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Chapter 20: When Moons Kiss

Before the ceremony Rowan had felt something; something stirred in her heart as if a warm breeze had passed right through her.

“I don’t know what it is but something has changed,” she said to Brannoc.

“You’re just nervous,” he said as he pulled a bit of hair back from her face and tucked it behind her ear.

They had been surrounded by guards since they had arrived at the pavilion; Cali was obviously watching them carefully. They rode onto the field on beautiful giant white birds as smaller white birds flew all around them. The people parted as they came through cheering, clapping and showering them with petals. When they reached the center mound they dismounted and walked up the small hill towards Cali and the Great Stag.

“Kneel before the Divine Mother and the Spirit of the Forest,” Cali commanded.

The two knelt on the lush grass.

“Take one another’s hand,” said Cali. “Tonight as the summer and spring moons kiss,” Cali motioned to the sky where the spring moon loomed so close one could almost make out details on the surface, “the blood of the first born shall join with the blood of the last born. Blood of the First, Brannoc Tong Durai do you make the promise?

“I make the promise,” Brannoc said loudly.

Cali nodded as the great stag pawed the ground with a giant hoof.

“Blood of the Last, Rowan Ross Sender of Earth do you make the promise?”

Rowan glanced at Brannoc and smiled. “I make the promise.”

Cali raised her arms into the air. The birds flew from the great stags antlers and fluttered around her.

“The Promise has been made before all. The blood shall be one and in that joining both shall continue. You are joined.”

The crowd cheered and threw flowers. Several carliffs carried two chairs up the side of the mound and placed them before the couple.

“All who wish may give the new couple their blessing.” Cali said as she dismounted the stag. She walked down to Rowan and Brannoc and leaned in between them.

“Meet your subjects and enjoy the feast and when you are done I will show you how a wedding night should be celebrated.” She turned to the two carliffs who had carried the chairs. “They are to be brought straight to my chambers at dawn. I will send Nelise for them, but until them I want to search for the perfect guests for our honeymoon party.”

With those words she, Talise and Anubis wandered off into the crowd but not before Anubis glanced back at Rowan; his yellow eyes glowing in the moonlight. Rowan couldn’t help but feel like he was taking one last look, maybe he knew what they were up to or maybe Cali did not plan for the Rowan he knew to survive another day.

Niurgun appeared on a large landing platform near the entrance to the pavilion. The crowd was enormous. The throng was being funneled through the arch that marked the entrance and then past a large number of Fadian guards. He joined the crowd moving into the pavilion.

He tried to blend into the center of the crowd but a Fadian guard grabbed his arm. Had he used the holomask to cloak his clothing he would has been caught right then.

“You must leave all weapons and collars at the depository on the far side of the landing,” the guard said.

“My apologies,” Niurgun said with a slight bow. “I will do so immediately.”

The guard let go of his arm and pointed in the direction of the depository. He watched as Niurgun walked across the landing and turned in his collar and comp. Niurgun rejoined the crowd and entered the grand summer pavilion. He had not planned on losing his collar and quite frankly he didn’t exactly know what he was going to do now but as long as he was being honest with himself he hadn’t know exactly what he was going to do before they took his collar. All he could think about was finding Rowan.

Mammoth trees decorated with thousands of lanterns formed the boundary around the gigantic field of emerald green grass. Above the pavilion the sky was so thick with fireflies that they illuminated the crowd. The air was heavy with the smell of summer flowers and one of Availon’s other moons was passing so close to the summer moon that it took up half the sky.

Long banquet tables were covered with food and the drink was definitely flowing. Niurgun had lived on Availon for many years and he knew how all of their parties ended so he knew everyone would be trying to touch him soon. He kept working his way towards the center of the pavilion trying to avoid contact with other people. Finally he could see the mound that rose up in the middle of the field.

On the very top of the mound Cali sat upon the great white stag. She and the stag were draped in summer blossoms and birds sat upon his golden antlers. Below Cali two people knelt as they held each other’s hands. One was Brannoc Tong Durai, dressed in white with a crown of red flowers and the other; well the other almost stopped his heart.

In a thousand years he thought he had made her more beautiful, more perfect in his mind than she actually was but no, she was everything he remembered and more. His beautiful Rowan wore a dress of downy white feathers; bright blue flowers were sprinkled through her copper hair glowing like fire against the white feathers. He could hardly catch his breath

The ceremony was over and the crowd began to file past the new couple. Some saying a few words others just smiling and nodding. Some reached out to touch the hand of either Rowan or Brannoc. Rowan felt their emotions and in many she felt hope; hope that perhaps someday the reign of Cali would end. She was beginning to realize how easy it was going to be for Cali to achieve her plan. The people would welcome a new ruler with open arms.

Brannoc leaned towards her and whispered, “Are you ready?”

Rowan was about to say yes when she felt something, something so familiar; she felt a Thracian mind.

“No, wait.” She held up her hand as if to stop Brannoc.

Before her a thin young man came out of the crowd and knelt, he wore a loose linen tunic and he reached out to touch her hand. She was scanning the crowd, looking for someone that she knew couldn’t be there but she felt him. She absent mindedly held out her hand and when he took it she heard; Rowan I have kept my promise, I promised to come get you. I am so sorry it took me so long and now I don’t know how we are going to get out of here but I will die here at your feet if I have to.

Tears were flowing down Rowan’s face. She didn’t quite understand what was happening but she knew that Niurgun was kneeling before her.

How? I was told you were killed in the battle for the Narubian system, your ship was destroyed. I wanted to die; I did not want to go on without you.

I was not on the ship, thanks to you actually. He thought back.

The carliffs were beginning to take notice of the man in the linen tunic. He was lingering too long.

They made me leave my collar outside the pavilion. I know you cannot jump in that collar so we have to work on a way to disable it. I think I know of someone who can do it if we can just get to the lower quadrant of Titania.

The two carliffs were moving towards Niurgun and Rowan.

Rowan smiled at him, held his hand tighter and thought to him.

Think only of the place you want us to go. See that place in your mind, imagine yourself there.

Rowan made her mind like the surface of calm water; she saw the images in Niurgun’s mind flickering across the shiny surface. She felt the unfolding begin as she spread out into eternity. There was no fear here only infinite space. No time only forever. There was no light yet everything was light. There was no feeling yet she felt everything. She had no thought and all thoughts. The blue glow surrounded them but before she completely lost herself she reached out with her other hand and grabbed Brannoc’s arm. Rowan was pretty sure she heard Cali scream all the way into the void.

The three of them reappeared on the bridge of the Belstar Chinua. Niurgun reached up and deactivated the holomask. He held Rowans face between his hands and they both were crying. He intended to kiss her softly but he couldn’t. He had waited a thousand years to hold her again and he kissed her with all the passion those years had created. When the two of them finally came up for breath he realized his bridge crew was staring at something behind him. He turned to see Brannoc staring back at him and Rowan.

Niurgun took a swing at him and caught him square on the nose. His crown of roses flew across the bridge and blood gushed out of his nose down onto his white wedding outfit. Brannoc dropped and kicked Niurgun’s legs out from under him and then landed on top of him getting a couple of good punches in until the two of them flew across the room and slammed against the wall. They both sat with their backs to the wall looking at Rowan.

“What the fuck is he doing here?” Niurgun yelled.

Brannoc was holding his broken nose but he still managed to speak.

“I am here because she wanted me here you stupid thrac bastard!”

“Stop it both of you,” Rowan yelled. “Brannoc is here because I brought him. None of us would have gotten away if it wasn’t for him. He deactivated my collar or my head would be in Cali’s lap right now, so instead of acting like adolescent boys don’t you two think we should be getting the hell out of here?”

Niurgun’s face changed as if he had a sudden revelation; he turned and looked at Brannoc.

A tall, rather thin, young looking Thracian man stepped forward and bowed slightly to Rowan. Then he spoke up.

“Tolui is correct Commander. I am detecting heavy activity in two spaceports between us and Availon; scanner activity is at a maximum. There are many extra ships in the system because of the ceremony but it will not take them to long to find us. We need to leave this system immediately. I have the planned hyperspace jump calculated and we will proceed on your command.”

Niurgun had gotten up from his awkward position and straightened up his oversized clothes.

“Precede Gan, get us out of here,” Niurgun ordered.

The bridge crew returned to their prospective stations and the Belstar Chinua turned and headed out of the Dyesegei system. Several Fadian talons were in pursuit but the Belstar Chinua was one of the fastest model vessels ever produced and since the AI mesh her systems were running past peak efficiency. The talons were out matched and soon she jumped into hyperspace. Now that they were in the safety of hyperspace Niurgun turned his attention back to Rowan. He reached down and took both of her hands in his.

“I apologize for my earlier actions, please forgive me. I did not realize you had chosen him. To strike another mate is unacceptable behavior. I saw him only as the enemy again I am sorry. You do of course have every right to punish me appropriately”

“Don’t be silly there is nothing to forgive, I should have warned you but I really did not have the time. I was so overwhelmed to find out that you were alive I wasn’t thinking about anything else. Brannoc has helped me in so many ways since we parted. He was there for me when I thought you were gone much like Erdene was there for you when I left.”

Niurgun looked surprised

“I don’t understand how do you know about Erdene?”

Rowan put her arm around his waist and started towards the door.

“I have a lot to tell you but first I would like to get out of these silly clothes, for all their high tech advances Fadians have yet to invent underwear apparently. I can’t wait to get back into my nanoleathers, you brought them I hope.”

“Of course, they are in your quarters.” Niurgun spoke as they walked. “You are going to love this ship, her name is Chinua and she is very anxious to talk to you. Since you communicated with Sara we figured out how to hear their language; it has been very beneficial in many ways.” Niurgun said softly as he glanced at Brannoc.” I have told her all about you and how you taught me to hear.”

“I look forward to meeting her,” Rowan said and as she walked past Brannoc who was still standing with his back to the bulkhead, she reached out her hand to him. “You too, come with us. Niurgun is sorry that he broke your nose, aren’t you Niurgun.”

“Yes I do apologize and that was a nice sweep kick by the way. If it makes you feel any better you got in a couple of good shots to my face as well.” Niurgun reached up and rubbed his jaw.

“Well those were for fucking my daughter.” Brannoc quipped.

Niurgun laughed.

“Fair enough but if I hadn’t this lovely lady wouldn’t be here,” Niurgun kissed Rowan hard on the mouth. Brannoc just made a humph noise as he took her outstretched hand. His nose was already healed but he had blood all down his chest. The three of them left the bridge and headed down the main corridor.

“Hopefully there is a big tub in my room,” Rowan said as she grinned at Niurgun.

“There is a huge tub in your room,” he said as he bent down and kissed her neck.

“Good,” Rowan answered, “I do hope it is big enough for three.”

Brannoc glared at her and Niurgun just smiled.

As they walked down Chinua’s sumptuous corridors Rowan admired the exotic woods and the wonderful scales that made up the walls. Wooden ribs lined the hall so that Rowan felt like she really was walking through the belly of a beast. Intricate golden light fixtures cast a soft light that caused the scale walls to shimmer. She ran her hand over the scales and touched the shipsmind.

Chinua, my name is Rowan thank you for bringing Niurgun safely to me. I am forever in your debt.

You are the one for whom we wait, you will teach the children to hear. My sisters have told me much about you. Chinua is proud to have been the ship to carry you and Chinua would do anything for Niurgun.

Rowan giggled.

Why Chinua I believe you have a crush on Niurgun.

Chinua seemed distressed.

Oh no I would never ever crush Niurgun; I find his life signs very pleasant and he smells good.
Indeed he does.
Rowan agreed. I will come to the shipsmind room later and we can talk at length about him and many other things. Can you look at what may be the way Sara does?

Chinua and all sisters can see what may come but there are always many paths; they weave together and part again. For the one for whom we wait Chinua will find the right path.

“I want you to find out next path. Where should we go from here?”

“Chinua will find it for you and Niurgun.”

“I have confidence in you Chinua but now there are three of us. Look for the path for three and thank you again.”

Rowan looked at Niurgun and smiled.

“It seems you have a very large girlfriend. Do I need to be jealous?”

“She is extremely fond of me as I of her,” Niurgun said with a grin. “Later I will tell you the story of how she saved me from Stavician bounty hunters.”

“I can’t wait to hear it.” Rowan said smiling, “It should make a glorious chapter in your song.”

They had reached an absolutely gorgeous doorway at the end of the main corridor. Double wooden doors loomed before Rowan. The surface of each door was almost alive with carvings depicting giant birds of prey battling huge serpents; their eyes were jewels and their talons gold. Rowan recognized the birds as the same kind Gal had seen in his boyhood memory, the first vision she had ever shared with a Thracian.

“These birds are from Erdene,” she said as she ran her fingers over the buttery smooth wood.”

“Yes,” Niurgun said. “The ship was built by the finest ship builder in the Thracian Division and the entire interior was done by Thracian craftsmen. Chinua is not just a ship she is a work of art.”

Rowan didn’t have to look into Niurgun’s mind; she could feel his love for the ship with no extra powers. She laughed.

“I think I am jealous, Captain Kirk.”

“Oh you haven’t seen anything yet,” Niurgun said as he waved his hand before the great doors and they swung open.

The stateroom was massive. It was located at the front of the ship and the entire front wall was formed by the arched shape of the nose; not only did it create the front wall of the room but it arched over head for at least thirty feet as well. The entire arched wall was a window and the aurora effect of being in hyperspace made the giant window a wall of boiling colors.

The room had different tiers; they came through the door to a formal landing where two small gilded chairs sat on either side of a lovely table. Rowan noticed a small desk off to the side. She guessed that whatever queen or interstellar tycoon who might have owned this ship would have someone seated at the desk on the landing to handle quests. Translucent stairs descended from either side of the landing to the second level; there were no railings which created the dizzying effect of walking in the air.

The second level was dominated by a colossal conference table and at least a dozen chairs. Every piece of furniture was carved as beautifully as the entrance door. Several groupings of more comfortable chairs and tables were to the periphery of the conference table. Niurgun waved his hand over the floating orb in the center of the table. A holographic display appeared over the table.

“Here is one of six holoviewers in the room where you can access the ship’s AI or view anything you want.”

Rowan thought wistfully about Dorbin, oddly enough she realized there were many things on Availon she was going to miss besides the attentive AI, Hammlin, Sukh, Dali , the Mountains of the Giant Spiders, and of course the Guardians. As creepy as Availon was it did have its good points.

They descended yet another set of curved translucent stairs down to the third level. By the time you got to this area of the room the clear ceiling was completely over you so there appeared to be nothing between you and space. Rowan felt like she was hurtling through hyperspace in a giant bubble.

There in the very front of the nose of the ship was a pool; a ten by ten foot stone basin filled with bubbling water.

“I told you there was a huge tub,” Niurgun smiled as he bent down and felt the water and then playfully flung the droplets off his hand at Rowan, “perfect temperature.”

Behind the pool was the large bed with carved bed posts, a thick tapestry cover, lots of plump pillows and when you laid down and looked up all you saw above you was the vastness of space. Rowans nanoleathers were laid out on the bed. Comfortable overstuffed chairs and small tables were on either side of the bed. Lush wool rugs with fantastic geometric patterns in rich reds and vibrant blues covered most of the dark wood floors. A crescent shaped wall ran behind the bed with three doors. Niurgun showed them each one. One was a lovely bathroom, one was a closet and the other was a smaller conference room that Niurgun explained was specially shielded for “private” meetings.

“This is remarkable,” Rowan exclaimed as she sat down in one of the big soft chairs. Niurgun did the same putting his boots up on one of the glossy wood tables. Brannoc just stood looking out at the color display created by the passage through hyperspace. Rowan reached out and touched his mind. She felt his fear, fear of leaving everything that he had ever known and the fear that Cali would stop at nothing until she found them. She also felt his overwhelming love for her. Rowan got up and walked over to Brannoc. She put her arms around him and pulled him, close.

“Thank you so much for getting us away from Cali and Availon,” she whispered. “We could not have done it if not for you. I know this is hard for you but we are all together and that is all that really matters.”

Brannoc put his hands over hers. “My people were not always as they have become; Haughty, vain, self-absorbed, yes to all of those, but not evil. I hope you see that.”

“Your mother has been possessed by an ancient evil the Thracians call the Burilgi; I know that better than anyone.” Rowan said softly. “We must destroy it and end this war.”

Niurgun chimed in, “I completely agree but there is not much we can do until we get back to Thracian space. My grandmother the Qutugh may be able to shed more light on just what this Burilgi is and how we can fight it. She faced it once before but for now let us have a nice dinner and relax; we have a lot of catching up to do.”

Rowan turned and treated him with a radiant smile.

“I love the way you think and I still have not gotten over your being alive. I can’t tell you how happy I am. I feel like this might be a dream.”

Two crew members brought in a fine dinner complete with a bottle of Truth. Niurgun opened it and poured the first glass for Rowan, then Brannoc and lastly his.

“I have never had more reason to celebrate,” he said as he raised his glass, “to the future,”

Rowan answered him, “yes to the future.” Brannoc didn’t say anything but the downed the whole glass in one swig.

After they had eaten Brannoc looked at Niurgun and Rowan. They had hardly taken their eyes off of each other since they had arrived. He stood up from the table. “Could you please direct me to my quarters?”

Niurgun looked up, “of course, I will take you there myself.” He looked at Rowan, “I will be back in a few moments.”

Can I trust him? Niurgun thought to Rowan.

I trust him with my life, Rowan thought back.

But do you trust him with mine? Niurgun replied.

Rowan didn’t answer.

When Niurgun got back Rowan was waiting for him in the big tub. He shed the linen suit he had taken off of the dead carliff and climbed into the tub with her. Rowan glided across the pool and ran her hands up Niurgun’s legs.

“I believe there was some mention of you being punished?”

Niurgun smiled.

Rowan’s hands stopped at the top of Niurgun’s thighs.

“How long before we come out of hyperspace?”

“Six weeks,” Niurgun said with his eyes closed and his head laid back on the edge of the pool.

Rowans hands found their intended target.

“I think it will take almost that long for me to do all the things I have planned to do to you.”

“Then by all means let’s not waste any time.” Niurgun whispered in her ear before he bit her neck.”

Now there is ’make-up sex’, ’crazy one night stand sex’, ’first true love sex’ and even ’revenge sex’ but nothing compares to ’I thought you were dead sex.’ They didn’t leave the room for almost two days.

Rowan and Niurgun were enjoying a huge breakfast under the glow of the hyperspace light show when Rowan finally broached the subject of Brannoc.

“I know you don’t like him but he saved my life and yours too so I was hoping that you could try to get to know him.”

Niurgun looked up from shoveling food into his mouth.

“You have chosen him as your second mate have you not? Of course I will do my best to learn to think of him like a brother; that is the Thracian way. I must admit that your choice probably would not have been my choice but it is often that way. My mother chose Carta as her second mate and my father Boke was not happy at first. Carta was small, dark, and bookish completely unlike my father. My father was Thracian royalty and Carta was a poor boy from a poor mining colony but in the end they were very close. My father chose Carta to take his ashes back to Tegus; there is no greater honor one Thracian can bestow on another.”

Niurgun paused as if catching a memory, “and he was my second father. I loved him dearly.”

“You really have no problem with this do you?” Rowan was having a hard time believing there was no resentment or jealously on Niurgun’s part.

“Why would I,” Niurgun said between bites as if they were talking about the weather. “We do not base our love on the exclusion of loving someone else. Does your love of Brannoc lessen your love for me?” He glanced up at Rowan.

“No,” she said, “not even your death lessened my love for you.”

Niurgun nodded.

“Thracians have since the beginnings of our race had many more males born than females. Our society was forced to evolve in such a way that allowed all access to a mate without half the males on the planet killing the other half. We had to weed out jealousy and selfishness and hold the females choice of mates up as sacrosanct. Only she can choose although with some couples, especially ones that have been together for many, many years there is often discussion when a new mate is brought into the family structure. I of course realize there was no opportunity for us to discuss Brannoc. You are Tolui, my love, look into my thoughts and see that I am fine with this. Let go of your silly Earth morals; they only cause jealousy and violence.”

“It all sounds so logical and so civilized,” Rowan said but he could tell she had another big question.

“You are wondering if I have the same freedom, to have many mates.” Niurgun replied.

Rowan felt herself blush.

“I don’t know if I can be as civilized as you. I don’t know if I can let go of all jealousy. I am afraid I cannot.”

Niurgun actually stopped eating and reached across the small table. He took Rowans hand.

“We live for thousands of years and we are often separated from the ones we love for many years at a time. It is no more reasonable to expect living creatures to abstain from sex as it is to expect them to abstain from food.”

“Has there been anyone else in your life while I was gone?” Rowan asked the question without really wanting the answer.

“Only Erdene,” Niurgun paused, “and she was really you.”

Rowan squeezed his hand. She was relieved and distressed at the same time.

“In a thousand years there was only Erdene, why?”

“I want no one else, in all the systems; in this entire universe I want no one else,” he said as she looked into his brilliant blue eyes.

Rowan felt ashamed that she had allowed Brannoc into her life so quickly when Niurgun had waited for her so long. She didn’t really know how to say this to him so she sent the thought. He thought back to her.

I am certain that there is something very, very special about that fancy boy fade or you would not have chosen him. You are the Eki, I have all faith in your choice and guilt is not necessary.

You are remarkable, was all Rowan could think to think.

Niurgun smiled as he shoved more food into his mouth.

Brannoc had been roaming around the ship for two days. The Thracians had treated him much better than he expected, apparently being the mate of a Tolui carried a great deal of weight with them. First he had been given a stateroom fit for a king, who he kind of was, but still it was very nice. He only had to ask for anything and someone brought or sent it to him. He still wasn’t sure about that Gan though; he had almost killed him years ago and seemed to enjoy doing it. Brannoc still remembered having his skin removed one inch at a time.

A very competent medic named Nevvi made him a Thracian nanoleather suit and he had even chuckled when Brannoc asked if it came in black. He was however being shadowed by a small boy and one of those vile arachs. He finally confronted them in the corridor outside of the sparring room.

“If you are going to follow me everywhere I would at least like to know your name,” Brannoc said loudly so the two hiding around the turn in the corridor could hear him.

A small head peaked around one of the massive wooden ribs and Brannoc heard the deep guttural growl of a full grown arach.

“Well what is your name boy and can you control that beast?” Brannoc had taken a few steps back when the two moved out into the open.

“Quite Batu,” the little boy said as he patted the beast’s scaly hide. It shimmered like the iridescent scales along the walls. Brannoc suddenly realized that the beast would be almost invisible against the wall; he shivered to think of it hidden, watching him.

Fadians don’t like arachs like some people don’t like snakes or spiders; it was a deep, primal fear. When fades are near any animal they feel its life force, its energy, and emotions; from Batu Brannoc sensed nothing as if the arach simply did not exist. He saw the creature but he could not feel it, it was unnerving.

“I have told Batu that you are a friend of the Tolui. He will not harm you. My name is Farris Golland Rede but everyone just calls me Farris.”

Brannoc gave Farris a slight bow.
“I am Lord Brannoc Tong Durai but you can call me Brannoc.”

Farris bowed back.

“I have never met a Fade before or a Lord for that matter. Fades killed my father.”

Brannoc was a bit at a loss for what to say. The boy’s frankness had caught him off guard.

“I am sorry for your loss. I am afraid this war has caused unending sorrow; I am hoping to help end it. I know that is

not much consolation but I am afraid that is all I can offer you.”

Farris nodded.

“I have met bad people of all races so I guess there must be good people of all races as well.”

“You are wise for someone of your age,” Brannoc complimented the boy.

Farris looked very pleased.

“I am going to talk to Chinua, I could just talk to her here but she likes it when I am near her. She says she can feel my heart beat. Would you like to come? I bet Chinua has never met a fade either.”

Brannoc was a bit puzzled but he really didn’t have much else to do. He had heard Rowan talk about communicating with the ship but surely this little boy could not do it too.

“Certainly I will go with you to meet Chinua,” he said with a slight bow.

They went down two decks and then headed to the center most section of the ship. The corridor seemed to get darker and darker; Brannoc could not help but stare at Batu’s eyes glowing like embers, they seemed to follow his every move. He shuddered again and tried not to look.

Finally they came to doors much like the ones outside of Rowan’s stateroom except these were carved with sea creatures. Celiphs battled giant tentacled creatures as water crashed around them. Farris waved his small hand and the doors swung open. Brannoc had seen Intel and read about Thracian shipsmind rooms but he had never actually been in one. He had unfortunately been in several on Fadian ships but those rooms were nothing like this, they were cold, sterile depressing places; this was a temple.

In the center of the great room was a pool of water so clear it was hardly visible. Strange music drifted through the air crying with the sound of the sea and the wind. The floor was pure white stone and around the pool were large stone carvings of other sea creatures designed in such a way as to appear as if they were leaping from or swimming across the floor. Each sculpture was made to also function as a seat. In the center of the crystal pool was the celiph brain; the millions of nerves that grew out of it into the ship covered the bottom of the pool.

Several Thracian attendants were in the room; wearing white nanoleathers and speaking in lowered voices; they turned to greet Farris and were obviously shocked by Brannoc’s presence. One walked around the pool to meet them.

“Farris, my friend and friend of Chinua, as always you are welcome in her house. I am not certain that he should be here however.” He glared at Brannoc.

Farris looked up at the tall Thracian.

“I asked him here Bayan and I think we should ask Chinua if she wishes him to be here?”

Bayan nodded, “that is fair,” he said as he motioned for the two of them to proceed to the pool, “but take care Fadian if I think for one instant you mean her harm your life is forfeit, mate of the Tolui or not.”

Batu stretched out on the glossy white floor as Brannoc and Farris went and sat in two of the carved chairs. Brannoc looked into the clear waters and Farris begin to speak.

“Hello Chinua, I have brought someone to meet you. He is a Fadian and I thought you would find him interesting. Look at him with one of your eyes. He is apparently quite handsome or at least that is what I hear all the Thracian women whispering.”

Brannoc tried not to smile. The boy is certainly direct, he thought.

Farris gave Brannoc a quick look, “well they do. They say you are as pretty a man as they have ever seen take breath and some of the men think so too.”

Brannoc was about to laugh out loud when he suddenly heard, no felt her voice. He had never come in contact with such a creature, an animal of such intelligence; not a genetically engineered animal like Hammlin or Dali but a true, natural animal.

Chinua has looked at him but I do not see beauty in the form I can only see beauty in the mind. He is of the first blood and he hears my song.”

Brannoc was overwhelmed; never in his very long life had he ever felt a mind like Chinua’s. Animals live without language; their minds formulate thought based on images, smells, tastes, emotions but Chinua’s perception combined all. Every word was also a feeling, a sound, a taste, a color. If she thought the word salt he would taste salt; if she thought the word joy he would feel it. Chinua was a complete synesthete; all of her senses worked in tandem.

Her mind was not confined in the body that housed it; she soared out into infinity and back unfettered by the physical form. Infrared, radio microwave, white light, sound, magnetic wave, electricity and myriad more eyes and voices were her to command. She could hear a star being born or the whisper of a child.

You feel what I see child of the first blood. You taste what I hear. You see what I smell. Come let me show you my world.

Brannoc was suddenly in space moving at the speed of thought. He saw things but not as his Fadian eyes had seen them. Every aspect of an object was visible to him at once. He could see a planet’s atmosphere, its magnetic fields, the bottoms of its oceans, and the makeup of its core. He saw the reactions taking place in the stars and heard their fury. He tasted the ice particles as he pierced the fragile ring of a gas giant. All the images and sensations were tied together; overlaid like transparencies.

No one has ever come so far. Do you wish to see more first blood?

Brannoc was not sure if he could go on but somehow he communicated


Suddenly all forms disappeared and he was surrounded by waves and flashes and energy signatures. Patterns formed and then dissolved, reformed and disappeared again. He had become pure energy and he swam in the energy that was the universe. He saw the power that holds all matter together; molecular bonds, atomic bonds and the dark energy that binds them all.

Do you want more first blood?

Yes, more………

White nothing but white and then the paths began to appear before them forking and twisting. Images flashed by as Chinua took him down one path, then another, then another and another. Suddenly Cali was before him. She smiled like his mother used to smile and held out her hand. He took it and her face became Rowans and when he looked into her eyes they were black and her mouth opened and blackness poured from her mouth; he recoiled. He saw another way, Rowan smiled at him as a warm wind blew her hair across her face and the sky was purple; she held out her hand to him. Time, Chinua was swimming in time, infinite possibilities branching out from every point in time.

Which path to follow first blood? Which path……….

Brannoc come back to me! Brannoc wake up!

He heard the voice. He remembered the voice, Rowan.

Do you wish to go back now first blood. Chinua crooned. Your body cannot travel without your mind much longer, the shell will perish but you could stay with me, safe forever.

Brannoc fought to focus his thoughts; he felt so spread out. Never had he known such peace and contentment.

You have shown me beauty beyond imagining Chinua but I must return to Rowan.

Brannoc felt Chinua sigh.

She is the Eki, the one for whom we wait. She will teach the children to hear. Your paths are now one. The three will face the nothingness, the choice is made.

Brannoc gasped for air as his eyes suddenly opened. He was lying on the floor beside the pool. Rowan was holding him and crying and Niurgun stood behind her looking honestly concerned. Farris clung to Niurgun’s leg, white as a sheet. The medic Nevvi knelt beside him waving some instrument over his chest.

“What happened,” he managed to get the sound out of his parched throat.

“You are okay, I thought I had lost you,” Rowan said as she kissed his face repeatedly. “Thank you Nevvi, thank you.”

“Don’t thank me,” Nevvi replied, “I haven’t done anything, he just came back. I swear he had no brain activity at all and now…” he waved the small instrument around Brannoc some more, “all readings are normal.”

Chinua did you do this? Rowan asked.

Chinua did Rowan. I showed him how I see, He is first blood and I had to know his true self. He had to choose the path. He had to want it or he would have faltered, he will be tested in the paths to come. Rowan told Chinua to find the path. This is the path.

“How long was I out?” Brannoc asked as he tried to sit up.

“You weren’t out, you were dead,” Niurgun said as he reached out a hand to help him up, “you were dead for about five minutes.”

Niurgun and Rowan helped him to one of the carved seats. He felt like a stranger in his own body.

“I was on the most remarkable journey.” Brannoc said dreamily. “I have seen the universe through Chinua’s eyes and she is a creature of infinite understanding. The things she showed me Rowan, I can’t begin to describe it.”

Brannoc still seemed dazed and he was very cold. Rowan looked at Niurgun.

“Let’s get him back to my room and warm him up.”

Will he be all right Chinua? Rowan thought to the celiph as they helped Brannoc to his feet

He will be better than ever, Chinua promises.

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