer power of the alien's mind.  Jolts of electricity darted across the open space between them, striking his helpless, struggling body.  He held so tightly to the handle of his denn'bok that he could almost feel the weapon becoming part of his hand.
      Death!
      He threw his head back, teeth gritted against the pain.  Through a blood-red haze he could see the carnage that the audience chamber had become.  Ambassadors were broken and shattered, the Qirin thrown against the wall, the Ningyasa a charred husk.  Innaken was slumped over the body of the Qirin, Tadanakenn and Takuen both collapsed in the corner.  Rekaiji was....
      Death!
      His body shook.  He could feel his bones strain and jerk, as if about to shatter.  The bolts of lightning continued to drive into him.
      Death!
      Rekaiji was not there.
      Death!
      There!
      She jumped from behind the ruined door, holding her denn'bok, her pale face streaked with blood and strain.  With the totality of her strength and will and precision, she threw the weapon to Parlain.  He opened his mouth and released a noise that was part scream of pain and part song of battle.  His hand closed around her denn'bok and he swung it before him.
      Lightning struck the arc of the blade and shot backwards, into the body of the creature that had commanded it.  The Eloi'a screamed and Parlain fell, not noticing the burning pain in his left hand and arm.  Certainly not after the landing, which jarred every bone in his body.
      He jumped up immediately, completely heedless of the pain, and glanced at Rekaiji's denn'bok.  It was broken, warped beyond use or purpose.  He felt a weight in his right hand, and realised that he was still carrying his own.
      Still roaring, the Eloi'a looked down at him, its angelic face twisted with pain and rage.  One of its arms was blackened and hung useless at its side, but that still left it one more than Parlain had.
      It formed another lightning ball, moving with the speed of thought, and hurled it down.  Parlain was ready, thrusting out with both denn'bok, forming a cross.  The ball struck the centre of the cross and dissipated, pouring through Parlain's body and into the ground.
      Straining, Parlain leapt upwards, both blades flashing.  The Eloi'a reached out with one arm to push him aside, but it was too slow.  Parlain plunged the end of his own denn'bok into the alien's chest, slamming the end of Rekaiji's ruined blade into its hand.
      The Eloi'a screamed and fell, dark energy ripping from its body.  Light, dark light, poured from its mouth, and the instant its body hit the floor there was an explosion.  Parlain shielded his eyes against the blinding, brilliant energy of the alien's death, and when he dared to look again, blinking his eyes against the blood and the flare, he saw only a charred, blackened silhouette on the floor in the shape of the creature.
      Rekaiji moved in an instant to his side.  Delicately, she wiped the blood from his face.
      "Alive," she whispered.
      "I cannot be killed," he whispered to her.  Her eyes smiled, if not her face.
      She helped him up.  He was still holding her ruined denn'bok.  Tenderly, he handed it to her.  "Broken," he said.
      She considered it for a moment, and then looked around the room, at the bodies, at the black marks on the walls and ceiling, at Innaken still trying to tend the wounded Qirin and at the madness and the insanity of it all, and then shrugged.
      "I will get another," was all she said.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Plans I
      Tirivail left the meeting quickly, moving from the hall with soft, shadowed footsteps.  The Council had ended with Sinoval's disappearance and they had broken up into small groups, talking and sharing.  No one had noticed her, and so she had left.
      She could hardly breathe as she walked away from the Council Chamber, and she had to resist a strong urge to turn and look back.  She had not felt like this since she had been a child, always frightened that monsters might be following her in the dark.  Her father had made her walk around in a blindfold for days to cure her of her fears.
      She behaved as if it had worked, to please him, but in truth, it never had.
      Ironically, one of the monsters she had feared was the Betrayer.
      Marrain.
      As she walked, she thought she could hear footsteps behind her.  Her heart was beating loudly in her ears, but she resisted the urge to start running.  She was a warrior, and she would not be afraid.  She closed her eyes, knowing that there was nothing for her to fear.
      Nothing.
      But still the footsteps came closer.  Her muscles tensed, as if she were about to sprint away.
      She did not belong here.  Those people were leaders, great figures.  They were the people who touched and shaped the galaxy.  They belonged here.  Kats would have belonged here.  Kozorr would have belonged here.  Her father would have belonged here.
      She did not.
      They had looked at her when it had been her turn to speak.  She had looked down.  She had been one of the last.
      "I am Tirivail," she said.  "My father is Satai Takier, lord of the Storm Dancers clan."
      That had been it.  Nothing else.  What else needed to be said?  What great deeds did she have to boast of?  What was she to compare to the likes of Sinoval, or Marrago, or Vizhak?  She should not be here.
      The footsteps came louder, and faster.
      They were not real.  She was a warrior.  She had nothing to fear.
      "My lady," said a voice, and she froze.
      Nothing to fear.
      "My lady," he said again, as he drew closer to her.  She opened her eyes, and the monster was beside her.  The Betrayer.
      "I have asked you not to call me that," she whispered, her words so quiet that at first she thought he had not heard them.  "I am not your lady."
      Marrain hesitated.  "I mean nothing but respect when I address you that way," he said, anger brimming beneath his eyes.  "But if you would prefer, so be it, Tirivail."
      That hurt more, and she winced visibly.
      "Where do you go?" he asked.
      "Anywhere.  I do not belong here."
      "No one but you believes that.  If you did not belong here, you would not have been called."
      "Why was I called?  What did you offer Sinoval to make him throw me this favour?  You must have bartered something for me."
      His eyes flashed.  "You dishonour me," he hissed.  "I have been dishonoured enough - mostly with cause - in my life.  But worse, you dishonour yourself.  I will not accept that."
      "I have not asked you to accept anything!"
      "I give my word by the lady I wronged, that I said and did nothing to persuade Primarch Sinoval to call you.  His choices are, as ever, his own."
      "I do not belong with such people."
      "And I do?"  He laughed.  "I, the Betrayer, thrice-forsaken, thrice-damned?  I, who died insane and aflame?  My name has been cursed for a thousand years.  I have done more wrong than you can imagine, and you say you do not belong here?
      "Here is something for you to ponder, my l....  Tirivail.  Ask anyone in that room if they think they belong, and they will say the same thing as you.  None are less worthy than those who convince themselves they are unworthy."
      "I do not have to listen to you."
      "No, you do not.  But I have to speak to you.  I did not love you then.  Perhaps I should have done.  Perhaps I should love you now."
      "Only perhaps?" she whispered, her eyes blazing.  She looked at him, and dared to meet his eyes.
      "Perhaps more than that."
      They stopped, and looked at each other.  Everything else seemed to cease to exist - the ground beneath them, the walls around them, the air between them.  His body was tense, she could see it.  He was staring at her, passionate and angry and alive.
      So what was he waiting for?
      She realised, and took a step back, breathing out harshly.  She turned away, and the spell was broken.  She began to walk away.
      "Berevain!" he called after her, and she stopped, shaking.  "No," he said almost immediately.  "Tirivail.  The Tak'cha follow me.  They are dangerous and fanatical, and they are determined to continue what they began.  This time they will destroy their Gods, all of them.  They do not care where they fight them, and nor do I."
      "Why are you telling me this?!" she cried, whirling round to face him.  "Why do you even talk to me?  I am not a leader.  I am not a general.  I am just a bodyguard who has twice failed to save those I vowed to protect!
      "I am not my sister.  I am not my brother.  I am not my father, or my aunt or my grandmother or a woman dead a thousand years!  Find someone else.  Find someone worthy!"
      "I will decide whom I hold worthy," he said bitterly.  "And I will speak to whom I wish!
      "The Tak'cha will fight where I command.  We could fly to Centauri Prime to fight alongside Marrago and liberate his homeworld.  We could go to the Drazi.  We could attack Vorlon space itself.
      "Or we could go with you.  I will vow to serve you, lady, to follow you and help you.  I will dedicate my life to your cause.  I wronged and failed you once before, and I swear I shall not fail you again.
      "All I ask of you is that you ask this of me."
      She hesitated, looking at him, her heart pounding in her chest.  He looked nothing like the monster she had feared as a child.  He looked nothing like Kozorr.  He looked nothing like her father.
      All those ghosts stood between her and him.
      Without a word, she turned and walked away.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Elsewhere VI
      Takier walked among them clad, not in Satai grey, but in Warleader black.  He walked alone, but with all the majesty and glory his position dictated.  He liked the people to know whom it was who passed before them, but in his eyes Warleader was always a more glorious position than Satai.
      Not for him a life of secluded governing from above.  He could not rule that way, passing judgment on people he never saw, issuing edicts and laws to a world he never walked.
      No, he would see his people, look them in the eyes, weigh their worth.
      He would know them, and know whether they were deserving of his time.
      He stopped at the great steps to the Temple of Varenni.  One of the few buildings to survive the bombardment of Minbar, and used afterwards to shelter the survivors and refugees, the Temple had acquired a very modern significance for the people.  Services were conducted here constantly, and thousands came to pray.  With the destruction of Tuzanor, the Temple of Varenni at Yedor was the most revered site of pilgrimage in the entire Federation.
      But it had once been something older, something far less holy, and Takier for one would never forget that.
      He strolled up the steps, breezing past the acolytes on duty at the door, not caring if they bowed to him or not.  The Ranger was waiting for him a few steps inside the Hall.
      "Satai," he said, bowing deeply and turning his gaze to the floor.
      "Enough!" Takier snapped.  He had little patience for sycophants, and still less for Rangers.  Priestlings playing at war for the most part, and it would take someone truly special to convince him otherwise.  This young one was unlikely to be such a person.
      "Raise your eyes and look at me," he barked.  The Ranger did, and Takier was disgusted by the weakness he saw there.  Were there no true warriors remaining?  Sinoval, the universe curse him, had at least been a true warrior, as had Sonovar.  And Kozorr, before he had let women and weakness corrupt him.  Was there no one else?
      "Take me there," he ordered angrily.  The Ranger bowed again, and set off into the Temple.
      Takier looked with irritation at the denn'bok at the Ranger's waist.  The weakling was unworthy to wield such a weapon.  This was all that was left to defend Minbar!
      If he had to, he would defend the world himself.  But it irked him that there was nothing better to defend than heritage and tradition.  There was no one to protect worth the shedding of his blood.
      He followed the Ranger deeper into the Temple, and downward.  The Temple was ancient, built when Yedor had been no more than a village of mud huts.  It had survived orbital bombardment, siege, three great fires, four battles on the ground, another two fought in the air, and various religious upheavals.
      Here the great lords of old had gathered, to fight and face their own worth in the Starfire Wheel.  Takier spared not a glance for the Wheel as he passed it.  A relic of a bygone age.  No one now lived who was worthy to set foot in it.
      Not since....
      Sinoval again.
      It all came down to him.
      Takier was damned if he would beg aid from Sinoval.  He would shatter his denn'bok, swear celibacy and become a hermit monk first.  They would fight this war without him.
      "Here, Satai," the Ranger said, stopping in front of a stone wall.  They were deep below the city now, in catacombs where few walked and which fewer understood.  Takier sniffed.  The place smelled thick with blood.
      "There were workers labouring down here, Satai," the Ranger continued.  Takier was only half listening.  "Satai Kats had ordered a survey of the Temple's foundations and the catacombs.  She hoped there might be records here, perhaps to replace those lost at Tuzanor.  This place was uncovered a few days ago, behind a walled-off area."
      Takier looked around.  Blood was sprayed on the wall, faintly visible in the dim light.  Scuff marks furrowed the floor.  He traced out the implied movements with his eyes.  The angle and trajectory of the blow.... inflicted with force rather than technique, and catching the victim completely unawares.  The weapon would have been short-handled, sharp.  Perhaps a hammer with a spiked end or....
      Ah!  There it was, shadowed in the corner, near the wall.  A chipping axe.  Landed there....  Thrown?  Ah, no.  It merely continued the trajectory.  The blow had been too forceful for the grip and the weapon had flown from its wielder's hand to land there, striking the wall.  Yes, there was a chip where it had struck.
      Fortunately for the wielder the blow had killed his opponent, or that could have been very dangerous.  An amateur, then.  No warrior would wield his weapon in such a way.
      But there was too much blood.  Perhaps the axe had struck the victim in a vital artery.  Hmm.... it would have been too high for the knee, unless the victim was uncommonly tall, which of course he couldn't have been to be working here.  Too low for the neck or heart, unless the victim had bent down.
      But the blood spray did not support that.
      Hmm.
      "One of the workers went mad, Satai," the Ranger continued.  "He killed his companion and mutilated the body, tearing at it with his hands and his feet.  He had to be dragged away.  He killed himself in his cell last night - he ripped his own chest open with his bare hands."
      The Ranger sounded disturbed, and more than a little squeamish.  Takier broke his concentration to sigh mentally.  He could tell that this young one had never seen battle.  Unforgivable, given the number of opportunities available recently.
      "The two workers who intervened both died last night as well.  One killed himself, the other burned down his home, killing his entire family."
      Takier raised a hand.  Well, the mutilations at least explained the excessive blood.  "They were excavating that wall," he said.  The Ranger nodded.
      He walked towards it, stooping.  The ceiling was a lot lower just here.
      The wall looked normal, stone, fairly well constructed.  There were various cracks.  Takier strained to look through them.  He thought he could....  No, he was right.  A faint glimmer of light came from the other side.
      And something else.
      A soft moaning, like the voices of several ghosts pleading from far, far away.
      It was very hot.  Even the stones of the wall were almost burning.
      "Hmm," he said, reaching for his denn'bok without realising it.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"I saw something once.  I cannot remember if I ever told you.  It was long ago, before I died, before you died, when the Great Machine still existed and so many people seemed to be alive, and.... strong, and there was still hope that Sinoval would not win.
      "It was when Babylon Four appeared, lost in time.  You and I set foot on it, and I saw.... something.
      "I really cannot remember if I told you or not.  I would like to think I had not, and that you died without ever knowing.
      "But now I think about it, I wonder, would it not have been better for you to know?
      "It was a vision, a time flash.  I was standing on Minbar, at Turon'val'na lenn-veni, the Place where Valen Waits, looking out over the lake.
      "Only the crystal lake was filled with mud and silt and blood.  The sky was black and the air clogged with dust.  My world was dead.
      "As it is now.
      "And there was a gravestone in front of me, such as your people use to mark the tombs of those they love.
      "And it bore your name.
      "And a message.
      "It said you were resting.
      "In a place where no shadows fall.
      "I have been thinking about that vision, and I wonder if it was always destined to come true.  If there was anything I could have done or you could have done or anyone could have done to stop it coming true.
      "I have finally realised.
      "It does not have to be true.  I can leave this place now, and never return to Minbar.  I can jettison your body into space, or have it cremated, or eaten by Pak'ma'ra.  I can bury you on Kazomi Seven, or Zhabar or Centauri Prime or in the bones of Golgotha or on Z'ha'dum itself.
      "Sinoval always said that, and I never believed him.  Not until now.
      "There is no destiny but the destiny we make for ourselves.  Nothing is written in stone, and even if it were, stones can be shattered.
      "I can choose to do as I wish.  Maybe I could have saved you, or someone else could have saved you, but I do not have to do what I saw.
      "But I choose to do it.  I will bury you on Minbar, at Turon'val'na lenn-veni.  I do this because I choose to, not because of destiny or fate or pre-determination.
      "And because I want to see Minbar again.  One last time.
      "I did love you.  I think I loved you too well, and far from wisely.  I think love compelled everything I did and everything I dreamed, and when the love died, some time between my death and yours, nothing remained to fill the void.  I was empty, and I let too much happen.  I was silent when I should have spoken.
      "Sinoval has said we can now choose what to do.  He says he does not seek to command us, and maybe he even speaks the truth.  He encourages us to meet and talk and form alliances.
      "I know now I have nothing in common with these people, except with G'Kar.  They are warriors and murderers.  They are his people, not mine.  This is his war, not mine.
      "I will fight the war in my own way.  I will miss G'Kar, but he still has his determination.  He has regained some of it, I think, in the child Lennier saved.  She even took Lennier's name, although I think she has no idea of what that truly means.  G'Kar will fight because he has to, and because he again possesses the fire that burns from within.
      "I had hoped to find Lyta here, but Sinoval says he has never seen her.  I think he speaks the truth there as well.  I cannot sense her.  I am afraid she is dead.  Just another body along the way.
      "I will not miss you, but I will miss the man you were.  I did not love the man who shared my life and my bed for the last year, but I always loved the man who shared my heart before that.
      "I will do this last thing for you, bury you on my home.
      "And then I will leave, to fight this war my own way."
      She leant forward and kissed the top of his forehead gently.  His body was cold.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The room was warm, and not just with the heat of their bodies.  Everything seemed warm; his blood, his skin, his body, his soul.
      Parlain lay still, as if in meditation, gently touching Rekaiji beside him.  She was still too, as silent and motionless as a statue.
      Or a corpse.
      Only her warmth proved to him that she was alive.
      They were the last.  All that the Company of Chaos had to offer.  He did not know how much time had passed in this strange, alien place, but it had surely been many months, perhaps years.  The others were dead.
      All of them dead - to madness, or morr'dechai, or illness, or war.
      And yet Parlain, self-proclaimed and self-evident Lord of Shirohida, still lived.
      He wondered if this was what it had been like for the great warriors.  To live on through battle after battle while your friends and your kin and your lovers died.  Shingen had triumphed in thirty-four battles, it was said.  How many must have died in all that?  How many of those were his friends?
      Was that the answer?  Not to love, not to trust?
      He stroked the back of Rekaiji's neck and felt the heat of her skin.
      What had he told the Primarch about the ways of death for a warrior?
      I do not fear madness, I would welcome morr'dechai if I had been shamed enough to deserve it, I see death in war as a true and noble end for a warrior, and to be betrayed, one must first trust, and there is no one that I trust.
      He still felt the same, but it was easy to feel that for himself.  Harder, much harder to believe it for those who followed him.  Innaken had not been born a warrior.  He had only ever wanted to heal.  Had he felt all that?
      Golgotha had been at war since they arrived, but it was a war against an enemy they could not even see, let alone fight.  Those present, emissaries of some of the most powerful and ancient races in the galaxy, were being consumed by madness and ravings of death.
      Parlain remembered the Eloi'a.  They were beautiful, graceful, majestic creatures, bathed in light.  The Eloi'a Ambassador had debated with him for hours on morality and philosophy and what existed after death.  He had called Parlain's views 'fascinating', with a condescension that had been truly unintentional.
      Two days after that the Eloi'a had gone insane and butchered three of his fellows, raving about the death he had earlier proclaimed to be nothing more than a metamorphosis to something higher and better.
      Parlain closed his eyes and tried to think.  No one seemed to know what was happening, but someone had to think about it.  He did not believe this was natural.
      He and the Company had been hired to protect Golgotha and those within it, and they had done the best they could.  Parlain truly believed that, proud that this was the best the Company had ever performed.  They had certainly managed better than the Rangers who were based here.
      Rangers of the Accord, they called themselves, and they had regarded him and his companions with utter disdain.  Parlain had had little to do with them, apart from observing some of their training.  They were good, he would not deny that, but ultimately he had not thought they were good enough.
      And now they were all dead anyway.  The last one had killed himself two days ago.
      The two of them were all that remained to defend Golgotha.  The Company had fought well, as well as anyone had ever fought.  But it had not been enough.
      They could not fight an enemy they could not see.
      So, they had to find it.
      The Primarch knew something, he was certain.  He did not believe the Primarch was behind this, but he was convinced he knew something. There was no point in asking him.  He would say nothing, whatever he knew.
      Rekaiji kissed his shoulder suddenly, and he started.
      Yes, there was some point in asking him.  If there was a slightest chance, the slightest chance at all....
      He would do anything to save her, except sacrifice his honour.
      Or hers.
      He knew she would hate that.
      "Which do you value more?" he asked suddenly.  "Your honour or your life?"
      "You are morbid," she remarked.
      "I have been thinking."
      "Yes, I know.  Honour is just a word, Parlain.  It is something that can be given to you by others, or taken away by them, and once lost, it can be regained.  You cannot regain your life once it has been taken away, not in any way that matters."
      "Your life, then?" he asked, a little disappointed.  Maybe there was still a core of the priestling in her.
      "If I thought that, would I be here?  There are greater things than life.  I just do not believe that honour is one of them."
      "Why did you leave the religious caste?" he asked.
      She kissed him, not at all gently.  "You are a fool sometimes," she said, with a perfectly straight face.  "Can I not keep even some secrets to myself?"
      "If you wish."
      "Why did you become what you are?" she asked him.  "You could have led a Guild, or commanded the Rangers, or stood in the Grey Council.  You are not cursed and few would care about your appearance or your name once they realised your skill.  So, why?"
      "Because I never wanted to do anything else."
      "I did.  Once."
      "What did you want to do?"
      "Change the world.  Change the galaxy.  Then I realised that I could never do that in a temple or a priesthood."
      "And you can do it here?"
      "Yes.  With you.  I can change you."
      "What?"
      "You live.  You know joy.  You know love.  You know purpose.  I have a.... feeling.  I knew it even the first time I saw you, when Cathrenn introduced us.  I knew two things then.  The first was that, with a gentle push in the right direction, you could accomplish everything I always wanted to accomplish."
      "And the second thing?"
      "That I loved you."
      "My lady," he whispered.
      "No.  I am no one's lady.  I am your companion.  I will guard your back in battle, and know that you will guard mine.  I will give my life into your hands and trust you absolutely with it, and know that you can do the same for me.  Cathrenn will never find that with anyone, and I pity her for it."
      You lie well, Parlain the Damned.  All true bar the last.  You are like your father in that respect.
      There is no one that I trust.

      He held her tightly.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Plans II
      G'Kar: "How do you plan to proceed?  Military might alone is not enough."
      Marrago: "It will not have to be.  There are billions of us.  We know only too well how hard it is to hold on to a world of slaves who do not wish to be slaves.  They will rise up."
      G'Kar: "The cost will be terrible."
      Marrago: "What is freedom worth?  You taught us that."
      G'Kar: "What is your life worth?"
      Marrago: "Me?  I am worth what I can achieve for my people.  Understand this, and do not seek to judge me.  I played a part in this situation we are in now.  I accept no blame for that...."
      G'Kar: "It would be hypocritical of me to assign blame.  Anywhere."
      Marrago: "I did what I thought was right, and I would not change it even if I could.  But there was.... someone I could have saved.  I failed her.  I failed her badly.  There was something I remember being quoted to me once.  Several years ago.  One of my agents heard a young Narn rebel say it to his lady.  He who saves one soul...."
      G'Kar: "Saves the world entire."
      Marrago: "I failed one soul.  I will work to save the world entire as much as I can, but my soul is lost.  I will accept whatever help you can offer.  I will see this through to the end.  But when it is the end, when it is done....  Then I will lie down and die."
      G'Kar: "I will grieve for you."
      Marrago: "I will not.  I will not grieve for anything ever again."

      Kulomani: "How long?"
      Vizhak: "Since my world fell.  He helped me escape.  You?"
      Kulomani: "Since the Day of the Dead.  To look upon the ghosts of the past and realise how much one has ruined the present....  It gives one a certain focus.  What will you do now?"
      Vizhak: "We have gathered the armies.  As many as we can.  Time to start fighting back."
      Kulomani: "Do you need help?"
      Vizhak: "You are crippled.  What help can you give us?"
      Kulomani: "Ah.  My body is broken.  My mind works very well indeed.  I think you will find I can help."
      Vizhak: "Taan is dead.  Did he die well?"
      Kulomani: "Yes."
      Vizhak:  "Good."

      Dexter: "What now?"
      Talia: "I don't know."
      Dexter:  "Oh."
      Dexter: "Good.  I was afraid it was just me."

      Haxtur: "We go to war.  We killed our Gods once before.  This time, we complete the crusade."
      Moreil: "Whom do you serve?"
      Haxtur: "Marrain....  He says we need only serve ourselves.  He is wrong.  We serve him.  We fight where he directs."
      Moreil: "We all need someone to serve, yes.  Is he worthy?"
      Haxtur: "He stood beside the Z'ondar.  He offered the Holy Zarwin understanding.  He is holy to us."
      Moreil: "He is a friend of the Chaos Bringer?"
      Haxtur: "Your Chaos Bringer brought him unto us."
      Moreil: "Then he is.  We await the command of the Chaos Bringer, all of us.  We Z'shailyl, the Zarqheba, the Wykhheran.  Our Gods are gone, save Him.  Should He command it of us, we will fight beside you.  We shall kill your Gods together."

      G'Lorn: "Our world is dead."
      Na'Toth: "Yes, it is."
      G'Lorn: "The fault was ours.  We did this."
      Na'Toth: "Don't talk foolishness.  We did nothing.  They did it all."
      G'Lorn: "Then we will do to them what was done to us."
      Na'Toth: "Precisely."

      Marrago: "The girl.  The girl-child who was with you.  Where is she?"
      G'Kar: "I am sure she is safe somewhere."
      Marrago: "You are very complacent."
      G'Kar: "Let us just say that I have faith that the universe will not let her die before she has fulfilled her purpose."
      Marrago: "And if the universe has no say in the matter?"
      G'Kar: "Then the Well of Souls certainly does."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Elsewhere VII
      "You know, poker night just ain't the same these days."
      Jack said nothing, content to let his boss ramble on, as he tended to do.  He was inclined to agree though.  Poker night just wasn't the same.  They still gathered occasionally, but it was just the three of them, and everyone knew a good game of poker needed at least four.
      "So, explain that dealer chip again," Zack muttered sadly.
      "Well, Chet...." Jack began instinctively, only to stop when he realised what he was saying.  He sighed too.
      None of them really knew what had happened to Dexter.  He had been acting really strangely for months, cancelling poker nights, not showing up in the sector at all.  Julia said her mother hadn't seen or heard from him for a while, and he hadn't returned any of her messages.
      And then had come the news that he was wanted for murder.  Some high-up big-wig in IPX, although the details were a little vague.  Him and his accomplice, described as a 'blonde woman of medium height' were wanted by Internal Security.  His senate position had been suspended, his flat searched, his friends questioned.
      Jack had been questioned for hours, on three different occasions.  He didn't know where Dex had gone, or why, or anything about some IPX big-wig.  He had known some things, maybe enough to drop Dex well and truly in it, but he hadn't said anything.  That was the first rule of any security force, particularly in a place like the Pit.
      You never dropped your friends in it.
      Zack had been the same.  And Julia.  And all of them.  No one in 301 had said anything.
      Jack just wished he had some idea of what was going on.  The people who questioned him had been.... well, strange, to say the least.  He was sure he saw someone lurking in the shadows, someone who just.... felt wrong.  He had caught a faint glimpse and it reminded him of that weird prisoner they'd arrested.  The Hand of the Light.
      Sector 301 had felt wrong ever since, as if with its protector gone there was nothing to stop the dark forces creeping in.  Jack looked around and shivered, and then cursed himself for letting his imagination run away with him.  He'd read too much science fiction as a kid.
      But when he and Zack got called out to a garbled report from a drunk beggar in the middle of the night, it was easy to get a little spooked.
      It was dark in this area of the Pit.  It always was, day or night, but it seemed a little darker than usual now.  In the 'good old days' of corruption, chocolate and gambling on the game, they had never come down here.  After they had woken up a little and set about doing something, after the death and rebirth of the Blessed Delenn - and even as profound an atheist as Jack had felt a shiver up his spine at the sight of her shrine - they had been a little more diligent.  Not that there was a lot to do down here.  A few beggars, the lowest of the low mainly, those who really had nowhere else to go.  The mentally deranged, the truly unemployable.
      Small wonder none of them had liked investigating this area.  It had been Dexter who had mainly forced them, with all his talk about pulling together, the needs of all, renovation and so on.  Without him around, it had been easy to get complacent again.
      "This the place?" Zack asked, looking around.
      Jack stepped forward, and then the smell hit him.  He reeled back, almost choking.  It smelled of every foul thing he could ever have imagined, of vomit and faeces and undercooked meat.  He coughed and spluttered and waved his hand frantically in front of his face.
      "Oh, yeah," Zack said, holding his nose tightly.  "Dis is duh pace aw bight."
      The two of them stepped further into the dark alley.  There were warehouses on either side, buildings that had never been used even when things had been good around here.  They were too small, or too far away from anywhere useful or too badly constructed.
      The smell got worse with every step they took, and the air seemed to be thicker and hotter as well.  Both of them had seen murder sites in their time, and some of these had been pretty grisly, but nothing had ever felt like this: the combination of smell and taste and.... feeling.
      A flicker of light from their torches caught it at the end of the alley, spread out over the ground.
      It might once have been a human body, but then it might have been a lot of things.  Jack found it hard to believe there was only one body there.  There were enough.... bits.... for dozens.  He jumped as he saw what he thought might have been a heart.  He hoped it wasn't, because a heart ripped from the chest shouldn't be beating like that....
      "Christ on a bike," Zack was saying, having let go of his nose.  It didn't do any good anyway.  They could drop a twenty kiloton bomb of sulphur on this place and still not get rid of the smell.
      "Christ on a bloody bike!"
      Jack had a few choice expressions of his own, but he couldn't voice any of them.  He didn't dare open his mouth for fear that something might fly into his throat, or that he might vomit.
      "What the hell could do...?"
      Zack stopped and cocked his head, as if listening.
      "Do you hear that?"
      "Hear what?" Jack asked.  He couldn't hear anything except his own heart pounding.  In an oddly detached way, he was expecting it to burst out of his chest any minute.
      "That noise.  It sounds like...."
      He looked up, and Jack followed suit, obeying the universal law that no one can see anyone looking up without joining them to see what they're looking at.
      They could see it even through the Dome ceiling.
      Slowly, very slowly, a heart was beginning to beat in the sky.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Everything was fire and blood.  The screams of the dying filled the air.  Bodies were mutilated and torn.
      Parlain walked through them with a dead look in his eyes.  His tunic was torn and his body was laced with scratches and cuts and scars.  His denn'bok was covered with blood and what passed for the blood of the First Ones.
      It had been quiet, quiet for a long time.  He and Rekaiji had begun to assume it was all over.  They had even started to dream that they might have survived.
      Then it had started again, what he assumed to be three days ago.  Worse than before.  More violence and insanity.  Those who were able to leave had left, but even then the madness had followed them.  A Tamyakin ship had destroyed itself just outside the station as those within it were consumed by the madness.  He doubted there were any beings remaining on Golgotha who were not touched by insanity.
      No, there were some.
      To be precise, there were three.
      Himself.
      The Primarch.
      And the architect of it all.
      He paced towards the Vorlon Ambassador's chamber with the determination and fearlessness of a dead man walking.  He knew death, and he knew pain, and he knew fear.  He supposed he had been touched by the madness after all, although in a much smaller way.
      He wanted to kill two people, and two people only.  Not for him the indiscriminate slaughter.  No, for him the precision and cold-hearted striving of a single fight.
      He would find the Vorlon and destroy it.
      And then he would kill himself.
      Rekaiji's blood was still on his hands, her dying expression still fixed in his mind.  She had tried to fight the madness and had succeeded for a long time, long enough to beg him for morr'dechai.  Long enough to beg him to let her die with honour rather than in insanity.  He had never seen such fear in her before.  Never.  He doubted she had ever seen such fear in his own eyes either.
      She had knelt before him and drawn the scars on her face.  He had raised his blade, wishing he had a real dechai for this, but the principle and the honour were the same.
      And then her eyes had turned as black as midnight and she had lunged at him, clawing at his face with her fingers.
      She had broken his arm, shattered at least two ribs and tried to gouge his eyes out, but eventually she had fallen.
      She had died with no honour, with no pride, with nothing but madness and loss.
      He would avenge her.  That was the least he could do.
      He reached the Vorlon's door and found it already open, hanging limp in the archway.  Parlain kicked it aside and entered.
      Light filled the room, but it was not true light, more some sort of dark light.  It cast shadows on the bright places but did not illuminate the shadows.  It spoke of whispers of madness, of illusions of chaos and death and terror.
      Motionless and still in the centre of the chamber hung the Vorlon, in its true form, a mass of bright energy, tentacles floating in the dark air.  In the middle of it all, swimming gracefully in the air, was another creature, one Parlain had never seen before.
      It was terrible, baleful and monstrous.  Parlain had spent these past months with the First Ones, with Gods and monsters, and yet he had never seen or known anything such as this.  Its eyes were empty and infinite, its bearing one of utter arrogance.
      death
      Before the earliest Minbari had taken to the stars or even mastered flight, when they had spoken fearfully of demons and devils and things that moved in the shadows of night, this must have been what they had imagined.
      death
      Parlain looked at it, and remembered the charred halls of Shirohida and the still, stone statues of its previous masters.  None of them had ever known fear, and nor would he.
      death
      He gritted his teeth, and gently brushed one hand down the thin morr'dechai scars on his face.
      death
      "Yes," he said.
      death
      "Death."
      death
      Behind it was a mirror, so vast as to take up almost half the room.  It reflected nothing, seeming to be more a window into another world, one dominated by a vast tower beneath a black, beating sky.
      death
      The monster moved, guiding the Vorlon, moving the glowing body like a mere a puppet.
      death
      "Death!" Parlain roared, and jumped into the attack.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Plans III
      The chamber was vast, impossibly so.  Its boundaries were nonexistent, stretching to the horizon in all directions.  There were sparks of light, millions of them, covering the floor and the walls and the sky above.  L'Neer stepped forward, and then looked back to see that the door had vanished.
      Visitors rarely come here.
      She started, and then looked around frantically.  "You're everywhere, aren't you?" she asked.  "You're.... you're the Well of Souls."
      We are.  Both.
      "Oh."  She walked forward a little bit, then suddenly stopped, looking down at a small spark of light beneath her foot.  Bending down, she touched it, and a surge of electricity ran up her arm.  She jumped back with a start.
      For a moment she had seen something - a long, boneless creature with many tentacles.  It was green, with a darker underbelly and deep eyes.  She sensed a great intelligence there.
      It lived over twenty thousand years ago.  They were a simple race, but intelligent.  They flew among the stars, seeking something unknowable.  Over the years their numbers grew less, until there were no more.
      "That's sad."
      We have saved four of them.  One was a warrior who died fighting the ships of another dead race.  Two were poets, one of whom was struck by an asteroid, the other dying on a planet racked by earthquakes and fire.  That one was a prophet, who directed their search for over a century until it died, alone and abandoned as they chose another path.
      "They're all dead?"
      For over eighteen thousand years.  I doubt if you will find any beings who remember them, save us.  Even the Vindrizi never knew them.
      "You remember everything?"
      All that is given unto us.  That is our curse.
      "For what?"
      Hubris.
      "I don't understand."
      It is not your place to understand. That is not your purpose.
      "You know my purpose?"  She shivered, despite the general lack of cold.  She did not even know her purpose.  She knew so little.
      We know the answer to every question ever asked, save one.
      "Could you answer me some questions?"
      Yes, but not an endless number.  All things have a price.
      L'Neer paused, thinking deeply.  "You must want to tell me something," she said finally, "or you wouldn't have let me in.  For one thing, this is Cathedral, and I was in Golgotha when I found this place."
      We are many places.  Distance is but the first illusion.
      "What are the others?" she asked, too late to stop herself.
      There are many.  Time, love, mortality, purpose, ambition, death and dreams are some.
      "That was one question, wasn't it?"
      Yes.
      "What is the price of these questions?  Or is that another question itself?"
      Yes.
      "I'm confused."
      Many are.  Understanding is never an easy thing to seek, let alone to find.
      "But you said it wasn't my purpose to seek understanding."
      No.
      She sighed.  "What's the price of a question?"
      One day, you shall know great power.  You shall know influence over your race and over many others.  You shall know wisdom and wit and honour and glory.  There will be many who will follow you.  We ask that, for each question you ask of us that we answer, you send one of these to seek us.
      "What will you do to these people?  Tell me that, or I'm not agreeing to anything."
      Offer them what they wish for, or what they think they wish for.  That is all.
      "I'll only send people who ask me the way to you.  I won't order anyone to do anything."
      You will be able to do that, and more.
      "That doesn't mean I should."
      Very well.  We accept your terms.  Ask your questions.
      "I only have two.  It isn't my purpose to seek understanding.  So what is my purpose?"
      To encourage others to seek understanding.  You will have no need to seek it yourself.  Understanding will find you.
      "Oh.  That's a good thing, I suppose.  Or is it a bad thing?"
      That is not a bad thing.  That is a good thing.
      "So.  One more question?"
      Yes.
      "There's one question you don't know the answer to."
      Yes.
      "What is it?"
      It told her.
      "Oh."  She thought about it for a while.
      "Oh," she said again.
      Then she understood, and began to laugh.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Parlain never spoke of that fight ever again.
      But it was done, in the end.
      It was ironic.  He had faced an opponent that no one else had ever faced.  Not Marrain or Parlonn or Valen or his mother or Shingen or even the first heroes of legend.
      He had achieved something no one else had or ever would.
      Alone, he had defeated Death.
      The Vorlon was dead, the other thing driven back beyond the mirror, the mirror itself smashed.
      Rekaiji was avenged.
      His task was done.
      He knelt, and gripped his denn'bok tightly.
      He had fulfilled his purpose, completed his mission, avenged his friends.
      He was ready to die.
      "Death," he whispered hollowly.
      "I would not do that were I you," said an ancient voice.  The Primarch walked into view, lifting the hem of his long robe.
      "It is not your time to die."
      "Not my time?  My friends are dead.  My lover is dead.  Tell me, what do I have to live for?"
      The Primarch smiled - a wry, sad, knowledgeable smile.  The smile of one who knows the answer to every question ever asked, save one.
      "Your niece," he replied.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

"So.  Here you are.
      "I swore to kill you once.  Did you know that?  It was a long time ago, and we were both different people then, but an oath once made cannot be unmade, whether sworn in anger or not.
      "All that time and effort I spent on you, and for what?  For you to throw your life away.  Oh, your life had meaning, yes, but it would have had so much more.  You could have inspired them in ways I never could.  All I can invoke is fear and awe.  Perhaps a little respect.  You could have won their hearts.
      "Well, there is little point in this now, is there?
      "Dead.
      "I envy you.  Asleep and dreaming in your place where no shadows fall.  What gives you the right to know peace when I never will?  Delenn neither.  You left her and abandoned her, and still she clings to you.
      "I hate you sometimes.
      "Most of the time.
      "All that time wasted.  All that effort.  What else could I have achieved if I had not been occupied with you?  Could I have saved Narn?  Could I have saved Kats?
      "No.  That way lies madness.
      "I am many things, but mad is not one of them.
      "I wish I knew what to say.  I can tell them the truth, but can I make them believe?  You could have.
      "That's why I needed you.
      "Damn you.  You had to die, didn't you?  Anything rather than work with me.
      "You are free now.  Congratulations.  Free of the Vorlons.  Free of me.  Free of all the ghosts of your dead wife and your dead daughter and all your dead friends.  Even your soul is free....
      "What?
      "No!
      "NO!
      "Damn it, Sheridan!  Where is it?
      "Where is your soul?
      "Oh....
      "Oh, no."

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

His roar of anger and fury reached them all, in Cathedral or Golgotha.  It was a cry of impotent rage, of unbridled fury, the anger of one who had always paid attention to the details only to find that one detail has escaped him.
      The Vorlons had Sheridan's soul.
      Sinoval raised his hands and eyes to the heavens, rage suffusing his face.
      Then he stopped and looked up, past stone and dreams and sky and earth.
      And he saw what was coming.
      He looked back at Sheridan's soulless body, then turned away for the last time, the shadows wrapping around him.  The folds of space and the borders of infinity opened up and he stepped out on to the pinnacle of Cathedral, at the summit of the universe, all things laid out before him.
      Yes, he had been right.  He had not been dreaming.
      They were coming.
      All of them.  Not just one or two, but all of them.
      He smiled grimly.  The Vorlons had made their mistake, their second mistake, one far greater than the first.  They had slain the Eldest, and in so doing they had brought all the players into the game.  From the shadows, from the mists, from the walls of apathy....
      The First Ones had come to Golgotha.



Into jump gate




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