The Golden Memories
By Will Greenway
I awoke screaming, not recognizing my surroundings, not knowing when I’d come to be there. My eyes ached in the brilliant sunlight, and I spit out the grit that had invaded my mouth. I dragged my buried arms and legs free of the sand and sat up on the dune’s crest. Looking across the vast waste I found myself alone with no knowledge of how I’d gotten here. There were no clues to even tell me who or what I might be.
I don’t know my own name.
Standing, I examined myself, bracing against the gusts that made banners of particles in the dry air. Silver tatters clung to my waist, contrasting with gold skin.
Breasts. I was female. It seemed odd to know that and not my name.
The swirling wind currents atop the dune whipped my long black hair. My fingers were drawn to a crimson jewel that seemed to grow between my breasts. It glowed faintly. Hard and smooth, it sent a tingle down my arm when I touched it. Another larger jewel grew in the flesh at my waist, and I could feel a smaller one on my brow.
The name for these things. Somehow, I’d lost my identity in this nameless place. My memories were like the pieces of a shattered pane of glass. How would I assemble these fragments without knowing the nature of my past?
Black clouds formed a forbidding wall in the direction of the sun. There the desert appeared as a seething mass of sand. Advancing like some gigantic amoeba, it ripped off the tops of the faraway dunes and scattered them into the growing maelstrom.
A sense of dread echoed in the emptiness inside me. In my dazed state it took a moment for the sensation to register.
I scrambled off the knoll and into the basin, stumbling through the clinging powder away from the storm. Instinct drove me. By the time I’d topped the tenth dune the muscles in my legs screamed. My numbed mind pushed me on. I did not tire or grow hungry, though something told me I should. Instead I only felt my legs laboring against the sand’s drag and the counterpoint of the two hearts pounding in my torso.
Where were my emotions? Why didn’t I feel afraid?
The storm gained inexorably, howling ever louder. By nightfall, the biting sand roared around me, rasping my skin with its abrasive caress. The pain kept me conscious. A sandy grave awaited if I stopped.
The rhythm of my legs slowed and my lungs burned. I discovered my energy was not inexhaustible after all. Glimpses through the storm revealed the jagged silhouettes of a mountain range. Shelter seemed a nearly impossible goal.
The desert sucked at my feet. The sand’s purchase on my legs grew with each successive step.
Why did I care? What use in continuing as some nameless thing, not knowing anything about myself? Yet, thoughts of surrender sent a peal of thunder ringing through my mind.
The Belkirin never surrender.
The words came from deep in me, a voice of authority. Were the Belkirin my race, or merely an organization that I belonged to?
Driven by that relentless voice, I forged ahead. As long as I asked questions, hope remained that answers would be uncovered.
I staggered down the troughs between the dunes, tripping where it became soft. My eyes, nose, and mouth became caked with grit, and every swallow grated down my throat.
When I finally glimpsed the outlines of the foothills, I could only crawl.
At last, I reached a rock shelf and labored up the incline against the wind, cutting my already raw hands and knees on the sharp rocks. Finding a notch between two large boulders, I clambered inside and collapsed. As I lay in the dark, I listened to the howling wind and stared at the milky blood on my hands. Even without light I could see everything normally. The agony of my abraded skin and tortured muscles affected me all at once. Tears burned on my cheeks.
I wept until exhaustion forced me to sleep.
Something scurried across my chest and I awoke. I caught sight of a tiny silhouette scampering up the rocks. A breeze swirled through the cleft, and overhead the sun burned behind a few scattered fans of white clouds. I stood. My legs ached but kept me upright. I gasped. The abrasions on my skin were gone. My hand went to the jewel. I sensed that the matrixes had healed me. Did my lack of hunger mean they provided essential nutrients also?
Climbing around the boulder, I noticed a hand-sized blue reptile sunning itself on a rock. The creature that woke me. It made a trilling sound before scurrying into a crack.
The hills were rugged, the scent of parched soil hung in the air. Jagged hunks of black-and-gold flecked rock jutted from the ground like misshapen teeth. Emaciated plants dotted the landscape like sentinels. Following an animal path I came across many thorny succulents, some squat and cylindrical, others tall and thin with red or yellow blooms.
A high-pitched cry drew my gaze skyward. A winged gold-brown creature spiraled above the canyon, its plumage shimmering as sunlight struck it.
Journeying through the hills I admired the plants and animals and searched for familiar images to unlock the closed doors in my mind. Toward nightfall I’d reached the hem of the high peaks. There I came across a well-trodden path winding down into the valley. Grooves were worn into the soil by narrow wheels.
I soon found a collection of wooden structures that squatted in the mountain’s shadow. About forty buildings were arranged to form a main street and a few side avenues. Smoke curled upward from several buildings. A herd of large four-legged animals grazed in a fenced area near a stream that ran between the village and the mountain.
I walked quickly, the smoothness of the road a relief to my bare feet. Chilled night air rolled down into the vale as I descended, and tufts of mist wafted along the brook. Though the coolness caused no discomfort, I shivered and my stomach twinged.
At least ten creatures shaped like myself moved purposefully among the buildings. The distance was too great to make out any details.
My hearts pounded and my mouth went dry.
Closer, the smell of smoke, cooking meat, and other aromas tingled my nostrils. I found myself swallowing excess saliva. I could subsist without food or drink, but my stomach and tongue agreed that nourishment would be welcome.
Slowing, I approached the first buildings. They were low, constructed of logs and mud. Further into town there were ones built of red stone. Painted paper, or sometimes wooden shutters covered the windows. Though I recognized these details, they seemed out of place.
Maybe I’m the one that doesn’t belong.
As I passed the corner of a building, a brown-furred creature bounded up to me making gruff bursts of noise. It poked at me with its long cold snout leaving wet trails across my thighs and abdomen. Its floppy ears and dangling tongue gave the creature a comical appearance. It padded around me, its thick tail smacking my legs.
I petted the friendly animal, and scratched behind its ears. It studied me with great yellow eyes and expressive eyebrows.
<Who are your companions?> I asked. My query made no sound but the animal jerked as though frightened. <Calm.> I stroked him. <I wish to speak to the big ones you live with.>
The animal made a whining sound and shook its head. A single sharp utterance and it scrambled back the way it came.
I walked after it. Soon the creature came rushing back to me, turned and trotted off again. It repeated this, obviously to ensure that I followed. Traveling down the street, I soon reached the place where it had led me.
A being that looked enough like me to be female crouched to dip a container in a trough of water and then poured it into a box filled with blooming plants.
She wore a loose black garment belted with white, her long gray hair tied with a red cloth fastened beneath her chin.
The animal made its noises and frolicked around the person. She made calming sounds that made no sense. He continued. Pushing him away, she gestured and made more stern noises until her gaze chanced upon me.
Our eyes met and she went silent. Her pale skin turned ashen. She mouthed something incomprehensible. I felt the matrix on my brow throb.
We abandoned vocalized speech eons ago.
Memories. I narrowed my eyes as she spoke again, trying to glean words from her language. A sharp pain went through my head as puzzle pieces fitted together.
The word unlocked more memories. Meshed thoughts gave meaning to the female’s vocalizing.
“—not a stitch on ya missy!” A gasp. “Your eyes! Like pieces of night! You’re no elf!”
Elf? <Pardon, I am lost and—>
I never finished. She screeched and clutched her head. “Yer voice! You make no sound, but it rings in ‘me head like the devil talkin!”
The blast of fear from her paralyzed me. She ran away repeatedly screaming the same word. Devil!
The violent burst of emotion left me numb. My hands trembled and a chill shot up my spine. I’d done something wrong.
Lost in analyzing how I’d erred, I wandered down the street. My mind ached. Her feelings had wounded me.
A loud noise nearby made me freeze. Looking up, I fell back a step. A huge broad-chested male charged toward me holding a wooden implement on which curved metal tines were mounted.
He yelled and waved his weapon at me, his craggy face twisted in rage. Flecks of foam spattered on the long black curls growing from his jaws. The male’s anger struck into me like an electric charge. Something in me mirrored his turmoil.
I gritted my teeth. <Do not threaten me. I mean no harm.>
He stepped back shaking his head; I saw that the woman stood behind him. He growled and the tumult seared my mind. My hearts raced, and I took gulps of air. The male thrust at my stomach with his implement.
It struck but failed to penetrate. Stung, I slapped it away in irritation. The haft shattered and the metal portion flew off and stuck quivering in the wooden wall nearby. The force took us both by surprise.
<I do not want to hurt you. All I want is to learn where I am.>
His eyes were large as he clutched his broken weapon. He muttered something and grabbed the woman. They backed away never taking their eyes off me.
I glanced at the metal still shaking in the wall. Like the devil talkin!
I pulled it out and examined it. Rust flaked off. I could feel the male in the metal, his desire to destroy the evil— me. I dropped it.
Drawing a breath, I calmed myself. Remaining in town might cause more conflict. Still, it didn’t seem logical that everyone would react so violently to something as innocuous as a variant form of conversing.
I left the main avenue. My nudity made my different skin tone obvious and worsened these creatures’ reaction to me. I needed clothing. That presented a circular problem. I could not get clothes without some kind of exchange, but being clothed seemed integral to survival here. I would either have to steal them, make them, or go without.
I would go without before stealing.
My identity might hinge on what these people knew. I would have to make clothes. If I’d ever learned how to hunt, I’d forgotten. The task presented new problems that would have to be overcome.
I wandered down the side avenue and stopped beside a tall building. The wide doors were thrown open, revealing a partitioned interior. Large animals stamped their feet and peered over the partition gates. I heard loud hammering somewhere in the back.
No one was visible. Curious, I stepped up to the nearest of the animals. Its huge muzzle looked larger than the thickness of my leg. The haphazard caging suggested the animal wasn’t dangerous. On stands nearby there were hide cradles that appeared to be designed for mounting on the backs of these creatures.
This one was black, and his gold eyes shone. I petted the bridge of the animal’s nose. Tossing his head, he rubbed my arm.
<Beautiful big one.>
He shied, snorting, but returned for more petting.
<Perhaps you would carry me sometime.>
He butted my shoulder with his head, and I rubbed the long hair growing from the back of his neck.
At least the animals weren’t afraid of me.
Involved with the creature, I didn’t hear the approach of the males until they’d cut off my exit from the building. There were fifteen of them including the big one I’d encountered earlier. They all carried implements or long cords.
Their emotions hit so strongly I reeled.
Yelling, they formed a circle, jabbing me with their tools, trying to snare my arms and legs with the cords. I lashed out. More than once my fists shattered weapons or knocked a male sprawling.
Then something crashed against my skull and I fell to my knees. Pain. Stabs in my back and torso. Something cracked against my head again. Dots whirled as I tried to right myself. Another thud—
A burning sensation in my feet brought me conscious again. I smelled smoke and discovered my legs lashed to a stake. They’d pinioned my arms behind my back around the post. A crowd of onlookers chanted and cast curses at me. I stood on a burning pile of wood. The temperature grew as I struggled.
<Why are you doing this to me?>
The villagers simply screamed louder.
I couldn’t gain any leverage to break the cords. The heat and pain increased. The matrix on my waist pulsed, glowing bright as the fire’s fumes became stifling.
<I never wanted to hurt you!>
A female yelled and threw a stone that struck me in the shoulder.
The smoke made tears roll down my cheeks. I’d done nothing wrong, yet they tortured me. I strained, bending at the waist to snap the stake. The debris only scattered from beneath my feet.
I howled as my flesh blistered. The sound came from vocal cords I’d never used. The matrixes gleamed brilliantly. My legs were surrounded by a blue glow.
Now all the villagers began throwing stones. The sting of their impacts was nothing compared to the agonizing battle raging between the fire and my matrixes. As the flesh charred away, it regenerated in the blue aura.
I closed my eyes against the burning and kicked. Finally, the ropes caught fire. A rock hit my temple. I thrashed violently, sending hot embers into the crowd.
Burned villagers scrambled, swatting at smoldering clothes.
Twisting and wriggling, I parted the ropes around my legs. My feet would not support me and I slid into the hot char, the flames scorching my face and hair. My screams seemed deafening.
The blue glow engulfed me as I inhaled searing air and smoke.
The memory slipped from my grasp. I fought the anguish and fear for the key, fumbling for it at the edge of my consciousness.
A puzzle piece slammed into place. The matrixes flared, drawing on the heat. The post and cords shattered. Cinders pelted the crowd.
I dragged myself out of the blaze, body smoldering. A blue aura danced around me and blistered flesh flaked off to be replaced with new skin. Forcing myself upright on partially healed feet, I scanned for a direction to run.
I saw the black animal’s building.
The crowd would get over its shock soon. A few poorly aimed stones came at me as I limped toward the structure. The people nearest to it made way.
I hobbled at best speed. No one followed.
Inside the building, the black animal greeted me and I gave him a pat on his muscular neck.
<Please carry me. I will die if they attack again.>
He bumped me on the shoulder with his nose. In my condition I couldn’t mount him, so I opened the gate and used the partition to climb onto his broad back.
Having regained their courage, the villagers approached. I patted the animal on the shoulder, and held onto the long hair of his neck.
<Go! Don’t let them catch us.>
He charged the mob, almost unseating me. The villagers scattered. We were away before anyone reacted. Only their yells followed us.
I shared with him. Feeling the thrust of his powerful muscles. Relishing the smell of fresh grasses. Experiencing the nip of the chill night air as we ran down the road toward the peaks in the distance.
I clutched his neck, pressing my face against him, my ally in this violent place.
<How are you called?>
His simple mind didn’t have a label for himself. I probed the images of the ‘two-legged’ ones. Hearing their voices and smelling their fear. Feeling satisfaction at making them cower with the threat of teeth or a heavy foot. They were not permitted on his back. Often they would address him with a certain noise.
“Co-all Thun-dar.” It hurt my dry throat, the sound lost in the wind. “Thun-dar.” A powerful sound, deserving of respect. Fitting. If these people did nothing else right, they’d captured his essence in that name.
Coal Thunder carried me at a full run until the town disappeared from sight. We stopped when the road started a winding uphill track into the mountains. The stream rumbled close by, and I smelled the acrid-sweet pungence of the tall pointed plants which grew more numerous further on. I dismounted, rubbing my sore buttocks and thighs, the tender flesh of recently healed feet and calves.
Large plants grew in an rock strewn glade a short distance off the road. The fruits growing on them appeared edible. I’d expended vital energy to survive, and my body screamed for sustenance.
I patted Thunder on the flank, thanked him for his help and headed toward the grove. He clomped along behind me. Apparently our sharing had formed a bond he wasn’t ready to break. It made me happy. I felt lonely in this world.
The fruits varied, some green and others red. Both were crunchy and tasted alike except that the green ones were tart, and the red ones sweet. Thunder showed no preference, crunching happily on all I gave him.
Abruptly, a voice echoed out of the darkness. The verbiage was melodic, very unlike the language I’d heard from the villagers.
Coal’s head came up and he snorted.
I searched for the source but saw none even when the voice came again.
My first instinct was to mount Coal Thunder and be gone but I didn’t have the strength. If the entity wanted to hurt me, it would have done so by now. Obviously, it possessed enough stealth to approach within mere paces without alerting my companion’s sharp nose and hearing. I found and synchronized with the intruder’s mind.
<I did not understand.>
A long pause. “A mind speaker. Intriguing. I said, ‘if you keep eating green crunchfruit, you’ll get sick’.”
<I confess I know very little about this place. Who are you?>
“I am Ellistan.” He stepped from behind a bole, carrying an engraved staff. Tall and slender, Ellistan moved gracefully, his violet eyes shining as he studied me. Pulling back a green hood he shook out long silver tresses. His ears were pointed rather than round like the other beings I’d met.
Ellistan walked to Coal Thunder and rubbed his neck. The animal shied back.
<You are not frightened by my speech. Why are you different from the others?>
Ellistan glanced at me and frowned. He pulled something white out of a pocket and held it out. Thunder immediately came to him and began eating it. The stranger met my eyes. “Because I am not a human. Elves are civilized.” He rubbed Thunder without his shying away. “This is a beautiful animal.”
<He is beautiful.>
“What is his name?”
<I know only the words the villagers used. Coal Thunder.>
Ellistan repeated the sound aloud. “In their language that is Coal Thunder.” He sighed. “I am curious. Why are you not wearing clothes?”
I explained and he listened, his face serious, never interrupting.
“Beasts,” he growled at the finish. “Ignorant fools. I admit I have never seen your like before, but I have the sense to know you are not a devil.”
<Can you help me?>
Ellistan stroked his chin. “It will cost you.”
I frowned. <What will you charge?>
He smiled. “When you find yourself, you must teach me. I am certain you know many secrets that I would find valuable. Not to mention the stories you could tell.”
I twisted a strand of hair between my fingers while studying him. <What do you think I am?>
<Pardon?> My hearts raced. Ellistan’s words rang in my mind.
“A traveler from the lights in the sky. I have visited Charon’s every land, and have seen many magical creatures. You are not a magical being.”
<The lights in the sky,> I repeated, looking up at the stars.
Star-travel. Starship. War. The crash. Hibernation.
The pieces fit. But still so many were missing. <You are right.> I let the images wash through my mind. <My ship crashed here a long time ago.> I shook my head. <I’d been wounded so badly it took many solar cycles to heal. I’d crawled clear of the wreckage and a sandstorm covered me.>
“And you stayed there until another storm uncovered you.” Ellistan nodded. “My people live on the edge of the Eiritat, and our legends go back a hundred generations. But I never heard about a great vessel falling from the sky. So it must have been a very long time.”
I sighed. <Teach you? That seems reasonable. What do we do first?>
Ellistan chuckled. “We start with clothes…”
‘We start with clothes…’ I scratched the last words, returned the quill to its holder and adjusted the skirt under my thighs. Closing the journal I let my hands rest on the whitewood desk. Writing the account had been a memory exercise to help piece together my fragmented recollections. Much had changed in ten cycles, and much hadn’t. Besides learning to speak, remembering my name and a few sparse facts, little had been revealed to me. I’d also started a tutelage with the druids, who found my ability with animals useful.
The roomy study suddenly felt cramped. I looked out the courtyard window to the pink tinted horizon. Would I ever find my past?
I jerked, one hand forming a fist instantly. “Ellistan.”
Neither of us had changed. For me every meeting was a fresh encounter. I found Ellistan beautiful and intriguing. He stood in the doorway now, wearing black riding leathers which hugged his trim body, hair spilling across his shoulders like silver gossamer.
He raised an eyebrow. “I surprised you. Usually, nobody can get within a stonethrow without you knowing it.”
“I was thinking.”
Ellistan frowned and I felt his concern. “About what happened last week?” His eyes narrowed. “I told you, give me the word, he won’t see the next sunrise.”
“Oh no, I forgot that incident days ago. I finished my first history journal.”
He stepped into the room and whirled his cloak onto a hanger. “Theln, you amaze me. Most women would still be in shock after having that happen to them.”
I bit my lip. “Ellistan, I was stupid, he took me by surprise. No-one had ever been able to restrain me before, my confidence, my error. I wouldn’t waste a thought on that churl, much less let his violent act trouble me.” I paused. “Besides, I take solace in one thing.”
I opened my hand and sparkles danced on my fingertips. “He’ll never be able to copulate again, much less commit rape.”
Ellistan growled. “You were too lenient. He should die for what he did.” He swept over and settled in a chair next to mine. “Still, I will respect your wishes.” He visibly put his upset under control. “On a more pleasant subject, look what I have found.”
Pulling a scroll from his cloak he unfurled it in front of me. Strange yet familiar symbols were penned on it. Ellistan put a hand on my knee and I covered it with mine.
“Do these bring back anything?”
“Something—” I held my temples. “I—” The symbols became fuzzy as I focused, digging. Their meaning came to me with a snap.
“My people’s writing!” I threw my arms around him. “Where did you find it?!”
“A friend in Daralyhi. He copied it off the blocks in the Henge of the Precincts. The oldest ruins on Charon. You weren’t the first to come here. I think your kind built the henge.”
My excitement had grown with his every word. Blood roared in my ears and tears rolled down my cheeks. I hugged him. “Ellistan, you did it!”
He smiled and kissed me on the nose. “How long to pack?”
“Let that wait a moment.” I took his face in my hands. He flinched, and I felt him force himself to relax. A little twinge went through my hearts. I changed what I’d planned to say. “You know I’m very attached to you.”
I saw apprehension in his violet eyes. He swallowed. “I am attached to you as well. You are as beautiful as any elf maiden I have seen.”
“I’m not an elf.” I couldn’t keep the bitterness out of my voice. I stood and straightened my skirt. “I’ll be ready in a bell.” I turned and strode for the door.
I stopped in the doorway and looked back. I felt the heat in my cheeks. I didn’t want him to see me cry.
Ellistan’s fists were clenched. “I love you too.”
A month of sea travel and hard weeks of horseback. We came to terms with our emotions, me with understanding his need to distance himself and he learning to deal with my need for affection. Two who loved in an uncomfortable balance.
We stood in the perpetual grayness of Precinct Valley near the forbidding abutment of the henge plateau, a vertical face of rock some hundred armspans high. The crevice-riddled valley was the most desolate place I’d seen; nothing lived here.
I hurled the rock so it exploded against a nearby boulder. “Destroyed! All the records are either shattered or defaced beyond recognition.” I held up what was once a metal tablet etched with symbols. Someone had taken a stone and pounded it until it was nothing but a mass of indentations. “The henge didn’t help me. The records in this vault were everything I needed, but I’m too late. It’ll take decades to assemble anything meaningful. If ever.”
I sat down on a boulder and stared at the blasted seal where looters had forced entrance into the subterranean chamber. The interior had been gutted and everything not of obvious value wrecked. If I caught the perpetrators, what I’d done to the rapist would seem pleasant.
I hit my temples. “What did I ever do to deserve this?”
Ellistan put his hands on my shoulders, massaging the tension in them. “We’ll find it, Theln, don’t worry. This probably isn’t the only site. Your people could move anywhere they wanted.”
I rocked my head. “That could take so long.”
Ellistan kneeled in front of me and took my hand. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes. We’ll find it.”
“Ellistan, you have a life to lead. I can’t keep asking you—”
“Theln, you are my life. Now and forever. We have eternity to uncover the secret. We’ll do it together.”
I stared into his eyes feeling his love. It no longer mattered whether I was elf or not. Now it didn’t matter how long it took. We could be together forever.
The russet sun glinted across the tumbling water that rose and fell in the rocky lagoon. Sea birds squawked and wheeled around the steep cliffs that seemed to rise infinitely above me. The cool ocean spray tingled on my nude body as I reclined on the rocks and breathed deep of the salt tang in the air. Hair stirred by the damp breeze, I reached up to touch the delicate bloom Ellistan placed there a short while ago.
My gaze rose again to evening’s first star that I’d been studying since climbing from the surging waters a bell ago. Sensing one of my spells of melancholy coming on, Ellistan had left me alone to ponder. He’d returned once to kiss me and put the flower in my hair.
Dwelling on that embrace for only a moment was enough to make me smile. That simple joy was quickly wiped away by the specter that twinkled in the sky an infinity away.
Even though I faced the horizon, I could ‘see’ Ellistan standing on the rocks behind me. Whole new vistas of sight recently opened to me and finding them had left me empty rather than pleased.
It began with Ellistan’s teasing, I was sitting at the vanity my brush trailing sluggishly through my hair.
“Wake up Theln, stop daydreaming, you’re meeting with the sorcerer starts soon. Your image has not changed in two decades, I doubt it will start this morning.” Ellistan came to the table. Putting his chin atop my head he made a silly face in the mirror, his hair spilling like streams of silver across my thick black locks.
“Open your night black eyes my beauteous maiden of gold,” he sang.
His words struck me as odd, then I saw my reflection. My lids were closed. I opened them wide.
Ellistan’s fingers played on my shoulders and he kissed the top of my head. “There we are. Come, its best not to keep a mage of his stature waiting.”
The clatter of brush I’d been holding made my hearts jump.
He’d stiffened at the dazed expression I know must have crossed my features. “What is wrong?”
I closed my eyes. Blackness. Opening them I relaxed, forcing myself to unfocus. Closing them again, my image and Ellistan’s perplexed face remained unchanged in the mirror. I found this ‘unfocus’ could move so that all directions were visible. Ellistan had told me my night-sight was extraordinary, but it never occurred to me it might be only a fragment of a far broader scope of vision that I’d forgotten how to use.
I swallowed. “I’ve been blind all this time and didn’t know it.”
Flinching, as a high swell pelted me with a cold spray, I sighed. Blind. How many other trees in this forest was I missing?
“It’s getting cold, my jewel. Do you plan to take root there?”
I pointed to the star. “That might be my home. I might even be able to ‘see’ my way there if I could remember how.”
He sat next to me and folded me in his warm arms. He rubbed his cheek against my shoulder. “I try my best to make Charon your home. Perhaps you should forget learning the old things, they give you no joy. Look to the druidical and arcane secrets that you have mastered so quickly. It’s foolish to pursue remembrances that only make you grieve.”
“Can’t you imagine what its like to be missing half of yourself?”
His violet eyes glowed and I felt his breath on my skin. “I feel it every time you stare off to the lights in the sky and wish you were there instead of here.”
“Ellistan.” I turned and hugged him. “No matter where I go, I want you with me.”
“I would follow you anywhere, my jewel.” We kissed. I wanted him to be right.
‘We start with clothes…’ I stared at the page until the words blurred. Shutting the ancient journal, I ran my hand over the worn leather cover. I’d filled dozens like it depicting our centuries together in this unforgiving world.
I shut my eyes and kneeled on the loam. The cool breeze caressed the flush in my cheeks, and I smelled sweet flowers in the rarefied air. Without opening my eyes I saw the verdant glade with its wildflowers dancing in the wind. My mind filled in the panorama of the snow dappled peaks rising behind copses of yeargreens and whitebark. At the edge of my hearing the gurgles of Ellistan’s Brook competed with the rustle of needleleaf trees. Bluefeathers, and thistlewings hopped in the boughs, and a few blackhorn cropped the grass at the clearing’s edge.
Dealing with humans has made me hard and callous. Why can’t I shed a tear? You and I, we laughed and learned and fought. The world couldn’t stop us. You told me elves live forever.
My voice trembled. “Ellistan, you lied to me.”
I took a breath, opened my eyes and stared at the soil I’d just covered with blossoms. My throat tightened.
Laying the journal carefully in the dirt, I pressed my hands together to keep them from shaking. I pushed the silken hood back and settled cross-legged with his staff across my lap.
“I promised to share my secrets with you. Why couldn’t you have waited a single year until I’d found the memory magics?” I paused again, a tremor passing through me like an arctic breeze. “Let me tell you a story, old friend. About my people, the Kriar, about our journeys and the war with the Protectorate. It’s a long tale, but it’s worth the listening. Carellion knows how long we searched to learn it—”
Tears rolled down my cheeks. The burning, the rape, all the bad things this world had subjected me to. I’d clung to my ideals. It bought us little. I wiped the tears away and gripped the staff tight.
“Let me tell you a story—”
The rhythm of my fingers chattering across the data terminal’s keys slowed and finally stopped. I pushed back and let myself sink deep in soft confines of the wrap-around station-couch. Lacing my fingers across my chest I could still see the cursor winking on the screen at the end of my last entry.
‘Let me tell you a story…’
I’d refused to dump my memories directly into the cybernet, I chose instead to enter it manually. I would never distance myself from those experiences. Bad as some of them were, they were intertwined with a love and wonder I might never have again.
The circular expanse of my dual-leveled quarters felt cold and impersonal. The paneled walls that rose into elfwork archways and the warm holo-patterns playing through the cyber-columns could not dispel the feeling. Tall windows looked out onto the gigantic spiral of the galaxy against the backdrop of its dozens of visible brothers and sisters. The simulated smells of incense and needle-leaf trees floated in the air to mute the taint of disinfectant that invaded my sanctum along with one the medi-techs who’d recently come to examine me.
They were concerned over my psychological well-being. That came as no surprise. I’d become a savage. Charon had molded a highly-trained Belkirin warrior into a primitive, violent, survival-organism. I’m certain my adaptation to alien ways, and my mastery of little-understood arcane arts were a fascinating behavior study. Remembering my sterile home-coming put a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I stood with a sigh and picked up the carved staff that lay against the array of cyber-equipment put at my disposal. A Kriar master of magic, I knew that stir would take a while to calm. A primitive, yet powerful discipline that eluded our technical minds until now.
Internally, the word didn’t fit. Was I a Kriar? An elf? A human? A druid? A mage?
Magic would continue to elude our minds. The price paid to come by my skills made them too precious to diminish their worth by simply sharing them. Solitude had made me selfish, distant, and introspective but it was the only way I knew.
The loose wool shift swirled about my legs as walked across the sunken guest area and up the steps to the observation tier. I sat in the window frame the staff across my knees, a hand pressed against the crystal. My heart ached.
I would follow you anywhere, my jewel.
Would you Ellistan? Could I have dragged you to this cold emotionless place, where my sense of purpose has been scattered like chaff in the wind?
The entry bell rang. I didn’t feel like answering any more of the medi-techs questions. I forced the annoying tone out of my mind.
The ringing continued until I could ignore it no longer.
<Dark have it, enter!>
The oval door hummed open to reveal the watch-officer dressed in skin-tight polished blue. Her ankle-length tresses braided and looped around her neck like strands of glistening black pearls. She swallowed and stepped hesitantly across the threshold, body stiff, ebony eyes downcast. It was no secret that I made the crew uneasy. I’d done little to disabuse them of the feeling.
<Eh’san, Theln?> Her discomfort felt like cold air blowing on the back of my neck.
Eh’san, a title of martial respect I’d lost eons ago.
<Yes, searga.> I tried not to growl. For weeks I’d felt like a great cat captured in a pit-trap. I’d guessed at her rank. Some of my memory remained fuzzy.
Her eyes met mine tentatively. <Shal’kar Ralari wanted me to tell you that he received authorization to terminate the tour early. We’ll be returning to port in two megarevs.>
Another twenty days.
<Kharin,> she finished for me.
I nodded. <Kharin. I apologize for being so snappy. Living in the open all these cycles ill prepared me for being closed in for megarevs at a time.>
She took a breath, eager to be away. I knew the alien feelings she sensed in me were unsettling. <I understand. That is all, Eh’san. I will—>
<A moment, Kharin. I’d like to ask you something.>
Kharin licked her lips and steeled herself. <Eh’san, how can I serve?>
<How many more refugees like me do you suppose there are?>
<The roster crossed my terminal last cycle. Six hundred twelve personnel remain unaccounted for.>
<What kind of search procedures have been undertaken?>
<None, Eh’san. The war ended ten megacycles ago. All non-transponding personnel were presumed dead, and searches for their bodies ruled cost prohibitive. They were scattered across forty-million quadrants. There’s no feasible—>
I cut her off. <Thank you, Kharin. That is all.>
She left, chastised by my abruptness. I stood and went to my bedroom. Here I felt more comfortable; knit rugs, fragments of old mail and weapons, tapestries, carved golden urns and miniature statuaries. I ran my hand along the dozens of ancient tomes which filled the shelves along one wall. The compilation of all I’d learned.
Six hundred and twelve.
I wasn’t unique. I caressed the staff, Ellistan’s essence still warmed my fingers. How many of my kin were struggling even now? Some possibly more disadvantaged than I had been.
To walk foreign soils and shelter the castaways who’d been forgotten by their own people. I put my face to the old leather bindings and breathed deep of the musty scent. Their power rippled through me like breakers on a rocky shore. What wasn’t feasible by Kriar means was as basic as falling off a cliff to the initiated.
Open your night black eyes my beauteous maiden of gold.
I looked through the window into the intergalactic vastness and felt my hearts quicken. Ellistan waited for me, his silver hair blowing in an ocean breeze, his warm arms ready to enfold me again. I looked up and smiled, feeling the glow deep inside me.
“You never did leave me. Your love goes wherever I do. Now it is my turn to follow.” My voice cracked.
When you find yourself, you must teach me.
I pressed the staff to my face, feeling his love in the tears that ran down my cheeks.
“I’ve found us again. Now, it is time to find others.”