Tarrin Kael

Firestaff Collection

Book Five


by James Galloway (aka Fel)





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Chapter 1


      It was a beautiful morning.

      It was pleasantly warm, but not too hot.  The air was cool, and there was the gentlest of breezes blowing across the rather unusual city in which they'd been staying.  The sun shined down on them with pleasant warmth as Tarrin walked along the white stone paths with the Were-cat Kimmie, enjoying the outside and marvelling at the incredible buildings and homes that had been built by the Sha'Kar.  The gentle wind rustled the lush trees of the forest along the edges of the large grassy plain in which the large town had been placed, swayed the grass in waves as the wind blew across the open areas inside the forest on the large island.  The wind blew over him like a gentle caress, tugging at his long bangs and threatening to blow them into his eyes again, but it was an almost pleasant sensation.

      It just felt good to be outside again.  After nearly two days sitting in that bed under the watchful, almost smothering stare of the Were-cat Triana, she had finally relented to let him out.  Her behavior towards him annoyed him greatly, for she treated him like some kind of helpless infant.  She hadn't let him out of his room for those two days, tried to keep him in that bed the whole time as if he were dreadfully sick and would die if he set foot on the floor.  He understood in a vague way why she was treating him like that, though.  He wasn't what he was before, and to her, that was the same as him being ill.  She had awed and thoroughly bullied him over those two days, until he finally screwed up the courage to stare her down and demand to be let out of her cage.

      They were wandering the town without course or destination, he and Kimmie, while he gawked at the fences and the buildings and the sometimes outrageously lavish decorations they had on them.  The house that was hosting them had a huge stained glass window.  Another had a huge sculpture over the front doors, set into the wall, so lifelike that it seemed ready to move at any moment.  Another had a magical image set on the side of the wall that actually did move.  Every main building in those fenced compounds had some kind of grand central decoration or magical effect that tried to outdo all the others.  They passed Sha'Kar, who bowed to him or curtsied with smiles and called him "honored one," and passed humans, too, who bowed or curtsied and looked upon him like he was some kind of hero.  Their gazes were absolutely adoring, and it unnerved him to no end when more than two or three crossed his path at the same time.

      From what he was told, he had done something that had made them all extremely happy, but he didn't know what it was.  It was why he was out there, getting his first good look at this place that was not supposed to exist, surrounded by a race of beings the whole world thought had died a long time ago.  They had come here, he'd been told, seeking an ancient magical relic called the Firestaff.  They had succeeded in getting it, having to actually confront the rulers of these Sha'Kar people because they wanted it too.  Tarrin had been shocked to find out that he killed them.  They had gotten the artifact, but its recovery had come with a price.  Tarrin had lost his memory of the last two years, and from what he was told, it had stripped out of him what had made him a Were-cat.

      Those two days had been spent listening to this odd assortment of people tell him all about what he'd done for those two years, and Triana had been right.  Some of it was information he really hadn't wanted to hear.  He'd been cruel there for a while, what Triana had explained as feral, like beating a dog until it turned mean.  He'd done some pretty mean things.  He couldn't imagine himself like that...it seemed impossible.  There was that, and then there was hearing that Faalken had died.  That was a shame, for though he'd only known the Knight for a few days, he seemed an amiable fellow, and Tarrin rather liked him.  But all in all, the story did sound intriguing, full of danger, magic, and excitement.  He had travelled all the way to Dala Yar Arak, had crossed the Desert of Swirling Sands.  He had climbed high enough to touch the sky, and ridden on the backs of birds made of fire.  He had been a Sorcerer and a Druid both, a warrior without equal, a single living being of such towering ability that he was virtually undefeatable.  He had battled Demons, he had befriended lost races, he had become part of the Were-cat society's inner circles.  He had held an ancient, priceless relic called the Book of Ages in his hands, and he had learned things lost to the world for a thousand years.  He had done all of those things in search of the Firestaff, and that search had led him here, where--this was the most exciting of it all--he had fought a dragon for ownership of the relic.  It was just enough excitement to give flavor and purpose to the dark things they admitted he'd done, for he was a man so utterly focused on his goal that he would often resort to any means to achieve it.  His parents would not approve of that, for they'd raised him better.

      Triana and Dolanna spent many hours carefully explaining that to him, and they'd done a good job.  They told him about the darkest things in his past, and then patiently and methodically explaining to him why they happened and why they were sometimes not only necessary, but preferred over choosing a different path.  Sometimes it wasn't easy to understand why he would do such things, but Triana told him over and over again that it was because he had went feral.  She explained the condition in detail to him, then they had to backtrack a bit to go over again the situation with Jula that had brought it about.  That had confused him, because they told him that Jula was his adopted daughter and lived with his family.

      That had been the most shocking thing he'd heard of it all.  He had children!  Two of them, and they were by different women!  He felt absolutely scandalized by that revelation, and it only got worse when he found out that Kimmie was pregnant with a third.  Tarrin had been in love with Triana's daughter, Jesmind.  He had healed a woman named Mist with Sorcery because an old wound had made her barren, and agreed to father a child for her because she wouldn't trust any other man in her bed.  But what seemed most shocking, most difficult to believe was that Tarrin also loved Kimmie, and they were having a child together.  He asked how Jesmind felt about him leaving her like that, but they told him that he never dumped Jesmind, he just picked up Kimmie.  He had two girlfriends at the same time, and wasn't even married to either of them.  He had two children, another on the way, and he was never married!  His parents were going to have an absolute fit!  He didn't believe them when they told him that his parents knew about his two children.  He just couldn't even fathom that they'd agree to something like that.

      That made him feel a little uncomfortable with Kimmie.  He could tell that she wanted to reach out and touch him.  He could understand that she loved him, but since he lost his memory, she was really like a stranger to him.  A stranger he had slept with.  He was trying to be nice to her, but the way she looked at him sometimes unnerved him a little bit.  She was nice, he had to admit that.  Alot different from Triana.  Where Triana was all strength and power and intensity, Kimmie was soft and gentle and easy going.  She was a very mellow woman who smiled alot, and seemed to be quite happy with the world.

      They saw that pale-haired boy Sha'Kar with the woman Allia on a path across from them, and they both waved.  He waved back.  From what he'd been told, Allia was his absolute closest, best friend in the world.  Every time he saw her, it tickled at the back of his mind in the most peculiar way, and that inclined him to believe them.  They had tried to restore his memory with a magic spell, but it failed.  But it had reawakened very vague, almost dream-like flashes of memory in him, just enough that sometimes when they said something or he saw something, it caused one of those flashes that made him believe it.  He got those flashes every time he saw Allia.  She was, quite simply, the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen in his life.  Allia was absolute perfection, with beautiful, large blue eyes, a heart-shaped face with sculpted cheekbones and chin, and elegant white brows over those expressive eyes.  She had brown skin and pointed ears, her hair was the color of polished silver, and strangest of all, only had four fingers on her hands.  She was wearing a baggy set of clothes that were brownish-tan, the color of sand, the desert garb that Selani wore in their homeland to protect themselves from the desert's heat.  There was an aura about her, a feeling of control and power, a much reduced sense of what Triana had when he was close to her.  She had brands too, the same brands he did, and he'd found out that she had given them to him so they could be brother and sister.  That was how close they had been.  She'd come into his room and sat with him several times during his forced bedrest, and though she seemed a little hesitant at first, she had opened up to him in rather startling ways.  She'd told him all about Allyn, the Sha'Kar boy on her arm, and told him how much she liked him and her plans to kidnap him and take him back to her desert home.  Before he lost his memory, Allia and her were "closer than a Faerie's toes," as Triana had eloquently put it.  Best of friends, sharing their secrets with one another.  Allia would tell him things she wouldn't tell anyone else, even now that he was no longer the person she knew.  Despite him losing his memory, she treated him no differently than she had before.  Despite one rather embarassing episode where she undressed in front of him to change clothes, he felt utterly comfortable with her.  She seemed quiet and reserved in company, but when they were alone, she became quite outgoing and talkative.  She had a rich sense of humor and a wicked eye for unleashing it on others, and he found her to be charming, engaging, and utterly likable.  He had felt a little uncomfortable with her at first, but after only four hours, she had him giggling and gossiping and carrying on.  She knew him very well, even with what happened to him, so she knew just what to do to show to him just how close they had been.

      Her eyes reminded him of Kimmie's eyes.  Her eyes were blue too, but they had vertically slitted pupils, like a cat, and they almost attracted his eyes right to them every time he looked at her.  She was just a shade shorter than him, a tall woman actually, who was very slender, very lithe, but had very generous curves.  She seemed to prefer plain dresses of brown or blue, dresses that didn't seem to clash very much with the ruddy orange tabby-cat fur that was on her arms.  Her hair was dark, as dark as Dolanna's, long and very thick, but a pair of orange ears poked out from the hair in the front of her head.  It creeped him a little to see that smooth skin where human ears would have been.  Kimmie's ears were on top of her head, not on the sides, just behind the hairline.  They weren't too large, poking just over the mass of her thick hair, but they did seem cute.  And they moved alot, swivelling towards sound.  She had a tail too, banded with orange and darker orange fur, like the rings on a raccoon's tail.  Her tail was quite a bit longer than her leg, he had noticed, and she had to move it around alot to keep it from dragging on the ground.  She was a very graceful woman, he noticed, her strange half foot, half paw feet making no sound as they padded along the white stone pathway, where his own sturdy boots--still not quite broken in--thudded into the stones loudly.  The only sound she made was the swishing of her wool peasant dress, a dress that wouldn't have looked out of place on a village woman in Aldreth, the kind of sturdy, functional garment that a woman who worked alot would wear.  Her dress was a peasant dress, but she did keep it clean and well maintained, and it looked good on her.

      Kimmie and Allia weren't even the beginning of the strangeness of the people he'd been travelling with.  If Tarrin ever wanted to define diverse, he felt that it had been justified in the group that had sought the Firestaff.  Keritanima was a Wikuni, and from what Allia told him, she was also like a sister to him.  She even had the same brands he and Allia did.  She was a fox Wikuni, a bipedal version of a fox, complete with the fur and the tail and the head.  Her arms and legs looked human in shape but covered in fur, and her head was a fox head set on a humanoid body.  But the face was humanized in a strange way, giving her a way to display complex emtion.  She had a sharp, slightly boxy muzzle with white under her chin, white fur that went down her neck and disappeared under the expensive silk dresses that she wore.  She had yellow eyes, a burnished amber that seemed to glow in low light, and she could somehow speak through that muzzle with its array of very fox-like teeth.  She had fox ears poking up out of a mane of hair the same color as her reddish fur, complete with little black tips at the tufts.  She also had a tail, just like Were-cats, bushy and furry with the red-white-black coloring at the tip that marked fox tails.  Keritanima was a very animated girl, talkative and blustery.  She was an honest to goodness queen, the queen of Wikuna, and she was used to people obeying her.  But she was very friendly and had a wicked sense of humor that Tarrin rather liked.  She was all smiles with him from the moment they met, talking up a storm and quite effectively subduing him into liking her.  He could tell that she was very smart from the way she talked, and Dolanna seemed rather impressed by her sometimes.

      Wherever Keritanima--she told him to call her Kerri, he had to remember that--went, there were those frightening Vendari.  If Tarrin thought that Triana was big, these two Vendari made her look like a little girl who still played with dolls.  They were absolutely monstrous, twelve spans tall at least, and they were heavily corded with thick muscle.  They looked like big two-legged lizards, complete with scaly green skin that had white on their chests, and they had huge, powerful, muscled tails.  Very much unlike the dainty tails of the Were-cats and Keritanima.  They had boxy snouts complete with wicked teeth, long, sharp claws on the ends of fingers that were nearly as thick around as his wrists, but what chilled him the most were those cold, emotionless black eyes, soulless eyes that peered down at him like he was a bug about to be squashed.  They wore simple kilts of undyed wool and leather harnesses of some kind that attached to wide belts.  One of them carried the biggest hammer he'd ever seen in his life, and the other carried an axe he doubted he could even pick up.  Tarrin had heard tales of the Vendari, and after meeting them, he found out that they were true.  They were an unemotional race who prized honor above absolutely anything else.  They were a race of warriors, and they spoke to him in a very polite, dignified manner.  They seemed to have respected him before he got changed, and that respect had not diminished now that he wasn't what he was before.

      The last of Keritanima's little private clique was Miranda.  She was a mink Wikuni, and she had to be the cutest thing he'd ever seen in his life.  She was cheeky, with big eyes and a short, soft, slightly narrow muzzle complete with a black button nose,  and her narrow little snout seemed capable of such cute smiles that he couldn't help but like her.  She had silky white fur all over her and a head of very thick blond hair, through which two circular little ears popped free.  She had a tail too, an almost luxuriously thick, bushy blond tail--very unusual for Wikuni, he'd been told, having a tail the same color as one's hair--whose fur was so incredibly soft if felt like whispers over the skin.  She had playfully wrapped that tail around him yesterday, teasing him with that cheeky grin.  She seemed a very outgoing woman, friendly and chatty, but he could see a calculating nature behind those luminous green eyes of hers.  She was alot smarter than she let people think she was.  Miranda was sometimes Keritanima's maid, sometimes her advisor, and sometimes, she admitted freely, Keritanima's spy.  The political world of Wikuna was very murky and very dangerous, full of intrigue and deception, and Miranda had served Keritanima ever since they were both little girls in whatever capacity was needed of her.  He could tell that Miranda loved Keritanima very much, was probably her best friend, and that only seemed proper.

      Dolanna's new Knight--or so he was told--was himself rather remarkable.  His name was Azakar, and he had to be, beyond any doubt, the largest human being on the face of the planet.  He was even taller than Triana, if only just, and was as wide and powerfully built as a bear.  He was a Mahuut, a race of dark-skinned humans from the distant southern continent of Valkar, with broad features, thick lips, and a mane of tightly cropped curly black hair in the front that had grown down in wavy bundles over the back of his neck.  Azakar seemed very quiet and guarded, and though he was nice to him, Tarrin felt that there had been some kind of bad blood between him and this big Knight in the past.  He seemed rather contrite and not willing to talk to him.  Tarrin hadn't had much time to talk to him much to see what it was, but they had time.

      Azakar's friend and Dolanna's pupil was a young man of medium height named Dar.  He was Arkisian, from the kingdom across the Frontier from Sulasia, and Tarrin knew the Arakite language, which was what they spoke in Arkis.  Karn Rocksplitter had taught him Arakite when he filled in for his apprentice one summer, working the forge while his regular apprentice recovered from a broken arm.  Dar was only a year younger than him, and had a roguishly handsome face.  His skin was swarthy, not as dark as Azakar's, but he had a very slender build and soft, sensitive hands.  His hair was black too, but it wasn't curly, and he wore it combed straight back away from his face.  He had hazel eyes that were very expressive, and looking at him, Tarrin could understand why all the human servants--and even some of the Sha'Kar girls--turned their heads to look at him as he went past.  He was a rather handsome fellow.  He had a quiet nature about him, but it didn't seem to suit him. Almost as if he felt overwhelmed by those around him.  He seemed rather smart, but Tarrin hadn't talked with him long enough to get a good feel for him.

      By far the two strangest members of the group were the other two humans.  One of them was an Amazon woman--a real live Amazon!--by the name of Camara Tal.  She was very exotic in appearance, with coppery skin and very long black hair that was perfectly straight.  She kept it tied in a tail behind her head.  She was an exceedingly handsome woman with exotic features to match her exotic skin, but she had a noticable scar along the left side of her face.  She had a very narrow nose, pouting, full lips, and large brown eyes under thin, delicate black brows that were both inviting and intimidating at the same time.  She was the most voluptuous woman he'd ever seen, and much to his shock, she was not afraid to show it off.  She wore this kind of vest-like garment that went across her very generous breasts and tied in the front, absolutely straining to contain her formidable feminine amplitude, leaving the inside slopes of her breasts bare.  She wore a battered swordbelt and a sword that hung there like it was part of her, and also wore a kind of red cloth skirt that Kimmie told him was called a tripa, barely managing to come down over her mid-thigh, and to his horror he had found out the wrong way that she didn't wear anything underneath it.  That had nearly given him a heart attack.  There was an intense sensuality about the woman that seemed to enslave his eyes, and whenever she was near, he could not help but look at her.  She was like the forbidden fruit, seeming to have absolutely no modesty at all, but daring a man to look where he really wanted to look.   Everything about her radiated that unusual strength.  This was a woman so comfortable with herself that she would wear a garment that revealed her most intimate charms with the slightest breeze, and it did not bother her in the slightest.  Kimmie and Keritanima explained to him that the Amazon culture was radically different from the culture of the West, and her dress and behavior was a reflection of that.  Nudity was not nudity in Amazar.  Or, that was, it didn't have the same impact it did in the West.  The Amazon was blunt, gruff, almost rude, and was very dominating.  She also had something of a volatile temper as well, but he was used to that from his own mother.  In many ways, she reminded him of Elke Kael, his mother, for she had many of the same qualities.  Of course, his mother wouldn't be caught dead wearing what she was wearing, but many of their other idiosyncracies were similiar.

      The man she seemed to endless argue with was himself rather unusual.  Even his name was strange, an odd name for an odd fellow.  His name was Phandebrass, and everything about him was an absolute puzzle.  He looked very young, with narrow features, but had white hair like an old man.  He was thin and bony and that made him look old, but he moved with a spry step that made him appear young.  His blue eyes were befuddled at times, but they didn't have the look about them of a man debilitated by senility.  In his case, that befuddled look came from the fact that his mind was sometimes so occupied by one thing that it seemed to lose track of everything else.  Things like where he was, what he was doing, what his name was, who other people were, that kind of thing.  He seemed absolutely scattered at times, asking the same questions over and over, looking for things that were oftentimes right in his hand, and behaving like some kind of insane old man that got loose from his keeper.  But Tarrin could tell that he actually was rather smart.  It was just that it seemed that his mind had to concentrate on one thing at a time, that was all.  He was kind of funny, and Tarrin rather liked him, even if he did tend to be annoying at times.  Phandebrass was a Wizard who was absolutely consumed by the passion of learning, and he had gotten himself bounced out of Tarrin's room when he showed up with all kinds of bottles and odd things with the intent of studying Tarrin's condition.  Triana barely tolerated him for about three minutes, until he mentioned that he wanted to get a sample of Tarrin's brain tissue.  It was about then that he got tossed out on his rump.  Tarrin found it hard to believe that they were all absolutely depending on that odd fellow to find a cure for Tarrin's amnesia, and even Camara Tal, who seemed endlessly irritated by the man's scattered nature, admitted that Phandebrass was probably one of the best Wizards alive.  Once he did settle down and focus his attention on one thing, he was capable of startling intelligence and wisdom, and had quite a knack for solving very complicated or unusual problems.  Kimmie was a Wizard too, and she had been tutoring under Phandebrass.  She defended her mentor passionately whenever someone talked bad about him in her presence.

      There were those people...and then there was that dragon.  Tarrin nearly suffered a seizure when they told him about Sapphire.  He had found her and thought she was a drake, a little reptile that looked like a dragon, but was only about five spans long.  He had taken her in and taken care of her after she had been attacked by a pack of other drakes, and she had become quite attached to him.  Little did any of them know, even Sapphire, that she was actually a dragon, hiding in the form of a drake because of what had happened during the Breaking.  It sounded complicated and he didn't understand it, but when the Weave tore, all the dragons had to magically change themselves into drakes to avoid getting killed.  And when they did, they were stuck that way, even taking on the minds of drakes.  But the Weave was mended now, it was whole, and that meant that all the dragons had come out of their hiding places again.  Tarrin had yet to see her in her dragon form, though.  She had visited him three times over the last few days looking like a drake.  Small enough to fit in his lap.  She nuzzled him and even licked him once, and he found her affection to be quite contagious.  He liked her alot, was surprised that she knew how to talk and was actually very smart, but he just couldn't believe that that cute little animal in his lap was actually bigger than the house in which he'd been staying.  Kimmie had used a magic spell to make her small again, and she used the time under the effects of the spell to visit with what she called her "little friend."  He was hoping to get a look at her now, his first time out of the house, in her real shape, but Kimmie said that she stayed on the far side of the volcano when not visiting him.  She didn't want to terrorize the Sha'Kar, and her moving around tended to dislodge buildings from their foundations like miniature earthquakes when she did move around in town.  Tarrin found that hard to believe until he remembered feeling the bed shake about ten minutes before Sapphire came in for one of her visits.  If she was big enough to shake the ground with a step, then she really had to be that big.

      Kimmie showed him her footprints when they came out, and that was proof beyond anything.  The footprint she showed him was about ten spans long and was two spans deep, three wide fingers and a duke finger like an opposed thumb.  That paw was so big that he'd fit inside it.

      And they'd all come together to find the Firestaff.  The story of their adventure seemed almost unbelievable at times, and the most unbelievable of all was that he was personal friends with a god.  That stripe-haired woman with the glowing eyes was not a queen or the Keeper as he thought, but the mortal manisfestation of that goddess.  That blew his mind.  Absolutely blew his mind.  She was the goddess of the Sorcerers, and Tarrin had been her personal choice for undertaking the mission of recovering the ancient artifact.  She certainly didn't seem like a god.  No glowing aura, no trumpet fanfare, no displays of her godly might.  She was almost chatty with him, he remembered.  But Dolanna looked at her like she was a goddess, he remembered.  She seemed on the verge of falling down and worshipping her at any moment.  Dolanna told him that their Goddess didn't like such displays, that it was how they felt about her in their heart that mattered more to her than what they displayed to her.  She seemed very nice, and Tarrin had certainly felt that she loved him.  He wasn't sure how he knew that, but he did.  That goddess woman loved him, and loved him very much.  And he knew that he loved her too.  That was more than a flash of memory, that was a feeling that came from deep inside him.  It took him a while to understand that, but now he did.  No matter how outlandish it seemed, he knew that it was the truth.

      It was just a part of that most intriguing story.  A life of danger, magic, and excitement.  The story certainly lived up to that.  It seemed almost unbelievable, some of the things he'd done, the people he'd met, the things he'd seen.  And he had some very unusual friends out there, friends that made Sapphire seem...normal.  There was a Faerie named Sarraya who'd travelled with him as he crossed the desert.  He couldn't remember her at all, but there was a flash, an impression of a very tiny thing with blue skin.  That had to be her.  There was Shiika, the Demoness, who was now the undisputed ruler of Yar Arak.  That relationship was a very wary one, they told him.  The Demoness seemed to like him, but he wasn't too keen on her.  Tarrin didn't remember her either, but she certainly sounded like an exciting sort of person to know.  He wondered what she looked like.  There were Var and Denai, two Selani he'd come to befriend while crossing the desert, and again, he couldn't remember anything of them.  There was Ariana, an Aeradalla, an extremely rare and exotic race of human-like, winged beings.  Now her he did vaguely recall, but it was little more than the briefest of images, a memory of a tall slender woman with blue hair and large feathery wings.  Like all those images, it came with a splitting headache, as if it caused him pain to try to dredge up those lost memories.  There were the Were-cats he'd befriended.  Thean and Singer, Rahnee and Shirazi, Jeri and Triana's other children, Shayle and Nikki.  They said he'd met her son, but he and her son didn't get along very well.  He couldn't remember any of them either.

      Quite a story.  Quite a big story.  But that part of it was over.  Tarrin had the Firestaff with him at that very moment, in a magical place that Dolanna had explained to him.  It was a magical function of the amulet around his neck, a special magical place where he could put things and not have to carry them around.  The first thing she did was teach him about that magical device and show him how to use it.  He'd put the Firestaff in that magical place, what Dolanna called the elsewhere, so that it wasn't visible.  She told him never to take it out of the elsewhere, never to tell anyone else about the elsewhere, and never tell anyone at all that he had the Firestaff in the first place.  It was the most sought-after thing in the entire world, the most valued and prized artifact of them all, and she warned him quite bluntly that people he thought were his friends would kill him to take it away from him.  The only people who knew that he even had the Firestaff were those in his private circle of forgotten friends.  And Dolanna made it clear to him that only they should know.

      Not that he'd tell anyone else.  He couldn't remember very much, but he'd been told what the Firestaff was and what it would do.  It would turn someone into a god if they had it on a certain day, and that's why his goddess had sent him out to find it.  The gods didn't want that to happen, because they couldn't let another god come to power.  They'd have to try to destroy the invader, and that would cause a war between the gods that would ravage the world.  That was a very terrifying thought, conjuring an image of a firestorm sweeping across the whole world, even setting fire to rocks and water, and it made him very serious about protecting what he had with him.  The idea of being a god had a kind of dream-like appeal, but not if it would cost the world such a heavy price.

      Besides, the Firestaff was creepy.  It didn't look creepy, being nothing but a length of petrified reddish wood, stone but looking like wood, even with the grain and a few old nicks and dings visible along its length.  But when he touched it, it was hot,almost throbbing under his fingers, and there were these whispers coming from it.  Strange whispers that seemed to be inside his head, promising all kinds of wild things to him.  It promised him all sorts of things.  Money, land, power, a harem of pretty girls to do anything he wanted--that made him blush a bit--magical might, absolute dominion.  Promises to unlock the secrets of the universe, promises to show him things beyond the rational understanding of mortal man.  Those whispers were frightening, but after listening to them for a few moments, they became more and more tempting.  He'd told Dolanna about it, and that was when she was even more adamant about teaching him about the elsewhere.  When the Firestaff was there, he couldn't hear the whispering.  It was an artifact of great power, and that power had a corrupting effect on anyone that held it for too long, making them want to use that power.  It was part of the diabolical nature of the thing, twisting even the most pure motives by exploiting the weaknesses of the one holding it.  Dolanna had him get around that corrupting effect by sticking it where it couldn't reach him.  Not even its power could reach outside of the elsewhere.  And she told him to never take it out, not for any reason.  Every moment he held it, it gave it that much more time to try to dominate him.

      And so he carried it with him, even without carrying it.  He thought about it alot, whenever someone wasn't keeping him occupied, wondering at just what those whispers meant, and if they could really do what they promised.  They didn't say that he'd have to become a god to find out, either.  He didn't really want to be a king or have a harem or be rich, but he did have an interest in learning about magic.  He'd been one of the strongest Sorcerers alive, they all told him, but now he couldn't remember any of it.  He still had his power, they said, but he had no idea how to use it, and Dolanna had refused to try to teach him.  She told him that he'd get it back when he got back his memory, but he wanted to know now.  Had he really had the power to blow up buildings?  That seemed pretty impressive, but it was the stories of him healing people that held his interest the most.  That seemed a much more useful ability than blowing things up.  Helping friends was much more rewarding the exploding buildings and setting enemies on fire.

      A Sha'Kar woman curtsied to as they passed her, and he had to admire her silently.  All these Sha'Kar were very handsome or very beautiful.  The women were nowhere as pretty as Allia, but they were still very attractive.  They had large eyes and delicate bones, those pointed ears and four-fingered hands, and most of them were very voluptuous.  He'd yet to see one woman that had a flat chest or narrow hips.  They all wore shimmering robes that clung to those curves in a most appealing manner, and he'd started wondering what was under those gowns.  That felt a bit dirty, but even he had to admit that a thinking about it was just fine so long as he didn't try to do anything about it.  Tarrin was raised right, but he wasn't dead, and those Sha'Kar were very beautiful girls.  And they always smiled at him so invitingly, almost like they knew he was admiring them, and they liked it.  More than once he caught himself wondering what would happen if they knew he wanted to see what was under those robes.

      Kimmie elbowed him sharply as he watched the Sha'Kar girl go by, his eyes dropping down to her posterior almost unconsciously.  Her jab hit him right in the ribs, and it knocked the breath out of him and staggered him to the side.  "Hey!" he wheezed.

      "Keep your eyes in your head," she told him sharply.  "If you want to look at a girl's butt, I'll pull my dress up for you, but you're not going to ogle those other girls."

      Tarrin knew that Kimmie had feelings for him, but that was the first time she had ever displayed jealousy.  Her bold statement caught him off guard.  He had the feeling that if he said anything, she would pull her her dress and show him her bottom.  He wasn't used to a girl saying things like that.  Boys said them in jest all the time, but not girls.  It would be a scandal if a girl even joked about pulling up her skirts back home.

      "You didn't have to break my ribs, you know," he said breathlessly, putting a hand to his side.

      "Sorry," she said contritely, reaching under his shirt, and putting one of those big furry hands on his side.  As always, her touch was very gentle, very intimate, and it always confused him.  He had slept with this woman, but he didn't remember her, or it.  That made him a little embrassed.  She'd seen him naked, knew all kinds of very intimate things about him, and they'd done the most private things a boy and a girl could do together.  Kimmie was around him all the time, either she or Triana, he'd noticed, almost hovering over him almost all the time.  They'd even slept in his room for those two nights, Triana curled up on his bed in her cat form--it had been amazing to see her do that!  Too bad she took off all her clothes beforehand, which made him blush to the roots of his hair.  Triana was even more handsome naked, but even thinking that about her seemed absolutely scandalous to him.  She was his mother, for goodness' sake!  They wouldn't let him out of their sight, and he could see how defensive they got whenever stranger Sha'Kar or servants came close to him.  They were being protective over him, as if he couldn't protect himself anymore.  He knew that him not being a Were-cat anymore worried them and they thought it was unnatural, but he was getting tired of them thinking that he was helpless.  When he finally got Triana to let him out of the house, Kimmie simply invited herself along and trampled over his desire to take a walk by himself.  He found their hovering starting to get a little annoying, but he wasn't going to yell at them.  No way he'd sass Triana, and Kimmie was just too sweet-natured for him to be mad at her for long.

      Alot of their peculiar customs seemed strange to him.  Were-cat women seemed blunt, direct, outspoken, alot like human men.  Triana was rough and rather harsh, but Kimmie was sweet and charming.  That didn't mean that she wasn't as forward as Triana, though.  They spoke their minds, and they had no qualms about talking about all sorts of very embarassing things around him, almost like it didn't matter if he was there or not.  When Triana checked Kimmie's belly, checking the progression of her pregnancy, she made some frank, downright nasty observations about Tarrin's ability to father children.  He'd been absolutely mortified.  And Kimmie had just given her a naughty grin and agreed with every word she said!  Then she gave him this wicked smile, like she knew he was embarassed by their talk, and winked at him.  They were having fun with him, but he was just too embarassed to try to fight back.

      It still surprised him.  Kimmie was carrying a baby, and he was the father.  She'd told him all about what would happen when the baby was born, how it would grow so quickly, how it would have some of the Were-cat traits at birth but would have to mature to gain the rest.

      "Well, nothing seems broken," she said, keeping her paw against his bare side lingeringly.  The pads on the palm of her hand were both rough and smooth, and they were very warm.  Tarrin grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand out, then pulled her hand up to where he could see it.  He hadn't looked closely at her hand before.  She even had short fur on her fingers and on the fringes of her palms, with those dark brown pads on her palm and on the tips and middle sections of her fingers.  She allowed him to run his fingers along those pads, touch the fur between them, and then she slowly extended the finger-long claws that recessed into those big fingers.  He couldn't figure out for the life of him where they went.  They were too big to not be noticable when they were in her hands, but there was no sign of them once they disappeared into the slots at the very tips of her fingers.  She had no fingernails, which made her hands look a little strange.

      "Where do the claws go?" he asked her as those claws fully extended.

      "The bones in the tips of our fingers are forked," she replied.  "The claw slides up between them.  That's why our claws aren't longer than the tips."

      "They look it," he said, measuring one of her claws, the one on her middle finger.  It was nearly as long as his entire index finger.

      "Well, the claws are hooked, so they can be a little longer than the finger as long as they bend in enough for them to fit.  They recess all the way back against the joint, and the tip is right at the sheathe when they're retracted," she said, pulling in her claws. "Tap the tip of my finger."  He did so.  "Feel it?"

      "Yeah," he replied.  It didn't prick him, but the tip of that hooked claw was definitely there.

      "That's why we have such big fingers," she told him calmly.  "The rest of the finger is as wide as the tip, and the tip houses the claw."

      "I didn't know that," he mused.

      "Well, now you do," she said with a smile.  "Any other parts of me you want to inspect?  Wanna play with my tail?" she asked with a playful smile, bringing her tail around her body and wiggling the tip of it at him.

      Before he could stop himself, he let go of her hand and gingerly touched her tail.  It was surprisingly thick, with thick fur at its tip.  He could feel the bones in her tail, but it wasn't bony.  It had flesh on it, and it seemed to shiver a little in his grip as he parted her fur and inspected the skin beneath.

      "Having fun?" she asked with a smile.

      "Just curious," he told her.  "I had a tail?"

      "Mmm-hmm," she hummed in agreement.  "It was longer than mine, but since you're taller than me, that's understandable.  The tail is always exactly half again as long as the leg.  It's a proportion true through all of us."

      "It must be tiring to keep it up all the time."

      "We're used to it," she replied.  "Want to see where it comes out?" she asked with a wink.

      "Not if you have to pull up your dress," he countered.

      "You're no fun today," she accused with a smile.  "I'll show you back in our room.  Where it'll just be you and me, and you won't have any reason to be embarassed.  It doesn't bother me when you look at me, Tarrin.  It's nothing you haven't seen before."

      "I don't remember seeing it before," he said with a blush.

      "Well, I remember showing it to you, so don't worry about it.  Trust me," she grinned.

      Tarrin cast about for a a change of subject.  "How long are we going to stay here?" he asked.  "I heard Triana talking about us leaving."

      "Probably in a couple of days," she answered.  "The Sha'Kar are going to use magic to get all of us back to Suld really fast, but they need time to pack up all their things.  So we're waiting for them.  It shouldn't take them too much longer."

      "They're coming with us?"

      She nodded.  "Now that the Ward isn't trapping them inside anymore, they're returning to the Tower in Suld."  She laughed.  "Boy, are they going to be shocked to see them."

      Tarrin remembered that they said that everyone thought that the Sha'Kar were extinct.  That it was a big surprise when they found them on this island.  There were some five hundred or so of them, but that wouldn't be a big deal, Dolanna said.  She said that the Tower was big enough to house five thousand Sorcerers, and currently there were less than two thousand there.  More than half of the Tower's space was unoccupied, and settling in the Sha'Kar would be very easy.

      "They seem nice enough," Tarrin said.  "Not that you and Triana let them get close enough to me to find out," he added sharply.

      "We're just protecting you while you're in this weakened condition," she said boldy.

      "I did just fine before I met you guys, you know.  I'm not a pushover."

      "Certainly not," she said.  Then she casually put her paw on his chest, and pushed.  The power behind that hand was irresistable, and he found himself staggering back, tripping over his own feet, then falling down on his backside.  He sprawled there for a moment, glaring up at her, but she just smiled down at him.  Were-cats were powerful creatures.  Kimmie didn't look it, but she could pick up a horse, and probably be able to throw it a goodly distance.  Sometimes it amazed him that creatures with such incredible strength could be so exquisitely gentle.  "Not a pushover at all," she teased.

      "Well, not against other humans," he corrected sullenly as she reached down and helped him up.

      "To us, Tarrin, you seem helpless," she told him honestly.  "You've lost your strength, your speed, your senses, and most importantly, your immunities and regeneration.  You're fragile now, just like the humans, and neither me nor Triana are going to let you out of our sight.  You're too important to us.  Until you're yourself again, one of us going to be right with you all the time."

      "Well, I'm not helpless," he protested.

      "Maybe not, but it's not going to change anything," she said mildly.  "Get used to us, love.  We're not going anywhere."

      He glowered a little, but said nothing.  Because he knew that no matter what he said or did, it wouldn't change things.

      "I wonder where everyone else is," Tarrin asked.

      "Well, Phandebrass is going through his books back on the ship, looking for information that may help him find a cure for you," she told him.  "Camara Tal went with him to make sure he doesn't get distracted along the way.  Keritanima and Allia are up at the volcano with Dolanna.  Sapphire said she and the red dragon lost alot of scales when they fought, and she wants to find some of them as souvenirs.  Binter, Sisska, Miranda, and Azakar are with her.  Dolanna is giving Dar his daily lesson, but Iselde and Allyn are with them, so it'll probably be Dolanna doing the learning instead of the teaching.  I think Triana went back to Suld for a while to fill in Jesmind on everything."

      "How does Triana do that?" he asked.  "Isn't Suld across the ocean?"

      "I wish I knew how she does it," Kimmie said sourly.  "Triana's a very powerful Druid, Tarrin.  She can do some serious magic.  She won't even tell us what she's capable of.  That really annoys me sometimes."  She chuckled.  "Now that the Weave is restored, maybe me and Phandebrass can engineer a spell that does the same thing.  Being able to just appear halfway across the world would be really handy.  I'd only be a spell away from you," she said, reaching over and taking his hand gently.

      Tarrin still felt a little uncomfortable when she did that.  She'd told him she loved him, but he couldn't even remember her.  He didn't know her at all, though she certainly seemed to know him.  He let her hold his hand because it seemed to make her happy; he wouldn't be cold to her.  But it did make him feel a little strange.  It was like waking up one morning and finding out he was married.

      It wasn't marriage, of course.  That seemed one of the stranger things.  Were-cat's didn't marry, and males didn't spend their lives with one female.  Kimmie told him, in rather lurid detail, that he was the recipient of the love of three Were-cat women.  Herself, of course.  Then there was Jesmind, who had been his first love.  Kimmie admitted that he grew to love her after they started sleeping together.  That they slept together just for the fun of it.  That shocked his sensibilities, but he kept telling himself that they had a different culture, and by then, it was his culture too.  The third woman was Mist, the one he'd healed, who loved him because he had helped her so much.  She told him that he'd never really gotten the chance to love her, but she had very much fallen in love with him from the moment he agreed to sleep with her to impregnate her.  Because she wanted a baby, and she wouldn't trust any other male but him.  They were a bit vague as to why she wouldn't trust any other male, but he'd take their word for it.  For a boy raised to believe in the sanctity of marriage, it seemed almost unnatural to him.  He had a, a, a harem.  Kimmie hadn't gone into great detail about Were-cat society, telling him that it may shock him a bit, but he was starting to understand some things.  Triana explained that they were part animal, with the mind and instincts of a cat mixed in with their human ones, so maybe that part of them affected alot of things that the human parts of them didn't.  Or affected them differently.

      "Well, that would be nice, I guess," he said awkardly.

      "Don't worry, Tarrin.  When you get your memory back, everything will make perfect sense," she said with a smile.  "I just have to keep telling myself that."

      "What do you mean?"

      "It kills me to see you like this," she told him honestly.  "To me, your very identity was stripped away from you.  It's like someone changed you into something else with magic.  And everything you knew is locked away.  You're like a different person to me.  I want to tell you things, but I know you won't understand.  I want to be your mate, but that's just not possible like this."  He felt her hand tighten over his.  "I have to keep myself from biting you every time I touch you.  I can't stand it, because I know I could change you back any time, but I can't do it, because without your memory, it would be a very hard adjustment for you."

      "Well...do you still like me?" he asked.  "I mean, do you like me now?"

      "If course I do!" she said.  "You're still Tarrin, and there are hints of the Tarrin I know about you.  In fact, now that I've seen you like this, I understand those parts of you alot better.  The turning changed you alot, Tarrin.  I won't lie about that.  But seeing where you came from, it's opened my eyes about the true nature of you.  I can see the young man that's been buried under the weight of everything we've piled onto you," she said with a gentle, very loving smile.  "In fact, given everything that happened to you and all the pressure and duties that's been thrown on top of you, I'm amazed that you've come through it as unscathed as you did.  You're a very resilient fellow, my Tarrin," she told him with a wink.

      "Well, I guess you can thank my parents.  They raised me."

      "I've met them."

      "You have?" he asked in surprise.

      "Mmm-hmm," she nodded with a smile.  "Your mother reminds me of Triana.  They have the same 'do it my way or die' sense about them."

      Tarrin laughed.  "That's my mother, alright," he agreed.  "No wonder I liked Triana so much."  He cleared his throat.  "Uh, do they, uh, know about--"

      "Of course they do," she told him with a grin.  "Triana told them.  They understand, Tarrin.  They know you embraced our society, and that included embracing some of our more outrageous customs," she winked.  "I had to as well.  Don't forget, I was turned too.  It was quite a culture shock, now that I remember," she said with a fond chuckle.

      "Oh.  I, I guess that's alright."

      "Elke adores your daughter Jasana, and Jenna's the one who's been training her in Suld," she said.  "And Triana told me that Mist brought Eron to Aldreth to meet them.  She adores him too.  Mist is quite taken with your parents.  She even stayed the night with them.  I never thought I'd see her do that," she mused, shaking her head.  "So, your parents and your sister approve, Tarrin.  They love you the same as they did before.  They adjusted to your turning just as well as you did."

      That had been a more surprising part of the tale.  Jenna was also a Sorceress, but she was actually one of these sui'kun that Dolanna described, seven special Sorcerers that are tied to the Weave in ways that regular Sorcerers are not.  Jenna had come to Suld and helped defend it against an invading army, and had remained behind after they won the battle to help train Jasana, who was also a sui'kun.  She was on the Council in the Tower and everything, even though she was only thirteen--no, she was almost sixteen now.  He couldn't forget that.  She wasn't a little girl anymore.  She was a young woman now, a very strong Sorceress, and had a position of importance among the katzh-dashi.  Tarrin wondered how much of a fit his mother threw when she left home.  Elke was very attached to Jenna, since she was her youngest child.  In Elke's eyes, Jenna would always be her baby girl, no matter how old she got.  She'd still be calling her janni, which meant baby in Ungardt, when Jenna was married and had children of her own.

      "Well, that's a relief," he said sincerely.  "I'm a little hungry."

      "Me too.  Let's head back and raid the kitchen," she smiled.

      They raided the kitchen as well as any pirate raided a fat tradesman, but the pickings didn't suit Kimmie.  The Sha'Kar were primarily vegetarians, raising a large number of assorted fruits and vegetables on their farms.  Tarrin didn't mind that, for his mother had a big garden herself and they had alot of vegetables when he grew up.  But Kimmie was primarily a carnivore, and she wasn't too fond of mutton.  That happened to be the only real meat available on the island.  She growled quite a bit about Triana leaving and not being able to use her Druid magic to make something edible appear, then made do with a piece of mutton that had been cooked the night before to feed the visitors.

      After eating, Kimmie literally dragged him back to the huge room that the Sha'Kar had given to him to use while he was there.  She didn't tell him what she was up to, but he could tell that she had some kind of mischief on her mind.  That suspicion was justified when she closed the door behind them, leaned against it, and gave him a knowing smile.

      "What?" he asked.

      "It's time you found out."

      "Found out what?"

      "Where it comes out," she winked at him.

      Tarrin blushed to the roots of his hair, backing away from her.

      She laughed delightedly.  "Calm down, silly," she told him, coming off the door and walking towards him.  "Nothing's going to happen, I promise.  But I do want to take a bath.  Why don't you join me?"

      "J-J-Join you?" he stammered.

      "You saw the pool, Tarrin.  It's huge.  It can fit ten people, so I think you and me can manage to squeeze in it without too much trouble.  And nothing's going to happen.  I promise you that," she said, holding up her hand to emphasize her statement.  "Nothing can happen.  You're too fragile for me to be frisky with you.  I'd break your arm by accident."

      "B-But we'll have to take our clothes off and--"

      "Get used to it, Tarrin," she warned.  "We're going to the Tower, and didn't they tell you about how the Tower works?"

      "No," he said hesitantly.

      "They have one really big bathing pool for everyone.  You bathe in public, and you do it in front of girls.  If you're going to go red being in here with just me, I think you're going to get very smelly if you stay in the Tower for very long."  She took him by the hand.  "I know it won't be easy for you, but trust me.  Don't you trust me, Tarrin?"

      "I--Yes, I think I do," he told her as she took his hand in her paw.

      "Alright then," she told him, pulling him towards the archway.

      It wasn't easy, but he knew she wouldn't lie to him, so he realized he'd better get used to the idea of it.  She undressed first, and she watched him the entire time, keeping his eyes on her by all but daring him to look away with her gaze.  She pulled her dress over her head and then modelled for him a little bit, even turning around to show him exactly where the tail did come out of her back.  He was surprised a little, but it was the fact that he couldn't take his eyes off her bottom that got his attention more than the striped orange tail that protruded from her back just above that bottom.  Her bottom was gorgeous.

      Gritting his teeth, he quickly pulled off his clothes and all but jumped into the pool as she slid in herself.  She didn't stare at him while he was doing so, and he realized she did that on purpose.  She was doing exactly what she said, helping him get used to the idea.  She took up the soap and started lathering the fur on her arms.  Tarrin relaxed a bit at this and waded away from her, to the other side of the pool, where it was very nicely hot.

      "Lucky you," she told him.  "I can't go over there."

      "Why not?"

      "It's too hot.  It's about one step from boiling on that side."

      "It doesn't feel that hot to me," he protested.

      "You're sui'kun, silly," she said, splashing at him.  "Heat can't hurt you."

      "It can't?" he asked in surprise, looking down.  He put his hand in the water and felt it.  It was hot, alright.  Steaming a little.  But it didn't burn.

      "Not a bit.  Think about it, mate.  You were in a volcano.  Do you think you would have lived long in there if you could get burned?"

      "I guess I didn't think about that," he said, mulling it over.  So, he couldn't be hurt by fire.  "You mean I could put my hand in a bonfire and it wouldn't hurt?"

      "Tarrin, you could go swimming in the lava in the volcano and it wouldn't hurt," she chided.  "Now come over here and wash my back."

      Tarrin accepted that little bit of news like he accepted everything else they'd told him so far, believing it no matter how outlandish it seemed, and did as she asked.  He began to relax with her a little, not feeling nervous about lathering soap on his hands and scrubbing her shapely back.  "I meant to ask something," he said as was rinsing her back clean of the soap.


      "You said you were turned, like me."


      "Where did you live before that?"

      "Tor," she answered.  "About a hundred years ago."

      "A hundred?" he asked in surprise.

      "We don't grow old, Tarrin," she told him.  "Triana told you that."

      "I guess I wasn't paying attention when she said it," he admitted.  "You don't grow old at all?"

      "Not at all," she said, turning her head enough to where she could see him out of the corner of her eyes.  His eyes fell on her cat ear, though, and the smooth skin where her ear was supposed to be.  She seemed to notice it, turning around and facing him.  "Go ahead," she said with a smile, leaning her head down and presenting one of those ears to him.  "I know you're curious."

      He was, in fact.  He pinched the ear, felt that it felt just like a cat's ear, soft yet springy.  He looked down inside it, saw that it looked just like the interior of a cat's ear as well.  He ran his fingers along the interior edge of it, and was a little startled when her ear flicked, twitching under his touch.  She giggled reflexively.  "That tickles," she complained, and he almost jumped when her tail wrapped around his leg.  He moved instead to where a human ear would have been, feeling nothing but smooth skin, but the bony ridge that was usually just above the ears in a human was indeed there.

      "Alright," she said with a smile, turning him around so his back was to her.  "Hand me the soap."

      She scrubbed his back for him thoroughly, and yet she was very gentle, and her claws never so much as broke his skin.  She did run them up his back, and felt very odd to feel those four points sliding up the skin of his back.  "Now it's my turn to check something," she said boldly.  He jumped when her fingers traced down his spine, coming to rest right where a tail would have been coming out of him were he still a Were-cat.  He struggled to remain calm, and did become calm when he was sure that that was indeed the focus of her inspection.  "That is so weird," she told him.  "The bone even occludes back into the pelvis."

      "I could say the same about you," he said.  "What is occludes?"

      "In Were-cats, the spine isn't fused to the pelvis," she told him.  "The spine extends out as the tail.  There's nothing holding the spine to the pelvis except a knob of bone, a modified vertebra, that has tendons running from it to the pelvis under and to the sides of it.  We have nerves that run through the center of our spines, and there's a small knob of bone, where the spine bends.  Right here," she said, touching him just below the small of his back, right above his own backside, "where the nerves come out of the spine and continue on down to the legs.  The pelvis isn't the same shape either. Since it's the spine that fuses the pelvis together in humans, and we're not like that, our two pelvis bones aren't actually fused together like yours.  It's one reason why we're so flexible.  Because our spines aren't actually attached to anything and our pelvises aren't one solid piece of bone."  She turned him around, then turned around herself.  "Go ahead," she said.  "I won't mind.  Feel how it's different."

      He was a little hesitant, but he had to admit, he was curious now.  He slid his hand under the water and touched the base of her tail, feeling that little knob she was talking about right at the base.  There was a indention of sorts a little more prounounced in her back down there.  Where in a human, the back flattened out from its lined dimple formed by the spine, it continued on in her back, all the way to where the hips widened and the muscled curve of her bottom began.

      "When did you learn all this, Kimmie?" he asked curiously.

      "I'm a Wizard, Tarrin," she said pointedly.  "Wizardry isn't just about learning how to cast spells."

      "I didn't know that."

      "Not many people do.  A good Wizard is well versed in biology, chemistry, physics, alchemy, herbology, and also ancient history.  That's all in addition how much we study the magic itself.  We have to know those things because it helps us design magic to affect the physical world.  So we study all about the physical world in our studies, from how rocks form to the anatomy of many kinds of creatures."

      "Sounds like you don't have much free time."

      "It's a good thing we don't age.  I don't think I could learn everything there is to know about magic in a thousand years," she admitted.  "I don't see how Phandebrass does it.  He's only a little over forty, yet he's learned so much in that short time it's almost mind-boggling."

      He accidentally slid his hand down to the top of that forbidden area under her tail, then pulled it back quickly with a bit of a blush.  "Sorry," he apologized.

      "I told you I don't mind, Tarrin," she told him with a smile, looking back at him.  "If you stuck your hand between my legs, I wouldn't mind."

      That made him blush furiously.  "Does it hurt when you sit in chairs?"

      "The tail is extremlely flexible," she told him.  "I can push it up against my side if I have to.  But if we sit up against our tails like that, it cuts off the blood flow and goes numb."

      "Huh," he sounded.  "It must be interesting to have a tail."

      "Well, in a little while, hopefully you'll have yours back," she said.  "Though I do like your curiosity," she admitted, wrapping her tail around her arm, like a snake.  "You won't be putting your hands on girls' butts in the bathing pool at the Tower," she said with a wink, "but one that knows you may ask you to help scrub her back, just like I did.  Think you can handle that?"

      "I guess," he answered.

      "You did with me, and I'm as good as a stranger," she assured him.  "It's the ones that ask you to scrub the front that you have to watch," she told him with a smirk.

      "You!" he said loudly, pushing her from behind, but she didn't go far, because her tail was still wrapped around his arm.  "You said you'd behave!"

      "I am behaving," she teased.  "And I got you to relax.  That's what I really wanted.  I want you to relax around me, Tarrin.  I want you to not feel nervous around me, no matter what I do or what I'm not wearing.  I want you to feel comfortable with me, even if we're both wrestling naked in a pool."

      That caught him a little off guard, and he chuckled ruefully.  "Well, it's working," he admitted.  "I don't really feel as self-conscious as I did when we started."

      "Good," she said wading up to him and, to his surprise, wrapping her arms around him.  He'd never been so close to a naked woman before, and the fact that he wasn't wearing any clothes either made it even worse.  "Calm down," she said in a gentle tone, looking over at him with a smile and dancing eyes.  "Boy, you weren't even close to being this jumpy when you were a Were-cat.  I think it's kinda funny."

      "You should see it from my side," he said bluntly.

      "I did," she laughed.  "Do you know what Mist did to me to break me of my modesty?"


      "She made me go naked for almost a year.  Then she made me walk through a village in Arkis naked, then she took me to a Druid and had him summon a male Were-cat to deflower me.  She seemed to think that the fact that I was a virgin was the reason why I didn't like being naked."

      "She didn't!" he gasped.

      "Oh yes she did," she laughed.

      "Did--Did you let him--"

      "Of course I did," she said.  "I was getting used to my instincts by then, and if you didn't notice, there are very strong instincts about that kind of thing in animals.  I was curious, and truth be told, I was ready for some serious deflowering."

      Tarrin felt distinctly uncomfortable talking about sex with a naked woman who had her arms around him.

      "Now calm down and give me my attention, and I'll let you go," she told him.

      He wasn't sure what she meant, but he did hold still when she pulled him close and hugged him to her.  He could feel her body against him in a most intimate manner, and he struggled to not pay too much attention to it.  She clapped her hands around him, gave him a gentle squeeze, then let him go with twinkling eyes.  "There, it didn't kill you," she grinned.

      "I have no idea what that was about," he told her.

      "It's simple, Tarrin.  I was getting my free feel."

      "You're terrible!" he said with a gasp, then he laughed and splashed water in her face.  "Taking advantage of me like that!  Shame on you!"

      Kimmie laughed and splashed him back.  "Well, you are my mate, Tarrin!" she shot back.  "I shouldn't have to trick you into getting my feels!"

      "Oh, you're in trouble now, woman," he said in a dangerous tone, splashing her vigorously with both hands.

      In moments, they were laughing and playing in the water like two little kids, splashing one another as quickly as they could.  He redoubled his efforts when she shielded her face with her hands and turned around, but realized too late that it was a ploy.  Her tail whipped around right along the surface of water and sent a sheet of stinging spray over him, making him stagger back and wipe at his eyes.

      "Alright, you two," Triana's voice called.  "Out."

      "Mother!" Tarrin said in surprise, clearing his eyes.  She was standing in the archway, stalking over to them quickly.  She was wearing a ragged sleeveless buckskin shirt and breeches, not too far off the color of her fur.  She came up to the edge of the pool and glared down at them in a manner that Tarrin did not like to see.

      "Are you nuts, Kimmie?" Triana said in an accusing tone.  "I thought you knew better!"

      "We're just taking a bath, Triana," Kimmie said.

      "She hasn't messed with me or anything, mother," Tarrin affirmed, defending her.  "We're just playing around, that's all."

      "That's not why I'm mad at her, cub," she told him.  "Out, both of you.  Now!"

      They both scrambled out of the pool, and he felt a little silly for a moment.  There they were, standing naked at the side of the pool, both of them.  Triana was between them and the towels, and neither of them felt like trying to go around her to get to them.  She fixed Kimmie with a stern look, then snorted in that strange manner that she did.  "Didn't you think that you'd pose a danger to him girl?" she said in a flat voice.

      "I know he's fragile, Triana," she said quickly.  "I was being very careful--"

      "That's not what I mean!" she snapped, which made Kimmie flinch.  "Foolish cub, you're a Were-cat!  You just got in a pool with a human, and you unloaded the trees know how much spit into that water!  Thank the furies it's a big enough pool!"

      Kimmie suddenly paled, looking at Triana in sincere chagrin.  "I never even considered--I'm sorry!" she said quickly.  "I won't do it again, I promise!"

      "I don't understand, mother," Tarrin said.

      "She could have infected you," she told him gruffly. "Spit can do it, and it only takes a drop of it in your eyes or going up your nose with the rest of the water.  The pool is big enough to where it diluted it down to the point where it was harmless.  If that had been a smaller pool, though, you may have been turned again.  Not that I wouldn't have been happy to see it, but we're going to play this by Dolanna's rules for now.  That means we keep you human so that mad Wizard has a chance to find a cure for your amnesia.  Don't get back in that pool until I have a chance to purge it, Tarrin.  Now dry off and get dressed, both of you."

      "Yes ma'am," he said obediently, and they both rushed past her to their towels.

      A little chagrined, Kimmie dried off, dressed, and then lavished numerous apologies on Triana, who seemed a little too angry to accept them very graciously.  "I had no idea, Triana," she said emphatically.  "I mean, I know he's human, but he's still just Tarrin to me.  I didn't think about that."

      "Well, there was no harm done," she snorted.  "Why were you dragging him in there, girl?"

      "We were dirty, for one," she said.  "And he's a little too shy.  You know how they do things in the Tower.  He'd be mortified.  So I'm trying to get him used to the idea of it, that's all."

      Triana swung that penetrating stare in Tarrin's direction, and he nodded in agreement as he pulled his trousers back on.  "I see," she said slowly.

      "How did it go with Jesmind?" Kimmie asked.

      "Badly," she snorted.  "First she threw a fit, then she demanded to bring her back with me.  She knows I can't do that," she snorted.  "Jasana took it alot harder than I thought," she said absently.  "But I think it was a reaction to how hysterical Jesmind got when I broke the news.  She's curious to see what you look like as a human, cub.  That must be an old issue between you two.  Jenna asked to come see you, but I told her no again," she added.  "I think she can wait a couple more days, and I don't want her confusing you right now."

      They told him about that.  Jenna was a very powerful magician now, and she'd learned a trick where she could visit people thousands of leagues away.  He didn't quite understand how it worked, but Dolanna explained that it was an Illusion that they could see through, kind of like a magical window that bridged the distance.  He was quietly hoping that she would visit, that he could see it, but Triana was keeping him out of everyone's sight for some reason.  At least that was what he suspected.

      "When are we going to leave?"

      "That Sha'Kar woman, Ianelle, she said they'll be ready by tomorrow," she answered.  "They're having trouble with the human Sorcerers that lived on the island, though.  Some kind of minor rebellion."

      "Ianelle doesn't seem like the kind to put up with that for long," Kimmie chuckled.

      "I agree there.  The humans and the youngest children don't want to leave.  Dolanna explained what went on here before I got here, so I can understand their reluctance.  They're about to go from kings to paupers, and they know it.  They don't want to give it up."

      "They'd better," Kimmie chuckled.  "Or Ianelle will flog them."

      "She looked about ready to flog her daughter this morning," Triana chuckled.  "Her daughter Auli must be a serious troublemaker."

      "Oh, she is, Triana," Kimmie grinned.  "Auli was the town's bad girl, and I don't think being freed of the mind control is going to change that much.  She's a free-spirited, adventurous girl, and she's probably been pulling on the leash that Ianelle put around her neck."

      "I like her," Triana delcared immediately.  "Now finish dressing and I'll take you over to Phandebrass," she told Tarrin.  "He wants to check something, and it sounds important."

      "We're going to the ship?" Tarrin asked hopefully.

      "We are," she affirmed.  "Now hop."

      He did hop.  The opportunity to visit this amazing steamship, see it for himself, was an exciting proposition.


      Of all the strangers that were his friends around him, the one Tarrin probably felt most comfortable with was Dar.  Dar was only a year younger than him--mentally, at least, for Tarrin still considered himself seventeen--he was a boy, which made it a little easier to talk to him, and he seemed as intimidated at some of the things around him as Tarrin did.  Tarrin liked spending time with Dar, just talking to him, learning what it was like in Arkis and hearing what had happened over the last two years through Dar's point of view.  Dar had once been his roommate in the Tower, so he knew Tarrin pretty well.  Tarrin decided that it was only fair that he got to know Dar just as well.

      That did, of course, require a little subterfuge.  Tarrin didn't like talking about private things like that around the two Were-cats, and he privately bristled a great deal at them treating him like an invalid.  He did like Kimmie very much, and respected Triana a great deal, but he felt that they were wrong.  He was perfectly safe on the island.  The Sha'Kar were all very friendly, calling him "honored one" all the time and doing anything he told them to, even when he didn't mean it.  If he got in any trouble, all he'd have to do was yell.  They all watched him pretty close anyway, so he figured that him calling for help would bring help to him before he finished shouting.

      It was absolutely impossible to sneak out on Triana.  She seemed to sense his chicanery even as the plans formed in his mind, and that withering gaze evaporated any fantasy of even trying to slip out of the room while she was in it.  Kimmie, however, was much more easy to dupe.  It wasn't that she didn't pay attention, but she often got distracted by her books, and she slept more soundly than his bond-mother did.

      It was later that day, while Kimmie had her nose buried in a book that Triana had brought back from the ship, a book that Phandebrass had asked her to study, that he seized the opportunity.  He was still excited from visiting the ship, meeting Captain Jalis and the crew and getting a very thorough tour of the amazing steam engine from Donovan, the ship's inventor and lead engineer.  He'd even brought back the rest of his things from the ship, which someone had thoughtfully shrunk so they would fit him again.  He didn't want to sit around the room and be bored, because Kimmie was too involved in that book.  He had nothing to do, no one to talk to, and Tarrin was not the kind of boy that could sit still like that for very long.  He wanted to go out and look around, and he wanted to find Dar and talk with him for a while.

      While Kimmie was busy reading, Tarrin put on a comfortable pair of leather breeches and an old buckskin shirt like the ones he used to wear, functional clothes that were rugged and well suited for wandering the forest, put the hawk-hilt dagger in his belt that he'd won during the staffs competition right before he left--that dagger showed the wear of hard travel, another striking physical reminder that two years of memories had been taken from him--and proceeded to use every dirty trick his father ever taught him to escape from Kimmie's watchful eye.  The key, of course, was not to tip her off that he intended to leave, and she was sitting right in the middle of the room, where the opening of the door would alert her immediately.  So he required a diversion.  That diversion came when he told Kimmie that he wanted something to drink, and opened the door and asked the serving girl that was permanently stationed right outside the door to bring back a tray with tea for both of them.  She returned a few minutes later with a tray holding a teapot and two cups.  She poured both of them a cup, and just as he expected, Kimmie didn't say a word, didn't even look down, feeling around until she found the cup and picking it up without her eyes ever leaving the book.

      So, when the serving girl left, Tarrin crept out behind her, a finger to his lips and a mischievious look in his eyes.   She grinned at him and nodded, then waved silently to him as he crept down the hall with his heart pounding a little with the excitement of it.  Triana was going to kill him when she found out, but he'd take the punishment just for a little time to himself.  They were smothering him with all that attention.

      After he got far enough away to suit him, he broke into a dash, tearing through the house as Iselde and Allyn stared after him in surprise when he came around a corner and nearly knocked them down.  He skidded to a halt and scrambled back to them.  "Where is Dar?" he asked in a hasty tone.  A little confused, both of them said nothing and pointing to a door in the wall.  "Thanks," he said, rushing over to the door and opening it.  He found himself staring into another one of those huge, stunningly beautiful bedrooms, but one could take only so much beauty before getting numb to it.  Dolanna and Dar were sitting on a pair of backless chairs, sipping tea.  Dolanna's back was to the door, thankfully, and Tarrin waved madly until he had Dar's attention.  Dar noticed him and realized that there was no Were-cat with him, then nodded when Tarrin beckoned him.  He excused himself from his mentor, setting his teacup down on a little table between them and hurrying over to the door.  "What's the matter, Tarrin?" he asked.

      "Nothing.  Come on!" he said with a conspiratorial smile.  "Kimmie's going to realize I'm missing any minute now, and I need time to get away!"

      "Get away?" Dar asked in confusion.  Then it dawned on him.  "Oohhhhhhhh!" he hissed.  "Alright, come on!"

      Tarrin and Dar ran, barely able to keep a straight face, through the house, through the entry hall, and then out the front doors.  Dar paused to use his magic to obliterate their scent trails--he was fully aware of the keen senses of their hunters--and they dashed along the lush grassy lawn and out the gate.  Dar paused to obliterate that scent trail, then they ran at full speed along the white stone pathways, often having to go around the stately Sha'Kar, who would stop and stare after them in confusion.  They headed towards the middle of town then abruptly turned east, towards the treeline as Dar concealed the signs of their passing.  They ran across the grassy clearing between the closest manor and the trees, then plunged into the wood like adventurers diving through some killing trap.  They looked behind themselves and then started laughing.  Dar was winded, but the run was nothing to Tarrin, who waited for his friend to catch his breath, then they started off through the woods.

      It was almost like being home, but there were differences in this forest that reminded them of where he was.  It had been getting progressively warmer since the Ward had been brought down, as the Ward and the magical wind's effects on the local weather were slowly being reversed, and the trees were showing it.  Alot of them were breeds that were hardy in both heat and cold, and he knew that they'd be just fine after they adjusted to the change.  After all, those same breeds had to have been there when the Ward was created, so their species had lived on the island.  Tarrin led Dar through the woods at a leisurely pace as they talked about nothing of any great importance, laughing over their escape and worrying at how long it was going to take them to find them.

      "It'll be over when Triana comes back," Tarrin admitted.  "She'll find me in a blink.  But I don't think she's on the island.  I think she went back to Suld or something.  I haven't seen her since we came back from the steamship.  So let's enjoy it while we can," he grinned.

      They wandered aimlessly through the forest as Tarrin listened to Dar tell him all about their time in the Tower, when they were sharing a room, and the suspicious things that went on.  Then they talked about the others, Tarrin listening to Dar's impressions of the others.  Dar was a good judge of character, and he had a surprisingly keen understanding of the others.  He told Tarrin about Camara Tal's aggravation being because of her love for her husband, Koran Dar, who was resisting her every attempt to get him to go home with her.  "Master Koran Dar loves her, but he thinks she'll make him sit in their house all day.  He ran away to experience life, and now that he has, he's afraid to go back.  He doesn't want to lose it."

      "I don't blame him," Tarrin agreed completely.  "There's got to be some way to make them patch things up," he mused.  "If they love each other, it's a shame for them to be apart."

      "Not anytime this century," Dar chuckled.  "Camara Tal's been out of Amazar for a while, but her attitude hasn't changed at all.  I think she would confine him to the house if she got him back.  She may even chain him in his room to keep him from getting away.  She loves him, but she wants to control him.  Master Koran Dar is too strong to be controlled that way, and he's the kind that would wilt in those conditions, like a flower blocked off from the sun.  She doesn't understand that if she did that to him, she'd be destroying most of the things in him that she loves the most.  She wants to break him, but when she does, she'll realize how bad of a mistake it was.  But by then, it'd be too late," he sighed.  "I feel sorry for them.  Camara Tal is too stubborn to change, and Master Koran Dar is too good of a man to survive what she'll do to him."

      "That is sad," he agreed.

      "Well well, look what I found," a voice called.  They both jumped a little as a Sha'Kar came around a large tree.  He'd seen her before.  She was a very pretty girl with platinum blond hair and blue eyes that were always dancing with mischief.  Her name was Auli, and she was one of Iselde's friends.  He'd met her after losing his memory, and she had given him the most chilling smile...it was predatory.  She stood there with her back against the tree, hands behind her back, staring at the two of them with a similar wolfish grin on her face.  Tarrin couldn't help but admire her tall, curvy frame, being accented in a most appealing manner by the clingy nature of her shimmery blue dress, the same color as her eyes.  She had that ethereal Sha'Kar beauty and had a very attractive body, and though Dar may be used to it, Tarrin wasn't.  She gave him a very inviting smile when she realized that he was staring at her.  "You realize that this area is forbidden, don't you?" she said.  "We're not allowed here."

      It took Tarrin a little bit to get used to that.  Triana had used some kind of very powerful spell to teach both herself and Tarrin their native language in about three seconds.  It had left him dizzy for nearly an hour, but it had been very effective.  He could speak the Sha'Kar language like a native now, literally because Triana had borrowed Auli's mother's knowledge of the language as the model to implant into both herself an Tarrin.    Ianelle was two thousand years old--inconceivable!--and her grasp of the Sha'Kar language was beyond profound.  Tarrin knew many words and phrases that younger Sha'Kar like Auli didn't know, because he had borrowed the knowledge of someone much more learned than she.

      "Then why are you here?" Dar asked her in flawless Sha'Kar.  All Tarrin's friends spoke the language.

      "Same as you.  Hiding from my elders," she said with a laugh and a wink.  "My mother's really getting on my nerves."  She strode forward boldly then, to both his and Dar's surprise, went around them and draped her arms over both their shoulders and laughed.  "It's about time I had company.  All the other youngers are too cowardly to come out here.  So, let's go get in trouble," she said with a conspiratorial wink at Tarrin.

      Auli virtually invited herself along, but neither of them were very mad about it after a few minutes.  Auli had a truly wicked sense of humor and she was alot of fun, laughing and telling them embrassing secrets about other Sha'Kar youngers and flirting with Dar so shamelessly that his Arakite friend looked like he was continuously blushing.  She was impossible to dislike, urging them deeper and deeper into the woods, playing on their pride as adventurous rulebreakers to goad them into taking her up on the dare.  Tarrin found that he liked Auli alot, for she was very brave and was very funny, as quick to laugh at a joke she made about herself as she was about someone else.  She was completely comfortable with being with the two of them, a trio of youngsters looking for a little time away from the cloying presence of their elders.

      They found themselves in the foothills not far from the volcano after a while, as Auli was goading Dar and Tarrin into scaring sheep and making them scatter on their bewildered keepers, then watching the hapless humans trying to round up the animals.  "Watch this," she winked, and Tarrin felt something weird, like he always did when Sorcerers used their magic.  The sheep that the tall human man was dragging back to the flock shuddered, then all its fleece turned a bright shade of pink.  Tarrin and Dar had to clamp their mouths shut to keep from laughing and giving themselves away as the human staggered back at this amazing change in color, then he turned and shook his fist towards the trees.  "I know that's you, Mistress Auli!" the man shouted.  "I'm going to inform your mother about this, mark me!"

      "Come on," she whispered with a wink at them, then they snuck away as the human tried to calm the terrified animal, that had probably just noticed its new fleece.

      They did laugh when they got far enough away, and Tarrin was a little surprised.  Auli was almost incorrigible, and he'd never seen a girl like that before.  There were several chronic troublemakers back in  Aldreth, like Walten, but Auli seemed even more fearless than they were.  Girls just didn't act the way Auli acted in Aldreth.  It was shocking, but in a way, it was quite appealing.  Girls always seemed so stuffy and stuck up--alot of that was because their mothers didn't want their daughters getting interested in the handsome son of that witch Elke Kael--but Auli was outgoing, fearless, and utterly likable.  Tiella had been the only girl that had been his friend back in Aldreth, and that was only because her parents, the village innkeepers, were friends of the Kael family.

      "Come, I have a great idea," she said with bright eyes.  "Let's go up to the volcano!"

      "But Kerri and the others are up there," Dar said.  "They may catch us!"

      "So?  What's the fun in going where we can't be caught?  I want to go see that dragon!  Come on, Tarrin!  She's your friend, she won't eat us if you're with me!"

      Tarrin wanted to see Sapphire in her dragon form too.  "You think you can get us up there without getting caught?" he asked her.

      "I know five ways everywhere," she affirmed with a grin and a nod, reaching out and taking Tarrin's hand boldly.  "Come on, let's go!"

      And so Tarrin, Dar, and Auli started up the many steep, winding trails on the sides of the volcano.  Dar kept muttering to himself that they were going to get in trouble, but neither Tarrin nor Auli really cared very much.  They were having too much fun.  The paths got dangerous, and they had to shuffle along with a wall on one side and a sheer drop on the other, but Tarrin didn't feel in any danger.  It was all some kind of grand adventure to him, even when he nearly slipped off the path once when a loose stone gave out under his foot.  They worked their way around the side of the volcano to the north side, and a small peninsula of relatively flat land that was on that side, where they said the dragon was staying.  As they came around the volcano, Sapphire did finally come into view, and Tarrin ran into Auli's back as she stopped to gawk at the beast.  Dar looked around them and saw it as well.  It was definitely Sapphire, with her midnight blue scales and the fact that she completely took up a rocky clearing between the base of the cone of the volcano and the trees just past it.  She seemed to be reading from a book laying on the ground in front of her, a book that had to be thirty spans wide.  Tarrin marvelled at how she looked just like the tiny little Sapphire that sat in his lap, but she was some kind of titanic replica of that little drake.  She snuffled a bit and lifted her head, and then her gaze locked right on them.

      "What are you three doing?" she demanded.  "Oh, Tarrin!  Come down, come down!" she invited, sitting up on her haunches.  They were nearly a hundred spans over the clearing, but when she did that and craned her neck up, her head was suddenly level with them.  Tarrin stared long and hard at that immense head, and he realized that she could swallow him whole without even having to chew!

      "H-Honored dragon!" Auli said in awe, looking at her.

      "I thought Kimmie would be with you," Sapphire said critically to him, her powerful voice vibrating inside him in the weirdest way.

      "Uh, she's reading a book, Sapphire," he answered her.  "I was bored, so we came out to look around a little bit."

      "I'm reading as well," she said, pointing with a clawed finger nearly as long as Tarrin down at the ground.  "I'm just starting to get my powers back.  I'm surprised my gear all survived so long."

      "Gear?" he asked.

      "All dragons have magical powers, little friend," she said, rising up on her hind legs and holding out that huge forepaw at the edge of the steep incline.  Tarrin realized that she wanted them to get into her paw.  The three of them would fit, but only just.  Auli daringly clambered out onto her paw and sat down, and Tarrin and Dar crawled out with her a moment later, Dar praying hastily under his breath.  It was a tight fit with the three of them, one of Tarrin's feet dangling some hundred spans off the ground below, but the dragon was very careful with them.  Tarrin's stomach rose as the dragon lowered them carefully to the ground, by the book.  Tarrin helped Dar and Auli out of her paw, and they stared up at her massive head as she lowered herself enough to be about fifteen spans over them.  "All dragons have Druidic magic, because we are creatures of the land.  But since we are not bipeds, we are free to study other kinds of magic.  Most dragons learn Wizard magic as well, because we are good at it.  As my mind has cleared with the return to my true form, my powers are coming back to me.  I hid this spellbook over a thousand years ago in a safe place, and I was surprised that it was still there."

      "That's a spellbook?" Tarrin asked.

      She nodded.  "I used a spell to check on my other things, and they're all still there as well.  Untouched after a millenia.  It's amazing," she said with a raspy chuckle that blew hot, strangely charged air down on them.  "As soon as I'm sure you're going to recover from this strange malady, I'll be returning to my lair."

      "Where is that, great dragon?" Auli asked curiously.

      "My kind prefer dry places," she answered, "where the static builds and the rain that does fall always comes with lightning.  We prefer sandy caves.  My lair is on the border of the desert and the dry steppes of Saranam, far to the northeast of here.  The Sha'Kar agreed to transport me back to Suld, and from there I can fly back to my lair with little trouble."

      Tarrin tried to imagine a cave big enough to hold her immense form.  It wasn't easy.  "Are all dragons as big as you, Sapphire?"

      She shook her head.  "I was very old, even before the Breaking," she answered.  "Dragons grow larger as they age.  A good indication of the age of a dragon is how big it is.  Most dragons will be about half my size.  The age we gained during the Breaking didn't affect us.  I guess it was because the aging didn't happen while we were in our true forms," she mused.

      Tarrin looked up at her.  Even half her size was still absolutey gigantic.  Sapphire could swat down a Giant with little difficulty.

      "I was ruler of my clan," she said proudly.  "Mother of all, and shazil of the eastern desert and the western steppes."

      "What is shazil?" Dar asked curiously.

      "Overlord," she answered.  "We blues are much more organized and social than most other dragons.  We cooperate with each other, and we live by rules.  As shazil, enforcing the rule of law was my responsibility, and I oversaw a region that held about ten other clans."

      Tarrin had absolutely no doubt about that.  Tarrin couldn't imagine anything being even bigger than Sapphire.  "What happened to your children?" Tarrin asked impulsively.

      "I've managed to make contact with three of them," she answered.  "I've yet to find the other two, but I've yet to give up hope.  The youngest are taking a very long time to come out of the shock returning to our true forms induced.  The oldest of us were starting to regain ourselves before we even returned to our true forms.  That was why I got smarter and learned to speak, little friend," she told him.  "The younger ones are still like that, just beginning to remember their pasts.  In a few days, even the hatchlings should have regained their memories, and we'll be moving back to where we belong."

      "If you started out in Saranam, how did you end up on that little island out in the middle of nowhere?" Tarrin asked.

      "I have no idea," she replied with a smile.  A very chilling smile.  "I can't remember what happened after I enacted the magic to confine me into the drake form."

      Auli strode forward a few paces.  "Honored dragon, may I ask a favor?" she asked.

      "What is it, small one?"

      "Could you come down here and let me see you up close?"

      Sapphire said nothing, but lowered her head to where she was just in front of and above Auli.  The Sha'Kar reached out with a trembling hand and put it on Sapphire's snout, over the lips but under the nose, touching her small diamond scales tentatively.  "Her scares are very smooth," Auli told them.  "And they're warm.  They feel nice."  She traced her finger along the seam between two scales, and that made Sapphire snort and flinch away slightly.  That act made Auli stagger back in sudden fright, into Tarrin, who grabbed her and steadied her so she wouldn't fall down.  The Sha'Kar finally showed fear.

      "Sorry, but that tickled," the dragon told her with an amused look.  "I didn't mean to startle you."

      Auli laughed ruefully.  "Well, I almost wet myself, but it was worth it!" she told her with another infectious laugh.

      "This is Wizard magic, Sapphire?" Dar asked, who was literally climbing up onto the book to look at what was in it.

      "It is," she answered.  "Your Wizards would be able to read these pages, young human.  It is written in the same language as theirs.  Even though we dragons use it a slightly different way, Wizard magic is still Wizard magic.  If you weren't a Sorcerer, you may even be able to learn it yourself."

      Tarrin and Auli climbed up onto the cover of the book and peered over huge pages that looked to be made of stiff leather and looked over the page.  The pages were written in glyphs that were two spans long, large glyphs that the dragon could read easily.  Tarrin realized that as big as Sapphire was, if she could even manipulate a human-sized book, the writing in it would be so incredibly tiny to her that she probably wouldn't be able to make it out.  The humans and Sha'Kar were like small dolls to her, easily fitting in her forepaw, and anything smaller than them would be very hard for her to scrutinize.  It was like sand.  Tarrin could see a grain of sand, but Sapphire probably would not be able to do so.  Sand seemed grainy to him, but to someone like Sapphire, it would be as fine as the most powdered dust, almost as fluid as water.  Even now the dragon's massive bulk loomed over them.  From nose to tail, Tarrin realized that the dragon was about five hundred spans long.   Over half of it was tail, and about another sixty or seventy was head and neck, but that still left about a hundred and fifty spans or so worth of body.  Her legs had to be at least thirty spans long each.  Probably closer to forty.  Everything about her was massive.

      Tarrin, Auli, and Dar climbed down off the book, and the dragon entertained them with a story about her five dragon children and her home back at the border between the desert and Saranam.  She told them all about how they studied magic and enjoyed their existence, about her duties as shazil to watch over the clans in her territory and keep them from fighting too much with the copper dragons that shared their preferred territories, and how they would watch the Selani when the nomadic peoples filed through their range.  The dragons knew that the Selani knew that they were there, but they were very good neighbors.  They respected the dragon's territory, moving through it quickly, and never trying to find their lairs or bother them when they did see them up on the mesas sunning themselves.  Because of their amiable nature, Sapphire and her clan discouraged humans from Saranam from trying to invade the desert, as they had a penchant for doing.

      "Where is your male dragon?" Auli asked.  "You know, the father of the babies?"

      "Males live more or less alone, Sha'Kar.  Female blues don't take permanent mates.  When we are ready to mate, we make it known, and allow the males to compete for our favor.  The one that proves himself strongest, most intelligent, and most magically experienced earns the right to sire my clutch."

      "That sounds fun," Auli said with bright eyes.  "At least your kind's advanced enough not to limit yourself to the same old male all the time."

      "I've had the same mate for the last few centuries, Sha'Kar," Sapphire answered.  "Tenshale is the oldest, wisest male in the eastern marches.  Every time I want to raise a clutch, he proves most worthy.  I've grown quite fond of him," she admitted.

      "Sapphire isn't your real name, is it?" Tarrin asked suddenly.

      "I've grown fond of it," she smiled at him.  "Before they called me Midnight because of my dark scales," she said, unfurling her wings and letting them marvel at how handsome her scales were, "but called names are changed easily.  Since I keep my given name a secret, I choose how I want others to address me.  When I get back, I'll let it be known that from that day forth I am to be called Sapphire, and that will be that."

      "Why keep your name a secret?" Dar asked.

      "A name is a powerful thing, Arakite," Sapphire answered seriously.  "Especially for beings of great power, like myself.  You can control someone if you know their true name and the right spells.  A Wizard that knew my true name could use it as a weapon against me.  No dragon will take that risk, so the only time a true name is voiced is the day we give it to our hatchlings.  We then give them a called name and use that from that day forward."

      "I didn't know that," Dar mused.

      "Then your trip here wasn't in vain," Sapphire said, looking down at them.  "No journey is for vain if you gain knowledge in the course of it."

      "You're really wise, Sapphire," Tarrin said appreciatively.

      "After two thousand years, I would hope so," she said with an amused look.

      "Auli!" an enraged voice came from Auli's amulet.  It was Ianelle, her mother.  "Aulienne, you come back home this instant!" she raged.  "And while you're coming back, make yourself useful and see if you can find Tarrin!  Kimmie's frantic!"

      Auli looked at Tarrin and laughed.  "I think it may take me a while," she said with a wink.  "I just can't seem to find you anywhere!"

      "Why aren't you answering her, Auli?" Dar asked.

      "Because I never do," she told him with a mischievious grin.  "She knows I won't.  That's why she just yells at me."

      "Well, at least tell her that Tarrin's alright," Dar said.  "Kimmie's worried.  You can do that without giving yourself away, can't you?"

      She shook her head.  "If I use the amulet, my mother can track it right back and pinpoint where I am.  Then she'll Teleport here so fast I won't have a chance to get away.  I made that mistake once before, Dar," she grinned.  "I learn from my mistakes."

      "You are here without permission?" Sapphire asked intently.

      "Well, we didn't think we'd need permission to visit you, honored dragon," Auli said with innocent eyes.  "After all, doesn't Tarrin have the right to come see you whenever he wants?"

      "You talk fast, Sha'Kar," Sapphire said with amusement.  "Almost as fast as Skulker, my youngest and an endless handful for me.  Always getting into trouble.  You two seem cut from the same cloth."  She rose up a little.  "But you received orders from your mother, and you will obey them," she said bluntly.  "I will see that you get back to the town."

      "B-Back?" Auli stammered.  "You're taking us back?  You mean you're going to fly us there?"

      "No, child," she said with a smile.  "You are going to answer your mother, and she will get you back to town."

      Auli looked a little crestfallen, but even she wasn't crazy enough to defy the dragon.  She put a hand to her amulet sullenly.  "Tarrin's with me, mother," she answered.  "Me and him and Dar were out walking, and we decided to come visit with the honored dragon.  We'll--"

      Whatever they were going to do would remain a mystery, as Ianelle, tall and regal and with her blond hair and handsome face reminding Tarrin that she was definitely Auli's mother, simply appeared not three steps in front of them.  Her eyes were very cold, very hard, and she had her hands on her hips in an aggressive posture.  "What are you three doing over here?" she demanded.

      "I told you we were going to get in trouble," Dar muttered under his breath.

      "I wanted to come visit Sapphire, Misterss Ianelle, and Auli knew the way," Tarrin said quickly to deflect the formidable Sha'Kar's anger.

      "Of course she would know the way," Ianelle said scathingly, glaring at her daughter, who now looked a little sheepish.

      "They did not bother me," Sapphire announced, seeming to startle Ianelle a little.  Ianelle had her back to the dragon.  She turned and looked up at her over her shoulder, seeing that the blue dragon looked a little amused.  "In fact, I found their visit quite enjoyable.  But it sounds like they are needed at home, so you may take them home now."  She fixed those huge eyes on Tarrin.  "Be sure to come again, little friend.  At least if we stay here much longer."

      "We will be leaving tomorrow, honored dragon," Ianelled told her politely.  "We will be able to carry you as well as the rest, as promised."

      "Very good then.  Let me know when to arrive, and I will do so."

      "We will," Ianelle nodded, then turned a steely eye back on the three youths.  "As for you three," she said in a stern voice, pointing at the ground at her feet.  "Here.  Now.  Join hands with me and form a ring."

      They did so, Auli looking very sullen, and the most amazing thing happened.  Tarrin felt that strange feeling whenever anyone used Sorcery around him, and they were suddenly somewhere else.  There was no sensation to it.  One second he was looking at Sapphire over Ianelle's shoulder, then he was looking at the manor house where they'd been staying.  Ianelle let go of Tarrin's hand, but Auli, who was holding his other hand, did not let go.  Tarrin was thinking of saying something, but her hand was warm and very soft, and he rather liked the way that it felt.

      "Alright, Tarrin, Kimmie wants you back in your room," Ianelled told him calmly.  "As for you," she said, turning on Auli with a dark look.

      "Can we wait for Kimmie with him?" she asked quickly.  "It must be lonely in that room by himself.  We can keep him company until she comes back."

      Ianelle gave her a searching look, then nodded. "As long as I know you're not out causing trouble," she said.  "But mind you, if you're not back as soon as Kimmie returns, you'll get a serious punishment.  And I'll be calling over here to make sure.  Fail to answer me once, and I'll lock a tracking spell on you so fast you'll think you were born with it.  Understand?"

      "Yes, mother," Auli said with a slight frown.

      "You still need to pack your room, girl," Ianelle told her.  "Remember, one trunk.  Everything else you leave behind.  So you'd better decide what you're going to take."

      "I know," she said with a pout.  "I don't think it's fair."

      "It's all we have room for," she said bluntly.  "Outside of books and cultural artifacts, everyone only gets one trunk.  Even me, and I'm First on the Council.  If I get one trunk, everyone gets one trunk," she declared adamantly.

      "But we can just come back for the rest," Auli protested.

      "We could, but we must leave these indulgent ways behind, daughter," she said.  "We have much to do.  We simply don't have time for wasting days with parties and gossip any longer.  We have to return to the katzh-dashi, return the order to its former glory, and that's going to take time.  Silly possessions and frilly things are not our way."

      "They're my way," Auli growled under her breath.

      "Now go on.  I'm sure Kimmie will be back soon.  We have people out searching for her."

      "Where is she?" Tarrin asked.

      "Out looking for you," Ianelle replied.  "She was having quite a problem with it.  It seems someone knows about her kind, and intentionally wiped the traces of your passing so she couldn't follow."

      Dar blushed and turned away from Ianelle, hurrying towards the house.

      "Well, get on, you two," she said, shooing them.  "Remember Auli.  Back home as soon as Kimmie returns.  And I'll be checking up on you."

      Auli and Dar did go with him back to his huge room, and he was glad they were there.  They sat on the divans and talked about their journey, laughing like old friends.  Dar found it especially funny when Auli told them about touching the dragon's snout, and how it flinched away from her.  "I thought I left a dark spot on your trousers, Tarrin," she said with a self-deprecating laugh.  "I've never been scared like that before in my life!"

      "I'd better go see Dolanna and let her know we're alright," Dar said, slapping his knees.

      "She probably already--" Tarrin began, but Auli cut him off.

      "That's a good idea, Dar," she told him quickly.  "Besides, you never know, she may have something for you to do."

      "Probably," he agreed.  "I'll see you two later.  I did have fun, even if we did get caught," he admitted with a laugh, then he walked towards the door.

      Tarrin was a bit wary now.  Auli obviously wanted to get rid of Dar, and now they were alone.  She was sitting on the divan across from him, not looking like she had anything on her mind, just smiling amiably. "Do you know how to play chess?" she asked him.

      "No, not really," he answered.

      "Well, we can't have that!" she said with a grin.  "There's a chessboard on that dresser over there.  I'll teach you how to play."

      And so, they sat down on the floor, on a very thick, soft fur rug near the pedestal that held the bed, and she showed him how to play chess.  It was a strangely complicated game, with six different kinds of pieces that all moved according to their own specific rules.  She'd started on her side of the board when she started showing him, but then scooted around to sit beside him, showing him the rules of movement from his side of the board, saying that it would make a little more sense to him to see it from his own side of the board.  Tarrin found Auli's nearness just a little disconcerting, for she was sitting with her hip touching his leg, propping herself up with a hand that was placed behind him.  He found it a little hard to concentrate on the rules with her so close to him.  He forgot which piece was the one that moved diagonally, and she had to show him again.  "Now this is the queen," she said, touching the second tallest piece.  "It's the most powerful piece on the board, because it can move in any direction, as far as you want it to move.  It's the strongest piece, but it's also the piece you have to take the most care to protect."

      "It can move anywhere?"

      "Well, in a straight line, yes," she replied.  "This way, this way, or this way," she displayed, tracing her finger on the checkered board diagonally, horizontally, and vertically.  "The knight is the only piece that can't move in a straight line."

      "Two in one direction, then one over," he repeated the rules for the knight.

      "That's right," she said, turning to look at him, but he was looking at the board. "You should always protect your queen, Tarrin, but sometimes it's worth it to gamble with it a little.  Take risks," she said in a slightly throaty tone, leaning towards him.  "It can throw your opponent off."

      And then, to his shock, she blew gently in his ear.

      He nearly jumped out of his skin, but he didn't have time to even look at her, because the door opened and Kimmie came in.  Auli looked towards the door and glared at Kimmie in a most hostile manner, but her face became all sweet and light again by the time the Were-cat noticed the two of them sitting on the floor on the far side of the room.

      "Where have you been, Tarrin?" she demanded in a cross tone.  "I've been worried sick!"

      "I needed some time outside, Kimmie, and you were busy," he said.

      "You shouldn't have done that!"

      "I'm not helpless, Kimmie!" he said in a loud voice.  "There's nothing on this island that's going to hurt me, and I didn't go alone!  Dar and Auli here went with me.  We went to go visit with Sapphire, that's all!"

      Kimmie gave him a long stare, but then finally nodded.  "I guess I wasn't paying enough attention to you.  I'm sorry," she apologized.  "But I'm only doing what I was told to do, Tarrin.  I'm not about to disobey Triana any more than you are."  She looked at Auli, and then back to Tarrin, and her eyes turned strangely suspicious for a moment.  "Learning how to play chess?"

      He nodded, and Auli smiled up at her.  "He's a fast learner," she said.  "We were about to start a game."

      The way she said it seemed strange to him.  It was throaty, slow, almost purring, and he realized that her words were a cryptic flirtation with him, one that Kimmie wouldn't understand.  "But mother said I had to come home as soon as you got back, so I'd better get going.  We can play some other time, Tarrin," she said as she gracefully got up.  Tarrin did so as well, and while her back was to Kimmie, she winked at him.  And it was not a wink in amusement.  "You'd better practice.  I play to win," she warned with a slow smile, then she sauntered out of the room like she owned it.

      Kimmie watched her going with narrow eyes, and when the door closed, she came up and sat down in front of the chessboard.  "If you need some company, I'll be happy to oblige," she said with a kind smile.  "I'm sorry I ignored you earlier.  I'll make it up to you.  Want to play?"

      "Well, alright," he said, sitting down.  "She showed me how the move, but I think there's more to this than just knowing how they move."

      "You're right.  While we're waiting for dinner, I'll show you," she promised, setting up the board.

      Tarrin looked over Kimmie's shoulder, towards the door.  Auli had been flirting with him, and alot more seriously than she'd been flirting with Dar.  What was she up to?  She was a Sha'Kar, and he was a human.  Didn't that make them too different for that kind of thing?  He had to suppress a flush when he caught himself hoping that they weren't.  Auli was very pretty, and very funny, and very nice...and she flirted with him.  What if she was interested?  What would he do about it?

      That wasn't the right question to ask, he realized, his eyes still on the door.  The question was, what would she do about it.

      Given where they were going, when he would meet Jesmind and his daughter Jasana, he had the feeling that if Auli was serious, she was going to cause some serious friction.  Kimmie seemed rather mellow, but from everything he'd heard, Jesmind was not.  Jesmind was supposedly a firebrand, and if she laid claim on him, she may be violently opposed to Auli's little games.

      Tarrin had a sinking feeling that things in the Tower were going to be very sticky.

To:       Title                EoF

Chapter 2


      It was one of those times when there just wasn't very much to do.

      They'd gotten him up early, perhaps a bit too early.  The night before had been relatively boring for Tarrin, since everyone else was getting ready for the big day today.  The day when the Sha'Kar were going to use powerful magic to transport all of them to Suld.  The Sha'Kar had been busy packing, and since Tarrin only owned one pack, for him it took about five minutes to get ready.  Triana had gone back to Suld to talk to Jesmind, so he'd been left with Kimmie most of the night...which in itself wasn't a very bad thing.  Tarrin chafed at them hovering over him, but Kimmie seemed to understand how it made him feel, and strove to make his forced restriction as entertaining as possible with stories, conversation, and even games and books.  Tarrin didn't understand what they were talking about most of the time, but he had the feeling that the Sha'Kar had some kind of ability to talk to the Sorcerers in Suld.  But just because they could didn't mean that it was a good idea.  He heard Triana telling Kimmie before she left that the Sorcerers back in Suld were still in shock that the Sha'Kar were alive, and the Sha'Kar had decided that it would be best for them to only communicate with the Sorcerers in charge over there.

      That had been quite a surprise.  Triana had told him rather curtly when she woke him up that because of poor health, the Keeper of the Tower, some woman named Myriam Lar, had stepped down from her position as ruler and given the position to his sister.  Jenna was only thirteen years old...what business did she have being the ruler of the katzh-dashi?  But then he remembered that she was actually fifteen, nearly sixteen, and she was one of those sui'kun people.  The Sha'Kar said he was one, and they all fell over each other to be nice to him and ask him what he wanted them to do.  They thought of these sui'kun people as kings or royalty or something, and some calculating part of him saw the advantage in making Jenna the Keeper.  If the Sha'Kar were as quick to obey her as they were to obey him, they'd need her in that position of power to legitimize her authority in the eyes of both the humans and the Sha'Kar.  There were bound to be some problems in bringing the Sha'Kar back to the Tower after a thousand years, so maybe the Tower was taking steps to make sure that thing went as smoothly as possible.  Maybe this Myriam Lar really wasn't sick.  Maybe that Goddess woman had told her to step down and stand aside for Jenna, for the good of the Tower.  If the woman had half the reaction to that Goddess that Tarrin did, she'd walk through fire at her request.

      Of course, thinking about that gave him a headache.  It delved into those areas where Tarrin's lost memory tried to bubble back up, and that invariably caused him pain.  Especially every time he thought of Myriam Lar.  Odds were, there was some kind of history between the two of them that the others hadn't told him about, but Tarrin couldn't remember it.  He only knew that for some reason, her name sent strange feelings through him that he couldn't explain, nor could he really identify them.

      There were other things to think about, though, things that made less sense and caused him as much a headache.  For some reason, he was of two minds about Auli.  He liked her alot, since she was alot of fun, but her blowing in his ear had completely scrambled his idea of her.  He'd only known her that one day, and he'd had a great deal of fun with her.  He thought of her as a good friend.  But when she flirted with him that way, she seemed to cross some kind of line in his mind.  He'd noticed that she was very pretty and had a very appealing figure, but hadn't thought of her that way until she went and advertised the fact that she was interested.  Once she had, she'd let the chickens out of the henhouse, and now he was thinking about it.

      And that was the core of his dilemma.  He felt he had some kind of an obligation to Kimmie, because of who he had been and how she felt about him.  But he wasn't that person anymore, and there was no guarantee that he ever would be again.  Kimmie represented who he was, but Auli's invitation urged him to continue on as he was, to not just stop in his life and try to regain what was lost.  From what he'd heard, he hadn't been a very happy or nice person, and he was just starting to consider whether or not he wanted to go back to that.

      He did want his memory back, though, and once he got it, he'd look back and decide what he wanted to do.  But until then, he wasn't just going to sit and wait.  There were many things to see, many things to do, many things to experience.  He had to keep living, keep going.  He didn't want to hurt Kimmie, but he didn't want to become stagnant as Triana wanted him to do, to just sit and do nothing, see nothing, be nothing until they could return him back to what they thought he was supposed to be.  He did want his memory back, he wanted to know who he had been, what he had done, and what kind of life he had been trying to build for himself.  He wasn't going to turn his back on who he was, because that would be dishonoring his own memory.  But on the other hand, he wanted to see things, experience things as he was now, and when he got back his memory, hopefully the combination of old and new could come together and make the best decision for his future.

      Auli.  He liked her, and he wondered just how interested she was in him.  From what Dar had told him about her last night, as the two of them played chess, Auli had been the island's hussy back when all the Sha'Kar were being mentally controlled.  Was her flirting just an echo of that past, or was she truly interested in him?  What level of interest did she really have?  She'd flirted with Dar too, was she only interested in playing with them, or did she want a relationship?  It was too much of a gray area.  Tarrin wasn't going to hold her past against her, since she couldn't help it from what he'd been told.  The mind control had made all the Sha'Kar act like Auli to one degree or another.  He could certainly see it in them when they went out.  The Sha'Kar would blush a little when they met members of the opposite sex, probably past romantic interests.  The Sha'Kar weren't half as morally strait-laced as the people in Aldreth were--after all, they did bathe in company and weren't quite as set against showing skin as where he came from--but some of them had seemed to cross some line in their culture that was not to be crossed back when they were under control.  He knew they were a bit embarassed about it, but he hoped they didn't dwell on it too much.  One couldn't beat one's self over the head over things over which one had no control.  They should just forgive themselves and others and then move on.  It would be best for all of them.

      Held against her or not, Tarrin couldn't deny an attraction to Auli.  She was very pretty and she had a very attractive figure.  But until he felt more comfortable with everything, he decided that maybe it was a good idea not to pursue things with her.  He'd be a friend to her, though.  She was too much fun to be with for him to avoid her.  Besides, he needed to talk with her, get to know her a little so he could figure out if she was just flirting for the fun of it, or if she'd been serious.  That look she gave Kimmie certainly looked serious, but then again, not only was she a girl, but she was a non-human girl.  Girls were mystery enough, but one from another culture?  One that wasn't human?  She'd be ten times harder to figure out.

      That seemed the best course of action.

      The boredom of waiting for the Sha'Kar to get up and get ready at least gave him plenty of time to think about all that.  They were all standing just outside the fences in a large open area on the outskirts of town, and they weren't alone.  Excited human servants were around them, gabbing excitedly at the times to come, when they would be free of the island.  All of them had agreed to serve in the Tower as they gradually adjusted to freedom, since none of them were prepared to deal with the radical shift in lifestyle that would come with freedom.  At least they were wise enough to understand that.  There were also many Sha'Kar there, gathered with their trunks stacked in the center of the mass.  The youngers looked extremely unhappy, since they were about to leave a life of pampered luxury for the demanding life that would come in the Tower.

      That had been a rather amusing little event.  Some of the youngers had actually tried to rebel the night before, stating flatly that the island was their home, and they were not going to leave it.  The elders among them had debated, argued, shouted, even ordered them to give up on the idea, but they were all adamant.  They were happy on the island, and they were not about to leave.  They would continue with their lives of parties and fun, and not an elder was going to tell them that they couldn't do it.  Ianelle, that clever fox, gave in to their demand and told them that they were more than welcome to remain behind, where they would be forever exiled from the culture of the Sha'Kar, and not be visited.  For any reason.  And then she told them quite absently that since the servants were technically still slaves, and they were owned by the patron or matron of each house, who all happened to be elders, that meant that all the servants would be leaving in the morning.  All the serving girls, all the cleaners, all the pages, all the farmers, all the food gatherers, every single human servant.  The youngers were more than welcome to remain behind, but they'd have to feed, clothe, and support themselves.  They could have their grand houses and their parties, but not much else.

      It had been a devastatingly effective tactic.  Faced with the prospect of having to grub in the dirt to feed themselves, the youngers had the wind sucked right out of their sails.  And the human Sorcerers that had sided with the youngers quickly jumped ship, knowing that any human left behind, Sorcerer or not, would be seen as a servant in the making.  That ended that rebellion faster than any other thing possibly could have done so.

      For that reason, the Sha'Kar around them weren't all that good company.  The youngest looked very put out and surly, and the elders all looked very aggravated with their children.  That gave the place a feeling of hostility that put Kimmie and Triana a bit on edge, making them pull in a little closer to Tarrin, which made him hostile.  The others with them hadn't come out yet, staying behind with Arlan, Iselde, and Allyn to make sure they'd gotten everything from their manor house that they wanted to take.  The only one there was Dar, who in the days since his loss of memory had become one of his closer friends.  He liked all the others, and Allia was probably the one he liked the most, but Dar was about his age, and he just felt comfortable with him.  Besides, Allia spent alot of time letting Allyn fawn over her.  Tarrin had never seen a man more totally enslaved by a woman than Allyn was with Allia.  Allia seemed to enjoy it, and Allyn wouldn't take his eyes off of her even if she told him to.

      Tarrin looked around and realized that he didn't see any babies among the Sha'Kar.  There were plenty of very young Sha'Kar, no more than teens, but very few children and no infants.  The youngest he'd seen looked to be about a six year old boy.

      Only about half of the Sha'Kar had arrived, around two hundred or so standing or milling around on the grass, muttering or talking with one another.  Tarrin stood near to Kimmie and Triana and watched them, listened to them as the older ones talked about the work to come and the satisfaction and eagerness to return to the life so long abandoned, and the younger ones growled and sulked over losing their homes, losing their decadent, pampered lifestyles.  Though he'd been there, Tarrin couldn't remember the Tower, so he had no idea what kind of place was waiting for them there.  And he was interested in it.  It was just one of the many things he was interested in learning.

      Tarrin spotted the others, helping the three Sha'Kar with them carry out five large trunks.  Azakar carried two, and each of the others was being carried by a Sha'Kar and one of their friends.  Dar came right up to him with his single pack slung over his shoulder and greeted him, and they stood together and watched as the trunks were set with the others and the group reassembled.  Tarrin saw the remaining Sha'Kar converging on the field from around the large, spaced town, moving in large groups, and he realized that they'd be leaving very soon.

      "It looks like we're about to go," Dar noted, mirroring his thoughts.

      "It's about time," Tarrin said in Arakite.  "Triana got me up at sunrise."

      "I know, Dolanna woke me up not long after," Dar said, switching to Arakite himself.  "A little packing and a whole lot of waiting."

      "Truly.  They didn't even have anything to eat," he complained.  "Triana had to use magic to get us food today."

      "We'll live," Dar chuckled.  "They'll have all the food you can eat in the kitchens at the Tower."

      "I'm going to feel lost there," Tarrin said.  "Except that they won't let me get lost."

      "It's a big place, Tarrin," Dar said with a grin.  "It's easy to get lost."

      "Good," he said with a conspiratorial smile.

      A human woman stepped up to them, and it was a very strange looking woman.  She had blue hair.  She was very tall, buxom, wearing a dress that looked to be made of millions of tiny little blue scales.  Her eyes were amber, like Keritanima's, and there was a sinister quality to them that put Tarrin just a little on edge.  She smiled when she saw Tarrin, and reached out and took his hand.  "I see you're well, little friend," she said, and Tarrin recognized Sapphire's voice.

      "Sapphire?" he said in surprise.  "Is that you?"

      "Do you like it?" she asked, turning around for his benefit.  "It was the best spell I could find on such short notice.  Am I looking human enough?"

      "Well, the blue hair and the yellow eyes are a bit unusual, but yes, you do look human.  That's a magic spell?"

      She nodded.  "Dragons find it useful to sometimes go see what the humans are up to, and it's much easier to move around like this.  When we arrive in our true forms, it always causes a panic for some reason.  You humans are such jittery little things," she said absently.

      "I think little is the key word there, Sapphire," Tarrin said.  "It's hard to be nice to someone when they can step on you by accident."

      "Probably," she said.  "Was your night well?"

      "A little boring, but otherwise fine," he said.  "Are you going to be staying in the Tower?"

      She nodded again. "For a few days.  I'm still trying to track down my two youngest, and it'll be easier if I stay in one place.  Once I find them, and I'm sure you're going to be well, I'll return to my lair."

      "I'll miss you," Tarrin said impulsively, and it was accompanied by a slight flash of memory, him holding her in his arms, cuddling her, and that also brought a small shock of pain.

      "I'll miss you too, little friend," she said, squeezing the hand in hers gently.  "I never thought I'd feel so much kinship with a biped.  The world is a funny place sometimes."

      "If I told my friends one of my best friends was a dragon, they'd lock me in the cellar," he said with a wry smile.  "But from what they tell me, I had all sorts of very strange friends.  Wikuni, Selani, Knights, Sorcerers, Wizards, Amazons, Faeries, Were-cats, even Demons and dragons.  I wish I could remember it all," he fretted.

      "Give that crazy Wizard a chance, Tarrin," she said sedately.  "He seems a bit addled, but I heard his mutterings and carrying on when he examined me.  He's an excellent Wizard.  I think he's better than I am, and that's no slight complement."

      "They say Phandebrass is good," Tarrin agreed.  "I haven't seen him for a couple of days, though.  I think he's still on the ship."

      "Where is that Sha'Kar that was with you?"

      "Probably being punished by her mother," Dar snickered.

      "She seems the type," Sapphire agreed with a smile.  "I can't help but like her, though."

      "Me too," Tarrin agreed.

      The rest of the Sha'Kar arrived, and then a complement of about thirty Sha'Kar and five or six human Sorcerers split from the host and headed south, towards the ship.  Ianelle stood up on one of the trunks, and her voice carried all the way across the field.  "Everyone gather as close to the trunks as you can," she called.  "The less space we take up, the easier this is going to be.  Tight together now, don't be afraid to bump into someone!"

      "Well, this should be fun," Camara Tal grunted from the far side, picking up her pack and her shield.

      "Let's pull in," Triana ordered the others.

      The large host of people gathered closely together around the pile of trunks, as Ianelle ordered, and Tarrin felt a little jostled and just a little uncomfortable for some reason.  He'd never been squashed up with people like that before, and it wasn't an entirely fun experience.  Kimmie was pushed up against his back, Triana just in front of him, and Dar and Sapphire were on either side of him.

      "Do you think they're waiting for us at the Tower?" Tarrin asked Dar.

      "I think they are.  Ianelle's been talking to your sister through the Weave.  I think they already told her where to have us appear on the grounds."

      "I wonder what's going to happen," Tarrin said nervously.

      "Me too.  Guess we're going to find out," Dar said with a grin.

      After everyone was scrunched up together, Sha'Kar and some of the human Sorcerers surrounded the area around them.  They all looked towards Ianelle, and when she raised both her hands, all the others did the same.  Tarrin felt something very strange happen then, some kind of magic that seemed to flow between all the Sorcerers taking part in the spell.  All their hands suddenly began to glow with a strange wispy light, and Tarrin felt the magic build up all around them.  For a moment, he got the impression that there were a whole bunch of little strings or threads or something flying around them, bobbing and weaving around one another so fast that it was hard to keep track of them, and again he saw those strange faint white lines that seemed to be all over the place flare up.  Keritanima told him that he was seeing the Weave, but he ignored it most of the time.  But now all those lines seemed much clearer, much more visible, even overlaying over the real world instead of the real world overlaying them.

      It was terribly anticlimatic.  One moment he was watching Ianelle's hands, which were glowing more brightly than all the others, and he could see the forest behind her.  Then the next second, her hands and the glow didn't change, but in a fast shimmer, the area behind her did.  There was absolutely no sense of moving, no flash of light, no sign of any kind that they had just done something, mainly because the sun had jumped across the sky in dramatic fashion.  Where it had been early morning a second ago, now the sun was at its zenith, marking it as noontime.  But he could see behind her, and it wasn't the woods.  It was a huge tower made of white stone, stretching almost impossibly high into the sky, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of spans.  That huge spire was surrounded by six smaller towers, also of white stone, and some of them had slender bridges spanning from them to the main Tower so high over their heads that he couldn't see if there was anyone on top of them.

      Tarrin was quite shocked by it, and the silence from the host told him that he wasn't the only one.  He could do nothing but gape up at the Tower like a rabbit staring down the gullet of a wolf, awed at how impossibly high the thing was.  Pristine and white, shining in the summer sun, the Tower was a gigantic monument to the lost power and majesty of the katzh-dashi.  How could anyone look up at it and not feel overwhelmed?

      "I never thought I'd see it again," he heard one of the Sha'Kar say in a reverent tone.  "After so long, we have come home."

      Home.  He could see how a place like that could be home to so many.  It was so big!

      They weren't alone.  He realized that as he looked down the Tower's wall, and saw a large complement of robed humans standing between them and the Tower.  In the very center of them, flanked by Sorcerers in colored robes that seemed to mark some kind of rank, was Jenna.  But this wasn't the Jenna he remembered.  This was a much older, taller, and filled out Jenna.  Not the pre-teen girl he'd left behind in Aldreth, but a very pretty young woman with long dark hair falling over her shoulders straight and true, curling up as it touched her shoulders.  She had grown into a very pretty young lady, with dark, full lashes, dark liquid eyes that seemed to shine, and her mother's cheeks.  She stood regally, as if she owned everything and everyone, wearing a simple dress made of some kind of sheer fabric, like silk or satin, but then she abandoned that austere poise when she saw Tarrin, crying out his name and running forward.  Tarrin stepped up and nearly got bowled over when she slammed into him, hugging him tightly and calling out his name over and over again.

      "Look at you!" Tarrin said with a smile, pushing her out to arm's length.  "You're almost full grown!"

      "Look at you!" she said with a teary smile.  "You look just like you did when you left!  Triana said you can't remember anything at all.  Is that true?"

      He nodded.  "Phandebrass is trying to cure me," he told her.  "Is he here?"

      "He's coming with the ship," Triana told him from behind as she looked down at them.

      "They said you're the Keeper now," Tarrin said.

      She nodded with a grin.  "That's me.  The regal ruler of this realm," she said with a wink.  "Not that I take it very seriously.  The Council keeps trying to tell me what to do, but they're going to find out that I don't think this is just for show.  The Goddess told me that it's my throne, and I'll run this Tower as I see fit, not how they want me to."  She looked around.  "Where's the First?  What's her name?  Ianelle?"

      Ianelle stepped up to her and gave her a very deep curtsy.  "Honored one, as promised, we have come home," she said with a nod, in the most formal mode of Sha'Kar speech.  "Is all prepared?"

      "I've got everything ready for you," she replied in semi-formal Sha'Kar, a sign to Ianelle that she preferred to do without the flowery, formal speech.  "The West and Southwest towers are yours, and as you requested, the servant staff there has been given those orders you passed to me.  For now, until we sort things out, your Council is going to sit with the current one, and after we adjust, we'll choose a new Council."

      "Those are good choices.  Small chambers, frugal.  That's what we need," she said with a slight smile.  "Perfect."

      "You've been here before?" Jenna asked in surprise.

      "I was once on the Council at this very Tower," she said with a nod.  "I was the Divine seat."

      "Well, I'm sure we can sort things out.  Do your people speak Sulasian?"

      "Only some, and it is the Sulasian of a thousand years ago," she said with a rueful smile.  "I'm sure we have terrible accents, but we will adjust."

      "Well, you're going to have to learn," Jenna said with a frown.  "Only about twenty of the Sorcerers here have managed to learn Sha'Kar.  All of the Council does, as well as some of the more prominent Sorcerers among us.  But all of them are learning as quickly as they can."

      "We will help them along, and they will help us along with Sulasian," Ianelle said.  "Sha'Kar was always the common tongue within the walls of the Tower."

      "Until we can get the language barrier out of the way, I'll assign those katzh-dashi that have learned enough Sha'Kar to communicate to you to act as translators.  Please don't be offended, but your translators may not know which form to use.  If they speak to you informally, don't take it the wrong way."

      "We appreciate it, honored one, and don't worry.  We fully understand that Sha'Kar is a second language for them, and we will be very patient.  May we settle in now?"

      "Please, don't let me stop you," Jenna said with a warm smile.  "You know where the Council chambers are?"

      "Yes, honored one."

      "When you get settled in, let me know, and we'll seat both Councils and have a conference.  It's going to be nice to speak to you face to face for a change."

      "Speaking in the Heart has its own charm, but there is much to be said for face to face conversation," Ianelle agreed.  "It shouldn't take us long to move our trunks into the towers and assign chambers.  Two hours, I would say.  May I call on you then?"

      "Ianelle, you're the First.  You can call on me any time you feel it necessary," Jenna told her calmly.  "My door is always open for you."

      "You honor me, honored one," Ianelle said with a curtsy.  "By your leave?"

      "You don't have to ask me for permission to withdraw, Ianelle," Jenna smiled.

      "You are the honored one, Keeper," Ianelle said brusquely.  "To us, you are a queen.  We will treat you as one."

      Jenna fretted.  "I was afraid of that," she said.  "Well, if that's the way it is, then that's the way it is.  You're dismissed, Ianelle.  I look forward to getting to know you."

      "And I you, honored one," she said, giving her one more curtsy, then scurrying off to bark commands to the Sha'Kar.

      "Queen, eh?" Tarrin said with a smile.

      "That's right," she said primly, tossing her hair a bit.  "So you'd better treat me like the queen I am, or I'll throw you in the dungeon."

      "Yah yah yah," Tarrin retorted, slapping her lightly on the arm.  "To me, you're just my little sister."

      "Well, come on then, big brother," Jenna said with a smile as she took his hand.  "Let's go in.  Jesmind is bouncing off the walls to see you."

      "Why didn't she come out here?"

      "She didn't want to cause a scene," Jenna winked.

      "Is she really that upset?" Tarrin asked nervously.  From what he'd heard of Jesmind, she was emotional, short-tempered, and somewhat high-strung.  He'd been worrying about meeting her for a while, because he had no idea what she was going to do when he met her face to face.

      "Not really," Jenna laughed.  "She just didn't want to bring Jasana out here.  She was afraid that Jasana may cause a scene."

      Jenna paused to greet the others warmly, and that told Tarrin that she knew them.  Dolanna and Dar bowed to her, reminding him yet again that Jenna was now technically over him, that she was very much different from the little girl that still existed in his memory.  Keritanima didn't bow to her, but from the way they talked, it was obvious that they knew each other.  Keritanima was a queen herself, and Tarrin wasn't sure what kind of protocols existed for when one monarch met another, and those monarchs happened to be friends.  If there were any.

      It was times like this that Tarrin felt his loss of memory most keenly, looking at Jenna, watching her talk to the others.  They all knew each other, they all knew so many things that he'd forgotten.  How did Jenna come to know Keritanima?  When did they meet?  Were they friends, or were they just being nice to each other?  He saw Jenna hug Allia like a sister, and saw the happiness in Allia's eyes.  When did Allia meet Jenna, and why was she so friendly with her?  Allia rarely showed that kind of emotion, he'd come to find out.  She was a very cool, reserved woman, only showing emotion when she was with him--when her uncertainty and pain over what happened to him was evident in her eyes--and when she was with Keritanima or Allyn.  But even then she didn't show much if there were others around.  When she was alone with Tarrin, or with Keritanima or Allyn, she acted alot differently than she did any other time.  But she would show emotion to Jenna.  That meant that she truly favored his sister...but when did they meet?  How long had they known one another?

      He wanted to know.  It drove him crazy that all those things that had happened were buried in his mind, and it was being denied to him.  It was an entire lifetime of experiences and adventures locked away, and even though there were things there that he probably wouldn't want to remember, what he would gain would more than make up for what it would cost him to remember.  He felt lost like he was, surrounded by people who knew everything, while he floundered around behind them, depending on them for almost everything.

      And if any one thing ate at him more, it was that.  Tarrin was a fiercely independent young man, having been cut loose from his parents' watchful eye when he was twelve.  They had trusted him to be careful, and he hadn't violated that trust more than a few hundred times.  But they'd never caught him.  He hated having them hovering around him, but he hated the fact that he had to depend on them even more than that.  To someone like him, who was so used to doing for himself, being by himself, managing to make it by himself, being dependent on another was humiliating, aggravating, and intolerable.

      There was very little that could be done right now, but he'd feel alot better after he established a little space for himself.  Once he learned his way around the Tower, he'd feel more secure.  And he knew that there was a fight coming over it, but he was going to demand his own room.  He liked the Were-cats, but their stifling overprotectiveness had just gotten too irritating.  It was a big Tower, and he was sure they could find him a room somewhere to himself.  And since it was the Tower, they'd have absolutely no reason not to give him that room.  It was one of the safest places in the world, the Tower was.  He would be surrounded by Sorcerers, Knights, and servants, all of whom would keep him from getting lost and keep a wary eye out for intruders.  Triana would have no valid excuse to giving him his own room.  And if she refused, well, there were ways around that.  He wasn't quite so intimidated by her now.  She said she loved him, and he could use that as a weapon against her if necessary.

      Holding Jenna's hand, his sister led him away from the Sha'Kar gathering with the others.  Tarrin looked around and saw that though there were Sorcerers and servants standing around the Sha'Kar, there wasn't a large greeting party there.  He asked Jenna about that, and his sister chuckled before she responded.  "It was Ianelle's orders," she told him.  "She doesn't want any fuss raised at all over their arrival.  The Council did want to have a ceremony, but Ianelle refused."

      "It's because she's trying to break the younger Sha'Kar of their habits," Keritanima told him.  "She doesn't want them getting any idea that they're special or anything like that.  Ianelle's even making them carry their own trunks, without using Sorcery or anything," she added with a snicker.  "Ianelle can be brutal."

      "She has alot of bad training to undo," Triana snorted.  "I'd take a much more direct approach."

      "I think she'd like to keep them alive, Triana," Kimmie said mildly.

      "They can have more," Triana shrugged.

      Jenna led him so fast that he didn't have much chance to take in things.  They approached a side entrance of the main Tower and entered into a wide, carpeted hallway that had white stone walls and strange globes of light that seemed to hover in midair just at the ceiling.  They gave him a strange feeling, and he realized they were products of Sorcery.  Servants and Sorcerers stopped in the tracks and bowed or curtsied to Jenna, who looked a little uncomfortable about it, nodding to them as she led them past.  They then reached a huge circular staircase and went around and around and around as they climbed it, so high that Tarrin was starting to feel just a little tired after a while.  "Where are we going?" Tarrin asked with a little huff.

      "Out of shape, brother?" Jenna teased.

      "I didn't expect to climb up this far," he admitted.

      "We're almost there," she assured him.  "Just two more floors."

      That reminded him of where they were going, and he started getting nervous again.  He was going to meet another one of these Were-cat girlfriends of his, and this one had a daughter by him.  A daughter, a child of his own.  It was almost unbelievable.  He wondered what she looked like, he wondered how she acted.  He wondered if he would remember her when he saw her.  If he didn't, he hoped that it wouldn't make her cry.  He didn't want to upset her.  They'd told him that she was as big as a seven year old, even though she wasn't even two.  He was curious about that.  Thinking about Were-cat children made him glance at Kimmie, whose belly was just starting to expand a little to show signs of her own pregnancy.

      He was so caught up in worrying that he was a little surprised when they stopped before a large, ornately decorated door.  Jenna wasted no time in opening it, revealing a large sitting room with a fireplace and three couches.  Tarrin was pushed into the room from behind by Kimmie, who just grinned at him, and when he looked back into the room he saw them.

      There was no doubt who was who, since they'd been described to him in detail.  The tallest one was Jesmind, and he was amazed at how pretty she was, looking like the graven image of a younger Triana.  She was her mother's daughter, that was for sure, but she had a thick mane of very wild red hair, poofing up at the top of her head and tumbling down her back in massive waves, and her fur was white.  She was even taller than he was, wearing a simple white linen shirt and canvas breeches like what sailors wore,and her expression looked intent, but he wasn't quite sure what it meant.  The smaller one was Jula, his--what did they call it?--bond-daughter.  She too was rather pretty, with a sharp chin and a pert little nose, but her fur was black, and her blond hair was tied behind her in a single thick tail.  She wore a sleeveless doublet of sorts and a pair of black trousers, and her expression was very guarded.  The child had to be Jasana, and if Jesmind was the image of Triana, then Jasana was the image of her mother.  She hugged her leg shyly, a darlingly adorable little girl with white fur like her mother and strawberry blond hair, wearing a vest-like half-shirt that left her midriff bare and tattered leather breeches that had been given the rough side of her claws.

      Dislodging her daughter,  Jesmind charged across the room before Tarrin had much chance to get past the door, and Tarrin found himself swallowed up in her arms, face crushed against upper chest as she literally picked him up and squeezed the air out of him.  She was half a head or so taller than him, and he was a very tall young man, but she seemed much bigger when she hauled him off the floor with absolutely no effort, threatening to break his ribs.

      "You're going to break his ribs, girl!" Triana snapped quickly.  "Ease off!"

      "I'm sorry," she said in a strangled tone, setting him down and putting her paw-like hands on his face, his chest, his arms, feeling him for injury.  "I'm so relieved you're back, my mate," she told him with her heart in her eyes.  "Even though you come back to me a little indisposed.  Any word from that crazy Wizard yet, mother?"

      "Give him time, daughter," Triana replied.  "This isn't an easy problem to solve."  She came over and put a hand on his shoulder.  "Tarrin, as you may have guessed, this is Jesmind.  My daughter, and one of your mates.  Do you remember anything?"

      Tarrin looked at her, and he did recognize her.  This was definitely the woman who attacked him in Torrian.  He didn't feel any fear, however.  They told him that it had been that collar controlling her, and he remembered the collar.  He'd noticed she was pretty then, even while he was trying to avoid getting killed.  Seeing her with clothes on and not infuriated drove the fact home that she was very pretty.  But outside of that, there was no memory, only a short flash, seeing her in the kitchen back at home, if that was possible.  The pang of pain that accompanied that made him wince just a bit, which made her put her paws to his head, like a mother checking a scrape on a child.  He felt like a child, looking up at her like that."I remember her," Tarrin said.  "But only from Torrian."

      "It's a start," Triana grunted.

      Tarrin felt a tugging at his belt.  He looked down, and realized that Jasana had crept up on him and was tugging to get his attention.  He looked down at her and marvelled at how cute she was, but he couldn't remember her.  There was a flash, though, looking down at the top of her head as she turned the pages of a book in her lap.  "Are you my papa?" she asked in a tiny voice.

      "They tell me I am," he told her in a serious voice, kneeling down and looking into her eyes.  "Did they tell you that I'm not like I was before?"

      She nodded.  "Mama said you lost your memory and that you were changed into a human.  I think you look stupid like that, papa," she said seriously, looking him up and down.  "You need to be you again."

      "I guess I do look a little strange to you," he chuckled ruefully.  He struggled to remember this darling child, anything at all, but he drew nothing but a blank.  Only that one flash of memory, obviously looking down on her from behind as she was reading from a book.  But despite not knowing her, just knowing that she was his daughter did make him feel something for her.  A protectiveness if not a love, at least not yet.  This was his child, and even if he couldn't remember her, he had a duty to her.  Even if he couldn't remember her, even if he was an entirely different species now, he was going to try to be a father to her.

      "Do you really have to be human?" she asked.  "Mama said not to bite you, or I'd get in big, big trouble.  Doesn't that mean that if I did, you'd be alright again?"

      "No, he won't, cub," Triana warned.  "He needs to get his memory back before we can change him back.  If we changed him back before that, he'll get sick.  You don't want him to get sick, do you?"

      "No," she said hedgingly.

      "Then remember, cub.  No biting.  You bite him, and you'll be in so much trouble that you'll forget what it was like when you weren't.  Do you understand me?"

      "Yes, Gramma," she sulked.

      "I'll have your word, cub," Triana said in a blunt tone.  "I know you too well to trust a statement like that.  Promise.  No biting.  I want to hear it."

      Jasana actually glared at Triana for a long moment, then she lowered her eyes.  "I promise I won't bite papa," she finally said, though it was very reluctant.

      Tarrin was surprised.  Was this little girl that dangerous?  So dangerous that Triana forced a promise out of her?  Tarrin knew what promises meant to Were-cats, so making her promise was setting it in stone that she wouldn't do it.  Would she really have tried?

      Then he realized that she was just a child.  Children had a much different concept of the world than adults did.  She would probably be more than capable of biting him if she felt that him being as he was was wrong.

      "We're not there yet," Triana said.  "No letting your spittle or your blood touch him in any way, and no touching any cuts or open wounds your father may have.  Promise."

      With another short glare, Jasana promised not to do any of those things.  Tarrin could see the defeat in Jasana's eyes with those promises.  Triana had just cut the legs out of from under any plan Jasana may have had to change him back.  He was a little surprised that she would have thought of it, but Triana's words told him that it was in her character.

      The other Were-cat, Jula, stepped up to him.  He stood up and was surprised when she gave him a gentle hug, patting him on the back.  "It's good to see you again, Tarrin, even if you are like this," she smiled.

      "You're Jula, right?"

      She nodded.  "Your bond-daughter.  I take it you don't remember me?"

      "I'm sorry, but no," he said with a sigh.  And he didn't.  Not even a flash of memory, nothing at all.

      "Well, don't worry about it," she smiled.  "I'm sure they'll find a way to get your memory back.  Until then, I'd be happy to get to know you all over again."

      For some reason, that statement relaxed him quite a bit.  He felt much more comforatable with Jula than he did with that penetrating gaze that Jesmind was giving him.

      "Well, I'm sure we can make you at home, Tarrin," Jesmind told him.  "I--"

      "I'm sorry," Tarrin told her.  "No offense, Jesmind, but I'd like to have a room to myself until I get my memory back.  I hope it doesn't offend you."

      Jesmind looked a little taken aback, but then she seemed to understand.  "You don't remember us at all, do you?" she asked with sad eyes.

      "I'm sorry, but no," he admitted.

      "Well, we can put you in Jasana's room," Jesmind said.  "She can sleep with me."

      Tarrin screwed up his courage, rising up to his full height, and then said it.  "I want my own room," he said firmly.  "Like not in this apartment."

      That got a reaction.  Both Jesmind and Triana snapped at him almost at the same time that there was no way that they were going to let him out like that.  "No way you go around without someone watching over you," Triana grated as Jesmind rambled "you think you're going to wander around in this condition, you're crazy!"

      But it was Jenna who rescued him from having to shout at the Were-cat females.  "I think Tarrin does need a little space," she said calmly, but in a brisk tone that brooked no argument.  "You want an apartment like this one, brother?" she asked.

      "Nothing quite this grand," he replied calmly, relieved that someone was going to side with him.  "Just a room somewhere."

      "There's an empty chamber beside mine," Dar offered.

      "It is just down the hall from me," Dolanna added.  "I assure you that I will keep an eye on him for you, Mistress Triana."

      "Well then, there we go," Jenna smiled, then she fixed Triana with a very stern look.  "Dar, why don't you take Tarrin down and show him his new room?  In fact, why don't all of you drop off your things in your rooms, then we can all go get some lunch."

      "You mean breakfast," Dar said.

      "Lunch," she said with a smile.  "Remember the time difference, Dar.  It's noon here."

      "Oh.  I forgot about that."

      "I would like to get something to eat," Keritanima agreed.  "I haven't had a thing to eat all day."

      Both Triana and Jesmind looked a bit put out that the subject had been changed on them so quickly.  "I'm not letting Tarrin roam like this," she said flatly.  "In this conditon, he's all but helpless."

      That caused Tarrin's pride to rise up.  "I can do for myself, Jesmind," he said with a short look.  "I'm sorry to break it to you Were-cats, but I'm not helpless, and I don't need protecting."

      Jesmind actually looked a bit chagrined, but Triana's expression didn't change.  "If you're taking that room, fine.  But I'll be there," she declared.

      "No, Triana, you won't," Jenna told her bluntly.  "This is the Tower, if you recall.  He'll be quite safe here, so long as he doesn't leave the grounds."

      "Who are you to order me around, girl?" Triana said with an ominous glare at Jenna.

      But Jenna didn't seem to be very impressed.  "I'm the Keeper, Triana," she replied in a stiff tone.  "If you don't recall, you happen to be my guests.  If you don't feel that you need to obey me within the boundaries of my own Tower, you're more than welcome to leave at any time."

      It hung there for a long moment, as the Were-cat matron and the young woman, barely half her height, locked gazes and refused to look away.  But then Triana blinked, and her stiff posture softened slightly.  "As you say," she growled in acknowledgement.

      There were more than a couple of shocked expressions among them.  None of them had ever seen Triana bow to anyone's authority before.  Even though Tarrin had no memory of Triana, even he understood that he just witnessed something along the lines of the sun rising in the west, or the Skybands turning sideways in the sky.

      To his surprise, Tarrin realized that that had settled the matter.  Jesmind's hostile expression softened, then she glanced at Jasana and her eyes became calculating for a moment.

      "Now, let's all get settled in, and then have some lunch," Jenna said briskly, so the silence didn't fester in Triana's mind.  "Dolanna, Dar, make sure Tarrin finds the main dining room," Jenna said with a smile.  "Let's all meet there in an hour, alright?"

      There was a rumble of assent, and then the others began to file out.  But Tarrin hesitated to say goodbye to the Were-cats, to make sure they weren't very mad at him.  "I'm sorry, but I just need some space to myself," he explained to Kimmie as the others listened.  "You've been hovering over me ever since I woke up, and if you didn't know, that really aggravates me."

      "I should have known, it aggravated you before," Triana grunted.  "Alright, cub.  If you want a little space, we'll give it to you.  But you'll still come sit with us and spend time with your daughter," she declared.

      "I'm not abandoning you all," he said with a laugh.  "And I want to get to know my daughter and my, uh, girlfriends.  I just want my own room, that's all."

      "Actually, it may be for the best," Jesmind said calmly, glancing at Jasana again.  "All this has to be rather traumatic.  And it's not like you're going to move across the city."

      "Exactly," he said with a nod.  That wasn't what he expected from Jesmind, but it warmed him to her rather quickly.  If she was willing to see his side of it, maybe there was hope that they could be good friends.  "You can come see me whenever you want.  I'm not going to shut you out."

      Jesmind tapped Triana on the shoulder, then nodded towards Tarrin.  Triana nodded.  "Jula, why don't you and Kimmie sit with Jasana a bit," Triana ordered.  "We're going to go with Tarrin to find his room."

      "Sure, Triana," Kimmie said quickly, picking up Jasana.  "Hey there, halfling," Kimmie said with a grin.  "Want to meet your brother, or sister, or whatever it's going to be?"

      "Mama said you were having a baby," Jasana told her.  "Will you come back, papa?"

      "We'll see each other at lunch, Jasana," Tarrin told her.


      Dolanna and Dar led Tarrin and the two Were-cats out of the room, then back down the stairs.  "I don't like the look in Jasana's eyes," Jesmind explained to Triana as they descended.  "I think putting Tarrin out of her easy reach may be a good idea.  You know how she is."

      "I know too well," Triana grunted.

      "Giving Tarrin his own room is going to keep Jasana's evil little mind from dwelling on it too long, and besides, I think he really does need a little space of his own.  We're all strangers to him, and I think it would be uncomfortable for him to live with us."

      Jesmind did understand.  He nodded with a relieved expression, and impulsively reached out and took her hand, feeling the soft-rough pad on her palm on his fingertips.  "Is Jasana really that bad?" he asked.

      "Yes," both the Were-cats said in unison.

      Tarrin laughed.  "I think I like her already," he admitted.

      "She can be so sweet and adorable that everyone loves her when she wants to be, but when she wants something, there's no such thing as going too far," Jesmind explained.  "She's a real handful to manage."

      "It sounds like it," Tarrin agreed.  Jesmind squeezed his hand very gently, and she smiled down at him when he looked at her.  He decided that he liked Jesmind right about then.  She wasn't half as bad as the others had made her out to be.  "I guess there's little doubt that she's my daughter," Tarrin chuckled.  "Mother always said my children would be impossible to control."

      "Ah, then it's all your fault," Jesmind grinned.

      "You were just as impossible when you were a cub, daughter," Triana told her.  "If anything, Jasana's the fault of both of you."

      Tarrin tuned the others out a moment as Dolanna told Jesmind about the Sha'Kar to be very, very relieved.  He thought that Triana and Jesmind were going to fight him about him wanting his own room, but thankfully, Jenna had intervened on his behalf, and Jesmind understood better than he thought she would.  It wasn't that he didn't like the Were-cats, or he wanted to avoid them, it was just that he didn't know them.  He wanted space, a little privacy for himself, and a chance to come to terms with this strange situation without someone looking over his shoulder every moment of every day.

      He was still a bit surprised over Jasana, but he guessed that he shouldn't have been.  Kimmie described her to him, and her thinking about biting him to turn him Were would definitely be within her character.  He found that he was very much looking forward to seeing her at lunch, and sitting with her afterward and spending time with her.  She was his daughter, after all, and he wanted to get to know her.

      "...don't think they're going to be much of a problem," he heard Dolanna saying as he started paying attention again.  "The youngers are a bit rebellious, but they are Sha'Kar.  I think that when they get accustomed to the daily routines in the Tower, they will find them to be not nearly as bad as they believe.  The respect and preferential treatment they will receive from the human katzh-dashi will soothe their egos enough for them to meld with the Tower customs."

      "As long as it doesn't make their heads big," Triana grunted in reply.  "Ianelle's going to have to pay close attention to the wildest of the children."

      "She won't have to look far," Dar laughed.  "Her daughter has to be one of the wildest."

      "I heard all sorts of stories about her," Triana chuckled humorlessly.  "If even half of them are true, I'm shocked Ianelle doesn't have gray hair."

      "Here you are, Tarrin.  Your room," Dar said as they stopped in front of a large oak door with a bronze handle.  He opened it and stepped aside just enough for Tarrin to look in, and he found himself staring into a rather large bedchamber with a big four-poster bed dominating the left wall.  It had a stand on either side of it, the curtains tied at the posts, and there was a huge chest at its foot.  There was a writing desk on the right wall, directly across from the bed, and there was a pair of bureaus on the far wall, both to the left of a glass-paned door that led out onto what looked to be a balcony of sorts.  There was an actual full-length mirror in the corner behind the bed, a real silvered glass one that had be dreadfully expensive.  Tarrin stepped in just enough to see a washstand on the same wall as the door, with a very expensive-looking porcelain pitcher and washbasin, white with elegant wavering blue lines circling the lip of the basin and the neck of the pitcher.  A glowglobe hovered over the foot of the bed, in the exact center of the ceiling, shining milky white light down into the room.

      "Wow," Tarrin said in surprise.  It was big.  Much larger than his room back home, and he had the largest room in the house, since it was the attic.  The furniture all looked antique, Shacèan in style, with sculpted, curved legs on the chairs and burnished, tapering posts on the bed.  Even the furniture looked expensive.

      "It's not half as nice as our apartment," Jesmind sniffed.  "You sure you don't want to stay with us?"

      "I thought you said you wanted to separate me from Jasana for a while," Tarrin reminded her.

      "It sounded like a good idea at the time," Jesmind grunted.  "You belong with us, my mate.  If this is what you want, I'll agree to it, but I want you to know that I don't like it."

      "I'm sorry that you don't like it, but I need some space to myself, Jesmind.  I'm not used to being so stacked up with people."  Tarrin dropped his pack on the bed and sat down on it tentatively.  It was a feather mattress, almost criminally soft.  "I'm not sure what I'm going to do with all this space.  I felt absolutely lost in that room back on the island."

      "You could get lost in that room," Triana snorted.

      "I think Tarrin could use some time to settle in," Dolanna announced.  "Dar's room is just to the left as you come out of the door, and my room is at the end of the passage past Dar's room, dear one.  If you need us, we will be there."

      "Alright," Tarrin said with a nod.

      "We'll see you at lunch, cub," Triana told him with a level look.  "If you need me, just call my name.  No matter where I am, I'll hear it, and I'll be here before the sound dies off."

      "Even if I'm just saying your name?" he asked.

      She nodded.  "So don't name me unless you want me to come to you," she warned.

      "Alright, Tri-uh, mother," he said.

      "See you in a bit, my mate," Jesmind told him, leaning in and kissing him on the cheek chastely.  Her lips felt strange, and it triggered another flash of memory, one that was rather intimate.  Something about Jesmind kissing him.

      They all said their farewells, and Tarrin closed the door behind him, leaned against it, and sighed in relief.  All in all, it went better than he expected.  Nobody fought about it--at least not too much--and what was more important, he'd gotten to meet Jesmind and Jasana.  Jesmind wasn't half as bad as he thought she would be, and all in all, he rather liked her.  He wasn't sure if she was just acting to try to keep him at ease or not, but regardless of why, he liked her.  Jasana was adorable, and he found the idea of being her father pretty good.  She was smart, cute, and he rather fancied her.  She sounded like a real handful, but in actuality, he preferred having a child like that.  At least one knew what to expect from a child like Jasana.

      He just wondered how long their giving moods were going to last.


      The meal to which they went at lunch looked more like a banquet, given the number of people that were there.  All his friends were there, naturally, but there were also others there.  Ianelle attended with her Council, and Jenna's Council was also present.  There were a few Sorcerers Tarrin didn't know there that Dolanna told him he had known, the Lord General of the Knights, an elderly man named Darvon, and a few of the Knights with which they said he'd been very good friends, and there was also a merchant family from town present that Tarrin was told were very, very good friends of both him and his family.  Tarrin couldn't remember any of them except the little girl, Janette.  Seeing her brought several flashes of memory to him, the strangest of which was looking up at her like she was some kind of a giant.  The little girl, about nine or so with dark curly hair and wearing a very fancy lace-lined satin dress, invoked any number of very unusual feelings in him, a powerful protectiveness paramount among them.  Tarrin knew that he looked at Janette like a daughter, like a member of the family, but he couldn't remember why he felt like that, when he met her, or how long he'd known her.

      Tarrin felt a little lost again as name after name was given to him, face after face passed by him that he was told he had once known, yet now couldn't remember any of them except Janette.  He sat rather firmly entrenched between Kimmie and Jesmind, and the two Were-cat females made him feel rather stifled.  He felt again the loss of his memory as he looked out over the many people, knowing that he'd once known almost all of them, knowing that he'd once known the Tower grounds like the back of his hand.  It was a strange feeling to see them, to know that he'd once known them, but have no memory of them.  It was a helpless feeling, an aggravating feeling, and those were feelings that Tarrin did not feel often at all.

      But the others didn't let him dwell on it too much.  During and after the meal, they came over and talked with him, smiling and acting in a reassuring manner, trying to make conversation without bringing up the past.  It wasn't easy for them, and it was plain on their faces that the way he acted now was much different from the way he'd acted before.  It seemed to puzzle them somewhat...they'd been ready to see him as a human and knew he'd lost his memory, but a change in personality was something that they hadn't expected. They did cope, however, trying to be light and chatty, but without his memory, there was little they could really talk about outside his impressions of the Sha'Kar and the Tower and the weather.  And those subjects got old after a while.

      At least he wasn't the main focus of attention for long.  The Sha'Kar present stole the thunder from Tarrin, at least among the human Sorcerers, and after they came to talk to him, they invariably ended up with the Sha'Kar.   Sapphire too attracted a great deal of attention, for though she looked like a rather exotic human, just about everyone in the Tower knew that she was actually a dragon.  Sapphire had come over early in the meal and told him that she'd been given a very nice room, and she was going to remain as a biped, as she called it, so as not to panic the city and also because it was much easier for her to move around the Tower grounds in a form for which the grounds and structures had been designed to accommodate.  She still had had no luck in magically tracking down her two youngest children, but she was still trying.

      After the meal, Jenna basicly thumbed her nose at her secretary, Duncan, who was rattling a sheaf of papers for her to deal with meaningfully and took Tarrin out on a tour of the grounds.  They went alone, and as she showed him around, from the gardens to the kitchens to the library to the Heart, the center of the Tower, to the training grounds of the Knights, they talked.  She told him all about everything that had happened to her and their parents during the time he'd forgotten, told him about the tutor that had died in a Troll raid on Aldreth, and their move to Suld.  Then she told him about her time in Ungardt after the Doomwalker attacked them, her getting to know their mother's side of the family, and then her crossing over and becoming a Weavespinner.  Then she described the move back, the battle at Suld, and her eventual rise to power as the Keeper of the Tower in Suld.

      "We all thought that Myriam was really sick," she explained as they walked along the pristine pathways of the gardens, a place that was much cooler than the other parts of the Tower.  Jenna had told him that a magic spell was placed over the gardens that kept them at a level temperature all the time, making them delightfully cool in the summer and nice and warm in the winter.  "She lost alot of weight and she looked really pale, and she was coughing all the time.  After she stepped down, she told me that her sickness was just a spell that Duncan had cast on her to make her look sick, and give her a valid reason to step down.  It was as much a surprise to me as it was everyone else when she literally hand-picked me to succeed her."

      "I didn't think it worked like that."

      "It doesn't," Jenna chuckled.  "The Council is supposed to choose the next Keeper, and the Council did object.  But then the Goddess manifested directly in the Council chambers and told them in no uncertain terms that I was her choice.  Nobody objected after that."

      "It must be amazing, having a god talking to you that way," Tarrin mused.

      "Mother doesn't really seem like a god most of the time," Jenna said as she ducked under a low branch from a cherry tree that was hanging over the path.  "She seems more like a friend than a god.  It makes it really easy to talk to her, and in a way, I guess it makes it easier for me to follow her orders."

      "How do you mean?"

      "Well, if she came down with flashes of lightning and all that fanfare, I'd be too afraid of her," she explained.  "She's more personable than that, but I never forget that she is the Goddess.  It's hard to explain."

      "You obey her because you love her, not because you're afraid of her," he said sagely, then he blinked.   Why did he say that?

      "Exactly," she agreed.  "So, what's it like?"

      Tarrin knew what she meant.  "I really can't say," he replied.  "Since I don't remember anything from before, I don't have anything to compare it to."

      "I guess I should have realized that," Jenna chuckled.

      "What's it like being Keeper?"

      "Well, everyone bows to me all the time, and that annoys me," she said.  "And you wouldn't believe how much paperwork there is to do.  I never dreamed how much time I'd spend sitting at a desk reading papers.  Kings and queens may rule the land, but the paper rules them."

      "Ban paper."

      Jenna laughed.  "I've been sorely tempted, but then Duncan would be dropping stone tablets on my desk, and that would murder the finish."

      Tarrin chuckled.  "Imagine trying to store them."

      "I'd have stone tablets stacked up like bricks," Jenna said, holding her arms before her to emphasize the image.  "They'd fill up my office until I had nothing but a little hole in the stone."

      "You could build little houses out of them.  Not only would you be storing your records, you'd be housing the homeless."

      "At least until I needed it back," Jenna laughed.

      "What exactly do you do as Keeper?"

      "Well, most of it is just diplomacy," she answered.  "I answer flowery letters from kings and queens with similarly flowery replies.  Sometimes I have to go to the palace and talk to the regent, because of the treaties between Suld and the Tower, and the rest of it is just administration of the Tower.  I have to direct the Sorcerers in their tasks, which is kinda silly since they already know what to do, and I send Sorcerers out on missions out into the countryside sometimes."

      "Like what?"

      "Well, last ride I sent ten Sorcerers to the Citadel of the Hill to replace the Sorcerers that had been pulling a yearly rotation there," she answered.  "I have some others out searching for children with the talent, and I also lent Shiika fifty Sorcerers to help her clean up some parts of Dala Yar Arak."

      "Shiika?  The Demoness?"

      Jenna nodded.  "She's actually a pretty nice woman," she said.  "I like her.  She's already asked if I'm going to build a Tower in Dala Yar Arak.  Before the Breaking, there was a Tower there, and now that the Weave has been restored, she's already sending treaty offers to me over me building a new Tower there.  I hate to tell her, but I can't make that kind of a decision.  I just rule this Tower.  The Goddess is the one that has to order the building of a new Tower.  I talked to Alexis about it--"

      "Who's she?"

      "Alexis Firehair is the Queen of Sharadar," she answered.  "She's also the Keeper of the Tower of Abrodar, the capitol city."

      "There's another Tower?" Tarrin asked in surprise.

      Jenna nodded.  "The only two that survived the Breaking.  There were five others, but they were all destroyed.  There was one in Dala Yar Arak, one in Arathorn, one in Nyr, one in Telluria, and the last one was in the Utter East, in a city called Xu Shen, which is the capitol of the largest empire in the East, called Shen Lung."

      "I didn't know there were other Towers.  Everyone talks like this one is the only one."

      "The other one is all the way across the world," Jenna chuckled.  "The Conduit that the Tower was built around comes out of the earth here in Suld, but it goes into the earth in Abrodar.  It's on the other side of the world.  Dolanna is from the Tower in Abrodar, didn't you know that?"

      "No, I didn't," Tarrin said.  "Why is she up here?"

      "Because the two Towers send Sorcerers between them, so we can keep in touch and so we don't grow too far apart," she replied.  "That way our purpose is always the same, even if we're on opposite sides of the world."

      "There's alot more to this than I thought," Tarrin admitted.  "I wonder what it looks like.  That other Tower, I mean."

      "I saw an Illusion of it that Alexis made for me," Jenna replied.  "It's not even half the size of this one, and it only has three splinter towers, instead of the six we have.  This Tower was the main one, Tarrin.  Before the Breaking.  Think of this Tower as the capitol city of the Sorcerers.  It was the largest, and most of the greatest katzh-dashi lived here."

      "I didn't know that."

      "Not many do," Jenna nodded.  "I didn't myself until Spyder gave me all her knowledge."


      "Oh, that's right, you don't remember that," she sighed.  "Spyder is another Sorcerer, the oldest and most powerful of us all.  When we were here at Suld getting ready for the battle, she came to us and taught us some of the old magic.  She also taught me about the history of the katzh-dashi, so I could restore it to the order.  So we'd know who we used to be and what our purpose is in the world."

      "What is the purpose of the katzh-dashi?" Tarrin asked curiously.  "I don't think I ever heard anyone say."

      "To serve," she said simply.  "We served the Goddess, and before the Breaking, it was our duty to watch over the world and make sure that the power of magic flowed seamlessly, and help other magic-users when they needed our assistance.  Back then, magic was very powerful, and our primary job was to maintain the Weave.  Repair damage caused by runaway magic and keep the Weave healthy.  When we weren't doing that, we helped Wizards and Priests create magical objects, since Sorcerers can prepare an object so that it can hold a permanent enchantment.  We also spent alot of time helping the common people, providing healing and such for those too poor to afford hiring a Priest and such.  The Weave is back to normal now, but most of the knowledge of those ancient magics has been lost, so we may not be called on to do most of what we used to do for a while.  Until then, we're going to learn.  Learn all about who we once were, so when the time does come that we'll be needed again, we'll be ready."

      "You said only Sorcerers can make magical objects?" Tarrin said.  "I heard Kimmie talking about some flying device that the Zakkites use.  Didn't they make that themselves?"

      "Well, I didn't say that exactly," she pointed out.  "Wizards and Priests can make magical objects, but it takes them a really long time, and it can cost them alot in terms of money and effort.  A Sorcerer can prepare an object in a fraction of the time and cost.  What may take a Wizard a year to make, he could do it in a month if a Sorcerer helped him.  Wizards and Priests do make objects that they don't want us to know they have, but in the past, for most other things, they'd bring it to us and ask us to prepare it for them.  We'd do it for them because it's our duty to support magic in all its forms.  Remember, brother, we're the followers of the goddess of magic.  All magic, not just the Weave.  So when other orders of magic need our help, we give it to them."

      "I didn't know that, but it makes sense," Tarrin said after a moment.  "If we helped them, why did they cause the Breaking?" he asked.  "I mean, Dolanna told me about that.  She said that someone killed the sui'kun, and that caused the Weave to tear."

      "Nobody really knows who did that," Jenna answered.  "Or Spyder didn't.  Some people think some renegade Priests did it, some think that Wizards did it, but some think that some other group did it, some group that hated magic.  Nobody really knows."

      "It's too bad."

      "I doubt it'll happen again.  Not even the most rabid magic haters would want to cause another Breaking.  Not now that they know what would happen if they did."

      "Have you written to mother and father lately?"

      She nodded.  "Yesterday I used magic to talk to them.  They're doing fine.  Oh, they wanted me to tell you that they're a bit ticked off with Jesmind.  She was living in our house, and she rearranged things.  You know how mother is."

      Tarrin laughed.  "I didn't know she was living in our house."

      "She was, while we were here in Suld.  Mother said that if she comes back, she has to build her own house somewhere in the meadow."

      "I wonder how Jesmind is going to take that," Tarrin said with a chuckle.  "She doesn't seem like how the others described her to me, but if she really is like that, it's likely to start a feud."

      "Jesmind is pretty much like how people describe her, but she loves you, brother," she said.  "When you're concerned, she's capable of acting way out of her character.  She's already established a pattern of doing that for your benefit."

      "Like how?"

      "Well, did they tell you about what happened when the two of you first met?"  Tarrin nodded.  "Okay, well, when you ran away from Jesmind, she was supposed to have to kill you, because you rejected the Were-cats and became a Rogue.  But she didn't do it.  She kept trying to talk you back, even steal you back a few times, and she wouldn't do what she was supposed to do.  She even seduced you, which was really against what she was supposed to do," Jenna giggled.  "When she got pregnant and left, she continued to rally for you with her mother, Triana, and that intrigued her enough for her to come and look you over before deciding whether or not to kill you.  If Jesmind hadn't been so adamant about it, Triana would have just killed you and been done with it.  I think Jesmind's loved you from the minute she saw you, Tarrin.  Ever since that first day, she's gone way out of her way for you, in more than one way."

      Tarrin was silent a moment as he considered that.  And it made him want to talk to Jesmind, get to know her, even more.

      "I feel bad that I don't remember her," Tarrin admitted with a sigh.

      "I know it's not easy," Jenna said, putting a hand on his shoulder.  "But she's here now, isn't she?  Just talk to her, brother.  Get to know her again.  And when you get your memory back, it'll just give you another aspect of knowing her.  You have a rare chance here, brother.  You and Jesmind have always had a very stormy relationship.  Jesmind loves to fight, even with you, and never a day went by when the two of you weren't shouting at one another over something insignificant and stupid.  But now you get a chance to get to know her all over again, when she's not going to fight with you.  She wouldn't dare, because she doesn't want to scare you or push you away."

      "Why were we always fighting?" Tarrin asked.  "If we did love each other, why fight?"

      "Because of the Were nature," she answered.  "Were-cats base most of their society on strength.  Jesmind fought with you all the time to establish herself in your eyes, to show you that she wasn't weak.  That she was a good mate that would produce strong children.  And you fought back to retain your dominance over her, because among the Were-cats, only Triana was over you in their society, brother.  You were above all of them but her, and sometimes you had to reinforce that dominance."

      "That sounds, bizarre," he said.

      "It's very simple, if you remember that you had cat instincts as well as human ones," she told him.  "The Were-cats are part animal.  Never forget that.  Were-cat society is based on strength, first and foremost.  And there were none stronger than you, Tarrin," she said proudly.  "You bowed to Triana only because you saw her as a mother figure.  And since you bowed to her, that put her above you in the eyes of the rest of the society.  Don't think of the Were-cats as humans with fur, brother.  They're very, very different from humans."

      "I'll try," he promised.

      "That's why you and Jesmind fought.  But you and Kimmie didn't fight that way."

      "Why not?"

      "Because Kimmie's not the average Were-cat," she replied.  "She knows her place, and unlike the others, she doesn't constantly try to reinforce it.  She was turned, just like you were, but she's alot more human than any other Were-cat, even you and Jula.  You and Kimmie really got along.  I think that's why you fell in love with her."

      "That is so strange," he said.  "I was in love with two women, and they didn't hate each other?"

      "Were-cats don't marry, Tarrin," she said sedately.  "You don't really have any obligations, you know, so you were free to love anyone you wanted.  Jesmind didn't mind Kimmie, and Kimmie didn't mind Jesmind, because Were-cats can't stay together forever.  Triana explained that to me, that Were-cats get increasingly aggravated with mates as time passes, and that their instincts and natures as independent creatures eventually overwhelms the desire to stay together.  So Were-cats part ways after a time after they've been mates for a while.  Jesmind and Kimmie don't mind each other because they know that the other one can't hog you.  After you get tired of one, you can just go to the other.  They can share you, and since they can, they don't really see each other as rivals."

      That actually did explain quite a bit.  "Hold on, Kimmie mentioned someone named Mist," Tarrin said.  "Is she really the mother of my son?"

      "She is," Jenna affirmed.  "I've never met her, but I heard Triana say that she was going to go get her a few days ago.  I think she's coming to Suld.  I really want to meet her son.  She named him after father, you know.  Father's so proud of that he's almost walking on air," she giggled.

      "I don't remember her at all."

      "Every time you say that, just remember that it's only temporary," she said, patting his arm.  "You will remember again.  But until then, don't dwell on what you've forgotten.  Just look at it as a chance to do it all again, to meet everyone again, to experience things that used to be commonplace to you and see them for the wonders they really are.  This is your chance to get to know all of your friends in an entirely new way, and when you do get your memory back, it'll make those friendships that much richer and deeper.  Don't dwell on the negatives, brother.  Try to make something positive out of it."

      "When did you get so smart, brat?" he asked with a smile, putting an arm around her shoulders.

      "Blame Spyder, Tarrin," Jenna giggled, leaning her head on his shoulder.  "She made me this smart."

      "I'd rather kiss her," Tarrin told her.


      It didn't take the others long for them to find his room.  After lunch, he settled in, but was rarely alone.  Allia and Allyn came first, and as Tarrin put his clothes away in the trunk, they talked.  Or, more to the point, occassionally ignored them during those silences when they were either kissing or staring into one another's eyes.  After that, Keritanima joined them, bringing in another Wikuni she named Rallix, her husband.  He was a badger Wikuni, with a dark band of fur over his eyes that made him look like a bandit.  But where badgers were bulky creatures, this Rallix was rather thin and scholarly looking.  He was a soft-spoken fellow, and Tarrin rather liked him.  He was quiet while Keritanima talked about how Ianelle had taught her how to Teleport, and now she could jump between her duties as Queen of Wikuna over there and come see him when she wasn't very busy.  Rallix seemed a bit casual about his wife's magical capabilities, but all in all, what else could he do but silently accept it.

      Camara Tal came in just as Allia, Keritanima, and their men were about to leave, and Tarrin found himself, to his surprise, playing the role of sympathetic ear.  Camara Tal had just had another fight with someone named Koran Dar, the Amazon man that was on the Council, who happened to be Camara Tal's husband.  The proud Amazon was surprisingly girlish as she lamented her woes to him, as she admitted that she loved Koran Dar, but he wouldn't come home with her because he didn't want the restrictions of a life as an Amazon man around his neck.  There really wasnt much he could say or do more than assure her that things were going to work themselves out, and hint that perhaps the best way to get Koran Dar back would be to give in to some of his demands.  That seemed to scandalize Camara Tal, but she did have a somewhat thoughtful look in her eyes when she left.

      He was only alone a few moments before Sapphire knocked on his door and invited herself in.  They had quite a nice little talk, and he kept finding himself staring at her and remembering how she had looked when she was a dragon.  He had her tell him all about her lair in the desert and what it was like there.  Then he told her all about Aldreth, and the life he at least could remember before leaving home.  He was in the middle of that when Azakar and a Knight that Tarrin didn't know arrived, a dark-haired knight named Ulger, who had been Faalken's best friend.  Ulger didn't know that Sapphire was a dragon, which was probably for the best, for the man started flirting with her almost immediately.  Sapphire seemed a bit shocked, but she almost seemed to be enjoying it as she excused herself to make another attempt to contact her missing children.  She did reveal that fact just before she left, probably to see Ulger's reaction.  She wasn't disappointed.  Tarrin was surprised that the Knight didn't wet his trousers.  He'd never seen a pair of eyes bug out that far in his life.

       Azakar and Ulger had just stopped by to see how he was doing, and they left not long after Sapphire did, to go down to the training field and work out the cadets.  After they left, Tarrin left also, going up to Jesmind's apartment.  He spent the rest of the afternoon with Jesmind, Jasana, and Kimmie--Triana was gone again--and he had a very good time.  Jesmind didn't push him or prod his lost memory too much, content to just let him play with Jasana for most of the time.  He taught Jasana how to play chess, and read a book with her that she'd gotten from the library, a book about the seven thousand year history of the city of Suld.  He found Jasana to be quite intelligent and very affectionate.  Tarrin found having her sit on his lap with her hair just under her chin to be quite pleasant, and it made him realize just what that flash of memory meant.  She seemed to fit perfectly in his lap, and being that close to her, even though she was a Were-cat and he couldn't remember her, he just knew that it was right.  It only took one afternoon for him to find love for his adorable little girl.  After they finished reading through the book, she put her arms around his neck and put her head against his shoulder, and it completely wrapped him around her furry little finger.  He just sat there and held her close for a very long time, marvelling at the fact that she was his daughter.

      She fell asleep like that, and after they put her down to bed for a while, Tarrin sat with Jesmind and Kimmie and they told her about the Sha'Kar island, and Tarrin listened while Kimmie told her about the parts that he didn't remember.

      Jesmind growled a little after Kimmie finished, and it was an eerie sound.  It was not a sound that a human throat could make.  "If only that crazy Wizard would finish already!" she huffed.  "Where is he, Kimmie?"

      "He's still on the ship," she replied.  "He's going to move up here tomorrow, but he didn't want to leave the ship until he finished the book he was reading.  He didn't want the distraction that moving up here would cause him.  Don't worry, Jesmind, he's hard at work on it.  I don't think he's slept for three days."

      "I should go down there and make him go faster," she said with a frown.

      "The more you bother him, the longer it'll take," she said sedately.  "I'm going to go down and help him move up his books tomorrow, and then I'll see what I can do to help him in his research.  But that's as far as anyone's going to be able to go to helping him.  Usually it's just best to stay out of his way."

      "Why is it taking so long?" she demanded.

      "Jesmind, a god couldn't undo what was done to Tarrin," Kimmie said pointedly.  "Does that give you an idea of how difficult this is going to be?"

      "Are you serious?"

      "Would I lie about something like that?" Kimmie countered.

      "I guess not," she snorted.  "It's just--you know."

      "You can't stand seeing him like that," Kimmie said.  "I know, Triana said the same thing.  I can't wait to get him back to normal either, but I have to admit," she said, giving him a smile and a wink.  "I think he's kind of cute as a human."

      "Of course he's cute, but I can't touch him like that," Jesmind said shortly.

      Tarrin blushed.

      Jesmind looked at him and laughed.  "I haven't seen you do that since we first met," she told him.  "Since we met in the forest, after that Wyvern sank the riverboat you were on."

      "Dolanna told me about that, but she didn't know what happened after we got separated," Tarrin said.  "She said that I never really told anyone much more than I'd met you in the woods."

      "Oh, she knew what happened," Jesmind said with a sly grin.  "She just didn't want to tell you."

      "What happened?" he asked.

      "Well, I taught you how to shapeshift," she said, ticking off her fingers as she spoke.  "Then we had our first fight.  Then I seduced you the first time, then you pulled that stunt that separated us on either side of an impassable gorge.  That's the short version of what happened after the Wyvern sank the ship."

      "I, don't remember any of it," Tarrin said after a moment of trying to recall.

      "Don't worry at it, my mate," Jesmind told him calmly.  "It'll come back to you.  You just have to be patient."

      "I think I'm more patient than you, Jesmind," Tarrin told her.

      "Probably, because I'm not particularly known to be a patient woman," she agreed.  "But we just have to have faith.  Besides, I think that Wizard knows that if he doesn't find a way to restore your memory, he'll have about ten angry Were-cats hunting him down.  I don't think he wants to take that risk."

      Kimmie laughed.  "I don't think that's occurred to him quite yet," she said.  "If it does, he may decide that running away is the better idea."

      The apartment door opened, and Dar stepped inside.  "Mistress Jesmind, I'm going to take Tarrin to go get something to eat," he announced.  "Do you want to come with us?"

      "No, that's alright, Dar," she told him.  "I'm not really hungry right now."


      "I'm fine, Dar," she said with a smile.  "Thanks for asking.  You and Tarrin go ahead."

      Tarrin wasn't particularly hungry either, but Dar looked like he had some other reason to come to get him, so he stood up.  "I'll be back later," he promised, then he hurried over to Dar and let the Arkisian lead him out the door.

      "Did I get here in time?" he asked in a hushed voice as they walked down the hall.

      "Time for what?" he asked.

      "To save you from them," he said with a grin.

      Tarrin laughed.  "Actually, we were having a good time," he answered.  "But I can go see them again later.  What did you want to do?"

      "Eat," he said simply.  "Then afterward, maybe we can go do something.  Did Jenna show you around?"

      He nodded.  "Most of the common places.  Kitchens, dining rooms, library, gardens, and some places on the grounds."

      "Well, we could always take a shot at the baths," he grinned.

      "What, you want to see me naked?" Tarrin teased.

      "I already have.  I'm more curious to see how you handle seeing girls naked," he countered with a wicked smile.

      "You're evil, Dar."

      "I had a good teacher," he said, slapping Tarrin lightly on the arm.  "Seriously, though, you do need a bath.  You smell like moldy fur."

      "Then Jasana needs a bath," he noted, sniffing at his arm.  "She was sitting in my lap most of the afternoon."

      "How did that go?"

      "Pretty well," he answered.  "I like her.  She's pretty smart, and she's completely lovable.  I think she's got me pretty firmly in hand," he said ruefully.  "It's a hard feeling to describe, Dar.  She's my daughter.  I mean, that alone is enough for me to love her.  I look at her, and I don't see the fact that she's a Were-cat.  I just see my daughter, and I find that I love her."

      "I should hope so," Dar told him with a smile.  "I thought she was going to try to bite you or something."

      "Everyone thinks she will," Tarrin mused.

      "Jasana's got a reputation, Tarrin.  Did you know that she first used High Sorcery in an attempt to keep you from leaving her behind in Aldreth?  She heard you say that if she used magic, you couldn't leave her.  So that's exactly what she did."

      "Nobody told me that," he said in surprise.

      "Jasana's a very dangerous little girl, Tarrin," Dar told him seriously.  "She loves you, but don't drop your guard around her.  If she decides she wants to turn you, she will.  Be very careful."

      "She can't," he told her.  "Remember what Triana made her promise?  There's no way she's going to get around that.  Triana took away every possible way she could do it."

      "You talk like she'll keep that promise."

      "She will," Tarrin said seriously.  "Trust me, Dar.  She'll break her own arm before she goes back on that promise, more because she knows how much trouble she'll get into more than the fact that she honors her word.  Even Jasana has to know that the trouble wouldn't be worth it, no matter how bad may want me to be a Were-cat again."

      "I hope so, but I still say you keep an eye on her, Tarrin," Dar said soberly.  "She's the most dangerous thing in this Tower, of that there is no argument at all."

      "I'll be careful," he assured him.  "Now I'm getting hungry.  Let's go raid the kitchen."

      With a kitchen like the one in the Tower, raiding it was a rather easy task.  The cooks were very quick to offer up any food they wanted, as the katzh-dashi kept no regular schedules and came down to the kitchens whenever they were hungry.  Tarrin enjoyed some roasted goose, a few slabs of roasted pork, and some spiced potatos and a thick meat and vegetable stew.  Dar took a huge bowl of stew as well, but took some of the strange grain dish that they called rice, something not very common in the West.  He filled a bowl with it halfway, then poured his stew over the rice.  Tarrin tried it after he saw Dar do it, and he had to admit that the rice did make the stew taste better.  They washed it down with some hot spiced wine, something of a specialty of one of the cooks in the kitchens, and after that rather large goblet of wine, Tarrin was feeling a little more adventurous, a little more daring.

      "Alright," he said, rolling up his sleeves like a housewife about to tackle the dishes, "let's get this bath out of the way."

      Dar looked at him, then nearly fell out of his chair laughing.

      The wine did help.  Dar led him down into the cellars, and showed him the baths with a grand sweep of his hand.  It was a massive pool, about a hundred spans long at least and fifty spans wide, with one end of the pool steaming.  The air was hot and muggy, from the hot water, and it smelled slightly like sulfur.  Dar told him that the baths were fed by a hot spring, which was why the water was hot and it smelled like that.  It was just after sunset, but the late hour didn't make the baths any less popular.  About thirty people were currently using them, as Novices in white shirts or dresses scurried around with towels in their arms, staring at the two Sha'Kar who were drying their hair without wrapping towels around themselves.  Tarrin already had an understanding of the Sha'Kar, and knew that that was in their character.  Sha'Kar weren't too modest.

      Tarrin would have felt alot more self-conscious if he hadn't drank the wine.  But he did feel a little trepidation as Dar got towels for both of them and led him to one of the many stone benches that surrounded the pool, many of which had robes or clothes folded neatly atop them, slippers or leather shoes tucked under them.  Dar grinned at him as he undid the belt of his robe, but Tarrin didn't give him any satisfaction.  The wine had bolstered his nerve, and he boldly removed his clothes, even paused to fold them up neatly and set them on the bench, then he stood there without putting the towel around himself and waited for Dar to finish undressing.

      "I shouldn't have let you drink that wine," Dar laughed as they slipped into the pool.

      The pool was about waist deep on one side, but got deeper as one moved towards the other side of the pool.  It had steps descending into the water at the shallow side of the end closest to the stairs leading back up to the main part of the Tower, but the far end of the long pool was empty, for the water was just under boiling and was much too hot for anyone to use.  Tarrin and Dar had slipped in along the side of the pool on the shallow end, then they moved out into the middle into warmer water, which also moved them out more or less by themselves.  Dar went back for some soap, and then they went about the business of cleaning up.

      As Tarrin was scrubbing his face with soap, he was startled when someone literally jumped onto his back.   The sudden weight nearly toppled him forward as arms wrapped around his neck from behind, and he realized that he was hearing laughter through the soap that had gotten into his ears.  He spat out soap that had gotten into his mouth, and then realized that he was feeling the naked breasts of a woman pressing against his back.  The mystery woman tightened her grip on him and jerked him to the side.  She was trying to dunk him into the water!  One of her legs dropped down and got between his ankles, and then she hooked the back of her heel around his leg and tried to yank it out from under him.  She continued to laugh, and Tarrin finally got his ears cleaned out enough to identify that voice.

      "Auli!" he barked, twisting aside and managing to make her slide partially off of him.  The soap helped in that regard.  He broke the grip she had with her hands around his neck, then pushed her out and away.  He whirled around and got a face full of water as she splashed him, and as he tried to clear soap and water out of his eyes, she grabbed him by the arm, stepped her leg over his, then pushed him.  Her leg kept him from catching himself, and he went under without much resistance.

      He came up with an angry expression, but all Auli did was laugh even more.  At that moment, the fact that Auli was with them in the baths hadn't impacted on him.  "I'm going to show you an Illusion of the expression on your face!"she said with a riot of giggling.

      "That wasn't funny!" Tarrin said accusingly, tilting his head to the side and palming his temple to shake water out of his ear.

      "I thought it was," she grinned shamelessly.  "What are you two doing?"

      "What does it look like?  We're taking a bath," Dar told her.  Tarrin noticed that he was up to his neck in the water.  Dar had bent his knees to let the water conceal himself.  Auli, on the other hand, had no such reservations.  Tarrin had wondered what had been under that dress of hers, and since the water only came up to her waist, he got a good view of some of the things he'd been wondering about.  And he had to admit, they looked even better out of the dress than they did in it.  She seemed to notice where he was looking, but instead of crossing her arms over her breasts to hide them, she thrust her chest out and advertised the fact that she knew he was looking.

      Tarrin did flush a little at getting caught staring, but Auli only grinned at him and splashed him again.  "It's about time I found you two," she told them.  "What's the matter with you, Dar?" Auli asked.

      "Nothing," he said with a blush.  "We're taking a bath here, Auli.  Can you go over there?"

      "I saw you get in the pool, Dar," she grinned.  "I've already seen it.  You don't have to hide it anymore."  She winked.  "By the way, did anyone ever tell you that you have a cute butt?"

      Dar turned a shade of purple Tarrin had never seen before.  That only made Auli laugh harder.

      Tarrin wasn't about to amuse Auli.  He stared right into her eyes and didn't bend his knees like Dar was.  He wouldn't give her the satisfaction the same as he wasn't going to give Dar the satisfaction.

      "Thank the Goddess I found you," Auli said with a sigh.  "It is so boring!" she complained.  "Talk, talk, talk!  That's all anyone has done all day!  Do this, don't do that, go here, you can't go there, this is your room, this is what you can do, this is what you can't do, I'm tired of it!"

      "There's alot you have to learn, Auli," Dar told her.  "It's only helping you to learn it."

      "I know that, but did they have to spend all day boring me to tears?" she huffed.

      "Are you done for today?" Tarrin asked.

      "I am," Auli said adamantly.  "I haven't had a chance to do much of anything.  I came down here to take a bath, and I guess the Goddess favors me, because you two are here.  So, what do you want to do?" she asked with a mischevious grin.

      "I want to finish my bath," Dar said in a slightly hostile tone.

      "Don't let me stop you, Dar," Auli grinned at him.  "Want me to scrub your back?"

      "I can manage," he said in a sullen tone.  "I'd just be more comfortable if you went over there."

      "Why?" she asked.

      "Because you're a friend of mine," he told her.

      "You told me that you bathe with your friends back in Arkis," Tarrin told him.

      Dar glared at Tarrin.  "Well, they're not Auli," he said.

      Then he understood.  Auli's flirting with Dar had unbalanced him, and it made him a little uncomfortable to be in the pool with her.  Auli seemed to understand it as well, and she laughed lightly.  "Oh, is that all?" she asked him, turning around.  "Alright then, I'll talk with Tarrin.  You go ahead and do whatever it is you need to do."  She reached out and snatched up a cake of soap floating on the surface, then waded up to his side and circled behind him.  He allowed her to put the soap to his back and start lathering.  "What have you done today?" she asked him.

      "Not much," he answered.  "I moved into a room, and I spent most of the day with my daughter."

      "The Were-cat?" she asked.

      Tarrin nodded, pulling the braid over his shoulder again after his nodding made it slip behind him.      "Sounds like you had a better day than I did," she grumbled.  "I've never been so bored!"

      "It'll get better," he assured her.

      "It better, or I'm going to run away," she said in a slightly sulky tone.  Her hands were very gentle on his back, thoroughly lathering every finger of skin above the waterline.  He didn't jump when her hands slid down under the water, dangerously close to his backside, but she went no further.  She put her hands on his shoulders and pushed, and he realized she wanted him to rinse off.  He did so, and when he came back up, she was already halfway around him.  "Your turn," she said with a challenging smile.  She was daring him to refuse to wash her back.

      But Tarrin wasn't one to back down from a challenge.  Without batting an eye, he put the soap to her back and started lathering her dark skin.  He found it not hard at all to wash her back, mainly because those challenging eyes weren't locked onto his, and he couldn't see anything that would make him feel uncomfortable while he was behind her.  He did notice that her skin was very soft, very silky, and her blond hair stood out against it in a very appealing manner.  She was very slender, but the flesh under her soft skin was surprisingly firm.  He remembered Dar telling him that Auli wandered around alot, and he realized that she was probably in better physical shape than the other Sha'Kar.  All of them were thin and looked very soft.  Auli had she-softness, but she was in better shape than the others of her race.  He scrubbed her back all the way to the waterline.

      "Don't be a coward, Tarrin," she said in a light, soft voice.  "Do my whole back."

      Without a word, he slid his hands under the water and scrubbed with his fingers all the way to the small of her back.  But just as she stopped, so did he.

      "Are you done yet, Dar?" Auli asked, looking at him as she rinsed off.

      "I'm done," he answered.  "What do you want to do after we get dressed?"

      "We'll find something to do," Auli laughed.

      Curiosity getting the best of him, Tarrin reached up and gently pulled Auli's hair away from her ear.  Sha'Kar ears tapered up to a definite point, and they gave her a very exotic appearance, much more than her ethereal features.  He'd seen their ears all the time from the front and the sides, but had never seen one from the back before.  Auli tilted her head and allowed him to look.  "What are you doing, Tarrin?" Dar asked.

      "I'm looking at her ear," he replied calmly.  "I've never seen one from this close before, or from behind."

      "Just remember, I get a turn," Auli told him in a teasing voice.  "And I won't be looking at your ear."

      "Right," Tarrin drawled as he let go of her hair.

      "Well, if we're done, let's get dressed and go do something," Auli announced, wading towards the lip of the pool.  Tarrin moved to follow her, thinking she'd turn towards the steps once she reached the edge, but he was wrong.  She put her hands on the edge of the pool and hauled herself out.  Tarrin paused at the edge of the pool and looked up at her as she climbed out, and his view of her left absolutely nothing--nothing--to the imagination.  She turned around and looked down at him with that same slow smile, seeming to be aware that him looking up at her that way all but made him look right at her most intimate charm.  "Yes, I'm a natural blond.  See?" she said with a wicked smile, pointing to the proof.

      "Auli, you're nasty!" Dar said in a shocked voice, then he laughed in spite of himself.

      "I'm not nasty.  I'm beautiful and I know it, boys love to look at me and I like them to look, so why not show off a bit for boys who'll appreciate my beauty?" she countered with a wink and a teasing smile, striking a little pose for their benefit, a pose like some of the sculptures he remembered in Arlan's room back on the island.

      "The eyebrows proved that you're a natural blond," Tarrin said dryly as she hauled himself out of the pool.  He was not going to give her the satisfaction of thinking he'd be afraid to come out of the pool with her standing there.  The cup of wine he drank gave him more courage than he'd usually have, but that almost broke down as well when Auli made absolutely no pretense of excuse.  She grinned at him then boldly looked down for a long moment, then looked him in the eyes again and winked.

      "You're a natural blond too.  And by the way, it should be a crime to cover that up," she said with a very sly little smile, then she turned and sauntered towards her towel.  Tarrin was glad she missed him blushing.

      Auli's boldness took Tarrin a bit aback, but he knew her, thought he had an idea of her personality, and realized that such behavior would be somewhat normal for her.  Auli was Sha'Kar, from a different culture than him, and it was a very different, permissive culture.  The others had told him about that.  Sha'Kar found the nude body to be a very beautiful thing, a work of living art, so they had very little reserve about showing it off, especially Sha'Kar who were very beautiful.  All that nude sculpture in Iselde's house certainly proved that to him.  For Auli, looking was no big deal, either boys looking at her or her looking at boys, because it was little more than the appreciation for the beauty of the form.  That's why it didn't bother her to have both of them see her nude, even to have them see everything, and it was why she wanted to see all of them in return.  Because to her, it wasn't only alright for them to look, she wanted them to look, to see her beauty and appreciate it, and she wanted to look at them in return and appreciate the beauty their forms could offer.  Many of the Sha'Kar were like that, he realized.  The two who'd been there when they arrived weren't making any attempts to cover themselves up either.

      When he understood that, he suddenly did not feel uncomfortable at all in Auli's presence.  After all, she was only admiring him, all of him, and what could be wrong with that?  She only made the remark to tease him.  Were she not in such a playful mood, she wouldn't have said anything.

      Dar wasn't quite so quick to grasp that concept.  He jumped out of the pool and literally ran to his bench, wrapping the towel around him as quickly as he could.

      They dried off and got dressed, Auli in a dress-like robe that was belted at her waist, and then set out to do mischief.  Tarrin had enjoyed the last time they'd been together, and Auli did not disappoint this time.  Dar showed them around the Tower, and it wasn't ten minutes before the Sha'Kar youth used Sorcery to trip a servant trundling down a hallway with a bundle of folded sheets in her arms.  They scrambled out of sight before the plump woman could right herself and cast an accusing gaze across the passageway.

      They ranged from the roof of the main Tower to the lowest cellar they could find, from one side of the fence to the other, sneaking around in the darkness and seeing what doors were unlocked and where they could go.  They ended up walking in on quite a few sleeping Sorcerers and servants, and even Auli wasn't brave enough to invade the barracks of the Knights on the grounds, but aside from locked doors, they spent most of the night, well past a reasonable bedtime, skulking around just to explore.  Auli made it fun to wander around, telling jokes, harassing hapless passers-by with Sorcery, and always speculating what they may find behind the next closed door.  Auli had a rich imagination, if a bit lurid, but she could infuse excitement into every closed door, sparking Tarrin's imagination at what they may find on the other side.  Auli had turned something as simple as exploring the endless hallways of the Tower into something very fun, very exciting, and very rewarding.  When Auli wasn't joking or flirting with Dar, they would all talk, revealing what life was like where they came from and getting to know each other much better.  Auli wasn't bashful about her past, admitting it to Tarrin with a straight face, but she did mention that the mental control that had been put on her had made her like that.  Tarrin assured her that he knew about it and that it didn't bother him, and when he said that, Auli seemed to relax a great deal.  They all found themselves sharing some rather embarassing secrets with one another, even Dar admitting that he had a huge crush on Tiella, something that he hadn't outright said to anyone, but none of them felt very self-conscious about it.  They were all friends, very good friends, and he felt very comfortable saying very personal things to both of them.  Every hour that passed brought the three of them closer together, until Dar stopped blushing when Auli flirted with him, until he felt completely comfortable with her.

      The best part had to be when they crept into the Novices' quarters.  Auli gave both of them a roguish grin, then used Sorcery to open every single door along the long passageway.  Tarrin watched in amused dread as the doors hovered open for a moment, then they all slammed shut in perfect unison, sending a shockwave of startlingly loud sound echoing up the long passage.  The three of them darted away as they all struggled to suppress laughter, laughter that would give them away as Elsa Gaarnhold, the Mistress of Novices, came barelling out of her private chamber wearing nothing but an angry scowl.  One Torian Novice staggered out of his room, a boy that looked no more than thirteen, and he gaped at the tall Ungardt in all her unclad glory until she raged at him to return to his room and if she saw his face again before sunrise he'd be sorry he was ever born.  They did manage to get out of Elsa's hearing before erupting into gales of helpless laughter.

      The exploring did manage one thing, if nothing else.  By midnight, Tarrin knew the passages of the Tower so well that he thought he'd been living there all his life.  They must have gone up and down every single one at least three times.  They had to have walked twenty longspans in the hours that they'd been wandering around, and his feet were starting to get a little tired.

      It was well after midnight before any of them started getting sleepy.  They had been sneaking around the cellars, trying to find a secret passage that everyone said a building as old as the Tower had to have, just to see if they could manage to do it, when Dar yawned widely.  "I think it's about time to turn in," he said.  "We can always try again tomorrow, and I'm starting to get sore feet."

      "Me too.  Let's call it a night.  You can show me where your rooms are, so I can find you easier from now on," Auli agreed.

      They took her back to the hallway on the fifth level, where their rooms were, and Dar pointed at the doors.  "That one's mine, and this one is Tarrin's," he announced.  "I'll see you two tomorrow.  Night," he yawned.

      "Night Dar," Tarrin said as Auli gave him a kiss on the cheek by way of farewell, and he shuffled to his door and went in.

      "Well," Auli said, leaning against the wall opposite him and looking at him.  "I'm really not that tired.  I just wanted to make sure Dar didn't think he was holding us up.  "Want to play some chess?"

      Tarrin remembered what happened the last time, when she offered to teach him to play...and part of him wanted to see if it would happen again.  But the rest of him discounted that.  Auli was his friend, he doubted he flirting had been anything more than what it was with Dar.  Just a way she played with them.  "I hate to say it, but I'm a little tired myself.  I don't think we have time for chess, but you can come in and sit for a little if you want," he told her.

      "Sure," she said with a smile.  "I want to see if your room is better than mine."

      She followed him into the room and looked around as he went across and opened the drapes that hid the door leading out onto the balcony.  "Good Goddess, did I get raped over the rooms," Auli complained.  "My room is like a closet.  This one is bigger than mine, and it has better furniture."  She plopped down to sit on the bed, and bounced up and down on it a few times.  "This is a nice bed," she noted.  "Not as soft as mine, but on the other hand, I don't like sinking into my bed like it was quicksand."  She looked over at him and patted the bed beside her.  "Come sit down," she invited.

      "Are you going to blow in my ear?" he asked bluntly.

      She looked at him, then laughed.  "Only if you want me to," she said with a sly smile.

      "Well, I don't," he said to her, and he sat down on the bed by her.  "What are you going to do tomorrow?"

      "I'm not sure yet," she replied.  "Probably more talking."

      "What are the Sha'Kar going to do after the talking is over?"

      "Teach," she replied.  "The humans here are woefully undertrained, and none of them can speak Sha'Kar.  We're going to teach them up to our level.  I think that's going to take a few decades," she grunted sourly.

      "If anything, we have time," Tarrin said.

      "It's going to be boring," she complained, flopping down onto her back.  "Day after day after day of nothing but teach, teach, teach."

      "Before, it was nothing but day after day of party, party, party," he pointed out.

      "But parties are fun," she said with a sour look at him.

      "Then make teaching fun," he said simply.

      "If only it was as easy as saying it," she huffed, looking up at him.  "Besides, before I was doing what I wanted to do.  Now I have to do things I don't want to do."

      "Welcome to the world of growing up," he teased with a chuckle.

      "I'd rather be back on the island," she admitted.  "I liked it there."

      "It was a gilded cage, Auli."

      "Maybe, but what a gild," she grinned.  She propped herself up on her hands and looked at him in a slightly different way.  "I have a question."


      "Do you remember anything at all from when you were a Were-cat?"

      "Not really," he replied.  "Sometimes I get these flashes, but they're more like images, pictures, or feelings.  Nothing really solid."

      "So you don't remember your girlfriends or your daughter at all?"

      He shook his head with a sigh.  "I feel sorry for them," he told her.  "I know it kills them to see me like this, and it must hurt that I don't remember them.  I know it would hurt me if my sister suddenly couldn't remember me."

      "I can understand that," Auli nodded, sitting all the way up and turning a little towards him.  "I have another question."


      "What would you say if I did this?"

      And then she leaned forward, put an arm around his shoulders, and kissed him.

      It was not a chaste, friendly kiss.  There was a passion in it that curled Tarrin's toes in their boots, and he suddenly couldn't remember how to make his arms work.  Auli pressed herself against his side more and more as she kept kissing him, pushing at him until she was literally in his lap with her hands on either side of his face to keep him still, continuing to kiss with with that same unbridled passion.  Tarrin had never kissed a girl like that, or been kissed like that, at least not that he could remember, and she effectively paralyzed him with her sensual lips.  The only way he could seem to move was to put his hands on Auli's shoulders, but he couldn't find the strength to push her away.  He didn't want to push her away.  He began to kiss her back as the passion in her kiss started working its magic on him, and all his careful plans to not get involved with Auli went up in smoke as soon as the passion of her kiss told him that she had no intention of stopping.

      Depending on how one looked at it, what happened next was either good luck or bad luck.  Tarrin had no idea the door had been opened, but Jesmind's rather angry shout startled Tarrin so badly that he nearly fell off the bed.  Auli whipped her head towards the door so fast her hair smacked Tarrin in the back of the head, and was about to stand up.  She did manage to shout in a rather unpleasant voice.  "This is a private room!" she said angrily.  "Excuse yourself!"

      "Just as soon as you take your hooks out of my mate," she said in a vicious tone.

      "He can't be your mate," Auli said in a hot tone.  "I asked.  That means he's available."

      "Not for you, Sha'Kar," Jesmind hissed, extending the claws on both her hands meaningfully.  "You have a choice.  Walk out that door now, or they'll carry you out in six seperate buckets.  Decide."

      It hung there for a very long moment, and Tarrin used it to try to regather his wits.  He'd never kissed a girl before--at least not that he could remember--and he never knew that it could have so much power in it.  All he could think of was how nice it felt, and a part of him was furious with Jesmind for barging in and ruining the moment.  But that other part of his mind that told him that getting involved with Auli would probably be a bad idea managed to resurface, at least now that Auli hadn't clubbed it into silence with her powerful presence, and he felt a little abashed at having been so easily wooed.  He thought that he had a little more self control than that, but then again, he'd never met a girl quite like Auli.  Tarrin didn't think many men at all could say no to her, not if they were kissed like that.

      With all the grace of a queen, Auli stood up and smoothed her skirt.  "I'll see you later, Tarrin," she promised with an inviting smile.  "Count on it."

      Jesmind glared at the Sha'Kar woman as she swept past her, not even bothering to look at her, then glided out of the open door.  Jesmind slammed the door behind her, then stood before it giving him a withering look.  "And just what do you think you're doing?" she demanded.

      "Well, I certainly didn't plan that," Tarrin told her.

      "She did," Jesmind snapped.  "You should know better than to get mixed up with a girl like that, Tarrin.  She doesn't care about you.  She just wants to conquer you."

      "Isn't that what you did to me when we met?" he asked pointedly.

      Jesmind spluttered slightly, looking a little embarassed, then she cleared her throat.  "That was different," she said waspishly.

      Tarrin had been a little grateful that she'd interrupted them before it got too serious, but now he was having third thoughts.  What was Jesmind doing outside his door?  Was she following him around?  And what right did she have to barge in that way?  His life was his own, and he didn't appreciate Jesmind trying to interfere.

      He looked her right in the eyes.  "It seems awfully convenient that you just happened to be walking by at the right time," he said in a dangerous voice.  "Or was it more than coincidence?"

      "I was following you," she admitted without batting an eye.  "I'll give you space, Tarrin, but I'm not going to let you wander around alone.  This Tower isn't as secure as Jenna likes to think."

      Her admission surprised him, yet it didn't.  But it certainly made him angry.  "I don't need protecting, Jesmind!" he said hotly.  "When I moved down here, it was so I could have my own space, my own time.  You and Kimmie and Triana aren't going to get around that by standing outside my door and following me everywhere I go!"

      "Until you're back to normal, I'll follow you around if I damn well please," Jesmind snapped.  "You're too vulnerable like this!"

      "I am not a child!" Tarrin shouted at her, jumping to his feet.  "Why won't you Were-cats get that into your head?!  I don't need a nurse, I don't need a bodyguard, and I damn well certainly don't need you three hiding in my closet!"

      "You're in no condition to dictate terms," she said in a seething tone.  "Until we can change you back I'll--"

      "Whoever said I wanted to be changed back?" he shouted at the top of his lungs.  "This is my life!  Ever since I woke up, everyone's been telling me where to go, what to do, and you're all trying to plan my life for me, and I'm sick of it!  Do you hear, I'm sick of it!  It's my life!  If I want to change back, I will, but if I want to stay like I am, then that's what I'm going to do!"

      The sheer vehemence in his angry voice took Jesmind aback.  She stared at him in shock, putting the back of her large, furry hand to her chin and gaped at him with wide eyes.  "T-Tarrin!" she said in a startled tone.  "I--"

      "I don't care what you think!" he shouted, cutting her off.  "I like you, Jesmind, but I don't need you treating me like I'm another one of your children!  So if you don't mind, kindly butt out!" he said in a mighty crescendo, shaking his fist and stamping a foot to emphasize his ultimatum that much more.  When she didn't say anything, he shooed her with his hands.  "Go on!  Get out of my room!  And if you don't want me to avoid all you Were-cats completely, then stop following me around!  Do you hear me?  Stop it!  Just leave me alone!"

      Jesmind stared at him in shock, and, to his surprise, fear.  She was looking at his hands, and she took a step backwards when he raised both arms to look down, to look at where she was looking.  He nearly jumped back himself when he saw that both of his hands were glowing with a strange magical light!

      It made him feel something inside, a power, a force that had filled him.  He'd been too angry to notice it before, but now he could feel it.  It was a very warm energy, a very strong one, and it was like the light of the sun boiling around in his belly.  He had no idea how it got there or what he was supposed to do with it, but it simply drained away by itself as he was trying to fathom how it got there to begin with.

      He understood.  He'd gotten mad, and in his anger, some part of his mind that still remembered had reached out and touched the power of Sorcery.  Even if he couldn't remember how to use it with his conscious mind, some other part of his mind could, and had done so.

      "I--We'll talk tomorrow, Tarrin," Jesmind said in a hesitant voice as the magical light faded from his hands, and he stared at them in surprise.  "When you're calmer."

      He heard her leave, but he didn't look up at her.  All he could do was stare at his hands in wonder.

To:       Title                EoF

Chapter 3


      It was all just too confusing.

      The first issue, obviously, was Auli.  Tarrin hadn't been prepared for her to do what she did, and though half of him wanted her to keep going, the other half of him didn't.  Part of him was embarassed for being so easily seduced, but another part of him was angry that he hadn't gotten to see how far Auli was willing to go.  He believed Jesmind when she said that Auli probably had no feelings for him, was only out to conquer him, but another part of him saw absolutely nothing wrong with that.  If all she wanted was a good time, then that part of him was more than willing to accommodate her.  That in itself seemed wrong to him; he was raised to believe in marriage, and not fooling around until he was married.  But there was another part of him, probably something left behind from his time as a Were-cat, that thumbed its nose at that moral conditioning and saw Auli as a good time waiting to be had.

      His feelings for the Sha'Kar complicated the issue.  He liked Auli.  Alot.  She was funny, friendly, adventurous, and he thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her.  Even now, knowing that she had tried to seduce him--or at least he thought she did, he'd never know thanks to Jesmind--he found himself looking forward to the next time she and Dar and himself all went out and had fun.  He didn't want to avoid her, even if he didn't want her chasing him.  He really liked her as a friend, and he wasn't going to stop talking to her, no matter what Jesmind said.

      He honestly wasn't sure what to do about her.  He spent almost all night sitting or laying in bed thinking about it.  A good deal of that time was thinking about how nice it felt when she kissed him, he had to admit.  He still was of two minds about her pursuit of him.  Part of him wanted to pursue her, the other part didn't.  Part of him was loyal to Jesmind and Kimmie, the other part realized that he was a different person now, so there was no true reason for him to remain so.  Part of him realized that getting involved with Auli was probably going to cause more trouble than it would be worth, and the other part of him was willing to take the punishment if only to enjoy the crime.  Part of him thought it improper to think things like that until he was married, the other part called that moral part of him all sorts of names and told him to seize the moment.  Part of him saw Auli as a temptation, as a test of his moral character, the other part reminded him that so long as they were both willing, what harm could it do?  Auli couldn't get pregnant by him.  They were two different races.  So there could be absolutely no harm done if she truly was willing to take it to that ultimate level.

      And besides, Auli was beautiful.  What healthy, sane man could look at her and not want to be with her?

      That, he realized, was the half of the main part of the problem.  If she'd been a plain woman, an average woman, he probably would have said no.  But she was Sha'Kar, ethereal, almost breathtakingly beautiful, and that beauty was a more effective weapon against his morals than anything else could have been.  The other half of the problem was the fact that Auli was his friend.  He liked her, he enjoyed spending time with her, and he wasn't going to ignore her, even if he decided that he didn't want to pursue a relationship with her.  That would make spending time with her tricky, he knew, but he'd try.  She was too much his friend to distance himself from her just because she wanted to take their relationship to another level.  As long as she wasn't bitter about him rejecting her, he was more than willing to keep on being her friend.

      The other issue was with Jesmind and the Were-cats.  He was surprised that Jesmind had been following him around, but he guessed that he shouldn't have been.  What bothered him more than that was how they were treating him, like he was a toddler still in diapers and tied to his mother's apron, trying to run his life.  Triana had done it to him from the moment he'd woke up, and now Jesmind was trying to do it.  Kimmie, thankfully, didn't seem to be willing to do it, only obeying Triana's orders.  At least she partially understood how their controlling him made him feel.  Tarrin was a very independent young man, and having them lord over him like that was really aggravating him.

      And what was worse, he really hated how they simply decided that he was going to change back.  It was like they didn't care at all how he felt about it.  What right did they have to determine how he was going to control his own life?  Until he got his memory back and could make a conscious, rational choice, he honestly had no idea what he was going to do.  He really didn't think about it that often, because until he got his memory back, there was really no good reason to do so.  He expected the Were-cats to think that he would change back, but the way they'd decided that he was going to change back really infuriated him.  Even Kimmie seemed to be doing it, planning her future around the fact that he was going to change back.

      And what exacerbated that was the fact that they seemed to think that since he couldn't be changed back right now, that he should simply stop living.  That he should sit in a nice safe room and do nothing but wait for Phandebrass to finish, so he could get back his memory.  If they even bothered to wait that long.  Part of him angrily wondered why Triana was keeping the others from simply biting him and being done with it.  If they really did intend to make him change back, then why wait?  Why not do it now, before he got his memory back, before he had a chance to choose for himself?

      Not long after Jesmind left, he told himself to just ignore them until he got back his memory, but just as he wasn't willing to ignore Auli, he wasn't willing to ignore the Were-cats.  He did like Jesmind and Kimmie, but he just couldn't ignore his daughter.  He'd been totally ensnared by the wide-eyed child, and though some of the things she said surprised him at times, he just couldn't deny that he loved her.  She was his daughter, and no matter what, he was going to love her.  He wanted to spend time with her, and he was already looking forward to seeing her.  He felt as much a duty and responsibility to Jasana now as he knew he must have before he lost his memory.  No matter how mean he'd gotten or cruel he'd been, he just knew in his heart that he could never have distanced himself from his child.

      The only problem with that was how to be mad with Jesmind and Triana and not have it affect his time with Jasana.  The easiest way would be simply to take his daughter out and away from them, but he wasn't sure he could manage that.  As paranoid they were over him, it'd go up several notches if he took his daughter out from their protective presence.  He still wasn't sure about that one, but he'd figure something out before the time came.  He was sure of it.

      What to do, what to do.  He did manage to get a little sleep, but not a whole lot.  He was standing out on the balcony, which faced the ocean, and he could see it between two of the smaller towers that surrounded the big central one.  He watched the lanterns begin to wink out as the sun started to rise on the other side of the Tower, but none of the many ships in the harbor had begun to move quite yet.  There was alot he had to figure out to do.  Firstly, about Auli.  Did he really want to enter into a relationship with her?  Still, part of him did, but part of him didn't.  He really wanted to get Auli back in his room and kiss her again, but for now, at least for a few days until he got things hammered out with Jesmind, he decided it may be best to leave that alone.  If Jesmind or one of the other Were-cats walked in on him and Auli when they were doing more than kissing, things could get very, very ugly.  Tarrin had no doubt that Jesmind meant it when she threatened to tear Auli limb from limb.  Besides, the few days would give him time to work out what he wanted, give him time to decide if he wanted to pursue her or not.  Until he did know one way or the other, it was probably best to gently decline any of her other invitations.  Since he knew he'd feel a little guilty if he did let her seduce him before he made up his mind, he decided that a short time of frustration and disappointment was better than days and days of guilt.

      That layered into the other problem.  He was still very angry with Jesmind, and he didn't expect to forgive her for a while, mainly because he knew she'd never apologize for what she was doing.  Triana would be just as recalcitrant.  Kimmie would probably show some compassion for his position, but she would not go against Triana, so he didn't expect much in the way of help from her.  At least he could talk to Kimmie, and Jula, and pass any information he wanted on to Jesmind and Triana.  He had a feeling that he wouldn't be talking to them very much by the end of the day.  He was going to step on this now, before the Were-cats got it settled too firmly in their minds that he would do what they wanted, and that he would be easy to push around.  He had to establish his autonomy now, before things got out of hand.

      Of course, now he knew he had a weapon to use against them.  The problem was, he didn't know how it worked.  He'd used Sorcery somehow when Jesmind angered him, but he still had no idea how he did it.  And he wanted to know how he did it.  He hadn't noticed at the time, but using Sorcery had felt so familiar to him, like it was more than just a forgotten memory.  Almost like it was a part of himself that he had only just rediscovered, something that hadn't been taken from him when he'd lost his memory.

      That problem wasn't a very big one.  He was absolutely surrounded by Sorcerers, and any of them should be able to teach him how he'd done what he did so he could do it again.  Jenna would probably  be the best one to do it, if he could get her to devote enough time to his education.  She was also one of those sui'kun people, like him, and it would probably be best for her to teach him what he wanted to know.  He had the feeling that his magic worked a little differently than other Sorcerers--he'd only seen that glow when Ianelle and the Sha'Kar used powerful magic to Teleport them to Suld--so it would be best if another sui'kun was the one who taught him.

      It shouldn't be too hard.  She was his sister, after all, and if she didn't have time for him, then who did she have time for?

      Oh yes, he wanted to learn.  Jesmind had been afraid of him, and he wanted that option to be available in the future.  He wanted those high-and-mighty Were-cats to be afraid of him, he wanted them to understand that he would not be pushed around.  He wouldn't go and pick a fight with them, but he wasn't going to let them bully him into doing whatever they wanted him to do either.  He remembered the very poignant lesson that Kimmie had taught him.  Their physical power made the Were-cats supreme, at least when one played them by their own rules.  Sorcery would allow him to take them to a level they couldn't reach, and give him the advantage over them.  If he wanted to establish his independence from the Were-cats, he'd need an advantage.  And, he had to admit, there might come a time when he'd have to defend himself against them.  If he chose not to be changed back, he felt that there was a good chance that they may try to force the issue.  If it did come to that, he wanted some kind of way to protect himself from them.

      He wondered again what Auli was doing, and just how serious she had been.  Was she flirting with him?  Was she playing with him, or was she being serious?  If Jesmind hadn't come in, just how far would Auli have gone?  He chided himself when he daydreamed a bit about her going all the way, and the image of her standing on the edge of the bathing pool nude wouldn't get out of his mind.  Gods, she was so gorgeous.  Like a living piece of art, all perfect lines and curves, and she had a unique personality that attracted him just as much as her body did.  She was the first girl he'd ever met who was so adventurous and fun-loving, who did what she wanted and didn't worry about what her parents or the others might think.  She had such a rich sense of humor, and she was so fearless!  That probably attracted him more than anything else.  Auli was fearless, alot like he was, but in slightly different ways.  Despite those differences, he felt a communion with Auli that wouldn't let him get her out of his mind.  She was very much the kind of woman he'd always wanted to meet.  Strong and outspoken like his mother, drop-dead gorgeous, a woman that wasn't afraid of being feminine, a woman that wasn't afraid to be strong when it was needed.  She was so many things that he found appealing in a woman.  No wonder he was having so much trouble putting her out of his mind.  He wondered if Jesmind or Kimmie had similar qualities, if they were reasons why he'd fallen in love with them.

      Jesmind certainly seemed fearless.  And she was very strong.  Kimmie was very feminine, the most feminine-seeming of the four adult Were-cats he'd met so far.  After all, she wore a dress.  But he knew that she'd put aside that femininity in a heartbeat if it was necessary, and from what he knew of Kimmie, she was very smart and very, very brave.  In her own way, she was fearless.  Jesmind seemed rather calm to him most of the time, very much unlike the stories he'd heard of her.  Jesmind was supposed to be wild, hot-tempered, fiery in nature and very confrontational.  Kimmie was the opposite of that.  She was calm, mellow, and she avoided such confrontations whenever possible.  It wasn't that she couldn't win those confrontations, she simply preferred to avoid them.  She was the most peaceful of the three Were-cats he'd known long enough to compare.  Thinking about it, he could see qualities in Kimmie and Jesmind that would have attracted him to them  The fact that both of them were very attractive didn't hurt, either.

      Weird.  The last thing he ever expected to have happen to him when he left home was to have girls chasing him around.  He wasn't used to it...and in a way, it felt oddly appealing.  They were going to give him a big head, with them virtually fighting over him the way they were.

      But it was sunrise, and despite the fact that he hadn't had much sleep, it was time to get up.  He wanted to find his sister and she if she could teach him any magic.  He had the feeling that it was going to come in handy in a very short period of time.


      "Hold on hold on hold on!" came an excited call from down the hall as Tarrin trekked the distance towards Jenna's office.  It had certainly taken long enough to find someone who knew where it was, mainly because he didn't want to ask anyone who may willingly or unwillingly get that information back to Triana.  It wasn't that he was worried that she'd find out that he went to see his sister, but he certainly didn't want her to know that he was trying to learn how to use magic again.  At that moment, though he liked her, he had to think of Triana and the other Were-cats as potential enemies.  It was only wise, mainly because if they did resist if he chose not to be changed back, they would definitelybecome enemies.  It pained him to think so, but something deep inside him warned him over and over again not to underestimate anyone.  That had to be the feral nature that was gone now, some memory of it that echoed inside of him.  The last vestiges of paranoia.

      The speaker was Phandebrass, and the white-haired Wizard, who was a riot of contradictions, jogged up holding his old gray robes up so he wouldn't trip on them while he ran.  He was alone, his white hair flying behind him, that ridiculous pointy hat somehow managing to stay on top of his head when it would be best for everyone involved if he'd simply lose it.  "I say, hold on there, lad!" he called, running up to him.  "I've been looking everywhere for you, I have!"

      "What's the matter, Master Phandebrass?" Tarrin asked curiously, stopping in place and waiting for him to catch up.

      "I need to check some things before I can continue, I do," he answered, reaching him and pausing to pant a little after his exertion.

      "What things?"

      "I say, I need to get a better understanding of the kind of memory loss you're enduring, I do," he answered.  "And for the best results, I need a Sorcerer to help me, one good with Mind weaves.  Do you know of a good one, lad?"

      "I don't really know anyone, Phandebrass," Tarrin reminded him.

      "Oh dear, that's right.  I guess you wouldn't at that, would you?" he grunted.  "Ah well, let's go find someone who can point us in the right direction, lad.  We need to get this done, we do.  I can't move any further."

      "Alright," Tarrin said.  "I was going to see my sister.  She'd know who could help us."

      "Capital idea!" Phandebrass said happily.  "Lead on!"

      Tarrin led the white-haired Wizard along the passages, trying to remember the exact directions that would take him to his sister's office.  "How is it going with that, Master Phandebrass?" he asked curiously.

      "Call me Phandebrass, my boy," he replied.  "I don't need all those frilly titles, I don't.  As to the research, it's going very well," he reported.  "Thanks to the very extensive library here in the Tower, I've found no less than four possible approaches to restoring your memory, I have.  I say, that's why I need to do some checking on you, so I can decide which would be the most effective approach to utilize, I can."

      "Oh.  Any idea how much longer it's going to be?"

      "I say, not really, lad.  Depending on which technique I use, we could be trying to reverse the damage as soon as next ride or as late as next year.  It's all going to depend on what the tests reveal, it will."

      "How can there be different approaches?  I mean, I lost my memory.  Why would there be differences?"

      "I say, you're right, you lost your memory, but the how of it is what's important," he said.  "I need to determine as closely as I can exactly how the magic attacked your mind.  That will tell me which approach would be most effective in restoring it.  After all, you haven't completely lost your memory, you know.  It's buried deep in your mind, it is, so deeply that it's going to take some very powerful, very specialized magic to bring it back out."

      "I haven't forgotten about that," he answered as they came up one of the long spiral staircases.  "How many different ways could there have been for it to affect me?"

      "Well, several of which I can find," he replied.  "I say, firstly it could have simply erased it from your mind, like blotting out ink.  It could have put something in its place, like filling a pie pan with clear water.  There's something there, but you can't see it unless you look at it the right way.  It could have left it there, but placed a block over it, like laying a blanket over a mirror.  You can't see yourself in the mirror because the blanket is in the way.  It could have buried it--I mean to say, it could have pushed those memories so deeply into your mind that even you can't find them.  Or it could have not done anything at all to the memories, but tricked your mind into thinking that they weren't there."

      "Wow, I didn't think there would be that many ways."

      "I say, those are just the ways I can think of, lad," he grunted.  "The magic that did this to you was very powerful, and it was done by a god.  Gods can think in ways we can't even imagine, they can.  It may be that I simply don't have the intelligence to undo it.  Just to warn you, lad.  I think it's fair that you understand the full situation, I do, unlike some of the others."

      "I appreciate that, Phandebrass," Tarrin told him sincerely.  "You're one of the first people around here that isn't treating me like a child, or an invalid."

      "Whyever would they do that?" Phandebrass asked curiously.

      "That's what I'd like to know," Tarrin agreed.

      As he expected, they found Jenna in her office.  The office of the Keeper was a remarkably spartan affair, with just a single banner on the wall behind her large rosewood desk with a multicolored shaeram--the symbol of the katzh-dashi--on it, and portraits on the two walls to each side holding a dark-haired man and a blond woman, each holding a strange staff and with an amulet looking like it was carved out of diamond around their necks.  They had to go through another office to reach hers, the office of Duncan, who had faithfully served three Keepers with quiet efficiency over the years.  Duncan rarely spoke, and when Tarrin and Phandebrass had entered his office, he simply led them into Jenna's private domain.  Jenna looked a little piqued, sitting there chewing on a tendril of her hair as she read from a scrolled parchment in her free hand.

      "What's wrong, Jenna?" Tarrin asked as Duncan bowed silently and withdrew.

      "Oh, not much," she replied.  "This is from Shiika.  Her messenger gave everyone down at the gate quite a shock."

      "What happened?"

      "Well, one of her daughters delivered it, and it seems that they can Teleport now just like their mother, any time they want.  I guess the restoration of the Weave also restored some of the powers of the Demons too."

      "Why would that surprise them?  Don't they see magic things all the time?"

      "You don't remember seeing them, do you?" Jenna asked with a smile.

      "No, not really."

      "Well, let's just say that you don't forget seeing one of the Cambisi."  She set it down and rubbed her temple.  "Shiika's starting to annoy me.  She's really hot about us rebuilding a Tower in Dala Yar Arak.  This is the fourth proposal I've gotten in three days.  I can't make her understand that I can't make that decision.  Alexis can't either.  It has to come from the Goddess, and she hasn't told me to do anything about it yet."

      "Why would she be so serious about it?" Tarrin asked.

      "I say, you don't understand the power and advantage a city has when there are Sorcerers present," Phandebrass told him.  "No city that has a Tower would usually ever get attacked by anyone, except for recent events, of course.  They were rather remarkable circumstances, they were."

      "Odds are, Shiika has some kind of ulterior motive," Jenna said.  "I like her, but she is a Demon.  I don't trust her."

      "How can a Demon be a queen, anyway?" Tarrin asked.  "Don't the people hate her?"

      "Actually, she's the best thing to happen to Yar Arak in a thousand years," Jenna admitted ruefully.  "She's not like other Demons.  She's actually got a kind heart, at least compared to other Demons.  She's very smart, she's amazingly organized for a Demon, and she's cleaning up Yar Arak much faster than I anticipated.  Give her a hundred years, and she's going to have an empire as well run as Wikuna.  I'd better make a note to keep an eye on things over there."

      "Maybe you should build another Tower."

      "Until we get our numbers back up, we're not rebuilding anything," Jenna said sourly.  "There aren't enough katzh-dashi to staff a third Tower right now."

      "Why don't you tell her that?"

      "I say, it's never wise to reveal your weaknesses, lad," Phandebrass told him seriously.

      "Yah," Jenna grunted.  "So, what brings you two to my door?  I doubt this is a social call."

      "Actually, it's not, Keeper," Phandebrass told her.  "I need your best Mind weaver to help me isolate the exact means your brother's memory was attacked."

      "I was hoping you'd ask for our help," Jenna smiled at him.  "Our best was Amelyn, but I don't think you want to use her.  Koran Dar is probably the best after her."

      "I say, Amelyn is still alive?"

      Jenna nodded.  "I put a shield around her that won't let her use her power, and she's currently residing happily down in our dungeon."  She put a hand to her amulet.  "Koran Dar," she called in a light voice.

      "Yes, my Keeper?" his voice seemed to come out of the amulet, but it was a bit tinny, like a higher-pitched echo.

      "Could you come to my office?  We need your expertise for a rather complicated problem."

      "I'll be there in a few moments, Keeper."

      "I see you wasted no time learning that," Phandebrass smiled.

      "It does come in handy, Phandebrass," she said with a smile.  "I thought Duncan was going to kiss my feet after I told him that he didn't have to send runners and pages quite nearly so often anymore."

      Tarrin spent the time waiting for Jenna to tell her about the fight he had with Jesmind, and then he outright asked her if she would teach him Sorcery.  To his surprise, she looked him in the eyes and shook his head.  "No," she said bluntly.

      "Why not?" he demanded, just a bit petulantly.

      "Because you'd be like a bull in a glassblower's shop," she answered.  "As strong as you are, there is no way you're going to go monkeying around with Sorcery right now."

      "But you're teaching Jasana," he pointed out indignantly.

      "Jasana isn't you," she said a bit crisply.  "Look, Tarrin, you lost your memory, but you're very sensitive to echoes in the Weave.  If I start teaching you and you get one of those that shows you something you can't control, there's no telling what might happen.  To say that it would kill you would be a mild understatement."

      Tarrin was considerably disappointed, but the sincere look in Jenna's eyes convinced him that she was being serious.  Right now, she certainly knew more than him about that kind of thing.  "All right," he said in a slightly sullen tone.

      "Just be patient, brother.  You'll get it all back soon."

      "I hope so."

      Koran Dar arrived but a moment later, and Tarrin had to pause to admire the man.  He was very, very tall, even taller than Tarrin, and had the same coppery colored skin that Camara Tal had.  He had raven black hair too, just like Camara Tal, and he had ruggedly handsome features.  He also had huge hands, Tarrin noted.  No wonder Camara Tal was pining for him.  He looked  a very handsome fellow.

      But it was his mind that Tarrin realized Camara Tal liked so much.  After exchanging polite greetings with the Keeper, Jenna sent them to a different room where Koran Dar and Phandebrass could do their work in peace and quiet.  Tarrin had the chance to talk to Koran Dar, then listen as he talked to Phandebrass, and he was impressed by how smart the man was.  He was able to meet the addled mage on many intellectual levels, going way, way over the young man's head.  Tarrin felt a little lost by the time they reached a quiet chamber with no windows, that had nothing within but a table and four upholstered chairs, with one of those ever-present glowglobes suspended over the table.  Some kind of small meeting room.  But he did know that the two of them had been working out what Koran Dar was going to do.

      "Alright, Tarrin," Koran Dar said in a calm, bass voice.  "Sit down here, and let me say right now that you need to relax.  I'm going to be using magic on you, and you're going to feel it inside your head.  It's important that you don't fight with it.  It's going to feel strange, but it's not going to hurt you, alright?"

      "Alright," he said a little uncertainly, sitting down in the chair Koran Dar had indicated. The Amazon man pulled up a chair and sat down in front of him, and then reached out and put his hands on either side of Tarrin's face.  Tarrin felt a little anxiety, but he figured that that was natural, considering that he was about to allow this man to use magic to look around inside his head.  That took a considerable amount of trust, and only his trust in his sister's judgement was allowing him to go through with it.  Tarrin felt it when Koran Dar used is Sorcery, felt that strange energy build up inside him, then could literally see the magic snake out of the nearly invisible magic that moved through the room and converge behind his eyes.

      He was more than aware of when it started, for he did indeed feel the man's touch inside his head.  It was the strangest feeling, and it wasn't entirely comfortable.  Tarrin tensed up at the initial contact with it, as he felt something decidedly unnatural appear inside his head.  It was like a little star floating around in the darkness of his mind, and it was like he could see it with his inner eye, like a daydream, moving here and there inside his mind.  He tried his best to relax, but it wasn't easy.  The little star kept touching on old memories and some secrets, and Tarrin wasn't sure if Koran Dar could see or understand anything that the star was touching inside his mind.

      Gripping the arms of his chair tightly, Tarrin strove not to get too screwed up as Koran Dar's magical spell dug deeper into his mind, going past memories and dreams and into the more autonomic places, like subconscious and ego and even instincts.  Every time Koran Dar's spell touched something, Tarrin felt it surge through his mind, like the touch had triggered it into action.  He endured any number of primal impulses, anger, fear, even a strange overwhelming superiority to everyone else, and then Koran Dar's star moved even past those, even deeper, down into the blackest depths of his mind, where the only light was coming from the star itself.  Even Tarrin lost the sense of the star as it went beyond his capacity to track, into the darkest tunnels of his mind that had known no conscious thought.  He knew it was there, and for some reason its presence in that blackness made him feel cold, and very, very anxious.  Almost as if he knew there was something there that he didn't want him to find.  Deeper and deeper it went, closer and closer, until it had reached the very bottom, the deepest part of his mind, the bottom of the well.  Tarrin was sweating, but was very cold, and the sweat made him feel like ice as the star formed by Koran Dar's spell seemed attracted to something it found there in the very darkest part of his mind, floating closer and closer to it, nearly touching it.  It turned its light on that area to see what was there--

      --even Tarrin was not prepared for what happened next.  Magical power flooded into him like a tidal wave, and before he even understood what was happening, It lashed out at Koran Dar with that raw magical power, almost of its own volition.  Tarrin fell backwards with his chair as he recoiled from the bright light and ear-splitting crack as the energy manifested in the real world.  The ceiling and the floor traded places a couple of times as he rolled to a stop on his back, his legs still tangled in the chair, feeling like someone had just sucked all the energy out of his body.

      "Sizzling lizards!" he heard Phandebrass exclaim.  "Koran Dar, I say, are you alright?"

      "Sizzling is a good word," the Amazon man said in an unsteady voice.  Tarrin managed to sit up and saw Koran Dar lying on the floor a good ten spans from where he'd been when he started, the front of his robes smoking and blackened.  "If I hadn't deflected most of that, it would have burned a hole through me," he admitted.

      Tarrin was too disoriented yet to feel guilty at having hurt Koran Dar.  His head was spinning in a very uncomfortable manner, and even sitting up was making him so dizzy that he couldn't tell which was was up. He laid back down on the floor staring at the ceiling as it rotated in a wobbling manner around the glowglobe, and he wondered how he was staying on the floor when gravity kept changing directions on him.  He was certain that his legs trapped in the chair was the only thing holding him down on the floor.

      There was more.  There was something else in his mind with him, something alien...yet there was a familiarity to it that he could not dismiss.  It was like another being, but it was also a part of him.  It had been that other thing that had lashed out at Koran Dar, for it had objected to his presence in their shared mind so strenuously that it had attacked the Sorcerer to chase him away.  It was a non-thinking entity, primal, nothing but a bundle of feelings and emotions and impulses and instincts.  Something primitive, but its power was more than Tarrin could deny.  It may be simple and instinct-driven, but it was very, very strong.  He felt it retreat back down into that chasm inside his mind unwillingly, as if it were fighting against the force holding it down there, but was not strong enough to counter its power.  And as it retreated, Tarrin felt his disorientation and dizziness ease, but it did little for his dazed condition.  The reaction and abrupt appearance of that other entity was too much for his mind to easily accept, and he wasn't sure how long he lay there on the floor before he became aware of Koran Dar and Phandebrass kneeling over him.

      "What, what happened?" he asked in a bleary tone.

      "I found what I was looking for," Koran Dar told him in a rueful tone.  "I just didn't expect it to attack me."

      "A-Attack you?" Tarrin asked in confusion.  "What do you mean?"

      "The part of you that made you a Were-cat, at least mentally, is still inside you, Tarrin," Koran Dar explained.  "You always called it the Cat, so that's how I'll refer to it.  It's still in your mind, or at least an echo of it is.  I guess it couldn't be completely separated from you.  It's part of what you lost, trapped with the memories that were taken from you.  That's the key there, young one.  The memories you lost are intertwined with the Cat.  That's going to make recovering your memories without bringing that back into the forefront of your mind very, very difficult."

      "But we can do it?" Phandebrass asked.

      Koran Dar nodded.  "I managed to discover how the memory was pulled out of him, Phandebrass.  It was an attempt to erase it, but it only managed to erase the part of it that was locked in his human mind.  When whatever happened to him stripped his Were nature out of him, it couldn't purge it entirely.  The Cat had become a part of his mind, and not even tearing out his Were nature was enough to destroy it in him.  It made the Cat retreat into the very core of his mind, and it took those memories, or at least copies of them, with it.  Everything he knew since losing his memory is still in his mind.  They're just locked up in the lost part of his Were nature."

      "I say, restoring his Were nature would most likely restore his memories as well," Phandebrass mused.

      "I'd say most likely, but we were told to find a way to give him back his memory as a human, Phandebrass," Koran Dar reminded him.

      "I say, I think I can do that too," he said brightly.  "Now that I know how his mind was affected, I think I can research a suitable cure, I can.  I'll need to borrow the resources of your library, good Koran Dar.  Would you mind terribly?"

      "I think I can say with certain authority that you have the run of the library, good Wizard," Koran Dar said with a slow smile.

      Tarrin looked at them in uncertainty and a bit of anxiety.  The lost part of his Were-cat nature had possession of all his lost memories?  It was still inside his mind, even though he was human again?  He guessed it was possible; Triana had admitted that what had happened to him was something she considered absolutely impossible.  She said that any attempt to cure Lycanthropy would kill the Were-creature in the attempt, for the nature and magic of being Were utterly infused the one turned.  Whatever had separated that out of him could not do it with absolute certainty.  It had left the tiniest of pieces of it inside him, and that fragment was holding onto all his lost memories.

      "You mean if they made me a Were-cat again, I'd get back my memories?"

      "I'd say yes," Koran Dar said with a solid nod.  "The Cat is holding onto those memories, and I'll bet that it's trapped in the deepest part of your mind because what made you a Were-cat was stripped from you.  If you were a Were-cat again, it would return to its rightful place in your mind, and I'd bet that it would restore your memory in the process.  But I'm not saying that's the only way, Tarrin.  Give Phandebrass some time, and I think he'll find an alternate solution to the problem."

      "I say, I should have an answer by tomorrow evening," he said confidently.

      "Why did I attack you with magic when you touched that--whatever it was?"

      "I say, because the Cat in you rejects mental communion with unlike minds," Phandebrass told him calmly.  "It was a phenomenon you'd displayed before.  You can't Circle with any other Sorcerer, because your Were mind wouldn't accept the mental connection necessary to form the link, it wouldn't.  I say, I think when Koran Dar touched the remains of the Cat in you, it reacted just as it did the other times others have tried to touch your mind.  The Cat doesn't seem to like humans very much," Phandebrass said with a grin.

      "You didn't attack me, Tarrin.  The Cat attacked me," Koran Dar said calmly.  "You are the same being, but sometimes you and the Cat can do things independently of one another.  Like two sides of a coin.  Both are different, and they can mean different things, but they're still the same coin."

      "I don't understand."

      "I don't want to scare you, but I'll be blunt," Koran Dar said evenly.  "The Cat is a part of you, but as you just saw, it's capable of acting of its own volition when its instincts are suitably provoked.  The Cat saw me as an intruder, an invader, and it took steps to protect itself from me.  That's why it attacked me.  You had nothing to do with that magical spell.  The Cat did that all on its own."

      That did scare him, and he had to admit it to himself.  Triana and Jesmind had said that the Cat would make them do things, but he'd never experienced it quite like that before.  He barely had any memory of it, and it frightened him that he was capable of reacting so violently and having no real idea why.  He could kill someone and have no inkling as to why he'd just done it, or what it meant.

      "Don't worry about it, Tarrin," Koran Dar smiled.  "The Cat won't manfiest like that again.  It simply can't, because you're not a Were-cat anymore.  The only reason it could was because I was so deep inside your mind that I could touch it."

      "It's a scary idea, knowing that there's something in me that may hurt people when I don't want it to," he said in a small voice.

      "When you had your memory, you had control over it," Koran Dar assured him.  "The Tarrin I knew may have been intimidating, but he didn't go around killing people for no reason.  You weren't a monster, Tarrin.  You simply had special circumstances that meant that people had to treat you in certain ways.  That's all."

      "What if they didn't treat me in those certain ways?  What did I do?"

      Koran Dar chuckled.  "They only did it once, that's for sure," he said.  "Usually, you made your displeasure abundantly clear."

      "Breaking limbs was always your preferred method of education, it was," Phandebrass laughed.

      "I sound like I was a bully."

      "You weren't a bully, Tarrin.  You were the king of the hill, and you knew it.  There's a difference."

      "That makes me sound arrogant."

      "You were," Koran Dar smiled.  "But all Were-cats are arrogant.  Think about Triana and Jesmind.  Aren't they arrogant?"

      Tarrin considered that, and he realized that Koran Dar was right.  Both of them were rather arrogant.  And even Kimmie and Jula displayed traits of superiority, though not to the same degree.  The Were-cats were bigger and stronger than humans, and they knew it.  And they made sure everyone else knew it too.

      "You were more modest than most of them, you were," Phandebrass told him.  "But you still walked like the sun followed you around."  He patted the pouches on his belt.  "I say, I really must get to the library.  I know exactly what books I need to study first, and I'm sure half the Tower is waiting for me to find an answer, it is."

      They waited for Tarrin to feel completely recovered, and Phandebrass rushed off towards the library with an expectant gleam in his eye.  Koran Dar escorted Tarrin along the carpeted passages of the Tower, taking him to the kitchens so they could get some breakfast.  The revelations that had been placed on him made him quiet and thoughtful as he tried to work through them. The trauma of a sort that had come with finding the Cat still inside his mind--though he couldn't remember it--had been considerable.  He'd felt...helpless.  Though it was only hitting him now.  He could have killed Koran Dar, and he had no idea that it had happened until it was over.  That really frightened him, and all he could do was wonder if someone else was going to do something that would make him attack them too.  Everyone around him, the servants, the katzh-dashi, the guards, they all seemed almost menacing to him now, as if one misspoke word or unconscious gesture would cause that buried part of himself to rise up from its dark prison and attack again.  It made him very withdrawn, unwilling to speak or even look too long at anyone, afraid that he may hurt someone.

      Another serious fear was over what the information that Koran Dar had discovered may mean.  The absolute instant that Triana and Jesmind heard that restoring him as a Were-cat would most likely restore his memory, they'd be looking for a good place to sink their fangs into him.  Tarrin wasn't sure if he wanted to be a Were-cat again, and he was positive that they were not going to give him a chance to decide one way or the other.  As far as they were concerned, making him a Were-cat was the only possible course of action.  They wouldn't even consider anything else.  They'd both so much as admitted it.  Even Kimmie had stated something to that effect.  He'd become a Were-cat the first time by accident, when he had no choice in the matter.  Now he did, and he didn't wan the Were-cats trying to take that choice away from him.

      He had to admit, after seeing himself do something like attacking Koran Dar, he didn't think he wanted to be a Were-cat.  If he was, then the Cat would be in his mind again, and it could do that again much easier the next time.  How had he stood it before?  It must have been terrifying, living in constant fear that he may go off and kill people at the drop of a hat.  No wonder he sounded so withdrawn and moody in the stories the others told him about himself.

      "I know, it's alot to consider," Koran Dar said in a reassuring tone as they passed a quartet of men in chain jacks, Tower guards patrolling the halls.  "I bet right now you're wondering if you want to be a Were-cat again."

      "A little," he said with a bit of a flush.

      "Don't dwell on the negatives, Tarrin," he said in a gentle voice.  "You had alot of trouble with it at first.  I won't lie to you about that.  But when you came back the second time, before the battle, you seemed to be completely in control of yourself.  You were even happy.  I think you really were happy, Tarrin.  You had found peace within yourself and had embraced your new life completely.  I honestly believe that if you had your memory back right now, you'd want to be a Were-cat again."


      He nodded.  "Camara's told me alot about what happened, more than most of the others know," he disclosed.  "There was alot of pain in your past, but you had come through all of it and managed to keep your sanity.  That's the mark of a strong mind and an unbreakable will."

      "She really loves you, you know," Tarrin blurted.  "Camara Tal does."

      "I know she does," he sighed.

      "You love her too, don't you?"

      "Of course I do, Tarrin," he admitted.  "But you know Amazon custom.  No matter how much I love her, I simply can't go back with her.  Not knowing what's waiting for me there."

      "You know," Tarrin said in a pondering tone, "Camara's starting to get desperate about getting you back.  If you did things right, you could wring some concessions out of her."

      "Really?" he asked with an amused look.  "Like what?"

      "Well, now that the Weave is restored, I'm sure you could figure out some way to use magic to travel between Amazar and one of the Towers," he proposed.  "As long as you can get here and do your work, does it really matter where you live?  I think Camara Tal would agree to letting you stay as a katzh-dashi if it meant she got you the rest of the time."  He touched his own amulet.  "And these let you talk with the other Sorcerers when you need to, so alot of the time, I bet you wouldn't have to come all the way to the Tower to do some of your work.  And when you did, even if you couldn't use magic to travel yourself, you could always call one of the Sha'Kar to come and get you.  Jenna is my sister, you know.  I can make her agree to anything it would take to let you arrange things with Camara Tal."

      "My, it sounds like you've thought about this," Koran Dar chuckled.  "And why bother?  My problems with Camara aren't really your problems."

      "Camara Tal's my friend, Koran Dar," Tarrin told him honestly.  "I really like her, and I don't like seeing her in pain like that.  I like you too, and I know you can't like what's going on either.  Not if you love her."

      "No, not really," he admitted.  "The only thing keeping me from Camara is the society we live in."

      "She's changed alot since you last really talked to her, Koran Dar," Tarrin told him.  "I think that if you met her and bargained hard, you could get her to give over on some of those things."

      "She's a High Priestess of Neme, Tarrin," Koran Dar sighed.  "She's a paragon of Amazon society.  There is absolutely no way she'll relax the rules."

      "Well, there's no way she'll relax the rules that others can see," Tarrin said shrewdly.  "I bet that if you agreed to keep your agreement a secret and at least pretended to go by the Amazon rules, you know, put on a public face, she'd let you break them in private.  That way she saves face, you keep your freedom, and you two can finally be together."

      Koran Dar gave Tarrin a very surprised look.  "You know something, Tarrin?" he asked with a laugh.  "That makes sense!  I hate to admit it, but I think you've hit on an idea here.  If I did at least pretend to behave like a proper Amazon husband, I think I just might be able to wring some concessions out of Camara concerning my freedom.  And you're right.  If the Sha'Kar can't teach me how to Teleport, then I'm sure you and me and Jenna could work out some kind of arrangement where they could come and get me."

      "Well, you could always talk to her and see if you can't work it out," Tarrin offered.

      "I believe I will, Tarrin," he said, patting him on the shoulder fondly.  "I believe I will.  You know, it shows much about your character that in the midst of so many of your own personal problems, you'd be so willing and able to help others with theirs.  You're a remarkable young man, and I'm honored to know you."

      "It's nothing, Koran Dar," he said with a blush.  "Mother always says helping people solve their problems sometimes helps you solve your own."

      "Call me Koran, Tarrin," the Amazon man smiled, "and it sounds like you have a very wise mother."

      "I think so," Tarrin affirmed.

      "So do I."

      Tarrin walked along with the Amazon, his own fears and worries momentarily forgotten.  In all the chaos in his life, at that moment, it just felt good that he could help solve at least someone's problems.  Even if they weren't his own.


      After a good breakfast with Koran Dar, the Amazon left him to seek out Camara Tal, and that left him alone.  He wandered the halls of the Tower aimlessly, then found himself on the gravelled pathways of the gardens, walking by himself to sort things out in his mind.  The distraction of Koran Dar was long forgotten as he worried over how the Were-cats were going to react to the news, and what it would mean to him personally.

      He had a choice to make.  He knew that, but he had been trying to discreetly avoid the issue over the last couple of days.  He really didn't want to think about it now, but Phandebrass' revelation was forcing his hand, and he knew that he had to start really thinking about it.

      He'd heard all the stories now, and from what he'd heard, the Tarrin who had been a Were-cat had been a very dark, menacing fellow, full of anger and pain and shockingly brutal at times.  He didn't sound like a very good person to be, and he had been carrying around alot of pain.  He'd heard of all the things he'd done and the many people he'd killed, all the evil had had both witnessed and perpetrated in the name of his mission.  That Tarrin was ruthless, monstrous, almost evil in his own right, probably just as bad, if not worse, than the very ones he opposed.

      But on the other hand, that Tarrin had two children, had two women who were utterly devoted to him, and he had been trying to build a future for himself.  Triana had known that Tarrin better than anyone else possibly could have known him, and she told him about how he had managed to come to terms with the darkness inside him.  How he had learned to let go of the anger and pain, how he had changed so much since entering the desert with the Faerie Sarrya.  It was like he was a different person.  When he thought of that Tarrin in those terms, he seemed courageous, almost inhumanly courageous, battling against all odds to manage to come out on top.  That Tarrin may have been cold and ruthless, but it was just that.  He had been.  That Tarrin had changed, had shed some of the ferality that made him so nasty, had found acceptance within himself and had again learned to love, and to trust.

      But if he decided to be a Were-cat again, which Tarrin would he be?  Would he be the ruthless monster, or the Were-cat he had been just before he lost his memory, the one who had been fighting for happiness rather than making the rest of the world share his pain?  Triana had pulled no punches.  She admitted that she had no idea how this ordeal was going to affect him.  It could make him feral again, or it may not.  There was no telling how he would be if he was restored to his Were nature.

      And on the other hand, what if he decided to stay human?  He could build a new life for himself, the life of a Sorcerer, or anything he wanted to be.  The possibilities were endless before him, because it was as if he had been given a second chance, another bite at the apple.  He had no memory of his life before, and if he decided to stay human...perhaps it was best to leave those memories forever buried in the depths of his darkest mind.  He could be a Sorcerer in the Tower, he could learn all over again, he could be what he was meant to be from the beginning, before Jesmind's bite had so radically altered his life.  Or he could leave the Tower and go back to Aldreth, or even decide to travel the world.  He could be whatever he wanted to be, he knew he could.

      And there was Auli.

      That thought just crept in there out of nowhere, but once it got into his mind, he couldn't let go of it.  If he stayed human, he could explore just how far Auli wanted to go with him, an idea that had been eating at him since she kissed him.  He just couldn't get the Sha'Kar girl out of his mind, even though he knew he had to get her out of his mind.  He'd told himself he couldn't get involved with her right now, he needed to make an objective decision, and she was clouding the issue.  But he liked her, alot.  And she was so much what he wanted in a woman.

      Auli wasn't the only reason to stay human.  The simple fact of knowing that the tortures and horrors of the past years would never haunt him again was also a powerful piece on the board.  And he was born human, wouldn't it be only natural to want to stay the way he'd been born, the only thing he'd ever known?  He couldn't remember being a Were-cat.  It felt natural, perfect, for him to be as he was, even if there was a large hole in his memory.

      Memory.  He thought before that it wouldn't be right to make his decision until he got back his memory so he could make a decision based on all the facts.  But if he did get back his memory and decided to stay human, then the memory of what he had once been would always be there, and he had the feeling that it would haunt him for the rest of his days.  Not just the memory of what he had lost, but the memory of the things he had done.  Tarrin the Were-cat may have had the mental control and willpower to be able to cope with such awful memories, but he wasn't sure if Tarrin the human could.  They may be too much for him to handle, and that would permantly stain any life he may be able to enjoy as a human.

      No, if he wanted to stay a human, then it would be best if those memories were never awakened again.

      But there were some things that he really did need to know, things that he had to understand before he could make such an important decision.  And he didn't want to learn those things from Triana or Jesmind.  Their bias was obvious, and he didn't want them flavoring things to sway him.  He wanted an honest opinion, a clear one, a consice one.  And he knew who would have one.  It wouldn't be Allia or Keritanima, for they were too close to him.  It wouldn't be Dolanna or Camara Tal, it wouldn't be Azakar or Miranda.

      If he wanted an honest opinion uncluttered by personal view, he knew Dar would be the best one to give it to him.  The young man was very smart and quite insightful, and he had a very formidable ability to see both sides of an issue, a trait instilled in him by his parents, who had been training him to be a merchant.  Merchants had to understand both sides of the issue in order to be able to assume the most profitable posture in the bargaining.

      Looking for Dar was one thing.  Finding him on the vast grounds of the Tower was quite another.  After checking his room and Dolanna's room, he found himself suddenly having no idea where to look.  He didn't really know what Dar and Dolanna did in the Tower.  For that matter, he really wasn't sure what all the other Sorcerers did in the Tower either.  He guessed they went off and did magic things or studied or such things, things he probably wouldn't understand without his memory.  The only one whose job he really understood was Jenna's, and that was only because she had explained most of it to him.  He decided to just wander around and try to find someone he knew, and maybe they could show him to Dar or use magic to tell him where to go.  Besides, it was a very nice summer day, and he really didn't want to spend it sitting in a room somewhere or wandering stuffy hallways.

      Where he eventually ended up was on the periphery of the sand-covered ground used by the cadets of the Knights, and he stood there and watched as ten armored Knights prowled around on the large field and oversaw about fifty armored cadets going through sword exercises.  They practiced with wooden replicas of swords, swinging them at one another but not close enough to make actual contact.  The ten Knights paced up and down the lines of the cadets and corrected forms or stopped a cadet and explained something to him.  He hadn't seen them practice before, and it reminded him of his own dream to be a Knight, to be out there on that training field and swinging one of those practice swords.  It didn't look like wearing that armor in this heat would be very comfortable, but it was what he had wanted to do.  Personally, Tarrin didn't see much use for armor.  He never really had, at least not the kind of armor the Knights wore.  That kind of heavy armor weighed a man down, restricted his movement and his mobility, and sometimes became more of a liability than an advantage.  A fast opponent, more lightly armed, yet with enough strength and a suitable weapon to penetrate that armor could take down and armored foe easily.  But that was a rather specialized situation.  On the average, and in the furtherance of protecting Sorcerers, Tarrin could both see and understand why the Knights wore heavy armor.  They did alot of travelling, and their horses bore most of that weight.  Knights were trained extensively for mounted combat.  That armor may be useless against a special foe, but it did grant a very formidable advantage against most others.  The average peasant with a knife or threshing staff or pitchfork was not going to be taking a Knight.  He probably wouldn't be able to take a Knight who was totally naked and unarmed.  Knights were some of the most expertly trained warriors in the world.  They were even respected by the Ungardt, and one had to be a very good warrior for an Ungardt to respect him.

      He'd wanted to be out there, but he knew that even if he decided to remain human, he never really could.  After all, he already was a Knight.  He remembered that part of the story that Dolanna told him.  He and Allia both were Knights, though they'd never gone through the same training as the others.  They were special Knights, answering only to Darvon, the Lord General, who really didn't order them around.  Dolanna told him that they'd Knighted the two of them because they'd become so close to the Knights.  Allia and Tarrin had trained many of them in their forms of fighting, to give the Knights a stronger base in unarmed combat and make them more effective.  Dolanna said that the Knights even branded themselves now, because of the brands on Tarrin and Allia.  She said it was the code of the Knights, We are one under Karas, meaning that what one Knight did, all did, and when one Knight needed help, all of them answered the call.  Since Tarrin and Allia had had the fortitude to allow themselves to be branded, all of the other Knights had had themselves branded as well as a symbol of their unity.  That kind of powerful brotherhood was a weapon in and of itself, and it made the Knights even more feared as a whole than they were individually.  Nobody--nobody--insulted or irritated a Knight.  He very well may have the entire order lined up at his front door the next day, waiting their turn to demand satisfaction.

      He tried to remember what Dolanna had told him.  Knight Champion, that was what she called it.  Darvon had Knighted both him and Allia and given them that title.  Darvon had given them that title, and it meant that he was outside the structure of command in the order itself.  He and Allia only answered to Darvon, and Darvon had basicly told them to do whatever they pleased.  He'd done it to give Tarrin more leverage to use against the Council to make them give him more freedom, so they'd told him.  But after they'd Knighted them, the Knights had accepted both of them as if they had undergone the training.  They truly were members of the order.

      Tarrin wondered what the Knights would think of what happened to him.  He didn't remember any of them but Faalken, who had died, but he'd heard a great deal about Darvon.  He was supposed to be a very wise man.  He wondered if Darvon was down there in the compound right now, and if he'd see Tarrin if he asked around for him.  Maybe Darvon would have some good advice for him, or maybe he could tell him some things about his time in the Tower that the others didn't know.  Besides, he was supposedly a Knight, and he had a problem.  The code of the Knights meant that if he had a problem, then it was a problem that the entire order would try to help him solve.

      He realized he was just trying to make excuses to go in there and see what it was like with the Knights.  He had no memory of them, and he doubted any of them would even recognize him like he was now.  But it was a childhood dream to be a Knight, to wear the spurs, and the knowledge that he had accomplished that goal seemed empty without any memory of how it had come to pass.

      Looking away from them, he wandered back towards the main Tower, by now a bit numb to its enormity.  He slowed to a stop, however, when four Sha'Kar glided towards him in their stately, graceful walk, four young women wearing simple robes and gowns, not those shimmering garments they'd worn back on the island.  And one of them he recognized as Auli.  Seeing her caused his mixed feelings for the girl to rise up in him, both his desire to be with her and his resolve to stay away, and seeing her made him happy to see her and worried about it.  He liked her as a friend, and perhaps was willing to let her lead him astray, but he knew that getting involved with her would cause nothing but trouble.  On many different levels.  He considered turning and going the other way, but they had already seen him, and he didn't want to insult Auli by blatantly running away from her.  Despite what she may feel, he still considered her a friend, and he wasn't going to be mean to her.  He simply jammed his hands behind his back and clasped them together and ambled forward quickly, like he was late for an appointment.  He didn't want to drag any conversation between them out, especially since she was in the company of three of her friends.  They were talking among themselves in what seemed to be casual tones, four friends or acquaintances that seemed to like one another.  They all stopped when Tarrin got near to them, and then they curtsied to him gracefully when he was but a few steps away.

      "Good day to you, honored one," the lead one said, a very tall, willowy Sha'Kar with the strangest mix of coloring.  She had the dusky brown skin of the Sha'Kar, but she had flaming red hair.  It was a very unusual combination, and it made her stand out from the other three, who had varying shades of blond hair.  The redhead wore a red robe that closely matched her hair, as if to advertise her unusual hair.

      "Hello, Tarrin," Auli said in silky tones, giving him a strangely naughty, knowing smile.  "What's got you in such a hurry?"

      "I'm looking for Dar," he said in what he hoped was a hurried, dismissive manner.  "It's kinda important."

      "I haven't seen him.  Do you want me to call him for you?"

      Tarrin stopped abruptly.  Actually, that would help him out a great deal.  "If you wouldn't mind," he said gratefully.

      She gave him a short grin, then put her slender fingers to the amulet around her neck.  "Dar," she called.  "Where are you?"

      "I'm in the library," came the tinny response, which was still Dar's voice despite the slight distortion.  "What's the matter, Auli?"

      "Nothing, Tarrin's looking for you, that's all."

      "Oh.  Well, I'll stay where I am until he gets here, then."

      "We're all going to go watch the Knights practice," Auli said with that same naughty smile.  "They're certainly one of the few things about having to come here that's been good so far.  Isn't that right, Janelle?"

      The redhead gave Tarrin a slightly embarassed giggle and nodded.  "I never knew humans could be so much fun to watch," she agreed.

      "Of course, they all fall over each other when we're there watching them," Auli added with a smirk.  "I guess they can't concentrate when such beauty stands in their presence."

      "At least it's fun til that wrinkled up old prune comes out and chases us off," another of the Sha'Kar girls said sourly.  "He's always so rude!"

      They were talking about Darvon, and Tarrin didn't want to say something unpleasant to them.  From the sound of it, Darvon would take care of that when they arrived.  Tarrin didn't remember Darvon, but he was the Lord General of the Knights, and Tarrin figured that he had to have some kind of duty to stand up for Darvon against them.  But then again, Darvon probably wouldn't be impressed by the four Sha'Kar girls.  Tarrin realized that the younger ones, the cadets, they probably would get distracted by the four very lovely girls standing on the edges of the grounds and watching, but the trained Knights wouldn't.  Knights were trained to ignore distractions, even ones as lovely as the Sha'Kar.

      In a way, Tarrin guessed that maybe them watching on would be a good thing.  It would certainly teach the cadets how to concentrate on what they were doing, despite whatever may come along to distract them.

      "Want to come along, Tarrin?" Auli asked with bright eyes, holding her hand out to him.  "We could have fun."

      "I'm sorry, but I'm busy, Auli," he said carefully.  "I really need to go see Dar.  And after that, I think I'll be spending time with my daughter for a while."

      "Ah well, I can't compete with family," she said with an eerily predatory look.  "But I'll walk with you for a bit.  I'll be along in a little, Janelle."

      "Alright, Auli," she said with a look, and then the three girls scurried off.  Then they all started laughing loudly.  Tarrin looked back at them sourly, wondering if Auli had told them about what happened in his room last night.  Knowing Auli, she probably would.

      Walking with her was both exciting and nerve wracking, because he wanted to walk a little closer, and he knew that that was a very bad idea.  Her very presence had a powerful effect on him, and for a moment he felt like one of those cadets with those glowing eyes looking down at him.  He kept a good distance from her, hands behind his back, as she walked along without any seeming discomfort.  She didn't even seem to notice his own, at least until she glanced over at him and smiled.  "I see you're all out of sorts," she said with a flash of white teeth.  "Don't let that crotchety old she-cat get to you, Tarrin.  She can't watch us all the time, you know," she added with a seductive purr, reaching over and grabbing his arm, leaning into him as they walked.

      "I don't think you appreciate just how nasty Jesmind can get, Auli," Tarrin said carefully.  "She wasn't joking.  She will hurt you if you--"

      "I can handle that fleabag," she said confidently, cutting him off.  "So, are you going to be in your room tonight?" she asked with smoldering eyes.  "I'll come after you finish visiting with your daughter."

      "I, don't think that's a good idea, Auli," he said delicately.  "I mean, you're very pretty and all, and I really like you, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to have a girlfriend right now.  Not with my memory all full of holes."

      She looked at him, then she laughed.  "Girlfriend?" she asked loudly, probably a bit too loudly.  Tarrin blushed slightly when two passing Sorcerers glanced at them as they went by.  "You have an imagination, Tarrin!" she giggled.  "I don't want to be your girlfriend."

      "B-But you kissed me, and--"

      "So?  I like you, Tarrin, and I think you're very sexy.  I know you like me, and I know you think I'm sexy.  I want to go to bed with you, and the kiss you gave me last night told me you want to go to bed with me.  Who says we have to say we love each other to share pleasure?"

      Tarrin was shocked, more than he thought he would be, because Auli knew he did have interest in her, and Jesmind had had her pegged from the start.  He was little more than a conquest to her.  Some men probably wouldn't mind that at all, more than happy to let such a gorgeous woman conquer them all she wanted, but Tarrin had been raised quite differently than her.

      Or was he just a conquest?  Tarrin rememebered that she had in fact been raised in a very, very different society, one that had been perverted and depraved, and he wondered how much of that upbringing was affecting her behavior right now.  Was Auli trying to take things to that level because that's what she thought she was supposed to do?  Or was it one of the ways that decadent culture displayed friendship?  Did she want to sleep with him because she did like him, or because it was what she had been conditioned to offer?

      "I-I think it's a bad idea," he repeated.  "No offense, Auli, really.  I do really like you, but with everything going on right now with me, with Jesmind, and the fact that I don't think your mother would like it very much if you and me--"

      "I can handle my mother," she interrupted with a snort.  "And I can handle your furry girlfriends.  So what's stopping us?"  She reached down with her other hand and patted him on the backside, which made him jump.  "You can say no all you want, Tarrin, but you're no different from some of the other boys who've said no to me.  Your mouth says no, but your body says yes.  And I know how to get your body to ignore your mouth."  She let go of him and they stopped.  She looked up at him with unashamed, hooded eyes, her expression one of strange expectant pleasure.  "I'll get you yet, Tarrin," she purred.  "Mark me on that.  You should never have said no," she added with a wink.  "Now I'm really, really curious."

      Tarrin really couldn't say anything to that, so Auli took advantage of his silence to step up and lean into him, making sure to press all those things the dark side of Tarrin's mind liked to think about against him as she whispered in his ear.  "I'm going to get you, Tarrin," she said huskily.  Then she kissed him passionately on the lips for a brief moment, paralyzing him.  She pushed away from him with twinkling eyes, full of mischief, and then turned and sauntered towards the training grounds as if she owned the entire Tower.

      Tarrin felt her lips still ghosting against his, and he could only watch her go and berate himself for handling that so badly.  Not only did he not try to reason with her, he had somehow almost made it some kind of challenge to her.  Now she would think of it as a game, and she was the kind that would play it until she won.  He had really messed things up, and he had only himself to blame.  He should have tried to be more sensitive to her position, or tried to understand her motives a little better, he should have tried to talk with her much longer and gotten to understand what she was after before trying to deflect her.  Instead, he had just blurted out no and piqued her curiosity.  Piqueing Auli's curiosity had to have been the worst thing he could have done.  He knew Auli well enough to know that when she got curious, absolutely nothing would stop her from satisfying that curiosity.

      Woodenly, Tarrin remembered the library as he realized he was watching Auli walk away, and his eyes were not on her back.  He growled at himself for doing exactly what he asked Auli not to do and then turned around and stalked towards the main Tower.


      He found Dar in the library with Dolanna, and after a pleasant, short conversation with her, Tarrin borrowed her student and they walked along the outside grounds of the Tower.  Tarrin had alot to talk about with his Arkisian friend, and it took him a while to try to organize things in his mind, so he'd know what to ask and how to say it.  Until then, he disclosed to Dar his debacle with Auli, telling him what she'd done with him after Dar left a those two times and then telling him about the confrontation they had earlier.  That made Dar flush, and then he laughed ruefully.

      "I really wish you would have come to see me before you said that," he said.  "I may have been able to help."

      "She flirted with you too, Dar.  Did she try to seduce you?"

      "No," he said, and he sounded a little disappointed.  "But you said it to her all wrong, Tarrin."

      "I know," he sighed.  "Now she's really going to come after me."

      "Just keep one of the Were-cats with you."

      "That's even worse than having Auli after me," he grunted.

      "Well, then let her catch you and be done with it," Dar shrugged.

      "Then Jesmind would kill her," Tarrin told him.  "I don't think Auli realizes I wasn't joking about that."

      "Well, then I guess you have a problem," Dar grinned.

      "You're alot of help," Tarrin accused.

      "I've never been very good with girls, Tarrin," Dar said.  "I mean, look at me.  I want to ask Tiella out, but every time she comes near me, I get all tongue-tied and forget what to say."

      "I thought you and her were friends."

      "Well, we are, but back then I thought she was just cute.  I really wasn't looking at her that way."

      "This from the man who boasts about how many naked girls he's seen," Tarrin teased.

      "Looking at them is a bloody lot easier than talking to them," Dar admitted with a rueful laugh.  "Anyway, what did you want to talk to me about, Tarrin?"

      "I need you to help me," Tarrin told him.  "Phandebrass found something out today."


      Tarrin told Dar about what they'd managed to discover earlier that day, and Dar's eyes turned sober when Tarrin explained the possible ramifications.  "I don't know what to do, Dar," he admitted.  "Jesmind and the other Were-cats keep pressuring me about being a Were-cat again, but I just don't know if that's what I want.  And if it isn't what I want, I don't know if I should try to get my memory back."

      "That does sound like a problem," Dar agreed.

      "So I need to decide that first," he continued.  "I thought I had more time to think about it, but as soon as the Were-cats find out that I should regain my memory if I'm turned again, they're going to be lining up to bite me."

      "That's no lie," Dar agreed.  "So, Tarrin, how can I help?"

      "I want to know the truth, Dar," he said grimly.  "Not this person's version of the truth, or that person's version of the truth.  I want to hear the whole story, and I think you're probably the best person to ask.  I know that the Were-cats have already decided what to do with me, but I think that even people like my sisters and Jenna and Dolanna and Camara Tal probable also have their own opinions, and they'd try to sway me one way or the other if I asked them."

      "You're right about that," Dar admitted in a low tone.  "Dolanna's been talking to me about you, and she doesn't think you should be changed back.  I heard Jenna talking to her parents, and she's talking like they got you back from the dead, so I think she's decided you should stay like you are.  I know that Keritanima and Allia are your sisters, but right now they're arguing about you.  Keritanima thinks you'd be better off staying human, but Allia thinks that you're less than what you're supposed to be as a human, and that all the suffering and work you did to get where you were before you were turned human again would be for nothing, and all the honor you gained as a Were-cat was lost when you became human again.  Allia's got funny ideas sometimes.  The funny thing is, both of them told me that it's because they think it's what you would want.  I guess they don't know you as well as they thought they did."

      "They did know me, Dar," Tarrin said.

      "I know what you mean," Dar nodded.  "Miranda thinks you should be a Were-cat again too, so Kerri's getting it from both sides."

      "What do you think, Dar?"

      "Well, I think that it's your decision," he replied.

      "That's why I asked for your help," Tarrin said with a relieved smile.

      "So, what can I tell you?"

      "I want to know what I was really like, Dar," he said seriously.  "I've heard what Dolanna said and my sisters have said and Triana's said, but they all seem to be holding things back.  I want to know the whole truth."

      "Actually, they did a pretty good job," Dar admitted, scratching his chin.

      "Then I really was like that?" he asked.

      "For a time," he agreed.  "But you've changed alot since I met you, Tarrin.  The Were-cat I met was nothing like the Were-cat you became after Jula betrayed you.  I think everything bad you became goes right back to that one act.  And the Were-cat I knew right before this happened was alot different than the one you were before.  You went into the desert paranoid and pretty mean, and when you came out, you were alot more mellow and friendly."

      "They said I'd changed."

      "Alot," he agreed.  "When you and Kerri and Allia were in the Initiate, you were actually alot like you are now, but not quite.  I guess that's because it was closest to who you were before you were bitten."

      "Was I happy, Dar?"

      "I really can't say," he said honestly.  "You seemed happy sometimes.  You were definitely happy with Jesmind and Jasana.  But most of the rest of the time, it was too hard to tell.  You were a very hard man to know, Tarrin.  You never let anyone get very close to you, even among us.  Only Allia and Kerri and Dolanna understood you, and they'd never talk about you with the rest of us.  Even at the end, what happened with you and Jula had permanently scarred you.  Between that and the mission, it really didn't give you much room to be you.  It was very hard on you."

      Mention of that reminded him of what he was carrying at that moment, in the magical regions of that place Dolanna called the elsewhere.  The Firestaff.  The one thing that the majority of the world was struggling to find, and he was the one who had it.  The quest to find that artifact had been the whole reason he and the other had come together.  For that, at least, he was glad it had happened.  But from what he'd heard, that was about the only positive thing to come about from the whole thing.

      "If you're trying to find out if you were happy being what you were, I don't think anyone can answer that but you, Tarrin," Dar told him soberly.  "You'd need to get back your memories to find that out, because can any one man really say he knows what's in another man's mind?"

      "A Sorcerer could," Tarrin said with a teasing smile.

      "Well, I guess in that case yes, but you know what I mean," he said defensively.

      "It's hard to believe that I was really like that."

      "I know, but it was," Dar nodded.  "I guess in what we were doing at the time, it was almost a good thing.  Everyone was afraid of you, even our enemies."

      "You were afraid of me?" Tarrin asked in surprise.

      "Not the same way that someone that didn't know you would be," he said cautiously.  "I'd call it more understanding your personality."

      "I asked for the truth, Dar."

      Dar blew out his breath.  "Yes, I was afraid of you at times, Tarrin.  Any sane man would have been."

      "Were you afraid of me the whole time?"

      "No," he answered.  "When we first met, I liked you alot.  Like I said, you were alot like you are now, with some pretty obvious differences, given you were a Were-cat then.  But after Jula betrayed you, and we left to go find the Firestaff, those two things consumed you.  You turned feral, and you were driven by the need to finish the mission and regain your freedom.  Anyone that got in your way was putting his life in his hands, and when you were feral, you were very nervous and unpredictable.  That can make any man nervous, since you were strong enough to kill a man with your bare hands."

      "I don't think I would have ever hurt you, Dar," Tarrin said after a moment.

      "I doubt you would have either," he answered.  "You risked your neck too many times to count to keep the rest of us out of harm's way.  That happened after Faalken died."  He sighed.  "You took that harder than the rest of us.  I liked Faalken and I miss him, but you blamed yourself for it.  After he died, you'd all but stick your neck on a headsman's block if it kept the rest of us out of danger.  That really infuriated Allia and Camara Tal, you know," he chuckled.  "They were trying to protect you, but you were running off and protecting them and putting yourself in harm's way in the process."  He looked over with darkening eyes.  "After Faalken died, I never really was directly afraid of you again.  I'd be afraid of what you might do, and what might happen, but I was never afraid you'd hurt me."

      They walked out into the gardens in silence, as Tarrin mulled over what he'd learned.  Dar hadn't really told him much that he hadn't heard already, except for some personal insights.  "What do you think I should do?" he asked finally.

      "I think you should make the decision that makes you happiest, Tarrin," Dar answered after a moment.  "I think you should make it for you, not for who may be angry with you for making it, or for who may not be.  It's your life, after all."

      "If you're talking about Jesmind and Kimmie, I know," he said.  "I thought that nobody would really care if I decided to be turned again, but just about everyone would object if I decided to stay human."

      "I think you'd find out how much some people care about you going back to being a Were-cat if you announced that you were going to," he said.  "Dolanna told all of us to keep our opinions to ourselves, that's why nobody's really said anything to you."  He chuckled.  "Well, there's that, and then there was when the Goddess came to you.  She more or less told all of us that you were going to make your choice yourself, and we'd better not interfere.  So nobody's interfering."

      "I guess Jesmind didn't get the message," Tarrin chuckled.  Then he remembered something that that strange Goddess lady had told him.  You were quite happy being a Were-cat, she had told him.  If he got his memory back, I dare say he would demand to be restored.  For him to be as he is now would seem unnatural to him, she had also said.

      If that was true, then maybe had had been happy as he was. She kept telling him that it would be his choice, after he got back his memory.  She had wanted him to make an educated choice, not a blind one based on fear or rumor or feelings.  And he had to admit to himself, any choice he made before gaining back his memory probably wouldn't be a thorough one.  He'd wanted to choose beforehand, in case those memories brought pain.  But he saw that he was only thinking in the moment.  He'd let his fear of what Jesmind and the Were-cats might do rush him, when he had forgotten that he really had all the time in the world.  If the Goddess had told the Were-cats not to bite him unless it was his choice, then they'd behave.  He doubted any of them would really care to cross swords with a god.

      "Dar," Dolanna's voice came from his amulet.  "Is Tarrin still with you?"

      "He's right here, Dolanna," Dar replied, touching his amulet.

      "Good.  Could the two of you please come to the Keeper's office?  It's important."

      "We're on our way," he answered immediately.

      "I wonder what Jenna wants," Tarrin mused.

      "Well, we can continue talking about this later, I guess," Dar said.

      "Maybe.  I think I have some of my answers already, Dar.  I forgot that the Goddess personally told the Were-cats not to bite me unless I agreed to it."

      "I didn't know she said that," Dar said with a chuckle.  "I guess that means that you really don't have anything to worry about at all, doesn't it?"

      "Maybe," Tarrin said.

      When they reached Jenna's office, Tarrin was surprised to see that Jenna wasn't alone.  Keritanima and Allia were with her, Keritanima sitting in the chair facing the desk with Binter standing behind it resolutely, and Allia standing by Jenna's chair.  Phandebrass was also there, as was Dolanna, Jesmind, and Kimmie.  Jula stood just behind them, her head down and her large furry hands folded before her demurely, as if she was trying hard not to attract attention to herself.

      "What's wrong, Jenna?" Tarrin asked.

      "Nothing's wrong, Tarrin," Jenna answered.  "I just though you may want to be here, that's all."

      "Why?  What's going on?"

      "I say, I think I've found a solution," Phandebrass announced with a clap of his hands.  "As soon as Koran Dar gets here, we can find out how feasible it is."

      "You mean you can restore Tarrin's memory?" Jesmind asked quickly.

      "I think I can," he nodded.  "But I'll need to talk with Koran Dar, or maybe Camara Tal.  The cure is a potion, and its key ingredient is a rare plant that only grows on one of the isles of Amazar.  One of them should be able to tell me if we can get that plant right now."

      "What is a potion?" Tarrin asked.

      "A potion is a magic liquid," Kimmie answered for Phandebrass.  "A Wizard makes it, and then the person he made it for drinks it.  When he does, the magic in the potion takes effect."

      "You won't need Koran Dar for that, Phandebrass," Jesmind scoffed.  "All you need is my mother.  She can Conjure anything you need."

      "And I'm sure Triana will be happy to Conjure the plant as soon as she comes back," Kimmie said mildly.  "But it's going to take time to prepare the potion."

      "I say, most definitely," Phandebrass agreed.  "At least a month."

      "A month?" Jesmind said hotly.  "You call that a solution?"

      "These procedures are very delicate, they are," he said defensively, "and the draught has to be simmered for days on end at certain stages before the next ingredient can be added.  I say, we are talking about some very delicate, very poweful magic here, Jesmind, we are.  Did you think it would be as easy as chanting a few spells?"

      "Yes," she said flatly, glaring at him.

      "I say, I'm sorry to disappoint you, then," he said diffidently.  "But the unusual circumstances that robbed Tarrin of his memory means that we have to use some very strong magic to try to reverse the damage, we do.  And unfortunately, in the Wizard world, powerful magic often takes time."

      "Are you sure that this will work?" Jenna asked.

      "I say, assuming that I can get all the ingredients, I do think it will work," he replied brightly.  "The potion was specifically designed to restore memories lost through magical attacks, and Tarrin qualifies.  I read the description of the potion several times, and I'm convinced that Tarrin is a prime candidate for its use.  It is almost perfect."

      "What do you mean by almost perfect?" the Keeper asked quickly.

      "The potion was specifically designed to restore the memory of a Wizard who lost it to a powerful magical spell left behind in a spellbook as a trap," the Wizard told her.  "Afterwards, they discovered that it had wide-ranging effects on anyone who had lost memory, but its potency varied depending on the means by which the memory was lost, it did.  Tarrin lost his memory to a magical curse.  That very closely matches the original intent for which the potion was designed, it does.  It should work perfectly on him.  I'm convinced of it, I am."

      "It does look very promising," Kimmie agreed.  "I read the summaries myself, and I have to agree.  This potion looks to be the best option we have."

      "I feel alot better about the idea of it now that you agree, Kimmie," Jesmind said curtly.

      Phandebrass snorted.  "The simple fact of the matter is, the power of the curse that affected him leaves very few options available to us, it does," he continued.  "Only the strongest magicks will have any chance of affecting him, and I say, we don't have the time to just try them one after another until we stumble across the one that works.  We don't have that kind of time, we don't."

      "What do you mean?" Jenna asked.

      "Well, firstly, this kind of damage is going to set in his mind as time goes by," the addled Wizard replied.  "The longer he stays thusly, the harder it's going to be to reverse the damage.  That's why I've gotten so little sleep over the last few days trying to find the most effective way to restore him, because I know we don't have much time, we don't.  The month's brewing time for this potion is going to be pushing it, it is.  Secondly, after doing some reading about the Firestaff, I found a reference to when it was used.  I took the time to consult some astronomical charts and a few ancient calendars, and I've worked out the exact day that it's going to activate again."

      "Really?  When will that be?" Dolanna asked curiously.

      "Gods Day," he replied.

      Tarrin looked at him.  God's Day was a holiday of sorts, a day that came only once every five years.  It was an extra day placed just after the day of New Year to keep the calendar balanced, a leap day.  It was called Gods Day because it was said in myth and legend that the very first day of the world, the day of creation, was Gods Day.  It and New Year were the only two such days that fell outside of the months.

      "That's only a little more than three months from now," Jenna noted, scribbling down the date on a piece of parchment, and circling it several times.

      "I say, not very far off at all, is it?" the Wizard asked.  "If Tarrin is supposed to hide the Firestaff, then he needs his memory back as quickly as we can manage it.  After all, so long as he's here, everyone knows where he is, and they know where to come in order to try to take it from him.  We have to get him healthy and whole, and then he can disappear off the Tower grounds and defend the Firestaff until Gods Day comes and goes."

      "I didn't realize it was so soon," Jenna growled.  "Where did you find that information, Phandebrass?  I've had my Lorefinders tearing our libraries apart looking for something we could use to find that out."

      "I say, Jenna, it was right in your library.  It was written in Sha'Kar, that's all.  Your library is probably one of the most complete in the world, you know.  It was just that most of the books there you couldn't read.   I found it quite by accident.  When I saw a book titled Ancient Artifacts and Their Use Over the Ages, I just had to stop and leaf through it."

      Jenna laughed ruefully.  "I was the only one in the Tower that can read Sha'Kar before the Sha'Kar came back, so I guess you'll have to forgive me for missing that," she said.  "I haven't had much time to go through the library, not with all my duties as the Keeper."

      "I wasn't blaming you, Keeper," Phandebrass smiled.

      "I think Phandebrass makes a valid point," Dolanna said.  "If there is indeed only three months, then we truly do not have much time.  We must bend every effort into having Phandebrass make this potion and restore Tarrin's memory.  Because as time grows short, those who want the Firestaff and are willing to use extreme methods to get it are going to get desperate.  The sooner Tarrin disappears from sight, the better for everyone."

      "I guess that means that I'd better quadruple the guard," Jenna said seriously.

      "Quintupling it would be more wise, Jenna," Dolanna said calmly.  "We must turn the Tower into a fortress until Tarrin can escape with the Firestaff.  Because, and you can mark my words.  If we do not turn the Tower into a fortress no man would dare assault, they will assault it."

      "No doubt," Keritanima nodded in agreement.  "I'll have some of my Marines brought in, Jenna.  We'll give you a hand."

      "Right now, I'll take all the help I can get, Kerri," Jenna said sourly.  "I think I may even ask Shiika if I can borrow the Arakite Legions she left behind in Suld to help garrison the city.  They're still here, and I'd be crazy not to want them on the grounds.  Between them and the Knights, I'll have some of the finest soldiers in the world defending the fence."

      "Just be careful what you give in return," Kimmie smiled.  "It's always dangerous work, bartering with a Demon.  They have ways of getting more than you thought you gave at the end."

      "No doubt there," Jenna agreed soberly.  "I'd better call both Councils and make some arrangements.  I should go see the Regent, and talk to Shiika as well.  We need to lock up the Tower as tight as a drum, and I'm going to need dependable men to do that."

      "And the sooner the better," Keritanima agreed.

To:       Title                EoF

Chapter 4


      A month.

      That was what Phandebrass said it would take in order for him to make his magical potion, in the hopes that it would restore his memory without having to resort to being bitten.  Tarrin had left the meeting with Jenna and the others just a little bit worried about what he'd heard, and the time was only a part of it.  The idea of spending a month in the Tower didn't seem all that bad to him, though he knew that it was going to cause some friction.  The part that worried him was the idea that they were going to lock down the Tower, and he was the cause for it.  Some part of him was a little embarassed by that idea, that all this trouble was going to happen because of him, but another part of him resented the idea that they were going to turn the Tower into a fortress just to keep him safe.  He'd gone through that once already with Jesmind and Triana, and the idea that now Jenna and the others were going to start doing it too kind of defeated the purpose of him trying to establish his independence in the first place.  It wasn't that he didn't appreciate the fact that they were willing to go as far as they were, but it was still a little annoying.

      Of course, he was only a very small reason for it.  It was all about him, true, but the truth was that it was much more all about what he was carrying.  Jenna was defending the Firestaff, and the only reason that she was defending Tarrin too was because he happened to be the bearer of that old artifact.  They wouldn't let him give it to anyone else, and Dolanna wouldn't even let him take it out of the elsewhere at any time.

      He knew why, and understood.  The Firestaff was almost a living thing, possessed of a kind of willpower of its own, and its willpower and desire was to be used, to serve the function for which it had been created.  That was the last thing that Tarrin wanted to do, because he'd already been warned that if it was used, it could destroy the world.  It was why they had lain the trap on it that had stripped him of his Were nature and had also caused him to lose his memory, a last-ditch attempt to strip the one who managed to take it of the desire to use it, a ploy that would render the artifact's corrupting effect powerless.  The Firestaff would try to convince its holder to use it, but the curse would have destroyed that desire, leaving the artifact with no desire to exploit in order to reach its own goals. The Firestaff had even tried to whisper to him before he put it in the elsewhere, and he knew how seductive it could be.  Almost like Auli.  That's why he was glad it was where he wouldn't have to listen to it all the time.  It couldn't reach through the elsewhere and try to subvert his will, and that made it safe for him--and only him--to carry it.  And it was absolutely not something that they would put in a locked chamber somewhere and try to guard.  It was safest where it was at that moment, out of physical reach and in a place where its insidious magic couldn't affect those around it.

      At least with Tarrin, the Firestaff was safe, and everyone else was safe from it.  That was why, even though he had lost his memory, he still held it.

      A month.  He wasn't sure what he was going to do for a whole month, but he already had some ideas.  He was going to try to stay away from Auli.  That much was for certain.  Her declaration had more or less put their friendship on hold until she got over the idea, because he wouldn't trust her enough to be alone with her, or even alone with her and Dar.  Or, more to the point, he wouldn't trust himself to be alone with her, or with her and Dar.  He also wanted to learn more about who he had been and what it meant, and also if he had been truly happy.  He wanted to find out before getting back his memory, so he could compare what he had discovered with the return of his memory and see how close he got to the truth.  The combination of what he managed to learn now and what he would regain later would help him decide once and for all what he was going to do.  That meant that he needed to talk to all his friends extensively, work around Dolanna's warning that they weren't supposed to influence him, and get them to describe as much to him as they could.  And he wanted to get to know his daughter all over again, spend as much time with her as he could, because maybe he would learn something about her as a human that he hadn't known about her when he was a Were-cat.

      That was the most important thing to him.  Jasana was his daughter, and even if she was a different species than him, he loved her and he wanted to be around her.  He understood now how his own parents must have felt when Tarrin himself had been turned.  It was a terrible thing, but he was still their child, and no matter what, they would love him.  He'd never really understood that until he was on the same side as them, with a child of his own.  That kind of boundless love was usually unfathomable to anyone who had not experienced it for himself.  Now that Tarrin had looked into the eyes of his own child, he completely understood how his parents must have felt, and understood how they could have accepted him as what he had become.  No matter what happened to him, no matter who he became or what he did, no matter how evil he had acted, he was still their son, and that kind of bond was too powerful for almost any worldly act or situation to sever.

      Sometimes it surprised Tarrin how he could feel so much love for a little girl of another species that he barely knew, and was admittedly just a little bit afraid of.  But then again, she was his daughter.  That was all the explanation he needed anymore.

      Walking along by himself, invariably ending up in the cool gardens, he thought about what he'd heard at the meeting.  After they'd decided to lock up the Tower, they'd talked about who they'd get and how much it would take to secure their cooperation.  Keritanima promised to send her Marines, and they were going to get some of tha Arakite Legions to come onto the grounds, and even some elements of the Sulasian army that were still in Suld to ensure another attack wouldn't be attempted.  They already had the Sorcerers, and he wondered why they were going to try to get anyone else in the first place.  Wouldn't the Sorcerers be enough to stop just about anything?  Now that they had the Sha'Kar back, he couldn't think of any reason why they'd need any additional support.  Weren't the Sorcerers the most powerful of all the magical orders?  Why would they need additional help?

      For the moment, he guessed that really didn't concern him.  All that mattered for him was trying to keep his own rather crazy life from getting any crazier until Phandebrass finished that potion.

      He still felt wild mood swings about that.  He wanted his memory back, but on the other hand, he was afraid of what it may mean.  He knew that some of those memories may be absolutely awful, and he was honest enough with himself to admit that he was terrified of the idea of having memories of being so vicious.  He knew he couldn't make a sincere decision without those memories, but he was afraid of having to remember the bad as well as the good.  It was a touchy situation for him, and he felt trapped between the need to regain his memory and the desire to stay away from them.

      It was about more than what he wanted anymore, and that was another thing that concerned him.  He'd honestly forgotten what he was carrying, but he realized that everyone else not only would not forget, they were still working to protect it.  It was easy to forget about the Firestaff when he never took it out to look at it, and he had no memory of searching for it or finding it or what it did to him when he did.  It seemed more like a story he'd been told that the actual past, and that made it much easier for him to discount or ignore than it was for those who remembered what they'd gone through in order to get him into a position to acquire it.  He knew that he had a duty to all those others to take back his memory, that because even if he was incapacitated at the moment, he was still the chosen guardian of the Firestaff, and he had to do what he could to protect it from everyone else until Gods Day came and went.

      That was the one thing he didn't really want to think about.  The Goddess had said that it would be his choice, but making that choice, he knew, would mean much more than simply what he wanted.  After he got his memory back, he was afraid that there really wouldn't be a choice.  It would be alot easier for Tarrin the Were-cat to protect the Firestaff than it would be for Tarrin the human.  That Tarrin was bigger, stronger, faster, more magically powerful, and lacked the comparative morality that may make Tarrin the human hesitate in a moment of extreme danger, and put everything at risk.  He wanted it to be his choice, his decision, a choice based on nothing more than his own desires.  But he had a feeling that it was going to be alot more complicated than that.  Maybe it was selfish and childish for him to think that way, but he couldn't help it.  It was his life, after all, and he wanted the chance to make of it what he wanted, not what others would need of him.

      Worries, worries, worries.  Nothing seemed simple now, not even for him and his altered sense of being.  They'd given him time to himself, kept him out of the loop of information to spare him heavy thoughts, and at least for that he could appreciate their looking out for him.  But no matter how much he liked being distanced from the center of things, the simple fact of the matter was that he was the center of things, and he couldn't be outside the hub for very long.  Any decisions that were made were going to affect him in one way or another, and he'd learn about them one way or another.

      But there was little he could do about that right now.  What he could do was what he'd already decided to do.  Learn as much as he could about who he had been and what he'd been doing, stay away from Auli, and spend time with his daughter.  They were rather simple things, but he had to start somewhere, and he had to get busy with the task of trying to make his choice.

      Things were going to work out.  He had faith in that, and after all, there was little he'd be doing to make that come about.  He'd just have to let things go on their own and hope that the currents they made caused him to go in the right direction.


      The decision to stay away from Auli was a very simple one.  After all, it was a simple concept, that being to avoid the girl whenever possible and make sure that when he did see her, he wasn't alone.  It seemed easy enough, taking little more than a watchful eye and caution when venturing out from his rooms.

      The problem was, he didn't take Auli herself into account when he decided how simple a matter it would be.

      He knew that she was clever and rather cunning, and he knew that she was very bold.  What he didn't count on was how persistent she could be.  Everywhere he seemed to go, she was never very far away.  Either alone or in the company of other Sha'Kar girls, he seemed to encounter her in the passages, in the library, in the kitchens, in the gardens, on the grounds.  It seemed that no matter when he left his room, no matter how short his trip was, Auli found some way to put herself where she would cross his path.  When she did, she would always try to get close to him, brush up against him, or whisper something seductive in his ear.  The other Sha'Kar girls, seeing what Auli was doing, though it to be devilish fun, and they even began to help her by blocking his path and giving her more time to try to work her magic on him.  Tarrin realized that when he left his room, the Sha'Kar network of shallow girls got the word back to Auli that her prey was out of his protective den, and she would swoop in to try to make a kill.

      Tarrin countered by always keeping someone with him when he went out.  Dar was usually his escort, but much of the time, it was Koran Dar or Camara Tal, one of his sisters, Azakar Kanash, Jenna, or one of the Were-cats.  He was still a little angry with them for how he treated him, but in that one narrow instance he was usually happy they were around.  Auli seemed unafraid of Jesmind, Kimmie, and Jula, but she wouldn't come anywhere near him when one of them was with him.  For the few days after Auli started following him around, he made sure that he wasn't too far from one of them.  They would often take him up to Jesmind's room, where he would spend hours and hours talking with Jesmind, his sisters, and whoever happened to be visiting, and playing with his daughter.  She taught him all sorts of things about herself and himself, chattering on animatedly about things that nobody else had really said to him, very private and somewhat embarassing things about how he and Jesmind carried on when they were together.

      One thing that did concern him a little was that Triana was still missing from the Tower.  Nobody really knew where she went or what she was doing, but Jesmind wasn't very worried.  She simply said she'd show up when she was ready, and that was that.

      Tarrin's room was not as protected as he had once believed.  Three days after the meeting, after he came back at night from a long visit with Jasana, he found her in his room.  She was sitting on the bed sedately, and she wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing.  The only thing she was wearing was a seductive smile.  Fortunately for him, the shock of seeing her there overwhelmed his very real desire to want to find her just like that some evening.  Tarrin both wanted Auli and wanted to stay away from Auli, and he knew that he'd let her win as soon as she caught him in a position where she could overwhelm his decision to stay away from her.  That, and the fact that she was on the other side of the room.  He certainly enjoyed seeing her like that, but luckily for him, he wasn't close enough to let himself fall under her spell.

      It had perhaps been too easy for him to back out of the room and flee from her, but this raise of the stakes in her little game upset him quite a bit.  His room was one of the few things that he considered his and his alone in the Tower, representing what little identity he could manage to find with the loss of his memory, and he was sincerely angry with Auli for violating his private space.  He made sure to let her know the next day, and for the first time ever, that slow smile of hers dropped into a chagrined frown when he snapped at her hotly for coming into his room without being invited.  She seemed to realize that she had crossed a line that should not have been crossed, and her rather contrite apology actually convinced him that she wouldn't do it again.

      She actually left him alone for a couple of days after that, and Tarrin took advantage of it by spending as much time of it as he could outside.  He took Jasana with him, and with Jula following behind or accompanying him, they would run around the gardens exploring.  The gardens were huge, and it took quite a while for someone to get to know his way around.  They took up almost all the space behind the North Tower, almost all the way up to the fence, filled with almost every flower, plant, tree, and vine imaginable.  Tarrin was carrying Jasana on his shoulders, feeling with a bit of eerie curiosity as her tail slid back and forth against his back, holding onto her furry little ankles.  Jula was with them, walking alongside him.  Tarrin felt strangely comfortable around Jula, but he could tell that she didn't seem to be as comfortable with him.  He wasn't quite sure why, but he could tell that she was.  She was always very quiet, almost stiffly polite, and had trouble looking him in the eye.

      "Oooh, what kind of tree is that?" Jasana asked in excitement, point at a rather large tree swaying in a gentle wind.  "It's pretty with those blue leaves!"

      "That's a blueleaf tree," Tarrin told her.  "They're common in the north.  This is a little south for there to really be much of them.  They like cold weather."

      "I've never seen those before."

      "You should have.  There are lots of them around Aldreth."

      "Well, I don't remember them."

      "I guess that's a fair excuse," he chuckled, bouncing her a bit.  "They certainly gave it a clever and descriptive name, didn't they?"

      "What do you mean?"

      "Nevermind," he chuckled.

      "Papa, I've been meaning to ask you something."


      "What's it like to not rememeber?"

      "Well, it's not something I can explain, Jasana," he answered.  "Since I can't remember anything, there's really nothing I feel about it.  Everything seems new and strange to me, just like it's my first time seeing it."

      "How can you not remember?  That doesn't seem to make sense."

      "Don't you forget things?"

      "Well, yeah, but nothing serious."

      "Well, it's kind of like that, but I guess in my case, it was serious."

      "Mama said that a magic spell did it to you."

      "I guess it was.  I really can't remember."

      "She also said the silly human with the white hair is going to fix it."

      "He's working on it," he affirmed.

      "Mama said when you get your memory back, you'll be just like you were before.  Does that mean you won't be a human anymore?"

      That startled him a little bit.  "I'm not sure yet, Jasana," he answered seriously.  "I'm supposed to decide if I want to be a Were-cat again or not.  I can't really do that until I get back my memory, so I guess we won't find that out until I get back my memory."

      "That seems like a silly thing to say, papa," she chided.  "You look funny like this, and you can't be with us if you're a human.  Mama said so."

      "I k now."

      "Well, you promised you'd come back, and we'd be a family again, Papa.  If you're not like us again, you'll be breaking your promise to me."

      Tarrin was a little surprised by the vehemence in her voice.  "If I do stay like this, I can still be your father, Jasana," he said in the mildest tone he could manage.  "Can't I do everything that I could do before?"

      "No," she said bluntly.  "You can't kiss me goodnight, and you can't teach me how to hunt, and you can't teach me magic anymore, and you're not in Mama's room where you're supposed to be when I want to sleep with you."

      "Well, I guess you have me there," he chuckled.  "But I still love you, and I'll still be there when you need me.  Wouldn't you still love me, even if I end up staying like this?"

      "Well, yes, but it won't be the same."

      "It wouldn't be the same for me either," he assured her.  "But I think you're getting too far ahead of yourself, Jasana.  It's going to be another three rides and more before they can give me back my memory.  Since I can't decide until then, I think dwelling on it makes it hard for us to enjoy the time we have now.  Don't you?"

      "It bothers me, Papa."

      "It bothers me too, but I don't want to spend the whole month worrying."

      "I'm hungry," Jula cut in, obviously trying to distract the Were-cat child.  "Do you want to go get something to eat, Jasana?"

      "Umm," she sounded.  Tarrin had learned that it meant yes for her.

      Tarrin set Jasana down on the ground, and she held onto his hand for a long moment.  "How did you bite Jula, Papa?" she asked curiously.  "Mama never told me."

      Tarrin gave her a strange look, but it was nothing compared to the strangled look that Jula gave the Were-cat girl.  "Don't you remember, Jasana?  I lost my memory."

      "Oh," she frowned.  "How did it happen, Jula?" she asked.

      "Tarrin didn't bite me," she said shortly.  "I did this to myself."

      "How can you bite yourself?"

      "It's hard to explain, cub," she told her.  "And I don't think it's something that a little girl should hear."

      Jasana pursed her lips, but said nothing more.

      They had told Tarrin about that, that Jula had used his blood to turn herself after he had mortally wounded her and left her to die.  It was a testament to both how nasty he'd become at that time and how far Jula would go to stay alive.  But from what he'd been told, Tarrin had more or less forgiven Jula for everything she did to him, had even accepted her as an adopted daughter, which was why she remained with Jesmind and Jasana.

      They met Jesmind in the kitchens, and as usual over the last few days, Tarrin greeted her with guarded manners.  He was grateful that she was keeping Auli at bay, but the truth of the matter was that he still wasn't very happy with her for her following him around.  She was still doing it.  The only reason he knew that she was was because Jasana had a big mouth.  He hadn't seen her, and she wasn't showing herself to warn off Auli.  He guessed she decided not to intervene unless things got serious.  Jesmind gave him that same look she always did, a look of concern, pity, irritation, and anger as she picked up Jasana.  "It's time for her lesson," she announced curtly.  "I hope you don't mind."

      "No, it's alright," Tarrin told her.  "Look's like fun's over, Jasana," he told her with a smile.  "I guess you have work to do now."

      "Aww, I don't wanna go to lessons today," she complained.

      "You almost tore off my tail to get Jenna to teach you again after she punished you, and now you don't want to go?  I don't think so, cub," Jesmind told her sharply.

      "What did she get punished for?" he asked curiously.

      "Using magic outside of lessons," Jesmind said.  "She's not allowed to do that."

      "I just wanted to see if it would work, that's all," Jasana said in a slightly challenging tone.  "I didn't do anything serious."

      "You call turning the Southeast Tower pink not serious?" Jesmind scoffed.

      "It's not like I broke anything," she complained.

      "Maybe not, but you have no idea how ugly that was," Jesmind told Tarrin offhandedly.

      Tarrin was silently impressed.  To have enough magical power to change the color of something as big as one of the splinter towers, that was some magic.

      "Enough chatter, cub, we're going to be late.  You coming up for dinner, Tarrin?"

      "I guess so," he told her.

      "Don't be late," she said with a slight smile, and then she carried her daugher out.

      Jula stayed with him as they got something to eat, and then him and the Were-cat woman walked back outside.  Tarrin didn't like staying inside, not when the summer weather was so warm and beautiful.  She walked along with him in silence, but he could tell that she was a little tense.  She always seemed to be tense when they were alone, and he wasn't sure why.  Well, there was one way to find out.

      "Why are you always so nervous around me, Jula?" he asked directly.

      It seemed to surprise her that he would ask that.  She looked away for a moment, and Tarrin realized how pretty she was, looking at her profile that way.  "Since you lost your memory, I know that they're telling you about your past."

      "They have been."

      "Then I'm sure they've told you about our, history," she said with a telling pause.

      "That's all that has you worried?" he asked in surprise.  "Even if I did remember it, it's old news, Jula."

      She looked at him in surprise.

      "Did you think I was going to hate you for what I've heard?"

      She looked a little chagrined.  "I guess I did," she admitted.

      "Well, it's not what happened before, it's what I see now that's important," he said.  "I may not remember anything that happened, but the fact that you're virtually a member of my family tells me everything I need to know.  People change, Jula.  I'm pretty sure about that, given what I've heard about myself.  There may have been something very bad in our pasts, but that doesn't really matter.  From what I've heard, I let it go, and you must have let it go, so consider it nothing to worry about."

      "I'd like to believe that, Tarrin, but I don't think you understand."

      "I understand perfectly," he said.  "What you did to me made me feral, and that's the main reason I did some of the awful things I did in the past."  She was silent, looking at her feet as they walked.  "But I changed.  They told me that I was feral when I went into the desert, and I wasn't when I came out--well, not completely.  So everything turned out alright.  Does it matter what happened before that?"

      "It does to me," she muttered.

      "Alright then, answer me this.  Why do you stay with Jesmind and Jasana?"

      "Because I'm not a full adult yet," she answered.  "I'm still a child.  I have to stay with Jesmind."

      "Staying with her isn't the same as living with her," Tarrin noted.  "I've seen how she acts towards you, Jula.  She treats you like a daughter, and Jasana thinks you're her sister.  You're a member of the family, and you act like one.  You help watch Jasana, and you do what you can for Jesmind.  You don't have to do those things.  Why do you do them?"

      Jula was quiet a long moment.  "Because you took me in when everyone else threw me away," she answered in a quiet yet emotional voice.  "You were kind to me when no one else was.  You took me in when I was all but mad and ready to kill myself, and you wouldn't give up on me.  I promised you I'd be a good daughter, and I owe you much more than that.  More than I'll ever be able to repay."

      He'd known about that, but to hear about it from her point of view, it explained everything now.  She was terrified that the biggest person in her life that mattered to her, the one she saw as her father figure, was going to reject her.  That, and he could tell that she just couldn't forget the past, becuase she was the one that they were all talking about.  Jula had been the one to betray Tarrin and turn him feral, and no matter how many people forgot about that, she never would.  She still felt guilty over it.

      "Don't worry about it, Jula," he said gently.  "You don't owe me anything.  I'd much rather you be my friend than my servant."

      That statement, carefully weighed as the easiest way to relieve her fears without coming right out and addressing them, seemed to have the effect he intended.  Jula relaxed visibly, and then gave him a look of such profound gratitude that it nearly made his emotional.  She reached out and put her big hand on his shoulder.  "Triana said you'd be full of surprises," she said with a wan smile.  "Am I that transparent?"

      "I just knew what to look for, that's all," he smiled.  "I'm not going to turn my back on you, Jula.  I didn't before, and I won't now."

      She gave him a glorious smile, then actually hugged him gently.  "Even now, you're still too good to me, father," she said sincerely.

      It felt strange to hear her call him that, but she meant it, so he wasn't going to raise a fuss about it.  "Tell me about how you ended up as a Were-cat," he asked.

      They stepped out of the Tower and out onto the pathway that led to the gardens.  "I'm sure they already told you," she said, "so I don't have to go into all the details.  After Kerri and Allia rescued you from the Cathedral of Karas, you caught up with me here in the Tower before I could get away.  You crippled me and left me to die.  I don't blame you for that," she said quickly.  "After everything I'd just done to you, I more than deserved it.  I had a vial of your blood with me, and I used that to turn myself in order to survive."

      "How did you get a vial of my blood?"

      "The Council had several of them, as well as some bits and pieces of your flesh, hair, claws, and such.  Things you'd shed in some of your fights on the Tower grounds.  I knew they were there, so I decided it may be wise for me to take some of your blood, just in case.  I've always been a survivor, Tarrin.  I knew there was a chance I may end up needing to be a Were-cat just to survive, so I took precautions.  It turns out I was right."

      "Why would that make a difference?" he asked.  "I mean, why go to that extreme?"

      "Extreme conditions sometimes call for extreme measures," she told him.  "I knew that if I was captured or mortally wounded, turning myself would be my only chance.  If I was captured, they couldn't use Mind weaves on me if I was a Were-cat, and torturing me wouldn't work either because I'd regenerate.  They wouldn't kill me so long as I had information they could use, so I'd still be alive.  It would also give me a much better chance to escape, given the advantages that Were-cats enjoy.  And if I were mortally wounded, I'd be healed during the transformation into a Were-cat.  Either way, in those two worst cases, I'd have a way to survive them."

      "Triana said it backfired on you."

      "Boy did it," she sighed.  "I survived, but without anyone to teach me how to control the Cat, I went mad.  And it wasn't a quick and simple process," she said with a shudder.  "I degenerated slowly, and that bastard Kravon chained me to the wall in his lab and studied me, just so he could observe the process.  I'm glad he's dead," she spat viciously.  "Jegojah did all of us a favor when he bled Kravon like a yearling pig."

      From what he'd heard, such spitefulness wasn't misplaced.  That man Kravon had hurt alot of people.  Some people were more use to the world dead, and Kravon was one of them.  "Jula, I have to ask.  If you had my chance right now, would you stay human, or would you be a Were-cat again?"

      "You're not being fair," she teased lightly.  "I really don't know, Tarrin.  I hated what I became at first, but now it's not so easy to decide anymore.  Before, I was alone and afraid, and I hated what I'd become.  But I understand things better now, and I have people like you and Jesmind and Jasana to be with.  I miss being human, but if I wasn't a Were-cat anymore, I think I'd miss that too."

      "Why were you working with those people, anyway?" he asked.  "You just don't seem the type."

      "Being a Were-cat has changed me alot more than most people think," she answered honestly.  "I worked for the ki'zadun back then because I thought it was what I wanted.  That they could give me the power I craved."
      "It's hard to imagine you as a powermonger, Jula."

      "Oh, I was," she said in a self-deprecating manner.  "It was all I could think about.  I even dreamed about getting power, any kind of power.  Power in Sorcery, political power, personal power, anything that put me over others.  The ki'zadun gave me that power, and alot of it, but I know now where that kind of power leads.  It led me to a set of manacles bolted to a wall.  The ki'zadun is about nothing but power, and if you don't help them or you're not useful to them, you stop being a part of that power and become a liability.  They don't bother finding other uses for things once they decide it's no longer useful."

      "It sounds like a lonely way to live."

      "I didn't really care about other people," she said candidly.  "All that mattered to me was my power.  The only thing I really saw in other people was how I could use them to get more."

      "That sounds really lonely," he said.  "Didn't you have anyone you cared about?"

      "I never really have, Tarrin," she told him.  "My parents died when I was very young, and they'd just travelled to Ultern from Jerinhold.  So there was nobody there to take care of me.  Because of that, I grew up on the streets of Ultern as a street urchin.  I learned from a very early age that the strong take what they want from the weak.  If it wasn't for the fact that I'm a Sorcerer, I would have died on those streets.  But being a Sorcerer let me come here, and it gave me what I thought was a chance to be so powerful that nobody would ever attack me or steal from me again.  I learned Sorcery, but then my desires changed from wanting to be strong to protect myself to wanting power so I could be over others.  I think that's what made them come to me.  I hadn't even heard of the ki'zadun until they approached me and recruited me into their organization.  I was still in the Initiate then," she said in a distant manner.

      "How did they know to approach you?"

      "They watched us, Tarrin," she said.  "They had a good idea who'd join them and who wouldn't.  I suppose that the ones that didn't join were probably killed, so as not to break the secrecy of the group."

      "How did they watch you from inside the Tower?"

      "Because they already had people inside the Tower," she explained.  "Not just Sorcerers.  Staff, guards, and servants too acted as spies for the ki'zadun.  There was quite a little network here before you came along and destroyed it," she chuckled.

      "It's hard to believe I did all that," he said.

      "You did, father, trust me," she told him.  "You may not have done it intentionally, but you did.  When you broke free under the Cathredral and announced to the world we were here, you started a chain of events that put the ki'zadun where they are now.  You have no idea how powerful they were, father.  They owned entire kingdoms.  But yet all it took to break them was a single Were-cat with the strength to oppose them.  In its own way, I guess that's pretty remarkable."

      "It sounds like I ran around and chased them."

      "Actually, you beat them by destroying several critical plans," she explained.  "At first, they were trying to kill you because they knew you were the one that would find the Firestaff, and they failed.  They sent almost everything they could manage to get onto the grounds, even Trolls, and none of them could kill you.  After you disappeared from the Tower and started looking for the Book of Ages, they changed tactics.  They didn't think they were going to be able to kill you, not between you and the very powerful people that were with you, so they tried to drive you insane instead.  They knew how unbalanced you were."

      "How could they do that?"

      "By putting so much pressure on you that it made you snap," she answered.  "They saw it happen to me, so they tried to make it happen to you.  They sent Jegojah after you, they hired thugs in every city to attack you if you showed up, and they were trying to devise a magical means to try to influence your mind.  But you proved to be much stronger than they calculated," she said with a smile.  "That, and the Wikuni truly hamstrung that plan when they nearly killed you in their operation to get back Keritanima.  That put you under Triana's care, and once that happened, they knew that not only could they not get anywhere near you, that you'd also get the training you'd need to not go mad.  So they had to change plans again.  About that time, they sent me to Dala Yar Arak to try to get the city guard to turn against you, so I really don't know what they planned after that.  Outside of the big one, anyway."

      "The fight at Suld?"

      She nodded as they turned down a path that led towards the hedge maze.  "That's what everything they've done in the West for the last twenty years led up to.  The battle at Suld.  Their goal was to banish the Goddess and eliminate the katzh-dashi from the race to find the Firestaff.  That was alot more important than before, since they knew you'd managed to get the Book of Ages and nobody would dare come into the Desert of Swirling Sands to try to take it from you."

      "Why not?"

      "The Selani, father.  Not even the ki'zadun are stupid or crazy enough to take on the Selani.  That's one hornet's nest even they knew better than to stir up.  Anyway, since you had the Book of Ages, banishing the Goddess seemed the best way to go about handling you.  They knew that if they were successful, it would kill you and just about anyone else strong enough to cause them problems, and they could literally take the staff unopposed.  But they probably never in their wildest dreams imagined they'd be facing what they faced in that battle," she said with a vicious smirk.  "I doubt that facing people like the Ungardt, Selani, Wikuni, Vendari, Were-kin, Centaurs, Demons, Aeradalla, and Arakites was anything they even thought would come up in the wildest situation.  I'll bet that Demoness that led them had a cow when she found out what she was facing," she added with a smug look.  "And all that was you."

      "Me?  How was it me?"
      "Simple, father.  You're blood related to the Selani and the Wikuni, you're the grandson of an Ungardt clan king, you were a Druid and a Were-kin, and you were personal friends with the rulers of Yar Arak and the Aeradalla.  That allowed you to ask all of those groups for help, and they obliged you because they knew how serious the situation was.  I'll bet they didn't tell you that, did they?"

      "No, not really."

      "Well, I hope it doesn't give you a big head, but you're the sole reason Suld is still here," she told him calmly.  "If not for you, the ki'zadun would have taken Suld, banished the Goddess, and they'd probably have the Firestaff right now."

      Tarrin thought that she was stretching the truth a bit there, but he said nothing and let her continue.

      "After they lost here, everything went downhill for the ki'zadun," she said.  "They probably threw almost everything into this attack.  They even revealed themselves to the world, something they've never done before.  It was a huge gamble, and truth be told, if not for you, it probably would have paid off.  Anyway, since they lost here and got a huge chunk of their army killed, I guess they retreated to one of their most remote and defensible strongholds.  Castle Keening, probably.  That, or they withdrew all the way to Zakkar."

      "Where is that?"

      "It's on Valkar, right where it connects to southern Godan-Nyr," she answered.  "A very long way off.  It's the seat of power for the ki'zadun.  Zakkar uses it as an underhanded army to try to rule the world, the same way their skyships try to rule the oceans."

      "Isn't that a kingdom of magicians?"

      "It more or less is," she affirmed.  "But it's always been eclipsed by Sharadar.  I think that really rankles their fur.  No matter how powerful they get, Sharadar is always so much more powerful that they can slap them down with ease.  I think you can say that everything else that goes on with the ki'zadun and such can always be traced back to that one rivalry.  Half of what goes on in the world concerns the battle between Zakkar and Sharadar.  They've been fighting a clandestine war for over five thousand years."

      "Like two stags fighting in a cornfield.  They have no idea what they're trampling."

      "That's a pretty good description," she nodded.  "They don't fight openly, because that would be a war like nothing since the Blood War.  Sharadar virtually owns all of Arathorn, and Zakkar has influence over about half of Valkar and much of Godan-Nyr.  If they declared open war, there'd be armies numbering in the millions clashing all over the southern continents.  It would not be pretty," she concluded with a sniff.

      "It certainly sounds a little scary," he said.  "So, the ki'zadun was part of Zakkar?"

      "One of many parts of Zakkar, father," she replied.

      "Why did they want the Firestaff, anyway?"

      "The same reason everyone else wants it, father, but with a slightly different idea in mind for its use.  Everyone wants it to become a god.  The ki'zadun and Zakkar want to get it to free the one they already have."

      "I think I remember that part," he said.  "Jesmind told me about it.  That their god was trapped by some woman named Spyder."

      "That's right.  He was imprisoned in a statue as punishment, because he was the reason the Blood War happened in the first place.  The Firestaff can give him the power to free himself from the statue and use his power in the world again."

      "You mean even after he got imprisoned, his people didn't abandon him?"

      "No, not really."

      "Well, they're faithful to him.  I guess you can't fault them for their devotion."

      "I guess not," she chuckled.

      "It's too bad they had to do it this way.  I'm sure if they would have asked for help, someone would have tried to free him."

      "I doubt it," she smiled.  "That particular god has been nothing but trouble ever since he became one.  He started the Blood War in an attempt to take over the world.  If they freed him, he'd probably try to take over the world again."

      "Oh.  Well, if he's just going to do it again, I guess he's better off in god prison."

      "God prison.  That's a very funny concept," Jula said with a little laugh.

      "It all sounds a little too much to believe," he admitted.

      "I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen so much of it," she said with a smile.  She sniffed at the air a moment, then her ears laid back a little.  "I'm going to go cut that girl's nose off," she growled.


      "That Sha'Kar girl that's been following you around."

      "She's here?"

      "She's behind us," she answered, glancing back over her shoulder.  "Probably around that last bend."

      "She's not going to give up easy, Jula," Tarrin sighed.

      "She will if I go back there and fix her."

      Tarrin wasn't sure what that meant, and something told him he didn't want to know.  "Just leave her alone, Jula.  She'll give up once she finds someone more interesting.  It's too bad really, because I really like her.  I miss running around with her and Dar.  She's alot of fun to be with."

      "I really don't understand why you're avoiding her, Tarrin," she said.  "If all she wants is a roll in the sheets, give it to her.  That would probably make her go away alot faster that all this avoiding her."

      "I'm really not sure why I'm avoiding her so much," he admitted.  "Something just tells me that getting involved with her would be a very bad idea."

      "Don't you like her?" she asked pointedly.

      "I think that's the problem," he said honestly.  "I like her too much."

      "She is pretty," Jula admitted.  "And all those Sha'Kar have those to-die-for bodies.  Afraid getting into a relationship with her is going to influence your choice?"

      He blinked.  "You know, I think that may be one of the reasons," he said with a nod.  "If I had an affair with Auli, I think it would make me want to stay human."

      "It's not like you're looking at a desert on this side, father," Jula laughed.  "Jesmind and Kimmie are probably going to fight over who gets to keep you."

      "I know.  But what's on your plate is more on your mind that what's in the pot, you know."  He threw the heavy braid back over his shoulder.  "And besides, all Auli wants is a fun time.  I'd want something more permanent, and doing what she wants to do would really make me want something permanent."

      "Those rural morals," Jula chuckled.  "Sometimes I'm surprised you far-flung villagers manage to have any children at all."

      "Girls just don't throw themselves into boys' beds back home," he agreed with a nod.

      "But you have to admit it, father.  She wouldn't be dragging you kicking and screaming into that bed."

      "No, she wouldn't," he admitted with a sigh.  "Every time she gets close to me, half of me is thinking about getting away, but the other half is hoping I won't.  If she managed to trap me, I don't think I'd put up much of a fight."

      "Want to get rid of her?" Jula asked with a smile.

      "I don't want to be mean to her or make her mad, Jula," he cautioned.  "She is my friend.  I'm hoping after she loses interest in me, we can be friends again."

      "I promise, she won't hate you afterwards, father," she smiled.  "If you want to really get rid of her, then let her trap you."


      "Let her trap you somewhere, give in to her advances, and then do everything wrong."

      "What do you mean?"

      "Be a total disaster in bed," she said with a twinkle in her eye.  "Do everything wrong, and make it a complete chore for her to make love with you.  It won't matter how eager you are afterwards.  She'll avoid having you back in her bed like you were carrying the plague.  You should try to get her back in bed yourself a few times after that, until she gives you the immortal 'let's be friends' speech.  Then you agree, and you're friends again.  And she won't even think of seducing you again."

      Tarrin thought that over, then he laughed heartily.  "Jula, that's wicked!  It's funny, but it's totally evil!"

      "You just have to approach these kinds of problems the right way, father, and they can solve themselves."

      "How do I know if I'm doing it wrong, though?"

      She looked at him.  "I forgot, like this, you're mentally a virgin.  If it won't offend you too much, I can tell you what to do to make sure Auli never tries to seduce you again.  But I warn you, it's going to be graphic."

      "It can't be any worse than some of the things Triana and Jesmind have said to me," he said calmly.

      "Probably not," she chuckled in reply.  "And remember, I'll be teaching you the wrong way.  I don't want to hear your next girlfriend complaining, understand?"

      He laughed, and to his surprise, he didn't feel embarassed at all.  "You can explain it, and if I find myself pinned by Auli, I'll try it your way," he told her.

      "It's the least I can do, father," she said with a gentle smile, as they turned the corner on the border of the hedge maze.  They walked along the path with patches of beautiful multicolored flowers on one side and the hedge wall on the other, and Jula began teaching Tarrin how to get rid of Auli.

      Neither was aware of the eyes following them.


      Tarrin felt rather reassured after his talk with Jula.  He'd gotten to know her alot better, and she actually had quite good advice when it came to dealing with Auli.  He thought that she had quite a good idea there with acting the dunce.  It probably would make Auli lose interest in him faster than anything else.  He just hoped he'd have presence of mind to try to do it.

      He spent the rest of the afternoon with Jasana in her apartments, and though Tarrin had a good time, he wasn't so sure about Jesmind.  She was there, and she kept staring at him in a way that made him uncomfortable.  She wouldn't really talk to him outside of noncommittal grunts or dismissive looks, and he had no idea what was bothering her.  But something obviously was, and he reminded himself several times over the afternoon that technically he was still angry with Jesmind, so he didn't want to try to find out.  Showing too much interest in her mood may make her think he was making a peace offering.

      After a very pleasant day, he and Dar went down and got some dinner, and ended up wandering around the grounds aimlessly and talking.  He told him about much of what he discussed with Jula, including touching on her idea to make Auli go away.  Dar found the subject to be quite interesting, and thought Jula's idea was both amusing and possibly workable.

      "I'm glad I finally heard Jula's story," he said as they walked around the hedge maze.  "She won't talk to anyone, so she's been a real big mystery here in the Tower."

      "Why would anyone want to know things like that?"

      "Only a very few people here trust her, Tarrin," Dar told him.  "If she wasn't in Jenna's favor, they'd probably run her off.  They remember that she betrayed the Goddess, and many of the katzh-dashi feel that that's an unforgivable offense."

      "I trust her."

      "You didn't at first," he said mildly.

      "But she's my daughter."

      "That had nothing to do with it," he replied.  "You watched over her as a daughter, but you didn't trust her.  I didn't think even you could forget who she was and what she did, but you surprised me.  After the battle, I realized that you'd completely accepted her.  I was happy for that.  Jula was a very lonely woman, even among the other Were-cats.  The Sorcerers couldn't forgive her, the Were-cats wouldn't forgive her, and she was stuck with both groups.  I really felt sorry for her."

      "Didn't you try to talk to her?"

      "I did, but she wouldn't talk to anyone," he sighed.  "Only you.  From what I hear, now she's been accepted by Jesmind and Jasana, so at least she had someone to talk to while we were gone."

      "Well, she's not alone anymore, so I guess things all worked out," Tarrin shrugged.

      "Ugh, I'm a mess," Dar grunted, scrubbing his hair with his hands.  "Let's go take a bath."


      The baths weren't very busy, since it was sunset and people had better things to do.  There were only a few Sorcerers and servants using the baths, and since it was after hours, there were no Novices to hand out towels or clean up the bathing chamber.  When there were no attendants, towels were stacked on a large shelf near the stairs, and the two of them helped themselves to towels and moved towards the closest available benches.

      "What do you do every day, Dar?" Tarrin asked, finally remembering to do so."

      "Well, right now, I've been working with the Lorefinders," he answered.  "Since I can read Sha'Kar.  I've been working with them and a few of the Sha'Kar to teach them the language."

      "What do all the other Sorcerers do all the time?" he asked.  "I don't really see what they do all day."

      Dar laughed.  "Believe it or not, not a whole lot," he replied.  "Being a katzh-dashi isn't a very strenuous occupation.  Most of them spend most of their time studying Sorcery or history.  Being katzh-dashi is about learning things, and that's what most of us concentrate on.  There are some who like to go out in the field and gather information, or search for new Novices, and some have just started concentrating on Sorcery used in combat.  They call themselves the Swords of the Goddess," he said with a roll of his eyes.  "I think they just like blowing things up."

      Tarrin laughed, then handed Dar the soap.  "What, don't all the Sorcerers learn battle magic?"

      "Of course they do," he nodded.  "That's what makes all this talk of War Sorcery such nonsense.  Like I said, I think they just like marching around and looking important, and exploding targets in some vain attempt to impress people."

      "Who knows, maybe they'll actually be useful," Tarrin speculated.

      "Maybe as the ones crazy enough to go first," Dar snorted.  "Those kinds of nuts can have it."

      "If that's what they want, who are we to gainsay them?"

      "I have better things to do with my life than throw it away like that," Dar grunted.

      "Have you seen Tiella?"

      He nodded.  "She's out of the Initiate.  She decided to stay with the katzh-dashi, so she's in indoctrination."

      "What's that?"

      "The period between being an Initiate and a full katzh-dashi," he answered.  "Where you learn about the politics of the Tower and the customs and such, and where they teach the kind of Sorcery that they don't want the freelancers to know.  The Initiate concentrates on magic, and since you don't have to join the order after finishing the Initiate, they don't teach those things there.  They save that and the really advanced magic or dangerous magic for those they can keep an eye on."

      "What kind of magic?"

      "Almost all the Mind magic," he said as he washed the soap off himself.  "They don't teach Mind weaves to people that may go out and use them on people to get rich or control people.  The only Mind magic they teach in the Initiate is mostly how to defend against it and how to recognize mind-affecting magic used by the Priests and Wizards."

      "I guess that's a good idea," Tarrin shrugged.  "What else do they teach in indoctrination?"

      "Healing," he said.  "Anything that takes four or more spheres too.  The Initiate is about teaching Sorcerers enough not to get themselves killed.  They save the advanced magic for those who are willing to devote their lives to its study."

      "Don't they teach--what do they call it--oh, Circling in the Initiate?"

      "They do, because what harm can it do?" he asked in reply.  "You can only Circle with other Sorcerers, and they're not likely to find others out in the world.  There are few enough as it is, and those that leave after the Initiate often don't advertise the fact that they're Sorcerers.  Most of the world still blames us for the Breaking, so it's never healthy to advertise the fact that you're a Sorcerer."

      "I guess not.  How have the other Sorcerers handled the Sha'Kar?"

      "Pretty well, actually," he said with a chuckle.  "All the humans are falling all over themselves to learn Sha'Kar as fast as they can.  All the Sha'Kar are a bit overwhelmed by all the attention they're getting."

      Tarrin pulled the braid over his shoulder and untied the thong.   It had been a while since he'd taken it out and washed all his hair.  He'd been considering cutting the thing off.  It was very heavy and it pulled at the back of his head uncomfortably, and when it was wet it gave him a headache with its weight.  He wasn't sure why he hadn't done it yet.  Maybe because it was the only thing he had outside the brands that reminded him of everything he'd forgotten.  Without it, it would be easy to pretend that it had only been a few rides since he left home, instead of two years and more.  "Think about it, Dar.  How would you feel if living legends suddenly showed up at your doorstep?"

      "I guess travelling with you numbed me to that kind of thing," he chuckled.  "I'm used to outrageous things now."  He dunked himself under the water's surface, and then came up and slicked his black hair back from his face.  "I need a haircut."

      "I need one more," he said, waggling the end of his long, long hair at Dar.

      "If you cut that off, people would scream," Dar smiled.  "You tried once before, but it lasted about a day.  Kimmie gave you one offhanded remark, and you regrew your hair by suppertime."

      "You make it sound like they controlled me," he noted.

      "Not in the slightest, but Kimmie and Jesmind could make you do things when nobody else could," he amended.  "Because you loved them.  That let them get away with more than anyone else could have possibly gotten away with."

      "As long as I wasn't henpecked," he laughed.

      "Well, I'm getting waterlogged here, so I think I'm going to get out and dry off," he said.  "And I have some work to finish.  You don't mind, do you?"

      "No, go ahead," he said.  "I want to finish washing this, then I'll probably go spend the rest of the night with Jasana."

      Dar climbed out of the pool, and Tarrin bent to the considerable task of washing the entirety of his hair.  He debated again whether or not he should cut it off the whole time he was washing it.  Scrubbing hair longer than the height of a small child is a time-consuming task, and the population of the bathing pool completely changed, then slowly dwindled as Tarrin scrubbed from the roots of his hair to the very tips, having to gather up the long locks and keep them out of the pool to lather them.  It seemed a ridiculously boring chore, and he had all but decided that maybe something of a trim would be in order tomorrow.  Maybe not take all of it off, but he wouldn't mind losing about half its length.  It would be much lighter, alot less inconvenient, and it would probably stop the headaches.  He didn't mind the idea of having a braid, but it was just that it was so long and so heavy.  If it was neither of those things, he probably wouldn't mind it at all.

      Finally finishing, he waded towards the cooler, slightly shallower end where the stone steps leading out of the pool were located, sat down on them, and bent to the task of rebraiding his hair.  It took him nearly a half an hour, mainly because he wasn't very good at doing it to himself.  He'd braided his mother's hair many times, but it was alot different when he couldn't see what he was doing.  He had to take the braid out and rebraid it three times when he realized that it was all uneven and probably looked like a big knot at the base of his neck.  If he had to have it, he was determined that it wasn't going to look unkempt.

      At long last, he was done.  He retied the leather thong at the base of his braid to cinch it, and instead of getting out, he decided to go down towards the hot end and enjoy it a few minutes before leaving.  Most of the bathing he'd done was in cold water, and that didn't tend to make him want to linger for very long.  The hot baths he took at home didn't stay hot for very long in the winter, and in the summer a hot bath was the last thing anyone wanted.  Aldreth and Sulasia lay in a temperate zone, where the winters could be very cold and the summers very hot.

      The only problem he could see was the depth of the water.  It only came up to his stomach, and he had to bend his knees to let the water come up to his chin.  That, and he felt the strange desire to lay down in the water, to simply relax and let the water's heat soak into him.  There really was no way to lay in the water other than to swim, and that seemed like too much exertion to him at the moment.  Despite that disappointment, he found the water quite relaxing, and he was content to sort of float there with his feet on the bottom of the pool but not supporting his weight, half-floating, half-standing with the water lapping at his ears and its heat surrounding him in a most pleasing manner.

      He was so relaxed, he didn't realize that someone was pulling on his hair until there was enough force behind it to move him.  Someone had a firm grip on his braid, and that grip was pulling him.  He opened his eyes, and to his shock, found himself staring up into the amused, hungry eyes of Auli.

      He rose to his feet so quickly that the water erupted around him, but Auli had a very firm hold on his braid, and her grip on it pulled his head up short.  His head was yanked to the side painfully as he rose up over her, a mixture of surprise and shock and a little embarassment over being taken so completely by surprise showing on his face as he grabbed his braid with his free hand and yanked it free.  Auli was nude, and there was a look of smug victory in her eyes as she moved towards him.  Tarrin's eyes moved to and fro, and he realized that he and Auli were the only ones in the baths.  There would be no others to put her off this time.  She had truly caught him alone.  "Hello, Tarrin," she purred as she reached out and put her hands on his chest.  "I've been waiting a very long time to get you alone."

      Tarrin recoiled from her, not quite sure why he was doing so.  He liked Auli, he was attracted to Auli, and part of him wanted Auli.  But something else was there, and it told him that getting involved with Auli would be a very bad idea, and at the moment, that part of him was in charge.  "A-Auli," he stammered, backing away from her.  His attempt to retreat was met with her advancing, and the water slowed him as she was pulled along in his wake.  "I told you to leave me alone.  I don't want to--"

      "Of course you do," she said with bright eyes, keeping her hand on his upper chest.  "You just don't want to admit it."

      Tarrin kept backing up, but he ran out of pool.  His back and shoulders hit the high edge of the pool painfully, and in a blink she was against him, wrapping her arms around him, even hooking one of his legs with her own, locking him in place.  Thought became hard when she pressed up against him, when he could feel her body pressing against his, feel all those things he'd been dreaming about touching him in the most intimate ways.

      With a hungry look, she leaned completely forward and kissed him with the same passion and exuberance that he remembered from before, a kiss that caused what little thought he had to scatter and quite effectively subdued all those nagging warnings that were still trying to run through his mind.  So close to her, with her naked body pressing against his, with her kissing him, no amount of objection was going to pierce the powerful sensations her kiss and her touch had evoked in him.  All of Jula's advice was completely forgotten, scoured away by the power of Auli's kiss.

      He knew beyond any doubt that Auli had won when she grabbed his wrist and ever-so-sensually set his hand on her backside, and he did not move it away after she removed her hand.  But even that realization was drowned by her as she overpowered him with the raw energy of her touch and her kiss, and he found himself surrendering to her willingly, eagerly, wanting to accept the delights that she offered.  The thought that they were in a public place, that almost anyone could come down those stairs and catch them making love in the bathing pool, that Jesmind was going to try to kill her when she found out, and then she was going to kill him, that this was a terribly bad idea, all of them were wiped away, and there was nothing left but the desire to finally experience what part of him had imagined and fantasized over the days.

      To give in to Auli and let her do whatever she wanted.


      It was both everything he imagined, and everything he feared it would be.

      Tarrin didn't feel quite so good about it in the morning, after Auli was gone.  She had taken him in that bathing pool, and if that wasn't enough of a blow to his pride, she had convinced him to take her back to his room, where she was about ten times as aggressive and almost shocking in her behavior.  He never imagined a girl could act like that.  She had been--even thinking about it was both wildly exciting and somewhat unsettling.  He had been overwhelmed by her raw sensuality, her overpowering feminity at first, but it was nothing but his own weak will that had caused him to bring her back to his room afterwards, when he had a chance to think rationally.  He had wanted to make love to her, and there was no way to excuse it.  Despite all his bad feelings about it, he had thrown all of them aside and abandoned himself to the moment.

      Despite beating himself over the head for his own shortcomings, he had to admit the fact that it had been very enjoyable.  Auli was a very aggressive girl, but she had never once forgotten his needs or wants.  She had been exquisite, and just thinking about her, about holding her nude body, about finally being able to touch all those places only his eyes had enjoyed before, it was almost intoxicating.  Auli was so beautiful, so sensual, so free with herself, and so fearless, even in bed, to make love with her was almost like satisfying one's deepest fantasies and desires.  It had been nothing like he had imagined it would be.

      And that was one of the dangers he could comprehend.  Just as he feared, the night with Auli made him want to have more of them, and that was going to upset all his plans for making an unbiased choice.  Not unless he backed off, tried to forget about her, and moved on.  Auli had had her conquest, and he decided that that had better satisfy her curiosity.  He'd give her her victory this time, but there couldn't be a next time.  If there was, he was going to fall more and more under her spell, and he knew that that would be a very short road.  Auli didn't love him.  He was pretty sure that she didn't really care too much about him.  He was nothing but a toy to her, a thing, a conquest.  And when she was bored with him, she would throw him away, regardless of how his feelings for her may evolve.  And she was definitely the kind of woman a man could find feelings for, despite knowing exactly what kind of woman she was.

      It wasn't that Auli was cruel or evil, it was simply that she didn't understand.  She didn't understand what kind of an effect she had on human men, men not raised in the same society in which she had been raised.  Tarrin would gain feelings for Auli if he slept with her enough times, and he knew he would.  He knew himself enough to understand that, because Auli was already a very good friend.  He liked her.  And if she kept seducing him, kept getting intimate with him, he would invariably make that leap and decide that he loved her.  Auli, on the other hand, thought everyone would be like her, and that making love was something fun, something enjoyable, and something to be done with anyone she fancied.  That was all it was to her, a fun night of pleasure.  That it had any kind of lingering emotional attachments was a completely alien concept to her.  Tarrin equated sex with love in his mind, where Auli didn't.  It was a clash of culture, and it was going to cause him some serious problems if he didn't put a stop to it quickly.

      A flash of memory, an echo of the past, a beautiful woman with flaming red hair...and bat-like wings.  Something about her was similar to this, to Auli, but he couldn't remember anything more than that.

      In any case, he was certain that he'd better stay away from her.  What she could do to him was nothing compared to what Jesmind or Kimmie might do to her if they found out what happened last night.  Auli just didn't understand that he was staying away from her as much to protect her as it was about him not wanting to get involved with her.  Jesmind especially showed a great deal of possessiveness over him, almost jealousy, and she was alot more hot-tempered than Kimmie.  If Jesmind knew that Auli had seduced him, she'd march off, find the girl, and turn her inside out.  Literally.  He was sure of that.  So he had to keep what happened secret.

      The first step to doing that was to get her scent off of him.  He'd had enough experience with the Were-cats to know that that would give him away faster than anything else.  Auli's scent had to be absolutely all over him, and probably permeated the entire room as well.  He had to get it scrubbed off of him, and if at all possible, change the linens on the bed and turn over the mattress after soaking it in something like vinegar, something to either cover or destroy the scent of Auli.

      He moved quickly, knowing that any of the Were-cats may show up at his door any moment.  In their unpredictability they were predictable.  He threw open the windows and stripped the bed of its linens, then dressed in the same clothes he wore the day before and rushed down to the kitchens for some vinegar.  He realized about halfway into his boots that using vinegar wouldn't work, he'd need something to completely pull out the scent.  Fortunately, just such an agent happened to be next door, and at least from Dar he could expect the secret to be kept.

      It took a few knocks to get him to open the door, and he looked half asleep when he did.  His black hair was dishevelled and sticking up in all directions, and his eyes were sunken into his head in a very odd manner.  "What's the matter with you?"

      "I have a hangover, but I can't for the life of me remember drinking anything," he answered blearily.

      Tarrin's suspicions went wild immediately.  "Did you happen to meet Auli last night, Dar?"

      "Yeah, as I was leaving the baths.  She gave me--she didn't!"

      "I'd say she did," Tarrin nodded grimly.

      "That little--just wait til I get my hands on her!" he said angrily.  "She drugged me!"

      "That's not half of what she did to me last night," he admitted.

      "She caught you, didn't she?"

      A bit contritely, he nodded.  "I never had a chance.  She caught me in the baths.  I had nowhere to go."

      "You could have said no, you know."

      "Look me in the eyes and say that again, Dar," he said seriously.  "I don't think there's a man in the Tower that could say no to Auli when she's all up against you like she was me.  I mean she had me dead to rights, Dar.  Alone and naked in the baths, and she managed to sneak up to where she got a hold of me before I realized she was there.  I couldn't have said no in that situation."

      "I guess not," he sighed.  "Is that what you wanted to tell me?"

      "No, actually, I need your help," he said.  "She managed to get me to bring her back to my room, and I need to purge her scent out of it before one of the Were-cats finds it.  If Jesmind finds out about this, she'll kill Auli, so I need to get this done before Jesmind comes around."

      "I don't really know how to do that, but Kerri does," he answered.  "Don't worry, Tarrin, Kerri can keep a secret.  Let me wake her up, as soon as I find my amulet."

      Though Tarrin could tell that Dar was a little amused by the situation, he took it seriously enough.  So did Keritanima, to his surprise.  After waking her up by calling to her using the amulet, she rushed down to his room wearing nothing but a nightrobe, with Binter ambling along behind her, an eternal presence.  Wherever Keritanima was, one of the Vendari was as well.  "Alright, now what's so important that you'd wake me up at the crack of dawn, Dar?" she demanded as she shuffled off the staircase and towards them.

      Rather abashedly, Tarrin explained what had happened, which made her laugh.  "Is that all?  Good grief, Tarrin, you take these things too seriously.  It's not like Auli's going to marry you.  You didn't have to wake me up to tell me that."

      "Jesmind's already threatened to kill her, Kerri," he explained.  "That's one of the reasons why I was trying to stay away from her.  If Jesmind finds out, she'll go after Auli, so I need your help destroying the evidence."

      "In here, eh?" she nodded with her muzzle, then she opened the door to his room and put her head in.  She then chuckled humorlessly.  "Oh, Auli was in here all right, and it's obvious you and her were rattling the headboard.  I can smell it from here."

      "Kerri," Tarrin said in protest, his cheeks flushing slightly.

      "You were alot more fun as a Were-cat, Tarrin," she teased with a toothy grin.  "Alright, I'll take care of this, but I can smell Auli all over you.  Take some clean clothes down to the baths and scrub every finger of skin you have with soap twice, and wash your hair at least three times.  Auli's sweat is all over you, and that kind of a scent is very hard to wash off."

      "I was getting ready to do that," he assured her.

      "Well, Tarrin, was it any good?" she asked shamelessly.


      "It's alright, Tarrin, I'm a married woman," she said wickedly.  "I'm allowed to talk about these kinds of things now."

      "Well, I'm not a married woman, so I'm not going to talk about it," he said adamantly.

      She looked at him and laughed, then patted him on the shoulder.  "Go get cleaned up, and I'll help you cover this up," she winked.  "But you owe me a big one."

      He didn't really answer that, taking a clean change of clothes down to the baths and getting to work.  He nearly scrubbed himself raw with soap as he labored to get Auli's smell off of him, and he had to hurry.  There was no telling when Jesmind or Kimmie was going to come looking for him, if they weren't watching him already--

      That brought him up short.  If Jesmind had been watching him last night, then she may already know about him and Auli.  If that was the case, then she may already be on the warpath.  But he hadn't heard anything about it yet, so there was a chance that it hadn't happened.  Or at least hadn't happened yet.  There was no screaming in the hallways, none of the other bathers were talking about any kind of fighting last night, so he was a little encouraged that she'd not been tailing him last night.

      He went back to it, spending nearly an hour washing Auli's scent off of him, and then laboriously scrubbing his hair for a second time in so many days.  He was waterlogged by the time he climbed out, and his skin was decidedly pink from the brisk scrubbing, but he was relatively certain that he'd gotten all of it.  That knowledge made him relax a little.  If Keritanima did her part, any scent evidence left in his room had been wiped away, and now there was nothing but him, Auli, Dar, and Keritanima to say anything about it.  He knew that Dar and Kerri wouldn't say anything, and he certainly wouldn't.  He just hoped that Auli had the sense to keep her mouth shut.  He'd have to find her, to talk to her and tell her that her life very well may depend on her keeping what happened last night to herself.

      He dressed in the clean clothes he'd brought with him and carefully wrapped the dirty ones so he could minimize their contact with him, then wrapped them in a towel and put them under his arm.  He was pretty sure that he'd gotten everything, and that made him feel quite a bit better.  He started back to his room feeling quite relieved about the whole thing.  If Keritanima finished, then all that would be left would be the clothes under his arm, and that would be easy enough to attend.  He'd burn them if nothing else.  He hurried back to his room, confident that everything was going to work out alright--

      And found Jesmind standing in the doorway.  And she did not look happy.  Her beautiful face was very tight, very flat,and her eyes were very narrow as she glowered into the hallway.  Those eyes locked on him, and she moved towards him at a fast walk that made him realize that she'd break out into a run and chase him down if he tried to get away from her.  And that would only make her angrier.  She stalked up to him, and he felt honest fear of her as she looked the slight difference in their heights down at him with that same flat, angry expression.  He swallowed reflexively as he backed into the wall behind him, out of room, and then flinched when her open hand slammed into the wall just beside his head.  The other hand snatched the towel-wrapped bundle from his hands and threw it aside.

      "I leave you alone for one night," she hissed at him, "I decide that I can trust you by yourself for one night, and this is what happens!"

      Tarrin's fear of Jesmind was suddenly displaced by indignation and not a little anger.  "I'm not your child, Jesmind," he said in a level tone.  "I didn't want it to happen, but it did.  Even if I'd wanted it or not, what I do is none of your business."

      "You'd better believe that it's my business!" she suddenly raged at him, making his flinch as drops of that dangerous spittle flew from her mouth, nearly landing on his face.  "You are my mate, Tarrin!  Even if you are human, you're still mine!  Mine, do you hear?  You're not free to go sleep around with anyone until I let you go!"  She slammed her other hand into the wall on the other side of his head, trapping him, but he did not flinch.  He looked up at her with steady nerve, the calm taught to him by his parents when facing an enemy.  Never show fear, they had both taught him.  Fear is a good emotion, but not when someone you're facing knows you're afraid. "I just want to know one thing," she growled in a very inhuman voice.  "Did she come after you, or did you go after her?"

      "I'm not going to answer that," he said in as steady a voice as he could manage.  "Because no matter what I say, it won't matter to you.  You've already made up your mind."

      Jesmind laid her ears back, and her eyes suddenly went from their normal state to glowing all green.  It was quite an unnerving sight to see, especially when those eyes were barely a nose's length from his own.  "You're right," she hissed.  And then she recoiled from him and dashed down the hallway.

      "Jesmind!" Tarrin called in surprise and worry.  He knew exactly what she was doing.  She was going to go hunt down Auli.  And when she found her, she was going to try to kill her.

      Knowing that there was nothing he could do to stop her, he instead ran to his room.  Dar and Keritanima weren't there, and the room was a disaster.  The bed had been completely destroyed, furniture smashed, sheets torn apart, even the art on the walls destroyed.  Jesmind must have come in and discovered the truth, and then ripped the room apart in her anger.

      Good Goddess!  Auli!  As furious as she was, Jesmind was really going to do it, she would really try to kill Auli, no matter who saw her or what stood in her way!

      Tarrin couldn't stop her, but he could warn someone and try to get word to the Sha'Kar.  The Sha'Kar could handle Jesmind, they could stop her and hopefully not hurt her.  He just needed to find a Sorcerer.

      He knew exactly where to go.  He ran down the hall, down to the end, where Dolanna's door was, and then banged on it feverishly.  "Dolanna!" he shouted, then he realized she wasn't there.  If Jesmind tore his room apart, she was bound to make a whole lot of noise, and that would have alerted everyone in the area.  It was why he hadn't met anyone in the halls coming back to his room.  They'd cleared the halls because they knew that Jesmind was being violent.  Or at least he really, really hoped so.

      If he couldn't find Dolanna, then he needed to find someone else, anyone else.  He scrambled down the hall and down the stairs, thinking that his best bet was the kitchens.  Someone would be there to get word to Jenna and the Sha'Kar and warn them that Jesmind was coming.  He ran down the circular staircase so fast he nearly fell twice, and he did fall when he came around the steps and out into the hall and slammed headlong into the scaly back of Binter.  Tarrin wasn't heavy enough to even budge the massive Vendari, and he ended up bouncing off of him and nearly tumbling down the stairs behind, had Binter's huge clawed hand not reached down and grabbed him by the leg.

      "Tarrin!" Keritanima called in concern, rushing over and kneeling by him.  "Are you alright?"

      "Kerri, we have to get word to Jenna!" he said.  "Jesmind's out of control!"

      "It's already taken care of," she said with a reassuring smile.  "Triana just got back a little while ago, and she's going to intercept Jesmind before she can do any harm."

      "You're sure about that?"

      Keritanima grinned.  "Nobody can get past Triana, Tarrin.  Trust me on that one."

      "That's a relief," he said with a sigh as Binter helped him to his feet.  "Did she hurt you?  Where's Dar?"

      "Dar's gone to tell the Keeper what happened," she answered.  "I figured you'd come this way, so we waited here for you."

      "What happened?"

      "She showed up while I was purging the smell from your room," she shrugged.  "She realized what happened, and about that time she had a hissy fit.  Started throwing furniture around and cursing alot.  About that time, Binter decided that it was time for me to withdraw," she said acidly at the Vendari.

      "I was not going to let you stay in danger, your Majesty," he said calmly.  "And Jesmind is family to your brother, so I was not going to stop her.  Out of respect for him."

      "I could have handled her, Binter," she accused.  "If you hadn't have grabbed me like a doll and slung me over you shoulder, I could have stopped her from tearing Tarrin's room up."

      "I have seen Were-cats fight against Sorcery before," he said, nonplussed.  "I do not take chances with your life, Majesty."

      "Someday you and I are going to renegotiate this little agreement, Binter," she said in a steely tone.

      "You are free to try, Majesty, but our oaths to you are very clear.  You are our child, and we will not let you come to harm."

      "Dar and Dolanna went to go warn the Keeper, and they told us that Triana was back on the grounds, and that she'd take care of Jesmind.  That's a good thing.  As mad as Jesmind is at the moment, I don't think most of the Sorcerers could manage her."

      "Exactly why I removed you from her presence."

      "Oh, shut up," she snapped at the Vendari.

      Tarrin was a little worried, and not a little embarassed.  All this madness was his fault, be it directly or indirectly.  And what was worse, everyone in the Tower was going to find out that he and Auli had slept together.  Auli probably wouldn't care at all, but Tarrin did.  Such a rumor could completely destroy one's reputation back in Aldreth, be it a boy or a girl.  "Great," he sighed.  "This was the last thing I needed.

      "You just never seem to catch a break, brother," she chuckled.  "Come on, let me take you down to the kitchens and we can get something to eat.  Something tells me we're both going to need all our energy today."

      "I think you're dead on, Kerri," he agreed as she took his hand in her own, and he paused to feel how soft yet rough it was, and how silky the black fur on her hand was.  Just like a fox, her hands and feet had black fur on them.  Her coloring was totally faithful to the animal she resembled.

      Things were going to get very unpleasant.  He just knew it.  And the least of it was how all this made him feel.  He was very angry with Jesmind for her words, making it sound like he was nothing but her possession.  He had his own life, and damnit, he'd been trying to be as objective as possible.  But maybe that was the problem with her.  Jesmind had absolutely decided that he was going to be a Were-cat again, and him fooling around with Auli was a very direct threat to that future.  He could see that now, and he could understand why it made her so furious.  If Tarrin got involved with Auli, Jesmind was afraid that the relationship would make him want to stay human.  It was the exact same thing he'd thought himself, so it was no stretch to think that Jesmind had reached the same conclusion.  The others talked about how tempermental Jesmind was, but most of them didn't understand how intelligent she was, either.  She was alot smarter than most of the others thought she was.

      That knowledge was going to cause him no end of problems, he was sure of it.  The next time he saw Jesmind, he could foresee quite a shouting match.

To:       Title                EoF

Chapter 5



      Tarrin ended up waiting in Jenna's office, and truth be told, it was one of the places where he felt safest.  Jenna was his sister, his blood relation, and at least she was someone he had known before he lost his memory.  Even if the time had changed her a great deal, at her core she was still the sweet little girl she'd been back in Aldreth, considerate and thoughtful, and at least she understood how upsetting all this had been for him.  She set him in a very comfortable chair, and then after shooing everyone else out of her office, she and him talked about what had happened as adults.  It was a little strange to him to admit that he'd slept with Auli to his sister, but in many ways, she'd become more than just his sister in his eyes.  She was very young, only fifteen, but she was the Keeper, and that authority made it alright in his mind to discuss such things.  Her position and the knowledge she had gained from that mysterious Spyder woman had changed her, and though he knew she was different, at least the feel of her had not changed.  She was older, much wiser, and she ruled the Tower, but she was still Jenna.  She would look out for him, and as long as he was with her, he had the confident feeling that things weren't going to go wrong.

      But for now, there was nothing but waiting.  Waiting and talking.  Jenna showed a great deal of maturity when he described the trouble he'd had with Auli, how she'd been chasing him, and he also made sure to explain that regardless of her behavior, Tarrin liked her and considered her a friend.  It was why he was keeping it more or less to himself, and why he wasn't being more aggressive in rebuffing her.  That, and the fact that part of him wanted what happened to happen.  He didn't want Auli to get angry with him and have the situation cost him her friendship.  It was hard for him to work it out, mainly because of his inexperience with such things, and he admitted as much to Jenna as they talked.  He'd handled the situation all wrong, and as a result, Auli had seduced him, Jesmind was on a rampage, and the whole thing was almost mortifyingly embarassing for him.  Everyone was going to know that Auli and him had slept together, and that Jesmind's fury was because of it.

      The situation with Jesmind was a different problem, and Jenna managed to urge the truth out of him about her.  He liked her, but he was very resentful of how she and the other Were-cats had been treating him.  Only Jula had shown any kind of neutrality in the matter, and she was the only one he found he could confide in to any degree.  She was the mother of his daughter, and that was the only thing that linked them together in his mind.  He didn't see Jesmind as a mate or lover or wife, only as a shadowy figure from a lost past, a woman who had once been the love of the Tarrin that had been forgotten. But it was like he was a different person now, and instead of trying to get to know him or talk to him, Jesmind had simply decided that since he was going to change back to the Tarrin she knew and regain his memory, there was no need to go through that.  He didn't understand why she was being like that, but Jenna told him that Auli's chasing of him had put Jesmind on the defensive, and he suddenly understood.  She probably felt that she couldn't compete with Auli because she couldn't be intimate with him, but what she didn't understand was that alot of how he felt about Auli came from the fact that she was such a good friend to him.  If Jesmind had spent the time to get to know him, to talk to him and try to understand him, he may not feel the way he did towards her now, and maybe Jesmind would have gained enough understanding of him to know that what happened between him and Auli was generally unintentional, and also that it was by no means permanent.

      The first person to manage to reach the office, to his surprise, was Auli.  She was literally being dragged by the ear by her mother, the formidable Sorceress Ianelle, and Ianelle did not look very happy.  "I'm sorry it took so long for us to answer your call, Keeper," she said in a brusque tone in formal Sha'Kar, curtsying and kicking her daughter in the shin to make her do the same, all the while keeping a firm grip on the girl's ear.  Tarrin almost found the scene funny, but he knew that if he laughed, Auli would hate him until she died.  Auli was all about image and status, and if he humiliated her now, she would never forgive him for it.  The trip through the Tower had probably been humiliating enough.  "I had to actually use Sorcery to hide her from the Were-cat.  I've never seen such determination."

      "Triana hasn't caught her yet?"

      "From what I've heard, she tried," Ianelle said.  "But the one Jesmind attacked Triana and actually managed to get away from her."

      "Jesmind attacked Triana?" Tarrin gasped.  Maybe nobody would have to worry about Jesmind for much longer.  Triana probably wouldn't take very kindly to that.  It seemed shocking that Jesmind would attack her own mother, but then again, she'd been really mad.  Triana herself said that when a Were-cat was enraged, they were capable of such drastic actions.

      "Just outside the main Tower," she nodded.  "It was over quickly.  I think the attack startled Triana, and that was enough for Jesmind to get away from her.  They've cleared the Tower halls, and the Wikuni is laying a trap for Jesmind by putting down a magical false scent trail.  They're going to lead her into a position where she can't get away."

      "They may need some help."

      "They have it," Ianelle noted.  "There's another Were-cat with Triana now, a very short one with short black hair.  She looks more than capable of handling Jesmind.  She's quite intimidating."

      "That would be Mist," Jenna chuckled humorlessly.  "You're right about that.  Jesmind couldn't possibly get past Mist."

      Tarrin remembered the stories he'd heard of her.  Mist was the mother of his son, and she was one mean, ornery Were-cat.  Triana had left the Tower to bring her here, he was sure of it.  Had she brought his son as well?  Why had Triana done that?  It worried him, unsettled him, that Triana would bring yet another Were-cat to the Tower, and one that had such a big stake in things as she did.  He had no doubt that Mist was going to be just like Jesmind and Kimmie, and would do anything she could in order to make him change back.

      "Anyway, as you requested, here she is," Ianelle said, pushing Auli forward.  "Explain yourself, daughter.  Have you any idea how much trouble you've caused?"

      "I didn't cause any of this," she said indignantly.  "What me and Tarrin do is none of her business.  I made sure that Tarrin wasn't attached to anyone first."

      "But you completely ignored it when he warned you this may happen."

      "I can handle that fleabag."

      "That fleabag will tear you apart if she gets her claws in you," Ianelle snapped.  "And your magic won't be enough to stop her.  She's a Were-cat, foolish girl.  She has her own magic, and had she caught you, you would have found out that your Sorcery would not have saved you."

      Auli glared a little at her mother, but said nothing.

      Ianelle pushed Auli into the chair beside his, and even after all this, he found himself thinking about the night they'd shared.  The trap she had woven was still working on him.  "What possessed you to push things this far, girl?" Ienalle demanded.  "I've been told what happened.  That you've been following him around, trying to seduce him for several days now.  Explain yourself!"

      "He said no to me," she said in a challenging manner, as if that explained everything.

      Ianelle looked about ready to explode.  "That's it?" she said incredulously.  "All this was over your ego?  How shallow and self-centered can you be, daughter?" she raged.  "Have I taught you nothing about our proud traditions and your heritage?"

      "Those are your traditions and your heritage!" Auli shouted, standing up and facing her mother.  "I didn't want to come here!  I wanted to stay in Sha'Kari and live the life I had!   But no, you and the other Elders had to drag us back to this doghouse of a Tower and impose the most ridiculous restrictions on us!  I was happy there, and I mean to be happy here!  And if being happy means seducing a man I find very handsome and attractive, then that's exactly what I'm going to do!"  Auli snorted almost like Triana, then sat back down.

      Ianelle didn't seem to be quite as easy with the confession.  Her eyes narrowed dangerously, and she actually balled her fist.  Sha'Kar were pacifists, but sometimes Tarrin thought that Ianelle was pacifistic only because of her adherance to tradition.  At that moment, she looked about ready to slap her daughter across the face, and the slight twitch in the corner of Auli's lip told him that Auli wouldn't be surprised to have it happen either.  "I think I need to have a little talk with Auli," Jenna said in a commanding tone, heading off any such outburst.

      "I will deal with you later," she promised in a harsh tone.  "Will you need anything further of me, honored one?"

      "No, Ianelle.  Give me a little time with Auli."

      "As you wish," she said with a curtsy, then she swept regally from the room.

      Auli sat silently, and Tarrin felt a little uncomfortable as Jenna leaned forward on her elbows on her desk, fingers interlaced, looking at the two of them like some kind of instructor catching students passing notes.  "So," she finally said.  "This was nothing more than seeing if you could."  Auli was silent, simply sitting there and giving the Keeper a slightly challenging look.  "And you did.  I guess for that, you can feel proud.  But I don't think you ever once stopped to think what success may mean, did you?"

      "What do you mean?"

      "It's very simple, Auli.  What do you think is going to happen now?"

      Auli was silent a moment, then she put her hands in her lap demurely.  "Nothing much," she answered.  "Jesmind is going to calm down, and then things will get back to normal."

      "For you, I guess they might," she agreed.  "Oh, you're going to have a big fight with your mother, but I get the feeling that that happens all the time."  Auli smiled a little at that.  "But you never thought about what's going to happen to Tarrin, did you?"

      Her amused look faded.

      "I didn't think so.  You just put him in all sorts of trouble."

      "She's not his girlfriend," she said defensively.

      "No, but she thinks she is," she pointed out.  "And that's all that really matters for her, isn't it?  Just like getting Tarrin was all that mattered to you."

      Auli was silent, and she didn't look quite as confident as she did before.

      "All this over the fact that you couldn't accept the fact that Tarrin said no," she sighed.  "Now then, I want you to listen to this.  Now Tarrin is going to have all the Were-cats angry with him, and that's going to make it very hard for him to see his daughter.  He spends alot of time with her, and he loves her very much, and now he's not going to be able to do that as much as he'd like.  Your need to satisfy your ego is going to force him to stay away from her for a while.  It's going to make him very upset, and it's going to make his daughter even more upset.  After all, she doesn't really understand what's going on.  Now we have to tell her that her father can't come up and be with her because her mother is mad at him."

      Auli glanced at Tarrin and flushed guiltily.  Jenna's remarks must have finally struck bone.

      "Tarrin tried to stay away from you, as I'm sure you know," she continued.  "Did you ever once stop to think why?"

      Auli glanced at him again, then looked at her hands and shook her head.

      "He's very attracted to you, you know.  I'm sure he's not completely unhappy you got him."  Tarrin blushed slightly.  "It wasn't because he didn't like you or he didn't want you.  It's because he was trying to protect you.  He knew what Jesmind would do, and he didn't want to put you in harm's way.  We all knew that, of course, and almost everyone that knows him offered to discourage you from chasing him.  But he told us not to.  Do you know why?"

      She shook her head, her long blond hair slipping over her face.

      "Because he really likes you, Auli," she said in a level tone.  "He didn't want anyone doing anything to make you angry, because he still wanted to be your friend.  I don't think you have any idea how much he likes you, and how much easier you were making it for him to deal with his amnesia before you started trying to seduce him.  He thinks of you as a friend, and he didn't want to lose you over something as silly as your trying to seduce him.  You put him in a terrible position, because Tarrin is very loyal to those he considers a friend.  He couldn't sleep with you because of Jesmind, but he didn't want to lose your friendship either.  Even now I guarantee you he's worried about you, because Jesmind will come after you, Auli.  Never forget that, and I suggest you keep one eye over your shoulder until Jesmind leaves the Tower.  He's trapped again, because he's Jesmind's friend, and he's your friend, and now two of his friends are going to be fighting with each other.  Do you like Tarrin, Auli?"

      She was silent.

      "Well?  Do you?"

      "Yes," she said sullenly, in a very small voice.

      "Do you consider him a friend?"

      "Yes," she answered, much more quickly.

      "Then tell me, how could you do this to a friend?  How could you disrupt his life and cause so much trouble for him if he's your friend?  Aren't friends supposed to look out for each other?  Aren't they supposed to help each other?  Is he really your friend, or is he just someone you happen to like, who you'll use when it suits you?"

      Auli looked away from both of them.

      "It's unfortunate it had to come to this.  Tarrin did everything he could to protect you, because he is your friend.  And you ignored all his warnings, never once considered how what you were doing was going to affect his life.  You just barrelled ahead, because he said no.  You've turned the entire Tower on its ear, because he said no.  You've caused a rift between Tarrin and his daughter, and it was all because he said no.  What do you have to say for yourself, Auli?  I'm waiting for an explanation."

      She was silent for a very long moment, and then she jumped up from her chair and ran towards the door.  Tarrin heard it clearly; she was crying.

      Tarrin felt sorry for her, but he was more impressed with Jenna.  With quiet words, she had driven the point home more effectively than Ianelle had.  Then again, Ianelle acted out of anger, and Auli responded with anger.  Jenna had come at her with reason, and Auli could not defend herself against it.  Jenna had made Auli see what her actions had caused, and to his surprise, she had actually made her feel guilty.  Something Ianelle probably never could have done.

      Jenna's eyes narrowed, and she put her chin on her interlaced fingers.  Then she looked at Tarrin and smiled as Auli fled from the room, sobbing loudly.  When she ran out the door, Duncan made a move to block her.

      "Let her go, Duncan," Jenna called.

      Tarrin looked at Jenna with newfound respect.  Clearly, whatever Spyder had done to her had affected more her more than he realized.

      "She'll be alright," she said with a smile.  "And it isn't half as bad as I made it sound.  Jesmind's going to be fairly ticked off for a while, but she'll calm down.  And she'll blame Auli, which means that she's not going to hold a grudge against you.  Actually, after she realizes she trashed your room, she'll probably be as sweet as she can possibly be to you."

      "I hope you're right," he sighed.  "At least she may be afterwards.  I intend to yell at her a little for being so ridiculous."

      "She doesn't consider it ridiculous at all, Tarrin," she said soberly.  "Jesmind loves you, and she's not quite sure what to do about you.  She sees Auli as a very powerful threat.  Do you know why?"

      "Not really."

      "Because she's afraid Auli is going to make you want to stay human," she answered.  "That's why she reacted like this.  She doesn't want you to have anything to do with her, because she can't compete with Auli directly."

      "What do you mean?"

      "She can't be what she sees Auli trying to be," Jenna explained.  "She sees Auli kiss you, and she knows she can't do the same.  She hears you slept with her, and she knows she can't do the same.  She thinks Auli is stealing you from her, and there's nothing she can do about it.  The only thing she can really do is make you stay away from her, or her from you, but she's found out that that's only managed to alienate you.  So, she's trapped in a bad situation."

      Tarrin knew something about that, but hadn't had it explained to him quite in that context.  Jenna made him see through her eyes, and he realized that Jenna was right.  Jesmind couldn't be a girlfriend to him, and that's what she thought Auli was trying to be.  Him and her had been on bad footing ever since he came back to the Tower, because she refused to treat him like an adult.  And now this was added to that bad blood.  He was still angry with her for treating him like a baby and not trusting him, but at least he could understand her anger.

      "Why can't she just trust me?" he lamented.

      "Because she doesn't know what you're going to do," she said.  "If you told her you wanted to be a Were-cat again, you'd see all her contrariness disappear.  But she doesn't know if you're going to do that. Nobody does.  So she has to fight for you, and this is the only way she knows how."

      "I didn't consider that."

      "I rather think you didn't.  There's alot at stake here for Jesmind, Tarrin.   And Kimmie, for that matter.  I know you've heard them tell you that they love you, but I don't think you've believed it.  Well, does this convince you?"

      He was a bit startled, and her words made him think.  She was right.  Hearing people tell him that didn't really make an impact for him, but to see it like this, now he understood.  If she did love him that much, then she would go to such extremes.  After all, she was fighting for her love, and he could see that his choice was a very important thing to her.  If he chose to stay human, then there was no way he could be to her what she wanted of him, what she needed of him.  She would be pushed out of his life in the role she desired, and she would lose him as everything but a friend.  And she didn't want to be just his friend.  She wanted to be as close to a wife as Were-cats got, what they called mates.

      "It's hard to know the feelings of another, and when Were-cats are concerned, it's very hard," she said with a slight smile.  "They're very hard creatures to know, but they're very easy to understand once you get to know them."

      "What do you suggest I do?" he asked.

      "I'm not going to suggest anything, Tarrin," she told him.  "Mainly because it won't do any good for several days.  Jesmind is furious, and she's going to be acting out on her every emotion for a while yet.  So you'd better be careful around her.  She may be nice to you, but she'll be a powder keg with a lit fuse.  It's not a matter of if she goes off, but when."

      "I wouldn't be surprised."

      "And I know that you're still a bit angry with her.  Just do me a favor and before you start shouting, look at things from her side."

      "I guess I can try.  Jenna, can I ask a question?"


      "What do you want me to do?"

      She knew exactly what he meant, and it made her take on a very grim expression.  "I wish you wouldn't have asked me that," she sighed.  "I have two positions, brother.  As your sister, I would very much like to see you stay human.  You are my brother, and I saw how hard it was on you to be a Were-cat, and how much it changed you.  I could accept what you were, but it always pained me to see how much different you were from the brother I remembered.  But as the Keeper, I would prefer to see you be a Were-cat again.  You'll be a great deal more effective in protecting what you're carrying if you're Were.  Just thinking that kills me sometimes, but unfortunately I can't look at this from a purely personal viewpoint."

      He understood completely, because he'd been thinking the same kinds of things lately.  That he may have to make his choice based on what was needed of him, not what he wanted to do.  "It just never seems to be easy anymore, does it?" he asked.

      "Sometimes I wonder why I ever left Aldreth," she said with a wan smile.

      "Me too."

      "Well, I'll send you someone to help you put your room back together, Tarrin," she promised.  "They can fix everything that Jesmind broke, so don't worry.  After that, I suggest you hang around your room a while.  Triana's going to be looking for you, and I suggest you be where she can find you quickly."

      "That's a good idea."

      They both got up, and Jenna came around her desk and gave him a very tight hug.  Then she kissed him  on the cheek and smiled up at him.  "Alright, if you need me, just send word.  I'll be here whenever you need me, alright?"

      "I appreciate that, Jenna.  I guess it's good to have a relative in the big chair," he said with a smile.

      She giggled.  "I guess it is.  When you're sitting in one, I'm going to be there with my hand out."

      "Like that's going to happen," he scoffed.


      It was an absolute disaster.

      Tarrin shuffled through the remains of his room, stopping every few seconds to try to identify something laying on the floor.  He'd never seen such a mess.  Not satisfied by destroying the furniture, she must have turned around and started destroying the pieces as well, systematically breaking everything into smaller and smaller pieces, until there was nothing left larger than a child's head.  The debris was nearly ankle deep on the floor of the room, a jumbled mess of torn wood, ripped cloth, and broken metal.  She had destroyed the furniture, torn up the tapestries, ripped up every stitch of clothing, broken every decoration, and destroyed all his personal effects.  There was absolutely nothing left that he could find as he picked through the debris, nothing even remotely identifiable.  He knelt and frowned when he found the hilt of his dagger, the dagger he'd won the the staves competition in Aldreth just before he left with Dolanna.  The blade was snapped off at the hilt, and the hilt itself, fashioned to look like a falcon, was twisted and bent, as if crushed in Jesmind's hand.  He was a little dismayed to see that; Jesmind had to be alot stronger than he thought in order to bend the steel like this.

      Continuing to rummage through the wreckage, he could find nothing else even remotely resembling anything that had once been in the room.  There were bits and pieces of fabric that he could only identify because of its color, the blue bedspread and curtains, the white sheets, the leather bits that had once been his favorite leather breeches.  He found some fragments of the wash basin and pitcher, for they were the only pieces of porcelain in the room, and he did find enough of a piece of one of the legs of the washstand to identify it.  Aside from that, nothing was recognizable.  The Sorcerers that arrived on Jenna's behest took one look inside the room and shook their heads, and tersely  informed him that everything was simply too far gone even for magic to restore them.

      Nearly a half an hour of searching rewarded him, however, for he finally found something that wasn't broken.  It was a tiny wooden doll, painted to look like it was dressed, but most of the paint was faded or worn away.  It had scratch marks in it, and a string had been tied around its neck, which was now frayed.  He didn't remember the old thing, but touching it conjured up an image of a darling little girl with big eyes and long, lustrous hair.  The memory of the little girl caused a sense of peace and contentment in him that was almost scary.  He realized that the little girl had to be Janette, the girl who had taken care of him when he'd fled from the Tower.  She certainly was cute.  He held the doll in his closed fist, understanding that this little trinket had to have tremendous meaning to him for him to keep it all this time.  Maybe it was reminder of the time with her, or just a keepsake of her.  If that flash of memory was any indication of his feelings for Janette, then he must have loved that little girl as deeply as he loved his own daughter.

      It was, literally, the only thing he had left.  He didn't have much, but all of it was now gone.  All he had was what he was wearing, the things stored in the elsewhere like his staff and sword, the Firestaff, and this little doll.  Everything else had been destroyed in the wake of Jesmind's wrath.  All his clothes, all the little keepsakes and knick-knacks he'd gathered up on his travels, it was all destroyed.

      Despite not remembering gathering any of it up, looking around the room offended Tarrin in the most intimate manner.  Jesmind had tried to control his life, and now she had destroyed everything that could have reminded him of who he had once been, everything that he had called his own.  All of it gone, much of it before he had a chance to find out what it was and what it had meant to him.  It was like she was smothering him, depriving him of what happiness he could try to find in his current condition in some kind of attempt to force him to do what she wanted.  He had spent a night with Auli, and Jesmind punished him for it by destroying everything he owned.  The only happiness she seemed willing to afford him was spending time with his daughter.  Everything else was not acceptable in her eyes.  The only friends he could have were the ones she approved of.  The only life he could have was the life she wanted him to live.  He was just about sick of it.

      Gently putting the little doll in his pocket, he looked over the room one more time and shook his head.  This just couldn't go on anymore.  He had to put a stop to it.  If he didn't, Jesmind was going to completely take over his life, and it would be like he was a toddler again, tied to her apron strings and forced to do nothing but follow her.  It didn't matter how much she loved him or what he meant to the other Were-cats.  They had to understand that it was his life, and that meant that it was him who would decide its course.

      Jenna was right.  This was going to put a rift between him and his daughter, because he didn't think he could stand sitting in the same room with Jesmind right now.


      It was Triana.  He turned and looked at her, and saw that she wasn't alone.  A rather short Were-cat female with very short black hair, black fur, and wearing torn old leather trousers and a half-vest of sorts stood just beside and behind her.  She was a handsome woman, not pretty in a feminine way but still attractive, and she looked into the room with a mixed expression.  Her face was grim, but her eyes looked at him with a strange light, as if she were very happy to see him, but surprised at how she had discovered him.

      "They said she had a fit.  I see they weren't exaggerating," she grunted.

      "Did you catch her?" he asked in a grim tone.

      "Mist did."

      "She put up quite a fight," the smaller Were-cat said in an amused tone.

      "Then keep her away from me," he said.  "I don't want to see her, I don't want to talk to her.  I don't even want to think about her."

      "It's not that bad, cub," Triana said in a worried voice.  "We can fix all this."

      "That's not the point!" he shouted, turning on her.  For a moment, he realized he was shouting at Triana, but he knew that he couldn't back down now.  "I'm tired of all of you trying to run my life!  I didn't want what happened with Auli, but Jesmind decided that destroying everything I own was a good way to get back at me for it!  Look, Triana!  All I have now are the clothes on my back!  She had no right to do this!"

      "She wasn't in control of herself, cub," Triana said defensively.  "She was in a rage.  If she had, she wouldn't have done this."

      "That's no excuse!" he shouted.  "She got like that because she doesn't want me to live any kind of life like this!  Well, I'm sick of it!  I'm not going to sit in a closet and just do nothing waiting for Phandebrass to finish his magic!  And that's exactly what she wants me to do!  She doesn't want me doing anything I might like!  She wants me to be miserable and bored because she thinks it'll make me want to be a Were-cat again!  Well you tell her that this little stunt doesn't do anything but make me want to stay human!  If this is the real Jesmind, then I don't want any part of her!"

      Triana actually seemed taken aback.  She looked down at him with eyes that seemed to be storming with emotion, even though her expression never changed.  He knew that she was offended and upset by his declaration, but in the face of what she was seeing, she could not deny him the right to be furious.  Jesmind had destroyed everything he owned, and there was little she could say to even make that seem close to being justified.

      "Cub, I--"

      "I don't want to hear anymore!" he shouted, actually cutting her off.  He almost bit his lip when he realized he did that, but he couldn't show any throat now.  They said that Were-cats respected strength, and he couldn't back down now that he'd set himself to challenge her.  It would only make him look weak.  "Just leave me alone, mother!  I'm in no mood to talk to any of you!"

      To his eternal shock and surprise, Triana simply nodded and stepped back from the doorway.  She was going to leave!  She was actually going to do it!  He watched her go with narrow eyes, afraid of what he had just done but not stupid enough to show it.  Angering Triana for any reason was a very dangerous proposition.  The other one, the short one, she looked at him for a moment, her eyes calculating, and then followed Triana without speaking a word to him.

      For a minute, he felt rather foolish, and then a little scared, but he knew that he had to do it.  If he didn't put his foot down now, they were going to keep butting into his life more and more and more, until he was completely under their control.  He really didn't want to do it like that, but he knew that there was no way he was going to be able to reason with them.  They had their plans for him, and nothing, not even his own choice, was going to stop them from bringing it about.

      If anything, this was an eye-opening experience.  Now he really understood what they were talking about when it came to Were-cats and rages.  Jesmind wouldn't have done this if she was rational.  She'd know that it would only make him angry.  Yet she had done it anyway, because she just couldn't help herself.  Now she had to suffer the consequences of her inability to contain her anger, because he was mad at her.

      He stood there for a long moment, surveying the destruction of his room and pondering on what had happened and the things he'd said to Triana.  They wouldn't be put off by him, no matter how mad he was, but he had a feeling that him telling Triana that her actions made him want to stay human was a bad thing to say.  If he gave them any hint that he didn't intend to be a Were-cat again, they just might do something drastic.  He'd have to be very careful around them now.

      There was little reason to stay there.  Tarrin turned and walked out of what was left of his room, not quite sure what to do now.


      It turned out that he had plenty to do after he left the room.  Not long afterwards, Jenna tracked him down, and she had a virtual army of servants, Sorcerers, and laborers with her.  They went back down to his room, and then he stepped back and watched in surprise as Jenna personally oversaw the cleaning out of the room by the Sorcerers, then the refurnishing of it by the servants.  It took those four Sorcerers about five minutes to clean the room, gathering up all the debris and forming it into a big ball of twisted, jagged refuse, then picking it up off the floor with magic and floating it out the door.  Then the laborers and servants filed in in a continuous line, bringing in the pieces for a new bed, a pair of bureaus, a writing desk, nightstands, a washstand, a new, larger chest, and two glaziers got to work replacing the shattered window.  Carpenters started hanging a new door, and by the time they were done, the laborers had finished assembling the sections of the new bed, an even larger one that took up a sizable amount of floor space.

      He was surprised at how fast they finished.  All the furniture was in, a new door hung, new glass in the window, and the bed set up complete with linens in about an hour.  After that, Jenna only smiled at him and led him out of the room, not telling him where they were going.  He followed along behind her, until they went outside and he realized that the carriage sitting just out of the main entrance hall was waiting for him.  Jenna only smiled at him and ushered him into the carriage, then she climbed in behind him.  Behind her came two fully armored Knights, one of them very aged, and the other a tall willowy man with dark hair and a broken nose, and a scar on his chin from some past battle.  He looked very intimidating.

      It took him a moment to realize that the aged one, with silver hair, was none other than the Lord General of the Knights, Darvon.  He almost banged his head on the roof of the carriage trying to stand and bow to the man, which made the wrinkled man's face crack into a smile.

      "No need for that, lad," he said in a gruff, no-nonsense kind of voice, the voice of a man used to giving orders.  "When the order came down for a Knight to escort you, I decided I wouldn't trust your safety to anyone but me.  I'll be your Knight this day, if that's alright with you."

      Tarrin was startled.  "I'm not worth that, Lord General!" he said in a scandalized tone.

      "I say you are.  Prove me wrong."

      Tarrin was a bit taken aback by that comment, then he laughed ruefully.  "I can't do that."

      "Then you have nothing to complain about," he said with a sudden smile.  "This ugly one here is Ulger.  You and him were friends before you lost your memory.  He was the other half of the Trouble Twins."

      "Trouble Twins?" Tarrin asked.

      "The two Knights that caused the most trouble.  Faalken was the other, may Karas watch over him," he said sadly.

      "I'm sorry about that," Tarrin said.

      "No need," Ulger shrugged.  "He lives on in us.  As long as you don't forget him, he's never really gone."

      He didn't expect such philosophical words from a Knight, and he had nothing to say to that, so he fell silent.

      Their trip out into Suld was very exciting to Tarrin.  He had never seen it before--at least not that he could remember--and it was amazing to see the legendary mixed architecture of the city, from squat stone buildings to wattle rowhouses to elegant towers, a wide array of different buildings and techniques.  All were altered from what had to be other cultural styles to take the city's weather into account, for it snowed quite heavily in the winter, but aside from that the buildings were very faithful to their original models.  Suld was known as a melting pot, a city where anyone was welcome, and the city's skyline seemed to reinforce that reputation.  He looked out the window in awe as they passed huge mansions, then great warehouses, then seemingly endless lines of rowhouses and buildings built right up against each other, making the streets seem like shallow canyons hewed from the ground.  They went quite a ways into the city, until the carriage stopped at the edge of a very large open area, a square, which was filled with tentes, wooden stalls, merchants, and the people there to buy their wares.  It was one of the four market squares of the city, and Tarrin knew that at its center would be one of the fabled twelve fountains for which Suld was famous.  There was a fountain in each of the four market squares.  The carriage pulled up on the street just at the edge of the cobblestone square, and the handservants attending the carriage opened the door and set a stepping stair at the carriage so they wouldn't have to step down so severely.  Darvon was first to get out, then Ulger, and they stayed in front of the carriage as Jenna and Tarrin got out behind them.

      Jenna, being the Keeper, caused quite a row in the city, as the two Knights shouldered everyone out of their path.  Everyone seemed to know who Jenna was, and there was a crowd following her around in a matter of moments.  She took it all rather well, smiling and shaking the hands of very excited men and women, even touching beaming children on the face as she passed.  Jenna was quite famous, he realized, and all the people absolutely adored her.  Merchants offered her gifts of their wares as they passed the stalls in the open market, women and men tried to hand her little trinkets and gifts, and several women asked Jenna to bless their children like she was some kind of priestess.  Tarrin didn't quite know what to make of it, seeing all the people of Suld lining up, crowding around them, trying to get close enough to touch Jenna.  What had made the people of Suld so warm towards her?

      They hadn't come out just to meet the public, however.  Jenna had them moving in a specific direction, across the crowded market square, towards what he realized was a tailor's shop on the far side.  Ulger and Darvon were muscling them in that general direction, trying to get the throngs of people to back up enough to give the Keeper room to pass, relying on their armored weight to push out a path for those behind.  "Next time we bring a phalanx!" Darvon growled.

      "I forgot it was market day, Darvon, I'm sorry!" Jenna called back, pausing to shake a very old man's hand and accept a bouquet of roses from a gushing young girl who looked up at Jenna with total adoration.

      They finally reached the tailor's shop, and Darvon pushed Tarrin inside as Ulger gave Jenna enough room to slip in behind him.  Then the big Knight planted himself in front of the door and refused to let anyone in behind them, as the crowd of citizens gathered around the door and the windows, looking into the shop.  The interior was a very small room with a counter on the far side, with a curtain behind it leading into the back.  There were no wares or displays in the small receiving room, meaning that the tailor was either very good, very poor, or very bad.  Given that Jenna had come all this way to come to this one particular shop when there had to be closer ones, Tarrin figured that he had to be one of the best in Suld.

      "Why are they following us around?" Tarrin asked.  "It's like they think Jenna is some kind of hero."

      "She is," Darvon told him as Jenna straightened her dress, still holding onto the roses.  "You don't remember it, but Jenna was one of the most prominent figures in the battle here.  Everyone saw her, this little slip of a girl out there right in the middle of an army of undead and Goblinoids, and I guess it just stuck with them.  Everyone in Suld thinks Jenna is a gift from the Gods.  It's why I agreed to come out only with two Knights; nobody in this city would even dream of laying an ill hand on her.  The people in the city would track anyone who did down and tear them apart."

      "I doubt that it would come to that, Lord General," Jenna smiled.  "I just seem to be the one they think did all the work, that's all.  They have no idea that you're the one they should really be thanking, brother.  Cass!" Jenna shouted.

      "I'm here, Keeper!" a male voice called from behind the curtain.  "I'll be out directly, if you'll pardon my audacity!"

      "Take your time, Cass," she called with a smile.  "We're not going anywhere anytime soon."

      Tarrin absorbed that.  It was a little hard to believe, but the reaction of the people to Jenna told him that it was true.  He knew that Jenna had been in the battle at Suld, but he had no idea that the people had seen her and turned her into a folk hero.  It was almost a little funny, actually.  Jenna had never been one to like too much attention.  She was a very sedate, quiet, domestic girl who, back when he could remember, really didn't think of anything more than finding a good man to marry and settling down.  It was all she had ever really wanted in life, and now, here she was, the ruler of the katzh-dashi and one of the most famous and powerful people in Suld.  Maybe even all of Sulasia.

      Strange, how fate never seems to cooperate with plans.

      The tailor Cass came out, and Tarrin was a bit startled.  It wasn't a human being.  Cass was a Wikuni, a silver fox Wikuni.  He vaguely reminded him of Keritanima in his face and tail, but where Keritanima's fur was red, brown, white, and black, Cass' fur was silver, white, bluish, and a white-beige the color of bone.  His muzzle was a bit sharper than Keritanima's, and he was taller and a bit more stocky than she, but that had to be because he was a boy.  He had the strangest hair, for it was a definite shade of blue, cropped close and with silver ears with white and bluish tips jutting out from it.  He wore a very elegant linen shirt under a blue doublet that was very well made, gored with red satin on the sleeves and with a strange crest of some sort on the left breast.  His trousers were made of some kind of very sturdy yet soft-looking fabric Tarrin had never seen before, cut in a strangely baggy style that gave him lots of room.  He wore leathers shoes on his feet, which was unusual for Wikuni, he had noticed.  Of all the ones he'd seen around the Tower and such, only Keritanima and Miranda seemed to wear shoes.  Both of them had very small, dainty feet, though, so it was probably no effort to put them in shoes.  He bowed with fluid elegance to the Keeper, his tail flourishing behind him in a rolling manner.  "It's good to see you again, Keeper," he said, looking down at her.  "What can I do for you today?"

      "This is my brother, Tarrin," she introduced.  "He had an accident today, and lost all his clothes.  So he needs a full set."

      "I see.  It is good to meet you, Tarrin," he said, looking Tarrin up and down in a critical manner.  "I am Cassiter, tailor and leatherworker, but you may call me Cass.  You are definitely the Keeper's blood.  I can see it in you.  What did you have in mind, Eminence?"

      "Nothing fancy," she replied.  "Functional clothes.  Rugged would be good.  Tarrin is rather hard on clothing."

      "I have nothing right now that will fit him, Keeper," he said confidently.  "I can have something ready tomorrow, and the rest done by the end of the tenday."

      "Good.  Tarrin, tell him what you want."

      "Uh, nothing fancy, your honor," he said.  "I don't like frilly things.  Just plain old shirts and trousers will be fine."

      "Plain can be challenging sometimes," he said, clicking his teeth in an eerie manner.  "I can make them in the same style as the clothes you're wearing.  It this alright with you?"

      "Uh, fine."

      "Very good.  Is cost an issue here, Keeper?"

      "Not really," she said.  "But I don't think we need anything made of dragonhide."

      "Not quite that exotic, but I do have access to some Selani fiber cloth.  It's rather expensive, but it makes very rugged clothing."

      "That sounds fine to me," Jenna smiled.  "I think five sets would be good.  And could you make a couple of cloaks?"

      "I'd be delighted to do so, Keeper," he said with a nod.

      "Then we're done?"

      "I would say so, Keeper," he nodded.

      "Don't you need to measure him?" Ulger asked.

      "I've already done so, good Knight," Cassiter said mildly.  "When he came in.  I can guarantee his clothes will fit perfectly."

      "Well, I'm not paying for them, so I guess I don't have much say," he said with a grin.  "Then again, it doesn't sound like you've reached a price."

      "It's very simple, good Knight.  I charge twenty percent more than it costs for me to buy the materials.  Flat rate, whether it takes me an hour or a tenday to finish the order.  I find haggling to be very tiring and a waste of time."

      "How do we know what that was?"

      "For those who don't do regular business with me, they receive a bill," he said calmly.  "My regulars know they won't be cheated."

      "Cass is the best tailor in Suld, Ulger," Jenna said, a bit accusingly.  "He's never cheated me on a contract.  He made almost all the clothes I own."

      "Well, that's alright then," Ulger grinned.  "Though the idea of an honest Wikuni seems a bit far-fetched."
      "Not all of us are money-grubbing cheats, sir Knight," Cassiter said calmly.

      "I think we'd better go, before Ulger here says something we'll regret," Darvon grunted.

      "I'm not offended, Lord General," Cassiter said mildly.  "Most Wikuni merchants are money-grubbing cheats.  I don't make excuses for my people."

      "Well, you're better than most of them," Darvon said with a slight smile.  "And I'm surprised you know who I am."

      "I have eyes, my Lord General.  Your breastplate denotes your rank."

      "Not many know that," he said in an impressed manner.

      "It's not hard to find out," he shrugged.  "If one is willing to take the time to learn, anyway.  I'll have the clothes sent to the Tower, Keeper.  Shall I drop them off at the gate?"

      "I'll make arrangements.  Send me the bill when you're done."

      He nodded.  "Then if you'll pardon me, I have a customer waiting for me on the fitting stand.  Holding her arms up with about fifty pins threatening to jab her in many different places.  I should really get back to her."

      "We'll see ourselves out, Cass.  Thank you."

      "Any time, Keeper," he said with a nod.

      They plunged back out into the crowd, and it was slow going once again.  Tarrin didn't feel very comfortable with all those people surrounding him, shouting and calling to Jenna, but his sister wasn't trying to extend the situation.  She had the Knights get them back to the carriage, and once inside, the footmen tending it got the carriage out of the crowded square.

      Tarrin though they were going back to the Tower, but he found out that he was mistaken.  They moved deeper into Suld, to the edge of the wall near the harbor on the south side, and once again they got out.  This time there were no throngs of adoring citizens, for they were in what looked to be an area of craftsmen rather than merchants.  The carriage stopped before a silversmith's shop, from the looks of it, with all the silver plates and goblets hanging and standing behind a window protected by a very heavy set of iron bars to prevent a thief from simply breaking the window and making off with the display pieces.  Jenna told the two Knights to wait in the carriage, then got out and beckoned him to follow her.  She entered the shop, and Tarrin was a little curious as to why the Knights were told to wait in the carriage.  What was more, he was curious why they obeyed her.  They weren't supposed to let Sorcerers go off on their own...but then again, Darvon had said that Jenna was completely safe in Suld.  Maybe they were only going to be a moment, and the Knights had a hard enough time climbing in and out of the carriage in their heavy armor.  It was a very large shop, from the look of it, with many different pieces of both silver and gold sitting on shelves behind a long counter that separated the long, rather narrow display room.  Two armed men wearing chain jacks stood near the door, guards to protect the merchandise, and both nodded to Jenna as she led Tarrin inside.  "Is he in?" she asked immediately.

      "Aye, my Lady," one of the men replied.  The man reached beside him and pulled a rope hanging from the ceiling, and Tarrin realized it was a bellpull when the bell rang behind the door behind the counter.  Tarrin spent the time looking at the display pieces, goblets and plates, statues of people and things, even a very impressively detailed one of what he thought was an Aeradalla, with her wings outstretched.  He thought it was one, since the statue matched the descriptions he'd heard of them.  All of the work was very detailed, very exacting.  Tarrin realized they were in the shop of a master silver and goldsmith.

      That master came through the door, and Tarrin wasn't entirely surprised.  The man was a Dal, a short, stocky, heavy-set fellow with a bald pate and enormous hands.  He was wearing a burned, scarred leather apron over a doublet and heavy leather trousers, to protect him from the sparks and bits of hot metal.  Dals were very good at metalsmithing, and some of the best smiths and metalworkers in the world were Dal.  He figured it was in their blood or something.

      "I've been waiting for ye, yer Ladyship," he said with a rough voice, damaged from years of breathing in the smoke from his forge.

      "It's ready, then?" she asked immediately.

      "Aye.  I'll fetch it for ye."

      "What's ready?" Tarrin asked, looking at the two very large guards, noticing that their armor was very, very well made.  Light yet strong, and kept in immaculate condition.

      "Oh, just a little present I wanted to give you later," she replied with a smile.  "But since you lost everything, I guess it'll be a good way to start rebuilding."

      "What is it?"

      "They, and you'll see," she said with a smile.

      The man scurried off into his forge for only a moment, then returned with a fairly large towel or cloth or something.  Tarrin realized that whatever it was that Jenna had gotten was wrapped in the cloth.  The cloth bundle was about four spans long or so and very thick, and just about anything could be inside it.  The Dal set it on the counter and stepped back, obviously waiting for Jenna to inspect the merchandise.

      "Well?  Go ahead, Tarrin," Jenna smiled.  "After all, they belong to you."

      A little curious, Tarrin approached the bundle, seeing that it was folded in such a way that would allow him to reveal what was inside without having to pick it up.  He grabbed the cloth and peeled it back, then peeled back the inner fold, and looked down at what was inside in both surprise and amazement.

      There were three things within the bundle.  The first was a sword, an absolutely magnificent  slightly curved sword whose pommel and hilt were worked to resemble a dragon.  Tarrin looked very closely at that hilt, and he realized that Sapphire had been the model for the hilt.  He recognized the general shape of the head, which served as the pommel.  Tarrin picked up the sword and unsheathed it, and saw that it was sharpened only along one edge.  The blade was very thin and almost unnaturally light, and drawing the entire weapon revealed that it had a chisel-style tip instead of a point.  This was no thrusting sword, it was designed to slash.  And the edge looked sharp enough to be able to slice through armor.

      "It was based on the sword you used as a Were-cat," Jenna explained with bright eyes.  "Just a little smaller, so you can use it as you are."

      Tarrin resheathed it,and looked at the other two objects.  They looked like wristguards or bracers, but were long enough to be forearm greaves for armor.  They were elaborately decorated with several different etched designs.  He saw Sapphire again in those designs, as well as Allia's Selani silhouette, and an Aeradalla, and Keritanima's silhouette as well--the tail gave her away--and swirling roses and vines.  And on the top of each of them was an etched form of the amulet he wore around his neck, the shaeram.  Tarrin reached down and picked one up, and its touch made his fingers tingle strangely.  The metal was blackish in color and almost ridiculously light, but somehow he could tell that its strength was without equal.  Just the touch on them told him that.  And there was something more...an energy that seemed to infuse them, something that made his fingers tingle and feel hot.

      "Go ahead," she urged.  "Put them on."

      Tarrin turned the one he was holding and put his hand through it, and he jumped in fright when the thing shrunk down to fit his arm!  He grabbed at it to rip it off, but Jenna put her hand over his and laughed.  "I'm sorry, I forgot," she told him.  "It was supposed to do that."

      "It changed its size!" he exclaimed.  "It's magic!"

      "It is magic," she said seriously.  "Now put the other one on."

      A little disturbed by that surprise, Tarrin warily picked up the other one, and then reluctantly slid his hand through it.  When it was in place, it too shrunk down.  And when it did, Tarrin felt the strangest tingle roll through his body.

      "Good, they work," she said with a mysterious smile.  "Very good work, Ardon," she nodded to the smith.

      "All was done to yer specifications, yer Ladyship," he said in his rough voice.

      "I see your reputation is well deserved."  She reached into a pocket in her skirt, and handed the smith a small piece of paper that was within it.  "There you are, Ardon.  Thank you very much."

      "Any time, yer Ladyship," he said with a wave of his hand.  "I should be thanking ye to trust me to handle such a job."

      "I needed the best, goodman.  Skill knows no political boundaries."

      "All in all, I still thank ye.  When word got around that the Tower had consigned me for a job, the customers that left because I'm Dal came back.  Ye saved me business, yer Ladyship.  I can't thank ye enough for that."

      "Then I'm happy I could help out," she said with a smile.  "Good day to you."

      "If ye need me hammer, it's yers, yer Ladyship.  Half price."

      "I'll remember that," she said with a light laugh.

      Tarrin was a little disoriented when they left the shop and got back into the carriage, where the two Knights were still waiting.  What did the two metal bracers do?  Why did he feel that strange tingle when he put them on?  They were magical, he knew that, but what kind of magic did they possess, and why did the smith have to work on them?

      "I know, you're full of questions," Jenna smiled as they climbed back in and sat down.  Tarrin had his new sword on his lap, and that too was a little strange.  Jenna knew that he didn't like swords very much.  Why had she had one made for him?  His staff was stored safely in the elsewhere, and even though he wasn't entirely sure how he was supposed to get it out, he was sure he could do it if he really needed to do it.  After all, Dolanna taught him how put things in there, he was sure that it worked more or less the same for getting things out.  "Did you feel something when you put on the bracers?"

      "Yes, it was like a cold tingle," he answered.

      "Then it worked," she sighed.  "I was afraid that they might not."

      "What are they?  What was that tingle?"

      "They're magical devices, brother.  As you are now, you're rather vulnerable when compared to the kinds of people or things that may try to attack you for what you're carrying.  Mother showed me how to make those bracers.  They're going to help protect you."

      "But what do they do?"

      "They do two things, Tarrin.  The first is a defensive magic that surrounds you, like a phantom suit of armor.  That's what that tingle was you felt.  Your skin is as strong as steel, and if someone hit you in the head with a rock, you'd barely feel it.  Given who you are and the fact that I doubt we could get you into a suit of armor, we figured that giving you the same protection without making it apparent would be a good idea."

      Tarrin was intrigued and amazed by that statement.  The bracers were like a suit of magic armor?  He didn't feel any different, and didn't feel heavy or anything.  Curious, he unsheathed his sword enough to expose the edge, and was about to see if it could cut him, but Jenna laid a hand over his to stay him.  "I wouldn't do that if I were you," she cautioned.  "The sword will make you think that the bracers are phony."

      "What do you mean?"

      "The sword was enchanted as well.  It can cut through virtually anything, and the blade is made of Adamantite, which means that I don't think there's anything you could do to it to break it.  That sword will go right through the magical defense of the bracers, so testing the bracers with it is not a good idea," she winked.

      Tarrin looked at the sword in awe.  It could cut through anything?  Well, she said almost anything.  It didn't seem that sharp, and it didn't really feel magical, not like the bracers did.

      Or did it?

      Tarrin held the hilt firmly in his hand and tried to feel the sword.  He closed his eyes and tried to really feel it, to feel past what his fingers sensed, to reach beyond to where those ghostly images of strings were, always just on the edge of his vision but never intruding to the point where they interfered.  He ignored that most of the time, but now he wanted to look into it, he wanted to feel what was on that other side.

      It was there.  He could feel it now.  It was an exceptionally powerful enchantment, but it had been actively concealed so as not to give away the true nature of the weapon.  It was almost like an army hiding in the fog, a tremendous force hiding behind a veil of ambiguity.  The weaving was crisp, exacting, detailed, and it was absolutely flawless.  It had Jenna's hands all over it.  He recognized the style of that weaving almost immediately.  It was the same style of concealing weave that been in the amulets back on Sha'Kari, but had been modified to conceal the active weave hidden within the sword.

      For the briefest fleeting of moments, close to the Weave, Tarrin almost felt like another person.  He could feel something close to him, and he could feel the power of the Weave all around him, very strong, almost alluring in its enticing closeness.  An entire lifetime of forgotten memories seemed tantalizingly close to him in that fleeting sensation, but they were like a cloud.  Sharp and detailed from a distance, but hazy and indistinct the closer one got to them.

      Tarrin nearly felt like his eyes were going to pop as a shockwave of pain roared through his mind.  He had remembered!  It was just a flash, but it was the most detailed flash of memory he had yet to experience!  He absolutely knew that Jenna had made the magic in the sword and the bracers, and for that one fleeting moment, he could feel the closeness of the Weave, could sense its power, almost beckoning to him.  Tarrin flopped back in his seat and put a hand to his forehead, but he had a big smile.  "Jenna, I remembered!" he said excitedly.  "I wanted to see if there really was a magic spell in the sword, and for a short moment, remembered something!"

      "What did you remember?" she asked quickly.

      "I recognized the style of weaving used on the sword, and I remembered that the concealing weave in the sword was based on the ones in the amulets back in Sha'Kari.  I have no idea what half of that means, but I remembered it!"

      "You did?  That's wonderful!" Jenna said happily, clapping her hands and then hugging him.  "Kimmie said that you'd possibly have more detailed flashes of insight over time.  I see she wasn't wrong!"

      "I hope it happens again, but next time without the headache," he said, rubbing his temple delicately.

      Jenna laughed.  "She said the headaches would be part of the remembering," she warned him.  "But it's good to see that you are getting back some of it, even if it is in bits and pieces.  I hope that means that Phandebrass' potion is going to work perfectly."

      "Well, I hope so," he said.  "You said that the bracers do two things.  What's the other?"

      She grinned.  "You're like a child with a new toy," she teased.

      "I just don't want to sneeze and blow something up by accident," he warned.

      Jenna laughed richly.  "Well, I guess I can see that," she winked.  "I wouldn't want you going around knocking down walls.  The repair bills would be ghastly."  She chuckled with him, then put her hand on the bracer.  "They don't blow things up, but their second function is a weapon," she told him seriously.  "I made them so you'll never be unarmed.  Mother told me to name them the Cat's Claws, and I think that tells you what they do."

      Tarrin looked down at the two black metal bracers.  "Claws come out of them?" he asked.  "From where?"

      "It's a bit more involved than that," she said.  "Let me show you."  Jenna reached down and put her hand over one of the bracers, and he felt something strange happen.  She had done something to them, and he realized that she had triggered them with her magic.

      Tarrin had had his hand out to look at the bracer, and he was amazed at what he saw.  The metal of the bracer seemed to turn liquid, and it flowed over the back of his hand.  It felt strangely warm as it did so, very quickly, like a black shadow racing down his hand, over his knuckles, and over his fingers.  The metal encased the back of his hand and fingers and when it reached his fingertips, it kept going out, extending over his fingertips and forming very long, slightly curved and hooked metal claws.  But where a cat's claw was thick, these metal claws were as thin as dagger blades, sharp only on the inside curve, and ending in a very wicked looking point.  They were extending a good span over his fingertips, and they had almost no apparent weight.

      "And that," Jenna said with a smile, "is why they're called the Cat's Claws."

      Tarrin stared at the weapon merged with his hand in awe.  He had full flexibility in his hand, as the liquid-seeming metal moved with his hand.  It didn't even pull at the hairs on his fingers.  The metal was like a part of his skin, moving just as easily, and was not uncomfortable in the slightest.  The metal only covered the back of his hand, leaving his palm clear.   The four individual claws reaching out over his fingers seemed attached to the tips, moving with them.  He turned his hand over and very slowly and carefull closed his hand, watching the claws fold over with his fingertips until the four inside edges were just barely touching the heel of his hand.

      "Don't worry about these," she told him.  "They won't ever cut you.  If you close your fist, they'll simply bend around your skin.  You can even make them release from your fingers and stick straight out from the top of your fist if that's what you want.  These are Adamantite too, so I don't think anyone's going to manage to cut your hand off while the claws are active."

      Tarrin looked down at it, amazed by it.  What amazing things!  And they were his!  To own even one magical object was something the richest man could only dream of, but to own three!  It was almost unreal!  His amulet, the sword, and these amazing bracers!  How much luck could one family have?

      "Do you like them?" Jenna asked with a smile.

      "Like them?  Jenna, I don't know what to say!" he exclaimed.  "They're incredible!  How can I ever match gifts like these?"

      "It's very simple, brother," she said soberly.  "You can live.  I made these specifically to help you.  Don't forget what's out there.  I think these will help you stay alive, and so I made them for you.  I'll do whatever I can to help keep you alive, because you're my brother, and I love you."

      It was said in a calm voice, but he could see the emotion behind her eyes.  She meant every word of it, and for the first time, he saw how worried she was about him.  He couldn't remember what had happened to him or what he was doing, but that one statement rammed home the fact that it was very dangerous more effectively than anything else ever could have.  He had seen the waiting as a chore, something of an obstacle, but he saw that to Jenna it meant precious time to arm her brother as best she could so when he did leave the safety of the Tower, he would be as safe as he could be.  He remembered someone saying that the only reason they'd come back to the Tower was because it was the safest place to take him, but even its sanctuary wouldn't last.  As the time of the staff's activation grew nearer, those desperate to gain its power would be willing to risk assaulting the Tower itself in order to somehow achieve the nearly impossible, to take the staff from him.  He realized what kind of a terrible risk that Jenna had taken bringing him out of the Tower, and with only two Knights, but he could also see that as his sister, she had done what she thought would be most comfortable for him.  He had been very upset by Jesmind destroying his room, and she had done this, taken this risk, because she had wanted to cheer him up and not terrify him with the realities of his situation.  Bringing him out into the city with only two Knights let him feel normal, if only for a little while, and for the first time he understood that.  It had felt nice to be able to walk out into a crowd, even if the crowd was trying to mob Jenna with kindness and good intentions.

      She had told him that she was two people where he was concerned.  She was the Keeper, responsible for the success of his mission, but she was also his sister, and she had known just what to do to cheer him up.  He felt a tremendous wave of love, trust, and gratitude for his all grown-up little sister in that moment.  He reached out and took her hand with the hand not armed with the almost living claws and let his eyes and expression tell her what he'd be too embarassed to say in front of the two Knights.  She gave him the softest look of gentle love and held his hand tightly, then a slow smile graced her pretty face.  "Let me put those back for you.  When we get home, I'll teach you how they work.  I don't want you accidentally skewering Ulger in the carriage.  It'll destroy the upholstery."

      "Not to mention my good mood," he added with a smirk and a wink.

      "As if your mood mattered," Darvon told him with a stern voice but a twinkle in his eye.


      Despite the destruction of his room, the event had done much to open his eyes as to the nature of things, and he had to admit to himself that on the whole it had been a good thing.

      The time with Jenna had shown him that he should take what was going on alot more seriously than he had been.  It was very easy to forget what he was doing when all he had were the stories from the others to tell him what was going on.  They didn't have the same impact or weight as the memories of it would have, and so it was much easier for him to dismiss them in the safe confines of the Tower, where everyone watched out for him and he never really felt unsafe.  He had left Jenna vowing to be more careful, to pay more attention to what was going on around him, and to try to get a better understanding of the risks and dangers involved with what he had left to do.  He wasn't done yet, because the Firestaff was still a potential disaster waiting to happen.  Only after Gods day would its threat end, and so it would be his duty to defend it until that day came and went.  And as that day got closer, people were going to try to come into the Tower to get him.  He understood that now better than ever before.  The only safe thing he could do for everyone involved was to disappear with the Firestaff.  If nobody knew where he was, nobody could find him, then they wouldn't know where to bring their armies and their magicians and their unnatural magical beasts to try to subdue him.  They had put everyone he cared about under a watchful eye so nobody could be taken hostage to try to blackmail him into giving over the Firestaff, and if he was nowhere to be found, then doing something like that would be useless anyway.  If nobody could find him, then how would they even deliver a ransom demand?  It would be a useless exercise, and beside that point, everyone Tarrin knew and loved were themselves exceptionally formidable individuals.  Tarrin very nearly laughed himself hoarse just at the thought of a band of brigands trying to take someone like Allia or Keritanima or Jesmind or Jenna or one of his parents hostage.  They'd get slaughtered trying.  All his friends and family were every bit as dangerous as he was, and that made taking them literally more trouble than it was worth.

      And now he had two new magical objects!  Just the thought of that gave him a thrill.  He owned a magic sword and the magic bracers!  He just couldn't help putting his hands on the bracers sometimes, or touching his amulet, or looking at his new sword, knowing that they were magic.  Magical objects were things of exceeding rarity.  The richest man could not buy one, and the most powerful king could not use all his power to get one.  It was a matter of the wildest luck to even find one, and if one did find one, keeping it an absolute secret was the only way to avoid an armada of thieves lining up for a chance to steal it.  The metal plate that father had found when he was younger was a good example of that.  He hadn't told a soul he found it, just wrapped it up as best he could and endured the numbing magical cold it radiated as he literally deserted from the Rangers to hide it in the forest.  He had to talk very fast when he came back, but managed to avoid getting in trouble.  He then took leave, came back and got it in the dead of night, and hid it again in a place he was sure nobody would find it.  He retrieved it when he married Tarrin's mother and settled down, and it had turned into a means for the Kael family to keep food stored.  That his family owned a magical object was a matter of tremendous prestige, but it was the kind of prestige that was kept an absolute secret.  Even in Aldreth, if people knew about that cold-radiating metal plate, there would have been thieves in the cellar trying to steal it.  It made Tarrin both wildly proud and almost neurotically paranoid that he owned three.  Three!  But then again, only one was really in any danger of being stolen.  Jenna had made him absolute swear never to take off the bracers, since they had been made to protect him.

      Jenna's precious gifts had done wonders for his mood, so much so that he returned to his newly furnished room in high sprits, not very mindful of the large pile of boxes and paper-wrapped objects laying on the bed.  His anger with Jesmind was forgotten in the thrill of his new possessions, as was just about everything else.  He spent a goodly amount of time literally playing with them, making the claws come out and then go in and then come out and then go in, both practicing the trick of making it happen and just revelling in the fact that he owned them.  It was a mental trick, something almost magic but not quite, kind of like pushing against them with his willpower.  He had to think them to work, like moving a muscle he didn't know he had.  But after he figured out where it was, he had become quite easy to make the claws come out, and a little experimentation showed him how to control them after they were out.  He could make them stick to his fingers or separate from them and simply extend from the top of his fist.  He realized that that would let him hold something in his hand with the claws out, for whatever reason.  And Jenna was right, the claws would not cut him.  Even if he tried to make them cut him.  They simply melted away from his skin the same way they flowed out of the bracer, refusing to do him harm.

      He had asked her why she had taken them to the smith when she had created them, and she just smiled and told him that he was the one that did all the etching and artwork on them.  She had needed someone of great skill to do the artwork, yet who was delicate and careful enough not to damage the weaving that gave the items their magical powers.

      But he could only play with his new toys for so long before the novelty of them wore off, and besides, they reminded him that they were very serious objects specifically created for a very serious reason.  It really wasn't proper to treat them like toys, when Jenna had put her heart and soul into making magical objects to help protect him.  It demeaned their purpose to play with them like that.  Of course, he thought that after he got tired of playing with them, but it was still a poignant reminder of the reality of things.  He calmed down after that, settling down and taking stock of the large pile of boxes, bundles, and wrapped items that had been placed on his bed.  He had literally ignored them at first, so caught up in the bracers as he'd been, and after he did finally notice them, he thought that they had to be garbage and unused furnishings still in boxes left behind by the people who had come in after they left to go into the city and hung up the four paintings, tapestry, and the satin curtains on the window.  He had picked up the largest box intent on using it to put all the other things in so it would be easier to give to the servants, but when he opened it he found a note on the lid, and inside the box was a small mahogany chest that could fit in the palm of his hand, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and silver.  He gave the little box a curious look, and then opened and read the note.  It was written in Ungardt.  That got his attention almost immediately.


            I heard that you lost all your possessions.  I'm sorry to hear about that, and I know it

      must have made you rather upset.  I found this shopping in the city the other day, and I

      realized that it would help you refurnish your room, so I went back and bought it for you.  I hope you

      like it.

                                                                        --Elsa Gaarnhold


            P.S.--   I don't think you remember me.  I am the Mistress of Novices, and you caused

                        me no end of trouble when you were under my care.  But I won't hold it

                        against you.


      He didn't remember her, but he was moved that she had thought of him enough to buy him the little chest.  He wasn't sure what he was going to do with it, but it was a gift, and Ungardt took both the giving and receiving of gifts very seriously.  He'd find a use for it.

      Everything else on the bed was also gifts, from everyone he knew and a whole lot of people he didn't.  He had no idea who Sevren was, or Lula, and the only reason he recognized the names Jinna, Darrian, and Ahiriya was because they were Council members.  There had to be others there from the other Council members, but he couldn't remember their names.  There were gifts from Darvon and several Knights, as well as a small box holding a silver comb and brush from Ianelle, complete with a very contrite note asking him to forgive her daughter for all the trouble she'd caused him.  Tiella had sent him a box of her mother's sweetbread all the way from Aldreth, and Walten had sent him a note telling him he could have his bow back along with a box holding a strange knife with a blade that actually folded back into the handle, a handle sheathed in ivory.  Tarrin had never seen anything like that before, and he was quite impressed by it.  It looked very easy to carry around, and he could even put it in his pocket and not worry about getting cut.

      There were all sorts of things on the bed, from decorations to things that were downright useful.  Tiella had sent him a pair of soft leather shoes to be worn around the room, Keritanima had sent him a stout robe made of a strange material that was thick yet soft, and not very heavy, and Azakar had given him a swordbelt.  It would be something that Azakar would send.  Miranda sent him a rare and frightfully expensive self-contained fountain pen, one of those ones from Telluria that held the ink inside it.  He was shocked that she would give him such an expensive gift, and he was almost afraid to take it out of the small wooden box in which it had been sent.  He'd be afraid to use it, terrified that he'd break it somehow, but the sight of it stirred images and faint memories.  He associated Miranda with that very pen in some way, and seeing it conjured an image of her sitting at a table with it in her hand, scribbling on a long piece of parchment, looking totally cute even in her serious work.  Phandebrass had taken a break from his work with the potion to send Tarrin a little wooden songbird that would warble and sing off-key whenever he touched it.  It startled him at first, but then he couldn't stop laughing every time he touched it.  He wasn't sure if Phandebrass meant for it to sound like that, but the poor thing sounded like it was choking on a beetle, and it got funnier and funnier the more he listened to it, until he had to put it away or collapse his lungs from laughing so hard.  Camara Tal and Koran Dar had sent him a strange little steel trinket that their note said was called a Hope Charm, a little thing that Camara Tal had been carrying around for years, but now she wanted Tarrin to have.  It was a very tiny silver-colored disc, like a coin, and he recognized the relief on its only stamped face as the same as the image on Camara Tal's amulet that she wore at all times.  It was the holy symbol of the goddess of the Amazons.  Dar sent him a real, working clock, something that was very expensive, small enough to sit on his desk, but needing to be hung on the wall so the pendulum and weights  on small chains that served in some way to make the clock work could hang freely.  Dar said in the note that the weights would lower over time, and he had to pull on the loose side of the chains for the two weights to put them back at the top every day for the clock to keep running.  Allia had given him a strange little piece of crystal shaped vaguely like a pair of oversized spectacles, and her note said that he'd kept one of these as a souvenir before, so she was giving him another to replace the one lost.  He wasn't sure what it was, but he was certain that someone would explain it to him eventually.  People he didn't know sent him little knick-knacks, decorations and little porelain figurines and such, one of them a very impressive black metal cat or some kind of feline with a broad jaw, sitting on its haunches with two tiny emeralds for eyes.  It was incredibly detailed, even with the hairs in the fur distinguishable, looking like it was about to get up and walk at any moment.  Tarrin put that one on his nightstand, by far his favorite of the decorations.  Dolanna sent him a large book titled A History of the Tower of Six Spires, and he was grateful for it, for she knew that he wanted to know more about almost everything, being so frustrated with not remembering anything.  Someone he didn't know sent him a book titled Magical and Semi-Magical Plants of Northern Sennadar and Their Uses.  It seemed a little advanced for him, but a book was a book, and it would be certain to dispel boredom at some point, and maybe even teach him something.  There were also any number of personal items, like a razor and small shaving bowl sent by someone named Sevren, and Jula had sent him a new backpack that looked remarkably like the one he'd had when he left Aldreth, complete with the inside pockets.  Being a young man always ready and eager to pack up and explore some hidden corner of the forest around Aldreth, something like a backpack was both a welcome and useful gift.

      The strangest gift by far had to be from Sapphire.  She had sent him a little crystal bell, and the note with it told him that not only was it a decorative knick-knack, if he picked it up and rang it while speaking her name, she would hear it, know exactly where he was, and would be able to hear what he said for exactly thirty seconds after that.  He knew that Sapphire was a Wizard as well as a Dragon, and he was quite impressed that she would waste magic on him.  It wasn't the either misfiring or intentionally comical spell that Phandebrass had used, this seemed like serious magic.  He had to thank her for it next time he saw her.  He knew it was only proper to be very polite to Sapphire.   She was a dragon, after all.  It was always prudent to stay on the good side of someone who could literally step on you.

      He was a little overwhelmed at getting all the gifts, but he flushed a little when he realized that what had happened between him and Jesmind had to be common knowledge, and that meant that what happened between him and Auli probably was too.  That embarassed him more than a little bit, but at least none of the notes made any mention of that.  All they had all said was that they hoped that the gifts helped him feel more at home in his room since he'd lost all his other possessions.

      So many things, and all of them for him.  Some were very expensive, but they'd been given as an act of kindness, so it wasn't how much they cost that made him treasure almost each and every one of them, it was the thought behind them.  Even things that he didn't understand or really couldn't use, like Allia's strange crystal spectacle-like thing or Phandebrass' odd badly singing bird were dear to him, and he suddenly felt very attached to almost everything in the room.  At least those things that were sent to him as gifts, anyway.  He'd lost a room full of things he couldn't remember, but now had a room full of things that made him very grateful for the very people and things that he couldn't remember now.  It was a forgotten life, but it had been a very rich one.

      There was a knock at the door.  Tarrin set the little panther or cat or whatever it was on the nightstand again after regarding it, looking into those two tiny emerald eyes, admiring it once more and called for whoever it was to come in.  He was a little startled to see Auli come through that door, hands folded before her and looking quite reluctant.  He looked past her and realized that she was alone.  "May I come in?" she asked in a small voice.

      "Sure," he said after a moment.  Seeing Auli made him remember the night before, and part of him reminded the rest that he'd better forget about it.  That couldn't happen again, no matter how good it had been.

      "I see they fixed things," she said, looking around.  "I'm, I'm sorry I made all this happen, Tarrin.  I was being selfish and inconsiderate and stupid, and I had no idea you were trying to protect me.  I'm really sorry."

      Tarrin was surprised to hear her say it, but he was more surprised that she meant it.  He realized that Jenna had struck the girl to the bone, making her see what she'd done in a way that her mother never could, and it had made her truly repentant.

      "That's alright, Auli," he said after a long moment.  "Sometimes the only way you learn is to put your hand in the fire."

      She laughed ruefully, and then finally looked up at him.  Her chagrin was all over her face, and her eyes had a strange desperate quality to them he'd never seen before.  "I feel likes such an ass," she continued.  "I didn't even stop to think what would happen to you."

      "It's alright, Auli.  In a way, I'm sorta glad it happened.  It's giving me a chance to show Jesmind just how much I hate how possessive and jealous she is.  I'm hoping that after this she'll back off and give me room to breathe and live my own life, without her trying to control me."

      "I'm really relieved to hear that," she said sincerely.  "I, I hope that you're not mad with me too," she said, looking away.  "I know we were friends.  I hope this didn't poison that."

      Tarrin realized she was serious, and it made him look at things in a new way.  Was his friendship with Auli poisoned now, even though they'd spent the night together?  He looked in himself, and realized that it wasn't.  He certainly looked at her differently now, but he didn't think badly of her.  He understood that her actions were the actions of a spoiled, overindulged child.  But now she seemed very much unlike that.  He knew that every time he saw her he'd remember that night and want to experience it again, but he felt he could control that.  He understood the kind of trap that was.

      "I don't think it did," he answered honestly.  "I have to admit that I've never done that with a friend before, but I don't think badly of you."

      It was like someone took a horse off her shoulders.  She raised up and gave him a look of glorious relief, and even rushed over and hugged him, then kissed him on the cheek.  "Thank the Goddess!" she exclaimed.  "I can't stay, Tarrin, but would you mind if we had breakfast tomorrow?  I know we have to be careful about Jesmind, but I don't want to lose you as a friend."

      "Sure," he said with a smile.  "I'd really like that, Auli."

      "Good.  After we're all done with our work, you and me and Dar can have dinner and pal around a while.  Is that alright?"

      "It's fine with me," he said with sincere enthusiasm.  "I'd really like that."

      "Good.  I'll see you tomorrow, then," she said.  She gave him a kiss on the cheek, and then stepped away from him.  He couldn't help letting his eyes wander all over her as she walked away, remembering what all of it looked like when she didn't have clothes on, but he shook himself free of that.  He'd see her without clothes on again, he was sure of that, but it wouldn't be like what it was on that night.  He told himself silently that he'd better forget all about the fact that they'd slept together and accept her in the role she wanted.  It wouldn't be easy, since that night was like a firebrand in his memory, hard to ignore and tending to spread into the rest of his mind when his mind was wandering, but it had to be done.  If he wanted to keep Auli as a friend, he'd better do it.  He wasn't sure a single night of passion was worth losing Auli's friendship, and that was what was going to happen if they slept together again.  It wouldn't be that Auli would hate him, it was the simple fact that Jesmind would certainly kill her, no matter how he felt about it.  And if that didn't happen, Auli's mother would certainly separate her from him forcibly to keep her from interfering with him, no matter if she initiated it or he did.  Ianelle certainly looked furious with her for sleeping with him the first time.

      What a day.  Tarrin sat down in the chair by the fireplace and looked back on it.  He's slept with Auli.   He'd had a confrontation with the Were-cats.  He'd lost everything he owned and got very mad at Jesmind.  Then he'd been given all these wonderful gifts, even objects of incredible value like the Cat's Claws and the sword.  And he'd learned many things about himself and had discovered things about others that certainly changed his mental view of them.  Seeing Jesmind so furious had darkened his view of the Were-cats, while seeing Jenna working as the Keeper and then seeing her being so loving with him, it reminded him that his little sister was not the girl he remembered, but she was still family and he still loved her with all his heart.  It was almost too much to consider.

      In any event, this day would certainly go down in his personal history as one of the most eventful.  It was definitely one that had changed his outlook, in many ways.  There were several things left to address, but in a way, he was glad that would happen tomorrow.  He'd had enough for one day.


      As eventful as yesteday was, Tarrin knew that the bad things were going to have to be done today.

      He got up early and used the new robe Keritanima gave him to shuffle down to the baths before they got too crowded.  He was going to have to confront the Were-cats today, and that was something he'd rather do early, to get it overwith.  He intended to go up to Jesmind's room and lay down the law, then leave as quickly as possible.  He was going to tell her exactly how angry he was, and then tell her to leave Auli alone and back off.  Tell her that she was smothering him, and if she wanted to push him away from her, she was certainly doing it right.  She'd pushed all his buttons the day before, and he was going to make sure she knew that.  He'd never completely forgive her for destroying his room, but he did understand that it hadn't entirely been her fault.  He wasn't going to let her know that, because he wanted her to really think hard the next time she found him doing something she didn't like.  He wanted every choice she made to be one with that ultimate threat hanging over it, the threat to have nothing to do with the Were-cats anymore and decide to stay human.  If he didn't lay down the law, he'd find himself living under their law, and he knew what kind of life that would be.  They would keep him chained to a wall, bored and miserable, until he finally decided to be a Were-cat again.  They were doing everything they could do to make him want to change back, and he realized that they were going to play dirty.  If they wanted to play that way, that was fine with him.  Now that he knew that there weren't any rules, he felt he could compete with them on that level.

      The baths were a bit more crowded than he'd hoped, since the Novices were down for their daily bath, but that wasn't really a problem for him.  The far end of the pool was too hot for just about everyone but him, Jenna, Keritanima, Dolanna, and Jula, so it literally gave him an entire section of pool all to himself.  They all stared at him a bit wildly when he slipped into the pool where it was so hot that it steamed, but he ignored them and got down to the business of cleaning up quickly.  He had important things to do today.

      To his surprise, he wasn't alone for very long.  He'd forgotten that many of the Sha'Kar were like him, immune to the pool's heat, and he was a bit surprised to see Ianelle standing on the edge of the pool, in the act of disrobing.  He looked at her and flushed slightly, for she was very much similar to Auli.  It was obvious that Auli was Ianelle's daughter, for they had similarly beautiful bodies.  He looked away from her before thoughts of that night with Auli got him in trouble and scrubbed more diligently with the soap on his arms.  Ianelle seemed harsh sometimes, but seeing her naked drove the point home that she was Sha'Kar, and that meant that she was exceedingly lovely and had a body any human woman would kill to have.

      Much to his dismay, she decided to come right to him.  The pool only came up to the base of her ribcage, and it was hard to look her in the face when those bare breasts almost begged his eyes to wander over them.  She greeted him in formal Sha'Kar, then smiled and took the soap from his hand.  "Auli said you forgave her for her actions," she said, going around him and starting to scrub his back.  He suddenly felt alot more comfortable with her behind him, where he couldn't see her.  "She said you're to meet her for breakfast."

      "Yes," he answered.

      "I appreciate your compassion, honored one," she said sincerely.  "I don't know what the Keeper said to her, but when she came home, she was almost inconsolable.  I've never seen her so upset."

      "Jenna made her see what her acts did to me," he answered.  "I've never seen Jenna like that before.  She's changed alot."

      "I'll have to thank her," Ianelle said seriously.  "After she recovered herself, she and I had a very long talk.  She understands things now, understands how her behavior can harm others as well as herself.  She even promised to try harder.  From Auli, that's almost a complete turnaround."

      "Well, I'm glad to hear that," he said cautiously.  He hoped it didn't change her too much.  Auli's irreverence and her love of fun, coupled with her fearlessness, was what made her so much fun to be with.

      "I'm sure it won't last long," she sighed.  "Auli's very stubborn.  It will be a long time before she completely changes."

      Tarrin was silently happy to hear that.  "Thanks for the gift," he said.  "I really liked it."

      "It's the least I could do for you, honored one," she said dismissively.  "I just wanted you to know that if you need my help for anything, you have but to ask," she said in a serious manner.  "It is more than you being an honored one for me now.  After what happened with my daughter, I find myself in your debt.  You were very considerate of her."

      "She's my friend, Ianelle," he told her.

      "I know.  And you have no idea how much it pleases me to see such loyalty in our human counterparts.  It gives me hope for the future."

      "Be relieved, honored one.  I told her if she touches you again, I would break five thousand years of honored tradition and whip her like a common criminal.  She will not do it again."

      He was both relieved and a little disappointed to hear that.  With a threat like that, he was sure that Auli wouldn't even think about it.  He knew that it was a good thing, but that part of him that had enjoyed the night they shared was disappointed that there wouldn't be a second encounter.  "I'm more worried about me," he confessed.

      She paused a moment.  "If it pleases you, take her," she said calmly.  "My warning was for her to touch you.  If you want her, then I have neither the inclination nor the right to object."

      That wasn't entirely what he wanted to hear, at least not the majority of him that knew another night with Auli was a very bad idea.  "You shouldn't have told me that, Ianelle," he admitted.

      "You desire her, but you don't want to succumb to temptation," she said simply.  "I understand your view, honored one.  No human could forget a night with one of us."  With that remark, Tarrin was reminded of the deep-seated, almost cultural arrogance of the Sha'Kar.  It wasn't that they were pushy about their advantages, but they didn't play them down either.  Sha'Kar were very attractive people, and they knew it.  "But unlike many humans, I think you understand the dangers involved in that kind of a relationship."  He did indeed.  He nodded in agreement.  "Good.  I won't tell you no, honored one.  Some humans can handle a relationship with one of us, and you seem to have the mental capability and will to handle one of us.  But you shouldn't think of pursuing it without keeping those dangers in mind."

      "I think of them every time I see her, Ianelle," he admitted.  "Usually right after remembering last night."

      "You're young, honored one," she said gently.  "The first time always stays with you.  I remember my first lover like it was yesterday.  It's perfectly fine to think those things and feel that way, so long as you remember the dangers involved."

      "I'll do that," he said.  It felt odd talking about this with Ianelle, but strangely enough, he felt at ease with her.  Ianelle understood, and he was sure that she wouldn't bandy their conversation about.

      "Don't worry at it too much, honored one," she said, reverting to completely informal Sha'Kar.  She had never spoken to him like that before.  "If you want, I can tell Auli to rebuff you.  That way there's no danger of anything happening."

      Tarrin almost laughed.  "She wouldn't obey you."

      "I know, but offering was the least I could do," she said with a very relaxed chuckle.  She patted him on the back.  "Go ahead and rinse off, and then you can wash my back."

      Tarrin felt much more relaxed with this intimidating Sha'Kar matron, and he felt little reservation at scrubbing her back.  "Ianelle, why is it alright if I went after Auli?" he asked, sincerely baffled by the difference.

      "Auli chased you with nothing in her heart but selfish need," she answered, pulling her platinum blond hair off over her shoulder and displaying her exceptionally lovely neck and shoulders.  "You, on the other hand, probably have more in your heart than that.  Besides, you are an honored one.  It has long been Sha'Kar custom to bow to the desires of an honored one, so long as they don't violate our own custom and law.  Human honored ones in the past often shared company with Sha'Kar women.  It was considered an honor for a Sha'Kar to be favored by an honored one in such a manner."

      Tarrin was a little shocked by that.  "You mean if a sui'kun wanted to spend the night with a Sha'Kar woman, she'd say yes because of custom?"

      "Sha'Kar aren't quite as moralistic as humans, honored one," she said, glancing back at him with a slow smile.  "Sharing pleasure is not confined to the bonds of marriage, and there is nothing wrong with two consenting adults exploring their attraction to one another.  My objections to what Auli did with you stem more from her interfering in a very delicate situation, and the fact that she still pursued you even after you told her no.  She defied your word, and as you know, in our custom, an honored one's word is as law.  If you weren't in such a position with Jesmind, and you had not said no to her the first time, I would not have said a word.  In fact, I would have been honored that you found my daughter appealing enough to ask into your bed."

      "But what if the Sha'Kar woman didn't like the sui'kun?  Wouldn't that be forcing her?"

      "I guess it would, but such things didn't happen."

      "That seems wrong," he told her.  "Almost like making a woman a--" he almost said prostitute, but thought that may offend her.

      "Whore?" she asked, startling him with her frankness.  "I told you, such things didn't happen.  If a lady truly disliked the honored one, she would send another in her place that was willing to share a night with him.  In the dark, it is hard to tell one Sha'Kar from another, you know," she said with that same slow smile, glancing back at him again.  "We do look similar, and so long as we don't speak, the human probably wouldn't know the difference.  So long as a lady found another with the same length of hair and same size bosom, the honored one would never know they'd switched."

      It seemed a bit outrageous, but he had to admit that she was right.  He'd noticed that Sha'Kar looked similar himself, that they had the same general proportions and appearance of body.  Only the face, hair, and chest seemed to vary from woman to woman, and even those didn't vary by much.  They were a race of dolls, all of them beautiful, all of them similar to one another.  He chuckled ruefully as he carefully and gently scrubbed her neck.  "I hate to say it, but you're right," he said.  "When I saw you, the first thing I noticed was how similar you are to Auli."

      "She is my daughter," she sniffed.  "She'd better have my looks."

      Tarrin laughed.  "Well, I think you're just as beautiful as she is.  Maybe even more so, since you seem so austere.  You have an elegance that Auli doesn't have, probably because you're older than her."

      "I appreciate the complement," she said in a suddenly girlish manner, as if his praise sincerely pleased her.  "I find the idea that you would find me a pleasing bedmate even more of a complement."

      Tarrin blushed.  "I never said--"

      "You compare me to my daughter, whom you admit you enjoyed very much," she said, looking back at him.  "Logic dictates that you would find me as enjoyable.  I'm flattered, honored one."

      Tarrin blushed furiously.

      Ianelle laughed lightly.  "I meant no offense, honored one.  Sometimes we must seem both very refined and very crude to you."

      He had to nod in agreeement.

      "It is a difference of culture, nothing more," she told him.  "We assign different importances to different things than you.  What you consider in one manner, we consider in another.  I'm sure you understand that."

      "Understanding it and experiencing it are two different things," he said seriously.

      "Spoken with true wisdom, honored one," she said with a smile.

      After washing off, he and Ianelle climbed out of the bathing pool and dried off, and then parted with kind words.  He found her to be not nearly so intimidating now that he'd talked to her a little, and he had to admit that he rather liked her.  He also found himself much more comfortable with being around Sha'Kar.  She had reminded him that theirs was a different culture, and he felt that it would let him deal with the Sha'Kar on better footing in the future.

      The bath was enjoyable, but the knowledge of what followed after it weighed on him.  Not even the neatly packed bundle sitting on his bed lifted his spirits very much when he came back into his room, but he was impressed when he opened it and found a shirt and pair of trousers.  The promised clothes from Cassiter the tailor, and he was very impressed.  They were very simple clothes, a short-sleeved tunic of sorts, in the style of a linen undershirt but with a long tail.  The material of the shirt was a strange one, that plant fiber that Cassiter had mentioned.  It was very light, rather soft, and he suspected that it was exceedingly tough.  He wasn't sure if it was dyed or not, but in any case, he found the shirt's dark blue color very pleasing.  The trousers were leather, but it was a kind of leather he'd never seen before.  It was thin as cloth, as pliable as cloth, and as soft as down, but there was no doubt that it was leather, and that meant that it would be very rugged.  Somehow someone had tanned the leather in such a way as to make it like cloth in wear, but with leather's rugged durability.  The package didn't include shoes, but he still had his very comfortable soft leather boots, and he rather preferred them.  The package did include a belt of sturdy leather, and it had a small buckle with a shaeram etched into the bronze

      He donned his new clothes, and he had to admit, they fit perfectly.  Cassiter had to have an uncanny eye for sizing people.  The shirt was soft and comfortable, the pants like they'd he'd owned them for years, so well they fit and how soft they were.  He put the folding knife that Walten gave him in his pocket, the little steel charm Camara Tal had given him in the other pocket, and put the bracers Jenna gave him on his arms.  There had been a belt pouch among the numerous gifts he'd received, and he lashed that to his belt.  It seemed a bit redundant to have a belt pouch when his trousers had pockets, but some things were too big to fit into a pocket comfortably.  He didn't really have anything to put in the belt pouch, but at least he'd have it, just in case.  Besides, it was a gift, and it was Ungardt custom to use a gift to honor the one who had given it.

      Strangely enough, putting on the clothes almost felt like putting on armor.  He was finished now, and he knew that he couldn't really put it off anymore.  He had to go confront Jesmind.  He'd like to get it done before breakfast, so at least he could eat without it hanging over his head, but he was rather reluctant to do it.  He didn't really like doing things like that, and he knew that no matter how easy he tried to make it, he was either going to make her angry or hurt her feelings.  Reaching into his pocket, he clasped his hand around the little hope charm that Camara Tal had given him.  She said in her note that she'd carried it around for years, and now she wanted him to have it.  He wasn't sure why, but if he was supposed to hope on the little thing, he supposed that hoping that things weren't going to get out of control with Jesmind would be a good one.

      Well, there was no use waiting any longer.  Working up his nerve, he put his hand on the door handle and opened it.  He already knew exactly what he was going to say, and the demands he was going to make.  There was little need to go over them again in his mind.  He left his room and started out, moving slowly yet steadily along the halls, his expression serious and distracted at the same time as he tried to imagine the various ways that Jesmind and the other Were-cats were going to react to what he had to say.  Given the shouting he'd thrown at Triana, they had to know that something like this was coming.

      Along the hallway, up the stairs, up more stairs, and then across to another stairway, passing by servants, Sorcerers, and the much more heavily present guards that were now patrolling the Tower's passages.  It seemed to take forever to get there, but it also seemed like it was way too short a time before he was in the carpeted hall that led to Jesmind's door.  He paused there at the landing, looking down the hall, where the door ended it.  He stood there for a long moment, stepping forward a little when footsteps coming up the stairs reached his ears, not wanting to seem like he was crowding the stairway.  He knew it had to be done, but he really wasn't looking forward to this.  Jesmind was very willful, and he knew that it was going to become a shouting match.  He didn't really want to hurt her feelings, but it may come to that just to make her back off from him and give him a little breathing space.  If he could only make her understand that the best thing she could do was leave him be, she wouldn't be angering him and jeopardizing the very thing she was working to accomplish.  She had to understand that he wasn't even thinking about the choice he'd have to make until he got his memory back, or at least that was his plan right now.  It had changed several times in the last few days as new information reached him, there was no guarantee that he wouldn't be trying to make that choice tomorrow if some other new information came to him.

      Despite being human again, and having his mind occupied, there was enough training in him to pick up the sudden change in the footsteps behind him.  There were more than one sets of them, and they suddenly went from a leisurely pace to a frantic staccato, a sound of boots running.  Tarrin's first reaction was that nobody wearing boots like that would be running up or down those treacherous circular staircases unless there was a fire, and that alert conclusion was what made him turn around and look down the stairs.

      He turned around just in time to see the sword coming at him, wielded by a large man with a scar on his cheek wearing the Tower guardsman's uniform and chain jack, with two others behind him.  There was no reaction of fear or shock, no surprise that he was certain the men were depending on to finish him quickly.  He twisted aside like a snake, letting the sword lance just by his shirt, then grabbed the man's wrist as he overextended the thrust, twisted it, turned his arm, and then twirled and flung the man back at the other two.  He did it with such speed and grace that the other men had no chance to get close enough to him to try to stab him with those swords.  It was the Ungardt disarming move, a technique for an unarmed warrior to disarm an armed opponent, something his mother had taught him.  But instead of breaking the wrist and forcing the hand to drop the sword, he instead turned the man against his companions, making all them slow down for that critical half second for Tarrin to back away from the landing.  He knew better than to fight three men alone, but he knew that assistance wasn't very far away.

      "Jesmind!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, backpedalling furiously as the two other men caught the first and prevented him from knocking all of the down the stairs.  "Triana!  Jula!  I need a little help out here!"  He remembered the Cat's Claws when he raised his hands in a defensive posture as the first man was back on his feet, and the three men suddenly didn't look quite so enthusiastic about the odds when Tarrin caused the magical claws to come forth.  He held out those claws and his hands in a wide stance, letting them see them, and he realized that the unbreakable metal that covered the backs of his hands and his forearms would serve perfectly to block and parry their weapons.  He literally had two offensive and defensive weapons on each hand, and it didn't take but a second of consideration to understand how to use them in the tight confines of the passageway, even if he hadn't had the time or opportunity to practice with them and learn how to use them properly.

      With hoarse cries, the three men rushed up onto the landing and charged him.  Only two could fit in the passageway at a time, and Tarrin closed his fingers to cover his hands with the claws, to form shields, then brought his hands together as he carefully considered the angles and heights of the two swords that were rushing at him.  The one on the right was taller and had longer arms, and he was just a little in front of the other.  That worked in his favor.  He held his ground and prepared himself to meet their charge, wondering where in the Nine Hells those Were-cats were when he needed them.

      With a quick shift, Tarrin parried aside the leading sword with the back of his hand, letting it hit the metal covering it and doing him no harm, then he sidestepped and let him come almost right up on top of him, literally putting his own shoulder against the wall.  He stabbed all four claws on the other hand into the man's side, making him hunch up around the four blades as they punched through the man's mail shirt and into his side, then pushed him into the path of the other, using him as a shield to protect himself from the second attacker's weapon.  He slithered around the wounded man as the second tried to stop or get his weapon around the first to hit him, but he was going too fast to make such a sudden change in direction.  Tarrin put his shoulder into the wounded man, still keeping his sword wide of him with his other hand, and physically bulled him into the shorter one, slamming both of them up against the wall.  He did that just in time to duck under the swing of the third's sword, and heard with some satisfaction as it dug into the shoulder of the man Tarrin had injured.  The man screamed this time, but it was a ragged, gurgling scream, telling him that one of his metal claws had pierced the man's lung. Tarrin spun around and backed away as the wounded man leaned heavily against his trapped companion, and the third squared off against him as the trapped one struggled to free himself.

      Nonplussed by wounding his own man, the third shuffled forward quickly, and his footwork told Tarrin that this man was an experienced fighter.  Tarrin gave ground to him, backing closer and closer to Jesmind's door.  What was keeping that woman when he really needed her?  Tarrin turned his hands palm inward, displaying a maximum amount of shielding metal to that weapon.  Until he practiced some with the Cat's Claws, he'd be a clumsy opponent at best.  He didn't think it prudent to try to fence the man when he was using weapons with which he was unfamiliar.  What he really needed was his staff.  In the confines of the hallway, the end-grip would be perfect for keeping the shorter weapon out of reach of him.

      He had his staff!

      How did it work?  He feverishly tried to remember how the amulet worked as he was forced to use the Cat's Claws as shields, parrying several attempts from the man to stab him with the tip of his sword.  The closed fingers enclosed his hands, letting him bat the sword away with either the back or the front of his fist.  The man seemed intent on stabbing him, not trying to swing at him despite the fact that he had the room, almost fanatically obsessed with the idea of stabbing him.  He was using a longsword, which was a weapon suited for either stabbing or slashing.  Why the intense need to stab?  He swatted away another stab at his belly, then one trying to stab him in the face, then another that tried to stab him in the shoulder.  He glanced at the blade and realized that it wasn't entirely clean, it had some kind of oil smeared on it.

      Not oil.  Poison!

      No wonder he was so intent on stabbing him!  A stab wound would introduce the poison much more quickly than a cutting wound.  He slapped the sword away again, taking another step back as he gave ground.  He'd already been backed halfway down the hallway.  He twisted aside from the next one and tried to cut the man's hand off at the wrist, but he withdrew his thrust with impressive speed, and sparks flew when the Cat's Claws raked across the poisoned edge of the man's sword, cutting furrows into the steel which proved who had the sharper and superior weapon.  This one had seen him use that move on the other one, and he wasn't going to let it happen to him.  Tarrin had the sharper, more dangerous weapon, but the poison gave the attacker every advantage.  All he had to do was break Tarrin's skin once, and that would be it.  The poison would do the rest .

      Now he absolutely had to have his staff.  Its greater reach would put keep that poisoned blade away from him, and it would even the playing field between them.  He had to think fast, the shorter one was free!  He felt the heel of his foot strike wood, and he realized he'd backed into Jesmind's door.  Couldn't they hear what was going on?  Of course they would have, if they were in there!

      To his chagrin, he realized that nobody was home!

      He was on his own in this!

      That knowledge made getting his staff even more critical, but not when he was backed into a corner.  Tensing an arm after parrying yet another attempt to stab him in the belly, he elbowed the door heavily as the flat of his foot struck it at the same time.  Tarrin was a very strong young man, though he didn't look it, and the combined blow was enough to knock the door open.   He was going to kiss Jesmind for not bothering to lock the door after she left.  He backed into the room and suddenly opened his hands, taking a fast swipe at the man's sword as the he tried to follow him in.  As long as he could hold the door, keep that man on the far side of the threshold, he could do nothing but try to stab into the room.  The confines of the doorframe would hinder his movement, but he couldn't capitalize on that unless he had a long weapon to make the man fearful of trying to gain entry!

      How did it work, how did it work?  Dolanna had told him to will the Firestaff to disappear.  It took him a little while, but it finally did work.  Did all it take to get something out was willing it to appear?  He figured that it had to be.  Giving a sudden shout, Tarrin took a quick step forward to surprise the man just as he was about to try to invade the room, freezing him for just a split second.  He gritted his teeth and did the only thing he could really think of, willing the staff to appear.

      To his shock and surprise, a staff did appear in his hands.  But it was not his trusty Ironwood weapon.  It was a long shank of what looked like black steel, and it was hot to the touch.

      He had accidentally summoned forth the Firestaff.

      "That's it!" the shorter man said from behind the first.  "That's the Firestaff!  Get him before he makes it disappear!"

      He was a bit dismayed that he had blundered so monumentally, but he had to work with the situation.  Retracting the Cat's Claws, he took up the Firestaff in an end-grip and set the end of the artifact towards the doorway.  That move should have made the lead man a bit wary to enter the room, but the man suddenly screamed and backed up a good three steps, nearly about to dive out of the doorway.  Tarrin realized that the man thought he was going to use magic on him!

      He nearly dropped it himself when the entire length of the old artifact suddenly erupted into brilliant flame.  He could feel its heat, but it did him no harm, and he could clearly hear the thing's unspoken voice in his ears.  It was urging him to strike, to trust in the power of the Staff, to raise it up and use it to smite his enemies.  It wanted him to use it, it wanted him to unleash its power.  But Dolanna had said that it could only work on Gods Day!

      It whispered to him, told him that it was capable of much more than just that, that he could use it to destroy those who threatened him.  All he had to do was wish it, and it would be so.  Its power would be his, all its power, and he could use it any way he wanted.  Power like the magic they said he once knew, power to vanquish these three thieves, power to kill them with ease.  It would be all his, and nobody else's.  All his, all its power, the power to protect himself, the power to defend...the power to rule, the power to conquer.  All its power would be his, the power that would make him a king.  All he had to do was wish it, and it would be his....

      Shaking his head, he realized that, free of its prison in the elsewhere, the Firestaff was trying to subvert him.  The offer of power was very tempting, but his talk with Jula made him understand where the road for those who craved power usually ended.  Its offer of power was a sincere one, but in the end he would end up being a slave to its will, and its will was only that it be used as it had been created to be used.  And that would get everyone he cared about killed.  It was a road that ended in a cliff.

      Struggling to fight the Firestaff's mental temptations, he gritted his teeth and tried to remember how to make it go back where he had it.  Will it, she said.  He had to will it.  Will it to go away, to be put in the elsewhere.  He had to do it quickly, because the Firestaff was assaulting him with images of godhood, of him being the most powerful being on Sennadar, where he could fix all the things that were wrong with the world and create something that he would consider to be perfect.  A world molded by his hands, a world shaped so that nobody was ever hungry or sick and everyone was happy.  It would be a perfect world, a wonderful world, and everyone would love him and sing praises to him and--

      "No!" he said with a gasp, nearly dropping the priceless artifact.  He looked at the two men in the doorway, and saw that their eyes were glazed in a strange way.  The Firestaff was tempting them too!  He realized that just in time to see looks of utter determination stamp on their features, and they raised their swords almost in unison.  The Firestaff had them, and they were going to come through that door and try to get it with no fear about getting injured!

      They started in, struggling to get through the door at the same time, and Tarrin jumped back.  He felt both relieved and very nervous when the taller one yanked a dagger out of his belt and stabbed the shorter one in the side, making him cry out and fold around the weapon.  But he didn't fall, he just kept trying to push through the door. If they were going to fight each other over who was going to get to the Firestaff first, that was fine by him.  It gave him a few more seconds to try to remember exactly what he did the last time he made it go, and he finally realized that he had to be holding it in one hand, his left hand.  His other staff was attached to his right, Dolanna said that things in the elsewhere were arranged around his body, and that no two objects could go there that would be occupying the same space.  He had to let go of the staff with his right hand, or it wouldn't disappear.  He did so quickly and willed the Firestaff to go back into the elsewhere, where its infernal whispering and temptations could not reach him.

      And just like that, it disappeared.

      He was startled by the sudden cry of pain from the doorway.  The shorter one, with the dagger still in his side, hunched over with a scream and fell into the room, clutching at the weapon in agony.  When Tarrin put the Firestaff away, its whispering ended, and the pain-numbing mindless desire it had put into the two men stopped.

      Now there was only one of them, and this time, Tarrin managed to call forth the right staff.  His Ironwood staff appeared in his right hand, and he quickly hefted it into the end-grip and used its greater reach to jam the end into the man's mail-covered chest before he could get his sword within reach and before he recovered from the mind-influencing power of the artifact.  A staff was a bludgeoning weapon, meant to deal damage with impact, and chain mail was not designed to absorb that kind of a blow.  It did offer the man some protection, but not enough to matter.  Tarrin's thrust hit him just at the base of the sternum, and the mail gave too much to prevent the man's breastbone from being broken.  It was a killing blow, designed to shatter the breastbone and make the bone shards cut into vital organs, or at the very least severly hamper a man's ability to breathe.  The strike didn't kill the man, but he doubled over and fell to his knees, his helmet sliding off his head, and blood absolutely poured out of his open mouth.  But Tarrin was not in the mood to take any chances, not against men who were using poisoned weapons.  He took up the staff in both hands and smashed it over the man's bare head, dropping him to the carpeted floor like a sack of meal.  That blow was fatal, causing some of his brains to seep out of his ears after he came to rest on the floor.  He didn't waste time standing over the man, he levelled his staff at the injured one who fell into the room, but he was already dead.  He had vomited after falling, and Tarrin realized that the dagger with which he'd been stabbed was also poisoned.  The eyes, wild and with the pupils so constricted that it looked like he had none, made it apparent that something other than a rather superficial stab wound to the side by a small dagger had killed him.  Tarrin prodded him with his staff just to make sure, then rolled him over and watched to make sure he wasn't breathing.  When he was satisfied the man was dead, he stepped out into the hallway and found the third one crumpled in the hall.  He too was dead, and after Tarrin rolled him over, he saw why.  When he fell into the other man, the man's sword had cut him on the upper arm, just under where his chain jack protected him, and the third had struck him in the other shoulder, which had penetrated his mail shirt and drawn blood.  He too had been poisoned, but Tarrin doubted he would have managed to live very long with a punctured lung.  If the poison hadn't have killed him, he would have drowned in his own blood.  And if he had managed to survive that, he would have been no match for Tarrin, being both poisoned and with a lung full of blood.

      Jenna had been right.  She said that they'd start coming into the Tower to get at him.  These three had snuck in pretending to be Tower guards, and Tarrin had had the misfortune of being caught alone and away from any help.  He knew that he'd better not let that happen again.  No matter how much it annoyed him, he knew that he'd have to have a companion or bodyguard with him from now on.  If only to have another set of eyes watching his back if nothing else.

      Jesmind and the Were-cats were going to have a conniption over this.  It was going to make them even harder to deal with, he was sure of it.  They'd insist he move in with them, that they be with him all the time, and all that rot.  He didn't want it before, and he didn't want it now.  He'd keep someone with him all the time, but it wasn't going to be one of them all the time.

      He realized that standing here was not a good idea.  There may be others, and he couldn't risk getting caught alone.  He'd gotten lucky this time, but he wasn't stupid enough to think that that luck was going to last.  Stepping over the bodies, his staff held confidently in his right hand, Tarrin hurried towards the stairs, fully intent to go down, back into the populated areas of the Tower, and then find someone that could get Jenna.  She had to know about this.


      It had gone generally as he had expected.  After getting downstairs, he found a Sorcerer and had her call ahead to Jenna, then demanded she accompany him to her office personally.  The short, rather plump woman looked a bit offended, but she could tell that Tarrin was very agitated, and the bloodstain on his staff probably told her that something very bad had just happened.  She took him to Jenna's office, and once he was there, he told Jenna what happened quickly and concisely.  Jenna was both worried for him and relieved he was alright, and then she got really mad.  She shouted for Duncan, then she gave an order to sweep the Tower using the Knights in a blistering tone, even ordering the Sorcerers to check every servant, visitor and Guard using Mind weaves for knowledge of the attack.

      Word of the attack raced through the Tower faster than he thought it would.  Within two minutes of him reaching Jenna's office, Sapphire came in through the door, glaring down an indignant Duncan and sweeping into the room.  She was wearing a very pretty blue dress with white lace around the neckline, but it was her dark expression that got Tarrin's attention.  Everyone handled Sapphire very, very carefully.  She was a dragon, and absolutely nobody that knew her wanted to upset in her in any way.  They were all afraid she'd knock down one of the Towers or something.  Tarrin hadn't seen her for a couple of days, and he figured she had to be busy.  She always made it a point to come visit him every day, if only to talk for a few minutes, but she'd been absent yesterday.

      "I heard what happened," she said.  "Are you alright, little friend?"

      "I'm alright," he assured her.  "Lucky for me that mother taught me how to handle an armed opponent.  I managed to get away without a scratch."

      "You said you could protect him, Keeper," Sapphire said in an accusing manner.

      "The men were wearing Tower guard uniforms," she said defensively.  "I have no idea how they managed to get them, but those would have let them onto the grounds."

      "They killed the former owners, of course," she sniffed.  "You should not go around alone, little one.  Not after this."

      "I realized that," he told her with a nod.  "I think I have enough friends to manage to keep company."

      "You have me," she said simply.  "I have little enough to do as it is, and I finally made contact with the last of my brood last night, so my attention isn't divided anymore.  I will stay with you."

      He was a little surprised by her declaration, and he was a little leery of having Sapphire accompany around everywhere he went.  He did like her, but it just bothered him for some reason.  Almost like it wasn't right for a dragon to be playing nursemaid for him.

      "I won't invade the privacy of your room, but any time you set foot from it, I will be with you.  And I'm sure that the Keeper will arrange to have your door guarded."

      "Guards, certainly, but only Knights.  Their loyalty is an absolute, especially since they see Tarrin as one of their own.  And I'm going to set a Ward," she answered.  "I'll set it so no one can pass through his door or window except him and his friends, and I'll set it to permit the Knights and the Were-cats to pass.  That way Tarrin and our circle can pass through his door without hindrance, and the Knights and Were-cats can enter his room in case they need to defend him."

      "A sensible precaution," she agreed.  "Just make the list of approved people very short."

      "It's only going to be about ten people," she said.  "Tarrin, Allia, Keritanima, Camara Tal, Miranda, Binter and Sisska, Dolanna and Dar, and Phandebrass.  Nobody else has any business coming into his room without an invitation."

      "What if I want someone not approved to come into my room?" he asked.

      "That kind of Ward will let someone pass through it if someone who is approved is touching them," she said.  "If you want to invite a guest into your room, you'll have to hold her hand while crossing the threshold."  Jenna looked at him with a very slight smile, and he realized that Ianelle must have told her about their talk.  Auli told Ianelle what they'd talked about, and Ianelle told Jenna.

      "Add me to your list," Sapphire said bluntly.

      "I didn't mention you because you're standing right here, Sapphire," Jenna said mildly.  "That you would have access to Tarrin's room was a given."

      "Very good then," she said in a soothed tone.

      "I'm very happy that you would want to be with Tarrin when he goes out, Sapphire," Jenna said.  "I'll feel completely at ease knowing that you're watching out for him."

      "He is clan to me," she said simply.  "Among us blues, clan is all."

      "He couldn't have a better guardian," she said in appreciation.

      "Naturally," she sniffed in reply.  She stepped back slightly, and to his surprise, her form seemed to shimmer like a heat mirage.  When it was over, a tiny replica of the huge dragon he'd seen was sitting on the floor where she'd been standing.  He recognized her immediately, realizing that this was the drake form in which she'd been trapped before the Weave had been restored.  A flap of her leathery wings put her up on his shoulder, and she settled sedately.  Her weight was very slight, and it was a very odd sensation to feel her tail slide back and forth across his back.  "If you and I are going to be together, I much prefer it this way," she said from his shoulder.  "I have very fond memories of my time in this form, and I'll be more able to watch out for you.  I lose my senses in human form.  In this form, I have them again."

      Tarrin reached up tentatively, and it conjured flashes of memory of her sitting on his shoulder just like that.  She nuzzled his fingers affectionately, and that suddenly made him feel completely at ease with the idea of her being with him.  She may be a formidable, mysterious dragon, but this reminded her that no matter who she was or how powerful she was, she was his friend first.  And all those other things didn't matter in the face of that.

      With Sapphire watching his back, he felt very, very safe.

To:       Title                EoF

Chapter 6


      It was very strange.

      He couldn't help but think about it as he returned to his room, with Sapphire riding comfortably on his shoulder, his fearsome little guardian that would ensure that absolutely nothing or no one threatened him again.  He had been involved in a fight for his very life, and there had been very little fear.  He'd never had to fight like that before, not when it mattered so much, or at least not that he could remember.  And yet there had been very little fear.  There had been worry over the poisoned weapons, a little desperation when he accidentally summoned the Firestaff by accident, and definite concern and awareness of the finality of losing the fight...but no real fear.

      In a way, it had felt...familiar.  They said he'd been quite a dangerous fighter, and he'd been in so many fights that it was probably second nature to him to fight like that.  But that Tarrin was lost for the moment, buried in the deepest tunnels of his mind, ensnared in the submerged alternate consciousness that had once been merged with his own.  Had that other him somehow emerged during the fight?  Or was it such an automatic response for him to fight by now that even with amnesia, he could respond to such a dangerous situation without fear paralyzing him?  He certainly felt some of that fear now.  The understanding that one scratch may have killed him certainly seemed more frightening to him now than it had during the heat of the moment.  The fighting had been nothing like what he had expected.

      And then there was the knowledge of the finality of it.  Three men had died in the course of the fight, and Tarrin had been directly responsible for two of them.  The third had died at the hands of one of his own companions, victim of the spell that the Firestaff had placed over them.  Tarrin's pinning move had killed one from the very poison meant for him, and the second was his direct responsibility.  He had killed the man ruthlessly, knowing that his poisoned weapon was a threat to him no matter how injured he was.  Tarrin had made a conscious choice to kill him.

      And there was no guilt.  Of course, all his friends would tell him he was crazy for thinking that he should feel guilty.  Those men had tried to kill him, and they had tried it with a tool so underhanded and cowardly that it would offend a man with honor.  Poisoning was considered the lowest form of cowardly backbiting among the Ungardt.  Any man not strong or brave enough to face an enemy like an Ungardt didn't deserve to own an axe.  But still, some part of him told him that he should feel something for what he had done.

      In reality he did, but it wasn't what he expected to feel.  He felt relieved.  He was relieved he had gotten away from them, relieved that he'd killed them.  If any of them had gotten away, they would try again.  And again, and again, and again, until they either died or got to him.  What he was carrying, men were going to willingly risk death to try to gain it.  If anything, now he perfectly and completely understood that one simple concept.  There were some things that some men were willing to die over, and the chance to become a god would certainly reach that level of devotion.  He doubted those men had acted on their own.  He was certain that someone sent them...but on the other hand, how could an organization trust men enough to send them to acquire an item that could give those very men the power to rule the world?  Either they didn't tell them just what it really was they were after, or they had to trust those men absolutely to bring the prize back.  One of them had called the Firestaff by its name, so he had the feeling that those three knew what it was.  They must have been very devoted to their organization to be willing to give away the power to be a god.

      If it had come to that.  The Firestaff had them in its spell, and he had the feeling that if they would have taken it from him, they wouldn't have been handing it over to anyone.  They would have killed each other over possession of it, and the winner, if there indeed was one given that all of them had poisoned weapons, would have run away with the prize.  The Firestaff's corrupting power over men would make it very difficult for one man to send another to retrieve it for him and expect him to return with it.  It made him see the deadly, destructive power of the artifact.  As long as it was present, no man could be trusted, and the one who possessed it couldn't even trust his own friends.  The Firestaff did not choose its owner, it called to all, seeking one who would take it up and use it in the way it had been created to be used.

      Should he feel guilty over killing two men and being responsible for the death of a third?  Should he have felt fear?  Serious questions, and he had the feeling that the answers to them were locked up with the missing memories in his mind.  He felt that fragments of his lost personality were starting to reassert themselves.  He had remembered in the carriage, remembered things forgotten.  Was it a stretch to think that in the heat of a fight, with such emotion surging through him with the adrenalin and the knowledge that it was a fight for his very life, that the part of him best suited for dealing with the situation would resurge within him?  It wouldn't have been the first time fragments of his old self made their presence known.  The Cat had literally attacked Koran Dar when his magic got too close to it.  Maybe the old Tarrin had been released from his prison inside him for a few brief moments and gave him the courage and experience and proper mindset he needed to get out of a very bad situation.

      Whether he liked that Tarrin or not, if that was the case, then he was very glad that he was still around.

      But maybe it wasn't all the forgotten Tarrin.  He'd been rather calm even after the fight.  He knew exactly what he had to do, and he did it.  Even after that, going to see Jenna, he didn't have a breakdown or go into histrionics.  Someone had just tried to kill him, and it was like it was just something that occupied the time between bathtime and breakfast.

      Well, maybe he wasn't quite that nanchalant.  There had been a little heart-pounding, that was for sure, but it came more or less after he was safe.  Almost like that was when he realized he had the time to let it out.

      The whole thing had disrupted his plans for the day, that was for sure.  He was back in his room, where they were waiting for Jenna to come and set the Ward.  There were already two Knights at his door, and what was more, pairs of Knights were stationed at every passage intersection and stairway landing on his room's floor and two floors up and two floors down.  If anyone even wanted to get within two floors of him, they'd have to get past a virtual gauntlet of fiercely protective Knights.  And they were fiercely protective.  They were standing outside his door in full armor and with their swords drawn, as if wasting the time to draw them would be too long a time to wait.  A servant needing to do work on Tarrin's floor had to explain himself and subject himself to search about ten times.  Nothing that even might be used as a weapon was being allowed to pass the Knights.  No brooms, no buckets, not even long-handled feather dusters.  Sapphire was in his room, sitting on his desk and looking at one of the porcelain figurines that had been given to him as a gift curiously.  It was a figurine of a small child kneeling with her little hands pressed together in prayer.

      "Not a single dragon," Sapphire sniffed in disapproval.  "If I knew you fancied trivial decorations, I would have sent you one."

      "Well, it's not that I fancy them," he said.  "But they were gifts.  Custom among my people is that if something is given to you as a gift, you have to use it or display it.  I'm really not that fond of some of these things, but they were given to me.  It's an insult to the good wishes of the giver for me to just put them in a box and stick them under the bed."

      "You take much stock in custom even now," she said.  "Before you lost your memory, you were much the same.  I see that some elements of your personality were yours before you were turned."

      He pointed to the little crystal bell she'd sent him.  "There's yours.  Right by the bed, where I could get my hands on it in a hurry if I needed to."

      "It pleases me that you took my gift seriously," she said with approving eyes.

      "I'm just now starting to appreciate how serious all this is."

      "I dare say you would," she said with an eerie reptillian grin.

      "I do really like that one, though," he said, pointing at the cat with the emerald eyes.

      "Who sent it?"

      "I forgot.  One of those people I can't really remember," he answered.

      "It is an excellent piece," she said, studying it.  "Refined and elegant, yet with an understated simplicity that makes it very bold."

      "I don't know about all that, I just like it," he told her in a simple manner.

      "You have no soul for art, Tarrin."

      "I guess not," he shrugged in agreement.

      There was a sudden commotion outside the door, as one of the Knights raised his voice for some reason.  There was a pause, and then the door was thrown open, and much to both his irritation and concern, Jesmind was standing in the doorway.  He could tell almost immediately that she was either upset or angry.  She wasn't alone; Triana was just behind her, and Mist was with her.

      "Are you alright?" she asked immediately, sweeping into the room so quickly that it surprised him, coming over and putting those large padded hands on him, checking him.

      "I'm alright," he said neutrally.  He couldn't be mad at her for being concerned, but what happened earlier hadn't changed his intention to lay down the law.  He reached up and put his hands on her forearms, and then gently pushed them away.

      That one move seemed to convey the entirety of his emotion to her.  She looked at him with surprise and just a little chagrin, and she stiffened.  "Listen, Tarrin," she said quickly.  "I'm sorry.  I know I--"

      "Sorry isn't going to fix it this time," he said in a steely tone.  "Look around you, Jesmind.  Looks a little different than the last time you were in here, doesn't it?" he accused.  "You had no right to destroy my room!" he shouted at her suddenly, and it made her take a step back.

      "Someone nearly kills you, and you want to fight about that?" Jesmind said in surprise.

      "People try to kill me all the time!" he said pugnaciously.  "I don't remember it, but I know it because you told me so!  Why shouldn't I be used to it by now?"

      He knew that sounded a little ludicrious, and Sapphire couldn't suppress a hissing giggle.  Jesmind wasn't laughing, though.  "I've had about enough of it, Jesmind," he told her bluntly.  "This is what's going to happen.  You're going to stop following me around.  You're going to make sure the other Were-cats don't follow me around in your stead, and you're going to give me the space I want.  You're going to leave me alone, because if you don't, I can guarantee you that you won't see me anymore.  I'll have you thrown out of the Tower."

      "You wouldn't dare!" she shouted, looming over him threateningly.

      It was an empty threat.  Tarrin knew that Jesmind would not hurt him, no matter how angry he made her.  Not in his weakened condition.

      "When my sister is the Keeper, I think I can easily manage that," he said cooly, with narrowing eyes.  "Just back off and leave me alone," he repeated.  "If I forgive you for what you did, I'll start visiting you again.  Until then, just leave me alone.  And you'd better leave Auli alone too," he added.  "If I hear of you harassing her, I'm going to be very mad."

      "I'm not letting that little tart get away with--"

      "With what?  Doing to me exactly what you did to me?" he said, flinging that matter back in her face.  "Me and Auli had a talk.  She's sorry she did it now, and she's promised to not do it again.  Auli is my friend, Jesmind.  I'm going to spend time with her, whether you like it or not.  So live with it."

      "What I did was different," she said, crossing her arms before her and glaring at him.  "You are mine, Tarrin.  I spent too much time protecting you and teaching you and helping you to give you away now.  If you think I'm going to just do what you say, you've got another thing coming.  I fight for what I want, and I want you."

      "If you don't give me what I need, you're guaranteeing you'll never get me," he shot back.  "That choice is mine to make.  Antagonizing me before I make it is a very bad way of influencing my decision.  Nothing's decided until I get back my memory.  Goddess, woman, can't you understand that?  Everything going on right now, none of it really matters!  So I slept with Auli.  Big deal!  If I love you as much as you say I do, do you really think that's going to matter once I can remember it again?  Given what I know of Were-cats, do you think I'll care about it when I get back my memory, since it'll be the memory of me as a Were-cat?  I'm going to make that choice, Jesmind.  You're not going to make it for me, but damn it all, you're doing a good job of making me make the choice you don't want me to make!"

      Jesmind growled in her throat, taking a step forward, but Mist interposed herself between the two of them.  With one hand on Jesmind's shoulder and one on his, she pushed them apart.  "I'm surprised with you, Jesmind," she said calmly.  "This is Tarrin we're talking about here.  If you can't trust him, how can you call him your mate?" she demanded.  She looked at him, a very calm, very rational look.  "And he's talking truth.  If I were him, I'd be really mad with you too.  I'd probably think you were the biggest bitch to ever walk the earth and never want to talk to you again.  Trees, woman, you tear up his room and try to kill his bedmate, and you think he's going to welcome you in here and offer you tea and cakes?"

      "Don't you start with me, Mist," Jesmind growled.

      "I'll start with you all I want," she said with a flinty look.  "You forget your place, girl."

      That certainly pressed some hidden button that should not have been pressed.  Jesmind hissed threateningly at Mist, putting her ears back and slapping the shorter Were-cat's hand off her shoulder.  Blood spattered with the arc of Jesmind's hand, and Tarrin realized she'd used her claws and raked Mist a good one while doing it.  If it hurt Mist, she didn't show it.  She just looked up at the taller Were-cat and raised a clawed hand, claws out and fingers flexed in a crooked manner that exaggerated those wicked claws.

      "Children," Sapphire said in a strong yet measured voice, flapping over and landing on Tarrin's shoulder, "if you start fighting in here, you're going to answer to me.  Do you understand me?"

      Tarrin doubted anything could have made those two seperate faster than that.  Mist and Jesmind glared at each other, but didn't make any hostile moves towards each other.  That they may actually fight surprised him, but it also fell into what he'd been told about their kind.  "All that goes for you too, Mist," Tarrin said firmly.  "I don't want you picking up where she leaves off."  He pointed at Jesmind.

      "That's not a problem, Tarrin," she said calmly.  "Unlike Jesmind, I understand the situation.  I won't pressure you one way or another."

      "I understand the situation better than you!" she shouted.  "We may lose him, Mist!  Do you really want that?"

      "I'd rather lose him as a mate over losing him forever," she said cooly.  "If we make him become a Were-cat again, do you think he'll ever forgive us, even if that would have been the choice he made?  He'd never talk to any of us again, and where would that leave us?  He'd be Were once more, but he'd be worse than feral.  He'd never have anything to do with any of us ever again.  He'd be totally alone.  Is that what you want for him?  Are you so set on keeping him that you'd drive him away just to prove your point?  Are you willing to destroy his life, Jesmind?  If so, then keep right on doing what you're doing."

      Jesmind gave Triana a helpless, pleading look, but she was rebuffed.  "Don't look to me, daughter.  I've been trying to drive that through your thick skull for days now.  I want him back just as badly as you, but not at the risk of him washing his paws of us."

      "None of you understand!" she shouted, then she looked at Tarrin.  "You are mine, Tarrin!  I won't ever give you up!  Never, do you hear me?"

      "I belong to no one!" Tarrin screamed at her, dislodging Sapphire as he stepped quickly towards her.  "I'm not the person you remember!  Can't you understand that?  I'm sorry if it hurts you, but it's the truth!"

      "Oh yes you do belong to me," she said in a cold hissing voice, narrowing her eyes.  "When you get your memory back, you'll understand just how much you belong to me."

      "If that's what you believe, why won't you leave me alone?" he demanded.  "Do you really believe that, or is that just what you want me to believe?  If I was this devoted to you, why are you so dead set on making up my mind for me?  Don't you trust me, Jesmind?"

      It hung there for a very long moment, then she hissed.  "No!" she snapped.  "I leave you because I'm pregnant, and you end up with Mist.  I send you off with Kimmie, and you impregnate her!" she screamed lividly.  "And now you're chasing that Sha'Kar tramp!  How can I trust you when you've proven you'll chase any girl who shakes her breasts in your face!"

      Tarrin wasn't the only one surprised by that declaration.  Triana gave her daughter a startled look, and Mist looked both shocked and rather angry.  One of those accusations was levelled right at her, and Jesmind probably didn't realize that she'd just indirectly accused Mist of being a flipskirt.

      "I can see now that jealousy is not going to give you a clear view," Triana said in a grim tone.  "I never expected this out of you, daughter."

      "You mean all that talk of sharing Tarrin meant nothing to you?" Mist asked dangerously.

      "Of course it did, but this isn't the same thing!" Jesmind said defensively.

      "Well, let's just look at that a minute," Tarrin said hotly, getting so mad he really didn't realize what he was saying.  "You never told me you were pregnant, if you recall, and I don't remember you ever saying much about me being yours.  You never really said much to me at all!  Just a couple of seductions, and most of the rest of the time you left me so confused about you I never knew what to think!  I hardly call that a declaration, and I hardly think that means that I was ever yours back then," he said in a belligerent tone.  "Why shouldn't I have taken Mist for mate?  She needed me more than you ever will!  And let's just look at Kimmie a minute," he said in a hiss.  "You knew how Kimmie felt, and you knew that she would act on those feelings!  Should that have shocked you?  You allowed me to go with her, and you knew what was going to happen!  So don't put that back on me!  I--"

      Whatever he was about to say, it was suddenly lost in one of the most intense dizzy spells he had ever experienced.  The entire room seemed to swirl around him, and his head began to pound with remarkable pain.  He grabbed his head and bowed under, swaying as he tried to stay on his feet, then he dropped unceremoniously on his rump, so hard that it made him bite his tongue.  His brain felt like it had turned to liquid, and it was sloshing around inside his skull.  And every time it piled up against the inside of his head it made a throb of considerable pain lash out from behind his eyes and roll right down his body.

      He was dimly aware of large, strong hands on him, and when they touched him the pain eased greatly.  He was a little dazed and somewhat confused, and he had almost no inkling of what had just happened.  He looked up and saw Triana, and the only thing he could manage to think was to wonder when she had come into his room.  Mist and Jesmind were there too, both of them kneeling by him with concerned looks, and he couldn't remember them coming in.  He guessed it was a good thing Jesmind was there...he had to set her straight.  It needed to be done, and--

      --no, wait.  He'd been doing that.  His brain slowly started to untangle itself, and he remembered shouting at her, and her and Mist nearly getting into a fight.  The memory of most of it came back to him, but whatever he'd been saying right before he got dizzy was still lost in the haze.  The room was still spinning around like a top, and it was only the Were-cats holding him that kept him from flopping back on the floor.

      "What's wrong with him?" Jesmind said in intense concern, looking at Triana.  "Is he sick?  Should we take him to Jenna?"

      "I think a little too much memory came back all at once, that's all," Triana said.  "They tried restoring his memory before, but about all it did was what you just saw.  Sometimes he remembers tiny bits and pieces of things, and whenever he does, it gives him a headache.  I guess this time he remembered too much at once, and it nearly made him pass out."  She patted his shoulder with her huge hand.  "Just give him a few minutes, and he should be well enough to look straight."

      He could certainly accept Triana's explanation.  He did sometimes recall little things, and it gave him a good headache.  He had no idea what he'd rememebered, but it must have been big, because he thought his head was going to explode.  During that acute attack, if he'd had a sword in his hand, he would have happily lopped off his own head if only to make it stop hurting.

      "I think we'd best not work him up," Triana said sternly.  "I think when he got angry, it triggered that, and I don't think I want him to experience too many of those.  They may do damage to his mind."

      "What do we do?" Jesmind asked.

      "We leave him alone," she said bluntly.  "And I'd better not catch you arguing with him, daughter," she said flintily.  "He doesn't need that kind of excitement right now."

      That did not sit well with Jesmind, he could see.  There was a distinct hardness in her eyes when she looked at him, almost as if what he'd said to her before he got dizzy had antagonized her, and now she was robbed of the opportunity to reply.  He still couldn't remember what he was saying before he got dizzy, but from the look on Jesmind's face, it probably hadn't been very friendly.

      "I think you three have done enough damage," Sapphire said from the bed table.  "Put him in bed and leave."

      "I think that's a good idea," Triana agreed.  "Tarrin, you lay down a while.  Don't get up until Sapphire tells you that it's alright.  You need to rest.  I'll tell Jenna about this, and she can send one of those Sorcerers down here to make sure that you didn't suffer any kind of mental damage."

      "That would be prudent," Sapphire agreed.

      Three pairs of powerful hands picked him up, but with the utmost gentleness.  He still felt a little dazed, and his head was still spinning, but he could think rationally again.  They set him in bed, and he obediently laid back and put his head on the pillow.  That helped his dizzyness quite a bit, and the room went from spinning wildly to only feeling like it was slowly rotating around an axis just underneath the small of his back.  The strange confusion he'd felt after the attack eased, and much of the memory of his confrontation with Jesmind returned to him, but he still could not remember what he'd said just before he fell over.  He guessed that since it had been gleaned from the forgotten memory, he forgot it when the memory fled from him.

      "Just lay back and try to rest.  I'll have Jenna send someone to check on you," Triana said in a reassuring voice, brushing the hair back from his forehead gently.  She had to be angry with him, but he saw that she still considered him one of her children.  Triana didn't show such softness to anyone that wasn't her child.  "Will you remain with him, dragon?"

      "I will care for him as long as is needed," she said simply.

      Triana nodded, knowing that her child was in good hands.  "Alright, let's get you two out of here before he gets angry again," she told Jesmind and Mist.  "I'll be back a little later to check on you cub."

      "Alright," he said in a disjointed manner, feeling the room stop spinning horizontally and start spinning vertically.  He grabbed the bed as it seemed to stand on end, and he was afraid that he was about to slide out of it.

      They left him after that, and in a way, he was relieved.  He really wasn't sure if he was done fighting with Jesmind, mainly because he couldn't remember what he'd said to her.  In any event, their argument was on hold for now, and he doubted that Triana was going to let it degenerate to that level again.  If he suffered these large flashbacks and the ensuing major attack that accompanied them when he got angry, then Triana wouldn't let him get angry.

      If anything, he'd know in a while.


      Jenna had sent Koran Dar not ten minutes after Triana hustled the other two Were-cats out the door.  He knew so because he'd watched the clock hanging on his wall.  His dizziness eased considerably over those ten minutes, enough to where he didn't have to hold onto the bed, but it got worse whenever he tried to sit up.  Sapphire discouraged him from trying that by sitting on his chest.  Her slight weight couldn't possibly hold him down, but when she stared at him with those reptilian eyes and told him not to get up, he couldn't really do much other than obey her.

      Sapphire filled him in on what he said to Jesmind, what he couldn't remember, and he almost whistled.  He had no idea any of that had happened, but he'd sounded plenty mad.  Jesmind had accused him of being unfaithful, when in one case he never knew he was taken, and in the other she'd all but handed him to her competitor.  It let him understand her seething hatred of Auli a little better.  She thought that he was going to fall in love with her too, like he had with Kimmie, and if that happened, he wouldn't want to be a Were-cat again.  She wasn't about to take his word for it, either.  She obviously felt that him giving his word wasn't enough.  He had the feeling that he may have made some kind of promise to her over Kimmie, one that he hadn't kept.  A promise not to touch her or something, he wasn't sure.  He couldn't remember anything about that.

      Sometimes it was beyond frustrating.  He knew that the answer was there, but he just couldn't remember what he needed to remember to find it.  Having amnesia was at times a little interesting, since everything seemed new to him, but most of the time it was just a royal pain.  People said things to him that he knew had to have some deeper meaning, but he'd lost the knowledge that would let him see it.  Most of them didn't quite know how to treat him, and most of the things they talked about were beyond him.  He knew that was why Keritanima and Allia hadn't been coming to see him quite as often as they had before.  But then again, Kerri was married--and Teleporting back and forth between the Tower and Wikuna--and Allia had her own boyfriend.  He couldn't begrudge either of them the chance to enjoy their own domestic lives, but a part of him felt that since they just didn't know or understand him as he was now, they weren't quite as willing to spend time with him.  He wasn't really mad at them for it.  Then again, he really didn't know either of them very well.  He had to take it on faith that Allia was the closest friend he had and ever would have, and Keritanima was just as close to him as any other member of his family.

      At least Allia made an effort to visit him every day.  Even if was for just a few minutes, and often in the company of that Sha'Kar boyfriend of hers, Allyn, she would always stop by and have a chat, or they would go eat.  Keritanima was much more sporadic, than that.

      He couldn't really blame them.  He knew they worried about him, but he was a stranger to them now.  He was probably alot stranger to them than they ever imagined.  From what he'd heard, he was very much different from the Tarrin they knew.  He knew it had to be hard on them to come and talk to him and try to be upbeat and positive, when the radical alterations in both mind and body were so apparent, so blaringly obvious to them.  He himself, to his own chiding, didn't miss their company as much as he knew he should have.  He was a stranger to them, but they were also strangers to him.  They called themselves his friend, but their friendship was virtually one-sided.  Oh, he liked them, but he just didn't know them well enough to feel for them the same way they felt for him.  About the only exceptions to that were Dolanna and Dar.  He trusted Dolanna a great deal and he both liked and respected her, and he'd managed to learn that that was exactly how the Were-cat Tarrin felt about her too.  That Tarrin, who dominated everyone around him, bowed to Dolanna in almost all things because of the towering respect he had for the diminutive Sorceress.  Dar was also someone he very much called friend, but probably for different reasons.  The Were-cat Tarrin probably had never seen Dar as a boy around his own age, someone that would understand the things he said in ways that most of the others never could.  Dar understood becuase he could see it from a much more personal perspective.

      There were also new friends.  Koran Dar, he decided, was one of them.  Tarrin rather liked the tall, dark-haired Amazon man, and he allowed him to do his magical examination without raising any fuss after he arrived.  He answered all his questions as well as he could, and tried to relax when he felt that magic spell go into his mind and look around.  He could only remember what happened last time Koran Dar snooped around his mind, when the Cat had attacked him.  He didn't want that to happen again, and from the feel of it, neither did he.  He was very careful this time not to wander into the deeper parts of Tarrin's mind, only checking around near the surface and looking for any signs that the attack had done him lasting harm.

      "Well, that's that," he said with a nod.  "Nothing's broken.  The dizziness and disorientation you're feeling will fade after a while.  Until then, stay in bed, see if you can take a short nap, and it would be a good idea for you to try to get some food down.  I'll have the kitchens send you up something."

      "Thanks," Tarrin said as the Amazon man rose from the side of his bed and started towards the door.  "Koran Dar," he called.

      "What is it?"

      "I'm confused about something."

      Koran Dar stopped in midstride, turned around, and sat back down on the bed.  "What's troubling you?"

      "It's nothing really serious," he said.  "When I got all those gifts, Camara Tal gave me something," he said, pointing to the little steel charm sitting on the bedtable.  "She said in her note that she'd been carrying it around for years, and she called it a hope charm.  I don't really understand what she was trying to say, but I know there's more to it than that.  What does it mean?"

      Koran Dar picked up the little steel trinket, turned it over in his hands a few times, then chuckled softly.  "She was carrying this because of me," he said in a distant tone.  "I guess it's another indication of just how she feels about me.  A hope charm is something an Amazon carries when they have a unfulfilled dream or wish," he explained.  "It's said that if you carry it long enough and prove your devotion to Neme, she'll grant your wish.  I guess this proves that old story," he chuckled again.

      "What, you reconciled with her?" he asked.

      Koran Dar nodded.  "After all this business with the Firestaff is over, I'll be going back to Amazar for a year," he answered.  "After that, I'll be resuming my duties here in the Tower.  The Sha'Kar already agreed to ferry me back and forth until I can do for myself."

      "That was nice of them."

      "Jenna made them agree," Koran Dar laughed.  "She may be young, but that's one steely little girl sometimes.  She's definitely your sister."

      "I guess that's a complement," he said uncertainly.

      Koran Dar laughed heartily.  "Yes, it is.  It's funny that she gave this to you.  You're the reason she's not carrying it anymore."

      "Me?  Why me?"

      "Because sometimes, Tarrin, the best advice can come from the most unexpected sources," he replied with a smile.  "Your reasoning made me think about things.  I love Camara very much, but before now, she was never willing to concede anything to me, because of her pride and her social standing in Amazon society.  I guess I was never willing to concede anything to her either, because I've always been very indignant about how I'm treated in our society.  We were both too stubborn to give a finger, and it cost us years of potential happiness," he sighed.  "But then you come along and revealed to me just how she felt about me, and how much she wanted me back.  It made me realize just how much I wanted that very thing.  We got together a few days ago and put everything on the table.  She made some concessions, I made some concessions, and we realized that we've wasted fifteen years on petty bickering and foolish pride.  If we'd been honest with each other and done this fifteen years ago, we could have been very happy."

      "I'm glad to hear that, Koran Dar," he said.

      "I guess I shouldn't let you call me that," he chuckled.  "At least don't do it when Camara's around.  My married name is Koran Tal."

      "You take her name?"

      "Women are dominant in Amazar," he reminded him.  "In our society, the man takes the woman's family name."

      "Huh," Tarrin mused, mulling it over.  "Well, I'm happy things worked out for you, Koran--uh, Koran Tal."

      "Thank you," Koran Tal said with a smile.  "Now then, let me go get that dragon back in here and arrange for a meal to be sent up here.  Remember, stay in bed for a while, no excitement, and if you can, see if you can take a short nap.  A little sleep will speed along your recovery."

      "I will," he said, accepting the hope charm from the Amazon man and holding a moment.  "I think I'm going to carry this with me.  Maybe it will help me out."

      "What wish would you put on the hope charm, Tarrin?" he asked.  "It won't do anything unless you do."

      "That's easy, Koran Tal.  I wish that everything works out alright.  That nothing bad happens because of the Firestaff, and after all this is over, we can all go home and live happily ever after."

      "That, my young friend, is the best wish I've ever heard," he said seriously, reaching over and putting his hand on Tarrin's shoulder.  "I'll pray to the Goddess for that, Tarrin."

      "Me too," he said, then he yawned.  "I don't think me taking a nap is going to be a problem.  I do feel a little sleepy."

      "Then lay back and rest, and try to get a little sleep.  But not too much," he warned.  "I'll tell Sapphire to wake you when the food arrives.  After you eat, then you can sleep as long as you want."

      "Alright," he said.  "Thanks."

      "It's nothing," he said with a smile.  "I'll see you later."

      Tarrin watched him leave, then felt the bed tilt in a new way, now rolling over and over like an alligator rolling food to death.  It was starting to get strangely entertaining to have the bed feeling like it was spinning, almost like he was flying.  He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, letting the spinning of the bed act almost like the rocking of a cradle.


      Tarrin's breakfast with Auli was more or less cancelled by his confrontation with the Were-cats, but he did manage to meet her for lunch.  After a nap, a meal, and another short nap, he had awoken free of the dizziness and mild disorientation that had restricted him to bed.  By noon, he felt right as rain and ready to get up, and after Sapphire made him walk a straight line up and down five times, she allowed him to get up and go about.

      It was a meal both of quiet relaxation and subdued tensions.  Tarrin liked Auli a great deal, but it was a little strange to be there and talk with her with Sapphire hovering over him.  He knew that there was no way around that, but he was pretty sure that she'd be discreet if she happened to overhear anything that was private.  Auli completely understood why he wasn't there for breakfast, and just laughed and told him better late than never.  They took their plates outside and ate in the summer sun in the gardens, where the magic kept the air pleasantly cool and the sun was delightfully warm.  Tarrin and Auli weren't the only ones out enjoying the perfect cloudless day, as many Sorcerers also sat with plates or books in their laps, doing their eating or their studying out in the beautiful day.   Beautiful days weren't very common in Suld, for the summer days tended to be cloudy, and rain wasn't uncommon during at least some part of the day.  At least usually.  That summer and the one before had been unusually dry, not quite a drought, but rather a dry stretch that had gone on for two years.  The rains weren't as heavy or plentiful as usual, and the winter snows hadn't piled up even half as much as was normal, even though it was more than cold enough to keep it on the ground.

      Tarrin always enjoyed spending time with Auli, and she didn't disappoint him.  He just listened to her prattle on about this or that, complaining about the punishment her mother had given her for what she'd done, complaining about how boring it was in the Tower, and then suppressing laughter when she mused aloud about the things she could do to liven up the place a little.  She behaved herself immaculately, not even putting a hand on him in passing.  She kept him entertained and happily distracted all through lunch.

      That was the enjoyable part.  There had been a little discomfort for him at first, since she was who she was.  All he could remember at first was that night, and he wasn't sure if he should treat her any differently than he had.  She solved that by treating him the same way as always, so he tried to do the same with her.  The desire for her was still there, it had not gone away, but he found after spending some time with her that it was easy to control.

      The meal went along fine until his hunter's senses warned him that he was being watched.  He didn't look around, but he realized that one of the Were-cats was watching him, and from the burning sensation on his neck, he was pretty sure that it was Jesmind.  He didn't do anything about it, but he was a little distracted from then on as he tried to figure out where she was without giving away the fact that he knew she was there.  He knew that was going to be very hard, because he'd come to find out that if a Were-cat didn't want to be seen, they usually weren't seen.  They were masters of stealth, just like the cats of which they were part, and there was really no way to find her unless he made a show of it.  Furtive scans of the area produced nothing, and that was about the most that he could do.  So he kept one eye on the area around him and his ears attuned to Auli's chatter, making sure that the Were-cat didn't jump out and attack the Sha'Kar.

      Things did get very tense when two of the Were-cats showed up in the gardens.  It was Mist and Jula, and to his surprise, they was herding along two Were-cat children.  One of them was Jasana, but the other, he realized, had to be Eron, his son.  Tarrin had never seen him before, and he was amazed at how much he looked like a little version of himself.  He had the same hair, the same face, and the same lanky frame that Tarrin had, but he had black fur on his arms and feet and little cat ears poking out from his wild, unkempt blond hair.  He was chasing after Jasana, who was taunting him over her shoulder as she skipped along, while Eron tried his best to chase her down without tripping over his own big feet.  Eron looked to be about two, maybe three, and though he was much more agile and physically developed than a human toddler, his ungainly movements showed that he was still rather clumsy, still mastering the nuances of moving himself around.

      They saw him and Auli and immediately changed course to come over.  Sapphire flapped her wings a few times on his shoulder and reset herself, as if to vault off his shoulder and intercede, but they weren't running and they didn't look belligerent.  Tarrin was a bit tense, and Auli looked decidedly nervous as the two intimidating figures approached them at a leisurely pace.

      "I didn't think you'd be out here," Mist told him.  "Are you feeling better?"

      "Yes, thank you," he said politely, unable to keep his eyes off the Were-cat boy long.  "Is that--"

      "Yes, that's your son, Tarrin," she said with a smile.  "Eron!" she barked.

      The boy gave off chasing Jasana immediately, but the girl passed him by when she saw her father.  Sapphire evacuated his shoulder to the safety of the back of the bench as the two Were-cat children approached, as if knowing that she was about to get spilled when he bent over to pick them up.  They both raced over to him, and Jasana jumped up into his lap and hugged him exuberantly.  "Father, you're here!" she exclaimed happily, just as Eron reached Mist.  He stopped short and hid behind her leg, looking up at Tarrin in surprise, and then gaping at Auli.

      "Go ahead, Eron," she said, pushing him out from behind her with her large hands.  "Go say hello."

      The boy sidled up to him warily, then put his little hands on Tarrin's leg and looked up at him.  "Are you my papa?" he asked in a slightly indistinct voice, as if not entirely sure of the pronunciation of the words he was using.

      "Of course this is papa, lunkhead," Jasana said snippishly.

      "Be nice!" Jula snapped in reprimand.

      "Papa!" Eron said, then he climbed up Tarrin's leg using his claws.  It was not a pleasant experience.  Tarrin reached down and picked him up and held him as Jasana sat in his lap, looking into the child's intensely green eyes.  So this was his son.  He looked so much like him!  He wasn't sure what he was supposed to feel, holding onto his son that way, but he did know that the first bonds of love were forming for him.  Though he didn't know him at all, though he'd never seen him before, it really didn't matter.  All that really mattered was that this was his son, named after his grandfather.  Eron was his child, and he was beautiful.

      "Hello Eron," Tarrin said calmly, holding onto him.

      "Mama said you were sick.  Is this what happens when we get sick?"

      "It's a very rare illness," Tarrin said with a smile.  "I don't think you'll ever get it."

      "Nuts.  I think you look neat like that."

      Tarrin looked at Mist, who only laughed.  He was surprised that he could form such complete sentences, and he was supposedly only a little over a year old.  He guessed the Were-cats really did grow up fast, both in body and mind.

      "What's it like to not have fur?"

      "Just touch your tummy and you'll know," Tarrin winked.  That wink turned into a wince when Eron's claws dug into his hip.  "Not so hard, Eron," he chided gently.  "I'm not as strong as your mother."

      "Careful, cub," Mist warned.  "Remember what I told you.  Your father's sick, so you can't treat him the way you do me.  You have to be gentle."

      "Alright, Mama," he answered with a nod.  "Who's this?  Is the the mean lady Aunt Jesmind wants to kill?"

      "I'm not a mean lady!" Auli said indignantly.

      "She's a friend of mine, and your Aunt Jesmind has the wrong idea about her," Tarrin said mildly.

      "Mama said you're trying to steal Papa," Jasana accused.

      "What would I do with him, child?" Auli said with an outrageous grin.  "I don't want to marry him, so what would I do with him except keep him as a pet?  He's too big, I think he'd tear up the furniture, and I'm not entirely sure he's housebroken.  He's really not worth stealing, if you ask me.  Too much trouble, he doesn't know any tricks, and he eats too much.  If I want to steal something, I'll steal a dog or a cat."

      Jasana looked at her, and then a helpless giggle escaped her.  Jesmind may hate Auli, but Tarrin saw that Jasana's opinions of her weren't quite so set in stone.

      Tarrin put them both down after that, when Eron started to fidget too much, and he watched them play in silence for a long moment.  He could see almost immediately that Eron was very much different from Jasana.  Jasana was a sedate child, happy to sit and read books or play with her toys, where Eron absolutely could not stop moving.  He had to run everywhere he went, and he had alot of trouble sitting still for very long.  He understood just how hard it was for him when he came back over and climbed into Tarrin's lap as Jasana chased one of the many butterflies in the gardens, chattering on and on and on at such a high rate of speed that Tarrin could barely understand him.  He talked about his cabin and the trip to Suld and seeing Triana and being with Jasana again and how big his bed was here in the Tower and how big and scary the Knights looked and how everyone was so nice to him despite what his mother said about humans and how good the food was.  Tarrin could barely put in a word edgewise, and eventually just gave up and let him ramble on until he ran out of patience with sitting down, then set him down and let him go chase Jasana again.

      "He's talkative," Auli noted.

      "He can't sit still a minute," Mist sighed.  "It's a phase or something.  He's been driving me crazy for almost a month now with it."

      "I'm surprised he can talk so well," Tarrin told her.

      "He's about where he should be," she answered.

      Tarrin looked at Jula, and realized that she was being unusually quiet.  She hadn't even said a word yet.  He looked to her and then to Mist, and realized that Jula was almost terrified of the short, stocky Were-cat.  She was doing a good job hiding it, but Jula tensed up every time Mist so much as moved.  "How are you, Jula?" he asked casually.

      "I'm fine," she said in a slightly strained voice.  "I'm just watching Jasana for a while, that's all."

      "Have you two known each other long?"

      "Just a couple of days," Mist said, glancing at the blond Were-cat.  "I haven't made up my mind about her yet."

      Tarrin was pretty sure that there were any number of subtle levels present in that one statement.  It certainly put Jula in a submissive mood, he could tell.  She wasn't about to challenge Mist over anything.  Then again, they said that Mist was the one that caught Jesmind.  She had to be a pretty formidable Were-cat to be able to do that.  She wasn't as big as any other Were-cat he'd seen, but Tarrin knew personally that size wasn't everything.

      "I have to get back to my classes, Tarrin," Auli announced.  "I'll see you tonight?"

      "After dinner," he affirmed.

      "Don't forget Dar," she reminded.

      "I won't."

      She smiled at him, patted him on the shoulder, then got up and gave the two Were-cats a sidelong glance.  Then she saunted back towards the main Tower.

      "What are you two going to do?" Mist asked.

      "Three," Tarrin corrected.  "Me and Dar and Auli are going to go out walking for a while.  That's usually a precursor to her getting us in trouble," he chuckled ruefully.  "Of course, we think it's great fun while we're doing it, at least until we get caught.  Auli's a very wild-natured girl."

      "So I've heard," Mist said flintily.

      "Don't let Jesmind poison you, Mist," Tarrin said.  "If you knew Auli at all, you'd understand why she did what she did.  It's not out of her nature.  But now she understands how much trouble she got me into, and that's one thing she really regrets.  We're not going to fool around again, but we're also not going to stop being friends."

      "I don't think you tried very hard to get away," she noted.

      "I did try, but after she cornered me, I gave up," he admitted.  "And by then I didn't want to try anymore.  I'm not dead, Mist.  Just look at her.  Auli is beautiful."

      Mist actually laughed.  "She is that," she agreed.  "Not much else, but she is beautiful."

      "I'm surprised you're not as angry as Jesmind," he told her.

      "I'm not as foolish as she is," Mist snorted.  "Unlike her, I trust you, Tarrin.  I know that when you get your memory back, you'll choose to be with us again.  I have faith in you, because I know you, and I'm not going to let my jealousy rule me as it is with Jesmind."

      "You know me that well?"

      "Tarrin, anyone that knows you at all knows what you'll do if you get your memory back," she said confidently.  "Some of them don't like it, because they want to see you stay human, but they know which path you'll take.  That's why I'm not going crazy like Jesmind.  That's why Kimmie isn't either.  She's busy helping that crazy Wizard with that magic to restore your memory, and it's why she has the patience and concentration to be able to help him.  She knows, just like I know.  If Jesmind wasn't thinking with something other than her brain, she'd know too.  And she'd know how silly she's being."

      "I really don't know what I'm going to do, Mist," he admitted.

      "You can't, not until you get your memory back," she told him calmly.  "So what difference does any of this really make?  Until they finish their magic, all any of us can do is wait."  She looked at him.  "And if you want to live a little like this, do some of those things humans do that you can't do anymore, have a little harmless fun, even do a little mattress hopping with wanton Sha'Kar, why should I care?  It won't change things.  When you get your memory back, who you were will be all you need to make your decision.  I believe that with all my heart."

      Tarrin was a little surprised by the vehemence in her voice and in her words.  She really did believe what she was saying.  She really thought that once he got his memory back, those memories would have him choose to be a Were-cat again no matter what happened to him as a human.  He knew he couldn't make an honest, thorough decision until he got back his memory, but he was a little dismayed that those memories may take away his ability to choose.  He remembered what that Goddess lady had said, that once he got his memory back he'd want to change back again.  That he'd feel unnatural the way he was now.  Was that really true?  Would regaining his memory really make him not want to make a true choice between his old life and his new one?

      That was an irrational thought, and he knew it.  He couldn't decide which life was the better one until he could remember them both.  If he'd choose to be a Were-cat with his former memory, didn't that mean that despite the strife and ordeals he had suffered, he had found true happiness in that life?  Wouldn't that be enough of a reason to change back?  After all, he had children and something approaching wives in that other life.  Wouldn't returning to them make him very happy indeed?

      Probably, but not until he really got Jesmind for her behavior.  He was tempted to tell her he was staying human just to rub her nose in it a little bit.  He still intended to keep an open mind about that future decision, but he did feel a little better about whichever choice he made.  He could choose either of them and have a very good chance to be happy.  Either as a Were-cat or as a human, he could continue on after that choice and probably have no regrets, because he knew he'd be happy with the choice he made.  No matter which path he chose.

      So, if he couldn't lose no matter which way he decided to go, why worry so much about it?  He should approach it like Mist said, just enjoy the time he had as a human and leave the heavy thinking for later, when he had all he needed to make that decision.

      "I'm glad someone told me that, Mist," he said with a grateful look, standing up.  "I think I will go enjoy myself.  And the first thing I'm going to do is go over there and play with my children."

      "I think they'd be happy to have you.  Just watch out, Eron likes to claw when things get rough."

      "I'll keep that in mind," he said.  "If you'll excuse me."

      "Go right ahead," Mist said with a smile, stepping aside to let him pass.  The two Were-cats sat down on the bench he and Auli had been occupying, and Tarrin did just what he said.  He went over and played with his children.  He did so for hours, playing games, chasing them, talking with them, and just spending quality time with them.  He came to know Eron very well, and found him to be a rather hyper boy, but also possessed of a sharp mind and an almost unnatural awareness of things.  He also had a good memory, allowing him to remember those tiny things that he noticed that others did not.  Him and Jasana were very close, siblings by more than blood, and they complemented each other well.  He was very proud to have such talented and capable children as them.  Just as he had with Jasana, Tarrin formed an immediate bond with Eron, finding the kind of love that only a parent could have for a child in his heart.  No matter what, Eron was his son, and he would love him.  Be him human or Were-cat, with him or away from him, dead or alive, it was an eternal bond that could never be broken.  Tarrin realized that Eron was much different from Jasana in that he didn't show Jasana's devotion to him.  He was sure that Eron liked him, liked being with him, but it was more like he was a friend of the family than his father.  Mist was all the family that Eron had ever known, perhaps that was why he acted like that.  He knew that Were-cats were alot different from humans, and their children were also much different.  Was Eron's behavior part of that?  Tarrin suspected that it was.  It didn't make Tarrin love him any less, though.

      After the two children had thoroughly worn him out, he lay with them in the lush grass off one of the gravel paths, looking up at the few clouds that were drifting in the afternoon sky.  A glance showed him that both Were-cat females and Sapphire were still sitting on the bench, and to his surprise, Sapphire was talking with them.  Then again, why should it be a surprise?  Sapphire was a dragon, a mighty and powerful creature, but she also liked to talk with people smart enough to keep up with her.  He felt that both Mist and Jula qualified.  Sapphire didn't stay very long after that, saying something to the two of them and flappping off.  Sapphire obviously felt secure leaving Tarrin in their company, and he didn't really expect her to compeletely suspend her own life to shepard him aorund.

      "That one looks like a bunny," Eron bubbled, pointing into the sky with his little clawed finger.  Tarrin was truly surprised that Eron had managed to sit still for nearly ten minutes, as they looked up into the sky.  Perhaps after all that running, even Eron needed to stop and rest a little bit.

      "What are clouds made of, papa?" Jasana asked.

      "Clouds are just fog way up in the sky," he told her.

      "How do you know?" Eron asked.

      "Your grandfather told me," he said.  "He went to the Skydancer Mountains once, and he told me that the clouds are low enough that the peaks of the mountains are inside them.  He climbed up one of them and found out that clouds are really just fog that doesn't burn off with the daytime sun."

      "You mean if we were really far away, fog would look like a cloud?" Eron asked.

      "I suppose it would," Tarrin agreed, impressed anew with his son's keen observational ability.

      "Have you ever been to the mountains?" Eron asked.

      "No.  But there was this one time," he said distantly, staring up at the sky.  "I, I remember...climbing up the side of a huge rock wall, so high that it climbed into the clouds."  He blinked, and then winced as a shock of pain hammered in his head.  That had to be another memory.  This one came with images, a dark stone face, seeing black-furred hands, huge hands, digging into the stone with their claws....

      His hands.

      Tarrin held up his arm and looked at his hand, comparing them.  That furry hand was almost three times bigger than this one.  Truly huge, and tipped with claws nearly as long as his little fingers were.  So, that was what his hands had looked like.  They were definitely Were-cat, that was for sure.

      "Mama told me about that," Jasana said.  "She said you did that in the desert."

      "I guess I did, Jasana.  I really can't remember."

      "How can you remember that, but not remember anything else?" Eron asked.

      "I only have little bits and pieces of my memory, son," he answered.  "And sometimes someone will say or do something that makes me remember a little bit more. Like it jars my memory."

      "Oh.  If I hit you in the head, wouldn't that jar all your memory back?"

      Tarrin laughed.  "It'd probably knock me out," he told him.  "No, it wouldn't do any good, son.  They've already tried that."

      "Oh.  Are you sure they hit you hard enough?"

      "I'm sure," he laughed again.

      "I'm hungry," Eron complained.

      "Me too," Jasana agreed.

      "Well, so am I," Tarrin chuckled.  "So let's go get something to eat."

      After collecting up Jula and Mist, they went down to the kitchens and got some food.  Tarrin stepped back and more or less unleashed his children on the hapless cooks and servants, who struggled to keep an eye on their cooking and keep the two of them out of trouble at the same time.  Eron was definitely the worse of the two, trying to put his hands in everything, getting underfoot, and doing his best to disrupt the entire kitchen.  They finally decided on what they wanted, and they left the kitchens with plates full of food and a staff of exhausted, frazzled cooks.

      Tarrin's good mood evaporated when, as they turned a corner, they found Jesmind standing squarely in the middle of the passageway.  She was fully erect, her arms crossed before her, a very aggressive stance, and the look on her face reinforced that assumption.  Jasana went up to her and tried to get her to pick her up, but Jesmind ignored her daughter, keeping a withering gaze on Tarrin.  Jasana's crestfallen look was lost on her mother, and Tarrin realized that she wasn't going to let him pass without giving him a piece of her mind.

      Sighing, he handed his small plate of fresh tarts to Jula.  "Here, you take this," he said.  "I get the feeling I'm about to lose my appetite."

      Jula gave him a compassionate look, then nodded and took the plate.

      Mist, however, proved to be more than just an acquaintance to him.  She marched right up to the larger Were-cat and looked up at her.  Tarrin couldn't see her expression, but it made Jesmind's furious look waver.  "Get out of my way," Mist said flatly to her.

      Tarrin learned one thing at that point.  Jesmind was afraid of Mist.  She reluctantly stepped aside, glowering at the smaller Were-cat as her ears seemed to strain to lay back, but did not.  He didn't really understand Were-cat society very well, but it was obvious that Mist occupied a higher rung than Jesmind.  That, or Mist would kick her butt if she didn't obey her, one or the other.  Probably both.

      "Come on, Eron," Mist said.  "I think your father needs to straighten out your aunt."

      Eron obediently came up and put his little hand in hers, and then padded up the hall.  Jula stepped back after beckoning to Jasana, and the little girl evacuated the area between her parents.

      Jesmind didn't waste any time.  She blocked the passage again after Mist passed and pointed at him.  "How dare you bring my daughter within spitting distance of that Sha'Kar!" she accused hotly.

      "And how would you know that, unless you were following me?" Tarrin retorted.  "Isn't that exactly what I told you not to do?"

      "Make me," she hissed.  "You're too weak to tell me to do anything, cub."

      That was just about enough.  "There are many kinds of power, Jesmind," he said with a glare.  "I may not be able to make you stop following me around, but I can make sure it stops.  Go pack your things, Jesmind.  You're going to be spending the next few days in an inn."

      "You wouldn't dare," she declared indignantly, stepping up to loom over him.

      He didn't even blink.  "I would dare," he replied evenly, completely unafraid of her.  "If you won't leave me alone, I'll see to it that you're not here to bother me."

      "If you do that, you're never going to see your daughter again," she hissed.

      "An empty threat," Tarrin said grimly, taking a single step back.  He'd never seen her get this belligerent before, and he was starting to doubt his seeming immunity to her wrath.  "Jasana can't leave the Tower. If you go, Jesmind, you go alone.  Remember that."

      Tarrin realized almost immediately that that was the wrong thing to say.  He'd just threatened Jesmind's rights to her daughter, and since she was half animal, the protective instincts concerning her children were very powerful.  Jesmind's eyes erupted from within with a brilliant greenish radiance, making her eyes two glowing slits of evil green.  With blazing speed, Jesmind reached down and grabbed him by his new shirt and then hauled him off the ground.  She held him at arm's length, cocking back her other arm with her claws extended, as if to hit him with it.  Tarrin responded out of reflex, causing his staff to come out of the elsewhere and appear in his right hand.  With exceptional aim, he jammed the long weapon straight down and struck the top of Jesmind's foot, cracking the bones in the top of it.  Jesmind hissed in pain and let go out of reflex, and Tarrin took a quick two steps back and levelled his staff at her in the end-grip.  He was still too startled to be afraid, shocked that she would do such a thing.

      Hurting her was probably taking things a little too far.  With a growling cry of pain and outrage, Jesmind reached out towards him with those claws leading.  Tarrin reacted quickly by jabbing Jesmind squarely in the face with his staff, snapping her head back and faltering her reach towards him.  The Were-cat grabbed the staff with her clawed and and wrested it aside, but Tarrin didn't abandon his hold on it quite yet.

      "Stop it!" someone shouted, and then someone grabbed the staff.  Someone short.  Tarrin and Jesmind both looked down to see a teary-eyed Jasana, grabbing the staff and tugging on it with all her might.  "Don't fight!  You promised me you wouldn't fight anymore!" she accused in a sobby voice.

      Tarrin let go of the staff like it was a live snake, not wanting to even accidentally hurt his daughter.  To his surprise, Jesmind did the same, and the little girl yanked the weapon away.  "I hate it when you two fight!" she cried.  "Just stop it!"

      "Cub, I--" Jesmind started in a contrite voice, but Jasana threw the staff down and ran down the hall, her bawling audible almost down to the stairs.  She was running towards the stairs leading up to Jesmind's apartment.

      Tarrin felt both embarassed and a little foolish.  Jesmind probably wouldn't have hurt him.  There was no reason for him to react that way.  She was just trying to scare him, that was all.  Jesmind was looking towards her daughter.  "I'm, sorry," he apologized.  "I shouldn't have hit you."

      "I shouldn't have grabbed you," Jesmind said in a reluctant voice.  "I'll go talk to her.  Jula, stay with him.  We can't leave him alone."

      Jesmind rushed off after her daughter, and Tarrin sighed.  Picking up his staff, he tried to figure out how that had gotten out of control.  She had made the mistake of grabbing him, and he'd made the mistake of threatening her parental duties with Jasana.  He hadn't meant it as a threat, only as a way to deflate her threat to withold his time with his daughter.  But after he thought about how he said what he said, it certainly did sound like a threat.  So both of them were at fault.

      "Well, that was exciting," Jula said in a calm voice as Tarrin sent his staff back into the elsewhere.  He was getting really good at that.

      "I didn't mean for that to happen," he sighed.

      "It's nothing major, Tarrin," she told him.  "Jesmind is probably going to respect you a little more now.  You fought back against her, and she'll have to respect that.  The fact that you're you will make her see that if she gets physical with you again, she's going to hurt you because you're not just going to fold up as soon as she tries to intimidate you.  She's not going to hurt you, so she can't do that again."

      "Maybe, but I'm really sorry Jasana got so upset."

      "Jasana wants you and Jesmind to be a family with her," she said soberly.  "That girl has alot more human in her than most.  Most are like Eron.  He likes you, but you're not quite so central in his life.  I think you noticed that."

      "I did," he agreed.

      "Jasana's alot like a human child.  She wants her mother and her father.  Eron knows that you're his father, but it doesn't matter to him quite as much.  The mothers are all the family that most Were-cat children ever know.  Few even meet their fathers until they're adults."

      "I didn't know that.  Who told you?"

      "You did," she said with a smile.  "Now, let's get you back to your room where Sapphire can find you."


      There were consequences of what happened, he was sure of that.  It also didn't take very long to find out what they were, for both of them.

      He wasn't there to see it, but Jula came down and told him what happened not long after he returned ot his room.  Jenna had gone up there and basicly thrown a fit on Jesmind, ordering her to back off and warning her that she would be exiled from the Tower if she could not control herself or obey Jenna's orders.  That his sister had the nerve to do something like that was one thing, but to have Jesmind agree was something completely different.  He'd marvelled many times since coming back to Suld at how much his sister had changed, and that act had to be the biggest indicator.  The mild, meek Jenna he knew from Aldreth would never have done that.

      Tarrin didn't escape unscathed.  Jenna unleashed her temper on Jesmind, but Tarrin got it from Sapphire.  She railed at him for quite a while about keeping himself safe, about not antagonizing Jesmind since Auli was probably antagonism enough, and how he had nearly ruined her day by nearly getting himself killed at Jesmind's hands.  Tarrin tried to explain, tried to tell her that it was all just a big misunderstanding, but she wouldn't hear of it.  She somehow managed to make him feel guilty over the inconvenience and hardship his actions had placed on her, rather than the fact that he'd just gotten into a fight with someone that it was not wise to annoy.  Then again, Sapphire was a dragon.  She'd had that me mentality long before she'd met him.  Big and powerful creatures tended to think that the whole world revolved around them anyway.

      Others weren't quite so fast to chide him, however.  Allia came in for a visit not long after he returned to his room, and she told him that he should have hit her harder.  Keritanima blew the whole thing off as yet another in a very long string of spats between the two of them.  The circumstances had changed slightly, she had joked, but the end result never did seem to change.

      For his own part, he was a bit sorry that it had come to that, sorry he'd made that mistake, but he wasn't sorry about holding his ground.  He knew that if he knuckled under to Jesmind, she would just use that crack to split all his defenses in half and overwhelm him.  Jesmind seemed incapable of taking him seriously, and he was pretty sure it was that Were-cat mentality that the others had described to him.  They based almost their entire society on personal strength.  She considered him a part of that society, but since he had lost all his strength, he had comparably lost all his position.  She saw herself as over him now, and she probably was very upset that he wasn't obeying her.  After all, to her, it was what he was supposed to do.  She was thinking of him as a Were-cat, not as a human, and that was where all the problems were coming from.  It was even worse because she didn't even want to think about treating him like a human, he was sure of that.  He'd gotten to know Jesmind pretty well from Jula's descriptions, and he knew that if she told herself to think of him as a human, it would hit on that very raw nerve about his precarious position, at least in her eyes.  If she thought of him as a human, he may decide to stay so.  That was an irrational concept, but he knew, he just knew, that it had gone through Jesmind's mind at least once already.  Unable to accept him as a human but unable to treat him like a Were-cat, it left her in a very bad trap.  And it was a trap that was only serving to drive the two of them apart.  Tarrin wasn't the Tarrin she'd once known, and his change in personality was not meshing well with her treatment of him.

      That was what was so frustrating.  She could understand it all and be assured if she'd just talk to him, accept what was going on, but she absolutely did not want to do that.  She didn't want to know him as a human, she didn't want to see any side of the problem but her own.  She was not going to budge from her position, and that position was that he was a Were-cat, and by all the gods, he was going to be one again.  That also frustrated him, because he was sincerely curious about her.  She was the mother of his child, after all, and he had the feeling that if she'd just talk to him, they could be friends.  But she didn't want to deal with him at all, not as a human.  She wanted the Were-cat back, and that made her totally reject him as a human.

      They were simple things, but he had the feeling that he was right.  It certainly explained alot about how she was acting.  He described his feelings to Triana when she came to check on him not long afterward, and she could only smile at him in that strange way of hers and nod in agreement.

      "You're full of surprises, cub," she said.  "I thought alot of what you are came from the Were in you.  I see that was a wrong conclusion.  You're probably one of the most remarkable humans I've ever met."

      Tarrin was rather thrilled by that complement, and the fact that she seemed to have accepted the fact that for right now, he was human.  "Why won't she listen?" he complained.  "Why won't she understand?"

      "Cub, there's one simple constant in the universe, and that's that there are absolutely no bounds to that cub's stubbornness.  She's dug in her heels, and there's nothing that anyone can say to move her.  Not you, not me, not even if all the gods came down from the sky and wrote it out for her on a steel tablet in flaming letters.  The only thing that's going to change her mind is her.  And that's going to take time."  She snorted.  "Jesmind was born with the two worst combination of traits.  She has a short temper and a wide stubborn streak.  They've gotten her in no end of trouble over the years."

      "I can imagine," he sighed.  That really was a bad combination.  It meant that she was very easy to anger, but her stubborn nature would make her unwilling or unable to forgive or forget.  There were probably a long line of people she'd once called friend, but were now on her black list because of past slights that any other Were-cat would have forgiven long ago.  "She's easy to anger, but she won't get over what made her mad."

      "Exactly.  There's one example of that that you'll remember when you get your memory back, and that's Rahnee.  She and Jesmind were best friends, then Rahnee seduced Jesmind's mate at the time.  That's not too serious among our kind, but it is against the rules, and Jesmind had a right to be angry.  But where most females would have let it go after a few rides, Jesmind wouldn't.  She wouldn't talk to Rahnee for over a hundred years because of that.  That's how she is, cub.  You can't change her, you just have to learn to work around it."

      "I don't think I'm going to be able to do that," he sighed.

      "Probably not," she agreed.  "And since you can't change her mind, the best thing to do is just avoid her.  She's more angry with herself right now, but even that won't last long if you show up."

      "Why is she angry with herself?"

      "Because she almost hurt you," she answered bluntly.

      "She wouldn't have hurt me," he said dismissively.

      "I'm glad you think that, cub," Triana sarcastically, said with an intense stare.  "It's a good way to get your neck broken.  Jesmind will hurt you if you make her angry enough.  It won't matter how much she loves you or how careful she's being.  It's all a part of our natures, I told you that.  If you enrage her, nothing is going to protect you from her.  She's tried to kill me several times, and she meant it when she did it."

      "Why would she do that?" Tarrin gasped.

      "Because I made her that mad," she answered bluntly.  "And if she'll take a swipe at me, cub, don't ever think that she wouldn't do the same to you."

      Tarrin was a bit worried about that statement.  "Maybe, maybe I should avoid her for a while," he said in a hesitant voice.

      "I think that's a good idea," Triana agreed.  "And if she confronts you, keep what I said in mind.  It's alright to stand up to her, but for the forest's sake, don't get physical with her, and don't do whatever it was you did that set her off this time."

      "I know what happened," he said glumly.  "It's my fault, Triana."  He quickly told her about his error in choice of words, which turned a rather innocent exposure of the falseness of her threat to refuse his rights to see Jasana into a very real threat against her rights to her daughter.

      "That would do it, alright," she grunted.  "You hit the one nerve bigger than her love for you.  I suggest you don't do that again."

      "I won't, I promise," he said fervently.

      "Good.  I'll be back later, cub."

      "Alright," he acknowledged.

      When Triana left, he was a little less assured of the whole thing.  He knew now that Jesmind could be dangerous, but only if he did something very wrong.  The problem he could see now was that he wasn't sure what was in the forbidden zone anymore.  He'd got her mad and said some bad things to her.  He still did not intend to break off his frienship with Auli, and that was certain to infuriate her.  So maybe what Triana said was for the best.  Maybe just staying out of Jesmind's way was the best thing to do.  If he wanted to see Jasana, Jula could arrange that for him.  Her or Mist.  Either way, he could continue spending time with his children without having to worry about saying something in passing that may get Jesmind just that mad.


      The incident with Jesmind passed over the course of the day, and Tarrin worried less and less about it.  He didn't worry about it at all once sunset came, and Auli and Dar knocked conspiratorially on his door.  He did manage to convince Sapphire that he'd be quite safe with two Sorcerers along with him, but he was sure that she could see through his subterfuge.  For whatever reason she had, he was very thankful for it when she deigned to let him go out with Auli and Dar without her accompanying him.

      That turned out to be a good thing.  Auli wasted no time in taking command of the host, and she immediately bent them to causing mischief.  The first act of the evening was to go down into the baths and change the color of the water into something that very closely resembled blood.  While people were bathing.  It didn't really phase the Sorcerers, since they probably knew that someone had just used magic, but it caused a hysterical fit among the Novices and few Initiates that were currently using the pool.

      That was just the start.  Auli managed to get Dar into the spirit of things, and it wasn't long before Illusions stalked the halls scaring people, or the baked rolls cooling on a kitchen table were suddenly filled with live worms, or some of the suits of armor that served as decorations along the halls on the lower floors started moving around by themselves, figures in the paintings and tapestries started to move around in them, or passages and intersections suddenly seemed to change directions or disappear, thanks to Dar's Illusions.  Auli ran the gambit of the Tower in that one night, coaxing Dar into helping her cause magical mischief, while Tarrin could only watch and struggle not to give them away every time he all but exploded into laughter.

      In one short night, Auli and Dar had managed to infuriate, scare, terrorize, confuse or shock almost everyone in the Tower.  From the horde of rats in the cellars to the rather risque image of a Sorceress holding open her robe that now adorned the top of the South Tower for all of Suld to see, from the cute, pink, floppy-eared, horse-sized rabbits that were grazing on grass on the east side of the grounds to the smith's forge that had water gushing out of the furnace on the west side, Auli made sure to leave no part of the ground untouched by their night's marauding.  The worm-filled rolls seemed to be the pinnacle of the evening's activities, for it turned out that they were served to the Novices for dinner.  The screams of horror and disgust were audible down almost every passage and hallway.  Though it certainly was not a fun night for most of the Tower residents, it was grand fun for the three of them.  The only place they didn't go to cause trouble was the Knights Academy, and it wasn't because Auli didn't want to go.  She had this great idea to scare all the cadets and make them run out of their barracks, and all because she wanted to see how many of them were naked.  But Tarrin intervened rather forcefully at that point.  Since he was a Knight, he felt it his duty to protect the order from Auli.  At least not without the permission of the Lord General, anyway.  He knew that Darvon may very well approve of such a thing, to give the cadets an exercise in dealing with the unexpected.  Auli saw no reason to do it if the "wrinkled-up old boring Elders" knew about it or condoned it.  But when Dar teased her about only wanting to do it to see the cadets naked, she actually seemed to reconsider.  Perhaps Auli's desire to see the cadets naked was stronger than her resistance to the idea of misbehaving with the blessings of someone in charge.  Tarrin promised to break the idea to Darvon in the morning, and that idea was shelved for the immediate future.

      All in all, it was an absolutely wonderful night.  Tarrin got to indulge in a little harmless fun--at least harmless for him--and it vastly improved his mood.  After the day he'd had, he needed to vent a little, and Auli provided the perfect means to let him relax.

      This wasn't to say that their activities went unnoticed.  The next morning, Jenna called him into her office and blasted him for going along with Auli, but even she laughed helplessly when she told him about the terrified Knight cadets who had been sent out to round up the magically enlarge bunnies before they got into the gardens and did some real damage.  It turned out that none of them really had any experience in wrangling horse-sized rabbits, and they caused something of a stampede among the herd.  There were huge pink fuzzy bunnies everywhere, trampling cadets, knocking holes in walls, even a few that managed to jump over the fence and terrorize the city.  Jenna may be the Keeper, but she was young enough to appreciate the joke.  Her amusement ended when she told him just who had to pay for all the damage, and she gave him a blistering ultimatum that any further "walks" with Auli and Dar had better not lead to the same chaos the next day.  She threatened to make the three of them go down into the cellar and round up every single rat that Auli had managed to put in there.  Then she laughed and told him that one of the Sorcerers, a strapping big Dal, had literally fainted when he saw all the rats.  It turned out the man had something of a phobia for rodents.  Then she laughed again and told him that he'd better not see the bunnies, or he'd have a heart attack.

      Despite the trouble, Tarrin had had too much fun the night before to be easily dissuaded, even by Jenna.  Being a troublemaker was new to him, but he had to admit that it was tremendously entertaining.

      The only one that even made him feel anywhere near sorry about the night before was Jasana.  Jula and Mist brought them out to the gardens and he spent time with them.  While Eron ran around aimlessly, Tarrin carried Jasana on his shoulders as they walked along the paths between fruit trees and beautiful flowers.  "You're being mean to Mama," she accused in a grim voice.

      "She was mean to me too, Jasana," he said mildly, knowing what this was about.

      "No, last night.  You went out with the Sha'Kar."

      "I did," he said calmly.  "She's my friend, sweetheart.  I like to spend time with her."

      "It makes Mama sad when you do that, Papa," she accused.

      "That's your mother's fault, not mine," he said with quiet adamance.  "I wasn't alone with her.  Dar was with us, so you know that nothing went on that made her mad at me in the first place.  Me and her and Dar just went out and had fun, just like you and Eron come out here and have fun."

      "You should be having fun with Mama."

      "Your mother is furious with me right now.  I wouldn't dare come near her."

      "Well, you're not making it better by going out with the Sha'Kar."

      Tarrin already knew that arguing with Jasana wasn't easy.  She was a very bright girl, and she had a maturity and grasp on subtle adult nuances that were beyond any child her age.  She was a fierce debater.  She already had her arguments lined up, and she was assaulting him with them one after another.

      "I may not be making it better, but I'm not about to alter my life to suit Jesmind," he told her in a voice brimming with parental authority.  "And I'm not going to make Auli feel bad just to suit Jesmind.  If she wants to be mad at me, that's fine.  But I'm not going to stop my life because she is mad at me, daughter."

      "I hate it when you two fight," she said in a small voice.  "I hate it.  I want it to stop."

      "So do I, Jasana," he sighed.  "But until your mother accepts me like I am, it's just not going to happen."

      "But you're not going to be like this forever," she complained.  "Why do we have to like you as a human?"

      "You don't," he told her.  "All I ask is that you take me as I am right now, just for right now.  Is that so hard?"

      There was a long pause.  "I don't know.  You're alot different now, Papa.  I don't understand you."

      "I know I am, kitten.  I don't really understand you and your mother either, but I'm trying to understand you.  But Jesmind won't even do that.  Now do you understand what I'm saying?  I just want her to try.  I'm not asking for anything more than what I'm willing to give in return, but she doesn't want any part of it.  That's what makes me so mad, kitten.  Your mother won't have any part of me unless she can have what she wants.  I don't think she's once thought about what I may want."

      Jasana was silent.  Obviously, Tarrin had struck on the one argument that she couldn't refute.

      "I'm not asking for you to accept me as a human, kitten.  I just want you and your mother to accept me as I am for right now.  I want to spend time with your mother.  Truth be told, I like her, and I'd like to get to know her better.  But she won't talk to me, she won't let me get close to her because she doesn't want to like me this way.  It's easier for her to be angry with me as a human, that way she doesn't have to like me."

      "Mama loves you, Papa.  I do too.  Can't you be with us again?  You promised me we'd be a family.  You can't do that unless you're Were again."

      "The future isn't set, kitten," he said soothingly.  "Until I get back my memory, nobody knows what's going to happen.  Not even me.  That's what we're all waiting for.  Once I get back my memory, I'll know what to do.  Until then, we just have to go with things as they are, one day at a time."

      "I don't like it," she said sullenly.  "I want you back."

      "I don't like it either, kitten.  You have no idea how much I hate not being able to remember things.  I see people they tell me were my best friends that don't talk to me as much as they would have if I did, because they don't know me.  I see people and places and things and know that they once had meaning to me, but I don't know what it is.  I know I loved people, but I can't remember them.  Don't you understand how that makes me feel?  When I first met you, I was heartbroken that it upset you to see me the way I was.  It hurt me to know that I couldn't even remember my own daughter's name.  I love you, Jasana, but I can't remember you at all.  That kills me inside."

      "But it'll all be better, Papa," she said.  "When you're you again, you'll know everything again."

      "I'll be me as soon as I get back my memory, kitten.  Whether I'm the human me or the Were-cat me doesn't make a difference, because both are still me.  Until I get back my memory, I really don't know who I am or what I want, so we're all waiting until Phandebrass finishes his magic.

      "It won't be you," she said in a small voice.  "At least not the you you're supposed to be."

      "That's what all this is about, Jasana," he told her.  "To find out who the real me is supposed to be.  And I won't know until I have my memory back."

      "You still shouldn't go around with that Sha'Kar," she said, coming full circle.  "It makes Mama sad."

      "That's your mother's fault," he told her bluntly.  "I won't bow to her, kitten.  Not in this, not in anything.  Not until she can accept me as I am.  Until that happens, she can be as miserable as she wants to be."

      Things went generally downhill at that point.  It was impossible to explain things like that to Jasana, since she was a child, and what was more, she had set her mind in stone about how things were supposed to be.  It hurt him that his refusal to be what she wanted of him upset her, but not even she could make him change his mind.  He was more than willing to meet Jesmind halfway, but he would not budge a finger over that line that marked the halfway point.  It was Jesmind's responsibility to come to him, and he was not going to give in, no matter how angry she was, no matter how sad she was, no matter what.

      Jasana's teary retreat from him turned out to be an omen of things to come.  Much to his surprise, the incident with Jesmind had literally torn apart his friends and family.  A talk with Miranda over lunch revealed that she and Keritanima had had a very rare fight over his situation.  "Kerri thinks you'd be better off staying human, but I think that you'd be very unhappy if you did," she said calmly as they walked along the passage towards the kitchen.  "She knows you pretty well, but I don't think she's thinking with your mindset."

      "Why do you think I'll be unhappy?"

      "Oh, you aren't now," she said.  "But when Phandebrass heals you, I'd lay odds that you'll ask to be changed back.  I know you alot better than Kerri thinks I do.  You and I were very good friends.  Better friends than Kerri thinks."

      A talk with Kerri turned out to be an endurance match.  She was angry with both Miranda and Allia, and she shouted alot of threw things a few times.  "They're both so thick-headed!" she told him.  "They're not thinking about you!  Allia think it's all twisted up with your personal honor that you have to change back, and that's just damned stupid!  This isn't about what you need to do, it's about what's best for you!  I think she's being really damned inconsiderate to want you to change back when you may not want to!  And Miranda had the nerve to tell me that she knows you better than I do!" she shouted.  "As if!  You're my brother!  I know you a hell of alot better than she does!"

      Allia's point of view wasn't much better.  He met her after lunch and walked along with her in the halls with Allyn at her other side.  She wasn't as vocal as Keritanima had been, but she was just as mad.  "Kerri is being a fool," she snapped.  "Doesn't she see that when you regain your memory, your honor will make you return to your former self?  Your honor is great, and your obligations will demand you return to Were.  For you not to live up to your obligations would be saying that the sun would not rise in the morning.  It just cannot happen."

      "What if I don't want to change back?" he asked.

      "That will not matter to you, my brother," she said simply.  "I will grieve with you if it turns out that comes to pass, but you would not turn your back on your duty.  It carried you through your darkest times.  Many times, only your devotion to the Goddess and the mission before you kept you sane.  It was the one thing you could cling to, and I do not doubt that once you can see it with your old eyes, you will know what must be done.  After all you have suffered through in your duty, you will not stop until you see it done.  As is only right and proper.  The burden is heavy, but the honor it brings you is worth twice the suffering."  She looked at him.  "Duty is honor, and the price of that honor is blood.  Honor and Blood, my brother.  It is a tenet by which you have lived for two years.  It is the Selani way, and you will not dishonor yourself by not doing what is needed, even if it is against what you desire."

      The divisions didn't stop with his immediate family.  Dolanna and Dar had had quite a spat with Phandebrass on one of the rare occasions when he stopped tending his work, leaving it in Kimmie's capable hands while he took a very rare but much needed break.  As if that wasn't bad enough for the weary Wizard, Camara Tal had let him have it not long after that.  Phandebrass consoled himself to Tarrin over it as he performed yet another magical examination to make sure that Tarrin's mental condition had not altered.  He did that about every two days or so, to make sure that he could tailor the potion specifically to address the problems in Tarrin's mind.  "It wasn't like I was trying to be contrary, I wasn't," he fumed.  "I just mentioned that I thought that you'd probably change back after your regained your memory.  I say, Dolanna almost threw her shoe at me!" he exclaimed.  "She said I have no right to presume anything, then she had the gall to turn around and say that all of us would be better off if you stayed human!  I say, as if that's not the pot calling the kettle black, it is!" he almost shouted.  "I told her so, and then Dar accused me of wanting to change the potion to make you do what I wanted!"

      When Tarrin confronted Dar about that, he admitted it willingly.  "Of course I said that," he said.  "You know how unbalanced he is!  He once stopped in the middle of a battle to ask the enemy questions!  You have no idea what he's capable of, Tarrin.  And with Kimmie in there with him, and all her chances to coax him into changing his mind about being neutral, it makes it worse.  When they do give you that potion, I'd be careful, my friend.  It may very well be a poisoned pill!"

      "He wouldn't do that," Tarrin said defensively.  "I think you're being paranoid, Dar."

      "I wouldn't put it past him, Tarrin," he grunted.

      "I think more than one person is showing a little bias," he accused.

      "Maybe," Dar said with a snort.  "I saw how hard being a Were-cat was one you, Tarrin.  You seem much happier now, and I'm hoping that you'll always be this happy.  You've done so much for me, for the Tower, for everyone, I think it's only fair that you get a little reward for it.  It just doesn't seem fair to make you go back to being unhappy."

      Dolanna's opinion of the matter was surprisingly close to Dar's, as he coaxed an explanation out of her over a game of chess.  "It is not right to force you to make a decision that you may regret later," she said adamantly.  "I watched you for two years, my friend.  I watched you struggle with the Cat.  I saw it nearly destroy you, and I cannot bear the thought of seeing that happen again.  They cannot guarantee that you will not have to go through another period of adjustment, even after you regain your memory.  I do not want to see you suffer anymore.  So yes, I would rather see you stay human."

      Camara Tal's view on things and her fight with Phandebrass weren't quite as black-and-white as Dolanna's view.  "That crazy old Wizard is going to cause a disaster, I just know it," she accused.  "He shouldn't be making that potion if he can't keep his opinions out of it.  I should have broken his arms.  But then again, Kimmie's not much better.  Her motives for making you change back are pretty damn clear.  I don't think she should be helping him."

      "I don't think he'd hurt me, Camara," he said carefully.

      "He doesn't mean to do alot of the things he does," she snorted.  "The man's a walking accident, Tarrin.  If there's any earthly way to mess this up, he's going to find it."

      "I don't think he's the only one with an opinion," he told her.

      "You're right," she said honestly.  "I think you should do whatever makes you happiest, Tarrin.  I personally think you'd be better off as a human, but it's what you think that matters.  My opinion is just that, my opinion.  I just don't want to see that crazy Wizard and that love-sick Were-cat making your decision for you.  That's why if you decide to change back, it'll never sit right with me.  I'll never know if you chose to change back yourself, or one of them didn't add a little extra to the potion to make up your mind for you."

      The only one that tried to stay out of it was Azakar.  He stayed in the Academy, and it took Tarrin almost an hour to finally get him to come out on the practice field and talk to him.  Tarrin and Azakar sparred very lightly as they talked, as Azakar taught him how to use the heavy broadsword and shield that the Knights commonly used.  Tarrin had never used a shield before, and he found out that it could be just as effective a weapon as it was a defensive tool.

      "I knew this was going to happen, Tarrin," Azakar grunted.  "Bring the shield out, Tarrin.  Don't tuck it in that close to your body.  You don't hide behind a shield.  You present it to your attacker and his blow.  If you keep it tucked in like that, he's going to knock you right off your feet, and it won't be any good to you when you're on your back.  And don't forget to keep your elbow unlocked.  If you lock your elbow, blocking a heavy blow will break your arm.  Bending won't break.  Remember that."

      "Like this?"

      "Good," he nodded.  "I guess with the people in our circle, opinions weren't going to be kept forever.  But they shouldn't be arguing about it.  After all, what we think doesn't mean squat.  It's what you think that matters, and it's the only thing that matters."

      "Camara Tal said something like that."

      "Camara Tal's alot wiser than some of the others," Azakar complemented her.  "I guess that's only right, considering she's a Priestess.  They're supposed to be wise."

      "I guess that means you'd be a good Priest," Tarrin told him.

      He snorted.  "I'd never be a good Priest," he chided himself.  "I don't have enough patience, and I enjoy bashing people too much to be a kind and caring minister of a flock."

      Tarrin laughed.  "I guess that's as good a reason as any."

      "I can see it now," he said.  "My only advice to my parishoners would be to take a club and hit the other guy in the head with it."

      Tarrin laughed even harder.  "Well, you'd have a pretty tough congregation," he said with a big smile.

      "I'd probably preach like a general," he went on.  "I'd have the only church where the congregation could build fortifications and repel attackers."

      Tarrin laughed again.  "Those may be good skills nowadays," he said.

      "Like it'll ever happen," he snorted lightly.  "Shield use is a game of angles, Tarrin.  If you present a good angle to the attack, it glances off your shield and overextends your opponent, which lets you strike back before he can recover.  A bad angle will push you out of position and give your opponent a free shot at you.  So it's a good idea to learn the good angles from the bad before it becomes a life-and-death matter."

      "Using a shield is more complicated than I thought," he admitted.

      "It's like any tool of war," Azakar said brusquely.  "The man better trained in its use is the one that's going to walk off the field alive."

      After an exhausting couple of hours learning how to use a shield, Tarrin returned to his room.  He had a sore arm, quite a few bruises, and a newfound towering respect for the huge Mahuut Knight.  Azakar was alot smarter than he thought, alot wiser than he thought, and he knew alot more about what was going on that anyone thought he did.  He was always so quiet, so inobtrusive, like the Vendari, it was easy to dismiss him.  But Tarrin learned that Azakar was more than just a really big man with really big muscles.  He was very intelligent and quite observant, and he was much wiser than many of the others.  His quiet nature and unwillingness to bring attention to himself were matters of personal choice for him.  He preferred being in the background, that was all.  Even though he was more than capable of arguing logic with Keritanima and debating philosophy with Phandebrass and Camara Tal.

      The division among his friends was very unusual.  He'd never seen them acting like this before, and he wasn't quite sure what to do about it.  It wasn't that odd for Camara Tal and Phandebrass to toss barbs at one another, but it was very odd to see Keritanima bickering with Allia and Miranda.  That seemed almost unnatural.  It even tickled at his lost memory, because it was something that just did not happen.  But now it was, and Tarrin found himself stuck in the middle of it all.

      He hoped that his fight with Jesmind would fade from everyone's memory over time, but as the days passed, he found that it was only festering.  The arguments between Keritanima and Allia were getting more and more heated.  Dolanna and Dar talked to Allia, Miranda, Kimmie, and Phandebrass less and less during the meals and times when they were all together.  Miranda got into a very loud argument with Keritanima right in the middle of the hallway four days after the fight, and their shouting was about Tarrin and what was best for him.

      For them, it was a hotly contested issue.  For Tarrin, it was embarassing, humiliating, saddening, and infuriating that they would act like they were acting.  It became less and less about him and more and more about what they thought was best.  Tarrin avoided them whenever he realized that they were either arguing or about to argue or had just come from an argument, which was pretty much well all the time after about five days.  The only ones that wouldn't argue were Camara and Koran Tal, Jula, Azakar, and Mist, so they were the ones that he started spending time with after it became very difficult for him to spend time with his other friends.  The only time he could spend time with Dar was when Auli was with them, when her irreverence and her presence made Dar forget about his feuds with Miranda, Allia, Phandebrass, and Kimmie, when having fun or talking or just relaxing was all that really mattered.  He hated seeing his friends fighting with each other, he was embarassed that he was the reason they were fighting, and he was angry that they couldn't just drop it.  None of them seemed to remember that the wait for the potion was the only thing that mattered right now.  And they also forgot that the choice was his, not theirs.

      It got worse and worse as the days passed, and Tarrin had a very hard time trying to avoid the issue.  It also became very hard for him to try to enjoy himself.  All his spare time seemed consumed with the problem, as he tried to think of ways to solve things without making everyone furious with one another and without making them angry with him, but there seemed to be no real way to do it.  The only time he found that he could really forget and be happy was when he was with Auli.  She didn't care about all that, she didn't care about the arguments.  She could see that they were depressing him, so she did her best to keep him cheerful, oftentimes coming to get him in the middle of the day and having the two of them sneak off to get into mischief.  He welcomed her diversions, many of them calculated, and she never once tried to even touch him the wrong way.

      That, of course, only inflamed the core of the argument between his friends in the first place, and that was Jesmind.  True to his word, he did not talk to her after the fight, and she did not talk to him.  She didn't just disappear, however.  Many times during the day or evening, he saw her, or could feel her presence close by.  She was still following him, still hovering near him, and he knew that every time she saw him with Auli, it only made her more furious.  But truth be told, he really didn't care about that anymore.  If it made her mad, then that was just fine by him.  Maybe after seeing him with her enough, she'd finally realize that Auli was nothing more than a friend to him.  Nothing more, nothing less.  And Goddess only knew that at that time, she was probably the best friend he had.  She was the only one that tried to make him feel better, the only one that really seemed to care about him, and not his predicament or his impending choice.  She accepted him for what he was, something that nobody else could seem to do anymore, and it drew him to her like a moth to a flame.  With Jesmind all wrapped up in her stubborn tizzy, most of his friends fighting with one another over what was best for him, and each day becoming more unbearable than the last, it was only natural for him to want to spend time with the one person that did her best to make him forget about all that and just have fun.

      Tarrin found himself counting the days with a strange kind of dreadful eagerness, counting to the day when Phandebrass said that the potion would finally be ready.  He was afraid of what the potion would do to him, its importance to him and his future, afraid to find out just who and what he had once been.  But, on the other hand, it would finally stop all this stupid silly arguing among his friends and family, because once and for all, there would be a decision, and all of them would have to live with it for good or ill.  Including him.  He was worried and anxious about regaining his memory, which was probably only natural, but it would be a relief to finally have it back and be able to put all this senseless bickering behind them all.

      It all came to a head about ten days later, when Phandebrass came out again for another of his rest breaks and a check of Tarrin.  He submitted to the examination, a Wizard spell cast that was designed not to detect mental state, but only a change in that state.  It was a very specific spell that had been written down with the formula for the potion, to be used to help make the potion more effective for the recipient.  "I say, Tarrin, your mental state is agitated," he said in concern.  "It's enough to show to the spell.  Whatever is the matter?"

      "Nothing you can fix, Phandebrass," he said with a sigh.  "Will it mess up the potion?"

      "I say, not at all, lad, not at all," he assured him.

      It was probably bad timing that Dolanna and Dar chose that moment to enter his room, but Tarrin suspected that it was more by design than coincidence.  "The potion's going to be ready in about five days, it will," Phandebrass told him.  "The brewing time is set, but its sitting time depends on the season and the room temperature.  If it stays as warm as it has, I say, it'll shave a day or two off that, it will."

      "Assuming the potion works as intended," Dolanna said in a dangerous voice.

      "I say, I stand by my work, Dolanna," he said confidently.

      "It is not your work I find unsettling, Phandebrass," she said.  "It is Kimmie's.  Has she had any hand at all in the preparation of the potion?"

      "Of course she has," he said immediately.  "I say, what better way to teach her the art of potion making than to have her assist on a big one?"

      "That is what concerns me," she said with dark eyes.  "Kimmie's neutrality in this matter is suspect."  Phandebrass looked at her a minute, then he put on an indignant expression.  "I say, now see here!" he said with impressive authority, sticking his chest out.  "Kimmie's position may be apparent, but you go far in thinking she would use magic to enforce her own desires!  And with this!" he said in outrage.  "Do you know, madam, that if we don't prepare the base formula of this potion exactly as the formula states, it could permanently erase Tarrin's memory?  I say, neither of us would even dare trying to alter the potion in such a manner!  Why, to even suggest it is outrageous!"

      "It is only outrageous to you, Phandebrass," Dar said.  "We've seen how insane Jesmind's gotten over this.  It's not a stretch to think that Kimmie may act the same way.  Just not as obviously as Jesmind has."

      Things degenerated quickly from there.  Phandebrass had an absolutely apoplexy, livid that they would accuse Kimmie of doing such a thing, and accuse him of allowing it.  Phandebrass started shouting in a language that Tarrin didn't know, but one that Dolanna obviously did, for her grim expression turned into a mask of outrage after about two sentences.  Dolanna's demeanor of a calm, measured woman evaporated when she started shouting back at him, shaking her finger up into his face, then balling her fist and threatening him with it.  Dar had to physically restrain Dolanna when Phandebrass retorted something, and Tarrin had a flash of memory, of little Dolanna clasping her hands together and striking a tall Sha'Kar man in the belly with them as hard as she possibly could.

      They were angry, but Tarrin was absolutely mortified by the outburst.  "That's enough!" he screamed at the top of his lungs.  The three of them stopped shouting and threatening each other and looked at him in surprise.  "I can't take this anymore!" he screamed, jumping to his feet.  "I'm sick and tired of all of you fighting over this!  Get out of my room!  And I don't want to see any of you, talk to any of you, or even think about any of you until after I get my memory back!  Do you hear me?  Get OUT!!!"

      There wasn't much they could say to that.  Silently, a little shocked and dismayed over what had happened, the three of them filed silently out of his room.  Tarrin walked in circles a few minutes to calm down, humiliated by their actions and furious that they just wouldn't let it go.  Even though he didn't feel very calm, he opened his door and asked a Knight to find Sapphire, then told the other that he didn't want to see anyone unless he asked for them.  He even went so far as to tell them to club anyone senseless who tried.  They could tell that he was furious, and they'd heard the shouting from before, so it was probably no stretch for them to understand that it was his friends that had gotten him so angry.

      It didn't take long for Sapphire to come.  She landed on the bed, patted it with her tail to make him sit down beside her, and had him tell her all about it.  She'd been with him on enough trips from his room, and had talked with him enough to know how all the fighting had upset him, but even she seemed a bit surprised that Dolanna nearly took a swing a Phandebrass.

      "I know it upsets you, but this is a very emotional issue for them, small one," she said in a calm voice.  "They may not seem like it, but they all love you very much.  They care about what happens to you.  That's why this has gotten them so worked up.  I care about you even more than them, but at least I understand the core of things.  As long as you are happy, then I am happy, no matter what you choose to be."

      "Why can't they understand that?" he asked plaintively.

      "Because they look at you in a way flavored by themselves," she said simply.  "Dolanna and Dar are human, so it is natural for them to want you to stay that way.  Jesmind and Kimmie were your mates, so they want you back.  Allia sees you through her honor, and Miranda sees you through your devotion.  Keritanima sees only what she wants in you," she said sourly.  "Each of them sees you a different way, but it's a way influenced by themselves.  It is only natural for one to see another through shaded eyes.  I often think it a great waste you were born a biped," she admitted with a slight smile. "Not all of them think that way, though.  The Were-cat, Mist, she understands.  So does Camara Tal, and Azakar.  Wise humans, those two.  They even impress me.  They see the truth of it.  But it's not a truth you can just say to another.  It's a truth that each of them must discover for himself."

      "Maybe, but I'd really appreciate it if they'd discover it already," he said petulantly.

      Sapphire actually laughed.  "Spoken like a true child," she teased.  "It is always now now now for you young ones.  The years will teach you that time is not an enemy, and each thing comes at its proper time and in its proper place.  To rush such things is inviting disaster."

      "It already feels like a disaster," he complained.

      "Perhaps.  Or perhaps now they will see with eyes untainted by what comes from within.  Only time will tell.  Just don't forget that no matter how much they annoy you, they are still clan to you, small one.  Clan is all.  Things like this, they pass with the blowing sands.  Clan is the rock beneath, the rock the sands cannot change.  Keep your feet on the rock, small one.  Reach through the sand and always keep your feet on the rock."

      Strangely enough, that made him feel better.  Sapphire was a very wise dragon, and though she hadn't comforted him in so many words, her assurances eased his mind in ways that cooing and baby talk never could.  She reminded him that all the fighting was because his friends cared about him and only wanted what was best for him, and that in time, it would all be forgotten.  The foundation of the friendships shared among their circle ran too deeply for them to be eroded by so petty a division.  All he had to do was wait it out.  If anything, the potion would end all of it.  When he got his memory back, this would be a moot point.

      He just had to wait for that day.


      Though Tarrin calmed down after his outburst, his resolve became as steely as his feud with Jesmind.  He told them that he didn't want to see any of them or talk to any of them, and he held by that declaration.  He stayed in his room most of the day, and he made sure that the Knights did not let anyone past them.  The only ones allowed into his room were Jula, Mist, his children, Auli, Jenna, Triana, Azakar, Camara and Koran Tal, and Sapphire.  He exiled everyone else from his presence, and would not have anything to do with them.  He wasn't angry now, but he wanted to drive home the realization that their petty fighting had seriously upset him, and it was not something that just saying I'm sorry was going to fix.  He didn't want to hear their excuses, he didn't want to hear them accusing one another of misconduct, and he certainly didn't want to turn into a referee at some kind of grotesque mass wrestling match.  And that would be exactly what he would become if he listened to them, he was sure of it. They'd come to him and lay down their case and want him to say they were right, and he wasn't going to do that.  It would only make everyone even madder, and he wasn't going to justify their squabbling in any manner at all.

      What his decision did was literally imprison himself in his own room.  He knew that if he walked the halls, they'd track him down, and he'd have a hard time getting away from them.  He didn't like not talking to them, but in this case it was a simple matter of it hurting him more than them.  But he knew that it had to be done, or this stupid dispute was never going to go away.  He had to make them understand that it didn't matter who was right or who was wrong.  When he did go out, it was with a quartet of Knights and Sapphire, and that entourage kept everyone away from him very effectively.

      The only other time he went out was at night, and it was with Auli.  They would sneak out and get into trouble, though nobody could ever pin anything to them because they were too good at sneaking away.  Tarrin's fury included Dar, and that excluded him from their nightly wanderings.  Tarrin missed his friend, but he was not going to give in on this.  Because they were so good at sneaking, it also let them avoid his other friends, even when they were actively out looking for him.  The nightly excursions with Auli weren't done in secrecy, for Jesmind's nearness touched on Tarrin from time to time, as she shadowed the two troublemakers and kept an eye on him, ready to pounce if she saw Auli do anything forward.

      The exile of his friends and family made slow days become almost unbearable. Every day was a monotony of sameness, and he got tired of his room very quickly.  Spending time with his children was always good, though the room was too small for the energetic Eron, and it didn't take him long to break things.  Auli played chess with him--more like humiliated him on a consistent basis--and Jenna kept him apprised of what was going on outside his room, with both his friends and the potion.  Mist and Jula spent alot of time with him, talking to him about his past, and also telling him about Were-cat society and some of the other customs of the other woodland folk, what they called Fae-da'Nar.  Camara Tal brought him books, and Sapphire actually started teaching him the language of the dragons as a way to pass the time.  Tarrin found out quickly that he had something of a knack for languages, and though he couldn't make some of the sounds Sapphire produced for him, he found that he could understand their meaning after only a few hours of learning the basic grammar and structure of the language.  Dragon was a language dependent on the shape of a dragon's maw, and they could make sounds that no human ever could because of the radical difference in anatomy.

      Tarrin got quite caught up in his language lessons, and though he lamented at being confined to his room by his own choice, it seemed like only a blink of the eyes between an interminable half-month wait to Jenna's excited declaration that the potion was done brewing, and now only had to sit and steep for two days before it was ready to be used.  This news startled Tarrin, and filled him with that same expectant reluctance, that crazy mixture of excitement at regaining his memory, and also fear and anxiety over regaining his memory.  He had no idea what he would find out about himself on that fateful day, and he was both looking forward to it and worried about what it would mean.

      For one, it would mean that the vacation would be over.  He couldn't stay in the Tower, not when everyone and their brother knew he was there, and they knew what he had.  He had to leave, to disappear, and he had to do it very quickly.  The only reason he hadn't done so already was because he was literally in no condition to do so.  In his present state, it would be comparatively easy for someone to capture him and take the Firestaff.  Even he could admit that.  In his present state, he was literally a farmboy on his first trip outside the protective domain of his village.  He didn't know anyone or anything, and he'd be easy prey for an experienced hunter.

      Another worry was the simple knowledge that he would again have the mind of the man he had once been.  He was sincerely worried about what was going to happen to him.  Would he, this Tarrin, simply cease to exist?  Would he remember anything at all that happened to him during the loss of his memory?  Would the Tarrin of the now be destroyed by the Tarrin of old, or would they join together and become a single person?  It seemed a silly thing to worry about, but it had taken to him quite forcefully, and he worried about it quite a bit.  But he was too embarassed to admit his fear to anyone else.  But it seemed quite a plausible thing to worry about for him.  After all, no matter what anyone else thought, that other Tarrin seemed to be alien to him.  He was radically different, an unknown, and he seemed ominous and quite dangerous.  Fear for himself seemed senseless when they were both the same person, but it was a fear of losing his identity than losing his life.

      Then there was all the fighting with his friends.  He hoped fervently that him getting his memory back was going to settle those issues, but there was still a lingering worry that some of them may not accept his decision.  Camara Tal had said that she wouldn't feel right if he decided to be Were again, because she didn't entirely trust Phandebrass and Kimmie.  He was worried that that would be a prevelant concern among all his friends that wanted him to stay human.  If he decided to be Were again, they very well may accuse Kimmie and Phandebrass of tampering with him.  He couldn't have that.  An accusation that serious and horrible would destroy the bonds of friendship that existed within their circle, and no matter how big and bad and dangerous and powerful he was, he knew that if he didn't have his friends, all of them, his chances of success would be greatly diminished.  He needed Dolanna's cool reasoning.  He needed Keritanima's cleverness.  He needed Allia's determination.  He needed Dar's friendship, and Miranda's cunning, and Camara Tal's courage, and Azakar's strength, and Phandebrass' intelligence, and Kimmie's devotion.  He was going to need all of them, and if they couldn't look at each other, then they couldn't be there when his life may depend on them.

      Two days.  It seemed a short time, but to him, it was an absolute eternity of frenzied worry and fear and uncertainty.  He couldn't concentrate on anything but his own worry.  He had trouble eating and sleeping, and he both didn't want to be alone and was distant from the others when he wasn't alone.  They seemed to understand that it was a very trying time for him, and they all tried to be supportive without prying.  Even Mist seemed willing to give him a little space without going so far that he felt their separation.  Jenna was about the only one he really felt comfortable talking with, but he knew that her own loyalties were split within herself.  His sister wanted her brother back, but the Keeper needed the Were-cat Tarrin to protect the Firestaff.  He could only imagine what kind of torture that was for her, but she never showed any of it to him.  She was always smiling, always supportive, and always ready to comfort him if he needed it.

      Time had never seemed to drag by so slowly, and more than once he felt like a man waiting for his own execution.  Counting every moment, trying to forget about the end but unable to think about anything else.  The clock on his wall, that expensive gift, turned into both blessing and curse for him, because it allowed him to see how much time had passed, but also how much there was left.  The ticking of the clock seemed to be laughter, as the fickle fates taunted him with every second about what was to come, and the fateful decision that very well destroy the tight circle of friends that had come with him so far, had been through so much.  The clock mocked him all day and all night, unable to sleep at all because of his mental turmoil, the sound of its ticking like a raw wound inside his mind that only got worse with each tick.  It to be so bad for him that he got out of bed and stopped the clock, unable to take the constant reminder that time was going by too fast, and that it could not go by fast enough.

      The first day was an absolute eternity, but the second was even worse.  It was like time had stopped, even going backwards, as if stopping the clock caused the gods to punish him by stopping the time that it represented, and he became very moody and irritable.  Sapphire stayed with him the entire day, trying to soothe him with her presence and an occasional supportive word, but it didn't do very much good.  He had other visitors that day, as Auli came in and tried to get him into a game of chess but failed, then told bawdy jokes and stories to try to make him laugh.  But there seemed to be little entertainment in it for him.  Camara Tal came in and fed him Amazon zamo, a dish composed of raw meat, ground up and spiced heavily.  She said that it would do good for him, and he had to admit that it was rather tasty, but about all it did was give him heartburn.

      The only real excitement of the day that caused Tarrin to break his morose reverie was when Jula came rushing in and asked immediately if the children were with him.  "They haven't been here today," Sapphire answered for him as he looked up at her.

      "Oh, damn," Jula grunted.  "Mist is going to kill someone.  You know how she is about Eron."

      "What happened?" the dragon asked.

      "They snuck out of the apartment," she answered.  "I thought they came down here.  Mist is checking the gardens."

      "It's not the first time Jasana's wandered off, I'm sure," Sapphire said calmly.  "And you have a nose, if I don't recall, Jula."

      "Jasana knows how to lay a false trail," Jula said defensively.  "We already tried that."

      "Then see Jenna.  She can find her inside a heartbeat."

      "Why didn't I think of that?" Jula said self-deprecatingly, then she rushed back out of the room.

      Jasana and Eron turned up, so he was told, not a moment after Jula scrambled away, found in the baths, where Eron was trying to float a small boat made of oiled parchment and wooden sticks in the bathing pool.  Mist didn't like Eron to go into the baths when there were humans present, but it turned out that he had been desperate to test out his boat, so he enrolled Jasana in his conspiracy to escape the apartment and delay the adults long enough to christen his little craft on its maiden voyage in the dangerous waters of the bathing pool.  Unfortunately for Eron, Jasana sank his boat with a boot from a Sorcerer taking a bath while shouting that a sea monster had appeared, sending Eron into indignant hysterics and angering the Sorcerer who'd just had his fine leather boot dunked.

      The recovery of the children relieved him, but that relief didn't stand long in the face of the enormity of tomorrow.  He sank back into his grim worry and excitement, a riot of conflicting emotions that made it hard for him to feel any one way for very long.  His mood shifted violently all day, from anger to almost giddiness to depression to fear to almost neurotic concern to stark terror.  Sapphire endured it with remarkable stoicism, seeing Tarrin probably at his very worst, consumed by worry and fear and uncertainty over what was to come.  She did her best to reassure him, but his own worries and doubts gnawed away whatever comfort her words could instill in him, and made the day creep by with almost maddening slowness.

      It was only raw exhaustion that allowed him to get any rest at all.  He'd not slept a wink the night before, and the worry and chaos in his mind had expended most of his energy over two days, allowing him to fall into a deep, blissfully dreamless slumber before the sun even went down.

      He was shaken out of his heavy sleep, and the return to conscsiousness made his heart seize.  He opened his eyes and sat up quickly, and found Jenna leaning over him, hand on his shoulder, with Sapphire perched on her shoulder.  "It's time, Tarrin," she said simply, with a neutral expression.

      "A-Already?" he asked in a fearful voice.

      She nodded.  "Phandebrass is waiting outside, and he has it all ready for you.  Do you want to drink it here, or somewhere else?"

      That question seemed ludicrous to him.  As important as this was, and she was worried about where he wanted to drink it?  But then again, if something went wrong, he didn't want anything to happen to his room.  Maybe he was being paranoid, but he'd already lost all his possessions once, and wasn't willing to risk it happening again.  But if he asked to drink it somewhere else, Jenna may think he was being paranoid.

      "What do you think I should do?" he asked, a desperate edge to his voice.

      "I think you should do whatever makes you feel most comfortable," she told him.  "I you want to drink it here or somewhere else, or if you want someone to be there with you, it's all up to you."

      "I," he said, then he bit his lip.  It was a silly fear, but if it would make him feel better....  "I want to drink it outside," he said.  "In the gardens.  I like it there.  It's peaceful."

      "Then that's what we'll do," she said with a pat on his shoulder.  "You're already dressed, but I think putting your boots on would be a good idea," she winked.  "You can't go outside barefoot.  People will think you're poor."

      The absurdity of her statement struck him, and he laughed despite himself.

      After putting on his boots, Tarrin stood up and steeled himself.  It was time.  All the agonized waiting was over.  No matter what happened next, he didn't have to wait for it anymore, and for that, at least, he was glad.  He looked down at his little sister, wondering it if was her or the Keeper staring up at him with those beautiful eyes, and he nodded grimly.  "Let's get it overwith," he said with surprising calm, belying the turmoil in his mind.

      He simply could not remember the trip out into the gardens.  Even much later, no matter how hard he tried, he could not remember.  It seemed to him that one second he was walking out the door of his room, between the two Knights stationed there to defend him, and the next he was standing in his favorite place in the gardens, by a lovely rose bush surrounded by assorted flowers of every shape, size, and color.  It was a place where two widely travelled paths converged, and there was a large white marble bench sitting on the edge of a grassy flat, one of the many grassy lawns interspersed through the gardens to give people somewhere cool and relaxing to lay.  Tarrin was sat down on the bench by his sister, and he looked up at them.   Jenna was there, with Sapphire silently sitting on her shoulder, and Phandebrass stood beside her, in dirty robes and still wearing that stupid pointy hat, but it was the surprisingly small black stone cup in his hands that had Tarrin's attention.

      That was it.  That was the potion that was supposed to restore his memory, and could very well destroy everything.  But the time to worry about it was over.  It had to be done, because if he didn't do it, then nothing would ever get resolved.  Besides, he just had to know.  He had to know who he had been, who he was, and if that was what he wanted to be once again.

      "Drink it quickly," Phandebrass warned him, holding the black stone cup out to him.  "Just to warn you, it's going to taste absolutely vile, it will.  You have to drink it all, Tarrin.  I say, you can't spill a single drop.  Do you understand?"

      "I understand," he nodded, reaching out for the cup with shaking hands.  Jenna reached out and put her hand over one of his, and she gave him a reassuring smile.  He felt a little better with her display of compassion, and his hands didn't shake quite as badly as they had just a moment before.

      The stone cup was hot, strangely hot, and the blackish liquid inside it smelled acrid and unpleasant.  This was it.  All his worries and fears would either be dismissed or justified in just a moment.  All his almost neurotic fear over losing his identiy would either be confirmed or denied, in just a moment.  No matter what, things were about to be settled, and the moment had already passed.

      It was time.

      He couldn't let himself dwell on it anymore.  With a gulp of air, he raised the cup to his lips and let the potion pour in.  Phandebrass was not lying about how terrible it tasted, but almost as quickly as he drank it, it seemed to numb his tongue, and then his throat.  He felt it wash down into his stomach, like hot, acidic water, burning his belly just before that strange numbness began to creep in.  His mouth and tongue felt weird from where they had touched the potion.

      "How long will it take to affect him?" Jenna asked.

      "I say, there's no definite timeframe," he answered.  "It depends on how well the potion was made for him and how accepting his mind is to the magical effect.  It could be seconds, or hours, but it will work.  The time is the only variable, it is."

      "How do you feel, Tarrin?" Jenna asked in concern.

      "Strange," he answered.  "I don't feel any memory coming back yet, but the potion is making my mouth and stomach feel weird."

      "That should pass," Phandebrass told him with calm assurance.

      The numbness took full hold of his stomach, and seemed to run its course in his mouth and on his tongue.  Then, the strangest sensation replaced it.  It was a strange kind of hot buzzing sensation, like pins and needles in his mouth, and it travelled down his throat and gullet and started taking hold in his stomach.

      "I feel pins and needles now," he said with a slightly slurred voice.  "It's almost tickling."

      "What was that?" Phandebrass asked with sudden, intense attention.

      "It's tingling," he repeated, then there a very real sense of pain in his mouth.  He put his hands over his mouth and winced.  "It's burning me!" he said in sudden fear, as that burning sensation seemed to sweep down his throat, following the path of the potion.

      "It shouldn't do that," Phandebrass said with sudden worry, looking at Sapphire.  "The formula neer mentioned anything about it causing pain!"

      "Sometimes formulae leave out the unpleasant side effects," the dragon said calmly.

      The burning sensation turned out to be a pittance.  All the sudden, Tarrin felt like someone had stabbed him in the stomach with a knife.  He doubled over and let out a cry of pain, snapping his jaws shut so tightly that he felt like his teeth were going to shatter.  But even they hurt from inside, by whatever it was the potion did to him, filling him from the inside with a burning pain that swept through his body like wildfire.  Red haze filled his vision as he struggled to figure out what was happening, what had gone wrong, but conscious thought was scoured away as a pain unlike anything he had ever experience all but consumed him.  It roared through him like a flood raging down a canyon, infusing itself into every tiny bit of him inside and out, suffusing him with its searing, burning agony and tearing a scream from him so mindless, so elemental in its conveyance of his pain that it made the two humans cringe and step back.

      There was only one thing that touched his mind in that eternal moment, as the vestiges of the potion actually did manage to perform its task.

      That he had experienced this once before.

      Sliding off the bench, scrabbling at the clean, neatly arrayed white walkway stones, Tarrin tried to writhe, tried to think, tried to stop what was happening, but he knew that it could not be stopped.  He cried out once more, but it was not a cry of pain, it was a cry of outrage, of indignation, of fury, before the pain of it descended his cry into a mindless shriek of absolute mindless agony.

      His right of choice had been denied to him.

      Lost in the completeness of the internal fire, the pain of the changes did not touch him.  Lost in the unending scream torn from him, he could not stop what was happening.  The bones in his back split, grew in number and grew smaller, and every bone within him shifted, grew longer, became more dense.  The bones in his hands split, cracked, thickened and then reset, enlarging his hands.  The comfortable boots on his feet stretched grotesquely, then were split asunder as the same process took hold in his feet, lengthening and enlarging them as the balls of his feet widened unnaturally.  Skin split and then resealed as the bones continued to expand, longer and longer and longer, blasting shockwaves of pain through him as the flesh was torn and the organs violently displaced.

      But the changes to body were not the only ones.  The Cat was released from its prison within as the first sweeping wave of the change took hold, as the body began to become accommodating to the mind.  With it came the memories, two years of memories, a lifetime of memories.  The bad and the good, the horror and the joy, the pain and the pleasure, it swept over his pain-maddened mind like pouring salt into an open wound, assaulting him from within as the pain shattered his body.  The memory was there, all of it, every bit of it trying to sweep the others and the pain aside and take hold inside him all at once, augmented by the memory-kindling potion that was still in him, whose magic had not lost its potency despite the betraying extra addition to it.

      Memory and change suddenly competed with lost power as the lost connection to the core of his power was restored.  Tarrin's hands, still in the process of transforming back into paws, suddenly erupted with Magelight as the pain-maddened soul, caught between human and Were, found within memory and body forgotten capabilities, fought against the inevitable with all the righteous indignation it could muster.  The shriek of pain became a powerful cry of fury, as rage overcame the agony, rage at this most shocking, most horrific of betrayals.  The power surrounded him, infused him even as the magic of the Were-cat and the magic of the potion stormed through him.  The power picked him up from the ground as his hands became paws, his feet set into their permanent hybrid form, and his body continued to grow taller and taller.  The back of his pants split as his spine extended out from its place, separated from his pelvis and tore through his skin, snaking out like a sailor lowering a rope flailing in a gale as the spine formed a tail, and that tail quickly fleshed out and began to grow black fur.

      The Magelight around his body coalesced, then shimmered into the brilliance of the four-pointed star around him as the totality of the Weave sought to flow into him, through him, become part of him, make him a part of it. The Conduit that flowed through the Tower behind him suddenly erupted into blazing brilliance, shimmered with an audible ringing sound, responding to his pain, and the entire Weave around Suld shuddered and writhed as every major strand, every feeder strand, every wisp of every flow suddenly glowed with bright white light and sang out in the choral shimmering from the Conduit and through them, showing the mundane citizens of Suld for that one brief moment what had always surrounded them, the power the katzh-dashi utilized, revealing what had once been hidden before becoming hidden once more.  The Weave was caught up in the throes of his pain, reacting to him in a way that it would not for any other, shuddering and shifting as the pain roared through him.   His mind, with the memory-restoring potion taking hold inside him, was reaching up into the Weave, trying to find solace, find refuge there to protect itself from the eternal firestorm of the pain caused by the transformation.  That pain was easing as the greatest of the physical alterations were complete, as the human ears vanished and cat's ears poked up through his hair, as fur quickly grew in on his arms and legs, along his tail, on his new ears, and his teeth shifted in their shape, shifted by the power of the magic that changed him, his incisors growing out into impressive fangs.  He finally opened his eyes, but instead of the Were-cat's vertically slitted green, they were a blazing, incadescent white as the power of the Weave surrounded him.

      The change was done, and it could not be undone.  The pain eased, but the chaos within his mind did not stop.  The magical potion that was still coursing through his body sought to restore memory, but found that memory already restored.  The magic of the potion was touched by the power of the Weave, altered, and it reached into the Weave, through him, seeking to restore memory.  As was its function.

      Tarrin sucked his breath in when something inconceivable happened.  The echoes of the Weave, the fluttering remnants of lost information, of memory, reacted to the powerful mingled magic within him.  It called out to the echoes, and the echoes responded, flooding into him with a speed that nearly drove him mad.  A nightmarish jumble of images, sounds, impressions, things and places and feelings and memories flowed into his mind.  The magic of the potion, still powerful, augmented by the power of the Weave, drew in all the memory of the Weave and showed it to him in one great moment of utter lucidity.  In the blink of an eye, the entirety of the memory of the Weave was laid out before him, like some vast, unfathomably huge tapestry that was both too massive to understand yet arrayed in a manner that made it make sense.  In that fleeting moment, with the entirety of the Weave's stored memory open to him, he knew that he had touched the mind of the Goddess.  He had seen what no mortal was ever meant to see, the answers to everything, the totality of existence, and it was more than his mortal mind could comprehend.

      This is not for you, my kitten, her voice seemed to flutter to him from some great distance.  This will only drive you mad.  Forget what must be forgotten, and find peace once more.

      Her power reached back through the Weave, touched him, and undid the magic of the potion.  Her hand  passed through his mind, sweeping away that which would drive him mad, but not touching many of the other things his mind had learned during that moment of utter communion with her.  What Jenna had learned from Spyder, now Tarrin had learned from the Goddess.

      The touch of the Goddess disrupted the power of the Weave flowing into him, through him.  The four-pointed star which formed the heart of the symbol of the Goddess wavered around him, then winked out.  The power holding him off the ground was disrupted, and he fell back to the earth.

      The Tarrin that touched the ground, fell limply and blissfully unconscious to the soft, welcoming earth, was once again a Were-cat.


      Jenna and Phandebrass could only stare in shock.  Sapphire landed by his limp form, nudging him worriedly with her snout.

      She couldn't believe it.  The potion hadn't restored his memory, it had changed him back into a Were-cat!  He looked exactly as he did the last time she'd seen him!  He was just as tall, as tall as Triana, and he had the fetlocks and the drawn sense about his face that made him look more mature.  His face was calmly reposed, a welcome sight given that but a moment ago, the mindless agony of the change had contorted his handsome features.

      What had just happened?  How did it happen?  How could the potion change him back?  That was impossible!

      And Goddess, what had he done to the Weave?  She thought it was going to rip itself apart!  He must have regained his ability to use it in the middle of his transformation, and it was that raw, elemental creature, half human, half cat, and totally consumed by the pain, that had managed to make the connection.  She had never sensed anything like that before, and it was a shivering display of the tremendous power her brother possessed, a power far greater than her own, despite the fact that they were both sui'kun.

      She knelt by Tarrin, put her hands on him, feeling the hardness under his skin, knowing that the change was complete and thorough.  He was a Were-cat once more.

      "By the holy circles of Denthar!" Phandebrass finally managed to exclaim.

      "Phandebrass!" Sapphire said in a suddenly furious tone, snapping her head around and up to glare dangerously at the Wizard.  "What in the blazes did you do!?!"

      "B-By my honor, Sapphire, it should never have done that!" he said in flabbergasted confusion.  "It couldn't have!  The power to change humans Were is a function of magic, and it's not Wizard magic.  It's Druidic by nature, and you know we can't duplicate that!"

      "Perhaps there was some part of it left in him," Sapphire said, but Jenna reached down and picked up the cup.  Phandebrass was right.  There was no way the potion should have done that.  Only a Were-cat could change him back into a Were-cat.  She sent searching flows down into the cup, searching the traces of liquid still clinging to its interior as a light film, knowing what she would find, but dreading the enormity of the consequences if she did.

      It was there.  Goddess, it was the worst thing that could have been.  She shook her head and groaned audibly.

      "What is it?" Sapphire demanded of her.

      "The potion didn't do it," she said in a trembling voice.  "There's Were-cat blood in the cup."

      She held the cup in trembling hands, her gaze down on her brother.  "Someone put Were-cat blood in the cup," she said, tears actually coming into his eyes.  "Someone--"  She couldn't finish, breaking down into wracking sobs.  Phandebrass knelt beside her and comforted her, and she cried into his robe unashamedly.

      "Someone changed him against his will," Sapphire said in a voice of doom.  "And the list of suspects is a very short one."  She hissed, and lightning crackled around her body, a display of her growing fury.  "I will find out who did this and make them wish they were never born!" she vowed in a voice that cracked like a whip.

      Someone had changed him against his will, and Jenna knew that more than blood was going to be spilled over it.  Someone was going to pay, and from the fury in Sapphire's voice, they were going to pay dearly.

      Goddess help her, whoever she is, Jenna thought, knowing that it had to be one of the females.  Jesmind, Kimmie, Jula, Triana, or Mist.  One of them had to do it.  Nobody else could.  The only question was which one.

      Which one would die because of their impatience.

To:       Title                EoF

Chapter 7


      He knew before he even woke up.

      It had been so long...so long.  The presence of the Cat within him was all he needed to tell him what had happened.  It could not be there any other way, even if the potion did restore his memory.  Without the magic, the mind of the Cat could not exist.  He could feel that too, the subtle magical power of Were infused into him once more, linked into the All by delicate threads.  As he rose up from the blackness, he knew.  He knew what had happened, because he knew that he was once again not alone within his own mind.

      He had been turned once again.

      The memory of it was blurred.  It had happened when he drank the potion, that much he could remember clearly.  He could remember it so clearly because he had understood what was going on, and had sensed the truth of it.  The potion hadn't turned him, something in the potion had done it.  Someone had put something in the potion, blood or spit, and it had turned him.  He remembered the absolute outrage he'd felt when he realized that, when he realized that someone had stolen from him the one thing he had left to him with his amnesia, the only thing that had given him any sense of control over his own life.  The right to choose his own path.

      Someone had chosen it for him, and even now he was absolutely furious about it.  It was not the rage of the Cat, however, it was the cold, ruthless kind of anger that came from the human in him.  The human Tarrin had coveted that right, the right to be whatever he chose to be, and it was taken away from him.  There weren't enough words in existence to describe how that made him feel.  Shock, outrage, indignation, they were paltry attempts to gauge the depths of his emotion over what had been done to him.  That towering resentment had been the first thing to awaken in his mind as he climbed from the black void, and it was joined by his icy anger, his absolute hatred of whoever had done it to him.

      But such a thing had trouble competing against the sense of reawakening he began to feel.  Senses long throttled by human inadequacy were again restored to him, and he could smell absolutely everything in the room.  The ears that were now on top of his head could hear the silence in the room, but could also hear the breathing of the two humans who were standing outside his door, with the occasional clink or shifting of metal armor.  Knights.  He could feel every finger of the soft linen sheets against his skin, as well as the soft leather of the trousers that were still on him.  The room had lingering traces of his own scent, but the scent was different to him, seemed unusual.  It was the scent of him as a human.

      Opening his eyes slowly, seeing the intensity of the colors, the brightness of the glowglobe hanging in the center of the room, he knew that he was alone.  A body that felt light, agile, powerful, responded to his commands as he rose up from the pillow, swung his feet over the edge of the bed, and set them down where not that morning the human Tarrin would have needed a stepstool to set his feet on something solid while sitting in the bed.  He focused on his arm and paw, mystified over seeing the black fur once again, turning his paw over and looking at the dark pads.  He clenched his fist, feeling every muscle and tendon shift as his body obeyed his commands, feeling once more the power in that act.

      There was more than that.  The Weave was much more present to his eyes now than it had been before.  The strands were more than ghostly, almost solid to his eyes, but he found that he could sort of ignore them and make them disappear from his sight when he needed to see behind them.  The sense of the Weave was much stronger as well, and he could feel it out there, almost aching to have him wield it, its power gathering around him in preparation for any task he set it to do.  He was used to that effect from before, but it was much stronger now than it had been, as the strands not only pulled towards him, but saturated with the floating energy of the Weave that wasn't tied to the currents of the strands.  He attracted both the Weave and the extra power within it, and he could feel the flows almost pulling free of the strands of their own volition, as if he were some kind of powerful magnet drawing iron filings across a table.

      It was the strangest feeling.  The human Tarrin had been afraid of losing his identity with the return of the memories, but it had turned out to be a false fear.  That part of him was still there, merged once more with the collective whole of human, Cat, memories, fears, and mental impulses that formed the core of his personality.  He had not become another person, he had merely been restored to the person he had once been.  All the memories of his time as a human were there, neatly arranged with the older memories that had been denied to him.  The newness of things was gone now, though, and in a way he regretted that.  The human Tarrin had been trusting, almost naive, and had had a youthful innocence about the world that made everything seem interesting and good.  But that was gone now, educated by the dark experiences of memory, and he knew things would never seem so fresh or new to him again.

      Putting his face in his paws for a moment, he tried to mull through the fresh chaos in his mind, as the last traces of the potion were still trying to affect him.  What they did, curiously enough, was open the entirety of his own memory to him, and he realized sitting there that he could remember absolutely everything that had happened to him since before his own birth.  The images and fear of being born were as clear as they had happened yesterday.  Hour by hour, day by day, month by month, year by year, the accumulated events of his entire life were fresh in his mind, rekindled from the darkest recesses of himself by the magical power of the potion Phandebrass had crafted for him.  The good and the bad, the proud accomplishments and the humiliating mistakes, the moments of boredom and the moments of abject terror, they were all there, arranged for him within his mind, able to be called forth whenever he wished.  He found it curious that he could literally see within his mind's eye every page of every book he had ever read, even ones he had but paged through absently.  Every building in every city, every face that met his eyes, every sound, every smell, every thought that had crossed his mind, all of it was there.  It didn't cause him any pain or discomfort; truth be told, it was more a curiosity than anything else to him.

      There were other things there as well.  He distinctly remembered the potion getting swept up in the power of both the Weave and the All as they reconnected with him, and it had caused the potion's power to rise up into the Weave.  The entirety of the Weave's drifting echoes of memory were called to him, and he could remember them filling him with thousands and thousands of years of memory, using him to complete themselves.  He also remembered the Goddess reaching into his mind and wiping away those things no mortal was ever meant to see, those things that would have destroyed his mind were he given any chance to reflect on them.  She had been very selective, very careful in her pruning of that lore, though.  She had not touched much of it, like the history of the order, the Sorcerers who had lived before him, the things they had accomplished.

      It was all there.  Ten thousands years of history, the complete history of the katzh-dashi.  It was all there, and he was amazed.  The katzh-dashi had originally been created to do just what he was doing.  They were the guardians of the Firestaff, using their power to protect the artifact from misuse.  They had been formed in the first days of the Urzani dynasty, just after the Urzani completed their conquest of the Known World, and but days after the Firestaff was very nearly used by someone.  They had been formed by the Goddess, formed from the only Sorcerers at that time, the Urzani themselves, formed to take possession of the Firestaff and keep it out of the hands of those who would misuse its power.  At that time, there was no Wizard magic, only Sorcerers, Priests, and Druids, and only Sorcerers had the numbers and the detachment necessary to undertake such a mission.  They set their roots in Suld, which at that time was nothing but a plain by the sea, where the first of the majestic towers had been constructed to take advantage of the Conduit that rested there.  They hid the Firestaff in the Tower, and settled in to strengthen their powers of Sorcery to better defend the artifact from those who would dare try to use its power.

      Tarrin knew that Suld had literally built up around the Tower, but he hadn't known that it was the Urzani that had originally founded Suld.  And it made him realize that Suld was probably the oldest city in the entire world.  Not even Dala Yar Arak had been in existence as long as Suld had.

      That exploration of their powers was what caused the foundations of what they knew now to come to pass.  A special Sorcerer was born, one with powers far greater than any other, and this Sorcerer survived being Consumed.  She crossed over into a new realm of magical power, and she became the first of what were now known as the sui'kun.  That woman was Spyder, and her power had caused her to become the Empress of the Urzani Empire, the absolute ruler of the entire Known World.  But she disappeared not long after being put on the throne, and Tarrin knew that she had given up the duties of the empire to answer the call of the Goddess to become the Guardian of Haven, the only place in the world where magical gateways that led into the world from others existed.

      The Goddess was the soul of the order, but to Tarrin's surprise, Spyder was its mother.  It was she who showed the others the path into the realm of the Weavespinners, and it was her footsteps in which everyone else walked.  Spyder was the first sui'kun, the first of the seven to be born, and the only one to survive to this day.

      The destruction of the Urzani empire thousands of years later had caused them to lose the staff, having it stolen by someone who had fallen under the spell of its corrupting influence, and over time their self-imposed mission changed from protecting the staff to exploring the limits of the power of Sorcery as the realities of their situation changed drastically.  It was those Urzani that had been among the first to approach the other races after losing their homes, beseeching the humans how had taken over the ancient city of Suld--ancient even then!!-- to allow them to return to their beloved Tower and exist among them in peace.  The humans agreed, and that started the slow and harmonious integration of the Urzani back into the lands of civilization, their long exile finally ended.

      Then came the Blood War.  The katzh-dashi rose up from their study to try to repair the damage done by Val and the Firestaff, and ended up forming a pivotal role in the defense of the world against the Demons.  The vast majority of the katzh-dashi, tempered by their thousands of years of peaceful study, had come to reject war and devoted themselves to peace, but also devoted themselves to protecting the world from another Demon incursion.  They were the ones that became the Sha'Kar, and it caused the order's focus to shift once more, from quiet study to both defending the Firestaff and protecting the world from Demonspawn.  The Firestaff, they decided, was best handled by completely removing it from all possible temptation, so it was placed in the care of a mighty dragon and sent off to a lone island, thousands of longspans from any shore, where it would be well protected, and also where its power to corrupt could do no harm.

      They continued to grow in power and learning, spreading to other Towers, and establishing themselves as the most powerful magical force in the world.  Not even the introduction of Wizard magic by strange visitors from beyond the boundaries of the fabric of the universe, strange men from other dimensions of reality, weakened the might of the katzh-dashi.  It was they who caused the Age of Power to come to be, as the learning of the Sorcerers and the growth of their numbers and influence quite literally affected the entire world.  The Weave grew strong, rich, and it touched all the people of the world, giving the most mundane soul at least a minor amount of magical capability.

      But the Age of Power ended in the Breaking.  Not even the memory of that time he had gained from the Weave told him much about it, only that some group attacked two of the Towers and managed to kill two of the sui'kun.  The Weave, which depended on the sui'kun, faltered, and then it tore.  That caused the Breaking, which killed uncountable numbers of Sorcerers, Wizards, and Priests and sent the entire world spiralling down into a black century of war, famine, pestilence, and upheaval.  The Sha'Kar vanished, thought to be extinct, and all the rich history and lore of the order, all their magical accomplishments, were lost as well, locked away in books that the descendants of the Ancients could no longer read.

      It was a rich history, and Tarrin felt honored to be a recipient of that lore.  He knew that what he knew was what Jenna had learned from Spyder, or at least parts of it.  Spyder had been alive through almost all of the history of the katzh-dashi.  She was the very first of the sui'kun, and in many ways, she was the icon of the order, the literal handmaiden of the Goddess.  He felt even more honored that she had personally trained him.

      Knowing where the order came from and where it was going was imporant, he could see that now.  The katzh-dashi had lacked direction after the Breaking, lost its history, and finally things were getting back in the direction they were supposed to go.  It would be thousands of years before the number of Sorcerers were enough to cause another Age of Power.  Perhaps next time there was one, they'd have the wisdom of experience to not cause another Breaking.

      It was a very strange thing to wake up with memories that weren't there when one went to sleep.  That meant the lore of the Weave as much as it did regaining all the memory he had lost to the curse placed on the Firestaff.  But his memory was whole again, beyond whole, and it was senseless to dwell on it for very long.  It was over, it was done, he had been graced with knowledge beyond the scope of his awareness, and what was more important, he was Were once more.

      He looked at his paws again, looking at the fetlocks on his wrists.  Now that he had his memory back, now that he could look into his own feelings, he had to admit it to himself.  Miranda was right.  Given what he knew now, were he still human, he would have chosen to be turned again.  The memory of himself as a human seemed strange, bizarre, almost frightening.  He had been so weak.  So dependent on others, so limited.  He would never have been happy like that, not so long as the memory of what he had once been was with him.  Despite the pain he had suffered, despite the terrible things he had done as a Were-cat, he knew that the change had been absolute.  He was a Were-cat, and always would be, in mind and sprit if not in body.

      But that did not justify what had been done to him.  Despite the fact that he would have chosen to be Were, it did not make this alright.  He had been denied the one thing the Goddess herself wanted for him, the right to choose his own future, his own fate, for good or ill.  He had been violated at the core of his being, in the most intimate manner possible, and he meant to find out who did this to him and unleash his wrath.  Someone had changed him back, had done it against his will, and what was most outrageous, had done it in the most cowardly way imaginable.  The culprit didn't even have the guts to look him in the eye and bite him.  No, this person had put Were-cat blood in the potion or had spat in it, not wanting him to know who had done it.

      The possibilities were rather obvious.  Of everyone involved, Jesmind and Kimmie had the most at stake.  But that didn't mean that one of them did it.  It could have been any of the females, even Jula, though he had the feeling that it wasn't her.  Jula would never deprive him of the one thing she herself probably wished was hers.  The right to choose.  Jesmind certainly was capable of it, and so was Kimmie.  Spiking the potion would be more Kimmie's approach than Jesmind, since she'd probably just bite him if she meant to change him back.

      Whoever it was, she was going to be very sorry she did it.  He didn't care who it was who did it.  First he was going to beat her to within an finger's breadth of her life, then he probably wouldn't speak to her again for a very long time.  As angry as he was, he was more than capable of even thrashing Kimmie, who was pregnant with his child.  Not even that would protect her from his vengeance if it turned out that she was the one who did this to him.  He wouldn't kill whoever did it, but she'd be on his bad side for the next few hundred years.  It may take that long for her to heal from the thrashing he intended to lay down on her.

      Standing up, feeling the lightness and total freedom that was his once again, the freedom to jump incredibly high, to run faster than a horse, feeling his unnatural Were-cat strength flow through him, he padded over to the chest and pulled out one of the shirts that the tailor Cassiter had made for him.  It was too small for him now, but that was easily fixed.  As if the time as a human had never happened, Tarrin wove a quick spell to enlarge the garment, feeling full and complete control over the Weave once again.

      Strange.  The Goddess said he wouldn't have the height, but she was wrong.  He was just as he'd been before the Firestaff stripped him of his Were nature, eye to eye with Triana.  And he felt exactly the same as he had before that happened to him, as if being a human had never happened.  All he had was the memory of it, and the influences of that time on his outlook now.

      Whatever became of this, he knew it had to be fast.  The return of his memory meant that the weight of the mission was again heavy on him, and he knew that the Tower was not a safe place.  He could spend no more than three days here.  That was all.  Three days to make sure there were no lingering side-effects of the turning and the potion, and three days to track down the culprit and punish her in the most brutal manner possible without killing her.  After those three days, whether he found her or not, he had to leave.  It was only two months before the Firestaff activated, and summer would soon be winding down into fall.  If he wanted to travel, it would be best to get out there and get a jump on the autumn storms, and give him as much time as possible to lose any pursuers and disappear with the Firestaff.  Time was of the essence now, both for him and for anyone who intended to try to take the Firestaff away from him.  He needed time to escape, and they needed the time to find him.

      He already knew exactly where he was going to go. The one place in all of Sennadar no man, no matter how desperate or insane he was, would dare set foot.  The Desert of Swirling Sands.  It was also one of the few places on Sennadar where a man could hide from an army with a reasonable chance of getting away with it.  The brutal heat and rugged terrain would work to his advantage, and his magical abilities would allow him to draw those pursuers deeper and deeper into the Holy Mother's deadly embrace and let the desert do the killing for him.  And then there were the Selani.  Even without them, the desert was the ideal place to hide, but not even the most fanatical army was going to risk a confrontation with the Selani in their homeland.  They'd get annihilated, and they knew it.  With the Selani and the desert itself to protect him, he knew that he could do what the Goddess needed of him, and that was keep the Firestaff away from everyone else.

      It wouldn't take him long to get there, and it would be a very short trip if he could get Ianelle to teach him how to Teleport.  If he could learn how to do that, protecting the Firestaff was going to be a very simple affair.  If he found himself threatened, he could jump halfway across the Known World in the blink of an eye.  He'd like to see them follow him after he did that.

      No, wait...he already did know how to Teleport.  That was right there with the memories, and with calm surprise, he realized that the vast majority of the spells that had been lost to the human katzh-dashi lived on within him now.  He had absorbed them when the magic potion sucked in all the memory of the Weave, and the Goddess had not bothered to erase them from his memory.  He knew how to Teleport, he knew every spell that Auli had used in her rampages of troublemaking through the Tower, he knew the spells that Syllis and the old Council had used to control the Sha'Kar.  He even knew spells that they did not know, such as how to safely Transmute into certain known forms.  Shapeshifting.  Shapeshifting through Sorcery, an art lost since before the Breaking, before the Sha'Kar, an art lost with the Blood War.

      Touching a finger to his temple, he sorted through this new knowledge quickly yet thoroughly, understanding each new spell and how it worked, and how it could be altered to conform to a given situation.  There were hundreds of them, myriads of possible alterations of those weaves

      Those spells, added to the ones he had figured out on his own and the ones Spyder taught him, gave him a truly vast command of the Weave, and tremendous versatility.  It helped that he was sui'kun, that a great many of them required High Sorcery in order to be used, and that he could use them by himself when he needed them.

      Teleporting.  Tarrin snorted in mild amusement when he realized that his idea wouldn't work.  A Sorcerer could only Teleport to a place he knew intimately.  Not a place he had seen, not even a place he had visited, but a place where he had spent time and had come to know the area.  He knew that he could Teleport easily to Aldreth, his home, and to the Tower.  He could Teleport to Dala Yar Arak, or Shoran's Fork, places where he had spent much time and had come to know specific places very well.  He could Teleport back to the deck of the Star of Jerod or the Dancer, two ships where he had spent much time, even if the ships weren't where he last remembered them to be.  He thought he could Teleport back to Amyr Dimeon, for though he hadn't spent very long there, he had certainly made sure to know the place.  And he knew he could Teleport to Keritanima's palace in Wikuna, or Iselde's house back on Sha'Kari.  It wasn't the power to jump all over the world, but he could certainly go from one side to the other in a big hurry if he needed to do so.

      Strange to wake up with such an expanded memory.  It was almost confusing, but the memories didn't seem jumbled or hard to comprehend.  They were just there, just like all his other memories, and they only stood out when he skimmed through them looking for something specific.  Both the ones that were his and the ones that were not, the ones that were normal and the ones that had been resurrected by the magical potion, which had faded from his memory.  Or at least he'd thought that they had.  He knew, even though he wasn't sure how, that the effect was over.  He wouldn't remember absolutely everything for the rest of his life, because the potion's power wouldn't be there forever.  It was already almost gone, and though its magic wouldn't give him a perfect eidectic memory, he wasn't sure if the memories he regained from its magical power would remain as they were, or slowly fade over time.  Only time would answer that question, he was sure of it.

      But this was not the time to be pondering such trivial matters.  He didn't have much time, and he had alot to do.  He walked over to the mirror, feeling his tail act to counter-balance him, and he felt oddly whole once more, rather relieved to be free of the debilitating constraints of the human form, to be himself once more.  He had enjoyed the time as a human, but now that his mind was once again whole, it would never have been content to remain in that confining body.  He leaned down and looked into it and found the reflection staring back at him exactly as he remembered it to be, the maturity that had been put into his features by Shiika's aging kiss, the height, the fetlocks.  He wondered why he had regained his height, when even the Goddess said he wouldn't have it if he was turned again.  She said it was a measure of age, and that age was stripped when the Were magic was torn from him.  But he was his tall self once more, the age taken from him replaced when the Were nature was imparted to him again.  He touched his cheek, then his jaw, then reached up and delicately pinched the tip of his cat ear, feeling it both in his fingers and in the ear, which flicked irritably from the pressure.  Yes, everything seemed the way it was supposed to be.

      He was whole.

      Conjuring a new vest--he was rather fond of vests now--he put it on over the shirt, and then realized what he'd just done.  Obviously, his Druidic powers hadn't been damaged by the trauma of losing and then regaining his Were nature.  Then again, he didn't remember thinking about Conjuring it either.  It had just happened.  He remembered Jenna's gifts, and went over to the night table and picked up the Cat's Claws.  They were too small for his wrists now, but that was no problem.  Picking through the weaving of their magic, he worked out how to enlarge the bracers without disrupting the impressively complicated spells that Jenna had woven into them.  He tended to that little task, and after taking on human hands to let him get them on without making the bracers grotesquely large, he slid them into place.

      That was an idea.  It had been a month or more since he'd talked to the Goddess, and he felt that she may tell him some of the things he wanted to know.  Besides, a month in human form meant a month without talking to him--though why she stayed away was beyond him--meant that there were things going on out there that she may need him to know.

      "Mother," he called in a grim tone.

      And then she was there.  It was not the voice, it was not an image or projection of her, it was her. His new memory told him that this was her material form, and using it brought along very real danger.  It was her icon, the very one that usually stood out in the hedge maze, animated and breathed into life.  It was still stone, but it was living stone, and a stone made to feel and act as flesh.  Infused with the power of the Goddess, it acted as her direct agent in the material world while the rest of her power remained out wherever it was gods were.  Even his newfound knowledge didn't contain that information.  She looked exactly as he remembered from the two times he'd seen this before, the tall, stately, breathtakingly beautiful woman with glowing white eyes and hair striped in the seven colors of the rainbow, the seven colors that represented the Spheres of Sorcery.  She wore that same dress that looked to be made out of captured starlight, shimmering with her every movement, and now he understood why the Sha'Kar wore those shimmering fabric gowns.  Not to be ostentatious, but to honor the Godess by wearing clothes similar to those she preferred to give to her icon.  Many of the things the Sha'Kar did were honors to the Goddess, even the smallest trivial customs.  He had never realized how devout they were.

      "Mother," he said with calm devotion, reaching out his paws to her.  She stepped up and took them, looking fondly up into his eyes, then she took one of his paws between her hands and stroked the black fur gently.

      "My sweet kitten," she said in her choral voice, as if so much power lay within it that no one voice could contain it.  He had to fight the urge to kneel before her; he knew she hated that.

      "Who did it?"

      "I'm not going to tell you," she said bluntly.  "If you want to find out, then you're on your own."

      That was a disappointment, but he bit back a waspish retort.  She wanted him to treat her like a friend but he still knew there was a line that he would not cross.

      "Why did I get back my height?"

      "Because the person used your own blood," she answered.  "That changed things considerably.  When you changed back, you changed into what you wanted to be, not what the transformation would force upon you.  Probably for the first time ever, a Were-kin had total control over his own transformation.  Had it been another female's blood, even Jesmind's blood, your turning would have been as if it happened the first time.  Your physical abilities may have been different, your Druidic aptitude would certainly have been different, and you may even have had different color fur.  That's not set, you know.  It depends on the one that turns you."

      "I didn't know that."

      "Since it only happens once, it's not the kind of thing even the Were-cats ever managed to find out," she said with an impish smile.

      Tarrin realized what she'd said.  "They used my blood?" he asked in surprise.  "How could they get that?"

      "From the stores of it the Tower still holds," she answered simply.

      "Then it could have been anyone!" he said with a groan.

      "That's right.  It could have been anyone," she said calmly.  "So you don't have to be nasty to the females.  I'm not saying one of them didn't do it, but you shouldn't blame them all before finding out for yourself."

      "I guess, but Jesmind is really going to hear it from me," he warned.  "I'm still mad about how she treated me when I was human.  It's not all just going to be alright now that I'm Were again."

      "That's your choice, kitten," she said evenly, betraying no hint of her personal feelings in the matter.

      "You've given me a place to start, at least," he grunted.  "Not everyone knows about that blood, and it shouldn't be too hard to find out who's been there in the last few days."

      "Just don't let it consume you, kitten.  You have other things to do."

      "I know, Mother," he said, leading her over to the bed and helping her sit down.  He, on the other hand, remained standing before her, still with his paws between her hands.  "I'm giving myself three days, then I'm leaving.  Whether I find my answers or not."

      "I don't object to that," she smiled.  "I know you know where you're going to go."  He nodded, but she cut him off before he could speak.  "I know where it is," she said in a cautioning tone, shifting her gaze to the door, and the two Knights that stood beyond it.

      "It was the best place I could think of," he explained.

      "I agree with you," she smiled.

      "Mother, what happened to me when I was turned again?" he asked.  "With the potion and all.  I feel a little different now than I did before."

      "That's to be expected," she said calmly.  "Your Druidic powers are stronger now than they were before, because of the irregularity of your turning.  You may be a warrior, but your soul is that of a magic-user, and that caused you to strengthen your ties to the All with the second turning.  Since you knew it was there, you reached out for it this time much more willingly than the last, and it responded to you.  You've reached a level of ability that's going to make it a little more complicated to use.  You'll need Triana's instruction, and I suggest you don't use your Druidic talents unless absolutely necessary."

      He nodded in understanding, a little surprised.  He had managed to strengthen his own Druidic ability?  He wondered how that happened, because he certainly didn't remember reaching out to the All...and he could remember every excruciating moment of the process of being turned.  Maybe it happened on a level beyone his senses, or maybe the pain had blinded him to what was going on.  Either was a reasonable explanation.

      "I think I told you once before, kitten, that the Weave and the All are connected.  I won't bore you with an exhaustive explanation of what happened, so I'll sum it up for you.  Part of what makes you so powerful is that fact that you're both a Druid and a Sorcerer.  Each feeds off the other in a way that you can't understand, and your ability to use both forms of magic makes both of them stronger.  Without your Sorcery, your Druidic powers would have been only slightly stronger than Thean's, and without your Druidic ability, you would have been only marginally stronger than Jenna in Sorcery.  When your Drudic abilities increased, it caused a proportional increase in your powers of Sorcery."

      "The Weave is part of the All," he reasoned immediately.  "A body attuned to Sorcery would be more receptive to the power of the All, and a person capable of touching the All would have more power to use against the Weave."

      "Very well done, my kitten," she said with sincere delight, smiling gloriously at him.

      "That's why Jasana is so much stronger than I am," he concluded with a slap of his tail against the floor.  "She's a strong Druid!"

      "She's strong in both," the Goddess nodded.  "But she's not too much stronger than you now.  You could easily handle her, because of your experience."

      "I could do that before."

      "No, you could have handled her before, but only with great difficulty and considerable risk.  You never faced her when she used her full power against you, kitten.  Even you are going to be very surprised when you finally see it.  Now it will be much easier for you to contain her if it's needful."

      Tarrin nodded grimly.  That was something he'd long worried about, but it was a worry for another day.

      "Am I going to lose all this memory?"

      "Some," she nodded.  "The memory of your lifetime will fade over time until your memory will be as it was before, but the memories you gained from the Weave are branded into you.  You couldn't forget them if you tried."

      "I wouldn't want to.  Is this what Jenna learned from Spyder?"

      "Most of it," she answered.  "You learned considerably more than Jenna did, mostly things pertaining to Sorcery itself."

      "I noticed that.  I can do almost any spell any Sorcerer has ever used," he said without any boasting in his voice.

      "Jenna is the repository of the order's history and culture.  You are now the repository of its magical lore.  I want you to teach Jenna absolutely every spell you know that she doesn't, Tarrin," she said, using his name to drive her order home.  "I want it done by tomorrow night."

      "It will be done, Mother," he said solemny.

      She took a hand off his paw and reached over, touching his cheek.  He closed his eyes and submitted to  that touch, leaning his face against her hand.  "I have missed you so much, my kitten," she said lovingly.  "I stayed away from you while you were human because I didn't want to interfere.  I know how you felt, and I knew my involvement would only overwhelm you.  That Tarrin wasn't prepared to handle someone like me."

      "I think it would have," he agreed.  "I don't think that other me could have managed to be very rational when he realized just who he was talking to."  He opened his eyes and looked at her.  "You said you wouldn't let anyone interfere with my choice," he told her, his voice just reaching the edges of accusation.

      "I said I'd be extremely cross with them if they did," she said.  "I never said I'd directly intefere."

      "I hate it when you have an answer for everything," he growled.

      "I wouldn't be much of a god if I didn't," she teased with a bright smile.  "Don't worry, kitten.  I am rather cross with the culprit.  The extent of my irritation will become apparent to the offending party very soon."

      "Then maybe the wrathful bolts of lightning will guide me in the right direction," he mused.

      She laughed lightly, a cascade of choral bells, and patted him on the cheek.  "I see you're back to your old self," she winked.

      "Would you have expected anything less, Mother?"

      She grinned.  "No, probably not," she admitted.  "So, what are you going to do now?  There are several people who are very anxious to see you."

      "I can imagine," he grunted.  "I guess I'll let Triana know I'm alright.  I'm not sure I want to see anyone else at the moment."

      "Don't be nasty, kitten," she said.  "Jesmind and Kimmie are both very worried about you.  They love you."

      "I know they do, Mother, and I love them," he said in an annoyed voice, "but sometimes love isn't enough.  Jesmind was inexcusable in the way she acted, and I'll bet Kimmie would have been the same way if she hadn't been so busy helping Phandebrass with the potion."  He did feel a sudden twang.  "I hope all that work wasn't hard on the baby," he said in concern.

      "The baby is fine," she said.  "Kimmie knows her limits.  She's also getting noticably thick around the middle.  She'll pop in a couple of months."

      "So soon?" he said with a sigh.  "And I missed so much already.  I guess I'm going to miss the baby's birth, too."

      "I'm just asking you not to be like them," she said.  "You know what I mean."

      He sighed.  Of course he knew what she meant.  To be unforgiving and hold a grudge.  "I'll probably settle down once my temper cools off, but it's still too new," he told her, flexing his fingers in an ominous manner.  "I intend to remind Jesmind just where she stands," he warned.

      "That's all I can ask for, kitten," she smiled gently.  "Now, I've held you here long enough," she announced, standing up.  "You have a few things to do, and so do I.  Oh, kitten, I think an old friend is waiting to hear from you.  You should let her know what's going on...and that you might need her."

      Tarrin looked at her.  The only old friend that wasn't here now, and one that was that much of an asset, was Sarraya.  "Is it safe for her to come back?"

      "She's been in her colony a good couple of months," she nodded.  "That's enough time for her to rest and recover.  She's good for as long as you may need her."

      "I'll have Triana contact her," he assured.  "Knowing Sarraya, she'll be here before Triana says goodbye."

      "Not that soon.  Triana's going to have to go get her, but she can be here before you leave in three days' time."

      That was as obvious as a hint as the Goddess ever gave.  Whatever Tarrin did and wherever he went, the Goddess wanted Sarraya to be with him.  He actually looked forward to it...it would be like old times.  And he missed his Faerie companion more than he was willing to admit.  Her obnoxious manner and her irreverent, combative personality was actually rather entertaining from time to time.

      "One other thing," she said, finally letting go of his paw.  "I want you to reign in Sapphire."

      "What's the matter with her?"

      "She's been stalking around the Tower looking for who did this to you, and she fully intends to kill the offender when the tracks the party down.  I don't think that would be a very good idea, and she's being very disruptive in her search.  You're the only person in the Tower that can talk to her when she's like this, kitten.  Everyone else is nothing but a biped to her, but you are clan.  That gives you a voice she won't ignore."

      "I'll pull her leash," he said.  "She won't like it, but then again, neither will I."

      "Carefully, kitten.  She loves you, but she is a dragon."

      "I understand the danger.  She can't be much harder to manage than Jesmind or Triana."

      The Goddess laughed.  "Yes she is, but I'll leave that fun little surprise untouched," she winked.  "Now then, I have to go.  Don't be a stranger, kitten."

      "I won't, Mother," he promised, stepping away from her and bowing his head.  She reached out and touched his cheek one more time, and then she stepped back and vanished like smoke.

      His obedient demeanor evaporated as fast as she did.  He would be respectful and compliant to the Goddess, but not to anyone else.  That ancient Were-cat drive was just as primal in him as it was in everyone else.  He was the king of the hill, the biggest child in the sandbox, and he knew it.  Only Sapphire could challenge him, and he knew that she would not.  He would not cow under to the others, and it was about time to re-establish some of the dominancy that certain others seemed to have forgotten was his during his convalescence.

      Clenching a fist tightly enough to crack all the knuckles, he looked to the door.  He did have alot to do today.  Calm Sapphire down, have Triana go get Sarraya and bring her back, punish Jesmind for her behavior, and start teaching Jenna the spells he'd gained through the ordeal.  That he'd let everyone know that he was well never really crossed his mind.  After all, they'd find out once he was out and about.  He was sure that as soon as he stepped out that door, they would find him.  They'd have to move pretty quickly, but they would eventually track him down.

      First things first, however.  The top of the list was Jenna, to let her know he was well and to have her show him where they'd stored his blood.  He also wanted to let his sisters and friends know he was alright, and when he was calmer, he'd go see Triana and the other females.  And he also needed to calm Sapphire down.  He'd ensure that she let him take care of it.  The punishment laid down for what was done to him would come from him, not from her.  After all, as the injured party, it was his every right to control what happened to the guilty party.

      Standing fully erect, his tail slashing behind him a few times before calming down, he looked to the door.  It was an old life, the life he'd once had, but he had to admit, there was a strange kind of newness to it now.  Not everyone had a chance to relive the comforting times of youth, to see the world as a place both strange and exciting, to feel the kind of trust that only someone that naive could feel.  Those were gone now, but the sense of them was still inside, only tempered by the history that made him so careful.  It was an old life, old customs, old ways, an old duty, but the time as a human had cast them in a new light.  Things did seem curiously fresh, curiously new, as if stepping out that door would most certainly be just like the same old Tarrin.

      Reaching out and taking hold of the doorknob, feeling how small and fragile it seemed to him now, he turned it and opened the door.

      He wasn't entirely surprised to see Jenna running, all dignity cast aside, down the passageway towards his door.  Obviously someone had told her that he'd woke up, and now she was coming to see him.  Her run didn't falter when she saw him, but she did call out his name breathlessly as the two Knights guarding his door stepped aside respectfully for him.  He lowered down as she approached and let her literally jump into his arms, wrapping his around her as she called his name over and over again with a mixture of joy, relief, and worry, hugging him tightly.  He felt how tiny she was now, how fragile and delicate, and he hugged her with the practiced exquisite care he had come to learn when adjusting to his Were nature the first time.

      "Thank the Goddess!" she said in a heavy sigh, then she gave a sobbing kind of laugh.  "I'm glad to see you!"

      "I notice that there wasn't anyone waiting this time," he noted with a sardonic little smile as she pulled away to look at him.

      "Everyone wanted to, but Triana--" she bit her lip.  "She wasn't sure how you'd react."

      "That was wise of her," he murmured.

      "Oh, brother, I'm so sorry," she suddenly blurted.  "I--"

      "Calmly," he told her, setting her back on her feet.  "It's not really a problem, sister.  I know what happened.  I don't like it, but I'm not entirely displeased with the result."

      She looked up at him.  "You mean--"

      He nodded.  "It's what I would have chosen."  Then his eyes hardened.  "But that doesn't excuse whoever decided to make my mind up for me.  When I find out who did it, I'm going to show them just how upset I am."

      "Sapphire's already working on it," she said quickly.  "She's turning my Tower on its ear," she said with a frown.

      "Mother told me about that.  She wants me to pull on Sapphire's leash a little."

      "Tarrin!  You can't do that to a dragon!" she gasped.

      "I can," he said grimly, flexing his paw in an unwholesome manner.  "I'm probably the only one in the Tower who can."

      She gave him a speculative look.  "Maybe you can.  I'll find out where she is, so we can head her off."

      "Where are the others?"

      "Hiding from Sapphire," Jenna replied as she led him down the hall.  "She got hold of Mist very early on.  It was very ugly.  Mist isn't the kind to back down from anything, and they came to blows."

      Tarrin frowned.  "Is Mist alright?"

      "She will be," Jenna said.  "Triana is with her.  Mist tore her up pretty thoroughly.  For a little while I didn't know if Mist was going to survive, but she's alot tougher than she looks."

      That concerned Tarrin.  He was a little peeved at most of the Were-cats, but not Mist.  She and Jula were the only ones that had backed off and given him room to breathe, room to be himself.  Mist's devotion to him, while not quite love, was still very powerful, and it allowed her to put faith in him that even Jesmind couldn't quite match.  It was very much unlike Mist--for that matter, it was very much unlike a Were-cat--for her to exhibit such a trusting display.  But Tarrin was probably the only Were-cat she trusted, and it made her trust him with a kind of blind faith and absolute certainty that overcompensated for her lack of trust in others.  Mist trusted him out of blind devotion, but Jula had given him the space he needed because she was probably the only one--except for Kimmie--that could possibly understand what he was going through.  Kimmie was usually a very insightful Were-cat, but her love for him and probably blinded her.  He really didn't know...she'd been very scarce over the last month.  She'd been spending almost all her time helping Phandebrass, but Tarrin had the feeling that it was more than just her work.  He had the sneaking suspicion that she'd been avoiding him.  He wasn't sure why, and it never really occured to him while he was human, but maybe seeing him like he was, and his attitude towards the females, may have put her off a little bit.  Kimmie loved him, but she had tremendous competition from Jesmind, and he had the feeling that she was trying to withdraw from him because of her.  It wouldn't be beyond Jesmind to push Kimmie out of the picture, make her feel uncomfortable, and Kimmie's weak status in Were-cat society meant that she would have no choice but to submit.  Jesmind had shown a very shocking and extremely ruthless kind of selfish possessiveness towards him that startled him even now, especially now that he could see the situation through the eyes of his Were nature.  Jesmind didn't care about how anyone else felt, not even him.  In her eyes, he absolutely and irrevocably belonged to her, and she wasn't going to relinquish her claim, no matter what.  He had the feeling that if he'd chosen to be human, she would have broken virtually every law in Fae-da'Nar and bitten him against his wishes, even though she would know beyond any doubt that it would make him hate her for the rest of time.  She just couldn't see that, couldn't see anything beyond her nearly obsessive need to keep him, and keep him for her and her alone.

      That was going to stop.  Jesmind was going to learn a very, very hard lesson this day.

      "I need to put a muzzle on Sapphire before she gets out of control," Tarrin said grimly.

      "She's already out of control," Jenna warned him.  "But nobody dares cross her, not even me.  I know I'm no match for her, and right now she'll kill anyone she thinks is standing in her way."

      "Come on," he said, starting down the hallway, holding Jenna's hand and half-dragging her behind him.  It was no trouble for him to find Sapphire, for her impression on the Weave was very unique.  He could sense her from a league away.  Right now she was on the upper levels, not far from where Jesmind's apartment was, on the floors where the higher-ranking Sorcerers resided.  "Mother told me how it was done.  It could be anyone," he said grimly.

      "How was it done?" Jenna asked.

      "You don't know?" he asked in surprise, looking back at her.

      "I've been busy trying to keep that maniacal dragon from knocking down my Tower!" she said indignantly.

      "That's what she's doing?" he asked.  "Hunting down the other females?"

      "Yes," Jenna replied.  "After what happened to Mist, the others starting hiding.  Triana has them gathered up, and she's protecting from the dragon's seeking magic with her Druidic power.  That's why Sapphire's trying to track them down.  How did they do it?"

      "They used my blood, from stores Mother said they have in the Tower," he told her.  "That means it could be anyone, Jenna.  Anyone that knows about that blood could have done it, not just the females."

      "What?" she gasped.  "They kept it?"

      "Didn't you know about it?"

      "Well, yes, but I didn't think they'd keep something that dangerous laying around!  Myriam said they'd saved it, but I never paid it much mind to it."

      "Well, someone did," he said, starting up one of the main spiral staircases.

      "Who would want to do this to you, Tarrin?  If it wasn't one of the females, that is."

      "I don't know, but I'm going to find out," he growled.

      It didn't take him long to track down Sapphire.  She was storming down a passageway towards the landing on which he had just stepped, in her human form.  She was furious, that was apparent from the look on her face, a kind of stark, determined, cold fury, but it was the lightning dancing around her body in numerous arcs, snapping along her form and occasionally striking out to touch the walls of the passageway, leaving burn marks on the polished wood panelling, that made it abundantly clear just how furious she really was.  Her blue eyes widened when she saw him, and the lightning slowed to a stop as she stopped in her tracks and looked at him.  Then she rushed forwards without much dignity and when she reached him, she slowed to a stately stop and grabbed his paws in her hands.  "My little one!" she said with sincere relief.  "Are you alright?"

      "I'm fine, Sapphire," he said calmly.  "I heard what you did to Mist.  You have to stop this."

      "No," she seethed.  "One of them turned you against your wishes, when you made it abundantly clear how much you cherished the opportunity to choose for yourself.  I will find her, and I will punish her," she declared, her eyes blazing with outrage.

      "It may not have been one of the females," he told her immediatley, then he told her what the Goddess told him.  "Anyone that knows about that blood could have done it, my friend.  It's still most likely it was one of the females, but we can't put this on their heads until we've narrowed the field a bit."

      Sapphire looked a little dubious, but her hard look didn't waver.  "No one else has the motivation to do it," she declared.

      "I was turned against my will by humans once," he reminded her.  "Someone may have decided to take matters into his own hands again.  Running around hunting down the females isn't going to solve anything, Sapphire.  And I think it's only fair that I get to punish him--or her--when they're found.  It was done to me, after all.  I appreciate the concern, my friend, and it pleases me that you think so much of me.  But for now, please, you have to calm down.  I could use your mind much more than your temper right now.  Someone as old and wise as you should be able to find the guilty one very quickly."  He knew that was abject flattery, but when one was trying to talk a dragon out of a furor, one did it with exceptional care.

      Sapphire's eyes were still blazing.  He could see that he wasn't getting through to her.  He reached out and put his paws on her shoulders, holding her firmly yet gently in his grip.  "Calm down," he said with steely resolve.  "I'm not going to let you hurt any of the other females, Sapphire.  If I have to, I'll stop you.  I really don't want to do that, but if I have to, I will."

      She looked at him, then the fury in her eyes wavered.  Then she actually laughed.  "You must be serious to make such an outrageous statement," she said without any hint of teasing or insult.  She was merely stating fact.  Tarrin doubted that he could stop her.  Not even he was a match for a dragon.  At least not one as old and powerful as Sapphire.

      "You know me, old friend.  I can find a way," he said dryly.  "Accomplishing the impossible is what I do for a living."

      "It would bring the Tower down on us," she said with a slight smile.

      "So?  As long as it stops you, what difference does that make?"

      She laughed again, a fond laugh, and patted his forearms with her hands.  "I see you are once again yourself, my little one.  Only the Tarrin I remember would say such a thing."

      "Maybe," he conceded.  "Are you going to keep frothing at the mouth?"

      She seemed a bit offended by his choice of terms, but that flickered through her expression quickly.  "I am calm now, at least calm enough," she said in a bristling manner.  "I will never forgive who did this to you, but I won't continue hunting the females.  Not if it's not given that one of them did it."

      "We don't know yet.  Give me a little time to go deal with the females, and meet me in my room in about an hour.  You and me and Jenna are going to go find out who did this."

      "You can find them?"

      "I know what to look for," he told her calmly.

      "I'll go with you."

      "No, you won't," he said sternly.  "I'm not taking the fox into the chicken coop, my friend.  Not until you calm down."

      "I'll do as you ask, this time.  But don't get comfortable with it," she warned.  "I'm not in the habit of acceding to the demands of bipeds."

      "I'm not used to browbeating a dragon.  We can both admit we're not comfortable with the situation, and hopefully it'll never happen again."

      She looked at him, then laughed helplessly.

      "Keep her out of trouble, Jenna," Tarrin told his sister.  "And don't let her follow me."

      "Me?" Jenna said incredulously.

      "You're my sister, so that makes you related to clan," he told her evenly.  "Sapphire may get pecky with you, but she won't hurt you, if only because killing you would annoy me."

      "I'm so glad," she said weakly, putting a hand to her stomach.

      Sapphire gave Tarrin an amused smile, then fixed Jenna with a steady predatory kind of gaze that made the young Keeper flinch.

      He was confident that Jenna could keep Sapphire out of any major trouble for an hour.  Sapphire would probably play with her a little, see how brave the girl was, but he could tell that she would do as he asked this time.  When they met again in an hour, he could explain everything to her in detaill, and they could combine their rather formidable resources to track down his assailant.  Until then, he wanted to get to the females while his temper was somewhat muted by what the Goddess told him.  If he left it, it was going to fester, and he'd be in a much more furious mindset when he finally dealt with them.

      Finding Triana and the females was significantly more challenging than finding Sapphire.  Triana was actively protecting the females from location with her magic, and Druidic magic was exceptionally powerful, especially when wielded by one with as much power and experience as Triana.  He couldn't rely on the easy ways, sensing their location through the Weave, tracking scents, even using the trick of sweep-location with pulses of Mind.  He had to get a little creative to puzzle out where Triana was hiding the other females.  He knew how Triana thought, and that meant that the magical defense she had erected would be both powerful and very thorough.  Triana would think of just about any way they could be located and protect themselves from it.  She knew who was looking for her, and more to the point, what, so it meant that she would take no chances.  Not even the rather clever idea of looking for the protective shield itself would work, because Triana would be very careful to hide it.

      It took him nearly ten minutes to finally puzzle out a means to track them down, and he was forced to fall back on the one thing that Triana could not stop, and that was their purely non-magical, mundane presences.  Among the myriad spells that Tarrin had learned in his turning was a rather clever little weave that allowed one to use their senses though stone.  It was meant primarily for a Sorcerer to see and hear through stone, but the weave would work for any sense, and Tarrin had other senses just as keen as his eyes and ears.  Triana would actively block any kind of sound from giving them away, so trying to listen for them would be pointless.  She would also prevent prying eyes and seeking noses; she was more than aware of the formidable senses of the dragon, so those too were dead ends. But the one thing she probably did not stop, probably had not conceived of as a danger, was the feel of Were-cats on stone.  So long as they weren't standing on a carpet, he knew that the spell could find them.  Were-cat feet were very unusual, and he knew he'd have no trouble discerning the feel of them on the stone floors of the Tower.

      Putting a paw on the bare stone of the passageway, he released the quickly woven spell into the stone and let it do its work.  He sent his awareness into the stone, and became aware of the pattering of countless feet all over him, like little ants crawling over his skin.  It took him some time to puzzle through those strange sensations, but it took him but a moment to sort through the feet touching the stone once he had a sense of which sensation belonged to what kind of material.  He first discounted all the leather and cloth, knowing that the ones that moved were shoes.  Then he discarded the ones that were skin, since Were-cats had no bare skin on the bottoms of their feet.  Only fur and thick pads, as well as the clawtips from the claws on the feet that never fully retracted.  After putting those aside, it left a very few sensations behind, and it took him little time to discern the three sets of scaly feet belonging to the Vendari and a reptillian Wikuni on the grounds--one of Keritanima's Marines, probably--and the three sets of unique feet he could feel that could only belong to a Were-cat.  There had to be a carpet where they were, but not one that covered the entire floor.

      Tarrin was surprised and a little amused when he found them.  Triana was very clever.  She had hidden them in the first place Sapphire had looked, and the last place she would check twice.

      The apartment right down the hall from Jesmind's apartment.

      After all, after the dragon checked the first time, what reason would there be for her to return?  The likelihood that they would think to go there, so close to a hotspot like Jesmind's apartment, was remote.  But Triana was a devilishly crafty old Were-cat, as clever as a fox, and she understood that the place would be very safe after Sapphire checked it over.

      He wasn't very far from there, so it took him only a few minutes to stalk down to the door.  That close to Triana, he could feel her power even behind her shield, a curiously sharp sense of her that he hadn't noticed before.  Now that he could feel it, now that he understood what he was feeling, he realized he could have easily found her without having to use Sorcery.  And that, he realized, was what Sapphire was trying to do to find them.  Just wander around and try to get close enough to Triana to sense her formidable presence.

      His emotions turned rather flat once he reached that door.  He knew what had to be done.  He wasn't going to necessarily enjoy it, but he knew what he had to do.

      Putting a paw on the door, he pushed until the latch broke, and then shoved it out of the way.

      Inside were all the Were-cats.  Mist was laying on a couch, unconscious but looking otherwise unwounded, and Kimmie was sitting on a chair by the couch, worry stamped on her face as she held Mist's paw in her own.  Eron sat on the end of the couch, by Mist's feet, quiet and very subdued.  Triana was standing in the center of the room, her eyes closed and a look of intense concentration on her face, as Jesmind paced back and forth between Kimmie's chair and the door on the far wall beyond.  Jula and Jasana were sitting on a second couch by the fireplace, and Tarrin realized that the apartment was of similar design as Jesmind's, with only different furniture.  They all looked at him in almost perfect unison, except Triana, and they all started in shock when he boldly stepped into the room.

      "You can stop that now, mother," he said grimly.  "Sapphire's been muzzled."

      "Tarrin!" three seperate cries issued at once, from Jula, Kimmie, and Jesmind.  Jasana called out "Papa!" but Triana only opened her eyes and gave him a strange, worried look.  Only she seemed to sense his aggravation.  Jesmind rushed past her mother, rushed towards him, and seeing her filled him with a sudden seething anger that he simply couldn't control.

      Ears suddenly laying back and his eyes exploding into the unholy greenish radiance that marked his anger, he reared his paw back, and then he lashed out with it as she blindly rushed up to him.  His paw slammed into her face, striking her a massive backhanded blow.  The power in it sent her flying, crashing to the floor by Triana and rolling to a stop, completely stunned.  Had Tarrin struck a human with that much power, it would have been instantly fatal.  It very well may have ripped a human in half.

      Jesmind laid very still, and Jula and Kimmie looked at him in startled horror.  Triana gave him a narrow-eyed, steely look, but did not move.

      "If I find out that one of you did this to me," he hissed in a savage manner, with a look of unmitigated hatred on his face, "you'll wish I'd killed you here and now."  He locked his baleful gaze on each of the three staring females in turn, making all of them, even Triana, flinch from the power of his stare and look away.

      It was primal, but he couldn't control it.  He showed them his fangs, a dangerous snarl, crouching somewhat in a very aggressive posture, his claws out as he pointed at Triana.  "Do you know who did this?" he demanded in a voice that would brook no hedging in the matter.

      "No," she answered levelly.  "But are you sorry for it?"

      "I'm sorry I never got the chance to decide," he said in a hissing tone.

      "That's not saying it wasn't your choice."

      "It was my choice, but taking that choice away is as good as turning me against my will!" he said in a furious tone, almost shouting.

      Triana lifted her chin, a nearly challenging act, staring him in the eyes.  "Then you chose to be what you were meant to be."

      "I was satisfied with it after it was made for me," he said in a hot manner.  "It's not the same."

      "The end justifies the means.  You say so yourself.  Don't get hypocritical on me now, cub."

      Unable to reply to that, trapped by his own words, he could only glare at her coldly, but his anger had lost its bite in her eyes.  He knew that.  He may be able to intimidate the others, but Triana wouldn't be patently afraid of him.  Then again, little he could do would put Triana off for long.  She was too old and too wise and grizzled to be afraid of him for long.

      Jesmind finally stirred, and her moving seemed to break Jasana of some kind of paralysis.  She ran over to her mother and knelt by her as she sat up woozily, her eyes glassy and blood flowing liberally from both corners of her mouth and her nose.  Tarrin's blow probably crushed every bone in her face, and it probably poured a great deal of blood into her mouth and nasal cavity before the damage was repaired.  She looked up at him in confusion, and not a little bit of hurt.

      "Don't cow eyes at me, witch," Tarrin said brutally.  "I'm furious with you over how you treated me when I was human.  I'm not going to forgive you any time soon."

      "I did what I had to do to keep you," she declared, but her voice was a bit slurred.

      "What you did was drive me away!" he shouted at her.

      "You'll get over it.  If I have to wait a few hundred years, that's fine.  I'm patient."

      "Now you're patient," he said with barely disguised contempt.

      "I got what I wanted," she said shamelessly, looking up at him.  "Now that I know you're Were again, I can rest easy.  That's all that mattered to me."

      Tarrin was a bit outraged by her declaration, but it fit in with what he knew of her, and he knew her very well.  Jesmind could be rather patient when she needed to be.  After all, she'd moved to Aldreth and waited there for him for nearly two years, knowing he would come back eventually.  But the fear and uncertainty of what happened to him, the prospect of losing him as a mate forever, had affected her judgement very greatly.  She had acted with great rashness, despite knowing that she was only making him angry and pushing him away from her, but in her rather precarious position, it was all she could think to do, and her need to do something made her do whatever seemed most able to achieve her desired goal in the quickest manner, despite how it may damage their relationship.  She was more than willing to accept him being furious with her, as long as he was Were.  She knew, as he did, that no amount of fury would hold in him forever, and even if it did, all she had to do was bait him into a fight to make him release his anger on her.  After that, the matter would be settled, and it would be forgotten.  It was ever that way between Were-cats.  The fight settled all, and after the fight was done, it was as if it never happened.  She'd done it to him before, and she knew how to go about it.  She knew him almost as well as he knew her.

      It took having his Were nature back to see that, to finally understand Jesmind's actions.  She did everything she did with only the goal of making him Were again, because she knew that no matter how mad she made him, she could fix that with a little time and a willingness to get beaten up when the time came.  It all made perfect sense now, and he had to admire her audacity.  Then again, being able to again think like a Were-cat made everything clear.

      But it still didn't excuse it.  Just because he could understand her actions didn't mean that he was going to forgive her for them.  And unlike the last time, when she baited in into a fight that made him lose his anger against her, he had no intention of making it nearly so easy for her this time.  He wanted her to feel like he did, like she was being overwhelmed by the will of someone else.  She had overwhelmed him with her obsessive need to control his life, and now he was going to repay her by not giving her any chance to let her work back into his good graces.

      "Papa, why are you being mean to Mama?" Jasana asked in a tiny little voice, not even looking at him.

      "Because she had it coming," he said in a furious hiss.  "You'd better be patient, Jesmind," he said with seething disgust, "because it's going to be years before I can look you in the face without wanting to rip your head off.  So just stay clear of me."  He turned his back on her.  "And may every god there is help you if I find out you turned me, Jesmind.  I'll come after you, and there's nowhere in this entire world you can go to hide from me."

      Tarrin stalked away, towards the door, but Kimmie jumped to her feet and called his name.  "What about us?" she asked plaintively.  "Are you going to shut us out too?"

      "Until I know who did this, none of you come anywhere near me," he said over his shoulder.  "I'll kill you.  As far as I'm concerned, you're all guilty, even if you didn't do it."

      "Not even the children?" Kimmie gasped.

      "Not even the children," he growled.  "I won't be good company until I find out who did it.  I won't punish them for my own temper."

      "Cub!" Triana said quickly as Tarrin reached the door, ducked under it absently.  She took a step forward, but a withering glare from the male stopped her dead in her tracks.

      "I said none of you come near me, and I meant it," he said with an evil look, then he remembered what he came here to do in the first place, or at least one of them.  "If you want to be of any use to me, Triana, you'll do as I ask."

      "What do you want?" she asked cautiously.

      "The Goddess wants Sarraya here.  I know you can bring her quickly."

      "I can have her here by tomorrow morning."

      "Then do it."

      "I will, but only if you agree to one thing."

      He turned and looked at her, a single eyebrow rising in curiosity while his face showed his irritation, almost anger, that she would dare bargain with him right now.

      "I can feel it in you, cub.  You're stronger, alot stronger.  Things are different for you now, and you're going to have trouble with it unless you get some serious instruction.  You need to be taught."

      "The Goddess warned me about it," he said bluntly.  "Until I calm down, I don't think I could stand to be in the room with you, Triana."

      "This goes beyond spats of temper, cub.  This is important.  Unless you get some training, you're going to hurt yourself, or even worse, someone else.  We can agree to meet and not kill each other, because if we don't, you're going to have an accident."  She looked at him.  "Have you done anything yet?"

      "I Conjured this," he said, touching the vest.

      "Did you mean to do it?"

      The question took him off guard, and caused a little of his anger to bleed off. "Now that you mention it, no," he admitted.

      "That's what you have to be careful of, cub," she said with intensity, almost desperation, in her voice.  "When you're at the level you're at now, the power comes to you even when you don't want it to.  You have to keep a tight rein on your emotions, and don't let your mind wander too often, or you'll miss the telltale signs that warns you that it's reaching for you.  You could slip, and it's going to act on whatever it finds in your mind, no matter how outrageous or disastrous it may be."  She put her arm out, reaching towards him.  "I know you're ticked, cub, but be careful.  Keep an eye on the All, and be watchful for the sense of it.  If it seems to be getting close to you, that's the sign that you need to get your mind under control, and do it fast.  You can't stop it from touching you until I show you how it's done, so you have to make sure that it doesn't do anything you don't want it to do when it does.  So please, for everyone's sake, be careful of that."

      Tarrin could appreciate the frankness of that warning.  Druidic magic had no limitations.  The only limits came with the Druid using the power, and if he tried to do something that required more magical power than his body could withstand, it would destroy him.  Tarrin understood that danger, but it was the thought of Druidic magic running wild that frightened him more.  He'd had experiences where Druidic magic unleashed through him with no control, and the results had been nearly disastrous.  The All was notoriously fickle and unpredictable, and any time a Druid lost control of a spell, just about anything could happen.  Very rarely were those wild misfires beneficial to the Druid, or anything in his general vicinity.  He saw her warning for what it was.  It was no ploy or attempt to get into his good graces, it was a very serious, very sober warning from a master Druid to an acolyte Druid about the very real dangers of the demanding magic they commanded.

      He nodded once, eloquently.  "I will.  After you bring back Sarraya, we'll meet so you can teach me what I need to know," he said in a neutral tone.

      "I can live with that.  Just please, be careful."

      "I'll be careful," he promised, then he turned and stalked back through the door, slamming it behind him.


      He didn't have much time to think about what Triana said, but what time he had made him appreciate her warning that much more.  He did feel much closer to the All now, and it didn't seem much of a stretch for it to reach into him rather than him reaching into it.  The Weave did things like that itself sometimes, as it was an active, dynamic force, where the All was also very dynamic and, in its own way, nearly alive.  The All had a kind of animating force in it, the part of it that allowed it to interpret what it found in the mind of a Druid and decide on the manner in which the task would be accomplished.  It was why Druids had to be extraordinarily careful, for that awareness within the All had no concept of human limitation, and it often took wild liberty if the Druid didn't envision the spell exactly as he wanted it to function.  Triana's warning was a very serious one, and Tarrin was serious about heeding it.  From the moment he left the females, he kept one part of his mind on his outrage and anger, and another part kept steadfast vigil over the All, ready to warn him should it seem to come closer to him.

      That suitably done to his satisfaction, he bent to the task at hand, and that was finding out who turned him.  He was so consumed by it that even going to greet his sisters and friends seemed hollow in comparison that burning need.  Only his desire to have it out with Jesmind and his duty to carry out the will of his Goddess superseded that singular compulsion.

      That didn't prevent them from coming to him, and that was exactly what happened.  The first to find him was Keritanima and Allia, guided by Keritanima's magic.  They rounded a corner almost on top of him and gave out cries of delight, and even his anger was brushed away by the sight of them.  He embraced his two sisters tenderly, lovingly, having their scents fill his nose with the rightness of them, the perfection that he seemed to feel whenever they were together.  It took him a moment to calm them down to where he could speak rationally to them, and they spoke Selani, as was always their habit when conversing privately amongst themselves.

      "Brother, they told us what happened!" Allia said as Keritanima blurted "they wouldn't let us sit with you!"

      "I'm alright," he told them gently, putting a paw on each shoulder.  They were so different from one another, and a thousand forgotten memories of them, of the tediums of everday life in the Tower and on the road, their every expressions and moods, it all came back to him and made him love them that much more.  Both weren't without their thorns, but his love for them was stronger for their faults than it was for their perfection.

      "Who did it?" Keritanima asked immediately.

      "That's what I'm going to find out," he said grimly. "It's why I didn't come running to you as soon as I woke up.  I have to start while the trail is freshest."

      "Did they tell you what Sapphire did to Mist?" Allia asked.

      He nodded.  "Mist is alright, or at least I think she was," he said.  "All the females were in her company, so I wasn't very sociable when I saw her."

      "I can imagine," Keritanima snorted.  "Which of them do you think did it?  I think it was Jesmind, myself."

      "I'm not sure, but it may not have been any of them," he said grimly.  He told them about his talk with the Goddess, and when he was done, Keritanima whistled sharply through her muzzle.

      "That certainly complicates things, but we'll be looking for someone with a motive, brother.  Just anyone that knows about the blood is a suspect, but we can do things to narrow down the field some."

      "That's what I'm on my way to do.  Me and Sapphire and Jenna are going to where the blood is so we can see what we can find out."

      "Well, you're not doing this without me," Keritanima said flatly.  "I'm much more devious than you, brother.  I think in ways you don't, and I can be a real use to you."

      "Both of you can," he said. "Just being here is enough.  I have to keep a tight rein on my temper, and you two always did have a calming effect on me."

      Keritanima looked at him in a strange tilt-headed manner.  "You're...different, brother," she said hesitantly.  "I didn't sense it before.  I guess I was too excited.  But I can feel it now."

      Allia looked at him carefully.  Then her eyes turned sober.  "Even I can sense it," she agreed.  "He is like a lodestone within the Weave, drawing its light to him."

      "That's part of why I have to keep my temper in check," he said ruefully, then he explained what Triana and the Goddess had told him as they moved towards his room, where he was to meet Sapphire.  "I'm not sure I understand all of it, but I do know that my increased Druidic ability is dangerous," he told them.  "Triana warned me, and I believe her.  She had no reason to lie, not about something like that."

      "At least some part of your brain is working," Keritanima chided with a toothy grin.

      He let that pass.  "She told me what I need to do to make sure nothing bad happens until she can teach me what I need to know, so I should be alright, at least for a short time.  But I can feel it there, Kerri.  It's just like Triana said.  The All seems to be lurking out there, just the same way High Sorcery did back before I could control it.  It's just waiting for a chance to connect with me, and I have to be very careful to make sure not to have anything go wrong if that happens."

      "Can we do anything to help?" Allia asked.

      "Just stay near me," he said.  "I need a level head, and you two always were able to cool my temper."

      "That's no great chore," Allia said with a loving smile.

      "I hope not."

      "Brother, I must ask.  Are you happy?" Allia asked in a voice powerful with emotion.

      "I'm content," he told her simply.  "Had I had the choice that was stolen from me, I would have chosen this.  But it's the theft of it that makes me so angry.  Nobody had the right to steal it from me, and I mean to punish whoever did it.  Thoroughly," he added in an ominous tone, his eyes narrowing.

      "It can't be thorough unless we get our licks in too," Keritanima told him, rubbing her hands together.  "I have quite a few little ideas brewing.  I'm pretty sure that they're not much nicer than yours."

      "I guess we'd better start drawing numbers.  Sapphire intends to kill whoever did it.  I'm going to have to talk her out of that, because whoever it is won't fully appreciate how furious I am if they're dead."

      "He is angry," Allia mused to Keritanima.

      "Was it ever in doubt?" she replied impishly.

      "I win, sister," Allia added.

      "You did not.  Someone else turned him, so it's invalid."

      "What is this?" Tarrin asked.

      "When you went nuts on us about us fighting over what you should do, me and Allia made a little wager," Keritanima explained.  "I bet you'd stay human, she bet you'd want to be Were again."

      "I won," Allia said stubbornly.

      "It wasn't his choice," the Wikuni fenced.  "It's an invalid conclusion, so it's a draw."

      "What was the wager?" Tarrin asked curiously.

      "Oh, nothing serious," Keritanima said.  "Just ownership of Sha'Kari."

      "What?" he gasped.

      "Well, nobody lives there anymore, do they?" Keritanima said defensively.  "All the Sha'Kar left.  And it's a perfectly good place.  Lots of nice empty buildings, and someone has to keep up the maintenance on them, don't they?"

      "Don't you realize that the Sha'Kar own all that?" he said.

      "I asked Ianelle.  She said when they abandoned it, it became nobody's property.  That means it's there for whoever wants to claim it."

      Tarrin had a sneaking suspicion.  "When do they get there?" he asked bluntly.

      The fur on Keritanima's cheeks ruffled, her version of a blush.  "They should be there already," she admitted.  "I haven't gotten any recent reports."

      "Who got where?" Allia demanded.

      "Kerri's fleet," Tarrin said.  "I'll bet she sent them out to claim Sha'Kari about two seconds after Ianelle told her it was up for grabs."

      "It was more like ten minutes," she said modestly.

      "And you wagered possession of it against me?" Allia asked, her eyes flaring slightly.

      "I knew you wouldn't do anything with it, Allia," Keritanima said smoothly.  "In the end, it was going to be mine anyway, so why are we fighting about it?"

      "Get out your purse, sister," Allia said cooly.  "You are about to pay me rent."

      "But you didn't win the bet," Keritanima said stubbornly.  "When Tarrin was turned before he made a choice, it invalidated the whole thing.  We don't know what he really would have decided, since he never got the chance to think without the Cat influencing him, do we?"

      "That's nothing but a flimsy excuse for you to weasel out of your word," Allia accused.

      "What would you do with a place like that, Allia?" Keritanima asked.

      "I thought it might be a nice place for me and Allyn to spend our honeymoon," she said simply.  "I have  some very pleasant memories of some places there," she added with a wicked little smile.

      "You proposed?" Tarrin asked in surprise.

      "Not yet," she admitted with a slow smile.  "And don't you dare warn him.  I don't want to give him any chance to run away."

      "We wouldn't dream of it, but why Allyn?" Tarrin asked.  "He's not even remotely Selani."

      "You and Kerri have shown me that there is strength in diversity," she said simply.  "With the Selani strength and the Sha'Kar magic in their blood, our children will be powerful.  And I like Allyn, brother.  He's very attentive to me, he makes me laugh, and I know I can depend on him when I need him.  He'll make a fine husband, even someone my clan can accept after I've suitably trained him."

      "He's a bit soft for the Selani life, sister."

      "Don't let Allyn's demeanor fool you, brother.  He has steel in him.  His is a Sha'Kar upbringing, but he has the soul of a Selani inside.  There's more to him than you realize.  Even I'm surprised by him from time to time."

      "As long as you're not thinking with something a little south of your brain," he told her bluntly.

      "That had a say in it," she said with a smirk.

      "It would," he accused.

      "We knew this would happen," Keritanima told her.


      "That you'd whip him into shape," she said with a grin.  "I knew you were too much man for him."

      Allia looked at her, then laughed brightly.  "I'm too much woman for him, you mean," she corrected.

      "Humans call it henpecked," Tarrin said dryly.

      "We call it sensible," Allia said.  "He'll learn that my way is the only way.  If he doesn't, he'll have a very unpleasant marriage."

      "No wonder she doesn't want to give him the chance to run away," Keritanima teased, giving Tarrin a bright, mischievious smile.

      "Allyn won't be easy to tame," Allia admitted.  "But I'll enjoy the challenge of it."

      "Well, we forgot to say congratulations, so congratulations, sister," Tarrin told her.

      "Yes, congratulations, sister.  Now we're all married," Keritanima said with a smile.  "Or at least something approaching it.  Now we can sit up all night and gossip wickedly about our spouses."

      "We do that already," Tarrin shrugged.

      "But at least now some of us aren't left out," Keritanima said with a bright smile.

      "That was your fault.  We couldn't help it if you were a virgin," Allia told her frankly.  "We could have fixed that for you any number of times, you know.  There were any number of suitable men handy, but you were stubborn about keeping your royal chastity.  So don't complain if you missed out."

      Keritanima's face poofed out as all the fur on her face stood on end, then she laughed helplessly.  "And I thought I was dirty-minded!" she admitted.  "I submit to your even dirtier mind, fair sister," she said with a mocking smile.  "I'm yours to train in all those kinds of things."

      "If you want training, talk to Miranda," Tarrin told her bluntly.  "She's more corrupt than all three of us put together."

      "That's certainly saying something," Keritanima chuckled.  "I'm not sure it's a good thing, but it's certainly something."

      Bantering with his sisters had done much to leech off the majority of his blinding anger, but it didn't totally vent it.  He was still plenty angry, but it was again the cold, calculating anger of the human in him, the anger that would allow him think rationally without losing his ire.  Vengeful anger, his father Eron would call it.  A kind of anger he'd always warned Tarrin not to cultivate in himself, for good things rarely came of it.  It allowed him to approach the problem before them with more than a driving need to hunt down and chastise someone--anyone--in the most vicious manner possible.  Now he could follow leads, think calmly, and then let that blind fury go when he was sure of who did it.

      They met Sapphire and Jenna as soon as he returned to his room, where the two Knights still stood silent vigil.  They came out as soon as he approached the two armored men, and Jenna was swept up in the arms of Keritanima and Allia both when she reached them.  Tarrin had his memory back, and he knew intimately well now just how close Jenna was to his his adopted sisters.  Allia had become close to her before they left the Tower, and Keritanima had done so after they had returned to the Tower while Tarrin was in the desert, after Keritanima herself had returned from Wikuna.  Keritanima and Allia were accepted by his parents as an intimate part of his immediate family, and his mother often absently called them both daughter.  Sapphire still looked incensed, but at least lightning wasn't flying all over the place.

      "Are you ready, little one?" she asked in a tightly controlled voice.

      "Let's go," he said.  "Allia and Kerri are going with us.  Both of them are very observant.  They may catch things we miss."

      Sapphire looked profoundly skeptical of that notion, but sniffed indifferently and swept in the direction that Jenna pointed.

      Where they kept that blood turned out to be the destination of a very long trip.  It took them nearly a half an hour to get there, a cellar in a part of the lowest basement as remote as one could get in the Tower.  It was a hallway he hadn't even known was there, and that was saying a great deal, because he and Dar and Auli had explored what they thought was absolutely everything.  He was surprised that they'd missed something, but they obviously had.  It was a large room filled with a very thick layer of dust, and under the dust was contained boxes upon boxes upon boxes.  They were stacked on the floor.  They were stacked on old, old tables.  They were stacked on heavy stone shelves carved directly out of the rock of the walls themselves.  They were piled to the very top of the low ceiling in the far corner.  And every single box had not a single mark on it to discern it from any other box.  All the boxes were uniform, made of wood slats nailed together, and all their dimensions were proportional.  Some were larger, some were smaller, but they all appeared identical to one another in that all of them looked to be perfect cubes or long rectangular boxes.

      Tarrin stared in dismay, Keritanima sneezed, and Sapphire glared at the room as if it was the room's fault that it looked that they were going to have to undergo a rather exhaustive search just to find out in which box the blood was stored.

      "Hold," Sapphire said quickly, holding an arm out to stop Jenna from entering the room.  "The dust itself is a clue."

      "It is uniform," Allia announced.  "Whoever came was careful to upset the dust so it would resettle and hide evidence of their visit."

      Tarrin's eyes scanned the thick dust, and he had to agree.  It was of an even thickness on the floor and on the boxes, giving no hint as to where the culprit had looked, or where the culprit had gone in the large storeroom.  Without giving it much thought, Tarrin wove a quick spell of Earth, Water, and Divine, a spell that lifted up faded scents and made them glow with a ruddy light.  To his surprise, not only did the spell fail to locate any recent scents, it failed to find any scent at all except dust, stone, and wood.

      Tarrin's ears laid back slightly, and his eyes narrowed.  Whoever had done it knew that someone was going to try to find out who they were, and more to the point, had known a Were-cat would be involved.  Whoever it was had absolutely erased every trace of scent in the room, scouring it completely clean, making it as if the room had never been entered by anything larger than an insect.

      "What's the matter?" Keritanima asked him.

      "The room's been purged of scent," he replied.  "Totally.  There's not even any old traces of the workers who cut the stones."

      "So whoever came along before us knew someone was going to be looking," Keritanima concluded grimly.  "And they were familiar enough with your kind to take steps."

      Tarrin turned the spell into the hallway, turning as he moved it, and again he was set back.  The only scents laid into the passage were their own.  But Tarrin realized that the purging only went in one direction in the continuing passageway, as if the culprit hadn't thought to do both sides to cover his passing, or perhaps didn't bother to think that purging in both directions would make a difference.  It did make a difference, however, because now Tarrin had a trail to follow, a trail of anti-trail, for the purging itself marked the passing of the guilty party indirectly.

      "I'm going to follow this a little," Tarrin told them.

      "Follow what?" Allia asked.

      "The purging only goes in one direction," he told Allia, pointing the way they themselves had come.  "Maybe whoever did it messed up, and we'll be able to get something where it ends."

      "A reasonable idea," Sapphire nodded.  "You follow that, little one, while we try to find clues in here."

      "I will come with you, brother," Allia offered, and Tarrin nodded in agreement.

      "Keep us posted," Keritanima said, tapping her amulet meaningfully.

      "I'll Whisper if I find something," he answered, then he and Allia started down the hall.

      Moving with good speed, for Tarrin could sense the purging as easily as he could smell Allia, the pair traced it along the meandering, confusing passages of the cellars of the Tower.  Tarrin realized quickly that whoever had done it had gotten lost more than once, for the purging would go off in two directions at intersections, and one of those trails would end abruptly, as if the culprit had realized that he was going in the wrong direction.  They went up another level, up a tiny, narrow, dank staircase that Tarrin hadn't known was there, and probably hadn't seen the passage of anyone other than the two of them and the culprit in hundreds of years.  He realized that the culprit had become lost, and was meandering around looking for something he could identify.  He could only follow behind that trail, which led him in a roundabout manner.

      The trail did, after about a half an hour, come to an end, and much to his chagrin, it came to an end just down the passage from the staircase that led down to the baths, probabably the single-most heavily trafficked passageway in the entire Tower.  The culprit had been very clever in making sure that his trail ended in the one place where it would be absolutely impossible for anyone to pick it up, for in a matter of hours any trail left behind would be destroyed by the passing of so many others.  Tarrin knelt in the middle of the passage, making two curious Sorcerers, a dark-haired woman and a Sha'Kar, go around him and look at him curiously as they passed on their way to the baths.  He put two thick fingers on the floor and realized that though the purging robbed him of the ability to identify the culprit, the purging itself may give him some information.  He sank himself into the remnants of that spell.  The ghostly vestiges of the spell may still be lingering in the rock, for here in the Tower, spells had a habit of leaving behind traces of themselves.  It was because of the very rich magical atmoshphere...flows and spells could often linger long after the Sorcerer stopped concentrating on it.  And if it were Wizardry or Priest magic, even Druidic magic, there may be some lingering trace of it he could identify.

      From the feel of it, it was rather old, maybe two rides or so, but that was all he could really tell.  The magical power of the Tower had infused whatever was left and drowned it in the ambient magical energy that thrived here, an environment just like Sha'Kari, where he had trouble sensing the more delicate things because of all the interference.  The only thing he could sense was the age of the magic, but the texture of its remnants gave no hint as to the kind of magician that created it.  It was one of the few times when he couldn't be sure about what kind of magic he was confronting.  But even if he could tell which order did it, the magic itself told him some things.  It told him that whoever did it had done it well before he intended to carry out his plan, and it showed that his target had had both the time to think things over, and more than enough time to get everything ready to keep himself hidden.  His target had had two rides to make sure that every trace of his activities had been destroyed.  The person also was either a magician or had a confidante that was one, for them to use magic to cover their tracks.  They may be looking for a single person or a pair or trio, but someone in the guilty party was definitely a magic-user.

      He realized, without much enthusiasm, that this was not going to be as easy as he thought.  They were chasing someone that obviously knew what they were doing.  Even a fool with a little magical assistance and two rides to prepare could do a good job in destroying the trail that led back to him.

      Raising his awareness partially up into the Weave, he became immediately aware of the many conversations taking place among the Sha'Kar.  He'd never noticed that before--at least not here--and he had to make a few adjustments just as the Sha'Kar did to speak to Jenna and Keritanima without disturbing other conversations, and also without letting anyone else currently bridging into the weave eavesdrop on what they were saying.

      "Sisters," he called.

      "Any luck?" Jenna's voice responded immediately.

      "It peters out in front of the stairs leading to the baths," he said sourly.  "I checked the spell itself, and it's about twenty days old.  It was made by a Sorcerer."

      "I've found some traces of that here too," Jenna told him, and Tarrin quickly adjusted what he was receiving to make it audible from his amulet so Allia could hear what was being said.  "Whoever stole the blood was very careful.  One of the crates, the one with your blood in it, was moved by Sorcery, and it's the only crate that seems to have been touched.  The culprit knew exactly where the blood was."

      "That's not a damning fact, Jenna," he said.  "My blood would be easy to detect with magic.  It's not exactly normal."

      "Kerri mentioned that.  She said she could make up a spell on the spot to find it."

      "I know.  So could either of us, for that matter."

      "Sapphire tried to use a couple of spells herself, but that purging effect has destroyed everything they could find, even Druidic and Wizard spells can't get any information.  That's a strong spell, brother.  I don't think any Sorcerer would be capable of it, not as powerful as its effect is.  I'm not even sure what spell it is."

      "I can't tell either," he admitted.  "I can only tell that it was made about twenty days ago."

      "That's something, at least.  We can always grill everyone in the Tower and find out where they were that day.  But we do know now that it has to be a strong Sorcerer that did it."

      "No, we just know that a magician had a hand in covering it up," Tarrin told her.  "We're coming back, Jenna."

      "We'll be waiting."

      Tarrin mulled it over as they went back, following a more direct route.  A magician had a hand in things, so that more or less excused all the females except Kimmie at least directly.  None of them were magicians , and more to the point, none of them would probably trust a human magician with that kind of a secret.  Mist certainly wouldn't, and as far as the collusion theory went, that left only Jesmind.  If Jesmind did it, then she had help.  He'd never get anything out of her, but if he could find whoever helped her--if it was really her--then he'd get the truth.  So, if it was an individual, it was Kimmie, but if it was a group effort, it was Jesmind.  At least right now.  He knew things would change in his mind as he got more information, and he told himself several times, over and over, not to get his mind set in stone about who he thought did it.  It could have been anyone, even one of the original Council taking steps to put him back the way they'd put him the first time.  It simply came down to the fact that they had to get more information before they could start eliminating possible suspects.

      Once they got back to the storeroom, they found that all the dust had been carefully pushed up against the walls, not removed, and Sapphire, Keritanima, and Jenna were carefully inspecting a single small wooden crate.  He looked over them--an advanatage of height--and found that inside it, laying on a pillow and with shredded straw strewn around it, were six small vials of dark, reddish liquid.  The array of the vials made it abundantly clear that there were two of them missing.

      "Those are it?" Tarrin asked over them, making Keritanima jump.

      "Don't do that!" she said with a nervous laugh, putting her hand to her chest.  "You scared me out of my pelt!"  She touched her face.  "If I start shedding, it's going to be all your fault!"

      "These are," Jenna answered.  "Two missing.  The one Jula used, and the one whoever it was used on you."

      Tarrin reached down and picked up one of the tiny vials, inspecting it.  It had a mark of warning on it--the mark of death, actually--telling anyone who picked it up that what was held within was a substance of incredible danger.  He could sense the magic of the blood within, his blood, blood he had shed fighting the Wraith.  They had picked up his frozen fingers and other pieces of him lost to the icy touch of the Wraith and milked the blood out of them.  Why they did such a thing, why they found the need to keep something so dangerous, was completely beyond him.

      "Any clues?" he asked.

      "Only one," Sapphire said, reaching down and picking up the lid, then turning it over and showing him the underside, where the nails stuck out from it.  She pointed to the edge of the lid, and Tarrin peered there.

      He could see them.  Four small depressions in the wood, small lines, looking like where a tool of some kind had been used to pry the lid free of the crate.  They were straight and rather close together, but they had caused some very minor flaking of the wood.  Whatever it was that they used had had some force behind it.

      "That rules out the females," he said grimly.  "They'd just use their claws."

      "If they wanted to be found, sure they would," Keritanima said dismissively.  "Whoever did this used a tool.  Look, here's where they put in a crowbar," she said, pointing to a depression on the lip of the crate.  The depression was strangely narrow, and was deeper along the edges than it was in the middle.  "See how they rocked it back and forth to pry the lid up?"

      "I doubt any of the females would have done that," Allia mused.  "As strong as they are, it would have been nothing for them to pry the lid with a crowbar.  Rocking would have been pointless."  Allia looked down at the crate, then her eyes seemed to focus on the floor by it.  She knelt quickly and pushed Keritanima out of the way, then put her finger on the flagstone of the floor delicately.  "There is a scratch here," she said.  "It is fairly fresh, but not made today."

      They all peered at the scratch.  It was visible, but it was very faint.  It was about a finger long, deeper at one end than the other, as if something had been pushed along the floor that had dug into it and slowed the object to a stop.  Allia's eyes peered in scrutiny at the floor.  "There's another here, much lighter, and another here," she said, tapping the floor to the left of that scratch, but Tarrin's eyes could barely make those out.  Only Allia's exceptional vision, that would let her read a book from across an open field, could make out such minute details.  Allia put a finger on each scratch, and Tarrin saw immediately that they were roughly the same distance apart, about half a finger, and the scratches were deeper towards one side of the trio.  That really didn't mean anything, but it did jump out at him.

      "Your eyes are very sharp, Selani," Sapphire said intently.  "Tell me, what else do you see that we cannot?"  She motioned them away.  "Step back, let her inspect without interference."

      That was a good idea.  Allia's vision would pick out things all of them would miss, and giving her unrestricted access to the crime scene would let her study things carefully.  They all stepped back and let her do her work, and Allia bent to the task quickly and quietly.  She looked at the outside of the box, then the inside.  She reached in and adjusted the six remaining bottles carefully, fingering them and looking at the cushion upon which they rested.  "Did any of you disturb anything within the box other than Tarrin?" she asked.

      "We pushed the packing material out of the way," Keritanima replied.

      Allia nodded and started rifling through the packing material, a kind of shredded plant-like material that looked like straw, smelled like flax, and was quite curly and springy.  She pulled it out of the box and searched through it meticulously, and they all watched on in uncertainty, not sure what she was looking for.  Keritanima finally broke the silence.  "What are you looking for?" she asked.

      "Hair," she answered.  "We all lose hair, sister.  It falls out all the time, and I am forever seeing it on the floor.  I was going to look for it on this floor, but you swept the dust away, and now I will have to pick through the dust piles.  This is much cleaner, much faster, and we know that any hair we find within had to come from whoever did it.  It is the only way it could get inside the box."

      "That's damn clever," Keritanima said appreciatively.

      "Most people do not think about hair," Allia said.  "Only when it falls out over one's eyes or they find it on their clothes does one really consider it.  Whoever did this was very careful to cover his tracks, but I do not think that even he considered that such a thing may be traced back to him. If we can find but one hair, we have a solid lead on our target, and maybe magic can supply us the identity of its owner."

      "I am impressed," Sapphire said honestly.  "You are a formidable woman, Selani."

      "I am but my father's daughter," she said modestly, continuing to carefully sort through the packing matieral.

      Allia had struck on idea that was marvellous in its elegant simplicity.  Tarrin was certain that she was right, that whoever had done it had never thought to check the box to make sure his hair hadn't fallen inside.  He, like Keritanima, and even Sapphire, put a paw to his head and patted it.  All his hair was bound up his his braid except for his bangs, which hung over his face, so it would be hard for him to leave any hair behind that didn't come from that one place.  But not everyone wore a braid, and besides, his arms and legs were absolutely covered with hair.  Fur, actually, but it was hair.  He pinched his bangs and pulled very, very gently, feeling the hair slide between the pads on his fingers, and when they came free, a single blond hair had come away with them.  He looked at it intently for a moment, seeing the little root at the end, then he reached aside and dropped it to the floor deliberately.

      They watched on in breathless silence for what seemed to be half of forever, as Allia methodically and painstakingly sorted through the flaxen-seeming packing material, shredded plant material that had dried out to be springy and voluminous.  She stopped, and then tensed, and that made all three of them take an impulsive step forward.  "Ah, here we are," she announced in a delicate, quiet voice, pulling her hand out of the box.

      She came out with a single hair.  It was quite short, rather thick, and looked rather tough and resilient.  Tarrin looked at it for a long moment, and a growing horror began to sink into the pit of his stomach.

      The hair was white.

      Looking down, he set his foot against the floor and dragged it.  It left behind a quartet of deep scratches in the floor, the scratch made by his big toe respectably deep while the the one made by his smallest was barely more than a skim on the gray slate.  They were set at regular intervals apart, and those intervals were more than five times wider than the scratches Allia had found.

      Tarrin felt his knees weaken, and he staggered back until a tall stack of crates kept him from falling over.  He stared at that little hair in absolute horror, his heart pounding.  It all fit.  It fit!  The purging spell, the scratches, and that was the key, that one little hair.

      Not hair.  Fur.

      With a dreadful click of things, things in the present, things in the past, it all fell together, and it all fell together neatly and perfectly.  His expanded memory let him go back over every moment of it again and again, read the inflections within the words, the set of shoulders, the hidden meaning behinds questions and statements.  It made his mind whirl, and he nearly felt like he was going to black out for a moment.  Shock, outrage, and fury clashed with other feelings, feelings of protectiveness, of love, of gentleness.  They warred in him openly as his outrage contended against one of the few things within him that could stand up to it.

      His protective instincts.

      Staring at the little hair like it was a Demon, he put his paws to his head and literally howled in his confusion and conflicting desires.

      "Tarrin!" Sapphire said in sudden concern, "are you alright?"

      Allia, however, had narrowed her eyes on the little hair, and the truth opened itself to her.  "May the Holy Mother forgive her," she said in a trembling voice.

      "Who is it?" Keritanima asked, then she too seemed to understand.  "Oh, Goddess!" she wailed, putting her hands to her muzzle.

      "Who?" Sapphire asked in a voice that would brook no opposition.  "Who has done this?"  Jenna looked at the little hair, and she put a hand to her stomach as her expression turned a bit sickly.  Sapphire put a hand on her and made her look into her eyes.  "Who did this?" she demanded.  "It is white, and it looks like fur.  Was it Jesmind?"

      "No," Jenna replied in a weak tone.  "It was Jasana."

To: Title                      EoF

Chapter 8


      The world was tearing itself apart.

      Struggling to remain standing, struggling to remain conscious, Tarrin wilted against the boxes behind him, paws to his head as the awful truth struck down on him, crushed beneath a weight that he could not bear.  Jasana.  Jasana had been the one to turn him.  His own daughter!

      It was a truth he could barely comprehend.  The depths of his shock and betrayal were equalled only by  the love he had for that little girl and his need to protect her.  It went over and over again in his mind, seeing the single white hair, realizing that the scratches in the floor came from Jasana's claws, his expanded memory allowing him to look back on the conversations he'd had with his daughter and pick out every single one that had warned him of this possibility.  Of course, that Tarrin was ignorant of the depths of her determination, and even now he was stunned that she would actually do what she had done.  But Jasana had proved one thing in the time he'd known her, and that was that she was capable of almost any action if it meant getting what she wanted.  He didn't want to believe it.  He didn't want to know what she had done, but it was something he could not ignore, not deny, not forget.

      The room spun around and around like a top as mental shock wreaked havoc on his physical body.  How could she do it?  What possessed her to risk his wrath, when she knew how he would react?  How could she betray him so utterly?  He couldn't understand it, he just couldn't understand it!  Feeling his knees buckling, he turned and leaned over the boxes, his tail convulsing and trembling uncontrollably.How could she have done it?  And why did it have to be her?  If it had been anyone else, he could have justified his rage.  But he could not bring himself to harm his daughter, and it meant that his righteous indignation had no release, his fury had no outlet.  It only made him more furious that it was her, that one of the most dear people to him had been the one to betray his trust.  That rage built up inside him, mingled with the shock and confusion and consternation and chagrin that came with finding out that his own daughter had been the one to betray him.

      Claws sank into the wood as his mind, overwhelmed by incredibly powerful, intense emotion, began to lose coherence.  The rage was overhwelming, and it wanted to go up and destroy the girl.  But she was his daughter, and he could not bring himself to harm her.  His need to lash out at her was defeated by his very powerful instinct to protect her, and the frustration of being unable to satisfy his dark need was like an infection in his mind, festering and consuming rational thought, a rusted nail driving into his brain and leaving nothing but pestilence in its wake.  Claws sank deeper and deeper into the wood as his fingers clenched, as a buzzing between his ears made it harder and harder to think, as his vision seemed to fade and become hazed.  All rational thought seemed to flee from the fury building inside him, fury at Jasana, fury at his frustration, rage caused by knowing that one of the people he loved most dearly in the world had done such a terrible thing to him.  Jasana had done the unforgivable, but he could not pass judgement on her.  Her position as his daughter both made him even more furious at her for her betrayal, but also protected her from his retaliation.  It was a trap, a deadly cycle that only caused his fury to build higher and higher.

      Like the snapping of a twig, Tarrin's rational mind lost control, and it succumbed to the rage.  Eyes exploding into the green aura that so clearly marked his anger, unholy beacons of pure evil, Tarrin threw himself into his rage.  Claws crushed wood beneath them, pierced them, and the Were-cat was suddenly overwhelmed by an overpowering, almost mindless need to destroy.  If he could not destroy the one responsible for the rage, then he would destroy everything else.

      With an animalistic roar, Tarrin hefted up the wooden crate caught in his claws, lifted it over his head, and then hurled it at the wall with every bit of strength he could muster.  It struck the wooden wall with such incredible force that the stones of the wall were actually buckled by the impact, and the wooden crate literally exploded into tiny shards that flew all over the room, with enough velocity to drive into the Were-cat's chest and arms and become lodged, like huge splinters.  The pain barely registered on the Were-cat as he clasped his paws together and smashed them down on the crate that had been below the first, sending wood and pieces of old crystal that had been within it flying in every direction.

      It was a rage unlike any other he had ever experienced, and even the Cat within understood it, in some deep, instinctive manner.  There was no thought, absolutely no thought, only the burning, blinding, utter and complete rage, complete fury, almost pristine in its elemental purity.  Fury destroyed thought, rage swallowed up memory and experience, transforming the dual mind of the Were-cat into nothing more than a murderous machine reacting only to stimulus, unable to even think in the submerged manner in which it usually did when operating in a rage.  There was no thought, no thought at all, only driving, insane fury and an overwhemling compulsion to destroy.  And since memory and experience were locked away by the rage, the unthinking mind could not reach out and smash things with Sorcery, which would have been its first response had it been in a normal enraged state.  The unthinking mind could only lash out physically, could only satisfy the need to destroy with claws and fists and feet and teeth.

      "Goddess!" Jenna called in shock as they scrambled to protect themselves from the flying shrapnel.  "He's lost it!  Everyone get out now!"

      On hearing the voices, the Were-cat turned around and found himself facing four females.  In his fury, he could not recognize any of them, they were all but red-tinged figures, objects to destroy, things to kill.  With a snarling, hissing roar of challenge, the Were-cat dropped into a deep slouch, paws wide, ready to kill these unknown figures.  Two of them backpedalled furiously, one stood stock still, but the last drew two weapons from beneath a baggy garment and brandished them at him.  "Go!" that one shouted, though in his current state, the Were-cat could not understand the meaning of the sound.  "I will keep his attention!"

      The Were-cat lunged at that armed figure, but even in his rage, the Were-cat was honestly taken aback by the lightning speed of this adversary.  With such grace and quickness that seemed impossible, the figure danced to the side of him, and he barely registered feeling a sword slice into his side, but felt no pain.  The Were-cat, beyond such concepts of fencing and strategy, mindlessly flailed at the figure, but its speed and reaction to his blows were so complete that he may as well have been trying to catch fog in his paws.  In but a heartbeat, the Were-cat was struck many times, but each wound healed over as quickly as the sword was removed.  The blows only served to enrage him more, if that were even possible, and the other three figures dissolved into meaninglessness as the Were-cat focused on destroying this speedy one before him.


      Jenna had never seen such a display.

      She pushed Sapphire unceremoniously before her as Keritanima rushed for the door.  They both fully understood what was happening.  Tarrin had snapped, and now he was as much a danger to them as any Troll ever was.  Allia had somehow gotten his attention, though, and she desperately wanted a single second to stop and watch her.  She knew Allia was fast, but she never dreamed that any living thing could move with such blazing, absolute speed.  Now, finally, she understood why her brother was so respectful of Allia's fighting ability.  She was one of the few beings on this entire world that Tarrin feared enough to not want to fight.  Allia didn't have Tarin's strength, nor did she have his magical might.  But she had speed, inhuman, unbelievable speed, and Jenna finally understood that against such speed, strength was meaningless.  His strength advantage was nullified if only because he wouldn't get an opportunity to lay a hand on her.

      Every bit of that speed was on display in that dank storeroom as the Selani danced, darted, weaved, and twisted around the wildly thrashing Were-cat, confusing him and frustrating him to an extreme that Jenna didn't think imaginable.  Short swords struck and struck and struck again, but the magical bracers on his wrists, the very items she created for him, were now protecting him from those light slashes and stabs.  Only one out of every four or five had enough power behind it to breach the invisible magic that protected him, where Allia had the opportunity to put more into the attack, and those drew blood.  But those wounds healed over as fast as she could inflict them, and they were probably doing little more than making him even more angry.

      "Do not push me!" Sapphire snapped in outrage, trying to dig in her feet.

      "Don't argue with me right now!" Jenna said in a savage manner, the voice of a woman trying to save her own life.  "We have to get away from him!"

      "He is in a rage?" the dragon asked.

      "Yes!" Jenna shouted in exasperation.  Could it be more obvious?  Did he have to wear a sign declaring his mental state?  "Kerri, Allia, let's get out and trap him inside!" she shouted.  "He can trash this room all he wants, but we can't let him get out into the hallways like this!  He'll kill anything in his path!"

      "I'll pin him to the wall!" Keritanima announced, stopping and raising her hands.

      Jenna's heart seized in her chest, and she nearly felt like she was going to faint.  "Kerri, no!" she shouted.  If she used Sorcery, Tarrin may respond with Sorcery!  And in his state, she knew that even if the three of them Circled, the chances they could stop him would be miniscule at best!  "Don't use Sorcery!  Don't do it!" she screamed hysterically.

      "Right, right!" Keritanima shouted as she reached the door.  "I forgot about that!"

      "A bloody fine time to forget!" Jenna seethed as she literally dove to the floor, pulling Sapphire down with her as the furious battle raging between the Were-cat and the Selani drifted too close to them.  Allia's face was a mask of intense concentration as she labored to keep the Were-cat's killing claws off of her, continuing to slash and stab at him with her lightning thrusts, using her incredible speed and agility to keep out of his clutches.  Tarrin was inhumanly fast, but Allia's speed defied rational explanation, moving so quickly that her hands almost seemed to blur, the flowing of her silver hair as she moved catching the light and drawing the eyes, helping to further confound an enemy facing her.

      In a rapid series of weaves and bobs, the Selani finally managed to get into a position where she could do more than jab at him.  She turned and brought up her foot and kicked him dead in the face, kicked him with such incredible force that his head snapped back, and she turned a complete circle after the blow to play out her momentum.  If Allia had struck a man like that, she would have broken his neck.  The blow barely phased Tarrin, managing only to stagger him back a single step, but that was a lifetime to Allia.  She slipped to his side, rotated her body, ducked under a swipe of Tarrin's claws, got herself behind his blow and into a position where he was vulnerable to her.  And then, with a sickening spatter of blood, she drove one of her shortswords through the side of his neck.  The blow was carefully measured and expertly delivered, causing the blade to shear through the bone of his neck and sever his spinal column, but not severing his major arteries or veins or cutting his throat.

      It had a spectacular effect.  Tarrin crumpled to the floor like a sack of meal, and he did not move.  He did not even breathe.  He was face down, so she couldn't see his expression, but something told her that she didn't want to see his expression.  Allia held onto her sword, held it in place even as he fell, and her wild look at them told her that this was by no means over yet.  "Get out, quickly!" she ordered.  "If I hold his spine apart for too long, it will kill him!  We must be out before he regains his movement!"

      Jenna was stunned for a very short moment before self-preservation took control of her again.  Incredible!  Allia had defeated Tarrin in a fight, even when he was in a rage!

      The three ladies did not dwell on this sudden change of events for long.  Keritanima bolted out of the door, and Jenna pushed Sapphire through before her.  Allia watched them get out of the room with intense concern, and then yanked her sword free and darted towards the door.  She literally flew out of the room, and then Jenna and Keritanima grabbed hold of the door and slammed it closed.  "We have to brace this thing!" Jenna said feverishly, pushing on it as if a horde of Trolls were pushing from the other side..  "He'll break it down like it was made of paper!"

      "Back!" Sapphire shouted in a commanding voice, waving them away with one arm.  The three Sorcerers scrambled out of the way just as a howl of fury vibrated the door from the other side, and Sapphire chanted in a strangely discordant language, making several very precise gestures with her hands.  Jenna felt a magical force travel through the Weave into the shapechanged dragon, and then it was released from her and infused the door.  The door seemed to shimmer visibly for a second, then returned to seeming normalcy.

      "How did you do that, Allia?" Jenna asked breathlessly as the door shuddered as if struck by a heavy piece of furniture, but it held.

      "Jesmind taught me long ago how to kill a Were-cat," she answered in a panting tone.  The short fight had pushed the Selani a great deal more than she first thought.  "To put Tarrin down should he become too great a danger.  Done briefly, it can serve to immobilize one without doing permanent harm."

      "It worked well enough," Kerri said nervously as the door shuddered again.  "But now what do we do?"

      "We keep him in there, no matter what it takes," she answered in a loud tone as Tarrin started roaring in frustration as he continued to pound on the door.  But Sapphire's spell was holding, and he was incapable of breaking it down.  "I think you really ticked him off, Allia!" Jenna remarked in a dry tone.

      "He will get over it.  If he even remembers it," she answered calmly, but she had a white-knuckled grip on her two swords.

      Sapphire's eyes widened, and she jumped back.  "We must flee now!" she said with desperate urgency.

      "What's wrong?" Jenna asked.

      "Do not argue!  Run, you foolish bipeds!"

      Jenna paled when Sapphire, a mighty dragon, turned and fled with all speed away from the door.  If anything, that was a fair indication to Jenna that whatever was about to happen was not going to be good.


      Within the room, the Were-cat's rage had only doubled since regenerating from the ghastly wound inflicted by the speedy foe.  Humiliation was added to the volatile chaos of emotion that roared through his brain, wounded pride making his volcanic temper erupt as never before.  He had recovered fully from the blow, but the moment of incapacitation gave his quarry time to escape.  The door was solid, and it would not budge despite his most powerful blows, and that only frustrated the Were-cat that much more.

      Drowning in a sea of fiery rage, the Were-cat was only dimly aware of a strange, awesome power that seemed attracted by his intense emotion, drawing nearer and nearer to him.  He felt it hovering just on the edges of his awareness as he slammed his fists and shoulder into the door again, and again,and again, trying in vain to burst it from its hinges.  His claws could do no better, for they could not penetrate the wood, no matter how hard he pushed.  When he broke all the claws on his left paw trying to sink them into the wood, he reared back and kicked the door, but only managed to rebound from it.  The door was like nothing the enraged mentality of the Were-cat had ever experienced before, a baffling invulnerable barrier whose very existence was a direct challenge to the Were-cat's strength and dominance.  Roaring in impotent fury, the Were-cat reared back, sank his claws into the floor, and then drove his shoulder into the door and pushed.  He pushed with all his might, not trying to break the door with a sharp blow, but with inexorable pressure.  His fury-tinged vision seemed to blur, blood pounded behind his eyes, bones in his shoulder threatened to snap under the monstrous force that he exerted against the door, but still it would not budge.  Deep furrows were dug into the floor from his scrabbling claws, trying to gain purchase, but still it would not budge.  He threw his entire might against that door, a might that every living thing would respect if not fear, and still the door would not budge.

      The strange power seemed to rush in on him then as he found himself faced with a problem that could not be conquered by brute force.  It flowed into his mind, searched through it, searched, and joined with it.  It sensed that which infuriated the Were-cat so, the immovable door, and it seemed to respond to his animalistic, base impulse, his utter need to break down the door, to destroy it, to show it that he was the stronger.  That power joined with that will, and even in his fury, the Were-cat felt it flow through him from wherever it came from and take up the task that he could not accomplish alone.

      The door, which had been invulnerable to his physical attacks, shattered like crystal when that unknown power struck it, struck it with raw, elemental force, unshaped energy, unrefined might.  The power of the blow shattered the wall on the opposite side of the passage beyond the door as well, hurting the Were-cat's ears with the loudness of the detonation, and sending a cloud of choking dust billowing into the room.   Broken and whole stone blocks were littered in the passage and the dusty storeroom that had been on the other side of the wall, some of them smoking as if on fire.

      The power did not flee from him after accomplishing this task.  It remained joined to him, joined to his fury, and it became a welcome tool to the furious Were-cat in his need to lay waste to all things.  Stepping out into the hallway quickly, he saw the four fleeing figures, among them the one upon which his fury had become temporarily affixed.  The power within responded to the sight of them, sending another blast of unmitigated power down the passageway, a wave of incredible force that shattered the walls, the ceiling, even the floor as it passed by, shrouding the passage in a dense fog of dust and flecks of stone.  He couldn't see them anymore, and losing sight of them in the middle of that wave of destruction pleased the Were-cat, made him certain that the object of his attention had been destroyed.

      Losing the focus of his rage, the Were-cat returned to wild, uncontrolled destruction, but instead of flailing about with his arms and body, he now flailed about with this strange power that had joined to him.  Walls collapsed and shattered from the monstrous power unleashed by the enraged mind of the Were-cat, sending thunderclaps of detonation echoing in all directions.  The floor, which was solid stone beneath neatly cut and arranged stones, buckled and heaved as the stone was exploded from within, showering the rubble in the destroyed passage with red-hot jags of shrapnel.  The celing collapsed on the Were-cat, but the power joined to him shrugged off the tons and tons of jumbled debris, forcing it back up, then sending it flying with a surge of repelling force.

      The passage was a rubble-choked ruin, and it pleased the Were-cat in a dark manner that destruction had been achieved.  But he was still enraged, still in need of destroying to appease his unsatisfied lust for destruction.  The passage was sealed, but the collapsed roof exposed another level above the current one, a new place to destroy.  Picking himself up within the strange power joined with him, the Were-cat lifted off the floor and floated up towards that new area, a new thing to destroy.


      Not even in the Battle of Suld had Jenna come so close to being killed.

      Whatever Tarrin had done--it wasn't Sorcery!--it had come down the hall at them, shattering the walls, ceiling and floor, like an avalanche of invisible force that destroyed everything it touched.  The four of them had just barely managed to reach a side passage, and they literally dove into it and huddled on the floor, hands over their heads as the shockwave or whatever it was continued on down the passageway, with only a small wave of force passing harmlessly over them.  But then came a rain of stones and a cloud of choking dust as the walls and ceiling in the passage were ripped apart and collapsed, forcing Keritanima and Allia to scramble forward on all fours to get clear of the avalanche of smoking rubble that blocked off the passage.  Jenna was hit on the head by a rather large rock, and after a moment of seeing stars and feeling her head swim, she recovered enough to realize where they were and what had just happened.

      It wasn't Sorcery, so it had to be Druidic magic.  That was bad in its own right, but at least it wasn't Sorcery.  If he touched the Weave, he could bring the Tower down around them!

      "He's going to bring the Tower down around our ears!" Keritanima said, mirroring Jenna's fears as they all got up and ran blindly down the passage, a passage whose walls were now shivering and buckling in a very unsettling manner, as smoky dust was shaken from the arched ceiling above.

      "The All has touched his anger, and it's responding to it!" Sapphire shouted as they ran towards the stairs.  "He will not stop until he either exhausts himself or the All tries to do something his power can't support!  And that will kill him!"

      "Neither of those are acceptable, Sapphire!" Jenna said in a commanding voice.  "I'll either lose my brother or the Tower!  How do we stop him?"

      "It takes a Druid of greater power than him," she replied.  "I can do it, but I don't want to face him in a confined space!  We must lure him outside!"

      "Why not?" Keritanima demanded.

      "Because I don't relish the idea of being buried alive!" she answered honestly.  "I have to subdue him, Wikuni, and I don't think this structure can withstand that!"

      There was an ear-splitting BOOM, followed up almost immediately by a violent shaking of the earth beneath their feet.  One of the walls behind them fell in, but it was hard to see or hear in the pall of dust and the loud rumbling of the shifting rubble and earth all around them.  The shaking of the ground was enough to spill Jenna to the buckling floor, but Sapphire's curses were even louder than the echoing thunder of the explosion.

      "What's happening?" Keritanima asked fearfully.  "That wasn't Sorcery!"

      "That fool!" Sapphire raged, then cursed for several seconds.  "It is the Were-cat Druid, Triana!  She's engaged Tarrin within the Tower walls!  She'll kill us all!"


      Despite his unmitigated fury, the Were-cat had never faced an opponent of such power, and it took him aback.

      Her body literally glowing with an angry light, the unrecognizable Were-cat female squared off against him in the ruins of another shattered passageway, a passageway that she had destroyed in an attempt to gain his undivided attention.  It had worked.  Something about this female tickled at his memory.  He knew that he should somehow know her, but his fury-stained mind could not reach through the haze to make the connection.  He could only see her as an opponent, as an enemy, and her might challenged him in a way he could not ignore.  The primal force in him demanded that he meet this challenge, defeat it, prove his superiority and establish dominance.

      Rising up, the Were-cat male danced from pile of broken stone to pile of broken stone in a dazzling display of agility, running forward over the uneven ground with claws extended and a look of mindless brutality twisting his features.  The female stood her ground, spreading her feet and opening her arms, in a twisted mockery of a mother's opening embrace.  Then she brought her paws together, and it was like the air itself sought to crush him in an invisible grip, literally catching him as if he'd run headlong into an invislbe wall and dropping him ankle-deep in loose stone debris.  He responded almost immediately with the power in him, using it to push back this unseen attack.  The powers battled against one another, causing savage lights to erupt around the male, raking the walls with lightning as two overwhelming magical powers contended directly against one another.  It was a battle of strength, a tug of war using the magic as the rope, and they seemed to be evenly matched.

      But that was an illusion, and even the Cat, who was in control, understood that.  Rage and emotion made it impossible for the Cat to fully draw on the memory and knowledge of the Human, a rage of truly blind proportions, a rage so intense that even the Cat was inhibited by its power, unable to fully draw on all the resources within the mind it shared with the Human that were commonly available to it.   It knew that there was experience with this power in the mind, it knew that there was extensive knowledge of another form of power that it could wield against her, but all of that was locked up inside the fury, and even the Cat could not touch it.  It could only respond with raw emotion, base instinct, and the power within was limited to those primal actions, joined to a mind that had degenerated into nothing but stimulus and response, coupled to an overwhelming need to destroy.

      But it would not just give up.  The Cat would work with what it had and prevail, as it always did.

      Diverting just a tiny bit of attention, the Cat struck at the debris separating them, causing a shower of dust and small bits of rock to lash out at the female  The design was to distract, not harm, but the female brushed that spray of debris aside like swatting a fly, then made a slashing motion with her other arm.  Something caught him high in the side and slammed him into the debris of the rockfall to the side, then she slashed in the other direction, causing him to sail across the destroyed passage and slam into the rock on the other side.  The pain was barely registered as the treatment she gave him served to make him even more indignantly furious, and it was like his mind had become fire.  The power within picked up on the idea of fire, and searing flame exploded around his paws.  He thrust those burning paws in the female's direction, creating a hellish blast of superheated flame to roar down the passage towards her, faster than an arrow was shot from a bow.

      The female didn't flinch.  She simply rose her paws, and it was as if the fire struck a solid wall, blooming out over its unseen surface, unable to reach her.  The she closed her fist and raised it, and all the loose debris on the floor, surrounding him, debris she had created, suddenly lifted up from the broken floor and hovered unwavering in the air, all around him, concealing her from his view.  Then, as if struck by something to propel it forward, all of the debris raced towards him, seeking to crush him just as the invisible hands had done.  The force exploded out from him, catching the stones between two opposing forces, and most of them shattered into gravel from the stress.  When the pressing force disappeared, the cloud of gravel exploded away from him, embedding into the rockfalls on either side of him, the floor, the ceiling, and rocketing down either side of the passageway.

      The Cat started in its fury, confused.  The female was gone.  The stones and gravel had hidden her from his eyes, but she wasn't there now.  Not even her scent remained.

      The Cat felt that she had fled, though it couldn't understand why.  He had not done anything to make her flee.  She had no reason to run.

      That lack of comprehension turned into shock when living flesh impacted him from behind.  The female's arms wrapped around him as she collided with his back, sliding up and around, locking under his arms, snaking up over his shoulders, and lacing her fingers behind his head.  It forced his own arms up and away from his body, removing their usefulness to him, and the sudden overwhelming pressure she put on him, driving him down towards the floor, locked both his feet to the floor.  Her tail immediately sought out his own and wrapped vice-like around the end of his, seeking to keep it from hooking her legs and trying to unseat her foundation.

      The Cat realized almost immediately that since he couldn't see her, he had trouble focusing the power within on her.  He tried blowing her off with that power, but she used her own to brush his aside like dust, cancelling it out.  That power suddenly smothered all over him, clamping down on his own power and trying to throttle it, feeling like a thick molasses that had been poured over his body and mind.  That smothering power assaulted him on myriad levels, body and mind, as tendrils of her power sought to burrow through the fury imprisoning his rational mind.  The Were-cat could only struggle physically against her as her power both covered over his own, making it useless to him and sought to break into his mind for some inconceivable reason.

      "Stop fighting with me!" she hissed from behind, tightening her hold on him to such a degree that the pain registered to him, and he could feel the tendon and ligaments in his shoulders threatening to tear.  He could feel her power starting to peel away the layers of fury that submerged his concsciousness, slicing through the desperate defenses the Were-cat tried to erect in its path.  "Stop it!  I don't want to hurt you, cub!"

      In desperation, the Cat finally managed to reach down through the fury and touch on knowledge denied to it earlier.  It reached out and made a connection to yet another form of power, the one it had used so many times before, the magic of the Weave.  But, to his horror, the Cat felt the female's power slash that connection with some kind of invisible knife, and then erect a barrier between him and it that made it unreachable.

      Even in his fury, the Were-cat found tremendous respect for this opponent.  She was simultaneously maintaining several forms of magical pressure on him, and still had the ability to physically restrain him.  She seemed capable of multiple actions all at the same time, something that was very, very hard to do.  She was an extraordinary foe.

      "I said stop it!" she said seethingly, and then there was something like an arrow of her power lancing into his mind.  She stopped simply wearing down his defenses, she penetrated them in a fast, powerful strike, a strike that made his mind go numb and caused him to lose all the strength in his body.  He was driven down to his knees, felt her pressing down on him as her myriad magical assault stripped away all his defenses, felt her magical attack drive into the heart of his mind.  But once it was there, it did not seek to harm him.  Instead, it freed his rational mind from the prison of his fury, returned his senses to him, reassured him with its gentle, loving presence within him.  Her touch on his mind allowed him to recognize her as his adopted mother, and her touch joined their minds in a way he had never before experienced.  It was a window between them, and he found he could look into her mind as easily as she could look into his.  Within her mind was a crushing fear, a fear of hurting him, and a strange exhileration of using her Druidic power at its peak, as if subduing him appealed to her competetive nature.  He could see beyond the moment, look in and see the towering protectiveness she had for her children, all her children, a need to nurture and defend that stemmed from the trauma she had been forced to suffer a thousand years ago, when she and the other first-born, children of the Breaking, children born radically altered from their parents, had been forced to destroy them.  He could feel the pain she still carried within her over that, for she had loved her parents despite everything that had happened.  Just as he absolutely would not allow another friend to be killed during the course of this mad quest, she would not permit any she called family to die.  He saw faces, faces, an endless line of faces, all of them faces of those who had died, faces that had great meaning to the Were-cat matriarch.  Were-cat faces, both those of the old ones and the new, faces of humans, faces of other Fae-da'Nar, faces of humans, even several faces of Wikuni.  All friends, family, acquaintances, teachers, mentors, lovers.  All dead.  All gone now when she continued on, feelinga a strange guilt that she was the last of the oldest ones, the last to remember.  It reminded him of the dreams he'd had, the dreams of where he was confronted with the endless faces of those who had died from his hands.  Triana carried many scars inside, scars she did not show to the world, scars her own children did not know were there, and it made his feelings for her become that much stronger.  He felt her emotions run wild when she touched on the reason he was out of control, and in that wild moment the only thing that kept her from doing the same thing he did was because her mind was anchored into his own.

      Let go of the All gently, her thought mirrored into his mind, and he knew that she meant it for him.  Slowly and gently.

      Doing as she ordered, he slowly, carefully distanced himself from the All, using the newfound control and calmness her touch on his mind had instilled in him.   Drawing from her experience with the All, he knew exactly what to do to break his connection safely.  The All acted oddly when it was wielded in anger, and it required exceptional care to let go of it without it doing something while in the act of letting go.

      Much to his surprise, what he was doing was something Triana had to do from time to time, and that was make a clean break from the All when her emotions would make its use unstable and dangerous.

      The lock around his shoulders, pinning his arms, was released, and her arms slid down and embraced him from behind.  She put her head against his shoulder, and he could feel her sympathy for him, feel the powerful love she held for him in her heart.  A little dazed from the shattering of the rage and the enormity of touching her mind, a mind a thousand years old and possessed of memories and experiences both wonderful and horrible, he could only lean against her and both revel in and recoil from that touch.  She had been forced to deal with him in the one state in which he never wanted anyone he loved to see, but he was glad that of all of them, it had been her.  If there was anyone that would understand, it was Triana.  Her hold on him also helped to hold him up.  He was also tired, very tired, a weariness that was partially because of the emotional energy he'd expended in the rage, and energy he'd burned up flailing about with Druidic power.  He wasn't as tired as he should have been, another indication that his powers in Druidic magic had increased, but he was still tired enough to feel it.

      She was silent for a very long time, just holding onto him, as if he would return to his mindless rage the instant she released him.  She also kept that strange window open between them, no longer actively rooting through his memory, but watching his emotional state with intense scrutiny, making absolutely sure that her breaking of the rage was a permanent situation.  That, and he had the feeling that she was reluctant to break the contact, if only because it pleased her to hold it thus.

      "I'm alright, mother," he said in a weary voice.  She held him tightly for a long moment, and then finally let him go.  "That was pretty clever," he complemented.  "You shattered the walls just to put the bricks on the floor."

      "I've had experience in this kind of thing," she remarked dryly.  "It was a little more complicated given who you are, but it works more or less the same."  She patted his shoulders, then stood up and helped him up.  "The key of it is having you lose sight of me," she explained. "The only safe place to attack a raging Were-cat is from behind.  I'm just glad you didn't think to try Sorcery until after I already had you."

      "I, I think I was too angry to think about using it," he said dully, a paw to his head to try to remember.  "That, and the Druidic power was already there.  I never really thought of trying anything else until after it wasn't any use to me anymore."

      "That's what I have to teach you to control," she said in a tired voice.  "I'm, sorry, cub."

      He knew exactly what she meant.  "In a way, I guess I'm glad it was her," he said grimly.  "If it had been anyone else, even you, I probably would have tried to kill them.  Jasana's probably the only one that could do it and live."

      "That doesn't excuse it," she said in a similarly grim manner.  "I think a good thrashing is just the beginning of what needs to be done to put that cub in her place."  She flexed her fingers in an ominous manner.  "Next time, she may kill someone with her good intentions."

      Tarrin realized that Triana was deadly serious.  She was furious, just as angry as he was, but at least she had more control than he did.  "It would be a start," he agreed.  He didn't like the idea of laying such a punishment on her, but she had done something almost unspeakably wrong.  No matter how good her intentions were, there was no excuse for it, and something had to be done.  This was twice now that she had gone to extreme, dangerous, even reckless measures with him to get what she wanted.  First she intentionally used High Sorcery to make him stay with her, and now she had turned him, despite his vociferous assertion that it was his right to choose, because it was what she wanted.  Before, he had generally ignored or brushed off her manipulative ways, partially because she was very good at wheedling her parents into getting her own way.  But now he saw how dangerous she could be, and it just couldn't be allowed to continue.  He had never before seen a child that was willing to go to such great extremes to get her own way.  It defied just the description of spoiled, it reached into an entirely new realm of selfishness that defied rational explanation.

      They all knew that Jasana was a devious, cunning little manipulator, but now he had his eyes opened as to just how far she would go.

      Tarrin stood up and took Triana's paw in his.  He looked over at her--strange to see eye to eye with her again--and a wealth of unspoken feelings and understandings passed in his gaze.  He had seen into her mind, her incredibly old, wise, and powerful mind, and he understood things a little better now.  He found that he loved her even more than ever because he fully understood her deep feelings for him.  He was the son she had been waiting for for five hundred years, the one child to which she could pass her wealth of knowledge of Druidic magic.  He knew she loved her other children, but had always felt disappointed that of all of them, only Nikki, the youngest, showed any measurable Druidic talent.  It was wasn't very strong, only a bit stronger than Thean's, and she didn't have any desire to explore it.  His power was now almost as stong as hers, and she felt confident in her heart that training would bring him up to her level.  He would be the keeper of Druidic secrets that only she knew, and they would not be forever lost if she happened to die.  There were other Druids stronger than her in raw ability, but none of them were as old, except the dragons, and none of them had taken the risks that she'd taken in her lifetime with the power to explore its boudaries.

      It surprised him to find out that his solid-minded mother was a wild gambler in her younger days.  Some of the things she'd tried made him look like a timid housewife.  And though she was much more cautious now than she had been, she still regularly risked death to explore the boundaries of her ability.  He also knew where Jesmind got her fiery nature from.  In her younger days, Triana was even wilder and more tempermental than her daughter.  Some traits breed true, and Jesmind was proof of that.  She'd inherited her mother's looks and her mother's temper.  After a thousand years, Jesmind may be as mellow as her mother.  For a temper that hot, it took a thousand years to cool it down.

      She gave him a rare smile, breaking that emotionless mask that so thoroughly hid her emotions and her thoughts.  "I know," she said simply.  "Are you surprised by what you saw?"

      "Yes," he admitted.

      "Well, I wasn't," she said with a very tender look.  "I knew I was right about you.  The bond told me much more than what others could see, but I saw that I was right."

      "About what?"

      "About taking you as my son," she said simply.  "You make me proud, cub."

      "I take it you're not going to explain?"

      She only smiled silently.

      "I thought not."  He looked around, then blew out his breath.  "Jenna is going to kill me," he muttered.

      "It can be fixed," she said dismissively.  "If anything, it'll give these lazy katzh-dashi and Sha'Kar something to occupy their minds and keep them out of trouble."

      "Maybe we should go find her and let her know things are alright."

      "She knows," Triana said bluntly.  "She'll find us.  Well, let's go."

      He knew exactly what she meant, and where they were going.  To go punish Jasana for her actions.  But first, he wanted to know how she did it.  Somehow, she had stolen that blood and managed to slip it into the potion without anyone, not even Triana or Jesmind, catching her.  Either she had help--which was a possibility--or she was much smarter than even he thought she was.

      After crawling through a narrow choked-off rockfall, they got out into the undamaged parts of the passageways.  He knew where he was now, so he led his bond-mother confidently to the main staircase, which would take them up to the apartments.  He wasn't looking forward to this.  Facing down people he hated was much easier than looking that little girl in the eyes and standing in the face of the storm of tears and snivelling apologies that he knew was coming.  Jenna was devious, and he knew that she'd resort to playing on his affection for her to try to avoid getting punished.  But her crime this time was much too grave to be smoothed over by a bit of crying and a little constructive cuddling.

      One thing did gnaw a bit at him though.  "How did you get behind me?" he blurted.

      They stopped on the staircase.  Triana, smiling in a mysterious way, stepped over to the wall.  He felt it distinctly when she made contact with the All, and then she pushed her paw towards the wall.

      And it passed right through!

      "A trick I learned from a creature called a Phase Spider," she told him calmly, sinking her arm into the wall up to her elbow.  "They're subeterranean creatures, feeding off things in the network of caves below the Skydancer mountains.  They could pass through solid objects, and they used it to ambush prey and as an escape mechanism.  It took me nearly ten years to learn how they did it."

      Tarrin whistled as she pulled her arm free and put his paw on the stone.  It was unyielding to him, as he expected it to be.

      "That's a neat trick," he said appreciatively.

      "It was a neat trick after I learned not to get things stuck when I ended the spell," she grunted.

      "Did it hurt?" he asked with a shudder.

      "You have no idea," she growled, holding up her right paw.  "This is about my fiftieth paw, and I lost count of how many feet I've lost about five hundred years ago.  Materializing inside solid rock is very painful."

      "I can imagine," he breathed, looking at the stone wall and feeling a little pang of chilly sympathetic pain ghost through his arms.

      "Just one of the things I'm going to teach you, cub," she said calmly, starting up the stairs again.  "When I'm done with you, you'll wonder why you ever bothered to use Sorcery."

      Tarrin chuckled reflexively at that rather bold statement, but he didn't doubt that Triana believed what she said.  He followed after her, his expression turning stony as he remembered what they were about to go and do.  There was no place for humor in it.

      As they climbed up the stairs, Tarrin's mind raced about what was to come.  The fact that they knew who did it seemed to pale now in the light of two very, very important things.  How, and why.  The why of it seemed rather straightforward, though.  Jasana had been complaining about him not being Were, and had been carefully and quietly trying to sway him.  He knew because he could look back over every single word she said, and intimate knowledge about his daughter's mannerisms, things the human Tarrin didn't understand, made things clear to him when he looked back on those conversations with opened eyes.  She hadn't been more obvious because, quite honestly, she wasn't sure how to try to sway him.  He could see that.  She was being careful because the human Tarrin was very, very much unlike the father she knew, and in a way, that protected him from the majority of her conniving.  Jasana could manipulate her parents rather easily, but the change in him had isolated him from her games, if only because she didn't know how to proceed against him.  Of course, since she couldn't sway him, and didn't know enough about him to try--that, or she realized that in this case no amount of wheedling, cajoling, or pleading was going to make him change his mind--she had decided to do things without his permission, and that was what worried him the most.  He wasn't sure if Jasana had the ability to plan out and execute something like this, not without anyone suspecting her.  And if Triana hadn't suspected her, then nobody would.  He hadn't.  Not in the slightest, at any time, did he conceive that Jasana had been the one to turn him.  He certainly would respect her ability to try, but not respect the idea that she would be able to execute her plan.  No, in this case, Tarrin suspected that Jasana had help.  That was what he wanted to know.  Jasana had been the one to turn him, but she may have had a little outside help to pull it off, and she was going to tell him.  Jasana would know that in this situation, telling the complete truth would make things better for everyone involved.  After what she saw him do to Jesmind, and that over nothing more than bad treatment, she'd realize that if she didn't tell him who helped her, if he had to find out for himself, it would be much worse for that guilty party when he did.  This was going to be the one time that Jasana wouldn't be able to worm her way out of trouble.

      Before he realized where he was, they were on the floor where the apartment was.  His own scent was still fresh on the floor, and he realized with some surprise that he'd only been there a short time ago.  After the rage, it felt like he'd been here yesterday, or even longer.  He felt drained, tired, like he'd been awake for a month, but he had too many important things to do to bother with being tired at the moment.

      "How do you want to do this?" Tarrin asked as they approached the door.  They could be calm and rational, or go in there and start with the punishment immediately.  They could be stern and unbending or at least give Jasana a chance to defend herself.

      Without saying a word, Triana reared back her fist and smashed it into the door.  Though it was a big, metal-bound door, it was no match for Triana's power.  The door held, admirably enough, but the latch and hinges had never been made to withstand the awesome stresses that the blow to the door put on them, and they tore like fine parchment in a child's uncaring hands.

      "Alright then," he said grimly as he followed his bond-mother into the apartment.  Jula and Kimmie were standing up by their seats, Mist was awake on the couch but had not moved to get up, and most importantly, Jesmind was standing at the doorway leading back to her bedroom.  Jasana and Eron were sitting on the floor in the corner playing with some wooden blocks that Jenna had given them.

      "Mother, that was a good door!" Jesmind protested, but that protest died away when she saw the barely contained mask of fury that contorted the matriarch's usually unemotional expression.  The apprehension turned into a deep frown when she saw an equally irate Tarrin just behind her, and the fact that both of them were covered in dust, and in Tarrin's case, a little blood here and there.  "What happened to you two?" she asked.

      "You've been fighting!" Kimmie said in shock, looking at them.  "You mean you two are the ones responsible for all that shaking?"

      "JASANA!" Triana absolutely roared, pointing at the little girl with a clawed finger.  "Come here right now!"  She pointed to the carpeted floor immediately before her imperiously, and Tarrin realized, as did everyone in the room, that Jasana's very life hinged on her immediate and unequivocable obedience to her grandmother's command.

      Soberly, her lower lip trembling as her half-brother looked at her in confusion, Jasana got up from the floor and shuffled over, very slowly, deathly afraid of what was coming, but even more afraid of what would happen if she did not obey.  She stood before her grandmother, head bowed, tail drooping, and her paws clasped before her in a stance of supplication.  Tarrin stepped up beside his bond-mother, staring down at the little girl, feeling that same fury begin to rise up in him again.  He wanted to thrash her so badly his claws actually itched to taste her blood.  She was the object of his rage, but he could not satisfy it as he so desperately wanted to do.  If it were anyone but her, they would be dead by now.  Anyone but Jasana.

      "There is absolutely no excuse for what you have done!" Triana said in a furious tone, the mask of emotionless slipping from her face.  "Do you have any idea how many laws you've broken?  Do you realize that by all rights of law and custom, I should kill you right here and now?"  She hunched over the little girl, looming over her like a shadow of Death herself.  "Well?  Answer me!"

      Jasana looked up at them, her green eyes wet with tears, and they were all Tarrin could see.  No matter how furious he was with her, he still could not deny that he loved her.  Her punishment would be severe, but her life would never be in jeopardy.  There was a pleading look in her eyes, on her face, but she flinched away into an expression of chagrin and good, honest fear when she saw her father's grim face.

      Kimmie was the first to see to the heart of it.  She gasped loudly and actually collapsed back into her chair by Mist's couch, her paws over her mouth and a look of sincere shock in her blue eyes.

      "What are you talking about, mother?" Jesmind demanded, coming around the couch.

      Triana looked up at her daughter, and the coldness in her eyes made Jesmind stop in the act of walking forward, with her foot still hovering off the floor.

      "Jasana was the one that turned Tarrin!" she announced in an dark tone that was literally dripping with cold fury.

      Jula paled, her tail sticking almost straight out, Mist closed her eyes and muttered several choice curses, and Jesmind just stared at her mother, still with her foot in the act of coming down onto the floor.  Jasana fell to her knees and began sobbing in very loud waves, paws over her face and her tail thrashing behind her like a dying snake.

      "She what?" Jesmind asked in a low, cold tone.

      "She turned Tarrin," Triana seethed.  "We know she took the blood that turned him."

      "Jasana!" Jesmind gasped in shock, almost falling to her knees herself.  "How could you do such a thing!" she demanded, then she did stagger back and sit down hard on the couch behind her.

      Eron wandered over to her mother and put his little paws on her arm.  "Mama, what's going on?" he asked in an innocent manner.  "Why is ev'yone mad at Jas?"

      "Jasana did a very bad thing, cub," Mist said in a low tone, but it was not one of disbelief.  "And now she has to be punished for it."

      Tarrin could see, sense, that all the animosity in the room was going to make Jasana unintelligible.  All the adults were mad at her, and the very real fear of the kind of punishment that someone like Triana could hand out would be the only thing dominating her mind.  He wanted answers, and he realized that that meant taking a less dramatic approach.  He put a paw in front of Triana to tell her that he would handle this, then he knelt in front of his crying daughter, now bent over with her paws over her face and weeping uncontrollably.  His looming over her seemed to make her come out of it a little, and she looked up at him with her heart in her eyes, a heart that was breaking.  She gave out a forlorn wail and threw herself against his chest, cowering between his arms and gripping his vest with her little claws digging into his skin.

      He did not comfort her, but he didn't yell at her as Triana had done either.  "Look at me," he said in a level tone, a tone that demanded obedience.  She sniffled and looked up into his eyes with apprehension and a little stark terror, still gripping his vest.

      "Why did you do it, Jasana?" he asked in a surprisingly calm voice.

      She could only blubber for a long moment, then she sniffled loudly and bowed her head, unable to hold his penetrating gaze any longer.  "B-B-Because everyone was sad," she hiccupped.  "Everyone was sad, and it was all because you were a h-human," she continued.  "You an' Mama were fighting, an' you were mad at each other, an' you promised me we'd be a family again.  I just wanted everything to be the way it was supposed to be!" she wailed in a plaintive tone, looking up at him with anguished eyes, clutching at his vest so hard that she was rending it.  "B-But you're alright now, and we can all be together again!" she said in a desperate voice.  "Don't be mad at Mama, Papa!  It makes her so sad when you're mad at her!"

      Putting a huge paw on each of her little shoulders, he pushed her out away from him.  She refused to let go of his vest, trying desperately to hold onto him, tearing the leather away in her little paws.  "I am very mad at you, cub," he said in that same calm voice, a voice probably more terrifying to her for its even temper than the raging outburst that would have probably been more what she would expect.  "Do you have any idea what you've done?  Do you have any idea how much it hurt me that you'd do this to me?"

      "B-But you're the way you're supposed to be!" she objected tearfully, as if that explained everything.  "Everything's supposed to be alright now!  It's supposed to all be alright!"

      "It wasn't your choice to make," he said in a seething manner that made the little girl flinch from him.  "You were with me all that time, girl.  You knew how I felt about it!  Why did you take that away from me?  Why?"

      Her eyes quivered, and she started crying again, holding onto his paws, trying to get them off her shoulders so she could collapse against him, but he wouldn't let go of her.  It hurt him to do this to her, but it had to be done.  She had to be made to understand that if she didn't stop, she was going to do something that would be absolutely unforgivable.  As if what she'd done to him wasn't unforgivable in the eyes of the law of Fae-da'Nar, but these were rather special circumstances.

      "Did you once think about the consequences, girl?" he asked in a level tone.  "Answer me," he ordered after a moment of listening to her sob.

      "Everything was supposed to be alright," she said in a miserable tone, sniffling.  "You and Mama would be happy again, and we'd be a family."

      "So you didn't," he surmised.  "You decided you knew what was best for everyone, and you just went and did it without ever once thinking about how it was going to make anyone else feel."

      "I just wanted--"

      "It's not about what you want!" he cut her off in a sharp, angry tone.  "Now you're going to learn, cub, that there are consequences to the actions you take.  If you'd have left things alone, they would have worked out.  I would have decided to be Were again, and I'd have come home.  But because you interfered, now I'm mad at your mother, and I'm so mad at you I can't even explain it to you.  I am so mad at you I went into a rage and very nearly killed my own sisters, and your grandmother had to risk her own life to stop me.  Because of what you did, I almost killed several people that I love as much as I love you, and if that would have happened, I would have never been able to live with myself.  Because of what you did, I came this close--"he took his paw off her shoulder and held his finger and thumb the barest of spaces apart in front of her--"to destroying almost everything in my life that matters to me.  And it all happened because you interfered.  I want you to think about that, Jasana.  I want you to really think about that, and I want you to know how close you came to losing me forever because you couldn't wait, because you didn't like things and you decided to try to make everything the way you wanted them to be.   Well, you've done that, but now nothing is like you want it to be, and it very well may never be that way again.  And it's all because you interfered."

      Gently, the voice of the Goddess touched him in a very private, intimate manner.  To keep Jasana from overhearing it.  Remember, she's only a child.  You're getting close to destroying her life.

      I'm about done, Mother, he thought grimly.  But she was right.  Jasana had the mind of a six year old child, and he was treading very close to shattering the entire foundation upon which that life was set.  It was time to reassure her of a few things.

      "In a while, I'll get over being mad at you," he told her as she wept with her paws over her face.  "You're my daughter, and I still love you very much.  But you have to be punished for what you've done, Jasana.  You have to learn that every act you take has consequences, no matter how much you believe what you're doing is right.  And I won't be mad at your mother forever either.  As soon as I get over that, I'll come home, and if I think you've learned your lesson, we'll be a family again."

      She looked up at him with those beautiful green eyes, shining with tears, and her hopeless expression brightened just a little.  "W-We can be a family?"

      "Only if you prove to me that you've learned your lesson," he said firmly.  "I'll forgive you, but only when I'm sure that you won't pull an insane stunt like this again.  Do you understand?"

      "I understand," she said in a little voice.

      "Now you're going to answer me, and you're going to tell the whole truth.  No hedging.  Do you understand?"  She nodded vigorously.  "Did anyone help you?"

      She shook her head.

      "How did you find out about the blood?"
      "Jula told me the story about how she became my sister."

      "Did she tell you where the blood was?"

      She shook her head.  "Jinna Brent told me."

      Jinna Brent was the Water seat, and Tarrin couldn't put any real blame on her.  Odds were, she had no idea just why Jasana was asking.  Jula blew out her breath when she realized that Tarrin was hunting for any possible accomplices, and there was no doubt that he would not be as gentle or forgiving with them as he had been with his daughter.  "How did you get it without anyone knowing?"

      "I just went down and got it when everyone was asleep," she sniffled.  "Nobody ever goes down there, so all I had to do was get out of the house without Mama catching me.  I thought someone may find out I stole it, so I tried to hide who took it by using magic that Aunt Jenna taught me.  I hid it in my room after I took it.  I knew nobody would find it there, because it didn't have any smell, and mother makes me clean my own room.  She won't let any of the maids come in and do it."

      "How did you get it into the potion?"

      "I talked Kimmie into showing me where they were doing the magic a long time ago, before I even decided to do it," she said after a moment.  "I put it in the day before you drank it.  The old human was sleeping, and Aunt Kimmie was here taking a nap.  I snuck out with Eron and left him in the kitchens, did it, then came back and we went down the baths with his boat."

      Tarrin recalled that Jasana had turned up missing that day, and they they had been found in the baths.  "Eron, did Jasana leave you in the kitchens?" he asked his son directly.

      "I didn't see her go," he said in a casual manner.  "Cook Golin was giving me sweetcakes."

      "You and your stomach, cub," Mist growled at him, but in a loving way.

      "And that's it?  Nobody helped you?"

      "N-No," she said.

      "That doesn't sound very certain," Triana snorted.

      "Well, nobody helped me," she said, looking at the floor.  "But I didn't think of it myself."

      "Who did?" he asked bluntly.

      Jasana wouldn't look at him for a moment, then she finally did, and when she did, she looked ready to break out into tears again.  "You did, Gramma," she blurted.  "You and Mama and Aunt Kimmie and Aunt Mist.  You were talking about ways to make Papa himself again, and when Mama said that someone should bleed on him accidentally on purpose, I remembered Jula's story about how she used Papa's blood.  I promised you I wouldn't use my blood, and I couldn't get anyone else's without getting caught, so I used Papa's blood."

      Tarrin levelled a very frosty stare at his bond-mother.  Triana coughed delicately and gave him a helpless look.  "Well, we were desperate," she said defensively.  "And it was just talk.  We didn't actually do it, cub."

      "No, but this little eavesdropper here was alot braver than the lot of you," he replied in an icy tone.

      "I wouldn't have imagined that she'd actually try it," she answered.

      Tarrin realized that he'd gotten all his answers.  Everything Jasana said fit in with what he already knew, and it also fit in with the way things happened as he undestood them.  Despite his anger with her, he was privately very proud of her, proud that she could take an idea mentioned in passing and develop it into a marvelously well thought-out plan.  If the simple fact that they used things that she had no experience in to track her down, she very well may have gotten away with it.  Jasana had decided on her objective, decided on what she needed, organized things to acquire them, then executed her plan, and she did it all without anyone suspecting that she was up to no good.  She was only two years old--around six or seven in human years--but already displayed remarkable intelligence and cleverness.  Were it not for the fact that he was the victim of her scheme, he would have been tremendously impressed by it.  He really was impressed by her, but he couldn't let her know that.

      He was satisfied that that was everything he needed to know.  He was confident that she had acted alone, and in his own mind, that was the end of it.  The fury he'd felt before was actually starting to cool, as he heard her and understood things.  He was very angry with her, but his love for his daughter had already started to nullify the blind rage he'd been experiencing, and it pulled at him a little bit to know that she would suffer through her punishment.  He didn't want to see her suffer, but in this case it was an absolute necessity.  If they didn't choke off this habit of hers of altering the entire world to suit herself, she was eventually going to do something for which there would neither be forgiveness nor leniency.  Her turning him was a crime punishable by death, and she had to be made to understand that.  It was something that just was not done, and the laws of Fae-da'Nar were explicit about it.

      Taking his paw off her shoulder, he looked down at her with stern, almost cold eyes.  She gazed up at him with teary eyes, her desperate fear evident on her face, as was just a glimmer of hope.  "I'm not the one who's going to punish you, cub, though I'm sure you would have preferred it if I did," he told her.  "Your grandmother is already chomping at the bit for it, and I'm not going to gainsay her.  Besides, I think I've already punished you enough," he added thoughtfully.

      Jasana threw a wild look at her furious grandmother, and it dawned on her that she wasn't going to get out this quite as easily as she was starting to think she was.

      "I'm sure your mother's going to have a few things to say to you as well," he said soberly.

      "Oh, you'd better believe that!" Jesmind said hotly, stalking up on them from where she'd stumbled into her seat.

      "Stand in line, cub," Triana told her grimly.  "I get her first."

      Jasana blanched, almost unconsciously trying to sidle up to her father for protection, but he stopped her with a paw, then stood up before her.  She barely came up to the middle of his thigh, and she seemed so small and defenseless.  Then he reminded himself how much chaos that defenseless little child had caused.

      "I'm going to leave this in your paws, mother," he told her calmly.  "I'd better find Jenna and get my scolding overwith.  I know she's going to let me have it over all the damage I caused.  She'll probably make me fix it."

      "I think she'll be happy enough you're alright," she said in a absent manner, her hot eyes fixed on Jasana.

      He looked down at his child one more time, a serious, grim look, seeing her tears and fighting against them moving him to take pity on her.  There could be no pity this time, or else he may lose her to her own cleverness in the future.  "I'm going," he announced.

      "I'm coming with you," Jula announced, moving towards him.  "I, really don't want to be here for this."

      "Alright," he nodded, turning his back on his sobbing child deliberately.  He traded knowing looks with Triana, then padded away from her.  He absently picked up the door on his way out and repaired it with a quick weave of Earth and Fire, then closed it behind him.  Jasana's howls of pain started almost immediately after that, as Triana probbly put the girl over her knee, raised her tail out of the way, and proceeded to flay the skin off her backside.  Tarrin considered it a necessary act.  He had laid in the mental punishment, making her see just how much damage she had caused, and now her mother and grandmother were going to make her sorry she ever thought of doing it in the first place.  Hopefully the combination of the terror of being punished so again and the very real threat Tarrin made to not forgive her if she ever did anything like that again would be enough for her to start thinking about the consequences of her actions before she did them.

      "I really didn't want to see that," Jula said with a shudder.  "I feel sorry for the cub.  She only did what everyone else wanted to do, but was too afraid to try."

      "I know, but if she were older, Triana would have killed her.  You know the law."

      "I know," she sighed.  "What happened down there?  The whole Tower shook."

      "I was in a rage.  Triana stopped me, and she did it faster than I thought she could have.  I think she has experience in dealing with raging Were-cats."

      "With Jesmind as her daughter, I wouldn't be surprised," Jula said with a slight smile as they reached the stairs, Jasana's howls still ringing in their ears.

      "I remember every moment of it," he grunted.  That was very unusual for a rage.  Usually he had no memory of it initially, but the memory slowly bled into him afterwards.  He remembered every minute of this one, from Allia besting him in the storeroom to laying waste to the lower levels of the Tower to the very, very short confrontation between him and Triana.  "I've never been handled like that before," he admitted.  "Triana must have practiced for the day she'd have to subdue me.  It took her all of about half a moment."  He put a paw to his head.  "I was too enraged," he told her in a distant tone as they descended down the staircase.  "I was so mad, so completely enraged that I couldn't even remember things I usually remember when I'm in a rage.  I couldn't even use Sorcery."

      "That's a good thing, father," she said with a shudder.

      "I'd have to agree with you," he nodded.  "I don't think that would have happened anyway, Jula.  Mother was watching, and she wouldn't have allowed me to use Sorcery against her Tower.  Remember, what she gives to us freely she can withhold when it's needful."  He was silent a moment.  "I do remember trying for Sorcery there at the end, and I think I could have used it if Triana hadn't been on me.  I was shocked, daughter.  I'm still shocked.  Triana's a lot more powerful than I thought."

      "I thought you said you couldn't remember how to use Sorcery."

      "Triana had me in some kind of locking move," he told her, "and she was overwhelming me with Druidic magic.  I think that shocked me out of the depths of that rage, enough for the Cat to regain access to some parts of our mind.  I reached for Sorcery because Triana had taken everything else away.  And she was waiting for me to try that," he admitted with a grim chuckle.  "I didn't think a Druid could cut me off, but I know now I was wrong about that."

      He thought back over that episode, and realized once again how much of a liability the rage could be.  He'd been so furious that he didn't even try to defend himself from Allia, didn't understand the danger she posed.  He just attacked her wildly, and in that wild, undisciplined flailing, Allia picked him apart and stuck her sword in his neck.  He had been so enraged that he couldn't even remember how to use his magical abilities.  The only reason he had Druidic magic was because the All connected with him, not the usual system where he reached into the All.  And even when he had the power, he could do nothing with it than crude, elemental bashing, flailing about with the magic like it was an extra arm, using nothing but raw, unrefined eruptions of naked power.  He had had no control, no finesse, none of the usual exacting precision with which he usually wielded his Druidic magic and his Sorcery both, and his fury severly limited the possible ways he could have used the All.  In this case, that was a good thing, since he was too angry to get creative in his destruction, but in any other case it would be a very, very bad thing to have happen.  Then with Triana, he was so enraged that he couldn't use his full power, couldn't even use the power he had at hand in a rational manner, and she beat him because of it.  Tarrin was glad they'd beaten him, but that competitive part of him still objected to being bested, no matter what the contest.  Besides, they were very important lessons for him, lessons in how not to act when facing a powerful foe.  He'd learned long ago that rage was an asset to his opponent, not to himself, because it reduced his capacity to think rationally, and now more than ever using his magic required a great deal of rational control.  Jegojah had taught him that lesson in the most bitter fashion, when his rage had caused Faalken's death.  In a way, it was good to be reminded of that fact.  If he was in a rage, all he could do was use heavy-handed, crude magic, relying on power.  Now he knew so many spells, so many spells that could protect him or help him win a fight, but he couldn't use any of them if he was so enraged that all he wanted to do was blow things up.  It was even more critical with Druidic magic, for in a fury he may try to sink a mountain into the sea or something else like that, and it would end up getting him killed.  It was good that he had lost his temper inside, where the confined space also limited the available options for destruction.  Since all he had around to destroy were crates and walls and ceilings and floors, he didn't try something that he wasn't capable of accomplishing, like exploding one of the buildings on the Tower grounds or something like that.  The restrained nature of the underground passages were actually an asset to him that time, and their simplisitic monotony protected him from himself.

      Yes, he realized, if he had lost control anywhere else, there was a very good chance he wouldn't have lived for very long.

      He thanked the Goddess for small favors, and continued down the staircase with a new, sober sense of determination.  He could never have that happen again.  Who he was and what he could do meant that it would most likely be fatal the next time.

      Jasana's howls of pain were lost to his ears now, and he was secretly glad of that.  Maybe he was a doting father, but he really didn't relish the idea of seeing his child in pain.  Any of them.  And from the look in Triana's eyes, she was certainly feeling pain right now.  Triana could be very heavy-handed when she punished someone, an extension of her dominating nature.  She would beat some sense into the child, she would make her see things her way.  In her own way, Triana was the best available choice to punish Jasana, for she would show no favoritism, and she would not relent until she was certain that the child had learned her lesson.  Triana could be ruthless that way.

      "She's that strong?" Jula asked.

      Tarrin realized they were still talking, and he shook his head.  "It's not her power, cub, it's how she uses it.  I think at one time, she was using about six different spells on me.  That means she had to be actively concentrating on each and every one.  And she was physically struggling to keep me in that strange armlock, and she was using a very delicate spell designed to reach into my mind and shake my conscious mind free of the rage.  That's not something I'd try if it was the only thing I was doing.  She's a very powerful Druid, cub, I can't say she's not, but I don't think I'll ever see anyone in my life that's not a god that has more control over magic than Triana.  I don't think even I could do what she did."

      "After a thousand years, I think you'll admit you lied just now," she teased.

      "Maybe, but I doubt it," he grunted.  He could sense Jenna and Keritanima clearly now; they were coming up the stairs.  Jenna was actively searching for him, sending faint magical pulses into the Weave in waves and looking for the responses as they made contact with Sorcerers. It was an old Weavespinner trick called sounding, something she had learned from either Spyder or the Sha'Kar.  The modern katzh-dashi knew of a weaker form of the trick they used in the form of a spell, which they used to ferret out untrained Sorcerers, for they would register to the technique, albeit very faintly.  Because Tarrin had such a powerful effect on the Weave, he would have the strongest response, and that would tell her exactly where he was.  It was a trick that let her get around the nondetection ability in his amulet, which protected him from almost any other form of magical detection.  After all, she wasn't looking for him, she was looking for the effect he had on the Weave.  That was a very different thing, and it was something that the amulet did not--could not--conceal.  "Here comes Jenna and Kerri."

      "I can feel them.  I can feel Jenna sounding for us."

      "I get the feeling I'm in for a scolding," he said ruefully.

      They met on the staircase, and if he were human, he would have fallen over when all three of his sisters embraced him on the uneven, dangerous staircase.  They all talked at once, quickly, rashly, and he had to call loudly to interrupt them.  "I'm alright!" he almost shouted, looking over them at Sapphire, who stood in a dignified manner, though her eyes told him that she wanted to run up to him and hug him too.

      "What happened?" all three asked, almost simultaneously.

      "Triana broke my rage, somehow," he answered, putting a paw on Jenna's shoulder.  "I'll tell you thins, I've never been manhandled like that before.  She knew exactly what to do."

      "I felt her.  I thought she was being rash, but I see she had a good plan," Sapphire said.

      "Mother's experienced in handling Were-cats in a rage, Sapphire," he told her calmly.  "She calmed me down before I could do any more damage.  Sorry, Jenna," he said sincerely.  "I hope you're not too mad."

      "I understand why, brother," she told him compassionately.  "I can't really be that mad.  If I were in your place, I probably would have done the same thing."

      "I guess I'll have to fix everything," he sighed.

      "You're too important to be doing menial labor," she said firmly.  "I have a whole Tower full of laborers, brother.  Besides, this'll give the Sha'Kar an opportunity to train the katzh-dashi in some of their magic.  There's nothing like practical training."

      "I guess," he chuckled.  "I'm, sorry I attacked you."

      "It's no big deal, brother," Keritanima grinned.  "Allia managed that."

      "I see you haven't forgotten, sister," he said wryly, rubbing the back of his neck.

      "I do not forget," she said cooly, but she was smiling.

      "The Selani was very impressive," Sapphire complemented.

      "I'm just amazed that she could beat you," Jenna admitted.

      Tarrin looked at her.  "Sister, it was very easy for her to beat me," he told her.  "When I'm like that, I can't even think.  That means I can't act with any kind of plan or strategy, and I can't use any of the techniques I've learned.  When I'm in a rage, I'm actually much easier to kill.  That's one reason why I try very hard not to get into them."

      "Oh," she said in understanding, nodding her head.

      "I've never suffered a rage like that before," he said hesitantly.  "I was so far gone, I couldn't even use Sorcery."

      "We noticed, and you have no idea how glad we are of that," Jenna said honestly.

      "Did you come from Jesmind's apartment?" Keritanima asked.

      "I came from where they are," he nodded grimly.  "Me and Jasana had a little chat.  Right now, she's being punished by Triana and her mother.  I have no doubt that it's very unpleasant."

      "She needs it," Keritanima said hotly.  "It's time that little brat learned the rules."

      "Fine one to be calling her a brat," Tarrin teased.

      "At least I knew there was a place I couldn't go," Keritanima said bluntly.  "I love her like my own daughter, but I could strangle her right now."

      "She is just a child, sister," Allia said in defense of her.  "Were she older, she and I would be discussing this as a matter of honor," she said ominously, "but her age protects her."

      Tarrin winced inwardly.  That would have been a discussion only one of them survived, and he seriously doubted that it would have been Jasana.

      "I know she did something terrible, but I don't want everyone to alienate her," Tarrin said imploringly.  "Let's give her a little time to understand just how much trouble she's in, but don't shut her out.  Remember, she is just a child.  She didn't do what she did out of malice."

      "True," Allia admitted.

      "Sapphire?" Tarrin asked meaningfully.

      She sighed.  "I won't harm her, little one," she assured him.  "She is your daughter, and as you said, there was no malice in her heart.  Only misguided need.  I can understand why she did it.  I will take my own turn in her punishment," she added fiercely, "but I won't kill her, and I won't exile her from the clan."

      "I'm glad to hear that, my friend," he said with a sincerely appreciative look.

      "I think we can move off these stairs now," Keritanima chuckled.  "Let's go find a room somewhere and sit down.  And I think the others might be happy if we let them know what was going on."

      "That's a good idea.  I have some things to tell them anyway," Tarrin nodded.

      And he did.  He'd initially given himself three days in order to find out who had turned him, but that had been found out, thanks to Allia's keen eyes.  Now that that was over, his mind was once again focused on his mission, and right now that mission was to hide.  But just hiding wasn't going to be good enough, he realized.  He needed a little more to happen in order to make things clean and take some of the pressure off Jenna, and he had a fairly good idea of how to go about that.  There were too many eyes watching the Tower, and he didn't want those eyes to stay on the Tower after he left.  He needed to dislodge those eyes, and an idea had already started forming in his mind.  But before he could set it in stone, he needed to put it in front of the others.  He'd need their help in order to pull it off.

      "Jenna, talk to Dolanna, and have her assemble everyone in the courtyard," he told her, stressing that word so she'd know just which courtyard he meant.  "What I have to say can't be overheard, and that's the one place on the grounds where I'm absolutely sure that it won't happen."  He scratched his chin with a claw.  "I think we'd better ask Darvon and Ianelle to join us.  I may need their help."

      Jenna nodded soberly, then put her hand on her amulet.

      "Not like that.  In person," he warned.

      "You have some nerve ordering me around, brother," she teased with a wink.

      "Would you rather I made you?" he asked bluntly.

      She laughed.  "No, I don't need you to beat me into doing your bidding," she grinned.  "I'll go take care of it."

      "Jula, go with her.  It's not seemly for the Keeper to wander around undefended right now."

      "As you say, father," she said immdiately, and the two of them split off at the next landing.

      "Courtyard?" Sapphire asked.

      "You'll see, and please don't ask," Tarrin said.

      "That is a good idea," Keritanima nodded in agreement.

      Tarrin looked at her.  "Where is Binter?" he asked, noticing for the first time that the massive Vendari wasn't with her.  He was so used to seeing him standing behind her that he had just accepted the idea of it blindly.

      "Binter will let me go out with Allia," Keritanima said with a toothy grin.  "He trusts her to look after me, and it gives him and Sisska time to be by themselves for a while."

      "I don't think you could be any safer," Tarrin nodded in agreement.  "But what about Miranda?"

      "She's with Azakar," she answered.  "He's the other one they'll let escort us by ourselves."

      "Well, we need them.  Will they be hard to find?"

      "Not hard at all." She touched her amulet lightly.  "Binter, I need you and Sisska.  Find Miranda and meet me in the kitchens."  She gave Tarrin a smile.  "I gave Binter an amulet, so I can talk to him when we're separated."

      "Good idea," Tarrin complemented.

      "I guess we will wait in the kitchens," Allia mused.

      "That's fine.  I find myself hungry," Sapphire announced.

      They waited in the kitchens for only as long as Sapphire could manage to eat a drumstick off a roasted goose before Binter and Sisska appeared with Miranda and Azakar in tow.  They looked as serious as ever, but they both did look at Tarrin a long moment when they appeared.  Binter stepped up to him boldly and looked him up and down as Miranda gave him a warm hug, wrapping her hands around his chest.  "I see you are well, friend Tarrin.  Have you punished the guilty one?"

      "In a manner of speaking," he said grimly.

      "Such a crime deserves death."

      "I know, but it was Jasana, Binter.  I can't kill her."

      Miranda whistled in surprise as Binter simply stared at Tarrin.  "Were she a Vendari child, she would be killed."

      "Well, I'm not Vendari," he shrugged.  "I think she'll be very sorry.  Triana and Jesmind are punishing her as we speak."

      "Perhaps death isn't necessary," Binter said directly.  "Those two could invent a punishment just as severe."

      "That's kind of what I'm counting on," Tarrin said with a slight, humorless smile.

      "Are you alright now?" Miranda asked.  "We heard some of it, and felt the Tower shake.  We realized that you were venting down in the cellars."

      "That's a good description of it," he said dryly.  He wasn't going to admit that he'd attacked Keritanima in front of Binter and Sisska.  "Triana managed to snap me out of it."

      "It's good to see you up and about, Tarrin," Azakar said to him.  "I hope you're feeling well now."

      "Well enough, Zak," he answered.  "I've already attended to finding out who did this to me, and Jasana's getting her just desserts as we speak.  So I'm going back to what I'm supposed to be doing."

      "It didn't take you long to find out," Miranda said in appreciation.

      "Thank them for that," Tarrin motioned at his sisters and Sapphire.  "Between the three of them, they managed to find out it was Jasana after about a half an hour.  Don't ever try to hide something from them," he warned with a slight smile.

      "I'll keep that in mind," Miranda said with a cheeky grin.

      They left the Tower grounds, and then entered the gardens and the maze.  Sapphire started looking a little irritated after they'd been within the maze for about twenty minutes, but nobody would tell her where they were going.  The four who had just joined them realized where they were going when they left the Tower and started towards the gardens, and they were smart enough not to say anything aloud.  The courtyard at the center of the maze was still one of the Tower's most closely guarded secrets, for it held the icon of the Goddess herself, and that made it a place that the katzh-dashi would defend to the death.  And defending it was much easier if nobody knew it was there.

      The courtyard was exactly as he remembered it; he doubted that the Goddess would allow anything to change.  The entrance was still choked off, making them squeeze into the place, and he looked at it with calm, relaxed pleasure.  It was all as it should be, with the very large grassy courtyard with the white stone pathway surrounding a large marble fountain surrounded by beautiful rose bushes and stone benches.  The two tier fountain was massive, and the sound of its water tinkled merrily throughout the courtyard.  And at the center of the top tier, hands held out in a gesture of loving welcome, was the statue of the Goddess, the icon of the Goddess, her link to the physical world and the representation of her power.  As always, the statue was nude, and was so remarkably detailed that every single hair on her head was easily discernable, even from that distance.  The others knew now what that statue was, though they had not for a very long time.  Not even  Keritanima or Allia had known until the planning for the Battle of Suld, when Keritanima figured out the truth.  It was one secret that Tarrin had been very careful to keep.

      Sapphire, however, was quite a bit more observant than his other friends.  She took one look at the fountain and the statue atop it and paled visibly.  She gave Tarrin a wild look, but his calm, reassusing gaze and a single nod of his head told her that he knew, and that it was perfectly alright for them to be there.

      "Now do you understand why nobody will eavesdrop on us here?" he asked her.

      "I do," she said in a reverent voice.  "I also understand why you didn't want to say anything.  They don't know, do they?"

      "Everyone here knows," he told her.  "All my closest friends know, as does the Council.  It's not the kind of thing we want advertised."

      "It's quite an overwhelming presence," she admitted.

      "I feel cheated," Keritanima laughed.  "I never felt anything.  I still don't feel anything."

      "You aren't a dragon, little one," Sapphire sniffed arrogantly.  "We are much more sensitive to such things than you."

      He saw Keritanima draw herself up to respond with a blistering retort, but Tarrin's sudden hard stare quelled that.  Aggravating Sapphire was not a good idea.  Sapphire was friendly with Allia and Keritanima, but that friendliness only extended so far before she would lose patience with them.  He was surprised that she would have forgotten that, since she'd spent a month and more in the dragon's company after they all discovered she was a dragon.

      "We may as well get comforatable," Tarrin said.  "It may take a while for Jenna to round up the others.  I think a few of them won't be easy to find."

      "They'll be close," Keritanima said.  "We were all waiting to hear word about your condition, and after the earthquake you set loose in the basement, they'll stay where they can be found quickly."

      "Good point," Tarrin acceded.

      They waited perhaps a half an hour or so in relative peace, as Tarrin deflected several questions from his sisters about the rage he'd suffered and how Triana had beaten him.  He didn't want to think about that right now, it was still a little raw in his mind.  Miranda entertained herself with a bit of paper that she meticulously folded and refolded and folded again, until Tarrin started seeing a shape form from the folds, that of a bird.  "Something the Shou ambassador taught me a few weeks ago," she said with a cheeky grin when she noticed Tarrin staring at the piece of parchment in her hands.  "He calls it origami.  It's quite challenging."

      "Shou?  I didn't know the Shou had an ambassador in Wikuna."

      "They do now," Keritanima said with a frown.  "They actually managed to get a ship to Wikuna, and it was carrying the ambassador.  Since they went to all the trouble to get there, we allowed him to set up an embassy.  So far they're the first humans to reach Wikuna without our help, and I don't like it."

      "Why not?"

      "Because if they can get to Wikuna, then they can get a fleet to Wikuna," she said sourly.

      Tarrin snorted.  "Kerri, no nation on Sennadar would dare engage the Wikuni in a naval war," he said flatly.  "It's suicide.  Not even the Zakkites are willing to try that.  That's why they always try to ambush your ships, and they run away as soon as warships appear on the horizon."

      "True, but humans are devious little suckers," Keritanima said with a toothy grin.  "You can't take your eyes off them for a minute, or they'll be getting into all kinds of trouble."

      "Amen," Sapphire agreed in a fervent tone.

      "I think I'll have the Admiralty increase the patrols in the Sea of Silks," Keritanima mused to herself.  "I think we'd better keep an eye on those damned Shou.  Next thing I know, there'll be Imperial dragonships showing up on the shores of Tlaztexcolta, or maybe even Sha'Kari."

      "Tlaztexcolta?" Tarrin asked.

      "A small continent due south of Wikuna," she replied.  "An interesting people live there.  They worship strange gods, they don't have any iron, and the place is literally overflowing with gold."

      "Uh oh," Tarrin chuckled.

      "We trade for their gold," she said defensively.  "We have quite a market down there for steel tools and such, and they trade us gold, spices, some stunningly beautiful native crafts, and other things.  Some of their native birds are starting to become all the rage in the noble houses.  It's now a status symbol to own a parrot, because they can be taught to say words."

      "They can talk?" Allia asked.

      "Not like we can, but you can teach them to mimic words," she answered.

      "I wonder how they do things without iron," Tarrin mused.

      "They're very resourceful, brother," Keritanima said in a very complementary manner.  "You'd be surprised at some of the things they've learned to do with stone and obsidian.  They have cities as big as Suld, and they built it with stone blocks that are larger than a woodshed.  They're geniuses at engineering and construction, and it's even more impressive when you consider the fact that they don't have iron tools and they don't extensively used wheeled transportation, because there aren't any domesticated animals like horses native to their lands.  The biggest domesticated animal I know of that they have are goats, and goats aren't very good at pulling wagons.  We could learn a few things from them.  They're quite advanced, all things considered.  Western society would consider them barbaric because of their religion and their customs, but they're actually quite civilized and very intelligent."

      Tarrin mused at that for a while, trying to imagine what it would be like to live in a place with no iron, no horses, and with a culture advanced enough to build things out of blocks that weighed more than a hundred men.  How did they move them without horses?  He couldn't even imagine how they did it, and he became very impressed with them, despite the fact that he'd never heard of them before.  They certainly sounded quite impressive.

      He didn't have too long to muse about it, though, for Dolanna, Dar, Camara Tal, and surprisingly enough, Koran Tal, pushed through the choked opening and into the courtyard.  Koran Tal's eyes almost immediately affixed on the statue of the Goddess, and Camara Tal had to push him from behind to get him out of the way.  Almost immediately behind them were Jula and Kimmie, and a very hot-eyed Triana.  Now Tarrin understood why they were trying to get out of the way, with Triana breathing down their necks.  "Mother," he greeted standing up.  "I didn't think you were coming."

      "I'm not quite done dealing with your daughter, cub," she said in a grim tone.  "Jesmind is putting her paw in right now.  As soon as I'm done here, I'll go back and finish what what needs to be done."

      Tarrin almost felt sorry for his daughter; in a way, he did, but he knew that it had to be done, so there was no use in having remorse over it.  Triana looked at Camara Tal, and her eyebrow raised slightly.  "You shouldn't be here," she announced flatly.

      "I have more right to be here than you," Camara Tal replied cooly.  They were old friends, and that was probably the only reason Triana didn't thrash her for her tone.

      "You spend ten years trying to get pregnant, and you're going to put it all at risk now?" Triana said with a slight smile.

      Camara Tal's eyes widened, and her hand went to her knotted, washboard stomach.  "You mean--"

      "It's only a few days along," she told her.  "In nine months, you'll be gracing us all.  Want to know if it's a boy or a girl?"

      "No!" she said in a strangled tone.  "Leave that much a surprise, at least!" she proclaimed, then she laughed helplessly.  Then she threw her arms around Koran Tal and kissed him passionately.

      "I say, congratulations, Camara!" Phandebrass said happily, and suddenly the Amazons were surrounded by well-wishers, congratulating her and her husband.  Tarrin smiled warmly, happy for a little good news this day.  Camara Tal had been adamant about having Koran Tal be the father of her children, and she had waited ten very long years before finally getting her wish.  He was happy for her, but in a way, he was a little irritated with her timing.  He may need Camara Tal in the time to come, and her pregnancy was going to complicate things.

      "Well, it doesn't change anything," Camara Tal finally said after Kimmie gave her a warm hug.  "Amazon women don't run and hide in their bedchambers when they're pregnant.  I'll be with you until I'm too ungainly to be any use to you."

      "Are you sure, Camara?" Tarrin asked.

      "Just try and stop me," she declared.

      "I hope you don't mind me joining you, then," Koran Tal said.  "I won't leave her when she's pregnant.  I know how crazy she is.  Someone has to be around to remind her that she's got two lives to worry about."

      "She'll have any number of people to hold her back," Keritanima chuckled.

      "I don't need a man holding my hand!" Camara Tal snapped at her husband.

      "You need someone, and if you don't forget, that's my child too," he said in a frosty tone.  "And I thought we agreed that there were going to be a few changes," he reminded her in a dangerous tone, rising up and looking over at her defiantly.

      "Careful, Camara," Keritanima said with a toothy grin.  "You're on dangerous ground."

      "Stay out of it, fuzzybutt!" Camara Tal told her hotly.  That made Keritanima collapse in helpless laughter, and Camara Tal looked a little sheepish afterwards.  "We'll discuss this later, husband.  In private," she said to him, glancing at the laughing Wikuni Queen.

      "I'm sure it's going to be a lively discussion," he said icily, glaring at her a bit.

      Jenna arrived a moment later with Ianelle, Darvon, and each of them had a youngster in tow.  Darvon was escorted by Ulger, and Ianelle had Auli with her.  Auli gave Tarrin a regretful look, but smiled and kissed him on the cheek when he greeted them.  Darvon clapped him on the shoulder in his gruff manner, about as close to a show of emotion one would get from the Lord General, and Ulger shook his paw with a smile.  "We hear that was you shaking up the Tower earlier today," Ulger said with a grin.

      "I was a bit peeved," he said in a short manner.

      "Leave it, Ulger," Darvon warned in his powerful voice.  "I see you decided to return to the Were-cats," he said.  "It wouldn't have been my choice, but if it's what makes you happy, then I'm glad for you."  He gave Tarrin a slight smile.  "I was hoping you would stay human and come over to the Knights, where you belong."

      "I'm afraid they've managed to put the hooks into me a little too deeply for that to happen, my Lord General," Tarrin replied with a smile.

      "One can always hope," Darvon said.

      "I hope you don't mind me being here," Kimmie told him hesitantly.

      "I'd feel strange if you weren't," he answered gently.  He could see that he'd been right.  Jesmind was trying to push Kimmie out of the way, it was all over her face.  He was going to have a very long talk with her about that.  "How is Mist?"

      "Up and moving," she answered.  "She'll be whole in about an hour or so."

      "How are you?" he asked, taking her paws.  Telling her that even though Jesmind didn't like it, she was still very much a part of his life.

      She gave him a glorious, worshipful smile.  "I'm just fine, my dear friend," she told him truthfully.  "I'm just very glad to see you whole again."

      "I'll step on Jesmind's neck for you."

      "I can manage it, Tarrin," she smiled.  "If you interfere, it's only going to make things more difficult.  She'll think you're showing me favoritism.  This is a female matter, love.  Let us females handle it."


      Triana snorted and nodded.  "Kimmie's handling it well enough, cub.  Leave her to it."

      "You're sure?"

      "I'm very sure.  If you put a paw in, you'll only make things messy."

      "You look well, honored one," Ianelle greeted in formal Sha'Kar.  "The Keeper told us what happened.  All of it."

      "Then I don't have to explain things to you," he replied.

      She shook her head.  "Are you content with it?"

      "I'm content."

      "Then things are well," she decided simply.

      Tarrin looked around and saw that everyone was here.  His sisters, Triana, Jula, and Kimmie.  Triana, Dolanna, Darvon, and Ianelle.  Azakar and the Vendari, Miranda and Dar, and Phandebrass.  Jesmind wasn't here, but she'd have no say in what was to come, and besides, he was still mad at her.  It was everyone he needed to be here.  "Alright, everyone find a seat," he said in Sha'Kar, reinforcing the seriousness of things.  "I have some things to say, and we have plans to make."

      "Pardon me, son, but if you're going to speak that language, I'm going to need a translator," Darvon announced.

      "Mother," Tarrin said absently to Triana.

      "I'll take care of it, cub," she said.  "Can you speak Sha'Kar?" she asked bluntly of Ulger.

      "Uh, no, my Lady," he answered hesitantly.

      Without saying a word, Triana put her paws on either side of Ulger's head.  Tarrin clearly felt and sensed what she did, and what was more important, he realized that with a little instruction, he could do the same thing.  She took some of her own knowledge, copied it, and directly implanted the copy into Ulger's mind, making sure not to put it where other memories were being stored.  Ulger's knees wobbled a bit, and Triana had to hold him up.  "You'll be dizzy for a while, but now you can understand," she told him in Sulasian.

      "I feel like the ground is spinning," Ulger complained.

      "That will pass," Triana told him gruffly.  "Darvon?"

      A little hesitantly, Darvon stepped up to the intimidating Were-cat matriarch and submitted to her touch.  Seconds later, he too had to be held up.  Azakar tended to Darvon, helping him to a seat on a stone bench as Jula helped Ulger to sit beside him.

      They gathered on stone benches, and Camara Tal and Koran Tal sat on the grass with Kimmie and Auli in front of them.  Tarrin stood before them like a Novice instructor, looking over his friends and associates, and feeling a momentary sensation of pride.  They had come far.  They had put up with him, helped him, nurtured him, and protected him for two long years.  They deserved much more than what they had, and Tarrin vowed to himself to make things right with each and every one of them, to show him how much he appreciated everything they'd done for him.  But that would have to come later.

      "I think most of you know what happened," he began.  "I was turned against my will.  I already found out who did it, and that punishment is taking place as we speak."

      "Who was it, son?" Darvon asked, wobbling a bit in his seat.

      "It was my daughter, Jasana," he replied, which made Darvon whistle much like Miranda had done.  "Her mother and grandmother are teaching her the error of her ways.  It's not my place to interfere in that, because Jesmind's her mother, and in Were-cat society the males don't intefere in how the females raise the cubs.  But I have every faith in my mate and mother," he added with grim satisfaction.  "They'll set her straight, or she'll die resisting."

      "She's already very sorry, cub," Triana told him with flat eyes.

      "Needless to say, finding that out set me off. That's what all that shaking was this morning.  I kind of rearranged the geography in the cellars of the Tower, but Triana stopped me before I could do anything drastic."  He looked to his sisters and Sapphire. "I'm sorry about that," he said sincerely.  "I hope I didn't scare you."

      "We were too busy running like frightened squirrels to be scared," Jenna said with a grin.

      "What possessed you to face him inside, Were-cat?" Sapphire asked.

      "I have experience in dealing with raging Were-cats, dragon," she answered calmly.  "I knew exactly how to go about it, and the confined spaces down there were actually exactly what I needed.   If he'd been outside, it would have been much harder to subdue him."

      "You'll have to show me how you did it."

      "Later," she said absently.

      "Now that that little thing's out of the way, it's time we got back to business," he said.  "I have my memory back, and I've already decided what I have to do now.  And I'm going to need everyone's help to pull it off."  He started pacing back and forth.  "Everyone knows I have the Firestaff, and they're probably gathering around the Tower like vultures, waiting for me to come out.  If I don't come out, then they're going to come in, and I don't think we'll have much luck stopping them.  They've shown that they can find ways to get in.  We all knew that I had to get out of the Tower to keep the Firestaff safe, but now that we've been surrounded, it's not going to be quite as easy as riding out of the front gate."

      "No doubt there," Keritanima agreed.

      "I can Teleport you to any number of places, honored one, Ianelle offered.

      "It's not quite that easy, Ianelle," he told her.  "If I just disappear, then they'll all still be here at the Tower, and that's going to cause Jenna some serious problems.  I don't want anyone here getting killed because they think I'm still hiding in here.  I want them to see me leave, to keep them out of Jenna's hair, but I also don't want them on my heels every step of the way."

      "That's not going to be easy," Darvon frowned.

      "It's going to be very easy, at least for me," Tarrin told him grimly.  "I have a plan, but it's going to be very dangerous for some people.  Unfortunately, those people are you," he sighed.

      "Go ahead, my brother," Allia said.

      Tarrin nodded.  "Everyone knows I travel with you," he began.  "It's a given.  Sometimes it was much easier for them to find me by looking for Keritanima or Allia, or any of the other rather unusual members of our group," he added, glancing at Binter and Sisska.  "It's a given that if they can see any of you, then I can't be too far away.  I'm going to use that against them.  Tomorrow, everyone outside is going to see all of you and me march out of this Tower under heavy guard from the Knights, go down to the harbor, and board a Wikuni vessel and sail away.  That's what they're going to see," he said sharply.  He turned and looked at the statue of the Goddess, then turned back.  "I won't be with you.  Tomorrow, I'm taking Sarraya and Allia, and we're Teleporting to the Desert of Swirling Sands.  If there's anywhere in the world where I'll be safe, it's there.  Nobody would dare come in after me, and if they do, both the Selani and Fara'Nae will make them pay for every step they take."

      "But you said they'd see all of us leave," Dar said in confusion.

      "That's right, they will," Tarrin said, looking at him.  "Remember what we did in Dayisè?"

      "That's brilliant!" Keritanima said with a bright look.

      "Oh!" Dar said in realizaton, then he laughed.  "That's a good idea!"

      "Darvon, I want you to find your biggest, strongest, and hopefully one of your smartest Knights," Tarrin told him.  "He's going to be me for a few days, and he's going to have to be able to act the part."

      "How can he be you?"

      "Dar is a master of Illusion, and Dolanna's no slouch at it herself," Tarrin told him calmly. "They used those gifts to hide us several times while we were on on the road.  We're going to do it again to misdirect our foes."

      "We'll need an Allia," Dar noted.

      "I think Auli here can be a convincing Allia," Tarrin said, giving his whimsical friend a calm look.  "She actually looks a little like her, and Auli's a very good actress.  It won't take much to make her convincing."

      "I think I can do it, Tarrin," she said mildly.

      "Are you sure that's going to work, Tarrin?" Darvon asked dubiously.

      "It works very well, Lord General," Keritanima smiled.  "There's a girl in Wikuna named Kalina, that looks so much like me that we look like twins.  She made it easy for me to be in two places at the same time.  Kalina was very good at acting, and she had everyone absolutely convinced that she was me.  Trust me, what Tarrin's proposing isn't just effective, it's damn effective.  As long as Auli and your new Tarrin don't mess up, they'll have every single person in Suld thinking that we all got on a ship and sailed off towards the horizon."  Keritnaima frowned.  "I'd rather not be on a ship, brother.  Can I Teleport us all to Wikuna after we get out to sea?"

      "We'll need a little more misdirection than that, sister," Tarrin said.  "When you get on that ship, I want you to sail for Dusgaard, in Ungardt, and I want you to make a show of it."

      Keritanima narrowed her eyes, then she laughed brightly.  Miranda too was smiling in a malicious manner.  "Tarrin, you impress me," she said sincerely.

      "I don't understand," Ianelle admitted.

      "The Ungardt are notorious for not liking outsiders," Miranda explained to her.  "Tarrin is Ungardt, and he has close kin there.  If he asked them, they'd take all of us in and protect us like we were part of their clan.  By having us go to Ungardt, Tarrin is putting us in a place where it will make it very hard for any spies our enemies have to keep an eye on us, and he's also making anyone that tries to follow us have to wade through a forest of axes and swords tro get there.  And the Ungardt are not to be taken lightly, my dear Ianelle.  They're respected as some of the toughest fighters in the world.  That means that anyone that wants Tarrin has to face an army of big, strong, well-trained, and very nasty foes to get to him.  It's not something that anyone would undertake without a great deal of hesitation."

      "My grandfather would probably enjoy the whole thing," Tarrin agreed with a nod.  "He needs to give his warriors some exercise from time to time.  My grandfather also happens to be a clan-chief, Ianelle, something of a king.  Anrak will protect your daughter and my friends with an army, and its no army that any sane man would want to cross."

      "They sound like they enjoy violence," Ianelle sniffed.

      "Moderately so, yes," Tarrin agreed bluntly.  "Nothing makes an Ungardt happier than a nice little war."

      "I think your grandfather will be disappointed if we don't bring him some people to kill," Miranda teased.  "And his warriors may not like getting their hopes up and end up having nobody to fight."

      "Anrak'll have to take that up with his kinsmen," Tarrin shrugged.  "Besides, if they can't fight with outsiders, they'll just fight with each other.  They do it all the time anyway."  Tarrin looked at his bond-mother.  "I know it's asking alot, but I need Sarraya, mother," he told her.  "We work well together, and I'll need her if I'm going back to the desert."

      "I can have her here by midnight," she said confidently.

      "Good.  Thank you."

      "Why can't I go with you?" Keritanima said. "Why just Allia?"

      "Because I'm Selani, sister," she answered simply. "Tarrin did not undertake the desert alone the first time.  Remember, he travelled with two Selani.  My brother's wise in knowing that he will need a Selani with him."

      "It makes things easier, Kerri," he nodded.  "I don't have to worry about Selani groups attacking me outright, and Allia's knowedge of the desert will be very useful.  Besides, they're going to need you in Ungardt to maintain the misdirection.  It's not going to end as soon as you get there, because we have to make everyone believe that I'm there.  That's important.  Besides, Var and Denai taught me enough to survive in the desert, but it's still going to be much easier on me if Allia's there."

      "What dangers are there in the desert?" Darvon asked.  "I've heard that it's a barren wasteland."

      "Well, first off, just about everything is poisonous," Tarrin said, ticking off a finger.  "Then there are the inu and kajat, and quite a few other nasty desert animals that make life there very interesting."
      "What are those?"

      Immediatley, Tarrin turned and wove an Illusion of a kajat, a very detailed image that appeared to the side of them.  It was fifteen spans tall, with mottled brown skin, and a huge mouth full of dagger-sized teeth.

      "Karas' hammer!" Darvon swore as they all gaped at the massive Illusion.  "Is it really that big?"

      "This is an image of a small one, Lord General," Allia said sedately.  "The adults are considerably larger."

      "Inu are about the height of a man, with the same general build as a kajat," Tarrin said.  "But they're very fast, smart, and they hunt in packs.  Even the Selani fear them."

      "We respect them, brother, but we don't fear them," Allia said pointedly.

      "I'd fear them," Darvon muttered honestly, staring at the Illusion.

      "After we get to the desert, I'm not quite sure what we'll do," Tarrin admitted.  "Probably join up with a Selani clan and simply wait until Gods' Day comes and goes.  After all, it's the getting there that's important." He looked at Allia.  "Maybe we'll go see Ariana.  I've always wanted to show you Amyr Dimeon.  I think you'd be amazed by it."

      "I would like to see it," she nodded with a smile.

      "So, what do you think of my idea?"

      "I think it's bloody clever," Keritanima said.  "You're going to give gray hair to everyone chasing us, brother."

      "I think that is the general idea, Kerri," Dolanna told her with a smile.

      "It has merit," Jenna said soberly, tapping her chin with a finger.  "We'll be pinning down the eyes and ears of our enemies, and putting them in a position that they will not enjoy.  Besides, I like the irony of it.  You pretend to seek shelter with one group of dangerous people only to go take shelter with another.  It's a plan inside a plan.  Even if they do realize that Ungardt is just a ruse, they won't have any better luck trying to ferret you out of the desert."  She looked at him. "There's just one little flaw."


      "You know Grandfather, Tarrin.  He'd never believe Kerri.  I''ll have to take a little trip up to Dusgaard and have a talk with Grandfather.  You know how he likes to argue."

      "That's true," he conceded.  "Since mother and father are back in Aldreth, I guess you would need to set things straight.  Think you can Teleport up?"

      "I don't know how," she admitted.

      "Sister, by tonight, you'll know more about Sorcery than Ianelle," he told her confidently.  "I haven't told anyone this yet, but when I was turned, the memory potion was affecting me.  It has several, interesting side effects.  One of them is that I picked up a great deal of information from the echoes of memories in the Weave.  I can weave almost any spell any Sorcerer has ever used, and Mother told me to teach them to you.  I only have one day, so you'd better be very attentive."

      "How did that happen?" Jenna asked in surprise.

      "I'm not sure," he said.  "But it did.  I've also had something of an expanded memory since I woke up.  I can remember absolutely every second of my entire life, even from before I was born.  It's a very weird feeling," he admitted.

      "I say, what an amazing turn of events!" Phandebrass said brightly.  "I really must talk with you, lad, I must!  I thought that